The Blind Tattooist
Dianne propped her head on her elbow and slid the index of her other hand along Jenna’s spine. Slowly, she traced the lines of the gaudy-coloured dragon on Jenna’s back, noticing how her skin reacted to her touch, the flicker of desire it aroused.
“You know,” Dianne murmured. “The first time I saw this… I was astonished.”
“Don’t stop,” Jenna said.
Dianne moved downwards, then turned back up.
“You’ve never told me how you got it,” she said.
“No, I didn’t.” Jenna didn’t seem to want to elaborate.
“I thought it was because of the book,” Dianne said. She touched the dragon’s eyes, worked her way down the snout and glided over the fire breath. She imagined she could actually feel the heat.
The silence extended forever. Then Jenna sighed.
“The book was the inspiration, yes,” Jenna said. “But the motives were my own. It’s a long story.”
“Well, I’ve got nothing better to do right now…”
“It all started the day my class finished the academy. We celebrated, you know…”
“Oh yes. Traditional. We did too.”
“Late that night, we went into a tattoo parlour. The top five. Troy, Dana, Alex, Charlie and I. Troy said he knew this place, from his street contacts. Best tattooist you could ever find, he said.
“The place was clean, but dark. That confused me: one would think a tattooist needed light. For a second there, I thought we were going to get one of those inks you’re embarrassed for the rest of your life. But we were all more than a bit tipsy, mind me… So I went on. Besides, it was just the wrong moment to chicken out of it.
“The tattooist appeared and greeted us. Troy told her who we were and what we wanted: top cops fresh out the academy, numbers one to five never to forget. The tattooist then did something weird: she asked to touch our faces. It was then that I noticed she was blind. Had I been sober, I would have left immediately.
“But we let her. And she did. The next thing was amazing: as she touched each of us, she sang out our numbers. We never told her. First it was Troy, number two. Charlie, four. Alex, five. Dana, three. And me. One. But her face told me she had left me for last, on purpose.
“That’s the one on your ankle,” Dianne said.
“Yes,” Jenna said.
“It’s beautiful…” Dianne said, and moved down to touch it as well.
“Yes. The tattooist is, hands down, the best one I’ve ever met.”
“But this,” Dianne said, touching the one, “is not this,” and she went back up again to caress the dragon.
“My first case…” Jenna hesitated. She turned her head so she looked at Dianne. “Nobody assigns a serial killer to a rookie, but the killer attached himself to me.”
“The Ghost in the Park! You were the cop? But you’ve never told me!”
Jenna looked away.
“I… I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have trusted you before. But it’s me I don’t fully trust. Not yet.”
Dianne stared at Jenna’s body, basking in her powerful physical presence, but she also felt relieved. Jenna had brought peace and comfort to her life. Dianne slid behind Jenna, trying -and failing- to cover her with her own smaller body.
“I love you,” Dianne said. “And I’m a cop too, remember? I understand.”
Silence, once again, seemed to extend forever.
“The night after the first murder, I couldn’t sleep,” Jenna said suddenly. “I went for some air, and I don’t know how, I ended up at the door to the tattoo parlour. I went in. The tattooist was there, and I talked to her. You know, dumping your heart on a stranger.
“I told her about the… victim. You know the details, I guess. I hid the details, of course… but somehow, it seemed to me that she knew. She saw right through me, strange as it was.
“And I had this idea. I’d have a tattoo for every failure of mine. As a reminder. And I asked her to do my first one, right then and there. She was the one to suggest my back, and she got to work.”
Jenna paused again. Dianne held her, but remained silent.
“He came after me,” Jenna said. “After every murder, I got an email. An anonymous one every time, using a combination of VPNs and who knows what computer gimmicks. He wanted me to discover the bodies.
“And every night a body was discovered, I went into the parlour. The tattooist always greeted me first, before I spoke. The way we walk, she explained to me once. And my smell. And she never said anything, just patted the bed. And she’d set to work.
“That’s how I got the dragon. Piece by piece, the pain each one brought a souvenir for each of the victims of the The Ghost in the Park. A reminder of how I failed to progress with the investigation.
“Until he made his mistake. They ultimately get too bold. One night, he chose two victims, and failed with the second one: she managed to phone emergency before dying. You know how it ended, and the manhunt that ensued.”
Dianne noticed that Jenna’s voice was dreamy. She was leaving details out, just choosing which recollections to share.
“And even then, the bastard managed to fool us. He manipulated us, so that I was the one who got to him first. He overpowered me, tied me down. I could only see his feet… and I saw the number tattooed there. A two, just like my one. Troy. And then the special forces blasted in.
“The tattooist just patted the bed again that night. I just lied down and she set to work. In my mind, I kept seeing Troy. All those times in the academy… The bastard.
“And then she said, ‘It’s finished.’ And it was. She had a special mirror set-up so I could see the finished job. It’s as you can see it now. But here’s the strange thing: that night, I didn’t tell her a word about the Ghost. I never told her it was over. But she finished the dragon anyway. She just knew.”
This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Ten Titles You Made Up. Last week we proposed titles, and Chuck chose ten. We then had to choose one of those, and I preferred The Blind Tattooist by user Russell.
This is one of my favourite stories. I like how the characters came out.