THE BARBER SHOP
Arnie Bledsoe staggered up Main
Street from The Wagon Wheel, the neighborhood bar he visited each payday.
The next morning, when somebody
at work would ask how late he’d stayed, he’d proudly say, “Why, I closed it,”
implying that leaving before bar time was a ridiculous idea.
His once-a-week outing didn’t
hurt his budget. He didn’t make much, but he also didn’t spend much. He lived
alone, simply, and felt he had the world by the tail.
As he always did on his
four-block walk home, he stopped at the little barber shop, Hair Today, and
looked in the picture window.
The barber, Alexander Connor,
known as Old Alex by the town’s residents, had come to Jerome, Arizona, eight
years ago after living “someplace out East,” for most of his life. He always
side-stepped questions about what he had done in his previous life.
And there was a good reason for
Putting both hands flat onto
the glass to steady himself, Arnie looked into the shop. There was just one
barber chair, and it was in the middle of the room facing a large mirror on the
A scruffy, mixed-breed dog lay
asleep on the floor near the chair, and an old tomcat lay sleeping on the
window sill on the other side of the glass below Arnie.
The dog and the cat weren’t the
reason Arnie always stopped at Hair Today. Old Alex had a playful sense of
humor, and at the end of the day before he locked up for the evening, he always
arranged two manikins; one seated in the barber chair, and the other just
standing just behind the chair.
Tonight, the manikin standing
behind the chair with his back to the front window had a straight razor held
above his head as if readying itself to bring it down onto the throat of the
seated manikin. Only the arms of the seated manikin were visible behind the one
Some in town didn’t consider Alex’s
sense of humor playful, but rather thought it maybe a little grotesque.
But no matter how many times he
took in these scenes, Arnie always got a kick out of them.
Then, as he did every time he
stopped to look in the window, he went down on one knee and tapped lightly on
the glass in front of the sleeping yellow tom.
Tonight, the cat opened one eye
as it always did, but then bared its teeth in a bloody smile.
Arnie jerked back from the
window and almost fell on his butt.
There was blood on the cat’s
teeth, and also some smeared on the fur around its mouth.
Its long tongue emerged and
licked the fur as if to show Arnie that, yes, it was blood all right. And it
The dog must have also awoken
to the tapping on the glass. It had walked half way across the room toward the
It too had blood on its
But it wasn’t smiling. Its
hackles were up, and though Arnie couldn’t hear it through the glass, he could
see it was snarling.
Snarling at Arnie.
Standing as quickly as his
drunken self would allow, Arnie once again leaned against the window and looked
in at the manikins. He couldn’t be sure in the dim light of the shop, but there
appeared to be blood pooled under the chair. Some had started to flow toward
the front window before it had jelled.
The dog and the cat were now
both watching Arnie with curious looks on their faces.
The dog lurched toward the
window and Arnie stepped back, once again almost falling.
He looked up and down the
street to see if anyone was out and about. But it was after two in the morning
and there was nobody.
If he’d been thinking clearly,
Arnie Bledsoe would have walked the seven blocks to the police station.
But Arnie was nowhere near to thinking
He rattled the door knob and
found the shop locked up. All that rattling had done was throw the dog into
Arnie walked around to the back
of the shop and started to climb the outside stairs that lead to Old Alex’s
second story apartment.
He got about halfway up the
rickety old stairs and stopped.
“Maybe that’s Old Alex sittin’
in that chair with his throat cut,” he mumbled.
Then a second, more scary
thought came to him. “Maybe whoever killed ‘em is up there in his apartment.”
But as curious drunks will do,
Arnie shrugged and continued up the stairs.
The outside door to the
apartment was about a third of the way open.
“That’s not good,” said Arnie.
“Not good at all. If Old Alex is in there …, hic, if he’s in there and alive …,
hic, then this door should be shut tight.”
Arnie poked his head in the
“Alex? You in there?”
Getting no answer, he stepped
The back stairway entrance
opened into the kitchen. It was dark. There were two rooms off to either side
of the kitchen, and both of their doors were closed.
Another door straight ahead was
open and it looked like maybe it was a stairway down to the barber shop. Arnie
stood ready to make a quick exit if Alex’s dog came bounding up those stairs.
It had been acting peculiarly. Both animals had.
Now standing at the top of the
stairs and looking down, Arnie could see there was a closed door at the bottom.
He really didn’t want to go
down and open that door with the dog down there. But he was going to.
He looked in the refrigerator
and found a package of hamburger. He tore off a good-sized chunk and started
down the stairs.
“Here, boy,” he called before
opening the door.
The dog growled and gave off a
series of loud barks. Arnie opened the door a crack and tossed the meat through
“There ya go,” he said in a
sing-song voice, stepping into the room. “Good dog. Good dog.”
The dog looked up at Arnie and
wagged his tail. It appeared he was easily bought.
Arnie cautiously walked toward
the barber chair. From his current
vantage point, he couldn’t see what, or maybe who, was sitting in the chair.
As he came around to face the
front of the chair, he saw it was Old Alex sitting in the chair. His throat was
cut and a professionally done sign was in his lap.
Arnie stared at the sign.
Arnie remembered hearing rumors
over the years that some of Jerome’s residents may have been placements of the
US Government’s Witness Protection Program.
He was thinking that maybe that
placard was a message to the people who ran that program.
Or maybe to the others in
Jerome who were also placements.
The dog had been over by the
picture window, and now gave out with a low growl. Arnie felt a sharp pain in
the back of his head and saw a flash of white light before falling heavily to
“Come on, boy,” said a deep
voice. “Let’s go upstairs and get some water for ya. And maybe some treats.”
At the word treats, the dog
bounded up the stairs. The cat sauntered over from the window sill and wove himself
around the hitman’s legs.
“Ya, you too. Upstairs with ya.
It’ll be morning before someone comes along to take care of ya.”
He pulled the downstairs door
closed so the animals wouldn’t be back down messing with the drying blood.
“I’ll clean ya both up so ya
look presentable enough to be adopted.
Can’t have ya lookin’ like killers, now, can we? That wouldn’t
do at all.”
is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits
Office and has been a voracious reader for over 65 years. At the prompting of
an old high school friend, himself a retired English
teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has
had flash fiction and poetry published in Black Petals,
Bewildering Stories, One Sentence Poems, Yellow Mama,
Drunk Monkeys, Literally Stories, Dark Dossier, The Rye
Whiskey Review, Near To The Knuckle, Theme of
Absence, Shotgun Honey, and a number of other
online and print journals. Unweaving a Tangled
Web, recently published by Hekate Publishing, is his first novel.