The Serial Tattooist

The Serial Tattooist

The bartender set a beer and a shot in front of Darren Montgomery and said, "That's it Big D. No more. I'm cutting you off after this."

            Darren looked up with blurry eyes and said, "Come on Billy my boy. Can't a guy have any fun anymore?" Except it came out as drunken gibberish, "ComonBilimabycnagyhanyfumamyor?"

            "I said no more drinks, Darren. Your done."

            Shit. Ok. Fine. Darren wanted to say but didn't. He couldn't even make his mouth move to speak. Instead, he drunkenly savored the last of his whiskey and drank from his beer. He felt pretty good. Great, in fact. He'd been at the Black Crow bar in the small town of Long Lake since around five pm and it was now nearly nine. He'd accomplished exactly what he'd wanted to accomplish: got himself nice and wasted. To hell with his job, to hell with his wife, and to hell with his kids. He deserved a night off to forget about it all and that's exactly what he'd done. Good for him.

            A minute later, with the whiskey finished and beer drained, he figured it was time to get to his car and drive home. He was making a move to stand up when he leaned a little too far to the left and started to fall. From a table a few feet away a tall, thin man stood quickly and reached out a hand to steady him.

            "Easy there, buddy. I've got you."

            From behind the bar, the bartender said, "You know this guy? Darren? I think he needs help."

            The skinny guy adjusted his thick framed glasses, put his arm around Darren's shoulder and said, "Yeah. He's a neighbor of mine. I'll make sure he gets home all right."

            The bartender waved okay and went back to serving other patrons.

            "Come on, there, partner. Let's get you out of here."

            The skinny guy's name was Caleb Kline. He kept his arm tight on Darren's shoulder as he maneuvered the unsteady drunk through the bar, out the front door and into the soft warmth of an early June night. In the background frogs called from down near the lake. A moon was rising to the east and there was a sweet scent of honeysuckle in the air. Most people would have considered it a beautiful evening. Most, but not Caleb Kline. He didn't notice the night at all. He propped Darren against his hip and led him across the gravel parking lot and out to the street where he'd parked his small RV.

            "Let's get you inside, pal," Caleb said, as he opened the door and mostly carried Darren up the two steps and into the tiny space that was the living room.

            Maybe it was the change of scene that caused Darren to begin to come out of his alcoholic fog, "What? What the...?" He looked around. The space was dark, lit only by the off lighting of the street lamps. "Where am I?"

            Caleb set Darren on the bed, closed the curtains and turned on a tiny overhead light. "Don't worry, friend. You'll be okay. There's nothing to worry about."

            Then he plunged a hypodermic needle into the man's thigh. "Hey," Darren said before his eyes glazed over his body went numb. In a few moments he had completely passed out.

            Caleb gently held the back of the man's head and lay him down on the bed. Then he set about getting ready. He laid a plastic sheet on the floor, just in case there was too much blood. He went to the cabinet above his small sink, took out his tool kit and set it on the plastic sheet. He set his bright portable light next to the sheet and affixed a miners light around his head. When he was satisfied all was the way he wanted it, he lifted Darren to the sheet and arranged him on his back. He opened the man's shirt, taking a moment to notice the smooth hairless chest. Caleb smiled to himself. Good. He wouldn't have to shave him. Then he opened his tool kit and set to work. It took about half an hour. There wasn't much blood, not that he cared, but it was less to clean up. That was always a good thing.

            While he moved the needle gun back and forth across the man's chest Caleb thought about his son. Cory had been killed by a drunk driver when he was only seven years old. He'd been in the car family's car when the drunk had run a red light and smashed into the side of the  old Ford, killing Cory and injuring Caleb and his wife Samantha and their four year old daughter Julie. That had been ten years ago. Caleb was as close to Cory as a father and son could ever be. He'd taught his boy to read, how to repair a bicycle tire and how to tie his shoes. He'd taken him on hikes, and taught him about nature and birds and flowers, and how the moon and the sun always rose in the east, and where rain came from, and why the sky was blue and all sorts of other things. God, how he'd loved his boy. Still did. The drunk driver was given five years in prison and was now a free man.

            With the death of his son, something had happened to Caleb. Something had snapped inside. Try as he might, he couldn't fill the void left by Cory's death. For months he was a shell of his former self, often staring into space for hours at a time with barely the strength to breathe. Lost. Emotionally numb. He'd been a high school science teacher, but he'd eventually had to take a leave of absence. He was given a year off, but he never went back. He couldn't shake the numbing angst; the overwhelming heartache that came with the loss of his beloved Cory. It was Samantha who had rattled his cage and suggested he do something about it.

            She was a RN and still was able to work. She was also a strong woman. "I miss him, too, Caleb," she told him, "But you've got me and Julie to think about. You've got to pull yourself together and find something to do."

            "Someone's got to pay for what happened to Cory. It's not fair."

            Samantha hugged him and held him tight, "Of course it's not fair, but life goes on. Figure out what you want to do, or what you need to do. No matter what, I'll support you. Just do something."

            It took him about a day to come up with a plan. He told Samantha what his idea was and she agreed that it was a good thing for him to do. "Anything" she's often told her friends, "Anything was better than him moping around."

            Caleb has been on the road ever since, over eight years, only coming home for Samantha's birthday, their wedding anniversary and Julie's birthday. He works odd jobs when he needs to for money. Otherwise, he travels. He's looking for drunks and when he finds one, he makes them pay for what they did to Cory.

            When he was finished working on Darren, he shined the light on the man's chest. He dabbed some blood away with an antiseptic cloth and took a moment to admire his work. He'd used a tattoo needle to write, "I'll never ever drive drunk," on the man's chest.

            "Good," Caleb thought to himself, "That looks good."

            He put his tools away and cleaned up. The sedative he gave Darren (supplied by Samantha) would last a little longer, long enough for Caleb to wait for bar closing and the streets to shut down. Then he'd drag Darren out and hide him in the bushes by the side of the Black Crow. Then he'd get in the RV and leave town. By sunrise he'd be far away.

            Before he hauled Darren outside, Caleb took the man's watch. He set it in a drawer with all the others. This would make eighty-nine. Eighty-nine watches collected over the course of the last eight years. Almost one a month. Not bad. He always felt invigorated when he was successful. Almost like a wolf with its kill, he imagined.

            It was around noon the next day when he called Samantha from Benson, a small town a hundred miles to the west. When he was finished telling her about Darren, she said, "Yeah, I've already heard. You were on the national news again, 'Serial Tattooist Strikes Again.' You're getting to be famous.

            Caleb could see her smiling on the phone."You don't mind I'm gone so much?"

            "Of course I do. But you do what you have to do, okay? Just always come home."

            "I will, honey. I promise."

            They were both silent for a few moments. Finally, Samantha asked, "Where to now?"

            "I'm heading west. Maybe Aberdeen."

            "Okay. You be careful. Call me in a few days."

            "I will."

            Caleb started the RV, turned back onto highway 12 and continued heading west. He was happy, now, with his life. There was another drunk out there somewhere just waiting for him. It wouldn't take long to find him, and when he did, the guy would pay. It was the least he could do for Cory. It was the least he could do for his son. 

Jim Bates

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in CafeLitThe Writers' Cafe MagazineA Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed,Paragraph Planet and Mused - The BellaOnline Literary Review. You can also check out his blog to see more:


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