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Adam Beau McFarlane
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orangehat2.jpg
Art by John Lunar Richey 2016

THE GUY IN THE ORANGE HAT

 

by Adam Beau McFarlane

 

 

“You haven’t seen a guy in an orange hat, have you?”

I was still filling ice bins when he sat down. He looked about forty with brown eyes, brown hair, and a receding hairline. Under a denim jacket, he wore a striped collared shirt. The silver tip of a fancy ballpoint peeked from his breast pocket. He had the puffy eyebags of little sleep and a goatee surrounded by stubble.

Looking at each other, we were on either side of the North Shore Lounge at O’Hare. It’s bookended by a Chicago tourist shop and a Hudson News. The terminal’s long hallway divided into gates with waiting areas. Over the passage curved a grid of metal beams like a giant Erector set. Glass panels let sunlight brighten the checkerboard tile floor, and at each gate, light streamed through floor-to-ceiling windows facing the runway. I may be the world’s only morning-person bartender, so O’Hare is perfect. Open for commuters at seven, closed by ten at night.

 “Something to eat?” I asked.

He picked up a laminated menu, then set it down. “Just bourbon.”

I dropped a heavy shot of Maker’s Mark into a lowball glass. “Where you headed?”

          “Home,” he said.

          “Where’s that?”

          “Here, Chicago.”

          With the metal scoop, I smoothed out a mountain of ice across the bin. “Where you coming from?”

          He stared at the bartop. “New York, working. I got fired yesterday.”

          I wanted to step back, but there wasn’t any distraction to busy myself with. The place was empty. “What happened?”

          “It’s a long story.”

          He finished off the bourbon.

          “Want another one?” I asked.

          “Is that Goose Island on tap? I’ll take one of those.”

Chatter in the concourse filled the air with soft white noise. A woman in pink flannel pajama bottoms, a pink sweatshirt, and a Hello Kitty backpack paused, considering a quick drink. She walked away.

          “I work at—worked—at Macronomic Partners. Currency trading.”

          As I poured the beer, he rummaged through his leather carry-on that sat on a nearby barstool. He found his wallet and cell phone.  

“So what happened?” I asked.

“There’s this bar just down the street from my apartment where I sometimes go after work, no place nice as this. One day I go, and the guy next to me turns out is with Choate, Rosemary and Hall. You know, Cho-Ro?”

          I didn’t.

          “They’re a subsidiary of Macronomic bought in the big meltdown a few years back.”

          I nodded.

          “Well, we get to talking. Guys like me and him, we make our money on commissions. I say, ‘Hey, we should buy and sell to each other.’ You know, joking around? And when the guy’s into his second G&T, he starts naming trades.” He gave a little laugh. “I mean, can you believe it?”

          I shrugged. “If you both work for the same company, what’s the point?”

“What we did is called a ‘wash’. No money gained, no money lost. Except,” he said, “for commissions.”

          “Is that legal?”

He raised his eyebrows and turned up his palms. “Sometimes you bend the rules and it pays off. I was number one in commissions. Macro rewarded me with tickets to Broadway shows and Giants games, dinners at the top restaurants on the company’s tab.”

“Did your boss know?”

“How could he not? He had everything to gain by looking the other way—hell, so did I—as long as those trades kept up. Then the rupee took a dive. Fuck if I know why it did, but it tanked. So I call my Cho-Ro guy. We meet, same place. I tell him, ‘You gotta bail me out here.’”

          An electric cart with a flashing yellow light swept by, beeping.

          He went on. “I mean, nobody buys point two million in rupees, and I did, just to see the value fall off the table. I’m into my rum and Cokes, and you know who shows up? The guy in the orange hat.”

          “A guy in an orange hat?”

          “Yeah, there’s this guy—God, I’d like to kill him—who’s been on my case for years. But anyway, my buddy agrees to a suite of trades, way over complicated so nobody would figure it out, to put me back on the plus.”

Sliding across the walkway in the middle of the concourse, people passed by without a glance.  On the far wall, a backlit sign advertised Michigan State Parkinson’s research.

          “There were so many different trades between us, we had the loss offset in a way nobody could trace.”

          “So what happened?”

          After rubbing his eyes with his palms, he said, “Macronomic consolidated. When auditors ran a report on where our offices overlap, all the direct trades lit up like a Halloween pumpkin.”

          A disembodied voice spoke through the public announcement system, reminding passengers to prevent the spread of germs by washing their hands.

          “Who was the guy in the orange hat?”


          “Who?”

          “The guy who saw you with your trading partner?” I said.

          “Back when I was little, I thought he was one of my mom’s boyfriends. My parents are divorced. Mom was a waitress and came home with strange men.”

          “Then he’s your mom’s boyfriend?”

“I thought so at first. Standing in the corner, he never talked or did anything. He started showing up when it was my bedtime. She didn’t even look at him, as if he wasn’t there.”

“What did he look like?”

“He wears a fluorescent orange stocking cap, the kind hunters wear. Like a Day-Glo traffic cone on his head. Pulled down over his face. You know, like Mushmouth on Fat Albert? Never mind. After I graduated and moved to Chicago, this guy followed me.”

          I waited for him to go on.

          “Once I saw a hit-and-run in West Rogers Park. Little kid in the crosswalk? The man in the orange hat was standing on the corner.”

          “Couldn’t that be coincidence?”

          He shook his head. “It was the middle of the afternoon in July. And his hat was pulled down over his face. Another time, he showed up when my sister got hepatitis C and had most of her liver removed. The guy was in the entrance to Lutheran General. He knows all about me. Sometimes I think he knows right when something bad is going to happen. Sometimes, I think he makes it happen.”

          He looked down at the bar’s fake wood, and he grimaced.

          “Sometimes, when he sees me, I think he’s laughing. Other times, it’s like he’s just staring. I can never tell, since his hat is pulled down so far.”

          A tear quivered in the man’s eye.

          “Nobody else pays any attention to him, but he’s there.”

          He blinked away the tear and looked off into empty air.

          “Do you believe in ghosts? Or demons?” he asked.

          A line formed at a nearby gate as a flight attendant called for first class, veterans, and disabled passengers.

          Before I could answer, he pushed away his glass. “Thanks for listening. It’s time for me to talk to him.”

          “Where are you going?” I asked.

“I’m going to the Michigan Avenue bridge; he’s always there when I drive it. I’m going to find out who the hell he is and what he wants. It’s time for me to get my life back.”

          As he slid off his stool, he put out a hundred dollar bill on the counter.

          I wasn’t sure about ghosts or demons, but I folded the tip into my wallet and hoped the guy got what he was looking for.

During a slow hour the next day, I paged through the Sun-Times and saw a small article in the back of section A headlined “Man Jumps Off Bridge.” Beside it was a picture of him.


Adam Beau McFarlane’s stories have appeared in Thuglit, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and Pulp Adventures. He was once a judge for the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus award.

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