Copyright © 2012 Damien Walters Grintalis
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
The room was bright white and antiseptic with the bite of alcohol lingering in the air. A shock compared to the tired, drab staircase. Jason blinked a few times, and all thoughts of nightmares disappeared. “Wow,” he said.
Spotless white walls picked up and magnified the overhead lighting. He could almost see his reflection in the gleam of the dark wood floor. A long table with metal legs stood in the center of the room, next to a smaller table covered with plastic bottles, rolls of paper towels, a tattoo gun and small pots of ink; a chair with a padded seat and a stool sat on the opposite side. Sailor put his briefcase on the floor and bent over the small table.
Jason looked at a series of framed prints on the far wall. “Is that your work?”
“Yes, a few of my original designs. Look closer if you want. They will not bite.”
Jason let out a low whistle when he got close to the first. Inside the old wood frame, a red-eyed dragon with scaly, pebbled skin reached up and out. Jason smiled and leaned closer. Sailor’s work was extraordinary. He was an artist in every sense of the word, despite his chosen medium of needles and flesh.
Jason walked with slow steps past the second framed image, a fairy with green wings and a long sword, then to the third, a long-legged pinup girl in a sexy pink nightgown with something hidden behind her back, both in scarred, chipped frames.
“How do you come up with your ideas?”
“My customers tell me what they want, and I use my imagination to create something that fits.”
The next frames, also old, held images of a sleek black cat with claws extended, a grizzly bear with its mouth opened in a snarl, its teeth and muzzle dripping with blood, and a serpent coiled around a bleeding cross.
“What if someone doesn’t know what they want?”
“People always know what they want,” Sailor said. “Even if they do not think they do. I have helped many make their decisions. Customers are never disappointed when they leave this room.”
The last frame, an empty one with the remnants of sticky adhesive from a price tag marring the top corner, hung on the wall next to a tall, narrow doorway covered with a dark cloth. No light peeked around the curtain, and a faint trace of dust speckled the bottom edge—the only evidence of dust in the room at all. As Jason turned away, the sound of small feet pattered across the floor. He paused, waiting for a mouse to emerge, but the curtain remained still, and the sound ceased.
Sailor finished setting up and sat on the stool with his hands on his upper thighs. “Sit here,” he said, indicating the chair beside him. “Have you given any thought to what you want?”
Jason sat down with a small smile on his face. “A griffin.”
An easy decision, once he’d thought about it. Easy and perfect. Six months ago, Shelley went away for a girl’s weekend with Nicole. Not long after she left, he went to the bookstore and bought a paperback. He couldn’t remember the title or the author or even the story, but he remembered the cover and the creature on it—a griffin with gold wings and green eyes. He read the book in one sitting, and the image of the griffin stayed with him for weeks, long after the story faded from his mind.
He’d tucked the book away on a shelf; a few weeks later, he’d found an empty spot in its place. When he asked Shelley if she’d seen it, she’d given him a cruel smile that said what he’d already known. Shelley wouldn’t be able to throw this one away, and the tattoo would serve as a promise to himself—never again would he give up control over his own self.
“Ah, a griffin. One of my favorite things. Powerful creatures,” Sailor said.
“Good thing they’re not real, right?”
“Yes, quite a good thing. I imagine they would cause considerable trouble.”
Jason laughed. “And I’d like it to have green eyes and golden wings, please.”
Sailor lifted the briefcase, balancing it on his legs, started to hum the same unfamiliar tune and pulled out a sketchpad and pencil. “Where do you want the griffin?”
“My upper arm. The left one,” Jason said.
“Good choice. Would you like the wings outstretched or back?”
“Black and gray or color?”
The cadence of Sailor’s speech was soothing, completely at odds with its rough smoker’s growl. This close, the lines on his face resembled crevices or vast bottomless canyons that spoke of many years, but more than the lines, his very skin pushed out an innate sense of old age. For the first time, Jason realized that the odd, ashy smell did not come from a cigarette, but something darker and thicker—strange, yet not repugnant.
Sailor’s pencil made short, scraping noises on the paper. “Menacing or simply imposing?”
“Anything in your griffin’s talons?”
“My ex? Just kidding.”
Sailor laughed softly, but his watery eyes were serious as his hand moved across the paper. He finally lifted the pencil, nodded once and flipped the sketchpad around. “Is this the sort of griffin you had in mind?”
Jason’s voice vanished as he marveled at the intricacy of the design. The griffin appeared ready to step out of the page. Ten times—no, a hundred times better than the cover of the book. Its wings were outstretched, each individual feather drawn with precision. From the razor-sharp points of the talons and beak to the tuft of fur at the end of its tail, it was perfect. He wouldn’t have believed anyone capable of drawing that much detail in such a short time if he hadn’t seen it himself.
Jason swallowed and found his words. “Wow. It’s beautiful.”
“Well, if you are going to have something permanently etched into your skin, it should be a damn good something.” Sailor pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes. “Allergies,” he said, tucking it back in.
“Will the tattoo have that much detail?”
“No, it will have far more. This is just a rough sketch, after all. My skill with the needle and ink far surpasses that with pencil and paper. I believe you will be quite surprised with the end result.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask. How much will this cost?”
“Ah, the price. Yes, there is always a price.” Sailor turned his eyes down to the sketch and hummed his tune again. “I am quite sure we will be able to do this in one sitting, so I will give you a small discount. Say, four hundred dollars.”
Jason blinked in surprise. The price was far less than he’d anticipated once he’d seen the sketch, and he'd been worried he hadn't pulled enough cash from the bank machine. He had a credit card but hadn't thought to ask Sailor if he even accepted them. “Sounds good,” he said, and fished the money from his wallet.
Sailor pocketed the cash without glancing at the bills. “I almost forgot.” He opened his briefcase again and rummaged through its contents. “I need your signed permission. The city frowns upon tattoo artists proceeding without permission.”
He pulled a sheet of paper from the briefcase and handed it over. Jason didn’t know what a standard tattoo consent form looked like, but this one had Sailor’s name and address at the top center. After that, a bunch of legalese stated he was older than eighteen, any and all risks were assumed by him, not the tattoo shop, and he granted permission for Sailor to use the image created for marketing purposes. Jason lowered the pen and stopped just before the tip touched the paper. A faint shadow of writing, spidery and ornate, appeared underneath the typeface. Odd. He looked up to find Sailor watching with an anticipatory light in his watery eyes.
Jason looked back down at the paper but saw nothing strange. It must have been a trick of the light. Or something.
After he signed the form and handed it back, Sailor smiled. “If you ever change your mind about the tattoo, come back and see me. Tattoo removal is also one of my specialties.”
“Yes. You would be surprised. Sometimes people change their minds. Sometimes they decide a tattoo was not the smartest decision to make. Especially a tattoo with this kind of detail. The devil is all in the details. You are warned—the removal is painful, and it leaves one hell of a scar.” He gave Jason a quick wink. “So,” he said as he put the paper back into his briefcase. “Shall we begin?”