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Fats' Barber Shop. Chicago. 1927.
Don Catlipoca, self-appointed mayor of Little Catlipocia, reclines in his seat, a hot flannel draped over his face as Fats himself works at the hair. There is a polite cough from behind the Don, and a hand reaches up lazily to grasp Fats’ wrist.
"That’s short enough."
The barber gives a nod, then steps back. The great leather seat, flecked here and there with old blood from ancient feuds swings ponderously around to face the back of the shop and the small crowd that has gathered there. A hand raises up and removes the flannel, and Don Catlipoca stares at the most eminent members of the community.
"My fellow citizens of Little Catlipocia," he begins. "We have a problem. For some time now, the vicious and immoral Barbelith Family have been trying to take this town. They tried corruption, and we resisted. They tried bribery, and we threw them out. They tried to attack us, and we beat them down." The Don's voice grows deeper, and a menace creeps into his tone. "But now," he snarls. "Now they're trying something else. Something worse than ordinary decent corruption. Worse than bribery. And much, much worse than a straight-up dust up."
There is a long pause. The air is tense with expectation.
"It is my duty to inform you all that we got us a rat in town. Actually, we got three of them."
The townsfolk, a close-knit community who have known each other for years, exchange glances.
"Now I have known you all for a year or two," continues Don Catlipoca, "and I don't want to believe that any of you is capable of betraying this community. So I'm gonna tell you all straight, if I knew who these wise guys were they'd be swinging from the lamp-post on 24th street by now. But I don't. I also don't know whether these guys have been turned by the Barbelith Family, or whether they was part of them from the very start. You see-" Don Catlipoca pushes himself up out of the barber's chair with a grunt, then stands before the crowd with his eyes flaming, "there's a lot of stuff I don't know. But I'll tell you what I do know. I know that when we first came here we was nothing. We built this community from the ground up, and no cheap-skate, gin-joint, piece-hugging Family is going to push us out. So here's what we are going to do. I want you all to go back out into that community what we built and talk to each other, watch each other, and watch over each other. I want to know who has been acting suspicious and who ain't, and
then I want you each to come back to Fats' and give me a name. One name each mind, and I don't want no joke-cracking wise-guy voting for himself. The name I hear the most gets whacked. If I hear two or more names the same number of times, the first one to get that many votes gets whacked."
Don Catlipoca glances over at the clock on Fats' wall, then gives a grim nod.
"Fats. What day is it today?"
"Monday, boss," replies the Barber.
Don Catlipoca nods again. "Monday," he says to himself. Then he looks up at the crowd once more. "Ok you guys. The sooner you give me the votes, the better. Any wise-guy who ain't come and seen me by Friday will be assumed to be guilty either of being one of the Barbelith Family, or of not wanting to hunt them, so will also get whacked. Now, get back out there and find me a traitor."
The crowd files out of the barber shop, and a stillness once more fills the air. Don Catlipoca stands before the leather chair, staring out of the window as the crowd disperses. For a time there is no sound, save for the clock ticking idly by and a fly smashing itself repeatedly against the window in an attempt to escape.
"You know who they is, boss?" asks Fats.
Don Catlipoca shakes his head. "Nope, Fats, I don't. But we got ourselves a couple of loyal-Dicks from the PD in there somewhere. No idea who they are, but I sure hope they find the Barbelith Family members before we have to lynch too many of our own people."
"What happens if they all get lynched, boss?"
Don Catlipoca eases himself back into the chair, then swings around to face the mirror. "Then, Fats," he replies with a shrug, "we find ourselves a new career."