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This story is dedicated to the memory of Krysha, who loved a good laugh. Rest in peace dear friend, With love, Sean and Sabrina

The Witches of East Zurich by Sean O'Hare and Sabrina S.

Prologue

The girl sat uneasily in the darkened basement. This was the oddest slide night she'd ever been to. So much for "Come and see pictures of my trip to Greece"; the pictures must be pretty bad to warrant the ropes tying her hands and feet to the chair!

Her name was Heidi. She was 16, and the closest she'd come to sleeping with a man was a frantic necking session with a drunken boyfriend in the back seat of an ancient Beamer, which ended abruptly with the boyfriend passing out cold as he was unzipping his fly. With the long sheaves of red hair flowing down her back she looked closer to fourteen.

She took in her surroundings. The walls were painted an unnameable dark colour, and stars had been painted on the ceiling. Painted onto the floor around her chair was a five-pointed star which glowed in the light of dozens of candles. Something that looked like a punch bowl was bubbling over a gas burner. There was no sign of a slide projector.

The girl who'd invited her here was someone she met at a party. Heidi couldn't remember her name then noticed she was wearing a badge pinned to the hairdresser's cape she wore: "My name is Haircutty." She even LOOKED different tonight but that could have been the latex grinning Jim Carrey mask she was wearing under the tall, pointy hat.

"Have a drink," offered Ms Jim Carrey aka Haircutty, and pressed a glass of pale, milky liquid to Heidi's lips.

Heidi took a sip and pulled a face. "Erk! What is it?"

"Only ouzo and water," lied Haircutty, not bothering to mention the crushed up sleeping tablets. "It'll get you in the mood for... er... my holiday snaps."

"You didn't say it was fancy dress tonight," Heidi pointed out, gulping down the last of the ouzo with a grimace.

Before Haircutty could reply, Heidi had fallen asleep, her head resting against the back of the chair and her hair lying in a scarlet waterfall over her shoulders.

The other girl breathed unsteadily inside the Jim Carrey mask. God, that hair! Look at it! Rich, red and long!

She began to chant in a language nobody had ever heard of. This was Switzerland, land of three languages plus English, and dialects abounded. But the ancient tongue the girl spoke in predated English, French, German and Italian. It had been rather bastardised to incorporate a few modern words necessary to Haircutty's needs and requirements, and translated as:

"Schwarzkopf, Redken, Delva and Matrix,
In my head this idea will fix,
Take the scissors and start to lop,
Turn my hair into a short red crop!"

With that Haircutty brushed all the long hair to the back of Heidi's head, and held it tightly in a ponytail. She spoke the chant again, this time taking a big pair of scissors from the pocket of her black smock and severing the ponytail at its base. CRUNNNNNCCHHHH! SKKKKRRIIIIIIKKKKK!

Heidi's sleeping head rocked back and forth as the witch in the Jim Carrey mask sawed through her thick hair. By the time the ponytail was set free, her arms were aching from the effort.

The witch repeated the chant as she dropped the severed ponytail into the bubbling punch bowl; it hissed and spat and gurgled as the chemicals in the concoction ravaged the hair and dissolved it into particles.

Heidi's head was a mess, all ragged ends where the ponytail had been cut off. The witch picked up a pair of clippers, and set the number two guide onto them. With one hand she held Heidi's head upright, and with the other began to clip away the hair at Heidi's nape, murmuring the chant over and over.

Heidi's hair had hung almost to her waist. Now Haircutty nosed the clippers at her hairline, and pushed them up, reducing the hair to a rich red velvet pelt up to her occipital bone. She watched with satisfaction as the hair fell away and Heidi's elegant hairline was revealed. Gently she stroked the hair she'd clippered away at the back of the girl's head, and shuddered in pleasure. Now for the sides. She held the top of Heidi's head firmly and guided the humming blades in front of the teenager's ear so that the hair that nuzzled her cheek was severed to a neat quarter inch. She clipped up behind the teenager's ears and with a flourish drew the clippers away from her head for the last time. Heidi's hair had been nibbled off to a tapered short back and sides.

Now to tidy up the hair on top! Haircutty wet Heidi's hair with a special potion, and carefully began to cut it into some semblance of style with comb and scissors, blending it into the clippered nape and texturing the top, cutting it short above the girl's neat, pointed ears. Having a sleeping subject wasn't the easiest way to cut hair, but the witch did a creditable job. Fifteen minutes later the floor inside the painted star was covered in clippings, and Heidi wore a boyish crop with a short fringe that revealed most of her forehead.

She scooped up the hair clippings and dropped them into the punch bowl with satisfaction. "Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Hair meets liquid, liquid meets hair. I feel a red crop in the air!"

Now the only thing to do was to get Heidi well away from the secret room before she woke up and discovered her haircut.

Haircutty put her arms around Heidi and tried to lift. "Bugger!" she muttered. "She's heavy! I thought I'd thought of EVERYTHING!"

 

Chapter One

The citizens of Zurich were a law-abiding lot on the whole, and Miss Jacqueline Marple looked with satisfaction from the window of her hotel room as people crossed the road not only when the appropriate light turned green, but between the lines as well. Such rigidity appealed to her meticulous nature.

"One would never see that in England," murmured Miss Marple, turning from the window and preparing to arrange her long, straight mouse-brown hair into its regulation chignon.

Eschewing the beaches of the southern hemisphere, where one might get an unseemly suntan, Miss Marple had chosen to take her annual holiday, away from her home town of Arthritis-on-Sea, in Switzerland. It was winter, and Zurich was at its picture postcard best, snow clinging to the steeply peaked roofs and clustering at the sides of the streets.

Miss Marple brushed her hair one hundred times with her trusty Mason Pearson pure bristle hairbrush, and inspected the ends.

"Oh dear," she muttered, "I should have had my trim before I went away!"

Miss Marple had taken her holiday in rather a rush this year. It was really a recovery from a broken heart. She was thirty-eight, attractive in a strict, schoolmarmish way, with an excellent body she kept hidden under dreadful tweedy suits. The man who'd got under her skin and into her M&S knickers was an accountant, Colin, a meek, mild, anal retentive with coke bottle glasses and thin, wispy receding hair. Miss Marple had fallen for his personality. Any man who could quote so freely and accurately from the VAT laws had her undying love and admiration.

She sighed, reliving again the awful moment of the break up.

"My dear," Colin had said sadly, "I have to confess I can't marry you with the awful cloud of your unknown parentage hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles. To say nothing of the fact that your mother was unmarried. It's frightfully shameful. How will I ever explain it to Mother?"

"Your mother is dead," Miss Marple had pointed out.

"Yes, well, but there's always the afterlife. There she'll be, waiting for me at the Pearly Gates demanding an explanation."

Miss Marple pondered this as she began to pull her long hair tightly back from her face, tugging it so hard it pulled the skin around her eyes until she looked Japanese. Was this conversation the subconscious reason she'd chosen Zurich as her escape?

Her mother was a notable amateur detective: Miss Jane Marple. Back in the dark ages she'd had a fling with a French-speaking Swiss policeman, and had mysteriously disappeared for several months, returning to England with baby Jacqueline in her arms as her "adopted" daughter. Her mother had, sadly, died the year before, leaving her daughter with only one clue as to who her father might be, gasping on her death bed, "Seek the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein and you will find." Miss Marple had inherited her mother's inquisitive nature. She presumed she'd inherited her clumsiness and occasionally peculiar speech pattern from her unknown father.

She made a decision there and then, in front of the mirror: she'd find out who her father was, and she'd win back Colin's heart!

Miss Marple smiled at the thought, and promptly stabbed her hand with a hairpin.

When she'd mopped up the blood, she popped on her shapeless brown overcoat and equally shapeless brown hat, and headed into the icy air to explore Zurich.

Around her swam a polyglot of languages, with German dominant. Miss Marple didn't know much German apart from sniggering as a schoolgirl when she heard that 'exit' in German is Ausfahrt.

People rushed busily past on their way to work, sober businessmen in dark suits, the women colourful, as if dressing brightly could ward off the cold. In fact, the women in their twenties and thirties weren't at all what Miss Marple had expected. She thought Swiss women would dress very conservatively, like herself, but to her surprise they skittered along the icy footpaths in mini skirts, often hatless, many of them sporting very short cropped hair and cold pink ears.

As she watched, a woman in her early twenties stepped happily out of what appeared to be a hair salon, running her fingers through a newly-cut, bright red crop with a shaved nape. Tugging her collar around her neck, indicating her hair had been a lot longer before she walked into the salon, the woman strode briskly away, her hair shining like a beacon against the grey winter sky.

Miss Marple headed for the nearest café, longing for a nice cup of tea. She had to settle for a strong coffee and the daily newspaper. In the English language section a story caught her eye:

'MYSTERY HAIRCUT FOR TEENAGER

Sixteen year old Heidi Baumgartel accepted an invitation to a slide night, but before she could see pictures of a Greek holiday she was drugged and her long red hair cut off.

Heidi was found by a policeman in the early hours of this morning. She had been dumped, asleep, into a shopping trolley, which had been stolen from a supermarket. The trolley was parked illegally in a no standing zone. The policeman woke Heidi to issue her with a parking fine and she told her tale of woe.

"I'd met this woman, Haircutty, at a party and she invited me to see her holiday slides. I've never been to Greece and I was looking forward to it. I met her at a café and she blindfolded me and took me in her car, as she said it would add to the surprise. I have no idea where she took me, but she tied me to a chair in a darkened room. I began to worry in case the slides were so bad that people didn't want to stay and watch them. Then she gave me some ouzo and the next thing I knew the policeman was waking me and all my hair had been cut short. I rather like the style actually, I'd never considered a clippered nape before."

Police are trying to track the woman who invited Heidi to the slide night. Inspector Clouseau of Zurich Police issued the following description: "She is known as Haircutty, is described of being of unknown age with a face identical to that of movie actor Jim Carrey. She was last seen wearing a tall, pointy hat."

Heidi has been charged with stealing a shopping trolley and also with underage drinking.

Police advise citizens to be wary of invitations to slide nights. They also advise there are severe penalties for stealing shopping trolleys.'

"Another short red haircut," murmured Miss Marple to herself over the scalding hot coffee.

 

Chapter Two

"Auntie Jackie!" exclaimed the tall, blonde woman as she entered the restaurant. Without waiting to be shown the table she marched across the floor and, before Miss Marple could stand, she was in a great bear-hug of an embrace which literally knocked the air out of her and prevented her speaking.

After what seemed an eternity the grip was relaxed. "Hello Hildegarde, it's very nice to see you again after such a long time." Miss Marple began to relax, patting her chignon and smoothing the dark brown, tweed skirt, and felt composed once more after this rather unseemly display.

Hilde wasn't really her niece of course. She was the daughter of a Swiss friend of her mother's. Indeed there wasn't that much of an age difference, perhaps only five years. However the difference in appearance was striking. Hilde was tall and well built - certainly a little heavier than when younger but she carried it well - and had her long, glossy white-blonde hair flowing down over her shoulders and down her back. With her elegant cream trouser suit, the contrast with Miss Marple's somewhat frumpy appearance couldn't be more marked.

They had arranged to meet for lunch to talk over old times, and the plan was then for Hilde to spend some time showing her around the city over the next few days. Lunch indeed! It wasn't quite Miss Marple's idea of lunch to spear pieces of bread, dunk them in rather unpalatable hot cheese and place them in her mouth, burning her tongue in the process.

"I don't understand why we can't just have a nice piece of Welsh Rarebit. A nice slice of toast with the cheese already melted as we used to have in Deirdre's Tea Shop when you visited me. Much more sensible."

"But Auntie Jackie," her interjection was met by an admonishing stare. "Sorry, Aunt Jacqueline, cheese fondue is traditional. This restaurant is one of the oldest in the world to serve it."

"And by the smell, they are still using the same cheese. What can't they use cheddar like normal people?"

"Aunt Jacqueline, I..." but her continuing defence was cut short. Yet another piece of bread had fallen off the end of Miss Marple's fork into the cauldron of cheese. Being the last she had, she leant forward and attempted to fish it out but inadvertently allowed her napkin to touch the warming flame starting a minor conflagration.

"Oh dear, how clumsy of me." Quite unhurried she picked up the glass of mineral water she had been sipping and emptied it over the flames, quickly extinguishing them. "There, no need to panic," she said smugly.

Unfortunately as she put down the glass the sleeve of her jacket caught the handle of the fork and, like a see-saw, sent a projectile of steaming cheese in the general direction of the waiter. SPLAT!

"Oh dear. Well perhaps I've had enough to eat." The waiter steamed over, but seeing the meek-looking Miss Marple his temper cooled. "Such a shame you use those oily cheeses, English Cheddar would not have stained your cleothes."

The waiter stopped in his tracks with his expression of rage replace by a quizzical look. "My cleothes? What do you mean, madam?"

"Your jacket. Les vêtements. They will be stained."

"Ah, my clothes!"

"Yes, yes, that is what I have been saying, you idiot. Now, Hildegarde, please could you settle the bill. I need to use the cloakroom and I shall meet you in the foyer."

As they met in the foyer, Hilde's face held an expression of sorrow. "Auntie Jacqueline I'm so sorry but I can't take you on the tour of the city this afternoon. I completely forgot I have to go to the hairdresser's, which is odd as I've been waiting for ages for an appointment. It's a fairly new place and has already built up a great reputation. I don't want to miss the appointment."

"Don't worry, Hildegarde, it's not a problem. But I do hope you're not having anything extreme performed on that beautiful hair of yours." In Miss Marple's book, cutting off an inch when half an inch would have been quite sufficient would be classified as extreme.

"No, of course not. Just the ends trimmed a little, and a few layers around the face." Miss Marple visibly winced at the word 'layers'. "A shampoo and trim will not take long. If you don't mind delaying our tour, then you could wait for me at the salon."

"Yes, that will be quite satisfactory. I shall ask to have my ends trimmed also as I didn't have time to visit Ethel before I left England."

"Well I'm not sure if they'll have room to fit you in." And there was the unvoiced thought that Hair Magique was hardly the place where women like her Aunt would go for a trim. "I've waited weeks for my appointment. They are very popular."

"Nonsense, I only want a trim."

So, they walked briskly away from the restaurant, past a large church and down the narrow cobbled streets of the old town before reaching an imposing building on the corner of two streets which opened onto a small square. It was an old building but had been substantially modernised with large plate glass windows in which hung large posters of the latest fashionable styles. A large sign above the doors had large silver letters proclaiming 'Hair Magique'. Miss Marple took it all in and idly wondered why they had taken down the net curtains from the windows in the middle of the week when Ethel always managed to rinse them through on a Sunday.

They entered without a pause, Hilde realising she was only just going to make her appointed time.

"Bonjour, mademoiselle. My name is Christina. How may I help you." The girl at the reception desk was beautifully made up, her eyeshadow enhancing her green eyes and her lips a copper colour that matched her straight, shoulder-length bob.

"Bonjour Christina. My name is Hildegarde Schmidt. I have an appointment."

"Ah oui, you are a little late. Please go straight through there. Fwitz is waiting for you."

"See you shortly Auntie," and with a wave Hilde marched to the back of the salon and was soon seated at the backwash where her hair was shampooed.

Miss Marple nodded and, once she had seen Hilde taken care of, she walked up to the desk. Christina looked at the strange lump fixed to the back of this middle-aged woman's head and the odd clothes, and stifled a giggle. She looked very out place in the salon. Perhaps she had come for the cleaning job.

Miss Marple leant against the odd, plinth like desk on which was placed the appointment book. The receptionist lorded over it on a high stool, with pen poised, and legs elegantly crossed showing delicate ankles that barely looked able to support her weight.

"Bonjour, madame. My name is Christina. How may... OW!" Miss Marple leant slightly too hard on the flimsy disk which began to topple. She stopped it, but not before the large appointment book had tumbled into the receptionist's lap causing her to fall off her high horse, er, chair. Oh, why am I so clumsy Miss Marple thought... not for the first time.

Christina regained her composure, her seat and her appointment book in one fluid motion. "How may I help you?" she asked professionally, holding the appointment book securely onto the desk.

"Hello. I wonder if you have rheum in your busy schedule to give me a little trim," she said, still slightly flustered.

"Pardon, I do not understand what you mean by rheum," replied Christina.

"Une appointement! Pour ma cheval." She removed her hat, pointing to her piled up hair. This was going from bad to worse.

Christina burst out laughing. She couldn't help herself. She wanted to say that we don't normally deal with horses, but we could manage a pony's tail. But she didn't. "An appointment. Oh, you were asking if I had room in my schedule!"

"Yes, that is what I have been saying you idiot," said Miss Marple, still feeling rather self-conscious.

"No I'm sorry, not today. However there has been a cancellation tomorrow if you could return at 8.30 tomorrow morning. Otherwise it will have to be next week."

"Tomorrow morning will be fine, thank you Miss. I shall now wait for my friend." Miss Marple looked around for somewhere to sit. The receptionist waved expansively to the odd leather and chrome sculptures in the window. She lowered herself into one and found it surprisingly comfortable.

She looked around the salon, taking in the details of the décor. It was actually quite nice. Nice and airy and spacious, and without that smell of perming lotion that permeated Ethel's Parlour de Beauty.

She did wonder about some of the staff, though. One of the stylists was dressed head to foot in black, her eyes heavily kohled and her lips and fingernails the colour of a black pansy. Her hair was black too, and hung around her shoulders. She was attending to a young woman in the first styling station, cutting her already short red hair even shorter.

"That's looking nice, Krystal," the client was saying as her ears were revealed by black-clad Krystal's flying scissors. Miss Marple raised her eyebrows. Really, what woman would choose to have a haircut like a boy's?

She looked past Krystal to the back of the salon to see how soon it was likely to be before Hildegarde was ready. She couldn't see Hilde so she was presumably behind one of the styling stations hidden from view. She could see several clients having their needs attended and was particularly drawn to a woman, whose back was turned to her, with beautiful long, red hair which a stylist was combing through. She was making excited gestures with her hands, holding them flat and waving them backwards and forwards at ear level. The stylist nodded and laughed. Although she couldn't make out what they were saying it was clear they were in agreement about something.

Miss Marple watched as the stylist picked up a pair of scissors and, without further ado, placed them at ear level and closed them. A thick skein of glossy red hair slid down the cutting gown onto the floor. The blades opened again and more hair slid down. In no time at all the woman's crowning glory had been reduced to a pudding bowl. Miss Marple was aghast. What had the poor woman done for her hair to deserve such treatment?

But she could barely believe what happened next. The stylist picked up a set of hairclippers, plugged them and made some adjustments. Hairclippers? In a ladies hairdressers? Never had such a thing been seen in Ethel's. Actually that wasn't quite true as old Mr Jenkins still came in every 3 weeks, never remembering that Bill's Barbershop had been sold some twenty years before to Ethel and was now exclusively a ladies' establishment. But Ethel didn't have the heart to turn him away and ceremoniously took out the clippers for his trim each time he visited. She even put up with his regular joke about not needing anything for the weekend - "not at my time of life" - and he never seem surprised to be surrounded by women receiving perms, sets and blue rinses. Kind-hearted Ethel.

But kind-hearted didn't apply to this stylist. Miss Marple watched with eyes almost out on stalks as the stylist placed the clippers at the woman's nape and pushed them under the ragged bob right up to the occipital bone and a shower of red hair flew up and then fell to the floor. Again and again the clippers rose until all the remaining hair that hung down had been severed. She watched as the stylist lifted a longer length at the front with the comb and snipped it to a half-inch fringe.

The stylist then seemed to go mad. Picking up what appeared to be thinning scissors but with wider teeth, he started randomly cutting into the crown hair, making it even shorter and hopelessly uneven so that it stood up in places and had longer lengths springing out at unlikely angles.

He ran his hands through her crown and a few more wisps fell down, and more of the remaining hair stood up. Had he used setting lotion? Once satisfied that he had totally destroyed most of the remaining hair, he picked up the clippers once more, made some adjustments, and began to clipper her neck once more. Surprisingly more hair fell. It didn't look as though there could be any left to clip. Miss Marple was mesmerised as she watched a white line forming around the hairline at the nape and over the ears, the stylist clearly having decided to shave off what hair remained as he had made such a mess of it. But no, he stopped short of actually shaving her bald, only advancing a couple of inches along the woman's elegant neck. Oh dear, the woman must be distraught, thought Miss Marple.

As if she was a man, the stylist brushed the clippings away from her shoulders and whisked away the cutting gown laughing all the time and nodding to the woman's reflection in the mirror. How nice the colour of her hair looks against the cream of the suit the woman is wearing. Cream? A light illuminated in Miss Marple's mind and at that moment the woman jumped up out of the chair and turned to face her.

"Hildegarde! What have you done?"

"Isn't it wonderful? Hasn't Fwitz done a wonderful job. I'm so pleased. Thank you Fwitz," and she pecked him on the cheek as she went to the desk to pay. Fwitz tossed back his blond, shoulder length hair with a blush on his cheeks.

"Er, well, it's striking." And it's also another red haircut.

"Isn't it just. I love it."

"But I thought you were just having it trimmed."

"I know but first of all Fwitz suggested colouring it red as it was washed. I wasn't sure at all about that but Fwitz convinced me to give it a try - the season's colour he said - and he said he could always revert back to the original colour if I didn't like it."

"That's all very well, but why have it cut as well?."

"Well, as I sat back after the colour had been applied I thought why not go for a completely new look. Not just colour, but a new style as well. When I mentioned this to Fwitz he seemed a little cautious at first - as if he was a taken a little aback by my suggestion. But then he said what a great idea. In fact quite a few of his clients have opted for this new look recently. It's all the rage. Really cool, he says."

"Well maybe it is. But are you sure it is quite seemly for a woman of your, well er, your years?"

"Aunt Jacqueline! Are you suggesting I'm old?" As old as you, she nearly said but kept her tongue. Miss Marple may have looked old enough to be Hilde's aunt, but Hilde now looked so much younger that she could be taken for her great aunt.

"No, it's just that, well, it isn't" - she grasped for a word other than 'seemly' - "it isn't really appropriate, is it?"

Hilde just threw her head back and laughed and was momentarily caught out by not feeling the whip of her hair on the small of her back as she performed this gesture.

She paid the receptionist, who commented on how much nicer her hair now looked and would she like to make another appointment to keep it looking nice. She did, for four weeks hence.

They walked to the door, Hilde beaming with her new cropped look, while Miss Marple mused about yet another occurrence of this increasingly common trend.

As they opened the door an older man wearing a beige raincoat tumbled in with his arm outstretched clearly reaching for the door handle. This caused Miss Marple to stumble a little and they bumped into each other.

"You idiot, why do you not look where you are going!" the man stated vehemently, straightening his deerstalker hat and smoothing down his grey moustache.

"I'm, er, sorry... pardon... er, Monsieur. I did not mean to bimp into you. I can be so climsy at times."

He calmed down a little as he looked at her. "Very well, we can all be climsy at times. You should always wait to make sure there is no one the other side of a door before leaving a rheum."

"Yes I kneuw that... I kneuw that... but...," Miss Marple tried to interject.

"Now be off, Madame, and let that be a lesson to you."

They looked at each other with quizzical expressions. Both appeared deep in concentration as if trying to trawl something up from deep within their minds.. They held each other's gaze for at least twenty seconds.

Miss Marple then smoothed her skirt and patted her chignon and, confident of respectability, she departed as Hilde held open the door. She paused and heard the man announce himself.

"Bonjour Mademoiselle, my name is Inspector Clouseau, an officer of the leuh. I have some very important questions to ask you."

"Pardon, I do not know what the leuh is," said the receptionist.

"How interesting, an officer of the law," said Miss Marple to herself. "Hmmm, I wonder if he's investigating this hair business. I may need to talk to him."

 

Chapter Three

"I 'ave to see the owneauh," demanded Inspector Clouseau, towering over Christina and getting a wonderful look at her endless legs.

Christina translated. Heavens, what dialect would she come into contact with next? Both this man and the frumpy woman who just walked out occasionally pronounced the simplest words in the weirdest way. "Ah, you must mean the OWNER, Claudia. She's in the back rheum, I mean room. I'll just get her for you." Christina clattered across the tiles in her platform shoes.

Claudia strode out from the back room, where she'd been trying to total the accounts for the last week. She ran a hand through her short, bright red hair, and greeted the Inspector.

"Inspector Clouseau, is it?" she murmured in her rather husky voice. "How may I assist?"

"Yeou may assist, Madame, by not trying to KILL me!" Clouseau shouted, and produced a harmless-looking can from the pocket of his overcoat. "Yeou sell me THIS - this poisinne! Last night I us-ed seome on my cheucolate cake, one taste and I could heuve died!"

Claudia's shiny red lips twitched in a helpless smile. "Inspector," she said gently, "that's hair mousse. You use it on your hair, not on chocolate cake. Look, why don't you have a complimentary haircut and I'll show you how to use the mousse properly." Cheekily she tweaked off his deerstalker hat; Clouseau's hair was collar length, and pewter grey.

Clouseau sat uncomfortably at the backwash. He'd never had his hair washed by a woman before, and almost jumped out of his overcoat as the warm water nuzzled his head.

Claudia surveyed the range of shampoos quizzically. Which to use? Maybe the one for thinning hair? She picked up the bottle and squirted some onto his hair, massaging his scalp firmly. Clouseau's eyes widened at the sensation of Claudia's firm hands on his head, and he writhed in the seat happily, flinging up one arm and knocking over one of the army of shampoo bottles that stood in a serried row at the basin.

"Er... seorry," muttered the Inspector as the bottle marked "normal hair" did a perfect somersault into the sink, a few drops of shampoo spattering onto Clouseau's hair en route.

"That's OK," said Claudia, rather tightly. She hoped this free haircut wouldn't be more trouble than it was worth!

Clouseau closed his eyes and let the scalp massage continue. He almost drifted into sleep, and had one of those quick, split-second dreams that a semi-somnolent state can induce. He dreamed his hair was fox red; it looked very odd against his grey moustache.

Clouseau woke with a start and sent the rest of the shampoo bottles cascading to the floor. "Seorry, again, madame, mahybe you'd better jist dye my hair, I mahn dry my hair."

Wordlessly Claudia hustled her latest client from the basin, water still dripping from his head.

"Madame, I cannot sah where I am going," complained Clouseau, "There is some seup in my eyes!" Arms outstretched, he stumbled across the salon blindly. One large foot hooked itself in the leg of a chair, and Clouseau, with a startled howl, lurched forward, cannoning into one of the stylists who bore a buzzing set of clippers in one hand.

"Aaah!" shouted Fwitz, the stylist, in return, being thrown off balance. He tried to right himself with one hand but only succeeded in shearing a path diagonally across the top of his female client's scalp.

The girl screamed as she saw the clippers howl across her head and send a sheaf of hair cascading across her knees, a strip of velvet on top of her head among the spiky fronds of her new red crop. She jumped to her feet and pushed Fwitz heartily towards Clouseau.

Still falling, Clouseau bounced into Fwitz with all his weight.

Fwitz's clippers sailed towards the ceiling and landed in a potplant, giving the maidenhair fern a crewcut before switching off. Fwitz himself flew backwards into the wall of the salon, shaking it so heavily that the shelf above, laden with shampoos and conditioners, let its load down on top of him.

"Ooh! Aaah! OOWWWWW!" wailed Fwitz as bottle after bottle bounced on his head and shoulders. Several bottles opened as they fell and by the time the last bottle had teetered to the edge and gently fallen - plop! - onto Fwitz's lap, his long blond hair was coated in shampoo.

"Weally!" grumbled Fwitz, "This is too much!"

"Swine chair!" hissed Clouseau, kicking the offending furniture and sending it skidding into Claudia.

"InSPECtor!" shouted Claudia, rubbing her shins and kicking the chair herself in frustration. "Would you PLEASE stop destroying my salon and take a seat!" Fuming, she led Clouseau to a chair which didn't appear to have anything particularly dangerous within arm's length, and pushed him firmly down into it.

"Fwitz, are you OK?" she said, concerned.

Fwitz rubbed shampoo from his eyes. "Ooh, Claudia. My eyes are sooooooo sore, sweetie! But this hair of mine has GOT to go! Cwop me, sweetie, dye me wed. Pweeeease?"

"Not now, Fwitz!" hissed Claudia, "I've got a client!"

"Ooh, cwop him, dye him wed too! No, sweetie, I NEED a haircut! Cwop me, dye me wed. I INSIST!" Fwitz towelled his shampoo-soaked locks.

Claudia ignored him and turned to Clouseau. It was very, very tempting to give him the haircut from hell just to punish him for making her salon look like a war zone! However, she simply trimmed an inch or so off his hair at his request.

Clouseau fidgeted in the chair, picking up the combs and other instruments that lay on the bench in front of him. "Are your scissors vehry sharp, Madame?"

"Mine? No, not at the moment, they DO need sharpening," admitted Claudia, tightening the cape around his neck.

Clouseau picked up the hairdressing scissors from the bench, opened the blades and ran his finger along them. "Ouch! I theought yeou said they were not sharp!"

"Those are not my scissors," replied Claudia, brandishing her own pair from her cape pocket.

It was hard for her to concentrate. Fwitz was dancing from stylist to stylist, begging them to "cwop me, dye me wed." He had a weeping client with a shaved patch on the top of her head quivering in the back of the salon, and Claudia supposed she'd be the one to fix the poor girl up unless Krystal finished with her client first.

"Tina," Claudia called to the receptionist, "Can you look after Fwitz? NOW!"

Christina obliged happily. She was only an apprentice, and still practising her colouring and cutting techniques.

"Tina, Tina, Tina," sang Fwitz happily, "You ARE going to dye my hair wed and cwop it ALL off, aren't you?"

"You must have bumped your head," Tina said a bit nervously, leading him to the basin. "Keep your voice down, Fwitz."

Clouseau observed all of this while he watched his hair getting cut. By the time Claudia was showing him how to use the mousse he'd bought, Fwitz was sitting at the basin with his hair covered in red dye. And when Claudia had finished blow drying Clouseau's hair, Christina was caping Fwitz up in the next chair.

"Cwop it all off, Tina darling," pleaded Fwitz, lifting up his long hair and dragging it back off his face.

"Yeuh mean that pairson is actually mahle?" exclaimed Clouseau disbelievingly, seeing Fwitz close up and noticing the slight shadow on his cheeks.

"I'm afraid so," said Claudia grimly.

Christina blasted the roots of Fwitz's newly dyed hair with a dryer until it was dry enough to clipper. Clouseau stayed in his chair, watching with interest. The peculiarities of the human race never ceased to amaze him or amuse him.

Claudia left him there while she soothed Fwitz's shaken client and tried to tell her that she'd probably look good with a crew cut, which was the only real option left. Krystal, licking her dark lips and brandishing a pair of glistening red clippers, was only too pleased to take over the job. Clouseau watched in amazement as Krystal began to shear the woman's hair almost to her scalp. The stylist had a smile on her face, as if she were enjoying almost shaving the woman's head.

Next to him, Tina tucked her copper locks behind her ears in what appeared to be a nervous gesture, then flicked the big Osters into life. She placed the blades at Fwitz's forehead and revved the clippers through his hair, sending it dropping to the floor in a red tangle, and leaving a quarter inch of hair lying flat his head. Fwitz beamed throughout the haircut, as the top and sides were shorn close. Tina pushed his head forward and relieved the back of its long locks with steady, professional strokes of the clippers. "Oh, dah-ling, that's su-per," carolled Fwitz, running his hands over the pelt left on his head. "Cwopped and dyed to perfection!"

Clouseau shook his head over Fwitz's affected voice, and rose from his chair.

"Be careful!" called out Claudia.

But Clouseau navigated his way out of the salon successfully, despite looking continuously in the mirror at not only his own elegant, blow-dried image, but also every other client there. It struck him that he was the only client in the salon who wasn't getting a short red haircut.

With that thought in the back of his mind, he opened the door and promptly tripped down the single stair.

"Swine door!" Claudia heard him say as he picked himself off the ground and strode off.

 

Chapter Four

Miss Marple walked briskly through the narrow streets towards the salon. She had awoken a little late, having found difficulty in sleeping. She was puzzling over Hildegarde's transformation. All afternoon yesterday she kept harping back to it and, rather surprisingly Miss Marple thought, received several positive comments from other women. Hildegarde readily pointed them in the direction of Hair Magique, where she was heading now.

She rounded the last corner before the salon and bumped into an obstacle which was surprisingly cluttering the streets of the normally tidy Zurich. Something rang a bell in her mind - but she was late and had no time to pursue the thought.

"Swine trolley!" she exclaimed and kicked the offending object out of the way. "There, let that be a warning to yeuw," she added somewhat smugly as the trolley trundled away down the hill, past a van that proclaimed it to be the property of Swiss Telecom, and onwards to the canal.

At her exclamation a man, sitting on a bench by the lake apparently reading the morning newspaper, jumped up, newspaper still in hand. He was a strange-looking character in blue workman's overalls, matching blue cap perched precariously on his strangely bouffant grey hair, and a long, droopy moustache which appeared not to match the colour of his hair at all. He spun around and appeared to be about to say something, when his eyes widened as he saw the 'swine trolley' hurtling towards him. He stepped back awkwardly as the trolley hit him, he lost his balance and tumbled over the railings.

Miss Marple turned around briefly at the sound of a loud splash, concerned that the trolley had fallen into the canal. She didn't want people to be thinking she was the sort of person that dumped supermarket trolleys in canals! Thankfully it was still there, so she continued towards the salon comfortable in the knowledge that she had not caused the disturbance in the water.

"Hmmm, still not finished washing their nets," she mused as she walked towards the salon, surveying the exterior appearance of the building.

She opened the door of the salon and was immediately accosted by an excitable young man - well she thought it was a man. "Hello Madame,. I'm Fwitz. Look at me. I've been cwopped and dyed wed. May I help you?"

"Well my name is Marple. I have..."

"It's cwopped vewy short isn't it." There was something familiar about this person but Miss Marple couldn't quite place him. What's more she hated being interrupted. "How may I help Madame Marpwell?."

"It's Mademoiselle actually. As I was saying young, er, man ... well, I have an app...."

"It's vewy wed isn't it. Vewy cwopped and vewy wed. Tee-hee-hee. So, how may I help you Mademoiselle? Actually...."

"FRITZ!" a voice boomed from the back of the salon. "Go and sit down in the rest room, I'll come and talk with you in a moment."

"I'm vewy - er, very - sorry about that madame. He had an accident yesterday and banged his head. We hoped he would be OK today but he still seems to be suffering a little concussion." Claudia was approaching with a broad, welcoming smile. "Didn't I see you here yesterday? Looking around?" she enquired while staring with dark penetrating eyes.

"Well possibly. I made an appointment for today to have my hair trimmed. The name is Marple."

"Ah yes, JUST a trim is it," Claudia said pointedly as she looked disdainfully at the mass of hair scaffolded in place at the back of Miss Marple head, before running her elegant finger down the appointment book. "Oh, yes here you are," she added with a disappointed air, not wishing for this dowdy woman to be around when her elegant, Zurich women began to pour into her salon.

She had to be attended to quickly, thought Claudia, but schedules were already going to pot now that Fwitz appeared to be incapacitated. At that moment she spied Christina giggling away to Krystal at the back of the salon . Krystal was already making short work of the hair of her first client of the morning; in fact she'd been cutting hair like a madwoman in order to handle Fwitz's appointments as well as her own. Why wasn't Christina at the desk, Claudia was about to shout out, but thought better of it. "Tina, please could you come and take Miss Marple to the backwash and prepare her hair. I will be cutting your hair today, Miss Marple."

"Well Miss, I only want the ends trimmed. Does it need to be washed. Ethel never does that."

Claudia was tempted to add that she would also have to dismantle that ridiculous that bun if only to make sure that nothing nasty was lurking in that rats' maze. But she didn't. "It is salon policy. Hygiene, you understand."

Miss Marple of course did understand hygiene - washing her hands before and after every meal - and therefore allowed herself to be led to the backwash by the young girl who had now clomped her way over. Claudia shouted out after them, "use the shampoo for normal hair, Tina!"

Christina looked up from behind the backwash as she began to dismantle Miss Marple's bun. She looked intently at Claudia and replied "OK. If you say so."

As the hair unfurled, Christina was surprised to see the quality of her client's hair. Not only was it extremely long, it also shone with a natural condition that could only come from having it imprisoned for a lifetime from the elements in her habitual bun. She placed a towel around her neck and lifted the mass of gleaming hair into the special basin for long hair, and began to run warm water down its length.

Miss Marple began to relax as the warmth of the water seeped through her to scalp. She jumped a little as she felt the coldness of a large dollop of shampoo being placed on her head, closely followed by Christina's young, firm fingers beginning to massage it in to her hair. Never had anyone else ever washed her hair. She always washed her hair with cup loads of warm water over the bath. She had considered fitting a shower to assist the process but she had never really held with these new-fangled contraptions. It had to be said, however, that this was a not unpleasant experience. As she drifted away she began to imagine her Colin washing her hair in this way... and snuggled down a little further into the rather comfortable chair, with a smile forming at the corner of her mouth.

She could imagine Colin staring down at her now, through those thick spectacles that looked so distinguished. Her mind called up past memories of their time together - the memorable evening in her cottage, when they snuggled up by the fire and he had managed to recall the peculiar customs and excise laws between the Channel Islands and the UK mainland for a whole two hours without recourse to his reference books. A truly remarkable man.

How could she win this man back? Despite fully understanding Colin's position, the cloud of her unknown parentage seemed insurmountable. How could she resolve it? She knew she must, but was there any other way to help bring Colin back to her heart?

A confused thought suddenly went through her mind. She thought back to yesterday and the admiring looks that Hildegarde had received after her visit to this very salon. What if she had her hair dyed red, just like her! The thought made her laugh out loud. How ridiculous she mused, but the thought stuck in her mind.

"Are you alright Miss Marple?" Christina asked with a tone that almost expressed concern.

"Er, yes, I'm fine thank you," she replied, startled to be brought out of her reverie, but unable to stifle a giggle at the thought of Colin seeing her standing at the door of his flat with her long hair flowing down past her shoulders and glowing a bright shade of red. Or even a spiky, short red crop! It was hardly the sort of style he would approve of at all. Or perhaps he would.

But it wasn't a style she approved of either! What a ridiculous thought... but the thought still lingered, and it began to confuse her normally razor-sharp mind. A red-cropped Miss Jacqueline Marple indeed! She giggled again in a quite unseemly way.

She was concerned now. What was happening to her? Was this the delayed effect of the shock of a broken heart? Oh, Colin, bugger your mother I want you back... now! "Now!" she shouted aloud.

"Now? Now, what Miss Marple?" Christina asked with a somewhat perplexed expression on her face.

"Er, what, er, sorry ... er, now could you dye my hair red for me please," she said with air that suggested she was not quite grounded in the present.

"PARDON!" Christina exclaimed. "Er, I think I'd better go and get Claudia."

"No, I don't want a cup of tea," she replied totally irrationally, but with an expression of knowing precisely what she was talking about, a little like an old woman comfortable in her failing mind. "I want you to dye my hair red. Come on girl, straight away!" she added like a schoolmistress admonishing a pupil for not reciting the whole of Shakespeare's Macbeth after it had been set for homework.

Christina reached up for one of the many coloured bottles from the shelf that had now been restored after Fwitz's escapades the day before, put on a pair of disposable gloves and began to work the colour into Miss Marple's clean, damp locks.

She drifted off once more as she tried to make sense of the confusion within her mind. It seemed so right to be doing this but never had she had so much attention to her in a salon in her whole life. A shampoo AND a colour applied. How risqué... whatever next. She remembered once asking Ethel to trim off twice as much as usual - a whole two inches - after several months of neglect. Not only was Ethel upset by the prospect but the three old dears having their ears permed under the driers, started opening and closing their mouths - like a shoal of old trout - in admonishment. Fortunately, the driers drowned their words. On that occasion a compromise of one and a half inches was reached, but Miss Marple was ordered not to return for at least three months. And she didn't!

Christina finished massaging in the hair colour and proceeded to rinse it off. Red water, almost like blood, swirled through the long hair and down the plughole. The towel was wrapped around her head and Miss Marple was led towards to Claudia's styling chair near the window of the salon.

"No, not there, take her out the back ... er, to the back of the salon where she'll be comfortable." Claudia had no wish for expected and prospective clients to see this dowdy middle-aged woman having her long hair trimmed and watch the scaffolding be re-erected to support it on her crown.

Once she saw that Miss Marple had been positioned in front of the mirror, the towel still enveloping her long hair like a turban she swiftly moved over to get this woman out of her salon as quickly as possible.

When she got there Miss Marple fidgeted in the chair, picking up the combs and other instruments that lay on the bench in front of her. "Are your scissors vehry sharp, Madame?"

"Mine? No, not at the moment, they DO need sharpening," admitted Claudia, as she picked up and fastened a cape around her neck. A strong feeling of déjà-vu came over her, as if she had been here before.

Miss Marple picked up the hairdressing scissors from the bench, opened the blades and ran her finger along them. "Ouch! I theought yeou said they were not sharp!"

"Those are not my scissors," replied Claudia, brandishing her own pair from her cape pocket, as she removed the towel with a flourish using her other hand.

Both women stared into the mirror looking startled as they watched an abundance of very long, very damp and very red hair tumble down Miss Marple's shoulders, past the back of the chair and pulling up just short of the floor.

Claudia checked Miss Marple's expression and saw the surprise in her eyes. "Er, what... oh, I'm sorry Miss Marple, I don't understand this. Christina, where are you?" she shouted. "What have you done to my client?"

"Actually it's OK. I did ask her to dye my hair red. It seemed a rather good idea at the time," she said with a puzzled expression on her face. "At the time...," she repeated.

Claudia waved Christina away as she finally clomped back from the reception desk where she had resumed her residency. She smirked at both the women, and clomped back again to her perch.

"I see," she said, but without much understanding about what was going on in this woman's mind. "Well it does look extremely attractive on you. Tina has done a good job in selecting a suitable colour and applying it. Perhaps I'll consider letting her do more styling work." She combed through the long hair, admiring its shine. "Now, you would just like it trimmed wouldn't you? Although I must say taking it a little shorter, perhaps to mid-back, would look stunning on you if you wore it loose."

"Would it? Do you think so?" Miss Marple's thoughts returned to Colin, as she imagined draping herself over his doorway, with a her hair hanging loose and falling over one eye and saying in a husky voice "Well aren't you going to ask me up big boy?" Unfortunately she said it aloud.

"I'm sorry Miss Marple, what was that?" Claudia said, hardly believing her ears!

"Oh neuthing. Neuthing at all," she responded somewhat nervously, but failed to stifle a giggle. "He-he-he!"

Miss Marple felt her mind was dull. As if she had a headache - although she rarely did, as she had little use for them. The pin-sharp clarity was lost, as she struggled with her confused thoughts.

"Very well. Your hair is in excellent condition Miss Marple, but the colour will have a drying effect on the ends so I will trim about five centimetres if that's OK." She began to kneel down, with comb and scissors in hand. And then jumped right back up when she heard her client exclaim, "NO! No, I don't want you to do that."

"I'm sorry, Miss Marple, it's just that I...," she said as she attempted to defend her actions.

"No, young lady, I don't want you to cut five centimetres. I certainly don't want you to cut it half way up my back!" Claudia took the brunt of this onslaught. She had clients in the past who were nervous of having their hair cut, sometimes changing their mind, but none quite this vociferous. "I want you to crop it short."

"Look, I'm really sorry, I... er, what did you say?" said Claudia, totally disbelieving what she had heard.

"I've taken a fancy to have it cropped short. I don't know why, but there we are. So get to it girl. Chop, chop... he-he-he."

Had this woman taken leave of her senses? Not long before she was asking for the merest trim without even having her hair washed, and now here she was with red hair asking for it all to be cut off. "Er, are you sure about that Miss Marple? It's a big step."

"Well yes I do feel sure actually." a strained expression crossed her face as if she was trying to fight some unknown force. "Something along the lines of my friend yesterday I think."

"Very well, it will be my pleasure to do as you wish." She combed the long, damp hair through one last time and placed the scissors on Miss Marple's cheek, enveloping a large lock of hair.

Miss Marple had a strange, bemused expression on her face as she watched this action taking place, as if not quite believing it.

SCHNICK! A glossy red skein of hair slid down the cape, like an exotic snake and coiling like one at her feet.

SCHNICK! The scissors moved and cut again and again as hair tumbled down around her shoulders and built up in large piles around her chair.

SCHNICK! The final lock slid down from her other cheek leaving Miss Marple with a chin-length, blunt-cut bob.

"Oooh, look at me, I look like a flapper from the twenties! I don't think even my grandmother was brave enough to be a flapper." And the thought crossed her mind, why did I want to be one? But the thought passed quickly as Claudia busied herself pinning up sections of the remaining hair on her crown.

The flapper look remained as about half her hair was combed down from a parting an inch or so above her ears.

CLICK! BUZZZZZZZ! The noise of the hairclippers reminded Miss Marple of her thoughts yesterday when she watched Hildegarde's nape being cleared of its remaining hair. It was almost shaved and I'm about to have the same. A strong will to stop this was trying to surface deep within her but, for some reason, she was keen to feel the clipper blades on her neck. And her wish was soon granted, as they slid into place at the hairline and Claudia forced them upwards through the still thick hair. She felt the coolness of the metal against her almost bare skin, and watched the already much shortened hair slide away.

Although she knew deep down that something was wrong here, another deep down thought also began to nag at her mind. There was something actually quite pleasurable about this experience... no wonder old Mr Jenkins was always smiling when he had his hair cut by Ethel!

Soon the temples had been similarly denuded and Miss Marple attempted to take in her newly emerging appearance. What AM I doing, she thought to herself.

Claudia let down the pinned up hair and proceeded to attack it with texturising scissors. More and more hair fell away as the length and thickness were reduced more and more. The fringe was combed down into her eyes, but not for long as the scissors reduced this hair to a bare half an inch, although longer lengths were left around the perimeter. The clicking of the scissors stopped and Claudia picked up an aerosol can and squirted mousse into her hands.

Miss Marple was feeling quite light headed now - and so she should with all that weight of hair removed, she said to herself... and started giggling again. How unseemly, she said... but couldn't stop herself. "Tee-hee-hee, look at that. I put that on my chocolate cakes. It's delicious."

"Do you really, Miss Marple? Well I'm going to surprise you by putting it on your head. It's mousse."

"What, chocolate mousse... Yummy!"

"No," she said in exasperation, and gave up trying to explain. How could she get two total imbeciles, two days running?

"Let me see." Miss Marple reached out her hand for the can but misjudged the distance sending it flying from Claudia's hand, sailing through the air and with the business end landing a glancing blow on Fwitz's head as he emerged from the staff rest room, with a beaming smile underneath his brightly cropped head.

"I'm feeling awight now Claudia, Weady for work... OW!" The can quickly dispensed its contents onto Fwitz's head, leaving a peaked form upon the red hair... resembling a strange dessert concoction which was only missing a cherry on the top.

He now looked a little dazed, swaying slightly, as he surveyed the salon with the trifle upon his head also moving precariously from side to side. His eyes fixed on Miss Marple, and more specifically her hair. "Oooh, look it's Miss Marpwell! Coo-eee! You've been cwopped and dyed wed. Look evwybody, Miss Marpwell has had all her hair cwopped off and its dyed wed. Just like mine." And his hands went to his own head, and a strange expression crossed his face as he felt the clamminess of the mousse on his fingers. "Oh no, what's happening my hair's dissolving and turning gwey. Oh no, oh no ...."

"Fwitz its only mousse!" exclaimed Claudia. "Now back into the west woom - I mean rest room - and I will talk with you shortly."

"Shortly! Yes my hair needs cutting more shortly. My hair...."

"FWITZ!" At that his eyes seemed to glaze over and he sloped off back to the rest room.

Claudia worked the mousse into Miss Marple's almost dry hair and, with a few blasts of the blowdrier left much of the crown hair and some of the uneven lengths around the face sticking up at unlikely looking angles. However it was clear to see, even to Miss Marple, that this was a fashionable and artistic achievement. It just wasn't what she expected to happen to her when she entered the salon less than an hour ago. To her surprise, she looked fifteen years younger - certainly younger than her 38 years.

Following Fwitz's earlier instructions a number of people in the salon - stylists and clients alike - were looking towards Miss Marple and taking in the mass of hair around her chair. Some looked puzzled, while others smiled and shouted words of encouragement about her brave new style. However the man who had just entered the salon looked decidedly puzzled... and extremely odd.

Miss Marple got up when the cape was whisked away. She looked in the mirror and felt strange without the weight of all that hair piled up on the crown, and felt quite peculiar with the fluffiness around her cheeks and ears ... not that there was much fluffiness as her hair was extremely short. However the overall effect was not displeasing. However several questions now began to emerge in her mind as she was helped on with her coat. 1, Why did she have this done? She had no idea where the idea had even come from. 2, Why had she found it such a pleasurable experience, especially the clippers? And 3, What would Colin think of it? Would he think her extremely funky? What's funky mean? she thought, shaking her head and being pleasantly surprised by the coolness of the breeze from the air conditioning.

She was fumbling for her cash in her handbag to pay Christina, as the peculiar-looking man who had entered earlier also strolled up to the reception desk. Or rather he squelched up to the desk! What was particularly odd about this man was that he was distinctly damp... and it hadn't been raining. Miss Marple, always observant, noticed as a pool of water began to form at his feet.

"Good morning. I am an engeneur from the telephoene company and I am here to mend yeur phoene."

"Pardon. I don't understand who you are. What do you want?" said Christina in exasperation. Surely this wasn't going to be another day like yesterday.

"It's quite simple. Do you not understand your own language, girl. He is from telephoene company and he wants to mend yeur phoene." Miss Marple pointed to the device on the desk with a smug look on her face at her understanding of the foreign language.

"Phoene? Ah, phone! You are from the telephone company and you want to mend my phone."

"Yes, yes, that is what I have been saying you fool. It has been rah-ported that the bell on your phoene is not ring-ging." At that moment the phone rang and was picked up with an expansive gesture by Krystal who was standing nearby.

"But there is nothing wrong with my phoene... er phone. See, it's ringing."

"Ah yes, I kneuw that, I kneeuw that. It is ring-ging now because... because...." He held up a finger as if trying to make a point and water dripped to the floor from his elbow. "Swine phoene," he mumbled under his breath.

"Just wait a moment please. I'll just finishing dealing with this client." He stood obediently by the desk, taking off his cap and wringing it out, with the water dripping to the floor.

"There's your change Miss Marple and I have to say your new look really suits you. Perhaps we'll be seeing you again in a few weeks?"

"Possibly, if I'm still in Zurich... or possibly even before." She looked closely into Christina's eyes, before marching off to the door.

Christina watched Miss Marple leave and then spun around to help the telephone engineer. "Now monsieur, how may I help you...." But all that remained was a puddle of water. He had vanished.

 

Chapter Five

"I didn't recognise you Miss Marple. All your lovely hair has been cutt-ed."

"I'm sorry, who exactly are you monsieur?" Miss Marple attempted to walk away, but this man insisted on squelching alongside her.

He pulled off the ridiculous droopy moustache - "OW!" - to reveal a less droopy, but equally ridiculous, moustache underneath.

"My name in Inspector Jacques Clouseau and I am an officer of the leuw. I need to speak to you urgently."

"Jacques Clouseau? Have yeuw stopped making those documentaries about fish?"

"Pardon?"

"Yeuw had that little submarine that went to the ocean fleur."

"No, no, madame, that was the Beatles."

Frustrated, they eyed one another. Sighing, Clouseau opened his wallet to pull out a business card to assure this young lady with the eye-catching red hair that he was, in fact, a police officer, not a marine biologist and certainly not a singer from Liverpool.

As he pulled out a card, a yellowed, crumpled piece of paper was pulled out too, and spiralled to the ground.

Miss Marple bent to pick it up, and, curiosity getting the better of her, unfolded it. It had the strangest words written on it, and Miss Marple felt a tingle. This was familiar somehow, but still a mystery! She read:

"Ze Ills Ara Lyve Wivze Zound Ofmoo Zick"

Clouseau cleared his throat. "Excuse me, madame, but that is mine."

"I kneow, I kneow, it just seems familiar to me." She frowned.

"That was given to me by the leuve of my life, many, many years ago when I was a young cinstable in Paris," Clouseau said dreamily. "She was such a beautiful woman, especially for an Engleesh woman. She wore the most drab tweed, rather like yeuw. I had the best time of my life with her until she went back to England. She is the reason I have never married, I leuved her so much."

"What was her name?"

"Er....I can't remember exactly. I just called her My Leetle Cabbage." Clouseau blushed to the roots of his moustache. "But she gave me this piece of paper as she left."

Miss Marple started to sing the words out loud. She had the strong soprano of the seasoned churchgoer. Clouseau winced as he realised Miss Marple, in spite of her voice, was totally tone deaf. It sounded horrible!

Just as Clouseau began to clamp his hands to his ears, Miss Marple let the final horrendous note die a thankful death.

"Yeuw see," she said triumphantly, "I DO kneow this song! My mither used to sing it to me as a lullaby when I was very young."

"Your mither?" Clouseau peered at her. Did he see an echo of his drab, tweed-suited beloved in this female? He racked his brains. My Little Cabbage couldn't sing either - her rendition of Vilja had shattered his fish tank and he had a feeling that was the incident that started to drive them apart after three weeks of wild passion in the early sixties.

"My mither," Miss Marple said dreamily. "She would tuck me up in bed with my little pink panther toy and sing me the lullaby."

Clouseau saw, as if in a black and white movie, himself waving to My Leetle Cabbage as she boarded the ferry at Calais. Clutched in her hand as she waved back was a twelve inch high lurid pink panther which he had bought her at the markets in Montparnasse. She had dropped it overboard as she waved and they both made such a fuss that a crew member was forced to jump in and get it. Both My Little Cabbage and Clouseau were barred from the ferry line as a result. Clouseau shook his head as a vision of the furious Captain brandishing the sodden panther and screaming at the two of them in Franglais swam in front of his eyes.

Could it be? Could this dowdy Englishwoman be his daughter, his only offspring?

"Do you have a pheoto of your mither?" Clouseau asked her hopefully.

"Of course I do!" snorted Miss Marple, delving into her shoulder bag, which was the size and shape of a postman's bag. She unearthed two tattered copies of Hello!, a ball of wool in a disgusting puce colour stabbed through with two knitting needles, a Concise Oxford Dictionary, and finally a small photo album. "This is my mither."

Clouseau caught his breath as My Little Cabbage, dressed in a tweed suit almost identical to Miss Marple's, smiled at the camera, a little tweed-suited baby girl in her arms.

"It is her!" Clouseau gasped. "My Leetle Cabbage!"

"Jane Marple, actually," Miss Marple said stiffly, trying to equate her orderly if not anal-retentive mother with a woman who made passionate love in Paris and was called My Little Cabbage.

"Ah, Jane! Of course, I KNEUW it was an odd name!" Clouseau enveloped his newly-found daughter in a bear hug. "I am your feuther, Miss Marple!"

"Jacqueline," said Miss Marple, her voice muffled as her face was squashed firmly against his damp, canal-smelling overcoat.

From behind them a voice shouted a warning. Clouseau and Miss Marple heard a rattling noise, but before they could unclamp their arms, something hit them forcefully, sending them flying to the pavement in a tangle of legs and tweed.

Miss Marple bit back a scream as she rolled along the footpath, coming to rest on the step of Hair Magique. She opened one careful eye and observed the object of destruction.

Fifteen shopping trolleys in a tightly packed line were careering down the street, sending pedestrians scattering.

 

Chapter Six

"Aunt Jacqueline!" shrieked Hildegarde. "Your hair! It looks fantastic! You look so young!"

Feeling almost shy, Miss Marple walked into Hilde's hallway. "I felt like more than just a trim today," she smiled, touching her spiky red locks with a self-conscious hand. "I don't really know what came over me, I was having my hair washed, and I thought how good it would be to get it all cut off."

"That's funny, that's how I felt too!" Hildegarde exclaimed. "I think it's because of the new millennium, you know, a fresh start. And short red hair is in fashion. You see it everywhere. So I suppose it's a subconscious thing," she rattled on, walking into the living room.

"Very subconscious," murmured Miss Marple, "And most bemusing."

"Auntie Jackie," Hilde began to say, and then brought herself up short at the unintentional abbreviation of Miss Marple's name.

Miss Marple, nodded with a small smile on her face.

"Auntie Jackie," Hildegarde said firmly, "You must get some new clothes now. You can't have a fantastic haircut and wear those awful old tweed suits and brogues, they're so dated."

"They were my mither's!" bristled Miss Marple.

"I guessed that," Hildegarde said drily, thinking that such clothes had gone out of date at least thirty years ago. "Look, try on some of my clothes. I bet you've got a great figure under that shapeless outfit." She grabbed Miss Marple's hand and dragged her to the bedroom.

Hildegarde pulled out of her armoire a beautiful, powder blue suit with a microskirt, and rummaged around for matching high-heeled shoes. It took her ages as she had dozens of shoes, all stored, Miss Marple was delighted to see, in their own boxes. "Try these on."

When Hildegarde had left her alone, she unbuttoned the old tweed suit and stood in her functional, laceless bra and big grandma knickers contemplating Hilde's fashionable clothes. Slowly she dressed, finding that the skirt fitted perfectly and the jacket did too. Finally she slipped into Hilde's shoes, which were a little on the large side, and looked in the mirror.

She gasped. She looked completely different - young and vibrant, with legs that seemed to stretch to eternity before they met the hemline of the skirt. The skirt, short as it was, covered the bruises that the runaway shopping trolleys had inflicted. Her red hair shone like a beacon, and made her neck look long and elegant, it was cut so short at the hairline.

Hildegarde peeked in the door. "Oh, Auntie Jackie, you look beautiful! But you must wear at least a little bit of makeup." She pushed Miss Marple into the bathroom and began to apply foundation to her skin, followed by eye makeup and finally a bronze lipstick that flattered her red locks.

"What would Colin think?" gasped Miss Marple, as the transformation was complete.

"If he doesn't jump your bones, he's nuts!" commented the usually formal Hilde. "You could get any man in the world, Aunt Jackie, looking like this!"

Miss Marple glanced at her watch. "Oh! I must go! I'm meeting my feuther for dinner."

"Your father?" Hilde frowned. "But you don't have one."

"Oh, I do neow," Miss Marple smiled. "It is Inspector Clouseau of Zurich Police. He had an affair with my mither in the sixties, and I am the result. I think we are both befuddled by the same thing."

Hilde's English left her at that point. Befuddled?

"The mystery of why women like you and I suddenly want to get our hair dyed red and cut very short," Miss Marple continued. "Did yeuw not notice in Hair Magique that almost every customer walked out of there with short red hair? I think it is more than just fashion. I don't follow fashion, as yeuw kneow. Yet I decided on the spur of the moment to get all my long hair cut off, something I would never normally have contemplated." She looked at her glamourous reflection in the mirror. "But I'm glad I did," she murmured to herself, running her hand up the shorn back of her head and enjoying the new and different feeling of short hair there.

"Hmm," Hildegarde said, thinking that she'd only gone in for a trim herself. "Anyway, Aunt Jackie, you MUST wear these clothes to dinner. I insist. And I'll take you shopping tomorrow so you can buy some nice clothes for yourself."

Miss Marple smiled. "Thank yeuw, Hilde, dear. I think I'll take yeuw up on the iffer. I rather like the idea of wearing stylish cleothes for a change. Just one question - how do yeuw walk in these shoes?"

An hour later Miss Marple hobbled through the doorway of the restaurant. Her feet were killing her in the high heels. She saw Clouseau sitting at the far table, and waved cheerily. "Hello, Feuther!"

She began to walk between the tables, but the high heels, too loose on her feet anyway, caught on the leg of a table and Miss Marple tripped. She grabbed the tablecloth for support, but it slid off the table, taking wine glasses, menus and condiments with it.

"Oooh!" Miss Marple lurched to one side, trying to avoid the falling glasses, and cannoned off one of the other diners. The man was just forking up a particularly large piece of rosti, and found the rosti suddenly plastering his nose in a steaming potato poultice.

"Aaargh!" shouted the diner, pushing Miss Marple away in an instinctive action with one arm and grabbing his burning nose with his other hand.

Miss Marple was propelled to the right and straight into the arms of a horrified water, who was carrying a jug of iced water.

"Owwww!" howled Miss Marple, as icy cold water showered down her neck and shoulders, turning Hilde's powder blue suit three shades darker. She danced around to try and dislodge an ice cube which had lodged itself, most unfortunately, right in the middle of her cleavage. Despairing, she reached into her bra and finally plucked it out.

"Swine ice!" she hissed, and flung it as hard as she could. It hit the wine glasses hanging upside down in the bar, and one by one in a domino reaction they rocked back and forth and fell from their moorings with an expensive CRASH!

"My daughteur!" said Clouseau proudly, getting up from his chair to meet her and totally unaware that he'd tucked the tablecloth instead of his napkin into his belt.

The waiter put his hands to his ears and ran.

Amid the tinkle of dropping cutlery, father and daughter embraced.

 

Chapter Seven

While Clouseau and Miss Marple were unintentionally wrecking one of the trendiest restaurants in Zurich, Haircutty surveyed her latest victim, a girl from the streets with waist length, wavy reddish-auburn hair. This time she hadn't tried the "slide night" approach. She hadn't had to. The girl was homeless and needed money, and Haircutty had simply offered her money to cut off the sheaves of luscious hair.

The girl, Klara, had been begging for food at the doors of the restaurant kitchens in the one of the posh areas of Zurich with little success, when she was surprised by the approach of the dark clothed figure, wearing sunglasses which shaded her eyes despite the late hour. Her mind was slightly fuzzy from having drained the dregs from a large number of near empty wine bottles she had found stacked up outside the various establishments she had tried her luck. But the offer of cash from this woman to give her to simply cut her hair - for wigmaking she thought she said although her voice was muffled and indistinct. But she didn't really care - this was to good an offer to refuse. She loved her long hair as it gave her warmth when she slept on her streets and was a useful prop on the occasions she was fortunate to attract a passing man to spend an hour with her. But cash was more important right now - and her hair would grow long again fairly quickly.

Upon agreeing the deal, Klara was propelled into the back of a dark car which then took off at speed and drove for some time, although from her limited knowledge of the city - having recently decided to move from Geneva to try her luck elsewhere - they didn't seem to travel that far as the crow flies. But, if asked, she would be unable to pinpoint her location - partly because she dozed, succumbing to the effects of her Chardonnay, Riesling and Shiraz cocktail.

The car had abruptly drawn to a halt and, still in somewhat of a daze, she was bundled out of the back seat and down some stairs by the dark figure into a dark coloured room. "Wait there, Klara," she was ordered.

She sat down in the only chair, which was placed inside a five pointed star, surrounded by dozens of candles. The only noise was the sound of something liquid bubbling away in the corner. She was on the point of going over to investigate in the hope that it may be a nice warming soup when suddenly the door was flung open. Her benefactor had changed. The dark clothes had gone and were replaced by a hairdresser's cape on which she wore a badge proclaiming: "My name is Haircutty." But what was more peculiar was the sunglasses had been removed and her visage now bore a striking resemblance to a grinning Jim Carrey. Her appearance was topped off by a tall, pointy hat.

Haircutty glided around the chair, lighting each of the candles in turn, never once allowing the eyes, peering through the slits in her mask, to leave Klara's face. And then a strange chanting began to fill the room as she continued to circle the chair, leaving Klara a tad self-conscious, not quite knowing what to do. She let out a nervous giggle as the chant increased in volume.

The chanting suddenly stopped and Haircutty came to a halt behind Klara. With a fluid motion she scooped up the abundant red hair and held it taut at the crown and then, with a theatrical flourish, took a large pair of scissors from her black smock and slid them into the base of the ponytail as she began to chant once more ... and slowly severed the ponytail.

CRUNNNNNCCHHHH! SKKKKRRIIIIIIKKKKK!

"My hair!" Klara exclaimed as she watched the witch in the Jim Carrey mask walk towards the bubbling cauldron.

"No, it's mine now!" Haircutty responded with a gruff, evil cackle as she dropped the ponytail into the bubbling liquid.

The hungry Klara watched in dismay at the prospect of a warming bowl of broth receded, as the contents of the pot began to spit and gurgle. She then started giggling to herself, thinking back to an old British comedy series she had seen repeated a while ago. "Waitress, there's a hair in my soup... well keep quiet otherwise everyone will want one... WHAAAT?" She never really could understand the strange English humour!

"Are you laughing at me, girl?"

"No, I...."

"I think you will find that was a mistake. I have an important mission in life which someone like you can't possibly understand." She picked up a set of clippers hanging from the chair and flicked off the guard that remained from the last encounter. "And now to finish your haircut."

Klara's eyes widened as the clippers approached her forehead and drove a path through the remnants of her once abundant hair, leaving a faint red sheen through which her scalp glowed.

"No nice red crop for you young lady. Such a shame - I was looking forward to practising my skills once more." Again and again the clippers worked their way over and around Klara's head as Haircutty held it firmly in place.

"There, young lady, that is much more appropriate for a life on the streets - no need to wash it and no chance of picking up nits." She cackled to herself. "It may feel a little sore for a while, but you brought it on yourself. This will ease the feeling a little, and make you feel better." She picked up a small bottle and began to pour a little of the liquid over Klara's now denuded scalp, marvelling at the softness of the skin when suddenly there was a loud crash outside causing her to spill much more of the concentrated liquid onto the girl than she had intended and dropped the bottle.

"Bugger," she exclaimed, "what was that? A cat?" But then she heard voices and laughter.

Distracted by the noise and her attempts to retrieve the spilt liquid, Haircutty didn't notice Klara make a dash for the door. As the door opened and Klara began to pound up the stairs, a gust of wind whistled down and blew out all the candles. Leaving Haircutty in darkness, with only the steam from the cauldron showing a pale cloud in the blackened room.

 

Chapter Eight

"Swine trolley!" they both exclaimed together, looked at each other and burst into riotous laughter. Although not drunk, Clouseau and Miss Marple were certainly merry after downing a bottle of the best Claret that a policeman's wages could buy... yes, the house red!

They had left the restaurant arm in arm, and were taking a late night stroll along the river. There was so much to talk about and they appeared to have so much in common. What was more they both seemed to understand each other perfectly although their intonations had certainly confused the head waiter through their surprisingly uneventful meal after the initial disasters... well, other than the incident with the wine of course.

"Look, my little friend, this wine is not what I ordered. I kneuw wine. I have wor-ked in Paris. It is not a Claret. My daughter requested a Claret."

"It is a Bordeaux monsieur. A red bordeaux is also called a Claret, particularly by the English," he added with a sniff.

"Yes, I kneuw that... I kneuw that. Anyway it is cor-ked. Bring me what I ask for and not cor-ked."

"Pardon? Corked?" he said indignantly. Let me smell the cork." The waiter bent down and his eye met the cork that Miss Marple had retrieved from the table to show him. "OW!" The waiter took a step back and sent a tray of duck à l'orange carried by a colleague, on its final airborne mission into an elderly woman's bowl of hare soup, splattering all the guests at her table.

"Oh Feuther, it really doesn't seem to be their evening does it. I do notice these little things that happen around me... I'm very observant about such matters."

And around me he thought, but said dreamily, "Yes. Observant, just like your mither."

That was the only other major incident that occurred that evening at the restaurant so perhaps it was a little surprising that the head waiter handed Clouseau a small book entitled "Where to Eat in Zurich" as they collected their coats before leaving.

They hadn't talked much about the red hair mystery that was befuddling the two of them. They agreed it was befuddling them both and, after a couple of sips of wine, they agreed it would be best to discuss it first thing in the morning.

So they ambled along by the river. Miss Marple talked of her mother's infuriating nosiness in other people's affairs, and also of her own affair with Colin. Clouseau listened but for some reason continued to regale his daughter with silly and unbelievable tales of him thwarting diamond thieves and saving the world during his time in Paris, as he had tried to forget her mother. "But my daughter, it is not the value of the object that is stolen but the principle."

"Oooh, I kneuw that, I kneuw that Feuther." She was starting to feel a tad tired by his endless proclamations.

"One day I may be once again asked to rid the world of diamond ro-bairs. But until that time I am content to have helped Zurich stop the work of the supermarket trolley ro-bairs. It is the princ... OOOFFF!"

They had turned a corner away from the river and Clouseau had walked straight into a supermarket trolley resulting in the exclamation of 'Swine trolley' followed by their combined laughter.

"Feuther, are you OK?" Miss Marple asked with a concerned air, although still giggling. "I'm surprised that in such a law abiding country as Switzerland, ro-bairs are allowed to get away with stealing supermarket trolleys."

"Yes I am fine, my leetle Brussel sprout. But it is not allowed - we clamp down on it hard in Zurich!"

"You wheel clamp illegally parked supermarket trolleys?" Miss Marple added with a perplexed air.

Clouseau replied with an admonishing air, "No of course not you fool...," but was interrupted by the loud shouts of a woman and her appearance at the top of some nearby steps.

"Help me, help me please!"

They were confronted by the worrying sight of a young woman with her head apparently shaved and covered by what appeared to be blood. A young woman who was clearly in shock and crying.

"Do not worry mademoiselle, I am an officer of the leuw and you are safe. Jacqueline, call for an ambulance, this women is seriously hurt!"

She took the mobile phone proffered by her father and then handed it back with a perplexed air. "Could you please, I don't understand meubile pheones...."

Miss Marple took the girl in her arms as she continued to cry. She took a few tissues from her sleeve - old habits die hard - to dab away at the blood flowing down the poor girl's forehead. And then realised it wasn't blood by its smell and texture. She began to wipe away the liquid, leaving a bright red sheen on the scalp of the nearly shaved girl.

"Are you badly hurt?" she asked.

"Klara. No, I don't think so... but it was horrible... really horrible... I...."

"Oooh, I kneuw, I kneuw it must have been... er what was?"

Klara related her story, between sobs, to the two of them and they were adding the pieces to the jigsaw in their minds... although they gave the impression of still trying to find the fourth corner, let alone starting on the jumbled pile of pieces still in the box.

As the story unfolded Clouseau left at one point to check the nearby basement and confirmed the details but the room was empty.

"Your poor hair Klara. But you are OK now aren't you?" Miss Marple enquired.

"Oh yes much better, thank you. Actually since you rubbed away that gunk from my head I have felt much better. Quite light-headed in fact. It feels wonderful not to have all the hair flopping around my face." Miss Marple thought it best not to say that in fact the gunk had turned the remaining shadow of hair a bright pillarbox red.

The sound of sirens approached and an ambulance screeched to halt as it turned into the corner and crashed into the wayward supermarket trolley which was propelled along the cobbled street. They all followed its jerky progress with their eyes as it hit the glass doors of a store front, which miraculously didn't break. Their attention was drawn to different aspects of the building. Miss Marple's to the continued absence of net curtains and Clouseau's by the sign proclaiming that the store the errant trolley had trundled into was Hair Magique.

What they failed to notice was the dark cloaked figure disappearing into the dark shadows of the Zurich streets. All they found glinting on the cobbles in the moonlight was a pair of shiny scissors.

 

Chapter Nine

"Good morning mesdames and messieurs, thank you for joining me this morning to help me with a very serious matter. The doors will remain closed until the matter is sol-ved."

After the events of the previous evening Clouseau and Miss Marple came to the conclusion that Hair Magique was at the centre of the mystery surrounding the cropping and dying of hair. So they met Claudia, the owner, as she was unlocking the doors for the day and asked that each of the staff be admitted and then not allowed to leave. Appointments would be postponed until further notice.

Krystal had arrived first, shrugging off her voluminous black coat. Her eyes, with their thick rim of kohl, widened as Clouseau told her to go to the back of the salon and wait there.

"Whatever for?" she asked nervously.

"You will find oeut," Clouseau promised grimly.

Fwitz gambolled happily up the step into the shop not three minutes later. "Morning evewybody!" he carolled. "Has anyone got time to give me a twim? I need wecwopping!"

"Not neow," Clouseau said, firmly propelling him to the back of the salon.

"Ooh, Inspector, your hands are SOOO nice and warm on my back! Does my hair look OK fwom behind?"

Clouseau winced and said nothing.

Christina, looking tired, opened the door with a yawn. "Sorry," she said, "Big night on the town last night. Can I help you, Inspector?"

"I heope so," Clouseau said. "To the back of the sheop, please."

Claudia locked the door and left the "CLOSED" sign up, following Clouseau and Miss Marple to the little room at the back.

With all of them in there, it was very crowded. Fwitz's macho aftershave hung in the air like an almost visible cloud. The staff and Miss Marple looked expectantly at Clouseau. He welcomed them and thanked them for their time, and continued:

"I have noticed some ve-r-r-y sispicious on-goings which appear to be related to this salon," he said. "My daughteur, Jacqueline, and I have managed to piece togethair sim of the puzzle. But we still don't kneow who is responsible, and more importantly, WHY. I would like to bring in my witness, to identify the guilty party."

With a flourish he opened the back door leading out into the lane behind. It hadn't been opened for years and, after a manly application of a shoulder from Clouseau and a far less manly application of a shoulder from Fwitz ("Ooh, that hurt!") the door flew open and Clouseau and Fwitz fell outside and knocked Klara to the ground.

"My apologies, Klara," Clouseau said, and helped her to her feet. He led her inside and, with a lot of effort, closed the door again.

Fwitz's eyes widened at the sight of Klara's closely shorn scalp.

"Oh I love your hair. It is cwopped so short and dyed so wed. I'm Fwitz."

"Klara. Yes yours is nice too but not as cropped or red as mine. I want mine even shorter and redder."

"More cwopped and more wedder... let me, let me..."

"Fwitz, stop it!" Claudia brought him to heel.

"Er, quite!" said Clouseau. "Anyway, I have gathered yeuw all here tonight to -"

"It's morning!" pointed out Miss Marple.

"Er... morning then. On with it. Klara, do yeuw recognise any of these peuple?"

"Nobody's wearing purple," Klara said, confused.

"Pe-o-ple," pronounced Miss Marple carefully. "Did one of these pe-o-ple cit off your hair last night?"

Klara frowned. "No, the person who cut my hair looked like Jim Carrey."

Clouseau let out a heartfelt sigh. This was hopeless! "So! It is up to me! Claudia, yeuw are the guilty one! I have seen yeuw citting off the hair of your clients with sich enjoyment!"

"I am NOT guilty!" shouted Claudia. "Anyway, last night I was at the theatre with some of my friends. I can give you their names and they can vouch for me."

"Did yeuw see a good play?" asked Miss Marple. "I always liked The Mousetrap myself."

"A stage version of Edward Scissorhands, actually," Claudia said.

"OOOOooooo!" exclaimed Fwitz. "That's my VEWY favouwite movie! Just think how QUICKLY you could cwop someone's hair with those fingers!"

"Fwitz, SHUT UP!" snarled Claudia. "I'm sending you to the doctor after this!"

"But did they do any cutting?"

"SHUT UP, FWITZ!" howled everybody.

"Well, Krystal, it mist be yeuw then," Clouseau went on. "Yeuw dress like a witch all in black - "

"I'm a Goth, you twit!" snapped Krystal. "Nothing to do with witchcraft. And I spent last night at the hospital. A friend of mine was taken ill."

"Oh, I'm seorry to hear that," Clouseau said, mollified.

"It's yeuw, Fwitz!" said Miss Marple suddenly. "All yuew ever talk about is cropping people's hair and dyeing it red. It's so obvious!"

"Miss Marple, er, Jacqueline my daughteur, I was about to accuse Fwitz! It's my investigation!" chided Clouseau.

"Oh shut up!" howled Christina. "I can't take this stupid "it's you" stuff any more! I DID IT! It's ME! I'm the bloody witch! Arrest me, anything, just SHUT UP!"

"Christina!" gasped Claudia, horrified. "WHY?"

Christina started to shake as she realised she'd probably put herself in a lot of very hot water - a veritable witch's cauldron of it. She took a deep breath. "Well, I wanted the salon to do well. To be the top salon in Zurich if not Switzerland. The red cropped look is this year's hottest look, and I wanted us to specialise in it and become famous for our crops. That way I could say I worked in Switzerland's top salon and I could really get ahead in my career. And now we're getting busier, I'm getting to do more cutting and get more experience. I did it for all of us!" Christina blinked back a tear.

"And what about the peoor women who had all their hair cut-ted?" frowned Clouseau.

"Well, do you see any clients complaining?" argued Christina. "Okay, I admit I put a spell into the shampoo. But look at the results! Miss Marple looks fantastic! Not one cropped client has complained that she doesn't like her new look. Even Heidi Baumgartel was quoted in the paper as saying she liked her mystery haircut!"

"True," agreed Miss Marple, stroking her shorn nape self-consciously and running her fingers through her short, spiky hair with satisfaction.

"And what of peoor Klara?" demanded Clouseau.

"I'm sorry," blushed Christina to Klara. "I got carried away. I thought you were laughing at me."

Klara considered. "Look, I don't want to press charges. I need a proper home and job. I'll keep quiet about this if you give me a job sweeping floors or something."

"I can give yeuw a whole suitcase full of tweed suits," offered Miss Marple, dressed splendidly in a fuchsia coloured mini suit that somehow didn't clash with her vibrant hair..

Klara winced. Well, at least the clothes would be cleaner than what she was wearing!

"Well, if we keep getting our current rate of bookings I will need someone to help with basic duties," Claudia conceded. "And there are rooms above the shop you can live in."

"Oh, thank you!" cried Klara, and hugged Claudia, who pulled a face as she smelt the threadbare overcoat Klara was wearing

"This is meost peculiar," mused Clouseau. "How can I charge Christina with anything when what she says is right? Miss Christina, I have yeour punishment. Yeuw too will undergo the clippers and get that long hair of yeours cit short."

"Ooooo, can I do it?" clamoured Fwitz. "Pweeeeaaase, pwease let me cut Tina's hair off!"

Christina looked far more worried about getting her own locks chopped off than cutting off other people's hair. She allowed herself to be led to a chair and caped up.

"What about a number two at the back and sides, gwaduating into a longer, textured top and a vewy, vewy short fwinge?" suggested Fwitz, lifting up Tina's hair and drawing it away from her face.

"Er..." said Tina, but before she could say any more Fwitz had the clippers in his hand and was ready for action.

Miss Marple watched in shameless curiosity. How quick those clippers were! Fwitz placed them in front of Tina's ear and - bzzzzz! - the hair fell away instantly in a wide swathe up the side of her head. Silky copper locks fell heavily onto Tina's lap and slithered to the ground.

Fwitz was humming happily to himself then burst loudly into song as he sheared away the hair behind Tina's delicate pink ears. "High on the hill stood a lonely cwimper, lay-ee ohoh lay-ee ohoh lay-ee-oh! No hair to cut so he starts to whimper, lay-ee ohoh lay-ee ohohohhhh!"

"Just shut up and cut my hair, Fwitz!" hissed Tina through clenched teeth.

"Head down, sweetie!" carolled Fwitz and placed the clippers at her neck, nuzzling them up through her thick sheaves of sweet-smelling hair.

Miss Marple thought she heard Klara say, "See how YOU like it!"

Tina herself was awash with emotions. She was sad to have her lovely hair cut off without the decision being her own, but was enjoying the sensation of the clippers buzzing happily against her skin. It was really an amazing feeling, those vibrating blades whizzing up through her hair, almost up to her crown. Her hair felt funny and tight where Fwitz had clipped it away, and her head felt a lot cooler.

Two minutes later the back and sides of Tina's head were nibbled to a bare quarter inch, and Fwitz sprayed the top of her head with water.

Attacking Tina's head seemingly at random with the oddly-shaped texturising scissors, Fwitz caused a snowstorm of clippings to rain onto Tina's shoulders. Lift, snip, lift, snip. He alternately combed up locks of hair to cut them, and then picked up the next lock with his fingers, creating a wild layered crop that framed the top and temples of Tina's face.

The final snipping was Tina's fringe. It was very long, down to her eyeballs when Fwitz combed it straight. He slid the scissors underneath it and moved them up to her hairline.

Miss Marple gasped as Fwitz, with three long, expert snips, cut off Tina's fringe almost in its entirety, revealing her alabaster forehead. "Wow!" gasped Tina, as her haircut was complete. She looked totally different - her elfin features set off beautifully by the short hair around her face.

"Almost done, sweetie, I'll just shave your neck." Which Fwitz did with a small, silent pair of clippers, scraping away at the stray hairs growing down Tina's nape.

Clouseau wiped a bead of sweat from his eyebrow. He was actually beginning to enjoy what went on in Hair Magique. In fact, he decided to book himself in for a haircut in the near future - although he'd rather have one of the girls let loose on his head than Fwitz. He couldn't stand that yodelling in his ear!

"Miss Klara, I shall take yeuw back to yeour alleyway to collect yeour things," offered Clouseau.

Ten minutes later Miss Marple and Klara got shakily out of Clouseau's car. They both decided it was a miracle he got a driver's licence in the first place and an even bigger one that he'd survived so long on the road unscathed. He had no regard for pedestrians, traffic lights, indicators or, indeed, brakes.

"I have my 'little house' here," Klara said proudly, "I started building it last week and finished it yesterday." She led them around to an alley that stank of cats' pee and Clouseau caught his breath.

For in front of him, piled three high and covered with rags and cardboard, were what appeared to be dozens of shopping trolleys, bearing the name on their handles of at least three different supermarket chains.

"Miss Klara, I am arresting yeuw for the theft of shopping trolleys," thundered Clouseau. "Yeuw have the right...."

Miss Marple walked away, shaking her head in disbelief. Just once, could he NOT behave like a policeman?

 

Chapter Ten

Miss Marple strode through the terminal at Heathrow, dressed in a primrose yellow suit with a skirt that only just covered her thighs. Where was Colin? They had agreed he would meet her outside the luggage collection. Ah, there he was!

She waved at him.

Colin's eyes travelled over her and looked elsewhere. Stupid man! Miss Marple thought.

"Colin, yeuw fool!" she shouted. "It's me! Here!"

Colin's mouth dropped open and his glasses fell off his nose. Fumbling them back on, he stumbled towards her.

"Jacqueline!" Colin stammered, gobsmacked at the sight of his conservative, tweedy, be-bunned beloved now sporting shorter hair than his own and wearing the most amazing yellow mini suit that let OTHER MEN SEE HER LEGS!

"Actually I've decided to call myself Jackie now," Miss Marple stated, running her fingers through her tousled crop.

"Jackie. Oh." Colin looked bemused. "What happened to your hair? Why did you cut it all off and dye it red?"

"It's a leong steory, dear. Bit I went for a trim and they put seomething in my shampoo in the salon."

"They put something in the shampoo? In a salon? What is it?"

"It's a glass fronted building in the centre of Zurich - without net curtains - but that's not important right neow."

"But... Jacquel... Jackie... Jack... you had all your hair cut off and dyed red. Surely you can't have really wanted that."

"Yes I did and I think it looks winderful ... and please don't call me Shirley... it's Jackie."

Colin didn't know what to make of this beautiful, confident woman who was getting admiring stares from every other person in the terminal. She seemed to bear no relation to the mousy woman he'd been dating since he was twenty one and kissing goodnight faithfully at the front door every Saturday. He didn't even know whether he fancied her now. Maybe it was something to do with her newly-found father. "You found your father. How did it all start?"

An earwigging airport staff member walking past piped up "Well first there was the dinosaurs ..."

Colin and Jackie glared at him as he swaggered off.

Jackie looked at Colin as if seeing him for the first time. He was shorter than her by three inches; in her new high heels she could see the scurf on top of his head. He had had precisely the same side-parted, over the top of the ears conservative haircut ever since she'd met him. He was wearing a beige shirt and cardigan, brown trousers, brown socks and brown shoes. She knew his Y-fronts would be snowy white, and that under the shirt a snowy white vest would be snuggled against his snowy white, concave chest. And he hadn't even commented on how good she looked with her new haircut! Had she really been dating this dull little man for eighteen years? Hanging on every word about excise duty and poll tax?

"Colin, I'm moving to Lindon," Jackie decided suddenly. Zurich, with its trendy population and plethora of shops, had made her realise she'd well and truly grown out of her quiet existence in Arthritis-on-Sea, where the Tuesday night Bingo game was the week's biggest event and 70% of the population was over 60. "I want to have some fin!"

"London? Fun?" Colin shuddered. "Jacqueline, my dear, we appear to be going in different directions."

"That's because yeu've just stepped onto the moving walkway."

Colin pulled himself off the travelator and stood beside her. "But you know what I mean. You've gone all trendy and sexy, and I'm happy to continue the way we were, with our peaceful life together. I've even lashed out and got cable TV so we can watch the Weather Channel together."

"Makes a change from the stock reports on Ceefax," muttered Jackie. "No, Colin, it's over between us. I'm sure yeu'll find a nice girl somewhere who'll be happy with a boring life. If yeuw ever decide yeuw need a change, and yeuw want to live it up too, I'll give yeuw my address." She kissed him on the cheek, and he caught a waft of expensive perfume. His Jacqueline only ever wore Devon Violets! "Here, Colin, I brought yeuw a present back from Zurich."

"Oh! Thanks!" Colin started to unwrap the package, and then looked at it, bemused. He glanced up to ask Jackie why she had brought him back a bottle of Hair Magique Shampoo for Normal Hair, but she'd vanished.

He caught sight of her striding purposefully across the terminal, out of his life. "Jackie! Wait!"

Colin started to run after her, and didn't notice the long line of baggage trolleys bearing down on his path from the right.

As he was flung into the air by the first of twenty-four trolleys Colin squeezed his shampoo bottle so tightly the cap exploded like a champagne cork, and his head was squirted with most of the contents from the bottle.

When Jackie, now decidedly Ms Marple, was getting into a cab outside the terminal, she heard a familiar voice utter words it had never said before: "I need a short haircut! I want my hair dyed red! Quick, where's a hairdresser? Sir, do you know? Madam, where do you get your hair cut? I need a short red haircut!" She didn't turn around to see Colin accosting complete strangers, but looked straight ahead. The cab driver wondered whether he'd picked up a madwoman as she sat on the back seat, laughing until tears rolled down her cheeks.

The end
(c) Copyright 2000, Sabrina S and Sean O'Hare
Comments welcome to sabrina.s@zdnetonebox.com and psharp55@altavista.net