Bald, irritable, voluble, and indignant, the man at the curb instantly identified himself as Hector Van Hooft, chef of a bla la bla five star restaurant. At his side but not introduced stood a thickset woman wearing a blue traffic enforcement agent’s uniform. Her face was dominated by small, piggy black eyes and a scowl. She said nothing, so Jimmy ignored her.
Hector Van Hooft began his press conference by reading aloud a list of grievances while glaring haughtily over the rims of his rimless eyeglasses.
The gist of those grievances were:
• A parking space that had always been available in the past was now inaccessible.
• An inexplicable, invisible, and impenetrable barrier surrounding that parking space prevented cars and people from entering into it.
• Objects and animals could pass through the invisible barrier and enter the parking space. So could snowballs and wind-blown hats.
• Although no other human beings could enter this parking space, one woman known to reside at 1582 Chestnut Avenue had been seen passing in and out at will.
• Other than her address and that she seems to be in her early twenties, nothing is known about her.
After Jimmy Christmas had heard all he wanted to hear, and just as he turned to depart, Rosemary Thigpen – for it was she who was standing beside Hector Van Hooft – grabbed him by the arm and shoved him toward the parking space.
Which, of course, repelled and expelled him.
With malevolent satisfaction, she watched the young TV news intern bounce off the barrier and then struggle to regain his balance.
Ignoring her shout, “Now you know that we’re telling the truth,” Jimmy dusted himself off and studied the wall. He was fascinated. He pounded his fists against it. He kicked it; he elbowed it; and as Noah Pitt had done the day before, he thrust his shoulder with all his weight against its impenetrable invisibility.
To no avail.
Never noticing that Daisy Dalrymple, executive assistant to award-winning documentary producer Cadogan McClure, had been standing silently and unobtrusively within inches of him, from the time he arrived for the press conference until that very second.
Jimmy Christmas may not have noticed her, but he and Daisy both noticed when her boss’s van turned onto Chestnut Avenue and double-park across the street. The first person to exit the van was Cadogan’s pet videographer, credited at the ends of his movies as “Tallahassee Dan” (had he been born in Tallahassee? Was that his given name? Had he gone to school in Florida? No one knew).
He had a long, narrow face that exhibited no expression at all, as if it had been painted on a billboard. Except for his lashless, large eyes, which always looked bored, and his turned-down lips, which always looked grim.
After the videographer’s feet hit the ground, Cadogan McClure – the great man himself – slithered out of the van. But before he disappeared behind its bulk, he lifted a megaphone to his lips and began shouting orders to protesters: “Get loud! Get mad! Get rad! Get bad!”
Inspired by his single-syllable instructions, the mob coalesced to wave placards, scream insults, and throw themselves against the invisible walls of what became, after Jimmy’s news broadcast that night, “the Little Parking Space That Could.”
Urged by the producer to “Raise the voltage!” they tossed bottle rockets, fire crackers, and flaming rags – all supplied from Cadogan McClure’s van – into the space.
Jimmy Christmas caught much of this on his video camera, including one transaction in which Rosemary Thigpen, Hector’s pet meter maid, took an M500 quarter-stick firecracker right out of The Great Filmmaker’s hands, ignited it and tossed it into the 1582 parking space, where it exploded against the base of a parking meter mere inches from the curb. Jimmy then panned left to right, from the documentary producer, to Rosemary Thigpen, to the screaming mob, and back again to the producer, catching Cadogan with a gleam of malice in his eyes and all three chins wobbling at once.
Over the past half-year, Jimmy had covered hostage situations, arson fires, burglaries in progress, and squad cars in pursuit of escaped killers.
This was his first riot.
And he did not like it.
In every other situation, it was one or two individuals challenging the conventions of a civilized society and defying the rule of law. Today, though, the lawbreakers were the majority, and civilization was nowhere in sight.
Jimmy Christmas did his best to record it all.
Then three things happened at once.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
One, the rioters set fire to a car.
Two, a small man with a pointy nose and big ears shouted frantically, “Lilly Snow! Lilly Snow!” from an open third floor window of the building at 1582 Chestnut Avenue.
Three, someone or something tugged at Jimmy’s elbow.
He looked down.
He saw a pretty blond woman of about his age. There was an expression of dread on her face, and her hand was shaking as she pointed to a girl rapidly walking their way. The girl was wearing a red coat, red boots, and a white beret with a bouncing red pompom. She was pretty, perky, and oblivious to the uproar in the street.
But not for long. Hearing angry shouts and smelling smoke, her steps slowed, and her head swiveled from side to side. She sensed danger, but did not know from where the danger was coming or how to avoid it.
Then all hell broke loose.
Rosemary Thigpen, who had been watching the TV newsman since he ended the interview, also saw the girl in red…the same girl that she and Hector had seen chasing an old woman’s hat. The same girl who had entered the un-enterable parking space. The same girl who lived across the hall from Burgess Meekly’s apartment, where they had conducted their illegal surveillance.
Rosemary’s piggy eyes widened, and in a voice loud enough to be heard over the din, she screeched, “It’s her! The girl in the red coat! She stole our parking space!”
Although it is doubtful that the rioters knew or cared who “her” might be, mobs don’t need reasons. They turned as one and began to rush Lilly Snow.
Daisy Dalrymple screamed.
Two flights up, Burgess Meekly screamed.
Then, hearing the roar of an on-coming engine, Jimmy Christmas dragged Daisy (he had no idea who she was) out of the path of a 1968 Coupe de Ville – the same car he had seen earlier – that was honking ferociously and scattering people helter-skelter out of its way. It hurtled into and out of the parking space which, until that moment, no one but Lilly Snow had been able to enter or leave.
The car shot past the curb, onto the sidewalk, and stopped just short of the apartment building’s façade.
With the engine still racing, the driver leaned across the front seat, pushed open the passenger side door, and shouted to Lilly Snow, “Get in.”
Lilly did not have to be told twice.
Just as the Cadillac’s front door slammed shut, its rear door jerked open.
Uninvited, Daisy Dalrymple and Jimmy Christmas jumped into the car’s back seat. Jimmy, too, slammed the door and shouted to the driver, “Go. Go. Go. We’re the good guys,” (although he didn’t really know that yet about his seatmate).
Whereupon Maid Marion, the Cadillac’s owner and driver, the mayor’s best friend, and proprietress of the Elegant Eccentricities Gift Shop, pressed the gas pedal, rammed her palm against the steering wheel horn, aimed her car up the sidewalk, and…went.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2021. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com