tagNon-EroticThe Store Ch. 02

The Store Ch. 02

byStarscream_UK©

The Store: Baggage

Saturday, 2:30 pm


Tim found himself in the office area, scanning through the delivery schedules for the following week. At the same time, Moz was downstairs dealing with the customers they had in the store. They were mostly "regulars" - patrons who frequented the store most weeks.

As he scanned through the schedule Tim almost missed it the first time around. He went back and checked it again. There, nestled amongst the lists of comics that had been issued to the Oblivion Comic Store there was an item that looked completely out of place.

Tim lifted the piece of paper closer to his eyes - in between issues of Spider-Man, Astonishing X-Men, Invincible and Batman there sat an order for a copy of InStyle magazine - complete with it's Comag reference code. Tim looked at it over and over again, until he was certain he was sure what the item referred to.

****

Moz stood at the till and scanned the comic books through. He then picked up the box of Star Wars miniatures and waved them in front of the blinking red laser on the till. Moz placed them in the same carrier bag as the comics and rang up the total.

"Fifteen fifty please Mike." Moz said. Mike - a slightly overweight and balding man in his mid-thirties - handed him a credit card. Moz placed it inside the reader and then pressed the key on the till marked credit/debit card. After a few seconds the till made a ping noise. "Just enter your PIN number please mate...thanks." he took the card out of the reader and handed it back to Mike.

"Thanks Moz - see you next week." Mike said as he headed out of the door. Tim came down the stairs carrying the order schedule.

"Did you order a copy of InStyle magazine this month?" he asked. Moz suddenly looked sheepish.

"Err, yeah," he said, looking around to check that there was no one within earshot. "Max wanted one."

"Oh, that's okay - I thought that Comag were trying to rip us off." Tim said. There were a sudden series of squeals of protest from the back of the store. Tim shook his head and walked over to where the sound originated. As he approached the group of lads hunched over a four feet square table he saw what was causing the consternation.

"For the last time Vernon, you can't use a level twenty Plague bearer demon in this game – it's unfair to the other players." Tim said as he desperately tried to control the four teenagers standing around the gaming table at the rear of the store. He reached over and swiped the large lead miniature from the table. He looked at it for a moment – it resembled an obese, decaying fat man being carried on a throne by smaller, rat-like creatures. Vernon – a small youth of about fourteen years old with round glasses and dark hair – frowned at him as Tim placed the model at the side of the table, away from the playing area. "You can have it back when you're done."

"Oh, come on – Dean's got three level ten Dark Elf champions as well as two units of archers and infantrymen. How am I supposed to counter that?" he said in disgust. Tim shrugged his shoulders.

"You outnumber him seven to one with your Skaven rat-horde; just overwhelm the buggers with weight of numbers." Tim replied. "Have you never seen the film Zulu?"

"Yes," Vernon muttered. "And the Zulu's lost."

"Well, best of luck with that tactic." Tim said as he moved away from the table. He wandered through the various groups of kids milling around the shop. The half-term holidays and weekends always brought them in; it was like the place was an unofficial crèche.

That thought floated around his mind for a minute as he began to contemplate charging the parents who just abandoned their kids there for the day. Then he recalled the fact that those same kids had a tendency to persuade their parents to get their credit cards out at the end of the day, so Tim felt that it would be awhile before there would be a membership fee attached to the store.

The door opened and a now-familiar figure entered. She had wavy brown hair and was bundled up in a woolly bobble hat, scarf, gloves and a coat that looked three sizes too big for her. She looked around the shop, nodded to Moz and made her way over to Tim.

"Hey there, you okay?" Tim asked as Kelly approached him. There was a sudden chorus of "Hi Kelly!" from the five lads at the gaming table, which prompted her to smile slightly. Tim turned around to look at them, and they immediately resumed what they were doing. Despite the fact she had only been working at the shop for five days she'd already made an impression on them.

"I need a favour." She asked as she walked across to him.

"Okay..." Tim replied. He paused for a moment. "Shoot." Kelly looked at him and tilted her head as she took in his words.

"My car is still being fixed after my little, er, accident," she said. "I need to borrow your van to get some of stuff from my old apartment."

"When do you want to go and get it?" Tim replied. Kelly shrugged her shoulders.

"Tomorrow?" Tim nodded.

"No problem – I'll drive you." He said as he turned around to hear more noises from the table behind him. "Where are we going then?"

"Norton Canes – north Staffordshire." Kelly said. "Look, I can go on my own..."

"Nope, no one drives the van except me." Tim said. He picked up a heavy bound book from the bookcase and handed it to her. Kelly looked at the cover – the words The Walking Dead screamed out at her in thick, red letters. "Now, next phase in your education – the works of Robert Kirkman." He turned back towards the table as he heard outcry from the participants. "Vernon, are you using loaded dice again?"

****

The shop was quiet as Tim said good night to Moz before locking the door behind him. Kelly plodded down the stairs from the office with three large volumes in her hands.

"I can't believe you want me to read all these by next weekend." She said. "I haven't done this much homework since...well, ever!"

"Hey – remember what I said to you – you need to get up to speed with things in here so you don't look out of place. They'll only buy the fact that you're new for so long." Tim replied as he looked at his watch. "Look, do you want to get something to eat?" Kelly stopped in her tracks.

"Yeah – I'd like that. Can I just drop these off upstairs and freshen up?" She asked as she indicated towards the comic books.

"No problem – I need to get my wallet and get changed so I'll see you down here in twenty minutes?"

****

The food was Italian, and the restaurant a secluded one located in a quiet back street. Kelly was impressed with Tim's familiarity with both the venue and the owner. The two men talked like old friends before they ate and the meal was impeccable. The wine that had been served with the meal was also perfect, something that Kelly found herself almost uncomfortable with.

"So, whereabouts in Norton are we heading tomorrow?" Tim asked.

"Er, it's just off the High Street – it's a flat in a new build." Kelly replied. "Do you know the area or something?" Tim nodded.

"Yeah – born in Burntwood just down the road," he replied as he took another sip of his wine. "So Norton Canes is pretty familiar to me. It'll probably take about an hour to get there." Kelly nodded. Tim studied her features for a moment. "Okay, spit it out."

"What?"

"Whatever that question is that you have burning behind those eyes of yours." Tim had a big smile on his face as he challenged her.

"What is it with you?" Kelly rose to the question. "You know, when I was scouting you out there's a twelve year black hole in your life. You graduate from university, join the Ministry of Defence and you just disappear until a year ago when you surface in a comic book shop."

"I'm sure you're aware of the concept of National Security." Tim replied with a smile. "After all, you don't want details of our research projects to be out there for everyone to read..."

"Bullshit," Kelly interrupted him. "If you dig around enough you can find out things about people, regardless of their level of security clearance within the government."

"Really?" The smile was starting to break into a toothy grin on Tim's face.

"Yes, really." Kelly said, struggling to contain a smile on her own face as she ran her finger around the rim of her wine glass. "So just whom did you work for?" Tim took a deep breath.

"To begin with, I had a couple of years attached to the United Nations as part of the Nuclear Technology Inspection Program and spent some time in Pakistan and Iraq. So the other night wasn't the first night that I'd had a gun pointed in my face." Tim said. Kelly nodded as she noted this, resolving to ask him more about it later. "Then I worked as part of the UN First Contact program as it was known as."

"First Contact?" Kelly asked. "With what?"

"Extra-terrestrial intelligence." Tim replied. Kelly looked at him. For a second she was going to challenge what he'd said to her, then images of the other night flooded back into her mind.

"Is that how you found out about your sample thing?"

"No, that came after." Tim said. "To be honest it was just a think tank, responsible for drawing up plans and suggestions on what should be done should we ever come into contact with something from another world. It was all pretty boring stuff really," he took a sip from his glass. "Then I came back home and joined the team working on the Genesis rock."

"The Genesis rock?" Kelly sounded surprised. "That's such a...lame name."

"I know," Tim replied. "Blame the Yanks – they came up with it," He paused for a moment. "It was a sample that they bought back from the Apollo 15 mission – they carbon dated the rock to be about four billion years old. When we were analysing it we found what we came to call sample two six one."

"The Play Dough from Mars." Kelly said. "And you took that with you when you left."

"Not exactly – I left Portland Down as part of a larger cost cutting move across the department when they shut down the lab. All the samples were put into remote storage. I'd set up the corporation to buy the Westbridge building a few years beforehand and the money I was offered to leave sealed the deal." Tim explained. "A couple of months after I'd opened the shop I walked in to find the sample in the middle of the floor."

"No one asked you about it? No one came looking for it?" The obvious question rolled off Kelly's lips. Tim shook his head.

"Nope, my guess is that the authorities don't even know it's gone." Tim mused. "However I suspect that one of the other people who worked with me now works for Biotech – hence their desire to get hold of it."

"What do you mean?" Tim leaned a little closer to her over the table.

"There were only four of us who worked on sample two six one," he finished his wine. "Sally Howarth, Ed Weatherall, David Mitchell and myself."

"So where are the others?"

"Not sure – Sally still keeps in touch every now and then – she got some post at a University down south somewhere." He leaned back in his chair. "But the other two could be anywhere for all I know."

"I could find out for you." Kelly said. Tim nodded.

"I bet you could," he said. "However I'm not too fussed at the minute. I've got a better understanding of it now – certainly more than I ever had while it was in the lab."

"But they will keep coming after you." Kelly emphasised her point through her tone. "I still think moving is the best idea."

"Is that what you do? Run?" Tim's question threw Kelly. She was visibly flustered.

"Me? No...I..."

"I'm sorry," Tim said, seeing Kelly's reaction. "I shouldn't have asked..."

"No, it's not that, it's just that..."

"You don't trust me? Right?" Kelly was surprised that he'd guessed correctly. She nodded.

"Yeah, something like that." Kelly said. "It's...it's not that I don't trust you – I don't trust anyone."

"Okay, I'm cool with that for now," Tim said as he drained the remainder of the wine between their glasses. "So what time do you want to head out tomorrow?"

"I was thinking early, after all, they might be watching the place." Kelly replied, trying to focus on tomorrows task. "There isn't much to get. Just a suitcase of clothes and a couple of boxes."

"That's fine." Tim said. He glanced at his watch. "Look, what do you say to getting out of here and hitting the cinema? There's a multiplex nearby that shows Indy movies on a Saturday night." Kelly thought about it for a moment.

"That sounds fun – let's go." She said. Tim swiped the bill away from her before she could grab it. "Hey..."

"Sorry, call me a chauvinist, but I'm paying."

Sunday, 6:45 am

Tim wiped the sleep from his eyes as he sat in the driver's seat of the black transit van before running his hand through his short brown hair. When she said early, she meant early he thought to himself. He tried to stifle a yawn as the passenger door opened. Kelly jumped in. As she got herself comfortable she opened up the glove compartment and placed her Beretta pistol inside.

"Is that necessary?" Tim asked. Kelly shrugged her shoulders.

"It's like a condom; I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it." Her response reminded him of her background.

"Okay – but if things look like they are about to get hairy I'm turning this thing around and high-tailing us out of there." Tim said as he fired the van up. He pulled it out of the underground car park and into the early morning light. As he switched on his sidelights another thought crossed his mind. "Interesting safe sex slogan by the way – you should copyright that."

"Thanks." Kelly said. "I think I heard it in a movie once."

"Mmm, maybe." Tim acknowledged. "So what do you need to get from your old place then?"

"Just a few things," Kelly mused. "Look, I haven't had chance to say thank you properly...last night was...really nice."

"No need to thank me – I haven't had the opportunity to do anything like that for months." Tim countered. "Besides, I thought we could both do with a nice, normal night out."

"So..." Kelly considered her next words carefully. "Where's the girlfriend?"

"What?" Tim laughed.

"The girlfriend? Where is she?"

"Haven't you noticed – I'm a nerd, I haven't got one." He said as the van turned onto the dual carriageway.

"So there's no Mrs Smith lurking in the background that I haven't met yet?" Kelly asked. Tim shook his head.

"Oh no, not these days," he said. "There used to be, but it was a long time ago." He glanced across at her and could see the words forming in her mind. "And it's a subject that's off limits right now, okay?"

"Oh, okay." Kelly found herself feeling slightly upset by his dismissal of the subject. "So, what are your plans for breakfast?"

"Not sure," Tim said. "You have anything in mind?"


"Well, I know this isn't particularly good for us, but I've got a serious craving for McDonalds."

"Fast food rubbish it is then," He replied. "And I know just the place."

Norton Canes, 8:32 am

Sterile – that's how he would describe it. As Tim walked around the first floor apartment the minimalist décor struck him as fitting in with Kelly's nomadic lifestyle. He was struck by the low level of gadgetry in the living space – a simple television set, nothing more than a basic stereo and a kitchen that looked like it was twenty years out of date when it was installed sometime around the mid-eighties.

"So, this is your place?" Tim asked as Kelly flitted from room to room.

"Well, it's more like a crash pad." She said in a matter of fact tone. "I tend to come back here when I'm not...employed because of its relative obscurity."

"Mmm...obscure is certainly one way to describe Norton Canes." Tim muttered. "Its just that I don't much of a sense of you in here, I don't know – it just doesn't seem..."

"Right?" Kelly finished his thought for him. "Yeah, well I figured that I'd only got a few more years in this line of work where I could still be productive. What money I have got saved away will be used for buying something more...me."

"Interesting..." Tim said as Kelly approached him with a small box in her hands. "What's in the box?" She smiled as she opened it and pulled out what appeared to be two small black hearing aids.

"These are short wave radio transmitters, especially designed for you to put into your ear so they are almost unnoticeable. They've got a small microphone built into them." She looked at them for a moment before handing one to Tim.

"What? For me?" he asked. Kelly nodded.

"You never know when you might need it." She replied.

"Like a condom?" Tim quipped. Kelly allowed herself to smile.

"Yeah, something like that."

"Right, what else do we need to load up?" Tim asked as he put the earpiece into his jacket pocket.

"Just a couple of suitcases and that's it – we've got all the heavy stuff in the van." Kelly said. "I've put them in the hallway."

"So we're not taking any furniture then?" Kelly shook her head in response.

"No – it all came with the flat." She said. "Look, I don't want to sound melodramatic, but do you mind if...would it be okay..." the words didn't seem to flow easily.

"Do you want a moment?" Tim said. Kelly nodded. "I'll get those cases packed up into the van and when you're ready I'll be waiting for you." Tim said as he picked up the suitcases and made his way out of the apartment

9:41 am

The guttural sound of the van echoed along the narrow country lanes. Tim navigated his way around them like it was second nature to him. Kelly sat looking out of the window, lost in her thoughts.

"Penny for them?"

"What?" His question dragged her back to the moment. "Oh, I was just thinking about that thing of yours in your cellar – you know, the alien suit thingy."

"What about it?"

"How did you know that it would...combine with you the way it did?" Kelly asked. Tim shrugged his shoulders.

"I didn't – it was a guess." He let the words sink in for a minute. "It's got seventeen of the same base pairs of DNA as we do, so I figured it could combine, as you call it, with me relatively safely, but the amino acid and protein strings at a cellular level are radically different to anything I've ever seen before. I had no idea what it would do after that." He paused for another moment. "Actually, it could have eaten me from the inside out for all I knew, but you never learn anything playing safe."

"You know what," Kelly said. "I understood about half of that. You'll have to explain it to me in plain English."

"Right, well in humans about eighty percent of our DNA is non-functional; it's what they used to call junk DNA," Tim said. "However the suit utilises that junk DNA to achieve its symbiosis with a human host..." he twisted the steering wheel of the van to enable it to turn a corner. Tim's mind registered the sight in front of him a fraction of a second before his foot slammed onto the brake pedal.

"Shit!" Kelly screamed as the van skidded to a halt. Neither of them spoke for a second as they took in the sight before them. In front of them, blocking the narrow country road was a single decker bus that had tipped up onto its side. It seemed to be wedged almost uncomfortably under the narrow railway bridge that crossed over the thin strip of asphalt.

"Are you okay?" He asked. Kelly nodded. Once he was certain that she was fine he unclipped his seat belt and opened the van door.

"Where the hell are you going?" Kelly asked, momentarily unclipping her seat belt to get out.

"I'm going to see if I can help." He said as he jogged across to the stricken vehicle. Kelly watched him for a moment then shook her head. As she opened the door on her side of the vehicle she popped open the glove compartment. Once she had removed the Berretta she stowed it down the rear of her jeans.

****

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