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Short story - Clean-up On I80




Carl drove away from the flooded quarry, humming quietly to himself. His fingers drummed on the steering wheel, head bobbing to the beat pouring from the radio. Empty road, WKMF All Rock Radio, and a new job tomorrow; life could be good. He glanced at the bright red stiletto hanging from the rear view mirror by its shredded strap and grinned.
An hour later, halfway between back there and up ahead, he caressed the shoe a final time, and then hurled it out the passenger window. It cartwheeled a couple of times, dropped and was lost in the weedy depths of the verge. He drove on, power ballads winging him to another nameless backwater.
                                                               ***
Andy headed out around ten. Dark car, dark clothes, dark purpose. A couple of hours later he parked up, walked along the highway verge, scanning with a flashlight. A glint in the weeds. A shoe buckle? Yep. He retrieved the red stiletto and headed back to his car. He drove to the intersection, pulled an illegal turn and headed back. Guessing when he was roughly opposite the original site, He parked up, flashers on, and located a phone pole. He smiled, took aim and launched.
Glancing in his mirror as he drove away, he caught a final glimpse of two red stilettoes dangling by a rope from the phone lines.

                                                               ***
Carl sauntered away from the open grave, his work buried beneath a couple of feet of grave dirt. Tomorrow it would be obscured forever under Grandpa Williams, unbeknownst to his grieving family and friends. He hopped in his car, headed out to the highway and tuned to Classics Forever. He was in the mood for some powerful emotions and Thursday was Wagner night. His hand brushed the loafer in his lap as he headed for the highway. Back to there.
He hadn’t planned to return so soon but you went where the work was. Bit risky really, only a couple of days after. Ah well, he could test the waters, see if there was any fuss. He soothed the suede on the loafer; such a cool texture. Nice. He hooked it out into the night, saw it bounce, roll and settle on the white line, drove on.
He almost missed them, happened to look up at a sign as he went under the phone lines. What the… Red stilettoes, two. Not just one, the pair. Couldn’t be anything to do with him, right? He felt a whisper of cold unease in his spine and pulled over, giving the finger to a passing trucker who almost mowed him down at the sudden stop.
He got out, walked back and looked up. He wanted to use his phone, get some flashlight on those shoes, but he was exposed enough already. Another truck trundled by and its headlights gave off enough glow for Carl to see a single shredded strap. He ran for the car, slammed himself inside and drove.
                                                             ***
Andy gave it a day, then he retrieved the loafer, paired it with the one in his trunk and made his way to the Starvale Motel. On the outskirts of town it was the last resort of junkies, working girls and families with no options. The lot was littered with takeout cartons and broken glass. Andy parked on the road outside, didn’t want to risk his tyres. He flipped up his hood, stuck his hands deep in his pockets, secured the brown paper parcel under his arm and walked over to the ‘No Vacancies’ sign half alight in the lobby window.
Stepping inside he found reception empty. No surprise there. What the owner didn’t see in the wee small hours, the owner couldn’t be forced to tell. Still Andy needed a body. He rapped on the partition glass, aware of faint tv sounds through the partially open door to the back rooms.
“Hey, customer here.” He yelled and caught faint shuffling and grunts from within.
“No rooms.”
“Didn’t say I wanted one.”
Andy found that slightly obscure answers had a wonderful habit of bringing people to him and this was the case. A dishevelled man in his 50’s balding, pyjama glad and trailing smoke and booze fumes, staggered into the slip of an office behind the glass and frowned.
“Wha’ya want?”
  “Parcel delivery.” He indicated the brown paper lump on the desk between them.
“Find a mailman.”
The dude started to leave and Andy shrugged, opening his fist to reveal the handful of notes.
“Guess I was wrong and you can’t use any of this, huh?”
The guy came about smartly, his hand reaching for the cash with speed belying his appearance. Andy let it go and shoved the parcel forward.
“Guy with the ’92 Ford, silver stripe. Make sure he gets it when he leaves, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah.”
The parcel was dumped on a chair, but Andy tapped gently on the glass, got the bloodshot eyes really looking at him.
“Don’t make me come back to check.”
The eye of the gun gazed at the man and he nodded, swallowed hard.
“Sure, man, no sweat.”
Satisfied, Andy left.
                                              ***
Carl ambled to his car. Didn’t seem to be any heat. Not sure the girl was even missed yet. He was fine for another job. He tried to pretend his heart didn’t leap when the dumb old man who did night reception croaked across the lot at him.
“Parcel for ya.”
A what? Who the f-ing hell was leaving him parcels? When no-one should know where he was? He sprinted across the lot, grabbed both parcel and man.
“Who left it?” he barked and felt the man shake from head to toe. He also wasn’t about to get labelled a grass around these parts and just shook his head.
“You better tell me.” Carl bellowed, instantly aware he was a spectacle to several bleary-eyed kids and a couple of skanky girls smoking on the corner wall, even as he slammed the guy against the building.
“Dunno. I swear.” He whined.
Carl gave up an already bad job, dumping the guy and marching to his ride. He flung the package on the passenger seat and tore out of the lot. Minutes later he sat in the train yard, concealed by mouldering piles of rusty track and disused railway sleepers, breathing hard and fingering the parcel in his lap. He was almost sure he knew what was in there. Ripping the paper open he glared down at the loafers. Two of them.
A man of few words, Carl was pretty near dumbstruck, his silent accusers laying in the gravel at his feet. They’d landed there after he had thrown himself out of the car, kicked it and several other things and then simply dropped them. Someone knew. How, there wasn’t a clue, but he has to sort it or his days were numbered.
It had been a sort of joke. He’d watched enough tv to know the cops liked a mystery, liked to have a wrinkle, something unique to each perp. The one shoe thing had been his. Why he’d decided to litter the highway verges with single shoes hadn’t been any clearer to him then than it was now. He’d just decided to do it, maybe hoping someday the cops, after Carl was long gone, would find the shoe, match the DNA, define the victim, but never find anything more than the single shoe.
Right about now it seemed like the dumbest thing he’d ever chosen to do. He kicked a few more sleepers, punched the roof of his car, cursed for a while, then got in and drove off. Whatever, right? One for the road and then he’d be done.
                                                                         ***
It had been sheer chance which had put Andy onto the shoe flinger. Andy had his own business, and he’d been finishing off a job that night. On the far side of the gravel pit watching a filled bin liner slip under the surface, Andy had spotted movement on the far shore. Crouching behind the hulk of a burned out car, he’d watched, seen the dark figure bend, mess with something and then kick that thing into the water. He hadn’t waited to be sure – Andy always did, just in case. He was a careful worker – just turning and striding back to his car. Curious, his own work done, Andy had followed, racing round to his ride and then hanging back, shadowing the man up the highway, until the shoe.
It had come flying out of the window like an empty cup.  Just so much trash to be disposed of.  Andy had wrestled with following longer but decided to take a look at the shoe, but not before noting the license. He considered highway I80 his particular piece of work, and it had bothered him for a long time; all those single shoes on the verges. He reckoned it up as he crossed to the white pump, and guessed he had a collection of 35 in his trunk. Andy kept lots of souvenirs, all different. A tie here, a ring there, even a couple of cats who’d been travelling with their owner on one unfortunate ride; he loved cats and he smiled at the thought of them waiting for him at home. But this was different. This was what the police liked to call a signature and he didn’t want any mangy interloper stamping his signature on Andy’s ground, or worse, on his work.
He’d placed the shoe in the in the trunk and headed back to the quarry.  ‘Sloppy work’ he’d muttered, contemplating the platinum blonde in the little lacy wedding dress, floating serenely on the surface of the lake. He’d taken the second shoe, added weight and a new bag and consigned her to the depths. He felt oddly dirty, as if handling someone else’s work had contaminated him. He’d spent extra clean-up time that night.
Now he was ready. Tired of following Carl, retrieving his half-hidden work, the single shoes. Time to take back his territory.
                                               ***
Carl parked right on the driveway. He knew the husband was away, that there were no kids, no yapping dogs and the neighbours were safely screened behind high walls and hedges. Brazen, he sauntered up the drive, up the porch steps. Every footfall helped him batten down the unease which roiled in his belly, gnawed at his mind. No, he was going to enjoy this one. Then he’d move on, vanish, no looking back.
He plastered a smile on his face, and knocked. Who was gonna feel threatened by a 5 foot nothing string bean, right? No-one so far and this girl was no different, barely hiding her amusement as she was forced to look down to talk to him.
“Can I help you?”
“Sorry ma’am. I hate to disturb you this late but it’s about your husband.” Instant fear, wide eyes, slight gasp, not really looking at the badge he flashed, “May I come in?”
She stood back, let him pass, followed him into the lounge, sat beside him on the couch, waiting.
“I’m so sorry to be the bearer of bad news, ma’am, but there was an accident, out on I85.”
He didn’t get any further. She let out an ear-shattering wail and buried her head in his shoulder. He immediately offered her a hanky, liberally doused of course, and watched her wipe, cry and pass out.
At which point he felt a presence, but too late.
                                                                           ***
Andy clamped his enormous hand over Carl’s mouth, clocked him on the temple and felt him slump. He secured the little man’s hands with a double pull tie and then checked on the girl. She was out, but alive. He hefted Carl up, exited the house; just two guys, one maybe drunk, heading home. Depositing Carl in the trunk of his car, Andy locked it and returned to the house briefly. He took the phone off the hook, dialled emergency services and left the receiver on the hall table, the door wide open. Someone would come, see to her.
He drove to the quarry, stuck Carl with paralysing agent – from his personal stock which would soon need replenishing – and dumped him out on the damp earth beside a second car. Andy liked to have a spare and it gave him some satisfaction that Carl had made a mistake in that department, always using the same car. Hadn’t even changed the plates. Andy checked inside the cherry-red four-door, grinned and gave his attention to Carl.
Huge eyes stared back at him, filled with realisation. No way to move, no escape, this time he was the victim and he would know how it felt.
“Hello, Carl” Andy smiled, his voice light, “I’ve wanted to meet you for the longest time. Sadly, our friendship will be short.”
He bent lifted the smaller man and drew himself up to his full six and a half feet, Carl’s feet fluttering above the floor. He grunted, but the duct tape silenced him well enough.
“No Carl, there is no discussion. You see, I am done with you littering my highway. I don’t like your sloppy methods or your silly attempt to create a cop-pleasing style. It’s time you went on a long vacation, little man.”
He carried Carl to the car, opened a cherry red door and let him look inside, briefly, before flinging him inside with 36 shoes all neatly hanging from the roof, bumping and swaying with Carl’s entrance. Andy took a moment to enjoy the wide-eyed horror on Carl’s face and then closed the door. He wiggled his fingers in farewell and used his great weight to shove the car into the quarry.
As a mark of respect to a fellow professional – no matter how inept – he waited to be sure the car sank completely before going home to his cats, and his wife.

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