Chapter 5—Friday Morning, Dallas

Alex James patted his hip and preened before the full-length foyer mirror of his luxury apartment. Not bad for 41: face unlined. Flat belly. Dark brown hair receding gracefully.

He strapped on his sable leather fanny pack and checked its contents: three pairs of gold shears and five razors, four combs, all cleaned, sharpened and sanitized for his clients. Before sliding his appointment book into his back pocket, he glanced at the day’s schedule and frowned.
Friday: Gloria Stoner at 10:00. Perm and trim. That should take him up through lunch.

Tina once told him Gloria was only about thirty pounds overweight. Only thirty pounds? He’d be an absolute blimp with thirty extra pounds, and he had too much self-respect to let that happen.

Backing his black Trooper out of the garage he saw Tina walking Schotzie, a perky Miniature Schnauzer who strutted like a tiny bearded pony. Alex supposed half the Schnauzers in the world bore the affectionate German name, Schotzie. How trite.

Tina must not have scheduled any early morning appointments, he guessed.

Traffic on 75 Central expressway proceeded at a sluggish crawl, as usual. He congratulated himself again for moving to a salon at Collin Creek, thus avoiding having to spend his first morning hours dodging the morning madness. If anybody ever wondered where “road rage” originated he’d nominate this engineering nightmare. An obvious choice for commuters, it aimed at a diagonal for downtown Dallas. Already more vehicle traffic swarmed over it every day than the planners designed it to carry in a week, and they had only recently finished the huge so-called improvement project.

He hit his brakes as taillights flashed red up ahead, stopping behind a Lexus driven by a 30-something brunette stretching toward the rearview mirror while applying lipstick. As he waited for traffic to move again he mused about Tina.

She had been late to work a few times in recent weeks—a whole day late returning from a “short trip to visit relatives”—and he sometimes caught her staring dreamy-eyed at nothing in particular. If he didn’t know better he’d suspect a new romance, but she told him everything, he was sure of it, and she’d never mentioned a new man in her life.

He had introduced her to his brother a few months ago, but then never heard any more about it from either of them. He thought they’d make a good pair—both recovering from painful divorces, but then his brother made no bones about being a rank heathen and Tina probably couldn’t handle that.

Tina truly was a good person, of that he had no doubt. Despite being one of those “born-agains,” she had an open and tolerant way of dealing with people. After her divorce from that wretched Richard Hilbert, she moved into building six at Fulton Towers, across the courtyard from his apartment.

Last week he told her that he thought she spent too much time reading murder mysteries, especially since her habit seemed to have led to Tina and Gloria Stoner, of all people, developing a friendship of sorts. Whenever the two women happened to be in the salon at the same time they chatted endlessly about the books they enjoyed. “A good puzzle,” he’d overheard Gloria tell Tina. She didn’t want to be frightened, she’d said, she simply loved a good puzzle.

Besides the addiction to murder mysteries, Gloria and Tina had that born-again foolishness in common. They stopped talking whenever he walked near them and that made him uneasy. He certainly couldn’t see anything in Gloria even vaguely interesting to anybody, never mind a drop-dead gorgeous little firecracker like Tina, but he didn’t want to lose her as a client, either.

Truth is, Gloria nettled him on several levels. Beginning with her first appointment, she openly expressed her disapproval of people who lived what she called “an alternative lifestyle,” obviously implying, because he had never married, that she thought he was one such person. Her assessment was correct, but he had no intention of discussing it with her. Let her think what she wants to, he thought. In fact, he deliberately fluttered around her in the manner she likely would expect of a male hair stylist, just because he knew it confirmed her prejudices.

She never missed a chance to talk about “the Lord,” or to say she was praying for him. But she didn’t quite fit the pattern of the Christian right-wing nut.

They—right-wing screwballs—all hated him, of that he was sure.

A tiny memory cloud wafted its guilty path across his mind. “Right-wing screwballs” might be a little harsh, he supposed. True, his mother had used her Bible as a cudgel on him, but she didn’t hate him, and calling her a screwball dishonored her memory. He had no wish to do that.

It didn’t add up. Gloria seemed to truly enjoy his company. When she came in she always said, “Dish the dirt, Alex. What’s happening around here?” He could usually come up with an anecdote or two, and the more he camped it up, the harder she laughed and the more she egged him on.

He didn’t understand her.

“Of course you don’t understand her, genius,” he told himself as the traffic inched forward, “she’s a pain in the neck; just leave it at that.”

next chapter


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