A BLUE COAT

A BLUE COAT

By Paul Morantz

       John Curtis walked cheerfully down the sidewalk of a busy Beverly Hills Street, noisy and crowded with the bonking of horns from jammed up traffic and battles for parking spaces. John, himself, had been almost hit by a typical Beverly Hills driver while darting across the sidewalk. But nothing could anger him. It was a happy day.

This sky was cloudy but he saw only sunshine. The or noises of automobiles were silent to his ears; only the occasional chirping of birds from a pet store penetrated his consciousness. The air was clogged with exhaust – only the illuminate green, yellow and red of the stop light beamed into his eyes. He saw not the construction workers repairing the street – but only the girls swinging their hips rhythmically as they traveled. Girls are so pretty. And he was to marry the prettiest of them all.

John entered PRINCE MAN’S SHOP, his destination, and stepped in front of a mirror, which now reflected the strong, pure features of his handsome face, to comb his hair that in color and style helped make him resemble Allen Ladd. John was always making sure that his appearance was neat and fit. He liked his reputation of being a clean-cut, well-mannered college man. When he graduated high school he had been voted the award of the most well-dressed man. John was not so wealthy that he could buy all the clothes he pleased, but he compensated by being careful about how and on what he spent his money. His father had quite a lot of money, being owner of JERRY’S RESTAURANT, but gave his son only a minimum allowance. “My son will learn the value of money,” he used to say. “And he will make his own way, free of my influence in the business world.” John, contrary to what one would ordinary believe, admired his father for his attitudes. It had created a deep sense of independence within him. One that has helped form his high taste for clothes. With extreme care, John budgeted his finances. And when his budget would allow, he would purchase some attire suitable to his taste. Dressing had become a hobby.

While at a mirror, a white haired man with glasses, wearing a gray suit, approached him.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Curtis,” said the salesman. “Can I help you.”

“Yes, I believe you can, Mr. Ward.” It was the first time he ever called him “Mr. Ward” instead of the usual “Bill.” But after all these years of shopping here, it was the first time the salesman had not addressed him as “Johnny.” Probably because he was graduating college in a week, Bill called him “Mr. Curtis” as a witty way of saying, “My you’ve grown up fast, Johnny.” But this did not bother him. He was feeling too wonderful – he was in love.

“I saw a blue one-buttoned continental sport coat in the window last week,” said John. “I’d like to try it on.”

“Surely,” the salesman answered. “And how is your father.”

“Fine! The old man’s really fine.” He smiled with the thought. His father had just agreed to loan him sufficient money to get married. It was not a gift, but a long time loan. He was getting a day job shortly to support his future family while attending law school at night. But he needed the loan to cover certain immediate expenses if he was to marry. He could remember his father saying, “Not a single cent more shall you ever get for me, no matter what the necessity, until this five thousand dollars has been repaid.”

“The coat’s over the here,” spoke at the salesman as he led John to another part of the shop.

“Hello, Johnny, boy,” said Pollard the owner as they passed by his jolly fat figure. “Hear you’re getting married soon. Congratulations son. Is she awful pretty?”

“The prettiest in the world, sir.” And to John she was. She had a deep shade of blond hair that almost matched his own sandy colored hair. She had pretty little blue eyes, surrounded by a few freckles separated by a cute little turned up nose. See possessed a small little mouth that released a squeaky little noise which he adored. He had gone steady with many girls – but this was his true love.

John examined the coat with an expert eye. He liked the style, a wool wortsed coat with a triple stitch on the lining. He held it up high by the hanger to get a better, more complete view. It was fully lined with a color of blue to match the exterior of royal blue with the interior. It was an expensive coat, but his father’s five thousand dollars loan had supplied his budget with a surplus that just covered the price. The sport coat fit into his budget as snuggly as a jigsaw piece into a puzzle.

The salesman helped his customer put on the coat. John stood in front of a large mirror. The coat was light weight and extremely comfortable. He liked the black tint running throughout the material. “Send for the alterations man,” John requested. “I’ll take it.” Yes, it was a happy day.

*****

A week of waiting passed and John Curtis was now a college graduate. In celebration, he went to Las Vegas for a weekend vacation. He was a guest of Lou Leiberman and his father. Lou, a close friend, had also just graduated. The trip could easily be afforded. Rooms and shows are cheap in Vegas, and he knew that Mr. Lieberman would pick up a large part of his bill, if not all. There was no danger of losing a great sum of money. He was not of chronic or obsessed gambler, like Lou or his father. He could keep away from the tables. Once in a while, he dropped a few dimes in the slot machine or a few dollars at the black-jack table, but that was all. Besides, after all, with four years of college behind and an eternity of marriage ahead, he deserved a vacation. He would simply tighten his budget.

It was late Saturday night, the last night of their trip. They had just returned to the Sands Hotel from a late show. John was standing alone, among some slot machines, watching Lou and his father do some final gambling. John was wearing his new blue sport coat tinted with black. A silver gray tie, matching the color of his coat handkerchief flowed neatly from the collar of his white custom-made shirt which was tucked gently into his “Royal” trousers. At sapphire tie pin and cufflinks contrasted his coat, while the color of his “Satan” shoes blended with his tapered slacks. He was still happy and content with dreams of his wife to be.

A girl of mid-twenties entered the lounge. He was alone, and John, being bored, watched her curiously. She had blackish red hair that fell unevenly. Her face, covered by make-up, was average looking. She had a large unsightly mole, however, on her cheek, and one of her front teeth, yellow as the others, was slightly crooked. She was a tall girl with a large bust, wide hips and legs which were a little plump especially around the thighs. When she walked, she tried to put all parts into motion, each in a different direction.

John watched her approach Lou’s father, who was relaxing at the moment with a bourbon and seven. John couldn’t hear the conversation, but he saw the girl smile sexily with her eyes and poke gently at Mr. Lieberman’s chest with a long red fingernail. Lou’s father shook his head in a negative fashion and then pointed towards his son.

The girl appeared to say thank you before walking over to Lou, who was throwing dice at the crap table. They were close enough for John to hear.

“Hi, how you doing, honey,” she said nicely. She placed a hand on her hip and drew in her breath, trying to make Lou notice her breast bulging out of her low-cut blouse.

“Winning,” Lou answered. He took a look at her and then returned to throwing his dice. “Come on dice… come on baby!”

“Nine!”

“I’m glad you’re winning,” she said. “Are you interested in doing something other than gambling,” she asked.

“Placing five!”

“No. Not when I’m winning,” Lou answered. “Come on little dice…”

“For lucky Lou Lieberman!”

“Be fifty-four!”

“Seven!”

Lou turned to the girl, “Listen, you’re not my type. I wish you’d please leave. I’m very superstitious and you’re ruining my luck.”

“Sorry!”

“Seven… a winner!”

The girl stepped away and began searching for another eligible male. John advanced towards her. Why should he not get her? He was to be married soon and then all of his freedom would be lost. Besides, he was bored.

*****

John entered the girl’s apartment. She closed the door behind him and carefully locked it.

“You must be terribly rich,” she said. “You dress so well. That’s such a lovely blue coat.” She kicked her left shoe off, hitting his foot.

“I undress well, too,” he replied.

“My aren’t we fast.”   John just smiled. “You know,” she said, kicking off her other shoe, this time missing his foot, “I don’t do this for nothing.”

“How much do you do it for,” John asked?

“Well rich boy… how much do you think I’m worth?”

“About five thousand dollars.”

The girl’s brown eyes lit up. “Wh-at!… You’re not kidding me, are you?”

Instead of answering, John, with the stern face concealing his bluff, pulled out his checkbook and began to write.

It was a plan that could not fail. At the time, his bank account was nil and the check would simply bounce. The girl could not take him to court for she would have to say what she did to earn the money.

It was a scheme that led to an accumulation of events that concluded with John’s statement to Lou the next morning, “She was a lousy piece of ass.”

*****

The sky was clear and beautiful above Beverly Hills. But to John the world was cloudy and gray. The birds did not sing, the girls were no longer pretty and the blast of horns greatly annoyed him. It was an unhappy day.

He entered PRINCE MEN’S SHOP, and addressed the salesman, “Bill, I’d like to talk to you.”

“Oh, Mr. Curtis! How nice to see you again so soon. By the way, when’s the date of your marriage?”

Gloom blossomed to a peak in John’s face. Tears began to swell out from his eyes. Restraining his anguish and regaining his self-control, he continued, “It’s about the blue coat I bought.”

“Is something wrong with it?”

“No,” John answered. “It’s a beautiful coat. Too beautiful… but I ran into some financial problems, and I can’t afford it. I was wondering if I could sell it back. I need the money.”

“Do you have the receipt?”

“No. I never keep those things.”

“I’m sorry. It’s the policy of PRINCE MEN’S SHOP not to make cash refunds unless you have the receipt. We can issue you a cash credit in return for the coat. You can use it for future purchases.”

“That won’t do,” John answered sadly. “Not by a longshot.”

Head down, John walked silently out of the store. Outside, he could not hold the tears back. But there was no reason why he should. He had a right to cry. How was he to have known that the bank, upon receiving the check for 5 thousand dollars would report it’s bouncing to his father. And how is he to have known that his father, thinking it was a gambling debt, would pay it in full to possibly protect him from the mob. Yes, it was a very unhappy day.