I pull the car into the driveway. Sit back. Try to relax. The day, I swear to God, has to be at least ninety-five degrees. Christchurch heat. Schizophrenic weather. Sweat is dripping from my body. My fingers are wet-rubber damp. I lean forward and twist the keys in the ignition, grab my briefcase, and climb out of the car. Out here, the air-conditioning actually works. I reach the front door and fumble with the lock. I breathe a sigh of relief when I step inside.
I stroll through to the kitchen. Angela, I can hear, is in the shower upstairs. I’ll disturb her later. For now, I need a drink. I walk to the fridge. It has a stainless-steel door in which my reflection looks like a ghost. I open the door and squat down in front of it for close to a minute, making friends with the cool air. The fridge offers me both beer and Coke. I take a beer, twist off the cap, and sit down at the table. I’m no heavy drinker, but I knock this bottle back in maybe twenty seconds. The fridge offers up another bottle. Who am I to say no? I lean back in the chair. Put my feet up on the table. Consider taking off my shoes. You know that feeling? A hot day at work. Stress for eight hours. Then sitting down, feet in the air, beer in hand, and you take your shoes off.
Listening to the shower upstairs, I casually sip at my second beer of the year. Takes me five minutes to finish this one, and now I’m hungry. Back at the fridge and to the slice of cold pizza I spied on my first trip. I shrug. Why not? It isn’t as though I need to watch my weight.
I sit back at the table. Feet in the air. The same thing works for pizza as it does for beer once you get those shoes off. Right now, though, I don’t have the time. I wolf down the pizza, pick up my briefcase, and make my way upstairs. The stereo in the bedroom is pumping out a song I recognize, but can’t name. Same goes for the artist. Nevertheless, I find myself humming along as I lay my briefcase on the bed, knowing the tune will be stuck in my mind for hours. I sit down next to the briefcase. Open it. Take the newspaper out. The first page offers up the sort of news that makes newspapers sell. Often I wonder if the media makes half this stuff up, just to inflate sales. There’s definitely a market for it.
I hear the shower turn off but ignore it, preferring to read the paper. It’s an article about some guy who’s been terrorizing the city. Killing women. Torture. Rape. Homicide. The stuff movies are made of. A couple of minutes go by and I’m still sitting here reading when Angela, wiping her hair with a towel, steps out of the bathroom surrounded by white steam and the smell of skin lotion.
I lower the newspaper and smile.
She looks over at me.
“Who the fuck are you?” she asks.
Joe is in control of everything in his simple life—both his day job as a janitor for the police department and his “night work.” He isn’t bothered by the daily news reports of the Christchurch Carver, who, they say, has murdered seven women. Joe knows, though, that the Carver killed only six. He knows that for a fact, and he’s determined to find the copycat. He’ll punish him for the one, then frame him for the other six. It’s the perfect plan because he already knows he can outwit the police.
All he needs now is to take care of all the women who keep getting in his way, including his odd, overprotective mother and Sally, the maintenance worker who sees him as a replacement for her dead brother. Then there’s the mysterious Melissa, the only woman to have ever understood him, but whose fantasies of blackmail and torture don't have a place in Joe’s investigation.
Originally published in 2006 in Cleave’s native New Zealand, where it was a finalist for the prestigious Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction, The Cleaner is a chilling and darkly funny thriller that will leave you clamoring for his next.
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Posted by Etinosa Agbonlahor
Local media in Christchurch, New Zealand, are obsessively covering the story of the “Christchurch Carver,” a serial killer who has gruesomely killed seven women. Joe, a cleaner at the police department in Christchurch, knows the police are wrong....