The Deadlands by Tom Leins

THE DEADLANDS

By Tom Leins

The burn is horrendous and I struggle to look him in his good eye.

His only eye.

His face hasn’t healed, and he smells charred – like he has crawled out of the belly of hell itself.

Virgil is a tall man in a rust-brown suit. The severed nub of his thumb protrudes from the soiled looking plaster-cast on his right arm. He scratches his ruined face. 

“Will you be able to get her back?”

I nod, and he wheezes with relief. He removes a creased photograph from his wallet.

The girl has hair the colour of melted caramel. She flashes the camera a tight smile, which never quite reaches her eyes. Her collarbone seems to be tattooed. I pick up the photo and squint. It looks like a flatlining heartbeat, with the words ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ tattooed underneath.

“Can I keep it?”

He grunts.

“I don’t need the photo back, Mr Rey. Just my daughter.”

***

I survey the hellscape in front of me. The horizon is a jagged blur of burned-out, skeletal-looking houses and abandoned office blocks.

The Underworld looms large in the middle: a labyrinthine subterranean nightclub presided over by an elderly tycoon named Harry Hades. It’s only a year old – built on the site a notorious crime scene. Ten boys were found in the vacant lot – their bodies entirely drained of blood. People said that the Bone Daddy did it, but I don’t believe in ghosts.

‘The Underworld’ is spelled out in lurid, neon lights. Underneath, in smaller lights, are the words ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.

I step past the expressionless, gargoyle-esque doormen and into the vestibule – my boots crunching on a bloody mixture of maggots, lice and dried pus. The grinding bass is so low it makes my guts churn.

There are nine doors, evenly spaced out. A word has been carved onto each door: Limbo. Lust. Gluttony. Greed. Wrath. Heresy. Violence. Fraud. Treachery. The Nine Circles of Hell.

I pause next to Lust. The door opens a crack and sultry laughter oozes through the gap.

I turn abruptly as Gluttony swings open. The room disgorges a tide of putrid slush into the lobby.

I choose Violence. One way or another, I always choose Violence.

***

The door opens with an infernal creak. A wave of evil, reeking heat takes my breath away. It’s as hot as hell and twice as ugly. The men drinking themselves into damnation are the worst of the worst. Child murderers. Spree killers. Degenerates. The violently unhinged. Sickness comes off them in waves. They rub shoulders, careful not to look one another in the eye – or spill each other’s pints. Their names are tattooed on their foreheads, their crimes inked on their knuckles.

My armpits feel rancid with sweat. Perspiration stings my bloodshot eyeballs. As I pass through the crowd, hushed voices rasp like flame. Yellow eyes glare at me from the gloom.  Pale, naked girls drift around the room, drinks trays in hand. I grab a drink to try and alleviate the blast-furnace heat, but it tastes hellish, so I spit the fiery liquid back in the glass and place it on the next tray that passes my way.

At the back of the room, Harry Hades slouches in an obscene gold-plated wheelchair. A girl – Beatrice – performs a private dance for him. There’s a choke-chain wrapped around her throat – fastened to his wheelchair. Her movements are weary, her feet are calloused. She has been condemned to perform a relentless slow grind by a bored sadist.

***

Harry Hades is old. Not frail, but old enough to have lost his fear of death. He jerks the chain and the girl falls at his feet. He removes his tinted sunglasses. His eyes look dead.

“How can I help you, young man?”

His dentures are so big that he can’t close his mouth when he grins at me.

I hold the photograph up for his inspection.

He shrugs.

“If you think she was here, she probably was.”

“I’m going to need her back.”

Another shrug.

“I care little about what happens outside The Underworld, young man. I have everything I need down here. But no one steals a soul from my realm.”

I don’t have the energy to talk to this rotten old motherfucker – especially in this heat – so I throw a brutal right hook at his elderly face – crumpling his bone-structure like a scrapyard hatchback.

Streaky blood leaks from his broken mouth. He spits a mouthful at my feet and speaks in a nasal whine.

“How about I let my hell-hound off his leash?”

It’s an idle threat, and I let it hang in the air – like the stale smoke from his high-tar cigarettes.

“Do your worst, Hades.”

“Cerberus.”

Crouched behind the wheelchair, attached to a second choke-chain, is a lean, tattooed guy with a flick-knife sneer and a mangled ear. Hades yanks his leash. He scampers across the floor on his hands and knees, before springing to his feet.

I forget his real name, but he’s a Scottish ex-bareknuckle fighter who was banned for life after killing two men in the cage. His torso is layered in clumsy prison ink: skulls, daggers, obscenities. In the middle of his chest is a brand-new tattoo of a three-headed dog with a serpent for a tail. It’s so new, the tattoo is still wrapped in clingfilm.

Hades unclips the chain, and I see the man’s muscles bunch and harden.

I don’t give him the time to make a move – I grab his leash and wrench his pale face towards my fist. Once. Twice. Three times. On the floor, he whimpers like a kicked hell-hound.

Hades attempts to scramble away from me, but his slip-on shoes look skittish – like hooves on a blood-slick abattoir floor – and his withered legs give way immediately. His forehead hits the concrete and blood as thick as mould oozes from his ruptured skull.

I place Beatrice on the vacant wheelchair and move towards the exit.

Cretinous faces leer at me, but no one makes a move to stop me.

I retrieve a complementary matchbook from the table next to the exit, strike a match and drop it in the pocket of one of the nylon bomber jackets hanging on the coat-rack.

Kick up the fire, and let the flames break loose.

I doubt these rotten bastards will even notice.

The End

Bio: Tom Leins is a crime writer from Paignton, UK. His books include Boneyard DogsTen Pints of BloodMeat Bubbles & Other Stories (all published by Close to the Bone) and Repetition Kills You and The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men (both available from All Due Respect). For more details, please visit:

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

Order Coming Through in Waves: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Pink Floyd NOW!

Perhaps no other major band or artist has equaled the lyrical and musical poignancy that Pink Floyd has achieved in landmark records such as The Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall.In this, the fourth installment in Gutter Books’ Rock Anthology Series, we pay tribute to, and hopefully in some small way enhance the legend of, a band that has spoken so compellingly to— and for—millions of people searching for meaning in the modern world.Featuring some of today’s most exciting authors, and edited by horror author and cancer survivor T. Fox DunhamComing Through in Waves weaves together a plethora of dark, strange, and intriguing images that only Pink Floyd could inspire.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

COME IN NUMBER 51, YOUR TIME IS UP – DBSCHLOSSER. A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS – PAUL D. BRAZILL MOTHER – KIMBERLY GODWIN HAVE A CIGAR – FRASER MASSEY FEARLESS – LINDA SLATER HEY YOU – PHIL THOMAS ARNOLD LAYNE – BILL BABER BRAIN DAMAGE – TOM LEINS CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, EUGENE – MARK SLADE HEART BEAT, PIG MEAT – KENNETH W. CAIN ONE OF THESE DAYS – JIM SHAFFER JUGBAND BLUES – C. W. BLACKWELL JULIA DREAM – MORGAN SYLVIA KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY STACK – RENEE ASHER PICKUP LUCIFER SAM – K. A. LAITY NOBODY HOME – JOSEPH S. WALKER ON THE RUN – S. W. LAUDEN REMEMBER A DAY – KURT REICHENBAUGH OBSCURED BY CLOUDS – ALLAN ROZINSKI THE SCARECROW – KAREN KEELEY WISH YOU WERE HERE – ANDY RAUSCH CHILDHOOD’S END – A. B PATTERSON WAITING FOR THE WORMS – PAUL WILLIAMS

ORDER COMING THROUGH IN WAVES HERE

Bone Train by Tom Leins

BONE TRAIN

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.

“Motherfucker.”

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.

The End

Bio:

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).

For more information, please visit:

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

THE NAUGHTY LIST By Tom Leins

It was a bitterly cold day when the bodies appeared. Not the coldest day of the year, but pretty fucking chilly. The half-cut eyewitness said they floated up from the bottom of Paignton Harbour like bubbles in cheap champagne.

From what I heard, ‘bodies’ was overstating the case – the corpses had been dismembered and wrapped in binbags before they were launched into the murky, oil-streaked saltwater. John Gladman was only identifiable by his grisly dental records. Thomas Nashe by the three missing toes he hacked off in Dartmoor Prison in 1979 to avoid manual labour. The third man was easier to identify: he had his National Insurance number tattooed on his broken neck. His name was Nicholas Saint.

Between them, the three men had a rap sheet that spanned five gold heists, four squalid prisons, three home invasions, two unproven murders and a shotgun cartridge in a palm tree. Naturally, I only found this out later…

***

Christmas Eve.

The Dirty Lemon.

“You Rey?”

The man is wider than a grit bin and nearly as short. He’s wearing a voluminous yellow tracksuit and a stoned glaze.

I nod.

He drops a fat envelope in my lap.

“Christmas has come early this year, motherfucker.”

He leans against my table and takes a hit on his e-cigarette. His pockmarked face creases with pleasure.

“Christmas Pudding flavour. I bought it online. You want some?”

“No thanks, mate.”

He shrugs and gestures towards the painfully thin girl performing the floorshow.

“I had her in the handicapped toilet last year. Fanny like Santa’s sleeve.”

I shake my head as I open the envelope. Inside is a scuffed-looking portable telephone with a cracked screen. There is an elastic band around the phone, holding a newspaper cutting in place.

“Whatever you do don’t lose the fucking handset. It was smuggled out of Channings Wood in two different arseholes – one of them mine.”

I scratch at the crust on the screen with the edge of a beer mat. Is that shit? Or blood?

“There’s one number saved on the phone. Ring it when you have the old bastard in front of you. You know how to make a videocall, right? Nicky said you’re kinda old-school.”

“I’ll figure it out.”

His chunky body undulates as he laughs.

“You better fucking do.”

***

I signal Spacey Tracey for another Kronenbourg. I can’t tell whether her oversized earrings are supposed to be baubles or fucking ballbags. I return to my table and start to read the press cutting that was attached to the phone. The arse-sweat has blurred the newsprint in places, but I get the gist.

The headline says: THE NAUGHTY LIST: Chrimbo crooks crime-spree catalogued and the article details the exploits of four middle-aged career criminals who ripped off a Securicor van in December 1991 – dressed in fucking Santa suits.

The wheelman ploughed into the security van in a Transit, while the triggerman shot out the tyres with a bolt-action rifle. The third man snapped the aerials to render the guards’ radios useless and the fourth man cut into the side of the van with a disc cutter.

Before they fled the scene, one of the Santas dragged the driver out of the dented cab and made him kneel in the gutter before bludgeoning him with a lump hammer that had been attached to his belt with a length of twine. The four men escaped with £123,000 in low-denomination banknotes and were never seen again.

I’m not the sharpest Stanley knife in the fucking toolbox, but it’s immediately apparent that the only man who didn’t end up in a watery grave was ‘Slack’ Jack Frost – a small town sadist with a lazy eye and a rubbery, partially paralysed face.

Time to go to work.

***

Rossiters department store, Palace Avenue.

Hand out enough free pints at the Cock ‘n’ Whistle and the local juiceheads would probably sell out their brothers, mothers and lovers. An old lag like Slack Jack is definitely fair game for the loose-lipped local lushes.

When I find him, he’s in the downstairs grotto at Rossiters – bawling kid on his lap, an Oxygen cylinder next to the velvet pouffe he is awkwardly perched on. I slip the midget in the elf costume a fiver and join the queue. His name is Small Paul and he used to work on Paignton Pier, manning the Helter Skelter – despite not meeting the minimum height requirement.

Slack Jack yanks down the fake beard and takes a greedy hit on his Oxygen, before gazing at me through rheumy eyes.

“Little old for the grotto aren’t you, son?”

I fumble with the smartphone. I haven’t got a fucking clue what I’m doing.

“Hello? Nicky?”

“You scumbag, you maggot/You cheap lousy faggot…”

It sounds like a cellblock singalong.

“Rey? Press the videocall button, you dickhead.”

I press the icon on the screen, and Nicky Saint appears. He is a swarthier, sweatier version of his dead Dad. His eyes are an unsettling shade of dye-pack blue, and like his father, he also appears to have his National Insurance number tattooed across his neck.

“You did well, pal. Grit-Bin is on his way with the shooter. Now, put that dirty bastard Frost on the blower.”

Before I can hold the phone up – and let Nicky trade pleasantries with the decrepit specimen who dismembered his father nearly 30 years ago – Slack Jack lashes out at me with a fucking lump hammer.

“I’ve put harder men in the ground than you, son.”

“And the fucking harbour…”

All around us, women and children are screaming – trampling the cheap winter wonderland décor in their haste to get away from Santa – ratty beard dangling from his scrawny chicken neck.

He snorts.

“And the fucking harbour. £123,000 split four ways equals sweet fuck all. Even in the fucking ‘90s.”

He swings the hammer at me again and makes contact this time – sending a spasm of pain across my right shoulder-blade and down my arm. Motherfucker.

He grins nastily through his lopsided mouth and the next blow batters my ribcage. I drop to the floor like a sack of unwanted presents. Slack Jack wheezes as he raises the hammer above my head.

Fuck this.

***

Before he can finish me off, I grab his oxygen tank with my left hand and slam the metal into his legs – shattering his elderly shinbones.

“Fuck you, old man.”

I lift the tank and prepare to stove his ruined face in.

Then I feel Grit-Bin’s chubby fingers on the back of my neck. In his other hand he is holding the ruptured smartphone.

He holds it over Slack Jack’s screaming, contorted face for Nicky’s inspection – and then removes the sawn-off shotgun from the waistband of his jogging bottoms.

He presses the ragged snout against the old man’s nostrils.

Tears of rage well up in Slack Jack’s eyes. He starts to say something, when Nicky’s sneering voice cuts him off.

“Merry Christmas, motherfucker.”

THE END

Bio: Tom Leins is the author of the Paignton Noir mysteries: SKULL MEAT, SNUFF RACKET, SPINE FARM, SLUG BAIT and BONEYARD DOGS.

Other books include the short story collections MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES and REPETITION KILLS YOU and the novella DIRTY BULLION – a collaboration with Benedict J. Jones, author of the Charlie Bars series.

Looking ahead, THE GOOD BOOK: FAIRY TALES FOR HARD MEN – a collection of wrestling noir – will be published by All Due Respect in January 2020.

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

The Naughty List - Paignton Noir Mystery - Tom Leins 

 

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)

MARSH BARTON FINK By Tom Leins

Marsh Barton Industrial Estate, Exeter, Devon.

Silvio Foxx is a tall, uneasy looking man. He watches me cautiously from across the buckled concrete floor of his warehouse, an unlit high-tar cigarette dangling from his plump, girlish lips.

“Mr Rey?”

“That’s what my probation officer calls me…”

He grunts, unimpressed with my humour, or my prison haircut – or both.

He beckons me towards him with a crooked finger.

“I suppose you had better come in.”

***

Covering more than a square mile, Marsh Barton is the largest trading estate in Exeter. It is home to the cattle market, the abattoir and more second-hand car dealerships than you can shake a dick at. It’s also home to hundreds of enterprises that are harder to classify: companies with flimsy business models and flimsier morals. Housed in obscure, half-rotted buildings where local entrepreneurs can thrive – away from prying eyes.

Foxx is wearing a black pleather jacket and smells of dehydrated urine. His rat-grey hair hangs limp over his forehead, and I think I can see lice in it.

He flicks the light switch with a theatrical flourish. Dust motes swirl in the air.

“Do you remember your first pornographic magazine, young man?”

I nod.

Pale skin, mouths aghast, chubby fingers foraging in bushy pubic hair.

It was dog-eared and half-buried in the thin stretch of woodland behind the children’s home where I spent my formative years.

I scan the walls of his office. There are framed first issues of some of his titles: ‘Bronco’. ‘Fairmont’. ‘Futura’. ‘Transit’. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of suburban pornography, but I haven’t heard of any of these magazines. They sound more like hatchbacks than fucking wank-mags.

He gestures to a magazine called ‘The Gentleman’s Handshake’. It looks soiled and ancient – like him.

“My father gave me this on my 13th birthday. It was a different era, Mr Rey. I’d likely be incarcerated if I attempted to give it to a 13-year-old boy nowadays, but I found it very… instructional.”

I lower myself into a frayed velvet armchair and a cloud of musty grime rises around me.

Foxx coughs away the dust and points to a creased looking VHS cover in a greasy clip-frame. The movie is entitled ‘Orgasm Addict’.

“This is Shelley. She was working behind the counter in a chain store when I discovered her.”

He beams proudly.

“Well, if you want me to rediscover her, it will cost you £100 a day, mate – plus expenses.”

He nods earnestly.

“And if I don’t find her within seven days, she’s probably dead.”

Foxx grins lasciviously, his decayed-looking facial features creasing in half.

“I admire your flair for the dramatic, Mr Rey.”

I grunt.

“All part of the fucking service.”

***

20 minutes later.

Willeys Athletic & Sports Club, Water Lane.

I don’t know Exeter well, but I do know Bobby Burnthouse. Until recently, we lived on the same cellblock at HMP Channings Wood. When you eat three beige meals a day at the same table you develop an appreciation for a man’s strengths and weaknesses.

Strength? Impressive constitution for stodge. Weakness? Folds like a Trago Mills lawn chair at the first threat of violence.

His hangdog expression drops even further when he sees me – eyes fixed on his half-drunk pint.

“What the fuck do you want, Rey?”

“A few beers and a few laughs with my old mate Bobby.”

He glances around the bar at his derelict drinking buddies, and then hisses at me:

“Fuck off, Rey. You’re about as funny as a collapsed lung. If you’re not gone in ten seconds me and the boys will kick the shit out of you.”

I chuckle to myself. Bobby’s punches are weaker than my fucking jokes.

I roll up my right trouser leg, revealing the rubber-grip handle of the pig-knife in my boot.

“Ok, how about you convince me that I was right to stop the Tapeworm from hacking out your fucking windpipe.”

The small, hot room suddenly feels smaller and hotter. Bobby nods – fat tears in his bloodshot eyes.

“What do you really want?”

“A local tour-guide.”

***

One hour later.

Sidwell Street, Exeter.

Sidwell Street is awash with ruined men. Men with hate in their eyes and blades in their pockets. Short lives and blunt knives.

Greasy junkies congregate outside the Polish delicatessen, buying £1 cans of 9% Karpackie to kill time before their next dose of methadone. Bobby keeps his eyes on the cracked paving slabs as we pick our way through the throng and cross the road.

Last year Garry Gluten was arrested on this very street with a bloody shovel and a bloodier lump hammer. The police never discovered the body, but they discovered 14 photocopied pictures of Shelley Peters sellotaped to the ceiling above his semen-streaked single bed. Obscure details like that are hard to dislodge – like a particularly virulent venereal disease.

Gary Gluten, I recall, was a second cousin of Bobby’s. When the other lags found out they beat him with pillowcases full of tinned foodstuffs and lashed him with the leads from their electric kettles.

Bobby leads me to his cousin’s first-floor flat and hits the buzzer, whispering into the mouthpiece, too quiet for me to hear. He won’t fuck me over though – not now I know where he drinks.

The external door clicks open and he fidgets on the spot – reminding me of a small child who is about to piss himself.

I nod and he scampers away like a stomped rat.

***

The flat smells of blood and excrement – or bloody excrement. It’s hard to tell the difference in the heat of the moment.

There is very little life in Shelley’s eyes when I find her. For all I know there’s very little life in mine, either.

There is absolutely no fucking life in Gluten’s eyes when I bludgeon him with my Poundland claw hammer.

Shelley’s anatomy spasms as his cranial blood coats her bubble perm. I drag her out from underneath his slack, lumpen body and wrap her in the viscera-streaked candlewick bedspread.

She gazes at me, curiously.

“Everyone likes a happy ending, right?”

I shrug.

“I wouldn’t fucking know…”

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 December 2019.

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

MARSH BARTON FINK - TOM LEINS (1)

EBooks for 99c/99p from Close To The Bone

99c 99p

Indie publisher CLOSE TO THE BONE has made a handfull of their eBooks available for ONLY 99c/99p.

These include:

Bloody Sheets by Andy Rausch

Small Time Crimes by Paul D. Brazill

Boneyard Dogs by Tom Leins

A Time For Violence: Stories With An Edge

The Blood Red Experiment

Her Name Is Mercie by Chris Roy

A Ticket To The Boneyard – How Boneyard Dogs Came Back From The Dead By Tom Leins

Boneyard Dogs (Close To The Bone) – my brand new Paignton Noir Mystery – was almost the book that never was.

I wrote the first 5,000 words around a decade ago, for one of those ‘debut crime novel’ competitions that broadsheet newspapers sometimes run. The content was wildly unsuitable for that kind of endeavour, but I pressed on regardless. Suffice to say, I didn’t win, and I didn’t even manage to finish the book!

Every year, I would dutifully retrieve the manuscript, make some new notes, and quickly run out of steam – retreating to my short story safe haven. A few years later, I won a flash fiction competition run by a now-defunct literary website. The story was called ‘Paignton Can Keep My Bones’. It was a grim, violent mood piece that preceded a welcome creative surge. Even better, I now had the prologue that kick-started the Boneyard Dogs narrative. Or so I thought…

I still couldn’t get the narrative to click. I wrote Skull Meat to clear the writer’s block – and killed off a few supporting characters in the process. The picture became clearer as a timeline emerged. Then I wrote Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, and the timeline shifted again. Dead characters were hauled away in digital body-bags. Surviving characters re-emerged to cause chaos.

I now had a fully-fledged whodunit, but I had no idea who actually did it! The final piece of the puzzle – quite literally – originated as part of a botched story about notorious crime scenes. I realised that I now had the blood-splattered ending I was looking for all along.

Finally, the book started to flow. Discarded scenes were redeployed elsewhere in the narrative. A couple of memorable set-pieces were retrieved from an abandoned screenplay called ‘Exile on Winner Street’. That one was also ten years old, and this queasy content was merged seamlessly with the existing storyline. Retain, revisit, remix, repeat. If the creative process sounds brutal, the storyline is even more hardcore!

I’m fond of describing my 2018 book Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect) as a literary jigsaw puzzle – the stories are presented in alphabetical order, rather than chronological order – but Boneyard Dogs turned out to be the real jigsaw puzzle.

It took me ten years to unravel my own narrative mystery. Can my anti-hero Joe Rey find the missing daughter of a demented lounge singer in seven increasingly brutal days?

Find out for yourself from 26th July!

Pre-order link:

https://www.bookgoodies.com/a/B07R6TRZRB

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, June 2018) and REPETITION KILLS YOU (All Due Respect, September 2018). BONEYARD DOGS: A PAIGNTON NOIR MYSTERY will be published by Close To The Bone in July 2019, and THE GOOD BOOK, a collection of wrestling noir will be published by All Due Respect in December 2019.

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

A Ticket To The Boneyard - Tom Leins Boneyard Dogs feature 2

 

John Wisniewski interviews Tom Leins

How did you begin writing, Tom? I believe you were a film critic before you started writing books?

I started writing fiction in around 2002 – half a lifetime ago – and my first ever short story, ‘The Box’, was included in an anthology by a UK publisher called Skrev the following year. I notched up a bunch of publications in small-scale British literary magazines over the next five years, and switched to writing crime fiction in 2006-2007, when my reading tastes shifted.

I have managed to make a living from putting words on a page since about 2006 – agony uncle, film critic, telecoms journalist – but I don’t think I’ll be paying the bills with my fiction any time soon! Watching and reviewing films for a living was fun while it lasted, but a job that combined DVDs and print media already feels like something from a bygone era…!

I took a break from fiction between 2011 and 2014, but I haven’t really looked back since. Last year I published two short story collections: Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Close To The Bone) and Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect), and I have two more books on the way this year: Boneyard Dogs (Close To The Bone) and The Good Book (All Due Respect).

I’m really proud of all of these books, but the stuff I’m working on at the moment is even better: darker, nastier, funnier. I can’t wait to share it with people!

Any favorite pulp authors?

To be completely honest, there is a gaping hole in my traditional pulp fiction reading list.  I’ve got a box in my loft full of unread Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, MacDonald etc, and while I’m sure I’ll get around to reading them one day, they are fighting for attention with a lot of new content.

I think publishers such as All Due Respect, Close To The Bone and Shotgun Honey are the ones delivering the pulp fiction goods nowadays. They all specialise in short, violent books with a solid emotional core. I also gravitate towards the kind of writers who publish multiple books each year, as that kind of work ethic appeals to me, and stays true to the old-fashioned pulp sensibility. There are too many great writers to namecheck here, but pulp enthusiasts should definitely make a beeline towards those publishers.

Your books, like “Slug Bait” sometimes contain horror elements. Do you like horror and mystery writing, as well as crime/pulp?

Yes, very true! In recent years my raw, undiluted approach to crime fiction has started to blur at the edges: the story titles have got more visceral, the antagonists more ghoulish, the imagery more horrific and the sense of foreboding more pronounced. I find a lot of contemporary crime fiction – especially at the mainstream end of the scale – too bland for comfort, so I’m doing my best to redress the balance!

This whole ‘Paignton Noir’ world that I have strived to create over the last decade or so is highly stylised, and I like to use that to my advantage. There were some notable supernatural elements in both of my short story collections – Meat Bubbles & Other Stories and Repetition Kills You – but these sporadic incidents are viewed with the same sense of hardboiled cynicism as Joe Rey views the rest of his cases, and hopefully they don’t drag unsuspecting readers too far out of the narrative.

I have no idea whether my genre-blurring tactics are too horrific for crime fans or too tame for horror fans, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I’ve also got some grisly new material up my sleeve which plunges deeper into horror territory than ever before. Watch this space!

As far as horror fiction goes, it represents a pretty minor component of my overall reading experience, and I watch far more horror movies than I do read horror books – something I should definitely rectify. That said, I always appreciate it when writers manage to successfully fuse crime and horror to create something new and warped. That always piques my interest!

What have the reviews been like for your books? How do reviewers describe your writing?

The reviews have been pretty good so far. I’m always delighted when anyone takes the time to write about something I created – and other people’s interpretations of my work are endlessly fascinating! A lot of people enjoyed my debut e-book, Skull Meat – which is pretty extreme in places – and those endorsements gave me a lot of confidence, and made me realise that I didn’t have to tone down my vision.

When a reader really connects with a book it’s an unbeatable feeling. That said, I’m disappointed that Repetition Kills You – my literary jigsaw puzzle – sank without a trace, as I’m really proud of that book: concept, content, everything. Not every book is going to find an audience, but I was looking forward to see what people made of it. (I’m working on an appropriately brutal sequel, so hopefully that will give the first book a much-needed boost!)

Reviews are also a useful supply of feedback, and I try to respond to any points that reviewers touch on in my subsequent books. Readers expect a series character to evolve, and any question marks over Joe Rey’s persona are really useful to me.

Words like brutal, gritty and violent are pretty commonplace in the reviews – all of which are highly appropriate!

Could we talk more about “Repetition Kills You”? How was this book different than your others?

Repetition Kills You comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. The reader has to join the dots and choose their own beginning and ending. The alphabetical angle was inspired by an old J.G. Ballard story from the 1960s, but the ruptured narrative owes as much to Quentin Tarantino’s movies Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

Repetition Kills You was actually the first book I completed, and everything else I have written has slotted in around it. Because of that, I think that it works well as an opener for the uninitiated, but it works even better if people read the books in the ‘official’ order!

It’s a self-contained book, but I’m enjoying the task of joining the dots and exploring the events that precede Repetition Kills You. The book also digs into certain aspects of Joe Rey’s past, and introduces a few key characters who figure heavily in the sequels. I like trilogies, and this book is the first of three interlinked books. Make no mistake, Rey is about to enter a world of pain in the next book, and it all goes downhill from there…

Anyway, I think that anyone who enjoyed Skull Meat, or Slug Bait, or Meat Bubbles will enjoy it as much, if not more, but the non-linear A-Z concept must be a little bit too jarring for readers, which is a real shame!

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, June 2018) and REPETITION KILLS YOU (All Due Respect, September 2018).

A Ticket To The Boneyard - Tom Leins Boneyard Dogs feature 2

 

Fiction: A VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER By Tom Leins

A Vulgar Display of Power - Tom Leins - Repetition Kills You - Meat Bubbles

11am.

The Black Regent Rooming House.

I peel the bloody dressing off my nose and drop it into the sink. Jesus. My face looks like something out of a fucking horror-show.

I’ve been sticking my nose into other people’s business for longer than I can remember. Usually for money, sometimes out of sheer perversity. My latest injury – caused by deranged Albanian with a box-cutter – feels horribly apt.

“That looks painful, Joe. You should get it looked at.”

I shrug, scratching at the fat cleaver scar across my shoulder. On hot days it itches like a motherfucker. I’ve experienced worse. Far worse.

“You should have seen the other guy…”

Cherry is wearing tan trousers and a knowing smile. Her makeup is immaculate, and her dirty blonde hair has been pulled into a loose ponytail. She almost singes her cream blouse when she tugs it over her head, lit cigarette still in her mouth.

She inhales deeply and drops the dead ciggie into an empty beer bottle, before retrieving a plastic carrier bag from the floor.

“It was all I could find at short notice. You might have to breathe in when you put on the trousers.”

I eye her sceptically, then remove my bloody t-shirt and toss it into the corner.

“How do you want to play it, Joe?”

“Stick to the narrative we agreed. Follow my lead.”

She scratches a fleck of dried blood off my ruined nose and wipes it on the bed sheet.

“I was afraid you were going to say that…”

***

30 Minutes Later.

The North Atlantic Motor Inn.

“Mrs Stratton, you are in safe hands. My associate Mr Rey and I have many years of experience dealing with this type of case.”

Cherry’s put-on accent is faker than the massive rubber cock in her bedside drawer. Fuck knows where that came from – the accent, I mean.

“Previous clients have received fingers through the post in jiffy bags. Toes in manila envelopes. We once encountered a jam-jar full of blood along with the ransom note.”

She’s gone too far. She is going to fuck it up if she carries on like this.

I shift in my seat and reach under the table, pinching her inner thigh – right where her ex-husband’s name is tattooed.

She takes the hint.

“It is a positive sign that your daughter is as-yet unharmed.”

Cherry leans across the table and strokes Mrs Stratton’s trembling hand.

“If it is of any comfort, the overwhelming majority of reported kidnap incidents in the UK last year were express kidnappings, in which victims were abducted for less than 48 hours. We fully expect to have your daughter back with you by the end of the week.”

We are in the refurbished bar of the North Atlantic Motor Inn. The shabby decor feels as familiar as my own nightmares.

Her husband fidgets in his chair and tuts to himself. Disinterested. Detached.

“Look at the state of this place. It’s hardly the Excelsior, is it?”

I nod my agreement.

The furniture looks – and feels – water-damaged, and the carpet is a threadbare blur of dirty-looking swirls. The artificial pine scent can’t conceal the pungent smell, and the murky hotel air seems to suck up our conversation. This place is so nasty I half-expect to see young children mingling with sex-offenders in the smoky TV lounge.

I fit right in. My shabby suit is tight at the crotch and worn at the elbows. Like the suit, the maroon necktie came from a charity shop and has the logo from a long-defunct building society on it. My off-white shirt still has another man’s sweat on the collar. I feel it mingle with my own every time I tell another barefaced lie.

“It is important to avoid scrutiny, Mr Stratton. The people who have your daughter will be observing your every move – ensuring you are not engaging with law enforcement personnel. Believe me, you do not want to test the patience of these men.”

His wife stifles a sob and Stratton clear his throat.

“Step-daughter.”

“Excuse me?”

“Step-daughter. Theresa is Debbie’s daughter from a previous relationship.”

I nod. A teenage girl is missing and this shit-bag is at pains to point out the difference.

“Drink, Rey?”

“Sure.”

I glance across at the barman. He has a vicious quiff and thin eyes, and is sat on a stool on the wrong side of the bar working his way through a stack of old crotch magazines.

I whistle to attract his attention, and he lurches over to us, erection pulsing against his greasy trousers.

I order a Glenmorangie. One ice cube.

Stratton orders the same. The women say nothing.

“Good choice, Mr Rey. We’ll get along just fine.”

He beams at me and I return his queasy smile.

I have an intense dislike of around 85% of the men who have ever hired me, and that percentage is edging upwards. Not that I’m fucking counting.

The barman returns with our drinks.

A local cop once told me that 30% of all alcohol in Paignton is fake. Bathtub brew-jobs or cheap booze in high-end bottles. Whatever this fucker has served me is likely to contain antifreeze, methanol or something similarly unpleasant. I doubt it will even be whisky – it will probably be carny vodka mixed with flavouring and colouring.

I notice that Stratton is fiddling irritably with his wedding ring. His wife notices too, and he attempts to clasp her hands in a clumsy approximation of a comforting gesture – only for her to bat his hand away.

His face is slick with sweat and shines more than his Conservative Party lapel-pin under the cheap barroom lighting.

There are so many skeletons in this goon’s closet I swear I can hear them rattling.

I open my steel briefcase and make a show of shuffling papers. Junk mail accumulated from the lobby of the Black Regent: penile enlargement offers, erectile dysfunction pamphlets, pro-right-wing literature. Bunch of fucking dicks.

“I don’t wish to seem insensitive, but…”

Stratton hands me the payment and I place it in the briefcase, nodding solemnly.

The case was a birthday present from a man named Malcolm Chung – removed from an Albanian bag-man’s wrist with a bone-saw. And, yeah, he went through the sorry fucker’s flesh and bone, not through the chain.

“My associate, Mrs… Cherry … and I will be in touch.”

Debbie Stratton is already out of her seat, heading towards the gravel car park. Stratton sips his whisky with a grimace and places the tumbler back on table, practically undrunk, before scrambling after her – a distressed look on his hangdog face.

Cherry picks up his abandoned drink and clinks glasses with me.

“So far, so good.”

She takes a deep gulp and places the glass back on the table, slaughterhouse-red lipstick on the rim.

I down the rest of my drink and wipe my lips on my rancid sleeve.

“As long as neither of us go fucking blind…”

***

One Hour Later.

The Stratton Residence.

I take off my necktie and wrap it around my fist, before smashing the pane of glass above the lock for the conservatory door.

I reach in, catching my wrist on one of the jagged shards, and unlatch the door.

“Motherfucker.”

I kick the loose glass aside and step inside, warily. There were no cars on the drive, but there could still be a cleaner or a handyman lurking.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing?”

Debbie Stratton is standing in the conservatory, swaying slightly – cigarette in one hand, wine glass in the other – leopard-print silk bathrobe gaping open. She makes no effort to cover her neatly-trimmed pussy hair and takes a clumsy glug of wine.

She jabs the smouldering tip of her cigarette in my direction.

“My husband led me to believe that he had hired a private investigator – not a fucking junkie housebreaker.”

She makes no effort to locate a telephone, but I cut to the chase regardless.

“Your daughter is safe, Mrs Stratton.”

A look of confusion creases her drunken face. The boozy puffiness can’t disguise her prettiness.

“I beg your pardon?”

I remove a polaroid of Theresa – fully-clothed and unharmed, holding a copy of this week’s Herald Express.

“Your husband has been a naughty fucking boy, Mrs Stratton. I am in the process of setting things right.”

“By breaking into my house?”

I shrug.

“Last week your husband committed an indiscretion. The CCTV tape of that incident is currently in his possession. I have been paid to retrieve it.”

She sighs.

“What did he do?”

“He…”

She slurs – voice ragged with bitterness and confusion:

“No. Don’t tell me. I don’t need to know. Politics corrupted him. Bent him out of shape.”

“You sound like you are trying to convince yourself, Mrs Stratton – not me.”

Either she knows that he uses rent boys, or she is drunk enough not to care right now.

I take a deep breath and consider my options. I won’t mention the fact that Stratton choked a 16-year-old to death last week. Or the fact that the kid is now buried face-down in Occombe Valley Woods – her husband’s semen long since congealed in the boy’s ruptured anal passage. She will find out soon enough.

“Where does my daughter fit into this?”

“It’s complicated, but I’m working on it.”

She nods.

Stratton offered the brothel-keeper his own fucking step-daughter to compensate him for his loss. The ponce enlisted me to help him run a more lucrative scam on Stratton. I was happy to oblige – as long as he let the girl go.

“Are you really an investigator?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Your associate, Mrs Cherry, is she really an ex-Interpol agent?”

I shake my head.

“She is a single mother with a nine-year-old daughter. She runs a part-time brothel from her elderly mother’s house.”

Debbie Stratton steps towards me.

“Thank you for being honest with me, Mr Rey. My husband hasn’t been honest for a long time.”

She places her empty wine glass on the coffee table, but makes no effort to cover her modesty.

She steps towards me and kisses me on the lips.

“I appreciate it.”

I kiss her back as she unzips my too-tight trousers.

All part of the fucking service.

***

I leave the house an hour later, the security video of Stratton strangling the teenage sex-worker tucked in my jacket pocket – burning like my sense of shame.

“What took you so long?”

Cherry is lighting a fresh cigarette with the butt of her old one as I climb into her Vauxhall Corsa.

I turn to face her, some shitty lie or other caught in my throat.

She wipes a smudge of Debbie’s lipstick off my lips with her finger and grunts.

“On second thoughts, don’t bother.”

***

20 Minutes Later.

Henry Rivera is a fat, sloppy piece of shit. His business interests are limited to a few suck-and-fuck emporiums staffed with grey-skinned addicts and wigless transvestites.

When we arrive at his main trick pad, Henry is fiddling absentmindedly with his diamond pinky ring. He is eating Chinese chicken and drinking Johnnie Walker Black Label. He pauses to lick chicken grease off his ring.

“Mr Rey! I hope you didn’t dress up on my account.”

I brush a flake of dead man’s dandruff off the shoulder of my suit jacket and toss him half of the £2,000 fee that Stratton paid me.

He tucks it in the waistband of his tracksuit bottoms and belches.

“The video?”

I pat my pocket.

“The girl?”

He belches again.

“I’m afraid there has been a change of plan, young man.”

I feel the counterfeit booze slosh unpleasantly in my gut.

“How so?”

He has close-set, predatory eyes – pupils like bullet-holes.

“The eminent Mr Stratton upped the ante after I explained the nature of our little scam.”

“Why the fuck would you do that?”

“Because I’m a greedy little cunt, Rey, that’s why.”

Stratton’s chauffeur, Tony Tolliver, steps out of the shadows. He’s a squat, hard-faced bastard.

“New deal, motherfucker. Hand me the tape. And the rest of the cash.”

He smiles unpleasantly – showing all of his teeth. Then he fixes me with a look so intense it freezes the piss in my bladder.

He’s ex-military. Left two toes in Fallujah – along with his conscience.

“Fuck off, mate.”

He stomps towards me and hits me in the face – breaking my ravaged nose – and coating my shirtfront in blood.

“Hand it over, shit-heel.”

“You’ll have to hit me a lot harder than that, mate.”

He cackles.

“Poor Mrs Stratton really isn’t coping well with her husband’s breakdown. She is even contemplating suicide.”

He grins nastily and mimes the tightening of a noose around his thick neck.

I think about the knotted condom in her bathroom bin, and my blood on the broken window. That isn’t going to fucking happen.

I dip into my jacket pocket and remove the retractable police baton I bought from a paranoid schizophrenic in the Dirty Lemon toilets over Christmas.

The threats dry up and suddenly it’s quiet enough to hear a junkie piss himself.

Then Tolliver charges me – screaming blue murder.

I side-step him and extend the baton, whipping it across his fat face and destroying his nose.

I lash the weapon across the back of his head until he stops moving and wipe his dark cranial fluid on my trousers.

I glance warily at Rivera. I know that he keeps a sawn-off baseball bat under the counter.

To stop him reaching for it, I shatter his right arm.

“Let’s try that again, shall we, Henry?”

He sneers at me, and I grind his mangled arm into the carpet with my boot heel.

“Where’s the fucking girl, shit-stain?”

***

Five Minutes Later.

I drift through the waiting room, past the handful of elderly degenerates fidgeting on the battered sofa. None of them left when the screaming started, so they’re not the type of men to let a little casual bloodshed put them off their afternoon delight.

“Don’t get up gentlemen – I’m only passing through.”

I step out of the building and flick the loose viscera off the baton, onto the pavement, and hand it to Cherry, before opening the back door and hustling the girl onto the back seat.

Cherry looks distastefully at my blood-soaked clothing.

“Did you enjoy that?”

“Cherry, I don’t enjoy any of this shit.”

“Is it over?”

I consider the videotape in my pocket – and the man who tried to sell his own daughter like livestock.

“On the contrary. The fun has only just begun.”

THE END

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.

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com