Tuesday, December 8, 2015

First Chapter of  a novella titled: "Ink-ling"
Keep in mind, its a rough draft, but I hope you enjoy.

“Yeah, I’m here Brent. I’m sorry I was distracted by the dog he won’t stop barking out back. Probably a raccoon, or that damned cat from next door. Anyway I heard you babe, I’ll keep dinner warm, and a beer cold. Don’t be too late…and love you,” she added in that gravelly voice of hers that always seems to magically send sex signals straight to my brain.

“You know what I want for you to keep warm for me sweets, and it ain’t dinner…not thinking about dinner, or beer right now, just make sure you wait up for me.”
 After exchanging our usual sex banter for several minutes; I hang up the phone eager to be at home with the woman I have loved with my whole messed up soul for more than eight years now. Jac had come into my life just when I needed her the most…I was dying, plain and simple, and she saved me. She gave me a reason to hold on and hold on I did even when I didn’t really want to. Years later here I am still healthy and cancer free. I have a lot going on for a man my age. I’m the owner of my own tattoo shop, which is among the ten top rated shops in the US, and the top ranking shop in Savannah GA. Plus I’m about to open my second shop in Atlanta soon. Couple that with the bike shop I own with my lifelong buddy Chris, and I guess one could say I’m biting off a hell of a lot these days.  But I’m chewing it all up like a hungry mother-f*cker.

On the seldom occasions that I find myself being the sucker left alone to close up this place; my mind faithfully begins to reminisce over the memory of my mother crying after I told her I was becoming a tattoo artist. I can still remember what she said like it was yesterday.

“Brent, your father and I worked thousands of hours of over-time while you were growing up just to make sure you didn’t drown in student loan debt when you entered college. Your education was paid for before you were out of high school son. You went to one of the most prestigious art schools in the country to get a degree in graphic arts, and computer design and now you are telling me you are going to be a tattoo artist? Son please! Aren’t tattoo artists just a bunch of degenerates?”

It took me two months to convince her that ink artists were not prison parolees, nor were they drug addicts who were all infected with either AIDS or hepatitis C. My mom is an old school Southern Baptist, and as much as I love her she can be a bit judgmental, at least until she is better informed. I’m still shocked that she actually let me tattoo a small butterfly on her shoulder with my father’s initials engraved on each small pink wing.
My dad died the year before I got sick, but mom still mourns him as if it were last week, of course I guess it’s normal when you were married for forty-two years to the love of your life. I can only pray for that long-term kind of love with Jac. The world is a crazy place now, and it’s hard to keep real love alive in it. But, she’s an easy woman to love, so I’m sure if we ever split, it will be because of some dick-head stupid stunt that I pulled. My circle of people are forever reminding me that I’m such a great man, friend, and boss, but honestly, I know I can be an ass at times.

The first time I met Jackie Dillon was while I lay dying in my hospital bed. From that first encounter, I knew that she was the last woman I’d ever love. Of course at the time I thought I only had a few months left to live, so naturally I fell for her…fast, and hard.

“Alright Brent…call it a night already,” I whisper into the empty room. That was the moment when my entire world started being turned inside out. Of course my unsuspecting mind doesn’t have a clue yet though. If I were a mind reader; I would have ran…fast out the back door, and left that noise, and the person who created it far behind. At first I’m startled just for a second as the bell that dangles from the front doors jingle softly. I should have taken it as a warning I guess, but honestly—I’m not the superstitious type at all.

F*ck, I immediately realize that Amber has once again forgotten to lock the d*mn door on her way out. That girl would leave her d*mn tits on the counter nightly if they were not attached to her body. My disgruntled mind chimes as I walk up to the front of the shop.

The guy who was responsible for the jingling bell has his back turned to me, and the first thing I notice is his lean muscular build through his expensive suit. He’s the type who looks like he runs ten miles a day every day, and stays away from everything that tastes good…unlike myself. While I know I am in fairly good shape, I could stand to lose fifteen pounds. After a minute of envying this guy’s physique, my inner voice tells me I need to get my a*s back in the gym, and back to my power lifting. I find myself wanting to trade fitness tips with him, and ask him to haul his toned derriere out of my shop at the same time. I do neither.

“Sorry man we’re closed, my assistant manager forgot to lock up when she left…something I’ll have to talk to her about,” I laugh politely.
He does not bother to turn and face me when he replies. “I have five-thousand dollars, which I will pay you,” he says.  I can’t tell if the dude is the typical uptown asshole, a drunk, or just full of sh*t…at least not yet.

“Listen dude, I’d love to help you out, but like I said my shop is closed. I don’t work after hours and even if I did, I don’t take walk-ins. You have to book ahead with me, and right now I’m busy through May. You can walk in tomorrow and see either Joe, or Daniel…they can take care of whatever you nee—”

“I said I could pay you five thousand dollars to help me, I would think that is at least three times what you charge,” he mutters finally turning to face me.

The first thing I notice about him was not his eyes as most people would say but his smile. It's menacing almost clown-like. By this point all I want was for this douche to leave and do it quickly. The vibe I am getting from him is a bad one, but I’m not sure if it is my imagination, or my frustration at being tired and horny at the same time.

“I heard what you said man, but I have my mother’s sixtieth birthday party tonight and I can’t just miss it. You know how mothers are,” I laugh.

 I’m lying of course, and I always laugh when I do. Jac is always informing me of what a terrible liar I am, and at the moment I’m sensing she’s not the only one who sees that in me. I’m pretty sure he is sensing my agitation by this point, but this a*shole is so aloof I can’t read him.
“How about I add another three thousand for your mother, I’m sure you could buy her a nice pair of pearl earrings with that kind of cash…right?” he asked pulling out a roll of money that reminded me of something from a TV drama about cops. Perhaps an episode where the big time drug dealer buys off the entire police force.
“Are you sh*tting me? Look I don’t want any trouble here man, I run a legit business. I don’t know what you are propositioning here, but I’m not interested…okay? So just…”
“I need this covered up, and I need it done tonight” he interrupts as he rolls up the expensive dress shirt he’s wearing, and simultaneously pulls down the waist band to his snug fitting trousers.
The art that was imbedded just above the base of his pubic bone was about seven inches in width, and four inches in length. It was a three-D tat and whoever the artist was that did it, was on point. The image was that of a skeletal hand coming out of what appeared to be a gaping hole in the guy’s lower belly, it was manically reaching downward, in the direction of his junk. Below the image was the word Justified.  Of course I want to ask, but something inside my head is stopping me, or almost warning me not to do so.
“So why would you want to cover up such a great piece?” I ask instead.
I can immediately see something in his demeanor change, so I decide to carefully choose my words as I proceed. “Okay, never mind that was a stupid question, it’s none of my business dude, but like I said we are—”
“Please! I really need this done now, I am offering you eight thousand dollars,” he says.
I can see that he is carefully regaining his composure before continuing. “You come highly recommended around this town, but I will only be here for the night. I am begging you Brent…that’s your name, right? Like I said you came highly recommended. Will you please help me out? It couldn’t possibly take you any longer than what…three hours at most? Then I will be on my way, and you will be eight-thousand dollars richer,” he hisses, and then adds. “Listen, I’ll even recommend your shop to friends, and I have many. I’m in the entertainment industry, and I know a lot of people who are always looking for a reliable artist. Hell, some of them would even pay for you to go to places like Tahiti and the Bahamas. I have one friend who paid an artist to fly out to Vegas to work an art party he was hosting. He paid him over thirty-thousand. I swear man, you help me out, and I will send some big names your way.”
  My gut was telling me to throw this blow-hard out of my shop, but my business mind was telling me different. I know it’s all about making an even bigger name for myself because as good as I am…there are a hundred more just as good, and a few who are better. Tattooing has become big business and the competition is forever growing.
“Alright…alright, just let me step in the back for a minute and call my mom, you look around at the pics and in those books on the counter. See if you can find something you like.”
“Oh no, I have my own design…right here,” he counters, pulling a piece of paper from his shirt pocket.
I take it from him, and examine it for just a moment before it registers what I’m actually looking at. It’s what appears to be the jagged bloody remains of a female torso arched backwards in an almost sexual pose. From the places where the limbs should be sprouts vines with thick red roses. Underneath the macabre is the lone word MARKED. I want once again to question, but think better of it.
“Um…yeah, I think we can do this,” I say making sure to not let my voice waver in the least. All I want to do now is take care of this f*cker and get him the hell out of my shop without incidence, like perhaps my balls being sliced off and shoved down my throat.
“Great! I’ll let you make your phone call, and please send your mother my gratitude.”
I nod as I walk to my back office to call Jac. Ten minutes later I am drawing up the design on my computer screen and then printing out the template.
“Okay, are you ready?” I ask.

“Yes!” he answers too quickly.

“So, what brings you to Savannah?” I ask, trying to make small talk.

“Just a quick business trip, I work overseas, but occasionally my work brings me here to the states,” he whispers almost seductively.

As I begin engraving the sick image into the lower extremities of this odd ball—whose real, or fake name I learn is Lucian…I’m trying to focus on my work. It’s damn hard to do when he won’t stop running his trap. Fifteen minutes in and I swear he’s told me his life story, or at least what he may want me to believe is his life story. Later, as we are approaching an hour in, I sense that my hand is beginning to cramp.

“Ok Lucian, I need to take a quick pause for the cause man, I’ll be back in a few minutes,” I say as I stand to stretch. I realize I need a beer something awful right now, I can only pray there is one left in the frig located in our lounge area. I see there is no Gods of the beer train smiling down on me tonight as I slam the door shut, and retreat to the soda machine for a cola. Before I can even get a sip swallowed, he’s standing right behind me looking at me with that same clownish smile. For an instant my mind screams at me to run, but I ignore it, I want to be sure not to show this strange bird one ounce of concern.
“Can I help you?” I ask cautiously.
He laughs a little, but not really. It’s as though he knows not to laugh too much because that may make him appear normal.
“I’m sorry Brent, I thought you may be out back grabbing a smoke, I thought I might join you.”
I study Lucian for a good minute before I open my mouth to speak again. “No man, I don’t smoke, those things can kill you.”
I can see his eyes now clearly, I swear this guy has no iris, it’s as though his whole eye is pupil on both eyes. I’m trying to figure out now if it is my imagination and his eyes are just that dark brown in color or if he is on some damn good drug that may cause this abnormality. My thoughts are interrupted by his calm, steady, monotone voice.
“Many things can kill you, and some much quicker than a little cigarette can. Life can be snuffed out as quick as the butt of a cig can you know,” he whispers again.
“Alright then,” I mumble as I scramble past him. “I have my soda, I’ve stretched…I’m ready to get back to work, how about you?” I ask over my shoulder as I hurry back into my cubicle. I’m wishing really hard right now that I had retrieved my handgun which is locked in my desk drawer. Just for good measure.
 The next time I look up at the clock I see that it’s almost 11PM, as I study my work I see that I am nearly three fourths of the way finished and my brain reminds me of the three-hundred dollars an hour I usually charge for cover-up work. It’s been nearly two hours, probably another half hour and I have eight-thousand dollars sitting in my office safe. Not too shabby for a few hours work Brent, even if you are stuck here at nearly midnight with a weirdo while your girl sleeps in a lonely bed. The bed you could have been in by now.  I shake off my thoughts of my naked fiancée slumbering peacefully with the sheet barely covering her full breasts like always. I know I have to push the image out of my mind quick. I wouldn’t want the nutcase on my table catching any glimpses of my growing hard-on and mistaking it for anything aimed at his crazy-ass. I can only assume he’s crazy, I’m not totally sure yet; however, somehow I know he’s about to confirm it all for me.
“You ever kill anything Brent?” he asks as he shifts slightly to his left.
He catches my reaction even though I tried damn hard to mask it. My hand shakes a bit as I take it away from his pelvic region.
“I mean you know, like a deer perhaps, or a dog. Have you watched something die?
 I swallow hard, and think even harder before I answer. The truth is, I find it difficult to even kill spiders, but I sure as hell have no intention of this guy knowing that about me. I give my inner self strict instructions not to crack even the vaguest of smiles as I answer.

“Well Hell, of course I have, I’m an avid hunter…love it. I go with a buddy up north at least twice each season, that’s where the big bucks are.”

I am extremely thankful now that one of my best friend actually is a die-hard deer hunter, and I that I have paid close attention to many of the stories he has told over the years concerning his kills, and kill shots. I have only fired my gun at the firing range, and to be honest, I only purchased it after a rash of break-ins that started occurring in area shops last year. But, I am damn sure not going to let this guy in on any of this.
He studies my face before proceeding, almost as if he is determining my initiation into some club for psychos.
“There is nothing quite as tantalizing is there? Watching the eyes of the dying. Seeing the life drain out. I always wonder where that life energy goes…you know. Is there Heaven and a Hell? You know all those stories we are told when we are children about angels…about the devil. I always chalked it up to trying to keep me in line, but to be honest it never worked. You can’t take a soul unless there is a soul to take. That’s what my mother said to me the first time she caught m—”
“Alright! We are finished here, want to take a look?” I interrupted.
I didn’t want to hear what else Lucian had to say, I knew if I let him finish I would be connected to him, and I know for certain he is someone who I hope to never see again after this one night. It was all starting to make sense in some crazy manner. The way he came into my shop so late. Amber being careless and forgetting to lock up, it was all like dominoes somehow. I wanted to strangle Amber right about now as a matter-of-fact. He would have just knocked until you answered…kind of like the devil does. My tired mind warned. He’s a bad man, a really bad mother-f*cker, and not in the cool sense…no, in the—his mind was never right sense.
“You need to wrap this up Brent.” I heard my mother’s voice saying in my head. Yeah, my inner voice agreed—get this crazy ass outta your shop, and fast, don’t let him continue telling you of his crazy sick antics, whatever they may be. The less you know, the safer you will be when you lay your head on your pillow tonight, and every night that follows.

“Brent, this is amazing, I knew I could count on you, but I’m sorry you are such a fast worker. I had so much more to share with you,” Lucian said as I taped up the saran wrap covering his fresh ink.
“You know the rules, no getting it wet for the first few hours if possible. Keep it lubricated, I recommend A&D ointment still, some prefer Lubriderm. It’s your choice,” I say as I’m throwing away the trash from the job, and trying hard to avoid eye contact. I have no desire to engage any further with this man, and now I’m finding myself wanting to refund him his money minus my usual fees.
“Lucian, I would really like to give you back your money…well all but say, a thousand. I don’t feel right about taking so much for doing this, after all…it only took me a few hours. I wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression that I can be bought off so…”
I stop because I’m actually at a loss for words now. But Lucian makes sure to help me out.
“So what Brent…so easily?” he smiles his lunatic smile at me again. “It’s alright, I think no less of you. Everyone has a price. You would be shocked what some people will agree to do once a little cash is waved in front of them.”
He’s staring at me now in a manner that honestly makes my damn skin crawl. I want him to disappear from my shop and my sight as fast as possible.
“No, seriously Lucian, I insist, wait right here, and I’ll go get it out of my office.”
I turn quickly as I’m saying this, as to not give him the opportunity to protest any further. Once I’m in my office I open up the safe as I glance over my shoulder just to assure myself the crazy man isn’t standing over me ready to smash in my skull.  Then I hear the faint sound of the bell as I quickly scramble to my feet. But the time I reach the lobby he is gone. I see that he has left something for me on my counter. A small box, and inside is a note and a folded up picture, the picture is of a girl, or well…the remains of what was once a girl. It’s a photocopied image, but it’s clear. She’s so badly beaten and cut up that she looks almost cartoonish.
The note reads:
We are joined together now. You can show this to whomever you wish Brent, but I would prefer you only show it to Jackie, or perhaps your mother Helen who lives over in Smyrna. As I said I travel often, and I need a good cover-up artist, or just someone to engrave my latest work on my body. I don’t work that often so it may be years before you see me again, but with your popularity, and the internet I’m sure I can always find you wherever you may find yourself wanting to go. Now I realize you will want to give all of this to the police, but consider first what I’m capable of. I have all the money I could ever need at my disposal.
 I can disappear forever, or just long enough for them to forget about me. Yet I never forget. I won’t forget you, or anyone close to you. I know you must be asking yourself why I would want you. Well, why not you? You just happened to be the most intriguing artist I found in my search. You survived so much in life, so of course I cannot wait to see if you can survive me.

All I can do is stare at the picture, my head is swimming. The only thing I want to do now as I’m grabbing my keys is get home. The drive which is usually fifteen minutes takes me ten. As I make my way through the front door I’m slammed by the darkness as well as the coolness of the room. My heart is pounding as I make my way up the stairs cursing myself in my own head for not just calling her and waking her. God, please let her be sleeping. My mind screams as I finally make it to our bedroom. As I sink down beside her my heart thanks him for answering my prayer as I watch the slow rise and fall of Jac’s ample breast.
After making sure our house it locked up tight and the alarm system is fully functional, I surrender to a long hot shower. He had to be dicking with me, my mind reason as I’m sliding into bed beside the woman who I love more than life. That’s when my eyes caught what was flashing across the low dim light of the television screen. Jac has to have the damn thing on in order to go to sleep every night. It usually only irritated me but right now it was validating what I already somehow knew. I turned up the volume just in time to hear the grisly details.
This is Lauren Anderson with Live 5 action News on the scene where the body of an unidentified woman has been discovered in the Lake Montclaire area earlier tonight. An eyewitness who was jogging in the remote area have claimed seeing a male assailant wearing only a white mask fleeing from the area on foot. The unidentified witness said she saw the man, and then lunged at her at which point she sprayed him with pepper spray. The assailant then ran into nearby woods. The witness said she was sure she missed his face, but it was enough to scare him away when he heard sirens from a nearby fire in the same area. One detail the witness had to give police, was that the man who is suspected of committing this heinous crime has a very distinctive tattoo on his lower abdomen. There should be a sketch up on your screen now for the viewers to see. If anyone has any information on the identity of this person of interest you are asked to contac—
I turn off the television and lie back as I gently put my arm across my sleeping fiancée. I close my eyes hoping…no praying that sleep finds me, and that the man…whoever he actually was never finds his way back to me again.

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