by Tom Leins
Gordon Guthrie is wearing a signet ring bearing his dead wife’s initials.
The fingers of his clawfist — his left hand — are cracked and withered, and he twists the ring idly with the fingers of his right. He stares out of the boxy TV set at me with bloodshot eyes.
“If you are watching this video, it means I am dead.”
He chuckles to himself, and pulls down his slacks, fishing around inside his anal passage with the clawfist. He pulls out a rusty-looking key, and holds it up to the camera.
“Albert, you know what to do.”
His mouth collapses into a slack grin, and the video image disintegrates into static.
Guthrie’s lawyer, Albert Erasmus, removes a plastic cash-bag from his jacket pocket and places it on the table in front of me. It isn’t a Yale key, it’s a great big fucking mortice.
“That is rust, right, Albert?”
The summer heat has settled over Paignton like a chloroform-soaked rag over the mouth of a snatched child. I’m close enough to the beach that I can just about make out the salty hiss of the tidewater.
Guthrie was a slumlord. He owned all four floors of the Stardust Motel — a sweltering breezeblock tomb full of broke retirees and elderly sex offenders. It was flung up in the late 1970s to cater for adulterous dirty weekenders, and remains defiantly unclean even now.
After his last heart attack Guthrie was muscled out of the building by a local pimp called Boss Stoodley, who kicked the residents out, and moved his ramshackle psycho-sexual circus in.
Guthrie hired Albert to make sure all his worldly possessions were retrieved and returned to his daughter, Magdalena.
The doorman is an old nonce called Kent — a middle-aged man with dead-looking eyes. He is leering at a naked Cantonese girl in a sun-stained lawn chair. She has an acne scarred face and a cigarette that is mostly ash. I club him behind the right ear with my pickaxe handle and drag him into the weeds.
The girl doesn’t bat an eyelid.
Inside, I pop the office door with my screwdriver. The hookers’ names, weights and favourite positions are written on a chalk board. I’m impressed. I’m old enough to remember when prostitution in this town more or less consisted of 14-year-old glue-sniffers selling themselves to middle-aged men in abandoned buildings.
I shred my fingertips on the gripper rod as I rip up the carpet. The floor safe is right where Albert said it would be. I slide the shit-streaked key into the lock. It turns easily.
Inside, on top of a small heap of cheap trinkets, is Guthrie’s clawfist — hacked off at the wrist. The enormous signet ring gleams on his twisted knuckle.
Floorboards in the hallway creak. I turn to see Kent lurching down the corridor, eyes burning with fury, greasy hair matted with blood.
I work the ring free and swallow it for safekeeping, before retrieving my pickaxe handle.
No guts, no glory …
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, Near 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/.