The Sandwich Salesman

Call me Arthur. My parents did and, rightly or wrongly, it has stuck since then. My mother was born in London in Nineteen Fifty-Three, my father, elsewhere and at a later date.

People will tell you that to make it in a place like Melbourne, you need to be at least one of three things: gay, educated, or a murderer. That is not to cast aspersions that those three traits are the same, or even similar, but it is the current train of thought. Actually, it was only one person who ever told me that, a gentleman by the name of George Hargreaves. We met one Friday night at a pub in Fitzroy and, four beers in, that is what he told me. George and I were approximately the same age, and had known one another for about two years. George was a Bachelor of Business Communication at Swinburne, and a homosexual. I was a Bachelor of Computer Science at RMIT, and straight. That put him one above me, and I decided then and there that I had to kill him. That way I was two bars up, and he was six feet under.

I do not consider George’s demise – or my relatively important contribution towards it – a defining moment in my life. It was simply another process, backstabbing in the literal sense, that allows for an individual’s advancement in society. One month after completing my degree I had secured a reasonable job for an accounting firm in the city, right by the Yarra. I administrated the networks, made sure the printers had enough toner, and assisted everyone with their computational puzzles. The job itself was a little blah, but it paid well and I was able to rent a tidy and quite comfortable apartment in Brunswick. I had no car and was thus limited to commuting to and from work via tram, but I found this agreeable enough as I left for work earlier and came home later than most. Of the ten or fifteen passengers I traveled regularly with, I regarded myself as the only murderer, though they probably all were.

I kept my eye on the papers, as one is wont to do. Arriving at work up to an hour early afforded me the opportunity to breakfast at one place or another, and read both the Age and the Herald with a degree of leisure. I guessed I had done a good enough job of disposing of old George, as there were no reports regarding the matter. The library had been a useful source of information on such matters as homicide, forensics, and police procedures, and after a week had past with no word, I considered myself in the clear.

The act one could consider difficult, as is any first-time undertaking (one’s first steps as an infant, learning to ride a bicycle, asking a girl out on a date for the first time, losing your innocence), but resulted in a deadening of colour and sound. For about a week afterwards, I felt as though my vision had been smeared with Vaseline, my ears plugged with cotton wool, my nostrils held shut. Sometimes I would experience panic attacks, late at night: I was never panicking for the act, more the consequences. But after a time I realised that there would be none.

Weeks passed, three of them, and sure enough I was gradually rising in my job. A promotion here, an extra task there, some commission. Probably not a direct consequence of my action, but in my mind and at that stage I considered it the only explanation.

It struck me that I had perhaps hidden the body a little too well. George was listed as a missing person, under no suspicious circumstances, just one of those people who are sitting there in the bar with you one day and have vanished the next. He had no tight connections that I knew of, apart from his boyfriend, Stephen, who was in South America for some reason and (according to George’s intercepted mail) was probably not going to be coming back.

Note here that I wasn’t careless with reading the dead man’s mail. I steamed personally addressed letters open, but left the bills and bank statements and the dozens of other articles as they were. It’s difficult to keep track of a letter you have written to a friend or a relative. It’s less difficult to keep track of an energy bill, a credit card statement.

The body itself I had placed in a derelict train carriage at Queenscliff station. Dozens of them littered the writhing field of rails and, as far as I could tell, nobody ever went near them. The clever thing for the authorities to do would be to disassemble the old carriages, sell the scrap, and dump the remainder in Swan Bay. Detritus was a way of life in such relatively remote places, and nobody would think to check an old rail car for a dead body, wrapped in old potato sacks, stripped of clothing. Being so close to the sea, even the stench of decaying flesh could be passed of as a dead jellyfish, decomposing prawn heads, fish entrails baking in the sun.

The journey was pleasant enough. Saturday morning, early, I boarded the Queenscliff service with a cut lunch (bag of original Samboys, bottle of Coke, salami and cheese sandwiches) and a copy of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and before I really knew it, a little over two hours later, I was getting off the train.

I had reserved a small room in a local hotel, and proceeded directly thither. It was barely eleven, and completely deserted, so I handed over my deposit, collected the keys, and carried myself stairwards. Room 6 of The Queenscliff Gates could generously have been described as an utter disgrace, but I was not living there, simply using it as an outpost for my reconnaissance.

Essentially, my plan was to drag the body down to the beach, take a boat out (a small dinghy already prepaid), and dump the body somewhere between Edwards Point and Duck Island, the currents there being slightly stronger that elsewhere. In theory, the body would be torn apart somewhat in the surf, members of the aquatic kingdom taking a nibble here and there, before the body washed up on shore and nobody thought anymore of it. I didn’t want the police knocking on my door asking me how well I knew George Hargreaves, throttling me with a bunch of questions until I finally succumbed. It was cleaner and simpler, in a way, to have a dead body rather than no body at all.

I had a beer and smoked a cigarette at the bar downstairs, a process I drew out for close to an hour. Around one a few people started to trickle in, sitting down for a quick pot, a chuckle, maybe a counterlunch. I was hungry again and a counterlunch sounded like a good idea, so I ordered a steak sandwich, which arrived in due course, and was remarkably tasty, quite the thrill at only $7.50 for the sandwich itself and about a kilo of chips. I lit a cigarette, which had burned out in my hand, unsmoked, by the time the last customer departed.

At 8:00pm precisely my watch alarm went off, jolting me directly to life. I sat on the edge of the bed for a few moments, my mouth thick and dry from the sleeping pills. I got up, went into the small kitchenette and drew a large glass of water, swallowing it back in loud gulps. I splashed some water onto my face before patting it dry with a towel and pulling my shoes and socks back on. It felt like about ten degrees inside so probably five or six out, so I shrugged my greatcoat on and proceeded downstairs. The street was as jumpy as a street can be, people shuffling uselessly to and fro to dinners, parties, home. I proceeded directly to the station, my breath misting in the air.

The station was deserted, which I found a little unnerving, but I nonetheless jumped discreetly down onto the tracks (cautious to avoid the security cameras), heading towards the huge rusting warehouses and deceased engines, carriages, cars. The one I was looking for was a sickly red colour, and I was happy to note it was in the same spot, seemingly untouched. I was on the side furthest from the platform, at a distance of approximately a hundred metres and completely out of view. I hoisted myself up on one of the steps and, with some difficulty, pulled open the door.

You may think that in your limited experience you have come across a few things that smell really bad. That’s nothing. The stench that assaulted my nostrils caused me to immediately fall back out of the carriage, vomiting as I dropped to the ground. An angry swarm of flies, so thick and monstrous as to seem like a cloud of smoke, hurled themselves from the carriage, carrying in their little fly intestines God only knew how much of poor old George. I knew the body was going to stink. Of course I knew. But in my prescription-drug-induced daze I had forgotten to bring my face mask and jar of Vaseline. Luckily I had stuffed a pair of thick rubber gloves in the pockets of my coat before even leaving Melbourne. If I hadn’t, I doubt very strongly that I would have been able to bring myself to touch the body.

After wiping the vomit from my chin and lips, I wrapped a handkerchief around my mouth and nose in a vain attempt at keeping some of the odour out. It didn’t do a thing, as anyone who has ever emptied a tray of cat litter can attest, but it comforted me somewhat and made the task ahead seem a little easier.

With the cold weather and enclosed space I had figured the level of purification would not be so high as, say, a body left in a field for a three week progression of thirty-six degree days, and my assumption was near enough. I had removed George’s hands, feet and face in order to make identification more difficult. Those were discreetly disposed of, toes and bones and strips of flesh deposited in around seventy separate bins around the city.

So you’re wondering: why did I go through all this trouble? Why didn’t I just dump the body in the ocean to begin with? Why didn’t I leave it where it was? Why did I expend the effort involved in folding a body over on itself, stuffing it into a large duffel bag, and carrying it on a two hour train ride to a completely different town? The answer is: Hell, I don’t know. I suppose I was just demonstrating that it was possible. I was also panicking, hardly aware of the correct etiquette that revolved around corpse disposal. At the time it seemed like the only logical thing.

And here I was, dragging the damn thing out of the carriage. Thick and swarming with maggots, so vivid and glistening it was as though he were oozing milk. After vomiting twice more my stomach was empty and I was used to the smell.

I had asked for the dinghy to be moored essentially directly by the station. Enough to arouse suspicion in a more acute individual, which, thankfully, the boatman was not. Paid for under a different name and via direct deposit into the gentleman’s National account. Anyway, there it was, bobbing about and clanking gently against the rocks. Far from traffic or, indeed, any other signs of human life, it was relatively easy to half-push, half-roll the bloated body straight into the boat, a fall of about half a metre. Then I gathered some large rocks and placed them in the boat too, to weigh the body down later. I hopped in and had a cigarette while catching my breath in the hope the smell of smoke would override the smell of rotting meat. To a degree it did, and soon old George and I were roaring through the bay, Swan Island to our starboard side. It took about half an hour, longer than I had expected but less than I had allowed for, and moments later Duck Island loomed vaguely ahead of us.

In the freezing moonlight, anchor dropped and George and I bobbing around in the thick black sea, I partook of another cigarette before attempting to push the body overboard. In the distance I could barely make out the lights of the mainland, which eased me somewhat. I threw the cigarette into the water, it hissing for perhaps a billionth of a second, and went about stuffing the stones I had collected earlier into various bodily cavities, first peeling back various layers of hessian sack to get at the meat. Nasty work, to be sure, especially the five belabored minutes spent cutting George’s stomach open with my pocket knife to put some more rocks in there. Satisfied, I threw the knife overboard and reapplied the hessian bags, and started heaving George into a more or less upright position, slinging the top half of his body over the side of the boat, it rocking dangerously in the water.

Then, well, I don’t know what happened. Something of mine got caught on something of his, most likely one of the long looping strings of hessian wrapped around him. As I pushed his legs over into the water, I had the briefest notion of weight around my leg, something dragging me after him. In any event I splashed into the freezing ocean as well, the weighted body pulling me down. Flailing and panicked, I attempted to disengage myself from whatever it was that was wrapped around my leg, to no avail. As the two of us fell down into the blackness, I reached desperately for my pocket knife, before remembering.

My body, intimately entangled with George’s, was discovered by authorities about two months later. Even with the stones, the strong currents had effectively rolled the two of us onto shore at Elizabeth’s Point. The newspapers heralded it as a vile and repulsive act of necrophilia gone horribly wrong. I won fourth place in the Darwin Awards the next year, and in Internet photo galleries, you will find a picture of George and I on the beach, right next to that photo of the Greek guy who was crushed by a falling boulder while sexually engaged with a chicken.

The food is okay down here, I suppose, the sandwiches better than most anything else. They come around with trays of them once a day. The bread is hot and soft, the filling fresh and moist. And at a thousand lashes apiece, or five hours with the branding iron, they’re cheap as hell.