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Beauty & Ruin

When you're down, seems the only way you can go is up. In the Gutter there's gravity, and gravity don't work like that.

Beauty & Ruin by Tom Leins

The midday sun burns like a bullet wound. It feels hotter on my bare shoulders than the arena lights on fight night. There is no breeze, and the stink from the petrochemical plant lingers in the air like an afterthought.
We are in the long grass next to Testament Falls. Nikki asked me to go down on her, but my neck-brace got in the way, so we sat around and smoked her cigarettes instead.

I close my eyes against the sun’s rays. My sunglasses got trampled in a crack den, and I haven’t had chance to replace them yet.
Every time Nikki leans across to kiss my blistered lips, I feel my broken ribs pop under her weight.
We have known each other since the final year of high school. She was over-sexed, even back then. During recess she would jerk guys off behind the sports hall in exchange for a cigarette. If you gave her a second one, she would stick a finger up your asshole at the same time. By the summer term I even remember some of the teachers getting involved…
With her forefinger, she traces the thick, ragged scar from my spinal surgery.
“Are you sure you’re up to this, Johnny?”
I catch my reflection in her cheap drugstore sunglasses. My face looks puffy, my hair is receding. I’m a fuckin’ mess.
Before my enforced retirement, the ring announcer used to say that my age was 36, but I’m going to be 46 next birthday. He said I hailed from Los Angeles, California, but I’ve never been any further west than Hellbelly.
“Fuckin’ A.”
I can’t fight… I can’t fuck… but I can sure-as-shit still wave a firearm in some poor bastard’s face.
*
Five hours later.
We are in the service alley behind McDaniel Meat, in Nikki’s dead brother’s truck, smoking the last of her cigarettes.
It is the first Friday of the month. Fight night. Strictly bareknuckle. Twenty men. $1,000 buy-in. Last man standing takes home the $15,000 prize fund.
The fights are organised by a dude known as the Rattlesnake Daddy. He is rake-thin, and looks older than God. He always wears a sleeveless Black Sabbath t-shirt, and has a shriveled USMC tat on his forearm. On fight night, he keeps an old rifle looped over his left shoulder with a length of electrical cable.
I’m wearing a threadbare cop uniform we picked up at the Crippled Civilian’s thrift store two counties over. It is itchy, and too tight, but looks convincing in dim light.
I can tell Nikki is nervous, because she is talking too quickly. Babbling about the guy who does her ass-cheek implants. Tells me he is doing time for injecting pre-op hookers’ asses with Fix-a-Flat tire aerosols…
*
You can throw a beer can in Testament and chances are you will hit an ex-wrestler, but the kind of guys who fight in the parking lot of a meat factory after dark are has-beens and never-weres. Most of these fuckers have probably changed their ring names more often than the girls at the Slop Shop change their panties.
The only fighter I recognize is a guy known as the Eyeball Kid. He has a bloodshot eye tattooed on the back of his shaven skull. His leotard is filthy, like it’s been used to mop up excrement. He clearly needs the money more than I do, but it’s his tough fuckin’ luck.
We stay in the shadows, and edge toward the aluminum trailer in the far corner of the parking lot. The security guard’s office. Where the Rattlesnake Daddy keeps the prize money.
I knock on the dented door with my cane.
“Testament PD. Open up.”
The door opens a crack. It’s Rattlesnake’s half-sister, Kellyanne. She looks haggard, like a partially melted Barbie doll. I drop my shoulder into the door, and she hits the deck like a sack of warm shit. Nikki scrambles up the breezeblock steps in front of me, and I drag the battered piece out of my holster and scan the empty room, cop-show-style.
I gesture toward the pump action shotgun that Kellyanne dropped.
“Pick up the fuckin’ gun, Nikki.”
She is jittery with nerves, and when she stoops down to retrieve the gun Kellyanne kicks her in the face with the heel of her thigh-high boot. Nikki screams as the heel pierces her cheek. Kellyanne yanks her boot away and slams it into Nikki’s face a second time.
“How do you like my boots? Classy and sassy, Daddy says.”
“Fuck…”
Nikki is screaming, hands over her face, blood oozing through her fingertips. Her eyes look wild.
Kellyanne gestures at my neck-brace with the shotgun.
“What’s up with you, you crippled motherfucker?”
“Give me the money, Kellyanne.”
She reaches for a plastic cube dangling from a cord around her neck.
“What the fuck’s that?”
“Rape alarm, dick-sucker.”
She presses the button and the cube starts to shriek, reverberating off the aluminium walls and out across the parking lot.
“Fuckin’ bitch.”
I raise my gun and squeeze the trigger. The bullet ruptures her leathery face.
“Nikki, get the fuckin’ loot.”
I glance across at her, but she’s passed out in a pool of her own piss.
“Fuck!”
I stumble down the breezeblock steps and hobble towards the truck.
There is a figure leaning against the cab. Shit. The motherfuckin’ Rattlesnake Daddy.
“Evening officer,” he drawls, flashing me a gummy smile.
I start to shuffle toward him, but he jabs his rifle into my beer gut.
“Drop the piece, shit-stain.”
I pluck the gun out of the holster with my fingertips – just like a real fuckin’ cop – and drop it on the cracked asphalt.
“I’m no palm reader, but I see tough times ahead for you, my friend…”
I shrug.
“I don’t like to think that far ahead.”
“Just as fucking well.”
He points the rifle at my left knee and grins, and for the first time in my Godforsaken life I really wish I was dead.


Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. Over the last 15 years his short stories have been widely published in magazines, anthologies and online. He is currently working on a series of ‘Paignton Noir’ novels, including Boneyard Dogs, Thirsty & Miserable and All Is Swell In The Grinding Light. His first short story collection will be called Repetition Kills You. Work on a collection of wrestling-themed noir, called The Good Book, is now underway.