The Coat Man

Posted: October 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

Here’s another short story for you folks. This one is “cute” and also actually happened.

THE COAT MAN

He moved around the room from chair to chair lifting up one coat after another, examining each in turn before cursing loud enough for me to hear, then replacing it. The hundred or so guests to the black tie affair were in the adjoining hall watching the presentation of their candidate on the big screen. Waiters moved about the vast, nearly empty dining room, cleaning away plates and glasses. I could tell it took some effort for them to ignore the coat man. I, on the other hand, was entranced.
Curiosity eventually got the better of me. I walked up to him.
“Help you?” I asked.
“Lost my coat.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, not meaning it. Somehow, looking at the guy, I got it that he wasn’t being completely sincere. But being the hired help for the night, a lowly security guy with not much left to do before the night was done, the coat man was the only game in town.
“I’m gonna check ‘em again,” he said, and started with the coat he had looked at a moment previous.
“That’s not gonna do any good,” I said. “You already checked every one that’s here.”
“It’s important,” he said, and went on to ignore me.
I smirked and watched him.
For another thirty minutes I watched him until the men drifted back in to retrieve their coats. The coat man watched them disappear one by one, and when the last was done he looked over at me and threw his arms up in despair.
I shrugged, chuckling to myself. Sucks to be you, I thought, right before I left.

I saw the coat man a year later at a bar. He had forgotten me. I recognized him instantly. He was making a circuit of the room, checking coats even while their owners sat talking and swilling beer. The place was crowded and dark and the noise was at the level of a din. My kind of place.
“Here comes the coat man,” I told Paul, my drinking buddy. “You’d better put your coat on.”
“Why?” Paul asked me, but it was too late.
“Can I see your jacket for a minute?” the coat man asked Paul.
“Why?” Paul asked him.
“I lost my coat. It looks just like yours. I just want to check it.”
“Dude,” Paul said. “This is my coat. I paid four hundred bucks for it.”
And that I could attest to. Paul had been bragging to me about his new suede leather jacket since the day he bought it two weeks before. The sonuvabitch probably had photostatic copies of the receipt filed away in triplicate somewhere.
“I just want to look at it,” the coat man said.
Paul leaned forward, moved his arms back and slid them into his sleeves, donning his jacket. “Forget it,” he told the coat man.
“Man,” I told the coat man, “that’s his coat. And you don’t remember me, but you’re the coat man. You do this sort of thing all the time, don’t you?”
“What thing?”
“Lose your coat,” I said.
“No I don’t,” the coat man said. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. You don’t know anything about me.”
“I know you’re perpetually coatless.”
“That’s because your friend has my coat.” The coat man turned to Paul. “You want to let me see that coat? Or should I call the cops?”
“Call ‘em,” I said.
“Yeah,” Paul said.

Outside in the parking lot the coat man stood there shivering in the cold while red and blue lights illuminated his thoroughly wronged face.
“Mr. Lopez,” the younger cop told Paul, “why won’t you let the guy at least look at the label in your coat?”
“Sir,” I said, interjecting yet again, “it’s because he’s the coat man,” I pointed. “And I personally can attest to this being Paul’s coat.”
“Paul is your friend,” the coat man said. “Doesn’t cut it with me.”
“Nor with me,” the cop said.
“Barking up the wrong tree, officer,” I said. “A year ago I was working security at the Hilton. This guy was checking every coat in the room.”
“So?” the coat man said.
“Yeah, so?” the cop said. “He didn’t take one, did he?”
“Not that I saw. I’m not saying he’s a thief. I’m saying he’s a little. . . loony tunes, that’s all.”
“Mr. Lopez,” the cop said to Paul, “I’m going to step over to the side with the coat man here, and he’s going to whisper the label name in my ear, then I’m going to come back over here and have a look at the label.”
“No you’re not,” Paul said. “This jacket is recognizable. Anybody who knows anything about suede leather jackets can tell you what the label says without looking at it.”
“And you can do that?” the cop asked Paul.
“He can,” I said. “I’ve seen it.”
The cop turned to the coat man–I still hadn’t heard the sonuvabitch’s name–and said, “Wait over by the patrol car for a minute.”
The coat man turned and walked twenty feet away, turned again, crossed his arms and regarded us.
“Okay,” Paul said. “What gives?”
“Look,” the cop said, “do me a favor here. It doesn’t matter a damn if it’s the same label or not, I’m not going to let him take your jacket away from you. I’m just trying to get this thing resolved.”
“Yeah, but–” Paul began, but the cop cut him off.
“Yeah, nothing. Apparently this guy can’t have a coat. He’s a little weird, I’ll grant you, and he’s got something about coats if what you say is true,” he nodded towards me. “Something rattling around in his noodle, maybe. Something maybe got shook loose in there and he never got it back in place again. I don’t know and I don’t care. You let him tell me the label name, I come back over here and look. I don’t care if it’s the same or not, I’ll tell him it’s not even if it is, then this whole thing is settled.”
“Okay,” Paul said. “Anyway, I’ve got a receipt for it at home.”
“I don’t doubt you,” the cop said. “Give me a sec.”
The cop walked over to the coat man. They conferred for a two long minutes, then the cop came back over.
“He says it’s a Weston coat. Size large.”
“Not even close,” Paul said, “Jacobs. Medium. Take a look.”
Paul slid the coat off and showed the cop, who gestured for the coat man to come over.
The coat man took one look and said: “Oh. This isn’t my coat. I’m going back in there and check everybody again.”
“Nope,” the cop said. “You’re going home.”

I dream a lot. Some of them are good dreams and some aren’t so good. In one of the bad ones, the coat man distracts the cop, snags his gun, then shoots all three of us, laughing maniacally the whole time. In another, the coat man is on a spaceship between the stars, checking every planet he comes across, forcing the population of each world to get in line and show him their coats, one by one.
But my favorite dream of all–one of the good ones–is where the coat man at last finds his coat. He finds it, sighs deeply, smiles a thin, satisfied smile, and ever-so-slowly dons it.

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