He kept his eye on her as she moved about the mission house that night. She was new to this scene, fairly young, with enough experience to be realistic but not enough to be considered truly streetwise. She wasn’t hard enough, alert enough, careful enough. She arrived at the same time each evening, departed at the same time each morning, and walked the same route to and from the facility.
He thought she’d clean up well.
Pulling out his cell phone, he placed the call.
Jimmy muttered a curse as he wiped his gloved hands on his apron. He flipped his cell phone open, using his shoulder to pin it to his ear. “Fresh Meet.” He turned the head he was working on, grimacing in disgust as he pulled the tongue out a bit farther.
“I’ve got a pick up for you.”
“Hang on a sec.” Wiping his hands once more, he reached across the stainless steel table to snag a pen and pad of paper from the desk. “Shoot.”
“Washington and Branch. About eight. Should fill a standard order for clean meat.”
“Gotcha. I’ll send someone out. Thanks.” Standard order: female, average height and build, between the ages of 25 and 35. Clean meat: not a meth-head, with no obvious signs of AIDS. She might fill one order for the Company, or many. It depended on a lot of things. How cooperative she was. How desperate. And who got to meet her first.
He stuck the note he had written up on the message board for the manager to deal with before turning back to his project. He pried the eyelids open a bit more, so the iris color would be clearly discernible. He adjusted the coils of wire around the tongue so that the recording device was centered and easily identifiable. He angled the badge pinned to the center of the forehead to reduce glare and allow the numbers to be read. The client he was preparing this order for was extremely particular.
He stepped behind the tripod, zoomed in on the pock-marked face with its bulbous nose, and snapped three quick shots. The digital camera was set to automatically upload to the laptop on the desk before him. He checked each shot carefully. “Damn, you were an ugly bastard,” he remarked to the head. His voice sounded loud in the empty building. It freaked him out. He wished they’d hurry up and promote him, or get him some help. This shit was starting to get to him.
Anxious to finish and get the hell out of there, he almost forgot to pass on the message about the pick-up. Granted, leaving it pinned up for the manager should be enough, but his boss insisted on taking every precaution to keep the operation running smoothly, whether it was doubling up on messages or taking three identical photos of a completed contract. Jimmy typed the required e-mail, attached his photo files, and hit “send”. As soon as the automated response appeared, he was free to commence his meticulous clean-up procedures. First, he dropped his gruesome subject into the incinerator. Then he began a copious application of bleach: camera and tripod were wiped down and placed in a safe; worktop scrubbed; floor mopped; apron left to soak. He showered quickly, not wanting to close his eyes against the shampoo that cascaded down his face, images of “Psycho” flashing through his brain. He got out and toweled off, feeling enormously relieved to be getting back into his street clothes. He added his white coveralls to the washing machine’s soak cycle, then took one last look around the shop. Satisfied that all was as it should be, he collected the laptop, and exited at the back of the building, securing three deadbolts behind him.
The city was so anonymous, everyone so bent on ignoring the world around them, that she never would have noticed the mover if he hadn’t spoken to her.
“Hey, Lady,” he called as she approached. At first, she assumed he was speaking to someone else. She spared him not a glance, and her stride never faltered.
“Lady,” he tried again, louder, more insistent. “You, in the sweater! You wanna earn a couple bucks?”
Startled, she glanced around, then stopped, pointing to her chest in a questioning way.
He laughed. “Yeah, you! And I’m not trying to, ya know, pick you up or something. My partner called in sick, and I got a bad back. I been trying to load this damn thing—“ he waved a hand at the love seat he was leaning on—“by myself, and I just can’t do it. You look like you could use a little cash, so I wondered if you’d help me for a sec. Just with this one thing, and I’d give ya...” he looked her up and down assessingly. “Ten bucks.”
She chewed her lip. The man was bent over, one hand propping him up against the arm of the loveseat, the other rubbing his lower back. Middle-aged, wearing shapeless grey coveralls. He appeared harmless enough, and she could do a lot with ten dollars.
“Okay,” she agreed. She approached him, hand outstretched. “Money first.”
He grinned disarmingly. “Five now, five after?”
She shrugged one shoulder. He pulled out his wallet, rummaged through it, and placed a bill in her outstretched palm. She pocketed it, then stooped to lift her end of the small couch. “Sweet,” he smiled gratefully before bending to his end of the task. “You are a life-saver.”
The load was heavy, and she had to concentrate as she backed up the ramp into the big, yellow Penske truck.
“Right to the back, there, by that armoire,” he directed, panting with exertion.
She moved farther into the dim interior, stopping when her rump touched something solid.
“Okay, set ‘er down.”
She did as the man bid, then side-stepped around the loveseat, holding her hand out to him once more.
She saw the movement out of the corner of her eye, and started to turn. Too late. A chemical-laden rag was clamped tightly over her mouth and nose, while a strong arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her into the armoire. Doors closed, and blackness descended.
The ‘moving man’ secured the back of his panel truck. Whistling tunelessly, he slid into the driver’s seat, then scanned the street and sidewalks rapidly. As far as he could tell, no one had noticed the abrupt disappearance of the young homeless woman.
Fresh meat obtained. Now all they had to do was get it cleaned up, so it would be ready to meet the man who had ordered it. Fresh meat, for a fresh meet. His boss called it ‘cleaning up the streets,’ and claimed that this method reduced the burden placed on taxpayers by shiftless bums that refused to support themselves. Plus it kept some perverts and sick-os from making their own selections from the decent women of the world.
Not like the driver cared. His paycheck was all the justification he needed.