Everyone stared at Larry Dale, who produced a cell phone from the inside pocket of his suit jacket.
"You have a back hoe on speed dial?" Reeve Stockwell asked bravely. Mick Daniels rolled his eyes.
"Of course not, Mr. Stockwell. I am merely Googling. I'm sure I can produce exactly what we need. You all have one of these smart phones? Why, they're a lifeline. I have a GPS, I can text my wife from anywhere on the planet, and I can find a back hoe operator in the middle of nowhere."
Larry Dale has a wife. Crap! Kitty thought.
A knock sounded at the door to the conference room. Everyone turned. Barbie Baxter's torso filled the glass of the door.
"We asked not to be disturbed," Mick Daniels said. Although it was obvious he was still angry, his voice was gentle and professional.
"I need to speak to Kitty. Someone is here to see her," Barbie explained.
"Who?" Kitty asked.
"ADA," Barbie mouthed, and Kitty shivered.
"Dear God," Kitty whispered.
"Who is this Ada person?" Mick Daniels asked. "Is she a customer?"
"She is today. She needs to buy a stove," Barbie replied. Ada appeared behind Barbie.
"Stella, I've got a problem!" Ada yelled. Obviously, she'd forgotten her hearing aide.
"Grandma, don't yell," Kitty said, rising from her chair as Ada plowed into the conference room.
"Stella?" Mick Daniels asked.
"Kitty's real name," Reeve Stockwell said.
"Grandma, what happened? You can't keep barging in here. I'm trying to work," Kitty whined.
"Work? Looks like you're having a party here," Ada said.
"Well, we're not. Why do you need a stove? What's wrong with the one in your kitchen?" Kitty asked.
"I sorta baked your mother's slippers," Ada explained.
"What?" Kitty asked.
"I cooked Helen's slippers. Those old blue ones with the sole that flops like a swimming fin," Ada said.
Larry Dale laughed.
"How did you cook Mom's slippers?" Kitty asked. Everyone in the room was riveted. Even Larry Dale set his smart phone aside to listen.
"She washed them and put them in the oven to dry. I wanted to bake a cake, so I set the oven to preheat. Ended up baking us some slippers instead. Smells just awful, like cooked feet."
"Ewww," Larry Dale said with a chuckle.
"All right," Mick Daniels said. "I'm going to stay here with Mr. Dale, and we'll work on getting someone to investigate this situation out back-"
"What situation out back?" Ada asked.
"It's store business, Grandma. Don't concern yourself with it," Kitty said, shuffling Ada to the door.
"Stockwell and Longworth, I want the two of you to return to your duties, although I shudder at the thought of what that might mean," Mick Daniels said. "Ms. Davidson, you are also free to return to the Front End, but do not leave the store. The four of you will be present when we begin our investigation of this situation out back."
"Does this have anything to do with my missing teeth?" Ada yelled from the hallway.
"Why would she say that?" Daniels asked.
"She's a little bat shit," Longworth said.
"What would you like me to do?" Kitty asked from the doorway.
"Get someone to help your grandmother pick out a new stove, and suggest your mother find another method for drying her bedroom slippers," Daniels suggested.
"I'm on it," Kitty said, not wasting any time with her escape.
Kitty, who'd been holding her breath, exhaled in a rush. Ada shuffled beside her. Kitty led her to the appliance department, where new manager, Aaron Faulkner, stood before a computer terminal typing like a madman.
"Hey, Aaron," Kitty said, and Faulkner turned.
"Hey," Aaron Faulkner said, turning his attention quickly back to his computer.
"You busy?" Kitty asked.
"Pretty busy," Aaron replied.
"You're watching YouTube," Kitty noticed.
"You didn't ask what I was busy doing," Aaron Faulkner said defensively. He slurred slightly, and Kitty frowned.
"Have you been drinking?" Kitty asked.
"You smell like a brewery," Kitty whispered.
"The remains of the day," Aaron Faulkner said.
"What day?" Kitty asked.
Kitty smiled. "Oh."
"And probably the day before that, too," Aaron admitted.
Aaron Faulkner had a little trouble with the bottle. He was a lovable fellow with a great sense of humor, who spent a lot of time napping in the break room. He'd worked in Tommy stores all over the country. Kitty figured every time the boozing got out of control, Aaron Faulkner got transferred. He was like an Army brat, without the fatigues. He'd been everywhere.
"Who's this adorable gal?" Aaron Faulkner said thoughtfully, and Kitty could have sworn that Ada blushed.
"My grandmother," Kitty said, taking Ada's hand.
"Nice outfit, Granny," Aaron said, and Ada curtsied.
Kitty hadn't even noticed Ada's latest get-up, and for that, she thanked God and all the saints.
Her grandmother looked like an aging cheerleader, Varsity sweater, short skirt, leggings, and her traditional Chuck Taylors.
"Where do you come up with this stuff?" Kitty asked with a chuckle.
"Saw it on Nickelodeon," Ada admitted.
"Well, I don't want to keep you from your fashion show. What can I do for you, young lady?" Aaron asked, and Kitty smiled. Alcoholic or not, he sure did have a way with the customers.
"She needs a new stove," Kitty said.
"I done cooked me up some slippers this morning. Whole house smells like a locker room now," Ada explained.
"Well that's no good," Aaron Faulkner said, finally closing his YouTube app. "What did you have in mind?"
"It's gotta be gas," Ada said.
"You don't like an electric stove?" Aaron asked his customer.
"I live with Helen. She's a maniac. Trust me, if you lived with Helen, you'd want a gas stove. I think about putting my head in it at least half a dozen times a day," Ada complained, and Aaron Faulkner laughed.
"She's a trip," he commented.
"You have no idea," Kitty admitted.
"You married, sir?" Ada asked, and Kitty groaned.
Here we go again.
"No," Aaron said.
"You wanna be?" Ada asked.
"I'd like to, but I got a little problem with the booze," Aaron admitted.
"I got a little problem with my bowels, and I keep losing my teeth. We all got problems, son. Life's easier if you have someone to share the burden. I sure do miss my old fellow. Never a day passes that I don't miss him. Find someone to go through this life with, and hang onto her, or him, if that's the team you play for. Don't settle for being alone. You could end up living with someone like Helen," Ada said, and Kitty found herself tearing up. She rarely saw the serious side of her grandmother. "My granddaughter is a lovely girl. Could have a few less pets, but she's a very good girl. Ain't she a beauty?"
Kitty imagined she looked like she had thanksgiving with Mowgli. Her hair was a mess, and she'd splashed coffee on her Tommy shirt.
"She's a cutie, all right," Aaron said, smiling at Kitty.
"I'll tell you what," Ada said. "You hook me up with a good stove, and get someone to bring it out to me. Hopefully, you can take the old one, even though it's got slippers melted onto the inside of it. We'll get it all hooked up right, and I'll make a nice dinner. What do you like to eat?" Ada asked, and Kitty sighed.
"I'd eat just about anything," Aaron Faulker said.
"How's about some old slippers?" Ada asked, flashing a smile that included only her top dentures.
"Okay, maybe not anything," Aaron said. The phone rang on Aaron's desk, and he excused himself.
"Grandma, what happened to your bottom teeth?" Kitty asked, when Aaron Faulkner was out of ear shot.
"That's what I was trying to tell you," Ada whispered, all together too loudly. "I lost them that night we was out back and I fell in the hole."
"Holy shit!" Kitty nearly screeched.
"Stella, watch your mouth!" Ada chastised.
"Grandma, I am in a world of trouble. Those men in the back, they're getting a back hoe to dig up the back yard. Mags saw us out there that night. She thinks we buried JJ out there."
"Who?" Ada asked.
"One of our cashiers went missing during the tornado scare. Mags is convinced she's dead, and when you rolled into the hole, Mags was watching. She thinks we killed JJ. Can you imagine? Mags actually thinks I killed someone."
"I think about killing Helen at times. Maybe brew up a pot of morphine tea. That nice paper boy could probably hook me up with something," Ada fantasized.
"Grandma, stop! Listen for a minute. This is serious. They're getting a back hoe operator out here and they're going to investigate. When they find guns and money and your dentures, do you know what's gonna happen?" Kitty asked.
"Sure do. I'm gonna be able to eat fried chicken again. I can hardly wait!" Ada exclaimed.