The Stewmaker followed a specific recipe.
In his line of work, he found that it helped to develop a consistent schedule, almost turning it into a professional ritual. Some of his fellow cartel members worshiped Santa Muerta, the Black Madonna, Chupacabras and all manner of nonsense. He was raised a strict Catholic without all the added window dressing that the working poor had ingratiated into their religion but these days the Stewmaker didn’t have much of anything to believe in other than the six hundred dollars a week that the cartel paid him.
The money was good, but the work was somewhat time consuming, depending on how busy the cartel was. Last summer Jimenez had decided to heat up the plaza and wipe out some rivals. The Stewmaker had to dispose of so many bodies that his family had hardly seen him over the span of a couple months.
With a sigh, he dropped down to his hands and knees and poked the wood fire under the giant metal vat that he had started an hour ago. The recipe called for two hundred liters of water, brought to a slow boil, followed by two entire sacks of sodium hydroxide. Setting the metal poker aside, he swatted at some of the flies buzzing around, giant black fuckers that went straight for his eyes and ears.
It was the corpses that attracted the flies. Two of them lay besides the vat, their skin having gone gray, their eyes sunken. Sometimes the bodies came in with obvious signs of torture and mutilation. Sometimes they came in with one clean gunshot through the head, sometimes they were riddled with bullets from head to toe. These two had severe cuts across their arms, signs of putting up a defense before they died from deep stab wounds in the abdomen. It looked like they had gotten into a sword fight but it wasn’t the Stewmaker’s place to ask questions. He worked disposal while someone else worked termination.
Lighting up a cigarette, he watched the stew slowly come to a boil. He moved to put on some protective gear before dumping the bodies into the cauldron. First there was an apron, followed by heavy plastic gloves, and finally a face mask and goggles. Safety first.
Rubbing out his cigarette, the Stewmaker lifted the mask in place and hefted the first corpse over his shoulder. Handling dead weight was much more difficult than carrying someone who was still alive. Slowly, he eased the corpse into the bubbling stew. He dreaded what came next. The other corpse was the fat one. Grunting and straining, he managed to slide the second body into the vat.
The stew would cook for eight hours before he would extinguish the fire. He would stir the contents periodically and experience told him that all that would be left by the end was fingernails, toenails, and teeth. The stew would then be poured into 55 gallon drums, hauled out by pickup truck, and the contents burned at some remote location.
The fat one bobbed to the surface.
The Stewmaker used his fire poker to try to sink the body back into the acid mixture, but to no avail. He should have known better. Before dumping the body, he should have used a butcher’s cleaver to slice open the stomach cavity and let the air out. No way would he be thrashing the corpse with a machete while it floated in caustic soda.
Discarding the gloves, mask, and goggles, the Stewmaker looked over at the two dozen drums stacked in the corner of his yard. It had been a busy month. He lived up in the hill country towards the border of Oaxaca and Chiapas where his activities could fly under the radar. The cartel would drop fresh corpses at his front door in the middle of the night and he’d get to work when he discovered them in the morning. Once a month, an envelop packed full of cash was slipped under his door. It was a nice arrangement.
The Stewmaker grew frustrated as he watched the fat body float across the surface of the acid vat. He knew better and should have take precautions. Eventually, the acid would eat through the body and deflate it but it was still irritating.