Black Ink

In the Gutter, we love a good tattoo story. We love it even more when a dumbass poser mutherfucker gets his due.

Shane Simmons proves no scars run deeper than ink.

Black Ink by Shane Simmons

“I can’t do that one for you,” I told the kid. “Pick something else.”
He’d been in my shop before. Just looking. Now he’d stopped looking. He’d made his decision, he was old enough to get his first, and I was the artist he wanted.

“What’s the sign say?” he asked, pointing up at the one over the door.

Any tattoo. Your choice.

I didn’t have to look. I knew what the sign said. I wrote that sign myself. Letter by letter in fancy script. The fanciest I knew how, just to show off my skill. My talent.

“The sign’s wrong,” I said.

“I seen some of the swastikas you done for bikers,” the kid told me.

“The swastika is an ancient symbol of good luck in certain cultures.”

Standard response for anyone who asks or comments. I do designs, I do words, I don’t do meaning. The customer can decide what it means. Me, I don’t care.

“That’s serious Neo-Nazi shit is what that is. Why you do that for them and not this for me?”

“Because the Gestapo isn’t going to beat my ass for stealing their material. The Russian mob will.”
What the kid wanted was something he’d found in a book about the Russian mafia. To him, it was just a badass design. To me it was trouble. Eastern European gangsters are touchy about their ink. Every tattoo—and there’s hundreds of them—means something specific. It’s the story of their lives; it’s their criminal record. One look at the body of another man in their trade and they know everything there is to know about him. This isn’t fashion for them; it’s stigmata.
“If any of them sees you wearing one of their tats and they know you didn’t earn it, they’ll kill you. They’ll cut it right off your body and before they kill you, they’re going to make you tell them who gave it to you. And then they’ll come and kill me too.”
“Get something else,” I damn near pleaded. “Anything else. A fucking heart with ‘Mother’ on it for all I care. Whatever. But not that.”

“Pussy,” he said. It was an insult directed at me, but it would probably be the same label stuck on him once his friends found out he didn’t get the design he said he would.

“Don’t be like that. I’ll give you a piercing instead if you want. On the house. Just don’t tell anyone I did it for free.”

“What’s the most expensive piercing you do?” he asked, and I could tell he was tempted.

I considered lying, but what was the point? There was another sign over my shoulder with all the options and prices posted.

“Cocks,” I said. “Cocks go for five hundred bucks.”

I hate doing cocks, but five c-notes and rubber gloves go a long way.
“I never thought about getting a cock ring before,” he considered thoughtfully. “You think Shannon will like it?”


I hear his girl, Shannon, didn’t like the new pierced cock with the ring so much. I also hear he ran through four other girls who liked it a lot better right after she left, so I guess it worked out for him.

Pierced or not, the kid was still hung up on that damn tattoo he’d set his heart on. He found someone else to give him what he wanted three weeks later. One week after that, he was dead. Nobody knows who killed him, but his freshly minted tat was skinned off him before the swelling even had time to go down. Word is the one with the knife asked him who had done his ink for him. They asked and he told. And they didn’t have to slice off the tattoo to get him to talk. They pulled his cock ring out first. Then they peeled him.

Twenty years I’ve been in this business. Mick had only been inking for ten. He was good, very good. Skilled. But one day he gave a stupid kid the wrong tattoo and now there’s less competition in town.

Talent doesn’t count for shit if you don’t know when not to use it.

Shane Simmons is an award-winning screenwriter and graphic novelist whose work has appeared in international film festivals, museums and lectures about design and structure. His art has been discussed in multiple books and academic journals about sequential storytelling, and his short stories have been printed in critically praised anthologies of history, crime and horror. He lives in Montreal with his wife and too many cats. @Shane_Eyestrain