The Cleaner

The Cleaner

By Peter McKay

Nausea and hunger were a two-punch combo that had David in a corner. His stomach twisted and ate at itself, grumbling over his skipped dinner. The scent of salted meat from Rodney’s burger made his stomach swirl like a slow rinse washing machine, with every chew and munch beating at his skull. A quick check of his reflection in the rearview mirror revealed his skin hadn’t turned green, but he felt it. By God, he felt it.

“Can you put that away?” David blurted out on the edge of throwing up. If Rodney heard him, he made no indication of it. No, his partner kept eating, sifting through the brown paper bag for a handful of fries to lay atop his burger. They were crisp, enough to add a crunch to the soft bites into the meat, lettuce, and tomatoes that kept the patty from being a completely unhealthy choice. Or so Rodney would say.

“Rodney. Please.”

“I missed lunch,” He argued between bites.

“You know how that garbage gets to me.”

“You mean food, real food?” His partner shrugged, “You can wait outside. We haven’t been called in yet.” As if that’d help. Not with the hotdog stand on the parked opposite of the street. His window was down, but the smell came through whenever he looked over at it. Salty, tangy, everything wrong with his stomach reeled in protest at it.

In defeat, David rested his forehead against the rubber steering wheel. “Why haven’t they called us in? Seriously, I was about to make dinner.”

“I was willing to pay for a third burger.” Rodney took out his second sandwich. He pulled off the top bun, letting the cheese rip at the corners while putting out the garnish aside to cover the burger in fries. When he thought it couldn’t get worse, David’s nose felt the sharp sting of ketchup from a small packet Rodney ripped open. One squeeze and it fired high concentrated paste over the smorgasbord of fast-food delicacies. Was ketchup a paste? David wasn’t sure, but thinking about it distracted him from the second bite.

David sighed and let his shoulders hang loose. “I can’t eat that garbage. I’ve told you this thousands of times. And, frankly, you shouldn’t be eating it either.”

“It’s an emergency meal. Why are you even complaining? You could have said no when you picked me up.”

He should have, but David miscalculated his tolerance of food compared to Rodney’s complaining. “Just…just wolf it down or something. I’m gonna puke.”

Three bites. That’s all it took. Fast-food burgers were too thin despite every advertisement. You’d be better off making burgers at home, and David considered doing so after this. He needed the meat to do so.

“Still not sure why you can’t eat this stuff.”

“I’ve told you,” David said, failing to hold the sarcasm with his sickness.

“Yeah, but you haven’t explained it.”

“What’s the difference?”

Rodey’s phone buzzed before he could answer, and David silently thanked the gods above for it. “It’s go time.”

The duo pulled up the hoods of their jumpsuits and attached filtered masks and goggles. From the back of the van, they pulled out their toolkits: Bottles of bleach, mops, putty knives, disposal containers for the heavy stuff, etc, etc.

One ride in the elevator later, and they found themselves entering a penthouse. If David weren’t so hungry, he’d question the point of having elevator entrances to homes. But that didn’t matter, not with the big man in the black suit waiting for them by the door.

“I hope you two weren’t waiting long.”

“Not very,” David answered.

“We don’t normally get told to wait.” Rodney asked to the dismay of David’s rolling eyes. “Any reason for that? Or is this an ‘I’ll have to call another crew for asking’ sort of deal?”

Their chaperon turned before he could catch any amusement or lack thereof. “It was someone’s first. They requested a moment to take it in.”

He hoped that meant he didn’t need to clean up vomit, but expected some regardless. From the wailing across the way, it sounded like whoever caused the problem hadn’t accepted it. Ascending one flight of stairs, their host stopped at a red oak door and said, “The boy’s still new to the family, new enough to not know about…you.” He pointed to David, “So we’ll give you both more privacy. But it better be spotless when finished.”

“You wouldn’t have us here otherwise.” Rodney perked up.

Perhaps it was the nausea from earlier, but David didn’t realize how strong the stench was until the door went wide. Blood, fresh and drying, with stains across a shag rug that would need to be cut. Two steps in and he saw the body, face caved in by a stone ashtray resting beside her.

Must have been a looker. Crimes of passion had that effect. “How long do you need?” David raised two fingers. “Minutes?” Their host asked. He turned and stared back at their host with cold eyes. “Hours, got it. We’ll leave you alone.”

From the legs and bust, she could have been anywhere from late teens to mid twenties. David kneeled, trailing a finger across her neck to her thigh. He wanted to take the gloves off and feel how cold she was, but that wasn’t professional. Neither was what came next, but he missed lunch. Clasping his hands together, David hung his head and prayed.

“Really? Now?” Rodney balked as David grabbed her hand. “Can’t you wait until later?”

“I missed dinner.” David pulled off his mask and snapped her thumb between his fangs like a baby carrot. From her death, life sprang through to him. “Lord, thank you for this meal.”

“She got what she deserved!” A trembling voice echoed from below. “She made me do it. She made me do it!” David rolled his eyes and took another bite. Cowards always found excuses.


About the Author:

Peter McKay is a writer with a self-depreciative edge and a knack for terrible in-jokes. With several unfinished novels to his name, he decided to do what the King keeps suggesting and started practicing his short stories.

He apologizes in advance for any suffering felt upon reading his works and encourages those who dislike them to pursue their passions in the hopes of creating something better.

When he’s not writing from atop his bed in D.C. Mr. McKay will either be scouring YouTube for random videos to fill his time or binging a series on one of the many streaming services he splits payment for between his family.

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