A Pound of Flesh

"Pete Mesling's fiction is definitely the kind of old school horror I grew up with. Short, sharp shocks that touch on the fears we all have—stuff like claustrophobia, the anger of strangers, carnivals, spooky houses. Definitely give them a whirl!"—Paul Kane, bestselling and award-winning author of Pain Cages, The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, and Lunar

Head over to episode 9 of The Bare Knuckle Podcast to hear me read "A Pound of Flesh" and my zombie western, "Slipknot."


Brenda was forty-five minutes late, which gave Desmond an excuse to take one more lap through the rooms of his apartment. Everything had to be just right. She’d forgiven him and agreed to an evening of dinner, wine and… Well, she hadn’t exactly agreed to the last part yet, but he was hopeful. He had an expensive bottle of her favorite Sangiovese on hand and a kettle of homemade spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove, so all he had to do was convince her to stay in and watch movies instead of going out after dinner. The rest would be a cinch. But the apartment had to be perfect.
His stint in the military probably didn’t help his obsessive-compulsive outlook on cleanliness. Nor did his closeness to God, Whose own insistence on neatness was well documented. But Desmond didn’t give a shit. He loved God, and he kept his lodgings clean. He didn’t see a thing wrong with either position, and he was happy to exchange words with anyone who did.
Bedroom: drum-tight bedclothes, not a stitch of clothing on the floor, air mildly scented—great. Office: she probably wouldn’t go in there, but if she did she’d find a meticulously organized computer station—super. Living room: spotless; enough throw pillows on the couch to necessitate close seating, nothing but a bowl of nuts on the glass-topped coffee table—excellent. Kitchen: blindingly spic-and-span, the air a rich stew of garlic and tomato—right on. He was ready. Now, if Brenda would only show up before his nervousness turned to anger.
The intercom buzzer sounded. His body relaxed, which made him realize how keyed up he’d allowed himself to get.
He pressed talk. “That you, Brenda?” There was still more than a little leftover Persian Gulf paranoia in his blood.
“Mr. Sachs?” A man’s voice.
Desmond’s fingers quivered as they toggled the talk/listen button.
“Who is this?”
“Name’s Comstock. Walter Comstock. Just need a second of your time.”
Desmond waited for the stranger to explain himself, but there was only silence.
“Look, I’m expecting company. Why don’t you beat down someone else’s door.”
“Won’t take but a minute, Mr. Sachs. I have a legal matter to discuss with you.”
“At seven in the goddamn evening? Get fucked.”
“It involves a rather large sum of money.”
That got Desmond’s attention. Maybe the man was worth listening to after all. If there was one thing Desmond Sachs felt almost as strongly about as the Bread of Life, it was the importance of a fluid economy.
He buzzed the man into the building and considered leaving the door ajar for him but in the end decided to make him knock. After one quick series of staccato raps Desmond opened the door wide. Before him stood a man as short as it was possible to get without being a proper dwarf. He was decked out in a double-breasted, pin-striped suit and topped with a fedora. Might have been in his early fifties. He wore gloves and held a briefcase at his side.
“Good evening, Mr. Sachs,” the man said with a tug of his hat brim. His voice was mellow and calming.
Desmond stepped aside and gestured for Walter Comstock to enter, which he did, making himself at home by placing the briefcase on the coffee table and climbing onto the sofa.
“What’s this all about? I’m in a bit of a hurry.” Desmond shut the door and crossed his arms.
Walter Comstock smiled, one arm on a hill of throw pillows. “You’re a military man. Army. Did a three-year tour that included the first Gulf War.”
“Listen, I—”
“You’ve dished up some large talk about your honorable discharge from service, but I have to say, Mr. Sachs, that my research failed to turn up anything on your military record more complimentary than the time you beat up an Iraqi boy for refusing to try a chocolate bar.”
“You bug-eyed little midget. Who do you think you are? I ought to dwarf-toss your ass right out that fucking window.”
“Yes, your knack for colorful insults comes up several times, as I recall. Had quite a time with the ladies, too, didn’t you? Seems that you left more than a few village damsels in quite a state. I appreciate that spreading democracy is tiring work, but my, my.”
Desmond took a seat in a chair near one end of the sofa and stared darkly at the little man with the great big nerve. He spoke through gritted teeth. “You said something about money. I suggest you cut to the chase and get out of my life before my dinner guest arrives.”
“Oh, we’ve plenty of time. Smells delicious, by the way. Italian?”
“What do you want with me? What’s in the briefcase?”
“Your generation is so impatient. No zest for proper pacing. Everything’s got to be done on the go, all of a sudden.” Comstock snapped his fingers frantically as he delivered this. “True, I’m here on business, but there’s no reason we can’t get to know each other a bit first. I like to know who I’m dealing with.” Here his look and tone cooled several degrees, and a shiver snaked along Desmond’s spine. The truth was, Desmond was thrown off guard by the diminutive man. He knew that if the evening turned violent, scrapping with a man the size of Comstock would be awkward. He didn’t like it. It narrowed his options.
“I’d better check the sauce,” Desmond said. He walked briskly to the kitchen and exhaled, his face blocked from Comstock’s view by a row of cupboards above a bar-style countertop. He stirred the pot of sauce with a wooden spoon, knowing the man in the other room would be able to see that much, but his face was tight with hatred toward the intrusive little bastard. He needed a plan, and he needed to calm down.
The oven clock showed seven-thirteen. Where the fuck was Brenda? Not that he wanted her and Walter Comstock in his apartment at the same time, especially considering what the man seemed to know of his past, but maybe her arrival would convince the obstinate prick to leave.
“Mr. Sachs,” Walter Comstock called from the other room, “what do you suppose is keeping your dinner date?”
Something about the way he said it set off an alarm that echoed in Desmond’s brain. Had the fucker done something to Brenda? God help him if he had. That was Desmond’s job, and he was territorial about it, Comstock’s size be damned.
“Should be here any minute.” He struggled to keep his cool.
“You’ve stopped stirring. Something eating you?”
“Okay, you little shit!” Desmond flew back into the living room and pointed a finger at his uninvited guest. “If you’ve got something to say, say it. Otherwise, there’s the door.” He aimed his pointing finger in that direction. His chest heaved with deep, rapid breaths.
Any pretense of amusement fell away from Walter Comstock’s expression. He was all business now as he pushed himself to the edge of the sofa, his toes barely sweeping the floor, and leaned forward to pop the thumb-operated clasps of the briefcase. It opened maybe a quarter of an inch, and he seemed happy to leave it at that for the time being.
Avarice flushed out some of Desmond’s anger as soon as he heard the plick-plick of the clasps. His mouth watered, and he sat back down.
“Brenda Nottingham is not a woman of means, Mr. Sachs.” Okay, so he knew her. That didn’t mean he’d done anything to her. Hear the man out. “But her father is. He hires me for odd jobs. P. I. work, research, that sort of thing. He was less than pleased when his daughter told him she’d been worked over by a disgruntled boyfriend.”
“Now, wait a minute. What are you suggesting?”
“Come now, Mr. Sachs. I’ve seen her medical file. She was beaten until her face was a bloody mass, and she swears you’re the puke who did it. That’s good enough for Mr. Nottingham, and it’s good enough for me.”
“That lying bitch! She said she wanted to make up. That’s what tonight was all about. Fuck if I haven’t been had. So you’re here to pay me off, I suppose. Just enough lettuce to send me packing without any complaint. Is that it?”
“No, I’m afraid it isn’t quite that simple. We don’t care where you choose to live. You can move in next door to Brenda for all I care. Our eyes are on you now. That isn’t likely to change.”
“Then what’s in the briefcase? Let’s have it.”
“Why don’t you see for yourself.” He rotated the briefcase in Desmond’s direction.
Desmond eased it all the way open, and his enthusiasm quickly faded. It was empty, except for some kind of plastic lining affixed to the interior with masking tape.
“Nothing? What the fuck? You said this was about money.”
“That was a white lie, I’m afraid, to get you to let me in.”
“You’ve got some nerve, little man. And now that you’re in, what’s the plan?”
Comstock’s face brightened some. “I’m afraid you aren’t going to like this part very much.”
He jumped the short distance off the couch and swiftly reached inside his blazer with a gloved hand. Just as swiftly, his hand came out again, brandishing a coil of fine wire cable with shiny metal rings attached at either end. Desmond had never seen a diamond-wire saw before, but he knew that’s what he was looking at now. He had no time to react. Walter Comstock was on him in a leap, wrapping the wire around Desmond’s left wrist and drawing it back and forth, index fingers hooked like claws through the rings. The men toppled over in Desmond’s chair, but Comstock was attached like a wood tick, his little legs wrapped tight around one of Desmond’s. Desmond screamed and flailed, trying desperately to find Comstock with one of his aimless swings, but his efforts had no effect on the deadly precision of the small man’s task.
Soon—but not soon enough—it was over. Comstock stood and dangled the prize of Desmond’s left hand in front of its previous owner’s face by the little finger.
“Your dues have been paid, Mr. Sachs,” he said, barely out of breath. “No need to get up. I’ll see myself out.” He dropped the bloody hand and the saw into the briefcase, snapped it closed and removed it from the coffee table. “You won’t want to say anything truthful about this to anyone. You may not believe it now, but there are worse things that can be done to you, and I’m adept at all of them.”
He closed the door quietly behind him and left Desmond to the pain and mess of what had passed between them.
Desmond didn’t know how he’d deal with Mr. Nottingham and his little rat-man lackey. But there was time for decisions of that magnitude. First things first. He crawled to the kitchen, climbed to his feet with the help of the oven, and pushed the pot of spaghetti sauce to the back of the stove. Sauce spilled over the edge and smoked where it hit the hot burner. He held his bleeding stump before him, closed his eyes, and gritted his teeth. Then, as if stamping out a cockroach, he slammed the oozing end of his left arm directly onto the red-hot element and held it there. A scream like nothing he’d ever heard came out of his mouth and rattled the dishware above the stovetop. And then he collapsed to the floor in a swoon.


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