Fantasy Humor Mystery flash

A Man of Many Hats

By Aeryn Rudel
Jul 1, 2019 · 829 words · 4 minutes

“The man in black travels with your soul in his pocket.”

Photo by James Bak via Unsplash.

I tell people I'm a man of many hats. They usually think I mean I'm a man of many talents. That's also true, but I do wear a lot of hats, and each one makes me something special.

Right now, as I cross the street following the blond man, I'm wearing a baseball cap. There's a logo on the front: a stylized D. I have no idea which team that represents; I'm not a sports fan. What I do know is my eyesight is better than usual, and my right arm feels stronger than flesh and bone; it feels like iron or steel. I have Superman's arm.

The baseball cap arrived in the same package as the other hats and appeared on my doorstep at 8:00 a.m. this morning, just like all the others. I heard the thump as it hit my doormat, but, as usual, my stoop was empty when I opened the door. Inside the package were three hats: the baseball cap, a camouflage army cap, and a white cloth headband with a red Japanese character on it. I also found a heavy round stone, a pistol, and a picture of the blond man with an address and a time printed (not handwritten) on the reverse. The baseball cap had a sticky note attached to it. Written on the note in black Sharpie was the number 1.

I hadn't known what any of this was for, the hats or the other things. That would come later. I put the baseball cap on my head, put the rest in my bag, and headed downtown. I went to the address on the back of the picture at the right time and waited for the blond man to arrive. He did. Just like I knew he would. The addresses and times are always right.

I've been following the blond man for ten minutes. He hasn't seen me yet. If he had, he would stick to the more populated center of town instead of walking under a dark bridge where no one can see us. He's got a briefcase, and he's dressed nice, like a businessman: crisp white shirt, black slacks, and sports coat. Maybe they want what's in the case. They never tell me what they want, or even who they are. I don't need that information; I like our arrangement how it is. They send the hats and the other things, and when I'm done, they send money, a lot of money. The closet it is nearly filled with stacks of bills. I should buy something soon.

The blond man stops and turns around, and he sees me. He realizes he is alone and in a place where no one can help him. His eyes are wide and frightened. Sometimes the people know I've come to hurt them; other times they seem surprised. The blonde man knows, and he turns to run.

Now I understand what the baseball cap is for. Now I know what the round stone is for. Images and words flood into my head. Words like four-seam grip, windup, come set, and kick and throw. On the top level of my mind, I don't understand these words, but the primitive brain, the part that controls my body, understand them perfectly. My fingers close around the stone in a precise grip, and I bring my hands together at my waist, rock back on my left foot, then step and throw the stone as hard as I can. From over sixty feet away, the stone strikes the blond man in the back of the head with a hollow THWOK! He falls to the ground.

I start forward, digging in my bag for the next hat. I flip the baseball cap off my head and put on the headband. Now I feel quick, nimble, and I want to hit something, or better yet, kick something.

I rush at the blond man as he rises to his feet. He has a pistol in his hand and blood on the collar of his white shirt. He aims the pistol at me. Again, information slams into my brain and my body responds. My right hand shoots out and catches the blond man's wrist. I marvel at my own speed and precision. I twist the blonde man's wrist back at a precise angle, and he gasps and drops the gun. Still holding him, I lash out with a short powerful kick at the blond man's knee. The knee snaps, bending the wrong way, and he screams. I let go of his wrist, and he falls to the ground.

Time for the last hat. I take off the headband, pull the camouflage cap from the bag, and set it on my head. Now I want the gun. I need the gun. I take the pistol from the bag, and I instantly learn everything about it. I hear words like Sig Sauer and .45 ACP and head shot.

The blond man holds up his hands and says something in a language I don't understand. They didn't give me a hat for that. I point the gun at his head, and he opens his mouth, maybe to scream for help. I pull the trigger. The gun bucks in my hand and unleashes a tremendous sound. I shoot the blond man in the head, splashing the gray sidewalk behind him with crimson.

I take off the camouflage hat and put it and the gun back in the bag. I put the bag on the blond man's body. Tomorrow the body will be gone, there will be no mention of his death in the news, and the bag will be on my back porch filled with money.

Time to go home. I'm out of hats.

This story originally appeared in The Molotov Cocktail.

Aeryn Rudel

Aeryn Rudel writes horror, science fiction, fantasy, and crime, pretty much in that order.