Greetings! Thank you so much for checking out my blog! I am Susan Dorsey, a local author from East Tennessee. My first novel, A Civil Death, was published in 2011. The sequel, A Discriminating Death, was published in 2012. The third and final book in the series (so far!), A Haunted Death, will be out sometime this spring. My first series of books follow Jane and her hairdresser friend, Rodney, as they uncover murder, mayhem, and history in Knoxville, Tennessee. The books are available at local bookstores and at Amazon.com
If you haven’t yet met Jane and Rodney, or if you just haven’t visited with them in a while, check up on them in this short story…
DEATH’S A DRAG
A JANE BROOKS SHORT STORY
“Oh! That bitch has really done it now!”
“Rodney! Watch your language.” Jane smiled weakly at into the mirror at her client. Mrs. Houser did not look happy. She was in her seventies and was the most refined of Jane’s hair clients. “Sorry,” Jane whispered. “He must be really upset to talk that way.”
“You bet I’m upset.” Rodney stalked across the salon waving a piece of paper as if it was on fire. “Ruth Anne just gave me this before she left. She got it in the mail last week.” Rodney reached Jane’s hair station and stopped. He blew his breath out, ruffling his blond bangs. “That son of a bitch has stolen our client list.”
“What?” Jane grabbed the paper from Rodney’s hand. Her heart sank as she read the words on the flier.
‘Is ‘The Salon’ getting too tame for your tastes? Ready for something new?
Try the Queen B. Get your first haircut free and see how much better we are than Rodney and Jane!”
“What the hell, Rodney?” Jane glanced in the mirror again. “Sorry, Mrs. Houser.”
“Remember when we ‘lost’ the appointment book last week?” Rodney framed the word ‘lost’ in air quotes. “That cow Edwina must have sent a walk-in to steal it from us. How else could she have gotten our client’s names and addresses?”
Jane felt the blood rush to her head. The salon business had never been pretty, but Edwina had taken things to a new low. She, or technically he, had started a salon in downtown Knoxville. As far as Jane could tell, he wasn’t that talented. His draw was the fact that he and all of his hairdressers were drag queens. They dressed in outrageous outfits and fawned over their clients. College students and bored housewives had flocked to the Queen B since Edwina had opened its doors. Jane knew they weren’t hurting for business. “Why target us? Why now? What did we ever do to them?”
Rodney frowned and grabbed the flier back from Jane. “I kind of had a small incident with Edwina during the Regal Hair Symposium last month.”
“You what?” Jane’s mouth fell open. Mrs. Houser turned in her seat and glared over her wire-rimmed glasses at Rodney.
“She was up on stage; all dressed up in a polka dot dress and five-inch heels.” Rodney folded the flier in half and stuffed it into his back pocket. “She was going on and on about how her business model was based on the entertainment industry. I stood up and said that we were doing quite well on the old ‘do a good job and skip the gimmicks’ business model.” Rodney looked down at the floor. “Things got a bit out of hand, and I might have called her a glorified hag.”
“Oh, you didn’t!” Jane put down her scissors and glared at her friend and business partner. “What were you thinking? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I knew you would react just like that.” Rodney shook his head. “I’m going to go down there and make this right. No drag-wearing, sorry excuse for a beauty school dropout is going to steal our clients.” He waved one hand in the air. “Uh, uh. I am not putting up with this.”
“Rodney, dearest,” Mrs. Houser pushed her glasses up and reached out to pat his shoulder. “Honey, if I were you, I’d own that bitch.”
Jane spun the stylist chair around and stared at her client. “Mrs. Houser! Don’t encourage him!”
“I’ll call you after I straighten this out.” Rodney pulled his car keys from his pocket and turned to the door. “Edwina is going to regret the day she messed with The Salon. I swear, she is going to get what is coming to her. She’ll never cross us again.”
Jane grabbed her scissors as the door closed. She had to finish Mrs. Houser quickly and go after Rodney before his mouth got them into even more trouble.
Jane’s knuckles were white as she gripped the steering wheel. She hated driving downtown Knoxville. Try as she might, she always ended up on a one-way street heading directly away from where she wanted to go.
She ignored the honking behind her as she slowed in front of the Queen B. Jane sighed with relief. There was one spot left on the street, she wouldn’t have to find a spot in the parking lot a few blocks down. She had finished Mrs. Houser as quickly as she could, but Rodney had a good five-minute head start. Who knew what trouble he was causing now? At least there were no police cars parked in front of Edwina’s salon. That had to be a good sign.
Jane eased her car into the narrow parking spot and grabbed her purse. She half walked, half ran to the front door. She grabbed the handle just as the door was opened by a large man dressed in a bright purple fifties style dress. His dirty blonde hair was styled in a beehive. His black cat-eye glasses did not hide his elaborate eye shadow and false lashes.
“Welcome to the Queen B! I’m Andi with an ‘I’. We are just thrilled that you are here!” His singsong voice faltered as he took in her cutting cape and nametag. “Not you too?”
Jane peered around the drag queen. The salon was huge. There must have been twenty styling stations, and each one was manned, so to speak, by an elaborately dressed stylist. All wore fifties-style dresses with polka-dot scarves around their neck. Some sported embroidered aprons. A June Cleaver look-alike sat at the front desk, a three-strand pearl necklace covering her Adam’s apple. No one was moving. It was as if Jane was looking at a photograph. Everyone was paused, heads tilted toward a door in the back. Jane could hear Rodney yelling insults over the drone of the dryer chairs.
“He’s in the back.” Andi stepped aside and pointed to a door just past the bright pink shampoo sinks. “I told him Edwina was taking a break, but he just barged on through.”
A piercing scream echoed through the salon. Rodney flung the office door open. He stumbled into a shampoo chair and grabbed it for support. “Oh, God! Edwina is dead! She’s been strangled.”
The room erupted into movement. Stylists slid in their five-inch heels as they raced for the office door. Andi cupped his hands together and shouted. “Stop! Nobody go into the office!” He turned and pointed at June Cleaver. “Davina, call 911. We need the police.” He turned back and pointed a shaking hand at Rodney. “That man murdered Edwina.”
A second scream pierced the air and the crowd ignored Andi’s voice. Jane ignored him too. She ran, pushing her way between skirts and elbows until she reached the front of the crowd. Rodney was on the floor wrestling with a tall redheaded drag queen. She had a tight grip on his arm and was twisting it behind his back.
“I didn’t kill anybody!” Rodney screamed in pain. His face was pressed against the floor, his lips touching the cool tile. He saw Jane and yelped again as the drag queen knelt on the back of his thigh.
“I heard it all!” The drag queen squirmed as Rodney flipped over on his back. “You threatened to ruin her!”
“Wait a minute!” Jane clapped her hands together loudly, as if she were trying to break apart two fighting dogs, not two men who towered over her, even without the heels. “There has to be an explanation! Let’s all just calm down here and see what in the world is going on.”
“She’s right.” Rodney gasped. “Let’s just calm down here.”
The drag queen looked at him with disgust before she sighed and pushed him away. “You were the last person to see her. There is nothing you can say to change that.” Her red beehive was tilted to the side, revealing a platinum buzz cut.
Jane reached down to help Rodney stand up. His hair was a mess, his khaki pants were wrinkled, and he had a large red scratch mark down his forearm. Small snips of hair from the floor covered his cheek.
The rest of the salon had pressed forward. Andi was at the front. All eyes were on Jane.
“All right.” Jane took a deep breath. She nodded toward the office door. “First, somebody needs to go in there and make sure Edwina is really dead.”
“What?” Andi’s manicured hand fluttered up to his throat. “Hasn’t your partner done enough? Now you want to go and make sure he finished the job? You two are monsters! Just monsters!”
Rodney rubbed the scratch on his arm and stepped even further from the redhead. “I didn’t kill her, Jane. You have to believe me.”
“I believe you, honey,” Jane said. Rodney had his faults. He could murder your reputation, but Jane doubted he would ever murder anybody for real. Probably.
“We all heard you yelling at poor Edwina.” Andi’s voice cracked as he blinked back tears. He brushed the bottom of his eyelid with the tip of his ring finger, dotting at the mascara that threatened to run down his cheeks.
“She stole our client list. I yelled at her, but I didn’t kill her. She was just sitting in her chair, staring out the window at the back parking lot. I yelled and yelled to get her attention.” Rodney covered his mouth with one hand. “Oh God, I thought she was ignoring me. I thought she was rude, not dead.”
Jane glanced at the open door. She could see the back of Edwina’s office chair. The hem of a fire-engine red sundress hung down, revealing one leg in a fishnet stocking. A red stiletto shoe was on the floor as if Edwina had kicked off her heels to relax after a long day butchering people’s haircuts. Large red beads were scattered across the floor.
“You killed her because she ignored you?” Andi shook his head. “What kind of person are you?”
“Listen to me! I didn’t kill her. When she wouldn’t even acknowledge me, I stormed around her desk to demand she speak to me.” Rodney paused and looked around the crowd of customers and stylists that had pressed closer to hear him. “It was awful. Her eyes were all bugged out.” Rodney shuddered. “One hand was at her throat.” His voice lowered. “Her fingers were caught in her scarf.”
Jane heard the sounds of sirens in the distance. Davina must have the cops on speed dial. She looked again at the office.
“The cops are coming, and you are going to get what you deserve!” Andi stepped backward to the front door. “You won’t get away with this.”
Jane narrowed her eyes and looked at the back of Edwina’s office chair again. “What color was the scarf?”
“What?” Rodney spun around to face her.
“What color was the scarf?
“Purple. It was purple.” Rodney’s eyes widened as he stared at Jane.
“Rodney, think about it.” Jane grabbed his arm. “What drag queen would be caught dead wearing both a choker and a scarf? The beads on the floor –” Jane nodded toward the office. “Edwina must have been wearing a choker to hide her Adam’s apple.”
She spun Rodney around to face the crowd. “All the stylists have their throats covered.” She pointed at Andi with an “I”. “All except the one in the purple dress.”
“Girlfriend, you’re right about the choker.” The redheaded drag queen nodded at Jane, her beehive wig tilting even further off her head. “I complemented her on it this morning. It was a vintage piece. Besides, Edwina wouldn’t have ever mixed red and purple anyway. Really, who would?” She turned and pointed at Andi. “And you! You fought with Edwina last week when she made you stay on shampoo duty.”
Andi covered his throat with his hand. “You’re all wrong! All of you! I am the best color expert in this whole salon, and I deserve to be head chair! I deserve it! Edwina was jealous of me. She was jealous of my natural talent. She was worried her customers would have liked me better.” He broke down crying now, actual tears ruining his eye shadow. Streaks of mascara ran down his cheeks. “She was right. They would have.”
The front doors opened behind Andi. Two police officers walked slowly into the room. They stared at June Cleaver. She pointed silently at Andi.
Rodney pulled Jane into a hug. “Thank you, thank you,” he whispered.
Jane took a shaky breath. “Did you learn your lesson? Are you going to go around insulting stylists and fighting with drag queens anymore? Even if they try to steal our clients?”
“Heaven’s no!” Rodney shuddered. “Not unless I bring you with me.”