Leading father and daughter back to the lobby, I turn off all the lights to the theater along the way. Once we’re outside and I’m certain the place is locked up, we start heading to The Crypt. It’s raining lightly, but we’re all okay with that. After all, the building where my club is secreted is only a couple of blocks away.
Lisa sidles up alongside me, occasionally pressing up against me as we go. I shoot a look of appeal to her father, who simply keeps his gaze fixed straight ahead, apparently oblivious to his daughter’s advances. Although, I’m certain I detect a slight pull at one corner of his mouth that falls just short of being an actual smirk.
This of course, leaves me to wrestle with my warring feelings on my own once more.
In that same moment, as if conspiring against me, the rain begins to come down a bit harder. Automatically, I open one side of my billowy trench coat and extend it around Lisa’s head and shoulders to protect her, since I don’t have an umbrella handy. This of course prompts the young lady to wrap her arms around my waist and rest her head against my chest, so I can pull the jacket closed around the two of us.
She’s clearly pleased with this turn of events.
And for the millionth time, I silently admit to myself, it does feel good. No, not just good, but right. However, the times I’ve held Marisa, have also felt just as right.
But before I can start wondering about how holding the two of them at the same time might feel, I find we’ve already turned down the alley that leads to my club. Carefully, we make our way down the stairs and inside the warmth and quiet of The Crypt.
It’s closed tonight so we’re the only ones here. I don’t operate it during the weekdays, since a lot of my clientele are teenagers who don’t need another excuse to avoid their schoolwork.
As Brian locks the door behind us, I carefully extricate myself from Lisa’s embrace and lead the way to the area where the backrooms await. Once we’re there, I show them the hidden stairwell that leads down to the sub-basement. This, like the club itself, is a leftover from the days of prohibition. Once upon a time, all kinds of booze and distilleries where hidden down here, out of the sight of the law (or at least, the ones who were not here to get a drink or two themselves). and once housed all the illegal booze.
Nowadays, most of the floor is an entertainment/game room, with a small kitchen, a bathroom, and another room roughly 10’ by 20’. Unlike the rest of this underground area, the floor in that room is comprised purely of dirt, not wood or concrete. This is a leftover from before I took up residence in the family mansion. Prior to reclaiming my birthright, I spent most of my daylight hours down here resting deep in the ground, whenever I came to town.
Next to the door that leads into this room, stands a huge bookcase. It stretches from the ceiling to the floor and extends a good ten feet in length along the wall. I proceed to remove several books and stand back. Immediately, a tall section of the bookcase swings open revealing an imposing metal door behind it.
“Well, well, well,” Brian exclaims, his eyes wide with surprise, “You’ve moved it again. I swear, every time I think you’ve shown me everything, you produce yet another little wonder.”
“Impressed?” I ask casually.
“Very,” he replies giving me a slight bow. Then he starts studying the metal barrier. “Let me guess, another leftover from Prohibition?”
“From before that,” I explain. “Originally an old bank stood on this site years ago. Then it caught fire and was replaced by the building above us. But no one wanted to remove the vault, so it just sat down here, empty and deserted. That is until the mob took over and started using it to hide their distillery operations. After I found it, Otto helped me update the facilities and install climate control features. That was back in the 60’s.”
“And the films have been down here ever since,” Brian smiles.
“Actually, I didn’t move them in until the early 1980’s” I correct him. “Prior to that, I had another use for the room at that time.”
“So why did you need a climate-controlled room back in the 60’s?” Lisa asks, studying the books I had removed from the case, along with noting the spots where each one had been taken from.
Mentally, I make a note to rearrange the swinging bookshelf mechanism again, as I answer. “Well, originally, I was keeping certain plants and soil samples in here to study while I was working on my master’s degree in Botany. After I’d completed my studies, I got word that all the old films I’d gathered over the years were not holding up as well where I’d been storing them. So, I removed most of the tables I had kept my samples on, added lots of shelving, changed some of the lighting and…” at this I’ve unlocked the metal door, which slowly swings open to reveal a room the size of a rather large bank vault. Kind of like the ones you see on TV, only this one is the real thing.
There are rows upon rows of shelves inside, along with filing cabinets, film repair equipment, and a few other odds and ends.
“Care to step inside and peruse the collection?” I smile invitingly.
Lisa and her dad are so excited they both shoot past me and for a brief moment nearly get stuck in the doorway.
I quietly smile, thinking back to how many times Roscoe, Buster, Al, or the Marx Brothers would pull that stunt with hilarious results. It may be an old gag, but each of them could put a new spin or twist on it like no one else.
At that same time, the first inkling of an idea starts to hit me. Although to be honest, it’s one that has occurred to me several times, but I’m still unsure about it. The idea of running a slew of silent pictures on opening night would certainly appeal to historical movie-buffs. But what about a younger audience? Would they be interested? Hell, most of them have probably never heard of Buster Keaton, or Al St. John, or my old buddy Roscoe. At best, they might be familiar with Charlie Chaplin, but that’s about it.
Just then I hear Lisa’s voice coming from the vault saying, “Dad, would come and take a look at these? I recognize the artist, but not the names of the films.”
Immediately, I start to wonder which films she’s run across so quickly.
Following her voice, I enter the maze of shelving inside the vault, and find father and daughter studying a particular row of cannisters which I instantly recognize. Out of all the rows of films in here, how in the world did Lisa stumble across that section?
Before I can explore that thought further, Brian says excitedly, “Lisa, do you realize what these are? These are some of the films I was talking about earlier. The ones that were believed to have been lost for almost a century! There are collectors out there who would go give their right eye teeth find just one of these!”
“Seriously?” his daughter smiles, “Cool! Oh, and look who stars in most of them...”
Before she can finish, I call out, “Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle! More well known to the general public as ‘Fatty’, a name which he really hated, by the way.”