Read an Excerpt
"Visitor! Visitor!" the unseen voice screamed as soon as he entered the storefront.
Graff Pauley paused and searched for the source. He found the talking head perched on a bookrack to his right, pressed firmly between tomes on herbal medicine and hydraulics. The head was from an older man, not one of his. Pauley knew an air pump was connected to it so the larynx would function. How Edgerton maintained them otherwise he had no idea and didn't want one. "How ya doing?" he nodded.
"No mood to talk, eh? Is your boss in?"
"Visitor! Visitor!" the head maintained its litany.
Pauley ignored the tables brimming with used merchandise; he was there to sell, not buy. Most of the wares were worthless anyway; Edgerton made his money by marketing body parts, not pawned goods. Still he wondered how Edgerton managed to run a business without armed security during evening hours. In this city, at night, everything was fair game. It was merely one of many subjects Edgerton refused to discuss.
The head maintained its mindless alarm while Pauley made his way to the counter. He was relieved the sentry hadn't come from him as it was always unpleasant when the watchman Edgerton selected turned out to be one he had provided; the recriminations could go on endlessly. Pauley pounded on the bell four or five times before he was rewarded by muttered curses. Then the curtain to the back rooms opened and Edgerton entered.
Edgerton was a roly-poly sort, a good six inches shorter than Pauley, with greasy black hair and eyes and voice. He was dressed in a bloodied lab coat, the rubber gloves he wore were stilldamp. "What do you want? Oh, good evening, Pauley. Anything for me?"
"Depends." Pauley placed the cooler he was carrying on the counter and removed the top. "Liver, two kidneys, eyes," he pointed to each in turn. "Fresh within the last half hour. Quality stock."
"Let me think." Edgerton scratched his chin. "Can't use the eyes; wrong color. Easier to grow my own. I can always use a liver. Kidneys, I don't know. What type?"
"Like I have time to do a tissue match?"
He shook his head. "Rush, rush, rush. Is that what our world is coming to? I'll stick with the liver." He reached under the counter and retrieved a similar cooler, then placed the body part carefully inside. "No lungs, heart? Head?"
"Damaged during retrieval."
He nodded, then opened his cash register and counted out $5,000, then paused. "This is a good liver, right? No cirrhosis, not from some street drunk?"
"You know me better than that. The man was driving a BMW."
"Good." The money exchanged hands. "Let me know if you get any lungs. Running short."
"No problem. See ya."
"And heads. I can always use heads," Edgerton called out as he disappeared behind the curtain.
Pauley nodded then left as well. "Goodnight," he said as he passed the head.
"Goodnight and thank you for coming," it responded. Like a parrot.
Once outside Pauley leaned against the window and sighed. A lousy 5,000 bucks. Not that it had been that difficult. As usual he had been waiting in his van parked innocently at the side of the curving mountain road; when the BMW went by he was in immediate pursuit. Forcing his victim off the road and into a tree was simple enough and the man was killed almost instantly when he was slammed into his steering wheel. Pauley did him a favor and shot him once in the head anyway. Then drag the body into his van, a short drive to a secluded side road, a bit of work with bonesaw and scalpel and he was done. Unfortunate the heart and lungs had been damaged, the victim's broken ribs had seen to that. Pauley cursed; if only the man had an airbag. If only he hadn't tried so hard to get away.
So he was in a dark mood when he returned to his van and studied it under the street lamp. The front right fender was crumpled, paint from the BMW scarred the passenger side. Easy enough to correct, he shrugged, and the required payment was still in the back, resting comfortably in a body bag. "Hope they're still up," he said as he drove away.
A chorus of greetings, insults, curses and beseechments greeted Edgerton as he returned to his workroom. On the back wall a series of wooden shelves held over a dozen heads, courtesy of the procurers who free-lanced for him. Tubes ran from each to the air pumps and related machinery that preserved them. The equipment was necessary even though most of the preservation was accomplished by voodoo. "Did you miss me?" he greeted them.
The hoots and catcalls increased in volume, but one voice stood out above the rest. "Is that for me? Is that for my new body?"
Edgerton held the liver under the nose of what had once been Simon Goldsmith, an esteemed and wealthy banker. "You already have a liver, my friend," he said and grinned. "And your lungs are progressing quite nicely, as you can see," he added and pointed to the cages of lab rats that were on the wall directly across from the heads. On their backs, body parts--eyes, ears, various glands--were being cultured for future harvest. Mr. Goldsmith's lungs were slowly maturing on two of the larger animals. "Once we have a heart," he tousled Goldsmith's hair, "we should be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again." Edgerton paused. "Of course, if you would prefer a mechanical heart . . ."
"I paid you for a real heart," Goldsmith snorted. "Or have you forgotten our agreement?"
"Not at all. Just be patient. In a few months we should have you up and on your feet again. And in a body much better than your last one."
Edgerton laughed as he walked away. As if a talking head can threaten me! He put on the headphones and turned on his disk player so he wouldn't be distracted by his collection. Then he entered the cooler in the back, where he kept the bodies he was building. "A liver, a liver. Let me think, who needs a liver?" Eight bodies in various stages of completion rested on individual gurneys; he walked from one to another, then finally paused before an incomplete female. "Yes," he smiled. "Our little Miss Prescott." He held the organ before the headless torso. "For you, my dear." He wheeled over a tray of surgical instruments and went to work.
Pauley pulled up to the garage door and honked the agreed-upon signal: three shorts, one long, two shorts. No lights emerged from the sooty windows but that didn't deter him since the cannibals avoided light as much as possible. Still the delay was longer than usual. Were they out hunting? he wondered. Then the overhead door slowly slid open and a thin man wiping his hands on a greasy rag stepped out and approached. Even in the moonlight he was deathly pale, as if he had never seen the sun. Part of it, Pauley knew, was make-up. The rest was a result of his diet.
Pauley rolled down his window. "Evening, Strunk. Got a project for you."
Strunk smiled, revealing a mouthful of teeth carefully filed to sharp points. Another affectation Pauley was sure. "And what do you have for us?"
Pauley handed him the cooler. "Eyes and kidneys here. Body in the back. Still fairly fresh."
Strunk opened the lid, grabbed the eyes. "Wish I had some cocktail sauce," he grinned as he popped them in his mouth. He chewed on them, then spit something out. "Contacts! Damn you, Pauley!"
"Sorry, didn't know. Can you fix my van? Now?"
Strunk walked around it, paused at the front. He ran his fingers over the fender and along the dented side. "No problem," he said after a few minutes. "Pull her in."
Pauley turned on his lights and drove into the dark garage. Strunk was already closing the door when he stepped out. Then the lights came on and the rest of Strunk's clan began emerging from behind crates, under boxes and from side rooms. Six in all, each as pale as chalk, each wearing clean mechanics uniforms. Without a word they converged on the van and went to work.
Pauley sat on a crate and lit a cigarette. "Do a good job," he told their leader. "I don't want anyone being suspicious."
"Always," Strunk nodded. "Where's the rest?"
"In the back. Only gone an hour. Everything's there but the kidneys. All Edgerton would buy."
Strunk nodded. "Too much competition these days."
Pauley sighed. "Don't I know it. Getting tough to make a living. Shame, too. Quality merchandise. Hard to come by these days."
Strunk studied his long, thin fingers. Even his nails were sharpened. "You could always work for us. We've never been disappointed with your merchandise."
Pauley shook his head. The cannibals were useful for getting rid of unwanted corpses. Their financial underpinnings were another matter entirely. He rubbed his thumb and fingers together under Strunk's nose. "This is what I need."
"If you ever change your mind." Strunk sighed, then joined his crew. Pauley inhaled deeply as he watched the clan at work. They were very good. And very reliable. And, on the whole, very inexpensive. An hour later he was back on the highway, his van showing no signs of its previous encounter. They had even washed out the inside so no trace of his night's activities remained. And all it had cost him was something he had had to dispose of anyway. Pauley grinned as he took a hit from the bottle of Wild Turkey he always kept under the driver's seat. On the whole, a successful night. A successful night indeed.
Copyright © 2003 by Patrick Welch