The Sun Shines Hard on Such Decisions

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    I like waking up at the crack of dawn. I really do. It’s like being the last man on earth for a few minutes, but then you notice the early morning contrails breaking across the pink sky, and the illusion gets interrupted. I’m standing outside of the prefab that’s parked miles off the highway. Besides the periodic chirps of warblers and blackbirds, it’s very quiet. I pursed my lips and whistled, hoping there’d be a response. Sometimes there is, but often everything just goes quiet.

    This place is very isolated, very spartan; you can count the furnishings here on both hands. It’s got no running water and electricity is provided by a gas generator. Now, there’s a reason for this. When the object is to be inconspicuous as possible, one must minimize the chances of yelling and screaming attracting attention. That would be bad, not just for me. So, yeah, it’s remote.

    Back inside, I make coffee on a Coleman stove. I was glad to find my favorite mug since it means there is still respect and respect means no one messes with my stuff. I got this one years ago from Caesar’s Palace in Tahoe, and it’s one of those sturdy stoneware numbers that could crack a skull if one were so inclined. I figured I’d take it out with me when I bury my bloodied work clothes in the desert. This is all a part of spring cleaning.

    Inside the mini-fridge, there is a human head. I hate this because it takes up room. You can’t even put a six-pack in there and how else can you reward yourself for a job well done? The thing is, it has one eye that won’t close so it’s winking at me. It’s a signal; it’s an acknowledgement of how far things have broken down. It’s humiliating is what it is. The bond and guarantee that was my word is now called old thinking. I’d do the burn, then I’d go to my employer and tell them they wouldn’t have any more problems, then collect what I was owed.

    Then it got to where they’d ask for a polaroid or a video.

    “It’s not that we don’t trust you…”

    And from there to using iPhones and stuff, which I’m not comfortable with at all.

    “…but the new management, they’re big into accountability…”

    I miss those days of handshakes and free dinners. There was that personal connection, that human element. Since I wasn’t family or part of the administration, it made for good business relations. But these new guys, they’re obsessive about legacy, about doing things their way. And I get it about the heads. It makes a point. It’s a fear thing. But Jesus, what a mess.

    This guy in the fridge, he kind of had it coming. We gave him chances. We were very generous with affording opportunities. I myself even met him, uninvited, for lunch one day and explained the situation. I said, we need to see some progress on your end, that you’re sincere about your part of the contractual agreement. I can be a nice person. I understand fluctuating economic climates. But he was one of these guys who thought he was smarter than everyone else. Like I said, we gave him chances and he consciously chose to blow it off. That’s when I get phone calls to come and talk about client contract violations and severance packages.

    And I’m not into training co-workers anymore. They’re getting younger, they’re impetuous, too eager to please without the common sense to think things through. I’ll give you an example. We took care of this one guy in San Fernando, and while I was cleaning up this bizarre Jackson Pollock tableau of gore, my partner at the time, Little Jalisco, was starting to remove the face.

    “Hey man,” he said. “Arya Stark.”

    “What? Oh crap, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

    “I’m collecting the evidence that we did the job. Payday soon and I’m gonna party. What are you complaining about? Stick to the clean-up, man. You got it easy.”

    Well, this pisses me off something royal because we were nowhere near being done and I genuinely surprised Jalisco – and myself to be quite honest – as to how quickly I could get a hand at his throat and a sharpened SK5 Blackbird at his groin. Translation: I could easily gut him with one stroke.

    “Let me give you some comprehensive feedback here,” I say, trying not to raise my voice, you know, professionalism and all that. “Here’s the thing: there are matters, minor matters, but matters nonetheless, that pertain to certain anatomical issues such as muscles or connective tissue. You can’t apply case skinning procedures to something that requires cape skinning.”

    It’s not registering.

    “Do you not realize a face will shrivel up and become unrecognizable?” I release his throat and withdraw the knife point slowly, yet respectfully. “Now junior, this client wants definitive proof. Suppose there was a hair color or a neck tattoo that’s part of the identification?”

    I trace the outline of Jalisco’s face with the knife. “See what I mean? How’s he going to see anything like that with just a mask?”

    “Oh.” Then, a long drawn out, “Ohhhhh. I messed it up, didn’t I?”

    So now you see why I like to work alone.

    I open the refrigerator and the gray winking face of Doctor Jose Rubalcava – that was his name – stares off into space. All that he was, all he’ll ever be – it’s over. He knew that; his business dealt with inevitability, just as my business deals with it and he knew that too. But it gets me to thinking. What part of my life will outlive me? I’m not old but I’m not young. I’m a fair man but not a just man. I’ve been focusing on questions like this.

    I grab the head by the hair and put it in a plastic Safeway bag. I tie it up and put the package into a Styrofoam cooler. Toss in several of those dry ice packets, seal the thing with duct tape, and it’s good to go.

    With the shovel and trash bag in one hand and my coffee in the other, I open the door with my hip and walk into the scrubs. It’s a brisk morning, I like it. The areas where I buried bits and pieces of Doctor Rubalcava last night are undisturbed which means that no one is going to notice anything out of the ordinary. To the uninvolved eye, it looks like flat desert. I admire the ingenuity of my work. It means I still have quantifiable skills that serve a purpose.

    The crust of the ground is hard, but the early morning condensation helps breaks up the soil as the shovel takes its first bite. I’m now wide awake and alert. In about 15 or 20 minutes, I’ll have a big enough hole, then I’ll toss in the bag and then dust it with the remaining animal repellent granules. I will heat up water and give myself a wipe-down because I hate driving back to Los Angeles coated with sweat and dust. It’s not a good look.

    And here’s where I get to thinking, serious stuff, particularly the realization that there’s going to come a time when my usefulness becomes compromised or obsolete, and then what? Nothing seems certain anymore. Things change too rapidly, and I get moody sometimes thinking that I’ll never be able to keep ahead of the curve. Has my success been ingenuity or just luck? No one wants to feel like a dinosaur, even though dinosaurs lasted for millions of years. That measure of time isn’t awarded for us. These thoughts become a loop. How are my current skills applicable to the world outside of what I know, and how do I put the last twenty years on a resume?

    I cannot work in insurance. I cannot work at Macy’s. I cannot work with children. I am burnt out on people. Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?

    The sun shines hard on decisions such as these.

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