The trip across Detroit reminded both Jack and Stan that there were two kinds of wars, the ones that were planned and the ones that occurred when everyone carried some sort of firearm in their car. Jack was entirely unsure of which sort he had run into. They were about five minutes from their destination and he realized it must somehow involve with the Detroit Lions because half the assailants wore blue jerseys and paper bags over their heads and half of them bore ridiculous cheese wedges. He considered asking a random straggler whether the Lions had won or lost but the machine gun the man held dissuaded him.
The house they arrived at lay halfway down a small road that led to a park. It was sprawling, if one could call a family home sprawling, as though the architect had started building the home before he was hit with a sudden stoke of brilliance and he simply had to show the world his wonderful vision. Stan pulled up on the side of the road and hopped out of the vehicle causing the van to shake slightly back and forth.
The house had Jack curious. It seemed perfectly fine, if in a bit of disarray. While it irked Jack to admit it, there were certain kinds of uncleanliness that implied a loved home and this house certainly had that going for it. That and a mob of cats if he judged correctly, most of which were milling around the front door awaiting entry into the house. The front door was open and the two little girls they had met earlier were staring at him from inside the screen door. Jack nodded and grabbed his bags, even children generally seemed to know that when you had to ask for a specialist the problem has gotten out of hand. One of the larger cats regarded Jack steadily before darting inside when the girls opened the door for their herd of cats.
The house itself smelled of good cooking and was littered with memories of the past. Two sets of steps led up and down but Jack purposefully averted his eyes from the upstairs. Given his brief glimpse of the living room floor, littered with colorful and noisy cat toys, it was clear that the cats had taken over and that it was only a matter of time before they consumed the entire family for nourishment when the local wildlife was depleted. The bathroom in question lay down the stairs.
“This is ‘sposed to be our bathroom, but we don’t like to use it cause it’s scary and dirty,” one of the girls intoned carefully. Jack instantly understood as he got closer to the bathroom. It was narrow and thin and resembled the hallway of a poor public housing unit. All it needed to complete the picture was a dirty man selling drugs laced with Tide and a serial killer clown and the visual nightmare would be complete. The ceiling was missing tiles and the empty hole they created loomed black and empty above the toilet. At the far end of the bathroom there was a window that let in just enough light to make Jack wonder when the inquisition would show up to begin the torture session. Even less light made it through to the bathroom once the window shade was closed making the whole affair feel like a sewer in New York City. On the counter was a set of two jars that gave Jack pause. One of them held a brain and in the smaller one a pair of eyes looked at him conspiratorially.
Jack turned back to the girls’ older sister who had come down the stairs after him. She gave him an embarrassed shrug and explained, “Those are mine, I’m an artist. They make me laugh.”
Jack let his mind wander to a certain cousin of his and he managed a response, “Seems legit. Let’s see what we’re dealing with here.” The older girl watched as Jack stood in the doorway and looked around. A bathroom with a scary man in the ceiling dirty enough to warrant my attention? Certainly, the bathroom was dirty, but Jack could find no logical reason for it. The bathroom smelled clean enough and when he leaned down to get a closer look at the ground what initially appeared to be dirt specks were actually designed on the tiles. The hole in the ceiling certainly left something to be desired in the aesthetic department but one could hardly call replacing the ceiling a job for a cleaner. Jack touched the walls and his fingers came away with small black flecks.
“Boss, it’s one a them dirty things…” Stan appeared at the bottom of the stairs, which groaned slightly under his weight as he reached the bottom, “I found some’a them black spots in the kitchen too. You want I should grab the traps?” Jack gave him a curt nod and looked back to the bathroom.
“Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I can clean your bathroom. The bad news is there was indeed a creepy man in your bathroom.” Jack scanned the room as he talked, looking for just the right spot. There was a clear space in front of the toilet that seemed as good as any place. Stan came tromping down the stairs with his burden, what looked like a large metal rat trap with an opening on one end that would clamp shut after its quarry entered.
All three girls looked confused, especially the eldest sister. Jack shuddered a little and took the trap from Stan, placing it carefully on the ground. “Now I need a clean plate.” The eldest sister bounded up the steps and came back with a large clean plate. Jack placed it in the trap and then motioned everyone out of the room, closing the door behind him. Confusion reigned supreme in the expressions of all three girls.
Finally, after a few very long moments of waiting the older of the two younger girls asked the question on all their minds, “Don’t you need some cheese or something?”
Jack shook his head resolutely, letting his fingers hover near the doorknob, “If we were hunting for mice or something, then maybe. What we’re hunting for is…something else entirely.” Running into this particular brand of horrible was something that had to be seen to be believed. Suddenly the trap snapped, causing everyone to jump slightly. Jack took a deep breath and opened the door. Time to face the music, you little runt.
The tension as Jack opened the door was thick enough to be cut with a knife. The trap rattled around on the ground and Jack had to resist the urge to gag as both his and Stan’s suspicions had proven correct. In the cage was a greasy little man-like creature covered from head to toe in grime. He barely fit in the cage and the plate that had once been clean was now covered in grime and tufts of grey and white fur. Most people thought that there was only one kind of gremlin, the type that likes to tinker with and cause malfunctions on machines but, in reality, there were as many types of gremlins as there were stars in the sky when one stood on the outskirts of New York City. So around five or six, depending on light pollution. Dirt gremlins, as Jack had taken to calling them, loved grime and dirt and found anything spotless to be abhorrent to their very existence. Early in his career Jack had often killed them when he found them but the years had mellowed his formerly harsh views on them and now he mostly performed catch and release services when they crossed his path.
This one wore dirty dish rags soaked in the grime of a thousand dirty pots and pans that were currently masquerading as particularly smelly clothes. In its right hand, it held a small bucket of unidentifiable goop and grime and in it’s left what looked like a small paintbrush that dripped a black ooze. “Diiiirrrrttyyy!” It cried out in a high pitched, squeaky voice. The three girls backed away and Jack could hardly blame them. If Jack were to be entirely honest, he wondered if he would have reacted so well the under the circumstances.
The youngest girl raised a hand and tugged on Jack’s pants, “Can we keep it?” Jack looked at the greasy little creature before returning his gaze to this truly unique girl. Under normal circumstances Jack might agree and not ask any more questions than he needed to, but out of the corner of his eye a small black cat licked its lips and eyed the gremlin greedily. It was a miracle the thing was still alive and not missing any bits. Leaving the gremlin in this house would be an invitation to dinner that the gremlin would be unable to refuse. Jack could already tell the gremlin was overdressed for the event since it was still wearing its skin.
“I think it might be better if I took it a few miles away from your house and let it go into the wild where it can’t hurt…bother anyone.” Jack walked over to the cage and picked it up carefully, not having any desire to come into contact with the gremlin or it’s nasty homemade dirt. The gremlin waved it’s brush around wildly, trying to dirty Jack’s suit or any part of him it could reach. Jack handed it off to Stan, who immediately took the cage in one massive hand and rattled it around as he walked up the stairs. Dirty grime went flying all around, hitting Stan, the walls, the carpets and even the ceiling before Stan held the cage still and sheepishly apologized before leaving the cage outside and coming back in with more cleaning supplies.
“Well, now that the gremlin is gone you won’t have to worry about the same kind of mess any more, just the normal sort. It’ll take a few hours to get all the grime out since that stuff Dirt Gremlins use really gets into most surfaces.” Jack rummaged through his bag and found a small pouch that contained the homemade cleaner he used when he ran across the little gremlins. A few hours of elbow grease later and most of the stains were gone, but it was past time for them to be on the road again. The bathroom had a small corner still dirty so Jack left them the pouch of cleaning powder.
“Wait a minute,” the youngest of the girls pouted, “That thing was making all the mess and now you’re leaving us with some of it? Give us our money back!”
Jack shook his head, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the pouch of change to jingle it slightly, “A deal is a deal and the deal was that I would clean your bathroom and find the source of the grime. I did both of these things, but it just so happens that I need to be in California, as soon as is humanly possible. So long as you don’t let any Dirt Gremlins back into the bathroom you should be totally fine.” Turning hurriedly, Jack rushed out to the van and hopped in. The cleaning supplies had already been returned and Stan merely awaited his arrival.
“Onward, Stanley. To argue with a small girl about money is the height of foolishness. We’re not getting caught up in this mess.” Jack tapped his finger impatiently as Stan pulled out of the driveway. Looking behind him he noticed, much to his dismay, that the dirt gremlin had escaped confinement and headed back home. That is, until a small familiar black cat darted out of the house and nabbed the gremlin by the neck. Jack watched in rapt fascination as the black kitty presented the gremlin to a much larger grey and white cat who looked at it bewilderedly before sitting on it resolutely. Jack turned his face to the front and decided he would never think about this again. Some things just have a way of working themselves out.
The open road called and no more interruptions would be brooked. Jack leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Sunny California called and the cleaning job of a lifetime. Jack had been reading up on the housing development that his new client was a part of and it all sounded quite exciting, from a business perspective. Jack briefly considered moving to California before disregarding it. His client base on the east Coast simply meant too much for him to pack up his bags and leave. “Onwards, Stanely,” Jack yawned and closed his eyes, pulling his suit coat closer around him, “onward to the open road and our next job.”