Kitty Goes to War Page 1

Chapter 1

I SAT AT my desk, my monitor and microphone in front of me, maps and notebook paper spread over the whole surface. I was writing down addresses and marking points on the map as people called in.

“So you’re saying it burned down and nobody could find out why?” I asked Pam from Lexington.

“That’s right,” she said. “My friend Stacy who’s kind of a witch said it’s because it was on a crossroads, and something demonic must have happened there, one of those deal-with-the-devil-type things, and the energy overflowed and incinerated it. Could she be right?”

“I don’t know, Pam,” I said. “That’s why I’m discussing the topic, to find out if these events are all coincidence or if something spooky really is going on here. Thanks for the data point. Okay, faithful listeners, that gives me about a dozen independently verifiable stories about supernatural happenings at Speedy Mart convenience stores all over the country. This is already more than I thought we’d get, so keep them coming.”

After the third person suggested that something weird was going on at Speedy Mart, I started paying attention. And wondering. And remembering a couple more stories I’d heard about intersections between the chain of stores and weirdness. Then I decided to devote an episode of my call-in radio show to the subject. It turned out that maybe something strange was going on here. That didn’t explain why the Speedy Mart chain would have anything supernatural associated with it.

“My next caller is Al from San Jose. Hello, Al.”

“Hi, Kitty. I’m such a big fan, thanks for taking my call.”

“Well, thank you, Al. What’s your story?”

“It’s more of a question: is it true that Speedy Mart hires vampires to work the night shift?”

“Funny you should ask,” I said. “I once got a call from a vampire who said he was working the night shift at a Speedy Mart. Now, I don’t think this means that it’s a matter of policy that Speedy Mart hires vampires. I think this guy just needed a job, and there’s only so many places open in the middle of the night. But you can definitely see the advantages of hiring the ageless undead to work behind the counter. I imagine they don’t get too freaked out about holdups.”

“But there’s probably not a whole lot of career advancement for vampires there,” he said.

“Does anyone working the night shift at Speedy Mart have a lot of opportunities for career advancement? Although with vampires it would literally be a dead-end job.” I chuckled. I really shouldn’t laugh at my own jokes so much. “Right, we have Chuck from Nevada. Hi, Chuck.”

“Hey, Kitty! How you doing?” He was brash, a real talker. This ought to be good.

“I’m doing just great,” I said, the standard line. “Where in Nevada are you?”

“Area 51.”

Deadpan, I said, “Really?”

“Okay, yeah, I’m from a little town about thirty miles up the freeway from Las Vegas. Near Area 51. And you want to talk about weird stuff going on with Speedy Mart, I’ve got a story for you.”

“Lay it on me.”

“UFOs.”

I leaned back in my chair. “Okay, now you’re just making crap up.”

“No, seriously, we get sightings all the time. We’re one of the stops on the Southwest UFO tour. The Speedy Mart parking lot is one of the best places to see them. UFO hunters park out there with their lawn chairs and binoculars looking for them. It’s, like, UFO central!”

“If you say so, but like I always say, there’s weird and then there’s weird. But I suppose a data point’s a data point. Thanks for calling.” I didn’t have to tell him I wasn’t actually going to mark that location on my map. We’d call it an outlier. A real far-out outlier.

I continued. “The real question here is: why Speedy Mart? Is it a coincidence? Does the supernatural really have some kind of strange affinity for this specific convenience store chain over any other? Or is it a conspiracy? Is there a guiding hand behind these stories? A dangerous hand? I’m not sure it’s possible to answer any of these questions, which is always the trouble with this sort of thing, isn’t it? It turns out the Speedy Mart chain is a privately owned company, which makes its records harder to get at. The owner and president of the company is Harold Franklin, who seems to have a typical upper-middle-class white guy upbringing, degree from HarvardBusinessSchool, vacation home in the Hamptons and all that jazz. Nothing to suggest he’d be behind any kind of far-reaching conspiracy. But who knows? For a company that’s managed to open branches all over the country, not many people seem to know anything about it. It all seems a little strange to me.”

I checked the monitor and picked what looked like was going to be a live one: the caller wouldn’t give his or her name and city, but claimed to have worked at a Speedy Mart for several years.

“All right, it looks like we have someone from the inside on the line, a former employee of Speedy Mart. Hello, you’re on the air.”

“Um, hi.” The voice was female, hushed, like she was trying to keep from being overheard.

“So you worked at Speedy Mart,” I prompted.

“Yeah. For a couple of years when I was in college.”

“You were a night-shift clerk?”

“I worked whenever I could get the hours. Sometimes at night.”

“And did you notice anything strange during your time there?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t think it was all that strange at the time. I mean, I thought it was strange, but not supernatural strange or anything. These people would come in around midnight, about once a month. They’d be wearing cloaks. I just thought they were from some science fiction convention or Renaissance fair, driving home late. Strange but harmless. But looking back on it, they weren’t really the Renaissance fair type, you know? These were all older guys, middle aged and clean cut, dressed normal except for the cloaks. They came in, walked all over the store, all the way to the back and every aisle, like they were looking for something. They never bought anything—total freak cheapskates. They were just some weird club. I never did anything about it because they didn’t hurt anything, they weren’t trying to rob me or anything, what was I going to do? I couldn’t kick them out just because they didn’t buy anything.”

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