CHRIS O'HALLORAN - COPPER PIPING
Chris O'Halloran is a young writer living in the lower mainland of British Columbia. He is a trained actor pivoting his art and taking it in a new direction.
It was almost enough to make a man swear off drinking. The sight of thin, gory cables being pulled from the arms of my good friend Thom made me more than sick to my stomach. It sent my feet to prickling and my pits to leaking.
Thom and I were good friends, or as good as two men making a habit of saddling their fat asses up to a bar every other night could be. We had muttered criticisms of various topics from the state of the Republican Party to which glam rock stars were actually queer or just dressed that way as I drank away my workers comp check and he the lump sum he made from selling his computer program to Google the previous year. Do not be mistaken though, his newly amassed wealth was not accompanied by a new sense of generosity. The prick sucked down top shelf vodka while I sipped cheap whiskey, waiting for him to offer me a taste of the good life. Thank God I didn’t hold my breath.
Whether it was his stinginess or the drink that kept me planted to the concrete behind the dive bar, leaky dick in hand, I do not know, but there I stood as the closest thing to a best friend had his veins and arteries removed from his body.
I had begun pissing all over the chain-link fence that separated the bar lot from the bail bonds agent next door when a charming British man strolled up to Thom as he was walking to his car. “Hey bruv, know if the number five still operates this late? I need to get back to my mate’s flat and I really don’t want to have to call an Uber.” When Thom looked up to inform the man about the broken state of our transit system or, as was more his nature, tell him to “Fuck off,” the man’s palm flashed out at lightning fast speeds striking his heart three times in rapid succession. He grabbed Thom as he fell and dragged him into the alley I was pissing in. Thom gasped for air as his hand tore at his pressed silk shirt like a man whose heart was burning up inside of him.
“Let me help with that, chum,” spoke the Englishman and ripped Thom’s shirt open. Buttons popped and Thom’s flabby gut was exposed. As far as I knew, Thom’s assailant hadn’t seen me. My dick began to shrink as the adrenaline began coursing through my body, my fight or flight instinct in a state of major fucking confusion. The Englishman pulled Thom’s arms out of his sleeves and spread them along the chain-link fence, letting the expensive shirt fall onto the dirty ground. He pulled out two thick zap-straps from his jacket and secured Thom’s wrists to the fence.
When he pulled the blade from his pocket and flipped it open, I began to tuck myself back into my pants. I didn’t move fast; attracting attention was extremely low on my list of priorities. The man began to slice into Thom’s left wrist, precisely, like a highly trained surgeon cutting into very specific tissue. Thom’s skin parted and blood seep from the wound, obscuring the incision. He turned pale and gasped like a fish plucked out of the lake it had previously assumed safe.
The man reached into Thom’s flesh, plunging his fingers into the mess and hooking his forefinger around one of Thom’s blood vessels, pulling it out. I am in no way a medical professional, so I cannot say whether it was a vein or an artery. All I know is all that shit is supposed to be inside you and this charming stranger was intent on getting it in the open.
He pulled on it like a bow string, stretching it away from Thom’s bone and flesh. It shone red in the light of the cheap bulbs in the back of the bar. He placed the knife back in his right pocket and reached into his back pocket, pulling out a stainless steel clothes pin. With the gentle touch of an expert maid hanging clothes to dry he secured it to the vein/artery before reaching into his left pocket and removing a shiny zippo lighter.
With his left hand he flicked the lid open and sparked the flame, creating an unnatural large streak of luminescence and heat I felt from at least twenty feet away. He held the vein in his right hand and carefully stretched his neck out, baring his teeth. A long and shiny incisor bit down on the vein and tore, the pinched length falling against Thom’s wrist and the other side held closed between the Englishman’s thumb and forefinger. He touched the flame to the end of the blood vessel and placed his mouth against Thom’s before he could scream.
I smelled Thom’s skin cook and it sent shivers up my spine not because it was disgusting, but because it wasn’t. The smell was almost pleasant, conjuring up memories of cookouts with cheap hot dogs and thick potato salad. “Here we are,” the man said, soothing Thom as he moaned. The man had pulled his lips from Thom’s and there was a smear of blood around his lips.
Thom seemed to be hovering on the edge of unconsciousness when the man pulled a hypodermic needle from his pocket and stuck him with it, depressing the plunger. “You’re going to feel an odd sensation. If you experience any pain, try and let me know in a manner that doesn’t alert the patrons of this fine establishment you treat like a second home.” Whatever serum he had injected seemed to have a hardening effect on the blood vessel. It stiffened and blanched, turning from a deep crimson to a pale pink.
The Englishman grabbed the end of Thom’s vein secured by the clothespin and began to tug it slowly away from his wrist. He slowly pulled it towards himself and the freshly cauterized end disappeared into Thom’s body. The bloody rope coiled on the ground as he pulled it out, and I cringed at the thought of all the dirt and bodily fluids Thom’s innards were now resting on. My buddy fainted and sagged downwards, held up by the zap-straps fastened to his wrists. If he had any circulation the straps would be cutting it off, but his entire body was grey.
This stranger kept pulling, amassing a sizable coil of blood vessels at his feet. Thom did not bleed much, but his body seemed to deflate as he had bits crucial to survival stolen inch by inch. I saw the flesh tug as the man slowly pulled and had thoughts of a spider, tied down, its silk harvested from the hole in its ass.
After a long procedure, the cauterized end of the vein pulled through Thom’s body as he hung lifeless from the cold metal fence. The Englishman scooped up the mass of blood vessels and threw it over his shoulder like an electrician transporting a power cord to his van. He began to saunter down the alley away from me when I made the mistake of zipping up.
He stopped in his tracks and turned towards me, eyes lit up and a lopsided grin stretching towards his right ear. I stood shaking with terror as he began to take steps towards me. There was enough time to picture the same treatment happening to me, and I hoped I would faint before feeling the tug in my arms as the man got his second harvest of the night. I prayed to a God I had not believed in since my childhood that I would feel no pain, no sharp sensations of heat as this stranger performed an impromptu vein removal on me.
When he arrived at my feet I found I had still had some piss left in me. My bladder let go and the thinnest stream of urine shot down my thigh, leaving a dark streak like a loose thread. The man had shiny black hair, slicked back low along his scalp and he smelled of pomade and peppermint. He was a handsome man, clean shaven and fresh looking, his pearly smile showing no signs of stereotypical British dentistry.
“Please,” I whimpered, “Don’t take my veins.” It sounded pathetic, but I was quite drunk and feeling cowardly. “I’m a drunk. My blood is bad, I think. Sometimes I feel my heart skip a beat and I have to take medication for a bad back. None of my organs would do you any good.”
The man chuckled and adjusted the heap of blood vessels on his shoulder. “You think your mate was in any better condition? Vessels are vessels, my friend.”
“Are you a vampire?” I asked, stalling for time in the hopes that a passerby would glance into the alley and call for help. My voice was shaky and beads of sweat chased one another down my forehead and off the tip of my nose.
This question sent the Englishman off into gales of laughter. His head rolled back as he guffawed into the cool night air. When he composed himself, tears were in his eyes. “Of a sort, sure. I like to think of myself as a sort of salesman.” With his free hand he reached inside his jacket, a smart looking blazer as dark as his hair, and pulled a business card out between two gore streaked fingers. He held it out to me. “Lucky Vincent, An Acquirer of Sorts,” he said, introducing himself.
I mustered up the strength to take the card from him, avoiding touching the blood clots and runny plasma dripping from his fingertips, and saw those exact words typed across an off white card in raised lettering along with a phone number.
“My name is Jake Roberts,” I said. I had read somewhere that attackers were less likely to harm you if they knew your name. Something about showing them that you’re a real person with a real identity. Humanizing yourself to them. It seemed to have worked, because Lucky stuck out his right hand for a handshake.
“Pleased to meet you Jake. Like the wrestler?”
I shook his hand weakly, nauseous from the feeling of Thom’s slick blood and thankful that there was no more liquid in me. “Born a few years before his debut, but yeah.” His grip was strong and I felt embarrassed at how warm and sweaty my hand must have been. The fact that my shame was greater than my terror amazed me later, but at the time seemed natural. I felt like a junior associate, making conversation with a member of upper management before an interview or big presentation. “Are you going to do what you did to Thom to me?” I asked him, pulling my hand away and wiping it on the back of my jeans.
He smiled at me like a father would smile at his son, full of naiveté. A young doe standing in the shadow of a big strong buck. “Depends. How useful can you be to me?”
I thought it over. My life up until that point had not been one of note. I had fucked my back up at work two years previous, slipping on an oil spill while carrying a 55 lbs. bag of concrete and the resulting settlement had kept me in the money while giving me plenty of spare time to wallow in my lonely existence. Was it worth selling myself out to this strange murderer? Was my hollow presence worth being in his debt, doing whatever nefarious deeds he asked of me?
“Useful how?” I asked him, mentally agreeing to any task he placed in my responsibility.
“I am tired of staking out shitty places like this, waiting for lonely people who won’t be missed to show themselves. It requires a lot of research on my part, a fair amount of time sitting and waiting, figuring out which patrons had families or friends. People to file missing person’s reports. If you were to tip me off to any friendless individuals you met in your own whiskey fueled self-destruction I would be quite grateful. Not only would I spare you tonight, but you would get a nice commission to supplement your disability check with each...lead you brought me.”
“You know about my disability check?” I croaked.
“Like I said, I do my research. Who’s to say you wouldn’t be the one strapped to the fence if I had seen you first tonight?” I glanced over at Thom and immediately regretted it, picturing myself hanging in that position, pale and clammy, the blood vessels pulled from my body as I slipped out of consciousness. I would like to say I thought about Lucky Vincent’s proposition for a time, but my desire to live overpowered any morals or sense of dignity I had.
“I can do that. Whatever you need, I can do.” I said, slipping his card into my pocket next to the dark streak of piss.
He smiled once more at me and strode away. “I look forward to your call, Jake.”
“Wait!” I exclaimed and he stopped in his tracks.
“Yes?” He inquired over his shoulder, not turning towards me.
“What are you going to do with those?” I asked, meaning the tangled coil of bloody rope. He stood for a moment, thinking the question over.
“You ever hear of ne'er do wells stealing copper piping and selling it to recycling centers? Same basic concept, just with customers you’re less likely to see operating a cash register,” he replied and turned the corner, disappearing around the side of a pawn shop.
I was left alone with my old drinking buddy, shivering out of cold, fright, and a sick sense of excitement. For a second I felt bad for Thom, his last moments spent in a dirty alley smelling of fresh piss and littered with heroin needles and used condoms. The moment passed though as I recalled his miserly attitude.
“Cheap fuck,” I muttered and headed off in the opposite direction from my new business partner, the usual consistent ache in my back surprisingly quiet in the strange night air.
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