The Clean Up

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The Ford Escape flashed through a red traffic light, slipped around a small woman driving a small Nissan Sentra and slid to a halt parallel to a street curb, sending a curtain of water high into the air and falling like a liquid anvil onto the empty sidewalk in front of the red brick apartment building.

For a moment the occupant inside the small SUV made no effort to get out.  Like a terrifying afterthought, he sat behind the wheel of the vehicle and remained absolutely still.   When the driver’s door did open a small framed figure rolled out of the car in one smooth motion of controlled energy.  A small man dressed in a pair of dark tailored slacks, an aqua blue cotton tailored shirt,  with a shortcut WWII styled leather bomber jacket.  Over his closely cropped black hair was a dark blue unmarked baseball cap.  Covering his hands was a very expensive pair of leather driving gloves.

private-eyeThrowing the door closed behind him the man, his jet black eyes partially hid underneath the bill of the hat, glanced left and right and then looked up at the small object attached to the door frame above the door.

The falling rain didn’t seem to phase him.  Nor did the security camera.  He knew the cap’s bill pulled low over his brow would reveal only a chin, a nose, and a pair of lips to the camera lens.  And even that would be a false image.  The thin wisp of a well-cropped beard and mustache, plus a fake nose from an actor’s disguise kit, changed his looks completely.

If he had to leave in a hurry and left the security tape behind the police examining the tapes that would see this image.  An image of a man who didn’t exist.  If the security camera was good enough it might catch the Ford’s license plate.  But that would be a dead end as well.  The name on the car rental’s papers would be fake.  As would be the fake address.  But the phone number would be real.  It would be the number and extension number for Detective Tom Decker.  A cop.  A homicide detective.  An old friend.

The dark-eyed man almost smiled.  Never let it be said Smitty didn’t have a sense of humor. Perhaps a droll sense of humor.  But at least a sense of humor.

Turning he moved to the back of the Ford Escape, lifted up the hatch door and pulled out a folded wheelchair and a large canvas bag.  Unfolding the wheelchair and setting it on the sidewalk beside the SUV he sat the canvas bag on the seat and glanced at the building again.  Slamming the hatch closed he stepped up onto the sidewalk and started pushing the chair toward the apartment’s main entrance.

 It was an expensive residence.  Thick carpet covered the long, wide hall of the ground floor.  At the far end were the stainless steel door of two elevators.  On either side of the doors were tall art-deco styled lamps, each about the height of a man.  Each large off-white orb at the top of the stalks radiating a soft, warm glow of yellow light.

 Nobody stepped into the silence of the carpeted hall as he moved toward the elevators.  Faintly, from above, he heard music.  Mozart.  The notes from his Die Zauberfloute (The Magic Flute) floated softly through the silence of the building almost hypnotically.  Pushing the up button on one of the elevators the chrome steel doors slid open immediately.

 Riding up the elevator he glanced at the Rolex strapped to his left wrist.  He had . . . at best . . . thirty minutes.  Maybe forty if he was lucky and the cops were stretched thin from working too many traffic accidents due to the relentless rain.  Forty minutes, tops, to clean up the mess, remove the body, wipe clean the entire apartment and leave before the police arrived.

 And he knew they would.  Instinct told him they were coming.  He knew when someone had been set up to be the fall guy.  And young Jimmy Kilgore was just that.  A fall guy.

 “Smitty!  Smitty, you gotta help me!  Gawd almighty, Jimmy has done something horrible!”

 The call came in a half hour earlier.  A frantic voice over the phone rapidly approaching hysteria.  A father stretched to the breaking point.  Turning to the only man he knew who might be able to help him.  For a price.

 “What happened?” the dark-eyed man asked, his voice a whisper barely audible over the phone.

 “You know Jimmy has these blackouts.  He’s had’em since birth.  Sometimes in these blackouts, he does odd things.  Sleepwalks.  Beats up things.  Strange stuff like that.  Well,  he went too far this time.  Says he was at his girlfriend’s house and blacked out.  Says when he woke up his girlfriend was lying on the living room floor with her throat cut and blood everywhere.  In his hand was the knife he used to kill her.  Smitty!  Smitty!  You gotta help me save my son.  I can’t let him go to prison.  I . . . I just can’t!  Listen, I’ll pay you anything . . . anything to get Jimmy out of this mess!  Anything!”

 Jimmy Kilgore was the only child of Floyd Kilgore;  big Texas oil and shipping tycoon.  With oil leases all over the world.  A hard man.  A businessman who didn’t play nice to those who didn’t place nice.  But when it came to his only child . . .

 It took less than ten seconds for the dark-eyed man to slip through the locked door of the apartment of one Melissa Charles.  Pulling the wheelchair into the small, Spartan furnished apartment, he found her lying on the oval-shaped small room carpet in the middle of the living room.   Beside her was the long serrated blade of a bloody hunting knife.  Kneeling he check to see if morbidity had set in.   He stood up, throwing hands under her armpits and lifted the dead body up and sat it down in the wheelchair.  Stepping back he opened the canvas bag and pulled out a large plastic facemask.  A remarkably realistic facemask of an old woman.  Slipping it over the once pretty face of a twenty-something-year-old he pulled a folded shawl out of the bag and draped it over her from chin to kneecaps with it.

 Rolling her back and off the oval carpet Smitty quickly rolled the bloodstained carpet up into a tight and hurriedly leaned it against an apartment wall.  Glancing at his watch he saw eight minutes had rolled by.  Eight minutes.  Maybe he had, at best, thirty-two minutes left to work.  Maybe less.  Stepping out into the hall he looked to his left and right and then moved across the hall to the apartment directly across from the dead woman’s.  Unlocking the door he threw it open and hurried back to collect the carpet and moved it across to the empty apartment.

 Back in the apartment of the dead woman he bent down and tossed the bloody knife into the back before pulling out a new bottle of Clorox and pouring the entire bottle onto the stained wood floor.  Using large towels he brought with him he mopped the entire floor clean of any possible blood stains.  Throwing wet towels into the canvas bag he stood up and paused.  In the distance, he heard the first faint screams of approaching sirens.

 Quickly he moved to the small utility kitchen and checked the sink.  There were a couple of glasses and two dirty dishes.  Grabbing them he walked back into the living room and tossed them into the bag.  Using a fresh towel soaked in Clorox he hurried back to the kitchen and wiped down all the surfaces of the kitchen cabinets, chairs, and table.  Done with that he moved to the bedroom and bathroom and wiped the surfaces clean of any possible prints as well.

 The noise of approaching sirens was much louder.

Moving back to the living room he tossed the bag setting on the floor beside the occupied wheelchair onto the dead woman’s lap and turned to exit through the open door.  But a sound . . . odd and unexpected . . . coming from behind a closet door caught Smitty’s attention.  Outside the squeal of tires and blaring sirens told him the police had arrived in force.  He knew he had to leave.  Leave immediately.  But the noise, sounding like the whimper of a small animal, continued.  Frowning, wondering why an animal would be in a closet, he let go of the wheelchair and took two steps toward the closet door and opened it.

 It wasn’t an animal.

 It was a baby.

 A baby hardly a few days old wrapped tightly in a blue blanket.  A baby making pathetic little squeaking sounds and fighting vainly in an effort to escape from the confining blankets.  Without hesitating the dark eyed man picked the baby up gently, moved back to the woman in the wheelchair, and somehow holding the baby against his cheek with one hand, moved the dead body out of the woman’s apartment, across the hall, and through the open door of the empty apartment.  No sooner did the dark eyed man close the apartment door than both sets of elevator doors opened and half a dozen police officers flooded into the hallway and moved like a blue tidal wave down the hall and to the dead woman’s apartment.

 He waited until the uniformed officers were all in the apartment before opening the apartment door and, with the baby still in his arms, rolling the dead woman wearing the mask of an old woman out into the hall and turning toward the elevator.

 “Hey, you!  Wait a minute!”

 The loud bark of man in a blue uniform.

 Stopping in the middle of the hall way Smitty, the baby held close to his cheek, half turned to look at the approaching officer.

 “You live in this building?”

 “Ah no . . but my grand mother does.  I just came over to take her out to lunch today.  She hasn’t seen the baby since his birth.  Thought a fancy lunch and maybe some time holding little Floyd here would be just the thing to pick up her spirits.”

 The jowly faced, ruddy complexion cop eyed the baby and then the old woman covered in a shawl sitting asleep in the wheelchair and then turned his attention back to the guy wearing the baseball cap.

 “Say, did you hear anything unusual in the last ten, fifteen minutes down in that apartment behind me?”

 “Sorry officer, I didn’t.  I just got here myself.  Took a few minutes to get granny ready to go but I can’t say I heard anything out of the ordinary.”

 “Uh huh,” the cop growled, scowling, but stepping back and straightening up.  “Okay, you can go.  Cute kid there, by the way.”

 Smitty beamed a the big smile of a proud father and nodded.  He didn’t hesitate.  Pushing the heavy wheelchair to an open elevator door he moved in, flipped the switch on, watched the doors thankfully close and felt it lurch as it began its descent.

 It did not take him long to load up the body, fold up and store the wheelchair,  and throw the canvas bag into the back of the Escape.   But the baby was something else.  Walking around the front passenger side door he opened it and carefully laid the tiny child onto the floorboard of the car.  Closing the door he turned and looked at the entrance to the apartment building again.

 There was something he had to retrieve.  Something vitally important if this clean up effort was going to be successful.  The security tape.  The tape that showed him entering Melissa Charles’ apartment and removing rug and body across the hall to the opposite apartment.  If the cops got that tape before he did . . .

 Turned out to be infinitely simple.  Stepping up to the door that said ‘Manager’ on it he rapped knuckles on the door twice.  Almost instantly a man dressed in slacks, suspenders, and an almost clean t-shirt appeared.  Pulling a half smoked, half chewed cigar from between his lips he glared at Smitty and lifted up a black video cassette tape.

 “You the detective in charge?”

 “That’s me,” Smitty nodded, eyes fixing on the cassette.  “That the security tape?”

 “Here, take the damn thing.  The Knicks are playing and I don’t want to miss any of the game.  See ya!”

 The manager handed Smitty the tape and closed the door immediately.  Smitty curled back thin lips into a half snarl, the cassette tape in his hand, and exited the building without looking back.

 Three blocks away from the apartment building he pulled out a cell phone from his jean coat and lifted it to his ears.

 “The place has been cleaned.  The body will be disposed in an hour.  But there’s a surprise for you, Mr. Kilgore.  One I think you might like.”

 “Surprise?  Surprise?  I don’t like surprises, Smitty.  What kind of surprise we’re talking about?”

 “You’ll see here soon.  Have your son with you when we meet at the agreed place.  And the money.  Make sure you bring the money.”

 Folding the phone closed he dropped it on the seat and glanced down at the now sleeping baby.  Barely three days old.  But on his left buttock the unmistakable birthmark of a Kilgore.  A hereditary blotch of skin pigment in the shape of a hand.  Passed down from male to male in the Kilgore family.  Jimmy Kilgore was a brand new father.  Floyd Kilgore, the patriarch of the Kilgore family, a newly commissioned grandfather.

 Eight hours later Smitty stepped way from the rented Ford and walked toward the three figures standing in front of a large CadillacSTSsedan.  The Cadillac’s headlights were on, creating black silhouettes of the three men in front of it.  Smitty knew all three.  As he approached the figure in the middle in front of him stepped forward, lifting a finger up to point at the object the dark eyed man held close to him.

 “What’s that, Smitty?  What are you carrying?”

 “Haven’t told you dad yet have you Jimmy?”  Smitty hissed, moving toward Jimmy.  “I think now’s the time.”

 “Dad . . . uh . . . dad . . . ,” the young Kilgore began after nervously running a hand across his lips and turning to face his father.  “I . . . uh, we . . . were going to tell you.  Really, we were!  But . . . but . . . “

 The child stirred, lifted his head up into the bright beams of the car lights and let out an angry squeak.  Floyd Kilgore’s face said it all.  Surprise . . . understanding . . . joy . . . all wrapped up in one confusing emotional mask.

 “You . . . this girl friend of yours . . . you had a child?  A child!”

 “Dad, I didn’t know.  I mean, she called last night told me she needed to see me.  I hadn’t heard from her in over ten months.  She just left me one night last winter and never called me again.  Said goodbye and left me.  I  . . . I didn’t know she was pregnant.  I had no idea I was a father.  None.  Not until I went to her apartment and saw them.  After that . . . I . . . I don’t remember anything.  Nothing!”

 “Here’s your grandson, Kilgore.  His name’s Floyd.  I checked the birth records.  Birth certificate lists Jimmy as the father.  There’s no doubt about it,” Smitty said, gently handing over the tiny child to the old man.  “And another thing.  Jimmy didn’t kill his girlfriend.”

 “He didn’t?”

 “I . . . I didn’t?  But who . . . who . . ?”

 Grandfather Kilgore, grandson in his arms, stepped closer to his son and threw an arm over the young man’s shoulders.  Even in the glare of the headlights Smitty could see both father and son, heads bent, looking at the tiny baby and heaving emotionally in the semi-darkness.

 The third man, closer to the Cadillac, stood with arms folded across his chest, a frown on his face.  He was a big man.  Built and looking ex-military.  He was glaring at the dark eyed man.  He watched in silence as Smitty withdrew the black cassette tape from his blue jean coat and tossed it toward the Kilgores.

 “The tape shows it all,” Smitty whispered softly.   “Shows Jimmy arriving and running up to the girl’s apartment.  Shows him pounding on the girl’s door and, when it opens, shows both the girl and the baby being swept up into his arms.  No, you’re son, Kilgore, loved this woman.  Loved the child the moment he saw it in her arms.”

 “But Jimmy says he can’t remember anything,”  the elder Kilgore said, handing the child to his son and turning to look at the dark eyed man.  “He could have harmed the two.  What evidence do you have to prove otherwise?”

 “I did it, you sorry bastards.”

 The voice deep and filled with anger coming from the man standing beside the Cadillac.  Both Kilgores turned to look at the man.  A trusted employee–the man assigned to protect the Kilgore family from harm and bad press.

 “Ten years I’ve put up with your arrogance.  Your spite.  Your inane blabbering!  For ten years I’ve kept your dirty little secrets.  The both of you!  For ten years I’ve been dragging Jimmy’s ass out of one scrape after another.  And for what?   A measly paycheck?  For nothing more than a few pennies!  Kilgore, you promised me two years ago I’d get a cut of the action in your empire.  A sizable cut.  But last month you told me the deal was off.  It wasn’t going to happen.  So I decided to get even.  To ruin both of you.  When this whore showed up again with her little bastard I knew this was it.  This was my ticket out of here!  So I drove over there and killed.  Jimmy had one of his black out spells and was lying on the bed completely out of it.  I set it up to look like Jimmy did it.  I never did find the kid.  Have no idea where she hid it.  Guess I was in too much of a hurry, huh?”

 There was a low, menacing drawl of laughter in the darkness.

 “And I hadn’t figured you calling in outside help, old man.  You surprised me there.   And I didn’t think that dump had a security system set up. So I guess I’ll have to clean up another mess of yours.  Goodbye . . . uggkkk!”

 The man was lifting a heavy looking machine pistol toward the Kilgores.  But something long, something thin . . . something reflecting the car lights off polished surgical steel, flashed past the heads of both Kilgores and buried itself deep into the gunman’s throat.  The man dropped his gun and threw both hands up to his throat.  There was the sickening sound of someone drowning in his own blood.  The man staggered forward, then to one side, then dropped to his knees and finally pitching forward into the dirt very dead.

 The dark eyed man walked up to the three Kilgores but not taking his eyes off the dead man.  Quietly he told father and son to leave.   To take the newest Kilgore in the family and to disappear into the night.  But before leaving, to set the briefcase full of money that was his agreed upon fee on the ground beside the body.  He would clean up the mess.  He would make sure nothing would be found tonight to indicate anything amiss had taken place.

 The dead were dead.  They would never come back to harm anyone.

B.R. Stateham is old enough to know better but writes crime noir anyway.  And other things. You can find his work on Amazon.

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