I buried my brother on Black Friday.
People had stood in line for ungodly hours to take advantage of amazing discounts. What was the death of an old man to them? Nothing more than the unknown name listed in the obituary section of the newspaper they had brought to peruse while waiting for the store doors to open.
I didn’t resent the shoppers, though. Just the irony I found in the contrast of their apparent frenzy against my mournful state of mind. Deep inside, I rejoiced in the knowledge that some of those shoppers would be surprised next Halloween.
Yes, Halloween when they came back to our little wig factory would be their big shock. “Where’s Lenny?” They would indubitably ask.
Customers favored buying from Lenny, of course. I was regarded as the mean bastard who wouldn’t give them a discount.
They’d turn and plea to my white bearded sibling. “I loved it but I just can’t afford it.” Old benevolent Lenny, resembling Santa Claus would look at them and practically give the stuff away.
Oh my, how they would miss Lenny on Halloween.
After the grim looking assistants lowered the coffin into the grave and started to shovel the dirt, I sent the family home while I rode a cab to the shop.
Turning up my coat’s collar, I stepped out and looked at the storefront. The one, the only, the last family-owned wig shop. Even the one-story brick building looked like it belonged to another time. Maybe it was the tilting of the old stenciled sign that completed the decrepit look.
I let myself in. The steady high-pitched beep got on my nerves while I punched the password. My first stop was Lenny’s office.
Framed posters hung on the wall: Attack of the fifty foot woman, Space Invaders, The Monster from the Lagoon. I ran a finger on the desk. The cancer had been so swift that little dust had gathered on the furniture. A telephone was the most modern on the table. Lenny never had any use for computers.
“I trust you with the money, Paul,” he would say.
My reason to visit the office was a simple one: this was the place where I had seen him last.
* * *
“Paul, did you order the thread last month?” Lenny asked one day.
“Oh, good. I heard the price increased ten percent.”
“Where the hell. . .” I didn’t need to finish. Even without a computer, Lenny always appeared well informed. I think he reveled in the fact that it irked me.
“Don’t worry, brother.” He lifted the hem of his shirt revealing the pouch that administered his chemotherapy. “You’ll know everything pretty soon.”
Lenny turned out to be one of the rare people whose hair didn’t fall after treatment. On his case, it merely accelerated the graying process.
“You’re finally going to tell me?”
“The hell I will! But you’ll learn all my secrets, I promise. And only then,” He pointed a finger at me. “You’ll understand why I kept them secrets for so long.”
He left the office shortly after and never returned.
* * *
I sat behind the desk and opened the center drawer. Pens, paper clips, an old notebook; nothing earth shattering. Browsing the notebook didn’t get me any wiser.
“You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?” I said out loud.
The desktop was empty except for the old phone, a pen-a Mont Blanc-and a calendar. Taking the calendar I flipped the months and noticed Lenny had circled the date when there was a full moon. One month had two dates circled.
* * *
“What is it with the full moon?” I found Lenny in his office looking at his calendar.
“Did you notice that October has a blue moon this year?” Lenny put the pen down. “I like to work during full moons. Sales are better, the nights are brighter.”
“But you have no windows!”
“How would you know? I’ve never let you in my private workshop.”
I tilted my head. “When we bought the building.”
“Oh yeah.” He smiled. “I’m working on a long haired wig now. I think I’ll dye it blue. Halloween is coming.”
The change of subject meant he’d not say another word about his calendar markings. I stomped the floor and left.
* * *
I shook the memory off. After the doctor diagnosed Lenny our bickering quieted down, but he kept his secrets. I took one last look around the empty office and went to his private workshop.
During the peak season we hired up to twenty helpers and Lenny alternated supervising them and working on his private area where nobody was allowed.
Holding the cold door knob in my hand I felt a silly anxiety, like I was trespassing.
“All this belongs to me now!” I said out loud. But why did it sound like I was asking permission?
Holding my breath, I pushed the door open. Nothing but a dark void. Searching with my hand, I found the light switch on the wall.
The room was clean, too. A high work table occupied most of the space in the center. I approached the table and discovered the first of Lenny’s secrets. A small battery-operated radio lay there. It had a set of headphones connected. I turned the equipment on and browsed the pre-programmed stations. All were news stations. A freaking radio! So simple, and yet it served to annoy me for years. I smiled thinking how much Lenny must have laughed at my expense.
Five mannequin heads with wigs lay next to the radio. When I inspected them I noticed the wigs were all ready to go. A movie make up artist had ordered them. They were meant to show the different stages of hair loss on a cancer patient.
We were Hollywood’s best kept secrets. Only a handful of make up artists knew about us. Once a customer, always a customer. They loved Lenny’s wigs with the lustrous and silky hair, they always marveled at his artistry to make the hair look so natural.
“I wash them with Head and Shoulders Shampoo,” he’d respond every time they asked for his secret.
I remember the passion with which I had refused to take this order. The make up artist, being an old customer, called Lenny and he agreed to do it. I couldn’t understand why.
The order was due on Monday so I figured I may as well have them packed. I crossed a room toward a cabinet. Searching for boxes to pack the wigs I found where Lenny kept his raw materials.
I opened the doors. The cabinet had five shelves, each one bore a sign in the center: blond, black, red, gray and tools. Two or three shoe-box like containers lay on each shelf. How fastidiously neat of Lenny! No wonder he always raised an eyebrow whenever he looked at the piles upon piles of paper that buried my desk.
I was about to peak into the top box when the front door bell startled me.
Who could it be? The “closed” sign hanging on the door couldn’t be any bigger. Quickly replacing the box on the shelf I went to see who it was.
“Sorry, we’re closed.” I said to a young man. A white robe gave him the look of a doctor.
“Lenny asked me to deliver this to you.” He held a small box in his hand.
The nerve of some people! “How can that be? My brother is dead.”
“Oh, don’t I know it.” He looked unperturbed. “But it’s like when people made arrangements in case they’d die.”
I’ve seen movies with such plot devices. Lenny was a sucker for them. Damn, I felt I was in one now.
“This is just like that.” He offered the box.
“What is it?”
He shrugged. “Can’t tell you. In fact, Lenny warned me to be away from you when you found out.”
Damn it, Lenny. “This isn’t a bomb, is it?”
The young man smiled. He had a healthy, contagious smile similar to the ones you find in used-car salesmen or con artists.
“Lenny paid me well for I did. He said that after he died you might not hire me at all; but that you deserved to know about it.”
He left as soon as I took the box from him. I followed him with my gaze. He didn’t get into a car but turned left, walked over to a building next door. He waved at me before disappearing through the entrance.
Knowing the building held the coroner’s office made my skin crawl. I lifted the lid and gasped when I looked at the contents. They were long and gray. It was my brother’s hair.
J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator