"Come in." The Mayor wasn't the ostentatious sort, so there was no footman to let me in, take my coat, ask me if I wanted a drink. I let myself in, finding Sheridan going through some papers in his office. He gestured for me to sit without ever looking up. Too trusting a man for the job, you might think, but there was guile hidden deep beneath the sunshine and apple pie.
"Detective, I certainly didn't expect to see you this late. Is there something wrong?" The Mayor finally looked up at me, and I didn't know if he was in on the conspiracy or not. My hat seemed to smirk at me from atop his head, just as though it belonged there. Sheridan seemed to take no more notice of it than he had of my entry in the first place.
"You've got a snake for a second," I said, hoping for shock, surprise, but he just shook his head with a small smile.
"Ivanova's as trustworthy as they come."
"Is that so? Tell me about the hat."
"Oh, this?" Sheridan took it off, examined the brim. "A gift, from a visiting dignitary. I think it's pretty fetching, don't you?"
He slung the fedora back on his head, then tapped his pen against his paperwork. Was the Mayor anxious about something? He didn't seem as self-possessed as usual.
"Hate to break it to you, boss, but the hat is mine."
"Huh." That grunt of his was famous. It didn't quite mean I don't believe you, but it was close. "Then how on Earth did it come into Mr. G'Kar's possession?"
"It's a long story."
I told it to him over cigars in the drawing room. It was a hell of a yarn, I had to admit. The deputy mayor's secret trysts with the exotic woman from the East, the evidence of which had been stolen by a street pickpocket. When he found out the evidence was worthless, not knowing its immense sentimental value, he sold it to a lackey for enough money to buy a couple beers. The lacky handed it over to his boss, a foreign crime lord who loved collecting odds and ends. The crime lord was very happy with the offering until a member of a rival organization popped up dead, shot execution-style. The crime lord was afraid the hat would end up tying him to the crime somehow – he might have ordered the hit, he wasn't sure, and the lackey hadn't proven himself to be one hundred percent.
"So the crime lord, who you think is just a simple dignitary, visiting for a few weeks before returning home, gave you the hat. At the very least, it would get it out of his hands. And if things fell into place like he hoped, the blame for the murder would fall on you, and he could oust you in favor of a Mayor more...in tune with the boss's wishes."
Sheridan thought this over, studying his cigar. "That is a hell of a story."
"They always are."
We finished the cigars, shook hands, and I left and headed back to my decidedly smaller apartment with my fedora planted snugly right back where it belonged. Sheridan hadn't really wanted to part with it – it was rather fetching, truth be told – but in the end, I told him I'd make a better fall guy than he would. He couldn't really argue with that.
It had been a long couple of days. I thought I'd known all about the corruption in this city, the vast network of alliances, rivalries, and double crosses that formed the invisible framework that seemed to keep the whole show running. It's funny; it didn't really matter what the lovely exotic woman had taken away with her, as a reminder of the night she'd spent. She could have grabbed anything else – a hair brush, a piece of jewelry, a lock of hair. But she'd grabbed my hat instead, dragging me into the whole sorry mess.
I couldn't honestly say I was unhappy with the way it'd turned out.
But I was left right where I'd started, wondering why the hell the Doc had taken the hat from me in the first place. One last appointment, and I couldn't wait till the next morning, so I walked right past my apartment and headed back to downtown. Hat firmly in place, I strolled into his medical offices, and what do you know, he was still at work.
"So you found it," he said, looking relieved. He thought it was all over. It was almost cute.
"No thanks to you."
"That's not fair. I told you it was Ivanova, didn't I?"
"And led me on quite the merry little goose chase."
The Doc leaned back in his chair, gave me the once-over. "I've known you for awhile now, Michael. You can't tell me you didn't enjoy yourself." Truth was, I couldn't, so I kept my mouth shut. Maybe he'd been expecting me to throw an arm around his shoulders and tell him everything was back to normal, or maybe he'd been hoping I'd just ignore the whole apology and forgiveness part, and greet him the next time I saw him as though nothing had happened. When neither of these happened, I saw him deflate a little. For all that he was my former friend, the sight couldn't help but tug at my heart, just a little.
"Tell me why," I said, the strength of the command lessened a bit when I took a seat across from him.
He didn't answer for a long moment. Had I done something wrong? Had this all been an act of revenge, meant to put me in my place? For a moment, I was almost torn in two, feeling guilty for an act I was sure I'd done without even knowing what it was.
"I just wanted to wear it, see how it looked. That's all."
Funny thing was, I believed him.
"Tell you what, Steve," I said, leaning back in the chair and sticking my feet right on top of his desk. "Next time we're free, we'll go down to this fellow I know, down by the Red Market. Haberdasher. He's the one that made me this hat, you know."
"That so? I assumed it was a family heirloom."
I smiled, drew my fingers along the brim of the fedora, and shook my head. "Nope. My dad wore a baseball cap. Marineris Miracles."
("Don't you mean Los Angeles or Seattle or something? Instead of a Mars team?"
I raised a glass. "To the As." We drank.