Claire accepts an invitation from beautymeister Marcel Barrineau to join several top New Orleans stylists for a “Bad Hair Day” promotion, never suspecting it will get her and her husband Dan all tangled up in two very kinky killings.
She already has enough to worry about, with some maniac on a spree, trashing the ritziest beauty parlors in town. Could Eclaire be next? But when Claire realizes the salon sabotage and those gruesome murders share dark roots to the shameful past, not even Dan can protect her from a brush with death.
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The scream sliced like a razor through the dull roar created by ten working hairdryers, as the woman's freshly permed head lolled lifelessly to one side.
Poor thing, she'd been dead set on going curly, but now all she had was body.
Talk about your bad hair days ...
It was the rich, dusky aroma of French roast coffee that first coaxed me from sleep, but the real eyeopener was an appetizing rear shot of a big naked man, shaving at the bathroom sink. Oolala! Hot buns to go with my coffee! A downright divine Sunday morning, so far.
The old pink crackleware pot I'd inherited from Tante Jeanette waited on my bedside table, emitting a come-hither curl of steam from its spout. After stretching luxuriously, I filled a matching cup, part of the set which had originally belonged to Tante J's grand- mere back in Nova Scotia, and savored the coffee's dark, delicious bite. My pleasure was no doubt enhanced by the knowledge that it had been freshly brewed by the naked man.
All at once, I was struck by the paradox of how something so fragile as this very piece of china, from so long ago and far away, could have managed to outlast everyone who had ever drunk from it. I held the cup to the light, and its soft patina glowed with rosy confidence. A lovely thing indeed, but it was somewhat irking to think it might still be around after I was gone. Maybe that's what had driven certain cultures to start shouting and breaking their drinking vessels.
When the naked man shifted his weight to his right hip, I decided that called for a hearty salut, if anything did, and drained my cup, resisting a sudden impulse to hurl it into the fireplace.
The telephone rang as I was plumping some feather pillows behind me to maximize my view of the gentleman's splendid backside.
"Claire, you must help me. I am having a bad hair day."
Those fateful words rolled trippingly off the tongue of Marcel Barrineau, who only recently had declared himself to be monumentally bored with that trendy buzzphrase. Because, as he'd argued when we were pondering its etymology, bad hair doesn't just happen, it is committed, whether out of ignorance, incompetence, or malice, by human hands.
"Perhaps it is intended to be witty," he'd complained, "but this term is used with such increasing frequency, one would suppose we were all thrashing helplessly in the grip of a national epidemic." To the director of New Orleans's famous Institut de Beaute, owner of five salons throughout the city, un jour du cheveux mal is no laughing matter.
Then, the light bulb had flashed on over Marcel's sleek silver head.
To halt the spread of any epidemic required not just treatment, but education and prevention. What could be more logical than to put together a seminar that answered all the above?
He, who had never endured a personal bad hair day in his whole privileged life, had painlessly birthed the perfect scheme to cash in on everybody else's and called it, A Bad Hair Day!
For a fee of fifty dollars (gratuities not included) BHD-stricken patients could receive emergency repairs at the Urgent Care Hair Clinic, along with styling tips and product samples.
Meanwhile, licensed operators who'd signed up for the innocuous-sounding Technique Adjustment Workshop would quickly discover the term to be but a polite euphemism for twelve grueling hours of merciless retraining.
A Bad Hair Day was an extremely ambitious undertaking to be sure, but Marcel, never one to let moss gather, had already gotten it organized and ready to go. With seemingly no trouble, he'd recruited nineteen of what he considered to be the surrounding area's best stylists for the occasion, assuming he had merely to inform the twentieth - me - when and where.
"Well, I don't know, Marcel," I hedged. "I'm pretty booked up just now. When were you planning to have it?"
My attention was diverted by the naked man, who'd finished shaving and was bending over to rinse lather from his face. Skoal! I had to ask Marcel to repeat himself.
"I said, I have arranged to hold it next Monday," he answered with a touch of impatience. "Naturally, I would not expect you to abandon your own clientele to participate."
I am among those in the hair business who still adhere to the old tradition of observing a Monday "sabbath."
Marcel went on to say that newspaper ads would begin running in tomorrow's Times-Picayune. Classes, of course, were restricted to professionals only and had already been filled to capacity with unsuspecting participants. Admissions to the clinic would be on a first- come, first-serve basis, starting at seven in the morning and going until we were done, which probably wouldn't be before ten o'clock that night.
I sighed, knowing I really couldn't say no. After all, Marcel and I went back a long way. First he'd been my teacher, then my boss, wanted to become my lover, but became my dear friend instead, during the intervening years before I opened Eclaire, my own small beauty shop on the ground floor of an authentically restored townhouse in the Garden District.
Eclaire - which is short and sweet for my name, Evangeline Claire - doesn't look like a hair salon at all, but a rustic cottage somewhere on a hillside in provincial France; rough terra-cotta tile floors, apricot- washed plaster walls, pine antiques, tapestry, pewter, and a rose garden.
Upstairs are seven spacious, high-ceilinged rooms, two of them opening onto a balcony which affords a pleasant view of St. Charles Avenue, Audubon Park, and a distant slice of the Mississippi River. This is where I live with my second (and first) husband, Dan Louis Claiborne.
An expectant pause was hovering at Marcel's end of the line, and I had to laugh. His enthusiasm for a project always generated such a powerful magnetic force, it just pulled everybody else right along with him. "Oh, all right!" I capitulated. "Where shall I report?"
"Thank you, Claire," replied Marcel briskly. "As Dominica is adamant that the teaching duties should remain under the auspices of our regular faculty, your surgical and color expertise in the hair clinic will be most welcome, and pivotal to its efficaciousness. I, of course, shall divide my presence between the two."
Even though Marcel is descended from one of the original French families who settled New Orleans, English was his first language, but it is his rather endearing affectation to talk as if he'd learned it from old Berlitz tapes.
I yawned and poured myself another cup of coffee. The naked man had disappeared into the shower, so I was able to fully concentrate on what Marcel was saying, feeling myself getting drawn in.
Well, this event would certainly be an interesting test of my mettle, but not nearly as much work as it had sounded at first. Since we surgeons were required to provide ourselves with one intern each, that put forty "hairamedics" on duty. Even if a hundred people (Marcel's top guess) showed up - whose individual needs would vary in the specific categories of color, cut or perm gone wrong - our caseloads would average out to something like five heads apiece. "If my trial bad hair day should prove successful, and I do not anticipate otherwise," Marcel concluded, "it will be the first in a series of such events, at a higher fee, of course. I am, after all, not a non-profit organization. Perhaps I should immediately have Dan trademark the title. Also, I must consult with him about forming a franchise."
"Oh, Marcel. You're just a big old money machine, aren't you? Well, bye- bye for now, cher. Enjoy your Sunday."
"And just how do you suggest I accomplish this?" he demanded plaintively. "I have been telephoning the succulent Orange all morning, and there is no answer. Either she is simply not picking up, or she is perhaps having an intimate breakfast somewhere with that unsavory Duke Abbidis."
From the beginning of his incredibly starcrossed romance with Detective Sergeant Nectarine Savoy (whom he'd met while she was investigating the murders of his former girlfriend and illegitimate son) Marcel, when speaking of her, always called Nectarine by the name of every other fruit but her own.
I don't know how he addressed the lady in their private moments, but in my hearing, she had always been, "my dear." Dan's theory was that Marcel had worked himself into a state of superstition that, should he utter her real name, he would be committing himself to something irrevocable.
And therein lay the problem.
At the outset of their relationship, he had rather enjoyed the thrill of flouting society - as only someone absolutely certain of his position in it can - by escorting this stunning octoroon woman with skin the color of cinnamon tea, sapphire eyes, and Medusa ringlets of coppergold to even the most exclusive functions. Tell the truth, New Orleans ton was pretty small potatoes compared to the high and mighty international circles Nectarine traveled in as a famous fashion model before she quit to join her hometown police force.
Our city is notoriously schizophrenic about color. While it might conceivably tolerate the idea of Nectarine as Marcel's mistress - because of her beauty and because both their families had been here practically from Day One - accepting her as his wife was another matter entirely.
But Nectarine was not Marcel's mistress. To put this as daintily as possible, their passion remained unrequited, because that lady wasn't about to settle for being somebody's little piece of white chocolate on the side, thank you very much.
As for Marcel, the once infamous and remarkably resilient womanizer now found himself helplessly in love with Nectarine alone, and he knew the clock was running out, mainly because of Duke Abbidis. Handsome Mr. Abbidis, from an old and wealthy New Orleans quadroon family, was a criminal attorney of somewhat shady repute. He'd been pitching woo in a very determined manner to Nectarine lately, and she wasn't exactly going out of her way to avoid him.
I finally got Marcel off the phone by agreeing that yes, perhaps he should just casually drive by Nectarine's cottage over on Camp Street to see if her car was in the driveway.
The naked man walked into the bedroom carrying his empty coffee cup. My husband is around six feet tall, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a strong, wide, furry body that looks even better from the front than it does from the back.
I am a smallish blond who can - and frequently does - stand beneath his chin while wearing high heels (and sometimes not much else) and I adore being overwhelmed.
"Hey, darlin'. You leave me any coffee?" Dan inquired. I said I had, and he leaned past me for the pot, creating a dazzling 3-D effect. He intercepted my gaze and I lowered my lashes demurely, but he wasn't fooled.
"Don't get any ideas, you hussy!" he warned. "The bathroom's all yours. Hurry now, and maybe we'll be on time for once."
Dan and I had very recently, very miraculously, been fished from a runaway boat on the Gulf of Mexico by the next best thing to Jesus in a helicopter. A killer had cut us adrift in the middle of a hurricane. Since then we've devoutly attended Sunday morning services at the little Josephine Street Episcopal Church where we were married the second time. Because our prior churchgoing habits had been so irregular, we still didn't quite have the knack of it yet.
He looked down at me. "Be a good girl and I'll take you to brunch after."
I wrapped my arms around his waist and burrowed my face into his solid stomach. "Fine. I'll have the buffet," I said in a muffled voice.
"Would you settle for Brennan's?" he started to laugh but stopped abruptly. "Claire, darlin' ... don't ... you'll make me spill this coffee ... I'm serious ... please ... ohhh, baby!"
"Goodness! Look at the time!" I exclaimed and hopped out of bed, scampering for the bathroom, but Dan easily caught me from behind.
"Thought I told you to behave yourself," he growled.
"Honey. You stand there and swing that thing right in my face, what do you expect?"
Dan gave me a steamy look and murmured he expected I knew what...
Excerpted from A Bad Hair Day by Sophie Dunbar. Copyright © 1996 by Sophie Dunbar. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really do like the Eclaire mystery series. And I'm looking forward to delving into the last, Shiveree and hoping it grabs me like the first two books. Bad Hair Day...was just too much. Too long, too much going on, too many characters to keep track of, much more 'dark' than previously. Ms. Dunbar's writing is still superb. I just wish Bad Hair Day had been a touch more on the light side. Despite the overabundance of action and characters, the book is still good, and I'm glad I read it.