Killer Cuts: A Dead-End Job mystery
Two tiny women in their sixties stood outside the door to Miguel Angel’s salon on Las Olas. They were both about five feet tall and wore pantsuits, one pink and the other blue. Their hair was short and gray. They looked like little round twins.
Helen Hawthorne towered over them as she opened the salon door. “May I help you?” she asked.
“Is this where Miguel Angel works?” Ms. Pink asked. She pronounced his name “Mig-well” and said Angel with a flat Midwestern accent.
“The Miguel Angel,” said Ms. Blue.
“Yes, he’s the owner,” Helen said.
“Wow, you’re tall,” Ms. Pink said, looking up at Helen.
“Six feet,” Helen said.
“Are you a model?” Ms. Blue asked.
“I’m only a gopher,” Helen said. “I go for drinks and magazines for the clients, fetch lunches and run errands for Miguel Angel. I’m too old to model.”
“You don’t look old,” said Ms. Pink. “Your dark hair is pretty.”
“Thanks,” Helen said. “Getting my hair done by Miguel Angel is the best perk of this job.”
“We saw the People magazine article about how he changed LaDonna and gave her a new look. It saved her acting career,” Ms. Pink said.
“‘From street to elite,’ ” Ms. Blue said. “We’d love to meet him. He’s a real artist.”
“He’s here,” Helen said. “Come on in.”
“Can we actually come inside?” Ms. Pink asked.
“Sure, why not?”
“Because we’re fat,” Ms. Blue said. She said the F-word as if being slightly chubby was shameful.
“We like fat,” Helen said. She didn’t add that the salon really liked fat wallets.
The two women entered cautiously, as if they expected a super-model with a flaming sword to banish them. They surveyed the sculpted black-and-chrome client chairs, the chic black dryers, the outrageous bouquets of flowers. Billie Holiday was crooning “Stormy Weather.”
The salon’s softly lit mirrors were designed to flatter. The floor sparkled as if sprinkled with diamond dust.
“Oh, my,” Ms. Pink said.
“It’s beautiful,” Ms. Blue said.
“Everyone here is beautiful,” Ms. Pink said.
Black-clad stylists were working on two models in the sculpted chairs. Paolo was doing the blonde’s color. The woman’s head was crowned with tinfoil for highlights. Richard was adding extensions to the glossy hair of a brunette. You could have built condos on their jutting cheekbones.
Ms. Blue ran her hands over the leather scrapbooks on the salon’s rosewood center table.
“Those are Miguel Angel’s credits,” Helen said.
Ms. Pink opened one book. “Look at that. Miguel Angel has been in Vogue, W, Glamour, Vanity Fair, and People. He did the MTV awards show. He’s worked with so many celebrities.”
“May we have his autograph to take back to Pittsburgh?” Ms. Pink asked. “Our friends won’t believe we actually had the nerve to walk in here.”
“Let me see if he’s busy,” Helen said. “Would you like some water or tea?”
“Oh, no, we can’t afford to stay,” Ms. Blue said. “We just wanted to say hello. Everyone talks about his work. He’s famous.”
“And handsome,” Ms. Pink said. “Even if he won’t be interested in us.”
They giggled. Helen wondered if they knew Miguel was gay, or if they were talking about their cute, frumpy figures.
“What would it cost us to get our hair done here?” Ms. Blue asked.
“Three hundred for a color and cut,” Helen said. The price tripped off her tongue as if everyone paid that much for hair care.
“Oh, dear,” Ms. Blue said. “I don’t think I can manage that. I’m still paying off my Saturn.”
“Besides, we don’t have much hair to work with,” Ms. Pink said.
“Never underestimate Miguel Angel,” Helen said. “Let me ask if he’s seeing visitors.”
Miguel Angel worked in his own alcove at the back of the salon. He was blow-drying the tawny-haired Kim Hammond, this season’s top model. Miguel looked dangerous in his trademark black leather pants and black shirt with the collar turned up.
He wore his two enormous blow dryers in black leather holsters, like six guns. Why not? The man produced killer hair.
“Two nice women from Pittsburgh want to meet you,” Helen said. “They admire your work. They want your autograph.”
“That’s sweet,” Miguel Angel said. He was an international celebrity stylist, in a class with the hunky Oribe, and Frederic Fekkai. Cuban-born Miguel Angel specialized in making aging beauties look glamorous. Actresses swore his touch could revive their lagging careers, and flew into his Fort Lauderdale salon from around the country. Ordinary women paid big bucks for his remakes.
Miguel asked Kim, “Do you mind if the ladies come back to meet me?”
“Really, Miguel. Are you giving tours now?” the model said in a bored voice.
“It’s good for business,” Miguel Angel said.
“But Pittsburgh?” Kim said with a sneer.
“There’s money everywhere in America,” he said.
“Then bring them back,” Kim said. “Give the little people a thrill.”
What a snob, Helen thought. In a few years, she’ll be begging Miguel Angel for a new look.
Helen gave Ms. Pink and Ms. Blue the good news. “Is Angel his last name?” Ms. Pink asked.
“No, it’s part of his first name,” Helen said. “Cubans are partial to double names, especially the men. They prefer combos like Marco Antonio, Juan Carlos and Miguel Angel.”
“Sort of like my southern cousins,” Ms. Blue said. “I have a Billy Bob and a Larry Joe.”
“Yes,” Helen said. “Let’s go back and meet him before his next appointment.”
Helen took off across the salon with her long, loping stride. The two women struggled to keep up. “Stop! I mean, slower, please,” Ms. Pink said. “Our legs aren’t as long as yours.”
Helen slowed. Ms. Pink and Blue stopped when they saw Miguel Angel brushing Kim’s long mane.
“Look at her hair,” Ms. Pink said, in an awed voice. “It’s like a silk curtain.”
“You do such beautiful work,” Ms. Blue said, handing Miguel Angel an old-fashioned autograph book. “Would you sign this?”
“I’d be delighted.” When Helen had first started working at the shop last month, she’d expected Miguel Angel to sneer like Kim, but he was surprisingly kind.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you look like a young Elvis?” Ms. Pink said, handing him a sheet of hotel stationary.
“Thank you,” he said, as he signed it.
Ana Luisa, the salon receptionist, came back. “Excuse me, Miguel Angel. Honey is here for her final appointment before the wedding.”
“We’d better leave,” Ms. Pink and Ms. Blue said. “Thank you,” they chorused, then toddled toward the door, trailing girlish giggles.
“Just a warning,” Miguel Angel whispered to Helen. “Honey is six months pregnant. She may say something. Act like you already know she’s having a baby.”
“Miguel, I wouldn’t say anything rude. This isn’t 1950.”
“I know, but Honey used to be a nurse and she is very frank. You don’t have a poker face. Your eyebrow went up when I said she was pregnant.”
“I was just surprised,” Helen said. “You never gossip about your clients. I’ve been trying to get the dirt on LaDonna since I started here, and all you’ll say is she’s nice.”
“There is no dirt on LaDonna,” Miguel Angel said. “I leave the gossip to my clients. Be careful what you say around Honey,”
“Why?” Helen asked.
“Because her fiancé is Kingman ‘King’ Oden. He writes the Stardust gossip blog and hosts the TV show Stardust at Night.”
“Yuck. He’s King Odious, right?” Helen asked.
“That’s his nickname, but we never use it in this salon.”
“But he is nasty,” she said. “The man makes fun of older celebrities who put on weight and young ones who are too skinny. He enjoys revealing who is in rehab. Didn’t he out a couple of women actresses as lesbians?”
“That’s him,” Miguel Angel said. “King is mean. Lots of people hate him. But even more read his blog and watch his show. Two weeks ago, someone gave King a photo of Bianca Phillips without her makeup, and he posted it on his blog. Poor Bianca looked a hundred years old. She nearly lost a movie deal because of King.”
“Did Honey take the Bianca photo here?”
“I don’t know,” Miguel Angel said. “But if there’s a rumor King got that photo at my salon, it could ruin my business. Go help her.”
Helen handed Honey Miguel Angel’s signature black silk robe embroidered with his name. Honey took the robe and a hanger into the changing room. She was a honey blonde, like her name, with a pale oval face and small, delicate features. Her heels were high and skinny, and her legs were long and encased in designer denim. She was wearing a gauzy top. Now that Helen knew Honey was pregnant, she thought she saw the outline of what King and his ilk called a baby bump.
Honey carried a large, flat white box. She presented it to Miguel Angel as if it held the crown jewels. “That’s my bridal veil. It’s silk illusion. That’s very soft tulle.”
Miguel had done enough weddings to recognize illusion of all types. He opened the box and gently lifted out the veil. “It’s long,” he said.
“It’s a ninety-inch circle veil with silk-edged stitching.” Honey handed him a smaller white box. “This is my tiara. It’s crystal stars, in King’s honor – for Stardust, you know. We’re also getting Swarovski crystal stars for the dinner guests’ place settings. We got a good deal on them – only seventy dollars a star.”
“How many guests?” Helen asked.
“Two hundred,” Honey said.
Helen did the math. Honey was spending fourteen thousand dollars on wedding favors. She’d already spent nearly every cent of her savings to be one of Miguel’s Angels. He’d transformed her from a practical nurse with thick-soled shoes into the spike-heeled consort of King Oden.
“We’d better get started,” Miguel said. “The wedding is Saturday, and we still haven’t decided on a hairstyle.”
“I’d like to try my hair up this time, in a French twist,” Honey said. “Sort of Grace Kelly-ish. King will like that. Very classy.”
“Phoebe,” Miguel Angel commanded his assistant, “wash Honey’s hair.”
“But I washed it this morning,” Honey said.
“It will look better after my treatment,” he said.
Many customers thought they’d save time or money by washing their own hair. But they didn’t get out all the soap, and their hair looked flat and lifeless when it was styled.
“I use something special that will brighten the color,” Miguel said. “You don’t need your roots done yet.”
Phoebe tucked a towel around Honey’s neckline and washed her hair. The two women chatted like old friends. Phoebe usually didn’t get along well with the women customers, but she knew how to flatter and flirt with the older men.
The hair washing, from soaping to a mini scalp massage, took almost ten minutes. When a wet-haired Honey was installed in Miguel Angel’s chair, Helen asked, “May I bring you a drink? How about a magazine?”
“Just water,” Honey said.
Helen went back to the prep room and poured ice and cold water into a crystal glass, added a thin lemon slice, then wrapped the glass with a paper napkin so the bride’s delicate fingers wouldn’t be chilled.
When she returned, Miguel Angel was blowing Honey’s hair dry. In half an hour, he had it up on her head in a golden twist.
“Now the veil,” he said. “Stand up.”
Honey stood. Miguel carefully draped the veil over her hair, pinned it in place, and added the tiara. The crystals caught the light and gave Honey an angelic halo.
“Beautiful,” he said.
“This is how I want to look,” Honey said. “Now will you brush out my hair? I want King to be surprised on Saturday.”
Miguel Angel unpinned the veil, and Helen carefully folded it and packed it away. The tiara went back in its smaller box. When Miguel finished brushing out Honey’s shoulder-length hair, the bride-to-be gave Ana Luisa her credit card, added a substantial tip for Miguel Angel, handed Helen five bucks and gave Phoebe a thick wad of money.
But she still didn’t leave. “I’m worried about Saturday,” Honey said. “All of King’s celebrity friends will be there. What if something goes wrong?”
“What can go wrong?” Miguel Angel said. “We’re supposed to have beautiful weather, and you’re a beautiful bride.”
“What if I lose the baby?” Honey asked. “He wants a son more than he wants me.”
“That’s not true,” Miguel Angel soothed. “He loved you before you were pregnant.”
“But he’s only marrying me because I said I’d abort the kid unless he walked me down the aisle without a prenup. I had Daddy Dearest by the short and curlies. The deal was, no son if I had to sign a prenup.”
Helen quickly turned away, afraid Honey would see the shock on her face.
“I really wanted a girl,” Honey said. “But King said it had to be a boy or else. He wanted proof. I had to show him the baby’s ultrasound.”
“King will adore the mother of his only son,” Miguel Angel said. “Do you love him?”
“Of course,” Honey said. “King’s first marriage was a mistake. He’d knocked up Posie, and they had to hurry up and get married by a judge at city hall. Posie was so desperate she signed the worst prenup agreement ever. But we’re doing this marriage right. King wants a traditional white wedding with all his friends there and a real honeymoon. He loves me. He tells me so all the time. And I love him to death. I mean, till death parts us.”
“You’re just having a case of bridal nerves,” Miguel Angel said. “The weather will be beautiful and so will you. What could go wrong?”
“I guess we’ll find out on Saturday,” the bride said, and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
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