Kitty Richardson checked the time on the clock in her old Chevy. The green numbers faded, grew lighter, and faded again, as the battery fought against Father Time. The truck was dying. 10:44, the display read, set to the "all functions stopped working in the last phase of Daylight Savings Time," time zone.
It was 11:44.
Kitty pulled around behind Tommy's Receiving Bay, put the vehicle in park, and exited the old truck. She pulled her black "Home is Where the Cat Shits," sweatshirt tighter around her, put the hood up, and chuckled.
Ada MacKenzie had a mad sense of humor. The sweatshirt had been a gag gift for Kitty's eleventh, twenty-ninth birthday, and was only appropriate for wear beneath a winter coat, around the house, and burying strange things in the pitch darkness, behind the place where, miraculously - by some act of God - you still worked.
The darkness was interrupted only by the dim lighting of a street light about fifty yards away. Kitty could barely make out the shape of Melvin in her hand. The clear blue body of the pen glistened in the misty light.
"What am I doing, Melvin? What crazy woman goes out in the middle of the night to meet her bosses, who may or may not be involved in the mob?"
The pen remained silent.
"You're no help," Kitty mumbled.
She slipped Melvin into her pocket. It was hard to imagine either Stockwell or Longworth as part of any organized crime. Stockwell longed to be on the right side of the law, and Longworth was too busy watching weird videos of absurd things like honey badgers. Neither had the time nor inclination for the mafia.
Kitty popped open her hatch, grabbed the guns, and walked away.
Two minutes later, an elderly woman in a neon sweatsuit, covered with a white blanket, slipped from the safety of the old Chevy.
Sonny Brooks parked the behemoth Lincoln a block from Tommy's Tool Town. He was a nervous wreck. He knew Tommy's was haunted, he'd seen the video, what additional proof did he need? He didn't need Agent Gonzales to show up with a bunch of equipment and take pictures, notes and videos. He needed to be home in bed, with his night light on, and his closet door closed. Evil things lurked in the darkness. He didn't need to see them.
He chomped his gum with all the subtlety of a teenager in a Bubble Yum contest, and suddenly he bit his cheek. He winced, and grabbed a piece of paper from the passenger seat. He tore it in half, and shoved the gum in the larger half.
"Shit," Sonny whispered. The paper was a note from his son. Before Sonny had half masticated it, it held an endearment that read, "I made Mommy breakfast in bed today. You're next." Now all it said was "You're next."
Another year he wouldn't be getting the "Greatest Dad," award.
Sonny snuck around the back of Tommy's. He knew every inch of the place, inside and out, yet he still longed for a flashlight. Armed with nothing more than half a love note from his kid, and a bad case of the heebie jeebies, Sonny unlocked the rear entrance to Tommy's and slipped inside. Before he could close it, the wind grabbed the door, and the note from Sonny's hand.
"Son of a ....," Sonny mumbled. Now he had no note, no flashlight, and no Tums, and his wife's chili was spinning in his gut like a merry-go-round.
He crept through the darkness with all the stealth of a jaguar and all the courage of a five year old on the first day of Kindergarten.
"I should have my head examined," Sonny whispered, as he let himself into his office to wait. An ethereal glow filled the small space, compliments of the numerous machines that ran around the clock. It wasn't daylight, not by a long shot, but at least it wasn't pitch black. It was against store policy to leave the door to his office open for any length of time, but Sonny didn't care.
Sonny left the door ajar.
Because Sonny Brooks was terrified.
Mags Davidson parked her bicycle in the shadows in front of the store. Who rode a bicycle around at midnight? A desperate woman whose baby had been squished by a pickynick table.
Mags had gotten the text at eight o'clock.
Midnight at Tommy's. Don't be late.
Immediately she recognized the number, or at least she thought she did. It was from JJ. JJ would have never left her hanging. JJ loved her, and wouldn't want Mags to worry.
At 11:30, Mags had grabbed her car keys, headed to the garage, flipped on the light, and then swore like a sailor.
She didn't have a car! How the hell was she going to get to Tommy's?
The bike was hanging on the wall, so long it was almost rusted there. Mags hoisted it down, sprayed the thing down with cooking spray, grabbed a helmet and hopped on.
Twenty-five minutes later, she arrived at Tommy's, smelling like an omelet, but at least she'd made it alive. Anxious, Mags pulled the Sour Patch Kids from her pocket, flopped down in the shadows, and waited for JJ to appear.
Agent Gonzales left her massive black SUV outside the door, as instructed by Sonny Brooks. It was 11:51. She was right on time. She surveyed the contents of her duffel bag: an EVP recorder, a K2 meter, a night vision video camera, and assorted cords belonging to each.
Agent didn't believe in ghosts, but 80% of America did, and hers wasn't a bad gig. She was a night owl anyhow, and she provided a good service. Sonny Brooks had sounded petrified when she'd spoken to him on the phone, as did a lot of her clients. Agent would do her thing. Maybe she'd dangle a carrot, tell Sonny she felt something, get him to sign her on for a session or two. She wouldn't find anything, she'd make a few bucks, and Sonny Brooks would be appeased and no longer in fear. It was a "win, win." Everybody would come out on the right side of things.
Something rustled some distance away, and Agent froze. It was just her mind playing tricks on her. You couldn't chase spooks for a living without thinking you saw or heard one from time to time. Something rustled again. Agent paused, stood still, took a deep breath.
Then she saw it.
A figure, hunched forward, moving awkwardly, shrouded in white, moved toward the back door.
"No friggin' way," Agent whispered, her voice quaking.
So the damn things were real. Ghosts were real. Agent took a calming breath and steadied herself against the side of the SUV. She mentally cleared her schedule. She was about to get a hell of a lot busier.
Miles Longworth was lurking around the Receiving Bay in search of Stockwell and the shovels. He'd seen Stockwell's ancient Chevette parked half a block away. The rascal had to be around somewhere.
He'd only poked around for a few minutes when he saw Stockwell's stash in an open cooler in the corner.
"Gotcha," Miles said softly. Stockwell was like Hansel. Where there were cookie crumbs, there was undoubtedly, one Reeve Stockwell.
Longworth was just reaching into the cooler for an Oreo when he heard a voice behind him.
"Get out!" Stockwell hissed, and Longworth jumped.
One hundred yards away, Sonny Brooks screamed like a teenage girl.
"Oh, no! Kitty!" Stockwell whispered, as he and Longworth took off toward the back door.
Kitty was outside, as promised. She held the box of guns.
"What's wrong? Why are you screaming?" Stockwell asked, his voice sounding hysterical.
"I didn't scream. I've just been standing here in the dark waiting on the two of you. Where are the shovels? Where's the money?" Kitty asked.
"Money's in my back pocket," Miles Longworth said.
"Shovel's are tucked away in the corner of Receiving," Stockwell whispered.
"Wanna get them?" Kitty asked. "I'm missing a terrific Cold Case rerun."
"Yeah. No problem," Stockwell replied, before he walked away.
"Nice shirt," Longworth said, and Kitty laughed.
Stockwell was back in less than two minutes. Even in the dim lighting he looked pale.
"What?" Kitty said.
"I saw something," Stockwell whispered.
"Like what?" Longworth asked.
"I think I saw a ghost, and I'm pretty sure I saw someone else, too. A short person, all in black, and a bigger person, maybe a guy. He was in black, too."
"Shit," Longworth said. "Think they're looking for this?" Miles Longworth held the envelope of money.
"Or these?" Kitty asked, nodding her head toward the box in her arms.
"I'd say it's a relatively good guess on both accounts," Stockwell mumbled, visibly shaken. "Let's get this done and get the heck out of here. I'm not liking this idea much at all now that it's happening."
"Me either," Kitty whispered.
Longworth and Stockwell made short work of the digging while Kitty kept watch. The ground was soft and wet, from the earlier storm, and it moved easily. Kitty had just picked up the guns again when someone tapped her on the shoulder.
The box dropped and Kitty muffled a scream into her hands.
Ada MacKenzie, cloaked by a light colored blanket, stood before her.
"What the hell?" Longworth asked.
"What is it?" Stockwell said.
"It's my grandmother," Kitty said through a moan.
"Found my teeth!" Ada announced happily.
"Gran, what the hell are you doing? You are gonna put me in my grave!" Kitty declared.
"Good news!" Longworth said. "Got one dug!"
"You're not helping, Miles," Kitty chastised.
"Let's get the show on the road," Stockwell said. "Nice to see you again, Ms. MacKenzie."
"If I'd have known you were here, I'd have baked something, " Ada said, and Kitty rolled her eyes.
"Hey. This isn't a dinner party. Can we do this? I'd like to get my grandmother home," Kitty whined.
"Hand me the box," Miles said, and Kitty did.
"What's in the box?" Ada asked, and everyone groaned. They all should have figured that might come up.
"A dead cat," Kitty said, thinking quickly.
"Oh, my sweet Jesus," Ada said, sounding as if she might cry.
Miles Longworth lowered the box into the hole, and slipped the money inside without Ada seeing. The four stood around for a moment, as Ada began to pray.
"Pray with me," Ada said, dabbing her eyes.
"Lord, please keep this kitty in your care," Ada said.
Kitty couldn't argue with that, and whispered, "Amen."
Longworth and Stockwell grabbed the shovels, as Ada stood watching. Suddenly she stumbled, fell onto her side, and rolled into the hole.
"Shit," Kitty whispered, kneeling beside the hole.
Twenty feet away, Mags Davidson crouched beside the old dumpster. She watched as three shadowed figures rolled the blanket clad body into a freshly dug grave.
She clutched a piece of paper in her left hand.
The note read: "You're next."
"Oh, JJ," Mags whispered, as tears slid down her face.