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Tom Leins

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


Last summer 14 cut-price magicians died trying to catch bullets between their teeth. Me and the other carnival kids traded tooth-splinters and jam-jars full of viscera down on Winner Street. Mama Theobold gave us bathtub gin and prescription painkillers from someone else’s medicine cupboard. I kept one tooth for myself, as a present for Norah.




People say that the heat made the magicians do what they did, but I disagree. I think that this summer has been even hotter. On particularly hot nights I take my sleeping bag and climb on top of Lorenzo’s caravan. Some nights I would hear my sweat sizzle on the dented aluminium roof. Some nights I would hear Lorenzo groan as he pumped Norah full of his carny scum. Lorenzo has his pick of the girls around here. That’s one of Eugene’s rules. It isn’t strictly enforced, but then again, it doesn’t need to me.




When I first met Norah she worked in one of the refreshment kiosks on Paignton seafront. Her t-shirt was on inside out and her sweat tasted of chip fat. She had a heart-shaped face and crooked little teeth. I wanted her in my life, in my bloodstream, but she wanted the precious things I couldn’t afford.  She upped and left town this September. Not with Lorenzo – he never leaves town – but with a different, smaller man. He had murky eyes and a wallet fatter than my neck. I didn’t catch his name, and I can’t picture his face, but I have thought about him every day since Norah left.




It is Monday morning, and I am fixing Lorenzo’s chemical toilet. He hit the horse-meat pretty hard on Saturday night and made a real fucking mess of his caravan. He walks down the steps, with Jenny, his 15-year-old niece. When I look up Jenny’s skirt I realise that she is wearing Norah’s underwear.




The morning drizzle is greasy and relentless.


“So this is where you have pitched your tent this week…”


Emilio is a man of few words and long silences. When he speaks it makes my stomach churn. He emerges through the tarpaulin, polishing a flick-knife on his work trousers, and drifts across the tent in an ungainly, liquid movement, barely leaving footprints in the sawdust.


It looks like he is smoking a cigarette and chewing gum at the same time. As he approaches I feel the morning congeal around me. His teeth are the size of piano keys, and when he grins his decayed smile at me I want to bounce his head off one of the caravans.


He isn’t supposed to be here, and he knows it. Eugene Jr. kicked him to the kerb two years ago, and now he works part-time in the Sex Shop on Winner Street. Eugene’s wife caught Emilio fiddling around with some of the midgets, and Eugene beat him to within an inch of his life with a pickaxe handle before kicking him into oncoming traffic.  


 “Maybe I’ll see you later, Thurman. Talk about the old things.”


 “Yeah… maybe.”




Eugene Delacroix Jr.’s funeral is taking place this morning. Eugene III left me in charge of the rusty, bone-rattling fairground rides while the rest of carnival kids paid their last respects. I make sure that Emilio has gone and slip back inside my caravan. A pint of supermarket gin soothes my scalded sanity. I’m four fingers deep when I hear a knock on the door. I unclip my face-knife and brace myself for Emilio’s reappearance. The rusty door creaks open and a face like a bag of hammers pokes through the gap.


Trevor Shelton.


“Where are Eugene and Lorenzo?”


Shelton scowls at me. He is a low-ranking council official with a very blunt axe to grind. He doesn’t like me, or my carny surrealism.


“Not here. They’re not here, Trevor.”


“I need to see you in my office right now.”


I nod, and slide the door closed with my bare foot. I can hear his heavy, nasal breathing through the aluminium wall. I stand there for three or four minutes, until the heavy breathing stops. When I’m sure that he has gone I take another slug of my gin and slip into my blue wind-cheater, zipping it up to the neck.




Trevor’s office is situated between the rutted circus track and the grey strip of beach. When I arrive he is standing outside. He had never invited me in, presumably scared that I’m some kind of carny bloodsucker, too dangerous to be invited over the threshold. Rainwater dances across his freshly shampooed hair. Drippings from the leaking gutter above the doorway trickle down my spine.


“Nice weather for ducks, Trevor.”


He chews on his small cigar with a grimace.


“I guess this means no business for you today.”


“Well, we’re still doing the ‘Guess the Fat Man’s Weight’ competition, only we are staging it in the public toilets.”


He snorts, then scowls – a look of distaste staining his ugly face. Stale cigar ash drops onto my bare foot, and I wince.


I once heard on good authority that Trevor used to trudge around Victoria Park handing cigarettes to elderly men in an effort to make them cough up information on me and the other carnival kids. What a fucking mooch.


“Did you want anything in particular, Trevor?”


He flashes me a pained expression, and withdraws a small slip of paper from his breast pocket. The paper is soggy and unreadable.


“Can you make sure that Eugene gets this? Or Lorenzo. I don’t mind who.”


I hold the damp slip of paper at arms’ length, and look at it quizzically.


“What is it?”


“It’s this week’s receipt.”


I scrutinise it further.


“Receipt for what?”


He dismisses me with a wave of his small cigar.


“That will be all.”


I shrug and wedge the receipt into the pocket of my wind-cheater. 


“What a fucking joke.”




I grab my tool-kit from Lorenzo’s truck and run through the rest of my morning checks as quickly as possible. The rain is unrelenting, and the old monkey-wrench feels slippery in my hand.


As I finish my circuit I see Emilio standing next to the Wall of Death. His quiff has been flattened by the rain, and hangs limp over his yellow eyes.


“It’s time to talk about the old things, Thurman. It’s time to talk about what happened to Flesh-Heap.”


“I’ve got nothing to say to you, Emilio. Not today. Not ever.”




Benny Blundell was a morbidly obese sex offender that me and the rest of the boys at the rooming house nicknamed Flesh-Heap. None of us lived at the rooming house, we just hung out in the TV lounge on rainy afternoons, cadging drinks off the chronic alcoholics. 




Emilio sneaks the flick-knife out of his shabby denim jacket. It’s his weapon of choice. I’ve seen him puncture lungs and burst stomachs in pubs and alleyways all over town.




One afternoon Benny put on a video called ‘Funland’. It didn’t look like fun. Not for the children. After a few minutes, Emilio persuaded Benny to go to the off licence for us. When we were outside Emilio bludgeoned him with half a brick and stomped him into the wet gravel. We dragged his body behind the shrubbery and took turns dismembering his fleshy parts with Emilio’s hacksaw.




“Fine. How about I turn you inside out?”




I helped Emilio wedge the leaking body parts into the septic tank behind the Excelsior Hotel. It took over an hour, and afterwards we sniffed glue and he tried to kiss me.




Emilio drifts towards me.


I’m breathing like a horse, sweating like a mad-man.


Emilio rocks back on his heels, grinning. I slam the monkey-wrench into the middle of his face, and it crumples like a paper bag. He drops to his knees and looks up at me, still grinning. His split lip has left an ugly smear across his face. It looks like he has tried to put on lipstick in the dark. I hit him again, denting his skull, and he slumps backwards into the wet dirt, bloodshot eyes still half open.




Out of the corner of my eye I see Teethgrinder. He is collecting damp rubbish and stuffing it into Paintlicker’s burlap sack. Paintlicker is like a rain dog. Whenever it rains she loses her sense of direction, and ends up walking into the road. Lorenzo told me that rain-soaked paint loses its flavour, but I never believed him. Teethgrinder stops abruptly and stares at me, desperate for approval. I smile cheerfully and he looks confused. I glance down at Emilio’s busted face, still smiling.


Teethgrinder blinks uncomprehendingly as I drag Emilio across the tarmac, onto the beach and into the churning grey sea.




Three hours later, at high tide, the body washed up in Paignton harbour. The harbour master kept the body locked in his car until Wednesday night, when he finally called the police. When they removed the body it was grey and shrunken. They never found Emilio’s clothing.




The cops interviewed most of the carnival kids. Even hauled a few people in for questioning. Teethgrinder was kept in overnight. Knowing him, he would have been babbling like a schizoid.


The police didn’t believe the deformed boy. But, then again, they never do…



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