All I could think was ‘What the hell am I doing here mate?’, except I knew the answer. If I was to survive college then I had to eat, and if nothing else this job paid well. It had to or nobody in their right mind would do it.
There were perks of course, there usually are if you look for them. All those grief stricken ladies, willing to pay over the odds to have a pampered pooch reincarnated as some sort of macabre addition to their home decor, they all wanted comforting. I was good at comforting, plus I had a deal going with Mario, the local pet shop guy who knew all the decent breeders. Nothing like a living replacement to distract from a death.
I did get complaints when puppy dog chewed a hole in his newly installed predecessor, or kitty cat attacked her thousand dollar rival who refused to give ground. Still, it brought in repair revenue and the sale of an overpriced display box. Shame I wasn’t on commission really.
The chicks at college didn’t get it though. Half of them wouldn’t even buy meat on a bone because it reminded them too much that some food came from a creature that used to be alive. Did they really think that I enjoyed skinning a dead animal, working with toxic chemicals, feeding a furnace that gave off fumes which seeped into my clothes and made even the old drunks on the bus change seats to get away from me? I didn’t deserve the hard time they gave me, not for that.
Most days, of course, I wasn’t working downstairs. Mr Patterson wanted me to deal with his customers, especially the ones who came back to complain. They all seemed to have this idea that stuffed Fido would look just like living Fido; with a warm, soft head to stroke and his familiar, eager to please expression; sitting there in the corner of the room reminding them of the good times. What they got was a solidly stuffed, treated dog skin with those glassy, unblinking eyes. If they wanted happy memories they would have been better with a framed photo on the wall in place of those supposedly tasteful paintings they seemed to favour.
Mr Patterson wouldn’t talk to the customers at all once he got their money and I can’t say I blamed him. That was what he paid me for and it sure beat his attempts at teaching me the trade. I mean, seriously? Sure, there was money to be made, but this was strictly a college job. It did teach me how to dispose of a body though.
It was Mario who put me on to them. One of their best had just gone down for a murder that even he had all but forgotten. The body had been discovered when some young couple on the new builds out of town decided they needed their basement extended; who does that? Anyway, the guys needed to think of new disposal options and Mario knew I could use the money.
I never saw the bodies, insisting they be delivered to me cut up and bagged. Mr Patterson was happy to have me work late on a couple of nights after he went home; it brought in more business, customers who worked all day and preferred to talk to us in person. Having the key to lock up gave me access when I needed it.
Mr Patterson never seemed to notice that I kept the furnace going. I made sure that Mario got a good cut of the disposal fee, but was still just about the only kid in my year who left college with no debt.
When I graduated they wanted me to stay on, take the job Mr Patterson offered me. They made threats, so I went to Mario and he called in a few favours from a neighbouring cartel who could take over what they left behind. I showed Mario how to feed the furnace and left him my key. I think Mr Patterson might have given him my old job; I wonder sometimes if he was in on the deal from the start.