When Doug Castleberry shows up at her niece’s birthday party dressed as Superman, Stephanie is positive he’s not the real deal. He’s just a high school teacher making extra money by dressing up for kid’s parties. Hardly the strong and brave guy she’s looking for.
Stephanie was up and dressed and, because she only lived a few blocks from the Rialto, there within the half hour. A crane with a wrecking ball attached to a long and rusted chain sat in the middle of the street, threatening the Rialto’s marquee. Standing in front of the theater, like the student at Tiananmen Square who had stood in front of the tank, was Conrad.
“What is going on here?” Stephanie had raced to her boss’side.
“This person,” Conrad pointed at the hard-hatted operator inside the excavator’s cab, “is here to destroy us.”
The hard-hatted operator took his hand from the crank and took off the hat. Long curly hair fell to the operator’s shoulders. He wasn’t a he at all, but a she. And she was climbing out of the cab.
“Can you please get him to move?”
“Why would I do that?” Stephanie linked her arm in Conrad’s. He smiled. The operator did not.
“Look. I have orders. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“You don’t want anyone to get hurt?” Conrad’s nostrils flared. “I was walking to my office, ready for a peaceful morning of sipping latte and perusing the paper, when I see this medieval contraption poised to bombard the front of my theater.”
“We were told the building was abandoned, sir. That’s why it’s being torn down.”
“Abandoned? Does it look abandoned?”
“Doesn’t matter what it looks like. I have orders.”
“The SS had orders. Stalin’s troops had orders.” Conrad stared bullets at the woman and she stared back.
Stephanie figured another tactic might work. “I didn’t catch your name?”
“That’s because I didn’t give it to you.”
Clearly, hardhat was not going to play nice. Stephanie was in no mood to be intimidated.
“Well then, Ms. Hat, where are these papers you claim to have?”
“In my office.”
Conrad took a step towards the woman. “So we’re supposed to take your word for it? Well, why not? You only plan on tearing down my theater. Why show the paperwork?”
“You must have been notified.”
“You mean that ugly notice I found tacked to the door? We took care of that. It’s ancient history. It’s morning in Schenectady.”
“I don’t think so.”
Conrad stood at attention and put the hand of his unlinked arm over his heart. “You’ll have to put that ball through my chest before I allow it to touch a brick on my theater.”
“Don’t tempt me.” Hard Hat climbed back into the crane cab.
Stephanie admired Conrad’s resolve, but the woman’s move shook her nonetheless.
Death at the hands of a wrecking ball was not an end she envisioned for herself and certainly not before her thirtieth birthday. “You don’t think she’s going to do anything stupid, do you?’
“She wouldn’t dare.” Conrad, Stephanie noted, had gone chalk white.
Just then, a beamer pulled up to an empty space near the theater and out jumped Herb. He
opened the passenger door and helped Leona out of the car. “Reinforcements are here. Not to worry.” He took Conrad’s other arm. “Are you all right?”
“Long as she doesn’t swing that ball,” Conrad nodded towards Hard Hat, “I’m dandy.”
Leona shaded her eyes with one hand and squinted up into the cab. “Who is that person? What does she imagine she’s doing?”
“She imagines she is going to tear down the Rialto,” Conrad said.
“Over my dead body.”
“That, Mother dearest, is why we are here. Stephanie and I and now Herb are the only thing standing between the theater and its annihilation.”
Leona stared at the three of them. “This is the definition of ridiculous.” She opened her purse and pulled out a rusty snub nose pistol.
Stephanie felt her knees weaken. Leona and a pistol were a bad combination. “Where did you get that thing?”
“This little number is an antique. Made back in the Civil War era, in eighteen sixty two.”
“Does it work?” Stephanie hadn’t thought Conrad could get any chalkier.
“Does it matter?” Leona handed her purse to Stephanie. “Hold this, girly. I’m going to serve up some justice.” With that, she went over to the crane and climbed onto the cab’s running board.
“You don’t think she’ll shoot, do you?” Stephanie asked.
“This is Mother of which we speak. She’s libel to shoot herself in the foot.” Conrad spoke the words, but he didn’t look as though he believed them. He turned to Herb. “Why didn’t you frisk her?”
“You’re kidding, right? Though I was wondering why it took her so long to come out of her office. I thought she was getting the paperwork for the historical registry reapplication.”
“You’ve got to watch her every minute.”
They have two grown sons.