FREDERICK -- Allison Bly, known throughout the minor league baseball and Monster Truck circuits as the Dynamite Lady, signs autographs during a Frederick Keys baseball game. A 9-year-old girl, Samantha Cook from Washington, approaches timidly.
"Is she going to die?" the little girl says in the breathless, hushed tone of one speaking in a mortuary.
The Dynamite Lady says cheerfully: "No honey, I'm not going to die. But you're going to stay and watch the show, aren't you?"
Who isn't staying? This 29-year-old bubbly, fresh-faced woman is soon going to climb into a plastic foam box at home plate and blow herself to smithereens.
Well, actually, if all goes according to plan, the box will blow to bits and the Dynamite Lady will emerge unscathed, save for ringing in her ears and maybe a powder burn on her behind.
It is Thursday, and the Frederick Keys, the Class A affiliate of the Orioles, are blasting the Salem Buccaneers, 8-1. Throughout the game the announcer, Jeff Wachter, trumpets the death-defying stunt coming up after the game. The words, ". . . enters her coffin of death," echo ghoulishly among the crowd of 4,004 spectators.
The Dynamite Lady, meanwhile, is cracking jokes outside the stadium. She always wanted to be a comedian, she says. Once, during a fashion show in high school, she purposely tripped over a chair, and the audience laughed like crazy.
That made her feel great, because the Dynamite Lady, when she was a girl, was self-conscious about her nose, big ears and splats of freckles all over her face. She wasn't very popular. She was, socially speaking, a firecracker with a fuse that fizzled.
But that was a long time ago. Now she travels the country in her Chevy van with a raging confidence and her dog, whose name is -- what else? -- Sparky, blowing herself up at demolition derbies, minor-league sporting events, tractor pulls, amusement parks, drag races, concerts and Monster Truck competitions.
She says she's paid an average of $1,500 a boom. Considering she'll do about 70 shows this year, that means the Dynamite Lady will take home an income in six figures.
Home is Clearwater, Fla. Tonight she performs in Hagerstown at the Suns game; they are a minor-league affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The road gets old, she says, but this day a friend from New York City has driven down to see her. The two met in Detroit in 1988 on a talk show featuring women with unusual professions.
Her friend, Alexandra Mosca, is a mortician. She was also a model, twice featured in Playboy magazine.
Ms. Mosca says of her introduction to the Dynamite Lady: "She came up to me in a restaurant the night before the show and said, 'I heard about you. You're weird, handling those dead bodies and everything.'
"I said, 'You think I'm weird? You blow yourself up in a box. What could be weirder than that?' "
Ms. Bly was working at a health spa when she saw a flier from a promoter of stunt shows advertising for a Dynamite Lady. Ms. Bly had no idea what that meant, but she had studied acting and modeling and thought this might help her get into the entertainment business.
She was 21. She had just gotten out of the Army Reserve, where she drove an 18-wheeler, set up land mines and fired a grenade launcher. She had been a tomboy as a girl and a free spirit as a young woman. It didn't seem all that odd that she became the Dynamite Lady.
She says she has blown herself up more than 600 times in at least seven countries. The stunt is obviously dangerous and not for amateurs. The Dynamite Lady has suffered a broken left foot and left hand once, and a broken right foot once. But something about it -- she says she's not exactly sure what -- got into her blood.
Judging from this night in Frederick, it must be the attention. She's the star, signing autographs and turning heads wherever she goes.
Outside the stadium, Ms. Bly assembles her box of plastic foam, about 3 feet wide and 4 feet long. She mixes her own explosives, "my home brew," she says.
This home brew, the ingredients of which she keeps secret, is about equal to the power of one stick of dynamite, she says. She pours the powder into two tubes and places the tubes at one end of the box.
Next to the tubes she stands two 3/4 -inch sheets of plywood. That is all there is between the Dynamite Lady and the explosive when, in her words, "I climb in, put my head between my knees, and kiss my butt goodbye."
That happens as soon as the game ends. Workers set the box on home plate. Mr. Wachter, the announcer, introduces "the most spectacular stuntwoman in the world. . . . A charge pointed in the wrong direction could prove fatal to the Dynamite Lady."
The theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey" blares from the speakers. The Dynamite Lady springs from the first-base dugout, wearing a skimpy silver costume cut extremely high on the hip.
She waves and smiles and throws kisses. She checks her charges one more time, waves a final time, pulls on her helmet and crawls in. The crowd counts down: Ten, nine, eight, . . .
At two, the tremendous explosion rocks the stadium. Everybody jumps. Debris blows everywhere. The smoke clears. And there's the Dynamite Lady, lying still, completely still. Did something go wrong?
Nooooo, the Dynamite Lady struggles to her feet, flings off her helmet, raises her arms in triumph, and the crowd roars. She prances from dugout to dugout and blows more kisses.
The spectators file out, and the Dynamite Lady bounds off the field toward her van. One little girl, 7-year-old Jessica Balloch from Gaithersburg, catches up to her.
Her face a picture of marvel, the girl gushes: "How'd you do THAT?"
People crowd around. "Good job, Allison." "Way to go, Dynamite Lady."
She turns and looks at her friend, the mortician. "I need a drink," says the Dynamite Lady.
Right. Something better put out this fire.