Steam leaks out of the shoddy pipes hanging overhead. The whole basement smells of shit and rot. Sharp and disgusting. I ignore it, and breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth and keep at the job. Keep calm and steady. The hacksaw moves clean. The dead muscle slices like deli meat. Bone is balsa wood. Each body part goes into a black trash bag and gets duct-taped tight. The corpse is some thug with a scorpion tattoo on his bald head, and a faded power-lifter’s build. I don’t know what this guy did, but it landed him three holes in the skull, and got me a four AM call.
I started by stripping the jeans, Rolling Stones T, and leather jacket. I tucked his nine-millimeter Ruger into the back of my cargo pants. There was about three bills worth in his wallet. No badge. His Mississippi license said Matthew Sanders. Everything, but the cash, went into its own sack. I took a claw-hammer to the teeth. Pried them out and then smashed them into tinier bits. Made them into fine dust, resembling white graphite lube or cocaine. Next I worked off the jaw with a linoleum knife and busted the bone into pebbles. I used the wire snips on the digits. Popped off the fingers one at a time and sand-papered away the prints. Clipped the toes like pruning a bush. The hacksaw was for the legs and arms. I section everything into a few packs to make it easier to move. There is no such thing as too careful on jobs like this.
It takes me about two hours. The North Memphis sun starts poking through the clean streaks in the grime-caked windows. I snap off the latex gloves and throw them in a separate trash bag with the disposable plastic butcher's apron and cotton medical mask. I bleach scrub the rust-color stains for a couple of minutes. Enough to dilute the red and kill the DNA. He probably weighs about two bucks, maybe more. I haul the bags into the tarp-lined trunk of my '79 Olds. It's my business vehicle. Covered in primer, and made to look basic. No one would ever bother thinking a double-take on a car like that.
Lucy still has mascara streaks on her face. Browned blood spots her blouse. She shakes as I move the dismembered body past her and outside into the car. It takes four trips. I don't say a word the entire time. Don't look at her for more than a peripheral passing. We used to have a past. That's as dead as the sagging skin in the trash bags. Her track marks say everything about why we had a falling out.
I finish loading the corpse and go back for the money. Five grand. No excuses, no negotiation. Those are the rules I was taught. Everyone fucking pays the same.
"You seriously expect me to pay you to cut up and move that asshole?" She quivers out. Spite in her dishwater eyes. She's trying to stoke a fire inside, even when fear is still lingering around in her guts.
"You know the deal. No deals. You said you had it. Just make this simple." I keep my eyes aimed at hers.
"I don't-" I cut off the bullshit with back of my right hand. Her cigarette flips to the ground and sparks on contact. Red slips down the corner of her mouth. I hit her again before she can recover.
"I know you have it. I know you get by better than most. Even if you live in this rat cage and suck down poison every night."
I stand her up by her arm. She staggers to the steel kitchen sink. She opens the cabinet underneath and takes out a med bag. The zipper slides smooth. Inside there's baggies of brown powder and a sheet of tin foil and rubber tourniquets and insulin needles. And a fat white envelope. She pulls out a stack of twenties. I snatch it from her. Count out my fee quick and leave the excess on the fake-granite card table. Another rule: only take what you're owed.
I leave her burning her holy spoon. Hands shuddering like the Bic flame. She's sobbing so hard that her chest is quaking. I remember when she was pretty and when I would've said good-bye to her. I shake my head to how damning the world is, get into the car, crank the engine, and drive toward the steel sector.
The sun's burning like a lamp-flame behind clouded glass. The world's winter concrete. It's early enough for the blue-collar rides to trickle onto the roads. The sidewalks are near empty. A few gutter drunks and alley bums stirring from doorway beds. Nothing that would be a problem. I merge onto the North Parkway and blend with traffic until I reach Lamar. Take that south until I find a cluster of abandoned auto shops and warehouses. I pull into the shadows along an abandoned tire plant. There are rusty fifty-gallon drums lining the wall under checker-broken windows. I park and pop the trunk. I grab a heavy iron pry bar and move one of the steel drums a few yards away from the building. The lid struggles a little bit, but eventually lifts. I go back to the trunk and start moving the taped-bags into the barrel. It takes four trips. Next is the two-gallon gas-can. I spill the clear-purple gasoline all over the evidence. The victim's clothes and wallet. The chopped-up body. The apron and gloves and mask and disposable tools. The rest I'll toss into the Mississippi near the old bridge.
I strike a paper match with one hand and light an unfiltered Camel. I only smoke after a job, and even then it's just one cigarette. I drop the tiny fire into the barrel. The inferno flies a few feet into the air before it settles into its meal. Eating away at any proof that a murder took place. Any proof that I had been involved.
I finish my cigarette and throw it to the flame and wait a few minutes to make sure everything's burning down right. I put on a pair of pigskin fire gloves and take the pry bar to the heat-brittle bones, the finishing touch, something to make any forensics team shake their heads and mark the remains down as "animal". I walk calm back to the car and drive downtown to a spartan apartment and a simple bed. And a gas-station cell phone that I toss every other week. The one that directs me where to go next during these serpentine mornings.