Twila Jefferson looked down the gravel road leading to her home. In the dusty distance a figure approached. In spite of the back-lighting from the now rapidly setting sun, she could see it was a man. He looked like Tom Waits with a bit of a pot belly and a goatee. More of a soul patch. Not that she knew who Tom Waits was. What she did know was that the stranger looked familiar, but still strange. He was dressed like, well . . . he was dressed like Colonel Sanders.
Pretending to be unaware of the approaching man, Twila continued on her appointed rounds, removing white, cotton sheets from the line, folding them and tossing them into the basket. Behind the sheets she tried to quickly pat down her unkempt brunette nest and smooth her gingham dress. She didn’t want to be rude, or make a bad impression. He might be a salesman. For sausage casings or some such.
The man was about twenty yards away when he said, in a Foghorn Leghorn-like voice, “I say, I say, there. Hello! What a lovely day. And, might I say, what a lovely dress. Ma’am, could you direct me, I mean, I say, is Mr. Jefferson at home? Mr. Franklin Jefferson?”
Twila stared, a bit slack-jawed.
“I say, is he at home? This is the Jefferson residence, am I right, Ma’am? And, might I add, what a fine looking residence it is.”
“Yes, this is. I’m Mrs. Jefferson. But mister, why you talking like that?”
“Ah! I beg your most humble pardon, Ma’am. I was just trying to fit in round these parts,” still in Foghorn Leghorn mode. “I am dreadful sorry if I startled or annoyed you, caused you to feel queasy in any way. Heaven knows you have your hands full without worrying about some stranger, a blunderbuss like me a-stumblin in and causing a ruckus. But, Mr. Jefferson, though. Is he about?”
Twila nodded and pointed toward the largest of the half-dozen out buildings. “He’s down over to the killin’ floor.”
Franklin Jefferson was bent over, back to the door, using his gloved hand to pick up a piece of, what? Brain? Innards? He picked it up whatever it was and flung it over his shoulder, no look-style at the large rolling bin. When he looked behind him, between the five hole, to check his aim, he saw that he had a visitor. It was the Devil, or that devil. Lucifestus.
Lucifestus had discarded the Colonel Sanders look and now appeared in full Devil visage. Crimson, barrel-chest exposed, gargantuan bull horns blacker than the belly of a crow at night. He said, “Hey, Chester, old pal! How’ve you been? This place smells just offal.”
“That ain’t the first time that joke’s been made in here.”
Franklin stood up and turned around. He lowered his face-mask, exposing his salt and pepper beard. He looked like a civil war battlefield surgeon. Thick apron, work gloves up to his elbows, steel-toed work boots, all covered in blood, assorted body fluids and viscera. He waved his right arm above his head, indicating his surroundings. “Welcome to the killin’ floor, Mr. Devil. I suppose this looks like a dang kiddie-garden compared to where you live.”
The area he was referring to was about the size of a high school gym. Or what fancy high schools might call “The Small Gym”. Overhead were dozens of pulleys, hoists, ropes and evil-looking hooks. The building inside was practically all floor, what people in the city call an open floor plan. Some kind of tile? It was hard to tell since it was thickly covered by the same chunky, viscous matter that covered Franklin Jefferson. Only more so. Around the perimeter, and in a handful of spots in the floor were drains covered with steel grates, all seemingly hopelessly clogged with putrescence.
Lucifestus stepped forward unfazed by the muck or the insult to the aesthetic of the Underworld. He said, “Don’t you have employees who’ll do this?”
“You’d think. But I’ve lost more than one hired hand because they didn’t want to do this particular task. Some’ve just flat out quit. I got a guy now, Pablo. He’s my Mexican. He’ll do pretty much anything I ask. He’ll clean the killing floor, but he don’t like it. I seen him hold his breath till he damn near pass out. And, you know, he’s got enough on his plate without having to hose blood and brains down the drain. So, at the end of the day, I send everybody home and I do it myself. I kinda like it. I find it relaxing at the end of a day. Kinda like them Chinamen what rake them rock gardens.”
“Japanese, Chester. Japanese. But they’re raking pebbles and stones, not hosing off body parts.”
“See, for somebody that thinks himself all hoity, you don’t know shit do you? It don’t matter what you’re raking, or hosing, or squeegeeing. It’s all about the motion. The repetition. The rhythm. The pattern. See, I mark this place off in a grid. In my mind I do. I bet you didn’t even think I knew about something like grids. Sixths, sometimes eighths. It’s a routine. A process. Whaddya fancy people say? A protocol.
“First you got to pick up the big chunks. They ain’t going down the drain. Then you hose the shit out of everything. Finally, you squeegee the shit out of all of it. But orderly. In the right order. Otherwise, you’re just pushing brains and shit from one side to the other. Me? I like to work counter clockwise. To each his own. But man, when you do it all mindful? You started off with a big-ass room all covered in blood, shit, brains and guts, and you end up with a clean, orderly place of business. It gives me a peace.”
“It’s like a kind of absolution.”
“You sure like them big words.”
“It means . ..”
“I know what it means. I ain’t stupid. I’m just sayin’. We don’t put on airs round here. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m like my own Jesus, washing away my own sins. Although we don’t have blood of the lamb here very often. Mostly pigs. Anyways, I know why you’re here. I figured you’d be around today or tomorrow. End of the week the latest.”
“Ah, good. That saves me a bit of memory jogging. It’s time. Are you ready, buddy?”
“As I’ll ever be. Do I got time to finish up here?” He indicated the garish floor.
“My friend, you’re talking to an eternal being. I’ve got nothing but time.”
Franklin proceeded with his orderly protocol. Big chunks, hose, squeegee. Somewhere around the far turn, Lucifestus started to feel the weight of the silence. He said, “How’s it going? The business here.”
“Great, thanks for asking. We’re no Jimmy Dean, but we’re in all the local stores. Specially the co-ops and such. Whole Foods has come a-callin’. They’re all about that local sourcing. Them younguns, the foodies. Every one of ’em in a hundred square miles? They love us.” He squeegeed the last bit from what was apparently grid number five-of-eight into the drains. Five-eights purity and redemption. Three-eights blood, guts, and despair. Then, “I don’t suppose there’s any way to back out of this thing, is there?”
Lucifestus chuckled and shook his head. “Come on, Chester. We went through all this. We made a deal. And that deal was square. It’s time for reconciliation.”
Franklin sighed, “I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. I don’t know how you live with yourself. What’s it like to be so evil?”
“Evil? I’m not Evil. Good’? Evil? Those are totally human concepts. You guys came up with that shit. Named us one or the other. I’m just a devil. Fish swim. I have to do certain things. The world has to stay in balance, right? That’s what I do. I keep the world balanced. What did that Disney lion call it? The circle of life?”
Franklin bent over to pick up a brain bit he’d missed earlier. Tossed it toward the bin. He raised his right hand, then both, indicating a successful three pointer.
“Nice shot, Jordan,” Lucifestus said. “Look, I’m shooting as straight as you are. The Opposition? They tell people that getting what you want is bad. Can you believe that? They say that people who don’t get what they really want are better than people that do. Isn’t that some bullshit? Let me ask you something. Do you think the lion that takes down the wildebeest is evil?”
“You still talking about that little Simba fella?”
“No, I mean a real lion. Like on National Geographic or something.”
“Oh. Well, kinda. You see them YouTube videos? The wilde-whatever, the deer? They don’t know what’s happening. They’re confused and scared. Terrified. They just wanna live. It’s awful to see. Them lions is assholes.”
“Okay, maybe that’s not a great example. I agree, that’s hard to watch. Point is, the lion is just maintaining the balance, right? What if the lion didn’t do his part? I tell you what, we’d all be ass deep in wildebeest, that’s what. But let me refine my point. The wildebeest didn’t agree to contribute to the great cosmic balance, I’ll give you that. But you, Chester? You most certainly did. Didn’t you get everything you asked me for?”
“I even threw in a little extra for you. A good customer bonus. I knew the deal was a tough choice for you. I wanted to show my appreciation. You remember the blonde at the hotel bar at the Holiday Inn in Biloxi?”
“Oh my God. Was that you? Did I fuck a devil?”
“What? Hell no. Although I do make a very alluring blonde when I want to. And, I might add, I’m a fantastic lay whatever the context or orientation. But no. That particular blonde was the real deal. I did arrange it, though. Wanted you to get your money’s worth, so to speak. That was one of those things you always wanted, but were afraid to say out loud, wasn’t it?”
“Well . . . I never really meant it. It was just a fantasy.”
“Ah, bullshit. That blonde was everything you ever dreamed about and more. You can admit it. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with living your dream?”
Franklin didn’t respond other than a rueful nod while peeling off his gloves. He tossed them into the bin. The killing floor was spotless. Unblemished. Pure.
Lucifestus clapped and rubbed his hands together. “Dude, it looks great. Spic n’ Span. You could eat off of it, right?” He paused what he believed to be the human-measured right amount. Then, “You ready to go?”
“I reckon. It’s just, I hate to wonder what Twila’s gonna think. Me just up and disappearing. She’s gonna think I run off on her. I hate that. I mean, she’s all set up money-wise, and Pablo can run this place for her no problem. I ain’t leaving her high and dry in that way. But it gives me troubles that she’s gonna think I run off.”
“I could come back in a couple of days and explain it all to her, if you want.”
Franklin Jefferson shrugged as he tossed his saturated, crusty apron into the bin. “I don’t suppose you have to include the part about the blond, do you?”
“Whatever you want, Chester. I’m just offering to help.”
They moved toward the door. “On second thought. Maybe it’d be best if you told her about the blond and left out everything else. Maybe it’s better that she thinks I run off instead of what I really done.”
“You’re the customer.” Then, Lucifestus put his arm around Franklin, leading him out the door into the cricket-chirp-filled night. He chuckled a bit. Gave Franklin a friendly jostle, “Maybe I’m getting soft. Maybe I just like you. Maybe I like Twila. But I’m thinking. No, you can’t talk me out of a binding contract. That just can’t be. But maybe I can give you a chance.”
Franklin turned toward the Devil. Questioning.
“We’ve got a bit of a journey ahead of us,” Lucifestus said. “We’ll pass a bar or two on the way and I know we’ll be thirsty. I’m sure we can find a dart board. Maybe a pool table. Bar dice if nothing else. Something. What would you say to a little wager? Double or nothing?”
© 2019 Whiskey Leavins