Category: Crime

TUESDAY: The Hat Box

BY IRENE LOFTHOUSE

Previously published in Stories from Stone (Gizmo Publications) 2018. Copyright is held by the author.

“Ey, theer’s a strange smell comin’ from that ‘at box, Gov.”

The left luggage man pointed at an elaborate confection sitting atop several dishevelled portmanteau.

“Could be a dead bird,” the porter said. “All t’rage as decoration these days. Tis a wonder theer’s any left; should shoot —”

The screeching brakes of a train pulling in drowned his comment, as smoke and steam enveloped everyone.

I asked how long the box had been there.

“Free weeks Gov.” The left luggage man flourished the ticket. “Were supposed t’be cerlickted in a week.”

I asked for details of the person who left it.

A man, soft-spoken, well-dressed but not flashy; grey kid gloves, walking stick with a silver top in the shape of a swan; sideburns and small moustache.

“Din’t get his face clearly, on account o’t’smoke and crush o’folk. But,” said the man, laughing, ‘could be a description o’you Gov.”

I walked around to the other side of the counter.

“Please take down the box and open it, discreetly.”

“Ey, will do.”

He was right about the smell. Lifting the lid released the odour of rotting meat; it caught in my throat, gagging me.

The left luggage man’s eyes bulged, face green; strangled noises escaped before he turned and retched. Sitting in the box was indeed a hat with a bird attached. But the head on which it perched was severed; its neck jagged flesh; mouth in rictus, fat maggots munching.

It was true then. I hadn’t been sure.

“Oo could she be?” The left luggage man peered at me through the gathering dusk, wiping his mouth.

“My wife,” I answered.