“The wind is cold, out of the west,
Your heart beats heavy, within your chest
But friends are here, to see you through,
So gather ‘round for Count Cryptoff’s brew…"
Benny Krutz intoned the words slowly, meaningfully, as if they were Shakespeare. They were an important, integral part of the show, the introduction to the evening’s repast. He took them seriously – or at least as seriously as he could manage on any given night.
Benny Krutz, as Count Cryptoff, was the idol of millions. Or at least the few hundred or so insomniacs, third shift workers and very, very bad children who tuned into him every Friday at midnight on Station WJBB. He felt he owed his legion of fans his concentration, his attention to duty, and the very best entertainment a fifty-dollar-a-show budget could deliver.
After the proscribed invitation into his crypt, he sat back onto his throne and smiled, showing off his fangs. He waited for Darla, his assistant, to make her entrance. In his mind’s eye, Benny could see her sweep onto the set in her black gown with the pleasingly low décolletage and the equally-pleasing tight-in-the-rump bustle. It was his one saving grace, show after show, night after night, week after week, sneaking peeks at the girl’s attributes and trying to work up the courage to ask her out.
Darla did not appear on cue. The director popped up from behind the camera and scowled. And it was not a good thing when Jules Pinochet scowled.
“I…err…Darla may be…down in the mausoleum pi—picking out tonight’s thriller-chiller, my fiends…”
It was lame and he knew it. But he had learned that live television was a most unforgiving matron and dead air was tantamount to declaring yourself a communist before the first commercial break.
Jules Pinochet scowled again. Benny knew that a Two-Scowl Show meant trouble not only for him, but for everyone who worked on “Count Cryptoff’s Chiller Carnival.” And they’d all blame him, the star, no matter who was truly responsible for the gaffe.
“I’m sure she will be here at any moment,” he hissed out of the side of his mouth, a not-terribly-easy-thing-to-do around a set of false fangs. In his mind’s eye he could see them shooting across the set and hitting Jules Pinochet in the forehead, producing a Three-Scowl Show. The record, made one night two months earlier, was a Seven-Scowl Show.
“Tonight’s offering is,” he scrambled to pull back his sleeve just enough – and surreptitiously – to remind himself of the film’s title, “ahh…wonderful, my fiends! It is to be… The Mystery of Edwin Drood!”
That one hurt. They’d been scraping the bottom of the barrel for horror films in the last few weeks and this just had to be the bitter dregs. Benny winced inwardly as he read the title.
Still no Darla. He had to continue to improvise. Once he had filled the allotted time and they went directly into the first reel of Claude Rains’ 1935 magnum opus, he flew off his throne, waving at Jules Pinochet to not say a word, not a single word.
Benny caught the edge of the spider web filigree that decorated the throne and tore it away as he passed. He did it almost every show and with every show the set guy grew more and more incensed at him.
His cape billowing behind him, he stalked headlong down the corridor past the dressing rooms – such as they were – and towards the backstage door to the alley. Pausing there, he collected himself. He knew what he’d find beyond the door – Darla, caught in the grip of a nicotine haze, completely shirking her duty to the show. And to him, to some extent.
If her caboose wasn’t one of the finest he’d ever seen on an assistant ghoul, he just didn’t know how he’d keep from flipping his lid at the kid. In his mind’s eye he saw himself remonstrating her and she, recognizing her faults, throwing herself on his mercy. And into his arms, natch.
Benny threw open the door and stepped out onto the tiny little loading platform that jutted out into the alley behind the studio. There, below him, four men went about the business of beating the bloody snot out of someone.
Then he saw Darla off to one side of the spectacle and she saw him.
Her eyes pleaded to him for…what? In the heat of the moment he couldn’t say. A trickle of blood ran down from the corner of her near-perfect lips; Benny supposed it wasn’t the fake stuff they whipped up by the bucketful for the show. Her already-risqué gown had slipped off one creamy, dead-white shoulder, an event that normally would have gotten quite a rise out of him, but at the moment smacked of something wrong. Very, very wrong.
Then the four goons paused in their calculated and rhythmic violence and looked up at Benny. All of them and all at once.
TO BE CONTINUED.
All content © Jim Beard 2012. You may purchase a copy of SGT. JANUS, SPIRIT-BREAKER at AMAZON.COM.