Today I want to tell you a story…
I stopped in front of the building and took a final moment to decide if I was really ready to do this.
I’ve donated blood before, it wasn’t a big deal, but this time I felt uneasy. It was one thing to give blood away it was something else to sell it. I checked the address I had written down on a scrap of paper and glanced at the door. The building looked like a house, the run-down residential street with tired looking two story homes certainly didn’t help the impression. I looked at the house again, it really didn’t look like the right place. I turned to head away, determining to check the street name again when a small sign on the gate caught my attention.
“Fir Street Clinic”
I did a double take, this place certainly didn’t look like a clinic, despite what the small sign on the gate claimed. My stomach rumbled, loudly. I grit my teeth against the hunger cramps setting in and headed up the garden path and into the building. I blinked rapidly at the surprisingly brightly lit reception.
“Hi,” I said to the woman sitting behind a small desk. “Um, I’m Kevin, I’m here to…”
“Surname please,” the woman snapped, not looking away from her laptop.
“Oh, it’s Black, Kevin Black.” Her hands moved quickly over the keys, eyes focused on the screen. She paused after a long moment and reach to the pile of papers next to her, after rifling through them she handed me form attached to a clipboard.
“You’re late,” she said. “Fill this out and take a seat.”
I opened my mouth to apologize but she’d already turned back to her laptop. I walked to the room next door, sat on an old looking sofa and glanced at the form in front of me. I pulled a pen out of my pocket and started ticking boxes. General medical questions, typical ‘have you suffered from any of the following’ questions, I didn’t even read them, I just ticked no all the way down. I was two thirds through when a female voice called my name. I looked up and saw a nurse gesturing to me to follow her. I did, still frantically ticking boxes.
The room she led me to was small, clean and far too bright. I’mm not sure what the room had been originally designed as, perhaps a dining room, but it had been gutted out and covered in white paint. I stepped in and hovered for a moment until she gestured to a metal, free-standing bed; I sat down, still finishing off the form.
“Okay, Mr. Black, this is your first time with us?” she asked, I nodded pocketing my pen. “Just a few questions then, any family history of hepatitis?” I shook my head. “Drug use?” I shook my head. “Liver or kidney problems?” again I shook my head. The nurse lifted my form. “Wonderful, and last one, where did you hear about us?”
“Uh, my friend Bill. He’s in my social history lectures, he noticed that I was … well, I could really use the money and he suggested you guys.”
“So word of mouth, lovely.” The nurse started pulling equipment out of a drawer. “Ok Mr. Black lie back and we’ll get started.” I did so and watched as she got needles and bags ready. “As it’s your first time it’s company policy to only take the smallest amount, if you decide to come back again you can choose how much you sell, within legal guidelines of course.” I winced as she slid the needle home and watched as my blood started to flow into the bag. “This won’t take too long.” The nurse smiled.
“Good,” I said, “I just finished my shift and could really use the sleep.”
“I thought you said you were a student?” the nurse said. I nodded.
“Yeah, social science but I’m thinking of changing it,” I said. “I get shifts at the college bar to support myself.” The nurse stared at me; she looked me up and down, no doubt taking in my torn jeans, and worn sneakers.
“It doesn’t pay well and there’s a lot of competition for shifts,” I said.
“Can I be frank with you Mr. Black?” she said.
“Well, considering that I’m selling you my blood, I think we’re probably passed frank,” I tried for humor but she didn’t smile.
“Our company, we help a lot of people, we provide blood and other… Services to hospitals and on occasion to private individuals, doctors and the like. But we also help people like yourself, people having a bit of a hard time.”
“O.k,” I said. The bag was almost full and I felt a little light headed.
“Although most of our sellers, they … well, they have a lot of problems, drug abuse and the like although they try to pretend they don’t.” She said. “You seem like a nice kid, very healthy,” she glanced at the door. “I’m not really supposed to do this for people on their first time but you do look like you could use the money.” She reached over and stopped my blood. She bustled with the bag and removed the needle in my arm, I flexed my hand opening and closing my fist to get rid of the weird sensation that lingered. “We’ve recently had a large demand come in.”
“I can’t give blood again for at least…” I started.
“Not for blood Mr. Black,” the nurse said. “For clinical tests. I believe your friend, Bill is already on one of these. I suggest you talk to him about it and if it’s something you think you can help us with come back and ask for me. I’m Stacy, I’ll see to it that your paperwork passes quickly and get you in the next test group. You’ll make more doing one trial than you would for a whole month of blood donations.”
“Really?” I asked. “Wow, um thanks, thanks a lot.” I sat up and hopped down off the table. I wobbled a bit still feeling light-headed. Stacy handed me a juice carton.
“Drink this, it’ll help,” she smiled.
“Thanks,” I took the cup. “And thanks for the tip.”
“It’s just between us though,” she smiled and signed a form before handing it to me. “I hope to see you again, Mr. Black. Give this to Miranda on reception and she’ll pay you.” I took the paper and left the room. Miranda was just as frosty the second time around but I left feeling better for the small roll of notes in my pocket.
It would take me over an hour to walk back to campus, my restricted budget did not allow for transportation that wasn’t my own feet. But the upside was that I could go back via the 24hr MacDonald’s and treat myself. Hank the bar manager usually let us into the kitchens after hours to demolish any left over’s but tonight the pickings had been extremely slim. It made me realize just how much I had been relying on Hank to feed me tonight. My stomach made its irritation known again and I made up my mind to sacrifice a small amount of tonight’s pay to feed myself. I walked over to the MacDonald’s.
Sitting in the restaurant I checked my phone after wolfing down my burger. I had no messages, I was tempted to call Bill, but having recently canceled my contract I reasoned that the money in my pocket would not cover putting credit on the phone as well as everything else. I would just have to wait until I got back to the house before I picked his brain. Finishing my meal, I left and started on the way home proper.
“At least I’m getting plenty of exercises,” I muttered to myself. “Trust Bill to find the shadiest, farthest away place.” Maybe I’d do some research myself and find somewhere closer next time.
I made it two-thirds of the way back before my phone rang. Pulling it out of my pocket I clicked answer before checking the name.
“Hey, douche bag,” Bill said. “You done?”
“Yeah I’m done, on the way home now, should be back in about 15 minutes. I got some questions for you.”
“Well you might have to ask me now then, I am not at home,” Bill said.
“What? It’s 3am, where did you get money for a night out?” I said.
“I’m working,” he said. “Well sort of, I ran into Stacy a few minutes ago, she told me she was your nurse.”
“Yeah she was nice, the whole operation felt weird though. I was expecting something more professional.” I admitted. “Figured they’d take a detailed medical history to start with, maybe a physical exam, she didn’t even ask if I had tattoos or nothing.”
“Well look at you Dr. Kev,” Bill said. “Since when are you so keyed up on the know how?”
“I’ve donated blood before, Bill,” I said. “Look I’m not complaining, I ate tonight because of that place, I just … it felt … something felt off about it. Not to mention it’s in a weird neighborhood.”
“Just because it isn’t rich doesn’t automatically mean it’s dodgy, Kev,” Bill said. “Stacy said she made you an offer tonight, but I’m starting to think maybe you don’t deserve it.”
“Look, Bill, I’m not complaining. It was fine; I was just expecting something different. This … well, it felt unofficial.”
“Unofficial?” Bill said. “What you mean unofficial?”
“I just sold blood in a building that from the outside looked like someone’s house,” I said.
“So?” Bill snapped.
“Blood is expensive,” I shrugged. “Maybe some gang doesn’t want to pay for it so they just tap the market themselves, or maybe they sell it on and want to keep on the low down to avoid paying taxes and avoid all the regulations or whatever, who knows. I’m probably being paranoid.” Bill laughed down the phone at me.
“Aww does itty bitty Kev think Bill’s got him mixed up in what … a gang blood ring?” he laughed. I waited for him to shut up.
“I said I knew I was being paranoid o.k., can we drop it,” I said. Bill snorted down the phone at me.
“Sure man, whatever. Stacy said she spoke to you about the new test they’re running at the center; she thought you might be a good fit.”
“Why she only asked me a couple of cursory questions, how does she know what kind of fit I am?” I said.
“She’s been doing this job for ages; she’s probably got an eye for it. Anyway, it’s good money, easy good money.” Bill said.
“Why’d you care?” I said. “I mean why do you care if I do the trial?”
“Well I referred you, I get a cut if you work out good,” Bill said. “Like a finder’s fee or something.”
“Yeah, that sounds really legit,” I muttered, turning off the main road onto the campus.
“Shut up, douche bag,” Bill sighed. “Look the money is awesome, you just take a little pill once a day, then they do blood tests every couple days, that’s all it is and the money is awesome. I’m actually going to be able to take fewer shifts at the bar because of this. I’ll actually be able to do some of the assignments this year.”
“Wow,” I smiled. “That’ll be a first.”
“Asshole,” Bill said.
“So what are you doing tonight?” I said. Bill made a non-committal sound.
“Just gonna stay at the center overnight, they’re monitoring me, something about my blood pressure. I’ll be done by 5am and can go home and I’ll have made more money in one night than you make during a week of bar shifts.”
“You can buy dinner tomorrow then,” I said. “I’ll think about the trial. Can you maybe bring me back some info about this ‘little pill’?” I pushed open the door to the halls where Bill and I lived.
“I’ll try, they’re pretty cagey about it,” Bill said
“Well that sounds normal,” I said. “And safe.”
“Whatever,” Bill said. “Alright I’ve gotta go back in, I’ll see you in the morning.”
“See ya,” I said as the phone went quiet. I went up to my room and collapsed on the bed. I meant to get back up and at least get my work shirt off before falling asleep, but the next thing I knew Hannah was banging on my door.
“Kevin! Kevin get up!” I sat up and cursed, I’d slept in my clothes and stank like a beer tray.
“Grim,” I muttered.
“Kevin, answer the damn door!” Hannah bellowed.
“Yeah, I’m up,” I called. Standing I stretched, my back cracked and the stiffness eased a bit. I went to my bedroom door before Hannah kicked it down. “There should be a law against waking people up this early,” I growled at her as she stormed in.
“Early?” she snapped. “It’s 8pm, I already had Henry on the phone wanting to know where you were,” she noticed my terrified expression. “Don’t worry, I explained to him you were sick and Gemma went in to cover your shift for you. You owe her big though; she’s got an assignment due next week that she should be working on.”
“So you kicked down my door two hours after my shift started to tell me this?” I flopped back down onto the bed. I ran a hand over my forehead feeling cold sweat.
“No,” Hannah said. She sat next to me. “I’m worried about Bill.”
“Yeah, I haven’t seen him for two days,” she said.
“Huh?” I said.
“I assumed he left before me yesterday morning, and then he wasn’t here when I came back so I thought he was at the bar with you. Then he never came home. You stumbled in about 3:30-ish and collapsed. You walked right by me and acted like you didn’t see me.”
“I was tired,” I said. “Sorry.”
“No worries, you looked shattered.” She patted my leg and took a deep breath. “Bill never came home.”
“I spoke to him last night, he was staying out all night at the clinic.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket to check it. Three missed calls from Henry, nothing from Bill. “He had a shift this evening so maybe he’s at the bar, wow he’s going to be shattered.”
“That’s it though,” Hannah said. “I figured the same thing, but then Gemma called and said he wasn’t at the bar. I knew he had a clinic appointment, I woke you up because I think he’s still at the clinic. I don’t think he left.”
“Oh,” I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat.
“What’s up with that place?” Hannah said. “I tried looking it up and there’s no mention of it anywhere. I asked Phil and he didn’t know anything about it either.”
“Why would Phil know?” I muttered. Hannah sighed.
“He’s a med student; they pick up shifts in those kinds of places for the experience if they can. They know all the local ones and he didn’t know this place, he asked a few of his friends and none of them knew about this place.” Hannah stared at me. “It’s not legit is it?”
“How would I know?” I said.
“You went there,” she said. “I know you weren’t keen, is this the reason why?”
“Not initially,” I admitted. “I felt conflicted about selling blood, people really need it and I’ve donated before so I guess I felt guilty selling it. But yeah, um, it’s a bit strange.”
“Strange?” Hannah said.
“Just not very professional, it’s clean and all no worries there or anything but they didn’t ask many questions, and it’s really small. Like, run out of some guy’s house kind of small.”
“Fuck Kev,” Hannah put her head in her hands. “What have you and Bill got yourselves mixed up in?”
“Look it’s all good,” I said. “You go in you donate and they pay you, its fine.”
“Bullshit. Come on,” she stood up, “we’ll take my car; I want to go find Bill.” I swallowed the growing lump in my throat and nodded.
“Just let me get changed first,” I said.
“Hurry up,” Hannah snapped and left me to it. I necked the water on my bedside table and pulled my clothes off. Rummaging around I found some reasonably clean ones, laundrette was another cost that had fallen by the wayside these last few weeks. I made a mental note that after we found Bill I would do a load of washing.
“That’s clean?” Hannah said as I climbed into her car.
“Cleanest I’ve got at the moment,” I said. Hannah pulled the car out of the lot and through the small campus roads.
“Look Kev, I know you and Bill have been struggling lately, don’t think I haven’t noticed.” She glanced at me for a moment before turning her attention back to the road.
“Not everyone’s dad is loaded,” I snapped. “Sorry,” I said instantly. “It’s not your fault life’s tough at the moment, I shouldn’t be like that.”
“Whatever,” Hannah said. “But look if I’d have realized how bad things were for you … you could have asked for my help.”
“It’s not that bad,” I muttered.
“You’re selling blood at some shady place and Bill is missing.” Hannah snapped. “Look I know accepting money is hard, but you wouldn’t have to, just let me do the food shopping for a while, let me help.”
“Thanks,” I said.”But we’re fine really. Nothing’s wrong with this place, Bill will be fine, he’ll call us assholes for worrying about him and we’ll both be better off soon, we can quit the bar and actually pass this year rather than scrape through again.”
“I hope so,” Hannah said.
“Turn right here,” I said.
I spent the rest of the short drive giving directions.
“This,” Hannah said. “This is where you went, this is where Bill is?”
“Told you it was small, like someone’s house,” I said. I looked at the building and frowned. The windows were boarded up. They hadn’t been last night.
“It’s not ‘like’ someone’s house Kev it is someone’s house!” Hannah snapped. “Someone’s abandoned fucking house.” She grabbed my wrist and dragged me up to the front door. She knocked hard. No answer. She knocked again. No answer, no sounds from inside, nothing.
“Uhh,” I said. “It looks abandoned.” I leaned over to the window and peered around the board. The place was empty, no chairs no desks, no people. Completely empty.
“You sure this is the place?” Hannah said.
“It is, I pointed at the van across the street, it was painted bright pink. “There’s no way I would forget that.” I jumped when Hannah kicked the door suddenly.
“Oi, where’s Bill?” she hollered.
“Hannah,” I called as she stepped away from the front door and started to walk round to the back of the house. I followed her, hoping we weren’t about to get attacked, this looked like the kind of place people got mugged. The back-yard fence was higher than I was tall. I couldn’t reach the top, even if I jumped.
“Kev,” Hannah said as I stared at the fence. She gestured to a gate and went to bang on it. Still no answer. I spotted a large wheelie bin, one of the kind with wheels, usually seen around blocks of flats or other communal living places, you could probably fit a sofa inside it with little bother. I walked over to it and clambered on top of its closed lid, I winced at the strong smell of bleach, the bin reeked of it. Like someone had tried to clean it out with nothing but bleach. I blinked my eyes to clear the watering and stood up. Standing I was able to see over the fence clearly. The back of the house was boarded up the same as the front, the garden was overgrown and filled with trash. I frowned at a part of the garden that was covered in trash, it looked deliberate, like someone had piled the trash up purposefully. There was a trainer on top of the pile, a red one, just like the ones Bill currently favored. This was starting to look really bad.
“Bill!” Hannah yelled making me jump.
“Hannah, shhh,” I hissed. She glared at me and turned her back to me.
“Bill,” she called again. I sat down on the bin lid with the intention of sliding off onto the ground. It was when I sat that I noticed the smell, there was something bad under the stink of the bleach. It was difficult to notice because of the bleach smell but it was there. Something smelt off, really off, wrong. Not just old food that’s gone out of date, more like bad meat mixed with bodily waste and rot. It reminded me of when a rat had gotten stuck in the vents at home and had died, the smell of the dead creature had permeated the house, it was not a smell that was easy to forget. This reminded me of that, only worse, stronger and far more fierce, something around here was dead.
“You smell that?” I asked Hannah. She paused in her relentless banging and stalked over to me.
“No Kev, I don’t smell the bleach that’s making my eye run, I smell…” she stopped and frowned at me when she reached the bin. She went very pale very quickly. “Oh fuck,” she said. “I know that smell.”
“Huh?” I said.
“One of dad’s tenants … um, when I was little he couldn’t get a babysitter and he took me with him to visit a tenant who had missed rent and wasn’t responding to letters or phone calls. Turns out the old guy had died in the flat.” she said.
“Your dad took you to see a dead man?” I snapped.
“No, I waited outside the front door.” Hannah glared at me, “the point is that smells exactly like the flat did.”
“Yeah,” I said. “um it’s probably just a rat or something, maybe a cat or dog, it explains the bleach smell at least. Someone’s tried to clean it up.”
“Yeah, probably,” Hannah walked passed me heading further down the alleyway. She stopped and came back to me shaking her head. She was staring at the bin I was currently sat on.
“It’s here,” she said, I slid off the bin. “The bin must be for the block of flats, I think.” Hannah gestured at the flat block behind us. “I can’t open it Kev,” she tucked her hands under her arms, she was shaking.
“It’s just a rat or something,” I said.
“It’s not a rat Kev,” Hannah said, she started crying as I opened the lid. Inside the bin were shovels, knives and I think I saw a hacksaw. All of them were covered in blood.
“Oh shit,” I said, Hannah was crying harder now. I let go of the bin lid and clambered back on top, once on top I hopped over the fence landing hard on the grass on the other side. I ran over to the trash pile and was pulling it apart before I realized what I was doing. After a few moments, my hand touched something that wasn’t trash. It was skin, cold skin. I flinched backward and rubbed my hand on my trousers. My own skin felt like it was trying to crawl off and hide.
I had found Bill.
Hannah must have followed me into the garden as she helped me clear away the rest of the trash covering Bill. With a last heave of effort, I pushed a large black refuse bag off my friend and was able to see what they had done to him.
I struggled to make sense of the mangled mess that was, or rather that had been my friend. I found myself focusing on strange details, like how his hair was matted with blood and all his clothes were missing except his shoes, they had left those on. There were open wounds on his legs and arms, ragged-edged and messy looking. One of his arms had been broken and parts of the bone were showing through a deep cut. I stared at the splinters of bone on his left arm, wondering how it had gotten broken, focusing as hard as I could on his arm so I didn’t have to look at what had obviously killed him.
Ben’s naked torso had been split from neck to navel, red and deep purple tissue hung out of the gaping wound. My brain was screaming at me that something was wrong with this picture beyond the fact that my friend had been hacked open. I struggled to understand what was wrong until Hannah spoke up.
“Where are his …” she couldn’t finish the sentence, jerking away and collapsing to her knees. I heard her start to vomit but couldn’t take my eyes off Ben. Parts of him were missing, his liver was gone, and his kidneys, his lungs as well. There was probably more missing but not really knowing much about biology I couldn’t tell all I could tell was that there was a lot of empty space inside Ben where his organs should have been. They hadn’t taken his intestines, they hung down around his legs, like a macabre jump rope, but almost everything else was gone. Ben had been harvested.
With that knowledge, my own stomach rolled and I had to turn away. I felt the acid burn as I brought up what little I still had in my stomach. I’m not sure how long I stayed like that but my throat was raw when Hannah put her hand on my back. I stood up shakily and looked at her.
“I’ve called the police,” she said, she was crying. “They’ll be here soon.” I reached out and pulled Hannah to me.
“Come on, let’s wait in the alleyway,” I said. Hannah fought me for a moment, not wanting to leave Ben in the garden but after a half-hearted protest she came with me and we went onto the street to wait for the police.
“What the fuck, Kevin?” Hannah said when we crumpled to the pavement. Reaching out I held Hannah close to me and let her cry.
“Shhh,” I managed. I had no idea what to say.
“There were bits of him missing,” Hannah sobbed. “Like they’d harvested him.”
“I know,” I managed after swallowing the bile still trying to rise in my throat. “I saw it too, I don’t know what happened, what he was mixed up in, or what this place really was.”
I don’t know how long Hannah and I waited on the pavement that night with our dead friend in the garden behind us before the police arrived. We were both taken to the police station where we found ourselves key witnesses in a case that the police had been building for months against a local gang that had apparently been trying to break into the black market on human organs. Apparently, there had been at least three other people or bits of people in the garden with Ben.
We didn’t have to wait for long, no gang that leaves bodies lying in gardens lasts long. Within six weeks the police had made several arrests and were prosecuting. Hannah had shown me the mugshots in the paper, Stacy’s picture had been absent.
Three months later and I’m waiting for a Court date, I’m not looking forward to being a witness but if it means those people won’t have the opportunity to hurt anyone else then I’ll do my best. I’m still working at the bar and I’m still short of cash, even with Hannah buying in enough food for the two of us and picking up more than her share of the bills. My phone has been ringing on and off during my shift this evening. I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t answer it. By the time my shift ended I had five missed calls and one message. I picked up the message on my walk home, expecting a sales call.
“Hello Mr. Black, I was wondering if you could give me a call?”
It was Stacy’s voice.