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Chapter 14

My first thought was that I did a lousy job on that drawing. His eyes werent nearly as close together as Id remembered, and his nose was longer. But he was pretty.

And he was getting into the truck, a panicked look on his face.

I stepped up my speed and almost ran to the truck, which started to back away. I hit the hood and he honked the horn, startling me and rendering me momentarily deaf. I looked up into the cab and saw him grinning at me as the truck screeched out of the lot, heading north.

I got into the Mustang as quickly as I could, trying to keep the truck in sight. But by the time I got to the street, the pickup was gone.

I hung my head in defeat, my hands on the steering wheel. What to do now?

I could go back into Cash & Carry and try to lean on that big guy about the guy in the truck. I had a feeling he knew him. But I doubted hed be willing to help me out.

I could drive around checking out all the citys pawnshops. That might take a while.

Or I could go up to Murder Ink and pump Jeff Coleman for information. Wed never been friends, but Id helped him out over the summer and we now had a grudging respect for each other. He just might be able to ID that guy, if hed done the ink.

I chose door number three.

Goodfellas Bail Bonds was next door to Murder Ink, and across the street was the Bright Lights Motel, whose name seemed an oxymoron. There was nothing bright about the dingy concrete building, and there were no lights. Just a bland sign that advertised HBO and hourly rates.

I shuddered as I parked in the motels lot and crossed the street.

Jeff Coleman looked up when I came in. Hey, Kavanaugh, what are you doing on the dark side?

He was inking a guys back-a basic skull and crossbones; couldnt he be more creative? Oh, yeah, Jeff only did flash, the stock tattoos that lined the walls of his shop.

Got some questions.

The machine stopped whirring for a second as he frowned at me; then it started up again as he resumed what hed been doing. Pull up a chair.

While The Painted Lady has separate rooms for each tattooist and client for privacy, Jeffs shop let it all hang out in the open. There were three stations divided only by short cabinets and shelves, on which I noted the baby wipes, inkpots, piles of sterilized needles in their packages, and boxes of black latex gloves.

I have blue gloves-a little more cheery.

Jeff inherited his business from his mother, Sylvia, who was one of the women pioneers in the tattoo business. He was maybe ten years older than me, with a salt-and-pepper buzz cut and tattoos covering his arms and chest. He was a couple inches shorter than me and skinny, but looking at him now, I thought maybe hed put on a little weight-or at least had been working out a bit.

A quick glance around told me that this was the only client at the moment, and Jeff was the only tattooist in the place. I grabbed a chair on wheels from one of the other stations and rolled it near Jeff.

He grinned at me. Now you can see a master at work.

Yeah, right, I said, although for someone who did only flash, Jeff did have a certain style, a way of shading and coloring that stood out. I would never tell him that, though. For sure hed use it against me at some point.

I pulled the sketch of the pretty boy out of my bag and stretched my arm out so he could see it. Do you know this guy?

The machine stopped again. The client lying facedown on the flattened chair mumbled, Are you done?

No, Jeff said, then saw my expression. Not you. He turned back to his client. No, were not done yet. Give me a second, okay? He peered more closely at the drawing. Guys eyes are too close together.

I felt my heart take a leap. So you know him?

Did his ink. Queen of hearts. Maybe last year sometime?

Sounded good to me, but

How do you remember? Sometimes I couldnt remember what I had for lunch two days before.

He tapped the side of his head and smirked. Bionic brain.

I made a face at him, and he chuckled.

I remember because I did three of them at the same time.


There were three guys. All came in late, maybe two in the morning or so. I remember because two of them were dolled up, like women. Weird.

My heart jumped again.

There were three?

Yeah. Hey, Kavanuagh, whats up? What do you want with a bunch of trannies?

Theyre not transvestites, I said patiently. Theyre drag queens. At least I thought so. Theres a difference.

Jeff rolled his eyes. Couldve fooled me.

This guy wasnt dressed up, though, I said.

How do you know that?

If he was, then you wouldnt recognize him as a guy, only as a girl, right?

He shrugged. Okay, Kavanaugh, youre right. This guy wasnt in drag.

Do you know this guys name? Do you have a file?

His expression grew concerned. Why are you looking for him? What did he do?

I figured I should keep it simple. I met him this morning in New York New York. We were playing roulette.

Jeffs eyebrows shot up into his forehead. You? Really?

So whats wrong with that? Cant I gamble?

He shrugged. You just dont seem to like it.

And youre the big expert on what I like and dont like?

Dont get your panties in a bunch, Kavanaugh. He chuckled. Your face turns red when you get mad.

I hadnt noticed before, but now I did: My face was hot, and I knew it must be almost as red as my hair. Jeff Coleman brought out the worst in me. I struggled to get back to the matter at hand.

So the picture, the guy, whats his name?

But he wasnt going to let it go.

Did you win?


Did you win? At roulette?

I felt myself blush even deeper.

He let out a large chortle. You did, didnt you? Kavanaugh, no one wins at roulette. At least not to live to tell about it.

Okay, I got it, the reference to Russian roulette. I wasnt born yesterday.

How much did you win?

None of your business.

You were playing with this guy?

The conversation veered so fast back on track that I got dizzy for a second. I found myself telling him the whole story, how we kept winning, and then how he said my name and took off trailing chips when he realized his mistake.

You inked those tran-I mean, drag queens-for that show, didnt you? Jeff asked.

I nodded. Yeah.

And this guy was with drag queens when I inked him.

Okay. And then I got it. You think that he knew me because of Trevor and Stephan and Kyle?

If the dress fits.

I snorted. Ha-ha, funny. I had another thought. Did you tell him about me? I was talking to a guy in a pawnshop this morning who knew me because youd told him about me and my ink.

What are you doing in pawnshops?

I shrugged, indicating I wasnt going to elaborate. He made a face at me.

Okay, be that way. Maybe Im just trying to help you out, get you some business.

Dont do me any favors.

Oh, I forgot, youre above all this. He cocked his head to indicate the flash on the walls. So maybe I told a couple people about you.

This guy, too?

Could be I mentioned you; I dont remember.

But then why did he run away from me?

Im not a freaking psychic, Kavanaugh. Jeff turned back to his client. Ready? he asked him, picking up his machine.

Hey, you didnt tell me his name, I said. Can you show me his file?

Client confidentiality, Jeff said, touching the needle to the guys back again.

I couldnt fault him for not telling me. I probably wouldnt tell me, either. As tattoo artists, we do have an obligation to our clients to keep their information confidential, sort of like psychiatrists and doctors. Getting a tattoo is deeply personal, and Ive had clients tell me stuff theyd probably never told anyone else. Still, I got up off the chair and shoved it away with maybe a little too much force. It rolled back toward the cabinet and slammed into it with a loud crash.

Jeff didnt even look up.

I slung my messenger bag across my chest and started to walk out. Thanks for nothing, I tossed behind me.

Rusty Abbott.

I stopped and turned. Jeff was grinning at me, and he was waving the tattoo machine around like a cowboy with a six-shooter.

His name is Rusty Abbott. Hes Lester Fines personal assistant.

Lester Fine, the actor running for a senate seat.

Chapter 13 | Pretty In Ink | Chapter 15