“What is that smell?” Vivian gagged. Careful not to step in the dark stains on the ground, she followed Camilla down a cramped alley between the highway and the Chao Praya River.
“We’re nearing Rom Kloaw, the site of an old pig slaughterhouse. The marshwaters along the canal have been rising with the heavy rainfall, sweeping waste inland.”
If Vivian thought the smell of garbage boiling in the humid sun was revolting, nothing compared to the byproducts of congealed animal blood and entrails. Pigs, cattle, and water buffalo hadn’t been butchered in the “Slaughterhouse” neighborhood for the last ten years, but the stench didn’t easily wash out of the streets. Nonetheless, she couldn’t think of a more fitting rendezvous point for a harvester like Noi.
As with other parts of Khlong Toei, Rom Kloaw resembled a rusty quilt welded from sheet metal, cloth, and scraps of plywood. Sometimes the wood became hot to the touch during the day, forcing illegal settlers to conduct their personal business outside their homes.
“I take it real estate is cheap to come by in Rom Kloaw?”
“People are spooked by the slaughterhouse here,” Camilla replied.
“Well, I can’t imagine why. At least it charmed its way into Noi’s fetid heart.”
They clambered onto a chaotic walkway cobbled from wooden planks and nails, providing safe passage above the water mixed with refuse. In the nocturnal shade, Vivian couldn’t make out what was floating in the soup of bacteria under her feet.
“That’s it, just up ahead.” Camilla indicated a one-story building along the canals of the river. Trucks, previously used to deliver pigs in the early mornings, were discarded by the side of the slaughterhouse near a patch of stilt-raised shanties. Stepping off the walkway, Camilla was confronted by an odor so overpowering that she stopped breathing through her nose.
Upon entering the slaughterhouse, she wondered if it would have lived up to any inspection during its days of peak operation. The walls mostly consisted of packing crates, which were arranged around open windows sheathed in mosquito nets. Emitting a bluish tinge, a light bulb illuminated a gritty, cement floor caked in the remains of pigs and water buffalo. This was a macabre arena where humans triumphed over animals kept in captivity until they were prime for consumption.
Vivian eyed the overhead rail system used for hanging the split carcasses. Judging from the rust on the equipment, it clearly hadn’t seen activity for years.
Vivian’s preconceptions were dashed by the sight of a fresh body on one of the steel tables. Treading carefully, she approached with Camilla in tow. She swallowed the significantly-sized lump in her throat when she saw the aortic clamps, sternal saw, and surgical forceps gleaming in the aquamarine light.