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The tattoo would be the death of him.

DeWitt had labored 15 years in the factory. Union rules made the workload tolerable, but the noxious fumes? Hey, you can get used to anything. The respiratory gear was a major pain in the ass. Workers and supervisors exchanged knowing winks and nods each morning. The protective equipment was supposed to be mandatory; instead, it was treated like the sticker price on a car: a polite fiction. Most opted out, DeWitt included.

He hit Mac’s Bar with his buds most nights, drinking himself into oblivion on half of them, smoking most of a pack of Lucky Strikes as an accompaniment to the bourbon and beer. The hard-charging drinking often led to lapses in judgment, things of which he was ashamed, at least those he could remember doing. The tattoo parlor next to Mac’s did a brisk business, but he had yet to become a patron. Many was the night a friend or co-worker would stagger next door and show up for first shift the next morning sporting a clichéd and corny tatt: infinity symbols, skulls, Roman numerals, an hourglass.

He had come into some money—the scratch offs paid with gusto every now and again—and concluded it was time to join the inked; he was past due. He wanted his tattoo to be innovative and grand, one that would impress his friends. He committed to a sober choice and scoured online catalogs and tattoo blogs with his girlfriend of the month.

He committed. He plunked down 45 hundred dollar bills so that he could lay himself down on the artist’s table for four painful sessions over some weeks. The work of art on his back was a dark and sinister vision. He had made his statement.

The Tattoo Police, ever vigilant, patrolling, circulating, unrelenting, took notice upon completion of the mélange of colors and interconnected shapes on his back.

This was a bodily insult they could not let stand; the penalty was death, a specific call to arms.

The T-police, an elite strike force of tattoo abolitionists, recognized the foreign bit of artistry as an abomination. A small army was dispatched and set upon the objet d’art to mete out the proper justice. The T-police were determined to ensure this particular tattoo would not be DeWitt’s end.

They loosed their magic bullets with stealth; toxins and biologicals that obliterated the tattoo. DeWitt did not even know it was gone. The tattoo the unclean and disreputable artist had inked would have killed DeWitt.

The T-police had saved him from a protracted and lingering death.

And that, dear Reader, brings us to the end of our silly little tale. But, if you have stayed with me to the end, you are now wiser. You have been the unwitting accomplice in a biology lesson.

Consider the actors in this fictional mini-drama:

  •     DeWitt’s tattoo was a tumor that, left unchecked, would kill him.
  •     The T-police portrayed the T cells that circulate in one’s bloodstream, a key component of the immune system that seeks out and destroys tumors before they have a chance to take lethal hold.
  •     The magic bullets and biologicals that “disappeared” the tattoo cum tumor? Also, firmly rooted in reality; cytotoxic T cells and Natural Killer cells orchestrate an elaborate cellular and molecular dance dedicated to the elimination of cancer cells. A death struggle that, when we win, we don’t know it. And when we lose? You know the answer.

DeWitt’s foray into this tattoo artist’s parlor did not kill him. But, he had better stop smoking the Lucky Strikes soon and start using the respiratory gear at work. There’s a cluster of cells considering going rogue deep in his left lung. The T-police are not infallible.

Dan Farkas

Dr. Daniel H. Farkas is a molecular pathologist who has published extensively and spoken on the topic internationally. Dan Farkas, on the other hand, is an itinerant New Yorker currently exiled in Cleveland. His joys in life come from creative writing, photography, Elton John, Steely Dan, his wife and kids, and sometimes the NY Rangers.

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