Elliot Freed sinks all his money into Comedy Tonight, his own all-comedy movie theatre. But when a customer dies during a screening of "Young Frankenstein," and it's discovered his popcorn was poisoned, Elliot takes it personally and decides to investigate.
Jeffrey gives an overview of the book:
Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.
—attributed to every dying English actor since Richard Burbage (1567-1619)
Young Frankenstein (1974) and Count Bubba, Down Home Vampire (last Friday)
The guy in Row S, seat 18 was dead, all right. There was no mistaking it. For one thing, he hadn't laughed once during the Blind Man scene in Young Frankenstein, which is indication enough that all brain function has ceased. For another, there was the whole staring-straight-ahead-and-not-breathing scenario, and the lack of a pulse, which was good enough to convince me.
"Were you the one who found him?" I asked Anthony (not Tony, mind you), the ticket taker/usher/projectionist. Anthony, a Cinema Studies major at Rutgers University, is nineteen years old, and a film geek from head to toe (sorry, Anthony, but it's true). He was wearing black jeans, a T-shirt with a picture of Martin Scorsese on it, and a puzzled expression that indicated he was wondering how to work this event into his next screenplay. Anthony shook his head.
"Sophie found him," he said, indicating our snack stand attendant/ticket seller/clean up girl, who was standing to one side, biting both her lips and ignoring her cell phone, which was playing a Killers song by way of ringing. Sophie was, in her own high-school junior way, freaked out. I considered gesturing her over, then realized she wanted to stay as far away from our non-respiring patron as possible, so I walked to her side instead.
"It's okay, Sophie," I told her. "Just tell me what happened."
She avoided looking toward the man, who appeared to be in his early forties, maybe five years older than me, and dressed for a late April evening out in Midland Heights, New Jersey: pink polo shirt, with the proper reptile depicted on the left breast, tan khakis, no socks, and penny loafers that looked to have last been shined during the Clinton Administration. His box of popcorn was still on his lap, although there was very little left in it. The popcorn had spilled onto the floor at some point, but the carton remained in his hands.
"I was picking up the wrappers and whatever," she said, her usual teenage indifference betrayed by her wavering voice. "I saw him sitting there as the people filed out, and I didn't think anything. You know, some people just sit there and wait for everybody else to leave. But then they all, like, left, and he didn't move. And when I went over to see ..." Sophie fluttered her left hand in a gesture of futility, and then it went to her mouth. She didn't want us to see her cry; it would ruin her image. Sophie was the Midland Heights version of Goth, which is to say, she wore all black and straightened her hair. But her clothes were clean and pressed, her makeup leaned toward pinks (which didn't have much effect on her pale complexion) and her shoes were open toe sandals. She was about as Gothic as Kelly Clarkson, but she was in there pitching.
Jeffrey Cohen is the nom de plume of Jeff Cohen, author of the Double Feature Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime and the Aaron Tucker series from Bancroft Press. He has also written two non-fiction books on raising a child with Asperger Syndrome, and has published...