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Dead Pig Collector
By Warren Ellis
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2013 Warren Ellis
All rights reserved.
Mister Sun was almost forty thousand seconds behind the moment when he finally emerged from the shiny, sad pens of LAX into the wet heat of the late afternoon. It takes forty thousand seconds, more or less, to fly from London to Los Angeles and then negotiate the boxes and runs of the airport. That's how he thought of it. Eleven hours would be a sleep of exhaustion and a leisurely breakfast. It didn't carry a sense of urgency. Forty thousand seconds sounded to him like time running away without him, leaving him stuck in a dim and disconnected past. A lot could happen in forty thousand seconds.
Mister Sun put his shades on. It had been winter in Britain for the previous eighteen months or so, and he only saw authentic daylight when he traveled, or on television. Los Angeles light, stinging as it was, had a familiar quality to him. It was a strange thing, he reflected, to recognize a certain flavor of daylight from afternoon films in the Sundays of his childhood.
He'd already lifted his packet of cigarettes and his lighter from the top pocket of his rollaboard bag. The lighter was a gift from one of his apparent legion of uncles and aunts who'd pass through London on their way from China to God-only-knew where. A flat, two-inch-long bar that charged by USB, it featured an ultraviolet light for finding the watermark on paper money as well as a button-operated cigarette-lighting coil. Mister Sun had, in 2009, owned a cigarette-lighting cell phone—a Chinese SB6309 with the hot coil under a slide-away plate on the bottom of the phone's back. He'd loved that stupid phone, but business had eventually demanded that he use something smarter. He'd never thrown that phone away, though, and when at home he sometimes took it from his drawer and lighted a Dunhill with it just to experience that gentle and amused pleasure again. It was a unique thing; a placid joy unlike anything else in his personal or professional life.
It usually took Mister Sun about four minutes to smoke a cigarette. Another two hundred and forty seconds burned. As he smoked, he watched his current phone, quite smart but entirely charmless, finally find the local 4G. He opened an app that displayed photos for only ten seconds before securely deleting them. There was no communication therein from his client. He found himself curiously dismayed by this. He was forty thousand seconds back and nothing had happened. Mister Sun was almost offended. He crushed out his cigarette with the heel of his brogue, carefully deposited the dead stub in a bin, and walked down the concourse to request a cab from the attendant.
The cab took the best part of three thousand, six hundred seconds to pick and thread its way from LAX to West Hollywood. Mister Sun did not like Los Angeles. He could never find a center to it. It seemed to him to hang on top of the world like a fallen constellation, resting on a rickety scaffold of endless, maddening road. In Los Angeles, Mister Sun only ever arrived anywhere by surprise, unable to find any sense or structure in the route.
He used the Mark Hotel in that district, a boutique hotel of the '00s sliding toward the grimy sheen and dull plaster of budget accommodation in the '10s. The Chateau Marmont was barely five minutes' walk away, and much nicer, but it was a place people went to look at other people. Mister Sun himself, on lunch occasions at the Marmont's open-air dining space, had fallen prey to it. You'd spot one half-remembered face—a dying actress you'd seen flayed by magazine covers, an almost-famous actor you'd glimpsed on some awards ceremony watched on a hotel TV on an insomniac night—and start looking around for more.
The lobby of the Mark was full of a different kind of person. People—not famous people, and probably not terribly smart either—still came here to be seen, while remaining entirely oblivious to most other people. Mister Sun, in his sober suit, with his businessman's rollaboard, was effectively invisible among the long and languid creatures littering the lobby's low sofas and strangely louche silvered beanbags. Checking in was always a painfully drawn-out process. The staff were far too culturally rarefied to be seen to be working for a living, and there was a girl in a fish tank directly behind the reception area. This was debris from the Mark's days as an artistic and trend-setting location. Someone had decided it would be charmingly bohemian to keep a mostly naked girl in the fish tank at night. It was, he always felt, a saddening indictment of Los Angeles culture—or, rather, an illustration of how Los Angeles had no culture of its own, just a large collection of misreadings of the artistic histories of other, proper cities.
He wasn't pleased with himself for appraising the girl in the tank. He thought of her as half-pretty, the sort of girl one would find modeling for art classes in dire community colleges. Putting her cheap panties and her ex-boyfriend's shirt back on to wander around the easels afterward and wondering how grotesque she must really be, to have summoned up the deformities whacked down in merciless charcoal strikes. She lay on her untoned belly in the tank, yellow calloused feet slowly waving in the air, wearing an orange dollar-store bikini thong and picking at a MacBook Air encrusted in stickers.
He soundlessly apologized for his spite, ashamed of the poison that'd bubbled up in him over the three or four hundred seconds he'd been standing there, but checking into the Mark and having to look at the body in the tank was always difficult for him. Mister Sun killed people and disposed of their carcasses for a living.
Mister Sun's room was blessed with a balcony and a vertical ashtray bolted to the exterior wall. The room itself was as expected: a broad slab of a bed dressed in tired clothes, carpet trodden thin, blank walls lightly pitted by ten years of corrosive sweat in the air. The balcony was indeed a blessing, though. It hung from the face of the hotel that was turned away from the noise of the city, overlooking a tree-fringed disc of churned mud that a previous client had told him was a dog-walking park. It looked thoroughly medieval to Mister Sun, and he wondered how many dogs had died there. Still and all, it was pleasant to stand there on the balcony and smoke, obscured from the sight of the city, letting the Los Angeles early evening thaw his bones a little. With one thumb he batted out a text to his girlfriend that she wouldn't see until morning in Greenwich Mean Time, thereby completing the day's necessary tasks. He warmly anticipated the delivery of the food he knew was good at the Mark, the carpaccio and the sliders, and a few hours of American television before a decent night's sleep. He had to kill someone in the morning.
And a beautiful morning it was. Mister Sun took coffee and porridge—which the locals insisted on referring to as "oatmeal"—in the diner-style restaurant off the hotel lobby. He discreetly swallowed two loperamide tablets with his coffee. Those, and the low-residue foods consumed over the last half-day, would limit his bowel movements, which he preferred when working. He checked his message again on the phone. His client had spoken. The photo was of the client himself, a baggy-looking man with red-rimmed eyes, giving the thumbs-up in front of his own manic grin. The text laid over the image read "Getting it done!" Mister Sun presumed this was some kind of hearty encouragement. It was far from the first time he'd conceived of his client as a bit of a dick.
After breakfast, he visited the reception desk and asked if there might be any mail for him. There was. A large cardboard envelope. He made a point of opening it in front of the receptionist, stripping off the pull tab to reveal a thick screenplay, shrink-wrapped. He rolled his eyes, and the receptionist smiled sympathetically. He smiled back, gave a good-natured shrug, and tucked it under his arm for the return to his room. Only in Los Angeles would the production of a screenplay be an instantly forgotten piece of information. It marked him as unspecial. Just another of the ten million people aimlessly orbiting the movie business.
In his room, kneeling at the single low table, he pulled away the shrink-wrap. After the first five pages, the screenplay had been cut away to create a boxy space in the middle, which had a pair of car keys affixed there, bound securely in tape. Mister Sun already knew which vehicle to look for, having memorized a photo sent by the client through the self-destruct app. The vehicle would have been parked yesterday, when the client put this envelope into the mail. It was time to begin preparation.
The rollaboard case was half-filled with fat, transparent plastic worms: clothes bags that bore a black fitting for a vacuum cleaner tube to suck them into a compressed log. The vacuum bags generally allowed him to pack twice what he needed into a quarter of the space.
Not long after, Mister Sun left the hotel, wearing clothes under his shirt and suit. Out front, he put on his shades, smilingly confirmed with the attendants that the Chateau Marmont was indeed a left turn down the road because good God he had so many annoying meetings to sit through there today, and left with the screenplay tucked under his arm.
A gentle three-hundred-and-sixty-second stroll brought him to a parking lot in the lee of a dying strip club, where he found a short white van of nondescript age. The keys opened the back of the van easily, and he quickly appraised the contents. Everything on his shopping list seemed to be in there, right down to the old blue baseball cap and the battered sneakers stuffed in a disposable grocery sack, which he took. The keys were a little more argumentative about opening the driver-side door, but he convinced it, hoping this was no more than a sticky fluke. Inside, he put the grocery sack at his feet and pulled from his suit pocket a folded vacuum bag. He wrestled off his jacket, shoes, and, most awkwardly, his pants and shirt, and serially pushed them into the vacuum bag. Under the shirt and pants he was wearing a plain T-shirt and thin two-piece mechanic's coveralls, in blue. The bag went into the passenger-side footwell, and he carefully got the sneakers on his feet.
The van didn't want to start. Mister Sun bit back his fury. How was he supposed to go and kill someone in a vehicle that didn't work? How much longer was he going to draw attention to himself by making the damn thing grind and groan in front of a fucking strip club of all places? "You're a dick," Mister Sun hissed at the dashboard, and strongly considered killing his client after the job was done. He'd been paid in advance, after all.
The damned thing eventually caught, but it didn't sound happy about having to move. It may as well have been a sick horse, coughing and stuttering all the way out of the lot.
An estimated six-hundred-second run to the job took him almost a thousand seconds, and so Mister Sun was almost vibrating with hate by the time he parked up in front of the scene of the job. He threw himself out of the van, slammed the door shut with murderous force, tore open the back of the van, pulled on the disposable latex gloves, picked up the toolbox and the messenger bag, took what he needed from them before hefting them, and stomped up to the front door of the property so deeply angry that he knew he wouldn't even enjoy the day's work.
He had learned the layout of the low, detached house by heart, and had memorized the daily schedule of the occupant as provided to him by the client. He mimed pressing the doorbell with one hand while he worked on the lock with the tool in the palm of the other. The door popped. He silently pantomimed being greeted by an occupant, just for the look of it, and slipped inside.
He took five seconds to close the door its last inch, to ensure the seal was soundless. In those five seconds, he listened. No TV or radio, which was a shame. The occupant rose late and habitually fashioned a brunch before leaving home in the early afternoon. Mister Sun found a smile as he picked up some shuffling from the kitchen in the back of the structure. Excellent. Kitchens were both easy to clean and festooned with confusing evidence traces. He set the toolbox and messenger bag down, without sound, and moved with great craft down the hallway to the kitchen.
Standing in the kitchen, facing Mister Sun, was a tall woman with very wide eyes.
Lying in the kitchen, also facing Mister Sun, was his client, also with very wide eyes, and in addition sporting a superb Chinese chef's knife in his head.
The woman was shuffling, one foot forward, one foot back, head bobbing, not blinking at all. His client wasn't blinking either. It was, Mister Sun thought, just as well he was dead, because the position he was lying in didn't look a bit comfortable. A gun—a ridiculous off-brand long-barreled .357—lay by his awkwardly splayed right hand. Mister Sun suspected he recognized it as an overpriced Argentine weapon of distant experience, a thing with a shit trigger that was prone to jamming and, as his client may have found, was not the easiest shooter in the world to draw quickly.
The eight-inch knife in his head, however, was marvelous, having cleaved his skull and brain so sharply that no blood had yet leaked out. The only thing in the room that had spilled, in fact, was the plate of carrot sticks the woman had obviously been chopping when his client had let himself into the house and taken her by surprise. It seemed very likely that she'd been so surprised that she'd turned around and brought the knife down on his head while he was still trying to wrestle that stupid gun out of his pocket.
The woman, Mister Sun's target for the day, found him in her field of vision. He saw her eyes clutch at him.
"Help," she simply said.
Mister Sun released the breath he'd been holding and looked down at his dead client. "Getting it done!" had, apparently, meant that he couldn't wait another minute and had driven across town to kill the woman himself, leaving Mister Sun to take care of the disposal. His client was, in fact, a colossal dick. So much of a dick that he'd died of it.
"He died of being a dick," Mister Sun said to the woman. She seemed to have no response to that beyond taking a long, shuddering breath, so he studied the dick for twenty seconds longer. Mister Sun had been paid. All the correct protocols had been observed. There was no knowledge of the contract outside this room, no trail or trace. When one considered it rationally, Mister Sun thought, this would indeed fulfill the contract. He wasn't, strictly speaking, paid for the murder. Any idiot could kill someone. He was paid for the disposal.
"Yes," Mister Sun decided, looking up at the woman again. "I will help you. Do you have a bath?"
The woman, whose name was Amanda, did own a bath: a high-backed claw-foot tub that Mister Sun would not have been surprised to see in an old Western TV show. She was not much help with transporting the client to the bathroom, and was much more interested in talking, very fast, about the client—whose name was evidently Bastard Dogfucker—the successful business they'd shared in, and the apparently spectacularly unsuccessful sexual experience she had regrettably subjected herself to. His client's decision to take action in her respect therefore appeared to be a direct result of both her intent to move on from him professionally and her refusal to repeat an amorous conjunction she likened to being mounted by one of those big slobbery animals that take brandy barrels to dying climbers in the Alps.
Mister Sun preferred never to learn the reasons for his being hired, and tolerated her shock-powered ranting insofar as it occupied her enough to prevent her actively hampering his work. She was an attractive woman, in that sinewy, rangy American way that spoke to him of cheerleaders and swimmers. Great candyfloss tumbles of blond hair, and immense green cat-eyes, with features so pale and crystal that make-up would ruin, render overt and crass. He found himself wondering what she'd look like in ten years. Perhaps features like Amanda's wouldn't age, not obviously. His own girlfriend, in eighteen months, had visibly aged. He did not enjoy watching people die slowly.
The client was wrestled into the bath. Amanda was prevailed upon to find some garbage sacks. The client's socks and shoes went into the first black plastic sack. Mister Sun brought his work bags in. The client had stocked them to Mister Sun's specifications, more or less. Mister Sun found and snapped open the large KA-BAR clone knife. It was, naturally enough, of lower quality than a blade of the actual KA-BAR marque—it may not, he reflected, even have been as good as the chopper jutting out of his client's brain—but a hell of a lot cheaper, and he was only going to use it once. He sliced away his client's clothes, depositing them strip by swatch in the sack.
Unclothed, the dead man in the bath was not a picture of beauty. Considering his client's gut, Mister Sun speculated that one last donut could well have been as lethal as a knife in the head. Additionally, the dense and oily thatching of body hair, and what Mister Sun presumed, at least by its location if not by girth, must be a human penis, somewhat clarified the comparison with a St. Bernard.
Excerpted from Dead Pig Collector by Warren Ellis. Copyright © 2013 Warren Ellis. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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