There had been no new numbers this morning which left Harold with a rare day off. After assuring John that, while the possibility always existed that today could be the day their world of dueling sentient supercomputers came crashing, the probabilities of it actually happening were limited. So Harold made some calls, checked in with Miss Shaw and Detective Fusco, packed John and Bear off for the park, then locked up the library.
The day was cold, but the vicious winds and snow from earlier in the month had stopped. The streets were clear for mid morning traffic and the sidewalks were jammed with pedestrians. Harold hobbled
two blocks east of the library, his steps slowing as he neared a bank of payphones on the corner.
He tipped his fedora down to his ears, slipped his gloved hands into the pockets of his warm cashmere coat and started up a leisurely walk.
Harold enjoyed watching people. As a younger man, his habit of observation gave him insights on human interaction that he would never have learned from his books and computers. As he grew older, watching people had become his job. But watching out of calling, being privy to a multitude of human perversions, and watching for his own enrichment, were two very separate pursuits. He enjoyed imaging the people around him as comrades on the great human journey. People with empathy, aspirations, ideas, and opinions. He knew the reality of things was often far from his imaging but on this chilly winter morning he allowed himself to hope.
He walked the ten blocks easily, pausing occasionally to linger and overhear the punchline, to admire a particularly well put together outfit or stop in front of a shop window. He made the turn onto 5th, slowing, a classic red, white and blue barber's pole mounted to the ground floor announcing his destination.
“Ah, Mr. Wren, it's a pleasure to see you again! Come in, here, let me take your coat.”
“Thank you, Alfeo. I appreciate you fitting me in on such short notice,” Harold said as he took off his hat then shouldered out of his coat and passed it over.
“Never a problem for you, Mr. Wren.” Alfeo draped Harold's coat over his arm then led the way through the shop. “And it looks like you called me just in time. Come, I have your chair ready.”
Harold chuckled, catching sight of himself in the wall mirrors. “I've been busier than normal of late, and you're right, I am a mess.”
“Nothing I can't fix. And for a man like you, busy is good.” Alfeo gestured for Harold to sit. “The usual?”
“I think yes, unless you have some ideas?” Harold clambered gingerly into the custom chair, carding his hand through his hair. “It's gotten rather too long, too tall. Doesn't hold its shape anymore.”
Alfeo adjusted the head and neck rest, “Good, yes?”
“Very. Thank you.” Harold held still as Alfeo draped the apron over him and secured it behind his neck, before relaxing back into the leather.
“Busy or no, you can't let so long go between visits.” Alfeo tsked, spraying down Harold's hair with a light conditioner mix then massaging it through with his finger. When the barber was satisfied he set to work with the his comb and shears. “Father Time has been kind to you, but all your busy has not. You've got much more gray since last time. How are things at the office, maybe you want me to...?”
Harold gave a genuine smile, “No, no. Things are quite secure at the office, but I thank you for asking. I make a point of keeping all the young bucks out in the field and far, far away from the Senior Management floor.” Harold watched the soft snips of hair fall over his apron. “Just -how much gray is there?”
And now Alfeo smiled, moving to work on the sides, measuring the length before he started cutting again. “Maybe you don't keep the young ones far enough away, hmm? I like to make my clients look good. For you, I think we can blend in some of this gray, something subtle.”
“I'm in your hands, Alfeo, do with me what you will.”
“You'll like. I guarantee it. Make you look ten years younger.”
“I wasn't aware you'd added Miracles to your services offered.”
Alfeo spun the chair gently to start cutting the top. “There is a not so fine line, I think, between a man looking as he should and a man looking to cheat nature.” The barber paused for a moment, finger combing Harold's damp haircut into place, shaking his head at the heavy silvering at the sides and back. He pressed a hand mirror to Harold and spun the chair to face the mirrored wall. “You have a sharp mind, Mr. Wren, and a still youthful face. Let me do what I do best.”
“It will take a few minutes to mix the color.” Alfeo took the hand mirror back, resting it on his work table before unhooking the apron to shake it clean. “I'll send Luca back to start on your nails. Maybe your whisky now, too? The Macallan 21?”
“Alfeo, you spoil me." Harold murmured. After the barber moved off to fetch his supplies and the manicurist he slipped his phone from his pocket to check in. Still nothing, still good.
Luca returned with Harold's drink. “I'm glad to see you, Mr. Wren,” The younger man said, smiling as he set up his workstation next to the chair.
“You too, Luca. How's the baby? What's she, should be coming up on two years old now, yes?” Harold leaned back in the chair, his eyes closed as Luca took him in hand, filing and shaping his nails neat.
“Next month! She's talking now, driving Donni crazy with it, but not too much I think. Donni is already talking about maybe having another one. I'd rather wait a bit, but what can you do, huh? And your boy, the doctor?”
“He's well. I got a letter from him last week. He's working overseas now, helping people. They grow up so quickly, Luca. It's a blessing and a curse.”
“I know. Every time I hold little Lucia in my arms I know. But it's a curse worth bearing, yes? To create life, to watch your flesh and blood grow?”
“Hmm. Yes, I suppose it is.”
Luca slathered warmed cream over his cuticles and set Harold's right hand to soak before moving to the left. Alfeo returned with the color mix. For the next hour or so Harold sipped his smooth scotch whisky and talked baseball and business. Luca dried and massaged his hands. Alfeo moved him over to the rinse station, securing Harold in the pneumatic lift chair before easing him back under the spray head. “Good, yes?”
Blown dried and styled, Harold admired his reflection afterward. Alfeo had been right, the color was subtle and completed the picture of a powerful insurance executive with his distinguished smattering of gray at the temple. His phone remained silent as Alfeo reclined the chair and draped a steaming hot towel over his face. Cleanser, towel, conditioner, towel, the scrape of Alfeo whipping the shave cream. If he had the time he would start off every day like this, Harold mused. Alfeo worked in long, sure strokes, the straight razor scraping his cheeks clean, shaping his side burns, another hot towel followed by a cooler one and the splash and massage of clean smelling shave lotion. A day in the life of Harold Wren.
After he settled up his bill and promised to book an appointment again in the next six to eight weeks, Harold stepped back out into the bracing cold of his New York. The day was still young, the phone still quiet. He hit the quick dial button. “How was your walk, Mr. Reese? … Yes, I'm headed back now, have you eaten yet?” Harold raised his arm, hailing a taxi. “Perhaps you'd like to join me for lunch?”