In a funny way, the rain had brought people together. The sound was there, everywhere you went, and even if you blocked it out with earplugs or loud music you could still feel the moisture, the chill in the air, the weird feeling in your knees and your elbows. It could drive you crazy if you didn’t have a distraction. So people had started talking to each other more. They traveled in groups, introduced themselves to strangers. It wasn’t always as bad as it was tonight. Most of the time it was just a light shower. Sometimes it even went away for one day, two days. But that hadn’t happened in a while.
Fuckmeat was sitting in the back of an el train. Back when Fuckmeat was still living on boats people would sometimes ask him about his name.
“When you’re on a boat in the Philippines and you got a machine gun in one hand and a phone in the other hand and the voice on the phone calls you Fuckmeat, you go with it.”
He’d told that story so many times he’d forgotten if it was true.
There were four other people in the car. Fuckmeat could make out most of what they were saying over the sound of the water crashing against the window.
“Well that’s just leadership. That’s all that is, it’s not like it’s anything new.”
There were two men and two women, young, freshly into their twenties. The men were the ones doing the talking. It was two o’clock on a Saturday morning. Fuckmeat almost would’ve pegged the whole thing as the tail end of a double date; the older of the two women matched that, she had long, straight, disciplined black hair, make-up on, she was adding something clever to what the boys were saying every so often. But the younger one wasn’t anybody’s girlfriend. Her hair was tied back into a bundle of blonde dreadlocks; she was wearing overalls and a necklace, a black thread with a collection of bones hanging from it. Toe bones. Not the kind of thing you bought at a store. Fuckmeat wondered if she’d cut them off herself.
He refocused. There were four of them. Four was a lot, more then he’d ever done at the same time. But it had been a long time since he’d taken even a single one. He’d fallen behind.
“Most of the field is based on that, it’s not just different countries bouncing around like balls on a pool table, it’s the decisions that get made. And they’re not always pretty decisions.”
“There have to be checks and balances, though…”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, if checks and balances worked all the time you wouldn’t need leadership. That’s the essence of what it is.”
Meat was still looking at the girl with the necklace. She was looking out the window, not really paying attention to the conversation. For a moment he felt a sudden urge not to do it, to let these ones go by and wait for more to show up. But the moment passed, and so did the temptation. When he’d started doing this he’d get all worked up trying to figure out who deserved it and who didn’t. Now he just took anybody. Fairness wasn’t a part of what he was doing; what the boss wanted the boss got.
They all got off the train together.
“Absolutely, the refugee problem is a perfect example. What are people going to do when Indonesia is completely below sea level? People are going to be scared and angry, there’ll be a lot of hard decisions to make…”
The four of them left the platform and walked along the sidewalk, sprinting across the gaps that the tarps and the scaffolding didn’t cover. Trying not to get wet.
Meat came up from behind them, starting in back of the line and moving forward too quickly for any of them to fully process what was happening. He hit them hard in the temple and they fell to the ground, one after the other, dominoes. The girl with the blonde dreadlocks was in the lead, she was the last one he came to. He hesitated. He thought about doing something different, just scaring her or grabbing her without knocking her out, but he knew that was a stupid idea and he hit her too.
He carried them away, two over each shoulder like bales of hay. The street was still empty. Nobody saw him leave.
The boss was screaming at him. Blasting him with the truth, which was what the boss did. The boss was insistent; very occasionally Fuckmeat would still try and fight, but tonight wasn’t going to be that night. He wasn’t in the mood for futility; just because there’s a few guys with guns hanging out in the woods doesn’t mean the war’s still going.
He’d spent the better part of a decade running, homeless, traveling from city to city hidden away in cargo holds, drowning himself in booze and stabbing at his brain with whatever narcotic he could get his hands on, doing anything to keep going, cheating and stealing and other things he’d never admit even in the privacy of his own thoughts, but somehow even at his lowest he managed to trick himself into forgetting his retirement money. A safe deposit box, a little bit taken off the top of every good score he’d had. Every time he came up short, every time he was hungry for anything, he pushed it from his mind, pretended it didn’t exist. But when his time of indecision ended, he remembered.
One or some of the human beings slung over Meat’s shoulders began to stir. He held on tightly as he entered the house his money had paid for, hit the button with his elbow and waited for the garage door to close. He carried them up the stairs and tied them up.
There was a circle of dried blood staining the carpet in the next room. He sat down in the middle of it, opened a vein with a fingernail and traced the circle, let his mind wander. This was easy, the boss had shown him how to do it. He could hear the kids talking in the next room if he tried, but he didn’t want to.
He remembered the sensation of falling off the boat, turning upside down in the air, hitting the water, sinking when he shouldn’t be sinking and wondering if they’d tell stories about him after he was dead. Even now, he wondered about that. He wasn’t dead, but as far as that world was concerned he might as well be. On the other hand, that world might not exist anymore. He wasn’t sure how long you could keep the whole pirate thing going when the hurricanes never fucking stopped.
He realized that he was stalling. He got up and went to where he’d put the people he’d collected. They were whispering, then they were shouting. He lifted one of them into the air and carried him back to the room with the circle. The man begged. Meat ignored him. He kneeled down, wrapped his hand around the man’s neck, and squeezed.
It didn’t take very long, it only seemed that way. He went and got the next one. It got harder to shut out the noises they were making, to just not listen.
He remembered looking down into the water. This was where his memory got hazy, but he remembered the eye. Looking only at him. Telling him how things were going to be.
When he finally floated back to the surface the rest of the crew thought he was dead. They almost left him there. When they did pull him out he had a rash covering his chest; it was a few minutes before he started breathing again, and when he did he started talking in a language none of them had ever heard before. It was hours before he was back to normal. But he never really was.
He realized that the girl with the black hair had stopped moving a while ago. His mind had wandered. He put her body with the others.
He entered the bedroom. The girl with the bone necklace was still tied up on the floor. She wasn’t moving or saying anything. Sometimes they got like that, they just shut down. He reached for her.
If he’d been paying closer attention, there’s no way it would’ve happened. Her hand came out from behind her back, sending the ropes flying. A metal edge cut into his hand. He stepped back. There was blood on his fingers. She was holding a Swiss army knife out in front of her, a tiny little thing you’d put on a keychain. She cut him again, dropped the knife and ran.
There was blood in his eyes, dripping down his nose. He licked his lips and he could taste it. He couldn’t see anything.
He took his shirt off.
It was raining so hard now that she barely knew what was in front of her. She followed the sidewalk. She thought that she saw a light up ahead, maybe a gas station.
He appeared in front of her like a ghost. His face was covered with blood; it mixed with the water without ever quite washing away, painting his nose and cheeks pink. There was something growing on his chest from one pec to the other, black rubber threaded with muscle. It swelled and contracted in time with Fuckmeat’s pulse.
It opened. It was an eyelid. A giant orange marble sitting there in the center of his chest, looking at her.
“You know, I used to be a pirate,” Fuckmeat said. “Yo ho ho.”
He laughed, and her lower lip began to quiver. It’d been a long time since he’d talked to anybody. He wondered if she heard his words in any language she could understand, if the two of them were that far apart.
“My favorite thing was those great big old container ships. Like small cities. Just hop on one end, grab some boxes, and haul ass out of there. By the time the guys with the guns got from their side of the ship to the side you were on you were already gone. I loved that shit. It was simple.
“I just wanted to ask you if you can think of something I haven’t, something else I should do. I gotta be honest, that’s the difference between you and me.” And he felt bad, because for all he knew she was honest too. “I’ve been told. I know how it works, I’ve been told. So what else am I supposed to do?”
She turned and ran. He hesitated again, before he went after her.
She woke up in a hospital two days later. She’d been hit in the head several times. She couldn’t remember what had happened to her brother and his friends, and the things she did remember couldn’t possibly be true.
There was a clear blue sky outside her window. The rain had stopped the day before. There were religious figures on television, talking about deliverance and second chances.
She spent forty-eight hours in the hospital, and went home the following morning. She drank chicken broth, talked with her parents, slept in her own bed. The next day, very early in the morning, the rain came back.
Brendan Detzner lives, works, and writes in Chicago, where he hosts the Bad Grammar Theater reading series every 2nd Friday of the month. His short stories have appeared in Chizine, Pseudopod, One Buck Horror, the Twilight Tales anthology Book of Dead Things, and other fine publications. You can find his short story collection “Scarce Resources” on Amazon and at local booksellers, and keep track of what he’s up to on Facebook at “Brendan Detzner (author)” and at his web site at www.brendandetzner.com.
“Wetwork” previously appeared on Kaleidotrope.
Photo courtesy of ClarabellafaireStock