“Did you know that a human bite is actually worse than a dog bite?”
I try to avoid making eye contact with Larry-Lee Lomax, but Slattery’s Meat Market is deserted, and the pornographic pictures that have been glued to the bare brick walls are now faded beyond recognition. When I turn back to face him, I notice that there are dried specks of blood around his hideously cracked lips. Larry-Lee looks more dead than alive. He has ash-grey skin. It matches what is left of his hair.
It is mid-morning, and we are sitting at a corner table, drinking scotch from one of the unmarked bottles that Slattery keeps beneath the bar in an old milk crate. Slattery is in the back-room, busying himself with a back issue of Tailgunner. A girl wearing scuffed silver boots and not much else lingers next to our table. Larry-Lee dismisses her with the flick of his limp wrist, and leans towards me.
“So I said to him: if they lock us lot up, where are they going to put the pickpockets and the Irish?”
He laughs bronchially and takes another drag off his high-tar cigarette. This shit-bird’s small-talk is about as funny as a broken bone. When he exhales his cigarette breath feels hot against my cheek.
I let my bloodshot eyes follow the girl as she shuffles towards another table. She has six fingers on one hand and four on the other, and a tattoo of an eyeball on her lower back. Her name is Rosa. We go way back.
Back in the glory days, Paignton Yards used to boast more whores than any other part of Paignton. That was before everything went respectable – or indoors – at any rate. Apparently the Meat Market provides an excellent health plan, but I have my doubts. Last time I checked, the condom machine didn’t even work…
Larry-Lee gulps down the rest of his drink and shudders, briefly. Then he grins, baring his rotten teeth right down to the diseased gums.
I flash him an equally nasty smile. I’m the skeleton in Paignton’s closet, the ghost in the gutter. Towns like this create people like me.
I retrieve a crumpled £5 note from my jacket pocket, and his dead eyes twitch.
He grins even harder, and a brown slither of drool trickles down his chin.
“One for the road, Larry-Lee?”
It isn’t my money. Not really. I was paid to be here by a carny named Eugene Delacroix III.
“Why not? After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day…”
Another sickly yellow smile flashes between his cracked lips.
Larry-Lee may have a dark past, but he has very little future. He struggles to his feet and grabs his moist-looking crotch.
“I need to see a man about a mule.”
As he walks towards the toilet in his duct-taped shoes I reach for the hammer in my overcoat pocket. The rubber grip has worn away in places, and the steel feels reassuringly cold in my fist. Evil heat bubbles up from my gut to my chest, and down to my ball-bag. I feel my calloused fingers tingle.
Five minutes later I’m standing on the dual carriageway embankment, coughing up blood onto the gravel and weeds. Slattery’s bathtub hooch gets me every time. Rosa stands next to me, her lovely white boots speckled with blood. Her second-hand nipple tassels glint in the low winter sun.
“Why’d you have to hurt him so bad, Joe?”
I take a medicinal slug from the quarter-bottle of carny vodka in my inside pocket.
“Last month he razor-ripped three carnival strippers in one afternoon. Left one of them smeared all over the public toilets. Wherever you live, that kind of shit is bad for business.”
She offers me a drugged shrug.
“Still, at least you didn’t kill him, right?”
Now it’s my turn to shrug.
After I had finished with Larry-Lee, the pub toilet stank worse than the elevator behind Lidl carpark last Christmas. Some rotten bastard or other took a watery shit in the lift after sniffing too much Poundland glue.
I shake the bad memory out of my throbbing skull.
Larry-Lee is no longer my problem. Eugene will send over a couple of boys with bin-bags and shovels before the lunchtime rush starts. Knowing him, the body parts will most likely be buried in the kind of places I wouldn’t even be able to find with a fucking map.
Rosa’s dark, restless eyes scan the ravaged asphalt sprawl behind us for signs of pond-life. No people, no dogs, just a sick-coloured smoke-stack above Pete Cooper’s Glue Factory. The hooker make-up that Rosa is wearing doesn’t suit her. Her teeth start to chatter, and I slip my coat over her bare shoulders.
I stroke her face with a bloody thumb, and she smiles sweetly.
An unlicensed voodoo taxi pulls up on the hard shoulder, exhaust belching acrid smoke. There seems to be a teenage girl lying on the back-seat, under some coats.
The driver scowls at me.
“None of your fucking business, sunshine.”
Fuck it. In an hour’s time the spike-heels of Rosa’s scuffed boots will be ripping my bed-sheets.
We squeeze onto the back seat and nudge the unconscious girl up against the other door.
This fucking town.
Bio: Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Spelk Fiction, Near to the Knuckle and the Flash Fiction Offensive. He is currently working on a novella entitled Boneyard Dogs.