That lousy bitch! I’ll say it again. That lousy bitch! I fuck one French girl and I end up having my heart and nose broken. Paris was supposed to be romantic. I’ve seen the films. Midnight walks down the Seine, a kiss by the Hotel De Ville. No. This city is a guillotine decapitating love at the neck, and from its weeping wound bitches like Antoinette leak out. Listen to me. This is important. If you meet a girl like Antoinette, one capable of turning heads and tricks, keep an eye on your bank balance and your sperm level. Both will be drained in equal amounts. And if you end up calling to her apartment unexpectedly, and you’re met at the door by a half-naked fuck-head inked with the letters XVI on his neck, make sure you knock that bastard into a coma. I need to drive down to Montmartre. Go see the Persian Surgeon. He can fix my nose and give me something to numb the world.
Montmartre is a juice blender at midnight. Someone left the lid off and in crawled every junkie, pervert and wino in Paris. Every night its blades mush them all to a pulp and out they spill into the roads, flooding the cobbled streets with their Blue Devil smiles and Bathtub Speed swagger. Doesn’t matter that the whole area is looked upon by that white celestial tit they call The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur. Even God won’t venture down from his throne to save these sorry fucks. I like it here for that reason. Misery loves its own company, they say. And you don’t get as much misery per square inch as you do in Montmartre.
I end up waking the Surgeon from a drug-induced state of catatonia. He meets me at the door wearing a string vest and soiled boxers. The dome of his belly is exposed and festooned with hairs as thick as bed springs, stains unrecognisable in the poorly lit hallway of his apartment. He sees the blood on my face. The road kill that is my nose. He beckons me in with a fat finger. A porno is playing on the TV in the living room. Some skinny white chick plays a ventriloquist dummy. The man’s arm is almost to the elbow. The Surgeon offers me bourbon. A moment elapses as I measure the pain in my nose against the filth in the tumbler. The pain wins out and he fills my glass three fingers high.
We don’t speak. We just sit. The girl on the TV is exceptionally quiet considering what’s inside her. I sip the bourbon and relax. The Surgeon’s apartment is what you would expect from a guy who looks like he should be selling kebabs from the roadside. It’s hard to tell where the carpet finishes and the walls begin. The chair I’m sat on is a scabbed knee that was once antique leather. Rabbit tails of used tissues pepper the floor. A Jenga tower of pizza boxes is stacked precariously next to the Surgeon’s chair. I can hear his heart values clogging over the porno muzak.
“Your nose is as bent as an Arab’s knife,” he wheezes.
“Can you fix it?”
“The nose? Yes. Your heart, perhaps.”
“It is better for me we do not talk in money.”
“Good, because I’ve got fuck all left.”
“I have a client who needs a favour. There is a girl. He wants her to, how do you say, disappear.”
“That’s not my style. I can’t even throw a punch. If I could my nose wouldn’t look like a prom night corsage.”
“It is risky. This is why the client is willing to pay.”
“Better to take a small risk and have full pockets, yes?”
“It’s not my pockets I’m worried about.”
“This is why you are the best person for the job.”
“And why is that?” I ask.
“When you have nothing you can afford to lose everything.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I’m not doing it.”
The Surgeon walks over to the TV, grabs a piece of paper and hands it me. An address scribbled in pencil. I feel his thumbs clamp the ridge of my nose. A crack like that which splits the heavens on a stormy night fills the room. Poppies of blood decorate the paper, framing perfectly the address of that lousy bitch, Antoinette.
I took the gun, and the job. Wasn’t sure which I agreed to first, but I left the Surgeon with both in my hands. An added insurance policy came by way of the client’s address. The Surgeon guaranteed payment, but I’ve been fucked too many times recently to take a person at their word. I wasn’t willing to spend the rest of my days eating porridge without a contingency.
I take the car and my bandaged nose across the city to Madeleine. Travelling along the Rue Des Saussaies, a constellation of headlamps zoom past me in strings. The cogs in my head turn faster than the wheels pushing me toward him. Ain’t no better feeling than the rush of revenge. It’s akin to fucking. It sets your heart racing and dries your mouth. I park outside the window on some apartment block close to Bugsy’s Bar. Count the floors as I light a Gitanes. The flame from my zippo illuminates my face in shades of pumpkin orange, and I curse myself for not being more covert. Draw into my lungs the last of the smoke as I ascend the stairwell. Sweat gathers in beads upon my head and palms like ants on a rotting apple. Room 302. A blistered red door. I take the filter from the Gitanes, push it into the spy hole. Knock. One. Two. Three times. The gun feels heavy in my waistband.
The yawn of a rusty hinge. A light creeping through the crack. I deliver my sole to the door and bring out the gun. Against the pleated brow of Mr XVI rests the business end of a 45. He doesn’t even seem surprised.
“Is that bitch here?”
He shakes his head, the gun moving in tandem.
“Let’s go sit,” I say.
He leads. The barrel of the gun guiding him like a divining rod.
The living area is full of clean lines. LEDTV. Some classical shit playing from an invisible speaker. A fucking million miles from the Surgeon’s place. I pull up a chair from a walnut finished dining table, set it down in the middle of the living room and direct him to sit. I take another and park it five feet in front of him. The man is large, the hillocks of his torso creating lunettes of shadow on his shirt. His fist isn’t even marked where he drove it into my face. I light another Gitanes, offer the pack. He refuses and crosses his arms.
“Nice place,” I say. “How much of it did I pay for?”
XVI’s lips curl at the sides.
“So, how many other saps have you both swindled?”
The Pokerfaced fucker doesn’t even acknowledge me. Instead he begins picking lint from his trousers.
“Screw enough of the French and you two could start a revolution if you’re not careful.”
I take a long drag on the Gitanes and blow it toward the high ceiling with its ornate cornicing.
“It wasn’t a bad plan, using that whore Antoinette to steal money from anyone willing to stick their dick in her. Then hiring me, someone with motive. Who best than an ex-boyfriend seeking revenge for all the money she took from him. I’m assuming the cops would have bust down the door of her apartment as soon as I sent that bullet into her skull, right?”
He begins checking for dirt under his fingernails.
“Your accomplice killed by the hands of a jealous lover. The money all yours. Margaritas in the Seychelles, was that the plan? Meanwhile I rot in some stinking cell for the murder of Antoinette. What I don’t understand is how you knew the Surgeon.”
The bald bastard finally addresses me with cold eyes.
“You don’t look like the type of guy who wouldn’t run the risk of talking with that sleazeball. And yet you knew that was where I would go to get my nose fixed. And you knew I would take the job if offered just to get my revenge.”
It’s then I hear the click of a trigger being cocked behind me. XVI cracks a smile, acknowledging the person pressing a snubnose into my cranium. You don’t need a fucking crystal ball to see into your future. You just need the cool muzzle of a gun in the hand of a whore to realise your half a cigarette away from taking a dirt nap. Antoinette moves around and stands beside Mr XVI. With the gun pointing at me, she leans down to whisper something in his ear. Rouge lips, full and glistening. Black dress split all the way to satin panties. My balls ache for her. He turns and they kiss, her teeth biting his bottom lip. When she turns to face me, the fleshy stud of each nipple pushes against that dress like two peanuts swimming in an oil slick.
“It was my idea to use the Surgeon,” she says to me, her words sliding off her tongue like honey off a spoon. “We needed an excuse to bring you here. Slide your gun over to me.”
I lowered the 45 and sent it toward her. As he picked it up, I notice Mr XVI closing his eyes, his lungs expanding. Hands gripping tight the underside of the chair.
“Revenge is so bittersweet,” she says before turning my gun and firing one shot into the leg of her lover. Like a banked fish XVI flaps and kicks as he absorbs the pain. Blood pools below his chair. He opens his eyes as the sound of gunfire still rings in my ears. Antoinette then takes the butt of the gun and strikes it down upon his cheek, skin tearing a hole in his face. He falls to the floor, bleeding, bruised and in agony. For the first time he’s talking, spewing out French words that I’m sure they don’t teach you at school.
I turn to Antoinette who is now sat in the chair, lighting a cigarette. She looks up and pulls the 45 toward me.
“Self defence, right?” I ask.
“If it’s any consolation,” she says, “you were my favourite. Rich men are so deprived of passion. But you were different.”
“That’s probably because I wasn’t rich.”
“No. But money isn’t always a motive.”
“Don’t tell me. You just needed a patsy, right? A loser. Someone who didn’t have a lot, but who would value love over money? All those fat cats with their yachts and penthouse suites, they’re too pussy to press a trigger. But me, someone who loved you… I’d be willing to risk it all to get my vengeance. Is that how this plays out?”
Mr XVI calls out, “Puis-je téléphoner pour une ambulance?!” and Antoinette casually informs him that the police must arrive before he can go to hospital.
“But why?” I ask. “Why go to all this trouble? Just take the money you have and fuck off.”
“Love is more dangerous than a bullet,” she says. “A bullet cannot cross oceans, or continents. A bullet will eventually stop. You would not.”
Antoinette puts the cigarette down on the floor and with both hands draws the gun so it is pointing at my chest. And as that sorry fuck XVI lay wriggling in his own blood, and Antoinette throws me a final kiss, I change my mind about revenge. It is not like fucking. Revenge requires punishment in return for being hurt. For that reason, revenge is more like loving someone. Vive la France!
Craig Wallwork lives in West Yorkshire, England. He is the author of the short story collection Quintessence of Dust (KUBOA), and the novels To Die Upon a Kiss (Snubnose Press) and The Sound of Loneliness (Perfect Edge). Other short stories can be found in many journals, magazines and anthologies in both the UK and US.