“I had no idea there was so much blood in a head,” Deshawn said.
“When it’s blown up, it’s like a stopper going off a bottle,” Valerie said.
The ivory shag carpet was soaked, splatter covered the curtains, the ceiling, and the furniture. Crime scene techs left traces of their passage like punctuation marks. Valerie and Deshawn worked for the property management company. They were cleaners.
“If Rick thinks he can get a new renter in here by next week, he’s delusional,” Deshawn said. He raised his rubber-clad hands in a fair imitation of a surgeon about to approach the operating table. “It’ll take more than a few gallons of bleach.”
Valerie was bent over the carpet with her hands on her knees. “I told Rick shag was a bad idea. Throwback to the seventies is cool, he said.”
“More like throw up.”
They wore plastic booties and jumpsuits. Their ball caps said Stender Realty with a pink flamingo because this was Florida and their boss, Rick Stender, never saw a cliché that he didn’t like.
“You know the guy who lived here?” Deshawn said.
“He was in finance, that’s all I know. The cops think it’s drug-related.” Valerie pointed at the broken coffee table, upturned lamps, eviscerated credenza. “There was a fight and the guy was shot. The place has been ransacked. Can’t tell if they found what they were looking for.”
“At least the crud is only in this room. How do you want to tackle it? That carpet needs to be removed.”
“Let’s start with the walls. They shouldn’t need more than a paint-job.”
Valerie took pictures and sent them to the office while Deshawn started with the bucket.
“Rick?” Valerie was on the phone. “It’s Night of the Living Dead in here. You’ll have to spring for wall-to-wall carpeting.” She pulled the phone away from her ear. Rick was loud. “No, only in the sitting room.” She rolled her eyes at Deshawn. “Yes, we can fix the rest of the apartment.” She listened. “Uh-huh.” She hung up. “He said we could trash the carpet. He wants to try cleaning the curtains.”
They worked until late afternoon. The broken lamps and pieces of the coffee table were in a garbage bin. Curtains, throw pillows and other textiles Rick hoped to rescue were in plastic bags. They were focused on the task, trying to ignore the chunks of brain matter that the forensics team didn’t bother collecting. They must have had enough evidence with the crap they scooped from the carpet.
They removed their masks and gloves. Valerie raided the bar and Deshawn got glasses from the kitchen and ice from the fridge. They had a little pick-me-up.
Murders and suicides were not common. Mostly, they dealt with slobs and vandals. People who trashed the place they lived in for a few months, not caring about the security deposit because they had too much fun kicking holes in the walls.
“Do you want to haul off the shag now?” Deshawn said.
“The longer we wait, the smellier it’ll get.”
Deshawn unpacked the box-cutters and they set to work. They moved the furniture, pulled and tore up portions of the shag, piled up debris in a cleared corner.
They found the cache under the bar, a shallow cavity closed by a compressed-board lid. Deshawn inserted a sturdy kitchen knife in the groove and lifted the cover. They kneeled by the opening.
Valerie pulled out a black nylon bag. She lined up the neat stacks of fifty-dollar bills. Deshawn ran a finger through them, counted.
“Non-consecutive numbers,” he muttered. “Two million there about.”
“That’s why he was shot,” Valerie said. “Whose money is this?”
Deshawn tilted his head and grinned. “Ours, duh.”
“They’ll come back for it, Desh.”
“They looked everywhere and didn’t find anything. The dead dude didn’t tell where it was. Nobody knows about this. You want to give it to the cops? If they’re honest, it’ll be used to fix potholes.”
“We would get a reward,” Valerie said, her ethical resolve weakening. The cash in her bank account would fit in a piggy bank. A small one.
“Yeah, ten percent maybe, and taxable. Jeeze, Val! Don’t you want to tell Rick to go fuck himself?”
She did, oh how she did. She ground her teeth every time he copped a feel when she made the mistake of walking too close to his desk. “If we leave right after doing this job we’ll have a target the size of a Buick on our backs. Bad guys aren’t always stupid, Desh. The bigger the haul, the smarter they tend to be.”
The young man sat cross-legged by the hole in the floor. He hummed Bob Marley’s Jamming. “So we keep working for Rick for a while, then maybe you find a job somewhere and you move out of town. I work a few more months and I do the same.”
“That’s a lot of patience,” Valerie said. “A lot of pretending. A lot of time to sit on the money.”
“Worth it.” He smiled. “It’s what we would do anyway if we hadn’t found the cash, so, what’s the harm? It’s all good in my book.” He stared at the ceiling, eyes glossy with rapture. “We have the promise of good things to come. I can bear it, baby, can you?”
Valerie nodded with sudden resolve. “I’ll have to put it out of my mind if I want to be able to continue doing this shit.” She pointed at the hole in the floor. “The carpet people will talk.”
Deshawn jumped to his feet. “I know how to lay carpet. Rick won’t resist an opportunity to save some dough.” He held out his hand and pulled her up, close.
She smiled. Deshawn had grown a couple of inches, right in front of her. It was amazing what money from heaven could do to a man. To a girl too, come to think of it.
About the author:
M.E. Proctor is currently working on a series of contemporary detective novels. The first book in the series will come from TouchPoint Press in January 2023. Her short stories have been published in Mystery Tribune, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern Flash, Bristol Noir, Fiction on the Web, The Bookends Review and others. She lives in Livingston, Texas.