This cat ought to be bald just like the others. Because of the pet food additives, all felines resemble Sphinx cats these days. It’s a shame that their ancestral furriness can now only be admired in centuries-old textbooks preserved by law-breaking historians and cat fetishists.
I confer with the stray cat and stroke the mystery downy patch on its back. ‘Tell me, puss. Is hijacking the water supply the right way to go?’ The scrawny mouser bolts off towards the pumping facility, as if to say, ‘Yes, come on! And while you’re at it, get those idiots to remove the additives in my food so my fur can grow.’
The cat stops in front of a brick structure with gigantic steel doors. The plant stands on a confluence, absorbing thousands of litres per hour while corrupting billions of innocent hydrogen molecules and oxygen atoms with a formula that destroys hair. The buzz of the working syphons grows louder as two security guards slide the steel doors open and spew raspberry and treacle flavoured vape clouds into the cold air.
The cat scarpers. I feign interest in a mallard floating down the river while stealing sidelong glances at the interior of the plant. All together, I count seven guards shuffling around in there; that’s way too many for my liking. One of the guards slides the steel doors shut. ‘Move it along, buddy. Or you’ll be joining that duck in the water.’
‘That’s a mallard,’ I mutter, before ambling away along the riverside path.
‘Is everything in shape for Director Gretzky?’ One guard asks the other as I disappear out of earshot.
Gretzky? I may have struck gold. I commit that name to memory.
It was hardly a detailed reconnaissance. Yet I’ve seen enough to know that if we captured all 32 water plants, our gang of hair-wielding pacifists would be hard pressed to defend them all. Suffering casualties is not my style, and it would kill the Quaker vibe I’m trying to cultivate. Maybe there’s a less risky way to do this. What if we twisted this Director Gretzky person's arm?
On my way home, I catch up with the mangy cat and scoop it up into my arms, out of pity, and out of curiosity. I doubt that its hairy patch will go undetected for long. Better to give the little critter a safe home.
A saliva bubble pops on the corner of his slackened mouth. The pluck squad officer is not a resistant subject. His boggled eyes are rapt with attention as he watches Tove sway a set of locks back and forth.
‘Your love of hair is deep and abiding,’ she drones, tickling his bald head with the strands of a long, brown wig for the tenth time today. ‘Repeat after me; I love hair. I love hair. I love hair.’
‘I ‘uv ‘air. I ‘uv ‘air. I ‘uv ‘air,’ is the vowel soup he manages to push from his lips. Tove’s mesmerism has eroded his ability to form consonants. All pluckies, even the most cold-blooded ones, get tongue-tied when she taps into their subconsciouses like tapping a maple tree filled with gooey syrup.
‘Good,’ Tove says, dropping the wig into his lap. ‘Now wear this.’
He slips the wig on over his cranial hump, and smiles benevolently with spittle-soaked lips.
‘A round of applause, everyone,’ I say. ‘That’s thirteen and counting.’
Huzzahs and hollers abound. Another pluck squad officer converted. We might be growing in numbers, but the opposition’s reinforcements are arriving daily, and they’re starting to become more than we can handle. Soon we won’t be able to dig pits, lay traps, or wig-notise them quickly enough to avoid engaging in hand-to-hand combat. We may be forced to disband Follicle Farm and form splinter groups; we can’t remain here and remain pacifist for much longer.
Is there really such a thing as an off-road limousine? Apparently so. A tall lady in sunglasses steps out from the luxury 4x4 and checks her long, blonde hair in its tinted windows. She stumbles over the uneven forest floor in high heels, almost rolling her ankle several times, while a team of six cannonball-shaped ladies holds her hair aloft; the ever-faithful hair nannies—the rotund and powerfully built women who faithfully carry their master’s locks. Say what you will about their unappealing faces, but they’re good at their jobs.
I continue chopping firewood, ignoring the party of seven altogether.
‘So,’ the blonde says, ‘you grow organically out here?’
I know full well who’s asking. I just want to rile her up a bit. Put her off balance.
She takes off her sunglasses and pouts. ‘You know who I am, you cretin. Everybody worth a damn does. Call me by my title or I’ll sick the hair nannies on you.’
I give a quarter bow. ‘Yes, Madam Scanlon.’
‘I thought you ought to know, seeing as though you were such good pals, that my despicable assistant—the one who was feeding you tidbits of information for months—has been dealt with.’
Oh, crêpe. Phillip. Our most valuable chess piece.
‘You, my little forest dwelling friend, are going to let me in on your business. I have elite clients to serve. They are prepared to spend a fortune on organic hair.’
‘Sorry, I don’t deal with lemon-suckers.’ I take an almighty swing and split a log.
The pack of hair nannies snarl, and my central nervous system tingles. Mace and a few others stride to my aid, but I gesture for them to hold off for the time being.
I think it strange that Scanlon is fondling the collar of her fur coat so affectionately, but notice the chihuahua nestled in her bosom after making out its tiny frame. Scanlon gnaws on her cheeks; holy suckers! Those cheekbones could cut a butternut squash. ‘I hear that the authorities have been bothering you. Work for me, and I’ll put an end to that.’
I knew she had her fingers in a lot of filthy pies, but has she actually subdued the pluck squads? She drops a hip and places a hand on it. ‘Don’t look so surprised! Providing that every penny of profit finds its way into my pocket, those rapscallions will leave you alone.’
Working under the protection of this gangly hag would be far preferable to being abducted by hordes of hair haters and imprisoned. So while we're at it, let's see if I can make the bargain more appealing, because I can’t see us starting this operation from scratch elsewhere.
‘You’ll pay us salaries,’ I demand, clamouring for a smidgen of pride after resigning to Scanlon’s hostile takeover so quickly. ‘We will require a living wage.’
‘So you concur? What a huge relief! Jing, Chun, Fang, Mei, Zhi, and Bo would have been too busy kicking the crap out of you to hold my hair up if you had refused. It would have trailed in the mud and been shat on by insects!’
‘Ok. I’ve had it up to here with the lack of pavement in this dirty forest. Meeting adjourned. Onward, ladies!’
While I mull over how to inform the group of the situation, Scanlon wiggles back to her luxury car and slides in. Everyone, just so you know, we have a new boss, and she is a true profit vampire. That doesn’t sound too bad does it? Your leader is acting in your best interests, people. But no matter how harshly the stubborn and strong-minded criticise my choice, at least I’ll have saved them from a shearing and a sentence from the pluck squads. We can now hold our ground and conjure a scheme to blackmail our friend Gretzky.
The last piece of intelligence leaked to us by our contact inside Scanlon’s organisation, Phillip Guido, is a heck of a swan song. Providing that the video file sails through the choppy sea of 1s and 0s and lands in Director Gretzky’s inbox, society has a good chance of pivoting out of this deplorable anti-hair funk. The objectionable footage of the frumpy soon-to-be pensioner engaging in erotic activities forbidden by the state is ammunition beyond our wildest dreams. According to Phillip, Gretzky has been partaking in kinky hair rituals, flossing his crack with lengths of ruby red hair, and other unmentionable activities for quite some time—all at Scanlon’s behest. She hosts an exclusive underground club called Hairotica. With the file attached, all that remains for me to do is draught this email to the man in his early sixties and pray that the shock of seeing himself doesn’t induce some sort of cardiac event. We want him alive so that we can leverage the son of a gun.
We have come across an unspecified amount of footage that reveals some rather interesting things about you. Floss your
crack with hair a lot? Lick armpits much? If you’d like to remain in office and continue to indulge your private kinks unabashed, then you should do me a favour.
It would be just peachy if you stopped polluting the water supply with hair destroying chemicals. In order to keep up appearances, you should replace the current formula with a placebo that will pass muster during government inspections. Now, I’m no chemist, so you’ll have to come up with the formula that saves your own hide. The placebo must have none of the mind-numbing and hair-inhibiting effects of the nasty chemical sludge you previously poisoned the populace with.
If you haven’t watched the attached video clip yet, please do so. It is essential viewing. Terminally embarrassing, I hope, even for a man with as little shame as you. It goes without saying that if the footage went public, you’d have to resign in a hot millisecond, would face charges and imprisonment, and be permanently plunged into disrepute. So it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Switch out the formula.
Emancipator, redeemer, follicle stimulator, and incendiary adjuvant,
I click my knuckles in satisfaction. That spot of IP-address-protected e-blackmailing has really warmed my heart. Hitting the send button was the biggest dopamine rush I’ve experienced yet. And to boot, it’s probably the most altruistic thing I’ve ever done when I consider the knock-on effect this will have on society. Here’s hoping Gretzky falls to his knees.