One day later, Tommy's Tool Town looked better than ever, with some minor exceptions. The paint had virtually vanished. The professional cleaning crew had performed magic over five aisles, while the Tommy crew slept off their Coors Light.
Willie Dennison had supervised the entire cleaning event, and slept in his station wagon, surrounded by Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. Willie was a madman with a broom, who occasionally smelled like a brewery. No one coveted Willie's job, and therefore forgave him for his indiscretions.
Slick Mitchell was the first one in the door. He deposited his briefcase in his office, and walked the perimiter with a flashlight. If the lights had been on, which they weren't, or if the flashlight had been properly directed, which it wasn't, Slick Mitchell might not have stepped in a puddle of bird goo in aisle nine. But he did. He tracked it through aisles ten and eleven. Thankfully, Willie Dennison was due back in at noon.
The pterodactyl had been properly identified by animal control as a Turkey Vulture. Turkey Vultures were on the protected list, which meant that Tommy's couldn't take any unnecessary measures to rid themselves of the creature, such as having Reeve Stockwell shoot it with a staple gun. They'd have to live with it, until the bird could be trapped. If not for the bird goo, and occasional screeching, it wouldn't have been that much of a hardship.
Tommy's opened at 6:00 AM, per usual. Kitty Richardson was first in. She was dressed in black.
"Morning, Kitty," Slick said, and Kitty gave him little more than a passing glance.
"What's up with her?" Slick asked Quincy Warner. Quincy looked half asleep, probably because she normally worked nights, and had still been at Bitsy's at 2:00 AM.
"Kitty's still mourning that damn pen. If I find it, I'm going to stab her with it," Quincy whined.
"I'd prefer you didn't. Besides, if you find the pen, she'll probably snap out of it," Slick said.
"Good point. My brain's a little pickled this morning," Quincy admitted.
Amber Martin strolled in five minutes late. "You should get a new watch," Slick Mitchell said.
"You know, I never understood why people get gold watches when they retire. Maybe if they got them when they were hired, they'd be on time," Amber remarked.
"I'll take that under advisement, Amber," Slick Mitchell said.
Valentine Jones stood at Customer Service. She looked at the schedule and frowned.
"You all right, Val?" Slick Mitchell asked. He was beginning to understand why Stockwell had a sugar problem. One needed a vice when managing the front end.
"Why isn't Mags here? We were supposed to go to the Chinese buffet for lunch today."
"That buffet is skanks town," Quincy commented. "I was in there a couple weeks back, and this squirrel runs out of the kitchen. True story. The cook comes running out with a net. I asked him what he was doing, and he said, 'don't worry. Squirrel not dinner. Squirrel pet.' I ain't never goin' back there."
Slick Mitchell walked away. He had successfully dodged the question about Mags Davidson. Mags was on vacation for a week. Slick had gotten a message last night while half in the bag at Bitsy's. If Tommy's had another injury before the renewal of their comp insurance in six days, the company had threatened to cancel their policy. Slick Mitchell couldn't take any chances. Barbie Baxter agreed to take on an extra shift to cover for Mags, but only if she could wear a hard hat, just until the bird was captured.
Slick strolled through the paint department. The transformation was remarkable. JT Bueller had come in early to remove the charred remains of the Slim Spin 5000, and replace it with Tommy's aging train wreck of a paint mixer. The remains were headed for the dumpster. Partners in Paint had been banned from the store for life. JT was just returning from the dumping when Slick passed by the paint desk.
"Miles Longworth is out back farting around with the dumpster again. That guy's got a serious screw loose," JT commented. "Don't mean to be disrespectful, but is he a hoarder? Does he dumpster dive or something?"
Slick wasn't sure, but he decided it was time to find out.
Miles Longworth stood by the dumpster outside Tommy's receiving bay. He wore his wife's rubber gloves, and held the envelope of money in his hand. He had to get rid of the damn thing. There wasn't any place he could hide it. He couldn't hide it in his office, or anywhere in the store, and he certainly couldn't hide it at home. His wife had some crazy sixth sense when it came to her husband. No matter what Miles tried to sneak into the house, his wife found it. He couldn't get away with anything. He once ate a Big Mac at 11:00 PM, while she was away at her mother's. He'd ridden his bike in the direction of the glow of golden arches, paid cash, and had burned the wrapper in the outside burn barrel. She's still known he'd broken the "no food past 9:00" rule. She either had nanny cams or was a psychic medium, or in her case a "large" because she didn't miss ANYTHING. No. Keeping the money at home, even for a short time until he could return it safely, was not an option for Miles.
The store was open, but the sky was still dark. He couldn't imagine any thugs prowling around, not with Tool Towners in neon around every corner. He'd picked the perfect time to shove the money back under the pile of crap where he'd found it.
At least he thought he had. Until JT showed up.
He'd lied to JT, and he'd looked like an idiot in the process.
"What are you doing out here?" JT had asked him.
"I'm sneeking a cigar. Don't tell anyone," Miles had said.
"Where is it?" JT had asked.
"Where's what?" Miles had responded.
Miles hadn't answered. He'd offered to give JT a hand hauling the carcass of the Slim Spin 5000 into the dumpster.
JT had walked away shaking his head.
He thinks I'm an idiot.
He's absolutely right.
Too late, Miles had remembered the cigar in his pocket. He'd lit it, and had taken a few puffs while JT disappeared into the receiving bay door. Miles waited a few minutes to see if JT returned. He didn't. Miles knelt down on a plastic Tommy Tool Town bag and began poking around in the debris with the first two fingers of his pink-gloved right hand. The money was in an envelope, tucked under the side of the bag.
He never heard Slick Mitchell approach.
"What are you doing?" Slick asked.
"Saying my prayers," Miles said.
"Seriously?" Slick Mitchell forced himself not to laugh.
"What? A man can't pray?" Miles asked.
"What are you praying to? The Palmolive Gods?" This time Slick couldn't control the laughter. He practically burst with it.
"Look it," Miles said, holding his pose with his right knee on the envelope, beneath the Tommy bag. "Can we just forget this happened?"
"I might be willing to do that, on one condition," Slick said.
"What condition?" Miles asked.
"Get yourself some help, man. You're getting weirder by the day."
"You couldn't possibly imagine," Miles mumbled.
"What was that?" Slick Mitchell said.
"You've got a deal," Miles replied.
Slick Mitchell walked away. He wouldn't forget what he'd seen, and he figured JT was right. Maybe Miles got himself into some Freecycle club or something. Maybe he was dumpster diving. Tommy's had a policy, what goes in the dumpster, stays in the dumpster, and Miles knew it as well as the next neon-clad guy. This time, he'd let it go, but if Miles didn't straighten up, Slick was afraid he'd have to fire him.
Slick pushed the thought from his mind. He needed to get busy. Sonny Brooks had the day off. Slick had to review some of the tapes in a random check, and report to Corporate Security. Everything had to be checked, double checked, and triple checked, and all roads led to Slick, especially since he'd recommitted to playing an active role in the day to day operation of the weirdest retail store in existence.
Slick settled himself into Sonny's office. He reviewed the tape from the day before. It was like the Amityville Horror. Paint cans flew everywhere. He saw Stockwell get clocked with a gallon of blue, and he tried not to laugh. He failed. He was still chuckling when he noticed a tape was missing. Whether or not he was a manager, and basically the top guy, because of his last name, Slick wasn't inclined to go through anyone's desk, or poke around anyone's office unnecessarily, but he had to find the missing tape. If there was something quirky on it, and he signed off on it, he wasn't fit to work for Tommy's, regardless of who his grandfather was. Slick finally found the tape. It was buried beneath fifteen Dunkin Donuts cups in the left file drawer of Sonny's desk.
Slick popped it in the player.
He watched for only a few minutes, checking the clock from time to time. He was hungry, and tape review was boring as heck.
He glanced back at the tape in time to see a coffee cup vanish.
"What the hell?" Slick said out loud.
He rewound the tape.
The same thing happened. His eyes had not been playing tricks on him.
He rewound the tape again.
The third time something caught his eye.
He watched the tape a fourth time, zooming in close and slowing it until it moved frame-by-frame.
The cup was there one moment, and gone the next.
Or so it seemed.
It wasn't the cup Slick Mitchell watched. It was the clock on the corner of Sonny's desk. It was barely visible unless one zoomed in on it, and he was surprised he'd even caught it. In the frame with the cup, the clock read 1:42 AM.
In the next frame, at which time the cup seemed to mysteriously vanish, the clock read 3:22 AM.
A single question ran through Slick Mitchell's mind.
What happened in his grandfather's store between 1:42 AM and 3:22 AM, and who didn't want anyone to see it?