The Missing Black Brimmed Hat (part 2)

After several days exploring the rugged coast, Elmwood decided to investigate Yak-Tulamn, the place where the red earth was sold.
He followed a rough path to one of the coal town of Nanaimo on the east coast of the Island, wearing his black brimmed hat, the one thing that kept him dry, unlike his boots which allowed water in everywhere. By the time he reached so called civilization, Elmwood realized he was getting strange looks. He removed the hat as he entered the Clipper Hotel and put it on the counter while he checked in for the evening.

“I’m a collector,” he said as he placed a battered oil cloth sack on the counter.

The clerk raised his eyebrows and gave Elmwood an appraising look of his own, as if not quite believing Elmwood matched his idea of a collector. After several days in the bush, sleeping in his same clothes, Elmwood had a rough idea of what he looked like.

“Do you have a safe place for this?”

The clerk handled the sack at arms length with only the tips of his fingers and put it in a drawer below the desk.

The clerk showed him to his room and politely asked him if he wanted a bath before dinner.

“There’s a laundry service too, for an extra dollar. He’ll pick up your clothes and have them washed and dried by the time you’ve finished your bath.”

Elmwood doubted that was the case, but he put his clothes in the laundry sack provided and left it outside his door as instructed while he waited for word that his bath was ready.

Looking out the window, he saw a man with a hat pulled low over his eyes trudging along behind the hotel with a wheelbarrow containing several sacks. He briefly wondered if one of the sacks were his.

After several days in the bush, Elmwood was grateful to settle in for a warm bath and he must have dozed off because he didn’t hear the footsteps treading down the hall.

Someone shuffled down the hallway and he thought he heard someone say something about dinner. Elmwood grunted in reply. Although he didn’t usually care much for eating meals, the water had turned tepid and his stomach grumbled. He got out, dried himself off slowly, dressed then ambled along the hallway to his room.

Opening the door to his room, he realized something was not quite right. On the bed lay some clothes, but they were not his. He had always been very fastidious about his belongings and how he travelled, yet nothing was how he had left it.

With some consternation, Elmwood slipped on the shirt and pants which hardly came up to his knees and made his way down to the lobby to see the clerk.

“I have received someone else’s clothes instead of my own.”

The clerk looked at him solemnly, “sometimes if the launderer is busy, he will provide clothes until yours are ready. In the meantime, dinner is being served,” indicating the dining room door which was propped open.

Elmwood was doubtful this was the case, however, he went to have dinner which consisted of a meat loaf and mashed potatoes, washed down with some port. He felt rather than noticed that someone was looking at him.

Turning his head, he caught sight of a man whose name should have been familiar to him but he couldn’t remember, other than he was a member of the ‘Know Nothings’ an absurd name for a political party.

A week before, he had knocked on Elmwood’s door claiming to be a friend of one of his patients, Ned McGowan. Always reluctant to discuss patients’ business, Elmwood told him he didn’t know anything, to which the man smiled and made a strange gesture with his hand, a signal of some sort.

“Did he pay you?” the man asked.

Elmwood had too much pride to discuss anything to do with money or lack thereof; he’d just been sitting on the crate eating some week old bread. He was about to close the door on the man, when he thrust an American dollar bill at him.

“If you happen to see McGowan, tell him Boyle called. I’m staying at the Inn by the wharf.”

“What use is an American dollar on British soil run by the Hudson’s Bay Company? It would be more useful to have a sack of nails,” Elmwood said and shut the door.

He wasn’t about to say anything about the visitor when he went to check on his patient who was languishing in the next room with a bruised jaw and several lacerations. It was evident by the look on McGowan’s face though, that he knew something was up.

“He’ll be back,” McGowan said through gritted teeth. “He’s a Know Nothing man.”

Sure enough, ten minutes later, there was another knock on the door. It was the Know Nothing man with a small sack of nails.

At this point, Elmwood should have declined. But there he stood holding the nails as the man walked away.

Although it pained McGowan to speak, he did.

“The Know Nothings are a bunch of no good traitors. I used to have a newspaper for a few years and none of them liked my questions about who profited from the arson fires of San Francisco.”

Elmwood crossed his brows, “how much trouble are you in?”

McGowan raised himself onto his elbows and winced as he swung his legs around. Elmwood steadied him as he got to his feet.

“My name has been cleared of any wrongdoing, it’s just that certain people want me dead and they’re willing to travel to the ends of the earth.”

Elmwood didn’t ask where he was going but McGowan’s words had an affect on him. Just how far would one’s enemies seek to travel?

He managed to avoid any contact with Boyd but Elmwood couldn’t help but feel shadowed. Now that he was in this hotel in Nanaimo, the same feeling came over him.

Immediately after dinner, Elmwood inquired about his clothes which he was told should arrive at any time.

Elmwood returned to his room and sat on the bed, wondering why he felt so ill at ease. It wasn’t just the fact that his clothes were elsewhere or that his collectibles were out of sight. There was something else. He refused to think about McGowan’s problems; they weren’t his. But why were the people following him? It didn’t make sense.

Suddenly, it occured to him that he hadn’t seen his black brimmed hat.
With some difficulty he found a match and lit the kerosene lamp. It cast shadows over the walls and the furniture, but it should have been adequate to see something as large as his black brimmed hat, but he couldn’t see it. His black brimmed hat was missing!

The sky had turned into shades of charcoal and the clouds were low. In the distance Elmwood could make out a small figure wearing a grey coat pushing a wooden wheelbarrow. A few fat drops of rain hit the window.

Just then, a pair of heavy shoes came along the hallway followed by a knock at the door.

“Dr. Elmwood? I’ve got your laundry here.”

The voice sounded distinctly American and he was sure it didn’t belong to the fellow at the front desk, nor the one with the wheelbarrow.

“Just a minute,” Elmwood said. He went to the window and looked out.

Down the lane, was the laundry man, running, his feet splashing in the puddles.

Elmwood lifted the sash and had one leg out the window and balanced on the ledge when he heard the door open. There was the Know Nothing man and his partner behind him.

“Stop!” A shot whizzed past Elmwood as he tumbled out, hanging by his hands.

It was about fifteen feet to the ground but high enough that he hesitated to jump.  Just then, the laundry fellow rounded the corner and glanced up at the commotion.

Elmwood landed in pile of mud. He was stunned at first then his eyes focussed and he recognized the launderer, hovering above him. He checked himself for broken bones, but other than bruises, he was okay.

A minute later, the hotel clerk came around with a small glass of potent liquor and asked him what had happened.

“Your clothes are ready,” he said.