The Man in the Brown Bowler

by Jack Spencer

We all have our secrets. Some stranger than others.

I remember vividly the night my child was taken.

I remember the man in the brown bowler.

Slightly built, he was barely five and a half feet tall. The orange glow from his cigar did not hide the ghostly pale of his clean shaven face. His features were angular, as if drawn by a child with a sharpened pencil. His black eyes glared at me.

I nodded a polite hello. He responded with a chilling accusation, "You are keeping a secret."

I balked. Unable to muster a response, I entered the house, locking the bolt behind me. I stood with my back to the door, beads of perspiration forming on my forehead.

I lay in bed, contemplating my horrible secret. The memory remained as unchanged as the cold reality that still exists, and always will. And the man in the brown bowler had me spooked.

The baby started crying. At first, I ignored her cries.

The dog joined in. A guttural growl with a short, fierce bark evolved to a panicked yapping. The baby continued to howl.

I rose and pulled my robe over my shoulders. I stopped at the backdoor to hush the dog. Turning from the door, I began to creep toward the nursery as the baby stopped crying.

Something was wrong. The door, always closed for bedtime, stood open. The dark room screamed emptiness.

I approached the cradle to find it as I feared, empty. In a fit of panic I upturned every blanket. My hands felt the sticky thickness of blood covering the bedding. I recoiled and attempted to wipe my filthy hands on my pajamas.

My thoughts turned to the man in the brown bowler.

Is this punishment for my one little secret? My one awful secret?

I notified the police immediately. They arrived with an ambulance and took my baby from me.

The detective asked for my clothing to use as evidence. He invited me to the police station, told me he wanted to ask a few questions.

He assured me there was no man in a brown bowler, only evidence. My prints on the knife. My bloody handprints on the door. Pre mortem blood on my pajamas.

There were no signs of a break in. The knife was purchased with my card and signature. A neighbor seems to have witnessed me running wildly down the street, knife in one hand, infant in the other.

I blamed the man in the brown bowler. But no one believed me.

Death was my sentence.

I've not seen the man in the brown bowler.

At midnight the executioner will administer a fatal injection. The curtains open and my heart breaks to see how few have come to watch me die. I recognize two of the jury members who put me on this table. I see the detective, no doubt ensuring the completion of another successful case. I see my neighbor, star witness for the prosecution.

And there, in the back. A slight figure, no more than five and a half feet tall.

The man in the brown bowler is smiling his sickening smile, the same smile he wore the night my child was taken. His black eyes look deep into mine.

I begin to struggle. I make eye contact with the detective, screaming and shaking wildly for him to look. He looks at me curiously, as though observing some deranged and rabid animal.

One of the jury members makes a wailing noise and leaves the small room as my struggling becomes more violent and my shouts more insistent. I am pleading with all present to simply turn and look at the man in the brown bowler.

The execution team reinforces my restraints, strapping me tightly to the death bed. I beg them to just question the man in the brown bowler. They look at each other and exchange nods. One approaches with a syringe filled with a clear fluid that will send me to instant death, unless I can just"

Turning again to the detective I begin to intensify my pleas, begging him to stop this madness. All it will take is a slight glance over his left shoulder! There stands the man responsible!

The detective shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He glances to his left, unwilling to make eye contact with me.

I look up at the man in the brown bowler and decide to tell my secret. His menacing grin mocks my screams of confession:

"I did it!" I shout, "I killed her!"

At last! I feel liberated with my final admission. I look to the man in the brown bowler for reprieve. Surely now he will stop the execution.

He leans forward and whispers in the ear of the detective. Unable to hear, I see his mouth form the same words that brought me to this cursed table, "You are keeping a secret."

As I feel the needle penetrate my skin, I watch as the detective turns to the man in the brown bowler. Blood drains from his face as he whirls toward me, wide eyed. He looks to the executioner and shouts...something...about...

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