“I need you to find a man for me.”
Sharon Marwood is a 50-something blonde with drawn skin and pale grey eyes. She’s wearing a cheap black pullover that emphasises her breasts.
She slides the photo across my desk.
“It’s an old picture.”
“He’s an old man now, Mr Rey. Will that be a problem?”
“Depends what you want to do to him.”
“Nothing he doesn’t deserve.”
“I’m teetotal. I drank enough when I was 13 to last me a lifetime.”
I nod, pouring myself a vodka anyway. Minimart. Bottom shelf.
I’m a creature of habit – bad fucking habits.
She passes me an envelope. I don’t count it.
“I’ll start right away.”
The man’s name is Kenny Pickles. In the 1970s and ‘80s he owned a late-night drinking hole called ‘Kenny’s Klub’. The K-hole. His cousin was a farmer and Kenny was the first man in town to start selling Ketamine – a horse tranquiliser – for recreational use.
Sharon told me that he met her at Lymington Road coach station. Another Northern runaway heading for the English Riviera. Took her for sausage and chips at a greasy spoon in Torre and offered her a job as a glass collector in his club. When she said no, he offered her a cigarette laced with Donkey Dust and waited until she passed out. Sellotaped bin-liners over his car windows, so she didn’t know where she was being taken.
The only thing she collected were STDs – from his predatory friends. When Sharon complained about the mysterious sores, Kenny told her they were “disco blisters” – a sweat-rash from dancing too hard to the latest chart hits. When the discomfort got too much, he gave her another dose of Special K and a glass of Babycham.
Kenny’s newest shit-hole is a dilapidated 1960s red-brick building behind a row of lock-ups. Derelict – like the rest of the neighbourhood – which means no security camera, no alarm. No fucking point.
I bang on the sagging fire door with the flat of my hand.
“What?” a rotten voice croaks.
“Delivery for Pickles. Brewery sent me.”
“You’re not due ‘til tomorrow.”
“Dunno, boss,” I grunt. “I just go where I’m told. You gonna open up, or what?”
The door creaks open and I slam a discarded house-brick into Kenny’s blotchy elderly skull.
The rudimentary dancefloor is buckled and uneven. Cheap linoleum laid on raw concrete.
The disco lights start before the music kicks in. Greasy colours bounce off the rotten walls: orange, purple, green.
I’m sipping a revolting-tasting pint of Harp Irish lager – the only one on tap.
Every party needs a special guest.
I pour the Harp on Kenny’s face and he splutters awake.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.”
The old bastard can thrash around as much as he wants, but his scrawny pigeon chest is trapped under a chair. My chair. And I weigh 15 stone.
“Remember this song, Kenny? It was number one the week I was born, apparently. What were you doing in February 1980, mate?”
“Minding my own ruddy business. Who the fuck are you?”
“Me? No one special.”
I gesture to Sharon.
“Her, though. She’s your worst fucking nightmare.”
The first squirt of lighter fluid goes in his eyes. The second in his mouth.
His diseased eyes are a sickly shade of yellow.
“Is linoleum flammable?” Sharon asks.
“Probably. Those polyester trousers must be.”
Sharon squirts accelerant on his knees. His crotch.
Kenny howls – until I stomp his jaw.
I walk behind the bar and pour myself a double vodka. I’m not worried about prints, as what she has planned will eradicate my presence here altogether.
“You really doing this?”
She nods, a grim smile etched across her sallow face.
I remove the keys from Kenny’s belt and hand them over.
“Lock the door on your way out.”
I’m outside, trying to work out where my next drink is coming from, when I hear the lock click.
Sharon’s face appears through the greasy window pane. She raises the vodka bottle to her lips, as tongues of flame lick against the window.
One way or another, everybody burns.