Lindsey: "Yeah, well, let 'em come try to stop me. It'll be fun."
Angel: "Well, I don't know if that's a healthy attitude. - So, where're you going, Lindsey? (Looks at the duffel and guitar case) Back to your roots?"
Lindsey: "Something like that."
Angel nods his head slowly.
Lindsey: "I hope you're not waiting for me to tell you that I learned some kind of a lesson. That I had a big moral crisis, but now I see the light."
Angel laughs: "If you told me that, then I'd have to kill you. - I'm just here to say 'bon voyage' - don't come back."
Lindsey: "To L.A.? - Nah. - You can have this place."
Opens the door to his truck.
Angel: "Good. I'm glad I didn't have to do something immature here."
Lindsey nods with a slight smile, sobers after a beat.
Lindsey: "The key to Wolfram and Hart: don't let them make you play their game. - You gotta make them play yours."
Angel quietly: "Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."
In a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer. ~Plutarch, Moralia
The first time he got a tattoo, Lindsey McDonald did it for love. He was 19 years old. Young, dumb, and full of come, as they say in the army, and except for the dumb part, they weren't wrong. Not that Lindsey was in the army. He wasn't about to cut his hair, take shit and say thank you for it. There were easier ways than selling his soul for a pretty country boy to get a college education, and Lindsey'd worked his way through most of 'em. No factories and no fry cooks, though: He stayed away from anything that smelled like sweat and steel, grease and sweet tobacco and home.
Golf caddy, parking valet, doorman: Lindsey followed the money smell. Leather and smoke and fine whiskey, cloying rose soap. He learned to tell a good suit from a flashy one, learned to tie a real bow tie, learned to say "sir" real soft so they'd have to lean in just a little to catch it.
Towel boy down at the country club, that was a good one. Catch their eye in the mirror. A slow smile meant a good tip in the basket, sometimes a better one: got an apartment coming open with a real nice view. Here they're looking for an up and comer down at the office. He learned to suck a man off in ten minutes in the sauna, air so hot it choked like come going down. Sold his body sometimes. Sometimes, if the mood took him, gave it away.
Falling in love ruined his plans for the whole summer after sophomore year. An older man, of course: Lindsey kept away from the other students as much as he could without drawing attention. Coarse, crude, fumbling, they had nothing to teach him, and Lindsey was here to learn. The man was married and unapologetic about it: Lindsey loved to watch the plain gold wedding band move over his cock, feel the tiny flicker of cold in so much heat.
First time his lover stayed the night he told Lindsey, "I don't care what you get up to with girls, but I'm gonna be the only man in this bed, y'all understand now?"
He cupped Lindsey's balls softly, but Lindsey felt the threat in those gilded fingers and his cock just about leapt up to attention.
"Yessir," he said, made it real smart alecky to cover up how much he meant it. They didn't leave the bed that day.
Without his usual source of supplemental income, Lindsey fell back on working for a gardening service. It was rich all right, lawns like velvet, the gentle fisk-fisk-fisk of sprinklers sending arcs of spray into the dusk. But Lindsey hated the muscles that were bulking up his forearms, making his starched shirts bind. Hated the tan that was deepening his skin. He fucked bored women in gleaming kitchens that never smelled of food. They thought he was rough trade, maybe dangerous. Sometimes he pretended he didn't speak English. Some days he wondered if he really would forget how.
One of his conquests was the married man's trophy wife. He laughed when Lindsey told him, clutching the loose flesh of his stomach, pressing his mouth to Lindsey's shoulder.
They spent a lot of half days in bed, because they couldn't go out much. Lunches, once in a while, dressed up in his interview suit and carrying a briefcase full of yellow pads to give it weight. A beer, once in a while, in a bar with the game on. Lindsey knew how it was.
He knew better than to ask him to come along when he got the tattoo, that was for damned sure. And anyway it was a surprise, a birthday present, since he couldn't take home anything Lindsey gave him.
The place was small and full of pictures. Books of them, like goddamn wallpaper samples. Cheap plastic poster holders on hinges that squeaked. But the chair was comfy and the needle was clean and the guy holding it didn't ask stupid questions. Lindsey pointed and handed over some twenties still crumpled and warm from his pocket.
The needle burned and tickled like hay, like nails digging into his hips, like nothing he remembered. He walked out laughing. On a high like this, he felt like he could rule the world.
Semper fi, it said. Always faithful. Lindsey meant it for a joke, for a promise, for a flash of gold.
The man had been a marine, once upon a time. "Fucking fag," he said when he saw it. He punched Lindsey in the stomach and left his keys on the table.
Lindsey downed half a bottle of Jack. He wasn't drunk. Just cold clear through. Even the burn of the liquor in his throat turned to ice in his belly. He heated up a steak knife in the blue of the burner flame, and cut the mark off with hands that didn't shake at all. So deep was the chill that he was surprised to see his blood still moving.
Selling his soul after all turned out to be an anticlimax, a single quick jab with a hypodermic that turned, with a twist, into a fountain pen. They even gave him a cookie, and he got to keep the hair that brushed his collar.
The second time Lindsey got a tattoo, it was for camouflage. He'd always been a roll-up-his-shirt sleeves kind of guy, but he got tired of explaining away the thin red line on his wrist that hadn't faded yet. It was better than an inkblot, that thing. People saw themselves in it. The guy in the bus station who'd know the mark of too-tight cuffs anywhere, fucking pigs, man. The bleached blond bartender who told him "down, not across" and bumped him up to the good stuff, on the house. Lindsey figured he was doomed to be pitied by every hard luck case between LA and home. Wherever that turned out to be.
If they'd just fucking ask, Lindsey could've handled that. It was a good story, after all, and he had the hand gestures down cold. Or if they'd flinched and looked away, like they had from the stump. Extra helpful while he was there and couldn't wait to have him gone, that'd be just about perfect. Anything but this, people seeing their pain written on his skin. All the time reaching out to make it better and touching nothing.
He stopped in Las Vegas. It seemed appropriate for a one armed bandit, and it was on the way. There were no seasons, no day or night in the casinos. Lindsey found it soothing, watching his right hand move colored chips from one pile to another and back again.
The shop was upscale this time, bright, full of gleaming cold steel jewelry, uncomfortable pillows studded with tiny mirrors, and walls the color of drying blood. The girl with the waist-long dreadlocks tried to talk him out of the wrist: too painful for a beginner. The laugh hurt his chest.
Flowers were too feminine, and he never did find out which was Darla's favorite. Tribal was fashionable, but Lindsey didn't know what the hell tribe he belonged to these days. In the end he got a staff and a line of music, smooth all the way round so the end blended in to the beginning. It seemed appropriate, ironic, who could tell anymore? When he got drunk after that, sometimes he hummed the song that never ends and sniggered into his beer.
He could've just moved his watch to the other hand. He thought of that, after.
Lindsey'd figured the past was behind him. Let it go. But it turned out, once you knew what to look for, evil was a hard thing to up and forget. Turned out Oklahoma City had a couple of good demon bars, and one of 'em had an open mike night. Turned out getting out of Wolfram and Hart alive was the kind of reputation that stuck to a man.
He passed the kind of bar that didn't have a two for one special, got a little practice going, contract law a specialty. Breaking 'em, that is. Did a nice little sideline in bankruptcy and divorces. McDonald and Associates - associates being Jim Downey, who was dumb enough to get caught and disbarred and smart enough not to blame anybody but himself for it - specialized in second chances, whether you deserved 'em or not.
One client, thanking him, said, "You're a good man, Mr. McDonald."
"No, I'm not."
Lindsey punched him in the mouth and left him slumped over the conference room table. He added 10 percent to the bill to get the blood out of the carpet.
Once in a while, if he was half-drunk and maudlin with it, Lindsey took the kind of case that couldn't pay in cash. Pretty blond whore with a pimp that beat her and a profile that almost looked familiar. Demons working for less than minimum wage, living ten to a boxcar, terrified their boss would narc on their unfortunate baby eating habits if they complained.
They paid in information, instead. Lindsey kept his ear to the ground, waiting for the firm to come after him. He lived in an apartment above a vacant store front, started his car with a remote every morning, didn't keep so much as a hamster and made sure his will was current, his amulets were supercharged, and Associates' name was on the lease. Still they didn't come. He heard about the zombies, thanked his lucky stars that the Beast didn't seem to give a shit about anyone no longer on the payroll, and wondered how anyone could tell the difference. Heard about Lilah, and drank a toast to her memory, poor stupid bitch.
Heard about Angel, and was on the next train west.
Lindsey cursed like a marine the whole time he was packing. I told him, stupid bastard, never listens, fucking idiot, getting played, I warned him, paint a picture? Serve him right. Goddamn executive sauna right now.
Not all the books in matching red leather bindings in his office were state legislative manuals. Lindsey ran off a few photocopies and spread the word through the grapevine that he was off to pull a Betty Ford on his little known Orphie habit (so little known that he'd invented it this morning.) Just in case he wasn't the only one with an ear to the ground.
The third time Lindsey got a tattoo, it was for Angel, and it hurt like hell.
There were no windows, and restraints on the chair. The place looked like something out of Little Shop of Horrors, or may a demon gynecologist's office. Judging by the magazines in the waiting room, that last wasn't too far off. Who knew they even had a Fyarl edition of Martha Stewart's Weddings?
Lindsey convulsed and felt the thick steel shackles bite into his ankles and wrists. So much for distraction.
"Yeeouch!" he said.
"I'll bet," said the girl holding the gun. "You sure you want to do these all at once? I'm almost done with this one. You could let it heal up a little, come back in a couple weeks. I'll still give you the bulk rate."
Lindsey's jaw clenched. "Keep going." Once you started the ritual, it couldn't be stopped, short of dying. Which he wasn't, however much it might feel like it at the moment.
The linework wasn't so bad. Finicky and slow, with him craning his neck to triple check every angle of the glyph in the mirror and make sure she was following the outline exactly, but no worse than getting scratched up by thorns or Darla's idea of foreplay. He was naked and he could feel his skin, every inch of it, like the single organ it was. Everything he looked at was distinct and edged with light.
It was the coloring that burned like sticking his dick in a socket, like grasping a jewel-red coal and not letting go. It just went on and on, till Lindsey felt like nothing was real but the buzzing where needle met flesh, like frostbite when the blood came back. It was the coloring that made him seriously wonder whether letting Angel get himself chewed up and swallowed by the firm might not be the better plan. It wasn't like Lindsey hadn't warned him, after all.
Then again, it wasn't like Lindsey didn't know it took a lot of knocks to get a new idea into Angel's head. Frozen solid. Too bad he'd lost the hammer. "Fucking idiot."
The girl flinched and Lindsey flashed his patented Southern charm smile, only a little tightened from the pain. "Oh, not you, darlin'. You're doing just fine."
Angel had been through this too, Lindsey reminded himself. That big flashy A, never seen in the flesh but often imagined, glimpsed in passing in his file. Had to hurt like a mother over the bone of the shoulder blade, and all for something he could never see. If Angel could take it, he could take it too. Lindsey closed his eyes and tried to trace the pattern of Angel's tattoo in his mind, but the lines kept turning into whirls of white, like he'd been looking at the sun too long, like windblown snow. He was floating, he was falling to pieces, he was just about to scream--
"All done. You want a break?"
Lindsey licked dry lips. "Next. One."
She turned the page over and unlocked his right wrist.
"No! We have to can't stop "
""Make a fist and flex for me," she instructed. It took a minute for Lindsey to remember that he could move. He struck a bodybuilder's pose, trying not to feel stupid, while she started sketching on his upper arm.
It was harder than Lindsey expected, taking the girl. She'd been serious about what she did, as if it mattered. And she'd been pretty, in an ugly way, all elbows and angles and, weirdly, no tattoos that he could see. Only freckles marred that milky skin. Well, that and the blood where he'd put her out of commission..
Letting the artist go was out of the question, of course. Lindsey hadn't lived this long by leaving his loose ends lying around for someone to pick up. He wished, for a weak moment, that he'd made an appointment with a demon instead, but no. This way was better. Safer. Kill two birds with one - girl.
Lindsey looked down at her unconscious body. "Sorry, sweetheart." He'd meant to make it quick for her, at least, but he was out of practice, and she was stronger than she looked.
He stepped into his pants gingerly, and buttoned his shirt over hers to hide the wounds. The rest of the staff had long gone home, and a guy carrying some drunk chick to his car wouldn't attract much attention, not on a Saturday night near UC Santa Cruz.
His knees and elbows were wobbly, like he'd suddenly gone double jointed, and he was as drained as if Darla'd sucked him off all night and drunk him dry the next morning. He wanted nothing more than to curl up with his fresh-faced victim and sleep until they came to take him away. But he'd gone this far, he wasn't going to waste it.
Lindsey patted his pocket, making sure the "nondisclosure agreement" she'd signed was safe. Say what you will about Wolfram and Hart, their contracts department was the best in the business, and working for them had taught him a thing or two. He'd made a few additions to the standard clauses.
He slung the girl up in his arms, wincing as her weight pulled on his excruciatingly tender flesh.
Angel would say he deserved it, and worse. Angel would rather go to hell again and take Lindsey with him than have an innocent girl made a pawn for his sake.
Angel was an asshole. Deserving wasn't the point, never had been. But that didn't matter. If he found out, all the better. He'd fight that much harder if he hated Lindsey that much more. It didn't matter what Angel thought of him. Hell, it didn't matter if he won or lost, this time, so long as he got back in the game.
Lindsey let the door swing closed behind him and buckled his new girlfriend into the front seat. He grinned as he turned the key in the ignition. Guitar chords flooded the car as he headed for the freeway.
In eight hours she'd be waking up with a new name, Lindsey's little in-joke, and new memories to match. In eight hours the shop owner would see the mess and get the police after him, or the demon underground, or both. In eight hours he'd be flat on his ass in a seedy motel room, trying not to scratch the flesh right off his ribs and whimpering.
In eight hours it would be dawn in Los Angeles. Lindsey smiled. His heart was racing and his nerves twanged along to the radio, but the endorphins were flying and he was feeling no pain. On a high like this, he could save the fucking world.