Meat Bubbles {Tom Leins}

I peel up my shirtsleeve carefully. The scalpel wound in my arm looks like a splayed cunt. Blood hums in my ears. I look down at middle-aged man with the phlegm-coloured complexion. His linen shirt is splattered with blood, and the stagnant-looking puddle of crimson under his skull seems to be spreading.

I glance around the lounge-bar of the Intercontinental Hotel. It's full of stooped bureaucrats and young Turkish guys in thin leather jackets, all avoiding eye contact. A disco version of the Rolling Stones 'Miss You' plays on a loop.

The barman is wearing a too-tight dinner jacket, but he has a shaved head and scabbed knuckles. I stagger over to him.

"Are you gonna call the cops?"

He shakes his head.

"The whole of Paignton is a fucking crime scene. Why add to the mess?"

I nod my thanks.

"Don't thank me. Guys like you can't help fucking up. This time next week you'll be eating powdered eggs in a locked room full of sex offenders."

I laugh, in spite of myself, and then pass out.


Six days earlier.

Khandi says that she used to be a glamour model, but I have my doubts. She's a honey-coloured blonde with an ex-rated mouth. She's outside the Psycho-A-Go-Go smoking a cigarette. Her stomach is a mess of ruptured stitches and pink ribbon scars. She catches me staring, not for the first time.

"Take it from me, son - I'd rather be stitched up by a sober vet than a drunk doctor." 

She laughs drunkenly and weaves her way down the Esplanade, in the direction of the Intercontinental Hotel. I consider following her, but think better of it and walk back into noise.


The Psycho-A-Go-Go is a cinderblock cesspool, full of smut-hounds trying to slip a finger into Paignton's ripped backside. It's a seaside stomp-house where bad people go to have a good time. It's where I like to hang out on a Friday night.

Jerry Connelly was wearing an orange satin shirt, sipping at his Bacardi-based cocktail through a straw. It was called a Clubfoot, and smelled like raw sewage. Jerry has a thick neck and a puffy face. He stinks of yesterday's cigarette smoke, and looks like he hasn't slept for a month. He clears his throat and raises his glass.

"To absent friends…"

I stare blankly at him. He is an ex-cop. Not a bad man, just repetitive.

"You don't have any friends, Jerry."

The skin around his moist blue eyes crinkles as he flashes me a wolfish grin.

"So, what do you think Joe?"

"About what?"

"This guy they are calling The Surgeon. You are always saying how you hate matrimonial casework - it makes you feel like a glorified panty sniffer."

"I said sheet-sniffer."

"Same difference."

I don't disagree.

"You were born here - you know the rackets. Why don't you earn yourself a few quid?"

"I'll think about it."

He passes me a business card and gets to his feet.

"His name is Carver. You'll fucking hate him, but the money is good."

"I hate all cops."

He flashes me his overfamiliar grin again.

"Present company excluded, right?"

I shrug, and Jerry drifts through the gloom.

The boombox churns out Husker Du, the Blow Monkeys and the Fine Young Cannibals as a group of bedraggled prostitutes get their grind on. One, a Chinese girl named Vivienne Wu, drags me out of my seat and onto the makeshift dancefloor. She tries to kiss me with red scabbed lips, but I shrug her off. The crush of bodies seems to soak up the music, and it sounds vague and pointless. It is so hot I am sweating like a junkie. A skinny guy leers at Vivienne. He has the edgy look of a mid-level bagman, but he is probably just another needle-poking junkie motherfucker. She slaps him, drunkenly. He crumples to the floor dramatically and reaches for the flick-knife in his back-pocket. Half-Pint charges through the crowd like a snow-plough. He's the bouncer, and his shaven skull is visibly cracked and dented in places. He has a .44 calibre Bulldog revolver tucked into the waistband of his tracksuit bottoms, but prefers to use his fists and feet. He stamps on the junkie's wrist and it snaps like a rotten floorboard. The crowd disperses, and the music dies, leaving the scum-stain howling as he is dragged out of the fire-exit. Someone flips the tape over and the music re-starts. It still sounds shit, so I walk outside, fingering the business card in my pocket.


It was after 2am when I got back to my rooming house. I felt dog-tired, but went down to the payphone and called Ani anyway.

"This is going nowhere, Joe. You know that, don't you?"

I drank an inch of vodka from the tumbler in front of me and waited for her to say something else. Soon, the only thing I can hear is the dial tone. I retrieve the business card from my back pocket and stare at it, draining my glass. I dial the number on the card. Even though it is late he picks up first time.


"Mr Carver? My name is Joe Rey. Jerry Connelly gave me your business card. He said you could use a man like me…"


My meeting with Carver lasted less than 20 minutes. We met at a transport café on the outskirts of town. He was middle-aged and hard-looking. He drank black coffee and told me that the last time he eaten food there he had found a tooth in his fried breakfast. He didn't shake hands when I arrived, and scratched at his acne-scarred face constantly. When I finished my breakfast he offered me two thousand pounds to track down a man known as The Surgeon, strictly off the books. He said he would pay me four thousand if I found him within the week…