Ralph Eli was a janitor. Not a custodian. Not a Sanitary Engineer. Ralph was a janitor. He cleaned up messes.
The job suited him. Ralph was quiet, both by inclination and personal history. Words were not his stock in trade. Cleaning up messes was.
Ralph grew up on a hard-scrabble, foothills, dryland “homestead”. His dad worked construction and was gone for periods of time. Ralph was the youngest of five children. The next oldest sibling was four years older than he was. All of the kids were home-schooled.
He learned early on to take his whippings like a man. Attempts to explain or to dodge the blows made things worse. The whippings lasted three times longer and the welts were all over his backside. If, by chance, he convinced his father that he was not the guilty culprit, then his older siblings gave him a drubbing.
Each sibling left the family farm as soon as they could find a place to land. Before they left his dad saw no point in buying equipment to make tasks easier when he had five kids. After they left he figured that there was no point since there was just the three of them.
Ralph never bothered to point out that a house with three people in it takes just as much wood to heat as a house with eight people in it.
Ralph’s next oldest sibling left when Ralph was eleven. Ralph’s dad was busted up when he fell out of the second story while on the job. Medical care was spotty up in the foothills and Ralph’s dad relied on vodka for pain management. Ralph’s dad was no much help around the farm after the accident.
Ralph muscled up quickly under the grueling workload of keeping animals fed, mucking barns, tilling gardens, hauling water, cutting, dragging and splitting wood. None of those jobs encouraged him to talk.
He left the day after he turned sixteen. His mother left two weeks later.
He found a job delivering auto parts on third shift. He was teamed up with an old man. Ralph was the “muscle” guy.
After a month on the job the old guy went on “drunk”. The manager asked Ralph if he thought he could handle the delivery route until they found another old guy. Ralph simply nodded his head “Yes.”
The next six months damn near killed Ralph. He thought he was strong when he took the job but single handedly horsing crate engines and short blocks was almost more than he could handle. The shop he worked for specialized in supplying engines to drag racers and industrial engines to remote oil fields. The store-fronts he delivered to were never set up to receive 600 pound loads. He used a hand dolly.
The manager never got around to hiring another “old guy”, nor did he ever bother to check to see if Ralph had a driver’s license. The manager paid in cash.
Calexit killed the oil and racing business. Ralph got a job as a janitor at a State Police post. It was on third shift. The hours and the lack of people who insisted on chattering suited him.
The accident happened two years later.
Ralph was in the weight room at the end of his shift when he heard the first shift Captain start swearing. Ralph ambled over to the squad room to see what he needed to clean up.
The third shift Captain had hung himself. He had tied off a length of lamp cord from the water pipes above the drop ceiling and kicked away his chair. There was a laptop and papers on his desk. He had been embezzling to make up some gambling shortfalls and figured the jig was up.
There was no love lost between the first shift and third shift Captains. The first shift Captain was cursing because of the long-standing policy that all management would be moved out of the Post after a death. In cases where malfeasance was involved, managers were either be busted back to foot patrol or retired at half pension. Embezzlement was one such malfeasance.
Top management would have been able to cover up the embezzlement. A few squad cars would be written off as totaled and sold on the black market. It would be impossible to hide the embezzlement AND a suicide. Especially when twenty-five State Cops were about to become witnesses.
The Captain walked back to his cubical and started calling the Post’s upper management to let them know what they were walking into.
Ralph stood on the chair and pulled a multi-tool out of his pocket. He snipped the lamp cord close to the slip knot. The third shift Captain fell to the floor. The loop relaxed after the weight was off of it. Ralph slid the 15 inch length of cord into his pocket. He grabbed the front of the Captain’s blouse and dragged him into the weight room.
Ralph flipped the body so it was face-up on the bench-press station. Then he plucked the 250 pound barbell set off the rest, lined it up with the ligature marks on the Captain’s neck and dropped it.
Ralph heard the first of the first shift crew coming up the stairs as he walked back into the squad room.
He tossed the dangling lamp cord, the papers and the Captain’s laptop (sans the battery) above the drop ceiling and replaced the ceiling tile.
Lieutenant Monica Lemoine was on maternity leave. He slapped the desk drawer where she stored her laptop with a meaty hand and sprung it open. Removing the laptop he placed it on top of the deceased Captain’s desk. He doubted that the Captain’s password would work.
Time elapsed: 53 seconds.
The first shift Captain was interrupted after the first three patrolmen casually looked into the weight room as they walked past. One thing you can count on cops for, they look around.
Two cop cars were “totaled” and removed from service. The widow received the life insurance pay-out. Middle-management was moved to other posts with no drop in pay or grade. The head of the post was promoted.
Ralph never thought of words as his friends or his tools. But the word was passed at the very highest levels, usually after a few too many drinks and only to the closest of confidants: Ralph was the guy to call when you had a really sticky mess to clean up.
Ralph was still a janitor. He looked like a janitor. He dressed like a janitor. And he still cleaned up messes although they rarely involved a mop.