Jul 26 2013 1:00pm

“Dead Pig Collector” (Excerpt)

Warren Ellis

Dead Pig Collector Warren Ellis Check out this sneak peek of “Dead Pig Collector,” a new short story by Warren Ellis, available as an ebook July 30th!

“Dead Pig Collector” introduces readers to Mister Sun, a very proficient businessman whose trade is the murder and spotless removal of human beings. Like any businessman, he knows each transaction is only as good as his client—and today’s client, in Los Angeles, has turned out to be so dangerously stupid that Mister Sun’s work and life are now in jeopardy...



Mister Sun was almost forty thousand seconds behind the moment when he finally emerged from the shiny, sad pens of LAX into the wet heat of the late afternoon. It takes forty thousand seconds, more or less, to fly from London to Los Angeles and then negotiate the boxes and runs of the airport. That’s how he thought of it. Eleven hours would be a sleep of exhaustion and a leisurely breakfast. It didn’t carry a sense of urgency. Forty thousand seconds sounded to him like time running away without him, leaving him stuck in a dim and disconnected past. A lot could happen in forty thousand seconds.

Mister Sun put his shades on. It had been winter in Britain for the previous eighteen months or so, and he only saw authentic daylight when he traveled, or on television. Los Angeles light, stinging as it was, had a familiar quality to him. It was a strange thing, he reflected, to recognize a certain flavor of daylight from afternoon films in the Sundays of his childhood.

He’d already lifted his packet of cigarettes and his lighter from the top pocket of his rollaboard bag. The lighter was a gift from one of his apparent legion of uncles and aunts who’d pass through London on their way from China to God-only-knew where. A flat, two-inch-long bar that charged by USB, it featured an ultraviolet light for finding the watermark on paper money as well as a button-operated cigarette-lighting coil. Mister Sun had, in 2009, owned a cigarette-lighting cell phone—a Chinese SB6309 with the hot coil under a slide-away plate on the bottom of the phone’s back. He’d loved that stupid phone, but business had eventually demanded that he use something smarter. He’d never thrown that phone away, though, and when at home he sometimes took it from his drawer and lighted a Dunhill with it just to experience that gentle and amused pleasure again. It was a unique thing; a placid joy unlike anything else in his personal or professional life.

It usually took Mister Sun about four minutes to smoke a cigarette. Another two hundred and forty seconds burned. As he smoked, he watched his current phone, quite smart but entirely charmless, finally find the local 4G. He opened an app that displayed photos for only ten seconds before securely deleting them. There was no communication therein from his client. He found himself curiously dismayed by this. He was forty thousand seconds back and nothing had happened. Mister Sun was almost offended. He crushed out his cigarette with the heel of his brogue, carefully deposited the dead stub in a bin, and walked down the concourse to request a cab from the attendant.

The cab took the best part of three thousand, six hundred seconds to pick and thread its way from LAX to West Hollywood. Mister Sun did not like Los Angeles. He could never find a center to it. It seemed to him to hang on top of the world like a fallen constellation, resting on a rickety scaffold of endless, maddening road. In Los Angeles, Mister Sun only ever arrived anywhere by surprise, unable to find any sense or structure in the route.

He used the Mark Hotel in that district, a boutique hotel of the ’00s sliding toward the grimy sheen and dull plaster of budget accommodation in the ’10s. The Chateau Marmont was barely five minutes’ walk away, and much nicer, but it was a place people went to look at other people. Mister Sun himself, on lunch occasions at the Marmont’s open-air dining space, had fallen prey to it. You’d spot one half-remembered face—a dying actress you’d seen flayed by magazine covers, an almost-famous actor you’d glimpsed on some awards ceremony watched on a hotel TV on an insomniac night—and start looking around for more.

The lobby of the Mark was full of a different kind of person. People—not famous people, and probably not terribly smart either—still came here to be seen, while remaining entirely oblivious to most other people. Mister Sun, in his sober suit, with his businessman’s rollaboard, was effectively invisible among the long and languid creatures littering the lobby’s low sofas and strangely louche silvered beanbags. Checking in was always a painfully drawn-out process. The staff were far too culturally rarefied to be seen to be working for a living, and there was a girl in a fish tank directly behind the reception area. This was debris from the Mark’s days as an artistic and trend-setting location. Someone had decided it would be charmingly bohemian to keep a mostly naked girl in the fish tank at night. It was, he always felt, a saddening indictment of Los Angeles culture—or, rather, an illustration of how Los Angeles had no culture of its own, just a large collection of misreadings of the artistic histories of other, proper cities.

He wasn’t pleased with himself for appraising the girl in the tank. He thought of her as half-pretty, the sort of girl one would find modeling for art classes in dire community colleges. Putting her cheap panties and her ex-boyfriend’s shirt back on to wander around the easels afterward and wondering how grotesque she must really be, to have summoned up the deformities whacked down in merciless charcoal strikes. She lay on her untoned belly in the tank, yellow calloused feet slowly waving in the air, wearing an orange dollar-store bikini thong and picking at a MacBook Air encrusted in stickers.

He soundlessly apologized for his spite, ashamed of the poison that’d bubbled up in him over the three or four hundred seconds he’d been standing there, but checking into the Mark and having to look at the body in the tank was always difficult for him. Mister Sun killed people and disposed of their carcasses for a living.

Mister Sun’s room was blessed with a balcony and a vertical ashtray bolted to the exterior wall. The room itself was as expected: a broad slab of a bed dressed in tired clothes, carpet trodden thin, blank walls lightly pitted by ten years of corrosive sweat in the air. The balcony was indeed a blessing, though. It hung from the face of the hotel that was turned away from the noise of the city, overlooking a tree-fringed disc of churned mud that a previous client had told him was a dog-walking park. It looked thoroughly medieval to Mister Sun, and he wondered how many dogs had died there. Still and all, it was pleasant to stand there on the balcony and smoke, obscured from the sight of the city, letting the Los Angeles early evening thaw his bones a little. With one thumb he batted out a text to his girlfriend that she wouldn’t see until morning in Greenwich Mean Time, thereby completing the day’s necessary tasks. He warmly anticipated the delivery of the food he knew was good at the Mark, the carpaccio and the sliders, and a few hours of American television before a decent night’s sleep. He had to kill someone in the morning.


“Dead Pig Collector” © Warren Ellis 2013

Zeke Pliskin
2. Zeke Pliskin
As much as I enjoyed this excerpt I couldn't help but begin to proofread it after the second paragraph, which suggests to me that this novella hasn't been proofed/redrafted enough.

The "X amount of seconds" device is immediatly tedious. Seems like a way to pad out the word count and at this point adds nothing to the story. Similarly the use of the phrase "whacked out" when describing the charcoal sketches seems overbearing: the rest of the sentence and indeed much of the paragraph containing the phrase already contains enough viciousness to make it seem redundant.

As a final note, and something of a personal soapbox point rather than a brief "manual of style" attempt, namechecking Apple products in near future writing is rather trite and clichéd at this point. Perhaps authors would do well to create a resemblance (for example, Gareth L. Powell using "SincPad" rather than "iPad" in his novel Ack-Ack Macaque) rather than letting their allegiance to the church of Apple seep through into their work. After all, it will horribly datestamp the pieces written like this in future after Apple are supplanted by a dozen other better technology companies, which is already starting to happen now in 2013.
Zeke Pliskin
3. Paul beard
I was able to resist the urge to edit Mr Ellis's work, since he is a more accomplished writer than I am. I didn't see any misspelled words which is more than I can say for your comment. This work has had a problematic birth and I think I can wait until the book is in hand before criticizing it.

If I read an except from a book that I find tedious or full of clichés, I know not to buy it. If Mr Ellis wants to set his story in a time period when MacBooks are current or wants his character to measure time in seconds, that's his prerogative.
Zeke Pliskin
4. Casey Moore
Before accusing someone of being dedicated "to the church of Apple," it might help if you looked into who they are and if they really do have such a devotion. Warren Ellis does not. But he is smart enough to know that Apple products dominate right now, even if he doesn't use them as slavishly as everyone else.

And if you don't like "viciousness." then maybe you shouldn't be reading a story from Ellis.
Zeke Pliskin
5. John Breakwell
After reading Zeke's comments, I was surprised to see what Paul and Casey had to say. Comments are open on this page so people are going to post their own opinions on the excerpt. Paul and Casey seem to be questioning Zeke's presence here - don't get so precious about Warren's work as I'm sure he's big enough to handle criticism. (Mentioning the spelling error was amusing, though) .
Zeke Pliskin
6. Tamina
I agree with John that Paul and Casey are being wierdly defensive - of course Ellis has the "perogative" to do whatever he wishes with his characters/narrative devices. Nobody else is obliged to like it, or only say positive things about it.

That said, I feel like the Apple reference was less product placement and more of a dig at the fish-tank-girl. "Apple" is a perjorative for a lot of people (Zeke, for example :P) and it does ground the story in a particular time and place, just like cold the comment about the '00s sliding into the '10s. I assumed it was intentional.
Zeke Pliskin
8. F.
I actually would be interested to hear how you read this, Wil. I think this would be neat to be heard read aloud. I can see a few ways of interpreting it. Please post when this becomes available.

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