Devil coat – part one of a short story by Sam Hall

Coat illustration by Victoria Wainwright
Devil coat by Victoria Wainwright: http://www.victoriawainwright.com

The coat had been hanging there in Bentley and Bentley’s window for over a week now. He couldn’t walk by without stopping and staring enviously at it.

It was made of a thick, warm Harris Tweed, the colour of rich amber, and if you pressed your nose against the window and looked up close you could see the colour was achieved by the mixing of a fine mosaic of orange, yellow and red threads, lovingly handmade on a loom by a weaver on the remote Scottish Isle. The lining was a shimmering two-tone silk, held up to the light it appeared red, but hanging in the window it was a more subtle bronze.

It looked so toasty warm. The fact that it was blowing a gale up Main Street only added to the coat’s allure. But it was still two weeks to pay-day.

Charles regarded himself as a very stylish man; he was obsessed by the styles of an earlier time. His home was furnished with original Deco pieces bought whenever he could afford them. He only ever wore classic suits, often fought over with students in Oxfam. He had only last week bought a dark green walking suit from the ‘20s with a waistcoat and a pair of breeches that he hadn’t quite dared to wear to his job in ‘the media’. Although ‘the media’ was very open-minded and gentlemen would quite often wear what ‘normals’ would consider outlandish; Charles was still not quite sure about the breeches, though he had some lovely brown knee-high walking socks knitted by his aunt, that would go so well with the suit. And maybe this coat over it for a roasty-warm experience…

By Wednesday of that week Charles had worked himself up into quite a frenzy over the coat. His best friend Louisa had met him for lunch on Tuesday in town and Charles had taken her to have a look at it, and she had declared it most swanky. (It was all very platonic with Louisa and Charles, though Charles didn’t want to put a line under that quite yet, as Louisa was in so many ways his ideal woman. Built with a ‘50s matinee idol form, curvaceous in all the right ways, Louisa also wore her bleached blonde hair like Jean Harlow, and favoured the wiggle skirt and twinset combination that seemed to be so ‘in’ right now. She was also a lovely person, and Charles sometimes dreamed of their retro-fashion power couple style being pictured in Vanity Fair.)   

At 4.35pm he was looking at the clock on his pc, knowing very well he would be able to get to Bentley and Bentley’s before they closed if he left on the dot of five. He had withdrawn the £300 and had it in the breast pocket of his rather subdued black suit – yes £300, normally he would blanch at the price, but considering he usually only spent £6 on a suit, he thought that it would all even out in the end, in fact, he would probably even be quids in, in cost-per-wear credit. 

The moment he slipped it on over his black suit he knew his decision to take sandwiches to work and eat soup at home for the rest of the month was the right one. He’d always considered himself a devilishly handsome young man, but the coat seemed to bring out his rather tall, dark and handsome colouring even more.  And it would co-ordinate beautifully with Louisa’s black imitation fur stole. He told the assistant he would wear it home.

On the walk back down Main Street the sky suddenly became very overcast, glowering even. Charles unexpectedly developed the most raging thirst; a couple of martinis would be quite the thing. He wondered if Louisa was free. But then he remembered she had her Italian class tonight. He thought he might text her and see if she would be free later anyway. He looked up the street to see where he could pop in to shelter from the icy wind. Amongst the Weatherspoons, All bar ones and other chains, he noticed a little gate with a sign above that he couldn’t remember seeing before – not that he paid that much attention to the pubs in this part of town. Weatherspoons is not very meeja, darling. But it was the gate that attracted him anyway, it was wrought iron, a little rusty, a definitely Charles Rennie Macintosh feel to it. Above it a black sign with slightly glowing writing, red, was it? The sign said Shades Bar – but the ‘S’ was not lit as brightly in the glow. Maybe that was just his eyes, it was dusk and the light was fading. But the Macintosh connection was enough to sell him, so Charles opened the gate and went down the steps into Hades.

As soon as he stepped through the door he knew this was his kind of place. A warm glow from a massive open fireplace filled the room, there were round tables with spotless white cloths on them, red velvet curtains providing privacy for a series of booths set round the edges of the room. In one corner a jazz band wearing burgundy velvet suits with dickie bows and gloves played an unfamiliar New Orleans style composition. Louisa would love this, thought Charles, he’d have to text her as soon as he sat down.  

As Charles ordered a martini from the impeccably dressed bar-man, he had the opportunity to look around the room that reflected in a huge gilt mirror reaching the whole length of the bar. Beautiful women dressed in fine silks and furs, laughed and drank with handsome, besuited men. People here were so fashionable, this surely must be the latest celebrity watering hole, but why hadn’t he read about it on popbitch? Maybe this was a theme night, there was definitely something of the speakeasy in the air. Charles took a seat at the bar as he sipped his perfect martini. He got out his mobile to text Louisa but he had no signal.

‘Can I take your coat, sir?’ A glamorous black woman wearing a sailor-suit with cute puffy white shorts and a bow in her hair was standing beside him. ‘It gets awfully hot in here later,’ she smiled. Charles noticed that she had perfect white teeth, slightly pointed incisors, against her blood red lipstick.

‘Sure, thanks.’ He handed her his coat and she gave him a little ticket in exchange, disappearing off with his new coat.

She was right, it did get awfully hot, awfully quickly, or maybe it was the four martinis. He looked at his watch and saw it was later than he’d thought. Louisa would have finished her Italian class by now, he really ought to text her. He’d go outside and get reception. But first he’d get his coat, it was going to be chilly out there after the really quite stifling heat down here.

He looked for the coat-check girl but he couldn’t see her anywhere. He couldn’t see a cloakroom, come to think of it. He asked the bar-man.

‘No, we don’t have a cloakroom.’ Sure enough, people’s coats were hanging over the back of the chairs. In his martini-fuddled brain, Charles began to see what had happened; the girl must do this all the time, she had her routine all worked out. She had been round the room, looking for the most expensive coat she could find and when she saw his beautiful new coat, she recognised the hand-stitching and had stolen it. No doubt it would appear on ebay, or maybe she had already sold it on for a tenner in Weatherspoons. Charles hit his head in anger. What an idiot: £300 down the swannee.

He shivered as he stood outside by the gate. The sign definitely needed an electrician to have a look at it. The S was hardly visible at all.

Charles got his phone out of his inside jacket pocket but as he did so, he noticed the ticket the girl had given him. It was more like a business card than a coat-check ticket, come to think of it. It had an address on it. Now if Charles had been thinking straight, he might have taken that card to the nearest police station, but Charles was not thinking straight, all that was on his mind was getting the coat back. He called Louisa from the taxi as he was being driven to the address.

‘Charles, don’t be so silly, you could be sold into slavery… or worse.’

But they were pulling up to the doorway and Charles felt he had come too far to lose the coat now.

‘I’ll call you as soon as I get my coat.’

‘Charles…’

‘Yes?’

‘… Please be careful. I don’t know what I’d do if… Just be careful, ok?’

To be continued…

<(c) Sam Hall, 2010>

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