Sunday, April 03, 2005

Chapter 7

Everybody in Schwartz’s house had their jobs to do. Mia and Schwartz spent much of each day in the huge underground garage working on Schwartz’s current pet project for his collection of classic cars. And, it being Monday, Beverly was doing laundry and working with Schwartz to plan the week’s menu. I had little to do but read the paper and wait for Beverly to be left alone with her laundry.

Bev, I said interrupting her fluffing and folding, “would you like to go see another movie with me tonight?”

“I suppose we could do that,” she said. “Why? What do you want to see?”

I pulled my shoulders. “I don’t know. You can pick.”

“Are you that bored?” Beverly asked.

“Well, it’s just that I’m stuck on this preview thing from Overlord, and if I don’t get away from it soon for some distraction, I’m going to drive myself crazy.”

Beverly mated a pair of Lupa’s socks. “How many times have you watched that tape now?”

“I stopped counting at fifteen,” I said, which wasn’t exactly true. I knew roughly how many times I’d watched it, but I didn’t want to say the number.

“Should we invite Lupa and Mia?” Beverly asked.

“We can invite Mia,” I said. “We can make a ladies night of it, but I’d rather not ask Schwartz. I want to discuss the show with you girls without him being there.”

Beverly smiled slyly. “Do you want to discuss the show or the case?”

“They’re kind of the same thing at this point,” I said. So we had a date to see a movie that night, but there was one thing I hadn’t said to Bev about my reasons for going to the theater. I did have an ulterior motive that had nothing whatever to do with Overlord. I still had a point to make with the theater about their outside-foods policy.


“What’s in the bag?” Mia asked pointing to the brown-paper lunch-sack I held. It showed oily stains and had a lumpy fullness to it’s shape. “It looks like popcorn.”

“You’re not allowed to bring outside popcorn into a movie theater,” I said swinging the nearly weightless bag at my side. “This is some hardware I had to pick up and didn’t feel comfortable leaving in the car.”

“Hardware?” Mia said glancing sideways at the puffy bag.

“Mmm-hmm,” I said. “Screws, bolts, washers; stuff like that.”

“You’re taking your own popcorn into the theater with you?” Beverly asked.

“Not if you tell them it’s popcorn,” I said.

“Anyone can see it’s popcorn,” Mia said. “They won’t be fooled by that hardware story.”

“They don’t have to be fooled,” I said. “The point is, if I lie right to their face they won’t dare challenge me. Then, once I’m inside the theater, I’ll ask to see the manager, and I’ll show him that I have a bag of popcorn that I smuggled in plain sight by lying; but when I was completely honest about my hot chocolate the other night ...”

“You’re not allowed to bring in outside food,” the woman standing behind me on line said. She was short and square-shaped with a fur stole wrapped around her shoulders, and she obviously had a problem minding her own damned business.

“You’re not supposed to take animal carcasses in either,” I said. “Besides, this isn’t popcorn. It’s hardware.”

“I can smell the butter,” she said sneering.

“That’s lubricant for the bolts,” I said. “Now mind your own business, okay?”

“You’re going to get us banned from this theater,” Mia said.

“There are other theaters,” I retorted, and then I changed the subject. “Anyway, Mia, have you and Schwartz discussed Overlord at all today during your garage time?”

“It didn’t come up,” Mia said. “We were working on customizing a fender on his...”

I interrupted before the conversation could drift into the abyss of chop-shop talk. “He didn’t even tell you who he thinks the killer is.”

“No,” Mia said. “It didn’t come up. If you want to know, why don’t you just ask him?”

“Oh, I can’t do that,” I said swinging the bag of buttery puffed-grain to and fro. “I’m trying to figure it out myself.”

“Then why did you ask me if he’d told me who the killer is?” Mia asked.

“So that I could know if I’m on the right track,” I said, and Mia asked me who I thought the killer was and why. I explained my theory that Gwen was the killer.

“But even if Gwen did it,” Mia said, “before you can collect the reward, don’t you also have to prove how she got the poison to Myron without anyone seeing?”

“Yes, I do,” I conceded. “And I’m wondering if maybe that’s what Schwartz is stuck on too. I mean, think about it. He watched the video tape of the show one time, and from that he figured out who the killer was, but that doesn’t tell him how they did it.”

“Unless that’s not what he figured out from watching the video,” Mia said in a toss-off manner.

I stopped swinging my popcorn. “What?” I said. “What do you mean by that?”

“Well,” Mia said, “you’re assuming that watching the video-tape told him who the killer was. Maybe what it told him was how they did it, and maybe knowing how they did it told him who it was.”

I considered this for a moment. If she was right, then my whole approach to watching the tape had been wrong. But no, Schwartz had definitely implied that the killer’s tell had been revealed in the video, and the timing of his conclusion clearly indicated that it had been something in the promo that had been his clue. There was nothing in the promo showing how any of the contestants could have slipped Myron the pokeweed poison. All that it could have shown was which one of them had done it.

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so. Schwartz definitely saw something in that promo that told him who the killer was, and it was because of some characteristic in that person’s behavior. I know that I’m not wrong about that.”

Mia shrugged. “Okay,” she said, “but maybe somebody’s personality trait exposed how they would have done it.”

I tucked in my lips. Hmm -- I thought -- that was an interesting idea. Maybe she was on to something after all. “You know,” I said not wanting to completely acknowledge what a good thought that had been, “there may be a little something to that. I mean, I doubt that any little psychological body language quirk from one of the contestants was enough to expose their entire scheme, but it could just be that Schwartz saw something in the background that showed him how it could have been pulled off.” I drifted into reverie again swinging my snack-pack in a gentle arc.

“Hey,” the woman in the dead animal interrupted. “Watch it, would you. You almost hit me with that popcorn bag.”

“It’s hardware,” I lied.

The woman poked at it. “Sure it is,” she said.

“Cattleya,” Beverly said nervously, “please.”

“Right,” I said realizing that I was making my friend uncomfortable. “Anyway, I guess I’m going to have to watch that promo some more when we get home.”

At that moment the line began to move. “I can’t wait for that movie to open,” Beverly said pointing to a sign for The Green Table, the film based on the best seller by TD Mercury.

“Well,” Mia said, “maybe we can all see it here if Cat doesn’t get us banned from this theater with her concession stand protests.”

“Hey,” I said in faux indignation, “somebody has to stand up to the man whenever there is an injustice.”

“You need to pick better fights,” Mia said. “There’s corruption in government, and pushers and pimps running the streets. The cost of a box of snow caps at the multiplex is hardly comparable.”

“I can’t take on everything,” I said. “Besides, many is the time that I’ve taken on mobsters and mayors in the pages of Gamut magazine.”

“That may be true,” Mia said, “but what have you done for me lately, you know? That’s the question.”

“Girls,” Beverly said in a failed interruption attempt.

“Give me a break,” I said forcing a smile to my lips. “I’m entitled to make a grand statement every once in a while. These petty tyrants who run these small businesses deserve their comeuppance as much as any other offender. Besides,” I added, “I don’t see you ever telling Schwartz that he’s wrong to let the air out of double parked cars to make his point. That’s a pretty petty grievance too, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I suppose so,” Mia agreed, “but in his case, that’s part of his personality. In your case, it’s an affectation?”

I stopped swaying the bag. “I beg your pardon?”

“Oh,” Mia said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. Forget it.”

“No,” I said pressing, “no, please, continue. What did you mean that it’s an affectation?”

“Well,” she said as Beverly rolled her eyes and looked anxiously the other way trying to pretend that there wasn’t a confrontation of friends occurring right in front of her on the public sidewalk outside the movie theater.

“Yes?” I said.

“It’s just that Trevor thinks you do certain things simply to prove to Lupa that you can get things done just as well as he can.” And that stung. Trevor was Detective Trevor Johns who now dated Mia, but who I had once been romantically interested in when I had first come to Pittsburgh. If Trevor was thinking that, and if he was saying it to Mia, he was probably saying it to Schwartz as well. Or if he wasn’t, perhaps Mia was. After all, who knew what she and Schwartz discussed in that garage.

“I don’t do that,” I said looking to Beverly for
support. Beverly saw me looking at her in her peripheral vision, and she pivoted further to the side.

“Okay,” Mia said.

“You don’t believe me,” I said.

“Well,” Mia began, “did you ever make one of these political statements when you were living in Cleveland?”

“That’s different,” I said.

“Don’t they have movie theaters in Cleveland?” Mia asked.

“I never thought to do this back then,” I said.

“Exactly,” Mia concluded summing up her point in one lucid word as I reached the front of the line.

“How many?” the same ticket agent from a few nights earlier asked.

I gathered my thoughts, and prepared for my confrontation. “One,” I said placing the sack on the counter’s edge on my side of the plexi-glass partition. It was at that moment that I noticed the tear that had formed allowing a few distended kernels to spill on the Formica.

“Hey, Gretel,” the boxy antagonist of PETA said smugly pointing to the trail I’d left in my wake. “Don’t you think the birds might have a little trouble digesting this popcorn-colored hardware?”

Continue to Chapter 8