I stood for a moment trying to think of a response. “No, I’m not going to tell her. If you hate your job, that’s your business,” I said.
“Listen, I’m sorry I sound so bitchy,” she said, “it’s been a very bad week and I just don’t feel like being here tonight, that’s all.”
“Believe me, I understand that,” I said, hoping I sounded like someone who gave a shit.
“I can’t lose this job, it’s all I’ve got,” she said. “Please, please don’t say anything.”
I really just wanted her to let go of my arm, so I shrugged a little to loosen her grip, “I won’t say a word,” I said. She seemed to calm down a little and finally, I was free to walk away from her. Geez, lady, take a pill or something.
I looked around for the guy with the cart. He had, once again, disappeared. Where the hell did these people go? The cart was still sitting in the middle of the room, but he was nowhere to be found. I ventured out into the hallway and headed in the direction of the kitchen. I was thinking maybe it was his break time. As I rounded the corner and looked inside, all I could see were three snack machines lining one wall beside the oven and a small table sitting in the middle of the room. On the table were two plates of cookies. One was full of gingerbread men; the other was full of sugar cookies in all kinds of Christmasy shapes. I thought about getting one, but then remembered that I wasn’t here to eat cookies. In the far corner of the room, I saw another table which held a three-foot tall Christmas tree that was decorated with all kinds of ornaments and ribbons. Nothing suspicious there, unless cute makes you nervous.
I walked back out of the kitchen and decided to look around for the Warehouse. Mrs. Clos hadn’t really told me where this was located. I thought that was strange since the problem actually wasn’t with the assembly line. She didn’t make much sense, but what the hell. It was a job. I walked back down the hall and past the assembly room. I tried not to be seen as I made my way past the door. All I needed was to be chased down by Ms. Paranoia. She worried me a little, but I didn’t think she was stealing anything. She’d crack under the pressure.
I continued walking and all the while I was thinking that this house did not look
this big from the outside. There was no way there could be all of this space between the rooms. I passed the door of the room where Mrs. Clos had shown me the Move ‘N Shaker demo. I took a moment to put my ear to the door just in case something might be happening in there. It was quiet, so I walked on. There was one more door at the end of the hallway. I reached for the knob and when I walked through, I found myself outside.
“What the hell!” I said. It was getting chilly and I hadn’t brought my jacket. Ordinarily, the chill didn’t bother me, but tonight I was feeling particularly sensitive to everything. I needed to finish this job as soon as possible. These people and this place were creeping me out.
I turned to try the door again and it was locked. “Shit!” I said. This meant I had to go all the way back around the house to get back inside. As I started trekking across the yard, I noticed a man standing about five yards from me. He was smoking a cigarette and leaning against what appeared to be the garage. I wasn’t sure, but it looked like he was laughing at me. I gave him a nod and then decided I should probably go talk to him. The only problem with this was that I didn’t have my gun nearby. I’d left it in the Jeep. Maybe, I’d wait.
I headed for the front of the house, looking back occasionally to make sure he wasn’t following me. He was still standing there, smoking. By the time I reached the front of the house, I decided to go ahead and go to the Jeep to get my gun. I opened the driver’s side door and reached under my seat to retrieve it. Panic shot through me as I realized that the gun was missing. It got worse when I shut the door and turned to find the smoking man standing right next to me.
“Jesus!” I said, “Where the hell did you come from?”
“I’m sorry, did I startle you?” he asked, sneering at me. His voice was squeaky and he looked greasy.
“Yes, you startled me. How did you get up here so fast?” I asked. Startled was an understatement, I’d probably have had a heart attack if there hadn’t been so many frigging Christmas lights illuminating the yard.
“What do you mean?” he asked, “Weren’t you looking for me?”
I looked at him and saw that he was the guy with the cart from inside. Smartass. “Well, yeah, I was looking for you.”
“What did you need?” he asked.
“I’m doing some market research for Santac and I needed to ask you about the Move ‘N Shaker,” I said, hoping I sounded like I knew what I was talking about.
“Are you sure?” he asked, “Patty didn’t put you up to this?”
“Patty?” I asked, now I was really confused.
“Patty, my ex-wife,” he said, “She didn’t send you to check up on me?”
“I don’t know any Patty,” I said, “I’m working for Mrs. Clos.”
He eyed me cautiously and then stepped back. “So, you aren’t here to see if I’m still working?”
This guy was thick. “No, I’m not here to see if you’re still working. You’re not the only one I’m talking to,” I said.
“Okay, then. What did you need to ask me?” he said.
“For starters, I wanted to ask where the warehouse is located,” I said, “I’d like to take a look at it.”
“What do you need to do that for?” he asked.
This guy was starting to get on my nerves. “It’s part of the study,” I said.
He took my word for it and then indicated that the large building beside the house was the warehouse. That probably should have been obvious to me from the beginning. We walked over and he let me in the door without saying a word. I had half expected to see row after row of toys and other items stacked from floor to ceiling. What I saw instead was a colorful, snow-scaped showroom complete with a miniature train set that was running loops around stacks of merchandise that were situated in little piles throughout the building. It looked more like a department store Christmas display than a warehouse. “Wow!” I said.
“Pretty cool, huh?” he said.
“Really cool,” I said, still looking around. I felt like a kid in a candy store.
It was really something. Again, I heard the Christmas music playing in the background and as I looked around, I saw that the entire floor of the warehouse was covered with that fuzzy white stuff that looks like snow. The whole place looked like a big North Pole yard sale.
“I’m really proud of it,” he said, smiling wide to reveal a mouth full of yellow teeth.
“You did this?” I asked. I could hardly believe that someone so skeezy-looking could create something so beautiful.
He nodded and then pointed to the little picket fences that encircled each pile of toys. “I built those fences, myself.”
I was really impressed. That’s saying something because I’m never impressed. I realized that I needed to get back to the matter at hand. Standing here gaping at the winter wonderland wasn’t getting me the answers I needed. I hadn’t even made sure that this was the guy I was supposed to be talking to. I turned to him and said, “You’re Dirk Morris?”
“That’s right, I’m him,” he said. He had cheered up considerably since scaring the hell out of me at the Jeep.
“Okay, then,” I said, taking out my notebook to jot some things down. “What can you tell me about your experience working with the Move ‘N Shaker line?”
“My experience?” he asked. He scratched his head. “I’ve been working with this line for the last year. I guess that’s pretty much my experience.”
“No, I mean, have you enjoyed working with the product?” I asked him, realizing just how stupid that sounded out loud.
He looked at me like I was stupid, so I rephrased the question. “I mean, what’s your favorite part of working on the Move ‘N Shaker line?”
At this, he scratched his chin and said, “Well, I’d have to say that it’s this part.” He pointed to the warehouse. “I like bringing the stuff out here and making it look nice.”
I wrote it down just to look like I was doing something significant. The whole time I was thinking, “This is the tough guy with the cigarette? Mr. Merry Maker?”
“Well, that’s great,” I said, “I think that’s about all I’m going to need.” He told me how to get back out to the house and I thanked him for his participation. I didn’t think he had anything to do with any thievery. He could have used a makeover, but a lack of good personal hygiene didn’t make him a suspect in my eyes.
I looked at my watch. It was eleven thirty; time for shift change. I headed back inside the house to see if I could find Monte Bergman. As I stepped inside, everything was still. I had a feeling I was about to find my thief.
Come back later for Chapter Seven!
Until next time…
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