THE ILLUSIONIST- PART III
by Tairish

ĎViolent Crimeí is not a common thing in small towns, especially a town like State College, Pennsylvania. Murder was something that just didnít happen there, especially a grotesque one with no suspects, witnesses, and seemingly no motive. So when the body of the young woman was discovered in the alley behind a small strip mall it was front page news. In fact it occupied most of the front page for weeks.

The identity of the victim wasnít at first known as she had been so badly brutalized. Her face and body had been sliced repeatedly with a knife or similar sharp instrument until there was little left to make any kind of identification possible. Her hair had been shorn completely off. In fact it looked like a great deal of time had been taken in the act, as the victimís head was perfectly smooth without a trace of stubble anywhere. This only added to the mystery.

Finally, by using fingerprints plus missing person reports that started pouring in over the next several days her identity was discovered. She was Sheri Delacourt, a hairdresser in one of the shops in the strip mall.

Bob Simon just shook his head. He sat back in his office chair with his shoes on his desk, and stared at the ceiling fan pondering this new dilemma. A former cop in Philadelphia, he had moved to State College to get away from crimes like this. But the Delacourt murder was his responsibility now. He had a good deal of experience with such cases in his 27 years of detective work, and he knew he needed a partner. For this case, he was glad his partner was female. So he sat waiting for Shirley Portman to arrive (she always seemed to run a few minutes late) so they could hit the trail before any clues left behind were gone.

Shirley came barging through the door, hands full of papers, briefcase, etcÖ Bob was just about to harass her for being late when she thrust a big donut in front of him.

"Sorry Iím late."

He stared down at the donut and delicately picked it up, making sure this wasnít a trick or at least if it was fresh. Then he took a big bite. It was still warm, fresh from the oven.

"Forgiven," he mumbled between chews. "At least this time."

Shirley looked over the latest reports of the crime. "Whoever did this sure is a sicko."

"And unfortunately we donít even have a clue yet who that sicko is."

"I suggest we split up to cover more territory." Bob already had planned on that but let this new partner go on. If she thought he was following her instructions now, sheíd be more pliable later when it came to following his suggestions.

"What did you have in mind?" he asked her.

"You talk to the guys who covered the crime scene, plus her landlord, friends, etcÖ Iíll take the salon."

Bob had to suppress a slight grin. This was exactly what he had planned to do. "Great idea. Letís get started."

Shirley smiled a bit. She thought working with the senior detective was going to be difficult. Thus far it had been easy. Hopefully this case would prove just as easy, though something in her gut told her this was going to get more involved before it got solved. Unfortunately, her gut had rarely been wrong in her 10 years with the force.

Mandy Harper read the news articles on the murder daily, stunned that something so awful could have happened in this small town. Of course she did a lot of reading these days since Matt was in Santa Fe, New Mexico helping his folks keep their business afloat as his dad recovered from a stroke. Mandy missed him dearly and tried to keep her days occupied as best she could so she wouldnít always be thinking of him. Of course they still E-mailed daily and their phone bills were extravagant despite all the reduced fares and bonus minute programs they took advantage of.

So reading was a steady diversion, and besides being aware of the case Mandy didnít think twice about it. There certainly was no reason to tell Matt about it.

Fortunately Mattís father, Richard, was recovering from his stroke remarkably well. His active lifestyle and fitness level really were paying off now, and a full recovery was expected by all. Matt was doing a great job teaching the classes and helping keep the business afloat. While he wasnít as astute as his father in the business or running a dance studio, the business would survive and even flourish a bit until the senior Johnson could return.

Mandy knew she loved Matt, but didnít realize how much until their sudden separation. It had only been a month since he left but it seemed an eternity. When it became obvious he wouldnít be back for quite some time, she started saving her money so she could visit him over the summer. But saving that kind of chunk of money on a studentís limited funds wasnít going to be easy, and she really didnít have the time to take on another job. But she longed to be back in his arms again so badly. She couldnít wait to dress up for him again, to spoil him again, to be the object of his affections. She also knew she was missing all the love and understanding he gave to her. She sat back running a brush through her long blonde hair, wondering how to earn a good amount of money fairly quickly. Her mane was extremely thick and perfectly straight and healthy, and just long enough for her to sit on. She wished Matt was there to brush it for her as his touch was even more gentle and loving than her own.

A knock on her door woke her from her daydream. "Come in."

It was Brenda Harrington, one of the girls on her floor she was responsible for, and one who was becoming a good friend. "Hi Bren! Whatís up?"

"Whatís up?! You said youíd put my hair up for me for my date tonight! You didnít forget did you?"

Mandyís seemingly limitless array of long hair styles had become legend now amongst the girls on her floor, and those with longish hair had now started asking for styling help from her for special events which she gladly provided.

"Donít kill me but I did forget."

"Please tell me you have time for me anyway?"

She smiled her bright, warm smile. "Of course I do. Come on in."

Brenda gleefully pulled a chair into the center of the room and sat down, her back to Mandy. She was giddy with excitement. This would be the third time she had Mandy do her hair for a date. The reaction to the last two creations was so great she couldnít wait for yet another. She just wished her hair was longer than the shoulder length flip with bangs it currently was at. Then she might be able to wear some of the more fantastic styles that Mandy did on a regular basis. She had decided some time ago that she would start growing her hair out, and at her last regular hair appointment stunned her stylist by asking for just the slightest of trims rather than reshaping and layering the flip she had worn for the past 5 years. While her stylist had been after her to change her look a bit, he had wanted her to try a much shorter look, and was visibly disappointed by her decision to go longer.

"Hair longer than yours is so limiting," he told her. While she used to follow his advice religiously, that was before she met Mandy. ĎIf only he could see everything Mandy did with her hair, heíd never say long hair was limiting,í she thought to herself.

Mandy pulled out her tray of hair products, brushes, combs, pins and clips, and started brushing through Brendaís dark brown tresses, freeing them of any tangles.

"So what is the plan tonight? Anything in particular?"

"I do want it all put up somehow, though how I thought Iíd leave up to you."

"OK." Her mind started running through a list of possibilities. Since she didnít have a lot of hair the choices were fewer. "So what are you two doing this evening?"

"Weíre going to the theatre to see ĎGreaseí."

"Youíre kidding. Youíve got Kirk agreeing to go to the theatre! However did you do that?" (Kirk was a lineman on the PSU football team and hardly the most cultured person on the planet.)

"He likes seeing me dressed up and so is willing to go just for that reason alone. Secretly I think he likes it but will never admit that to his teammates."

"What dress are you wearing?"
"My black cocktail dress."

"In that case I suggest we do something dressier than the last times. Something fuller and softer. Is it all right if I give you ĎBig Hairí?"

Brenda grinned an uncertain grin, unsure what she had in mind. The other two times were a basic French twist with some curls on top, and the other a mixture of French braids and a bun. ĎBig Hairí sounded a little scary, but Mandy had excellent tastes. StillÖ

"What do you mean ĎBig Hairí? Iím not going to look like Dolly Parton or something am I?"

"Oh no. Nothing like that. But I did want to tease it all to give it more height."

"I guess that would be OK," she responded timidly. This was all sounding a bit extreme. But then Kirk had actually asked her to wear her hair up, which was the kind of thing he never would ask or even admit to noticing, so it must be important to him. And she did want to please him.

"So what did you have in mind, besidesÖ teasing it?"

"Iíd like to put it up in kind of an oversized French twist thatís almost kind of Ďconicalí for lack of a better word. I think it would look very elegant, very sheik."

"Would it stay up all night?"

"With enough hairspray it will." Brenda grimaced a bit at the thought of lots of hairspray.

"Donít fret the hairspray. Heíll love it. I know MattÖ (she got a little choked up thinking of him so far away). I know my boyfriend doesnít mind hairspray at all. In fact he even likes it. Also, I was thinking of bringing your bangs back into the style."

"You mean I wouldnít have any bangs?!" Brenda couldnít imagine her not having bangs. Sheíd had bangs since childhood.

"For tonight, no. It will look great! Trust me."

Trusting Mandy was one thing she did do, and so she nodded her head. "OK, go ahead. Whatever you think."

Mandy smiled and reached for a large bottle of spray. Brendaís hair was freshly washed and ĎBig Hairí was easier on tresses with a layer of product in it. "OK, close your eyes. Here we go." With that the spray let loose and Mandy lifted Brendaís hair every which way making sure all the shafts got a light layer of spray. It already made a difference in the perceived volume of Brendaís hair, which was fairly thin to start with so really needed all the help it could get. Then she took out her special small teasing brush and started in on the front and center of the top of Brendaís head, drawing the bangs up into the rest of the length and backcombing it so it all clumped together as one.

Brenda stared into the big mirror on top of the desk wide-eyed, watching her smooth locks quickly being transformed into a giant matted afro, sticking straight up from her head. Mandy worked quickly but gently, and soon the entire top was done and she started in on the left side.

"How much of my hair do you need to tease?" she asked with a hint of concern in her voice.

"All of it?"

"How will I ever get the tangles out?"

"Just sleep on it and come over in the morning. Iíll restore it all for you."

"Really, youíd do that for me?!"

"Sure."

"In that case, tease away."

Mandy obliged her, though didnít do it any more severely than she had planned to. With such short hair it was far easier to create lots of lift than on her own long locks, though Brendaís thin hair still demanded a fair amount of backcombing. Soon Brendaís hair was tilted forward as the back was being transformed to match the top and sides.

"I canít believe Iím letting you do this. It seems like something a little old lady would do or something."

"Relax, it will look great, and Kirk will love it."

"You donít actually do this to your hair, do you?!"

"Sure! Itís really no big deal."

Brenda looked up as Mandy was now finished teasing and stared at the giant fright wig of tangled hair staring back at her in the mirror. "It sure looks like a pretty big deal to me! Does yours end up standing straight up like this."

"Well remember mine is a lot longer than yours, so I donít have to have it all standing straight up. I still have to tease it all for styles like this though."

"Iíd love to see you with your hair standing straight up. That would be a picture for the ages. Too bad itís impossible."

"I donít know about impossible. I suppose if I really wanted to I could make it all stand straight up."

"Well someday you can do it and Iíll take a picture with my new camera." (Brenda had received a new digital camera for her birthday and was constantly looking for a chance to use it.)

"Only if I get to include you in the picture looking like you do now." Both girls laughed for a while.

"Maybe I should just send you off looking like this and see what Kirk says."

"Donít you dare!"

They both laughed again. Then they settled down and Mandy started transforming the mass into a fabulous version of the classic French twist that rose up several inches higher than normal with a slight asymmetrical lean to it. She curled the tendrils on the side with a small curling iron and cautiously positioned the final hairs into place. The last stages of the styling were done with Brenda facing away from the mirror, so she couldnít see what was happening. Mandy was actually a bit disappointed in the outcome as she was used to doing this style on her own hair which obviously gave her much more to work with. She had tried to make up for the lack of length by the ambitious amount of teasing, but that hadnít been enough. The limits of Brendaís shorter hair came to play. Still, the final look did look very good and classy, even if it wasnít as grand as Mandy had wanted. Finally Brenda was permitted to see the finished style and a look of shear amazement and joy came to her face.

"Oh my God I look awesome! Itís beautiful! Kirk will love it."

"Kirk will be at your mercy tonight if you ask me. Let me just spray it and Iíll be done."

"Whatever you say. Youíre the boss. I canít believe how different I look without bangs."

"I probably could still give you bangs if you really want me to. Tell me now because after I spray it will be too late."

"No! I really like it this way. It almost makes me want to grow my bangs out."

"You donít have to grow them out. Just gel them back every once in a while for a change of pace."

Brenda was still looking at her reflection, but thinking about Mandyís words of advice. She cringed a bit seeing Mandy hover over her with the hairspray canister in hand.

"Iíll go light with this stuff since I know you donít like it."

"Thanks, but do what is necessary. Itís windy out tonight and I canít have this thing falling apart. That would kind of ruin the evening."

"We definitely canít have that." Mandy could hear the strong evening breeze against her window, and knew she wouldnít be able to go light with the spray. Brenda didnít have enough length to really hold the style together. It took more pins than Mandy normally put in her own hair, and was still a bit precarious in spots. In fact she would probably need a good deal more spray than Mandy would do on her own hair, which was saying a lot. Mandy had Brenda close her eyes and let loose with the spray. Soon the whole thing was damp from the product, and Brendaís hair looked several shades closer to black. Then she went over it using a cool blow dryer with a diffuser attachment to quickly dry the spray. Mandy gently patted the final style, making sure it was ready for the elements. She resisted an urge to lay down yet another layer of spray, and set the big can down on the desk.

"Done! Itís kind of stiff but itís not going anywhere."

Brenda reached up and touched her hair, first taken aback by how heavily sprayed it was. She shook her head from side to side, discovering that it was perfectly sturdy. Then she patted it gently again, seemingly almost amused now by the foreign texture. She felt as elegant and classy as her new style portrayed.

"You are the best Mandy. Itís perfect." Suddenly she looked down at her watch, worried that this had taken so long she would be late for her date. She was stunned by what she saw. In disbelief she checked it against Mandyís clock on her wall. They both said the same thing. Mandy had done this, start to finish, in only 20 minutes.

"I swear Mandy, you should write a book on how to do all this. Especially with all your unique looks you do on your long hair. Youíd make a fortune!"

"Thatís why people go to hairdressers."

"Yeah, but the hairdressers donít know how to do what you know. You ought to teach them."

Mandy smiled at her. " Enjoy your date and Iíll see you tomorrow to take this down for you."

The two exchanged a quick, warm hug and Brenda was out the door and on her way to get changed. Mandy could hear some whistles from the other girls on the floor who caught an approving glimpse of Brenda in her new Ďdo.

Matt Johnson never intended to be a dance instructor, but he was pretty good at it. His parents had taught him well as he grew up, and he mixed that knowledge well with the gift of being a natural teacher. While at first the students ranged from pensive to doubtful of his abilities in the absence of his father, he quickly won them over. Though the majority were as old as his parents, they were all nice people. And then there was Jolene Ramirez.

Their first meeting was a basic trial lesson. She was looking to switch from another dance studio that was struggling and deservedly so. Quite simply they werenít very good and very unprofessional. She was an accomplished country-western dancer (very popular in this part of the country) branching out into West Coast Swing and Hustle. Her goals were high, as she wanted to compete in a major local swing competition by the end of the summer. But she didnít want to just compete, she wanted to win.

What Matt didnít know was just how attractive she was. She came in dressed in clothing that can only be described as ĎSanta Fe Style,í very tasteful and distinct to the area. She clearly was well off, and Matt would later learn she was a successful heart surgeon. She looked far younger than her 31 years, with huge brown eyes, high cheekbones, full lips around a dazzling smile. She worked out regularly and had as shapely a body as Matt had ever seen. It was almost too perfect, and Matt wondered if she had any surgery done to make everything just right. The first time they met her jet black hair was up in a bun, and a good sized one at that. Matt wondered how long it was, and if it was as long as Mandyís. The bun was nothing special, but it was pretty big.

Halfway through the first lesson Matt got his answer, as a series of quick spins dislodged the main pins holding her updo in place and it quickly unraveled. To his amazement and delight it fell like a curtain, full and healthy, finally ending at her knees. It was magnificent. It looked every bit as thick and healthy as Mandyís, but much longer. Matt had a huge yearning to reach out and touch it, but held his place like a proper gentleman.

Jolene, on the other hand, seemed quite perturbed about the distraction, and apologized for the disruption to their lesson. She quickly started rolling it back into the bun. She used the mirrors on the wall of the studio to make sure it didnít look too sloppy. As she fiddled with it, she grumbled a bit to Matt.

"Thatís one of the big problems with all this hair. It just doesnít like to stay up for dancing. Iím sorry for the disruption."

Matt was enthralled, captivated by it. "Thatís quite all right. It was probably time for a quick break anyway."

"Youíre sweet, but hopefully it wonít happen again. I know Iíll need to cut it before I compete, but Iím still having trouble getting up the nerve. Iím just about there though. Possibly by the next time you see me it will be gone."

Matt felt like a dagger had just ripped into his heart. Why would this woman want to cut off so glorious a head of hair. "I donít understand why you feel you have to cut it."

She looked at him like he was an idiot. "I canít compete and have this come flying out. That would be quite the obstacle for my partner now wouldnít it. And thereís no way itís going to stay up through the forces of a competition."

"Have you asked a hairdresser for help on how to put it up so it wonít fall down?"

"All the time. But Renee, my stylist, says itís impossible. And sheís real good too, so she should know."

"How short were you going to cut it?"

"Possibly some version of a ĎBobí, just above my shoulders. At least thatís what Renee suggests. But then for dancing I really think something shorter and spiky might be more appropriate. Donít you? (She didnít give him time to answer) If Iím going to do this I might as well do it right, and thatís the Ďlookí that is in right now amongst the top dancers. So Iím seriously considering kind of a long pixie on top, with the sides and back buzzed real short." Jolene could swear she just heard Matt whimper.

"Is that what you want?" he asked.

Jolene had never met a man who questioned her this way about her hair. She eyed him a bit suspiciously at first, and then thought about the question.

"What I want?! Probably not. I love long hair, but I guess itís time to move on past it. Iíve seen a computer simulation of myself with all kinds of short hair styles and actually I look pretty good. Different, but pretty good."

"But what do you want?"

She smiled at him defensively, a bit flustered by this makeshift psychologist session.

"What do you want me to say? That I want to be bald!?"

"Just what youÖ., what your heart wants."

"Of course I want to keep my hair long. Iíve dreamed of it reaching the floor. My husband shares that dream, maybe even more than I."

Her Ďhusband.í Matt snapped out of his daydream. Why didnít he realize this woman was married. He hadnít bothered to look that up on her registration form. She also wore no rings of any kind on her hands. The surprised look must have been apparent on his face based on Joleneís next statement.

"Iím sorry you didnít know I was married. I donít wear my ring when I dance. It cuts up my partners hands."

Matt regained his composure. What difference did it make if she was married? Almost every person at the studio was married. Plus she was nearly ten years his senior and, besides, he had a girlfriend. So why was he feeling a little hurt by this news?

The lesson resumed, though Matt found himself keeping his distance a bit more than usual. Twice more the bun came out and he was treated to the sight of her fabulous mane unraveled. Each time her patience level with it grew shorter, and the hastily redone bun grew sloppier and more makeshift. Near the end of her hour it flew out once again. This time Matt was treated to the feel of it wrapping around his arm. It flashed back vivid memories of Mandy. Yet the added length and weight of it multiplied the sensation several times over. Matt yearned to be with Mandy again, and wondered what Mandy would look like with hair down to her knees. He recalled her saying it once was. He wished he could have seen that. If he asked her to grow it longer would she?

Jolene, however, was livid. "Letís just end this lesson a little early. I know I still have some time left but this (she held out a chunk of her tresses) just isnít working. I apologize. You are a very good instructor and I plan on switching over to this studio. Iím going to call Renee today for an appointment. Next time you see me Iíll be rid of this annoyance and weíll really be able to dance."

Matt had no idea what to say. He held his tongue as she filled out the paperwork to become his newest star pupil. Her hair was down now, and he couldnít take his eyes off it, though he tried not to be so obvious. There was so much hair it completely covered the back of the chair even though a good portion of it was drawn forward of her right shoulder. The last foot or so was in a neat pile on the floor. It would be tremendously sad to see her next time with short hair, even if she looked good with it. He was glad he wasnít going to be at the salon watching the scissors hack it all off.

That evening Matt was filled with his yearnings for Mandy and his discomfort at the thought of Jolene Ramirez having her hair chopped off. Never before had he really thought twice about a stranger getting a haircut, and he probably encouraged such things at times during his youth, sharing his parents view that long hair was just a hassle that was best to be rid of sooner than later. Of course this was before Mandy came into his life.

Then he realized that he had danced numerous times with Mandy, with her hair up, and it had never come out. He recognized he hadnít led her through the intense series of moves that proved the undoing of Joleneís bun, and that her hair was shorter than Joleneís, but still. Maybe Mandy would know a way she could wear it up securely for even the most intense dances. It was worth a try at least.

Mandy was just finishing up some work on her computer when the phone rang. It was Matt, and she gleefully left the troubles of her homework behind her as she talked to the love of her life. About five minutes into the conversation Matt brought up the subject of Jolene. At first Mandyís defenses shot into full alert at the mention of another woman.

"What does she do for a living?"

"Sheís a heart surgeon." Mandy gulped. Ouch! Not only another woman but a successful one at that.

"Is she pretty?"

"Oh yeah, gorgeous."

Mandy winced. Wrong answer Matt. The politically correct thing to say would be she was a real Ďdogí even if she wasnít.

"Prettier than me?"

"Prettier thanÖ.. What?! Donít worry Mandy, sheís a client. Plus sheís married."

She heaved a sigh of relief. Still she was concerned.

"Do I detect a note of jealousy?"

Mandy was turning red, ashamed of herself. "WellÖ.., yeah. A bit."

"Well donít be. In fact Iím wondering if you can help her with something." Matt then when into her hair dilemma. When he was done there was silence on the line.

"So what do you think dear? Is it possible to put it up so it wonít come down."

Mandy was pondering the possibilities and other issues here. "Did she ask you to help her out? I mean did you tell her about me?"

"No, but she flat out said she didnít want to cut it. Her stylist said it was impossible and sheíd have to. So I figured Iíd get your opinion."

"Her stylist is wrong. Itís very possible and there are tons of options of how she does it too."

"So the fact hers is to her knees doesnít make a difference?"

"Not really. Remember mine used to be that long."
"I remember you telling me that." Mandy could swear she detected a hint of remorse in Mattís voice.

"There are lots of options open to her. She just doesnít know about them, and obviously her stylist doesnít know about them either."

"Well someone needs to get out there and educate them. I bet theyíd make a fortune."

This was the second time that evening Mandy had heard that statement. This time it lingered on her mind. She was snapped back to the conversation by Matt.

"So how do I get this information to her?"

"Does she have an E-mail address?"

"Iím sure she does. That information should all be on her registration form at the studio."

"Well call her up and tell her I can help her problem if she is interested. Donít force anything though. Remember, she might truly want to cut her hair now and what you saw is just a big farewell production. Itís been known to happen.

"I donít think so, but OK. If she agrees?"

"Then give her my E-mail address and Iíll take it from there."

"Youíre an angel."

"If you believe that then Iíve definitely got you fooled." The two then spent the next 30 minutes catching up with each other.

The next morning Matt rushed to the studio to look up Joleneís phone number. It was early but he didnít want to run the risk that she had a morning appointment with Renee. He was a bit speechless when her husband, Tony, answered the phone, who in turn was wondering why some strange man was calling his wife so early in the morning, or at all for all that mattered. But Jolene stole the phone away from him in the middle of Mattís haphazard attempt to explain who he was and why he was calling.

"Who the hell is Matt Johnson?" Tony asked his wife.

"My new dance instructor."

"He sounds like a kid."

"Heís pretty young, but hardly a kid."

"Heís saying something about your hair. Is he gay?"

"I donít think so. Shhhh." And with that she started talking with Matt. It had been a good thing Matt called as early as he did, because she had a hair appointment set for that afternoon. She had planned on going with the short pixie/ buzzed sides cut, much to her husbandís chagrin.

Matt told her about his girlfriend and her remarkable abilities with long hair, and suggested to her if she really didnít want to cut her hair to E-mail Mandy and at least give her a chance to try to solve her problem. If it didnít work, he conceded, she could always go get the cut, but to at least put it off for a bit. Jolene took down the E-mail address but was very skeptical that anyone could know more than Renee about long hair. After all, Renee had hair down to her waist for most of her life before cutting it short several years ago, and was recognized as the cities Ďlong hair expectí, so she should know. But when she relayed the information she was told to Tony, he was all for it as he had been dreading returning home from work that evening to a freshly shorn wife.

Mandy got the E-mail and the two started chatting on-line that morning. She tried to describe some possibilities but Jolene really couldnít understand as she rarely did anything with her hair besides braid it, and for special events just went to Renee. She wondered if there were any articles or photos she could forward. At this point of the conversation Brenda knocked on the door, ready for Mandy to take her updo down for her. She was absolutely on cloud nine from the previous evenings date, and said Kirk had adored her hair. "He even liked the feel of all the hairspray. Is that weird or what?!" Mandy just smiled, knowing that Matt liked the occasions when Mandy altered the texture and feel of her own hair, and that wearing a helmet of hair actually turned him on.

Brenda innocently looked over Mandyís shoulder at what was happening with this correspondence. Her face was alive with an idea.

"I know. Why donít you do your hair the way you want this lady to do hers, and Iíll take pictures of it with my new camera. Then we can just forward the whole series of photos to her and she can share them with her stylist."

Mandy looked at her dumbfounded. It was a great idea. She shared the notion with Jolene who readily agreed. She figured sheíd have time to do it over the weekend, and asked if Jolene could wait that long. "Of course," was the reply.

Then Mandy set about taking down Brendaís updo, which looked remarkably fresh despite the evening and being slept on. Brenda was actually a little sad at seeing itís demise, though it looked very odd with her in her bathrobe as opposed to the cocktail dress. The two chatted about their plans for the weekendís camera session.

Fifteen minutes later Mandy was combing through Brendaís totally tangle free tresses. The process had been completely painless and absolutely no damage resulted. Brenda was both amazed and relieved. Then, once she was convinced her hair was no worse off for the experience, started quizzing Mandy about other styling possibilities, especially ones that hid her bangs again. Mandy spent a few minutes showing her a quick trick using a curling iron, gel and hairspray on how Brenda could keep her bangs back any time she wanted. It worked like a charm, and soon Brenda was happily on her way, bangs out of sight.

Mandy then called Matt on his cell phone and filled him in on her plans with Jolene. Matt was joyous not only because Jolene might just keep her long hair, but that his girlfriend had come to the rescue.

Bob Simon sat eating the last of his Cheese steak, his feet aching from all the pavement he had traveled that day. Unfortunately he hadnít come up with much, as the former Sheri Delacourt had been a very popular person without an enemy in sight. Not even a jealous ex-boyfriend. But then he didnít figure he would find anything. Shirley had the better chance. He figured the fact Sheri had been shaved bald was the big clue. The mistake of the killer. It sounded to him like a client who literally wanted to kill her stylist for a bad haircut. In this case he believed it happened, as crazy as it sounded. He walked over to Shirley Portman, who just got off the phone.

"So what did you find out?"

"All the other stylists are shocked. I donít think any of them did it. I got a list of her regular clients and their phone numbers. She has 103 regular clients. Can you believe that?"

"I dunno. Is that a lot for a stylist?"

"All I know is itís a lot of people to call. Iíve been on the phone for hours and have only talked toÖ 27 so far."

"And have you got anything thus far."

She hung her head down. "No, not yet."

"So no oneís confessed over the phone, huh?"

She didnít quite know how to handle the question. "No."

"The problem is youíre doing this over the phone. No one ever confesses over the phone. Not even on television. We gotta hit the sidewalks and talk to them all face to face."

"That will take forever!"

"Then we better get started. Today is shot, but tomorrow morning we start bright and early knocking on all the folkís doors."

"How do you know itís not one of the people you talked to?"

"Shaved Head on the victim. Sliced and Diced. Had to be an angry customer."

"Or a killer trying to throw us off his trail."

"Plus the boys in the lab have come up with some stuff." Shirley was rapt with attention.

"First off, she didnít die from the slice job. Actually she did but she didnít feel it. She was unconscious at the time. She was drugged."

"With what?"

"A cheap mixture of over-the counter medicines at high dosage. The boys think she drank it. In any case, at least she was spared the agony of it all."

"Anything else?"

"Oh Yeah! The murder weapon was a pair of Delacourts scissors. They were in the back of her shop drawer."

"Was she killed in the shop and then dragged outside."

"They donít think she was sliced up in the shop. Too much blood to clean up. They think she was probably drugged in the shop, shaved bald, then dragged outside, and then sliced up in the alley. The killer then returned the scissors to the shop and left."

"Which makes it likely that she knew the killer. So it either was someone associated with the shop or a client."

"But if it was someone associated with the shop, it seems rather stupid to kill someone in your own place of business. And what would they gain?"

"Well, Sheriís customers would have to go somewhere."

That thought hadnít crossed Bobís mind. But it still didnít sound right. He believed it was one of her clients.

"I still think it was someone who got a bad perm or something, but I would like to question the staff just in case."

"Do you want to split up so we cover this list quicker?"

"That would seem to make sense, wouldnít it?!"

Shirley smiled that another of her ideas was going to be accepted by the old stodgier. "It certainly would."

"But weíre not going to do it. Weíre going to talk to each person together."

"Why?"

"Because a guilty person will get a little more nervous with two cops instead of one, and may be more likely to make a mistake."

It was a logic that had never occurred to Shirley, but made sense. All she knew was it was going to take quite a bit of time to talk to 103 clients in hopes that one of them was the killer. She hoped the killer didnít get away, or strike again in all that time. What if they werenít even on the right track?

Bright but not too early Saturday morning Brenda arrived at Mandyís room with her digital camera all ready to play fashion photographer. Mandy was busy brushing out her hair, which was perfectly straight and smooth, reaching to just below her bottom. Her usual wall of thick bangs were being brushed back with the rest of the length. Brenda couldnít get over how healthy it was. It looked every bit as full on the ends as on the top, and she couldnít see any broken hair shafts anywhere. She didnít know how anyone could have such beautiful hair. And considering how many things Mandy did with her hair she was amazed it wasnít heavily damaged. But then again, her own hair had been a virtual ratís nest of tangles just the other day, and now here it was no worse for show. In fact the hot rollers she used each day to encourage the ends to flip up probably did more damage than anything Mandy had done.

Mandy smiled at Brenda and asked her to lock the door so no one barged in on them. "Does your camera do close-ups?"

"Yep. Itís got a telephoto lens feature at my command. Pretty cool, huh?"

"It really is. There are times Iím going to use different products, and Iíd like you to take a close up picture of the container so Jolene will know what to use."

Brenda nodded her head in confirmation. "So what style are you going to do?"

"Well, she needs something that will stay up, but still looks sharp for competitions. So I figured a series of coiled buns would be good. Plus she doesnít have bangs, so Iíll have to make my bangs disappear too. Make sure you get a close up sequence of how I put the elastics in. That is real important here." Again another nod of confirmation.

"I have plenty of digital Ďfilmí, so Iíll just keep going and then we can edit out whatever we donít want."

This time it was Mandyís turn to nod. These digital cameras were amazing to her. Imagine, never buying film or paying for developing.

Mandy started by separating her now perfectly smoothed hair into two sections, front and back, marked by a smooth part just behind her ears. The front sections she pulled forward of her shoulders, wound up a bit and added a quick clip just to keep them out of the way. She would deal with them later.

She then separated the back into 3 sections, one on top of the other. The middle section was notably larger than the top and bottom. The top section was then made into a pony tail. The trick here was the elastic, which first had a hairpin threaded through it. Then the hair was only pulled through the elastic once. Rather than pulling the hair through it again to make it tight, she started winding the hairpin like a propeller, which in turn started tightening up the elastic until it eventually made an extremely tight pony tail. She then slid the end of the hairpin into the hair and held it in place. It was a perfect, snug, pony-tail.

"So thatís how you do it!" exclaimed Brenda.

"Yup. Perfectly snug but no damage from pulling through the band over and over again."

Mandy then separated the middle section into 3 pony-tails (left, right, and center) repeating with each the hairpin trick. Finally the bottom section was transformed into a pony-tail. When done the back of her had had five separate ponytails in the formation of a plus sign. Brenda was very intrigued by what was to come, furiously snapping away with her camera.

Mandy picked up her hairspray, pausing so itís label could be photographed, and then sprayed the back roots that were laying flat against her head thoroughly, somehow able to maneuver around the long draping pony-tails without hitting them. When she finally recapped that canister, the sprayed sections where moist and dark from the many layers of product.

Next Mandy used a good sized wad of gel (again the product was photographed) and started massaging the product evenly along the entire length of the center pony tail. It too was soon looking darker and moist from the substance. Then Mandy started twisting the ponytail into a coil. She kept going, over and over, until finally it started coiling back on itself. Soon it started hugging the back of her head but in a very decorative manner. She used many very large hairpins to hold it in place.

"This is the base of it all. It has to stay, though if it did come out the other sections would still probably hold it all in place anyway." Brenda just nodded, intrigued, and took another picture.

Mandy repeated the gel and twist technique with each of the four remaining sections, with the finished coils wrapping not only around themselves but around the other coils. It looked like a small intestines or something to Brenda, but she could see that each coil was actually supporting the other, and by having so many separate coils it was basically insuring that nothing would come out. More hairpins went in but vanished to the naked eye. When all five pony-tails were done the back was a large and exotic looking mass that was rock-solid sturdy. This was then blasted with an extremely heavy layer of spray for extra holding power.

Mandy still had the front section to work with, and Brenda wondered what would come of it. Mandy looked at her friend.

"What do you think, should the front be soft and full, slicked back tight, or keep with the coiled theme?"

Brenda was at a complete loss. "Which will hold better?"

"Theyíll all hold."

"What do you like better?"
"I kind of prefer the soft and full look myself."

"Then go for that."

"I donít know. That involves a fair amount of teasing, and Iím thinking Jolene might not be too keen on that. Most people with hair that long have no experience with backcombing."

"Youíre right. That might freak her out. Then go for the coiled theme thing."

Mandy smiled at her. "OK."

Again using the gel, Mandy separated the top center section of hair, only about an inch in width, thoroughly coated it with product and then started twisting it back toward the finished style in the back. However once she got near the back she quickly pinned it in place, several feet of length still falling down her back. She repeated this step over and over until the entire front part was transformed into seven individual coils running towards the back. They lay tight to her head, her bangs enveloped with the rest. There was no way to know if she had bangs or not. She then took these seven individual sections and turned them into one ponytail, again using the hairpin propeller trick to make it tight and hold it in place. Finally, using a bit more gel, she twisted this up until it to formed a spiral that wound into the rest, pinning it in place with hidden, yet sizable pins. It was impossible to tell how many coils she had back there, or how it was accomplished. It was marvelous, beautiful, totally unique looking, and absolutely solid. Never-the-less, the final Ďdo was treated to one long last layer of spray that left the entire thing looking damp. Minutes later it was dry, though still Mandyís light blonde hair looked almost brown from so much buildup. Brenda couldnít contain her enthusiasm as she snapped the last photos.

"That was amazing. I donít know how you ever came up with this, but it is beautiful. Will it hold?"

"Oh yeah," replied Mandy, and she started shaking it furiously every which way. It didnít budge.

Brenda asked if she could touch it, and noted it felt almost like a statue. It was stiff but very tight and solid. She doubted anything could undo it without a great deal of effort. But it also looked totally classy. It made Brenda yearn for her own hair to be long enough to do such styles.

"I donít suppose you could do something like this with my hair?" she asked timidly.

"Iím afraid not. This unfortunately requires a lot more length than you have."

"I was afraid of that. I wish I knew about things like this years ago. I might never have cut my long hair if I did."

The two girls set about running the photos through the computer and editing out everything that wasnít necessary. The finished product, with written instructions, would take a good amount of time to download but was complete enough that anyone should be able to understand it. Mandy was impressed with Brendaís photographic skills. It all looked very professional, although the background of her dorm room gave away her amateur status.

"Are we ready to send this baby?" asked Brenda.

"Give me a couple of hours," Mandy tossed in. This was where here computer training was going to come in. "Iím going to take this to the school computers and make it a bit more polished."

Two hours later Mandy proudly showed the results of her efforts. She had removed the dorm room background and replaced it with a backdrop much as a professional photographer would use.

"Wow, how did you do that?"

"A little Hollywood trickery."

Both totally impressed with their efforts, they sent the whole package to Jolene.

Detective Bob Simonís back was aching and his feet were throbbing, but he didnít want to admit this to his younger partner. Still, his age and lack of physical fitness were showing as the two climbed up and down the rolling sidewalks of the college town. The past three days had left them with no leads in a case that was getting more and more press coverage by their inability to answer any questions to the mediaís satisfaction. The small-town press was building this up to be another ĎJack The Ripperí when there was absolutely no evidence that this was anything but a single, albeit grisly, murder.

As they trudged up a flight of stairs and down the hall of the older apartment complex, Bob turned to his partner.

"Whatís this womanís name again."

"Janice Henderson. She had her last appointment about two months ago. If she did it over a bad haircut she sure took her time."

"Whatever." Bob knocked firmly on the door, rather than use the doorbell. There was no immediate response. He rang the doorbell twice in succession, then knocked even further this time. A voice meekly arose from inside the apartment.

"Who is it?"

"Detectives Simon and Portman (Shirley hated that he always said his name first. Then again, he was the veteran of the two) from the Police Department. I was wondering if we could ask you a few questions."

Her response was a little slow in coming. Perhaps a little too slow for Simonís liking.

"Hold on just a minute, Iím getting dressed."

The two officers looked at each other a bit annoyed by the delay as they could hear the feint sounds of rustling from behind the door. After an inordinate delay they knocked again. This time Shirley spoke up.

"Ms Henderson, please open up, this will only take a few minutes of your time."

This time no noise was heard. Simon pounded on the door again.

"Ms. Henderson!?" he yelled.

Nothing. Simon looked at his partner. "Run around back and see if you find anything."

Portman was off at a sprinterís pace. She raced around the building, momentarily struggling to determine which of the windows would be part of Hendersonís apartment. But an open one with a towel hanging down several feet from it quickly gave her an answer. It was about an 8 foot fall from the bottom of the towel to the lush grass below. No big deal really. She instinctively pulled her gun and looked around to see if she could see anyone. Nothing. She quickly ran back to Bob Simon.

"Looks like weíve got a runner."

"You go back around and give it a good look. Iíll call for backup and get the apartment manager to open this door."

Shirley nodded and ran off again. Simon felt adrenaline surge through his body as he headed for the managerís office. Finally, something was happening with this case. The hunt was alive now.

Matt Johnson looked over his music collection trying to pick the right pacing and attitude for this lesson. He almost dreaded seeing Jolene Ramirez again. He hadnít heard from her since he called, nor had Mandy heard from her although she had E-mailed her styling advice. A slight breeze filled the room as the studio door opened. As he heard the sound of womenís heels walking across the wood floor he hesitated to turn around, almost frightened by what he might see. Joleneís soft yet confident voice rang out.

"Good morning. What do you think of my new hairstyle?"

Matt froze. Had she cut it? Would he be able to mask his emotions if she was now standing here with the short pixie cut with buzzed sides and back she had planned on? That would be terrible! Even if she got a ĎBobí he was sure he would feel sick. He turned slowly, head down, looking at her from the feet up.

She was wearing a very smart Navy blue pant suit today, synched tight at the waist with the Blue blazer covering a white shirt. A turquoise bolo tie hung down the front of the shirt. It looked very smart, and very confident. Thus far there was no sign of her long hair. Finally he looked straight into her face and those beautiful big eyes. Her hair looked like it had been slicked straight back with some odd rolls or curls or something all along the front. He couldnít see the back, and couldnít tell if it had been cut and slicked down or what. He was feeling queasy.

Once Jolene saw his eyes locked on hers she smiled and turned around so he could see the back of her head. Much to his relief there was a wondrous mound of coils that seemed to endlessly wrap in and out of each other, yet all the time stay tight to her head. The front part was also a series of coils that wound back into the rest. It was stunning. It was unique. It wasÖ.

"Mandy?"

"Yes. Sheís a treasure! And such a beautiful girl too."

All Matt could do is smile as he studied this latest hair masterpiece.

"She sent me this complete set of pictures and instructions of how to do this. Iím a klutz with my hair but Renee had no problem with it at all. She was absolutely amazed and thrilled about it all. So am I. I think it looks perfect. She also was all apologetic that she had almost convinced me to cut my hair."

Matt was feeling great now. His girlfriend had saved the day, or so it seemed. "Will it hold?"

She reached up and touched it, though she grimaced a bit at first contact. "It will take a bit of getting used to how it feels. She really uses a lot of hairspray."

Matt had to suppress a chuckle. If she only knew about Mandy and hairspray.

"But overall, it feels far more secure than any bun Iíve ever had, thatís for sure. And it is really very comfortable. No tugging or anything. I guess this lesson is its official test drive to see if it will hold up through intense dancing."

Matt felt a bit nervous at that. What if it fell out? The threat of her cutting her hair was still a possibility. As the lesson started he found himself intentionally avoiding all the very quick moves that would put her hair to the test. He also clumsily bumped it several times, which instantly sparked several responses:

Embarrassment: that he seemed so inept today

Fear: That he might knock her style loose. He didnít even budge it though

Joy: Even though this wasnít Mandy, The feel of one of her hair creations, stiff with spray, sent fond memories pulsing through his body.

Finally he could hold back no longer, and he put Jolene through as ambitious a series of turns, dips, lifts and drops as she could handle. Her bun from the previous week would have been history in an instant. If anything was going to knock her hair down, this would do it.

The series finished with him looking down on her in a deep lunge, her back arched, her head inches from the floor. She looked up at him wide-eyed, thrilled by what they had just pulled off. As he brought her up to her feet her hand quickly went up to her hair to inspect it for damage. She kept feeling it all over, and then went to the mirror for a visual confirmation. Matt awaited the verdict anxiously.

Jolene just looked at herself stunned. It hadnít fallen down. Not in the least. In fact not even one hairpin had budged. She turned to Matt and ran into his arms, kissing him on the check.

"It worked! I wonít have to cut my hair! It absolutely worked! Feel for yourself." She placed his hand on her hair, and Matt had to momentarily close his eyes as he was filled by the reminders of his girlfriend. While Joleneís hair was stiff with spray, it was nothing compared to some of the styles Mandy had concocted for him. His hand probably lingered a bit too long before he removed it.

"Iím happy for you. Iím glad we could help."

The rest of the lesson went beautifully, as the two could really work on their dancing without worry that her long mane would get in the way. The updo made it through the entire hour easily, without even a hairpin trying to slide out. Jolene left exhausted but exhilarated, as was Matt. As soon as she was out the door he called Mandy and told her of all that had happened. He could almost hear her grin on the other end of the phone.

By the time the apartment manager was found and Janice Hendersonís apartment door was opened, backup was already there with all the paperwork so they could legally search the apartment. The place was small, with very little furniture and only a few items in the refrigerator. Her bed was still unmade. A series of three towels tied to the leg of the sofa dangled out the window showed her escape route. More, smaller towels lay on the floor. They were perhaps too small to utilize, or she figured she didnít have the time.

It was Shirley Portman who opened the door to the second bedroom.

"Bob, come here! You got to see this."

Bob Simon walked in the room looking totally mystified. "What the hellÖ?"

By the window sat a camera on a tripod pointing out towards the campus down the hill in the distance. A massive telephoto lens was mounted on it. On one wall was a dressing table with a myriad of hair brushes, sprays, gels, curling irons, blow dryers, etcÖ It looked like a complete beauty salon. The other wall was completely covered with photos, most overlapping each other. They seemed to be haphazardly put up using basic thumbtacks, making no effort to frame them or such.

The two detectives looked over the photos, all of various blonde women. Most shots were close-ups from the neck-up, and many were taken from the back so you couldnít even see the womanís face.

"Someoneís got a thing for blonde women."

Shirley studied the photos further. "Do you notice anything peculiar about these pictures?"

"You mean more peculiar than plastering a bunch of hot looking blondes on your wall. Not really. Why?"

"Every picture is a different hairstyle. And most of them are quite amazing actually. Iíve never scene anything like them before."

"OK. So she likes hot looking blondes with different hairstyles. So?"

"Not hot looking blondes. Hot looking blonde! These pictures are all of the same person."

"What? My God youíre right! I never thought hair could make someone look so different?"

Portman instinctively ran one hand along the back of her neck, feeling the straggly ends of her shoulder length shag haircut. Not once in her life had she ever felt good about her hair. She wished it would look like the woman in these pictures.

The two looked through the drawers of the dressing table. They were filled with even more photos, each one again showing a different hairstyle of the same blonde woman. Even the mirror of the dressing table was surrounded by them. Then Bob Simon stopped in his tracks. His hand reached out and pulled two of the photos from the mirror, the scotch tape easily giving way. One was yet another of this mysterious blonde woman. The other was a picture of Sheri Delacourt. Both of them had a big red ĎXí drawn across the face of each in lipstick. Shirley Portman stared at the photos over his shoulder, mouth agape.

"This tells me two things. First, I think weíve got our first real suspect."

He turned to his partner, his face grim. He showed the picture of the mysterious blonde woman to her. "And secondly, the sooner we locate this woman the better."


THE END OF PART III

So how did I do? Please send me any comments, criticisms, ideas for the plot of part 4 or any other story ideas you might have. Thank you to all who submitted their ideas after reading Parts 1 and 2. tomlg@earthlink.net


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