It was embarrassing enough calling a temporary agency every morning for work. If they'd only call me when they needed me, I wouldn't feel like a Dickensian orphan asking for scraps. But, that was policy; call in or don't work. Begging wasn't uncommon the week before Christmas, for most people. More gifts. More time with family. More. More. More. |
Not me, though. I had no family and just one friend. You could say I'm not Macy's prime demographic.
"This is Trace Walker. Got anything?" I asked in my 6:00 a.m. voice.
Santa's little placement coordinator quietly ran a check against her listings.
"Wyoming Meat Company needs extra help in shipping."
"That's the mail order steak place, right?"
"Either that or an all male revue."
Had she just cracked a joke? That never happened. Must be the season.
The steak distributor started me out in the freezer. Luckily, I had brought gloves.
I assembled vacuumed sealed steaks into Styrofoam boxes along with a dry ice pack, container of green bean casserole, and a small apple pie. Those boxes went to "Sealing" where a logo-emblazoned protective film covered it. Finally, after getting shipping labels, they waited on the dock for my group to load them onto an overnight delivery truck.
"Who buys this stuff?" I asked a co-worker, a lanky guy with a melodrama mustache.
"Salesmen send them to big wigs, as a marketing ploy, like, 'Hey, how were those steaks? Well, remember me next time you need a...' It's all numbers, if you ask me."
I imagined corporate honchos getting dozens of "legal bribes" from sales firms. Wyoming Meats didn't just send steaks, mind you. Their menu options consisted of flash frozen turkeys, smoked salmons, and racks of ribs, all lying in stacks ready to go out.
As I tossed boxes onto my truck, I stepped in something sticky. Looking down, I found the sole of my boot covered in blood. By my feet, a container box leaked scarlet.
"Got a bleeder," I said.
Snidely Whiplash replied, "Take it to QC. Over there."
I marched over to the quality control counter he'd indicated. A round-faced woman wearing an elf hat smiled as I brought her my gift.
"Well, that's odd. The vacuum seal must've broken and it defrosted. Usually, we get one or the other."
She ripped through the logo-seal like it was Christmas morning and screamed upon seeing the package's contents. Only, it was no scream of joy.
A man's head stared lifelessly back at us.
The police spent hours finding the rest of him. Fifteen different boxes, all to be shipped to the board of directors at Seedstat, a controversial company known for genetically altering produce. Many protest groups claimed the genetic sequencing produced diseases in people, especially children, that consumed their product.
The corpse turned out to be a Seedstat sales reps. He had been at Wyoming Meats the previous day to set up deliveries for several major food distributors in hopes of earning back lost trust after a recent baby food exposť pointed a finger squarely at his company.
That news came to me twentieth hand as my group sat in the cafeteria, unable to clock out until cleared. And despite the overtime, I was less-than-thrilled to hear my name called for questioning. I knew who waited to grill me.
Detective Lopez never lets me forget I used to be a good P.I. until I did something so idiotic that I spectacularly lost my license and my reputation. I barely escaped doing time, but I'd never escape his disappointment.
"I knew you'd be packing meat someday, Walker. I just hoped it'd be in prison."
"That's not very PC, Detective. New century, new rules." I sat down opposite of him. "Should I call the HR manager?"
"You do that. What do you know?"
He waved his hand around. "You never know 'nothing'. Unless you want an obstruction of an investigation charge added to your list of crimes. Please say, 'yes'. It's on my wish list."
"All I can say is that those parts didn't go through the whole line. They must've been boxed elsewhere."
"Yeah, yeah. We couldn't find a kill room here. Not for humans, anyway. Likely, the vic was drugged shortly after walking out of this building and dissected elsewhere. His car was still in the lot. We're dusting it now."
"However, the boxes he was packed in had to be sealed here, because--"
"Of Wyoming Meat's proprietary seal. Yeah, we've already checked the security footage. We didn't find any employees who wheeled in fifteen unsealed boxes. Nobody's that stupid. Well, besides you." Lopez stared into my eyes using his highly trained BS detector, determining if I played straight with him. "You really are useless. Scram!"
Lopez was right. A smart murderer would've counted on cameras. But he or she would have had to personally wrap each of the containers. So, the killer had to be a WMC employee.
As I headed for the exit, an argument caught my attention. A delivery truck had backed into the dock. The nervous driver was being kept from unloading WMC Styrofoam boxes onto the dock by a police officer. "B--but returns have to be dropped off within 24 hours while still cold."
Many of the boxes were unsealed, but taped up.
And that's how someone could get a jigsawed sales rep into the building unnoticed.
When I returned to the temporary interview room grinning, Lopez bore holes into me with his eyes as if I'd stolen Christmas.
My hunch turned out to be right.
A Wyoming Meat's employee blamed SeedStat for his newborn son's death and, with help his delivery driver cousin, planned a message the genetic company wouldn't miss. The driver rolled on his murderous meat carving cousin, and WMC let me take home two boxes of steaks as a bonus.
Salesman free, of course.