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The Cleaner Chapter 1

My phone rings. I'm on the 35th floor, mid city, head down a toilet bowl that has not been cleaned

since the Crusades. Even the acid I'm using has little effect and the steel pad is falling apart as

I scour the black stains with some vigour. The office manager, one large and sweaty Mrs Peacock, is watching me from the toilet entrance, having explained first that a male cleaner in a female toilet must be supervised.

The air con is apparently on the blink so all the heat from 34 floors of human activity below is rising up here. My back is sweaty and I can feel it dribbling down my butt crack which I feel is exposed to Mrs Peacock as I bend over like Mr Plasticine Man.

Hello, Cleaning Bastards here.

Catchy name eh?

Who's speaking? Says a grumpy sounding man. Scottish brogue.

Cleaning Bastards, I exclaim

No, your name.

Cal, I say, with a C

There is a moment of silence as if he is practicing my name with a C or a K to see if the pronunciation is any different. Well it's not.

Well Cal with a C, you clean like bastards all right.

Oh no, an unhappy customer. I don't recognise the voice.

Cleaning Bastards is a team of two. Me and Aroha. She is my hard working staff member. I can only afford one because they have to be paid. 

Oh, I say, albeit meekly.

I can feel Mrs Peacock's eyes boring into my sweaty butt crack, as if I should be cleaning and not talking.

Some people.

Your lady is possibly blind or doesn't give a shit, or likely both.

Can I call you back? I hopefully ask.

There is some silence. I can hear heavy breathing, likely considering a heart attack.

Your number is on my phone. Give me 30.

He clicks off, but only first delivering me a colourful oath.

Are you finished? Asks a sarcastic Mrs Peacock.

Just about there, I lie.

God, this bowl is a real bastard.

Half an hour later I have removed the bulk of the stain. I fire some liquid on what is left.

Let that soak for two hours and that should dissolve the rest, lying some more.

She eyebrows me as I swish past with a bucket of cleaning stuff grasped in my sore scrubbing hand.

I have another job ten minutes from here and I'm already half an hour late.

The traffic outside the tower block is the usual Auckland shit. That is at a standstill.

The car park is close so I decide to grab my vac from there and walk to the job. 

Halfway to the job, my back vac slung over my left shoulder, my phone rings again.

It’s mom.

She always rings at bad times and the trouble with her is she is batshit crazy, Always picking the wrong men, you know the type. If I don’t answer the next time she rings much escalation would have happened since the first call.

Mom, what’s happening.

Oh Cal, you won’t believe it.

Her voice is shrill and bordering on panic.

You cooked a perfect pie?

Mom can’t cook. Even hot water. God supplied her with zero chef genes. She orders in. That’s why I developed a paunch in my teens. The shit we ate.

Hussey is dead, she gasps out.

That’s the dog. It died two months ago, the daft mutt crossing road without looking. Crushed skull. 

Mom the dog died a long time ago

I use my calming voice.

It did?

Sounding puzzled.

Mom does drugs. I’m not sure where she gets them from but the bathroom cupboard is always full of prescription pills. So her mind gets routinely messed up.

Yeah it did. It’s in doggy heaven.

Probably hell more like it. Ankle biter. The times I had kicked it.

Are you sure?

She sounds pathetic.

Yep. Dead as a Dodo. Stiff as a board. Stuffed and finished.

I think I’ve made my point.

I miss Hussey, she says.

Mom, I’m at a job, I’ll phone you back.

I hang up as she will rabbit on for ages.

I come to a surprising abrupt halt as if something has grabbed me. People close by are snickering and pointing phones at me.

Oh no.

I turn around and straight away see the problem. The twenty metre power lead has come adrift from the vac and has entirely spooled out, dragging behind and then some wag has trodden on the end bringing me up short. I give him the finger and wind it in. I get light applause for my performance. 

The next job is at the Up&Down strip club. It opens in one hour so I will have to motor around.

Jimmy the bouncer, the size of two welded fridges let’s me in the large entrance.

Afternoon Cal, glad you could make it.

He’s a happy Maori guy who loves to give me shit. We get on as he thinks we both have bum jobs. 

Yeah Jimmy I know. So popular I am. Hey maybe you will be one day too.

I leave him with that glib reply and head for the toilets. Get the worse out of the way first. The mens of course is the worst. Piss everywhere. Clumps of used toilet paper either blocking the toilet or cast on the tiled floor. Chuck in used condoms and cigarette butts and it’s glorious sight.

I have a bottle of bleach which I dilute down and chuck around like it’s a cleaning party. I hold my breath for the next fifteen minutes as I rapidly spik and span the place until it is entirely chlorinated.

The ladies area is in a better state as they at least sit down to pee and there are less condoms to pick up.

Next out to vacuum the main bar and strip podiums. I’ve never been here when the action is happening as by that time of night I’m too buggered to stay awake and anyway I’m waiting for a free pass.

Hey Cal, a deep voice from behind.

I turn and switch off the loud vac.

It’s the hairy red face of Tyron, the club owner.

We need to talk.