* * *
“I need to talk to someone about financing a building.”
The clerk looked Charlie up and down; from his miniature blond mohawk to his worn Chuck Taylors. It was the look Charlie always got; because he was just a kid in South Dakota.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Hoffe?” she asked, eyebrows raised. “Any relation to the painter?”
“Yeah,” Charlie sighed. “He’s my father.”
“Must be proud,” she said. “He’s nearly painted this whole town.”
She pointed to the waiting area outside the glass offices.
“Wait there,” she said.
Charlie sat down and hoped there was no one at the shop who wanted a tattoo. When his name was called, he walked into the office and sat next to the candy dish. He told the woman what he was hoping to do and she scowled at his left arm; the one covered in psychedelic designs.
She gave him a few building options, but listed even more problems. All of the buildings had to be brand new or completely renovated to agree with local tattooing laws. “New” meant money and “makeovers” meant even more money. She suggested he stay put for a few more months to save money. Charlie asked if she wanted a tattoo.
Three months later, Charlie walked briskly into Tucker’s with a grin on his face. Sara was there; she didn’t look up from filing her nails.
“Today’s my last day,” he said.
“I got my own place. No more Tucker’s; no more sharing a sign.”
“Why leave now — you’ve done pretty well here,” she asked.
“I know, but I’ve always wanted my shop, my address, my sign.”
Sara shrugged and got back to her nails. Charlie waited in his corner and spent free time packing his things. He tattooed a semi driver who wanted a nude Elvira figure on his shoulder.
“Good work, kid,” the man told him.
Charlie loaded the Corolla with boxes and supplies and drove home. He opened the door to the other half of his house and setup his tools. It wasn’t a shop on The Strip or near South Beach, but it was his. He opened a box of neon tubing and hung the square in his front window. He plugged in its cord and rolled the switch. “TATTOO” lit up the entire room; a blue and orange glow.
He hadn’t talked to his dad in a good week. His heart was beginning to cool from even trying. But he couldn’t think about that now, his work was cut out for him. The new location brought a new batch of tattoo virgins. He hoped they’d get addicted like he was and return over and over again. He’d done a wolf for the lady next door and a cross for her boyfriend. He’d started a “Starry Night” rendition on the arm of the garage band singer on the corner. He was still eating noodles, but he thought less about it.
He called his dad mid-week.
“Dad, you know I don’t work at Tucker’s anymore.”
“Oh, so you called for money?”
“Nope. Actually, I was calling to tell you to stop by my shop soon.”
“Your shop? Since When?”
“Since…well, since awhile. I’ve been building clients and doin’ okay.”
“That isn’t really what I meant when I said you should look beyond Tucker’s.”
“But this is what I wanted… you should think about stopping by.”
Charlie knew his dad was disgruntled, but he tried not to think much about it. Only Charlie knew what was best for him and he was just glad he really didn’t need the money from his dad. He knew his shop wasn’t up to his father’s standards; it probably never would be.
Later, Charlie was in the middle of a sketch — a thorny rose for the woman bartender in the city — when a truck pulled up. Charlie kept working. It was Charlie’s father. He approached the screen door and stood.
“You okay?” Charlie asked.
“Sure, son. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Charlie opened the door to the shop. His father stepped inside with caution as if the floor would fall in. He slowly gazed at the posters on the walls and looked the bartender up and down.
“Well, this is it,” Charlie said, gesturing around the room.
“Okay, well do you have time to give me a tattoo?”
Charlie’s eyes grew wide.
“Sure,” he said. “You got somethin’ in mind?”