By Russell Guenther
William Robert Dixon was as professional a barber as ever lived, though he was perceived around town as a rubish country bumpkin, who was referred to as “Barber Billy Bob” behind his back. He had moved from his native Tennessee to upstate New York, setting up his own shop. He built up a reputation at his current trade, which he’d picked up while serving in the Army during Operation Desert Storm. The livid scar that ran from his brow to the crown of his head that he had sustained in the Gulf, along with his awkward demeanor, lent creedence to the public opinion that he wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
William was sweeping up hair one afternoon, and was delighted to see Major Hendricks walk through the door.
“Well hello, Major. Awfully nice to see you.”
“Private Billy Bob,” Hendricks said in his booming Virginia drawl.
“What’ll it be today?” William said, as if he didn’t already know. Hendricks never strayed from his routine of getting his buzzcut tended to every two weeks. Hendricks scoffed and dropped down into the chair. “Alrighty then, the usual.” William offered a buck-toothed grin, which was not reciprocated. There was not much in the way of conversation as William meticulously buzzed and trimmed, trimmed and buzzed. After brushing the microscopic hairs off the Major’s neck he reached for the scissors. “Lean on back, if you please, sir.” William splayed the scissors, in preparation for the task at hand. He gingerly put a hand on the Major’s forehead, brought the scissors into the nostrils, snip-snipping every stray gray hair. Major Hendricks was as fussy about his nose hair as anything else.
William stopped a moment. “Excuse me a minute, I forgot to lock the door. You’re my last customer of the day.” Hendricks gave him an annoyed look. William locked the door and drew the Venetian blinds, turning the sign to CLOSED. He walked back to his post. “Sorry sir, closin’ early today. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment. We’re just about done here.” He took the splayed scissors back up into place with his right hand, balled up his left hand into a fist and brought it up hard against the silver handles. The blades drove into the Major’s nostrils, and he let out a high pitched scream. Blood sprayed onto the mirror, then fountained down, soaking the cape. It took a bit of tugging, but William managed to wriggle the scissors free, and the Major’s head fell forward from the force. He slung the towel he had draped over his shoulder around the Major’s eyes and tied it to the headrest. Hendricks was clutching the air with blind fury, gurgling through the crimson waterfall. William walked around to the front of the chair and watched the man wear himself out. He then bent down and spoke into his ear. “Major Hendricks, it is my great honor to present you with the Purple Heart.” Closing the scissors, he drove them into Hendricks’s chest with both hands. There was still plenty of blood left, and it pumped all over William’s wrists and hands.
Hendricks convulsed briefly before sputtering to a stop, like a wind-up toy soldier. William had to leverage his foot against his chest to pull them free of the breast plate. He carefully washed them in the sink and returned to the dead man.
“Sorry, no Taps for you, sir.” William dragged the fresh corpse into his back storeroom, leaving a red snail trail behind. He dropped the body on the tile floor, and opened the lid of the deep freeze he had bought two months prior. William was a little guy, and Hendricks had the typical jock-gone-to-fat physique. He couldn’t have weighed less than 230.
It took William several minutes of heaving to hoist the fat man’s body up and over the edge of the deep freeze. He managed it without a hernia, but it took him another 20 minutes to recover his breath. He walked back out to the shop, setting to work with a bucket and mop. After three hours, it was back to being a barber shop instead of a slaughterhouse floor.
He got home to his tiny apartment at half past eleven. He collapsed in his recliner, and pulled a list out from a drawer in the small end table next to him, making a check mark. He put it back into the drawer, rubbed his scar, then went to the fridge. He had a few spoonfuls of cottage cheese, and a slice of bologna, then fixed a hot milk and went to bed. Next morning, William looked at the next name on his list: Staff Sergeant Alan Bonnin.
William was nothing, if not patient. After two days, William checked the body after closing up shop. It looked like it had frozen to an acceptable degree. He had read about a killer in Jersey who froze his victims, which made sawing them up less messy. It took four nights after working hours to cut the body into manageable pieces. William parceled them into three heavy duty lawn bags, cramming two into the trunk of his Honda Civic and fitting one into the back seat. He drove out to the bridge and heave-hoed the bags into the river; kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk.
William watched the news every evening for a week before the story hit. He watched with a big goofy grin as he saw Hendricks’s photo on the screen, all high brass spit and polish.
“In other news, authorities are asking for help in locating Major Konrad Hendricks, who has been reported missing over the weekend. Concerns were raised by his family after he had missed their weekly gathering. The decorated Army officer and war hero…”
War hero, poo, William thought. War criminal was more like it. The man was the figurehead of a human trafficking operation in the Middle East, mostly underage girls and boys ranging anywhere from 11 to 15 years old. Hendricks and his confederates made a killing, literally, in the business. They raided remote peasant Iraqi villages, under “suspicion of harboring terrorists.” They rounded up the children into convoy trucks, then burned the villagers’ homes to the ground, with the remaining inhabitants bound inside their huts. The children were driven to Saudi Arabia, being sold for a handsome profit. They were then shipped to southeast Asia, where there was a high demand in the prostitution rings. As far as William was concerned, Hendricks got off easy, the slime.
William put a Hungry Man Salisbury steak into the microwave and grabbed a Fresca from the fridge. When his supper was ready, he brought it down to his TV tray and watched his favorite show; Star Trek: The Next Generation. He always felt that Picard was a far better Captain than Kirk. After he finished, he changed into his pajamas and brushed his teeth, slid into bed and read a Spiderman comic, then turned out the light.
Tuesday was business as usual. William had bought a new pair of scissors with chagrin, not having been able to salvage the old ones after the damage Hendricks did. After a day’s work, he locked up, swept up the hair and put the till into the safe.
Bonnin cut his own hair, William knew, so this performance would have to take place in a different venue. Bonnin was a ‘roid raging gym rat, and William had been following his routine, purchasing his own gym membership and making a show of working out until he had the routine down. It turned out to not be that difficult. The jerk pumped iron three times a day, every day. His evening workout ended at 10PM, on the dot. The place was deserted at this time. Perfect. William showed up at the gym at 9:30, and rode the exercise bike for 15 minutes. After everyone else had left, he crept to the back room where the bench press station was located. He heard Bonnin grunting his guttural butt off all the way down the hall. He got to the room, and there he was, the Mighty Staff Sergeant, finishing up a set of 350 pound bench presses.
William watched from the doorway until Bonnin started to struggle with the last repetition. He grabbed a 15 pound dumbbell from the rack next to the wall and dropped it onto Bonnin’s groin. This caused him to lose purchase on the bar, and it dropped onto his chest. He was sure to have cracked a couple ribs. Bonnin was already bleeding from his mouth, and William walked around to the head of the bench. “Reckon it looks like you need a spot there, Sir. PFC Dixon, at your service.” He rolled the barbell, having the advantage of leverage as well as the fact that the man’s chest was crushed, over Bonnin’s throat, watching him struggle to push the weight up. His bewildered eyes bulged, tongue protruding as his windpipe collapsed. William held the bar in place until the job was done, then took the back exit and drove home. Won’t have to go to the gym no more, he thought.
Wednesday morning, William happily watched the television news report of the “accident” that befell on respected Staff Sergeant Alan Bonnin.
Said respected Staff Sergeant was Major Hendricks’s chief enforcer, taking great pleasure in burning down peasant villages, then shooting the people down while they tried to escape the flaming huts.
Two checks off the list, one more to go. William was saving the best for last. Corporal Ivan Romanovich was a Spetsnaz soldier who defected from the Soviet Union before the collapse, and quickly made officers rank in the US Army. He was also the man responsible for William’s life-altering injury. William had been riding in back of a convoy truck one day, and looking out, he could see a group of young girls being rounded up into the back of another truck at gun-point by Staff Sergeant Bonnin. He reported it to his commanding officer, Major Hendricks. Hendricks said he would look into it.
Meanwhile, William, along with the other men in his company, were sent in a cargo truck on what they were told was a recon mission on a possible rogue Republican Guard camp. Romanovich was driving. The truck stopped abruptly, and they were instructed by Romanovich to get out of the truck. He pointed north.
“This is where we believe them to be hiding.” Nobody saw anything among the dunes, and a few of the men looked at each other. “Go check it out!” He roared. Good soldiers, they did what they were told, marching into the barren landscape. They went along for twenty yards, then William looked back and saw Romanovich pulling the pin from a grenade. He was the only one who saw it and tried to yell for his fellow soldiers to head for cover before the projectile sailed into the air.
After waking up in a VA hospital, head thickly covered in bandages, he was told he sustained significant brain trauma. His first visitor was Hendricks. William was feeling slow and loopy, definitely not quite himself, but he was able to put two and two together.
“How you feelin’ there, buddy boy?” Hendricks said.
“Major?” William said in a weak and innocent voice. “Gee whiz, how did I get here? Reckon I don’t remember a thing.” He worried he had laid it on a little thick, but by some miracle, Hendricks bought it.
After weeks of PT, William was able to regain his motor skills. He returned to the States and civilian life. He moved back to Tennessee, taking a job as a barber and earning a good reputation for his work. He always wore an Atlanta Braves baseball cap to cover his wound, so as not to scare the customers, though William was never much of a sports fan.
The war ended a few months later, and William heard through the grapevine that some of the old boys from his unit had bought up a nice little section of property in upstate New York. A kind of soldier’s HOA. William packed his things up, gave notice to his employer, and headed up north to reunite with the troops.
William switched off the news and called Mama back in Tennessee. She said she had a cold, but otherwise fine. He said yes, he was fine too. He told her don’t go worrying, and he loved her, and hung up. He read Bloom County and Calvin & Hobbes over his Honey Nut Cheerios, skipping over Family Circus, which he thought was stupid, then set off to start another day.
William was distracted all day at work, but managed not to cut anyone’s ears off. After work, he picked up a Whopper, fries, and a strawberry shake. He ate in the car on the way to Home Depot, where he bought some kerosene, co2 cartridges and some heavy shop rags.
Ivan Romanovich owned a Turkish bathhouse in one of the seedier parts of town. William drove to the back parking lot. He knew Romanovich was a muscle car nut, and he saw a tricked out 60’s-ish Chevrolet, William couldn’t tell what model. He was never very good with cars. It was bright red, perhaps in tribute to Mother Russia.
He pulled up a good distance away, far enough to be safe and still have a vantage point. He pulled some rubber gloves on and poured kerosene into two separate glass Coke bottles he had been saving. In one, he dropped one of the co2 cartridges, and twisted the rags dousing one end then turning it around and replacing it in the mouth of the bottle. William was applying a little trick he learned from a complete lunatic he met at boot camp, a pyromaniac who ended up shooting himself when the Army bounced him for being unstable. Philip Nash, “Psycho Phil” to his fellow recruits, also showed William another neat gimmick he planned to try.
He sat patiently in his car, sipping his strawberry shake, until he saw old Ivan in the flesh, locking the door behind him, then stumbling to his car with a cigarette dangling limply from his mouth, probably plastered on vodka. He walked half the distance between his car and Romanovich’s and placed the bottle with the soaked rags down on the blacktop. The other he held onto. He didn’t bother trying to be sneaky, the guy was blitzed. Romanovich was just opening his door, an unlit cigarette still between his lips when William reached him.
“Need a light, comrade?” Romanovich looked dimly startled. William took some kerosene into his mouth, and the taste took his breath away. He struggled not to gag and bungle the whole thing. He managed to control himself, and lit a Bic in front of his face, spitting a jet of bluish-orange flame into the man’s face. This blew Romanovich backward through his open car door, hair ablaze. He made a vague sound, probably too astonished, or too drunk, to react.
William ran back to his homemade bomb, picked it up, and lit the rags before hurling it at the Chevy. While the missile was in the air, it occurred to him that the co2 charge was probably unnecessary, maybe even ineffective, but that had been the way he’d seen it done. Either way, it worked. William reflected that by golly, Psycho Phil hadn’t been joshing, as he watched the doggone thing blow up just like a frag grenade, and William had to dive to the pavement to avoid the blast. He felt burning scraps of glass and steel on his back, and stripped off his coat.
“Dasvidaniya, Corporal Sonovabich.”
William scrambled to his feet and the rest of the way to his Honda, slid in, and drove like a bat out of hell, popping the clutch and peeling out before the Chevy’s gas tank ignited. watched in the mirror as the car exploded with even more fury than the first blast.
William laughed hysterically all the way to the police station. He walked up to Riley, the desk sergeant, who was a regular customer of his.
“Evenin’, Sarge,” William said. “Got a confession to make.”
It took a couple hours for William to spill it to the two detectives, whose names were Baskin and Hedges, which William thought funny, like a cigarette flavored ice cream. He gave the two detectives the whole kit n’ caboodle in the interrogation room. He told the story of Hendricks and Friends’ dirty wartime deeds. How he had been planning the murders, the location of the dumping sites of Major Hendricks’s remains, even drawing them a map to help them find the dismembered parts.
The two detectives listened to the story in dead silence. “Excuse us a minute, William,” Hedges said, and the two stepped out.
William waited in the interrogation room, whistling his way through half of the Star Wars score until the two detectives returned. “Go on, William, get some rest,” Hedges said. “Might be time for a vacation.”
“Alrighty then, take me to my cell,” William said cheerfully. The two detectives looked at each other. Hedges rolled his eyes.
“What’s the matter?” William said.
“Go home, William,” Baskin said in a patronizing manner. “I think you might be overworking yourself.”
“Now, hang on just a minute. I told you…”
“William, come on,” Hedges said, losing his patience. “We’ve got things to do.” They escorted him down the hall.
“Do us all a favor,” Hedges added on the way. “Lay off the police scanner.” William had now idea what that was supposed to mean, but he’d go on wondering, as the two detectives left him standing at the front desk.
“Cuttin’ you loose already, Billy Bob?” Riley said, smirking. “Must’ve been quite the confession. What’d you do?”
William watched the backs of Baskin and Hedges as they walked down the hall. “Triple murder,” he said.
Riley laughed so hard, his big donut-fed belly shook up and down. “That’s priceless. I’m due for a trim. Alright if I stop in tomorrow morning?”
William was silent a moment, then sighed. “Reckon I don’t see why not,” he said, and walked out into the night.
Bio: Russell Guenther is an emerging fiction writer based in the Pacific Northwest with a collection of darkly humorous short stories, from the gritty to the fantastic. His perspectives on the human condition have been featured through stories in The Stardust Review, Drunk Monkeys Magazine, and two stories previously in The Yard Crime Blog, Safe Cracked and Death at the DMV, as well as an interview. He continues to produce new long and short fiction from his home in the woods.