The Vanishing Hairdresser
by Bill Kowaleski
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Cindy Johanssen, a waitress in a small town in northern Wisconsin, has fallen in love with a handsome stranger, Sean. He is an interstellar drug dealer running oak resin to Sirius Prime. Sheriff Ollie Gustafson and Deputy Jim Walsh discover a renegade dealer named Gina, who tries to kill Cindy and Sean. Gina is captured, but Sean breaks her out of jail and has her transported to a prison planet near his homeworld. In the process, Sean has to reveal his true identity to Gustafson and Walsh.
They could hear the creatures chirping and whistling, getting ever closer, relentlessly pursuing them. The darkness, the trees, and the snow slowed their steps. In the clearing was a large pipe, like a drainage conduit except that it was mounted on wheels, maybe ten feet in diameter and twice as long. Perhaps they could hide in there.
They made a run for it, but when they entered the pipe, they felt they were falling off the edge of the world. They tumbled and rolled, suddenly emerging into a field of impossible flowers under a sky of pale magenta. The blue sun was so intense that it burned not only their eyes but their skin.
More creatures were there, only chest-high, with egg-shaped heads, massive eyes, and tiny, incredibly strong fingers.
Soon they were in a white room, on a low, pure white bench. Four creatures stood above them. “Where are you from?” asked one. Only it didn’t talk, the question just appeared in their heads.
“A little town, maybe fifty miles from Eagle River, Wisconsin,” he said, his voice squeaky and trembling.
“Which planet is that?”
“Well, Earth, of course.”
“Is there much oak where you came from?”
“Oak? Sure. Forests of it.”
The creatures chirped and whistled. The frightened man and woman sensed another communication in their heads, “Help us find this Earth, and we’ll take you back there. But if you don’t do exactly as we instruct, you’ll never see your home again.”
* * *
Cindy Johansson pressed the doorbell button one more time, hearing the ding-dong faintly. But no one came to the door, not even Margaret Olson’s three yappy miniature schnauzers. She brushed back her long golden hair, pulled up her tight jeans, and sighed. What’s got into Meg? She’s always been on time.
She stepped down from the porch and tried to peer through the slats of the blinds covering the picture window, making sure that she didn’t touch the frosty glass, but she couldn’t see much.
She paused to take a look at her reflection. She was holding up well for twenty-eight, she thought. Her bright blue eyes and innocent face had always been what she’d liked best about herself, though her many local customers had mostly preferred her full breasts and perfectly shaped body. But she wasn’t doing that anymore; she didn’t have to now.
Snowflakes fell gently around her, beginning to pile up on the crusty February snow. She crunched through it as she marched to the back. The uncovered kitchen door window revealed a house without a single light on, despite the gray, snowy skies.
She turned to the garage and peered through its filthy window but didn’t see the old pickup that Margaret and her husband Rolph had somehow managed to keep running for twenty years.
Well, thought Cindy, now I’m gonna have to get my hair done by that witch downtown. Or else drive all the way to Eagle River.
She turned to her pickup, but then thought of asking the neighbors. Before she could take a single step toward the house to the right of the Olson’s, Mrs. Axelsen trudged out the door, a frumpy, knee-length, tattered, bright green, cloth coat thrown over her housedress.
“You looking for the Olsons, Cindy?”
“Yeah, I got a hair appointment. She’s always been reliable...”
“You’re the third one in the past two days. They left with their dogs two mornings ago. Never came back. Never told me nothing. They always let me know when they’re going somewhere, so’s that Otto can clear the snow for them.”
“Yeah,” said Cindy. “Six inches today.”
“That’s all I know, dear. Tell me if you find out anything. You’re the one knows everybody around here.” Cindy watched her substantial butt waddle back toward her house. And she’s barely forty. Please never let me get like that.
As she drove the few blocks to downtown, she decided her hair could wait. She turned into the police station parking lot instead. Inside, Sheriff Ollie Gustafson and his stocky, crew-cut deputy, Jim Walsh, stood just inside the front door. They waved at Cindy but kept talking.
“So, Ollie,” said Walsh, “they found the truck on this logging road north of town. Footprints of people and dogs lead into the woods about two hundred yards, then just stop. There’s a clearing there, and the snow is all melted away. More footprints lead west out of the clearing, but they double back. It’s all very odd.”
Gustafson turned his head toward Cindy. “Know anything about this Cindy? It’s the Olson’s pickup.”
“Yeah, I was just there. Was coming over here to see if you guys knew anything. Nobody’s home. Mrs. Axelsen says they’ve been gone two days.”
Gustafson motioned her into his small office. After she and Walsh sat, he closed the door and sat at his desk. The chair squeaked in protest to his considerable bulk. Cindy noted that he’d just had his thinning gray hair and walrus mustache trimmed.
“Sean know anything about this, Cindy?” asked Gustafson.
“Well, I just found out about it myself and drove right over here. But I’m gonna ask him.”
Gustafson looked over at Walsh, then back to her. “I don’t know whether you’re aware that we know who Sean really is, and Gerry Anderssen too.”
“Who he really is? What do you mean by that?”
“Come on, Cindy, don’t play games with us,” said Walsh. “Sean told us who he and all these other oak dealers really are.”
“Oh, really. What did he tell you?”
“That they’re from another planet, that they’re wearing incredible disguises. He showed us his real self. Only way he could convince us.”
“He did that? And you believe it?”
“Hard not to believe it,” said Gustafson. “He took off his mask, he showed us that transporter thing, the big pipe, that they use to ship the logs to Sirius Prime, the whole nine yards. So you know what we’re thinking, don’t you? That the Olsons got mixed up with this stuff and got disappeared just like Gina did.”
She felt a twinge remembering Gina, without a doubt one of the most unpleasant people she’d ever met. But Gina hadn’t been a person; she’d been a Sirian with ambitions to take over the oak trade, and she’d been willing to kill to do it. It had been Sean who’d finally stopped her and transported her to a planet where she’d live out her long life in slavery.
“But Gina was one of them too. The Olsons are human, or at least I think they are. The Sirians would never harm us. It would be bad for business.”
“Let’s find out about the Olsons. You know where Sean is right now?”
She rode with the Sheriff and Walsh in their Tahoe to the Anderssen sawmill where she saw Sean standing in front of Gerry’s trailer, snow accumulating on his thin jeans jacket while he talked with Gerry Anderssen beside three huge oak logs. Every time she saw Sean’s movie-star face, she felt her heart leap. He was so perfect, and so good to her too. Everyone said he looked like a young Paul Newman, and she had to agree.
Sean saw her emerge from the rear door, smiled, and waved. “Just about done here, babe. Why the escort?”
Gustafson walked slowly up to them, almost too close, and said in a voice just above a whisper, “You guys know if Meg and Ralph Olson are your kind or our kind?”
Gerry waved them into his trailer, a tight fit, but warm and dry, at least. They stood around his desk, looking down at his bald head edged with an outer ring of disheveled hair, as he sat in his swivel chair. He pushed aside his computer monitor and said, “They’re definitely not Sirian. But I did hear something disturbing from one of the Northerners yesterday. There’s this new one, calls himself Wolf. I suggested that name; it fits around here. Anyway, let me think... I started culturing the skin for his disguise two months ago so that would mean...”
“We don’t much care about all of that, Ger,” said Walsh. “What did this Wolf say?”
“Just sayin’,” said Gerry, “That the disguise was only ready about ten days ago. One of my best. It doesn’t draw attention like Sean’s here does. You know, I’m gonna just have him tell you himself.”
Gerry pulled out something that looked like a cell phone, but Cindy knew it was a communicator like the one Sean used. Gerry whistled and chirped into it in the Sirian language. Five minutes later, a Mercedes SL-class sports car squealed to a stop inches from the trailer.
Gerry sighed, shook his head, and said, “He’s still a little wild. Just a young guy, no more than a hundred and twenty in your years.”
The human figure that stepped out of the car surprised Cindy. This was not the movie-star quality face that Gerry Andersson’s disguises were known for. Instead, it was a man she would have hardly noticed. His square face and crew-cut head bore a striking resemblance to Walsh’s stolid peasant countenance. He opened the door to Gerry’s trailer.
Wolf’s eyes moved from Gerry to Gustafson, to Walsh, and finally settled on Sean. “What’s going on here, Ger? Don’t you know that we’re rivals with the Southerners? I want him out of here.”
“No, no,” said Gerry, “We need to work together on this. Tell the Sheriff what you saw out there.”
Wolf stared another second at Sean, his face full of suspicion, then turned to Gustafson and said, “OK. You know we’ve got this area divided up so we don’t clash. We take the north half, Sean and his clan take the south.
“Well, I was just a few days here, and my clan had me surveying trees out in our territory. I came up on a clearing and heard some humans talking from inside some kind of little camper. They weren’t making any sense to me. Yeah, I took the language course, but all this talk was about chemistry. Doors were open, but I couldn’t tell what they were doing in there. I called for backup.”
“So bottom line,” said Gerry, “it was a portable meth lab. They were making this stuff out in the woods, in the middle of winter. Never thought anyone would be out there then.”
“Right,” said Wolf. “Now even though we’re kindred spirits, these folks were in our territory, and we needed them out of there. We often operate in the woods undisguised. Wouldn’t want them to see us like that.”
“Tell me more about these people,” said Gustafson. “Could you describe them?”
“Hah,” said Wolf. “Your kind all look the same to me. But I saw two of them. There might have been more, though. They were wearing winter coats. One coat looked pretty beat up, middle-visible range, the other high-end visible.”
“I think he means green and blue,” suggested Gerry.
“Men?” asked Walsh.
“How would I know? I’m not like Sean here. I’m not weird for humans.”
Sean lunged and grabbed Wolf’s parka. “Hey, jerk, you want me to tear your vile tongue out?”
Walsh stepped behind Sean, wrapped an arm around his neck, and pulled him away from Wolf. “OK, girls, enough of that.”
Wolf unzipped his parka and continued. “We quietly rolled a transporter up, then four of my clan members overpowered them and held them down while I dragged all of their equipment and chemicals out of that camper and shoved it all through the transporter.”
“Where’d you send it?” asked Sean.
“Our planet. The transporter is configured to send everything there,” said Wolf. “No more meth lab, no more trespassing.”
“What about the people?” asked Gustafson.
“Told them this was our turf, to stay away. Then we let them go.”
Walsh said, “Dogs. Ollie, there were dog tracks too.” He turned to Wolf, “Did you see their dogs?”
Wolf’s artificial face communicated an instant of confusion. Then he said, “Oh, canids. Right. No, no canids. Just two humans.”
Gustafson looked out the window, scratching his bushy gray mustache. “I sure wish you could describe these people better. I wonder if it really was the Olsons.”
Walsh stared at Wolf a second, then said, “And when you sent all their stuff off into deep space, would that have cleared away the snow?”
“Oh yeah. The transporter creates a semi-vacuum. They’re always complaining about all the snow and leaves and stuff that comes through when we ship logs back home.”
As Gustafson drove the Tahoe back to the station, Walsh said, “Here’s how I see it. The Olsons don’t have a camper. It wasn’t them cooking the meth. The Sirians stole the meth lab folks’ stuff, scared them off, then later, before there was another snow, the Olsons went to the very place where the lab used to operate. And there, they disappeared.”
“Adds up,” said Gustafson. “But the lab was already gone. Why would the Northerners mess with the Olsons? And what were the Olsons doing in that same precise place? Not too likely it was a coincidence.”
* * *
Cindy sat in Sean’s Infiniti M, staring at the flakes floating straight down. They were beginning to create a fluffy blanket atop the older, dingy, crusty snow. February was not her favorite month, and she wondered why she could never get conspicuously wealthy Sean to consider a vacation somewhere warm and tropical, like Hawaii.
She’d spent hours looking at websites of resorts in Honolulu and Maui, but Sean said he hadn’t made his quota, and at any rate, they could just go to Sirius Prime where it was always warm and pleasant. Gerry Andersson could grow a disguise that would also protect her from the much more intense ultraviolet radiation Sean’s sun rained down on his planet.
As they approached the Tall Timber, the only decent restaurant for thirty miles and the place she’d worked since high school, she heard a familiar yapping noise. “Stop the car!” she shouted.
“What?” Sean mumbled. But he pulled to the curb. There, just outside the restaurant’s battered, aluminum back door she saw three small shapes digging holes in the plastic garbage bags piled next to the overflowing dumpsters.
“Lucky that worthless private garbage company missed its pickup again last week,” she said. “Those are the Olson’s schnauzers.”
“They look hungry,” said Sean. “Let’s round them up.”
At the police station, Gustafson was just taking the first bite of his carryout Tall Timber burger when he saw Sean enter, a furiously yapping miniature schnauzer under each arm. Cindy followed, cradling the third dog like an infant. “Damn,” she said. “It just piddled on my nice new jeans.”
Sean carefully placed the dogs on the floor, then, still crouching, looked up at the skin tight, low-slung jeans, now sporting a long dribbly wet spot from her waist to her right knee. “Sexy.”
The dogs scurried along the floor, sniffing everything, yipping angrily at Walsh and Gustafson when they stood.
“What’s this?” asked the Sheriff. “Where were they?”
After Cindy explained, Walsh said, “They must have walked a good two miles to get back into town. Probably followed their own tracks back to the truck, then the scent of the truck tires down that logging road. But where are the Olsons?”
Cindy had disappeared into the ladies’ room, emerging with a wad of paper towel that she used to rub her wet jeans. “Those dogs stink,” she said. “Sean and I can take them over to the witch’s and have her bathe them.”
Walsh laughed. “The witch? You must mean Dotty Palme. You telling me she does dog grooming too, to go along with her beautician and fortunetelling businesses?”
“She calls herself a witch,” said Gustafson. “Claims she’s the only pagan in town. Yeah, she can clean ’em up, but...”
He scratched his moustache, his eyes wandered. “Jim, before we let these critters go, let’s get the state forensics guy over here, check ’em out, shall we?”
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Bill Kowaleski