All the way from Australia, Pete Aldin delivers some bad, bad doings in an abattoir.
That's slaughterhouse to you.
That's slaughterhouse to you.
No Good Deed by Pete Aldin
I’m squatting inside the outdoor holding pens – riffling through the old lady’s handbag – when the car pulls into the parking lot. This abattoir hasn’t been used for years and it still smells like death – two good reasons I can usually count on peace and quiet here.
After all, who else but a shithead like me would hang out in a place like this?
The two guys climbing out of the old Camaro – that’s who. With no plates on the car and shotguns in their hands, these guys are up to less good than I am.
The driver’s short and thick, a tree stump with arms. He waddles around to the trunk while his junkie-thin buddy scratches his monobrow with one thumb and squints at the slaughterhouse as if he’s thinking of buying it.
Their arrival is a lot more interesting than some old lady’s handbag; that can wait. I shuffle forward on my knees to get a better view.
The trunk creaks in protest as Treestump yanks it open. His gun is up on his shoulder, like he’s a soldier on parade or something. He reaches in, grabs a hold of something and drags it onto the ground. When the something squeals in pain, I realize I’m an idiot: it’s someone. They’ve kidnapped some poor bastard.
These guys might look like tools, but their suits and shotguns tell me they’re hard core, maybe organized crime. And here I sit, thirty meters away with nothing but a steel grid fence between me and them. I’m down on my knees behind a screen of rusting iron, as still as the posts holding up the beams and trying to be just as skinny.
But they don’t look my way. In fact, they don’t seem too concerned about being seen. Monobrow takes his time joining his friend round back of the car. He spits on the ground near their victim. He takes Treestump’s gun and his voice floats to me on the breeze like a fresh waft of abattoir stench: “Bring her inside. We’ll finish her there.”
I get a clearer look when Treestump bends over and picks her up, dumping her across one of his shoulders. Her feet are kicking and her hair’s waving in the breeze, but she’s not making a sound. Or maybe she is and the gag’s muffling it.
Her hair. Moving in the breeze like that. I have a weird moment while it reminds me of the only time Dad took me to the beach – of the way the seaweed writhed in slow motion with the current.
That damn beach. That shitty day. Mom’s blood all over Dad’s hands and shirt. Running for my life, ten years old and wearing nothing but my shorts...
Maybe it’s the memory of Mum losing her battle against Dad’s temper. Something snaps inside of me. I think of words from the stories Mum used to read, and the ones I’ve read since she died: “his blood ran cold”, “he saw red”. Words like that.
I actually see red.
You can do a lot of bad things, and I won’t give a shit. Hey, I do bad things too, things like brodying old ladies’ handbags.
But I don’t hurt women. No bastard should hurt a woman. Ever.
All I see now is this helpless girl. I’m sixteen next month and she’s not much older than me, from the looks of her. Blonde and pretty. Brave, too, I notice the next time her face turns my way.
She sees me then. The bad guys are headed away from me, but with her head on Treestump’s back she stares right at me. My heart skips a beat. Her big eyes grow wider. I raise my fingers to my lips, hoping she can see it, hoping she doesn’t scream for my help and give me away.
I’ll be there, I want to tell her. It’s weird but she seems to read my mind. Her eyes soften. I’m sure she’s smiling behind that gag.
They disappear inside the shadows beyond the slaughterhouse roller doors, and then I’m through the cattle fence and sprinting across the lot.
Part of me wonders what the hell I’m doing. The voice of the survivor inside my head whispers some words I once saw carved on the back of a toilet door: No good deed goes unpunished. I tell the voice to shut the hell up. No sonofabitch is gonna kill this girl. Not today. Not if I can help it. Besides, those guys looked really really stupid. Careless. And they’re not expecting company.
They’ve only been inside for thirty seconds when I reach the far corner of the building. There’s a staff door next to where the cattle run meets the slaughterhouse. The chain on the door is loose enough for me to squeeze inside.
I can hear them talking as I sneak down a short hallway, but the words aren’t clear. The girl says nothing; at least nothing I can hear. So far no gunshots. That’s something.
There are no doors inside this building, just walls and openings in them and the steel gates I guess they used to funnel animals wherever they wanted them funneled.
I reach the concrete room at the end of the corridor. There’s a hole in the floor at the corner. Months ago, when I first explored this place, I found a bag of butcher’s knives some idiot couldn’t be bothered taking with them when the abattoir went bust. I reach into the hole up to my elbow, feel the bag, slide it out as quietly as I can. I tease it open and stare at all the shiny steel. I don’t want to go up against two guys with shotguns with just my butterfly knife.
As I slip the biggest blade out of the bag, I wonder again what the hell I’m doing. But when I peek around the wall into the killing floor, I figure it’s all right. I’m doing the right thing. She’s down there, on her knees, hands tied, the two mutts taunting her in low voices. She’s a lot like my Mom was that last day: trapped. And those bastards are a lot like my Dad. Scared as I am, I gotta do something.
I can do this, I tell myself.
There’s a two-feet high concrete curb that runs along the ramp down to the killing floor. I slip over it and crawl along the other side, the big knife down the back of my denim.
I can do this.
Halfway down the ramp, I take another look.
They’re honest-to-God tools, the two of them – careless, like I thought. Monobrow has leant one of the shotguns against the curbing about five meters from me. He’s facing the girl, picking his teeth. Treestump is bent over her trying to make out what she’s saying while she talks fast in a quiet voice. The gag’s loose around her throat now.
Her eyes flicker meaningfully – they don’t quite turn towards me, but I know she knows I’m there. She’s distracting them so I can get close.
I think I’m in love with this girl.
And these dickheads are old and careless and dumb.
It’s all I can do not to run for the gun. I force myself to duck back down and crawl until I can see the tip of the barrel above me. I raise myself high enough to watch them while I lift it up and over to my side.
I’ve only ever held a gun once. Dad wouldn’t let me do anything fun, like fire it. But I know about guns. I’ve read about them, I’ve watched stuff on YouTube. The Remington’s safety is down by the trigger, and it’s off. What I don’t know is whether he’s pumped it, whether a round is chambered. I’m guessing it would be. It has to be.
But what if it’s not? What if Monobrow and Treestump are just smart enough not to drive around with weapons loaded and safeties off?
“Speak up!” There’s a crack as Treestump backhands the girl. “Where’s the rest?”
The rest of what? I wonder as I brace myself and lean the gun barrel on the rail above the curbing, aiming at the guy with the gun.
Treestump’s taking out a wicked-looking switchblade of his own. The girl whimpers, pulls away.
Is there a shell chambered or not? I decide safe’s better than sorry and pump it – backwards and forwards, just like I’ve seen in movies. A round flies out the side; it was loaded.
Monobrow reacts to the sound faster than seems possible. He whirls and raises his own gun, fires. My hearing goes a little crazy, like someone just stuffed something in my ears, but the fact that I’m upright and still have hearing tells me he’s missed. The shot’s gone way wide of me, and high.
The trigger’s harder to squeeze than I expected, but suddenly the stock smashes into my shoulder and I’m falling backwards. The boom kills what’s left of my hearing: all I have now is ringing in my ears. I scramble up, grab at the gun, get back into position. My head’s spinning. My shoulder hurts like a bitch.
And everything’s different out on the killing floor.
Monobrow’s down on the ground with his shirt mashed up and blood splashed all around him. More blood is oozing out of the mess that used to be his gut. Treestump’s lumbering toward his buddy’s gun which must have flown out of his hands when I got him.
“Don’t!” I yell, pumping the shotty again. I can’t hear my own voice, just this goddamn ringing, but I must have said it. Treestump’s skidding to a stop, turning my way with hatred in his eyes. Hatred and something else. Calculation, I think. Yeah, he’s trying to work out if I’ll do it again, or if I can. He must know I’m new to the weapon, so I point the barrel at his friend and back at him.
I’ve done it once, I think at him. I can do it again.
He gets the point and straightens, his arms out from his sides.
The girl’s already active. She picks up Treestump’s knife where he dropped it and begins to saw at her bonds.
“On the ground!” I snarl, or try to. Treestump complies, though he’s not happy about it, lowering himself to his knees. My right hand on the trigger, I place my left on my head for a moment then jerk my chin at him. He hesitates, then puts his hands on his head.
I stand, wobbling. I step over the curb, ducking between the rails. I sit down on the other side when my head starts swimming again.
The girl comes over to me. She’s smiling. Wow. I’ve never seen such a beautiful smile. I’ve never seen such perfect teeth, such perfect eyes. There’s a cut on her cheek where that goon hit her, but even the swelling around it can’t spoil her looks.
Definitely in love.
Treestump says something. I can sort of hear him now, through the ringing. He says it again, louder, as if he’s desperate, but the words aren’t clear. He sounds the way dogs do when they’re playfighting. I almost laugh at that thought.
Next thing I know, the girl’s hugging my head to her chest, her fingers in my hair. I gotta say, I like this. I really like this. She smells like strawberries, mixed with sweat.
She releases me and touches my aching shoulder, takes the shotgun from my hands.
Can you even use this? I think up at her.
She winks down at me and walks into the space between me and Treestump.
My hearing’s getting better now. “Give it to me,” I hear her say.
Treestump tells her where to go. Next thing I know, my ears are ringing again from another shotgun blast.
And Treestump doesn’t have a head above his jaw.
I’m on my feet now, screaming. “What?!”
She walks over to the headless corpse and reaches into his suit jacket, pulls out something like a tiny leather bag with a drawstring on it. She looks inside and nods to herself, drops it down her shirt. She turns toward me, dabbing at the cut on her cheek with the back of her left hand. She pats the lump beneath her shirt and I wonder what the hell it is. What’s in that pouch?
“Thanks,” she mouths, or maybe she says it. My ears aren’t working properly and I’m not really concentrating on her mouth, but on the black hole at the end of the shotgun barrel. It’s pointed at me.
No good deed. That’s what they say.
She chambers another round and proves it.