The pick-up was heading right out of the city. Too far. The night was totally black, and all Maisie could see in the headlights was the road, and the wire fences either side.
‘It’s a long way, mister,’ she said.
The driver curled his lip back. A front tooth was broken. He had a thin beard and a dark straggle of hair over his shoulders. She should never have gotten in. The freezing rain stinging her thighs had swung it.
‘I’m givin’ y’a hundred bucks for the whole night.’ His voice was a monotone. ‘Where yer from, they only charge five dollars a trick.’ A hand like a chicken claw squeezed her plump brown leg.
Maisie thought of the old couple in their Japanese saloon cruising the streets of the red-light district. The purr of the electric window motor. A little kid in the back, crying. The woman had held out a photograph, of a face hidden behind cosmetics and heavy lipstick.
‘Have you seen our daughter,’ she’d asked, ‘have you seen her? It’s been three days.’
‘Nope.’ Maisie had passed the photo back. ‘cain’t help ya. Sorry.’ That was what it was like, where she was from.
The pickup bumped up a dirt track and stopped beside a trailer. The track went on to a row of huge steel hog barns, flanked by feed silos. The barns were windowless and ventilation fans roared. The outflow smelt of pig shit, ammonia, rotten eggs, stale blood and dead meat. A dumpster was filled with carcases. The man noticed Maisie look at it sidelong, and drew his lip back in a grin.
‘Rendering plant’ll make that into hog food. No waste, see?’
Inside the trailer, Maisie leant against sticky vinyl seating, her tight skirt riding up, and the heels of her boots planted on the muddy floor. A cockroach crawled slowly towards her. A woman’s purse was on the table. The man stood there, holding a glass tube over a lighter. He looked at her body, weighing her as he inhaled, as if he saw a big lump of black meat with too much make up and a blond wig.
‘Smoke?’ he asked. She accepted. The cocaine buzzed through her blood. She was trembling and edgy, alert to everything. His pupils were constricted, and his movements jerky. He gestured to the purse on the table.
‘I only got fifty bucks. So you’re gonna get this instead.’ He lifted a meat cleaver from the worktop.
She stared in silence.
‘Come here, chicken head.’ He clawed her wrist, and she pulled away in panic. A terrified clamour started up in her head.
‘Jeez!’ She launched herself wildly at the trailer door.
‘Y’ain’t goin’ nowhere, ya dirty bitch,’ he snarled. He had a hold of her jacket. Maisie put up her hands and arms to protect herself, and he slashed at them. She was a heavy woman, and the coke gave her a wild strength. She knocked the weapon away, and as he bent to pick it up, she kicked him down. He grunted and fell. She got out into the darkness.
Maisie stumbled across the farmyard towards the black fields. She was sobering, and her arms were bleeding. She heard him shouting, and starting up the truck. It was freezing cold.
If I don’t make it back, she thought, who’s to know? Or if I go to the cops, and say I’m a black whore, I do drugs, and someone cut me? What are they gonna do? Even if they don’t charge me with nothing, I’ll be on the street, and he’ll be there in that pick-up, waiting to turn me into hog feed. They’ll say I was asking for it. But, who’d a thunk?
‘Y’a dead meat!’ she heard him yell, as the door of the pick-up slammed.
She came up against a wire fence. The headlights of the pick-up sliced though the dark as its engine revved. Half sobbing, she followed the lines of the fence. Maybe there’d be a gate. She came up against a wall. Ventilation fans whirred. She touched steel, and heard the shrieks and grunts of the animals inside. A hog-barn.
The pick-up moved slowly across the farmyard, turning in a tight circle, so that its headlights picked out every inch of the space. It stopped. Maisie was spotlit against the barn door. She braced herself against it, as the door of the pick-up opened. There was a wooden rattle at her back. A plank between two brackets held the doors shut. A weapon, maybe. Better than nothing. She tugged it out of its supports, and prepared to face her attacker.
There was an intense, nauseating stench as the door of the barn was pushed open by the press of hog bodies. The darkness in there came alive, as hundreds of pairs of hogs’ eyes blinked in the pick-up’s headlights. There was a clatter of hooves on metal flooring and a crash as barriers fell. A riot of hogs, squealing, grunting, frustrated by their confinement, surged forward to freedom. Maisie was pressed to the side by the huge steel door. She saw him fall, engulfed by the hogs. He was meat.