Authors: Jocelynn Drake
“Come on, Trixie. You know what I mean,” I groaned as I focused on pounding the ingredients.
“No, I don’t think I do.”
“You’re starting to sound like my mother,” I warned. At least, it’s what I imagined my mother would sound like. I honestly had no idea how she would sound in a conversation like this. I had been dragged from my home by a warlock at age seven and returned for only a few months when I was sixteen. Family was not something I had a lot of experience with.
A bright flush stained Trixie’s cheeks and she turned away from me. Her sweet voice softened. “Please, Gage. This is dangerous.”
“No, just a waste. You can’t mask what a satyr is no matter the potion. You might be drawn in by the potion at first, but the innate curiosity has to be there in order for the person to succumb to anything. If the person isn’t even a little attracted, nothing is going to happen. I’m just not that good. No one is.”
I turned from the counter to find her staring at me from where she sat at the drawing table. Half of a sketch of a tall, phallic-shaped mushroom sat on the drawing paper before her.
“I’ll even cut it with nightshade juice so this will have practically no effect on the fey,” I said with a sigh. I was a complete pushover when she looked at me with those wide eyes. It didn’t help that I also knew she was fey and felt more than a little vulnerable around these tattoos I had promised.
“Thank you,” she murmured before returning to her drawing.
“Just draw two designs and then hurry back. I want to get these three out of here so I can call it a night.”
“Any way I can get out of this one?”
I snorted as I walked toward the door with my mixture and a tiny wooden spoon. “Not a chance. The pay is more than worth the twenty minutes it’s going to take you to do this.”
“Bastard,” she muttered, but not with her earlier vehemence. I was at least partially forgiven.
While Bronx was shaving away the bristly hair from the area on the arms of the satyrs where the tattoos would go, I selected three small plastic caps and spooned in a bit of the potion that I had mixed up. I then squirted in black ink. The potion didn’t need to go into all of the colors unless you were weaving a more complex spell and then it was different potions in different colors so that the spell created an interesting tapestry of power on the person’s skin. In this case, the outline of the mushroom tattoos in black was the only part that actually needed the potion.
I was pulling out the needles and scooping out dollops of petroleum jelly to put on small Styrofoam plates, which would help to control the bleeding during the tattooing process, when Trixie reluctantly entered the room to show off her two designs. One mushroom was short and thick, while the other was tall and narrow. I kept my comments to myself as the satyrs argued over the merits of each design. In the end, all three decided on the long and narrow design, but with a variety of color combinations so that each one would be slightly different.
With our customers settled in their respective chairs, we three set to work quickly. The steady buzz of the tattooing machines filled the air, but was nearly drowned out by the constant chatter and bawdy comments made by the three satyrs. Despite Trixie’s close attention to her one client, all three took turns trying to hit on her, even from across the room, mindless of what anyone was saying. And may the gods bless Trixie, she kept her comments to herself and silently worked on her customer. I knew that I would receive an earful later. But then she knew that this was part of the business. While Bronx and I would defend her against any type of physical threat in a heartbeat, she had seemingly grown accustomed to the occasional rude comment and had told us more than once not to bother calling a halt to it.
In less than half an hour, the three satyrs were tattooed and bandaged up with the appropriate care directions in hand. I only hoped that they paid some attention to the care of the tattoos, otherwise they would be back in for a repeat job and I was in no mood to put up with them again.
As soon as the door slammed shut behind them, I put one hand behind my neck and massaged the tense muscles there as I turned to face Trixie. I opened my mouth to apologize to her for what she’d had to endure for the past thirty minutes, but she held up one pale hand, halting the words in my throat.
“Did we make enough from them to make the night worthwhile?” she simply inquired.
“And then some.”
“Then it was worth the hassle, though I am not looking forward to their eventual repeat visit for another tattoo. As long as they pay well and the work can be done quickly, I can tolerate it.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t have to shave the little buggers,” Bronx groused as he stood and reached for a broom that was leaning in the far corner. Until now, I hadn’t noticed the heavy sprinkling of short hairs that covered the floor around his chair. Satyrs were naturally hairy bastards, and the few I had tattooed had proved to be a waste of time since most didn’t bother to keep the area of the tattoo shaved so people could see the art.
Glancing up at the clock, I silently cursed, dropping my hand back down to my side. It was already after one in the morning. I should have been out of the shop more than two hours earlier. Trixie would stay on for another hour or two before heading home, and then Bronx would close the shop around four. Business would remain relatively light, but there were enough nocturnal creatures in the world that it was worth Bronx’s while to keep the late hours.
I was starting to head to the back room for my bag when a young woman with straight brown hair and wide brown eyes slowly pushed through the front door. She kept her jacket tightly wrapped around herself, as if for protection rather than warmth on this summer evening. Her eyes swept over the place once as she crossed the threshold before they finally settled on me. Her lips were pressed into a thin, frail smile, while lines of worry crisscrossed her brow. This was not the look of someone excited about getting a tattoo.
Glancing over my shoulder, I found Bronx watching the security television before he looked up at me and pointed to the vine on his arm. Yeah, that was the feeling I got too. Trouble. Something bad had just walked through my front door in the guise of a helpless young woman. I didn’t exactly have the word
stamped across my forehead when it came to the damsel-in-distress types, but I also wasn’t a cold-hearted bastard like so many in this world. I could at least hear her out. And then Bronx would gently show her the way back to the front door.
he young woman slowly crossed the room, as if still not sure that she wanted to be there. Her hesitance gave me ample time to check her out. There was no glamour clinging to her, no spells to set off any alarms in my head. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a scared human. Common enough. Not everyone was a fan of needles.
So I formed my lips into an open, reassuring smile, hoping to put her somewhat at ease. It won me a weak smile in return as she reached the counter.
“Hi,” she began with a little wave. “I was told to ask for Gage.”
Something sank in the pit of my stomach when she said my name. It wasn’t as if it was the first time someone had come in asking specifically for me. Hell, most of my business came via word of mouth and referrals from former clients. This little bit of trouble shrouded in fear had come looking specifically for me though. I would have felt safer if she had just opened her jacket and revealed a bomb strapped to her stomach. At least it would have been easier to smile through.
In my own defense, I am proud to report that I didn’t flinch and my smile didn’t waver when she made her request. “You’ve found him. What can I do for you?” I said, leaning forward on the glass case.
“I was told that you were one of the best tattoo artists in the area and that I should come to you. I was hoping to get some ink,” she explained, focusing on the obvious because fear seemed to have her locked into place a few feet from me.
“Sure, what kind of tattoo were you looking for? Do you already have something in mind?” I silently prayed that she hadn’t come to me looking for a bit of artistic direction as well. Guessing what kind of tattoo would fit a person’s unique personality was like trying to guess what kind of person they would marry. It was intimate, and I wasn’t currently privy to that kind of information. The young, bubbly, and brash teenagers were a little easier to guess, but I knew by looking at this young woman that she wanted something that would carry meaning for her for the rest of her life. It was going to be an emblem of who she was and/or what she believed.
“I know what I would like,” she said, allowing me to suppress a sigh of relief. “I want wings.”
“Sure, what sort of wings? I can show you Trixie’s back,” I offered, motioning toward the back room where the other artist was currently relaxing. “She’s got a great set of butterfly wings between her shoulder blades.”
The young woman looked away from me and frowned as she shoved her hand through her stringy brown hair. Her pale face was gaunt and her eyes were underlined with dark circles. Something was wrong here that I was missing. “Can we sit down?” she asked, looking over at the wooden bench, which ran the length of one wall of the parlor nearest the doorway to the back room.
“Of course.” I motioned toward the wooden bench, waiting for her to precede me.
She sat down a couple of feet away from me, dangling her purse between her legs while twisting the strap around her clenched hands. She didn’t look up at me and didn’t speak for nearly a minute, as if she was carefully weighing her words.
“My name is Tera, and I’ve heard a lot of great things about your work,” she finally said in a hushed voice, as if she was sharing some secret. “I’ve thought about it for a long time and I’ve decided that I want a pair of angel’s wings drawn on my back.”
“How big were you thinking?”
“My entire back.”
“Your whole back?” I dumbly repeated. This was not what I was expecting.
“From the tops of my shoulders to my lower back,” she confirmed.
“Have you gotten a tattoo before?”
“Are you sure you want something so big to start with? Most people start with something smaller before getting such a large tattoo.”
“If it’s the needle you’re worried about, don’t. Needles don’t bother me.” Her voice hardened for the first time, giving me a flash of some unseen inner strength. “The pain won’t bother me either. I’ll be fine.”
“The other thing you have to consider is that tattoos are permanent, regardless of those stupid commercials and other so-called cures. You’ll have to live with this very large tattoo for the rest of your life.” In general, I wasn’t in the business of trying to talk someone out of a tattoo, but I believed a person should make an informed decision before jumping into such a big commitment.
“I can’t think of anything better,” she whispered, hanging her head down so that her hair blocked her face. However, I didn’t miss the quick motion of her hand sweeping up to her eye to catch what I was willing to guess was a tear.
Placing my elbows on my knees as I leaned forward, I cupped my right hand in my left, massaging out some of the tension that had settled there. I was beginning to guess where this was going and it was becoming increasingly harder for me to say no to this woman, which was going to be my downfall in the end.
Tera heaved a heavy sigh, as if she was finally prepared to bare her soul to me. “Look, Gage, I have to tell you the truth. I don’t have a lot of money. I can scrape together about two hundred dollars. I have a feeling that that won’t even begin to cover what I want, but this is my only chance. I’m dying. I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer and the doctors are saying that I’ve got anywhere from days to a few months. I haven’t been the best person in the world. I’m not some mass murderer or rapist, but I haven’t made the smartest of choices in life. I know I’m not going to get wings when I die, so I would like them now, even if it’s only for a day or two. Will you help me?”
Sucking in a deep breath, I lowered my head into my hands, digging my fingers into my hair. What the hell was I supposed to say? Sure, she could be conning me, but I doubted it. There was something about her, some darkness seeming to hang about her that reeked of death. She might not have terminal cancer, but I was willing to bet that she was telling the truth when it came to the fact that she was dying.
I dropped my hands and sat up so that I could look over at her. “Tera, I can guess at some of the things you’ve heard about me, and I honestly can’t help you with the cancer if that’s what you’re hoping.”
To my surprise, she gave a little chuckle and sat back against the bench, looking relaxed for the first time since coming into the parlor. Of course, she had already shared her dark secret with me, so what was there to be nervous about now? “I know that. Trust me, if a tattoo artist had found a cure for cancer, do you think anyone would actually be dying of it right now? I know that you can’t do anything about my situation. You can’t even extend my life. I want to die knowing that despite what God thought of me, I still got my wings. I’ll go to hell with my angel wings.”
I turned my head and looked over at the brave woman who was begging for my help to jump out on one last adventure before her breath left her body for the final time. Her two hundred dollars wouldn’t cover the time it would take to draw up the design and get half of it inked, but I would take the money because I didn’t want to injure her pride any more than it already had been by having to admit the truth to me. I’d take the job because I knew about thumbing your nose at the authorities just a moment before you were sure that you would cease to exist.
“So when do you want to start?” I asked, forcing a smile onto my lips.
Her brown eyes finally lit up with some of the energy she had been missing when she first came into my shop. “You’ll do it? Wonderful! I want to do this as soon as possible!”
“I need some time to get the design done. I’m assuming that due to the narrowness of your frame you want the wings to look like they’re folded on your back.”