• THE KNIFE HAND


      0 Not allowed! Not allowed!


      It’s always cold just before dawn no matter where you are, he’d heard it said. They were right, the wind sneaking up from the riverbank found the holes in his denim jacket and quickened his pace along the railway cutting. The random flare of sharply inhaled cigarettes and rustling of newspapers guided him across the gravel to the knot of figures clustered around the gatehouse. He unrolled his own paper and squatted on his heel, acknowledging no-one. A few glances in the gloom revealed the usual cross-section you find looking for casual work before the sun is up: sunken-chested brats with bum-fluffed chins from the poorer suburbs, older op-shop dressed wraiths smoking through cupped hands, toothless stringy-haired piss-pots in baggy tracksuits, and the odd bullneck in regulation prison tatts and beanie. All diligently poring over the Situations Vacant column for jobs they would never get around to applying for, and wouldn’t get if they did.

      He didn’t expect to “get put on” the first day, but a couple of the regulars had taken a sickie: so with a few lies about previous experience, and a well-worn boning knife swiped from a sleepy butcher’s shop in another suburb, he found himself sent straight to the beef floor. After being shown his allotted tasks he set about them with the required amount of jovial disdain; and apart from perfunctory small talk, did his best to keep his mouth shut and his eyes open.

      There is, however, a certain boisterous bonhomie to be found amongst large gangs of men engaged in hard repetitive work; to remain aloof is to attract attention and perhaps disgruntled contempt if you don’t have a language barrier to hide behind. He soon found himself bantering with that biting self-denigrating wit peculiar to people who have filthy, unpleasant, or dangerous jobs that ordinary blokes wouldn’t go any where near, but get paid well to do them. Best to fit in he thought, that way they’ll remember a lot less about you.

      He first spotted his quarry talking to a bunch of pork-floor men in the carpark of the hotel the workers decamped en-masse to after ritually showering off the blood and slime at the end of the day. The description was close to the mark: about five-nine, junk wiry, long hair greased back in a lank parody of a rocker’s quiff, no front teeth and heavily tattooed legs. A skinning knife dangling from his belt at the small of the back, and a definite touch of the tarbrush, completed a picture of a man not to be fucked with lightly, on any turf, let alone his own. He wondered why it had taken so long to finally catch sight of him, assuming that someone in his position would have a high profile in the pub. It was because beef men had their own bar: they drank apart from the rest. They considered themselves a cut above: they were paid the most, and were the only ones not tainted barely tangible, (but permanent), lingering odours. These were caused, legend (and no doubt fact) had it, the gradual osmosis into the skin of living fats from the dismembered beasts. In descending order: lamb, pork, chicken, and fish completed the malodorous heirarchy along the abattoir section of the river. The apartheid wasn’t violently enforced but was quietly understood all; eSpecially the women who clustered around the pokies on pay-day.

      After a couple of weeks he got used to the rhythms of the early starts; catching dawn with the lowing of doomed cattle carrying through the mist. The lusty cacophony on the killing floor: steam hoses hissing and spitting, animals bellowing; and men shouting obscene versions of pop songs over the incessant clanking of the machinery had a strangely engrossing effect on him. He began to enjoy being part of the roaring turmoil. After the obligatory blazing hot shower at the end of the day he felt strangely at peace: maybe this was that “dignity of labour” they talked about.

      However, much as he abhorred indecent haste, increasingly heated phone calls from his real employer forced him to focus more intensely on the other job in hand. It was, after all a powerful fee the man had put up, and if he said: ”Get a fucken move on or I’ll get some other cunt to do it...and you while he’s at it”, he probably meant it. Rich people always talk tough. But who doesn’t when somebody else is carrying out your threats for you? Basic schoolyard logic writ large when you get down to it.

      He’d always made it a point to insist on being spared the details and motives behind the arrangement: backgrounds, of course, but fuck the long-winded diatribes; they tended to cloud the judgement. This time there had been no avoiding it: the blustering client, a florid, expansive bellied Queensland real estate millionaire (whose taste in Hawaiian shirts betrayed his humble origins) let him have the lot.
      It was of course, the same old shit: Beautiful blond daughter...apple of the eye...best of everything...top private school...meant the world to us...blah fucken blahblahblah.

      Gets her own flat...motorcycle riders on the next floor (not real bikies dad, just a bit flash)...weekend runs up the coast...stops seeing old schoolmates...smoking pot...doesn’t ring home anymore...no more tennis with mum...told they were the wrong crowd...wouldn’t listen.

      Found cold on the floor one morning ...must have been her first time!!!! Yeah right, he thought, she was probably hawking her fork for the shit for ages , and you were too busy to take any notice.
      Arrest of pretty boy downstairs...late night discussions with phone book and size 10’s...and smug delivery off the record of the relevant name old footy pal Inspector.

      Finding out that the supplier was not only a union rep but “had a bit of boong in ‘im” must have really set the jelly. The fact that if the trail had been followed a bit further, he might have run into another one of his mates, if not the cop himself, would never have occurred to this avenging Goliath. He had the general demeanour of a bull terrier raised on the bad tit, and this, combined with the innate pig ignorance and tendency to bash first and think later that so characterises the the place he lived in, made him a very single minded individual.

      A lot of thought had been given to the method to be employed: car bomb?... too newsworthy, ditto for a rifle, it’s a rare domestic that gets settled a sniper. A silenced handgun would be OK in a very crowded spot, but there were drawbacks...this was the outer suburbs and the only busy areas were the pub and the dinky shopping centre, and his face was known at both of them. There would be no way to get the target into a car without being seen, there was always someone around at his usual hangouts.
      It would have to be a knife, and quickly done. Luckily, the internal turbulence of a large meatworks with its numerous woman, drug, and union squabbles accounted for quite a few compo payouts and unexplained violence. Besides, he wouldn’t have to clean up afterwards, that increased his safety margins considerably.
      The moment came roughly as planned: every Wednesday as the rep did his rounds he checked in on the lamb floor just before smoko, then took a short cut past the gut-tables on his way back to his office. It was a simple matter to leave with the others, then double back around the head chain and lurk in wait behind the tongue racks. It was a cold morning and a good deal of steam was wafting about the deserted steel larinth. A quick survey from a walkway revealed a totally empty floor except for the approaching figure engrossed in the sheaf of forms in his hand.

      He went in fast, knife first, before the left arm went around the neck from behind. The eight inch blade slid in just above the right hip, searching for the hepatic artery and simultaneously filletting the liver. There was a sound not unlike a stifled laugh as the man tried to pull away before emitting a long sigh and sagging in his arms. He’d got the blood vessel and he imagined that he could feel the neck going cold as the massive haemorrhage flooded the body’s internal cavity. He gave a last couple of thrusts with the knife, twisting his hips into it as if wrenching the last drops of semen into a good woman. When the body had slumped to the floor he placed the point of the knife in the little hollow behind the right ear, and gave the handle a sharp smack with the heel of his hand, driving the blade up into the brain. It then took only a matter of seconds to drag the limp form over to the offal chute and propel it down into the rendering tubs. No-one had seen a thing. He dipped his knife into the small sink full of hot water nearest him and headed for the toilets. He emerged from the outside door with a previously half-smoked rollie in his hands, cracked a joke about the effects of too much beer on the arse, then headed back to work with the others.
      Less than ten minutes later the siren sounded, stopping the shift for the day. The utter impossibility of the police questioning so many unco-operative witnesses at one sitting meant an early mark, and a trip down to the pub for a welter of gossip, bullshit and highly opinionated exchanges all around. He added his two-bob’s worth to the myriad of theories suggesting that someone might have been putting his dick where it wasn’t wanted, and left after a few beers. He couldn’t relax yet..he knew he’d have to stay on at least a week; perhaps even be interviewed the D’s, before he’d quietly move on. He’d be back at his favourite motel on the Gold Coast, staring at the sea through the venetian blinds with a bought woman lying beside him, giving off that antiseptic smell they seem to have: waiting for the phone to ring so he could become alive again.
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