Shelter Page 27


“And those that are doing evil,” Dad continued, “aren’t afraid to hurt anyone who interferes with their plans.”

Ironic, I guess. He was a humanitarian, my father. He survived going against the wishes of despots and dictators in some of the most dangerous and war-torn jungles in the world. He finally settled back in the relative safety of the United States and dies in a car crash driving me to a basketball game.

It was hard not to be angry.

I thought again about Bat Lady telling me my dad might still be alive. Maybe that was what this was all about—finding Ashley, the bald guy in the dark car, Bat Lady herself. Maybe I was doing all this because of the one chance, the one in a zillion, that she meant it. That it was true.

“Make a right,” Ema said. “It’s on Route Forty-Six.”

As we approached, Spoon started sniggering.

“What?” Ema asked him.

“The name of the tattoo parlor,” he said.

“What about it?”

“Tattoos While U Wait,” Spoon said. “What kind of name is that? While U Wait? Like, how else would you do it? Rip off your arm and say, ‘Here, put a snake on the shoulder, I’ll pick it up in the morning’? Of course you wait.” He sniggered some more.

Ema looked at me. “We have to leave him in the car.”

I nodded. Spoon agreed to be our “lookout.”

My first thought when entering Tattoos While U Wait was a surprising one: cleanliness. I expected something gritty and grimy, but this place looked more sterile than a doctor’s office. It gleamed. The actual workers and patrons appeared rough around the edges, dressed in jeans and T-shirts and, well, loaded up with piercings and tattoos. Tattoos While U Wait could have been a banquet hall holding the Ema family reunion.

“Hey, Ema,” the woman at the front desk—classic biker chick—said. She and Ema pounded fists. I was surprised that they would know her as Ema here. I assume that she told them her nickname. More irony. Ema clearly liked a nickname given to her by that ass-tard Troy Taylor.

We found Agent in the back. There were posters of various Hindu gods on the wall, many in states of meditation. Incense burned, tickling my nose. There was soft music playing, a woman repeating the “So hum” over and over in what I guessed was some kind of mantra.

Agent had just finished a huge back tattoo, an eagle with a shoulder-to-shoulder wingspan. His client was using two mirrors to look at it, like a guy checking the neckline at a hair salon.

“Beautiful work, Agent,” the man said.

Agent put his hands together in prayer position. “Don’t get it wet for two weeks. Make sure you keep the cream on it. You’ve done this before.”

“I have, yeah.”

“Wonderful.” When Agent spotted us, his face broke into a smile. “Ema!”

They embraced. “Agent, meet my friend Mickey.”

Agent shook my hand. His grip was strong, his hand callused. He had long red hair pulled back, and his long beard had a ponytail holder in it. Naturally he was overloaded with tattoos and piercings. “So nice to meet you, Mickey,” he said a little too earnestly.

“Same here.”

He looked back at Ema. “Do you have a picture of the tattoo?”

Ema nodded. With the quality of the video feed, Ema was able to get a good, clear close-up of the tattoo. She handed the still shot to Agent. He looked at it for maybe two seconds and said, “Eduardo.”


“That is definitely Eduardo’s work. He has a shop in Newark. Would you like me to call him and see who commissioned this?”

“He’ll tell you?” I asked.

Agent smiled at me. “If I request the information, yes, Eduardo will tell me. We aren’t attorneys, Mickey. There is no tattoo artist–client confidentiality. There is merely trust. There is a reason you are here, Mickey. There is a flow to the universe, a path it has to inevitably follow.”

Oookay, I thought.

“Ema came into this shop for a reason. She ended up asking me to be her tattoo artist. That has led to you being here. Do you understand?”

No, I thought, while saying, “Sure.”

“Plus, well, Ema has a pure spirit. A delightful chakra. If Ema tells me you need to find this man, you need to find the man. It is that simple.”

Ema blushed. “Thanks, Agent.”

He winked at her. I again wondered how they knew each other and how, at her age, she could have so many tattoos, but hey, I had my secrets too.

“Please wait here,” Agent said, “whilst I call Eduardo.”

Oookay, I thought again. The woman kept singing “So hum.” Man, that was getting annoying. I looked out the window. Spoon sat in the car. Ema said, “Maybe we should have left the window open a crack. Like with a dog.”

I smiled. A man in front of us was getting a wrist tattoo, the needle scraping the skin. He had his eyes squeezed shut, but tears still leaked out. I thought again about Ashley with her pearls and sweaters and wondered how I had gone from searching for that preppy beauty to a New Age tattoo artist named Agent.

More irony?

“Here you are,” Agent said, appearing with a flourish. He handed Ema a slip of paper. The name on it was Antoine LeMaire. The address was in Newark.

“Thank you, Agent,” Ema said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Thank you.”

“I would join you on this quest,” Agent said, “but I have another engagement.”

Ema said, “Work?”

Agent shook his head. “Yoga class.”

“Are you still working with Swami Paul?” Ema asked.

“No. The heat of that Bikram was messing with my red chakra. It was making me angry all the time. I’m all about Kundalini right now. You should try it, both of you. I mean, look at me.” He spread his arms. “I’m all white lately.”


We started for the door when Agent called out, “Mickey?”

I turned.

“You, like Ema, have a pure spirit. You have blessed energy centers and true balance. You are a protector. You look out for others. You are their shelter.”

“Uh, thanks.”

“And because of that, you have a certain wisdom. You understand that you know nothing about this man you seek. You should be careful before bringing others into his space.”

Agent met my eye and I caught his meaning. I nodded. “Thanks for the heads-up.”

He gave me a little bow. “You should consider a tattoo. It would look good.”

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