Wet-Look is a greasy ex-cop with a sick sense of humour. Ever since they kicked him off the force he has worked as a private investigator, operating out of a shabby office above the North Atlantic Video Lounge. He runs his mouth off whenever he is drunk – which is most days – about the ‘wet work’ he has done since cashing in his pension, but no one really believes him. He weighs at least 27 stone and looks like he has difficulty taking out his own rubbish, never mind taking out another human being.
He offered me the chance to earn £500 by sitting in for him on a new job. He said I won’t necessarily have to get my hands dirty, just provide extra muscle if the job goes boss-eyed. My dreams are an endless parade of dead faces already – what harm can it do?
The target is a retired flesh peddler called Gary Santos. He briefly ran a scam involving HIV positive mail order brides, but it didn’t end well for anyone involved. People say his jolt in Channings Wood mellowed him, but I have my doubts. The last time I saw him he was carrying a stabbed hooker out of the Dirty Lemon. Admittedly he wasn’t the one who stabbed her, but he did stab quite a few people that night. Nowadays he lives with his crippled brother-in-law in Merritt Flats. I’m not sure why someone wants him dead – it is generally safer not to ask – but he has been out of the game for a long time.
I’m in the Oldenburg with Colin Rollins – AKA the Big C – AKA the Cancer Man. He is around 60, serious and unsmiling, with weirdly flat facial features. When he does find something amusing his smirk looks like a badly-stitched wound. He suggested a quiet drink before we did the job, but the whisky hits me hard on an empty stomach, and I can’t shake the queasy feeling, even after switching back to beer. He doesn’t look much like a killer, but then again, the best ones never do.
Winner Street is like a hardened artery, leading to Paignton’s dead heart. We trail down the street wordlessly, towards Totnes Road. The Cancer Man has a heavy-bladed killing knife strapped to his belt, and a shoulder holster under his nylon bomber jacket.
For many years the best hookers in Paignton worked out of Merritt Flats. Hard-working, but not too skinny. However, most of the residents left two years ago, after an arm-bone was discovered lodged in an external drain. Now the building is full of pockmarked junkies, fleshy mental patients and deranged sex workers. And Gary Santos, of course.
As I walk up the stairs, the stale whisky gives me a sour feeling in my gut. The air in the stairwell feels hot and dense, and the second floor corridor is ripe with the stench of decay. Outside Santos’ flat I notice that there are curtains, but there is no glass in his window. The door is ajar, and there are two blood-smeared suitcases in the hallway. The Cancer Man leads the way, knife drawn, as we edge down the hallway. He grunts when he sees Gary’s body.
He is sitting bolt upright in an armchair. His jaw has been blown halfway off, and flies cluster around his dead, open mouth. His thick hair is slicked back and the blood has dried black against his crisp white shirt. I move across the room and nudge the bathroom door open. There is a body floating face down in the dark brown water of the bathtub. The filthy liquid is the colour of bad dreams – it looks like a mixture of shit and blood. The poor fucker probably lost control of his sphincter muscles after being strangled. The mangled wheelchair next to the toilet tells its own depressing story.
I hear the Cancer Man behind me, breathing hard through his mouth. I catch his eye, and his gaze goes milky. He vomits blood down my jacket.
Outside, in the weak afternoon sunshine, an elderly hooker is sat on a rusted folding chair.
She looks strangely satisfied. Her face is elaborately made-up, but her hair looks like dead grass. She uncrosses her legs, and I notice that she has a small butterfly tattooed on her inner thigh. The match shakes in her painted fingers as she raises it to meet her cigarette.
“Did anyone call for a meat-wagon yet?”
I shake my head.
My jacket is still covered in the Cancer Man’s vomited blood. A varicose veined rent boy emerges from the lobby, and drifts towards us. He is clutching a glue-bag in one hand and has a string of knuckle-sized pearls around his neck. He runs his finger down my jacket sleeve, through the blood spatter, before sucking his finger and purring.
Jesus. The ghouls are having a party.
The Cancer Man stumbles down Totnes Road, gun still drawn. A diarrhoea-coloured estate car pulls up alongside us. I don’t recognise it, and reach for the seven-inch screwdriver in my jacket pocket.
Wet-Look’s enormous face leers out of the car window at us. A prehistoric-looking revolver dangles limply from his wrist.
Colin looks up incredulously, chin still specked with sick. Wet-Look shoots him four times in the chest and he goes slack, dropping to his knees. He looks up at me with pleading eyes – half-formed questions dying in his throat.
Wet-Look flashes me a sickly smile. Behind him I can see a greasy stain on the headrest.
“Get in young man.”
I pause before opening the rusted door. The car smells of cigarette smoke and semen. The footwell is littered with rancid-looking used condoms. I bet this car has seen more cock than Parkside toilets.
Through the windscreen, the sky above Winner Street looks dead.
“I have another job to discuss with you.”
I want to laugh, but I just don’t have the heart.