Matinees with Miriam
Having his heart stolen wasn't part of the plan!
Shane Patel has a way with people—a skill that's made him a success in the condo development business. But his charms are proving useless on Miriam Bateman. The Crown Theatre is the key to his company's latest project. It also happens to be Miriam's home and her grandfather's legacy. She's made it clear that it's not for sale.
Despite the frustration, Shane's enjoying trying to win Miriam over. And the best part of his day becomes watching old movies with her. When Miriam's plans to reopen the theatre threaten his project, though, Shane has a tough decision to make: his career or Miriam.
SHANE WAS PRETTY sure the Keep Out sign was clear. Then again, teenagers carrying six-packs of beer and what looked like a bolt cutter weren’t the kind of people who obeyed signs.
The three boys clipped the edges of the chain-link fence and pulled up the corner. With surreptitious looks around, they ducked beneath it, then hurried around the back of the building. Shane clenched his jaw. After the three-hour drive from Brooklyn, he’d wanted to go straight to the bed-and-breakfast, but he hadn’t been able to resist driving by the properties before calling it a night. Good thing, he thought as he got out of his car. While the block of buildings would eventually be knocked down, he still didn’t like trespassers on his property.
Well, it wasn’t all his yet. But it would be soon.
As he slipped through the gap in the fence, his blazer caught on a wire and tore. Great. It occurred to him that he should’ve called the police instead of going after the punks, but he could take care of himself.
The abandoned buildings on either side of the old Crown Theater were boarded up tight, but the rear fire door of the theater was ajar. He hesitated. The Keep Out sign aside, the owner had made it clear she wouldn’t welcome his presence.
But those punks were in there. It was his civic duty to stop them.
He slipped into the darkened building, quietly pulling the door shut behind him. The sound of breaking glass followed by a snide laugh reached his ears. He’d never understood bored teens and their need to get into trouble, especially in picturesque Everville. This town was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting—watering holes, beaches, ice-cream parlors and a whole slew of awesome hangouts. And yet, they were in this building, messing around. His blood pumped hard. He didn’t get mad easily, but he took the intrusion personally.
His eyes adjusted to the eerie red glow of exit signs. It’d been over a decade since he’d visited the theater, and coming in from the back, he didn’t recognize where he was immediately. He climbed the short flight of stairs leading to the main lobby, a vaulted space that reminded him of the rib cage of some huge, starving beast. An empty vending machine hummed in one corner, its cold inner light flickering. He listened hard, but heard no further sign of the teens.
He wasn’t sure how he’d confront them—maybe just tell them to buzz off, or threaten them with calling the cops. He hadn’t been able to tell how old or big the intruders were in the half dark. Now that he thought about it, three against one weren’t great odds.
Something fluttered in the dark to his right. He whipped his head around—nothing. Just more tomb-like silence and a slightly dank smell. Sweat broke out on his upper lip. He stifled the urge to call out. What if those kids were armed? He was starting to regret not calling the cops.
A faint scuffle and some low murmurs reached his ears. With all the stealth he could manage in a suit and dress shoes, he crept along the wall and wedged himself against the corner by a pillar. A whiff of freshly made buttery popcorn tickled his nose. The Crown had been out of commission for nearly ten years—who’d be making popcorn now?
“C’mon, man, hold that light still,” a raspy voice said. Not that old, then—maybe sixteen or so.
“You’re so full of bullshit, Jacob. You don’t know how to pick a lock,” another voice, a touch lower, drawled.
“Shut up. I totally do, but it’s kinda hard with you shaking that light everywhere.”
“That’s cuz he’s freakin’ scared, man,” the third voice sneered. “You don’t believe those ghost stories about old man Bateman, do you?”
“Woo-oo!” The first guy cackled. “I heard that old guy hung himself off the balcony.”
“I heard he blew his brains out in the projector room.”
“I heard he was murdered by someone in his family.”
Shane’s skin prickled. He hadn’t heard any of these grisly tales. If any proved to be true, he’d have to disclose it to the development board. It could affect sales of the units.
The darkness stirred again, like shadows moving through smoke. He searched for the source but saw nothing. Maybe it was a rat...
The PA system suddenly crackled to life. A funereal carnival dirge played on a tinny piano warbled through the lobby, making the hairs on his neck stand up.
“What the hell?” one of the boys whispered.
The raspy voice quavered. “Someone else is here.”
More scuffling. Shane pressed against the wall, heart hammering. The boys were headed his way.
Suddenly, all the lights went out. He hadn’t noticed the ambient hum of electronics, but the air was dead silent now. Only the piano continued its forlorn melody. His veins filled with ice. Ghost stories that his chachi Priya had told him rose from the depths of his memory. He suddenly felt very exposed.
“Go, go, go!”
Something metal clanged. A crash, and one of the boys yelped.
In the pitch black, Shane sensed movement. A pair of doors leading to the auditorium banged open, and a blast of cold air hit him.
The red exit signs flickered. A dark something glided soundlessly across the lobby, and Shane’s chest seized. He caught sight of the boys, the three of them heaped in a pile on the floor, staring wide-eyed at the approaching figure in black.
And then it spoke.
The lights went out again. From beneath billowing black robes, the outline of a skeleton glowed neon green.
The boys screamed. Shane squinted against the strobe light flickering from within the empty vending machine, catching the stop-motion-like progress of the teens as they tripped over each other sprinting toward the front door.
One of them paused to look back, the way an emboldened and inexperienced lion cub might when facing an angry badger.
The shadowy figure stopped. It raised its arms. A series of soft cracking noises punctuated the piano melody. The boy yelped as bright green globs exploded on his chest and arms.
Was that ghost using a paintball gun?
The doors burst open as the three trespassers stumbled out. The wraith stood there a moment longer, then drifted toward the exit. It set the bolts on the top of the door, then locked a large dead bolt.
Shane was still plastered to the corner when the figure turned around. It pulled out a smart phone and hit a few buttons. The strobe light stopped, and blinding emergency floodlights turned on, washing the lobby in dirty brown light. A second later, the piano music ceased. The figure in black wasn’t quite so menacing now. It stood barely five-three, draped head to toe in filmy, artfully ragged cloth. Not an inch of skin showed, not even the small, delicate hands. An indigo-hued black light hung from a chain around its neck, which explained how the skeletal figure could be seen in the dark.
This was no ghost.
Relief and amusement swamped him. He stepped out from the corner and cleared his throat.
“Miriam Bateman, I presume?”
He thought catching her off guard would shock her into revealing herself. He was wrong.
With lightning reflexes, the figure raised the paintball gun and pulled the trigger.
Find out what happens next in MATINEES WITH MIRIAM!