Fringe Benefits
Fringe Benefits
Perfect Bound Softcover
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The ladies of the Seekers Hair Fashions, a small suburban salon near Wellington, New Zealand, are a tight-knit group. Sue Knovac, the owner, gets along very well with Rona, her senior stylist, and Lucy, her apprentice. The clients range from amusing to downright rude, but the person who has earned the top spot on their most-hated list is not a client but Frank Morton, their horrible landlord.

He’s a nasty piece of work, and his treatment of his long-suffering wife, May, can only be described as abominable. Sue, Rona, and Lucy feel sorry for May, so they set out to help her boost her self-esteem with a makeover and a new outlook on life. May’s refreshed new look seems to be brightening her attitude, and a neighbour persuades her to get her tarot reading done. Things are really looking up for May—until she disappears.

Did she leave of her own accord—or did Frank have something to do with it? Their suspicions are further fuelled by Frank’s infuriatingly cavalier attitude—and by the appearance of his new lady friend. The emergence of some surprising new information casts the whole investigation in a new light, and they race to determine what has happened—before it’s too late.

“Ms Knovac!” Frank Morton bellowed. “Your drains are filthy. I suggest you clean the wretched things, and the sooner the bloody better!”

“I’d prefer that we hold this discussion in private Mr Morton,” Sue had to bite back words she’d rather have used, “but it’s blowing a gale out there, so would you please come in and close the salon door behind you?”

“I’ll do better than that!” Frank Morton slammed it hard.

Sue left Rona and Lucy to pick up loose perm papers and magazines from the floor, as she led Morton to the kitchen-cum-stockroom.

“I’m responsible for only one drain,” she said, “and I’ll clean it when I have time. I’d feel more inclined to do so if you’d not bawled me out in front of the clients. Have you any idea how embarrassing that was for me?”

Frank Morton’s lack of response left Sue feeling she might as well be talking to a brick wall. Why did the horrid little man think he had a right to treat people that way? He was nothing to write home about anyway, with his bald head and ugly face. The silver medallion amongst the grey hairs on his chest was a reminder to Sue that Rona had likened Frank to an aging Tony Bennett. Although, looking at him now, with his belly jutting shelf-like over those baggy grey pants and his feet shifting from side to side, he looked more like a bantam rooster spoiling for a fight. His face too, was an ugly puce colour as, without as much as a ‘by your leave’ he strutted from the salon.

When Sue heard the bang of the front door she prayed for the shop front window to stay in place. She opened the kitchen door and heard the clients’ cries of, “Damn cheek!” “Does he often carry on like that?” “What a bastard!” and she smiled at the thought of Morton’s ears right now, and how, with all the bad mouthing going on, they’d surely match the colour of his face.

“I suppose I’ll have to go and clean that wretched drain,” grumbled Sue. She realised that with Rona, and Lucy, having made themselves scarce, she was left talking to herself. She pulled two rubber gloves from a box on the shelf above the sink and added a good measure of disinfectant to the bucket of hot water. The thought of the gusty southerly was causing her to shudder, but since this was a job she’d agreed to take care of, she’d better get on with it.

“Yuck!” She threw a long, matted string of hair onto a sheet of newspaper, then wrapped and deposited the soggy parcel in the large green dustbin that stood between the salon and the butcher’s shop. One look at Phil Arnold’s clogged up drain was enough for Sue to forego any Good Samaritan act. Phil could clean his own drain; she’d no intention of spoiling her lunch!

She washed her hands and prayed that Ro was not on another one of her diets. It came as a relief to see there were brown paper bags and the red plastic tomato sauce container on their table at the back of the salon. She took a seat next to Lucy and smiled as she accepted a cup of tea from Rona.

“Potato tops, that’s all that was left.” Lucy handed Sue her paper bag.

“Mmm, my favourite.” Sue lifted the pie and placed it on top of the bag.

“Will you read my tea leaves Sue? Please!” begged Lucy.

“Let me have my lunch first, okay?”

The cup, placed upside down on the saucer, was a reminder to Sue of how she’d only herself to blame. After professing an ability to read the cups, she’d managed somehow to manufacture enough home truths to have kept the lass enthralled.

Not wanting to disappoint the girl, Sue reached for the cup and peered inside at the tea leaves forming a cluster.

“Now, what have we here? Ah yes, I see two people facing one another. A young lady; she’s pretty and shapely, petite, with blonde, curly hair. Now the man is tall, dark and handsome, and he’s wearing a uniform. He’s bending over the young lady; maybe he’s asking her for a date. And she’s smiling; it looks as if she’s telling him yes.” Sue studied the leaves a while longer, then sighed. “Sorry Luce, I can’t see anything more today.”

“Gosh!” Lucy sounded excited, “that’s got to be Ronnie, my new boyfriend. He’s tall, really neat looking and his hair’s black. Now this’ll blow you away, he’s training to be a chef, that’s the uniform. Totally amazing, eh Ro?”

Sue caught Rona’s eye and winked.

Sandra Knight is the former owner and operator of a suburban hairdressing salon upon which Fringe Benefits, her first novel, is loosely based. She is the author of several poems and short stories. She lives with her husband and Woody, their beagle, in Porirua, New Zealand.


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