I’ll never forget the moment I fell in love with Claire.
We were in her dad’s law office, on the 10th story of a vintage high-rise with gorgeous lake views. She kissed me, and then delivered a kick to my solar plexus that sent me crashing backwards through those huge picture windows. As I plummeted towards the water below, I thought, this is the woman I’m going to marry.
Of course, we’d need to work on our communication. These mixed messages had to stop.
I came up with a few more ideas about how to improve our relationship on my way down. With more than 100 feet to fall, I had plenty of time to think.
Claire and I faced our share of obstacles long before she threw me out the window. At first, I’m sure she saw me as just another one of her dad’s hired goons. I thought of her as a spoiled mafia princess. We might have gone on seeing each other that way, if it weren’t for The Mountain Eagle.
Claire’s dad, Mr. Meltzier, was a part-time estate attorney and full-time crime boss. He did the estate planning for all the mob families in order to minimize the government’s bite out of their inheritance at tax time. I catalogued the estates, but my real job was to find anything valuable that Mr. Meltzier couldn’t bear to let slip through his greedy fingers.
That’s how I found The Mountain Eagle, Alfred Hitchcock’s lost film. Made in 1926, not a single print had been seen in nearly a hundred years, until I found one in the corner of a deceased client’s basement. I’ve always been a film buff, and it broke my heart to think of turning the canisters over to Mr. Meltzier.
“Then don’t,” said Claire. We’d run into each other on the elevator up to her dad’s office, and she’d asked about the canisters I was holding. “It belongs somewhere it can be properly taken care of. Where people can see it.”
“Your dad would find out. And then I’d be at the bottom of the lake wearing cement shoes.”
“Aren’t you usually the one giving people the shoes?”
I had several responses to that, all involving moral relativism and the non-existence of universal values, but the elevator doors had already opened.
Mr. Meltzier was exuberant, scattering cigar ash all over his cocobolo desk.
“There’s a snag,” I told him. “The family already knew the movie was somewhere in their great-aunt’s collection. They’ll expect it to turn up once we’ve catalogued the estate.”
“Easy fix. I’ll have them sign an affidavit swearing that the film is unsalvageable. They’ll do it to avoid being taxed on a priceless item.”
“And then we switch the canisters.”
“Exactly. You’ll give them a canister full of disintegrated old film, which is what they’ve sworn to the government they have. Meanwhile, I keep the real film and stow it you-know-where.” He pulled on the bronze statue of Anubis that he kept on his bookshelf, and a secret compartment opened in his office floor.
“But you’ll never watch it,” said Claire.
“My dear, the point isn’t to watch it. The point is that no one else has it, and I do.” He was still laughing as he left the office.
Claire and I stayed behind, both of us staring at the space on the floor that the canister had disappeared into.
“I guess a great lost film stays lost,” she said. She crossed her arms and kicked the bookshelf.
I’d had no idea she cared about films. But then, I guess she hadn’t known that about me, either.
Claire and I saw a lot of each other, after that. We were careful. Mr. Meltzier would never allow an employee to date his daughter. And I could never stop working for Mr. Meltzier. Not without wearing that pair of cement shoes I’d mentioned to Claire.
I needed an exit plan. One that would get me, Claire, and The Mountain Eagle out of Mr. Meltzier’s clutches.
But when I snuck into the office to steal the film, it was already gone.
“Aren’t you afraid my dad will find out?”
Claire. Apparently she’d been forming an exit plan, too.
“Where is it?” I asked.
“Somewhere safe. I just came back to delete the security camera footage.”
“How were you going to explain, if anyone noticed it was gone?”
“Well…I was planning to pin it on you.”
I laughed. “And here I was planning to make off with the film and you.”
Her eyes widened. “You know there’s only one way we can have a chance at being together.”
“I do. And I’m ready.”
“You’d do that, for me?”
She gave me a slow, deep kiss. Seconds later, I was crashing through the window.
When falling from a high-rise, it helps if the building is on a lakefront, which this was. It also helps to have some device like a parachute, that can create drag, which I didn’t.
I hit the water feet first, knees slightly bent. As I dragged myself to shore, I was pretty sure I had at least one broken rib. Not much to do for those besides rest. And not bad for such a long drop.
Claire and I had talked about where we’d meet if it ever came to this. There was a charming little art-house theater on the north side of the city.
When I arrived, she offered me some hot buttered popcorn. Really hit the spot.
“The news is saying it’s a suicide,” she whispered. “They’re dragging the lake, but even without finding a body, plenty of people saw you fall. At the very least, it gives us a few days head start before my dad sends anyone looking.”
“Good. What are we watching?”
“A special feature. I told the projectionist it was an old Hitchcock film. He’s in for a surprise.”
“Thanks for faking my death.”
“Shh. The movie’s about to start.”
Julie Danvers grew up in a small, rural town in Michigan. She spent much of her time reading, or, when not reading, riding her bicycle to the library for more books. Her work has previously appeared in The Arcanist and Sundial Magazine. An unabashed cat enthusiast and Star Trek fan, she loves stories of the future and the past. She lives with her partner in Chicago, where she continues to enjoy riding her bicycle to the library.