Whenever a new hire asks for a look, I take the guy to the kill floor, a place that reeks of sweat and scared animal, manure and blood. Only once this room went over good with the rookie, the time I failed to notice the glow in his eyes like hot bullets.
“Does the line ever stop just because a cow’s still alive?” he asked.
I didn’t answer immediately, then recommended he reapply after taking some classes at Bovine University. Of course, the line doesn’t stop just because an animal’s alive, I just hope the big lug never comes back even if he graduates summa cum laude from Bovine.
Today my new employee is Jose Raoul Felipe, a refugee. Refugees are the best. They work hard, never complain, and they take home their knives to sharpen until they’re smooth, honed, with no pits. We pull on our Wellingtons, and as we walk through the cutting room, I check to see there’s no warm gleam in his eyes; I see what a brawny man he is, broad-backed, over six feet. I tell him some folks are slaughterhouse workers and some are not.
“And you?” he says.
“I’m Inez Bixley, human resource director, the one who tours new guys around the plant.”
He nods and says gracias. He says he wants to be a belly ripper because they earn the most and he can send money to his family. Not to count my new hires before the end of their first shift, but I sense a steady-Eddie-Felipe in the making. With luck, his refugee friends will apply, too. And won’t that give the manager goose flesh?
I stand beside him, about to recite the manager’s ideology—Animals come here to die, to be eviscerated, decapitated, de-hided, because we are meat eaters, and this is a highly efficient pla—when I see that once again the scofflaws have invaded and retreated, leaving a crew of lacerated tail cutters in their wake.
“Egads!” I say. “Detached fingers cost us anywhere from two to four thousand dollars!”
Felipe waves his hands before his face, says, “Not with my digits,” and runs off the cutting floor. I distribute paper towels to the injured then make my way to the manager’s office to break the news.
Stu Gutman is a rough-tough meat plant kind of guy. He built Gutman’s up from a roving slaughterhouse that processed animals on the farm to CEO of Southern Ohio’s biggest abattoir, where thousands of cattle enter single file every day and leave in a revised form. His glass office is located above the picnic line.
From atop his saddle chair, Stu agrees that the scofflaws are odious. “That Animal Liberation Front splinter cell’s nothing but a bunch of leaderless underground terrorists,” he says. Last week, they infiltrated the cutting floor and hid the chain mail aprons and gloves. Each disfigured worker cost us three thousand apiece. A posse of scofflaws insulted one of the knockers, and when he stunned the next cow, he almost lost his balance on the catwalk. There aren’t any windows in this huge building, so scofflaws are either worming up from the blood drains or weaseling in with the cleaning crew at midnight.
Stu thinks the key to foiling scofflaws is to put them to work on the kill floor. I tell him they’ve come close to a few too many kills already. But he says the kill floor is hot, quick, bloody.
“We’ll speed up the line,” he says. “The carcasses’ll ping-pong back and forth across the rail so fast they’ll have to dodge constantly, or they’ll get slammed to the slimy concrete.”
A short time ago, when the scofflaws first began pestering Gutman’s, Stu reached out to them with Take A Scofflaw To Meat Plant Day. He matched scoffers with skinners. With so many new toilers, the cutting line was expected to take up the slack. The liners groaned. Looks flew, slurs catapulted, knives waved, cutters spit, and the scofflaws got the boot.
I came home from Take A Scofflaw To Meat Plant Day with a jagged tear across my knuckles. Father hid the Mercurochrome, saying I earned the septicemia that would cost me my hand. As if I wasn’t irradiated before leaving the plant.
But let’s not perform an amputation over a knuckle gash.
Father said, “Inez, you’re a toady for going along with such monkey business.”
I said, “Why?”
He said, “If you have to ask, you deserve every goof-off malingerer who trashes Gutman’s.”
The next day at Gutman’s, Stu brings up our employment records:
“Dwindlers are on the uptick,” he says. “If you continue hiring oldsters, Inez, we’ll have to slow the line.” He gives me a pensive look and asks what I plan to do about it.
“Hire their grandkids?”
“Some can barely see or hear. You write them notes, use sign language, but most of the time you’re not making any sense.”
“We’re bleeding hirelings,” I say. “No matter how well I sell them on the job, they quit fifteen minutes after they get on the floor.” I go to jails and halfway houses. I call colleges sometimes, that’s how badly we need people. I hate to say this, but I think the only ones who do this job willingly are those illegal aliens, people who can’t turn the work down. But a while ago, before I got here, immigration came to the plant, found most of the aliens and fined us $90,000. I’d say a third of our workers here now are seniors, runners-up in the gotta-work arena.
But Stu treats the golden-agers lousy. This incident last week convinced me to use some bias reform on him:
Just as my favorite octogenarian, Wes Pie, raised a stun gun to off a cow, Stu yelled, “Step on it, Q-Tip head. Some of us have a beef plant to run.”
The elders cried, “Ageism!”
For days, they wrote “Stu has a little dick,” “Stu’s dick is so big it jerks him off,” and worse graffiti on the walls. And they plugged up the toilets. But Stu isn’t bad, he’s just overwhelmed.
Still, I almost walked out. Then I thought about all the ambulances that come and go all day. Who would spend the night in the emergency room with our forebearers when their hands got crushed, or when they got asphyxiated, because there was no one else to be with them? I thought about my fondness for the weathered ones. Of course, I love Father and our home and, yes, I know he’s unattended when I work late, but I can’t help myself. I’m smitten by the venerable Wes Pie and his cohorts. I also thought about the upcoming Grilled Chimichurri Sweetbreads Fest and the safety parties I throw every month, how the blood pudding I boil delights Wes Pie, and, well, all the old-timers. I’m like their granddaughter. Sometimes, if they catch a case of trigger finger from making the same hacking motions for hours on end, I’ll take them to the company doctor and then return them to their stations.
But I also thought about Father’s bailiwick, his new bathroom —we’ve already picked out the walk-in tub with grab bars, the glow-in-the-dark, raised toilet seat, thermostatic controls on all the faucets to prevent scalding. Then I thought about the debonair Wes Pie some more, his crisp white hair, his crow’s feet, hollowed cheekbones and gauzy pubes sparse enough to count. I crush on Wes Pie the way a co-ed adores her professor emeritus. As The Jungle’s Jurgis Rudkus would say, watching Wes Pie work is like a poem. Ever since I asked him, “Are you married?” and he said, “A little bit,” I lost all sense of the Grand Canyon between our ages and began wanting to rub BENGAY into his cumulative trauma disorders, walk arm in arm with him to bingo after a hard day of slaughtering, confabulate with him about everything—the prisons we ship our meat to, how hide-pulling is his true calling, his teeth money he gambles away. So, like I do every time Stu screws up, I decided to reduce the damage.
Stu agrees we can’t afford to antagonize our employees of advanced years after I tell him, “Last month I hired seventy-three people but eighty-one left, and we both know it takes close to three hundred workers every day to run this place.”
What I don’t say is, There’s a stigma for people who work at Gutman’s, maybe because we process rickety cows and sell the cuts to schools for lunches. Maybe because the plant is always in trouble with the city over the dumb things we do, like dumping blood in the lagoons, like not using chimney filters until the stench is so malodorous that the city fines us then calls in the EPA for an inspection (and still, it stinks), like not resolving our issues with the scofflaws.
“When it comes to our geriatrics, we’ve got to work on acceptance,” I say.
Stu gives me a solemn look and asks what I think we should do.
“Relate better to our aging employees,” I say.
His furry eyebrows hoist. He sniffs.
“To improve the bottom line.”
He rubs his hands. He grins.
I believe an experiential Xtreme Aging workshop will dispel Stu’s myths about the elderly. Stu tells me his relations with the aged are bonnie. But I say I intend to become a voice for inter-generational advocacy in this plant.
A week later, I facilitate my first Xtreme Aging training and get a pitiful turnout: Stu and me. Though I have to admire Stu’s pluck when he wears special glasses that distort his vision as he tries to clean cheek meat off a cow’s head. That evening, at home, Father calls me a Dr. Phil wannabe for leading an aging sensitivity session.
I say, “When Stu wore rubber gloves and I taped his fingers to limit his manual dexterity, he understood how Wes Pie feels when he splits a cow’s middle and pulls its intestines out by hand.”
Father asks how Stu liked it when I put corn kernels in his shoes to experience what old feet feel like after the fatty tissue erodes.
I stare at Father, recalling how a bunch of scofflaws had interrupted our meeting, taunting, “No cowboy’d hire these TMBs!” (TMBs= Too Many Birthdays.) Then they wrangled off his jodhpurs and targeted the next cow in the chute. I worry that my attempt at synergism has backfired.
But let’s not harvest a cornfield out of a few kernels.
The next day, Stu brings up the employment records again. And the scofflaws.
“I’m on it,” I say.
Wes Pie is the king of code. I call him the Counselor. And he’s good at what he does, which is kill cows, but he also works Saturdays in the office, checking refugees’ cards—he checks every number on every card. Wes Pie was the one who kept immigration from rounding up all the aliens when they busted Gutman’s, saving Stu a load of dough. I ask him who in the pile of current applications would be good at keeping the line up to speed while safeguarding the plant from scofflaws.
“Eh?” he says.
I sit on a bench outside Wes Pie’s locker watching him swap batteries in his hearing aids. “Seems to me,” he says, “this batch of apps are mostly aliens. There is, however, Arnie Zipperstine.”
Under “Additional Comments” Wes had read Arnie’s description of the Iron Man he’d competed in.
“Really?” I say. “When Arnie returned his paperwork, he reminded me of Flaccid-Forefather.”
Stu says to try out Arnie Zipperstine. Arnie’s a deadbeat dad who owes decades of child support, and Stu says that’ll keep him hustling and rustling. Stu’s idea is to let Arnie oversee the picnic line—the conveyor belt that runs between workers who carve meat from the bone. On the picnic line, if meat backs up, it spills on the floor; if scofflaws are lurking, they mince it. And the key to maintaining speed, meeting quota, deterring scofflaws is sharp knives.
“Call Arnie,” Stu says.
The next day, Arnie ascends his saddle chair inside Stu’s glass office.
“Thnkz,” Arnie grunts. He wants to work on the picnic line since it pays top wage.
“Ride that line,” Stu says. “If workers leave a fleck of meat on a bone, chew them out.”
“Cors,” Arnie mumbles in his peculiar abridged discourse.
“Here’s my idea: when picnickers go on breaks, even lunch, you demand they tote their knives along to whet. That’ll keep the line zinging and reduce unnecessary stabbings. And it’ll make disassembling a scofflaw fast, too. I’ll raise you fifty cents an hour.”
I step into the breach. “The redeemed kind,” I say. But I’m thinking, Does Stu plan to de-hide scofflaws, peel and flay them?
“Logistics that would make the CIA proud,” Stu says.
Why do I live like this? So I can work beside Wes Pie on Saturdays and catch glimpses of him the rest of the week. Also, there’s Father who needs me to care for him and keep him company. I have to be there for him now that Mom’s gone and make sure he never sees the inside of an assisted living home.
I’m reading applications when I’m assaulted by heinous groans coming from the picnic line, though the day shift has already finished. I step into my Wellingtons, rush to the line and find Arnie, buck naked, stretched out on the conveyor belt. The scofflaws have tattooed his flesh: shoulder, flank, rump, loin. Near his crotch soup boner is hand-lettered and beside the words an arrow points to Arnie’s manhood; inked into his upper thigh is meat loafing.
I’m imagining him packaged inside a Styrofoam tray, wrapped in cellophane, priced per pound when Wes Pie happens along.
“Heh-heh,” Wes snickers. He hoists Arnie across his back and I follow the effulgent beacon of his white hair as he walks off toward the company doctor—I swear, Wes Pie makes eighty-three look like the new seventy-nine.
When I tell Stu, he says, “That recidivist was not picnicking with two hands. We were delusional to believe that fossil could inspire butchers and expire truants.”
The thought, That man’s mature as Peter Pan, crosses my mind, and I begin planning another awareness workshop, one that zeroes in on building respectful relationships with the Q—the elderly—since a senior tsunami is about to swamp America.
We discourage Arnie from reporting his inking to the authorities because the FDA might crash the picnic; we pledge to reinstate him as super after his hieroglyphics fade.
Stu calls me into his office and tells me the scofflaws have posted pictures of Arnie, drawn, quartered, and loafing, in all the locker rooms and stations. Not to mention, not stopping the line for live animals has already landed us in the dung pile with the USDA.
I worry Stu will give me the pink slip. Instead, he invites me into his glass office and mounts his saddle chair. I scale mine, too. He pulls a tumbler from his rucksack, pours a Bull Spit-tini, and offers me one.
“Being a slaughterhouse manager’s overrated,” he says.
“Yes,” I say.
“All I want,” he says, “is to crush my competish and run a plant where animals are processed into corned beef brisket, cocktail weenies, precooked pot roasts that’re microwaveable, conversions I cherish.”
“I understand,” I say. I want to make a pitch for hiring more Q-T—oldsters—but the telephone rings. It’s Wes Pie calling from the holding pen to report scofflaws have raided the feedlot and destroyed all the antibiotic-rich corn. We bought that enhanced maize on credit. Over the phone, Stu and I can hear a Tabernacle Choir’s worth of voracious mooing.
“Those felons are cutting into my drinking time,” Stu says. “If I could, I’d press a pneumatic device to their temples and blow ’em, ba-dow-dow.”
He pours many rounds of Spit-tinis that we slug down like champs, until we dismount and flop face-down inside his glass office.
When I get up, I feel like ralphing. Stomach lurching, I hope I don’t bump into Vitalmiro on my way to the parking lot. After immigration rounded up all the illegals they could find, Stu hired a lot of them back as independent contractors to clean the plant at night. Vitalmiro doesn’t understand that by hiring him to do the most appalling job in the world, Stu’s protecting him. But after Gutman’s was raided and Vitalmiro began working on the cleaning crew, terrible things happened to him. Since his release from the sanatorium, he’s been trying to get his tying-off-intestines job back.
Tonight, goose-hives prickle down my arms before I see Vitalmiro near my car. I want to press the alarm button but instead ask how he’s feeling. He says he sometimes sneaks into the rending department during the day and climbs inside gut bins to unclog drains with his long arms. His old friends appreciate his help, and he hopes Gutman gets wind of his good deeds and puts him back in intestines.
Vitalmiro doesn’t like me. That’s unfortunate because maybe I could help him recover from the trauma of that wintry night when he was on the roof cleaning grease and blood from the vents. A sudden gust blew him into the dark and he landed in an oak tree. Tonight he’s turning the air blue with his cigar, asking me if I heard about the feedlot and if I recognize, as he does, that the corn decimation is God’s tit-for-tat over Gutman’s crackdown on aliens. He says Gutman’s lost skilled workers, “And who’s filling our shoes?”
I can’t answer his question without intimating the seniors. He doesn’t believe, as I do, that the elderly are our future.
At home, Father looks up from his anti-Alzheimer’s word jumble to ramble on about the long hours he waited up for me. As if summoned, Vitalmiro, who has taken to crouching in a corner of my mind, says I’m as hardboiled as Mr. Gutman for slighting Father, while Father criticizes me for having insufficient funds in my account, causing my toilet seat company check to bounce.
I ponder cheering Father up with his favorite joke, “What did one cow say to the other as they were herded into the chute? ‘My only consolation is that by eating us, they’re killing themselves.’” I ponder blabbing about the scofflaws, but I don’t do that either after he calls me a flunky. As I settle him into his stair-chair lift, I say, “Well, I’m home now.”
“Bosh!” he says. “Not for long.” The zeal of his words makes his pale hair jump.
A blush fans out across my cheeks as I stare at Father’s hand, a cold fish inside my warm palm, and wonder who he thinks is bankrolling whom.
To unwind, I heat beef chuck short ribs in my Dutch oven, zeroing in on Wes Pie’s visionary theory: Meat eaters outlive vegetarians. I’m barbecuing Love Beef Ribs, a token of my affection that I’ll add to my stockpile in the freezer, in preparation for the right moment. I’m braising a platter of myself for Wes to eat.
Next day, two Einstein-haired men, certified as the world’s oldest identical twins, apply for jobs: Upton and Overton Synklare. They seem decent enough; their urine’s sparkling, and that’s all that matters. Besides, if I wanted to check references, I couldn’t since the circus where they worked went belly-up. I can use them in the knife recycling room so that’s where I lead them.
We’re cinching our hard hats when I see Wes Pie drive by in a scrap cart. He stops so I introduce him to the Synklares. That evening, Wes Pie phones me at home, which simply sets my sex organs afire, and says the twins might be the ones if we still want help squashing scofflaws.
“I could kiss you!” I say, startling the contractor installing Father’s toilet rail. Father scowls. I smile sheepishly, but he raises his newspaper to conceal his face.
Scuttlebutt has it, Wes tells me, that the Portable Circus fired Up and Over because they refused billing as “Human Cannonballs” in favor of their new act, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Warriors.”
He suggests I trap a scofflaw in the knife recycling room with the Synklares and see what happens. I’ve witnessed their thrusts, their vertical and counter cuts. But knowingly lead a scofflaw into danger? For Wes Pie, anything.
That afternoon, Stu proclaims Up and Over are twice as good as what he had in mind. I tell Stu I worry about skilled swordsmen roaming a plant where everyone carries knives they sharpen many times a day.
Stu says, “Think of it this way. At my slaughterhouse, some things must never die: a speedy line, antibiotics, irradiation. We strike now or the house suffers. Account receivables are atrocious. The bill to replace the enriched corn is mammoth. Fines to EPA, OSHA, USDA, FDA are prodigious. So, Ms. Apropos, you’re erroneous. Call the clones.”
My face flares from low to broil. I call the clones.
Two days later, after outfitting Up and Over with Wudang swords and loosing the twins into the factory, I arrange another workshop. Xtreme Aging sessions are starting to catch on. Today’s training is in the offal room, where Vitalmiro was found the night he got blown off the roof. He staggered in there after he came to in a tree and climbed down. But we keep the offal room at forty degrees at night, so he’d have been better off staying in his oak.
Xtreme Aging is a smash: the offal room is stocked with Q-Ti—workers of advanced years—because today is a town-hall-type meeting, a time for seniors to air concerns and offer suggestions for ways others can value our aged workforce.
Pointy-chinned Nadine Linkus, brittle as a pressed flower, has the floor; she proposes reducing the crippling speed of the line, “Because it’s causing our pacemakers to malfunction.” Fly-away hair barnstorming, she adds, “I want power naps twice a day.”
Nadine gets a round of “Hot diggities!” I join the fray, too, recalling the times Father’s pacemaker has gone haywire when he works himself into a tizzy.
Next, Wes Pie rises and announces he’s in favor of organizing the “Salt and Pepper Jaguars,” whose mission is to resolve wage and promotion issues:
“We are the new wrinkles. We are the dicey ones. We are trying on tomorrow for size. This is our quest.”
With each word, he blooms back into the middle-aged man inside his elderly body, tempting me to shush him.
Our standing ovation gives rise to an agreeable stiffy inside his britches. As I clap, my eyes ignite like rum on a hot skillet.
As Huey Bruser clears his throat to begin, scofflaws emerge from under piles of hides and inside fifty-gallon barrels. They walk among the newborn Jaguars then hold a blade to Huey Bruser’s neck. “Let’s hear your idea, doyen.”
Out of fear, Huey turns mute so the scofflaws drag him away in the direction of the carcass cooler.
“Free Huey! Power to the people! The revolution has come!” the grand-persons chant as they march to the cooler, led by Wes Pie. I’ve never had to quell an uprising before, so I hurry to the glass office.
Stu’s drinking a Hairy Heifer-tini and writing a letter to the meat inspectors defending Gutman’s policy of allowing manure in its meats. Not a lot. Besides, irradiation takes care of the feces, cheap and easy. I tell him about Huey.
“We try to reach out to our elderly employees, and the belittlers put them on ice,” Stu says.
“Call 911,” I say.
He calls the cleaning crew.
When we arrive at the offal room, the grands are rolling an inert scofflaw inside a green hide. Up and Over are showing off their Beowulf-esque thrusts and parries to a shivering Huey Bruser. Wes Pie thanks the Synklares for returning Huey unscathed.
“An Elizabeth Barrett Browning moment?” Up asks Over.
Over nods then recites from memory, “And each man stands with his face in the light / Of his own drawn sword, ready to do what a hero can.”
Wes Pie tears up. I squirt a few myself.
Vitalmiro bursts in with his cleaning crew. The Synklares say they’re vamoosing to knife recycling.
Stu looks around then says, “Identical twins? Never saw them.”
Up and Over say, “Over and out.”
Stu turns over the wrapped up scofflaw to the aliens. To Vitalmiro, he says in a low voice, “When the chlorine fog rolls in tonight, grind ’im.”
I’m an ear-witness.
The skinny spreads about the Synklares, and for over a week the scofflaws are on the lam. As much as I hesitate to admit this, a bit of ennui sets in until a new hire, using an ice pick grip, slashes a worker’s white coat and makes off with a tub of knives.
Stu orders a search—“Leave no bone unturned,” he says, but the interloper bolts.
“No one’s hurt. Get back to work,” Stu says.
Up and Over, dressed like samurai and carrying katanas on their backs, arrive, fuming.
“Just how dangerous is the ice pick grip?” I say.
“That grip, if implemented with a double-edged knife, the pommel capped with the thumb, can slice a slaughterhouse worker into ground meat in no time.”
Stu’s eyes bulge. “You guys are the virtuosos. Security’s your baby.” He invites the twins back to his glass office to saddle up and knock down some Ox Horn-tinis, extra dirty, but the Synklares tell Stu they must remain pure so they can interact with the matrix of the world.
I go to my office, mount the saddle chair Stu special ordered for me, close my eyes, and recite Elizabeth Barrett Browning lines.
When I dismount, there’s a barrel at my door with asthmatic gasps coming from inside. A Post-it is stuck on the lid:
This scofflaw won’t be ice picking anymore wage earners. Send katanas. Upton and Overton, The Working Stiffs’ Warriors.
A last-breath gurgle comes from inside the barrel, so I call Stu.
He says, “Grind the guy then smack a pooh-pooh label on ’im.”
“I’m reporting this to OSHA.”
“The twins deep-sixed the other scofflaw, why not chuck this one, too?”
“But Stu, Up and Over discarded a scofflaw over a ripped coat.”
“Your new hire bullied my workman with a saber,” Stu says.
“You’re getting too big for your Wellingtons.”
“I’m a little confused,” I say.
“My point, exactly. Listen, until these ridiculers take a hike, morality has to take a walk. Now, junk that belittler and good riddance.” He hangs up.
Lord, give me virtue, just not yet.
Since I don’t believe in cremation, I can’t grind the scofflaw, so I muscle the barrel to the cure room and write “specialty cuts” on the outside. I’m dumping the last of the dry cure, nailing the lid, when Vitalmiro enters through the spice room. He says while he likes to see a human resource director take an interest in production, I’m taking it too far.
“I believe a woman’s place is on the cleaning crew.” He laughs.
“Some say, if I wasn’t a alien, I might be a stunner by now.”
He tells me during the last salmonella outbreak, chlorine vapor dissolved his paper mask and his body broke out in blisters. He rasps and hawks. He turns purple. I wonder if he’s contaminated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
On my way back to my desk, I see Vitalmiro enter the glass office, find Stu’s tumbler, take many gulps, let himself out, and disappear.
As I drive home, I worry about Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or mad cow. I obsess over barrels of cured tongue, unsmoked and smoked, raw, hewn, corned. At a yield sign, I meditate on casks of pickled tongue seasoned with onions and herbs. I turn a cold shoulder to the motorists bombarding me with foul epithets.
At home, I want to divulge my conundrum to Father, but I’m afraid he’ll repudiate me. While dredging the brisket in flour and searing it on each side on medium-high, I recite Stu’s safety ideologue: Stop E. coli—treat meat like you’d eat it yourself.
For what it’s worth, salting a stiff scofflaw and storing him in the cure room is not the same as extermination. I didn’t slay the new hire. I didn’t requisition the barrel’s delivery.
I choke off those thoughts: You abettor, henchwoman, consort. You need carnage rehab.
I place the brisket fat side up in a roasting pan and wonder, If I give regular penilinctus to the correction officer, will I earn extra visit time with Wes Pie? Then I pledge to muzzle myself and risk going to the pokey if we get nabbed.
When it comes to the witness protection plan, I’m pro-choice.
The day of the Grilled Chimichurri Sweetbreads Fest finally arrives. Our flier reads:
Chimichurri, sweetbreads, and a sweet good time. Help us set a world record for the most sweetbreads sold for a good cause [us] in a single day. Dance the Stanky Legg all night long.
It features a picture of our ultimate Big Taste Grill that’s twenty feet by seventy feet. Big Taste can satisfy thousands of sweetbread lovers per hour.
As with all offal, sweetbreads must be fresh, so while the Sweet Miss Beauty Pageant is going on, I’m rinsing, draining, patting dry batch after batch of thymus glands when, without warning, Father shows up. He’s miffed because the reps from Bathroom Solutions failed to keep their appointment.
To cheer Father up, I suggest he enjoy the pageant, but he insists on tossing the glands with oil then threading them onto skewers. I begin blending parsley and cilantro, cumin and paprika with lime juice, my unmitigated supremo chimichurri recipe.
A tent has been raised outside the fabrication room so that later on fest-goers can order custom cuts. But when scofflaws charge from that tent, I call on my inner Kentucky and yell, “Knife-up!” A pair of rapiers zing by, and the ubiquitous Up and Over come dueling from the hide room. One waves an epee, the other a foil. A scoff drops.
I press myself to the fab room’s wall; Father, wedged beside me, suddenly collapses. I fall to my knees and press a fist to my mouth. His cowlick over his forehead salutes me like a raised middle finger. He says, “In my life, I’ve been a lot of things—hoity-toity, a pedicurist—but I have never been so abused. Ever.”
Another scofflaw sprawls as the Synklares throw their bodies forward in a running attack, chanting, “Ninja!” They retreat to the knife recycling room, but not before traumatizing scads of scoffs.
Vitalmiro arrives and, along with his crew, drags the most maimed off the property. The scofflaws they leave behind cry out, “Allah!” “Abba!” “Yahweh!”
I help Father saddle-up in my office and go see Stu.
“We have to turn in Up and Over to the law,” I say.
“You want some prison guard playing booty check with you? You want shank-making for a hobby?”
“They could’ve smote Father.”
“No one killed your father. If you snitch on the twins, you might as well give your liberty a big wet one for ‘auf Wiedersehen.’”
I turn scarlet.
Stu says, “Let’s make truth a low priority just now and make cashing in—I mean, redeeming our twins—of utmost urgency.”
He pours us each a Cow’s Ass-tini and offers a toast.
“To prosperity and restored peace at Gutman’s.”
We clink and drink. Now Wes Pie is at the door, glum with tragic news. The folks who emerged from the tent weren’t scofflaws but some early fest-goers who jumped the gun special- ordering heart sweetbreads for take-home because hearts have a creamier texture than throat sweets.
Stu, our GM of the meat industry, says, “This is a serious challenge.”
In my office, Father paws with his Hush Puppy at blood splatters on the floor. “From my Wellingtons,” I lie, pointing to where the boots are stashed behind the door.
Then I tell him everything.
He says, “How can you possibly work for such a despicable killer?”
My face ignites into fire. “I lost my way,” I say.
“Think you can find your way home?” he says.
I mount my saddle chair, watching Father gather himself, feeling torn between doing what Stu wants and putting the full courtship press on Wes Pie. When Father slams my office door behind him, the bang of it wakes me up. All I want is coitus with Wes Pie.
At home, I’m barely inside the door when Father appears and holds out a packed suitcase.
“After you serve supper,” he says, “I want you to leave. Gutman’s is all you care about. I could’ve been killed.” He hands me an apron and says, “Work starts on the bathroom tomorrow. I’ll be in Vegas for the duration.”
He writes his PO Box where I’m to send him checks.
I’m scraping dirty dishes over the garbage pail when my cell phone rings, but it’s not Wes Pie.
“Come to my office,” Stu says. “So I can update you.”
Dreadful Stu’s drinking a Sweetbread-tini straight from his tumbler.
“OSHA’s shutting us down. Tongues wagged about our skirmishes.”
“Father kicked me out,” I say. “He’s changing the locks, installing security.”
“Did you hear me? Gutman’s is closing. Temporarily.”
Then he says, “Find an apartment. I’ll hide there until things cool off.”
When I don’t reply, he says he’s taking back my saddle chair.
I wonder, Where’s a bolt stunner when I need one? But I’ve got to stay out of lockup so I can abscond with Wes Pie. As I make my way back to my car, I see Vitalmiro on the roof, cleaning vents. I watch him slip, right himself, slip some more, then the wind picks up and he sails off, into the void. After drying my tears, I observe the Synklares as they joust from the knife recycling room, big smirks circling their chops, revenge like a gang of scofflaws in their eyes. When I realize it’s Stu they’re after, not me, my relief is so great I could yodel. In a moment, the three are framed within the walls of the glass office, fencing—Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes —I think, until Stu threatens, “Stab me with your sabers, I’ll shoot you with my .38.”
I recall the day Stu hired me, how he clapped my back in congratulations, how he poured me a Steer Rump-tini, and how, back then, I thought I’d be able to take care of any employees’ problems by writing safety policies to make sure things went smooth. But my job’s mostly about getting bodies in here to do work no one wants to do. With the exception of Wes Pie.
Overhead, the glass office rattles as the combatants lunge and plunge, so primitive a means of settling any disagreement. Downtown, Wes Pie speculates on bingo. Inside my suitcase, frozen Love Beef Ribs, wrapped in my chimichurri recipes, defrost, loosen up, relax in anticipation of Wes Pie’s tender lips.
Under the locker-room showerhead, I peroxide my dark hair then slip into red patent leather mules for my sugar pie bettor to ogle. I make my way to Bingo Casino, imagining mysterium tremendum et fascinans Pie kisses after Wes turns his good ear to hear my beguiling whisper, each syllable a jalapeño over Tabasco sauce: You’re my Big Taste, Wes Pie, I’m your burning coal—all I want, given the chance, is to sear, sizzle, slow-smoke your beef kebabs from now until forever.