Bryan Billiams by Lauren Strong

Bryan Billiams had, historically, never been a good liar.

So that was why, as he sat in front of the two officers, Bryan Billiams told them everything.

Bryan Billiams was fifty-two years old and looking for a career change when he stumbled upon The Merry Barber. The place stood out in the same way that scandals do on magazine covers or sharks in lobster tanks tend to. It was intriguing, it was novel, and it made zero sense no matter how he tried to spin it.

The Merry Barber stood proudly in the middle of a small plot of mostly parking spaces. No buildings stood alongside the stoic establishment, which made it a little easier to ignore the worn visage the building oozed from its brickwork. The paint lining the outside was chipped, and the big front windows were tinted dark. Bryan Billiams only knew the barbershop’s name due to the boring sans-serif font plastered onto a rather unfortunate-looking storefront banner that flapped miserably above the door. As Bryan approached the entrance, he found himself greeted by a small OPEN sign that hung like a man at the gallows.

The place didn’t look like the flashy new storefronts Bryan had seen popping up for the past few years, but what the shop lacked in appeal to a younger audience, it made up for in a very Bryan-centric intrigue. He had been cutting his own hair ever since he had picked up his father’s razor as a kid. He supposed throughout all the trial and error in his life. His hands had enlisted a history of being clever.

He walked inside, only mildly disappointed to find no bell over his head to announce his presence. He had thought this place would be more old-school, but the younger generation’s habit of sucking the fun out of old architecture had not left this establishment untouched.

The inside of the shop was even less becoming than the outside, which was, in all honestly, a rather impressive feat. The walls of the entire place were covered in the most horrendous yellow wallpaper he’d ever had the displeasure of looking upon; a sickening shade of rotten fish floating in a nuclear reactor. The waiting room consisted of two metal chairs and nothing else. There was a desk. A basic, ugly white slab of fake wood with absolutely no character. The only objects in sight were the register and a clipboard empty of papers. Peering deeper into the barber shop would reveal the barber chairs lined up with small mirrors, but not much else.

Bryan’s heart ached painfully at the sheer lack of this barber store. It was pathetic in such a way that made Bryan squirm. He was not one for being squirmy. Bryan Billiams was and had been many things in his life, but a coward was never one of them.

“Hello?” he called out into the establishment, glancing at his watch to keep track of time. The more ticks the watch gave, the higher his eyebrows drew up. Eventually, after too long a time, a man pushed open the back door and met Bryan’s eyes from across the store. As he drew closer, Bryan could smell the cigarette smoke clinging to him like perfume. It didn’t mix well with the breakfast sandwich the man was also carrying, almost completely devoured. 

“Who’re you?” The Breakfast-Sandwich-Haver asked. He was younger than Bryan, but his voice, raspy and deep as it was, made him out to be older. Bryan was tall, but this man was taller and the owner of an almost improbable amount of chin. A healthy layer of stubble sat coating his face like he hadn’t shaved in a week or so (and, Bryan privately speculated, he really should consider cleaning up a bit).

“Bryan Billiams, my boy,” Bryan introduced as the man came closer. “Do you run this establishment?” Bryan stood up straight and watched as the Breakfast-Sandwich-Haver’s eyes went a little wide at his words. However, he couldn’t tell if it was the assumption of him being The Boss or the title of ‘boy’ Bryan had bestowed upon him.

“On Tuesdays? Sure,” Breakfast-Sandwich-Haver said slowly, aptly finishing off his sandwich and narrowing his eyes at Bryan as if contemplating something.

“Do you have any other workers today?” Bryan asked, searching for a name tag that wasn’t there. It would be strange to call the man ‘Breakfast-Sandwich-Haver’ now, considering he had eaten the sandwich, but the crumbs of the sandwich still clung to his unkempt beard with vigour only a few possessed.

“Who’s asking?” said the man, Scruffy, for he was very scruffy looking, decidedly—unfortunately—not in a roguish sort of way. 

“Bryan Billiams,” said Bryan Billiams. He couldn’t keep the frown off his face as he eyed the other. “I’m not a man who likes to repeat himself.”

“Of course not,” Scruffy said, chuckling without humour. “No other workers today. Are you supposed to be here?”

Bryan Billiams thought of his life then. He thought of cutting his own hair with his father’s razor as a boy. He thought of how life had taken him down so many roads. He thought of long days spent listless and coped up in his apartment. He thought of his passions and his smart eyes and quick hands. He thought of this little establishment and of the old sermons his pastor used to give in his youth; something about using your skills for charity. Or something to that effect. It had been a while since he’d been to church.

“With the state I’ve found your place in, boy, I think I very much am.”

“We don’t need to hear your entire sob story,” the officer said with a hand on his temple.

“Ah, luckily for you, I’m not giving you all of it,” Bryan said cheerily. “Unless you do want me to talk about my lovely darling kitty. She’s the joy of my heart, a pivotal character in my ‘sob story—’”

The other officer gave a sharp and heavy sigh. “Please continue, Mr. Billiams.”

Bryan had been working at The Merry Barber for four days before meeting The Boss on an uneventful Thursday afternoon. The sky had been the most dreary shade of grey all day, like a coffee cup drowned in Noir Instagram filters. The grey combined with the tinted front windows of The Merry Barber had seen Bryan in a deep one-sided discussion on the lighting infrastructure of the small shop.

“See, I don’t even understand how any work can get done in here with these horrible lights.” Bryan was standing by the barber chairs, carefully looking them over as well as their designated stations. The horrible fluorescent lights flickered above him, causing his eyes to twitch and water while a small headache formed between them.

“Well then, you’ll just have to take it up with our superiors,” Pablo said from the front desk. Bryan had only learned the other man’s name from the wrappers of his breakfast sandwiches, a food item Pablo had every day and, from what Bryan could tell, with very little variation.

Bryan hummed thoughtfully. “You make an excellent point. When is The Boss coming in exactly?”

That’s the moment when the front door was thrown open, and another man stepped through. He filled the doorway easily. The silhouette of his boxy suit was sharp and expensive, his gaze piercing. Bryan watched as Pablo quickly took his feet off the front desk and threw his breakfast sandwich discreetly into the trash can. The process was admittedly smooth but overall ruined by the small smear of mayo that chose to stay smeared at the sides of Pablo’s mouth.

“Boss,” Pablo greeted the newly frowning man. The frowning man only frowned further. A feat Bryan would have labelled as impossible if he had not seen it with his own eyes. So this was The Boss.

“Hello, Boss? I’m glad you’re here. I have a few things I want to go over with you if you’re amenable.”

The Boss turned his way, and Bryan raised a brow at the expression on the other man’s face. The Boss looked at him with a sort of suspicion Bryan couldn’t fathom the depths of.

“Who are you?” the man said, impossibly low and impossibly full of venom. Bryan was instantly struck by how much this man resembled his oldest nephew during his particularly angsty teenage years.

“Bryan Billiams, my boy. What might I call you?”

The Boss just looked Bryan up and down, creases deepening on his forehead. “What the hell are you doing here?” The Boss said instead of giving him a name. Oh well. Maybe The Boss ate breakfast sandwiches as well. Not all hope of learning the man’s name was lost.

“Working. Well, trying to. I have been… encouraged to speak with you about… concerns regarding your establishment.”

The Boss’s eyes narrowed, and his hand drifted to his side. He wasn’t carrying a bag, so Bryan didn’t know what he possibly could have been reaching for.

“And what would those concerns be?” His tone was low, looking for trouble. Bryan could understand. He too disliked constructive criticism, but, in the end, Bryan could never argue that it wasn’t constructive.

“Well, for one, the general upkeep of this place is horrendous,” Bryan said honestly, gesturing to just about everything in the store. The Boss paused, an almost surprised expression crossing his face. “What? You didn’t expect me to compliment this place, did you? As The Boss here, I’d be implored to question your methods of operation.”

Who are you?” The Boss snarled again, and Bryan couldn’t help the frown. How many times was he going to have to repeat himself?

“Someone with a passion for this business, and,” Bryan said, looking at The Boss’s poor choice of hairstyle, “a lot more experience than you surely have. I am also open to offering pointers unless that would be below someone of such high regard as yourself,” Bryan quipped, not bothering to eye the other man’s frankly horrible hairdo. It was all slicked back with absolutely no styling in sight. He’d never craved a pair of barber scissors more.

The Boss stood still with his horribly angsty gaze trained on Bryan, but he didn’t relent. He wasn’t one for being talked down to by the younger generation.

After a few too many heartbeats, The Boss nodded slowly and walked passed him  and Pablo into the mysterious back room, slamming the door closed behind him.

Pablo and Bryan stood in silence for a moment before Pablo moved to pick out another cigarette.

And the rest was history.

The officer looked through a conspicuous little folder that held a few scraps of paper. “Were you affiliated with any other families before this?” he asked, looking up and making eye contact with Bryan, who, in turn, couldn’t help the indignant tone.

“I have no idea how that relates to our situation, but if you must know, I never did have a good relationship with my family. I left it as soon as I was able.”

“At what age did you join this one?”

Bryan bristled. “That is awfully presumptuous of you, my good sir!”

“I– what?”

“That is improper and inappropriate. I do not see how my personal relations tie into this. What I do in my personal time is for me to know and for you to keep your nose out of it. If you want me to continue, we will drop this subject.”

The officer gave another, much heavier, sigh. Like a bolder. “Yes, Mr. Billiams. Please continue.”

A week after Bryan had hired himself onto the admittedly small crew of The Merry Barber, Bryan found himself sitting in one of the two sleek barber chairs. Panicking.

He had started the job here at The Merry Barber just days ago, but he hadn’t quite settled into any sort of routine just yet. Mainly because he found there was a startling lack of routine to get used to. Nothing ever seemed to happen. In the week that he’d been here, there had not been one singular customer. The stress of it was getting to Bryan. He couldn’t help but worry for Pablo, who ate so many breakfast sandwiches and smoked so many cigars that he was out of the shop more often than he was manning the desk. But mostly Bryan worried for The Boss.

He still hadn’t figured out the other man’s name yet. He’d only come in two other times in the past week. He always locked himself in the back room and didn’t speak to either him or Pablo.

So, with the shocking amount of nothing to do, Bryan thought, thought hard, and came up with a plan.

It started with the horrible wallpaper.

Bryan rolled up his sleeves and started tearing it all down, pleasantly surprised to see a charming cream wall behind the old, mouldy cheese colour of the wallpaper. He could work with cream. The paper came off easily enough, but when Pablo had come back from his third smoke break, the cigar had almost fallen out of his mouth in surprise.

Bryan gave him a smile many a man had called charming.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“You don’t think I was just going to let this wallpaper stay up, did you?”

“Did you clear that with Boss?”

“Do I look like I need to clear that with Boss?” Bryan said with a grin and another tug on the vomit-yellow paper for good measure. The Boss probably won’t mind. Probably. He and Pablo were honestly excellent coworkers. Perhaps Bryan could host them over for dinner some night soon. As a bonding experience. “Now help an old man out, boy.”

“You’re not that old,” Pablo said, walking over and grabbing armfuls of paper.

“And you’re not that young. That’s why it’s a figure of speech,” Bryan said, standing with an armful of paper himself. “Now, let’s see about that dumpster out back.”

They carried the paper to the back and threw the revolting thing into the garbage. Pablo stopped complaining after two trips, and Bryan could tell he largely preferred the wallpaper-free zone.

When Bryan saw The Boss stepping out of his sports car and walking across the parking lot that morning, he was prepared to be thanked for his efforts in cleaning up the shop. 

As it turned out, The Boss minded the changes made to the store a lot.

“What the hell did you do to my shop?”

“Improved it,” Bryan said with no hesitation. The Boss was young, Bryan was coming to realise. Younger than him and Pablo both. Honestly, it almost seemed like Boss didn’t even want to be The Boss of this place, considering how rarely he was around. Even Pablo was incredibly unenthusiastic about the workplace happenings. This was probably due to the lack of everything this barbershop had — or more accurately, didn’t have — a fact Bryan was fighting to change.

“This will be better for you in the long run, don’t worry your little head of hair about it.”

The Boss slammed the door to his office.

Later, when Bryan was in the middle of convincing Pablo to remove the horrible desk, The Boss walked in again. He eyed the table in front of him, with Bryan desperately trying to pull the desk towards the dumpster, and Pablo trying to pull it back to its spot.

“Help me Boss! He’s insane!” Pablo cried.

Boss sighed and slammed the door closed behind him again. Bryan ended up with the upper hand and cheered when he got Pablo to throw the ugly thing into the dumpster.

“Is this when you met up with Mr. Gland?” The officer asked, writing down notes.

“Oh! Our first customer, I’ll always remember him fondly,” Bryan said with a smile.

Bryan had been working for two weeks before he got to work with his first client. A man and two others walked into the shop. The bell Bryan had installed overtop the door jingled merrily with each person. The sound made Bryan wiggle with joy.

“Mr. Gland, I presume?” Bryan said, eyeing the figure that had walked through the door from his spot behind the new polished wood desk. He had been doing some sweeping the night before when Boss had come out of his office with a grim look. Boss had informed him and Pablo that they would have an appointment with Mr. Gland the following day.

Bryan was so overjoyed at the prospect of having an actual customer that he didn’t listen much to whatever else Boss was blabbering about.

Now that Mr. Gland and his associates were here, Bryan couldn’t bite back his excitement. Pablo was out on his break, so Bryan was the only one working the floor. He finally got to put his skills to use.

“Follow me,” Bryan said, gesturing for Mr. Gland to follow him to the chair. The man followed with a small amount of hesitance and an overdose of skepticism. Bryan offhandedly wondered if Mr. Gland had a past with barbers.

“What is this?” Gland said as Bryan deposited him beside a chair and continued to gather his supplies. “I thought…”

“You have an appointment with us today, do you not?” Bryan said, gently guiding Gland into the chair. The man nodded slowly. Bryan smiled kindly. “Then you don’t need to worry. You’re in the right place, and I’ll take care of you.” The other two men that had entered with Mr. Gland stood awkwardly to the side like they couldn’t see the perfectly wonderful new cushioned benches Bryan had placed in the waiting area, specifically for sitting. “You boys can sit down, understand?”

Bryan settled into a routine he had missed dearly. He hung the hair apron around Mr. Gland’s shoulders and got to work misting the man’s overly gelled head of hair.

It was then that Pablo decided to make a reappearance in the shop. The other barber stepped through the back door and froze upon seeing the company. Bryan waved him over and, after a very interesting array of emotions made their way across Pablo’s face, the other man joined him beside Mr. Gland.

“What’s going on here?” Pablo asked slowly, looking about confused as Mr. Gland did. Honestly, did no one know what barbers did? Did Pablo not know what barbers did?

Oh, great heavens.

“Don’t fret about it. You can just take notes. I have things to teach and, apparently, you have things to learn,” Bryan said.

Bryan continued with Mr. Gland’s hair. There was a silence that hung in the air, thick like hairspray, which wouldn’t do at all.

“Tell me about yourself, Mr. Gland,” Bryan said, in his most conversational tone.

“I- er,” Mr. Gland said eloquently.

“Anything special planned for today?”

At that, Mr. Gland seemed to freeze up. Bryan must have brushed up against a touchy subject.

“I suppose I have this appointment?” Gland said slowly, like a question, looking at Bryan through the mirror.

“I suppose you do. Pablo? Are you taking notes? I want you to pay close attention to what I do next.”

Pablo appeared by his side and watched with wide eyes as Bryan picked up his scissors.

“Now, we have to be careful with these, lest we cause an accident. The head bleeds a lot when cut, it’s not fun and it’s never pretty.” Pablo’s mouth had fallen open a little, and there was no notepad in sight, but Bryan carried on anyways. The best way to learn was to watch, anyway. He brought the scissors to Gland’s head and smiled as he looked at the man through the mirror in front of them. “Just a trim then?”

“Uh, yes.”

Bryan carried on with the appointment and chose to make pleasant conversation with the man. Bryan’s words seemed to calm Gland down to some degree at the very least. He kept talking about business deals he was running and other people as Bryan hummed and pretended to know who they were.

“Mr. Green also has a good hold on the southside markets, and I have an in with him, you know,” Mr. Gland said a little breathlessly as Bryan cut the fine hairs by his neck. Lots of simple small cuts. Bryan resisted the urge to rub at his temples. Were they talking about celebrities? There were altogether too many celebrities nowadays. Bryan couldn’t keep them all straight. 

“I’m sure you do, Mr. Gland.”

“And the Eastern gang has been moving all around these past couple of weeks. I have been thinking of moving with them, you see,” Gland squeaked.

At this, Bryan frowned. Was this man seriously talking about joining a gang? Like he was some teenage boy dreaming of war? “I don’t condone hanging out around those types of ruffians,” Bryan said in a more authoritative tone, making eye contact with the sweaty man in the barbershop mirror. His hands stopped their cutting for a moment so he could address the situation with the seriousness it seemed to require. “That path will bring you nothing but trouble, you understand, Mr. Gland? I don’t think either of us wants any sort of complications to befall such a rash and irresponsible course of action.”

The two of them stared down in the mirror, Bryan with a stern expression left over from parenting his younger siblings, Mr. Gland with a profusely sweating face. Bryan kindly reached up and dabbed a cloth along the man’s brow.

“Of course, sir,” Mr. Gland said after a few moments. The tension in the room instantly dissipated and Bryan resumed the grooming.

Pablo seemed to be getting a lot out of the appointment at least, he was scribbling down almost everything that was said, his notepad filling up quickly. Bryan felt a swell of pride for his coworker, the diligent notetaker. He couldn’t wait to see Pablo in action with his own client one day.

Bryan finished the haircut and cleaned Gland up, dusting his shoulders and removing the hair apron. Bryan was proud of his work and Gland looked infinitely better from it.

“There we go, that wasn’t so difficult, right? At least we don’t have to shave. I’ve never been as smooth of a shave as I was at hair,” He laughed and spun Gland’s chair around, gesturing for the mean to get up. “You understand, right, Mr. Gland?” Bryan smiled. He never really was good at facial hair. He nicked his own skin often enough to be mortifying for someone who was supposed to cut hair as a career.

Mr. Gland cleared his throat and looked in between him and Pablo, who was scurrying away with his notepad.  “I—”

“There is, of course, the matter of payment. If you’ll follow me?” Bryan said cheerfully leading them all over to the counter and berating them when they didn’t leave a tip.

The other two men were bald, and after Bryan’s lecture on supporting the workers living off tips, none of the three stayed around to chat.

Pablo cornered Bryan after the appointment, surprise written in the arch of his brow and the pull of his smile.

“How did you manage to do that?”

Bryan frowned. Pablo really was a beginner, wasn’t he?

“Lots of practice, a little skill, many, many mistakes. You know how it is. There are just some things in life that take precision and patience to master. This is just one of them for me.”

Pablo just shook his head and took another smoke break. He muttered about talking to The Boss about what he had learned. Bryan smiled and wondered if he was about to win employee of the month.

“Are you aware that was the last time Mr. Gland was seen?”

Bryan looked up at the officer who had been sitting with him and asking questions for the better part of an hour now. Bryan didn’t try to hide the surprise that came across his features.

“The last time?” The appointment with Mr. Gland had been weeks ago. “I just thought he wasn’t booking with us because I had messed up. Thank the heavens.” When Mr. Glands had ghosted the shop, Bryan couldn’t help but feel like he had been the one responsible for the loss of a customer. His tips speech was perhaps a little over the top. But this news eased the ache he had been carrying for the past weeks.

“You really don’t know about Mr. Gland? Or anything about what happened to him?” The accompanying officer said.

“I do know that, wherever he went, he did so looking stylish, I assure you.”

The one policeman, the one that sighed a lot, sighed. Again. “Can’t we just talk to this Boss? How can we contact him?”

Bryan smiled, “Afraid I’m Boss on Wednesdays. So you can talk to me about any grievances you have with The Merry Barber. ” Perhaps calling it his establishment was a bit ambitious, but Bryan Billiams identified as an optimist and had always been leagues better at taxes than Boss ever was. “And I implore you to stop harassing me during work hours. I cannot keep coming into the station every time someone goes missing in this town. Do you understand me?” Bryan said, crossing his arm to further his point.

“He knows nothing, Mike. This is a dead end. Let’s just let him go.”

With a sigh, Bryan was let out of the interrogation room.

         “What did they ask you?” The Boss said as Bryan laid out the homemade casserole on the table. He was touched by The Boss’s obvious worry.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” Bryan answered as he sat down. Pablo was currently trying to figure out a way to get Kitty off his lap so he could join them at the dinner table. It was a small work dinner, just the three of them, but Bryan’s apartment felt more lively than it had in years.

“I’m glad you were transferred to us. I am honestly impressed by how well you handled the Mr. Gland situation,” Boss said as Bryan dished out the casserole. “If you hadn’t managed to get him to squeal, we wouldn’t have been able to deal with him so efficiently.”

“Doesn’t hurt that you’re a good liar under pressure too,” Pablo said, deciding against removing the cat and simply letting it stay attached like a fluffy leech. “Your impression of an innocent man walking out of the station could even give Boss here a run for his money.” Pablo nudged The Boss in the shoulder, and it was a testament to how much The Boss had mellowed out that he didn’t snarl at Pablo. Instead, a light chuckle left his lips.

Bryan paused serving and stared at Boss and Pablo with furrowed brows. The golden light from the light fixture above their heads made Bryan’s brow sweat from the heat. 

“Why, whatever do you two mean?” Bryan said sternly, levelling The Boss with a look. “We did lose Mr. Gland. One of our most promising customers. He ended up giving the shop such a good tip. Sure, he was a little strange, and ‘squealed’ about a number of strange things, but that doesn’t mean we should wish him harm.” He shook his head at The Boss and turned to Pablo, raising a judgemental finger. “And I don’t lie. It goes against my morals.”

There was silence around the dinner table. Pablo’s eyes were big and he was mouthing ‘morals’ like it was his first time hearing the word. The Boss only looked at him with a narrow gaze and a slight smirk.

“Of course, my mistake,” he drawled. Then, not bothering to hide his amusement, he held up a glass of the expensive wine he had brought. “To Bryan Billiams. The Merry Barber’s very own barber extraordinaire.”

Bryan couldn’t see what was so amusing about a stern talking to, but he joined the toast anyways. They ate dinner at a lovely leisurely pace and talked about business and the photos Bryan wanted to hang on the walls of the shop.

 Because now, Bryan was fifty-two years old and a stylist loved by all. He could look at the little barber shop and see the swirling font of the new storefront banner, accompanied by the clever little sandwich sign. There was the tasteful desk; the lovely, cushioned benches; and the chairs at their stations that were much more suited to service than when Bryan had first stepped into the shop. Their ad ran in the newspaper, and as the days continued on, the number of well-respected individuals that filled the seats of the shop grew to more acceptable amounts. It kept him busy and gave him excuses to invite his co-workers over for dinner and drink their expensive wine that was perhaps a bit too fruity.

He’d lie and say he didn’t enjoy it, but Bryan Billiams had, historically, never been a good liar.

About the Author

Lauren Strong is from Nelson, BC, and is studying psychology at Selkirk College. She has recently completed a few creative writing courses and enjoys doodling in the margins of her assignments and creating different stories in her free time. She can be found in shadowed corners of libraries and hunched over her desk drawing.

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