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Capital Gains by Jay

As Ian strutted out of Brooks Brothers with a suit bag flung over his left shoulder and two enormous shopping bags harnessed to his right arm this ferocious artic blast greeted him. Nothing, not even the minus seventeen wind chill could ruin this moment. It probably would have been a good idea to have zipped up his jacket and put on his gloves prior to leaving the store, but then Ian wasn’t the cautious type, which was probably why he had landed this sweet job at one of the primo brokerage firms in the city less than two weeks after finishing his MBA. Not one other person he knew from NorthWestern had even scored an interview yet. The few people out scurried past him, heads down, struggling to fight the gusts off Lake Michigan, while Ian lingered at one of the big windows at Neiman’s checking himself out. He looked great, like always, confident and self-assured, standing there with his jacket flapping violently in the wind and his head uncovered. Actually, he didn’t even own a hat, as the idea of actually wearing one and showing up anywhere with his hair looking less than perfect far outweighed his need to stay warm. Anyway, that afternoon, he was way too high to even give the cold a second thought.

As he neared the sixty-seventh floor Ian draped his topcoat over his forearm and adjusted his tie one last time before emerging from the elevator. Many people would have been nervous about starting a new job, but not Ian, he approached it like he did everything, cool, collected and in charge. He had been told more than once that navy was his best color, so it was no coincidence that he had chosen the navy pin-stripe suit for his first day. It had been tailored to absolute perfection to accentuate his broad shoulders, slim waist, and long, lean frame.

`McPherson, O’Donnell, Murphy and Oziemkowski.` While continuing her phone conversation the receptionist glanced up at Ian, and like most women and many men, once she glimpsed those deep, blue eyes and that dark, wavy hair was completely seduced. It happened so often that Ian barely noticed it anymore, and that morning his mind was definitely on other things. Oziemkowski, that’s the guy he wanted to steer clear of. Although he had never met him word around town was that he was a tough old geezer, pretty much a my-way-or-the-highway-kind-of-guy.

`Ian, Ian Hayes. I’m. .`

`Ian?` She knew she was staring, but it was hard not to. He had an amazing presence, real style and movie star good looks sort of like John Kennedy, Jr. `You’re Ian Hayes?` Her noticeable gasp was followed by a school-girl giggle, `w-welcome. Welcome to McPherson, O’Don. . . I mean, I’m sorry, I-Ian, I mean, Mr. Hayes. I’ll get Mr. Oziemkowski for you right away, Sir. He’s been waiting, I mean, he’s expecting you. He said to get him when you got here.`

Oziemkowski? Ian’s souring spirits took a quick nosedive as he smiled his most winning smile and shook his new boss’s hand then followed him through the compound of cubicles to a spacious corner office. The impressive glass line consumed two full walls, twenty feet of unobstructed views of historic Chicago in alternate directions. Mr. Oziemkowski, Phil, was completely bald, stout, and all business. By Ian’s calculations the old guy was in his mid to late seventies, maybe early eighties. Although Ian knew, all things considered, Oziemkowski might be a slight challenge, he figured, in his capable hands, he could probably win him over before the end of day one. After taking his place behind this battle ship of a desk the man in charge motioned for his new recruit to sit, then began the indoctrination rundown he had obviously presented countless times before. Within twenty minutes Ian was being ushered to his very own cubicle, without windows, and introduced to the other three occupants. They barely stirred from their computers.

`You, um,` Phil Oziemkowski pointed at the one who appeared to be the youngest in the trio, `Wilson?`

The man hesitantly spun around in his chair and adjusted his glasses, `Walker, Sir.`

`Right. Take care’a um.`

`Hayes, Sir.`

`Of course, Ian here and bring’im up t’speed on the Brackett account.` Phil nodded his head in the general direction of Ian and almost smiled while backing out of the cramped space. Before he was completely out of sight he promised to meet with Ian again right after lunch. Anxious to impress, Ian skipped lunch and poured over the files for the next four and a half hours.

At precisely one o’clock Mr. Oziemkowski reappeared just as promised and led Ian back to the corner office. Very impressively the novice rattled off a few statistics pertinent to the Bracket portfolio.

`Ian, my boy, I have high hopes for you.` The voice was completely different from that morning and his manner was relaxed and friendly as he took a seat on the same side of the desk as his heir apparent and rested his hand on the young man’s knee. `I gotta tell’ya, normally I would have one of my more senior account execs run this over t’the client, but as I was sayin’, I have high hopes for you, and I’m pretty confident that Brackett is gonna take a liking t’you.`

Ian smiled eagerly, `I appreciate your confidence in me, Sir, and you can rest assured that I won’t disappoint you.`

Even though he had just met Ian a few hours ago, Phil knew he had made the right decision, but that didn’t deter him from going into a pretty lengthy explanation of where Ian was to go and how he was to approach his first official assignment. Ian looked intent stroking his strong jaw line and continuously nodding as his new boss rambled on. The mission was quite basic, but Phil repeated the instructions at least half a dozen times. `Make certain you deliver this package to Mr. Brackett personally. Wait for him to sign the papers. Bring the signed and dated documents back here to me.` Intermittently, the old man began reminiscing about days gone by when he was Ian’s age and sent out to do these kinds of routine errands himself. Within no time he was telling him about how he had raised his family just a couple of blocks from Brackett’s place, and how they used to go to the same church and all, and how that was the way he had landed this account. As he was jabbering on about this great bakery in the old neighborhood, he glanced down at his Rolex, `ah, two-forty-five? Cripes, I, um, you gotta get goin’, son. Geese, by the time you get up there, ah, just deliver the papers and take the rest’a the day off.` He laughed, `and don’t loose the goddamm docs, and don’t forget t’bring ‘em back in the morning.` Ian smiled his intoxicating smile and continued nodding. `Yeah, Brackett’s gonna like you a whole lot, my boy.`

With his new Coach brief case tucked under his arm Ian hustled back to the lobby and enthusiastically punched the down button. While waiting for the elevator he noticed the receptionist wink at him just as he heard Oziemkowski rambunctiously call his name. The doors opened and Ian stood between them waiting for the man he was pretty confident he had already won over. This time he was succinct, `there’s this great barbershop up there, right down the street from the el stop. I want’ya t’try it out, and ask for Rudy, you gotta get Rudy, and tell’im I sent’ya. He’ll fix’ya up real fine. And tell’im t’send me the bill here, okay?` He tucked a business card inside Ian’s breast pocket and socked him in the arm, `Brackett’s really gonna like’ya. And so is Rudy.` He shook his head and grinned as he walked away, `and tell that bastard t’take care a’ya just like you were my own kid.`

Standing on the platform with his hands hugging his ears, it occurred to Ian that perhaps it was time to stop being so vain and invest in a winter hat, however, as he beamed into the train window admiring himself he made a pact to hold off until at least next year. Oziemkowski’s directions were fresh in Ian’s head as he made his way down the stairs and back out into the cold. The barbershop was right there, just like promised and so was the bakery. That afternoon, Ian scurried along, head down, clutching his briefcase as the prickly snow beat against his frozen face. Before grabbing the doorknocker he took the time to shake the wet snow out of his hair and slide his gloves into his topcoat pockets.

The heavy door creaked open. Ian smiled cordially and introduced himself prior to handing the surprisingly young, very good-looking man his wet things. As he thawed out his eyes whirled around the foyer taking in every detail of the ornately furnished room before being escorted into the library. The walls were lined, floor to ceiling, with an impressive collection of antique books. A gaunt, gentleman, even older than his new boss, who was wearing an ascot and flamboyant smoking jacket, greeted Ian. Somehow he appeared almost lost in time, `James, James Brackett.` He extended his withered hand as if he expected his guest to bow and then kiss it. `I trust you must be Ian? Phillip told me that you would be dropping by. With the weather being so inclement, I feared you might just vanish in the storm and never make it here at all.` As they took their places on the chesterfield close to the crackling fire and Mr. Brackett began pouring tea, Ian astutely put it all together, and understood why he had been selected for this specific assignment. It wasn’t long before Mr. Brackett was nipping at the sherry and regaling the impeccably groomed man sitting next to him with tales of his first crossing on the QE II and the shenanigans with some dapper ensign he had had the good fortune to encounter.

While securing the papers safely inside his brief case Ian assured his boss’s oldest and most prestigious client that he would get them right into Mr. Oziemkowski’s hands first thing in the morning. Then he bundled up again. Dashing past the bakery he decided it was probably prudent to pop in and pick up a couple of kolaczki, the ones Oziemkowski loved, before checking out this barbershop down the street.

From out on the sidewalk Ian shielded his eyes and peered inside. A guy about Phil’s age was sitting in the barber chair working a crossword and another man, equally as old, was sweeping up, otherwise the place was completely deserted. The shop looked sort of shabby, certainly not the kind of place someone as stylish as Ian was accustomed to frequenting. Instead of going in Ian bolted and trekked up the street and began charging up the steps to the el. Half way up he abruptly turned around and headed back to the barbershop figuring Oziemkowski was expecting him to show up with some kind of a haircut the next day and tell him all about what a great barber Rudy was. If he showed up without a haircut, the big guy was sure to notice and probably hold it against him. While shoving the door open he tried to convince himself that Rudy would probably be able to trim his hair up a little without doing too much damage. Cold air blasted inside the small shop as the man relinquished his chair and grabbed the cutting cape.

`Ah, you Rudy?`

The old guy’s smile bordered on sinister as he stared at Ian’s thick head of hair.

`Cool. Phil Oziemkowski recommended you, said I should stop by and that you’d fix me up, um,` Ian sort of chuckled, `real fine. I got his business card here. Told me to have you send him the bill. His treat. And he said to tell you to take extra special care of me, just like I was his own kid.`

`Gosh, Phil, Phil Oziemkowski. Haven’t seen that old coot in, whoa, um, gee must be the better side’a twenty years. Use’ta cut his boy’s hair too. What was that rascal’s name, Bobby? Yeah, them was the good old days, huh? What’s your name there, young fella’?`

Ian introduced himself and climbed up in the chair.

`So you Phil’s grandkid or somethin’?` He didn’t wait for Ian to answer just grabbed a pair of clippers and ripped off the attachment while asserting that any grandkid of Phil’s was like family to him. Ian figured it wasn’t worth trying to explain his actual connection to Phil and just went along with what the barber wanted to believe.

`Now, just a light trim today, okay, Rudy? I’m talking less than an inch. Barely noticeable, understand? `

`I knowed your granddad since we was young pups. Real smart man. And I know just what your granddad expects here, young fella. Like I was sayin’, cut Phil’s boy’s hair, what was that rascal’s name, Billy, or was it, ummmm, right on the tip a’my tongue, anyways, cut the kid’s hair ev’ry other Saturday for easy fifteen years. Let’s just say, I know what the old man likes.` His voice trailed off as the clippers began buzzing. Ian tried to turn his head but Rudy grabbed it and held it as tightly as he could while he glided the cold metal blade up the back of the handsome, young man’s head. Luxurious, dark, wavy hair scattered to the floor. He took another swipe. Ian began squirming in the chair, `listen here, young fella’, you need’t sit still. I’ll have ya’spruced up in a couple’a minutes.`

He swiped again, `hey, look, man, I’m not Phil’s kid or grandkid, okay, I only work for the guy. And I just want a light trim, got it? You’re making me a little nervous with the clippers there. Why don’t we just stick to the scissors, okay? Just scissors. All I want is a light trim. Light, less than an inch. Barely discernible.`

`Right. Whatever you say there, son. So you work for Phil. Bet he keeps you in line, huh, young fella’? Time was back when Phil’s boy use’ta come here, hmm, must’a been back there in the sixties, anyways, that boy was just like you, never wantin’ a real haircut. Still, just the same, the old man was payin’ for it, and I knew where my bread was buttered, if you get what I mean. Always meant a big tip when I seen him next time.` He swiped at Ian’s head this time removing his left sideburn and a substantial clump of hair around the ear. More of Ian’s precious mane waltzed to the floor. Rudy grabbed Ian’s head again and steadied it then cleared another wide swatch.

Ian bolted out of the chair, `What the F***!`

`Lemme just say there, young fella’, you wanna make Phil Oziemkowski happy, just get back in the chair and lemme finish up. I know what he’s ‘spectin’.` Ian stood staring in disbelief at his asymmetrical haircut running his fingers over the shaved patch. `Ya’can’t leave here looking like that, son. Trust me, I know what I’m doin’ here.` After a little more coercing a very reluctant Ian finally gave in and slumped back down into the chair. `Need t’sit up nice and straight there, son, if’n you want me to get this right.` Soon both sides of Ian’s head were clipped clean. The barber cautioned him, `now y’gotta sit extra still for this part less I screw it up and then, I’m just gonna have’ta give’ya a baldy.` Ian sat as still as he possibly could as the clippers plopped down, right at the apex of his head and plowed straight forward. `Nice. This is gonna be real fine. Your granddad, hmm, nope, you say he’s your boss, anyhow, Phil’s gonna be so proud a’you, boy, when he gets a looks at this nice haircut.`

Ian winced but sat just as still while he watched the scissors chop away at the hair cascading across his forehead. When Rudy started rubbing some kind of goop across the top of his head and began combing what was left of his hair, Ian figured things were coming to a conclusion, that was until Rudy flipped the clippers back on and began sliding them back and forth across the comb. The further back they traveled, the closer the comb got to his scalp, but even as he felt shivers rushing up and down his spine he remained perfectly still. This horrible sinking sensation overcame him when Rudy finally turned off the clippers and slowly spun him around to inspect the haircut.

`Shaved sides n’back, just like the old man likes, huh, young fella’?`

It was even worse than Ian had imagined. Not even the remnant of a sideburn remained, absolutely nothing, no hair, right down to the skin all the way up to the crown. Rudy proudly patted the perfectly sculpted hedge rounding the front, `still give the best darn flattop in town, even after all these years.`

When Ian crept back outside it was already dark. The bitter wind pummeling his bare scalp actually stung. For the first time in his entire life he wished he had a nice, warm cap lurking in his coat pocket. All night long he tossed and turned rubbing his head, feeling sicker and sicker. Despondently, he stumbled toward the bathroom mirror over an d over again trying to believe that this whole thing was just a ridiculous nightmare, and when he got there and saw his reflection this time, he would feast his deep, blue eyes on his beautiful, dark, wavy hair restored and looking more glorious than ever. But each time he flipped on the light all he saw was his perfect face superimposed around a 1950’s style flattop. About all he could think about was that absolutely no one at McPherson, O’Donnell, Murphy and Oziemkowski actually knew him yet, and so, everybody would just assume that the new guy was this absolutely wacked out, nerdie geek with a creepy, freakishly short flattop.

Prior to leaving his apartment he pulled the wool beanie he had bought on his way home the night before tightly down over his ears, figuring that the short ring of stubble on the front of his head was pretty much indomitable and would look pretty much the same no matter how he tried to subjugate it. As he brushed by the receptionist’s station, with his head still covered, she called after him. He waved toward her, `Ian, remember?` Just as he got to his cubicle he spotted Mr. Oziemkowski ambling toward him. Ian efficiently opened his briefcase and handed his superior the signed and dated documents.

`Good boy. How was Brackett?`

`Good, good, Sir. Nice man, very gracious.`


`And, I spent over an hour with him.`

`An hour. James must’a taken quite a shinin’ t’you, huh? Good lookin’ boy like you. I knew he would.`

Even though Ian felt incredibly self-conscious he realized that he had to eventually get over it; this wasn’t like some way hip West Loop art gallery where he could get away with wearing his beanie until his hair grew back in. First, he took his topcoat off and draped it over the back of his chair, then very, very, ever so slowly, he peeled away the cap.

`Ahhh, so you saw my old buddy, Rudy. See he took good care’a you.` The old man couldn’t resist rubbing his hand across the front of Ian’s bristly head, then up and down the shaved back, `good man, Rudy. Time was, use’ta keep mine like that, back when I had hair. My kid’s too. Gosh, he hated it. But I always said, son, you gotta look sharp if your gonna make it in the business world. Turns out, he’s a lifer in the Peace Corps. Don’t think he’s had a haircut since I stopped makin’ im.` Quizzically, Ian zipped his hand up the side of his head.

While his three cellmates were still staring at his extreme flattop Ian grabbed the sack of kolaczki and dangled it in front of Mr. Oziemkowski round, rosy cheeks. His eyes lit up as he peered inside. `Ian, my boy,` he wrapped his arm tightly around the young man’s shoulder, `you remind me’a lotta myself when I was a young whippersnapper. Why don’t y’grab your coat and briefcase there, and join me up front. We need’ta talk then get you set up in a more comfortable office. That Rudy still gives a darn good flattop, looks real good on you, professional, and my boy, you are gonna really get into it come summer. Nice n’cool. Nothin’ like it.

There was a smug look on Rudy’s face when he saw Ian hop out of a new Jag he had parked right in front of the barbershop. As Ian bounded through the door Rudy crossed his arms and nodded his head, `just like I told’ya, young fella’, I know what the old man likes.`

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