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by Tom Leins

Drayton is dragging his snapped ankle behind him like a bad memory. I lean against a skeletal-looking tree and wait for him to catch up. His mangled arm is supported by his half-zipped anorak. Poor bastard.

We have been tag-team partners for almost three years. In our last bout — a dark match before they even turned on the fucking cameras — a head-case named Nikolai snapped his limbs like twigs, going for a submission. Motherfucker must have been high on PCP or some such shit.

Our employer doesn’t believe in medical insurance. If you aren’t willing to fight with an injury, Fingerfuck Flanagan will bounce you out of the organisation in an arrhythmic heartbeat. Last year a fat dude known as Marshmallow entered a Battle Royale with a ruptured spleen. He died while the paramedics were looking for volunteers to help haul him into the fucking ambulance.

***

We are way out in the sticks. Nikolai lives in a double-wide in Old Testament — as far downriver as it is possible to get before the land grinds to a halt.

He lives with a boy he claims is his nephew, but I heard on the locker-room grapevine that they met in a truck-stop shower block two states over.

Drayton is making a fucking racket, crashing through the underbrush, but the evil hum of the diesel generator masks our approach. Much of the county’s electrical supply is provided by hydroelectric plants located across the border in New Testament, but not here. Fuel is barged in via Testament Falls or trucked overland through the adjacent Tribal Lands.

***

Nikolai is working up a sweat — chopping wood with a blunt-looking axe when we arrive. I dent his skull with my shotgun butt before he even turns around.

I gesture towards Drayton’s busted limbs.

“Can you take down the boy?”

He nods.

“I’ll stomp that pussy like a cigarette butt.”

***

Drayton lets the mouldy lawn chair take the strain. His ankle looks warped and unnatural, like it belongs to someone else. The boy is gagged and bound at his feet, bleeding from his ear.

I stub out my cigarette on Nikolai’s eyelid. He snaps awake with a jolt, and starts thrashing around in the putrid water of the exposed septic tank. I cracked the lid with a lump hammer I found in the trunk of his vomit-coloured Crown Vic. Then I cracked his fucking ankles.

He is handcuffed to the wastewater pipe.

“Hey.”

He stops thrashing. I point to the rusty hacksaw next to the lip of the tank.

“I don’t know how long you can stand on those broken ankles for, Nikolai, but I’ll wager that you’ll be up to your eyeballs in faecal sludge before you manage to saw through the chain on those cuffs.”

He grimaces, breathing heavily.

“You may want to think about going through the wrist instead.”

He nods, gratefully, and reaches for the hacksaw.

Dumb fuck. If he gets out of the tank, Drayton will put a bullet in him.

Either way, he bleeds.


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 KnuckleRevolution 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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