Monday, December 12, 2016

alden and bartholomew, or the man with the hat

by nick nelson

illustrations by eddie el greco

after the incident with the man with the hat in the railway station, alden no longer knew what to believe or whom to trust.

he decided to miss his train, as he was afraid the man with the hat might be on it.

he knew aunt judith would be worried when he did not show up at the midville station and he decided to give her a call.

after he had a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.

and maybe even a drink.

there was a little marble topped table on the floor of the railway station beside the little bakery counter where alden purchased his coffee and slice of devils cake with white frosting.

the cake was a bit stale but the frosting was quite tasty.

alden was savoring the taste of the frosting and raising his cup of coffee to his lips when a distinguished but harmless looking gentleman approached the table.

the distinguished but harmless looking gentleman had a small tray in his hand. on the tray were a cup of tea and a slice of white cake with strawberry frosting.

although the table alden was sitting at was quite small, it did have two chairs.

“do you mind if i sit here?” the distinguished but harmless gentleman asked alden.

“no, of course not,” alden replied politely.

“do you know,” said the distinguished looking gentleman, when he had set down his tray and made himself comfortable, “i have just had the damnedest experience”.

“you do not say so?” alden responded politely.

“indeed! i was about to board my train for westchester when this fellow with the tallest hat i have ever seen - like something abraham lincoln or woodrow wilson or charles g dawes would wear - appeared out of the shadows and he began berating me in a stentorian voice about the price of gold and the lost kingdom of something or other and rays from outer space and whatnot. i dare say it sounds harmless enough in the telling but in the dim light beside the train it gave me quite a turn. as the follow looked like he was getting on the train and i wanted to avoid him at all costs i decided to wait for the 8:42.”

“why!” cried alden, “the same thing happened to me. except that my tormentor seemed to be referencing the price of grapes rather than gold - of course i may have misheard him. no doubt it was the same fellow - making the rounds of the departing trains.”

“but in that case,” exclaimed the distinguished gentleman with the tea and the cake with strawberry icing, “who knows what train he will actually take? no one is safe!”

at this, they both fell silent, and began sipping their respective beverages.

“fellows like that were not allowed to run loose in our grandfathers’ times, “ the distinguished gentleman finally offered. “they had asylums back then, and made good use of them. my name is bartholomew, by the way, bartholomew parker marston.”

“i am pleased to make your acquaintance,” alden replied. “my name is alden wainwright goodfellow, and i have always expected civilization to do right by me, so long as i do right by it. but now it seems we have fallen upon dark times, when madness is invited to dine with sanity, and showgirls are as good as ambassadors.”

the conversation might have continued in this manner, but was interrupted by the appearance of a slatternly woman with her skirts dragging on the ground, and wearing two hats on her head, one on top of the other.

she pointed directly at alden and bartholomew, and shouted: “aluminum carbide! aluminum carbide! and raisin bran every morning!”

“that settles it,” said bartholomew, as the woman shuffled away, “we are not safe. i ,for one, am not going home tonight. who knows what insanity awaits me there?”

“i think, “ said alden in measured terms, “that perhaps we should get tickets on a westbound train to poughkeepsie or cleveland.”

“that sounds like an excellent idea,” bartholomew agreed.

when they finished their coffee and tea and cake, they made their way to the ticket window and purchased tickets to cleveland.

just as they were about to board the train to cleveland, it occurred to alden that he had forgotten to call aunt judith. but what could he do?

aunt judith, he thought, was perhaps even now being held hostage by the man in the hat.

when they got on the train, alden and batholomew headed straight for the smoking car, which proved to be half empty, and where they found seats across from each other.

as the train was entering albany, bartholomew suddenly whispered to alden, “i think we should get off here. follow me.”

without informing the conductor that they were not going on through to cleveland, they collected their briefcases from the overhead rack and silently exited the train at albany.

alden followed bartholomew from the station into some dimly lit streets filled with pawn shops and second hand clothing stores.

“look here,” bartholomew told alden, “i think it is best that we take on new identities. we should get rid of these clothes which mark us as civilized beings, and obtain some suitable but comfortable rags. i will become muggsy mcclanahan, and you can be butch bancroft, and we will become outlaws. what do you say?”

alden readily assented.

as muggsy and butch, they proceeded to terrorize the midwestern states, until they were killed in a shootout with f b i agents, in a farmhouse outside hutchinson kansas.

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