Nicholson’s crew chief is 58-year-old Manny Salcido, a soft-spoken, cherubic Paul Sorvino look-alike with a devilish sense of humor. Salcido met the then–19-year-old Nicholson when he was delivering bodies to the Pierce Brothers Mortuary. Salcido was in charge of the graveyard shift. The two became quick friends, and when Nicholson decided to open up Clean Scene Services, Salcido jumped onboard. Salcido said he stumbled into the death business by accident. He used to be a barber in the 1970s, but was looking for a change. One day, while he was cutting hair, one of his clients received a call and had to leave immediately. The client explained to Salcido that he worked for a service that picked up and drove dead bodies to mortuaries, and someone needed to be picked up now. On a whim, Salcido asked if he could come along. A few weeks later, he packed away his clippers and started work at a Jewish-Christian mortuary in the San Fernando Valley. He later went on to Forest Lawn in Glendale, then to Pierce Brothers Mortuary, where he managed the pickup of and embalming of hundreds of bodies a night — among those whose safe passage he’s managed are Gilda Radner, Buddy Rich, Tyrone Power and Orson Welles. Salcido worked the 5:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. shift for 11 years. “I was up all night for all of the ’80s,” he said. Salcido, who lives in Montrose, is a veritable dictionary on death. He recites stages of decomposition like a drama student would a Shakespearean soliloquy and the chemical breakdown of the body like a science professor. From people mangled in explosions and train wrecks to those who have died in autoerotic accidents, he has seen and heard it all. Few things faze Salcido, but there are exceptions. “A man was found murdered in Griffith Park in the ’80s,” he said. “He died from 1,000 small cuts. Each was not fatal, but the combination made him bleed to death. It was a practice in the Middle East. It was very disturbing.” He is also a treasure-trove of little-known macabre factoids, especially about dead celebrities. He knows where Curly, Joe and Moe of the Three Stooges are buried. And that Oliver Hardy died indigent. All the stories, which he tells with an ever-so-slight lisp, are worthy of a book, including his claim that W.C. Fields’ ashes were stolen from his mausoleum in the ’60s. To avoid a scandal, the mortuary kept it a secret and replaced his ashes with others’. “The ashes there are not W.C. Fields’,” he maintains. Salcido also holds the dubious honor of being the only member of the trauma team to throw up at a scene. It was a decomp. The Egyptian artist who died of a heart attack on his toilet had not been found for weeks. The toilet was filled to the top with maggots, skin and fecal matter. “It was so thick you had to dig it out with a spoon,” cringed Salcido. At 26, Redlus is the youngest and newest member of the team. He is apple-pie cute and looks as out of place in the industry as would Richie Cunningham. Redlus started off his career delivering film to movie studios. He has also worked for FedEx and was a courier on and off for five years before he begged Salcido to let him come along on a cleanup job in 2002. “I didn’t think he would like it,” said Salcido. “I had people walk in and turn away.” But Redlus’ perseverance and strong stomach paid off. “Manny didn’t think I had it in me,” says Redlus, munching on a Carl’s Jr. double burger before cleaning up William’s unit. “He said I didn’t have the stomach for it. But I did. After 20 minutes into my first cleanup, I was hungry.” Salcido met Redlus 25 years ago, when Salcido went to barber school with Redlus’ father. Despite the 30-year age difference, the two are close friends. Redlus lives in Sunland with his new bride (they married October 30) and their 6-year-old son, Cody. He is energetic, fun-loving, sensitive, and the go-to guy when it comes to heavy lifting. He instinctively picks up the heavy boxes to save the older Salcido from hurting his back. Redlus works out religiously and tops off his routine with blended vegetable-and-fruit-juice concoctions. His current favorite is celery-and-apple juice, and he has no problems with talking about food or drink while he is working. The two men are in daily contact, even when they aren’t cleaning the inch-deep pigeon poop from the estate of actress and William Randolph Hearst mistress Marion Davies, or the home of an elderly schoolteacher who died and wasn’t found for weeks. The latter job took five days to clean because the woman never tidied up or threw anything out. “We found the skeletons of a family of possums that died in one of the rooms sometime in the 1950s,” said Redlus. “I think he had a lot of memories here,” says Salcido as he sifts through William’s belongings for blood, meticulously spraying and cleaning every item. Next to him, Redlus has just finished spraying the attorney’s storage unit with Microban, a disinfectant that kills HIV, herpes and airborne viruses. Salcido finds two photos on top of William’s giant-screen TV, the only possession that looks new. One of the photos is of a young woman, an Ally Sheedy look-alike with brown, shoulder-length, feathered hair. On the back is a written message: “?William — Thanks for the wonderful time. I hope we’ll get together soon. Love Tammy [not her real name].” The other photo is of a young William, with a thick head of feathered blond hair, hugging an attractive blonde from behind. Two young people in love. Both photos look like they were taken in the 1980s, when feathered hair and tight jeans weren’t a fashion faux pas. Salcido has also uncovered William’s university yearbook inside one of the rotting cardboard boxes used to hold hundreds of legal papers. Within the pages of the yearbook is a photo of the new graduate wearing a suit and tie, grinning from ear to ear. Next to the box is a plastic leg brace. Had William been in an accident? What happened to his law career? There are so many unanswered questions. For Redlus, it is better not to think about the deceased at all. “I try not to think too much about every cleanup,” says Redlus. “I will go crazy.” By noon, the crew has made a huge dent in Unit 133108. The majority of the boxed items and furniture that were irretrievably soaked through with blood have been packed away and taken to a nearby waste-treatment facility by Nicholson. But the real gruesome part of the cleanup lies ahead. The unit is hot and filled with the heady smell of disinfectant and blood. The manager promises to turn the air conditioning on, but the crew is still waiting. “I am sweating in places I didn’t know I could,” jokes Salcido, who looks like he just jumped into a swimming pool. Redlus and Salcido begin to fan each other with ripped cardboard between lifting heavy boxes and moving bedroom furniture. Even the cockroaches look bothered by the heat and scurry away. “The cockroaches get into your clothes, and you take them home with you,” says Salcido as he watches them flee. The bookcase, which is lined up against the sidewall, has taken the biggest hit. Each of the four shelves is inches thick in brain, blood and skull debris. Four days after the fact, the blood has turned into what looks like thick globs of strawberry Jell-O. Walking around the bookcase is like walking through a miniature trough full of sticky candy-apple coating. Four hours later, Unit 133108 is spotless, and there are no signs left of the earlier trauma. There are still five more units left to be cleaned, but the crew decides to pack it up and start again tomorrow. They pile the remaining blood-soaked cloth, garbage and broken furniture into the van, and are careful not to scratch the wine-colored sedan with a disability tag on the rearview mirror parked a few feet away. The manager told them earlier that the car belonged to William. His family, who live out of town, have not been to the scene and have yet to make arrangements for the vehicle. Redlus’ curiosity gets the better of him, and he allows himself a peek through a side window, when he notices an unopened envelope on the passenger seat. “Could it be a suicide note?” he asks, looking up at Salcido, who is looming over his shoulder. “No,” says Salcido. “The police wouldn’t have missed that.” The two look at each other, climb into their big white van and slowly drive off.