The first thing I hear when I regain consciousness is the sloshing of rancid juices. It sounds like death.
Someone yanks the hood off my head. It feels skin-tight, and my left ear almost gets wrenched off in the process. Hoodlums in this town normally use a burlap sack or a bin-bag. These fuckers used a gimp-mask.
My face is sweaty and my teeth feel loose. I blink into the harsh industrial lights.
“Do you like your job, Mr Rey?”
I shrug. It has its moments. This doesn’t seem to be one of them.
“When I was a child I had a job not far from here. In one of the local abattoirs: scraping plague-fleas from animal carcasses. The pay was shit, but the work was satisfying. Job satisfaction is incredibly important to me.”
His face is ugly, and his skin looks like cured meat. I vaguely recognise him, but his name escapes me.
“Do you know why horses were used for glue, Mr Rey?”
I stare at him dumbly.
“They have a lot of collagen. In their cartilage … in their tendons … in their ligaments. Fabulous beasts, Mr Rey.”
I stifle a yawn.
“I’m sorry – am I boring you?”
“Hey, it’s your party…”
He nods to a stocky man in dungarees.
“Gareth, please can you teach Mr Rey some manners?”
“Sure thing, Mr Strange.”
Ah, fuck. Herman Strange. His daughter Brandy finished fourth in the Miss Teen Paignton contest a couple of years ago. We were casually acquainted for a brief period.
Gareth Greene I do recognise. Over the years he has bounced me out of some of Paignton’s least appealing night-spots. In the summer, when the carnival comes to town, he earns beer money as a tent-fighter. He’s a tough motherfucker, and when he hits me I think he loosens the jelly around my brain.
“Brandy is missing, Mr Rey.”
“What the fuck does that have to do with me?”
He hits me again – even harder, if that is possible.
“Much to my dismay, you know her tastes, her habits… I want you to find her for me.”
“You have 24 hours. If you haven’t located her, I will have Gareth remove one of your fingers.”
I laugh, despite myself.
“You know what, Herman – I normally find that payment is a better incentive.”
“Gareth – please escort Mr Rey off the premises.”
He leads me by the arm like we’re on a date. I glance behind me.
Pete Cooper’s Glue Factory. I should have known. Pete Cooper died before I was born, but his glue factory is almost certain to outlast me.
Gareth offers me his hand.
“Sorry, pal. We weren’t trying to hurt you – just scare you.”
I grab his hand and yank his wrist down sharply, bringing my knee up into his face at the same time. His nose cracks on impact, and he lies moaning on the tarmac.
“Hit me that hard again Gareth, and I will fucking ruin you.”
In the adjoining business unit I can see a posse of stocky geezers stocking freezers. They stop what they are doing and stare at me. I pick up a rusted length of chain that is lying on the blistered tarmac, and wrap it around my fist.
Slowly they start stocking the freezer units again. I walk away and I don’t look back.
The Dirty Lemon is a pub with a dark soul. As a drinking hole it’s a waste of space, but as a source of information it’s invaluable.
I order a double whisky from Spacey Tracey, and it tastes even worse than usual. My throat quickly gets used to the burn – it always does.
Sidney Loomis is a scrawny ex-con type with spit-slicked hair. His beard is the colour of tar, and when he sees me he flashes me a sour little smile. He operates at the lower end of the skin-trade, and his hookers are all as hard as nails. He used to make his girls use two condoms on each client, but I have heard that he has cut down since the recession.
“I’m looking for a girl.”
He offers me a grim chuckle and gestures around the pub.
“This whole town is a big, fucking brothel, why come to me?”
“I appreciate your charming personality.”
“Her name is Brandy. Her father is Herman Strange.”
“Is she white?”
“Try Edward Yang. I’ve heard that he is diversifying his business model. He moves around a lot, but he was based out of The Swanson, last I heard.”
“Thanks. I owe you one.”
“You’re welcome. Now, how about I get Angelique to wank you off underneath the table? She’s very good.”
She shuffles across the floor sheepishly, and presses her breasts against my shoulders. I smile and shake my head.
“How about a gob-job? She could suck a billiard ball through a hosepipe.”
“Thanks, but I’ve got a job to do.”
“You know, you’re a real hero, Joe. Who knows: maybe one day they will name a fucking street after you.”
The late afternoon sky is the colour of gravel. I circle around the back of the hotel to Room 237.
Through the greasy window I can see a junkie-looking girl perched on the edge of an easy chair. She’s carrying a shotgun, so I figure her for some kind of chaperone. No one would arm a hooker in this town, except maybe in Foxhole.
A second girl is face down on the double-bed, but I can’t tell whether or not it is Brandy.
I edge around to the front door, only to walk face-first into the pump-action shotgun.
“What the fuck do you want?”
Jesus, she’s ugly – even for a junkie. I relax when I realise that her finger is outside the trigger guard. I grab the barrel and smash the butt into her face. She screeches like a worn-out bone-saw as it makes contact with her nose, and hits the deck. I turn her over. Her face is a bloody, pulpy mess.
Fuck it. I’d rather ruin her nose than lose my own fingers.
I walk into the hotel room, and flip the body over.
It’s Brandy. She’s wearing nothing but lip-gloss. Her eyes are glazed, but they moisten when she sees me.
“Who brought you here, Brandy?”
“My father. He sold me to Edward Yang.”
What the fuck? That deranged motherfucker.
“He just wanted another excuse to hurt you.”
Midnight. Pete Cooper’s Glue Factory.
Herman’s car is parked diagonally across the handicapped parking bay.
The harsh factory lighting seeps out from underneath the corrugated iron door and casts weird shadows across the tarmac.
I dip into my jacket pocket for a hand grenade. It’s my last one. I was saving it for a special occasion, but tonight will do just fine. I pull the pin and roll it into the glue factory.
I smile as I walk away.
I’m not trying to hurt them – just scare them.