‘Look I’m willing not to get the police involved, I just want my coat back, I’m sure it was an innocent mistake.’
The girl smiled her toothy white grin, and indicated Charles should enter. Charles looked into the dark hallway. It looked old, there were gaslights on the walls, dark red and gold wallpaper glinted in their flickering light.
‘No, I don’t think so, just bring me my coat and that’ll be the end to it.’
The girl shook her head.
‘That coat was erroneously sold. It was made for, and is, the property of my master. However, he realises that you have become, understandably, attached to it, so he is willing to debate the matter with you. You paid fairly and in good faith.’
Charles’ booze-addled brain was telling him this was a mistake, but how often does anyone listen to their booze-addled brain? He followed the beautiful woman in the sailor-suit into the dark hallway. It was like they walked for about half an hour, which didn’t quite seem right, before they got to the end of the passage. The gas lights flickered and it was unbearably hot. Too many martinis and the stifling heat were making Charles feel quite giddy. The woman opened the door, a heavy black door with paint peeling off, euch, paint peeling off was one of Charles’ bugbears. It caused him to shiver, he didn’t know why it always had that effect but it did. He supposed it suggested some sort of sadness of neglect that he shied away from. She woke him from his reflection, and led him into the room.
The room was even darker than the hall, lit by the flickering glow from a small fire. A small man, dressed in a coal-black suit, with the air of James Mason about him, turned towards Charles, the firelight seemed to flicker in his eyes. The coat, Charles’ coat, was placed over the back of a small sofa. Charles looked at it. The man shook his head. Charles felt his head begin to spin and suddenly he felt very, very giddy. He reached for the armchair and sat down with a plop.
Even years later, Charles could not swear that the next thing happened, the man seemed to be talking to him but Charles would swear that he didn’t see his lips move. Charles looked at the coat-check girl and noticed that her lips were moving although the voice he could hear was not hers.
‘It is a regrettable situation we find ourselves in. You purchased the item in good faith but it was made for me. I am not as difficult a man as people would have you believe. I wonder if there is a compromise here to be made. How old are you Charles?’
Charles stammered… ‘28’.
‘Your real age Charles.’
The little man looked into a ledger he had on a table. He leafed through it.
‘Yes… yes…. mmm… congratulations Charles, you keep yourself healthy. We’re not due to meet for 50 years, more if you give up smoking… so, I am prepared to loan you the coat till we next meet.’
The martinis and the heavy heat in the room had made Charles bold.
‘That’s not fair! I bought it for £300 – how can you say you’re going to loan it to me? It’s mine in the first place!’
‘That my dear Charles is rather irrelevant at this point in time. Possession as they say is 9 tenths of the law.’
Charles stood up and shook his fist. ‘But it’s my coat!’
The man looked at him and his eyes were once again the colour of the flickering flames in the fire. Charles found himself go icy cold as sweat poured down his body. He was going to be sick. He sat back down.
The man looked at his minion and nodded. She left the room.
‘Sometimes I encounter certain outstanding individuals, and they are able to, shall we say, impress me with the strength of their convictions. I am not as I say, a difficult man. When I meet such a person I am willing to make exceptions. Do you understand me Charles?’
Charles did not really understand what the man was saying, but sure, he thought, he had always thought of himself as a special person. He nodded.
‘I just need you to sign this document… you can keep the coat and we will never have to meet again.’
Charles found a contract in front of him, a long scroll with ornate lettering. He found a pen in his hand. The man approached him with a small dagger glinting in his hand. Charles pulled back.
‘I would send it to your Blackberry, but we have to do these the old fashioned way I’m afraid. It doesn’t hurt.’
The bloody signature glistened in the light of the fire. Charles picked up the coat and looked back at the man holding the contract in his hand, smiling a satisfied smile. As Charles was leaving the house, a taxi pulled up, Louisa got out.
‘Louisa?’ Charles was puzzled. She ignored him, her eyes intently staring at the big black door with its grinning satyr.
In a trance, Louisa went up to the door which was opened before she had the opportunity to knock. The little dark man stood there. Charles tried to follow her up the steps. But at the bottom step he stopped as if an invisible wall had been thrown up. The little man looked at him and shook his head. Louisa entered and didn’t look back once. Charles tried again and again to follow her up the steps, but all to no avail. The man was looking at him, disinterestedly. And as he closed the door after her, Charles heard that voice again in his head: ‘I can make exceptions for certain outstanding individuals… a certain individual whose soul was always yours to sign away, although you may not have known it.’And then Louisa’s voice in his head: Louisa’s beautiful, soft voice, that he would never hear again, no matter how many times he returned to the house with the big black door, no matter how many times he tried to get in, a soft voice that he would remember all his life, ‘Goodbye Charles.’
< (c) Sam Hall, 2010>