After that J.B. went kind of crazy. He went around that café, grabbing customers and waitresses and demanding to know who had his hat. We tried to restrain him but he was like a bull on the loose, and somebody finally called the law and a deputy sheriff come in and told us in meaningful tones to quit the premises or we wouldn't have to pay for beds that night. He said, "Now I don't know what you rodeo bums are up to, but I know ain't none of you got a hat anybody would want to steal. And if you don't get out of here and quit bothering these good folks, I'm going to put you where you won't need a hat to keep the sun out of your eyes."
We got a motel room later that night, but Player had to sit up with J.B. I was in my sleeping bag over in the corner, and I could see them in dim outline sitting by the window and hear Player saying, "J.B., it's all in your mind. This is your hat."
"But it ain't!" J.B. said, and it almost sounded like he had tears in his eyes.
And Player saying, "Now, J.B., you know you been taking some hell of a lot of crashes lately on them bulls. You know they say that can mess up your eyes."
I'd asked Player on the sly if he'd been careful with J.B.'s real hat. He'd said, "Don't worry. I got it in a cellophane bag under the driver's seat of the pickup."
Things got sort of strange after that first night, because J.B. took to wearing that hat just like it was his real one. But he'd changed. It appeared that the poor quality of the hat was giving J.B. a poor opinion of himself. Nobody ever, in my hearing, actually said anything bad about his hat, but you could see cowboys giving him kind of funny looks. It appeared like it was working on his mind. He didn't stand in front of the chutes anymore with his arms folded, looking up in the stands for a Shiny Bright. And he didn't even seem to take as much personal care of himself.
But what was worse was that his contesting had gone into a dead tailspin. He was bucking off of horses and bulls that he once might have rode, and he wasn't getting us those third places that had previously formed a substantial part of our income.
I told Player one night, after the joke had run on for about two weeks, that we had to put a stop to it, that we couldn't afford it, that if he didn't give J.B.'s hat back to him and get him back on track, we weren't going to be able to make the next payment on the pickup. Player just nodded.
But I knew what he was up to. Ever once in a while I'd hear him talking quietly to J.B. He'd say, "Now, J.B., I know you're a man who is generally right. I know you was right that time you reported to the management of that little hotel in Wichita Falls that we didn't have enough towels." Or he'd say, "Now, J.B., I know that's your hat because you are not a man that makes a mistake."
Well, the next night, in Fort Smith, Ark., we went in a cafe and Player took pains to make sure that J.B. was seated with his back to the front door. Then, just as he'd done before, he made some excuse that he had to go out to the pickup. I saw him take that wreck of a hat off the rack by the front door and I saw him come back in a few minutes later and hang up J.B.'s real hat.