Splatterproof is Not a Challenge

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?

Six.

Or seven.

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.


Bloater

Midnight. The Slop Shop.

The woman onstage looks around 60. She is wearing purple sequinned bikini bottoms and mismatched shoes. Her skin is tanned brown like leather. It reminds me of the suitcase my mother packed when she walked out on me and my pederast father all those years ago. Her stomach is swollen, and it looks like she is pregnant, but she can’t be, can she?

I keep staring at her, hoping it will help me blot out what Banyan is saying, but it doesn’t. Not really.

*  * *

Donald Fuck waddles back to our booth, clutching a tray of drinks. The cocktail he passes me is the color of lung-blood. I first met Donald Furkovski – Donald Fuck to his friends – when he was peddling his huckster shtick down in Orlando, trawling tourist hotel cocktail bars for marks.

He is a British ex-pat – wider than he is tall. When we met, his wallet was full of stolen credit cards and gas station business cards. Back then, he had a crummy side-line charging tourists $10 a pop to watch an ex-wrestler named Freddie Regal train at a strip-mall gym called Knuckle Town. Freddie didn’t train very hard – his double hip-replacement saw to that. His face was swollen, his hairline further back than it was when he was still on TV. He would strut around, do a few squat thrusts, and then let the kids try on his grubby old title belt.

Knuckle Town was shut down after the cops realised that it was a front for a high-stakes poker ring. I was manning the door when they arrived. The sawed-off shotgun with pistol grip they found holstered beneath my jacket bought me a three-year jolt in the Big House. Donald, predictably, was nowhere to be seen.

* * *

I was surprised when Donald picked me up this afternoon, outside Santa Rosa Correctional Institution. Told me he owed me. Told me he would make me rich.

I’m still wearing the same grey suit and black silk shirt I wore in court. Even in a dive like the Slop Shop I am conscious about the clumsy teardrop tattoos on my cheeks… the thick-lensed coke bottle glasses the state provided… my patchy buzz-cut.

Banyan sips at his cream liqueur.

“Donald says you can procure me a boy.”

I drink my cocktail and stare at the dancer. She stumbles and her glasses slip off her face, onto the floor. A man in the front row – wearing a camouflage jacket with the sleeves hacked off – steps forward and tries to grab her pussy.

“No older than 9,” Banyan drawls.

The dancer slaps him across the face.

“I need him by Friday night.”

The redneck shatters her jaw with one punch.

Banyan grins woozily at me. I feel hot sick rising in my throat as I nod my agreement.

Donald squeezes my shoulder.

“Atta boy!”

* * *

Friday night. 7pm.

I arranged to collect my fee from Donald on the way to Banyan’s gated community. He wanted to inspect the boy before delivery.

Cheap bastard told me that he would deduct $100 from my $1,000 finder’s fee for every year that he suspected the boy was over the age of 9.

We meet in the far corner of the Slop Shop parking lot. Under the sodium glare of the cracked streetlight Donald looks pale and hollow-eyed.

“Any trouble?”

“Not much.”

He flashes me a queasy grin.

I pop the trunk, and the stink of dead flesh oozes out. The broken body has started to bloat. Banyan’s asshole gapes open preposterously, and a chunk of his lower spine is missing.

Donald turns to me, incredulously, and I damn near take his head off with my shovel.

I found Banyan last night, cruising for rough trade in the labyrinthine concrete sprawl around Testament Heights. I dragged him out of his SUV and beat him like a rented mule. When I was done I stuck my father’s shotgun in Banyan’s asshole and blew a hole right through the sick fuck.

I heave Donald’s lumpy body on top of Banyan’s bloated corpse and struggle to shut the trunk.

Time to work up a sweat.

It’s going to be a deep fucking grave.


Ventilator Blues

I wake up with a boot across my throat and a gun barrel wedged in my eye socket.

The man holding the revolver is so decrepit he looks like he may have misplaced his own death certificate. He winks at me with a lazy eye.

“The boss wants a word…”

His accent is thicker than his synthetic hairpiece.

“He can have two. ‘Fuck’ and ‘You’.”

The hood laughs indulgently.

Then he splits my scalp open with the barrel of his gun. A good, old-fashioned pistol-whipping. Some things never go out of style.

***

The TV lounge at the Black Regent is full of damaged-looking junkies and wheelchair-bound prostitutes. The boxy TV in the corner fizzes with static. Last month the new management turned the downstairs dining room into a partitioned-off trick-pad to cater for the abundance of handicapped trade.

The Andretti Family used to have the seafront sex business locked down, but thanks to the Poles they no longer have skin in that particular game. It was a memorably bloody turf war – for anyone that wasn’t caught in the crossfire, that is.

Wojtek Jr is like a watered-down version of Wojtek Sr. His father was an evil bastard, but at least he played by the rules. The old man had only been hooked up to his iron lung for an hour when Junior sent a couple of goons into Moretti’s Ristorante with hatchets and cleavers. There was so much blood spilled on the red and white checked tablecloths that they had to burn them in the back yard after hauling away all of the shiny-suited bodies.

***

Junior is in the back office, slurping the life out of a 500ml can of Zubr. I can hear the unholy ‘woosh’ of his father’s iron lung in an adjacent room.

The girl on her knees in front of him is called Shivonne. I recognise the deep knife scars across her back. She turns and looks at me nervously and resumes sucking Wojtek’s stubby cock. I knew her late father. He wouldn’t be turning in his grave because he didn’t have one. He was torn apart by dogs last year, and his remains were scraped up and scattered across the frozen winter mud.

Wojtek finishes his beer and wipes his dick on Shivonne’s hair.

“You like warm pussy? I’m running a two for one special. One week only.”

“Business slow, huh?”

He snorts.

“No. I’m a generous fucking guy.”

Shivonne eyeballs me as she buttons up her pale pink blouse. She ranks somewhere between damaged goods and dangerously fucked on life’s eternal sliding scale.

“Hey. Don’t look at her – look at me.”

I turn to face him. He’s short and stocky – slightly overweight. Not ugly, just bland.

“You owed my father money, Mr Rey. I’ve been going over his books. That debt has now passed to me.”

Another well-worn cliché to add to my tough-guy handbook.

“I understand.”

He runs a hand through his lightly gelled hair.

“Most people try to reason with me.”

“Would it do me any good?”

He chuckles.

“I will give you a week. Like I said, I’m a generous fucking guy.”

***

I glance down the hallway towards the lobby. The elderly hoodlum is collapsed in an easy chair, revolver dangling limply from his liver-spotted hand. He looks asleep, or maybe just drunk.

I duck into the next room. It looks like some kind of storeroom. The iron lung dominates the small space. It is roughly the size of a hatchback, but looks far heavier. I stare at Senior’s cadaverous face. He looks frail and yellow-skinned. He used to smell of smoker’s toothpaste and cheap cologne, but now stinks of rot and decay.

“Out.”

In the doorway, the leathery gunman sags beneath his stupendous hairpiece.

I hold my hands up, unthreateningly.

“Just paying my last respects.”

He sneers.

As I motion to leave, I wrap the ventilator’s power cord around my ankle, twice, and yank the plug out of its socket. If Wojtek could still talk, I’m sure that the old bastard would thank me for it.

Who knows? Maybe Junior will give me the benefit of the doubt if I help reduce his fucking electricity bill…


Skin Trade

I’m standing outside a sea-front biker bar called the Burning Wheel picking at a tray of greasy-looking meat with a plastic fork. The bar used to be known as the Tenderloin Bar & Grill, but it has been under new management since a failed arson attempt last Christmas.

It’s a Friday night, and the mood is brutal. Two gypsies are fighting in the car-park, but only one of them has a length of chain. A crowd of drunken degenerates roar their approval. The fattest gypsy is a bile-spitting knucklehead called Franky Elias. I don’t know the other guy, but he is the one with the chain. He whips Franky across the spine and he drops to his knees. He looks up from the oil-stained concrete, wheezing with dread. I look away as his opponent wraps the chain around Franky’s throat. Behind me the sunset bleeds into the water. When I turn back, Franky’s fat tongue dangles lazily from his dead mouth. He looks even uglier dead than he did alive.

Across the car park a morbidly obese skinhead glares at me. Me and Sugar-Lump have history. Last year I had a run-in with a gang of Aryans, and he was on the fringes of the scene – like a fat girl at a disco. He never seemed to have the stomach for the politics, but I’m not one to draw distinctions: those Nazi fucks are all stink-stains at the end of the day. Last time we met I broke Sugar-Lump’s fat ankles and left him howling in pain in a drained swimming pool. He starts hobbling towards me through the crowd, so I head inside to the bar.

I wait patiently until Sugar-Lump wobbles through the fire exit, and slam the fire extinguisher into the back of his head. His skull is so layered with flab that it takes two attempts to knock him off his feet. When he hits the deck I roll him under the pool table and grab a cue from the rack. The bar area is crowded with tattooed, big-thighed women. I elbow my way through the throng and order a double-vodka from the elderly barman. I walk a complete circuit of the bar before heading down the wrought-iron staircase towards the howls emanating from the basement.

I edge down into the gloom. The only thing I can see is the flickering red light of the camcorder. By the time I reach the bottom of the stairs the chamber of shrieks has gone unnervingly quiet. The girl has blacked out, and lies curled in a ball at the big man’s feet.

His name is Rusty Waters and he is a semi-retired Bluesman, notorious for his rabid impulses. I heard that until recently he had been muling tar for the Aryans. Still, I guess homemade porno is more fun. He’s stripped to the waist. Big black veins criss-cross his pale skin. He slips on a Mexican wrestling mask and tightens his bloodied butcher’s apron and I suddenly feel thick-headed. I lurch forward and swing the pool cue at him. It cracks against his neck. He shakes his head groggily, and I keep him at arm’s length with the busted stick.

“Give me the girl, Rusty, and I promise not to hurt you too bad.”

He scowls at me and wipes his nose on the already bloody apron.

“Fuck off, kid. I’ve had plenty of guys come after me, and I’ve buried them all.”

 

He steps forward and I slam the pool cue into his face again. His blood runs black, coursing down his chest in thick streams. He snorts like a hog.

“Get your own girl, kid – this one’s mine.”

I snap a kick into his left kneecap and he hits the deck like a sack of shit. Blood drips down his face like rainwater.

I scoop up the girl, still holding the shattered pool cue. She is one of Harry Warsaw’s strippers. Cayenne. Or Candy.

Rusty offers me a blood-streaked grin.

“It’s your funeral, kid.”

I stomp him, twice in quick succession. Hard enough to put him out of commission, but not hard enough to kill him. There are plenty of ghosts in this town already.


Attracting Flies

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, boss…”

“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.


There is a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends

Old age had blurred Sol Horror into a walking ghost. He had made a living out of swallowing up this town’s demons. Until, that was, Rudy Russo handcuffed him to the slaughterhouse railings and thrashed him to within an inch of his life. He was an elderly man, and Rudy could have killed him with his bare hands, but he chose to use a tyre-iron instead. Sol died two days later, and Rudy took over his smack racket within a matter of days. Rudy was seventeen. He had rust coloured hair, bloodshot eyes and violent streak wider than his skinny, white ass. Me? I had all Sol Horror’s smack.

***

The men in the truck were drunk, and they had shotguns. I tried to focus on their faces, but the late afternoon glare left me sun-blinded. Alouette was standing on the rusted steps of the trailer, smoking a brown cigarette. Her unwashed face was a mess of cocaine snot and bleary bedroom eyes.

“So, are you gonna invite me in to this pretty little trailer of yours, or do I have to wait in the car.”

She turned around wordlessly, and I followed her inside. The truck accelerated away, back wheels coughing up dust. I was surprised to see Charles was already inside. I hadn’t seen his car in the parking lot. He was wedged into the patched-up armchair, gut protruding underneath his shabby polo-shirt.  I looked quizzically at him, and he shook his head enigmatically.

“You want a drink, Joe?”

“You got any beer, Alouette?”

“Maybe.”

She drifted into the kitchenette and started fumbling through the refrigerator. I walked into her bedroom and took off my boots.

 ***

Alouette undressed with a slow-motion junkie dance that made my dick throb.  She lay on the single-bed, reached for my cock and passed out.  I played dot-to-dot with her puncture wounds and my tongue. I licked the translucent junkie prose off her pale, unwashed torso. The thin film of sweat tasted of saccharine.  I fucked her motionless body until my cock burned. When I was done I lay down on my threadbare carpet, wishing I owned a gun. I gazed across at Alouette, demurely vulgar on the bed, already struggling to appreciate her sickly appeal.

 ***

I buttoned up my jeans and walked back into the sitting room. Charles was watching TV with the sound turned down. I wondered if he was listening to me have sex. He heaved his bulk out of the easy chair, trudged across the pockmarked linoleum and shut the bedroom door behind me. Charles looked at me, and dabbed at his swollen eye with a dirty handkerchief.

“Do the right thing, son.”

He coughs something into the handkerchief.

“If you leave her in this snake-pit they’ll pick her bones clean.”

He hands me another beer from the refrigerator, and we drink them in silence. Through the flyscreen I see the truck driver turn off his headlights as he enters the trailer park. He skids off the buckled concrete, and the tyres chew up the loose gravel as he pulls up next to my car. I stand on the steps, nursing my beer. Rudy opens the truck door and squints up at me.

“How would you like your wife made ugly?”

“She’s my ex-wife, but thanks for asking.”

Rudy chuckles.

“I’ve heard you’re a smart guy. Don’t be a smart-ass. Give me back the smack, Joe. That way I won’t have to hurt you too bad.”

“Fuck you Rudy. Fuck you.”

I let the screen door slam behind me and collapse onto the couch, suddenly bone-tired. After a few minutes I hear the truck reverse off the gravel and out of the trailer-park. Charles hands me another beer.

“Stupid fucking hillbillies.”

 ***

Two days later. The red sky over the motel looks angry and inflamed. Rudy is watching Nicaraguan snuff movies in his room, hands in his pants.

“Hello, Rudy”.

He flashes me a strychnine grin and I slash at his neck with my throat-knife.

“How does it feel to have your throat slit by a ghost?”