“The Graveyard Shift” 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 the graveyard shift literally.
The Graveyard Shift
by Tom Leins
Marsh Mills, Plymouth, Devon, England
The grave is waist-deep when the cramps start. I feel them spasm up my arms and across my shoulders as the shovel slams into rock-solid earth. This far down, it is packed hard, like concrete.
I glance over my shoulder at the ravaged-looking figure in the wheelchair. Maxwell Grinley has the glum look of a man who has outlived most of his vices and desires. The only thing he wants now is to see me dead. I don’t blame him—I was the one who put him in the chair.
He starts to cough noisily and greedily sucks oxygen into his ruined lungs from the cylinder balanced across his legs.
That is on me, too.
Maxwell peels the rubber oxygen mask off his cracked, bulbous lips.
“How do you like that stink, boy? Today’s a good day. On a hot day, you can fucking taste it.”
We are in the woods next to the Waste Water Treatment Works. I’ve only ever seen it from the motorway flyover. It was constructed well before I was born, and up close, it looks like a fucking mausoleum.
I shrug. I’ve smelled worse. Far worse. The stink of charred flesh at the Peter Cooper Glue Factory will take some beating.
“Don’t get me wrong, son—it’s not as bad as Camels Head, but it still fucking stinks. I’ve worked at all the sewage plants in this city in my time. Good, honest work—keeps a man pure.”
I grunt. What is he trying to do, bore me to death?
“I have to say, you don’t seem very scared, Mr. Rey.”
“What can I say, Maxwell? You don’t seem very scary.”
He chuckles wearily, and buries his hands deeper into the pockets of his sheepskin coat.
“I suppose not.”
I ignore him and carry on digging. It is going to be a long afternoon.
The man with the shotgun is so fat he looks like he should be on incapacity benefit. He is Maxwell’s youngest son, Marvin. The Grinley family tree is stunted and warped. It doesn’t have many branches, and Marvin takes after his sister, if you catch my drift.
“When the time comes, Marvin, make sure you bury his body facedown. I want the worms to eat his fucking face first.”
Marvin drools as he smiles through ruined teeth. He looks feebleminded—from the shallow end of the gene pool. He probably should have been drowned in the Tamar at birth.
His older brother, Mitchell, was always the smartest of the Grinley siblings—though admittedly not smart enough to avoid serving twenty-five-to-life in Channings Wood for attacking a pair of Albanians with a meat cleaver. Last summer, Mitchell had bust into a Devonport drug den, looking for his sister, Mandy. The Grinleys didn’t mind her doing porn—they just preferred her doing the family’s own videos. One of the Albanians lost a hand, another lost an eye. Both of them had their tongues ripped out of their heads.
Marvin is trying to light a cigarette, but the stale wind keeps extinguishing the flame. His shotgun is nestled in the crook of his arm.
I seize my chance and swipe at his knees with the shovel. The fatter they come, the harder they fall. He shrieks and topples sideways with a sickening bone-crack.
I almost feel sorry for the poor bastard.
I pry the shotgun out of his clammy hands and clamber out of the pit, using his hunched back for leverage.
Maxwell tries to wheel himself out of harm’s way, but his chair gets stuck in the winter mud. He tries to say something, but it comes out as an oxygen-starved croak. I step behind him and upend the chair into the half-dug grave.
In the shallow pit he looks smashed and mangled, limbs splayed at awkward angles. He has soiled himself, and it smells worse than the Treatment Works itself.
I toss the shotgun on top of them. I won’t need it after all.
I trudge through the waist-high weeds in the direction of the embankment.
The last thing I hear as I approach the sodium glare of the motorway lights is a gunshot.
I’m not surprised—Maxwell is too decrepit to do another jolt in Channings Wood. The nastiest bastards would almost certainly be using him as a portable sex toy by lights-out.
Fuck it. I button my jacket and walk toward the queasy glow.
The cops will be wrapping his skull fragments in cellophane bags by breakfast time.
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:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—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.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Apr 18, 2016
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