Fedor Fedorich had not held a badger brush since before the war, and he understood that not even his father, a well-to-do feldsher in Vladivostok, had ever held a brush that was so fine.
“Go on. You’re a barber, aren’t you? Give the man a shave and a haircut,” said Andrei, who wore KGB insignia on his uniform and did not look like he had anything to say about ‘the man’ in question which Fedor would be allowed to hear.
The man had an arm made of metal, and the unblinking stare Fedor had seen before in the faces of the starving. He also had stubble marching up his jawline, disappearing into greasy, disheveled hair.
“Don’t talk to him,” Andrei added.
The badger brush worked up a lather better than Fedor’s old nylon. The man’s expression was hidden under the foam, and Fedor briefly enjoyed pretending he was not dealing with anyone special at all. When Fedor took hold of the man’s chin, he did not resist. His eyes did not flicker when Fedor dragged the razor across the tender spot of the Adam’s apple. Everyone flinched at the barber’s first stroke, but not him.
He was soon clean-shaven as any Soviet hero. Not wanting the man to look so unkempt again, Fedor used the razor on his scalp as well. The result looked a bit like Georgy Zhukov, to Fedor’s pleasure and Andrei’s distaste.
“It’s less trouble now, like this,” Fedor said.
Andrei probably thought everything was trouble.
“You can keep the brush.”
His friend Andrei confessed to Fedor, after they had had too much to drink, after Andrei’s wife had left him, that he did not like his job. That he was often sick, and he did not sleep well, and he did not think he would know a natural end.
“Maybe the Winter Soldier will be the one who does it. I wouldn’t mind; he is a professional. What no one wants is an amateur assassination. They are so ugly, when they go badly. Slow strangulation, or your brains falling out of your head. Fedor, it’s good to be a barber. I worry whenever I bite into a pastry it will be my end. I once saw a man shit himself to death from a poisoned syrniki.”
Fedor and Andrei were still hung over when they went to work. Someone had painted a red star onto the metal of the Winter Soldier’s arm, and his hair had grown out. He looked somewhat American – that had to be fixed.
“Make him look like Yuri Gagarin,” Andrei said.
Fedor pulled back the Winter Soldier’s bangs, exposing his hairline. “Impossible. Hero Gagarin’s hair is receding, and our man’s head is enviously full.”
The barber was going bald. It was not so bad, because he still had his wife and there was little Genya now, two years old and his father’s pride. Andrei was not half so lucky.
“What about poor Komarov?” Andrei said. “He had a lot of hair.”
“Comrade Komarov it is.”
So sad, how Gagarin had been banned from space flight because he was too important to lose. A man should be able to choose how he dies, Fedor thought as he worked pomade into the Winter Soldier’s hair.
Genya wanted to go to school in the United States, but he wasn’t smart enough. He still had hope he’d escape the family trade; after all, the cheap electric razor nearly put his father out of a job, and it certainly shouldn’t have made one for Genya. But there were still enough of the old apparatchiks left to keep Genya in demand, and so every now and then he had to make the strange trip through kilometers of tunnels and security doors to shave a man who looked perfectly capable of doing it himself.
The Winter Soldier seemed expensive. There was the metal arm, for one, and the army of handlers, for another. What was he good for? Genya had never heard of the Winter Soldier on the news, though it certainly would have been good publicity. “Soviet scientists construct new arm for Afghan War veteran! Works better than ever before! Western scientists puzzled, jealous!”
He had slowly been allowing the Winter Soldier’s hair to grow out. The apparatchiks had not complained about Genya’s own perestroika, and he felt a little rebellious as he ran his fingers through the Winter Soldier’s hair. Modeling the cut after Viktor Tsoi, Genya only trimmed a little. He almost regretted it when he saw how much it really did make the Winter Soldier look cool. Not just like a rock star, like an American rock star.
Genya probably wasn’t going anywhere.
“This guy costs a quarter of our annual budget every time we de-ice him, but Pierce waits three years for hair and make-up? Please.”
Dave Davison had gone from monster cosmetology in Hollywood to spritzing up the real thing for S.H.I.E.L.D. He felt like it wasn’t so much forward movement, but lateral. And now he had a pretty good health plan, which he needed for all the times super men and women got confused on whether or not Dave was friend or foe. Dave had become real quick with a brow pencil, and on his feet.
“We were trying to save money,” Marcia Ellston replied, keeping her hand on the Winter Soldier’s cyborg bicep, as if she owned him. Dave had a huge crush on Marcia, but Marcia seemed more into hardware than anything else.
“Good thing I’m paid so badly,” Dave said. “Damn WS, you’ve got some real goth mascara action going on there.”
“It’s from his goggles.”
Dave really wanted to give the guy a shave. He just looked so pathetic, like Trent Reznor fallen on hard times and forced to kill people. But Pierce wouldn’t let anyone bring in a blade, even if it was on an electric razor. Pierce’s one concession to the Winter Soldier’s comfort (if it could be a concession) was ordering Dave to wax his chest, like the Winter Soldier was merely a really expensive stripper and not a robot assassin who’d developed a contact allergy to some of the equipment they kept sticking on his skin.
It was incredibly awkward. Dave would rather oil the Hulk. He had oiled the Hulk. Even with the protective gloves, he’d still lost all the hair on his knuckles and it had never grown back. Dave’s life was absurd.
The Winter Soldier mumbled something to himself in Russian. Or maybe it was in English, but Dave didn’t want it to be in English.
James drew the razor slowly across his throat, the blade tugging lightly at his skin. The straight razor had been outdated even in his own time, a gift from Dad he’d used and used until he could finally go out without any embarrassing nicks on his face.
The control felt good. Safety razors didn’t give that to you. His bionic hand felt cold on his chin as he got the tricky spot on his jaw, the one he’d always cut himself on as a boy. Memories kept swirling around his head, Fedor updating him with the news every year as he gave James the perfect shave, and the terrible feathered mullet Genya left him with in the 80s.
Maybe he’d show up at Dave Davison’s door one day to thank him for the wax treatments. Dave would definitely scream.
He patted himself dry before rubbing witch hazel into his skin. James hadn’t even known how to find a straight razor, until Sam had dragged him into a place named the Grooming Lounge. Half the men there had waxed handlebar mustaches, which didn’t help James at all with his sense of being out of time.
“Everything old’s coming back into fashion, even you,” Sam had said, grinning.
James ran his fingers through his hair, enjoying the feel of having it neatly cropped. He looked put together.
Just another all-American boy from Brooklyn. And if he sometimes wanted medovik instead of apple pie, he wouldn’t tell anyone.