In which the search for Police brand continues.
CHAPTER 52: MILK BARN
TIME AND LOCATION: 19:38, Milk Barn
WEATHER REPORT: Cloudy, chance of showers
FORTUNE: "An offer you can't refuse, re-use or recycle."
"Keith, hon, I thought I told you to take out this garbage!"
"And the storage room is still a mess! Dear, did you hear what I just told you?"
Lily folds her arms and tries to look stern. "Hon, you know this is the fourth or fifth time I've asked you. If you're having trouble hearing me, maybe you should turn down this music."
Her husband bobs his head up and down, snapping his fingers, and gives her that familiar look, like a puppy dog who doesn't understand why its owner won't allow it to sleep on the bed. His booted feet are up on the counter next to the cash register, something she usually doesn't tolerate, but there hasn't been a customer in the Milk Barn for the last three hours. She'll let it slide, just this once.
"Why would I do something like that?" he asks, never once stopping the frantic rhythm of head and hands. "This music rocks!"
"I know, dear, but you can rock out any day of the week. Surely you can spare just five minutes on chores?" She clasps her hands and gives him that sweet, sweet gaze she knows he can't resist. "Pretty please, Keith?"
"Oh, okay," he sighs, getting reluctantly to his feet. Suddenly his head whips up; he stares out the front window of the store, his bristly hair seeming to stick out even more than it usually does. He points like an excited little kid towards the empty parking lot, where someone is pulling in.
"Oh my god! That car is totally off-the-charts wicked! Lilly, are you seeing this? Check it out!"
"I'm looking, hon," Lilly says, giving up. It's going to be at least another hour now before he gets around to doing whatever it was she told him to do; he has the attention span of a hyperactive five year old. No, that's not quite true, she thinks; the twins definitely had more focus at that age than their father does now. She's contemplating just taking out the trash herself when the door opens and a man in a dark suit and incongruously bright pink tie steps in. He nods to Keith, whose jaw is hanging open.
"It's Mr. FBI himself!" Keith exclaims. "How you doin', bro? That's not your sick set of wheels out there, is it?"
"Hello, Keith, Lilly," Agent York says politely, not exactly brushing off Keith's excitement, just letting it dry on the line for one more moment. "Yes, that's my car all right. General Lysander just had it repaired. I think you'll agree that he did an amazing job."
"No kidding, man! Say, you think maybe he could fix guitars just as good?"
"Ah... I'm not sure, Keith. That's something you'll have to ask the General himself. Something tells me he's not really into rock and roll, though."
"You really think so, FBI?" Keith bounces his leather-clad shoulders up and down in time to the music pouring from the boom box on the counter. "Who wouldn't be into rock and roll? It's like the pulse of life itself, man! You agree with me, right?"
Lilly walks up, sensing the need for a rescue. "Hullo, hon! Welcome to our humble convenience store. This is the first time you've stopped by the Milk Barn, isn't it?"
"I'm afraid so," York says, smiling at her. "Things have been rather busy as of late, I'm afraid. It certainly wasn't for lack of desire that I didn't visit sooner."
"That's perfectly all right, hon. Don't forget, everything in the store is 50% off where you're concerned. Was there anything in particular you needed?"
York glances around, the left side of his face turning towards her. He'd be quite the looker, Lilly thinks with some naughtiness, if not for that horrible scar. It's none of her business, but she can't help but wonder where it came from. She hopes Keith won't be too forward about it; he tends to blurt things out without thinking first.
"As a matter of fact, yes. Do you carry Police brand cigarettes?"
He reaches into his suit and shows her an empty, crumpled carton that looks like he'd dropped it in a muddy field somewhere. He must have picked up on her puzzled expression, because he adds, "This was the last pack I had with me after I crashed my car driving into town. I was trying to be conservative, but I finished off the last of them just ten minutes ago. I suppose I could get the Bureau to send me more, but it'll be easier if I can get them here... And I've been checking every vending machine since I got here with no luck."
Keith ambles up, straightening the collar of his leather jacket, and inspects the carton as well. Lilly shakes her head.
"I'm sorry, Agent York, but we don't carry this brand any more. We stopped requesting new shipments years ago. Even back then, they weren't that popular... In fact, the only reason we still kept them in stock was because the old Sheriff used to smoke them all the time."
York's eyes snap to hers, seeming to flash with some hidden light.
"Yes, how did you know his name?"
"Divine coincidence; or, rather, synchronicity." York raises a finger, Keith looking from it to the ceiling as if there's something of interest there. "You see, Lilly, Keith; this is exactly why I need these cigarettes so badly. I always have the most amazing luck when that smoke fills my lungs... Then I exhale, and it's like the doors of the universe start to unlock for me. You ever had that feeling?"
"Woah, man, that's really deep," Keith says reverently, staring at Agent York as if there's a halo glowing around his head. "And I totally know what you're talking about. Like, back when Lilly and I were still dating, she was totally wild for that kind of-"
"Sweetie, I thought I told you to take out the garbage."
"But baby, I-"
"Keith," Lilly says, in that half-smiling, half-dangerous tone she reserves for these sorts of situations. "Unless you have something else you need to let Agent York know about..."
"Oh man! Yeah, I do, actually!" Keith smacks his forehead, then runs his hand through his hair, disturbing whatever order might have been put in place by Lilly's careful administrations earlier that day with a comb and brush. Agent York watches with an air of amused patience. Keith holds up the carton, shakes it like a maraca.
"These cigarettes. We had a ton of them left over even after we stopped selling them, so I'm pretty sure there's a box of 'em still in the storage room."
"Is that so?" York perks up. "That sounds promising. What do you think, Lilly?"
"I think Keith should probably have taken care of that room ages ago," Lilly says ruefully as Keith blushes beside her. "But if it means that you'll go home a happy customer, then I suppose it was all for the best..."
"Yeah! The boss lady says it's cool!" Keith pumps his fist in the air, then turns and whispers confidentially to York, "Sometimes I call her the boss lady. She doesn't think it rocks, but I totally do."
"You know, hon," Lilly says thoughtfully, putting a hand to her chin in mock seriousness, "that storage room has been in such a state for the last few years. It hasn't been organized in a while. Maybe while you two are in there, you could do some tidying up for me?"
She laughs as the two men shuffle uncomfortably on the spot. Even Agent York, for all his sophistication, is no better than her husband when it comes to the idea of doing menial tasks.
"Aw, c'mon, Lil!" Keith pleads. "It's Agent York's first visit here. We can't make him do chores'n stuff, it'll probably ruin his concentration on the case. Right, dude?"
"Well... Not really," York sighs, tapping one finger against his collar and frowning at the ceiling. "The case is proceeding as smoothly as can be expected. I'd be lying, however, if I said I didn't have any spare time at the moment."
He tilts his head down and looks at Lilly, who clasps her hands together under her chin and says, eyes bright, "Oh, hon, please don't think I'm trying to impose on you. It's just that, well, I've been trying to get Keith to clean that storage room for almost as long as we've had this store running. I'd do it myself, but there's so many heavy boxes that need to be moved, and-"
"All right, Lilly. You got me." Agent York holds up a hand, then makes a whisking motion to the side as if sweeping her concern out of existence. "Besides, it's the least I can offer in exchange for the discount and trying to help me track down those cigarettes. If we really do find them, I'll be in you and your husband's debt."
Keith groans, "Aw man, the boss lady strikes again," but Lilly only gets more radiant, beaming at Agent York with a look of pure gratitude.
"Hon, you are a superhero, make no mistake about it. If you need anything, just holler and I'll come running."
"I'm no hero," York smiles. "Just your friendly neighborhood profiler." He turns to Keith, who seems torn between the dullness of the duty thrust upon him and the prospect of spending time alone with a real live FBI agent. York claps his hands together and says, trying to muster up some semblance of enthusiasm:
"Well, Keith, shall we check out this storage room of yours? Call me optimistic, but I'm sure we'll have the place all in order in no time. After all, how bad could it be?"
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