After what felt like a lifetime, Reeve Stockwell finished up with the rope customer, and against his better judgment, he decided not to buy a length for himself. He could still hear muted laughter coming from his office.
"I am going to kill them," he mumbled as he walked.
Stockwell pulled the phone from his back pocket, and punched in three numbers. Sonny Brooks, head of security, answered on the first ring.
"Brooks," Sonny said.
"Stockwell," Reeve replied.
"Brooks," Sonny said.
"Do not start with me today, Sonny."
"My apologies, Mr. Stockwell, how may I be of assistance?"
"You're still messing with me," Stockwell said, and Sonny laughed.
"I am. What's up?"
"You in the middle of something?" Reeve Stockwell asked.
"Not at the moment."
"Great. Meet me at my office."
"Something wrong?" Sonny asked.
"Kitty and Mags are in there with the cashiers. They're going over the bomb threat procedures."
"Dear God. I'll be right there."
Sonny hung up.
Two minutes later, Reeve Stockwell was pounding on the door to his office.
"Who's there?" Kitty called, her voice raw from laughing.
"Shit," Kitty whispered.
"I can hear you!" Reeve said, louder than he'd intended.
Kitty opened the door a sliver.
"Let me in," Reeve Stockwell demanded.
Kitty did. Stockwell entered his office. Bernice and Penelope were doubled over. Lucie and Amber were blotting their eyes. Mags had tears running down her face.
"I trusted you," Stockwell said to Kitty, who did her best to look regretful.
"I tried. Really I did," Kitty said defensively.
"I should fire you," Stockwell said, and Kitty laughed, which only irritated him more.
"And who would you hire? Who else could measure your insulin level just by looking at you?" Kitty asked.
"You are a pain in my - "
Stockwell was interrupted by a rap at the door. He opened the door and Sonny Brooks stepped inside.
The room was small, ten by ten, and it was packed to the hilt.
"All right, ladies. Squeeze together. Incidentally, they can hear you laughing in the appliance department. Come on, people. Bomb threats are a serious subject, so much so, I've asked Sonny to help us out here."
"If any of you have had bean burritos in the last twenty-four hours you may leave now," Sonny said, and Bernice and Penelope both cracked up.
"I asked you here to help," Stockwell griped, glaring at Sonny Brooks.
"Reeve is right. This is serious," Sonny said. "We live in a strange and explosive world, where people often resort to violence to solve problems."
"You're quoting the video," Kitty said.
"How far did you get with the training, Kitty?" Sonny asked.
"We got to the part about getting the Cashier's Manual," Lucie Goosie said.
"That's the third line," Reeve Stockwell growled.
"Everything went to hell from there," Mags said.
"All right. I've got to get back to the floor," Stockwell said. "Sonny is going to take ten minutes to talk to you about what to do in the event of a bomb threat. If one of you speaks, I will kill you."
"That's against policy," Bernice said.
"It's only against policy if I actually kill you, which I won't, if you remain silent for ten minutes," Stockwell said.
Reeve Stockwell left his office. Sonny Brooks followed, leaving the office long enough to get the Cashier's Manual. The front end was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. Sonny returned in less than a minute.
"Bomb threat procedures are in each department's manual. There are specific questions you should ask the caller. Familiarize yourself with these questions. For instance, ask the caller what the bomb looks like, and where it is. Take each call seriously. Kitty and Mags, please pass the instructions to each of your cashiers and have them initial the back once they've read them. Does anyone have any questions?"
No one did.
The explanation had taken less than four minutes.
The cashiers filed out of Stockwell's office. Tommy's front end was in full swing, with customers lining up to pay for their purchases. The cashiers dispersed, and Sonny strolled back to his office.
His stomach growled, and he anticipated heating up the massive bean burrito his wife had made the night before. He'd pay for it for hours, but there was more than one advantage to having one's own private office.
Sonny swung by the break room, grabbed his lunch pail from the refrigerator, and nuked the burrito for two minutes. He put it back in his lunch pail and returned to his office.
Safely inside, he dug into the mess like someone who hadn't eaten in weeks. In three minutes, the burrito was gone. He wished he had another.
Sonny settled back in his chair and popped a Zantac. He had three hours remaining in his shift, and he settled back to review the security tapes from the night before. Tommy's had an elaborate surveillance system, and Sonny had a trained eye. He could watch several tapes at once, his eyes flitting from one screen to another, and Sonny rarely missed anything.
At 7:00 PM, the evening before, Penelope, Bernice and Lucie had performed the Macarena in the vestibule. They'd done fairly well with it.
Mags was sweeping, with her back to the show.
At 7:30, Bernice and Penelope had filled the drink cooler. Bernice furiously shook two cans of Coke and placed them in the front row on the second shelf, far right hand side.
Sonny decided to pretend he hadn't seen that.
"Damn kids," Sonny muttered.
Mags dropped two bottles of Diet Mountain Dew. They'd rolled as if propelled by magic, and had come to rest in the middle of the electrical department. Sonny wasn't all that surprised, and let that one go, too.
Just before closing, Penelope and Lucie had taken the trash and recycling to the receiving area. Lucie had given Penelope a ride back in the cart, just past closing time.
Against store policy, but not worth the hassle.
At 10:10, Mags dropped a till that was mercifully empty. Reeve Stockwell jumped so high his feet left the ground. Sonny replayed the segment, which was just as funny the second time around. Sonny laughed with vigor, and his stomach rumbled.
He popped another Zantac.
Sonny watched the segment a third time, not all that surprised by Stockwell's reaction to Mag's clumsiness. Stockwell had killed a King Size Butterfinger at 8:49 PM.
The eye in the sky is always watching, Sonny thought, feeling a little rush of power.
For duty's sake, Sonny Brooks concentrated on the tape from the receiving bay. No freight had been due in the night before, and Sonny grew quickly bored, watching an empty room.
One of the day crew had left a Dunkin Donuts cup behind. There was one consistency in business. Someone was always cleaning up after someone else.
Sonny reached into his desk for a peppermint. The burrito was tearing him apart. He kept his eyes on the screen in front of him, as he unwrapped the mint.
"What the hell?" he whispered.
Sonny rewound the tape.
"No way," he said.
Sonny rewound the tape again, feeling his abdomen tighten in fear and confusion.
One minute the Dunkin Donuts cup was there. The next, it was gone. The cup vanished before his eyes.
The store had been closed. No night crew was on duty. No one entered the room. Not a burgler, an animal, or David Copperfield.
"What in the sam hell?" Sonny said.
He watched the tape a third time. A fourth. A fifth. His hand shook as he furiously pressed buttons.
Sonny Brooks could draw only one conclusion.
Tommy's Tool Town was haunted.