The Brush-Off: A Hair-Raising Mystery - By Laura Bradley



Eardrums cringing, I pulled and pushed and squirmed harder just to avoid hearing any more of his contralto whine. Finally, red-faced and panting, I looked at the reflection of our contorted shapes in the mirrors surrounding us and had to agree. It was stuck. Which meant we were stuck. Together.

“Damn it,” I mumbled, more to myself than to him. It was my fault I took the job. He’d told me exactly what he’d wanted, and I knew I couldn’t do it. I told him I couldn’t do it. But when he begged and whined, I’d agreed just to shut him up. Later, I’d tried to call and cancel, but he’d started in on how I was “The Best” (yes, including the capitals) and he didn’t want anyone but me touching him…well, flattery works even when we know we’re being buttered up. I was no exception, though I was still wavering between refusal and acceptance when he dealt the fatal blow. He had to remind me his wife was my best friend. Now, how could I say no?

This was why, I answered myself, with another stomach-clutching look in the mirror. I took a deep breath and got realistic. “I’m going to have to cut it.”

“No! Reyn, no!” His bawl dissolved into a sob. Tears quivered on his fleshy cheeks. “You can’t cut my hair! Not my precious…mi pelo muy bonito—”

“Mario, I’m sorry, but I don’t think we have any choice.”

I tried to pry my cramped hand from the sticky handle of the brush, but it was no use. I’d thrown out my back with my last attempt at getting the round boar’s hairbrush loose from his long, baby-fine strands when I put my foot up on the back of the chair to try to yank it free. So here I was, my denim broomstick skirt hiked practically up to my hips, one foot stuck between his back and the chair, the other dangling toward the ground, my chest draped—a generous verb, admittedly, considering my barely-B-cups—across the top of Mario’s head, and my right hand attached by mousse, hairspray, and volumizer to the brush. My other hand was no help, being inextricably tangled in hair that had turned the consistency of half-dry molasses. Needless to say, I couldn’t pull with all my strength. Still, never one to give up easily, I gave it one more weak yank; he squalled. With a frustrated sigh that was an ounce of self-control away from turning into a whimper, I relaxed my arms, making the muscles along the right side of my spine tighten frighteningly. I knew from experience those muscles would freeze in place, and I’d end up looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame for the rest of the week. The handicap was good for better tips but frankly not worth the extra money.

“Why is this happening to me?” Mario sniffed. A tear dripped from the end of his nose onto the front of his mauve smock.

I thought of telling him the truth—that he was a vain idiot. But I held my tongue, mainly because I could qualify for that moniker myself, at least the idiot part. “Well, Mario, I did tell you I’d never used these products together before, let alone so much at one time…”

“But—but it’s the only way I can get the volume I need.” His liquid brown eyes met mine in the mirror with an anguished look that reminded me of my dogs when I don’t let them in out of the rain.

He was never going to achieve the volume he wanted, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. Not while I was within earshot of that ear-splitting, whiny wail. I wiggled the fingers of my captured left hand and began to feel them earn a measure of freedom. The throbbing pain in my back grew more insistent.

“I think,” I began cautiously through clenched teeth, “I can get this hand free.” I eyed a pair of scissors within reach.

“Oh, yes,” he enthused, tears forgotten. “Then we can get some water. Maybe that will loosen it up.”

“I can’t reach the water, but I can reach the scissors.” I tried to tone down the hopeful lilt in my voice.

“Aye-yi-yi-yi! Don’t do it, Reyn. I’ll tell Trudy, I swear I will.”

I sucked in a breath and got ready to let loose on him. Someone beat me to it.

“Mario? You’ll tell me what? What are you two doing down there?” a tentative soprano called from down the hall as we heard