Caroline’s hand flipped the remote again, rewind, freeze frame… Oh the look on that poor girl’s face. It was late afternoon, already getting dark at this time of the year, and far too early to get ready for work. Say half an hour to shower and change, another ten minutes to put a face on, a twenty minute ride on the subway to the little bar that provided her income… at least two more hours of doing nothing but fantasise. Fantasise about being the poor girl tied to the barber’s chair, the girl with the electric clippers poised at her hairline, the girl about to become totally bald. Why is it that looks and brains seldom live under the same roof, she thought? A child of six could see that the whole idea of this quiz show was to railroad a victim into total humiliation, either through greed or vanity they would lead you on and then trip you up at the last minute and throw you to the crowd. But that image, that image of abject horror of losing all your hair and in public, somehow triggered something deep inside her. She let her hand stray inside her pants and began to slowly finger herself, she wound the tape on to the point where the poor girl’s hair, or the remnants of it, for they had shaved the top of her head completely bald, was about to be set on fire… freeze frame, that look again… a sort of horror mixed with ecstasy, boy this was turning her on, but no way would she get suckered into doing something like this. But if she had control of it, if she was the one pulling the strings, if she was perpetrator and victim all rolled into one… she started to finger herself harder and faster, praying for an orgasm, some oblivion from the tedium of just earning a living.
She had trained as an actress, but her unfashionable looks: big boned, large breasted, long flaxen hair hanging to mid back, all giving away her Nordic ancestry, had seen so much promise come to nothing. Her last show had been so far off Broadway you had to catch the train to Brooklyn to see it, so now she eked a living as a waitress, just waiting for the right job to come along. The phone rang… shit, she thought, why now? The answerphone clicked into life.
“Hi , this is Caroline, I’m afraid I can’t come to the phone right now”
“Caz, Caz, this is Rachel are you there?”
Caroline grabbed the phone off the hook. Rachel was her oldest and dearest friend, they had been drama students together, but while Caroline had pursued a career as a not very successful actress, Rachel had gone into television production. “Hi Rach, sorry about that, how are you doing?”
“Guess what, I’ve got a new job, off the floor and into the Control Suite at last.”
“Oh honey, I’m so pleased for you. Come on tell me all about it, what’s the show?”
There was a brief pause from Rachel. “Er… Riskitall,” she said, quickly blurring the syllables together. Amongst the television fraternity it was not considered a class show, pandering as it did to a late night audience, and concentrating on ritual humiliation for its laughs and ratings.
“But that’s wonderful,” breezed Caroline. “Say, isn’t that the show where you can earn big cash prizes?”
“Yeah, or lose your dignity and be completely humiliated,” countered Rachel. “But, it is a big step up the ladder for me, and it will really lead on to better things, and…”
“Rach, I really, really want to be a contestant on that show,” Caroline interrupted.
“Caz, no, no no no no NO!”
“Come on Rach, tell you what, you get me on the show and I’ll cut you in for half of whatever I get.”
“You’re mad, do you know that, completely mad!”
Mad or not, the two girls chatted for almost two hours hatching a plan.
The following week Caroline turned up at the Studio, audition letter in hand. As is common, and despite the apparently live format, the bulk of the show was recorded off air, only the last segment where the stakes were at their highest, was put out live. . Tonight’s show was to have a “Wild West” theme, the main set was a Saloon Bar, and the ideal contestant would be big, blonde and buxom. It was funny how Caroline fitted the bill perfectly but all the other contestants were either slim and flat-chested or small Latinos. “Who is that new lumpy Jewish girl in Production?” thought Gerry the MC. “Doesn’t she have any idea how to pick a selection?” Naturally enough Caroline sailed through the auditioning round, and giving her occupation as waitress, went off to wardrobe and makeup to get fitted out.
By late afternoon recording started in earnest. Caroline was now fitted out in a tight-fitting corset, garter belt and stockings and yards of satin and lace. With her long blonde hair piled up on top of her head she was every inch a Belle Star. From the word go she was an instant hit with the audience, wooing them, teasing and flirting with them. Quickly the prize money started to mount and by the time the first break was called there was nearly $5,000 in the pot and the only indignity she had had to suffer was to sit smiling while Clipper and Cropper, the show’s executioners, slowly poured two ice cold pitchers of beer into her cleavage and then over her face and hair. She could have escaped this as well, but what the heck, she dared not make it look too easy.
The last segment of pre-recording was now taking place, she was tightly strapped to a large revolving wheel and had become the target for a knife thrower. The deal was she got asked a question, a knife got thrown, each one getting closer and closer to her soft body, then she had to answer. It was not only entertaining but a careful ploy to throw the contestant ready for the live rounds coming up. It was all she could do to concentrate, not only because of her predicament, but the tall, handsome, Native American throwing the knives was the man of her dreams. It was lust at first sight, but despite all her charms and guile no way could she get through to him. He stood there now, poised, aristocratic, resplendent in his Eagle Feather Headdress, with that impenetrable gaze locked on a spot just to the left of her head. As the knife left his hand, she seemed to cough, and flinch, then let out a scream as the razor edged throwing knife buried itself, far too close for comfort, in the wooden wheel. Something had obviously gone wrong, and the studio was in turmoil as everyone rushed to inspect the damage. With a few quick strides the Indian was by her side, and gently moving her head, wrenched the knife free and tossed it to the floor in disgust.
“Please forgive me, I just don’t understand what could have happened,” he said as he tenderly touched her cheek and inspected the little curtain of blood forming on her cheekbone.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “Only a scratch.” Then she gave him one of her looks, her special looks, that always got her anything she wanted. “Get me off of here, and let’s get some coffee.” Brushing aside the anxious ministrations of the floor manager she took the Indian by the arm, and smiling coyly, she led him off to the refreshment area.
The show was now on air, and a very different Caroline was being broadcast to the Nation. Caroline the waitress was in trouble, either because of the close escape on the wheel, or just nerves, she was foundering, taking longer and longer to answer the quick fire questions, and each time only just getting the answer right. Caroline the actress was giving the performance of a lifetime. Thanks to Rachel, sitting up in the Control Room, she knew the answers to each and every question, the trick was now getting the timing just right. The prize money was now at an all time high, nearly $25,000, but The Tub was getting closer and closer. Clipper and Cropper had already dragged it onto set, and were now getting everything ready for her almost inevitable humiliation. It was a large, galvanised iron hip bath into which she was to be dumped, next to it was a barrel of thick, black tar, which Cropper was already stirring with a large stiff brush, pulling it out, and then letting the evil looking goo slowly drip back, all the while grinning at her. Clipper had a large sack of white chicken feathers already opened, and would pick up a handful and just toss them in the air, staring at her, watching her squirm.
It was the last question, everything hanging on a knife-edge, $30,000 or lose the lot and get Tarred and Feathered and then paraded around the studio audience.
“Well Caroline, what’s it to be?” said the MC. The audience cheered when she stammered, “Risk it All.”
Clipper and Cropper grinned at each other. Everything went silent, the final question: “Now Caroline, think very carefully, in which country did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid do their last hold up?”
Caroline looked stunned, she bit her lip, hesitated, looked all around her hoping for inspiration “Er… Mexico?” she said, pleading that it was the right answer.
“Caroline… that is the WRONG ANSWER!” Gerry, the MC, was in his element. This contestant was too clever by half, and he was already wondering whose show it was, hers or his. “Well, Ladies and Gentlemen… what shall we do with her?”
“Take her to the Tub, take her to the tub, take her to the Tub,” the cry went up and the audience stamped and chanted as Clipper dragged her by the hair over to the Tub. As Cropper poured a thick layer of the evil looking tar into the bottom of the tub, Clipper quickly ripped off all the poor girl’s clothes, leaving her standing naked and shivering, clutching her ample breasts to try to retain some modesty.
“Please, please you can’t do this to me,” Caroline wailed as they picked her up by her shoulders and legs and dumped her into the bath. “Urgh,” she gasped as her soft backside sank into the sticky black mess. “Oh please, please noooo…” Clipper now had her by the head and held her steady while Cropper started to paint her upper chest black.
“But Caroline,” Gerry the MC was working things up. “What’s the problem?”
“My hair, my hair,” wailed Caroline. “How will I ever be able to get this dreadful stuff out of my hair?”
Clipper knew the answer, behind his back were the most evil looking pair of shears in his possession, in full view of most of the audience but out of sight of the struggling girl. Just as he was about to produce them, he was sent reeling. “What the fuc…” he stopped short, one of his ancestors back in the Indian wars, had seen both the look of pure hatred on the Indian’s face, and the ancient hunting knife in his hand. This ancestor now whispered in his ear. Clipper went very pale and very quiet. Cropper shrank back. The Indian stood towering behind Caroline, and gathering up her long blonde hair he wrapped it around his arm, and wrenching her head back placed the razor-sharp knife at her hairline. “The scalp of this white woman is MINE,” he shouted. “It will hang in my lodge tonight”.
Stunned silence, then pandemonium. The floor went mad, scripts were flipped through, the comms went berserk. At least one “What the Fuck” made it out on air and nearly cost the show it’s license. “Where’s this in the script, what page is it on, when did we rehearse this section”
The audience didn’t know what was going on, they were all set up for a good old Tar and Feathering, with a shearing thrown in, but a real live Scalping… wow. The only oasis of calm was Rachel. The director was staring out into space, which is where he would much rather have been. “Gerry, Gerry just go with it. Camera 3 just focus in on the Tub. Camera 1 stand by. Camera 2 give me the audience please”
The audience weren’t sure what to do, then a chant started. “Scalp the girl, scalp the girl,” first a single voice from the floor, then spreading to the audience until it was a deafening roar. Thank God for technicians, thought Caroline, put your tongue down their throats and they’ll do anything for you. She had a very long sensuous tongue and it had been working overtime in all sorts of quiet, dark corners ever since she had hit the Studio.
“Control, Control, what the fuck do you want me to do here?” Gerry was panicking, and wanted direction.
“Just go with it, we can put in an extra break and rig something, now buy time or we’ll have a riot.”
Rachel was being a star and had total control of what was going out, the director was throwing up in the toilet.
“Ladies and Gentleman, what do you want, shall we scalp the girl?”
“Yeah, scalp the girl, scalp the girl,” the chant broke into a frenzy.
“Silence!” Many of the audience had ancestors back in the Indian wars too, and this single command from the tall man in the Eagle Feather Headdress stunned them into a hushed quiet.
“Now then everybody.” Caroline made sure, by the simple expedient of dropping her hands and letting her full breasts fall free, that all eyes were focused on her. “This wasn’t in the deal, now how about giving me another chance, get me out of this mess and clean me up, then three more questions. The first one right then I’m free of the Tub forever and I get my prize money back. The second right and I get double the prize money in cash tonight and keep it whatever else happens, the third right I get to walk out of here. If I get it wrong…. the Redskin here gets to scalp me.”
The deal quickly agreed, prompted by a jammed switchboard, the Studio went into hyperdrive to rig things up during the break. As the lights came up all attention was focused towards a centre spot on the studio floor, in it, bathed in blue light and bound to a pole, was Caroline. She could hardly move a muscle, so tightly had Clipper and Cropper, determined to at least have some fun, tied her. Around her danced the Indian, swooping and whooping, always threatening, in a ritual that he only half remembered but which was becoming more and more instinctive. Now and then he would swoop in on her, and taking her by the hair, slowly trace her profile with his knife’s glistening point. It was no ordinary knife, not store bought and decorated, but forged long ago in the Black Hills amidst ritual and chanting. It had been created to butcher and skin buffalo, used in anger it could slice a man’s arm off, used with skill and care it was keen enough to shave, shave a willing blonde girl’s hair off. Its blue steel was now starting to glow with the electricity building up between them. She saw him flinch as the blade just skimmed over the little cut on her cheek, and his dark eyes soften as he saw the damage he had so innocently inflicted on her. She felt a pang of guilt, for she had moved into the path of the flying blade, “Risking It All” to give her that little edge she needed to get him to go along with her plan.
It was question time again, instant death, the stage was set. For Caroline the problem was not getting the answers, for she and Rachel had set them, but getting the timing just right. Too glib, and someone would smell a rat, too slow and Clipper and Cropper would have her back in the Tub with no chance of reprieve. The first question, perfect, no more Tub, the second she stretched to breaking point, just getting the answer in on the line. The Studio audience went wild, the Studio Head who had been called in to see what was happening to his show, went cold. There was now $60,000 in cash, under armed guard, waiting in her dressing room. It all now hung on the last question, everyone fell silent, waiting. The Indian stood by her side, and pulling her head back by the hair, lay the knife on her hairline.
“This is it, Caroline, name the Chiefs of the Indian Nations at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.” Gerry was a true pro and milked everything he could from the moment, but he was still not sure whose show it was any more.
One by one, slowly and surely, Caroline recited the names of the long dead chiefs who had defeated Custer and the 7th Cavalry, and one by one Gerry ticked them off of his card. But before he could announce that she had won: “And Tahmelapashame for the Northern Cheyenne,” she said looking up into her captors eyes. Just the hint of a smile crossed his face, for it was the name of the man who had forged the knife, long, long ago, and also his secret name, his tribal name that he had only revealed once to an outsider, over a cup of coffee earlier in the day.
Gerry was speechless, what had she done, this was not on the card. The pro kicked back in, rules were rules. “Caroline, there is a WRONG ANSWER in there, what shall we do to her ladies and gentleman?”
“Scalp the girl, scalp the girl, scalp the girl,” starting soft, then building harder and harder, until you could hardly hear yourself over the stamping and shouting. The Cheyenne, with his own sense of theatre let it go for a while and then throwing his head back, and stretching out his arms out like a giant eagle let out a great cry. There was total silence, the Studio lights dimmed, all attention on the circle of light centre stage. With one fluid sweep he ran the knife the length of the pole, severing the bonds that held Caroline captive, as she stumbled forward, numb from her bondage, he caught her and spinning her round, gently slid the knife between her breasts and started to slice away the little buckskin dress that wardrobe had conjured up. He turned her to face the audience, who looked on silent and spellbound as the last remnants fell away, leaving her naked body gleaming in the simulated moonlight. Running his hand through her hair, up the back of her neck, and pressing down on the top of her head, he forced her to her knees in front of him, then standing behind her started to wind her long blonde hair tighter and tighter around his forearm. Caroline let out a soft moan as he pulled her hair as tight as he could then with one deft slash severed the long ponytail away from her head. Little strands of shorn hair fell back around her head and face as he tucked it like a trophy into his belt. Dropping to a crouch behind her he started to work on the rest of her shorn head, seizing a lock of hair, then severing it close to the scalp. Sometimes he would lead, moving her head to select a new area, sometimes she would guide him, moving her head, arching her back and neck, telling him where to shear next. They were locked in a dance, a ritual that neither of them fully understood but both somehow knew. They were both descendants of ancient warrior tribes, he Northern Cheyenne from the Great Plains and she Norse from the frozen wastelands of the Vikings. They had somehow tapped into something that had been long forgotten, some arcane ritual that now transcended entertainment in the electronic age. Little clumps of hair now stuck to the sweat on her body, her head was now completely shorn of the long blonde tresses that she had worn for such a long time, and was now just like a freshly mown cornfield, just yellow stubble standing up all over her pale scalp. Tilting her head up he ran cool water from a copper bowl, over her face and head, washing away the little pieces of cut hair and mingling with the tears of ecstasy running down her cheeks. She gave out a little gasp and half closed her eyes as the razor sharp steel started to shave her head. Now totally submissive she let him twist and turn her at will, her whole world consisted of the sound of the knife rasping on her scalp, the kiss of the blade on her oh so sensitive skin, and the feel of his strong hands guiding her head. Finally, as he pushed her head down to her chest and started to shave her nape, she could hold out no more and came, as quietly as she could, hoping that the long moan would be seen to be one of torment and not pleasure.
Rachel, up in the control room, knew her very well, and smiled to herself at the audacity of her best friend. Caroline was now totally bald, shaved totally smooth by a blue steel blade, and her wet scalp shone and glistened in the artificial moonlight created by the studio lights. For once there was no applause, no cheering or jeering, just silence. The studio audience was spellbound, the crew was spellbound, the viewing audience out in TV land was spellbound, all witnesses to a ritual that had lain forgotten for centuries. But that last lingering image was to burn out more VCR heads and occupy more bytes of memory than anything before or since, as the closing credits rolled and the spell was finally broken.
Later that night Rachel lay in her bed, alone as usual, but sort of contented. She was mildly drunk and the toast of the Studio. No one had suspected a thing, and her quick thinking in a crisis had secured her a new show, promotion and an increase in salary. As she was about to turn out the light, there was a soft knock on the door. Rising uncertainly to her feet, she threw on a robe and peered through the security viewer.
She grinned as she opened the door, in front of her was a tall American Indian, wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket. Hanging from his belt, concealed in a plain leather sheath, was an ancient hunting knife, in his hand was an envelope stuffed with dollar bills. He walked in, closing the door behind him, and taking her by the hand, led her back towards the bedroom.
“Ah Caroline,” she thought. “You always keep your word.”