Millennials are a generation who were raised by television, and I’m no exception. TV shows make everything look easy. Bob Ross could teach you to paint a landscape in a half hour. Julia Child turned the most hapless homemaker into a French chef. Joey Tribbiani, despite his rather simple mind, managed to bed countless scores of beautiful women over a ten-year period. All of it looked so simple.
Dexter, though. That’s the one that let me down. With a few tools and an exorbitant amount of industrial plastic wrap, he could dismember a body and dispose of the pieces before anyone knew the victim was missing. He made it look effortless. A few well-placed cuts on the main joints and the parts were tied up in a few black trash bags, then dumped in the ocean without issue.
If only it had been that easy for me. It had taken me nearly three hours to take the body apart with the small hacksaw I managed to find on my rarely used work table. The sounds of the breaking bones and smells from the internal organs made me dry heave. I had only vomited twice during the entire process, mixing my partially digested lunch with the blood and bile running into the drain on the basement floor.
Her body, while small, had to be placed in three separate bags to keep them from ripping open. When the first sack began to strain under the weight, I had taken two more and set the original inside. Three layers seemed like they should hold up under the stress, but I added a fourth out of caution. If a bag was torn open when I moved the body out of the house and somebody saw the contents, there would be no explaining it away.
When the adrenaline finally wore off, I had my first panic attack. The floor of my basement was covered in gore. I didn’t know if crime scene investigators could test vomit for DNA, but if they did, I had left enough on the body that it seemed impossible they wouldn’t collect it. If anyone ever performed a luminol test there, it would light up like a Christmas Tree. As the owner of the home, there was no chance I wouldn’t be the primary person of interest anyway, vomit or not.
I raided the cabinet above my washing machine for every cleaning chemical I could find, unscrewing the lids and dousing the floor with reckless abandon. The mixture of cleaning solutions cut through the half-congealed blood. As it made its way toward the drain and I began to cough. My lungs felt as though they were filled with cement and I panicked, realizing I had poured a half gallon of bleach onto a floor covered in ammonia-based cleaners.
The chloramine gas it produced was poisonous and I ran to the small ground-level window, pushing it open and sucking in deep gulps of cool night air. Taking in another lung full, I walked quickly to the second window and pushed it open as well. With no other choice, I ran toward the stairs, kicked off my bloody shoes, and went back to the main level of the house.
I sat in a kitchen chair and burst into tears. Everything I had done finally settled into my mind like a tumor. There was a body in my basement that I had to get rid of. I didn’t want to kill her, but she didn’t give me a choice. She had threatened me and I couldn’t let her leave.
* * * * *
I lived in a rural outcropping near a major metro area. The country suited me and I went to town no more often than was required, but my literary agent had called that morning and told me there was some good news. He needed me to come to his office to review some paperwork before lunch.
When I arrived, he told me that my most recent novel had just sold in a small bidding war to one of the Big Five publishers. It had been a few years since my last meaningful sale so I invited him out for a celebratory drink. He declined citing a stack of slush manuscripts that hopeful writers mailed to him hoping for their big breakthrough. I was more than a bit socially awkward, so it hadn’t surprised me when he declined. It had always been more of a business relationship than a friendship.
I drove downtown to a quiet Irish pub and settled at the bar, ordering a neat bourbon. It went down smoothly and I closed my eyes, warmth drifting into every inch of my body. The bartender walked by and I tapped the rim of my glass and he tipped the bottle, filling it again with a nod. I sipped at it slowly this time, enjoying the heat in my throat.
Halfway through my second glass, a young woman who looked to be in her early twenties sat down beside me and ordered a vodka and cranberry. She was an attractive brunette in business attire, but her hair was in a messy bun and she had traded a pair of tan heels for a pair of khaki flats while she waited for her drink. Her eyes looked tired as she looked over the appetizer menu.
“Long day?” I asked casually, hoping to strike up a conversation.
“The longest I’ve had in a while,” she replied, turning to me with a shy smile. “How about you?”
“A good day,” I said, taking another small draw from the glass. The bartender returned and sat her drink on the napkin in front of her. She sipped at it, nodding as I talked. “I sold a manuscript to a publisher today which means I can put off getting a real job for another few years.”
“You’re a writer?” she asked. “Anything I would know?”
“Probably not,” I said with a shrug. It was a lie, but I tried to play it off as humbleness. “I’ve written a few, but my most popular book is Lantern Ridge. It was on the New York Times Bestseller list for a few weeks.”
“No kidding?” she asked, recognition in her eyes. “You’re Vince August! I read Lantern Ridge when I was in college! I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking to a famous author!”
“Can an author buy you a drink?” I asked, cringing internally. The words had sounded so smooth in my head, but they came out like I was a nervous teenager.
“Oh…” she said and stopped. I was afraid she was going to tell me she needed to leave. “I… I would love to! I’m just… this caught me a little bit off guard, you know? I don’t think I’ve met a celebrity before.”
“I’m not sure I’m much of a celebrity,” I replied. “But you’re sweet for saying it. I would love to buy you another drink and maybe we could grab a booth to talk?”
“Sure!” she replied, no longer looking tired. The young woman extended her hand toward me and I shook it. “I’m Sheryl, by the way. It’s nice to meet you.”
We grabbed our drinks and walked across the barroom to a padded booth on the side wall. Sheryl asked me dozens of questions about my writing, the famous people I had met, and what projects I was going to be working on. She told me about her job as a receptionist for a wholesale bedding manufacturer and her mountainous student loans that never seemed to shrink.
The hours passed and I was completely taken with her. She smiled and touched my hand as we talked. It made my heart beat like it was being struck by a hammer. Her gaze was so intense that I couldn’t look away. She seemed interested in me, which was a feeling I didn’t often receive from women.
“It’s getting late,” I said, looking at my watch. The drive home was nearly an hour and I wanted to make it back before the after-work traffic jam manifested. “I’ve really enjoyed this, but I need to head home. Is there any chance I could get your number?”
“Is there any chance you want to take me home?” she asked, her eyes locked on mine.
“I… well, yes,” I stammered. “I mean, if you’re asking…”
“What I’m asking is if you would like to take me back to your house and spend a little time together, maybe in the bedroom?”
“Yes,” I said, barely managing to get the word out. “I would.”
“I would like that too,” she said. “But Vince, there is something I need to ask you. Do you think you could help me out with a little bit of money? I’ve got bills to pay and the student loan people call me twenty times a week. I fell behind on my payments about two months ago. Is that something you could help me with?”
I was crestfallen. Sheryl was an escort and I had been too oblivious to see the signs. I was in my late thirties, pot-bellied and balding. She was in her early twenties, so gorgeous it almost hurt your heart. It suddenly made sense why she was interested in me, and I felt a twist of pain in my stomach.
“Yeah,” I said. It had been a long time since I had been with a woman. Hurt from the deception, I had almost turned her down. She was so beautiful and I was just lonely. “I can do that.”
“Should we go?” She asked and took me by the hand.
* * * * *
When we finished, I sat against the pillows in my bed, the sheet covering my lap, watching her hastily dress. I had hoped she would stay in bed for a while and talk, but she firmly and politely made it clear that she wouldn’t be staying much longer. My body was a terrible mixture of pleasure and misery. I thought spending time with her would make me feel better, but it only produced more feelings of resentment and self-loathing.
“Can you call me a cab?” she asked, zipping the side of her skirt. “And I’ll need the money. I think we agreed on five hundred.”
“Yeah,” I replied, standing from the bed and walking toward the chair to get my wallet. We had stopped at an ATM on our way back to withdraw the cash, but she told me I could hang on to it until we were done. Picking up my pants, I reached into the pocket but my wallet was gone. “That’s weird. I thought I put my wallet back in my jeans.”
“You’re not trying to stiff me are you?” She asked, eyes piercing like daggers. “I didn’t think you would be that kind of man, Vince.”
“No, no. It’s got to be here somewhere. Just let me find it.”
“I think you’re trying to fuck me over! Where’s my money?”
Her words cut into me like a dagger. She had been so sweet throughout our night together, but her words had turned to venom. I moved around the bedroom, desperately trying to find my wallet, but she kept screaming at me that I was trying not to pay her.
“Vince, am I going to have to call someone to come get the money from you?”
“No! I had my wallet earlier. Just let me find it!”
“Just call me a cab! I’ll come back with a friend and we’ll get my money!”
“Sheryl, please! It has to be here somewhere.” I placed a hand on her shoulder to reassure her, but she slapped me and pushed me away.
“Don’t touch me and find my fucking money, you freak! If you don’t pay me I’m sure Buzzfeed would love an interview about how the famous Vince August has to pay women for sex. You’re so pathetic.”
Sheryl unlocked her cell phone and started thumbing the dial pad. My mind was racing as I stumbled through the room trying to find my wallet, begging her to put the phone away. It wouldn’t be the biggest story on any news site that a middle-aged author allegedly slept with a callgirl, but my agent would drop me and my family would be ashamed. The few friends I had would vanish.
“I should have known you were a loser, sitting at the bar all alone. I bet TMZ will eat this up.”
Just before she hit the green dial button, I knocked the phone from her hand and wrenched my arm around her neck. My movements were not my own; my body was driven by sadness and rage. She clawed at me as I brought my other arm up, forming a chokehold. Her scream was short as her airway closed. It felt like hours as she writhed in my arms, her feet kicking my shins, until finally she went limp and slid to the floor.
* * * * *
I felt on the verge of a heart attack from hauling the black bags from the basement. It had been years since I had done anything passably resembling exercise. Sweat circled the neck of my shirt like a wide, dark collar and I rested my fists on my waist. It was nearly 4 AM by the time I finished cleaning the basement, and I was on the edge of a total breakdown.
Stumbling from the porch, I walked to the side of the garage and pulled the green trashcan onto the pavement. The wheels rumbled across the smooth surface as I moved closer to the porch. I tossed the lid back and began lifting bags one by one over the lip, dropping them inside with a sickening thud. Scanning the ground, I was relieved to see none of the bags had leaked.
Turning back, I shut the lid and began to roll the can down the driveway. It was a terrible plan, I told myself, but none of it had gone well to begin with. I never intended to kill the girl and never imagined that I would have to hide a body. Burying her in the woods had been my first thought, but I had read so many news articles over the years about hunters finding human remains in the forest, I decided against it.
Hundreds of bodies turn up every year in landfills. The garbage men on my route drove by themselves, anyway. A hoist arm on the truck would pick up the can and empty it into the back without them ever touching it. I would just spray out the can with bleach the next day and worry for the rest of my life about the day someone may find Sheryl and connect her to me.
No matter how I disposed of her body, it was a risk. Burying her would take hours longer. Trying to haul her away myself would leave DNA traces in my car. At least with the garbage, she would be gone in a few short hours.
As I reached the end of the driveway, one of the wheels on the trashcan caught in a crack in the pavement and went tumbling forward. I struggled against it, but the incredible weight of the contents toppled it to the ground. One of the bags rolled out, the plastic shredding, sending a foot and forearm rolling into the street. I ran after them when a bright light exploded around me and the rumble of the garbage truck engine rattled through the night air.
I froze, looking down at the body parts on the yellow lane divider. The light of the truck washed over them and I began to tremble. I heard the hiss of the parking brake and the sound of a door opening, but I still couldn’t move.
This is the end, I thought to myself.
“Weird time to be putting the old can out, my friend,” A voice said. “Looks like you’ve made a bit of a mess. Let me give you a hand.”
The man walked forward, knelt, and picked up the foot. I finally looked at him, a squat man in coveralls and a green trucker’s hat. He turned the foot over in his hand, seeming strangely indifferent.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“I… I don’t…” The words caught in my throat like fishhooks in a pile of cotton.
He waved me off with his free hand and leaned over to pick up the forearm. Standing, he waddled over to the toppled garbage can and sat it up, dropping the body parts back inside before tossing the fallen bag in behind it. He pushed the can to the truck and pushed a button, dropping the hydraulic arm. It lifted the can in the air and dropped the bags into the back of the truck.
“I got an early start to the day,” he said whimsically, taking off his hat and running a stubby hand over his bald head. “Putting in a little overtime at the second job and want to catch a nap in between!”
He waddled over to me and looked at me with narrow, beady eyes.
“I can pay you,” I said finally, digging the wallet from my back pocket. I found it in Sheryl’s handbag after I killed her. She had stolen it and staged the scene to blackmail me later, I was sure. “I have five hundred dollars. You can have it if you… just don’t tell anyone.”
“Won’t be necessary,” he said, his smile filled with flat, yellow teeth. “Things happen, my friend. Things happen. I don’t intend to cause you any trouble. You just keep that money now. How’s about you just bring me one a month and we’ll call it square?”
“A thousand dollars a month?” I asked, still frozen in place. “For how long?”
“No, you’re misunderstanding me, bucko. A body a month, like the one I just took care of for you. Only thing is, don’t cut it up, eh? No poison, either. Ruins them.”
“A fella finds you trying to dump a chopped-up… lady, I’m guessing from the size of the foot? I catch you doing that, and you wonder what I want with a body? Seems like a fine time to quit asking questions.”
“I can’t do that. I didn’t mean to… I didn’t want this!”
The man turned and waddled back to his truck, humming happily, leaving my garbage can sitting in the road. He crawled up the side with great effort, opened the door, and slid behind the wheel. The door slammed and I jumped, moving for the first time in minutes. He rolled down the window and leaned out, elbow cocked over the edge.
“I’ll give you a month. You’ll meet me right here at the same time,” he said, staring at me intently. All amusement was gone from his face. “If there ain’t a body in that can a month from today, something worse than the cops will be knocking on your door, bucko.”
* * * * *
Finding a new victim every month was easier than you would like to think it would be. Most people don’t go looking for homeless people when they vanish. Hardly anyone realizes they’re gone. Craigslist would have you think escorts have been removed from the site, but there are still plenty of them there if you know how to look. Reddit is also an easy-picking ground for lonely, isolated people like me. It doesn’t take much to gain their trust.
I told myself I wouldn’t do what the strange little man had asked, but as the date grew closer, I began having panic attacks and could barely function. Dozens of times I had dialed the phone, calling the police to turn myself in, but I always hung up before it could ring. I was too cowardly to turn myself in, and too scared to take the ‘easy’ option out.
The second was a hitchhiker, also a young woman. I pulled over and offered her a ride which she gladly accepted. We stopped at a roadside diner and I bought her dinner, weighed down by the guilt of what I was going to do. All she could see was a middle-aged man offering her a small measure of kindness, and I hated myself so much for it. When I offered her a place to sleep for the evening, she hesitantly accepted. As I watched the light go out of her eyes later that night, I knew would do whatever the garbage man told me to save myself.
I stood beside the can that night and waited for him. When the truck stopped, he jumped out and waddled over, lifting the lid to inspect the contents. He smiled as the hydraulic arm dropped the hitchhiker into the back of the truck. I pulled the can back into the driveway as he crawled back into the truck.
“Don’t have to be a lady every time, you damn monster!” He shouted with a laugh. “It can be if that’s your thing, but just don’t have to be.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he drove away before I could respond.
We met that way for two years, always at 4 AM and always with me standing beside the can, waiting for the vile little creature to look inside. Killing them had become a cold and calculated business for me, but his delight in seeing the lifeless bodies in the trashcan still chilled me to the bone. I fought back the urge to beg him every month to release me from this task, to ask him why he wants the bodies, but I never did. I was afraid he may actually answer me, and truthfully I didn’t want to know.
Four months ago, I stood at the end of my driveway leaning on the trashcan. It was unseasonably cold for March and I hadn’t worn a jacket. My body shivered as a crisp breeze blew up the back of my shirt and I stared down the street, praying for headlights to break through the darkness. It was five minutes past when he usually rumbled into view, but there was no sign of him.
I was getting nervous. He had never been late before. Early on a few occasions, sitting impatiently at the end of my driveway and tapping an imaginary wristwatch as though I could have known he was ahead of schedule. It wasn’t like him, for what little I really knew of the man, to be late, and I was thinking of heading inside.
Just before I turned to leave, headlights cut through the darkness, moving in my direction. A sigh of relief escaped my lips as I rubbed my hands on my exposed arms to warm them up. I was hoping he wouldn’t be too chatty. Sometimes he tried to talk like we were old friends and it made my skin crawl.
The headlights were growing larger, but I couldn’t see the usual outline of the truck. There were no streetlights on my road, but there was a single LED bulb atop the utility pole at the end of my drive. It wasn’t enough to illuminate much more than ten square feet of ground, but the white container on the back of the garbage truck usually sent back a weak reflection.
Red and blue lights blossomed in the darkness and my hair stood on end. A spotlight erupted and blinded me, sending me staggering backward in confusion. I shot out a hand to block the light and steadied myself on the heavy trashcan, almost falling to the ground. A door slammed from behind the bright light.
“Put your hands in the air!” a commanding voice shouted. I complied, lifting both of my arms above my head. “Get on the ground! Cross your feet behind your back and interlace your fingers behind your head!”
I dropped to the ground, my face pressing against the cold concrete. Tears pooled below me as I began to sob. Rough hands took hold of me and handcuffs snapped around my wrists before I was hoisted from the ground. At some point, I pissed my pants and they clung to my leg, growing cold in the wind. Before I could make sense of what was happening. I was thrown into the back of the police car, the door nearly slamming on my feet.
I watched through the window as a uniformed officer walked toward the trashcan in the driveway. He threw the lid open and covered his mouth. Leaning to his side, he keyed up his lapel microphone to his walkie-talkie. I couldn’t hear what he said, but it was a safe bet my house would be swarming with detectives within the hour.
The garbage man, I thought. The lousy bastard turned me in.
* * * * *
The district attorney gave me a plea deal of twenty years after they found the young man in the garbage can. No doubt the investigators suspected me of killing countless others, especially after inspecting the basement. A young cop tossed pictures of the basement, glowing neon under the blacklight, but I didn’t answer any questions about that. There was no usable evidence there. After Sheryl, I had taken a garden sprayer filled with bleach and coated every inch of the room. I never used the basement to kill again.
I toyed with the idea of trying to explain how I had gotten involved with the strange garbage man, but it was a non-starter. To explain to them my arrangement with him would implicate me in dozens of other murders. I would never see the light of day again, and so I took the deal and never mentioned the miserable bastard.
If I’m lucky, my good time credit could have me back on the outside by the time I’m fifty. Fifty-eight was the worst case. Not young, but not too old that I couldn’t enjoy a few years at least. Maybe write another book. There would be plenty of time to think of a plot or two over the next couple of decades.
I joined Gen Pop today; general population to those less familiar with the penal system. It’s every bit the wretched nightmare I expected. Most of the inmates seem indifferent to me, but others stare at me like starved animals. I had a cell to myself in the classification housing unit, but I was reassigned to a double bunk room with an unstable-seeming man named Wayne Gurning. He sits on his bunk all day, humming the tune to Happy Days, occasionally punctuated by fits of laughter.
It’s going to be a hard time, I know, but things went from bad to worse this afternoon when we headed to the cafeteria. I stood in line waiting for my tray and watched the clock on the wall ticked minutes away from my life. “Chow” was only half an hour and there were only twelve minutes left before lunch was over, yet still four men still stood ahead of me in line.
Thankfully, the four in front of me moved quickly and I stepped to the window, looking down at the tray. Two slices of bread, a slab of grayish meat, watery corn, and peas that looked like they lost their shape sometime in the last decade.
I looked up and locked eyes with a squat, bald man standing behind the thick plexiglass screen that separated the kitchen from the mess hall. He wore a prison employee jumpsuit, smiling at me with flat, yellow teeth.
It was the garbage man.
I wanted to scream, but the dry words caught in my throat just like the first night that I saw him. He only smiled at me, watching me struggle to maintain my loosening grip on sanity. The man behind me shoved me, saying something, but I couldn’t understand him. I could only look at the monster in front of me.
I began to back away, eyes locked on the garbage man. He lifted a thick, stubby finger to his lips and made a single sound.
In a daze, I turned and found a table near the door. I felt dizzy and thought I would pass out at any moment. My mind raced, trying to decide who to tell about the maniac working in the kitchen there at the prison.
But I couldn’t tell anyone. If they arrested him, what would he tell them about me?
I cradled my face in my hands, trying to hold back tears in the room full of dangerous, hardened men. My eyes were fixed on the gray slab of meat sitting on my tray. It didn’t look like any cut I had seen before. The acid in my stomach churned as the pieces fell into place.
“Oh my God…” I said quietly to myself.
“What’d you say?” a man said from the other end of the table. “You talkin’ to yourself, son?”
I pushed the tray away and put my forehead on the cool table.
“Chow’s about up, Fish,” the inmate said. “You gonna finish that?”
“No,” I said, sliding the tray toward him without looking. “Suddenly I’m not feeling so hungry.”
Credit: Septic Theory
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