The old woman, whose name was Sandy, figured out a way to get pills out of the pill factory. You got searched by armed guards on the way out when the quitting time whistle blew. It wasn’t really a whistle but that’s what they all called it. They’d look through your bag and body-search you for taped together packages of pills hidden somewhere on your body, smuggled contraband. A female guard would search all the women. No sexual harassment.
Sandy had been working for the pill factory for about a year when she started ripping them off by fudging the count on the assembly line and flushing packets of pills down the toilet. She started with a test run, and sent her son Dwight out to the effluent point on the edge of the factory campus to find the little boat she’d let off upstream. She couldn’t believe no one had thought of this before.
The pill factory, which was run by a pharmaceutical company called Hexaplan, was one of the only places in America to make virocodone, a new synthetic opiate painkiller 3,500x more powerful than morphine. Hexaplan decades before had placed its pharmaceutical manufacturing in the rural upstate New York town of Benson, since it was quiet and away from urban centers, and it didn’t have to pay its workers as much as if it had been in Long Island or Philadelphia or someplace like that. Security was a concern as there was only two roads in and out of the Hexaplan compound and eyeballs were everywhere.
Except on the shitter.
Sandy flushed away thousands of dollars of pills over months at Hexaplan, and Dwight always collected the packages. With supreme care, Sandy counted the pills on her kitchen table at night and rebottled them in orange prescription bottles she’d stored up from not throwing away her 90-year-old mother’s as she went through her prescriptions every month. Sandy put bundles of bottles together and hid them in the drop ceiling at her house in the bathroom.
That’s where I come in. Sandy and I run a house-cleaning business on the days off when she’s not at the pill factory. We called it Two Neet Ladies and had a van that we kept all our supplies in. We cleaned rental houses for all the people who come up here from the City on weekends. Those people are animals and make all kinds of messes that need to be cleaned up so the owners can rent out for the next weekend. Sandy and I always kept our properties in tip-top shape but we didn’t always get paid what we thought we should.
One night at the bar Dwight opened his mouth to me after one too many hurricanes. He starts to let it out of the bag that Sandy had herself a nice little retirement next building up.
I say “Sandy never told me this.”
And he says “Yup.”
“Something from the pill factory?” I say.
“You could say that.”
Over the next week or so I get it out of him. I have to go out with him like I like him to get him to talk. I run my fingers through his hair and compliment his beard and grab his arm when we’re out and I can see that it’s breaking him down. Dwight is out of shape and I would never. He tells me about the bottles in the ceiling over the bathroom.
I give Sandy a chance to tell me. One day we’re cleaning this guy’s mansion and I shut off the vacuum cleaner and say, “Is there something you want to tell me, Sandy?”
“Tell you about what?” she says.
“About your plans,” I say.
“I have no plans other than to mop the kitchen floor. Then I’m going to do the windows. Then I’m going to have a cigarette out in the van.“
Fine. She won’t tell me her plans, I won’t tell her mine. I wait until Dwight is out of town and I go over to Sandy’s house at night when I know she’s alone. I know enough to know that Sandy likes to have a bath and a drink to unwind after a long day on the job. It’s like clockwork.
I let myself in and call out up the steps, “Hey girl.”
“What do you want?”
“I’m looking for Dwight.”
“He went to Cleveland for a few days.”
“Oh shit. I had something to give him.” I start going up the steps.
“I was going to give him some money I owed him for concert tickets. Sandy, I’m sorry, I really have to pee. Can I come in?”
“I’m taking a bath if you haven’t noticed.”
“I’ll keep my eyes closed. I won’t look at your beautiful bod.”
“You’re about twenty five years too late for that.”
“My back teeth are floating. You’re like my older sister, let me in.”
I go into the bathroom and she’s lying there in the tub. Her hair’s in a ponytail which I’ve never seen her like that before. Sandy’s tits have seen better days.
“I thought you weren’t going to look,” she says.
I go to the toilet which is kind of behind the bathtub so we don’t see each other. I purposefully drank a coffee from Stewart’s so I would have something to pee for this very moment.
“I think I want to marry Dwight,” I say out of nowhere.
“Dwight is not the most eligible bachelor in town.”
I can hear her light a cigarette in the bathtub.
“You’d be marrying into a family of crazies,” she says.
“I can handle your kind of crazy,” I say. “It’s not as bad as the average.”
I flush and stand up. I’m washing my hands and checking my eyebrows in the mirror. “You’re sure there’s nothing you want to tell me,” I say.
I can feel her looking at me so I turn around and face her. “Usually when people ask that there’s something they already know,” she says. “What has Dwight been telling you?”
“Something about some pills you got stored up,” I say.
“I don’t have any pills stored up.”
“I think you do.”
“Do you think if I did I would let you in on it?”
“I thought you were my best friend,” I say.
“Well there’s friends and then there’s acquaintances.” She’s eyeing me narrowly from where she’s sitting naked in the tub.
“Get acquainted with this,” I say, and I grab Dwight’s electric razor from next to the sink and I toss it into the bathtub. It’s still plugged into the wall and it has a long cord so Dwight can shave anywhere he wants to.
Sandy had the funniest expression on her face. I can’t quite describe it. I almost wanted to take a picture but I didn’t.
I started looking for the pills and I found them pretty quick. “Holy shit,” I said when I saw the plastic bags full of orange bottles. I don’t know how she diverted that many pills from the assembly line but she deserved some kind of award.
I wrote a quick suicide note that hit on all the typical points and put it on the kitchen table after I wiped everything down for prints. That housecleaning job came in handy.
I put the bundles of pills in the trunk of my car. I didn’t have any idea what the market value of that much hillbilly heroin would be but I was going to find out. It would be a whole new world of education for Lisa. I had some friends in Albany that might know some people who would pay a pretty penny for some loose meds. Dwight had said that it could be like over $20,000. I could see him coming looking for me. He won’t tell the cops, he’d have to tell them about Sandy and his toilet patrol. Poor Dwight. He’s never going to find me. He’d have to have some idea of the sophisticated places I aim to end up. He’d have to suddenly know how to think like me. And no one I’ve ever met has quite been able to do that.
Jesse Hilson is a freelance newspaper reporter living in the Catskills in New York State. His work has appeared or will appear in AZURE, Maudlin House, Pink Plastic House, Punk Noir, Misery Tourism, Expat Press, Apocalypse Confidential, Heavy Feather Review, Prism Thread, and elsewhere. His debut novel Blood Trip was published by Close to the Bone (UK) in April 2022. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @platelet60 and he has a Substack newsletter at cholorohemoglobin.substack.com.