Warren Murphy: The Final Death

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    The Final Death
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The fat's in the fire when a Texas beef mogul is found skinned and gutted like one of his steers. Soon after, innocent people across the country are dying from eating meat injected with a powerful poison. Fearing a threat to national security, the White House orders Remo Williams, the Destroyer, to find the butchers and stop the killing. The grisly deaths are no mystery to Chiun, Remo's Sinanju master, but the work of an ancient Chinese vegetarian cult of murderers sworn to kill the meateaters of the West. Now the Destroyer's got to cut off the fanatics before they slaughter the U.S.!

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* Title : #029 : THE FINAL DEATH *

* Series : The Destroyer *

* Author(s) : Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir *

* Location : Gillian Archives *



The last piece of meat Vinnie Angus ever ate was cut from the shoulder section of a steer that had been taken from the fields of a rancher near Wyoming and driven in a tractor-trailer slat truck to a train that took him and thousands just like him to an auction. The steer was stuck in a Midwestern bin, then paraded before fat cowboys wearing Stetson hats, Gant shirts, and Izod three-button V-neck sweaters with little green alligators over the left breast, cowboys who had not seen hard work in 20 years, give or take a year.

The steer was bought, with 300 others, by Texas Solly Weinstein who put him into another truck for the drive to the slaughterhouse.

Cold bored men in flannel shirts and heavy corduroy pants prodded him out in the early Houston morning with electric-shock sticks, moving him first into the ear-marking bin, then the milk-wash canal, then into the feeding yard where he was fattened up to 1,200 pounds, give or take a pound.

Texas Solly, who spoke Hebrew with a twang every Saturday at the synagogue, had cooed and primped as Vinnie Angus' steer, now all fattened up, had been herded into another truck, telling him how good he looked and how big he was and what nice skin and good legs he had.

As the truck had moved off, Texas Solly had gone inside and sold him. He sat down at his desk with its beige phone with 12 lines and sold the whole lot of beef to Meatamation, an East Coast meat distributor, and its Connecticut salesman, Peter Matthew O'Donnell.

O'Donnell was on the phone to Vinnie Angus as the steer stepped from the truck into the tight steel coffin with the trapdoor floor.

A man wearing a white lab coat and dark plastic glasses reached down quickly and pressed a long tube against the steer's forehead and the animal was dead before the trapdoor dropped out and he rolled down to the big boys.

The big boys were the men who stood next to the conveyor belts. They could have been laying bricks or shoveling coal or making steel or spending eight hours a day, five days a week screwing one nut onto one bolt in some automobile factory, but instead, because of geography or family or desperation or dumb luck, they had wound up at the slaughterhouse, steeling themselves every day so they could go home and tell their friends, "Ahhh, it ain't so bad."

And after awhile, they started believing it themselves, so every day they could come in and stick a dead cow's back legs into a harness to be lifted up a shaft so that they, wrapped around in plastic and apron cocoons, could stick a knife in the cow's throat and rip it open up to the stomach so the steaming blood could pour out onto the floor, pushed by gravity and convulsing dying blood vessels.

Then they cut slowly around the head until it rocked easily and a final cut took it off. They stuck the head on another hook so a machine could rip off the skin with as little effort as a person pulling the plastic off an individually wrapped slice of cheese.

Then the skull would be steamed until the eyes cataracted and the exposed mess turned milky white. Meanwhile, the cow's body moved down to a man with hydraulic scissors who cut off the four hooves and dropped them into a hole in the floor. The carcass then gave up its final few drops of blood.

Further down the line, another big boy reached into the steer's belly and started hauling out the entrails, pulling them toward him like a large pot in a poker game, with both hands, then hurling them down a nearby chute.

Another machine peeled back the body skin until the meat-laden carcass was exposed. The trail then led into the freezer.

O'Donnell was talking to Vinnie.

"Big Vin, this is Pete."

"Yo, what have you got?" Vinnie's voice was a deep rumble, a vocal coal mine. He was only five feet eight inches tall, but everybody called him Big Vin because of his voice.

"I got what you want."

O'Donnell's home life was not all it could be. He was divorced, his kids did not like to talk to him, his ex-wife did not like to talk to him, so he enjoyed stretching out conversations before coming to the point. Which made everyone else not like to talk to him.

"What do I want?" asked Angus, noisily nursing his second beer of the morning.

"What do you need?"

"Two tons of rib, two of shoulder, two of flank, two of shank. Thin skin, no dirt under the skirt."

"Can deliver, except the shank. Can do one of shank."

"I need two."

"Don't do it. Shank is dying. I can get you one of shank."

"Two," said Angus.

"Shank is looking up a dead cow's heinie, for God's sake. Nada. One ton."

Big Vin barked out a laugh which sounded like an ax rebounding off a petrified tree.

"Never mind, skip the shank," he said. "I'll take the rest."

"Two rib, two shoulder, two flank," said O'Donnell, writing it down.

Vinnie Angus hung up without any further discussion of shank.

By the time he hung up, his last piece of meat had already been sectioned in the Houston freezer by a man so used to seeing his breath form a white cloud in front of him that driving home at night, it took him a few minutes to get over the fear that maybe he was dying because he couldn't see his breath.

The man made six uniform cuts into the body of the steer, then passed it down to a sallow-looking man who poked at it, peeled back an occasional layer of fat, felt along the rib cage, all the while moving quickly from foot to foot.

Finally satisfied with the quality of the cuts, he took a roller stamp and smacked purple United States Department of Agriculture insignias all over the cut-up carcass.

Two weeks later, Vinnie Angus left his wood-paneled, windowless office in the basement of his split-level home in Woodbridge, Connecticut, and got into his Monte Carlo sedan, the one he hoped he still had the good taste to hate.

His wife had harangued him into buying it to show their neighbors the higher status they had achieved by opening the second Vinnie's Steak House in Milford, just before the West Haven town line.

Before the Monte Carlo, there had been the swimming pool and the split-rail fencing all around their home and a gigantic station wagon and professional landscaping. All for status.

"What is this status thing that keeps eating at you?" Vinnie asked his wife. "Status? I sell steaks and hamburgers."

"Stop it, Vincent," his wife said. Her mouth puckered up. "You make it sound as if you were running McDonald's."

"If I was really making it, I'd be McDonald's. I'm not that good, so I run Vinnie's Steak House. So come off all this status thing, will you. I'm not made out of money."

"Is it that you don't have it, or you just don't wish to spend it on me and the girls? You always seem to have enough money for what you want, though. Those hunting trips. I've never heard you put one oif because you didn't have the money."

"It costs me a tank of gas to go hunting, for Christ's sakes. What do you spend hunting?" asked Vinnie.

"Not much more than you spend around here on us, I guess," his wife said, her voice biting.

"Ah, stuff it. Buy what you want," Vinnie said. And she had. And the latest was this pussy car Monte Carlo that he hated.

His mood improved as he drove away from the house. He could mock his wife's insistence on status, but Vinnie Angus had come a long way from dishwasher in a greasy spoon in South Boston, where success meant not getting killed by getting in between the blacks and the Irish who kept trying to murder each other.

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