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“Tell me about An Echo of Wolves.”
“The only showing of An Echo of Wolves happened at this theater, ten years ago.”
“An Echo of Wolves kills everyone who sees it.”
Marlin Meister stared at the two men across his desk. The one speaking, Rufus, was pasty white and wearing an Australian slouch hat, which he did not remove. The other was a giant. Big head, big hands, a barrel of a chest that could have been bulletproof. He had turned sideways to get through the doorway.
Meister was waiting for the giant to speak, to hear what stentorian voice this brute might possess, if it would bend the thin walls of his office with its mighty boom. But no voice, no sound, escaped from the giant. Only his obnoxious companion Rufus, who had a smug tone and a dull, unwashed odor to him.
“The film had only one screening,” Rufus said. “Here in Plum Hollow, in the White Light Theatre.”
“So people died here. When they saw the movie.”
“That’s what I said.”
“How? Why here?”
“The how is unknown. It was here because it was directed by Herb Ockham, of the infamous music group Wretched.”
“Wretched? Wasn’t that a buncha Satanic child molesters?”
“Ockham is the founder and only member. He is from Plum Hollow and made his film here.”
“All interesting. So what. How does this information get you a job here?”
“You own the newspaper. The Cattle Caller. It would be a good story.”
“I also own the theater. Don’t want to scare the customers. What would people do, if they thought they would die the next time they watch a movie?”
“You own half this town. Increased newspaper sales would offset any temporary dip in theater attendance. If that did happen. And there’s no evidence to say that it would. But you wouldn’t want Mayor Dobson to have this information.”
That was the source of his confidence. Ronwell Dobson owned the other half of town, the land, the stores, the banks, now the city council. Meister could not afford to lose one thing, not his theater or his newspaper or his cable franchise, if he were to survive in this precious balance of power. The recent election had exposed the frailty of his half empire – how easily Dobson had donned his half-blind, jolly-fat persona and won the electorate – and with the perfect slogan “All’s Well with Ronwell.” Meister himself had no talent for politics. He smoked. His skin was an ashen color and wrinkled around his lips, except where hidden by his yellowed moustache. He hated talking and tended to speak too quickly when he did, mostly when he was angry. He couldn’t get anything unless he bought it.
“Fine,” Meister said. “You’ve got the job.”
“Both of us,” Rufus said, indicating his mammoth companion.
“Fine. Talk to the manager about the schedule.” He waved his hand for them to leave.
“We’ll need a car.”
“A car? Projectionists don’t get cars.”
“And a driver. We don’t drive. And no sun roof. Sunlight kills.”
“Do you understand the job of projectionist? You don’t go anywhere, you don’t get a car, you don’t use that little brain of yours. You could bath once in a while, so you don’t scare away the customers, but all you do for your job is push a button at a certain time and the movie starts and then you sit on your ass until the next button has to be pushed. Where’s a car in that? You barely deserve a paycheck.”
Rufus was unperturbed. “How else are we going to find An Echo of Wolves?”
“It never left town. The only print is still in Plum Hollow.”
“Sounds like trouble. What are you going to do with it? Show it to an old girlfriend?”
“Knowledge is our only goal, one befitting our singular talents. If we find the actual film, you can have it.”
“Why would I want the thing?”
“It is the greatest mystery left in American cinema. If that is not reason enough for you, we could take this case to the mayor.”
Meister stayed silent. A minute passed, allowing for further protests, and when none came, Rufus tapped the desk.
“We will be waiting outside for the car.”