Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 66 - A Problem the size of the Titanic

Reeve Stockwell wasn't having a particularly good day.  By late afternoon, he'd already eaten three day's worth of the recommended amount of sugar, and he felt like he might have an ulcer.  Slick Mitchell was on the prowl, looking seriously unnerved, and Miles Longworth was MIA.  When Longworth's name showed up on Stockwell's phone, he answered the call immediately.

"Where the hell are you?" Stockwell barked.

"You need to work on your phone skills," Longworth retorted.  "What if it was a customer?"

"Your name showed up on my cell," Stockwell said.

"Oh, so you only reserve that particular kind of phone etiquette for me?" Longworth asked.

"Only when you're missing."

"Someone reported me missing?" Miles Longworth asked.

"Well, you work here, and you're not here, and no one knew where you were, so yeah, I'd say you were missing," Stockwell said, as his guts began to spin.

"I'm downtown," Longworth said.

"What, just driving around?"


"Then, what?" Stockwell asked.  He felt like he was playing a game of connect the dots.

"I think I saw JJ Patricks," Longworth said.



"Here we go again," Stockwell groaned.

"Did someone else see her, too?" Longworth asked.

Reeve Stockwell blew off the question.  "Miles, where are you?"

"Downtown," Miles whispered.

"Any particular place downtown?"

Miles held his breath.  "The police station."


Miles needed to think fast, something he wasn't particularly good at.  He inhaled.  Exhaled.  Inhaled again.  "I got a parking ticket?" Longworth said, phrasing it like a question.

"You're not sure if you got a parking ticket?"

"They haven't told me yet," Miles said.

"So, what?  You were randomly arrested and you're not sure why, but you think it might be about a parking ticket?" Stockwell asked, feeling heat in his face.

"Something like that," Longworth whispered.

"Are you in jail?"

"Not really," Longworth said.

"You're not in a cell?"


Stockwell felt like he might hurl.  He was so full of fritters, Snickers bars and Mountain Dew, he could probably fly if he tried.  He had no patience left for the idiotic likes of Miles Longworth.
"Where are you in the police station?"

"The lobby."

"So, they arrested you and left you sitting in the lobby?  Couldn't you just leave if you wanted to?"

"I suppose," Miles said.

"You are an absolute dipshit!" Stockwell barked.

"I know."

"Look it, Longworth, I have to be someplace at 7:00, someplace important.  You need to get back here.  You're scheduled to close."

"I may be a while yet," Longworth admitted, "but if I'm not back by 7:00, then I'm probably still here."

"Answering to some mysterious parking ticket?"

"Something like that," Miles Longworth said through a sigh.

"Just do what you have to do and get back here.  You want a shot at a year's salary, right?  You want that money as much as the next guy, right?"

"You have absolutely no idea," Miles Longworth said.

And he hung up.


Forty-five minutes later, Reeve Stockwell dragged himself to the break room to find something resembling a protein.  With no other alternatives, and unable to leave the store due to Miles' absence, Stockwell had no choice but to trust his dietary needs to the "wheel of death."  The "wheel of death," was Tommy's least favored vending option.  It contained frozen, pre-packaged gunk, sold as food.  Stockwell chose a barbeque beef, which he knew was probably not beef.  The thing hit the bottom of the vending machine like a brick, and Stockwell pulled it free.

"The Lord is my Shepherd.....," he whispered.  He couldn't remember the rest of the psalm, but he figured he'd at least given it a go.

He opened the corner of the wrap, as directed, and shoved the nightmare into the bowels of the microwave.

Kitty sat across the room scowling at him.

"What?" Stockwell asked.

"You shouldn't eat that," Kitty advised.

"Really?" Stockwell said sarcastically.

"Actually, go ahead.  I hope you choke on it."

"What are you eating?" Stockwell asked.

Kitty pulled something that looked like noodles and caulking from a pink, plastic bowl with pink chopsticks.

"Tofu, Chinese noodles and veggies.  Delicious and nutritious," Kitty bragged.

"I'd rather die," Stockwell said.

"And you might.  Your barbeque arsenic burger is beeping," Kitty said, pointing with her chopsticks.  "Been nice knowin' you."

"Shut up," Stockwell mumbled.

"Ouch," Kitty said, sounding hurt.

"I'm sorry, Kit," Stockwell said.  "I'm having a rotten day."

"Eat some fiber," Kitty said.

"I'll take that under advisement," Stockwell replied, shoving the burger into a paper towel to conceal it.

Reeve Stockwell hadn't taken ten steps when his phone rang, and in retrospect, the phone call might have saved his life.

"Stockwell," he quipped into his phone.

"Mr. Stockwell, please come to Customer Service," Bernice said softly.

"Is something wrong?" Stockwell asked.

"Indeed," Bernice said, before hanging up.

"Great," Stockwell said. 

He tossed the barbeque mess into Aaron Faulkner's trash can, and made a bee line for Bernice.  She stood cadaver still at the return desk, with a very angry man towering over her at the counter.

"Is this him?" the man yelled.

"Yup," Bernice said, stepping aside, one small step at a time.

"I demand an explanation!" the man yelled.

"I'm right here, sir.  No need to yell.  An explanation for what?" Reeve Stockwell asked.

"I'm gonna tell you a story," the man said, lowering his voice.

"I like stories," Stockwell said.

"Good.  Enjoy it, because when this story is over, I'm going to sue your ass," the man said.

"Great," Stockwell whispered.

"So, me and my old lady have been fighting.  A lot.  The last one was a doozer.  She told me I was useless.  She said a lot of nasty things, and a lot of bad words our church says we shouldn't use, and then when I asked her if there was anything I could do, she said "just shoot me." 

The customer paused to breathe.

"Did you?" Stockwell asked.

"Did I what?"

"Did you shoot her?"

"Of course not!  She's my Betty.  I love her, and that's saying a lot.  She's been having those hot flash things for about twenty years, and you'd think she was gonna burst into flames.  She gets all red, and starts hollering up a storm about things I did forty years ago, and when she comes down, and her face returns to a pale white, she apologizes, and digs into the Ben and Jerry's."

"That's good stuff," Stockwell said, trying to be conversational.

"Shut your hole.  This is my story," the customer said loudly.

"Right.  Sorry.  Go on, sir," Stockwell said.

"So, I leave the house, give her some time to calm down, and I come down here to Tommy's.  I figure Betty's been gripin' about that upstairs bathroom for years.  Sink leaks like the Titanic, and the faucet is uglier than sin on Sunday.  I get all the stuff to fix the sink, and I buy Betty this beautiful faucet.  I get two pints of Chubby Hubby, and drag all the stuff into the house, and Betty smiles.  Looks like she's forgiven me.  She gets herself all sugared up on the ice cream, and proceeds to open the faucet, and that's when she asked for a divorce."

"She didn't like the faucet?" Stockwell asked.

"You could say that," the customer said.

"Did you want a different style?" Stockwell asked.

"Open the box, Bernice," the customer said.

"I don't think I should," Bernice whispered.  Her hands trembled, and Stockwell suddenly feared for his life.  He knew, he just knew, there was something very bad inside the box.

"Open it," Stockwell said.

Bernice did.

Inside the box was something that appeared to be a small assault rifle.

"Jesus," Stockwell whispered.

"Now do you see my predicament?" the customer asked.  "Betty's last words were 'just shoot me,' and I come home with a gun in a Moen box."

"That is a problem," Stockwell mumbled.

"You being smart with me, son?" the customer asked.


"I'm going to call the cops now," the customer said.

"If you don't mind.  I'd rather do it myself," Stockwell said.  "Please wait here with Bernice.  I assure you, I will get to the bottom of this."

Stockwell tucked the box under his arm, praying the gun wasn't loaded, and he wouldn't trip and shoot his own foot off before he could get to his office.  He slipped inside, and set the box on his desk.  He took his cell phone out of his pocket and hit ten digits.

"Agent Jackson," a female voice said.

Stockwell couldn't believe she'd answered.  "Things are getting worse, JJ.  I need your help."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 65 - Human Trafficking and Miles of Paper Trails

Miles Longworth cut out shortly after the meeting.  He wore his Tommy golf shirt under a suit jacket.  He told Mags he was meeting a vendor.

She smiled and mouthed something.

Miles was pretty sure it was....


So, Mags didn't believe him.  Miles didn't really care.  Miles did his job, did what he had to do to fulfill his job as a manager, but in his spare time he didn't meet vendors.  He looked up weird videos on YouTube.

He smiled as he thought of the Honey Badger.

He should have watched it before he left.

It might have calmed him, quieted the tremor in his hands, and the apocalypse in his gut.

He was sweating like a man about to have a vasectomy by a doctor with a Fisher Price medical kit.  His car felt like it was a million degrees, and sweat dampened his brow.  He would have liked to turn back the clock, turn it back to the moment when he thought coming clean was the way to save his soul.

He should have hit the On Demand button and had a burrito.  That would have calmed him.

Oh, no, but not Miles!

Miles had to grow a conscience and call the police.

"What the hell was I thinking?" Miles whispered to the inside of the car.

His phone rang, and the car woke up like Night Rider.  The Bluetooth went wild, and his wife's name flashed on the mini screen.

"Crap," he whispered.

This was all he needed.

"Hello," he said in a small voice. 

"Did you go?" his wife asked.

"I'm going now," Miles replied.

"How close are you?" she asked.

"About two miles," Miles said.

"You're still in the parking lot, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Miles whispered.

"Coward," his wife said.

"Please don't," Miles said softly.  "Please just say something nice."

"I believe in you," Mrs. Longworth said, sounding like the wife Miles had known for years, sounding like the wife who still thought a wad of cash was tucked away in a college fund.

"Thank you," Miles said.

"Now go," his wife said.  And she hung up.


Bernice sat in the break room, gobbling down a bag of Twizzlers.  She held her iPhone in her hand, and eight fingers flew.  The other two held a long, red piece of licorice.

"What are you doing?" Penelope Ross asked.

"Eating," Bernice said, brandishing a mouthful of red goo.

"Gross," Penelope retorted.  "What are you doing with your phone?"

"Googling human trafficking," Bernice said.

"Dear God!  Why?" Penelope asked.

"Maybe that's what is going on," Bernice said casually.

"You think so?"

"I think I'm on the right track.  Did you know that hundreds of thousands of people disappear and are sold into human trafficking?" Bernice said in astonishment.

"Really?" Penelope asked.

"Yeah.  JJ disappeared.  She disappeared right from this store.  She could have been sold."

"You think someone sold JJ?"

"I think so," Bernice said.

"Who would buy her?" Penelope asked.

"Now that is a very good point," Bernice said, as she shoved another Twizzler into her mouth.

"Do you think there is retail human trafficking?" Penelope asked.

"How do you mean?"

"Do you think people are sold into human trafficking and made to work retail?" Penelope asked.  She looked horrified.

"My God.  I think you might be onto something."

"What if JJ is parked at some filthy cash register right now ringing out a bunch of people sold into trafficking.  Do they end up working on the highways?"

"Who?" Bernice said.  She looked puzzled, and her fingers had finally stopped.

"These trafficking people?" Penelope asked.  "Are they somewhere writing traffic tickets?"

Bernice laughed.

"That isn't funny.  Did you ever watch Parking Wars?  Those people go batshit.  They get booted, and they start going after the traffickers, and throw shit at them."  Penelope looked haggard.  Worried.

"You have no idea what human trafficking is, do you?" Bernice asked.

"I don't think so," Penelope said, helping herself to a Twizzler.

Bernice explained.

"I don't think it's trafficking," Penelope whispered.

"Why not?"

"Because Stockwell would have been sold first.  He's so high strung, he could do the work of five guys."

Bernice looked struck.

"What?" Penelope asked.

"You're right," Bernice groaned.  "Guess we ruled that out."

"Guess we did," Penelope agreed.


Miles Longworth sat in an interrogation room clutching his briefcase.  He checked the clock.  He'd been in the room for three minutes.  It felt like a lifetime.

The door opened.


Miles didn't move.

"Mr. Longworth?" a male voice said.

"Yes, that's me," Miles said.

"I'm Officer Lowell.  Thank you for coming in."

The officer sat across from Miles.  He seemed relaxed, but there was an intensity about him that frightened Miles Longworth.

"Your story is really something," Officer Lowell said.

"I know," Miles whispered.

"You've brought the money?" Lowell asked.

"Most of it," Miles said.

"And the rest?" Lowell asked.

"There may be a little bit left in the ceiling of my office."

"Why didn't you report finding the money immediately?  Why didn't you tell your superior?" Lowell asked.

"He's a douche bag," Miles said.

"Pardon?" Lowell said, although the corners of his mouth turned up into a smile.

"He isn't an approachable man," Miles said.

"I gathered that."

"Besides, I had designs on keeping it," Miles whispered.

"Oh?" Lowell said.

"I'm in a little trouble," Miles said softly.

"With a female?"

"Mostly males," Miles said.

"Oh," Lowell said.

The silence in the room settled like a rock.  The room was warm, but Miles still shivered.

"Tell me about the men," Lowell asked.

"What men?" Miles asked.

"You said you're in trouble with men.  I thought you mentioned a wife."

"I have a wife.  I'm not involved with guys.  I'm involved with horses."

"Jeez Louise, man," Lowell said.

"Good grief!" Miles said, finally catching up with the class.  "I bet on horses, and I'm not very good at it."

The density in the room cleared, and the space felt immediately lighter.

"Okay.  You wanted to keep the money, but you decided not to.  I'll need a paper trail on it.  I need to know everyplace this money has been since you found it," Lowell said, taking a note pad from his shirt pocket.

"Oh, Lord," Miles moaned.

"Problem?" Lowell asked.

"The money was stuffed in my shorts one night for like an hour," Miles whispered.

Lowell stood and paced for a minute or two.  His phone chirped, and he paused to look at it.  "Okay, Longworth.  I need ten minutes.  I am going to get you a coffee and a notepad.  I want you to write down every place this money has been since you first found it.  Can you do that for me?"

"I can," Miles said.

"Good.  Stay put," Lowell demanded.

The door opened.

And closed.

Miles mopped his brow, and looked through the glass toward the hallway. 

A woman walked by.

Looked in his direction.

Miles inhaled sharply.

It couldn't be.

Miles Longworth would have sworn on a bible that he'd just seen JJ Patricks.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 64 - Priming the Partnerships

Mags Davidson looked at her phone again.  The text was brief.

No one else recognized me when I was in.  Please don't tell anyone you saw me.  I will contact you soon.  I promise.  Love, JJ.

Not the best at following directions, Mags replied.  The response was immediate.

Uh-oh! That number won't work.  Please make sure it's a valid US mobile number from a supported provider.

"What the hell?" Mags whispered.  Did JJ have a throwaway phone?  JJ could barely operate a standard computer keyboard, the likes of which had been in existence for years and years.  How would JJ even know to buy a disposable cell phone?  Something was off.  Something was creepy off, but Mags just couldn't put her finger on it. 

Maybe JJ was out of the country.  Mags always assumed JJ's mother lived locally, but maybe she didn't.  But, weren't cell phones designed to work anywhere in the world?  Unless JJ's mother lived on Mars, that didn't seem to be a reasonable explanation.

Mags pulled her Sonic milkshake from her secret hiding place, and took a sip to calm her nerves.  The chocolate and banana was heavenly.  It was worth risking the wrath of Stockwell to sneak it onto the front end.  She'd never been caught.

Until now.

If asked to recount the event, Mags wasn't sure she could explain what had actually happened.  A delicious sliver of chocolate and banana concoction slid up the straw, into her mouth and down her throat.  Carefully, she lifted the cup to the light to see how much was left, to determine how much she'd have to pace herself to keep the treat alive until the end of her shift. 

That's when all hell broke loose!

The bottom fell off the cup. 

Mags panicked.

She spun around.

She tried to find something to stop the milkshake eruption.

She failed.

Chocolate and banana milkshake covered nearly the entire Customer Service area.

"Shit," she whispered.

She shoved the ruined cup into the closest garbage receptacle, and spastically tried to clean herself off.  Her Tommy shirt was covered with milkshake, as was the floor, the counter, and every customer service necessity implement within ten feet.

The stapler was dripping.

The tape roll was, as well.

About that time, Bernice arrived.

"What the hell happened?" Bernice asked.

"The cup broke.  The effing cup broke, and my milkshake is gone.  It's dead.  It's everywhere, and I wanted it.  I needed it!  What am I going to do?" Mags squealed.

"Relax.  I'll sneak out and get you another one.  Let's get this mess cleaned up.  Who knows where Stockwell is lurking about.  He could be here any minute," Bernice cautioned.

"The Shop Vac!" Mags yelled.  "Get the Shop Vac!"  In her haste, Mags slid in the puddle of shake, miraculously stayed on her feet, and chest bumped Bernice, transferring a large quantity of milkshake onto the shirt of the younger associate.

"Nice," Bernice said.  "Don't move.  Let me do it.  You could get us both killed."

"Okay," Mags whined.  "Oh, my God!  Stockwell's coming.  He's coming!"

"Get down.  Hide.  Hide in the mop and broom closet.  Quick!" Bernice said, with more calm than she felt.

"That shit is filthy!" Mags groaned.

"Get in there now!" Bernice demanded.

Mags did.  She squeezed herself into the Rubbermaid closet and prayed for death.

Bernice could hear Stockwell's phone ringing, that persistent chirping that seemed to live in her ear canals.  She heard that chirping everywhere!  Quick thinking had always been one of Bernice's best qualities, and it didn't fail her this time.  She ducked into the one place she knew the cameras wouldn't see.  She looked both ways for customers, finding none, which was an act of God in itself.  She checked a second time for Tommy employees.  The only one in range was Penelope, and Bernice threw her a look that clearly said....

stand back!

Without a moment's hesitation, Bernice grabbed the primer with the busted lid, the very one she'd taken back as a damaged return, moments before the meeting had begun.  She flung it as far and wide as she could, and then ran to the sand bucket.  Like a madwoman, she started pouring the sand onto the primer, and the milkshake.

She'd made a bigger mess, but at least this one was explainable.

Stockwell rounded the corner by the light bulb aisle, putting himself in visual range.  Remembering the shirt, Bernice crouched, grabbed two handfuls of sand, and rubbed it all over her chest.  In her haste, the sand had gone everywhere, and Bernice looked like she'd spent the day at the beach.

Stockwell arrived just as Bernice stood upright, and his jaw went slack.

"What in the Sam hell?" Stockwell whispered.

"Primer accident," Bernice announced, incredibly proud of herself.

"Good Lord.  I guess," Stockwell said, finally closing his mouth.  "What happened to you?"

"I fell in it," Bernice said.

"You okay?" Stockwell asked.

"Yup," Bernice quipped.

"You are?"


"You don't want to go home?" Stockwell asked, incredulously.

"Not really," Bernice whispered.

"You're possibly legitimately injured, and you aren't asking to leave?"  Stockwell looked shocked.

"I'm okay."

"Bernice, you are turning a real corner here.  You're like a dark horse.  One to watch.  I am incredibly impressed by you," Stockwell said.  He paused, and seemed to be thinking deeply.

Maybe I should ask Bernice to be my partner.  Stockwell thought, but the thought was fleeting.  He already had someone in mind, and he'd planned to take his choice aside, as soon as he could.

"Get Penelope to help you clean this up.  Thankfully, it's pretty slow right now," Stockwell commented.

"Will do," Bernice said.

Before Stockwell could leave, something rattled in the Rubbermaid closet, something named Mags.

"Shit," Bernice said, under her breath.

"What's that?" Stockwell asked.

Bernice didn't pause for a second.  "A spider, sir."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Some huge spider, probably came in with one of the garden center trucks.  I put it in a bin and poked some holes in the top.  I'm just trying to figure out what to do with it.  You want to help?" Bernice asked, trying to hide a sly smile.

"A spider?" Stockwell said nervously.  "I don't think I'm the right guy for the job.  Let the Garden Center employee know.  I'm sure they have some kind of plan for dealing with this kind of thing.  How big did you say it is?"

"Well, a little bigger than my hand, but I have pretty small hands," Bernice said, holding up a hand covered with a generous amount of milkshake, primer, and sand.

Stockwell shivered, and took a few steps back, widening the distance between himself and the closet.

"I gotta get to my office.  Have Mags watch the desk while you guys clean up," Stockwell said, his voice a bit shaky.  His eyes never left the closet.

"She's on her lunch.  Went to get a milkshake, I think she said," Bernice said.

"Hmm.  I can almost smell it.  You smell chocolate and banana, Bernice?" Stockwell asked.

"No, but sometimes I smell peanut butter in the bathroom.  Some kind of sensory thing, I think," Bernice said.

"I'm a little hungry.  That's probably it.  Thanks for cleaning this all up, Bernice.  Accidents happen," Stockwell said appreciatively.

"No problem," Bernice said.

She waited a minute and a half until she was sure Stockwell was gone, then she crossed the service area to release Mags from the closet.

"He's gone," she whispered to the slit between the doors.

No answer.

"He's gone," Bernice repeated, a little louder.

Still nothing.

Bernice opened the door, and an unconscious and deathly pale Mags slid out and landed in a heap of milkshake, primer and sand.

Evidently Stockwell wasn't the only one who'd totally bought into the spider story.


Reeve Stockwell let himself into his office.  He grabbed the flashlight from his desk drawer, and thoroughly examined every part of the small space.

Where there was one enormous spider, there might be two.

Stockwell shivered again, and set the flashlight down.  Unless the damn things could make themselves invisible, he was in the clear.  He was blissfully, blessedly, spider free.

He picked up his phone and dialed three numbers.  A gruff voice answered.

"Gutz," the voice said.

"Stockwell," Reeve Stockwell replied.

"I didn't do it, sir.  I'm not in a position to say who did, but it wasn't me!" Gutz explained.

"Relax.  I'm not calling to blame you for anything," Stockwell replied.

Gerald Gutzenheimer was Tommy's very own conspiracy theorist.  He raised questions about everything from pot holes to the single-ply toilet paper in the men's room. 

Stockwell knew he faced problems bring Gutz into his confidence, but occasionally, Gutz was right.  Occasionally, Gutz nailed a conspiracy right on the head.

Surely, Stockwell would have to weed through the bullshit to find anything worth pursuing, but if there was a conspiracy going on at Tommy's, Gutz would figure it out.

"You missed the meeting, Gutz," Stockwell said.

"I was stuck in traffic, sir.  A log truck lost its cargo on the highway.  I'll be they're in cahoots with the gas stations.  I sat in amazement watching my gas gauge dwindle down.  I couldn't get close enough to get any info off the truck, but I would have likee to, det me tell you."

Stockwell rolled his eyes.

"You still with me, sir?" Gutz asked.

"I'm here," Stockwell mumbled.  "I'm having trouble with this computer.  Darn thing keeps freezing."

"Now, that's the kind of thing that really gets me going," Gutz began.  "All these computer repair stores, and computer repair websites.  I'll bet they're all in cahoots with that Bill Gates fella.  That Gates fella probably owns all those sites.  That is a technological rip off, let me tell ya."

"Gutz, give it a rest for a minute," Stockwell said.  "I might have a true conspiracy to run by you."

"You're suggesting there isn't truth in the two I just mentioned?" Gutz asked, sounding irritated.

"Not at all.  I think you're on to something there, but I have one that's more pressing.  I'd like to buy you dinner later on, run a few things by you," Stockwell offered.

"Not at one of those chains," Gutz barked.  "Those folks are all in cahoots with food providers.  Who pays ten bucks for a salad?  Half that fancy crap can be picked off the side of the road.  Could have picked myself a salad this morning while the highway department was playing with their wood."

Stockwell forced himself not to laugh.  "Meet me out front at seven, Gutz."

"My shift ends at eight.  Don't be cheatin' me out of an hour's pay, sir."

"Don't worry, Gutz.  I'll fix it so you don't lose the hour," Stockwell offered.

"My wife sends her gratitude, sir.  In fact, she'll probably send you a nice cheese ball of the month for giving her a night off from cooking duty," Gutz declared.

"I'll look forward to it.  See you at seven," Stockwell said.

And he hung up.

And he rolled his eyes.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 63 - Loading the Detectives onto the Crime Fighting Ark - Two By Two

A mere five minutes after the Tool Town meeting was declared a wrap, and the gauntlet had been laid down, and sixty Tool Towners left the meeting room with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads, Daisy Cates had wedged herself into the tiny closet nestled in the back corner of the tool department.

The closet wasn't designed to hold a Tool Towner.  It was basically a design flaw.  An office had been planned for the area, but a bunch of drunken contractors got their inches and feet flip flopped, and suddenly, there was a closet where no such closet was needed.

Until today.

Thirty seconds passed before Daisy realized her plan wasn't working as intended.  She couldn't reach her cell phone.  It wasn't that she couldn't reach her cell phone, it was more that she couldn't move.  Somehow, by an act of God, Daisy managed to extract herself from the tiny space, find her cell phone, and wedge herself into the space a second time.  She was glad she'd passed on the second donut.  If she hadn't, she wouldn't have fit.

Things often work better the second time around, and Daisy had planned well.  Her right hand clutched the cell phone, and it was held inches from her face.  She dialed a number she'd only had in the phone for a day, and a familiar voice answered.

"H.D. Diggers, let's play in the dirt!  How can I help you?"

"Hannah?" Daisy whispered.  She wasn't sure why she was whispering.  Some unfortunate Tool Towner was cutting blinds half a store away, and the sound was deafening.

"Speak up!"

"Hannah?" Daisy yelled.

"Crazy Daisy, what the heck is up?" Hannah Bandana replied.

"I need to see you," Daisy said.

"Why?  Someone else bury something else outside that insane asylum you work in?" Hannah asked.

"No.  Something else is going on in here.  Something illegal.  Mitchell just offered a year's salary to whomever might solve this mystery."

"No shit?" Hannah asked, sounding interested.

"Serious as a hail storm on a poker run," Daisy said.

"So, what's the deal?" Hannah asked.

"I'm not sure.  I'm going to find out everything I can.  If I can get that money, I can get out of here.  I can get that camper I've been eying, and hit the open road," Daisy said, sounding dreamy.

"You've been planning this?" Hannah asked.  "This escape?"

"I'm growing more existential by the minute.  I've been questioning the meaning of my life," Daisy said, feeling an old connection to Hannah that had been rekindled.

"Me, too.  I'm not necessarily digging the way things turned out," Hannah said, chuckling at herself.

The pun wasn't lost on Daisy, but she didn't pause to give in to the humor.  "I'm flipping pages on the calendar faster than I ever did, and these little lines on this face of mine are starting to look like a map, a map of all the places I've been, like a roadway of my life."

"You been hitting the weed or something?" Hannah asked.

This time Daisy did chuckle.  "No.  Hitting the Jim Beam, but no more than usual.  Just becoming a deep thinker.  I find myself picking up a nut or a bolt, and wondering what I could put together with it, and then I find myself thinking about how things are assembled, and then I start thinking about how life is assembled, how thoughts connect, and how we make our lives into something meaningful."

"You get this from a pile of nuts and bolts?" Hannah asked.

"Yeah," Daisy said.  She was beginning to wheeze.  The closet was fairly air tight, and Daisy started wondering if she was running out of oxygen.

"And you're not hitting the weed?  Not licking a bunch of postage stamps or anything?" Hannah asked, and Daisy smiled.

Suddenly serious, Daisy breathed deeply.  The air was stagnant, and stale, and she knew she was running out of time.  "Look.  I need this money.  I need your help, Hannah.  Remember years back when we solved the mystery of Rhonda, Ride my Honda.  Everyone knew she was up to no good, running around on Big Nose Pete.  You and I, we were a couple of Nancy Drews, bugging her phone and setting up surveillance, and what not.  We need to do that again.  I need you, Hannah.  There's a reason you showed up in my life again, and there's a reason it's now.  You want to help me or not?"

"I'm going," Hannah barked.

"Okay, bye bye, then," Daisy said.

"Wait!  Don't hang up.  I'm going with you.  I'll help you solve this thing.  There's this fella forty miles from here, wants to buy the whole digging business.  Let's solve this thing and get you your cash.  I'll sell my digging business, and we'll hit the road.  I'm going with you," Hannah declared.


"Let's meet up at that crappy place where Toothless Louise works.  Can you make it tonight about 7:00?" Hannah asked.

"I'll be there," Daisy replied.

"I gotta go.  My diggin' line's ringing," Hannah said.  And she hung up.


Mags Davidson couldn't believe her eyes.  There, in lane ten, on the front line of Tommy's Tool Town, stood JJ Patricks.  Mags darn near killed herself trying to get to her friend.

"What the hell, JJ?  What happened to you?  I was sure you were dead.  I was sure I was next!" Mags babbled.  Her eyes welled up, and the tears spilled over. 

"I shouldn't have disappeared like I did.  I'm sorry," JJ said.  A tear slid down JJ's face, and Mags hugged her tightly. 

"What happened?  Where did you go?" Mags asked.

"My mother died," JJ said, hating herself, as she did every time her mother died.

JJ had spent many years under cover, and counting today, her mother had died ninety-two times.  Her mother, who was alive and well in a retirement condominium complex in Tampa Bay, understood. 

"It wasn't as a result of that unfortunate Statue of Liberty accident, was it?" Mags asked.

Sometimes the lies got convoluted.  Sometimes the stories blended together.  JJ couldn't remember a Statue of Liberty incident.

"No," JJ said, avoiding the question entirely.  "She was run over in the parking lot at a Piggly Wiggly."

JJ forced herself not to laugh.  She loved the Piggy Wiggly death lie.  She used it often.

"I certainly hope you're going to sue," Mags said, pouring on the sympathy.  The entire ploy was working exactly as it always did.  Once the sympathy started, the details weren't all that important.  Mags would forget that JJ virtually vanished during a tornado warning.  Everyone always did.

"I'm sorry.  Will there be a funeral?" Mags asked.  "I'd like to be there for you."

"Cremation," JJ lied.  It was a good thing her mother liked the heat.  She'd been cremated forty-four times.  "I'm actually looking for Mr. Stockwell.  I'd like to apologize for my absence."

"He's in his office.  We just wrapped up a meeting.  He looks a little rough.  I'm not sure he's feeling well," Mags said.  "I can call him and let him know you're here," Mags offered.

"No need.  I'd rather just surprise him," JJ said, with an enormous smile.


Reeve Stockwell was shoveling in a fritter like someone who'd just gotten voted off the Survivor Island, when he heard a timid rap on his office door.  He figured it was Kitty.  He shoved the rest of the fritter into his mouth, and crossed the tiny office.

He opened the door without hesitating, and a very pissed off JJ Patricks stood in the doorway, hands on her slight hips.

Stockwell swallowed so fast he almost choked, and before he could speak, JJ slipped under his arm, and slammed the door.

Reeve Stockwell chased the fritter with a quarter bottle of Mountain Dew, and before he could cap it, his hands started to shake.  It might have been the sugar, but it was more likely the five-foot, hormone-filled, very angry FBI agent who was staring him down.

"Would you like a chair?" Stockwell asked.

"No.  I'd like to know why there are sixteen messages from an Officer Lowell on my cell phone."

"Oh, that," Stockwell said.

"Oh, that?  That's your answer?" JJ asked.  She stood over his desk, with both hands planted on his sticky desk calendar.

"I can explain," Stockwell said.

"I highly doubt that.  You are the worst CI I have ever had.  You practically blew everything in the first few hours.  How could you do that?" JJ asked.


"You know what your saving grace is, Stockwell?"

Reeve Stockwell didn't speak.  He merely shook his head.

"Lowell was laughing in most of the messages.  He's going to drop the charges," JJ said.

"He is?" Stockwell asked in a squeak.

"Yes.  And for whatever reason, I am prepared to give you another chance.  I know I am going to regret this, but I am going to keep you on," JJ said. 

"Why?" Stockwell asked, although he was enormously relieved.

"Because you are such a freakin' wing nut that no one would ever suspect you of anything."

"Thank you," Stockwell said, although he couldn't imagine why he said it.

"This time, there are conditions.  More than the first round," JJ said.

"And they are?" Stockwell asked.

"Lay off the sugar.  You shake like a heroin addict, and frankly, I get a lot more mileage out of a CI who's still alive.  Two, and this one is big, get a partner.  Find someone you trust, and I want to meet him or her.  You need a chaperon, someone who will step in right before you do something as ridiculously stupid as being arrested while carrying an unlicensed firearm, and while wearing some idiotic underpants you say you got from your kid at Christmas."

"Lowell told you that?" Stockwell asked.  He could feel the heat in his face.

"Message three.  He had to say it about six times.  He was laughing so hard he couldn't speak."

"I'm glad he found me so entertaining," Stockwell said, his tone sharp. 

JJ pulled out a chair and sat across the desk.  She wore a very serious looking expression.

"Reeve Stockwell, look at me.  You are smarter than you appear.  I can tell.  You have the most unused potential of any man I've ever met.  That said, you got more than a spoonful of the idiot gene, and it happens.  You're like an absent minded professor.  There is a third condition.  Every time you're faced with making a decision, especially one that might earn me another sixteen messages, I want you to count to ten.  I want you to pause long enough to decide if it's wise.  Ask yourself a serious of questions.  'Is it going to get me arrested?  Is it going to get me killed?  Is it going to cause JJ more trouble?'  If you're not sure, call me.  I don't care what time of day or night it is.  Call me.  And get yourself a partner.  Do it today."

"I will.  I have a question of my own," Stockwell said.


"What's a CI?" Stockwell asked.

"A confidential informant.  Someone who feeds information to law enforcement."

"Oh," Stockwell said, sounding said.

"This upsets you?" JJ asked.

"I would have felt better if I was a real agent."

JJ laughed. 

Stockwell looked struck.

"Don't laugh at me," Stockwell whined.

"You're adorable, Mr. Stockwell."

"I thought you didn't like men."

"I like men just fine.  I just didn't want to marry one, and besides, you're adorable like a puppy learning to walk.  Your truly dip shit qualities are endearing."

"Thanks.  I think," Stockwell said.

"I gotta go.  It's going to take me some time to delete my message.  Incidentally, there's one more thing we need to talk about."

"What's that?"

"Let's get our stories straight.  If anyone asks you what happened to me, tell them my mother died."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Stockwell said.

"Case and point," JJ said with a sigh.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tommy's Tool Town - Chapter 62 - And the Gauntlet is Laid Down

By the following afternoon, the miracles were stacking up the likes of the Virgin Mary appearing on the side of a Troy Bilt.

Stockwell's wife didn't kill him.

Longworth's wife didn't kill him.

Kitty still had the chance of becoming someone's wife.

Kitty Richardson and Reeve Stockwell arrived ten minutes before the regularly scheduled afternoon meeting.

Stockwell made a bee line for his office.

Kitty followed.  She knocked timidly.

"Come in," Stockwell mumbled.

Kitty heard scurrying inside the office.  When she opened the door, she found Stockwell with a fritter in one hand, and a King Size Snickers in the other.

"Back to this again, are we?" Kitty asked softly.

"Shut up, Yoda," Stockwell said through a mouthful of chocolate.

"What happened at home last night?" Kitty asked cautiously.

"A miracle of biblical proportions," Stockwell replied.

"How so?"

"My wife had a migraine.  She took four Advil PM, and slept for twelve hours."

Kitty smiled gently.  "You're a lucky man."

"You have absolutely no idea," Stockwell said.  "How's everything with you?"

"My mother is inquiring about the status of her Tinkerbell sweatpants."



"She's a corker," Stockwell commented.

"I took those things from a pile of clothes the height of the Eiffel Tower.  How could she know they were gone?" Kitty asked rhetorically.

"I'm sorry you have to cope with that."


"Is it very bad?" Stockwell asked after a long pause.

"What?  My credit card balance?" Kitty asked.

"Being you?" Stockwell asked.

"Wow.  Thanks.  You really know how to cheer a girl up," Kitty said. 

"I just meant taking care of two old ladies."

"Ever see movies about people in prisons in Mexico, Turkey, places like that?" Kitty asked.


"I'd trade with them."


"All available associates to the meeting room please."  The paging system was malfunctioning again, and Stockwell almost flew out of his chair.  The volume was deafening.

"Think the HD crew from six miles away heard that?" Kitty asked.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Stockwell said.  He ripped the fritter and offered Kitty half.

"Thanks," Kitty said.

Kitty and Stockwell emerged from the office looking like chipmunks, faces stuffed with fritter.  They chewed frantically, swallowed, and made it to the meeting room in time to find it filled with Tool Towners.  Normally it was like pulling teeth to get Tool Towners to meetings. 

"Everyone please sit down," Slick Mitchell said.  He looked like he'd been on a two-day bender, and his clothes were wrinkled.  Something was seriously wrong.

"Is he dead?" a voice yelled from the back of the room.

"That's rude," Slick Mitchell said.  "Mr. Daniels has survived his fall.  He is recovering at present, and updates on his condition will be provided to all interested associates."

No one looked interested.

"We have a lot of business, so if there's nothing else," Mitchell said.

"I have something, sir," Wilton Scott said, standing and addressing the crowd.  Mitchell rolled his eyes, but said nothing.  Wilton proceeded.  "I think this is a miracle, something we should be grateful for.  The human body is amazing.  Why, people have fallen out of airplanes and their chutes haven't opened and they've still survived.  Miracles happen every day.  Look at that fella who landed the plane on the Atlantic after it was hit by aliens."

"It was the Hudson, and the plane was hit by geese," Mags Davidson said.

"Right.  I was merely trying to make a point," Wilton said, sounding hurt.

"Sit down, Wilton.  Might I mention that trivia night might be a pleasant outlet for you," Slick Mitchell suggested.

"Thank you, sir," Wilton said politely.

"Okay, let's get the light stuff out of the way, then get into the heavy stuff.  I trust you all have ample coverage in your department," Mitchell said.

"Barbie is watching the front," Mags said.

"Is there anyone else on the floor?" Mitchell asked.

No one spoke. 

"Terrific," Mitchell said.  "All right, people.  I need to address a situation in the Garden Center.  Whomever is leaving all the Blair Witch shit out there needs to stop it.  The night crew is starting to get freaked out, and one guy wants to have a priest do a blessing.  I don't need anything else to deal with.  If I see you hanging something out there, it better be a bucket of petunias.  Anything else, and your butt is fired.  Everyone got it?"

"I think I sold one of those the other day," Bernice said.  "It was shaped like a star."

"Good going," someone said.

"That's terrific, Bernice.  Nobody else sell any of those.  Got it?" Mitchell said.

Murmurs of understanding went up from the group.

"Second order of business.  I got another complaint about one of our delivery trucks.  The neon green is a little hard to miss.  It seems we're replacing some kids Motocross style bicycle, because one of you idiots ran over it," Mitchell said, sounding tense.

"The kid wasn't on it, was he?" Mags asked.

"Thankfully no!" Mitchell barked.

"No harm, no foul," Bernice said.

"THAT IS NOT THE POINT!" Mitchell raged, and everyone jumped.  "We have to remember that our customers have a choice, and they choose us.  Running over their kid's bikes is not the way we want to thank them."

"Maybe we should start carrying bikes.  Perhaps we're missing an opportunity," Wilton Scott piped in.

"People, please!  You cannot be as idiotic as you all sound.  There has to be someone in this room with an ounce of sense."  Mitchell stood still.  No one moved.  "No one?  No one with an ounce of sense?  No one smart enough to kidnap my sister??"

The room fell quiet.

"I beg your pardon, sir?" Wilton Scott said.

"I've been watching soaps with my mother.  She enjoys the company.  I wanted to get your attention," Slick Mitchell lied.

He looked rattled, and no one was convinced.

"You all right, sir?" Reeve Stockwell asked.

"I'll deal with you later," Mitchell said.

Stockwell fell silent, and wished he'd brought the Snickers bar.

"All right.  On to the hard stuff.  Something is going on in my store.  Something I believe is illegal in nature.  Someone in this room might be guilty, although I suspect most of you are innocent, but you might know something you don't realize you know.  Has anyone heard of Mickey Burger?" Mitchell asked.

Alejandro nearly flew from his seat, and Mitchell felt a glimmer of hope.  Alejandro raised his hand with all the enthusiasm of a third grader who suddenly remembered who invented the cotton gin.

"Yes, Alejandro?" Mitchell said.

"I know Mickey Burger.  It's this place out in the Midwest, in Iowa I think.  Has these huge burgers with this secret jalapeno sauce that'll give you the squirts, but man that stuff is good.  My dad and I were hoping they'd make it a franchise.  Did you buy a Mickey Burger, sir?"

"No," Mitchell said, sounding defeated.  "Mickey Burger is a person, a person with something to do with what's happening here.  Anyone else know this person?"

No one spoke.

"I am going to make all of you an offer.  I want you all to become my eyes and ears.  It may even be one of our customers who is involved in this, or it may be someone in this room, one of the people who have today off, or one of the four people I suspect are managing our store at present.  I will pay one year's salary to anyone who helps me solve this mystery," Slick Mitchell said, and an audible gasp went up from the crowd.

"Whose salary, sir?" Wilton Scott asked.

"Pardon?" Mitchell said.

"Whose salary?  Mine or yours?" Wilton inquired.

"Yours, Wilton,"  Mitchell said.

"What if I make more?" Bernice asked.

"What?" Mitchell said, sounding pissed.

"What if I make more than Wilton?  Do I get mine or his?"

Mitchell stared at Bernice, and the young girl shivered.  "I WILL PAY ANY ASSOCIATE WHO HELPS ME SOLVE THIS MYSTERY THE EQUIVALENT OF HIS OR HER ANNUAL SALARY."  Mitchell yelled.

The room was eerily silent.

Everyone was deep in thought.

Wilton Scott's eyes glazed over.  He wanted to take a trip into space.  A year's salary would be a good start to saving for such an adventure.

Miles Longworth was grateful that for once, he'd attended a meeting.  He needed the money.  He had to solve the mystery.  Maybe if he brought home a year's salary, his wife would forgive him for ruining everything, as she'd told him at dawn, that he had.

Kitty Richardson smiled.  A year's salary would be enough to buy a small cabin in the mountains, and a bunch of goats, and a home health care aide to deal with the wackos back at home.

Aleandro fidgeted.  Everyone knew what he was thinking.  He'd buy a Mickey Burger, and a year's worth of Pepto. 

Reeve Stockwell felt confident.  Regardless of his arrest record and his choice of boxers, he was a bona fide FBI agent. 

He'd get that money!