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The first time I saw Elbert Dorsey, I had the impression I was looking at a huge, blood-swelled tick. He sat in a maroon leather chair in the middle of his study, all bald head, purplish lips and great bushel-barrel of a belly.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Samson.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

“Thank you, Edouardo,” Dorsey said. The goon who’d been hanging over Dorsey’s left shoulder like a bad mood stalked out of the room. The chair I sat in was comfortable but I thought I could smell the sweat on it. Plenty of poor sweating slobs had sat across from Dorsey in that chair, I guessed. The guy was no fun to deal with. At least that was his reputation in Hollywood.

“I require your services, Mr. Samson. But it is a matter of the utmost discretion, and I require also absolute loyalty and absolute silence.” Only Dorsey’s lips moved when he talked. It gave me the creeps.

“What’s the deal?” I asked.

Dorsey pulled a fat envelope out of his jacket pocket and let it sit on his knee. I couldn’t help but look hard at that envelope and imagine what was in it. And how it would help me out with two ex-wives and a swamp of backed-up child support payments.

“My wife left me several months ago…”

“Sorry to hear that,” I said.

“Please don’t interrupt me, Mr. Samson. I now wish to find her. But it is not that simple. Our premarital agreement contained an…unusual provision. You must understand that my wife has a magnificent head of hair. Most unusual in color and in texture and in length.” Dorsey got a funny, look in his eye. “It is what attracted me to her in the first place. I have a special interest in hair.”

So I’d heard. Rumor had it that Dorsey had a collection of ponytails and other hair-related shit that belonged in the Smithsonian. But the guy was a collector – books, stamps, coins. Paintings, antique cars. And collectors are a weird breed.

“The agreement provides that, during the marriage, my wife cannot be required by me to cut her hair. On the other hand, she cannot cut it herself – other than the most minute trims at set intervals – without my written permission. There are substantial financial penalties for breaching those provisions. However, in the event that my wife should ever leave me, her hair is forfeited to me – but in exchange for a very substantial payment. A lump sum in lieu of any and all alimony.” “How much?” I asked.

“I don’t think it should matter to you. But the figure is $5,000,000.”

That was chicken feed to a guy like Dorsey. I wasn’t impressed.

“So you need me to find her for you.”

“As I said, the matter is not that simple. My wife is threatening to cut off and burn her hair unless I pay her. She will take a much smaller amount than what she would have received if she… sacrificed… her hair to me. But she wants to renege on giving me her hair.”

“And?”

“And I prefer that the contract be honored according to its terms. In full. The money is not an object. Therefore, I need someone to locate my wife and… um… collect her hair for me.”

I stood up. “Sorry, Mr. Dorsey. I can find your wife for you. That kind of detective work I can do in my sleep. But I don’t do strongarm work. Find yourself another guy.”

Dorsey lifted a hand. “Please sit down, Mr. Samson. You were recommended to me not only because of your abilities and your discretion. I have also heard about your financial problems. This would be half of your fee.”

Dorsey held out the envelope. I looked inside. Dorsey had done his homework on me. And apparently, I was wrong. I do do strongarm work.

“Any idea where I should start looking?”

Dorsey handed me a slip of paper.

“Here is an address that may prove useful. Also, you should know that the hair should be brought to me in one piece. I want it clipped off as close to the scalp as possible. No waste.”

Dorsey pointed to a metal briefcase on his desk. “Look in there,” he said.

I opened the case. It was full of barber supplies – combs, scissors, clippers. A cape. Some other things that I didn’t even know what they were.

“Remember, Mr. Samson. Clipped to the scalp. No waste.”

I nodded and left. The envelope in my pocket felt good. I felt dirty.

The first thing I did after leaving Dorsey was to make a few phone calls. I wanted to check up on my new employer just a little more. I didn’t like what I heard. I already knew Dorsey was a huge power in Hollywood and that he was a major-league bastard. Cold, selfish, greedy. “Rapacious” was the word that several people used. But he made movies that people wanted to see. Lots of people. And that meant big, big bucks. The guy was loaded, and he had power and prestige. The wife was talented too. Top-flight cinematographer. Very skilled. Could do amazing things with light and with a minimum of equipment.

I just wanted to make sure the hair stuff was legit. Dorsey was said to put bounties on heads of hair he coveted. For enough money, some thug would be happy to scalp a girl. I didn’t want him setting me up for a fall. But the hair part sounded OK. Though Mrs. Dorsey was supposed to be pretty nutty herself in the area of hair. I also heard that Dorsey was supposed to be a big buyer of “specialty videos”. I filed that information away in my head.

That same day, I drove to the address on the slip of paper. It was a walkup building. On the second floor, there was a hair salon. “Delilah’s”. Cute, I thought. I went upstairs.

Inside the salon, there was a redhead sitting in a barber’s chair. A few men were sitting and waiting, pretending to read magazines but really watching the action in the chair. It was a real, old-fashioned barber’s chair. A woman with shoulder-length black hair and a black halter top was running her fingers through the redhead’s hair, as though weighing or measuring it. The redhead seemed to like the treatment. She had her eyes closed, and she was kind of moaning slightly. When I saw the outline of Red’s nipples poke hard against the striped barber’s cape, I realized this was no ordinary hair salon. The haircutter leaned over and planted a big kiss on Red’s lips. I thought I saw that Red’s arms were strapped down so she couldn’t move them. Then the cutter reached back and pulled Red’s hair into one big ponytail with her left hand. With her right hand, she opened a pair of massive scissors and lightly and slowly skimmed the blade up the front of the cape, scraping it against Red’s nipples a few times. At that, Red groaned loud, and the cutter began hacking at the ponytail. It took a while to cut through, as big as the scissors were.

When the hair was all sliced through, Red’s head rebounded forward, and she shook what was left of her hair out. The ends were all uneven and ratty. The cutter handed the tress of hair off to a helper who promptly left the room. She had her back to me, but I saw her fidgeting with something in the mirror. That something was a pair huge black hairclippers. Then I saw her look up toward the ceiling. A black videocamera sat in a cradle in a corner.

The cutter stepped behind Red and stood there, clippers poised. Red had her head down, chin on chest. The cutter didn’t make a move. You could see Red’s breathing coming harder and faster. Then the cutter whispered, “Tell me what you want again.” Red swallowed and said, “A crewcut. Very short. I want a short crewcut, please.” Then the cutter moved the machine close to Red’s ears, letting her hear the buzz. Roughly she placed it on Red’s cheek, like she was shaving off a beard or long sideburns and then edged the machine up Red’s cheek. For a few inches, there was nothing but Red’s bare skin to work against. But, after a few long seconds, the blades reached Red’s hairline and chewed a path up near her ear. A red curtain of hair dropped to the floor. Reddish stubble showed pale next to the long red hair still hanging from Red’s head. The cutter squeezed the hair at the back of Red’s head in her left hand and bent the whole head t
o the left. The clipper hand made a few quick, close-together passes on the near-horizontal right side of Red’s head. More red hair poured down. More reddish stubble appeared under the machine. Red was moaning pretty loud now. You could hear her over the burr of the clipper. The guys with the magazines were real interested.

The cutter changed her hand grip on Red’s head, moving her left hand to grab a handful of hair at the top of her head and pushing Red’s chin down hard on her chest. The cutter sheared off hair sideways from the already shorn temple, back around the side of Red’s head to the back. Then the machine moved up Red’s nape, mowing the hair down to nearly nothing from right to left and then around her left ear. Once Red had only a crazy-looking red cap of hair on an otherwise buzzed head, the cutter stepped back and turned off the machine. She dusted Red’s neck off pretty hard, slapping it with her barber’s brush. Then she leaned over and licked Red’s shaven nape, long and slow, bringing her tongue up behind and into Red’s right ear. Red moaned loud at that. Then, the cutter kissed Red hard on the lips again, and, in mid-kiss, snapped on the clippers and brought them over the back of Red’s head up towards the front. Red hair rained down on both their faces as they stayed locked in their kiss. Then, they broke their clinch, and the cutter shaved another path into the top of Red’s head, this time from front to back, her free hand fondling Red’s right breast. A third pass cleared half of Red’s head down to Marine recruit stubble, and the cutter quickly brought the machine down to chest level and raked it across Red’s nipples. Red closed her eyes and smiled.

The cutter then took Red’s face none too gently in one hand, squeezing her cheeks in. The clippers worked back over the other half of her head, quickly and efficiently. Then a few more passes at different angles to catch any stray hairs. Then Red was done. At least her haircut was done. The cutter undid one hand restraint and lifted Red’s arm. There was a tuft of reddish brown underarm hair that the cutter flicked away with two passes of the clippers – one pass up, one down. More stubble on Red’s fair freckled skin. The other underarm got the same treatment. Then Red stood up clasping the cape around her to hide her nakedness. Long red tresses hung out from the top of the cape, where Red held it against her breasts. The helper reappeared with Red’s ponytail tied into a leather handled whip-type thing. The ends were knotted so that when she whipped it against Red’s naked buttocks, it sounded like it hurt. The cutter just motioned to a back room, and Red and the helper left. I think I heard the cutter say “Finish shaving her”, but I couldn’t be sure. The men in the chairs filed out behind them.

Then the cutter looked over at me. She slapped the seat of the barber chair with a towel. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

“No. I’m not here for a haircut. Or whatever else you’re offering,” I said. “I’m looking for someone.”

The haircutter turned her back to me. “Who isn’t?” was all she said.

“I’m looking for a woman named Dorsey. Someone told me I might be able to get a lead on finding her here.”

“Someone told you wrong.”

I knew I had to put some money on the table. “There’s something in it for you if I find this babe. Your memory getting better yet?”

“Keep talkin’.”

I mentioned a number. The woman – I guessed she was Delilah herself – got real interested. I didn’t figure that a “hair salon” like this one could generate much business. The clientele would likely be much too specialized. Though it was the type of place Angela Dorsey was said to be interested in. I could see her as a paying customer here. She wouldn’t have minded being in the audience for Red’s haircut. But in any event, the infusion of extra cash – courtesy of Elbert Dorsey – would be much appreciated around here, I thought.

I explained to Delilah about my need to find Mrs. Dorsey. Given the type of establishment she ran, I also told her about the haircutting angle. That seemed to interest her too. After a little back and forth, we struck a deal – an exceptionally good one from my point of view. Cash for Delilah, and she would deliver Mrs. Dorsey all ready for her shearing. It seemed too good to be true.

I celebrated my good luck with a bottle of decent bourbon. But I didn’t get so sloshed that I missed Edouardo tailing me all the way home. I supposed Dorsey was just keeping tabs on his investment in me. But it also got me thinking. I did a lot of thinking that night.

Three days later, I got a call from Delilah. She had “the goods” in hand, she said. Time for me to do my part. I drove to the salon and went upstairs. A girl in a black mask led me to a back room. In the room, there was a woman tied to a chair – the lovely Mrs. Dorsey. She was unconscious and naked, but her hair was so long and thick and fell all around her body in such a way that you could hardly tell she had no clothes on. Her hair was a peculiar copper color and incredibly thick and wavy. She had a slice of duct tape across her mouth. The room was otherwise unfurnished except for a big table and a straightback chair. There was a big closet-looking storeroom that jutted out from one wall in a corner.

Delilah was monkeying with some video equipment across the room. I wasn’t surprised to see the equipment there. It was the last piece in the puzzle. Mrs. D was already lit for filming, and the chair was positioned in front of a blank lighting screen.

“What’s all this?” I asked.

“Just a little private filming. For my own enjoyment. You mind?”

“No,” I answered. “How will it work? You gonna direct me?”

“No. Once I turn the machine on, it’s all automatic. You just do what you have to do, and the tape will record it all. I’ll edit it later. The program will even go in for closeups every so often.”

“So you don’t even have to be here?” I asked.

“That’s right. So if you don’t mind, I’d rather not be here when the girl wakes up.”

“OK by me,” I answered. I walked over to the table and took off my jacket. Delilah looked at my shoulder holster and shook her head.

“Take that thing off, please. It makes me nervous.”

“You’re leaving, remember?”

She hesitated just an instant. “I know,” she said, “but I don’t like those things. Just please take it off so there are no accidents.”

I took off the holster and laid it on the table. I heard the closet door creak just the slightest bit as I walked by. Then I went over to the girl. My barber case was on the floor near her feet. She seemed to be stirring.

“That’s my cue to leave,” Delilah said. She walked over to the camera and other black boxes. The fun would start real soon, I figured.

Sure enough, as Delilah walked over to the video equipment, the closet door slammed open, and Dorsey’s goon, Edouardo, grabbed her by the hair and snapped open a switchblade. I grabbed the .22 out of my ankle holster. The goon was quicker than I thought he would be, but lucky for her, Delilah was strong and wiry. She twisted away, leaving Ed holding just a hank of black hair in his hand. I pumped two shots at him, trying for the throat and neck because I wasn’t sure what my little .22 would do against his gorilla chest or thick skull. At least one shot caught him flush and twisted him around. Then I fired the other four shots. I don’t think I missed any of them. Edouardo teetered and went down hard on his face.

By that point, the girl in the chair was fully awake and screaming into her duct tape. I picked Delilah up from the floor.

“What the fuck?” was all she could say. And she said it about 12 times.

“So that kinda came as a surprise, huh? Guess you’re not as smart as you thought you were, Mrs. Dorsey,” I said.

Angela Dorsey stared at me. There was a small flicker of hate in her eyes. “What?” she said.

“Let’s cut the shit. You’re Angela Dorsey, wife of Elbert Dorsey. You left your husband when you found out that he was too weird even for
your tastes. You didn’t want to submit to a haircut by him, but you wanted the money in your prenup. At first you offered to settle for less cash – but then you realized that maybe you didn’t have to. All you had to do was find a hair double to get shaved in your place, so you could supply hubby with a ponytail for his collection. So you set up this poor girl here for a haircut, thinking you could scam your husband into paying. But you wanted someone else to do the cutting so you could stay clean. First, you went to Edouardo, thinking he would play barber for a price. Plus you knew he liked the punishment cut angle – something you wouldn’t mind having on tape for yourself. But he said he didn’t like the idea of being on tape – since you also intended the video to be your leverage for keeping your stooge in line. Nothing like a kidnapping and assault actually on tape to make a prosecutor’s mouth water. So Ed suggested having Dorsey hire a detective to find you and bring back his prize, didn’t he? He said that all he had to do was plant the idea in Dorsey’s head, and he’d hire some poor schmuck who’d beat it over here fast. Plus Ed was able to give Dorsey a great big hint about where you were. You went along with the idea because you didn’t care who the patsy was, as long as it wasn’t you. And that’s where I came in.”

“Very nice,” she said. “But why did Edouardo try to kill me?”

I explained what I thought the bigger picture was and why I had expected an appearance by Edouardo. I also laid out what I thought our options were. Mrs. Dorsey thought for a long minute and then agreed.

I went over and untied the girl in the chair. She was younger than I thought at first look. She had stopped screaming by then, but she clawed at me in panic as I let her go. Once she had calmed down more and had covered herself with a sheet, I explained the deal as I saw it and how she fit into it. I had a little suggestion to make. The girl swallowed hard. But she eventually nodded her head and sat back in the chair. Mrs. Dorsey – in her “Delilah” mode – got the barber clippers and fired them up. Delilah didn’t put any attachment or anything on the blades, though she made some kind of adjustment at the end or something. The girl wasn’t crying, but she had that look in her eyes like she was right on the verge of tears. Delilah gently pushed the girl’s hair back with one hand and placed the clippers at her hairline. Then the sound changed, and a long tress separated from the girl’s head and fell to the floor. I collected it. It felt hot and silky and heavy in my hand. A whitish path showed in the middle of the thick copper on the girl’s head.

Delilah pushed the machine into the woman’s hair again, letting it ride to the middle of her crown. An almost bald area spread across half the top of her head now. Tiny stubble hairs bristled thick and stiff. The machine buzzed on and another sheaf of hair fell away. The woman had a nice round head under all that copper hair. Delilah worked smooth and fast. But you could tell she was enjoying it. Once the girl’s top was all shaved down, Delilah moved the blades quickly up the sides of her head, sliding the machine carefully around her ears. At that point, the girl looked like a barbarian princess or something, with the only hair on her head longer than a 1/8 of an inch being the still-long and full hair at the back of her head. But then Delilah pressed the girl’s head down softly onto her chest and shaved away the back hair, up the nape to join the shorn back with the shorn top of her head. The swirl of a cowlick stood up at the back of the cut-down hair. Delilah moved row by row along the rear of the woman’s head until the super-short crewcut was done. I had collected all the hair that fell to the floor, but eventually, I couldn’t hold it all in my hands. It was just too thick. So I laid it on the table and tied it all up with a heavy ribbon Delilah had brought.

The buzz of the machine stopped. Delilah brushed away a few short remnants of hair with her hand. The girl had a naked-headed, shorn-lamb look. But she was still beautiful. She rubbed her hand over her head and tried to manage a smile. I thought she was doing a pretty good job just by not crying. Some women sob at a trim. This girl had gone from waist-length hair to a military crewcut in no time. I asked her to sit down and be patient. Once the girl sat down, Mrs. Dorsey took her place in the chair. It was my turn to play barber. I would have been nervous, except that I could tell that she was really excited about the prospect of having her head buzzed. Her eyes followed my every move, and I could hear her breathing pick up. I snapped the machine on and held the buzzing clippers in front of her, just at her eye level, aiming them at her thickly layered black hair but not moving them. Teasing her. Finally, she said, “Do it. Please. Do it.” I nuzzled the clippers softly by her right ear, and I felt her soft shorn hair tumble over the back of my hand. The close-shaved fur revealed by the blades was dense and dark. Short as her hair was, only the slightest tinge of white scalp peeked through. I kept on clipping. Black hair tumbled everywhere. As her hair fell around her, Mrs. Dorsey got more and more excited. She tried to reach up to touch her new crewcut, but I caught her hand and didn’t let her raise it. “Patience,” I whispered. The clippers were powerful and cleared away her thick hair easily. There was a black pile of the stuff growing around my feet. The girl looked on, rubbing her own crewcut up and down, back and front.

Mrs. Dorsey was half shorn before I let her touch her own stubble. “Mmmmmm,” was all she said. When her hand ran against the still-long hair at the back of her head, she frowned and said “Get this stuff off me.” So I kept shaving away. Her nape was a problem. She was so toned and taut that the tendons in her neck were hard to get around. I had to move her head back so I could clip the complicated “W” of her napeline smoothly. The feel of the solid black velvet of her hair under my hand was good. Once I had cleared all the hair off in the initial cut, I ran the clippers over her head again and again, making sure the cut was smooth and precise. Finally, Mrs. Dorsey had her crewcut too – all dark and even and uniform. I wanted to rub my face into the thick stubble at the side of her head and run my hand up the shaven back of her head. But there was still work to do.

First we walked a few blocks away and got the girl into a cab. Then, Mrs. Dorsey and I went back and collected Edouardo’s body. It wasn’t easy, but we got it downstairs and into my car. It was a big risk to take, but the payoff would be worth it. We dumped the body in a ravine. It would be a while before it was found. And I guessed that Ed would have an interesting enough rap sheet for the cops to think he had plenty of enemies. Then I took Mrs. Dorsey home. To my home.

The next morning, I went to see Dorsey. He was sitting in the same maroon leather chair where I first saw him. He never flinched when he looked up and saw me. I laid the farm girl’s hair on a small table in front of him.

“Ah, Mr. Samson. Excellent work. Splendid,” he said.

He picked up the tress in his fat fingers and caressed it like it was a living thing.

“I’ll have the balance of your fee for you presently.” A fat finger moved to press a button near the maroon chair.

“Not so fast,” I said. “There’s an extra fee for this particular material. I’ll need a bank check for $150,000 made out to cash that I can send to the – what would you call her? – the donor. She’s a farm girl from Buttcrack, Arkansas, or some hick town. Came out to L.A. to be a model, but she’s gone back home now. As you can see, her hair really is amazing. And $150,000 is the price for it. And just so you don’t go looking for the girl, you should know she’s gonna be keeping her hair real short for a while. In case you were thinking about offering a bounty for it. That’s why the buzzcut for her made such good sense: it buys safety from you and your collection, and it’s worth a bundle
of cash, too. Here’s your wife’s hair.”

I tossed a plastic bag full of Delilah’s dyed black hair onto the table.

“What’s this? I don’t understand. What’s going on?” the fat man spluttered.

“I’ll keep it simple. I work for your wife now too. Your soon-to-be ex-wife, that is. I know it looks like a conflict of interest, but I’m sure you won’t mind. So I’ll need another bank check made out to your wife in the full amount specified in the premarital agreement. The full freight – five million. Cause, as you can see, she’s complied with her side of the bargain. And I’ll need my fee of course, for having brought in your wife’s hair, as requested.”

“This isn’t my wife’s hair. I don’t think I’ll be paying anyone today, Mr. Samson. Good day to you.”

Dorsey went to hit the button again, but he stopped as I reached inside my jacket. I pulled out a videotape.

“I think you’re wrong, Dorsey. I think you’ll be paying a lot today. This tape says so.”

The fat man shut up fast.

“I’ll spell it all out for you – so you don’t think I’ve missed anything. Your wife had already cut and dyed her hair before I found her. She found out you were just a little too weird even for her the day she stumbled across your private video collection. It scared her pretty bad. So she took off on you and started a new life as “Delilah”. She even opened a specialty hair shop. But that didn’t pay well, and she started running short of money fast. She offered you a divorce settlement for a fraction of the premarital agreement price. You refused. But then, one day, she got a bright idea for scamming you. She knew you were still after her hair. So she figured that she just needed to find you an identical head of hair and present it to you as though it were hers. That way, she’d collect the full amount of cash from you without getting scalped – and without giving you the satisfaction of having shaved her. It took her a few weeks to locate the girl, but she eventually found her in a modeling agency face book. I guess your wife thought you’d be a sucker for that angle, Dorsey.”

That got a scowl out of him but not much else.

“So once she located the girl, she contacted Edouardo with her idea, thinking he’d do anything for cash and the chance to shave a girl against her will. That was her big mistake. She misjudged Edouardo’s loyalty to you. Ed spilled everything to you about the scam. At that point, you started thinking. Maybe there was an angle in there for you. Maybe you could get more than just a ponytail out of the deal. A lot more. But you needed a patsy to complete the picture. That’s where I came in. You had Ed talk to “Delilah” and tell her he was willing to get the girl but that he didn’t want to be on the tape. He said he had an idea about getting a patsy to play barber instead – me. You knew I needed the money, and you thought I’d do your dirty work for you. With that all planned out, you called me and sent me right into Mrs. D’s trap. Which was really your own trap.”

Dorsey’s fat face creased into a sneer.

“I headed straight to “Delilah’s”, and Mrs. D fed me her story – she could find your wife for me and deliver her on a silver platter. Then Ed does the real leg work and brings in the hair double – drugged and ready for shaving. Mrs. D thought I’d just walk in and do the cutting on tape, with Eddie hidden away to make sure it all went smooth. She thought she had it all planned. She wouldn’t even be in the room during the dirty deed – all the taping was gonna be automated. But that’s when things started to go sour. You see, Ed started to blab to the girl before Mrs. D was out of earshot. I think he liked to see the fear build on their faces. So he talked about what he was gonna do to her on tape. For your benefit. Ed laid out the whole story – including the plan to ice me and the real Mrs. D. Ed mentioned your name quite a few times. All on tape, mind you. Well, Mrs. D sure didn’t like your idea of snuffing her. Though, of course, you’d have to. I haven’t wandered too far off the mark, have I, Dorsey?”

No response.

“But once Mrs. D overheard all that you really had in mind, she talked to me. Eddie really should have had more than a switchblade on him. That was a mistake too. He pulled it on Mrs. D and me, and I shot him. That’s on tape too. Clear case of self-defense, by the way. And now you have to pay to keep our little film from being distributed. That’s our deal – the one that keeps this tape away from the cops. And keeps the world from knowing about the movies Elbert Dorsey is really interested in making.”

Dorsey’s face went dead again. I know he believed me. And why not? I was telling the truth – all except the part about Edouardo blabbing on tape. But I was just trying to make a movie deal – and sometimes the truth gets a little bent out of shape in those arrangements. But Dorsey wasn’t sold yet. So I kept talking.

“Yeah, I know all about it – your interest in snuff movies. That was the real key to your interest in this whole business – having Edouardo torture and kill that poor girl on tape for your viewing pleasure. Maybe catch the wife’s murder on tape too, huh? A knife slowly drawn across her throat from behind. I know you’re into that kind of thing. But this was your first try at producing your own snuff video, I think. Really, the whole production was an inspired idea. It was a sweet package deal that fell into place in your twisted brain once Ed told you about Mrs. D’s scheme. It was all set up for you. The girl. The videotaping. Ed in the right place at the right time. Me – all set up to play the poor mook who’d take the rap for the killings – the girl and your wife. I’d be dead, of course, courtesy of Big Ed. And the cops would have their killer, already packaged and dead, to account for the dead girl and the dead wife. I guess it would have been set up to look like I had been killed in a struggle with Mrs. D, right? Maybe like a quarrel between business partners or something? A kinky video deal gone bad?”

Dorsey just stared at me.

“And you’d end up with the prize you’ve always dreamed about. You’d have a real, live snuff video with a minimum of trouble and expense. For your collection. Not like the bullshit fakes floating around that you’ve been buying up. Not even like the poor-quality real thing that’s supposed to exist – that you also have in your private tape room. You’d have a certified genuine, high-quality snuff tape with professional lighting and camerawork and a beautiful victim to boot. With your wife out of the way as a bonus. It was a sweet deal for you.”

“Are you quite through?”

“Not quite. I just wanted to be sure that you knew this wasn’t the only copy of this tape. Unless I call your wife and tell her the money is in hand and I’m safe, a copy gets delivered to the cops. And gets smeared all over the Internet, too.”

“I committed no crime. What do I care what’s on your tape?”

“Well, I’m no lawyer, so I don’t know that someone couldn’t find a crime in there somewhere. But I do know that the scandal will kill your career. But this isn’t a pure shakedown. It’s a business deal. You’re just paying for a ponytail. And an amount you already owe under your premarital agreement. And the balance you owe me for a job well done. You can refuse to pay, of course. But then this tape goes into circulation. Ed really did mention your name an awful lot. And described your taste in snuff videos in very graphic terms. You gave him a full description of what he had to do to that girl for you, and he spilled it all on tape. Plus your wife will sue you for divorce, and you’ll have no premarital agreement to protect you. Sounds expensive to me.”

I tossed the videotape gently from hand to hand. Dorsey’s face never changed at all. He just picked up the phone and made arrangements for the checks. Then a servant came in with an envelope for me. The balance of my fee in cash. Then I left. I sent the farm girl her check in the mail. She called to thank me. I told her to stay safe and far away from L.A. Dorsey’s wife stayed w
ith me a while. We kept her hair buzzed short, practically down to the scalp. She looked sexy in her black crewcut. Then, when her real copper color grew in underneath, she looked even sexier. We were together a while; then she left the country. She was set for life with the money from Dorsey, and I think she’s a professional photographer now. At least, I saw a picture of her for some art gallery show somewhere in Europe once. Her hair was still buzzed in a tight crewcut.

Poor Dorsey. Probably no one had ever paid so much for a blank videotape before.

Me? I’m still in the detective business. Dorsey’s money helped keep the bill collectors in line. And Mrs. Dorsey gave me a percentage of her payoff. My fee for working out her movie deal. And I especially liked Dorsey’s next film. There’s a minor character in it – a detective named “Damson” or something. He gets killed real gruesome about halfway through the picture. Bludgeoned. Tortured. Stabbed. Shot. Dorsey’s cinematic revenge. It was really nasty.

But that’s showbiz.

 

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