“No, no, you don’t understand, JD,” Hank said, and moved beside his wife. “It’s not extortion. No one’s asked for money. There was no threat involved. Nothing. Just … just the hat.”
“Is it Carl’s hat, Hank?” Wendy still hadn’t separated from JD. She didn’t seem to notice he was less than comfortable with her proximity in front of the clients.
“Yes,” Hank said slowly. “But that’s not the strange part. The business card, the hat — anyone could have found some way into the room to leave those things. That’s fine, we understand that. But after it happened … after the hat showed up … we called the county coroner’s office.”
“Wait — how did it happen?” JD was trying to sort events in his head.
“After Carl was found,” Phoebe said, rattling the bangles on her wrist, “the coroner took his body away. We were notified when the state troopers showed up here. Very embarrassing. Anyway, they quizzed us, then left. Nothing of Carl’s was here. His room was empty when we checked it except for a few candy bar wrappers in the garbage. His clothes were in the car. Since he didn’t know where the investigation would lead him, and he told us that, he didn’t want to keep his clothes in his room.”
“Right,” Hank said. “And Carl always wore that hat. Every day, all the time. It was never off his head that I can recall.”
“He kept that ratty old thing on constantly,” Phoebe nodded. “When the police called, they told us we didn’t need to do anything more. His next of kin was notified, and they would be the ones to identify the body and receive his personal effects. Nothing came back to us. Nothing.”
JD scratched the side of his head. “And the hat was nowhere in the hotel?”
“Nowhere.” Phoebe’s face was set, worry weighing on her. “Later that day, though … well, we got back into our room and there was the hat, on the bed with Carl’s card stuck in it.”
“But Carl could’ve given his card to anyone, even if you didn’t know about it.”
“True enough. And we thought of that. So we didn’t worry about the card.” Phoebe clutched Hank’s hand, and they exchanged a worried look. “But … I called my aunt that night. Just to see how she was doing. Carl was her only child, and God knows, I know what it’s like to lose your only son. She said she was getting by, and picked up all of Carl’s things. I asked her what things, and she told me she picked up his suitcase full of clothes, his jacket, his car would have to be delivered — she asked if we’d help pay for that, which of course we did — and his hat.”
“Your aunt had his hat the day he died?”
Phoebe nodded. “She had to come all the way up from New York to get it all. I called her that night and she specifically told me she had Carl’s hat.”
“Does she — does she still have it?” JD’s brows were low on his eyes.
“No. When I called her before the funeral, she said the hat was gone.”
“And that’s not all,” Hank said solemnly. “We checked the security tapes to see who did it, who got in and left the hat on the bed. There was an instant of static — no change at all in the time stamp before or after. Just a — just a split second of static, like someone jiggled the wires or something. After it cleared, the hat was on the bed. There was no one in the room, in the corridor … nothing. It just … appeared.”