THE PENTHOUSE - DAVE BRADY
Eighty minutes after Laura had sent Edmund into Chinatown for party favors, they waited in the foyer for her private elevator to deliver what she had called, ‘The Handyman.’ Edmund, rather than call 911, gave her the benefit of the doubt. When the doors hissed open, out stepped, unmistakably, a janitor - small, old, in greasy coveralls, carrying two steaming coffee mugs and a toolbox.
“Miss Creel,” the janitor said, setting his toolbox down, “green mug’s for you. Mr. Veale, is it? Here, drink up.” He winked at Laura. “This’ll sober you up.”
“There’s a dead rentboy in the dining room,” Edmund said, tipping a sip of coffee onto the floor, “and you call your actual bloody janitor to deliver us a cuppa?” The janitor, unfazed, took a knee and rummaged out from his toolbox a rag and spray bottle and wiped up the spill.
“There,” he said, polishing the tiles. “Good as new, Miss Creel.”
“Yes, yes. Buff, polish, and Bob’s your uncle! Mightn’t you need more than a rag for the rest of it? Or hasn’t the cow told you?”
Laura frowned and sipped her coffee. Her eyes, like the rentboy’s, were far away.
The janitor’s knees creaked as he stood. “No, she’s told me everything.”
“In London,” Edmund said, eyeballing the little man, “I’d have rung the shadiest solicitor I could find.”
“But this’s Boston,” the janitor interrupted. “The Birches building. So you got me instead.”
“Now I realize custodial engineers are possibly relied upon more heavily this side of the Atlantic,” Edmund started, but then, in the old man’s gray eyes, he recognized a perspicacity that suddenly made his mouth shut.
“Miss Creel, you’ll need a shower. Not here. In 5B. And, Miss Creel? It’d be nice if nobody saw you.”
Laura went to Edmund. “This should make you feel better,” she said. As she kissed his cheek, she surreptitiously poured the contents of her lipstick flask into his coffee.
“I daresay it’s just the thing,” he said dryly, wiping her kiss off his cheek.
Before slipping out the stairwell door, Laura turned. “Please, Edmund, just do whatever the hell he says. He’ll fix this.”
For you, Edmund thought. He prayed ‘Mr. Fix-It’ was all Laura had cracked him up to be. A scandal like this, Edmund Veale would be more than ruined. He’d sinned plenty, betrayed colleagues and plundered client accounts, either to save his own skin or more richly cover it, but this was different. This was, at best, manslaughter.
Even if the facts prove her hands filthier than mine, he thought, plan B already forming.
“Mr. Veale? Why don’t you finish your coffee and take me through the night?”
“Why not?” Edmund said, downing the hot cup, his mouth and throat still numb from the pharmaceutical-grade party favors. “I went out, found the boy for Laura. He said he had everything we’d need for a good time so I brought him back to the building. Here, in the kitchen, we met Laura. And refueled, as it were. Soon the party was in full swing. There. On the dining room table, mostly.”
The rentboy, about nineteen or twenty, was splayed on the glass tabletop, asphyxiated with a belt. Beside him, about half an eight ball, a razor blaze, and a straw.
The janitor sighed. “I can’t wait for the eighties to be over. Okay. You must be wicked tired, Mr. Veale, right?”
Edmund yawned. “Exhausted, actually.”
The janitor opened his toolbox on the table. “Why don’t you wait in the parlor for Laura?”
And so Edmund did, and soon he fell asleep.
When he opened his eyes, his aching head nearly split in the effort to reconcile the sight before him. Tall, gorgeous Laura, like Blodeuwedd of myth, a girl made of flowers, and her janitor. Too tired to smile, never mind move or speak, Edmund watched and listened.
“A fight,” she was saying. “Edmund wouldn’t leave so I roamed the halls. I do that when I can’t sleep. Mrs. Tuttle from 1C? The other day, she told me Management was renting out 5B, fully furnished. I was curious, so I knocked on the janitor’s door to see if I could have a look. When Mr. Fix-It, sorry, when the janitor saw my face, I had to tell him of course what happened. After begging him not to call 911, he offered to let me spend the night in 5B. I mean, I knew Edmund had a dark side, but nothing like this.”
A dark side? Edmund thought. And what’s the matter with her face? He tried propping himself up, but was so stiff even the memory of movement escaped him. Until the janitor looked directly at him, he considered that maybe it was he who’d died.
“Mr. Veale,” the janitor said, shaking his head, “you smacked Laura around, then binged on booze, drugs, and the boy. The tragedy was accidental, so the evidence tells. Thanks to my special homebrew, you won’t remember a thing.”
Edmund realized then that he wasn’t on the sofa, but the table. Naked, next to the dead boy. His blood burned inside him. He pictured anguished tears floating off his face like steam.
“And it’s believable?” Laura said.
“He’s English. It’s believable. Ready?”
Laura glanced at Edmund, then shut her eyes. The janitor swung her a punch. Edmund wanted to scream, but he could hardly breathe. His body trembled. Then, something in the panicked way the janitor rushed over, Edmund could tell he was dying. He could tell, too, that the janitor was nearly as surprised as he was.
“I already fixed it,” the janitor shouted, about to throw another punch.
“Him giving me two black eyes?” Laura said. “That’s stretching it a bit.”
The janitor grimaced. “I’m sorry, pal, but you weren’t on the lease.”
Laura Creel’s voice was the last sound Edmund ever heard. “Take what you want and pay for it, says God, says some proverb. At least you won’t be paying for it the rest of your goddamn life.”
BIO: Dave Brady is a writer from Boston, MA. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in both print and online media, including The Portland Phoenix and UnMadeUp.com. Currently, he attends the Stonecoast MFA program in Maine.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago