Bobby Alamo’s dead. Just don’t know it yet. No footprints. Hair stopped growing. Sense of taste is gone. He only exhales now. Like he’s got one last breath inside him and needs to dole it out.
We’re not bodies with souls. We’re souls with a body.
Couple of Providence wise guys down at Mayflower Lanes argue about how and why an ace in the hole like Bobby Alamo got himself whacked. They bowl candlepins on Tuesdays. League night. Knights of Columbus team. Out with their goomahs. Deals are made over pizza and warm beer. Legacies are reevaluated. Stories told.
Bobby Alamo? One hell of a cleaner.
Mr. Diddle was his downfall.
That Vegas job?
Father Niko’s on the team. And the septic tank guy who launders the cash. Stinky Muffin Top. Swears he’s seen Bobby Alamo with his own eyes. Looking like death warmed over.
Bobby Alamo? With the Yoda tattoo?
Shooting the shit at HoJos.
Like he done every morning for twenty-two years. Ever since he timed out of Walpole. Same booth. Same tired look in his eyes. At least when he’s in town. Between jobs. Disappears for days at a time and then shows up like a tomcat. All flirty with that waitress.
Joey the Peanut’s niece.
She’s a little slow is all. Shy.
Two scrambled. White toast with grape jelly. Bobby Alamo always mixes the jelly in with the eggs. Francine noticed that first thing. The purple-gray sweetness, with just a hint of salty.
You gonna play with it all day?
I should have married you when I had the chance.
Francine and Bobby Alamo get up to the occasional nooner. Strictly informal arrangement. Francine’s got six kids at home. Piece of shit husband to feed.
The one that works down at The Dunk. Driving the Zamboni.
Bobby Alamo and Francine fuck at the Holiday Inn. That suite in back overlooking I-95. They make it quick. That is, if it happens at all. These days they’ll mostly just cuddle. Watch some tube. Maybe talk old times. Sometimes Bobby Alamo squeezes the skin around his Yoda tattoo and makes him talk dirty.
Francine pussy, Yoda like.
It’s a fleeting pleasure for both of them.
Do me again, Bobby Alamo. Like you mean business.
I’m tuckered out, babe. Let’s just watch the TV for awhile. Something old. Where you can tell the good guys from the bad.
Francine’s never seen Bobby Alamo’s cock. He’ll climb under the covers in his underwear like a boy at camp and then strip down. Curtains closed in case some fed is watching. Lights off. She’s had to learn his body through touch. Afterward, Francine lets him sleep. Puts her uniform back on. She smells of bacon and pancake batter.
You said that in your sleep, Bobby Alamo. You whispered “Escalade.”
Bobby Alamo’s a cleaner. Best in the business. Somebody screws the pooch, he gets rid of the mess. Scrubs the crime scene. Disappears the bodies. Most cleaners are street-smart. Bobby Alamo’s book smart too.
Master’s degree from BU.
Father Niko’s got a turkey going. Lane five. The lucky one.
Molecular genetics. Rumor has it. Fella can really wipe down a crime scene. Take a first-class clusterfuck and turn it into chocolate cake.
Father Niko’s using that orange Day-Glo bowling ball. The one he had custom-made.
Bobby Alamo cleans the clusterfuck, sure, but then spins an alternate story that he wants the cops to hear.
Bobby Alamo carries an aluminum suitcase with him. Filled with vials and packets. Petri dishes. Test tubes. Sprinkles DNA like fairy dust.
Has the CSI geeks running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Bobby Alamo’s got virtual savvy as well. Internet presence. Credit history. Facebook. Public records. All that jazz.
Just think of the possibilities. Erase anybody you want. Clean up all your snafus.
Bobby Alamo’s got an iPad. Film-editing software. Hacker code. Knows how to augment the matrix. Doctor surveillance tapes. Medical records. Dental X-rays.
He’s got a guy he goes to for code.
That fat fuck from the ’Tute.
Real mamma’s boy. Lives in her basement over in Braintree.
Captain Jack sits in front of the tube all day. Gamer. Pizza boxes and Mountain Dew cans. Stacked six feet high. Sweat suit. Never brushes his teeth. Except when Bobby Alamo visits. Then he scrubs himself clean. Take a nice long bath. Puts on a suit and tie. Gets his mamma to fix a lasagna. Old-country spices. Hand-pulled mozzarella. Tomatoes and peppers from her garden.
She put a bunch of single servings in the Tupperware. Extra sauce on the side. Just like you like.
Captain Jack hands him a flash drive.
Everything you need is burned onto here.
Bobby Alamo’s puts the flash drive in his jacket pocket. He pats it a couple of times just to make sure it’s there.
Woof woof woof woof.
Bobby Alamo’s cell phone rings. He’s got it set to “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
Woof woof woof woof.
Bobby Alamo doesn’t need to look at the number. He’s know it’s Tony Vega.
A thing went down in Philly, Bobby. You need to be on a bus tonight.
Next morning Bobby Alamo’s in back of a Walmart, stuffing a security guard’s corpse into the trunk of a rental car with some kid he’s never met. Bobby Alamo prefers to work alone, but the kid is Tony Vega’s nephew and so there’s nothing he can do about it. Kid’s a real wiseass. Calls himself “Kid the Kid.” Washed out of the army or whatever and now he’s trying to learn a trade. Kid the Kid’s spent the morning trying to jerk Bobby Alamo’s chain.
I heard you were queer.
They’re on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Driving through Amish country. Looking for a good place to dump a body. Kid the Kid keeps trying to get under Bobby Alamo’s skin.
I heard you can’t get it up with Francine no more.
Bobby Alamo flicks his cigarette out the window. Doesn’t say a word. Kid the Kid keeps trying to put Bobby Alamo’s panties in a twist.
I heard Francine rubs her pussy all over you, but all you do is watch cooking shows on the tube.
Finally, Bobby Alamo’s had enough.
Look, Kid, I’m dead, all right? There’s a lot of human emotion that don’t interest me no more.
Kid the Kid squints up his eyes, trying to decide if Bobby Alamo’s pulling his leg.
What do you mean you’re dead?
I’m dead. What more can I say?
You mean you’re dead like you’re a marked man?
No. I mean I am literally dead. As I appear in front of you.
You mean right now?
Kid the Kid don’t seem fazed. He acts like he’s seen it all before. Like he’s seen a lot of a crazy shit in the past couple of years and talking to a dead cleaner is just another day on the job.
Sure, man. Whatever toots your horn.
The wise guys down at Mayflower Lanes sit in rapt attention as Father Niko describes the scene. He’s heard the story from somebody in confession who heard the story from another guy who heard it from Tony Vega himself.
After they dump the body, they stop at a titty bar Bobby Alamo knows in Harrisburg.
Where do they dump the body?
Some farm. Amish guy feeds him to his pigs. Owes Tony Vega a favor.
At the titty bar, Kid the Kid and Bobby Alamo buy a few lap dances. After awhile, Kid the Kid goes in back, into one of the executive suites, and bones some ginger with tiny tits and a cesarean scar and a Hello Kitty tramp stamp who’s putting herself through nursing school. Something about Nursing School Ginger is familiar to Bobby Alamo, but he can’t say what. Bobby Alamo hangs out with a girl called Brandy Moonshine. Brandy Moonshine asks Bobby Alamo if he wants to ride around the block in the massage limo but Bobby Alamo says he’d rather sit and talk. The two of them sit there for a few minutes in dead silence until finally Brandy Moonshine decides to break the ice.
You’re dead, aren’t you?
How’d you guess?
Had an uncle who died. Walked around just like you. Vacant on one hand, but on the other hand filled with remorse.
I think a lot of folks are walking around dead these days.
Maybe we’re in the end times.
Maybe Heaven is too full with souls and now God is filling up the slums.
They sit in silence for a few more minutes. Then Bobby Alamo sighs.
I just don’t know why I’m still walking the Earth.
Brandy Moonshine holds Bobby Alamo’s hand.
Maybe you’ve been chosen for a higher purpose.
Bobby Alamo closes his eyes.
It’s exactly like you see in the movies. I’m lying dead on some street, but I’m looking down at it. My soul is just sort of hovering above my corpse.
Back in Providence, Stinky Muffin Top is playing Ms. Pac-Man in the arcade. Father Niko chugs down the rest of his beer. One of the wise guys pours him another glass from the plastic pitcher on the table. The other wise guy looks at his watch.
You fellas got some place to be?
Father Niko’s getting pretty sloppy. He knows it and tries to focus his mind on the theological implications of Bobby Alamo’s predicament.
Bobby Alamo is in both locations at once, you see. He’s both here and there. Dead on the street, but also at the titty bar.
Brandy Moonshine takes Bobby Alamo out to the parking lot. They sit on the hood of his rental car. Like a couple of kids in high school getting ready to watch a drive-in movie on a hot summer night. Brandy Moonshine strokes Bobby Alamo’s hair. Tells Bobby Alamo she’s been sent to help him with his journey.
How do you feel?
You mean here with you or there with my body?
With me here, Bobby.
Bobby Alamo’s body is hundreds of miles away. Somewhere in southern California. His last job. On the way to LAX. Body lying on the street. Next to an Escalade.
Bobby Alamo was shot in the Escalade and tried to crawl away.
Stinky Muffin Top asks Father Niko if he has any more quarters for the machine.
I’m working on the high score.
Bobby Alamo is bleeding out. One hand grabbing the gutter. Like he was trying to lift himself up. The bugs have already found him. A fly has landed on his eyelid and is laying her eggs beneath his cornea. Bobby Alamo wonders why he’s being given these visions.
If I suck your cock here, Bobby, do you think maybe your body will get hard there?
Bobby Alamo chuckles. Embarrassed. Nervous.
Worth a try, right?
Brandy Moonshine unzips Bobby Alamo’s fly. Digs around for his cock. Pulls it out.
I let my life slip by. I tried to grab the good times. I clutched at love and it went right through my fingertips.
Bobby Alamo closes his eyes. His body is hundreds of miles away.
Brandy Moonshine’s come up for breath.
I just remembered. There’s a guy in the passenger seat.
Bloody face. Air bags deployed.
The fella Bobby Alamo was cleaning up after when the shit hit the fan.
The wise guys are in the men’s room at Mayflower Lanes. The walls are decorated with silhouettes of pilgrims bowling. Father Niko is in a stall. Puking his guts out.
(Meanwhile, somewhere in southern California, while Bobby Alamo is getting blown on the hood of his rental car in the parking lot of a titty bar, two archangels are moving cautiously toward the Escalade with their pieces drawn.)
They’re after Mr. Diddle’s shoe.
Father Niko wipes the puke off his mouth with his sleeve. There are bits of pizza in the puke. Mixed in with the beer. One of the wise guys hands Father Niko a linen handkerchief. The handkerchief is embroidered with the initials “T.V.” Father Niko leans up against the wall next to the urinals. He unzips his fly and uses the handkerchief to pull out his cock. Father Niko cradles his cock in the handkerchief, like it’s an unclean thing in his hand. He pisses. He tries to aim at the deodorant puck in the urinal, but ends up pissing on the floor. The wise guy closest to Father Niko has on a pair of thousand-dollar shoes. The piss sprays over the fine Corinthian leather. Later, at the sink, the other wise guy helps Father Niko clean the puke off his collar.
The angels are after the shoe?
Mr. Diddle’s shoe. What’s hidden inside the heel.
Bobby Alamo met Mr. Diddle in a high roller’s suite in Vegas. Mr. Diddle was a producer at one of the big studios. He had a dead call girl in the toilet and Bobby Alamo was there to make her disappear.
You the guy?
I’m the guy.
Tony Vega sent you?
Sure took your time getting here.
Mr. Diddle unlatches the chain on the door and lets him in. Bobby Alamo sets his suitcase on the bed. He opens it and takes out rubber gloves and an apron.
Where is she?
Toilet. The one off the master bedroom.
Mr. Diddle’s cell phone rings.
Listen, I gotta take this. There’s some coke in there if you need a little something to get you through.
Mr. Diddle walks out onto the balcony. Bobby Alamo steps into the bathroom. It’s really gaudy. Golden swan faucets. The shower’s the size of a garage. Three shower heads.
To wash up after a threesome.
There are two toilets and two bidets.
For the Japanese clientele.
Just then, the emergency exit of the strip club opens. Nursing School Ginger steps out into the evening. She’s wearing Kid the Kid’s leather jacket. He’s nowhere in sight.
There’s a scuzzy area in back where the dancers hang out. Smoke cigarettes. Give cheap hand jobs behind the dumpster. Plastic baggies on the ground. Crack. Some harder stuff. A few syringes. Bouncers sometimes roll drunk frat boys. Put empty wallets back into their pockets. Pour them into taxis. Send them back to the suburbs. A couple of folding chairs to take a load off.
Nursing School Ginger has a white sheet. She and a couple of the other dancers attach the sheet to the dumpster with duct tape. Like a movie screen.
Bobby Alamo and Brandy Moonshine are still sitting on the hood of the rental car. Nursing School Ginger sees Bobby Alamo and sneers at him. Bobby Alamo feels a rush of adrenaline. A sudden racing heart. It’s an unfamiliar sensation.
Brandy Moonshine snuggles up to Bobby Alamo. Strokes his hair.
You’re perfectly safe with me.
After she finishes hanging the sheet from the dumpster, Nursing School Ginger sits in one of the chairs and starts painting her nails. It’s like she’s waiting for a movie to start. Bobby Alamo stares at Nursing School Ginger for the longest time.
You know her?
She was on the floor. In Mr. Diddle’s bathroom.
The dead girl is so small that at first Bobby Alamo doesn’t notice her. She’s barely ninety pounds. Naked, except for a pair of plaid socks that make her look like a schoolgirl. Bobby Alamo can tell she’s been around though. Cesarean scar. Hello Kitty tramp stamp. Needle marks between her toes. There’s a spoon on the sink, next to a lighter and a bag of smack.
Meanwhile, in the titty bar parking lot, the dead are gathering. Hookers. Soccer moms. Schoolteachers. Mechanics. Pizza delivery boys. Baseball players. Gamblers. Rodeo clowns. Security guards. Accountants. Priests. Bikers. Bartenders. Freaks. Showmen. Convenience store clerks. And a mall Santa Claus. Bobby Alamo recognizes them all. These are the people that Bobby Alamo has cleaned over the years. Some were intended victims. Others were at the wrong place at the wrong time. But all of them Bobby Alamo made disappear.
Brandy Moonshine rubs Bobby Alamo’s earlobe. She twists it around in her fingers. She smells like baby powder and musk. Some of Brandy Moonshine’s enchanted body glitter gets caught in Bobby Alamo’s eyes.
You erased them all, Bobby. They don’t have names or memory.
Back in Vegas, Bobby Alamo cleans up Mr. Diddle’s mess. After he’s done in the bathroom, Bobby Alamo makes Mr. Diddle strip on a sheet of plastic. He digs through his wallet and other personal effects. He places everything in a burn bag. He tells Mr. Diddle that he has to leave town for a few weeks. Mr. Diddle doesn’t seem happy at first, but the gravity of the situation has begun to sink in.
Anything else you’ve forgotten to tell me about?
Mr. Diddle hesitates. Then he takes off one of his shoes. Opens a secret compartment in the heel.
Roger Moore gave it to me. He used these shoes in one of the Bond films.
Inside the compartment is a reel of Super 8 film. Bobby Alamo wants to put the film in the burn bag, but Mr. Diddle won’t let him.
That’s my meal ticket, Bobby. I’m gonna use it as leverage with the old man.
In Providence, the wise guys walk Father Niko out to his Toyota. Father Niko’s a little wobbly on his feet. He’s starting to regret telling the wise guys about the film.
It’s just a rumor I heard in confession. Nothing to be taken too seriously.
The film is a collection of lost seconds. Those moments that slipped away without our noticing. Mr. Diddle said he found the film in Orson Welles’ secret vault at RKO. Welles invented a metaphysical technique where he installed a movie camera in his head so he could film Heaven after he died and project it back to the editing room.
Meanwhile, in the future, a white limo pulls up outside the titty bar. It’s a block long. Strobe light flashing inside. Throbbing music. Techno mix.
My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard…
The archangels step out of the limo. They glide over to the projector. They load the film and begin to project it onto the white sheet.
It’s the film God plays us when he’s reviewing our lives.
Father Niko pauses for a moment, to let that sink in. The wise guys aren’t even listening. Something else is on their minds. Something pressing.
God doesn’t play our entire life. He doesn’t have time for that. Instead he picks out fifteen mundane seconds.
Father Niko belches. Tastes greasy pizza in his mouth. Yeasty beer.
Those fifteen seconds are actually our most tragic junctions. Moments where we could have decided to take a better path and didn’t. When you could have turned off the television and taken a walk with your wife. When you might have hugged your boy instead of pouring yourself a drink. When you could have stopped your car and helped out a stranger. We’re forced to watch the memories over and over and feel the regret.
Father Niko steadies himself against the Toyota.
Heaven isn’t what you think it is.
In the parking lot of the titty bar, the Orson Welles film begins to play. Images flash on the screen. A lost dog. A forgotten toy. An unattended funeral.
One by one, the people in the parking lot step up to the bright sheet. They see a familiar image, touch it, and then are consumed by a bright, holy light. The light turns them into dust. As each soul touches the sheet, the pile of dust grows on the cement. It’s as if all the lost souls that Bobby Alamo has cleaned over the years are once more filled with their humanity.
They exist again, briefly, in their loss. That pain allows them to die.
An image of a blue beach ball floating in a wading pool plays on the screen. Nursing School Ginger must recognize the backyard, because she walks up to the sheet, touches it, and is consumed. Brandy Moonshine sees a little league baseball game on the screen, kisses Bobby Alamo on the forehead, and disappears too. In a few minutes, the parking lot is empty. There is a huge pile of ash and dust next to the screen. The archangels hand Bobby Alamo a golden shop vac and make him clean up the mess.
In Providence, the wise guys put two bullets in the back of Father Niko’s head. The wise guys dispose of it in one of Stinky Muffin Top’s septic tanks, since Bobby Alamo isn’t around anymore to disappear the body.