"Bull Shit! A newspaper is important because you know when some little prick is going to ride past and stick one in the
fucking box. And if you've done your homework you'll know what time that old fucker is going to shuffle down to the mailbox
and grab it."
For Jimmy, doing your homework is a full-time job. The first task is to narrow down your reconnaissance zones. Our active
zone right now is 20 minutes south of the city, an area about six blocks square. It's a tired old pocket of post-war
immigrants whose chief export right now is death. That's where we focus our energy.
"What else you gonna look for?"
"A breach of schedule."
If you are breaching schedule it means you've broken a habit. If you live in the active zone, chances are we know your
schedule better than you do. We know when you go grocery shopping and how long you'll be gone. We've written it down. We
know when you're gonna put the cat out to shit. Please don't put your bins out late. It makes us nervous.
"What else are you watching?" Jimmy prompts.
"Curtains and blinds."
During reconnaissance, Jimmy's all eyes. He's watching the windows in every house at once, from every vantage point. That's
why a new zone is the hardest. Venetians, drapes, hollands. Every house. Every window.To get shortlisted you have to be
elderly, live alone, and have virtually no visitors. If you live in our reconnaissance zone your life is our soap opera. If
you've been shortlisted we never miss an episode.
Before Jimmy taught me the ins and outs of preying on the walking dead we worked on the kill in a chicken plant. It was
actually the machines that did all the killing. Mostly. Hung upside on a conveyer, the chickens were passed through an
electric bath. This wasn't meant to kill them though. It was to relax their muscles and stop them wriggling. That way, they
couldn't crane their necks out of reach of the blade that took their heads off. If Jimmy spotted a wriggler trying to buck
the system, he'd wrench it off the line, and personally see to it that it died a memorable death. Jimmy didn't like
Initially his favourite trick was to hold the chicken with one hand, and yank out its still-beating heart with the other. As
time progressed though, Jimmy got more creative. In the last year we worked there he'd made a point of showing all the new
guys how to shove a chicken's head all the way up its own ass before it died. If you ever wanted to know how to torture a
corn-fed roaster to death so the bruises wouldn't show, Jimmy was your man.
Jimmy is not the sort of person to follow a trend, but he's really taken a shine to all these new ways of having coffee. Most
mornings this week have begun with me and Jimmy sitting side-by-side in deep blue Renault sipping frothy lattes. It would
never occur to him that two gentlemen drinking expensive coffee in a French car might be more than a little bit gay. Things
pretty much stop being gay as soon as Jimmy decides to do them.
Jimmy has a clipboard across his knee, and we've ticked off all but one of the morning's houses. After six months of this
it's just another day in the office. Looking at my hands, I'm thinking I should've cut my nails this morning. I'm already
thinking about lunch. Maybe pizza. Through gaps in the box thorn I'm trying to glimpse if the curtains are open yet. If they
don't open soon, there will be no lunch today.
I finish my coffee. Jimmy presses his lips together and slams his clipboard shut.
If I play it all backwards in my mind, right back to when the downhill slide begins, I'm standing in the middle of last year
in a pair of blood-spattered overalls. It was pretty much business as usual. Three thousand chickens an hour, all of them
invisible if you'd worked on the kill longer than a week.
Sometimes to liven things up we would throw a new guy in the blood gutter, but on this day it was the regular crew and we'd
all had our turn at coming up gasping and reaching from that grisly bath. I ducked away at what seemed like a good time to
have a piss and opened the bathroom door onto Jimmy, snorting up a fat line of coke.
I wish I'd held on a bit longer.
He swung towards me and threw me a look that I had trouble interpreting. In those days I didn't know quite what to make of
Jimmy, so I always tried to act cool around him.
"Man I don't know how you can afford that shit on what we earn here..."
Jimmy approached me. I watched Jimmy approach.
"You think I live on what I earn here?"
He was standing close enough that I could see flecks of white powder in his moustache. He whipped out his right hand, grabbed
my testicles and squeezed. Hard.
The pain was incredible.
"You like working here with the fucking dirty chickens?"
I couldn't get my throat to make a noise. I couldn't even swallow. I nodded. It seemed like the right thing to do.
"You want some real money. You want a real life."
Jimmy watched a tear escape from my eye and roll down my cheek. That seemed to satisfy him and he gave my balls back.
I collapsed against the wall under the hand dryer for what seemed like a long time. Jimmy lit a cigarette, took a couple of
drags, flipped it over and held it out to me. We've been friends ever since.
Jimmy was a fan of on-the-job training. On our first job he told me about how old people put money in the strangest places.
He took me into each room and pointed out all the places to look. In the wardrobe he rifled through the pockets of cardigans
and shirts. He pulled odour eaters out of shoes. In the bathroom, he opened the shampoo and unscrewed pill bottles.
A cluster of tinfoil parcels in the fridge yielded us half a sausage, two fish fingers and $500 in a neatly folded stack of
Jimmy had me stack the larger items near the door for later. I can't remember what sort of television it was during that
first job, but it didn't look that old.
"Don't forget the remote"
I looked to where Jimmy was pointing. The television's remote control was jutting from a clawed hand that would never
channel surf again.
Jimmy was never a big fan of delay so I did what had to be done. I pinched the head of the remote and gave it a tug. I was
surprised at the resistance. Stiff fingers defied me, but the idea of touching them - prying them open - made me feel ill.
So I clamped the meaty forearm of a dead man to the arm of the chair and just sort of yanked, freeing the remote from his
leathery grip. Then I puked all over the couch.
"I don't know if I'm cut out for this Jimmy."
"Grab the watch as well."
Then there was a knock at the door.
"Shit!" I panicked, but Jimmy was cool as a cucumber.
"It's okay. They're here to see me."
Jimmy went to get the door, leaving me with a gold watch and a tv remote and a lifeless corpse. I wondered why the hell he
needed to take guests during a burglary. Looking back, I wish I'd never found out. The two guys that shuffled into the room
didn't look like friends of someone like Jimmy. One wore a turtleneck. The other had a camera; the kind with the big flash
that whines like a kicked Chihuahua between shots. Jimmy looked at me and jabbed his thumb towards the door - universal sign
language for get-the-fuck-out. He stayed speaking with the men for a minute or so then joined me in the hall, shutting the
"What the hell's going on Jimmy?"
"I don't know. I don't need to know."
"Why did you shut those men in with the corpse?"
"Like I said, I don't know. For the same reason I don't know why men will buy magazines filled with photos of two women
pissing on each other. Like how I don't know why people turn up at emergency with a light bulb stuck in their shitter.
Last year I saw a documentary about how these guys will dress up in oversized baby's clothes, and have parties together
goo-ing and ga-ing and shitting themselves, just so a fat nanny can wipe and powder their asses then read them a bed-time
story and tuck them in. That fuckin' fat nanny wears diamond rings and drives a Ferrari! Do you see? People that do this
shit, they have to do it. They'll pay to do it.
So to answer your question - I have no fucking idea what those freaks are doing in there with a stiffening corpse. But later
on the man with the camera will develop pictures in some private darkroom, and the pictures will be of another man doing
things to that corpse that would make decent people like you and me puke. But the money they're paying us, it's the kind of
money where you just sit tight and you do not ask questions. For fuck's sake, did you think we were doing this for tee-vees
and microwave ovens?
Muffled grunts came from the next room, punctuated by the sound of a flash recharging.
The person from the chicken factory is not me. The person that sat sweating against the wall under the hand-dryer with achy
balls and a coat-hanger feeling in his guts, it's not me. He looks and sounds like me, but he's a much nicer guy. There's no
way he'd back a furniture truck all the way up to a dead man's house and steal his whitegoods. That would take a lot of
front. The guy from the chicken plant would never kick down doors of the recently deceased, or crawl in through their bathroom
windows. That chicken plant guy would never, ever have helped a pencil-necked albino shift a stinking corpse from the kitchen
to the couch.
But for me, it's all in a day's work.
Today's door is kicked in by courtesy of a pair of taupe suede Birkenstocks which are surprisingly well suited to the task.
On the other side we're greeted by a pair of writhing, hungry cats. When we find pets Jimmy insists that we get them fed as a
priority. He says you never know when they last ate. So while I'm checking foils in the fridge, he's peeling the lids of
single-serves of Fancy Feast.
The body's in the main room facing the television. I'm looking for the remote when I notice something's not right. A bottle
of pills is open in her lap half spilled, but there's something else too. Making me feel uneasy. It's like I'm being watched.
She's smiling at me. A big car-salesman grin. All teeth.
"Jimmy, fucking look at this!".
Jimmy looked at my face, then her face, and made an involuntary noise like a man spotting a spider on his sleeve.
"What the fuck is wrong with her face?"
All of a sudden I figure it out.
"Dude, she's got no lips."
Jimmy doesn't speak for a long time. When he's quiet like this it means he's thinking hard. He's looking for a clue. The pills
on her lap. Nothing out of the ordinary there. We see this a lot. When the writing's on the wall some people will hasten
things along with a handful of valium or xanax. Then he looks at me.
"Shit! The cats!"
"The cats. They got so hungry... see! They've chewed her fucking lips off!"
Jimmy dances back and forth on the spot a bit, pleased with himself for figuring it out.
"But.....what are we gonna do?"
Jimmy puts his business face back on.
"Beggars can't be choosers."
Then he gets on the phone.
The guest de jour is a solid man carrying a camera on a tripod. He's wearing baggy shorts and boat shoes. It's like he was
cleaning the pool when he got the call saying his corpse was ready, and could he come by and feel it up. Jimmy doesn't call
these people directly. He doesn't even know their names. There's a guy - a middle man - named Maurice. I wonder, where does
Maurice find these people? How many guys does he have on stand by? It doesn't pay to think about these things for too
I'm looking for cash behind the lint filter in the dryer when I hear an angry scream. Not Jimmy's though. Fuck. The guy
must've just met Madame No-Lips and he's freaking out at Jimmy. I'm looking for a weapon. Something heavy. I've got nothing.
Out of desperation I yank the mop from a bucket of filthy water and head towards the noise. I can hear Jimmy's raised voice.
I'm picking up speed and the mop's making rhythmic slapping noises, coughing grey water onto the walls with each step. In the
main room, boat shoe guy is all red in the face. Jimmy's looking more surprised than ever. That's when I notice our body is,
well, moaning. She's moaning and her eyes are moving. She's pushing one hand against the arm of the chair trying to sit up.
The other hand reaches up towards her face. Towards her mouth. That's when all hell breaks loose.
Boat shoe man tackles Jimmy, pushing him back into the kitchen. I rush in. What I see is bad. He's a big guy, and he's
holding Jimmy's head to the floor with one hand and punching him in the side of face with the other. Jimmy's trying to
wriggle his hips out but it's no good. So I reach the mop handle around this guy's neck, and I grab either side - and pull.
It's hard against his throat but he's not letting go. Then without warning, his head whips back, smashing me in the face.
Jimmy's got his head free, I can hear him screaming. Then just when I think my face can't hurt any more I'm hit again. He's
smashed the back of his head into my face and now he's reaching up, grabbing at my ear, my hair. I know if I let that mop
handle off his throat it's all over. I'm leaning back further and further, peeling him off Jimmy by degrees when and all of a
sudden, Jimmy is free. Covered in blood he looms above us. He's got the toolbox and he's swinging it like a battering ram
towards this guy's face. There's a heavy slap, then it's over.
I'm laying on the floor just trying to get my breath. The big guy's laying on my arm. Dead still. My nose doesn't feel right.
I can taste blood. Jimmy's t-shirt is more red than white but he doesn't seem to care. He's got the phone against his ear.
"Yep, Maurice? Jimmy. Change of plan.....Don't ask.....Yep.Yep Yes. Sure. One, male. Big guy. Face is a bit fucked up, but
he's young. Hasn't been dead long...Yep. Standard rate. Yep. .I'll explain later Maurice. Just send a guy."
The lady without lips is crawling down the hallway. I ease my arm out from under the big guy and sit up. The lady who spoilt
my day because she couldn't fucking kill herself properly has just crawled into the bathroom. My nose is pissing blood down
the front of my shirt. I hear the bathroom lock snap shut. Jimmy hears it too and turns towards it. I'm hoping Jimmy doesn't
try and stick her head up her own ass.
I run my tongue around my mouth. I think I've chipped a tooth.