The air smells of blood and burnt flesh. The woman is sprawled across a frayed Oriental carpet with a gunshot wound in her neck. Her hair is wispy from too many dye-jobs. She is wearing a man’s shirt and sequinned blue bikini bottoms. Underneath it looks like her public hair has been trimmed into a heart shape.
I crack my knuckles as Don Carlyle wipes the blood off his chin with his fat, ruined hand. He’s wearing a light-coloured sport jacket and dark slacks. The smoking gun dangles limply from his good hand.
“Fuck you, Joe.”
“No, fuck you, Don.”
I laugh, in spite of myself.
“I haven’t seen you look this humiliated since your mother used to send you to the corner shop to buy condoms.”
Don spits blood on the floor. His eyes are too close together, and it gives his face a strangely earnest look.
“Are you gonna let him speak to me like that, boss?”
In Ray Coody’s organisation the man with the most jail-time rules the roost. My hands are clean, so I’m at the bottom of the pile. Ray smiles meaninglessly. He is only 45, but his face is wrinkled like a ball-bag.
“This is war, and during war-time the rules are different.”
“But nothing, Don. You fucked up. For a smart man in a dumb racket you pull some pretty stupid shit.”
Don’s huge, wet-lipped mouth gapes open. I guess that no one has ever called him smart before.
I imagine him gasping for air with a bullet-hole in his fat neck, but he won’t let me get close to him again. If I go for his gun he’ll beat me like a piñata.
“The thing is, Don, when you make a mess in this town your clear it up with your fucking tongue.”
Don looks blankly at Ray, and then down at the dead girl. Within seconds Ray is at his side, with a choke-rope wrapped around Don’s neck. His eyes bulge out of their sockets, and go the colour of tainted milk. Ray jerks to the side and snaps Don’s neck like a rotten branch. His body thumps to the floor and his foot spasms, sending his orthopaedic shoe bouncing off the greasy carpet.
We walk down the hotel staircase towards the lobby. A pair of platinum blondes are standing awkwardly against the front desk. The girl on the left flashes Ray a Lolita smile. She is wearing a strappy evening dress, and her nipples are rigid with cold. The second girl looks nervous. Looks more nervous than I feel.
“I tell you, Joe: Polish pussy – the best thing to happen to Paignton in the last five years.”
I grunt in reply; Ray’s small-talk never ceases to surprise me.
The girls fall into step behind us, and I can hear their high heels clacking on the polished floor.
A mentally-ill vice cop named Jimmy Santos is sitting in an armchair, trying to look inconspicuous. He has the ghostly pallor of a man who has spent most of his adult life loitering in pornographic bookshops. Ray walks pointedly towards Jimmy and shoots his cuffs, revealing a chunky gold watch I saw him steal off a Winner Street pimp at knife-point.
“Jimmy. What brings you to an establishment like this?”
“I’m gonna nail you to the fuckin’ wall, Coody. I’m gonna rip your fuckin’ guts out with a screwdriver and feed them to your dogs.”
His breath smells putrid, like spoiled meat, but Ray seems not to notice and chuckles amiably.
Jimmy turns to me.
“Don’t worry son, I’ll bring you cigarettes in prison”.
I think of telling him that I don’t smoke, but one look into his junked-out eyeballs persuades me otherwise. He glares at Ray and then at the Polish hookers – staring straight through me. His hands start to shake as he lights a cigarette.
I hold the door open for Ray and the girls, and a gust of stagnant air wafts into the lobby, putting out Jimmy’s cigarette. As we walk out into the leaden morning I try to picture Don Carlyle attracting flies, but he’s nothing but a weird, ugly memory.