“Practice time, Mags,” Tee exclaimed loudly, in her native Spanish, while tossing my workout bag at me and knocking down the magazine I was trying to read.
“Oh, come on,” I complained back, also in Spanish. “Why?” I pushed off the bag and leaned back, spreading out on the sofa we had in front of the shop for guests to wait on and brandishing my magazine. “There’s good gossip in here. I’m behind. Don’t you want to know who Taylor Swift is dating now? Huh?”
“You know damn well I don’t give a crap. Besides, this place is dead as hell. What else you gonna do?”
“Read. A. Magazine,” I said, accenting each word.
“No!” she yelled back, picking up my workout bag from the floor and hitting me with it. “Now, get your fine white ass off the sofa and move!”
I groan aloud, but I get up and grab my bag. I hear Rafi chuckle to himself from behind his computer across the room as he watches me slump to my feet.
“What are you laughing at, vato?” Tee bit back with acid in her voice. “You’re up when she’s done.” I laughed out loud mockingly, without any shame whatsoever.
Rafi groaned out loud and shook his head as he adjusted his glasses. “I did a set yesterday!”
“And you’re doing a set today.”
“I said you’re doing it, Rafi.” She used the tone. We both knew what it meant and shared a knowing glance with one another.
“Fine,” he said dejectedly before turning back to his laptop. “Do me a favor, Mags, and tire her out for me?” Tee shot him another glare.
“Oh, no, if I’m doing this – you’re doing this,” I said with a smile. He shot one back to me.
I got changed in the customer restroom. It wasn’t the cleanest place in the world, but it wasn’t too bad. Tee and I had decorated all the walls in here with graffiti art and some of our customers had signed their names and written messages here. It was nice to see words of encouragement and praise for the work we were doing – a couple crude comments about Tee and I being ‘doable,’ but most of it was good stuff. I’ll have to remember to scratch the other shit off the walls later.
A couple months after we first opened up the shop, one of our customers was mugged on his way home. Don’t misunderstand – that’s not entirely unexpected. Tattoo parlors aren’t exactly pillars of peacefulness. We’ve had a couple brawls in-shop and stuff – nothing major, nothing that Tee couldn’t handle – but this mugging really got underneath Tee’s skin – mostly because it was on the route that Rafi walked to get to the local coffee place in the mornings. From that point on, Tee decided that Rafi and I were going to be learning basic self-defense. She set up one of the smaller back rooms with a couple weights, a punching bag and this creepy combat dummy she found on eBay. Tee grew up in a rough neighborhood – her upbringing had given her some fancy moves with a switchblade – and she’d taken up boxing as a self-defense class during her time in prison. She knew her way around a fight and she was absolutely determined that Rafi and I knew at least the basics.
Luckily for me, I had a few divine advantages – I was quick as hell with some of the steadiest hands in history. She’d taught me how to shoot my Taser pretty straight, then she taught me how to throw a punch, then how to take a punch – that last one wasn’t particularly fun to learn. I had no clue what she was planning today.
I walked into our pathetic little gym – rocking my workout clothes and taking out my nose ring and ear piercings – Tee set up this cute little box for us to put our jewelry in when we were training. She’d changed into her gym gear too – tight yoga pants and a sports bra – and was standing, hands on hips, looking serious.
“What did I do?” I asked.
“I’ve been thinking about what I want to teach you,” she said, ignoring my jest. “You’d be terrible with a bowie knife, or anything longer than that, since you have the strength of a housecat.”
“True,” she said, pointing at me. “So, I found this.” She walked over to a little table we had in there and grabbed something from it. It looked to me like two short, thin pipes latched together at the top, but after she popped off the latch, she flicked her wrist and a blade spun out from between with a decorative flourish. It was beautiful, impressive… and sexy as hell.
“This is a balisong… butterfly knife… a veinte-y-nueve… It’s blade is nowhere near strong enough to do any major stabbing things, but with as quick as you are, you can get a dozen spinning deep cuts in before most gangbangers can even pull their pieces.” She spun it a couple of more times in her hands, then latched the handles in one fluid motion and stabbed the blade into the table dramatically and let a mischievous twinkle flash across her eyes. “Plus, you can some tricks and flips and feints. You know, frilly stuff to keep you happy.”
I smiled and shook my head at her. Typical Tee… She likes to mock and make fun, but it’s obvious how much thought she put into this. It’s been years since we left prison, but, as always, she’s still watching my back, protecting me from threats unseen. Best friend a god of thieves could ask for.
“These things have a tendency to bite back,” she said. “So, I found you a training one for now.” She picked up a similar looking knife, except this one had a blunt wooden fake blade where the sharp part should have been. She took a tube of lipstick and applied one edge of the wood with a liberal coating of cherry red.
“Is that mine?” I asked.
“Oh, you’d never wear anything this tacky. It’s Star’s. She left it here last time she was here and it’s a shit color, so she’s not getting it back.” I laughed aloud at that, then she got out another training knife and applied a different color lipstick – dark blue – to that. “This one you lifted from a customer, I think. You really gotta stop doing that, Mags.”
“My bad,” I raised my hands up with guilt. “Old habits.”
“OK,” she continued, handing me one of her training tools – the one with the red color. “You get your color lipstick on yourself, you lose. You wanna get as much of it as possible on me, of course, and avoid any of my blue stuff. Got it?”
“Got it,” I repeated back to her. “We gonna have some music going?”
Tee nodded. “I cued up some of your favorites,” she said, picking up her cellphone and flicking through the menus. A couple seconds later, the loud bass of electronic music started thumping through her portable speakers. She frowned for a moment and turned back to her phone to turn up the volume, so I quickly lashed out with my new blade, leaving a long streak of cherry red on her midriff just above her hip.
“Oh, that’s how it is today, huh?” she said, her voice much harder to hear now through the pulsing rhythms of blaring techno, but her wide smile obvious. “Prepare to turn blue, bitch.”
I chuckled, span my new toy around my hand and prepared to have some fun.