“Come in, come in!” Mr. Butchie squealed, flapping about excitedly in his voluminous leather aprons, looking like some unknown variety of ghastly, black-skinned featherless albatross, flightless, of course, but somehow all the more dramatically ubiquitous for that. “Oh gosh you're so horridly late! We'd nearly given you up entirely for lost! Well, almost entirely. Take a seat, hurry hurry, you see we haven't given it away, not yet, we've kept your reservation open just in case. Just in case! Sit sit, and we'll get started right away! Right away! [He claps his pale and pudgy hands excitedly like a six-year-old girl before a pink-frosted cake with seven candles.] Hannah! Hannah! Oh gosh where the devil is that girl whenever it is you need her? Hannah! Chop-chop. Yoo-hoo! Peek-a-boo! [he trills and yodels] come out come out wherever you are! [He hoots and whistles, good lord he is a sight to see.] We need prep here right away and double-quick oh dear hurry hurry hurreeee!”
This is Mr. Butchie in his rarified element; whether it's late or not, Tuesday or Friday, busy or barren, everything is a crisis. This is the Mr. Butchie, homicidal make-up artist par excellence, effete aesthetician to the dead-and-buried; the cold stars and colder starlets of history's greatest snuff films all bear witness before the frozen eyes of eternity to the magic artistry of his necropolitan flair.
Mr. Butchie with his own behind-the-scenes face stitched together piece-meal, the cured skin a glossy, pitted orange-yellow-brown, kicked round like a pigskin Sunday. The hairpiece of tinsel, the outsized shades, the silver star-topped magic wand, the trail of sprinkled fairydust—all trademarks of the man; did we say “man?” Good grief, cross-sexed creepy alien ghoul would be closer to the mark and still not begin to describe it.
Beauty hurts, it's true and this place is proof positive of that, outfitted as it is, namely, like an abattoir, all hooks and harnesses and freezer cases full of trust-us-you-don't-want-to-know. The tools of the craft are laid out for the practiced hand; the clamps and pincers, the needles and extractors, the scalpels and hole-punches, the wires in every possible gauge, all of it silver, sharp, and gleaming. The saws, the drills, the terrible old swift pliers—each of these Mr. Butchie wields like a maestro, a Michelangelo of corpses. And where nothing else will do, he digs right in, and uses his webbed eleven fingers!
All around him the lucky “customers” wait a-decomposing, each of them, as in that stale old joke, having died to get in. Some hanging from their cervical vertebrae, others lying on stainless steel autopsy tables in various stages of contortion and decay; some sitting stiffly upright in expectant rigor mortis wearing a protective cape; others already split open down the center and peeled back like husks of silky corn exposing all their dirty secrets; there is no modesty here; and all of them waiting waiting waiting with the characteristic patience of the dead for the grace of the master's febrile touch.
Two of these special clients, one on either side of her, sit in different stages of dissection. To Neena's left, a disemboweled blonde awaits further unspeakable ministrations; while on her right, a Bollywood cutie gazes back in sleepy appreciation of her headless corpse from the shelf beneath the three-way mirror. In that same mirror, Neena sees herself staring at herself, wide-eyed, her gaping mouth twisting, her face in a rictus of terror, like someone staring through a windshield seconds before the inevitable high-speed head-on crash.
Recognition of her own face only steals upon her slowly and when it does it arrives with a shock for she is now sans teeth as well as hair; when had they taken them? What have they done with them? Her dear old chompers. Are they going to give them back?
Neena hears the whir of a mechanism and then the chair in which she sits tips back and a girl with a face like a sideways chunk of blue cheese stands above her holding a small whirring herringbone bone-saw and asks, “And how are we today, Mrs. Havermeier?”
Read the complete novel here: