If you haven’t read yesterday’s installment, check it out here first.

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Systems Upgrade

Binder and Gag had their morning coffee, then Gag looked out of the trailer and to the east.

“Do you think it’s light enough yet?”

Binder didn’t look up from the table. “Sure. Did you get any sleep last night?”

“Who can sleep for the coyotes?

How many do you think are in the pit?”

“Three or four.”

“Sounded like three of four dozen,” Binder said. “We need to start shooting in the air as we’re walking out there. I’m sure the non-jumpers are still around the perimeter of pit”.

“I thought I’d send you out there first, then you can report back.”

“Yeah, that’ll happen. Let’s go, as in, let us go, as in both of us.”

In the pit, five blood-stained coyotes paced nervously, crazed by raw meat and bewildered to be cornered by high walls without corners. Binder poured five gallons of gas into the pit. He slung it on the coyotes and their leftovers. He flung the empty container and ignited the fuel in the pit.

There was panic and chaos and desperation, then quiet. To make it look more like a real fire pit and less like what it was, Binder and Gag tossed boxes, crates, cartons, bottles and bags of trash into the fire.

They watched orange and blue flames turn everything black. Things curled, distorted, and black ashes rose and swirled in the wind generated from the heat. Some ashes escaped the high pit walls, but mostly things remained forever trapped.

Binder tossed a notebook labeled, “Property Inventory,” into the fire. The cover opened. Pages turned, then shriveled.

“Shouldn’t we keep these things?”

“Why?”

“Just in case.”

“Just in case we get caught with them?”

“What if the new system crashes?”

“Gag, ever hear of automatic backup and the cloud?” Binder kicked the remaining
stack of notebooks into the fire.

“Duh. I set up the system, didn’t I?”

“Are you getting sentimental about our old way of doing business?”

“Not really,” Gag said. “I just never envisioned using modern business stuff for the kind of work we do.”

“We didn’t grow by accident. We’ve got a business model and a five-year plan, just like any other successful business. It’s time we treated it as such.” Binder looked through the heat waves at the trailer. “We should get a new office.”

“We’re keeping the old mattress in the back though,” Gag said.

“Are you crazy?”

“Hey, I’ve got lots of memories on that thing. It’s like a mixed martial arts fighting canvas floor. Sweat, blood, and whatever else is there are stains of honor, trademarks of the profession. We’re keeping the old mattress, Binder.”

“Fine. Just thought an artist like you would prefer a fresh canvas, that’s all.”

Gag stood at the edge of the pit. He held a tattoo gun, and a shoe box of needle and ink supplies. “Speaking of art, I’m keeping this.”

“No, toss it. Everything we do is computerized now, even branding.”

“There’s an art to manually branding people, to doing things to their skin, and with it. Maybe that’s why my last name is Carver. It’s a calling.”

“You said people,” Binder said.

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did. You said there’s an art to branding people. Property, Gag, property.”

“Property. That’s what I meant.”

Binder pressed the argument. “Branding with tattoos is too risky. Tattoos or other visible marks on the body do more than claim the property. Other owners see the markings, and feel threatened. It’s causing turf wars and power plays among our clientele. Bottom line is, we’re losing clients in the crossfire, which means we’re losing business.”

“I get that. Peop — property walking around with tattoos from different owners, it’s like mixing gang colors on the same street.”

“That’s why we’re transitioning to microchip technology, embedded IDs, fully integrated with tracking systems.” Binder lifted his arms as if envisioning a sprawling empire built on the desert dust. “Toss it.”

Gag stood there holding the tattoo gun and supplies. “I’m keeping this for myself. For my own business. Call me old school, but I like branding by hand. It’s that human touch, you know?”

Gag had inked his share of people before shipping, male and female, ranging from the new-born to the middle-aged. He had engraved owner’s identity markings on bottoms of feet, backs of necks, wrists, inside lower lips, even on foreheads, and of course, on sexual organs. Gag engraved whatever brand on whatever body part.

Lately, bar codes had become popular. Not only did Gag think that an inked bar code looked hot on a girl, especially a pre-teen, but it also served a practical purpose. The number associated with bar code was literally a traceable serial number so the owner could claim ownership and track the property with one marking. A tattoo like that was also an incentive for the property to not try to escape. You were permanently owned.

“Keep it then, but don’t keep it here. You going back to doing legitimate tattoos?”

“Not exactly. I’ve started a side business. A few girls and boys of my own. Hand-crafted brand. My own label.”

“How’d you manage that?”

“You know how sometimes, instead of money, I ask for property as payment?”

“Yeah,” Binder said, “but I thought that was just your perv coming out.”

“It is,” Gag said, “but when I’m done, I sell the slightly used merchandise at a deep discount, or I mark them and rent them out. Same as here, just on a smaller local scale. I’m a boutique shop.”

“What kind of design?”

“This one.” Gag lifted his shirt to show the design on his own stomach.

“Nice font. You did that yourself?”

“Yep. Used a mirror.”

“Look at you, Mr. artist, entrepreneur and systems upgrade specialist. Just don’t try to compete with The Powers, or you’ll be pit meat, like Harry. Have you checked out our new pet scan thing yet?”

“You mean the microchip injector and scanner we got from the pet supplier website? It’s easy. Who would’ve thought that what pet owners use to track Fluffy would be perfect for human trafficking?”

“Show me how it works on the next delivery,” Binder said. “Where do you plan on embedding them?”

“I told you, on the old mattress in back. It’s where I do all of my best work.”

“No, idiot. I mean where on the body?”

“Oh, I’m thinking inner thigh. Groin area,” Gag said.

“Nice.” Binder laughed. “Easy access for all. One-stop shopping.”

Binder imagined acquired property, one by one, being forced to assume the position. After he and Gag had their fun, ‘implanting their own chips,’ as it were, Gag would inject the microchip, and Binder would use the wand to confirm activation, just as he’d watched in the free vet tech video.

The scanning wand would also transfer the chip data into their new tracking database, which they would manage for the client, for an extra fee, of course. He and Gag would also offer to track the client’s inventory for a fee, and offer confidential updates for yet another fee.

“How much memory do you think those microchips have,” Binder asked.

“Probably plenty. Why?”

“I’m thinking that we could do more than just track location. What if the chip could hold information like, place of origin, dialect, hair and skin color, or health? We could offer merchandise tailored for a customer’s specific needs, and in the process, target potential new property, based on the market.”

“You’re a business genius,” Gag said. And if I could get access to some sort of history of how many customers per day they service (what is the average, twelve?), then I could extrapolate a projected ‘used-up’ date.”

“You mean like a shelf life?”

“Yeah, then the owners would know when to pour out spoiled milk and buy fresh from us.”

“And Gag, my friend, you’re a technical genius.”

“I do what I can.” Gad breathed on his nails and pretended to polish them on his shirt. He looked across the valley along Bone Dust Road. “Binder, are you expecting a visitor?”

Binder looked to see the dust cloud.

“Maybe a delivery, or pick-up?”

“If it is, it’s unscheduled. I’ve got nothing on the calendar for today. It doesn’t look like your typical a semi or utility truck.”

“No, it looks like a state garbage truck. Since when do they come out all this way for trash pick-up?”

“It’s rare, but I’ve seen it a time or two. Usually, it’s more of a drug run than a trash run.”

“Just in case, let’s go inside. Make sure you’ve got plenty of ammo. I don’t like surprise visits. Do I, Harry?”

Binder spit into the flames, then he and Gag went inside the trailer and waited for the garbage man to arrive.

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