The movie Stephen paid to see was a comedy, and the theater was teeming. Young girls dashed through the aisles playing the kind of grab tag Stephen used to play in Little League. Or maybe it was musical chairs - they'd sit in seats for a minute, glance back and giggle, then steal away around the end of the row to another open section. The few adults had arrived early and quarantined themselves to the top two rows; they inhaled popcorn and tubs of soda. Stephen picked the middle of a short row and left only one seat on either side. He peeled open his box of Milk Duds and began to melt the chocolate off them with his tongue, caramel by caramel.

Then, five green Skittles landed at his feet. He looked back and immediately saw a couple, a teen girl and her older boyfriend, intent on the screen. Directly across the aisle, two boys in hats and braces. But a row behind the boys was the culprit - a fat girl stuffed into a light tube top, giggling. Stephen looked at her and her dark-haired, pretty friend. They looked right back. The fat girl, made an ugly face and might have said, "Come on." Stephen couldn't tell.

He turned back to the preview for a submarine movie. In the lower deck kids were still gathering in the entry corridor, trolling for seats. Stephen knew he'd be exposed and shoved to the corner.

"Chris!" The girl who had thrown the Skittles at Stephen hissed at a boy in the corridor. Stephen looked at her, the girl met his eyes, and then hissed more loudly, with a urgent desperation. "Chris!" Chris, in his shirt with a rapper's name on the front, glanced up. He flashed a fist at the girl. The girl pointed to Stephen. "Right there!" Chris pursed his lips at her and hustled up with his friend, a black boy with a black headband. Stephen squirmed over, and stared so intently at the screen he stared through it. Chris immediately assumed the armrest. The crowd, restless, tore for the last few whiplash seats. Others slid down the theater walls, popcorn balanced between their legs, prepared to watch the movie from the gummed-up, soda-stained carpet. The traffic rendered the movie's opening joke incoherent to Stephen and the rest of theater.

The fat girl seemed to take it personally, tossing Skittles at the floor crowd, which looked up and flipped her the bird. Crouched in the aisle, as if to take all comers, she challenged them. Stephen sensed the girl was high, or entirely out of her mind.

"SIDDOWN!" arrived an adult roar from the high cheap seats.

From a few rows up came a Junior Mint projectile. It landed in the fat girl's hair. As she scrambled for it in her red mop, a boy flicked something at her behind. It snapped hard on her jeans. She yelped a little, and there was a rush of laughter. No one - not Chris, not the pretty friend - stood to help. The fat girl lumbered down the steps and pushed her way out before meeting face to face with a boy who nearly pushed her down. Stephen looked over the railing at the girl pounding the floor to keep her balance as she ran out. The mounds of flesh that were her breasts were threatening to either pop out or burst through.

On cue the ushers emerged. One shone a flashlight directly back into the projector, which made the audience gasp and shield itself from its strength. The projector shut down and the people exploded. They brayed at the floor crowd, the homeless, and the ushers urged the carpet dwellers to their feet with gestures of their flashlights. Some wouldn't budge. "I bought a ticket!" said a teen boy. His buddy mocked the flashlight bobber.

A skinny, thin-haired manager filed in. Stephen had seen him before, and didn't like him; for a guy who carried so many flourishes with his discipline, he had to discipline theater crowds an awful lot. Somehow the entrance of a theater manager signaled to the crowd the presence of an intimidating authority, although Stephen knew the man spent most of his time refilling his souvenir cup with soda.

The manager commanded the floor crowd to leave. The floor jeered back. When he threatened security most budged and stood up, but a few remained, rowdy, indignant. They were three big kids, maybe football players, and none of the ushers stepped forward to tangle with them. The manager used a walkie-talkie to find a policeman in the plaza. Finally, they looked at each other, shrugged and gave up, smiling, as if holding out until the threat of handcuffed restraint had been the entire point. The upper deck crowd clapped hard, some cheered, the manager really soaked it up for a second, and then the movie resumed. Stephen was too angry to keep watching it. He got up and followed the manager down the corridor and caught up just outside the theater.

"You sold those kids tickets," Stephen said.

The manager got a wild look in his eyes. His red company suit jacket was old, and too big. He started to backpedal, using his hands to fend Stephen off as if he were an attacking dog. "Sir? Hey, okay? Just - just calm down."

"What the hell is this?" Stephen said, mocking the manager's gestures. "You overstocked the theater."

The manager had his walkie-talkie ready. "Look, okay? If there isn't any seats you can't just go ahead - "

"I had a seat!" Stephen said. "I'm saying you did that, you know these kids'll pay, they bought those tickets and you knew the theater -"

"Whaddya want? Huh?" the manager was in grappler's pose.


"Free ticket? Different showing? Huh?"

"No. Look I want to know -"

"Okay, you're gonna threaten me here? Cause I gotta a cop." The manager pointed to the exit door. "I gotta a cop, and, I don't know, look, it's fuckin zoo, okay? Zoo."

"If you wouldn't oversell the -"

"Look, huh? What do you want? You got your movie, your box of Milk Duds there, kids sneak in, it's a zoo, we kept order in there -"

"They had ticket stubs -"

"From other movies. They walk in, see one movie, say ah, shit, two for one, they walk in again, they sit on the fuckin floor -"

"You're a manager and you're cursing," Stephen said.

"I'm getting the cop," the manager said.

"What? No, God, I'm reasonable," Stephen said. "I am reasonable. But I know those kids didn't all pack in a full theater and stand there all pissed off because they weren't able to sneak into a movie theater, and then choose to sit on gross floors. Kids aren't that committed."

"Bob, that cop that was gonna be comin, have him come," the manager said into his walkie-talkie, backpedaling again. "We got a patron here with threatening questions."

"What are you on, coke?" Stephen said. "I am not -"

"Threatening questions?" the walkie-talkie screeched back.

"Yes," the manager said.

"What do you mean by threatening questions?" the voice on the walkie-talkie said.

"He's being threatening!" the manager said. "And he's talking about drugs."

"Fuck you!" Stephen said.

"Hear that?" the manager said.

Stephen pointed at the manager. "You're a paranoid -"

"Just keep piling it on," the manager said.

Stephen got red. "You're finished! Tomorrow, your fuckin boss -"

"You're looking at him!"

"Then the booking agent. Or the owner of the whole chain -"

"The office of my wall buddy! You check out the office of my wall -" The manager was spitting. Stephen turned and headed fast for the exit. He saw the fat girl from inside the theater emerging from a bathroom. She had been crying. She gazed at Stephen with a fish face. "Commendation!" the manager yelled. "A wall full of commendation!"

Stephen didn't turn around. He caught the girl staring at him, her eyes enjoying a confrontation that didn't involve her. "What!" Stephen screamed at her, making the girl jump back, and as he pushed the exit door he could still hear the manager muttering. When he hit fresh air he saw the cop making his way to the front entrance. She didn't look over, and when she cleared his field of vision he walked along the wall watched her entrance the theater complex, and bolted across the plaza.