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12. THE ODYSSEY Elmore Leonard

Joe Serano caught the Odyssey night clerk as he was going off: prissy guy, had his lunch box under his arm.

"I saw it this morning on TV," Joe said. "So there was a lot of excitement, huh? I thought the cops'd still be here, at least the crime scene guys. I guess they've all cleared out. You hear the shots? You must've."

"I was in the office," the night guy said.

Joe wondered how this twink knew he was in the office at the exact time the shots were fired. What'd he think, it was soundproof in there? But the cops no doubt had asked him that, so Joe let it pass and said, "It was the two guys in one-oh-five, wasn't it?"

"I think so."

"You're not sure?"

The night guy rolled his eyes and then pretended to yawn. He did things like that, had different poses.

"Fairly respectable-looking guys," Joe said, "but no luggage. What're they doing, shacking up? Maybe, maybe not. But I remember thinking at the time, they're up to something. The TV news didn't mention their names, so there must not've been any ID on the bodies and the cops didn't think the names they used to register were really theirs. Am I right?"

The night guy said, "I wouldn't know," acting bored.

"Soon as I saw those guys yesterday they checked in as I was getting ready to go off I said to Mel, 'Let me see the registration cards, see what names they gave.' He wouldn't show me. He goes, 'Registering guests is not a security matter, if you don't mind.' " Mel, the day guy, sounding a lot like Kenneth, the night guy.

"I didn't have time to hang around, keep an eye on them," Joe went on. "I had to go to another job, a function at the Biltmore. They put on extra security for this bunch of Cuban hotshots meeting there. I mean CubanCubans, said to be Castro sympathizers, and there was a rumor Fidel himself was gonna show up. You believe it? I wore a suit instead of this Mickey Mouse uniform, brown and friggin' orange; I get home I can't wait to take it off. Those functions, you stand like this holding your hands in front of you, like you're protecting yourself from getting a hernia, and you keep your eyes moving. So" he gestured toward the entrance "I saw the truck out there, the tan van, no writing on the sides? That's the cleanup company, right?"

"I wouldn't know," the night guy said.

Little curly-haired twink, walked with his knees together.

"Well, listen, I'll let you go," Joe said, "and thanks for sharing that information with me, it was interesting. I'll go check on the cleanup people, see how they're doing. What room was that again, one-oh-five?"

It sure was.

There was furniture in the hall by the open door and a nasty smell in the air. As Joe approached, a big black guy in a white plastic jumpsuit, latex gloves, what looked like a shower cap, goggles up on his head, blue plastic covering his shoes, came out carrying a floor lamp.

Joe said, "Joe Sereno, security officer."

"I'm Franklin, with Baneful Clean-Up."


"The boss named it. He tried Pernicious Clean-Up in the Yellow Pages? Didn't get any calls."

Joe said, "Hmmmm, how about Death Squad?"

"That's catchy," Franklin said, "but people might get the wrong idea. You know, that we doing the job 'stead of cleaning up after. This is my partner, Marlis," Franklin said, and Joe turned to see a cute young black woman approaching in her plastic coveralls, hip-hop coming out of the jam box she was carrying.

"Joe Sereno, security officer."

"Serene, yeah," Marlis said, "that's a cool name, Joe," her body doing subtle, funky things like it was plugged into the beat. She said to Franklin, "Diggable Planets doing 'Rebirth of Slick.' 'It's cool like dat.' "

" 'It's chill like dat,' " Franklin said. "Yeah, 'it's chill like dat.' "

Franklin bopping now, going back into the room.

Joe followed him in, stopped dead at the sight, and said, "Oh, my God," at the spectacle of blood: on the carpet, on two walls, part of the ceiling, a trail of blood going from this room into the bathroom. Joe looked in there and said it again, with feeling, "Oh, my God."

"Like they was skinnin' game in here," Franklin said. "Shotgun done one of them at close range. The other one, nine-millimeter pistol, they believe. Man got shot four times through and through see the holes in the wall there? They dug out the bullets. Made it to the bathroom, got three more pumped into him and bled out in the shower. Thank you, Jesus. We still have to clean it, though, with the green stuff, get in between the tiles with a toothbrush. We thankful the man came in here, didn't go flop on the bed to expire."

Joe said, "Man, the smell."

"Yeah, it's what your insides get like exposed to the air too long, you know what I'm saying? Your viscera, it's called. It ain't too bad yet. But if you gonna stay in here and watch," Franklin said, "better breathe through your mouth."

Joe said, "I think I'll step out to the patio for a minute."

The two secretaries from Dayton, Ohio, their bra straps hanging loose, were out by the pool already, this early in the morning, to catch some rays, working at it, not wasting a minute of their vacation. Joe took a few deep breaths, inhaling the morning air to get that smell out of his nose. On the other side of the pool, still in shade, a guy sat in a plastic patio chair smoking a cigar as he watched the girls. Guy in his sixties he'd be tall with a heavy frame; his body hadn't seen much sun, but his face was weathered. Joe believed the guy was wearing a rug. Black hair that had belonged to a Korean woman at one time. A retired wigmaker had told him they used a lot of Korean hair. This one looked too dark for a guy in his sixties. Joe had never noticed the guy before he must've checked in yesterday or last night but for some reason he looked familiar. Joe went back in the unit, ducked into the bedroom and picked up the phone.

"Sereno, security. Who's in one-twenty?" The day guy's voice said, "Why do you want to know?" I'm doing something wrong, Joe thought. I'm failing to communicate. "Listen, it's important. The guy, there's something about him isn't right." ' "Like what?"

"I think he's using the Odyssey as a hideout." "Is this the guy with the Steven Seagal hairpiece?" "You got it." "Just a minute." The twink was gone at least five minutes while Joe waited, trying to breathe through his mouth. Finally he came back on.

"His name's Garcia."

Franklin was working on the ceiling with a sponge mop; he would come down off his metal ladder and squeeze into a pail, then take the pail into the bathroom and dump it in the toilet. Marlis was scrubbing a wall with what looked like a big scouring pad, moving in time to the beat coming from the jam box, kind of spastic, Joe thought, but sexy all the same.

The two looked like they were dressed up in moon suits they'd made for Halloween: the white plastic coveralls, goggles, respiratory masks, covered head to toe. The smell of the chemicals they were using was even stronger now than the other smell. Joe got a whiff and started coughing as he asked Marlis what it was they cleaned with.

She said, "The green stuff for a lot of heavy, dried blood; the pink stuff when it isn't too old and hard to get off."

"Girl," Franklin said, "your head keeps touching the wall and I see some hair sticking out."

"I'll fix it in a minute."

Marlis had on rubber gloves that came up her arms. She said to Joe Sereno, "See these little specks here in the wall? They from the man's skull, little tiny fragments of bone. Sometime I have to use pliers to pull them out. This dark stuff is the dude's hair. See these other holes? They from the shotgun." She funked around, doing steps to the music as she said to Franklin, "Coolio, for your pleasure."

Franklin listened and said, "Ain't Coolio." Listened some more, said, "You got your Cools confused. It's LL Cool J, no other, 'cause that's 'Hey Lover.' " He paused, looking past Marlis to a framed print on the wall. "Girl, is that like modern art on there or something else?"

Marlis went up to the picture for a close look and said, "It's something else."

Joe looked at it and said, "Oh, my God."

He watched Marlis remove the print and drop it into a red bag. "Ain't worth cleaning. Anything has body fluids, tissue, poo-poo, you know, anything biohazardous, goes in these bags. We give them to a company takes care of medical waste to get rid of."

"You missed a speck there," Franklin said, pointing at the wall.

"I'm still working on it, baby." Lowering her voice, she said to Joe, "He don't like to see me talking to other men."

"Are you and him married?"

"You'd think so to hear him."

"I was wondering, is there any money in cleanup work? You don't mind my asking."

"We quoted this job at fifteen hundred. Hey, how many people can you find to do it? Another reason it's a good business, recessions don't bother it none. This one here looks worse'n it is. Doesn't smell too bad. You work where a body's been decomposing awhile, now you talking about smell. Like old roadkill up close? You go home and take a shower, you have to wash out your nostrils good. The smell like sticks to the hairs in your nose."

"What's the worst one you ever had to clean up?"

"The worst one. Hmmmm." She said, "You mean the very worst one? Like an advanced state of decomp has set in? The body's in a dark, damp place and dung beetles have found it?"

Franklin said, "Girl?"

"I'm coming," Marlis said. She got a scraper, like a big putty knife, from a box of tools and went back to work. She said to Joe, "It dries on here it's hard to get off."

"What is that?"

She was scraping at something crusted on there. "Little piece of what the dude used to use to think with. His brain, honey. He maybe should've thought better about coming here, huh? Two dudes die and nobody even knows who they are. Least it's what I heard." She looked over at Joe Sereno standing by the closet door, staring at the knob. "Don't touch that, baby."

"It looks like candle wax," Joe said, "but I don't see any candles in the room."

"It ain't wax," Marlis said, "it's some more the dude's gray matter. Gets waxy like that outside the head. See how the wood's splintered right above it? That's from skull fragments shot in there. This one dude, I swear, is all over the room."

"You just do murders?"

"Homicides, suicides, and decompositions."

"How about animals?"

"Once in a while. We cleaned up after a woman poisoned her dogs, fifteen of 'em she couldn't feed no more. It smelled worse'n a dead manatee laying in the sun too long."

Joe perked up. "There's a manatee over on the bay was shot. You hear about it?"

Joe thought he saw a look pass between Marlis and Franklin on the ladder as she said no, she didn't think so. "A pretty friendly creature," Joe said, "used to play with that old woman who was killed. Marion something?"

"McAlister Williams," Marlis said. "Yeah, I've heard of her. Hundred and two years old and still swimmin' in the bay."

Joe; said, "And there was that guy tried to jump the drawbridge and didn't make it."

"Name was Victor," Franklin said, down from the ladder, heading for the John with his pail. "Actually was a scuba tank I understand flew out of a truck, hit the man's car and blew him up. Totaled 'em both. Yeah, we heard about that. 'Cool like dat.' " He said, "So-Lo Jam," and right away said, "I take that back."

"You better," Marlis said.

"That's from Cold Chillin',so it has to be Kool G. Rap. Yeah."

Joe had to wait, not having any idea what they were talking about, before saying, "How about that disaster at Club Hell? I was working there that night. It was horrible."

"Nobody had to clean that one up," Franklin said, coming out of the John, "the sharks took care of it."

"Come here for a minute, will you?" Joe motioned them over to the sliding glass door that led to the patio.

"See that guy sitting by the pool? Over on the other side. Who does he look like?"

"I can't see him good," Franklin said.

"Take your goggles off."

Franklin squinted now, eyes uncovered. He said, "I don't know. Who?"

Marlis came over and right away said, "The dude with the cigar? He looks like Castro. Either Castro or that dude goes around thinking he looks like Castro. You know what I'm saying? Mickey Something-or-other's his name. Yeah, Mickey Schwartz."

"Wait a minute," Franklin said, still squinting. "What Castro you talking about?"

"Castro, the one from Cuba."

"They allfrom Cuba."

"What's his name Fidel," Marlis said. "Fidel Castro, Shaved off his beard." She paused and hunched in a little closer to Joe and Franklin. "Shaved his beard and must've shaved his head, too, 'cause the man's wearing a rug."

"That's what I thought too," Joe said. "But whose hair does the rug look like?"

Now Marlis squinted till she had it and said, "Yeah, that high-waisted cat kung-fus everybody he don't shoot."

Franklin said, "I know who you mean. That kung-fu cat with the big butt. Doesn't take shuck and jive from nobody. But listen to me now. If that's theFidel we talking about here, there's a man will pay a million dollars to see him dead. Man name of Reyes. It would be easy as pie to cap him sitting there, wouldn't it?" He looked at Joe Sereno. "I mean if it was your trade."

"Tempting," Marlis said, "but safer to clean up after. Celebrity, be nothing wrong with doubling the fee."

Joe was thinking. He said, "You suppose a hit man killed these two in here?"

"Hit men as a rule," Franklin said, "don't make this kind of mess. One on the back of the head, use a twenty-two High Standard Field King with a suppressor on it. We've followed up after hit men, haven't we, precious?"

"We sure have," Marlis said. "Lot of that kind of work around here."

Joe Sereno said, "You don't suppose ... " and stopped, narrowing his eyes then to make what he wanted to say come out right. "In the past few days I've run into three homicides, counting these two, and a fourth one they're calling an accident looks more like a homicide to me. I have a hunch they're related. Don't pin me down for the motive, 'cause I don't see a nexus. At least not yet I don't. But I got a creepy feeling that once these two are identified, it will explain the others. I'm talking about the old woman, and a guy named Phil. And, unless I miss my guess, it all has something to do with that man sitting over there smoking a cigar."

"Unless," Marlis said, "the dude over there is the Fidel impersonator, Mickey Schwartz."

"Either way," Joe Sereno said, "ID these two and this whole mess will become clear."

A look passed between Franklin and Marlis.

Joe caught it and thought, Hmmmm.

11. WHERE ARE YOU DYING TONIGHT? John Dufresne | Naked Came The Manatee | 13. THE LAW OF THE JUNGLE Carl Hiaasen