Wellsey leant against one of the pillars that held up the lofty roof of the Handy Pavilion and sighed deeply. It really was just one of those days. Marlon, leaning on the other side of the pillar, sighed even more deeply. From his jeans pocket he took a hip flask, took a swallow, and handed the bottle to Wellsey. Wellsey shook his head. Marlon shrugged, and slipped the flask away.
"You and Joyce got Valentine's Day plans?" Marlon said.
Something came hurtling over the nearest shelving unit. Part of a toilet? Something porcelain anyway. Both men ducked as it hit a nearby shelf, smashing a pile of paint cans, sending blue acrylic dripping to the floor.
"Nothing fancy," Wellsey said There's a Valentine's special at our local restaurant. Free bottle of champagne. And we don't get out as much as we used to. How about you?"
"Of to the movies with Faisal from the Hoonworld Auto."
Zorbar Ofthechimps appeared on top of one of the great shelves, seemingly the result of having sprung there, barefoot, wearing nothing but the remains of a pair of chinos. A terrifying scream pierced the air as he leapt onto one of the enormous ceiling fans, grasping a blade with one hand. A shining knife was in the other hand, and he raised it to strike as he swung off the fan and into some melee below.
"Faisal?" Wellsey said. "Isn't that a bloke's name?"
"I didn't know you were gay."
"Pretty sure I'm not. Still, I don't reckon it hurts to check, every now and then."
Wellsey wasn't sure what to say to that, but there didn't seem to be any reply needed.
Ms Shan came out of her office, her blouse buttons done up all crooked. "Are we under attack?"
"Looks more like an own goal to me, somehow," Wellsey said.
"What's going on?"
"Well, near as I can tell, some sort of magical ritual went wrong. I think Fiona and Norman are tryin' to sort out the wizard behind it. And Zorbar was visiting, he and some weird guy with glowy hands are fighting these extra-dimensional mushroom people."
"So why is Donna banging on the door to the bathroom?"
"Probably in a rush to get in. Don't fancy her chances, but. Nalda and Fanaka went in just as everything started going to Hell, and I don't think they're coming out any time soon."
"So why are you two just standing here?"
Marlon fielded this one: "It's a hot day, and this spot's right under a fan."
Ms Shan looked up and blinked. "Isn't that the Phantasm trying to saw through the fan's shaft?"
"Yeah. But I reckon we've got a few minutes before she makes it through. Good to keep cool, you know?"
Mrs Lebeaux snuck out of Ms Shan's office, and crept away. Wellsey pretended not to notice. He was pretty sure that everyone knew about Ms Shan and Mrs Lebeaux. What's more, he was pretty sure that the management women knew that everyone knew. Still, they seemed to enjoy pretending it was all a secret, and Wellsey saw no need to stop their fun.
"And the customers?" Ms Shan said.
"Mostly evacuated," Wellsey said. "I think Adam organised it."
"He's a good bloke, that Adam," Marlon added.
"Salt of the Earth."
In the distance, a ray of yellow force radiated upwards, knocking a small hole in the ceiling. "Sorry," called a distant voice.
Ms Shan took a very deep sigh indeed. Marlon handed her the hip flask, and she took a huge swallow. "Very well. I guess I knew a day like this was coming." She sighed again. "This is why I get paid the adequate bucks. YOU! Phantasm!"
The black-clad Phantasm started at the shout, and began sawing more rapidly.
"Stop that now! I have no time for your nonsense. Whatever it is you want from the Handy Pavilion, we'll sort it out in my office, one hour's time."
"Fool! Dare you think that I…"
"Do you like being dressed head to toe in black velvet in the middle of summer? Because if you don't, maybe you should negotiate?"
The Phantasm paused. Wellsey saw the sinister figure tuck the hacksaw under one arm, freeing both hands to grab a hanky and wipe the face beneath the white mask.
"I guess," the Phantasm said. "No promises, but."
"One down," Ms Shan said. "You two: with me."
Wellsey felt like a tinny being dragged behind a river ferry as he followed along.
"She should have been taking charge like this months ago," he whispered to Marlon.
"I can hear you!"
"No, but I'm good at guessing. Hm. Let's leave the violence boys to take care of the fungus men… You! What's your name? Donna? What's that magazine?"
Donna went white, then red. "It's… I… I was weak."
"Give it here."
Wesley watched Donna's hand tremble as she handed the magazine to Ms Shan. Without opening it, or even looking at the cover, Ms Shan tore the cheap paper into a thousand pieces. "Better now?"
"Yes, thanks." Donna breathed a huge sigh of relief -- though Wellsey thought it might have been tinged with a little regret. Hey, he'd been there himself, once. Though not, of course, with regard to anything so filthy. He'd been into drugs, which are comparatively wholesome.
Donna followed along as well, as the little group made its way to the door, dodging debris as they went. Up close, the damage wasn't as bad as Wellsey had imagined. Zorgar and the other guy were doing a pretty good job of keeping the fight contained to Aisle 5.
At the doorway, whatever dispute this 'wizard' had with Norman and Fiona seemed to have spiraled out of control. The usually good-natured kids had grabbed hold of him and were pummeling him badly. Fortunately for all concerned, it was Norman who had grabbed the fellow and Fiona who was hitting him. It would have been worse if it had been the other way around.
"Enough!" Ms Shan cried. "What's going on?"
"Your staff were punching me!" the man said.
"Give them back! Give them back!" Fiona yelled. She seemed ready to begin waling on the fellow again, bur Wellsey shook his head at her. Fortunately, that was enough.
"This prick stole Gwen's ears!" Norman said.
"Gwen… Seven foot blonde man with a severe emphysema? Works in Safety Equipment?"
"No that's…" Norman began. "That's not Gwen. Or... anybody. Gwen used to work in timber until this asshole took her ears and then she went crazy and turned into the Phantasm."
Ms Shan looked at the so-called 'wizard.' "Well, Mr…"
"Pennington. I don't take kindly to customers abusing my staff. If you'd be so good as to return the ears, and we'll say no more about the matter."
Wellsey pursed his lips. He'd been in confrontations with authority figures enough times that he could see that Pennington had two choices: he could defend himself on the appropriateness of his actions or the inappropriateness of Norman and Fiona's actions. The latter would probably give him a stronger leg to stand on…
"I bought those ears, and fairly."
A smile came to Wellsey's lips. Wrong call! He could feel it.
Ms Shan raised an eyebrow. Pennington continued. "In exchange for those ears, I sold her a potion that was supposed to make this lunkhead fall in love with her." He gestured at Norman. In fairness, Wellsey thought, Norman was a bit of a lunkhead.
"Hah! I'm immune to all potions!" Norman said.
Pennington stopped struggling. "Really?"
"Yeah. And minor wands, but that don't come up as much."
"Seems to me that wasn't much of a deal, then," Ms Shan said. "Working ears for a useless potion. So where are these ears?"
Fiona slapped him. It didn't seem like a particularly ferocious slap to Wellsey, but it seemed to cow the already confused Pennington into submission. "Okay, okay. They're in my car. Part of my SUV's homemade sonar drive system. Built it myself. Won't work once I disconnect the ears, you bunch of arseholes."
"Norman, go with Mr Pennington, and make sure he hand over the ears. I'll give them back to the Phantasm, and that should be the end of that chapter."
Across the wide front aisle of the Barn, Wellsey saw Zorbar -- battered, bleeding, but grinning triumphantly from ear to ear. He was shaking hands with a bearded man wearing the ruins of an expensive suit. Ms Shan nodded at the sight, satisfied. She strode over to the inquiries/key cutting desk, and picked up the microphone used to make store announcements.
She pressed spoke into the mouthpiece, and her amplified words echoed throughout the cavernous interior of the Pavilion:
"And that is how hardware shop management is fucking done."
She raised microphone up over her head, before letting it drop to the concrete floor.