“Paignton Rust” by Tom Leins
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Tom Leins takes us to Devon, England, for a story of “Paignton Rust.” Next week, Agee Sasso brings us to the West coast for some California grave digging.
It’s happy hour at the Dirty Lemon, but I recognize the same lipstick smear on my glass from when I was in here this morning. It’s 9 pm, but the room is still hot and my half-drunk beer is already warm.
The girl is wearing a cheap plastic raincoat and a nervous smile. Her sleepy grey eyes look like pools of rainwater. The man next to her is wearing an off-white shirt. He has bags under his eyes and a greasy-looking hairpiece. Wig adhesive dribbles down his left cheek. His name is Carl Wexler, and he once broke a pregnant woman’s jaw in this very room. I can’t tell if he is the girl’s pimp or her dad—or both. He clears his throat.
“I’ve heard we can trust you to do the right thing.”
I shrug. I do whatever is right for me.
He wheezes as he slides a slim envelope across the scarred table.
“This is Tara’s brother’s money, and he’s fucking dead.”
I smile blandly. “I’ve never worked for a dead man before.”
He grunts and scratches his head, dislodging the wig slightly. He heaves himself out of the booth and staggers woozily across the linoleum, looking like something has burst inside. Tara smiles nervously at me, and I’m already half in love.
4 am at the Intercontinental Hotel. I’m here to hurt a man I’ve never met on behalf of a girl I barely know. Outside the fire-damaged ballroom the bouncer is sitting on a stool, reading a tattered cockfighting magazine. He is wearing a Filipino-style wedding shirt and his face is flushed with hooch. He doesn’t look up as I push through the paisley curtain. Inside, a stripper is struggling to dance to a Leonard Cohen track. Her face is glossy with drug-sweat. I bypass the floor show and head through the beaded curtain. A middle-aged woman sits on a stool, smoking two cigarettes at once. She is stuffing her shriveled pussy back inside her crotch-less panties.
“Have you seen Chris?”
She takes one of the cigarettes out of her mouth and squints at me through the gloom.
“Chris Crispin? Try downstairs.”
I struggle to get my bearings and wander around aimlessly. I haven’t been here since the fire returned it to the rats two years ago. In the basement, a cadaverous bluesman called Rusty Waters is strangling some kind of skeleton boogie out of a secondhand guitar. His beard is the color of day-old piss. A scar trails from his eye socket to his collarbone. It twitches as he growls southern-fried platitudes.
“Mama’s in the backyard, pickin’ up sticks,
Sister’s in the corn crib, suckin’ on dicks . . .”
I have heard men with their vocal chords hacked out sing more tunefully, but the effect is undeniably hypnotic. I drift to the back of the room, through the cloud of dope-smog, to where Chris ‘Creepshow’ Crispin is holding court—in front of a withered posse of junkies and cripples. I double-check the Polaroid in my pocket and sigh.
Creepshow is not just fat, he’s swollen. Fuck. I’ve seen less bloated corpses dragged out of Paignton harbor. He has a history of molestation beefs dating back to 1977, but nowadays the cops mostly just leave him alone. He runs a rigged card game out of a ratty flat behind the Baptist church on Winner Street, and a couple of high-ranking local councillors like to participate, or so I’m told. His skin is the color of prawn cocktail and he stinks like a burned mattress. He grins inanely at me, someone’s pink lipstick on his teeth.
“I’m sorry, Chris.”
“Getting blood on your shoes.”
He blinks uncomprehendingly, and I slam a full beer can into his temple. He braces himself for a second blow, but I jab him in the gut instead. His girth absorbs the weight of the punch, so I slam his blubbery skull into the wall for good measure. It bounces like a bad check, and he crumples to the floor.
I crouch down next to his twitching body and stuff the Polaroid into his fat mouth.
“Carl Wexler says hello.”
I step out of the fire exit into the blistered night, feet crunching on shattered crack vials. I drift past the Cantonese rub ‘n’ tug joints, down toward the beach. I rub my bloody knuckles against my T-shirt and stare into the sea. At this hour the sun is nothing but a grim orange smudge on the horizon. Nothing more than Paignton rust.
TOM LEINS is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. He is currently working on two novels: Thirsty & Miserable and All Is Swell In The Grinding Light. Get your pound of flesh at Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Dec 2, 2013
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