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The Right Thing, Part II
“Of course there’s something down there,” Brian said as he and Sara set the box down next to the chute. “They don’t take the garbage every day.”
“No, I mean...look down there. There’s blood.”
Brian shook his head, but couldn’t help peering into the chute. “Are you crazy? It’s too dark to see anything. Besides, meat department throws shit down there all the time.”
“But what if it’s a person?” Alethea demanded. “A body? Or somebody still alive? Shouldn’t we check?”
Brian laughed. “Go right ahead. I’m not going down there. It’s not a body, Alethea. Christ. Quit being such a paranoid idiot.”
“You don’t have to be so mean about it!” Alethea yelled. “Why don’t you shine your flashlight down there, if you’re so sure it’s nothing?”
Brian grunted. “Fine, if that’ll shut you up.” He leaned down into the chute and shined the flashlight at the bottom. Brian was surprised to find that the entire bottom of the compactor looked dark and slick, and there was something else down there...
“What the hell is that?” he wondered aloud.
"It looks like blood," Sara replied with a gasp, "but it's too dark to tell."
Alethea crossed her arms. "I told you."
Brian shook his head stubbornly. "It's just some meat and other shit, I'm sure of it. Let's just throw this box down there and get out of here."
"Wait," Alethea insisted. "Please, Brian." She looked up at him with her doe eyes. Brian growled in his throat; it was the same look she'd used to make him hire her despite her lack of experience.
"Ugh, fine," he said as he clambered into the chute. "I just know I'm going to regret this, somehow, but just for you I'll go down there and then we'll know for sure that it's just a bunch of rotten meat. Keep your goddamn hands away from that button. Sara, could you keep a lookout?"
Brian watched Sara make her way to the back door and then he let himself slide down the wide metal chute. The bottom was nearly empty other than a few remnants of boxes and rotting vegetables at the back. The smell was enough to make him sick; he had to resist the urge to retch. Carefully, Brian shone his flashlight around the floor of the compactor. Sure enough, there was a trail of red leading from the base of the chute to the tightly packed garbage at the other end. Just some animal blood, he was sure of it.
"It doesn't look like there's anything here," he called up the chute. "Wait..." Next to a large garbage bag, he spotted a kitchen knife on the floor of the compactor, covered in blood. Brian approached the other end of the compactor cautiously, cursing his curiosity for getting the better of him. He picked up the knife; it was slick with blood and bent at the tip. The smell of blood had grown stronger. Brian stared at the garbage bag and felt the pounding of his own blood in his ears.
"Well?" Alethea called down the chute.
"Just hang on," Brian called back. He knew that it would have been smarter to leave well enough alone, but instead he winced and gave the garbage bag a tentative kick. It didn't feel like a body or meat of any kind was inside, but the kick knocked the bag loose from the compressed garbage. It came loose from the wall of trash and landed at Brian's feet. He stared at it for what felt like minutes.
The right thing to do was pretend that he'd never seen it, Brian knew. The right thing to do was leave it alone in the compactor, go back up the chute, throw the broken box of clothes in and leave, then donate the rest of them to charity. Instead, Brian found himself tearing open the plastic bag as he thought about the myth of Pandora's box.
"Damn," he gasped. "Shoulda left well enough alone."
It wasn't a body, but the bag was filled with bloody, crumpled clothes, including a pair of shoes. Brian rifled through the contents. White shirt, black slacks, black shoes, a nice blazer and a tie. There were two deep cuts in the fabric of the shirt, which was saturated with drying blood. Brian stared at the clothes and thought about his own fingerprints. He looked up at the wall of garbage and wondered if there really was a body somewhere amidst the filth.
"Brian," Sara called from the chute. "Somebody's coming. Get the hell up here."
Brian hastily dropped the shirt and box cutter and clambered up the chute as quickly as he could manage. Sara and Alethea were staring at him; he realized that his hands were covered in blood. Before he could think of telling the girls to hide somewhere amidst the boxes, the back door swung open.
Brian was afraid that it was going to be a cop, but it turned out to be one of the night cleaning staff. The balding man got halfway into the warehouse before he looked up and noticed he wasn't alone.
"Holy Jesus Christ!" the janitor screamed. "What the hell are you all doing here so late?"
"I could ask you the same thing," Brian countered. He watched as the janitor eyed all three of them, as well as the box on the floor. Brian kept his hands strategically behind his back.
"I forgot something in the janitor's closet earlier this evening," the man said. His eyes darted between the three of them.
Sara frowned. "Why were you coming this way, then? Isn't the janitor's closet down the hall?"
"Oh!" the man exclaimed. "It is. I just, I...wanted to throw something in the compactor. I know I'm not supposed to, but...well, you know what? Never mind. I'll just grab what I came from and go. Sorry to bother you all with...whatever it was you were doing here." The janitor left hurriedly.
Brian waited for him to round the corner before he spoke. "Guys, let's just take the box with us and get the hell out of here."
"Did he freak you out that much?" Sara asked. "I think we spooked him just as badly. I'm sure he won't tell anybody, Brian."
Alethea touched Brian's shoulder. "Wait. Was there anything down there, Brian?"
"You don't want to know." He hastily grabbed the box and began to walk to the back door. "Just...follow me."
Sara and Alethea followed Brian out to the truck. Brian threw the box of clothes with the others in the back, and found himself staring at the janitor's white panel van.
"What if he's a serial killer?" Brian wondered out loud.
"What?" Sara and Alethea said simultaneously.
"I never should have gone down that chute," Brian muttered. He looked down at the blood on his hands. For the first time, Sara and Alethea seemed to notice.
"Oh my god!" Alethea gasped. "What was down there?"
"Get in the truck," Brian ordered. "I'll tell you when we're far away from here."
Brian, Alethea and Sara sat in lawn chairs in Brian's garage around a box of baby clothes. The other boxes had been stacked neatly in a corner amidst the junk that made Brian's garage too full to fit his truck. Atop the box-cum-table was a bottle of whiskey, three glasses and a half-full ashtray.
Brian took a drag of his cigarette. "I still say we do nothing."
"Nothing is not the right thing to do," Sara insisted. "We saw something down there, and we have a responsibility to tell the authorities. Somebody was murdered, Brian."
"We saw nothing," Brian replied. "I saw a bag of clothes and a knife, but at no point did I witness a murder or see a body. We don't know that it was the janitor, which makes us possible suspects in the eyes of the police, as well. Not to mention the fact that we'd have to come clean about stealing from the company. Nothing is the right thing to do. We pretend it never happened...because if I hadn't gone down that goddamn chute, we'd be blissfully ignorant about all of it right now."
"We could always go in early and 'find' the clothes and knife," Alethea suggested. "We don't have to tell anybody about the baby clothes."
Brian knocked back the last of the whiskey in his glass and heaved a sigh. "Alethea, look. They'll do a full investigation and tear that compactor apart. Then Phil is gonna ask where the baby clothes went and we'll all get fired when he finds out they're not down the compactor. Here's the bottom line: we were breaking the law...so we have no right to judge somebody else for doing the same. Besides, we don't even know that it was the..."
"Oh, that's fucking cold," Sara said as she grabbed Brian's pack of cigarettes and helped herself to one. "Stealing isn't the same as murder, Brian. We have a responsibility. Don't be such a fucking coward."
"Coward? I didn't see you volunteering to climb down the chute. And have fun finding a good job when you have a criminal conviction, Sara."
Sara made a sour face but didn't reply.
"So...that's it, then?" Alethea inquired. "We're just gonna do nothing about it, even if we know that somebody was murdered?"
"We don't know anything," Brian said. "There was no body. For all we know, it was a Halloween costume or a prank."
"It's June, Brian," Sara snapped. "And a prank makes no sense in this situation."
Brian poured some more whiskey into the three glasses. He hoped that at least Alethea would get drunk enough to sleep with him so he'd have something to help him forget all that had just happened.
"My point is that we're not detectives. We don't know what happened, and if we tell anybody about what we saw, it's just going to make our lives miserable."
"What about the person that...well, potentially died?" Alethea said. "Don't they deserve justice? And the janitor! What if he kills again? What if he hunts us all down in order to keep it all a secret?"
"What about just pretending like nothing happened?" Brian suggested.
"It's too late for that, Brian," Sara replied. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and held it up for Brian and Alethea to see. "I can't live with this on my conscience. I recorded this whole conversation and I'm going to go to the police and tell them everything."
Brian rose to his feet so quickly that he kneed the box and knocked over the whiskey bottle. "What the fuck? Why would you do that?"
"Because it's the right thing to do, Brian." Sara made her way toward the garage door opener.
"The right thing to do?" Brian screamed at her. "We didn't do anything wrong, other than stealing some clothes that were about to be thrown away...if you go to the police, we'll all lose our jobs, and potentially worse!"
Sara stopped at the foot of the garage stairs. "Brian. Do you even understand what 'the right thing' means? It means doing something that's better for the whole of humanity, even if you wind up putting yourself at risk. Every day people look the other way when somebody gets mugged, or pass by a car accident because they decide that they don't have the time or that somebody else will stop and help. People refuse to donate to charities because they need their twenty dollars to survive more than a starving child does. People get away with abuse and murder because witnesses are afraid to stand up and become potential targets, themselves."
"Wow," Brian muttered. "Since when did you get so preachy?"
"Since we decided to steal those clothes, Brian. I was right beside you when Phil told you to throw them out, remember? You asked him why we couldn't just donate them to charity, and he said 'because it could cost us a lawsuit, that's why'. It made me realize that at some point, people stop caring about others and start only protecting their own interests. Those clothes aren't going to hurt anybody, but they have the potential to help...and I took a good, hard look at Phil and realized that if I stop caring about things like those baby clothes then I'm going to turn into somebody that I can't stand to look at in the mirror."
"So this is really about you, then, isn't it?" Brian demanded.
"Brian." Sara clenched her jaw; she looked like she was trying to phrase things without sounding angry. "What if you got killed and your body was discovered by some anonymous person? Would you want them to forget that they saw it and just move on with their life?"
Brian shrugged. "It wouldn't matter to me; I'd be dead."
"But your death would matter to somebody," Alethea offered. She looked up at Brian with her doe eyes again and he groaned.
"Don't look at me like that. Please. I like this job. I finally got a promotion. I don't want to throw it all away because I saw something that might or might not have been a murder."
"Then you'll have to physically stop me, Brian, because I've made up my mind." Sara pushed the button and the garage door began to rise with a loud hum.
Brian couldn't bring himself to stop Sara from leaving. He wondered if there was a difference between a selfish person and a coward.