Though they strained with all their might, the killers could not move the corpse, which was fatter than the full moon and beginning to stiffen. They had tried with Sparrow at the head and his Crowe at the feet, and then the other way around; they had next tried and failed to drag the body by the arms. Also fruitless was an attempt to roll the body. The killers’ impotence drove them desperately to kicking and punching at the corpse, but it defied them still—though the coins tinkled inside it—in refusing even to bruise. At long last, the killers sat down in the snow by the side of the road, hard breathing and low in spirits.
Sparrow lit a cigarette and offered the packet to Crowe, who shook his head. “My gums have been bleeding, you idiot!” he snapped. “That will do them no good.” Sparrow flinched, and replaced the cigarette in the packet. Crowe coughed, hawked, and spat a huge ball of goo in an arc over the snow. It left a steaming tunnel behind it as it disappeared. “What are we going to do, sir?” asked Sparrow, already knowing the answer. It was an answer that he liked. His master sighed darkly. “I really thought we might be able to get through this whole thing without resorting to that fucking Mildred.” Sparrow feigned agreement, although the sentiment pained him. “Yes sir. But I don’t think there’s another way.” Crowe sighed again, more deeply than last time, as if he was drawing the air from beneath the snow. His breath hung around, taking on a heart shape, Sparrow fancied, before it collapsed upwards into the night.
“Stay here,” said the man in charge. “I’ll make the call.”
Mildred arrived quickly in her big, white, backfiring van. She wore a fur coat of electric blue and black goggles. Her blonde bouffant hair bounced a little as she walked, and at each bounce, Sparrow’s heart jumped in his chest.
“Let’s see the problem then boys!” Mildred was American, and her distinctive drawl boomed over the field as she waded through the deep snow.
“I fucking hate that woman,” said Crowe under his breath as she approached.
“Yes, sir, but she’s useful to us. Please be nice.” Sparrow kept his feelings for Mildred well hidden from his boss, who viewed emotions other than spite as weaknesses. He would have fired his minion on the spot if he thought he had fallen in love. Sparrow knew this, and made sure he greeted Mildred politely, without smiling. “Hello. This body down here won’t move.”
Crowe sighed impatiently, for he had relayed that information on the phone. He jerked his thumb in the direction of the body, which lay with its purple, strained face half-buried in the snow.
“There.” Mildred took a look, lifting up her goggles. Her eyes matched her coat. More or less. “Eesh. You sure took care of him some.” She clapped her hands, and her bouffant shivered. “My advice, boys, is to do the usual.”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” said Sparrow. “I like the usual.” Mildred smiled at him, and he felt as if the sun had suddenly risen to kiss him gently on the cheek. He turned away to hide his blushes. Mildred went off to her van and came back with two power saws and overalls more like fallout suits than regular work wear. The two killers pulled on the overalls straight over their suits, but Mildred, who was a plump woman, had to take off her coat first in order to fit. Sparrow watched her, dreaming of onions peeling. Crowe’s voice pulled him sharply out of his reverie.
“Come on, dreamboat. We’ve work to do.”
The three of them went about their gruesome business, Sparrow and Crowe manipulating the body as best they could while Mildred hacked dexterously at the joints. Blood fountained, painting the snow a deep red. The smell was disgusting, but the work was effective. In little time the corpse was split into torso, head, arms and legs, with each of the limbs split at the elbows, knees and feet.
The roaring buzz of the saw died as Mildred made the final cut. The killers stood up to stretch their backs and catch their breath in the cold air. Mildred shook out her shoulders and pushed her goggles back onto the bridge of her nose. Though Sparrow and Crowe were panting hard, the sawing had only warmed her up. She was used to this kind of thing.
She gestured to the body bits. “Howd’ya kill him, boys? Another good one?”
“Not so bad” said Crowe, falsely modest. “We sat him down in the snow and fed him pound coins one by one until he choked. He ate a surprising amount of them.”
Mildred was visibly impressed. “How long did it take? He looks like a guy with an appetite.”
Sparrow wished he were brave enough to interrupt and tell Mildred the pound coins had been his idea.
“Do you want the coins back?” Mildred asked the porters. “We could just slice the fucker’s stomach open and take ’em.”
Suggestions like that fuelled Sparrow’s love for Mildred until it threatened to consume him. “What do you think, Crowe?” he asked. “There must be at least thirty pounds in there.” “Fuck it, let’s do it,” said Crowe. “You can have five quid as a bonus, Sparrow.” Mildred raised an eyebrow in Sparrow’s direction.
He blushed, and she took pity and looked away. “Alrighty,” she said. “I’m gonna go get a smaller knife.” She tramped off in the direction of her van.
“God she drives me mad.” Crowe spat out more goo. “She’s so—”
“I think she’s quite funny,” Sparrow interrupted. There must have been a tone in his voice, as Crowe fixed him with a yellow-eyed stare. “This is the last time we’ll use her.”
“But she’s the best!” said Sparrow, a little too quickly. His master’s eyebrows were raised. Sparrow began to panic—he’d revealed himself. He could feel the fury coming.
But Crowe merely laughed. It was a throaty, unpleasant laugh with little sense of real mirth behind it. “You want to fuck her, don’t you!” He sneered and spat again, shaking his head. “You dirty fucking mongrel.”
Sparrow felt a cold hatred towards Crowe. Although he could not argue with his master, he felt his love cheapened to an unbearable degree. He almost protested, but lit up another cigarette instead, hiding his grimacing face behind his hands and the flame. He wished, not for the first time, but more fervently than ever before, that he could quit. But he had no money, and beyond killing, no skills. He was lucky, as Crowe repeatedly told him, to be holding even this miserable job down.
Mildred was by now halfway back from the van, holding aloft a serrated blade the length of her forearm. Sparrow managed to speak with a false normality.
“She’s coming back.” Crowe was still sneering. “You dirty dog. As if you could even get your prick up in the first place.”
Mildred arrived. “Here we go boys.” She waved the knife at them. “Would one of you like a go?” She offered the knife to Crowe with a smile that Sparrow found oddly insincere. Crowe stared at her for a second, and Sparrow panicked momentarily that his master was about to out him. But doing so would have required a sense of fun Crowe didn’t possess. He merely took the knife and squatted by the body without bothering to return Mildred’s smile, poking the corpse’s abdomen in numerous places, deciding where to make an incision. Mildred stood behind him, next to Sparrow. Her arm was touching his, and he shivered. He tried to savour the moment, but couldn’t ignore the sound of Crowe, spitting and muttering to himself. It was then that he felt, with a great deal of confusion, Mildred’s hand slip into his own. It was smooth, and small, and warm.
The very air around Sparrow seemed to soften. He turned, and saw that Mildred was carrying another knife in her other hand. She looked meaningfully from him, to the knife, to the back of the squatting Crowe, who was struggling to cut into the torso.
“Don’t you know I love you?” she whispered. Sparrow’s entire body was shaking. “This is your chance.” Mildred held out her knife. “We could work together. I could be yours. Kill the fucker —you don’t owe him a thing.”
Sparrow was seized by indecision. Everything he had dreamed of was before him. But was his long employment a bond he could simply cut? He knew little else. He looked at Mildred. She smiled, and he saw his miserable life finally taking wing.
“One chance.” Mildred whispered to him. “This is your one chance.” Sparrow took the knife. Love bloomed as the blade bit home.
Image credit: Meghan Colson