“There’s a place you can go for that.”
“What…, no way,” she said, “…for real?”
“Uh-huh, but keep it on the down-low. It’s very hush-hush.”
“Well, if that’s true, where do you go?”
“Just where you’d expect; it’s where people usually go for that sort of stuff.”
“You mean Stiffy Joes?”
“Bullshit, I’ve never seen any in the shop window. You’re having me on, Tim.”
I laughed, “’course you’ve never seen any, you silly moo, be bad for business, wouldn’t it. Frighten the punters away.”
“How much does it cost?”
“How long does it take?”
“No idea; it’s not the sort of thing I’ve done before or am ever likely to do again.”
“Well, you’re not much bloody use, are you!”
“Excuse me for trying to help, Liz – I told you, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, I s’pose, thanks. Can I ask another favour?”
“Is Joe in?” she asked.
I looked about the macabre interior, avoiding eye contact with the goth shop assistant.
“The jerk’s on his constitutional.”
“You mean the toilet?”
“No, a coffee break, an americano every day at 1.45 pm. His constitutional right, he says. The 9th amendment, the unenumerated right to a coffee break. Fuckin freak!”
The shop assistant added, “can I help?”
“…I’m… not… sure.”
“I’m fully qualified, you know. I apprenticed with Joe – for three years!”
“Oh…,” Liz started.
I interrupted. “It’s a special job,” parenthesising ‘special’ with my index fingers.
The shop assistant instantly changed her attitude. Not for the better.
“Come back after 2 pm.”
She turned and walked away quickly.
“I guess it’s not everybody’s cup of tea,” I said, trying to reassure Liz.
“Coffee?” she prompted.
“Rum?” I countered.
36DD’s – The Dyslexics Bra
“Better than Hooters,” I said.
Liz rolled her eyes.
Our drinks arrived.
“Why,” I asked, “…why?”
“You mean Hector?”
“I just want him around forever, I s’pose.”
“Still don’t get it!”
“Well,” she said, “can’t live with him, can’t live without him. Isn’t that what they say?”
“Can’t argue with that,” I said. “Up your bum,” I added, raising my glass while checking out the barmaid.
“Have you thought where you’d put him?”
“I guess you have to be a bit careful about that.”
“What ya mean?”
“Well…,” I said, just as the hot chips arrived. “Could we have some ketchup, please?”
“Lots of it,” Liz chimed in. “It always reminds me of thick sticky blood. Sweet.”
“Good chips,” I said after a minute, “pass the salt.”
Stiffy Joes – reprised
.“I’ll let him know you’re here.”
“Snooty bitch,” Liz cursed quietly.
“Shush, she’s getting him, isn’t she?” I said.
Thirty seconds later, a dishevelled man escaped from the plastic strip door curtain.
“I’m Joe,” he announced, “whatcha want?”
“A private chat about a private job,” I repeated.
“Why are you whispering, you fool? What do you want?”
“A private chat,” I said, surprising myself with my volume.
“Is that right?”
“I think we should go,” Liz interrupted, clearly uncomfortable.
“Your choice,” the sasquatch hippy with Joe engraved on his badge said.
“Hang on, Liz, are you sure?”
She looked at me, eyes searching for her thoughts.
“Can we go somewhere private?” I suggested.
“Come through then, follow me.”
Wild-eyed birds watched our movements as we entered the bowels of Stiffy Joes.
The shop cat stared, frozen to a spot on the back bench.
“Well…?” he asked, reaching for his tobacco pouch.
I gulped. “We heard you did special jobs?”
“Who said that?” the old man responded suspicion in his eyes, a tobacco shred in his moustache.
“Just a rumour I heard.”
“Rumours are like wonky spirit levels; they can put you wrong, my friend: be unbalanced and put you out of kilter. Make you make bad decisions.”
I looked around, spied a red squirrel dead on the concrete floor; it must have fallen out of the faux fir tree in the corner.
Liz gasped; Joe ejected a single word. “Fuck.”
“Okay…okay, let’s say you did ‘special jobs,’ how much would that kind of thing cost?”
Taking his time, the old man deftly rolled a cigarette – then expelled air from his lungs, preparing for the onslaught of incoming smoke.
“Same price range as a funeral,” he answered.
“Some people want bells and whistles; some just want a cardboard casket. Some people send their loved ones off in a golden shroud and a Mercedes Benz; others, well, they can’t get rid quick enough, no-frills, nothing fancy. A sheet, a hole in the ground, or a can of kerosine, and a lighter.”
Liz shook her head, looked down at her feet.
It was my turn to expel air. “Even an el-cheapo funeral is $5k. That’s pretty expensive.”
“Fuck off,” the old man spat back. “It’s friggin cheap at twice the price. Think of the advantages. Cemeteries are running out of room; they’re starting to double-deck plots. Do you want that? Cremation pollutes the air – releases carbon into the atmosphere. What I offer is a chance to be with your loved one forever. Do burials and cremation offer that?”
“So, there is no top end, then, minimum $5k, no upper limit?”
“That’s right; most people spend between $12k and $15k. That’s a quality product that will last a lifetime. What do you think?”
“I deferred to Liz; what do you think, Liz?”
“I’m not sure, I don’t know,” came her timid response.
“Jesus, Mary and the whole fuckin cavalcade of saints; don’t waste my time, lady; I’ve two dogs and a cat to mount.”
I stalled for time. “You got a portfolio or something, so my friend can see for herself?”
“Guy or girl,” he asked?
“The bloody model, guy or girl”
“She better not be a friggin’ tyre kicker, mate.” He stormed over to the back bench, threw some papers around then came back with a chemical-stained folder.
“This is what I can do.”
Inside the folder was a catalogue filled with models in different poses.
“Let me walk you through it.
Picture One is our base model. The price of $5k includes mounting but minimal animation. What you see is what came in. Might not look glamorous – but it’ll never age, and it comes with our thirty-year guarantee.”
Liz recoiled and grunted, “yuk, it’s not very flattering.”
“Natural though, this guy fell off a ladder, landed in a thorn bush and broke his neck. His wife was very pleased with the realism.
Now, number two is $6k. It includes a more natural look, with a bit more animation.”
“Erg, gross,” Liz turned her head away.
“This guy was frightened to death, but his wife didn’t want to change a thing! She liked the idea that he saw it coming.”
Number three – sports pose! I was told this weedy guy was a wimp but always wanted to be a boxer. His girlfriend wanted his dream to come true. Not my cup of chimp juice, but she was happy enough.”
Liz shook her head.
Now, number four, very proud of this one – $7.5k. He was a writer. The main difference is the facial hair. You see? That stubble will be there for eternity, and he’ll never have to shave.”
“I’ve seen that guy before,” I said.
“Yeah, probably; he’s parked in the west corner of the town library. He wanted to be put there, close to his precious books. Patrons of the library think he’s a statue. The pipe isn’t really lit – the library is a public building, you see – non-smoking.”
I smiled. “Yeah…yeah…that’s right, that’s him!”
At last, Joe decided to light his rollie – inhaled a deep draught of rum-soaked tobacco. My nostrils flared in attraction. Rum, I thought.
Number five. Similar, but the props are more elaborate, fancy. Came with the chair, trilby, and mohair suit—$ 10k.
Number six. Wannabe gangster look. In fact, this guy was a gangster. His father is a crime lord. He wanted a reminder of his son. The old man ordered a hit on him. The unfortunate lad had eyes for his father’s missus and a bit of a sweet tooth!
“A sweet tooth?”
“Yeah, he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar!”
“Oh,” I said.
“Rigor mortis had set in by the time I got to him, so I put a gun in his hand. Good thinking ae’, and quality all the way with this one. $12.5k – worth every cent.”
Number 7, top of the range! $17k! This guy was in the military, killed on active service. His wife wanted something to remember him by. Better than a flag and a medal – don’t ya think?”
“Was he killed in a battle?” Liz asked
“Shit, no, he was electrocuted repairing a hot water cylinder; he was an army electrician. Must have been a shit one at that.
So, that gives you an idea of what I can do; whatcha think? You interested?”
I looked at Liz.
“How much did you want to spend then?”
“Um,” she said, “$10k, but that would be my top budget. Max.”
“Good, we’re getting somewhere now.” Joe smiled, “thought of a pose or style?
“Something natural, nothing too posed.”
“Okay, good, what did he like? Tell me something about him?”
Liz smiled, “he loves, I mean, he loved parties. He loved football. He’s Dutch, I mean was Dutch – from Holland.”
“That’s good; it’s given me a few ideas – maybe a party pose, a football celebration, something like that. I could do that for $10k. When can I see the model? When can you bring him in?”
Liz hesitated, turned bright red.
I jumped in to help. “That’s where there’s a bit of a problem.”
“Problem? For god’s sake, you are fuckin wasting my time. What problem?”
“Well…, shall I tell, or will you,” I asked Liz.
Joe looked at me expectantly; I could tell it was more than gravity wearing his smile down. He was pissed off.
Well…, he’s not dead yet!
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!”
“But, he will be, will be soon,” Liz quickly added.
Hands-on hips, Joe rolled his eyes.
“I take deposits,” he said, “10% non-refundable? I’m the only guy in town who does this kind of work – so I reckon you got no choice.”
“That’s ridiculous; why would we pay you a deposit?”
“Because if you don’t, I might say no, and then you’ll have a body to dispose of, a body due to an unexplained death, or I just might tell the cops what you told me! Your choice.”
I looked about the backroom; dozens of marbled eyes inserted into manky pelts stared back at me. It was clear Joe traded in misery and revelled in it.
“We need time to think.”
“Fair enough,” Joe said, throwing his butt to the floor, stubbing it out with his hairy feet, kicking it toward the squirrel.
“But don’t take too long. I’m having my brother over for lunch on Sunday. He’s a cop. Me and him like to spin a few yarns, share a drink or two. Who knows what might pop up after a couple of beers?”
I looked about again; well, it won’t be a live Meer cat, I thought.
“What’s the best way to kill him?”
The unabashed tone and gravity of Liz’s question stood out like the balls of the mangey elk standing in the east corner. It looked confused, standing spread-legged in front of a pathetically painted mountain diorama. I knew how it felt.
What the hell? I added to my thoughts. I turned to Liz, wearing a what-the-fuck face.
She had steely eyes; determination engraved on her face.
“What’s the best way? A way that doesn’t affect the skin and a way to make sure I won’t get caught.”
“Poison,” Joe responded immediately. Yep, poison’s the go, doesn’t leave a mark, difficult to prove.
Liz smiled, “let me think about your offer then; give me a chance to raise the $1k deposit. I’ll only need 24 hours. I can come back tomorrow at 1.30 pm; I can bring some coffee if you want?”
“Well, that’s about when I take a coffee break, so why not? I drink Americano’s.”
Liz turned to me, “what about you, Tim? Can you make it?”
“Sure, why not,” I parroted, “I’ll try an Americano as well.”
Liz’s flat – reprised
“Thanks for coming with me today, Tim.”
“No worries, but are you sure you want to do this?”
“Well…you know what I mean…do this to Hec, get into bed with that freak Stiffy Joe?”
“I’m doing it for him! Securing his future.”
I stared back at her; she was deadly serious. She was clearly deranged. I started to question my involvement.
“You still cool about tomorrow?” she asked, perhaps sensing my fading enthusiasm.
“Sure,” I lied.
“I’m phoning Hec tonight; I’ll ask when he’s coming back. He’s at a Gun conference in Wellington. Hopefully, he’ll be back the day after tomorrow. He’s in for one hella-of a big surprise!”
I gulped and decided to have a tall rum when I got home.
Stiffy Joes – again
The shop doorbell chimed as I walked in.
I’d arrived five minutes early, so I looked around the shop. Stiffy Joes was a carrion cornucopia for the depraved; what once were beautiful lythe breathing animals were now buckram beasts of grotesque deformity. I shivered.
The goth appeared out of nowhere. “Oh, for God’s sake, it’s only you.”
She looked pastier than yesterday, crispier whitewashed face, shinier bottle black hair. The coloured language stayed the same, though.
Not surprised, I thought, working in a place like this, with a boss like Joe.
“I’ll let him know you’re here,” she said.
The doorbell chimed again. Liz walked in carrying a cardboard tray with three coffees safely inserted.
I smiled a half-smile. The goth returned, offered a quarter smile and a wink.
“Come through,” Joe called from behind the tacky red and black plastic curtain, bringing back childhood memories of old butchers’ shops.
No greeting, I wasn’t surprised.
“You got the money?” he asked.
Liz nodded, smiled, “coffee?”
I’d only taken a sip when I felt my throat clamp shut; I struggled to breathe. My guts were set alight. I was on fire. I felt my body start to shake, my eyes bulge. I began to convulse; I tried to focus. I saw Joe lying on the ground, holding his throat. I fell. I looked up, squinted, saw Liz standing over us. She was smiling.
Liz’s flat – again
“Mmm, so nice to see you, Hec! I missed you so much!”
Whoa, settle down, Liz, aren’t you Miss Frisky today! I’ve just walked in the door; there’ll be plenty of…whoa, you have missed me!”
“Liz looked up; you not like?”
“You know I do, but I’ve just got in; I didn’t shower this morning. Let me have a coffee and a shower first!”
“Oh, you spoil all the fun. I might change my mind, you know – you might not be so lucky later!”
Hec smiled and helped Liz off her knees. “I’ll take that risk!”
“Let me make you a coffee,” she suggested, “you go have a quick shower now.”
“Awesome, I’ll be quick; I have so much to tell you about the conference.”
Five minutes later, Hec exited the bathroom.
“Phew, that feels better.”
“Here’s your coffee,” Liz said, “sit down and tell me about Wellington.”
“Well,” he stated, “I’m pretty keen to get started; after talking to lots of people, I reckon there’s still a market out there.”
“I’m so pleased you said that,” Liz said, “I’ve got something to show you; follow me.”
Hec grinned, “I’m up for anything, Liz; you look so naughty today.”
Hec followed her to the garage.
“Look in the freezer Hec; I think you’ll like what you see.”
“Oh my God, Liz, oh my God, what have you done? Oh fuck, that’s Tim, isn’t it? And oh shit, oh shit, is that Stiffy Joe?”
“Yep,” she beamed, “got rid of the competition for you; now you can open your taxidermist shop and not worry about the competition. And you get a chance to practice on some models. I’ve even got your first employee for you. She’s fully qualified!”
“Holy fuck Liz, you know when I said I wouldn’t mind stuffing some people. You know I was joking, right?’
Many thanks to the talented photographers for allowing me to use their work via Unsplash. They have all been acknowledged individually via my twitter feed. However, special mention is made to Sander Sammy (main model). Many thanks for your generosity.