The next day at noon, a beautiful April day filled with sunshine and mild breezes, Sid and Rhonda lunched at Antonio’s, Sid’s favorite hot dog chef.
Antonio kept his cart on the corner of 33rd and 7th, adjacent to Madison Square Garden. Sid ordered four dogs with sauerkraut, mustard and onion sauce. While Sid paid, Rhonda took her two and walked over to lean against a wall. Sid liked the location because it was a prime girl-watching spot. Rhonda liked it because of all the hunky guys that strolled up and down 7th Avenue.
Rhonda had trouble concentrating on guy-watching. Sid was right when he claimed that Zaftig was a public menace. His threat to launch a neutrino grenade – whatever that was – could upstage her story about Ded and the alien. Wide-spread destruction in the center of Manhattan would make her story small-time news. Zaftig had to be stopped.
A nauseating stench, even worse than the hot dogs, wafted passed her nose. Zaftig? Before she could turn towards the smell, two old ladies screeched and fell to the sidewalk. The alien stood in all his rubbery non-splendor a few feet away, his eye-stalks spinning to take in all the sights of the busy intersection.
Antonio fashioned a makeshift cross out of two hot dogs and held it in front of him.
“Really Zaftig,” Rhonda said, “you have to work at making a better entrance.”
Zaftig spun his eye stalks towards her. “How?”
“I think a neon-green bow tie would soften the impact of your slime.”
“What is this foolishness?” He turned to Sid. “I have news that concerns you.”
“Yes?” Sid said before consuming the last of a hot dog.
“I am no longer interested in Ded Lazar.”
Uh-oh, Rhonda thought. What was he up to now? She didn’t think the answer would bode well for her story.
“What’s that mean?” Sid asked.
Zaftig’s beak curved upward in what could only be a smile. It sent pedestrians fleeing. “I now have an exclusive contract with Moma Fandango. She’s a big entertainer in the galaxies near the center of the universe and the second most popular star around.”
“You’re settling for number two?” Rhonda tilted her head. “I thought you would work harder to get Ded. You’re fickle. How disappointin’.”
“I know Ded Lazar is here somewhere and somewhen.” Zaftig’s body rumbled in laughter, like a cement truck stuck in the wrong gear. “Ded Lazar will be killed when I destroy this planet, then Moma will become number one.”
Sid gagged on his hot dog. With tears running down his cheeks, Sid said, “You gave up too soon. Ded Lazar has authorized me to negotiate with you.”
“I don’t negotiate. I issue demands.”
In her mind, Rhonda saw a tabloid front page with her byline on the lead story burst into flames. She had to do something to get her dreams back on track. “Zaftig, you aren’t half as good a businessman as you pretend to be. I’m disappointed in you. You call yourself Zaftig The Magnificent. Obviously, that’s an exaggeration.”
“How dare you!” Zaftig stared at Rhonda.
“If you have Moma under contract, think how that’ll play to your advantage once you sign up Ded Lazar. You can package the two of them in one show. It’ll be boffo hit everywhere.”
Zaftig’s tentacles writhed in contorted motion. Three of them tied themselves into a knot that would make any boy scout proud.
“And why do I have to do the thinkin’ for you? What am I gettin’ out of it?”
“I don’t destroy your world?”
“Not good enough. I want a picture of Ded Lazar and you holdin’ the signed contract.”
“Let’s go to my office and work out the details,” Sid said.
Rhonda shuddered at the implication of Zaftig walking down 33rd Street to their office. She hoped a TV camera crew didn’t pop out of Madison Square Garden. They would preempt any chance to sell her story.
To be concluded