PAYDAY by KEVIN BERG

I sit motionless in the closet upstairs and wait for the door to open. Adrenaline slams my heart against my ribcage in anticipation, beads of sweat roll through the dips and valleys of scars and age on my forehead to sting my eyes. I blink away the excitement and breathe deeply, it shouldn’t be long.

The handle rotates with a quiet squeak and the figure of a man appears in the doorway, swimming between shadows and the light that seeps from the hallway into the bedroom. He jumps when he sees me stand, cloaked in darkness and hatred, the flash of a blade in the dim light not nearly as bright as my eyes that burn with anger and desperation. He stumbles backward and a tiny squeal escapes his throat as he falls to the floor, his arms flail and claw at empty air.

I am on him in an instant, the cold blade pressed into his throat as I straddle his torso and sit on his chest. The smell of ammonia wafts through the air to punish me, his only defense against the surprise attack makes me gag and spit, thankful this isn’t my carpet, and I begin the questions I am here to ask. “Where the fuck is it? Speak, motherfucker, or I will end you right here, right now.”

“I-I don’t have it. Not yet.” His eyes leak to mix with the snot on his lip and run slimy down his cheek to the carpet. “Please, I am working on it. Give me until Friday, I promise I will have it then.”

His lips move but I don’t hear his words. His pathetic pleas quiet against the heartbeat in my ears, the flow of blood that rushes through my veins deafening as he squirms and whines under my weight. His lips quiver and wiggle like he is begging, but it is too late now. I have told him this already. More than once. I lean back and squeeze my fingers tight around the steel grip of the industrial box cutter I stole from work.

Heavy. Reliable.

My right fist slams the handle down like a hammer to crush his nose. Then again. And again. I swing until my shoulder aches and I am winded.

He bleeds but he doesn’t move any more. The begging has stopped, but I feel his neck to make sure he isn’t dead yet, I still have plans for this one.

*

I sit in the corner smoking and wait for him to recover consciousness, his body slumped forward against the restraints that secure him to the chair. Thick, black zip ties chew into his wrists, cinched tight behind him to prevent any movement when he wakes up. The air hangs thick and musty between us, the cold burns my cheeks and tears hang motionless at the corners of my eyes. I exhale a large plume of blue smoke in his direction, which wraps around him under the shine of a bare bulb that hangs directly overhead.

The light is barely enough to see the walls of the rented storage space, the edges of the small room cloaked in shadow and far too dark to make out the padlock that holds the metal rolling door to the latch on the ground. There is no escape for him, but at least there is a drain in the middle of the cold cement floor. Less to clean up for me. He stirs with a mushy cough through the bloody mess that is now his face.

“W-What… Where am I? What are you doing? P-Please, I said I was sorry. I will have it on Friday,” he stammers from the cold, or from fear, or both.

His suffering invigorates me and sends my insides rolling and crashing in delight. My heart dances in my chest and my stomach rumbles, my breaths short and sharp. I stand and take a long, deep pull of toxins into my lungs, the burn calms me and I fire the smoldering cigarette at his chest. The ember explodes in a shower of orange sparks against his chin and lap, the walls seem much closer than they were before.

“I told you, it is too late. Do you remember what I said when we made the agreement? I specifically told you this would happen if you didn’t follow through. Did you think that was just for show? Just talk?” My voice calm and dead in the chill, he cannot see or hear the glee that fights to escape my body as the excitement continues to build. My fury escapes in puffs under the dim light, and I feel the steam leaving the sweat that beads on my forehead in the freezing night.

He blubbers, “I thought you were joking. We are friends– “

“We are coworkers. That is it. Don’t get it twisted.” I cut him off before he can spin this into something it is not. “I told you I needed it, but I gave it to you in good faith. A moment of weakness coming back to bite me in the ass, I should never have given that to you because I need it. My family needs it. Are you trying to hurt me? Hurt my family?” I push a vicious kick into his chest and his chair tips and slams into the cement floor. I think I hear him crying again. “Family first, cunt. Never forget that. Well, not in the short time you have remaining of your life.”

His sobs turn into screams of agony as I set to work.

I kneel behind him and spread his fingers, leaning into the crunch of the utility knife through bone until I hear the carbon steel blade clink against the cement floor, and his finger is freed from the hand. I repeat this step nine more times until his hands are bloody, fingerless wads lying limp on the cold floor. Blood streams toward the rusted grate covering the drain.

Next, I remove the teeth. I take the high leverage pliers, also from work, out of my duffel bag and kneel on his throat as I wrench them from his blubbering jaws. I saw it in a movie once. Or read it in a book. Either way, I know I need the fingers and the teeth to help prevent, or delay, the identification of the body. This bastard has already caused me enough trouble, I can’t have him costing me my freedom as well. My family really does need me.

It isn’t long before he is silent and still, thankfully, as I am tired of the crying.

The excitement gone from my body as the chore of disposal kicks into full gear. To dispel the guilt I remove his eyes using a flathead screwdriver I pull from my duffel bag. The blade of my knife slices through the fibers of the optic nerve with ease, leaving deep and bloody pits that are less distressing, as I work my way through the plan so clear in my mind for this task.

I place the bloody white pieces of his teeth into the bag that also holds the identifying digits, and tie it up after the eyes go in there as well. I remove a wallet from his pocket, not surprised to find it empty, holding only the club card for the grocery store near his home and an old receipt from the liquor store down the street. I leave those and toss the wallet onto his chest before I remove his phone and place it into my pocket.

My work almost done, I place all of my tools back into the duffel bag and toss the bag of body parts onto the top before zipping it closed.

I empty the can sitting in the corner over the body and leave a trail of liquid after me on my way out of the space. I pull the metal door closed and drop a match to the gasoline, leaving before the flames get too large and the authorities arrive.

*

After a shower I barely have enough time to eat and head to work. I pull into the icy parking lot and head inside. My breath pours out in giant clouds on the way from my car to the employee entrance, the cold does little to wake me up for another day wasted here.

A few of my coworkers are standing around, trying to avoid the inevitable work that needs to be done. The holidays are over, so job avoidance is no longer acceptable. They drink coffee and talk about sports and family, traffic and weather, the new year and the struggling economy. An orange face jiggles and yells in anger below what looks to be wispy, golden-white synthetic hair, in front of the presidential seal on the television screen in the corner.

The program finishes and the local news cuts to smoldering rubble, the parking lot holds the sign of the self-storage building I had visited the night before.

Body found…fire…no identification…victim mutilated…unknown assailant…horror…” Words try to break through the morning fog that suffocates my brain, but I only catch a few of them before I am interrupted.

“Hey Jack, have you seen Chris this morning?” The squeaky voice makes me cringe and a headache immediately forms just behind my right eye.

Fuck. Management already. I only made it eleven minutes into my shift before Mitchell bugged me today. “No, I haven’t. He did say he had some leave coming up, when did that start?”

“Oh, I’m not sure, I guess I will have to check on that.” He chuckles, then walks away shaking his head down the hall toward his office.

I know it started today. That’s why I needed my fucking money before he left. Sure, it was only twenty bucks, but with the economy, and the cost of living increasing exponentially while wages remain low, how am I supposed to take care of my family? We don’t get paid here until Friday, and I am already at negative fourteen hundred dollars in my bank account. That’s a lot of red. Each charge brings an extra thirty-four dollar overdraft fee, and three days means an additional fifteen dollar extended fee. I fucking hate the bank. This twenty dollar loan cost me almost seventy in the end, and he never even paid me back. Plus the twenty-four dollars for the shipping and the three more for the envelope to mail his phone this morning, almost a bill down the damn drain. Just to help someone else. Son of a bitch.

Lucky he told me he was headed to England to watch his favorite soccer team play. Football he called it. Fancy fucking world-traveler. Well, the GPS will show he went on leave as scheduled, if they ever figure it out and decide to track the device to the address of some Royal Mail building I found on the internet.

Time crawls at work, as always.

I sit impatient and agitated, and when work finally finishes I return home. I take my girls to the lake at the nearby park to feed the ducks, and remember to bring the bag from the trunk. They toss crumbled bits of bread into the water and giggle as the ducks splash and flutter toward the bread, quacking and flapping their wings fiercely to get the next handout.

I open my bag and toss one piece at a time, watching the fingers sink between the rocks to be swallowed by the silty soil on the bed of the clear lake. The broken teeth float, but only for a moment, before they are quickly snatched up and swallowed by the greedy fowl.

A giant mastiff bounds up to us on the shore and playfully nudges my laughing girls, then looks past me and lets a deep, throaty bark out at the ducks. I hold out a hand, and after a quick sniff it is left slimy and dripping, but empty, as a massive tongue licks any trace from his humungous chops. The bloody, sightless orbs already on their way to resting in his stomach as his owner comes running up to our family.

“Are you okay?” Out of breath he explains, “Sorry about that, he is big, but he is wonderful with children. Cronus, down!” He bends at the knees trying to regain his composure as the dog trots up and begins licking his face. “Oh goodness, boy, your breath is awful. What did you get into?” He fastens a leash to the collar around the dog’s neck and stands erect as he pats the giant skull and smiles at me.

“Yes, we are fine. He was playing with the girls, they are having fun with the ducks.” I smile, it’s not genuine, but he can’t see that. He nods before walking away, and I sit on the bench as the girls continue to throw crusts of bread into the water and laugh as the ducks battle for food.

One day closer to pay day, but I can’t keep doing this shit. Maybe I should ask for a raise.

*

BIO: Kevin Berg spends his time reading everything he can get his hands on, and now writing, trying to tell the stories that pollute his thoughts. He has recently become interested in the underappreciated art of describing himself in third person, so sometimes I still get it mixed up. I mean he. He means he. He lives at the base of the beautiful Rocky Mountains with his amazing wife and two kickass daughters, and has recently published an offensive and entertaining debut – Indifference – and there are plenty more to come. He is adamant that he is not going away. So, love him or hate him, just don’t ignore him.

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