The dregs was a city beneath the city where everything otherworldly and twisted in Chicago ended up. The whole place ran on stolen electricity and magic so everything was in a constant state of disrepair. The streets were a mix of concrete and old cobblestone lit by old lampposts and neon signs and the buildings were made out of whatever people could find.
Nothing in the dregs was pleasant or polished, so why had I thought the tattoo parlor would be any different? The Quill was on the north side of the lock inside a hollowed out old L-train car. The walls inside had been lined with black pleather, a mix of old chairs, medical gurneys and one actual tattoo bed dotted the space- a table or cabinet of some kind accompanying each. There was a beaded curtain at the end of the car inside of a make shift wall that I assumed must have lead to a back room of sorts.
There were only three people inside, a man about a head taller than I with a thick beard and long hair that had been pulled up and out of his face, a tattooed woman with ankle length black hair in a tank top and short shorts who was currently giving a tattoo to a boy that looked no older than sixteen. His face was scrunched in pain as the woman worked. The bearded man approached me. “Tisha?” I nodded and he extended a hand; I took it and he gave me a firm shake. “Flint.” He nodded toward the back room. “Just let me go get the stuff. Take a seat.”
I sat on the gurney he had pointed out and waited. The other artist and client finished while I waited. He returned, hands gloved, holding a sketch pad and a small glowing glass bottle. He flipped the chair next to the gurney and straddled it so he was facing me and placed the bottle next to the gun and ink on the table. “So, I threw together some sketches based on what you had mentioned.” He handed the sketch book over to me. There were six various designs all a heart with a sword pierced through it encircled by a crown. Two had a real heart, the other four had the cartoon version. Three more were realistic in their shading and the others ranged from animated to traditional.
I pointed to one of the more traditional designs. He nodded and began tracing it on to the transfer paper. “You hear about that upper that found his way down here the other day?” He asked trying to make small talk.
“It seems to be happening more and more.” I said. Everyone in the south quarter had heard about the drunk Loyola student who found his way into the dregs last Friday. Three vampires had him cornered by the time the lawmen found him.
“If you ask me,” I didn’t but he kept talking anyway, “it seems like a waste of magic to keep wiping their memories. No one is going to believe them anyway.”
He faced me again. “ Between the shoulder blades right?”
“Yep.” I unzipped my jacket and tossed it to the side so only the tank top I was wearing was left. I laid on my stomach turning my head so I could still see the small table filled with ink and the glowing bottle.
“What are they like?” I asked quietly trying not to second guess what I was doing.
Getting a haunted tattoo. I had done worse things for a job but I still didn’t understand why I was the one doing it. Mag could have easily volunteered if he wasn’t such a wuss. Jamie had a good reason being that there wasn’t really any available space left on her body. And Cody well… his life was complicated enough with out adding a ghosts unfinished business.
“She’s tolerable. Found her haunting one of the Columbia dorms.”
“Yeah, I think she died from alcohol poisoning or some such.”
We both went quiet as the buzzing of the gun began. After he finished the outlines I watched as he uncorked the bottle and dipped the gun in.
“I figured I’ll put her in the crown.” He spoke up so he could be heard over the buzzing.
I gave him a thumbs up. I drifted in to my own thoughts as I felt a strange cold settle into me. A student. She probably wasn’t much younger than I was, maybe even the same age.
Two hours later I walked out of the Quill with Eve—a deceased African American Columbia student—in tow. She walked silently behind me, her hands in the pockets of her jeans as I wove between the crowds of the North district. Passing shop after shop selling knock off or stolen topside merchandise. She was so quiet I kept looking back at her to make sure she was still there, one look and I saw someone walk straight through her and she kept moving as if nothing had happened.
I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what and I still hadn’t spoken to her by the time we made it Madam Janet’s. The truth teller let us use the back room of her store to hold our meetings in. Mag, Jamie and Cody were already waiting. Eve made her way to the window seat at the very back and sat and stared out at the neon glow of the alley. “You got one?” Mag asked.
“Yeah she’s here.” I said.
“Did you ask her how she died?” Jamie leaned over to look at the bandage on my back.
“She been pretty quiet.” Eve glanced in my direction. Quieter I said, “The guy said alcohol poisoning.”
The team nodded but then barely a whisper Eve said. “I don’t drink.” I didn’t tell the others what I heard. That was a problem for another day, tonight we rob the mausoleum.