You are voting on the semi-finalists of a flash fiction contest to be published by Tesseray Publishing and promoted in conjunction with its forthcoming card game titled Body Be Gone™. In the game Body Be Gone™ players are cleaners, people who dispose of bodies quietly with no questions asked. There are many silly ways, places, and actions you can take to dispose of the bodies using the cards in your hand. This is a lighthearted party game – for context think Scooby Doo or the movie Clue.
The player who does the best (without getting arrested by the FBI) wins a franchise from Body Be Gone™ – a company that claims they’ve been “Mopping Up Loose Ends Since 1927”.
Yet no one knows the story behind the franchise! How did it get started? Where did it get started? Was it an accident? How did the original owners find their first customer? How did they dispose of the body?
This is where you come in.
Read the semi-finalist stories below. Then vote for your favorite!
When the bodies dropped from the Ferris Wheel, they sounded like apples falling from the trees in Aunt Maude’s Orchards. One by one, I watched folks keel over the safety bars and flip end to end, once, twice, knocking the steel spokes on the way down, landing with a thud on the ground, one right after the other, twelve in total, until each and every passenger car swung empty and the operator pulled the lever to stop.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” I said.
It was a Sunday afternoon in September, the last day of a harvest festival in Stoborough, New Hampshire. Churchgoers, fresh from worship, milled about the red and white striped game tents while carnival workers shouted, “Step right up!” A five-piece band with straw hats and suspenders was warming up their instruments. The scent of kettle corn sweetened the air.
A couple hundred yards away from the striped tents, the Ferris Wheel rose up from a grassy knoll screened by a grove of pale-yellow poplars.
I leaned against my stack of apple crates and watched the operator circle around the bodies with his hands on his head and then on his knees. I’d seen chickens running around without their heads on and this man was doing his best impression.
“It’s your gasoline engine that killed them,” I told him. “The carbon monoxide. No telling if they died before they hit the ground or if it was the hitting that did it.”
He only blinked at me; his arms hung at his side, limp as wet wash on the line. A young couple lay twisted and still at his feet.
“Tell you what,” I said. “I’m gonna finish unloading these apples and then I’ll help you get these folks to the coroner’s. No sense causing a scene.”
He glanced over at the carnival tents. The band was playing “Who Will Bow and Bend Like the Willow?” and a handful of people clapped along. No one had noticed yet.
We agreed on $20. Together we loaded two mothers, four boys still in knickerbockers, and three young couples into my truck. Now, that was a sad sight, I admit; those kids with their eyes wide open, misty-like; and the young lovers with black-eyed Susans tucked into their lapels and behind their ears, their lips full and red and parted forever, just waiting for one last little kiss.
The mothers I didn’t pay much mind to. Mine never paid much mind to me.
I covered the bodies with the musty wool blanket I kept in the truck and headed for town. The folded ten-dollar bills puffed out the front pocket of my shirt and I hummed a little as I drove: Who will bend like the willow / Who will turn and twist and reel / In the gale of simple freedom / Wring the wood, wreck the steel?
Two hours later, waiting outside the coroner’s and watching the sun turn red as a Jonathan apple, I figured the Ferris Wheel operator wasn’t coming.
“I’ll be damned,” I said for the second time that day. I had $20 and a truck full of bodies I didn’t know what to do with.
Could have been the colors of the trees lining Main Street, all shimmering and russet; could have been the warm whiff of kettle corn drifting through my truck window, but I set to thinking about the Thanksgiving story that every child learns in school: How the Native Americans showed the Pilgrims to grow corn by planting a fish with each plant. Can’t be much different with apples. So, I pulled away from the coroner’s and headed home to Aunt Maude’s.
It was already close to dark by the time I got back to the orchard. I stopped at the tool shed for a shovel and hacksaw and drove to her field of Baldwin trees, a sweet-tart variety that Aunt Maude was known for. Caramel apple makers loved them. But last year’s crop was small, thick-skinned, dry. Won’t hurt nothing, I thought. I buried an arm, a leg, a head, or torso at the base of each tree and burned the clothes in the brush pile the next day. I did keep one thing for myself – a pair of deer-skin gloves that I plucked from the pocket of a young man’s overcoat.
One week later, I was setting down to a supper of apple glazed ham – one of Aunt Maude’s specialties – when she tapped me on the shoulder.
“Telephone’s for you,” she said. “Didn’t say who.”
I set down my knife and nestled the receiver under my chin.
“My cousin needs your help. His girlfriend had…an accident.” It was the Ferris Wheel operator. “I asked the telephone clerk to connect me to Aunt Maude’s Orchards. I remembered from the apple crates.”
I considered which of Aunt Maude’s trees needed a boost; the Newtown Pippins had been looking poorly.
“He’ll pay $40,” he said. “We’re at the fairgrounds in Banfield.”
“Tell you what,” I said. “You make that $50 and I’ll be there in two hours.”
By the end of October, the Ferris Wheel operator was calling quite regular and there were mounds of fresh earth at the bases of almost all of Aunt Maude’s trees. Acres and acres of them. I simply told her the facts: It’s a new fertilizing technique, I said.
Once the snows fell, the carnival moved south and the Ferris Wheel operator stopped calling. It didn’t matter – others were calling now. Word spread like a bruise on the skin of an apple. Come spring, the tool shed was filled with enough fertilizer for eighty acres of trees and I had enough bills in my pocket to buy the land and the seed.
I got to work clearing land and plowing as soon as the ground thawed. I dropped in a finger, a toe, or a slice of organ along with each seed, and a familiar song – the one the band played as I loaded my truck with that first load of fertilizer – often came to mind: Oh, that drink I will have it / I will bow and bend below / I’ll be reeling, twisting, turning / No more flesh and pain to know. I always wore my deer-skinned gloves as I worked.
Summer applied the heat and rain and my rows of McIntosh and Cortland sprouts grew knee-high by the time September came. Unheard of.
“Whatever that fertilizing technique of yours is, you best keep it a secret. Pretty soon every apple grower round here is going to be asking.” Aunt Maude stared up at the boughs of her Baldwins with her hands on her hips. “I never saw such apples.” She pulled one from a branch, perfectly round, firm, crimson all over with lovely copper speckles, and took a bite. A dribble of juice spilled down her chin.
“I don’t plan on telling a soul,” I said.
We walked back to the house in time to hear the telephone ringing.
Aunt Maude looked confused. “They’re asking for Body Be Gone?”
“Ah,” I said, reaching for the receiver. “Let me have it.”
Sister R. Mildred Barker. “Who Will Bow and Bend Like the Willow.” Early Shaker Spirituals, Rounder Records, 1977. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lv9L_kvXP-U.
I always thought it was because Pa was a mortician. Why Tommy would come around and ask about that stuff, I mean. About smell, and rot, and if you can tell how long someone’s been dead just by looking at them.
Although, if he’d actually wanted to be a mortician’s assistant, Pa would’ve taken him. He liked Tommy. Wanted to fix me up with Tommy, actually, and getting Tommy into the family business would’ve been a good start.
Me, I thought Tommy actually wanted to be a doctor. He didn’t have the schooling for it, but he probably could’ve done. He was smart.
All we knew about Tommy’s family was that his dad did business in the city and was away a lot, and his mother was sickly. We hardly ever saw Mrs. Anderson. Or Mr. Anderson, for that matter. I always thought Tommy had the best of it – being left o himself like that. Always doing what he wanted, instead of being the only child of a demanding man who couldn’t actually afford to pay an apprentice.
You don’t get many callers when your Pa makes you spend your days rouging corpse cheeks.
Tommy wouldn’t ever come back into Pa’s work room, but he’d ask me questions, like I said. Some of them I couldn’t answer. Like the ones about amputations. What did I know about bone saws? Pa wasn’t the coroner. He didn’t do autopsies. He just got everyone ready for their final appearance.
Draining blood, though. I could answer those. Or how blood settles, you know? In corpses. Once the pump stops, it settles, and that’s not always pretty. There are ways you can try to get around it, tricks that would turn the average man’s stomach, but Tommy wanted to know.
He started bringing me murder mysteries, Tommy did. I didn’t much like them, but I liked him. Like the way he focused on nothing but me when I told him I’d finished one and he had all his questions. Would it work that way? Did acid or hatchets or a block of concrete do what the book said it would?
That should’ve clued me in earlier, I think. The fact that all his questions were about the after. Tommy never asked me about how to murder people. I guess he had that covered. What he wanted to know was about the bodies.
And I guess if I started writing this down, I mean to tell it.
He got me curious, Tommy did. And not every dead body in Cooperstown is headed for a funeral. Not everyone has family. Or money, for the sprucing up. They just wanted a pine box, nailed shut, weighing what it should. There’s a feel to a dead body, and a smell, but there are ways around that.
Because … well, Tommy got me experimenting. I could say I was bored, or that he’d bewitched me – there certainly weren’t any other young men coming around to sit on the porch with me evenings – but mostly … I had questions, I didn’t have answers, and I was resourceful.
Mr. Nelson down at the corner drug didn’t question my purchases. I didn’t even have to lie and say my Pa sent me. Other things I could send away for, and I was always the one going into town, so Pa never asked about the packages.
He never found out, either. Pa. I was afraid he was starting to suspect, but then Mr. Thompson – he was the constable back then – came out to tell me he was very sorry, Miss Roberts, but there’d been an accident.
All these years later, it still hurts to think about. The look in his eyes because he knew that was it for me. Unmarried, unparented, alone. It didn’t matter how much Pa had taught me or how much I’d done for them the past years – the town wouldn’t accept a lady mortician, no sir. Mr. Thompson wasn’t even able to hide how relieved he was when Tommy showed up, and he didn’t even think that it might be wrong to leave us alone like that, a grieving young woman and a male caller without a chaperone.
Tommy was relieved, too. When he saw Mr. Thompson, he’d turned white.
I didn’t tell him what the constable had just told me, and Tommy didn’t ask what he’d been doing there. He came inside, even though it was just the two of us, and even took my hands. I could try to say I was confused and vulnerable, that hearing “Nell, I need your help” was just too much for an unmarried girl of nineteen who’d just learned she was alone in the world, but no.
I asked him what it was. And he told me, quietly but clearly, that there was a man’s body that was rather inconvenient to him and that needed getting rid of.
I remember laughing. It sounded like he’d been rehearsing it all the way out to the house, over and over in his head. And it wasn’t a good laugh – it might have been hysterical – but I told him that we might as well put him in Pa’s coffin and burying him under Pa’s headstone.
Tommy hadn’t heard about Pa, and to his credit, he did pause to catch up on this latest development in my own life. But his shoulders had straightened just a little, because he’d told me something – that he needed to get rid of a body – and I hadn’t turned him out because of it.
We didn’t bury the strange man in Pa’s place. Or at least, not all of him. That day there were three others waiting to go to eternal rest, and a body doesn’t take up much room when it’s in pieces. Even the ones who wanted the casket open for one last look weren’t going to crane and peer down toward the feet. A little more weight, a little more rot, a little more smell … it didn’t matter.
Tommy helped me, finally going into that back room, and we were careful. The man had funny teeth, so we knocked those out and he took them away in his pocket. I’m not sure where they ended up. We knew about fingermarks back then, and I had some acid. We didn’t keep the hands together, anyway. We didn’t have access to even half of what kids see today, and we did a fair job of it.
I never asked what happened, either. Why the man was dead, or what he’d done to deserve it. Or why his death was such a concern to Tommy.
And then Tommy and I married, of course. A wife can’t testify against her husband in a court of law, but that wasn’t the only reason why. It wasn’t love, exactly, I won’t lie about that, but we were fond of each other. He was good to me, and it wasn’t boring.
I was respected. It was among a very small group of men, yes – Tommy’s friends or associates, he always called them, and I was never sure if it was organized crime or what, exactly, he’d gotten into – but they were all deferential. Tommy judged them, and the worthy ones got to talk to me and tell me their problems. Always where, and if anything specific needed to be concealed, but not what had happened or who anyone involved was.
That I swear. I didn’t want to know. And if any likely story happened to be in the papers, I skipped reading it.
All this time, everything it’s become, and no one’s ever guessed. If you want to hide work like that, why not assign it to a lady with downcast eyes and demurely clasped hands? No one would have expected it of me, I’m sure.
Not even when Pa was a mortician.
Apricot Asks No Questions
The bacon was a cobra hissing in anger as my spatula pinned it to the hot iron flattop. Each of my hands simultaneously cracked the contents of farm fresh eggs onto the grill as I conducted this morning’s sizzling symphony. I turned away from the grill to check the grits simmering in a pot. I plated the bacon and eggs with a side of grits and hit the bell. I didn’t know I was serving Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the Italian mob boss with southern taste buds. Twenty minutes later Fat Tony and his associates waltzed into Dixie’s Diner kitchen catching me bug-eyed.
“Are you the one who cooked my breakfast this morning?” bellowed Tony while gesturing with a brass-ball-topped ivory cane.
The windy city is a long way from the Jim Crow South, yet a black man is always uncomfortable in the presence of aggressive white men. I brought my hands together at my belt, hunched my back, and crooked my head forward.
“Sir, yes’um, that would be me,sir.”
The bile in the back of my throat welled up as I broadcast Uncle Tom an octave above my normal bass. I hate to choose between self-preservation and self-respect, but I’ve seen men like this lynch men like me. With a serious gaze locked onto my eyes, Tony slowly walked forward drawing out an almost inaudible, “You don’t say?”
Tony broke our gaze and casually looked at the serving of collard greens and bacon on a ready order. He took a bite, and I watched as his eyes rolled in ecstasy as he consumed my Alabama ambrosia. I’ve given many masticators such pleasure, but I maintained my diminutive posture, daring not to show pride. Tony swallowed and pulled his white handkerchief from his suit pocket to dab his mouth. He smacked his lips once and nonchalantly waved his finger at me and said, “You work for me now. What’s your name?”
I was stunned, and my body relaxed to a position of confidence as I tried to process my response. My change in body language was enough to aggressively call forward a bold minion who argued, “Boss, you can’t have one of his kind cooking for us!”
Pretty Boy James just finished his outburst when the brass of Fat Tony’s cane cracked harshly through the bridge of his nose. I knew immediately Pretty Boy James would now be known as Jimmy the Nose, and I could not refuse Tony’s offer.
Tony kept his gaze trained on me, and I allowed my bass vibrato to fill the small kitchen with my answer, “Apricot Jones.”
“Anthony Salerno, but my friends call me Fat Tony. Pleased to meet you. You start tomorrow morning,” he said as he thrust his hand into mine squeezing it firmly.
“We’re done here, gentlemen,” said Tony as two of the other men helped Jimmy to his feet. They left without another word. I looked down realizing Tony had thrust two pieces of paper into my hand. An address scribbled on a gum wrapper and a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill.
At the edge of the city was Tony’s huge abode nestled between his dog-racing track and his livestock ranch. Fat Tony gave me a tour starting with the farmstead I would call home. He introduced me to his mute ranch hand, Rigby. Rigby was responsible for raising the stock and could provide me the meats and supplies I needed. From pork bellies to roasting hens, Tony’s farm was well-provisioned. As toured, I observed who Tony was and that he expected excellence from himself and his people. He surrounded himself with creative problem solvers whom he compensated well and held accountable. As we walked the grounds, I noticed his staff did not bring him problems, they delivered reports. Most importantly, I could tell who Tony had recruited and who was family, as family was the exact opposite of staff. Jimmy the Nose was an in-law.
We concluded the tour in Tony’s kitchen, and it had everything I would ever use— a walk-in pantry, attached icehouse, a smokehouse, a commercial flat top grill, and a brand-new electric mixer. Tony knew I was in my element, and he shook my hand again.
“Welcome aboard, Mr. Jones. There will be four of us for lunch.”
“Thank you for the opportunity Mr. Salerno.”
“Call me Fat Tony,”
“Call me Apricot.”
I started working on pork tenderloin sandwiches for lunch. Fat Tony loved my food and I’ve never felt so valued. After about a month of only southern cooking, Tony began requesting other styles of cuisine. His kitchen library was stocked with recipe books, and I loved the challenge of new styles. After a few months, I was able to anticipate the foods Fat Tony would desire before he made a request.
It was 1927, and Rigby and I had become friends over the past year. I helped him with his chores and began adjusting the grain feed mix for the livestock to produce higher quality meats. Rigby taught me how to butcher large stock at the slaughterhouse, and we would grind the waste carcasses into food for greyhounds at Tony’s track.
Having a mute best friend was interesting, but Rigby always kept a notepad in his back pocket, and if he needed to communicate something specific, he would write it down. Most of the time he effectively communicated through gestures. Like the rest of Tony’s staff, Rigby didn’t need to have things explained to him. He was a smart, but silent cookie.
One day, I had just helped Rigby finish the afternoon chores and began to cook. There were to be five this night as Fat Tony was holding a dinner business meeting. I’d been smoking short ribs for the past 24 hours and served them with a roasted root medley deglazed in sherry and seasoned with rock salt. As I prepared the Baked Alaska for the dessert course, the intensity of the diners’ voices elevated from the dining room.
Suddenly, three gunshots cracked followed by a momentary silence before a cacophony of shouting. I struggled to hear the words, but I recall the wave of relief I felt when the terse calmness of Fat Tony’s tone silenced the other voices in the room. I could tell by the inflection in his voice, he was forced to ask a question, which immediately confirmed for me that he was dining with his less-than-excellent family members and that his business guest had shuffled off this mortal coil. Fat Tony’s question was answered with the pleading tone of excuses and more questions.
As I put the assembled dessert back into the icebox, I shook my head emphatically for Fat Tony as I heard him slam his hand on the table followed by the only phrases I could clearly make out, “If you weren’t my brother-in-law..,” and “…I’ll take care of this myself!” I heard the gentlemen get up and leave the dining room and shortly after, a car drove away.
I cracked the door to the dining room and surveyed the scene. A middle-aged man was bending his head over the back of his chair, and his arms had fallen to each side with palms open. I noticed a revolver on the floor which must have dropped from his right hand. The formerly breathing gentleman had one bullet hole in his head and two in his chest from which blood was irrigating the well-waxed oak floor. In a second, I knew this was a problem I could solve for my boss.
I ran to Rigby and quickly appraised him of the situation, informed him of my plan to solve this problem for Fat Tony, and requested his aid. He nodded in agreement and began to pull on his boots. The last thing I said to him was, “Meet me with your wheelbarrow at the dining room in three minutes.” I ran back to the kitchen to prepare.
I threw some lye soap in a bucket and cranked the tap to fill it. I collected a handful of carrots from the cellar, cutting the pointy tips from six of them, each one inch long. Along with the carrot tips, I grabbed my kitchen shears, butcher paper, meat tenderizer mallet, a sponge, and the bucket of soapy water.
I hurried back into the dining room to work on Mr. Body. The high-grade steel of kitchen shears made quick work of cutting away his clothing, which I tossed down to absorb the blood puddle. Next, I placed the pointy end of each of the carrots into the bullet holes on the body, whacking each with the flat side of my meat tenderizer until they were flush with the skin. This would stop the blood from making any more messes. I was just finishing plugging Mr. Body’s new orifices when Rigby walked in. Together, we carried the body to his wheelbarrow and Rigby started off to the next destination. I told him I would meet him after I finished cleaning up.
I went back to the dining room, placing the blood-soaked clothing on the butcher paper and wrapping it up as if it were a two pounds of veal. I sponge cleaned the floor and chair and removed the dirty dishes. I set the table for dessert minus the setting for Mr. Body, where I placed the revolver.
I held Mr. Body’s paper wrapped clothing in one hand and the bottle of rum I intended to use to flambe the Baked Alaska in the other. I paused just short of my destination to soak the paper in rum and light the package on fire.
It had been about twenty minutes since Fat Tony had driven away with his in-laws, and I anticipated it would be ten more minutes before he returned. As I entered the slaughterhouse, Rigby was already running the grinder and was positioning the container to catch this batch of greyhound fuel. I met eyes with Rigby and said, “The fast dogs will be a bit sluggish tomorrow with this second dinner treat. It might be a good time to place a bet?”
A smile crept across Rigby’s face as I also chuckled. I could tell we both shared the same thought— we are not bad men; we are good problem solvers. The clunking of the mill normalized to a hum as it completed turning waste flesh and bone into high quality dog food. Rigby wheeled his well-mixed contents toward the kennel, and I returned to the kitchen.
A few minutes later, the car rolled up to the mansion. I removed the dessert from the cooler, splashed it with the remaining rum and lit it on fire. I met Fat Tony and his gang as they entered the dining room. I placed my flaming masterpiece on the table and gestured for the men to partake. Tony’s family quickly sat down, as the desire in their taste buds overcame their ability for rational thought. Tony remained standing with his eyes scanning the chair where he last saw Mr. Body before locking onto mine.
“That body be gone, Mr. Salerno,” I said in my gutturally deep tone.
Slowly, a smile crept over his face and he nodded at me before he turned to his associate.
“Jimmy,” said Tony, “Inform Vincent and Julian we will not need their cleaning services this evening.” Turning his countenance once again to me, he added, “I suspect we may not need their services ever again. Mr. Jones, I’d like to invite you to a business lunch tomorrow afternoon to discuss your new endeavor.”
Body Be Gone™ - The Beginning
Tom and Dick, old friends from way back, were sitting on a wooden bench in front of Sid’s barber shop on the edge of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on a sunny late afternoon in June 1927. Horse-drawn wagons were sharing the dusty streets with a few automobiles, mostly Model T Fords. Some shoppers were seen going in and out of the new SuperValu grocery store, and other small shops on the street.
“Helluva day, ain’t it?” Tom sighed as he slouched a little more on the bench. It had been worn mirror-smooth through decades of overall-clad bottoms sliding over its surface and fit his bottom well.
“Yeah, sure is,” breathed Dick while raising his hands behind his head and tilting his ancient grimy Fedora forward to ward off the late-day’s bright sun.
A torn and well-read newspaper rested between them. Both had faces with tanned wrinkles and dark and dusty hair with ragged home-done haircuts. They wore faded overalls and equally colorless work-shirts, and shabby boots that were formed to their feet. They had both worked since early morning for a construction company that was expanding the downtown Dayton’s Department Store building once more. The construction business was booming about that time, even though Prohibition was in full force and finding a cool drink after a hard day’s work wasn’t all that easy. Johnson Construction had picked them up that morning along with a couple of other men, in their Model T Runabout Pickup and they rode to the job site. Brought back to the barber shop where they met when they needed work, Tom and Dick sat companionably on the bench and perused the times.
Only the month before, Charles Lindbergh had completed an amazing and historic flight in his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis. Nonstop and alone, he successfully completed the first solo transatlantic flight. Tom said, “How about that Lindbergh fella? I was hopin’ he would make it.”
“Me, too. After all, he came from the right place.” Both of them chuckled, knowing Lindbergh had lived a good share of his life in Little Falls, Minnesota.
Dick said, “I see they’re startin’ to work on that Mount Rushmore sculpture deal in South Dakota. They’re gonna carve the faces of four presidents on that mountain. Think they’ll do it?”
“Glad it’s not my job, it’s gonna take a while,” Tom grunted. “That’s George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, from what I saw in the paper. Great men. Don’t think Cal Coolidge is gonna make it.” They chuckled again.
An older Model T chugged up the street and stopped in front of the barber shop. Tom and Dick’s friend Harry jumped out and said , “Hey.” Dressed the same as his friends, but covered in dirty grease and oil, Harry had a job at the fancy new filling station down the street. More than just having a pump on the sidewalk, the gas station even had a bay for doing automobile repairs, and that’s what kept Harry busy.
“I see they’re gonna replace your Model T, Harry, whatcha gonna do about it?” Dick declared.
Taking a seat on the bench, Harry sighed, “You’re right. The news is Ford has retired the Model T, but they’re building what they call the Model A. That sucker’s gonna have seven different body types, and four different colors.”
“No kidding, four colors? The T comes in any color you want and they’re all black!” They all slapped their knees in laughter at that one.
“No kidding, it’ll have a safety glass windshield, four-wheel brakes, and hydraulic shock absorbers. Ford is calling it an ‘automotive wonder,’ if you can imagine that.
“Well, I’ll be!” Tom said. “Maybe there’s a future in this car business after all.”
Harry said, “Guess what I heard at the station today.” The others shrugged, and he went on. “Old man Dumphry kicked the bucket last night. The guys at the station were saying that his widow is in real bad straights, and can’t afford to bury him.”
Tom shook his head, “That is bad news for sure. What’s his old lady gonna do?”
They all sat in silence for a few moments with eyes cast down.
Dick, the most outgoing one of the bunch, said, “Why don’t we help her out, guys?”
“Whatdya mean, help her out? We don’t have any money, what can we do about it?” Tom scoffed.
“We could bury him ourselves―after dark, and nobody will know about it,” Dick replied.
“But it costs money to bury somebody in the cemetery―where would we put him?” Harry asked.
Dick continued, “We could sneak him out of the house after the widow has a wake, and dig a hole in the woods. Nobody will ever know and it won’t cost a cent.”
Tom chimed in, “Not a bad idea…We’ve all got shovels. Let’s do it, let’s help her out and give the guy a decent burial.”
“I know of a forest where we could bury him,” Dick went on. “We just have to steer clear of the McCleary brothers still. They’ve got a busy operation going east of town, but that’s a big woods with plenty of room.”
“I know where you’re talkin’ about,” Harry answered. “The McLearys supply booze for half the city’s speakeasys. There’s people going in and out of there all the time and nobody will notice us. Let’s do it!”
It was a week later and Tom, Dick, and Harry were again sitting on the bench in front of the barber shop after another long day of work. The burial of old man Dumphry had gone without a hitch. The widow was happy with how things turned out and her son was making a small wooden marker for the grave they told her was at the edge of a small pond in the forest.
What had actually happened was that they hauled the body to the pond and wearing their fishing waders, they buried it under a beaver dam. Much easier than digging in the hard ground. Tom said, “Dumphry had a wooden leg, and those beavers are going to be happier than pigs in mud when they see what we gave them to chew on.” They all had a good, but respectful laugh.
Dick had an idea. “Ya know, that was a good thing we did for the widow Dumphry and it didn’t put us out much.” The others agreed. “I wonder how many other bodies might need a quiet burying or disposal without any hoopla?”
“What are you talkin’ about?” Harry asked.
“I’m just thinkin’ here,” Dick continued. Tom and I don’t have a steady job and the work we do is really hard when we do it. I’m wonderin’ if there might be some easier money in disposing of bodies that might be botherin’ people.”
“And where would we find these bodies do ya think?” Tom said sarcastically.
Dick started telling them what he had been thinking. “We got a bunch of gangsters around here―especially in St. Paul, ya know. And that big guy, Al Capone is real busy in Chicago right now. Those guys always seem to have a bunch of dead bodies to get rid of.” The others were nodding with scowling faces. “I’ve got an idea that we could start our own business and make a little money. It’d have to be on the side at first, but once we get known, we could make a livin’ off the dyin,’ don’tcha think?”
The scowls began to lift. Tom said, “That’s not a bad idea, Dick, not bad a’tall. We could get word to the Capones and his buddies by way of the bootleggers that are pickin’ up booze to take back to their speakeasys and other places. We’ll be wallowin’ in bodies in no time!”
Harry nodded. “When we run out of ponds and swamps, there’s still plenty of hollow trees, dry wells, buildings going up with lots of wet cement, not to mention the shovels that we didn’t use on this first job. This could be lots better than getting covered with grease at the body shop. Hey, get it? Body shop?” They all began nodding and chuckling their approval at the proposed unusual occupation for the three of them.
Tom snickered, “We could even take care of Sid’s mistakes with his straight-edge here at the barber shop,” and he pointed his thumb behind them. “We’d just be helping to clean up.”
Dick said confidently, “I know what we can call our business: Body Be Gone. What do you think of that?”
This prompted a chorus of “Yeah!” as they all shook hands and patted each other on the back with eager anticipation of a new and exciting adventure.
It all started in the Spring of ‘27. The Prohibition was just getting into full swing. Agents were hiding in every box and speakeasy west of the sunrise and south of Santa’s workshop. With more customers in the copper’s clubhouse than were left to fill the juice joints and down the moonshine, business was floundering.
The smart play was to scram out and dive into new grounds. Years on the lam in a perpetual running of the pigs meant years of making, faking and shaking those snouts from the trail. The straight and narrow was no place for a couple of entrepreneurial shadows.
The brains of the partnership was the Tongue. Nobody knew his real name on account of the sad fact that his namesake had absconded in a failed business venture as a souvenir for some paranoid mobsters. Scotty ‘The Head’ Johnston did all of the talking. A do first, think later personality that never got past first base. In an era where names were easy to come by, but hard to hold onto he’d become South Johnston, then just South.
Living in the shadows meant knowing all the geezers, but being known by none. A hands off, coded letters only communication made them easy to reach and hard to find. The transition from stocking the shelves to cleaning them was simple. Though this was before cleaning had discovered italics. If a bar got ear of a coming bust, they’d reach out to the Tongue and South to clear the joint of contraband. Liquor, barrels, taps. All shining cleaner and purer than a constable’s badge. Further above the law than Lady Justice herself.
Their reputation grew as fast as their business opportunities. A service that asked no questions. Cleared and cleaned the place out. Embarrassing the fuzz on every busted bust, before returning it all once the trotters clopped off. Prompt, professional.
Reputation always has a habit of bringing additional interests to bear.
The trouble with coded letters is when new language needs to be expressed. With no agreed upon code an attempt must always be made that has a high potential to lead to confusion. Misinterpretation. Misunderstanding.
It was raining on the day of the great surprise. The great depression was still yet to be capitalised, but it sat in the air as a cloud of uneasiness. It stuck to the skin, stuck the soles of your boots to the ground. Pulling you down and holding you there. It wasn’t a good time to be outdoors, and those that were didn’t have a choice.
South and the Tongue had spent breakfast staking out the joint. Dressed in their finest hobo drag and
enmeshed in the local commune, munching the mould off some finely aged potatoes. They’d received the letter that morning. Most of the code made sense. Urgent. Clear location. Unsure of time of bust but likely soon, thus the urgency. The inventory of the location was less clear. A very short list, very poorly described. Could be interpreted as one thing described in many different ways, or many things with some poor grammar thrown in. Whatever it was, the Tongue had the sense that they were being contracted by a band of amateurs. A band of very well-paying amateurs. They’d do the job, but extra care was prudent on the off chance this was some poorly crafted double-sting on the part of the feds. It was hard to say no to that much dough.
They pulled up in a Model T panel truck. Big, bold letters emblazoned on the side: ‘ Bugs Be-Gone! ’ It didn’t always say that. South was a surprisingly good hand at detailing. They changed the name regularly, lest the law catch whiff of some suspicion. Nobody really knew what was needed to kill pests, so nobody questioned what came into or out of the van. It was amazing what you could get away with wearing some overalls and carrying a ladder.
They rechecked the address three times with the note.
Once at the front door to the building. This did not look like any draught den they’d heard of, and for the most part they knew them all. It was their business, and this did not look like one. Part industrial, part apartment. A place where people would live in the shell of some old failed business. Save some sugar they didn’t have.
Twice at the door to the room, which looks less and less like hiding the expectation of an establishment behind its peeling wooden frame. But the number 3 on the door matched, and the key that came in the envelope slotted in and, with some force, clicked the door open.
The thrice and final time was immediately after quickly closing the door behind them on discovery of a well-dressed man on the floor who had misplaced a large proportion of his own blood. Either that or a tragically fatal red paint spill. Whatever the liquid, the man was not of this world any longer, and the mystery inventory items had all been unfortunately clarified. However, business was business, and there was a reputation to uphold.
The Tongue was the first to spring into action, South gradually following his lead. The Tongue saw this as a simple three phase problem. Firstly, the place needed cleaning. Blood stained, and death smelt. Secondly, the body needed to get out of this building and into the truck. Thirdly, the body needed to find a new forever home to decay the rest of its days in solitude. They had already come to the conclusion that the client did not wish for the inventory to be returned once the coppers had their sniff around. A simpler affair, in some regards.
Make sure the stiff’s stopped leaking. No point cleaning the mess while it’s still being made. It turns out mouse-traps can apply a considerable amount of pressure as long as they can get enough purchase and leverage. Wood glue isn’t too bad an option for those more face and skull shaped areas. Next, clean the clothes and clean the stiff. A trail of drips and smears is not hard even for a pig to follow. Cold water is the trick. Fortunately, the place has plumbing.
Unfortunately, the blood’s clotting already. Gotta mix some rat poison into it, gloves on, to thin it all out again. Makes it easy to mop up. The rags meant for cleaning booze go in the empty barrels meant for storing it, red instead of brown. South rolls the barrels out to the truck, while the Tongue gets ready for the next phase.
The stiff is already down to its undergarments, suit hanging to dry over some of the furniture. No way that body is getting strolled out the front door like that. The Tongue gets to changing into this newfound attire. Off come the overalls and the work shirt. Putting on a damp suit that isn’t your cut isn’t the best of times, but surprises mean adaptation. Putting overalls on a corpse is a whole world of difference. He’s still struggling with the legs when South comes back in to add some much needed brawn. A few final touches, smoothing over the hair, straightening the collar. The glue is hard to notice, and the mouse-traps are holding and hidden in the baggy overalls. Turning up the collar obscures the last of them. The Tongue gives the stiff a confirmatory pat on the shoulder, nods at South, and strolls out the door. He takes with him just enough chemicals to accelerate a decent billowing of smoke. Visible even through the rain, and with a scent that only a corpse could sleep through. Work done, he strolls right out the building in the stiffs suit, donning a hat as he goes. Can’t have two people walking in, and three walking out. Even pigeons would smell something fishy. The damp suit is now wet with the rain, and he waits a few blocks down and a few blocks east.
The screams of ‘Fire!’ take a minute or two more to get going, and soon enough people start running from the building. Slow at first, but quickly growing in numbers. In amongst them is South, carrying the unconscious corpse over his shoulder in an expert fireman’s carry, all the while acting for all the world like a man distraught but determined over the care of his unconscious business partner. He quickly loads him into the back of the truck, with the aid of some panic stricken onlookers, before driving off in a mad rush for all to know towards the nearest hospital. Stopping only temporarily a few blocks down and a few blocks east to let in a wet man in a wet suit, before carrying on at a more sedate pace.
The location is cleaned and the body removed, now only the forever home awaits. The Tongue knows there are a lot of ways to get rid of unwanted things in a city like this one. The beautiful thing about the rain is that any construction work begun will never set on a day like this. Nor will anyone be around. A day like today is a write-off. A bludge. It’s a day when construction sites will bring in contractors to do non-construction work for little things that just get in the way at other times. Things like pest control. The Tongue knows just a site. Out of the way, in a quiet growing industrial area. A new building, still putting in the foundations.
They pull up. Nobody in sight, except the one they brought with them in the truck. Nothing but a perfect pool of fresh poured cement, started this morning and abandoned to the rain. South finds a long pole. It’d be foolish to toss the stiff in only to find the pool too shallow. Fishing a body out of cement is a nightmare. The pole dips in and South can’t find the bottom until it’s almost up to his hand. Perfect. They disrobe and re-suit the stiff again, the Tongue opting to just continue in his undergarments, rather than dive into another set of corpse attire. It takes South a lot of pole poking to persuade the stiff of the comfort of this new concrete home, but it eventually acquiesces. South grunts. Perhaps in a eulogy, perhaps for a job well done. The Tongue just cleans off the pole, and places it carefully back where they picked it up. Nothing changed, nothing bothered, nothing suspect.
They pocketed more that day than the entire month prior. They needed no more push than that. Their partnership changed from cleaners to cleaners . Though they repainted the truck again and again, the name from the first clean would always be the heart of the business. Business was booming, and the city was built upon their successes.
In the Spring of 1927, Body Be Gone TM was born.
Deal of Several Lifetimes
“Call her,” Ignazio whispered, his eyes scanning the blood-soaked, bullet-ridden pile of corpses that five minutes earlier had attempted to steal business from what he humbly regarded as the most efficiently-run organization in all of Chicago. If the mob gave out awards, his operation would be a shoo-in for 1927’s Business of the Year.
“You don’t just call Donna Pulizie,” replied Ignazio’s top lieutenant, Bobby C. “It’s more of a…summons.”
That word raised troubling memories for Ignazio. He bristled at its sound and walked away, his leather-soled shoes slipping on a rivulet of blood already forming on the auto shop’s oil-stained floor and making its way toward a drain. He quickly righted himself. “Whatever it takes, Bobby. We need this cleaned up. Fast.”
Alone with all thirteen bodies, Bobby C closed his eyes, lowered his head, and removed from his jacket pocket a piece of smoky quartz, its edges smooth from centuries of use. The stone clenched tightly in one hand, Bobby C mumbled a few words that sounded vaguely Latin. He remained stationary—eyes still closed—surrounded by the eerie hush of death, interrupted only by the rhythmic drip, drip, drip as the blood reached the drain.
“Again?” a female voice cut through the silence.
Bobby C opened his eyes, unsurprised to see before him an otherworldly being—possibly a deity. He wasn’t certain exactly what she was. He only knew that his father, grandfather, and many great-grandfathers before him had turned to her in times of need. With long, flowing black hair and eyes to match, she was as beautiful as she was formidable.
“Donna Pulizie, you grace me with your presence.”
One glance at the scene and Donna Pulizie knew why she was called.
“How many this time?” she asked, already knowing the answer.
“A baker’s dozen, or thereabouts.”
Equal parts annoyed and bored, the supernatural stunner assessed the situation.
“If we did this per carcass, I’d have earned my freedom by now. But I was young and naieve. I let your great, great, great, great—and I want to say great—grandfather set the terms because he released me from eight centuries of torment. Yet my debt to your ancestor won’t be paid for another five-hundred years. Give or take. I’m really not the best at record-keeping. Learn from my mistakes, Bobby—never sign a contract without reading the fine print.”
Donna Pulizie expressed her frustration though a long, drawn-out sigh that a mere human could never replicate. “Remember, I only take care of the bodies. You deal with the rest.”
“Of course,” he replied, donning a pair of sunglasses.
As she focused her gaze on Ignazio’s former foes, Donna Pulizie’s black eyes transformed into a pair of burning suns, radiating just enough energy to disintegrate the entire heap of human remains without damaging the surrounding structure. Her work wasn’t instantaneous, but it was thorough. Even a bit of brain matter that had been clinging to the wall disappeared.
“That it?” she asked.
“Yes. Thank you, Donna Pulizie.”
“Then I’m outta here.” With that, Donna Pulizie disappeared.
Six weeks later, after a late-night business deal went south, Bobby C summoned Donna Pulizie once again. This time, there were only two bodies—conveniently located in a meticulously manicured garden.
“You know, Bobby, I’ve been thinking. If we play our cards right, maybe there’s a way we can both be winners,” Donna Pulizie said before getting to work.
“Given your growing need of my, uh, services, and my desire to amend my contract with your family — your biological family, that is —I thought it might be time we go into business. Together.”
“What kind of business?”
“Specialized disposal and clean up,” she said, hoping he’d buy into the idea. “Hear me out. We would target organizations like yours, here and across the country. Eventually, we could have franchises around the world—it’s not like travel is a big issue for me. I take care of the bodies, and you hire local teams to clean up the rest. No muss, no fuss.”
Bobby C saw potential in her proposition. Slipping on his sunglasses despite the night sky, he asked, “What’s in it for you?”
“For starters, I’d expect a couple of centuries shaved off my debt. It’s a good deal, a fair exchange, since the business would set you and your descendants up in a money-making empire with very low overhead,” she replied, proud of her newfound business acumen.
With her fiery glare, Donna Pulizie made quick work of the newly-deceased mobsters who were slumped against a pair of exquisitely-pruned topiaries while leaving nary a mark on the yews.
“Okay. Okay. I see where you’re going. But wouldn’t that expose you and your special skills to too many people?”
“Discretion works both ways, Bobby. Anyone who needs bodies disposed of is in no position to ask questions. All our employees would need to know is how to contact me. I can learn to use a telephone.”
Bobby C tapped a finger to his temple. “Oh, I know. We can call it Body Be Gone.”
Little did Donna Pulizie know, but as a teenager, Bobby C had dreamed of becoming a businessman. A legitimate businessman. He spent hours sketching out advertisements for the products he wanted to sell.
“I even got the motto,” he said through the grin of a natural-born salesman, “Mopping up Loose Ends Since 1927.”
“More like 1689, if you want the truth.”
“Let’s talk details,” Bobby C said as he unspooled a garden hose and rinsed the remaining blood into the flower beds.
Nearly a month passed before another unfortunate altercation cost one of Ignazio’s competitors to lose valued employees—this time, three men were gunned down under the El tracks in secluded corner of town.
Ignazio squinted in disbelief as Bobby C reached over the carnage to hand him a business card instead of summoning Donna Pulizie. “This is a joke, right, Bobby? ‘Body Be Gone’ – what kind of a name is that?”
“A descriptive one,” Bobby C said, holding up a folder emblazoned with the Body Be Gone logo he had designed himself. “I’m going legit, boss—more or less, anyway. And so is Donna Pulizie. We’ll still do to-notch clean-ups for you, only at a price. A fair price.”
“A price?” Ignazio repeated, certain a blackmail threat would soon follow. “And what might that be?”
Bobby C pulled a rate sheet from the folder and handed it to Ignazio.
Ignazio nodded as scanned the sheet, then looked Bobby C in the eye. “It’s on the up and up? No squeeze, no shakedown?”
Bobby removed a second paper from the folder.
“No, boss. No extortion. Given the delicate nature of our potential clients’ work, a standard non-discloser agreement is included in every contract. See? Donna Pulizie is a stickler for clear, straightforward terms.”
“Any chance I get a family discount?”
“For you, boss? Sure,” said Bobby C, knowing that even with a slight markdown, Body Be Gone’s first client would be a moneymaker.
“Where do I sign?”
Help, No Questions Asked
“There won’t always be a tank of piranhas handy, Lucinda.” Hannah Stokes fidgeted with her hatpin. She’d taken it out and put it back into her bicorn bucket hat a half a dozen times. It was more for decoration than need, except she’d needed it tonight. The hatpin was why Lucinda included her for this particular escapade, rather than Lillian or Grace, whose nerves were steadier.
“Yes, but tonight we have one, and it makes sense to use it.” Lucinda Brookdale took the large, oval wooden spoon and stirred the water, encouraging the fish in their frenzy. “Do take off your shoes, Hannah, or you’ll ruin them. I’d hate to see them spoiled. Keep your gloves on, there’s a dear. We don’t want to leave smudges anywhere.”
Hannah unbuckled those new patent leather T-straps, only $3.98 at Herberger’s when she visited her sister Delilah in Minnesota last month. She stepped onto the floor, the cool wooden boards smooth under her sheer rayon stockings. Her garters itched, but she wasn’t about to scratch in front of Lucinda. “The only reason we even have access to the tank is because we broke in.”
“There’s no one with your hatpin lock-picking skill.” Lucinda peered into the tank. “There. I think they’ve eaten all the soft bits.”
“How do you plan to get him out?”
“Salad. . .never mind.” Hannah sighed.
“Mrs. Gemrell-Watkins must like serving salads to her guests. The tongs are enormous.” Lucinda brandished them from behind her back and laughed when Hannah jumped out of reach with a little scream. “But then, she and her husband are rich enough to be considered eccentric, rather than neurotic. One does have to be a bit unhinged to keep a tank of piranhas in the parlor. Get Aunt Beatrice’s trunk over here, would you, dear?”
“Aren’t you worried you’ll ruin the inside?” Hannah maneuvered the beautiful, old Goyard steamer trunk into position. It was on wheels, and rolled with only the slightest squeak as the wood, canvas, and brass met.
“Aunt Beatrice was an actress, travelling with shows for decades,” said Lucinda, pulling up a femur bone. It was still sticky with blood, but stripped of flesh and tendon. “She liked to travel with her gin; the inside is waterproof.”
Hannah tilted the trunk upright, so it opened like a book. “No one’s inside now, is there?”
“No, dear, I wiped it clean before we left.” Lucinda regarded the bone positioned in the tongs.
“Does that mean someone was there earlier today?” Hannah opened the latches, worried she’d be greeted by a putrid smell. But the scent coming out of the trunk was that of lemon and lavender.
“No, dear, don’t worry, it’s quite aired out. The last one was that handsy Soames fellow, the door-to-door salesman bothering all those women up in Maple Circle. We disposed of him when Veronica Bassett beaned him with a fireplace poker after he attacked her. Was that one week ago, or two? It all runs together.”
“I’m not sure,” said Hannah. “Lillian was with you for that mop job.”
“Yes, she was. Lillian’s quite strong, but it still took some doing to fold him in to the trunk.”
“Where did you,” Hannah began, then sighed. “Never mind. I don’t want to know.”
Lucinda started handing her bones. “There’s a towel in there, so you don’t get your gloves bloody.”
“Should I put the smaller bones in the drawers? Do we need the wardrobe side for the torso and the pelvis?”
“Clever girl!” Lucinda praised.
Hannah opened the drawers and sorted bones by size as Lucinda handed them to her. “Aunt Beatrice didn’t end up in here, did she?”
“My heavens, no!” Lucinda laughed. “Aunt Beatrice and her seventh husband? Maybe it’s her eighth, they’re hard to keep track of. At any rate, they are happily retired in the south of Spain. She much prefers the climate.” She sighed. “I’m going to have to give these bones a good wash when I get home.”
“Where will you get rid of them?”
“O’Malley and Rentham need another skeleton to sell to schools,” said Lucinda. “They pay well and don’t ask questions. They said their client was very pleased with the skeleton of Asbry Wilson. Perfect conformation.”
“They didn’t know it was Wilson, did they?”
“Of course not! Although I don’t think I’ll use buzzards for disposal again. Too messy and they take too long. No, dear, I’ve let O’Malley and Rentham assume I am stepping out with an undertaker who is willing to look the other way in certain instances when I need skeletons to sell.”
“They don’t even consider we might have killed the people the skeletons once supported?”
“But we don’t, dear, do we?” Lucinda responded. “We simply clean up the mess.”
“That’s true,” said Hannah.
“No need to rush to confession, dear,” said Lucinda. “This might test even Father Reilly’s limits.”
“I wasn’t planning on it,” Hannah said. She sighed. “This is our third cleanup in a month.”
“We rather fell into it, didn’t we?” said Lucinda. “We’re good at it. This one,” she waved a clavicle, “was the first one we were asked to clean up. It’s sheer coincidence he’s the third we actually completed because the other two were simpler to move, and we were able to take care of them immediately.” She frowned. “That reminds me, I need some more vinegar to clean the ice box. We had him in there long enough to smell.” She shook her head. “The ice bill will be enormous this month. I’m going to have to add it in to our fees.”
“Aren’t you worried the wrong person will find you and there will be trouble?” Hannah asked.
“No.” Lucinda, as usual, was cheerful. “I’m going to call us a cleaning company, a special kind of cleaning company, with promise that ‘we mop up loose ends so no one ever finds your mess, no questions asked’ and let word of mouth bring in the clientele. We’ve earned more in the past month than I earned in the last three years. If it does well, we’ll expand the business.”
“It pays better than the perfume counter at Gimbel’s,” Hannah conceded.
“You, me, Lillian, and Grace,” said Lucinda. “I have the organizational skills and the strong stomach; Lillian has the physical strength; Grace has diplomacy and natural charm with clients and law enforcement; you are wonderful with locks and research. We make a wonderful team. Someone’s got to do this kind of work and make a profit. Why shouldn’t it be us?”
Hannah closed her eyes for a moment and considered. She’d been chased around too many desks when she was a typist; been pinched beyond pain as a cigarette girl, and didn’t want to get married just for a place to live and some food. Why not this? Lucinda was right; there was a need for this kind of work, and they were good at it.
She opened her eyes and smiled. “It should be us.”
Lucinda smiled back. “It is us.”
“Will Vera join us? Vera was the first one to call you, to help get rid of,” Hannah gestured with a finger bone, “this.”
“No, dear.” Lucinda looked sad. “The whole experience traumatized Vera. She’ll never be the same. But that’s what you do when a friend calls in a time of trouble, isn’t it? You help, no questions asked.”
No two ways about it. 1927 was a humdinger of a year. Mostly it was a humdinger of a great news year. I’m thinking, for example, Jolson singing his Mammy heart out in the first feature length talkie, The Jazz Singer.
That was magic.
I’m also thinking the New York Yankees and the Babe sweeping the Pirates in 4. Pretty much good news for the whole darn country, unless you lived in Pittsburgh. Or yearned to listen to a few more games.
Not only was the World Series magic that year and especially Babe’s run of 60 homers, you gotta give credit to Lou Gehrig. He had a magical year too. Made the Babe really work to earn breaking’ his old record of 59.
Lou had style.
But the Babe was magic with the bat.
Not that I believe in magic.
Or even good news.
1927 was also a big year for bad news.
Depending on your perspective, that is.
My friend Margie, she was into dance. Not the Charleston especially, which even me with my two left feet found fun, though she could cut a pretty wild rug when she wanted to. No. Margie was into ballet. Not my cuppa homebrew, I tell you, but she went for it in a big way. Had done so from when she was a little girl. Anyhoo, when she heard that Isadora Duncan had croaked, I mean literally croaked with that scarf wrapping itself around the wheel and her neck and choking the life out of her, Margie like to have busted up all tearful for over a week.
There was just no placating her
Weeping women. You’ve got to have patience with them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to back up a bit. Back to Christmastime the year before. Something in the news that just wandered in on brain and sat there for a while. You might remember. The Agatha Christie affair. Famous writer. Disappeared for a few days. Became a bigger story than a coronation.
The nub of it, the germ of the idea that squirmed around in noggin was that I suddenly realized that if someone famous could up and disappear, even for a short while, well, anyone could vanish. Poof. Never to be seen again.
So, that notion sat there for months. Fermenting. I didn’t even really know it was there. A fella like me, a fellow who has a million ideas popping like popcorn in my brain every second of my life, well eventually some of that corn has got to make me some moolah.
In May of ’27, something fabulous occurred. That Charlie Lindberg. What a guy. Flew across the entire Atlantic Ocean. By himself. Solo. Never been done before.
That was truly magic. But you likely know about that.
But there was another story. A companion story from a few weeks earlier. Before Lindberg’s Spirit of St Louis made that fabulous trip, a couple of French pilots, Nungesser and Coli, tried flying the opposite way. Europe to New York.
They never made it. Most experts, everyone really, guessed that they plunged into the cold North Atlantic.
Gives me the shivers even thinking about it.
Too many cold baths growing up, I guess.
Anyways, the two Frenchies never were found as far as I know.
But there I am, putting ideas together, brain percolating. I’d spent most of my life thinking up a foolproof way to make money. Quickly. Smartly.
Can’t say I had had all that much luck. I grew up pretty rough. Early on I found out that there were ways to make quick cash as long as you didn’t have any moral quibbles.
Stealing never really bothered me.
Except when I got caught.
Did a bit of a stretch in the reformatory.
As you can imagine, I expanded my criminal associate repertoire there.
So, I had always known guys who practiced, how can I say this, some of the darker criminal arts.
Not that they talked about it much. But some nights, one night in particular I’m thinking of, I was down in the East Side, The Blue Turtle, a little joint that served up a great chowder in front and had a Speak in the back. I was on my lonesome when I ran into an old buddy, Louie the Lip Lassiter. Irish guy, with a lot of actin going on. We sat down, swapped stories, of which I had a few, maybe inflated some and then we got to the real skinny. Lou let slip that he had a problem and could use some muscle. I said, “Lou, I ‘m good to help out but I’m 5’8 in my socks, never was able to throw my weight around.” That got a snicker out of old Lou, but he said, “no, not that kind. Just a little elbow grease.”
I said I’d help. We quaffed a few more and went out the back. Louie pointed to a black Packard Runabout sitting off in the shadows.
I complimented him on his beauty of a roadster. “’25? I asked.” “Nope,” he answered, “1924, I think. Not mine. A friends. Anyways, lets go for a drive into the Country.”
It was a warm night. I had a bit of a buzz. The wind kept slapping me in a silly friendly way but to tell you the truth, it was all dream like. Later, maybe we’d been toddling down some country backroads for an hour, Louie pulled over next to a small wood.
“For what?” I asked.
“Lemme show you,” he said so we got out, went to the back of the Packard and he lifted the trunk lid. “We need to plant this wilted flower. Grab his legs and that shovel.”
I did a quick reconnoitre. There was a half moon, a spear of light, but we were truly in the tulies and no one was around. Hightailing it out of there seemed out of the question. Louie was a right guy, but I knew he had a temper and I’d seen him break arms.
“Who is he Louie?” I asked.
“Does it matter? Just some palooka who needs to vanish. I got a bad back these days…you can dig the hole.”
It took a couple of hours, Louie ponied up a C note and a reluctant explanation. “I’ve got a sideline. Moving stiffs. No questions asked.”
He went on to explain that it was a growing business and maybe, just maybe he could use an employee.
Well it was just about then that I started to glow with brilliance. I told Louie I needed to think about it. He was quick to say, “Don’t take too long…and don’t be a boob.”
His message was clear. I was either in or I was walking a highwire and there was no net.
We got together two days later. Over some imported Canadian hootch, I said I was in and what did he think about a slightly different means of disposal. A little more modern. Maybe more expensive but a sure-fire way of guaranteeing the work.
It was his turn to take some thinking time.
My plan had some holes. Not the kind that needed a shovel.
But just like I knew people, Louie knew people.
My plan needed some investment.
The right people.
A week later, Louie picked me up in a cab and we went to a large estate on the North end of the City. On the lake.
I won’t name names, but I was in high-end company.
Our money man had bought an aerodrome. He and his “Associates” were close to employing two pilots, both of whom had flown with the Lafayette Escadrille and who had few scruples left like so many who’d survived the war.
They’d begun the incorporation of BBG Airlines and would, in addition to our specific speciality service, offer executive flights for busy executives and anyone who could pony up the executive rate.
And they congratulated me on the idea.
The ocean would be a giant graveyard.
No more digging holes in the country.
The fish in the sea would feast on our leavings.
Clients around the country would find comfort in knowing that their human remains dilemmas, people who just didn’t need to BE anymore, would forever be gone.
Yeah, no two ways about it. 1927 was a humdinger of a year.
Mum's The Word
THWAP! Edwin plucked at the drunk’s sleeve and let his arm fall on the bar.
“You know, Cliff…I think he might be dead.”
“Of course he’s dead, numbskull!” Clifford fished the flask out of the man’s overcoat and gave it a whiff.
“He’s gone and spiked his drink with turpentine.”
“Well, he did say it needed a bit more kick.”
Cliff’s Joint wasn’t what you’d call a high-class establishment. It was no secret that his bathtub gin was more bathwater than alcohol. But even if the boozehounds crowding into his back-alley speakeasy were willing to overlook the weakness of the sauce, they’d surely notice Old Man Willard had finally checked out. Everyone had already cleared off—last call was nearly an hour ago, and even flappers have to sleep sometime. But they’d be back tonight, swarming like moths to an intoxicating flame, and he didn’t need his customers giving too much thought to when the last call might really be their last.
“Well, what are we going to do with him, then?” Cliff asked. Thinking wasn’t exactly Ed’s strong point, so Cliff wasn’t expecting anything spectacular, but he’d give the old boy a shot.
Besides, he needed more time to think, himself.
“When my gramp’s hunting dog kicked the bucket, we buried him behind the outhouse,” said Ed.
Cliff rolled his eyes. “There’s no outhouses in the middle of Chicago, genius. And even if we had someplace to bury him, the milkman’s already making his rounds, not to mention Officer Sullivan’s beat. There’s not enough whiskey in the world to make a cop look the other way while we carry a body down the street.”
“We could just tell Sullivan what happened. Weren’t our fault he doctored up his own drink.”
Cliff’s eyeballs were in serious danger of lodging in the back of his skull. No—it was no use looking to Ed for ideas. This called for some real brain work.He decided to skip over the matter of transportation, for the moment, and focus on the destination. Once they got him out of the bar, they’d need a plan. Cliff had read a dime novel once about a mobster who disposed of a body by dumping it in an open grave. But even if they hauled the guy all the way to Saint Mary’s, what were the chances they’d find a grave all dug and ready for them? And besides, if the grave was already opened, that meant someone else was expecting to fill it. City real estate was expensive—even a crowded tenement in Little Sicily cost a bundle—and though three feet by eight was a tad smaller footprint than an uptown apartment, if you needed a place to lay your head, you had to pay. No one was going to tolerate a squatter in their final estate.
A rogues’ gallery of bad ideas paraded through his imagination, each more improbable than the last. The medical college always needed more specimens to practice on…they might ask too many questions, though. Piranhas? No, that was dumb. Where were they going to get piranhas? But there was a circus camped out by the railroad tracks…maybe they had a hungry lion or dancing bear or something that wasn’t too picky. And speaking of traveling shows, ever since Houdini died, there had been a flood of imitators trying their hand at disappearing acts—maybe he could convince one of them to vanish the body?
The alley door swung open, sending Cliff’s thoughts scattering like roaches. He grabbed a dishrag and pretended to polish the bar. Ed tilted Willard’s hat to cover the man’s face and leaned casually on the next stool over.
“What’s the word, fellas?”
Cliff let out an anxious breath. It was only Jukes, one of the trumpet players from that night’s gig. “Just clearing up for the night,” he answered. “Gotta sober this one up first.”
Jukes laughed. “He sure looks zozzled, all right.” He retrieved his forgotten mute from the stage and returned to the bar, plopping down on the stool next to Ed and waving a flyer at Cliff. “Mind if I tack a few of these up? My girl’s cousin works for a traveling museum that’s coming to town in a couple weeks—they’re trying to get the word out.”
“Knock yourself out,” said Cliff. He’d agree to anything to get Jukes back out the door before he got too observant.
Jukes thunked his trumpet case down on the bar and pulled out a stack of papers. He pinned a couple from the rafters, saved a few to paste on the alley wall later, and left the rest on the bar. PROFESSOR PHILANEUM’S COLLECTION OF CURIOSITIES, the headline proclaimed, EXOTIC ARTIFACTS TO DELIGHT AND AMAZE.
“Well, see you in the funny papers,” said Jukes, waving as he wandered back out the door. And then at last, to the bartender’s relief, they were alone again.
Ed stared at the papers for a minute before he spoke. “Say Cliff—how’d you suppose they fixed up those mummies, anyhow?”
“The Egyptians.” He shoved a flyer under Cliff’s nose and pointed at the picture. “Says here they’ve got a mummified cat in the curiosity show. I bet they’d pay a few bucks for a human mummy to go with it.”
Cliff scratched his chin. “You mean Willard?”
“Sure. We got all kinds of ingredients in the back room for mixing the hooch. And he’s so full of rotgut and turpentine, he’s practically pickled already. Couldn’t be that hard to dry him out a bit and wrap him in bandages.”
Cliff’s roachly ideas crept out of the shadows. They could not only be rid of the body, but turn a profit in the bargain! Ever since those explorers opened King Tut’s tomb, Egyptian artifacts were all the rage; this museum wouldn’t be able to turn down an actual mummy. A week in an alcohol bath, another week packed in rock salt, a few bandages dipped in linseed oil, and the old man would fool Queen Cleopatra herself.
“Well, Willard,” he said, addressing the final patron of the evening, “I always said you got the royal treatment at Cliff’s Joint.”
Professor Philaneum peered into the wooden crate. “You certain this is a real mummy?” he asked. “It’s not just a bunch of bandages stuffed with pillows, is it?”
“What kind of cheat do you take me for?” Cliff protested. “Of course it’s real.”
“All the way from Cairo,” Ed added. Willard always said he was from somewhere on the south end of the state; who’s to say it wasn’t Cairo, Illinois?
The showman still looked dubious. “How did you come to have it, then?”
“That depends,” Cliff argued, holding his customer’s gaze. “Where did you go to college, Professor?”
Professor Philaneum regarded the men in shrewd silence. He knew a con when he saw one, but whoever was in those bandages, he looked convincing. Convincing enough for the suckers that came through his tent, anyway.
“Tell people the mummy’s cursed, if you like,” said Cliff. “Tell them vengeful spirits will torment them if they don’t fill the tip jar.”
“This one’s chock full of spirits,” Ed mumbled.
“I’ll give you twenty dollars for it,” the professor decided. “Or for him, rather. I don’t know who you’ve got wrapped up in there—I don’t want to know—but that’s all I’m paying. I have to admit though, you’ve done nice work. You’d have nearly anyone else fooled.”
“Pleasure doing business with you, Professor,” Cliff said, holding out his hand.
They shook on the deal, and the showman handed over their money. But as Cliff and Ed were lifting the tent flap for their victorious exit, he called them back.
“I have a few… contacts, you might say, who would be willing to pay even better money for your skills. People who need help mopping up loose ends now and then. They would have to insist on your discretion as businessmen, however—complete confidentiality.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, because we’re not having this conversation now,” Cliff said with a wink.
The professor tipped his hat to them. “I’ll be in touch, then. Enjoy your earnings, gentlemen.”
When they got back to the bar, they found the door in the alley hanging from its hinges, splintering like it had been chopped up with a hatchet. The scene inside wasn’t much better: shattered bottles, overturned tables, and puddles of spilled alcohol coated the floor. “Looks like we got raided,” Ed observed, unnecessarily. “Good thing we were at the museum, I guess.”
“Sullivan must have rolled over on us,” Cliff grumbled.
“What’ll we do now?” Ed wanted to know. “They smashed all our stock—even if we find another place to set up shop, we don’t have any juice left to serve.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Cliff. “I think we just landed ourselves an even more lucrative set of customers. And my brain’s brimming with creative ways to keep them happy.”
The Chicago Way
In 1927, Killian O’Connell was half-owner of the Brothers’ Butchery & Grain Company just outside of Chicago. While delivering meat to the Hawthorne Hotel one cold January morning, Killian found himself in a bit of a predicament as he brought his usual delivery to the hotel’s basement. In the dark and freezing basement, he encountered three men. Two in finely tailored suits, albeit shivering. The other was…well, quite clearly dead.
Killian, having spent most of his life working in the slaughterhouses of the Chicago Stockyards, was not the least bit concerned about the dead body before him. It was the two armed gangsters he’d just startled that made him quite uneasy. Before the two men could even register Killian as a loose end that needed to be dealt with, Killian grabbed the dead man under the arms and barked, “You gonna help me with this problem of ours or what?”
Once Killian and the gangsters loaded the problem into the back of his 1925 Ford Model T panel delivery truck, Killian grabbed his receipt book and scratched out an invoice for a case of rather expensive blood sausage.
Killian drove straight back to the Company’s stockyard where he made mince-meat of their problem (no pun intended) and fed the pigs.
Killian’s quick thinking not only saved his own hide that morning, but he inadvertently launched a rather unlikely service-based business: discreet body disposal.
The Prohibition-era Mob wars waged on and Killian, along with his brother, Craig, became the go-to clean up crew for The Outfit. Legend has it that upon seeing a thick stack of Brothers’ Butchery & Grain Co. invoices on his desk, Al Capone himself quipped that the BBG letterhead actually stood for Body Be Gone.
Business was booming and as hungry as pigs get, the Brothers needed to find more ways to make problems go away than just the slop trough.
Craig became increasingly creative with their means of storage and disposal. On one particularly violent Valentine’s Day in 1929, Craig filled the company’s grain silo with nine of The Outfit’s problems. Later that same year, the Brothers purchased the Illinois Concrete Company to expand their problem solving capabilities. It is rumored that much of Thacker Drive and Soldier Field have countless secrets buried deep within their foundations.
In the decades since their humble beginnings, the Brothers’ company has evolved into a leader in the discrete residential, commercial, and industrial cleaning industry with the lowest employee turnover rate of any Fortune 500 company in the nation. Although BBG has since divested itself from the meatpacking and concrete industries, we still strive to tackle the toughest problems just like Killian and Craig O’Connell did back in 1927: with discretion and ingenuity.
Body Be Gone – Mopping Up Loose Ends Since 1927.