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Chapter 24

DeBurra was sans white suit, and he wore the same frayed sport jacket hed been wearing at Chez Tango and the other two times Id seen him. Maybe he owned only one. I thought again about Shawna. This guy was the polar opposite of Tim.

But then, that was probably the point.

DeBurra pointed at me. I need to talk to you, he said.

Dr. Bixby shifted around and stood between us. We need to get her a bed first. Then you can talk to her. I need to monitor her vitals.

I was ready to have him monitor my vitals all right.

Bixbys hand was under my elbow, and he was leading me toward the curtained area next to Tim, who was watching the whole thing like it was the Super Bowl on TV. Bixby pulled the curtain around the bed and motioned that I should get in.

Thanks, I said. Hes been stalking me for two days. Again, however, I remembered that he hadnt been following me this morning. Why not? Maybe I had some questions for him. Suddenly it seemed really important to find out why hed abandoned his mission to irritate me.

Bixby slapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm.

Dont nurses usually do that? I asked.

He gave me a long look, one I couldnt read. Yes.

Did you ever get in touch with Kyle about Trevor? I asked.

He pumped up the cuff so much, I thought Id lose circulation. Slowly he let it out, his stethoscope against the inside of my elbow. It was cold.

He noted my blood pressure on a piece of paper in a file, then cracked the folder shut. Weve been in touch, yes, he said. His tone was curt and professional.

Did he come get Trevors stuff? I had nothing better to do than badger the good doctor.

But instead of looking annoyed, he let a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. He turned his head to try to hide it from me.

Not yet.

Are you done yet in there? came a voice from beyond the curtain. Frank DeBurra. Bane of my existence.

No, Bixby barked back.

I was liking this guy more and more.

So do you hike? I asked.

Bixby cocked his head to one side and studied me for a second before grinning and nodding. Yes. What is this, twenty questions?

How long have you worked here?

He chuckled. Okay, Ill play. Ive been here about five years.

Where did you come from?

His left eyebrow rose higher than the right one. I had no idea anyone could really do that. Where most people come from, he said.

I snorted. No, I know that. But where? What part of the country?

I grew up right here. In Vegas.

Ha. No one actually grows up here.

I did.

I started to get worried that he really did still live with his mother.

Where did you go to medical school? Figured I should stay on safer ground.

Johns Hopkins.

Not too shabby.

Did you always want to work in emergency medicine?

Did you always want to own a tattoo shop?

I nodded. Okay, turning things around, I see. No. I wanted to have an easel by the Seine in Paris and sell my paintings and live in a garret, a poor, starving artist.

You studied art?

University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Concentrated in painting, yes.

How did you get into the art of tattoo? He seemed really interested. Go figure.

I held out my arm and turned it around so he could see the heart on the inside of my left wrist. Gave myself that tattoo when I was sixteen. I liked the way it felt.

He didnt laugh. Instead he asked, The way it felt when you drew it?

I nodded. Yeah. And then I went to a shop. The Ink Spot. My friend Mickey, he owns the place. He took me in as a trainee. Then I moved here a few years later. My life in a nutshell. Somehow it seemed like I shouldve done more in my thirty-two years, but I was happy, so I guess that was all that mattered.

Do you have any ink? I asked, turning the tables on him now.

He turned his head, wrote something down. Chicken, I guess. I dont like needles. Then he put a tourniquet around my upper arm, told me to make a fist, and slid a needle into my vein.

For you, not other people, I said, turning my head so I couldnt see the blood filling the vial.

He noticed.

Does blood make you queasy? he teased.

Only in large quantities, I said.

I felt the needle slide out of the crook of my arm, then a pressure. When I looked, Bixby was holding a small piece of gauze to the spot where hed stuck me.

Are you doing anything tonight? he asked.

I might be contaminated, I said.

He peered into my face. I noticed his eyes were a clear green with a tint of brown. His hair was spiky, like it was yesterday. All he needed was an eyebrow piercing and hed be totally punk.

The thought of it made me all hot and bothered.

Youre okay, he said after a few seconds.

How can you be sure?

Youre not exhibiting any signs. And if you got that close, you would be having difficulty breathing now.

I could argue that I was having difficulty breathing, but it was only because his face was just inches from mine and I was having impure thoughts.

What about my brother? I managed to ask.

It was as if Id popped a balloon. He stepped away and turned his back to me as he put the vial into a holder on a tray.

How about tomorrow night? he asked.

All right, so youre hedging your bets now that I might be okay tomorrow, if not today.

I could see the side of his face and the grin.

Tomorrow? he asked again.

I thought about the shop. Bitsy did all the scheduling, and since my love life was a tad dry these days, I just let her make my appointments without any thought to actual dating. I have to check my schedule, I said.

He sighed. I see.

No, I really have to check. Im not sure about my appointments tomorrow. I can let you know as soon as I talk to my shop manager. I didnt want to sound too desperate for a date, so I left it at that, even though I probably could rearrange a client if necessary.

Bixby turned around, holding a metal clipboard with my folder on top of it. That would be fine, he said, all professional now, but he gave me a wink as he pulled the curtain back and walked out.

I had a clear view of the frosted sliding doors from my angle, but I couldnt see Frank DeBurra hovering anywhere. I took a deep breath, hoped that he wasnt close by, that he hadnt heard my exchange with Bixby.

The back of the bed was up, and I leaned back on it, closing my eyes. I wondered whether I could sneak over and see how Tim was doing.

I opened my eyes and sat up straighter. I swung my legs over the side of the bed. What could they do to me, except send me back here?

I had taken a couple of steps toward the curtain when the frosted doors slid open. I froze, worried it was DeBurra again.

But it wasnt.

It was none other than Lester Fine, actor turned politician.

Chapter 23 | Pretty In Ink | Chapter 25