I changed my mind. I thought, Crumley, it’s not going to be Shrank or the old bird lady who vanishes.

Gosh, said Crumley, who?

Cal, the barber.

Silence. A sigh. Then . . .

Click. Buzz.

Which is why, gazing at this relic from Scott Joplin years, I did not race forth to telephone my police detective friend.

All the glass eyes across the street examined my haircut and watched me shut my door.

God, I thought, I can’t even play “Chopsticks.”

The barber shop was open and empty. The ants, the bees, the termites, and the relatives had been there before noon.

I stood in the front door looking at the total evisceration. It was as if someone had shoved a gigantic vacuum cleaner through the front door and sucked everything out.

The piano, of course, had come to me. I wondered who had gotten, or would want, the barber chair, the liniments, the ointments, the lotions that used to color the mirrored wall with their tints and tinctures. I wondered who got all the hair.

There was a man in the middle of the barber shop, the landlord, I seemed to recall, a man in his fifties moving a pushbroom over no hair, just gliding over the empty tiles for no obvious reason. He looked up and saw me.

“Cal’s gone,” he said.

“So I see,” I said.

“Bastard ran off owing me four months’ rent.”

“Business was that bad, was it?”

“It wasn’t the business so much as the haircuts. Even for two bucks they were the lousiest, won awards, in the whole state.”

I felt the top of my head and the nape of my neck and nodded.

“Bastard ran off owing me five months’ rent. I heard from the groceryman next door Cal was here at seven this morning. Goodwill came at eight for the barber chair. Salvation Army got all the rest. Who knows who got the piano. I’d like to find and sell that, get some of my money.” The landlord looked at me.

I said nothing. The piano was the piano. For whatever reasons, Cal had sent it to me.

“Where you think he’s gone?” I said.

“Got relatives in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, I hear. Someone was just in said he heard Cal say two days ago he was going to drive until the land gave out and then pitch right into the Atlantic.”

“Cal wouldn’t do that.”

“No, he more likely will sink somewhere in the Cherokee Strip country and good riddance. Jesus, that was bad haircutting.”

I wandered in over the clean white tiles through no-hair territory, not knowing what I was looking for.

“Who are you?” said the landlord, half-raising his broom into artillery position.

“The writer,” I said. “You know me. The Crazy.”

“Hell, I didn’t recognize you. Did Cal do that to you?”

He stared at my hairline. I felt blood rush along my scalp. “Only yesterday,” I said.

“He could be shot for that.”

I wandered across and around behind a thin wooden partition that hid the backside of the barber shop, the trash barrels, and the restroom.

I stared down into the trash barrel and saw what I was looking for there.

The photograph of Cal and Scott Joplin, covered with a month’s supply of hair, which was not much.

I reached down and picked up the photo.

In the next five or six seconds my whole body turned to ice.

Because Scott Joplin was gone.

Cal was still there, forever young, smiling, his thin fingers spidering the piano keys.

But the man who stood over him, grinning.

It wasn’t Joplin.

It was another man, black, younger, more sinful looking.

I peered very close.

There were marks of old dry glue where Scott’s head had once been.

Jesus God have mercy on Cal, I thought. None of us ever thought to look close. And, of course, the picture was always under glass and hung rather high on the wall, not easy to reach or take down.

Sometime, a long while ago, Cal had found a picture of Scott Joplin, razor cut around it, and pasted it over this other guy’s face, head on head. He must have forged the signature as well. And all these years we had looked at it and sighed and clucked and said, “Hey, Cal, great! Aren’t you special? Looky there!”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray