Nick turned the sign on the door around to ‘Closed’ and pushed the bolt home. Another busy day at the salon was over and the till was brimming with banknotes. He’d transfer the takings to the safe in the office and leave the sweeping up for the apprentice to do in the morning.
He turned off the lights and was just reaching for his jacket when the telephone rang.
“We’re closed,” he told it but it kept ringing. The call went through to the answering machine.
“Nick! Pick up! I know you’re there…”
Nick’s heart sank. It was the Boss. He took the call.
“Sorry, Boss; I was just sweeping up.”
“Don’t bullshit me; we both know you’ll make poor Warren do it in the morning.”
“So, how’s business?” the Boss continued. “Plenty of punters?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” said Nick, glad to have something positive to report.
“That’ll be the new haircut,” the Boss enthused. “They all want it.”
“Nick… You have been cutting the hair like I told you? Short around the back and sides and a big floppy quiff on the top. Like one of those little biscuits you used to see with the coloured swirl of sugar… What were they called?”
“Iced gems,” said Nick. “Listen, Boss –”
But the Boss was in no mood for listening. “No, you listen. I say that all men shall have this iced gems cut, and that is what shall happen.”
“But – sometimes they want something else. I let them choose. Hell, they can have a mullet if they want one!”
The phone in Nick’s hand glowed red hot as the Boss struggled to contain his temper.
“Let them CHOOSE? LET THEM CHOOSE?”
“Yeah,” said Nick. “You know, like ‘free will’ and all that.”
“Free will?” The Boss laughed. “Oh, that’s priceless! Free will is just an illusion. Surely, after all these millennia, you realise that? Create the illusion of free will and Man will do exactly what you want him to. Free will, my Aunt Fanny! How many have been in to ask for a mullet, or anything else? They all want the same haircut, whether it suits them or not. They’re no better than sheep, shepherding themselves.”
At least the Boss sounded as though he had cheered up a bit.
“So, what’s the point?” said Nick, leaning against the desk. “Why are you pissing about with haircuts and not smiting your enemies left, right and centre?”
“Oh, Nick. Nicky, Nick, Nick. It’s an allegory. Or a metaphor. Something of that nature.”
“Yeah, that’ll do. It makes all the dangerous ones easier to spot. Those who don’t follow the herd shall be known by their hairstyle. And then – pow! – a-smiting I will go. Can’t have Man thinking for himself. Next thing you know, he’ll be saying we don’t exist.”
Nick suppressed a shudder.
“Oh, well, I’ll let you get on,” said the Boss. “I expect you’ve got fires to stoke, souls to torment, that kind of thing.”
“Yeah,” said Nick. “Night, Boss.”
He hung up and shrugged his jacket on. He reached his cap from the peg and set it at a jaunty angle so that it covered his horns.
Fire-stoking… Soul-tormenting… Nick turned off the lights.
Warren could do all that in the morning.