Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Collector - Part One

Betty watched Kurt Lindstrom roll a large plastic trash barrel around the building’s business office. The barrel was gray and sounded like all four of its wheels needed oil. She’d get Bruno to attend to that later. Kurt emptied wastebaskets and wiped off large wooden desks and table tops with a soiled dust rag. An upright vacuum cleaner was parked strategically near Liz Hayden, the office receptionist, who offered a flirty smile as he went by.

“Mister Morretti wants to see you,” announced Betty.

“Ok,” said Kurt as he nervously approached the corner office with his trash barrel.

“No honey, leave that out here,” she added as Kurt approached the threshold. The door marked a boundary between the resilient carpeting of the outer office and luxurious shag that muffled sound in the executive’s chamber. Kurt stepped gingerly onto the soft expanse.

“Siddown,” said Morretti. He pointed to one of a pair of high-backed leather chairs in front of his massive mahogany desk and waved his secretary away.

Betty had a son about Kurt’s age and felt her protective instincts surge. She exited and winked to ease his obvious tension, closing the office door behind her. Kurt cautiously settled into the designated chair across from the building owner. He felt as if his t-shirt and jeans were an affront to the expensive furniture, and eased carefully into his seat.

“Blanco came to see me today. Frankie Blanco from suite 110. Know him?”

“Yes sir, I clean his office.”

“Said something about a beer can. You know anything about that?”

Kurt squirmed as he considered his response. The story seemed ridiculous, even to a college kid working a summer job. But many things about this job were expanding his limited world-view. There was Bruno, the aging German handyman who incessantly made lecherous and heavily accented remarks to most of the building’s female tenants. And Norm, the personal trainer from the building’s health club, a Mister Illinois contestant who was lecherous in his own way, offering Kurt private time in the club under his supervision. Kurt glanced briefly at a framed photo of Morretti’s daughter Carla on the back-desk. Pretty. Rich. Arrogant. She had been in the office several times. Her sidelong glances made it clear that compared with her, Kurt was of the servant class.

“He said something last night” Kurt began, shaking himself from his wandering thoughts. Moretti settled back in his chair, elbows on his armrests and fingertips together like a Zen pose, or a strangle hold.

Kurt related the events of the previous night.

 “Mister Blanco was still in his office. I was cleaning like usual and went in to empty his trash.”

* * * *

“Hey asshole. Where’s my beer can?” Blanco blurted.

“Excuse me?”

“I had a beer can on my desk. Now it’s gone. Where is it?”

Frankie Blanco ran a legitimate insurance business since his release from prison eight years earlier. Moretti leased him office space as a favor to his older brother Tony, but he clearly disliked the younger Blanco. At five foot six, what Frankie lacked in height, he made up for in aggression and threats.

“Mister Blanco, I saw an empty can on your desk the other night. I thought about throwing it away but decided I’d better not. Then I saw it in your trash the next day so I tossed it. It’s gone.”

“Yeah right, you stole it. I want it back,” he said slowly, then paused and added menacingly, “I collect things.”

Kurt looked away nervously. He was not a thief. He had no interest in beer cans but knew that some of his friends had begun collecting them when they went away to school.

“I told you I don’t have it,” Kurt said softly, and rolled his plastic trash barrel into the next room.

“You stole my beer can!” Blanco shouted from his office.

Ordinarily, an empty beer can would have gone unnoticed as Kurt made his rounds. Office trash tended to be pretty uninteresting. But a week earlier, as the contents of Blanco’s can spilled into the larger barrel, something caught Kurt’s eye. A flash of glossy color amidst the white papers and crumpled assortment of the day’s waste. Pictures. A stack of pictures carelessly tossed upside down into the can. Upside down until Kurt turned the can over for emptying. Naked pictures. Kurt scooped them up and stuffed them into a black plastic garbage bag for later examination. From that point on, Kurt paid closer attention to Blanco’s trash.

Later that evening in a vacant office, Kurt pulled the stack of Polaroids from the plastic bag tucked into his cleaning supplies.

“Holy shit,” he muttered under his breath, then went looking for his buddy Don, who was working on another floor.

Don directed him to a darkened office across from the elevators. His own cleaning equipment was already inside. He had been wasting time reading magazines and talking on the phone. The entire college crew rushed through their work each night in order to create free time, often spent together in a safe office on one of the building’s four floors.

“Show me,” said Don, eager to see Kurt’s treasure.

“Oh man, you gotta get rid of these,” he said as he went through the pile. “Blanco would kill you if he knew.”

“Seriously, he’ll kill you, he’s crazy! He’s a fucking mobster Kurt.”

Kurt took the pictures home for safekeeping. For insurance. After all, he was dealing with the mob.

* * * *

“So, that’s why I knew I’d seen the beer can in his trash,” finished Kurt.

Moretti frowned as he considered the story. He looked carefully at Kurt, slowly tapped his fingertips together, sat upright and leaned forward.

“I like the way you think, kid. You still have the pictures?”

Kurt was somewhat ashamed to admit he had kept them. The stack of photos depicted Blanco and his secretary having some after-hours office fun, sans clothing. They appeared to be drunk, though the stupid looks on their faces could easily have been their natural demeanor. They frolicked, taking turns snapping instant pictures of each other in awkward positions on the office furniture. Neither had a good body, which made the resulting images that much more amusing, or embarrassing.

“Yes,” Kurt nodded.

“Bring them to me tomorrow,” said Moretti. “You can go now.”

Sensing Kurt’s concern, he added, “And don’t worry about Blanco. Get one of the other guys to clean his office for a couple days. I got your back.”

To Be Continued

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