The Tattoo by Newton Webb

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

A stranded hitchhiker is picked up by a lorry driver. Spinning each other tales to pass the time they learn that neither is who they appear to be.

Elsie stood with her thumb out in the biting wind. There was blood on her face and her clothes were coated with grime. She pulled her oversized suit jacket tighter. Cars screamed by. She swore as they ignored her. Finally, a lorry came by and slowed. She breathed a sigh of relief, opening the cabin door and clambering aboard.

The driver looked down at her and patted the seat. She smiled sweetly and slid into the seat.

He grinned. “I ain’t never picked up a girl as pretty as you before.” He said.

She looked ahead. “I appreciate the lift.” She said, avoiding his gaze and focusing on the road ahead. She didn’t twitch a muscle when his hand slid over onto her jeans.

They remained like this for a while in silence. Until he broke the silence to ask. “So you in trouble? Because I can look after you.”

“No, I’m in no danger.” She said.

He laughed. “Good.” Then squeezed her thigh.

She turned to him and looked straight at his face. “Do you like stories?”

He blinked at the abrupt change in direction and then listened as she narrated a tale.

A man walked into a bar. His bald head gleaming with sweat, breath ragged. A tailored suit gripped his pudgy form. A woman looked over the bar. “We’re shut. Everyone has gone home.”

The man strode up to the counter. “You haven’t,” he thudded a fifty-pound note down. “Double Lagavulin 16, no ice.” He took off his tiny circular glasses as sweat rolled down his face.

“We don’t serve alcohol after eleven, Mister.” She said.

He pointed at a sign saying the bar closed at midnight. “Keep the change.”

She swore under her breath, then swiped the fifty and started searching the bottles for the Lagavulin. Eventually, she found it and free-poured a large whisky.

“New here?” He asked as he shook off his jacket. He hung it on a Chelsea hook under the bar.

She cocked an eyebrow. “You could say that.”

Going to replace the bottle on the shelf, she changed her mind, returning to pour an extra glass for herself.

“Largest double I’ve ever seen. Not that I’m complaining.”

She smiled, gazing evenly at him, then knocked it back in one slug.

“Whoa, hold your horses. It is a sipping drink.” He laughed. “Now, you’ll need another one.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. Then poured another. She walked around the bar to the front door and clicked the lock shut.

He pursed his lips and reached for a handkerchief to mop his brow. “I thought you were shut.”

She smiled. As she walked over, she hoisted herself onto a barstool. “You just won yourself a ticket to the lockdown.” She raised her glass and they clinked.

“My name is Dennis.” He said.

The lorry driver waited. Then blinked. ‘That’s it? My God. That be a terrible story.’ He laughed. ‘Just as well you be so very, very pretty. You won’t be getting no job as a writer.’ He shook his head, saying mockingly. “My name is Dennis?’ What kind of story ends with that at a punchline?’

They drove in silence for a while. She could feel the sweat from his clammy palms through her jeans. “Ok, here be a story for you. I’ve heard a few in my time as a lorry driver. We boys do like to banter.”

He sat back in silence for a while as if savouring the moment. “Dave. He was called Dave. A long haul petrol tanker from Hull. He was a cheeky one that one. Must have been about twenty years ago. He had a skinhead and a nose ring. Real hellraiser. See now, he had a lot of tattoos but one of them he was really, really proud of.” He reached down beside him and pulled up a handful of crisps and munched on them noisily. When his feast had subsided he slapped his shoulder. “Big one it was. It be Satan himself, all red and horned with a goatee. Smoking a cigarette. Real classy job it was. Always looked like the devil be looking right at you, mocking you when you saw it, made me shudder every time. No matter what angle, it were like the eyes were always watching you”

He paused for dramatic effect. “See he be a cheeky one. Used to say that he was immortal. Never got hangovers no matter how long we drank. His secret be, that although he professed that his soul belonged to him and him alone, his body belonged to the devil. The devil wouldn’t brook no harm to its property so he said.”

He glanced over at her then returned his gaze back to the road. “We be in a convoy. He be in his oiler. I be a few lorries back in mine. Out of the blue, boom, it just blew up.” He gestured with his hand and made an explosive sound. “Total fireball. I slammed on my brakes, only just stopped in time. It be so hot I couldn’t approach. It be only after the fire brigade had put out the blaze that I was called to identify the body. You wouldn’t have thought that their would be anything to identify and you’d be mostly right. The body was roasted. Third-degree burns all over it, it be a mess. But the policeman, he pointed at the body and one part be unburnt. His shoulder. That bloody devil be grinning right at me, surrounded by a patch of flawless skin, flush as a babies bum. You see my mate be right. The devil did protect his earthly body, just only the bit that he be living on.” Silence filled the cab. The driver burst out laughing. “Now that be a story, that be a real story. Look at your face. Oh, your face.” Her face had remained impassive throughout the story. He indicated and pulled into an off-ramp.

“Where are you going?” she asked. He smirked, saying nothing. “Where are you going?” She repeated.

“Well, your gonna be helping me out, aren’t you? I be giving you a lift. The least you can do can is give me a favour.”

She turned to him. “Wait. I missed out the important bit of my story. It is about a tattoo.”

He sighed theatrically.

“Nobody cares about your story.” He pulled into a layby, branches screeching along the sides of the lorry.

“Oh, It’s really good. I promise. The second half doesn’t make sense without the first half. You won’t hear a better story for the rest of your life.”

He sat quietly watching her.

“Fine.” He relented.

A girl walked into a bar. The bar was empty apart from a muscular barman, his white vest barely containing his taut musculature. The jukebox in the corner tried to fill the void with ‘The Police - Every Breath You Take’ valiantly but ended up emphasising it. The barman smiled at her as she strutted to the bar. A wry smile dripped from her cherry red lips. “A glass of rosé, please.” She looked over at the No Smoking sign and pulled a face. She slid onto one of the bar stools.

The barman winked at her. “You here alone?”

“Alone and with no plans to change that. Why?” She asked. An eyebrow arched up.

“Because that answer just got you a free drink, that is all.” He smiled. His face would have been regarded as classically handsome if it wasn’t for the eyes. They were dead. Coal suspended in chalk. “It is your lucky night.” He turned to pour the wine. Out of sight, he dropped a white powder into her drink and stirred until it vanished into the amber coloured wine.

“It’s a special night for you too.” She said. Flicking her hair back, she slid her trench coat open, exposing her collarbone. A tattoo of a ring impaled by a crucifix stood out prominently. She rifled in her jacket’s inside pocket.

“Oh yes, and why is that?” He said. He leaned forward. She pulled out a series of polaroids and tossed them onto the bar. “Because the Order of Saint Maria Goretti wants to reward your efforts.”

He looked at the polaroids blankly for a while until he recognised the faces of several girls he had drugged in the past. A growl stuck in his throat as looking up, he saw her hand flicker and a stiletto slid through the layers of muscle and cartilage. Leaping down from off the stool, she swiftly moved behind the bar, lowering his twitching body as he tried to pull out the knife. As his body slumped to the ground, he finally succeeded. His wound sprayed her with arterial blood as he exsanguinated. She muttered in distaste, taking the long trench coat off and using it to cover up the corpse. Picking up the polaroids, she scattered them over his body. Picking up a bar towel, she rubbed her face clean of blood. Seeing her makeup on the towel, she grabbed another and rubbed until she had removed the rest of it. Tossing the towel down

“So, how does that relate?” He huffed. “They are two different, very mediocre stories.” He slid his hand between her thighs. “And you shoehorned in that tattoo. It had no relevance to the plot. You just added it because my story had a tattoo.”

She gently covered his hand with hers. “Thirty seconds. Just thirty seconds and then you’ll get the reward that you so richly deserve. That was the beginning of the story. You have heard the middle. Here is the end.”

The lorry driver wasn’t even listening anymore as his breath ran hot in anticipation.

The girl laughed raucously as Dennis narrated a tale of his last board meeting.

“Sounds like they deserved that.” Her eyes twinkled.

“And you don’t think I was too harsh?” He asked, swilling the last remnants of the whisky around in the glass.

“Not at all. I am a firm believer in rough justice.”

“Gods, I wish I wasn’t married and was twenty years younger.” He poured another measure from the bottle into each of their glasses, finishing off the bottle. “Now, tilt the glass and follow my lead. If you smell the bottom of the glass, you will get a completely different scent from the top of the glass. This is called the low and the high notes.”

She cocked her eyebrow and then shrugged. Lifting her glass, she tried what Dennis suggested and her eyes widened. “It is sweeter at the top.”

He laughed.

She stood up. “That whisky has gone right through me. I’m going to powder my nose. Do not move.” As she turned, she called over her shoulder. “I mean it, Dennis. Do not move a muscle.

The scotch was flowing through him and he felt warm and happy. Dennis glugged the last of his glass and smacked his lips together with satisfaction. He looked at the empty bottle and made an executive decision. He peeled off two more fifties and put them on the bar weighing them down with the empty bottle. As he rounded the bar, he saw the corpse of the bartender. “Fuck.” He said. “Fuck". He repeated, backing away. He felt a sharp pain in his ribs.

“You should have listened to me, Dennis.” She said. “I liked you. I really did, but nothing gets in the way of the mission.” She extracted her knife from between his third and fourth ribs, where it was deep into his heart. Wiping it clean on a bar towel, she looked down at the two dead bodies. A waste. She picked up Dennis’s jacket from where it hung, wrapped it around herself to shield herself from the cold, and then left to enter the cold outside.

The snow crunched underfoot as Detective Jeffrey Davis approached the cordoned-off area. One of the officers peeled off from the crowd taking securing and collecting evidence.

“What do we have here then?”

The young constable pulled out his notebook. “A middle-aged lorry driver called Frederick Black identified visually using his driving license. The cause of death appears to be a single stab wound to the chest. He doesn’t appear to have tried to defend himself, so we assume he knew the attacker. The cabin is littered with polaroids of dead women. They are trying to identify them at the moment.” He looked up from his notebook to see the Detective cursing.

“They’ll be female victims of rape and murder. This is the third murder in as many days matching the same criteria.” He looked over at where the traffic was driving past them. “I don’t doubt the killer has only just begun their spree.”

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