He tapped again at the closed front doors of the cinema, peering in through misted glass and thick lenses.
I pointed at my watch. 'We're not open yet,' I mouthed. 'Not until one o'clock.' Then turned back to what I had been doing; putting a plug onto the new popcorn warmer. But his eyes were still on me. I could feel that penetrating gaze even through the glass. After only a few seconds he tapped again, insistently.
'For God's sake...' Are you stupid or something, I was going to say, then stopped myself. You were supposed to be polite to customers, even if, like myself, you had become a projectionist to get away from them. Taking a deep breath - keep calm now and try not to think of murder - I'm sorry m'lud. It was all those violent films I was forced to watch - I gently placed the screwdriver down on the counter and walked over, pushed the panic bolt and held the door open. Invited him in, just as you have to invite a vampire, or a ghost inside your home. Or is it merely hindsight that gives more weight to this moment than it warrants? Anyway, I didn't 'invite' him. I opened the door a tiny bit, and before I knew it, he was inside.
'About time too,' he said sharply. 'Just because I left my keys at home doesn't mean you can leave me standing outside. Who are you anyway?'
I was new; I didn't know who he really was. He might be the eccentric elderly relative of some company director, maybe. I bit my tongue and replied in as polite a tone as I could muster. 'Steve Conroy. Chief projectionist.'
He looked me up and down, frowned. 'No you aren't,' he said. 'I'm chief here. Have been for thirty seven years.' And shaking his head sadly, left me standing in the middle of the foyer as he climbed the three steps, pushed through the inner doors and began making his way up the main staircase to the bar area.
'Hey,' I called. 'Where do you think you're going? The cinema's shut. You can't...'
He didn't take a blind bit of notice.
Great, I thought. There's no manager here, it's my third day, and I've let in some kind of nutter. Good start, Steve. I followed him, catching up as we reached the bar.
'Excuse me.' I put a hand on the arm of his heavy tweed jacket. It felt slightly greasy. 'You aren't supposed to be in here. We're not open to the public yet.'
He glared at me again. For just a moment I thought he was going to hit me, then his focus abruptly shifted to something in the distance. 'What's happened to the lights?' He sounded puzzled; lost even. 'Where's the chandelier gone?'
I shrugged. 'I don't know.'
'But it was here yesterday...' He walked past me, over to the ornamental railing and pointed up at the high ceiling. 'There. It was there. Someone's stolen it.'
Suddenly I felt sorry for him. Whoever he was, he was certainly confused.
'We've got to tell someone,' he said in an authoritative tone.
'Good idea,' I agreed quickly. 'We should tell the manager. Let's go back down to the office and wait for him, eh?'
At last, I seemed to be getting through. He nodded, and let me guide him back over to the stairs. If only this episode of comparative lucidity lasted, I might even get him out of the place, I thought. Thank God I was a projectionist. Thank God I could hand cases like this over to someone else.
Halfway down the stairs he stopped again. 'That's where he died,' he said, pointing to a corner of the landing. 'Back in nineteen sixty-six. Carrying a box of raspberry ripples up to the salesgirl. Heart attack.'
'Ah,' I commented neutrally. Despite myself, I had to ask, 'Who?'
'Mr Archer of course. Best manager this place ever had. We all went to the funeral...' His eyes went unfocused as he drifted off into his memories again. 'It was after that things all went to the bad.'
I persuaded him to take another step down toward the foyer.
'It was after that...' He turned to me, and gave me a shrewd look. 'Can you keep a secret?'
'Er, yes.' Just keep him talking and keep him walking.
'The other time,' he whispered, leaning close and hissing foul breath against my face. 'The other death. It wasn't an accident, you know. The bastard deserved it.'
It's just an old man's senile rambling, I told myself. But it refused to go away. I now knew who he was; Albert Gudgeon, a former chief projectionist who had retired ten years ago. So that bit had been true. Further enquiries to Betty, who'd been a cashier for so long she was practically included with the fixtures and fittings, proved that there had indeed been a chandelier suspended over the foyer back in the good old days.
'...and ever so pretty it was too. Albert kept it sparkling...'
'And he said someone died on the stairs...'
'Ooh yes. That was Mr Archer. Lovely man he was; a real gent. Always helping out, he was. That was what did for him, all that rushing about at his age. He was only three years off retiring too...'
Once you got her going, it was difficult to stem the flow. I smiled and nodded. 'So there isn't really anything wrong with old Albert's memory, then.'
'No, love. He's just a bit confused. And harmless. Next time you should take him up the box for a cup of tea. It'd make him feel at home.'
'I don't know,' I mused. 'There have been so many changes. Like that chandelier for example. It must make him feel really strange, living in his memories, then suddenly being confronted with the present day realities. And he must wonder why all the staff are different - apart from you, Betty.'
She beamed at this. Good. I wanted her in a malleable mood for my next question.
'So there was Mr Archer who died, back in the sixties...' I began. 'And then there was someone else, too.' I remembered the look in Albert's eyes as he'd spoken. 'The bastard deserved it.'
Betty's expression changed. Her face closed up. 'No, love. He must have been rambling if he said there was anyone else.'
I knew instantly that she was hiding something. I knew it was none of my business. But most of all, I knew I would have to find out.