Vanessa was dressed all in black. A clinging turtleneck accentuated her ample breasts and snug jeans revealed a tight, round butt. She was a statuesque woman standing nearly six feet tall in her stocking feet, with a dazzling smile, full lips, and sparking blue eyes. But her most striking feature was her honey blonde hair hanging down her back, half way to her butt. Vanessa knew that men were attracted by her beautiful tresses, and she was not above using them to get her way. In fact, today she chose the dark clothing to call attention to her light-colored locks. Usually she let them cascade loose down her back, bouncing and reflecting the light in their gleaming waves. Today, however, she wore them pulled back into a thick pony tail that swung rhythmically between her shoulder blades as she walked.
Russell, her live-in boyfriend of two years, looked up from the couch where he was reading the sports section of the morning newspaper. “I’m going out for a while,” she announced.
“Where to?” he asked.
“Going to the mall to do some shopping,” she fibbed. Certain that he wouldn’t approve, she didn’t want to reveal her true destination. “Be back in an hour or so.”
“I’ll probably be gone to the gym by then,” he replied. Russell was a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym. His work day began at noon and ended around eight. Her shift at Hooters ran from five to midnight. Although they shared the same bed, most days they were awake together in the apartment for only a few morning hours.
Vanessa had worked at Hooters for five years, ever since turning twenty-one. The way she filled out the skimpy costume and the sassy rejoinders she tossed back at her randy customers assured generous tips and lots of repeat business. Hooters Girls were used to guys hitting on them—it came with the territory—but the middle-aged businessman who came into the restaurant three weeks ago had used an unusual line. He was better dressed than most of her customers, in a conservative brown, three-piece suit. He was better spoken too. He looked and sounded like he could be a professor at nearby Michigan State University. That’s why his proposition came as such a shock.
“You have beautiful hair, miss,” he observed as she delivered his order. “Have you ever considered cutting it?”
“Why would I want to do a thing like that?” she replied, provocatively tossing her flowing mane in his direction.
He surprised her by rattling off a list of possible reasons. “Because you’re tired of it and you’d like to make a change; because long hair can be such a hassle to maintain; because you’ve always wondered how you would look with short hair; because you don’t make much money as a waitress and you’d like a big payday.”
Vanessa stopped dead in her tracks. “What did you say? That last part about a big payday.”
“Let me explain. I own a specialized film company. We make movies of women’s haircuts. We will pay you a handsome fee if you let us film your hair being cut,” he offered.
“Sounds kinda kinky to me,” she said dismissively. She pretended to be uninterested, but didn’t walk away.
“Not at all,” he asserted. “Our films are strictly legit—nothing X rated.” He took out a pen and scribbled a number on the back of his business card. “The amount I have written here is the modeling fee I am prepared to pay you. When you decide to cut your hair, give me a call.” He didn’t say, “If you decide to cut your hair,” he said, “when.” She wondered why he was so confident.
He extended his card; Vanessa snatched it from his hand and tucked it inside the bodice of her low-cut blouse. Over the years she had received hundreds of similar cards from male customers; all of them wound up in the trash. This one she kept.
Three hours later, after finishing her shift, she removed the card and read the number he had written—$1,000. She had expected a couple of hundred; this was far more than she expected. She flipped the card over and read the name printed on the other side: “Robert Martin, Professional Photography.”
Vanessa had completed her second year at Michigan State when her father’s heart attack forced her to withdraw from college. When he couldn’t return to work at the Oldsmobile plant, he took an early retirement. Because his union health insurance covered less than half of the mounting medical bills, he no longer could afford to pay her tuition.
Vanessa had never been a motivated student anyway; she was more interested in having a good time. Dropping out of State had not been the disaster it might have been for a more dedicated student—it allowed her to party without worrying about exams and term papers. Five years of pouring beer and balancing heavy trays of food, however, changed her opinion about higher education.
The previous September she began taking science classes at Lansing Community College with the aim of someday enrolling in nursing school. To her surprise, Vanessa found that she now enjoyed studying and earned mostly A grades. She hoped to save enough money from waitressing to quit her job and return to school full-time in the fall. Thus far, however, she had put aside only a little more than twelve hundred dollars. Unexpected expenses were always cutting into her savings—a new water pump for her twelve-year-old Honda, dental bills not covered in her minimal health insurance policy, an expensive bridesmaid’s dress for her sister’s June wedding. At this rate it would be at least five years before she accumulated a large enough balance in her savings account. That’s why the photographer’s unusual offer captured her attention.
When Vanessa returned to the apartment after her shift, Russell was watching Letterman on television as usual. She went into the kitchen, popped open a Coors, and plopped down next to him on the couch. “How was work?” he casually inquired.
“Oh, the usual mostly —drunken students and businessmen out on the town. There was one rather strange guy, however,” she said.
“Strange in what way?” he asked. “You mean a pervert?” Although Russell liked to boast to his buddies that his girlfriend was a Hooters Girl, he worried obsessively -about customers trying to take advantage of her.
“I’m not sure,” she answered. “He seemed pretty normal—well dressed and well behaved, but then he propositioned me.”
“And you let him get away with it?” Russell angrily replied. “You should have told Kenny to toss him out on his ass.” He knew that Kenny, the heavily-muscled bouncer, and a former lineman for the MSU Spartans, felt very protective toward his waitresses. He would not tolerate any customer accosting one of his girls. In the past six months alone he had sent three men to the hospital with broken bones when they stepped out of line.
“It wasn’t that kind of proposition,” she explained. “He offered me a thousand dollars to make a film of me getting my hair cut.”
“My God,” he exclaimed. “That guy definitely is a pervert. I hope you told him where to get off.”
“Of course I did,” Vanessa lied and then quickly changed the subject. Too late, she realized it had been a mistake to mention anything to Russ about Martin’s offer.
Despite her boyfriend’s objection, she couldn’t stop thinking about her encounter with the photographer. A week later, in the middle of the afternoon, Vanessa dug the card out of her purse. Russ had gone to the gym; her shift wouldn’t start for another three hours. Her curiosity overcame her reservations about Martin’s business. She had several questions for him. Vanessa dialed the number printed below the photographer’s name. “Martin’s photography studio. How may I help you?” chimed the well-trained voice on the other end. She was relieved to hear that it sounded like a normal business operation.
“Hello. My name is Vanessa Fulmer,” she began. “I met Mr. Martin last week. He said he wanted to photograph me.”
“If you give me your number, I’ll have him return your call as soon as he’s free,” the receptionist politely informed her.
Vanessa left her number, but worried that he might call back after she left for work. She didn’t want Russell intercepting this message. As she prepared for her shift, the phone rang. “Ms. Fulmer, this is Robert Martin returning your call,” he said matter-of-factly. Apparently he had no recollection of their previous meeting.
“Yes, Mr. Martin,” she replied cautiously. “I spoke with you last week—at Hooters. You mentioned something about making a film of a haircut.”
Instantly, his tone changed. “Ah yes, you’re the waitress with the spectacular blonde hair,” he said with genuine enthusiasm. “I’m so glad you called. Have you been considering my offer?”
“Yes. No. I’m not sure,” she vacillated. “Let’s just say you got my attention. I’d like to learn more about your proposition.” Vanessa didn’t want to disclose how much his proposal had occupied her thoughts since their first fleeting encounter; that might give him too much encouragement.
“Yes, by all means,” Martin quickly assured her. “I hate to talk business over the phone. When can you come to my studio?”
“Well, most days I leave for work at four-thirty. Early afternoon usually is good for me.” Russ would be gone by then, so she wouldn’t have to invent an excuse for an early departure. If he hadn’t already left for the gym, she could say she was going shopping. She saw no reason to inform her boyfriend about the meeting; it would only piss him off to learn that she had talked with Martin again.
“How about tomorrow at noon?” he suggested. It was clear he couldn’t wait to talk with her.
“Make it one o’clock,” Vanessa answered.
“Yes, that would be fine,” Martin responded.
Vanessa took down directions to his place of business.
His precise instructions led to a suburban strip mall about twenty minutes from her apartment complex. The innocuous looking studio was wedged between an insurance agency and a barber shop. Color portraits displayed in the front window identified the business conducted inside. From the street, nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
There were no customers in small lobby, only a rather bored looking receptionist. “Hi, I’m Vanessa Fulmer. I have an appointment to see Mr. Martin,” she announced in her most businesslike voice.
“Yes, he’s been expecting you.” The young woman ushered Vanessa into a cramped office and a minute later the photographer entered. Today he was dressed casually in jeans and a sport shirt. He stood only five feet six inches and weighed perhaps a hundred and thirty-five pounds. Vanessa towered over him; she relaxed a bit when she realized she had nothing to fear from him.
“Ms. Fulmer, it’s a pleasure to see you again,” he beamed. “Would you like to tour my studio?”
Although she had little interest in his set-up, she figured there was no harm in humoring him. “Sure. Why not?” she answered.
Martin escorted her into a spacious adjoining room filled with lighting stands, impressive looking cameras mounted on tripods, and assorted backdrops. “This is where I do the portraits—babies, brides and graduates—it’s the bread and butter of any photography studio. Before you leave I hope you’ll sit for me.”
“We’ll see,” Vanessa said guardedly; at this point she was unwilling to make any commitment. “But portraits aren’t all you do, are they?”
“No, of course not. We also have the sideline that I previously mentioned.”
Vanessa saw that he seemed reluctant to openly discuss the nature of his other business interest. He also used the plural when talking about his movie enterprise, but, aside from the receptionist, he was the only person visible. She wondered if other people were involved in his film making sideline.
“Come through here,” he said as he unlocked a heavy door and switched on the lights in a smaller room. This one also contained lighting stands and cameras, but the center of the room was dominated by a large, old fashioned, chrome and leather barber’s chair. The backdrop was painted to resemble a men’s barber shop with an authentic red, white, and blue striped barber pole mounted on one wall. “This is where we do our haircutting films. As you can see, it’s very private—only the model, the cameraman, myself, and the hairdresser are present during the filming.”
He was making a determined effort to convince Vanessa that his business was discreet and strictly professional.
“I see,” she answered noncommittally.
“You’d probably like to learn more about the business side of our operation. Why don’t we go back to my office?” When they were seated on opposite sides of his cluttered desk, he began what sounded like a practiced monologue. “We are in the business of creating high quality films for the entertainment of a select clientele. These are men, and a few women, who share a fetish—a strong sexual attachment to a specific object or action, in this case cutting hair. We hire amateur models; usually attractive long-haired young women like yourself, and then film them while their hair is being cut.”
“How do you find these models?” Vanessa inquired.
“We place ads in alternative newspapers; sometimes women find us through the Internet; and I do a bit of talent scouting on my own.”
“Like last week at Hooters?” she said.
“That’s right. A client of mine had seen you there and thought I’d be interested.”
“What kind of haircuts are you talking about?” Vanessa pointedly asked.
“All kinds, but usually short ones. Here, let me show you.” Martin took down a fat photo album from a shelf behind his desk. He opened the book and slowly turned the pages. Each one contained two photographs of a young woman, the first with her long hair prominently showing, the other after a major makeover. A few of the models received cuts that left their hair at chin length or longer, but most were given much shorter styles. More than a dozen women emerged with their heads shaved totally bald. “I hope you don’t expect me to shave my head,” Vanessa sharply interjected; she couldn’t imagine ever could going that far.
“Oh no. Only if that’s what you want, Ms. Fulmer,” Martin quickly assured her.
There were nearly one hundred pairs of pictures in all. Martin seemed quite proud of his work and offered a running commentary as he flipped through the book: “This is one of my favorites.” “She was one of our most cooperative models.” “Doesn’t she look stunning?”
Vanessa was astonished that so many attractive young women had willingly submitted to the extreme haircuts in Martin’s album. Some of them looked quite striking with their hair cut short, she had to admit, but others, especially the bald ones, disturbed her. She couldn’t imagine her own pictures being included in his collection, yet she did nothing to discourage Martin from believing that this was a real possibility.
“Let me explain our procedure,” the photographer continued. “We insist that every model sign a standard agreement stating that she is entering into the haircut freely and without coercion. This release gives us permission to market and distribute your image. In return for the modeling fee, we retain rights to all income from sales of the video. Your fee will be paid by certified check in two installments, half before the filming, and half after we are finished.”
“Tell me about your fee structure,” Vanessa inquired. This was the part that she was most interested in; the part that brought her to his studio in the first place.
“The fee varies depending on several factors,” Martin patiently explained. “The first consideration is the length, color, and condition of the model’s hair. If you don’t mind, could you undo your pony tail so I can inspect your hair more closely?”
“Sure, no problem,” Vanessa agreed. She had been prepared for a request like this. After removing the elastic band holding her hair, she tossed her tresses back and forth.
Martin rose from his chair and used a tape measure to calculate their length from her crown to the blunt-cut ends. “Thirty inches,” he reported approvingly. Then he ran his hands through her free flowing locks. “Excellent! Great body and a bright sheen. Your hair appears to be in superb condition,” he observed like a connoisseur of fine wine. “Plus, I see that you’re a natural blonde; we don’t see too many of those. You definitely would receive top dollar.”
Vanessa was pleased by his eager response, but needed more details. “What else?” she asked.
“The second factor is the age and general attractiveness of the model. You rate very highly on this criterion as well.”
Vanessa was flattered but remained skeptical. “Anything else?” she demanded.
“Yes, the final factor is the nature of the haircut.”
“What do you mean?” she inquired. She suspected this would be the most difficult issue.
“The more provocative the cut, the higher the payment,” he continued.
“By ‘provocative’ you mean very short, don’t you?” she said, trying to pin him down.
“Yes, of course. That’s what our clients like to see. Models who are shaved usually are paid the most,” he informed her dispassionately, as if it was a daily occurrence.
Vanessa digested the information Martin had provided. When she made the appointment, it was mainly to satisfy her curiosity; she had no real intention of cutting her hair. Now she was calmly discussing the possibility of chopping it off like a routine commercial transaction, no different than buying a used car or a microwave. Her instinct told her that she had the upper hand in this discussion. Although Martin tried to maintain a detached, businesslike attitude, she knew he was eager to get her in front of his camera. As they leafed through his photo album she had objectively appraised each of the shorn models. While most were reasonably attractive, only a few could be called beautiful. Vanessa was not conceited, but she knew she was better looking than any of the women pictured in Martin’s collection. Her hair was longer and more impressive than most of the models’ as well. She suspected that he might be willing to go much higher than his initial bid; there probably was room for negotiation. If she was going to part with her crowning glory, she was determined to get the highest possible amount.
“If you want me to cut my hair short, the amount you offered me at Hooters—one thousand dollars—isn’t nearly enough,” she informed Martin.
“I see,” Martin replied without emotion. She guessed he had been expecting this. “How much would it take to persuade you?”
“Do you have a pen?” she asked. Martin gave her one of his cards and a ball point pen. She would declare her price using the same method he had used. Vanessa scribbled a number and handed the card back to him.
The photographer stared at the card and let out a low whistle. “Ten thousand dollars,” he exclaimed. “That’s more than we’ve ever paid any of our models.”
“Well, if you want to cut my hair, that’s what it’s going to take,” she boldly announced. Vanessa closely studied his reaction, like a poker player looking for an opponent’s “tell.” He didn’t seem fazed by her counteroffer.
After a moment’s consideration, he coolly informed her, “Right now I’m not in a position to approve a fee of this amount. I’ll have to consult my partner. He will want to see photos of you and your hair. Would you mind posing for a few pictures?”
Vanessa was encouraged that Martin did not reject her figure out of hand. She had been right; he probably would go higher; how much higher remained to be seen. Her hunch about other people being involved in this venture had also been correct. Who was this hidden partner, she wondered? Could a sinister Mafia type be bankrolling this secretive operation?
“No. That will be fine with me,” she answered. They adjourned to Martin’s studio. Ever since she was a child Vanessa had been at ease in front of a camera. Other girls became acutely self-conscious while being photographed, but she enjoyed being the center of attention. As a teen she had done some modeling for Hudson’s department store. Now she was determined to sell herself to Martin’s unseen collaborator. For the next half hour she smiled and flirted with the camera, acting alternately brassy and demure, looking pouty and coquettish, playing sexy and innocent, as Martin shot images from every possible angle. Behind the lens he became different person, shedding his mild mannered facade, assertively giving directions and suggesting different poses. Whatever else he was, Martin clearly was an experienced photographer.
Before leaving, he handed Vanessa a videocassette. “This is an example of our work. After you view it you’ll have a better idea what our product looks like.”
“And when can I expect to hear from you?” she queried.
“I’ll get back to you within a week, Ms. Fulmer. You can count on it.”
“I’ll be waiting to hear from you,” she informed him. His eagerness gave her confidence. Now she was in control—she could dictate the terms of the contract. As she navigated I-96 on her way to work Vanessa considered possible outcomes from their meeting. The most likely scenario involved Martin responding with a compromise—higher than his initial offer but less than the number she had written. She would come down a bit from her initial figure, but resolved not to accept a penny less than eight thousand dollars. With that amount she could pay tuition, fees, and books for a year of nursing school and have enough left over to pay rent for a couple of months. Last month she had applied to Michigan State’s College of Nursing, but finances loomed as a large obstacle. There was no way she could carry the load of science courses the nursing program required and continue working full-time. She could always take out a student loan, she knew, but that wouldn’t cover her living expenses. Besides, she didn’t like being in debt. If Martin couldn’t meet her minimum, she would turn down his offer and continue as a Hooters Girl; she would keep saving until she had accumulated enough to quit her job.
But what if Martin accepted her proposal? What then? Was she really prepared for the kind of haircut he required? No use worrying about that now, she thought. Best to sit tight and see what develops.
When Vanessa returned from work that night Russell was asleep. She slid the video Martin had given her into the VCR and muted the sound so as not to disturb her slumbering boyfriend. Vanessa watched intently as a trio of young women, apparently sisters, submitted to a series of radically short haircuts. The first sibling tearfully shed her dark, wavy tresses for a brief boyish cut; the second closed her eyes as her fiery red locks were reduced to a dramatic quarter-inch buzz cut; the third sat bravely as her shoulder length, auburn hair was cropped, first into a sleek chin-length bob, then into a shaggy pixie, and finally, into a crisp military-style flattop. Vanessa rewound the tape to view the third haircut a second time. She stared in amazement as a stocky, middle-aged barber ruthlessly removed almost all of the young woman’s lovely hair. His willing victim continued smiling sweetly as the relentless hair dresser mowed the top of her head until it was flat as a table top. Even more astonishing, the young woman actually seemed to be enjoying the experience. Vanessa couldn’t imagine herself sitting calmly, like the girl in the video, as her lovely hair was reduced to nearly nothing.
Vanessa found the video profoundly unsettling. The image of the flat-topped model haunted her throughout the next days. For as long as she could remember, long hair had been associated with femininity; ever since she was a toddler her parents had praised her beautiful blonde tresses and encouraged her to brush out the tangles each night. Even when her all girlfriends cut their hair in the latest fashion craze and she wanted to join them, her folks insisted that she keep her hair long. Perhaps that’s why she was fascinated by the occasional short-haired female customer who sat at one of her tables. Never having experienced hair that length, she was tempted to ask them how it felt. Was short hair really as easy and carefree as it appeared? Did they regret abandoning the security of their long hair? And what did their boyfriends think of their androgynous appearance? She remembered the scene from the movie, “G.I. Jane,” when Demi Moore buzzed off all her hair. What had she felt as she ran the clippers across her head?
Now that Vanessa had viewed three actual long-to-short conversions, she was even more amazed. How had these women summoned the courage to part with their long hair? Was money the incentive? Did they do it on a dare? Or were there other reasons she didn’t understand? More important, would she be able to do the same if Martin accepted her offer? Would she be able to sit serenely in front of the camera while her resplendent locks were ruthlessly removed?
Vanessa did not sleep well all that week. Each night she was visited by the same nightmare: she sat helplessly paralyzed in an enormous barber’s chair while the swarthy barber from the video approached with an ominous-looking set of clippers aimed at her head. She tried to tell him to stop, that she had changed her mind, but no words came from her mouth. Just before the blades were about to chew into the hair above her forehead, she awoke in a panic. She tried to subdue her emotions by telling herself that there was no need to get all worked up over nothing; Martin and his partner probably couldn’t raise that much cash. Eventually, she drifted back to sleep, but the terrifying dream kept returning.
One week later the phone in the apartment rang and Russell answered. “It’s for you, babe,” he announced. “A Mr. Martin calling.” His raised eyebrow indicated his inability to identify the caller.
Vanessa took the phone from her boyfriend and went into the bedroom for some privacy. “Hello, Ms. Fulmer,” Martin began formally. “After we talked, I presented your number and your pictures to my associate. He would like to meet with you in person to discuss our position. Are you free tomorrow at one? Can you meet at my office?”
“Certainly,” she responded crisply. “See you then.” She hung up the phone and began to assess her situation. Martin hadn’t said no. His response indicated there was a good chance he would meet her demand. Most likely there would be more negotiations ahead, but losing her hair was now a serious possibility. She began considering a radically different future. What had started as a lark was now perilously close to reality. She knew from perusing the photo album that Martin and his partner would never pay top dollar for a modest makeover; the shoulder length style she had originally contemplated, or even a brief bob, was out of the question. They would demand an extreme shearing. Was she ready to follow through on her bold counteroffer? Was she willing to submit to Martin’s conditions? The thought of earning thousands of dollars for an hour’s work was tantalizing, but losing her flowing tresses would be a high price to pay.
“Who was that on the phone?” Russell inquired when she returned to the living room.
“That was the financial aid office at the university,” she lied. “I applied for a scholarship and they want to interview me. I’ve got to go in tomorrow afternoon.” She knew that Russ would flip out if he learned the real reason for the call. Keeping him in the dark for now was easier than trying to explain where she was going.
“I still don’t understand why you want to go to nursing school,” he told her for the umpteenth time. “Why would you quit your job as a Hooters Girl to check blood pressures and empty bedpans? Do you know how many chicks would love to trade places with you?”
“I’m not getting any younger, Russ,” she reminded him. “I’m twenty-six. I can’t go on working at Hooters forever. I need something to fall back on. Besides, I can still work part-time while I take classes during the day; Hooters always needs extra help on the weekends.” Russell was not convinced, but she no longer really cared whether he approved or not. He had no way of knowing, but his intransigence was helping to hand her over to the haircutting studio.
When Vanessa arrived at Martin’s office the following afternoon, she saw a distinguished looking, silver-haired gentleman whom she assumed to be his hidden partner. “Ms. Fulmer, I’d like you to meet Mr. Roland Wilson, my associate and financial backer in this enterprise.” Wilson’s face looked familiar. Where had she seen his picture before? Was it on the television news or in the newspaper? Then it dawned on Vanessa. Wilson was the founder and CEO of Associated Casualty Insurance Company—probably the wealthiest man in Lansing. His presence in this office and his involvement in this rather disreputable enterprise was a most unexpected development.
The older man graciously rose from his seat and took her hand; he indicated that she should sit next to him. He continued holding her hand as he spoke directly to her. His manicured hand was warm and soft; his polished manners and sincere gaze put her at ease. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Vanessa. Robert has shown me your pictures, but they don’t do you justice. You are much more stunning in person.” She blushed at the compliment. While Martin always addressed her formally, Wilson was more intimate, using her first name as if she already was his good friend. He was not at all the sinister figure she had imagined. “Robert also told me about your response to our offer,” he continued. “I must say that I admire your stance. You place a high value on your assets, as well you should, but you’re not afraid to risk them to further your objectives. I never would be where I am today in business if I shied away from difficult decisions.” Vanessa was a little confused. Wilson seemed to be praising her for making such an outrageous demand; she had expected him to argue against her position. Was this some kind of ploy to soften her up? She didn’t know what to think. “So, I’d like to discuss your position,” he resumed. Martin sat back behind his desk. The older man clearly was in charge.
“I’m all ears, Mr. Wilson, but I think you know my position,” Vanessa said firmly. Based on his initial statement, she surmised that obtaining her price might not be as difficult as she had thought. She was not going to accept a lower offer.
He smiled fondly, as if he was proud of her determination. “Yes Vanessa, I know the figure you are asking and am prepared to meet it if you will agree to a couple of additional conditions.”
His response confirmed her initial suspicion that there might be strings attached to his easy capitulation. “What conditions are those?” Vanessa replied warily.
“I have four requirements,” he said, assuming a more serious tone. “First, my participation in this venture must remain completely confidential. If you should ever disclose my role I will do everything in my power to make sure you cannot find employment in this town again—ever.”
Vanessa understood that a person of his prominence could not risk public embarrassment from his involvement in a business most people would consider morally questionable. “No problem. Your secret is safe with me,” she assured him.
“Second, I will be present in the room to observe your haircut.” This request confirmed Vanessa’s hunch that Wilson probably was one of the hair fetishists who got his thrills viewing young women’s haircuts. Most likely this film making venture was a ploy to disguise his personal obsession as a business enterprise. If he could persuade her to join the ranks of the other short-haired models, it would be a personal triumph as well as a profitable investment. That’s why he was willing to reveal his identity as Martin’s hidden backer.
“Okay. That’s not a problem either,” she replied without difficulty.
“Third, your severed hair becomes my property.”
Vanessa wondered what he would do with her hair. Would Wilson put it into some kind of kinky trophy case? “Sure, I won’t be needing it,” she replied breezily, affecting a flippant air to mask her nervousness. So far Wilson’s conditions had been easy, but she suspected that he had left the most difficult one for last.
“Finally, Vanessa, you must allow me to select the type of haircut you will receive and to choose the hairdresser who will administer it,” Wilson declared solemnly.
At last, here was the fly in the ointment. “Sorry, Mr. Wilson, that’s where I have a problem,” she told him. “I’m the one who will have to go out in public after this is over. I’m the one who has to live with this haircut, at least for a while. I can’t agree to a hairstyle sight unseen. You need to spell out what you have in mind.”
True to his reputation as a well prepared businessman, Wilson had anticipated her request. “I thought you might be curious; that’s why I brought these pictures.” The old man picked up a manila folder from the desk and removed a dozen photos. Each one showed the voluptuous Danish starlet, Brigitte Nielsen. Vanessa recognized pictures from her roles in “Rocky IV” and “Beverly Hills Cop II.” All of the photos showed the actress with her short, platinum blonde hair swept back off her face. Vanessa stared intently at the hairstyle—the sides were cut to expose Nielsen’s ears, in back her neck was bare. The crown also was clipped fairly short and brushed straight up to create an even horizontal plane. Vanessa recognized the style as a modified version of the flattop received by the young woman in the video. The look wasn’t as severe and masculine as the radical cut sported by the smiling auburn-haired model, but a somewhat longer, more sophisticated option.
“This is how you want to cut my hair?” she asked incredulously. She pinched herself to confirm that she was actually discussing the details of such an extreme haircut.
“Yes, Vanessa,” Wilson replied. “The cut we have in mind for you is something along these lines, just a bit shorter. I’m sure you will look absolutely smashing with your hair cut like this.” He couldn’t hide his enthusiasm. Wilson appeared to genuinely believe this haircut would be a bold fashion statement; he seemed to have no doubt that she would accept his offer.
“You want to give me a flattop?” she repeated, still not fully comprehending what she was hearing.
“No, not a real G.I. flattop, nothing as short as that,” he assured her, “but a longer, softer, more feminine style.” He made it sound like Vanessa should be grateful that he wasn’t insisting on clipping her hair as short as a Marine recruit.
“I don’t know, Mr. Wilson, this haircut is pretty radical.” She didn’t want to terminate their discussion, but was desperately searching for some way to persuade him to accept a less drastic alternative.
“It worked for Brigitte Nielsen,” the older man persisted. “You have to admit it looked mighty good on her.”
“Of course, but she’s an actress, and very beautiful,” Vanessa protested. “She could pull it off.”
“You are every bit as gorgeous as she is,” Wilson answered earnestly. “With your hair cut like that you will be equally lovely—more lovely, in fact.” No matter what she said, she couldn’t dissuade him.
“I don’t know,” Vanessa stalled. “I was kinda thinking about a different short haircut, a bob perhaps or a pixie—something more feminine.”
Wilson’s warm response suddenly turned frosty. “I’m sure we can arrange that, Vanessa,” he said. “In that case, the modeling fee will be reduced by seventy-five percent.”
Vanessa quickly did the math. “Twenty-five hundred for a pixie, but ten thousand if I get the flattop?” she inquired.
“Precisely,” Wilson confirmed. “Ten thousand dollars is four times what we’ve paid any previous model. If you want to collect the big bucks, you’ll have to agree to the style we’ve select for you.” Although he included the photographer in the “we,” it was clear that the flattop was his personal preference.
Vanessa recognized this as a non-negotiable demand; Wilson would not compromise. If she wanted the full amount she would have to go along with his plan to convert her into a Nielsen look alike. “I don’t know, Mr. Wilson, you’re asking a lot. Can I have some time to think it over?” she pleaded.
“Certainly, Vanessa. You have one week,” Wilson offered. “If Robert hasn’t heard from you by noon on the twenty-seventh, our generous offer will be rescinded.”
“Thank you, Mr. Wilson. Do you mind if I take these pictures with me?”
“Certainly, my dear. Help yourself,” he replied graciously.
Vanessa picked up the folder and slid it into her purse. “I’ll let you know what I decide,” she told the men before leaving.
“I do hope your answer will be in the affirmative,” Wilson called as she turned toward the door.
Vanessa drove away from the studio with her mind in turmoil. She knew she could not keep her conversation with Martin and Wilson secret from Russell. He wasn’t going to be happy when he learned that she was considering cutting her hair, but he deserved to know what she was considering. She debated the best way to break the news. He was sound asleep when she returned from work, but the next morning over a late breakfast she dropped the bombshell. “Russ, you remember the guy I told you about last month, the one who wanted to make a movie of my hair being cut?”
“Sure, I remember that pervert. Has he been bothering you again?”
“He hasn’t been bothering me, but I did see him yesterday. This time he substantially increased the amount he would pay me if I cut my hair.” She said nothing about Wilson’s involvement in this project, respecting his desire for confidentiality.
“What did you tell him?” Russ demanded.
“I told him I’d think it over. I’m tempted to take the money, but there’s one problem.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“He wants me to get my hair cut something like this.” She passed him the folder of Brigitte Nielsen photos.
Vanessa had hoped that Russ might be turned on by Wilson’s plan to make her look like the movie star, but she was mistaken. He studied the pictures closely, shaking his head and cursing under his breath. Finally he spoke. “You’re not serious. He wants to cut your hair like this?”
“Well, actually, it may be a bit shorter than that—but not too short, sort of a modified flattop,” she explained.
Her boyfriend was having trouble containing his anger. “I don’t believe it. He wants to cut your hair off so you look like Howie Long, the football announcer? Why is that?”
“Because that’s what turns him on, I suppose,” she guessed.
“He’s definitely a pervert,” he announced with certainty. “You’re not seriously considering it, are you?”
“I don’t know, Russ. It’s a lot of money—more than I take home in months of waiting tables.” She thought the financial aspect of the deal might appeal to his mercenary side, but she was mistaken.
“I don’t care how much he pays you. Vanessa, honey, you’d look like a dyke with your hair cut like that. Hooters would fire you in an instant—you know that,” he reminded her.
“Then I could go back to school and finish my nursing degree. You know that’s what I really want to do,” she countered.
“And what about me? I don’t want my girlfriend to look like a guy; I want a real woman,” he irately declared.
“It’s only hair, Russ. It will grow back in no time,” she said, trying to reason with him.
“Vanessa, I can’t believe you’re really considering this,” he said, shaking his head in disgust.
“Well, I haven’t made up my mind. I’ve got a week to think it over.”
Russ angrily stormed out of the room and Vanessa slumped into an easy chair to contemplate the difficult decision she faced.
In the days that followed, Vanessa frequently inspected the photos of Brigitte Nielsen. She imagined herself with the same haircut and tried to anticipate people’s reactions. How would her friends take it? What would her parents say? Of course, she knew Russ would be upset, but she was willing to deal with that.
Vanessa’s mood shifted back and forth. At times she was full of doubt—although the haircut looked great on the Amazonian actress, she never would be able to pull it off. Other times she felt more daring—adopting the style would be a brave departure; a radical change of direction.
On the morning of the twenty-seventh she awoke knowing that she could delay no longer; she had to come to a decision. Vanessa went into the bathroom and began combing her hair as she did every morning. Perhaps because she had been tossing and turning all night, there were more snarls than usual. It seemed that for every tangle she coaxed out, another one appeared. Usually it took only a few minutes to get ready, but half an hour later Vanessa was still struggling to tame her unmanageable locks. She just couldn’t get her hair to behave. She had had bad hair days before, but this was the worst by far. Her frustration mounted with each passing minute. “That’s it. I’ve had enough,” she yelled at the mirror. “You’re coming off.” She put down her comb and gazed at the hair that hung down well beyond her shoulders, repeating slowly and deliberately, “You’re coming off.”
Then she started laughing slightly hysterically. Vanessa realized that, after a week of indecision, she had just made up her mind—she would accept Wilson’s offer. The decision had been easier than she anticipated. Funny how sometimes it’s the little things that help you make the big decisions, she thought. Still, she put off making the crucial call until the last possible moment, just in case she changed her mind.
It was quarter to twelve when Vanessa reached for the phone and punched in the numbers for Martin’s studio. The receptionist answered on the second ring. “This is Vanessa Fulmer. I’d like to speak with Mr. Martin. He’s expecting my call.”
“Of course, Ms. Fulmer. I’ll put you right through.” It seemed that she had been waiting for Vanessa’s call.
“Ms. Fulmer, so good to hear your voice. Have you come to a decision?” Martin eagerly inquired.
“Yes, I’ve decided to accept Mr. Wilson’s offer,” she informed him. She marveled at how easily she spoke those momentous words. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as she had imagined.
“That’s excellent. He’ll be very pleased to hear that,” he exclaimed. “Mr. Wilson is ready move ahead as quickly as possible. If you are agreeable, I’d like to schedule the filming for six o’clock tomorrow evening.”
Vanessa hadn’t expected Martin to act so swiftly, but she saw no reason to delay the inevitable. “That’s okay with me. I’d prefer to get it over too.”
“Good. Can you stop by my office this afternoon? I’ll have the contract ready for your signature as well as fifty percent of your modeling fee, as we agreed. There are a few other details we can take care of as well.”
“Okay. I’ll be there around three.”
Vanessa made her way through the mid-day traffic more quickly on her third visit to the studio. Valerie, the receptionist-secretary greeted her like an old friend. “So good to see you again, Ms. Fulmer. Mr. Martin is waiting for you. Go right in.”
The photographer was seated behind his desk. “Hello Ms. Fulmer,” he welcomed her cordially. “I called Mr. Wilson as soon as we finished our conversation and relayed your news. He’s delighted. I’ve never heard him so pleased.” She wondered how many of these haircuts Martin had arranged. Was Wilson personally involved in all of them or was hers a special case?
Martin handed her a three page document, single spaced on legal size paper. “You’ll want to read it carefully before signing,” he advised. She glanced over the fine print in the contract, noting that the amount of her modeling fee was correctly stated, and then signed on the third page. Vanessa handed the contract back to Martin and received a plain white envelope in return. “This is the first installment,” he explained. She tore open the envelope to find a cashier’s check made out to Vanessa Fulmer in the amount of five thousand dollars.
She tucked the check into her purse. “You said there are a few other details,” she reminded him.
“Yes, of course. First, there’s the matter of clothing. We’d like you to wear something sexy for the filming. Do you have a low-cut, black cocktail dress—a little number with thin straps and a hemline that would show your lovely legs?”
“Sorry, I’m just a poor working girl. I don’t have anything like that in my wardrobe,” she told him. “I could wear my Hooters Girl costume if you like.”
“I’m afraid that won’t do,” he said. “There’s the issue of brand infringement, among other things.”
“Hadn’t thought of that,” she replied.
“Could you pick out a dress before our filming? We have an account at Barbara’s Boutique.” Vanessa recognized the name of an upscale dress shop located in the Eastwood Towne Center mall. “Barbara will be happy to help you select a suitable dress. And be sure to include a pair of black heels if you don’t have any, the higher the better. Of course, these will be yours to keep after we’re done.”
“Sounds like a good idea. A shopping trip might help take my mind off this haircut.”
“And then there’s the matter of your hair,” Martin added.
“I don’t understand,” she said, her confusion evident in the puzzled expression on her face. “I thought you would be taking care of that.”
“No. I mean getting your hair styled before the filming,” he explained. “We want you to look your best during the modeling session that will precede your haircut. I’m going to make an appointment for you at Hair Designs by Jean Paul for four tomorrow afternoon. They will do your makeup as well. Then you can come directly from the salon to the studio. We will take care of the cost there as well.”
“Okay. That shouldn’t be a problem,” she readily agreed. “Anything else?”
“Well, there is one other thing,” Martin added. “Do you have any theatrical experience?”
“Yes, I did some plays in high school. I was Annie Oakley in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ in my senior year,” she informed him.
“I wish I had seen it. I’ll bet you were a terrific sharpshooter,” he exclaimed.
“Why do you ask?”
“To make our films more interesting sometimes we act out little skits. Would you be willing to try one?” he requested.
Vanessa was a bit overwhelmed by the growing complexity of the project. What at first she thought would be a simple haircut now included costume, hair styling, make-up, and acting. “I guess so. What did you have in mind?”
“It’s a story where a girl has her hair cut off as punishment for being unfaithful to her lover,” Martin related.
“Sure, I can do that. Do you have a script?” Martin handed her a thin folder. She flipped through the ten pages. “This doesn’t look too complicated. I’ll study it tonight. Who’s going to play the boyfriend?” she asked.
“We’ll find someone,” the photographer vaguely concluded.
Vanessa left the studio with script in hand. She realized that she wouldn’t be able to report for her scheduled shift at Hooters and called Roger, her manager, from a nearby pay phone. “Roger, I won’t be coming in tonight or tomorrow. Something’s come up. I need to take some time off.”
“You’re not sick are you?” he inquired.
“No, nothing like that.”
“How long do you need?”
“Can’t say right now, Roger. I may not be back. You know I’ve been accepted at nursing school for September and I need to get my head together,” she explained. It was not entirely the truth, but not an outright lie either. Roger had always accommodated her needs and she hated to leave him in the lurch, but this was kind of an emergency.
“Call me when you know for sure, Vanessa,” the manager replied. “I’ll mail your paycheck if you don’t come back.”
“Thanks, Roger. You’re a doll.” She was grateful he didn’t press her for a full explanation.
Next Vanessa headed for the Eastwood Mall. When she arrived at the boutique she was greeted by the owner, a polished woman with a European accent in her mid-fifties. “You must be Vanessa. I’m Barbara. Robert said you were a stunning beauty, but that was an understatement. He also said you were tall. We don’t carry a lot of gowns in your size, but I’m sure we can find something that will look good.” Barbara led Vanessa into the fitting room and brought in an assortment of dresses for her to try on. After zipping her into the fourth gown, a skimpy satin number that revealed several inches of cleavage, Barbara announced with a satisfied smile, “This definitely is the one! I know Robert will be delighted.” Vanessa glanced at the price tag and saw that the dress cost four hundred and fifty dollars. Usually she found her new clothes on the clearance rack at Hudson’s; she never owned a dress worth half as much. “Now we’ll find you a bra, some stockings, and shoes to match.” Vanessa emerged from the shop carrying the dress on a hanger and her other acquisitions in a large shopping bag. On her way back to the apartment she stopped at the drive-in window of the Capitol National Bank to deposit the check. Suddenly she no longer was a cash starved waitress; now she was a woman of means. Her head was spinning at the pace of events. In less than three hours she had inked a ten thousand dollar contract, acquired a sexy new outfit, and scheduled a date to shoot her first film.
When Vanessa arrived home Russell was gone, as she expected. She realized that she could not avoid telling him about the impending haircut, but wasn’t looking forward to the confrontation that surely would follow. He probably would be livid; getting her hair cut was going to be bad enough, but she had lied to him and had been sneaking out behind his back. This might well mean the end of their relationship, she knew. Russell had been a lot of fun and a very attentive lover. She enjoyed his muscular body and admired his dark good looks that contrasted so nicely with her own fair complexion, but his outlook was narrow. In the two years they had been together she never had seen him open a book; he knew everything about sports, but nothing about politics or literature or the arts. He couldn’t understand why she wanted to continue her education; he thought her job as a Hooters Girl was the best position to which a woman could aspire. Besides, he didn’t like children. Vanessa couldn’t imagine being married to Russ; theirs was not a long-term relationship. Perhaps this was a good time to break off their affair.
Vanessa hung her new dress in the closet, poured herself a glass of Merlot, and settled down to study the script Martin had given her. It didn’t take long to absorb the uncomplicated scenario: an angry boyfriend drags his unfaithful lover into a barber shop; he has just caught her cheating; he tells the barber to cut off her hair as punishment for her infidelity; she pleads with him to spare her crowning glory, but he is not persuaded; he gives her a choice—either accept the haircut or end their relationship; after some tearful histrionics she capitulates, and the barber begins the haircut. She had to chuckle at the simple dialogue; it obviously was written by an amateur playwright, most likely Martin, or perhaps Wilson himself. It would not be difficult to act out. She might even be able to summon real tears when the barber began cutting her hair.
Russell didn’t return until well after midnight. Even though he didn’t smoke, he reeked of cigarettes and beer. Vanessa guessed that he had been out drinking with his buddies at one of the bars near the university, probably cruising for unattached coeds. He never did that when they first moved in together, but lately had had been going out three or four night a week. When he came to bed she pretended to be asleep and ignored his drunken advances. She would wait until the morning before telling him.
It was nearly eleven when Russell rolled out of bed. He didn’t look so dashing with a day’s worth of dark stubble on his chin and last night’s alcohol still clouding his eyes. Vanessa had been up for hours debating the best way to break the news about the haircut scheduled for later that day. After he finished his second cup of coffee, she sat down across the table from him. “Russ, I’ve decided to do it,” she calmly announced.
“Decided to do what?” he asked. His bewildered expression revealed that he had no clue what she was referring to.
“I’ve decided to cut my hair,” she said, trying hard not to sound overly dramatic.
Russell’s angry response came instantly. “Have you been talking with that creepy pervert again?” Vanessa’s silent nod confirmed his suspicion. His voice grew louder and the veins in his neck began to pulse. “I can’t believe you actually let him talk you into this. Why would you want to cut your beautiful hair?”
Vanessa was quick to defend her decision. “First of all, he’s not a creep or a pervert. He’s a respectable businessman who makes haircutting films, and he’s hired me to be a model.”
“Yeah, some kind of businessman,” Russell replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm again. “He probably sells these films to other perverts—guys who get their rocks off seeing girls being scalped. You may call yourself a model, but you’re gonna be a porn star, that’s what you’ll really be.”
Now it was Vanessa’s turn to get angry. “It’s all perfectly above board and legitimate, strictly a business proposition,” she shouted.
“How much is he paying to shave your head? What’s your price?” Russ hotly demanded.
“That’s none of your business, Russ. Besides, I’m not going to be shaved; I’m just getting a short haircut,” Vanessa icily informed him.
“Yeah, I’ll bet. By the time he’s through you’ll probably look like G.I. Jane,” he sneered.
“And what if I do? Would that be so bad?” she shot back.
“If you come home looking like a guy, that’s the last time you’ll see my face around here. I’m not into that gender bending stuff. I want a girlfriend who looks like a real woman,” he roared.
But Vanessa was not intimidated. The lease for the apartment was in her name and that gave her the upper hand. “Well then, you better start packing your bags, mister, because I’m the one who decides what length my hair is, not you,” she heatedly advised him.
“Vanessa, baby, you’re making a big mistake,” Russell said, adopting a more conciliatory tone. “If you show up for work with your hair chopped off you’re going to get fired. Hooters doesn’t hire short-haired waitresses, you know that.”
“That’s why I turned in my notice. Yesterday was my last day,” she revealed.
The news caught him by surprise. “I can’t believe you’re really doing this. What are you going to do? How you gonna pay the rent on this apartment?” he demanded.
“The modeling fee will cover the rent for a few months,” she explained. “After that I’ll find another job. Hooters was a fun place to work, but I’m not getting any younger. Next month I’ll start full-time in the nursing program at the university. In two years I should have my RN and a good paying hospital job. They’re always looking to hire more nurses.”
Now Russell realized that Vanessa had a well-developed plan that didn’t include him. “My God, you’re really going to do this aren’t you?” he cried in dismay. “You’re going to quit a great job, break up a great relationship, and ruin your looks to boot. I always thought you were pretty bright, Vanessa, but you seem determined to flush a perfectly good lifestyle down the toilet.”
Months of pent-up frustration burst from Vanessa’s lips. “You may think it’s a great lifestyle,” she screamed angrily, “but you don’t have to fight off the drunken jerks who are trying to feel you up every night; you don’t have to pull beers for a bunch of horny college guys; you don’t have to spend half an hour each day fixing your hair; your feet and back don’t ache at the end of the shift; you don’t have to listen to your boss telling you to show more cleavage.”
“It’s a shame you’ve been so miserable, but you sure hid it well,” he said, switching over to ridicule. “In two years I don’t think I once heard you complain about your lousy working conditions. All I heard was your bragging about how much you collected in tips from those loaded customers.”
“I should have known you wouldn’t understand,” she exclaimed in disgust.
“You’re damn right, I don’t understand,” he retorted. “I don’t understand how you can be so stupid. But one thing I do understand is that nothing I say is gonna make you change your mind. If you want to be another Joan of Arc, babe, I’m not gonna stop you. But don’t expect me to stick around to cheer you up when you’re out of a job and low on cash. I’ll be long gone.” Russell stormed into the bedroom and started throwing clothes into a suitcase. After a few minutes he stomped back into the kitchen holding her new dress aloft in his hand. “What’s this?” he demanded. “A gift from your new boyfriend?”
“That’s the dress I’ll be wearing to shoot the video,” she informed him.
“He’s gonna dress you up like a high priced whore? That’s just great. I thought you had more class than that,” he shouted. “What else are you gonna do for him, get down on your knees and blow him?”
That was the last straw. Vanessa’s blue eyes flashed as she stood jaw to jaw with Russell. “Guess you don’t know me very well, buddy. Give me the dress and get your shit outta here,” she yelled into his face.
Ten minutes later he stormed out of the bedroom with a bulging suitcase in either hand. “I’ll be back to get my TV tomorrow,” he hollered just before he slammed the door. Vanessa sat down holding the dress in her hands, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. She would miss Russell, she knew, but there were plenty of other guys more charming and intelligent than he was. Some of them might be interested in her even if her hair was short.
Vanessa glanced at her watch—less than two hours until her appointment at the salon. She went into the bathroom and began brushing her hair. The tangles that plagued her yesterday had magically vanished. Now the brush flowed through her honey-colored tresses without hesitation. A wave of nostalgia washed over her. She had worn her hair long since she sprouted a head taller than all of her fifth grade classmates. Her mother told her that tall girls shouldn’t get their hair cut short; it made them look like pinheads, she said. In her teenage years she discovered that boys considered long hair very sexy, so she grew it nearly to her butt, and used it to flirt with the guys. Sometimes her hair was an annoyance, especially when she was swimming or playing basketball, but she accepted that as one of the sacrifices a woman must make to look attractive. Roger, her boss at Hooters, loved her long hair and forbade her to wear it pinned up or even in a ponytail even though health regulations said all food servers should wear a hairnet. “Just let it hang out there for all the guys to see; you’ll drive them wild,” he advised when she first applied to work there. Soon all that would come to an end.
Vanessa pulled her hair back behind her head, trying to imagine what she would look like when it was gone. Despite her resolution to go ahead with the haircut, stubborn doubts persisted. Was she making the right choice, she wondered? Would she regret this impulsive step when she woke up tomorrow? She put down the brush and walked into the living room and examined the Brigitte Nielsen photos one more time. “Get a grip on yourself, girl,” she said to herself. “In a few hours it will be over and done with. You’ve already deposited the check. It’s too late to back out now.”
Vanessa arrived at the Jean Paul salon fifteen minutes early. She found that the staff was prepared for her visit, just as Barbara had been at the boutique. The slender young receptionist escorted her to a private room in the back of the building. “Jean Paul will be with you in a few minutes,” she explained. Vanessa was impressed that the salon’s famous owner and namesake would personally attend her. She relaxed under his capable hands as he washed and conditioned her thick tresses. “You have such lovely hair,” he chattered. “You must take very good care of it.” She noted that he made no mention of her imminent haircut. Was he unaware where she was going after he was done styling her hair? More likely, he was deliberately avoiding the sensitive subject to spare her any unnecessary pain.
After the shampoo Jean Paul spent half an hour combing out, blow drying, and styling her hair. He used a curling iron to create waves that framed her face and tumbled down her back. “Now you look absolutely lovely, just like a movie starlet,” he proclaimed when he was finished. Vanessa had to agree; her hair shone and bounced as she turned her head; it had never looked lovelier. She smiled at the irony—her locks would look their best on the day they were going to be shorn.
“Now I’ll turn you over to Angela, our makeup artist,” Jean Paul intoned. “She’ll make you look even more beautiful, if such a thing is possible.” A refined middle-aged woman with jet black hair and piercing eyes to match soon entered the room. “Hello, my name is Angela, I’m going to be applying your makeup,” she said. “Why don’t you sit in this chair so I can get to work?” Angela’s skilled fingers applied foundation, rouge, lipstick, eye liner, and mascara to Vanessa’s face. Normally Vanessa didn’t wear much makeup; she was astonished when she viewed the result of Angela’s ministrations. Her eyes were dramatically outlined; her complexion was flawless; her lips looked red and luscious. She hardly recognized herself. “Good luck tonight,” Angela remarked as she escorted Vanessa out of the salon. The beautician could have been wishing her success on a big date. She seemed to have no clue about the ordeal that lay in store for her nervous customer.
Vanessa sat in the parking lot for five minutes studying the glamorous face in the rear view mirror, trying to compose herself and get used to the unfamiliar image. All of the preparations had heightened her anticipation and her anxiety. She wrestled with conflicting emotions. The thought of having her hair cut off had been frightening since the subject was first mentioned, and now it was only half an hour away. Russell’s scornful words echoed in her ears. She worried that this severely short haircut would make her look like a lesbian. Abandoning her long hair would mean going forward minus the security blanket that had comforted her over the past decade and a half. On the other hand, the transition to short hair might open a new chapter in her life. Leaving the Hooters environment promised to make her a more mature and responsible person—a real grownup at last. Lots of women looked great with short hair she reminded herself—just picture Sharon Stone, Halle Berry, Ashley Judd, or Cameron Diaz. There was no reason she couldn’t join them. Then there was the cash incentive. She would earn more this evening than she did in four months waiting tables at Hooters. That would compensate handsomely for the stares she certainly would receive when she went out in public sporting her radical new haircut.
Finally, she started her ancient Honda and drove slowly to the now familiar address. Vanessa was tense and apprehensive as she approached Martin’s studio. She carried the dress in one hand, the shoes and the script in the other. She pulled the door open and entered the studio. Valerie, the receptionist, was nowhere in sight; she’d probably gone home for the evening. From the back room she heard male voices in earnest conversation. She walked toward the rear of the building. “Hello, anyone home?” she called with forced cheerfulness.
Roland Wilson was the first person to greet her. He was impeccably dressed in a blue pinstriped suit, a white-on-white shirt, gold cuff links, a carefully knotted deep red necktie, and a matching silk square tucked in his breast pocket. He grasped both of her hands, warmly welcoming her like a rich uncle greeting his favorite niece. “Vanessa, my dear, how good to see you again. You look absolutely ravishing this evening. Robert’s busy arranging the lighting. There are a few last minute details he needs to take care of before we can begin. Why don’t you step into his office so we can have some privacy?” She found the older gentleman’s kind manner and soft words comforting. Vanessa sat in her usual place in front of the desk. Wilson reached into his suit coat and extracted an envelope. “Payment in full, my dear.” Vanessa opened the envelope and tucked the second check into her purse. “You’ll want to use the rest room to change your clothes,” Wilson said, directing her to a small chamber off the lobby. He was waiting patiently when she emerged five minutes later, a bit unsteady on the four inch heels.
“Still getting used to these heels,” she explained. “I don’t usually wear them.”
“Darling, you look fabulous, just like a movie star,” Wilson beamed. Vanessa was reassured by the wealthy gentleman’s flattery. She saw he was thoroughly enjoying his role as film producer. His compliments and confident manner helped calm her jittery nerves. He offered his arm and escorted her to the back room where the filming would take place. Six powerful lights were focused on the barber’s chair. Martin and his assistant stood behind a tripod with a movie camera mounted on top. As she waited for the photographer to finish adjusting the lights, Vanessa wondered who would be cutting her hair. She knew Jean Paul would never participate in the destruction of his gorgeous creation. Wilson had claimed the right to select the stylist for this occasion; she hoped he chose someone who would treat her with compassion. Thinking of the barber who clipped the three sisters in the video made her cringe; he had been all business without a hint of gentleness; that’s not what she wanted.
Martin looked up from his work. “Good evening, Ms. Fulmer,” he greeted her, formal as ever. “Would you please sit in the chair for a moment?” She did as instructed and he pinned a tiny microphone to the front of her dress. “Say a few words in your normal speaking voice,” Martin instructed her. “I need to check the audio level.” When he finished adjusting the sound he asked Vanessa to stand in front of the stationary camera. “First we’ll be shooting the ‘before’ sequence,” he told her. “We want to capture your hair in all its glory. I’d like to begin with you looking over your shoulder at the camera and tossing your head from side to side so we can see your beautiful curls. Act like you don’t have a care in the world. Then turn and begin brushing your hair very gently. Look at it wistfully, as if you’re about to lose an old, dear friend.” He handed her a round brush and signaled her to begin. The young assistant operated the fixed camera while Martin used a smaller hand held model for close-ups. He softly called instructions as Vanessa posed for him. Wilson sat off to the side in a director’s chair, absorbing every detail, apparently enjoying himself immensely.
After ten minutes of posing Martin had enough. “That’s just fine Ms. Fulmer. Why don’t you take a break while we prepare for the next scene?”
Instantly, Wilson was at Vanessa’s side offering her a bottle of chilled spring water. “You were marvelous, my dear. Here, have some water. Those lights get awfully hot.” She took a long swallow as she watched Martin reposition the lights. His assistant brought out a small table covered with barbering implements. She counted three pairs of scissors, several long toothed combs, two electric clippers with numerous attachments, two spray bottles, several small jars, and a neatly folded, red and white striped cloth. The sight of these hair cutting implements sent a chill down her spine. They confirmed that the hour of her shearing was close at hand. Soon she no longer would belong to the sorority of short-haired women.
At about the same time, there was a knock on the door. Martin disappeared for a moment and reappeared with a short, muscular man with a gleaming shaved skill. He wore a starched white, short-sleeved smock with “Mike” embroidered in black letters above the pocket on the left side. Vanessa felt her pulse race. There was no mistaking his occupation—this was the barber Wilson had selected to administer her haircut. He probably came from the shop next to the studio. Until she visited Jean Paul’s salon earlier that day, only women had styled her hair. Although no one promised that a female stylist would cut her hair, she had clung to the hope that her barber would be a woman. She realized that Wilson’s deliberate use of the gender neutral “hairdresser” had been a ruse to allay her fears. Vanessa continued smiling bravely, but her anxiety was skyrocketing.
Wilson addressed the barber like trusted, long-time retainer. “Mike, it’s good to see you. You’re looking well. Let me introduce you to Ms. Fulmer, our model for this evening.” Then, turning to Vanessa, he said, “Vanessa I’d like you to meet Mike D’Annunzio. He’s one of the most experienced barbers in the state. He’s cut my hair for years. He knows just how we want your hair to look tonight.” She wondered just what Wilson had told him about her haircut. What were his instructions?
“Pleased to meet you Ms. Fulmer,” the barber said, shaking her hand. Vanessa pretended to be happy to make his acquaintance. His fingers were short and thick; his grip was firm; his powerful forearms were covered with dark curly hair; his hand was icy cold. He was the complete opposite of the effete Jean Paul. A haircut from Mike would not be a soothing, invigorating experience; more likely, it would be methodical and uncompromising.
The barber couldn’t stop staring at Vanessa’s hair; he eyed her curls like a hungry man drooling over a juicy steak. This was more than just professional curiosity, she feared. Perhaps he shared Wilson’s fetish for short-haired women.
Martin took charge again, giving directions to his cast. “Ms. Fulmer, when we begin shooting you will be off camera to my left. Mike you’ll be sitting in the chair reading a newspaper, looking bored like you haven’t had a customer for a long while. Then Mr. Wilson comes in pulling Vanessa behind him. Vanessa, you dig in your heels and pretend to put up a fight, but be sure not to turn your back to the camera; we want to see your face the whole time. Mr. Wilson will shove you into the chair and tell Mike that you need a haircut. Mike, you stand behind the chair and pretend that you don’t want to cut her lovely hair. Vanessa, that’s your cue to plead with Mr. Wilson. Roland, you stand firm; she must be punished for her infidelity. Ms. Fulmer, you finally break down and sorrowfully accept your punishment; that’s when Mike will begin your haircut.”
Vanessa was shocked that Wilson was taking an on-camera role in this little drama. She had assumed he would remain in the background to conceal his involvement. The thought of this gentleman three times her age playing her boyfriend was mildly amusing. She realized that this film role would be Wilson’s fantasy come true.
Martin continued his instructions. “Gentlemen, just remember not to stand between Ms. Fulmer and the camera, she always must be the center of attention. Mike, you stand to the back and the side while cutting her hair. Always make sure her hair is fully displayed and your scissors are in clear view. Any questions?” When no one raised any last minute issues, Mike took his assigned position in the barber’s chair. Vanessa and Wilson stood off to the left, out of camera range. The older man held her gently by the wrist. Vanessa fidgeted nervously and stroked her hair with her free hand. “Don’t worry, my dear, everything will be just fine,” he assured her.
Martin called, “Action,” and the cameras began to roll. Mike picked up the newspaper and pretended to read. Martin nodded and Vanessa felt Wilson’s grip tighten around her wrist. He started toward the barber chair, tugging the protesting young woman behind him. Mike tossed the newspaper aside and jumped out of his chair. Wilson seized Vanessa by the shoulders and roughly shoved her into the vacant seat. She was surprised by the force he used to handle her; all of his tenderness had suddenly vanished; he was living the role. “This jezebel needs a haircut,” he commanded in his most authoritative voice.
“You know I don’t do ladies’ haircuts, mister,” the barber replied.
“I don’t care. She’s been unfaithful and she needs a haircut to be teach her that treachery always carries grave consequences. She must learn never to betray me again.”
Now it was Vanessa’s turn to act. “Please, don’t. Don’t cut my hair,” she pleaded to the barber. “I promise I’ll be faithful,” she implored Wilson. “It will never happen again.”
“That’s what you said last time,” Wilson scolded. “You fooled me once, sneaking around with that good-for-nothing chauffeur, but not again. A good haircut will teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget.” Vanessa began to sob; real tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I can’t cut her hair,” Mike told Wilson. “It’s just not right.”
“Oh, you’ll cut her hair all right,” Wilson responded vindictively. “She’s going to beg you to do it.” He turned to glare at Vanessa. “Tell him you want your hair cut; tell him to do it now,” he commanded. Vanessa said nothing; she just sat in the big chair sobbing. “You have exactly five seconds,” he thundered. “If you remain silent, I’ll send you back to that miserable little mill town where I found you. You can return to cleaning toilets and mopping floors for twenty-five dollars a week. See how you like that now that you’ve acquired a taste for the finer things in life.”
Vanessa looked up at Wilson imploringly, her eyes brimming with tears. He held up his fingers, slowly counting down—five, four, three, two, one. When he was about to lower his final finger she spoke in a voice barely louder than a whisper. “Okay, you win. He can cut my hair.”
“He can’t hear you, dear; you need to speak louder,” Wilson hissed. “Tell him what you want.”
Vanessa looked at Mike. “Go ahead. Cut my hair,” she said in a voice choking with emotion.
“How do you want me to cut it?” Mike asked.
“Any way he tells you,” she sobbed.
Now the attention shifted back to Wilson. “What do you want me to do, sir?” Mike asked.
“Cut it all off. Give her a good short haircut,” he ordered.
“Are you sure?” the barber asked.
“Yes, she needs her hair cut short enough that no man will want her. That should keep the miserable little bitch from betraying me again.” Although he was speaking to Mike, Wilson’s words clearly were intended to further humiliate the tearful young woman.
“How short do you want me to go, sir?” he inquired.
“Good and short. Give her a man’s haircut,” Wilson commanded.
“I can’t do that,” Mike protested.
“And why not?” the elderly gentleman demanded.
“Because a man’s haircut wouldn’t be right.”
“But that’s what she wants, don’t you darling?” Wilson asked with mock solicitousness.
Both men stared at Vanessa, waiting for her reply. After a long pause she sadly nodded her head. Mike acted like he couldn’t believe his eyes. “You want me to give you a man’s haircut?” he asked her.
“Yes, that’s what I want,” she whispered, forlornly accepting her punishment.
Vanessa continued sobbing quietly. Wilson withdrew from the set and took his seat in the corner of the room. Mike smiled wickedly, warming to the task ahead. He ran his fingers through Vanessa’s elaborate hairstyle; his leer implied that nothing would give him more pleasure than destroying Jean Paul’s elegant coiffure. Mike snapped open the striped cape, spread it over Vanessa’s dress, pulled her locks to the side, and fastened the cloth tightly behind her neck. He draped her hair over each shoulder in two thick blonde bundles. The barber selected a large pair of silver shears, opening and closing them under her nose to further terrorize the quaking woman seated in front of him. Vanessa’s eyes grew wide in horror; it was impossible to tell if the fear she displayed was real or feigned. The barber approached his quarry from the side and grabbed the bunch of hair covering her left shoulder. He held his scissors open for a tantalizing moment before slowly closing the blades, hacking off nearly two feet from her glossy mane. Vanessa’s crying intensified as Mike contemptuously tossed the severed hair into her lap as if to further torment his mournful victim. Martin lowered his camera for a close-up of the severed mass of golden hair, while his assistant focused on Vanessa’s tear streaked face.
The perfect hairdo created by Jean Paul now was marred by the empty space above Vanessa’s left shoulder. Half of her hair remained at its original length; the other half was cut in a rough bob. Mike repositioned himself on the other side of the chair and grabbed the hank of long hair from her right side; he roughly sliced it to the same length as the left. This he also deposited in her lap. The hair that had hung half way down her back moments before now ended abruptly above her shoulders. In two quick motions the barber had amputated three years’ worth of carefully tended growth. Vanessa was shocked at how cruelly the barber was treating her. Perhaps this was part of the act, but the stocky barber seemed to be genuinely enjoying her humiliation.
Vanessa sat helplessly as Mike continued stripping the remaining long locks from her head. Now he stood behind her and concentrated on the top, selecting sections at random with his comb, chopping each one to the same brief length. Martin followed with his camera, focusing on the emerging patchwork of short blonde tufts now sprouting along her crown, and then shifting his lens to capture the steadily growing mound of lifeless hair in her lap.
After removing the last long lock from the top, Mike rotated the chair and began working on the right side of Vanessa’s head. He clipped the hair from her temple and then sheared around her ear. When Mike finished the right side he slowly turned the chair so the camera pointed at the back of Vanessa’s head. There he trimmed her hair shorter still, leaving it little more than an inch long.
Vanessa silently endured his assault, telling herself that it soon would be over. She scarcely breathed as the barber lopped off the last long locks from the left side of her head. Unlike an authentic barber shop, there were no mirrors in the studio, so Vanessa could not view the damage being inflicted on her hair; she was thankful for that mercy. But she didn’t need to see her reflection to visualize what was happening. She knew that the glamorous hairdo so lovingly created by Jean Paul was now a total ruin. When she glanced down she saw her formerly gorgeous mane now lying in an inert pile in her lap. The fingers of her right hand slipped out from beneath the striped cloth and silently fondled the silken remnants of her long hair.
After fifteen minutes of steady haircutting, Mike finally rested his scissors. Martin moved closer to record the crude haircut the barber had inflicted. His camera zoomed in on the ragged, uneven thatch of short blonde hair that now covered Vanessa’s head. It was a far cry from the sophisticated look she wore less than half an hour before, and more hair cutting ahead loomed just ahead.
Mike playfully rubbed his hand across Vanessa’s shaggy crown. “Well, I bet that’s a load off your mind,” he chuckled. She tentatively reached a hand to the side of her head and gasped at the first touch of her shortened hair. She sobbed more fervidly. “Don’t you worry, missy,” the barber teased, “we’ll have you looking ship shape in no time.” Vanessa took no comfort in these words. She knew her ordeal was far from over. Mike exchanged his scissors for a large set of clippers and switched on the power. Vanessa recoiled at the sound of their steady drone. Although she realized having her hair clipped short was a necessary part of the haircut she had agreed to, the dreadful noise filled her with horror. She knew that when Mike finished running his clippers over her head, her hair would be clipped short as a man’s.
A look of scarcely controlled panic spread across Vanessa’s pitiful face. This was not an act; she struggled to maintain a semblance of composure. Mike started on the back of her head, using his comb to lift the shortened hair away from her head and running the humming blades of his clippers across the teeth, neatly slicing away all of the blonde hair that protruded. He slowly worked his way up the back of her head, tapering the cut so it was slightly longer at the crown that at the hairline. Mike used the same technique on the sides of her head, completely exposing her ears and carving her sideburns into sharply pointed darts.
When the sides were clipped as short as the back, Mike exchanged his clippers for a spray bottle and doused Vanessa’s head with a fine mist of water. The barber then brushed her dampened hair straight back off her face. Using his comb to select longer sections from the top, he held each honey-colored lock between his fingers and snipped off every trace longer than two inches. Now the pieces of hair falling into Vanessa’s lap were much shorter. She consoled herself with the thought that her shearing soon would be over. Half way through this stage she ceased crying, either because she had run out of tears or because she was becoming resigned to her fate.
When Mike finished trimming the top, he drew a clean part down the right side of her head and combed her damp hair so it lay plastered across her scalp. Finally, the barber began attacking the top of her head with a brush and blow dryer. Vanessa could feel the barber coaxing her remaining hair to give it some volume. She began to relax a bit; surely this signaled the end of her ordeal. Her hair was short, certainly, but still long enough to style. It was not the Marine Corps flat top that Russ had mocked.
When Mike finished brushing the last tuft into place he turned to Wilson and announced, “Here you are, sir, a short man’s haircut, just like you ordered. She don’t look too bad if I do say so myself.” Wilson rose from his chair and came to the center of the room to inspect Vanessa’s haircut. He slowly circled the barber’s chair peering intently at the front, back, and sides. From the frown on his face, the barber could see that his patron was not satisfied. “Something the matter, sir?” Mike asked.
“It’s not short enough,” he declared firmly.
“I gave her a man’s haircut just you said,” Mike protested.
“Well, it’s not short enough,” he repeated, more fiercely this time.
“What you want me to do?” he asked.
“Take it shorter,” Wilson yelled.
“How much shorter, sir?”
“Give her a flattop,” he ordered.
“Yes sir, a flattop, but how short?” the incredulous barber asked. Vanessa suddenly grew concerned. This dialog was not part of the script she had read. She thought the haircut was over. What were they doing to her? Were they going to cut her hair shorter still? Hadn’t they inflicted enough damage already?
“Like this,” Wilson directed, holding his fingers about an inch apart. Now Vanessa recalled Wilson’s words—her haircut would be “a bit shorter” than Nielsen’s brief style. At last she realized what he had in mind. Wilson wanted her hair to be cut just as short as the auburn-haired young woman who had received the flattop in the video. They had tricked her. Vanessa tried to open her mouth to protest, but Wilson glared at her sternly. She looked at Mike in hopes that he might feel some sympathy for her plight, but he firmly placed his hands on her shoulders to discourage any thought of escape. He was not going to allow her get up until her hair was short enough to suit Wilson.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Wilson bellowed at the barber.
A wicked smile crossed Mike’s face. He gladly would do as ordered. The barber wasted no time getting back to work. He wet the top of Vanessa’s head once again and brushed her damp hair straight back off her forehead. Then he selected a strange looking comb with closely spaced teeth six inches long and switched his clippers on. Once again Vanessa heard their ominous drone. The barber inserted his comb into the hair above her brow, adjusted the height so an inch of blonde hair was showing above its black teeth, and passed his clippers along the horizontal surface. Thick clumps of damp hair tumbled down Vanessa’s face, landing on top of the long locks already collected in her lap. Mike moved his comb back slightly into hair that was still two inches long and skillfully reduced it to an inch in length. Gradually, he worked his way to the back of her crown, carving a level surface as he went. Vanessa sat perfectly still, afraid that the slightest movement on her part would spoil the precise geometry of this haircut and upset Mr. Wilson. Mike had turned the chair back so Vanessa now looked directly into the stationary camera; Martin stood at her side, filming a close-up of the barber’s work on the top of her head. Slightly behind the cameraman and off to his right sat Wilson, eagerly drinking in every detail of Vanessa’s humiliating shearing. The satisfied smile spread across his face revealed his delight with the spectacle unfolding before him. Everyone seemed to be having a marvelous time except Vanessa.
When Mike finished buzzing the top of her head, he turned his attention to the sides. His clippers passed against Vanessa’s temples as the barber carved her hair into two vertical walls that framed the top. He continued clipping until every hair was mercilessly brief. Then he did the same to the back of Vanessa’s head. Her shearing continued for several more long minutes until she despaired of ever escaping from his grasp.
At last, Mike switched off his clippers and dusted short hairs from Vanessa’s forehead, ears, and neck; she shifted her weight and began to get up from her seat. Surely he must be done now, she thought. “Where you going, missy?” the barber cautioned. “I ain’t done with you yet.” She groaned and sat back in the chair as Mike massaged a sticky substance into her abbreviated locks. “This wax will keep your hair standing straight up like it should,” he explained. Mike brushed the top again, forcing every short hair into an erect posture. He paused, inspected the top, and then returned with the clippers, deftly passing them back and forth across the top to erase a few uneven spots. Finally, he beckoned to Wilson. “Well, what d’ya think now, sir?” he asked. “Is this what you had in mind?”
The old man walked around the chair, examining Vanessa’s fresh haircut from every angle. “Yes, that will do just fine,” he exclaimed with evident satisfaction. “Now she has a haircut she’ll never forget.” Both cameras now focused on Vanessa as she tried to look less miserable.
“That’s it folks,” Martin called, signaling the end of filming. When the cameras were turned off, Mr. Wilson unsnapped the striped cloth from Vanessa’s neck and gathered up the corners to secure the vestiges of her long hair. Mike took the bundle from him; apparently he understood that he was supposed to save these precious relics of her former beauty. Then Wilson grabbed both of her hands and pulled Vanessa out of the barber chair. “My dear, you were magnificent!” he exclaimed. “It was an acting job worthy of an Academy Award—the best performance I’ve seen in the ten years we’ve been making these films.”
“That’s right,” Martin seconded. “Those tears were so convincing. You sold me.”
Vanessa experienced an odd sense of pride for her part in this bizarre drama. “What makes you think I was acting?” she joked. “Those were the most traumatic thirty minutes of my life. When Mike started buzzing my head with those clippers I nearly lost it. I thought he was going to shave me completely bald.”
“You’ve got a nice head of hair left,” Wilson assured her. “You look absolutely stunning.”
“Does anyone have a mirror?” Vanessa asked. “I’d like to see this haircut for myself.”
Mike found a small mirror and handed it to her. Vanessa peered intently at the unfamiliar image in the glass, running her hand up the back of her head to test the length. She spent three long minutes inspecting the level top, turning her head so she could see it from the side as well as the front. As she feared, the finished haircut was a good deal shorter than any of the pictures Wilson had shown her. She stifled the urge to complain. There was nothing she could do now, she knew; the three men were anxiously waiting for her verdict. Wilson, in particular, seemed concerned; she didn’t want to disappoint him, not after he had compensated her so well. Finally she lowered the mirror. “You did a fine job, Mike,” she said. “Every hair is perfectly even.”
“I spent twenty years in the Air Force learning how to do flattops,” he boasted. “Those airmen insisted on perfection.”
“You look marvelous, my dear,” Wilson chimed in. “I’ve never seen a better looking haircut.”
“Glad you like it, sir,” she answered.
“But do you like it, Vanessa?” Wilson asked. “Your opinion is the most important one.”
“To be honest, sir, it’s quite a shock,” she confessed. “All week long I tried to imagine what I would look like, but this is a big surprise. It’s like seeing a completely different person.”
“Well, you look absolutely radiant,” he continued. “I wouldn’t be surprised if your haircut doesn’t start a trend.” Vanessa marveled at how the old man’s obsession with short hair distorted his judgment. But if he thought she looked beautiful, it wasn’t her place to correct him.
“We’re not quite done yet, Ms. Fulmer,” Martin interrupted. “I’d like to take some footage of your new haircut. We need the ‘after’ shots to go with the ones we took before.”
“Sure, just let me go to the restroom to freshen up,” Vanessa replied.
“While you’re in there, try these on, my dear,” said Wilson offering her a small, square package.
Vanessa opened the box to discover pair of sparkling diamond earrings. “They’re lovely,” she replied, “but I can’t take them, they’re much too expensive.”
“Nonsense,” Wilson answered. “You’re a brave girl and you’ve earned them.”
Vanessa emerged from the rest room with a refreshed face and glittering diamond studs in each ear. She posed for the pictures Martin wanted and then prepared to say her good-byes. “Thanks for everything, Mr. Wilson,” she said, “the dress, the shoes, the earrings, and the modeling fee.”
“It’s my pleasure, Vanessa. You’ve made an old man very happy,” he said. “But there is one more thing you can do for me this evening.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“I’m sure you must be starving by now. I know I’m famished. Would you be my guest for dinner at the Metropole Club?” he inquired.
“Are you sure you want to be seen escorting a woman with a flattop?” she asked.
“It would be an honor to be seen with such a stylish and attractive young woman,” he told her.
As she walked into the exclusive supper club on the arm of the distinguished older gentleman Vanessa felt every eye on the place fasten on her. “Walk tall, my dear,” Wilson whispered, sensing her unease. “The women are jealous of your beauty and the men all wish they could change places with me.”
It seemed that Wilson was a valued customer of the restaurant. He chatted with the maître’d in French and ordered for both of them. The wine steward uncorked a bottle of vintage champagne and, after Wilson gave his approval, poured a glass for both of them. The older man offered a toast to her beauty. “Aren’t you concerned what people will say? What about Mrs. Wilson?” Vanessa asked.
“My dear, Mrs. Wilson and I parted nearly ten years ago,” he said without a trace of regret. “She discovered my little hobby and thought it was distasteful. Now she lives in Florida, spending her alimony as fast as I earn it. I enjoy the company of beautiful women and I’m too old to be concerned what people say. Let them talk, they can’t hurt me.”
“Do you have any children?” Vanessa inquired.
“Sadly, no,” he confided. “In my younger years I was preoccupied with building my company. My wife informed me that she didn’t want to be burdened with youngsters. Too late, I realized that my life was empty without them. I have several nieces and nephews, so I lavish them with attention instead.” Vanessa began to feel sorry for this rich and powerful man who was, in the end, a very lonely soul.
Their conversation ranged over many topics, but Wilson mostly wanted to learn more about his companion. He asked about her family, her childhood, and whether she had a boyfriend. Vanessa told him about the fight she had with Russell over her haircut. “Well, my dear, you’ll have no difficulty finding another young man. From what you told me, it sounds like you’re better off without such a narrow-minded lover.” She half-way expected that he might offer to take Russell’s place in her love life, but that never happened. Eventually the discussion focused on her future. “Martin tells me that you plan to use the modeling fee to finance your college education,” Wilson began.
“Yes, I’m going back to the university when the semester begins. I need two more years to complete my nursing degree. The modeling fee will cover my tuition and rent for the first year.”
“Your pursuit of higher education is admirable and nursing is a noble profession, my dear. Perhaps I can be of assistance here,” he offered.
“But you’ve already done so much,” she protested.
“Nonsense. I’ve established a charitable foundation to aid needy students. Martin runs it for me. He can give you an application. Put me down as a personal reference and you’ll be sure to win a scholarship.”
“That would be fantastic! Are there any requirements?”
“Only two. You must agree to have dinner with me once a month. That will permit me to see your beautiful face from time to time and monitor your academic progress.”
“What’s the other requirement?” she asked.
“That you keep your hair cut short. It doesn’t have to be a flattop, but something suitably short. If you go to Mike’s barber shop, he will send the bill to me. I have the same arrangement with Jean Paul, if you prefer to go there.”
“I don’t know what to say, you’ve been so generous.”
“No, it’s you who are the generous one, Vanessa. You gave me a gift of priceless value. You sacrificed your beautiful hair and made an old man very happy. I will forever be in your debt.”
Vanessa now felt confident enough to ask him a personal question. “While Mike was cutting my hair, I was watching you. You seemed to be enjoying yourself. I wondered what you were thinking.”
“I was thinking ‘This is how Henry Higgins must have felt.’”
“Henry Higgins? Who’s he?”
“Dear, have you never seen the play or movie of My Fair Lady?”
“I don’t think so. What’s it about?”
“Well, the main character is a man named Henry Higgins. He’s a professor of linguistics and an elocution teacher.”
“Elocution? What’s that?” she asked.
“The art of speaking properly. Anyway, Higgins stumbles onto a poor flower girl named Eliza Doolittle. She has this perfectly awful Cockney accent. Although she’s speaking English, you can hardly understand a word she says. Higgins makes a wager with his friend, Colonel Pickering, that within six months he can teach Eliza to speak perfect, unaccented English. To make a long story short, Higgins transforms her into a proper lady and wins his bet. That’s how I feel right now. Not that you are uncouth or poorly educated, far from it, but I’m pleased to help transform an attractive working girl into the stunning vision I see before me.”
Vanessa was feeling bolder, so she asked him about another thing that had been on her mind. “This film making business of yours, is it profitable? Do you sell a lot of videos and make a lot of money?”
Wilson chuckled. “There is a rather restricted market for our product. Our customers are passionate, but limited in numbers. I do realize a modest return on my investment, enough to keep the IRS from investigating us. I pay Martin a handsome retainer and he gets fifty percent of the profits. But if I were looking for big dividends I would stick with insurance, it’s much more lucrative.”
“So this is more like a hobby for you?”
“Yes, you’re right, my dear.”
“And you’re not really going to be selling copies of my video, are you?”
“You’re very perceptive,” he smiled. “This film shows my face and I can’t afford that kind of exposure. This one will remain in my private collection.”
Thirty days after their first dinner date Wilson’s secretary called to remind Vanessa of their second engagement. She also informed her that a new dress for the occasion would be delivered to her apartment. A package bearing the logo of Barbara’s Boutique arrived that afternoon; the revealing red evening dress and matching shoes were exactly her size. The price tags had been removed, but she could tell they were expensive.
Vanessa spent more time than usual fixing her hair, knowing that it would be the focus of Wilson’s attention. She was surprised how quickly the short hair had grown out; it now took a generous application of styling wax to hold it in the desired position. She fussed for nearly an hour to make sure every hair was in place. All through dinner Wilson carefully avoided mentioning her hair although several times she caught him looking intently at the top of her head. Finally, as they were finishing dessert, he opened the topic that clearly had been on his mind all evening. “Your hair looks lovely, my dear, but it’s getting a bit too long,” he critically observed. “To keep it looking good you really should go to Mike for a touchup every couple of weeks.”
“Yes, I know,” she acknowledged, “but I’ve been thinking about letting it grow out a little more.”
“That would be a shame,” he said sadly. “You look so wonderful like this.”
“I was afraid you would say that,” she confessed.
“Of course, you’re free to choose whatever short style you like,” Wilson conceded. “You’re not under any obligation to stick with the flattop.”
“I appreciate that, Mr. Wilson. I really don’t feel comfortable with my hair this short. I’d like to grow it to the length that Brigitte Nielsen wore. You know, the same off-the-face look, but something a bit more feminine.”
Vanessa was afraid that Wilson would resist her plan. To her relief, he was more accommodating than she had expected. “Yes, I can understand why you’d like to do that. In that case, however, I’d like to make a suggestion.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Would be willing to color your hair?”
“Color it? How?”
“Dye it a lighter shade of blonde—platinum to be precise.”
“That way I’d look exactly like Brigitte Nielsen,” she observed.
“Yes, that’s the idea. I think you hair would look even more remarkable that way.”
“I’m not sure I want to be her clone. I’d rather be my own person.”
“Yes, my dear, I understand. But you would make me a very happy man if you tried it. If you should decide to do it, just give me a call and I’ll make all the arrangements.”
For the next three weeks Vanessa struggled to keep her hair looking right. When she tried to brush it back into a flattop, her hair just wouldn’t cooperate. Brushing it to the side didn’t work either because the strip down the center of her scalp was still too short to lie down properly. Her next dinner date with Wilson was less than a week away. Finally, she decided she needed professional assistance. She called Wilson who gladly booked an appointment for her with Jean Paul.
If the stylist was distressed to see what had become of her hair, he hid his feeling well. Instead, he went right to work completing her metamorphosis into the platinum-haired Amazon that Wilson envisioned. He dyed her hair the pale shade the old man had selected. Then he used his brush and blow dryer along with a generous application of styling gel to fashion a cap of nearly white spikes across the top of her head. The cut was longer than her original haircut, but still kept the distinctive profile of the flat top. Once again, she barely recognized herself in the mirror. Now she resembled the statuesque actress even more closely. She wasn’t really surprised when Wilson emerged from a back room at the conclusion of her appointment. “You look lovelier than ever, my dear,” he said as he handed her a small rectangular jewelry box. Inside Vanessa discovered a diamond necklace that matched her earrings—her reward for following his suggestion.
Her fellow nursing students didn’t know what to make of Vanessa. Most were at least six years younger and intimidated by her beauty. Besides their coursework, she had little in common with them. Vanessa studied hard and dated only occasionally, mostly older men who could afford the expensive restaurants she now preferred. Each month she met Wilson for dinner wearing another new dress that Barbara had selected for her. By the end of the year her wardrobe contained a dozen high fashion gowns.
In June Vanessa received an engraved invitation inviting her to attend the annual gathering of the Roland Wilson Scholarship recipients. Twenty-five young women and their escorts gathered in a private room at the Metropole Club. They were tall and short; blondes, brunettes, and redheads; white, black, and brown; but all had one thing in common—they wore extremely short haircuts. Three others besides Vanessa proudly displayed flat tops; six sported buzz cuts; several had short boyish hairdos; spiky punk cuts also were popular; and brief pixies were plentiful. Wilson circulated from table to table greeting every young woman by name and complimenting each on her academic achievements and good looks. When he reached Vanessa’s table, he paused. “You’re looking lovelier than ever, my dear. I’m so glad you wore the earrings and necklace I gave you. I’m happy to see that you’ve kept your hair that shade; it really suits you.”
“It took a while to get used to the look,” she confessed, “but now I love it. It’s become my trademark and I owe it all to you, sir.”
The following May Vanessa graduated magna cum laude from the MSU School of Nursing and took a job in the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. She felt like a traitor working for Michigan State’s sports archrival, but the U of M hospital offered the most advanced care and the most challenging patients; that’s where Vanessa wanted to be. Since she no longer met Wilson for their monthly dinners, she reverted to her natural shade of blonde and let her hair grow longer. First she tried a spiky punk cut, but that didn’t suit the professional image she needed; a few months later she reverted to the brushed back Brigitte Nielsen look, only this time a good bit longer than the cut Wilson had encouraged her to wear. That’s when she met Jim Sparkowski, a second year resident in pediatrics. They worked together on several critically ill young patients. She was impressed by his quiet confidence and obvious love for children. Right away, she could tell he was attracted to her. Soon she was arranging her work schedule to make sure she was on duty when Jim was on call. On their first date he inquired about her hair. “Have you always worn it so short?” he asked.
“For many years I wore it long, way down my back. Then, about two years ago, I got it cut—much shorter than it is now,” she told him.
“Wow! Why did you do that?” he asked.
“Well, it’s a long and complicated story. Someday, when I know you better, I may tell you.”
By the time they married she had grown her hair out to a silky bob, parted slightly off center, with the ends gently curving just beneath her chin. Soon after their wedding, however, Vanessa began thinking about returning to her previous short style. She was frustrated by the way ends of her hair kept spilling into her face as she worked. It wasn’t long enough to pull back into a pony tail and she hated the juvenile look of the barrettes she used to pin them back. Her only concern was Jim’s reaction. “Will you be upset if I cut my hair short again?” she asked her husband.
“No, not at all. I really liked the style you wore when we first met. In fact, your short hair was the first thing I noticed about you,” he confided. “It made you look really sexy.” Vanessa wondered if Jim shared Wilson’s fascination with short-haired women; some day she would ask him, but not now.
When their son was born two years later Vanessa insisted they name him Roland. Jim was puzzled since no male in either family bore that name. His wife explained that Roland Wilson had provided the generous scholarship that allowed her to earn a nursing degree. She never mentioned his role in her dramatic haircut. An annual Christmas card was her only further contact with her wealthy benefactor.
Six years after graduating, she read a front page newspaper article announcing Wilson’s death from a heart attack at age eighty-four. The accompanying story listed his business triumphs and the numerous charitable causes he supported. Of course, there was no mention of his unusual “hobby.” She made a special trip back to Lansing to attend his funeral at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Sitting in the packed pews before the service began, Vanessa noticed a surprisingly large number of unaccompanied, short-haired women. Some she recognized from the scholarship dinners; several were in their thirties; while others appeared to be more recent recipients of Wilson’s largesse. Vanessa tried to calculate the number of women who had visited Martin’s studio to be initiated as members of the short-haired tribe. There were approximately one hundred photos in Martin’s album at the time of her haircut, and, she guessed, at least another hundred from the following years. Quite a legacy, she marveled.
Not long after the funeral a package arrived in the mail. The return address belonged to a prominent Lansing law firm. Vanessa opened the package and found a videocassette inside. The accompanying letter from the executor of Roland Wilson’s estate explained that he was sending her the video in accordance with instructions contained in Wilson’s will. Also enclosed was a check for ten thousand dollars. Vanessa smiled at the memory of the generous businessman with the curious hobby, and wondered how she would explain the check to her husband. Perhaps it was time to tell him the story of her conversion to short hair.