Tuesday, April 28, 2020

S.1 Ep.5


ANOTHER ONE BITES THE MUSK


The men of the Millport barbershop were enjoying third breakfast.
Third breakfast isn’t actually a thing, not even for hobbits, but these were strange days. The barbershops were allowed to be open, indeed they were mandated by the Scottish government to be open, but few were there who ventured outdoors in these grim days, and as the pace of life slowed to a standstill, and the very fabric of the nation changed, it seemed that swathes of the male population were becoming accustomed to big hair.
With the oncoming tsunami of economic recession, and men across the land beginning to resemble prog rock keyboard players, it seemed the 1970s were back. On the plus side, if it meant Scotland were going to start qualifying for the World Cup again, there was general agreement it might be for the best.
And so customers were few, and the days were long, and sometimes, by the time lunchtime came around, the men of the shop had already eaten three or four breakfasts.
It was some indeterminate time between ten and eleven. There had been two customers so far. Big Alec Taggart, with hair so gargantuan he’d had trouble getting in the door, before asking for an Egyptian sacrificial tight perm, and Wee Sammy Bampot, looking for his regular lacerated, side-parting half-mullet.
Having cut the hair of one customer each, Barney and Keanu were now eating pastries and drinking coffee, along with able henchman, Igor, the three of them sitting in triangle formation, vaguely staring at the same spot on the floor. Outside, the day was bright, the winds coming in off the sea mild, the clouds high, the waves eager and agitated. Barney was listening to the sixteenth century choral music he found such a palliative in these troubled times, currently Thomas Tallis’s iconic I Have Seen The Lord, And Verily He Said Unto Me, You Are All Dead Meat, And The Crows Will Feast Upon Your Eyes And The Flesh Off Your Bones.
That day’s crop of newspapers lay in a neat pile beside Barney at the end of the customers’ bench, although no one had troubled them with so much as a glance, their bold headlines screaming impotently at a world that had had enough news for this, and many more, lifetimes. On the top of the pile, the Telegraph, leading with, Hero Boris Is Back, Nation Weeps With Joy; beneath which lay the Mail, As Bravura Boris Returns, Ecstatic Plebs In Ejaculatory Celebration; the Express, Near-Dead Covid Patients Leap From Bed With Exultation As Boris Returns Majestic; the Metro, Boris ‘Can’t Be Fucked’ But Will Return As PM Through Churchillian Sense Of Duty; The Sun, Love Island Babe Gets Sums Wrong, Buys Nation’s Year’s Supply of Dettol; the Guardian, headline, Tantruming Trump Suggests Shooting In Face Can Cure Covid; the Star, Harry And Meghan To Divorce By The Time You Get To The End Of This Sentence; and the National, Tories Drink Blood Of Their Enemies In New Lockdown Snafu.
‘We watched Atomic Blonde last night,’ said Keanu, as ever the first to break a silence.
‘Arf,’ said Igor, nodding.
‘Decent movie,’ said Barney.
‘Aye,’ said Keanu. ‘Seen it before, happy to watch it again. Don’t you think… when people, you know the kind of people, say there should be a female James Bond, I always think, why bother? Why not make a bunch of movies with Charlize doing that shit? She’d kick Bond’s arse. And if you want an iconic female spy, why saddle her with all the baggage of a Bond movie? Give her her own shit. Her own tune, and her own gimmicks and her own cocktail and her own gun and her own whatever.’
‘Hmm,’ said Barney. ‘Sounds about right.’
‘But it’s classic Hollywood, or classic whoever,’ said Keanu. ‘They make a great action movie, a great spy movie, they have a brilliant female lead, and what do they do? They name it after her hair colour…’
Barney smiled ruefully, as did Igor from the barber’s chair by the window.
‘Hadn’t thought about that,’ said Barney. ‘But, you’re right, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Inherent sexism.’
‘Arf.’
‘Exactly,’ said Keanu. ‘It’s like calling the third Die Hard movie, Atomic Baldy. Would they do that?’
‘No, they wouldn’t,’ said Barney. ‘In fact, they didn’t.’
‘So, the Charlize movie was based on a graphic novel called The Coldest City. Would that have been the best name for a movie? Maybe not, but, you know, it’s still a name, isn’t it? It’s still a name for a film that doesn’t telegraph your lead actress’s hair colour.’
‘Hmm,’ said Barney. ‘Maybe they’ll make a follow up, and not call it Atomic Blonde 2.’
The three men looked at each other, and then all nodded in resigned agreement.
‘Is it time for fourth breakfast yet?’ said Keanu.

Sarcasm

‘He said he was being sarcastic,’ said Blake Pidgeon, the only other customer to arrive before lunch.
He was looking in the mirror, watching Keanu deliver a near-perfect Miami Vice, collar-combo cut, eyebrows raised, as he paid Donald Trump the respect his office demanded.
‘I don’t know,’ said Keanu, ‘he didn’t sound sarcastic.’
‘Aye, I know,’ said Pidgeon, ‘but you’ve got to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, ‘n’ all that. I mean, he talks some amount of shite, right enough, but see those press people, it’s not like you can believe any of them, is it? I think Trump’s brilliant, by the way. And funny as fuck. I mean, it’s entertaining ‘n’ all that. Much better than some boring bastard who stands up there and talks shite. No one wants to listen to that.’
Barney had his back turned, standing at the window, looking out upon the world. A deserted street, the stark white of the promenade wall, the blue-grey sea, peppered with the white crests of waves, the gulls and the sea eagles, the mainland and the island of Little Cumbrae, and on out beyond the far horizon, where the Brodick ferry crept slowly across the top of the water.
His face was set hard, hands thrust in his pockets. Contemplating walking over to the other side of the street, taking in the air for a while. At least until Pidgeon had gone.
His other alternative was to tell Pidgeon to shut the fuck up.
At the back of the shop, Igor was sweeping. There was nothing to be swept, but he liked to keep himself busy. Barney could tell from the sound of the brush that Igor, too, was unimpressed with the fool Pidgeon. That Keanu was letting him talk did not bother them so much. Keanu always let the customers talk, too polite to do anything else.
‘I mean, you may not like the way he says stuff, but when you break down what he says, is he actually that wrong? I mean, he’s the president ‘n’ all that, you don’t get to do that without –’
‘Holy suffering fuck!’ said Barney, finally turning.
Barney never swore at home.
Keanu held the scissors away from the hair, as Pidgeon turned to look curiously at Barney.
‘What’d I say?’ he said.
‘Really?’ said Barney. ‘You’re not sure what it was about the endless stream of shite you’ve been chatting since you got in here that I’d object to?’
‘I’m a customer,’ said Pidgeon, defensively. ‘What happened to the customer always being right? In fact, I’m a customer in a barbershop. So not only am I always right, it’s expected that I talk masses of shite while I’m sitting here. It’s literally in the job description. Look up the phrase barbershop customer in, fuck, I don’t know, the Oxford dictionary or something. Customer who gets his haircut by a professional, while both customer and hairsmith exchange absurd and borderline psychotically bullshit conversation.’
He looked at Keanu in the mirror and smiled. Keanu, amused by Barney’s annoyance, smiled back.
Barney found himself glancing at the wall, where once he’d had a list of proscribed conversations. Though topics on the list had come and gone, Trump had been a constant. He hated listening to Trump, he hated looking at him, he hated conversations about him, he hated when anyone treated anything he said with anything other than total disdain, because clearly that was all he deserved.
The list had become hard to police, and so it had had to go in the end. And now, in these strange lockdown days, when people came to the shop in search of company and conversation as much as quality hair, it would have been cruel to regulate subject matter.
The downside of that was he found himself in this kind of position.
‘He clearly, one hundred per cent, was not being sarcastic,’ said Barney. ‘He wasn’t speaking to the press, he was speaking to that doctor lady, who looked about as comfortable as a haemorrhoidal monk sitting on a cactus, and he was being entirely serious, because he’s a fucking moron.
‘And, just for a second, because it’s not worth any more time than that, just for one second consider the possibility that he was being sarcastic. With, at the time, something like forty-five thousand of his people having died from this thing, how, in the name of all holy fuck, would sarcasm be appropriate? Really?’
‘They’re Americans,’ said Pidgeon, ‘they probably don’t know what sarcasm actually is.’
‘Sure, that’s great,’ said Barney. ‘The stupidity defence. Everyone, everyone, including us here in the elevated thought chamber of the barbershop, should give everything that man says the contempt it deserves. He’s a moronic, narcissistic, mendacious, bloviating, racist, attention-seeking man-baby, and the sooner he’s returned to the hollow world of celebrity TV where he belongs, the better for everyone. Sadly, that likely won’t happen. We’re stuck with him, because people are idiots.’
‘Are you saying I’m an idiot?’ said Pidgeon.
‘Don’t come in here and say things like I think Trump’s brilliant, by the way, and not expect to be thought a fool, Mr Pidgeon.’
Barney held him with his finest contemptuous stare, glanced at Keanu – who looked as though he was enjoying every minute of the conversation – then Barney couldn’t help himself smiling ruefully, rolled his eyes, and headed to the door, head shaking.
‘I’m going to take in some air,’ he said, tossing a hand to the shop, then left, the door closing softly behind him.
They watched him cross the road, and then he was leaning on the promenade wall looking out to sea.
‘Let’s get this Miami Vice done and dusted,’ said Keanu.
‘What got in to him?’ asked Pidgeon, turning back to the mirror, admiring just how amazing he was going to look when the Miami Vice was done.
‘You were talking shite, to be fair,’ said Keanu.
‘Like I said, it’s my job,’ said Pidgeon.
‘Arf,’ said the grim voice from the back of the shop.
Keanu and Pidgeon turned to look at Igor. Keanu nodded, Pidgeon looked taken aback.
‘Aye, all right,’ he said.
He looked guiltily at Keanu in the mirror, and shrugged.
‘Better get on then, son,’ he said. ‘And I’ll keep my mouth shut.’
Igor nodded at Keanu, Keanu – always a fan of the strange dynamic of the shop – smiled knowingly, and then returned to the fray, once more putting the scissors to work.
The methodical sweep of the brush, the click of the scissors, in the air that special barbershop magic…

Villain

‘Who d’you suppose the next real-life Bond villain is?’ asked Reginald ‘The Juice’ Brown.
Late afternoon, another quiet day coming to an end. Barney had talked himself off the barbershop ledge while looking out over the view, and had returned to the shop in a better frame of mind. Albeit, only once Pidgeon was long gone.
Now, this. Aged forty-one, furloughed porn movie stand-in, The Juice was getting his regular Burt Reynolds Smokeycut and moustache trim, and Barney had been quietly going about his business, as he always did, hoping he’d get to the end of the cut without having to engage in conversation. And failing.
‘You think there’s been a previous real-life Bond villain?’ asked Barney.
‘There must’ve been some bastard,’ said The Juice. ‘I mean all that Bond stuff, it’s based on real life, in’t it?’
He caught Barney’s eye in the mirror. Barney remained non-committal. He might have said that no, none of it’s based on real life, but as ever, he chose to leave it. People could think what they would think.
‘Aye,’ said Keanu from the window. ‘There’s always some grain of truth. All real life spies travel first class and stay in the best hotels, and I mean, they must get literally hundreds of women.’
‘Arf,’ said Igor, nodding in agreement.
‘Exactly,’ said The Juice, and now he turned to Keanu as much as he could, given Barney was still mid-cut, in order to continue the conversation. ‘So who d’you think the real life villain is? Which famous rich fucker seems kind of benevolent, and there are all sorts of people lining up to suck him off, then it’ll turn out he’s a bastard? They’re all dodgy, after all. Yon Amazon bloke, shifty as fuck by the way. And Zuckerburg? That guy looks like a haunted enema. But I reckon it’s Bill Gates, the do-gooding bastard. He’s all, I’m going to cure this, and put an end to that, and give away all my money, all that shite. Bastard’s richer now than he was when he said he’d give all his money away in the first place. Nice trick.’
‘I reckon it’s yon Wetherspoons guy,’ said Keanu, joining in the fun.
‘Nah, son,’ said The Juice, ‘he’s no’ a villain, he’s just an arsehole.’
Keanu had no argument to that – no one had – and said, ‘Richard Branson?’
‘Arsehole.’
‘Dominic Cummings?’
‘Arsehole.’
‘Bo –’
‘Arsehole,’ said The Juice, and Keanu and Igor laughed.
‘Elon Musk,’ said Barney, the words reluctantly spoken. Sometimes, when conversations lacked narrative drive and he thought he was going to be stuck listening to them going nowhere for the rest of his life, he felt obliged to participate. ‘Stand out, far and away, the obvious real-life Bond villain. If that’s even a thing, and I’m not sure it is.’
‘Don’t know much about him. What are his Bond-villain credentials?’ asked The Juice.
Barney and Keanu glanced at each other. A silent conversation, where one of them said, we wouldn’t discuss this live on TV in case we got sued, and the other shrugged.
‘So rich his wealth has to be described in adjectives rather than numbers,’ said Barney, lifting the scissors and taking a moment.
‘Check,’ said Keanu.
‘Comes across as a bit mental.’
‘Check.’
‘Sounds like Ian Fleming made up his name as some sort of weird in-joke.’
‘Check.’
‘Loves tech.’
‘Check.’
‘Massive self-publicist.’
‘Check.’
‘Has got lots of weird shit going on in space.’
‘Check.’
They nodded, then Barney clicked the scissors and turned his attention back to the Burt Reynolds.
‘Not bad,’ said The Juice. ‘Seems you know what you’re talking about Mr Thomson. Have you been briefed by MI6?’
‘The space thing’s the giveaway,’ said Barney, ignoring the MI6 question in such a way as to make it look like he had a direct line to C.
‘Go on,’ said The Juice.
‘You don’t know about the SpaceX satellites?’
‘No one told me.’
‘It’s a network of, I don’t know, like twenty thousand satellites or something, that’ll provide global Internet access. There’re four hundred up there now. A few years from now, the sky’ll be covered in them.’
The Juice, new to this information, looked as though he might be at the outrage end of concerned.
‘Twenty thousand? Why the fuck would you need twenty thousand satellites? I don’t even have one.’
‘All sounds a bit suspicious, doesn’t it?’ said Barney. He paused, he lifted his eyebrows at The Juice in the mirror, then he added, ‘At least, that’s what my people at MI6 are saying.’
‘Ha!’ said The Juice, not for a second thinking Barney was joking. ‘Twenty thousand,’ he added in a low voice, low-key incredulous, head shaking.
And so the conversation drifted away, lost in the silence that soon re-encroached on the day. The Juice stared at himself in the mirror, admiring his own moustache, contemplating twenty thousand satellites in the sky, wondering what that would look like, which made him realise he had no idea how many satellites were already in the sky, and that maybe it was more than twenty thousand.
Keanu and Igor stood at the window, each of them considering another cup of tea, and wondering if these strange times were not so strange after all, but the new normal, and that life would ever be thus.
Barney, having briefly given in to the demands of conversation, was happy to return to a period of silence, where he could practice his mastery of the Burt Reynolds, and think about nothing.
Outside, the wind blew gently, the waves tossed and argued and scrambled and fought, bundling endlessly upon the shore, the gulls circled and cried, jubilating at the legions of the fish in the sea, now that the humans had to stay indoors and watch Netflix, and high white clouds frittered the day away, coming from the west, heading to the east, never stopping to look upon the land.

* * *

And somewhere, far away, across the sea and the continents, in a large underground facility, where fifteen thousands workers sat in long rows in front of computer monitors, headphones in, listening to conversations around the world, the Millport barbershop discussion was logged – having been picked up through a tiny microphone placed in a set of clippers Barney had bought from Amazon the previous summer – tagged #AnotherOneBitesTheMusk, and passed up the chain to be included in the daily report, which would be placed in front of Jeff Bezos at nine pm, Pacific Time, that evening.

Monday, April 20, 2020

S.1 Ep.4


THE MAN IN THE ATTIC



The three men of the barbershop were looking at the new sign Keanu had placed beside his worktop.
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ asked Barney.
Igor nodded grimly beside him.
They each had their first coffee of the morning. Outside, the sky was blue, sparse white clouds were racing from the west, the waves were agitated, the air was fresh and light, as spring poured its silken magic on the enchanted holiday town of Millport. The coffee was finest Columbian, smooth and rich and full, with hints of chocolate, red wine and Audrey Hepburn, and with a lingering aftertaste of melancholy; and they each had the local Cumbrae breakfast delicacy, a deep-fried maple pecan Danish.
‘I think it’s perfect,’ said Keanu. ‘Our customers are looking for something a little bit special in these difficult times.’
They continued to stare at the sign, one that Keanu had made himself the previous evening. It featured George Clooney, a photo taken from an angle that showed a greater than normal amount of his nostrils. The nostrils had, naturally, already been airbrushed before the picture had been released onto the Internet. Beside George were the words: Nose And Ear Hair Waxing While U Wait. In small writing: Full Inner Nose Wax: £5.99; Ears, £4.99ea, Buy One Ear Get One Free.
‘Have any of our customers ever expressed the desire for a nose wax?’ asked Barney, already knowing the answer. ‘I mean, I know nose waxing exists, and there are barbershops that’ll do it.’ A beat. One second round to the other. ‘But we’re not one of them,’ he added.
Keanu tapped the side of his head.
‘It’s like everything,’ he said. ‘People don’t know they want it until it’s offered to them. They’ll be queuing out the door. This town is going to have the cleanest noses in all the land.’
He smiled, took a drink of coffee.
‘I’m also thinking of expanding the range and offering nose hair singeing. I might buy a tool for that, or else I’ll just, you know, set a cotton bud on fire, and use that.’
Barney and Igor glanced sideways at Keanu, then looked back at George Clooney. Fair bet, they thought, that no one had ever gone near George’s nose with a flaming cotton bud.
‘You dip the cotton bud in something first, obviously,’ said Keanu.
‘What?’
‘What?’
‘What d’you dip it in?’
‘Not sure. Some kind of shit or other.’
He smiled, nodded to himself.
‘It’ll spice things up around here, what d’you reckon?’
There was a silence across the shop, the familiar quiet of these days, when not much happened, and customers were few.
‘Arf,’ said Igor after a few moments, and Barney nodded.
‘What he said,’ said Barney, before popping the last of the Danish into his mouth.

Badges

Mid-morning. There had been three customers so far. Big Billy Taggart, in for his regular Lobotomised Perennial Half-Shaft Drainpipe; Wee Malky Six Fingers, looking for an inappropriate Shania Twain Pompadour Fade; and Tommy T-Bone, as ever chasing the dream of a Brad Pitt ’98.
The haircuts had come and gone, conversation had been minimal. Barney, Keanu and Igor had each taken a wander over the road, to lean on the promenade wall and look out over the impatient waves. The air smelled of the sea, fresh and clean, hinting at faraway places across the ocean.
In the shop, there was little to do. Everything was in order, the shop cleaned and buffed to within an inch of its existence. Music played – currently The Sixteen singing William Byrd’s canonical We Are All Going To Die, Then We Shall Know God, or Not, To Be Honest, I’m Not Hopeful – and the pile of that day’s newspaper lay largely undisturbed on the table beside the customers’ bench, one of the men occasionally rousing themselves to take a look.
On the top of the slag heap of the British press, the Sun, with the headline, Bonking Babes Lockdown Chlamydia Carnage, beneath which lay the Express, headline, EU Created Covid-19 To Scupper Brexit, Shock New Claims; the National, English Created Covid-19 To Scupper Indy, Shock New Claims; the Mirror, Johnson Admits He’s Fine, Just Can’t Be Arsed Getting Out Of Bed In The Morning; the Mail, Now Parched EU Wants Our Rain; the Guardian, Trump Surprises Even Himself With His Malicious Cuntery; and the Telegraph, Public Demand Boris Be Next King, Queen On Board.
They were drinking tea, staring at the floor, contemplating a future that promised little more than this. This here, life in lockdown, hiding from an invisible enemy. It wasn’t about grit, it wasn’t about being the best, or fighting. There was nothing to be done, except sit it out, and when governments and people became impatient, as they would, it would only make things worse.
And so the men of the shop stared at the floor, and drank tea, and every now and again they had hair to cut.
‘Either of you watched that new true crime documentary on Netflix?’ asked Keanu, a little bit of a chirp in his voice, at suddenly having thought of something to talk about.
Barney and Igor lifted their heads, Barney answering with raised eyebrows.
The Man In The Attic,’ said Keanu.
‘Nope,’ said Barney. ‘Don’t watch true crime.’
‘It’s a corker,’ said Keanu.
Barney glanced at Igor, who shrugged in response.
‘Go on, then,’ said Barney, ‘what’s the story?’
‘You’re not going to watch it?’
‘Never.’
‘Cool,’ said Keanu, and he took a last drink of tea before settling into the narrative. ‘So, there’s a family in a small town in Ohio somewhere, couple of hours from Cleveland. Mum, dad, two kids. Girls, both under ten. This all starts about five years ago. The younger girl says she hears noises in the attic. Right above her bedroom. The parents are like, yeah whatever, kid, right? You don’t need to have seen The Exorcist to get freaked by noises in the attic.’
‘Arf,’ said Igor.
‘Exactly. So, the dad goes up into the attic, doesn’t see anything. The noises don’t stop. The dad goes up again. Still nothing. The mum goes up. Even the older sister goes up. No one sees anything. The young girl refuses to go and look, however, and she insists she still hears noises.
‘And then, weird shit starts to happen around the house. Like, you know, the fridge door is left open, food is eaten, or something is knocked over, something else disappears. The kind of thing there’s always an excuse to be found for. Must have accidentally left the door open, or maybe the dog did the thing, or someone did something else and forgot about it. But they keep happening. Then one morning the girl wakes up and all her soft toys are lined up on the floor, staring at her bed, arranged between her and the door. She’s got nowhere to run, she screams, the mum and dad come in, but now… now it’s obvious there’s something in the house.’
‘Unless the girl’s nuts, and is doing it all herself,’ said Barney.
Keanu snapped his fingers.
‘Exactly. They get the police in, the house is gone over top to bottom, and there’s nothing. Everything’s considered. Could be the girl, could be her sister, the police are wondering if it’s the mum or the dad. But really, they’re all thinking it’s the girl. Disturbed childhood, some shit like that. But then the police find DNA traces of someone completely different. On the toys in the room, in the kitchen, and in the loft. All over the house.
‘These people are properly freaked out. They’re negotiating with the police about surveillance, and getting cameras in, and all that kind of shit, when, boom… the girl gets murdered. Knife in the stomach, they find her in her bed in the morning.’
Barney and Igor glance grimly at one another. Where else, after all, had this story been going? It was true crime, not true happy ending, not true there was nothing to worry about, not true nothing to see here, move along, move along.
‘And then, nothing,’ says Keanu. ‘The police find the stranger’s DNA on the murder weapon, but that’s all they’ve got. This DNA isn’t in their database, there’s nowhere for them to go. Everything goes quiet. The evil came, it moved into the attic, it killed the girl, and it moved on.’
‘Except evil, that kind of spectral evil, doesn’t leave DNA,’ said Barney.
‘A year goes past,’ continues Keanu, nodding along to Barney’s assessment, ‘then another year. Nothing happens. Then one night, out of nowhere, the other sister hears something in the attic. Right above her bedroom.
‘She freaks out, the mum and dad freak out, and pretty soon, things are back the way they were, just before the other girl got murdered. Strange noises, things being inexplicably moved, the whole shebang. And then, just as it’s started…’ He snapped his fingers. ‘It stops again. Just like that. It’d been building and building, then out of nowhere, nothing. One quiet night leads to another, and after a few days they start to think everything’s OK. Things might be back to normal. Sure, they lost one of their kids already, it’s not like anyone’s happy there, but at least the weirdness has ended.
‘And then one night, when the kid’s lying in bed, something drips on her face. Some weird, foul-smelling gloop. You know where this is going, right?’
‘There was a body in the attic?’
Keanu nodded.
‘There was a body in the attic, and it was decomposing in the heat of the summer. The dad finds it that night. They get the police in, and sure enough, it’s the body from which the DNA had come. Choked on a chicken bone. Can you believe it? The guy was living in the attic, and they found a secret passageway from the attic, down the side of the house, into the basement.’
‘No way,’ said Barney. ‘Really? And even the police hadn’t found that when they were all over the house?’
‘The police maybe didn’t do such a great job. The police maybe suspected the girl at first, and then when she died, well they wondered if maybe she stabbed herself, or maybe it was the mum or dad. And it turned out there was this narrow, secret passageway through the walls that the owners had never known about, and they’d had a guy living in their house the whole time.’
Igor shivered. Igor didn’t like true crime stories.
‘Thanks for that,’ said Barney.
‘It’s not finished,’ said Keanu.
‘Oh, good.’
‘They finally track the dead guy, now they know what he looks like, to a homeless shelter in Cleveland. He’d disappeared from there a couple of years previously. All seems to make sense, except, one of the detectives smells a rat. She’s not so sure. She takes an interest in the husband. Establishes, through careful checking, that he was in Cleveland at the same time as the homeless guy disappears. Does some digging. Discovers the husband owns a small lock-up on the other side of his home town. Isolated, in the woods.
‘That’s where he kept the homeless guy. So, it was the dad doing it all along. He was scaring the kids, he was freaking out his daughter. Then he killed her. Played the same game again, and then he moved the body into place, made it look like he choked, and Bob’s your uncle, he’s got a scapegoat for his crime.’
‘Why?’ asked Igor, who hadn’t enjoyed the tale. The single syllable emerged, as ever, as arf.
‘Turned out he knew his second daughter wasn’t his. She was the daughter of his wife’s boss, the result of a weekend’s business trip to San Diego.’
‘A tale as old as time,’ said Barney.
Keanu nodded.
‘The dad got busted, got convicted of murder. Ohio has the death penalty, so that was it for that guy.’ And he ran his thumb across his throat.
‘A happy ending,’ said Barney, grimly and humourlessly.
‘Not quite.’
‘Yeah.’
‘No, that’s not what I meant. Like, a while later, just when the mum and daughter are trying to settle down to a new life, having moved into a house in a completely different town, in a completely different state, noises started up again in the attic.’
Keanu looked at them with wide eyes.
‘And?’ said Barney.
‘That was it. The show ended.’
‘It’s on again next week?’
‘It’s Netflix, granddad,’ said Keanu. ‘Next week doesn’t exist on Netflix. There’s just now. There’s no more show.’
‘So we don’t know who or what’s causing the new noises?’
‘Nope.’
‘Must be the mum or daughter,’ said Barney.
‘Or the ghost of the dead dad,’ said Keanu.
Barney stared across the floor of the shop. He looked grimly at Igor, then back to Keanu.
‘Maybe tonight you could watch a comedy,’ he said.
There was a movement at the door, a flash of red, and there was Sledgehammer Ronnie, the postman, placing a small parcel outside the door, and waving at the men of the shop. They returned the wave, there was a quick non-verbal conversation establishing that everyone was well on all sides, and then he waved again and moved off, pushing his red cart ahead of him.
Igor lifted his small bottle of spray disinfectant and a cloth, retrieved the package, cleaned it down, went to the back of the shop, washed his hands, wiped the package down again, dried it off, then took it to Barney.
‘Thanks, Igor,’ said Barney, and Igor nodded and returned to his position.
Such were these times, that the simple tasks, the moments when there was something to do, were clutched at and swallowed like the first cup of water after a week in the desert.
The package was a small box, stamped with the mark of the Home Office. Barney raised his eyebrows, Keanu and Igor waited with an unusual anticipation.
‘Arf?’
‘No, it’s OK, thanks, I’ll wash my hands after I’ve put it in the bin,’ said Barney, drily.
He ran his nail along the seal, opened the box, and lifted out the letter and looked at the three small badges that had been arranged in presentation style. Small, British Racing green, with the word Barber written in cream.
He unfolded the accompanying letter, scanning it quickly. It had been signed personally by Priti Patel.
‘Our barber badges?’ asked Keanu.
‘Yep.’
‘What does the letter say?’
‘Hmm,’ said Barney.
‘Does she apologise for being a cunt and promise not to do it again?’
Barney smiled, folded the letter in half and placed it back in the box.
‘She praises us for our contribution to the safety and well-being of the British people. We’re heroes, apparently. According to Priti. Without us, many more would die. To be honest, I’m not sure she knows what a barber does.’
‘What’s the plan?’
‘With the badges?’
‘Aye.’
‘Thought I’d burn the package, just to be safe, then melt down the badges, make them into a small metallic ball, go up into the fields and feed the ball to a cow, it’ll come out the other end, and the badges can lie where they belong, in a heaped pile of steaming shit.’ A beat. ‘Unless you chaps want to wear yours. I wouldn’t want to deprive you.’
He smiled, and offered the box.
‘Throw it over,’ said Keanu.
‘You’ll need to scrub down afterwards…’
‘I’m on it,’ said Keanu, and Barney tossed the box across the shop.
The badges would be passed around, but they were, indeed, like the worst present on Christmas morning. Everyone wants to see it, but it’ll still end up in the bin at the end of the day.

The Trump Prediction

Mid-afternoon. The day had progressed like the eastern European art house cinema event it had promised. Now, Igor and Keanu standing at the window, Barney cutting the hair of Old Man McGuire, in for his weekly age-inappropriate haircut, today an Adam Ant Stand And Deliver.
Across the road, beyond the white promenade wall, the tide slowly came in on the land, the sea having settled from the morning, the waves low and grey and blue, barely a white crest in the bay. The gulls skirled and whirled, they danced and they sang, they told stories of life beyond the horizon.
‘Here,’ said McGuire suddenly, no one having spoken for something in the region of ten minutes, though it had seemed infinitely longer.
Barney, summoned suddenly from a daydream, shook himself from his reverie, lifted his eyebrows, and engaged Old McGuire in the mirror.
‘Frank?’ he said.
‘Weren’t you predicting yon Trump character was going to resign?’ said McGuire. He looked annoyed, although that was not, of course, unusual for Old Man McGuire.
‘You’re right,’ said Barney.
‘Like, in the next few weeks?’
‘Aye,’ said Barney, and he nodded phlegmatically, as he continued to attempt to manoeuvre what little hair there was on the top of Old McGuire’s head into the appropriate position for the Adam Ant.
‘Didn’t we bet fifty thousand pounds on that?’
‘No, Frank,’ said Barney, accompanied by a quick eye roll for McGuire’s benefit, ‘we didn’t.’
‘Aye, well, I don’t suppose it matters, but either way, I said then you’re full of shite, and I’ll say it again. That bastard’s never resigning.’
Barney nodded, as he ran the comb through the hair, snipping delicately at the very ends of the few thin strands of grey.
‘You’re probably right, but I’ll stick with my original projection. It’s almost as though the US is uniquely designed to mess this up and make everything worse. He’ll be at the heart of it, it’ll be catastrophic, and he’ll run away because he’s a coward. Or the Senators will grow balls of expediency, they’ll go and see him and tell him he has to stand down.’
‘You’re a mug,’ said McGuire.
Barney noticed that Igor and Keanu, both of whom were still staring out of the window, were smiling. They both, after all, agreed with McGuire. Everyone agreed with McGuire. Not that they didn’t think Trump was a poisonous, pusillanimous shitpumpkin, but they thought he was getting carried out of that place in a box, and not before.
‘We’ll see,’ said Barney. ‘You’d be happy to be proved wrong, I imagine.’
McGuire looked sharply at Barney in the mirror.
‘Happy? I’ll no’ be accused of that, son. Now get on with the cut, it’s about time I fucked off and went somewhere else to complain.’
Barney smiled again, laid down the scissors, brushed a few scraps of grey hair from McGuire’s shoulders and lifted the hair dryer.
‘I’ll just be another minute,’ said Barney, and he started up the dryer, the white noise cutting off McGuire’s, ‘For fuck’s sake,’ mid-sentence.

Late Afternoon

Late afternoon. The CLOSED sign not yet placed, but there would be no more customers this day. Ennui had settled upon the town, as the pace of existence had slowed to meet the demands of the lockdown. No one was doing anything, other than occasionally nipping along the road to buy a little more milk.
The world outside the window was at a standstill.
They had cut the hair of four customers each, the quietest day in a Millport barbershop since the great plague of 903, when Holy Roman Emperor, Louis the Blind, had stumbled across Millport when looking for Sardinia, bringing with him strange new pestilences which then ravaged the north.
‘Didn’t get much call for your nose wax,’ said Barney after a while.
They were standing at the window, cups of tea in hand, watching the world go by. The world wasn’t going anywhere.
‘Tough day,’ said Keanu. ‘Only eight customers. With this kind of revolutionary thing, introduced out of nowhere into an isolated society, that first customer is all important. Who’s it going to be? Who’s going to be the first man to say, I’m going for it, I want nostrils that you could eat your dinner off. And once you’ve got that,’ he continued, despite the looks he was being given from either side, ‘then you start to get buy-in from the rest of the townsfolk. You know, someone’s standing in the supermarket, and they see their mate, they start chatting, then all of a sudden, the first guy’s like, oh my God, look at your nasal passages! Have you had work done? Holy shit! And then the second guy, who’s standing there like a boss, with the smoothest, cleanest, most perfect nostrils in all the land, will be totally chill, cool as fuck, and he’ll just be like, why, my dude, I was at the barbershop, and these beauties only cost me five-ninety-nine. And then the first guy is like gasping so much he can barely breathe, and before you know it, there’s a queue outside, and we’re raking in the cash. Next thing, more than likely, BBC Scotland’s turning up wanting to do interviews.’
He took a drink of tea, he gestured towards the sea with the mug, although no one was exactly sure why, and then he took another drink of tea.
‘You’re a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity,’ said Barney, as he and Igor shared a rueful glance.
‘Arf.’
Keanu glanced at him, then nodded.
‘Buzz Lightyear,’ he said. ‘Nice. Well, Barney, don’t worry, I won’t forget you when I’m the nasal wax king. You can come with me on the magic carpet ride of barbershop glory.’
Barney couldn’t help smiling, and then the three men of the Millport barbershop found themselves laughing together. And there it was, some light relief at the end of a long dull day at the shop, so that the episode was finishing like a light entertainment American TV show from the seventies, with all the characters sharing a laugh before the end credits.
‘Good luck with the nasal wax empire, son,’ said Barney, lifting his mug of tea in a toast.
‘Arf!’ said Igor.
‘Thanks,’ said Keanu, as the three men clinked mugs.
Tea was spilled that afternoon, but nobody was harmed.

Monday, April 13, 2020

S.1 Ep.3


FOG


‘Young people nowadays,’ grumbled Old Man McGuire, as he sat in the barber’s chair on a grim Friday morning in April, ‘they’re all icemelts. The whole lot of them.’
‘Snowflakes,’ said Barney Thomson. ‘You mean snowflakes, Frank.’
‘Aye, that ‘n’ all. They’re all snowflakes, and they all need to shut the fuck up.’
‘Doubt they’re any worse than any previous generation,’ said Barney, and Old McGuire looked sternly at him in the mirror, in such a way as it was supposed to give Barney pause. Barney, however, continued unabashed with the Crouching Tiger cut that McGuire had started requesting since he’d acquired his new found passion for modern Chinese cinema.
‘Are you calling me a snowflake, son?’ said McGuire, eyes narrowed.
Keanu – Riker to Barney’s Picard – and Igor – an unusual combination of Data, Deanna Troi and a lifeform but not as anyone knew it – were standing at the shop window, looking out on the day.
There was nothing to see.
A mist had come in from the sea overnight, thick and damp, consuming the land. From where they stood, they could not see the white promenade sea wall, no more than twelve yards across the street. Indeed, they could barely see the street. Occasionally, ghostly figures would walk past the front of the barbershop, only those closest to the wall recognisable as anything other than spectral shapes in the claustrophobic fog.
‘I fought in the war, you know,’ said McGuire, when Barney didn’t respond, ‘so none of your snowflake shite.’
‘What war did you fight in?’ asked Barney, lifting the thin hair on the top of McGuire’s head, taking off the merest amount with each snip.
The war!’ said McGuire. ‘Which war did you think I meant?’
‘Frank,’ said Barney, ‘you’re eighty-seven. You were born in 1933.’
‘Humph,’ said McGuire. ‘Fine, I’m getting mixed up. I was in Korea in ’52 for my National Service. Elite special forces.’
‘Didn’t you do your National Service playing the trombone in a marching band in Arbroath?’ said Keanu from the window, without turning round. Igor sniggered darkly to himself.
‘No one asked you,’ said McGuire.
‘Frank,’ said Barney, ‘you could’ve personally killed Hitler, liberated Colditz, won the Korean War single-handed, and got Stalin to swap murderous dictatorship for being one of the Goons, it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s not about individuals, it’s about society. People have always complained about stuff. Always have, always will.’
‘You’ll never hear me complain,’ said McGuire, humphily, which was on a par with any time Moronic Trump says he knows more about a Thing than anyone else, when everyone in the rooms knows he just heard about the existence of the Thing for the first time in the previous fifteen minutes, and that there are toddlers who know more about the Thing than Moronic Trump does.
‘In the old days,’ said Barney, taking a step back to make sure he wasn’t changing McGuire’s hair in any noticeable way, ‘if you wanted to complain about something, you complained to your family, or you got on the phone, or you went down the pub. The complaint itself was very narrowly contained. Now, everyone has a voice, an outlet. So the complainers are amplified and echoed around the world. And often enough someone complains, literally no one agrees with them, but the complaint shoots around all of society because literally everyone’s telling the complainer how pathetic they are, and somehow that person becomes representative of an entire section of society, when in fact it was little more than one person going down the pub, saying to their mates, can’t believe I have to get up at seven to go to work tomorrow morning, and their mates saying, shut up, Billy, go and get another round in you wee prick.’
Barney laid down the scissors, ran his fingers through McGuire’s hair, then lifted a comb.
McGuire was eyeing Barney suspiciously in the mirror. A moment, then finally he said, ‘Are you saying Billy’s a wee prick?’

Fridge Spider

The shop had gone quiet, the rush of early morning having tailed off. Even then, the rush of early morning had consisted of three customers, but it passed for a rush in these strange times. The small pile of newspapers lay by the customers’ bench unread, the men of the shop sat around, in triangle formation, drinking tea, eating pastries. There didn’t seem to be a lot of point standing at the window, as there was nothing to see. It was the fog of a horror movie, thick and soaking, occasional dark figures moving eerily past, and forever promising creatures from the deep, a hand reaching out from the mist, whatever terror your mind forced upon you.
Igor had been first to retreat from the window, being no stranger to a terrifying fog. Keanu had finally grown uncomfortable with it, his imagination beginning to catch up, and now the two of them were sitting in the barbers’ chairs, while Barney sat on the bench, not paying any attention to the papers at his right hand. Indeed, he was placing his cup of tea on the picture of a sick-looking Boris Johnson on the cover of the Mirror, beside the headline, Boris Update: Still A Prick. Beneath the Mirror, out of sight and mind, lay the Guardian, headline Raab ‘Catastrophically Useless’ Say Muppets; the Telegraph, Nation To Be Renamed Johnsonlandia in Honour of Greatest Ever PM; the Metro had, Hancock Revealed To Be Just As Much Of A Cunt As Patel; the Express led with, Hero Brits Die As Selfish EU Fails To Provide Us With Enough NHS Staff; the National led with Sturgeon Contemplates Central American Trading Outpost in Search Of Economic Boost.
There was music playing – Thomas Tallis’s haunting 16th century lament, It’s About Time We All Fucked Off And Died– and the three men were sitting in companionable silence. Rarely, however, did such a silence last when Keanu was one of the companions.
‘There’s a thought,’ he said out loud, and he fished his phone from his pocket and tapped in a note.
Igor and Barney glanced at each other, a silent discussion on who was going to pursue the conversation, then Barney said, ‘Got a new idea for a book?’
‘Fridge spider,’ said Keanu, nodding to himself at the thought, slipping the phone back into his pocket. He looked at the others and shrugged. ‘I might not do anything with it, and I’m not saying, you know, I want to write an entire plot about fridge spiders, but I just thought it was a wee idea I could do something with.’
‘What are you thinking?’
‘There are all these places in a house that one goes with trepidation. You know, cupboards under the sink, and garden sheds, and garages, and you never know just what kind of giant spider species you might get in there. But the fridge? No one ever opens the fridge, scared there might be a spider. So, we have a species of spider that’s specifically attuned to life in the fridge. And it’d be big.’
‘Nice,’ said Barney. ‘So you just wrote down fridge spider in your phone?’
‘Yep. I like to note down words and thoughts and ideas, no matter how small. Just things I can maybe use. So right beside fridge spider, I have here Occam’s Razor, which is a concept I might make use of sometime, but I’m not really sure what it is, to be honest. Then the word aper├žus, which I thought would be a cool word to use, but then I’ll have to look it up again, because I can’t remember what it means. And I’ve got the phrase ‘barely an inch of moral space divides them’, which I read in a magazine, and I liked that, and thought I might use a Thesaurus and rewrite it.’ He paused. ‘But I haven’t done that yet.’
‘Nice,’ said Barney, nodding, then he took a drink of tea. ‘What happened to your little black Moleskine notebook? Thought you always used that for notes?’
‘Arf,’ said Igor, nodding, also curious about the disappearance of the black notebook.
‘Don’t get me wrong,’ said Keanu, slipping the phone into his pocket, ‘I love those notebooks, but the phone’s just more practical. I mean, you always have your phone with you, right? You don’t even have to stop and think about it on your way out the door, it’s like it’s permanently attached to your body. But your little black book? Much more likely to forget it. And then there’s the expediency of actual use…’
‘Go on.’
‘Say you’re walking down the street, and something significant or interesting or weird happens. You see something, you think, I could use that, but then you think, hang on a second, I might have forgotten it by the time I get home, so you need to write it down.
‘For example, say you’re just walking along the street out there, and suddenly you see butt-naked Nigel Farage chasing a unicorn with an axe. I mean, that could happen. And you think, well, that’s not something you see every day, but you’re worried you might forget it later…’
‘Really?’
‘Something else might come up. So, if you get your little black notebook out, and you stand there on the street with your wee pencil writing, butt-naked Farage chasing a unicorn with an axe, well, to be honest, you look like a bit of a dick. Look at me, writing. I’m a writer, with my little black notebook. However, if you whip out your phone, in the first instance you can just take a picture of the butt-naked Farage…’
‘If you wanted that on your phone…’
‘… and even if you wanted to make a note, you’d just look like you’re sending your wife a text. Just seen butt-naked Farage chasing a unicorn with an axe. Hashtag-Farageisanarsehole. Home in time for chips. Kiss-kiss. Or, you know, Can’t believe you shagged Roger, hashtag-devastated. Whatever.’
‘Point is you just look like everybody else, because everybody else has their phone out.’
‘Exactly,’ said Keanu, tapping his phone pocket.
At that moment they became aware of a spectral figure at the window, pausing in the fog to glance into the shop. And although the figure hesitated there a moment, it was not long enough for them to see the identity of the passer-by, as they stood at the far side of the pavement, and the fog was so thick they could make out little more than a ghostly, dark outline, and then the moment was snapped, the figure moved on.
Keanu shuddered, Barney felt a peculiar and unexpected wave of fear crawl over his skin. Igor, no stranger to the unearthly anomalies of this world, stared darkly at the door, waiting for it to open.
The door did not open, the figure disappeared into the fog.
There was silence, as the unsettling feeling rippled through the shop, and then with a final shiver they shook it off, the feeling passed, and normal service seemed to be resumed.
‘What was that?’ said Keanu, ever the first to speak.
Barney slowly shook his head. He had an ill feeling about it, and Barney, more than anyone on earth, was quite used to such ill feelings. Rarely did they come for no reason.
‘I don’t know,’ he said after a while, his voice quiet, reserved, cautious.
‘Arf,’ said Igor grimly, and the others nodded.
‘Let’s hope we never find out,’ said Barney.
And with that, the mood of the morning turned on a sixpence, the day continued solemnly, and with no little trepidation, from one minute to the next.

In Which Nothing Happens

It was a peculiar day in the shop, barely a customer stopping by. The fog was at least making the general public adhere to official Scottish Government lockdown advice: Stay Home, Ya Cunt.
Barney and Keanu had only had to do one more haircut each. Keanu, still discombobulated by the passing by of the eerily spectral figure in the mist, had given a slightly shaky Kurt Russell Little China to the local Episcopalian minister, Crazy Pete, while Barney had given Big Eye Carmichael his familiar Sasquatch Side Shovel Fade.
Interesting character, Big Eye Carmichael. Got his nickname because he had big eyes, but the lads at school didn’t want to call him Big Eyes, because that made him sound like a Disney princess or a Bratz Doll, or by some means femininely attractive, which they felt might have reflected on them as much as Big Eye, so they’d called him Big Eye singular, as that suggested something altogether different, even if no one could work out exactly what it was.
Whatever the name’s origins, it had stuck.
Now, the meagre work of the day so far dispatched, they were once again idle, drinking tea, waiting for something to happen. Usually it was a state of affairs with which they were more than happy, but today the cloying, claustrophobic mist was making them feel they were imprisoned in the shop. A wall of fog, constructed right up against their window on the world, overnight. That they’d passed through the wall to enter the shop did nothing to deter the awful feeling that it would not be so easy to walk back out again.
They’d been sitting in silence, more or less, since Barney had passed round the tea and biscuits fifteen minutes earlier. The clock on the wall seemed to have barely moved – certainly not as much as a quarter of an hour – and in each of the men there was a deep and unsettling sense of foreboding.
‘This,’ said Keanu, finally finding words from the depths of his discomfort, ‘is like a scene in an old war movie. All the chaps sitting around in the canteen, drinking tea, waiting for the call to put the Spitfires in the air, and go and take on the Luftwaffe.’
‘Roger that,’ said Barney.
Keanu took a moment, then nodded.
‘I see what you did there,’ he said.
Barney took a drink of tea.
‘Arf,’ said Igor quietly, although it was one of those occasions when no one really knew what he meant.
Outside, the fog pressed against the window, a peculiar form, not swirling or creeping or doing anything else that might be expected of fog, rather it just was, a state of glutinous being, thick and oppressive, clinging to everything it touched.
The door opened, a huddled dark figure, who quickly closed the door behind him, and then Chipper McIntosh, furloughed bespoke pizza dough creator, lowered his hood, his great Leo Sayer of a hairstyle sprang magnificently from his head, and he looked around the shop.
‘This fog needs to calm the fuck down by the way. You ever seen anything like that in your puff?’
Barney and Keanu shook their heads, about to speak perhaps, when Igor said, ‘Arf,’ as he looked darkly into his past, and the others shuddered at the very mention of it.
‘What?’ said McIntosh, naturally not attuned to Igor in the same way as Barney and Keanu.
‘Everyone has stories to tell,’ said Keanu, getting to his feet, and offering McIntosh the barber’s chair.
Igor collected the Covid Instatest equipment – distributed to all barbershops in the kingdom – quickly carried out the test, establishing McIntosh was free of the virus, and formally admitted him to the premises.
And so Chipper McIntosh removed his coat, hung it on the peg and settled into the barber’s chair to begin the tried and trusted conventions of the centuries-old tradition of men cutting other men’s hair, a practice first developed in third century Byzantium, a time when all barbers were mandated to be eunuchs.
Barney watched the scene for a moment, glanced at Igor, they shared a phlegmatic look, and then Barney looked down at the nearest newspaper, and decided he might as well have a read.
The Telegraph, with their bullish pro-Johnson headline. How bad could it be? thought Barney.
He opened it up, looked first at Page 3. There was a picture of a young woman, pouting out at the reader in a low cut vest top, beneath the headline, Killed By EU In Virus Tragedy.
Barney looked at Page 2. There was an article by a political journalist he’d seen a couple of times on Newsnight before he and DS Monk had bought a television that didn’t show current affairs. It was headlined, Lockdown Will Kill Millions: We Should Re-Open Pubs And Let The Weak Die. Barney didn’t bother reading it.
He turned the page. Page 5. Shame Of Incompetent EU Death Shambles, above a large cartoon of a huge mound of corpses, beside which stood Ursula von der Leyen looking sad, an obvious crocodile-shaped tear on her cheek.
Barney looked at Page 4. Hero Johnson Gives Hope To Millions, Pope Acknowledges Beatification Process Underway.
Barney closed the paper and tossed it away to the side, muttering, ‘Jesus,’ under his breath.
‘You didn’t pass by earlier, by the way?’ asked Keanu, once the cape was on, the tape placed around the neck, and he was standing back surveying the general tumult of the hair.
‘Nah,’ said Chipper McIntosh. ‘Wasn’t going to come out at all, but then Margaret says there’s probably no one at the barbers, you should get down there while you’ve got the chance.’
‘Usually quiet these days,’ said Keanu.
‘Reckon youse’ll be getting shut down soon,’ said McIntosh. ‘I know youse’ve been declared an essential service ‘n’ all that, but it’s coming. They’re arresting folk for buying biscuits now, won’t be long until haircuts are off the menu.’ A beat. ‘Why d’you ask?’
‘Why do I ask what?’ said Keanu, who’d started to think about a life without biscuits.
‘Why d’you ask if I passed by earlier?’
‘Ah. There was some guy, stood out there for a moment, we thought he was going to come in.’
McIntosh looked at the window, looked at his own reflection in the lighting of the shop.
‘Fog’s thick as fuck, right enough,’ he said. ‘No wonder you couldn’t tell who it was.’ Another pause, then he added, ‘I didn’t see anyone else, but I suppose there must be a few others about.’
‘Suppose,’ said Keanu, and he shook away the thought of the passing spectre from earlier, sorry that he’d brought up the subject. ‘So, just a trim?’
‘Want it all off,’ said McIntosh.
Keanu took a step back, Barney lifted his head, Igor looked round, his hump twitching.
‘What?’
‘Look, mate,’ said McIntosh, ‘youse’re doomed. See this stuff about the lockdown lasting a few more weeks, or this or that or whatever, it’s all a load of shite. This is going on for months. Nothing will be the same at the end of all this shite, chances are we’re all completely fucked, even if we don’t all personally get it and die. So, God knows the next time I’ll be able to get a haircut, so, you know, might as well get a few months’ worth in a oner.’
‘So, what are we talking?’ asked Keanu. ‘A number three, maybe a four?’
‘Naw,’ said McIntosh. ‘All of it, get all of it off. I want to be bald as fuck. As bald as that cunt Bruce Willis in one of they films.’
Keanu ran his hands through the great mass of dark hair, then finally shrugged.
‘Thunderbirds are go,’ he said, nodding. ‘Unguarded clipper it is. D’you want it shaved close with a razorblade once all the hair’s gone?’
‘Might as well,’ said McIntosh. ‘The whole kit and caboodle.’
‘Oakie doakie,’ said Keanu, and then he ran his hands through the great mass of hair one last time, before lifting the clippers.
Normal service resumed, a familiar silence quickly fell upon the shop. Had Barney been executing the cut, the buzz of the clippers would already be sounding, McIntosh’s hair falling faster than the Dow Jones after Moronic Trump says something else moronic. But Keanu took everything a little more slowly, and at this time, there was little need for haste.
‘Heard a rumour,’ said McIntosh, as Keanu brushed off the clippers.
‘Go on.’
‘They’re saying that the Tories have developed a test, like something out of Minority Report, that identifies whether or not you’re going to contract Covid, and if you do contract it, how badly you’ll be affected by it.’ He and Keanu were looking at each other in the mirror. ‘And if it says you’ll die, or there’s a greater than fifty per cent chance you’ll die, they’re just going to kill you anyway.’
He shrugged. Keanu, as ever, credulous. Barney and Igor exchanged a tired glance.
‘Just what I heard,’ said McIntosh. ‘Wouldn’t put it past those bastards.’
‘They’d save millions,’ said Keanu.
‘Give themselves tax cuts, the fuckers,’ tossed in McIntosh.
‘You’re stalling, Chipper,’ said Barney from behind. ‘Keanu,’ and he made a small gesture to the clippers, ‘engage.’

End of the Day

End of the day, the quietest of the lockdown days so far, more about the fog than about customers drying up, people not going out.
The fog of legend still clung to the town, creeping into every unprotected space, up every alleyway, down every street, into every corner. And with it came the silence. No traffic, those few souls abroad walking desolately in the mist, padding softly, slowly, invisibly. The sea muffled, the gulls huddled down for the day, a day so quiet, so dead, it might as well not have been happening.
The men of the shop were sticking to their conventions, clutching at ordinary life. On this occasion, a cup of tea at the end of the day. Perhaps none of them had really wanted it, perhaps they all knew they’d be better off heading out into the fog. Yet here they were, clinging to normality, delaying the inevitable slow walk home.
‘You think there was something going on with that creepy shadowy figure who stood outside?’ asked Keanu.
Neither Barney nor Igor were quick to answer. Neither Barney nor Igor really wanted to talk about the creepy shadowy figure.
‘Or d’you think we all just got collectively carried away,’ continued Keanu, as ever, like nature, abhorring a vacuum, ‘and really it was Old Agnes, and she just hesitated out there for a moment ‘cause she was hoiking her knickers back up, and we’re so used to devilry and horrific murder we immediately assumed the worst?’
Barney and Igor looked at each other, the familiar silent conversation. They had both been through much, they’d live two of the more remarkable lives of the modern fictional era. They were men who knew the difference between a genuine sense of foreboding, and a collective false paranoia.
There was something out there. Or, at least, there had been.
‘Too early to say, son,’ said Barney, finally.
He took a drink of tea, set the mug down on top of Boris Johnson’s face.
‘Too early to say,’ he repeated.
Keanu nodded, took a drink of tea, stared phlegmatically at the floor.
‘Aye,’ he said.
‘Arf,’ added Igor, and the others mouthed silent agreement.
And so, another day in the Millport barbershop quietly wound its way to an end…