Reeve Stockwell's day hadn't started well. Sonny Brooks and Miles Longworth had both called in sick, leaving Reeve Stockwell to do the work of three men. Stockwell had been up until all hours nursing a Nutter Butter hangover, and wasn't all that interested in doing the work of one man.
Kitty Richardson arrived five minutes late, looking like Sophia Loren, in her huge sunglasses, and flowered scarf.
"How about this wind," she'd remarked, rushing past Stockwell, in search of the closest terminal to punch in on Tommy's time clock.
"You're late, Kitty," Stockwell growled.
"Worth the wait, as always," Kitty replied.
"I should fire you," Stockwell yelled to her back.
"Fire me tomorrow. There's a good movie on Lifetime," Kitty said with a wink.
"That woman is a certified nut," Stockwell said, and a customer turned and glared at him.
"Most apologetic, Ma'am," Stockwell said. "I certainly didn't mean you."
"I didn't figure you did. Likely meant the madwoman with the scarf, and dark glasses. She looks a bit batty," the customer commented, and Stockwell smiled at her.
You have no idea, Reeve Stockwell thought.
"Well, dear, since you're right here, perhaps you can help me. I've brought back this thing-a-ma-jigger here for Bert, my beloved. Bert's got a bit of the gout, poor old fella. Couldn't bring himself to come'a shufflin into your fine store in his bedroom slippers."
"Let's take it over to Returns, and we'll see what we can figure out," Reeve Stockwell said. He grabbed the box, which he assumed held a saw, and walked along beside his aging customer. The customer plodded along at a speed that made a tortoise seem like an over achiever, and ten minutes later, they stood before Bernice Lord, at the return desk.
"May I help you?" Bernice said, with her dazzling smile. A large chuck of Twizzlers was lodged between her two front teeth. Upon closer inspection, Stockwell saw a second piece, and was pleased to find his Tool Towners following the "no food" rule on the front end.
Reeve Stockwell sat the box on the counter, took a step back, out of the customer's peripheral vision, and tapped his teeth.
"Are teeth missing from the saw, Ma'am?" Bernice said, again with the Candy Land smile.
"I beg your pardon, young lady?" the customer asked.
Stockwell held up two fingers.
"Two teeth?" Bernice said, and Stockwell felt heat in his face. He held up the two fingers and shook them wildly. "Two words?"
"Ma'am, if you'll excuse us for just a moment, we'll have a little talk about how to best serve you, and we'll return in about thirty seconds," Stockwell said.
"It's all right, dear. I could stand to glue my teeth back in. I'm going to sneak a Snickers, since Bert's not with me."
Stockwell wasn't sorry to miss that, and led Bernice away from the return counter.
"Bernice, please remove the gobs of Twizzler's from your front teeth."
"Uh oh," Bernice whispered.
"Caught you. If I catch you again, I will tape your mouth shut, so that you'll stop eating candy on the job."
"Why does everyone want to tape my mouth shut? That's against policy. What would people think?"
"We'll get you one of those masks from the paint department. That way, no one will know your mouth is taped shut."
"They'll think I have Bird Flu or Sars," Bernice whined.
"I'll bet no one would bother you for a while."
Bernice perked up a bit. "How would I talk to customers?" Bernice asked.
"I'll get you an Etch-A-Sketch."
"That's hardly a good use of time," Bernice remarked. "I had one of those things. Couldn't even draw a straight line with it.
"Show me your teeth," Stockwell demanded.
"Much better. Let's get back to work," Reeve Stockwell suggested.
In less than a minute, the two arrived back at the return desk. The customer had glued her teeth in incorrectly, bottoms on the top, tops on the bottoms, and she smiled like something from a Fun House.
Bernice covered her mouth and pretended to sneeze.
God give me strength," Stockwell thought. It was just past 10:00 AM. He hadn't expected to be this irritated until early afternoon.
Bernice stepped behind the customer to retrieve the box. She tapped her teeth, and smiled the huge smile.
Stockwell ignored her.
"Let's see what you have here," Stockwell said. He removed the saw from the box, and set it on the counter. The problem was immediately obvious. The cord dangled by a thread. It had been severed by, Stockwell was left to assume, the saw to which it was once completely connected.
"Ma'am, the cord is damaged," Stockwell said, and Bernice stifled a giggle with her hand. Stockwell sent the young associate the death stare. Bernice fell silent.
"Why, look at that," the woman said, the teeth clacking together furiously. "Bert only cut one thing, and the doohickey stopped working."
"Looks like he might have cut two," Reeve Stockwell said, wishing someone would just shoot him.
"Well, it's guaranteed, right?" the woman asked. Stockwell forced himself not to look at her. He couldn't keep his eyes off the teeth.
"Well, considering that your husband-" Bernice began.
"Bernice, kindly call the tool department and have them bring a replacement for this nice lady," Stockwell asked.
"Please do as I ask," Reeve Stockwell said. He accompanied Bernice to the phone, and whispered as he walked. "I am taking a break for the next few minutes. Unless there's a fire, a death, or a bomb threat, please do not call me," Stockwell ordered.
Famous last words.
Kitty Richardson ditched the sunglasses and scarf, and made her way to Tommy's front end. Mags Davidson was already hard at work, directing traffic like a crossing guard. The egg on the side of her head was considerably smaller.
"How's things?" Kitty asked, and Mags smiled through a pencil in her teeth.
"Not bad," Mags replied. "JJ Patricks called out, so I sent Valentine Jones home to take a nap."
"Okay. What does one have to do with another?" Kitty asked, trying without success, to connect the dots in Mags' story.
"Right. Sorry, Kitty. I was doing a hundred things at once. Let me regroup. JJ called out, so I sent Val home to take a nap, and asked her to come back in later."
"Val's the best," Kitty said.
"You got that right," Mags agreed.
"What happened to JJ?" Kitty asked.
"Her mother fell and landed on the Statue of Liberty," Mags said, and Kitty just stared at her with her mouth open. "You catching flies?" Mags asked with a chuckle.
"How exactly did JJ's mother land on the Statue of Liberty? Did she fall out of the sky?" Kitty asked, and Mags laughed out loud.
"Hmm. That didn't come out right at all, did it?" Mags asked.
"Not at all," Kitty replied, giggling like a teenager.
"Okay. JJ's mother's cats got into a box of mementos, and one of them was a Statue of Liberty, 'bout six inches tall, from the sounds of it. JJ's mom tripped over the box and fell on the statue. Guess she messed up her tail bone pretty badly."
"Jeez, what are the odds?" Kitty asked.
"Don't ask me, I grade on a curve," Mags reminded her.
Both women jumped when the phone rang. "Can you run outside and grab me the paperwork from last night?" Mags asked.
"Sure thing," Kitty said. "From which register?"
"The one with a bunch of paperwork under the counter."
"Gotcha," Kitty replied, heading back toward Customer Service. "Hi, Amber," Kitty whispered, as she passed. Amber held the phone to her ear. She was as white as a sheet.
"B, b, b, bo....." Amber stuttered, and Kitty stopped dead in her tracks.
"Sweetheart, what's wrong? Are you okay? Are you having a stroke?" Kitty asked. It wasn't possible. Amber was young, half Kitty's age. Amber pushed the red "hold" button on her phone and slammed the receiver down.
"Bomb threat," Amber squeaked, and Kitty felt her bladder grow weak.
"Sweet Mary, mother of God," Kitty mumbled. "I'll get the manual. Pick the call back up, and see if you can get the guy talking," Kitty said, her adrenaline pumping a mile a minute.
"Me?" Amber said. "Why me?"
"Be brave, my child. You can do this," Kitty said, reassuringly.
Amber picked up the phone. "Hello," she said. "I'm sorry I had to set the phone down. My boss is going to help me to help you resolve this in a way that keeps everyone safe," Amber added, her voice trembling.
"Good, good," Kitty whispered. "You're doing great." Kitty was shaking as badly as her young associate. Mags stood ten feet away, yapping up a storm with an older couple, who had just purchased their first appliance in thirty years.
"Do you think the light stays on when you close the refrigerator door?" the older woman asked Mags.
"I don't know. I suppose you'd have to experiment," Mags suggested.
"Perhaps our little grandson could test it out for us. I've forgotten when he's coming next," the woman's husband said. "Do you remember, dear?"
"I don't. We forget everything nowadays," the woman said.
"Maybe you could set a video camera. Might be safer for your grandson," Mags recommended.
Kitty penned a quick post-it, and stuck in on Mag's monitor, out of site of the customers.
Bomb on line one.
Mags went pale, and shuffled the customers to the door with a wave.
"What the....?" Mags said softly.
"Seriously. Amber is on the phone with him now. Call Stockwell," Kitty said, returning quickly to Amber's side. Amber furiously made notes on a blank sheet of paper on the counter. Kitty read the random words.
disguised as old woman
bomb in Stockwell's office
Kitty will know what to do.
Bomb made from instructions on Internet, using Goggle
Bomb concealed in Lucky Strike box.
"WHAT IN THE NAME OF HELL!!" Kitty yelled, grabbing the phone. "GRANDMA! IS THAT YOU?" Kitty roared into the handset.
"Hello, dear. I just thought I'd call and give you a little practice." Ada disguised her voice, but the Lucky Strike rattle was unmistakable.
"You can stop disguising your voice now."
"Good. It's killing my throat."
"Gran, are you out of your ever-loving mind? You cannot call in a bomb threat. You cannot do that. No matter how helpful you want to be, or how much you think we need practice, you cannot ever, and I mean, EVER, call in a bomb threat. Do you understand me, Gran?"
Ada began to cry on the other end of the phone.
"Oh, jeez. Don't cry, Gran. Please don't cry," Kitty soothed.
"I don't have anything in my life. Anything. All I have is your mother, and umpteen pieces of nicotine gum, and ingrown toenails, and hairs where there shouldn't be any. It all looks so interesting on the television. You got me thinking with the whole bomb threat thing, so I went on Goggle and puttered around."
"It's Google, Gran. Why on earth would you do such a thing?"
"I thought if I called, maybe Horatio Caine would come."
"Gran, that's a character on a TV show. He isn't going to come for a bomb threat in the middle of nowhere in upstate, New York."
"It was worth a shot," Gran whined.
Kitty felt eyes on her back. Angry eyes. She turned around, and a fire-breathing Reeve Stockwell stood before her. He took the handset from her hand.
"Hello, Ada. Kitty will call you back in an hour," Stockwell said, placing the phone on the base with such calm and precision, Kitty felt her blood run cold.
"Are you going to kill me?" Kitty whispered.
"No, and that's not because I don't want to, because I do. I just don't want to spend the remainder of my life in a six-by-eight room with a serial killer, who, no matter how unlikely, might piss me off more than you do."
"Okay. Thank you for not killing me. Every morning when I wake up, I'll think of you," Kitty said, and Stockwell stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep from strangling her.
"That isn't making me feel any less like killing you. Go to my office. NOW!" Stockwell demanded.
Kitty did as ordered, without saying a word, in a manner so unlike Kitty it was frightening.
Reeve Stockwell pulled his phone from his pocket, and dialed a number he'd committed to memory. His call went to voicemail.
"Brooks, it's Stockwell. Kitty's grandmother just called in a bomb threat to test our skill. The cops are on their way. I really don't care if you're shitting fire, spitting up blood, or have been infected with something that will most certainly kill me if I am exposed. Get in here now!"
Stockwell ended the call, and threw the phone clear across the front end.
Amber Martin ducked.
Mags Davidson never got the chance.