STOMPING GROUND - TOM LEINS
I’m standing on the fire escape with Butcher. It’s a hot day, but I can smell rain in the air. He’s smoking a cigarette in silence. Every now and again, he pauses to spit blood onto the bin-bags below. When he talks, his voice drones in the heat.
“Sawbones says that the bullet entered her mouth and passed through the back of her neck. Made a bloody fucking mess.”
I sigh. Mad children’s laughter echoes down the corridor and through the fire escape door.
“Bang. Just another scum-stain in Bone City.”
I suddenly feel exhausted.
“Maybe, Butcher. But she was my scum-stain.”
The Excelsior Hotel is the tallest building in Paignton. From our vantage point, the town centre looks like a tarmac leper colony. I gaze at the dirty web of side-streets wordlessly. Across the alleyway, I notice a badly-bruised woman with orange hair staring at me from the rooftop. A tall, cadaverous man walks over to her and puts his skinny arm around her waist. Her dress rides up and I can see a thin strip of pubic fur at the top of her legs. His lank, greasy hair whips around in the wind and makes me feel sick. He glares at me and flashes me a flick-knife sneer. I know his kind. I’ve had my fair share of gruesome romances and this guy’s days are darker than my nights. The swollen sky cracks. Rain dances across the rooftops. Love’s young dream retreats indoors.
“Just tell me where he is, Butcher.”
“I’m busted, Joe. I’ve got no connections, no juice. You’ll have to do things the old-fashioned way.”
Bent Eddie’s holding court in the TV lounge at the Hotel Alaska. He’s waxing lyrical about the time that he spent a fortnight in Alicante with a sun-ravaged male prostitute. Eddie leans back in his wheelchair and takes a delicate sip of gin.
“He was a lovely boy. Tight little body of a seventeen year-old, leathery old skin of a 45 year-old.”
His cronies chortle as he elaborates further. The laughter dries up as they notice me standing in the doorway. A teenage boy stands up and reaches under his jacket. I stomp on his instep and leave him writhing on the threadbare carpet.
“Hello, young man. What can I do for you?”
“I need to find Roach.”
A flicker of concern creases Eddie’s ugly, misshapen face.
“You heard what happened to Donna?”
Eddie grimaces and wriggles in his wheelchair, saying nothing.
An old-timer in the corner clears his throat.
“You have my condolences, son. There’s a special place in hell reserved for the bastard who did that.”
I nod to him.
“I’ll carry him to the burying ground myself if I have to.”
I grab Eddie by the throat and give it a gentle squeeze.
“Eddie, where’s Roach?”
He grunts, deflated.
“You like the chair? How about I make you quadriplegic next time? See how you like that, motherfucker?”
I let my threat soak in. All the way in. Slowly, with shaking hands, Eddie rips a page out of last week’s TV Guide. He retrieves a cheap biro from his shirt pocket and scrawls three words on the paper in florid handwriting. He folds it up and hands it to me. I slip it into my pocket and nod my thanks to him. He glares at me with sunken eyes as I turn around and walk back into the rain-ruined afternoon. Outside, I take out the piece of paper. Three words. The. Rusty. Cage.
I don’t feel like walking so I flag down a Voodoo Taxi near the bus station. The driver plugs some kind of gypsy cassette into the tape-deck. The music pulses like an open scar. He starts to shout over the music at me.
“You want a lady? I find you a lady. Good price. Clean lady.”
I shake my head irritably and lean back against the leatherette seat. He shrugs and turns the music up even louder. It sounds like animals being slaughtered.
By the time we reach the Rusty Cage, the rain has stopped and sky has turned the colour of concrete. I get out around the corner and watch the doorman for a few minutes. He’s skinny, and he smokes like a bastard. He doesn’t look like much of a threat from here. I emerge from the shadows, trying not to attract suspicion from the scammers and screamers who have congregated on the pavement outside the Rusty Cage. The doorman chuckles when he sees me. I have no idea why. I slip the pick-axe handle out of my overcoat pocket. The doorman looks confused and I jab him sharply in the gut.
“One word and I’ll bounce your eyeballs off the cement, motherfucker.”
I drink two beers in quick succession – for the calories if nothing else – and kill time glaring at the freaks. At 9 p.m., Roach limps in, and heads straight towards the toilets. He’s got a serious kidney infection and has to piss sitting down. I push my beer bottle away and walk across the club. I linger outside waiting for Roach to get settled before slipping inside and locking the door behind me. The bathroom feels hotter than a blast furnace. Inside the cubicle, Roach squeals, obviously in some discomfort. Discomfort is something that I know all about. I kick open the cubicle door and burst in, thrashing wildly with my pick-axe handle. It connects with his nose and I thrust it into his neck when he starts to howl. He slumps back against the toilet, face soaked in blood. I drop the tool into my overcoat pocket and retrieve the moody sawn-off that Butcher slipped me this afternoon. Roach murmurs something about Jesus. I level the filed-down weapon and jam it into his slack mouth. I feel a couple of teeth crack as he resists. His eyes shine with deranged malice.
“You know why I’m here, Roach.”
“Tell me what I need to know and I’ll leave you alone.”
He reaches for the barrel and I wedge it in even further. The piss-stink makes my eyes water.
“Blink once for yes, and twice for no.” He nods in agreement and blinks quickly. He’s even more stupid than he looks. I squeeze not waiting for a second blink. As I pull the trigger a second time, I feel myself waking from a long, sick electric dream. Suddenly the room feels colder than a grave.
BIO: Tom Leins is from Paignton, UK. His short stories have appeared online at 3am Magazine, Dogmatika, Straight From The Fridge, Beat The Dust, Savage Manners, Powder Burn Flash, The Flash Fiction Offensive and A Twist Of Noir.. He is currently hard at work on his first novel Thirsty & Miserable. Get your pound of flesh at: www.myspace.com/tomleins.
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