Skin Trade


I’m standing outside a sea-front biker bar called the Burning Wheel picking at a tray of greasy-looking meat with a plastic fork. The bar used to be known as the Tenderloin Bar & Grill, but it has been under new management since a failed arson attempt last Christmas.

It’s a Friday night, and the mood is brutal. Two gypsies are fighting in the car-park, but only one of them has a length of chain. A crowd of drunken degenerates roar their approval. The fattest gypsy is a bile-spitting knucklehead called Franky Elias. I don’t know the other guy, but he is the one with the chain. He whips Franky across the spine and he drops to his knees. He looks up from the oil-stained concrete, wheezing with dread. I look away as his opponent wraps the chain around Franky’s throat. Behind me the sunset bleeds into the water. When I turn back, Franky’s fat tongue dangles lazily from his dead mouth. He looks even uglier dead than he did alive.

Across the car park a morbidly obese skinhead glares at me. Me and Sugar-Lump have history. Last year I had a run-in with a gang of Aryans, and he was on the fringes of the scene – like a fat girl at a disco. He never seemed to have the stomach for the politics, but I’m not one to draw distinctions: those Nazi fucks are all stink-stains at the end of the day. Last time we met I broke Sugar-Lump’s fat ankles and left him howling in pain in a drained swimming pool. He starts hobbling towards me through the crowd, so I head inside to the bar.

I wait patiently until Sugar-Lump wobbles through the fire exit, and slam the fire extinguisher into the back of his head. His skull is so layered with flab that it takes two attempts to knock him off his feet. When he hits the deck I roll him under the pool table and grab a cue from the rack. The bar area is crowded with tattooed, big-thighed women. I elbow my way through the throng and order a double-vodka from the elderly barman. I walk a complete circuit of the bar before heading down the wrought-iron staircase towards the howls emanating from the basement.

I edge down into the gloom. The only thing I can see is the flickering red light of the camcorder. By the time I reach the bottom of the stairs the chamber of shrieks has gone unnervingly quiet. The girl has blacked out, and lies curled in a ball at the big man’s feet.

His name is Rusty Waters and he is a semi-retired Bluesman, notorious for his rabid impulses. I heard that until recently he had been muling tar for the Aryans. Still, I guess homemade porno is more fun. He’s stripped to the waist. Big black veins criss-cross his pale skin. He slips on a Mexican wrestling mask and tightens his bloodied butcher’s apron and I suddenly feel thick-headed. I lurch forward and swing the pool cue at him. It cracks against his neck. He shakes his head groggily, and I keep him at arm’s length with the busted stick.

“Give me the girl, Rusty, and I promise not to hurt you too bad.”

He scowls at me and wipes his nose on the already bloody apron.

“Fuck off, kid. I’ve had plenty of guys come after me, and I’ve buried them all.”

He steps forward and I slam the pool cue into his face again. His blood runs black, coursing down his chest in thick streams. He snorts like a hog.

“Get your own girl, kid – this one’s mine.”

I snap a kick into his left kneecap and he hits the deck like a sack of shit. Blood drips down his face like rainwater.

I scoop up the girl, still holding the shattered pool cue. She is one of Harry Warsaw’s strippers. Cayenne. Or Candy.

Rusty offers me a blood-streaked grin.

“It’s your funeral, kid.”

I stomp him, twice in quick succession. Hard enough to put him out of commission, but not hard enough to kill him. There are plenty of ghosts in this town already.

~ 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: