The Good Stuff
Some say you can learn a lot about who a person is by what he throws away. A full trash barrel can be a window into a person’s life. According to Pete Reynolds, the LAW office’s night cleaner, you could also learn about who a person isn’t. After all, it is what he doesn’t want that gets thrown away. After fourteen years of emptying waste cans and cleaning up after people, Pete would be the one to know.
The tired 74-year-old leaned against the elevator rail as he closed his eyes for a break in his nightly routine. Two more floors to go and he would be done for the evening. Lord, he was tired tonight, thought the cleaner, heaving a sigh. He hoped the next office took pity on him and cancelled the daily paper airplane wars and that the guy who insisted on using the ceiling tiles as target practice with his sharpened pencils, was out sick. His rest was interrupted by the quiet ding telling him that he had reached the 11th floor of the Broadway 655 building.
Yeah, he reflected, you can tell a lot about what a person doesn’t like by his trash. Take Mr. Jackson for instance. He hates onions. Picks them out of his lunch one by one and tosses them out everyday. It makes you wonder why he wouldn’t ask for his order without onions. He seems like a bit of a martyr if you ask me, Pete mulled, but one that cares about people. The medical man must be always tending to someone, judging by the amount of discarded Band-Aid and ibuprofen boxes in his garbage.
Pete pulled his loaded cart down the carpeted aisle between the two rows of desks. Those situated on the left overlooked the city of San Diego and its harbor. He loved the opalescent glow of the city after sunset. It made him feel alive, content and not alone. Alone. He knew that feeling well since his wife, Marie, had died four years ago of emphysema. She would have liked this view.
As the cleaner approached the first work area, he smiled. Mr. Tanner likes the scenery, too. His chair is always facing the windows even though his desk is on the other side of the office against the inside wall. Taking care of the trash, he remembered to double bag the can to protect it against puddles of chocolate milk. There is nothing worse than the smell of milk gone bad, he contemplated with a shudder, and Mr. Tanner certainly likes his chocolate milk. Pete wiped the milk rings off of the desktop and pushed over to the adjacent area alongside the windows. He was greeted by the yellow fringe of post-it notes attached to every surface of the man’s desk and computer monitor.
Mr. Wilmington loved his post-it notes, but more than that, he loved his ladies. For it was women’s names, phone numbers and dates that were scribbled on each fluorescent scrap of paper. The janitor smirked; he never knew a man could ‘receive’ flowers on a regular basis. Yeah, Mr. Wilmington had what Pete called animal magnetism. As the can was emptied of it’s contents, he removed the ‘Hot Rodder’ Magazines that were left for him on the chair. Pete liked to flip through them on his break and Buck was happy to recycle them on to the night worker. The magazines were thrown on top of the cart and then everything was hauled diagonally onto the next worker’s locale.
Mr. Dunne was new to the LAW group and although a recent occupant, he had quickly made himself right at home. The kid was obviously the chief engineer of the aforementioned paper airplanes, as they all crashed in areas other than his own. Pete thought the computer expert’s efforts would be better spent on cleaning up the piles of debris deposited on the floor, the chair, the desk and even on top of the printer in the open cubicle. It was a complete anarchic mess, but Mr. Dunne insisted that it was an organized mess and liked it just the way it was. Marie used to say the same thing about the piles of scrap material and patterns in her sewing room. She would have liked Mr. Dunne and understood his nesting habits. The one orderly characteristic of his little den of disaster was the box of soda cans at the end of his desk next to the trash. He was definitely a child of the 80’s. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!
As Reynolds moved onto the next station, he thought about this diverse group of men that worked for Larabee & Wilmington Investigations, or the LAW group as they were informally called. He’d only been working on this floor for the last eight months, but he felt like he knew this arbitrarily put together collection of PI’s pretty well. Pete bent and stretched his arthritic back and heard the little pop that signified temporary relief. As he stood up, he spotted the office at the end of the desk-lined corridor. The door was, no doubt, locked, blinds drawn on the inside window and the waste barrel stood outside the office door. This was Mr. Larabee’s office.
The leader of the LAW men was a very private man and had been that way for the three years that Pete had know him. Even when Larabee started at Simon & Simon Investigations those years ago, the cleaner remembered being intrigued by the fact that there was nothing in his barrel that had been personally written or written about him. He figured it must have been the military man’s intelligence training background. ‘Keep everything in your head; it’s safer that way’. The only glimpse into the man’s personal life was the frequently disposed empty nip bottles he would find. The man had a problem and Pete knew the way down that road. He too, had had a rough time after Marie died, but he realized she would have given him holy hell if she knew he had turned to booze. The strongest drink the night man took now was an occasional hot cider in the cold weather to warm his aching bones. He was relieved, as well, that there were no longer empty nips in Larabee’s can.
Reynolds’ eyes drifted to the door next to Larabee’s. The light under the conference room door told him that there had been a meeting held today and he made a note to check the room to see what kind of shape it was in. Sighing and massaging his neck, Pete realized that he might need to put in some extra time tonight.
The man shoved the cleaning cart onward and thanked the "powers that be" that Mr. Sanchez was a man that thought “cleanliness was next to Godliness”. Several small stone statues, some of which looked like gargoyles, populated the orderly area. Mr. Sanchez was a traveled man, but where he had traveled was anyone’s guess. His taste in food was just as worldly, as his barrel often held containers from the Bombay restaurant. Tandoori chicken was his favorite by the looks of it. Making a brief stop to empty the trashcan, Pete pressed on.
Crossing once again to the opposite side of the office, an equally neat, but barren work area came into view. No post-it’s, no statues, no magazines, no nothing, except the clean smooth surface of a felt blotter, an idle computer monitor and a green-globed banker’s lamp. Mr. Standish’s desk. Pete was more acquainted with Mr. Standish than the rest of the team. Well, that wasn’t true; he’d seen Mr. Standish more than the others, which didn’t mean he knew more about him personally. The undercover investigator was more tight-lipped than Larabee. Oh, he could talk a string of words the likes of which you’d never heard before, but it usually didn’t amount to much.
Pete found Mr. Standish, many nights, under the green glow of his light studying files or information on his computer screen. When he asked the unfathomable man why he worked such late hours, Mr. Standish replied that he was a “nocturnal creature, born and bred”. What kind of parent allows a child to stay up all hours of the night, thought the night cleaner. A child is a child, not a bat. Marie would have had something to say about that.
Reynolds was pulled from his reverie by a soft “wompff” coming from the conference room. Opening the door that was now in front of him, the night cleaner was startled to find the subject of his musings sitting at the far corner of the ash wood conference table, behind a stack of thick file folders.
The PI raised his head at the sound of the opening door revealing tired, red-rimmed eyes in a pale, drawn face. “Good evening, Mr. Reynolds.” His greeting sounded forced.
“Good evening, Mr. Standish,” countered Pete as he moved to clear the credenza near the door of empty coffee cups and cardboard lunch containers. There wasn’t even a hint of Mr. Standish’s usual polite manner tonight; the toll the day’s work had taken was quite evident. “Tough case?” asked Pete. Mr. Standish always wore a smile even though Pete thought that he was probably a very sad man underneath. The case must be hitting close to home for it to affect the man this way.
“Quite the understatement,” Ezra replied. “We’ve been employed to assist in a missing child incident.” The expression on the undercover man’s face exposed the hopelessness that he felt.
“That’s a real heartbreaker. I’ve always wondered what kind of monster would take a child from his family.” The custodian released a heavy sigh, pulled a cloth from his cart and proceeded to wipe down the top of the makeshift buffet. “Marie,” he continued, “she always used to say that family is the most important thing in the world; more important than money, more important than work. Maybe if this monster had a caring family, this child would still be with his own.”
Ezra looked up, startled by the astuteness of the man mopping up the LAW men’s mess. His expression tensed as he thought about his childhood and how he had felt, many times, like a missing child himself. He had to admit to often wishing that a caring, normal family would abduct him. Hell, he brooded, being abducted by aliens would have probably been a better alternative than being toted around the world by Maude Standish. This thought drew a weary smirk from the green-eyed man.
Pete rolled the cart to the end of the room near Ezra to empty the waste barrel and studied the man sitting at the table. “I’ve always thought that family is anyone who’s there for you.”
Ezra leaned back in his chair to get a better look at Reynolds and considered his insightful words. “They back you up, no matter what,” Pete persisted. “It’s important to know that someone will catch you if you fall, find you if you’re lost and raise his glass to you if you win. Family’ll rally round you when the situation seems hopeless. That’s why you need family. That’s the good stuff. That’s what life’s about, in my book.”
A shrill, musical ring broke the profound moment between the two men. The PI picked up the cell phone from beside the folders and answered, “Standish.” The night cleaner listened to the one-sided conversation as he readied himself to move to the next floor.
“Good evening, Miss Glavin, what may I do for you?” Ezra paused. He could sense a con in the making by the ‘tells’ of the LAW assistant’s enthusiastic voice.
“No, I hadn’t planned to… I really am quite tired…” A hand combed through his auburn hair and after a moment, a long awaited smile slowly began to appear on Standish's face. Yes, a con, he mused, but he would be a welcome mark to the people that were fast becoming the family he had always dreamt of calling his own.
“Yes, I am finished for the evening,” he replied closing the file in front of him and placing it on top of the others.
“Yes, I would be amenable to joining you and the others at the Saloon. An aperitif may be just what I require this evening before enduring the trip home,” he conceded. His features eased as he thought about relaxing for a few hours and clearing his mind of the atrocities that these files contained.
“What? No. No, I will not accept any gifts from Mr. Wilmington, especially if they are of the cotton jersey genre!” Gifting each other with T-shirts labeled with personally befitting quotes had become the ongoing office prank. Ezra was the last one to bestow a shirt to Buck reading ‘That which does not kill us… surely didn't come from my mouth’. Buck had put on a comical display of being completely appalled and now retaliation was apparently going to be swift.
“Yes well, that remains to be seen. I will leave here shortly and should arrive there, say, in fifteen minutes?” Ezra’s wide smile lit up his face as he proceeded to clear the conference table of his work. This hopeless situation might not seem so bleak come morning and maybe with a little extra assistance from his friends. He would ask them for their help tonight.
“Until then, Miss Glavin,” he replied as he disconnected the call and pocketed his phone. Ezra had been afraid to admit his place among these men and, even more so, to consider them family. If he was wrong about them, it would hurt too much and he had learned at an early age not to bare himself emotionally to others. The risk was never worth the benefit. Slowly over time, though, he had let glimpses of his true self show through and now he was ready to let them in completely. The risk just might be worth it this time, he thought. It was time to reveal his hand, so to speak.
“Calling it a night, Mr. Standish?” inquired Pete. He detected a slight relief in the man’s inner sadness by the lightness in his voice and the effortless body movements. These men made up a sundry group that somehow created the closest kind of family. They were rallying around the one who needed them the most right now and Mr. Standish was finally ready to allow them to be a permanent part of his life.
Ezra stood, rolled his shoulders and pulled on his suit jacket. “Yes, sir, it would seem that I have a family reunion to attend,” he beamed.
“Good night, Mr. Standish,” the cleaner said and flashed a smile of his own.
“Good night, Mr. Reynolds.”