The Vanishing Hairdresser
by Bill Kowaleski
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
“Come on, Sean, the Axelsons? You can’t be serious.”
“Another thing, Sheriff. When I told him where we found the dogs, Otto never said a word. He didn’t ask whether the Olsons had been found, too. It’s got to be because he already knows what’s happened to them. And you should have seen those dogs run away from Otto. They were definitely afraid of him.”
Cindy replayed the interaction with Otto and his wife in her head. They had been hostile, nervous. They’d wanted Sean and Cindy out of there, and the dogs even more so. The dogs must have known what was in that basement! “He’s right, Sheriff!” she said, “we’ve got to get into that basement.”
“I need a warrant to do that, and a warrant needs probable cause. All you’ve given me is some dogs yapping at a window.”
But they’d convinced Gustafson to at least take a look, and so he knocked on the Axelsons’ door while Cindy and Sean watched discreetly from their car parked halfway down the block. Through the foggy window, Cindy could see the Sheriff talking to Otto, then walking to the window where the dogs had congregated. After some minutes he came over to their car.
“Claims those pooches have been a bone of contention with the Olsons for a long time,” said Gustafson. “Kick up quite a racket. As for the basement window, Otto says he processes and hangs deer meat down there. The smell drives the dogs nuts.”
Gustafson paused, sighed, then said, “But he’s nervous. Too nervous, if you ask me.”
“So get a look inside,” said Sean.
“I asked him if I could look around, but he refused. Gonna try to get a warrant tomorrow morning. I’ll say my goodnights for now.”
“Let’s stay here and watch,” said Sean as Gustafson disappeared in the darkness. “Maybe they’ll try to move the bodies later.”
“I gotta work breakfast tomorrow. Take me home,” said Cindy.
“Fine, but I’m coming back... without the dogs.”
When Cindy woke, Sean wasn’t there. She knew he could go days without sleep, so assumed he was still watching the Axelsons’ house. She had been at work almost an hour when he walked in. She ran to the door and used her eyes to point him outside. There she pulled him by the hand to the now-empty dumpster where they’d found the schnauzers.
“Sorry, babe, but nothing happened,” said Sean. “I left when Gustafson arrived.”
“I don’t get it. Why was Otto so nervous?”
“I don’t know...”
Just then Cindy saw a Mercedes sports car tear into the little lot of the Tall Timber. Gravel mixed with wet snow flew in all directions as it slid to a stop.
“Conspicuous,” said Sean as Wolf walked up beside them. “Not smart.”
“Hey, lay off,” said Wolf. “I’m here to do you a favor, a really big favor. I’m all that’s left of the Northerners. The rest aren’t even on Earth. Want to guess why that is?”
Sean’s face lit up with fear. “SDEIF?”
“You got it. I was lucky. They had me, the newbie, surveying trees again. I was the only one not in camp.”
Cindy tugged on Sean’s arm. “What’s SD, uh, whatever?”
“SDEIF, Sirian Drug Enforcement Interplanetary Force. Nasty buggers.”
Wolf nodded. “They’ve got to catch you in the act of exporting the logs, buying them, having them in your possession, something like that. If they do, you’re off to the prison planet. Immediately. No presumption of innocence where we come from, Cindy.”
She stared at Sean. “I thought you were safe here!”
“So did I. This is new. They’ve never been here before. It’s all these new Sirians coming in. Somebody must have snitched and given them the coordinates to Earth.”
“You got any logs on you, Sean? Anything at all at your cabin?”
“No, I buy them from Gerry... Gerry... What’s happened to him?”
“Don’t know. But he runs a legit business. Not sure SDEIF even knows about him.”
“They’ve probably mind-probed your clan-mates,” said Sean. “They surely know about all of us Sirians still here, but Gerry would be the easiest one for them to find.”
Wolf turned back toward his car. “Going over there now. I’ll let you know.”
Sean stood in the cold winter sun, not moving a muscle. But Cindy could tell how frightened he was. She wrapped an arm around him, put her lips to his ear, gave it a gentle kiss, then said, “Hawaii. It’s time we did it.”
He nodded. “It’s all over here. I’ll never ship another log from Earth. They’d sense it for sure.”
The sound of a car moving much too fast for a downtown street rose behind them. The Sheriff’s Tahoe sped past. Cindy caught a glimpse of Walsh driving and two people in the back. They looked a lot like the Axelsons.
“Hey, did you just see that?” she shouted.
Sean’s eyes had been staring into the sky. He looked around toward her and shook his head.
“Let’s go over to the police station and see who they just took in.”
“Who cares about that?”
“It looked like the Axelsons to me.”
It was. As they entered, Otto and his wife Jeanine were getting fingerprinted. Gustafson sat in his windowed office. When he saw them he waved them in.
“Nice work there, partner,” he said, pointing to Sean.
“The Olsons were in there after all?”
“No sign of the Olsons. But I know meth chemicals when I see them. All over the place. A little product too. He’s got to be the one with the meth lab that Wolf was talking about. He was getting re-established in his house after losing his equipment.”
Cindy rushed back into the lobby where Walsh was fumbling with the lock on the door that would lead the Axelsons to their cell.
“Wait a minute, Jim. They’ve got to tell us where the Olsons are.”
Otto’s face was gray, his shoulders slumped. He stared a second at Cindy then said, “They wanted in on our business. We’d set up the lab north of town, way in the woods. They followed us there that night. Told us they’d turn us in if we didn’t cut them in on the action. But then those weird creatures showed up. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you the truth. I’d better stop.”
Walsh said, “Try us. We’d like to know where your lab equipment is.”
“The creatures took it, shoved it into some big pipe, and it just disappeared.”
Walsh stood very still, only his eyes moved. Then he said, “Yeah, Otto, I do believe you. Guy named Wolf told us the exact same thing.”
“So what about the Olsons?” asked Cindy.
“The creatures told us to get out of there or we’d end up in that pipe too. So we left. The Olsons had run off into the woods. It was every man for himself at that point. I didn’t worry about them. When they didn’t come back, I just assumed that the creatures had shoved them into that pipe.”
“So why were the dogs so interested in that basement window of yours?” asked Walsh.
“I told you, I process deer meat in there. Still some hanging in an unheated room that window looks into.”
Walsh led the Olsons inside. The door slammed behind him. Cindy and Sean walked slowly out the door into the brilliant low sunshine of a northern Wisconsin winter morning.
They stood on the sidewalk, staring down the street. “So,” said Cindy. “Wolf must have lied to us. The Northerners really did push the Olsons through the transporter.”
“Maybe. It does fit what we know...”
A pickup truck, bouncing on ancient shocks, a front fender flapping, turned into the main street, two blocks down. It rumbled and stuttered slowly toward them. As it got closer, Cindy’s mouth dropped open. It was the Olsons’, and a man and a woman were inside. She stepped in front of it and flagged them down.
Margaret Olson rolled down the window. She looked a frightful mess, her hair dirty and matted, her parka covered in mud, her face dark and blistered as if she’d fallen asleep in the tropical sun, her eyes wide as if in a permanent state of shock.
“You OK, Meg?” asked Cindy.
Margaret gasped and stuttered, tried twice to say something, then finally got out, “Cindy, sorry about... about missing our appointment. But if I told you where we’ve been, well... you wouldn’t believe it.” She sighed, then added, “You seen our dogs?”
“We’ve got ‘em,” said Cindy. “They’re fine.”
“Well, that’s something at least,” said Margaret.
Rolf leaned over her. His face was as dirty and blistered as his wife’s. “We just want to get home, get cleaned up, get some sleep.” With that he gunned the engine, evoking an enormous rumbling and a slightly increased rate of speed.
As the pickup disappeared around a corner, a Mercedes sports car pulled up beside them. Wolf leaned out the window. “Gerry’s fine. Says SDEIF stopped by, had a talk with him. He showed them his receipts, told them he was a legitimate businessman here. They said they’d be keeping an eye on him.”
Sean nodded then asked, “What are you going to do now?”
“Well, you know, maybe these Earth women aren’t so bad after all. I met a hairdresser. She tells fortunes, too. She’s got a shop...”
“The witch!” shouted Cindy. “You’re shacking up with the witch!”
“Hey, not so loud,” said Wolf. “I gotta keep a low profile. Speaking of that, you know anybody who’s got a used truck for sale? I’m unemployed and stranded here. I just can’t afford to operate this bomb any more.”
* * *
Cindy split the papaya, putting each half on its own plate. She added a few fresh lychees, poured two cups of one hundred percent Kona coffee, and took the tray to the lanai where Sean sat staring into the thick jungle of palms and vines.
“So what’s on the agenda for today?” she asked.
“Going to my brokers’ for a while. Got to cash in some bonds, move the money into stocks. Looks like a rally coming.”
“Well, that won’t take long. What then?”
“We haven’t gone to that green sand beach yet.”
“Yeah, I’ve always wanted to see that. Let’s do it!”
Sean shifted in his chair. “I’ve been thinking about the Olsons. They’ve been through a lot. Maybe I ought to send them some money, offer to bring them out here. Maybe then they’ll finally tell us the whole story about what happened to them, what they did to alert SDEIF about Earth.”
“Gustafson told me all they’d say was that they couldn’t remember anything after they hid in the woods when some group of strange creatures broke up the Axelsons’ meth lab.”
“Gustafson,” said Sean with a chuckle. “I miss him. I miss that town. It was a nice place. It’s where I met you.”
“We can go visit,” Cindy offered.
“Yeah, I suppose so. But it won’t seem the same. You really never can go home again.”
Copyright © 2014 by Bill Kowaleski