Spaulding was in his eighties, and looked far too vulnerable to put a proper beating on, but I had agreed to give Marie Andretti at least five of his teeth in order to get my full fee. They came loose effortlessly, and the old bastard bled like a stuck pig regardless.
Last year Spaulding and his associates performed 24 black-market kidney transplants in a makeshift operating room up at Paignton Yards. The way the scam was set up, middlemen took most of the money, and the surgical procedure was so shoddy that the recipient often contracted hepatitis or even HIV from the dirty medical equipment.
One of Spaulding’s most recent clients was Marie’s nephew, Johnny Angelillo.
No sooner had Johnny received the transplant, Spaulding’s stooges grabbed him and dragged him back into the operating theatre – ripped the organ right out of him, and let him bleed out on the gravel. Apparently, they had received a higher offer… In this town, everyone has a price.
When I eventually arrive back at my rooming house, the desk-jockey eyes my bloody shirt suspiciously. He probably wants to know how soon before he rents the room out again. As I trudge up the stairs the drops of blood are barely noticeable on the maroon carpet. I inspect the gaping knife wound in my shoulder in the mirror of the communal bathroom. It looks fucking ugly. I pack it with cheap toilet paper and stumble down the hallway to my room. The door is ajar. I rub my eyeballs with bruised knuckles.
My least favourite ex-cop. He is sat on my bed in a greasy suit, rat-tail sap in his right hand, cock pulsing against his tight trousers.
He doesn’t look well. His skin the colour of cement dust, and big clumps of his lank hair seem to be missing.
He points at my shirt with a ragged, over-long fingernail.
“Still whoring yourself out to the highest bidder?”
“Don’t blame me, blame market forces.”
I take a hard look at him. He was always fat, but he has bloated up like a waterlogged corpse.
“I thought you had left town?”
Earlier this year he was chased out of Paignton by his ex-cop buddies after sodomising two rent-boys with a retractable baton. Afterwards, he apparently made them sodomise one another, while he wanked into a jam jar. He’s a sick fucker.
I heard that he was living in Plymouth, with his ex-brother-in-law, above an ‘extreme’ tattoo parlour.
I slowly reach into my boot for my pig-knife.
“Don’t flatter yourself, sweetheart. I’ve won better looking boys than you in poker games.”
I grunt, but keep hold of the blade.
“Why are you here?”
“Everyone comes back to Paignton sooner or later – even if it is just to die.”
He offers me a brief, demented cackle and coughs into his handkerchief melodramatically.
“Do you know Harlan Deloitte?”
Paignton’s richest man.
“But you know of him?”
Collector of the occult and the arcane.
“Sure. His fucking reputation precedes him.”
Hoarder of unknown horrors.
“I have a job for you.”
“What is this, one last pay-day, then you disappear into the sunset?”
His yellow eyes twinkle, and he scratches his balls with the leather edge of the sap.
“Something like that.”
I glance down at my bloody clothing and feel the loose teeth in my pocket. My life feels like a series of lurid little moments – stitched together, badly.
I nod, and Wet-Look offers me a rancid smile.
His eyes bore into me, and I feel my balls creep up into my gut.
24 hours later.
The watery-looking winter sun hangs low above the ugly, scattered guesthouses on Newton Road, and casts long, awkward shadows across the railway line. One of those misshapen buildings is a halfway house for recently paroled sex offenders. At least two are crack-dens.
I climb the loose breezeblock steps and enter the dented aluminium trailer that doubles as an office at Lock ‘n’ Roll Self Storage.
“Mr Rey. Long time, no see.”
I nod, wordlessly.
Karl Krazinsky is slumped across a swivel chair behind a second-hand desk. His white cropped hair stands out against his garish purple and black jogging suit.
The tracksuit is a size too small, and bulges in all of the wrong places.
His eyes are blank and bloodshot. It’s after midday, so his black coffee will be laced with liqueur, or something else strong enough to dilute the bad memories. I understand all too well, but I don’t sympathise. Not after the things he and his family have done.
“There has been a lot of water under the bridge, Mr Rey.”
“A lot of other stuff, too.”
He grunts. I put one of his brothers in hospital, another one in prison. Both of them deserved it.
Frankly, I’m surprised I’m here.
I knew Krazinsky when he was still called Giancarlo Rossi. Before witness protection. Before he managed a low-rent suburban self-storage unit. He was always dumber than a box of shit – a leg-breaker not a grifter. Even so, he moved up the ranks at an impressive clip.
So many Andretti Family affiliates turned snitch over the last decade, local criminals nicknamed the witness protection programme the ‘Mafia Meat Locker’.
Everything turned to shit when Tommy Andretti ended up in an actual meat locker, down in Plymouth, with his hair slicked back and his lips sewn shut. The wise-guy wisecrack didn’t seem so funny after that.
Three of Rossi’s cousins were discovered in a self-storage unit later that month. Same ghoulish shtick. It may even have been one of the units on this site. No wonder Krazinsky looks so haunted. He can probably hear them whispering his old name as he waddles around the site at night with his fucking flashlight.
He splashes another two fingers of Galliano into his coffee mug.
Why break the habit of a lifetime…
Wet-Look told me that Krazinsky was holding a stash of mummified body parts for Harlan Deloitte. Most people would dismiss Wet-Look as a fantasist, but I’ve learned not to underestimate him. According to his source, the limbs belonged to Latin American Nazis, and were found buried in Lanares Province, Chile, wrapped in a Swastika flag.
Deloitte is bad fucking news. Whenever his name crops up in the kind of conversations that I have, a little piece of me dies inside. I had assumed that his interests were strictly local, but it appears that I am wrong. However Wet-Look found out, I’m impressed. This isn’t the kind of information you can shake out of a Winner Street stool-pigeon, or slap out of a bus station rent-boy.
Krazinsky gazes at me thoughtfully.
“Do you think you’re the only ghoul out here making me an offer?”
“Honestly, I have no idea.”
He looks uneasy, as well he might.
When the bottle of liqueur is finished he leads me down the steps and into the labyrinthine, rusted steel maze.
“Say, what’s the worst thing you have ever found in one of these units?
“I don’t look in the units, Rey. I value the customers’ privacy.”
“But if the money runs out?”
“Human ashes… shrink-wrapped parcels of marijuana… the dried-out husks of dead reptiles… jam-jars full of bodily fluids. I once found four Lithuanians sleeping on cot-beds. Hell, most of these damned units are empty now. Customers prefer newer facilities. Cleaner places with better security. Better management.”
He trails off – bored, disinterested, so I stop talking.
His eel-skin boots splash through the stagnant puddles, splattering the legs of his cheap tracksuit. Bloody rubber gloves dangle from his waist-band.
We walk in silence, covering a lot of ground, until we are in the far corner of the lot – under the pines, where the sun never shines. I remember these woods. The care home I grew up in was nearby. Older boys with camouflage trousers, cigarette lighters and flick-knives would lead us into the bowels of the woods to show us their secret porn stashes.
Krazinsky gestures to a rust-ravaged unit with his battered-looking flashlight. It looks older and more decrepit than him.
“This is it.”
He withdraws a bunch of keys from the pocket of his jogging suit, and unfastens the padlock.
He steps back to allow me to pass, and hands me the flashlight. I switch on the torch. Its weak glow barely registers in the cavernous gloom. This unit must extend right back into the tree-line. I shuffle forwards, and stumble against something on the floor. I point the flashlight towards the ground.
It’s a skeleton – face collapsed with rot, bones a deep, sick shade of yellow.
Further back, I see a flicker of movement in the murkiness. I raise the flash-light.
Too big to be a rat. Much too big. An unholy groan emanates from the back corner.
I hear the creaking sound of old bones. A face with a complexion like a skinned rabbit lurches towards me from out of nowhere. I smash the butt of the flashlight into its face and it keels over with an inhuman shriek.
I turn sharply towards Krazinsky in the doorway.
He offers me a thin, bloodless smile.
“I’m sorry, Mr Rey. Sometimes, the only way to succeed is to corrupt yourself.”
He tries to slam the door, but I manage to thrust my fist into the gap. I feel the bones in my hand shatter. I slam my shoulder into the door, and send Krazinsky sprawling into the gravel.
He tries to kick out at me, but I stomp his left knee. It gives way with a queasy crack and he screams in pain.
I was always led to believe that anyone who crossed the Andretti Family ended up as landfill. They were well known for employing men with dark appetites to bury, dismember or dissolve their secrets. Maybe I was wrong.
“I’m sorry, Rey…”
“You will be.”
I drag him back toward the doorway by the collar of his jogging suit, but the cheap fabric rips. He tries to scramble across the gravel, away from me, but a stamp sharply on his back. I crack open the door and haul his lumpy body through the gap – towards whatever fresh hell lurks inside.
I retrieve the over-sized key-ring from the gravel and snap the padlock shut.
As I walk away – broken hand throbbing with pain, Krazinsky’s wretched screams ring in my mangled ears.
Inside Krazinsky’s office I retrieve a fresh bottle of Galliano from his filing cabinet. Helpfully, the dumb bastard filed it under ‘G’. I recline in his patched-up swivel chair, and half fill a stained coffee mug with the sickly liqueur.
I start to work my way through the files, in search of Deloitte’s nasty Nazi shit, but quickly give up.
Eventually, the pain from my shattered hand subsides. Eventually, a passing train drowns out Krazinsky’s howls.
Overhead, the smoke from the hospital incinerator blurs the winter sky like a memory.
When I get to the front gate, a drab, olive-green estate car is parked sideways across the dirt-track, blocking the exit. There is a bullet-hole in the windscreen.
The driver unfolds himself from his seat and stretches. He has a Russian 8mm Baikal self-defence pistol, originally used for firing CS gas, in his left hand.
His name is Butterknuckle. He has a shaven head and a badly pockmarked face. He’s big, but he’s not hard. He’s a standard-issue small town hood – the kind I’m not overly surprised to find myself going toe-to-toe with.
He doesn’t point the gun at me, but I stop regardless. I take a closer look at the car.
Harlan Deloitte is sat in the passenger seat, smoking a cheroot.
He is 60, but looks 40. Fuck, I’m 40 but look closer to 60 on particularly bad days.
He’s wearing a t-shirt and jeans and an expensive-looking overcoat, unbuttoned. He has a diamond stud in his left earlobe.
He smiles easily.
“Mr Rey, I presume?”
“Where is Mr Krazinsky?”
“Don’t worry. He’s among friends.”
He looks disappointed, but his lips quickly curl into a nasty sneer.
“Are you surprised to see me, Mr Rey?”
“You know what, Harlan. Nothing much surprises me anymore.”
“Hmm. Butterknuckle – pop the trunk.”
“Open the car boot, son.”
He backs away, still training the gun on me.
He opens the car boot and drags Wet-Look out by his hair. It comes out in clumps, so he hauls the fat man by his collar instead. His face is covered in minor lacerations, and his eyes are puffed shut. His trousers are soaked in blood, where it looks like he has been kneecapped.
“What are we gonna do with these motherfuckers, Harlan?”
“Throw them into a pit with a couple of broken bottles.”
“Aw, man. Do I have to dig the pit?”
“I was joking, son. Shoot them in the back and kick them into the weeds. They can die like rats.”
Wet-Look is on his knees on the gravel. He looks disorientated. Butterknuckle raises the gun.
“No last meal for you, fat man…”
Wet-Look smiles his sick smile, and then leans across and clamps his yellow teeth on Butterknuckle’s right thigh. He screams. The gun discharges into the pine trees. Wet-Look adjusts his position and takes a bite out of the hood’s genitals.
I can taste blood in my dry mouth. I lunge towards Deloitte and hit him – just about as hard as I have ever hit anyone. Only after I have punched him, do I realise that I’m using my broken hand. Like a corpse, his smile remains in place, even as his head crunches against the car’s metalwork. He keeps grinning, so I stop punching and start stomping.
Wet-Look crawls across the gravel on his belly and places the Russian handgun against Deloitte’s scrawny neck. He pulls the trigger without a word, and we are both plastered in blood.
Butterknuckle starts to hobble away from the bloodshed. Wet-Look aims the gun at his spinal column and squeezes, smearing him across the gravel.
Two days later.
I like my explosives the same way I like my pornography – homemade and volatile. I lob the improvised Molotov Cocktail towards Deloitte’s mansion with my left hand, and it smashes the window with a sharp crack. It wasn’t the window I was aiming for.
“His study. That will work.”
I turn to Wet-Look. He looks far too big for his NHS wheelchair. His head has been shaved, but there are small pink craters on his scalp where his hair was ripped out. The flames dance in his bleary eyes.
“You’re a violent, predictable man, Joe Rey.”
“That’s why you keep hiring me, right?”
He doesn’t answer me, just stares into the fire – until I wheel him back across the landscaped garden, back to the rest of our rotten lives.