He’d been the tattoo guy all his life and that was a pretty long time, more tattoos than he cared to remember or even could remember. He’d inked them all over the years; skulls, stars and stripes, mermaids, swallows, Moms and Dads, hearts, sweet Marilyn, too many Chinese dragons, some carp and samurai, plenty of tramp stamps and tribal and Arabic symbols that meant just about diddly shit to anybody not in the tribe or of Arab origin.
Yes, you sure can pound a lot of skin in more than sixty years and that’s how long he’d been slinging the ink. But now, at almost eighty, his eyes were going and the rum made his hands shake like a whore’s arse slapped with a kipper. He poured himself another shot. He hadn’t done any tattooing business in months. Well, unless you count the drunk who paid him far too much dough to ink out ‘Wendy’ from a cupid tattoo that was only a couple of days old. He hadn’t asked for a story and the drunk hadn’t given one. That cover-up job must have hurt like hell, but the guy was a wrastler and sucked it up.
He knocked back another slug of rum. It’d begun to burn on its way down recently and most nights it woke him up. He didn’t like what he saw in the pan either. Time to move on; time to turn the sign to closed for the last time. His case was packed and waiting upstairs and tomorrow he flew off to the sun. He’d been promising himself for half a lifetime and this was one tattoo guy who was hanging up his needles and getting out of this shitty little town, something he should have done a lot of years ago.
He stood, with joints that didn’t want to function, and was about to walk to the door when it opened and a man stepped in from the darkness outside.
‘Still in the business?’ The man asked.
Joey didn’t recognise him, but there was something familiar about his face. Familiar in the way when you think you recognise the guy next to you at the bar before you realise you’ve been sitting next to him at every bar you’ve ever drunk in and for all your life.
‘What are you wanting? Something special?’ Joey asked.
Well, one last tattoo for old time’s sake couldn’t do any harm and the shakes weren’t that bad tonight. He could function; even make something passable, an anchor or maybe some entwined hearts. Besides, he could do with some rum money to blow in the bar at the airport.
‘Nothing major,’ the stranger replied. ‘Just a small piece, I don’t have too much available skin for anything else.’
He removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeve. For the first time Joey noticed that the man’s hands were covered in tattoos of tiny faces, each about two inches square, each screaming, and each captured in such detail that Joey wondered who the artist could have been. He looked up from the stranger’s hands, up his arm to his bicep, and saw that his arm was covered in similar tattoos.
‘How much?’ Joey asked. It wasn’t a price; it was a question of degree.
‘Total. The soles of my feet, my legs, arms, torso, my whole body all the way up to my neck. I don’t do face. I have enough of those covering my skin. Wanna see?’
Joey did. Well, he was a professional and from what he could see the work was extraordinarily fine. He nodded and the stranger removed his clothes.
He was a work of art. Thousands of faces screamed from his skin, each a perfect picture of terror. Joey thought he recognised the odd face or two. But that couldn’t be, he’d never met this man before, but he was sure that the open mouthed portrait by the stranger’s left nipple was Terry Macaloon, a great inker who Joey had got drunk with a few times at conventions. Terry had been dead almost twenty years, he went sudden, a heart attack. The cops found him in his shop still holding his irons.
‘What do you want from me?’ Joey asked.
The stranger opened the palm of his left hand and showed Joey the two inch space.
‘This is for you,’ he said, ‘let’s call it your final resting place although I can’t guarantee you any rest.’
Joey picked up his needle and began to draw the outline of his face on the stranger’s hand. It couldn’t take too long, he didn’t have the time, but he wanted it to be his very best work. After all, this was going to be his last tattoo.