Shivonne had all six of her childrens’ names tattooed on her back. The two that got taken into foster care last month have now been removed with a Stanley knife. She told me that she did this herself when she was high. The skin around the tattoos is red raw, with subcutaneous fat visible in the middle where she gouged the knife too deep.
The gunrunner’s hair is the color of cigar ash. He has grey skin and a flat face. His bright, floral-patterned rayon shirt hangs loose on his skeletal frame.
I glance at the machine gun on his coffee table. It’s making me nervous.
“RPK-74,” the gunrunner says. “Not my style, but very popular in the former Soviet Union. Do you own a gun, Mr. Rey?”
I consider telling him that I once bought a single-barrel shotgun off some gypsies, but that could sound shameful.
“Machine guns made me rich,” he says. “Handguns make me happy.”
I don’t tell him what makes me happy – certain aspects of my private life would probably make him blush.
He draws a pistol from his calfskin shoulder holster.
“HK45 Compact Tactical. Go ahead, give her a feel. Beautiful, isn’t she?”
I take the gun; he doesn’t see that I’m rolling my eyes. It feels reassuring. Not as reassuring as the pig-knife in my boot or the brass knuckles in my jacket pocket, but close.
“Thank you for finding Shivonne, Mr Rey. My daughter began modelling at thirteen and drifted into less salubrious jobs as she got older. I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude.”
“I may operate outside of the law, but let me assure you: I never raised her to become a drug addict and a whore. I intend to supervise her rehabilitation personally.”
When I found Shivonne she was working in a brothel on Baymount Road. Her pimp said she specialized in amputees and men with deformities. The room she worked in smelled putrid, like wet disease. I don’t tell the gunrunner this. I doubt it would break his heart, anyway.
He passes me a skinny envelope. I flick through the banknotes inside. The old bastard has shorted me.
When he shakes my hand, his ragged fingernails bite into my skin like a claw. His jaundiced eyes gleam with unknown horrors.
“It has been a pleasure doing business with you, Mr Rey.”
I leave him to his dusty, soulless room.
The garden buzzes with activity. Men shout and whoop and fire machine guns into the treeline. Muzzles flash. Cigar smoke mixes with the gun smoke. The afternoon sky looks dead.
A waitress offers me a drink. It’s brandy, but I take one anyway. I drink it quickly and signal for another.
When the shooting stops, I hear screeching coming from an upstairs window. It sounds like the noise Shivonne made when I dragged her out of the brothel.
My ex-wife told me that failing to save someone’s life isn’t the same thing as killing them. I didn’t understand back then. Now I do.
I drift back into the old bastard’s house, taking my time, his Tactical heavy in my pocket.
Everyone can be saved, even Shivonne.
Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Spelk Fiction and Near to the Knuckle. He is currently working on his first novel: Thirsty & Miserable. Get your pound of flesh at http://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com
Photograph courtesy of Global Pillage.