Do you know how many times you need to bounce a man’s skull off a breezeblock wall before you split the epidermis, shatter the brain-pan and draw blood?
I lost count. Like self-control, numbers have never been my strong point.
I don’t have many marketable skills, but a talent for revenge is top of the fucking list…
Five Hours Earlier.
Stephen Mackey is a slum lord.
I did a double-take when he walked into the Dirty Lemon, because I had heard that he was dead. Not that it’s particularly hard to fake your own death in this town. If you know the right counterfeiter, you can get a passable death certificate for the price of a carton of cigarettes.
He wanted me to stake out one of his shitty rental properties. Said he had been hit by Mucky Mickey Molloy and his posse of teenage knife-boys six times already this month. They prowl dead-end streets, breaking in to parked cars – robbing power-tools, handbags, whatever the fuck is lying around.
Accepting a job off a dead man is never going to end well – the only uncertainty is who it ends badly for…
• • •
I hear the familiar smash of brick on glass and roll out of my sleeping bag, scrambling towards the front door. I grab my claw-hammer from the telephone table and fling the door open.
He’s half my age – a skinny streak of piss – shell-suited and shell-shocked.
“Drop the bag, or I’ll break your fucking arms.”
We are under the queasy glow of a streetlight, so I know he can see the scarred forearms under my vest.
“Fuck off, old man.”
He turns and legs it towards a dented grey Vauxhall Cavalier.
I’m in no mood to run, so I hurl the hammer at his skull. It catches him with a grisly crunch and he hits the tarmac teeth-first.
I retrieve the tool and break his right elbow, before clambering onto the back of the car. I lash the hammer at the roof, pockmarking the rusted metalwork. Once, twice, three times.
One of the doors creaks open, but I’m too distracted to care.
I reassess my priorities as soon as the Taser snags in my gut. My fingers tremble as I try to wrench the tiny barbs free.
Then a second Taser blast hits my lower back – right next to my bastard spine.
Then I fall off the fucking car.
• • •
Swallow your pride. Swallow your own blood. Just keep gulping it down. It isn’t pleasant, but it all goes down the same fucking way…
The man with the lump hammer is a cadaverous ex-junkie called Garry Eastlake. I had heard rumours that Mucky Mickey used him for the grim jobs that nobody else was willing to do, but I never expected to find out first-hand. His petulant lips look discoloured, like he has been experimenting with stolen Superdrug lipsticks.
Mickey wheezes as he unfurls the plastic sheeting – his gut hanging over his soiled chinos like a bag of medical waste.
He looks at me sadly – I’m tethered to an old kitchen chair with a length of rope.
“I hope it was worth it, son?”
I grunt. It never is.
The two men step into disposable white coveralls – Mickey struggling to zip the suit up past his stomach.
“Splatterproof, son. I buy them in bulk from a guy at Newton Abbot market.”
I could scream, but it wouldn’t do me any good. I’m deep in the guts of Paignton – some clumsily excavated basement or other.
“Any last requests?”
I shake my head.
“Not that it would do you any fucking good!”
They laugh like drains – their guttural laughter mingling in the gloom.
I topple my chair sideways – hoping it’ll smash, but it remains intact, and all I do is trap my left arm.
Still laughing, they try to haul me off the floor.
I sweep Mucky Mickey’s legs away and he hits the concrete like a sack of shit.
Eastlake wrenches me across the sheeting towards him and his lump hammer.
The rope goes slack as it starts to unfurl, and I feel myself smile for the first time today.
I’m back in the fucking game.