A Tattoo

        John closed his eyes tightly. He could feel water welling up in the corners of each, but his mind refused to recognize them as tears and marked them down as sweat instead.        “Geez it hot in here.”         “Calm down, we’re almost done.”         The tattoo artist’s tone was derisive and insulting in that way you talk to a child when your trying to be polite but you’re really annoyed. John knew the tone well. He heard it all day long from mothers at the end of their ropes who came to his teller window at the bank to deposit a check or turn in a few rolls of coins.         “There we are. That wasn’t so bad now was it?”         John could tell he said this to everyone. You could end the day on the table dead and he would still say it, scrawling his name on a bill and tossing it over his solder as the medics rushed into the room too late to make a difference. John felt like telling him off, but he knew he wouldn’t so he mustered a weak forced smile instead.         “There’s a mirror in the corner. Give it a good look over and then I’ll bandage it up.”         John stood up, and the fresh flush of blood and feeling to his arm sent a new shock of pain up his shoulder and through his neck. He winced, but quickly hid.         He stood up to the mirror and looked over his new addition. At first all he could see was the swollen redness of his battered skin, but as his eyes focused, he began to see the faint ink lines emerge and congeal into shapes and pictures. He continued to stare, at first lazily, but with increasing intent, as if his mind was slowly working out a math puzzle and the final operation just eluded him. Finally things suddenly snapped into focus.         “What is this?”         “Hmm”, mused the artist half listening as he prepared a gauze bandage.         “This, what is this on my arm?”         “It the brogan’s cross, for Brogan State Penn. And two roses. You were in for two years right?”         “Brog…Brogen State Penn? You mean the penitentiary? It’s supposed to be a book. John Brogen’s book ‘An English Rose’! What have you done to me?”         “Na mate, its right here in the invoice. One Brogen…” The artist stopped short as he squinted at his own inscrutable handwriting on the bill of sale.         John’s heart began to race. He looked back in the mirror, examining the new tattoo over and over, forcing his mind to actively identify each element and assure him that he was seeing what he had seen just moments before. Each time the same, a ghoulish gothic style cross, throned with jagged black spines and flanked on each side with a smiling skull holding a rose in its teeth.         “Here,” John’s voice shook as he spoke, “quick, wipe it up before the ink dries.”         “I ah, well, I can’t. It doesn’t work that way.”         “Of course it does, here,” John grabbed a sterile towel from the counter and pressed it hard to his flesh. His skin burned at this further indigence and he winced at the pain. Then, gritting his teeth he began to rub furiously.         “Wait, wait, you’ll tear your skin to shreds and get an infection. Look, the ink’s down deep, under the skin, you can't just soak it up.”         “Well the get your erasing fluid or whatever you use. Just get it, hurry.”         “Look, I’m sorry. Tattoos are permanent. Only way to get them off is with a laser, and the…”         “So get the laser, what are you standing there for.” John was practically in tears now.         “Calm down. Like I was trying to tell you. Only a doctor can do that. And they can't take it off until the skin’s healed up. Look, this happens every once and a while. It’s no big deal.”         “No big deal! I look like a hoodlum.”         The tattoo artist almost started laughing at John’s choice of words. “It’s cool, look, we’ve got a dermatologist we work with. I’ll give them a call and make you an appointment. The shop will cover everything. You’ll have to wait 6 weeks for the skin to heal up and then you can go to the office and have it off. It just takes an hour or so.”         John looked back in the mirror, purposlly blurring his gaze, but his two new osseous companions starred back at him with their wide grins intact.

Fake Mustache

        "That one."        "Who?"         "Don't look! He's three rows up. The one with the news paper."         Mary craned her neck to get a better view.         "See," said Judith, "look when he takes a sip of his coffee."         "You're seeing things. Why would he be wearing a fake mustache?"         "That's what makes it so strange, what could he be up to?"         "Maybe he's an actor," Mary smiled and began to giggle, "or an actress."         "No no, look at his hands. Definitely a man."         "It looks normal to me, how do you know it's fake?"         "Just look at it, the color is all wrong." Judith ducked down and began digging through her backpack, emerging a moment later with her cell phone.         "What, are you going to call the cops?"         "No, a picture." Judith seritpiciouslly held the phone just above the rim of the row of seats in front of her, peaking out just enough for the small lens of the camera to peer over the seat-back. CLICK


"For goodness sakes Jack, sit down. Your driving me crazy." "What time is it?"

"Three minutes past the last time you asked me what time it was."

"What time is it Nick?"

"It's," Nick set his apple down on a nearby box and cocked his arm into the air to pull back the sleeve of his coat, "It's 6:41 and 21, 22, 23, 24..."

Jack sat down with a huff on the edge of the stairs and grabbed Nick's apple.

"28, 29. Hey!"

"Your mouth seems to be busy at the moment," Jack took a bite and smiled.

"You asked. Look, you have to calm down, they'll be here."

"They were supposed to be here over an hour ago!"

"Quit complaining and try and enjoy it."

"You enjoy it."

"I was until you took my apple."

"It's an apple warehouse Nick."

"I know, but I brought that one from home. It's a macintosh and these are all granny smith. They're all sour."

Jack took another bite.


Plastic Snails

        "Snails, large plastic snails. You can usually find them in chinatown. They have shops down there where they sell nothing but plastic food that the chinese restaurants put in their windows."        "I don't think the chinese eat snails."         "They don't, these are decorative snails. They put them around the food."         "And that's supposed to be appetizing?"         "Don't blame me, I'm not Chinese. Anyway, you get these snails and you take a craft knife or an xacto knife or something and cut a small hole in the bottom and then you fill them with meringue. Put them in the oven for like 25 minutes and then you can just peal the plastic off."         "Is that really safe, I mean putting the plastic things in the oven like that. Won’t the chemicals from the plastic get into the meringue?"         "Of course, that’s the point. See the plastic they use in those chinatown shops is the cheep stuff. Is full of lead and CFC's and dioxins and stuff. When you put it in the oven, all that leaches into the meringue."         "So then it’s poison."         "Well yeah," Simon had a puzzled look.         "Poison?"         "Yeah, it’s all poison."         "Poison poison?"         "Don't give me that look, you’re the one who wanted to get that dog to stop barking."         "Well what kind of solution is this? I mean first of all, if i wanted to poison him then there are a million better ways," Carol sat back in her seat in disgust, "and not one of them involved me driving all the way to chinatown to get some crazy plastic snails! I mean My God Simon! Why would you even suggest something like that?"         Simon hung his head and stopped making eye contact. Then he began to laugh. "They aren't for eating silly. Your just using the meringue because the dogs hate the way it sounds when you rub pieces together."         "You can't be serious."         "It’s true. I used to do it all the time to the dog that lived across the street when I was in grade school."         "And he stopped barking"         "No, he was never a barker, I just did it to annoy him."         "For heaven sakes, why?"         "He used to stare at my window at night from across the street. He had plans, I'm sure of it."         "Probably because you were annoying him all the time with your meringue. Where did you get snail shaped meringue to play with anyway?"         "I had my sources."         "Wait a minute, if your just rubbing it together, why does it need to be snail shaped?"         "It doesn't really I guess, but, well..." Simon took a sip of his juice, "it’s more for the aesthetic than anything."         Carol gave another puzzled look.         "Well if someone comes up to you on the street and asks what your doing and you tell them your rubbing to amorphous pieces of meringue together to bother the dog next door and try and get him to stop barking, they're going to think your crazy and call the police."         "They're going to say the same thing if the meringue is shaped like a snail."         "Maybe, but they will have to smile when they say it."


        "Good morning, you've reached The Office of the Federal Ombudsman, my name is Brian, how can I help you today."        "Mmm Hmm, let me just get a file started for you. Is this the first time you've called the Ombudsman? I see. Yes, well you see it a very large agency. The Director does not take the calls directly. No, no, that what I'm here for. Thats right."         …         "Ok, well can I just get your name please. Mmm Hmm, is that with a C or … a K, great. All right, what can I help you with."         …         "In your trash? Is this at your residence or place of business?"         "So the bags were all ripped up then? How, how long had the bags been out? I mean was this trash day or … Were they inside of the dumpster or just … oh you have cans there, of course."         …         "Well … perhaps this is an issue you should bring up the animal control service in your … Well no … I, I, I can just look up the number and …"         …         "Oh, I see. Well did you get a look at who it was. Right, the one who ripped the bags up. Right, right. Were there several of … just the one."         …         …         …         " … Uh … Yy-Yes I'm still here. Umm … Right, soooo I just want to make sure I have this right for the report. You're stating that on the night August the 21st of this year … The morning of the 2 … 22, mm hmm, OK, so some time that night, and you found them the next morning. Right. So during the night of the 21st, you witnessed an individual digging … uh huu, digging through your trash and … "         …         " … OK, so you witnessed Teddy Kennedy digging through your trash. Is that accurate?"         "Mmm Hmm. And … sooo you mean the senator, senator Kennedy? Right? How can you be sure it waaaas him?"         "No no, I just … well it was the middle of the night after all and … mm hmm … a streetlight. Still … no … no … well did he say anything?"         "Noooo, I don't think the senator can speak French. Well … no, no, it's not listed here on his personnel page."         …         "I suppose so, but why would he keep it a secret? … Yeah, ya … No, I'm entering it into the log now."         …         "Ok, well did he say anything else? Anything in English?"         …         "He said your lasagna … he wa … No, well I'm sure your lasagna is very good. Well it was a very rude thing to say … Yes right, over, over on the boat, I'm sure it's a very good recipe … Well your right, it's not going to be as good in the trash, I agree, I agree with you."         "Can I ask you about the, aaah, the senator again."         …         "No. Well it's just that I'm wondering if maybe you could be mistaken … Right. Right. Well it's just that Idaho is quite a distance from Washington D.C. and I thought that maybe …"         …         "Well I'm looking here at his voting records and it says that the senator was present for votes on the 21 and the 22 … ye … yes, well I don't know about security cameras, but senate proceedings are broadcast … they broadcast them live on, on CSPAN"         "About 11 am … Washington, eastern, eastern time."         "Well I suppose, but why would he travel to Idaho to … but why to … the … the lasagna … right."         "Well have you talked to your local Police Department about this?"         …         "No, I'm sure that the senator would be delighted to get a copy of the recipe, I just think that …"         "Right, but what I mean to say is that … mmm hmm, …"         "Ok, well let me just pull it up."         "Ok, you have a pen handy? Right, it's Office of Senator Kennedy, United States Senate, Washington D.C."         …         "Umm hmm, and it's 20510, … 510, 20510."         "Right, well I'm glad to help. Umm hmm, you have a nice day. Well thank you. Have a nice day. Goodbye."


        "Good morning sir, how are you today."        "This is a restricted area, how did..."         "Good, good, glad to hear it son. Allow me to introduce myself, name's Roger, Roger Finbek. My card," Roger quickly thrust his hand from his coat towards the uniformed man.         The man in the uniform reacted instinctively, reaching for his side arm, but before he could get to it, Roger deftly placed the business card in the front pocket of the man's uniform and grabbed his hand, giving it a hearty and cheerful hand shake.         "My my son, that’s quite a grip. Pleased, I say, pleased to make your acquaintance. Well like I was saying, name's Roger Finbek, that Finbek with a K, the ol' boys on the defensive line used to call me Roger Dodger," Roger laughed, "heh, yep, but you can call me Roger, just plain Roger. Say now, with a grip like that, I bet you've seen a football feld or two in your day. Am I right? Well sure, a strong lad such as yourself, you must have been the pride of the team, yes-sir-re." Roger gave the man a wink and nudged him with the tweed elbow of his jacket, "Pride of the team, and pride of the cheerleaders, am I right, he hehe."         The uniformed man finally regained his composure. "I said, this is a restricted are ..."         "Now now son, you'll have to forgive ol' Roger, my hearing ain't what it used to be. Be a gentleman and take off that helmet. My my, thats quite a contraption, all those hoses and wires, why you'd think you were going off to outer space or something with a get-up like that. You know my father had a rig just like that; brought it back from France after the war, ghastly business that. He used to..."         The uniformed man gave in and removed his head piece and respirator. "I said, ..."         "Ahh, Roger, Roger Finbek"         "Mr. Finb ..."         "Just Roger son, Roger will do quite nicely, thank you."         "Roger ... this is a restricted area, I'm going to have to ask you ..."         "You see, thats much better. Now as I was saying. I come to you today as a an official sales representative of the Worston Brothers United Manufacturing Company. Worsten Brothers is THE prime manufacturer and supplier of the worlds finest metal, plastic, ceramic, and composite materials manufacturing equipment and products since 1925. But I'm sure you are already familiar with our world renowned product line, isn't that right?"         "... well I ..."         "Of course you are. Well in any case, I am here today with fantastic news. Worsten Consumer Products, a fully owned and licensed subsidiary of the Worsten Brothers Manufacturing Company Holdings Limited, had decided to offer a fantastic opportunity to allow our loyal customer to purchase top quality Worsten Brothers merchandise directly from the company. Now this offer is only being extended to a select few individual customers, and I'm happy to report that this morning as we were checking the rolls ..." Roger fumbled through the pages of his clipboard, "that umm ... ahh, The Consortium of Affiliated Evil was right at the top of the list."         "Look, this is a millitar ... a factory, factory, you can't just come up to the door. How did you even get here? This building is 45 miles from the main road?"         "Never mind that my lad ..."         "Yes, but what about the guard at the gate? How did you ..."         "Ahh, you must mean Mr. Williams and Mr. Harling. Two fine gentleman, yes-sir-re. Did you know Mr. William's wife just had twins. From the pictures they look like 2 strong boys."         The uniformed man reached for his weapon again, and again Robert thrust out his own hand, this time passing the uniformed man a thick glossy catalog from his carrying case.         "Yes, you see, right here on page 22, SBS-2: Side-By-Side Twin Jogging Stroller. Boy you should have seen his face. Said he's been looking for one all over town but, well, living out here in the middle of nowhere, no thats just not easy on a family man you know. But that's where I come in my friend, your friendly neighborhood Worsten man. Say, you look like a family man to me Mr. ... ahh ... well now, how rude of me. I haven't even learned your name yet. Page one line two of the sales manual my boy, right after the hearty handshake, right before the business card. So, to whom am I speaking this fine afternoon?"         "Umm," the uniformed man cleared his throat and stood at attention, "Henchman Number 485-L."         "No no no son, now Williams gave me that same line. I can't be writing 425-whatever ..."         "485-L"         "I can't be writing that on my order forms, the boys back at the head office will laugh me out the door. Now you must have a name, everyones got a name."         "Regulation A7-22b: All henchmen are assigned a personnel number, each henchmen will be addressed by their personnel number at all times. Henchmen are required to divest of all personal identifying articles and customs during duty hours ..."         "Fine fine," Roger laughed, "have it your way. For all I know the boys back at the office put you up to this. So Mr. 485-L, is there a Mrs. 485? Maybe some little lower-case L's running around?"         The uniformed man tried hard to maintain a professional composure, but Roger was not about to back down. He had dealt with far colder customers than this.         "Come now, I know you've got some pictures of that lovely wife and kids in one of those pockets. Tell ya what, I'll go first." Roger reached into his coat and pulled out a well worn leather wallet fat with pictures. The uniformed man by this time had given up on reaching for his gun, instead hoping Roger was about to shoot him, but when he saw the wallet his disappointment was evident. "Now I know what your thinking," said Roger, "you were hoping to see kids, well so was I, but I tell you what, what I'm missing in children I more than make up for in cats."         "This one here is Annabel, and the woman, that's my first wife Sue. Annabel and Sue never did get along, though you wouldn't know it from this picture, but just seconds after the shutter went off, BAM, POW, if Annabel didn't take off like a shot. Knocked over Sue's tea and 4 potted plants."         "Ahh, and this one," Roger laughed to himself, "that there is Simon, Spots, Newton, and the black one on the end is Katze, thats German for cat. That one is actually the little neighbor girl's. She was studying German at the university."


"There's a what?""A sheep." "A sheep?" "A sheep, right there. You can just see the outline in the bushes." "Thats just a shadow." "No, see, here. There is the back part, and this black thing is its head, and the ear is there, its got one up and one to the side.' "You must be kidding." "No, it's there. Look, you can even see the glint in her eye from the camera flash." "Oh, so it a her now?" "Yes, her name is..." "Was." "Is Kali. We named her after that Buddhist goddess." "Hindu." "What?" "Hindu, Kali was..." "Is" The detective sighed, "...is a Hindu goddess. Goddess of destruction I think. Kind of an odd choice for the name of a sheep." "Look, it doesn't matter what I named her, I need you to find her. She was in this picture for the parade today so she must be near by. One of the spectators or the parade people or someone must have seen something."