Monday, 19 May 2008
A Hairdresser Scorned
"It's amazing!" Trish gushed that evening as she closed the Venetian blinds over the windows of Bunnz Salon, "The way you just pieced it together like that and still got back to the salon in time for your 2 o'clock appointment!"
"It was nothing really, Trish," Chelsea said, "As soon as the Professor told me about the Malabarite belief that the Lord or Rajah who leads their sect has supernatural powers, everything else fell into place. Let me explain. You remember the Rajah of Rajpooristan who was killed in mysterious circumstances?"
"The geezer who got pushed out of his palace window by Hiram Hartleberry-Smythe, you mean?"
"Assuming that Chief Inspector Spiggot's theory is correct, that is," said, Chelsea, "Well, I've felt for some time that the Rajah was the really unexplained link in all these murky dealings. When Professor Carruthers told me about the Rajah at the head of the Malabarite cult, I suddenly had a hunch about the identity of the mysterious cult leader."
"The Rajah of Rajpooristan!" squeaked Trish.
"There are times, Trish, when the acuity of your intellect frankly stuns me. The Rajah of Rajpooristan indeed. So I made a few discreet enquiries among various personal contacts in the twilight world of international crime and the general feeling was that my hunch was indeed correct."
"Blimey!" gasped Trish, "So you think that someone from the cult had Hartleberry-Smythe bumped off as a kind of revenge killing, then?"
"I do indeed. And what's more, I know exactly who did it. There is only one person sufficiently unhinged to dare to kill the leader of a bloody-thirsty, opium-dealing Himalayan sect in order to gain demonical supernatural powers. Cast your mind back, if you will, to the Latin-American Open-Style British Ballroom Dancing Finals at the Chipplestoke-in-the-Mire Palais de Dance in August of last year."
"How could I ever forget!" Trish sighed, "The music! The glamour! The heady perfume of styling mousse and hair wax!"
"As you will recall, my old chum, Melissa Peaberry, had asked me to create some special hairstyles for her boys and girls. And thus it was that on the fateful night of the Championship itself you and I found ourselves teasing, tweaking and backcombing until our fingers were numb from exhaustion."
"I remember it well! That was the first time we used the Frangipani shampoo!" Trish squeaked.
"Indeed it was, Trish. And as the competition progressed, it increasingly seemed that our efforts were paying off. Each time the Melissa Peaberry Latino Ensemble took to the floor, gasp upon gasp went up from the crowd. I flatter myself that they were impressed as much by our stunning coiffures as by the quality of their Fox Trot."
"Yeah," Trish agreed, "Them hairdos was good…"
"At last it came to the final section. The excitement was intense. The audience was silent with expectation. You could have heard a hairpin drop. The Melissa Peaberry Latino Ensemble was by now in joint lead with the Tanya Tittlefeather Syncopated Orpheans. All that remained was the final showdown."
"Yeah. There was just the Valeta, the Military Two-step and the Cha-Cha-Cha!" Trish squealed.
"It was neck-and-neck. The Orpheans dazzled the crowd with their pink sequinned crinolines in the Valeta and their diaphanous bodystockings in the Two-Step. It all hinged now on the Cha-Cha-Cha. And, as you know, that's where we were about to unleash our secret weapon."
"Ooh, yeah!" Trish said, "I waxed down all the men's hair and you…"
"Yes! And I plumped up the women's beehives with a generous dollop of my new, experimental Sandalwood conditioner. It was the first time I'd ever gone public with that conditioner. People have told me that those hairdos might well have been the deciding factor that helped the Melissa Peaberry Latino Ensemble to win the contest."
"Tanya Tittlefeather was absolutely furious. D'you remember? Red in the face she was!"
"She had every reason to be furious, Trish. You see, in her life beyond the confines of the ballroom, she is the same Tanya Tittlefeather who owns the chain of high class salons going by the name of Tittlefeather's Titivations. I only discovered afterwards that she too had styled her troupe's hair that night using a new range of root-nourishers, emollients and highlighting gels. She had planned to launch the range the following day at an exclusive press conference in Mayfair.
"Each item in the range was to have the name of a dance step - there would be a Foxtrot shampoo, a Rumba conditioner, a Cha-Cha-Cha Split-ends remedy and so on. She was planning to call them 'Tanya's Salon Swingers - the hair products that win every time!'"
"Except they didn't win," said Trish.
"That's right, Trish. Tanya always blamed me, you know. She's never really forgiven me."
"Golly!" squeaked Trish, "You don't mean to say that you think it was Tanya, who…?"
"…sent me the sandalwood boat with the frangipani flower? Yes, Trish, that's exactly what I think. Tanya had hatched a master-plan drag me into the sordid world of Hiram Hartleberry-Smythe's murderous drug-dealing empire. Hence the mysterious gifts. Tanya knew I could never resist a mystery."
"But just a minute," said Trish, "What did Hiram Hartleberry-Smythe have to do with all this?"
"Yes I wondered that at first too," Chelsea said, "It was only after I phoned up Mandy Althorpe…"
"Your exotic ingredient supplier?" Trish interjected unnecessarily.
"…that I realised what had happened. Mandy, it turns out, had employed Hiram to handle the importation of the sandalwood and frangipani for my new range of Bunnz Salon Specialities. It seems only he could supply the very finest Malabar sandalwood in the quantities required.
"Meanwhile, however, Tanya Tittlefeather was hatching a plot to duplicate my new range and flood the market with her own brand-name. Of course, she too went to Hartleberry-Smythe for her supplies. Hiram didn't tell Tanya that he had already committed all his supplies to Mandy Althorpe. So he agreed to supply Tanya too. But instead of supplying the finest white Malabar sandalwood, he sold her some vastly inferior red sandalwood, passing it off as the genuine article.
"Mandy rushed her new shampoos and conditioners into production in time for world-renowned Tonypandy And Surrounding District International Coiffeur Challenge Cup. It was, as you will recall, a disaster. Two of the models even tried to sue her for damaging their follicles."
"You did all right though," Trish said, "Won the gold, silver and bronze cups, didn'tcha?"
Chelsea blushed, "For Tanya Tittlefeather that humiliation was the last straw. She became totally unhinged, psychopathic. And, as everyone knows, hell hath no fury like a hairdresser scorned. Tanya concocted a fiendish plan that would, at a stroke, eliminate the two people who had, in her warped imagination, been responsible for her downfall. First she would kill Hiram Hartleberry-Smythe… And then she would kill me!"
"What a bitch!" gasped Trish.
"As you say," agreed Chelsea, "But in the event, due to an unforeseen turn of events…"
"Mrs Van de Graaff's poodle!" interjected Trish.
"…instead of killing me, she very nearly killed you."
Trish shivered theatrically at the thought.
"You see, it was Tanya Tittlefeather who poisoned our last delivery of shampoo and conditioner with a binary nerve agent. Fortunately, you were wearing rubber gloves at the time, otherwise…."
"Ooo, don't!" twittered Trish, "You'll give me the creeps. There's still one thing I can't figure out though, Chelsea. I can understand why Tanya Tittlefeather wanted to kill Hiram and you. But why did she bump off the delivery boy too?"
"Ah, that was the most devilish thing of all. You see, Trish, that was no delivery boy. In fact, that was no boy at all."
"You don't mean...?"
"Yes! The so-called Cedric Crackington-Haven was none other than Tanya Tittlefeather herself!"
"The moment I first set sight on Crackington-Haven, I knew there was something strangely familiar about him. Maybe it was the way he minced into the room? Or possibly it was that high-pitched, irritating voice? But, disguised in that black-leather biker's outfit and dark glasses, she fooled me completely.
"It wasn't until I looked more closely at the prize-giving photograph that was taken at the award ceremony of the Latin-American Open-Style British Ballroom Dancing Finals that I noticed how very singular was Tanya Tittlefeather's nose. An unmistakable, hooked nose. The very same nose, indeed, that I had so recently seen supporting Cedric Crackington-Haven's dark glasses."
"Flip me!" peeped Trish, "Your amazing detection capabilities have come up trumps again, Chelsea! There's just one more thing I don't understand, though. If the bike boy was Tanya all along, doesn't that mean she must have killed herself?"
"In the matter of the motorbike accident," Chelsea said, "I believe we see the hand of Fate at work, Trish. Just as she was putting into action the final step of her master plan, Tanya Tittlefeather's motorbike was cut down by a ten ton truck which, by a horrible coincidence, happened to be transporting a cargo of sandalwood to the Malabar Emporium."
"Spooky," simpered Trish.
"The body, of course, was pulverised out of all recognition. But Chief Inspector Spiggot of Scotland yard has ordered the grisly residue to be exhumed. I have no doubt that tests will verify that they are indeed the mortal remains of the unfortunate Tanya Tittlefeather."
"Makes your blood run cold, don't it," said Trish in a low, quavering voice before adding chirpily, "Fancy a cocktail?"
"Hmmm, well, I think I might be able to force down a teensy Singapore Sling."
"I'll go into the kitchen and make one, then, shall I?"
"You're forgetting something," said Chelsea, "Whenever I come to the end of a case, it is I who make the cocktails!"
"Oh, yeah! Sounds good to me," burbled Trish, "I'll tidy up the magazines and stuff in the salon then, shall I?"
"Good idea." As she rattled through the Moorish beaded curtain that led to the kitchen, Chelsea smiled with pleasure at the thought of another case brought to a satisfactory conclusion. In a matter of seconds she had squeezed two limes into a stainless steel cocktail shaker and added a substantial measure of gin, Cointreau, cherry brandy and a few other added extras from the fridge. Having shaken them all together with a few ice cubes, Chelsea was straining the cocktail into two pre-chilled glasses when she heard the doorbell to the salon.
"I'll get it," Trish shouted.
As a final flourish, Chelsea decorates the two glasses with maraschino cherries. She placed them onto a silver tray and was just about to take the drinks into the salon when telephone rang. Chelsea snatched up the handset from the phone bracket next to the fridge. "Bunnz Salon," she said with practised cheerfulness, "Can I help you?"
When the caller spoke, Chelsea instantly recognised Chief Inspector Spiggot's gruff voice. His message was brief and to the point - "The body," he said, "It wasn't Tanya Tittlefeather."
Chelsea put down the receiver, hardly able to comprehend the significance of Spiggot's words. A moment later, the beaded curtains rattled as Trish came into the kitchen holding a small cardboard box, about the size of a shoe box.
"Special delivery, apparently," Trish said.
In the near distance, Chelsea heard a powerful motorbike speeding away.
"Describe the delivery boy," Chelsea said.
"I don't know. Couldn't really see much under all that leather. He was wearing dark glasses."
"Hooked nose?" Chelsea asked.
Trish gasped and turned as pale as bottle of almond oil root conditioner. "You don't mean…?" she stuttered.
"Give me the box!" Chelsea said.
Trish handed it over. Chelsea tore off the wrapping.
"Be careful!" Trish warned, "It could be dangerous."
But Chelsea had already taken the lid off the box and was now staring, wide-eyed at its contents. Then she smiled. She took out a single frangipani flower and a note written in lilac ink. The note said simply, "You have missed your appointment with Death, Miss Bunn. But in my Salon, appointments are not always necessary. I'll see if I can fit you in soon!"
It was signed: "The Demon Styliste".
"Hmm," Chelsea mused, as she carefully refolded the note, "At least she has a sense of style. You know, if she weren't such an out and out rotter, I rather think that the two of us might have been good chums."
"So," said Trish, "What are you going to do now then?"
"Drink this cocktail of course. And then, quite possibly, mix another one."
And so, with the chink of glasses and a girlish laugh, Chelsea Bunn brought the curtain down on yet another adventure. However, she somehow felt that this would not be the last she had heard of the Demon Styliste.