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Monday, August 17, 2015

Work For Hire by Eric Price


Everyone tells me I should get a real job. They think I manage a video store. I do, but that’s just my day job.

As for the job they don’t know about…consider it work for hire. Freelancing. If you need a murder scene cleaned up, or a body disposed of, I’m your man.

Body disposal is my specialty. It’s expensive, but the right people will pay for it. People who drink Single-Malt Scotch Whisky because they can afford it. They’re the same people who don’t drink cheap beer and cheaper wine. I’ve seen the bottles at their houses. I don’t even know where they buy it. These people, they pay for the supplies I need to keep them out of prison. They pay to keep living their overabundant lifestyles.

My job requires chemicals. Chemicals to dissolve skin and fat. Chemicals that make human bones look like nothing more than dog vomit. These chemicals aren’t cheap. I won’t even tell you what I do with the muscles…okay, I’ll give you a hint. That white butcher’s paper, it also costs money. Whatever you do, don’t look in my freezer.

I don’t do murder, though. I’m not a killer.

As a child, I lived with my mom in an old farmhouse. Most people would call it a fixer upper…if they wanted to be nice. The shutters had all but fallen off. The roof leaked. The wood siding had rotted from rain, mold, termites, age. And the roaches. We should have fed them as payment for letting us live in their house!

Sometimes a rat would gnaw its way through a wall. Mom overlooked some of the house’s problems, but she didn’t want rats living in her home. “Rats carry diseases,” she would say every time we heard one scratching behind the walls.

One rat moved in and it was too smart for the traps and poison. So Mom got the twelve-gauge and took care of it. She came in and told me to clean the mess while she cooked dinner.

This event shaped the rest of my life.

The rat’s head remained connected to its hind legs and tail by a thin thread of spinal cord. Its front legs and internal organs now painted the south corner of our house red, green, and black. I burned the body on the scorched ground where we burned our trash. I wouldn’t learn the interesting methods of body disposal for another year. But burning worked well for rats and other small animals.

When I returned to the smear of gore I tried the hose, but that only removed the chunks. So I brought out Mom’s bucket of cleaning supplies and started mixing chemicals in an attempt to discover some miracle cleaner.

Some chemicals you don’t want to mix. I learned that the hard way. It says right on the bottle not to mix them, but I didn’t take time to read warnings.

Eventually, I removed not only the blood and guts from the siding, but also the last fifty years of dirt and grime! Over the next few years, Mom worked pest control, and I worked cleanup. Mom said the house looked better than when she first moved into it a few months before I was born.

The happiest period of my life, a time I think of as the dog days, helped me evolve my cleaning methods. I found a way to turn my talents into a career. Maybe you’ve guess that we didn’t have much money. We lived by eating the chickens we could spare and what little we grew in our garden. One summer this pack of stray dogs started killing our chickens. Well, Mom didn’t take this lightly. She stayed up one night with nothing but her shotgun for company. The next morning I had three dogs to dispose of. I talked to the butcher about acquiring some of that white paper. We ate like potentates for months.

One night, this was several years later, after mom had died, a beautiful woman and her boyfriend came into the video store I manage. They were arguing, and the bar smell of stale cigarette smoke and beer diffused throughout the store. From somewhere between the adult-film section and the horror movies, I heard the smack of skin on skin. I looked up from the videos I was sorting to see the guy holding the girl by the arm and shaking a finger in her face. I could see the glimmer of a tear streaking across the red handprint forming on her cheek. They left the store without renting anything.

My shift had ended, so I took it upon myself to follow them. I wanted to make sure they made it home safely. I don’t think either one was in a condition to drive. I also had a feeling the girl may need my help.

After a slow and swerving drive, they pulled into a trailer lot. They parked in their driveway, and I stopped on the street. They were probably too drunk, and too busy arguing, to notice me anyway.

The screen door of their trailer slammed, and I could see them fighting through the kitchen window. He drew back his arm and slapped her. He drew back again, but she turned and grabbed something off the counter. He backed away as she held up a butcher’s knife. Then they moved out of view.

I got out of my car and went to their trailer. She stood with her back to the door. Her shoulders leapt up and down with her sobs. At her feet lay her boyfriend’s dead body. The knife protruded from his chest like Excalibur from the stone.

I opened the door.

She turned, jumped, and screamed.

I told her she needed to keep quiet. I told her I could help. I told her I had experience cleaning messes. I said, “We need to get started before this blood dries. The quicker we move, the easier it will clean.”

She mumbled to herself. I could tell she didn’t trust me, but she was panicked. When she settled herself, we worked out an agreement. Her name was Lisette.

Lisette and I developed a wonderful relationship. She’s the only person I ever told about my business. I mean my freelance work. For a while we were partners.

When I told Lisette I had experience cleaning messes, I didn’t mean all the animal remains I cleaned for Mom. I meant the first time I met my father.

I had just graduated high school. Mom always said she’d be the happiest woman in the world the day I graduated. She hadn’t lied. Mom framed the newspaper with my name, and the names of my 206 classmates, and hung it on our living room wall.

One day this rust-bucket car came rolling up our lane. Mom and I watched it from the living room window. Then Mom said, “Lord, no. No, no, no.” Without explaining she up and ran to her bedroom.

I stood there and watched this man I had never seen before stagger up our front porch steps and into our house.

“Where’s my boy?” he slurred. He came down the hall and looked in the kitchen. “Where’s that son of mine?”

He turned and saw me standing in the living room. “My boy,” he said, and stumbled toward me. He sweated gin and breathed whisky. The slightest spark would have ignited him.

His eyes moved from me to a spot over my shoulder. The spot where Mom had hung the framed newspaper. “I knew it was you,” he said. “When I saw your name in the paper, I knew it was my boy.”

“He’s not your boy!” I had never heard Mom’s voice so stern. So commanding. “I left you before he was born. He’s never been your boy. I didn’t want him raised in that kind of environment.”

The man turned and stalked toward Mom. She stood in the bedroom doorway with her twelve-gauge at her waist. The man took another step toward her, and Mom stepped into the room. When I was no longer in a direct line with her and the man, she raised the gun and fired.

Our living room window shattered, and intestines splattered the wall around the frame.

I had already started experimenting with body disposal, and it’s a good thing. You can’t just burn a human body and hope no one finds the remains.

The hard part was disposing of his car. I stripped it down and sold the parts to mechanics and junkyards.

Mom died the next year, and the year after that I met Lisette. When I met her I had a lucrative business in place working for the rich and famous…and preventing them from becoming infamous.

But now my career may have ended. I’m sitting in the living room of the house Mom and I fixed up. My house. Sitting in a chair across from me is Lisette’s body. Her head is sprayed across the wall behind her.

She had been talking about getting out of the business for some time now. She said it was illegal. She thought we would get arrested.

I came home from a solo job at some athlete’s estate. A cocktail party had gotten out of hand. She sat in the chair holding my mom’s shotgun. I asked what she was doing. I told her to stop. But with her eyeballs floating in tears, she put the barrel of the gun in her mouth and used her toe to pull the trigger.

She wanted me to quit the business. Now I’m sitting here, looking at the mess she left me, and I think I may quit. But I’ll have to ponder it later. I’ve got work to do.

****

Eric Price lives with his wife and two sons in northwest Iowa. He began publishing in 2008 when he started writing a quarterly column for a local newspaper. Later that same year he published his first work of fiction, a spooky children’s story called Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast. Since then, he has written stories for children, young adults, and adults. Three of his science fiction stories have won honorable mention from the CrossTime Annual Science Fiction Contest. His first YA fantasy novel, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, received the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Literary Classics Award for Best First Novel. His second novel, The Squire and the Slave Master, continues the Saga of the Wizards. It is scheduled for a September 2015 release. Find him online at authorericprice.comTwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.