Not far north of the Cretan capital, Reticulum, lay the Bad Ends. North of that lay the Very Bad Ends. South of the Bad Ends, the Not Quite Bad Ends went about their business being fairly standard livers of life. The residents of the Bad Ends (and especially the Very Bad Ends) took pride in the name given to this loose collection of outlying districts.
Initially they were annoyed, even outraged, when the Mayor of Reticulum vowed to clean this “scar on the arm of society, this sore on the finger of our outstretched hand. These bad ends,” the Mayor power phrased, “will no longer be the scab left on our velvet tissue. No more will they suck the teat of our nanny goat, or spit with the wind towards our daily labours. The bad ends will be clean. These bad ends will no longer be bad.”
The Mayor’s name has long been forgotten, but the name Bad Ends stuck, and the citizens came to embrace it.
They weren’t all harmless hipsters though. Some were genuine artists. But beneath the well-trimmed beards and tight jeans was an underbelly occasionally poking its gut through the loosely buttoned shirt.
Rumours of extortionists stealing identities haunted residents not prepared to accept the hip with the hideous. Fraudsters hid behind poles on street corners ready to sell fake electronic equipment. Con artists hung out in car parks, also selling fake electronic equipment. Secondhand shops sold stolen electronic equipment, including Marley’s 50-inch VT, which took up the entire far wall of his quarters.
But what drew Marley back to the Bad Ends again and again was the cheap haircuts. Why pay five times as much for a supposedly sensual haircut by an aloof Nunchian? You could go to the Bad Ends and be cut by a fashionably dishevelled human who would sculpt your beard for free. Or a bald Betelgeusian who would pluck your nose hairs on the house.
Marley walked into Conscious Follicles, a downmarket hairdressing chain owned by Phineas Guthrie.
Last year, the Chief Prosecutor acquitted Guthrie of murdering three underworld figures. On the witness stand he had proclaimed, “We don’t do murders. We cut hair. We don’t cut nuffin else. We don’t cut nobody’s life short. But if you want your hair short, you want sideburns like Frisky Benjamin, swing by Conscious Follicles.”
At the end of the trial the Reticulum Daily rather lamely headlined its article, “Guthrie has Close Shave with the Chief Prosecutor.” The Cretan Courier proclaimed, even more lamely: “Phineas Escapes Conviction by a Hair’s Breadth.”
Next to the waiting area, the articles and headlines were proudly displayed on the wall.
A bedraggled hipster was having his mop of hair completely shaved off. From the snippets of conversation he heard, Marley gathered he was off to Eris to join the meditating monks. Many years later, he would be admitted to the order of the Dogons and become known as the discoverer of the tombs of Eris.
“You’re next.” At the back of the salon a rotund Betelgeusian pointed his finger, almost accusingly. Marley shuffled over. The barber wrapped a paper neck-cloth around his jugular and sat him down. “What d’you want?”
Marley wasn’t quite sure. He didn’t really need a haircut. He had no idea where in the Bad Ends he would find the V13, no hint as to who Mr Kibbles was. Where else to start but a hairdressers? Where gossip flew fast and…
Snip! The haircut started without Marley answering.
So he asked him, “How long have you been a hairdresser?”
“Fifteen years. You have a problem with that?” The Betelgeusian scratched his round red nose.
“No. It’s a noble profession.”
“You taking the micky out of me?”
“Certainly not. How could I? I’m training to be a flight attendant.”
The hairdresser tried to hide a grunt of derision.
“Just kidding. Actually, I’m studying IT, or rather, was studying IT.”
“No one ever finishes studying.” The hairdresser elaborated at length at how his daughter got up everyday to study Baconian. She wanted to move to Delta Pavonis and live on Bacon. She watched the news in Standard Baconian every morning, and passed the evenings studying Baconian grammar and watching drama series.
It amazed Marley how much and how little hairdressers talked. It all depended on how you prompted them. In the mirror he noticed a logo on the wall: MK. A big red X struck through the initials.
“What does that stand for?”
“It don’t stand for nothing. It’s a brand.”
“It doesn’t stand for Mr Kibbles, by any chance?”
“Kibbles huh? Kibbles. Is that why you’re here?”
The hairdresser’s tattooed arm grabbed him round the neck and pulled back his head. He began trimming his fringe. He pushed Marley’s head forward with his fat palm and roughly shaved his nape.
“Yes, that is exactly what I’m here for,” Marley said just before his hair was grabbed and head pulled to the side for an ear trimming.
“Well this is your lucky day.”
Everyone in Conscious Follicles sounded like a gangster.
“Mr Kibbles is in town.”
The barber brushed hair away from Marley’s neck, then nose, causing him to sneeze.
“That’s good. Where do I find him?”
“That’s all I know. I don’t keep up with this stuff.” He yawned.
Marley thanked the hairdresser, though his cut was half complete. He gave him 12 Cretan credits and stepped outside.