"Cleaning Job" by Zachary Aszalos


“So then I had to kill her,” said the driver.


“I see,” replied the passenger.


They were in a white car, rushing down Main Street. They passed a Walgreens on the left, and then a Burger King on the right. Several department stores went by without notice. The car shook as the driver accelerated. It had a faded Obama/Biden 2008 sticker on the back, with a nearly whitewashed Bush/Cheney 2004 sticker beside it. The paint was peeling in several spots, revealing the swollen, rusted body of the car. The back passenger side door was missing a chunk of metal toward the bottom, leaving orangish-brown chips of rust.


The driver was a tall, slim man. He wore a brown three-piece suit along with a pair of white New Balance tennis shoes. The passenger was a short man with ample degrees of both body muscle and body fat. He wore a wrinkled white Oxford shirt. It was only buttoned halfway up, revealing a Metallica shirt underneath. He had on a pair of cargo shorts, also wrinkled, that looked about two sizes too small.


“Now I have this body in my apartment just sitting there,” said the driver.


“She was sitting when you killed her?”


“No, man. She was standing. I meant that the body is just there now.”


“So she was standing. And then she fell?”


“Well, yeah.”


“Was it more of a crumble or more of a smash?”


“It would’ve been a crumble, but then the coffee table got in the way and it was a smash. Blood all over the goddamned newspaper circulars too.”


“Oh, Lord!”


“Yeah man.”


They passed a McDonald’s on the right. The sign that usually announced deals on food read NOW HIRING ALL SHIFTS. The passenger noticed that a man was digging in one of the dumpsters behind the restaurant. He almost mentioned it, but decided not to.


“So, What circulars were they?” the passenger asked.


“I don’t know. Walmart, JCPenney, Sears…”


“Wait—there’s still Sears around?”


“In some cities I think.”


“Any around here?”


“Nearest one in Pittsburgh I think.”


“Ahh, shit. We don’t have time to make it there and back before the body starts to smell.”


“Hold up.” The driver allowed the car to slow, as though for effect. They were approaching a red light. “Are you really suggesting shopping when I have a dead body in my house?”


“I just thought there might be some deals. I mean, they’ve gotta attract customers if they want to stay open at all.”


“Fuck me.”


“Hey man. I’m just saying. Don’t you think you might need some new rugs after this?”


“I’ll deal with that later. Right now we just need to do this cleaning job.”


“Lunch first though.”


“I told you, lunch after. Whatever you want. After.” The light turned green, and the driver applied his foot to the gas.


“Lunch first or no help.”


“Fine. Your fat ass hasn’t changed since penitentiary; I’m not going to bet on you changing now. What you want?”


“Chili.”


“Chili? Really? Chili?”


“Yeah man. I want some chili. Wendy’s chili. This whole thing got me real hungry.”


“Fine. But it’s drive through and then eat it in the car. Reach into the glove compartment, I think I have some Wendy’s coupons in there.”


“Let me see. Here they are. Oh shit! What’s all over these?”


“Call it barbecue.”


“I don’t even think there’s a Wendy’s coupon in here. Are you sure this ain’t that lady’s blood?”


“I’m sure.” The driver grunted. “Look harder.”


“Men’s Wearhouse, Pizza Hut, Sephora...really?”


“I see it. Give me those.” He turned into the Wendy’s.


The driver made the order and got the passenger his meal of chili. He pulled the car back out onto Main Street as the driver slurped up his lunch. He continued another two miles down the road until he reached his apartment building. It was the kind of building where the individual apartments opened up to the outside rather than an interior hallway. His apartment was on the third floor, west side. The structure was made of cinder blocks, trimmed in red. It reminded the passenger of their days together in penitentiary.


The driver’s apartment was carpeted in maroon shag. The walls were brown, with orange baseboards and crown molding. The front door opened to the living room, which evolved into a kitchenette toward the back. On the left were two doors. One opened to a bedroom, the other to a bathroom. The living room was furnished with brown leather furniture. It was worn, but not tattered. The coffee table was in the center of the room, with two large bookcases to its right. Between the bookcases and the coffee table, there was a body.


It was a woman’s body. She had probably been in her late twenties. The flesh was white, like a child’s teeth after his annual dental cleaning. The eyes were ajar. The neck was sliced open from side to side. Surrounding the body, the maroon carpet was a slightly different shade and was crusty, as though someone had spilled red baking soda all over it.


Upon entering the apartment, the passenger had resumed eating his chili. Not noticing where he was walking, he tripped on the body and dumped the chili all over it.


“Oh, sweet shit!” said the passenger.


“Are you fucking with me right now?” asked the driver.


“No. Why?”


“Because you just spilled a whole container of chili all over the body!”


“Hey! It was a third of the way gone. And this is a whole human body. What’s a bigger mess: one whole body, or two thirds a cup of chili? Now, say I had come here, into your home, right. And say I’d had a whole, unopened, uneaten chili. And say I spill it all over this nice body you got here. Then I’d say, ‘Go ahead! Be mad!’ But I didn’t. It’s only two thirds, man.”


“You know what? What makes a bigger mess: to add one body to zero bodies and get one body or to add one body to one body and get two bodies?”


“Come on man. What are you talking about?”


“What I’m talking about is this: either we start cleaning, or this ends as a double murder suicide.”


They began to clean. The driver moved the coffee table into the kitchen, and situated the furniture so that he could unfold a large, blue tarp. He had gotten it at the pool and hot tub supply store before he’d picked up his helper. Then, they carried the body onto the tarp. As they set it down, the body let out a gasp of noxious gas that smelled like an infected wound.


“The body smells worse than the chili,” said the driver.


“Thanks, man,” said the passenger. As they continued the cleanup, he began to laugh.


“What’s so funny?”


“Have you ever heard of the story called ‘A Shocking Accident’?”


“I’m not really interested in hearing the story of how you were conceived. Not again.”


“No, it’s not that. Come on, man. It’s a short story about this guy and this pig…”


“Sounds a lot like the story of your conception.”


“You take that back.”


“You’re right. I’m sorry. So there’s a guy and a pig?”


“Well, the story starts out before that. This boy, right, he’s in this like boarding school or something. And the headmaster calls him into the office. And the headmaster says that there’s been an accident, a shocking accident. It turns out the boy’s daddy died. Sad story.”


“And the pig?”


“Oh, that’s the crazy shit. So, the daddy died because a pig fell on him.”


“A pig fell on him?”


“Yeah. Right outta the sky.”


“How, dare I ask, does that happen?”


“It says in the story. I don’t remember. Anyway, the pig fell somehow and killed the guy. And when the son finds out, the first thing he asks is what happened to the pig.”


“What did happen to the pig?”


“They never say. I guess it must’ve died, too.”


“Sad state of affairs.”


“Yeah. So then years later, the boy’s all grown up, right. And he’s looking for some pussy.”


“Does this end up being about bestiality?”


“No. Shut up and let me tell the story. So he’s with this woman, and he finally tells her the story of how his daddy died. And what is her response?”


“She asks what happened to the pig?”


“Exactly. And after that shit, he knows this girl is the one.”


“Great for him. One question.”


“What?”


“What does this have to do with anything?”


“I never said it had to do with anything. I just thought it was a nice story to get us through this mess.”


“You know what? I thought it sucked.”


They finished wrapping the body in the blue tarp and sealed it by wrapping it with white duct tape.


“Great, the goddamned thing looks like a mummy now,” said the passenger.


“Well, that’s good news because we’re donating it to Museum of Natural History,” said the driver.


“No shit! That’s awesome. But wouldn’t it be easier just to take it down to the dumpster?”


“You idiot. It’s not going to the history museum. And we can’t take it to the dumpster. Do you know the likelihood of the body getting found if we put it the dumpster? Nine out of ten. Cops would be up here within the day.”


The passenger laughed. “Who the fuck is finding all these bodies in dumpsters then? It’s gotta either be people with garbage fetishes or people diving for food. If you got the fetish, I think finding a body would just be a kink. And if you’re at the place in life that you’re diving for food, why not just hold the body as ransom. The fella who dumped it’d be liable to show up and pay whatever you want to save himself from jail time.”


“How do you propose someone would do that? Take out an ad in the classifieds?”


“Nah, nobody reads the paper anymore. Except you, I guess, because you like the circulars. The best bet would be local TV advertising.”


“God, help me,” said the driver. “You know, it’s no wonder you got caught stealing so many times that they threw you in penitentiary with me.”


“You know as well as I do that was all the public defender’s fault. That would’ve been a damn

fine car to own if I’d gotten away with it. A lot better than that piece you drive around. And you’re not one to talk, Mr. Murder in the Second Degree.”


“I got out, didn’t I? Good behavior,” the driver said. He began to sop up the blood and chili that remained with a washcloth and cold water that he had laced with some dish soap. He mixed the concoction in the bucket that usually held the plunger. “It’d be nice if you’d lend a hand.”


The passenger ignored him and hoisted his body onto the kitchen counter, which squeaked in complaint. There was a half-filled glass of something in the sink. He sniffed it. It smelled like whiskey. He sipped it and found that it was a cheap brand, but continued to sip anyway. “So, then, what do you propose to do to get rid of the body?”


“It’s not difficult. Anytime something like this happens to me, there’s only one guy to call.”


“Lester,” said the Passenger.


“Hey, an intelligent response for once. Exactly right. I already put the call in. We wait until ten-thirty or so this evening. This building is mostly elderlies, but I want to make absolutely sure they’re all in for the night before we haul out.”


“Wanna hit that sweet spot between them hitting the hay and them taking their first pee.”


“Somehow, I think there’s wisdom to that. Lester himself will be there by quarter of eleven. All we have to do is drive in, put the body and five grand in cash in front of the outhouses, and drive away.”


As the driver said this, the passenger snorted a sip of whiskey up his nose. “Oh hot handed Christ!” he yelled. He blew his nose into the sleeve of his oxford shirt and took a deep breath.


“Where the fuck does a garbage man get five thousand dollars?”


“Hey, it pays to read the circulars. Lots of good deals and coupons in there. And by the way, five thousand is a deal because I’m an employee. Most of the time this service is ten grand, fifteen or even twenty for really hot cases.”


“Is this case hot?” asked the passenger.


“Cold as that body there on the floor.” The driver got up off the floor and dumped the bloody water down the sink. The fragrance of lemon soap with notes of feces, chili, and decaying flesh wafted up as the water swirl down the drain.


“Man, seeing the body all wrapped up like that really makes me hungry for an enchilada,”

said the passenger. “Got any coupons for that?”


The driver was scrubbing his hands, and glanced toward the passenger. “I’ll have to see.

Fast food coupons would be in the glovebox. You’re a sick motherfucker.”


“Can I be honest with you?” asked the passenger.


“I’d prefer you be dishonest, but if you must be honest, be so.”


“Why did you kill her? I mean, it’s not so bad a thing, what you told me.”


“I have my reasons and my ways.” The driver shook his hands, sprinkling the kitchen floor with water.


“Hey, I’m not questioning. You know what they say, don’t bite the hand that feeds you chili and enchiladas. I’m just saying, it was a mistake that could’ve happened to anyone. You’re streaming some pornography, some wholesome guy-on-girl, and---oh shit!---you accidentally hit the “Link to TV” button. The porn blasts onto your neighbor lady’s TV as she’s watching her shows. Bye-bye, Andy Griffith. Hello, pizza delivery guy. Sorry, I don’t have the cash. Can I pay another way? So the neighbor isn’t happy. She comes to complain. But why kill her?”


The passenger had his mouth open to continue on, but the driver interrupted him. “What the fuck are you talking about? I never said I was watching that. I said I was watching a show. I was watching a show on my phone, and I accidentally streamed it to her TV, so I had to kill her. I can’t have people being nosy about what I’m watching.”


“You know what?” asked the passenger.


“What?” said the driver.


“If I could go back in time, I would’ve referenced Everybody Loves Raymond rather than Andy Griffith a few seconds ago. I still feel wrong about mentioning Andy Griffith’s name in this venue.”


“What in God’s name is the matter with you? Just watch TV or something until we get this body out of here.”


“Fine. And look at it this way: you lucked out and streamed your program to the television of the only other young person in this facility.”


“I’m pretty sure she was the only one who had a TV new enough that you could stream to it. It’s a little strange she even came over. Why not just turn it off on her TV?”


“Maybe she liked you,” the passenger said. He sat on the couch and turned on the television.


“Hopefully no one will accidentally stream something to this television while I’m watching my shows.” He kept flipping the channels. “Wouldn’t want Dr. Phil to get interrupted by someone streaming Desperate Housewives two doors over.”


The driver pounded across the room and grabbed the passenger by the shoulders. “How the fuck did you know that’s what I was watching when I streamed over to the neighbor’s place?”


“You watch Desperate Housewives! Oh sweet shit!” He was laughing. The passenger got up and pushed the driver’s hands off him.


The driver grabbed the passenger by the neck and tackled him back to the couch. He wrenched harder, and the passenger’s face went to the color of chili, then purple. The driver clutched onto the neck like a driver would the steering wheel of a speeding car. He let go when he knew the passenger was dead.


“Oh sweet shit is right. Two bodies now. One dead body and one dead body taken together is worse than one dead body taken alone.” The driver was now talking to himself, like he usually did.


The man picked up his cell phone. When he unlocked it, Desperate Housewives began to play. He swiped the app closed because he didn’t want to see any spoilers by accident. He opened the phone app and hit the number for Mom.


The phone rang three times. “Hello,” said Mom, in a raspy voice that seemed to be seeking for air.


“Hi Mom, it’s me. I’ve had a bit of a problem. Can you come?”


“Why should I?”


“I don’t know what to say, umm, I guess you could call it a shocking accident. There’s been a shocking accident.”


“Get that fucker you were in jail with to help you.”


“Yeah. I don’t think he’s available today. We could get lunch.”


“Chili does sound good.”


The man tried hard not to vomit. “Sure. We could get chili.”


“I’ll be on my way after I finish my program.”


“What’re you watching?”


“Oh, you wouldn’t know of it. Desperate Housewives, it’s called. Not a program for men.”

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