It’s the proverbial dirty job, the one somebody’s got to do. And, professionally speaking, pooled blood on tile isn’t so bad—mops up with paper towels dipped in all-purpose cleaner. I like lemon-scented myself. Rosalina, she prefers forest-pine. Splattered kidneys on carpet are the worst. And large intestines—nasty. We wear long plastic gloves. A lot of dead people, they’re HIV positive. Sort of goes with the lifestyle—AIDS, opioids, and semi-automatics.
But every so often we get called out to the North Shore. A different world out there—with weirder kinds of messes. Like maybe some rock-star celebrity has gone berserk and beat out his girlfriend’s brains with an Italian designer shoe. Or maybe it’s something sadder, something like tonight, some rich lady’s bathroom—her teenage daughter a suicide in the big whirlpool tub.
But we bill extra for calls after midnight, so there’s added compensation, and once we start cleaning, we don’t waste time. We get everything fleshy stuffed into trash bags, scrub surfaces clean, perfume the air with Lysol. You get your head in a place where you do what you came to do. And afterwards you don’t want to hear complaints.
Besides, nearly all of our un-official jobs come from referrals, mainly word-of-mouth from homeboys. And when the winter holidays roll around, every gangster in the hood gets remembered with a couple of Ben Franklins. Because one hand washes the other, so to speak. And at 200 bucks an hour—with a four-hour minimum, Rosalina and me—well, we’re not the only two Hispanic ladies willing to clean up.
Tonight, some no-status, day-labor homeboys have already hauled away the drowned girl’s body, and by now she’s likely cinder-blocked in Long-Island Sound. It’s a cold rainy night–dark and starless, but tiny halogen security lights are burning holes in the shrubbery, and Brando’s pimped out ’63 Impala is parked on the concrete pad.
We get to access the house through the three-car garage—Morris lets us in—and we have to pass by a yellow BMW coupe so showroom that it still has an options list glued to the side windows. Parked next to the BMW is a cream-colored Land Cruiser with the windshield smeared and crusted with red mud. For a minute or two I have to hold myself back—pretty truck like that, I keep wanting to take a soapy rag to it.
Inside, Brandon is finishing up his disposal deal with the victim’s mother—although how this rich lady knew to call the homeboys, I don’t ask. When Rosalina and me walk in with our buckets, Morris starts playing around and grabbing at my ass, and I have to laugh it off and pretend I don’t mind.
Morris, I know, is there for extra muscle, and he’s been smoking a blunt and watching basketball on TV while Brandon’s been sipping decaf with the suicide girl’s mother and trying to explain that, while he can’t take her check and cash is preferable, gold jewelry will also work if she’ll agree to fence-shop rates.
The mother’s eyes are red, like she’s been weeping forever. Brandon and Morris still have their puffer jackets on, and anybody can tell they’re anxious to be done. Brandon doesn’t bother to introduce us to the Mom, but tells Morris to get us started, and I can already hear the bathroom vent fan going from the hall.
Morris barely waits until the mother is out of earshot. “That lady say her pretty daughter offed herself,” he tells us. “Poor little rich girl. Honor-roll in high-school and beauty pageant winner. Got everything to live for, so she swallows some downers and slits her skinny wrists. Leaves a goodbye note with tiny hearts over the ‘i’s. ”
“My girls do that with the hearts too,” Rosalina says. “On Mother’s Day cards.”
“Well, this girl’s mother don’t mop floors. Says she been away, vacationing in Cancun. Come from the airport and found her daughter dead a week—maybe more. Girl looking like rotten jelly—very ripe. And get this—the Mom say she running for Congress, and don’t want negative press. So Brandon and his crew—we get to be garbage men.”
“So you got any family, Morris?” Rosalina asks.
He sucks on the blunt and blows some secondhand smoke.
“We’ll take it from here,” I say, opening the door.
Morris walks away, but he’s not wrong about the smell being ripe–even with the fan going. Bloody handprints and stray hairs smear the counter, and the tub is clogged and still close to brimming. Her stagnant bathwater is clouded with blood, vomit, and soap scum, and the floor is sloppy where the homeboys pulled her out. Even with gloves, I ‘d rather not stick my hands into that mess.
But the way to get finished is to start. So I grab my plastic bucket and begin bailing pink water, while Rosalina tackles the floor, swinging her string-mop.
When I get near to the bottom, I fish around for the clog and pull a wad of cotton puffs from the tub drain. They’re flecked with nail polish and all compressed together, but you could tell they’d been separate to start with.
“She was painting her toe-nails before she died,” I tell Rosalina.
But Rosalina looks at me and shakes her head. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
I don’t say anything, but I put down the degreaser I was ready to use.
“Something’s not right,” Rosalina says. “Why would she paint toes before she slit her wrists? You think maybe somebody else wrote that note?”
“I’m saying that maybe the same person gave her pills. Drew her bath. Tried to drown her when she got groggy.”
“Where you getting this?”
Rosalina says: “You never raised kids. Me, I got three teenage girls who drive me crazy. Besides, you think a suicide girl would draw those little hearts?”
“Maybe she’s not thinking good with a head full of downers.”
“Our girl—she’s an honor student. She tries to up-chuck those pills.”
“It almost works. She pukes. But her killer grabs a blade. Our girl’s groggy, but she’s a fighter—tries to climb out of the tub, but the killer pushes her back, pulls her hair. Blood splatters before she dies—leaves a mess.”
“All I’m saying is that new BMW’s ain’t been out in rain, and that Toyota didn’t get muddy in no airport parking lot. My guess is the mother’s been on the run, but when nobody discovered the body, decided to come back to cover up what she done.”
“Possible,” I say slowly. “But not our business.”
“Yeah, everything’s possible,” Rosalina says. But then she sighs, a drawn out sigh with sorrow for everybody on the planet, and continues wringing her mop. And after a minute I start to scrub—working foam degreaser into grouting between tiles.
Because it’s not like we’re about to pass our suspicions on. By tomorrow, the homeboys will work out some extortion angle–or else not. Guys like Brandon and Morris don’t like to admit they missed things, and Rosalina and me, we aim to stay in their good graces.
© Michael Colonnese
About the Author: Michael Colonnese lives and works in Fayetteville, NC, where he directs the Creative Writing Program at Methodist University. He is the author of a detective novel, Sex and Death, I Suppose, and of two poetry collections: Temporary Agency and Double Feature.