Friday, May 25, 2012

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 21 - Appliances - A Crazy World Indeed

Harry Jensen ran a tight ship.  She knew everything a human could know about appliances, including whether or not the light in the fridge stayed on when the door was closed.

It didn't.

One night, a few months back, exhausted by the ever-present, and massively stupid question, Harry plugged in a side-by-side Frigidaire, grabbed her cell phone, set the video to record, and stuck the damn thing inside the refrigerator.  She opened and closed the door approximately fifty times.  The result looked like a Lady Gaga video, but she successfully proved what she always believed. 

The light went off when the door was closed.

Why wouldn't it?

Were vegetables afraid of the dark?

Harry, born Harriet Jean, something she'd like to have hacked her parents to bits for, and shoved them into a freezer, had a tough exterior.  She ran a tight department, and things got done.  Sure, she told stories over cocktails, about crazy customers, but didn't everyone?

Harry hadn't had a completely bat shit customer in some time.

That was about to change.

The morning passed without issue.  Appliances were dusted, deliveries were arranged, and one customer asked about the light in the fridge.  Harry whipped out the video, like she always did, and the customer looked at her like she was David Copperfield.

"I would have thought it stayed on," the man had said.

"Why?" Harry asked.

"Just made sense," the man had replied.

It didn't make sense, but then again, a lot of what happened in retail didn't make much sense at all, and that thought, that very philosophy was about to be proven by a middle-aged woman, with a horrid dye job, and a sense of style that made Ada MacKenzie look like a geriatric fashion model.

Harry spotted the customer from half a store away.  It wasn't hard to do.  The woman had bleached blond hair that looked like it would fracture if someone touched it.  She wore a leopard print scarf, a paisley jacket, and plaid pants.  It was the fashion disaster of the century, and Harry forced herself to breathe deeply, and avert her eyes, just enough, as the woman approached.

"I need to have a carpet cleaned!" the woman screamed, and Harry jumped.

"I'm right here, ma'am," Harry replied.  "You don't need to yell."

"I'm sorry.  I don't see well," the woman said.  "You looked further away."

Six hours separated Harry from a two-day break.  She had a feeling she was really going to need it after she finished up with this whack job.

"You said something about carpet cleaning?" Harry asked.

"I have a stain," the woman whined.

"A stain?  Of what particular kind?" Harry asked.

"The dead kind."

"I beg your pardon, ma'am?" Harry said.

"Someone died on my carpet, and crapped all over."

"Dear God.  I'm so sorry," Harry offered with compassion.

"Thank you.  It's a lovely rug," the woman replied.

I am standing face to face with a complete sociopath.  Harry pondered this for a moment, as the woman toyed with her ugly scarf.

"How can I help you?" Harry asked.

"I need something to remove the stain, and I'd like to clean the sofa too, so I'll need some hand tools, but I can't get Ralph off the sofa, and the old bastard never bathed, so maybe I could get something to clean him too, while he's parked there."

Harry felt herself go pale.  "Ma'am, this is a bit beyond the scope of my job, but shouldn't you call someone to remove the body?"

"Oh, Ralph ain't dead.  Carolyn was dead.  They already came and got her.  Just in the knick of time, too.  If I had to watch one more rerun of Criminal Minds, I was gonna kill her myself."

"Are these people friends of yours?" Harry asked.

"Distant cousins.  I was rather hoping Ralph would kick it, too, but I checked right before I left.  He's still breathing."

Five hours and forty-five minutes.  I am not going to live through this, Harry surmised.

"Ma'am, I am not sure what you'd like me to do," Harry offered.

"I'd like you to help me pick out a cleaner that would clean up Carolyn's crap, and give Ralph a good scrubbing.  If I have to replace that rug and sofa, there's gonna be hell to pay.  It's nice stuff.  You could probably have guessed that by how I'm dressed."

"That very thought was going through my mind, ma'am," Harry said, wishing she'd been kidnapped and stuffed in the trunk of her car at the Dunkin Donuts drive thru, just before dawn.  Anything would have been better than this.

Harry grabbed her phone.  "Reeve Stockwell, please come to the appliance department for customer service," Harry paged.

Stockwell didn't come.

He was tied up elsewhere.

Harry Jensen checked her watch again.  Five hours and forty minutes remaining.  No way she was going to survive. 

From a distance, she saw the lanky form of Miles Longworth.  Harry was about to do what she did best.



Reeve Stockwell stared into the cardboard box at his feet. 

"What the hell?" he whispered.

He scanned the area.  He was still alone.  Thoughts of another career in a parallel life, a career in which Stockwell was an FBI agent, picked at his mind.  Six matching items filled the box.  He lifted one free, and held it in his hands.

He had no idea why it was in an unmarked box in Tommy's receiving department, but Stockwell allowed himself a moment, just a moment, to slip through a worm hole, into that other life, that life where he was the man he imagined himself to be.

"Stockwell.  Reeve Stockwell," Stockwell whispered, holding the weapon in his hands, and carefully stalking an invisible perpetrator. 

Stockwell heard Harry Jensen's page, but he ignored it.  He was busy.  Somebody else was gonna have to lug a chest freezer.  Stockwell had perps to apprehend.

He panned across the receiving bay.  A single refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, stood before him. 

"Drop your weapon," Stockwell whispered.

The refrigerator remained silent.

"Drop your weapon or I'll shoot," Stockwell said, louder this time.  He was still alone, and the forklifts droned on, drowning out any words he might speak.

The plastic on the fridge shifted, and Stockwell jumped a bit.  "Do that again, and I WILL shoot you," Stockwell said to the unarmed appliance.

Stockwell's phone chirped, and he lost his grip on the weapon.  It hit the floor and fired six, maybe eight times, narrowly missing the special order refrigerator.  Stockwell screamed, his voice disappearing into the sound of power equipment being operated two aisles away. 

His body slick with sweat, he grabbed the weapon, shoved it back into the box, shoved the box back under the rack where he'd found it, and reached for the package of oreos.

Kitty Richardson found him thirty minutes later, holding the empty package.

"Reeve?" Kitty said, kneeling beside her boss.  "You all right?"

"Go away, Kitty," Stockwell slurred.

"What's wrong?  What happened?  What did you take?"

"These," Stockwell said, holding the empty oreo packaging, which shook and rattled in his right hand.

"How many?"

"All of them," Stockwell admitted.

"Why?  What happened?"

"You wouldn't believe it if I told you," Stockwell said.

"I might."

Stockwell took a deep breath, and prepared to tell Kitty everything.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 20 - Stockwell's Discovery

Reeve Stockwell looked like a powdered donut.  He had brushed as much of the cement from his clothes as possible, but he was still well coated.

Ada MacKenzie stood at the customer service desk, silver hair sticking out at every odd angle, with her leopard boots in her hand.

"Ms. MacKenzie, where is your granddaughter?" Stockwell asked.

"Kitty quit," Quincy said.  "Just walked out.  I gotta tell you, it doesn't really surprise me.  She's probably out there in the parking lot, shooting our customers.  If anyone in this building was gonna go totally postal, I think it would be Kitty.  I mean, come on, carrying on endlessly over the loss of a pen.  Was that woman dropped on her head as a baby?"

"Quincy, we appreciate your brilliant psychological assessment of our Kitty.  While I agree her mental state troubles me, this may not be the time," Stockwell said, pointing at Ada, who stood gawking at Quincy with her mouth open.

"I am so sorry, Ma'am," Quincy said, rising from her post at the operator's desk, and sidling up to Ada, who was still staring at her.

"Is your hair periwinkle, dear?" Ada asked.

That's all she got out of this? Stockwell thought.

"It's turqoise," Quincy said, and Ada clapped enthusiastically.

"How do you think that would look on me?"  Ada asked.  "I was considering some pink, but that blue is just lovely."

"Thanks.  My girl Nadine does a heck of a job, and you can smoke in her shop.  You're not supposed to, and I imagine your hair could go up like Michael Jackson's, but we're super careful," Quincy rattled on, and Stockwell began looking for something with which he might kill himself.

"I'm off the Lucky Strikes," Ada said.  "Golly jeepers, do I miss 'em.  Nothing like a Lucky Strike after a few hours with a handsome fella," Ada said, and Stockwell made a sign of the cross.

Lord give me strength, Stockwell prayed.

"Would someone go get Kitty?" Stockwell demanded.

"If I can take the cart," Ada offered.

"NO!" several voices said in unison.

"I'll go!" Stockwell roared.  "Please keep Ms. MacKenzie here, Quincy," Stockwell said.

He stormed away, toward the double doors that wooshed open when he approached.  The wind outside kicked up, and Stockwell left a cloud in his wake, like the beloved character, Pig Pen, from the Peanuts family.

"Kitty!" Stockwell yelled.

He found Kitty sitting on the picnic table.  She seemed to be in deep conversation with the pen she held in her hand.

"What are you doing?" Stockwell asked.  He was tempted to sit, but didn't want to leave a pile of cement dust behind.

"I am just trying to sort it all out," Kitty said, without looking up.

"By talking with Melvin?"


"Kitty, why do you talk to Melvin?"

"He's a good listener," Kitty explained.

"Do you realize it makes you seem totally bat shit?" Stockwell asked gently.

"I do, but have you met the woman on the cart?  I was born bat shit," Kitty said.

"Touche," Stockwell said, finally taking a seat beside her.  "What am I going to do with you, Kitty?"

"You could recommend me for Witness Protection," Kitty said.

"I don't think you qualify for Witness Protection," Stockwell said.

"You can't imagine the things I've seen," Kitty said.

Stockwell could, and he hoped she didn't go into detail.  He couldn't imagine living with Ada, or with Helen, who was lost someplace in the confines of Tommy's lamp shade department.  He wanted to help Kitty, but he had no idea how.

"Come back inside," Stockwell suggested.

"To do what?" Kitty asked.

"You could work."

"And why would I want to do that?" Kitty asked.

Kitty was back.  He could see the gleam in her eye. 

"On one condition," Kitty said.

"What's that?" Stockwell asked.

"You ban my mother and grandmother from Tommy's forever, like until the apocalypse."

"I can't do that," Stockwell said.

"You could put them on the Partners in Paint list."

"I can't do that," Stockwell repeated.

"I had to ask."

"I understand," Stockwell said.

He stood, and brushed the cement dust from the picnic table's bench.  Kitty rose, too.  The two approached Tommy's doors.  Stockwell was still shedding a dusty cloud, and Kitty whispered to Melvin.

Ada and Quincy were sharing a Marlboro, at the enormous Tommy ash tray, outside the front door.

"You're not supposed to smoke, Gran!" Kitty reprimanded.

"I was desperate," Ada whined.  "It's giving me quite a buzz."

"She's terrific," Quincy said.

"You want her?" Kitty mumbled.

"Put that out, Quincy.  You can't be smoking here.  You know the rules," Stockwell said.

Quincy sulked.  "I was simply servicing our customers in the way they required.  She was just desperate for a puff."

"That's fine, but please just put the cigarette out."

Quincy did.  Ada pouted.  "I wanted just one more drag," she whined.

"Where is my mother?" Kitty asked.  "You guys need to go home," she very nearly begged.

"She's bringing the car around," Ada said.

"Thank you, Lord!" Kitty whispered.

Kitty and Quincy helped load Ada into the behemoth Buick.  Quincy waved enthusiastically, and went inside.  Kitty watched until the car disappeared from site.  She whispered to Melvin.

"One of these days, I am going to smother them in their sleep."

Melvin remained silent.


Reeve Stockwell stormed toward the Shop Vac display.  He found the associate he sought.  Chewie, whose real name was known only to Human Resources, was sitting at the desk fiddling with an Ipad.

"Chewie, I could use your help," Stockwell said.

"In what way, boss?" Chewie said, setting the device aside.

"I'd like you to Shop Vac this mess off my clothes," Stockwell requested.

"Seriously?" Chewie asked.

"Yes.  Could we take the floor model back to Receiving?"

"Don't see why not," Chewie said, trying not to laugh.

"Dude, can I get some help over here?"

Both men turned to see a young customer, who'd obviously arrived at Tommy's by way of some time machine.  He was a sixties throw back, if ever there was one, and the young man (at least the voice sounded male) looked like Cousin It from the Adam's Family.

"You in there somewhere, sir?" Chewie asked, and Stockwell groaned.

"Be kind," Stockwell whispered.

"In what way may I be of assistance?" Chewie asked.

"Dude, what happened to you?  Somebody get designs on turning you into a pastry?" the customer asked Stockwell.

"Cement dust," Stockwell said.  "Is there something we could help you with?"

"I'm looking for a particular kind of light bulb," the customer said.

"I can help you," Chewie offered.  "What's it for?"

"My plants," the customer said, and Chewie smiled.

"What kind of plants?" Chewie asked.

"For my weed, man," the customer explained.

"Seriously?" Stockwell asked.

"It's just for me.  Helps me relax, dude," the customer explained.

Stockwell was a tad bit worried.  If the "dude" relaxed any more, he was afraid the guy might die right there in front of them.

"That's illegal," Stockwell said.

"Shouldn't be," the customer said.  "People think weed is so dangerous.  We're not endangering anyone.  We're all at home on the couch, eating Cheese Jax and playing video games.  Where's the danger in that?"

"You make a good argument," Stockwell said.

"No kidding," Chewie agreed.  "Sir, I don't mean to alarm you, but there's a cop over there."

"You think he might know anything about light bulbs?" the customer asked.

"I really couldn't say," Chewie replied.

"Perhaps I'll go ask him," the customer said.  "Thanks, gentlemen.  Peace be with you."

"Lord give me strength," Stockwell said.

"Man, you couldn't make this shit up," Chewie said.  "I'm gonna keep an eye on him, and see if the cop needs any help.  Give me a few minutes and I'll meet you out back."

"Sounds good," Stockwell said.  "I could use a few minutes to try to clear my head."

Stockwell made his way to the Receiving Bay.  Sonny was at lunch, the stock folks were gone for the day, and the entire area was quiet.  It was Reeve Stockwell's favorite place in Tommy's.  If he hit it at just the right moment, he could enjoy the silence and perhaps grab something from his secret stash.  The tool box was exactly where he'd left it, and Stockwell slipped the little silver key from his key chain, into the box's lock, and opened the treasure chest.  The full package of Oreo cookies stared up at him.

"Who's your daddy?" Stockwell said to the cookies, knowing it made him about as crazy as Kitty.  At the moment, he just didn't care.  He just needed one, or two, or however many it took to quiet the chaos in his head.  His entire staff was nuts.  He just wanted to do his job.  He wanted to sell tools, and light bulbs to crazy men with bad hair, and manage the areas of the store under his supervision.

He didn't want his staff bringing their crazy relatives in to tear the place up.

He didn't want to deal with a loony toon who talked to a pen.

He didn't want to step in bird shit every time he went to talk to Nichole Deans about her kitchen sales.

He didn't want to lock up his old car every day, and walk past Slick's Mercedes.

He just wanted things to be normal, if only for a day.

He popped the first cookie into his mouth, and felt the grainy chocolate between his teeth.  He knew he shouldn't eat it.  He knew.  His wife told him, his doctor told him, and Kitty told him all the time, but she talked to a pen!  You couldn't put any weight on something suggested by a woman who confided in a pen!

Stockwell ate a second.

A third.

Half of a fourth.  He ate the fourth cookie like he had as a boy, opening up the two halves, and licking the creamy center.  The bottom of the cookie slid from his fingers and rolled across the floor.

"Shit!" Stockwell whispered.

He couldn't leave it.  It would draw every critter known to man.

Already filthy, Stockwell crawled on his belly, beneath the lowest rack in the bay, and searched for the cookie.

His fingers brushed a box, a box where there shouldn't be a box.  He grabbed it with both hands and shimmied out from beneath the racks.

"What the hell is this?" Stockwell said.

The box was nondescript, and void of anything that might identify it.  Across the top was written:  4 of 127.  DO NOT DROP!

"What the hell?" Stockwell repeated.

He opened the box.  He couldn't believe what he found inside.  He knew he wasn't supposed to have found it. 

Who did it belong to?

Why was it in Tommy's Receiving Bay?

Suddenly, Kitty's suggestion of Witness Protection sounded like a pretty good idea.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tommy's Tool Town- Chapter 19 - The Flying Bandit

Slick Mitchell sat in his office, staring at the wall.  He could hear Miles Longworth banging around in the office next door.  Slick had no idea where Reeve Stockwell was, and he suddenly felt like his entire operation was going to the dogs.  Sonny Brooks was skulking about like he was afraid of his own shadow.  Miles was acting like he was losing his mind.  Stockwell was so amped up on sugar, he shook like a recovering addict.  Kitty Richardson was dressed in mourning black, blubbering over the loss of a pen.  Mags Davidson was on a forced vacation, equivalent to retail Witness Protection, just to keep the poor woman out of harm's way.  Barbie Baxter was due in at noon, and would be strutting about in a yellow hard hat, like Bob the Builder.  The cashiers were raising holy hell because of the lack of supervision, the turkey vulture was crapping everywhere, and Partners in Paint had left seventeen angry messages about getting their stupid Slim Spin 5000 back, regardless of its present condition.

"I am completely screwed," Slick said to the empty room.

To top it off, someone was messing around in the Receiving Bay, and altering the security tapes to hide their activity. 

Slick grabbed a scrap paper from the corner of his desk and scratched one sentence with an old blue Bic.

Dear Grandpa, I quit.

"If only I could," Slick said out loud.

Slick folded the paper up and shoved it into his pocket.  It was a sentiment for another day.  At the moment, Slick had a job to do.  He had to figure out how to get his business back on track, get to the bottom of the security tape issue, and keep his people out of the nut house.


Penelope Ross and Bernice Lord were parked at registers twelve and thirteen respectively.  Kitty Richardson was stationed at the front door.

Bernice shot her with a rubber band, and Kitty barely blinked.

"Is she dead?" Bernice whispered.

"Wouldn't she fall over?" Penelope asked.

"You would think," Bernice replied.  "Kitty?  You with us?" Bernice yelled.

No response.

"That is quite enough," Quincy yelled from the operator's desk.  "I'm putting every line on hold and going on a scavenger hunt for that pen.  This is absolutely ridiculous!"

Jack Goldman, Tommy's single loader, huffed and puffed behind a disabled motorized cart. 

"What happened, Jack?" Bernice asked.

"Damn thing died again.  I just fixed it last week," Jack complained.

Bernice shot Penelope a look, and Penelope nodded, and shut her light off at register twelve.  "Jack, it's deader than heck in here.  Bernice and I are taking a class in auto mechanics.  Can we have a look at it?  Maybe we can fix it," Penelope offered, batting her eyelashes.

"Look it.  If you can push it back to the Maintenance Shop, you can do anything you want to it," Jack said.  "I've had it with these darn things.  They're nothing but junk."

"Kitty?  Can we take this back to the shop and see if we can fix it?" Penelope asked.

Kitty stood stiller than a cadaver.

"She said yes.  I heard her," Bernice said.

"I didn't hear a thing," Jack said, before walking away.

"I rather like her like this," Penelope commented, climbing  aboard the disabled cart.  "Can you push me, Bernice?"

"I guess so," Bernice whined.

The two passed by the paint desk, at a dangerous speed of about two miles an hour.  Quincy crawled around on the floor along aisle six.

"I FOUND IT!  I FOUND MELVIN!" Quincy yelled, and Kitty came to life as if she'd been hit by a defribilator.

"Melvin," Kitty wailed, grabbing the pen from Quincy's outstretched hand.  "Oh, Quincy.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  Melvin, my darling, I have missed you," Kitty said, hugging the pen to her chest.

"She is absolutely friggin' nuts," Quincy said to Valentine Jones, who nodded in total agreement.

"Where did Bernice and Penelope go?" Kitty asked, and Quincy shrugged.

"What were you, in a trance?" Quincy asked.

"I was meditating," Kitty said.

"Oh," Quincy replied.  "Well, your girls are in the shop trying to fix a disabled cart.  Actually-" Quincy said, peering down aisle six.  "They're not quite there yet."

"Great," Kitty griped.  "Barbie will be here in ten minutes.  I guess I'll run register for a while.  I'll let them tinker with it for a bit.  Someone's gotta fix those carts, or we're going to have to get some pack mules for our aging customers to ride."

"Stockwell would love that," Quincy remarked.

Barbie Baxter arrived prompty at noon, donned her hard hat, and took position at the front door.  Bernice and Penelope were back by two.  They were both flushed from the exertion of pushing the cart back. 

"Did you fix it?" Kitty asked.

Bernice laughed.

"What's funny?" Barbie asked.

"Nothing," Bernice said.

"Girls, what did you do?" Kitty asked. 

"We couldn't do a thing with it," Penelope said, and Kitty sighed.

"Great.  I'll get on those mules," Kitty said.

"Mules?" Penelope inquired.

"Don't ask," Barbie said.

At three o'clock, the doors whooshed open, and Kitty went pale.  "Dear God," Kitty whispered.

"What's wrong?" Barbie asked.

"It's my mother and my grandmother," Kitty said, trying to hide behind register thirteen.

"What are they doing here?" Barbie asked.

"I have absolutely no idea," Kitty said.

"Stella!!!" Ada yelled, and Kitty stood up.  Ada was at Customer Service.  She was dressed in Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, a black leather jacket, and thigh-high leopard print boots. She wore a blond wig, that hung to her waist.  Kitty nearly fainted.

"Gran?  Did you join a gang?" Kitty asked, and Barbie laughed.

"I found an old Def Leppard CD.  I was just getting into the mood," Ada said, and Kitty groaned.

"But, what are you doing here?" Kitty asked.

"I was doing some head banging, and I knocked the lamp over.  Helen dragged me down here to buy a new lamp shade," Ada explained.

"I could have gotten it," Kitty said.

"Helen says you have bad taste," Ada commented.

Kitty held her tongue. 

"My feet hurt like hell," Ada whined.  "You got one of those carts?"

"It isn't working," Kitty.

"It's plugged in," Ada said, toddling over to the disabled cart.  "The light's on.  I'm gonna give it a try," Ada said, climbing aboard.

"Bernice!" Penelope yelled.  "Kitty's grandmother is riding the cart!"

"Run, Penelope!" Bernice hollered back.

"I thought you said it didn't work," Kitty said.

"We lied," Bernice said, as Penelope sprinted away.

"What did you do?" Kitty asked, sounding panicked.

"We just tweaked it a little," Bernice whispered.

"To do what?" Kitty asked.

"Go faster," Bernice mouthed.

"What?" Kitty said.

"We made it faster," Bernice admitted.

"Holy shit.  That is my ninety-nine year old grandmother on that thing," Kitty shrieked.  "How fast will it go?"

"We didn't test it yet," Bernice admitted.

"Oh dear, God.  You're going to kill her!" Kitty yelled.

Kitty couldn't see the cart, but she could hear it.  It sounded like an airplane taking off.  Suddenly Ada rounded the corner.  She flew by, squealing like a teenager, blond wig flying in the wind.  Penelope was hot on her heels, but couldn't catch her.

"This is fabulous!" Ada screamed.

Reeve Stockwell stepped from aisle six, and dove for cover to avoid being killed by the Flying Bandit.  "What the hell was that?" Reeve moaned.  A pallet of concrete bags had cushioned his fall, and he arose looking like he'd been rolled in flour.

"It's Kitty's grandmother!" Penelope yelled, as she ran by.

"Dear God, someone just kill me," Stockwell roared, as he ran in the direction of the cart.  He'd only made it about ten feet when Ada swung a u-turn and headed back toward Customer Service.  Stockwell spun on his heel, and tried to outrun the speeding granny.

"I am going to kill every single one of you!" Stockwell screamed, as he sprinted past the line of registers.

Ada finally ran out of juice, and the cart pooped out in front of the tool department.  Ada toddled toward her granddaughter.  She'd lost her wig in aisle fifteen, and her silver hair stuck out as if she'd been electrocuted.

"I love this store.  That was the time of my life," Ada said.  "I am coming back tomorrow.  Have my cart ready!"

"I quit," Kitty said.  "Let's go home, Melvin."