The Maltese Shampoo

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

photo credit: Joshua Franzos


I was inside a bank vault, holding a glass of Prosecco and casually sliding hangers of Diane Von Furstenberg dresses across a rack. I could hear Joshua's voice engaging in idle chit chat at the blogger networking party behind me. Joshua, my better half, with his razor sharp cheekbones, brilliant green eyes, and a 1000 watt smile that turned your brain to tapioca. He was a champion at chit chat. 

Tonight had already been an astounding success as far as I was concerned. I'd already gone out of my comfort zone and exchanged a business card with one other blogger. I celebrated my victory with a little hiding in plain view, in the re-purposed bank vault of the tres chic boutique. I pushed another silk dress aside and felt his hand upon the inside of my elbow. 
"Sweetheart," Joshua whispered, "There's someone you should meet." 
I was about to half-heartedly object, but then he flashed one of those smiles of his, and... brain pudding. His will was my command. I took another sip of Prosecco and followed him out of the vault to do some more glad-handing.

Joshua had met the only other man at the networking party. The man was thin and his eyes were dark. He failed to mention his name. He was nervous. I could tell he didn't want to be here either but, like me, was making the best of it. Networking is good medicine in the long term, but anxiety ridden in the short. When some people get nervous they talk a lot. Others, like me, clam up. Alcohol helps. The thin man with the dark eyes was of the first variety. He proceeded to tell me about his line of business, all-natural beauty products, while I drank. He started at the very beginning. He was born, just like David Copperfield. Joshua had already caught that matinee and wandered back over to the food. I listened to the thin man but my eyes wandered. There were beautiful and stylish women everywhere, happily conversing and shopping with one another. Outwardly at least, I too looked like one of these socially apt and stylish women. I wore more make-up than usual and a tight pencil dress that precluded me from joining Joshua at the hors d'ouevres table. My stomach gave a low growl, but fashion dictated that my diet would be a liquid one tonight. So I drank and eventually my attention wandered back to the thin man chewing my ear. I didn't need to hang on his every word to know that he was obviously passionate about his products. 

"American beauty manufacturers are just pouring toxic chemicals into green bottles and marketing it as 'healthy,' but it's really poisoning people and the environment!" he exclaimed.

I took another swig of my Prosecco but only gulped air. A lonely raspberry tumbled down the flute and bopped me on the nose. I looked down at my glass like it'd betrayed me, "Now, that's a crime."
"I know, right!" the thin man cried.
I looked at him and smiled. Finally, there was a universally humanizing condition we could both relate to, our drinks were empty.
"What'll you have then?" I asked.
"Well, I've created products that are actually natural and healthy."
At least, I thought we were both on the same page.
"No. I mean, what'll you have to drink? I'm going to go grab another," I said, jerking my thumb back toward the bar.
"Oh, no, thank you," he said, "I don't drink."
That's when Marlowe's Rules To Live By flashed before my eyes. #2. Never trust someone who doesn't drink. I started walking away.
"I read your blog," he began.
"Oh, yeah," I asked, turning back.
"Are all your stories real?"
I thought about it. As a fiction writer, I have a nasty habit for embellishing truths, this sometimes spills over into my blog posts, "Probably not."
"I still enjoy reading 'em," he said.
I smiled. Marlowe said never to trust someone who doesn't drink, not that you couldn't like them.
"You're alright," I said, wagging my empty glass at him, "excuse me, and good luck with your high pollutin' beauty product competition."

I glad-handed my way over to the bar, said hello to a few beautiful dames I met at the last blogger networking party, posed for a couple pictures, caught up with Joshua and downed two more Proseccos. 
"You sure talked to him long enough," Joshua said, nodding over to the thin man who was hanging by the door, looking like he was about ready to ghost this party, "He's a sharp looking guy."
"Sure. If you like them like that."
"You got types?" He grinned at me. I had to hold onto the bar while my grey matter softened.
"Only you, darling--green eyed brutes with wicked jaws," I said, setting my empty glass down, "What do you say we ditch this party and get a real drink at Peter's?"
 Joshua nodded. I said goodbye to our fair hostesses and we took a step in the direction of out, but the time had just expired on my one hour heels.
"Ow,"I said, rubbing my foot.
"Shall I go get the car?" Joshua asked, "You meet me outside?"
He unfolded my trench coat from his arm and handed it to me.
"You're a good man," I said, patting him on the cheek before he left. 

I limped my way outside and waited on the dark and quiet corner.  The night was cool enough that my breath came out in big white plumes. It was nice and peaceful until it wasn't. 

The sound of squealing tires and pounding footsteps on the pavement caught my attention and I turned around. Suddenly, the thin man was before me, thrusting a cardboard box into my arms. The box was stenciled with a word that screamed trouble, TOP SECRET.
"You must take this for me," he cried. His eyes were wild and desperate, "They're coming for me."
"Say, what's..."
"You must get it to the public!"
A large, white van zoomed down the street towards us, and Joshua pulled up beside me. The thin man looked behind him, with eyes big as saucers, and ran. 
"YOU MUST REVIEW IT ON YOUR BLOG!" the thin man yelled as he ran down the alley.

"Look mister, you got the wrong blogger. I don't do reviews! Nobody in their right mind would want me to either!" I yelled back, " I don't want any trouble."
The white van turned the corner on a dime and chased after him, out of my sight. 

artwork: Aaron Conner

Call me a coward, but like I mentioned before, I didn't want any trouble. Rule #3: Discretion is the better part of valor.
I jumped in with Joshua and told him to drive to Peter's, and to make it quick. He pushed the pedal to the metal.
"What's going on? What's that?" he asked, gripping the steering wheel as we hugged the curves into Fox Chapel.
I looked down at the cardboard box on my knees and finally said, "Oh, that's what they call a Nunhour."
"What's a nun-hour?"
"None our business."
I tossed the box into the backseat and forgot about it for the rest of the night. 

photo credit: Joshua Franzos


Look up "diversion" in the dictionary and it will show you Peter's house, a former bootlegger's post, deep in suburbs of Fox Chapel. The drinks are stiff and his basement organ music show is lively. Peter is the poster boy for capital H, Host. He'll keep feeding you drinks until someone else cuts you off, throws you over their shoulder and carries you out to the car. 
The next morning was difficult. I was feeling low. It was 11am and I was still in bed. 
Joshua woke me up by asking, "Are you asleep?"
I said I was. 
He gave me a newspaper and a cup of coffee and said, "Read that."
My eye's focused on the first thing they could manage and I didn't see how it had anything to do with me. If I was to be at all useful today, I needed some hair of the dog.
"Fun's fun," I said, "but right now I'd swap you all the interviews with Mayor Peduto ever printed- for a slug of whis-"
"Not that stupid." He put a finger on the paper. "That."

Natural Beauty Product Inventor Missing

Aaron Conner, CEO of Renovo Beauty, was last seen leaving a fashion blogger party 
in Aspinwall. Foul Play is suspected.  Police seek public's help for any leads. 

A portrait of last night's thin man with the dark eyes was printed on the lower quarter of the front page. I folded the newspaper and fell back on the bed, "Oh, so that's his name."
"Shouldn't you wake up and talk to the police?" Joshua asked. 
It sounded like a lot of trouble.
"I need a drink first."
"What was the last thing he said to you before he ran off?" He asked.
I told him.
"Time to wake up and figure this out," 
"I told you, Im asleep," I said and put the pillow over my face.
Joshua, of course, ripped it off.
"Don't you think a drink will help me wake up?" my miserable hangover pleaded and added, "Besides, who knows who was after that guy? Maybe he had gambling debts? Marlowe's 2nd rule was don't trust people that don't I don't trust him. The police will catch whoever lifted him. They're smart cookies. Anyway it's nothing in my life-"
"2nd rule? what's the first?"
"Oh, easy," I said, smiling while I put my hands behind my head, "Never trust people that drink."
Joshua frowned and pulled the blankets off me,"If you can make jokes, it's time you got up."
"Well," I said, frowning at my bare feet, "If that's the way you feel."
 Joshua marched downstairs, calling back at me, "It's also time you got that package out of my car."

The box! If this fella, Aaron Conner had gone missing on account of this "TOP SECRET" box, I had to admit, in the soberness of the morning, I was little curious. Curious enough to get out of bed anyway. I put my kimono on and made my way down to our bar on the first floor. I was in the middle of pouring my first drink of the morning, when I looked between the window blinds and saw a shady character lurking around our car, parked on the street in front of our townhouse. I set my drink down on the cart and watched him. He wore a dark hood and his face was hard and pale as a ghost, like he never went outside. The street was empty because the bars weren't open yet and all the yoga girls must be in class right now, instead of hurrying to and fro with their mats. 
A sad whimper came from behind me. 
The man held his phone out, pretending to look at it, but was clearly checking out the back seat of our car. 
Another, more insistent whimper and growl sounded. I looked back at my jack russell terrier. He stamped his little front feet impatiently.
"Hello Lando," I said, turning back to the window.
Lando yipped and jumped up, punching me in the back of my leg. He wanted to go out.
"No boy. Can't yet. I'm watching something."
His little brown ears flattened against his head and he laid down in his sphinx position, ready to bolt, whenever it looked like I might change my mind.
I looked back out the window and noticed, for the first time that a large white van was parked down the street. 
Trouble, I thought and sucked my teeth.
I took a sip of my drink, but quickly set it back down when the man pulled an emergency hammer out of his pocket.

The glass was already smashed and the box lifted from our car by the time Lando and I burst out of our front door. The car's alarm was going off something awful; I tell you, it sounded like it was emanating from the inside of my head, and ricocheting off my eardrums but I fought through it. I ran up, aiming for his face, but it just so happened that I stepped on a large piece of glass and well, it threw me off and my fist nailed him right in the throat. 
Lando, furious and full of the usual Jack Russell piss and vinegar, grabbed a hold of his pant leg, treating the man like a giant chew toy. 

The man made a choking noise, kicked my dog, and ran. The bastard ran like the wind. I hopped after him with a bleeding foot and called for Joshua. Joshua was already on his way, but too late. The man would be in the van and out of shadyside before we could apprehend him. 
What we needed was a miracle, and wouldn't you know? We got one.

We live in the poor side of shadyside, you see. The side that's packed with bars, and apartments packed with drunk college kids. There's always vomit in the streets and sidewalks and well, the man found a pile. He slipped on it so hard, the package went flying. The sound of his skull connecting with the pavement echoed throughout our neighborhood. I caught the airborne package, Lando ran over and tore at unconscious man's pant leg, and Joshua ran up and stood above the man's head, snapping his fingers in his face.

"He's out cold," Joshua confirmed as I hopped up to the scene.
I looked at the man's ugly mug; I didn't recognize him. 
"Better call the police," I wheezed, "He smashed your car window, looking for your ipad."
"My ipad," Joshua said, eyeballing the top secret box in my hands.
"Yeah, your ipad," I said, hopping over to the van. It looked brand new and other than the front windshield and the driver's and passenger's side windows, it was windowless. I had a hunch that I might find something in the van.
Lando continued to tear at the man's pant leg. 
"Lando, no," I said, hopping past him. Lando sat on his haunches and objected with a low whining growl, never taking his eyes off the man that had kicked him.
Josh flipped the man over with his foot, grabbed his wallet, and pushed him back into place. The man's body lolled obediently like a rag doll. Joshua pulled the man's id out.
"The name Clyde Wynant mean anything to you?" he called back to me.
"He's also got his company security pass here. Looks like he works for [*Bleep & Bleep]." 
"Oh, One of those high pollutin' cosmetic companies...I guess Connor hit a nerve with them," I said.
Joshua pulled his phone out and called the police. 

I wrenched the back doors of the van open. Amid the horrifying mobile mad scientist lair of blinking computers and caged animals in wretched states, the thin man laid on the floor with his eyes closed. He was hogtied with zip ties, his mouth covered with a duct tape gag and an IV bag of something noxious looking was spiked into him. Monkeys howled and screeched while I scooted past their frantic, waving claws.
"Hey fella," I said, tapping him on the face, "Aaron."
No response.
I ripped the duct tape gag off. If he was going to respond, he would've.
I felt his neck for a pulse. It was there, but faint. 
Not wanting to tamper with the crime scene, but not knowing what was in the IV bag, I reached and turned the drip knob until it stopped and someone who knew what they were doing could take over.
I backed my way out of the van and called Joshua, who was still on the phone with the emergency dispatch, "Tell them their front page missing person turned up and he needs immediate medical assistance."
Clyde Wynant was still out cold when I hopped back. He'd be lucky if he could remember his own name when he came to. I collected Lando and put him and the top secret box back in the house. 

By the time the cops and the ambulance showed up, I was sitting on the front porch with a bottle of whiskey and a pair of tweezers, picking chunks of glass out of my foot. 
"Jesus," said the detective in the stonewashed jeans and the Steeler's shirt, "now there's a woman with hair on her chest."
"You were at that party...You met Connor there," said the other detective in the Pirates shirt.
"I met a lot people there. It was a networking party."
"Don't you think it's a little funny that he's hogtied in a van outside your house?" asked Detective Steeler fan.
 I threw a particularly big chunk of glass into the arborvitae and poured a little whiskey on the wound. It burned like you wouldn't believe.
"Funny? not particularly," I replied. 
"Who's that other guy?" 
"I never saw him before."
"Why did he come here?"
"Ask him, I don't know."
"I'm asking yinz."
"Keep on asking."
"Mind if we come inside? Have a look around?" asked Detective Pirates fan, placing a foot on my porch. I thought of the top secret box. The coppers didn't need to know about that.
"Not without a warrant," I replied and took a swig of whiskey, for medicinal purposes.
"Listen, Mrs. Franzos," Detective Steeler fan said, "I guess we're both of us doing this wrong. I don't want to get tough with you and I don't guess you really want to get tough with me. That hole in your foot can't be making you feel any too good, so I ain't going to bother you any more till you had a little rest. Then maybe we can get together the way we ought." 
"Yeah sure," I said, eager to lose them, "come back and have a drink with me and the mister."

photo credit: Joshua Franzos


After my foot got disinfected and bandaged up at the urgent care center, Joshua and I came home and poured ourselves some drinks. When we got settled, we realized the giant elephant in the room was still there, so we pulled the TOP SECRET box down onto the area rug. Lando gave the box a sniff and expectantly looked between us and the box. After all that had happened in the past 24 hours, I think we all expected there might be sticks of dynamite in the box. It was to everyone's relief that there weren't.
There was a manila envelope labeled, "PROTO-TYPE INSTRUCTIONS" on top. I pushed that aside and found four black bottles labeled Y1, X1, X1, Z1, nesting in some wood wool.
Lando immediatley jumped up and gave it a sniff. 
Joshua opened a bottle and wafted it towards his nose, "Mmmm...smells fresh, like real basil and lemon."
He held it out and I sniffed it too. It did.
I opened the proto-type instructions. It contained a shampoo flowchart for a hair detox. I scratched my head. I've seen bank robbery layouts that were less complicated. 

"Looks like you start with this bottle of shampoo," I said, pointing to the bottle of Y1, "You use it three times and based on your results, you either stick with that, add the Z1 conditioner, or move to other shampoo, the X1." 

The phone on the side table rang. I reached over and answered it. "Franzos residence."
"Hello, Mrs. Franzos. This is detective Smith."
 I couldn't remember if Detective Smith was the steeler fan or the pirate fan, but it didn't matter.
"What can I do for you Detective?"
"I just thought you'd like to know that that Aaron Conner fellow is awake and recovering nicely, thanks to yinz."
"Oh, that's swell. I'm glad to hear it," I said.
"That Wynant guy is being treated for a concussion, but he's under police watch. He's going to jail. soon as he's able."
"well, that seems mighty appropriate too."
"Say, you mind if my partner and I stopped over?"
 My foot hurt and I was in no mood to entertain.
"I'm sorry, tonight's no good...I'm tired and I have to wash my hair," I said.
"Alright. We'll try back tomorrow. Well, so long then."
 "So long."
We hung up. 
"They're just trying to do their job," Joshua said, "You should be nicer."
"You know who should be nicer? [*Bleep & Bleep]...I wonder what's going to happen to all those monkeys and rabbits in that van..." I said, picking up the box of shampoo. 
"You really are going to wash your hair tonight?" Joshua asked with surprise, "What about your foot?"
I held the box in one hand, a drink in the other and looked down stupidly at my bandaged foot. There was no getting that wet, not after we wasted so much drinking time getting it patched up. 
Joshua had another idea. We slid two chairs up to the kitchen sink. One for me, one for my foot. We got to work acquainting ourselves with the shampoo that was responsible for larceny and kidnapping.

Maybe it was the sound a bad guy's head makes when it hits the pavement, maybe it was the spot the X1 shampoo hit, maybe it was my husband smiling at me while he lovingly massaged natural shampoo into my scalp and ran it through to the ends of my tresses, or maybe it was the way my hair shined and bounced when it air-dried, but one thing was certain, I was about break another one of old Marlowe's rules. Rule number 4 to be exact: Never fall in love with a product. God help me.

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

Find the Renovo Hair Detox Kit HERE.

For further reading on the subject of "big beauty" (it's like big ag), check out Environmental Working Group's website and start informing yourself.

Your Bosom Friend from Pittsburgh, 

*company's name pulled for legal reasons. 

**In the interest of transparency. This blog post was a work of short fiction, a parody, inspired by and heavily borrowed from the writing of Dashiell Hammett, specifically The Thin Man. You should read it. Aaron Conner, CEO of Renovo Beauty was never abducted, I don't know if he imbibes or not, and I don't drink as much as protagonist Nick Charles. No animals were harmed in this product review. I received these products for free, but opinions are my own.

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