All names, organizations, characters, etc., in the following are the property of their respective creators, and no connection with same is implied or stated.
Barney and Thelma Lou stared together at the letters and numbers Floyd had left written on the mirror in shaving lather.
“The agony he must have been in,” Thelma Lou said. “Waiting for the machine to heat the lather so he could use it to write on the mirror.”
“And not knowing if he would be found before it faded away,” Barney added. “It’s just an outline now.” He shuddered to think of the sharp smell of ammonia and squeak of the paper towel that could have erased everything Floyd had tried to do.
“But what does it mean?” Thelma Lou asked. There were letters and numbers, arranged in rows:
“It’s some kind of grouping,” Barney said. His high forehead furrowed as he tweaked at his bow-tie. He really only owned one good suit and he’d long been planning to buy a full-length tie to go with the gray and white tweed. He’d been needing a haircut, too. Both would have to wait.
With his hat, Barney covered first one line of characters, and then another. “There’s got to be something.” Outside, the Mayberry deputy glowered at Barney through Floyd’s shop window. He wasn’t happy to see Barney here. He’d always felt like a replacement, and he resented the way everyone always talked about Andy and Barney, Barney and Andy. People barely remembered his name. He’d been resentful ever since Thelma Lou had shown up and said she needed to talk to Barney. Alone.
“Could the letters be words?” Thelma Lou asked. “Abbreviations, where one letter stands in for a whole word?”
“Probably,” Barney said. “But what words?” Floyd hadn’t just left the message in shaving lather. He had managed to lather his own face as though he were a man ready for a shave, and even had a barber’s cover snapped in place over his body, Making that last snap and tucking in the disposable collar guard must have been excruciating, Barney thought. And although he couldn’t be sure, the floor looked freshly – albeit unsteadily – swept. It had to have meant something. Again, but what?
The numbers obviously correspond to words, Barney thought. Somehow they were the key to revealing what words the letters represented, and the words in turn would tell them who had killed Floyd the barber.
“Wait, Barney!” Thelma Lou said, excited. “What if the capital letters stand for emphasis? What if there’s a rhythm to the phrase, and they tell us what it is.”
“Then the first number goes over the first word, represented by the ‘H’,” Barney mused. “And the second number over the second letter, and so on…aw, Thelma Lou, it’s no use. We’ve got numbers left over, see? Your three and your four are just out there with no letters under them.”
The deputy, who had just come back into the shop, barked a short laugh. “Not so clever, are you then?” he said to Thelma Lou, and her face darkened at his mockery. “Look, Floyd was out of his mind with pain or shock or whatver, and he wrote down something he thought meant something, and then he got ready for a haircut. Case closed.”
“Not so fast, Deputy,” Barney said, and hitched up his pants as he strutted to the mirror. “You see, words are sometimes divided into what we call ‘syllables,’ which are pieces of words or maybe even words themselves. You know what I mean, Thelma Lou.”
“Yes, Barney of course,” she said, and turned to the deputy. “Sometimes a word has only one syllable, and sometimes it has several. A word is always at least one syllable, but a syllable isn’t always a word.”
“So the last two numbers, grouped like this, aren’t words at all,” Barney declared. “I believe the last two numbers represent two words of two syllables apiece.” He held up the long and slender first two fingers of his right hand as he did so, for emphasis.