Slick Mitchell sat in his office in the rear of the Tommy store, staring at his cell phone. The text was from a number he didn't recognize, and he was certain the sender was using an alias.
Who the hell was Mickey Burger?
Why was he watching Slick and his family?
Slick read the text again.
Mickey Burger is watching you. Mickey Burger is watching your entire family. You will not escape the wrath of Mickey Burger.
What the hell?
Slick felt something shift in his abdomen and he replayed the doubts that had raced through his mind over the past several weeks.
Something was going on at Tommy's.
Slick had suspected as much for a while.
Slick ran a hand through his hair and thought about the tapes.
He'd locked them in his file cabinet.
Multiple times when the night shift wasn't present, there was time missing from the security tapes. Slick saw it with his own eyes. Someone had messed with the security system, had stopped the cameras for an extended length of time. Someone was up to no good.
And Slick suspected it was an inside job.
Tommy's was a family. It always had been. It was how the original Tommy ran his business. Slick had photos of Tommy holding employees' babies, had photos of Tommy hugging his employees at Christmas parties.
Slick didn't hold babies.
He didn't like them.
They smelled, and they always seemed to want to vomit when Slick was around.
Slick didn't hug his employees.
If he did, they'd probably call Corporate, file some harassment suit against him.
Tommy's used to be a family. Now it was a Corporate conglomeration. Suddenly, Slick hated Corporate America. He hated that people no longer mattered.
He wanted to hug his people, care about them, ask about their families and their lives.
But, it was too late.
Now he needed to find out everything he could about them, because no one was above suspicion.
Slick paused for a moment, took a hefty gulp of his coffee, and thought about the likely suspects.
Miles Longworth was one suspicious guy.
He was always lurking about with his head down, and what was up with the guy's obsession with the dumpster?
Was the text from Miles?
Slick didn't think so. Miles was a good manager, he did his job, but Slick always suspected the guy had some issues outside of work, and he didn't think stalking and manipulation were within Miles' power. Miles didn't have the organizational skills to pull off anything underhanded and even if he did, he wouldn't be able to live with the guilt and keep it quiet. Miles' biggest ongoing infraction was probably smoking by the dumpster, and the only single incident was when he'd tracked horse shit all over the flooring department, and then swore up and down he hadn't been at the track during his extended lunch hour.
Miles was NOT Mickey Burger.
He could be Mickey Burger.
He was a wiry guy, high energy, had his hand in everything. Nobody knew the ins and outs of the Tommy system better than Reeve Stockwell. He was like the whisperer when it came to figuring things out within the elaborate Tommynet system. He'd even fixed the security cameras once, when everything tweaked out and went black.
Slick sat up straighter in his chair.
Stockwell knew how to fix the security cameras.
Slick Mitchell remembered the day well.
He'd pulled up in his Mercedes, took his regular managerial parking spot, strolled up to the front door, and found Stockwell on a ladder, messing with the security cameras. He'd stayed up there for most of the day, only taking a break when some Toothless person showed up with a greasy bag full of fries and a .......
"Burger," Slick said out loud. "Holy shit," Slick Mitchell whispered.
He'd always found that woman strange, all dressed in black leather. And, who delivered food on a motorcycle?
Maybe it wasn't even food in the numerous bags that were carried into Stockwell's office on nearly a daily basis.
Maybe it was something else.
"Dear God," Slick whispered. The first piece of the puzzle slipped into place.
Mickey Burger was none other than....
Stockwell stunk like a skunk in this thing. The police had questioned everyone out back, everyone except Stockwell. He'd found a way to slip away. The cops were still out there, and they planned to call in their own company and dig out the hole at first light. The entire store had been declared a possible crime scene, and was closed until morning. Thankfully, the local media only reported that an accident had occurred behind the Tommy store and a Tommy employee had been seriously injured, but Slick knew that was about to get worse.
What the hell was buried out there?
Was it JJ Patricks?
JJ was an odd person, even frightening in the glow of dawn, but JJ didn't strike him as someone who would hurt a fly.
Slick knew Stockwell didn't much care for JJ.
Maybe she was buried out back.
Maybe Stockwell killed her.
Maybe JJ found out something she wasn't supposed to know.
Everyone said it was the quiet ones you had to watch out for.
Slick felt shame and disgust. All this funny business was going on right in front of him, and he didn't even see it.
Tommy Mitchell had built something beautiful, and Slick Mitchell, prodigal grandson, had sat back and watched it all crumble.
He was a dick.
Maybe he could fix it. Maybe he could go into this thing a douche bag and come out a hero.
Most times it went in reverse.
Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that idiot, Anthony Weiner.
Most went in as heroes and came out as douche bags, but couldn't it work in reverse?
A soft glow of hope ignited inside of Slick, as if a couple of prepubescent Boy Scouts had rubbed two sticks together inside of Mitchell's soul, and finally made a fire.
This could work.
Slick could fix it.
He shook his head.
"I've never fixed anything in my life," the broken Mitchell whispered.
That much was true. Slick Mitchell had never fixed anything in his life. If it was broken, he took it to someone who could fix it. He tried to fix his mother's Panini maker last year and had set the kitchen on fire.
Slick Mitchell couldn't fix this, not without help, but that was okay. A true hero would recognize his own shortcomings, and call in for reinforcements when necessary.
Slick knew who to call, and who not to call.
Miles Longworth couldn't help him with this. He'd leave Miles out of it.
Reeve Stockwell couldn't help him. Stockwell was a crook.
Slick had never been more certain of anything in his life.
"Larry," Slick whispered.
Larry Dale was the company fixer, and no Tommy store had ever needed fixing more than Slick's place.
Slick Mitchell picked up the phone.
Larry Dale answered on the first ring.
Reeve Stockwell sat across from JJ Patricks at Denny's, forty miles south of the Tommy store. The place was nearly deserted.
Stockwell picked at his pancakes, while JJ plowed through a deluxe breakfast with all the fixings. He was too nervous to eat.
"So, what's the deal?" Stockwell asked, once JJ had paused to breathe.
"The deal with what?" she asked.
"The deal with me being an agent," Stockwell said.
"You'll be deputized specifically for this case to transmit information. You'll be more of a confidential informant."
"That sounds cool," Stockwell said, and JJ smiled.
"I suppose it does," she replied, shoving an enormous pile of food into her mouth.
"Will I have a badge?" Stockwell asked, his voice soft.
"How will I identify myself as an agent?" he asked.
"No one knows you're working for the FBI, but me," JJ responded.
"Can I tell my wife?" Stockwell asked.
"Am I your wife?" JJ quipped.
"No," Stockwell mumbled.
"Okay," Stockwell said, his voice sad. "What if I have to shoot someone?"
"Excuse me?" JJ said, setting her fork down with a metallic plop.
Stockwell repeated the question.
"You're not going to be shooting anyone."
"I can't shoot a suspect?" Stockwell asked.
"No," JJ said, her voice rising.
"What if someone shoots at me?" Stockwell said.
"Shoot back," JJ said.
"I beg your pardon?" Stockwell asked.
"Are you dimwitted, Mr. Stockwell?" JJ asked.
"You ask some dumbass questions."
"I'm new to this," Stockwell said defensively.
"To conversation?" JJ asked.
"No. To working for the effing FBI."
"Watch your words, please," JJ advised.
"What? I didn't use the "F" word."
"You used the 'FBI' word," JJ whispered. She looked pissed, and Stockwell's shoulders slumped. He'd only worked for the FBI for an hour and a half. He didn't want to get fired so soon.
"You'll be issued a weapon. Do you have a license to carry concealed?" JJ asked.
"To carry a concealed what?" Stockwell said.
"Dear God. A gun, you idiot. What else?" JJ asked.
"A monkey," Stockwell mumbled.
"Do you know anyone who has a license to carry a concealed monkey?" JJ said, trying to fight a smile.
"No. Besides, where would you hide it?" Stockwell asked.
"I would hesitate to comment on that," JJ replied. She resumed the shoveling of her eggs and meat, and for a moment, Stockwell was mesmerized.
"You always eat like this? You're pretty small," Stockwell remarked.
"I'm pregnant," JJ said.
"Really?" Stockwell said, without thinking.
"No. I lied."
"Mary Jo and I are going to have a baby. In about six months. I'd like to wrap up my last case before I go out on leave."
"And how do you plan to do that?" Stockwell asked, genuinely interested.
"By deputizing you, Mr. Stockwell. You are going to help me solve this case, or die trying."
Stockwell shivered, and almost wet himself.