The Face of DeathBy: Douglas Lindsay
A Barney Thomson novella
About The Face Of Death
In Blackmuir Wood, above the Victorian Spa village of Strathpeffer, sixteen miles west of Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland, four American students are found with their throats slit. Worse, each has been given a chilling new haircut. The FBI arrive, but too late to prevent another terrible murder, and into town strolls everybody's favourite accidental death-junkie barber, Barney Thomson, looking for a short back and sides and a different hair colour. The Face Of Death is a 17000-word Barney Thomson novella that takes place after the events of The Barber Surgeon's Hairshirt (the second Barney Thomson novel). However, knowledge of the events of the first two Barney novels is not necessary to enjoy The Face Of Death.
The Usual 'Four Guys Go Off Into The Woods And Die' Thing
It was a cold day in the middle of January when four young men walked into the Blackmuir Wood above the Victorian Spa village of Strathpeffer, sixteen miles west of Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland. They were from the town of West Warwick, Rhode Island, and were in the middle of their gap year between high school and Boston College. They had travelled four months in Asia, and had only arrived in Europe two days earlier. They intended doing Britain and France, before going on through Switzerland to Italy. If they had the time, they thought they might try to reach North Africa. They were, however, destined never to get beyond the Blackmuir Wood above Strathpeffer.
When, on that Friday afternoon, they failed to emerge from the wood, their disappearance was not noted, as they had informed no one of their plans. Two days later, however, their bodies were discovered by a young couple near the Touchstone Maze in the middle of the forest. The throats of all four men had been slit. The instrument of their deaths, an old pair of barber scissors, had been left beside them, still stained with four different types of blood. And a mixture of those four different types of blood had been used to draw a crude picture on the side of the standing stone nearest to where the bodies had been left. A clumsily etched depiction of an Obi Wan type hood, drawn back from a thin and haunted face. A face with sockets without eyes and a mouth open in howling lament. A face that would wail for all eternity.
The men were fully clothed and, as far as anyone could tell, none of their possessions had been taken. There was no sign of a struggle, no clue whatsoever to the events that had led to their murder.
There was one peculiarity, however, about the four bodies. Each of the men, before he had died, had been given the most frighteningly awful haircut.
Barney Strolled Into Town, Booked Himself A Room In The Local Saloon
There are two kinds of people in the world.
There are those who have never accidentally murdered their work colleagues, discovered their mother is a serial killer, had to dispose of eight bodies, gone on the run from the police, hidden out in a monastery where the monks were murdered one by one, killed the monastery murderer and been allowed to walk free by the two investigating officers at the scene of the crimes.
And those who have.
Barney Thomson walked into the small town of Strathpeffer at four o'clock in the afternoon. It was a little over three weeks since he had left the monastery of the Holy Order of the Monks of St. John. He'd done a lot of walking, and a lot of thinking. However, while his legs were turning into those of a honed athlete, his mind was turning into that of one of the lower invertebrates. So he had stopped thinking. From now on it would be his destiny to walk the Earth and get in adventures, meeting whatever came his way with a ready quip, a steely eye and a robust pair of bollocks. Nothing was going to faze him.
He came into town on the Contin road, with the housing estates on his left. Down the hill past the churches and into the centre of town, where the old pavilion slowly crumbled in sad dilapidation, and every second building was a hotel.
Strathpeffer reached its peak at the turn of the twentieth century when the Victorians came to bathe in the crystal clear, sub-zero waters. A branch line was added to the railway, hotels sprang up like cactus in the Arizona desert, and the local Highlanders mingled with royalty and the cream of London society in a wondrously eclectic mix. The Strathpeffer Gazette reported on the seventeenth of August 1893, that 'after bathing splendidly in the most glorious of cold waters for a matter of some three hours, Her Majesty Queen Victoria, 70, emerged so invigorated that she robustly fornicated with seven unwieldy but handsome Scotsmen, being rodgered pleasantly between the buttocks, and performing heartily and with the utmost gusto in a variety of the most singular positions, for what could only be described as thirty to forty minutes.'