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Fridays With Roy: A New Uptown Theater Story By Barry Gifford

By Barry Gifford in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 16, 2015 8:55PM

photo by sfgamchick
Barry Gifford should require little introduction to Chicagoist readers. Also the author of Wild at Heart and a frequent collaborator with David Lynch, since 2009 and his story "The Starving Dogs of Croatia," Gifford has been sharing his tales with us each December. They've all revolved around Roy, a kid growing up on the gritty streets of 1950s and '60s Chicago, and many of them were collected in The Roy Stories, published by Seven Stories Press in 2013.

Gifford thought that was more or less the end of Roy as a character. But, he told us, earlier this year more stories began to take shape in his imagination. When he shared them with us we became eager to share them with you. And so, starting today, and for the next nine Fridays, we will post a new Roy story. They're "hot off my typewriter" (Gifford's words exactly) and come from a work in progress tentatively titled The Cuban Club.

"Mona," the first story, takes us back to when the Uptown Theater was in its full glory; or, at least, was showing several double features every day. We hope you enjoy it, and be sure to check back with us each Friday for a new story!


by Barry Gifford

“What’s goin’ on?” 

“Two guys held up the Black Hawk Savings and Loan. A teller set off the alarm and the cops showed up just as the robbers were comin’ out. They shot the first one out the door, he’s dead, but the other one ran across the street into the Uptown. He’s holed up in there.” 

“What’s playin’?”

Tell Him I’m Dangerous. You seen it?”

“No. How long’s he been in the theater?”

“Twenty minutes, half hour. The cops got the exits covered. They don’t want a shootout inside, innocent people get hurt.” 

Roy had been on his way home from Minnetonka Park when he saw a crowd on the sidewalk on Broadway. He spotted Bobby Dorp right away because Dorp was six foot six and towered over everybody. Bobby was a junior in high school, two years ahead of Roy, who knew him from pick-up basketball games.

“I was goin’ into Lingenberg’s to get a cake for my mother when I heard the shots,” said Dorp. “I come over here and saw a body lyin’ in front of the bank with blood pourin’ out of it. He musta been drilled twenty times. The other robber was already in the theater. He might be wounded.” 

“It’s a matinee, so there probably aren’t too many people in there,” said Roy. “It’ll be dark in less than an hour. I think the cops’ll wait him out.” 

By now the street was clogged with police cars and patrolmen had the theater surrounded. 

Dorp said, “I gotta get my mother’s cake before Lingenberg’s closes. Don’t let the shootin’ start until I get back.”

Marksmen with high-powered rifles were positioning themselves on the roofs of buildings around the Uptown. The only way the robber could escape, Roy figured, was to pretend he was a patron. To do that, the guy would have to ditch his weapon and the bank money, if he had any. Hiding a bullet wound might be tough, though, depending on where he’d been hit. 

As darkness fell, spotlights were set up on nearby rooftops. No traffic was moving in the immediate vicinity. Bobby Dorp came back carrying a cake box. 

“I got there just in time,” he said, “or they woulda sold this cake, too. Lingenberg’s is sellin’ out the place. Seein’ men die makes people hungry, I guess. I never seen it so crowded.” 

“I wonder if they’re sellin’ popcorn and candy in the Uptown,” said Roy. 

A middle-aged woman in front of the boys fainted and fell off the curb. Two men helped her to her feet and led her away. The sun was gone. 

“I can’t stay no longer,” said Dorp. “Gotta get the cake home. Anyway, it’s gettin’ cold. Maybe I’ll come back after dinner.” 

After Bobby Dorp left, Roy moved closer to the front, so that he had an unobstructed view of the theater entrance. Sawhorses had been lined up along the curb. Every cop in sight had his gun drawn. 

Men and women began walking out of the theater with their hands held above their heads. Some of them were crying. Police took each person into custody as soon as they reached the sidewalk. Thirty or forty people came out and were loaded into paddy wagons. The cops kept their guns trained on the entrance.

“He’s still inside,” a man said.

“Go in and get him!” yelled another man.

“There he is!” screamed a woman, pointing at the roof of the theater. 

Everyone looked up. A man was standing near the edge of the roof, directly over the marquee. He was bareheaded and was wearing a brown hunter’s vest over a red and black checkered shirt and dark green trousers. He looked to be about twenty-five or thirty years old. 

“Put your hands on your head!” a policeman ordered through a bullhorn. 

The man did not comply. He just stood there with his hands by his sides. 

“Place your hands over your head or you will be shot!” warned the cop with the horn. 

The man said something but Roy could not make out the words.

“What did he say?” asked the woman who’d spotted him on the roof.

The man spoke again and this time Roy heard him say “Mona.” 

“Mona?” the woman said. “Did he say Mona?” 

The riflemen fired, hitting him from sixteen directions. The man fell forward into the well of the marquee. A dozen pigeons fluttered out. All Roy could see now was the theater sign, black letters on a white background: TELL HIM I’M DANGEROUS PLUS CARTOONS. 

Roy elbowed his way out of the crowd and started walking. All that was missing, he thought, was snow falling on the thief’s lifeless body. Lingenberg’s Bakery was still open. Roy went inside. 

“Do you have any doughnuts left?” he asked a pink-faced, blonde woman behind the counter. 

“Yust one,” she said. “Chocolate.” 

“I’ll take it.” 

“I hear many noises together. Something happen?” 

“The police shot and killed a man.”

Roy gave the woman a dime. She took it and handed him the doughnut wrapped in wax paper. 

“What reason for?” she asked. 

Roy took a bite, chewed and swallowed it. 

“Mona,” he said.