Reeve Stockwell hauled ass like a man being chased by ninjas. He sped through the electrical department, past the hoards of light bulbs, and then picked up his pace as he sprinted through the power equipment department, past the dozens of lawn tractors, each of which appeared to be striking a pose like something straight out of John Deere Vogue.
Something slapped against his leg, and he slowed his gait enough to pat his pocket.
Somehow in the plethora of pockets in the waders, he'd missed the weapon. He was armed, and an image of tomorrow's sunrise flashed in his head.
I might live!
"I am armed!" he screamed, although his words were barely discernible through his ragged breathing.
He rounded the final corner toward the back of the store, toward the looming shadows of thirty-some display appliances.
A bullet whizzed past him and struck something metal to his right, the sound reaching his ears with a metallic ting.
"Lord help me," he screeched, his words and timbre that of a desperate man.
Someone screamed. More than one person screamed, and he could have sworn one of them was a woman.
Stockwell lost his footing. He flew forward, hit the ground, and slid like the winning-run man in a ninth-inning baseball championship.
He didn't collide with home plate.
He collided with Ada MacKenzie.
He found himself tangled in a chiffon nightgown that smelled like moth balls and old lady. Bony limbs assaulted him.
"Sweet Jesus!" he screamed, as Ada punched him in the throat. He coughed and sputtered, and tried not to lose consciousness.
The woman had a mean right hook for someone with nearly both feet in the grave.
"Take that, you hoodlum!" Ada screeched, kneeing him in his nether region.
Stockwell yacked up half of what he'd eaten at Denny's, where he'd been only hours before, in the safe company of FBI Agent, JJ Patricks.
"Someone stop this crazy woman, she's killing me," Stockwell attempted to screech.
"You puked on my best nightgown," Ada yelled, as Aaron Faulkner helped her to her feet.
"You kicked me in my private parts," Stockwell groaned.
"Private parts?" a male voice asked. "What are you, eight years old?"
"Mitchell?" Stockwell said, lifting his head like an old hound dog who'd baked too long in the August sun.
"What in the Sam hell?" Slick Mitchell asked, offering a hand to a badly wounded Reeve Stockwell. "What the hell are you doing here, and......... what the hell are you wearing?"
In the chaos of almost losing the family jewels, Stockwell forgot about the ridiculous outfit.
"It was all I could find," Stockwell mumbled through a moan.
"Where you been? On a fishing barge?" Aaron Faulkner asked.
"You wouldn't believe it if I told you," Stockwell remarked.
"Try us," Mitchell, Faulkner, and Ada MacKenzie said in unison.
Stockwell tried to think fast on his feet, but he was basically numb from the waist down, and his head was pounding like a bass drum. He throat constricted like someone who'd just survived a strangling, and he had a fleeting thought that didn't just border on insanity, but crossed into a sociopathic abyss.
I could shoot everyone and just walk away.
It wasn't a bad idea, with the exception of his DNA being all over an old lady's nightgown.
"Shit," Stockwell whispered.
"Start talking, Reeve," Mitchell said, his tone short.
"I gotta sit," Stockwell said softly.
"You can use my desk," Faulkner said.
Stockwell wobbled as he walked toward the desk. Everyone had seemingly forgotten that somewhere inside the store existed a madman (or woman) with a gun. The crowd gathered. Until that moment, Reeve Stockwell hadn't noticed Sonny Brooks, or a pale, seemingly shaken, Kitty Richardson.
"Where did you come from?" Stockwell asked Kitty.
"She came from my daughter, and if you make some smart remark about her, I'll bean you in the throat again, you punk," Ada barked.
Stockwell could have sworn that Mitchell did, too.
Stockwell tried to clear his head. He cleared his throat, which hurt like he'd just had his tonsils removed with a box cutter, and began to weave his tale.
"I got reports due. I was thinking about it when I left the hospital. Daniels is alive, by the way," Stockwell said, attempting to deflect attention away from himself. "He's pretty much amnesic, at this point, and doesn't remember anything."
"And this has something to do with your fishing trip?" Mitchell asked.
"In a roundabout way. I caught a ride with Larry Dale, and decided to grab something to eat before I let myself into the store. I was eating in the park, but my car wouldn't restart. I cut through that residential area over there...," Stockwell said, pointing in the direction of wherever, "and I fell when some old fart banged his garbage can lid. I lost my.... my keys, and I was crawling around in somebody's shrubs trying to find them. I found the keys, but managed to get dog crap all over my good pants. This thing was all I could find," Stockwell said, pointing to the waders.
Mitchell eyed him suspiciously. He knew Stockwell was lying, because he knew where Larry Dale was and where he'd been, and he hadn't given Reeve Stockwell a ride back to his all-weather beater.
"I don't believe you," Mitchell said.
"Why not?" Reeve Stockwell asked. He really didn't care if Mitchell believed him. Of course he was lying, but he couldn't tell anyone the truth. Stockwell began to wonder if he'd live long enough to fulfill his duties to the FBI, and he began to wonder if he'd be better off if he didn't.
"Because I know you're lying," Mitchell said.
"Who would lie about crawling through dog shit?" Ada asked. "I think he's telling the truth."
"By what method have you drawn your conclusion?" Mitchell asked.
"I'm older than dirt, and I've heard some cockamamie stories," Ada said. "Why, I remember this one time I concocted a story about Woodstock. I told my husband my sister was ill, and I, like half of the lost souls this side of the Mississippi, took off for some unknown field, in an unknown town, to commune with a bunch of pot-smoking, naked, and mud-covered hippies. Worked out okay until a few hours became a few days, and my sister showed up at the house with a Rhubarb pie."
"That's my favorite," Aaron Faulkner said.
"Mine, too," Ada said. "Let me tell you, it was a damn good pie. I showed up a few hours later, looking like something that crawled out of a swamp, smelling like something that crawled out of a sewer, and there was your granddad, sitting at the table, with a rifle in one hand, and a fork in the other," Ada said, turning to Kitty.
"Did he shoot you?" Stockwell asked.
"Shut up," Ada said. "I ain't done with my story."
Stockwell shivered and shut his mouth.
"Anyhow, my husband accused me of lying, until he got the Sunday paper, and there was my picture. I was on the cover of the paper, wearing nothing but mud," Ada declared proudly.
"Eww," Stockwell said, before he could stop himself.
"Watch yourself, or I'll castrate you. I didn't look like this back then. I was hot. That was probably the best make-up sex of my entire life."
"Grandma," Kitty cautioned.
"Everyone shut the hell up!" Mitchell yelled.
Something crashed, deep within the store. Everyone froze.
"I AM SLICK MITCHELL, GRANDSON OF TOMMY MITCHELL, AND THIS IS MY STORE. I HAVE A GUN. IF YOU DON'T LEAVE NOW, I WILL FIND YOU AND SHOOT YOU. GET THE HELL OUT!"
"I'LL CASTRATE YOU," Ada yelled.
"SHE WILL!" Reeve Stockwell hollered. Ada leered at him.
I'M CALLING THE POLICE!" Mitchell practically screamed.
"You are?" Stockwell asked.
"Of course, you moron. Someone is shooting in here. I am going to find out who. No one is going anywhere until the cops get here, and once they leave, everyone is going home, and coming back tomorrow, unless I call you and fire you first," Slick Mitchell declared.
"ME LLAMO A LA POLICIA!" Grandma Ada yelled, and everyone fell silent.
"What?" Kitty whispered.
"Spanish," Ada said, with a toothy grin.
"Why did you say it in Spanish?" Stockwell asked.
"Look around. Everything in here is in Spanish and English," Ada explained.
"So, the hooligan with the gun might be a Spanish-speaking hooligan," Ada said.
"Jesus, give me strength," Mitchell mumbled.
"Prayer doesn't hurt either," Ada commented.
"Where did you learn Spanish?" Kitty asked.
"Where else? Rosetta Stone. I got it from the Ebay. I drown out that crazy mother of yours, and yell at her in Spanish. She wants to get an exorcist," Ada complained. "Thinks I'm speaking in tongues."
"Sweet Mary Mother of God," Kitty whispered.
"I'M CALLING THE POLICE!" Mitchell yelled in English, once more, just for good measure.
Half a store away, Miles Longworth froze. He had just entered his office, and moved the ceiling tiles to reveal his secret hiding place.
He hadn't heard the shots being fired, but he'd felt confident he wasn't alone in the store. He'd crept through the darkness like a cat burglar, and he'd remained undetected.
Now someone was calling the police, someone who sounded a lot like Slick Mitchell.
And someone was going to castrate him, someone who sounded a whole lot like Kitty's crazy-ass grandmother.
And someone was speaking Spanish. Longworth couldn't even venture a guess, who, or why that might be.
And someone was whining like a teenage girl, someone who sounded a lot like Reeve Stockwell.
They were on to him.
He knew it.
He hoisted himself into the ceiling, prepared to test the structural integrity of Tommy-brand ceiling tiles.