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6. Investment Opportunity

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“So what are you going to do with it?” Irish’s brow was quirked up a bit and she leaned over the bar, sipping her drink while I sipped at mine. I shrugged my shoulders idly. I felt tired but energized at the same time, like I didn’t have a moment to waste. Time has passed quickly, the building was mine and the belongings of my parents were sold. The empty apartments were rented out to the lost by Irish, fixed up and refurnished. And the cops still had no leads in the case. Nothing. Figures.

“I’m not entirely sure, any ideas?”

She smiled a devilish grin. “Yeah, actually, a couple.”

I looked down the bar at the new girl. Riley – Deacon’s baby sister. She was wiping things down, looking thoroughly bored. Her gaze kept shifting across the room to a guy sitting in a corner by himself. I narrowed my sight, Irish’s following mine.

“Dusk Brogan. He leads the underground.”

I took a few more sips, taking the whole scene in. The secretive looks between the two children, turning my attention back to Irish. “Underground? Underground what?”

She smiled wide. “You don’t know? The circus – the show below the city. That’s why all the kids come in here. The back door leads straight down to the sewers. And from there you can get to the home of the forsaken, the abandoned children of the city with nowhere to go, no past and no future. All they have are their talents, no names. Dusk is the ringleader. His brother used to be a street leader some time ago before his death. There’s a long legacy, stories that branch off from there, but you get the point.” She seemed to cut herself off, pausing at points, sipping on her drink thoughtfully.

I took a few more sips, studying the boy in the corner carefully. He was younger than me by a year or so, at the most. He had a feel to him of supreme power, that he was above all this. He sat back in his chair, relaxed. The glass that he drank from was balanced on his knee, a hand grasping it loosely. He looked at Riley in a casual, nonchalant kind of way, an almost uncaring glance from time to time. I could see that it was deeper than that. He was acting.

“What business does he have here?” I questioned. Irish shrugged.

“Business is business. He leads another band. Doesn’t get along too well with our everyday boys, but that’s just how it goes. Competition. I don’t know. Boys with toys.”

I laughed softly, keeping our conversation to ourselves. “So what did you have in mind for my building?”

“You’ve been around the neighborhood, this is a place of stories. We’re built on legends and madness. Years of dysfunction and generations of shattered stability. I want to put something back, I want to return a missing piece to our lives.”

“Yeah? What’s that?” I was genuinely interested in what she had to say. She reached under the bar, pulling out a box. It was similar to a shoebox, small and battered. Rustling through it carefully, she pulled out what appeared to be a folded up newspaper article. Unfolding it slowly, she flattened it on the bar, pushing it over to me.

“Rebuild it,” she whispered, in an almost desperate voice. My attention turned back to her eyes.

I stared at the image. There was a headline about a fire, and a series of pictures. It was a whole page article. There was a picture of the remains of a building, burned to ashes and foundation. Then there was a picture next to it of what used to stand there. A building that had seen long days and longer nights, bad weather and all manner of trouble. The article mentioned bodies found in the alley next to it, the owners of the establishment, brutally beaten and murdered in some sort of possible gang-related event. I skimmed the list of names and places, the history of owners. A family establishment. I looked over the picture of adults and children, a collection of various faces smiling back. The comments under each image explained who the person was. None of them were the dead owners. The title painted across the top of the place was “The Black Dragon” and until I read the entire article, I had no idea what it was. It was a tattoo parlor.

“You want me to rebuild the shop?”

Irish nodded slowly. “You have no idea what that place used to be around here. And in that building, close to here, the kids wouldn’t be as far from their safe havens. And the ones that were really talented could live there.”

“And who would run it? I don’t know anything about tattoos.” I was frustrated, but slightly intrigued. The idea was interesting, if I could find the right people to run it. This would look suspicious to the police, my parents being dead and my opening a business with my inheritance. Too coincidental. Fuck that. I knew I was innocent and that there was nothing against me. If anything, there were people against me.

Irish shrugged. “You’ve got a whole world of talent right in front of you, if you know where to look. Right under your feet. Or across the room.” She said all this with a beaming smile, a small wink, and a slight shrug towards the door in the back. I glanced over at Dusk, his glance moving around the room, resting on Riley for extended amounts of time. It was fairly late and we’d cleared out the last of the customer element ages ago. I hadn’t worked; I was just sitting around having a drink with Irish. She didn’t mind – it gave her something to do.

I got up from my stool, listening as it scraped on the floor noisily. Dusk glanced over with a tired gaze, bored with the inactivity. He was waiting for Riley to leave. I thought about asking him for advice, if he’d know anybody. He probably knew everybody. But that would get me involved. That could get you killed around here. But he was my best bet. I gulped back the last of my drink, putting the glass down in front of Irish. She smiled back at me as I started over.

I went through various greetings in my mind, trying to decide how to approach this situation. I wasn’t sure what to say, words failed me when I needed them most. So instead I just sat down, pretending I belonged. Dusk raised a brow at me, taking a sip from his drink without breaking character at all.

“I have a question for you,” I started, my tone even and confident. I was trying to force him to back down. He nodded at me. “Do you know any tattoo artists?”

He pulled his gaze back, looking me up and down. My clean-cut appearance, sitting straight in the chair. I tried to lean back, to appear as relaxed as he was. He put his glass on the table, leaning closer to me.

“Do you know who I am?”

“Yes. That’s why I’m asking you.”

He nodded, leaning back again. “How many do you need?”

I coughed. Point to Dusk. I was caught unaware. “A half dozen I suppose?” The questioning tone in my voice put a smile on his face, proof that I was lost. He nodded again, considering his options.

“Let me see if I understand you. You want me to find you employees for a tattoo parlor, which I’d assume you’re building because there isn’t one in the neighborhood. Congratulations on your business venture, but you have to understand, sir, that this is an art, not a business. You want talent – I can provide it. You do business – we make art. You’re buying people’s souls. And who, pray tell, is going to manage this operation?”

I shot a look over at Irish, who mouthed a name in response. I returned my glance to Dusk. “Shirley.”

He laughed. “Really? And what does she know about tattoos?”

“Everything. What do you need to know?” A voice came from behind and we both turned in our chairs to look. Shirley had sauntered in during our little talk, sitting herself down at the table with us when she heard her name mentioned. She reached over and took Dusk’s glass, took a big sip from it, and returned it with a smile. Point to Shirley. He blinked.

“Hello Shirl,” I returned. She smiled over at me.

“Now what’s all this I hear about tattoos and parlors?” She shot a look over at Dusk. “And talent, or…art?”

“I’m considering opening one, but I need people to run it. Would you be interested in the job?”

She nodded slowly, thinking about it. “Do I have a say in my staff?”

“Of course.” I shot a look at Dusk. “I trust you two could work together on this?”

“Perhaps. I have other obligations though.”

I cleared my throat. “We’re building an establishment for the rockers, for the kids. This place, this building will be a home for the lost above ground. I need good dependable people. I want the best talent you can find. I’ll be spending a lot of time there to make sure everything operates smoothly at first. But I think this could be a successful venture if we all work together.”

They both nodded slowly. Irish had worked her way over to the table by now. She sat down in the last vacant chair. “You sure about this, kid?”

“Absolutely. And I’m working on getting a sound permit for the building so the bands can play there as well. It’s a large space – I’ve been there. It’s being cleaned out as we speak.”

And we all sat in silence, thinking things through. This was the most random thing I’d ever done, the most abrupt decision of my life. But this would work because it was abrupt, because this was what we all needed. We were all running around in a circle, bored with the typical, searching for something new. And this was it. It would work because we all wanted it to. All needed it to. I knew I could trust Dusk not because he was a talented actor – which he was. I could tell because his eyes lit up, the interest was pure and burning. Shirley was always into tattoos, the guy she was currently seeing was covered in some of the most amazing stuff I’d ever seen. I figured she would bring him on board for this; he’d done most of her stuff. That was my manager. She would rule it with him. And the kids would do the rest. It was all there in my mind. Now we just had to turn a vague vision into reality. Riley was watching curiously behind the bar. Irish shot her a look.

“Get out of here, both of you. Hyde, take Shirley over and show her the place, maybe she can have Morris meet you there.”

We all nodded and got up to leave, Riley next to Dusk, his arm around her shoulder, holding her close. They went through the back door, disappearing down into the sewers like Irish said. Shirley went out the door first, which I held open for her. I did it because I knew it drove her crazy. She smiled and moved past me, I turned and smiled back at Irish.

“Don’t be up too late, huh?” I said back at her. She shrugged.

“Why? It might be fun.”

And I left.

Morris Massey was Shirley’s boyfriend. They’d been together for as long as I could remember. He was in a band all his own; guys a little older than the usual kids though. A good guy – dependable and talented. They had the best relationship I’d ever seen. He had the kind of name you’d expect to follow rich kids, which I think his parents gave him on purpose so kids wouldn’t pick on him while he was growing up. He was a tall lanky kid, very pale. We’d gone to school together. He filled out well as he got older, built up some muscle, grew into his looks very well. Shirley was very proud of him. We all just called him Moe.

We walk to the building quietly, discussing some details as we go. Shirley calls Moe and he meets us there, standing outside, leaning back against it.

“Hey babe,” he called, dropping the smoke and stomping it out. He rushed over and hugged Shirley up in his arms. They kissed and cuddled before he set her down, smiling to himself. He looked over at me, nodding in the typical masculine way. I nodded back, stepping past him to open the door.

“So this’ the joint, huh?” He stepped through the door first, with Shirley behind him. I moved in last, closing the door and flipping on the light. The place was a dump, though it’d been cleaned up a decent amount so far. We walked through, discussing how to arrange things, how many chairs we’d need, supplies, everything. Moe had connections – he knew how and where to get us a supplier. We decided to make the calls tomorrow, get furniture and really get the ball rolling on things. I told Dusk that I wanted applicants ready for training in a week.

We stood around discussing the details, knocking out plans. We decided that the apartment upstairs would be turned into a gallery for my work. This way I could kill two birds with one stone. And the best apartment in the place would go to Shirley and Moe. They’d have it free of charge if they ran the place good and proper for me. I was entrusting them with this. It was like giving newlyweds a house. They were completely overjoyed. And I was happy for them. It was like doing community service; you get a deep sense of accomplishment. We went upstairs and showed them around what would be there new place. It had been furnished already. I left them with the key and turned to leave. Their place was planned ahead of time. Irish told me they were looking for a place; they were working on getting married. So I decided to help them out. Moe stepped away from Shirley as I went, stepping outside with me.

“Hey man, we really appreciate what you’re doing for us here, you know? It’s really too much, I wish there was more we could do to say thanks…”

“Just keep the place going, that’s all I ask. Make it work.”

He reached out his hand for a shake, which I took graciously. “Thanks Ed, so much. You have no idea how much this means to us.”

I stopped, hearing my own name. It was becoming rare to hear my given name, but I was glad for it. I nodded while I shook his hand, returning the firm grip. “It’s not much…”

“Are you kidding? This means the world. You’re a lifesaver.”

“Moe…”

“She’s pregnant, Ed. Her folks were throwing her out. My folks aren’t too thrilled with me. This will work, I give you my word.” His voice was heavy with emotion. I looked at the door, then back at him. I put a hand on his shoulder, trying to find words for him. There were none. Some things just work out how they were meant to. Some things fall into place perfectly.

“Congratulations. Sweet dreams.” And I let go of him, walking away slowly. My steps echoed in the hallway loud as I moved away from him. I listened for him to move, but he was still there when I started down the stairs. The door to their new place didn’t close until my foot touched floor off the stairwell. I had a smile permanently fixed to my face. I went home without a care in the entire world. Days had turned into weeks. Time was flying. I felt more alive now than I ever had before. And I was loving it. I was smoking more and using less, which might be better. But all in all, I was here, in the now. And it was the best thing ever.

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