Arms, Legs, and Money
The slab of steel was as cold as mercy on Sam’s back, and nowhere else.
He couldn’t remember much of the evening. There had been too much drinking. There was the inevitable fight, and then those three doctors had showed up and started asking questions after they had soldered up the wounded. Who had called them? Had there been cops? Sam couldn’t remember.
Those doctors had wanted to know everything about him, though, and they had been willing to pay for the information. They wanted to know all sorts of crazy things. How many people he had killed. His reach. His methods. His blood type. All about his father.
Had he started bragging? He might have, now that he thought about it. You will say a lot of things to doctors. Things you would ordinarily only tell some stupid girl. These doctors were sly, buying him drink after drink, letting him talk.
He couldn’t remember exactly, but it seemed like one of them had a mohawk. But doctors had glasses. And hard, flinty eyes. Not high green hair, piercings, and teeth filed down to sharp little points.
The first thing to do was figure out where he was. It was too quiet to be prison, but that’s what it smelled like. Like liquor-sweat, and spunk, and old newspapers, and the seeping terror of regret and despair mingled with hair gel, lighter fluid, and blood.
Too much blood. He lifted his head up. As his chin hit his chest, a wave of fire rippled across his body, broke, and left a rancid curdle of nausea rolling in its wake. He belched. He tried to turn his head to the side to puke, but it was impossible to move his neck. A burning peanut burrowed into his nose.
“Our man’s gonna vomit, cats, no question, get a kidney under there,” came a jaunty voice. “Can’t have him ass-fixating. Prime material, here. A real killer bee.”
Sam’s head was lifted and he spewed into a metal bowl. Fingers slipped out from behind his head, and his massive skull hit the metal slab with a chunky clang. He lay there for a second, and then his world began to tilt. The slab was rotated toward the floor. He felt himself suspended by his shoulders and crotch, attached to the slab by straps holding him flat like a knife in a sheath.
It took a second for his eyes to adjust to the light. He was in the very center of a dank room, positioned over a tremendous drain with sluices carved into it in a cabbalistic spiral. The sluices were dripping with blood that was still crimson and wet. The rest of the floor was concrete, and the sides of the room had shelves piled on counters, both deep with jars and specimens. Cotton balls and pickled frogs.
Sam was covered in a white blanket that draped across his shoulders. He still couldn’t feel any of his limbs. Sitting in three tiny plastic chairs stolen from a kindergarten were the doctors from the night before. Drs Tambo, MacBride, and Xu, said their nametags.
Tambo was the one with the mohawk, although it was matted down for the time being – pasted across the back of his bald pate like a lime-green racing stripe. He alone was grinning and couldn’t seem to keep still, wiping his knees with his hands, and jangling four sets of chains that hung from various piercing in his face and chest. He wore leather pants and no shirt under his lab coat.
The kidney shaped bowl full of Sam’s vomit was under his chair. After nearly bouncing out of his seat with excitement, Tambo reached back and dislocated his arms at the shoulder. He tipped the chair back, popped his arms back into place, and nearly stuck his foot in the bowl, catching himself at the last minute and stepping elsewhere.
“Ha! Gotcha! No time for vomit games!” said Tambo. “We’ve got business. We’ve got our man. Let’s get going. Get the deal started. Give our killer bee the situation. Tell him how to light up the scoreboard, tell him who is scratching down victory notches, and tell him how a man can win points if he understands the rules, his pals, and his fellows. Got to hurry! I’ve got a full day planned of fucking, fighting, and experiments! Can’t be stopped! Won’t be stopped!”
MacBride nodded, plaiting his heavy blonde beard into five strands with his stroking fingers. He was a big man with sparkling two-tone green eyes, the color of a water hose in dead summer grass. The chair underneath him disappeared into his girth, making it appear as if the stanchions were collapsible appendages that grew from his thighs.
“I understand completely,” said MacBride. “I, too, have better things I could be doing. There are unstable compounds awaiting my care, attention, and steady hands. Titrations. Bubbling wonders. I am glad we have created another success, and that my compounds have been useful toward sustaining this man’s life, but I would – I insist -- that we move more quickly, Dr. Xu.”
“We need money,” said Xu. He was Asian, but he had a British accent. A precise and diminutive man, his feet dangled in the children’s chair. Like MacBride, he wore a conservative suit under his coat and rimless spectacles. Sam could have picked him up by his head like a tennis ball and tossed him around for hours before getting bored.
“We need money to pay our electricity bill, gentlemen, if you haven’t forgotten,” Xu continued. “Since you both remain perpetually unconcerned about collecting payment for your services, it falls to me AS USUAL to generate the necessary income to sustain our operations – ex nihilo, as it were.”
“I have sold whole suitcases full of drugs this quarter,” said MacBride. “Whole peach crates!”
“Yes,” said Xu. “Truth. But such deals merely fund your own needs, as you know. And you give away as much as you earn. We have overhead. Shared costs. To meet these burdens, I have created a foolproof system, a true new market, with incredible benefits for us all. And now here we have a fresh body, ready to go, acquired with the utmost ease. Perpetuating my system requires merely a day of your expertise per month. Now, please, doctors, stop bitching. Focus on the task at hand. As if I have nothing better to do myself.”
Tambo and MacBride looked at the floor, contrite.
“Hey,” said Sam. “Hey.”
“Good morning, chap,” said Xu, in a condescending voice meant for children. “Feeling cozy in your sling there?”
“Hey,” said Sam. “Tell me what’s going on. Fore I snap all yore necks.”
Tambo, MacBride, and Xu began laughing hysterically. Tambo plucked an apple from his lab coat, tossed it high, cut it in fourths with a scalpel that seemed to leap into his hand by magnetic force, and then snapped a section right out of the air with his creature teeth. He speared the other three sections of apple with a second scalpel, crouching low and catching them right before they hit the floor. The scalpels disappeared and everyone was offered a piece of apple. Sam refused. The parts of his mouth that weren’t desiccated to the point of flaking still tasted like mucous and vomit.
“Oh mercy me,” said MacBride. “We chose well this time.”
“Yer fer fucking right, there, my king, my captain,” said Tambo. “I told you this was the one. I’ve been hearing his shit for weeks in the bars. Some of its even true, according.”
“He is quite lively,” said Xu. “Anyway, we don’t have much time. I expect a certain difficult individual will be seeking satisfaction soon. We parted on unlovely terms too recently.”
“Time ter fill in our spec on all of the unholy details of his captivity, then,” said Tambo. “I love it when der karmic marbles all line up and we get to stare the motherfucker right in the face.”
“Truth,” said MacBride.
“WHAT’S GOING ON?” shouted Sam.
“Well, it’s like this,” said Xu, walking over to stand in front of Sam with his arms clasped behind his back. “Our practice requires us to deal with a significant portion of the world’s unsavory elements. We need security, and we need the toughest, strongest killers in town to back us up whenever necessary. Also, we need people to know that, so that we never have to deal with problems in the first place. We need to feel safe in what we do. We deal a lot of drugs. We have many experiments that could go awry at any time. And we are constantly coping with the emotional fallout of botched operations. People go crazy. You will defend us.”
“We’ve got plenty of brains around here,” said Tambo.
“Too much, maybe,” said MacBride.
“So what we need is muscle,” finished Xu.
“I see,” said Sam, raising an eyebrow. “So you are gonna try and get me to work for you. This is negotiations. You found about my history. The things that I’ve done. And you want the best.”
Xu smiled indulgently.
“I don’t come cheap,” said Sam.
“Actually,” said Xu. “I think you are going to work for free.”
Xu whipped off the sheet that was covering Sam up to his neck. Sam suddenly discovered why he couldn’t feel his limbs. His arms had been amputated at the shoulder, and his legs at the hip. He was resting on his tailbone, his dick the lowest point on the graph of his torso, a half-masted flag waving defeat in the cold medical breeze.
Sam started to scream. He screamed, looking at each of the doctors, the vein in his temple standing out like a thumb at a turnpike.
His fit didn’t last long, however, drowned as it was in the giggles and hysterical laughter of the doctors. Sam shut up -- confused, horrified. Maybe it was a trick.
“Please, get a hold of yourself,” said MacBride. “It isn’t permanent!”
“It’s isn’t?” asked Sam.
“Of course not,” said Xu. “That would be a waste of real, pure killing power. Remember the story you were telling us about the time you murdered a whole roomful of fellow criminals using only your bare hands and a cinderblock? That’s a great story. We sincerely hope that you will be able to tell many similar tales in the future.”
“Me too,” said Sam meekly. “But if I ain’t got no arms or legs...”
“Or money,” said Tambo. “We also took everything from your wallet and went ahead and cleaned out yer bank account. On account of the surgery, yessir. That shit’s expensive. I can cut all day long, but you got to disinfect, and buy these little clamps. It’s fucking draining.”
Sam hung his head. He could see no way out of this.
“What do you want from me?”
“It’s all a question of what you want from us,” said Dr. Xu. There was a loud knock from the next room. All three doctors started, rising swiftly to their feet.
”He’s early,” said Xu. “Very early.”
“How do you feel?” asked MacBride, turning to Sam. “Ready to work? Ready to start buying interest on your limbs?”
“I feel like shit,” said Sam.
“Fighting shit or dying shit?” asked Tambo.
“Fighting shit,” said Sam reluctantly.
Tambo leapt up onto one of the metal counters filled with jars of cotton balls and tongue depressors. He stuck his hand through one of the ceiling tiles, knocking it aside and making space. At the same time, MacBride unloosened Sam straps and hefted him on his hip. He set the trimmed killer down on the counter at Tambo’s feet.
“Here’s the deal,” said MacBride, injecting Sam with something that made his stomach feel warm and creamy. “If you want your arms and legs back, you’ve got to climb up there and protect us if things go wrong down here. Every time you do a job for us, you will get a piece back. You can pick, if you like. If we are killed, or something goes wrong, remember that we are the only medical specialists with the skills to reattach your missing parts. Additionally, your parts are protected by lock, key, and explosives. If you want to stay a torso for the rest of your days, by all means – resist. But if you want your life back, it’s time to become the badass you pretend to be.”
Sam hung his head and looked around for escape. There was nothing. No hope. Here he was, nothing but a head and chest, completely at the mercy of three crooked sons of the cross and pestle. Tambo, Xu, and MacBride glared at him, waiting a response.
“Alright,” said Sam. “I don’t know what I can do without my arms, though.”
“Use your imagaination,” said Xu.
“If anybody says boo, leap out from hiding and tear the motherfucker’s throat out,” said MacBride, his face percolating with red blotches.
“Leap?” said Sam dubiously.
“Do yer best,” said Tambo. “All you really have to be fer the time being is distracting. Till you get an arm or a leg back at least, we don’t expect you to be deadly or nothing. We ain’t CRAZY, fer the sweet sake of lovely Miss Crissman.”
And with that, MacBride picked Sam up over his head and handed him to Tambo, who stuffed him neatly inside the crawlspace between floors. Tambo replaced the ceiling tile -- leaving Sam alone, in agony, in total darkness, with his head pressed against a roof beam, his temple pulsing, naked, his brain baffled, his gut hungry, his heart murderous.
No sooner was the ceiling tile replaced than the door burst open and Sam heard a pistol cocked.
“Well,” said Dr. Xu. “A familiar face. An ugly, predictable, familiar face.”
“No talking,” said a gruff voice. “I got the gun. That means everybody has to shut up.”
“Sure,” said MacBride.
“Not a peep,” said Tambo.
“We shall meditate on the endless circles that comprise a wasted life,” said Xu.
“Nothing smart, neither,” said the man. “I’m tired of smart. I’m gonna kill all three of you, for revenge, and then I’m getting out of here.”
“You want to kill us?” said MacBride. “After all we’ve done for you? After all we’ve done for this community?”
“You cut off my legs and made me beat guys up! For money that I didn’t even get!” said the man.
“Free work is hard to come by,” said Xu. “Especially in this day and age.”
“And what do you mean, after all you’ve done for this community? What do you do for the community?”
“Dr. Tambo is an excellent free surgeon, and Dr. MacBride keeps the drug menace at containable levels, meting out his designer concoctions at affordable rates that never destroy lives.”
“Yeah, yeah, right,” said the man. “Tambo cuts, and MacBride is a dealer. I never figured out what you did, though, slanty. What DO you do?”
“I am a pathologist,” said Xu. “I study the shape of disease.”
“What does that mean? Now that I got the gun.”
“My specialty? I study the shape of the disease called man. I would like to cure it through the creation of ideas that inoculate against its spread.”
“I don’t figure it. I’m still gonna kill you.”
“It’s a tough subject to get your mind around, no question,” said Xu.
“Dr. Xu has been instrumental in perfecting new methods of abortion, population control, and egotistical lifestyles that keep the rich infertile and continent,” said MacBride. “He is a saint, really. Certainly, he has no fear of death. Nor do any of us. We only fear an end to good works.”
“Also,” said Xu. “I am the world’s foremost expert on incureables. I have even invented a few. I’m still waiting for the big one. The problem is those stubborn mutant immunities that crop up in dense population centers. Consciousness might be here to stay, I’m afraid. It’s something I am learning to accept in my golden years. That doesn’t mean I am giving up.”
The man began pacing. Sam could hear him walking up and down the concrete floor, his shoes squeaking on pools of blood.
“I don’t care what you do. You can’t go around chopping off people’s arms and legs. It isn’t right.”
“We gave them back, now didn’t we?” said Tambo.
“Who knows?” said Xu. “Perhaps someday a future government will make our amputation methods de rigueur for population control.”
“Aw, shucks,” said Tambo.
“I got my legs back, sure, but the scars! And the nightmares!”
“And look how we are repayed! Vengeance. How ugly and predictable,” said Xu.
“Some people are born with incredibly short memories,” said MacBride. “I’ve studied the phenomenon. It is endemic to addiction.”
“Enough smart!” said the man. “Who first? Who gets the first bullet?”
“Ought to be me,” said Tambo. “If I end up surviving, there’s a good chance I can save the rest, you know.”
“He’s quite the artist with the blade,” said Xu, calmly.
“Nah, nah…you’re the brains, slanty. I’m gonna shoot you first. You’re the smart. Then I’ll be the smart.”
“I guess you don’t remember your first day on the job very well,” said MacBride. “Mr. Smart.”
“I remember it, alright. There I was, all cut up and horrible. And you made me murder this guy who came in out of nowhere, yelling at you and shaking a grenade. He was gonna blow the whole place up! I could have been killed!”
“Do you remember what we said to pull you out of hiding? To catch your victim by surprise?”
“Sure,” said the man. “I remember everything. It was real simple, my first day. You yelled boo, and then I jumped out and slit the guy’s throat. He didn’t even get a chance to pull the pin. I saved the day.”
“What did I yell?” said Xu. “Refresh my addled brains.”
“Boo!” said the man. “You yelled boo!”
Sam sighed. He tensed himself. He triangulated his position. And then, as ordered, he tossed himself through the ceiling, propelled awkwardly on his flailing stumps. He landed right on the man’s back and sunk his teeth into his neck, hanging. As the man lifted his arms up, screaming, to pull Sam off of his meaty deltoids, Tambo stuck a pair of scalpels neatly into the man’s chest. Stupified, he fell to his knees, the gun falling quietly out of his hand. Sam bounced out of the way, and then scuttled back over to tear an important part out of the man’s throat. He squirmed on his chest, chewing, the man’s blood squirting upwards in pulsating spasms, a last, confused look screwed onto his dead face.
“Good work, Sam,” said MacBride.
“I’d say that was at least worth an arm,” said Tambo.
“Our man indeed,” said Xu, clapping quietly, his elfin hands soundless as bone hit bone.