Ricko took a moment to enjoy the feel of their small shop as the afternoon sunlight fell across the man seated in the vintage barber chair. The chair dated back to the 1930s and was lovingly adorned with a cast iron scrollwork footrest, arm supports, and headrest. The hard surfaces were each padded with blood-red cushions finished with fine black stitching. The foot pedals that controlled the tilt and hydraulics had the look of polished brass that was only achievable by decades of use and care. As a venerable antique the chair had the honor of being the second oldest thing in the shop. The rest of the workspace was mostly taken up by a modern workstation holding a variety of scissors, clippers, and sprays. A sitting area composed of a number of comfortable couches and a large TV tuned to a local sports channel rounded out the small shop. As was the custom the TV’s volume was turned down so as to not disturb Ricko’s art. A second TV was mounted high in a dark corner for Ricko’s personal use and was midway through a generic vampire flick. Ricko, unlike others, greatly enjoyed the modern interpretations of the classic monsters, though they did tend to give people funny ideas about what was real and what was imaginary.
After preparing a robust lather Ricko began to use a badger hair brush to work the thick foam into the stubble of the man’s neck. The stark white of the concoction contrasted with Ricko’s dark skin like cream and coffee. Taking the razor Ricko began to work, like an artist with a brush. The razor slipped across the skin lifting the foam and stubble from the client’s cheek with equal ease. Through their fingers, Ricko could feel the hair shearing against the fine-honed edge of the blade. Adding that to the soft scraping sound of the blade’s movement to create a truly intimate moment between tool and user. On the screen, the vampire tilted the head of the victim to glide in for the “final kiss.” Ricko’s movements mirrored the monster’s motion pulling the skin of the man’s neck tight before exposing it to the razor’s edge. A straight razor shave was an act of faith for the client. If the barber used too little pressure the hair would not cut cleanly. Too much pressure and…
The vampire pulled back from his victim’s neck and cleaned a trickle of red blood from its thin lips. Ricko pulled the blade back, wiping the white cream from its thin edge. Ricko tilted the man’s head back to work on the throat. “They say you’re cursed you know.” The man whispered causing his larynx to bounce with the words.
“It would be best if you didn’t talk during this part,” Ricko warned him as the razor began to move.
With the last few confident strokes, the shave was complete. Ricko gently patted the smooth skin dry before applying a cooling balm to the man’s face and neck. Lastly, Ricko removed the cloth around the neck in a flourish. The man stood and ran a hand over the skin of his face while he inspected himself in the mirror. “I was surprised by this sort of thing in your shop. It almost makes me wonder if you are what they say.” The man gestured to indicate the mirror as his gaze shifted to study Ricko’s reflection.
“People can be lots of things without being what they look like, how sure are you of your information?” Ricko asked the now well-groomed man while reorganizing the work station for the next client.
“Considering how much the information cost, I would be very disappointed if it turned out to be untrue.” The man reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a roll of bills held with a rubber band then casually tossed the role onto the counter.
Ricko removed the band and straightened the bills to find a silver cross having been folded into the stack. Ricko set the cross aside and counted the stack, “Are you a man of faith Mr…?”
“Brent, you may call me Brent. And no I am not a man of faith, only of results.”
Ricko finished counting the money, “This is a very generous tip Mr. Brent, or is this an offer of another kind?”
“The latter; I would like to hire you for protection. You could consider that your signing bonus, as long as you tell me how you do it.” Brent was a predator, Ricko had no question about it. The real question was, what did an apex predator like Brent need protection from?
“Do what?” Ricko asked coyly, “Give the best shave in the state? I find it comes down to a sharp knife and years of practice.”
Brent was compulsively running his hand over his face feeling the newly liberated skin, he only spared an eyebrow raised at Ricko’s obvious evasion. It seemed Brent was content to wait for Ricko to answer the true question.
Ricko thought for a moment. Should I give up my secret? Would a man like this even understand? None of the others were willing to accept it; why would he? “I will accept your offer Mr. Brent but this isn’t nearly enough to buy all my secrets. I will tell you this, others like me believe that by gaining more power they can somehow defeat the curse. I think it’s all about balance. The harder we push on the world the harder it pushes back.”
Brent thought over that second evasion for a moment before asking, “That doesn’t sound like much of an explanation. I need to know that you have the power to protect me?”
Ricko looked up to the move still playing on the small TV as the priest held his ground against the monster with a shimmering cross not unlike the one laying on the counter, “I guess you will just have to take it on faith.”