By Tom Leins
It has been a cold, rotten afternoon so far – and it’s shaping up to be an even uglier evening…
I’m leaning against a badly rusted rollercoaster called the ‘Titty Twister’, staring at a guy who looks like a fucking autopsy sketch. His complexion is tombstone grey and he’s wearing a fluorescent 1980s ski jacket with one of the ragged sleeves gaffer-taped back on. He looks like he’d be more at home selling crack to addicts in a graveyard than working at a funfair.
His name is Garry Granville and he’s manning the ‘Spook Loop’ ghost train. It’s his second year working the fair, after he served six years in Channings Wood for assisting with the disposal of a corpse. He fires up the diesel generator and the garish night-time lighting makes queasy promises that the daylight can’t cash.
Raucous psychobilly crackles out of the ancient Tannoy system and Granville does an awkward, spasmodic little jig. I’ve been watching him all week.He likes to smoke a little skunk and drink a can of scrumpy on the test ride before the Spook Loop opens to the general public. I edge closer. There are small clumps of people scattered across Paignton Green. Boys. Girls. Undecided. Young. Smiling. Blissfully unaware about the horrors that lurk in plain sight.
Granville removes a can from the Slazenger kit-bag next to the ticket-taker booth and retrieves the pre-rolled joint from behind his right ear. I take a deep breath and slip on my rubber Halloween mask, then I ease myself into the final carriage – lowering myself as far as I can go. I’m not exactly sure what creature the mask is supposed to depict – I found it at the bottom of the bargain bin in the fancy dress shop on Hyde Road – and it looks warped and faded.
Granville cracks open his can, hollers to himself and cranks the start lever. The ragged black curtains jerk apart and the ghost train jolts into the gloom.
One week earlier.
When I arrive at the Embassy Tavern, Harris has the worst seat in the house – first table, back to the front door. Not a fucking care in the world. Any feeble-minded local undesirable could jab a needle in his neck, or slip a blade in his armpit while he reached for his tumbler.
I tap his elbow to get his attention and step aside.
“Same again, mate?”
“Mr Rey! Glad you could make it. Stay where you are, son – it’s my round.”
I help him up and he shuffles across the threadbare carpet towards the bar. Downstairs, a pub singer called Alan Spunk: King of Funk growls his way through a disco song that is older than I am.
Despite the Autumn chill, Spunk is drenched in sweat and breathes like a wank-blistered crank-caller between songs.
Moments later, Harris hands me a glass.
“What the fuck’s that?”
“Spiced rum and ginger beer. It was my late wife’s favourite.”
I take a sip.
Not fucking bad.
Drinks in hand, we retire to the outdoor conservatory. The rainfall is louder than gunfire on the thick, plastic corrugated roof, but it will drown out our conversation.
Harris removes a newspaper cutting from his briefcase. It takes him a minute or so to find, so the case must be crammed with filth.
I glance warily at the photo.
“He’s an ex-con. So am I. So are you, mate! So fucking what?”
Harris bristles at the remark. Years ago, he briefly served time after a £300,000 worth of cocaine was found stashed in twelve rusted caravans on a patch of waste-ground under a motorway flyover outside Taunton. His name was on the deeds for the waste-ground, but his brief managed to get him out of HMP Dartmoor on time served.
“The rotten bastard exposed himself to my daughter last year, and the police didn’t do a fucking thing about it.”
“How old is your daughter?”
“It’s not important,” he grunts. “She’s 41. 42 next week.”
I take another sip of my drink. It’s already growing on me.
“What exactly do you want me to do about it?”
He removes a lump hammer from his briefcase, followed by an envelope full of cash.
“I want you to give the little shit a fright.”
He grins, displaying receding gums and yellowed, overlapping teeth.
I drop the hammer in my left pocket, the money in my right.
Murky alliances are my stock-in-trade – and Paignton always extracts its price.
The ancient tracks creak and I feel my neck snap as the battered carriage jolts around the third bend.
Granville sits up, suddenly alert and cranks the kill-switch. The ghost train grinds to a halt and the psychobilly tape cuts out.
He clambers out of the front carriage, stubs the joint out on the back of his hand and places it back behind his ear.
He wheezes, and his rotten breath hangs in the air.
“It got cold early this year, huh, boy?”
This bastard has the small-talk skills of a fucking crack-addict.
He drifts towards me. A look of surprise flickers across his ugly face as he clocks my rubber mask. By the look of his glazed eyes he’s been sniffing shoe repairer’s glue as well as hitting the skunk.
“What the fuck did you come as?!”
I lunge forward and slam a head-butt into the bridge of his nose. The lumpen bone gives way with a satisfying crack.
He rights himself and pushes me backwards with a grunt. I clatter into a half-rotted Mummy and lose my footing. The soiled coverings it’s swathed in remind me of the old surgical support bandages I’m constantly finding in the corridor at the Black Regent.
It rained last night and the floor is waterlogged – the stagnant water threaded with green scum-trails. Nearby, exposed wiring fizzes and crackles.
Granville comes after me and I retreat into the midst of the mannequins. Monsters from a bygone era – they stink of rotting nostalgia.
Dracula’s flaking head has been screwed onto a female torso, and has improbable breasts like an ‘80s Page 3 girl.
The Wolfman is missing big clumps of fur and appears to be suffering from alopecia. The rotten figure reminds me of a dead dog I once saw in Paignton Harbour – its mangy body all swollen up with sea water.
“Is that a knife in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me, Granville?”
All carnies are blade artists and he removes the inevitable Stanley from his stonewashed jeans.
When he smiles, it looks positively obscene.
I heard he once sliced up a minor hoodlum called Titch Mitchum in a fun-pub. Put a broken match-stick between two taped-together razor-blades. Apparently, it makes it far more difficult for the surgeon to sew the face back together afterwards. I enjoy a knife fight as much as the next man, but I’ve never been a fan of that kind of delicate savagery.
I pull out the lump hammer and he flinches.
Sometimes my life feels like a hellish version of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Knife. Hammer. Firearm.
“You need to get that leaky arsehole fixed, mate.”
He jabs at me, and tries to tug off my rubber mask at the same time. I sidestep him and bring the hammer down on his right arm – shattering his elbow.
“Trick or treat, motherfucker.”
He stoops down to retrieve the knife and I crunch the hammer into his spine. I’m already nauseated with myself, and taste hot sick in my throat, but Harris promised me a bonus if I break all four of Granville’s limbs.
I glance over my shoulder, at my ghoulish friends. Under the dead gaze of the assembled monsters, I go to work.
Five minutes later, I dump Granville in the front carriage, like a bag of bones, and yank the lever.
I’ve already slipped between the disfigured relics and exited the Spook Loop through a slashed hole in the tarpaulin when the fucking screaming starts.
Tom Leins is a crime writer from Paignton, UK. His books include Boneyard Dogs, Ten Pints of Blood, Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (all Close to the Bone) and Repetition Kills You and The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men (both All Due Respect).
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