Barbicide

"A terrific new author. His work is fresh and different."—John R. Little, author of Miranda, The Memory Tree, and Soul Mates

I had the pleasure of reading both "Barbicide" and "Holy Is as Holy Does"—another one of my stories—at StokerCon 2016 in Las Vegas. You can hear me read this one in episode 27 of The Bare Knuckle Podcast.


“I’m ready for you, Jim,” Charles said, sweeping a lush pile of light brown hair into a dustpan. “Why don’t you have a seat right over here.” He tapped the back of a jet-black barber’s chair.
Jim eyed the overweight man who had been his barber for almost twenty years over the top of his magazine. Charles Dyer hadn’t dropped or gained a pound in all that time, it seemed. Still the same eggplant of a man he’d always been, just a little grayer at the sideburns, maybe sporting a few more wrinkles. Wasn’t as quick to smile. It happens to the best of us, Jim mused, setting the magazine aside and stepping behind the register to the chair that Charles had indicated.
“What are we doing today,” Charles wanted to know as he stared patiently at Jim in the mirror. It was a casual formality, the answer always being the same.
“Why don’t we take an inch off the back. Maybe clip the sides and trim the top.”
Charles nodded, unfurled a purple cape and gingerly fastened it around Jim’s neck. Soon the mundane business of a routine haircut was underway.
Barbicide, the glass jar on Charles’s work station read. Resting at the bottom of the blue disinfectant within the cylinder were two shears and a comb. Jim thought it was the kind of tube you might expect to see a deformed fetus floating in, staring out at you with the one unblinking eye left in its little head.
He didn’t have much of a plan. He’d locked the door once he was inside and had ascertained that he was the only customer in the place. Some kind of extortion, he figured. Just enough to make Charles squirm. It would be satisfying to have something to hold over the bastard’s head. That was as far as he intended to take things.
But suddenly the Barbicide was on his mind.
“You been busy?” he asked.
“Oh, you know. Feast or famine. Kind of quiet today, but yesterday I had to beat them out the door with a stick.”
“How’s Julie?”
Jim watched in the mirror, but Charles kept his gaze averted.
“She’s fine.” A pause. “Rachel?”
“Fine,” Jim replied.
Snip, snip.
“She’s a hell of a fuck when she wants to be. Isn’t that right, Charles?”
The shears slipped from Charles’s hand and hit the floor. Now he stared directly into Jim’s eyes in the mirror.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You really ought to watch that habit of yours.”
“What habit?”
“Dropping things. Like monogrammed handkerchiefs. It took me about thirty seconds to realize it belonged to you. Are you going to deny it?”
“Deny what? You don’t think--”
“Oh, spare me the bullshit. I’ve been coming here long enough to see you blow your nose a time or two. I know that monogrammed handkerchiefs are just about the only luxury you allow yourself.”
Charles slowly turned Jim to face him.
“Have you confronted Rachel?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“I thought maybe you and I could come to an agreement.”
“Are you trying to blackmail me? Jesus, Jim. You know I don’t have a pot to piss in.”
Jim shrugged and peeled the cape away from his neck as he stood.
“That’s true. Maybe it’s not the best way to proceed here.”
Now the barber was nervous. It was in his eyes, a primal emotion. It felt good to be the cause of such a thing. Better than Jim would have imagined. He reached for the jar of Barbicide.
“What the…” Charles trailed off, as if he had his answer before he could get his question all the way out.
“Drink it,” Jim commanded.
“You’re out of your mind.”
“Drink it!” He set the Barbicide down closer to Charles and went to the desk phone by the register. “Or should I give Julie a call?”
“What kind of Hobson’s choice is that? Either you expose me to my wife or I die horribly from toxicity?”
“You won’t die, Charles. Christ, I’ve done a little research. You’ll get sick. You’ll have the shits for a day or so. But you’ll be fine. I just want you to know that I won’t be toyed with. Your affair with Rachel is over.”
“I’ll never see her again, I swear!”
“Drink the fucking disinfectant. Then I’ll believe you, and you’ll know that I mean business.”
Charles didn’t bother arguing further. He eyed the Barbicide for a moment, then reached for it and quickly removed the sterilized implements. Throwing Jim one last pleading look, and catching only a glare of stony anticipation, he guzzled as much of the Barbicide as he could before his body refused to take any more.
Jim watched him gurgle and cough. His fingers let go of the jar, which shattered when it hit the floor.
“Clumsy,” Jim said, shaking his head.
Charles went down on one knee. “It… burns.” His hands went to his throat and he began to tremble. Sweat broke out on his forehead, then his arms. The shakes worsened and he fell over onto his side. Breath came in shallow gasps as he fought for his life. A trickle of blood ran from one nostril.
“You said… it… wouldn’t…”
“I lied. For all I know you’ll be dead in minutes. Dear God, suicide is one thing, but to do it in front of me. What were you trying to convey? I suppose we’ll never know for sure, but maybe it was your way of atoning for what you’d done. Rachel will of course come clean about everything as soon as she finds out about this.”
Charles stared at him, his eyes wide with terror, and then he was gone.
Jim fished his phone out of a pocket and dialed 911 as he unlocked the door and stepped outside, hoping there was a brilliant actor somewhere deep inside him. He was about to need his help.


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