Monday, August 22, 2011
Lights, Camera ...
Finally, Nick thought with a heartfelt sigh, Fate had decided to cut him a break. After teasing at rain all day, the clouds had hightailed it and left the evening sky pristine and soon to be star-strewn. The brilliant sunset drew the attention of the families gathering on the Larry Talbot High School football field. The turnout was already better than Nick could have hoped for, and growing by the minute.
“We’ve got the popcorn machine set up,” Zeva informed him. “I just hope the soda holds out.” She also scanned the burgeoning crowd with a look of satisfaction. “Looks like we’ve got us a winner.”
“Knock wood,” Nick muttered, but he smiled. Talbot’s Peak’s first Family Movie Night, sponsored by the Guts and Butts Gazette, already looked to be a success, and they hadn’t even threaded the projector yet. Well, yeah, sure, Brandon Wayne was actually picking up the tab, but Bat Boy had insisted his name be kept out of it and the paper get all the credit. Since proceeds would go to the local Cub Scouts, Nick didn’t mind being hero of the evening.
Only one thing could wreck it now. “Where’s Robby?”
“Right here, sir.” The intern trotted up with the film canisters under his arm. “Are we starting?”
“We’ll wait until sundown. Let everybody get settled.”
Someone hollered Zeva’s name and she looked around. “Butter crisis. Gotta go.” She pecked a quick kiss on Nick’s cheek and hurried off to the popcorn stand. Robby stared after Zeva, then gaped at Nick.
“What?” Nick blasted.
“Uh, nothing, sir. Not a thing.”
“It better not be a thing. Now, what have we got?”
He took a canister from Robby. When Brand had come to him with this public movie idea, they hadn’t specified which film would kick off what both hoped might become an annual town family fest. Wayne had assured Nick he’d take care of it, and Nick was willing to let him do the heavy lifting. What did a bat consider family fare for the next generation of shapeshifters? He read the title taped to the canister.
His gut dropped to his knees. His throat went desert-dry.
Already on his way to the projector, Robby hastily about-faced. “Problem, sir?”
“Yeah, I’d say we’ve got a problem. Where did you get this movie?”
“From Mr. Wayne, sir. I just now picked it up.”
“This is what he gave you? Fritz the Cat?”
“Yeah.” Robby said. “It’s a cartoon. I never heard of it, but, hey, it’s kitties.”
More like pussies, Nick thought with a sick, sinking feeling. He gazed bleakly out at the family groups spreading their blankets on the grass and setting up their chairs. There had to be dozens of little Susies and Billies out there. Tell them Movie Night was off and they’d chew the bleachers down. Then the parents would turn on him. “Brandon Wayne gave you this movie?” Nick growled, picturing the bat’s throat between his jaws.
“No, the other one did. His brother, Joker.”
Joker Wayne. Dog save them all. “You know why they call him Joker, Robby?”
“Um, because he’s funny?”
“Oh yeah. He’s a laugh riot.” Nick gestured at the canisters. “Tell you what, Robby, you leave those with me. Go make sure the projector’s working. I need to clear something up with Mr. Wayne.”
The intern scurried off, and Nick ripped his cell phone out of his pocket. “Wayne!” he bellowed into it. “Get your bat ass down to the football field. We’ve got a problem.”
“Of what nature?”
Nick jumped at the sound of Brand’s voice at his back. He whirled. Wayne calmly closed his own phone. “I wanted to make sure the movie got here all right,” he said.
“Oh, it got here. Courtesy of Joker.” He showed Brand the title on the canister. Brand’s eyes got narrow and his mouth got tight. “I see you see our problem,” Nick went on. “Your brother could use a good talking-to.”
“My brother could use a good kick in the ass. Hold on.” He hit a button on his speed dial. “Jim? It’s Brand. I need a favor. How fast can you get to my house?”
While Brand delivered terse instructions, Nick stared bleakly at the crowd. The sun had finally set and the natives were getting restless. Restless shifter cubs meant imminent disaster. Why me? he mentally addressed the heavens. Is this about the desk? The ruler fetish? Who did I offend?
“We’re covered,” Wayne said. “It’ll take a few minutes.”
Nick aimed a shaking finger at the crowd-soon-to-be-hostile-mob. “Tell them.”
Wayne shrugged and strolled over to the projector. From here he addressed the gathering. Minutes later Cub Scout Pack #52, the beneficiaries of tonight’s debacle, proudly arrayed themselves before the crowd. Well, that would buy them a little time. Nobody wanted to slaughter Cub Scouts over an X-rated cartoon.
Scout Master Justin Twitchell – the unfortunate Twitch from many a disastrous high-school gym class – stepped forward to make a speech. Okay, they were good for ten more minutes, then the carnivores in attendance would rip out his throat just on principle. Nick tugged at his collar and started to sweat.
Just when Nick began to fear he’d get called up and have to start telling jokes or something, the wail of a siren split the night. A police cruiser roared onto the field, siren blaring and lights flashing. The kids ate it up. Officer Gordon got out, armed with a DVD player. “Where do I plug in?” he asked Nick.
Nick pointed out the outlet at the snack bar where they’d hooked up the protector. “What have you got?”
“Shrek. Best we could do on short notice.”
“Shrek? Damn, they’ve probably seen that a hundred million times.”
“And they’ll watch it again. Kids are like that. It’s got it all: a big ugly monster as the hero, a shapeshifting heroine, fart jokes and talking animals. Everything a young shifter wants to see. Or,” he added in a murmur, “we could show them Fritz the Cat.”
“And I could get lynched. No thanks.” Nick growled. “Shrek. Every time I see that ass, I just want to eat it.”
“Really?” Nick yelped, and whirled. Of course Zeva would slither up behind him at exactly the wrong moment. Officer Gordon excused himself and headed for the snack bar. Zeva wriggled her tightly-skirted ass in front of his face. Oh holy dog, he was salivating. “Such a hungry boy. I may need to buy you some popcorn.”
“I’ve got a better idea.” Nick nudged the film canisters with his foot. “When this mess is over with, you want to watch a movie?”