It was a cold, gray Wisconsin day a few days before Christmas, and the focus in the large college city was the annual trip home. For the next several weeks, the majority of the University students would succumb to a life of sloth and gluttony, perpetrated through the mediums of parents basements, an endless supply of microwave pizza and cereal, and Cops on TV virtually all day. One student in particular, known by all who cross his path as JJ, packed his massive ROTC duffel bag to the clip-fastening rim with dirty clothes in preparation for his visit home, cunningly planning the subtle extortion of his mother in order to save three quarters and an afternoon spent otherwise doing laundry. He pulled his favorite hat, red wool with a W, down on his head and shouldered his bag with a heave. A few hours and a good nap later, he stepped off the bus to his hometown, complete with mom, dad, brother, and a basement couch. JJ had bought the hat a month before, on a brutally cold, snowy night from a shop in an outlet mall. Despite the distance and irregular communication, every member of his family knew of his purchase and its high status among JJs possessions. The next several days passed without incident. JJ slept until noon each day, falling asleep at dawn to pirated music face down in his own drool. Even Nick, his high school brother, got caught up in the endless cycle of laze. The parents, however, went about their business but, true to style, didnt impede the boys suddenly sedentary lifestyles, recognizing their need for some days off. Then it happened. JJ awoke one afternoon to an empty house. The father had gone to work, the mother to a sewing specialty shop where she had been known to spend countless hours, and Nick to the mall with his friends. JJ was recovering from a harsh hour of first-time-in-a-long time snowboarding the day before, which explained his awake at 3pm instead of the usual 1. He was exceptionally warm, despite the cool, damp basement air and the thin fleece blanket he fancied. He ran his hands through his wooly hair and stood up and walked around the basement, making his rounds of things to (maybe) do that day and finding some clothes to wear. Then he realized. The hat! It was gone where could it be? There were three other people living in the house, surely one of them had seen it. JJ wasted no time. Mom. JJs mother received the call during the exit of her visit at the sewing shop, true to form of her prolonged conversation. JJ was on the phone, and by his low tone she could tell he hadnt been awake long. He explained that his hat was gone, and inquired whether or not she had seen it, or knew where it could be. Mother then went into the narrow-vision determination common to mothers whose offspring were in discomfort or peril. The store clerk, alarmed by Rhondas sudden shift in attitude, expressed a look one might give upon hearing of a friends family member being suddenly hospitalized. JJs mom was out the door. She was headed to her mother-in-laws house, where the entire family had enjoyed a dinner the night before. Surely he had left it there, where else could it be? Glory of finding the hat aside, she needed to find the hat. JJs happiness depended on it! On the way, following a mild slide from a fresh snowfall, her vehicle hit a snow bank, and, by some freak happening, blew out a tire. Startled but undaunted, she pulled aside and, true to textbook form, proceeded to change the tire, opening the trunk to expose the smaller in size but usable spare tire. She was cranking on the third lug nut when she saw him. His name was Jim Snyder, a short and portly community college professor who thrived on integrity and the opportunity to be a chivalrous fellow. Not that he was a particularly frightening man, but he had startled her, in spite of his loud creaking through the unset snow. Snapped back from reality and heart racing, Rhonda, not being one to oppose someone with a torque wrench, leapt for the security of the open trunk, pulling the door shut, safe, if temporarily, from the good-to-nature Professor Snyder, whose only intent was to help a damsel in distress. There she lay, curled in a ball to preserve precious body heat, fumbling for her cell phone. She eventually found it and calmed her nerves enough to make a phone call for rescue. But she would remain in the trunk for several hours. Despite being claustrophobic, she would hardly realize it, as her mind echoed repeatedly, Ive got to get his hat the hat Dad. The old man was just leaving work when his new cell phone vibrated away in his pocket. Recognizing that it was a text message causing the gentle jumping in his broad hand, he looked around coolly to see if anyone had noticed how up-to-date and hip he was for a man of 40 before clicking open the phone with a flip of the wrist; an action no-doubt practiced in the event of an actual text message in public. The text read: Lozt mi hat, sen it?/ and John recognized the number as being JJs. JJ and Nick had been at the ski slope the day before, and with all the falling he envisioned the boys doing; the possibility of a hat falling off was no doubt real, and also manifested. Putting off his hunger for a warm meal he hoped was waiting for him at home, he took the road the opposite way, headed for the ski slope. He got there within an hour of closing time, and there were only a few preoccupied skiers on the big hill, so John passed on a pair of skis and searched the white slope in regular shoes and a light jacket. He wouldnt last long. His feet got cold, no doubt from the fresh powder of the earlier snow. He took off a shoe in a balancing act that Michael Jackson might have lifted for a dance move to rub his numb foot. The shoe fell and rolled down the hill. John came after, and within a minute, the well-trained ski patrol would have his unconscious body on a snowmobile and then an ambulance headed for the hospital. He would drift in and out of consciousness the rest of the night, muttering all the while, the hat the hat The doctors were speculating the possibility of brain damage while looking for information on who to contact. Brother. Nick received an email on his personal palm computer while checking out a 9 at the mall with his friends, Kordmeister and Kanips. He read via email of the hat dilemma and realized his chance, and realized his need to act quickly and deliberately. He left his friends with a quick good-bye, flipped the collar up on his jacket, thrust his hands into his pockets, and headed for the Gap. There, standing outside the store filled with soccer moms and preteen girls, he ran-through his plan. He would casually walk in, grab a replacement hat, and calmly walk out. He would be hailed as a hero when he got home, it was a perfect plan. Every nerve was at optimum performance as he turned the corner down Aisle 7. He put on an act by stopping by the hat, pulling out his wallet and pretending to count his Georges, dropping the wallet, and picking it up, along with the electrifying red wool knit cap, and putting both in his pocket. He turned around and broke for the door in a cool criminal stride. He exited, planning to hang a right and head for the double glass doorsbut was blind-sided! Two uniformed cops had him cuffed and stuffed before he knew it, without even the chance to go down in a hail of gunfire, how he envisioned the fall of his criminal career ending. He would spend the night in a picturesque jail cell with a large, awkward man named Lucy. He used his one phone call to call Dominos Pizza, which he later would explain was pure habit. Lucy agreed that a criminal record would no doubt result in the loss of his academic full-ride to Princeton, for which he strove his whole life. The snoozing nearby guards dreams were interrupted by the conversation in Holding Cell A the hat the hat...the hat By this time, the reader is either conjuring up images of where exactly the hat is, wondering where the story is going, or both. JJ, after catching an afternoon nap, went into the bathroom for a glass of water. There he saw his hat. Go figure, looking in the mirror, he realized the hat was on his head the whole time! Smiling at the irony, he walked upstairs to an empty living room and kitchen and said nonchalantly, Hey, where is everyone?