Ventilator Blues


I wake up with a boot across my throat and a gun barrel wedged in my eye socket.

The man holding the revolver is so decrepit he looks like he may have misplaced his own death certificate. He winks at me with a lazy eye.

“The boss wants a word…”

His accent is thicker than his synthetic hairpiece.

“He can have two. ‘Fuck’ and ‘You’.”

The hood laughs indulgently.

Then he splits my scalp open with the barrel of his gun. A good, old-fashioned pistol-whipping. Some things never go out of style.


The TV lounge at the Black Regent is full of damaged-looking junkies and wheelchair-bound prostitutes. The boxy TV in the corner fizzes with static. Last month the new management turned the downstairs dining room into a partitioned-off trick-pad to cater for the abundance of handicapped trade.

The Andretti Family used to have the seafront sex business locked down, but thanks to the Poles they no longer have skin in that particular game. It was a memorably bloody turf war – for anyone that wasn’t caught in the crossfire, that is.

Wojtek Jr is like a watered-down version of Wojtek Sr. His father was an evil bastard, but at least he played by the rules. The old man had only been hooked up to his iron lung for an hour when Junior sent a couple of goons into Moretti’s Ristorante with hatchets and cleavers. There was so much blood spilled on the red and white checked tablecloths that they had to burn them in the back yard after hauling away all of the shiny-suited bodies.


Junior is in the back office, slurping the life out of a 500ml can of Zubr. I can hear the unholy ‘woosh’ of his father’s iron lung in an adjacent room.

The girl on her knees in front of him is called Shivonne. I recognise the deep knife scars across her back. She turns and looks at me nervously and resumes sucking Wojtek’s stubby cock. I knew her late father. He wouldn’t be turning in his grave because he didn’t have one. He was torn apart by dogs last year, and his remains were scraped up and scattered across the frozen winter mud.

Wojtek finishes his beer and wipes his dick on Shivonne’s hair.

“You like warm pussy? I’m running a two for one special. One week only.”

“Business slow, huh?”

He snorts.

“No. I’m a generous fucking guy.”

Shivonne eyeballs me as she buttons up her pale pink blouse. She ranks somewhere between damaged goods and dangerously fucked on life’s eternal sliding scale.

“Hey. Don’t look at her – look at me.”

I turn to face him. He’s short and stocky – slightly overweight. Not ugly, just bland.

“You owed my father money, Mr Rey. I’ve been going over his books. That debt has now passed to me.”

Another well-worn cliché to add to my tough-guy handbook.

“I understand.”

He runs a hand through his lightly gelled hair.

“Most people try to reason with me.”

“Would it do me any good?”

He chuckles.

“I will give you a week. Like I said, I’m a generous fucking guy.”


I glance down the hallway towards the lobby. The elderly hoodlum is collapsed in an easy chair, revolver dangling limply from his liver-spotted hand. He looks asleep, or maybe just drunk.

I duck into the next room. It looks like some kind of storeroom. The iron lung dominates the small space. It is roughly the size of a hatchback, but looks far heavier. I stare at Senior’s cadaverous face. He looks frail and yellow-skinned. He used to smell of smoker’s toothpaste and cheap cologne, but now stinks of rot and decay.


In the doorway, the leathery gunman sags beneath his stupendous hairpiece.

I hold my hands up, unthreateningly.

“Just paying my last respects.”

He sneers.

As I motion to leave, I wrap the ventilator’s power cord around my ankle, twice, and yank the plug out of its socket. If Wojtek could still talk, I’m sure that the old bastard would thank me for it.

Who knows? Maybe Junior will give me the benefit of the doubt if I help reduce his fucking electricity bill…

~ 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: