Having swept the last of the auburn curls from the floor, Hayley paused to check the oversized Ikea clock that dominated the wall: Five to five - balls to it, that’ll do. As the apprentice, she shouldn’t really be expected to run the salon alone, but since the appearance of Peter Ackworth, Susan was increasingly absent these days. Hayley retrieved the keys from under the till, and made her way to the front door to lock up. Just as the keys entered the lock, two hands slapped the glass on the other side, causing Hayley to jump back in alarm. Behind the two hands was a sallow face, lined and oval; thick-rimmed spectacles perched upon great meaty plates of ears. Hayley habitually reached down to feel the outline of her mobile phone in her back pocket.
‘Please love – just a trim.’ His voice was muffled through the glass, and by the traffic noises outside.
Hayley opened the door just a crack.
‘Sorry, we’re closed now. All locked up.’
‘Could you not just fit me in for a quick trim? Please love – the wife will kill me if I go home without a haircut. It’s our anniversary today, and we’re going out.’
For a moment, Hayley weighed her options. He seemed genuine, and harmless enough. Reluctantly, she opened the door and the customer gratefully entered.
‘We’ll have to be quick though – some of us have got homes to go to.’
‘Thanks love.’ He was already removing his jacket and cloth cap. Hayley indicated a chair, and as he sat, she gracefully swung a black nylon cape around his front, and fastened the Velcro behind.
She didn’t much feel like making conversation, but it was hard not to once the comb and scissors were in her hand: ‘So where are you off out to?’
‘Oh, we’re just going to the club; nothing fancy. But we’ll have our tea there.’
Scratch scratch, snip snip: always in couplets. Deftly, Hayley’s hands worked their way from the nape of his neck up to the crown of his head, and feathers of silver hair fell obediently to the floor.
‘What about you love? You out tonight?’ he asked.
‘Probably not. I’ll be at home tonight. Watching X Factor with my mum. Sad isn’t it?’
‘Get away. Pretty young thing like you? I bet you’re not short of boyfriends.’
‘Oh yeah. Queuing round the block, they are.’
As she swept the comb across the top of his head, she thought that she heard him make a groaning noise. She looked at his reflection in the mirror, and noticed a small, but definite peak in the cape appearing around the customer’s crotch area. It can’t be, she thought. She edged her way around his side to take a look. Her glance downwards not only confirmed her fear, but compounded it: this time there was movement down there. Clearly, she could see a pumping motion, bouncing the cape up and down. She raised her eyes to his face, and saw him grinning back at her grotesquely, saliva specks at either corner of his wide mouth.
Without even pausing for thought, Hayley reached for the nearest heavy object: the CHI Rocket 1800 watt hairdryer which sat in its cradle by her hip, and with all her strength, swung the dryer 270 degrees until it collided with the customer’s cranium, sending him sprawling, unconscious, to the floor.
Screaming silently, her hands over her mouth, Hayley skittered backwards, astounded at what she had done. The adrenaline, still coursing through her veins, had given her the strength of an Olympic shot-putter; the blow to his head was pretty hard. She may even have killed him. Slowly, tremulously, she edged towards the old man, who remained prostrate, motionless on the floor. As she approached, she noticed that the impact of the fall had splayed the nylon cape up over his head, mapping out a trajectory of her defence.
Where the cape had been, his hands were revealed, still balanced between his thighs: his right hand held a yellow felt cloth, and in his left, those thick-rimmed spectacles reflected the late afternoon sun, which now spilled curiously through the window.