Alice Scold was 54 years of age and liked to clean. She enjoyed her job at the Carlton because it was much larger than the other Derby hotels she’d worked in and had the finest of kitchens. Her weapons were Delphis Eco Heavy Duty Degreaser, economy Centrefeed rolls, and a firm wrist. She was happy in her work. She came in at 6:00 am, worked until 5:00 pm, and spoke to no one.

Michael, her only child, was living with a jowly woman called Melanie who he’d met online and had never made acquaintance with a dishcloth. Her husband, Daniel, was currently sharing limited space next to frozen peas and cauliflower in the Zanussi chest freezer. The only object he could be unfaithful with now was a year-old frozen leg of lamb.

The other cleaners thought she was slightly mad, but Alice didn’t care. She didn’t plan to kill any of them yet. Her husband’s removal from the world was enough for now.

The Ecobart was robust and pleasurably noisy. It handled frozen cubes of meat efficiently and gurgled satisfactorily when it had done its job. She enjoyed the squeal and grate of the galvanised cutters as she fed the frozen one-inch cubes of her husband into the grind chamber. She calculated that in three weeks’ time, her chest freezer would only contain the frozen peas, the cauliflower, and the neglected leg of lamb.

She would then have to defrost it, scrub it spotless, and fill it to the brim with bags of vegetables, slabs of meat, and ready meals. She would place Daniel’s wedding ring on the mantelpiece, call Michael, and then the police. She planned on sending an email from Daniel’s email to her own account claiming he had left her. She would attempt no alarm at her philandering husband’s sudden disappearance and would not pretend to weep. Michael would see through crocodile tears.

As far as Alice was aware, no one had missed Daniel in the last five days. She’d had a couple of calls from his snooker cronies, and one from a new female client who wanted her basement redesigning, but nothing more. Alice told them that her husband was away on business in Solihull, which he easily might have been.

Daniel was an architect, self-employed. He wasn’t owned by a company. He had a personal website, a busy contact list and a healthy bank account.  The customer emails would need to be dealt with, but Alice knew his password and could replicate his tone. She wouldn’t use his home computer, of course. His smartphone was fully charged on the mantelpiece. Easily disposable.

Her son, Michael, who fitted kitchens, hadn’t been in touch for over two weeks. That was not unusual. When he did manage a call, it was only to complain about the spiralling cost of cooker hoods, extractor fans, or ceramic tiles. He’d fitted the Ecobart in the Carlton Hotel himself less than a year ago. He rarely rang and never asked after his father. He would only mention Melanie, his new online girlfriend, when pushed. Alice suspected Michael was ashamed of her. She worked nights on a production line for a frozen food company, dicing pork and chicken and beef for bags bound for the freezers in Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s and the like. The irony was not lost to her.

Alice enjoyed feeding the frozen cubes of Daniel into the Ecobart. It crushed and swallowed everything in its steely jaws and did not return the waste. It sucked noisily and sent the detritus down into the underground canals of Derby’s sewers, rendering it untraceable.

To cover her tracks, she used Daniel’s phone to deal with the business emails. She told the female client who wanted her basement refurbishing that he was no longer trading. She then sent a brief text message to her own phone: “I’m off to Florida, don’t worry about me. Need to sort my head out. Tell Michael I love him. Daniel.”

She went home, caught up with the soaps, sliced another 20 one-inch cubes, and placed them in a blue zip-top freezer bag. She would have diced and disposed of most of his left arm by Wednesday.

The Ecobart disposal unit was housed under the left-hand bowl of a double sink. It was fast and efficient and crunched bone and fingernails well, but Alice worried about the teeth. Daniel had good teeth. Perfect teeth. Long roots with very few fillings. In life, he had a Jim Carrey smile, and even in death, his teeth still looked pretty good under the opaque layers of frost.

It would be tough to wrench them out with pliers, one by one, dispose of them down the toilet, but there was little else she could think of to do. She’d read somewhere that enamel was much tougher than bone.

By 10:30, she had the Carlton Hotel’s kitchen to herself. The rest of the cleaning staff were gone. Plates and cutlery bubbled away in the Hobart dishwasher. Alice retrieved the blue bag from her handbag, unzipped it, and plucked out an icy cube of Daniel. It was mainly bone with just hint of a curve beneath the opaque surface. Possibly Daniel’s elbow. She popped it into the Ecobart, pressed the green button, and watched with solemn fascination as it whipped and whirred and ground into nothing. There was a tiny suck of air when the job was done.

Then, without warning, there was a sudden cough, a splutter and an angry metallic scrape. Steel on steel, grinding metal, a scream of mechanical resistance. The machine physically shook in its housing, the way an overloaded spin dryer might do when resisting the weight of heavy sodden clothes. The screech of tortured metal built to a piercing high-pitched crescendo, then growled deeply, shuddering to a halt.

The plughole in the sink filled back up with milky rose-coloured water and tiny fragments of bone. It looked like a strawberry Slush Puppy. She pressed the red button. Nothing. The green button. Nothing. A loud ping startled her. The Hobart had finished its dishwash cycle.

She found a dessert spoon, scooped up an inch of slush, fed it into the adjacent sink, ran the hot tap and watched it swirl away. The steam rose quickly, scolding her cheeks. There was another gurgle and splutter as thawing blood and bone rose from the left sink plughole. This was not good.

It was time to call Michael.

Her son knew about his father’s philandering, of course, but that didn’t guarantee his complicity. She would have to be careful.

Michael arrived in less than an hour with a new bubble-wrapped Ecobart, a leather bag toolkit slung over his shoulder. He tried for a hug, but Alice pushed him away. She’d never liked the rough brush of stubble against her cheeks. She was more concerned with getting the unit replaced. She told him about the message she’d received from his father, showed it to him on her phone. Michael shook his head. Alice shrugged. A half-smile passed between them. Michael knelt on the tiled floor and began work on the Ecobart.

Alice watched his every move. His grey T-shirt rose at the back, exposing the crack in his fish-white buttocks. He breathed heavily as he disconnected the discharge chamber from the waste pipe. Michael had put on even more weight this year. When he relaxed his buttocks on the heels of his work boots, his belly hung over the sides of his jeans like saddlebags.

Alice was about to start cleaning again when Michael spun around. He’d plucked something metallic from the bowels of the machine and was holding it to the light. At first, she thought he was holding up a steel washer, but a step closer told her it was Daniel’s wedding ring. The one she’d planned to leave on the mantlepiece.

She remembered the last frozen square she’d fed into the Ecobart. It had been slightly heavier than the others. A hint of grey she’d mistook for sinew. Her mistake. Dicing one-inch cubes of Daniel had been way too pleasurable. She’d clearly forgotten to remove the ring from his left hand and now Michael was holding it up to the light.

Michael studied the ring. A penny about to drop.

He knew.

He handed her the ring and started to shake. There was no anger or hatred in his eyes, but tiny beads of sweat peppered his brow. He asked about Florida and Alice told him there was no Florida. His father hated the sun and preferred cooler places. He was in a very much cooler place right now. Michael seemed to shrink before her eye the more she told him. And she told him everything.

Michael was very still as he listened. His eyes sometimes darted away when she explained the more gruesome aspects of the killing, but mainly he held her eye, didn’t move a muscle. Nor did he ask a single question. Alice showed him the blue bag and the remaining 18 frozen cubes of Daniel. It was time to test the new Ecobart.

The familiar low whir echoed in the empty kitchen when Michael pressed the green button. Alice plucked an icy cube of his father from the blue zip-top bag and handed it to Michael. He fed it into the machine. She handed him another cube, then another. One by one, they were all crunched up and washed away. Michael packed away his tools. The back of his T-shirt was bathed in sweat. His hands were shaking.

Alice folded the empty blue zip-top bag and placed it into her apron pocket, next to the crushed ring. She folded several tea towels and did a final surface wipe.

There was a chance Michael would go to the police. A chance she couldn’t take.

Daniel had been a successful architect. Did he agree? Michael said he did. Daniel had been a womaniser, unfaithful countless times. Did he agree? Michael said he knew about one or two. She asked him if he loved Melanie. Michael was still on his knees, totally confused. He spread his hands. Melanie was not perfect, but nobody was perfect. She asked him what sort of lifestyle he really wanted. Michael shook his head. She asked him how did half a million pounds sound?

He looked at her dumbly. She repeated the question. And then she told him about the life insurance policy. And about patience.

The policy was 20 years old, unlikely to be questioned by anyone. In seven years’ time, the policy would present just under two million pounds in her bank account, at which point Daniel would be legally declared dead. Recent calls from his mobile phone suggested he was already in Florida. Subsequent calls from the same phone would suggest mental decline, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Alice was prepared to give Michael a quarter of the payout, providing he remained silent. Seven years wasn’t all that long to wait for a windfall.

Michael said nothing. He managed the zip on his tool bag and rose to his feet. He didn’t have a word to say. He couldn’t meet her eye. She told him it would be around three weeks before his father was erased from the world. Michael muttered something about staying in touch before he fled.

She spent the evening pulling teeth. The front ones popped out easily, leaving tiny bloodless holes. The back teeth were not so easy. They required a knee to the chest and a firm pull of the pliers. She popped each tooth onto a single square of kitchen towel and flushed each parcel down the toilet.

Michael rang around seven o’clock in the evening, just as she was disposing of the last of Daniel’s canines into the toilet basin. He didn’t stutter or fall over his words. He even managed to call her mum.

He said that Melanie had gone missing, suddenly and without warning.

He was breathing hard.

Alice told him to not to panic. To hold off from calling the police until he was certain she was gone forever. She told him to clean. To make sure everything was spotless. Thoroughly spotless.

She told him to be patient.