Marcel Crawford is out of options. After serving a seven-year sentence in a military prison for beating his superior officer nearly to death, he's released. Suffering chronic unemployability because of his criminal record and dishonorable discharge, he takes whatever work he can find, usually odd jobs with bad pay.
As he strives to dig himself out of poverty, Marcel starts taking work from a mysterious website called mischief.net, where high-dollar payouts are given for performing simple errands. As the payouts get larger, the jobs get darker and more violent, and soon enough Marcel finds himself entangled with a bizarre underground cabal known only as The Corsicans.
As Marcel is dragged further and further down into the seedy dystopian underworld of the City, he'll find out the choice to just walk away often isn't a choice at all.
Find out how far Marcel is willing to go in BLOODMEAL, a gritty noir thriller from author Tyler Bell. Read the first five pages of the book below.
It’s almost impossible to beat a man to death with your hands. The trick is to keep at it. Don’t give up.
Being big helps.
I’ve always been big.
You also need good punching technique. Breathe. Drop your blows in line with your shoulder. Breathe. Connect with the first two knuckles on your fist. Breathe. Keep your wrist straight. Breathe.
You need to focus on striking the same place. You aren’t trying to win a fight, that’s done. Now you’re going to work. You’re cracking open a concrete egg, blow by blow.
Just stick with it.
I had great form when I knocked out First Lieutenant Pressman. Two hits. A short jap to the philtrum, that little hollow just beneath the nose, and a hard follow up right from the hip. His head spun and his neck twisted like a garden hose, separating two of his vertebrae and turning him off like a light. I got two years for that and another ten for mounting him and beating his face to pulp. My boys pulled me off him without saying a word.
I had bad form when I started beating him. I broke six bones in my right hand and seven in my left, two when I missed him completely and punched the concrete floor of the hospital. Pressman lost both of his eyes, part of his nose, 21 teeth and the ability to form new memories. They gave him a dead man’s eyes during a medical experiment that didn’t take.
They gave me 12 years.
Military Policemen found me sitting beside a pool of congealing blood and rusty drag marks. The nurse splinting my broken hands didn’t pay them any attention. I asked them what took them so long and they said, Coffee.
My hands had healed by the time I stood tall in front of the Courts Martial. The presiding general had half the medals I did, not that I cared. People didn’t care about blood in the desert when their shoulders shone like his did. He asked why I did what I did and I told him. Pressmen led my squad on their last patrol before the end of our tour. I had said there wasn’t any reason to go outside the wire, much less through an ugly part of the nearby city.
My boys and I followed Pressman and his orders into an ambush. The street turned into fire. Hot rain fell and cut my boys to pieces. I lost six men and half my right foot. End of story.
Why did you attack Lieutenant Pressman, Sergeant Crawford?
He visited me to present me with a bronze star for saving his life during the ambush, sir. He left the country with just a concussion.
You found that reason enough to beat that man half to death?
Sir, I asked him how he felt about leading six men, my boys, to their deaths and his answer was … insufficient. He said… He said it was an honest mistake.
The general stared at me a long time. He sat behind a big, curved mahogany desk with four other generals of lower rank, him being Lieutenant General the others being Majors General. They all had short grey hair and pallid faces, crushed lilies growing from pressed green gabardine. They each had a penchant for frowning. A particularly birdy looking one tried to remind me of the direness of my straights.
Sergeant Crawford, you’re charged with attempted murder.
Sir, with all due respect. I’m an infantry Marine. Lieutenant Pressman is alive because I didn’t want him dead.
They charged me with assault on an officer, conduct unbefitting a Marine and general article and sentenced me to 12 years.
I sat in the brig for about six before they tossed me out on the street.
The brig isn’t hard like the prisons you see in movies. White boys don’t have to suck cock to stay safe and people don’t get stabbed to death in the chow line. The guards don’t beat you. You don’t have to do anything but what they tell you to do, and all they tell you to do is stand on a line and face forward for eight hours a day.
So I did.
For six years.
The guards told me to report to the warden’s office on a Friday. I walked through the labyrinth of green and grey corridors to the main hall, where red, orange and blue stripes had words like RECEIVING, BARRACKS and PANOPTICON stenciled onto them in white. I followed a thin black line marked ADMINISTRATION to a black painted steel door with the same word on it in the same white beneath a wire-reinforced window.
Ten minutes later I met the warden’s assistant, a pretty blonde girl with big green eyes who told me my release paperwork had gone through. She smiled and handed me a folder with three business cards stapled to it. Someone had carefully written my name, Marcel Crawford, on the top of the textured surface of the folder in permanent marker.
I didn’t ask questions.
Ten minutes later I stood on the wet sidewalk in front of the prison wearing ill-fitting jeans and a tank top and a heavy tan raincoat I’d taken from the donations box in the prison. The clothes smelled of heavy detergent and cigarettes. Rain fell in fat drops through the towers clawing up at the sky I hadn’t seen in nearly half a decade. I stood staring into the rainwater as disinterested people pushed past me.
Some raindrops felt warmer than others.
I spent my first free hours walking around the city like a tourist, like I’d never seen it before. I spent the handful of cash they’d given me at the prison on a burger and two pints of hard, heavy beer. I spent the night curled up on a steel and concrete bench underneath an overpass that hadn’t existed half a decade earlier.
A cop woke me up shortly after daybreak and told me to clear out or he’d book me for vagrancy. I thanked him and walked around the city until I found a public library. I used one of their computers to call the numbers on the business cards. Only one of the cards connected to anything. A young woman answered the phone and I found out I’d called my post release counselor. The counselor would set me up with short term housing and employment and help me get back on my feet, she said.
She scheduled a meeting in three weeks.
I spent the next few days cruising the streets and sleeping on the bench under the bridge. The cop never bothered me. I fell in with some homeless guys who laid around under bridges during the hottest part of the day and spent nights begging for coin and cash outside nice restaurants and the nearby college.
I asked them where I could find work and they shrugged.
Depends on what kind of work you’re good for, said one, a black man with crooked hair that had matted itself into his beard. He and the others smelled like the new drugs that had come to popularity over the last few years, a powder they mixed with chewing gum and lighter fluid until it turned into a sandy wad they smoked out of broken light bulbs. It made them shiver and creep across the ground when the high came over them, and didn’t cost much more than a can of coffee. Which was good, I suppose, I’ve never had much stomach for that sort of stuff.
The black bum’s hands pushed the kinked hair from his watery eyes and he smiled.
You suck dick?
I stepped closer to him until he realized how small he was. He apologized and the others laughed. They asked if I used the computers at the library and I said yes. They told me to search for jobs on the Internet. I went to the library and by the next day had a job murdering pigs for minimum wage.
The pig murdering plant sat on floors 55 through 72 of the Mannheisser building, a squat pyramid-looking thing in the old part of the city, down south around the old factory and education districts. A crowd of people in plastic bodysuits and respirators stood waving signs about mistreatment and bad pay. They trudged through ankle-deep filth leaking from a sluice gate up the road. I thought I saw handfuls of thick teeth floating in the muck.
A short, hairy man in a bright T-shirt met me around back of the building. He cursed about strikers and patted me on the back and called me a great American. He waddled through a few doors before we emerged onto a net of red and black steel catwalks suspended over hundreds of pens. Pigs swarmed over each other to get at the pits of feed in the corners of the pens. Some didn’t move at all. Their stink fouled the air too bad to breathe. The little ape handed me a respirator and explained the murder plant to me.
He told me the healthiest pigs lived on the upper floors, and machines collected their offal and used microbes to create food for pigs on the lowest floors. He proudly boasted the plant operated at 98 percent efficiency. The strike outside started after the company tried to minimize downtime by limiting breaks to just three hours of the 18 hour workday.
The ape man introduced himself as Lou and handed me an ancient pump action shotgun. We walked down to the pens and he pointed to a pig with a green light glowing under its skin.
That means it’s ready, he said. He took the shotgun and blew the pig’s brains onto the floor. The other pigs reeled back in horror and Lou took a fat aluminum hook from the side of the pen and hooked it under the dead pig’s spine. A cable dropped from the ceiling and grabbed the hook and the pig and took both away into some dark recess up above. I looked at Lou and he handed me the shotgun and pointed out onto the floor.
All the green ones you can get in the next 18 hours. If you clear 200 pigs, you get a bonus per pig. Under 150 and you don’t get paid. He pointed in my face. These aren’t for eating. Keep to your gun and hooks and don’t take any souvenirs. Do good and we might keep you on after the strike.
I spent the next five days killing and hooking roughly 220 pigs every day and by the next week I had an apartment in the shittiest part of town. I threw away all the clothes I’d gotten from the prison but the heavy tan raincoat. It never seemed to stop raining in the city. Even when the clouds broke and the sun crept into the spaces between the buildings, something still managed to drip on you.
Something strange happened two weeks after I started working at the murder plant. One of the pigs walked straight up to the edge of the pen and put his feet on the edge of the fence and raised his face to me. I looked around for other workers strolling the red-lit catwalks in white plastic. Nobody. I watched the pig wrinkle its sore pocked snout at me. I raised a hand and set it on the pig’s forehead. It pushed its face into my hand and I spent a few minutes petting it and trying to ignore the pulsing green light under the skin of its shoulder.
I stepped away from the pig and shamefully walked to the next pen, where I shot a green-lit sow and watched her body float up into the darkness on a black wire.
The next day two pigs vied for my attention at the edge of the pen.
The day after that, three.
That third day I spent half an hour, roughly six dead pigs worth of time petting the bristly creatures. I almost felt human.
I only noticed Lou behind me when he laughed.
Hand me that scattergun, he said, pointing to the shotgun I’d left laying against the edge of the pen. I obliged him and he checked the load and let the gun hang at his side. Red lights caught in the beads of oily sweat hanging on his wispy hair like some sort of crown. He smiled.
Bacon is smarter than you think, he said, sighting down the barrel at the mesh floor. Some scientists believe bacon has an IQ roughly equivalent to that of a 10-year-old child. Neat huh? So, every once and a while, bacon tries to ply its whiles on soft-hearted workers to extend a life it’s only barely capable of understanding.
The pigs shifted nervously in the pen.
Lookee here, you, Lou said. One of the pigs gathered its courage and stood its forelegs on the woven wire of the pen. It sniffed the air between them, encouraging Lou to step forward and touch his snout. Lou raised the gun and shot the pig through its left eye. Gore sprayed over the sows screaming bloody murder behind the ruined body slumped over the wall of the pen.
I stepped forward, clenching my fists and getting ready to do god only knows what. Lou turned and leveled the big gun at my chest. He whistled.
Not the first time, son, he said. Not gonna be the last either. You keep in mind whose side you’re on.
He handed me the gun and hooked the corpse laying over the side of the pen. Blood coated the pig’s single unblinking eye, dripped to the floor as the body lifted up and away into the rafters. The other pigs watched it go, wondering over the purpose of their small world of wire, red light and gun smoke.
Look sonny, why don’t you take the rest of the day, Lou said. Give yourself the night and come back when you steel your stomach up some.
Machinery ground hard in the ceiling, the floor, all around us. The sound of a toilet flushing echoed through the pens and red slop guttered out of heavy cast iron pipes into the pigs’ trough. It smelled like hell. I wondered if it tasted the same.
I took the day.
I never went back, for what good it did me.