"Lieutenant. Found something."
The officer handed an envelope to the detective standing where the afternoon sun shone in. He had been looking out the door of the barber shop, through the venetian blinds. The "Closed" sign hung on the door, blocking part of his view, but there was a slight draft of fresh air flowing in from the open transom above that cut the stale air of the shop. "Two nasty homicides and today a disappeared barber. What a week," he thought.
The envelope was stuffed full but unsealed, and the detective pulled out a mass of handwritten pages. Then he started to read.
"To whom it may concern –
If all goes well, I will be far away when you are reading this. If I am, I think I'll be safe. Please contact my brother and let him know I'm OK. Tell him not to look for me. All my things should be sent to him.
I know my brother and others must be wondering what happened to me. I'll tell you, but you'll only think I've gone crazy. But the truth is crazy sometimes, and what I'm telling you now is the truth.
On Tuesday, the day before yesterday, I guess (I've kinda lost track), I was about to close up shop. I was just locking the door and putting out the "Closed" sign when a woman walked up to the door. I was cranking the transom closed, but I interrupted shutting it to motion that I was closed for the day. But the woman put her hands together, begging me to open the door. I didn't know what she wanted. I thought she might have been looking for a boyfriend or husband who was a customer. So I opened the door.
She was beautiful. Large dark eyes. Sharp clear-cut features. Taut compact body. She was dressed well and had the thickest black hair I had ever seen. She wore it pulled back tight, but you could still tell how thick it was.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
"I hope so. I'm terribly sorry to bother you." She said this with a smile. Her teeth were very white and looked large. Her hands were shaking. At least she clasped them together like they were shaking. She might just have been hiding her nails.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Nothing. Nothing really. I just...I am very desperate for a haircut. From a barber. I can't really explain more."
She looked at me out of the corner of her eyes as she spoke. I took it for shyness at the time. And I would have said no - except she was so beautiful. And I wanted to touch that amazing hair.
"OK," I said. "I'm really closed, so we'll lock the door. But I can squeeze you in." I smiled at her. My special, charming smile.
"Thank you so much. And yes, please lock the door." She smiled back. I thought having the door locked might make her feel uneasy. But the tone in her voice suggested otherwise. That made me feel uneasy. My charming smile faded out fast.
She took off her coat and threw it on a chair and sat down in my barber chair like she had done it a hundred times before. No hesitation.
"What are we doing?" I asked. I assumed just a trim. Women with hair like hers are proud of it and like to keep it long and showy.
She took the clip from her hair and shook it out. It fell to her shoulders, black and shiny and full. Then she fluffed it with her fingers as she admired herself in the mirror. There was a lot to admire.
"I want a crewcut. Clippered and very precise. The way a barber can do it. Every hair a uniform quarter-inch long. No tapering anywhere at all. None. Understand? And every hair has to be the same length, so take care."
I was stunned. I had never given a woman a crewcut. I had never cut a head of hair like hers, period. And the tone in her voice was weirdly superior and condescending, especially since I had done her a favor by opening the shop for her special like that.
"You sure?" I asked.
"Just do it, please. No questions."
I picked up my shears first to get rid of the bulk. She tensed up and looked at me and was about to say something, but I explained that the clippers would come next. She relaxed again. She looked like she was paying some attention to my license on the wall, with my name and address. Somehow, I wasn't flattered.
I picked up her hair from behind in my left hand. It had an odd earthy scent. But it felt like the richest silk. Snick, snick. I cut. My scissors were sharp as razors, but it was still a struggle to get through the mass of hair. As I lifted her hair and cut through it, I could see her hairline underneath. It was sharply defined, like it was drawn with a charcoal pencil, the hair running to the edge and then just stopping. Then smooth dark skin on a long, sexy neck.
I dropped about 8 inches of hair to the floor. She seemed to sigh. I picked up my heavy-duty clippers and fitted the no. 2 blade. The woman seemed to breathe more heavily as I oiled the blades and gave it a trial run. I didn't even ask if she was sure if she wanted me to go on. I could tell she did.
I didn't know where to start. But she took my hand and guided the first cut by the right side of her head, pressing into the clippers as though she liked the feel of them. A curtain of pitch-black hair flowed down the cape. The clippers left a strip of dark fur behind, still so thick that not a trace of scalp showed through. I finished clipping around her right ear, uncovering more and more of that soft black fur. Then I pressed her head forward and buzzed the back, starting at the nape and fighting slowly up her small head, the thickness resisting every inch. The shorn hair tumbled over the back of my hand, and I felt something like an electric shock as it passed over my skin on its way to the floor. The uncovered hairline was as rich and sharp as I had thought it would be.
I pushed the clippers up over the top of her head. The hum of the machine changed as they ate through the waves of blackness. She was admiring her reflection as she watched the shape of her head change, transforming into something smaller and more primitive. I thought I almost heard her purr
By the time I had clippered the right side and back of her small head, the pile of hair under my feet was so thick, I had to kick it away. It seemed like a sacrilege. I moved in front of her and accidentally pressed against her arm and shoulder. She didn't pull away, but the soft womanly skin I expected to feel wasn't there. Instead, I felt hard muscle.
I stepped in front of her and pressed the clippers against her widow's peak and began the final passes over the top of her head. She pushed a few falling tresses out of her eyes so she could see her reflection better and then ran her hand over her crewcut nape. I still clipped away, my machine laboring through the dense mass, sending more severed hair down her front, thick tresses and smaller clippered bits and pieces. My hands were black with shaved-off ends.
Finally, I was done. I inspected my handiwork and was pleased. But I also recognized that the head of hair I had to work with was extraordinary. This hair would look good in any style. And this woman would be beautiful under any circumstances. I should have liked her more than I did just because she was beautiful.
"You sure you don't want any tapering? Should I clean up your neck or anything?" I asked. Force of habit made me want to clip the back and sides even shorter and try to fade out the hairline. If I could. The hair was so dense, I'm not sure it could ever fade out unless it was shaved clean off. And in fact, her neck needed no tidying up. The hairline was so clear cut, there was no hair trailing down her neck to be shaved off.
"No. No taper. No shaving. But you're not done. You must have missed some. It's not uniform enough."
I picked up a comb and began to peel through the dense dark crewcut. Sides looked good. I examined every hair through the fine teeth of the comb. Even as I pushed the comb over her head, I could only barely make out the scalp beneath. Back looked good also. As I combed out the crown, I saw two or three hairs that were maybe an eighth of an inch too long. With my trimming clippers I carefully buzzed them down. The woman sighed. I felt her body shift under the cape, like a wave passed through it.
"That's good", she said.
I stood behind her and brushed stray hairs from her neck and the sides of her face. Then I released the cape and small streams of blackness cascaded downwards along the pleats in the cape.
As I looked at her, I noticed that her sideburns extended down past her earlobes. Odd, I thought, I would have trimmed them back into sharp points if I had noticed. Why hadn't I noticed? But she said no tapering or shaving anyway, so it didn't matter.
She stood up and examined her reflection more closely in the mirror, running her hands over her crewcut head, first one, then the other, then both. She enjoyed the feel of it. She was wearing a white sleeveless blouse, and I noticed that her underarms could have used a good shave. The dark stubble there was not what you would have expected from a woman dressed like she was. I wanted to offer to give her a shave, but I wanted her out of my shop even more. I also must not have noticed how dark and dense the hair on her arms was. Thicker than on any woman I had ever seen before.
From behind, I could see that her hairline in back was not quite so well defined as I thought. Traces of hair ran down the sides of her neck. I hadn't noticed them at all either, or the way the sideburns - longer than I had noticed even on second look - actually seemed to bend around the bottom of the ears, as though trying to link up with the cropped hair in back.
"What do I owe you?" the woman asked, never taking her eyes off her own reflection.
She kept petting herself, rubbing her buzzed head. I'm sure she was purring. She smiled, and those big teeth looked somehow bigger and sharper. She came towards me, kicking off her shoes as she walked. Something hard clicked on the floor with each footstep.
"Just one second", I said. "Let me get a mirror from the back and show you the hairline."
I thought I heard her say "no, no" as I quickly stepped into the back room. I closed the door and locked it with a deadbolt. It was a thick old oak door. I backed away, breathing heavily, my knees weak. Then there were three or four heavy blows on the door, one after the other. It shook and I thought I heard a crack. Then it was quiet. I heard a low rumbling growl from the shop, then the sound of bottles being jostled on my shelves. Then a heavy but quiet sound - something falling? Jumping?
I listened for a long time. I thought it might be safe to open the door, so I jostled the knob. Then I heard that low guttural rumble again. I sank back in the corner.
I never slept. I had no light (my back room is more like a big closet and the light switch is on the wall outside). So I waited. After a couple hours (I guess), I heard the sound of padding feet and then a strange glassy thud like something had landed up on the transom. I remembered I had never finished closing it. After that I think I fell asleep.
When I woke up, I could see sunlight under the door. I jostled the knob again. No sound. Gingerly, I opened the door and looked out, keeping my foot wedged under it to keep it from being pushed back easily. Everything seemed normal. Except for the piles and piles of black hair on the floor. I didn't see the pile of clothes in the corner till later.
As I started to sweep the floor, my knees still shaking, I heard a knock on the door. I jumped at the sound.
Outside, there was a blonde woman, beautiful and impeccably dressed. Her hair - cropped fairly short and combed back from a widow's peak - had an odd thickness I knew I had seen before. I had a bad feeling. But I opened the door anyway. I don't know why. She stepped in like she owned the place.
"Please excuse this intrusion," she said. It sounded like she had a slight accent. "I realize you're not open yet. But this is very important to me. I wonder if you've seen my sister?" The blonde reached into her purse and pulled out a snapshot. It wasn't a good picture. But there was no question. It was my dark-haired crewcut.
"Yes," I said, my voice quivering. "She's been in."
The blonde's blue eyes flashed hot. "When?" she asked. "What did she want?"
"She was in last night. I gave her a crewcut."
"Damn!" The blonde looked away. Then she looked at me funny. "What happened after that?" she asked.
"She paid me with a twenty. I went into the back room for some change. When I came back, she was gone," I lied. The blonde knew I was lying.
"I see," she said. Under her breath, I think I heard her mutter, "Only one way to follow her." The blonde tossed her coat right about where her sister had the night before and walked over to my chair. Then she stooped to pick up a handful of black hair. It looked out of place held against the fair skin of her hand. She brought it to her nose and sniffed it once, then again. Then she sat in the chair.
"A crewcut. No taper. Same as my sister."
I knew that was coming. I wrapped the cape around her neck and felt the weight of the blonde hair, short as it was. I clicked on the clippers right by her ear to see if she'd flinch. She didn't. She just pressed up into the blades like her sister, letting the rich blonde hair pour down as it separated from her head.
The blonde didn't watch her reflection as I buzzed her fine thick hair to quarter-inch fur. She watched me. She watched as I started from the front and mowed the blonde hair down to stubble, pushing it down the back of the chair into small cream-colored mounds on the floor. Her head looked like a field of wheat being blown by the wind as the machine buzzed over it. Same crisp hairline as her sister. Same widow's peak. Same incredible thickness, hiding the scalp even under only a quarter-inch of cropped military-close hair.
And when I finished (no need for a fine-tooth comb this time - I was extra thorough with the buzzer) running it over and over her head, I put the clippers down, released the cape (her blonde hair was even softer against my hand than her sister's, though it had the same musky scent) and ran my hand once over the crewcut, front to back. That was a risk, but I had to feel it under my hand. Just once. Then I walked out the door without a word. Then I ran. I walked the streets, sat in a diner, watched some movies. I didn't go home. My address was on my license, like I said. When I saw the papers - those two guys who were killed - I knew I'd done the right thing.
I came back to the shop this morning. That was a risk too. I came in and started packing some stuff in the back. And I wrote this out. When I came back out to the main room for a final check, I saw two women walk slowly by across the street. I couldn't see their faces, but the thick black shoulder-length hair of the one and the cropped blonde 'do of the other were unmistakable. They stopped and put their heads together and nodded. Then they walked on.
I waited a while. Then I left. I'm not coming back."
The detective crammed the papers back in the envelope and handed it to a uniformed cop. "Evidence," he said. "Mark it and toss it with the rest. Load of crap."
As the detective stood at the door again, thinking about his more important cases ("Two fucking murders in one night. Can you believe it?"), he saw two women across the street walk slowly past the shop. One blonde, one with jet black hair. They seemed to be laughing as they looked over. He didn't know why.
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