Mick Daniels inhaled deeply and thought of Disneyland. The scene before him looked like something from a freak show.
He'd had it. Never before had he admitted defeat, but this battle was one he knew he couldn't win. He'd never seen such a mass of idiots assembled under one roof. The mere fact that the store even ran inefficiently was a miracle the likes of the Virgin Mary appearing in the dirt on the side of a back hoe.
He felt his blood pressure rising, felt heat in his face. Larry Dale stood still by his side, his mouth agape. If Dale couldn't fix this, no one could. Their best hope was to be hit by a meteor, fill the hole, and sell the land to WalMart.
Daniels was a praying man.
He prayed for a meteor.
"Whatcha thinking about, boss?" Larry Dale asked, his voice gentle.
"A meteor, or an asteroid," Mick Daniels admitted.
Propriety had gone out the window. Mick Daniels had finally begun to manage his own expectations, and at this point, he hoped to survive the day.
"Why, boss?" Larry Dale inquired thoughtfully.
"I was thinking it would be a good time to get hit by one," Daniels admitted.
"Don't give up, boss. Let me see if I can get this under control. We'll see what we dig up, which is likely something an animal buried, then we'll see if we can counsel these folks, get this back in order." Larry Dale appeared unshaken, if not a bit shocked. His faith in his own ability calmed Mick Daniels, but only slightly. Daniels finally lost it.
"EVERYONE SHUT THE HELL UP!" Daniels yelled.
Surprisingly, everyone did. The silence was almost deafening. No one moved for better than three minutes. Finally, the silence was broken by the backfire of an arriving Tommy delivery truck. Aaron Faulkner was at the wheel. Ada MacKenzie was in the passenger seat.
"What in the sam hell?" Kitty Richardson whispered.
The last thing this party needed was a geriatric maniac dressed like Miley Cyrus.
Kitty ran to the truck and collided head on with a disembarking Aaron Faulkner. Both fell to the ground in a tangle one might liken to a failed game of Twister, or Saturday night Cinemax.
"This is just terrific. Let's pause for an orgy," Daniels growled.
"It was clearly an accident, boss. Let 'em get up before you start passing judgment," Larry Dale said, his voice tinged with an anger and frustration Mick Daniels hadn't heard before.
Aaron Faulkner looked toward the sky. The scenery was broken by the lined face of Ada MacKenzie. Kitty Richardson lay by his side with her eyes closed.
"You break it, you buy it, young fella," Ada said, before turning her face to the sky. "Dear Baby Jesus, please bring a fella for my Kitty. She's a fine girl, and she mixes a mad margarita. A little light on the Patron, but no one's perfect. She'd be good for a drinkin' man."
"Grandma, put a sock in it," Kitty whispered, and Aaron Faulkner exhaled in a rush. He tortured himself every day about the fire in Albuquerque. He'd never be able to forgive himself if he killed a woman.
"Don't you be petulant with me, child," Ada growled. Kitty sat upright and removed Aaron Faulkner's hand from a place it shouldn't be, unless he came bearing flowers, a ring, and a nice place in the country with a couple of cats.
"Why is she here?" Kitty said to Aaron Faulkner, whose face was a nice shade of crimson. Kitty brushed a dirty handprint from her already stained Tommy shirt.
"She climbed in the truck and wouldn't get out," Aaron said, getting to his feet. He offered a hand to Kitty, who took it.
"How in the world did she get in the truck?" Kitty asked. "She can barely climb stairs."
"It was rather a miracle of sorts," Aaron said. "It was like something clear out of the Senior Citizen Olympics. One second she was on the ground, and the next she was in the truck. You should offer up a word of thanks. She tried to get in my side, but couldn't get the door open."
"Great God, now do you see what I go through?" Kitty asked in a whisper. "Now do you see why I am such a freak?" Tears welled in Kitty's eyes.
"You're not a freak," Aaron said in Kitty's defense.
"Yes, I am. You don't think I know what people think of me. I am that aging spinster who has a lot of pets and lives with her mother and her grandmother. I am the most undesirable of creatures."
Aaron Faulkner was a thoughtful guy, but he was beginning to get uncomfortable. He never knew what to say to a crying woman, and in desperation he did the unthinkable.
"I live in my mother's basement," Aaron whispered.
"You do?" Kitty said. Her tears stopped in an instant and she smiled.
"It's a real chick magnet," Aaron Faulkner admitted.
"Don't feel bad. My relationships all end after the meeting of the family," Kitty said.
"All right!" Mick Daniels yelled from just behind Aaron. Kitty jumped, and Aaron reached out to steady her. "Why don't you two desperados just join EHarmony. We've got business to attend to!"
"My grandmother!" Kitty said, looking around her.
"What about her?" Mick Daniels said, his patience finally fully spent.
"I don't see her!" Kitty yelled, her voice rising toward hysteria.
"Dear Lord in heaven," Mick Daniels complained. He walked away and climbed on top of a stack of pallets. "Everyone listen up! Kitty's grandmother is among us and she's lost track of her. She's here somewhere. Let's find her and then we're gonna dig this place up. If you've got something buried out here, you're going to be exposed. Then you're going to be fired."
Before Daniels could climb down from the pallets, the growl of a running back hoe filled the air. Everyone turned.
Daniels went pale.
Larry Dale took off running.
The backhoe was on the move with none other than Ada MacKenzie at the wheel.
A single customer stood at the back of the pack, his face set into a smile that looked more like a sinister sneer. This was all going far better than he could have ever expected.
Tool Towners scrambled.
Ada squealed with glee and shouted in a voice that rose high above the clatter of the backhoe.
"HI HO SILVER AWAY!"
By some miracle, Ada managed to drive the backhoe to the where the ground was disturbed. She maneuvered with a skill that paralyzed everyone. One by one, buckets of dirt were removed.
Kitty stood like a corpse.
She was going to prison.
For a long time.
She'd probably end up in a cell with a woman named Wanda who only knew sixteen words, and couldn't spell any of them correctly.
Stockwell began to shiver.
He was going to prison, too. He wasn't worried about his cellmate. He'd be dead by the end of the first day.
Longworth nearly peed himself. He began wishing for a day of shopping with his wife. Anything was better than being beaten in the prison yard like an eight-year-old boy with glasses.
A few more buckets and the boxes would be visible.
Boxes covered with the DNA of three prison-bound Tool Towners.
Larry Dale screamed at the top of his lungs. He moved frantically, and tried unsuccessfully to grab Mick Daniels as he ran by. Daniels was on the move like a streaker at a European sporting event, and Larry Dale's fingers barely touched the fabric of Daniels' now soiled dress shirt.
"Get off that thing!" Daniels yelled.
The Hell's Angels stood together. Toothless Louise still clutched the greasy bag. Stockwell grabbed for it. If he was going to prison, he was going with a full stomach. The fries were cold. He ate them anyway.
Miles Longworth began to pray...... "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in the prison yard and play dead......."
Ada MacKenzie swung the backhoe's bucket around after dumping a load thankfully free of anything that resembled guns or stolen money.
The hole was about four feet deep. The bucket cut the air with a gentle "whoosh," and made contact with a frantic Mick Daniels. Daniels flew like a rag doll and landed in the hole with a thump.
"Holy shit," Longworth said. All thoughts of prison were momentarily abandoned.
The backhoe fell silent, as did the group. One by one they approached the hole.
Daniels lay supine. His eyes were closed. One hand covered his bloodied face. The other held a small object, dirtied by its condemnation to the earth.
Larry Dale helped Ada exit the backhoe. She toddled toward the hole. Kitty couldn't speak. Her grandmother had finally done it. She'd killed a man.
The Tool Towners stood silently over the makeshift grave.
Larry Dale tried to call 911, but his hands were trembling too much to dial even three numbers. Instead, he dropped to his knees, the phone silent in his fist.
Bernice cried and held tightly to Penelope's hand.
Mags stood in awe, knowing in another life, she'd been the one in the hole.
Stockwell tossed his cookies.
The Hell's Angels clung to each other. Hannah Bandana removed her hat and placed it over her heart.
No one said a word.
No one could.
Kitty clung to Aaron, who was as pale as a ghost. Finally she broke the silence, her voice laced with grief and fear. And disbelief. "Grandma, what were you thinking? Do you see what you've done?"
"Sure as shootin'," Ada said, without a hint of regret. "I've found my goll darned teeth!"