She had a dazzler of a smile. “It’s…interesting.”
“It’s a big mess.”
Conrad had meanwhile stepped over the scattered debris and was knocking on a door at the far end of the hall. “Mother? Are you in there?”
“Where did you think I would be? Dining at Sardis?”answered a shrill voice from the other side. Doug imagined a cartoon mole, and smiled again involuntarily.
“No problemo, we’ll get you out!” Conrad sounded as though he were trying to rally himself for rescue.
“Who is this we of which you speak?”
“It’s me, Ms. Finch. Stephanie.”
“Stephanie Holbrook. From the theater?”
“Ah, yes, Conrad’s little helper. So nice of you to come.” If sarcasm were acid, it could have melted the blocked door. Stephanie bit her lip and shook her head. Conrad put his shoulder to the door and strained to open it. Doug came in next to him and the two of them pushed. The door budged an inch, just enough room to pass a copy of National Geographic through, then would go no further.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” came the voice from the other side. “What is taking so long?”
“Doug and I can’t budge this thing.”
“Who, for the love of all that’s holy, is Doug?”
“Doug Castleberry, ma’am. I’ve come to help.”
“Doug Castleberry, I’ve come to help,” mocked Leona. “Well, you’re not helping, are you?”
Doug had never in his life felt the urge to slug an old woman until just that minute.
“We’ll have to think of something else,” Stephanie said.
Conrad looked around, as though maybe the clutter would provide some clue as to how to solve the dilemma.
“We could go through the window.” Doug wasn’t sure where the idea had come from. Stephanie and Conrad looked at him, two sets of raised eyebrows. Doug shrugged. “Can’t go through the door
then go through the window.” He thought he’d heard it quoted somewhere. He couldn’t be sure where.
“Why not?” Stephanie was smiling at him again. God, he wanted to kiss her. Stop it, he told himself. “This isn’t getting us anywhere.”
“Can you open the window, Mother?” Conrad sounded hopeful.
“Are you joking? I would have opened it by now, don’t you think? Besides, it is freezing outside.”
It was, in point of fact, not freezing outside. It was a nearly perfect spring day with sunny skies and temperatures running into the seventies. They stepped outside and found the office window, despite Leona’s lack of confidence. On the sill perched a pile of books that stretched to mid-window.
“If we can get it open, we can move the books.” Doug felt full of good ideas.
“How can we get it open?” Stephanie asked.
“It’s not locked.” Doug pointed to the lock at the center. “So if we can get something to pry under the sill, we’re in.”
“Breaking and entering.” There was that Stephanie smile again, directed right at him. “This could be fun.”
“Oh, yeah, burglary is a blast.”
“Will a screwdriver do?” Conrad handed him the tool and shrugged. “I found it among the artifacts on the stairs. Thought it might come in handy.”
“You have burgled before.” Doug took the proffered screwdriver.
“Nope. First time, believe it or not.” Conrad studied the window. “How do you propose we get up there?” The sill was about a foot over their heads.
“Easy peezy lemon squeezy,” said Stephanie. “Get me up on Doug’s shoulders and I’ll do the deed.”
“Okay.” Doug squatted and Stephanie climbed onto his shoulders like they were getting ready to play a round of Marco Polo.
Doug had to admit he kind of liked the idea of playing Marco Polo with Stephanie.
“Steady.” Conrad held out his arm as Doug stood up and handed Stephanie the screwdriver.
“A little closer,” she said and Doug sidled as close as he could to the building while holding tight to Stephanie’s legs. Not a bad sensation, holding Stephanie’s legs. Stop it, he told himself.
Stephanie leaned forward and wedged the screwdriver between the pane and the sill. She pushed and prodded. “It’s not budging.”
“Try again,” Conrad said.
Stephanie prodded again, leaning forward so Doug had to lean forward, too. “One, two, three. Oh, shit!” Stephanie waggled around, making Doug waggle until they both toppled into a nearby
“You okay?” Doug asked. To his relief, Stephanie began to laugh, kicking her head back in a loud unladylike guffaw.
“I’m great. You?” she managed.
Doug hadn’t seen this laughing Stephanie. He liked her a whole lot. “Terrific. We suck as burglars.”
“You can’t give up.” Conrad came over to give them a hand out of the bush. “We’re so close.”
“Sorry, Conrad, but I can’t budge that window anymore than you could budge the door.”
Conrad turned to Doug. “All righty, then. What’s plan C?”
“There is no plan C.”
“There has to be a plan C. We can’t leave Mother trapped. She’s libel to chew off her arm.”
“I think we have to call in the professionals.” Doug got out his cell phone.
“Mother will never forgive me. She may never speak with me again.”
“If I call, will she still speak with me?” Stephanie lifted her brows.
“Hand me the phone.”