“Hhmpf,” he grunted, not looking up from his phone.
“You know, it’s customary to say thank you when someone compliments you.”
“Thanks for the heads up.”
A car door slammed below, and two girls about my age giggled as they approached the door. The bell rang.
“Bring them up,” he ordered.
My job over the next several hours consisted of shuffling the music when King needed a change of pace, running downstairs to get him Red Bulls, and sitting around doing nothing. At one point, I stood up, told King that I was just taking up space, and that I should get out of his way. He glared at me and nodded back to the couch.
“Why do you do this when you do…other things?” I asked him between clients while I was washing out paint containers in the small sink. “And why don’t you have a real shop instead of doing this out of your house?”
“You ask a lot of fucking questions,” King pointed out.
“You said I ask a lot of questions. I only asked two.”
King folded his arms over his chest, accentuating his toned biceps. “If you must know, I do this because I’ve always done it. Art was the only class I liked as a kid. And I do this in my house because the places around here that are any sort of decent are on the other side of the causeway, and the rent wouldn’t make the business worth having. Happy?”
“So you do this because art was the only class you were good at in school?”
“More fucking questions,” King sighed. “And you don’t listen. I did well in school. Very well, actually. I said art was the only class I liked, not the only class I was good at.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid that I’d jumped to that conclusion. “I’m sorry. I just thought…”
“I’m a bad guy, pup, not a dumb guy.”
“I didn’t say you were dumb.”
“Look in that drawer over there.” He pointed at a tool box. I opened the drawer. In it was a framed degree from the University of South Florida. Under it was a gun.
“Why do you keep this in here? Why don’t you hang it up?”
“Because I earned the degree online.”
“That’s not a big…”
“While in prison,” King interrupted. “And I’m glad I did it. I like having it, but putting it on the wall would mean I was proud of it. My feelings are a lot more mixed than that. Besides, Grace says you should always have a drawer that reminds you that who you are and what you do aren’t always the same thing.”
“You’ll find out.”
“Well, why don’t you just start your own business?”
“What’s so funny?”
“You are, pup.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you just asked me why I didn’t start my own business.”
“And, it’s funny, because…” King gestured to the gun. His face went serious. “I did.”
A knock at the door interrupted us. I quickly returned the frame to the drawer and shut it just as Preppy let in King’s next client.
A woman, older than me, strutted through the door wearing a tight tube top and shorts so short the bottom of her ass cheeks hung out. She set herself up on the table like she owned the place, popping her gum as she explained to King, in detail, the Orchid tattoo she wanted on her left ass cheek.
King told me what he needed set up, and I started gathering his supplies.
“Who’s she?” the girl asked, casting me a sideways glare.
“She’s none of your business.”
“Can’t she step out? I’m really shy,” she whined, even as she pushed her shorts off in a suggestive manner. Leaving on her heels she crawled onto the table and stuck her thong-clad ass into the air.
“No, she can’t,” King said. Grabbing a marker, he freehanded the outline of an orchid onto her butt.
The girl made a pouting noise but didn’t push the issue. After an hour, she asked if I could go get her something to drink. King nodded to me, and I went downstairs to grab beers from the fridge.
When I came back up, I paused at the door.
“Come on, baby. You don’t remember me? You should. Your work is right here.” The girl turned around and sat up on her elbows, spreading her legs, she revealed tattooed butterfly wings on both sides of her inner thighs.
“I remember the work. I don’t remember you,” King said stiffly. “Do you want me to finish this fucking tattoo or not?”