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by Tom Leins

Marie Andretti is on the bed, wriggling out of her “Sexy Santa” costume. She is nearly sixty, but looks closer to forty. Only her scrawny neck gives her away.

I turn my attention back to the video. It is called “Father XXXmas”. It doesn’t do much for me, but she seems to enjoy it.

Marie smiles woozily. She has been at the Christmas gin already.

“Fresh air?”

I nod gratefully.

***

Her new driver is a 300lb guy called Meatball. Just by looking at him you can tell that he is not a man destined for a happy ending. He fiddles irritably with the tape-deck. The music is louder than gunfire.

Marie prefers to travel in the front. Her hair is pinned up, and I can see the word “Dad” tattooed behind her right ear. They were close, by all accounts. At least until his body was found under the makeshift whorehouse behind the North Atlantic Motor Inn.

***

The Esplanade is blocked with concrete-filled oil drums. Meatball starts trembling like a palsy victim.

An off-duty cop called Charles Boggs weaves his way towards the car. He has sunken, drunken eyes, and stinks like Paignton Harbour at high tide. He looks unarmed, but I’m still wary. Kidnapping is one of Paignton’s fastest growing industries nowadays, and even the cops are in on the racket.

Marie once told me that over 60% of all cigarettes sold in Paignton are smuggled into town by her family. I figure it for a shakedown and retrieve the scattergun from underneath my seat.

Marie lowers her window and passes him an envelope.

“Good morning, Mr Boggs. The Andretti Family’s annual contribution to the police benevolent fund.”

Boggs grins. His wide smile is rimmed red with blood — like he has brushed his crooked teeth too hard.

***

Ten minutes later. The Badlands.

I recognise the shit-streaked dirt-track. There used to be a commercial pig farm here. During the summer months Marie’s nephew Johnny stages dog-fights in a chicken-wire enclosure at the rear of the property. He’s a funny guy. His dogs are called Mills and Boon.

We step out into the wintry gloom. The noise of the two Rottweilers barking is deafening.

Meatball unlocks the car boot. It yawns open horribly.

He drags a body out onto the frozen mud. Despite the chill the fat fuck is sweating through his sports jacket.

“I take it you remember Mr Lazarus?”

I nod. I never knew his name. He was only ever referred to as “the gunrunner”.

He is wheezing and his face is bloodied. One of his ears looks like it is hanging by a fleshy thread. Marie stares at him, unblinking. She is ice cold, like a December afternoon.

She kicks Lazarus into the dog-pound with a spike heel in the back. He topples forward onto the blood-smeared tarmac.

She kisses me on the cheek.

“Merry Christmas, darling.”

I cling onto the chicken-wire fence, staring at the gunrunner’s bloody, uncomprehending face.

Then the dogs start their Christmas dinner.


Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun HoneyNear to the Knuckle, Revolution John and Spelk. He is currently working on his first novel: Thirsty & Miserable. Get your pound of flesh at https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/.

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