Room 495 by Keith Buckley

The minute I saw the jerk near the stairwell entryway staring at my supply closet, I knew he was going to be a pain in the ass. I’ve been working at the University for almost 20 years, and I can tell from a glance when one of these uppity professors is going to blow me shit if I so much as look at ‘em wrong. Even though I could see by his flaccid, flushed cheeks he’d probably never done a lick of honest work in his life, this clown was decked out in one of those pricey fake shin-length dusters, a black Stetson with a woven leather hat band twisted with silver conchos, and a pair of Redwings ... and I’m talking the Redwings they sell in the J. Crew store up in Chicago and not the work boots my daddy used to wear on the farm.

So anyway, it’s 6 a.m. on a bitter cold Monday morning. The two of us are up on the otherwise empty 4th floor of the brand new parking garage on the southwest end of campus. I’m heading for my janitor’s closet because that’s where I keep the edging tool to break up the ice on the walkways since the idiot architects didn’t bother to put a utility room down on the ground floor-- guess that’s the kind of shit that happens when all your contracting goes to the lowest bidder, but what the hell, I’m a taxpayer too, I guess. I want to unlock the closet, grab my edging tool, and get to work before folks start coming into school, but like I say, there’s this guy who’s obviously faculty standing right in front of the door, studying the black matte finish as if he’s standing before the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which, by the way, you should only watch if you’re smoking some of that hybridized California shit, let me tell you.

Now, my momma always told me to be extra polite when dealing with troublesome types, so I says, “You might find all the empty spaces on the ground level are a little more convenient, mister.”

I’ve got a good eight inches on this turkey, but he still does his best to glare down his nose at me. “My cardiologist recommended plyometric stair-climbing as an excellent form of high calorie-burning aerobic exercise, my good man,” he more or less whinnied through his sinuses.

I always love the “my good man” line. I eat that up with a fucking spoon.

“So I always park my Audi up here,” he continued. I also would’ve loved to tell him exactly where he could park the Audi, but decided the smart thing to say was “Well, at least at this ungodly hour you get your pick of spaces.”

He flashed me an oh so you’re an ignorant turd, aren’t you? smile and said, “Yes, it is a nuisance, but when else could I Skype teleconference with my contributing editors at Oxford, the Sorbonne, Munich, and Vienna?” as if even my half-blind beagle knew that. “But I do have a question for you, Mr. Janitor,” he said.

I also love “Mr. Janitor.” Especially because the University makes us wear these big shiny plastic ID badges in case we’re too fucking retarded to remember our own names.

“Be my guest,” I say through tightly clenched teeth.

“The sign here says Room 495, and I can’t help but wonder, what in the world is in there?” he asked. “It’s right next to the elevator shaft, but the machine room must be on the floor above us. I know from all the trips I’ve made down to the ground floor that the electrical’s in 095, and there’s no 195, 295, or 395, so what’s in 495?”

I sort of squinted at him and asked, “Now why is it so many people ask me that?”

“Well, I’m asking because I serve on the Faculty Council’s Space Planning Committee,” he said with such a tone of superiority that I almost popped him in the nose. “Other people have asked you?”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “I guess it’s sort of mysterious-- a room with only a number and no name or description.”

“Indeed it is,” he replied. And then, almost accusingly, “So what’s in there?”

“My tools,” I told him. “Cleaning stuff, brooms, hoses, shovels, and, uhh, oh yeah, some dead bodies.”

He closed his eyes and leaned his head to one side. A weak smile. Ah, yes, the colorful local trickster. “Dead bodies,” he said. “Of course you’re hiding dead bodies in Room 495.”

“Yup, you got me,” I chuckled. “Want to see?”

“I would love nothing more than to see all your trophies!” he exclaimed with mock excitement, going so far as to clap his pudgy hands.

“You asked for it, professor.” I unlocked the door, reached for my edging tool, then flipped on the light switch. Then I got out of his way and wave him into the room.

“Oh, my God!” he moans. “Oh, no! No, no, no, Jesus Christ, no!” And then he vomits all over his expensive duster like I knew he would and he turns around to vomit or scream or hell who cares what at me but I’ve already got the edging tool way up in the air and bring it down hard down through the Stetson and his skull crushing down through his forehead whiney sinuses down smashing out teeth jaw palate and sort of lodges in the gristly bits of his neck and I let him fall all the usual spasms all the aftershocks all the brains blood shit piss gunk leaking out and why do these people keep asking me what’s in the room

BIO: Keith Buckley lives in a dimly lit money pit in Bloomington, Indiana,
surrounded by mountains of golden retriever fur, unpublishable pornoviolence,
noir, and music. He is also a contributor to AIR IN THE PARAGRAPH, to name but a
few.

8 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

Beaut!

Anonymous said...

Nice! A little peek at proletarian anger and resentment. Good thing we don't all act out isn't it?
Terry Butler

Rey A. Gonzalez said...

I think we've all met someone like each of these characters. Spooky, really.

Bruce Harris said...

Disturbing, yet excellent story. I didn't see it coming. Nasty stuff.

Philip Gaber said...

Has the best features of a shaggy-dog story... held my attention...nice pay-off. Well done.

Bill Baber said...

wow, watch out for those surly janitors... nice story!

Christopher Pimental said...

Fun read!

Loved this: The simple and almost child-like justification of "why do these people keep asking me what’s in the room"...

The excited non-punctuation" at the end was an enjoyable nuance, too. Plus, it's always fun to set up good vs. bad and have the "good" guy win, even if he ain't actually all that good.

Keith Buckley said...

Thanks to all! There's sort of an inside joke here-- I'm on faculty, and I really did ask the maintenance guy "So, what's in the room?"