Early Fall 1635
“Ken, when are you going to put up a new sign?” Kim Beasley asked her husband.
“I ain’t,” he said, reaching across the breakfast table for the butter. “That sign’s been there all these years. It does a good job. We don’t need a new sign.”
“But all you did was add the word ‘hair’ to the old Club 250 sign.”
“So? You didn’t barely have a sign at all at the house, and it’s hangin’ on the door.” The little sign read ‘Kim’s Hair Salon,’ and it now hung where the sign reading “No Dogs and No Krauts” once hung. Which was good, because over half of her clients were down-timers.
“That was a residential neighborhood. I barely got away with running a salon out of the front room. I couldn’t have but the one chair and one full-time employee or two part-time employees because of where it was. They wouldn’t let me put up much of a sign. This is a commercial location, and I want a new sign. Or at least you need to repaint the old one. It needs to read ‘Kim’s Hair Salon’ so people can find it.”
“Nope. Ain’t going to do it. They can find Hair Club 250 just fine.”
“But it lacks class,” Kim objected.
Ken tried to swallow a snicker and almost succeeded.
Kim started to throw her coffee cup at him and stopped since it was still half-full and coffee was expensive. Instead, she threw a biscuit at him.
It was an old discussion. Ken had long maintained that since this was Grantville and the salon was in the front room of the house, trying to be classy was just putting on airs.
Ken caught the biscuit, took a bite out of it, and threw it back. Kim laughed. Ken laughed. The two of them laughed a lot. They were a good fit.
“I want the sign repainted,” she said.
“Then you do it.”
“I don’t have time. Since we moved, I’m swamped. Gals who haven’t had their hair done in decades are making appointments. When can you get me that third chair? I can get the all the half-trained help I need. But I’ve got to have that third chair.”
“Are you sure you’re going to need it? It might be just the opening rush.”
When they decided to move the salon out of the house and into the bar building they commissioned a new hydraulic lift chair (the works used to be a car jack that got reworked), and now she needed—or at least wanted—a third one.
“I got the clients to fill it. If I don’t take care of them, I’ll lose ’em. The opening rush will pay for it even if I don’t need it. But if I have it, I think I can keep it busy.”
Kim picked up the biscuit her husband had taken a bite out of. It had bounced off her chest and landed on her plate. She bit off and chewed the corner edge now covered in egg yolk and then put butter on the rest while she chewed what was in her mouth. “Get me another chair and have the tinker make up another copper rinse sink. And, yes, you can go ahead and tell me I told you so. That leather hose and the spray nozzle the tinker made up works just fine.”
“Are you going to want another drying station?” Ken asked, leaning forward to grab another one of the still-warm, light flaky biscuits off the plate in the middle of the table. Ken, who was a good cook, made good biscuits, which was a good thing, because as soon as the shop had opened up in the old bar building, business had boomed and Kim didn’t have time to cook or clean house.
“Yes, please,” Kim replied.
Ken nodded. “I’ll see to it.” When the electric heating element went out in ’32 Ken had a gas heater and a blower made up. When they set up in the bar he had a tinker make a hood for it and he plumbed the divided heat run. Now it was running two dryer bonnets and looked like it could handle a third one.
“But I do want a new sign.”
“Then hire it done. I ain’t changing it.”
Kim sighed. She knew the tone of voice. If she wanted the sign painted she would have to see to it.
Later that day
“Leota, do you know who they got to paint the sign for the hotel?” Kim asked. Leota’s head was over the rinse sink. Kim had just finished touching up the dark roots of Leota’s bleach-blonde hair. Leota was a night manager or something at the Willard. So she might know.
“Yeah, but why?”
“‘Cause I want the sign repainted and my ornery husband says he won’t do it.”
“Kim, for the second time in his life he’s right. Don’t change it.”
“The second time?” Kim asked.
“Hey, he married you, didn’t he? Do you know how many women are coming in just to see what the inside of Club 250 looks like? Honey, after all those years, we won. Don’t go taking that away by changing things.”
“You really think it matters?” Kim asked.
Mary Katherine, who always came early for her appointment because she liked to hang out and gossip, was sitting at one of the tables left at the front of the building for an over-large waiting area, spoke up and intruded on the conversation.
“Of course it matters, Kim. If things ever slow down, you need to provide transportation to the old folks home. They got someone who comes in, but the ladies would like to get out and now you’re barrier-free.” At the house, you had to climb the front steps and some people couldn’t. “They’d love to see the insides of Club 250. When I went for my regular visit after word got out that you was moving, it’s all they talked about. When I go back next week, they’ll notice the new hair-do, and they’re all going to ask me about what it’s like in here.”
“Well, if they want to see it, they’d better hurry before we start redecorating.”
“Young lady, don’t you dare. You’ll destroy the charm of the place,” Mary said.
“What? And spoil our victory? Every time I look in the mirror behind what used to be the bar, I snicker,” Leota added. The salon chairs were set up so they could spin around and take a look in the old mirrors over the sinks where the back bar used to be.
Over the course of the day, whenever Kim mentioned the remodeling plans, she got variations on the same theme.
“You do and I ain’t never comin’ back.”
“No. I like seeing what it looked like.”
“That would be a shame.”
Kim’s daughter Marisa, along with her high school chum Merrie Davidson, stopped in at closing time and sat down at a table to wait. The salon chairs were where the bar used to be. The dryer hoods were off to one end, away from the old kitchen pass-through and door. So that left more than half of the floor space open, and there were tables along the front wall for no other reason than they kept the place from looking empty and it was a cheap waiting area.
When everyone was gone, Kim sat down at the table and asked, “What’s up?”
“Mom, Simone, is getting married, and Merrie and I want to throw her a shower—well, more of a bachelorette party, really. I don’t have room at home. Can I use the salon on a Sunday when you’re closed?
Kim looked thoughtful for a full minute and then replied. “Marisa, I know you . . .” She glanced at Merrie. “. . . and your friends. I ended up in the principal’s office more than once because you two and Simone cut class or skipped school. But you’re grownups now. So, yes, you can. But don’t embarrass me. The business is doing well, so I don’t need any bad publicity. So you make sure no one gets too drunk to walk home. And make sure you clean up after you’re done. And you will pay for anything you get out of your father’s stockroom. Is that clear?”
Out in the street Merrie said, “Okay, you got the place. I’ll get Fred Astaire.”
“You sure about that?”
“Hey, you saw him on the dance floor at the school dances. Shoot. You danced with him.”
“Yeah. He can dance but can he strip?”
Amanda smirked. “The way that boy moves? After I have him watch my Chippendale tape? Piece of cake.”
“Okay, but will he?”
“Leave that to me.” Merrie smiled a wicked if merry smile, “He’ll do it.”
“Hey, what’s his real name anyway?”
“I don’t know. Hans something or other.”
“Shoot, Merrie, every third or fourth Kraut is named Hans. If you don’t know his last name how are you going to find him?”
“Everybody calls him Fred Astaire, I’ll find him. Besides, he hangs out with that cartoon group that makes the flip books. So they will know where to find him.”
“Of course it pays very well.” Bobby McDougal told Fred as they leaned up to the bar tossing back the beer the Flying Pig was justifiably famous for.
“Hey, another round here,” Bobby called out to the bartender. “That’s a cold bottle for me and another one for Brent, and a room temperature draft for our buddy Fred here.” He turned back to the down-timer, “Now like I was sayin’, look at what they expect you to do.”
“Hey, it’s just a dance.”
“Just a dance? Where did you get that idea?”
“Well, that’s what Mistress Boyd said.”
“And what else did she say? They aren’t talking about a waltz here. Hey, don’t take my word for it. Go look it up. It’s called droit du seigneur. That’s—”
“I saw Braveheart. I know what that is,” Fred objected. “It might have happened in Scotland, but this is Germany.”
“Yeah, well, think about it, why don’t you? Do you know just how many of our families came from Scotland to the hills of West Virginia? We don’t have nobility. That’s why the King of Sweden is addressed as Captain General if he ever comes to Grantville. So since we don’t have nobility, the local lord can’t perform the rite of the first night. So Marisa Beasley is hiring a male stripper to exercise the rite. They hire a dancer to do the job and make a party out of it.”
“You’re putting me on. No one ever heard of that.”
“Yeah, how many bachelorette parties have you heard about? If they have one, they usually keep it quiet for a reason. This is an old pagan thing. The priests and preachers don’t approve, but it still happens.”
“Look,” Bobby continued, “you told me she said it was to give the girl a foretaste of things to come.”
“Well, just what did you think that meant?”
“Yeah but she gave me these special underpants she had made up called a G-string and—”
Bobby snickered. “The G stands for god. So since it’s kept in a god string it’s alright, it don’t count since it’s a god. Like it didn’t count with the Virgin Mary having a baby ’cause it was of the Holy Spirit, so she was still a virgin, right? They expect you to dance to arouse the girl and them take her to the back room and acquaint her with what is going to happen. Haven’t you heard any redneck jokes? I know you have. You were there when Brent here told the one about the boy who sent the girl home after the wedding because she was a virgin. You remember? The boy said, ‘Shit, Pa, if she ain’t good enough for her family she ain’t good enough for ours!’
“Look up the Roman god Tutunus. I tell you they are hiring you to play the part of Tutunus in your god string. That’s what Tutunus wore. Don’t take my word for it. Go look it up. Get the anthropology texts and look up marriage customs. The books are full of lords and kings, elders and priests in the name of their gods who introduced girls into the ways of womanhood. West Virginia was a melting pot, right. We had people and ideas from all over. Ain’t that right, Brent?” Bobby asked his sidekick.
“Sure is,” Brent said with a straight face that took considerable effort to maintain.
Fred still looked skeptical.
“Hey, don’t take my word for it go look it up. You need to know what you’re getting into. Why do you think they didn’t hire an up-timer?”
The party was going strong when they brought in the dancer. He moved well to the music and then he started to strip. The problem was that the stripper did not stop stripping. Merrie thought it was understood when she provided the “G” string that he would keep it on. But the music continued, and so did he. The laughing gasps of dramatic affectations of shock ceased. The noise level dropped. Indeed, apart from the music and gasps of honest shock there was silence. This truly was going too far by anyone’s standards.
Merrie muttered softly to Marisa, “You are in so much trouble when your mom finds out!”
“Momma is not going to talk to me for at least a whole year. There’s no tellin’ what Dad will say. And I don’t even want to think about how my husband is going to react.”
The rampant stud danced across the floor towards the guest of honor who stared in shocked dismay, not at all sure what she should do.
Fred extended his arms full out and placed his hands on her shoulder near her neck to slide her cardigan off her shoulders to encourage her to start undressing. He stepped back and did a slow turn to the music for all to see. When he was faced back, Simone pointed at his penis and laughed.
“Marisa? Where in the world did you ever find a little boy who could do that? And what I want to know is how many did you go through to find one that small and how much fun did you have looking?”
Fred turned red in rage and started to slap the smirk off of Simone’s face. But Simone was ready and as soon as his arm straightened to swing she kicked him in the balls. Not hard enough to do serious damage but it was hard enough to drop him to his knees. It definitely focused his attention. Slowly he got to his feet and with both hands comforting his distress, he hobbled to and out the front door as fast as he could.
The guests sat or stood by in shocked silence and couldn’t decide whether to laugh or not. When one did, the rest joined in, and the room roared. When they finally calmed down, after more than one false start, Merrie said, “I suppose we should gather up his clothes and send someone after him.” But when they did, they couldn’t find him.
An obviously distressed, naked man staggering through the doorway of the Gardens generated a great deal of attention. “Get him out of sight and call the police.” The manager said to his staff.
When the search party returned, before they were through the door, a police cruiser showed up.
“Marisa Beasley?” The chief demanded. “What in hell do you think you’re doing?”
Marisa bit her lip. “We were just throwing a bachelorette party for Simone.”
“And it got out of hand?” He asked.
“Hey, this is Club 250 isn’t it?” Amanda Boyd asked with a chuckle.
Later in the interrogation room at the police station, Hans Gruber alias Fred Astaire explained, “Honestly, I thought that was what I was hired to do. You mean they didn’t intend for me to introduce the virgin to what was coming so she would not be shocked on her wedding night?”
“Where did you get an idea like that?”
“Well, Mistress Boyd said it was to give the bride a foretaste of what was to come, and after I had a conversation with Bobby McDougal when I looked up bachelorette party in the library I was reading the next article or two in a book about wedding customs of the world . . .” Fred stopped. And in a quiet voice he asked, “You mean that wasn’t what they wanted? But I thought— That bastard!”
The interrogator suffered from dry heaves of suppressed laughter.
Fred turned bright red while he played back the memory of his conversation he’d had with Bobby and Brent. “Oh, they are going to pay for this.”
When Kim opened the door to the shop on Monday morning, the phone was already ringing. “Marisa, you are so-o-o in trouble girl!” Kim said aloud though there was no one there to hear her. And the phone kept right on ringing all morning long.
At closing, a very subdued Marisa slipped into the shop and sat down at a table. When everyone else was gone, Kim joined her.
With tears running down her cheeks, Marisa said, “I am so-o-o sorry mom. It wasn’t supposed to be like that and—”
Kim broke out laughing. Marisa’s mouth fell open.
“Honey, the phone has been busy all day. For every cancellation, there were two or three people wanting an appointment. And, get this, there were three inquiries about Sunday rentals and one booking, which you will have to handle, by the way. And they want the stripper. But they were adamant that this time he has to keep the G-string on.”
“So, I’m not mad. Everything is alright.”
“No, it isn’t, Mom,” Marisa said. “I got a call early this morning from Simone. She said I don’t have to worry about being a bridesmaid. Ethelbert heard about what happened and has called off the wedding.”
“Good!? What!? How!?” a puzzled young woman demanded.
“Honey, what did I always tell you and your sister when you were growing up? Speak up, speak up—”
Marisa smiled and finished the saying, “—you have nothing to lose except your future ex-husband.”