'To Hell With Good Intentions' by Tom Leins
It was an ugly, sluggish afternoon, and I decided that drinking seemed like my best course of action. The Oldenburg used to be a family pub, but now there is chicken-wire across the window and sawdust on the floor to soak up the blood. Most of the men who drink here have missing fingers or broken bones. Franky Vasco is even worse. He looks like a smiling cadaver. His skin looks roughly the same colour as a grey borstal pullover. He is a regular fixture here – like the pool table, or the condom machine. I haven’t seen him here since his triple bypass. I started sitting on his barstool the day the ambulance arrived. He had a surprisingly nice view.
I was drunk by the time I met with my psychoanalyst.
Her once-striking features have been blurred indistinct with age, but I can still get lost in her smoke-coloured eyes.
“Describe how you feel today, Joe?”
“Withdrawn, disconnected, narcissistic… and those are just some of my good points.”
I flash her a smile, but it has been a long time since she has laughed at one of my wisecracks. I don’t know – maybe we should start seeing other people?
I first started seeing her after I was shot by a flesh-peddler called Meat-Rack. That was three years ago. The bullet wound still looks cratered and raw, but I’m used to it now. To be honest, getting stabbed hurt far worse.
It is Happy Hour by the time I arrive at the Dirty Lemon. A Turkish girl with a transparent blouse and orange bikini bottoms is performing the floorshow. I’ve seen her before. I remember her calloused feet.
An eerie hush descends on the room as the barman changes the tape. I feel a meaty hand on my shoulder and turn around. The man has a shiny suit and a face the colour of boiled meat.
“Beer garden. Now.”
I nod and drain my drink.
It’s not a beer garden – it’s not a garden of any kind – but it is outside. I walk down the wheelchair ramp as casually as possible. Herman Strange is wearing a yellow roll-neck sweater under a rust-coloured suit. We’ve never met, but I know his daughter, Brandy. She has tangled caramel-coloured hair and a rhinestone in her belly button. Last year she came fourth in the Miss Teen Paignton contest.
Herman is a heavy man, but he moves easily across the pavement to hit me.
The overprotective parent act – I saw that one coming.
I’m not in the mood to fight, and my punch skids off his gelled hair. One of his hoods smashes me across the throat with a pickaxe handle. I sink to my knees, gasping, and Herman’s slip-on shoe catches me under the chin, snapping my head back.
Last night mine and Brandy’s teeth scraped as we kissed. I can still taste the tobacco on her lips.
In a minute I will be picking my teeth off the pavement.
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