448871a-i1.0*   *   *

                This is a modest apartment, yet impeccably clean.

                The kitchen. There are no dishes in the sink.  The counter tops are sterile. The cereal boxes are neatly organized next to the stove.  The stovetop is spotless, with oven mitts folded meticulously over the oven handle.  Martha Stewart would wet herself. 

                The dining room.  One walks out of the kitchen into the dining room.  It is simple.  A small table for two sits next to the wall.  The place settings are rigidly organized and straight.  There isn’t a blemish to be found.

                The living room.  This room houses a nice sofa, love seat, and computer desk.  Different pictures and paintings adorn the wall, which are white and spotless.

                The bedroom.  The bedroom is much like the rest of the apartment; simple, highly organized, and very clean.  Only this room isn’t uninhabited.  The owner of this immaculate contraption is Brian Mack.  Brian is in his early twenties, and has been a neat freak since the early nineties.  His mother was the biggest influence on his neatness.

                On this particular night, Brian has a dinner date with his girlfriend.  He is all set to leave, but he notices something and decides that he needs to vacuum.  His impromptu cleaning fit makes him late, which in turn, makes Simone unhappy.  Thus she gives him a call.

                “Hello.  Yeah, I know.  I just had to vacuum right quick.  I know, I know.  It’s just, there

was a little lint on the carpet and… yeah, I know.  I’m on my way.”  Brian says before hanging up the phone.  He’s  had similar conversations with Simone before, however, he can’t help the way he is.

                Brian eventually finishes vacuuming his bedroom.  He wraps the cord around the machine, places it in his closet, and grabs a pair of dress shoes.  He doesn’t put them on, however.  Instead, he takes them with him out of the room.  As he moves through the living room, he inspects the furniture. Any lint or other debris is promptly removed.  He notices that one of his pictures, the one of the Golden Gate Bridge, is slightly turned down at an angle.  He moves the right corner of the frame, maybe an eighth of an inch upwards.  The “normal” human eye wouldn’t even notice the change.

                “That’ll work.”  Brian says as he walks towards the side door with shoes in hand.  After checking that the kitchen is completely satisfactory, he finally decides to leave his apartment.  Only after completely walking outside, does he decide to put on his shoes.  Afterwards, he pulled out a bottle of liquid soap, and washes his hands.  He then reaches inside his jacket pocket and pulls out a surgeon’s mask.  The Atlanta smog is becoming a problem.

*    *    *

                “He was vacuuming.” Simone says to Maria, who is incredulous on the other end of the phone.  Brian and Simone enjoy a very healthy relationship.  The only issue that has ever reared its head in their seven months as a couple, is Brian’s obsessive compulsiveness.

                “Let me guess.  There was one strand of lint on the floor.”  Maria said.

                “You got it.”

                “That’s your boy.”

                “Yeah.  I don’t know what it is.  I can’t get any luck.  Brian’s about the best boyfriend I’ve had since sixth grade.”

                “Noah Ryan.”

                “Yeah.  But his obsessive compulsiveness is kind of a problem.”

                “Does that make it easier to tell him about Chicago?”

*    *    *

                As Brian makes his way up 75N, he goes over in his mind how he is going to tell Simone about his new job offer.  While he was going through the various scenarios, he gets a call on his cell.

                “Hello.”

                “B Mack.  What’s up Playboy?”

                “Tre’ five seven.  What’s up?  Where are you?  I tried to call you about an hour ago.”  Brian says.

                “Me, Travis, and the Gangsta are at the Waffle House.”  Clarence says.

                “What on Northside?”

                “Yeah.”  Clarence says.

                “How you can eat at that place, dude?”

                “Whatever, dude.  This chicken plate is off the hook.  I’d bang one of these chefs to get the recipe.”

                “I know how much you like women with more facial hair than you.”

                “Hell yeah.  But anyway, we were gonna come through, but I see you aren’t there.”

                “No, I’m on my way to Simone’s.”

                “You gonna tell her?”

                “I’m gonna try.”

                “I don’t see why you’d wanna leave Atlanta, dude.  The cost of living is great, great nightlife, bomb chicks, great—hold on… ha ha ha!  Travis said Atlanta’s got the best sluts in the country!  Dude, why would you want to go to Chicago?”

                “I just feel this is the best thing for me.  It just feels right, you know?  I just hope Simone takes it well.”

                “Man, she is going to fucking trip.”

*    *    *

                “I love Atlanta, but this is a great opportunity.” Simone says.

                “Have you thought about what you’re gonna say?” Maria says.

                “I don’t know yet.  I think it’ll come to me as the night goes along.”

                “You don’t want to leave him do you?”

                “I do love him.  I don’t want to choose, but what can you do when something like this is just given to you.”

                “You—”

                “Yeah, I know.  I complain about his quirks, but—”.

                Brian’s car pulls up outside her apartment.

                “Oh that’s him.  Gotta go.  Ba-bye.”  Simone says as she hangs up the phone.

                Brian takes his mask off before getting out of his car.  It kind of freaked Simone out the first time she saw him with it on.  It was their first argument, and probably the most awkward.

He walks to the door and gives it a knock.  Simone’s beauty strikes him as soon as she opens the door.

                “What’s up?” She said.

                “You.” Brian replied.

They hug and give each other a kiss.  Simone walks toward the kitchen as Brian is left at the door.  After he closes it, he reaches into his pocket to pull out the soap.  Simone turns around just in time to catch him.

                “Mack?”  Simone asked.

                “Yeah?” 

                “What are you doing?”

                “Washing my hands.”

                Simone gives him the raised eyebrow.

                “Yeah, but it’s just … OK.”  Brian relents.

He puts the soap back in his pocket and heads toward the dining area.  As he passes through the living room, he notices that the magazines Simone has laid out on the coffee table are not organized.  Of course, he must rectify that.  After straightening up, he takes a seat on the couch. 

                “So how was work today?”  Simone asked.

                “May have actually earned my paycheck.  I six…maybe even seven hours.”  Brian responded.

                “Seven?  Damn, that’s like five hours of overtime.  You must be tired?”

                “It was rough, but I think I can make it.  I’m going to need a hearty meal to get my strength back.  What are you cooking?

                “Crab cakes, cheese potatoes, and green beans.”

                “Ah, I think that may do it.”  Brian says.

                Brian gets up and walks to the kitchen, as Simone makes the final preparations.  Everything looks good to him, as he wraps his arms around Simone’s waist, kisses her on the cheek, and rests his head on her shoulder. 

                “I need to tell you something but—” Simone says.

                “What is it?”

                “After dinner.”

                “C’mon tell me now.”

                “After dinner.”

                Brian was immediately intrigued at what Simone was going to tell him.

*    *    *

Brian and Simone have finished eating, and are sitting on her sofa “smooching.”  Brian initiates this love session to give himself more time to think of what to say.  Simone is relieved once Brian started in on her.  All through dinner she couldn’t quite put the words together.  After fifteen minutes of heavy petting, she figures it’s time to bite the bullet.  She finally pulls away from him.

“Whoa, what happened?” Brian says.

“We need to talk.” Simone answers.

His diversion hasn’t lasted long enough because he still has no idea how to break the news to Simone.

“Why—what?”

His mind goes into overdrive. 

                “There’s something very important I need to talk to you about.”

                “What’s that?”

                Up until that moment, Brian had been thinking about how he was going to break the news to Simone.  Suddenly, however, something else pops into his mind.

                “I have been killing myself thinking of a way to tell you.”

                It begins to gnaw at him.  He’s forgotten to do something.  But what?

                “You know I’ve been trying to get a job at E & Y, but for here in Atlanta.  Well, they offered me a job… and it’s in Chicago.”

                Bingo.

                “Oh shit.”  Brian says.

                “I know baby.  Listen. I—”

                “I forgot to do something.”

                Simone looked at Brian incredulously.

                “Did you just hear what I said?” Simone asks.

                “What?”  Brian says.

                “You’re kidding right?”

                “No I—”                               

“I don’t believe you.  What is it this time?”

“I—”

“No, no, no.  Don’t tell me, it’s more fun if I guess.  What could it be?  Let’s see, you didn’t wipe down the counter tops.”

                “Of course not.  You know me better than that.”

                Simone has a list of things Brian could’ve forgotten to do.  As her annoyance reaches critical mass, she moves farther and farther away from Brian.  So far, in fact, that she might as well be in the bathroom.

                “Heaven forbid.  Well, what else could it be?  You—”

                “I’ll save you the trouble.  Earlier today I was drinking orange juice, and I think I left the cup in the bathroom.”

                Simone rolls her eyes, turns her head, sighs, and puts a very sour look on her face.  Brian’s mind is somewhere else.

                “I can not believe we’re having this conversation.  I mean—am I here?”

                People addicted to drugs often feel compelled to continually do the drugs, even if they feel the drug abuse is hurting them.  You can look into their eyes and see that they don’t want to do it, but something that they can’t overcome forces them to do it.  That is the look in Brian’s eyes.

                “We’ve had a bad ant problem lately.  I—just—you know, it’s gonna eat at me if I don’t do something.”

                “Shocking.  Well… if you must, you must.”

                “I know you’re upset, but it’s—”

                “Just.  The way. You are.”

                “It’ll only take a minute.  I swear I’ll be right back.  Then you can tell me—cause I have something to tell… right.  OK, I’ll be right back baby.  I promise.

                “Ba-bye.” Simone replies.

                Brian gets up and sprints out of the house.  Having never been so disgusted, Simone gives up.

                “I guess I better get some snow tires.”

*    *    *

                “Fuck!”

                Pissed and relieved at the same, Brian barrels through traffic.  After leaving in such a hurry; he didn’t have time to put his mask on.

*    *    *

Brian doffs his shoes, and enters the apartment through the side entrance, which leads into the kitchen.  Upon closing the door, he hears a noise coming from the back of the apartment.  Nervous, he drops his shoes, and looks around for a weapon.  He ends up grabbing a butcher knife and walks slowly towards the bedroom.  As he enters the living room, he is horrified at the site he beholds.  Sofa cushions are upturned, pictures are on the floor, and papers from his desk are scattered.  It looks as if a small tornado has swept through his house.  He momentarily lets his guard down as he laments the state of his living room.  So mortified is he, that he almost doesn’t notice the man running into the living room trying to attack him.

When he finally does see him, the intruder hits him with a cross body block, knocking him to the ground.  The knife flies out of Brian’s hand as he hits the floor.  Thinking Brian to be dazed; the intruder tries to make his escape.  Brian may be anal retentive, but he’s also a strong S.O.B.  Grabbing an ankle, Brian trips the intruder and gains the advantage.  Springing to his feet, Brian wraps his arms around the intruder’s head, and tries to throw him down on the ground.

The two of them toss and tumble all over the living room, further ruining the apartment’s aesthetic value.  The thug eventually grabs Brian around the waist, lifts him in the air, and slams him to the floor.  Brian gets the wind knocked out of him, and doesn’t get a chance to recover.  The burglar picks Brian up by his head, and commences to throw it into one of Brian’s previously white walls.  Brian slowly sinks to the floor as the burglar makes his way out the side door.

*    *    *

Eventually Brian regains consciousness.  As he looks around his apartment, the carnage absolutely devastates him.  He slowly picks himself up to get a better look at things.  He walks to the bedroom and sees that it is virtually identical to the rest of the house.  He’s got a couple things he needs to do.

*    *    *

                “Damn, I could make this stick if I had some scotch tape.  I knew I should’ve bought some today.”

*    *    *

                “Yes, I’d like to report a robbery at 154 Northside Dr.”   

*    *    *

Dale Jackson has been on some strange calls as an Atlanta Police Officer.  Historically, burglary calls are usually routine.  This one, however, is rapidly becoming stranger and stranger as Dale stands outside of Brian’s apartment with his shoes in his hands.  Dale communicates through the door, because Brian doesn’t want the Atlanta air getting in to his apartment.  Yes, this was a strange call indeed.

                “OK, Mr. Mack they’re off.  Will you let me in now?”  Dale says.

Brian opens the door and lets Dale in.  Dale is quite stunned to see an apartment that is immaculately clean.   Nothing is out of place.  Nothing is in disarray.  By all appearances, Brian is calm.  At least from the looks of the living room nothing is out of the ordinary.  Except… for that smell.

                “Mr. Mack is that pine sol I smell?”

                “Yes.”

                “Mr. Mack, have you been doing any cleaning?”

                “Yes, I mopped the kitchen floor.  The burglar left dirt tracks all through it.”

                The only thing keeping Dale from laughing is the utter insanity of the situation.

                “You’re kidding.  Did you do any other cleaning?”

                “Yes.  I straightened up the living room and my bedroom.  They were in disarray.”

                “God help me.  This is gonna seem like a dumb question.” 

                “There are no dumb questions.”

“Right.  Well, here goes.  Why on earth would you clean up a crime scene?”

                “Well.  I just—I just couldn’t stand someone seeing my apartment in the shape it was.  It was just very unsat.”

The officer looks at Brian like he is Bigfoot. 

                “I need a drink.”

 

*    *    *

                Throughout his eight years in the Navy and ten years on the force, no one has made quite the impression on Dale, that Brian has.  He can’t decide whether to arrest him for obstruction or just call the whole thing off.  Brian, on the other hand, is just relieved that everything is back in order.  Everything except his picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The frame split and he had nothing to hold it together.  So, he placed it in his bedroom closet. 

                After taking Brian’s statement, Dale decided that he couldn’t until he learned a little more about the guy he affectionately called “The Cleaner.”  They sit in the dining room shooting the shit.

                “So that’s why you’re so obsessive.”  Dale said.

                “Yeah.  I guess she beat it into me—literally.”

                “No shit.  Well Mr. Mack, I do believe it’s time for me to go now.  I don’t think we’ll find the intruder, since you removed all traces of his existence here.  But I’ll set an appointment, so our artist can do her thing.  Good night and good luck in Chicago.”

                “Oh shit!” Brian shouts.

                “What?”  Dale asks.

                “She got a job in Chicago.”

                “Who?”

                “My girlfriend.  That’s what she was trying to tell me.  Holy shit, that’s so cool.”

                Brian is genuinely happy.  It appears as though their plans will coincide.  Suddenly, however, a tidal wave of horror washes over his face, as he remembers the other events of the night.

                “Oh no.  Oh no.  Oh God.  No!”

                Brian jumps up and rushes over to the phone sitting on his computer desk.  He frantically dials the number.

“C’mon, please be there.”  Brian pleads.  Nevertheless, her answering machine picks up.  Broken, Brian hangs up the phone.

                “What?  What happened?” Dale asked.

                “You got a minute?”

                “A couple.”

                “You’re not gonna believe this.”

                “Coming from you… probably not.”

 

 

 

 

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