“Hey Grady,” Cap’n Sven, who also happened to have a phone, “You know that big gorilla? What’s his name? The guy from St. Louis.”
Grady was eating an egg salad sandwich and took a huge bite, savoring the taste. Goddamn, he thought to himself, she sure can make an egg salad.
It was a balmy day, getting ready to go into summer season. It was a time full of promise for every vendor, talker, attraction and tattoo artist alike. For the cold gray winter in the city would lift its icy grip and the sun would shine forth once again. Grady was happy for it too, and had closed his winter quarters on the Island, and come out to Sand Street to get some sun, see some pretty girls and give these Brooklyn tattooers a run for their money.
Grady made a nervous face and glanced out the glass. It was ten in the morning, and Grady had no there yet. “So, what does this fella want?”
It was Sven’s turn to make a face. He did, and stuck a wad of chewing tobacco into his cheek, “Said you were going to sell to him, or he was going to kill you.”
“I think you should sell,” Sven added and he believed it too.
“Naw…,” Grady’s mind ran like a top and he was already almost there with it.
He knew he didn’t have much time.
He asked a leading question, “You like me, Cap’n? “
“I do,” And Sven meant that too.
“You should come down here and start a fight with me, but you gotta lose,” Grady was smiling, “Bring the shine boy too, I reckon.”
Conrad Miller was 250 pounds, tattooed everywhere but his face, neck and hands. His reputation in St. Louis was one of ruthlessness. He was a violent man, a dangerous man, but only with guns. He was bully, and had found his way to the Rats. He loved intimidation, which is why he they were so eager to get him.
He was lousy the work. He’d been taught, brought through it kicking and screaming the right way by State Street Stan, and even he couldn’t teach this “rube” the ropes. “I fear for the next generation of saps getting tattooed,” He shook his head, “They may as well go to a butcher.”
Butcher he was too. It wasn’t that killed so many people, nor that he liked waving the gun around. How he killed people was grisly. He like guns and knives, but what he liked to do was play “One man boxing match” and he would wear heavy leather workman’s gloves with knuckles on the outside. Or he would break bones working his way up to a lead pipe or bat to the head.
He stomped down the block Eddie Williams and Ed Lang. He smoked fast, readying himself to shoot this white trash Tennessee yokel in the head to make his point. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that. In fact, Conrad didn’t want to tattoo. He knew he was awful. There was no two ways about it. He liked the money, the women, and life of it more then he liked killing. Not by much though.
“You think I’ll have to kill him?” Conrad pronounced kill, keel.
Eddie Williams looked at the hulking brute as he walked to his left. He knew Miller was dumb and his trip to New York he knew, he just knew, was going to be ruined by him. Now here they were, off on some goddamn tangent, some idea that Connie hadn’t thought through.
“I don’t know,” Eddie Williams said, “You know this might go better back home.”
“S’All the same!” Con said, “Fuck these guys. We’ll take their money too!”
Eddie rolled his eyes.
Tall, dapper, the genial bank and mail truck robber wasn’t paying much attention to Con or Lang. He swiveled his head looking at the ladies as he passed He was a tattooer too, and now he was nervous. He’d known Grady from the road, and didn’t want to lead on. The last thing Grady needed was Connie trying to get Eddie to convince Grady to sell.
Eddie know you couldn’t convince the man of anything. His only option as he saw it was to put an elaborate act, feigning fear at the site of the man.
On the other side of Connie Lang was just as steamed. All he had wanted to was to go to the beach, something he had never done before. He was all ready to go when Connie, half drunk at 9AM rousted Eddie and him for this screwball venture.
Grady and Sven sat in the shop, quietly eyeing each other.
“This is dumb,” Sven said in his Swede accent, “You’re going to hurt me bad.”
I’m just going to rough you up. Now take this,” Eddie handed Sven a condom, filled with a dark red ink.
“Just pop this rubber after I pull a punch,” Sven made a face at that.
“What?” Grady said exasperated, “You want me to kill ya?”
He shrugged. “I just don’t want to get hurt is all,”
Grady slapped him on the arm, “Aw Sven, It’ll be alright.”
It was then that Grady, keyed up to near war time survival mode that the shoe shine boy came in, “They’re coming!”
And like a shot the kid was out of the shop, across the street and in to the alley behind a few garbage cans.
Connie threw open the door of the shop a moment later and Grady, not having enough time to say anything, hit Sven hard in the face. Sven hadn’t the time to get the prophylactic up to his nose, but at least he turned his head fast enough to avoid his nose being broken. Grady’s fist crashed into Sven’s left eye socket. It imeadatly began to swell.
Sven and Grady turned to look at the gangsters. Grady began to reach into the back of his pants.
“Sons of bitches! I know why you come here. No one is taking my shop. If you want it,” Grady pulled an ACP from his belt, “I swear you’ll clean my blood up before you reopen. Hey Rube!”
Eddie Williams stood there, knowing Grady had noticed him by the last part of that statement, which had gone right past Connie.
Williams dug under his arm.
“Fucking asshole!” Sven yelled and stumbled out the door holding his face. The shoe shine boy came out of the alley and helped the now wounded, swearing artist back to his shop.
Grady leveled the gun at the three. “Now come on boys, what’s gonna be?”
Connie looked nervously right and left.
“Don’t look over her, honey,” Lang said to him.
Eddie agreed, “You got that right. I told you REAL tattooers were hard.”
“Godddamn right!” Grady shouted, pulling back the hammer and giving Eddie a look that almost cost them the whole game.
Lang was happy because at this point it was early enough in the day to get to Brighton Beach and his suit was in the car back at the hotel.
Connie stood, shuffling his feet for what seemed like an eternity.
“Alright!” Grady shouted, bringing the dumb hood out of his natural stupor for a moment, “You better get it out of here NOW. GIT YER ASSES OUT OF MY SHOP!”
Grady fired a .45 caliber slug into the ceiling and that was enough for the three Midwest criminals scattering for the door. As they hit the street, Eddie began to laugh. “What in the fuck are you laughing at?” Connie asked.
Williams shrugged, “We made it out alive. I thought we were going to get shot full of holes.”
Connie was seething as they walked down the block. “Goddamn city, who needs it?”
“A men,” Lang said and after a moment said, “So you boys want to go to the beach?”
“Yeah! Girls,” He nudged Connie, “Whatcha say Connie? Ladies?”
“Eh,” Con grumbled and they began to walk away from the shop.
Grady sat down in his chair and took a long breath. He put his head in his hands and began to shake. Shaking with laughter. He hopped up, and ran to the front of the shop, he leaned out the door a watched the already far away men disappear. With that over, he got on the phone. Sven had a steak on his eye, and was bemoaning the situation to the barber he worked with. Hearing the phone ring he got up and answered.
Grady was on the other end. “Ah, the smartest man in the city. What the fuck was that all about? My fuckin’ face is huge! I thought you had a plan?”
Grady was quiet. “I did!” He got loud, “It just changed and I didn’t have time to tell you.”
“You’re a lousy bum,” Sven said quietly.
“Well Hell! Everyone knows that,” The carny was always one to make fun of himself.”
“Guess I owe you now?” Grady asked?
“Bet your ass you do,” Sven groaned, “My eye is as big as my head.”
“Does it look better?” Grady asked.
Sven, to spite how angry he was and the now swollen ocular, began to laugh.
“Rotten bastard…” He said.
“I know it,” Grady said, “Figure I owe you a few drinks, OK?”
“OK,” Sven said.
The bell on the door jingled and Grady saw a very attractive female step into the shop. “I gotta trim the sails, good bye Sven.”
Grady hung up the phone.
Turning he saw a young woman, the one that had made the egg salad.
“Can I help you, miss?” He asked with the best he could muster.
“Maybe,” she said smiling, “I brought another sandwich.”
Grady was sure he would enjoy the rest of the summer there.