BLOODY FINGERPRINTS (PART TWO OF THE ‘BAD BLOOD’ SERIES) - TOM LEINS
When you see the sun rise in East Paignton, it looks like a collapsed lung filling up with blood. I gaze through the grilled hospital window at the local bone-yard. Mornings like this make you feel happy to be alive.
I rip the drip-feed out of my arm and watch the yellow liquid spurt weakly against the wall like a dead man’s piss. I heave my dead legs out of the hospital bed and grip the bedside table for support. The ominous plastic sign above my bed warns ‘Paignton Hospital – Trauma Unit.’ As my eyes adjust to the early morning gloom, I grope around for my clothing, half-expecting that it has already been incinerated in the basement by the elderly porter with the lazy eye. I notice a threadbare brown suit hanging on a peg next to the window. The old man in the next bed looks at me pleadingly. His ravaged body is scabbed with piss-blisters. He has yellow eyes and an unlit cigarette in his mouth. I offer him a grim smile and unfasten his trousers. His eyes moisten as I slip on his jacket and retrieve his wallet from the bedside table. The road to oblivion is paved with tiny crimes.
Before I leave the hospital room, I untuck the borrowed shirt and scrutinize my knife wound in the greasy mirror. Someone once said that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. If he was here now I’d shank him in the gut, see how he feels then. I push through the double-doors and step tentatively into the filthy dawn. A piss-coloured haze hangs over the early morning street. I trudge past the graveyard towards Winner Street. During the storms last winter the teeth, knuckles and trinkets from the unmarked graves came loose and flowed down the hill, splattering against the parked cars on Palace Avenue. Poor, dead motherfuckers.
As I reach the top of Church Street, I can see that Winner Street is already choked-up with rubberneckers and prowl cars. I button the old man’s jacket over my oozing midriff and pick my way through the crowds. A prostitute has been beaten to death with a brick outside Cantonese Roy’s slop-shop. I glance down at her corpse: a needle-tracked white girl wearing nothing but an ugly scowl and a cheap fur coat. Her name used to be Shannon. In death, as in life, she looks half-feral. I turn up my collar and sidestep past the emergency services and gawpers. Halfway down Winner Street, Palace Avenue gapes open like a mangy old fanny. I carry on walking – past ‘Spackford’s Seconds’ – his rusty wheelchair abandoned in the doorway; past the Cavendish – boarded-up windows resembling a grim, unnatural smile; past the unnamed muscle bar where the rough trade suck and flounce long past dawn. At the end of the street, outside the House of Chung, a boy-whore in thigh-high boots grins at me through ruby-red lips
“You wanna bump ‘n’ grind, mister?”
I shake my head. Winner Street has really gone to the dogs.
“Take a walk, kid. Too much happiness could kill me right now.”
He scowls and spits petulantly on the tarmac at my feet.
“Your loss, big man.”
I cut down Totnes Road, trying to shake off the early morning chill. Outside the Dirty Lemon, Terry is scrubbing a bloodstain off the wheelchair ramp. He can’t figure out whether to smile at me or scowl, and his face contorts into some kind of leer. I haven’t been here in weeks, but nothing much changes - it smells like medicine and stinks like hell. Anton is centre-stage, grinding in front of the last of the breakfast trade. A bloodshot eye winks at me in the gloom. Jellylegs. I drift towards him, shoes sticking to the dirty linoleum. He’s on mop duty, but he looks far too ill to be working anywhere. Anywhere but the Dirty Lemon, that is. Shit, his skin looks like fucking orange peel.
We shake hands, and I feel his slim hand tremble.
“How long have you been out, ‘Legs?”
“Almost three weeks.”
“Is that long enough to get the prison smell off?”
Over Jellylegs’ shoulder I can see Meathook Mulligan relaxing in a two-seater booth with a pink cocktail. I heard a rumour that they used to be cellmates on the inside. Jellylegs is a tough kid, and I wonder if Meathook managed to make him his bitch. There are some questions that you don’t ask – not even to your friends. I take another look. Meathook has got a face like a factory floor. Bouffant black hair hangs over the collar of his safari jacket. Last time I saw him he was down at the Excelsior Hotel with a pump-action shotgun across his lap. The TV lounge looked like a butcher’s slab, but Meathook was immaculate – pristine safari jacket buttoned up to his throat. He had two cops handcuffed to the metal TV bracket and was making them kiss. I shudder as the bad memory unspools inside my mind.
“Much changed around here, Joe?”
I start to chuckle, but it comes out as a wheeze...
“Not a lot. I was down at the Psycho-A-Go-Go last week, and they still had the same fat girls dancing onstage as last year...”
Jellylegs guffaws. I think back to that night – the fat girls queuing up backstage like so many fleshy products. It was hotter than a Turkish whorehouse. I remember drifting down the corridor into Swollen Roland’s parlour. I half-remember the girl’s face, the taste of her cracked-out lips as she wedged the blade into my guts. Sitting here, shooting the shit with Jellylegs, it feels like some kind of crazy, coked-up dream. Only the pulsing wound in my side reminds me that I nearly died that night. Jellylegs pats me on the back, and drifts back towards the floorshow, mop in hand.
My guts are groaning like a stomped out sex offender in a holding cell, so I signal to Terry, lurking in the doorway with his own bloodstained mop. He looks shifty, and offers me a laminated breakfast menu.
“What’s today’s special?”
“It’s new. I call it the Dirty Burger.”
“What’s in it?”
“Ah. It’s just like a normal burger, but I’ve got meat on the outside, and bread in the middle.”
I look quizzically at him.
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Do you want one?”
“Fuck it, yeah, hook me up.”
I wipe my greasy fingers on the old man’s suit.
Terry beams expectantly at me, fiddling with a filthy bar rag.
“How was it?”
“Dirty. Any more of them and I’ll end back in hospital.”
Terry grins, mistaking my critique for a compliment. As I motion to leave he thrusts a scrap of paper at me.
“Had a phone call for you when you were away. He didn’t leave a message though. Just a name.”
I glance down at the piece of paper. In capitals: ‘WET-LOOK’
Wet-Look is an ex-cop, who was kicked off the force for sodomizing a male prisoner in a holding cell. He operates a gumshoe business out of a poky office above the North Atlantic Video Lounge. His real name is Charles, but I’m not sure whether that’s his first name or surname. He’s a greasy sadist with fat hands and strong arms. He’s got grease-streaked silver hair and unruly mutton-chop sideburns. He hasn’t been near a shower in months, and all of his clothing is tinged yellow with filth. As I walk up the rickety staircase the stink hits me. I peer through the doorway and see him gnawing at an oversized chicken leg. He’s sweating hard, and the stench fills my nostrils. His furniture looks like it has been scavenged off the street. He wipes chicken grease off his chin with his shirt sleeve and runs his fingers through his hair.
“Joseph. Rumours of your demise have been exaggerated.”
I nod, and he smiles joylessly, soaking his throat with a glass of supermarket own-brand brandy. The chipped tumbler clatters against his rotten teeth.
“You want a drink?”
“I probably shouldn’t.”
“I won’t tell if you don’t.”
He smirks and pours three fingers of brandy into his tumbler, sliding it across the scarred desk towards me. I grimace and drink half of it.
“I heard that some bitch stuck a tool in your belly down at the Psycho-A-Go-Go. Damn near killed you.”
“You shouldn’t believe everything you hear.”
He glances at my gut and notices the blood seeping through the old man’s shirt.
“So you don’t want my help?”
“Tracking down the culprit. I used to be a cop you know.”
I sigh, as if I could forget about his illustrious employment history.
“Why are you helping me, Wet-Look?”
“Paignton’s a selfish dirty town. You never know when you might need a favour in return.”
My moral fibre feels corrupted just by being here. I feel like I’m making a pact with the devil. I nod quickly. Wet-Look leans forward and a clump of greasy hair slumps forward across his forehead. I watch nervously as a drop of grease drips from the tip of his hair and fizzes in my drink.
“Don’t worry, Joe. The only way to survive in this town is to corrupt yourself.”
“Chick you’re looking for works part-time at the Babydoll Lounge. Name’s Nadia. She’s fifteen. Be gentle with her.”
I stand up sharply and wince as the pain rips through my gut.
“Fuck off, Wet-Look. She put me in the fucking trauma unit.”
He holds his hands up to placate me, before reaching under his desk and heaving a kit-bag onto the battered woodwork.
“Maybe I can interest you in something from my bag of tricks?”
I peer into the kit-bag uncertainly. When I walk down the rickety wooden steps a few minutes later, brass knuckles, handcuffs and a .32 with the serial number filed off bulge in my jacket pockets. Party time.
Every street in Paignton has its own smell, but once you reach the outskirts of town everything starts to smell like rotten animal carcasses. I’m in the Paignton badlands, where the whores too ravaged to operate on the fringes of polite society ply their trade. This town’s industrial corridor is littered with four-story concrete shells that were abandoned when the contractor was found hip-deep in wet cement, face caved in with a pickax. Robert Fontaine greased a few palms, and turned one of these abandoned buildings into the Babydoll Lounge. As I walk across the parking lot I see a man with a face full of crank-sores getting jerked off in the back seat of a small, rusted-out car. The afternoon sky looks dirty over the half-finished industrial landscape. Outside the Babydoll Lounge, Michael Marques puffs on his tiny cigarillo as the unnecessary neon glare pulses behind him. His hair is matted with dried blood. He may be small, but he’s the toughest goddamn midget I’ve ever met. He drops his thin, black cigarillo in the gutter and clears his throat.
“You don’t look so good, man.”
“Trust me – I feel even worse than I look.”
“Shit. You really are fucked up! You’ve been making a lotta noise. For a dead man, that is.”
“Sometimes it can’t be helped...”
He glances up at me and grins.
“Are you gonna make a mess in there?”
“That depends how many people try to get in my way.”
He steps aside, laughing.
“See you on the other side, brother.”
Robert Fontaine claims to be the only pornographer in Paignton who’s into kiddie filth for the cash; although, frankly, I have my doubts. I walk through the lobby, glancing at the preteen portraits on the wall and feel the sickness wash over me. I bypass the lounge-bar, ignoring the timid new girl exposing herself under the greasy lights in front of a handful of disinterested deviants. The word on the street is that this place doesn’t get going until after midnight. Robert keeps his cutest girls under lock and key until then. I knock twice on his office door, and enter without waiting for a response. Fontaine is barely ten years older than me, but he looks at least twice my age. He’s got a close-cropped head of prematurely grey hair and a strangely wrinkled brow that makes him look permanently perplexed. The only things noticeable about him are his studied ordinariness and unsettling knack for idle chatter. I knew him back when he was pulling off greasy scams down at the bus station, luring shivering runaways into his hatchback for teenage kicks. He started pissing with the big dogs when his estranged father shuffled off this mortal coil, unwittingly bequeathing his riches to his disgraced son. If rumours are to be believed, he keeps the family bones in his safe, alongside his collection of homemade porn. He’s sitting at his desk, idly flipping through a sex-toy catalogue. He looks up curiously, before turning his attentions back to the catalogue.
“You wouldn’t believe the kind of thing that the Japanese are peddling now. Take this, for example. A fake pussy made of genuine cat fur. Designed to make pretty little boys look like pretty little girls. Marvelous.”
I swallow the bile in my throat, and feel my knife-wound tingle as the bile settles in my ruptured gut. Fontaine continues to flick through his catalogue. Without looking up:
“What’s happening, Joe? You come around here, thinking that maybe you can get a lick for free? You know that Robert Fontaine doesn’t give freebies.”
I pause, choosing my words carefully.
“Come on, Robert – what do you take me for? As impressive as it is, you know I don’t dig your scene.”
He taps cigarette ash into a heart-shaped ashtray on his desk and raises an eyebrow.
“I’ve never met a man who didn’t dig underage pussy.”
“What can I say? Maybe you should broaden your social circle?”
He chuckles amiably.
“Each to his own. Please take a seat.”
I settle in one of the leather armchairs adjacent to his desk.
“What can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for a girl.”
“Well, why did you come to me? The girls I deal with are, well, girls.”
“Her name’s Nadia. I need to speak to her.”
He flashes me his liar’s grin.
“There’s no one of that name in...my employment.”
“I have it on good authority that she’s somewhere in this building.”
“Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. Either way, I don’t see how it is of any concern of yours. If you must know, she’s a rich man’s plaything.”
“The only rich man I can see here is you, Robert.”
He smiles contentedly, and fingers the panic button on the underside of his desk.
“Please leave now, Joe. Otherwise I’ll get Bruno to chew you up like raw meat.”
An upholstered door creaks open in the corner, and Bruno trudges into the room, cracking his huge knuckles for my benefit.
“What’s up, Bruno?”
He grunts and circles the desk, continuing to crack his knuckles. I know Bruno all too well. He’s the kind of guy who busts you wide open and then carries on stomping. I’m not sure that I can withstand a sustained stomping in my present condition, so I dip into my jacket pocket and withdraw the .32 Wet-Look loaned me. Bruno keeps on coming. He’s smarter than he looks, and he knows that I’ve never shot anyone.
I squeeze the trigger and put a bullet through his left foot. He yelps and crashes to the ground. I move in and pistol-whip his skull into the carpet. Even the back of his head is layered in flab, and I have to hit him three times before I dent the bone. Fat fuck. I twist the .32 in my hand and point it at Robert.
“What’s the code, motherfucker?”
I stomp towards him and wedge the pistol into his eye-socket, rotating it sharply. I haul him up by his collar and slam him into the upholstered door, face-first. His nose cracks and when he turns around to protest, his mouth is already full of blood. His sweaty fingers fumble uncertainly over the keypad, but the panel beeps and the door creaks open. I whip the piece across the back of his head and jam him into the door-frame to stop it from closing behind me.
Fontaine’s romper room is littered with the signs of affluent boredom. Only the harnesses, chains and abundance of plastic sheeting suggest that it’s a pervert’s paradise rather than a cultured gentleman’s retreat. In the corner, Nadia’s mouldy body is shrunken like a doll. Her skin has a blue tinge, and only her crimson-painted mouth still looks alive. I kneel down next to her corpse and close her bloodshot eyes, inadvertently leaving bloody fingerprints on her pale eyelids in the process. I’m about to stand up, when I notice something tucked into her black lace panties. I retrieve it carefully, unwilling to violate her ravaged teenage body any further. It’s one of Swollen Roland’s oversized business cards. There are some words scrawled on the back of the card in unusually florid script. “Dear Joe, Welcome to the Kill-Pit. Kind Regards, Roland Smart.” That fat motherfucker has been playing me all along. I slip the business card into my jacket pocket and finger my own broken meat for collateral damage. I step over Fontaine’s limp body and vomit bile all over the thick shag-pile carpet. I feel lightheaded as my mind swims with ideas of inflicting revenge on Swollen Roland. I stumble forward, narrowly missing the desk as I fall. I taste carpet as I pass out. Swollen fucking Roland. The fatter they come, the harder they fall...
To Be Continued...
BIO: Tom Leins is from Paignton, UK. His short stories have appeared online at Beat The Dust, Hit & Run Magazine, Disenthralled, Flash Fiction Offensive, Powder Burn Flash and A Twist Of Noir. He also writes a weekly DVD column, entitled Sex, Leins & Videotape.