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by Tom Leins

11 am. The Dirty Lemon.

There’s a coffin lying on the pool table.

The dead man’s name is Bryan Flahavan. His face is more dented than the needle bin in Parkside toilets. He used to be a big man, but now he seems deflated: a faded heap of blood and tissue.

I try to picture his slack skin — bunched up and stapled by the mortician beneath his cheap funeral suit — but it makes me feel queasy. I feel a familiar throbbing at the back of my skull and head to the bar.

***

Spacey Tracey is working today. I don’t trust her and she doesn’t trust me. It makes my morning drinking more problematic than it needs to be. She is methodically drying shot glasses with a threadbare towel and tries to ignore me.

The woman in black next to me is trying to light a smoke one-handed. Her jewel-encrusted right hand nurses a vodka and tonic. I offer to light her cigarette and she nods.

I gesture over my shoulder towards the coffin.

“Were you close?”

“Not especially. He was my uncle.”

I nod, pointlessly.

“Bryan was a petty criminal. His tastes ran to thuggery and buggery. It made him something of an outcast within our family. How did you know him?”

“We had mutual acquaintances.”

She exhales, with a bored look on her face.

“Also, I once stabbed him in the neck with a screwdriver. He didn’t hold it against me, as far as I recall …”

She grins.

“You sound like a dangerous man to know.”

I shrug and reach for the whisky that Spacey Tracey has finally placed in front of me. My knuckles are bruised and scraped raw. Suddenly I feel embarrassed.

The drink tastes like battery acid, but I signal for another one regardless.

***

We stand side by side, drinking silently. Her shoes are badly scuffed and her fishnets are ripped in places. I’ve always been a sucker for the Reader’s Wives aesthetic.

The booze is flowing like rainwater. Men are sloshing warm beer over the coffin. I’m almost certain that they will be scraping people off the wheelchair ramp by closing time …

***

She gestures at a blood-coloured Mazda haphazardly parked behind the bus station. The airbag is draped loosely over the steering wheel like a used condom.

“Are you sober enough to drive?”

“Are you sober enough to fuck?”

She smiles, and it terrifies me.

***

She is staying in a seafront welfare hotel called the Black Regent. The lobby is empty, but the TV lounge is crowded with local wet-brains and degenerates. It looks more like a halfway house than hotel.

She retrieves her room key from the near-comatose desk-jockey and hands it to me.

“Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get some drinks.”

I follow the stale blood-trail up the staircase.

She shouts after me:

“I have to be back in time for the cremation. My grandmother insisted that I stick around long enough to hear his bones pop.”


Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Sein und Werden, The Carnage Conservatory and Thrills, Kills ‘N’ Chaos. He is currently working on his first novel: Thirsty & Miserable. Get your pound of flesh at Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead.

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