Her birth certificate showed Deirdre was born on 13th November 1985. But she was spawned much earlier than that.
A girl who produced quality arm sleeves like the ones she tattooed onto the skins of the unwary, could just as likely rustle up a false birth certificate. I’d seen her work. It was good – in every respect. Dark mulberry skull formed from the tangled branches of a willow, vermillion dragons coiled themselves round thunder-cracked mountain-tops and Jimi Hendrix lifted his guitar out of psychedelic whirls – reminding you not to dally passing through to the next world.
She’d evaded capture and execution for at least three hundred years. You don’t last that long through good luck charms and a leprechaun’s promise.
Her trail led me to Moss side, Manchester and a tattoo parlour on Remthorne Street called ‘Dark Flesh’. Number 16a was written on the screwed up paper in my hand, and looking down the cobbled alley I could see the name on a sandwich board erected in front of an open doorway.
The guild had hired me. I try to make a habit of knowing more about my clients than they do of me – I’m a cautious kind of bloke. But the guild were as invisible as they were convincing. Half a million sterling was a high contract price, and I didn’t even have to negotiate.
“It’s more than you’ll ever earn in a lifetime,” the man with the jaundice-yellow skin had said. I didn’t learn his name. Ultimate deniability if the jaded ones caught up with me.
“Half up front and the other half once her head is dropped off at this safety deposit box.” He gave me the bank and the number. He also gave me 12,500 blue ones sporting the implacable face of Michael Faraday.
I didn’t ask why they wanted her dead. A liquidator of my calibre didn’t need any other reason than the lucre he’d put in the rucksack. Besides, it’s unprofessional. That’s me; cautious and professional.
I stopped ten yards from the entrance and looked up at the facade. The windows were blacked out, framed by splintered boardings held up more by wishful thinking than a joiner’s skill. Services offered were painted gaudily on the bright red hoardings. Piercings, massages and, of course, tattoos ranging from tribal to photo-realist.
A lone sap with a tree-trunk neck leaned against the door jamb, cigarette held in curled fingers and head looking like a billiard ball, save for the tiny lock of hair at the back tied in a genie twist. He could be trouble if he was staff, but I was betting on him being a punter – he didn’t look the artisan type and the Motorhead ‘snaggletooth’ tattoo on his right bicep looked fresh.
“‘Scuse me,” I said. He looked me up and down but stepped to one side with a grunt.
A wooden staircase extended up to the first floor. If she was in there, and my source was adamant that she was, then she would hear me coming. There was nothing I could do about it so I ascended.
I focused on what I was dealing with. After a bunch of dead-end leads I’d tracked down one of her victims to a mid-terraced ruin in Salford. The girl’s mother had to speak for her.
“Psychologist says she’s catatonic.” the woman said. She wore a grey buzz-cut which gave her a hard look. But the way she worried over her daughter shone a light on the devotion within. “It’s usually caused by trauma they say, but I know she ain’t been hanging around with the gang lately.” Her ‘ng’ sounds didn’t coalesce. Thoroughbred Mancunian.
She combed her daughter’s damp hair carefully, gently teasing out the knots.
“Only place she’d been was that bloody tattoo parlour. Ever since that day she’s not stopped shaking. It don’t matter how much I turn the heating up, or how many blankets I put round her, it don’t stop the shivering. None of us are getting any sleep either. Soon as she drops off, she wakes up screaming.”
I sat down next to the girl. Her eyes were fixed on some distant end-point beyond the wall of reason. “Can you make out anything from what she cries out?” I said.
“Yeah. She keeps telling us to save her from the shadow. That and whimpering about how cold she is. I tell you, I’m at me’ wits end. Husband and I don’t know how much more we can take. He’s thinkin’ of having her committed to an institution, he is. I know they’ll say we’re washing our hands of the problem, but it’s no use us all ending up at the funny farm now is it?”
I looked more closely at the girl’s upper arm. “Is this the tattoo she had done?”
“That’s the one. Don’t know what goes through a girl’s head to want such a thing. But I’m sure it’s got something to do with her condition. I reckon she ‘ad a reaction to the ink, or maybe they didn’t use clean needles. Either way, summat’ needs to be done. They need closing down.”
I shut out the woman’s prattle and looked more closely at the design. The symbology was dark, true enough. A heap of dark grey skulls formed a pyramid rising from her elbow. At the top sat an overlord. It was signature work. It was her.
Tattoo ink enters deep into the dermis of the skin. Held there in a permanent wrestling match with the body’s immune system it gets locked in the cells, declaring its presence with hundreds of thousands of neighbours that form the artwork. The ink she used was more insidious than this though. It diffuses into the bloodstream, spreading like a poisonous tincture until it pervades the mind and every nerve ending. Once there it acts as a conduit for her soul-absorbing power. There are names, both ancient and arcane, given to these entities. I just call them parasites.
If I could find find her and rid the world of her contagion then the girl might survive. She looked pretty far gone though.
I thanked the woman for talking to me and assured her my department would look into her complaint about the parlour.
“What was your name again?” she asked.
I told her, knowing it would evaporate from her memory the moment she tried to think of it again. Psychic sleight of hand. Its one of my gifts.
The door at the top of the stairs was ajar. Through a false pocket in my great-coat I locked a hand round the hilt of my weapon and knocked on the door with the other.
“Come in,” said a husky voice.
She was standing at a counter, sideways on to me, so I could see her profile. I suppose she was not so much beautiful as alluring. Straightened, ash-grey hair formed wisps around the lozenge of her face. Sable lips punctured with silver snake-bite piercings, chain running along her forehead with three descending lines ending in a wolf’s tooth; all of which placed her as exotic. She’d changed a bit since the taking of Mr Hepatitis-B’s photograph, but I pinned her nonetheless. She was applying oil to the pneumatic tool with a practiced care, the painted nails on her fingers impossibly long for the task.
“Dierdre?” I asked.
She turned her head, the pupils dilating then constricting like a crocodile’s.
“You’ve wrapped up warm for a Summer evening,” she said, still holding the pneumatic tattoo machine.
The mistake is to talk to them too much. They have a way with words and, Damn, if she wasn’t such a stunner, with that perfect skin and beguiling smile, the job would be so much easier. I pulled out my blade. Technically speaking, it’s called an analace. Well, if you’re going to kill, might as well do it with style.
I shut out the siren image and tried to see her for what she was – a soul sucker.
She stood up, backing away from me like a cornered beast. It wasn’t enough. I lunged forward and saw the eighteen inch blade sink into her chest between the breasts. She looked down at it, gasping, then fixed me with those reptilian questioning eyes.
I heard the drill-like buzzing too late. The tattoo machine rammed into my cheek with a numbing blow, fireflies of pain shooting across my vision as I recoiled involuntarily. She came back with me, holding me close in a two-step of death. The needles were burrowing their way into my face and I screamed as I fell over backwards.
She landed on top of me, her face warped onto a devil’s smile. Then, like two stars imploding under their own weight, I saw the light in her eyes extinguish and I knew it was over.
The tool fell out of her limp hand, my blood scattering across the polished floorboards in an arc. I rolled her off me and tugged the blade from her cursed form. The side of my face was gushing, the wound like hamburger meat to the touch.
I swept the studio with my eyes and found a towel. Pressed it to my cheek to stem the flow. It would have to do until I could get it stitched up.
There was one more act to perform. With a practiced downstroke I cleaved the neck from the torso, divorcing them forever.
Was it my imagination or was her blood black? As it soaked into the legs of my chinos and painted my shoes I thought to myself – I’m not going to even try to wash it out. Half a mill’ would pay for a wardrobe full of the finest that Savile Row could offer. My clothes were destined for the bonfire.
I lifted the head by its hair and looked into the centuries-old face one last time. She was no longer smiling. I bundled it into a heavy duty plastic sack, double-bagging it just to be sure. Did I tell you I was cautious?
A cautious man wouldn’t have forgotten about the muscle at the bottom of the stairs though. He was still there, and here was me splattered with the she-devil’s ichor. If I believed in benevolent deities then I would have thanked them because he didn’t tag me for a moment. Just kept staring down the street, inhaling the cancer-fumes into his tar-ridden lungs.
Seven days later. Head deposited. Another two-fifty K in my bank account. I should be a happy man, but Satan has a way of barfing over your buffet. You see, it was too easy. I should have twigged. She’d ripped the balls off the best hunters in history and I thought that a one-thrust kill was down to my superior prowess.
The tattoo machine was laden with enough of her poison ink to elicit a transfer. She didn’t die, she simply found a new home.
I suppose I should be grateful. She gives me some headspace now and again to remind me of what I once was. The rest of the time she controls and consumes me. I see my hands create her incomparable artwork on the skin of her victims, before she sucks them dry over the next month or so. Poor buggers.
Top myself? I hear you ask. Do the dutch? I’m denied that luxury. She has an iron will and the use of all my skills as well as her own. No, the only way to tolerate this living hell is to numb myself, view what we do as an art of sorts. Art expressed through the twisted kaleidoscope of her mind. We don’t have a viewing public to our objets démoniaque of course, so we just appreciate it for its intrinsic quality. Art for art’s sake.
Kat Von D, Gautier and 10cc would be so proud.