TATTOO REMOVAL - JAKE HINKSON
The day after his wife's funeral, Dodie began saving money to have the crucifix on his chest removed. Money, which had always been an issue, was especially tight in the days after Roxanne's death. Her family, a bunch of deadbeats from Texas, didn't help with the funeral and Dodie's own family hadn't spoken to him for years. But despite the costs of the casket and the flowers, not to mention the cancer treatments, Dodie was determined to have the tattoo taken off. The only question was how to get the money.
He worked as a janitor on the second shift, three to eleven, at a plant called Oe-med Plastics, and the money there had never been good. Getting the tattoo removed gave him a reason to keep going to work. He hated his job more than ever now that Roxanne was gone. The plant was just a long metal shed hugging the side of a stream. The owners had recently been sued by the EPA for dumping waste in the water and part of the agreement reached required, for some reason, a security guard to be stationed at the front of the plant.
The guard was a bored, middle-aged guy named Chesapeake. He sat in a little booth watching television, drifting out occasionally to smoke cigarettes with the workers when they were on break. Dodie gave him a wave when he strolled in, and Chesapeake picked up a clipboard, put a check by Dodie's name and went back to watching television. As near as Dodie could tell, this was the extent of Chesapeake's job.
The plant was hot. It was always hot. Twelve mold-injection machines, each roughly the length and height of a tractor trailer, stood humming in a long row while tired-looking women—some skinny, foul mouthed and smoking cigarettes; some old, with faces sagging under the gray weight of disappointment; all women—stood at their posts in front of the machines. Each woman opened a door on her machine, pulled a lever, and separated dozens of plastic toothpicks into cardboard boxes. Eight hours, five nights a week. Three shifts around the clock, all year round.
Dodie walked past them, exchanged some nods and punched in on a time clock in the store room. The clock was at the bottom of a long flight of wooden stairs leading up to the offices. He waved up at his boss, Andy, a big ruddy-cheeked man standing at the window talking on the phone. Andy didn't wave back.
By the time Dodie walked to his closet to ready his mop and bucket, he was already sweating, and drops of it ran down Jesus' sad face.
The tattoo went from his clavicle to his navel and stretched from nipple to nipple. It was nice work, done by an artist down in Austin during a long period when Dodie and Roxanne were stranded down there with her family.
"Why get a tattoo now?" she had asked him when he told her he was getting it done.
He had shrugged. "Declaration of faith, I guess," he said.
He'd been a Christian for six months at that point and had been out of jail for two months. His faith, like his entire life once he'd gotten out of Cummins Penitentiary, was due in large part to Roxanne.
She'd been a part of a Bible group that came to the prison every Thursday night, and he had noticed her right away. She was a little pudgy maybe, but she had long brown hair and clear blue eyes, and when she sang "The Old Rugged Cross" for the prisoners, she cried. Dodie was one of sixteen inmates who attended the service. He wasn't religious at all at that point, but it beat the hell out of sitting in his cell with his cellmate, an overly talkative rapist with the bad habit of passing gas when he laughed.
"Thank you for coming out and doing this," Dodie told Roxanne one night before the service. "I like the way you sing."
Roxanne smiled and blushed. "Thank you," she said. It was all she said, but that night when she sang "The Old Rugged Cross" she looked at him and smiled.
When he'd finished mopping the mechanics room, Dodie went outside for a smoke. It was his first cigarette in six months, and when he inhaled the smoke it made his head spin.
Behind him someone said, "Not bad, huh?"
It was a new toothpick girl. He couldn't remember her name.
"What's not bad?" he asked.
She wasn't as skinny as most of the girls there, which meant she probably wasn't a druggie, and beneath the grimy sweat and boredom, she wasn't bad looking either. She had long brown hair and skeptical lips. "The cigarette," she said. "You're hitting it like you need it."
"Haven't smoked in a while."
She took out a long, thin Virginia Slim and nodded at his lighter. "Light?"
He handed the lighter to her.
She took it from him slowly, looking him in the eye while she did. Then she grinned and lit her cigarette.
When she handed the lighter back, she said, "I'm Maddie."
She waited, then she said, "Do you have a name?"
He said it again and spelled it.
"Nice name," she said.
"Where'd you get it from?"
"My parents gave it to me, for Christ's sake. Do you mind? I'm not really in the mood to talk."
Maddie looked like she smelled something bad. "Fine," she said. "Jesus." And she walked off.
He dropped his cigarette in the smoking post, glanced at his watch, and started another cigarette. He couldn't really think, though. That damn girl. He was never any good against the anger of a woman.
It was Roxanne's anger, after all, which had brought him to Jesus. She had chewed his ass one night at the prison because he'd been busted with some weed.
"You need God," she said. "You ain't gonna make it without the blood of Jesus dropping down from the cross and covering you."
She was an intense girl. He'd gotten down on his knees with her and prayed to God. He didn't feel anything special when he was done, didn't feel the blood of Christ, but when he looked up from the prayer she was crying and her tears seemed just as precious to him. They were married a few months later. He was released from the joint a little while after that. That's when he decided to get the tattoo of the cross on his chest.
Now she was dead.
He went back inside and found Maddie in the break room. She was sitting at the table smoking and reading a four-day old newspaper.
"Sorry I was rude to you," he said.
She kept looking at her paper.
He said, "Really. I'm not usually rude to people."
The bartender handed Dodie his Maker's and Coke. Maddie was sipping on a Rolling Rock.
"You ever want to get out of that place?" she said.
"Who the hell wouldn't? Oe-med Plastics is a shithole run by a bunch of thieving crooks."
"You making plans to get out?"
"No, I'm saving up for something else first."
He unbuttoned his shirt and revealed the sorrowful face of Christ on his sternum.
"Shit, that's great," she said.
"Getting it taken off."
"Why? It'll cost a fortune to get something like that removed. It's fucking huge."
"Don't matter. I don't care if they got to scrape it off with a butter knife."
"Don't believe it, anymore. I don't want it plastered on my chest anymore."
Maddie stared at him. She was funny-looking, he had decided. Her lips mostly. They always seemed to sneer, even when she was being nice. Her eyes were dark brown, though, and sexy. Everything about her was faintly sexy. Funny-looking and sexy.
"What if you could get your hands on a bunch of cash real quick?" she said.
"It'd be nice."
"I might know where you could make some. Quick. Easy."
He took a sip of his drink, and then looked at her.
"Oh, I see," he said.
"Let me guess. You heard I was in the joint."
She nodded. "For armed robbery."
"Yeah, and I couldn't have been too goddamn good at armed robbery if I went to jail for it. You ever think about that?"
"The way I heard it, you had a partner who snitched you out."
He finished his drink and crunched on some ice.
"What makes you think I want to get involved in anything like that again?"
"Ain't like you're religious anymore. And I know you need the money. Who doesn't? What else you gonna do, keep busting your ass for minimum wage at Oe-med? I sure as hell want to get out of there."
He sighed and put his glass down. He stared at his callused hands. "What do you have in mind?"
She smiled. "Oe-med."
Two hours later they were sitting in his car on a hill overlooking the plant.
"We go up the back. I have the security code. I got it the other day when they called me up to the office to fill out some of that new paperwork they made everybody fill out for the EPA thing. I was in Karen's office, and she left to go talk to Andy about something. It was written down on a folder."
"So we go in there and then what? They don't have any cash in there."
"They do tonight. The cash bonuses."
"What are you talking about?"
"You've been out of the loop cause of your…the thing with your wife. The Oe-med people sold their plant in Jacksonville. To keep everybody on, they guaranteed a three hundred dollar bonus. Supposed to go out at the end of the week. I know they have the money up there tonight in the safe. Twenty-two grand."
"How do you know that?"
"Got friendly with Andy."
"The boss told you?"
She smiled. "Men are stupid. You give a guy some head, and he'll give you his soul out of gratitude."
"They're gonna know it's you. It'll take them about six seconds to figure it out."
She nodded. "Maybe, but I got that covered, too."
"Cause I know they started dumping shit in the river again. Further downstream."
"How'd you find that out?"
She shrugged. "Men are stupid."
"So why don't you just blackmail Andy now? Why do you need me?"
She shook her head. "Works better this way. We get the money. Then we blackmail for cover. I don't think Andy would go for a straight blackmail scheme."
"But why do you need me?"
She looked at him. "I need a lookout. I don't think Chesapeake will come up there, but I want to cover my ass just in case."
"I don't know."
"Look, you wanna be stuck here for the rest of your life? You want to nickel and dime your way through life? You wanna nickel and dime that Jesus off your chest? Or do you wanna make some money? Easy. Quick. Tonight. Think about it. You can have eleven grand by the time we drive away from here."
He closed his eyes and thought of Roxanne lying there in bed, dying slowly, her body eating itself with cancer, God's creation destroying itself. Why shouldn't he do the same?
"Whatever it takes," he said.
She had ski masks. Hers was blue and his was green. He put his in his pocket. They drove down the hill, past the plant, past a little trailer park, and she had him park behind an old abandoned church. Hiking up through the woods, following the curve of the river and passing the trailer park again, they didn't say a word.
When they got to the plant, it seemed suddenly so huge, an enormous, noisy black rectangle. One parking lot lamp cast an orange glow on the side of the building. Around front, the doors were open to the air, the clanging of the machines echoing out into the night.
She touched his arm and slipped on her mask. He slipped on his, and they ran across a short patchy field to the back of the building. She pulled out a small flashlight and a piece of paper with the code. Dodie looked down the edge of the building and listened to the noise. People talking outside on a smoke break. Machines pounding away. He could smell the stink of hot plastic. But he saw nothing. Just a long black wall.
The pad beeped as Maddie punched the numbers in. The beeps sounded like bombs dropping, everyone of them. They seemed louder than anything else on earth. The door opened.
He followed her into the darkness of the storeroom. They crept up the wooden stairs to the main office. Every step creaked. His face was sweltering under the mask. His nose and mouth were too big for the holes in the mask, and he could hardly breathe.
She opened the door to the office and went inside. He was surprised the office door wasn't locked.
He stood outside the door and waited. The storeroom was pitch black except for a sliver of light coming through a far double door which opened out onto the main floor. The machines groaned and spat out their toothpicks. Rock music played from small radios at different work stations. He hated this place.
"Okay," she said.
He turned around, and a man was standing there in the darkness. Dodie leapt at him, but he couldn't see much. He managed to grab a hold of some clothing. The man grunted and there was an explosion and Dodie felt his chest come apart. He staggered backwards and tripped down the stairs. He stopped about halfway down.
"Quick, put the code in his pocket," the man told Maddie.
She turned Dodie over and slipped the paper in his pocket. He looked up at her, her face still covered by the mask.
Above her stood their boss Andy. The big, ruddy-faced man had a gun in his hand.
"Get out of here, baby," he told her. "He'll be dead in second, then I'll call the cops."
Maddie nodded. She looked at Dodie. "Sorry," she said.
Dodie watched her leave. He didn't have much time, blood, or breath left. He ripped open his shirt and for a moment stared at the bloody, smoking hole where Jesus' face had been. Then he nodded to himself and leaned back against the wooden stairs, listening as his blood dropped to the factory floor.
BIO: Jake Hinkson is currently at work on a book on film noir. You can learn more about Jake and his projects at his own blog, The Night Editor.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago