Sonny Brooks was in his office when the twister hit. So secure was the Loss Prevention office, that the weather event was over long before Sonny even knew it had begun.
The only tip that something was wrong, was when Sonny had been disconnected from the call he'd been absorbed in when the twister hit. Immediately after being disconnected, Sonny redialed. His call was answered on the first ring.
"Mr. Brooks?" the woman's voice said.
"My apologies," Brooks said. "No idea what happened."
"Could be paranormal," the woman said.
"Indeed," Sonny responded agreeably. "So, explain to me again, Agent Gonzales, exactly how you got into this."
"No problem. My career in law enforcement ended when I punched a suspect in the balls," Gonzales explained.
"Ouch," Sonny replied, cringing.
"He deserved it. I'd chased him around the Chuck-E-Cheese for damn near an hour. Thought he could blend into his kid's birthday party, and he did, until another parent, a colleague of mine, recognized him and called the precinct. I responded. He gave chase, around those groundhog things, around and around the Chuck-E band, finally diving into the balls for cover. He kept throwing balls at me, and I got pissed, so I clocked him. I clocked him good."
"Oh, those balls. Now I gotcha," Sonny said, trying not to laugh. "So, what got you involved with ghosts?"
"I have one," Agent Gonzales replied.
"Like a pet?" Sonny Brooks asked.
"No, not like a pet, you bonehead," the agent replied, and Sonny sensed the edginess of the investigator he'd been warned about. "I have a ghost in my house. My apologies for calling you a bonehead. You may not be a bonehead at all, and that was presumptuous on my part."
I'm a bonehead, all right, Sonny thought. He was about to spend his own money to hire a paranormal investigator, and sneak into his place of employment in the middle of the night. He was a bonehead, all right.
"How much is this gonna set me back?" Sonny Brooks asked.
"How about if we do this. You got a night crew?" Agent Gonzales asked.
"Usually, but the truck got held up today because of the the threat of bad weather, which is crazy, being that it was clear as crystal out there last time I looked. Night crew is off tonight due to no freight," Sonny explained.
"I'll come by around midnight or so. I'll do a walk-through. We'll see how that goes, and it will give me an idea of the size of the space I'll be investigating, and amount of crew I'll need, and equipment. Tonight I'll just bring a night vision camera and an EVP recorder."
Sonny had no idea what an EVP stood for, and imagined it was "Everything's Very Pricey." He knew it was gonna cost him a kidney or his left --- to pay for it all. But, he had to know. He had to. He knew what he'd seen, and he couldn't unsee it.
"I guess I'll see you at midnight, then," Sonny said.
"Sounds good," Agent Gonzales replied.
"What do I call you? Agent Gonzales seems like a mouthful. What's your first name?" Sonny asked.
"Well, all right then, Agent. I'll meet you at Tommy's receiving door at midnight. I'll be here a few minutes before if you're early," Sonny said, as something shifted in his abdomen. He'd have never admitted it openly, but he was scared shitless. He hoped to God that Agent didn't find anything, because if she did, Sonny Brooks was leaving on a gurney.
By evening, JJ Patricks was still unaccounted for.
"I don't get it," Longworth said, in the privacy of Stockwell's office. Kitty, who'd punched out an hour before, sat nibbling the caulking bar. Stockwell eyed her peculiarly.
"We've done all we can," Stockwell commented. "If she's here, I sure as hell can't find her."
"Me either," Kitty said. "Should we call the police?"
"Again?" Longworth replied. "They were already here once today."
The police had responded to a call from Ada McKenzie, who'd phoned in to report her missing teeth, and to see to it that the barely-post-adolescent thug who'd held her granddaughter at gunpoint was dealt with accordingly. He was.
The cops had hauled him off in cuffs, after Daisy had secured him properly with a zip tie, and strapped him to a chair with her tool belt.
Chewie was the last associate to be found. He'd hidden in a garbage can, secured to a display. Chewie, unlike a cat, who can usually get out of any predicament it gets into, could not release himself from the can. It took three associates, and a tool Daisy produced from her arsenal. Chewie was shaken, but not so much he was unable to finish his shift. He was covering Electrical and Plumbing. The plumbing associate couldn't make it in for his evening shift. Seemed a tree had fallen and cut the guy's SUV, 'bout in half.
Bubba Brenda towed Mags' car to his body shop, or her body shop, no one was sure. JJ Patrick's mostly-totaled vehicle was out back behind the dumpster, shrouded with a tarp taken from Tommy's shelves. Bubba had towed it out of the ruined shed, an hour after the twister, during the great clean-up.
The shed was the only casualty resulting from the unexpected twister, and was at the core of the meeting between Kitty, Miles Longworth, and the still-buzzing Reeve Stockwell.
"I can't stop thinking about JJ," Kitty whined. "We have to do something."
"We did. We searched all over, and Mags is sure she'll hear from her later this evening. JJ is a grown woman. If she found a way to duck out during a natural disaster, we have to give her credit for getting out while she could. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that more associates didn't disappear when the lights were out. Seems to be about the only way to get free from this place," Stockwell said longingly.
"Okay, so we're pretty sure JJ will turn up," Longworth said, not unsympathetic to the woman's disappearance. "We have our own issues to work out here. There is the little matter of the box of guns in Kitty's trunk, and the wad of money hidden in my desk. The shed idea is kaput. Now what?"
"We bury it," Stockwell said. "It's the only way."
"When?" Kitty asked.
"Tonight. Let's put it behind us. There is absolutely something odd going on here, but we need to distance ourselves from it. I'm not suggesting we forget, we'll still look for clues, but we don't want to be holding a wad of money, or a box of guns, if someone else figures it out before we do," Stockwell said.
"Let's make a pact," Kitty suggested.
"With what?" Longworth said. "I'm not doing the blood thing, because people get sick from that kind of thing, with all the diseases and such, and if I'm this guy's blood brother, I could end up with Diabetes, or ADHD," Longworth whined.
"That's swell, Miles. You're a real pal," Stockwell said.
"Well, look at you, trembling like a heroin addict. Get yourself a cheeseburger or something. You're twitching so much, just looking at you makes me feel like I'm having a stroke," Longworth chastised.
"Stop!" Kitty said, breaking the remaining caulking bar into three pieces. Both men groaned. "We'll each eat a piece and this will be our pact."
"I'm not eating that shit," Longworth complained.
"Then it's blood," Kitty said.
Both men took a piece of the caulking bar and popped it into their mouths. Kitty did the same. Three faces contorted into displeasure, as the silence was broken only by the sound of Longworth gagging.
"Okay, that's over," Stockwell said, with a frog in his throat, compliments of the caulk.
"What time tonight?" Kitty asked.
Miles Longworth checked his watched, and looked at Stockwell, and then Kitty, before responding.