Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Disguise

breathing easy
This story is based on a customer that used to come in (to a bookstore café I worked in many years ago) and order large decaf double depth charges every night. That's two shots of decaf espresso in a large decaf coffee. He always paid out of the wallet he had tucked in his motorcycle helmet.

The Disguise

There was so much hair.

It covered the bottom of the tub like a patchy carpet and clumps of it had missed the tub and fallen on the floor. Lee nudged them aside with his foot and the hair clung to his toes. His face twisted in disgust and he shook his foot, almost losing his balance.

His neck itched and he shifted to look in the mirror. There were fluffy clumps of hair stuck to his neck too. He brushed them into the sink, turned the faucet on, and stuck his head under the cold water until he was sure he’d gotten rid of all the loose hair. He held his head dripping over the sink, water stinging in his eyes and reached blindly for a towel. He blew water out of his nose and waved his hand around some more until he was forced to lift his head and look. Water ran down his neck to make his shirt stick to him. There was no towel on the rack. He frowned and ducked down, opening the cabinet under the sink and pulling out the first towel on the pile. It was the threadbare brown one he kept meaning to get rid of. He rubbed it over his head and neck and then hung the towel on the rack where it clashed with the cool lime tile.

When he looked up his reflection startled him. He hadn’t had his hair so short since he’d done swim team in college. He didn’t remember it looking so menacing then. He ran his hand over the half-inch of hair left on his head and realized that he looked five times more conspicuous than he had when he woke up this morning. Like a damn skinhead or something.

He opened the medicine cabinet so he didn’t have to see his scalp through his hair and reached for the shaving cream and his razor. He splashed some water on his cheeks and poured foam into his palm. He caught his reflection again and frowned. He looked less like himself than ever with the dark stubble. He’d never shown up anywhere without shaving, not with stubble so high on his cheeks it was only an inch from his eyes and so far around his neck it almost met up with his hair. With a scowl and a nearly shaved head he looked sinister. Lee was sure that no one, not even the employees he’d had to fire, ever thought of him as sinister.

He rinsed the shaving cream off his hand and flicked off the bathroom light. He paused at the door, looking back at the hair on the floor. He frowned again, his thick eyebrows pulling together in a look that was nothing but sinister. Then he smirked, a dimple appearing in one cheek. He’d clean it up later.

He swaggered down the hall feeling like he’d gotten away with something.

Standing in front of his closet in the bedroom he’d lost his swagger and his smile. He didn’t know how to dress not like himself with only his clothes. He wouldn’t wear work clothes but people had seen him wear everything else.

He pushed aside his suits and blazers and shook his head at his dress shirts. What did he have that could look tough? He had t-shirts but there was nothing tough about the Grand Canyon or the last Rush tour. He looked through each shirt like he was at a store, frowning and pushing each hangar aside one at a time. Rush, Chicago, Las Vegas, Daytona Beach, Co-ed Naked Skiing, that one made him blush slightly, it had been a gag gift from his brother. There was Akira and Division Bell and Mind the Gap. He flipped back to the Akira shirt. It was black and had a motorcycle on the front. Motorcycles were tough and he was pretty sure no one knew he used to ride. He pulled his undershirt off and tossed it on the bed. The black shirt went over his head.

One thing down.

He glanced over at the mirror on the door and nodded to himself, the black shirt made his hair look darker in contrast to his pale skin. His eyes flicked down to the hairy legs sticking out of his boxers. Pants were next. That was easier, he found a ragged pair of jeans he used for yard work and pulled them on. They were tight in the legs and strangely loose in the waist so he had to put on a belt to keep them up. But they were ripped at the knees and heavily worn, nothing clean cut about them.

In front of the mirror he slipped the end of the belt into a belt loop and tucked the t-shirt in. He frowned at the effect, the pants were too low and the shirt pulled across his stomach. He untucked the shirt and decided it was probably better sloppy looking anyway.

He had to dig in the back of the hall closet to find his old boots and leathers. The boots were a little loose but it was only a short ride so he was sure they’d be fine. The jacket still had the heavy panels in it for racing and it took a good twenty minutes sitting on the sofa and wrestling with the snaps to get them out. When he put it on the jacket felt light, good for a spring ride. He ducked back into the bedroom for his wallet and keys and stopped in front of the mirror.

He’d tucked his jeans into his off-road boots, which were gray and red to match his jacket. The effect was a little strange without the matching pants. He looked like he was about to do half a race. Still, the boots with all the straps on them looked a little futuristic, they went with the t-shirt. He turned to one side, dropping his shoulder and trying the smirk again. He smiled and nodded to himself, very sinister.

His boots made hard sounds on the tile through the kitchen and into the garage. He shut the door to the house behind him and fumbled for the garage door release. When he hit it low lights came on and the door started rolling up. Gary’s bike sat in the middle of the concrete where Lee’s truck usually took up most of the room. It was yellow and black with a solid black helmet on the seat. A Kawasaki Ninja650R, not top of the line, not bottom. It wasn’t a Ducati but it was a decent ride. He’d managed to get Gary to trade the bike for the truck over the weekend. Getting a custom gray and red paintjob had seemed nostalgic and interesting at the time but everyone in town knew it was his truck, there was no anonymity there. The motorcycle was much better.

The bike was pretty quiet and he didn’t peel away from his driveway as tempting as it was. The last thing he needed was to startle the neighborhood watch guy across the street away from his TV. He’d probably call the police about kids racing up his street. Right after he got the make and color of the bike for his report.

Lee didn’t let the bike go until he was on the highway and then he relaxed a little, leaning into the handlebars, putting his weight into the curves and enjoying the familiar pluck of the wind against his jacket and jeans. He was putting the whole town miles behind him, taking the loop around the city skirting all of the suburbs and finally taking the off-ramp into Millsville, the haven of outlet malls and discount stores.

At nine on a Friday the parking lots were full and brightly lit. He parked and locked the front wheel of the bike. He pulled off his helmet and tucked it under his arm, feeling exposed. The bright parking lot was full of people coming in and out of a massive movie theater and they all seemed to be looking at him. He ran his hand over his sheared hair and tried unsuccessfully to hold his smirk. He took a deep breath and walked a straight line to the small shop tucked between the theater and the ice-cream place next to Target.

Not as bright as the other shops, Abe Books looked closed at first glance. Lee felt his heart force its way up somewhere in his throat. The woman on the phone had told him they were open until ten. He kept walking, taking the step up onto the sidewalk and looking for a sign that had the hours on it. Better than that he saw the ‘open’ sign in the door and made out people moving beyond the displays in the windows.

Feeling like he could breathe again, he opened the door and stepped inside. A man behind the counter looked up and back down again. Lee frowned harder and scanned the aisles, wanting to get out as quickly as possible. The layout was different than his own store, but clear enough. He meandered down the horror/sci-fi aisle, pausing at several shelves to pull out a random book and look it over. He unzipped his jacket when he felt the sweat trickle from under his arms down his sides. He took a quick look over the cover of Carrie to see how many other people were in the store. There was an older woman with bright dyed hair in the cooking section and a couple of girls in the self help section edging cautiously toward the sex and relationships end. They actually looked more nervous than he felt and he averted his eyes before they caught him looking. He put the book back and moved further down the aisle, not pausing at all on the next row of shelves. He didn’t need anyone to think he was picking up a book on tarot and tealeaves or some other occult crap.

When he reached the right section he dropped down on his haunches so his head was below the tops of the shelves. He’d gone down too close to the Z end and had to do a strange little sliding shuffle to stay low and move along the shelves to the H’s. He shuffled quickly past Rowe and Roberts, Macomber, Long, Jeffries, Howard and Harrison. He stopped at Harrison and went back. There, sandwiched between bright covers and gilded titles. Hill, Sandra. He had to rise up a bit to see the shelf properly, but he stayed hunched so his head wasn’t visible above the top. There was The Cajun Cowboy, Pink Jinx, Rough and Ready, and there it was in all of its out of print elusiveness, on the only shelf in the state that had it, The Last Viking. He grabbed it roughly off the shelf and tucked it into his helmet. He didn’t let himself stand upright until he’d sidled across to the religion section.

He cast a cautious look around. The girls had made it, giggling over the beige covered edition of The Complete Kama Sutra in a corner, and the old lady had moved up to health and fitness where she had pulled down the older red edition of the Atkins New Diet Revolution.  

Lee moved down a row in fiction and tossed a copy of A Dirty Job into his helmet and some random Koontz novel on top of that for good measure. Now he just had to get through the checkout and it would all be over.


  1. After reading this story, I immediately googled Sandra Hill the Last Viking! Perfect, wonderful, lovely...I am having so much fun reading your blog!

  2. Those opening two paragraphs (at least up to the searching for a towel) brought back some memories. Been there done that, you have it down pretty much exactly how it happened.

    And the whole set up about made the story worth it. Well played, well played.


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