The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death336
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death336
Then things get weird: The dead man's daughter asks a favor. Every cell in Web's brain tells him to turn her down, but something makes him hit the Harbor Freeway at midnight to help her however he can. Soon enough it's Web who needs the help when gun-toting California cowboys start showing up on his doorstep. What's the deal? Is it something to do with what he cleaned up in that motel room in Carson? Or is it all about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web doesn't have a clue, but he'll need to get one if he's going to keep from getting his face kicked in. Again. And again. And again.
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|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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I’m not sure where one should expect to find the bereaved daughter of a wealthy Malibu suicide in need of a trauma cleaner long after midnight, but safe to say a trucker motel down the 405 industrial corridor in Carson was not on my list of likely locales.
—Ouch. That looks painful.
I touched the bandage on my forehead.
—And if that’s what it feels like to look at it, imagine how it feels to actually have it happen to you.
The half of her face that I could see in the chained gap at the edge of the door nodded.
—Yeah, I’d imagine that sucks.
Cars whipped past on the highway across the parking lot, taking full advantage of the few hours in any given Los Angeles county twenty-four hour period when you might get the needle on the high side of sixty. I watched a couple of them attempting to set a new land speed record. I looked back at Soledad’s face, bisected by the door.
I hefted the plastic carrier full of cleaning supplies I’d brought from the van.
—Someone called for maid service?
—Yeah. That was me.
She fingered the slack in the door chain, set it swinging back and forth.
—I didn’t really think you’d come.
—Well, I like to surprise.
She stopped playing with the chain.
—Terrible habit. Don’t you know most people don’t like surprises?
I looked over at the highway and watched a couple more cars.
—Can I ask a silly question?
I looked back at her.
—What the fuck am I doing here?
She ran a hand through her hair, let it fall back over her forehead.
—You sure you want to do this, Web?
That being the kind of question that tips most people off to a fucked up situation, I could very easily have taken it as my cue to go downstairs, get back in the van and get the hell gone. But it’s not like I hadn’t already been clued to things being fucked up when she called in the middle of the night and asked me to come to a motel to clean a room. And there I was anyway. So who was I fooling?
Exactly no one.
—Just let me in and show me the problem.
—Think you can fix it, do you?
I shook my head.
—No, probably not. But it’s cold out here. And I came all this way. She showed me half her smile, the other half hidden behind the door.
—And you’re still clinging to some hope that a girl asking you to come clean something is some kind of booty call code, right?
I rubbed the top of my head. But I didn’t say anything. Not feeling like saying no and lying to her so early in our relationship. There would be time for that kind of thing later. There’s always time for lying.
She inhaled, let it out slow.
The door closed. I heard the chain unhook. The door opened and I walked in, my feet crunching on something hard.
—This the asshole?
I looked at the young dude standing at the bathroom door with a meticulously crafted fauxhawk. I looked at bleached teeth and handcrafted tan. I looked at the bloodstains on his designer-distressed jeans and his artfully faded reproduction Rolling Stones concert T from a show that took place well before he was conceived. Then I looked at much larger bloodstains on the sheets of the queen-size bed and the flecks of blood spattered on the wall. I looked at the floor to see what I’d crushed underfoot, half expecting cockroaches, and found dozens of scattered almonds instead. I listened as the door closed behind me and locked. I watched as Soledad walked toward the bathroom and the dude snagged her by the hand before she could go in.
—I asked, Is this the asshole.
I pointed at myself.
—Honestly, in most circumstances, in any given room on any given day, I’d say, Yeah, I’m the asshole here. But in this particular scenario, and I know we just met and all, but in this room here?
I pointed at him.
—I’m more than willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you’re the asshole.
He looked at Soledad.
—So, yeah, he’s the asshole then?
She twisted her hand free and went into the bathroom.
—He’s the guy I told you about.
She closed the door behind her.
He looked at me.
—Yeah, you’re the asshole alright.
I held up a hand.
—Hey, look, if you’re gonna insist, I can only accept the title. But seriously, don’t sell yourself short. You got the asshole thing locked up if you want it. He came down the room in a loose strut I imagine had been meticulously
assembled from endless repeat viewings of Tom Cruise’s greatest hits.
—Yeah, I can tell by the way you’re talking. You’re the one fucked with her today. Made jokes about her dad killing himself. You’re the asshole alright. The toilet flushed, Soledad yelled over it.
—He didn’t make jokes!
The dude looked at the closed door.
—You said he made jokes.
He looked at me.
—Asshole. Fucking go in someone’s home, there’s been a tragedy, go in and try to make money off that. Fucking vulture. Fucking ghoul. Who does that, who comes up with that for a job? That your dream job, man? Cleaning up dead people? Other kids were hoping to grow up to be movie stars and you were having fantasies about scooping people’s guts off the floor?
I shifted, crushing a few more almonds.
—Truth is, mostly I had fantasies about doing your mom.
He slipped a lozenge of perforated steel from his back pocket, flicked his wrist and thumb in an elaborate show of coordination, and displayed the open butterfly knife resting on his palm.
—Say what, asshole?
Say nothing, actually. Except say that maybe he was right and I was the asshole in the room. Certainly being an asshole was how I came to be there in the first place.
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