Myrmidon A Jim Chapel Story Online - David Wellington

CHAPTER ONE

I can do this, Jim Chapel thought.

It was going to hurt. But he’d suffered worse pain before.

A loud, buzzing noise startled him, but he forced himself not to show his surprise. Across the room, the tattoo artist was cleaning out his equipment and sterilizing his needles. The tattoo gun buzzed again, and this time, Chapel was ready for it.

He exhaled deeply and pulled his shirt off. The tattoo artist had been briefed about Chapel and didn’t show anything more than casual interest as Chapel’s left arm was revealed. He’d lost the original in Afghanistan, and the army had replaced it with a prototype robotic prosthesis. It was covered in silicone skin that was airbrushed and studded with fake hair to look just like the arm he’d lost, but the illusion stopped at his shoulder, where the arm flared out into a wide clamp that held the arm on his torso. Chapel flicked the hidden catches that released the arm and removed it, then set it down on a convenient table.

The tattoo artist gestured to the waiting chair. It looked like the kind of chair you’d find in a dentist’s office. This was no run-of-the-mill tattoo parlor. It was hidden in the basement of a Justice Department office building. The tattoo artist worked exclusively with law enforcement, preparing agents of various federal agencies for undercover work amidst gangs and political groups. Many of those groups identified their own by their ink, by the elaborate symbolism of the tattoos they wore, and feds who wanted to infiltrate the groups needed to send the right signals to fit in.

The room was sterile and obsessively clean, with most of its furnishings wrapped in plastic to catch any blood or stray ink. Hanging above the chair was a big flatscreen that currently showed Chapel as he was—shirtless, armless, and completely bare of ink. He’d stood for reference photographs earlier that morning. As always when he saw himself in a mirror, he was surprised how many scars and old bullet wounds he had. It didn’t look like anyone should be able to survive all that.

Still, he looked pretty good for a forty-year-old, he thought.

The tattoo artist clicked a trackpad on a laptop, and the view on the screen changed.

A thick, black, iron cross appeared on Chapel’s chest. Cobwebs stretched over his right elbow. The image on the screen rotated to show the number 88 in a black-letter font scrawled across Chapel’s lower back. Finally, a huge swastika flickered in on his biceps.

The view shifted to show Chapel’s artificial arm. A long dagger and an SS logo appeared on its forearm. That seemed almost more blasphemous than the designs that had appeared on his real body, Chapel thought. The arm was technically the property of the Department of Defense, after all.

Chapel thought he might be sick. He reminded himself again that he could do this, that he could handle it. He’d repeated that thought often enough that he pretty much believed it.

“Don’t worry,” the tattoo artist said. “I know better than to ask why you want these designs.” He was just a kid, maybe fifteen years younger than Chapel—which put him in his midtwenties. He had a single earring in his left ear and a tattoo on his left forearm, a skull with roses blooming in its eye sockets.

“You have a lot of experience with . . . that?” Chapel said, waving at the screen.

“I’ve been tattooing for six years. I’ve had this job for three. I’ve done way worse. Full torso portraits of Hitler. Complete sleeves that had to look amateurish and sloppy so they looked like poorly done prison tattoos. Nobody likes this, but it’s part of your job, right?” Chapel could see in the artist’s eyes that he was trying to figure out which agency Chapel worked for. FBI? DEA? ATF?

None of the above. Chapel worked for a secret directorate in Military Intelligence, an organization that didn’t even have an official acronym it was so hush-hush. His reasons for getting these tattoos were strictly need-to-know, and the artist didn’t need to know anything.

“It’s not like you’ll have to live with them forever,” the artist suggested. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

Chapel realized then that he still hadn’t sat down.

A little voice spoke in his ear, over the hands-free set he always wore there. The voice belonged to Angel, his operator, who had saved his life more times than he could count. He trusted her, as much as he trusted anyone. “Sweetie, it’s not forever.