Murder is an ugly business.
We strapped the night's catch down on top of the Cardinal's tomb--Jackknife liked that one, said he was the favorite. Said he was descended from the Cardinal, too, but we all knew that for the lie it was. His dam was a whore on St. Aubernon's corner--his sire was another out-of-town trick she'd pulled some twenty-odd years ago. The catch was coming out of the gas we'd clapped over her mouth when we pulled her in, and started screaming fit to bust an eardrum soon as she got a quarter of the way out. She knew what we were; she'd heard the stories. Every painted jessie does--it's one of the first things they tell you, when they put you out on the street with the rest of 'em turning tricks. You don't go near the Cinderfall Bridge, not after sundown, not if you want to live to see another dawn. But this girl had been stupid, or perhaps just desperate or drunk or strung out to the nines on the drug of her choice, and she'd ended up wandering a little too close to the Bridge. Within grabbing distance, at least, and we'd sent up Fallacy to bring her in. He had the longest reach.
It was a good thing that she'd come--our valued customers were getting antsy. They'd had to wait too long--a day or so and we'd've been out on the rooftops, hunting for a catch on our own. I hated the rooftops--were too many burglars who used the same routes as I'd learned, and too many of 'em would be too bloody happy if they knew where Graymalkin had ended up, even if it had been eight years since I'd come off the streets. Even if I was a corpse-usher now. They still remembered me, by their scars and their shame.
We don't kill them right away--the bloodwitches say that the struggle makes them powerful, that the terror makes their sacrifices potent. I wouldn't know about that--I don't have even the speck of magic enough to make a hedgewitch, but I know how I was taught. You put the point of your blade in their bellybutton, push in and pull up, and it opens them like a book. It's a good thing that we had the catch gagged, because even so she made a noise like she wanted to wake the Cardinal beneath her. After that, it's hands in. Most people wear gloves for this bit, but I'm not partial to them; I work faster when I can feel what I'm touching, exactly. Things have different textures, you learn after a time in this business. When you're new, everything's just slippery, but after eight years I was an old hand at this job. Bones, for example. Bones are slightly gritty, like they've got a fine bit of sand rubbed over them. Cartilage is lined, like a sea-smoothed bit of wood. The heart's what I go after, though. While the rest of the crew's grubbing around looking for their own organs, I'm worming around in her ribcage trying to find that little glob of meat, thumping along like a rabbit trying to outrun a wolf. That's what the witches pay for; only eyes fetch a higher price, but those have to be taken out after they're dead, or the soul will linger for a good long while.
Puts me right close to their faces, too. I can't tell you how many times I've stared into someone's eyes while they died. Tonight's catch had brown eyes--dark and rich and warm and big, like a cow's, and fringed with the longest lashes I'd ever seen. Big as bell-wheels, too, and I patted her hair with my free and unstained hand and said, "Don't worry, darlin', it'll be over soon."
- Title: The Corpse-Ushers
- Artist: Rynn Calais
There are so many romantic stories about assassins and burglars and pick-pockets out there in fantasy literature, which never really get down to the heart of the matter: killing someone, for money, is not a pleasant job to have.
Think of it as a story about grave robbers, except they don't wait for what they're stealing to get put in the ground first.
- Date: 12/21/2009
- Tags: corpseushers