1. DAKOTA FROST
I first started wearing a Mohawk to repel low-lifes-barflies, vampires, Republicans, and so on-but when I found my true profession my hairstyle turned into an ad. People's eyes are drawn by it-no longer a true Mohawk, but a big, unruly deathhawk-a stripe of feathered black, purple and white streaks climbing down the center of my head-but their gazes linger on the tattoos, which start as tribal vines in the shaved spaces on either side of the 'hawk, and then cascade down my throat to my shoulders, flowering into roses and jewels and butterflies.
Their colors are so vivid, their details so sharp many people mistake them for body paint, or assume that they can't have been done in the States. Yes, they're real; no, they're not Japanese-they're all, with a few exceptions, done by my own hand, right here in Atlanta at the Rogue Unicorn in Little Five Points. Drop by-I'll ink you. Ask for Dakota Frost.
To attract the more… perceptive… eye, I started wearing a sleeveless, ankle-length leather coat-vest that shows off the intricate designs on my arms, and a cutoff top and low-rider jeans that show off a tribal yin-yang symbol on my midriff. Tying it all together is the black tail of something big, curling up the left side of my neck, looping around the yin-yang, and arcing through the leaves on my right shoulder. Most people think it's the tail of a dragon, and they wouldn't be wrong; in case anyone misses the point, I even have the design sewn into the back of a few of my vests.
Those who live on the edge might notice a little more detail: magical runes woven into the tribal designs, working charms woven into the flowers, and, if you look real close at the tail of the dragon, the slow movement of a symbolic familiar. Yes, it did move; and yes, that's real magic. Drop by the Rogue Unicorn-you're still asking for the one- and-only Dakota Frost, the best magical tattooist in the Southeast.
The downside to being a walking ad, of course, is that some of the folks you want to attract start to see you as a scary low-life. We all know that vampires can turn out to be quite decent folk, but so can clean-cut young Republicans looking for their first tattoo to impress their tree-hugger girlfriends. As for barflies, well, they're still barflies; but unfortunately I find the more tats I show the greater the chance that the cops will throw me into the back of the van, too, if a bar fight breaks out.
So I couldn't help being nervous as two officers marched me into City Hall East.
City Hall East is in the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon, a great brick fortress squeezed between the empty parking lot that used to serve the Masquerade dance club and the full one that serves the Borders bookstore. Once it buzzed with activity, but now, in 2006, it's like a tomb, soon to be demolished and turned into yet another mixed-use development as part of the new Belt Line project. Even the snack shop has closed. This is the last year of the grand old building's spooky incarnation as a kind of lonely government outpost. All that's left here are a few Atlanta Police Department offices, more offices for the Feds, and some for permits and land planning.
And lots of police officers, more than I expected for that time of night, most of them scowling. Lots of them, muttering: Look at her? What's she in for? Is she a stripper? If she's under arrest, why isn't she cuffed? The two officers escorting me-one black, one white, both wearing identical buzz cuts-had no answers, for them, or for me. Just: The police need to see you, Miss Frost. No, you're not under arrest, but it is urgent. Please come with us.
Our footsteps echoed hollowly as we walked through a canyon of white tile and glass walls towards the metal detectors. There had briefly been a gallery and shops on this floor, but now empty offices surrounded us like cages, only a few showing signs of life.
We paused before the metal detectors, where a fat female officer sat, right hand pumping on her mouse in what could only be Minesweeper. 'Anything to declare, Miss Frost?' she asked.
'Frost?' Beyond the barrier, a sharply dressed, Kojak-bald black plainclothes officer perked up at the sound of my name: Andre Rand, my dad's best friend. 'Dakota Frost?'
'No, I've nothing to declare,' I said, trying to ignore him as he stalked briskly towards me. The woman waved me in, and I swept through the metal detector just in time for him to corner me. I sighed, folded my arms, and stared down at the black man. He was tall, but I was taller. Wonderful. He'd known I was coming-and probably engineered this whole thing.
'Dakota,' he said, voice forced cheeriness, sparkling eyes genuine. He was twice my age-I'd bounced on his knee when he and my father had been partners-but he was still a fashion plate, if you go in for the whole GQ look. 'Your dad will be glad to hear you're doing well-'
'Hey, Rand,' I said, smiling, shaking my head-half at his infectious grin and half at whatever he was planning. 'Let's get this over with. Where is he, and when did he get in? You know, I do have a cell phone. He could call me. There's no need for the goon squad-'
Rand's face fell. 'I-your dad's not here, Dakota. We needed to see you.'
'We?' I asked.
Rand's face went stony, blank. 'Homicide, Dakota. Homicide needs to see you.'
We got in the elevator and Rand punched the sixth floor, motioning to me to join him in the back. The officers-big men, almost my height-stepped in front of me, making me feel even more like a prisoner… or perhaps someone being guarded? But the guard theory evaporated when a sandy-haired older man slipped past the officers and joined us in the back of the elevator, leering at me and nodding to Rand.
'Hey, you old cockroach,' he said. After a moment his eyes slid to me, my tattooed arms, and my bare midriff, then forward to the officers. 'Forgot to pay your fees?' he leered.
'What the fuck?' I asked.
'Miss Frost isn't here for floor five, Jack,' Rand said. 'She's working with me.'
'Well lucky you,' the man said, slapping his shoulder. He caught my pissed-off, puzzled look and shrugged, with the conspiratorial leer suppressed but still trying to peek out. 'Floor five is where you get your stripper license.'
'And fuck you too,' I said.
'We don't license for that,' Rand said, deadpan.
'I'm just saying, girl, you could do the job if you wanted.'
'Which one?' one of the officers said, and the other one chuckled.
'Floor five is also where you get your license to do magical tattoos,' I snapped, 'which always sounds funny until you wake up with a working asshole tattooed on your forehead.'
Suddenly the cab got quiet. The two officers stiffened up, and Rand jammed his hands into his pockets and leaned against the back wall of the cab. He was trying to look pissed, but he looked so hot he came off more as a brooding GQ model.
But the sandy-haired Jack was staring at the officers, suddenly serious. 'Cut the boys a little slack,' he warned me. 'Things are crazy. You don't want to go to jail tonight, do you?'
'Kind of feels like it,' I said.
'Nobody's going to jail tonight, unless it's you, Jack,' Rand said.
'Already been,' Jack replied, not the least bit perturbed. 'Second time this week-'
'Oh, no,' Rand said. 'Don't tell me your boys messed up bookings-'
'Nope,' Jack said, grinning, 'one of your boys tripped a power cord. Again.'
'Jeezus,' I said, abruptly hot under the collar. One of the only college jobs I'd enjoyed had been lab tech, and I couldn't stand people who fucked up my computers. 'You should set up a webcam to find out who's doing it.'
Jack blinked at me. Then smiled and said, 'Not a bad idea, for a girl.'
And just when I was starting to warm up to him. 'Blow me, you old cockroach.'
The doors opened, and Jack just grinned. 'Not a bad idea either.' Jack strolled out to the right and began beeping a door's keypad, and we followed.
Once again our footsteps echoed hollowly down a long, narrow corridor. On the left were conference rooms and APD offices, but on the right was a long wall of tinted glass with a Fed-smelling seal engraved on it. Behind one