DRINK, EAT…BE MERRY?
by Tim J. Finn
Brett Ralston tapped the Smartphone in the pocket of his parka and silenced its chirping. His latest friend with benefits failed to comprehend his no-call directive also applied to text messages. Her spectacular bedroom skills stayed him from booting her taut buttocks to the curb. He should be enjoying her prowess instead of supervising a body dump in the middle of a hazardous waste site. Ralston resolved to leave grown up virgins alone, despite the appeal of acting as ‘deflowerer’. Paula Downey proved to be too stupid and too Catholic to prevent her problematic pregnancy.
Adam Edwards leaned on his shovel and tugged a gin bottle from his coat. He gulped half a dozen mouthfuls and offered the bottle to his fellow digger.
“No hard stuff for me,” Jack Lennox said. “My daddy always told me, stick to beer and you’ll never be an alcoholic.”
Edwards shrugged and took a few additional swigs.
“You sure this is a copacetic spot?” he asked Ralston.
“No one’s coming here for a long while. Cullen Marketing has been on retainer for years with the cleanup company to create a spin campaign. I don’t think any of us were even born when the EPA shut down this old pig farm that. She’ll rot away her own before any work starts, or maybe get eaten by whatever ecological hazard was left behind.”
“Yeah, and what’s being out here going to do to us?”
“From what I’ve heard, this low-level exposure will just make your gonads tickle for a few hours. Hey, I’m out here, too, amigo.”
Ralston pulled a wad of bills from his parka.
“A thousand bucks, as promised. Five hundred a piece, if you can’t do the math.”
Lennox shook his head.
“Adam brought me in on the gig. I figure sixty forty, his favor. Daddy always said, treat anybody you do a job with fair and square. Only treat real assholes like dog poop.”
“A stirring mantra if I ever heard one,” Ralston said.
He distributed the bills and withdrew the Smartphone. Ralston thumbed a text and snickered at the nude image he received in response.
“Finish things up nice and tidy. And the next time we meet, let’s not.”
Edwards toasted Ralston’s departure with a long draft from his bottle.
“What you think, man,” Lennox said. “Smooth it out, so there’s no tracks to identify. Or just leave it looking like what you call free range.”
Edwards paused him with a raised index finger while he drank more gin.
“I think better when my brain is lubed. Brett should’ve let me get good and soused when he brought her in. I would’ve been able to do the scrape out just like in the textbooks. No harm, no foul, no…”
The replaced topsoil erupted behind Lennox and Paula Downey surfaced from it. Liquefied sludge streaked her naked body in a zigzag pattern. Wet soil clumps caked her face and plastered her sodden hair to her neck and shoulders. Paula brushed mud from her visage and glared at the men with colorless eyes sunken into their red-rimmed sockets.
Lennox cocked his head in confusion at Adam’s bulging eyes and gaped mouth. He spun around. Paula clutched at him with bloodied, muck covered hands.
“NFW. No way you should be up and at anything.”
Lennox swung his shovel and clipped Paul’s jaw. Loosened blood sprayed from the shovel’s blade into Adams’s open mouth. He gagged as the gore rolled down his throat. He attempted to cough it up. His choke ended in mid-hack and his eyes glazed while the pupils waned.
Lennox leveled the shovel congruent with Paul’s twitching head.
“Get back in the goddamn ground or I’ll beat you into it.”
Edwards chomped on Jack’s shoulder. He bit off skin and sinew, creating a neck to bicep tear that spurted blood. Paula batted the shovel aside and lunged at the shrieking Lennox. She clamped onto this throat and gnawed on it. The momentum of her charge dumped them both onto the moist ground. Edwards squatted beside them and chewed up Jack’s arm. His snapped mastication pared the limb to the bone. Paula unraveled Lennox’s jugular vein and popped it in her mouth. The skin around the shovel gash in her face merged into smooth, new dermis.
Edwards fluttered his eyelids while he nibbled on Jack’s fingers. His pupils resurfaced and expanded to their normal roundness. He stared at the flesh strips that dangled between his teeth. Adam spewed mush that reeked of gin. He followed his bloody hurling with a continuous high-pitched scream. Paula grabbed his lips and clamped his mouth shut. She croaked a couple of rasps and cleared her throat.
“Alcohol must neutralize it after a while.”
She grinned at Adam’s panicked gaze.
“I don’t understand it either, but I like it, uh-uh, uh-huh. My brain must be shooting on all synapses, or whatever, I getting all kinds of ideas. Ooh, what I could with this.”
She glanced at Jack’s partially devoured body.
“I’ll take the rest of him to go. A girl has to do what she has to do to keep her looks intact. Know what I mean, jellybean.”
Paula yanked on Adam’s lips and husked the skin from his face. He screeched when the chill night air stung his raw exposed nerve endings.
Sharon Dunbar checked her appearance in the rear view mirror and decided her makeup passed muster. She needed to dazzle the powers that be at Cullen Marketing to make that coveted jump from temporary worker to permanent employee.
Sharon exited the Civic. A willowy woman waiting between the twin elevators greeted her with a smile. Sharon noted the modified hoodie she wore and the pale tinge to her skin. She felt sympathy when she surmised the woman’s status as a chemotherapy patient.
“You must be Sharon. I’m Jenny from up at Cullen. They figured someone should be on hand as a guide since this complex is such a maze.”
She extended her hand. An emerald ring slipped from her finger and bounced under the Civic’s rear bumper.
“It just doesn’t seem to want to stay on lately.”
“I’ll get it,” Sharon said.
She reached under the car with a tissue. The poor woman must feel so tired but she still tried to accessorize in spite of her illness.
Paula Downey wrenched Sharon’s neck until it snapped. She popped the trunk and dumped her body on top of the spare tire well. Paula scanned both sides of the garage. She slipped an X-acto knife from her jacket and sliced an incision that encompassed Sharon’s entire face and ended in a connective V below her hairline. Paula peeled Sharon’s mug free and swabbed it with Purell wipes. She shut the trunk and climbed in the car. Paula squeezed clear adhesive along the edges of Sharon’s pared skin.
“Mondo bond, do your stuff.”
She pressed Sharon’s rind over her face. Paula stared in the rear view mirror and smoothed the ripples and sags in it.
“Not too wrinkled. I’ve seen a lot worse real ones. I keep myself fed enough, even he won’t be able to tell. But then he never did really look at my face, the turd head.”
Brett Ralston stood in the doorway and inventoried the assets of the temp receptionist. Her breasts appeared inflated hanging on her slim figure. Cute face marred by a couple of deep puckered crow’s feet. Her tapered legs offset her slightly mannish bum. He concluded she might be an acceptable bedmate if a blizzard stranded them in a remote cabin. He also sensed a not-unappealing familiarity to her. Ralston feigned a patronizing smile.
“Hello, you must be Shannon, from Temp Staffing. Welcome aboard.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ralston, it’s Sharon. Easy mistake to make, you must have so much you deal with.”
“Well, I stand corrected. Anything I can do to make settling in, well, settle in, let me know.”
“Everyone else has been so helpful,” Sharon said. “Mr. Cullen is waiting in your office. He’s been very helpful, too, he filled me in on Founding Day celebration tomorrow. I feel like I know exactly what I have to do.”
Ralston frowned for a moment before replacing his glower with another supercilious grin.
“He’s kept that going even after his partner retired and then croaked. Well, face the music with a smile.”
Ralston walked around the first half a dozen cramped aisles of cubicles. He half listened to the pitches for the products and services the company had been hired to push. Ralston nodded at the telemarketers’ skillful use of faux accents and sympathetic understanding. He thought the old plays still made the best plays. Technology sped the process but the human touch sealed the deals.
Ralston opened the paneled door of his office. A lanky man rested his sagging jowls on his hands as he studied the hand carved whaling ship in a bottle in the center of the circular conference table. A fierce-visaged white whale flopped across the starboard of the vessel.
“It’s a little reminder, Wally,” Ralston said. “Don’t get so focused on one sale, you lose sight of the other ones in play. And, no, I didn’t expense it.”
He dropped into the swivel chair to the left of Cullen.
“So, why does the mountain come to Mohamed as it were? Something new shaking at the mother ship?”
Cullen retrieved a jewel case enclosed DVD from his checkered sports coat pocket.
“Ah, the Founding Day introduction for us. That usually comes down in the interoffice packages.”
“I’m making a personal delivery, to deal with some other business. There’s noise coming out of this office that is spreading to places I’d rather it not go.”
“You never worried about the noise before, Wally. And I give you plenty of good reasons to tune out that noise. How many years, number one profit producing center, with number two not even in the wind blowing out of our…”
Cullen formed a timeout gesture with his liver-spotted hands.
“I’ve always been sold on you, Brent. Even the few non-disclosure settlements we’ve made didn’t even scratch the ass hair of the profits your branch brings in. Mayor Gillian is running for the state senate. Even though it’s been a few years since he sat on our board of directors, he’d prefer there be nothing untoward going on in the company during his campaign. He could wind up in a position to do us quite a bit of good down the proverbial road.”
“I trust some of that good trickles down to me, like a big, goddamn waterfall.”
Cullen grinned and patted Ralston’s shoulder.
“You’ll have a chance to recharge your testosterone pumps. You’ll come back to the ladies with a real extra oomph.”
“I’ve never had any complaints in the oomph department,” Ralston said. “Well, a few chicks I oomphed did say they could hardly walk the next day.”
Cullen laughed an over-simulated giggle.
“We have our Founding Day festivities to look forward to. Seems like you got a good temp this time, too, she’s quick on the uptake about what comes and goes.”
“Sometimes you can get lucky with a temp,” Ralston said.
“Well, we got real lucky the day we hired you. Come on, see me out.”
They walked through the office and back to the lobby.
“Nice to meet you, Sharon,” Cullen said.
The receptionist stuffed the cube of raw meat she held into her mouth and swallowed without chewing it. She dabbed a spot of red juice on her chin with a tissue.
“Getting right down to business, even eating at your desk. That’s a sign of a hard worker.”
Sharon grinned and chuckled. Cullen and Ralston shook hands.
“I’ll see you tomorrow via Skype or skip or whatever the damn thing is called,” Cullen said. “I didn’t understand it when they proposed it in IS, and I don’t understand it now. But I do understand the money it’s saving me. Nice to meet you again, Sharon.”
Ralston shook his head as he closed the suite door behind Cullen.
“This goes with the rest of tomorrow’s happy horse shit.”
He sailed the DVD jewel case to Sharon. The box smacked her in the face and its corner gouged her cheek. A sliver of skin dropped on the reception desk. The gash exposed a pale swatch that clashed with the dusky foundation layered on her face. Sharon grabbed another tissue and shielded her cheek.
“Christ, I’m sorry. I never could control my pitches, even back in Little League.”
“No biggie, Mr. Ralston. I’ll put a bandage on it if I think it needs it.”
“Well, if you’re sure. We both got some stuff thrown at us today. I’m sorry the Founding Day preparations are being thrown at you before you’ve even gotten a chance to get acclimatized to the office.”
“Being buried, with work, is an even smaller no biggie, Mr. Ralston. Office procedures are pretty standard everywhere. It’ll all come together in the end, you’ll see.”
Brett Ralston leaned forward in his chair and scratched his numbing rear end with a katana-shaped letter opener. He grimaced and clicked on the Bluetooth microphone.
“I didn’t know you were working last night, sweet buns. That’s the number one, hot night spot in town, where else do you think I’d go. FWB, NSA that’s our arrangement anyway, baby.”
Sharon tapped on his door. Ralston waved her into the office.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Mr. Ralston. The prerecorded message from Mr. Cullen is running down, and it’s almost time to link up.”
“Hear that, sweet buns. I’m needed.”
Ralston mouthed a silent thank you to Sharon.
“We’ll eat in tonight, honey. That we way neither of us runs into anybody we don’t want to. I’ll call Scalapini. He’ll not only do takeout for me, I’ll have him make the meal himself.”
Sharon closed the door as Ralston launched into a discourse that involved culinary selection. She walked to the suite’s centralized main conference room. The division employees served themselves from the fruit and bagel buffet covering the room length credenza. Rows of plastic highball glasses bookended the heaped goodie platters. Many workers bypassed the food in favor of grabbing extra drinks before they settled into the swivel chairs that encircled the mahogany table. A wall-sized digital screen featured a playback of Wally Cullen’s droned speech extolling the branch’s stellar sales performance and company best profit margins.
A pear shaped woman wearing a bedazzled prince-nez darted towards Sharon with a quickened stride that resembled a bird’s skipping gait.
“The first rows, you did say they had less alcohol, right? I usually drink only juice, but this is a special occasion.”
A diminutive man in a cardigan imbibed three drinks.
“For Christ’s sake, Marta, get the stick out your butt for once. If the company is buying, why not get yourself flying.”
“Decorum is important to some of us, Gerard.”
He sprayed a moist giggle as he laughed at her remark.
“Tell that to our fearless leader, he’s a real model of decorum. And you’re like all the rest of us, Marta, sitting back and we’re all making out like the old Frito Bandito because he’s a fricking genius at coming up with ways to separate people from their money. Even the bigwigs only put on a little posture about it once in a while. You know you like having that new cat shelter named after you. Come on, money, money, money, it makes us all go around.”
“Sounds like you have a bleak view of your fellow man,” Sharon said.
“Hell, the world is bleak,” Gerard said. “You just find a way to deal with that fact. I got mine,”
He gulped three more drinks and grabbed a couple of more glasses before he seated himself at the table. Ralston shrugged on his suit coat as he bustled into the conference room.
He watched Cullen’s speech end with a close up of his brown flecked hands delivering a weak round of applause. Ralston groaned when a montage of the branch offices flashed across the screen.
“Damn, I missed it. Jeez.”
“You could always take the disc home, boss,” Gerard said. “Share it with any company you might have.”
Ralston stared a theatrical glare at him.
“Now when did I tell anyone here they could have their own ideas? And that one? Oy!”
The workers laughed when Ralston threw up his hands in mock despair. Ralston shushed their guffaws as the Skype feed from the other offices blipped onscreen. Wally Cullen appeared in the center of the display seated behind his rosewood desk.
“You’re always too kind with the praise, Wally,” Ralston said. “Come on, guys, and gals, let’s toast our el jefe.”
He reached for one of the highball glasses. Sharon handed him a shot glass filled with an orange beverage.
“I made a special one for you, Mr. Ralston.”
Ralston sipped from it.
“Absolut, I think, and orange juice. I’m not familiar with that combo. I bet you know it, Gerard, you have the most experience in the field, and on the field, and probably on the floor too. Eh, buddy?”
Sharon clicked the remote and darkened the screen. She pressed another button and silenced the circular microphones suspended from the room’s ceiling.
“He’s not able to answer you right now. And by the time he can…”
Sharon chuckled at him.
“Well, that’ll be the least of anyone’s concerns.”
Ralston looked at Gerard. He dropped his last highball glass, sloshing its contents on the table. Crust formed over Gerard’s bloodshot eyes and the orbs slumped back in their sockets. His skin blanched until it resembled bone china. The other workers at the table adopted a similar appearance. They stood and shuffled towards a gaping Ralston. Sharon relieved him of the shot glass.
“Absolutely screwed, that’s the name of the drink. And it’s no bullshit… What a mouth I’ve developed since I dug myself out of that hole you put me in. You are one hundred percent absolutely screwed.”
Sharon swabbed her face with an astringent wipe. She peeled loose swatches of skin and tossed them to the shambling workers. They swallowed the flesh strips in quick gulps. Paula Downey grinned at Ralston. He wet his pants.
“Whew, nice to be rid of that. They’re right when they say skin needs to breathe, even if you don’t, which I guess is an oxymoron, moron.”
Marta ripped open Ralston’s arm and chewed on strands of muscle. Gerard tore away his jacket and gouged chunks from his chest and abs, exposing half of Ralston’s rib cage. A long-haired youth flailed at Brett’s flapping tongue. He missed twice before he succeeded in grasping hold of it. A gelatinous blood splat smacked him in the face when he wrenched the tongue from Ralston’s mouth.
Paula skirted the snarling Cullen employees swarming a cowered Ralston. She paused in the doorway and pointed the remote at the darkened screen.
“Those pig farmers left behind some funky kind of waste, I tell you. Time we rejoined the audience portion of our program.
She clicked the remote and locked the door behind her. Paula watched the Skype feeds from the other branches pop onscreen. She smiled at the immediate facial and verbal expressions of disgust, revulsion, and fear.
“What are you doing?” Cullen said. “Stop it, stop it!”
Ralston’s co-workers stripped the remaining flesh scraps from his partially clad skeleton and they dragged it back and forth across the table. A plaid shirted man sucked the marrow from one of Brett’s forearms. His eyes started to reemerge and regained their natural luster and his skin resumed its proper hue. He looked at the splintered bone in his hand and pursed his lips. The man gagged and up-chucked on the table.
Marta fluttered her blood stained hands and fainted. Gerard dropped a dripping chunk of tissue and reached for another highball glass. Other workers passed out, vomited and a couple started to pray. Paula shut down the Skype feed and switched her voice onto the screen’s speakers.
“You really want that…Jerry? It has a special ingredient that changes it from a bloody Mary to a bloody Paula. Or I guess blood from Paula is more correct. We were always so correct here…not. You all knew what he was doing, but you went along with it, because he was benefitting you. Only fitting you should all have a share in this. And do you think anyone will want to be associated with Cullen Marketing once this gets out? That old fart could have done something, so he goes down, too.”
Sirens created an ever-increasing cacophony outside the building.
“Somebody must’ve got a backbone and called the local authorities. Just think, this memory will last you all a lifetime. Isn’t that scary.”
Paula scrunched her face and feigned an exaggerated look of concern. Crow’s feet split the skin around her left eye.
“I better get a snack soon or that will get worse. Now I wonder, does all this make me a bad person? I’m not even a person anymore, so phooey. I’ve been doing some experimenting, so I know the alcohol also removes any lingering traces of the special ingredient. So, toodles, poodles.”
Paula exited the suite and rode the elevator to the building’s lobby. Half a dozen patrol cars sped past her as she walked down the street. She leaned against the pole of a bus stop sign and watched the cruisers careen into the building’s parking lot. Paula turned as a young man approached. His obsequious smile turned to a startled flinch when a pair of ambulances followed in the screeching wake of the police cars.
“Big doings in the neighborhood,” he said.
“Noisy ones anyway.”
“Something that gets that much attention, it’s got to be big. They’ll probably be blocking the street off next.”
“So the bus won’t be going anywhere.”
“Not for a while. I’m Freddy by the way.”
“Call me, Shauna, why not. So you’re saying we might be waiting here a good long time.”
Freddy grinned and shrugged.
“Well, I know a little luncheonette a street over. The coffee isn’t bad, and they got homemade stuff. My treat, I’m sure.”
Paula smiled at him. Miniscule clefts cracked the corners of her mouth.
“Make it take out, find us a quiet place to enjoy the meal, and you’ve got yourself a deal, Freddy.”