Repetition Kills You
They say repetition kills you. Well, it is sure-as-shit going to kill somebody...
It feels like I have been kicking down the same doors, cracking the same heads and snapping the same bones on an endless loop lately. Last week I stomped the same guy twice in one day - purely by accident.
For better or for worse, my life now resembles a blood-soaked Moebius Strip.
It is mid-November - a blisteringly cold day.
Despite the chill, Jerry Connelly is wearing an orange satin shirt. The once-shiny fabric clings to his round body. I realise that it is his favourite, but it is starting to discolour under the armpits. He retrieves this week's Herald Express from the jacket draped over the back of his chair.
The phrase 'Property of the Dirty Lemon' has been written across the front page of the newspaper. We are in the Oldenburg - he always was a cheap bastard.
He opens the paper to page three. The girl posing topless is called Cobwebs. The caption says that she is aged 22, from Newton Abbot, but I know that neither of those facts is true. He retrieves a discoloured lump of nicotine gum from his mouth and presses it onto Cobwebs' left nipple with a stubby forefinger.
Then he points at the column next to the nudie shot.
"Fucking bastards. They have written that the county morgue will run out of corpse paint if there are any more killings in Paignton this year."
I shrug. It's probably true. I have already seen more corpses than I would care to remember this year. Young bodies hacked up for parts. Elderly meat fed to rabid dogs. Bad men burned to the bone... I remember them all, one way or another.
Jerry passes me a photo of a girl. She has red hair. It is cut short, like a boy's. Beneath the plastic sheeting she looks as pale as a ghost.
"Fourth girl this month, Joe."
I know that. I've been hired privately to look for two of them. Once by the step-mother, once by the grandparents.
Each of the girls has been wrapped in plastic and placed face down on Paignton beach.
The paper are calling the killer the 'Plastician'. It is one of the better monikers that they have come up with in recent years.
Most serial killers I have ever encountered have been nothing more than withered middle-aged men with lurid nicknames. Last year we had the 'Ladyscraper', this year the 'Bone Daddy', and now the 'Plastician'. Like I said, it is one of the better names.
Jerry stares at me through puffy eyes, but I can't think of anything to say, so I turn the photo face down and finish my drink instead.
The Swanson is a shit-streaked seafront sex hotel in East Paignton. It used to cater to the holiday trade, then it was a bail hostel. Now it is a notorious bolt-hole for recently paroled sex offenders. When I arrive, the desk-jockey is flicking through a dog-eared issue of Tailgunner. He has brittle grey hair and milky eyes, and looks older than the hotel itself.
I place the photograph that Jerry gave me on top of his magazine, but he swipes it away dismissively, without looking at it.
I crouch down and retrieve the picture. I put it back on the desk, but this time I grab him by the hair and press his face into it.
"What the fuck, dude?"
"The girl. Have you seen her?"
"Sure. I've seen her. I would remember that pretty mouth anywhere."
I slam my fist into his pretty mouth - twice in quick succession. The second time, I hear a vicious crack, as some of his rotten teeth give way.
I don't have time for small talk, so I reach over the counter and grab him by the ears. I force my thumb into his eye socket and press until I hear his eyeball pop. He slumps to the floor, wailing.
I hold my thumb over his other eye and he shrieks.
"Guy named Alan Lombardo. A look-but-don't-touch type. He likes to bring a friend to do the dirty."
He starts to howl like a dying dog, rotten mouth gaping open. I aim a kick at his soft palate and the lobby goes deathly quiet.
The last time I saw Alan Lombardo he looked and smelled sick - wasted features and hooded eyes. His daughter had been drugged and forced to perform in the kind of video that makes your soul congeal just watching it. He hired me to rectify the situation, and paid me well for my time.
Before taking the job, I asked around about Lombardo. No one in town knew much about him. Someone said he used to co-own a heroin processing facility, another said he was some kind of mob lawyer. As far as I was concerned, anyone who worked that hard to obscure their past was welcome to the fucking privacy.
That all changed the moment his 'hobby' developed a body-count.
The smell of antiseptic drifts out of Lombardo's open door, but it doesn't conceal the coppery smell of the blood. I can see a smear of fresh-looking blood at the bottom of the stairs, and the bannister is lightly splattered. There are two expensive-looking suitcases next to the front door.
I walk past the spatter-patterns and down the hallway.
Greasy light filters through Lombardo's study window. He isn't smoking, but the room smells of cigar smoke.
He has coiffed hair and an even tan. The skeletal figure I remember is barely recognisable. He is sitting in a swivel chair, talking on a blocky-looking cordless telephone. He laughs heartily and hangs up abruptly.
"Mr Rey! What a lovely surprise! Thanks again for taking care of my little problem. I admire your … thoroughness."
"Sometimes things turn out that way…"
He looks at me curiously.
"Sometimes they do, don't they?"
I'm unsure how to begin, so I place the Polaroid on his desk. There are still bloody fingerprints on the picture, which I have made no effort to wipe off.
The smile withers and dies on his lips.
"Can I explain?"
I shrug - again.
"I'd rather you didn't."
I slip my fingers into the brass knuckles in my jacket. They used to belong to a skinny ex-cop, but they are a good fit.
A door creaks open behind me. I swivel in my chair, and lock eyes with a man whose face looks like it is melting. He mashes his cigar out on the back of his hand and drifts across the plush carpet.
He is far bigger than me. I wouldn't want to go toe-to-toe with him for more than a few minutes.
I don't get the fucking chance.
His first punch snaps my nose, and I black out.
He wakes me up with a kick to the stomach, and I find myself blinking into harsh, corrosive light.
I seem to be in some kind of basement autopsy suite. The room stinks of death. He glares at me with cold, vacant eyes, and rolls up his sleeves.
His arms are cracked with eczema, and underneath I can make out a blur of clumsy prison ink. He spits on his hands and slicks back his hair. I notice a tattoo of a tombstone on his neck, and feel a tiny ball of dread settle in my gut.
Without taking his eyes off me he starts to unfurl an industrial roll of plastic sheeting.
"Who are you?"
He carries on going about his business. When he eventually speaks, it is in a cold, delicate voice.
"The Plastician. That is what you people have taken to calling me, I believe."
"What is your real name?"
"It doesn't matter - you won't live long enough to tell anyone."
I try a different approach.
"What is Lombardo's angle - I thought he was a straight-shooter?"
"Alan and I are old friends. We shared a number of things in Channings Wood - bodily fluids included. He found that the video of his daughter awakened certain feelings in him. Certain impure thoughts that he believed the criminal justice system had gouged out of him... I'm pleased to say that he looked me up."
He grins malevolently.
"Have you ever been wrapped in plastic, Mr Rey?"
"Not that I remember."
"You will technically be mummified, and unable to regulate your body temperature. Dehydration will kick in, which will eventually lead to a heart attack. By the time the police find you, your corpse will have turned blue. It will match those lovely eyes of yours."
"There are worse ways to die."
The Plastician says it like a fact, not a threat. I appreciate that.
He stoops down and picks me up under the arms. As he drags me towards the autopsy table I slump like dead-weight, but he still lifts me easily.
I brace my feet against the table legs and slam my head back as hard as I can. His nose breaks with a satisfying crack, and he hits the deck. I retrieve my brass knuckles from his jacket pocket and aim a punch at the pulpy, bloody mess in the middle of his face.
He screams, kicking me hard across the shinbone, and I feel it snap. Motherfucker.
I reach for the plastic sheeting and press it down on his face. He kicks out wildly, skull-blood bubbling under the plastic. I just press harder.
I crawl up the steel staircase back into Lombardo's study. I'm surprised to see that he is still here. His wig is askew, and there is a thick smear of toupee adhesive across his bald head.
There is also a fist-sized entry wound under his jaw oozing black-looking blood.
I crawl across the carpet, towards the hallway, adding the new bodies to my interminable list.
More cold sweats. More bad dreams. More local meat for the infernal fucking corpse-grinder.