NANTUCKET HERSHEL AND THE CONTINUING QUEST FOR HIS HAT

Last Updated: October 10, 1996


This was the hour. My hands trembled slightly but my entire body felt limp, numb, corpse-like to be ironic. The guards led me into the room, forced me down and locked me into what the other inmates called Death's Lazy-Boy! I hardly heard the priests' jabber, and then they put the leather mask down over my face. I closed my eyes and then, with unknown fury, all my senses came alive. I could smell the antiseptic on the ghastly hood, which had no doubt been used before to keep some frantic lunatic's eyeballs from ejecting onto his cheeks, in the name of decency. My fingers dug into the wooden armrests, peeling splinters and wedging them under my nails. I heard the voice from the other side of the thick double-paned glass. Through a speaker it informed me of my name, my crimes, and the exact time, as if I had other appointments to keep. My heart drowned out the noise and my mind began to count. Any second now, they'll throw the switch. My heart was a train suddenly derailed, my brain screamed and clawed at the walls of my skull. I couldn't breath. RRRRRINNNNNNG! Darkness.

"...ucky son of a bitch!"

"Close one huh?"

I found myself awake, in the warden's office, smelling of urine.

"I just spoke with the governor, Mr. Hershel..."

.....

"Thank God!"

"No... Thank your Lawyer!"

"I'm free then?"

"He He, no. The Governor has granted an extension to consider your plea. If it were me who found you, I would've tortured you like you did that woman on the spot! You don't deserve this."

The hate in the Warden's eyes was burned onto Hershel's memory. He was both relieved at the extension and tortured by it. He felt his case was hopeless at this point, he wanted an end to it. He'd gone over the whole thing in his head dozens of times; even HE was beginning to believe he was guilty! His shock was doubled by the fact that his LAWYER got his extension. A rookie appointed to him by the state who couldn't outwit a sleeping rock.

Several mintutes passed as Hershel considered his situation until his urine soaked pants began to get cold. The Warden had just been staring at him in disgust. Finally, the Wardens gelatin jowls began to jiggle in anticipation of his mouth.

"Your lawyer is waiting for you!" He said sending a ripple of shockwaves through the fat in his neck.

Hershel was escorted out of the room.

.....

A single bead of sweat trickled down Hershel's face as he waited in the cold visitor's room. He was alone. Steel shackles held his slender wrists to the iron table - his feet were bonded to the cold concrete floor. All was gray and gloomy, as if portraying the last five or six years of Hershel's life in his lonely cell.

He wistfully awaited his attorney's arrival. He wanted company. He wished for it. One dreamy thought in his mind this morning was that he might, finally, reach a more peaceful place. Sitting in that chair, as the putrid smell of past murderers reeked through the moist leather, he was dreading the shock of death, but was also hopeful of its promises. Where it could lead him could only be much better than the life he was living here on earth.

He had been held in maximum security for so long for a crime he knew he did not commit. But, being from the southern plantations of Arkansas, he knew the jurisdiction was only shy of extreme biasness towards his case and wondered why his extension had been granted.

He snapped out of his deep thought to the sound of a loud, echoing bang and the grating of sliding gates. This was always the sign to alert him of the approach of his attorney. A tall and slender beautiful woman, she had been his only visitor these past few months. How only to make life worse that his attorney should be a tempting youthful woman, robust in all ways and sympathetic to his feelings! It made everything that much more worse as he knew what the possibilities of life outside held and that it should be his to fully enjoy.

Tindall, his attorney, was curt and to the point for this visit:

"Hershel, I've got the governor to extend your time for now while I dig up some more facts on the case."

"How did you do that?"

"It doesn't matter, just know that it's been done."

Hershel could tell Tindall was irritated with something and soon drifted out of concentration on her voice. Soon, he only heard her voice distantly as she tried to put together the facts that weren't there. He soon began to concentrate on other things. As his eyes wandered, he noticed a single forgotten paperclip near the leg of the table on the floor. If only he could reach it, maybe it could be useful.

.....

He slid his hand down and pretended to tie his shoe. Then, reaching over for the clip, he grabbed... a shoe. Someone's SHOE! It was a guard's!

"What do you think you're doing, PUNK?" The guard shouted, lifting the stock of his shotgun and bringing it down upon Hershel's head.

"UGHHHHH!" Hershel awoke with a shudder, drenched in perspiration.

"What's a matter, Hershie?" queried a sultry voice from under the covers. "Bad dreams again?"

"Y--y---eahh..."

"Still dreaming you're trapped in a Grisham novel?"

Hershel swallowed and nodded.

"Were you the brash, young lawyer, fresh out of law school or the wrongfully convicted suspect that everyone is convinced is guilty?"

"The suspect. Again." Hershel rolled out of bed and bEgan getting dressed.

"You're leaving?" cried his companion. "Again?"

Hershel paused at the door, turned, and said, "I'm sorry, Fred. I'll make it up to you sometime. I'm on an important case."

"Hershel," Fred pleaded, "you're an archaeologist. You don't have important cases."

"Oh, but I do." Hershel paused dramatically, so as to add emphasis to the fact that he was about to state the plot of this story.

He then said: "I still need to find my hat."

.....

As he stepped out into the sidewalk frost that common New Jersians relish as a sign of approaching snow, Hershel felt the poignant sting of wind chill reach over his receding hairline and poke him sharply in the scalp. He grimaced bitterly and longed for his hat as much now as ever before.

It had been many years since last he felt the soothing comfort of his familiar friend sitting on his head, and unfortunately, Fred was a poor substitute. At first, the shock of losing something so familiar was overwhelming, but Hershel was strong of heart. Indeed, it was his iron core that helped him land that rodeo-clown job to pay for those four long years of psychotherapy.

He remembered Jill, and her magenta vinyl couch. She was a good listener, and together they probed deeply, often after sessions, and she never charged him for it. It was her patience, in the end, that brought Hershel his inner peace. He no longer needed the hat. It was not a special hat to begin with. He'd stolen it from a sleeping homeless child once when his head was cold and he had locked his keys in his Bimmer and had to wait for the damn Triple A guy. There would be other hats, to be sure. Better ones, without holes, that didn't smell like vomit. In fact, he hated that hat. He used to spit into it when there was no place else. Actually, it was nothing more than a filthy, smelly rag he happened to wear on his head simply because it was so comfortable and the holes fit just right over the bumps in his cranium and when he felt hungry he could suck on the brim a little and get actual chunks of something to sustain himself with and it was so warm, probably, if it hadn't had all those holes in it, and who was he kidding, HE LOVED THAT HAT!!!

I will not rest, thought Hershel, I will not sleep or eat, and only go to the potty rarely, until I find my hat! And with that burning desire, he promptly decided that the best way to remember where he'd lost his cranial companion was over a nice dinner, with Linda, the quadrapalegic bombshell from upstairs. He had a standing invitation from her and decided that today would be a good time to take her up on it.

It should come as no surprise to the reader that when Hershel walked into Linda's apartment that very evening and found her dead, he was resigned to dining solo.

After finishing his ham and lettuce sandwich (Linda was out of cheese), he called 911 and gave his report to the police in extreme detail, only leaving out the part about the note he found pinned to Linda's chest with some sort of large cutlery, that read:

"I HAVE YOUR HAT, YOU FOOL, AND IF YOU EVER WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN, YOU'LL MEET ME AT DICK'S SUSHI BAR ON DEVON STREET TOMORROW AT 7PM. WAIT FOR ME IN THE BATHROOM, I'LL APPROACH YOU. COME ALONE! - A FRIEND"

Hershel puzzled over the note for a while and then suddenly realized, this may be the clue he'd been looking for. Better investigate.

.....

He was at once puzzled and lucid. Hershel was prone to this sort of thinking. "What did the message mean," he thought. It was so clear and yet he couldn't quite get the full thrust of that cryptic line: "Meet me at Dick's Sushi Bar". He decided to ponder the message over a nice nap. He was soon escorted out of Linda's apartment however by a few cordial officers. Making his way to his room, and then to his bed, Hershel fell to sleep in the pile of clothing beside it.

The noontime light struck him like his mother used to, jarring him awake. Apparently, the dirty underwear he had put on his head to keep the light out of his eyes had come off. Hershel was now awake and focussed, only one driving thought was in his mind. "I MUST PEE!" Having done so he changed his clothes and set out to do something-or-other he was considering the night before.

His first task was to figure out who A. Friend was. He searched through several phone directories, and dialed random numbers. He was greated with only insults and evasions. Obviously this was a highly organized cover-up. Having spent most of the afternoon dialing he began to get hungry. As is commonly known dialing phones for long periods of time has been shown to cause cravings for raw seafood. Hershel, being no one to argue with what is commonly known, set out for a local sushi bar and truckstop called Dick's.

...

6:55 p.m.
Herschel had made short work of Dick's Dinner Special: Eyeballs of Squid Roll and a side of Pancreas of Monkey. As he sat at the sushi bar, pondering over dessert, an overwhelming nausea swept over him.
"Excuse me, Charlie," he asked the sushi chef, "you got a bathroom?"
"Hai!" The chef replied, pointing him to the rear of the restaurant.

6:59 p.m.
As he sat indisposed, Herschel decided to re-read the note:

"I HAVE YOUR HAT, YOU FOOL, AND IF YOU EVER WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN, YOU'LL MEET ME AT DICK'S SUSHI BAR ON DEVON STREET TOMORROW AT 7PM. WAIT FOR ME IN THE BATHROOM, I'LL APPROACH YOU. COME ALONE! - A FRIEND"

"Something very familiar about this 'DICK'S SUSHI BAR,'" he thought, as the bathroom door opened. "And 'BATHROOM.' Where have I heard that before?" Footsteps approached the stall. "Hmmm... this '7 P.M.' bit throws me off.

"What could P.M. stand for? Pale Male? Pre Menstrual? Pig Maroon? No... AHA!!! PANCREAS OF MONKEY!! And the only place that serves Pancreas of Monkey is Dick's Sushi Bar! And after you eat a monkey's pancreas, you have to use the bathroom. And if you came in around dinner time, you'd be in the bathroom at 7-ish!!! Eureka!!"

Suddenly, the stall door flew open. A shadowy figure stood above Herschel and said: "So, Des Moines Oscar, you decoded my note. I underestimated you."

Unfortunately, Herschel did not hear this because he had been knocked unconscious by the stall door.

When he came to, he found himself in the back of a Domino's Pizza Truck.

"So you are awake!" The shadowy driver said.

"Who are you? Where are you taking me? Why am I in a pizza truck?"

"The name's Stock. James Stock. I'm a CIA covert operative working on a highly sensitive case involving a plot to assassinate the Secretary of Transportation. I'm taking you to our base of operations where you will be briefed by my commanding officer. You're in a pizza truck because I have a family to support; this is my second job. Ahh! Here we are!"

"This isn't a base of operations!" exclaimed Herschel, "this is

.....

blasphemy! Since when does such a noble bunch like the CIA conduct operations from inside a crack house?"

"Since they kicked us out of Chuck E. Cheese's, now stop asking so many questions before I strike you with something blunt. Let's go, the front door's around the back."

Stock stepped up to the door and entered a code with the doorbell buzzer.

Ding-diddy-ding-ding, ding ding.

The door opened and they stepped inside what looked like a set out of that movie War Games where Matthew Broderick prevents World War 3 by playing Tic-Tac-Toe with a supercomputer. There were men sweating all around him, staring into computer screens, talking into headsets, drinking coffee fervently, and sweating through their white shirts to the point where you could see the pink of their nipples. Hershel wished he hadn't noticed that.

Stock led Hershel past all this, and into an office on the third level. Three men stood inside. Well, that is not entirely correct. Actually, they were sitting, and one of them was a women and there were only two of them.

"Excellent work, Jim. Hershel have a seat, please. This beautiful lady is Martha. My name is Orson and yes, I do look exactly like Bishop from the movie Aliens. The organization had my face surgically enhanced."

"Why?" Wondered Hershel.

The woman spoke in a voice that implied "Take me, penetrate my loins with your girth". She explained, "Perhaps you don't recognize Orson's voice, let me show you what he looked like before surgery." She reached into her cleavage and pulled out a picture.

She remembered giving Hershel the picture. She remembered him taking a close look, but how in the world did she end up on the floor in the corner? Her lip was bleeding from spatula inflicted wounds. Stock lay doubled over on the other side of the room, and Nantucket Hershel had Orson in a choke with the sharpest edge of a spatula pressed to his Adam's apple.

"YOU FIEND!" Yelled Hershel, "Where is my hat, Orson, or shall I call you EL OJO ROJO!?!"

"Please, Hershel, don't kill me, let me explain."

"NO MORE WORDS, all you do is talk. There's nothing you can say that will keep me from scooping out your voice box and sticking it up your ass. It's over for you. There's nothing left to say. I've been searching for you for almost four years, bitter, enraged, hatless. The day you stole my hat is the day I vowed to kill you. So here we go, are you ready to die?"

"NOOOOOOOOO!"

"Well come on, you've had all this time to prepare. Now let's do it, and try to be a little dramatic. When I ask you if you're ready to die, tell me you'll see me in hell, and then I'll get on with it, okay?"

"Hershel, I'm sorry, I don't have your hat, but I know exactly where it is."

Hershel trembled, then slowly lowered the spatula as his long time nemesis El Ojo Rojo explained in horrid detail that his hat had somehow come into the hands of the Secretary of Transportation and that Hershel was the only man with the skills and motivation to get it back.

"So that's what you meant with that assassination plot. You want me to kill a United States Cabinet member."

"Look Hershel" explained Martha, "This guy, the Secretary of Transportation, Bob Funkton, he's a bad man. He's been supplying arms to the Swiss."

"The Swiss, they don't need weapons. They have those wonderful little knives with the built in spoons and can openers. I'm no fool, you know!"

"NO" belched Stock, "Arms, as in little baby hands and wrists and elbows and such! He's been steeling babies from hospitals, off the streets, from supermarkets and department stores, and selling their limbs to the Swiss."

"WHAT? What would anyone due with amputated appendages?"

"Purely decorative my friend, purely decorative," said Orson (El Ojo Rojo).

"Oh, the horror, the horror!" Hershel wept. "And he has my hat, that's it, Bob Funkton must die!"

"That is why we've brought you here. I will supply you with all the weapons, info and supplies. James Stock, he will be your right hand man. He's an expert in Tai Chi and Cajun cooking. Martha Clitty, she will be your left hand woman. She's trained in the art of self seduction and has her own gun!" Now come with me.

Hershel was led into another room and introduced to an older man by the name of Phil. Phil built toys, deadly toys.

"See this toothbrush?"

"Yes" said Hershel.

"Well, it's actually - a car!"

Hershel stood in amazement as Phil showed him the rest of his toys.

.....

"I don't get it," Hershel stated over a late dinner that night. "How are we supposed to infiltrate Funkton's hindquarters? He is the most heavily guarded man in the nation."

"That's where I come in," Martha explained. "I will distract his guards while you and Stock here find Funkton and kill him. Look." Martha produced a document from her bag. "This is the Bureau of Transportation. This right here is the armoire of Agriculture. And to the left of that is the Nightstand of the Treasury. You follow?"

Hershel and Stock nodded.

"I will be right here," Martha continued, gesturing to the map. "I will approach the guards at the gate and claim my car has broken down."

"But you don't have a car," Stock said.

"I know that... but the guards don't. So I'm going to ask them if I can use the phone in their booth to call for a tow truck."

"You're going to call a tow truck for a car you don't have?" Hershel asked, bewildered.

"I'm not actually going to call. At that point, I will disable the guards and you two will enter the Bureau and complete your mission."

Martha paused. "Are there any questions?"

"So let me see if I understand," Hershel said. "You're going to tell the guards you're car has broken down and that you need to call for a tow truck. Except that you don't really have a car and you're not really going to call for a tow truck."

"Right."

"Then you're going to disable the guards and Stock and me are going to go in. Right?"

"Yes."

"Where will you be?"

"I'm going to be waiting in my car."

"Okay. Let's go to it."

And they were off. In just a few moments, the bus had dropped them off within two blocks of the Bureau of Transportation.

Martha turned to face Stock and Hershel. "Now you two wait here until I give the signal."

"What's the signal," Stock asked.

"When the coast is clear, I'll whistle like this." And she demonstrated it. "You got it?"

They nodded.

"Okay. If you don't hear the signal in five minutes, abort the mission and return to Operations. Understand?"

"Abort mission and return to Operations," Hershel repeated, "got it."

"All right," Martha said, "I'll see you guys in a few minutes."

She headed toward the guard booth around the corner.

"You there," a guard exclaimed, "state your business."

"Uh, hi," Martha said, "my car broke down around the corner and I was wondering if I could..."

A voice interrupted. "Did someone call for a tow truck?" It was Stock.

Martha massaged her temples as the guards eyed them both uneasily. She had to do something.

"Um," she began, "I did. My car broke down around the corner, but I, uh, told you to meet me here because it's dark by my car and I was worried for my safety."

"I see," Stock said stiffly.

The guards watched this exchange apprehensively.

Hershel rounded the corner and approached.

"Martha, did you whistle?" he asked.

The guards were unbuttoning their holster straps and fingering their sidearms.

Martha paused. "Um... yes... dear. Here's the tow truck driver we called." She gestured to Stock. "He got here pretty fast, don't you think, my dear husband?"

"Husband?" exclaimed Hershel. "What are you? Some kind of sicko?"

"Deeear," Martha pleaded.

"Don't 'dear' me, Clitty. Did you or did you not whistle?"

"No!"

"Thank you!" And Hershel disappeared around the corner.

One of the guards signalled to the other to follow him. The second guard also disappeared behind the corner.

"You two," the first guard said to Martha and Stock, "put your hands up." His gun was drawn and pointed directly at them. They complied with his request.

Moments later, they found themselves in a cell within the Bureau of Transportation.

"Nice going, Stock," Martha said contemptuously.

"Look, I'm sorry... maybe if your instructions were more clear..."

"Shutup, James." Martha paused. "Maybe Hershel will get us out of here."

"I can't even get MYSELF out of here," said Hershel, previously unnoticed because he was lying under a pile of excrement in a dark corner of the cell.

.....


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