Larry Dale looked stunned. “You aren't serious about hurting folks, are you, boss?”
“Of course not,” Mick Daniels replied. “I'm a nice guy. I know people don't always think that, especially since I normally show up when things are so out of control I have to deliver the wrath of God, but I'm a nice guy. Don't you think so, Larry?”
“Of course, boss,” Larry Dale replied. “I sure didn't think you meant you wanted to kill your employees, but for a moment, and it hurts me to say this, you looked a little like a madman.”
“I could use a vacation,” Mick Daniels said, pouring himself a cup of coffee from the sewage left over from the morning's meetings. He grimaced at the acidic taste.
“Where would you go, boss? Where would you go if you could go anywhere?” Larry Dale asked thoughtfully.
“I'd go to Disney World,” Mick Daniels said. The words were out before he could stop them.
“Seriously?” Larry Dale asked.
“That cat's out of the bag,” Mick Daniels admitted with some hesitation.
“Why there, boss?” Dale asked.
“Never went. Always wanted to. You know how life is, Dale. One day flows into the next and the next, and before you know it, you're fifty, and you've never even been to Disney World.”
Larry Dale frowned.
“What?” Mick Daniels asked.
“I've never been there either, sir,” Larry Dale admitted.
“Perhaps we could go, boss. Take a little trip. Lord knows we sure could use it, and I hear Disney has some of the finest accommodations of anyplace on the planet. Wouldn't be nothin' like that nasty Three Fellows Inn we found ourselves at last night.”
Mick Daniels just stared at Larry Dale.
“Something wrong, sir?” Larry Dale asked.
“You're a heck of a guy, Larry Dale, but two grown men do not go to Disney World together. It would seem a little odd, don't you think?”
“Now that you mention it, boss.”
“You go with your family and I'll go with mine,” Mick Daniels said. He lifted the coffee to his lips again, took a timid sip, and nearly vomited into his own mouth.
“You got a family, boss?” Larry Dale asked.
“No,” Mick Daniels said softly.
“Come with us then. You could be like Uncle Mick. We'd have a terrific time. The heck with hotel living. We could camp.” Larry Dale paused as his blue eyes danced. “I got it!! Wait for it. Wait for it. We could rent an RV. How much fun would that be? We could take a road trip.”
Larry Dale spoke animatedly as Daniels threw his coffee down the sink. “Stop, Dale,” Mick Daniels said.
“Pardon?” Larry Dale said.
“We're not renting an RV and driving to Disney World. We're renting a back hoe and figuring out what's going on here. When that's done, I'm going to put in my two weeks notice and consider a future in goats,” Mick Daniels said, without humor.
“Goats. Gonna raise me some goats, make me some milk and some cheese, and give 'em all names. I'm gonna be a goat farmer,” Mick Daniels rambled. All grammar, professionalism and etiquette had gone out the window.
Figuring his boss had finally lost it, Larry Dale picked up his smart phone and got down to business. His fingers flew over the keyboard. “The backhoe company is HD Diggers. Sounds like a respectable place. Let me get them on the phone,” Larry Dale offered.
Reeve Stockwell ran through the events of the last few days in his head. There was something he needed to talk to Ada MacKenzie about, but he couldn't possibly remember what it was. He was almost certain it had something to do with brownies, but he just couldn't put his finger on it. What he desperately needed was a double cheeseburger from Ernie's Filthy Bar & Grill, a large coke, and an hour nap. Ernie made the best burgers in town, and while the place was a dive, and the service lousy, for the burger, you just put up with it. If Ernie's girlfriend, Toothless Louise was working, she'd deliver. Toothless Louise had lost her teeth playing ice hockey in college, and later fighting in dives similar to the one she now worked in. She was proud of her dental challenges, and didn't mind the nickname – which, rumor had it – she'd given herself.
Stockwell picked up the phone and dialed the number he'd long ago committed to memory. He sighed when he heard the voice.
“Toothless Louise, how's it going? Reeve Stockwell here. I'll take a number three with a side of ranch, and can you deliver?” There was a pause. Toothless Louise mumbled “twenty minutes,” and promptly hung up. Stockwell smiled despite the fear that picked at him. With a belly full of beef, fries and Coke, he might survive the day after all.
That feeling lasted two whole minutes. He opened his office door and saw Alejandro pushing a stove on a neon green Tommy flat cart. Ada MacKenzie was perched on top of the appliance, and held the bailing twine like reins. She whinnied like a horse. Stockwell slammed his office door and pretended he hadn't seen it.
It was just easier that way.
Aaron Faulkner punched out, covered his Tommy shirt with a Seymour's Redemption Center Bowling Team sweatshirt, and headed toward the front door. He could swear he still heard Miss Ada whinnying, so he figured she hadn't paid for the appliance yet. He really wanted a beer, but it was a new year and he'd promised himself he was going to stop drinking, at least during working hours. He'd been doing pretty well until he met Miss Ada. She'd make a teetotaler want a shot.
The whinnying stopped, and Aaron figured they were finally outside, or Miss Ada had suddenly died. He supposed when one was ninety-nine, one could just die at any moment, even while sitting atop a brand new stove.
Aaron shuffled through the store, approached the exit doors, waited while they parted, and stepped outside. Alejandro was helping Miss Ada dismount, Kitty was dabbing at her stain with a hand sanitizer wipe, and an older fellow, whom Aaron was left to assume was Mike Hammer, stood beside a blue compact car, talking a blue streak to – Aaron concurred – a dead president or the invisible rabbit from the movie Harvey.
“Ready?” Ada asked.
“Let me get this on the back of the truck and we'll head out,” Aaron said.
“We'll lead,” Ada said, pointing to Mike Hammer, who was still jabbering away. “Excuse me!”
Mike Hammer turned.
“Who is it this time?” Ada asked.
“Roosevelt,” Mike Hammer replied.
“Darn it. I had a message for Kennedy,” Ada replied, shrugging her shoulders.
Aaron loaded the stove onto a dolly, and pushed it up the ramp into an enormous Tommy delivery truck. Kitty approached him.
“This is the address. You lead,” she suggested.
“Gotcha,” Aaron said. He climbed into the truck, waved to Kitty, and headed out, but not before plugging the address into the truck's ancient GPS. Aaron figured with any luck they wouldn't end up someplace like Mount Vernon, but Aaron figured Mike and Ada would probably be just as happy if they did.
By some miracle, ten minutes later, Aaron was parked in front of Kitty's house. From the exterior, it appeared to be a well kept ranch with an enormous addition on the back. Aaron assumed it was where Kitty made her home.
The interior was another story all together.
Aaron stood quietly on the porch while Ada fumbled to get the key in the door. Finally successful, she swung the door open wide, and Aaron exhaled in a rush. The kitchen was straight out of the seventies, red carpet, white counters with gold fleck, and paneled walls. The entire house smelled like burning rubber.
From the next room a voice loomed.
“Mother, is that you?”
“That is Helen,” Miss Ada whispered. “She is watching her stories. Do NOT bother her. She's like a dangerous animal. If you don't let her smell your fear, she'll leave you alone.”
Aaron shivered a bit, and nodded that he understood. “Miss Ada, do you drink?” Aaron whispered.
“I might have a little cooking sherry and some Robitussin. You feel a cough coming on, son?” Ada asked.
Aaron nodded, as his gag reflex triggered again. "I think I feel a pneumonia coming on," he said.
"I'll hook you right up," Ada offered, with an enormous smile that revealed half a set of very white teeth.