Entertainingly Evil

THE HAT by Barry King

(Editor’s Note: It is my sad duty to say that Barry King passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on November 18, 2015 from a massive pulmonary embolism while he was recovering from pneumonia.)




Thunder cracked as Theo scanned the traffic at the crosswalk, waiting for a gap. He was just about to risk it, when something—a top hat—blew into his face. He grabbed at it. It was the real thing: silk inside and outside, with a worn headband. He looked around at the waterlogged pedestrians around him. No hatless men in evening dress. Odd. But he was late and behind on his sales quota, so he took it with him.

It dried on his desk as he made his calls, one after another, each more depressing than the  He fidgeted with it while negotiating a tricky contractual change with Robinson-Weston, and a business card fell out. On the back, it said “thank you!”. Thinking it was the owner, he called the number at Marzden, Inc., and discovered, no, he didn’t own a top hat, but as long as Theo was on the line, there was actually a need for his company’s services. Could he come by this afternoon?

On returning, the division chief came out and shook his hand personally for landing the account.

Stunned, he took the hat home.

It sat on the coffee He examined it during a commercial. There were initials inside: G.A. Gilbert Andrews? Gilroy Ames? Thinking about his stroke of luck, he made a decision. “You’re mine now. I’m going to keep you,” he said aloud, and went to bed without placing the ad.

The next morning, he picked it up, thinking maybe to take it with him. He took the bag instead.

He didn’t usually pack lunch, so he decided to sit in the park today. The only vacant seat was on a bench beside an attractive young woman who made room for him. They talked, and he soon learned her name was Anna Arminoff. She worked in counseling. She lived alone with her aging father, a retired performance artist, and she mostly went to films for entertainment. Theo found himself humming on his way back to work.

The next morning, there was a pair of movie tickets under the hat.

After the movie, he and Anna strolled along the canal, talking about anything that came to mind. She had been planning to go to that particular film; the director was her favorite. It was almost as if he knew her already.

The next morning, Theo eagerly lifted the hat. There was a pamphlet underneath for a craft fair. He went to the park, thinking to ask Anna to come with him, but she wasn’t there. He waited halfway through lunch, but she still didn’t show. He went to the fair himself, and was looking over some interesting ironwork, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Anna.

“I didn’t know you liked this sort of thing.”

“I didn’t know either,” he answered. They laughed, and toured the fair together. She bought ice creams. He bought her a tiny rose pin made of garnets and helped her pin it on. When he dropped her off at work, she thanked him and briefly kissed his cheek. They exchanged phone numbers. He got back to work an hour late, but nobody said anything. Nobody was going to challenge the man who had landed the Marzden contract. He smiled, looking out the window. Things were looking up for him at last.

The next day was the weekend, and the hat didn’t fail to provide. The concert tickets were for that evening, and, of course, they were for Anna’s favorite band. The best seats in the house. They held hands through the concert, and walked home arm-in-arm. When they reached the point between their apartments where they had to choose which way to go, she pulled him closer and suggested his place.

Heart thumping, he unlocked the door, grateful that he’d cleaned up the night before…

He suggested martinis, which she agreed to enthusiastically. He went to prepare them. But when he came back with the drinks, there was a look of fury on her face. “You… you CREEP!”

Theo stood there with his mouth open.

“You… I don’t know what game you’re playing at, but stealing my Dad’s hat? Have you been stalking me? Did you break in and read my diary or something?”

“Your dad’s hat?”

“Yes. He’s been heartsick about it. It’s all he has left of his act—the Great Arminoff. But you’d know that, wouldn’t you?”

“Anna, no! I didn’t steal anything. I found the hat! I was going to return it,” he lied.

She stared at him a long time, then picked up her purse and went to the door.

“I don’t know, Theo. Maybe you’re telling the truth, but I’ve had enough weirdoes in my life. You’re nice and all, but knowing all this stuff about me beforehand… It just creeps me out, OK? So I’m not going to call the police, but I never, ever, want to see you again.” With that, she left.

Theo sat down, nearly on the point of tears. After a while, he turned on the TV. He drank both the martinis.

The next morning, bleary-eyed, he found, on the table where the hat had been, a small note:

So sorry, young man, to toy with your affections. But you weren’t going to get me home. I had to make my own way. No hard feelings. With regret, Great Arminoff’s Hat.

Barry King’s short stories and poetry can be found in such diverse venues as Unlikely Story, The Future Fire, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Crossed Genres, Lackington’s, and Ideomancer. The rest of him can usually be found in the kitchen when it’s not eking out a remote existence on the Internet making things go.

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