Alex Martel 3-Alex Handles a Cadet

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-This is one I wrote several years ago.  I didn’t publish it at the time, because I kept changing my mind about one particular detail.  Since then, I have been learning to not let perfect be the enemy of good.-


I haven’t been working as much undercover lately.  Why, you may ask. Well my growing baby belly is kind of hard to incorporate into undercover work and even harder to hide, sometimes it works, but often it brings up too much backstory and questions.  So, I have mostly been a handler for other undercover officers.

I have my feet as raised as best I can on an overturned waste paper basket while I type up reports at my desk.  Captain comes out of his office and over to me.

“Uptown, they just arrested a couple of cadets from The Military Academy, for possession with intent to sell.”  He informs me.  “I want you and Jones to go interrogate them and see if we can slip in a couple of undercover officers in their place to lead us to their suppliers.”

The Military Academy in question isn’t part of an actual military, it is just one of those private colleges where everyone has to be in ROTC.  They have lot’s of rules, regulation, and hazing, but are not nearly as selective as West Point or Annapolis, or even as selective as any other similar private military colleges.  Really, it’s pretty much the bottom one, the one students settle for after being rejected from everywhere else.  

The arrested cadets are easy to get all that we need to know out of.  They haven’t yet met their suppliers face to face, but can give us everything we need to contact them.

Jones and I have a simple plan.  We will find the youngest looking officers we can since they need to look young enough for their first year in college.  Getting a face to face meeting would be simple enough, we just planned to have them say there was going to be a big party on campus and they needed extra supplies for it.  This would make it a large enough amount that simple drop offs like they had been doing wasn’t going to work.  All we need is to find our own cadets.

Jones starts making arrangements with the Academy’s administration, who are happy to cooperate hoping not to lose too much of the school’s already shaky reputation, while I start looking over the profiles and pictures of officers who have requested to work undercover.  Everyone currently working undercover is too old to pass for college freshmen.  We need one male and one female.  I soon find a couple of eager barely out of academy patrolmen, who look so young I find it hard to believe they are old enough to be in out of the police academy.  The female is Johansen and the male is Patel.  Patel is right downstairs in our downtown station, but Johansen is stationed out of the uptown precinct.  As soon as we have gotten Officer Patel, we drive uptown to get Officer Johansen.

“Hey Sarge, long time no see.”  I greet my old sergeant from when I myself had been a patrolman stationed uptown.  “We need to borrow one of your officers, Johansen.”

“Anything for you Martel.”  He smiles.  “I see you and Rodriguez are expanding the family.”

Detective Rodriguez is also my husband, Tom.

Small talk out of the way, soon we are briefing Patel and Johansen on the case.  As we go over the case, I couldn’t help but notice the blond tendrils that had escaped Johansens bun curling around her head.  They almost give her a golden halo.  I knew I had to give her a courtesy I hadn’t gotten on my first undercover case.

“I’m going to take Johansen on a coffee run.”  I whisper in Jones’ ear.  “I need a moment for some private girl talk.”

Jones looks confused, then shrugs and nods.  Jones is the sort that doesn’t really want to know what girl talk might involve.

In the car on the way to the coffee shop, I don’t know how to break the ice gently, so I just stumble into the conversation.  “Johansen, how long is your hair.”

She gives me a real funny look, but answers anyway.  “Pretty long, I guess.  It curls though which makes it seem shorter than it is.  Why?”

“This military academy that we are doing the operation in has very strict regulations.”

Johansen is clearly putting two and two together and coming to the right conclusions.  Her face goes deathly pale as the blood drains from it.  “How short?” she barely manages to get out in a weak voice.

“The handbook says nothing below the earlobes and a clean neckline for females.”  I pause to let it sink in then continue “Are you up for it?”

I’ve given her a chance I never had when I had to cut my hair for my first undercover assignment.  The chance to either back out or come to terms with it here in the privacy of my car, instead of having it sprung as a surprise at the barber shop in front of the guys.  I can see she is barely breathing though and wonder if I hadn’t done this well.  I’m glad I’m driving because I’m not sure Johansen is up to it at this moment.

Johansen pulls down the visor and opens the vanity mirror.  Her uniform cap is in her lap and she starts undoing her bun.  She is suddenly surrounded by a cloud of blond corkscrew curls.  They are glorious.  Each curl starts as a darker blond and gradually gets lighter towards the ends where the sun has had time to bleach it.  It’s an effect salons are constantly trying to imitate with  highlights but never can quite match nature.

“If I say no, what are the chances another opportunity like this will come along.”  She asks tentatively.

“Frankly none.”  I’m pretty sure she already knew the answer and just needs to hear it out loud.  “Even if an assignment comes up that you are a good match for, having turned one down makes you look less dedicated.  If you are up to undercover work these are the things you have to handle.”  I pause, then add more gently.  “It’ll grow back, I promise.”

“That’s kind of easy for you to say with your short hair.”

“This wasn’t actually a choice.”  I glance at my pixie cut in the rearview mirror.

My latest haircut had been an emergency.  It wasn’t even something for an assignment I could have said no to, like the choice Johansen was now making.    There had quite literally been no other options.

“Trust me Johansen, I know what I’m talking about when I say it will grow back.”  I say.  “It’s up to you how much this opportunity means to you.”

And I’m right, I reflect.  It does grow back.  Painfully slowly taking years to reach full length, when it takes just minutes to cut it all off.

“I want this opportunity.”  Johansen says with determination clear in her voice.

She starts putting her hair back up.  So we move on to other subjects.

Over coffee I see Johansen chatting with Captain Lee.  I’ve known Lee since I got out of the academy.  Lee was one of the first women to go beyond metermaid on the force and always makes a point to get to know and guide all the females.  She’ll be retiring in just a couple of more years.  I walk over to join them.

“Well, hi there.”  Lee greets me warmly, “We were just talking about you.  Johansen here was curious.”

“I didn’t realize I was so fascinating.”  I joke.

“I was filling her in on the details about the lack of choice in your latest haircut.”  Well that made sense, so I nodded.  Then she continued.  “It reminded me though, there’s something I’ve been curious about.  Remember when you first joined,  I suggested you get a haircut, a cute bob or something just to make getting ready easier, and you were so so emphatic that you wouldn’t.  Then you agreed to that really short cut 4 or 5 years ago just for a one night undercover assignment.  Why?”

“Well at the time we didn’t know that the first night on that assignment would go so well I wouldn’t be posing as Isabel for months.”  I thought about it. “However the length of the assignment really wasn’t the reason I agreed to it.  You suggested I cut my hair for my convenience.  It wasn’t worth giving up for my own convenience.  I loved my hair.”

I pause and run my hand over my short pixie, which is still a bit shorter than the other had been.  “When I cut it for that assignment it was a necessary part of the assignment.  It was different.”  Then I snort a quick rueful laugh.  “Besides, the guys didn’t warn me, or give me time to back out.  So, I didn’t really get to think it through.”

“If you’d had time and thought about it, and known it was just going to be one night.  Would you still have done it?”  Johansen asks tentatively.

“Yeah, it was worth it.”  I answer truthfully. “It lead to taking out a huge crime family.  It’s not just about what it did for my career, it made a real difference in the world.”


A few hours later Johansen, Patel, Jones and I are walking into Joe’s Barber shop.

“Hi, Martel, Jones, Patel.  Moving up in the department are you Patel, here with the detectives.”  Joe greets us.  “And who’s this?”

“This is Johansen.  Where’s Sam?”  Jones asks.

“It was quiet, so he went out to get us some sandwiches, he’ll be back in a minute.”  Joe answers.  “We never eat at lunch time, we always get a lunch time rush, so we eat after it quiets down.  So, what brings you here today.”

“We need Patel and Johansen to conform to the regulations on page 34.”  I answer and hand him the handbook from The Academy.

“Ah, I’m familiar” Joe answers but reads the page anyway.  “Come on over and have a seat Patel.”  Joe pats the back of his chair.

Patel is sitting down and getting settled, when Sam walks in holding a couple of sodas and a paper bag from the deli.

“Hey, Jones, Martel.”  He greets us as he sees us sitting in the waiting chair.  “and?”

“This is Officer Johansen, I think you know Patel over there.”  I answer, since Jones is talking sports with Joe, who has started running the clippers over Patel’s head in a way that reminds me way too much of my emergency haircut.  “Can you take Johansen now?”

“Sure, just let me put this stuff down in the back and get out of my jacket.  I’ll be right back.”  Sam says as he walks through the door to the back room.

I nod to Johansen to get into Sam’s chair while I go and pick up the handbook from the marble counter in front of Joe’s chair.  I hand it to Sam as he comes back out front.

“The regulations for grooming standards on page 34.”  I say to him.

He nods and slips on his reading glasses.

Johansen sitting in Sam’s chair looks more nervous than Tom had going to meet my family.   Her uniform cap is on her lap and she’s fiddling with the sweat band, while her right foot bounces up and down.

Sam puts the handbook down on the counter and picks up his cape.  He shakes it out with his usual crack and lets it fall slowly over her.  He tucks in the tissue and fastens the cape tightly around her neck.  Then he starts pulling out her bobby pins and piling them on his counter.

I try to distract myself with a magazine, but there is nothing but Joe’s car magazines and Sam’s fishing ones.  I don’t want to watch Johansen go through this.  It seems too private, but there is nothing to distract me.

Johansen’s cloud of blond curls is hanging down freely now.  Sam starts wetting it with his spray bottle, and combing to tame it down a bit.  He just dampens it slightly, not as wet as he’s made mine in the past, I guess he doesn’t want to stretch out her curls too much.

He picks up the scissors.  He combs her hair down.  He lines the comb up with the bottom of her ear and starts cutting off everything below it.  The soft blond curls float to the floor, and land with a slight bounce.  The now short hair above the comb springs up making it look shorter than it is.  Sam moves to the back and lines the comb up again.  He again cuts straight across under the comb.  Then he lines it up at the bottom of her other ear and cuts the next section of long hair off.  He keeps working around her head keeping a straight line just at earlobe level.

The blond cloud that once hung and bounced about Johansen’s shoulders now surrounds the base of Sam’s chair in a lifeless fuzzy pile.  Sam carelessly kicks it out of his way under his counter.

He puts the scissors down and picks up his clippers.  He runs them up her neck sending down a rain of short dark golden hair to her shoulders and across the back of the cape.  The length seems to be regulation, but her hair sticks way out from her head which I’ve never seen on any of the academy students I’ve seen around the city.

Sam has finished with the clipper and picks up his thinning shears.  He combs up a large lock of Johansen’s hair from the top of her head, and holds it straight up.  He closes the thinning shear three times, once near the base, then in the middle, then a couple of inches from the end, with no visible results.  Then he combs through the lock, and the comb is filled with hair as it emerges from the lock.  It is shocking to see the amount of hair that was just cut off.  Sam flicks the hair out of his comb to the floor.  I see Johansen shudder.  Sam combs up another lock and repeats the process.  Over and over.

Johansen’s hair is beginning to lay reasonably flat, which isn’t surprising looking at the huge pile of hair that once again surrounds Sam’s chair.  Though I know it’s not as much hair as the initial cut, the pile is more fluffed up and easily rivals the pile under the counter.  Johansen has lost a lot of hair.  I feel pretty awful for having gotten her into this mess.

It’s time for Sam to shave the neck.  I watch as he rubs it down with a hot towel and lathers her neck.  He gets out his straight razor and starts stroking it carefully down her neck, defining the hair line.  Finally he wipes her off again with the damp towel.  Gives her a cursory blowing off with the hair drier and removes the cape.  A few last blond corkscrew curls roll off the cape to join the hair on the floor.

It’s done and over.  I get up and put a comforting hand on Johansen’s shoulder while she puts her cap back on her head.  Jones teases Patel about his cap being loose now, then pays for the haircuts making sure to get a receipt for the expense report.

We drop Patel and Jones off at the academy, and park our surveillance van across the street.  If all goes well, we’ll have them buying larger and larger quantities over the next few weeks till we’ve followed the supply chain as high as possible.  Jones and I settle into the van to wait.

“So, what exactly did girl talk mean?”  Jones asks.  I guess I’d been wrong about him not wanting to know.

“I was just letting Johansen get used to the idea of the haircut.”

“That was probably a good idea, I remember how you cried when we took you for one your first undercover case.”

“You knew about that?”  I’m beyond surprised.  “I thought Tom was the only one who noticed.”

“I’m a detective, of course I noticed.”  Jones says with a snort.  “I just figured you’d be happier if I ignored it.”

“You were right.”  I say then add.  “If you ever tell anyone else on the force I will find a way to make you pay.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ve managed not to talk about it for years, I’m not going to suddenly start.”  Jones laughs.  “Besides, I know a few tears don’t mean anything.  Heck, you came in the next morning after the mess you got in a couple of months ago.  That was brave, not taking a few sick days.”

“I wasn’t going to waste sick days over a bad haircut”  I snort, I don’t add that I had been very tempted to.

I run my hand over my head, and the memory comes flooding back.

It was my last undercover case before the pregnancy really started to show.  The loose clothing that fit in at the construction site camouflaged my thickening waist, though my jeans were a bit uncomfortable.   

We were looking into a string of thefts at a construction site.  Normally we would expect the contractor to hire private security, but delays were costing the city so the mayor got us involved.   We finally had all our evidence collected and it was time for me to identify myself as a police officer and start making arrests, starting with the inside man.  Asshole decided to run and when I catch him I have to wrestle him to the ground knocking over some cans of expanding foam stuff.  At some point in the struggle one of us hit the nozzle and stuff squirted out all over me.  Of course not only did it ruin my clothing, it got in my hair.  It had hardened by the time I had finished arresting the asshole and had him tucked into the back of Miller’s car.

My hair. It had finally gotten long enough to put up easily again, after I had had to cut it to pass as a nun.  It was soft and silky and chocolate brown.  I hardly ever got it cut, and never because I just felt like it.  In the past even the occasional trim for split ends was torture.  Growing it out had been a torture of having to try to get hair not really long enough up into some style that left nothing to grab each day for work.  It had been long again though.  Long enough for me to see it on the pillow glistening in the sun when I woke up in the morning.  No matter what else was going on, seeing it there made me feel soft and feminine.

When we got back to the station, the captain decided to send me home to get cleaned up.  “Rodriguez, why don’t you go with Martel and drive.  You’re off soon anyway.”   Tom grabbed his keys and came with me.

At home the blue jeans, t-shirt, and flannel I was wearing went straight in the trash.  I then climbed into a hot shower.  Shampoo, conditioner, more shampoo, more conditioner, Tom’s body wash, plain old soap, dish detergent, mineral oil, crisco, mayonnaise, peanut butter, vinegar, ketchup.  I had run out of things to try and my hair was still full of solid chunks of hard foam.  I stepped out of the shower, and slipped into a clean bathrobe.  I headed downstairs where Tom was watching TV.

“Run out of hot water?” He joked as he heard me on the stairs. “Or do you need some other odd thing from the kitchen?”

“I’ve run out of things to try and still have a problem.”  I sighed.  “It’s not coming out of my hair.”

I stood there with my impossible to comb tangled mess of wet hair.

Tom screwed his mouth up to one side.  “Let’s go see if Sam or Joe can think of something.”

After I got dressed, we headed out to the old fashioned barber shop I know better than I want to.  Don’t get me wrong, Sam and Joe are great.  They came to our wedding since they know not just Tom, but all his brothers and half of the police precinct.  I just wish the only times I got to meet them were purely social or when I stopped by to talk to Tom while he was there getting his hair cut.  Unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve needed to see Sam and Joe professionally, and I’m never happy about it since it always involves losing a fair amount of length off my beloved hair.  This time I planned it to be different, just get the gunk out and no scissors.

The chime sounded as we walked in.  It was quiet, so Sam looked up at us from the magazine he was reading in his big leather and chrome barber chair.

“Hey, Martel, Rodriguez.  Good to see you.”  Sam smiled, then gets a questioning look on his face.  “So, what happened to you Martel.”

“Some kind of expanding foam stuff, it was at the construction site, I’m not sure what it’s made of.  I can’t get it out.  What can you suggest to get it out.”

“Scissors.”  said Sam dryly.

“Nah, seriously Sam, what can we use.”  I tried to keep my voice steady. “Surely you’ve got something to loosen it up.”

Tom had his chest pressed to my back and his hands firmly on my shoulders for support, as I was talking to Sam.  He seemed to know I was going to need the comfort.  

“Damned if I can think of anything that will remove it.  Joe, you got anything?”

Joe paused what he was doing to take a look at the foam, then shook his head.  “Anything strong enough to dissolve that stuff will take the hair with it.  Cutting it out’s your best option.”  Then returned to paying attention to snipping away at the fluff of hair on the elderly man in his chair.

Sam got up from his barber chair and invited me to sit with a wave of his hand.  Tom gave my shoulders a squeeze and released them.  I’m left there on my shaky legs to walk over to Sam’s chair as Tom goes across to the waiting area.   I don’t know why I ever thought getting it out of my hair was a real possibility when I just knew I had to throw out my clothing.

I finally started moving and sat gingerly in Sam’s chair.  Sam caped me.  There was no point in discussing style.  It was obvious we’d just have to see what was left to fix when Sam had gotten all the stuff out.

He didn’t bother with trying to comb it or wetting it more.  He just started working at pulling what hair he could free of the chunks of foam and cutting off what he can’t as close to the solid mass it was trapped in as possible.  He started at the back, and it felt like he was doing pretty well at leaving me a decent amount of length.  What I was really afraid of though was when Sam got to the top and front.  That was where how short it was going to have to be would be determined.

I couldn’t really see what was going on, but there was lots of tugging interspersed with the sound of scissors crunching through hair, followed by the thud of hard chunks hitting the floor.  I looked down at one chunk as it rolled into my line of sight.  It had short cut off bits sticking out of one side, and a good five inches of my hair flowing out the other.  I suddenly felt mildly sick.  Closed my eyes and took several deep breaths.  What was bothering me was I knew that much worse was to come even at that point.

Sam had the big chunks out of the back.  It was the not so big bit up towards the front that worried me though.  When I’d tried to wash it out I hadn’t really been able to get my fingers under it,  Sam was looking down at it now trying to work what he could of it free with his fingers.  Then started taking little snips around the edge of it. One of the locks he cut free from it swung down to my face and barely reached the bridge of my nose.  I guessed I’d be sporting bangs the next day.  As it turned out, I had guessed wrong.

The expression on Sam’s face should have warned me.  His brow was really furrowed and he was taking really small tentative snips.  He swung the chair side ways to give himself more room to work, something I’d never seen him do before.  This worried me.  It also gave me a view of Tom sitting in the chair.  He looked pale himself.  His eyes were wide and his hands cupped the bottom of his face.  That scared me more than anything else.  Sam pulled and tugged and snipped away in complete silence for what seemed like forever.  He finally dropped the chunk of foam to the floor.  It had some very long hairs attached to it.

“I’m sorry Alex” Sam said quietly as he slowly turned me back towards the mirror and put the scissors back on the counter.

At first I wondered at him putting down the scissors when I knew he hadn’t gotten all of the stuff out yet, never mind done anything to fix the damage.  Then I looked at the mirror and felt so sick to my stomach.  Thinking shut off.  There was a spot, too close to the front to hide, just a little too big to ignore, where the hairs were so short scalp showed.  My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest.

Sam stood at the counter fiddling with his clippers.  There was no discussion, he just silently started oiling and fiddling with them.  Then he turned them on.  That clack then the hungry humming was just barely audible over the sound of my own blood pounding through my veins.   He came up behind me, brushed back the lock laying on the bridge of my nose, and rested his hand on my forehead.

Sam placed the humming clipper at my hairline and started slowly pulling them back towards himself.  I was too shocked at this point to really feel anything but numb as the hair was simply mowed off my scalp.  I just stared straight ahead as the hair slid off my head.  The short bits fell to my shoulder then tumbled into my lap, but the longer bits were still tangled up with the rest of my hair and hung off the sides.

When Sam reached the back of my head there was a wide path of nothing but thick stubble left as he lifted the clippers and brought them back to the front again.  He placed the clippers back at the hairline next to the path he had just sheared and pulled them back slowly again.  The tangled mat of hair started hanging lower till my shoulder supported its weight.  The path of stubble was growing wider.  The shape of my head began to emerge.  I thought to myself, I’m going to be practically bald by the time he is done with this.

Sam kept plowing more paths across my head.  The hair finally got heavy enough that the shorn mass fell to the floor.  It broke the spell that was keeping me watching, I closed my eyes.

The cutting continued as nothing but sensation.  The humming around my ears.  My ears being folded forward out of the way.  The weight of the hair releasing and falling away.  The vibration in my skull.  Sam’s hand tilting my head to this side then that, then down as he worked the clippers up my neck.  The feel of the teeth against my scalp.  The warmth and wetness of the lather, then the glide of metal as Sam shaved the edges clean with his straight razor.  These are what I remember most.

After is a bit of a blur.  Tom offered to pay, but Sam refused it and told him just to get me home as I looked like I was in shock, I guess I was.  I remember getting up looking down at the pile of hair and having to fight to not throw up or pass out.

The short drive home barely registered, normally we walked, but Tom had driven us today.

The next part of the memory that is vivid again is laying in bed looking at Tom.

It was late but we lay awake looking at each other, both of us unable to sleep.  I lifted my hand and pinched a lock of his black wavy hair and pulled it down his forehead to see how long it is.  It almost reached his eyebrows.

“Yours is longer than mine now.”  and I let the hair go so it sprung back up off his face.

He placed his hand on my head and caressed me.  “Should I get mine cut shorter than yours?  Misery loves company.”

“No.  It’s bad enough that I miss my hair, I don’t want to miss yours too.  I think I’d miss yours more than you would.”  I knew I was right, he wouldn’t have cared about his hair at all, but I loved looking at him, and his was now the only hair I had to play with.

“Hm, probably.”  He also knew I was right.  “I know you hate your hair like this, and I hate to see you sad, but I actually kind of love it.  It feels like velvet.”

“Wait till you have to look at me in daylight instead of just getting to pet it in the dark.”

“Don’t be silly.  I got to look at you all the way home and over dinner.”  He was smiling at me.  “You’re beautiful.  I like looking at your eyes and your smile and that long slender neck.  With or without hair you’re perfect.”

He kissed me and the talking ended.

My hair started growing back pretty quickly.  In just a few weeks I had Sam shape the back and sides a bit with his solemn promise not to touch the top.  He has done it a couple of times now; I even agreed to let him add some texture to the top, which is why I have a cute pixie instead of a shapeless shag as it grows back.

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