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A Little Housecleaning
About the Author: David Bart’s short fiction has been published in the Mystery Writers of America anthologies Show Business is Murder and A Hot and Sultry Night for Crime, which has recently been republished. He also has a story in the MWA anthology Life is Short and Then You Die as well as the anthology Fedora III. His short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mystery Weekly Magazine.

His last partner would’ve said Wade was being haunted by the dead farmer lying there on the kitchen floor; like his ghost was groaning and moaning.

Wade shook his head, chuckling. Hell, all these old farmhouses across the Nebraska flatlands creak and groan. “Ain’t some silly damn ghost,” he said.

He glanced at his reflection in the night-blackened kitchen window. “Are you talkin’ to me?”

Classic De Niro.

Anyway, if there were ghosts, he’d have seen them by now; he’d snatched the life out of enough people during his forty-six years, surely they’d have bitched to him long before now.

Wade thumbed his lighter, a tiny orange flame appearing in the dark window pane—lit the butt and took a sustained drag; the searing in his chest reminded him of the scalding shame he’d felt after his first foster mother had caught him smoking. “Stupid little bastard, stealing my butts.” Smacked his six-year-old head—stars bursting—odor of cheap tequila and unwashed hair.

He’d had four more “moms” since then. Most okay, but that one had been a mean-spirited harpy.

Course, smoking was bad for you … but then so was refusing Wade Calvert something, as the old farmer would’ve learned if he’d survived. You don’t refuse Wade entry, particularly when it’s threatening rain. A prison librarian and a few partners in crime had all learned a simple lesson: you don’t refuse Wade Calvert anything.

“Whatta you want, boy?” the old farmer had growled earlier, leathery face pinched into the dour look of a man who judged the world harshly.

Wade savored the smell of something hot and spicy bubbling on the stove, telling the old man, “A little hospitality, dude.”

The irascible farmer had hissed, “Get off my place or I’ll call the cops.” Started to swing the door closed, but Wade reared back, kicked the solid wood entry door into the old man’s head, dropping him like a sledgehammered steer onto the slaughterhouse killing floor.

And then he’d just stood very still, listening … a faint sound beyond the kitchen, then quiet. Except for the freshening wind.

The oozing blood at his feet reminded him of a meatpacking outfit in Omaha that he’d quit after just a couple hours, some burly butcher writhing on the floor, Wade’s boning knife jutting from the guy’s leg, a femoral artery spouting bright red blood like a festive fountain. The big dufus hadn’t liked being called a “clod-pated bovine” and had shoved Wade into the trimming table, the impact dumping hunks of meat onto the floor.

You don’t shove Wade.

You don’t refuse Wade.

You don’t …

… he glanced around the kitchen … he’d blanked out for a bit, this wasn’t an Omaha slaughterhouse. Wade stared at the blood pooling around the farmer’s head, glossy red against the pea-green linoleum.

The old man groaned and Wade blinked a few more times … why didn’t he ever feel sympathy or regret after assaulting someone?

He hopped over the body and playfully sniffed at steam rising off the pot on the stove. “What’s a cookin’?”

Course, he knew. The chili they served once a week in the slam smelled like that, the tub-a-guts cook claiming he spit in Wade’s bowl. “For added flavor, convict.”

A battered red coffee mug sat on the countertop. He examined it curiously, a chip out of the rim as white as a busted tooth. Wade ladled the bubbling red chili from pot to bowl using the battered mug. “Best be con carne,” he said, stepping over the blood and sitting at the table.

And then he spit in the bowl. For added flavor.

Miriam was huddled in an empty cow stall, her back against moldy wood planks, armfuls of fragrant hay pulled around her to keep in body heat. She had, thankfully, escaped through the summer kitchen at the house, sloshing through chill puddles in the lawn, arthritic knees screaming at her.

Shivering in the stall it was hard to ignore the itchiness and an overpowering urge to sneeze. A single question repeated in her brain: Where had he come from?

This story appears in our AUG 2020 Issue
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