Kitty Richardson arrived at the Tommy compound just in time to miss Jeopardy.
"Crap," she whispered, as she checked her watch. The clock in the old Chevy no longer worked. In Chevy land, it had been 6:83 for about two years, a time that existed only in Kitty's world.
She gently shut off the ignition and prayed the truck wouldn't backfire.
Her prayers went unanswered.
"Dammit," Kitty whispered, as a dog began barking a block or two away.
Something registered in her peripheral vision and Kitty turned.
Her blood chilled.
A man in a long raincoat and what appeared to be waders, seemed to disappear into the shadows. "What the hell?" Kitty whispered, wrapping her arms around herself in response to the sudden terror.
The Chevy was completely out of sight, buried in an ink black darkness, far behind the Receiving Bay. Only a portion of the parking lot and the residential area beyond was visible. Raincoat Man had disappeared, but the hairs stood up on the back of Kitty's neck, nonetheless.
She was almost willing to let Faulkner suffocate in the freezer, but the humanitarian in her spoke loudly.
Get him out before he dies.
He was a single man in a world full of married and gay men.
Kitty couldn't afford to let a single man die.
She had to get Faulkner out.
"Dear God," Kitty whispered, as she exited the vehicle. She held a tiny LED flashlight in her hand, a flashlight she had purchased at Tommy's after the tornado. Despite her abject terror, the flashlight remained dark.
She clutched a key in her hand, a key she wasn't supposed to have. She'd had it for six months, since attending a conference with Reeve Stockwell. They'd rented a vehicle, and Stockwell had left the key in the console. Kitty had discovered it one day later. It wasn't that Kitty had planned to do underhanded things with the key, it was more that Kitty was forgetful, and was a committed procrastinator. She'd forgotten all about the key until Faulkner called to say he was being murdered by a Frigidaire.
Only when Kitty was a few inches from the door did she turn on the light in her hand. The door was ajar.
Don't go in, her gut screamed.
She went in.
I'm here, she paused to text Faulkner.
She waited a few seconds.
Faulkner was already dead.
"No, no, no," Kitty whispered, as she raced through the darkened store, paying no mind to the shadows around her.
The phone buzzed gently in her pocket.
Hurry! I'm scarred.
So, Faulkner wasn't dead after all. Although he'd spelled the word wrong, and the man was obviously terrified, she figured the text was partially right.
Faulker was scarred.
Scars were nothing to be ashamed of. They were proof that someone survived something very bad. They were more like medals.
Faulkner probably had more than a few medals. He had a drinking problem, and he occasionally set things on fire, but no one was perfect.
And no one deserved to die in a freezer.
Besides, Kitty talked to a pen, and her closest companion was her ninety-nine-year-old grandmother, who was crazier than a shithouse rat, and who dressed like a valley girl. All her relationships had ended in tears and debt, except for one. She didn't talk about that one. No. Kitty wasn't perfect.
"Perfection is overrated," Kitty whispered, as she approached the appliance department. Something moved two aisles over, something that sounded large enough to be human. Kitty hid behind Faulkner's desk.
She began to shake.
Where the hell are you In what freezer You're right Someone's in the store
Kitty failed to punctuate, but she figured the Gods of good English would forgive her.
One over from Susan.
Who? Kitty responded.
The big stainless, the one we just marked down to $1399.00.
You name them? Kitty asked.
Can we talk about that later? I think I'm almost dead.
Kitty waited a few seconds, certain that Faulkner would survive just a bit longer. She heard nothing and crawled out from the safety of her hiding place.
Faulkner was exactly where he said he'd be. He was covered with sweat, his eyes were wild, and he was panting like a dog.
"Thank you," he whispered, as Kitty helped him from the huge freezer.
"You owe me. Big time," Kitty replied.
"What do you want?" Aaron Faulkner asked. He didn't have much. He had a Barcalounger, an Xbox, some old golf clubs, and a really nice bowling ball.
He was grateful, but he really hoped Kitty didn't like bowling.
"Dinner," Kitty said. Faulkner smiled.
"You want me to take you out to dinner?" he asked softly.
"What I'd really like is for you to take Helen and Ada, and then I'd have the house to myself for a night, but I think you'd rather go back into the freezer."
Faulkner chuckled, then froze.
More than one.
"Shit," Faulkner whispered. "Hide."
"Where?" Kitty whispered.
"I don't know. No one should be here. I don't want to die," Faulkner said through a whine.
"The Lord is my Shepherd," Kitty whispered. "I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down-"
"By a liquor store," Faulkner whispered.
"Seriously?" Kitty said, a little too loudly.
"Is that all you think about?" Kitty asked.
"No, but if I'm gonna die tonight, I'd like a drink first."
"No one's going to die. We just have to find a place to hide."
It was too late. Two men walked into the aisle, directly in front of Kitty and Faulkner.
"What the hell?" the taller man said.
"Who's there? I demand you show yourselves." the voice said sternly.
Kitty and Faulkner stood upright.
"What the hell are you two dingbats doing here?" Slick Mitchell asked.
"My roommate threw me out, so I planned to sleep in my Jeep in the parking lot. I got thirsty," Faulkner lied.
"And you have booze hidden in your locker?" Mitchell asked.
"Of course not. I snuck in to buy a soda." Faulkner continued the story.
"And what about you?" Mitchell said, turning to look at Kitty. "You thirsty, too?"
"No. I came to rescue Aaron," Kitty whispered.
"From what? A killer vending machine?" Mitchell asked. Sonny Brooks, who stood beside Mitchell, and had until now remained silent, chuckled.
"I heard something. I assume now it was you two. I hid in one of the freezers. The latch caught and I was trapped. I texted Kitty and asked her to come rescue me." Aaron Faulkner, now being truthful, was amazingly convincing.
The look on Mitchell's face, which had begun as anger, took on the appearance of pity.
"You couldn't make this shit up," Mitchell remarked. "How'd you get in?"
"The door was open," Kitty said, which wasn't a lie.
Faulkner said nothing.
He didn't have to.
Something crashed halfway across the store.
Mitchell took off like a shot.
Sonny Brooks looked scared, and froze on the spot.
Faulkner looked at Kitty.
"I've already played hero tonight," she whispered. "I'm staying put."
"Oh, my God," Sonny Brooks whispered. "I knew it. I knew it all along. Look!"
Faulkner and Kitty followed Brooks' pointed finger. A figure in white passed through the glow of one of the security lights.
Kitty screamed and threw herself at Faulkner. He held her. She was shaking. He was shaking, too. Sonny Brooks looked like he might faint.
The ghost turned.
"Holy crap, it sees us," Sonny mouthed silently.
The ghost waved.
"What the hell?" Sonny Brooks said out loud.
"Mother of God," Kitty said.
"You recognize it?" Sonny asked.
"It's my grandmother," Kitty groaned.
"Man alive, you gotta get that shit under control," Sonny said, without thinking.
Slick Mitchell arrived about the same time as Ada. "What the hell's this?" Mitchell asked, pointing to the ghost.
"Ada MacKenzie," Ada said, holding out her hand.
"Who?" Mitchell asked.
"My grandmother," Kitty said. Ada smiled. Obviously, she'd found her teeth.
"That's enough!" Mitchell said, his voice rising. "Get the hell out of here!"
Two shots rang out. Everyone ducked. One additional shot followed, hitting an appliance, altogether too close to where they all stood.
Faulkner got to his feet and cried out.