My first thought was that I did a lousy job on that drawing. His eyes weren’t nearly as close together as I’d 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 he’d be willing to help me out.
I could drive around checking out all the city’s pawnshops. That might take a while.
Or I could go up to Murder Ink and pump Jeff Coleman for information. We’d never been friends, but I’d 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 he’d 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 motel’s 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 guy’s back-a basic skull and crossbones; couldn’t 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 he’d been doing. “Pull up a chair.”
While The Painted Lady has separate rooms for each tattooist and client for privacy, Jeff’s 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 he’d 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 he’d 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, we’re not done yet. Give me a second, okay?” He peered more closely at the drawing. “Guy’s 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 couldn’t 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, what’s up? What do you want with a bunch of trannies?”
“They’re not transvestites,” I said patiently. “They’re drag queens.” At least I thought so. “There’s a difference.”
Jeff rolled his eyes. “Could’ve fooled me.”
“This guy wasn’t dressed up, though,” I said.
“How do you know that?”
“If he was, then you wouldn’t recognize him as a guy, only as a girl, right?”
He shrugged. “Okay, Kavanaugh, you’re right. This guy wasn’t in drag.”
“Do you know this guy’s 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.”
Jeff’s eyebrows shot up into his forehead. “You? Really?”
“So what’s wrong with that? Can’t I gamble?”
He shrugged. “You just don’t seem to like it.”
“And you’re the big expert on what I like and don’t like?”
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Kavanaugh.” He chuckled. “Your face turns red when you get mad.”
I hadn’t 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, what’s his name?”
But he wasn’t 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, didn’t 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 wasn’t 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, didn’t 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 you’d told him about me and my ink.”
“What are you doing in pawnshops?”
I shrugged, indicating I wasn’t going to elaborate. He made a face at me.
“Okay, be that way. Maybe I’m just trying to help you out, get you some business.”
“Don’t do me any favors.”
“Oh, I forgot, you’re 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 don’t remember.”
“But then why did he run away from me?”
“I’m not a freaking psychic, Kavanaugh.” Jeff turned back to his client. “Ready?” he asked him, picking up his machine.
“Hey, you didn’t tell me his name,” I said. “Can you show me his file?”
“Client confidentiality,” Jeff said, touching the needle to the guy’s back again.
I couldn’t fault him for not telling me. I probably wouldn’t 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 I’ve had clients tell me stuff they’d 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 didn’t even look up.
I slung my messenger bag across my chest and started to walk out. “Thanks for nothing,” I tossed behind me.
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. He’s Lester Fine’s personal assistant.”
Lester Fine, the actor running for a senate seat.