The Matter of the Vagrant Tattoo

Whenever Noonan had a loo-loo call, he went to his two best sources of information, history and the local papers. He had been steeped in the history of the Outer Banks of North Carolina since childhood so he did not need a refresher course. But he knew next to nothing about the tattoo industry, on the Outer Banks or elsewhere. He knew tattoos had been around since the Egyptians because he had seen photographs of mummies with tattoos. He knew of Māori tattoo and assumed that the tattoo on boxer Mike Tyson’s face was a Māori design.

Apparently it wasn’t.

Or not listed that way on Wikipedia.

It was identified only as a “warrior status” tattoo. And, typical of the Mike Tyson originality, he had a tattoo on his right bicep of Chairman Mao Zedong. Noonan was also unaware there had been a copyright dispute with the tattoo artist. The tattoo had been used in THE HANGOVER: PART TWO and the tattoo artist, S. Victor Whitmill, had sued the movie studio for copyright infringement. Clearly, tattoos were copyrightable but apparently only if they are on someone’s body. Rather, or in. Proof was that photographs of Mike Tyson and his facial tattoo proliferated on the internet and none of the URLs had been sued.

As far as the application of tattoos was concerned, there were two types: under the skin and painful and on the skin and temporary. The under-the-skin variety were permanent; the temporaries could last a few days or, if you could stand the fading, several months.

There were quite a few references to Cleopatra Chaplin on the internet, mostly from her own news releases, and two clips from a review. There was also an announcement in the Nags Head Actor Central she would be performing in Nags Head that week. Noonan could find nothing on a Joanna Simpson other than a marriage reference to Dr. John Simpson a decade earlier. Before that she had been Joanna Wickersham from Waves on the Outer Banks. Dr. Simpson was listed as a roving MD at a number of hospitals on the Carolina coast. He was based out of Manteo and part of a firm of specialists who proceeded hospital to hospital when one of their specialties was called upon. Another of the doctors in that firm was Joseph Sacerdote, an endocrine anatomist. When Noonan got Rachel Sacerdote on the phone, he asked if Joseph was her husband.

“Yes, he’s an endocrine specialist. No hospitals on the coast can afford to keep someone like that on staff so he’s on call.”

“Dr. John Simpson is in the same firm, correct?

“Yes, he’s another of the specialist on call.”

“I’m assuming the two of them know each other.”

“Not really. The firm is very loosey-goosey. They do not all go to work in a single office every day. The office is basically an answering service in Manteo. My husband lives in Currituck and goes where he is needed. Same with John Simpson.”

“How many people in that firm?”

“Good question. On paper about 15 but they are all on call, like I said, not in any office. They do not even get together for Christmas parties.”

“Where do the Simpson’s live?”

“Nags Head. That’s why his wife can be so prolific in the theater. She doesn’t have to drive an hour to do a show like I do.”

“OK,” Noonan said as he opened up his notebook. “Now, for the answers to the questions I gave you a while back.”

“Sure. Here goes. The tattoo cost $250 and I chose the design from a book in the tattoo artist’s portfolio. I think that’s what it’s called. The artist’s name was Jerome Williams and his shop is in Nags Head. He did the work, about two hours’ worth of needlework on the skin of my left shoulder blade. I wanted it there so it could be seen while I am sunbathing. Let’s see. Other questions. I act about ten times a year. That is, ten plays. Usually during the summer, you know. Memorial Day to Labor Day. Say, six plays of about two weeks each during the summer and another four scattered in the winter. I have never met Cleopatra Chaplin.”

“Noonan thought for a moment and then asked, “If the tattoo was on your back, did you see the tattoo when it was finished?”

“I had to use a mirror. In the tattoo parlor.”

“OK, go on.”

“I’ve lost my train of thought. Let’s see. It, the tattoo, went under my skin, or, I guess, into my skin, three weeks ago and disappeared the next week. I really didn’t know it was gone right away because there was a bandage over the tattoo. When I removed the bandage after the colonoscopy, it was gone.”

“No sign the tattoo was ever there to being with?”

“No holes in my skin or anything like that. Just, poof, and gone.”

Noonan thought for a moment. Then he asked, “How did you pay for the tattoo?”

“Credit card. Why?”

* * *

When Harriet came into the office on Monday she was wearing a massive pair of owl-eye sunglasses, had her hair pulled all the way to the back, knotted, and covered with a blue and red bandana. She sidled up to Noonan’s desk, leaned seductively and softly uttered, in her best Erich von Stroheim directed Gloria Swanson voice: “Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my Close-Up.”

Noonan didn’t bat an eye. He just looked at her bandana and sunglasses and said in his best Humphrey Bogart, “‘The stuff that dreams are made of.’ Now, the tattoo.”

Harriet pouted, “I spent all the way back from Nags Head practicing that line.”

“I’m sure you’ll find a use for it someday. Now, the tattoo.”

Harriet slumped into the chair beside Noonan’s desk. “Talk of arrogance personified. That woman could not shut up. If it wasn’t the heat in the theater it was the poor quality of makeup or the tight bodice. On and on.”

“The tattoo,” Noonan prodded.

“Could not stop talking about it. From a local artist in Nags Head. A Jerome Williams. I asked around and he is fairly well-known in the acting community. Gay, if that means anything. Associated with some doctor who’s an anesthesiologist in Nags Head.”

* * *

Three days later Harriet came into Noonan’s office with a photograph of a woman’s back. She had a tattoo of a mermaid seductively looking upwards. “This is not the missing tattoo,” Harriet said with a sneer. “But it’s better looking.”

“And temporary,” Noonan said. “You did your job well, Harriet. Seems your actress wanted the tattoo she got for herself and herself alone. When she found out it had already been sold, she used her charms on her husband’s buddy. Maybe some strong-arm too, I don’t know. So the tattoo artist jabbed our lady from Currituck for an hour or so and then slapped on a temporary tattoo.”

“She didn’t know it was temporary?”

“No. But the artist knew she was going in for a colonoscopy so the temporary tattoo only had to be visible for two days. He showed her the temporary tattoo in a mirror and then put a bandage on it. When the co-conspirator, the anesthesiologist, put her under, he wiped the temporary tattoo away.”

“But she had to know the tattoo was gone.”

“Yup,” replied Noonan. “But the tattoo artist didn’t charge her for the tattoo so she had no proof the tattoo had ever been applied in the first place.”

“That’s cruel and underhanded.” Harriet shook the picture. “But something jerked his chain.”

Noonan smiled and looked up at the ceiling. “I have no idea how that happened. But a little bird told me our lady from Currituck got a new tattoo at no cost. Said she wanted the tattoo but not another two hours of needlework. So a temporary was fine with her.”

“I can understand that. Why get a tattoo in the first place?”

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