Reeve Stockwell made quick work of disengaging from JJ Patricks. JJ was still irked, but she hadn't killed him, and that was a good sign. He was headed back to Tommy's, and driving like a maniac, which was hard work in his old beater. The thing sputtered and spitted, and backfired.
"Excuse you?" Gutz said from the passenger seat.
"Pardon?" Stockwell replied, not taking his eyes from the road.
"It's customary to excuse yourself when you've broken wind," Gutz advised.
"I didn't. That was the car," Stockwell advised.
"Are we going to make it back?" Gutz asked.
"We are," Stockwell assured.
They did. Stockwell and Gutz arrived at Tommy's Tool Town ten minutes past closing. Stockwell knocked on the door and cringed when he saw Kitty approach.
She looked like she'd come through a hurricane.
"Hey," Kitty said.
"What's happening?" Stockwell asked.
"I rallied the troops, and we have about half the pipes cleaned up," Kitty said. "A bunch of people stayed past closing."
"Seriously?" Stockwell asked incredulously. It was difficult getting his staff to stay UNTIL closing. He couldn't imagine the bribery involved in getting them to stay late.
"What did you give them?" Stockwell asked.
Kitty looked away.
"Kitty?" Stockwell asked.
"Well, Bernice and Penelope had to stay because Bernice lost her keys. Wilton offered to stay if he could have Saturday off," Kitty said.
"He offered to stay an extra hour in exchange for eight hours off?" Stockwell asked.
"Yeah," Kitty mumbled.
"You need to work on your negotiating skills, Kitty," Stockwell complained.
"You weren't here. You weren't running the show. I did what I had to do. Mags came in, and Daisy came back. Alejandro stayed, and Aaron Faulker came back even though he was out somewhere when I called him.
"And I'm here!" Gutz quipped.
"How did you know about it?" Kitty asked.
Stockwell didn't miss a beat. "I called him."
Suddenly the paging system squealed, then went silent. The store was filled with provocative music, the kind one usually heard on Saturday night Cinemax.
"What the hell is that?" Stockwell asked.
"Dunno," Kitty mumbled.
"Kitty?" Stockwell asked.
"I don't know!"
"Where is everyone? I don't see a soul," Stockwell said, as the music blared on. "Kitty, what the hell is going on in here?"
"They're in plumbing. Everyone is concentrating on plumbing. If we can get that cleaned up, we can move more pipes from other areas of the store," Kitty explained defensively.
"Good. Now you're thinking. Let's go check on them, and find out where this ridiculous music is coming from," Stockwell said. "I feel like I'm in a Gentleman's club."
"There were some fine establishments during the war," Gutz said, and Stockwell just stared at him.
"Look it. I've got my hands full. Could you not start that war shit again, just for tonight?" Stockwell rather begged.
"I suppose I could give it a rest," Gutz said, as the trio walked.
"What war?" Kitty asked, and Stockwell shot her a look that not only got her to shut her mouth, but made her want to tape it shut.
"That's a story for another time," Gutz said.
"Thank you, Jesus," Stockwell whispered.
No one said a word for twenty steps or so, but as Stockwell rounded aisle twelve, he gasped.
"What the hell?" he whispered.
Granted, some of the pipes had been restored to their rightful place, but one slim, twelve footer had been fashioned into something not normally seen in tool stores. Alejandro and Bernice were entertaining the others with their pole dancing prowess.
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?" Stockwell roared.
"Shit," Kitty whispered.
"Is this it? Is this what you offered them?" Stockwell said.
"No, Kit? You didn't set up some strip club in my plumbing department?"
"We are not strippers, we are exotic dancers!!" Alejandro quipped, gyrating to where Stockwell and Gutz still stood.
"Shut up!" Stockwell demanded.
"May I interest you in a lap dance, sir?" Alejandro asked, in a demurely sounding female voice.
"Get away from me, you freak!" Stockwell roared.
"Stop the name calling!" Daisy Cates yelled, and everyone shut up. Bernice fell from her pole position, and someone cut the music. "That isn't necessary. These kids have been through hell tonight, and if they want to have some fun, I say we let them. They're willing to stay until midnight to help get this cleaned up, and that says a lot, considering it isn't anyone's fault this happened.
Bernice and Penelope shot each other a knowing and relieved glance, which thankfully, nobody noticed.
Wilton Scott stepped forward. "Did you know, sir, that pole dancing is considered to be wonderful exercise? In fact, I once read something about church ladies who were dancing for Jesus."
"That's wonderful, Wilton. Thank you for sharing that. Does anyone else have anything?" Stockwell asked. He seemed calmer, but he was that controlled angry, the kind normally seen right before one went completely insane.
"Did I miss the lap dances?" Aaron Faulkner slurred.
"Dear Lord, have you been drinking?" Stockwell asked.
"What I do on my free time is my business," Faulkner said defensively.
The paging system squeaked and squealed again, as if someone was playing with it.
"Who is doing that?" Stockwell demanded.
No one moved, and no one took responsibility, and everyone in the store was accounted for.
"Alejandro, is there anyone else in this store, anyone that you know of?" Stockwell demanded.
"No, sir. There's only thirteen of us, fifteen with you and Gutz, and the gang's all here," Alejandro explained.
"Daisy? Can you walk the perimeter? Let me know if you see anyone who shouldn't be in here," Stockwell asked.
"I will," Daisy said, lumbering away.
"Alejandro, Wilton, I am going to give you five minutes to get this damn pole down and back where it belongs. Anyone who can drive a forklift, get back to Receiving and let's get the machines moving. If we can get this cleared up by midnight, I'll let you all leave alive," Stockwell said, still sounding a bit like a madman.
"Anything I can do, sir?" Faulkner asked.
"Yeah. Get yourself back to the break room and get yourself some coffee, and for God's sake, get a sponsor and get your act cleaned up," Stockwell said, and although he sounded pissed, he placed his hand on Faulker's arm. "Honest to God, Faulkner, you're a great guy, with a good sense of humor, but you smell like a brewery, and you're going to rot your innards with that shit."
"Thanks, boss. Means a lot coming from someone like you," Faulkner slurred, although not nearly as bad as before.
The paging system crackled again, and everyone turned their gazes toward the ceiling.
Daisy returned a moment later.
"Anything?" Stockwell asked.
"No, sir. It's just us," Daisy assured.
"Then who in the hell is messing with the paging system?" Stockwell wondered aloud.
The crackling stopped for a moment and the store fell silent, but the silence lasted only momentarily.
"I LOVE ROCKIN' BOATS."
Daisy Cates went pale.
"Shit," she whispered.