SNAKE CHARMER By Tom Leins

I don’t wear a suit very often, but whenever I do, I end up looking like a football hooligan making a fucking court appearance.

Some men like to dress to impress. Most days I wear jeans, t-shirts, hoodies – forgettable items that can be easily replaced if the blood-spatter gets too bad.

Opposite me, Alan Aloysius is well dressed, but he has a voice like a rusty hacksaw being scraped across a shotgun barrel. His hair is shaved to grey stubble and his moustache reminds me of the furry white dog shit that you used to see in the 1980s.

Over his shoulder, through his office window, the Paignton Yards skyline looks acrid and smoke-choked.

“I used to know a man that did what you do, Mr Rey. He was a brutish man. An ex-cop. Flying Squad. He felt violated every day, and ended up climbing into the boot of a rental car and sucking on a shotgun.”

I shrug.

“Don’t own a shotgun, mate. Or a driving licence.”

He snorts.

“I’m not your ‘mate’, young man. I’m your employer.”

Don’t I fucking know it.

I’m tempted to tell him that I once knew a man who didn’t like the photographs of his wife I gave him. Photos of his much younger wife taking on three steroid-jacked guys in rubber animal masks at the same time. He ended up gassing himself with exhaust fumes on a patch of wasteland not far from here. That was a rental car too, funnily enough…

He licks the envelope and slides it halfway across the desk towards me. It’s a slim envelope – it only contains a cheque and a duplicate copy of the contract I just signed. Most of these goons don’t want a paper-trail connecting themselves to a man like me, but Aloysius wants to make sure he gets his money’s worth.

“I believe that concludes our business for today.”

I heave myself out of the swivel chair and retrieve the envelope. I’ll see myself out.

“Oh, and Mr Rey?”

I pause in the doorway, fingers already unscrewing the lid of my hip-flask.

“Make sure you hand in your security pass at the front desk on your way out.”

I nod. Good fucking luck with that.

I upend the hip-flask and savour the fiery liquid as it touches my tongue.
***

The Cock & Whistle public house, Torquay Road.

Gavin ‘Orbital’ Ormsby rearranges his stomach on the beer-slick table with a grunt.

“You’ve got as long as it takes me to finish this pint, Rey. And I’m very fucking thirsty.”

He smiles, to show me he’s joking, but his rotten grin reminds me of a burned fence.

 

Orbital grew up in a static caravan adjacent to the M25. He has always been obsessed with motorcycles, and as a kid he said he used to fix dirt-bikes for local gypsies. He lost an eye and a lung in a failed arson attempt five years ago and moved to Paignton for the healing properties of the fresh sea air. It wasn’t long before he fell in with the local motorcycle club, the Seaway Serpents, who appreciated his talents – mechanical rather than pyromaniacal.

In an era when County Lines drug gangs send schoolkids into small backwater towns with bellies full of KFC, rucksacks full of crack and heads full of threats, dealers in the West Country still use middle-aged bikers with beer guts and bad attitudes. Men like the Seaway Serpents. No one else is daft enough to cross the Tamar and deal with the shotgun-toting, ketamine-fuelled Cornish farm boys.

 

Orbital lost his other eye in a pub-fight and now spends his days getting bladdered on £2.50 pints of Carlsberg at the Cock & Whistle. I’m not surprised – you would have to be blind to drink here…

I pass him a fresh Carlsberg and ask him if he knows where I can find Aloysius’s wife. He’s drunk enough to tell me, and when I leave, he has popped out one of his glass eyes, and has rolled it down the bar to try and attract the barman’s attention.

It drops off the scarred bar-top and shatters on the wooden floor.

***

The Snakepit Weekender, Paignton Sea Front.

 

Paignton town centre is a blistered network of short, recession-ruined streets. I follow them until I can detect the sewage-tainted stench of Paignton beach. Every summer the Seaway Serpents hold the ‘Snakepit Weekender’ – a weekend-long benefit event for handicapped children. Smarter men than me have suggested that it is an elaborate money laundering scheme. Me? I have no fucking clue. I struggle to launder my clothes without a Winner Street junkie robbing them from the fucking tumble dryer at the launderette.

 

I hand the ravaged woman in the ticket booth a wrinkled fiver and shuffle into the Snakepit. The background noise is ear-splitting and a poster sellotaped to the booth tells me it’s ‘SLACK BLADDERS – Paignton’s Second-Best Black Sabbath Tribute Band’. I’ve seen the queues to the portaloos – I don’t envy anyone with a slack bladder in this fucking crowd.

I pick my way through the throng and sidestep a ratty fucker with a drug-lab pallor and a sandwich-board that reads ‘SPEED, WEED & MEAD’. The arrow points towards the sea and he’s wobbling like a charity shop transvestite, so fuck knows where the refreshment stall is.

 

I wave a fiver in front of his face to focus his attention. He eyes it greedily and snatches at it with a skeletal hand.

“First, a question: which way for the floorshow, boss?”

“The floorshow? It’s invite-only, boss, and it’s got fuck all to do with you.”

I shake my head wearily and then drop him with a headbutt.

I disentangle him from the sandwich board and slip it over my head – kicking him in the gut as I step over him.

***

One Hour Later.

If you want to take down a posse of crank-fuelled bikers, logic suggests you need a team of men with ski-masks and baseball bats.

Me? I’m confident I can do it using my charm, my bruised knuckles and my trusty pig-knife.

I make two circuits of the Snakepit before finding the most-likely tent. The second time round, Python is outside, guzzling 18% proof Mead from a dark bottle. He is the Sergeant-at-Arms for the Seaway Serpents. A tough guy with a mean streak wider than me. Apparently, he has a snake tattoo that stretches down from his throat, around his torso, all the way down to his balls. I hope I never have to find out.

He sees me watching him and flashes me a stark, malicious grin. His ugly face looks like a traffic accident and his voice is blurred with booze.

“Mead. Drink of champions. If it’s good enough for the fucking Vikings, it’s good enough for me.”

I step towards him and he glances suspiciously at the sandwich board. The penny drops too late and he attempts to bludgeon me, shattering the bottle on the edge of the wooden sign.

I yank down hard on his braided beard and crunch his nose into the board, saving my forehead from a second headbutt in less than an hour.

Showtime.

***

Orbital told me that Alicia Aloysius used to be a ‘House Mouse’ for the Serpents before she married into respectability, and still liked to get high and get fucked when the itch needed scratching.

He told me that she was due to perform in tonight’s floorshow with an out-of-town biker known as Dr Wankenstein.

I lose the sandwich board and edge into the tent. The girl on stage definitely isn’t Alicia.

I don’t know her real name, but she is known as Dodgem, because she has been rammed from behind by so many carnies. She is a short, dumpy girl wearing nothing but fire-retardant elbow-length gloves and mismatched low-heeled shoes.

I feel a scattergun barrel judder against my kidneys, as another prods me in the Adam’s Apple.

Python is in front of me. His eyebrow has been split open and looks bloody.

He fingers the wound.

“I think you broke my eye-socket.”

I shrug. Who the fuck cares?

“Pubic, frisk him for weapons.”

The gun is removed from my back and I feel skinny fingers skitter against my belt-line and boots.

The pig-knife is removed from its sheath in my boot and the skinny fucker from earlier steps forward, holding it up triumphantly in front of me.

“Poor old Mr Rey. He brought a knife to a fucking gun-fight.”

Python doesn’t shoot me though – he bludgeons me with the gun barrel.

The ground inside the floorshow tent is hard-packed dirt. It hurts when my skull rattles against it.

“Time to siphon the Python.”

Pubic gurgles with laughter, as Python removes his one-eyed trouser-snake and pisses all over my torso.

Then he fucking stomps me.

***

Seaway Serpents Club House, Seaway Road.

When I come to, I’m lying in a pool of somebody else’s blood.

The last time I spent the night on Seaway Road, I ended up getting wanked off by a woman who weighed more than I did.

After seeing Wankenstein’s wrist action earlier the memory leaves me weirdly troubled and I wonder what they have in store for me.

I glance across the buckled floor of the chop-shop, looking for the source of the blood-loss.

Alicia.

I don’t know what they have done to her, but she has clearly lost too much blood to survive. They have half-heartedly covered her with an old curtain and there are half-a-dozen snail-trails of semen down her inner thighs.

My conscience aches nearly as bad as my busted jaw.

A mobility scooter drives through the spilled blood towards me, slapping crimson tyre-tread prints across the concrete.

Sugar Lump. President of the Seaway Serpents. Mottled face. Morbidly obese. He lost his left foot to gout last year and now has to travel everywhere by mobility scooter.

He glances in my direction, but doesn’t make eye contact.

He has breath like a septic tank, and a torso the shape of a cement mixer.

When he speaks, it is in a smoke-cured rasp.

“Kill him and bury him.”

Python hauls me up off the floor by my collar and drags me across the room towards a rudimentary bar set-up.

“All in good time, Lump.”

A tropical fish-tank has been balanced on top of a warped-looking wallpaper table.

It is full of fucking snakes.

“The Indian common krait. I don’t know if you are familiar with the ‘Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976’, Rey, but it’s illegal to own one of these nasty bastards without a permit. A little nibble from this bad boy and you’ll be paralysed. If the venom doesn’t kill you, we will.”

For fuck’s sake.

I slam a fist into the glass of the tank. Twice. Three times.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Python slackens his grip on my collar and I slam an elbow into the cobwebbed glass, shattering it on impact. Three snakes ooze to the ground, and I stoop down to retrieve the fattest shard of glass I can find.

“What the fuck are you doing, Rey?”

I jam the shard into his thigh and stomp it in as deep as I can. Python writhes on his back, howling in pain as he tries to stem the thick spurts of blood that are escaping from his grotty leathers.

“That’s how you siphon a python, motherfucker.”

I feel a snake curl around my boot and extract it – careful to avoid the hissing end. Swinging the tail, I launch it towards Sugar Lump, narrowly missing his tricked-out mobility scooter. In his haste to escape he reverses over the snake, crushing it with a queasy crack.

The carcass is caught up in the wheels and he can’t manoeuvre the scooter away from me. I step closer and he starts to fiddle with a small plastic container. I once heard that he keeps battery acid in old urine sample containers, and throws it in girl’s faces when they refuse to sleep with him.

I pinch his nose with my left hand and punch him in the throat with my right. He gasps and I wedge the plastic tub between his fat lips.

He gargles like he has blood in his trachea and lungs, toppling out of the scooter. Then comes the foetid sphincter smell.

I wrench up the corrugated shutter at the front of the chop-shop and slip into the ashen early morning daylight.

These dumb motherfuckers just shat in the wrong sand-box.

THE END

 

Biography:

Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK.

He is the author of the Paignton Noir mysteries SKULL MEAT, SNUFF RACKET, SPINE FARM, SLUG BAIT and BONEYARD DOGS and the short story collections MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES and REPETITION KILLS YOU.

DIRTY BULLION – a collaboration with Benedict J. Jones, author of the Charlie Bars series – was published in August 2019 and THE GOOD BOOK, a collection of wrestling noir, will be published by All Due Respect in the near future.

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

Snake Charmer - Paignton Noir - TOM LEINS (1)