As promised, here's this year's horror story that I wrote on a plane during terrible turbulence. I was not in a good mood...perhaps that's why this story is so graphic. Be fore warned: it is very mature, and not for the faint of stomach. Happy Halloween everyone!- Zack "Killer" Keller
BARBICIDE by Zack Keller
Jimmy DiMarco had stopped by for "justa trim" once a week for six years. He was A Cut Above’s only regular customer. One of the few reasons the rundown barbershop stayed in business. Every Friday at 12:45, Jimmy met with his boss on the 19th floor of the same building so he always wanted to walk in looking his sharpest.
Shave. Haircut. Vamoose.
And just like every Friday at noon, an Italian man in a blacker than oil suit jingled through the front door. Hair swept back, lips pressed tight, powder keg build. A boxer’s face. He dropped his matching black duffel bag to the linoleum. It thudded heavily. He shoved it ahead with his foot. An awkward soccer dribble with a cannonball. Making his way toward his favorite seat.
The two barbers who ran the place, Harold and Denim, didn’t like to stereotype. They loved to. In between customers—which was often—they liked to imagine what this Italian-American man had stuffed in his duffel bag. The same one he brought to every haircut, and they assumed, every appointment with his boss.
Drugs? Guns? Mafia cash? It was certainly one of those things. Hell, maybe even all three.
Denim Barkley, a baby-faced middle-ager, had opened the shop with his best friend, Harold. Both men were divorced twice and racing to see who would hat trick first. They never admitted the truth, but their troubles stemmed from their failing business. Friends go into the restaurant business together, or entertainment, even dry cleaning. Not a barbershop. There is no boom in that business. Just the clockwork precision of human hair growing 0.44 millimeters a day forever. They picked up the trade Harold’s parents put down and ever since struggled through their own hair recession.
"The usual?" Harold asked.
"As usual,” said Jimmy. He finished shuffling the bag, and shoved it under his favorite seat. “Make it sharp, yeah? I gotta see the Big Guy early today. A lot to show him."
Jimmy glanced down at his bag (of cash?) as he settled into the chair. He looped a foot through the bag's handle. Twice. Then gazed at his reflection in the cleaner-smudged mirror. Swept his chin side to side, revealing the rugged roadmap of his face.
It had only been a week since his last visit. Hair grows. Not that fast, though. In all honesty, Harold thought, the man didn’t need a haircut. But he couldn’t turn away a paying customer.
So Harold set to work. Grabbed a bib, matador-twirled it, and fastened it around the Jimmy’s corded neck. It was thick with hard-earned muscle. He plucked scissors and a comb from the barbicide, tapping off droplets of blue liquid on the rim. Started trimming the sides.
“So,” Harold began as tiny hair bits sprinkled to the floor, “I’m legally obligated by the Barber's Union to ask how work’s going."
"Can't complain. Short hours. Good pay."
"Oh yeah?” Harold raised an eyebrow. “Need any new hires? I know two guys who are looking for a change of salary.”
"Sorry.” Jimmy kept his head immobile as he spoke, barely parting his lips. Like a rather unsuccessful ventriloquist. "No openings. Besides, don't really think it's your kind of work."
"And that is?"
Denim and Harold shared a flick of the eyes.
"Securities, stocks and bonds. That sort of thing." A clump of hair trimmings stuck to the sweat on Jimmy's lip. He tried to blow it off, ended up getting a tongueful in his mouth. "Numbers are boring as hell, but like I said the money's good."
"How good?” Denim prodded. He lifted a broom off the wall rack and started sweeping the floor. Dust. Hardly any hair fell there anymore. Sweeping away the ghosts of their failing business. “Guys like us wanna dream."
"Good enough that it's impolite to ask."
"Ah, come on,” added Harold. “It’ll be just between us. $90k? A hundred? Look, I’m your barber not an FBI informant."
The sweeping stopped. Denim tensed at Harold’s poorly-worded joke. Slowly, he began working the broom again. Not cleaning anything. Just listening.
He’s gonna do it, Denim thought. He’s gonna ask what’s in that duffel. Finally. Finally.
Jimmy looked up. Peered through the mirror at Harold.
“What’s five times?" he said. “Triple. Quadruple. Pentuple? Yeah. Pentuple that.”
"Holy fucking Jesus in a cave!” Harold snapped back as if he had stuck the metal scissors in an electrical outlet. "Shit. Did I cut you? I did, didn't I?"
"Nah, I'm good. Didn't feel nothing.” Jimmy chuckled. "And a little blood never bothered me."
"Me and Denim don't clear that together in five years!" Harold cut in. Now he understood why Jimmy always left such a big tip.
"Yeah, securities. Buy low. Sell high. All that shit. Good gig." Jimmy tapped the duffel with his foot. It sounded solid. Full. And he only would have tapped that bag, right after mentioning money, if it was stuffed to the seams with cash.
"Great fucking gig,” Denim added breathlessly. “If I had that kinda money, I'd quit this barbershop and burn it to the ground."
“Yeah, baby. That's driving around money," said Jimmy. “And a nice car is like taking a nice house with you wherever you go."
Jimmy, the man who hardly said a page’s worth per visit, found something to word vomit about endlessly. Cars. As Jimmy transitioned from haircut to shave, he waxed on and on about all the cars he owned, had owned, and wanted to own. He reclined, tilting his head back to expose the beginnings of a five-o’clock shadow on his neck.
A Cut Above was an old-school joint, and per Harold’s father's rule, they kept it old-school. No electronic clippers. Scissors only. No futuristic beard trimmers. Straight edge razors only.
Harold dipped a bristly brush into a cup of freshly heated shaving foam the color of vanilla cream. He lathered Jimmy's neck and cheeks into a puffy Santa Claus beard. Ran his straight edge razor back and forth against the sharpening strip. Fining the point. The silver blade sparkled in the carve of daylight through the shop.
"And you wouldn't believe the kind of pussy you get with a nice car," Jimmy carried on, but the two barbers didn't hear a word. They had stopped listening at ‘five times ninety thousand’.
“Oh yeah?” Harold said tonelessly. He began shaving Jimmy's neck, cutting from collar bone to the chin in long strokes. Following the contours with firm precision. Scraping foam and short black hairs onto the blade. A few strokes more brought him to the Adam's apple. He delicately carved around the bulbous protrusion on the man’s throat, then stopped.
Harold caught his reflection in the razor’s side. The foam and hair streaked metal which grimaced back with twin brown eyes. They looked tired. Defeated. Like they'd never seen a good day since sixteen.
This wasn’t the life he wanted. Nor the one he deserved. He worked and waited and worried and hoped and prayed for a chance to improve his condition. To get more.
Some heavy thing broke loose inside Harold. He jammed the razor into Jimmy's jugular. Felt the throat give in. Clamped down onto the man's shoulder, holding him in place. Trapping him.
Jimmy's eyes grew enormous, but his body remained calm. With five inches of honed steel pressing again his beating throat, any movement would cut the life right out of him.
"The fuck you think you're doing?" said Jimmy, his Adam's apple bobbing painfully against the blade. His voice sounded ocean calm. Just a man in need of a haircut talking to his barber. Not a man about to have his throat slit.
Harold took the man deeper into his embrace, cutting the soft outer layer of skin. A thin red ribbon of blood unfurled down Jimmy's neck.
"Yeah, Har, what the fuc—"
"The bag," hissed Harold, cutting off his friend. "Get it."
Jimmy could only move his eyes. The rest of his body sat granite still. He glanced to Denim. A sickened expression wilting his face.
“Get the fucking bag, Denim!”
Denim lingered on Harold’s animal gaze, then gave in. He hurried over and found the black bag pushed under the barber chair. Jimmy still had his foot looped through the handle.
“Don't get the fucking bag, Denim,” Jimmy said.
Denim snapped back to the door. Realized the entire front wall of the barbershop was windows. Anyone walking by could see the stand off. Today marked the first time not having customers was a good thing.
“DENIM!” Harold roared again, and Denim got to it. He grabbed the duffel back with both hands and started to pull—
"I wouldn't do that," said Jimmy. Calmly. "Don't do it."
But Denim remembered the bag’s sound when it fell. Thump. Denim did some dirty math. The duffel weighed fifty pounds the way Jimmy hefted it around. Had to. Probably fifty and hundred dollar bills. He didn't think the mafia bothered with Jacksons or smaller presidents. And hundreds of bills made up a single pound, right? That meant there could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in there.
Pentuple that, maybe.
Denim hadn't caught a break since being the winning sperm. He won the game of life, but all the prizes thereafter failed to materialize. His father left before he could say the word “goodbye”. He spent more time out of school than in. All he had was the barbershop, and that wasn’t very much.
Millions could change everything. Not fix. Change. It would certainly make life easier. He needed that right now. A casual walk down easy street.
Denim took hold of the duffel. It was even heavier than he expected. Closer to sixty or seventy pounds. Denim’s heart knew what that meant (sextuple?) and pumped harder.
Three million? Denim thought. Three fucking million?
In his dollar daze, Denim didn't realize the duffel had snagged. The loop around Jimmy's foot came taut. He peered up at the black suited man. Terrifyingly tranquil in this most shitty of situations.
"Whatever you're about to do,” Jimmy said. “It ain't worth it."
Denim ignored him. He eased the duffel back to loosen the strap and unwound it from Jimmy's foot. The moment his waxed leather shoe came loose, Jimmy snap-kicked Denim in the face. Denim felt a sickening crunch as tip of his nose crumbled. Collapsed inward like an rotted old wall. He was lucky the bone fragments didn't stab into his front lobe. Instead, the blood came. It poured out of his nostrils like twin faucets. All over his neck. All over his clothes. Into his mouth. Down his throat. He spit, startled, at the sudden, warm redness streaming out of him.
Denim fell back. Cracked his head on the counter. Jars of barbicide, towels, scissors went flying. His eyes no longer worked in unison.
"Jesus, Denim!” cried Harold, his mouth falling horrifically. His surprise collapsed into anger. “Do that again and I’ll fucking cut you!"
His voice broke, betraying his intentions. Jimmy chuckled at Harold’s feeble attempt to sound tough.
Until then, Harold had just been pressing the razor, never cutting. Now, he slid. Slipping the blaze ever so slightly over his throat. Even that tiny amount separated Jimmy's skin like wet tissues. The red ribbon widened.
"Agnh!" Jimmy gurgled. He wanted, craved, a scream, but knew that would end him in a hot splash.
Denim’s vision finally centered and he returned to our world. One hand leapt to his broken nose, the other to duffel. He snatched at the bag wildly, then skittered back, dragging it with him.
"You broke my nose, you son of a bitch!" Denim shouted, peppering the air with flecks of blood.
"You were stealing.” Jimmy shrugged. “It was self defense."
Harold fixated on the duffel as Denim dragged it a safe distance away, trailing splats of blood.
"Open it,” said Harold.
"Now?” Denim eyed the windows. Two silhouettes passed engaged in conversation. They didn’t looked.
“You can’t get shit off the fan once it’s hit. We’re in this.”
Denim knew Harold was right. The deed had been done and more still needed doing. He grabbed a hand towel. Stuffed a corner up each nostril. Instantly, the white towel began turning red. He shakily hobbled to the front door, flipped the sign to CLOSED and drew the shades. The barbershop dimmed to a daytime dusk, save for the dull fluorescents overhead.
"Open it goddamnit,” Harold repeated. “Hurry! Someone could come in any minute.”
This time, Denim didn't argue. Blood soaking the towel into a maroon sunset, Denim knelt beside the duffel. It was nearly four feet end to end. Sturdy, black canvas with a zipper across the top. Handles wrapped in black leather. It was heavy. Goddamn was it heavy. Probably enough cash for them both to do whatever the Hell they wanted for as long as they wanted. They'd gotten used to living off a shoestring budget, but now they were about to step out in Italian leather loafers courtesy of Jimmy DiMarco.
And, speaking of Jimmy, he wasn’t speaking. He watched, interested, as Harold began unzipping the bag. Slowly. Carefully. As if undressing a woman. His hand shaking just a bit. Like foreplay. The zipper seemed to rip open the air inside the morgue-quiet barbershop. It clicked as it hit the end of the track.
In a frenzy of excitement, Denim yanked open the duffel. Money tumbled out. Piles of it. Fifties. Hundreds. The two were right. The duffel was loaded to fucking high heaven with cash.
"Holy shit…" whispered Denim.
"What? How much?" Harold asked eagerly. He strained for a peek while still holding the razor firm. The bloody ribbon had begun to dry up, leaving a swatch of dried red paint against Jimmy's throat.
"There's gotta be a million dollars in here," Denim said. "At least."
"Show it to me, I wanna see."
Denim began unloading packets of cash. Endless stacks. Tossing them onto the linoleum.
"Jesus. Look at it! Look at all of it!” cried Harold.
Smiling giddily, Denim made pyramids with the green stacks. Built his own private Giza.
“Whoa…handling all this cash is kinda giving me a bone—"
Denim shrieked. Fell back in horror.
A man’s face stared up from the duffel. Its eyelids had been cut off, the pupils staring eternally out into space. Lips dried, wrenched back into a rotten pumpkin’s sneer. Part of the spine poked out through the ragged neck.
"Ah fuck fuck Jesus fuck what the fuck!" he shouted automatically. Not even thinking the words. They flew straight from his subconscious and into the world.
"What!? What the fuck is going on!?” said Harold, his already beating heart becoming a war-drum.
"There's a fuh-fuh-fucking face! Afaceafaceaface!”
"A what? What’re you saying!?”
"A head. There's a head, like, someone's head’s in there!"
Denim scrambled backward, kicking the bag, nearly sobbing, teeth chattering comically.
A low, subterranean laughter started. It began somewhere in Jimmy's gut and worked its way out through his mouth. He started laughing as much as the razor against his jugular would allow.
"You stupid dumb fucks. Told you not to open the bag," he said, closing his eyes. "But now that you have. May as well go all the way. Go on. Do it. Open it. You have my blessing.“
Harold and Denim exchanged haunted masks of uncertainty. Didn't say anything.
"No? Well, now that you're accomplices, let me tell you a little story,” said Jimmy, his head still back, his neck still leaking red, his life balancing on the straight-edged razor. “You ever seen Chinatown?"
Again, neither man said a word. Too stunned to speak. Denim’s eyes kept fighting for a peek inside the duffel. Why? He didn't want to. Why the fuck are you doing that? But they did. There was more inside that bag. And he wanted to know. Had to.
"'You know what happens to nosy fellows? They lose their noses.' That's Chinatown. Well, Jake Simons there—" Jimmy nodded slightly toward the duffel, "got a little…handsy. Not with someone’s woman. With the Big Guy’s money. So he hired me to get it all back. With interest."
Jimmy raised his hands. Wriggled ten fingers.
"Ten percent, if you know what I mean. But I’m good at my job. I got a full twenty percent. Twenty fucking percent. Boy, won’t the Big Guy be pleased as a peach when he sees that.”
Driven by sick curiosity, Denim leaned over to peer inside the duffel. Stuffed under the blood-splattered bills, beside the head, were ten lopped-off fingers. And ten sawed-off toes. Twenty percent. The rest of Jake Simons’ body was missing.
Jimmy sighed. Turned back to Harold in the mirror. The barber seemed to pale away to transparency with each hitching breath.
"Not securities, I know. Sorry for the fib—my mother wouldn't like that. God rest her soul. But a man's private business is his private business,” Jimmy said, somehow in control even though he had a knife to his neck. “I’m sure you have your secrets too. We all do. So what do you say we add this to our list of secrets? I find a new place to get my haircut and you can keep what's on the floor as a little insurance money."
For some reason, Harold was afraid to look at Jimmy directly, yet through the mirror he could. As if it wasn’t Jimmy and it wasn’t him in the reflection. Instead, some familiar they both conjured to play themselves.
"How do we know you won't just kill us?” asked Harold. “To make sure the secret stays kept.”
"Because you both want to live. All scared fucks like you do. You won't tattle. You don’t have it in you,” Jimmy said. “I wanna live too, that’s why I won’t come looking for more trouble.”
"Bullshit," said Denim, getting to his feet. In his eye’s corner, he could still make out those ten fingers. Those ten toes. That twenty percent. "The moment he can, he'll kill us both. He took this guy's life and…and other shit for stealing!"
"And I burned his body in a blacksmith’s forge, but who's keeping score?" Jimmy grinned wide.
Perfect teeth, Harold thought randomly.
"Kill him, Harold,” said Denim. “We'll take the money, close the shop, just disappear. There's plenty for both of us."
"One million, nine hundred and eighty seven thousand, four hundred and fifteen dollars, and some change. Doesn't go as far as it used to. If you're planning on having kids that won't even be enough to pay for their college tuition. Unless they go public school and fuck that,” said Jimmy. "So let's explore your options. Option A: You let me walk, you collect some cash, you lose perhaps your only paying customer at this barbershop. Not bad. Option B: You kill me, take a lot more cash, and try to disappear."
"No one's gonna miss a murderer."
"Mr. Harold, you hurt my feelings. I thought we were friends. But you're right, no one will miss a murderer…except my boss. I'm the best hitter he has, and if I disappear, plus nearly two large of his own scratch, he won't be exactly over the moon. He'll take a lot more than twenty percent. And slowly. Starting with your fingers and toes, then whatever you've got for your twenty-first digit down there, and finally…he’ll pull out your guts like a garden hose. I’ve seen him do it too. It ain’t pretty. He loves that shit though.”
Jimmy's warning fell heavily on Harold's conscience. He started feeling bad about holding this man at razor point. Worried what might happen if he actually did kill him. Kill him. The words became real to him. Never in his long and uneventful life had he held the filament of someone else's life in his own hands. He finally understood its power. Why some people craved killing. And hated it at the same time. He held infinity at his fingertips.
I can't do it, thought Harold, backpedaling to his senses. I’m not a killer.
In that thirty seconds of Jimmy speaking, and half-flash of Harold thinking, the man in the barber chair had been working. Something into his palm. So slowly it was imperceptible. Like a sleight of hand magic trick. Then Harold felt a small object pressed into his thigh. Heard the tiny click of a latch popping free, a spring bursting forth. And screamed as four inches of switchblade plunged into his flesh. Deep enough to reach the countless roads of blood vessels beneath.
And one great big highway artery.
Whenever Harold had screamed before, he knew what he was doing. Sucking in breath, belting out at the top of his lungs. He was in control of it. Not this time. The scream rushed through him. From some other world. Too loud and horrible to be made by human.
"You stupid fuck!" were Jimmy's last words. Rage steam-kettled into his cheeks as he tried to rise from the chair. But as Harold fell away, one hand clutching his spurting thigh, the other accidentally jerked the razor. Jimmy's neck opened easily. All his wind and blood ejected in a hot jet. Like a can of red spray paint with the nozzle at his neck.
"Harold! Wha—" Denim screamed until his tongue, his face, his entire body was hit by a wave of blood. Driven by such force. An impossible amount. Worse than any horror movie he'd ever seen. Except maybe Carrie. The blood left a perfect Denim-shaped clean spot on the wall. One of those murder scene outlines. And that's what he was. A dead man.
They both were.
Harold staggered back. Pivoted. Cracked his spine against the linoleum. Hard. Still screaming. Even when the wind knocked out of his pipes, he kept gagging, his eyes bugged so wide he thought they couldn't possible stay in. He stared at that switchblade handle sprouting out of his thigh, and started yelling:
"TAKE IT OUT! TAKE IT OUT! TAKE IT OUT!"
Jimmy fared no better. Harold's fall had sent his barber chair spinning, turning him into a human blood-sprinkler. Spewing red in three hundred and sixty degrees arcs.
TSSK! TSSK! TSSK! TSSK!
Jimmy spun in his chair, dousing the barbershop in a gallon of his own blood. Had someone watched this scene unfold on a movie screen, they could almost laugh. If they weren’t puking up piles of buttery popcorn. The chair kept spinning endlessly until the spurts lengthened as the pump—Jimmy’s heart—finally ran out of gas. He lolled back in his chair, head nearly upside-down. Eyes bloomed open and staring right back at Harold. His killer.
"TAKE IT OUT! TAKE IT OUT!" Harold kept screaming.
Denim saw crimson. Wiped blood from his eyes. The rest of him was a lost cause.
"Shh! Someone's gonna hear you!"
"I don't give a fuck…TAKE IT OUT! TAKE IT OUT!”
"That knife's the only thing keeping the blood in," said Denim, amazed by Jimmy’s magic trick. Nothing there one minute. Knife there the next. Presto change-o. “If I take it out you're gonna bleed to death!"
"You can't leave it in. You can't. It can't be there. I don't want it there. It shouldn’t be there. Take it out!" Harold started hyperventilating. Denim could almost see the color paling from his face, down his chest, and leaking out as blood from his thigh.
Jimmy was truly a top hitter. Without looking, he had lodged the switchblade right in line with Harold’s femoral artery. Scissor beats paper. Game over.
“Ohgodohgod!” chanted Denim. “What should I do, man? What the hell should I do? We can't call the cops! We can’t call anybody!”
"Not with this place looking like it was flooded by the Red Sea! We've got two dead bodies in here! And another one is way unless you TAKE THIS KNIFE OUTTA MY FUCKING LEG!" Harold roared.
Denim tried to think as his friend screamed wretchedly. There was nothing he could do to help him. He wasn't a doctor. He was hardly a barber. He didn't have any skills for an emergency situation. At all. Denim started pacing. Slipped in the slick blood. Had to catch himself on a chair. "What do people do in movies when this happens? You know, like when there's a dead body or shit goes down?"
"THIS ISN'T A FUCKING MOVIE, DENIM! THERE'S A KNIFE IN MY LEG AND SOME FUCKING DEAD GUY IN MY BARBER CHAIR AND ANOTHER STUFFED INTO A DUFFEL BAG!" And with that finally belch of breath, Harold gasped, eyes rolled back, and he mercifully blacked out.
For a moment, Denim thought his friend had died, until he saw his chest slowly hitching up and down with breath. Just fainted from loss of blood. Still, he couldn't leave Harold like that for long.
What the hell do I do? I can't clean this mess up. It'd take me hours. Days. Harold needs a doctor now. A hospital. Anything! Well. with that money we can hire the best goddamn doctor in the state. One who won’t ask any questions. And we won't even…
"Need this place anymore,” he finished out loud.
Denim knew what he needed to do. He hurried over to the duffel, choking back the vomit that popped into his throat when the bodyparts came into view. He started grabbing fistfuls of cash, flinging them into a pile on the floor.
All the while Jimmy’s chair kept spinning slowly. Like a moribund top.
When Denim had emptied as much as he could stomach—what wasn't touching the severed bits—he took one final stack, snapped the band off, and crumpled the bills. He stuffed the paper kindling into the duffel. Added clumps of dry hair he found under the counter. Doused the whole thing in barbicide. He'd heard it was flammable—the isopropyl alcohol—and thought it would be his only opportunity to test that theory. Denim found an old lighter from his smoking days in the back office. Struck the sparker, then lightly dropped it into the duffel. A miniature mushroom cloud of flames bloomed upward.
There was enough dry hair, barbicide and peeling wallpaper to turn this place into the seventh level of Hell in about fifteen minutes so Denim had to work fast. He already started smelling that awful, acrid scent of burning hair and regretted his decision to add it immediately.
With Harold unconscious, moving him around was like carrying a dead body. Denim took his friend by the ankles and dragged. A reverse form of the county fair favorite—the wheelbarrow. Their beat-up cars were parked in the narrow brick alley out back. If he could just get Harold into the car, they would be home free. Two million dollars richer. And with one hell of a story that they could never tell anyone.
Denim's pace quickened. They reached a bloody patch of floor that really let them fly. The two glided across the linoleum like a pair of awkward figure skaters in the middle of a disastrous routine, then:
“Open up, it’s the police!” a voice shouted through the front door.
You gotta be fucking kidding me! thought Denim. His skeleton nearly burst through his skin when knocking rattled the door. No time to think, he hoisted Harold into a barber seat. Covered him with a bib. Flew to the office again, his feet hardly touching the floor.
Back there, he found his gym bag. The one he rarely used. And in less than two minutes had washed the blood off his skin and jumped into a change of clothing. His skin had a pink tint now, but it was better than before.
He sprinted back across the barbershop floor, skidding and nearly spilling into the blood, before slamming into the front door. Just before throwing it open, he knocked off the lights, plunging the bloody half of the shop into total darkness.
Taking a breath to calm his fireworking nerves, Denim creaked open the door. A man well under the five foot ten average of American men glared up at him. Dressed in a suit very much like Jimmy. Sporting that Italian-American demeanor very much like Jimmy. But worse. He looked like that squat kid everyone picked on in high school who, someday soon, might turn first period into a shooting gallery. Denim was physically repulsed by him, as if by some dark aura in a ten thousand dollar suit.
"Nah, I'm just fuckin' whichu. I'm not the fuzz,” said a man Denim immediately pegged as the Big Guy. Jimmy’s boss. There was no mistaking him. Immediately Denim realized he would be much worse than any police officer. “But people always open up when I do that. At least good guys. So you must be one of them."
"Uh…yeah,” said Denim, wiping a trickle of sweat.
"Can I get a cut?"
"A haircut. That is what you do here.” The Big Guy gestured to the sign—a large pair of scissors—painted on the window. “Jimmy’s told me about this place: A Cut Above. The name’s clever in a not-clever kinda way.”
“Sorry, I’m in the middle of a cut right now…could you give me a few minutes to finish?”
The Big Guy handed Denim a hundred dollar bill.
“One minute. Sixty, fifty-nine, fifty-eight—" And like some petulant child, the Big Guy actually started counting. “I’ll wait out here.”
But Denim didn’t wait. He bolted back inside. Doused the smoldering duffel. Bundled up the cash and made ready to flee with his fainted friend when “Ten…nine…eight” came floating through the door. Denim knew he'd never make it out the back door in time. Instead, he called an audible.
Seven seconds later, Denim arrived at the front door, wearing what he assumed looked like a smile. He didn't need to open the door because the Big Guy took the liberty himself. Just strolled inside like he owned the place. And for all Denim knew…he did.
"So which seat does he sit in?" said the Big Guy.
"Jimmy. Where’s he like to sit?”
One plus one added up in Denim's head. Jimmy’s favorite seat. The seat now covered in gobbets of blood.
“Oh yeah, right right. His seat,” Denim began, stalling. “It’s broken, sorry. Painters broke it up when they were working.”
“Fancying up the place, huh?” The Big Guy casually looked over the dark half of the barbershop. With the lights killed, those chairs took on hunched, eerie forms in the darkness. The splotches across the floor and wall appeared black. Like paint. The lump on the floor, hastily covered in towels, looked like painting equipment. “What color?”
“Red,” Denim said flatly.
“Bold. I like it. People are painting everything pastel these days. Pastel isn’t a real color, you know. It’s like a color’s pathetic cousin.”
“Sure, yeah,” said Denim, not really saying anything. He hurried ahead of the Big Guy, trying to guide him away from the murder scene and toward a waiting chair. That’s when the Big Guy noticed Harold. Awkwardly slumped in the next barber chair over. Pale as bone.
“My business partner,” Denim said before the Big Guy could ask. “I was just cutting his hair. He likes to nap afterward. It’s weird, I know.”
“Weird is right,” the Big Guy grunted, then mounted the metal footrest. He fell back into the rickety barbershop chair. The whole thing tilted off-axis and squeaked horribly. Nearly breaking.
“Jesus! Why’s Jimmy come to this dump?”
“Guess he likes how we cut.” Denim’s eye instinctively darted to the lump on the floor. “So what’ll it be?”
“Shave,” the Big Guy began, pointing sharply at Denim. “Keep your fucking clippers away from my hair. I pay this Taiwanese lady—or is she Thai? I dunno some kinda Asian doesn’t matter. I pay this lady two hundred a sit down to get it just the way I like it. And this is the way I like it.”
“No problem, chief. Just from the ears down.”
“You got it.” The Big Guy gave a big, pandering thumbs up. He leaned back, relaxing, eyes closing, his face tilting to the ceiling. So much like Jimmy had just done it was scary. Déjà vu. A movie on repeat. A stuck record. Denim’s own face fell toward his apron where he kept scissors, towels, and his razor. He searched desperately for the folded up blade. It wasn’t in there. The memory hit Denim like a gut-punch: Harold had been borrowing his since his own razor broke.
“One second,” said Denim, then walked—as casually as possible—to the dark side of the shop. The razor lay in a thin film of blood on the dirty linoleum. Looking back to make sure the Big Guy wasn’t watching, Denim cleaned the razor on the inside of his apron.
“Hurry it up, will ya? I’ve got better things to do than waste away in this shitty place.”
“Yes, sir. Coming.” Denim finished wiping off the blade and hurried back. “You got a meeting with Jimmy?”
“Yeah. You seen him come in yet?”
“No,” lied Denim. “Usually does around this time though. Always wants to look his best for you.”
“Right.” The Big Guy winked at himself in the mirror.
He’s not so bad, thought Denim, a little shitty around the edges, but not terrible. Then again, sharks don’t look so bad until they’re swimming toward you.
Denim headed back toward the boss like a man in a nightmare. Each step seeming to take forever reaching the floor. His body impossibly long and heavy. His vision somehow far behind him, distorted through a wide angle lens. The razor an extension of his grotesque, freak show arm.
A man lay dead behind him. His best friend slowly bled out in the chair next to him. And the head of this food chain sat right in front of him. So now it was Denim’s turn to play Reaper. If he wanted. His mind changed speeds from slow motion to fast forward, racing through the possibilities. Run. Shave. Kill. Etcetera.
As Denim mulled his situation, the Big Guy spoke. Rattled on about Jimmy, the weather, the building, his shoes, his cars. Standard “Shooting the Shit” 101.
Like: “Securities, mostly. You know, buy low, sell high, that sort of thing.”
And all the while, Denim lathered the Big Guy’s neck. The man felt cold through the warm shaving cream. As if he were a marble statue.
Denim finally brought the razor down. Started at the collar—where he’d tucked a towel to protect the obviously expensive suit—and began shaving upward in smooth motions. Trying not to let his hand shake.
Then Denim saw the a dizzying pattern on the metal stamped in red. Harold’s bloody thumbprint. But Denim had already begun. He couldn’t stop now. He held the blade against the boss’ neck. Shaved. Scraped. Carved with the blade. Pressed just enough.
Or is it? thought Denim, wondering what the Hell Harold would do. Well, he knew. Harold would probably do the same thing. Except this time intentionally. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. A double header.
Denim worked the blade from the neckline up to the chin. Carving against that over-soft skin of the neck. The throat. A place where the pulse is so close to the surface you can see it. Almost hear it. Thumping.
Live. Live. Live.
And Denim kept shaving. Taking away the coarse black hairs in line after line of white lather. Soon, the shaving cream covered the bloody fingerprint. Hiding what had just transpired. With each stroke, Denim had another chance to end it. To free the two men from their purgatory. When he reached the Adam’s apple—just like Harold had done—Denim knew it was time. The odd contour of throat begged to be lopped off. Leveled. Removed. His razor—his knife, really—glided over the Big Guy’s throat, bouncing through the white lather like a skier hitting the moguls.
Now. Do it, Denim. Do it now before you lose your nerve. Don’t even look. Not at him. Not in the mirror. Just look away. Pretend you’re cutting a piece of meat. No, that’s too close to the truth. Pretend you’re just cutting into warm clay. Like in ceramics class in high school. That’s it. Just put the blade against the warm spot. And hold it close. Closer. Closer. Closer…
But after hours of shaving, or what it felt like to him, Denim finished, wiped the razor clean, and stashed it on the counter. He sighed, relieved.
The Big Guy’s Adam’s apple start to bob up and down as a laugh rumbled up his newly shorn neck. He opened his eyes a crack to see where Denim stood. Looking as relaxed as someone waking from a nap.
“I knew you wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Denim tried to keep his eyes from snapping wide like two startled spotlights. From falling out of his gobsmacked head. He should’ve said something. “Do what?” or just “What?”
His quivering lip said it all.
“I smelled it the moment I came through the door. Copper.” The Big Guy tore off his bib and let it flutter to the floor. He stood, checked himself in the dim mirror. Smiling at the quality of the shave. “Not bad,” he said to himself, then turned to Denim.
“When you’re in this business long enough, you learn to recognize it.” The Big Guy inhaled deeply. “That scent. You’d find it in more places than you think.”
Denim lost the ability to speak. As if his own throat had been slit. His eyes followed the Big Guy like a videocamera. A passive receiver, watching as the black suited man strode to the wall and found the light switch.
Light bloomed in waves as the overhead fluorescents blinked on. In that sickly green glow, what had transpired earlier seemed even more vile. No longer self defense. The M word. Murder.
They really did have a new paint job on the walls. The floor too. Blood red. It was everywhere.
“Just what I thought.” The Big Guy continued touring the barbershop, now stopping beside Harold. He pointed down at the pitched tent over his crotch. “Your friend having a wet dream?”
The boss peeled back the bib and saw the switchblade sprouting from Harold’s leg.
“Ah,” he said, and moved on to Exhibit C: the lump on the floor. “And let me guess.”
He peeled back those towels too. Jimmy lay twisted up beneath, his head cocked back unnaturally. His chest covered in crimson. Nearly all the blood in his body had been pumped loose.
“Shit,” said the Big Guy. His eyes closed in grief. “Jimmy was a good man. He had a family…kids. He was just about to get out too. This was his last job.”
“I—I’m sorry,” said Denim, though he didn’t know why.
The boss’ Adam’s apple worked again. Bobbing as that low laugh followed. “Fuckin’ whichu again. Jimmy was the darkest, foulest piece of shit you ever met. And I loved him for it. He did what needed to be done.”
The boss reached into the duffel bag and came out with a handful of fingers and toes.
“No matter what.” He grinned. “Twenty percent. Damn good, Jimmy.”
“I didn’t—we didn’t mean to kill him.”
“That second mouth you gave poor Jimmy says otherwise. He’d say it too…if he could.”
“We didn’t take any money. It’s all there. Almost all of it.” Denim corrected himself upon seeing the charred bills and human hair. He started backing away as the Big Guy advanced. Searching for a weapon. Something to fight back with. The razor. His hair clippers. But his apron was empty.
“Not worried about the money. That comes and goes. But good people don’t. They go, mostly. Family. Friends. Everyone…in the end.” The Big Guy stalked Denim, corralling him toward the counter. Walking smoothly while Denim jerked like a re-animated skeleton.
Denim soon found himself backed into the countertop, right where the blood perfectly framed him against the wall.
“But Jimmy was loyal. He never said ‘no’ to me. Hell, even my own wife says that. All four of them have. Good people are hard to find, as you know. That goes for employees…and just people in general.”
“Please…don’t,” Jimmy whimpered. “Please. I’ll leave right now, I’ll go.” His eyes shot to Harold. “We’ll go. We’ll never come back. You can have all the money in the register too, there isn’t much but there’s some, and we’ll get out of here, the state even, I have some family who I can—”
The Big Guy’s hand flashed. A black blur. Then Denim found his hair clippers. Sticking out of his own Adam’s apple. The boss had snatched them off the counter when he’d left the chair. Stuck them in his pocket. Waiting to draw like a gunslinger.
Denim stood there, not bleeding to death, but choking as the metal cut off his breath. His life’s wind. He started to stagger toward the man who stabbed him. For help, presumably. Though not sure why. Before collapsing face-first onto the scissors. They punched through the back of his throat in a tiny, red fountain.
The boss didn’t need to wait to watch him die—it happened instantly. The same couldn’t be said for Harold, still holding on by the thinnest fiber of being, though unable to wake. Slowly, slowly, dying.
The Big Guy collected his money, his twenty percent and left a few lit matches behind in the duffel of barbicide and burned hair. He owned the building, half the West side of town too. And he had that wonderful thing cops and crooks alike are thankful for: insurance.
Hours later, the blaze burned out after turning the place into a room-sized oven. Weeks later, policemen—those firmly in the Big Guy’s pockets—deemed the fire an accident. Months later, a construction crew sifted through the barbershop wreckage and found two skeletons, charred blacker than Hell.
What they didn’t find were any fingers or toes.