Specs: Babylon 5, gen, all characters, 7300 words
Garibaldi had worn the hat in an attempt to disguise himself. It only served to draw attention to the two of them, because people just did not wear fedoras anymore. They hadn’t for a couple centuries, actually. Stephen couldn’t bring himself to care, though. Wearing the hat obviously made Garibaldi happy - it was like watching an overgrown kid go trick-or-treating. Beyond that, Stephen found himself a little in love with the hat himself.
It was a pretty neat hat.
In fact, he decided that he really, really wanted to wear the hat.
Stephen gave himself a week to think about it. There was no reason to act rashly. He could certainly buy his own fedora. He’d have to wait for ages and it would cost an arm and a leg, but it would be the simplest solution. Or he could probably commission someone on board the ship to make him a hat – that would be cheaper, and such a hat would probably fit better on his much-smaller-than-Garibaldi's head.
But that wouldn’t be as fun. He didn’t just want to wear a hat, he wanted to wear that hat.
Once he’d decided, it was easy. All it took was one simple override code (oh, the unlimited power given to the CMO) and he was inside Garibaldi’s quarters. They weren’t big, and they were neatly kept, so after less than five minutes of searching Stephen had the hat squarely on his head as he strode through Blue Sector and back to Medlab. They stared, and smiled, and laughed, and asked questions, and Stephen waited for the word to slowly, inevitably trickle back to the Chief.
Michael had had a long day. Bruisers making trouble in Brown Sector, the Narns anxious and jumpy, some guy tried to rob a produce stand in Red Sector and ended up beating the proprietor half to death. He finally shuffled into his quarters, thinking that all he wanted was
a nice hot shower and ten uninterrupted hours in bed. But no more than three feet inside the door and his hackles went up, and he found himself turning in a slow circle, looking for the person that he knew had been inside. No one hiding, nothing seemingly out of place. It wasn’t until the next morning, pulling out a clean uniform, that he saw what was amiss – his hat was missing.
His hat. His hat.
He mulled it over watching the cams that morning, thinking of who would have access to his quarters, who would have been able to slip in and out without leaving any trace other than the absence of the hat itself.
After lunch, Michael took a stroll down to Medlab, ready to confront the thief and retrieve his possession. “Where is it?” he said as he turned the corner into Franklin’s office, and was gratified to see the doctor’s wide eyes and over-exaggerated innocent expression.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Where is it?”
“Garibaldi, you’re going to have to be more specific.” Franklin didn’t quite bat his big brown eyes, but it was close. So Michael leaned over the desk, pointed his finger at those pretty brown eyes, and spoke very slowly and clearly.
“Where. Is. It?”
A moment of silence, of stillness, of an appreciation for Michael’s power. (Perhaps Franklin was just stalling for time, but no, Michael thought it was the power thing.) Then the doctor gave up. He could see the surrender roll across Franklin’s face like a wave.
“I don’t have it anymore.”
Michael made him repeat it, and then he drew himself up to his full height. “If you don’t have it, then someone else does. Who has it, Stephen?”
Susan had a knot in her shoulders she just couldn’t seem to work out, going on three days now, and after waking up this morning and feeling an instant jolt of agony the second she turned her head, she decided to throw in the towel. Walking very carefully to Medlab, head pointed straight forward, back ramrod straight – it occurred to her that no one would probably be able to tell the difference – Susan signed in and waited ten minutes until she was led to the back, for the sonic massager. (Sometimes Susan imagined sneaking in and stealing the thing, because it would have to be the galaxy’s most amazing vibrator.) As the medical assistant escorted her through Medlab’s corridors, she just happened to glance over as Franklin just happened to walk through his office at just the right angle for her to catch a glimpse of him.
Susan didn't usually go in for double-takes, but she had to stop and get a second look. Franklin was wearing a hat. Puttering around his office, uniform nice and neat like usual, but almost as though he didn't know it was there, a big silly fedora on his head, drooping a little low over his eyebrows. Before she could go in to investigate, the assistant was tugging on her arm, and Susan decided to put the mystery of the fedora on hold for the time being.
Sonic massager. Best invention ever. For fifteen minutes, the fedora was forgotten entirely.
But on her way back through Medlab, heading toward the exit, she caught sight of Franklin again. This time, his head was bare, and he was in a very serious discussion with one of the other doctors. Susan loitered in the corridor, feeling the very rare feeling of being in the way and out of place, purposeless, unsure.
Stephen ended up following the other doctor out and toward some other part of Medlab while Susan’s back was turned, as she was reading the back of a can of antibacterial spray. (She didn’t have a lot of practice with loitering.) A brief moment of disappointment that she didn’t get to ask him about the hat, but then she thought, maybe this is better.
Susan Ivanova didn’t tiptoe, or sneak, or sidle, but she did walk quietly and carefully into Franklin’s office. And if she threw a few watchful looks over her shoulder, well, she just wanted to have advance notice if he returned while she was still here, so she’d have time to make up a story. (She was just…checking on…something. Need to refine that one.) They say that one’s home is a reflection of oneself, and their offices on the station were more homes than their quarters were, at least counting the time spent inside. Franklin’s office was neat as a pin, everything in its place, and slightly sterile.
A cursory examination of his desk. Nothing. Glances through the shelves. Nothing. The tables. Nothing. Susan pursed her lips and thought. Stephen had taken off the hat sometime between her entry and when he’d left with the other doctor. Was he too embarrassed to be seen wearing it? If someone had come in suddenly, where would he have stashed it?
Ivanova pulled out the chair from under the desk and snagged the fedora resting on it. She tucked it under her arm and sauntered out.
“I didn’t get a good look. Just the back of her head as she walked by.” Franklin was slouching, not meeting Michael’s eye.
“But you recognized the back of her head, didn’t you?”
“It’s pretty recognizable.”
Michael leaned in close. “It was Ivanova, wasn’t it? Ivanova has my hat.”
It had been a very, very long day, filled with seemingly innumerable meetings. No matter how confident one felt in one’s abilities, a day of others screaming insults in a multitude of languages tended to bring one down. Delenn was tired, her feet hurt, and if she were being completely honest, she was a bit…prickly. She almost found herself wishing Lennier would arrive, just so that she might argue with him. The topic itself did not matter.
If she went back to her quarters, she knew she would go over the events of the day in her head, reliving some of the choicest curses directed her way, getting angrier and angrier, until she would be unable to sleep. The gardens were always crowded this time of night, sweethearts meeting clandestinely in the shadows, stealing kisses they thought were unobserved. The cafes in Red Sector would be equally full, and just the memory of the clamor was enough to threaten a headache.
She needed some peace and quiet, something cool to drink, and some pleasant company. Delenn thought for a moment of the Captain, but there had been some strange, underlying tension in their last few meetings, as though he wished to say something to her but kept changing his mind. As she pondered that for a moment, she realized she was already on her way to Blue Sector. But after sliding her card for access at the entry point, she turned left instead of right.
Commander Ivanova answered the door personally, though how she was managing to grin with her teeth clamped around the long, brown cylinder in her mouth, Delenn didn’t know. There was also a hat on the Commander’s head, a very silly looking thing that made Delenn smile herself.
“Delenn. And how can I help you this fine evening?”
“That is a kind of cigarette.”
“A cigar. The real thing. The genuine article.”
“I am well aware of the smoking prohibition on this station.” Delenn mock-frowned, and that only made Susan’s smile grow even wider. She was ushered in, and Susan made beverages as Delenn flopped down on the couch, glad that there were a few people on Babylon 5 in front of whom she could be herself.
“Do you know what ra’gla’hak sha lak’fa means? My translator gave me an error message.”
Susan laughed and brought over their drinks. A clear, potent alcohol for herself, cold water with a splash of citrus juice for Delenn. “A pak’ma’ra?”
Delenn sipped, feeling immediately refreshed, and nodded.
“He told you to, um, mate with yourself. But in a uniquely pak’ma’ra way. And you know how pak’ma’ra use their genitalia…”
Delenn shuddered, having read that particular dossier early in her ambassadorial career. She had never been the same.
“That’s not even the worst,” Susan went on, taking a long, long drink of her alcohol. No grimaces like Delenn was used to seeing from humans; not a ripple marred that smooth face. “A Drazi once told me to climb under his arm, and I was sure it was an idiom I just didn’t understand. He meant it. He meant it literally. He wanted me to climb into the sperm pouch in his armpit.”
Delenn found that there were few greater joys in life than simple laughter. She saw that the hat had slid down on Susan’s head, nearly covering her eyes. She snagged the hat herself, looking it over.
“I’ve not seen this before.”
“I stole it from Dr. Franklin.”
“Why?” Delenn asked, wondering if this were some kind of ritual. Humans often insisted they had no rituals, and then did the strangest things that they defended by claiming tradition, or habit, or some other word that amounted to “ritual,” at least as far as she was concerned.
Susan shrugged and finished off her drink. Then she tapped her cigar on the side of a shallow ceramic dish, knocking off the ash that had accumulated on the end. A long inhale, and a look of contentment softened the Commander’s features. For a brief moment, she almost looked like a young girl.
“It wasn’t his hat to begin with. He’s taller than I am, but he’s not a big guy. That hat was as loose on his head as it was on mine.”
“So because it is not his, you have the right to take it?”
Susan smiled around the cigar, and blew a plume of smoke up into the air. “Delenn, I know whose hat it is. And I am very much looking forward to giving him an absolute hell of a time trying to get it back.” She set the cigar aside and turned to Delenn, her face as grave and serious as the Minbari had ever seen. “And on that note…”
Night was falling like the quiet hush of a woman’s skirt hitting the floor. Maybe in some cities that would bring a bit of peace, but not in my city. Here, night was the same as day, just a little darker. Still, when I was on the hunt, I liked to wait till the sun had gone down before I struck out. No reason to let your enemies see you coming any earlier than you have to.
(“Chief, the sun doesn’t really set. It’s just the auto timer on the big lights.” Zack frowned, clearly puzzled.
“You said you wanted to play along,” Michael said. “That means stop correcting me.”
“Sure thing, Chief.”)
I’d always dreamed of having an office of my own, with windows looking out over busy streets, gas lights twinkling through a bank of smoke and fog. On a quiet night, I could hear the ocean, just a few miles away, but nights were rarely quiet. I have to admit, I’d always kinda thought that I’d get a dame to go with the office, one of those sultry types, who’d wear seamed pantyhose and brooches her grandmother had given her, who’d peck out telephone calls with long ruby nails, who’d give me dark glances through the net on her hat while she dropped off my messages. But Allan wasn’t half bad, for all that he was no dame.
(“Gee, thanks, Chief.”)
The case wasn’t much of a case, but it had special significance for me, and sometimes the small cases were the ones that could end up a real pickle. In this case, a former friend, emphasis on the former, had lifted one of my prize possessions, for no reason other than that he could. I was still reeling from the harsh sting of betrayal. No matter how many times you get the knife in your back, you never get used to it.
I’d had to bring him downtown, this former friend of mine, a hotshot doctor who was as handsome as he was smart, and as cool as he was devious. I’ve brought in plenty of cool ones, men and women who look at you with indifferent eyes, and you’d swear they’d never sweat in their lives. But turn the bright lights on, shine them right in their faces, and sooner or later, they’ll all talk. Talk, and sweat, just like us regular folk.
“So are we gonna do this the hard way or the easy way?” I asked the doctor. Franklin, his name is. He smirked at me, maybe even laughed a little. But the lights came on, and the gloves came off.
Ten minutes later I had a name.
So here I am, drinking a stale cup of joe already going cold, looking out all the windows in my office. I can see just about everything from up here. People of all shapes and sizes and colors, coming and going, walking along the same paths like rats in a maze. Most of them are good enough folk, but trouble can run through them in a moment’s notice like wildfire. Today’s a calm day, as calm as it ever gets in this city. I swivel my chair to look out the next set of windows, and I see her, walking her brisk walk that shouldn’t be as damned seductive as it is. She doesn’t mean it to be, I know, but that’s just the kind of woman she is.
Susan Ivanova. I’d heard all about her before she moved to the city. Tough as nails and one hell of a pilot in her day. Now she was the city’s deputy mayor, and I have to admit, I’d rather deal with the mayor himself than her any day. She was the kind of woman who’d as soon shoot you as look at you, and as long as we’re spilling secrets, I carried a bit of a torch for her. Who wouldn’t, though?
(“I didn’t know you thought of Ivanova that way.”
“It’s a mystery novel, Zack. There’s got to be a broad.”
I caught sight of her heading to Greasy Joe’s, the diner down on 8th that catered to the cops, the mayor’s staff, the city council – all the hotshots and top dogs. I shrugged on my trench and grabbed my gun. I would have slung on my hat, but that’s what all this was about.
My hat. My hat.
It was a fedora, and it sat on my head as snug as a dream. When a man wears a hat like that, he stands a little taller, feels a little braver. I felt naked without my hat, descending the building’s creaky stairs to the street, heading off toward Greasy Joe’s. As I walked, collar tugged up against the cold fog, I went over the crime again and again, trying to suss out some kind of rhyme or reason. Stealing jewels, sure, or expensive art, or gold or silver – that I could understand. But a hat?
There was something deeper behind all this, some kind of shenanigans I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I would. Oh yes, I would.
The food at Greasy Joe’s is either undercooked or burnt, the portions are too small, and the coffee is bitter and weak. Still, the clientele are loyal to a fault, and the joint was always hopping. Today was no exception. It took just a few seconds to find lovely Ms. Ivanova, sitting in the corner with a cup of joe – and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it was greasy, at that – a book propped up in front of her. She smiled when I sat down on the other side of the booth, actually smiled, like the cat that ate the canary.
“Long time no see, Detective,” she purred. She knew exactly why I was here, and thought it was all a game. That pretty smile of hers rankled, and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to slap it off or kiss it off.
“Would have been longer, if you hadn’t pinched my hat.”
“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about,” she said, honey dripping off every word. Another slow sip of her java, eyes on mine the whole time. She knew what she was doing, that was for sure.
“Let’s cut to the chase, Ms. Ivanova. I know you met earlier with the Doc. He’s already spilled the beans.”
“I don’t recall any ‘meeting.’”
“All right, I know you poked around his office while he was elsewhere. That just doesn’t sound as nice, does it?”
“That still doesn’t put your hat into my hands.” She knocked back the rest of the coffee, marked her place in the book, and made as though to leave. I blocked her, aware that for all I had six inches and at least sixty pounds on her, she could probably knock me flat and leave me for dead in about six seconds.
“Hey, we’re not finished yet.”
“Detective Garibaldi, you can be a real nuisance. Anyone ever tell you that?”
“Only every woman I’ve ever known.” It was nothing less than the truth. A nuisance, a pain in the neck, a damned fool – I’ve heard it all. She made another move towards the door, but I blocked her with a quick slide to my right. A lot of women would end up offended by something like that, maybe give you a quick smack right in the kisser, but Ivanova? She just smiled at the challenge.
“Well,” she murmured, looking like the very definition of coy, “I certainly don’t want to be like other women.”
“Trust me, doll, you’re not.” Then she did the damnedest thing. She pulled a slip of paper out of that book of hers and tucked it in the pocket on the front of my trench. I don't think I imagined the way her fingers seemed to caress my chest, just for a second.
“As long as we've got that settled,” she said, and then with a twitch of her hips and one last look over her shoulder, she was gone.
I took the slip of paper out of my pocket and held it, but didn't look at it. She denied having anything to do with the hat, but I knew that was a lie. Was the paper part of the same game? I left Greasy Joe's to join Allan, waiting for me outside. He was leaning against the front of the diner, legs stuck out in front of him and crossed at the ankles, thumbing through today's paper. He couldn't have looked more like a sore thumb if he'd tried.
“Get anything out of the broad, Ch--, um, Detective?”
“Maybe.” A jerk of my head, and we headed west. The courthouse, police headquarters, city hall, all of the buildings seemed to loom over the street. It wasn't an old city, but some days, it seemed ancient. I waited till we were heading through the park before I stopped to look at the paper Ivanova had slipped in my pocket. Under the yellow glow of a streetlight, at first the writing was almost too faint to be read. Allan was the first to make it out.
“Fifty-two G, key's at the desk.”
We sat on a bench, puzzling it over. My first thought was a hotel room, but I figured if she'd decided to make a move on me, she'd be a lot more brazen than that. Besides, she'd come with the note already written, and I doubted she carried propositions around just waiting to see who showed up.
“Is it a ransom, you think?” Allan asked, hand on his chin.
“Fifty large is a pretty steep ransom for a hat.”
We mulled it over some more, but sometimes, the harder you think, the less you figure out. It was time to call it a night. Allan headed one way, and I headed the other.
By the time I made it back to my apartment, though, I knew I wouldn't be able to just climb in bed and fall asleep. I was all keyed up, and what I really wanted were some heads to bust. So I made a sandwich, bologna and Swiss with just a dollop of horseradish, just the way my ma used to make it, and headed back out the door.
It was halfway between being damned late and damned early, and I strolled to Down Below, a twisted warren of alleys and slums, tucked below the cliffs that housed the sprawling suburbs. Nearly all the gambling, drug deals, and prostitution, not to mention the occasional assault, robbery, and murder, took place in this godforsaken part of town. Not everyone who lived there was a criminal – there were plenty of homeless, and poor folk just scraping by, hoping for a chance to climb out of the dirt – but the crime was too pervasive, too entrenched, to make any part of Down Below safe.
It was just what I needed.
Two brawls and a broken nose (his, not mine) later, I felt a hundred times better, and clear headed to boot. I studied Ivanova's note again. Fifty-two G, key's on the desk. There was no cipher, and she had obviously assumed I would know what she meant.
What did I know that was coded with a number then letter, and required a key?
It hit me, all at once. A grin in the dark that no one saw, except maybe for the rats clustered around a pile of garbage, and they weren't talking. I headed home, grabbed a couple hours of shut-eye, and then headed for the post office bright and early, as soon as the sun came up.
I still ended up waiting in line. That's the way it always goes. There can be a hundred people waiting, but you'll just see one clerk at the desk, moving so slow it's got to be on purpose. By the time it was my turn, I was ready to pop the son of a bitch a good one, right between the eyes. Instead, I made nice, and smiled as best I could, though I figured it probably looked more like a grimace.
“Detective Garibaldi. Pretty lady give you a key for me?” In response, the clerk, a dark-eyed bastard with a blue jaw and unkempt clothes, just held out his empty hand. Grumbling some choice words under my breath, I handed over five. He just stared at me, so I handed over five more, making a mental note to find a way to get the mayor's office to come down on him like a ton a brick, as soon as I got the chance. He handed me a key, and I made my way over to the PO boxes in the next room.
Row A was at the top. Row G was two from the bottom, so I had to hunker down to unlock box Fifty-Two. At first, I didn't see anything, and could feel my fingers clench and my face burn at the thought of the wild goose chase I'd been led on. But then I could see a photograph turned upside down, just a white square against the red velvet lining the box.
I picked up the picture, turned it over slowly. I stared at it for a long moment, then burst out laughing. I recognized the woman. She was from some exotic land, in the East someplace, I thought. Looked pretty exotic herself. You sure didn't see anyone else like her in the city, that was for sure. Beautiful, though not really my type. Not a big smiler, and true to form, the face she'd turned to the camera was composed, like the still surface of a hidden forest lake. It would have been the kind of photo you could hang in your study, almost like a piece of art, if it hadn't been for the hat set at a rakish angle on the front of her head.
A hat? My hat.
She and Susan had planned late into the night, giggling like a couple of girls. The Commander had become intoxicated sometime between her fifth and sixth drink; Delenn didn't know what was her excuse. At first she was worried that the game was cruel, but Susan assured her that Mr. Garibaldi would enjoy it a great deal. “He can pretend that he's a gumshoe.” Delenn didn't even have to ask anymore. They could see her questions before she ever opened her mouth. “A private detective, the kind of man who would have worn that hat in Earth's history a couple hundred years ago.”
“You do not think we are making the hunt too difficult?”
“The harder the better.”
Delenn had half-expected the Security Chief to show up that very night, but it was the next morning before she heard the ring at her door. Her breakfast yet half-eaten, she allowed Garibaldi entrance.
At first she mistook his stern glance for displeasure, but no, Susan had been right. There was a twinkle in his eye and a lightness to his foot. “Good morning, Ambassador. Having fun?”
“I do not usually find my morning meal to be a source of amusement, no. Can I help you, Mr. Garibaldi? Or should I say Detective Garibaldi?” A hint of a smile at that, though he camouflaged it quickly with a discreet cough.
“I think I'll be asking the questions.”
“As you wish.”
No questions at first, though. He only took a casual stroll through the front half of her quarters, pausing once to examine a delicate crystal on a shelf. Delenn watched him, fascinated. Susan had tried to explain how young Humans could fixate on a particular occupation as children, and how they would “play” at that job, but Delenn had not understood how such play could be continued into adulthood. She thought she was beginning to figure it out, though, watching Garibaldi turn back to her with happiness apparent in every line of his body.
“Minbari aren't big on head gear, are they?”
“Our bones usually preclude such decoration.”
“Then do you mind explaining this?” He withdrew a data crystal from his pocket, the same one Susan had taken to Blue Sector's post office, the same one upon which they had saved the image of Delenn wearing the hat. She covered her own smile by taking a sip of lukewarm tea.
“The Commander was wearing the hat when I visited her last night. I simply wanted to see how it would look on my head, having not worn one before, as you so astutely pointed out. What became of it after that, I do not know.”
Garibaldi stared at her, as though the answer were hidden somewhere on her face. “Uh huh,” he said, nodding slowly. Waiting for her to say more. Delenn finished her tea and took her dishes to the cleaner, letting her smile broaden once her back was turned his way. “You'll have to forgive me if I don't completely buy that, Ambassador.”
“What you believe is completely up to you, Detective.”
“And after your little evening visit with Ivanova, you returned to your own quarters?”
“No. I stopped to see Lennier, to go over my schedule for the day. And on that note, I have a meeting in fifteen minutes, on the other side of Green Sector. Detective, if you'll excuse me.” She washed her hands and wiped down the counter. Garibaldi leaned close as he passed her en route to the door.
“This isn't over,” he whispered. He touched two fingers to his brow as he left. Delenn did not think she had seen him like this since he had been shot. Her laugh broke the quiet of her quarters, like a bell ringing.
Lennier's quarters were just down the hall. The Minbari aide was puttering about, organizing this and that. He politely invited Garibaldi inside, offering him tea or a Minbari fruit juice. Michael declined equally politely, wanting to get down to business.
“A hat?” Lennier frowned, and for a minute Michael bought it. But he wasn't as skilled and experienced a diplomat as Delenn, and the gesture was a bit too broad. “I've seen many hats on the station, but none like what you describe. And Delenn, of course, would have no cause to wear a hat.”
“She didn't stop by here last night?”
“Last night, no. Early this morning, however, yes. Briefly. We went over her agenda, and she gave me a few notes to prepare, to send back to Minbar in this third-cycle's report.”
Lennier stood, pacing a little. Michael didn't know whose idea it was to set all of this up, but once he found his hat, he'd find that person, too, and he'd hug the absolute frag out of them. “There was one other thing. I didn't know what to make of it at the time, but now I wonder...”
Michael waited while Lennier retrieved a data crystal and handed it over. “She said that on her way here, she bumped into a Narn. It seemed to be of no consequence, but she couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't quite right. She recorded a physical description of the Narn, and left this with me. Just in case.”
“Just in case what?”
Lennier shrugged. “I'll leave that in your capable hands. Detective.” A shallow bow of his head, and Michael took his leave.
Delenn was sitting on her couch in the recording, head bare as usual. There was a blush on her cheeks, and a stubborn smile she couldn't quite get rid of.
“He was tall for a Narn,” she said, “and middle-aged according to their species. Stern features, a noble profile. His voice made the greatest impression. Deep and rich, the accent quite cultured. An intelligent man, this much was obvious.”
She paused, biting her bottom lip to keep from grinning. “I'm almost positive he took something from me when we bumped into each other, but I just can't figure out what it was. I will miss it soon, I have no doubt.”
Michael pocketed the crystal and went in search of G'Kar.
The Narn wasn't in his quarters, or in the set of rooms the Narns on the station used as a common room. He wasn't in the Zocalo, in the Council chambers, or at any of the other dozen places he was known to frequent.
Michael gave up and called Zack.
“I'm not seeing him on any of the Secure Cams, Chief. I mean, Detective.”
“Anything on his schedule for today?” Most of the high-ranking ambassadors and their staff turned in general agendas on a weekly basis, just to help Security keep an eye on them. If nothing else, it was good to know who was on-station and who was somewhere else at any given time.
“Yeah. He's supposed to be meeting with the Drazi and the Markab ambassadors today. Something about trade in their sectors?”
“Where's the meeting, Zack?”
“Green 16, in the ward room there.”
By the time Michael got there, though, the place was empty. That there'd been a meeting there was obvious; half-empty cups on the table, a few papers with Drazi script. No hat, though. “Where's G'Kar now, Zack?”
Garibaldi listened to the static on his link as he sniffed each of the cups experimentally. Awful, not as bad, horrifying; he didn't know what everyone had against good, plain water. “Nothing for the rest of the day,” Zack answered. “You want me to go hunt him down?”
Michael kinda did. “No, that's all right. We have actual work to do.” A sigh. There was something here he was missing, but he needed to do his morning rounds, check in with the heads of each Sector. It had been fun, but as much fun as he had time for today. Time to hang up his hat for the time being. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Headed to the door, he saw the small table he'd walked right past the first time. There was a piece of paper on top, held in place by three smooth pebbles. He picked one up and ran his thumb over it as he read. Tonight, 2200.
Michael stuck the pebble in his pocket, along with the note. He thought it was G'Kar's handwriting, but he wasn't sure. He was going to meet him somewhere at twenty-two hundred hours. He had the rest of the day to figure out where.
He got there about fifteen minutes early, thinking he might get the drop on G'Kar. The zen garden was quiet and peaceful - sand raked into neat concentric circles, smooth river stones lining the path - but it wasn't empty. Michael tossed the pebble from his pocket to join the rest, and sat down on the stone bench next to Vir.
“Good evening, Detective.” Vir didn't bother trying to play it cool. His round face was made even rounder by an enormous grin. “You're early.”
“What's the point of wasting time? I hope you've got some good news for me.”
“I was instructed to give you this.” Vir handed over yet another data crystal.
“Another mysterious clue?”
Vir shrugged and left, though not until he'd turned to grin at Michael three more times. Michael waited a minute, then ran to the nearest public access port and stuck the crystal inside.
Minbari weren't the only race not made for hats. The fedora sat well above Londo's head, though he'd crushed down his hair as much as possible. Two tufts stuck straight out from his temples, making him look even more crazed than usual.
“Mr Garibaldi!” the recording cried happily. “I hear you are searching for something, yes? I wish I could be of some assistance, but I am much too busy with my own affairs. Centauri do not go in for hats, as you might guess. Except for the Palace Guard, of course, as a sign of humility before the Emperor. Maybe one of them has your hat, ha!” At this, Londo lifted the fedora to scratch at the top of his head. “Ah well, I wish you the best of luck in your search. I had an uncle once, he lost his favorite waistcoat. Searched for it for almost fifteen years. He found it under the bed, would you believe it? Never thought to look in the most obvious spot.”
The recording winked out. Michael grabbed the crystal and took off, back to his own quarters.
He didn't see it at first, because he was looking for the fedora. Michael swept the flashlight beam under the bed again, and this time, the light caught the orange there.
“Son of a bitch.”
“Come in.” The Mayor wasn't the ostentatious sort, so there was no footman to let me in, take my coat, ask me if I wanted a drink. I let myself in, finding Sheridan going through some papers in his office. He gestured for me to sit without ever looking up. Too trusting a man for the job, you might think, but there was guile hidden deep beneath the sunshine and apple pie.
“Detective, I certainly didn't expect to see you this late. Is there something wrong?” The Mayor finally looked up at me, and I didn't know if he was in on the conspiracy or not. My hat seemed to smirk at me from atop his head, just as though it belonged there. Sheridan seemed to take no more notice of it than he had of my entry in the first place.
“You've got a snake for a second,” I said, hoping for shock, surprise, but he just shook his head with a small smile.
“Ivanova's as trustworthy as they come.”
“Is that so? Tell me about the hat.”
“Oh, this?” Sheridan took it off, examined the brim. “A gift, from a visiting dignitary. I think it's pretty fetching, don't you?”
He slung the fedora back on his head, then tapped his pen against his paperwork. Was the Mayor anxious about something? He didn't seem as self-possessed as usual.
“Hate to break it to you, boss, but the hat is mine.”
“Huh.” That grunt of his was famous. It didn't quite mean I don't believe you, but it was close. “Then how on Earth did it come into Mr. G'Kar's possession?”
“It's a long story.”
I told it to him over cigars in the drawing room. It was a hell of a yarn, I had to admit. The deputy mayor's secret trysts with the exotic woman from the East, the evidence of which had been stolen by a street pickpocket. When he found out the evidence was worthless, not knowing its immense sentimental value, he sold it to a lackey for enough money to buy a couple beers. The lacky handed it over to his boss, a foreign crime lord who loved collecting odds and ends. The crime lord was very happy with the offering until a member of a rival organization popped up dead, shot execution-style. The crime lord was afraid the hat would end up tying him to the crime somehow – he might have ordered the hit, he wasn't sure, and the lackey hadn't proven himself to be one hundred percent.
“So the crime lord, who you think is just a simple dignitary, visiting for a few weeks before returning home, gave you the hat. At the very least, it would get it out of his hands. And if things fell into place like he hoped, the blame for the murder would fall on you, and he could oust you in favor of a Mayor more...in tune with the boss's wishes.”
Sheridan thought this over, studying his cigar. “That is a hell of a story.”
“They always are.”
We finished the cigars, shook hands, and I left and headed back to my decidedly smaller apartment with my fedora planted snugly right back where it belonged. Sheridan hadn't really wanted to part with it – it was rather fetching, truth be told – but in the end, I told him I'd make a better fall guy than he would. He couldn't really argue with that.
It had been a long couple of days. I thought I'd known all about the corruption in this city, the vast network of alliances, rivalries, and double crosses that formed the invisible framework that seemed to keep the whole show running. It's funny; it didn't really matter what the lovely exotic woman had taken away with her, as a reminder of the night she'd spent. She could have grabbed anything else – a hair brush, a piece of jewelry, a lock of hair. But she'd grabbed my hat instead, dragging me into the whole sorry mess.
I couldn't honestly say I was unhappy with the way it'd turned out.
But I was left right where I'd started, wondering why the hell the Doc had taken the hat from me in the first place. One last appointment, and I couldn't wait till the next morning, so I walked right past my apartment and headed back to downtown. Hat firmly in place, I strolled into his medical offices, and what do you know, he was still at work.
“So you found it,” he said, looking relieved. He thought it was all over. It was almost cute.
“No thanks to you.”
“That's not fair. I told you it was Ivanova, didn't I?”
“And led me on quite the merry little goose chase.”
The Doc leaned back in his chair, gave me the once-over. “I've known you for awhile now, Michael. You can't tell me you didn't enjoy yourself.” Truth was, I couldn't, so I kept my mouth shut. Maybe he'd been expecting me to throw an arm around his shoulders and tell him everything was back to normal, or maybe he'd been hoping I'd just ignore the whole apology and forgiveness part, and greet him the next time I saw him as though nothing had happened. When neither of these happened, I saw him deflate a little. For all that he was my former friend, the sight couldn't help but tug at my heart, just a little.
“Tell me why,” I said, the strength of the command lessened a bit when I took a seat across from him.
He didn't answer for a long moment. Had I done something wrong? Had this all been an act of revenge, meant to put me in my place? For a moment, I was almost torn in two, feeling guilty for an act I was sure I'd done without even knowing what it was.
“I just wanted to wear it, see how it looked. That's all.”
Funny thing was, I believed him.
“Tell you what, Steve,” I said, leaning back in the chair and sticking my feet right on top of his desk. “Next time we're free, we'll go down to this fellow I know, down by the Red Market. Haberdasher. He's the one that made me this hat, you know.”
“That so? I assumed it was a family heirloom.”
I smiled, drew my fingers along the brim of the fedora, and shook my head. “Nope. My dad wore a baseball cap. Marineris Miracles.”
(“Don't you mean Los Angeles or Seattle or something? Instead of a Mars team?”
I raised a glass. “To the As.” We drank.