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A Man of His Word (I) by Zero


Prologue

The evening before, Enzo De Rossi finished cleaning up the arch behind the ears of one of his regular customers. It was a couple minutes past his barbershop’s closing time, but Roderick Chambers was just someone he couldn’t say no to.

Beyond their client and provider relationship, Rod and he were friends, always running into each other at soccer matches and watching every kind of sports intently while cheering for the same team. Well, except for the World Cup, when De Rossi liked to hang an Italian flag with pride on the barbershop’s window and Rod would just roll his eyes at him.

"There, all done" he removed his white cotton cape from Roderick Chambers’ neck. Snips of his friend’s dark brown hair fell to the wooden floor.
"Thank you, Enzo" Rod studied his sharp and polished short back and sides in the mirror.
"Anytime".

Rod got up from the chair, paid him for the haircut and instructed him to keep the change like he always did. As his favorite customer recovered his suit jacket from the hanger, Enzo took a broom in hand to clean up the floor, then he would finally head home after a long day of work to his lovely wife and a warm plate of gnocchi.

"Enzo, how’s your appointment’s list tomorrow?" Rod’s voice cut his trail of thought.
"Rod, I just cut your hair today, give me a break" Enzo joked as he kept sweeping.
"Any chance you might have an open slot?"
"Who? Your godfather?" the barber threw the shorn hair in the garbage can "Only if he’s punctual. I only work after hours for one Chambers and that’s you".
"My stepson, actually" Rod answered dryly "I think it will be his first time in a barbershop".
"Oh, Edward?" Enzo looked up as he folded his cape "I thought Samantha was the one who scheduled his appointments and took care of that, you finally got promoted to man of the house while she’s in France finishing her PhD?" he chuckled.
He didn’t reply immediately and he could tell that his customer was not amused by his good-natured comment "The straight A student was caught stealing the answers of the finals from a teacher’s computer".

Enzo was surprised. His customer often complained to him about his stepson as of late, the boy’s streak of teenaged rebellion had been rather nasty at times, but aside his confrontations with authority, and general disrespect and mistrust of adults, he wasn’t a troublemaker. As far as he knew by Rod’s account, the kid stayed clear off drugs and didn’t neglect his grades.

"Sounds serious" he adjusted his thick rimmed glasses.
"And you know what the staff discovered? That he did it for money. Like he didn’t have an allowance, just unbelievable" Rod put his suit jacket on "I talked to Samantha about it and she agreed with me. We’re sending him off to boot camp this summer. And I want him to come here for his induction cut".

The barber now understood what all of this was about.

"You know they take care of the kids’ hair when they arrive there, right?" Enzo raised an eyebrow at him "I mean, there’s no need to make him cut it before he goes away".
"Yes, there is" Rod looked at him "He needs to learn his actions have consequences and to follow rules and respect authority one way or another. He doesn’t know anything about it yet, and I’m going to break the news to him tomorrow".
Enzo’s brow furrowed "Boot camp sounds a little severe, Rod".
"It worked just fine with me; I hope it can do the same thing for that self-entitled bastard".

There was a brief pause in the conversation until Enzo spoke again.

"So, you’ll bring him here tomorrow? What’s the drill?"
"No, he’s coming here on his own" his customer clarified "Stay alert for when you see him walk through that door, about my height, with long wavy blond hair" he gestured to his shoulders "You won’t miss him. I want you to shave him like a recruit. And if he tries to pull a trick on you or convince you to do otherwise, don’t fall for it. You got that?"
"Yes".
"I’ll text you the time he’ll be here tomorrow".
"Okay".
He walked out the door "Goodnight, Enzo. I’m counting on you for this one".
"Later, Rod".


I

Whether he wanted it or not, that day Enzo was a man with a mission. To hunt this particular teenager and rob him of what most likely was his best asset felt like something out of a mafia film to him. Like some kind of mob non-lethal threat he was going to inflict in an unsuspecting teenager. He could almost picture the scene with trench coats and everything in a dark alley, in black and white.

Enzo hated the idea of being part of this. But he was honor-bound to Roderick Chambers ever since he lent him money of his very own so he and his wife could pay for his youngest daughter’s heart surgery when she was barely a toddler.

Although he managed in time to write him a check with the exact amount he had borrowed, it was still something he could never pay him pack.

He just couldn’t say no to him.

And as his father always said: ‘Vincenzo, in the end the measure of a man’s worth is his word’.

As he attended his other customers, his gaze drifted between the clock and the window. Earlier on, Rod wrote a text to him informing him that his stepson should arrive after 6:00 p.m. And it was already 7:10 p.m.

No sign of Edward.

A part of him hoped the teenager didn’t come.

Rod’s stepson was young, long hair probably suited him just fine. Besides, the war on long hair was over 40 years ago. It was the battle his father and grandfather fought (and lost, in his opinion).

And Enzo considered himself a 21st century professional.

"Are you sure this special customer of yours is coming? I don't think so" Antonio, who worked on the first chair, right next to his cleaned his tools for the next day.
"Yes, I don’t think so, either" Enzo laid against the back of his own leather chair and took off his glasses, they had a couple of smears, how come they always appeared on the same spot?
"I take back what I said" his colleague looked out of the window "I think that's your target over there".

It was then, at 7:12 p.m. that he appeared. Long, blond hair down to his shoulders. Most of it was hidden under a black NY Yankees baseball cap in waves. He held the door for a couple minutes open and laughed with some other kids his age as he waved them goodbye. He couldn’t be older than fifteen or sixteen at most.

Enzo caught the word ‘open’ and the questioning timber in his voice as he stepped in and he could only mutter and affirmative response with a nod and a forced smile. The boy replied with a smile of his own and removed his cap and let loose his glossy mane.

He fit the description Rod gave him perfectly.

This was Edward.

Antonio exchanged a glance with him. Enzo decided it was for the best if he retained his composure and acted casually about the whole deal. He put his cotton cape aside and motioned his client’s stepson towards his empty chair.

"Please take a seat, young man".

The teenager flashed him a smile and nodded. He ruffled his hair with his hand as he approached. Enzo felt like he was luring him into a trap, into an ambush and tried to stick to his usual approach.

"What can I do for you?" Enzo asked him.
"A trim, please" he gestured a length of about an inch with his index and thumb, all with that kind and gentle smile on his face.

Edward was so clueless.

"So, you like the Yankees, huh?" the barber gestured towards his baseball cap.
Enzo read a casual "yeah" in his lips.

His voice was strange though, it had a guttural, raspy ring to it, like he was talking through clenched teeth. He had mostly understood what he said based on his gesture and the movement of his lips.

Maybe, he had a speech impediment Rod didn’t mention to him.

For a chronic and recurring troublemaker, Rod’s stepson was very polite and very nice. In his leather chair, the teenager appeared relaxed, looking around with curiosity in his eyes.

This wasn’t playing out like he imagined in his mind at all. In his mental script, this was a scene of conflict and resistance and Edward was… well, a little s**t like his stepfather sometimes referred to him when he was fed up with something he did.

This pleasant, courteous and amicable Edward was out of character.

Maybe this was the manipulative behavior Rod warned him about. Maybe the kid was being sickly sweet on purpose to get on his good side.

He caught sight of that kind smile again.

It was working.

The scent of his shampoo and cologne clung to his nostrils as he wrapped the cape around him. Tones of a light, citric and fresh fragrance radiated from him. Rod's stepson clearly took care of his hair, it probably made girls head over heels for him. As far as Enzo could see, there weren't even split ends in it.

If he had ever had his hair cut with clippers, it looked like it had been long ago.

His mane was a marvelous golden color. The natural texture of the waves was something the ocean itself would envy. The shine had an ethereal glisten, like it belonged to a Norse God.

As he combed it, Enzo couldn’t help but think how good it would look gelled in a classic pompadour 50’s or 40’s style or even how an undercut, textured on top with scissors, and the sides and the back buzzed in a neat taper would bring out the full body and eye-catching highlights and undertones the kid’s hair had.

Enzo appreciated the sharp cleanliness of a professional military haircut like any other man of his craft, but he also believed it was his job to work around his customers' features. Not against them.

He reached out and grasped a lock softly in his hand, examined it and the dropped it again, it was weightless and silken.

Deep inside, Enzo felt guilt eating him up inside.

It truly was a shame, what was about to happen to that gorgeous hair.

He went to his counter and looked at his tools. He couldn’t bring himself to shave Edward like he was going to join the military for real. A fraction of an inch sounded short enough to him, he would barely have any of that glorious mane left.

Let the boot camp staff take care of the rest.

Against what Rod had commended him to do, Enzo put down the hair clippers, he finally decided on a scissors over comb freehand technique instead. He knew he could take it very close to the scalp like that and he thought the softer finish would suit him better.

He placed the comb on his scalp, at the very beginning of his hairline, and tightened his grip on the shears. He decided he would get through with what he knew would be the most traumatic part first. After all, Enzo De Rossi was a man of his word.

He asked St. Martin de Porres, the patron saint of the barbers to forgive him for the sin was about to commit, unworthy of his noble profession.

Swiftly, without giving it another thought, he raised the blades to his bangs and closed them around the sun colored strands.

The scissors made a dry, metallic sound that turned into a sick crunch as they met the teenager's hair and roughly nine or eight inches of blond hair tumbled down on the cape.

Enzo was then certain that his patron saint was looking down on him with disappointment, like he had forsaken his creed.

The boy was too stunned to say anything as the firsts locks fell.

"Mister..."
"I'm just following instructions, young man" he raked the comb through another section of his hair and repeated the motion. The severed clumps joined the rest on the teenager's lap silently.

Quickly, it began to pool in mounds on the floor. The chrome base of the chair was surrounded by it. It drew an ever-growing circle around it.

He thought he saw a tear run down Edward’s face as he finally processed what was going on. The boy tried to hide it with a blink, but the humid trail was still there. Enzo noticed he was overwhelmed and forced himself to keep working despite his silent protest and display of emotion.

He saw Antonio sitting on the chair next to his with his arms crossed, his eyes followed the motion of the falling locks and observed him work. The barber maintained a poker face as he pressed the blades against the comb and sheared off a thick and glossy lock of perfectly healthy hair.

As he snipped off more of his mane, the gold disappeared and on its place, was left a very short sandy blond velvet that spread across his scalp as the former pooled uselessly, like a discarded crown on the floor.

Edward didn't resist him. Resigned to what was happening and powerless to stop it, he let him toss his head from side to side, as he angled the blades and the comb against his scalp and cut off every single of his golden waves.

The locks slid against his face and caressed his cheekbones as they rained in a blur of gold.

After a couple minutes, Enzo drew his fine comb’s teeth into the last remaining long locks on his crown and in the blink of an eye, they departed from his head towards the floor.

The teenaged boy’s scalp was now covered by roughly close-cropped hair. Enzo flexed his wrist to relax his muscles and began using the comb and the scissors’ again, in search of his own inexactitude and longer patches where the hair surpassed the comb’s teeth. Shorter snips rained down everything he closed the blades.

Once he was satisfied, he put down the shears and replaced them with a trimmer. He glanced at Edward and saw him get startled by the noise of the machine. With the precision his years’ worth of experience had granted him, the barber tapered his back and sides with the aid of a comb, and then defined and squared the hairline and the arch behind the teenager’s ears.

He turned him away from the mirror and checked his hairline in it, making sure it wasn’t jagged, that he didn’t miss anything.

As reluctant as he was to do this, Enzo still couldn't help to feel a rush of pride at his own dexterity and handiwork. He had cropped Rod’s stepson hair very close to the scalp by his own hand, into a neat military style haircut, with the same precise and impeccable finish as if he had done it with his hair clippers.

With his brush, he cleaned and dusted the boy’s shoulders, face and neck from the tiny clippings that clung to him before removing his cape with a swift motion.

Mission. Accomplished.

"Thanks, mister" Edward muttered as he ran a hand across his head in disbelief. He had left about a ¼ of an inch of hair, maybe ½ on top where Enzo had left it a little longer.
"Nice work, Enzo" Antonio got up and looked at the kid, admiring by his colleague’s skill as he led the teenaged boy towards the cashier as he prepared to pay and secured his NY Yankees black cap in his hand "Where did you learn to do that?".
"That scissor over comb technique has been passed down for generations in the De Rossi family. I can teach you whenever you want, Tony" he opened and closed his fingers, relaxing his articulations from holding the shears.

It wasn’t a technique he used often, but he was rather fond of it. He studied the result of his work and despite his almost 50 years of age, Enzo recognized to himself that he still had it.

He glanced at the clock and began to sweep the hair. It was past his closing time, again. Enzo removed his glasses and massaged to bridge of his nose. He was relieved that the deed was done and that he was going to be able to head home and forget about the whole ordeal.

It was right then, when he heard the bell behind his door tinkling.

"I told you to be here after six!"

Wait.

Was that...?

"I don't give a single..." came a grunt, adolescent voice.

The door of his shop opened, and in the mirror, Enzo distinguished Rod Chambers' tall figure as he sprinted inside. His customer was tailed by a teenaged boy with an expression of utter contempt in his face and blond hair up in a messy bun.

"Enzo, this is Edward" the man pointed at the fair-haired teenager with an extended arm.

Wait.

If that was Edward, then who had he just...?

Enzo heard an incomprehensible mutter at his left. He felt his heart skip a beat. Slowly, he gathered courage to look back at the boy who had just left his chair holding in his hand a couple of bills in the Antonio's direction while smiling apologetically.

The paper of the bills was a blueish shade.

Those were not US dollars.

"Hey, Enzo" Antonio called him "This kid here is from Austria and he wants to pay for the haircut with euros, should I take them? What do I do?".

It dawned on him right then.

He had just butchered up the hair of an innocent Austrian kid who came to New York on vacation as a tourist.

And Roderick Chambers had just entered his shop with the boy whose hair he was supposed to cut, the right one.

So, that was why he had trouble understanding what the boy said.

He wanted to faint.

Never mind. Scratch that.

Enzo wanted to die of embarrassment. Of a heart attack. Right there. Right then.

He could die and then his eldest daughter could come from Italy for his funeral, grieve him for a couple weeks, sell his barbershop and move to Rome with all of the surviving members of the De Rossi clan and start a new life, where no one would know who he was.

That sounded right.

"Kid, I'm so sorry!" he jumped at him "I thought-!"
"Okay, okay" the boy just waved his hands in front of him with the same smile, through puffy and red eyes "Mein Englisch is nicht very good. I know das".
"I made a terrible mistake! I'm very sorry! It's on the house... Um, it's free, no cost, it’s zero, null!" he tried to explain him. The boy looked confused "Rod! You’re a polyglot! You speak German?"
"Yes" his friend replied "What's going on?"
"Tell this kid his haircut is free, and he doesn't have to pay, please!".

As Rod set the boy aside and exchanged a couple words in German and broken English, Enzo stared horrified at the shorn hair on the floor like it was evidence of a crime scene.

Yes. He didn't have doubts anymore.

His patron saint, St. Martin de Porres, probably just damned him to hell. He would die and when he met him at the pearly gates, he would just give him a cold, unforgiving look as he disowned him from his noble protection and blessing.

In his mind, he had a minute of silence in memory of the mane he just shredded.

"Hey, Enzo. I'm leaving" Antonio’s voice interrupted his trail of thought.
"Okay, Tony" he waved his colleague goodbye.
"Sorry for the delay, Enzo" Rod approached him "But Edward seemed to conveniently have forgotten about his appointment".
The teenager remained silent.
"It’s alright, Rod" he put his glasses on again and the world was in focus again.
"Can I pay you in advance?" his friend asked him "I have to rush back to the office for some documents and to the store to get some things".
"Don’t worry about it".
Roderick Chambers nodded and thanked the barber, then he addressed his stepson with a slight pat on the shoulder "You better behave while I’m gone, son".
"Don’t call me son" the teenager gave the man a scornful look.
"Don’t talk back to me" his faithful customer and friend fixed his hard, dark eyes on his wife’s son "Get him ready for boot camp, Enzo".

Before the barber could say anything in response. The dry sound metronome-like sound of clapping reached his ears. Both men turned to see the fair-haired teenager hitting his palms against each other in a slow, methodic beat with an absolute deadpan expression on his face.

"Oh, I'm sorry" Edward stopped clapping and gave him a half shrug "I just thought I have you give you one for the dramatic execution of this unexpected reveal. Clearly you really spent time scripting this" he added in a sarcastic hostility.

The nerve of that boy.

At least once, Rod had described him as a smartass. Apparently, he was right.

"How did you…?".
"Really? You thought I didn't know?" Edward said "You think I didn’t hear you talking on the phone the other day?" the teenager crossed his arms "I’m not stupid, Rod".
"No, that’s very clear, you’re such a smartass, you put in danger your chances to get a scholarship because some punk offered you money to steal from a teacher" his stepfather turned on him.
"Would you stop acting like I was expelled?".
"You could have been expelled, son!".
"I’m not your son!" the teenager spat back.
"And you should be grateful I’m not the deadbeat of your dad!" Rod yelled back "It should be him dealing with your recklessness and your smartassery, not me. But I guess it’s easier to parent through postcards, only once a year, when he remembers you exist".
Now the fair-haired boy’s face twisted in rage "Don’t you talk about my dad!".
"Rod" before he lunged forward to the kid, Enzo grabbed his friend by the arm to stop him "Quit it".
"I leave him in your hands, Enzo" Roderick Chambers turned towards the door and then spoke to his stepson "I’ll be back in a while".

And so, Rod left his stepson at his mercy.

He looked at the teenager. He was quite good-looking, like his mother. He wore a navy-blue hoodie with a white t-shirt underneath and most of his blond hair was up in a messy bun, with some strands loose on his nape touching the base of his neck. He guessed he was sixteen at most. He looked like he would be taller than Rod when he was older.

Now that the two of them were alone, he figured it could be a chance for him to properly introduce himself.

"Vincenzo De Rossi, pleased to meet you. You can call me Enzo" he offered him his hand, the teenager ignored it "Rod always talks about you".
"I'm thrilled" he rolled his eyes.
"You might want to take your hoodie off" Enzo instructed him as he marched towards his work station.
Underneath his breath, he heard the teenager mutter curses and insults while he did as told with resignation.

Though he was never going to see him again, Enzo felt he already missed the Austrian kid he just had on his chair and his soft, kind smile.

Yeah, he wished that had been Edward.

He would have to use his hair clippers this time.





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