Jonathan Ferrini, 8/20/2018

Current Occupation: Commercial real estate and insurance broker salesman.

Previous Occupation: Commercial real estate broker salesman.

Contact Information: Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. He received his MFA in Motion Picture and Television Production from UCLA. Jonathan has been a self employed commercial real estate investor and consultant his entire career.. He is also a US Patent holder.

 

This submission is serialized, presented over three acts. This is act three. Acts two and one can be found here: ONE, TWO.

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Box Office Gross

Act III

I was keeping my eye on the studio’s stock price through the end of July and into August. It remained steady at $29 per share suggesting the players in our game of chess were lying low. As I had promised Ray weeks ago, I permitted him to return to the call room. Ray had also kept his promise and was a professional seldom speaking except to say hello or goodbye to anybody. The Labor Day weekend was ahead of us and was the grand finale weekend opportunity for each studios slate of films. Each night after clocking out, Alice would spend a few minutes making entries into a ledger which I suspect were her own set of box office grosses. No employee was permitted to use the copy machines or remove the box office sheets from the office. She shook her head repeatedly indicating frustration about her numbers not jiving with the BOO numbers for her region. If I prohibited her from keeping her own set of books and removing them from the office, it may push her to confront Margie so I let her be.

It was the third weekend of August and the pressures of the important Labor Day weekend box office collecting were mounting. The callers were told to expect overtime and no requests for the Labor Day weekend off were granted resulting in several part-time callers quitting on the spot. Rather than hire new callers which would require training, Paul instructed me to spread the workload of the quitting employees amongst the full-time employees. As a result, each of the callers was working longer with fewer breaks. I could feel the pressure mount in the call room. William and Copa worked in tandem helping each other complete the many box office gross sheets assigned to them. Alice was a perfectionist and was comfortable working her customary east coast region but was having difficulty adjusting to the new regions assigned to her. Calling new theatre managers with whom she had no rapport and having to make several attempts at obtaining the box office grosses were proving too much for her. She was falling behind. William and Copa would generally jump in and help another caller but were too busy completing their own work. I was confronted by a conundrum. I could let her fail, fire her, and perhaps be rid of her meddling in our box office manipulation or be a responsible supervisor and take over some of her sheets. I did the latter. I got off my ass and approached Alice and said, “You’re falling behind Alice. Let me take some of those call sheets.” Alice was overwhelmed but said in a frenzy, “Yes but let me keep my region!” I pitied old Alice and relieved her of the twelve additional call sheets assigned to her permitting her to take a deep breath and focus on her familiar theatres. I divided her sheets in half, giving Ray six and keeping six for myself. I approached Ray and laid the six call sheets on his desk which provoked him into saying, “Why do I have to help her? Nobody is helping me!” Copa responded to Ray, “Give me three of your sheets and I’ll help you.” Copa rose from his chair and reached from behind inadvertently brushing Ray’s back to take three sheets. Ray exploded, “That cheap perfume stinks to high hell. You got it all over me, faggot! I’ll get a splitting headache from my allergy from your cheap perfume.” William was irate and grabbed the sheets from Copa’s hand and threw them on Ray’s desk saying, “You can shove these up your ass.” I expected bedlam to break out but Ray sat silently and began breathing heavily. I prepared to intercede if a physical altercation broke out. It wasn’t more than a few minutes before Ray responded to William saying, “The Taliban knows how to handle faggots.” The added pressure of the weekend stressed out normally even keeled William and he shot back, “Do they run a train over faggots?” The call room went silent as Ray’s possible connection to Texas Tommy’s beating was evident. Ray wasn’t fazed and said, “The Taliban burns them alive.” Alice who had regained her composure after being relieved of the extra calls couldn’t remain silent exclaiming, “Don’t bore us with anymore of your hateful war stories, Ray. Do less talking and more calling. You and the company will be better off!” Ray couldn’t resist the opportunity to respond, “I can tell Alzheimer’s is creeping up on you watching you struggle to complete the extra sheets, Alice. It couldn’t happen to a nicer Jewess!” Copa couldn’t take the arguing, rose from his chair, and ran to the exit exclaiming, “I need a break from this cruelty.” The Alzheimer’s remark hit Alice hard. She was an accomplished woman, good with figures, and a proud woman who braved decades of discrimination as both a woman and a Jew. She turned to Ray, removed her visor, and calmly said, “You’re a cruel little man who lives in a dark hole hiding from a beautiful world you feel insignificant within. I pity you Ray and hope you find a way to crawl out of the darkness and into the light.” I had to step in and restore order. I took the three extra sheets away from Ray and whispered, “I’ll handle your extra duty but get your ass over to the receptionist’s desk and finish your shift. Ray sarcastically replied, “Yes Sir!” As he left the call room, he muttered, “Glad to be away from faggots and old hags anyways!” I felt the disposable flip phone vibrate in my pocket. After setting Ray up in the receptionist’s table and admonishing him that it would be his permanent call station until further notice, I retreated to the bathroom stall to read Jay’s text message:

Midnight

Usual place.

I replied:

Busy at work. Make it 1:00 am.

Jay replied:

See you then.

I was proud of the crew tonight including Ray. Despite the increased workload, they managed to report ninety percent of the grosses. On a fully staffed night, ninety percent is considered satisfactory. I was beat and closed up shop. The Walk of Fame is still busy at midnight but at this hour, only the desperate, searching, or wandering mull about.

I arrived ahead of Jay and ordered coffee. Within a few minutes, I heard the familiar roar of his Porsche approach the coffee shop and park in front. He was greeted by our favorite waitresses as he entered and asked for “My usual breakfast, please”. I knew the news would be good. I was worried about the stall in negotiations and expected the deal to fall through just like all of my Hollywood experiences. Jay was wearing a beautiful gray pinstriped double breasted “Brioni” suit tonight. I surmised he must have had high level meetings. He moved in close to speak to me instead of using the napkin approach of communicating. I commented, “You look dapper, Jay. Must have had a big day?”  Jay’s food arrived and he organized the plate before speaking and taking his first bite. He swallowed, took a sip of coffee, and said, “The Russians are sharp negotiators. They created a stalking horse competitor to get the other buyer off his ass and it worked.” I didn’t know exactly what Jay meant and asked, “Stalking horse?” Jay swallowed his food, took a sip of coffee, and answered, “It’s a sham buyer the other buyer can validate.” Jack stopped speaking and reached for a napkin and wrote:

Offer: 3.6B @ $31

I tore it into pieces and placed it in my coffee cup and asked, “What did the original buyer say?”  It’s not what they said, it’s what they’re doing, my man. They’ll increase their offer after reviewing Labor Day box office grosses. I expect the deal to be complete and announced by the second week of September. Arnold and I were in meetings all day with the President of the studio, Chairman of the Board, and a host of attorneys and accountants. I couldn’t stand to hear them praise Arnold for delivering hits and the fat little prick is taking credit. They promised him stock options at $29 if the Labor Day grosses are high and the sale goes through. I had to ask, “What did they offer you, Jack?” With a smirk he replied, “To keep my job which makes the risk of this whole endeavor worthwhile for me and you. We won’t be casualties this time, Nathan! It will be a wild Labor Day weekend for you. Sit back and watch the fireworks!” Truer words were never spoken.

Paul and I wanted to be prepared for the important Labor Day weekend grosses and coaxed former callers “out of retirement” with extra pay so we would be properly staffed and each caller not overwhelmed and able to achieve near one hundred percentage reporting. We offered $100 bonus to each caller if we achieved reporting success of at least ninety eight percent. I needed the operation to run smoothly and offered Ray an upfront $100 cash incentive bonus if he would remain in the reception lobby and not speak to anybody. It worked. The phones rang, callers made calls, and box office gross sheets were completed each night and delivered to the computing department with almost 99% completion. It was a long weekend and I eagerly awaited the events which would start to go down on Tuesday after the Labor Day national box office gross was released to the media. On Tuesday night following the Labor Day weekend, I received a text from Jay reading:

No time to meet.

Labor Day box office gross fix. Close @ $35. Buy. Close @ $37

Original offer raised to 3.75B @ $37

One more round, amigo.

I replied:

Greedy on the gross fix!  May catch heat here.

Stay tuned.

Oleg and Paul were greedy because they had to be. It was the last weekend for them to puff up the studio’s box office grosses resulting in a $4 per share increase of the studio’s stock. My instincts told me they would invite the “stalking horse” buyer back to the table for one more “performance”.

I couldn’t sleep Tuesday and reported to BOO on time Wednesday evening. I knew being greedy would backfire and sure as hell as I walked past Paul’s office, I saw Alice and Oleg in a heated discussion and grimaced as I entered my office expecting to be summoned to their meeting. Within seconds, the buzzer on my office phone announced Paul wanted me. I didn’t bother to answer and just walked towards his office. I knocked and was invited inside interrupting Oleg in mid speech. I closed the door.  There was no seat and I stood. The air was thick with confrontation. Oleg continued, “My data entry people are experts. I match them against any in the world. Perhaps you not so good numbers reporter, Alice”? Paul interrupted, “Thank you for joining us, Ethan. Alice prepared her own set of box office grosses for her region which don’t match the BOO report for the same region.” He handed me a copy of her detailed handwritten ledger showing each theatre’s box office grosses for each of the studios movies for the Labor Day weekend commencing Friday and ending Monday night. I had to think quickly because I anticipated the next question from Paul, “What is your opinion on the discrepancy, Ethan.” First, it’s against company policy to keep any independent box office gross reports and Alice should be disciplined. Second, Alice had difficulty keeping up with the increased workload two weekends ago when we were understaffed so I relieved her of the extra duty. It wasn’t fair to the other callers. Oleg followed, “Yes, I agree with Ethan. This job requires young agile minds. Alice is too old and no longer capable of performing job. Instead, she makes false accusations against my computer program and personnel to cover her own ineptitude!” Paul didn’t have the opportunity to ask Alice to comment because she blasted Oleg and me, saying, “Gentlemen, and I use the term sparingly, my decision to comment on the box office gross discrepancy isn’t not about my capabilities. I could care less whether you fire me. It’s about the reputation and credibility of this fine company. If the industry can’t rely on BOO’s reporting of accurate box office grosses, the company Margie worked so hard to build will be out of business and you boys will be out of a job. I’m an old lady living off my retirement plan. What are your fall back  positions?” Paul, Oleg, and I were thinking the same thing simultaneously, “If you only knew Alice!” Alice continued, “I’ve provided you with my data and now it’s up to the three of you to explain the discrepancies or I’ll have no choice but to approach Margie next week. I’ll eagerly await your answer.” Alice rose, opened the door, and before leaving stated, “I’ll presume I still have a job unless I hear otherwise.” Paul, Oleg, and I remained silent but each of knew we were “so close but yet so far” from becoming millionaires.

It would be a long week and next week at this time, I may be out of a job and facing criminal conspiracy charges with the SEC. Oleg would probably skip the country with the help of his Russian contacts but Paul would be ruined and his poor family couldn’t suffer any more tragedy. Each night I passed Ron completing his work from the receptionist’s desk, his mood appeared darker. I couldn’t help but think of poor Texas Tommy whose life was destroyed forever. Over the course of the week, I retreated to writing during the day as a form of meditation. The more I wrote the better I felt. My writing emboldened me and took me back to a place of empowerment realizing I owned a writing talent nobody could take away from me. By Friday, my writing provided me with a plan.

I showed up early Friday afternoon to discuss an “Employee Appreciation Day” with Paul to reward the callers for achieving in excess of ninety eight percent reporting for the important Labor Day Weekend. Paul was sullen and simply nodded yes to every suggestion I offered. He wouldn’t take his eyes of the framed picture of his dying daughter the entire meeting. The callers had all arrived and were in their seats

by six on Friday evening. I shouted, “Excuse me. May I have your attention, please?” The call room went silent. I saw Ray from the corner of my eye enter the call center. I began, “Monday evening, BOO will be hosting an Employee Appreciation Day to recognize your outstanding performance over Labor Day. The party will commence at ten and include pizza, soft drinks, booze, cake, and music. I hope you’ll all will attend.” The call room burst into applause. Ray pointed to himself and mouthed the words, “Me too?” I nodded in the affirmative and he lit up like a kid attending his own birthday party. Most of the callers would finish and leave by 10 pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Ray was generally one of the last to leave because he was working west coast theatre chains. I made it a point to stop by and spend a few minutes each night with him. My comments included, “I was wrong about Alice. I think she’s not a joiner. She’s a lone wolf and we both know lone wolfs don’t belong in the service, sorry, I meant company. You know what I mean? This office needs joiners like you, Ray.” On Saturday I asked, “How does sitting in the reception room alone make you feel? Do you feel like an outcast? Maybe I should reconsider punishing you?” With each comment, I was stoking anger and planting seeds of hope in Ray’s disturbed mind. I saved the most crucial comment for Sunday night saying, “I think Alice had it out for you and set you up, Ray. I’ll think about it and maybe we can get you back in the call room” With each suggestion, I continued to stoke Ray’s hatred and anger towards Alice and whipped up his hopes of joining the call center. It also made him trust me.

Monday’s are generally not the best day of the week for any employee but this Monday would end up becoming a bad night for all employees at BOO. The caller’s were in a festive mood because Monday’s are a slow night for box office grosses and they were all looking forward to the party. Ray’s bus arrived at 5:00 pm and I made it a point to greet him as he got off the bus in a mock surprise meeting. I’d be wearing my backpack to give him the impression I had just arrived at work. Right on time, the bus pulled up and stopped.  Ray exited and I came up behind him and said, “It will be a great party tonight!” Ray was excited about the party and said, “Yeah boss, I’ve been looking forward to it all week. I love cake. I hope it has vanilla icing!” I’ll thank the baker for the vanilla icing wedding cake at a later date I thought to myself. I put my arm around him and said, “Ray, before we go up, I’ve done more research on Alice. I’ve asked around and she’s been saying some terrible things about you.” Ray’s festive mood turned sullen asking, “What has that old bitch been saying about me?” I replied, “Ah, forget it Ray. It really doesn’t matter. I’m going to immediately take you off probation and protect you from Alice.” I knew Ray wouldn’t let it go and he pleaded, “Tell me what she said Ethan?” I taunted him, “You must promise not to get mad and go upstairs to confront Alice.” Ray said, “I promise, please tell me what she’s saying.” I pulled a paper from my pocket and began to read:

Red neck anti-Semite

Coward

Private Porcelain is an insect who likes to live in excrement

Woman hater and closet homosexual

Ray’s face turned beet red and his breathing was heavy. His pit-bull physique expanded like a blow fish with every muscle readying for confrontation. I finished by saying, “It’s hard to hear but I know you’ll take it like a soldier but I have a fun way for you to get revenge for her putting you down. Want to know?” Ray’s face lit up saying, “Yeah, how can I get back at her?” I reached into my backpack and retrieved a knife. Ray loved weapons and I waved the knife in front of his face and asked, “You like this cool knife, Ray?” Ray nodded affirmatively and then I stabbed him in the chest with it.  He turned white. I pulled the knife from his chest and the color returned to his face when he realized it was a retractable prop knife. I stabbed myself several times to convince him it was a movie prop and it humored him. He asked, “Hey, Let me try it.” I handed it to him and he stabbed himself a couple of times. I motioned for him to hand it back to me and said, “Here’s my idea for your revenge on Alice. I want you to go up and have a good time. There’s cake with vanilla icing, pizza, and plenty of booze. I’ll pay for your rideshare home so get drunk and have fun. Sometime after the party starts and everybody is having a good time, I’ll let you know when to stab Alice right in the heart with the prop knife. She’ll piss her pants and the whole party will laugh at her just like they laughed at the Private Porcelain joke. Are you in, Ray?” Ray said, ‘Yeah man, I’ll teach her! Can I have the knife?” I replied, “I’ll hand it to you when we’re ready.”  Ray was eager saying, “I’ll show that old bag who the coward is!”

At about eight, I felt the flip phone vibrate with Jay’s text message. I didn’t bother to secrete myself to view it. It was too late for the discrete formalities. It would all work out tonight or it wouldn’t. I opened the flip phone and read the text in my office:

Weekend box office gross fix. Close @ $38.5

Stalking horse revised offer of 3.9B @ $39

I sensed Tuesday was the day all would be made clear and final. But tonight, I had a party to host. At 10:00 pm I shouted, “Attention everybody. Put your phones down. The party is starting!” BOO had a break room about the size of a conference room for the daytime staff but was locked at night. It included a refrigerator, microwave, table, and chairs. I had it decorated with streamers, balloons, and bought a large vanilla icing wedding cake at discount because the Beverly Hills bride cancelled at the eleventh hour. I also stocked the room with ice chests full of more beers than soft drinks and bottles of hard liquor. I wanted everybody drunk, mellow and enjoying themselves. The room filled and spilled out into the hallway with callers. I synced my Smartphone playlist with the speaker system so the lyrics to the Rolling Stones, “Under My Thumb” resounded and I hoped the lyrics would ignite Ray’s hostility towards Alice and motivate him to seek revenge. Throughout the night, I talked up Ray and made certain he was drinking liquor. The last person to arrive at the party was Alice who was drinking soda pop. The frail old lady with the green visor and pocket protector looked so out of place amongst the twenty and thirty something revelers. Alice loved the party. She was dancing with Coca and William. She had switched to a white wine and it was nice to see her let “her hair down” for once. I didn’t take my eyes off Ray who seemed motivated by the lyrics and mouthing them:

Under my thumb
The girl who once pushed me around …

I approached Ray and asked, “Ready for revenge?” Ray was drunk but not too drunk replying, “Yeah man, I’m ready. Tell me when.” I reminded Ray, “She called you an insect living in excrement. He continued to sing along with the lyrics:

Under my thumb
The squirmin' dog who's just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways

I caught Ray’s attention from across the break room and shouted, “Closet homosexual!” The music was too loud and everybody was too drunk to take notice of my shouting. Ray took notice and was eager to humiliate Alice but I motioned with my hands “time out” which he understood to wait for the right moment. He was so ready repeating the lyrics:

It's down to me, oh yeah…

I approached Ray offering him another Tequila shot which he downed and said, “Can I stab that old bitch now boss?” I patted Ray on the back like a coach about to send him in for the big play and said, “We’re almost ready, soldier. Keep your eyes peeled for my signal.” Ray replied, “Yes, sir!” He seemed transfixed by the lyrics:

It's down to me, oh that's what I said…
Down to me, the change has come,
She's under my thumb
Say, it's alright

I was ready to give Ray my command but couldn’t see Alice. I panicked. I left the break room, walked down the hall, and found her in the call room transcribing grosses into her ledger. It was time. I passed my office and retrieved the knife from my backpack, wiped the handle clean of my fingerprints, tucked it inside the front of my jeans under my shirt and hurried to the break room. I spied Ray and yelled, “Red neckl!” He was eager and approached me, “Let’s get this over with boss. I want to see the look on her ugly face when I stab her!” I led him out of the break room saying, “I found her. She’s in the call room. Are you ready?” He eagerly replied, “Yeah, I’m ready to make her piss her pants!” As we approached Alice, I discreetly reached into the front of my pants and removed the knife with a hanky handing it to Ray. Alice looked up and I said, “Ray has a surprise for you, Alice!” Ray yelled, “Take this you old whore” and stabbed Alice to death in the heart in a forceful, downward thrusting motion. Blood poured from Alice and covered the knife in Ray’s hand.  The booze slowed Ray’s reaction but soon the horror and panic overtook him when he realized he was holding a real knife. A chorus of screaming callers filled the call room attracting everybody to the break room. Ray cried, “Alice, it’s supposed to be a joke. I didn’t mean to kill you!” Somebody yelled, “Ray killed Alice. Call the police!” Callers began a stampede to the exit. There were no heroes willing to take on crazy Ray. Ray just stood there crying covered in Alice’s blood. I heard the familiar screeching tires of stealth police cars arriving outside the building. I yelled, “Run Ray, run. The cops are coming. The knife has your fingerprints on it so throw the knife across the street when you get outside.” Ray ran down the hall past screaming employees shouting, “Murderer”. I followed him down the hall and he raced down the stairs. I looked around and nobody would see me reach behind my back and remove the retractable prop knife tucked inside my pants with my hanky and place it in Ray’s backpack he left behind. I heard the familiar police admonition:

Drop the knife

Drop it now

Drop it

The cops were kind to Ray. They weren’t trigger happy and gave him the opportunity to choose life or death. Ray chose “death by cop”. I heard four rounds fired.  I walked down the hall past frightened callers. I yelled, “It’s all over. It’s safe to come out now”. I couldn’t bear to look at Alice’s lifeless body so I returned to the break room to have a drink before the cops came upstairs. The music was still playing:

Feels alright
Take it, take it easy babe
 

I felt my flip phone vibrate notifying me of a text message from Jay. I pulled it from my pocket, dropped it to the ground, and smashed it to pieces before placing the shards into the trash. I didn’t care what the message said. I did my part. It was over.

The next day the Hollywood industry trade magazines reported the sale of the venerable movie studio to a foreign electronics conglomerate. 51% of the studios stock was now owned by a consortium of investors whose names were obscure and were appointed to the Board of Directors.  There was no mention of the double killing at BOO. The sale price was four billion dollars at $40 a share. What wasn’t reported was the fact the Russian bank bought in at 3 billion and sold at 4 billion. They should build a monument of Jay somewhere in Moscow for the money the Russian bank made. Everybody profited except the foreign electronics conglomerate and Margie. Jay, Oleg, Paul, and I split evenly one hundred million dollars. In every big deal, there is always a “schlepper” who does the dirty work to get the deal done. In this deal, it was me. In the coming days, the new Board of Directors elected Jay President of the Studio who immediately signed an exclusive multipicture production deal with “Lone Wolf Movies”, Ethan Tsalach, President. I got what I always wanted and prayed that one day I’d forget the price I paid for it.

Jay and I had the pleasure of watching Arnold and Joey drive off the studio lot for the last time. The bungalow offices occupied by my former producer-instructor were being readied for my company. Lone Wolf Movies signed an option agreement on William’s latest novel, “Railcar Revenge”. Copa thrived in his well paying gig with benefits within the studio wardrobe department. The studio paid for Texas Tommy’s reconstructive surgery and cast him in a reoccurring role in a television series after his recuperation. Paul’s daughter received her new heart. BOO was purchased by the studio and its business operations dismantled forever. They say Oleg’s Tel Aviv Penthouse parties are all the rage. Every Tuesday morning after midnight the Hollywood Walk of Fame received a steam cleaning paid by Ethan Tsalach insuring the “Stars” always shined brightly in Hollywood.

 

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