BLOODY KISSES - TOM LEINS
People say that if you drive far enough out of Paignton the landscape starts to unravel. I wouldn’t know - I’ve never left.
It was a Friday night, and I was down at the Psycho-A-Go-Go, drinking away my pay-packet. The Psycho is one of those stark, deprived spaces that you’ve heard so much about. It first opened its doors two years ago as a makeshift strip club in the basement of a transient hotel called the Hotel Alaska. Last year, the Alaska was razed to the ground by a pair of meth-chefs called Gregg and Duane, who nodded out whilst boiling up their medicine. The roaches may not have survived, but the Psycho did, and ever since the place has gone from strength to strength.
I’m four drinks in, and the night is starting to bleed at the edges. The parlour snakes are practicing their frazzled seduction techniques in the bathroom mirror before slithering up to the stage and hitting on the one-armed go-go dancers. When all else fails, one or two just try hitting them... The Psycho-A-Go-Go is the place where a whole town full of lurkers go when they want to unwind. With this much subhuman scum in the vicinity, the club needs someone to dispense a little bit of tough love, and that’s where Half-Pint comes in. He’s the doorman – wider than he is tall, and twice as murderous. He lumbers around the club like a rhinoceros on a crack drip. Busting heads and taking names. Whenever he throws a punch, the DJ turns up the music to drown out the inevitable ruckus. As I reach for my fifth drink, he stands next to my booth, glaring at me through fat blank eyes. I don’t mind. Sex and territory are the only primal urges he truly understands.
Since I’ve been small, I’ve been good at finding meaning in meaningless places. I’d been going steady with Poppy for nearly six months. She was skag-skinny, but, unusually for this place, she still had both arms. When she finishes dancing, she weaves her way through the sweaty Friday night throng, beer bottle in hand, cigarette dangling from her bottom lip. She crunches the half-finished smoke underfoot and offers me a sultry look. I grin, and she forces her tongue so far back in my throat that I start to choke. She kisses me hungrily as a fist-fight erupts nearby. Within seconds, the club is drenched in sick feedback meltdown. Eventually I come up for air. Poppy offers me an unfamiliar brand of cigarette and I decline. Even after six months, she has difficulties grasping the fact that I don’t actually smoke.
“You want a drink, honey?”
“Sure. First I gotta see a man about a mule.”
She shrugs and drifts back into the crowd scene.
I slip out of the fire exit and circle back round to the front entrance. Ritchie is manning the ticket booth. He’s a dirt-bag booze-hound with a nasty habit of beating hookers. He used to own a chain of dirty video shops, but now he has fallen on hard times and pimps out runaways and derelicts for a guy named Swollen Roland. Weekends he works at the Psycho-A-Go-Go – presumably for the fringe benefits, rather than any kind of job satisfaction.
“Hey, Ritchie, is Roland around tonight?”
“No, not tonight.”
“Shit. I was hoping to talk business with him.”
I shrug, nonchalantly.
“You still work for Ray Coody?”
I shrug, again.
“Shame. I heard that last year Ray Coody made more money than God.”
I make small-talk with Ritchie for a few minutes, staring over his shoulder into the belly of the building. When a group of drunken tourists pour through the double doors, I make myself scarce, brushing off Ritchie’s questions like dead fleas. When the Hotel Alaska burned down, Swollen Roland greased a few palms and turned the least charred downstairs bedrooms into a rudimentary office space. I’ve been here once or twice with Ray, and trace my way back without too much difficulty. The flickering filament bulbs cast increasingly freaky shadows as I edge down the corridor towards Roland’s office. When I arrive, I press my ear up against the door, but the only sound I can hear is the lazy rumble of Roland’s reinforced Jacuzzi.
I smile to myself. Reinforced Jacuzzi. Fat motherfucker.
I try the door handle and it creaks open first time. I grope for the light switch and the room is bathed in sick fluorescent light. I step inside and my eyes adjust to the artificial glare. The Jacuzzi in the corner bubbles with dirty water. A girl is perched on the edge, smoking a cigarette. She looks up and smiles, uncertainly. Her expensive cocktail dress looks as shapeless as a burlap sack on her bony frame. Her dirt-stained features look sketched out on something or other. I don’t recognise her face, but I recognise her shoes. She dances downstairs on Thirsty Thursdays. Her cracked lips frame a broken smile.
“Hello, Joe. Long time, no see.”
I’m about to respond, but I realise that I don’t actually know her name.
As I walk towards her, the door clicks shut behind me. I turn to see Luther Smart drifting into the middle of the room, clutching a choke-rope. Luther is Roland’s guttersnipe half-brother. He’s a pockmarked coke-fiend with a rictus grin. Crooked as a deformed snake and twice as ugly. He’s also really fucking stupid. I glance around for something to distract him with, and see a fat stack of cash sitting on Roland’s desk. I nudge the desk with my hip, and the stack of banknotes topples onto the carpet. The only thing that Luther likes more than cocaine is money. He eyes me warily and crouches to retrieve the cash. As he stoops down, I kick him in the throat. This boss-eyed motherfucker is dumber than a box of hair.
I prop Luther up against the Jacuzzi to stop him choking on his own blood. The motor whirs lazily. The carpet around the edge of the Jacuzzi is soaking wet. I retrieve the banknotes from Luther’s clenched fist and cram them into my jacket pockets. Even the ones splattered with his dirty blood. I take a cursory glance around the office before heading for the door. Before I can leave, the crack-whore in the corner drifts into my arms and presses her lips against mine. Her mouth tastes like cheap vodka.
“You don’t get it do you?”
“This isn’t your story, Joe.”
I try to pull back but the blade rips open my guts. I can’t seem to wriggle out of her bony grasp. She kisses me one last time before twisting the knife sharply. Two streets away, a prowl-car siren howls like a demented child. The last thing I remember before losing consciousness is her bloodstained cocktail dress. It clings to her scrawny torso as she walks out of my life and into someone else’s story. It doesn’t matter to me. Dead men don’t get paid...
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.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago