All Stories, Crime/Mystery/Thriller

Bruise Free Tattoos by Martin Toman

So I only noticed that the door to my tattoo shop had been kicked in after I put the key in the lock. I slid the key into the cylinder and twisted it, but the door didn’t move. Through the tunnel of a receding hangover, I saw that the frame had been cracked near the lock, but the door hadn’t quite been kicked open. I pulled away in surprise, the blood receding to the back of my head, and looked around. A shard of the door frame lay on the ground, cleanly broken away. The glass next to the lock was undamaged. It was too early for this shit.

God fucking damn it. Fucking junkies. Fucking dumb shit junkies. The words spilled out before I could stop them.

My shop neighbour Rachael came out of her café. She looked prettier than normal, if that was possible. I noticed that before Jamie. Was gonna call you, but thought you’d see it when you arrived. Looks like they didn’t get in. Dickheads.

I gently slid the key back in, eased the door until it stopped against the frame, then gave it a hard shove. The frame cracked further and gave way, and then I was inside. Nothing had changed.

It had to be junkies. No professional would fuck it up so badly. I’d only had the shop for a couple of years back then. I hadn’t had a break-in yet, so only had a single latch deadbolt on the door. That changed. I installed double sliding bolts up and down, a brass padlock. Eventually I welded a steel security grill into the shop window. But back then all a pro needed to do was smash the glass near the lock, reach around to turn the handle and open the door. Dumb shit junkies couldn’t even figure that out.

Rachael came through the damage, a coffee in one hand and a ham and cheese croissant on a plate in the other. If she’d have let me I would have kissed her.

Gonna call the cops Jamie?

It was a pretty good question. At that time tattoos hadn’t yet gone mainstream. It was five years ago, just on the cusp of when everyone wanted to be an individual by inking their skin, so police still associated tattoo shops with bikies and crime rather than social media influencers. But I figured I’d better, maybe I could claim insurance if there was paperwork.

I smiled, I guess, for what it’s worth.

So I called the copshop. They told me to leave everything as it was and they’d come down and fingerprint the door and so on. So I called my clients for the day and postponed their appointments, and set about percolating my bad mood while working on some designs. It gave me time to think.

For a start, what did these fucks think they were going to steal? I have an antique cash register but it’s for show, I never put any money in it. I mean if I’m seeing maybe two or three customers a day why wouldn’t I just put the cash in my wallet? I’ve got a pretty good computer and monitor for design work and printing, but what would they get for it if it was stolen? A couple hundred dollars, maybe. My barber’s chair is expensive but bolted to the floor, my tattoo equipment’s the same. Most likely they’d have just trashed the shop. I had my artwork and paintings on display all over the walls, so no doubt they would have been smashed. It just seemed so stupid.

As I researched and drew, the morning shadows shortened and disappeared, and then started to turn the other way. Still no cops. I hadn’t called the insurance company yet, and my fingers itched to fix the door. I’m pretty good with my hands and my old man was a chippie so I would have had the shop sorted in a couple hours.

Eventually the boys in blue pulled up out front. It was early afternoon by then. I watched them as they sat in the squad car for a while. They were talking and laughing. One eventually got out, walked to the 7 Eleven across the road and bought a couple of drinks, a packet of chips, a donut. Then I watched them eat. The hangover had faded away, but my headache remained. I closed my eyes, felt the blood moving around my body. I’d had enough.

I walked through my broken door to the cop car and rapped my knuckles on the windscreen. The prick in the driver’s seat spilt his drink. The window wound down. The cop without drink on his tunic leant his head out the car.

Hey dickhead, we’ll be there when we are ready, just hold on.

I looked at him. Single epaulette on his shoulder. A Junior Constable. Acne scars and a pimple on his forehead. He’d have weighed 70 kilograms wringing wet.

Ah just fuck off, you’re not needed.


You heard me, just fuck off, I’ll fix it myself.

I didn’t bother seeing how he reacted. After a while the copmobile pulled into traffic.

I spent the rest of the afternoon fixing the shop. I drove home to get some tools, stopped by the timber yard and hardware store, bought a padlock, rehung the door, installed some bolts and a latch. I even had time for a lick of paint to finish the job. From that moment on it would take more than a foot to kick through my shop door. I was sweeping the sawdust when Rachael popped her head around the corner. She looked at my handiwork, saw the new door frame. She reached out a finger, touched the paint. Still sticky.

Didn’t go well with the cops I take it.

The skin on her face wore her crooked smile. I really liked the gaps between her teeth.

Uh no. Not really. Thought I’d just fix it myself.

Well it looks good, gotta say. Now, I have some information for you, might be useful.

I stopped what I was doing, leaned the broom against the wall. It was getting dark outside, Rachael must have finished for the day.

So I heard one of my customers talking. You know the old duck who lives one street back.

I knew the old duck, her name was Elizabeth something or other. She had put a neighbourhood petition together when I opened up, trying to collect signatures to give to the local council that my establishment wasn’t ‘suitable to the area’, whatever the fuck that meant. I’d lived in the suburb since I was eight years old. Funnily enough, last year she asked me to ink a small memorial tattoo on her wrist for her granddaughter who passed away at birth. I did that piece for free.

Well the old duck was talking about how she heard some loud banging in the middle of the night, about three o’clock in the morning. Went on for maybe half an hour. Thought that might be useful to you.

So now I had a time.

You’re more than just a pretty face Rachael.

The smile dropped from her face, then returned.

Fuck off unless you mean it Jamie. Then she turned and left. Watching her walk away was the nicest thing I’d seen all day. I heard her close up the café and leave.

Back then I didn’t have security cameras, but I knew the 7 Eleven did. I messaged my clients for the next day to confirm their appointments and finished tidying up. I hadn’t made any money that day, inconvenienced some customers, had my door broken, and had to pay for the repairs. Just because of some junkie fucks.

I thought to myself, what would shit kicker junkies like to do at three in the morning? I figured they’d buy a drink and some ciggies, maybe behave like dickheads while they were at it. I locked up and crossed over to the 7 Eleven. It was fully dark by then. Clouds had come over, and it had just started to rain. The lights of the cars cast an oily sheen across the wet road, a purple and green phosphoresce.

I asked the guy behind the counter if they had any footage from last night between three and three-thirty. I go in there every day to buy the paper so it wasn’t a problem. As I suspected they had cameras everywhere: the carpark, the petrol bowsers, across the street, and in the shop, from every angle.

So at just after three in the morning Camera 2 recorded a car pulling into the carpark. Three guys had got out, hoods and hats on. Camera 4 then recorded them crossing the street in the direction of my shop. Twenty minutes later the same three guys re-entered the frame, and sure enough they went into the 7 Eleven. One bought a packet of cigarettes and a monster energy drink. Another looked at the girly magazines at the counter. On the way out they all stared up at Camera 1. Thank you 7 Eleven for your high definition corporate surveillance. I paused the footage, took out my phone. Snap, snap, snap. So now I also had their faces.

I went back to the shop, took out my phone, studied the photos. Two of those junkies I’d never seen before, but the dickhead who was looking at the soft porn looked familiar. I squinted at the photos, really looked hard at them, wondered what to do.

Now there isn’t a tattoo shop owner who doesn’t know a guy. The kind of guy that can get things done. Sometimes the guy is the tattoo shop owner, but my shop isn’t like that. The important thing to remember in these situations is that you can’t contact your guy too often, or he will start contacting you more than you’d like. The thing about my guy was that he was also a cop, but a special kind of cop who doesn’t wear a uniform. Sometimes you just have to get things done.

So I sent my guy a message, the three photos and some text. I could smell the fresh paint drying in the still air. Outside the volume of the traffic was dying down. The rain band had passed through, leaving drying pools in the darkened street, the oil stains washed down the storm water drains. I was just about to leave for home when the reply came through. Three names, three phone numbers, and three addresses. At the end of the message was the curt sign off, delete this text. After writing down the details I did just that.

And I was right. I knew one of these junkies. He’d been in my shop. I’d done his first tattoo a few months before, an 8-Ball morphing into a skull. He’d given the Facebook page I’d put together for my shop a like. Idiot.  He’d probably cased my place as he sat there; eyed off the computer, imagined what was inside the till. Too stupid to find a stranger to steal from, he’d talked about it with his mates, and they’d probably hatched the plan yesterday afternoon, waiting until the dead of night only to find out that my door was stronger than they were.

I went home and thought about what I’d do, what amounted to justice. I figured that these idiots would be unlikely to try again, they just didn’t have the attention span. My hands were tired from the repairs and I wasn’t thinking clearly so I went to bed. I had clients tomorrow and catch-ups to schedule in. But lying there in the dark of my room I couldn’t sleep. The real cops were useless, so there was no point talking to them. I could ask my guy, but then I’d owe him a favour that I may not want to pay back. I thought that maybe I could have found them, waited until they were on their own and given them a decent flogging. It would have been only fair, but things can go wrong sometimes. It wasn’t worth the risk.

The solution came to me the next morning when I was standing in Rachael’s café. Sunlight was pushing in through the windows; the place smelt like a gorgeous bacon sandwich with a coffee on the side. It was busy and Rachael was all business. I was looking at the woman in front of me messaging on her phone while waiting to pay for her coffee when it came to me.

I went next door, let myself in and took out my phone. I looked up the first fuckwit in question on Facebook, and through his friends list found the other two dickheads. Then I sent them a group message from my shop page:


I watched the words sit in the ether for a moment, and then waited until the read message notifications appeared underneath the text. It didn’t take long. Within a minute all three had seen it, but there were no replies. I was pretty sure that I would never see them again.

Later in the week the nail salon down the street was burgled, along with the pet supply shop and the Thai restaurant. The people who broke in didn’t steal much as there wasn’t much to take, but they trashed the premises nonetheless. The old duck Elizabeth called it in when she heard the commotion, but the cops didn’t arrive until the show was well and truly over.

The officers who’d ignored me after my break-in dropped by my shop the next day. I was doing a chest piece on a female client, so had the privacy screen up.  I heard my door open and popped my head around the screen, expecting to see the next client or maybe someone enquiring about future work; I don’t do walk-ins. But no, it was Junior Constable Pimple. He looked around, introduced himself, and then cut to the chase.

I understand that you had an attempted break-in the other day. We are making enquires as to a series of crimes in this strip of shops.

I stared in his direction for a moment, then dismissed him with a flick of my hand. I heard the door shut. Fucks like that aren’t even worth words. I was busy anyway.

As for the junkies who tried to break in, within a year the two I didn’t know were dead; one from an overdose and the other in a car accident. The one I’d tattooed was bashed to death in jail a year later. His mother became one of my clients. I did a full sleeve memorial tattoo of her son for her, his face prominent in the design. She was a lovely woman, so there was no need to tell her. She was very happy with the work I did for her and cried when it was finished. Saltwater and blood, shed for her son, both wasted.

In case you are curious, shortly after the break in I worked up the courage to ask Rachael on a date. I was smart enough not to take her out for a coffee; we went to the opera. This May will be three years since we got married, so that worked out okay. She still makes my coffee every morning when I unbolt the door and open my shop.


Martin Toman

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

3 thoughts on “Bruise Free Tattoos by Martin Toman”

  1. Hi Martin,
    This is a well constructed story that is entertaining and flows beautifully.
    All the very best my friend.


  2. There’s a book called “Stupid Crimes” by Dennis Bolen that reminds me of the theme here. Bolen writes about all the dumb things criminals he knew used to do. The MC tries to figure out the “why” but really he has the answer all along – junkies. I like the happy ending re: meeting Rachel was the positive aspect of the break in.


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