The evening sun glows a dark shade of red as it hovers above the murky-looking shoreline. From where I’m sitting it looks like a festering wound.
It is July. Paignton has been stewing under a brutal layer of heat and grit for the last three weeks. During that time four local rent boys have been abducted and eviscerated by a man known only as the Bone Daddy.
I’ve seen two of the crime scene photos, and they seem to have less in common with murder and more in common with modern abattoir methods. He had stripped the flesh off the bodies, and left the bones to rot in car parks and condemned factories. The police never found the flesh, nor the organs. The cops think that the boys were still alive when the Bone Daddy went to work on them. Fuck – I heard that one of them was still breathing when the fucking ambulance arrived.
We are sitting outside the Burning Wheel, at one of the sea-salt ruined picnic tables. Jerry Connelly passes me a copy of today’s Herald Express.
The lurid headline screams ‘COME TO DADDY’.
Subtle – like a brick in the teeth.
“He has taken another one, Joe. Number five.”
I try to focus on the newsprint, but the words seem to slide right off the page.
Jerry passes me the bottle he has been slurping from, and I take a hit off the scummy yellow liqueur. I grimace as it curdles in my throat.
“The doctor says I’ve got a fucked-up liver to go with my blacked-out lungs. This is about as much as I can manage these days.”
He hands me a photograph.
“Henry Clerval. 19 years-old. Missing since Friday night. Last seen outside the North Atlantic Video Lounge.”
The boy has thick black hair and smoke-coloured eyes.
“Help me nail this Bone Daddy freak, Joe. Put him out of circulation for good.”
Jerry’s not a cop. Not anymore. He quit after getting stabbed in the neck at a drug-den in Foxhole. He didn’t take to retirement, and now he works as a private investigator. Just like me, but with a better moral code. He’s also stubborn – like a fucking bloodstain.
Every job feels like it could be my last, but this one just might be.
I’m still in the Burning Wheel when Jerry catches up with me. He is red-faced and wheezing. His orange satin shirt is splattered in fresh blood. He told me that he had rousted an organ trafficker called Krempe near Paignton harbour. He found four Chinese girls – fresh off the boat – manacled to a trough in the back room of a derelict gift shop.
After a little bit of gentle persuasion from Jerry’s rat-tail sap, Krempe started babbling like a schizoid. He confirmed that there was a rogue surgeon in town, offering to sell cheap human body parts on Winner Street. He told Jerry that this guy turned up in the Oldenburg one lunchtime, with a carrier bag full of warm organs. Sour blood was seeping through the plastic and stained the carpet. Witnesses said that he had a badly lacerated face and a European accent. He gave a couple of local juiceheads his phone number and told them to ask for Viktor.
We are sat outside the Chadwell Centre in Jerry’s bile-coloured hatchback, sipping from his bottle of liqueur. The whites of his eyes have turned red.
It used to be an asylum for the blind, but was closed down in 2004, shortly after a man named Walton ran amok with a cut-throat razor.
A skinny, shirtless guy with track-marks down both arms lurches towards the hatchback and starts banging frantically on the window. He looks like a fucking zombie. Jerry presses his Remington pump-action twelve-gauge up against the window, and the junkie melts into the gloom.
“Don’t mind Mr Kirwan. He’s just working through a few personal problems. He won’t get in our way.”
I’m impressed. Jerry has an encyclopaedic knowledge of local low-lives. He considers it one of his finest features, and I don’t disagree.
Jerry passes me the bottle. The liqueur – combined with the thought of what I might see inside – makes me feel sick.
“Are you ready?”
The building stinks like a butcher’s bin-bag. It smells so bad that I want to hold my breath. The stairs feel soggy under my boots. Jerry is clutching the twelve-gauge in his clammy hands. He is muttering obscenities to himself. I feel something dangerously close to fear in my belly.
At the back of the room the Bone Daddy looks small and unassuming. He doesn’t look like much of a threat.
His victim is spread-eagled on a slab. The boy’s small intestine is coiled around his wrist, dripping blood. Earlier Jerry told me that a small intestine can fetch up to £1,500 on the black market, twice as much as a gallbladder and five times more than a spleen. I feel bile rising in my throat.
In the rancid, milky light the boy’s skin looks peeled raw, barely covering the muscle tissue and blood vessels underneath. Human skin is worth £6 an inch to the right buyer, but I doubt that the Bone Daddy has money in mind.
The boy twitches, still alive. His eyeballs shine yellow.
Jerry screams. He screams so hard that no noise comes out.
The Bone Daddy looks up at us and smiles, a small vanilla cigar clamped between his teeth. He has a face like a ruined archive. His grin is so wide it makes him look lipless.
I reach for the pig-knife in my boot.
His smile gets even wider. It makes my blood shrivel.
Jerry racks his shotgun.
“Gentlemen. I have been expecting you.”
The Bone Daddy raises the scalpel to his own throat.
“Learn from my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own.”
He laughs, briefly, and a grotesque silence fills the room.