It was the day of my Uncle Alvin’s funeral when they came for me. I always knew they would.
I’d started drinking by breakfast, and I feel queasy by the time Alvin’s widow Brenda retrieves the bottle of liquor from her handbag at the crematorium.
At one point I consider climbing into Alvin’s casket for a lie-down, but then I remember the dismembered state of his corpse, and think better of it. So much of him was missing that the morticians filled the coffin with polystyrene to stop the body from shifting position during transit. They forget to remove the polystyrene before they burn the body though, and a toxic stink fills the small chapel.
The wake takes place at the Dirty Lemon. I’m drinking shots at the bar with Brenda, and feel halfway to oblivion. She’s a scorched-looking brunette who dresses like a streetwalker. She turns heads, just not always in a good way.
The room goes quiet when they walk in. Two men wearing overcoats and full-face balaclavas. I recognise them, despite the woollen masks. Their names are Rudy and Ron. Earlier this year they thought that they had nailed a big score when they ripped off the Sex Shop on Winner Street. All they found was a shoebox full of dusty family bones and a few choices extracts from Dirty Harold’s private porn stash.
The safecracker they hired was a drunk named Arlo Noakes. He blew his own fingertips off with plastic explosive because he was too lazy to do the job properly, and obliterated a crate of nearly-new dildos in the process. Arlo later claimed that he stemmed the blood-loss with a back issue of Tailgunner, but I didn’t believe him – the paper would be far too glossy.
Afterwards, Arlo hired me to deliver a message to Rudy and Ron, and paid me well for my time. Things got bloody, as they often do, but I was happy to snap a few bones. Ron was jailed for gross indecency in 1989 while running a video shop, and he hasn’t held down an honest job since he got out of Channings Wood. On his 50th birthday he was arrested for trying to chloroform a boy at the Crossways Centre. Rudy is a part-time morgue worker and ex-weight lifter – he’s the really scary one. His face looks like a fucking Halloween mask.
Rudy snorts a bump of something – probably homemade crank – off his hand. He has a tattoo of a tombstone on the fleshy patch of skin between his finger and thumb.
Ron’s scarred eyebrow crumples as he winks at me. Up close, his cologne smells of gutter water. He has a claw-hammer up the sleeve of his overcoat. What a lovely surprise.
He dents my skull with the flat end, and my vision goes blurry. I start to fall and he hits me again – behind the ear this time.
When I regain consciousness there is a fat dog pissing on my leg. I realise that someone has dragged me out of the pub and left me on the wheelchair ramp. My hair is sticky with blood and there is a tender crater on the side of my head. The dog is chained to the railings. It looks dangerous, so I slowly detach its collar and point it towards the bus station. It’s someone else’s problem now.
I can taste blood in my mouth. I must have bit my tongue when Ron hit me with the hammer.
I wrap the dog-chain around my right hand. It will have to do. It might break my fingers, but I’m hoping that it will also be sufficient to break a nose or a cheekbone, maybe a fucking eye-socket.
When I push my way through to the back-room, Rudy and Ron are still loosening their belts, which means I can’t have been knocked out for long. Feeble sunlight filters through the greasy window, and I feel a jolt of nausea as I see Brenda sprawled across the piss-coloured linoleum, fishnet tights round her ankles. I can see the tattoo of Alvin’s name on her pelvis.
I grab Ron by his greasy hair and slam my chain-wrapped fist into his face. I feel a couple of knuckles pop, but I hit him again, regardless. My third punch knocks him out. Rudy retrieves his hammer from the top of the chest freezer. He hits me on the shoulder blade, and I feel hot sick rising in my throat.
If he hits my skull again I’ll probably end up fucking brain-damaged.
I let the dog-chain unravel and whip it across his face. He’s a tough little cunt, and he barely makes a sound as it crumples his misshapen nose and knocks him off his feet.
I stand over him, thick blood dripping from the chain.
He reaches for the hammer and I stamp on his wrist. He reaches for it again, so I stamp on his mouth instead.
I look down. Jesus. His ruined face looks like a vaginal infection. In the half-light, the blood on the floor looks black.
I wipe the blood off my right boot and pick up his hammer. I fake a lunge with the tool, and hear an erratic splattering sound – followed by a thick, evil stench. He gurgles teeth.
I help Brenda to her feet. Her red eyes look out-of-focus and her skin looks chalky.
When she kisses me she tastes of blood. Blood and black-market cigarettes.
She presses up against me, looking dazed. Her nylon underwear feels wet against my leg.
“Is he dead?”
It hurts when I talk, and my voice comes out as a thick-tongued slur.
“…but he will probably have difficulty remembering his own name in future.”
Outside, the early evening sky looks bloodshot. I dump the dog-chain on top of an ashtray and we drift towards the sea-front, arm-in-arm.
“Who were those men?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
She lights another cigarette.
“You know what Alvin used to say?”
“There is a price we pay for the mistakes we make.”
I shrug again.
“Well, he would fucking know.”