Short Lives and Blunt Knives


The pub is full of aging hard men, all nursing unfinished pints and festering grudges.

The motherfucker I’m looking for is sat at a corner table, wearing more makeup than a mob wife. It accentuates his rubbery, porcine features. His name is Michael Sweetwater, and he was the man the Andretti Family tasked with slashing open the stomachs of constipated drug mules.

Last year, he left four corpses in a gutted flat. The smallest – a 15-year-old boy – still had the knife jabbed in his oozy, deflated gut.

“Is that a Stanley knife in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”

Sweetwater removes the cigarette from his plump lips and rests it in one of the grooves of the ashtray, squinting up at me.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“I’m a friend of Magdalena.”

I drive my right elbow into his temple before his fat fingers can reach for his blade. Then I place the half-smoked cigarette back between his lips and slam his face into the ashtray, shattering his nose. I drag him out of the pub, as his slacks start to darken with piss.



The address she gave me is an old Barratt Homes property, built in the ‘80s. The furniture has been removed and all that remains are two wooden kitchen chairs.

She’s wearing a black cashmere sweater, tight leather skirt and low-heeled boots.

When she looks up from her phone, I see that her pretty face is bisected by a savage scar.

“Do I make you uncomfortable, Mr Rey?”

The accent is Eastern European. Balkans, perhaps?

I shrug. I’m sure she could make me uncomfortable in ways I’ve never dreamed of.

A brief smile dances across her lips and she passes me a newspaper cutting.

It’s Sweetwater, walking free from court. His fragile, damaged looking wife trails behind him – clinging to his elbow, as he grins for the camera.

I want to ask Magdalena who cut her, but I suspect I already know the answer.

She kicks off her boots, then unzips her skirt, letting it fall to the floor. Next comes the cashmere sweater, which she casually tosses towards me – like a pub stripper removing her sweaty panties.

The thick, downturned scar makes her smooth, tanned belly resemble a sad face.

I stare blankly at the disfigurement.

“I was one of the lucky ones, Mr Rey.”


The garden wall has collapsed and a maroon Vauxhall Cavalier is half-smothered with snaking vegetation. I traipse through the overgrown garden and try the front door. It’s unlocked.

The three boys are sat on a collapsed sofa, their complexions as grey as the well-worn carpet. Each boy is attached to the next one with a cable-tie around the wrist. All three are wearing adult nappies and eating McDonalds Happy Meals. They are watching soap operas with the sound muted.

Sweetwater’s stepson, Lombard emerges from the kitchen holding a litre can of Faxe. He’s a hairy-backed specimen with pulsing scalp veins and an infected eyebrow piercing. His eyes are full of the darkness that most people fear.

Not me. When I hit him, his skin rips like wet paper. When I hit him a second time, I break his jaw. On the floor, his fat gut churns like an old cement mixer.

I drag his step-father’s Stanley knife across his face and he screams blue murder, thick black blood oozing from his ruined mouth.


I lead the boys outside, nursing their swollen bellies. They are still naked apart from their nappies and cheap Torbay Road flip-flops.

Magdalena barks a guttural instruction at them, and they look startled, before climbing into the back of the gunmetal grey BMW – still attached to one another.

She lights a cigarette and eyes me curiously.

“Where’s the knife, Mr Rey?”

I hold it up for her inspection, then drop it through the sewer grate next to the car’s front tyre.

“Did you kill him?”

“You didn’t pay me to kill him.”

She grunts and peels a dozen banknotes off a roll in her handbag, tossing them at my feet.

I stoop down to pick them up, and Magdalena flicks the half-smoked cigarette at me.

“You know what to do.”

~ fin ~

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Tom Leins is a crime writer from Paignton, UK. His books include Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, Boneyard Dogs and Ten Pints of Blood (all published by Close to the Bone) and Repetition Kills You and The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men (both via All Due Respect). His new book, Sharp Knives & Loud Guns, will be released by All Due Respect in December 2021. For more details, please visit: