Friday, July 30, 2010

Black Thursday

This story is the 11th part of the Griffin filmmaker series. It follows The Street Near and Far.

The actor Griffin hired to play Henrick had the worn, existential face he sought. Gray hair like withered grass, facial wrinkles of stone, stark eyes making him look surprised he was still alive. I know he’s the one, he said, because this is the future me, the final Griffin before death.

9:15 p.m. Henrick lived for October 14. There was nothing else. Forced retirement, no family, declining health. The terrorist group Black Thursday struck on this day, though not every year, at precisely 10:14 p.m. His bedroom wall had a map from his police days. Twenty-seven pushpins—fourteen black, for where he thought they would strike, thirteen red, for where they actually had. He drew lines connecting the thirteen pushpins, seeking a pattern. There wasn’t one.

Griffin wrote in his notes, Black Thursday will be my most fast-paced film. Then he told Helena. Then he told his crew and cast. Pacing, pacing, pacing. The present time will cover fifty-nine minutes, set on October 14, leading up to when the group would strike, with flashbacks covering thirty years.

9:26 p.m. Henrick hails a cab. It had been eight years since they last struck but he had a hunch. His old partner Murphy used to tell him, you’re on 24/7, always keep attuned for information, everything’s connected. Murphy, a seasoned crocodile face, who smoked as much as he breathed. Henrick told the driver, to Melvin’s, the name he kept hearing recently. Melvin’s was Montana range cattle, violin-sized lobsters, 1985 port. Henrick now operated without police resources. Only a gun strapped to his leg, the thoughts in his head.

Griffin wanted all questions answered before they were asked. Why action? I wanted something new, broadening appeal. Why terrorism? It’s a force beyond our control, one we can only respond to. Why the color red? Next question. Why Henrick? Yes, why Henrick—the most critical question.

9:43 p.m. Henrick exits the cab near Melvin’s. Seared beef fills the air. People walking the streets unconcerned, fearless. I’ll stand here, he thinks, I’ll watch. He’s near the door, hears piano from within as the door opens, mixed with conversational hum. The valet sizes him up. Henrick forces a smile at him.

Alone, late at night, Griffin pondered Henrick. How far would I go, he thought, how obsessed would I become? The room felt like it was shrinking, enclosing him. Would he abandon Helena, Richard, live obsessed? No, I couldn’t, he thought. The search becomes Henrick’s life. I’m more. Griffin closed his eyes. Silence, darkness—too much.

Flashbacks. Car bombs, nerve gas, snipers. “Black Thursday” cards scattered at sites. No threats, no demands, no suspects. Police sweeping the city, breaking down doors, turning up nothing. New mayors, new police commissioners, the feds intervene. Nothing. Henrick moved through thirty years, pushing away friends, romantic interests. He often thought, this time, I’m so close.

One afternoon Helena was reading the script, asked, have you counted the dead? He looked at her sitting on the couch, shook his head, unsure. The number of people killed by the terrorists, she said. I’m estimating around 2,000, adding the numbers you give, taking estimates of those unmentioned. Glasses on her face, pencil in her hand, script before her. He shrugged his shoulders. Someone might be curious, she said. I never added up the dead, he thought, is this wrong?

9:58 p.m. Henrick finishes his coffee. Across the street he sees a white light in a darkened window. His heart accelerates. Maybe it was just street lights playing tricks. But then it appears again. He hears Murphy’s voice—this is what you live for. He runs across the street. The building door locked, windows dark. He tugs at the handle. The knob is cold, the door immoveable. He looks up at the window, neck cracking as he tilts his head, sees nothing. No police cars nearby. He’s alone. He taps the street level windows with his hand. Plexiglas.

During filming, Griffin wasn’t sure if Henrick should live or die. He went back and forth, Henrick’s fate in limbo, until he realized, in a sense, he’s been dead a long time.

10:04 p.m. Henrick draws his gun, now stands at the building’s rear. He’s winded, hand trembling, legs in pain. The alley smells of leaves, dogs. He pats the wall, finds the door handle. It wouldn’t budge. He steps back, looks up at the windows, stares. After a few seconds, he sees the light again, and a silhouette. Someone’s up there. Here it is.

Griffin pondered, how many more films do I have in me? Five, ten? He thought, Helena, how many? But he never asked her.

10:12 p.m. Henrick returns to outside Melvin’s, chases people away by waving his gun.

Get out of here, he yells. Sniper! In the window!

People scream, run, drop flat. Three men in suits exit Melvin’s. Henrick shoves them back inside. Two guys approaching from his right ignore him. He shouts, Black Thursday, Black Thursday. They turn and run.

He thinks he hears someone say, dinner at Melvin’s.

He looks across the street, sees the white light again. He panics, shoots at the window. Glass shatters. People scream. He looks at his watch. The time, he thinks, the time.

Griffin determined the film must end with an extreme close-up of Henrick. No sound of gunfire. Just silence, fade in of city sounds, voices. Roll credits.

10:14 p.m. In the distance, amateur fireworks mark the time. The street in front of Melvin’s is frozen. Henrick looks up at the broken window, sees an outline of a head, two gloved hands, a red dot of light. Here’s thirty years. In one moment. Now. Finally.

I got you! Henrick screams. Drop the gun, drop it!

From above, cards rain down, hitting him in the head, tapping his gun, landing at his feet. Someone above, he thinks.

On his chest, he sees a steady red dot. He’s frozen, unable to move. I’ve found them is all he can think. The dot crawls up his chest, until he can’t see it anymore.


  1. Stunning. I felt a touch of the surreal, trying to figure out if the action was real or the film. The smells, that's what threw me. That did not take away from my experience; it added a dimension that propelled me to the end.

  2. I'm stunned... Tremendously played here. I raced through this holding my breath.

  3. Nice destabilising read with vertiginous plunges. My kinda story

    marc nash

  4. Excellent work, Christian. Really gripping. Love the uncertainty of it all, live action, or script? I'm thinking both. Great way to end it too.

  5. You are the master of this style and pacing, I'm with the others really well done.

  6. Incredibly powerful portrait, both of filmmaker and of protagonist. It's almost the whole story in a moment. Amazing work.

  7. Fantastic as always. I love how you number your pieces. Pacing is spot-on.