Larry Dale picked up his smart phone and began tinkering away, as Longworth, Stockwell, and Mags Davidson filed out of the conference room.
When they were gone, Mick Daniels audibly groaned.
"Are they for real?" Daniels asked.
"Seem to be," Larry Dale replied, without looking up.
"It's like someone turned on the ding bat magnet, and they all arrived here by some mystical force," Daniels said with awe.
"There are forces at work we don't understand, boss," Larry Dale commented. "Ah, here we go. There's a back hoe operator not far from here. Shall I give him a call, sir?"
"Not quite yet. Let's take a walk out back. I could use some air, and if the ground isn't visibly disturbed, I'm not taking this any further," Daniels decided.
"All righty, boss. Let's take a look," Larry Dale said, sounding as enthused as an eight-year-old boy with a Tonka truck, heading out to a dirt pile.
This was not lost on Daniels. "Dale, let me ask you something. Is there anything that riles you?"
"Not much, sir. Personally, I have to admire these folks for being brave enough to be themselves."
"Even though you've met them?" Daniels asked.
"More so," Dale replied.
"Larry Dale, you are a strange man, but I like you," Daniels admitted.
"I like you too, sir," Dale said, standing and approaching Daniels, as if he intended to hug him.
"That's close enough. Let us not forget we shared a bed last night," Daniels said.
"You are quite right, sir. We did at that. How's about we head out back and see what's what," Larry Dale suggested.
"How's about we do," Daniels replied without thinking. He grimaced, and fully expected to be shot dead by the grammar Gods.
Twenty excruciating minutes later, Ada MacKenzie had finally selected a new stove. Aaron Faulkner was exhausted and really needed a Bloody Mary. Kitty Richardson, out of an unexpected compassion for the new addition to the Tommy staff, stayed close at hand.
"You're sure, Grandma?" Kitty asked.
"Absolutely!" Ada exclaimed. "This one is absolutely perfect. Self cleaning, for all those kitchen mishaps we seem to have."
"Does that happen frequently?" Aaron Faulkner asked Kitty.
"I'm on a first name basis with the volunteer fire squad," Kitty groaned.
"Ouch," Faulkner replied.
"Yeah. And, to make matters worse, SHE-" Kitty said, pointing to Ada - who was busy sticking her head into yet, another oven - "always asks every fireman if he's single."
"She's just looking out for you," Aaron Faulkner said thoughtfully.
"I know," Kitty said, smiling at Ada, who was singing Patty Cake, and had made her way to the part about putting the cake in the oven. "She's disappearing before our eyes," Kitty surmised, as her eyes moistened.
"I'm sorry," Aaron Faulkner said softly. "At least she's doing it in style."
Kitty laughed out loud. "You ready, Grandma?" she asked.
"I am. Let's go," Ada suggested.
"Um....," Kitty began. "How did you get here? Is Mom in the car?"
"That MC Hammer brought me. That nice fella from next door," Ada replied.
"Seriously?" Aaron asked, looking impressed.
"It's hammer time," Ada said, breaking into a dance that made her look like she was having a seizure. She lost her balance and fell against Aaron, who caught her with grace.
"Grandma, dear God. His name isn't MC Hammer. It's Mike Handler, and he's kind of a creep. I told you to stay away from him. He's not right in the head," Kitty warned.
"He has a brain tumor. He sees stuff sometimes, like dead presidents and shit," Ada said, before apologizing for her language. "I like his wife. She's nice."
"Miss Ada, darling, why don't you sit here by my desk for a moment," Aaron said, guiding his customer to a rolling chair. Kitty watched but said nothing. "It's none of my business, Kitty, but I don't feel comfortable putting her in a car with a guy with a brain tumor," Aaron Faulkner said when he'd returned. Ada was spinning wildly in the chair.
"Neither do I. Between the two of them, they could end up in Mount Rushmore, shooting the breeze with a rock," Kitty said.
Aaron paused for a moment, as if deep in thought. Kitty figured it took a bit to chisel through the alcoholic fog. "I am heading to lunch. I'd be glad to follow them home, and although it's against the rules, I could pop the stove in a delivery truck and get her cooking by nightfall," Aaron said.
"Great! I should probably change this shirt before the fire department arrives," Kitty said, looking down at the Tommy shirt and the coffee stain that had not faded a bit.
"Hang tight. Let me see if I can get Alejandro to help me get the stove loaded, and we'll be on our way. She can pay for it up front," Aaron suggested.
"Sounds like a plan," Kitty said.
Aaron Faulkner picked up the phone and dialed three numbers. He mumbled a bit, delivered an audible "thank you," and promptly hung up. "All set," he said.
From the corner of her eye, Kitty saw Mick Daniels and Larry Dale approaching. Daniels reached out and stopped the chair from spinning. Ada stared up at him with the focus of a Mardi Gras participant. She'd been spinning for nearly four minutes.
"She get a stove?" Mick Daniels asked.
"She did indeed," Aaron Faulkner replied.
"You been drinking, son?" Daniels said with suspicion.
"Not today, sir," Faulker replied.
"FAULK!" someone yelled, in a slightly Irish accent.
Daniels stood straighter. His eyes narrowed. "Who is that?" he asked.
"Tis me Alejandro, sir," Alejandro said.
"And what did you say before that?" Mick Daniels asked. Aaron fidgeted. Alejandro didn't miss a beat.
"I said Faulk, sir," he replied to Mick Daniels, who had taken the stance of a high school principal.
"And you say that frequently in the store?" Mick Daniels asked.
"Every time I see this fella here, I do," Alejandro said, pointing at Aaron Faulkner.
"That language is not acceptable here," Mick Daniels chastised.
"Tis only the man's name, sir," Alejandro said.
"Your name is fuck?" Mick Daniels asked Aaron Faulker. Larry Dale burst into a fit of giggles. "Stop," Mick Daniels said to Dale, who was unable to comply. Instead, Larry Dale walked away in complete hysterics. "I asked you a question," Mick Daniels said, his voice laced with intolerance. He was glaring at Aaron Faulkner.
"Someone's name is fuck?" Ada asked. "Who in the world would name their child that?"
"Grandma, stop. You're not helping," Kitty pleaded.
"You mean to say I just bought an appliance from a man named--"
"EVERYONE STOP!" Daniels yelled. "What is your name?"
The question was directed at Aaron Faulker.
"There are some who call me....... Tim," Alejandro said, and Larry Dale's laughter went up a notch.
"I am not speaking to you. You are on the verge of getting fired," Daniels said to Alejandro, before directing his attention back to Aaron Faulkner. "What is your name?"
"My name is Aaron Faulker, sir," Aaron said.
"Sweet Mary, mother of God," Daniels almost whispered. "You set the Albuquerque store on fire, didn't you?"
"It was an accident sir," Aaron Faulker said, his head down.
"I set fires all the time. No big deal," Ada added.
"Grandma, be quiet," Kitty said.
"You are to address him by his first name. If I hear you say that again, I will fire you. I can fire you, you know that, right?" Mick Daniels said to Alejandro.
"Yes, sir," Alejandro said. His tone had an air of seriousness, and all accents had been set aside.
"Good. Behave yourself. And, you. I best not ever find you with any kind of device that makes fire. No lighters, nothing, and certainly not a pack of matches from some dive bar with the name Betty on it and a chicken-scratch phone number," Daniels directed at Aaron.
"That is cruel," Ada said. This time Kitty didn't shush her. She let her speak. "You don't have to talk to him that way, sir. And personally, I don't care who you are. I don't care if you're the guy who invented spandex, which I adore by the way. You can't fire me. This young man treated me like gold, when in reality I'm an old lady who dresses badly, has no bottom teeth, and can't remember if I put on a bra. He might drink and set shit on fire, but you could learn a thing or two from him about how to treat folks."
Kitty gasped. Alejandro, Aaron and even Larry Dale applauded.
"My apologies, Ma'am," Mick Daniels said. His face was beet red. He grabbed Larry Dale by the arm, and turned on his heel. The two walked away.
Daniels mumbled. "Let's order that back hoe, and let's do it now. Let's dig up anything that might be out back, expand the hole about ten feet, and then let's put all these idiots in it."
"That sir, is murder," Larry Dale remarked, his face ashen.
"Shut up, Dale," Mick Daniels growled.