The Fifth Fedora: Weird Noir and Stranger Tales in Honor of Stephen T. Vessels is now published by Borda Books and Wilder Utopia, and is available on Amazon or in our bookstore. "The Lost Fedora" is a wonderful part this collection of tales told in Stephen's honor. The following, for your enjoyment, is an excerpt of Rick Shaw's story.
He stepped through the revolving door into the fall chill. What happened to the beautiful crisp day from his walk to lunch? The explosion of holiday color, garland and lights, splattered up and down the blocks of North Michigan Avenue, now clashed with the leaden sky, and his mood.
Still trying to make sense of the lunch meeting, he snapped up the collar of his overcoat against Chicago’s chill, snugged his hat down, and turned to use the alcove as a wind break to light a cigarette.
Blowing out a long drag, he sighed as his pocket vibrated deep within his coat.
Checking the Caller ID, he took the call.
“How the fuck do you do that?”
“Know precisely when I’ve finished a meeting.”
“It’s that Super-Dee-Duper-Agent-Tingley-Spidey-Sense, you get it right after learning the Literary Agent’s Secret Handshake.”
“Uh-huh.” Cigarette in one hand and phone to his ear, he started up North Michigan Avenue — to return to the conference and his afternoon session.
Laughing at his own joke, his agent continued. “How was lunch?”
“The lunch was magnificent. Had a porterhouse absolutely smothered in burgundy-sautéed mushrooms. Sublime doesn’t begin to cover it. The 10-year-old Laphroaig was the only thing reinforcing my poker face. Those two are batshit crazy. You know that, right?”
He stopped shaking his head abruptly when his fedora twitched in the wind. Tugging it back into place, he asked. “Did they tell you what they want to do?”
“They’ve already sent over notes on what you agreed to.”
“I didn’t agree to anything. I just left the damned building. How could they—Fuck!”
He took a quick sidestep and pivot to avoid the tourists, arms loaded with packages. “I said I would get back to them soon.”
“What is there to think about? They’ve offered, without our asking mind you, to make you an EP on the project. For which you will be paid scale. That’s a little cheap, by the way. Only about eighty thousand for the project. I’ll counter for twice that, plus expenses. That’s above and beyond what they’re paying for the rights. And, you’re getting an original story by credit. They want these rights bad.”
“But a fucking musical? The Off Ki Trees! They called it Little Shop of Horrors meets The Enchanted Forest.”
Once the voice on the phone stopped laughing, “That’s clever. But, if the check cashes, who gives a shit what they call it? Maybe they’ll get someone cool, like Elton, to do the score. Did you miss the number of zeros past that first significant figure? Just for the movie rights?”
“I know. I know. But where do they come up with this crap? Better yet, why this story? Why not Pursuit, or Firmament? They’re much better pieces for an adaptation.”
“Who knows. They like this novella.”
Pulling one last drag from the cigarette, he flicked it to the curb, and said, “So, does it always feel like you’re selling your soul to get a deal like this?”
The pause in conversation gave him the brief opportunity to marvel once again at how quickly the seasons could turn in the Midwest. He stopped by one of the small fenced-in planters that adorned the shopping district. Just days before it was aflame in autumn colors; it was now barren, bits of ice on limbs.
The phone in his ear had gone silent.
“Hello?” He reached for another cigarette and stopped. Looked left and right, then turned around to see what was behind. Certain he was being watched, he started to shake it off, then looked up. Fifteen feet above his head, a stone relief within an octagonal frame carved into the building—empty eyes of a ram’s skull stared back at him.
Cigarette forgotten, for the moment, he was startled back to the present. “There you are. Well, what?” He continued up the block, peeking back at the sculpture and shuddering.
“What do I tell them?”
By day, Rick Shaw leads a troop of intrepid technologists as the chief information officer for a community college. Evenings and weekends, he spins tails of time travel, alternate histories, and dystopian worlds. Rick has previously been published in anthologies by Bayonet Books, and hopes to release his first novel, the Tunguska Deception later this year.