The second excerpt from the thriller THE CHAIN by HO writer Robin Lamont
From Chapter 3 (Emmet Chapel, a new supervisor at the meat packing plant is beginning his day).
Emmet began outside and headed around to the back of the plant. A breeze from the west brought with it notice that the trucks were waiting – the rotten egg smell of sulfur mixed with the sharp tang of ammonia from the pig manure. The sounds of snorting, squealing hogs grew louder.
There was a new driver Emmet didn’t recognize helping to unload the last of the stragglers from a forty-footer. His face was red with frustration because some of the sows wouldn’t budge from the truck, most likely because they couldn’t walk. One had a huge abscess on her foot, another looked like it had a broken front leg and was barely able to drag herself a few feet. But they were in better shape than the one that was splayed on the truck bed near the cab – probably dead. The driver gripped a heavy plastic paddle in his elbow-length glove and smacked the sows repeatedly to get them moving. Frightened and confused, they staggered one way then another, crashing into each other and the walls of the truck, anywhere but down the ramp.
“Goddamn it!” screamed the man in pain after one of them ran into his knee. In his fury, he pulled a three-foot metal pipe from the wall of the truck and struck the offending animal on the back. Desperate to escape him, she scrambled down the ramp into the lairage pen with the others. Cursing, hollering and pummeling the pigs on any body part he could reach, the man finally got all the live ones out. Then he turned his attention to the dead pig and fastened a chain around her neck, preparing to drag her.
A skinny wise-ass nicknamed Crank, tagged for both his regular use of uppers and his quick temper, was watching along with his white co-worker on the lairage crew. They were enjoying the show. Every time one of the pigs escaped the trucker, they hooted and laughed, infuriating the man even further.
But Emmet was now a yellow hat. “C’mon! Let’s get to work,” he yelled.
Crank pushed back with a big grin on his face. “Shit, Chapel’s management now. A supah-visah! Hey, how’s the little girls’ room on the second floor? Nice ’n pretty?”
“You’ll never find out, asshole,” said Emmet.
Crank thumped his chest and crowed, “I love the smell of pig shit in the morning!” He looked around to see if anyone appreciated his bravado, but many of the guys out here were Latino and if they understood, they didn’t show it. They kept their heads down and went about their business.
“Get over here, Crank,” yelled Emmet. He was inspecting the nearest pen, lot twenty-seven, packed tight with the sows just unloaded. They were in bad shape. Some were just skin and bones, the spines protruding from their backs like jagged saws with huge teeth; many had wounds that had abscessed, ears torn, and hacking coughs that suggested pneumonia. “Where’re these hogs from?”
The young man shrugged, then called out the question to the trucker. The answer came back and Emmet shook his head in frustration. “I thought we weren’t taking any more pigs from Heritage. They treat their animals like crap. Look at that.” He pointed to a sow that had collapsed by the railing and was being trampled by the others in the overcrowded pen. Truth was, Heritage Farm wasn’t even the worst of them, and Emmet had seen thousands of sick and crippled pigs come down the line. But now he felt more of a responsibility.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get it down the chute,” reassured Crank, stepping over to kick the downed sow, who had only the strength to grunt.
“It shouldn’t go down the goddamn chute until it’s been looked at. Could be infected,” exclaimed Emmet. “Where’s Cimino?”
Every slaughterhouse was required to have an on-site veterinarian from the USDA in addition to the meat inspectors, and it was the vet’s job to monitor the animals for signs of disease that might make them unsuitable for slaughter.
“He hasn’t gotten out here yet,” said Crank.
Emmet knew it was a waste of time, but he pulled out his handheld radio to page Lawrence Cimino. The vet should have already been out to look, but these days he took his time. To Emmet’s thinking, Cimino was a lazy, self-satisfied old fart who didn’t care about anything or anyone but himself. On the surface he came across as a kindly country doctor with tufts of gray hair on either side of his balding pate, but he was soulless at his core. The vet was sixty-three and retiring in less than a year; all he wanted was to finish out the job without incident and collect his pension.
When he didn’t get any response on the second try, Emmet pocketed his radio. The crew was already corralling hogs into the drive alley, the passageway from the pens to the single-file chute that led to the stun area. The wild-eyed pigs didn’t want to go. They balked at the dark tunnel and at the distressed squealing of the others around them. Several struggled to walk. This was a load of breeding sows who had been confined in metal crates their entire lives; their legs just weren’t strong enough to walk the hundred feet down the chute. Some of them outright refused – they could smell death up ahead. It took five men with paddles to move them forward.
“All right. Let’s go, let’s go!” shouted Emmet, turning away. The chain was up and running, more trucks were waiting to unload, and he was worried that the line had already gotten off to a slow start.