By Albert J. Manachino
Dr. Bengledorf said, "You must remember that not all demons have horns and spiked tails. Very often they are in the form of an everyday article we so take for granted that many times they are not even noticed.
The "Rounders", who were mostly middle-aged and prosperous, sat back resignedly with their cigars and whiskies and waited for him to elucidate. All of them, that is except Mr. Henry who was older and more prosperous than the others or he would not have presumed to interrupt.s
"How is that, Arnold? You mean to tell me that my cigar can turn on me?"
Dr. Bengledorf frowned. "I fear that it has not only turned upon you but on us also. Yes! Something you wear or keep near you constantly can become imbued with your philosophical outlook and become a reflection of you, If you happen to be an (here Dr. Bengledorf paused significantly,) unmitigated pest, the article belonging to you can influence the next owner along similar lines."
Mr. Iceburg rang for another scotch on the rocks. He remarked, "Then your theory would account for haunted houses as being the after emanations of a particularly nasty set of occupants?"
Bengledorf nodded. At that moment, an ancient waiter brought the scotch and Mr. Iceburg failed to see the slight inclination of Bengledorf's head.
He asked, "Do you have any examples in mind?"
"Of haunted houses? No! But, I have here," The doctor picked up a large paper bag that had been lying before him on the table. "In this bag, the hat that formerly belonged to Phillip Bowman. You fellows remember him, don't you?"
There was a collective shudder. Evidently, Phillip Bowman was well remembered.
Mr. Henry exclaimed, "Good Lord! Yes! That's the pervert who murdered thirty people and kept their parts in his refrigerator. "
Iceburg nodded gravely. "Howman worked so swiftly and silently with a knife and saw that not a single victim had the opportunity to cry for help. He would be free yet but for that power failure."
Bengledorf explained, thereby elucidating the obvious. "There was such a terrible stench throughout the entire building. One of Bowman's co-tenants was a medical student who recognised the odour for what it was."
"Well, how did you happen to acquire his hat? And why?"
Bengledorf looked tip in surprise, "Horror memorabilia is my hobby. I thought everyone knew that, I bought the hat from one of the people that burst into the apartment." He laid it down reverently on the table.
A Mr. Weddy objected. "I don't understand how Bowman let them capture him like that. I would have been far, far away by the time they broke into the apartment."
The doctor added, "So would I. But Bowman had an awful head cold and couldn't smell the decay escaping from the refrigerator."
All eyes were glued on the hat. Its nondescript appearance scarcely seemed to warrant their fascination, Actually were it lying in a gutter or cloak room with no hint of its macabre past, no one would have spared it a second glance.
"You are a lucky man," said Mr McCraig, who also collected relics of "peculiar significance", though his preferences were not confined exclusively to the 'gore and ghastly" school of collectibles, as were Dr. Bengledorf's. "If you can authenticate that hat as having belonged to Bowman, I will pay you ten thousand dollars for it."
Blngledorf waggled his finger roguishly in McCraig's face, "I wouldn't part with it for ten times that amount." He ground his cigar out in an ash tray. "But I'll tell you what I will do - you can try it on free of charge."
McCraig accepted the offer gratefully. He set the hat delicately on his head and strode to the full-length mirror against the club wall. He eyed his reflection appreciatively from every possible angle.
A waiter held a mirror behind him so that McCraig could see what the hat looked like from behind. At last, he returned the hat reluctantly.
He said, "I felt like a different person when I had it on."
"That is what I meant. You were affected by Bowman's psychic residue that the hat had been accumulating as long as he wore it."
"You mean the way an automobile battery stores energy when it is being recharged?"
That night, Dr. Bengledorf disappeared, utterly and completely but the disappearance took two weeks before it manifested itself at the club. When it did become evident, the members remarked along the lines of: "Haven't seen old Bengie in ten days now, he wouldn't stay away from the club that long. Do you suppose that anything has happened to him?"
"Ten days? My word! We'll wait a few mere days and then see what the commander has to say about it."
"But maybe Bengie had a heart attack?'
"Heart attack? That's nonsense, Bengie is as sturdy as a golf club."
When the fourteen days were up, Commander Dabney of the Metropolitan Police Force was notified. Dabney was convenient to them as he was a senior member and almost always at hand.
When searched, nothing appeared to be missing from Bengledorf's apartment except Bengledorf himself. But that was because no one except the small circle who habituated the club knew of the hat. Dabney chanced to overhear Mr. Iceburg, who was remarking, "Old Bengledorf was sincere in his belief that personal belongings acquired the particular demons of their owners."
Henry rebuked him sharply. "That is asinine. Why only the evil characteristics? How about exceptionally good people? Wouldn't their personalities be stamped on their possessions?"
Commander Dabney explained, 'I'm sure they do. But; no one notices good deeds." He uttered something to the effect that the good men was oft interred with their bones. He seemed vague about the source of the quotation.
The commander had not been present at the meeting where Bengledorf exhibited the hat but almost everyone who had been there filled him in on it. The incident that triggered all the tumult and agitation in the club were the newspaper headlines.
"Homeless man found butchered in Glover Park!"
"The cheek" Henry exclaimed, "That is one block away."
"Almost in our cellars," another member said indignantly.
Intimate details were supplied by the insides of the newspapers which consisted of interviews with on the scene policemen. The officers were quoted as saying that the slaying was so similar to the work of the late Phillip Bowman as to be indistinguishable to forensic experts, One of them declaring, "'If this isn't Bowman's work, it's the work of his ghost."
The commander asked, ''And you quote McCraig as saying that he felt like a different man with the hat on his head?"
Several Rounders verified this, Dabney's expression was stern as he faced the group.
"Am I right in understanding that McCraig's hobby was the collection of 'criminal memorabilia'?"
"You certainly are," Henry replied. "He offered Bengledorf ten thousand dollars for that mouldy hat. I heard him myself."
Someone in the background remarked, "I wouldn't have offered him a penny for it."
Several voices chimed in, "We heard him too."
"I think," the commander said, "that a look at McCraig's residence is called for."
"You can't obtain a search warrant on suspicion alone," a Rounder objected. There would be the devil to pay."
Dabney smiled enigmatically, "Leave it to me, I know a thing or two about police procedure,"
The next morning, newspaper headlines were even more sensational. Acting on an anonymous tip, telephoned by an unknown caller who claimed to have broken into McCraig's apartment with burglary in mind, the police found Dr, Bengledorf all neatly sectioned up in the refrigerator, His head was in the freezer compartment with a cigar still firmly clenched between its lips. The burglar stated during the telephone call that he had looked inside the refrigerator in the hope of finding a beer or two.
"It sounds fishy," a Rounder exclaimed, "McCraig was a tea totaller."
A half dozen other members of the club read the newspaper over Mr. Iceburg's shoulders.
Henry read aloud, "A detective said The poor bugger never knew what hit him."
"No! If it was Bowman, Bengledorf would never have gotten a chance to open his mouth."
Someone else chimed in, "If you ask me, Old Beng certainly proved his theory."
"But where did McCraig go?" another member complained. "He seems to have vanished from the face of the earth."
Someone else pointed out, "It's a big city. He could be anywhere."
"McCraig will remain free forever," Henry prophesied gloomily. "They certainly won't be able to identify him by that silly hat, though I am sure he will be wearing it."
Someone in the background spoke up, "There are millions just like it. The coppers won't have enough room in the jails if they arrest everyone who wears one like it."
"Strangely, the police have not been able to so much as find a photograph of McCraig."
"Odd! Very odd!"
Nonetheless, the case solved itself in a most unusual way.
A constable subdued McCraig as he was about to murder his third victim after a fierce struggle. As predicted, he was wearing Bowman's Hat. Also a coat that triggered Dabney's memory in a particularly repellent way.
The Rounders were profuse in their praise of the Metros as they fondly referred to the Metropolitan Police force. Commander Dabney in particular was showered with encomiums, Drinks and cigars flowed his way.
"Come on now, Commander, you can tell us how McCraig came to be captured," a Rounder begged.
"Well, I promised the newsmen they'd have first play with the story. Still, I don't see that it would harm anything, the latest editions with the details are due on the streets in thirty minutes."
'Tell us! Tell us!" they shouted.
The commander smiled and sipped his gin and tonic, "The case is one of the most extraordinary I've encountered in thirty years of police work. For my money, Old Beng has completely vindicated his idea - that personal belongings can acquire the vices and degeneration's of an evil person. Moreover, they are able to affect the next owners, when they come into their possession."
"If you recall, McCraig also collected souvenirs of famous criminals - particularly their clothing. When captured, he was wearing not only Bowman's Hat, but also the coat of Billy Partridge."
Iceburg gasped. "Oh, my God ... the most notorious flasher in Chelsea."
"The most notorious flasher of the century," Henry stressed.
Dabney continued, "The coat affected McCraig also perhaps to a greater degree than the hat." The commander added sadly.
"You mustn't be too harsh on McCraig. Remember that he couldn't help himself. He walked the streets at night torn by two compulsions that he could not resist. At last he found a lonely victim . . . a woman returning home from work. He used both hands to throw the coat open and expose himself to her. That interlude gave her time to scream before he could use his knife. It brought the constable to her rescue."
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