Nebraska Center for Writers

THE CLEANUP
by Sean Doolittle

Chapter One

In retrospect, announcing himself in the hallway almost seemed funny. Police. I'm opening the door.

The small bedroom in the back of Gwen Mullen's apartment felt like a meat locker. Worth understood when he reached down and felt cold iron: She'd valved off the radiator in here. She'd also opened the windows. Plastic blinds clattered on the chilly breeze.
He raised the Maglite to eye level.
Russell lay naked in a twist of sheets. In the beam of the flashlight, Worth caught glimpses of white amid ragged red pulp. He guessed he was looking at molars. Maybe jawbone. He wasn't sure.
Moving the light around the room, his own breath foggy in the beam, he passed over the nightstand and noticed a dark square centered in a thin layer of dust. He found the lamp on the floor beside the bed, cord trailing, still plugged into the socket near the peeling baseboard.
The lamp came on when he flipped the switch by his elbow, throwing shadows up the cracked plaster wall. By some trick the bulb had remained intact; dark clots of stuff had congealed around the chunky glass base.
Worth automatically reached for the mike on his shoulder. The words sat in his throat, pushing their way up: Three Adam Zero, Three Adam Sixty. His sergeant's car.
He wondered how long the guy had been here like this. He wondered how many times she'd hit him with the lamp.
At some point, he realized he'd released the call button without speaking.

Worth found Gwen sitting on the floor in the living room, staring at nothing, arms around her knees. A dimestore jack-o'-lantern the size of a Weber grill hulked in one corner, bathing the place in cheap orange light.
He slid a stack of magazines out of his way and sat on the edge of the low coffee table in front of her. There was a big ceramic ashtray shaped like Texas, heaped with butts. None of them looked like Gwen's brand.
"In the bedroom." She pointed. "Back there."
"Gwen," he said. "You showed me."
No response.
"Can you look at me?"
If she could, she didn't.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"Didn't you see?"
She drifted again, and Worth let her go. In the reflection of a framed race car poster on the wall he could see the jack-o'-lantern standing sentry over his shoulder, jagged mouth leering. For some stupid reason, he found that he didn't like having the thing at his back.
He stood and took a better look around.
Cracked woodwork, water stains on the ceiling. A fist-size hole in one wall, exposing slats like broken ribs. Between two tall windows, mismatched sheets tacked up for curtains, an enormous, expensive-looking flat-screen television sat on milk crates.
Back in the bedroom, standing over the fish-bellied body on the bed, Worth couldn't decide what depressed him most: the bludgeoned corpse, the image of Gwen Mullen raising the lamp and pulling it down, or the thought that he could, conceivably, wind up playing officer-on-scene to that miserable prick Vargas in Homicide.
He keyed the radio. The beep made him think of the checkout scanners at the store.
Just then a soft gasp drifted in from the other room, toward him down the short dark hall. Worth followed it back.
Gwen had finally lost her grip. Fat tears squeezed beneath the heels of her hands, leaving slick trails; her cheeks glistened in the gaudy Halloween glow.
Worth got down beside her, cuffs rattling, silent radio digging into his side, not sure where he could touch her that wouldn't hurt.
She covered her face and slouched against him. It was as if she had no weight. He felt her tears, her steamy breath.
"I didn't know what to do," she whispered.
He stroked her hair. "It'll be okay."
"How?"
Worth didn't kid himself.

Reprinted with permission
from The Cleanup
Copyright © 2006
by Sean Doolittle
Dell


DIRT
by Sean Doolittle

The trouble didn't seem to start so much as it simply landed, like a hunk of blazing debris.
Quince Bishop hadn't even been paying attention. In fact, right up until the moment all hell broke loose, he'd been thinking about how depresisngly generic the morning seemed.
A tent, a hole in the ground. An assemblage of folding chairs on a rolling green lawn. A head bowed here, a handkerchief clutched there, bright bunches of flowers all around. Rain showers earlier in the morning had left the cemetery turf fragrant and marshy, and the mound of excavated earth still looked damp beside the grave.
But now the sun was high. The sky was blue, the air was crisp, and the breeeze coming in from the ocean was warm. And for the most part, his good buddy Martin's was no more or less ordinary than the next funeral.

Reprinted with permission
from Dirt
Copyright © 2001
by Sean Doolittle
UglyTown (http://www.uglytown.com)


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