Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 7 - A Constant Need for Emergency Services

Slick Mitchell and Penelope Ross stood in the parking lot until the cops arrived.  Both Tommy Tool Towners wore expressions of self satisfaction.  Another thug had been stopped in his path.  Merchandise had been recovered.  All in all, not a bad start in the world of retail chaos.  For a brief moment in time, Slick Mitchell thought it might be a terrific day.  He thought that until the ambulance pulled in.

"Did you call an ambulance?" Mitchell asked Penelope Ross. 

It was a ridiculous question.  Penelope had stood her ground, with her Nike'd foot on the thug's chest.  She hadn't made a call.  Unless she'd summoned the EMT's with her mind, she wasn't responsible for their presense.  Her response was equally odd.

"No.  Did you?" she asked.  Slick Mitchell still held both drills.  He leaned casually against the side of the Mercedes.  He hadn't moved an inch since the capture.

"I did not," Slick Mitchell replied, glancing back at Penelope.

"Mags," the two said in unison.

If Tommy's Tool Town had a yearbook, Mags Davidson would be voted most likely to get beaned with Tommy merchandise.  Some things were just predictable, and Mags was one of them.

Each time a truck arrived, Slick Mitchell participated in logging in the inventory.  At least he pretended he did.

That's about to change, Slick thought to himself.

Hundreds of products arrived, and the same thought always ran through Slick's mind, How could Mags get injured by this one?

Giving his employees the benefit of the doubt was one of Slick's best abilities, so in Mags' defense, he ran through some other possibilities, as he waited for the cops to exit their vehicle. 

Maybe Stockwell was in a sugar coma.  This was a possibility.

Maybe Miles Longworth had a heart attack.  Dodging his wife's constant suspicion (justified, of course) must keep the poor guy's blood pressure in a constant danger zone.

Perhaps Kitty had hung herself with her miles of garish necklaces.  Another possibility.

Maybe Bernice Long's injuries were real this time.  Not likely, Slick thought.

He stood quietly while the cops put the thug in cuffs, then suggested they take the statement in Slick's office, thus putting him and Penelope inside the store, so he could better observe the situation taking place within.

The cops complied, after securing their suspect in the back seat.

Slick led the foursome to the front doors.  A crowd had gathered around someone lying beside Register 13.  Slick's earlier intuitions were proven correct.  Mags Davidson lay in a heap.  Bernice, although pale, appeared unscathed. 

Stockwell was pacing, probably working off a fritter buzz.

Miles Longworth looked like a Cheshire Cat. 

Slick would get to the bottom of that one at a later time.

Kitty Richardson and Barbie Baxter knelt beside their friend, each clutching one of Mag's hands. 

"What happened here?" Slick asked one of the EMT's.  The other, an older woman, who reminded him of his mother (Freud would love that one), was cracking open an ice pack.

"Mags got beaned by a two-by-four," Kitty said, answering the question before the EMT could speak.

"Dear God," Slick said.

"Actually, she got hit by several of them," Barbie piped in.

"You all right, Mags?" Slick Mitchell asked, kneeling amongst the Tool Towners who had gathered.

"I will be," Mags moaned, well enough to hold her own ice pack.  "I need to call my husband."

"I can call him," Kitty offered.  "What do you want me to tell him?"

"Tell him what happened, and have him work on his alibi," Mags said, sounding forlorn.

"Why?" Slick asked, genuinely interested.  He cared about his employees.  That much was undeniable.

"My medical records read like a battered wife," Mags said, as a couple of tears ran down her cheeks.

"They all coincide with our incident reports," Slick reminder her.  Mags had her own file, and it was bulging.

Slick Mitchell stepped away for just a moment.  A contractor, almost a pale as Bernice Long, stood holding a cart filled with two-by-fours.  Slick figured it was the evidence.

"You all right, sir?" Slick Mitchell asked the customer.

"I feel just awful.  Is she all right?"

"She will be.  Mags bounces back pretty quickly."

"She didn't seem to bounce.  She hit that floor like a ton of bricks," the contractor said.

"She's gotten pretty well conditioned to it," Slick Mitchell replied, and the contractor smiled a weak smile.

"Is there anything I can do?" the contractor asked.

"Well, in the future, if you see Mags, keep a good radius around her."

"I will.  This is gonna bother me for a long time," the contractor groaned.

"If it helps, there might be a support group for customers who've injured Mags.  It's a sizable group."


"No, but we might want to think about having one," Slick Mitchell said considerately.

"Accident prone?" the contractor asked.

"If you Google 'accident prone,' you'll get a nice photo of Mags," Slick Mitchell explained.

And if you Google spoiled rich guy with an ongoing mommy problem, who just had a serious epiphany, you'll get a photo of me, Slick thought.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 6 - Slick Mitchell, Thug Interceptor

Slick Mitchell sat in his Mercedes SLS AMG, one-hundred yards from the Tommy entrance.  He wanted to go inside, and he'd opened his car door twice, only to close it again.  Today, he didn't want to be Slick Mitchell, Tommy's grandson.  Today, he'd have liked to be like everyone else.  Maybe he could be the guy who watered the plants, or the young girl who mixed the paint. 

Everyone assumed he was a ding bat because he was a Mitchell.  Peter Mitchell, or Peta, if you asked his mother.  She used to call him Peter when they were poor and ordinary, when Pop Mitchell, better known as Tommy, had a little corner hardware store.  These days, she called him Peta.  "Peta, when are you coming for dinner?  Peta, are you eating right?  Peta, how is that wife of yours?"  Always Peta.  Somewhere beneath the Christian Dior, the Vera Wang, and the Tom Ford was the mother he remembered, the woman who made brownies in her housedress, and could still pronounce the letter r. 

Now, Tommy's was a hardware superstore, his mother called him Peta, and Pop didn't know him anymore.  Pop ate popsicles, watched Sponge Bob and forgot to wear pants, if his nurse didn't remind him. The superstore owner had become super old, and Slick knew it would happen to him one day.  He'd lose his movie star good looks, and everything would fall south, and gravity would wreck his body.

"That is going to suck," Slick Mitchell said aloud.

It was all about expectations.  Everyone expected Slick Mitchell to walk the store in five-hundred-dollar shoes, and designer jeans.  Maybe he just wanted to wear Levi's and Nike sneakers.  He supposed everyone had days they'd rather be someone else.  Stockwell probably woke up every day wishing he wasn't a sugarholic.  Miles probably wished he was addicted to Pop Rocks instead of the horses.  Even the ladies were probably unsatisfied at times.  Kitty probably wanted a day off from being a diva every once in a while, and maybe Mags wanted to take a vacation from being the lovable clown. 

Just for a day, Slick wanted to be a regular Joe.  He wanted to live on less than six figures, and be happy because the seven bucks in his pocket were enough to buy dinner at a fast food joint.  "Peta, you're not eating that greasy shit again are you?  It will ruin your colon."

Slick hated that he heard his mother's voice in his head so much.  He'd have liked to turn her off.  He could really use a vacation from that nonsense.

Truthfully, Slick Mitchell needed more.  He didn't want to be a schlub who walked around Tommy's in expensive shoes, but didn't know how to use a hammer.  If he was gonna work at Tommy's, he was gonna get his hands dirty like everyone else.  He didn't care what his mother might say.  "Wear gloves, so you don't get splinters in those lovely hands," was the first thing that came to his mind.

Slick Mitchell sat up straighter in the baby's-butt-smooth leather seat.  He'd get more involved, play a larger role in the Tommy operation.  And, he'd start today!

Before he could move, he saw a figure in a dark sweatshirt, flee from the Tommy's exit as if someone was chasing him. (Mitchell assumed it was a "him".)  He carried two items, one in each hand, and Slick assumed he hadn't put them on his Tommy card.

"Damn thief," Mitchell said, under his breath.

Seconds later, Penelope Ross, in the Tommy neon green, flew from the exit, hot on the thief's heels.  Most stores didn't give chase to shoplifters, but Tommy's was different.  That was the one thing Tommy "Pop" Mitchell insisted on, back when he could tie his shoes.  He ran an honest business, and had no tolerance for hooligans who robbed him blind. 

Penelope was hauling some serious ass, and gaining on the thug.  Four years in track had prepared Penelope well for reducing loss in the Tommy family.  The thief approached, and without thinking, Slick opened the Mercedes door, the door releasing with a gentle hiss.  The thief hit the door, and the two drills hit the ground.  The thug followed, hitting the pavement with a satisfying thump.

Peter "Slick" Mitchell hit the red button on his key fob, the Mercedes chirped, and he picked up both drills.  He "high fived" Penelope who stood over her "kill", and winked at the thief, who lay moaning at his feet.

Maybe Slick had a future in loss prevention.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 5 - A Dangerous Place

By nine AM, Mags Davidson had been released from her imprisonment in the Ladies Room, and was back on the front line, organizing the troops.  Forty-five minutes later, she and Kitty had been joined by fellow front-end manager Barbie Baxter, who had arrived three hours ahead of schedule for the weekly manager's meeting.

Barbie, tall, blonde and youthful, strolled to the front end like a pony.  If Tommy's Tool Town had a doll, it would look like Barbie Baxter.  Mags giggled with delight when Barbie appeared, as did Kitty, who secretly coveted some of Barbie's energy. 

"She's popping Red Bull when we're not looking," Kitty complained to Mags as Barbie approached.

"No she's not, she's just young," Mags said in her friend's defense.

"I was young once," Kitty said nostalgically.

"You're still young.  You just feel old.  You've had a bad year.  It will all be over soon," Mags said in a comforting tone.

"You believe that Mayan shit, don't you?" Kitty said, somewhat astounded.

"I wasn't talking about the end of the world, ding bat.  I was talking about you becoming famous.  We all know you're going to be famous, Kitty.  Barbie and I are going to be your personal assistants," Mags said adoringly, and Kitty smiled.

"We'll be like Thelma and Louise, and .......... Louise," Kitty said, and Mags laughed.

"We can't have two of us named Louise," Mags said.

"We can do anything we want," Kitty said.  "We'll be Thelma and Louise and Kitty."

"They die in the end," Mags reminded her.

"Right.  But they meet Brad Pitt."

"Hmm,"  Mags said thoughtfully.  "Totally worth it."

"Hey," Barbie said, as she joined the party by the front door.

"Morning," Mags said.  Kitty closed her eyes and tried, unsuccessfully of course, to mentally drain Barbie's twenty-something enthusiasm.

It didn't work.

"How's it going?" Barbie asked.

"I spent almost three hours in the Ladies Room," Mags whined.

"Ugh," Barbie exclaimed.  "Do you have the craps?" she asked, and Mags laughed.

"No.  She broke the doorknob," Kitty explained.

"The doorknob was already broken," Mags complained.

"Uh oh," Barbie said suddenly.  "Reeve."

"Why are the three of you here?" Reeve asked. 

"Well, my mommy met my daddy at Dairy Queen in the seventies, and they had a date, and then another, and a few months later they got crazy in the back of a Buick," Mags explained, and Reeve Stockwell's face became very red.  "That's how I got here," Mags explained.  Barbie blushed, and Kitty laughed out loud.  "Kitty?  How about you?"

"If you speak, I'll kill you," Stockwell directed at Kitty, wearing an expression that meant business.  Kitty opened her mouth, then thought better of it.

"You three are gonna put me in my grave," Reeve Stockwell complained.  "Disperse."

"We need just a minute to go over the schedule and get ready for the meeting.  Give us two minutes and we'll do whatever you want," Kitty offered.  Reeve Stockwell shook his head and strolled away.

"You have one minute," he called over his shoulder before disappearing into aisle one.

"Never, ever tell a man you'll do whatever he wants you to do," Barbie whispered.

"Good point," Kitty agreed.

"He'll send you to that bakery," Mags warned.

"Okay, girls.  Let's get down to business," Kitty suggested.  "He's fun to mess with, but he's right.  We have a job to do."

The three hunkered down for what amounted to five minutes.  Barbie and Kitty took off to patrol the quarter mile, which was the actual size of the Tommy commune, leaving Mags to manage the herd of cashiers, which she did with efficiency and a touch of humor.

Bernice Lord waved from register 13, and Mags sighed.  She knew where this was going.  Bernice was not to be ignored, despite her short stature.  She was adorable, and everybody loved her, but she was as predictable as Stockwell's fritter consumption. 

"Hi, Mags," Bernice said, smiling her endearing smile. 

"Bernice, you have the look," Mags said.

"What look?" Bernice said innocently.

"You know," Mags said.

"Can I go home?" Bernice asked.

"No, Bernice.  You just got here."

"I had to ask," Bernice said.  "I have a hangnail."


"I got it here," Bernice whined.

"Someone dropped a toilet on my foot last week," Mags complained. 

"They let you go home," Bernice reminded her.

"Seriously?" Mags said and Bernice laughed.  "Get back to work."

"Okay," Bernice said with a pout.

Mags turned away to return to her post, just as a contractor rounded the corner with four two-by-fours extending from the end of a green Tommy basket.

The timing of the universe is something that can rarely be explained.  The contractor took two steps, Mags took three, and a dangerous waltz ensued.  Time seemed to pause, if only for a moment, as Mags Davidson got seriously clocked, eighteen inches from where Bernice Lord stood.

Mags went down like a sack of mulch and Bernice screamed.

"Damn.  That could have been me," Bernice whispered, without thinking.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 4 - A Man Saved

Miles Longworth lumbered away from Customer Service with a sigh, thankful the drama had come to an end.  "At least for the moment," Miles whispered.  A young gal with a throaty voice, several hundred miles away, had miraculously brought Mr. Keller back from the dead.  Miles wondered if he should have gotten her direct number.  When his wife got through with him, Miles was gonna need some resuscitation himself.

He'd blown it.  Completely blown it.  He'd held the twenty, crisp, one-hundred dollar bills for less than twenty-four hours before blowing most of it on the ponies, and laying down the rest on fantasy football.  He hadn't made the deposit on the cruise, as he'd been advised, or rather ordered, to do.  He wasn't sure he understood the whole cruise idea anyway.  He'd cruised once, only once.  He'd spent a lot of time in the pub watching sports, while his wife had hit every boutique on the floating mall.  She didn't need to be on the ocean to spend a fortune on handbags and shoes, and he didn't need to float around in a boat to enjoy a sporting event.  Miles figured he could send her to TJ Maxx with a wad of cash, and he could hit the man cave in his basement, watch sports in his sweatsuit, spill chili on the microfiber sofa, rip one when he felt so inclined, and blame it on the dog.

No, the cruise idea made absolutely no sense.  Then again, neither did his addiction. 

Miles was a smart guy, a really smart guy.  Smart enough to be an idiot.  Rather like Kitty, without the ridiculous jewelry.  He figured on the IQ scale, he and Kitty were pretty much equals.  Brilliant enough to dazzle during Jeopardy, and dumb enough to qualify for the Darwin awards.  Frankly, he and Kitty were both pretty much screwed.  He wondered if Kitty gambled, too.  Miles didn't think so.  He figured Kitty was tied up trying to save the world, abolish animal abuse, and burning the midnight hours trying to figure out how to win the Pulitzer.  Kitty was an open book.  Miles was closed up like Fort Knox, with a heck of a lot less gold. 

"I am effed," he complained, as he walked.

"What the hell have I done?" Miles muttered, sneaking out of the back entrance, a cigar tucked deeply into the inside pocket of his blazer.  He hid behind the dumpster, released the cigar from its hiding place, fired up a Bic, and puffed away.  His body relaxed as his mind raced.  He had to get the two grand back.  He had to.  If he didn't, he had to confess, and he felt the early warning system go off in his colon at the thought. 

"No way," Miles mumbled. 

Maybe he could have a garage sale, sell off all the handbags and shoes.  His wife was visiting her parents in two weeks.  Maybe he could do it then.  Sell everything off and tell his wife they'd been robbed.  She'd never buy it. 

Only thing she wouldn't buy, Miles thought. 

Miles kicked up dirt and stones with his shoe, as he puffed away, contemplating a future without his family jewels.  He'd lose his manhood for sure over this one.  He kicked mindlessly, loosening something with his toe as he did, something buried beneath a pile of rocks, empty Amp Energy Drink cans, and discarded Tommy promotion posters.

"What the heck," Miles whispered, butting his cigar against the side of the dumpster.  From the rubble, he extracted a very soiled and very fat padded envelope.  His heart raced, as he slid his finger under the flap.  Money, wads of it, a veritable fortune, was stuffed inside.  Miles looked around, and saw nothing of interest, save the fortune he held in his hand.  He was still alone. 

Where had the money come from?  Who'd left it there, forgotten beneath the pile of soiled trash? 

An obvious explanation escaped Miles.  It couldn't have been Tommy money.  Tommy money was kept in a safe, with twenty carefully hidden surveillance cameras watching the money's every move. 

Miles figured the envelope was a gift from God, and he looked to the sky and promised his savior he'd never bet again.  For the first time since the morning, Miles imagined a future in which he was still alive.  He had enough cash to send his wife cruising for a year.

And that didn't sound like a bad idea at all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 3 - A Day in the Life

Kitty Richardson stifled a yawn and fantasized about sneaking a triple shot espresso latte onto the front end of Tommy's Tool Town.  She clutched her Vitamin Water, took a long draw and waited for something magical to happen.  The ruby red drink was infused with dragon fruit, but Kitty experienced no fire-breathing pyrotechnics after the sip, and figured she'd been duped.  She capped the drink, set it aside and inhaled sharply.  She detected nothing, save the constant scent of Tommy dust.  This relieved Kitty greatly.

Kitty Richardson was a stray animal magnet, and she collected feline and canine discards like people collected Hummels in the eighties and Apple devices several decades later  Kitty was a gold medal winner in the 5:15 AM dog-log slalom, but this particular morning, she hadn't even made the qualifier, and had arrived at her old Chevy with a substantial turd stuck to the bottom of her right Chuck Taylor.

"Dammit," she'd muttered into the darkness.  With no time to spare, and few options, Kitty hobbled toward her neighbor's lawn, unfolded his newspaper, cleaned the shoe, folded the paper, and shoved it back into the protective green liner.  Kitty's neighbor always complained about the amount of shit in the news.  No sense leaving the old fella disappointed.

Two hours later, without a hint of anything foul smelling rising from the floor, Kitty stood at the counter and stared at the schedule.  It was like a game of air traffic control, scheduling was.  Get everyone where they needed to go, when they needed to be there, and cover breaks and lunches, without creating an interruption in the rhythm of Tommy's.  Kitty thanked God it wasn't air traffic control, or surely her planes would be crashing all over the world.

Kitty pushed guilt and the schedule aside, opting instead to leave it for Mags Davidson.  Mags was the Schedule Whisperer.  She waved a pencil, and abracadabra, the damn thing was done.

The phone clipped to the back of Kitty's Levis chirped, and she brought it to her ear.

"Kitty here."

"It's Mags."

"Where are you?"

"Locked in the ladies room," Mags said, sounding distressed.

"How'd that happen?"

"The doorknob came off in my hand."

"The cobbler's children have no shoes."

"What does that mean?" Mags asked.

"It means that only in the biggest tool store in the country would the ladies room have a broken doorknob."

"Don't say stuff like that," Mags suggested.  "It makes you sound old."

"I am old," Kitty said.  "Do you think I look old, Mags?  I've been using this new cream, and it's supposed to be great, made this ninety-year-old look like a supermodel.  It's not tested on animals, of course.  Can you see a difference?"

"All I see right now is Ladies Room.  Can you call someone?"

"Why?  You don't have time to make your own calls?  You're locked in the ladies room, what else are you gonna do?"

"Can you call someone to fix the door?"

"Maybe Dewie can do it," Kitty suggested.  "He's good with tools."

"He is a tool, Kitty.  It's not the same thing."


"I'm calling Reeve."

"Good luck with that."

The phone clicked and Kitty set it on the counter.

"Where's Mags?" Penelope Ross asked through a mouthful of M&M's.

"Locked in the ladies room."

"Bummer," Penelope commented.

"That's what I said."

"What did you think of the meeting?" Penelope asked.

"It was a lot like I expected," Kitty said.

"What do you think is wrong?" Penelope asked.

Kitty contemplated the question.  Penelope was one of her favorite cashiers, young, willing, athletic, could climb a ladder like a monkey, and not worry about breaking a hip on the way back down.

Penelope loved Kitty's stories, perfectly embellished for story-telling purposes.  It wasn't even nine in the morning, why not have a little fun with the youngster?

"Maybe it's a front," Kitty said, her over-active imagination getting an obvious hit of dragon fruit.

"A front?" Penelope said, lighting up like a Christmas tree. "A front for what?"

"I don't know.  Maybe for something illegal."

"You could be right," Penelope said, her excitement contagious, and the increased volume of her voice gathering the attention of an approaching regular.  "Oh, jeez, that's Mr. Keller.  He's a nut job and he smells like moth balls.  Do I have to wait on him?" Penelope whined.

"I'm afraid so," Kitty replied, sounding sympathetic.

"Why?" Penelope moaned.

"It's the very nature of customer service."

Mr. Keller stepped to the register, and slapped a bag of fittings onto the counter.  "Good Morning," Penelope sang.  "Will this be on your Tommy's card?"

"I'd like it to be, but I can't seem to find my card.  I'm losing it, young lady.  Last week I lost my teeth for three days.  If I had to eat another one of those ridiculous Greek slimy yogurts, I was gonna gag."

Penelope laughed, as her fingers flew over the keys of her computer keyboard.  "I can look up your account."

Kitty observed as Penelope gathered information with all the precision of a census taker.  "I'll be damned," Penelope whispered, and Kitty gasped.

"Language," Kitty chided, as Miles Longworth strolled toward Customer Service.  "Miles, do you think you can help us solve a debacle here?" Kitty asked.

"Of what kind?" Miles asked.

"The dead kind," Penelope said, and the customer grew pale.

"Mr. Keller, we seem to have a glitch in our system.  Our records show your account is closed because you're deceased," Miles Longworth explained, almost letting his penchant for humor show.  It was obvious he was trying not to laugh.

"You don't say," the aging customer replied.  "I checked the obituaries this morning, and I wasn't in there."

"Let me call customer service," Kitty offered.

"I'll call Stockwell," Miles offered, slipping into the manager's office.

Two minutes later, Reeve Stockwell appeared, looking stressed.  "Kitty, what have we got here?" Stockwell asked.

"You guys are trying to kill me," Mr. Keller explained, which wasn't entirely untrue.

"Miles?" Stockwell inquired.

"System says he's already dead," Miles explained with a shrug.  "Where's Mags?  She's masterful with the system."

"She's unavailable," Stockwell explained.

"Did you kill her, too?" the customer asked.

Reeve Stockwell groaned.  It was gonna be a heck of a long day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 2 - The Morning Huddle

The first hour under the unforgiving lights of Tommy's Tool Town passed without incident.  Reeve Stockwell was grateful.  He'd spent the better part of a half hour locked behind closed doors, mopping his brow and willing his hands to stop shaking. 

He had to stop the insanity.  If he didn't, he'd be a diabetic by five o'clock.  "No more fritters," he whispered, as he walked the exterior of the building, checking each entrance for stray trash, cigarette butts, and chewing gum. 

A fire engine screamed by. 

Maybe the bakery's on fire, he thought, wishing no ill will on the baker or his family.  The total loss of the pastry provider's digs might be Stockwell's only hope.

He checked his watch.  6:55.  Almost time to gather the troops for the morning's festivities.  Sales were down and morale was low.  Tommy's was the best show in town.  What was the problem?

No one had better priced tools.  No one had more convenient shopping hours, better shopping options, or more brightly colored garb.  Tommy's was simply the best.  What the hell was going on?

Stockwell had to figure it out.  If he didn't, someone else might.  Someone might steal Stockwell's thunder.  Someone like Kitty Richardson, or Penelope Ross.  Someone like Miles Longworth or Slick Mitchell, the original Tommy's grandson.  "Ugh," grated Stockwell, under his breath.  "Anyone but Mitchell.  Don't let it be Mitchell."

Stockwell pulled his mobile phone from his back pocket, and looked at it thoughtfully.  He could have been an FBI agent.  Once, he'd wanted to.  The FBI had come to his university, in Stockwell's junior year.  He could have applied.  He could have applied to the FBI, and instead he'd applied at Tommy's.  He looked at his phone again.  It could have been a badge, or a gun, but it wasn't.  It was a phone, and not a very good one.  Stockwell could have been catching bad guys.  Instead, he was catching low-level offenders with drill bits stuffed in their boxers, and herding neon-wearing associates like a bunch of cats. 

"Son of a.....," Stockwell muttered, not finishing the phrase.  He looked at the phone again, hit the green button that brought the archaic looking technological disaster to life, and paged over Tool Town's paging system.  "Fellow Tommy Tool Towners, please gather at Customer Service for the morning meeting." 

His voice sounded garbled, foreign, even to himself, and he could picture the minions making fun.  It didn't matter, he made the same page every day.  They knew what he was saying, and they always came running, staring him down, waiting for words of wisdom. 

Maybe today was the day he'd say them.


Kitty Richardson was the first to arrive, looking amazingly put together for someone who'd risen two hours prior to the crack of dawn.

Someone didn't get the memo about garish jewelry,  Reeve Stockwell thought, catching sight of his right-hand-gal.  Deep down he didn't care, but now that Tommy's was a chain, now that Tommy's was on every street corner, of every town in America, he didn't have much to say about policy.  If it were up to him, he'd have let Kitty Richardson wear a tiara.  And, if he let her, he knew Kitty would.

"Morning, Kitty," Reeve Stockwell said, with a jerky wave.

"Lay off the sugar," Kitty chided, and Stockwell felt his face get warm. 

I'll bet she knows.  I'll bet she knows I talked to the damn fritter.

Kitty knew more than he thought.  Kitty knew more than anyone thought.

All the regular cronies were present.  Penelope Ross stared him down, sneaking M&M's out of the right pocket of her cargo shorts when she thought no one was looking.  Mags Davidson gave him the stink-eye, probably because he'd written her up for dropping the S-Bomb in plumbing.  Stockwell supposed it was the right department for the S-Bomb, but nonetheless, it wasn't appropriate, no matter who dropped a toilet on your foot.

Joan, "JJ" Patricks, in an enormous black hoodie, in hood-up position, shuffled toward the group like the grim reaper herself.

What the hell is she doing here?" Stockwell wondered.  JJ normally worked nights.  What kink in the technological universe drove her out of her coffin at 4:00 AM?

"What's JJ doing here?" Stockwell asked Mags Davidson, who still regarded him with the stink-eye.

Maybe it's a medical problem, Stockwell thought.  Maybe the eye is always like that.

"She switched with someone.  She has plans tonight."

"Gotcha," Stockwell replied, not even taking a mental stab at what the night outings of the notorious JJ might consist of.  He didn't want to know.  He had a feeling it had something to do with vampires.

Dewie Roberts strolled over, an hour late as always, looking rumpled, unshaven, and in need of another forty-two minutes with the Sexual Harassment video.  Stockwell had gotten another complaint.  There was always one more complaint. 

Three of the old-timers huddled together, probably because they were aging fast, and their circulation was bad, but he loved them.  He loved them more than anyone.  They were the parents he never had, but that was another story, for another day, another lifetime.  He'd need a dozen fritters to touch that one with a ten-foot pole.

Ten-foot poles are in aisle 32, Stockwell thought.  His next thought was, I am in serious need of a vacation.

He took a visual role call.  The gang was all here.  He had fifteen minutes to pitch something productive to his staff, and forty-five to pray it worked.

Slick Mitchell was due in at eight.


Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 1 - The Fritter

Reeve Stockwell felt sluggish.  Of course, how could anyone feel anything but on the four hours of sleep that had become Stockwell's nightly ritual? 

Go to bed.  Look at the ceiling.  Get up.  Get a glass of water.  Go to bed.  Look at the ceiling.  Get up.  Get a glass of scotch.  Go to bed.  Is that a spider in the corner?

You get the drift.

Alone in the stuffy, windowless office, Stockwell leaned back in his chair and stifled an enormous yawn.  He checked the clock.  5:22 AM, a hateful time of day, one best reserved for sleep in one's late thirties, or clamboring home from an all-nighter in earlier years. 

Stockwell's stomach growled, and he caught sight of the oozing pile of sticky goodness on the corner of his desk.  He turned his head and faced his breakfast straight on.  A fritter the size of a dinner plate stared back at him.  Did he dare?  Did he dare consume four days worth of sugar before six in the morning? 

Why not? 

Who would know?  He could toss the granola bar into the trash, tell his wife he ate it, and no one would be the wiser.  He could hide his shame, hide his lack of fiber, hide his lack of willpower.  He had the metabolism of the Tazmanian devil.  The fritter would never show. 

He touched the pastry with the index finger of his left hand.  That was all it took, enough to send him over the edge.

Now what?

A clear sugar residue clung to the finger.  He had to lick it off.  And so, alone in the office, he did. 

"Damn that's good," he muttered, savoring the sweetness, a combination of tart and forbidden.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his adversary, shrouding the plate, lording a power over him that was just this side of insane.

"I'm not gonna do it.  I am not going to eat you.  You will not win."

Stockwell looked around, and silently thanked God he was still alone.

I'm talking to a fritter.  I've lost my ever-loving mind.

Maybe he had.  Maybe he had lost his mind.  A few years of Tommy's Tool Town could do that to a man.  A gentle tapping interrupted his reverie, and the fritter was momentarily forgotten.

Stockwell stood, stretched, and let himself out of the office, careful to hide the fritter beneath a pile of spreadsheets before he did.

"I'll be back for you, you son of a gun," he muttered before slamming the door.

The opening crew of Tommy's Tool Town was assembled outside the glass door, confined to the vestibule for a few last moments of freedom before the daily grind began.  As Stockwell approached, two members of his crew waved.  The rest looked half asleep, save the tattooed youngster in the back who hadn't slept, opting instead for a night of gaming, Dorito's, and Red Bull.

Twelve faces stared at him through the glass door.  This is what I get? thought Stockwell.  These folks look more like the freaks from table nine in the Wedding Singer.  He chastised himself for his negative thoughts, and raised his hand in greeting.  Most of the crew wasn't half bad.  Most of them.

Stockwell popped the lock and the crew filed in. 

"Morning," they each muttered.

"Morning," Stockwell replied to each green-shirted entrant.

Twelve of his minions skittered away, and he watched them as they did.  Tommy's Tool Town, in yellow neon, was emblazoned on the back of each shirt. 

Stockwell looked out the window, into the parking lot beyond. 

There's got to be more to this life than nuts and bolts, and early risers in neon, he thought.

But what?

Savoring the last few minutes to himself, Stockwell returned to his office, locked the door behind him, dug through the pile of reports, and freed the fritter.  He sat, leaned back in his desk chair, and consumed the pastry in less than two minutes.  He pushed all feelings of guilt aside as the sugar coursed through his veins. 

There's got to be more to this life than nuts and bolts, fritters behind closed doors, and early risers in neon, he thought again.

But what?

Reeve Stockwell was about to find out.