Reeve Stockwell looked over the report on the desk in front of him. It wasn't so much the offense, but the date of birth of the offender. A ninety-nine year old woman called in a bomb threat, and showed up in a prom dress to answer for her crimes.
Stockwell shook his head. Yesterday had been a hell of a day, and he was about due for a good one. Tommy's had been open for almost eight hours. So far, so good. No one had called in sick, no one had called in a bomb threat, and miraculously, no one had been injured, although Mags wasn't due in for another five minutes.
Stockwell's phone chirped on the desk in front of him. For the first time in days, he wasn't afraid to answer it.
"There's a pterodactyl in the Kitchen Department," a shaky voice uttered.
"I beg your pardon?" Stockwell asked.
"There's a pterodactyl in the Kitchen Department," the voice repeated.
"Now, look it, less than twenty-four hours ago, we had a bomb threat prank. Pterodactyls are extinct. Get a life."
And Stockwell hung up.
Nichole Deans was crammed into a custom cabinet, half a store away from Stockwell's office. Her miniskirt was shoved halfway up her back, and her butt was getting seriously numb, but she wasn't going anywhere until she figured out what the hell she had just seen.
She'd suspected for hours that something wasn't right. It wasn't intuition, so to speak, more the feeling of being watched. Then she'd heard it, a screech from just above her, the volume of which was loud enough to get her attention, but not so much that it alerted anyone else to her present predicament.
What the hell was that thing?
It would be different if she worked in a zoo. In a zoo, no one would think much of something flying on by, as one did one's paperwork, but Tommy's wasn't a zoo, not literally, and no flying thing belonged inside its walls.
Stockwell had hung up on her, and she could hardly blame him. She would have probably done the same thing. Maybe it was a security issue. Nichole punched in three numbers and the phone rang twice.
"Sonny, there's a pterodactyl in the Kitchen Department," Nichole whispered.
"Bernice, stop making prank phone calls, and stop shaking the cans of Coke and putting them back. Customers are starting to bitch about our sodas being flat."
"Shit," Nichole Deans whispered. She dialed three more numbers.
"Kitty, don't hang up," Nichole whispered. Kitty didn't.
"What's wrong? Why are you whispering?" Kitty asked.
"There's some freaking prehistoric looking bird in the Kitchen Department," Nichole said, sounding stressed.
"You don't say," Kitty said. "Where are you?"
"I'm inside one of the displays," Nichole said. "I'm hiding."
"Did you call Stockwell?" Kitty asked.
"Yeah. He told me to get a life," Nichole whined.
"He's cranky. His fritter dealer is on vacation. Hang on, Nichole. We'll come get you," Kitty reassurred.
"Hurry. I have to pee."
"We will," Kitty said.
There was a thirty minute overlap daily, when all three front-end managers were present. Kitty hung up the phone, and rounded up Barbie Baxter and Mags Davidson, who had just arrived.
"Girls, let's put Valentine Jones at the door and go to the Kitchen Department," Kitty said.
"Why?" Barbie asked.
"Nichole said there's some kind of prehistoric bird back there," Kitty explained.
"Jeez. That doesn't sound like anything I want any part of," Barbie said.
"Come on," Mags chastised. "Don't be a wimp. I'll go if you will," Mags said to Barbie.
"All right, but I'm not going without protection," Barbie said.
"Like a condom?" Mags asked.
"No," Barbie said, giggling.
"Then what?" Mags questioned.
"Do we still have those hard hats in the closet, the ones the kids from the middle school wore on their field trip?" Barbie asked.
"They were in there last week," Kitty said.
"If we can wear those, I'll go," Barbie said.
"Deal," Mags said. "I'll get us some flashlights."
Five minutes later, Valentine was stationed at the door, and Kitty, Mags and Barbie set out, in their yellow hard hats, to rescue Nichole Deans. Each held an enormous orange flashlight.
Stockwell was patrolling the perimeter when he saw them out of the corner of his eye. "What in the name of hell?" Stockwell muttered.
Reeve Stockwell made a split-second decision to pretend he hadn't seen them. He didn't know what they were doing, or why they were wearing hard hats, but today, he just didn't want to know. He was on a mission.
Meanwhile, Kitty, Mags, and Barbie arrived in the Kitchen Department.
"Nichole," Kitty whispered, and ten feet away, a kitchen cabinet door inched open a crack.
"In here," Nichole said, her voice soft.
All three girls crouched by the cabinet. Mags was the first to speak.
"How in the sam hell did you get in there?" Mags asked.
"I have no idea, but if you guys stand guard, I'm going to try to come out. If I don't, I'm going to wet my pants."
Barbie, Mags and Kitty stepped back, and Nichole practically exploded out of the cabinet.
"Jeez," Barbie said. "That was amazing."
Nichole laid on the floor, panting. "I think I'm permanently crippled."
Something screeched overhead. Kitty was still crouched on the floor. Mags and Barbie hit the deck like soldiers. Barbie's hat came off, and skittered across the floor.
"Shit! My hat!" Barbie yelled.
"What the hell is that?" Kitty whined.
"I told you," Nichole said. "Oh, God. If I don't go now, I am totally going to pee myself."
"Go. We'll cover you," Mags said, from behind a cabinet door.
"What are you gonna cover me with?" Nichole hollered, inching toward the Ladies Room on her belly.
The thing screamed again, and Nichole rose to her feet, and took off like a Kenyan in the last leg of the Boston Marathon.
"Guess she got the feeling back in her legs," Barbie said.
Something flew by the three, and Barbie screamed like a teenager at a Justin Bieber concert. Ten seconds later, Kitty's phone rang.
"Who is screaming?" The caller was Stockwell.
"Barbie. There's some flying creature in the Kitchen Department," Kitty explained.
"Good God in heaven, what next?" Stockwell groaned.
"Don't ask me, I couldn't make this shit up," Kitty said.
"I'll be right there," Stockwell said, before hanging up.
Stockwell stomped through the store like a four-year-old boy, who had been denied a Tootsie Roll Pop at the checkout in the local shopping mart. He'd had it, absolutely had it. He grabbed the first thing he saw, a monster staple gun, and held it to his chest. He arrived in the Kitchen Department in less than four minutes. Kitty, Mags and Barbie were all crammed underneath Nichole's desk. Two of them were still wearing hard hats.
"Get out of there," he roared, holding the gun like a madman.
"What's that?" Mags asked. She was the first to stand. She brushed Tommy dust from her bottom.
"I grabbed the first thing I saw," Stockwell said.
"What are you gonna do, put up flyers?" Barbie asked, rising to her feet.
"Have you seen this bird?" Kitty practically sang, and Stockwell glared at her.
Before another word was spoken, an enormous bird took flight from top stock. All four looked up. The thing was magnificent and horrifying, and Stockwell dropped the staple gun. It hit the floor with a clunk.
"What in the name of God was that?" Stockwell said.
"That was a pterodactyl," Barbie said. "I took a class on prehistoric animals as an elective, my last year of college."
"I thought they all died," Mags said.
"We get stock from all over the world. Maybe there's some out-of-the-way place where they aren't extinct," Stockwell surmised.
The bird made another pass, releasing an enormous stream of bird goo as it did. The stream hit Stockwell's shoulder, and ran down his back.
I never liked this shirt anyway, Stockwell thought. Damn thing looks like it ought to have a Garanimals tag in it.