A tattooed stranger arrives in a sleepy East Coast town...
Andrew Westlake was not the kind of man you addressed by his given name. Fact was, anyone with enough brain cells to rub together wouldn’t dare to call him “Drew“, or even “D“. So when it became known to the citizens of Locke, Virginia - population eight hundred - that it was his desire to be known simply as “West“, no one spared a thought for calling him anything else.
Though there were many that spared a thought to not addressing him at all.
West appeared in Locke on a lazy Sunday morning in June, his black Mercedes Benz convertible cruising slowly down Main Street just as church was letting out. Conversations stopped mid-word, their endings left to rot in the wasteland of thoughts left unspoken, squeezing in between “I’m sorry” and “Please stay”. All eyes, from bright and brown to worn and grey, traced his progress along the crumbling, pothole-littered road but West didn’t so much as turn his head to acknowledge them.
Conversation, as though by magic, returned in cacophony as soon as the rear bumper of his car was hidden by the single storey red brick post office building two blocks down. An outside observer, though one was certainly not present, might have clamped his hands over his ears to block out the overlapping exclamations. But even then a handful of repeated words, at ever-increasing volumes, would have slipped past those inadequate barriers.
“Did you see…”
“Who was that…”
“… call the sheriff…”
And one word, more than any other.
They were, admittedly, hard to miss. Particularly in a town where the only use for ink was printing the weekly edition of The Locke, Stocke, and Barrel News. In his white tank top the tattoos snaking up his chiselled arms, wrapping around his throat, and climbing up the back of his bald head were in plain view that first day. His other markings would be noticed, tallied, and analyzed in the coming days and weeks.
The name his mother, if it was indeed safe to assume there lived a woman sturdy enough to give him life, gave him became known to a select few late that afternoon. Andrew Westlake printed his name neatly on the rental agreement for the room above Terry Givens’ garage, a space made available by the departure of his son Terry Jr. for military school. The first three months rent were paid for in cash and Terry Senior knew enough not to ask any questions of the six foot four man of few words.
Not even when, or perhaps especially when, he noticed that all five of the fingers holding his best pen each bore distinct green-black symbols. Terry didn’t think to check West’s right hand, but if he had he would have found five more unique symbols residing just above each middle knuckle.
It was made clear to the town at large by six o’clock in the evening the following day that he went by “West”, thanks to his opening an account at Locke Savings & Loans shortly after their doors were unlocked. To be more specific, it was due to his account being handled by Theresa Jennings, who was generally accepted as the worst gossip east of the Mississippi.
“When I told him to sign the contract, he just printed ‘West’, like that was enough! Mercy!” she confided to each of her fifty-five best friends over the course of the afternoon. “I told him that simply was not sufficient, bank security rules and all that, and he just stared at me! Like I would be intimidated by that caveman!”
“And then what happened?” she was asked in frantic whispers originating in kitchens and reception areas all across town.
“I told him rules are rules and there would be no exceptions! And you know what he said to that?”
“What did he say, honey,” Melvin, her long-suffering husband, asked Theresa after taking a lengthy sample of his bottle of beer to wash the taste of dinner out of his mouth.
“He said, “When you look like this, West is all the name that is required.” Can you imagine the nerve?”