The Sweeper

As I close the door to my room, I glance at the clock beside the bed.  Nearly midnight.  I’m really tired and glad to be home.  I feel good knowing it was a job well done, but to tell the truth, I think I’m ready to call it quits.  I’m getting a little long in the tooth for this line of work.
I undress and I’m just pulling off the blonde wig when I hear the bell at the front door.  I grab my robe and pull it tightly around myself.  As I tie the sash, I hurry downstairs to the door.  The last thing I need is for one of the others in the house to awaken.


When I spotted the bunch of tulips on the bench in the garden back in February, I wasn’t surprised to see the unexpected spot of spring color surrounded by the snow that had been pushed aside on the concrete surface.  Over the years, I’ve seen several such anomalies.  It meant I had a job.

I’m a Sweeper.  There are many of us, though I can’t tell you how many because I don’t know.  I’ve never met another one, but I know they are out there, living ordinary lives.  The guy in the cubicle next to yours?  That barista who hands you your café macchiato with an almond shot each morning?  The nanny who pushes her charge in a pram down to Union Square Park every afternoon?  Any one of them might be a Sweeper.  

As for me, well, I am probably a bit different, if for no other reason than the way I spend the other 95% of my life.  You might say that my life is not all that ordinary.  Maybe so, but I challenge you to find a better life in which to hide.

I’m not sure why any of the others got into this, other than the obvious lure of the money.  I can guess, though, because I know why I was recruited and why I agreed to join.  And it wasn’t the money, not that the money isn't good.  Fifteen years ago, I came home from night school to find my husband and two-year-old daughter slaughtered, dead for the sake of the stereo and small amount of cash stolen by the killer.  One of the neighbors saw a man leaving the house, and was able to give a pretty good description of him and the car he got into.  The police identified him, and he was picked up pretty quickly.  And then it all went to hell in a hand-basket.  

Thanks to a series of bureaucratic mistakes, misplaced evidence and a bogus alibi, the guy got off.  I was outraged and wanted nothing more than to kill the bastard, giving him a taste of what he’d done to my family.  But I didn’t.  Not unless I killed him with the sheer force of my fury.  Because die he did, run over by a garbage truck three days later.  I know it was terrible of me, but I was grateful.  I thanked God for answering my prayers for justice.  I don’t think I could have gotten on with my life, what was left of it, if he’d still been out there, free as a bird.

The only representative of the Sweepers I've ever met came to me shortly after and told me just how that justice had been served.  It wasn’t God answering my prayers.  It was a Sweeper.  She explained how the Sweeper Program worked, and I accepted when she invited me to join them. I’ve been cleaning up ever since, in more ways than one.  Being a Sweeper has provided both me and my Cayman bank account great satisfaction.  I suppose this seems wrong to you, but the way I see it, cleansing society of evil is doing God’s work.  Besides, it’s not like I spend all my time doing this.  Finding the tulips marked only the ninth time I’ve been called upon.


I chucked the tulips, now dead from the cold, in the nearest trash bin and caught a cab to the main branch of library on Fifth.  I gave a nod to Patience and Fortitude* as I climbed the steps to the front entrance and made my way to the Rose Reading Room on the third floor.  Normally, you’re required to reserve a time slot on one of the computers there, but to do that, you’d have to show your library card.  I’ve learned that access can be much more anonymous than that.  

I pulled a book from the shelves, and sat down to wait.  It didn’t take long before one of the people sitting at a terminal scooped his belongings into a backpack and headed for the door.  I slipped into his seat, and in moments verified that payment had been transferred to my account in the Caymans. I closed the website, cleared the cache, and was headed over toward the encyclopedias in less than a minute. 

I quickly located the volume I wanted.  And there at the entry for “tulip” in Collier’s Encyclopedia was the blank slip of onionskin that held the secret of my instructions.  A minute or two in the oven, and the paper would tell all.


I was outside the courthouse this afternoon when the judge banged his gavel and said, “Case dismissed. You’re free to go, Mr. Wilson.”  When Frank Wilson walked out of the courthouse, there was no one there to meet him other than a few members of the press, and even they didn’t pursue him when he waved them off and headed down the street.  I wasn’t surprised that no one had much of an interest in this lowlife.  No one except me.

Marisa Dominico was a school teacher.  Out of college only a couple of years, she was dedicated and idealistic.  She’d stayed late to work on a project for the next day, and was walking alone to the subway after dark.  I doubt she ever saw him until he came out of the shadows and grabbed her.  The scumbag not only raped her repeatedly, he beat her to a pulp.  In all likelihood, she was dead before he tossed her in the dumpster like so much trash. I hope so.

They were on to him pretty quickly.  Wilson was a heavy drinker, and got himself picked up for drunk-and-disorderly a couple of weeks later.  More brag than brains, he'd been a little too enthusiastic with macho posturing and boasted about his conquest to a fellow guest of the city while in the tank. 

The cops charged him, but a jail house confession made to a drug dealer looking to cut a deal to avoid Rikers didn’t take them very far.  Not only was the dealer’s testimony a bit suspect, there was no corroborating evidence.  If fact, DNA evidence showed she’d had sex with someone else that day.  That turned out to be Marisa's boyfriend, who'd flown to Chicago around noon.  I heard that the DA found others who’d been attacked by Wilson and survived it, but none of them were willing to testify, especially after what happened to Dominico.  The bottom line was that the prosecutor couldn’t make the case.  Wilson walked, and I was there to follow him.

I trailed him at a discreet distance, and watched as he headed straight to a bar a few blocks from the courthouse.  I gave him a few minutes to get settled and order a drink, and then went in.  After my eyes adjusted to the dim interior, I spotted Wilson at the bar.  I slipped onto the stool two down from him.  He was concentrating on his drinking, but if I’d spent the last year being held in a cell without bail, I guess I’d be pretty parched too.  Soon enough, his glass was empty and he was looking to order another. He turned to find the bartender, and his eyes met mine in the mirror.  I gave him a small smile, and dropped my eyes, but not before I saw the spark of interest that flared in his.

Before I could order, Wilson slid over to the seat next to me, and said, “You are just what the doctor ordered, little lady.”  I had to smile at the irony of that.  Honey, you have no idea, I thought.

“What’re you drinking?” he asked me when the bartender came over.  I ordered a glass of white wine and he got another Bushmills on the rocks.  Over the next two hours, I nursed two glasses of wine.  I lost count of how many Bushmills Wilson pounded down.   

When he left the bar to visit the men’s room, I was ready with the tiny vial of highly concentrated oleandrin I had concealed in my pocket.  I poured the contents into the full glass of Bushmills the barkeep had just delivered.  In an hour or two, Mr. Wilson would come down with the worst case of the flu he’d ever experienced, culminating in a fatal heart attack. 

Business was starting to pick up in the bar as locals stopped by for a quick one and a bite to eat on their way home.  I grabbed our glasses and moved them to a booth in a dark corner.  When Wilson returned, I waved him over.

“I’m kind of hungry, sweetie.  Let’s get a burger, OK?”  Though I didn’t think it would be necessary, I knew some food would obscure the oleandrin in his system.

“Sure, doll.  Whatever you want.  Then maybe later, we can go to your place for some dessert, if you know what I mean.”  He gave me a sloppy grin and somewhat less than successful wink.

“Sounds like a plan, Frank.” I purred, leaning toward him and giving him a flash of cleavage.

A couple of hours and several Bushmills later, Wilson began to complain of blurred vision.
“I’ma… um, not feelin’ so good.  Too mush booze.  Gotta go.”

He threw a handful of crumpled bills on the table, and stood up.  I added some money to the pile, and jumped up to support him as he walked to the door.  We headed up Sixth toward the Spring Street station.  Frank Wilson never made it.


After twisting the knobs to release the locks on the big wooden door, I pull it wide to see Clare King standing on the steps outside.

“Good evening, Detective.  I thought I might see you tonight.”  I gesture to the policewoman to come into the foyer.

“Hello, Sister Catherine Mary. Sorry to come by the convent so late, but I thought you’d want to know.  We found his body in an alley off Broome.  The ME ruled it a heart attack.  He was obviously drunk as a skunk.  Pretty young for a heart attack.  But I guess for a guy like him, it was only a matter of time before there'd be the devil to pay.”


* Patience and Fortitude are the two massive stone lions flanking the entrance to the New York Public Library.

This was written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.


  1. A rippin' good story! Well done!

  2. patti, this is awesome...you have spun a mighty and intriguing tale...i imagine you might just take your 3rd greecian name this time...

  3. This is a good idea for a book. What do you think?

  4. Bravo! Well done, Patti. Engaging and enjoyed much. Are you thinking of publishing? You should be .... Just a thought.

  5. Patti...
    Spellbinding tale, I read every word.
    A very pleasant surprise.
    Have a Happy Easter...G

  6. Hehe. I like. Love the pushes in style... I'm thinking you've found your playground genre.

    Edit: "Not only was the dealer’s testimony a bit suspect, there was no corroborating evidence."

  7. Like it. Different and a good narrative, didn't expect the 'sister' doing God's work? Who says you can't write to a muse?

  8. We always thought they were Lady Astor & Lord Lenox.... -J

  9. H-H: For awhile, I guess that's what people called them. Good thing "Lord Astor" had a strong sense of self (both lions are male). Astor and Lenox were the founders of the two libraries that merged to become the NY Public Library. In the 1930s, Mayor LaGuardia named the lions Patience and Fortitude, saying that's what the people of NY needed to get through the Depression. And the rest, as they say, is...

  10. Patti, this might be my absolute favorite of all the stories you've written. Spellbinding, fast-paced and supremely well-finished.

    Always good to see a sister doing god's work for him :)

    Sweeper... love that. Always had a soft spot for the Cleaners, myself. It's a dirty job- but someone's gotta do it.

  11. at least she didn't hear voices telling her to do it. nice

  12. Geez, Pattiken. I didn't know you wrote amazing short stories TOO!! You of amazing talents. This gripped me from start to finish. We needs the sweepers, yes.

    Wow, and you know New York, how lovely. I dream of NYNY a lot, wish I were there.


  13. Ripsnorter. I liked the vigilante, angel of vengeance theme. I think it was very powerful and well-executed and may I say because it is such an original idea that it would bear further exploration ie. in novel form. Certainly something worth considering. Great work!

  14. Wow! You had me hooked right from the start; Maybe I'm gullible, but I put it down to your excellent telling of this great little story - I was half scared this was a true confession and I was SO hoping it wasn't. You're such a lovely person and I didn't want to live with the confession of a murderer who used to be just a really nice lady!

  15. brokenpenwriter: But nice ladies are kind of boring... I want to be, um... well, "dangerous" would be fun.

    Thank you, everyone, for visiting and for your comments. You have given me great encouragement, and that keeps me going. :-)

  16. Never fear Pattiken - no matter how sweet your nature, you will Never be boring.

  17. Outstanding!! Well written. Well developed - and the little twist at the end is just the right thing.

    But I have a question - Marisa was not a Nun. Why was there any expectation on the part of Sister Catherine Mary that the police would come to her?


Thoughts? I would love to hear from you.