A Rather Tender Subject

"Are you hungry?"

"A little bit," Ajax answered. "Why? What you got?"

"Pulled pork sandwiches," Paul Taulli said with a smirk. Taulli was one of Ajax's best customers – a quirky old dude in his fifties who loved to present himself as a guy who might have mafia connections. Taulli often hired Ajax "off the clock" to deliver "little packages" or drive hookers to secret locations for a handsome $35/hr. Taulli liked Ajax because he never asked any questions and always kept his mouth shut.

Ajax was a taxi driver for United Cab in New Orleans. Taulli was a pain in the ass with all his wannabe Carlos Marcello bullshit, but he paid well, so Ajax could tolerate his antics. "Yeah, why not. Give me one."

Taulli handed him what looked like a slider packed with hot meat from a round tray in the kitchen.

"Damn, that's tender!" Ajax remarked. The meat tasted a little too bitter for pork but melted in his mouth.

Taulli shot Ajax an almost mischievous smile and beamed. "Want another one? Care for a cold one or a glass of vino to go with it?"

"Sure," Ajax began, "I'm not in a hurry if you're not."

Taulli brought him a brimming glass of Merlot and another slider. Today's job was to be kid's stuff: Transport a large insulated lunch bag from Taulli's pricey home in Lakeview to an even more upscale mansion by Lakeshore Dr. just behind the levee. An easy thirty-five bucks for at most fifteen minutes of "work".

After his little snack Ajax ventured out toward the address. Normally he would never handle the packages much. Duh, probably drugs or weapons. But an insulated lunch bag? Ajax clutched the bag and could tell it was cold. Being more daring than usual he peeked inside and saw it was frozen meat with freezer packs.

Arriving at the location Ajax could see a tall woman was already outside pacing back and forth waiting for him. After getting out the cab with the bag going up to the porch Ajax realized this was actually a tranny. No problem. Ajax was unmoved. After all, he had had many transvestite and transgender passengers in his cab.

"Good evening," Ajax said flatly and handed over the bag.

"Thank you so much," the tranny simply said with a note of trying to remain polite while still being in a hurry to take the package back inside. "Good-night."

With that, the tranny closed the door but just before it shut Ajax could hear what clearly sounded like Dr. Frank-N-Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show saying, "That's a rather tender subject. Another slice anyone?" Crazy. He had obviously stumbled upon some kind of Rocky Horror drag party.

Ajax woke to the sound of his iPhone ringing at 8 am. It was Taulli. "Ajax, good job last night! But I need you right now. Can you be at my house ASAP and bring a girl to Eastover by about nine, nine-thirty-ish? I'll give you a flat fifty bones."

"Aw, fuck yeah, I'll be there," Ajax yawned and got up. He couldn't resist starting the day off with a quick fifty. Typically he strived to score about $200 a day. $300 a week went to the cab company. After that and gas money everything else was his.

Back at Taulli's Ajax saw that a fresh young girl was already outside waiting. Vaguely, Ajax wondered why he never gave the same chick a ride more than once. This prostitute was clearly Indian, or perhaps middle Eastern, Ajax determined as she hopped in the back of the cab. Looking forlorn, she still resembled the actress Priyanka Chopra, just not as glamorous.

"Howdy. How are you? Where to?" Ajax asked routinely in this situation.

"I'm fine, just trying to help my family back home," the call girl answered with a sigh and gave him the address.

She said nothing as they drove. Some girls liked to chit-chat along the way, others did not. Either way it didn't matter to Ajax. He didn't attempt to strike up a conversation and just listened to the dispatcher on the radio for potential fares after he dropped this poor girl off.

Bim bam boom. Before they knew it they arrived. The girl nervously rustled in her seat. Ajax could hear items spilling out of her purse and then being hurriedly picked back up. "Thank you," she said softly as she opened the door.

"Anytime," Ajax began in a feeble attempt to cheer her up. "See ya next time."

"You won't see me again," she mumbled strangely.

Mid-morning slipped into lunch time. Luckily, the dispatcher was able to cook up some good orders for Ajax resulting in a fat wad of dough. Normally he didn't work too much from the dispatcher; the real juice was from clients like Taulli.

Suddenly around one Ajax's phone blew up. Fuckin' Taulli again. Right on his way to another fare.

"Ajax! Ajax!" came Taulli's urgent voice. "That last girl you dropped off for me…did she leave her ID in your cab?"

"Fuck if I know."

"Well, can you please check?!" Taulli exclaimed.

Ajax pulled over to the shoulder to look. "Aw, shit. Yeah, looks like she did." Her VISA was on the back floor boards.

Taulli seemed frantic. "Do you think anybody else saw her ID?!"

"Possibly," Ajax shrugged. "I've had quite a few loads since I dropped that girl off."

Taulli stuttered and stumbled all over his words. "W-well, I, I need you t-to bring that ID b-back to her tonight at seven sharp! TONIGHT! Capiche?"

"Yo, I heard you the first goddamn time," Ajax snapped. "What's the big fuckin' deal? I can bring it back now if you want."

"NO!" Taulli blasted but then softened. "Hey, I didn't mean to yell at you. But we have to cover our asses. Please be there at seven. There'll be a lavish banquet there, of which you'll be invited to partake in. I'll be there as well. Make sure you call me just before you get there, ya hear? Ciao."

Ajax's eyes became slits. "Ok, see you tonight." Why was Taulli being so uptight about a hooker leaving her ID in his cab?

Back to Eastover. As instructed Ajax called Taulli when he was a few minutes away. "Good," Taulli said, "I'll meet you up by the front gate."

Taulli was jovial when he entered the code to let Ajax into the gate. He smiled widely as he sat in the front passenger seat of the cab. "Saulute!" Taulli beamed. He had on a very expensive suit with a Fedora.

"No problem," Ajax said and handed him the ID, "if it's all the same I can just run. I'm not exactly dressed for this get together."

"Absolutely not," Taulli laughed and accepted the ID in his hand. "C'mon in and eat. I insist."

"Hey, Ajax," Taulli abruptly began, "do you think anyone saw you drop that girl off? Did anyone say anything about her ID lying in the back?"

"No, why?"

"Just being careful," Taulli murmured. "Park over there and we'll walk up to the house."

Another ritzy, rich-ass place. Right away Ajax felt out of place wearing his old BDU pants and black t-shirt. The enormous house was already teeming with guests – the juys in swanky three piece custom fitted suits and the ladies in elegant evening dresses of all sorts. Most everyone eyed Ajax with a quick look of curiosity or contempt and then turned away. In a far corner of the sprawling reception area a man played a grand piano and sang "My Way" by Sinatra.

Taulli placed his hand on Ajax's back and led him to a small table out of the way. "Relax, everyone here knows you're with me." Almost immediately a bald, burly fellow with a linebacker's build presented himself to their tiny table. He had a look of wild eyed, reckless good cheer on his mug.

"Ah, Vincenzo, get us a drink," Taulli said. "Ya like scotch, Ajax? Yeah, yeah, bring my buddy a double scotch on the rocks!" Vincenzo disappeared into the crowd and returned after a few minutes with the drinks.

"Drink up," Taulli grinned. "Have a few with me, get you a nice dinner a little later, and then you can head out."

No one came to say hello or approached them as they sat there. Taulli began hinting at future jobs he might use Ajax for. More mysterious little packages and wayward young girls to destinations scattered all over the New Orleans area and suburbs.

Before long Ajax started to feel sleepy. Watching the flock of dinner party-goers parade by made him dizzy. By no means was Ajax a heavy drinker but it was uncommon for him to get such a buzz from only one hardy drink.

"How's your drink, Ajax? Let me get you another."

"No. I'm fine," Ajax groaned. "I think I'll wait a little while…."

Ajax found himself in a prone position; he was unable to move his hands or feet…and it was freezing cold. From somewhere he could hear a stereo playing that oldie "Yummy, yummy, I got love in my tummy…." Very confused he looked all around up at the ceiling. He was bound to a cold, silver metal table. Then he screamed. On another nearby table like his lay the decapitated head of that young girl he had dropped off earlier that morning. Her intestines and other vital organs were piled up in a hideous blob of smelly, bloody human stew. Ajax vomited , choked, and then screamed again. "Taulli! Taulli!" he called out.

"Welcome to the party," that guy Vincenzo said gleefully from across this apparent meat cooler. He was now wearing a typical butcher's outfit with a big apron. He had two assistants with him. "You can yell all you want. Nobody can hear you through this soundproof slaughter room."

Simple minded Ajax finally understood. All those bags of goodies weren't drugs, and all those luscious young ladies were not really prostitutes.

"You can thank your little sweetie for this," Vincenzo declared , pointing at the other horrible table. "If she hadn't left her ID in your cab you wouldn't be in this mess. Know what I'm saying? CYA. Taulli vouched for you, but you know, why take a chance? Fuckin' shame. Maybe she wanted this to happen to you!" Vincenzo lost himself in a fit of laughter.

Ajax screamed and hollered again in vain.

"Just so you know, your girlfriend is quite tasty. We sampled the meat from her foot and it was delicious. She'll make a splendid veal."

Ajax sobbed and puked again.

"Honestly, buddy, I can't say I envy you." Vincenzo stated with a demented chuckle. "Ever hear of 'Mad Sam' DeStafano? I have to admit he's one of my childhood heroes."

Vincenzo slapped Ajax tenderly on the cheek, his eyes gleaming with sadistic delight. He turned and called to his underlings. "Ok boys, let's get to it. Chop him up slowly. Let's keep him alive for a while. We'll nibble on bits and pieces of him right in front of his face!"