Shirley couldnít believe his decision. She felt it crucial they find this girl as soon as they could. "Could you at least explain to me your logic?"
Simon leaned against the dresser in Sheri Delacourtís second bedroom, totally relaxed.
"Sure. First off, if we get the media involved in even the slightest way, theyíll blow this thing up so big it will be like Jack the Ripper, and this whole town will be in a panic. Then youíre asking for vigilantes and who knows what else to come out of the woodwork.
Secondly, if we publish a picture, every woman with long blonde hair in this town will be freaking out, fearing that they may be mistaken for this girl.
Third, all that frenzy canít do anything but hinder our ability to find this Sheri person.
And finally, we really donít need any help finding this mystery blonde. Itís obvious from this whole camera set-up that she is either a student or regularly can be seen on campus from this window. We just need to put some plain clothes spotters out and we should be able to locate her very quickly."
Shirley had absolutely nothing to say. He was right. After a brief pause she said "I want to be one of the spotters."
"I couldnít agree more, and Iíd like you to recruit some ladies from the precinct to help."
"Why ladies? A little sexist, arenít we?!"
"Because I looked at all these pictures and didnít even realize they were all of the same woman, and Iíll bet 90% of the other boys down at the precinct wouldnít have noticed that either. On the other hand you, a woman, figured it out right away. So who better than a woman to help locate this person who seems to be a master of changing her appearance?!"
"She doesnít really change anything but her hairstyles. The notion that she is some kind of master of disguise is just an illusion."
"Whatever. But can you see my logic?"
"Yeah, I can. I still think youíre sexist, but I can."
Matt Johnson accepted that he would be in Santa Fe for quite some time. His dad was recovering from his stroke, but would probably never be teaching classes again. So the search was on for a good instructor to replace matt as the main teacher, and Richard Johnson would return to be the businessman and take care of the books.
Matt was sorely missing Mandy, and whenever he worked with Jolene, each time sporting that coiled updo his girlfriend created, her memory (and absence) came flooding back to him. And since he was now working with Jolene three times a week to begin preparations for competition at the end of the summer, his mind was basically constantly thinking of her. He wondered if she could come out and visit him this summer, or if he could at least get away for a weekend to go back east. But money, with all his fatherís medical expenses, was in such short supply he would never be able to justify it. He also knew Mandy didnít exactly have money rolling in either. Everything she made or saved was earmarked for paying for school. How would she be able to afford a trip out to New Mexico?
Tony Ramirez had agonized over the situation his wife was in. Dancing was important to her, and he wouldnít think of telling her not to pursue it. Yet her beautiful knee length hair was important to him. He hadnít realized how important until now, when she was only hours away from cutting it off. He lost a good deal of sleep those last days before her hair appointment, hoping for a miracle to happen. So when a young dance instructor and a college student across the country came through and saved the day, he might have been even happier than his wife that he hadnít come home to a short-haired spouse. He profusely thanked Matt for all his help, and wrote a thank you note to Mandy, with a check for $500 for her efforts.
What Tony didnít realize though was how great his wife could look with her hair up, since this was something she never did before. In fact, she looked fantastic with the huge intricate mass of coils pinned in place behind her head. He found himself sneaking looks at it, studying how it was done, and treasuring the sight of her taking it down for him at night. Some nights Jolene even left her hair up, noting the style could stay in place even the next day with just a little additional hairspray. (While the foreign feel of her hair coated in spray had first taken both aback, it was now a sensation that both totally accepted. In fact both even liked the feel a bit, though neither shared this fact with the other.) These evenings provided a new adventure in lovemaking, as Tony had easy access to her neck, back, and ears. The result was both of them were finding new joys with her long hair.
Tony secretly E-mailed Mandy, wondering if she could come up with even more styles his wife might be able to pull off. He wanted to give them to her next month for a birthday present, and would pay her $1,000 for a collection of five more styles.
When Mandy received the original check she was thrilled, and she split it with Brenda Harrington (her photographer and the one who originally came up with the idea). Brenda might have been even more excited than Mandy. When he offer from Tony came across the net, both girls jumped at the opportunity. Brenda knew the money could come in very helpful for summer vacation, and started putting together her new wish list. Mandy, on the other hand, was hard at thought of just what those five styles should be. She didnít see any problem coming up with the five looks, but since they were still for dancing (she assumed) they couldnít be to Ďbigí or high over her head. Plus, she still wanted to avoid looks that required any backcombing, recognizing what a sensitive procedure that could be for some people. She even decided to avoid any curling, knowing some stylists were uncomfortable trying to curl the hair of long-haired clients. In addition, she did want to make them all clearly different from one another. Who knows? If she did this job right maybe there would be more requests in the future.
She E-mailed back to Tony that she accepted the request, and the two girls reserved the next weekend for the photo shoot. Mandy had a week to come up with the styles.
Shirley Portman once more focused on the group of girls heading from the cafeteria. She recognized them as the same group sheíd seen every day since starting this search. She couldnít believe the blonde beauty was proving so difficult to find. Of course the fact the department could only spare two other female officers (Maggie Spencer and Claire Nolan) didnít help any, since the campus was so large. And then there was the weather, that had been so cold with some late snowfall that had everyone so bundled up it was difficult just to see their face, much less their hair. And that was really the key to finding this woman, her hair. Even just confining their search to the area observable from Janice Hendersonís apartment window was a challenge. She was becoming frustrated. Worst of all, she was worried that they would be too late.
Bob Simon was worried too, sitting in the suspects apartment, looking over every potential clue for the umpteenth time. It had been two weeks and he felt no closer to cracking this case. Maybe he needed to get the press involved. He closed his eyes and shook his head, just picturing the chaos that could cause.
Mandy finally came up with five more styles to send to Jolene. The fact she was sick in bed for a week with a touch with the flue helped greatly, as she had plenty of time to ponder the problem and play with her own hair a bit. Besides looking great and involving no backcombing or curling, she wanted to make sure they were five of her sturdiest creations that would surely hold up to the most intense centrifugal and gravitational forces. In fact her neck was a bit sore from constantly shaking it around so much testing out each style. She opted for two variations of a French twist, one running the complete length of her head rather than just on the back section as most were prone to do. The second was a horizontal French twist, which was a personal favorite of hers. The third choice was another coiled style, similar to the one she already submitted but a bit asymmetrical, leaning towards the left side (although it could just as easily be adapted to favor the right side). Fourth was a twisted style that ended in a low chignon, surrounded by an intricate series of overlapping small braids. This one took a bit longer than the others, but since Jolene had a stylist doing it for her, and it was the only truly demanding one of the bunch, she decided to include it. Lastly, more for Matt than anything else, sheíd include instructions on how to do her ĎFaux Short Hairí style that she unloaded on Matt early in their relationship, when he was sure she cut her hair as it looked, from the front at least, to be a shoulder length ĎBobí.
It took almost the entire weekend for her and Brenda to put together the entire five style package, but by late Sunday afternoon it was done. Brenda was so amazed by the whole thing that now she not only wanted her hair to return to the waist length she used to have as a teenager: now she wanted it to reach down past her bottom, like Mandy wore her hair (or maybe to her knees, like Jolene wore her hair), so she could be seen in all these different looks.
What should only have taken a matter of days was now in its fourth week. Janice Henderson couldnít be found. She had no friends, no ex-lovers, and even those in neighboring apartments didnít know much about her. The ladies at the salon gave the most insight into her. Apparently she had been quite a wonderful client of theirs until the last year, when she seemed obsessed to change her looks. From everything people could gather she was trying to match the look of the mysterious blonde, with little to no success.
"I guess some people just arenít cut out to be a blonde," joked Bob Simon to himself, frustrated that the department couldnít find TWO people in such a small town.
But finally the weather broke and the parkas were left at home, uncovering peopleís faces and, more importantly, their hair. Shirley Portman saw her first, or at least a long blonde mane that might belong to her. At first she was so amazed about the possibility she froze, but then set out at full sprint. However she lost her for several hours when she disappeared into a classroom building. But her persistent, with the help of her two backups, finally found her in a Computer lab. There was no mistake, she was the woman in the pictures. Thankfully she had worn her hair down that day, as Shirley wasnít sure she would have spotted her had it been up out of the way.
She waited until the class was over, which also gave Bob Simon a chance to catch up with her. Together the two approached Mandy cautiously, not wanting to scare her. But after a long one hour talk with the officers, plus seeing some of the pictures taken of her, Mandy was plenty scared.
"Perhaps I should just leave town until you find her," Mandy said.
"Weíre not convinced that would do any good. Sheís waited this long, thereís no telling how long she will wait, or even if sheíll follow you," Detective Simon said.
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"We suggest for starters you avoid going places by yourself. Secondly, weíre going to have your phone tapped and keep you under 24 hour surveillance. Shirley or myself will always be within shouting range." Bob Simon kicked himself for putting it that way. He was trying to reassure this girl, not frighten her further.
Mandy accompanied the two down to the station and they spent the rest of the day going over what she should and should not do, and what things she should look for. They gave her an electronic locater pin that would allow them to track her movements at all times. When Mandy returned home that evening it was all she could do to concentrate on her studies. She wanted to call her parents, and to call Matt, but had no idea what to tell any of them. The point that was clear to her was she was the decoy to flush this woman out, and telling others what was happening would certainly hamper everything. She decided to keep things to herself, at least for now.
Matt Johnson once more pondered the wording on Joleneís birthday card. He had grown very fond of this woman and adored dancing with her. He couldnít wait to compete that fall with her, as she was becoming a fine dancer. She had the ability to draw attention to herself whenever she wanted, either subtly or blatantly depending on her mood. That talent would definitely help her on the competitive dance floor.
Joleneís birthday had been that weekend, but there had been no party. So this Tuesday rehearsal was their first time getting since. Matt had just signed it ĎSincerelyí, knowing any more was probably inappropriate. He was so confused every time he was around her. Was he attracted to her, or was the fact she reminded him so much of Mandy, now even down to the way she wore her hair, that it just played upon his longings for his distant girlfriend?
When Jolene stepped into the studio today Matt just stared dumbfounded, and not in a good way either. SHE HAD CUT HER HAIR! It now was in a shoulder length ĎBobí, drawn back in front, with the ends curved under just covering her neck.
"What did you do to your hair?!" he said, much too loud and in a tone that left no doubt he didnít approve.
"Isnít it great! It was a birthday gift from my husband, and from Mandy."
Mandy had been part of her cutting her hair! Matt could hardly believe his ears. But then she turned away from him to sit and put on her dance shoes, and he saw the intricate mass of coils on the back of her head. It was the same style Mandy had once pulled on him, with very much the same results. He couldnít believe he had fallen for this twice now, and he started laughing as he wiped away some tears. He was missing Mandy terribly now, and decided to give her a call after the lesson, despite the fact the two had talked just last night. However that conversation had been quite strange. Mandy sounded very stressed, and very preoccupied, and wouldnít share what was going on. She just said classes were real tough right now. But she was a brilliant student and he couldnít totally believe that. Something was going on. Wonder if she had met someone else? Maybe she was dating again! He shook his head and focused on the lesson, all the time finding himself staring at Joleneís updo, his hands sometimes Ďaccidentallyí brushing against it. It ignited such passionate memories that more than once he needed to pause and collect himself. Jolene eyed him suspiciously several times but didnít ask what was going on. Besides, their dancing today was truly inspired and, dare she say, ĎHOTí.
As Mandy strolled down the sidewalk of downtown State College on her way back to her room, she noted the full moon and the crisp spring air. Had she not been looking up she might have noticed the masked figure, all in black, lurking around the corner. But she didnít, and the rag immersed in some kind of knock-out drug was placed around her nose and mouth before she even knew what was happening. In seconds she was unconscious.
When her eyes opened she was in a huge chair, held fast by duct tape wrapped around her arms, legs, wrists and ankles. As her vision returned she took in her surroundings. It was a Barber Shop! Only she was the only one in it now. She was facing a great mirror overlooking a counter full of combs, scissors, and many different sizes of electric clippers. Her hair was center parted hanging straight down, most of it falling in front of her shoulders, though she could feel a fair amount lying against her neck and back and extending down the back of the chair. Her bangs, as usual, were a perfectly curled under wall coming just to her eyes
Suddenly a mysterious figure all in black wearing a black ski mask stepped in front of her. . She tried to scream only to note that her mouth had a layer of duct tape over it too. Not saying a word, the figure pondered the different clippers, finally selecting a mid-sized one. From the shape of the strangerís body she was clearly female. She then stepped behind Mandy so her view of the mirror was unclouded, and snapped the clippers to life.
The stranger lifted the hair away from Mandyís back and pressed the clippers against the base of her neck. They vibrated ever so slightly, and Mandyís eyes were wide with terror as she prepared for whatever came next.
The clippers started up into her hair, changing tone as they did. At first Mandy thought it all a trick as she couldnít see or feel any hair being chopped off. All she could do is hear it, and feel the clippers higher and higher up the back of her head. They didnít stop until they had reached the crown. At that point Mandy saw a good sized section of hair sliced clean through and fall down behind her. She just sat watching it, too shocked to even shed a tear.
Over and over the clippers went on the back of her head. She could tell there was little to nothing left back there, and her neck now felt totally exposed. Still, the sight in the mirror of her full bangs and all the hair in front of her shoulders made her still think what was happening was just an illusion and hadnít really happened. Eventually even the sound of the clippers was unchanged, meaning there was nothing left to take off. At that point the figure brought the clippers forward, front and center, placing them under the wall of bangs. They clicked to life once again, and ever so slowly were set against her forehead and started heading back.
Mandyís eyes grew even larger as the clippers dug in and a two inch wide section of her bangs fell down her face, coming to a rest on her lap. Then it hit the bulk of her hair, running directly along the clean, crisp center part. Suddenly three foot long tresses were diving at the floor as the part became a two inch wide swath of nothingness. What was left behind was just a fraction of an inch of stubble, with pale scalp clearly showing through.
The figure made the clipper run ever so slowly, though eventually she had run it clear to the back of her head, blending seamlessly into the freshly shorn back section. She just let Mandy stare at herself for a while. Then she came forward again, though this time she moved almost in fast motion. Now it looked like the obligatory Barber scene from every war movie, with the inductees shorn smooth in record time. In moments the entire left side of Mandyís head was devoid of hair, her ear fully exposed to the world. Then the right side soon matched the left and her hair was gone. It was all on the floor and on her lap. She sat there, almost numb, staring at herself. Suddenly the faint amount of stubble that remained pulled back into her scalp, leaving her absolutely bald. To make matters worse, Mandy was treated to the sight of her head slowly altering in shape. The top started rising higher and higher, and her ears started growing and sticking straight out. They didnít stop until they had reached the proportions of the Ferengi of Star Trek fame, a good foot in both height and width, and her head continued to reform until it looked like a giant egg, nearly three feet higher than normal. Mandy screamed so hard she burst through the duct tape, and ripped through the bonds holding her arms. Her hands reached for her head as she let out a terrifying yell.
"NO!!!!! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?"
"Calm down Mandy!"
"LOOK WHAT YOUíVE DONE!!!
"Snap out of it! Itís a dream! Itís just a dream!"
Mandy opened her eyes surrounded by numerous girls from her dorm wing floor, plus one of the other floor leaders who used her skeleton key to open Mandyís door. They all were both frightened and concerned for her. They new she had been acting strangely recently, and experiencing numerous nightmares, but this was by far the worst.
Mandy herself was curled up tight in the corner of her bed, her hair in total disarray all around her, looking pale and shell-shocked. The stress of being a potential target was clearly getting to her. She hadnít been getting much sleep at all recently, almost fearful of the nightmares that always seemed to accompany them. Despite the room full of friends she didnít even began to relax. Instead she looked over each of the faces suspiciously, expecting to see Janice Henderson amongst them. She hadnít told any of them about Sheri Delacourt, so none of them knew what to think of her change in behavior. They just worried about her, and thought she was now a candidate for psychiatric help.
Mandy slowly came back to reality, noting she still had her hair, that her head hadnít grown in size, and that she was safe in her dorm rather than a captive. Her heartbeat starting returning to a safe level, and some of the girls started filing out of the room, whispering among each other. This was not the first time they were awoken by her screams. How many more times would there be?
Detectives Simon and Portman were both a bit frazzled. Several times over the past weeks they thought they were on to something in the Janice Henderson case, only to come up empty handed. Once they were chasing a mysterious figure dressed in black that was seen near Mandyís dorm, but they unfortunately lost her in some thick foliage.
Matt found himself anxious each day to see Jolene, as he was being treated to a wide variety now of updos, courtesy of Mandy, given to her by her husband for a birthday present. He wondered how much Mandy was paid for the instructions. He made a point of asking the next time the two talked. But for right now it was a treat, and each time he saw one brought back vivid memories of seeing Mandy in each style, and what they did together that day. He couldnít wait to go back to Pennsylvania and Penn State so he could finish his studies and once more be with the girl he loved. Unfortunately his dad was very slow to recover, and finding a dance instructor who could competently fill his shoes was proving extremely difficult, especially as they didnít have a lot of money to attract someone from out of state to move here. Matt was really liking Santa Fe and New Mexico, but the salaries out here were far below those of other states in almost every occupation. Living in this beautiful State clearly demanded monetary sacrifices, and that was extremely difficult to sell to someone over the phone.
Mandy didnít realize how late she had stayed in the library until she heard the announcement it would be closing in 10 minutes. She gathered her books, put on her jacket, and headed out into the cold late winter evening air. She was glad her hair was hanging down freely now, since it acted as a wind block covering her ears and neck.
The sidewalks were empty for as far as her eyes could see, and the wind whipping through the trees made some eerie noises. Suddenly it occurred to her that if she were to encounter Janice Henderson there was no one around to hear her scream and come to her aid. Her senses were on full alert, and she quickened her pace a bit. She was visibly shaking in fear as she took a short cut through a patch of trees towards her dorm.
The tug on her hair came fast and seeming from nowhere. It was so vicious it pulled her to the ground, where she ended up face first in the week old layer of snow. Suddenly all she could hear was the sound of laughter and footprints running away from her. As she came to her feet the ends of her hair fell over her right shoulder andÖ.stopped! Her hair only reached to just past her shoulder! What happened?!
She must have been attacked by Janice Henderson, who had grabbed and sliced off her hair, and then run away laughing! She couldnít believe it, and started crying out loud as she touched the ends that now felt so foreign and wrong. She didnít remember ever having hair this short.
"Are you all right?" It was a deep voice from a man passing by.
At first Mandy recoiled back, afraid that further attacks were coming. Then she felt another tug on her hair, and started screaming and flailing with her arms. Yet the more she fought, the worse the stress on her hair became.
"Stop! Iím not going to hurt you! Youíre caught up in a tree!"
The words meant nothing to Mandy as she was hysterical, thinking her very life was now threatened. She closed her eyes and kept flailing about and screaming, until she finally heard a crack like a bone breaking and felt most of the pressure on her hair let up. Then something odd was poking at her chest. She finally opened her eyes, planning to at least see her attacker. It wasÖ.. a tree branch. Her hair was a tangled mess around a tree branch.
She stood dumbfounded, tears flowing uncontrolled. Then she looked up at the stranger who kept his distance not wanting to alarm her.
"Your hairÖ it was all caught up in that tree branch. Since you wouldnít hold still I broke off the branch before you ripped your hair out. Are you all right?"
Mandy stared at her hair, all tangled around the branch. It was an absolute mess, but it was there. All of it. It hadnít been cut off. Her attacker had been her overactive imagination and a tree limb. She broke out into a bit of a laugh, although it didnít stop the tears.
"It was rude of those two girls to just run off laughing at you instead of stopping to help."
Mandy was collecting herself now. She looked up at her savior. He looked very familiar, but she couldnít quite put a name to the face.
"Thank you for your help. Iím Mandy Harper."
"Curt Barcley," he said, extended one hand and shaking her hand.
Of course. Now she knew why he looked familiar. Curt Barcley was the starting quarterback of the Nittany Lion football team. He had nearly won the Heismann Trophy this season, and was a sure first round pick in the NFL.
Mandy tried to stand up, only to realize that the broken branch was much more sizeable than she at first anticipated, and it pulled hard at her hair.
"Donít get up! That branch is no small thing. Can youÖ. untangle your hair from it."
Mandy remained seated and tried to free her hair. She immediately recognized that this was going to take some time and much better lighting. Besides, she was starting to get very cold here in the snow and wind.
"No, I canít," she said. "I really need to get back to my dorm before I even try. It could take a while."
"Let me help you," Curt volunteered. Mandy was in no position to turn down the offer, and the two of them set off (Curt carrying the branch), ever so slowly so as not to pull at her hair, across the campus. They were almost comical to look at, if there had been anyone to see them.
Once on her dorm room floor many of the girls saw them, though none said anything. Where would they start? Do they first ask what Mandy was doing with a tree branch sticking out of her hair, or ask what she was doing with Curt Barcley, alone, in her room. After all, everyone knew he was engaged.
It took until the wee hours of the morning before Mandy could separate her hair from the branch, and Curt stayed and helped the entire time. He was actually very useful, as sometimes he needed to hold up the branch in various angles, and chop off parts of the branch, so they could proceed. But also his presence was someone to talk to and calm Mandy. The press made Curt out to be a flamboyant Playboy type of character. In actuality he was anything but. He was raised very religiously, was a leading member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and really very shy and almost introverted. He was nothing but a perfect gentleman to Mandy. He also seemed very happy to have someone new and non-judgmental to talk with. She even shared with him what was happening in her life concerning the whole Janice Henderson ordeal, which explained her odd behavior with the tree branch. Curt told her he would accompany her or find someone who would whenever she needed it so there would be no more such events. Mandy didnít turn down the offer, knowing that there just might come a time when the presence of such a strong athlete around would come in handy. Besides, she liked Curt. When he left her room just before 6 a.m. (to numerous prying eyes) Mandy was fast asleep, her hair once more tangle free and glorious.
The two caught up with each other the next day, Curt wanting to make sure Mandy was all right, and repeated his offer of the bodyguard service. They walked to her first class together that day, and then parted ways. But Mandy kept his number and considered Curt her friend. It would be fun following his professional career in the future. She might even start voluntarily watching NFL games (at least the ones he was in).
Mandy never mentioned the tree branch incident to Matt. She didnít want to overly concern him, knowing how much he wanted to be with her anyway. The long evening with Curt made her miss Matt even more. She did tell him she had met Curt, but didnít say any more than that, not wanting to make him jealous over nothing.
With each passing day Bob Simon was starting to doubt that Mandy Harper was in any danger, and figured that Janice Henderson had probably skipped town and was living the restless life of a fugitive. It had been nearly two months now and no sign of her anywhere. But Shirley Portman was not only reluctant to give up the case, she was adamant that the end was near. Unfortunately she had no evidence whatsoever to support this opinion, only her intuition.
The spring dorm social was a welcome respite from the tensions marking the end of the college semester, filled with final exams, seniors preparing for life ahead, summer job searches, etcÖ Mandy was looking forward to it with relish. Finally an opportunity to get out of her room and associate with other people in the safe environment of a closed party. Despite being drained from weeks of little to no sleep and the stresses of this unknown predator, she was remarkably chipper and anxious to make an appearance.
She dressed in a simple but elegant pant suit of bright colors. Nothing too dressy but certainly more fashionable than the majority of the party goers. While first she contemplated wearing her hair down, instead she opted to wear it up, knowing that in the crowded party setting it was less apt to be tugged on or mussed. She parted it on the right side, then pulled it all back (including her bangs) to a low chignon, wrapping it with some decorative coils of hair that she separated from the main mass. It was festive and stunning, but quite simple really. A layer of spray locked it all in place.
She arrived at the party just as it was starting up. Few people were there and the D.J. had yet to start up. She recognized it would be several hours before it really kicked in to high gear. It wasnít so long ago that sheíd be one of the last people to arrive at such an event, but her relationship with Matt had worn off on her, and now she was rarely anyplace late. Usually she was early.
She decided to go back to her room for a while and call Matt before returning to the party. By the time she returned two hours later it was in high gear, with nearly wall to wall people and the tile floor was already getting sticky from all the spilled soft drinks, etcÖ
After mingling for a while and jumping in for a few dances, she was getting into the party spirit. She was also immensely hungry. At that point she saw an auburn hair woman enjoying an inviting piece of pizza, and asked her how it was.
"Delicious," was the reply.
"Could you tell me where I could get a slice?"
"Iím not sure how much is left. A friend of mine brought it. Let me see if I can get you a piece."
And with that the woman disappeared into the crowd. Mandy just stood her ground, looking very much forward to the tasty snack.
A few minutes later she returned, handing Mandy the tempting treat. Mandy dug right in, only to discover that the pizza had a very unusual and, frankly, disgusting flavor. She started almost gagging, searching desperately for something to wash it down with.
"Are you all right?" asked the brunette. Seeing her despair she handed over her glass of water. "Here, see if this helps."
Mandy drank it down quickly, thankful that the awful taste was soon gone. She thanked the woman for the drink. The woman apologized. "I guess my taste buds are different than yours."
"I guess," said Mandy, wondering how anyone could enjoy pizza like that.
Over the next hour Mandy developed a pain in her stomach. At first it was a nuisance, like indigestion, but it slowly grew more and more pronounced. By the end of the hour Mandy was almost doubled over in pain, and decided it would be best just to leave the party and return to her room. As she strode down the empty path to her building, the pain kicked in even harder. This time her vision became a bit cloudy, and her knees felt week. She stopped for a moment to sit on a bench. She never made it. Her feet fell out from underneath her and everything went black.
When Mandy finally awoke she was groggy and confused. The first thing she noticed was her mouth had been taped shut. It was so tightly done it hurt. The next thing she noticed was her arms were tied in place to the arms of the wooden chair in which she was seated. Further examination noted her legs were tied in place too. The only good news was the pain in her gut was apparently gone. She took in her surroundings. She was in the middle of what appeared to be an abandoned trailer, and looking out the windows she noted the sunlight coming in. Outside it was thick with trees. She was obviously in the mountains somewhere. There was no sign of civilization noticeable from any of the three windows she could look out of. She tried to worm her way out of the bondage to no use. In fact, it seemed the knots only got tighter. She winced in pain, noting that once she stopped struggling the knots returned to a tolerable tension. But any time she tugged on them, they just grew tighter and tighter.
"No use fighting it my dear. Youíre not going anywhere, and weíre so far from civilization that no one will save you now."
A somewhat familiar figure stepped in front of her. Mandy recognized the woman from her auburn hair cut in a precise shoulder length flip with bangs. She had been at the party. She was the one who had handed her the awful piece of pizza that made her nearly gag. She was also the one who handed her the drink of Ďwater.í Obviously that glass contained more than just water. She had been drugged.
However this time the stranger was wearing camouflage like an army soldier might wear. She stepped in front of Mandy, obviously enjoying her advantage in this situation.
"You donít know me, so I guess thereís no reason to keep this charade up," she said. With that she reached up and removed her wig. It caught Mandy by surprise. Usually she could detect a wig. The stranger was completely bald, her head so smooth she surely just shaved it. Her face now exposed clearly, Mandy knew this was Janice Henderson. Noting the evil look of sinister delight on her face, Mandy was at full panic, wondering how she would make it through this ordeal. She hoped this was just another nightmare, but it wasnít. This was real, and here was this madwoman planning Ö Well, she didnít even want to hazard a guess.
Janice pulled out a dressing mirror and positioned it in front of Mandy so she could see herself. Her face was a flushed white from terror, mixed with red eyes full of tears and panic. Her hair, amazingly, was still pristine.
Mandy noted behind her was a folding table with numerous combs and brushes on it, plus a pair of scissors, a can of shaving cream and a razor.
Janice stepped behind Mandy, touching her updo gently.
"You and this head of hair of yours. So perfect. So lovely. Do you mind if I take it down?"
Mandyís eyes shot open a bit. Whatever was to come was on itís way. Of course she couldnít say anything, and didnít dare risk enraging this woman any further by shaking her head.
"Nothing to say?! Whatís wrong? Cat got your tongue?" And with that came an evil laugh. Mandy closed her eyes as she felt Janice slowly start removing the numerous pins holding her hair up, and then felt her mane tumble down behind her.
Janice started to brush through it, making no attempt to be gentle. The layer of spray holding it in place was quickly brushed out. Soon it was all free of tangles again, although her roots hurt a bit from the rough handling.
Then the woman was standing in front of Mandy, combing her bangs straight down in front of her face. Since they werenít curled, they hung clear to the end of her nose. Her hair was so thick she could barely see anything through the blonde wall.
"How I longed to have hair like yours. To be able to do everything you can. For a while I did. Did you know that? Your boyfriend even thought I was you once! That was fun."
She kept combing the bangs.
"I never did like having bangs so long though. They were always in the way, like now. It seems to me if you want bangs they should stay out of your face. Thatís the whole point, isnít it?"
Mandy heard Janice walk to the table behind her and pick up something, then she was soon back in front of her. Then she felt her bangs being tugged at.
"Letís see if we canít give you some more practical bangs." Suddenly Mandy saw the blades of the scissors move into her bangs, and saw them slowly clamp down. She closed her eyes as she heard them slice in, and felt clippings bounce off her nose and fall in front of her. The madness had begun. First she would lose her hair, and thenÖ.
Janice worked slowly, enjoying every moment, her face a huge grin. Mandy could see it clearly now, her bangs had been cut short enough to be totally out of her eyes now. How short she wasnít sure, as Janice was blocking her view of the mirror. More and more little clippings continued to fall.
"There now, that looks so much better now, doesnít it?!"
Janice stepped away so Mandy could see the damage. She swallowed hard, recognizing that this torture really had begun. Surprisingly the damage wasnít too bad, as her bangs were just to her eyebrows now, and actually cut in a straight line. Too short for her liking, but nothing that a few months of growth wouldnít restore.
Janice starting combing through the bangs again, laughing. "That was fun. I could learn to like being your barber." With that she moved in on the bangs again, cutting off even more length. Mandy bit her lip as she felt more clippings bounce down her face. Janice worked slowly but with purpose, like this whole scenario had been tightly scripted.
"So what do you think now?" she said as she once more unblocked her victims view of the mirror. Mandy grimaced a bit at the sad reflection looking back at her now. Her bangs were now a good inch above her eyebrows, looking much like a cut a little girl might have. She closed her eyes and tried saying a bit of a prayer.
"So you donít like this look either! Well, since we canít go longer, letís try shorter and see if that works for you." Once more Janice stepped in front of Mandy and attacked her bangs with the scissors. This time they felt very near her scalp, and as she watched more clippings fall towards her lap Mandy noted she couldnít feel anything touching her forehead anymore. Where they totally gone now?
Janice smiled an evil smile as she stepped back in revelation. Mandy still had a trace of bangs left.
However now only about an inch of length remained. Not even enough to do anything but stick out a bit. They could hardly be called bangs anymore. They looked terrible and would take a good six months to grow out even to her eyebrows again. Now that this was done she was sure much more would be falling to the floor. At this point Mandy really didnít care. It would be hard to watch her lose all her hair, but it would grow back. She was just hoping to leave this place with her life, and have the opportunity to grow it out again.
Mandy was trembling hard now, and a tear started down her cheek. She didnít understand why she was being put through this. After all, she had never done anything to this woman. She had never even met her before tonight. Janice noted the tear.
"Aw! You donít like your haircut thus far?! Too bad. I spent forever trying to get my hair to match yours. I grew it out, I bleached it blonde, and I learned to curl it, and tease it, and spray it, and everything else you do soÖ.easily. And for a while I succeeded. But trying to keep up with you cost me my hair. It all broke off. It was ruined. So I tried extensions, and they fell out. I had to keep cutting it shorter and shorter. Finally I gave up and adopted a new look."
She ran her hands over her shiny smooth scalp.
"Do you like it?" She bent over so her head was only inches from her captiveís face.
Mandy closed her eyes, trying not to show the fear running through her body.
"I hope you do like it. Iíve wanted for so long to look like you. But since I canít, Iíve opted for the next best thing. Iím going to make you look like me."
With that Janice stepped behind Mandy and started gathering all her length behind her.
"You really wonít miss it. Life is so much easier without it."
Mandy watched as Janice gathered it all into a makeshift ponytail, knowing in just a few moments it would be hacked off. She eyed the can of shaving cream and razor, knowing now it was intended for her. She couldnít imagine herself totally sans hair, despite the countless nightmares sheíd experienced over the past weeks that included her hair being brutally hacked off somehow. Apparently she didnít have long before she wouldnít have to imagine. Her head would match that of this mad woman. And then what?! That was the most terrifying thought. She remembered the ghoulish details of the Delacourt murder.
After playing with the ponytail for a while, Janice reached over and picked up the scissors again. Mandy knew she shouldnít struggle as things would probably only go worse for her, but she wouldnít just sit here and be scalped and then killed without a struggle. She started thrashing this way and that, rocking the chair and throwing her head from side to side so hard the ponytail came out. This act enraged Janice, and she opened the scissors in her hand and held one sharp end to Mandyís neck while she grabbed a handful of hair with the other. Mandy immediately stopped struggling, terrified that any move would result in her jugular vein being sliced clear through.
"You WILL hold still and watch this. You will watch your beautiful hair being destroyed, bit by bit, just like I did. I watched it every day. I watched it every fucking day. Now you will watch. DO YOU HEAR ME?! NOW YOU WILLÖ.."
The next moments were a blur for Mandy. She never heard the gunshot. Janice had been yelling so loud it was muffled. But suddenly the scissors were no longer tight to her neck, and Janice was no longer yelling. Then Mandy felt the weight of Janiceís head on her shoulder, and then all her weight. Janice fell forward limply and then over Mandyís right shoulder to the floor. She never let go of the scissors, even in death, and as they raked over Mandyís right forarm they cut a huge gash across it. She screamed inside and watched as her own blood started gushing out. There was blood everywhere on her. Only then did she realize that most of the blood was not hers. She looked down at the blank face of Janice Henderson, blood pouring from a gunshot hole that went clear through her head from temple to temple. Then she looked again at her arm, the pain intense. Finally she looked at the door of the trailer being broken down, and the two police officers rushing in. One of them, Shirley Portman, was still holding and pointing her smoking gun. This was all too much. Once more everything went dark for Mandy.
So how did I do? Please send me any comments, criticisms, ideas for the plot of part 5 or any other story ideas you might have. Thank you to all who submitted their ideas after reading Parts 1, 2 and 3. firstname.lastname@example.org