Miles Longworth had a pain in the butt - a real one - the kind that comes from sitting in the lobby of the police station for hours.
He was starving.
He hadn't eaten in hours.
Even the phone book was starting to look appetizing.
His stomach growled.
He checked his watch.
He still held the notepad on which he was supposed to have noted the money trail. The page was empty. Miles had no idea what to write. He wasn't a writer, he was a retail manager, and lately not a very good one, although it was hard to tell a good one from one not so good. It was retail, after all.
He opened his cell phone and dialed Officer Lowell. His call went to voice mail. On the list of Lowell's priorities, Miles had to figure he ranked pretty low. Lowell's voice mail invited him to leave a message.
He burped into the phone and promptly hung up.
Sometimes it was miserable to be a human, and sometimes it wasn't so bad. The burp-on-demand feature made the other nonsense almost tolerable.
Miles looked to his left, then to his right. He saw no one.
Two minutes later he walked out.
Reeve Stockwell made what he hoped wouldn't be a life-changing decision.
He left Kitty Richardson in charge.
He had to.
Longworth had called to say he needed a burrito or he was going to die, and he'd be back to the store by 7:15, but Stockwell couldn't wait.
He needed to get to Bitsy's by 7:00 to meet Gerald Gutzenheimer, his conspiracy theorist of choice. Kitty looked shocked.
"I'm in charge?" she'd asked, her eyes as huge as saucers.
"Yes," Reeve Stockwell said, as the hair stood up on the back of his neck.
"I'm supposed to leave at 7:00," Kitty said.
"Miles will be here by a quarter past," Stockwell replied.
"That's fifteen minutes late," Kitty whined. "I'm on dinner duty tonight."
"Meaning?" Stockwell asked.
"I have to feed two crazy old ladies by midnight or bad things will happen," Kitty whispered.
"Did you ever see the movie Gremlins?" Kitty asked.
"Sure," Stockwell said.
"Like that," Kitty mumbled.
"I'm afraid they'll come to the store," Kitty said.
"Seriously?" Stockwell retorted. "This is not good."
"If your grandmother comes here, shut off the lights and lock the doors."
"Really?" Kitty asked.
"I cannot have that woman in here tearing the place apart while I'm not here."
"What about the other customers?"
"Make an announcement," Stockwell suggested.
"Just say those crazy things from the movie Gremlins are outside the door. Customers will understand."
"Of course. Of course they'll understand," Kitty said, arching a brow. "Have you been drinking?"
"Not yet. Do you have your list?"
"I do," Kitty said.
"And you're clear?"
"Crystal," Kitty said. "If anything happens involving a customer, call you. If anything happens regarding the police, call Slick Mitchell. If anything arrives to check in, pretend you don't see the truck. If anything happens involving horses, call Miles. If my grandmother shows up, lock the doors, shut off the lights, and announce that horses are outside the door."
"No. Gremlins," Stockwell said.
"Horses are Miles' department," Stockwell reminded.
"This list is asinine," Kitty said.
"I know," Stockwell said. "Just bear with me. Nothing will happen. Miles will be here shortly."
Stockwell stood up from his desk, and left his office. He made a sign of the cross and exited the store. His beater miraculously started on the fifth try, and he made it to Bitsy's by 7:02.
Gutz was already there.
"You're late," Gutz said. He was holding a Pabst Blue Ribbon. He looked pissed.
"Two minutes," Stockwell said, sitting down, and sticking to the booth. He preferred not to know what he was sitting in. He'd just deal with his pants later. Maybe he could score another pair of waders.
"Time's a conspiracy. Probably those Timex folks came up with it," Gutz said.
"Seriously?" Stockwell asked. He motioned to a waitress who wasn't Toothless Louise, but was likely on the same dental plan. He figured the biscuits must be free, and the staff must dine on them religiously. They were like a rock, and Stockwell had nearly lost a crown to one, a few years back.
Stockwell placed his order.
Gutz was still looking at his watch.
"Rolex," he mumbled.
"Maybe it was Rolex. Those things cost a fortune."
"Come on, Gutz. You really think that Rolex came up with the theory of time to sell a lot of expensive watches?"
"Could be," Gutz said.
"I don't think so," Stockwell said. His beer arrived and he poured it into a glass.
"What's wrong with the can?" Gutz asked.
"Again?" Stockwell said, as beer dribbled down his chin.
"The rat crap thing is just a ploy to sell glasses," Gutz said.
"I don't think so," Stockwell repeated. "Didn't you own glasses before all those emails started circulating.
"Sure. My wife and I got a couple of fine sets back when we got married."
"Then it's debunked," Stockwell said.
"I'm not sure I like where this is going," Gutz said, taking another long pull on his Pabst can.
"Can we start again?" Stockwell asked.
"Hey, Gutz. Nice to see you. Thanks for joining me," Stockwell said.
"I'm sorry. I'll make it worth your while."
"Oh?" Gutz said, sounding interested.
"How would you like that money? How would you like a years' salary just sitting in your bank account?"
"I'd like that a lot. I'd like to do some research on chem trails, and planes are expensive," Gutz said.
"I have no idea what you're talking about and I'm okay with that."
"Chem trails are chemicals introduced into the atmosphere......"
The food arrived, and Gutz shoved a French fry into his mouth. Stockwell started wishing it was a bottomless order. It might be the only way he'd get a word in edgewise.
"I want to partner with you," Stockwell said, when he was certain Gutz's mouth was full of potato.
Gutz arched a brow and chewed furiously.
"I need your absolute discretion. And I need an answer before I tell you why I want to partner with you," Stockwell said.
"That sounds like a load of crap," Gutz said.
"But I'm okay with it," Gutz said.
"You are?" Stockwell said.
"You fascinate me," Gutz mumbled through a bite of a burger.
Gutz swallowed. "You are an absolute knucklehead on the fast track to success. I smell a conspiracy in there somewhere."
"I don't know what to say."
"Tell me why you want me to partner with you, and I am especially interested in why you need my discretion."
"I am a Confidential Informant with the FBI," Stockwell said softly.
Gutz laughed like a maniac. Stockwell wasn't sure he had ever heard the man laugh.
"It's true. I need to take someone into my confidence. I'd like that person to be you," Stockwell said.
"You got an in with the FBI?" Gutz asked.
"I do. You remember JJ?"
"The woman who was murdered and stuffed in that refrigerator?" Gutz asked.
"There was nothing in that fridge, Gutz. You were there," Stockwell reminded him.
"There was nothing in it when you got there. Thing probably had a false back," Gutz surmised.
"The thing was sixty years old. It barely had a front," Stockwell quipped.
"So JJ is an FBI agent," Stockwell said.
"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard," Gutz said.
"She was deep under cover," Stockwell said defensively.
"What was her previous assignment? Did it have something to do with the undead?"
"That's rude, Gutz."
"Is not. You met her."
"All right. So, you in?"
"I'm in," Gutz said, stuffing a fry into his mouth. "On one condition."
"You get me into Area 51 when this is all resolved."
"I'll see what I can do. I'll mention it to JJ."
"Best not. She might be one of those aliens," Gutz said, draining the last of his Pabst.