Mark R. Hunter
Other titles by Mark R. Hunter
Images of America: Albion and Noble County
Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century or So With the Albion Fire Department
Slightly Off the Mark
Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving At All
Storm Chaser Shorts
The Notorious Ian Grant
The No-Campfire Girls
Copyright © 2018 Mark R. Hunter
All rights reserved.
Edited by Emily Hunter
Cover by Emily Hunter
This book is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and events in this book are either are products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. No popcorn was harmed in the making of this novel.
For book extras and additional books by the author, please visit:
In loving memory of
Jean Coonts Stroud
Special thanks to the Auburn-Garrett Drive-In;
The drive-in movie theaters still upholding the tradition;
And all the drive-ins of our youth: especially, for me, the High-Vue of Kendallville, Indiana
Mark R. Hunter
Maddie saw trouble ahead as soon as she stepped off the company airplane.
The kid standing in the terminal held a slab of cardboard before him like a shield, with her name plastered in red across its surface. Maybe he was attempting to hide the fact that, beneath the wrinkled black suit coat, he wore a white T-shirt that should have been washed at least two meals ago. More likely he feared missing her, since a quick study of the shaggy haired young man told her he held little stock in appearances.
"Madison McKinley?" He gave her an equally appraising scan.
Stopping before him, she deliberately looked right and left. The closest other people stood at least two hundred feet away, gathered around the airport's gift shop. "Maddie."
Taking that as encouragement, he smiled. "Tupper. Welcome to Fort Wayne!" He still held the sign up.
"That's my name—well, my middle name, and that's what I go by. My mother sold Tupperware, and she's pretty hardcore. I don’t know if they still hold Tupperware parties, but if you want her to set one up—"
"I doubt I'll be here that long." Maddie tried not to judge people by appearances, but Tupper looked for all the world like Shaggy from the Scooby Doo cartoon series—without the goatee. Under other circumstances she might have been tempted to smile. "Tupper, were you expecting a company plane?"
"Oh, sure. I've been with the company over a week now."
"And did anyone get off the plane besides me?"
His brow knitted in concentration. "Nope."
"Then do you really believe the sign is necessary?"
Face reddening, Tupper dropped the cardboard. "Sorry."
“Trash can, Tupper—let's keep our planet clean." She blushed a little, herself—it wasn’t fair to take her mood out on him.
When Tupper turned to throw the sign away, Maddie realized he wore a fairly nice pair of navy slacks—and white sneakers. "Are you, by chance, related to one of the partners?"
"I'm Mr. Quincy's great-nephew—how did you know?"
"Family resemblance." Maddie despised lying, but saw no reason to hurt someone's feelings. Nepotism could be a powerful force—why else would this kid be hired by the stuffiest law firm in Boston? "You were to bring a car?"
"This way." Tupper turned, paused, then whirled around. "Did you have luggage?"
"I'm a woman, Tupper." This time she did smile.
"That means yes. Two bags."
After retrieving her luggage, Tupper led the way into the warmth of a sunny June midafternoon. "You'll love Fort Wayne. They have an orchestra, a zoo, a mall, three rivers ..." He trailed off, thinking.
"It seemed a bit small from the air." The poor guy might hurt himself if his brain doesn’t cool down.
"Well, it's the second largest city in Indiana."
As they walked across the crowded parking lot a breeze swirled the folds of Maddie's skirt and blew blonde strands of hair across her face. "Large by Indiana standards? Not a telling argument."
"But you come from Boston. Indiana's a lot bigger than Massachusetts."
"In square miles, maybe," Maddie murmured under her breath. She almost ran into Tupper when he skidded to a halt. "Where's the car?"
"Right here." He pointed to a deep purple Chrysler van.
She stared, trying to fend off a wave of nostalgia for her Porsche. "I asked for a sedan."
"Yeah, you traded up—isn't that great?" He produced a key ring from his pocket and pushed the unlock button. "It's got a digital audio system, sliding doors on both sides, an environmental readout, and you gotta love the color. It's a real love machine."
Such a statement could only come from a member of the Scooby Gang. Maddie stared at him, hands on hips, but held her temper—after all, her temper got her here to begin with. "I realize you've been by yourself here, but since you arrived with just two jobs—to get me a hotel room and a car—could it be that difficult?"
"I didn't actually arrive—I grew up west of here, in New Haven." He noticed her expression, and stumbled backward. "Um, there's a car show at the Memorial Coliseum—by the way, we have a Memorial Coliseum—and Jay Leno's going to be there and all the rental cars were taken and this is the only—"
"Tupper, Calm down." Maddie took him by the shoulder, which made the younger man flinch. "Maybe this is for the best. Don't people going to drive-in movies often take vans?"
He blinked at her. "Yeah, sure. I like to back my truck in, when I'm not working. Why?"
Oh, dear—He didn't know why she'd been sent. "Because I've never visited one, and I might have some free time while I'm here."
Tupper brightened instantly. "The best one in Indiana is about an hour north of Fort Wayne—you'll love it."
She very much doubted that. "Tupper, do you know why I'm here?"
"Um—" He paused, trying to focus. "To expand the agency's influence into business dealings in the Midwest."
"Got me." He shrugged. "This is my first assignment since I visited Uncle Quincy, but he said it was real important, so I figure I'm on the fast track."
Uncle Quincy? What an image—like Luciano Pavarotti breakdancing. "You are, indeed." Maddie decided she liked the kid, after all. She couldn't help thinking of him as a kid, although he couldn't be more than five years younger than her, and he seemed sincere in his desire to help. Besides, in his own way he was exiled here, just like her. "Do you have transportation?"
“My truck—oh, you mean here?” He gestured to a yellow Volkswagen Beetle parked beside the van. Inside, a girl with spiked green hair waved, then went back to studying her eyebrow ring in the rear view mirror. How entirely appropriate.
"Tupper, you've obviously been working hard. Why don't you take a day or two off? Visit with your family, take a short break, and contact me at the hotel later."
"Really? Wow, thanks! I needed to take off for my part time job soon, anyway." He started to hop into the Beetle, but paused when she called his name.
"It might be helpful to have the information packet your great-uncle promised me. Not to mention the van keys."
"Oh!" Tupper handed her the keys and gestured toward the van. "There's a folder on the passenger seat with maps, directions, your reservation, and a really big book about John Adams. He's my ancestor, you know. I think he was governor, or something."
"Possibly the genes have thinned out since then." Ignoring his puzzled expression, she climbed into the van.
"Well, if you like to go to the drive-in you'll probably see me there. Take it easy!" The Bug roared away.
After a moment Maddie got back out, opened the rear door, and threw in the luggage Tupper had abandoned on the pavement. Sincere he may be, competent he may not.
Maddie spent some time reading the directions and comparing them to the maps. Smiling despite herself, she also leafed through the biography of John Adams. Inside the front cover she found a short inscription: "John Adams called himself obnoxious and unpopular—but he got the job done. Quincy."
Adam Quincy had been named for the second President, and according to rumor was a distant relative. Maddie considered John Adams a role model for his courage and perseverance, but that, and their occupation, was all she and Quincy had in common. Leave it to the law firm's founder to turn a gift into a subtle reminder of who was in charge.
She spotted some brochures in the folder. Tupper apparently thought her job involved sightseeing: He’d enclosed something about every tourist destination in northeast Indiana, from zoos and state parks to an Old Jail Museum. And a drive-in movie theater.
The colorful advertisement declared this to be the 50th anniversary of the High View Drive-In. Two features for the whole family every night, all summer long, plus weekend showings in the spring and fall. Photos showed happy families who munched on popcorn and other snacks while watching the latest flick from the comfort of their automobiles.
Maddie studied every detail, every letter, and then determined the hotel would not, after all, be her next destination. It was getting close to dusk. She had a van, and other than being a bit overdressed for the movies she should go unnoticed.
Yes, a visit to the drive-in was clearly in order. After all, she well remembered one of the first rules from law school: Know your enemy.
Despite her black mood on the airplane, the weather and the masses of greenery Maddie passed during her drive north cheered her a bit. She’d believed as a child that a field was a dirt lot for baseball, and the biggest patch of plant life no more than a Boston city park. Her preteen mind couldn’t have imagined these expanses of woods, or unlimited stretches of young corn and wheat.
It was cool enough to shut down the air conditioner and crack the windows, an act that would horrify her hairstylist. Considering the obscene amounts of money she paid the man, by now he should have come up with a wave that would last through a tornado.
She missed him. She missed her Porsche mechanic, her personal assistant, the doorman, and all the partners with their custom tailored suits, ten dollar cigars, and condescending attitudes. No matter how important this assignment, everyone knew it was punishment. She must prove herself all over again if she ever expected a corner office and her pick of cases.
A few miles after turning onto a two lane highway she spotted the sign, a gaudy red and yellow monstrosity guaranteed to attract attention. The top formed an arrow pointing toward the metal framework of the movie screen, and below the arrow stood a sign advertising a Pixar animated movie and a teen comedy.
To Maddie's surprise half a dozen cars already lined the drive. A van similar to hers waited first behind the closed gate to the ticket booth, with the adult occupants of the other vehicles gathered around it. They looked like they were having a conference, or maybe a tailgate party. A dozen young people, from teens to toddlers, played in a grassy area between the drive and a red fence that surrounded the property.
Maddie stopped behind the last vehicle, wincing at the crunch of gravel beneath her wheels. Clearly, Indiana needed to invest in more asphalt. After the dust cleared, she opened her windows all the way to admit the scent of freshly mowed grass and a far off barbecue, then shut off the engine. Country music played from the pickup in front of her, but it was the sound of kids screaming that made her stiffen.
She scanned around the lawn until certain they were screams of glee, not pain. Why didn’t these parents pay closer attention to their children? Wouldn't it be safer to keep them in their cars, instead of wandering around where they could get hit, or fall, or be bitten by snakes or rabid bunnies or something? Not to mention all the strangers.
Well, she must be the only stranger here, considering everyone else still gathered around the one vehicle. The scene would make someone nostalgic, if that someone held memories of going to the movies. Maddie remembered only a few trips to a more traditional theater.
She’d been led to believe little local support remained for the drive-in, making a buyout easy. Except for one lonely old house along the drive-in property, the surrounding land consisted of farm fields and small tracts of woods, most optioned by the development company her firm represented.
The drive-in's owner remained the holdout, and by bad luck his property made up the bull’s-eye in the tract of land the developer needed. The better his business, the harder her job—and here people already waited, on a weeknight, no less.
Perhaps this made up the hardcore locals with nothing better to do. You couldn't make profit margin with six customers a day.
That optimistic thought faded when an old station wagon pulled up behind her van, pumping rock and roll into the air, as a full house gyrated inside.
With a sigh, Maddie examined the customers. Their dress consisted of shorts or blue jeans, and tank tops or printed tees. She glanced down at her silk print dress, and determined not to leave the van under any circumstances. The average person might not know the difference between her expensive outfit and something from an outlet store, but she would still stand out.
Soon adults began to saunter back toward their own vehicles, while the kids ran, jumping and shouting, to join them. She held her breath until she was sure none of the children would trip or get hit by a car door, then turned to see a woman move the gate aside and climb into the ticket booth. Maddie switched the engine on and wondered if kid movies had changed much since "The Little Mermaid".
Soon Maddie caught sight of the ticket price, painted on the whitewashed side of the ticket booth, and took a sharp breath. It was a third of what she’d expect to pay in downtown Boston. How in the world could this man stay in business, with prices so low? The popcorn must be a dollar a kernel.
The ticket taker held an animated conversation with everyone in line, but managed to keep customers moving until Maddie stopped before her. Then the woman, who wore a white T-shirt proclaiming "The High View—50 years and counting,” did a double take and leaned in for a closer look.
"You're a little overdressed for the movies, ain't ya, hon?"
"The philharmonic was sold out." Maddie gritted her teeth, although she’d expected this reaction.
Now the woman leaned closer, to take in the clean, empty interior of the van. "Just you?"
"Is that all right?"
The woman arched an eyebrow. "Okay by me, just kinda unusual. Why go see a movie by yourself?"
"My boyfriend plays in the philharmonic."
"Well ..." With a shake of her head, the woman handed Maddie a ticket stub, then rattled off an FM radio frequency. "Enjoy the show. Oh! I almost forgot." She gave Maddie a bumper sticker.
Beneath a red, white and blue drawing of the movie screen, colorful letters spelled out: "Save the High View! Half a Century and Counting."
The woman leaned forward and hissed, "Some big company out east wants to turn it into an airport!"
"Don't worry, we'll fight 'em and win. You have a good time now, hon."
"Thank you," Maddie answered automatically. As she drove through the lot, she saw similar stickers on all the parked vehicles. The other van, she noted, differed from hers in only two ways: It was black instead of deep purple, and sported stickers on the back and side windows. As she passed it she saw a pair of bright hazel eyes regard her curiously through the rear view mirror, and wondered whether it was because of the twin transportation, or because she drove the only auto in the lot without a show of support pasted on every surface.
Where to park? In the middle of the lot sat a low concrete block structure painted white, with two doors on each side: one for a restroom and another for an entrance to the snack area. Maddie had no intention of abandoning her nutrition plan. Still, she could imagine a need for the restroom if, for some reason, she decided to stay through both movies.
Of course she would stay. She needed to know as much as possible about this business, in order to get it shut down. The best place for her would be at the corner closest to the women's restroom, but, ironically, the other purple van had already staked it out. Maddie settled for a spot at the other front corner.
All the old concrete speaker posts stood empty. Didn’t the ticket taker say something about a radio frequency? Dialing it in produced a crooning Norah Jones, but Maddie assumed she had the right place, left it on, and began watching the incoming traffic.
She made some quick calculations, based on the ticket price, the average number of people per car, and the cost of electricity, payroll, and other overhead. She factored in snacks, then cut food profit in half when she noticed many of the moviegoers brought their own. Despite that, by the time the sun disappeared behind a low, distant cloud bank, the place had already broken even. When the first preview for upcoming movies appeared, it was turning a profit.
On a weeknight. Not good at all.
Maddie sat back, paying little attention to the ads. She leaned forward again when a group of teens walked by, loaded down with nachos, popcorn, and soda. Her stomach began a low, rumbling litany of complaints. When did she last eat? Not dinner. Not lunch, come to think of it, except for a bag of peanuts on the plane.
So much for staying in the car. So much for her diet, unless the snack bar featured something no one she saw had purchased. But it was now too dark for anyone to notice her style of dress, and this could be the perfect opportunity to investigate the operation further. After all, she was here on a job, and if she wanted to erase her black marks with the company she needed to perform it well.
That determination lasted until she reached the door to the snack bar, and realized her miscalculation. Of course it was too dark to see her dress, and the expensive style of her blonde tresses, and the opal necklace and charm bracelet—outside. Inside, fluorescent light made it bright as day.
But with the movie starting, nobody stood before the long counter with its popcorn machine, soda fountain, and snack rack. At least, nobody until she came in one way while, at the same moment, a man burst through the opposite door.
They both froze, regarding each other. She recognized the twinkling hazel eyes and the sandy, disheveled hair at once, although he looked taller when out from behind the wheel. He wore jeans and a white T-shirt with the all too familiar drive-in logo on it, along with the words "Drive-Ins are for Cars, not Planes". Admirably muscled arms clutched an empty popcorn bucket.
The man smiled, flashing teeth so perfect it brought back memories of the thousands of dollars Maddie sunk into her orthodonture, and walked toward her. Of their own volition Maddie's legs also moved, until they met in front of the cash register.
"Are you lost?" His baritone voice sent a jolt up her spine, and suddenly exile in Indiana didn't seem so bad.
"I'm ... um ..." She glanced around to remind herself where she was. "I’m looking for healthy food."
"You are lost." He smiled again. "I meant you don't look like the drive-in type."
If you're the drive-in type, Maddie thought, get me a season ticket. "It was spur of the moment." True enough.
"I've been there." He held a hand out. "Logan. Logan Chandler."
She felt her hand enveloped in his warmth. His touch, firm but gentle, made her catch her breath. She tried to stutter out her name, and found she couldn't remember.
"Maddie!" someone else called.
The idea of anyone in Indiana knowing her came as such a shock that Maddie pulled her hand away and turned, almost backing into the wall. Behind the counter, swathed in an apron that didn't completely cover the drive-in emblem on his white T-shirt, a wild haired young man grinned at her.
"I told you we'd meet again if you came to the drive-in. This is my part time job."
Uh oh. Maddie glanced at Logan, who turned from her to Tupper with a raised eyebrow. While Tupper didn't know everything about her mission, it would be easy to put two and two together.
"I guess I assumed you’re not from around here at all," Logan said, eyeing her dress.
"Tupper and I just met today." Good, the truth. But Maddie couldn't grasp where to go from there. "It's a long story, and the movie's started."
"But you know each other?"
"Absolutely." Again, true enough.
Tupper pitched in, "We're like old friends, dude."
"Okay." Smiling again, Logan grandly gestured Maddie forward. "I just need to replace some spilled popcorn. After you."
What? Oh. She turned to Tupper, determined to get out of there before he gave her away. Logan might be a lost Greek god, but she couldn't afford to get involved with him, especially after the last fiasco in her love life. "Perrier?"
"Huh?" Tupper stared at her, open mouthed. "I don't know Spanish."
Behind her, Logan chuckled, making her even more aware of his presence.
"Do you serve any bottled water?" In truth, Maddie craved some decent coffee, but she had a feeling her definition of “decent” wouldn’t fit here.
"Oh!" Tupper grabbed a bottle of water with a brand name she didn't recognize. "This is local. It comes out of a spring well right by a church."
"And a cemetery," Logan offered. She looked back to find him grinning wickedly. "Imagine that."
She did, but took the bottle anyway. "Is there anything to eat that doesn't involve large amounts of sugar or carbohydrates?"
"Uh—" Tupper glanced around wildly. "No."
"Get her some of the world famous popcorn, Tupper," Logan said. "On me."
"Popcorn on you." For some reason Tupper found that amusing, and chuckled as he scooped the white kernels up.
“No salt or butter, please." Maddie felt a touch on her arm, and turned to see Logan smiling yet again.
"No salt or butter? That's cardboard."
Could she make herself look any more out of place? "I'm twenty-nine years old.” When he gave her a questioning look, she added, “I can’t eat whatever I want, not anymore." As if she ever could.
He raked his gaze over Maddie, making her gulp and shiver. "You don't have an ounce of fat on you."
That was a compliment, she assumed. Maddie didn’t have an ounce of fat, not even on her chest—or at least, that had been her ex-fiancé’s biting comment. "I plan to keep it that way. How do you—" Now it was her turn to look him over, from broad chest to white Reeboks, and she gulped again. "—um, stay in such good shape?"
"Hey, I don't eat this way all the time—it's a treat. If you don't treat yourself, how do you know what you're missing?"
"A look at the nutrition label tells me what I'm missing." Desperate to get away—she was much too attracted to this man, no doubt a rebound effect—she grabbed a bag of chocolate covered peanuts from the rack and slapped it down next to the water. "There. Four hundred calories."
"I'm humbled," Logan told her. "You might try sprinkling them on the popcorn."
"Thank you." She shoved a fifty into Tupper's hands and told him to keep the change, which made his eyes pop. "I'll remember you on my next trip to the scales."
"Wait—" Logan held his hand out, but became distracted when Tupper called his name.
"Say, that's a great idea. Chocolate covered popcorn, M&M popcorn, popcorn with nougats—it could be the next taste sensation."
Logan held out his empty popcorn tub. "Remember that one time when I told you to use your imagination? I take it back."
Maddie took the opportunity to sneak out the door, and hurried into the blackness before Logan could catch her. If he said anything remotely connected to getting to know her better, she would melt like the hot butter he kept talking about, and the whole nightmare of dating someone connected to her work would start all over again.
Shivering, she dropped the water and candy into her purse. Balancing the popcorn in one hand, she pulled open the van's door. What a relief to be away from that man—she'd never been so instantly affected by the opposite sex before, not even her ex-fiancé. With considerable relief, she sank into the driver's seat.
Or, more accurately, she sank onto the small body that occupied the driver's seat.
Two high voices shrieked. Maddie also gave a yell and leaped out, ready to run as her imagination conjured Munchkin muggers. But her purse caught on the empty speaker post, and she managed only to spin around.
In the hazy darkness, broken by the flickering reflection from the big screen, Maddie made out two small, round sets of eyes peering at her from inside the van. In the instant that followed, she realized this was not her van and that somehow, miraculously, she still held the popcorn without a single kernel spilled.
Then a much larger body plowed into her. She slammed down onto the hard turf, while someone else fell heavily on top of her.