Here’s an interesting piece of fiction, never completed for reasons Patrick cites at the end, about tattoo collectors.

Gentility, not to mention sophistication and indirection,
has departed from our raucous culture forever.

David Denby

Doc Simmons, a mortician in this phase of his colorful life, shrugs across the table from Detective Bill Mason.

“‘What a waste,’ I told myself. Putting all that art in the ground. So I started searching on the web. There had to be somebody out there looking for these things.”

“So who did you find?” said Bill, the cop who busted him and has the first round of questions, a matter of polite principle in the department.

“First nothing. A lot of thirty-year old guys and girls who decided they didn’t want tattoos after all.”

” And…”

“There were blogs all over the place. A lot of them went to a certain Czech doctor.”

“Go on.”

“One of the kids talked about a doctor in London who did his transplant, free.”


“You know, take off a patch of skin. Replace it. Leaves scars, but the kid thought it was worth it. A scar is only one color.”

“So you figure this doctor wants the tattoo? For what? Make a lampshade?.

“What do I know? But I had this feeling. I contacted him.”

“You don’t remember his name, I suppose?”

“How did you know? I lost it right away as soon as I had my own contacts.”


“Collectors who put out bids. Sometimes a live patient who wants a tattoo removed. He gets together with a collector who pays skin transplant costs.”

“And sometimes live patients who end up dead? This getting interesting, Doc.”

“None that I could swear to. At least they were not alive when I was introduced to them.”

“Them? More than one?”

He shrugged. “A couple of Mexican bandits were hauled in. Unofficially, you know. We didn’t actually bury them.”

“I can understand nobody is going to miss a bandit much. Still, it’s against the law, isn’t it. You, defacing the dead. There might be some family members who would like to find out who sold Tio Pepe’s death head tattoo. You think?”

Doc shuddered. “How would they do that?”

“Anything is possible nowadays, Doc. You know that. The web and all.”

“Well, I stopped doing that. Too risky, dealing with those people, the truth is. They scared the shit out of me. And if the boss ever found out…”

“You’re telling me Mr. Tyree knew nothing about what you were doing?”

“Yes. I mean, no, he didn’t know anything.”

“So that’s why the first time it comes to his attention, when they had to change the deceased’s outfit at the last minute, he gave us the heads up?”

“I guess so.”

“You guess so. Me, too. But I don’t like guessing. How many did you remove before this one? This lovely babe, as you called her when you wondered why she would ever put a tattoo like that…”

“Like what?”

“What was it, that it was worth selling, Doc?”

Doc was chewing his nails again.

“It was special, in fact. I sent a WhatsApp photo to the customer. Twenty-five thousand, no questions asked.”

“You want to show me the photo, Doc?”

“You out of your mind?! I’m going to keep something like that in my phone? What if my wife saw it?”

“Let’s go back to the Mexican bandit. Who put you onto his tattoo? Who brought his corpse to you here?”

“Well I wasn’t sure at the time, and I’m not sure now. But they could have been a couple of cops.”

“Cops? Local cops? Uniforms, and so on?”

“No uniforms. Still, I had the feeling they were cops. And like they were assigned to bring this stiff to me.”

“OK. So maybe they were cops. We’ll work on that later. Who paid you?”

“They brought cash with them.” He chewed at the thumbnail of his left hand now. “I had the feeling they had maybe snorted a little something.”

“O goody, this is getting better all the time. Listen, I got to take a leak. Don’t go ‘way.”

“Right Bill,” said Jeff Norn, who had watched and recorded the whole show. “We already got his phone record and just a matter of time to get the WhatsUp data.”

“WhatsApp, not Whatsup, moron.” He slapped Jeff on the arm. “‘What’s up, Doc?’ is Looney Tunes.”

“So what’s this comedy, then?”

Something is missing, Bill kept thinking. I’m not sure what it is, but something’s missing.

He was driving to see Katie, down at her tattoo parlor. He had been there a couple of times before. Those Mexican stiffs had showed up all right, though there was no reason to tell Doc Simmons that. And those guys didn’t get a skin transplant, either. Their tattoos had been excised. Maybe they weren’t even the same Mexicans. Across the state line in Oklahoma, a couple of similar cases had come up. In Mexico, these types lost their heads. Up here, they lost their tattoos.

Katie was just putting the caps on her needles, tops on the inks.

“If you’ve changed your mind, you want a badge on your arm, it’s too late,” she said. “I’m off duty.”

“Me too. How about we Thai one on?”

She grinned and removed her smock. She was tattooed from the neck to the waist, it looked like. The bra blocked some view, but Bill was pretty sure if she took it off…

And that’s when it hit him. What was missing. Names?

Katie put more sprouts over her dish.

“Just occurred to me Katie? You keep records of your tattoos?”

She nibbled like a rabbit at a moutful of sprouts.

“Only the really good ones. We all do.”

“Who are we-all?”

“God, if you don’t sound like a cop even when you’re on a date. This is a date, isn’t it?”

He grabbed her hand, his thumb between her chopsticks.

“You stop munching for a minute, and I’ll show you this is a date.” With his other hand he tried to pull her face toward his.

“Okay, okay. I believe you. Try me later with that move, without soy, please.”

“Right,” he said, pulling his hands back and picking up his own sticks.

“So you keep a file of your good ones.”

“Like I said, We all do. There’s even an archive on the web which a lot of us subscribe to. It’s called Take a look.”

“Anybody could check it out?”

“Anybody who suscribes to it. Maybe like thirty thousand subscribers last time I looked.” Neatly she popped a baby shrimp from its shell into her mouth. “My stuff gets a lot of hits, not that I’m bragging or anything.”

“You also keep records of who gets the art on their skin?”

” I do. But not on the site. Only if someone is interested…”

“So here’s the way I see it, Jeff. Everywhere there’s a tattoo artist registered on Needlepoints, somebody is checking the list against the obits. Easier to keep up if you are a cop. A lot of dopers have extensive tattoos up the gazoo. Dopers also have a way of leaving the circus early on OD. But others make the obits for suicide, car wrecks, shootouts with the cops. You name it. Whenever an interesting name comes up, word goes out, prices are on-line between bidders and suppliers…”

“Whoa up. You’re making this up, right? What makes you think there’s a nation-wide conspiracy for

snatching tattoos?”

“Why not? Eveything else is up for grabs, from teenage girls, to five-year old boys. Millions of weirdos make up a small percentage of the world population. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a ring for smuggling heads out of Mexico, now that I think about it. Anybody ever count the heads-to-bodies ratio?”

“Man, you are one sick SOB.” Jeff waved his arm at the bartender. “Want another of the same?”

For once, as Bill often told Jeff, the bartender really was tender. A luscious blonde he had hankered for until he saw her leave with a girl who looked like a bouncer for a boxing event. As she pushed the two Blacktop long necks across the counter, Bill grabbed her wrist.

“Hey!” she said. “What’s on your mind?”

“Don’t worry, honey. Just curious. I bet that black butterfly on your arm was done by Katie. Am I right?”

“So what if you’re right. Half the public in the bar has one of hers somewhere. Now give me back my hand, please.”

Jeff blew into the bottle so some of the foam flew onto the bar. “Let me ask you something, Bill. What got you onto this thing in the first place?”

“This thing?”

“You know. The tattoos. Already you were investigating Katie, if that’s the word I want, before this thing with the undertaker.”

Bill poured his beer down the inside of his glass, letting a little film of suds build up.

“You really want to know? It’s kind of a dull story. Dull I mean compared to what’s come up recently.”

“You think I asked because I didn’t want to know? Come on, bore me. I’m used to it already.”

He took a long swallow and licked the foam mustache from his lips.

“I can tell you the actual date. March 15.”

“This year?”

“This year.”

“You were on vacation on March 15.”

“Exactly. In Texas with a girl friend you don’t know, so don’t ask.”

“What was her name again?”

“Right. Like I said. You don’t, won’t know her.”

“Right. I give up. It was Susan.”

Bill gave him a dark look.

“We were having a pretty good run in one of those illegal casinos. She likes them because there’s no double zero, just like in Europe. Anyway, we’re, I – or better say – she is one helluva a winning streak. The heat of the joint is rising in our vicinity, and I finally sort of pushed her and all the chips away from the roulette.”

“Good move. First the chips are up, then the chips are down.”

“My sentiments exactly. We cash them in a goodly little pile of Benjamin Franklin lookalikes, and hit out for the bar. What happens at the bar is this. The TV is on. There is an interview with somebody in a hotel, super luxury, maybe in Vegas. Maybe a movie star, or a major international stud. This girl I am with…”

“Who is not Susan…”

“…is staring at the TV with her mouth like the open vault of a bank. I look at the screen, thinking maybe she suddenly has the hots for this guy, whoever he is. But no. She’s looking at the lampshade.”

Jeff, with a straight face. “The lampshade?”

“Just like I said, the lampshade. So she tells me in a whisper.”

Bill takes another swallow and looks at the mirror behind the bar.

“Come on! Out with it. You’re not going to tell me…”

“Yes I am. ‘That’s Ollie,’ she told me. ‘Nobody, but nobody else could have a tattoo like that.’ So now I’m looking at the lampshade. And I’m wondering if Ollie had that tattoo, who knew? And where did he wear it?”

He downed the last of the beer and stretched one leg down from the barstool.

“Now you’re not going to tell me what the tattoo was, right? You are an SOB.”

“What does it matter what the tattoo was? You wanted to know what got me started on this kick? Right?”

Now Bill had both feet on the floor.

“Right. But now I’m curious,” Jeff downed the last of his beer and stood down.

“Pay the tab, and I’ll tell you.”

On the way to the parking lot, Jeff gave Bill an elbow in the arm.

“You’re so insensitive, Jeff. That was the first she knew that Ollie, whoever the hell Ollie was, Ollie was no longer going to ring her bell. She was bawling like a nineteen year old cheeleader whose team lost the game, and she was a long way from nineteen.” He thumbed the key and lights flashed on his car, helping them find it.

“So okay. What’s the tattoo?”

“I guess he wanted everybody to know he was a real standup guy.”

“I get it. It was a penis.”

“Right, old chum. Circumcised with a crown of thorns.”

“Right away I think two ways at once. Some Nazi has put Ollie out of business. Or maybe Ollie is the Nazi and a Jew put him out of business.”

“Could have been a Christian who didn’t like the way Ollie used His crown. Especially a lot of Catholic guys in the business don’t like blasphemy, or other guys in the same business as they are in.”

“I see you have the size of the problem already worked out. Good for you. You might make lieutenant yet..

And to answer before you ask: I never found the lamp yet. Somebody disappeared it and maybe whoever had it made.”

“But you are still interested.”

“More than ever.” A shadow passed over his face. “Thinking back to Katie, here and now, I just hope she

hasn’t put herself, her own tats, out there on the web to draw business to her shop.”

“Katie’s some sort of masterpiece you’re saying?”

“Something like that. What lamps hers would make.”

Jeff and Bill sit in Bill’s living room. They are drinking piña coladas by the pint.

“Gives a new wrinkle to the skin trade, and that’s a fact,” said Jeff. “Who would’ve thought. Second-hand tattoos.”

“Yeah, who knew? But it figures. Whatever anybody wants to do, somebody else wants to undo. That’s life in a nutshell.”

They both swallowed, poured refills, and pondered those words of wisdom.

“The good news is, there aren’t so many in the trade as one might imagine…”

“One? Which one are we talking about, you or me?”

“All right! Lay off on my superior language. There are a few oddballs and perverts out there, but mostly we are talking punks. It’s a new form of extreme revenge. And as per standard op, we let the punks eat each others’ hearts out until we have to give them a hand. After checking all the frequent numbers on Doc’s phone, I had a fair map of his main contacts. Thanks to you, we got hold of the fotos sent by WhatsUp. Little by little it became clear. There was a very small clientele. Nothing like the extent of child porn, for instance, or flogging stolen artifacts from war zones in the middle east. Usually the customers called him first, like they knew before he did who would be coming in with a marketable picture on skin. Mostly we’re talking drug kingpins from South America.”

“I hear a but…”

“But the small infestation of grotesque perverts, these are very careful, very discreet, very explicit in their wants. They may be few, like great white sharks, or rare as cannibals like Jeffry Dahmer, but their apetite is insatiable, they are obsessive, and sooner or later they will get a pound of flesh with the picture.”

He leaned forward, both hands around his drink, resting elbows on his knees. “I don’t say the department would be behind me one hundred per cent on this.”

“So we go on our own? If you say so. I haven’t had any kicks on the side for a while.”

“Here’s what we are going to do.” Bill waved his glass at Jeff. “We’re going to set up a bogus website.

Dedicated to golden oldies. Maybe call it TatWho?.com. A celebrity site. But rarities. Who knew Elvis had tattoos? Anybody? Did they go down with him? I ask you, who knows? Marilyn? I can see it now: ‘Jack,’ somewhere it wouldn’t show in the publicity photos.”

Jeff’s face lit up like an LED. “Tony Curtis! Rock Hudson!”

“You get the picture. It should bring out the tat vultures, plus some new fans of the art.”

“But where do you get the tattoos?”

“Hey, if we can fix passports, driver’s license, fingerprints…You going to tell me you never laid any DNA where it wasn’t before you got there?”

Katie looked at Bill sideways, like a doe about to hightail it in the woods.

“What are you telling me? The FBI made photos of Marilyn’s…”

“What I’m asking is, in 1962, how would an artist such as yourself have done it. No electric needles, Not in a shop. Maybe in a hotel room. A secret birthday present?”

“The old-fashioned way?”

“How’s that?”

“Hand-tapping the ink into the skin with sharpened sticks. There are still a few guys around who can do it. Mostly Dayaks or Hawaiians.”

“Would such a tattoo look different from what you do these days?”

“Not much. Maybe a little. More uneven. But these guys were amazing.”

“Could you phony one up for me.”

“On whose skin?”

“Does it have to be skin? Don’t you practice with like, a peach?”

“Wow. I do believe you’ve been reading up on us. But mostly it was oranges or grapefruit, not peaches.Tell me what it says, this secret tattoo, and I’ll make a stencil.”

“Can you do this? It’s a signature…” he handed her a sheet of photocopy paper.

“Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? That says Jack Kenndy? In his handwriting, no less.”

“Could be. All I can tell you is it is not in the Warren Report. And where would you put it, very private, invisible to all but…”

She reached into a drawer. “Actually I have a few practice limbs left from Pound of Flesh.”

“Beg pardon?”

“You can use pig skin from the butcher. Your own body. Somebody else’s body. Or you can buy artificial stuff from Pound of Flesh. Great for teaching.” She pulled out what looked like an upper thigh.

“So tell me, Bill. What’s our hold on Katie? Why won’t she screw us over on this scam?”

“Aside from the fact that she was giving Doc at Tyree’s Funeral Home tips on who was good for his list? She was sometimes dealing direct with some of his customers. Maybe responsible for a couple rubouts of certain previous bearers of her art works. Nothing definite. But a definite maybe, and she knows I know. If she’s not afraid of Doc, she’s afraid of us.”

“Got a for instance? I’m in this same as you. Give me a clue.”

“Remember Ollie’s crown of thorns? We didn’t find the lamp, but we found the skin. Stuffed down the throat of Jaime Reidel, a major courier from Columbia. Ring a bell?”

“So what’s the connection with Katie?”

“It was her tattoo. She knew when he was bumped off, and her informant, the girl who wasn’t Susan, you remember her, told Katie where in the desert he was buried. She told Jaime, who had a mechanic for such work..”

“Yuk. What kind of mechanic can stomach carving up a stinking corpse?”

“This one is named Pierre. Born with no sense of smell. A former surgeon. Lost his license when he couldn’t suss out gangrene in ‘Nam and lost a few. So I’m told. We’re checking him out.”

“So what did you think of our website?” Bill mixed more wasabi into the dish of soy in front of him.

Katie sat opposite Bill in the Shogun restaurant, little red tails of tempura shrimp piling up on their plates.

“Looks pretty authentic to me. If anyone is actually looking for antique tattoos, they would be interested.”

“Don’t break your arm congratulating your needle work. I mean is the web set up in a way that works for you?

You’re used to surfing.” He took another hit of saki and chased it with Nippon beer.

“How about saving some saki for me. You’re about two to one ahead.”

“Right. Some like it hot. If you’re going to let it get cold, you’re going to have to watch me drink it. There’s always more where that came from.”

“Don’t worry. I got the reference to Marilyn. But to answer your question, Yes, it’s just right. Somebody you know built the site?”

Bill hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “He’s the cook. You’re eating what he does for a living. The site is for fun.”

“You mean the guy with a squid on each fist?”

Bill grinned. “The same.”

Katie was impressed. “Lovely work. Not a local artist, I can tell you.”

“He brought them with him from Kyoto, so he tells me.”

They crunched the deep fried carrots.

“So now comes the big moment.”

“Which is…Let me guess. I link yours to my related sites.”

“That’s it. It has to come from a respected member of the guild, so to speak. Like something you just picked up from an old friend back when you were a kid starting out, if you see what I mean.”

“I don’t know…”

“Don’t worry, the font codes are all copied from your own sites. Anybody looks close, they won’t see anything except you helping an old friend with no geek capacity.”

“Got it. How about more saki with the plum crêpes?”

Now they had Pierre in the hot seat.

“All we want to know is who sets you up and who does the actual digging.”

“That’s all? You might as well bury me yourself and get it over with. These guys do not joke around.”

“Two or three names. That’s enough. Just makes it easier for us. We’ll find them anyway. And when we do, they’ll be sure you sicced us onto them, whether you do or not.”

Pierre sniffed as though he had just regained his sense of smell and got wind of his own corpse. He covered his face with his hands.

“Hang on a minute,” said Jeff. “Maybe we can do this a different way.”

“Any way we do it, just so we do it. So tell me,” Bill said, squinting at Pierre.

“OK. Listen a minute.”

“Don’t tell me. Tell Pierre.”

Pierre took his hands down and put them flat on the table.

“Pierre, whether you know it or not, there’s another guy out there who’s been scooping treasures from the tomb a long time now. He’s got his hands on some national treasures, the likes of which your guys have never seen,” Jeff told him.

“Tell me why you’re not hassling this other guy instead of me? What the fuck are you guys up to? Give me a break!”

“This other grave-robber – excuse me if I hurt your feelings, Pierre. Isn’t that what you’ve been up to? This other guy is in his eighties, and won’t do much more lifting of whatever remains come into his attention.”

Pierre’s shoulders slumped. The thought of himself at eighty was too depressing.

“So how do I fit in here? Who is this guy? What’s he got?”

“You fit in like this: You are going to authenticate this guy and put the fever for what he has into their hearts, Pierre. And when they start the bidding, you are in the middle and can take a big piece of it.”

“And then?” His eyes shifted from Bill to Jeff and back to Bill.

Bill answered his question. “Then you are off the hook, out of the book, out of town. Retired to New Guinea where I hear some of your best art is made, or wherever your heart so desires. And your guys are ours.”

“Cheez. No way you’re going to nail these collectors. They are way beyond rich and powerful, these guys you are after. The Mexicans and Columbians are Mickey Mouse characters compared.” He nibbled at his thumbnail. “I don’t even know why you want them.”

“Let’s just say we hate ghouls, plus we just naturally hate the rich and powerful. Right, Jeff? Would you agree to that?”

“One hundred twenty percent.”

“So, Pierre. Let us show you what we got.” He turned the laptop on and waited for it to crank up.

“Doc, you’re going to have to give Pierre a hand,” Bill said.

“Pierre,” Doc said. “Do I know a Pierre?”

“Seems likely. He knows you. You’re in the same line of work, at least occasionally. Though he’s most often a little more down to earth, you might say. “

“Omigod. This guy who comes to me with rotten flesh a couple of times. Had to soak it in formaldehyde and even then the colors were faded like an Egyptian mural. I’m gagging just thinking of him.”

“Both of you know some of the same creeps buying stuff. If you want out of the coffin you’ve put yourself in just talking to us, you’ll just have to help out.” Bill looked him in the eye. “By the way, Katie is in on this, too. You’re not going to say you don’t know Katie, now, are you?

“Pop, I need your help,” said Bill Mason.

“At my age, what help can I give? Can’t see straight, can’t pee straight. Damn sure can’t shoot straight. No fists below my wrists.”

“You can still exaggerate, that’s for sure. And you can talk. The gift of gab is yours till your mouth is stuffed with dirt.”

“Silver-tongued devil of a son you are. How, if I can, do I help?”

“You are still carrying a .38 tatooed on your hip? Any others?”

“Don’t get too personal, Bill. I’m you’re old man, not your boyfriend. You still hanging out with Jeff?”

“Don’t start, Pop. That kinda talk is no longer cool, and never was funny. What about the badge on your left shoulder?”

“The pistol is down around my knee now, soon it would fit in an ankle holster, and the shield is on my elbow. Everything is moving south. If I stand on my head, Mabel still smiles with my navel. But what?”

Bill unpacked the Appletop, as he liked to call it, and they spent an hour of orientation.

“You have been obsessed all your life with tattoos,” he said.

“I have?”

“This is your position from now till further notice. You are the artist before you are a cop. You have a totally sick collection of highly unlikely art, which you personally inked or knew somebody who did. How you got them is your business. Make a story to go with it. You are going to meet some guys who will want to give you a lot of money.”

“Money for what? I don’t need money. Never did. And my bucket list has been empty for a least a week….”

Bill cocked a brow. “And who was she? Would Mom have approved?” He held up his hand. “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”

Katie knows what she has to do. It is a video conference of all her best buyers. They will meet this very special collector for a one-time view of his stuff.

It is not the first time she calls a four-way conference of these weirdos. They know each other only on line, where she calls them Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, Mr. Brown, Mr. Black. They all are fierce bidders, and simply drop off the screen when they quit. Last one alive on the screen wins the item and arrangements are made for untraceable payment and blind delivery. If they can be traced, she has never figured how.

“Anyway, why not just milk a sacred cow, who cares what it’s called at home? And believe me, these guys are sacred – more money than God and all his churches.”

“Keep them excited as long as you can,” we’re going to try to trace, but from what you say, they have opaque encryption.”

“Right. And then what? If you don’t get what you want this way?”

“We’ll get to that. Just hold back your biggies – J. Edgar’s love patch for his buddy Clyde, and Marilyn’s JFK signature. They’re on your list, but hold them off, tell them they are in reserve for a “special” client.”

“The special client being you?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” He flipped open his phone. “When’s the last time you ate Vietnamese? Shall I call some in? We might get hungry later. You have a microwave here?”

She got rid of some interesting stuff, though it was lukewarm bidding considering they were talking Elvis, and Ringo, and Hemingway, all totally new on the market. There was a sense of non-belief or unsatisfied curiosity. Finally she put it to them.

“What is it dear sirs? We should be talking not thousands here, but millions. Give me a break. Mr. Brown?”

Mr. Brown on screen wore a Maori mask, blue flames on human skin, fitted perfectly to the features hidden beneath.

“Why don’t we hear of this horde before?” His voice was camouflaged by a hero device, and came out gravelly and harsh.

“We all ask the same, I believe,” said Mr. Black.

“I, for one, want to see this remarkable relic from the past in person,” said Mr. Jones. His cheeks were Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Enola Gay on his forehead. Katie recognized it as the work of a female artist doing irezumi for Yakuza gangs in the ‘fifties. The original must have been on the pectorals of a small man, but worked on the great head of Mr. Jones.

Only breathing could be heard in Bill Mason’s cordless earphones. It was the longest moment in his life, he would swear later.

Katie broke the silence. “Maybe that could be arranged.” She held her breath. “Shall I speak to what Mr. Jones called this “relic”? He’s an old man, I remind you. And maybe he’s not up to such a meeting. But I can ask.”

“May we know where you last saw him?” said Smith. His face was covered by a mask Siegfried striking an anvil, a tattoo recovered from the body of famous Wagnerian Max Lorenz, buried in Salzburg.

She hesitated a second. “Hawthorne.”

Bill came in from the other room when the video-conference was finished and the computer off.

“One of those guys at least liked that answer. Did you hear his soft mutter when you said Hawthorne?

Somebody’s researched Monroe, probably since she showed up on the website of your aging friend.”

“Maybe. But her tattoo – if there ever was one” she shot a glance in Bill’s direction, “would not have been done there. She was only a kid.”

“But close to LA. And Noguchi was the coroner when she died. I bet he had a list of tattoos worth a fortune.” He took a bowl of canh chua from the microwave and set it front of her. “Not that I think he would ever tell anybody…”

“Unlike me, you are intimating – or do I mean intimidating?” She lifted the spoon to her lips. “Mmmm. Or do I mean M.M.?”

Bill smiled at her as he sat down. “Got it. Good one.”

“So listen up, Pop. You are going to meet these creeps in person. They want to believe you are who we told them you are.”

“So you told me. I think I can handle that part.”

“They will be in disguise. But if I want to find them later, how do we work that?”

Up to this point, I have told this story exactly as it was related to me. It was not exactly what is often termed “automatic” writing, but close. I came home from Palma several days ago astonished by the proliferation of tattoos, especially among young people.

When I was a boy, few men I knew had tattoos, and I believe I never saw a woman with tattoos. One uncle came back from the navy after WWII with tattoos on his arms, and a couple of neighbors who had been overseas, but these were rare exceptions. None of my fellow students in high school or university were tattooed, as far as I knew.

But now it’s different. Movie stars, male and female, musicians, celebrities of all stripes are spreading the rage for various types of bodily disfigurement.

I wondered on the drive home from Palma how these young men and women would feel when they reached my age, over eighty, and their tattoos are slipping.

When I got home and I sat down at my computer to begin revision of another story in the works, about my neighbors during thirty years in a small village, I opened a new document instead and put down that first sentence.

“What a waste,” I told myself. “Putting all that art in the ground.”

That evening and the days following, I found myself immersed in the story. I didn’t do much; mostly listened and recorded. It had been years since writing had come to me so easily, and without any hesitation. I could always fix things later, I told myself, and went straight through in five sessions.

As a matter of general principle I object to an author intervening in his story. Some very good writers do it, and get by with it, but even then I find it objectionable.

But now it falls to me to do the same. I owe an explanation to those who read this story to that abrupt end.

Abrupt, not because Bill’s father failed in his dangerous assignment, nor because those collectors found them out and “neutralized” Bill, Jeff, and Katie. No, something much worse.

As I was about to realize the last scene, and waited for details from the characters involved, I made a grave mistake. I googled “tattoo”.

What I found was that indeed there is nothing new under the sun.

Have a look at

And this just when I had worked in a famous Japanese coroner from Hollywood whose name came up in Marilyn Monroe’s biography! Oh well.

So dear reader, instead of wasting more of your time, nor more of mine for that matter, I leave our people where we last saw them and sincerely hope they cleared out the scattered nests of vipers and pictorial ghouls they were after.

As for me, I return to my own more mundane stories about neighbors and stolen tomatoes.