Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Chapter Nineteen

The front door opened and her first real customer of the day walked in. At least Lilly hoped it was a customer. Almost 3:00 PM and no one had come in except for the stranger who was still sleeping on her couch.

“Good afternoon, sir. Come in. What can I do for you today?”

The stranger walked toward her without speaking. Lilly shifted uncomfortably. There was something menacing about the stranger. He wore a dark leather coat and gloves in spite of the warmth of the late September afternoon. He his face was expressionless and his eyes were hidden behind dark glasses. Lilly shivered. “This man is dangerous” she thought. Then she scolded herself. “What am I? A fortune teller like my mama?” She stood up straight and tried to sound normal.

“Did you have anything special in mind?” Lilly gestured to the sketches that were tacked to the wall.

The stranger’s eyes roamed over the sketches for a long minute and came to rest on a drawing of a tiny, haloed cherub.

Lilly followed his gaze. “That one has been unusually popular lately” Lilly said, trying desperately to sound calm. So that was it. Suddenly she knew why the stranger had entered her shop. Maybe she did have her mother’s gift after all. Lilly pushed past the man was now standing so close to her that she could smell his breath.
It smelled like lemons.

The last thing Lilly saw was the blade of his knife as it pierced her right eye. She didn’t even have time to scream.

Carl lifted Lilly’s body and carried it to a table in the rear of the shop and gazed at her a moment before plunging his knife into her left eye.

On his way out of the shop he tore the picture of the cherub from the wall and stuffed it into the pocket of his coat. Then he went out, locking the door behind himself.

Thirty minutes later Carl was standing in the library of Senator Jaffe’s Great Falls home.

“You’re sure you won’t join me in a celebratory drink, Carl?”

“No thank you, boss. And if I may say so the celebration may be a bit premature.”

“What do you mean, Carl?” The Senator couldn’t remember when he’d heard Carl speak at such length. Two complete sentences. He might have smiled were he not concerned about Carl’s ominous statement. He was rewarded with an even longer utterance.

“Since we can’t be sure the woman has not told someone she gave a matching tattoo to the dead woman’s companion, I think it would be wise if the tattoo you have on your right shoulder is not a cherub.”

“What do you suggest, Carl?”

“This.” From his pocket Carl removed the sketch he had taken from Lilly’s wall. Placing the sketch on the desk in front of the Senator he picked up a pencil and in a matter of minutes he had transformed the cherub to an eagle.

“I think this would be a more suitable tattoo for a man in your position, Senator Jaffe.”

Jaffe picked up the sketch and studied it carefully. “You never cease to amaze me, Carl. You have many hidden, and valuable, talents.”

“Yes sir. I have someone in mind to alter the tattoo. If you agree, I suggest we leave immediately. It would be better if we took my car. We’ll attract less attention that way. The person I am thinking of has a shop in Southern Maryland. It will take us about an hour to get there. You should try to relax, Sir.”

Jaffe squeezed into the front seat of Carl’s Honda. “You actually ride around in this sardine can, Carl?” He didn’t think he could relax but as they left the Beltway and headed south on Route 4, the traffic began to thin out. Jaffe slipped off his shoes and made himself as comfortable as possible. He closed his eyes and tried the shed some of the tension that had overtaken him.

Jaffe woke up when Carl turned off the engine. When he opened his eyes the first thing he saw was a flashing neon sign that read Dog’s Tattoos. “You brought me to a joint that does tattoos for dogs?”

Carl was about to explain that the owner’s name was Dog, when he saw that the Senator was grinning. The one thing Carl admired about his boss was his resiliency. Most men who had had their extracurricular activities result in the death of two people would not have the vigor or the inclination to make jokes

Jaffe put on his shoes and unfolded himself from the front seat. “Let’s go meet the Dog.”

Dog met them at the door. “You must be the guys that called, huh? I don’t think I’ve seen you around. Most of my customers come from around here. They say you can’t live in Calvert County long without getting a tattoo.”

“I’m the one who called. We want you to alter an embarrassing tattoo.”

“What did you do? Meet the woman of your dreams right after you had the name of the broad you thought would be the woman of your life inked on your chest?” Dog laughed hysterically, showing all eight of his teeth.

“Nothing like that. I just decided I’d made a mistake getting this.” Jaffe pulled unbuttoned his shirt to reveal the cherub. “You know, it’s just not me.”

Carl handed his sketch to Dog. “Can you turn that – into this?”

Dog studied the sketch, and the tattoo on Jaffe’s right shoulder. Then he peered at the sketch again. “Yeah. I can do that. But it ain’t going to be cheap.”

Jaffe tossed his shirt on a chair. “Let’s get started.”

“Ain’t you going to ask me how much?”

“Nope. Let’s get this over with.”

When he was finished, Jaffe examined eagle. “Not bad, Dog.” He took out his wallet and removed five one hundred dollar bills. “That should cover it.” He stood up and put on his shirt.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, Mister, you don’t strike me as the tattoo type.”

“Maybe not. But ever since I bought that house down in Solomon’s, I’ve had this irresistible urge to get tattoos.”

Dog laughed. “I get it. Funny.”

Jaffe headed to the door. “Coming, Carl?”

“You go on; I’ll catch up with you.”

“He’s your boss, right?”

Carl nodded.

“I thought so. I thought at first you guys were queers. I’d like to hang on to the sketch. You mind?”

“Yeah. I mind.” Carl took take hold of the sketch with his left hand. His right hand brought the blade up to Dog’s left eye. He fell backwards, still clutching the one hundred dollar bills. Carl took the bills. But he left the knife in Dog’s right eye.



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