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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by Terry T.

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The end was in sight. Sixteen weeks of sixteen hour days seven days a week was nearly over.

Steve's brain was numb.

He had survived the last two weeks on adrenalin, coffee and nicotine. He knew before he started this building it would be like this, it always was.

The challenge had been laid down five months ago "Do you think we could build a six theater multiplex cinema in sixteen weeks? Old man Bennett had said.

"No problems" Steve had said.

He would have liked to of added all the buts and maybes that should have gone with that answer, like, "If the drawings are complete", "If the sub contractors turn up on time", "If it doesn't rain" or "No one makes a cock-up", but he knew that wasn't what Bennett wanted to hear.

Times were hard and Bennett was harder, he knew if he showed any signs of weak character Bennett would give someone else the job and he would be without one again.

He also knew from experience that if he could manage to carry it off and open the doors on the right day the success would be the old man's. If he failed, he could keep that all to himself.

The real pressure had come on in the last two weeks the architect hadn't liked the finish on the walls in the cinema foyers. "Just not good enough Steve, I can see trowel marks under the paint."

What the hell he had expected Steve didn't know. What he did know was that specifying 9mm Gib board bent around tight curves and painted in high gloss purple with a bright white wall light shining across it was never going to be easy.

"I don't like the detail around the toilet windows Steve" the architect had said.

"It's better than the one you've drawn" Steve had replied

"I didn't draw one did I?"

"Exactly!" Steve thought. There wasn't any point upsetting him at this stage he had to stay on side with the jumped up little bastard there was still a lot for him to sign off over the next two weeks

Steve had nearly lost it the next day the architectural team had decided that the matt black paint on the ceiling tiles in the cinemas just had to be changed to high gloss. This decision had arrived on the fax machine about 15 minutes after the scaffolding had been taken down and the seating contractors had started.

"What the bloody hell difference does it make! " Steve had screamed down the phone. "The lights are out for most of the time and when there on who's gone look up there!"

The outburst had had no effect; gloss was what they wanted. Steve knew even before he dialed the architect's office that they wouldn't change their minds. They never did, in fact the site foreman yelling down the phone at them usually hardened their resolve. He also knew though that unless he had made that call in front of the painting contractors they weren't going back up there.

The carpet layers arrived. "You guys can start on the vinyl in the wet areas, its all ready to go"

"No we can't, we lay carpet. There's another team coming to do the vinyl"

"Well the carpet areas aren't going to be ready till next week"

"We're on another job next week; it's today or not at all"

"Piss off then!" Steve would worry about carpet layers next week.

It was the next week when Steve had managed to find some more carpet laying contractors that the imported machinery like projectors, screens, computers and the people who were installing them started turning up. Mysterious looking crates of equipment were strewn through the main foyer. Tension filled every corner of the job. Steve was answering a barrage of questions from all directions. He needed a break.

He walked back to his site office five contractors were waiting for him.

"The dishwasher won't fit in the space," said the plumber.

"Do you know which light fitting goes where, in the toilets?" said the sparky.

"Are you the foreman?" said a slightly built guy in overalls with long greasy hair.

"Yep, whats up?" said Steve

"I'm here to install the popcorn machine," said the greasy one.

"How long will that take?"

"Dunno, never done one before, you've only gotta plug it in and switch it on though."

"Is it here?" asked Steve.

"Yep, It's that big crate over there just inside the door."

"Any chance you could come back on Friday and plug it in, It's a bloody mad house in there at the moment?

"No worries mate," said the greasy one.

One down four to go.

When Steve had got rid of all the subbies waiting with questions and problems he lit another smoke sipped his coffee and stared blankly at the newspaper on his desk. Turning to the back page he saw the advertisement.


"Well there it is in print," he thought, no turning back now. He looked at the list of items to complete, could it be done? "No problems," he laughed to himself. He was glad that Bennett was away in Fiji and not due back till Thursday night - his confidence wouldn't be high if he took a look inside the place right now. Steve knew if Bennett was here he would be walking around inside screaming at all the sub trades swearing, questioning their breeding and generally lowering the moral of everybody, what little there was left that is. By the time Bennett got back we would either have made it or not time would tell.

Steve arrived at five am on Friday morning, only six hours after having left the night before and only six hours till guests arrived for the preview showing of "Howard's End."

That would be followed by speeches a quick drink in the foyer and then open to the public. Steve looked at the list.

"Still a bit to do, but I think were gonna make it."

"Why is that bloody popcorn machine still in its bloody crate!!??"

Steve recognized the voice immediately. Bennett was back.

"The guy is coming to plug it in this morning boss, it'll only take half an hour."

"Well the rest of the place needs a bloody good clean up; there's dust everywhere and the lights aren't working in the toilets!"

Steve just nodded.

"I'll be back at eleven for the movie. This place better be ready!" Bennett said as he strode out the door.

"Fiji couldn't have been too bad." Steve thought to himself.

Sub contractors started to arrive. Steve went over each one's duties for the morning with them it looked good, everyone who was meant to be here was here and so far no disasters.

Steve looked at the large crate just inside the door. "Shit where's that bloody grease ball who's installing the popcorn machine?" He headed towards the office to find his phone number just as the greaseball pulled up in his van.

"G'day mate ready for me to put that machine in now?"

"Sure am buddy. How long?"

"Oh shouldn't be more than an hour all done."

"Goodo," said Steve as he continued to the office for caffeine and nicotine.

It was nine am when Steve got back into the main building; the phone had gone non-stop for an hour and a half. Two hours till they started to arrive and he had to get home and change before that, tee-shirt and shorts wasn't going to be acceptable for a premier.

The place was looking good, staff were being trained in the intricacies of the till and coffee machine, the carpenters were easing the doors and the plumber was just making the final adjustments to the automatic flusher in the ladies toilet.

"Thank god for that," Steve thought as he looked towards the food bar where the grease ball was sitting reading a newspaper.

"You got that machine working yet?"

"It's just warming up, according to the instructions it takes an hour to reach the right temperature then its ready to go."

"Tell me you haven't forgotten to get some popcorn to put in it, " said Steve half joking half hopeful.

"No they sent a carton of it with the machine you just tip it in the top when this light comes on and it does its thing."

"Oh right" nodded Steve just as the little red light the grease ball was pointing too flickered to life.

"Here we go." The greaseball tipped the carton of unpopped popcorn into the opening in the top of the machine, nothing happened.

"It'll take a couple of minutes."

Popcorn started to pop.

"Well that's away," said the greasy one, "and so am I. I've got another job on in Panmure."

"Ok," said Steve, "and thanks."

Steve wandered off to the toilets to check on the plumber while the greaseball left with his bag of tools.

"How's it going in here Nick?"

"Yeah pretty good Steve, all done."

Steve was starting to relax. It looked like everything was going to be alright. Sure the architects would have a snag list a mile long and Steve just knew that they would have to change a few colours around yet but that could all wait until next week. The cinema would open on time.

He headed back to the main foyer following the smell of freshly popped popcorn that had searched him out in the women's toilet.

As he entered the foyer he could tell by the group of people around the popcorn machine that something was wrong.

Everyone was either waving their arms or grabbing another bag of popcorn as it spewed from the machine.

"How the hell do you turn this bloody thing off?" said the sparky.

"Christ, you're the electrician," said Steve as he ran to the food counter.

"I've unplugged the bloody thing Steve, but the element stays hot for some time and it's still popping the corn," was the sparky's reply as he reached for another bag to hold under the popcorn machines dispensing orifice.

Steve looked at the empty carton that the grease ball had tipped in the machine.

"This carton contains enough kernels for 100 machine fills please use four scoops per fill"

"SHIT" thought Steve.

The machine moved into second gear. Popcorn was spreading across the floor of the foyer like tsunami. "This cant be happening," thought Steve. He glanced at his watch. It was ten am only an hour till the onslaught. "Grab the other side!" shouted Steve "We'll carry it into the staff toilets."

They did just that and closed the door behind them. "That will have to do, the staff can use the main toilets for today and we can clean up the mess in there later."

Steve looked at the floor of the foyer covered in popcorn "Right every one get a rubbish bag or broom and start sweeping."

It didn't take too long and with fifteen minutes to spare all of the popcorn had been swept into rubbish bags and taken out the back. Steve had put a "do not use" sign on the staff toilets and his heart rate had slowed.

He rushed home, showered, changed and got back to the cinema in record time. Eleven fifteen and the place was bursting at the seams.

As he walked into the main foyer he was greeted by the cinema owners and old man Bennett, who had a look on his face like hell. Bennett pulled him aside. "Where the bloody hell is the popcorn machine."

"It's a long story boss but it will be working later"

Bennett was not going to let it rest there but the GM from Cinemas International took him by the arm and led him away to the main Foyer.

"Thank you god," thought Steve.

People started to file into the theaters for the "Howard's End" premier.

Steve couldn't face it. He went instead to the food counter and looked at the space were the machine should be. A couple of handfuls of squashed and foot trampled popcorn was the only evidence that there had ever been a problem. Steve reached down and swept the last remaining and dirty popcorn into one of the cardboard popcorn containers. He put it on the shelf and went out side for a smoke. He decided that he really didn't want to see Howard's End or the inside of those cinemas again today and went back to the unusual peace of his site office and drank coffee.

About an hour or two later one of the staff members from the cinemas stuck his head around the corner of the door. "Hey speeches are about to start, you better get in there."

Steve wandered back into the complex, he went into the main theater and sat at the back as the architect was being congratulated for designing such an outstanding building.

Old man Bennett was next: "tremendous workmanship, outstanding achievement against all odds" was the basic theme, Bennett beamed as the GM presented him with a life time gold card for any International Cinema Film.

"Typical," thought Steve.

Oh there was the usual "I couldn't have done it without the support of my dedicated staff" speech but no names mentioned. Steve hadn't expected anything more.

He headed back to the foyer before the applause stopped to get one of the complimentary drinks before the crowd arrived back in. As he sipped the cheap wine he felt a hand on his shoulder he turned around it was Bennett. "Now tell me about that bloody popcorn machine." He barked. Steve looked up at the shelf where he had left the carton of evidence. "Would you like some?"

Bennett snatched the carton from Steve. "So you did get it working." Bennett pushed himself away through the now dense crowd towards a group of well-dressed types in the center of the room. Steve watched as the GM, architect and Bennett took a mouthful each. As soon as it hit their taste buds they could tell something was wrong all three of them headed for the nearest toilet to spit it out. In their panic to get the popcorn out of their mouths and what with having to fight their way through the crowds they never saw the "do not use" sign on the door.

"Time to go home," thought Steve.

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