A/N: For the most part, I really enjoyed Masters of Horror. Of all the episodes in that short-lived series, my absolute favorite (for obvious reasons) is "Cigarette Burns" which was directed by badass horrormeister John Carpenter and starred (you guessed it) Norman Reedus as Kirby Sweetman. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend you do before reading this story, otherwise it might not make as much sense. Some of the dialog in this chapter is taken directly from the episode, with the occasional paraphrasing.
I decided to write this story partly from the POV of the secondary character Timpson, Kirby's employee at his struggling independent movie theater The Vogue, only because I can't write a Reedus fic without including a love interest, I did a bit of gender-bending and made Timpson into a girl. I also filled out the personality to make her more my own OC. Not sure how well this'll go over, but what the heck. It'll be fun!
Disclaimer: Masters of Horror, the episode "Cigarette Burns", its characters, Norman Reedus (alas!), none of it's mine. Nada.
Haley Timpson loved her job. Sure, the theater was old and poorly maintained, had more empty seats than full most nights, and was so far in the red it was almost black again - but how many people could say they got paid to watch the best classic horror movies by the greatest names every night? It was a sweet deal as far as she was concerned.
Plus, it gave her plenty of opportunities to add to her collection.
Tonight was their last showing of Profondo Rosso, a.k.a. Deep Red, by Italian horror-master Dario Argento. Once the film was over and the nearly half-filled theater emptied out, Haley got ready to box the reels. But first, a little personal business to attend to.
Haley spun the reel, fingers skimming over the celluloid while her eyes were riveted to the swiftly passing frames. She was a thirty-ish woman of average height with curly, dark brown hair that hung just past her shoulders, brown eyes, a wide full-lipped mouth, and freckles dusted across her petite nose. She might've been considered pretty if she ever bothered with things like makeup and wearing feminine clothes, but Haley never saw the point of all that fuss. She dressed for comfort: cargo pants, red Converse sneakers, baggy shirts (always long-sleeved, even in summer). Her friends joked more than once that she looked like a bag-lady, only cleaner, to which she always replied, "Awesome! That's just what I was going for."
With a cry of triumph, she halted the reel and leaned over the exposed film strip. "There you are, you sonofabitch." She didn't always talk like a girl, either.
One of the great things about working in a place that showed old movies was all the old equipment available, including an honest-to-god film splicer. Two quick cuts, and a single cel tumbled free. Haley joined the sliced ends seamlessly together. At worst, there would be a slight hiccup the next time somebody showed this movie. Easily shrugged-off, or so she told herself.
The reel was slipped into its octagonal case and carried downstairs with its twin to The Vogue's basement, which doubled as storage space and the theater owner's office. Aside from the projection room, this was Haley's favorite place in the whole joint. Cluttered with all sorts of movie memorabilia, books and journals about obscure films, and comfortable old secondhand furniture. It was like the world's nerdiest rumpus room.
Kirby, owner and manager of The Vogue, was sitting behind his desk, deep in thought. The eight-ball he kept on his desk was gripped in his left hand, held up next to his temple, his fingers slowly rolling the smooth pool ball around and around. Haley noticed he was staring at the framed photo of his girlfriend, Annie. Haley never met Annie. She died before the theater even opened for business, two years ago. The pain of her loss was still fresh, though. Anybody could see that from the look in Kirby's eyes. They didn't talk much about his personal life, but Haley was pretty sure he never went out, unless it was to research or hunt down rare copies of obscure movies for rich people - a side business that barely allowed them to scrape by here. No dating, not even a casual night out at a bar. Haley knew because she'd asked him out more than once (just as a friend, she emphasized), but he always turned her down.
Haley's footfalls were a little heavier than necessary, jarring her boss out of his grim musings. Kirby straightened in his chair and set the eight-ball down. His face morphed into that warm smile that won her over the day he interviewed her for the job. It made him look like a kid, even though he was a few years older than her. "Hey, Timpson. What's up?" He never called her by her first name.
Haley set the film cases down. "Last show's ending in fifteen minutes. Profondo Rosso ready to go," she announced, whipping out her album from the shelf she'd stowed it on.
Kirby stuck a cigarette in his mouth and nodded at the book in her hands while he rummaged in his pocket for a lighter. "Did you, uh, get a souvenir?"
He knew all about her illicit collecting, even though it was technically theft. The films they showed weren't theirs. They were rented from other movie houses and the occasional private collector. So, every time Haley did her little snipping routine, she was damaging personal property. But she hadn't been caught yet, so she wasn't worried, and Kirby didn't seem to care one way or the other.
"Dude," she said, holding up the newly acquired film cel, "It's Argento. Had to do it!" Duh, her tone implied. She flipped through the pages of her album, looking for an empty pocket. Row upon row of film cels filled the book, each one labeled with the director's name, and each one sporting a pale circle in one corner. Since movies came on more than one reel, several of the frames towards the end were marked with this circle to let the projectionist know when it was time to feed in the next reel.
Kirby shook his head in resigned amusement. "What's with you and 'cigarette burns'?" he asked, using one of the many nicknames for those little circles.
Haley held up the cel to the light, gazing at it with the appreciation of a connoisseur. "When you watch a film and one of those 'bugs' appears...you know, y'know?" Okay, so it wasn't Shakespeare, but he got the point. "Something's gonna happen," her voice rose in excitement, "Hold on, here it comes! You take 'em out," she grinned wickedly, "all of a sudden it's anarchy."
Kirby snorted. "Speaking of anarchy, try not to burn the place down while I'm away."
"You get a new client?" Haley asked as she tucked the cel into an available pocket.
"Yeah," her boss sighed, "I got an incredible offer. The guy kinda freaks me out, though."
"Don't they all," Haley smirked, scribbling Argento's name onto the label. "So, what film is it this time?"
Kirby hesitated for just a second, then told her, "La Fin Absolue Du Monde."
Haley burst out laughing 'til she realized he hadn't joined in. In fact, he looked dead serious. Haley's eyebrows shot up. "No shit?"
"B-but, dude!" she stammered, "It's impossible! It's like that missing 'Spider-Pit Sequence' from the original King Kong. Nobody's ever seen it, it's just a rumor!"
" La Fin Absolue Du Monde did exist," Kirby reminded her.
"Exactly! Did, as in past tense. It's just like all the history says, it got torched. That shit about a copy surviving's just an urban legend."
"Not according to the client's source."
Haley quirked a skeptical brow. "You meet this 'source' yourself? You sure it ain't some looney living in the guy's basement?"
A weird look passed across Kirby's face. "They...convinced me."
"Uh huh." She slapped the album closed and tucked it under her arm. "Hope you got paid up front, is all I'm sayin'."
"He's paying all my expenses," Kirby said, looking a little shame-faced that he hadn't demanded cash up front, "If I deliver the film, I'll earn enough to pay off my debt with Matthews, plus the client said he'd allow us a two-week screening."
That intrigued her. "Two weeks?" Her fingers tightened around the book tucked under her arm. Imagine adding a bug from Hans Backovik's lost film to her collection! Everybody'd say she was full of shit, but who cared?
Kirby smirked, knowing exactly what she was thinking. He stubbed out the butt of his cigarette, got up from his desk, and headed for the door, patting her shoulder in passing. "G'night, Timpson."
"G'night..." she replied in a distracted voice.
Home for Haley Timpson was a modest one-bedroom loft, crammed with shelves of DVDs and VHS tapes, many with titles unfamiliar to anyone who wasn't a die-hard film buff. There were also numerous movie posters covering the walls - all replicas, sadly, since she'd never be able to afford the real thing. The posters depicted such films as Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Night of the Living Dead, and Psycho, to name a few.
Most of the furniture Haley owned she got from yard sales and thrift stores. The brown-and-green plaid couch she plopped herself down on was literally dumped out on the curb across from her place. It was a helluva find, once she gave it a thorough cleaning.
Haley slouched in the comfortable seat with a slice of leftover pizza in one hand and picked up the remote with the other. She'd left her copy of Ringu in the DVD player and decided another viewing couldn't hurt. Ten minutes in, though, her thoughts wandered. She always got kinda bummed when Kirby was out of town on one of his film hunts. It got lonely at the theater without him to talk to. The only other employees were the chick who worked in the box office and the pimply kid who ran the concession stand and doubled as an usher. She could barely stand to be around them and she knew the feeling was mutual. Thank god they were just part-timers.
Making friends was never all that easy for Haley. She could count the number of real friends she had on one hand, not including her thumb. It took a while for her to warm up to people, but the first time she met Kirby she felt comfortable with him. He was the first person she ever met who didn't make her feel like she was some kind of freak, who liked the same things she liked and actually seemed to enjoy her many quirks. If the ghost of his girlfriend wasn't still hanging over him, maybe things would've gone even further. Haley tried not to think about that too much. Things were the way they were. Who was she to resent his pain?
Haley sighed and turned off the TV. She wasn't in the mood anymore. She tossed the pizza crust back into the box, got up from the couch, and headed for bed, leaving the pizza box on the table to take care of in the morning.