From the back seat of the chauffeur driven Mercedes, the old man asked, “Max, have you ever seen the inside of a slaughter house?”
“No, sir. I can’t say that I have,” replied the large black man without taking his eyes from the road.
“Get off the interstate at the next exit. I want to show you one.”
“Sir, with all due respect, that area of the city has the highest chicken index I ever seen.”
“That’s what some people call a part of a city with a lot of black folk,” explained Max.
“I don’t get it,” the old man said.
“Black folks tend to eat more fried chicken than most folks, so if a place has a lot of chicken restaurants, then…
“The chicken index is high.” The old man paused, then said, "Take the exit, Max."
Max followed his boss’ whispered directions until he was instructed to pull the car to the curb in the middle of the ghetto.
“I don’t like this one bit, Mr. Davis,” said Max, his voice telegraphing his terror.
“You should see the look on your face,” laughed the old man.
“It don’t look like such a nice neighborhood to me.”
“Keep the motor running just in case we have to make a quick getaway.”
Max shook his head. “I been in neighborhoods like this one and there ain’t nothin’ funny about them.”
“I grew up right here in this very neighborhood, Max.”
“Sir, you grew up in the big house on The Knoll in Bunkhead County with your Mama and Senator D. I was there. I know.”
“Max, you just don’t get it. There is getting older and then there is growing up. Many years ago I grew up right inside those doors.” He gestured toward the dilapidated warehouse beside the limo.
“You talking about way back during your troubles.”
The old man opened the rear door himself, but as he struggled to get out, Max had to lend a helping hand.
“We don’t belong here, Mr. D. What would your doctors say?” asked Max as he scanned the wasteland of the litter-strewn street, first in one direction, then the other.
The old man shuffled across the sidewalk, then squeezed through the chained rusted fence gate and made his way to the Clock Out door. Max ran to catch up.
As the two men made their way down the alley, Max’s neck whipped from left to right like an RAF ace searching the heavens for an attacking Red Baron. Once inside the building, they walked down the Clock Out hall and within a couple of dozen yards were standing in the middle of the Kill Room. The conveyor rails were still in place and the blood channel was there, but most everything that could be sold had been salvaged years ago. The old man walked to an eight by eight foot linoleum square on the floor near the back and stood in the middle of what had once been the Head Room. He surveyed the corroded, ruined interior of the plant for several minutes. He could almost smell the still familiar stench and hear the deafening clamor as if the room were still alive with killing. He steadied Max with a touch to his arm. Max exhaled loudly; his eyes saucers. The old man walked to the roll-up door and surveyed what was left of the line.
“Max, would you like to hear a story?”
Mr. Davis had told the story before, of course. He had told his wife and when his sons were old enough he told them. He had even told a terrified VP the story when things were due to get dicey in the Board Room before the merger, but it only made matters worse for him. But he never enjoyed the telling as much as walking Max through the whole thing while they stood there in what was left of the Kill Room. He assumed that it would be his last telling and he gave it his best effort.
They called themselves Exterminators, as if the pathetic porcine creatures that they efficiently slew by the thousands deserved their fate. No one, as far as I know, remembers who coined the term or even in which century it was coined. The best explanation I heard was that it came from government technical manuals during World War I. But that may have been a fabrication.
Since the company was small by meatpacking standards, it got very limited attention from city, state or federal inspectors. Working conditions were barely tolerable for the few men who would ever even consider such a vocation.
The Exterminators’ toil in a slaughterhouse was grueling, sullied, putrid work. And that was the worst understatement you will ever hear. It was arguably the most ghastly job the world has ever required of any but soldiers in the mayhem of combat. Exterminators were the highest paid hourly workers in the plant for the simple reason that no one on earth aspired to do what had to be done inside the Kill Room. The labor was so degrading and loathsome that theirs was the solitary occupation that a city ordinance excluded from jury duty. Such was their debasement. They, of course, would never have shown up if summoned.
These depraved mortals usually clocked out at 8am and started drinking. Sometimes they drank a little. Sometimes they drank a lot. But they always drank. And they always drank at King Bishop’s. And not just because of the convenience of it being located directly across the street from the slaughterhouse, but more importantly, it was the only bar that would admit them. They had been black balled from every other bar within miles. King Bishop allowed them in the front door because the huge man was once an Exterminator in his younger years and must have felt some lingering kinship. Besides, King Bishop made his real money peddling marijuana out the backdoor and the midnight shift at the slaughterhouse consumed mountains of his product.
You should not make the same mistake that I made. I assumed as any moderately intelligent person would have that an establishment called King Bishop’s had something to do with chess. It was the chessman on the sign that threw me. But I can assure you that King Bishop’s had nothing whatsoever to do with chess. Exterminators may have laughed and joked, but they did not play.
Exterminators usually slept in the afternoon, and then had a few beers before clocking in at midnight. Then there was the fighting. Their lives revolved around the killing of animals, drinking, drugging and fighting. These were strong hard men and most were not all that smart. Fights broke out over what most people would consider trivial matters. If someone sat in another’s chair, then the aggrieved party must, by the rules they lived by, break the offending party’s nose; or at least attempt to. These were the only men I have ever seen who became belligerent after smoking dope. In the dorms where I came from, pawing over the last bag of potato chips was the closest we ever got to belligerence while stoned.
These men had the stink of death on them that couldn’t be removed. The smell of the slaughterhouse seemed to penetrate pores and hair so that even after returning from a vacation the smell remained. All of the crew shaved their heads and all but one had no facial hair.
When they, as a group, walked down the sidewalk after Clock Out, normal pedestrians gave the Exterminators a wide birth. An observer could have easily assumed that a perverse pirate crew had just disembarked their galley to wreak havoc on their quiet port of call. And they would not have been far from wrong. And it wasn’t just there clothing or odor that raised alarm. There was something in their eyes, stride and posture that signaled danger from a block away.
None of them heard very well. The nightly clang, hissing and screams inside the Kill Room was, literally, deafening. The Exterminators overcame this handicap but communicating in shouts. This trait alone made the group appear deliberately confrontational. Then there was their language.
Their cursing was a matter of group pride. They were very creative when it came to word choice. They did use mouthfuls of the normal curses found around the city, but respect was given to flowered speech that was unique and excessively colorful.
Midnight shift workers were almost always black, but every once in a while a white trash rough neck would be thrown in just for good measure, but these white boys usually didn’t last very long. The day shift was for white guys. Black guys belonged to the night.
For as much time as the crew spent together, it did not seem that they were very close. They didn’t visit each other’s homes or know last names. Not one of them knew for sure if another was married. Most Exterminators couldn’t have cared less and anyway, if one of them bit another Exterminator’s ear off during a disagreement, he really didn’t want to have to think what his foe’s old lady would think about it. An Exterminator might have confessed to being a fugitive, but he might have been just lying about it. Exterminators were very fond of lying and were pretty goddamn good at it. Truthfulness and factuality never got in the way of a good story. If a lie was required in the spinning of a yarn no offense was taken.
Inside the slaughterhouse the Exterminators worked as a well-trained entity. Every man was required to become proficient in every task from one end of the line to the other. But most men had their favorite position at which they excelled. Now before you get the wrong idea, you should know that these men were not butchers. Butchers worked in the adjacent building; the clean one. Butchers wore white coats and hairnets and listened to canned music. Exterminators did not prepare pork for consumption. Their sole purpose was to kill the living things just as fast as they could possibly be killed. The midnight shift dispatched more pigs per shift than any other. There was a nightly quota and when the quota was met the men could get back to their drinking. In the interim there was the dope.
I met these godless men when I, a white boy, got a job on the midnight shift in the Kill Room. I was just lucky I guess.
Poor Miguel had been mauled too badly the day before to make it to work and I just happened to be in the office delivering shipping forms at the exact moment Poor Miguel’s ICU nurse called the shift supervisor. Like I said, I was just lucky. The job I had on the loading dock was my preference, but the Super had other ideas. One way or the other the conveyor must roll. The Super’s production bonus was on the line. I found out when I went to get my paycheck that the Super’s nephew had filled my position on the loading dock.
Few Exterminators were referred to by their real names. Instead, most were tagged with nicknames within their first few days on the line. Sometimes it only took hours.
Inside the Kill Room a crew of eight Exterminators could zap a thousand animals during a shift. Twelve hundred and thirty two was the record. Here’s the procedure.
Pigs entered the Kill Room directly from the semi-tractor trailer trucks, which were backed up to the roll-up door. The Poker used an electric prod to crowd the swine tighter and tighter into the ever-narrowing chutes until they were in single file; nose to asshole, screaming with panic. With a push of Zapper’s foot pedal the lead pig was held almost motionless by spring loaded imploding stainless steel stabilizing bars. Zapper then placed the electrode gun on the animal’s forehead and pulled the trigger, which fried the beast’s confused brain with a powerful jolt of lethal amperage. The most senior Exterminator usually took this job. It was a relatively clean task and not overly labor intensive. But watching the terror as life evaporated before your eyes for forty hours a week took its toll on most men and most Zappers burned out within weeks. The present Zapper killed so methodically and efficiently that it appeared that he actually detested the beasts. I actually heard him taunt the beasts prior to dispatch. He smiled as if enjoying himself. Inside the Kill Room, he was the master of his realm. Sometimes, however, events out of his control caused problems.
Unsavory pig farmers frequently force fed the animals to increase their weight. The quality of the food was just barely tolerable even by pig standards. This sating of the animals caused a shit load of problems in the Kill Room. Literally.
Sometimes the zap stimulated the animal to void its colon and an Exterminator was assigned the job of shoveling great quantities of manure into waiting containers. This was called the shit detail and took great upper body strength. Nobody seemed to mind that one of their own actually preferred the shit detail chore to the other jobs on the line. He, however, had no nickname, but rather was always referred to as Mr. Bolton, which I assumed was his real name. No one fucked with Mr. Bolton. Not even for the traditional nickname. Mr. Bolton was by far the largest Exterminator, but size alone did not warrant such respect. Come to find out Mr. Bolton was the group’s moral compass. He had veto powers over even Zapper.
Once the pigs were zapped, Captain (as in Captain Hook) instantly inserted hooks attached to chains behind the tendons of both the beast’s now limp rear ankles. Stepping back out of harms way a flip of a switch yanked the pig up and head down below the overhead conveyor. In this rectum up position sometimes the voiding of the colon and bladder continued and showered waste down on the men in a slimy brownish yellow rancid rain.
Thus positioned the animal advanced to Jack (as in Jack the Ripper). His job was to sever both jugulars to begin the blood letting. A channel in the floor caught most of the warm steaming blood, but every Exterminator was covered in the sticky life stuff by the end of the shift notwithstanding the tattered army surplus raincoats that they were issued at Clock In. These cut men had frequent accidents and most were missing at least part of a finger. The hands and arms of most Exterminators were mapped with scars. There were tales of one man who died right on the line. He had sliced his own wrist with his razor sharp knife and being covered with pig blood he had no idea that it was he who was bleeding to death. He probably credited his ensuing drowsiness to his activities in the Head Room.
After the throat was sliced, the creature entered the flames. Erupting hissing blue hot natural gas flames inside a chamber singed off every hair and evaporated the dripping waste. A huge exhaust hood sucked out the heat and most of the appalling fumes. Emerging from the spewing flames, the carcass was attacked by two gutters.
One worked high from asshole down. He was called Birdman. The man had been in and out of jail so many times that someone referred to him as the Birdman of Alcatraz. The name stuck.
The second gutter was called Lenny, who reminded someone at sometime of the dullard in “Of Mice and Mean”. He slashed open the chest cavity. These men had to take great care not to sever the intestines or other internal organs of either the beast or his line mate. This would necessitate shutting down the line in order to decontaminate the carcass. Gutted properly the innards dropped en masse to a slick stainless steel slide, which led down through a miniature window into the Clean Room.
Upon arrival in the Clean Room a Liver Man, a Heart Man, and a Lung Man set upon the steaming mound and, in fact, a man was assigned for every designated internal organ. I don’t really know what happened to the guts after that, but back on the line the Fireman set to work on the carcass. The term Fireman was probably coined due to the large high-pressure warm water hose with which he fought to cleanse what was left of the pig dangling from the chains. Once washed the soon to be dismembered supermarket fare rode the overhead conveyor and exited the Kill Room en route to the Butchers.
On a good day the whole process, from live beast to clean dead thing took less than one minute. The Exterminators worked speedily, but getting off early was not their only motivation. The whole facility was refrigerated cold enough to see breathes. Working swiftly helped maintain body heat or at least made them oblivious of their discomfort.
In the back corner of the killing room there was a small eight by eight foot walk-in freezer called the Head Room. This was where the Exterminators smoked their dope. There were usually several unavoidable delays in the killing process. A truck could break down or the conveyor could malfunction. The moment the line halted or the supply of pigs dwindled the crew vanished. I would assume that everyone in the building knew what was going on, but the consequences of setting foot inside the Head Room uninvited forestalled any investigation by any of the staff or management. It would surely have gotten very, very ugly.
The fact was that Exterminators couldn’t be fired for any offense short of murder. Everyone knew that if one of their own were removed from the line for any reason the remaining crew would all walk off the job leaving a whole lot of Butchers with nothing to butcher. It had happened once in the past and the awakened plant manager himself darkened the door of King Bishop’s to negotiate the crew’s return.
That doesn’t mean that employees weren’t terminated, but Exterminators did their own terminating. Laziness and/or incompetence on the line resulted in certain pressures being applied. Sometimes by a misplaced hook to a shin or a well placed shovel to the back of the head. Once a determined deadbeat was set on with knives. The lazy victim felt it unwise to press charges. I heard that all of the Exterminators felt badly about getting carried away. They said he was cut from “elbow to asshole…a real mess” and this regret for this excess was the only words of remorse I ever heard them express.
The Head Room was appropriately named. There were individuals who wanted to purchase a real hog’s head and the bigger the better. I think they were used for luau centerpieces or for some kind of bastardized cheese, but I am still not absolutely certain. For these needs forty or so heads were selected and lined up on the frozen library-like shelves inside the Head Room. No one who has ever scanned these volumes of agonizing death would ever forget it, because not all pig faces were alike. There was the face of death and then there was the face of the actual dying. I should explain.
Sometimes when Zapper pressed the foot pedal trapping a large boar between the stabilizing bars the electrode missed its mark. Having previously been prodded directly into the previous victim’s emptying colon this now entrapped animal’s head dripped with expelled excrement. Then the electrode sometimes malfunctioned. The creature was not killed instantly, but just stunned. Rather than flowing directly through the living thing’s brain, the electrical current followed the path of least resistance around his head following the thick sticky moist fecal matter. On being yanked upside down by the inserted hooks, the beast sometimes stirred. Due to the animal’s arousal and subsequent trashing Jack could miss the arteries and when this happened the churning conveyor delivered the animal to the belching blue flames very much alive. Exterminators found this hilarious.
It was exclusively from these unfortunate boars that the large heads were selected for the luaus or other head requests. In the Head Room tomes of grotesque horror were displayed. These heads had bulging eyes and protruding tongues. Mouths were distorted. There was no mistaking the primal terror waiting the next wedding reception theme party. Exterminators would have it no other way.
My first introduction to the Exterminators did not frighten me, as it should have. I was young and a little confused. The Supervisor punched the red stop button and the conveyor shrieked to a halt. Eleven blinking blood splattered eyes leered at me as the Supervisor told the Exterminators that I was Poor Miguel’s replacement.
“Jesus Christ Mother of God, Superman, why don’t you put him on the day shift with the other crackers.” Zapper towered over the much smaller balding misnomered Superman. Zapper’s left eye was dark brown, but the glass eye in his right socket was light blue. Both glowered.
“Ain’t no sissy puny ass straight white boy survive in this hell hole,” said Captain.
Others, except Mr. Bolton, who hardly ever spoke, added to the insults, but I couldn’t make out the words because of the din.
Superman continued with arms raised for silence. “He’s all we got. Take him or leave him.”
His ultimatum meant that the Exterminators could work the shift shorthanded or they could use me. The choice was theirs.
Zapper turned to Jack. “Make a Fireman out of the prick faced bitch and tell him so he understands that if he gets hisself hurt and I have to stop this line I will personally kick his lily white ass from here to the fucking emergency room.”
When I thanked them for accepting me, each voice spoke in unison. “Fuck you!”
I began my shift spraying down the gutted pigs with the high-pressure hose that took all my strength to keep from flying out of my grasp. Jack had told me about all the would-be Exterminators who had lost teeth, eyes and ears by releasing their grasp on the hose. The pressure was such that a free hose would surely leap to life to wreak mayhem if given the slightest opportunity.
Only once did the line stop on my account. Butcher penetrated the plastic curtain from the Clean Room to complain that a carcass was not clean enough. The gauntlet was tossed, so everything stopped as an inspection was made.
Zapper pushed past me roughly and with shoulders hunkered and arms raised approached Butcher and bellowed. “What the fuck do you mean the motherfuckers ain’t clean enough. You stopped my line for a little shit on a hindquarter? Get your ass out of my kill room or I’ll hook you up like one of them hogs.”
Butcher stood his ground. Arms folded across his ample belly.
Zapper turned to Captain. “Get me a pair of them hooks”.
Even with Captain en route to retrieve the implements Butcher remained resolute. Zapper had had enough and grabbed my hose and twisted the valve. He held the nozzle with one hand; his arm outstretched as if aiming a pistol, causing high pressure warm water to blow Butcher through the plastic curtain back into the Clean Room and his music.
All the Exterminators congratulated the gesture. High fives and hoots followed Zapper’s efforts. I laughed also.
Zapper turned his good eye to me. “Shut the fuck up! If you leave shit on a hindquarter one more time I’ll stick this hose up your ass and give you a high coloneek that will make your nose run.”
“Sorry Zapper.” I stood tall, but my voice was small.
“You don’t have to tell me you’re sorry, bitch face. I know you’re sorry. You are a sorry ass son of a bitch white boy who will probably be tryin’ to tell me how to do my job before the shift’s finished. The last white boy who tried that shit still has to drink out of a straw. Now, get the shit off of the fucking pigs and get your finger out of your ass and don’t ever stop my line again or I’ll break both your fucking legs. Now white boy, ask this bad ass motherfucker right over there if I mean what I say.” He pointed to Jack who sat on the gut tray beside him.
“What?” I asked in confusion.
“I said, ask this blooded up nigger killing machine if I will break both your fucking legs if you stop my line again.” Zapper shouted in my face.
“Does…ah…he mean it?” I asked of Jack.
“I’ve popped a cap in a man for less. Now you don’t want to find out what this mean bastard might do, now do you white meat?”
Zapper’s glare left no doubt in my mind that the line must not stop. He turned and lifted the receiver of the phone mounted on a column next to the red conveyor emergency stop button.
“Hey, Superman,” he shouted into the mouthpiece, “you better check out these pigs. They are stuffed tighter than a motherfuckin’ tick and Mr. Bolton can’t even keep up with the shit.”
Within seconds Superman was at the roll-up door.
Zapper pointed. “Just look at that shit.”
“What do you figure they used?”
“Pull one out and I’ll have day shift test it.”
Zapper walked to me. “I think these pigs have been force fed to increase their weight. That’s why Mr. Bolton can’t even keep up with all this shit. Now go get me one of them pigs.”
“You don’t hear all that well, do you white boy. I said go get me one of them pigs. Just roll that cage over to the offshoot over there. Unlatch the hasp and when one of them gets inside, slide the shoot closed. We’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”
I had thought at the time that I had been given the task because the crew wanted to visit the Head Room. Later I came to believe that not one of the Exterminators could bring themselves to save one of the pigs. They were scheduled to die. It was their destiny and not one of the men wanted to tempt fate, even if the reprieve was but for a matter of hours. Exterminators weren’t in the pig saving business.
As Zapper walked back to his station on the line fifteen minutes later he screamed instructions to each Exterminator. “Saddle up motherfuckers, we got killin’ to do. Get off your goddamn ass, Captain. Can you speed up that knife, Jack, or should I go get me some Girl Scout bitch in here to show you how? You’re doing a great job, Mr. Bolton and if you need some help, just let me know.”
Then he walked close to the Birdman and Lenny and lowered his voice to a roar. “You motherfuckers cut a gut like that again and I’ll rip your motherfucking heads off and shove every drop of that shit down your neck hole.”
Pigs perished by the hundreds until the line was temporarily empty. To a man the crew advanced on the Head Room. Zapper was the last. He paused, looked in my direction and with a slight toss of his head summoned me to follow.
I was soaking wet down to my underwear. The water from my hose was warm and because of my struggles on the line I really hadn’t noticed the chill. I stood for a moment with the hose squeezed tightly in my grasp, then pried my cramped stiff fingers away and joined the rest of the crew.
I was not prepared for the sub-zero cold inside the Head Room. The moisture around my eyes, nose and mouth froze instantly. The coldness attacked every square inch of my exposed skin. It seemed to have no noticeable effect on the Exterminators, who nonchalantly extracted cold but dry joints from mouths, ears and even gaping nostrils of the gruesome frozen heads. We were squeezed in like sardines; so close that the body heat of one warmed another.
The puffing progressed at a feverish pace. A great thick cloud of smoke soon filled the freezer so that passed fat roaches could not be seen until they were within inches of a face. I thought I was going to suffocate. I was passed a joint a couple of times, but the amount of opaque smoke in such a congested space made it completely unnecessary. Within five minutes we wondered out of the Head Room. I was numb.
Back on the line the Exterminators actually got more efficient under the influence of the drug. The Head Room acted as a powerful stimulant on these men. I, in contrast, was rather sluggish at first. I thanked god several times that I was not the one with the knife or electrode gun in my grasp.
Soon the effects of the drug settled in and I began to sing. My dancing started shortly thereafter. My feet just began to move. I don’t remember what I was singing, but I do remember dancing around the hoisted pigs blasting the spray and laughing and laughing and blasting. I was having a ball. I felt more carefree than I had since dropping out of graduate school. Then, right in the middle of my abandon, I realized that I too was working faster and more efficiently than before the Head Room. The crew was in a pissing contest to see who would break first. It reminded me of the chain gang road crew scene in “Cool Hand Luke”. The crew meshed into one seamless unit with shouts of bravado echoing up and down the line. The pigs died methodically and the quota was made with time to spare.
After washing up in the mop sinks in a warmer part of the plant the Exterminators clocked out, picked up their weekly paychecks, then exited the slaughterhouse. Because of my hair scrubbing I took longer. My paycheck was in the loading dock area of the plant and I was too tired to trudge the city block distance it would take to retrieve it. I figured I would pick it up before clock in the next day.
Outside the early morning sun felt warm and even the smog of the inner city smelled clean in comparison to the Kill Room stench. These creatures of the dawn progressed undaunted without so much as a glance at traffic. Brakes squealed and horns blared as they entered the street. It didn’t so much as faze them, except for Jack, who banged on hoods, grabbed his crotch and let loose with a salvo of obscenities. I waited on the sidewalk until the street was safe, then ran to catch up and entered King Bishop’s on their heels. Fourteen tall bottles of Blue Ribbon beer stood opened on the bar directly below the elevated television right beside the crudely painted sign which commanded: No Cussing, No Fighting, No Loitering, No Throwing Up, No Drugs, and Don’t Piss-off The Bald Guy. The bald guy was King Bishop, who did not look up from his newspaper, as each Exterminator placed his paycheck on the bar. They then selected a beer and drained it in one long pull from the long neck. A second beer was taken to the large round table with eight chairs near the window. I just stood there attempting to discern proper protocol.
“Could I have a Coors, please?” I asked in my most manly voice.
King Bishop’s eyes did not look up from the newspaper as he slid the already opened Blue Ribbons closer to me. I could almost see my reflection in his shinny scalp.
“Blue Ribbon will be just fine, Mr…ah...? What do I call you Mr. Bishop, King, or King Bishop?” I asked more meekly.
“You don’t call me shit. Now give me your goddamn paycheck.”
“I don’t have a paycheck. Just start a tab.” My hands closed around my beers at the exact same moment that King Bishop’s massive brown hands closed around my hands.
He growled, “Fifty dollars up front.”
From my wallet I extracted and slowly slid a hundred dollar bill onto the bar and King Bishop looked at it with disgust.
“I said fifty and if you tell me you don’t have anything smaller I’m going to crawl over this bar and kick your show off piece of rat shit ass. Don’t you know flashing a hundred around here is like walking into a pit bull’s cage with a steak tied to your dick, Mensa Boy.” He emphasized the last words, but still did not make eye contact with me. And that’s how I got my nickname.
I retrieved the hundred and replaced it with two twenties and a ten.
“Hey, Mensa Boy, get your sorry syphilitic white bread ass over here before you piss him off. Didn’t you read the sign?” Zapper shouted over his shoulder toward me.
The bar was, of course empty of customers except for us. Who but winos and shift workers would have the need for a bar at 7:30am? This small bar only had three tables and six bar stools. A hallway in the back led to a filthy restroom and farther to a backdoor that opened into an alley.
I took Poor Miguel’s empty chair. I noticed that the chairs were all different. Some were normal bar chairs of different colors. Other cushioned styles appeared to be salvaged from a discord pile on the sidewalk, which, I assumed, they had been. Most of the furniture had various lengths of duct tape securing broken components.
I turned toward Zapper to my right. “What’s with the twenty-five-dollar beers?”
“Shut the fuck up, Mensa Boy,” spat Zapper.
“You a nosy sweet meat bitch ain’t you, Mensa Boy? You wouldn’t last a week in stir,” spewed Birdman on my left.
No one ever answered the question, but I found out later that King Bishop demanded cash up front. Their paychecks and my fifty were required to cover the beers and any breakage. If there was no breakage, then any left over funds were refunded.
The men sat quietly through two more beers. The fatigue, filth and cold took time to buffer from their consciousness.
What’s a six letter word for tired? Ends in a ‘Y’.” Mr. Bolton did not look up from his crossword.
Automatically, I said, “Sleepy.”
Zapper hand waved toward me dramatically. “We got us a real Mensa Boy here gentlemen. You a Mensa Boy, cracker crumb?”
“I don’t know. I never took the test.”
“Well, if you had taken the motherfucking test, puke face, you would flunk. Sleepy is too easy, Mensa Boy. That ain’t no local crossword. That’s the New York Times Crossword.” Zapper turned to Mr. Bolton, “Try aweary.”
After a quiet lull Jack said, “I messed Poor Miguel up pretty bad yesterday.”
There were a few nods, but no one made a comment one way or the other. Some didn’t care one way or the other. But some just didn’t hear what was said and just faked it with a shrug. With each beer the men spoke louder to make sure their contribution to the conversation was heard. By the time we left King Bishop’s each of us was shouting loudly enough for passersby’s on the sidewalk to easily overhear what was said.
King Bishop had a microwave oven behind the bar, which he used to heat cheap mass produced tasteless sandwiches that he stored in the beer cooler. From time to time an Exterminator would request that a sandwich be heated. When the microwave’s alarm sounded anyone who heard it would say these words, “I think your sandwich went ding.” I have never forgotten those words. It occurred to me then and is still my steadfast belief that the sentence was unique in the English-speaking world.
Two Blue Ribbons later a bum stuck his head in the door but the cascade of leers, sneers and jeers made him rethink his decision to enter. Then my education began.
“Shut the fuck up, you low-life pieces of shit!” shouted Zapper.
Mr. Bolton rose and walked to the door and called after the lumbering figure. Through the filthy front window I watched Mr. Bolton hand the man several bills.
Zapper leaned toward me. “That bum was the best hook man in the business until he lost it.
“I killed me a fuckin’ bum one time,” stated Jack.
“You killed a fuckin’ nun?” shouted Lenny.
“Nah, you moronic idiot. A fuckin’ bum. Rhymes with scum suckin’ stupid ass motherfucker,” replied Jack louder.
“What for?” asked Lenny.
“General principles. The cocksucker hit me up for a quarter while I was startin’ to score with this bitch, so I pushed the scab dick mother whore right smack in the front of a city bus. His head split near in two and there was hair, teeth and eyeballs all over the goddamn windshield,” concluded Jack.
“I robbed me a city bus once,” said Poker.
“How much did you get?” asked Lenny.
“I was too drunk to get the goddamn motherfuckin’ little box open,” confessed Poker.
“What do you expect from someone who pokes pigs for a living?” said Jack.
“I stole me a city bus back in Abilene,” said Birdman.
“Get caught?” asked Lenny.
“Well, hell yeah I got caught, shit for brains. How the fuck can you steal a goddamn big ass city fucking bus and not get caught? Got a nickel and a half. Out in eighteen months,” said Birdman.
“I raped me a woman in a bus one time,” bragged Jack.
“You raped a woman in the butt?” shouted Lenny.
“Shut the fuck up imbecile,” shouted Jack.
“How old was she, Jack?” asked Mr. Bolton.
“How the hell am I supposed to know that? It wasn’t her face I was looking at.” Jack grinned.
Most of the crew roared with laughter. Mr. Bolton did not.
Even though I was getting a little shit faced I had enough wit left to discern the conversational pattern. Apparently one man’s story would spur another to add to the topic, and still stay within the framework of the previous tale until the topic was exhausted.
Mr. Bolton had mulled over Jack’s rape story long enough to react. He reached across the table very quickly for a large man, grabbed Jack by his bottom lip with one huge hand and dragged him across the table.
With Jack’s face inches from his own, Mr. Bolton stated calmly, “Don’t never rape nobody if you don’t know how old they are.”
Once released, Jack went for an ice pack and that was that. No one else moved. All those present helped collect scattered beer bottles, and then most rose slowly to get another beer. Mr. Bolton continued his crossword.
When a beer was needed an Exterminator would walk around the bar and retrieve it from the cooler without disturbing King Bishop. The bar tab was calculated by the number of empty Blue Ribbon bottles arranged on the table in front of each man. By noon there was twelve or so each except for Mr. Bolton. The huge man still nursed his second while working on his ever-present puzzle.
When one of the men felt the need for a joint, he walked down the hall past the bathroom to the backdoor. Once in the alley it was safe to consume. King Bishop did not allow dope smoking in his bar. It was bad for business.
Spray painted onto the wall outside in the alley was a sign that read: HEAD ROOM EAST. One or two men took the trip every hour or so, but there were always enough men around the table for the tales to roll.
“I remember one time me and my old lady was jacked on LSD at Disneyland in California and we got on that ‘It’s a Small World’ ride and it broke down half way through. We sat in that little car for 45 fucking minutes tripping our brains out listening to the same silly ass song. My old lady got a bit over the line. She still has flashbacks whenever she sees a stuffed animal. I think she must of left some of her brains in there amongst them little Muppets.”
Zapper said, “I was so peaked on acid one time that when my pizza was delivered I couldn’t even eat it because the pepperoni’s were movin’ all around and changing colors and bobbin’ up and down. Shit, it ‘bout freaked me out. I don’t mess with that shit anymore, man.”
Captain said, “Let me tell you about peaked. Me and Poor Miguel took that last white boy out into the woods so that the white boy could take his first hit of acid. Poor Miguel drove this big ass Ford LTD that I had been working on. I had taken out the speaker from the rear deck behind the back seat and had thrown some sweaters and coats up there to hide the hole. That white boy got in the back seat and right when he started tripping real good, Birdman asked him to take the stuff off of the rear deck so he could see if anyone was coming. While that white boy was rolling up the clothes for a pillow I raised my head up real slow through that speaker hole. You see I was in the trunk the whole time and he didn’t know it. It about freaked that white boy to death. We had to chase him down in the car. That was the first time I seen a man shit himself. Goddamn he was fast for a white boy. When we finally caught up with him he took one look at me and flopped right down and when into convulsions. He didn’t come to for four hours. We just left him in the Ford.”
Lenny said, “I washed Fords for a dealer one time and at lunch time I got hungry and so I took a brand new LTD off the lot down to the mall for a sandwich and they fired me for that. Can you believe that? I just borrowed it.”
“Was he a white guy?” Poker asked.
“Well, hell yeah.”
“Well, there you go. A brother would understand shit like that,” observed Poker.
Zapper said, “I stole me a LTD one time. A red one. I was pretty young and we only wanted it for a joy ride. We talked about whether to drive it in the lake or not when this drunk ass passed out motherfucker on the back seat came to and sat straight up in the back seat. He had been shit faced the whole time and we didn’t know it. He said, ‘Who the hell are you?’ and I said, ‘The guy at the bar told us to drive you home, but we got lost.’ The guy give us twenty dollars each after we drove him back to town.”
“You the man, Zapper,” said Captain.
I took the plunge. “When I lived in…well, a while back I drove a Volkswagen and up north the heater would melt the ice on the windows and the water would run down into the outside lock and freeze. Then we couldn’t get the key in the slot and several times we were locked out. So we always left the wing window unlocked so we could reach in and open the door from the inside. Well, this one time we got back to the car and the wing window was locked, so we had to jimmy it open with a knife. When we finally got in the key wouldn’t fit the ignition. We had broke into the wrong car.”
“You drove a fucking Volkswagen?” squawked Lenny.
“I never seen a goddamn heterosexual drive a goddamn Volkswagen,” said Birdman.
A thread from my story was picked up and another story was woven. “I got me a new knife,” Jack said pulling a large lethal looking weapon from his boot. It was similar to a folding pocketknife except that it was at least nine inches long.
“Where’s the button?” asked Zapper.
“I don’t need no damn button.”
Zapper’s hand instantly flew across the table. His switchblade flashed in five or six slashing gestures until it pointed motionless a sixteenth of an inch from Jack’s throat.
Zapper smiled and whispered hoarsely, “You need yourself a button, Jack.”
No one moved or spoke for a long moment, and then Jack shoved the knife aside and cursed, “Fuck you, Zapper, and your whole dog fucking family.”
“That’s how Old Captain got it. Stuck like a pig. You remember that asshole?” asked Birdman.
“I thought his old lady got him.”
“She got him all right. Right in the throat with a butcher knife.”
“He probably didn’t have himself no button.” Zapper produced his switchblade again and flicked it open to accentuate the logic.
After another beer, I dared to enter the conversation again. I pointed to a huge tattoo of Yosemite Sam on Captain‘s forearm. The alcohol in my brain blurted the inquiry. “How drunk you got to be to get a tattoo like that?”
Captain didn’t even look in my direction when he said, “Shut the fuck up, Mensa Boy.”
“Oh, come on, Captain. Tell the boy about California,” instructed Zapper.
“You tell the nosy ass pecker head if you want him to know so bad.”
“Well, Mensa Boy, take a good look at Captain’s face. If you look closely you can see it ain’t even. His eyes don’t even line up. Well, he was fucked up as a football bat one night and crawled out in the road in front of a electric utility truck.”
“Telephone truck and it was the afternoon. If you are going to tell my story at least get it right.” Said Captain.
“Well, the telephone truck took his face right off. After six operations…
“Eight!” corrected Captain.
“…Eight operations the insurance company gave him a $100,000 settlement and he headed to California. One year later he woke up in a stolen car in Arizona flat broke.”
I asked, “What happened to your money?”
“How the fuck would I know? I spent the whole hundred grand in twelve months and don’t remember one bit of it. All I have to show for a year of my life are these tattoos.” Captain lifted his shirt to reveal that every available square inch of skin was covered with the silliest tattoos anyone could dream up.
“A year is a long time to forget and a hundred grand is a lot of money to fuck away.” I said.
“I bet I had a ball.” Captain got a faraway look in his eyes.
The word ‘year’ fired neurons in Jack’s memory. “Hey, Mensa Boy, watch this.” He turned toward King Bishop. “Oh Mr. Bishop, sir? How many years did you work in the Kill Room?”
Without looking up from his newspaper King Bishop held up his left hand with its three remaining fingers and said, “Two years.”
It was now close to three o’clock and I was very tired. I had drank before. And I had been drunk before. But the combination of working all night, the filth, the cold, the dope and the dozen plus Blue Ribbons was dragging me down quickly. The other men looked tired, but not spent. I stood on shaky legs. I was about whole house wired, and didn’t want to get absolutely knee walking.
“Gentlemen, I have enjoyed it, but I have to get some sleep.”
Zapper and Captain both placed a hand on my shoulders and pulled me back into Poor Miguel’s chair.
“Shut the fuck up, Mensa Boy. We ain’t even got started, you prick nosed cum breath little fart,” cursed Captain.
“Mensa Boy here looks like he could use some fortification, Captain. He did a pretty fair job on the line last night. Why don’t we cut him some slack? Anyway, I say we need every swinging dick we got if we have a go at the Day-Shift-Pricks.” He spoke the last three words as one three-syllable word.
Without taking his eyes from the newspaper King Bishop shouted, “I ain’t calling 911 again. And you can put that in your little red wagon and smoke it.”
“You plan on having a go at the Day-Shift-Pricks, Zapper?” asked Birdman.
“I say let’s have a go,” said Lenny.
“I’m in,” said Poker.
Zapper surveyed the nodding faces. “What about you, Mr. Bolton?”
Mr. Bolton's shoulders shrugged one quarter of an inch without looking up from his crossword. He was in.
Zapper stood. “Then we’re on.”
Some men began to squirm like children. Some actually giggled. Several cracked their knuckles. All rose to exercise stiff muscles.
Mr. Bolton spoke. “What’s a five letter word for fight?”
“Brawl?” I ventured cautiously.
“Melee, Mensa Boy.” Corrected Zapper before getting down to business. “Now let’s get this white boy some fortification.”
“Fortification?” I asked groggily.
“Yeah, Mensa Boy. You know, boma, redan, abatis, glacis, bulwark, ravelin, redoubt, machiolation.” said Zapper before he yanked me up and pushed me toward the back door. Except for Mr. Bolton, who sat pondering thirteen down, every Exterminator followed us down the hallway.
Once in the alley, Captain produced a bottle from his sock. Black pills were dispersed into each outstretched palm. I accepted mine, then asked, “What are these?”
Six voices rang. “Shut the fuck up, Mensa Boy.”
I swallowed the black pills in one gulp.
“You fight much?” asked Jack.
“Not much,” I answered. In fact I had never been in a fight in my life.
“Well, goddamnit, I guess this is going to be your trial by fire,” laughed Zapper.
As we reentered the bar it was almost four. I could feel my heart beating in my temples. I touched my throat and the pulse was jumping out of my neck. I was alert and my hands trembled. My face had a slight tic. I was speeding my brains out, but speeding toward what I did not know.
“What does get it on with the Day-Shift-Pricks mean?” I asked of no one and everyone.
“Okay, here’s the way it’s going down. We just bought every Blue Ribbon in the place. You’re in for $26, Mensa Boy. In about an hour those Day-Shift-Pricks are going to walk across that street and try to come in here and drink our beers. But we are going to deny them the privilege. Got it?” explained Zapper.
“But I don’t even have a weapon,” I confessed.
“Nah, Mensa Boy. We ain’t going to kill nobody. We’re just having a little fun,” said Jack as he placed his new knife on the bar for safekeeping.
“He don’t look right,” said Birdman.
“He looks white to me,” said Lenny.
“I said right bone head. Just look at his long hippie ass hair. He looks like a jailhouse man-whore I knew in the Mecklenburg County jail. Hell, those Day-Shift-Pricks will probably start rolling around in the street laughing before we get a chance to kick their asses.”
“Um.” Zapper stood and made eye contact with each man around the table. He smiled evilly at King Bishop, who immediately reached under the bar.
Before I knew what was happening the whole crew grabbed and manhandled me into the bathroom. A set of electric shears was passed through the door from one hand to the other until Zapper held them up for inspection. “Now, Mensa Boy, you are going to get a haircut and before you protest too much I should tell you. I have found that some hair goes easy and some goes hard. But it always goes. You need to think about if that hair of yours is worth a scar or two.
I backed myself into the corner. “Don’t come near me, you bastards.”
“Well, boys I reckon he done made up his mind. Get the tape.”
Within seconds a fat roll of duct tape appeared. I charged. I kicked. My fists flew with a fury. I aimed to kill the lot of them.
Within seconds I was wrapped so tightly in the duct tape that struggle was impossible. Once immobilized the shearing went quickly. The shaving took a little longer.
Most of the tape was removed before the men exited the bathroom, but enough was left intact that I had to struggle for a minute or so to free myself. When I stepped into the hallway I could see the six Exterminators around the front table and King Bishop behind the bar. Business as usual. Then I heard Zapper make the announcement.
“Here they come, boys. Let’s saddle up. We got some ass whuppin’ to do.”
The men rose and walked out the front door into the setting sunlight. I eyed the back door to my right. Everything I had ever been taught screamed for me to turn right and walk out that back door, never to return. I had money enough to get back home. Except for the split lip that I got during my bathroom struggles, I was undamaged. I had been worked like an animal, shit on, cursed at, ridiculed, hog tied, sheared, shaved and now there was the distinct possibility of serious bodily injury.
I turned left. Once on the sidewalk I squeezed in between Zapper and Captain. We seven night shift Exterminators stood shoulder to shoulder in front of King Bishop’s door and watched the Day-Shift-Pricks advance on our position shoulder to shoulder also. At that moment there was neither past nor future. There was only now.
My hatred for the Day-Shift-Pricks was enraging. I was not only acting like an Exterminator I was thinking like one. I hated these Day-Shift-Pricks even though I had never laid eyes on a one of them before in my life.
The Day-Shift-Prick who by chance or design ended up in front of Zapper opened his mouth to protest. “What the fuck…”
Zapper hit the man so quickly and so hard that three teeth exploded from his mouth.
I reared back to smack the man in front of me and I wish that I had better news. I wish I could describe the ensuing melee. I want desperately to explain how Lenny got his third broken nose and Birdman got the crotch ripped out of his pants. My deepest desire is to give a detailed account of how Captain got a chunk of his eyebrow ripped out, and what caused Jack’s eye to swell shut. Oh, what a sight it must have been. Poker lay unconscious longer than I did. Both of Zapper’s eyes were puffy, and his light blue glass eye was askew, but I detected no blood. Mr. Bolton was the only one unscathed, except for his hands, of course. His fists looked like they had been in a real workout. His shirt was covered in fresh human blood.
“What happened,” I asked when the fog began to lift and I awoke flat on my back staring at the ceiling. My head hurt something awful.
“Don’t try to get up too quick and let me know if you feel dizzy or real sleepy. You got a concussion, man. For sure.” Zapper eased me to a sitting position.
I was inside the bar atop the round table. I slowly reached to feel the back of my head. The lump was about the size of half a baseball. On its summit there was a crude bandage.
“Duct tape. Works good as stitches. Just don’t get it wet for a few days.” Zapper gently took my hand from the wound before I spoiled his bandaging.
“What happened?” I asked again.
I heard smirking from three different directions. King Bishop laughed out loud with one big, “Ha!”
Zapper inhaled and exhaled loudly. “Well, you got your ass kicked, Mensa Boy.”
“How did that Day-Shift-Prick hit me in the back of the head?”
“He hit you in the forehead…right there.” Zapper touched the second of my lumps with a fingertip.
“Goddamn. Be careful.” I had not noticed the lesser of my injuries due to the magnitude of pain from the worst one.
“The Day-Shift-Prick smacked you in the forehead and your head snapped back like one of them little plastic dogs in the back window of a car. Your head smashed the edge of the brick next to the door so hard it broke a chunk out of it. Look here.” He handed me a half-dollar sized piece of terra cotta colored masonry. “Now drink this. It will make you feel better.” He shoved a Blue Ribbon into my stomach.
“No thanks, man. I need to get home and get some sleep.” I tried to stand, but discovered that even though my brain may have been awake my legs were not.
Jack and Captain walked by me carrying a large sheet of plywood. They placed it into the hole, which had once been King Bishop’s front plate glass window. It fit precisely. The screw holes were well worn and within a minute it was installed. Obviously it was not the first time the plywood had been needed. It even had the King Bishop sign painted on the street side.
“Jack, Mensa Boy here wants to go home and get some sleep.” Zapper said.
Both Jack and Captain looked at me as if I were insane.
“I’ve got to get some sleep before Clock In,” I mumbled.
Zapper shook his head. “Not unless you got somebody there to wake your Joe Lewis ass up every thirty minutes. You got a concussion, Mensa Boy. You can’t mess with no concussion. You got somebody to wake you up every thirty minutes?”
“No. What time is it?”
“Five after six. Me and the boys figured we would just sit right here and watch your concussioned sorry ass until Clock In, then pull the shift and sleep twice tomorrow. Now Mensa Boy, I’m going to put some ice on my face. Don’t try to duck out on us, man, a concussion can really fuck you up.”
I turned to Jack, “How does Zapper know so much about concussions?”
“He was in the war?”
“Hell, we both were. That’s where we learned our killin’.”
“Ya’ll were soldiers?”
“Well, I was. Got drafted, but Zapper was a sailor. He got the bright idea of how to beat the system. You see, he joined the navy. He figured to ride out his hitch floating out in the ocean someplace, but the navy had other ideas. In basic training they lined all of them up and made them count off by to nines. Each ninth man stepped forward and that motherfucker let the others go. Then he told Zapper and the others who were nines that they were now in the United States Marine Corps as medics. He never was very lucky.”
“Shit man, he was in the middle of all that shit and didn’t even have a weapon?”
“What? No weapon? Listen, man, Zapper ain’t been without a weapon since he was six years old. He got himself a sawed off twelve gauge pump shotgun and loaded it up with four-aught buckshot. Usually two of them medics would drop down on a shot up Marine and one of them would go to work on him and the other would pump round after round from that Remington into the jungle to keep the Gooks away long enough to stabilize his ass before he bought the farm. Got himself some kind of fucking medal or something.”
“No shit. I’ve seen him drop down on fuckers hit by cars and shit. I guess he can’t break the habit.”
Zapper approached the table with a plastic bag of ice covering half his face. He handed another one just like it to me. “It will keep down the swelling. We can’t have no swelled head belly-aching Mensa Boy on the line tonight.”
“Why did we buy every Blue Ribbon in the house?”
“In case those Day-Shift-Pricks got lucky as a two-dicked dog, Mensa Boy.”
I looked at him questioningly.
He shrugged. “It ain’t always gotta make sense.” Then he smiled and I knew at that moment that I was an Exterminator.
I grasped the Blue Ribbon and eased myself from the tabletop down into Poor Miguel’s chair. Soon the others, except for Poker who remained unconscious on a back table, began to join Zapper and me. We sat in silence through another Blue Ribbon. I don’t know what the others were thinking, but as I surveyed my surroundings I mentally reviewed the decisions I had made that led me onto Poor Miguel’s chair in King Bishop’s bar with a concussion.
It had been a tough call to bail out of graduate school four years before. I had tried to explain to my father that I just wanted to experience real life, but he just didn’t get it. He had put me on the fast track to corporate America since I was born, but I didn’t know America. It all seemed too easy. Hell, I had never even been in a fight. I wondered if what had just happened to me on the sidewalk counted as fighting.
Zapper must have noticed my faraway look because he asked, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I’m trying to stay awake so the concussion fairy don’t bite me in the ass.”
“No, Mensa Boy, I mean what the fuck are you doing here with us low-life’s?” He raised both arms and gestured all around.
I could only try honesty. “My father and I didn’t see eye to eye.”
“At least you got one,” said Birdman. “Mine run off before I was even born. He left my Mama and me high and dry. She was a one legged Mexican woman from Minnesota and believe me, she had a rough time in this city."
“I ain’t never heard of a one legged Mexican from Minnesota,” said Lenny.
“My Mama was the only one.”
Captain laughed. “Shit, I wish my old man had run off. He kicked my ass every fucking day.”
Jack took the lead. “Me and my old man raised fighting dogs. I remember one time my favorite dog wouldn’t fight. I mean he would fight if he had to, but he would stop before the other dog was dead. Daddy shot my dog one afternoon.”
“Goddamn,” I mumbled.
“That night I shot that bastard,” explained Jack.
“You killed your own daddy?” asked Lenny.
“Naw, I just winged him, but he lost a lung. There was bad blood between us after that.”
“Maybe we ought to shoot our white ass bitch here for being backed into a corner by that Day-Shift-Prick,” said Birdman as he reached and pinched my nipple.
“Fuck you!” I screamed then stood up.
Zapper waved a hand toward Birdman then looked at me. “Calm down, Godzilla. Here, sit down. So a lot of us got fucked up parentage, but none of us blame them for us being in this shit hole.”
“I just wanted to experience…I don’t know…real life,” I answered honestly.
Each Exterminator gave me expressions ranging from scorn to contempt to confusion.
“You think this is real life?” Zapper inquired, but added before I could answer, “So you want to experience real life? Hey, boys, Mensa Boy here wants to experience real life. I think we need Gulp to bring us a pizza.” Zapper went behind the bar and dialed the number.
“No anchovies for me,” I shouted.
“Shut the fuck up, Mensa Boy,” several voices screamed in unison.
“I know I could use some real life Gulp. My old lady has run off again,” said Jack.
“You should have known better than to hook up with that whore to start with,” stated Birdman.
“I think every man would be better off to settle down with a woman who has done a little whoring. Takes all the stress out of it,” said Jack.
“You can always trust whores,” I said, but no one recognized that it was an absurd joke.
“The third time I was in Joliette was when I met Lenny here. I was doing two to six for B and E,” said Birdman, “and I think he’s just oversexed.”
“Lenny, oversexed?” I asked.
“I have seen him win bets by laying his dick out on a table and place twelve silver dollars end to end on top of it and the last one wouldn’t fall off the tip,” said Birdman.
“Another time I saw him slide six donuts on his dick at one time and them prison donuts ain’t nothing to frown at. He’s got at least a twelve inch William, but it ain’t no fatter than your thumb.” Birdman measured it out with his hands like a fisherman describing the one that got away.
“Did you ever see them boars get it on with them sows right in the shoots. Them bastards were scared, shit-on-dirty, and fixing to die, but they still thought about fucking,” I said.
“In real life, Mensa Boy, fuckin’ is a very powerful force,” Jack said and the others nodded their agreement.
After several more stories real life strutted in the door. The thin young woman wore pounds of make-up and was adorned with enough fake pearls for a dozen abacuses. Her appearance and gait screamed prostitution. The entire crew, even Mr. Bolton, greeted her enthusiastically, with whistles and a standing ovation.
Zapper rose and took the pizza politely and placed a wad of bills into the delicate outstretched palm. Guiding the blushing young woman over to me, he announce to the group, “Mensa Boy here wants to experience real life.”
I just smiled. “This is a lot more real than sitting behind a desk all day.”
“No, this is real.” Zapper nodded to Gulp.
Gulp swished closer. Her smile was sheepish as she examined me. One of her hands explored my chest. The other ruffled my thin chest hair. Then she dropped to her knees, crawled under the table and began to unzip my pants.
“What the fuck are you doing? Get away from me,” I yelled as I slid Poor Miguel’s chair back.
Gulp peeked disappointedly from under the table.
“Come down here Gulp, my old lady’s run off again, and you are just what I need.” said Jack.
Gulp stuck her tongue out at me, then disappeared under the table to service Jack’s waiting penis.
Zapper leaned to me. “That is real life, Mensa Boy. You got a problem with real life?”
“That is not real life.”
“What would you call it?”
“Ain’t life perverse?” asked Zapper.
“Not perverse enough, I say,” moaned Jack.
Gulp’s bobbing head striking the underside of the tabletop rattled the amassed bottles.
“What’s perverse about it? Gulp likes to suck dicks. We like our dicks sucked. That’s not perverse.”
“That’s supply and demand. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” added Birdman.
“Like a public service,” I said, but no one laughed.
It took about three minutes for Jack to reach a loud screaming climax.
Zapper summoned Gulp out from under the table and pointed to the still unconscious Poker on the back table. Gulp giggled with two fingers of her right hand covering her mouth. Zapper gave Gulp a little shove in Poker’s direction.
The Exterminators rose to watch. Gulp walked to Poker, turned to Zapper and in a high squeaky voice asked, “Is he dead?”
“Nah, Gulp, he’s just resting. Now get on with it.”
Gulp giggled again, then unzipped Poker’s pants and began giving the unconscious man a blowjob with the crew cheering encouragement.
Poker sat bolt upright. His face showed his confusion, but he made no attempts to stop Gulp.
Poker’s moaned orgasm exploded less than a minute later.
The crew cheered and clapped wildly. In unison they squatted and rose in a stadium wave movement.
Poker thanked Gulp with a touch to her head then laid back on the table with a thud to regain his strength.
Gulp headed to the bathroom.
I took the bold move. “Does Gulp fuck or just suck.”
“Fucking is Gulp’s occupation. Sucking is just a hobby. You need a real life fuck, do you Mensa Boy?” asked Zapper.
“You think she would go for it?” I asked a little too eagerly.
The crew exploded with hoots of laughter. Their uncontrollable mirth caused most empty and some full beers to spill as they collapsed onto the table in convulsions.
When Zapper regained his composure he explained, “Mensa Boy, Gulp ain’t no she.”
At about eleven thirty we settled up with King Bishop and after another black pill we were as ready as we were ever to get for another midnight shift.
Our second shift was, believe it or not, uneventful. There were no pissing contests and we broke no records, but we did make the quota and no one got hurt. I was asked more than once how I felt, but it wasn’t put exactly that way.
“You get too dizzy too wash hogs and me and you need to talk,” Zapper shouted above the noise.
I noticed that men took more breaks and not just to the Head Room. As a man would collapse, sometimes in place at the line, another would amble over and fill the slack. We were perpetually one man short.
At the end of the shift we were all too spent to even wash up. We just dabbed with paper towels. The crew was fading fast. I had to concentrate just to put one foot in front of the other.
At 8 am we waited on traffic to clear before plodding across the street for one final round before crashing. We were too weary to sit. I didn’t know for sure if I could get up again.
I never found out when King Bishop slept, but I guessed that short naps were taken while he was bent over the newspaper on his bar.
As we leaned against the bar Zapper turned to me. “That enough real life for one day, Mensa Boy?”
I was too exhausted to speak. I just nodded.
Zapper walked around the bar and when he returned he spoke to me. “I figured as much. Take a look at this sorry ass piece of shit.” He held up a mirror.
I did not recognize the face that stared back. My ashen flesh was splattered with blood, urine and wads of pig shit. The bruises were a sickening brownish yellow. My lip was a crusty purple. My eyes were not my eyes. I wasn’t even sure they were human eyes. Those red orbs looked more like the dead eyes that gaze into the darkness of the Head Room.
Zapper leaned closer. “Now listen carefully, Mensa Boy. I’m going out back for one last smoke. If you are still here when I get back I am going to kill you. I don’t want to ever lay eyes on your sorry ass again. Now ask this nigger here if I mean what I say.” Zapper pointed toward Jack, and then walked out the back door.
Jack stood. “Mensa Boy, I’m going out there with Zapper and when we get back if he don’t kill your sorry ass I’ll cut your ass. Button or no button.” Jack plodded toward the back door, slowly waving his huge pocketknife over his shoulder.
One by one the crew stood. Birdman drew his finger across his neck in a cutthroat gesture, then he, also, exited the rear door.
Each man glared at me before they departed. Mr. Bolton was last. He slowly took my full beer from my hand and placed it on the far end of the bar, but before joining the others he said, “Get your aweary ass on home, Mensa Boy. You got people waitin’ on you.”
Then it was just me and King Bishop.
“I thought they liked me,” I mumbled.
“They do like you, Mensa Boy. Now you better get the hell out of here. I’m just too tired to deal with a 911 call to have you carted off.”
“You think they would actually kill me?”
“That’s what they do. They kill. Pigs…men…ain’t much difference to those animals out back.”
“I don’t know why I’m wasting my breath on your sorry white ass, but you better listen close like cause I ain’t gonna say this but once. You are just a visitor in their own special hell and right now, Mensa Boy, they have decided that your visit is over. Now get the hell out of here.”
I took one more lingering gaze at the interior of King Bishop’s to lock it into my memory. Then I turned and walked out the door.
“It’s a hell of a story,” said Max honestly.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it, Max. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
The old man began to cough so violently that Max had to hand him a handkerchief to control the spittle. When the old man had regained his breath they turned to the door.
They took their time leaving the plant even though it was getting dusky. Both men were both deep in thought as they squeezed back through the gap in the gate. The old man was thinking about what once had happened there so many nights before and from the look on Max’s face, he would bet he was thinking about what might happen there that very night.
Once outside the fence that evening, Max picked up the pace and walked directly to the car and opened the rear door, but the old man just stood and stared across the street. The sign was still there and lights were on inside. The oft-used plywood was in the window although the faded signage was barely visible.
He was drawn like an old moth to a flame. He could no more have resisted walking across that street at that moment anymore than he could have resisted it the first time.
“I don’t know how much more of this I can take, sir,” Max huffed.
They advanced into the deserted street directly toward King Bishop’s Bar where a good portion of his growing up occurred. At the bar’s front door the old man reached into his pocket and retrieved a chunk of masonry mounted onto his key ring. He placed the smooth worn chunk into the identical mirrored depression in the head high brick next to the door. He couldn’t swear to it, but he think there was discoloration visible that could only be his blood; the blood he had shed during a fist fight, the first and last he would ever have. He touched the back of his head and rubbed the lumpy scar.”
A hoarse raging voice from inside made both men flinch. Max trembled.
“What the fuck you want? You another one of them goddamn pig fucking syphilitic inspectors?” asked the voice.
Max grabbed his boss’ arm and told him that he didn’t think this is such a good idea.
“If you got something you feel like you got to do, I think you ought to do it alone.” Max stood by the door as his boss entered the dim bar.
Inside the bar the old man could discern no difference in the appearance from the last time he had been there. The Don’t Piss Off The Bald Guy sign was still behind the bar. The environs were neither cleaner nor dirtier than he remembered. Only the calendar was varied.
“You lost or somethin’ old man?” the bartender asked, but the old black man didn’t look up from his newspaper.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“You look lost.”
“I was lost once.”
Then the black old man looked up and roared, ‘What the fuck do you want?’”
His face was old and creased, but the blind light blue right eye of his old friend still gleamed.
“Hi, Zapper, how have you been?”
The aged bartender’s face was very angry.
“Who the fucking shit are you to be callin’ me Zapper?”
“I want to buy every Blue Ribbon in the house.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Just in case those Day-Shift-Pricks get lucky as a two-dicked dog.”
Mr. Davis hoped that the man who had taught him so much when he was a young man would recognize the phrases that he had used just prior to the street fight.
Zapper closed the newspaper and lowered his glasses to study the face in front of him.
The old man leaned on the bar and said, “It ain’t always gotta make sense.”
Zapper smiled and nodded. “Mensa Boy?”
“I can’t believe you still remembered me.”
“You was the only white boy who didn’t take a right out of the back door when the trouble started.”
The hard brutal men had given the rich kid an option of fight or flight; as a youth the old man had sided with his crew.
“You look like death itself,” observed the bartender.
“I’m standing in line with shit all over my face just like everybody else, waiting on some mean ass motherfucker to give me the final zap.”
Both men stared into the other’s eyes for several seconds.
“What’s become of the other Exterminators?” asked the visitor.
“Jack went the worst. Two Mexicans tied him to a chained linked fence and skinned him…slowly, after he had killed one of their cousins. Them Mexicans got a lot of goddamn cousins. Poker finally got so fucked up he did something really stupid. After I run his drunkass off the line he took to drinking some weird shit. Sterno finally got him. They found him dangling off his fire escape dead as shit with a drunken smirk still on his face. Mr. Bolton hung himself with his own belt right out back in the alley the day that crack head shot King Bishop.”
“Who? Who would shoot King Bishop?” the old man gasped.
“Some druggie. Tried to rob him, but that mean bald bastard wouldn’t give him shit even with a .38 pointed right at his heart. Even with a hole blown clean through his chest he managed to crawl over the bar and break that kid’s neck.”
“Captain?” asked the white man.
“Caught himself on fire free-basing. Just like Richard Pryor only Captain wasn’t as lucky. As they say, if it wasn’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. He was so zonked he just sat there and burned. They say he didn’t move a muscle. Not one twitch. Like one of them Buddhist guys.”
“Jesus. What about Birdman?”
“What the fuck do you think? He’s a three-strikes-and-you’re-out loser doing life plus.”
“From what I remember it should have been more like thirty strikes.”
“Oh, most of that crap was probably just bullshit. He liked to brag about jail time. He calls himself Gulpster now.”
“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”
“Not so good. He slept out back of King Bishop’s in a cardboard box. I let him clean up in the bathroom sometimes, but the truth is, his mind went from bad to worse. On the line he started zapping himself in the legs and arms with the electrode sometimes when we weren’t watching.”
“Fuck yes. I thought he was trying to kill himself, but Lenny said he just did it for the thrill. Now he forgets his own name sometimes and oinks.”
“Like a pig, but only when he got in a crowd.”
“Those boys were like those filthy boars with their heads in the Head Room. They were the unfortunate beasts that were unlucky enough to have lived a little too long,” opined the old man philosophically.
“But unlike them hogs, those boys knew their fate, but there was nothing they could do to get off that line,” said Zapper.
“It was too late for them almost from the start.”
“They never had a real choice,” Zapper mused softly.
“But I did have a choice, and that’s why you ran me off,” said Mr. Davis.
“We let your ignorant real life seeking ass down off that damn conveyor before you ended up entering them fucking flames alive like most of them,” said Zapper. “Them boys struggled and fought and screamed, but they knew they couldn’t never get off life’s goddamn conveyor and they knew exactly where they were going to end up. It was only a matter of time.”
The old man was well aware that he was scheduled to soon enter the flames alive and from the first opinion to the second opinion to the third he knew it would not be quick or painless. He didn’t know whether he would go like one of the raging rutting boars fucking up to the very end or whining like a little girl. He just wanted it over with. And as he looked into Zapper’s good eye he knew that the black man knew his secret.
“You want a beer?” asked Zapper.
“I’ll buy one for you.”
“By the looks of that limo I guess you could probably buy the whole fucking block if you took a mind to it.”
“I was just lucky.”
“It wasn’t luck. It was fate. You was fated to make it and you came close to throwing it away during that real life phase.”
“Sometimes I regret leaving.”
“Shut the fuck up, Mensa Boy. You have a knack of fucking up your visit, don’t you? Now get the fuck out of here. You got people waiting on you. Or do I have to threaten to kill you again?”
“I appreciate everything you did for me.”
“You still didn’t get it. You think everything is about you and I didn’t do anything for you. I did it for myself. Now get your I’m-feeling-sorry-for-my-rich-dying-ass on back to your own people. I’m tired of fuckin’ with his self-centered ass.”
Zapper slowly lowered his gaze to the newspaper and within a minute or two his labored breathing turned to a soft contented snore.