Carl had just lathered up the right side of his face when the phone rang. Wiping the shaving foam off his hands, he went to the living room to answer it before it went to voice mail.
“Hello?” he said and then cursed himself when he realized that he had instinctively brought the receiver to his usual ear, thus getting foam all over it.
“May I speak to Mr. Carl Lockwood?” asked the pleasant-sounding man on the line.
“Speaking,” Carl said, switching the phone to his left ear. “What do you want?”
“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Hank Deanley. I’m the editor of Beards & Whiskers Magazine and I would like to speak to you about your beard.”
“Nothing to speak about. I’m decided to shave it off.”
“Ah. Have you thought about reconsidering?”
“What's to reconsider? I'm tired of this beard, so I'm shaving it off.”
“It’s just that our records show you’ve had a beard for the last 14 years, so maybe you need to think about this a little longer before you commit to--”
“Wait, did you just say you have records on me?”
“Yes, sir. We have an extensive file on you.”
“But I’ve never heard of Beards & Whiskers Magazine. And even if I did, I doubt I’d be a subscriber.”
“It’s not exactly a high-profile periodical, but I assure you, Mr. Lockwood, that even if you don’t know about us, we sure know about you.”
Carl looked askance at the phone. “That’s great. I’m hanging up now.”
“Wait, Mr. Lockwood. Don’t--”
But he already had. Carl returned to the bathroom and picked up the razor. He ran the head under cold water and raised it to his face. The moment he made contact, the phone rang again.
“Ahh, it can go to voice mail this time,” he said. He waited for the final ring, and then started the first stroke. It was halfway down his face when he heard the loud, persistent knock at his front door. He rinsed the razor and put it on the sink. He looked at his reflection in the mirror, the lone square of pink skin in the middle of a sea of white foam.
“Beards & Whiskers Magazine must be trying to tell me something,” he chuckled and went to answer the door. He found two bearded gentlemen in suits standing there.They seemed to be slightly out of breath.
“Mr. Lockwood,” said the shorter one on the right, “do you have a moment? We would like to speak to you about--”
Before he could finish, the taller one on the left thrust a finger in Carl’s face. “Mayday! He has compromised the beard! Repeat, he has compromised the beard!”
Carl took a step back. “Who are you talking… to?” He looked over the man’s shoulder and saw a squadron of bearded men coming out of nowhere, swarming all over his front lawn. “Uhh, no. This isn’t happening.” He slammed the door just as the two men rushed it, throwing the deadbolt before they slammed into it.
Just then, Carl heard a window breaking and rushed to the kitchen to see two men forcing their way in. Another crash heralded the ingress of more through the living room window. Thinking fast, Carl made a dash for the bathroom, closing the door and turning the lock as the men filled his house. It wasn’t long before they were at the bathroom door, trying to break it down. Carl sank to his knees, cowering next to the sink.
“What the hell is going on?” he cried out. As if in answer, the clamor suddenly ceased and Carl heard the phone. It rang twice before it was answered. He strained to hear through the door.
“Hello, sir? Yes, he’s still here. We don’t know the state of the beard. He’s locked himself in the-- Yes, sir.” A pause, then came a knock at the bathroom door. “Mr. Lockwood? Mr. Deanley would like to speak to you.”
“Good for him.”
“Mr. Lockwood, it would be better for all concerned if you chose to cooperate.”
“Cooperate?” Carl rose to his feet, defiant. “Cooperate? You invaded my house! I should be calling the police right now!”
“Mr. Lockwood, all will be explained. Please be reasonable. Unlock the door.”
“Oh, I’ll unlock the door, all right.” Carl looked in the mirror and spread the shaving foam to cover his entire beard. Picking up the razor, he held it up to his face as he unlocked the door and threw it open. There was a collective gasp from the half dozen men who were crowded in the hallway. “That’s right. Now, back off or the beard gets it.”
The two men who were at the door were at the front of the group. The shorter one was holding out the phone. “Please, Mr. Lockwood. Don’t do anything rash. Speak to Mr. Deanley. He’ll explain everything.”
“I hope so,” Carl said, taking the receiver. “Mr. Deanley, I presume?”
“Yes, I’m very sorry I couldn’t be there to speak with you in person, but when we caught wind of your plans, there was no way to arrange transport for me to reach you in time.”
“Caught wind of my plans? How could you know I was planning on shaving my beard? I haven’t talked about it with anyone.”
“No, but one of our agents spotted you buying a new razor on your way home from work yesterday. The last time you bought a razor was in the late ’90s.”
“Yeah, I remembered my old razor was quite dull, so… Wait a second, you have agents who follow me around?”
“We have to keep tabs on you, Mr. Lockwood. You’re one of our most popular subjects.”
“You mean I’ve been featured in Beard & Whiskers Magazine?”
“Not only featured, Mr. Lockwood. We’ve devoted entire issues to you and your facial hair. Our readership can’t get enough of you. Harvey, show him the clippings.”
The taller man at the door pulled them out of his pocket, but Carl waved them off.
“No, I don’t what to see them. I think I need to sit down.”
“You can sit on the toilet. It’s right behind you.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I’m watching you right now. Hidden cameras, Mr. Lockwood. They’ve been placed everywhere in your house. Like I said, we have to keep tabs on you.”
Carl sat down heavily on the toilet. “I don’t know if I can take this. How long have you been watching me?”
“Ever since you started growing your beard, 14 years ago. You were spotted right away. Some beard growers just have that affect on people. Star quality. Now, let me think. What can we do?”
“About the damage you’ve already done. Could you go to the mirror so I can have a good look at you?”
“I should have guessed you’d have a camera there.” Carl stood up and looked in the mirror. He tried not to think about all the things he had done over the past decade or so while he was under surveillance.
“Mm, yes. That was a new razor. Nothing much we can do about that, I’m afraid. Unless…”
“Mr. Lockwood, how would you feel about having a goatee for a while?”