Kitty Richardson was dazzled by the appearance of Larry Dale, but only for a moment. Reality hit her full force.
"Holy crap, we're screwed," she whispered.
Mick Daniels was paying a surprise visit.
Stockwell was stoned.
Longworth was stoned.
Slick Mitchell was God knows where.
Sonny Brooks had gone home sick, shortly after Ada left. Someone said they'd heard he might be having a nervous breakdown, and he thought his house was haunted. That was ridiculous.
As was the rumor mill.
Mags Davidson was in the Ladies Room with a plunger deluxe.
Barbie Baxter was on lunch.
Bernice and Penelope were babysitting Tommy's own Cheech and Chong.
It was all up to Kitty.
Magic Palmieri, who'd recently been promoted to a position in Tommy's day crew, peeked his head around the corner near the manager's offices.
"Miss Kitty, may I speak to you?" Magic asked. No one really knew why the fella's nickname was Magic, but he seemed to disappear suddenly. That was enough for Kitty.
"Now might not be the time, Magic."
"Is everything all right?" Magic asked.
"Not even close," Kitty moaned. Against her better judgment, she cautioned a glance at the front doors. Mick and company were halfway across the parking lot. She was running out of time.
"Anything we can do?" Magic asked.
"Who's we?" Kitty replied.
"Stockwell sent Alejandro, Wilton, and me to try to find the pumpkins that are missing. He's worried they might have been accidentally put into top stock."
"Frankly, I could use Wilton at Customer Service," Kitty said. "I had to pull Bernice and Penelope off to take care of a special project."
"I am at your service, my lady," Wilton declared, before turning on his heel and heading to his post.
"Anything we can help you with, love?" Alejandro said, flashing his adorable smile.
"I need a diversion. Mick Daniels is here. Stockwell and Longworth are......... indisposed," Kitty explained, failing to brave a more accurate description of their condition. "I don't know where Slick is. He's supposed to be here later today. I think he's meeting with a vendor. Sonny is having some kind of nervous breakdown, and I have to figure all this out and get Daniels someplace where we can hide the truth of what's happening here from him." Kitty sounded freaked. Both Magic and Alejandro looked sympathetic.
"A diversion?" Alejandro said, arching a brow.
"Preferably one where no one gets hurt, and nothing blows up," Kitty suggested.
"I believe I might have what you are looking for," Alejandro said, with another grin.
"And this would be what?" Magic asked.
"Prior to my special mission pumpkin hunting, I was redesigning a display in our windows and doors department. I would be delighted if Mr. Daniels would be the first to lay eyes upon it," Alejandro offered.
"That would be terrific," Kitty said.
"When God closes a door he opens a window," Magic declared.
"Indeed," Alejandro commented. "Magic, why don't you join me. We'll welcome Mr. Daniels into the store and guide him right past what I suspect is mayhem in the making, and steer him around back to my display. You can, during our little journey, tell him how pleased you are to have been promoted, and perhaps even share your store-related goals with him."
"I don't have any store-related goals," Magic explained. "I'd like to be an opera singer."
"I had no idea," Alejandro exclaimed. "Sing a little something for us."
"Guys, do you think we can have Career Day another time?" Kitty quipped, trying not to be rude. "They're coming in."
"Who's they?" Alejandro asked.
"There's some cute guy with Daniels," Kitty said.
"Golly jeepers, what is he wearing?" Alejandro asked, gazing at the approaching Larry Dale, who was talking animatedly with Mick Daniels.
"I think he looks nice," Kitty said, blushing slightly.
"Maybe if he was in Saturday Night Fever," Magic replied, arching a brow.
"Stop. Both of you. Prepare to do battle," Kitty stated.
"Battle?" Magic said, his face exploding into anticipation.
"It's just an expression," Kitty said. "Okay, you create the diversion. Have Daniels' companion meet me at Customer Service in say five minutes. I have to check on something first," Kitty said. "Good luck. Make me proud."
The front doors whooshed open and Alejandro and Magic took off as if they'd just heard the Good Humor ice cream truck.
"Please, God. Please don't let them screw this up," Kitty whispered. Her eyes met Larry Dale's, and she was almost positive he winked at her.
He probably has something in his eye.
As anxious as Kitty was to watch the scene out front, she knew she was needed elsewhere. She knocked on the door.
Stockwell and Longworth were both eating. Stockwell's fingers were red from the umpteen bags of Doritos he had consumed. Longworth was licking chocolate from his fingers, all the while examining them with the unfocused wonder of a newborn.
Stockwell was moaning.
"They don't look any better," Kitty ascertained.
"I think they are," Penelope said.
"What did we find out?" Kitty asked.
"Well, I Googled the crap out of it," Bernice explained. "Here's the deal. There's a lot of information, but I think a lot of it was written by stoners."
"Super," Kitty growled.
"Carbs should help, and they're eating like pigs, so we should be on the right track," Penelope remarked.
"Exercise helps, too. Like running," Bernice said. "I'm just not sure we want to let them out of the office. Unless......"
"Unless what?" Kitty asked.
"We could tie them together, and tie them to Penelope. She could run them until they fall over," Bernice declared, obviously pleased with her idea.
"Oh, now that sounds good," Kitty said sarcastically. "Mick Daniels is here. I'm sure having our store managers tied together and running like a couple of Iditerod dogs wouldn't attract any attention at all."
"I'm just trying to help," Bernice whined.
"I know. I'm sorry," Kitty said.
Suddenly both men stopped chewing and stared at her.
"What?" Kitty said.
"We're out of food," Stockwell slurred.
"Order three pizzas," Kitty said.
"Three?" Bernice asked.
"Yes. Three," Kitty replied. "One for each of them, and one to lure Mick Daniels into the break room. We have got to keep them busy until I can find Slick Mitchell. If Daniels finds out this store is unsupervised, we're all gonna be fired," Kitty said.
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Bernice quipped.
"Just order the pizzas please," Kitty begged.
"Who's gonna pay for them?" Penelope asked.
"And pick them up?" Bernice said.
"Have them delivered. We'll pay for them out of our petty cash," Kitty said.
"That's for emergencies," Penelope reminded her.
"And what, pray tell, do you think this is?" Kitty asked, pointing to the two men at the top of the local Tommy food chain.
Both were drooling.
"This is definitely an emergency," Bernice declared.
"Exactly," Kitty said. She turned toward the door, but before she could reach for the knob, her phone rang. It was Wilton. He sounded hysterical.
"What is going on?" Kitty asked.
"There are zombies in the store,- " Wilton shrieked.
"What?" Kitty asked
"Zombies. The place is crawling with them," Wilton whispered.
"Not funny," Kitty griped. And she hung up.
The phone rang again. Immediately.
It was Chewie.
"What, Chewie? I'm a little busy," Kitty said bluntly.
"There are zombies in the Electrical department," Chewie said in a hushed tone.
"Seriously?" Kitty said, feeling faint.
"Seriously," Chewie said. "I'd tell you to come see for yourself, but in the interest of your survival, it would be wrong of me to ask that of you. Oh my, God. They're coming. They see me. Kitty, I have never told you how much I enjoy working with you, hearing your stories, and I think I might be in love with your grandmother. If I wasn't about to die, I would never have said that, and Kitty........"
The phone went dead.
The zombie apocalypse.
The diversion of a lifetime.