It’s Christmas Eve and I’m standing in the middle of a stash house in Hookhills, bleeding from one ear and trying to work out which one of the hired hands I should shoot first: the skinny guy in the soiled Sexy Santa minidress or the fat fuck in the scuffed-looking ballistics vest.
I raise the liberated Mossberg HS410 Home Security shotgun and point it at no one in particular.
Skinny shuffles towards me, rancid grin etched across his jaundiced face.
“You’re not a fucking killer.”
It’s an ice-cold afternoon, and even though we are indoors, I see my breath hover in front of me.
“Depends which stories you believe, mate…”
Three hours earlier.
The Dirty Lemon.
When I enter the pub, Spacey Tracey is sellotaping badly photocopied posters advertising a ‘Christmas Three-Bird Roast’ all over the faded wallpaper.
“I think I’ve seen that film, Trace. Bargain bin at the North Atlantic Video Lounge.”
She tuts and grins nastily. Her smile reminds me of the entrance to a condemned tower block.
Last week, I saw the landlord – Dirty Terry – perched on one of the picnic benches outside with a bin-bag and an air rifle, so one of the birds is definitely a fucking seagull. The guy only learned to cook during his last jolt in Channings Wood, so the patrons are likely to end up with a dose of botulism with their brussels sprouts…
I feel a tap on my shoulder and drop to the ground, groping for the pig-knife in my boot – down among the broken glass, fag butts and greasy pubic clumps.
Paignton is the kind of town where you can start an ugly rumour about someone at opening time, and have it relayed back to you at Happy Hour – with your name substituted in.
“Depends who’s asking?”
“Put the blade away, kid. I’ve got unhealed fractures older than you.”
I keep the rubber handle clasped in my fist, and shake my head.
“Would you really stab an unarmed man?”
“In a fucking heartbeat, mate.”
“In front of all these people.”
“If you know who I am, then you know I have done far fucking worse over far fucking less.”
He backs off a step and raises his hands.
“I apologise, Mr Rey … Can I buy you a drink?”
I let go of the knife and struggle to my feet – feeling suddenly nauseous.
He offers me a sweaty hand, helping me up.
“The name’s Bentos. Ray Bentos. Like the pies.”
I’m barely listening – too busy staring at the gold coke spoon he is wearing on a chain, and the fat wallet in his clammy hand. This motherfucker is oilier than a whore’s pores.
“See – good manners cost nothing, Bentos. Mine’s a pint.”
I take another look at his wallet.
“And a fucking shot.”
“I’m a self-made man, Rey. My family were so poor when I was a child that at Christmas we exchanged glances.”
He pauses, waiting for a polite chuckle that never comes. I guarantee that my stale festive memories are worse than his.
“It means I really fucking care about money, son.”
I’ve earned enough money this year that I could comfortably not accept another job for months. Tough men thrive during tough times, and the worse the world gets, the better my job prospects become.
He gazes at me – unsure how much to say – forehead slick with sweat, left hand trembling slightly as he raises his house double to his rubbery lips.
“Spit it out, mate.”
He laughs nervously.
“… as the priest said to the altar boy.”
I drain my pint and slam the empty glass on the bar-top, to re-focus his attention.
“I have a stash house.”
He shakes his head vigorously, and the coke spoon bounces around in his greasy chest hair.
“For fuck’s sake, mate.”
“I’m an entrepreneur, Rey. Market forces and all that.”
I shake my head. That shit is fucking dangerous.
“What the fuck is that?”
He smiles sheepishly.
“100 times stronger than Fentanyl. It’s used by vets to sedate elephants.”
“What the fuck do you use it for?”
“We use it to lace smack and flog it on fucking Winner Street. It’s our biggest selling brand. We call it ‘Elephant Gun’.”
“Fuck off, mate. No drugs. Not interested.”
I start to walk away.
I grind to a halt on the threadbare carpet.
“What’s the address?”
During a routine traffic stop near Tweenaway Cross last week, local cops stopped a piss-yellow Ford Focus when they noticed that the driver wasn’t wearing a seat belt. The cops asked him to step out of the vehicle.
When the wheelman – a 24-stone Winner Street resident called Eloy Browne – clambered out of the hatchback, the cops discovered a football sock under his rolls of stomach fat, containing a handgun, £7,000 in cash and Ziploc bag containing heroin laced with Fentanyl. The fat motherfucker was dressed as Santa Claus, naturally. This year he will be eating his Christmas dinner with a prison spork.
He was Bentos’s trusted lieutenant – a hard bastard, who served in the first Gulf War. He was fat, but he was feared and kept the chefs and dealers in line – shitbags who would spit at Bentos, as soon as look at him. Now the lunatics have taken over the asylum, and Bentos’s retirement fund is stuck inside.
Bentos owns the property next door to the stash house – and the one next to that – so getting into the paranoid old fucker’s house isn’t a problem. The neighbour’s house has been stripped of furniture, but there are still a bunch of faded family photographs on the wall, so they evidently left in a hurry. I make my way up the stairs and loiter on the landing – clambering onto the bannister and unlatching the loft hatch.
It’s a stretch, but I manage to haul myself up into the roof-space. Straight away, my left foot slips off the beam, heel smashing through the yellow loft insulation and busting the cruddy plaster below and I feel my stomach lurch as I cling on to the roof joist.
Fuck it. I never promised that I wouldn’t make a mess. Quite the opposite. Even so, I wish I hadn’t been so enthusiastic about the liquid lunch.
I get my bearings and head next door – towards the stash house.
Bentos told me that the gap between the two houses would be covered by a piece of tarpaulin – his insurance plan if the business arrangement ever went boss-eyed, and he needed easy access.
I crawl through the gap. He assured me that the loft in this property has been laid with hardboard. He didn’t tell me that there would be a fucking guard dog chained to the rotten brickwork at the other end of the roof-space – within snarling distance of the Slazenger swag-bag.
The Rottweiler tenses as it sees me – a low growl rumbling through its lean body. It is missing an eye – the empty socket clumsily stitched – and it scares the shit out of me.
I crawl towards the bag, and the dog lunges at me – hanging in mid-air briefly when the steel chain goes taut.
I grab the kit-bag and unlatch the hatch with sweaty, nervous fingers.
The dog lurches forward again, and I see the rusted ring start to come loose from the brickwork.
There’s no ladder, so I’m going down hard.
I land in a heap on the landing – the dog and the chain tumbling down after me in a thick cloud of brick dust. The dog growls at me – even louder this time – flashing its slobber-streaked jaws.
I unzip the bag – hoping that I have the right fucking one. On top of the uneven stacks of used banknotes is a Mossberg pump-action shotgun. I definitely have the right fucking bag.
I retrieve the shooter and rack the pump-action. The dog has heard enough, and bounces down the uncarpeted staircase, steel chain thudding off the bare wood behind it.
Thank fuck for that.
I hook my arms through the handles of the kit-bag and hoist it onto my back, as a skinny guy emerges from one of the upstairs bedrooms, rubbing the sleep out of his red-raw eyeballs. Improbably, he is wearing a filthy Sexy Santa minidress – which hangs off his scrawny, angular body. He flashes me a putrid smile.
“Who the fuck are you?”
I shake my head.
“It doesn’t matter who I am, but you’re on Ray Bentos’s naughty list, shit-stain. No presents for you this year.”
I turn towards the staircase, and the shit-bag swings at me with brass knuckles – catching me across the side of the head. There is a sharp pain and it feels like he has burst my fucking eardrum or something.
I stumble down the stairs – coming face to face with a fat man in a ballistics vest and ‘Danish Snow’ camouflage trousers. Behind the vest, his enormous gut churns like a cement mixer.
I recognise him. He is an ex-taxi driver called Alan Crandall, who once got arrested for trying to finger a 15-year-old volunteer outside a Food Bank. Scum.
Behind him, the front door has four elaborate-looking locking mechanisms. Fuck it – I’ll go out of the window instead. I dodge into the nearest room – little and large hot on my heels.
The goons creep closer, skinny leering at me, fatty cracking his knuckles.
I aim the Mossberg at Crandall – the lard lad. I doubt the slug will even break his ribs.
Only one way to find out.
I squeeze the trigger and the impact knocks him off his flat feet – his blubbery skull cracking on the raw floorboards. His eyes roll back into his head, turning the colour of eggnog.
I step towards the ravaged savage in the Santa dress.
“Don’t worry, mate. You’ll get your turn too. I’ve got more than enough Christmas goodwill to go around.”
He starts to run and I swing the pump-action at his rotten skull – so hard I get brain matter on the fucking shotgun butt.
At that moment, bright lights dance across the front windows. I can’t tell if the neighbours have switched on their Christmas lights, or a prowl-car has rolled into the cul-de-sac.
I hear a knock on the door. At least they aren’t using a battering ram – yet.
I place the shotgun back in the kit-bag and make a break towards the back of the house.
Not for the first time, I really should have stayed in the fucking pub…
Bio: Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. He is the author of the Paignton Noir novelettes SKULL MEAT, SNUFF RACKET, SLUG BAIT and SPINE FARM and the short story collections MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES (Close To The Bone Publishing, June 2018) and REPETITION KILLS YOU (All Due Respect, September 2018)
His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash and Spelk Fiction.