A Conspiracy of Ravens - Bonus Content

When Avery Met Bobby

A sixteen-year-old Avery shivered under the porch of the Downtown Full Gospel Church. The November rain had started suddenly, catching her off guard as she panhandled for change in front of an art gallery.

It was a First Friday, and until the skies had opened up, the streets had been packed with people. Now the booths and the people were gone, the galleries all but closed. She was soaked and freezing, with only a couple of bucks in her pocket.

Her stomach ached from not eating anything in the past few days. Not since she had returned to the house where she and the other Lost Kids had been squatting.

As soon as she’d walked in the door, she had known something was wrong. It was too quiet. No music blaring or people talking. And there had been a terrible metallic scent in the air.

Her knees had buckled the instant she stepped into the living room. Rayna and Delinda were sprawled on the couch, eyes open and lifeless, their bodies riddled with gunshot wounds and blood soaking into the cushions. T.J. lay in a heap by the back door with half of their head splattered onto the wall next to them.

“No, no, no! Please!” She felt as if a wrecking ball had slammed into her chest.

She rushed to the kitchen, where she found Jessie’s and Lindsey’s bodies. They had died in each other’s arms.

Avery collapsed to her knees and vomited violently.

This was all her fault. She never should have overdosed that pimp, Vinnie D, even though he had been beating up Jessie, Lindsey, and the other girls working for him. Lotta good it does them now.

When the heaving had finally subsided, she had grabbed her bag and run. No use calling the police. They would’ve locked her up and thrown her back in boy’s juvie. She was not letting that happen again.

She wandered the streets of downtown for days, panhandling for change, but hadn’t earned much. Nobody carried cash anymore.

If things didn’t improve, she’d have to start hustling again. Last time she’d done it, the john had pulled a knife. She’d managed to escape, but just barely.

T.J. had been teaching her how to pick locks. She could try breaking into houses and shops looking for stuff she could sell. There was a pawn shop on Van Buren that didn’t ask a lot of questions. 

As the rain let up, she stepped back out onto the deserted street. She had to do something. She’d been without her estrogen for a week and was getting hot flashes. Or maybe that was just the panic attacks that woke her several times a night. 

Next to the church was a tattoo studio. Artoo Tattoo. The name on the sign resembled the Star Wars logo. Even though she wasn’t at all into Star Wars—Tim Burton was more her speed—she found herself drawn to the studio like a moth to a porch light.

She loved to draw and had dreams of going to the Art Institute of Phoenix and  becoming an animator at Pixar one day. Her arms and legs had become a gallery of her work with the help of a needle and a busted ballpoint pen. Hurt like fuck doing it, but she hadn’t minded. The pain made her feel alive. And when she was done, she had something that would live with her the rest of her life.

She had created a few tattoos for her friends. One she’d made on Maggie’s forearm had gotten infected. Maggie ended up going to the clinic for a round of antibiotics, but she didn’t hold it against Avery. The switchblade tattoo on her forearm looked sharp enough to cut a bitch and earned her the nickname Knife. 

As a street rat, Avery didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Phoenix of going to art school or working for Pixar. She’d be lucky to live to see seventeen at this rate.

The neon signs in the studio's window beckoned her closer. The place was closed. Unusual for a Friday night, especially a First Friday. She would’ve thought the place would be busy, even with the sudden rainstorm.

But the place was locked up tight. A handwritten sign by the door read,

Closed Due to Family Emergency. Sorry.

May the Force Be With You.

Bobby J.

She peered through the plate-glass window and saw the tattoo machines. Wow, if she could get her hands on one of those…

Before she knew what she was doing, she had pulled her hood over her head to obscure her face and slipped around to the back door. With a couple of MacGyvered lockpicks from her pocket, she went to work. Within a few minutes, the lock cylinder turned, and she slipped inside.

No alarm sounded. That was good. She gave herself a moment to let her eyes adjust to the dark. Turning on lights was too risky.

When she could make out the shapes of things, she crept deeper into the studio and filled her pack with anything of value. A tattoo machine, a handful of needle packs, a few bottles of ink—black, blue, and red—and about two hundred dollars in cash. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something.

When her pack was full, she began studying the framed pictures on the walls. Photos of tattoos and drawings were interspersed with Asian-style artwork. Magazine articles featured the owner, an artist who went by the name Bobby J., though his real name was Jeong Kwang-Sun.

A sound at the back of the studio sent her into red alert. She ducked behind a table, though it didn’t provide much cover, especially when the overhead lights flashed on, nearly blinding her.

“Whoever you are, just take what you want and leave before the police arrive. I will not harm you.” The voice was unnervingly calm.

Avery stood slowly.

“Oh, hello. What’s your name?”

Something about him made her resist the urge to flee. Of course, the front door was still locked, and he stood between her and the back exit.

He was old—probably in his forties or something. He had a round face and a scraggly attempt at a beard. And yet his eyes were kind, like a cross between Bob Ross and Mister Rogers.

“I’m Avery.” She wasn’t sure what had possessed her to tell this guy her name. He just seemed so nice. Like she could trust him. Crazy.

“Hi, Avery. My name is Bobby J. You look cold and wet. Would you care for a towel and some hot tea to warm up?”

“You looking to rape me? ’Cause I will fucking kill you if you try.”

Bobby J. held up his hands in a calming gesture. “No. I will not hurt you. Just offering to help. And pardon me for saying, but you look like you could use some help. Am I right?”

She realized she was shivering again, though she wasn’t entirely sure why. “Haven’t eaten in a few days.”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. What do you like to eat? Sardinia’s delivers. They have fantastic pizza. I can order us a pie.”

What the hell was this guy’s game? No one was this nice. Especially not to someone caught robbing them. But still she responded with “Okay.”

Bobby’s smile widened. “Please pull up a chair. I’ll heat up some water for tea.”

A loud knocking at the front door caught her attention. Two uniformed cops stood outside.

Avery reached for her pack, but the one of the shoulder straps caught on the arm of a chair bolted to the floor.

“Wait,” Bobby said, holding up a cautioning hand. “It’s okay. I’m not turning you in.”

She stood there, mesmerized. Who the hell was this guy?

Bobby J. opened the front door. “Good evening, officers. I am sorry to have troubled you. It seems to have been a false alarm.”

Avery caught the two cops sizing her up as a street rat. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’d sent my employee Avery here to pick up something for me. Silly girl forgot the alarm code. Typical teenager, right?”

One of the cops whispered something she couldn’t hear, but she had a feeling he was asking Bobby if he was in danger.

Bobby shook his head. “No, but thank you for asking. I am perfectly safe. As I said, Avery simply forgot the alarm code. She’s a new hire. But I am not in any danger. Can I offer you gentlemen anything? Some water or hot tea? I was just going to put the electric kettle on.”

“Thank you, but no. You all have a good evening.”

After they left, Bobby returned to Avery. “Now, who’s hungry for pizza?”

While they waited for the delivery, Bobby made a pot of hot tea. The aroma was incredible, like nothing she’d ever smelled.

Avery slipped into the restroom and changed into a dry T-shirt Bobby offered her with the Artoo Tattoo logo on it.

“How old are you, Avery?”

“Sixteen.” She blew on the hot tea. It tasted good. Floral.

“Ah. And I apologize for asking, but are you a girl or a boy?”

“Does it matter?” She still wasn’t sure what to make of him. She didn’t get a perv vibe off him, but you never knew. Some pervs were good at hiding it.

“No, it does not matter. I see you have some tattoos. You do those yourself?”

She covered her arm self-consciously. “Yeah.”

“Impressive. Using a needle?”


“Old-school. Takes a lot of patience. Good job on the shading. I’ve seen some young artists overdo it. But you seem to have a delicate touch. Very nice.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“Where are your folks, Avery?”

“Father kicked me out of the house a few years ago.” She paused, uncertain how much to reveal. “For being trans.”

“Trans. As in transgender?”

“You got a problem with that?”

“No. No problem. We all have our journey to travel. Some are less conventional than others. My father and I didn’t always see eye to eye either. He all but disowned me when I wanted to become a tattoo artist. In Korea, only criminals and gangsters got tattoos. At least in the old days. Now, it’s more commonplace.”

“You’re from Korea? You don’t have an accent.”

“I was born in San Francisco. My parents are originally from Seoul. Where are you from originally?”


“A native Phoenician. A rarity. Most people here are from somewhere else.”

Avery didn’t know what to say to that, so she shrugged.

“You’re homeless, I gather?”

Again, Avery shrugged.

“Must be tough. Especially in the summertime.”

“I manage.”

They didn’t speak for a while. When the pizza arrived, Bobby brought it in and set it up at a table in the back, along with a couple of chairs.

As she finished her half of the pie, Bobby gave her another one of his big smiles. “Someone was hungry.”

“Thank you, I guess. For the pizza. And for not turning me in to the cops.”

“You are most welcome.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “Avery, I’d like to make you an offer. An offer you are certainly free to refuse. An offer with no strings attached.”

Great, she thought. Here it comes. Mr. Pervy is going to make his grand proposal.

“I have a spare bedroom in my house. Don’t worry, I’m not a pedophile. I don’t want to sleep with you. The only person I’m attracted to is my wife, Melissa. I think you would like her. We were never able to have kids of our own, and I think she regrets it.”

She studied him, trying to figure out his angle. Because there was always an angle. But she couldn’t figure his out. At least not yet.

“Additionally, I would like to offer you a job.”

“What kinda job?”

“Running the front counter here at the shop, answering the phone, maybe even something as horrible as sweeping or other menial tasks like that.”

“I don’t need your pity or your charity.”

“No pity. No charity. It will be a job and a home. And if you like, I will apprentice you in the art of tattooing.”

Shit, the man knew how to bait someone. “What’s the catch?”

“The catch? You’d probably have to return to school again. Or take the GED. I honestly don’t know much about that. But I want you to be as prepared for life as possible. It’s hard without a high school diploma.”

“Why would you do all of this for me? What’s in it for you?”

“I know what it’s like to be an outsider, Avery. Being Asian in this city, there are a lot of ignorant people. And even among my own, I’m a bit of an outcast. As I said, my father turned his back on me when I started work as a tattoo artist.”

“So, your father didn’t like your job. Big deal. You got no idea what it’s like to be me.”

“I’m not saying I have any inkling of what you’ve been through. Especially with being transgender. But I find the world is a better place when we help each other out when we can. Because everyone needs someone in their corner eventually. You look like you could use a friend. But you are free to refuse.”

She considered it as she sipped her third cup of tea. Could a person really be this generous to a stranger? But what were her options? Go back to living on the streets? More than anything, she wanted to live as her true self. And to become an artist.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay.” He beamed again.

“And in answer to your earlier question, I’m a girl.”

“Thank you for sharing that with me, Avery. Now, if you will give me a hand cleaning up the mess, I can take you to meet my wife, Melissa.”

“What was the family emergency? The one mentioned in the sign in the window,” Avery asked as she helped Bobby clear the table and fold it up.

“Our neighbor, Mr. Peterson, had a stroke earlier this evening. His wife doesn’t drive at night, so we drove her to the hospital to be with him.”

“I’m sorry.” She felt a little better about trusting this man. “How is he?”

“It’s early yet, but I think he’ll make it.” Bobby set the folded table against the wall. “Shall we go?”

You're Just A Few Clicks Away From Your Next Avery Byrne Adventure

Use discount code BONUS15 at check out to save 15%.
A Murder of Crows - Avery Byrne Goth Vigilante series - Book 2

A Murder of Crows, Avery Byrne Goth Vigilante book 2

When Fugitives Run, Jinx Brings Them to Justice

Meet Jinx Ballou, a tenacious ex-cop turned bounty hunter, pursuing fugitives across Phoenix, Arizona's mean streets and unforgiving desert. Available in ebook and signed paperback and hardcover. 

Fans of Sons of Anarchy Will Love Shea Stevens

Ex-con Shea Stevens has tried to put her criminal past behind. But her criminal past isn't done with her. When innocent people are threatened, Shea will stop at nothing to bring the criminals to justice. Available in ebook and signed paperback.

Tattoo Artist By Day, Vigilante By Night

Goth tattoo artist Avery Byrne navigates the seedy underbelly of Phoenix, Arizona to protect the people she loves and wreak vengeance on those who hurt them. Available in ebook and signed paperback and hardcover.