Sure enough, a crowd had gathered around the ages-old freezer in the receiving bay. It was avocado green and looked like it had been through the kitchen appliance demolition derby. It was a wreck of a thing, with a peculiar and disturbing odor.
Sonny Brooks was directing traffic. “Okay, folks, everybody back up a little bit. Give Stockwell some room."
Stockwell's guts were churning. It had been the longest day in Tommy existence. He'd started it by slamming a package of Oreos like a junkie, and they, along with the wad of caulk bar, were tearing up his innards. If he made it through the rest of the day without crapping himself, he was gonna consider himself a lucky man.
He needed a Pepto tablet and a cheeseburger. He imagined his sugar level was off the chart, and if he didn't get some protein into his already slight body, JJ Patricks wasn't going to be the only cadaver on Tommy property.
Mags Davidson was sobbing into a tissue. "What's your problem?" Stockwell asked thoughtlessly, but it was all he could muster.
"I loved JJ. She was my friend," Mags whined.
"She might not be in there," Reeve Stockwell said in an attempt to offer comfort.
"Then where is she? We've looked everywhere," Mags said though a sob.
"That's asinine," Sonny Brooks declared, and Mags glared at him. "JJ's only been missing a few hours. You couldn't possibly have been everywhere in such a short time. Have you looked in Siberia, the Australian Outback, the Bronx?"
"Shut up, Sonny," Mags said. Her nose was so stuffed from all the crying, her words were barely intelligible.
Stockwell was beginning to shake again. He seriously needed to eat. "Mags, settle down. Sonny, put a freakin' cork in it. You're not helping. Now, everyone get the hell out of the way! I am going to open this door and prove to all of you that JJ is not in this freezer."
Sweet Mary, mother of our Lord, please don't let JJ be in this freezer, Stockwell thought as he reached for the door handle. The handle came off in his hand, and he had pulled with such force, it flew through the air and hit Sonny Brooks square in the head.
"What in the name of hell????" Sonny yelled.
"I didn't do it," Mags said.
"Okay, I need another set of hands here. Chewie? Can a guy get a hand here?" Stockwell asked.
Chewie strolled up to the freezer with all the enthusiasm of a man headed to the gallows. "I am pretty sure this is NOT in my job description," Chewie whined.
"Chewie, you've been moved through this store, from department to department, faster than a whirling dervish. You have no job description at the moment. On the count of three, pull!" Stockwell demanded.
"What's a whirling dervish?" Chewie asked.
"I have no idea. I heard Kitty say it one day," Stockwell explained.
"She's a freak," Chewie declared.
"Stop that. She's just different," Stockwell said defensively.
"Charles Manson was different," Chewie mumbled.
"What is your point, son?" Stockwell asked.
"I guess I really don't have one. Just trying to put off seeing that scrawny little JJ, deader than a freakin' doornail, come tumbling out of this freezer," Chewie replied.
"Well, we can't very well leave her in there," Reeve Stockwell said.
"You said she might not be in there!" Mags wailed. "You said, you said, everyone heard you!!!" Mags bordered on hysteria, and Reeve Stockwell reached the pinacle moment when he'd just had enough.
"Shut the fuck up!" Stockwell yelled, and everyone did. No one said anything for several minutes. Chewie finally broke the silence.
"Sir?" Chewie said.
"Chewie?" Stockwell said.
"Shouldn't we get on with this?" Chewie asked.
"Let's," Stockwell replied.
Both men tugged on the freezer door and finally it came loose. Stockwell pulled it open slowly, inch by inch, until something rolled out and landed on the floor in front of him.
"What the hell is it?" Chewie asked.
"No idea," Stockwell said, poking it with his toe. It wasn't JJ, but he had no idea what it was.
"There's something written on it," Chewie said.
There was. There was a tiny card taped to the top of the plastic-wrapped mass. Chewie took two rubber gloves from his pocket, slid his hands inside, and pulled the card free. He read it aloud.
"Merry Christmas, love Aunt Ethel, 1987," Chewie read.
"Good Lord, I'll bet it's a fruitcake," Sonny Brooks announced excitedly. "It makes sense. No one ever eats them. My wife's aunt's neighbor makes them by the ton, gives us one every year. We piled them out back. Killed every plant in a one-hundred yard diameter. Those things are toxic," Sonny offered.
"Let's get it out of here before it completely thaws," Stockwell said.
The crowd dispersed. Evidently finding a fruitcake in a freezer wasn't big news inside the Tommy compound. Tommy's pretty much had a fruitcake around every corner.
Stockwell got a thirteen-gallon garbage bag, wrapped it around the fruitcake, tied the end, and flung it out the Receiving Bay door. It landed with a thud.
Reeve Stockwell turned on his heel and walked away without another thought. He was beyond caring what happened to the damn thing.
He took one-hundred-sixty-three steps to his office, grabbed his coat, and left the store.
He'd had enough.
Kitty had also had enough. She watched from the back, interested but not overly concerned. She was pretty sure it wasn't JJ in the freezer, and Kitty had been right. Instead of weaving back through the Tommy store, she left through the Receiving door after Stockwell left, hung a right, and headed toward her old Chevy. The guns rattled around as she drove, and she hoped they weren't loaded.
The Buick was in the driveway when Kitty arrived home with a sigh. Her life was a series of crazy, with a ten-minute drive in between.
Kitty entered through the main house. Ada sat at the table, scooping Jello out of an enormous bowl.
"Find my teeth?" Ada asked.
Kitty had forgotten about the teeth. "No, Gran. Sorry."
"That sucks. Jello sucks. Living in this crazy house with that mad woman sucks," Ada whined.
"Spoken by the bitch who whacked me with her purse," Helen yelled from behind an ice pack.
"Stop, guys. I've had a hell of a day, and I've got to be back at midnight to help with some overnight stocking," Kitty lied.
"That is ridiculous," Helen whined. "Why in the world would you have to go back? Don't they know you have a family? We have to eat. You gonna cook dinner?"
"No, Mother. I'm not. Tonight you're going to fend for yourselves."
Helen moaned, groaned, and complained, her grumblings muffled by the ice pack.
"If I'd eaten her after I gave birth to her, I'd have never had you," Ada said, and Kitty blew her a kiss.
"I love you, too, Gran," Kitty said.
Sonny Brooks sat out back of Tommy's in his wife's behemoth Town Car. She had blocked him in again, and left with no alternative, Sonny had to take the massive vehicle. It was like trying to sneak out of NASA in the Millenium Falcon.
Sonny was twenty minutes early. He'd hit Wendy's late night drive-thru for a Frosty. His allergies were driving him nuts, but his medication knocked him out. He had to stay alert for the big ghost hunt. He had a mouthful of Frosty when the last allergy attack hit. He sneezed with such force he almost wet himself, and then spent ten minutes cleaning Frosty off the inside of his wife's windshield. He was just finishing up when an enormous Hummer pulled in. A petite figure dressed in back from head to toe hopped out of the vehicle. Agent Gonzales was small but still imposing.
"Brooks?" she asked, as she sidled up to the car.
"Agent?" Sonny replied.
"You ready?" Gonzales asked.
Sonny wasn't, but he climbed out of his car anyhow. "I'm good," he lied.
Reeve Stockwell crept through the darkened store. He "borrowed" three shovels from the lawn and garden department, one for himself, one for Kitty, and one for Miles Longworth.
Stockwell had decided over a one-pound steak that his days at Tommy's were numbered. He wanted a normal life. He wanted a wife who recognized him when he got home, kids who had his picture in their frames, instead of the photos of the happy family that came with them. Maybe he would go to the Police Academy. He was still young enough, and although wiry, he figured he could hold his own in the physical part of it. He had no doubt he'd pass a psychological exam, unless he went all bat shit like Kitty, and started talking to a pen.
Stockwell had made a life-changing decision. He was committed to figuring out what was going on in Tommy's receiving bay, but once that was over, he was out. That was it. The end.
He'd finally had all he could take of a life in retail.
Reeve Stockwell pulled the hood of his black sweatshirt over his head, and stashed the shovels by the back door. He stood in the shadows.
Ada MacKenzie had eaten enough potatoes to feed every pilgrim on the Mayflower. The Jello had been made more palatable by the vodka she'd poured into it, but she missed her teeth. She needed her teeth.
Kitty wouldn't mind if she tagged along. Surely her granddaughter would understand. An old woman needed roughage. An old woman needed Cheese Jax, especially during Jeopardy. An old woman needed teeth.
Ada climbed into her blue Miley Cyrus jogging suit and clambered into the old Chevy. She covered herself with an old blanket from Kitty's back seat, and waited for midnight to arrive.
Ada had to get into Tommy's Tool Town.
She had to get the teeth back.
Surely Kitty would understand.