Victor’s tongue flickers like a small, venomous cable. We are at a cruddy transient hotel on the outskirts of town. The windowpane is streaked with greasy rain. His pale grey eyes look dead in the half-light.
“Look, Victor, how am I supposed to get five grand?”
“Sell a kidney?”
I hear the familiar click of a switchblade.
“On second thoughts, I’ll sell it for you.”
If I tried to knock him out a second time I’d probably kill him, so I leave him on the motel bed, dark blood draining from his broken nose and staining the mattress. The rooming house is full of volatile addicts, strung out on heavy-duty psycho-pharmaceuticals. Razor blades and angry faces abound. Human jackals. Sharp knives and loud guns are the only currency you need around here. Right now I have neither. That means I’ve got to rely on my wits. No mean feat when you’re a three-time loser like me…
Outside, two cigarettes glow inside the Cadillac. Words drift out of the blackness. One voice belongs to Johnny Francisco, the other I don’t recognise. Maybe just rough trade. Johnny likes it rough these days. No one even knew he was a switch-hitter until he offered to go down on a plain clothes cop in a hotel TV lounge. One stretch later and he was a fully-fledged pole-smoker. Paid off his wife and moved in with the Filipino house boy. He’s still tough. Tougher than a motherfucker. I once saw him shoot a man sixteen times, just for the sheer fucking hell of it. Now he wants his money back. I slip around the back of the rooming house and bust the nearest car window with a lump of concrete. Stick around here too long and you’ll end up getting scum-bagged by some chump or other.
The gaping blacktop yawns in front of me. I glance down at the steering wheel. My knuckles are bruised. My big fists are knotted with veins. I stomp the gas and crank the stereo. The tape-deck spits out rasping urban blues as I breach the city limits. Trying to live out this cliché is killing me.
When I arrive at Emilio’s farmhouse yesterday’s rain water drips from the gutter. I knock on the door, gently, careful not to bust open my ragged knuckles. It’s late, but I’m sure he’s still awake. Motherfucker drinks so much coffee I’m surprised he ever sleeps. The door creaks open. Emilio grins like he’s catching flies with his teeth. He’s a violently disaffected bookworm with a gun collection that brings a tear to my eye. We shake hands and I gesture towards the ratty paperback in his fist.
“What are you reading?”
I nod. Always Leonard.
Emilio offers me a seat.“You don’t look well.”
“I’ve been shot – what’s your excuse?”
He laughs like a drain. He always did enjoy my thin-lipped back-chat. “You want me to get one of the girls to fix you up?”
“Later, my good man. How about a drink first?”
I rinse my throat with a sweaty glass of rum and coke. The first girl looks like a dime-store whore in her cheap wig. I shake my head firmly. She doesn’t care, she looks like she’d rather be out the back boiling up her medicine. Five minutes later the next girl walks in. She fiddles with the hem of her dressing gown and flashes me a baby-doll smile. I grin back. She’s a neon blonde. Just my type. In the back room we fuck until my balls ache.
I sleep fitfully, thoughts plagued by bullet-induced fever dreams. My torso itchs, sticky with sexual glue. After an hour or so I slip on my jeans and re-join Emilio. When I walk into the lounge he’s holding a blood-soaked towel to his face. His hair looks slick with blood. On the sofa next to him sits a meat-faced mad-man with fat blank eyes and rust-red hair. A selection of Emilio’s guns are spread out on a bath towel on the floor. Most of his books have been kicked over. I scratch by belly and he offers me a queasy smile.
A blistered shotgun punk emerges from the kitchen clutching a sandwich. He’s a junked-up hoodlum with eyes the colour of blood-clots. I weighed up my options. I don’t much fancy arguing with a sawn-off, but this kid doesn’t look like he’s got the balls to cut me down. He looks more like one of Johnny’s tricks than the kind of guy who could put someone in the dirt. I charge at him and sure enough the tool trembles in his hands. I snap a kick into his knee and drop an elbow onto the bridge of his nose. As I reach for the weapon I feel rasping, sandpaper breath on the back of my neck. I black-out as the meat-merchant pops my ribcage.
When I wake up I’m in the back of a mini-van that’s crammed with heroin. Meat-face is behind the wheel. The punk-kid rides shotgun, weapon balanced across his lap. His blue eyes are blackened where I busted his face open. There are still flaky traces of blood on his pale skin. He grins when he sees that I have woken up. It’s a brutally cold morning. The sand looks dead. I always wanted to drive into the desert to watch the sun rise. As we follow the asphalt curve the Death Valley sun glare glints off the shovel next to me.
Tom Leins is from Paignton, UK. His short stories have appeared online at 3am Magazine, Dogmatika, Straight From The Fridge, Beat The Dust, Savage Manners, Hit & Run Magazine, Flash Fiction Offensive, Powder Burn Flash and A Twist Of Noir. He is currently hard at work on his first novel Thirsty & Miserable. Get your pound of flesh at: www.myspace.com/tomleins