The Hat That Cried Murder | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Mystery Bookmark and Share

The Hat That Cried Murder

The Hat That Cried Murder Dallas Releford Mystery Milford, Texas claimed the honor of having the only hat shop in the county. The little building on Fifth Street where Mr. Clarence Beasley opened his shop to sell the finest in women’s and men’s headgear—as advertised proudly on a sign he had written himself in the store window—was once a funeral home. Peterson’s Funeral Home had seen its share of both famous and infamous people in its time. Walt Peterson’s grandfather, Forrest Peterson opened the business in 1859. He was said to have been proud to serve the North and the South during the Civil War. Of course, not too many battles were fought near Milford, however, there were many Milford boys shipped home in pine boxes to be buried in the local cemetery. Mr. Forrest Peterson, somewhat eccentric and innovative for his time had a strange hobby. He collected hats. In a back room of the establishment he had boxes, shelves and bags of hats, all shapes and sizes with a tag on every one of them describing who it belonged to, the date they died and how they left this earth. Mr. Forrest Peterson, a man of great wealth, was a stickler for detail. Faithfully, his sons carried on with the family tradition when they inherited the business. There were hats that had been worn by Civil War soldiers, World War I dough boys and even World War II was represented. The most interesting hat and the one Mr. Walt Peterson—Forrest Peterson’s great grandson—loved to talk about belonged to a killer. Walt Peterson was so proud of it he displayed it in the front window of the funeral home for everyone to see. It was a brown, felt Stetson with a bullet hole in the crown just above the hat band. When the funeral home had to be moved to a new building because they had outgrown the old building Walt sold the old building to Mr. Clarence Beasley. Since Beasley was planning to open a hat shop on the property Peterson gave him the hat collection including the one in the front window. After many generations of family hat collecting, he’d had enough. Not too many people wore interesting hats anymore and he was impartial toward baseball hats that seemed to be the latest craze. Clarence left the old hat in the window as an eye-catcher, surrounded it with whatever was in style at the time and went on with his business. Occasionally, he sold a few of the old hats in the storage room. Most of them just collected dust and rotted away. The museum over in Dallas bought some of them for historical preservation. Clarence tried to make them a package deal. He wanted to get rid of all of them. They stuck to their guns and were selective about what they bought. Jason Riley fancied himself as a ladies man and with his charm he was always looking for a way to impress more victims. His boyish face and smile did nothing to reveal to most women that he was any older than eighteen. Women were seeking mature men with money and Jason had neither of those things to offer them. At thirty-two years old he couldn’t even buy a beer in a bar without three IDs and a note from his mother. Jason was well informed about history and wanted to write historical novels. His job as a waiter in a local restaurant didn’t leave him much time for writing unless he gave up his pursuit of the opposite sex. He just couldn’t see that happening very soon. His brown hair was still without grayness—like his father’s had been when he was his age—and his blue eyes were sharp as those of an eagle. His complexion was as flawless as it was when he was twelve years old. Jason loved to watch movies, especially gangster movies. Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger were favorite topics that always added spice to most conversations he initiated in the right crowds. Of course, Jason had a difficult time finding people who liked to talk about ancient history. He had passed the hat shop many times on his weekly trek to the library and never noticed the fedora in the window. Normally, he glanced at the window and seeing nothing that appealed to him, went on his way. To Jason, a hat was a hat, except today he was interested in gangsters, hoods and everything about them. The brown hat caught his attention because he had seen John Dillinger wear one just like it in a movie, except this hat he stood staring at had a bullet hole in it. Jason stood bracing himself against cool February wind, grimacing as snow and ice pellets stung his face. Finally, he made up his mind. He had to have that hat even though he didn’t know exactly why. Mr. Beasley, a man seventy two years old, with short white hair and gray eyes finished helping a customer and turned to greet him. “Good afternoon,” Clarence said despite the snow and wind outside that was quickly building up into a blizzard. Any afternoon was good as long as he might make a sale and this young man looked anxious, like he was in a buying mood. “Can I help you with anything?” Jason had his eyes fixed on the old hat. “How much?” He pointed his finger at the old hat as if it was on John Dillinger’s head and his finger was the barrel of a thirty-eight. “That’ll cost you eighty two dollars, sir.” Jason turned away from the display case and gave the old man a cold stare. Was he out of his mind? “Why so much?” Clarence looked at him, winked and then smiled. “You might say that it has historical value. It once belonged to a very notorious, ruthless gangster by the name of Rudy Malone.” “And, by the exact location of the bullet hole, I presume Mr. Malone was killed,” Jason said. “Is that correct?” “That is quite true,” Clarence admitted. “Some people say that Malone was a friend to John Dillinger. Supposedly, Dillinger gave him the hat as a token of their friendship.” Jason stared at Clarence with his heart pounding against his chest and his mind conjuring up all kinds of thoughts about a book he was going to write about a friend of John Dillinger’s that few other people knew about. “They were pals.” “Even more than pals, some say.” With his voice a little more than a whisper, Clarence leaned forward and spoke. “They both were killed on the same night and in similar situations.” “How so?” “A woman dressed in a red dress led Dillinger to his death while a red-headed woman shot Malone in his head killing him instantly. This is the hat he was wearing when they brought him to the funeral home that night. Of course, someone, probably Mr. Peterson, cleaned it up a little, I suppose.” “Wow,” Jason said almost exploding with excitement. “Why isn’t there an exit hole where the bullet left his head?” “Oh, I was just as curious as you are now,” Clarence told him knowing he was going to make a sale and would soon be rid of the hat. That thing made him nervous. “I asked Mr. Peterson and said the bullet was fired from a small caliber automatic. The bullet lodged in his brain. It was still there when they buried Malone.” “Hey, that is quite a story. Where did you hear about it?” “Mr. Peterson told me. I was going to toss that hat until he said it might be worth something. I did a little research and found out that Malone loved to rob banks. He was here in town. According to old newspaper articles I found down at the library, Malone had a gang. They robbed banks for a living. Some people estimate that Malone killed ten or fifteen people. Of course, you know how people are. I doubt if he killed more than five. His girlfriend ended his life when she caught him sleeping with another woman. Now, do you see why the hat is worth eighty-two dollars? Actually, it is worth much more.” “I’ll take it.” Jason gave him a credit card, which Clarence snatched from his hand and swiped through the card reader very quickly. “Did Malone sleep with that hat on?” Clarence looked at him with a puzzled look on his face. “Why do you ask?” After entering information into a computer on the counter, he gave the credit card back to Jason. “You said his girlfriend shot him when she caught him sleeping with another woman, is that the way it was?” “Oh, no. She shot him when he was leaving the woman’s apartment downtown.” Jason paid for the hat and walked down the sidewalk in swirling snow and biting sleet with a plastic bag in his hand. Inside the library, he walked to the desk where Mary Elizabeth King, the librarian sat watching him curiously as he approached. She was munching on the biggest apple he had ever seen. Apple juice was running down her arm. He felt a hunger pang and remembered he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. “Evening, Mary. How are you today?” “Cold,” she answered. “You don’t want any more of those weird books, do you?” She put the apple on the desk as if it had suddenly become a hot potato. Grabbing a Kleenex from a box on her desk she managed to cover her nose just as she sneezed. “Sorry. I’ve been doing that all day.” She dropped the used Kleenex in a nearby wastebasket and turned her attention to Jason. “What grand project are you working on now? Can I be of help?” “Dillinger. I’m interested in local history. I guess I want to see newspapers from around 1933 to 1935.” “We have them on microfilm,” she announced happily knowing she wouldn’t have to lug heavy newspapers for him. “Pretty soon all our archives will be on DVD or maybe even on the Internet. Our local paper, The Milford Times was around then. We have copies of that paper going all the way back to 1858 when it was founded. Arising from her seat behind the desk, she said, “Come with me. I’ll show you where the machine and film are.” When Mary walked away from the table in the back of the library where they kept the microfilm machines, Jason had stacks of film on the table near him. He wasn’t sure Dillinger had ever been in Texas, but that didn’t mean that Rudy Malone hadn’t met him somewhere else. It was a historical fact that John Dillinger had made a trip to Arizona, so why couldn’t he have been in Texas? Jason wanted to find out as much as he could about Malone and about the mysterious hat. He knew Dillinger had committed major crimes between 1933 when he got out of jail and 1934 when he was killed in Chicago. It was a start. Searching through countless issues of the Milford Times he found several short articles about Malone buried deep in the obscure pages of the Times. Most of the articles were written in the early 1930s and were about crimes Malone had committed. He had robbed a store, broke into a schoolhouse and molested a teenage girl in 1931. It was a busy year. He served six months in prison before escaping. After that, he had formed a gang and his activities became more violent. He robbed several banks in the area killing four people before finally disappearing. An article in a 1933 edition, March of that year, mentioned that he had been seen in St. Louis. Was that where he met Dillinger? Jason wondered as he searched for more information. Jason found another article written in 1933. Rudy Malone had appeared again in the Milford area. After a bank robbery where four innocent bystanders had been murdered he had a shootout with local law enforcement. Three sheriff’s deputies were left dead on a lonely Texas highway when Malone and his gang drove away. On the first page of the next edition was a picture of Malone. He was wearing the hat that was now on the table next to Jason in that plastic bag. The paper rambled on about how dangerous Malone and his gang really was. As Malone’s dark eyes stared back at Jason from underneath the hat, Jason shivered. Evil occupied the man’s face and in his eyes he could see death and evil combined into a force to be reckoned with. Shocked, Jason picked up the bag and held the hat in his hand. It didn’t look exactly like a Stetson, he finally decided. With the hat in his hand, he went to a nearby computer. On the Stetson Company website he compared the hat to ones he found there. None of them came close to matching the hat that belonged to Malone. Curious, he searched other sites. Then he began to wonder that if Stetson hadn’t made the hat, then who did make it? Searching inside the hat, he held it up so he could see the leather sweatband inside the hat. In small letters—faded by perspiration and constant use—was written: T. J. Stein APPARREL. After more tiring research on the computer, he discovered that T. J. Stein had been a German hat maker. He had moved his company to America in 1928. He had survived the depression by selling his Stetson imitations at a lower price than the real hats. As Jason studied the hat, his fingers felt something hard under the sweatband. Pulling the sweatband down, he observed a steel wire that resembled a guitar string running around the inside of the crown under the band. Each end of the wire was attached to a small black object about the size of a quarter. The object was black and square. Confounded, Jason couldn’t imagine the purpose of the strange object. After holding the object in his hands for a while, examining it, he put it back in the hat and pushed the sweatband back over it to hold it in place. Then, he turned to the computer screen again. T. J. Stein had his attention and he wanted to know more about him. Why would anyone put a guitar string in a hat? What was the little black square for? Soaring through hundreds of web pages, he soon discovered that Stein had been a very prolific inventor and a scientist that even Adolf Hitler respected when he came to power. Stein had left Germany before the Nazi’s gained full power, but he still sent money to Germany after he settled in America. Some writers mentioned that he was accused of being a German agent. Nobody, apparently, had ever proven it. Excited, with his nose to the ground like an old hound dog, Jason was amazed to discover that the Nazis had been interested in subliminal suggestion and mind control. Why was Stein making hats when he possessed so many other incredible talents? The question bothered him for a long time. Was Stein just a hat maker? Finding nothing else interesting about the hat maker, Jason collected his notes and put them in the plastic bag. Outside, the blizzard was sweeping across the town like a big gray monster with cold hands and fierce teeth. Jason reached into the bag—giving his action little thought except to remember that the hat would keep his head warm—and pulled out the hat with the hole in it. Donning his jacket, he pulled the hat down on his head to help keep the snow out of his eyes. Grabbing the bag, he turned to leave hoping to get home before the blizzard made travel impossible. As he walked down the aisle between shelves of books, he felt dizzy and disoriented. With ringing in his ears, as if a band were playing off somewhere in the distance, he hesitated for a moment as voices spoke to him. Distant, they shouted to him. It was some time before he could understand their words. When the voices, dozens of them got closer in his head he could hear their words clearly. Murder. Murder. Murder. Long live the Third Reich! “I’m glad you’re leaving early,” Mary said as he approached. “I need to close the library and get home while I can.” She stood in front of her desk with a coat on wrapping a woolen scarf around her neck. They were alone. Jason walked up to her. Before she knew what happened, he plunged a pair of scissors deep into her ribs puncturing her heart. Mary Elizabeth King died with her eyes wide open and an expression of terror on her face. Leaving the scissors in the woman as she collapsed to the floor, Jason turned and walked out into the storm. There were others to be murdered tonight and the storm would make his work much easier. Murder. Murder, the hat called in his head. On the computer screen Jason had been using was a web page he had neglected. The message was clear and disturbing: Nazi Scientist Stein develops form of mind control that may be used to destabilize the enemy. The article went on to say: The device can be implanted in clothes, shoes and in more effective places such as hats. The article was from a report written by the German Intelligence Agency. The report had been sent to Adolf Hitler. As Jason plodded through the snow and bitter wind, he knew he would kill until there was nobody left to kill or someone killed him. Until then, he was the slave of a hat that cried murder. Murder, it said. I will obey, he said. The End
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