Nigel says I owe him a car, but I say he owes me a haircut, and we’re at an impasse again. “I’m not buying you a car,” I tell him as I set another round on the table.
“I didn’t say you had to buy me a car,” he protests. “Just rent one, or let me borrow yours for the six months or so it takes those things to die.”
“Nonsense,” I say. “Balloons only last for a month, tops.”
Nigel shudders. “Even if what you say is true, their withered, wheezing corpses will be all over my floorboard, all over my seat. I’ll have to touch them, feel their rubbery skins…”
“Look, I’ll go over there right this minute and pop them all if you’ll just agree to cut my hair.”
He flinches at the word pop, then shakes his head. “You know I can’t do that! I made a vow!”
“Helen is dead, my friend.”
“Vows transcend death.”
“She’ll never know.”
“Bah.” I roll my head on my shoulders and inhale the thick, smoky air. This place used to be a brothel, but after prostitution was outlawed, someone decided all those backrooms would be perfect for housing prisoners and it became a jailhouse. They used to hang people behind the mahogany bar, and today the signature drink here is a Seven Wraps, which refers to the number of times the rope goes around the loop to make a noose. It’s made with seven shots and it’s put me under the barstools more than once.
I lean in to whisper. “Say you’ll do it tonight and not only will I kill each and every last one of them, I’ll make them suffer the whole time. I’ll wring their necks and throw their bodies in the dump.”
Nigel taps a fingernail against his glass, considering. “A slow, painful death? No sudden popping?”
“No pops. I promise.”
“I want it cleaned, too. I can’t get in there and have the smell of latex lingering.”
“It’ll smell of raspberries and cream.”
“I prefer pine.”
“Whatever you want.”
“What I want is for you to stop hounding me about a haircut I promised you 16 years ago.”
I fall quiet for a few moments, long enough to give him time to make peace with his decision, but not enough time for him to second-guess himself.
“You know if Helen were here, she’d tell you to go ahead and give me the haircut.” He cocks his head at me and I smile encouragingly. “The only vow she made me swear was that I’d lay off about the balloon thing, and I’ve obviously broken that vow, so she’d probably look at you and say you should do the same. To make us even and all. In fact, she’s probably on her way down from heaven right now with a golden pair of scissors and—”
“Oh, go to hell.” Nigel stomps over to the bar and swipes something from behind the counter. He returns waving a wine key in my face, the corkscrew fully extended. “I’ve got ten bucks in my pocket and there’s a hungry-looking guy outside that window. I’m going to give him this money and then I’m going to let him go to town on those things you put in my car. And you know what I’m not going to do?”
I have an idea.
“I am not, not now, not ever, going to give you that haircut.”
Nigel and the bum link arms and head down the street to the parking garage. I close out my tab and head in the other direction toward my own car. Nigel may have won this round, but he doesn’t know I have the spare key to his house, and 1 ½ tanks of helium in the trunk. Next stop: Party City.