I was delayed nearly a minute as the FedEx guy came by for a delivery. He took his time explaining he would leave the package, undoubtedly today’s payroll, on Mick’s desk. I could tell his broken Philippine wasn’t enough for the nonplussed dockworker who I think said “sure, fine, whatever.” I waited, listening for them to clear off, then carefully opened the door.
I can see people everywhere as I peek out.. The music is blaring loud enough for cover, and it’s dark enough in this end of the building, I think… So I throw open the door and pull Mick by his lapels, listening to his body drag as I cross the dirty concrete floor.
My eyes never leave the workers, who busy themselves unpacking fork lifts full of boxes in an effort to sprinkle the “meat product” in with the legitimate T-bones, Porterhouses, Rump Roasts, Tenderloins, and what-not.
I’m on high speed, partly from the laced cigarettes, not wanting to get caught, even if what I’m doing is tacitly acknowledged by Mick’s bosses. There’s not one of these guys who really wants to poke his nose in my business. And I hate the thought of having to incapacitate one of them just to keep my face a secret from the Feds, who would have me locked up in a labor prison for breaking any one of the PopLaws.
I’m not even outside yet, and already sweat is pouring off me as I back into the exit door and push it open. The FedEx truck is just driving away, but there’s an old black junky-schizophrenic screaming his head off at the train tracks. I look. Dizzy sees me straining with Mick’s weight. His listless fat rolls and jostles along the pavement picking up all the dirt raining out of the sky. Dizz sees my distress, throws down his cigarette and comes rushing to my side.
“I saw the FedEx guy.”
“Did he see you?”
“Nah, I didn’t come out till he left.”
Dizz pitches in grabbing ole’ Mick’s legs. We count to three and hoist him up, carrying him out a grassy side yard and out into the hellish sun drenched street. The crack-head sees us crossing. His black eyes gaze out, dazed through gigantic silvery eyebrows, chewing on something he picked off the ground.
“Hey! What’re ya’ll doin with that guy?”
I look at him. Perhaps I’ve miscalculated his cognitive abilities.
“What do you want to do?” Dizz asks.
Urging him forward, straining with Mick’s weight, “We’re county EMT,” I say to the dazed crack-head.
“Ooohhh yeah?” He says. “He sick or something?”
“Appears that way. Dizz, get the door open.”
“Aye-aye, Capitan.” Dizz says, propping himself with Mick’s left leg in one arm as he drops the other and reaches into his pants for the key.
“What, you didn’t unlock it?”
“I’m just takin’ precautions!”
Nervous now, waiting and watching as Dizz jams the key in the lock and opens the door. He leaves me holding Mick’s torso as he jumps into the back of the truck, which is actually a fully functioning mobile surgical station.
The schizophrenic wants a closer look, and steps off the sidewalk and pokes a scabby fungus riddled finger at Mick.
“Damn. Damn!” He says. “My girl Loquitia got sick like that once, I had to call up Superman and ask him what I should do. Y’know I talk to’im. I got the telephone lines and power cables all workin’ in my favor…” He lets out a wheezing victorious laugh. He claps his hands loudly and stomps his foot inside a boot which is broken at the sole and tied with shoe laces to keep the whole thing from coming off his foot. “I still got the gift baby! I’ll talk to that muthafucka all night long!” He screeches. My stomach cringes at the sight of staff eating away the flesh on his exposed big toe.
Dizz and I glance at each other. He’s high functioning, but a ditz alright. I could give him antibiotics for the staff, but he’d probably forget to take them. My security concerns somewhat way laid, we jack Mick’s unconscious body into the bay then up onto the table.
“You know my girl Loquitia, man? She’s got big brown eyes and a fat ole booty. Y’all know I like that booty main, it ain’t NOTHIN betta! Haha! But she uh, done found huself in some trouble, y’know dem Trogs I think. They picked her up over’dere on Crenshaw. They took her and they cut her up something awful, put all kinds o’ stuff in her, and she died.”
The moribund tone of the conversation is surpassed only by his smell, which is the worst kind of human odor. The dead cows inside have nothing on this guy who reeks so bad he’s making me nauseous.
“I’m sorry. We gotta go now.” I say, putting my hands on the door and closing it decisively. I turn the bolt inside the door and watch him through the one way glass. He stands looking at the ground for a moment then something catches his attention. He waves to a friend across the street, shouts about getting some drugs then disappears from view.
I can’t help but feel I’ve changed, that I’ve become an inhuman machine. I stare at the floor, shocked by my lack of compassion for that man. The doctor in me wants to help him. The street in me says he’s human trash ready for waste containment.
“Hmm?” I look at Dizz who is busy with Mick on the operating table, cutting away his clothes and spreading the antibacterial solution on his pale blubbery skin. I set about scrubbing my hands clean, and prepping my laser scalpel. Sixty years ago abortions were illegal in this country. Now they’re compulsory for the vast majority of women, and it’s illegal to get an organ transplant. Doctors can’t even do their job. We’re now living with a generation of doctors for whom the Hippocratic Oath is meaningless. They’re not even doctors anymore, not in any sense you and I would think of them. They’re eugenicists; guys trained to weed out the sick from the healthy, the weak from the strong. Death means nothing to a doctor now. In fact, they count on it like a cop counts on speeding ticket
“Did you know Julie and I conceived once?”
Dizz’s eyebrows knit profusely as he trashes some antibacterial soaked gauze. “Before?” He asks.
I nod then add, “barely.”
Mick is starting to come out of it. Dizz sees this and places a mask over his nose and mouth and turns on the gas from a compressed tank standing by. The reason Dizz needs the money more than I do is his wife is pregnant. They’re a lucky couple. Dizz and his wife are both too old to have been involuntarily sterilized, and as Dizz is a doctor he was able to buy a license, which comes with a note it will take Dizz and his wife ten years to pay off. So he works with me to make ends meet, and runs the risk of getting caught and thrown in jail.
I try not to think about this. I have my own story to tell, and unfortunately it’s on the tip of my tongue as I lift the scalpel and go to work on Mick’s left flank, cutting through the derma and layers of subcutaneous fat, through abdominal wall, and proceed to move all his guts out of my way. What we’re after is buried near his spine.
I met Julie in my last year of med school, as an intern at UCLA Medical Center in the Emergency Room. She was a research psychologist studying schizophrenics like our friend outside the truck. She liked to say that schizophrenia was caused by acute stress which in extremely creative or sensitive types produces psychosis. Not hard to imagine why it is so rampant in the homeless, people who’ve been thrust out of society and forced to fend for themselves in an urban jungle. According to her description I often imagined them, panes of fractured glass walking around, barely able to hold themselves together and often failing.
Blonde haired, blue eyed, your typical SoCal bombshell, Julia had one of those rare pairings of beauty and brains. She caught my attention immediately, as she did most people. The first time I saw her she was in the cafeteria carefully arranging organic strawberries on her mixed green salad. I think she was a bit tired from constant overtures of affection from her many devotees, but she was not at all affected by resentment or vanity. She was remarkably in touch with herself, and never let her beauty overtake her identity. I don’t know why she chose me. I was not tall or especially handsome. I guess I just had the right pheromones.
We rented a quiet little walled garden house on a walkway off Venice, near the end of Washington Blvd, with the constant sound of ocean and the punch drunk color of bougainvillea and birds of paradise, pale green shutters and the smell of jasmine floating around in the late spring. I can still imagine her footfalls on the aged hardwood floor, and little grains of sand dusting the surface. I can see them, porcelain white and fine, striping up a sheer white cotton night gown in the cool ocean breeze.
And I can remember our sex, tender, willing, and strong. I don’t recall ever feeling out of touch with her. I don’t recall anything really, nothing negative at least. Memory and longing have a way of erasing all of that.
My hands are working swiftly, mopping up blood and readying the knife to cut fat tissue surrounding Mick’s kidney. Removing this, and wiping my bloody gloved hand on my smock, I lay his kidney to one side and go to work separating his adrenal gland from the top of the kidney. A moment later I cut and cauterize the renal vein, artery, and cut the ureter.
“So you work here?” She asked me as I surreptitiously fondled croutons with a pair of tongs, trying to decide between French and Vinaigrette dressing.
“Yeah.” I wasn’t really trying. Though I knew of Julie and wanted her as everyone did, I was too busy to lay designs. On that day in particular, I’d had a patient with a gunshot wound who began hemorrhaging unexpectedly, and I was busy chastising myself for not being more thorough.
I guess fecklessness was working in my favor. Julie could tell by my pained expression I was having a tough time. Her face radiated at me like an angel. It must have been the lights over the salad bar, shining in her eyes just so. I went instantly flush under her gaze. I should be thankful for those lights. They must’ve made me seem almost heavenly as well.
The air in the van is blowing dry and getting hotter. Beads of sweat are running down my back. I struggle to tuck everything neatly back inside and to sew Mick up. Dizz places Mick’s kidney in stasis. The damned condenser on the air conditioner is going. This kidney will net me a cool half million, easy enough to absorb the costs of a new condenser. But with my costs, which are really rock bottom, the money will barely cover me ten weeks – the average time I go between jobs. Add in the amount of time I spend tracking, warming up to, and subduing a tag, and often travel costs are involved… and you can see it goes quick. Also LA is the hottest US market for this kind of work, so I am not the only one supplying the market.
So it’s illegal, not fun, and it barely pays, but at least stealing organs for those who can afford it is helping somebody…