Heckie slid a silver key into the lock of his tailoring shoppe and looked to the metal sign above the door frame. The block letters announced the shoppe name in traditional terms, ‘Bespoke Tailoring.’ More specifically, “Fenwick’s Bespoke Tailoring.” A second, smaller sign above the large front picture window read, ‘Pride of Scotland’.
The second storey of the building was where Heckie resided. Dougie Fenwick, the original owner, had taken a shine to Heckie, a shy and seemingly lost young man of twenty under his tutelage in 1958, and transformed him into a Master Tailor. Heckie acquired the business when Fenwick announced his retirement in 1986 but saw no reason to change the name.
Being a master tailor required exceptional proficiency in clothing assembly and extensive knowledge of how and where to acquire the highest quality fabric.
Fenwick’s carried high-end tweed, linen, silk, cotton and wool from as far away as Bangkok, Thailand and as near as Aberdeen City.
It was Friday, which meant operating hours were eleven a.m. to three p.m. This shorter day suited Heckie as he was not a great fan of public interactions. It was difficult being an introvert, forced to exchange niceties to achieve the end goal, which was to create; express his art through the fabric. Fenwick coached the young man on showing interest in customers, even if merely for appearances; ‘The more engaged and/or enthusiastic a tailor was, the easier it was to steer a customer toward a signed contract and conceivably higher-priced goods,’ Fenwick would say.
Heckie shut the door behind him, flipped his sign to ‘open,’ drew the curtain aside, and made his way past the working table in his front room into his neurotically tidy back room.
Two long tables lined one wall, laden with two old but gleaming Singer sewing machines and a row of neatly organised bins filled with chalk, pins, scissors and other tailoring necessities. Also in this area was the ironing station. Displayed on a shelf just above it were three heavy antique flat irons, from the late eighteen hundreds.
These dinosaurs were historically a recipe for disaster and never ceased to emotionally confound Heckie. Inserting archaic, twelve to fifteen-pound chunks of cast iron (including the handle, which was part of the mould) into hot flames to raise their temperature was dreadful enough. Retrieving them from the blaze without being scorched could be equally perilous, and severe injury was not uncommon back in the day. Not only were exposed hands and arms a hazard, but hair and clothing were also in jeopardy of catching fire, causing grievous bodily harm and possible job/earnings loss. Predictably, it was primarily women and girls who handled this task, and thus bore these risks.
The irons cooled faster than one might imagine, though, so continual re-insertion was necessary if one was to accomplish all that needed doing. If too hot, one could quickly burn the material. Removing it before it was hot enough would be ineffectual when trying to flatten the fabric. If not appropriately oiled in-between uses, rust would form, running the risk of fabric ruination. Deposited soot from the fire was also a complication for those who used this tool.
Wealthier households with servants might have several irons, all being switched out when one cooled (thus the age-old phrase, ‘Too many irons in the fire’).
All this said, some, like the few Heckie owned, were visually beautiful, and the bases (trivets) were ornate and impeccably designed. Heckie’s had been keepsakes from his predecessor, making them all the more precious.
Bolts of fabric, sorted by type, colour and value, covered one entire wall.
A third table with a hanging rack attached to the end was the area Heckie was most proud of. That’s where completed items hung, suspended in all their glory, awaiting customer collection.
Having one working table in the front room had been Fenwick’s idea. Passers-by could peer in to watch the artists cutting and pinning. On their way home, school children would oft times stand outside the window making cheeky but good-humoured faces at him. Heckie, in turn, would return the play. For the most part, Heckie found children to be much more enjoyable than adults and, as such, would occasionally leave a basket of sweets outside the shoppe door to lighten their end of day. Children, very simply, brought out the best in him.
Heckie surveyed the room; a sense of deep satisfaction swelling within him. Except for one parcel pushed under the first sewing table, everything had a designated place. That one item had been left by ‘her’ and should have been collected weeks ago.
Every time Heckie thought of ‘her,’ his heart raced. Almost a month had passed since the woman had harpooned his delicate psyche. It was a Thursday, just gone six p.m., and he was sliding closed the light curtain across the front glass door and turning the ‘open’ sign to ‘shut.’
It had been a typical dreich day, and he wished for nothing more than a steaming hot bath with an equally steaming hot toddy. He liked his toddy with a squeeze of lemon.
That wish soon vanished as he noticed ‘her’ approach the shoppe. Heckie sucked in his ample belly, swallowed hard and opened the door.
She introduced herself as Amelia, and Heckie thought she was a stunning specimen of a woman. He watched intently as the stranger ambled past him to the counter, where she gently placed a shoebox-sized parcel. Turning, the visitor removed her coat, shaking raindrops from it.
The dark green form-fitting woollen suit beneath her coat was breathtaking and made with impeccable fabric. Her full lips, painted a tawdry yet seductive cherry-red, were striking against her milky white skin. Large diamond earrings sparkled in the light. She removed a black hat, and as she did, a mass of thick auburn curls tumbled to meet her slender shoulders.
“What can I do for you,” Heckie asked, granting her a wink and a nod, sucking in his paunchy fifty-year-old midsection for a second time; as if a twenty-something stunner would be interested in his fifty-year-old self.
In a voice deep and syrupy, she inquired if he could ‘be a dear’ and hold a package for an elderly couple, the Stewarts, coming down from Aberdeen at the weekend. She had suddenly been called out of town and, being a visitor herself, had nowhere and no one to leave it with. His was the only shoppe open on the main road that she could see; thus, she chose Fenwick’s.
Heckie thought, ‘I’d hold more than your package if you step into the back room.’ What he said was, “I dunno. What did you say was in it?”
Amelia leaned in closely and whispered in his ear. “I didn’t say.”
Her closeness caused beads of sweat to form upon his brow, and Heckie was sure the entire town could hear the pounding in his chest and the low moan that released itself from his throat.
Her accent was not from his side of the pond, that was for sure. American? Canadian? The slight twang inclined his thoughts to that of a southern US state, perhaps Georgia.
‘God Almighty,’ Heckie mused to himself, ‘that wool must have been extortionate in price. I wonder where she purchased it and if there might be more of it.’ What he said, in a breathy tone, was, “I … suppose I could consider it.”
Slowly and thoughtfully, Amelia brought her fine-boned porcelain hand to Heckie’s face to straighten a few wayward hairs away from his eyes. She moved forward anew. So close she was, Heckie could feel her anatomy beneath that extraordinary fabric. Again she whispered, her breath infusing the skin of his ear, “There’s a good man.”
The kittenish charmer had glided into Heckie’s solitary life for only a few minutes, but they had been shining. It was something close to torturous to look on, as the celestial being replaced her coat, thrusting her bosom forward as she did. He watched, enchanted, as her swaying curves exited his front door to the footpath; then, she was away.
Heckie locked the door and closed the curtain, thinking, ‘God in heaven, if I died this very instant, I would die a happy man.’ What he said aloud was, “Amelia.”
He placed the parcel behind his counter for several days, but it became a nuisance; hence he moved it to his back room, under a table, vowing to open the bleedin’ thing if it wasn’t collected soon.
This particular Friday turned out to be a genuinely jubilant one. Heckie was awarded a contract for an upcoming wedding, which included suits for the groom, his best man and his two groomsmen, plus an additional piece, known as a ‘Wedding Sark’ (a traditional Scottish shirt worn by the groom, gifted by the bride).
Most of the day was spent measuring the men and discussing colour and style with the groom. There seemed to be no ceiling on price, which was always a bonus for an artist.
Heckie had a particular brand-new bolt of fabric in mind for the Sark. It was one hundred percent Egyptian cotton just aching to be used for something spectacular. As with all authentic Egyptian cotton, it had been harvested by hand to not disrupt or tear the integral structure of the fibres. These undisturbed, extra-long fibres meant more threads per square inch, resulting in a breathable, durable garment that verily became softer over time.
It was 3:15 p.m., just past closing time, but Heckie’s enthusiasm was uncontainable. The front table was painstakingly wiped and re-wiped, ensuring nothing could snare or mark the lavish fabric. So engrossed he was, he overlooked pulling closed the curtain on the front door, flipping the sign to ‘shut’ and sliding the deadbolt.
These missteps would change Heckie’s life forever.
He brought the cotton bolt from the back room to the front and gently laid it on the worktable, slowly unfolding the snow-white fabric, marvelling at its beauty as one might revel at the beauty of a lover. The utmost care would need to be taken at several hundred dollars per metre. Measure twice, even three times, and cut once.
The shoppe door opened. Glancing up, he met the deep-set eyes of a tall, bulky man in a sage green mackintosh. Heckie cursed himself for forgetting to lock the shoppe.
In his mind, Heckie thought, ‘Aww, here we go, he looks a bit of a twally.’ But what he said was, “May I help you?”
“Could do,” the man responded, stuffing his hand deep inside a brown paper sack, removing several greasy vinegary chips, and stuffing them into his mouth. “Here to collect the package.” If there was one thing Heckie despised, it was when people stuffed their mouths with food and proceeded to talk as per usual. Purely vile manners, that was all there was to it.
‘For the love of … Don’t be touchin’ anything in this shoppe with those greasy fingers, or I’ll have your head.’ “Which of my numerous orders are you here to collect?”
The man stared straight ahead and stuffed another handful of chips into his thin-lipped mouth.
“The name, please?” Heckie asked, doing his utmost to keep his annoyance at bay.
The man in the mackintosh scrunched the paper sack into a small ball, tossed it on the floor and slammed his hands upon the worktable, right atop Heckie’s prized white cotton. “You know the one. Let’s not have trouble.”
‘This man is off his trolly,’ thought Heckie. “How am I to know which order you are looking for? Remove your hands from this table!”
The man in the mackintosh removed his hands from the alabaster fabric, and Heckie’s eyes fell to the several oily stains now saturating it.
Heckie’s face grew beet red, and he clenched his jaw. ‘I’d kill you right where you stand if I thought I could get away with it.’ “Holy Christ! Look what you’ve done! You’ll pay for this wreckage … package or no package!”
The man in the mac roared, as a lion might.
It was only then that Heckie thought perhaps the parcel he referred to was the one under the table in the back room, left by ‘her.’ Could this uncouth lout be after that package?
“Amelia left it. I want it.” The man, who Heckie had now internalized as Mad Mac, coughed and stomped his foot as a child might.
He had gotten entirely under Heckie’s skin now. There was no chance this brute would compensate him for the ruined fabric. Plus, Amelia specifically said it was to be collected by a Mr and Mrs Stewart. Who was this clown to enter his shoppe and make demands?
Heckie spat back his retort. “There was an Amelia here, and truth be told, she did indeed drop a parcel for an elderly couple. They collected it up several days ago.” This was, of course, untrue, but Heckie didn’t want to admit to still having the package under the table in his back room. He was determined that this bampot wouldn’t receive the satisfaction of intimidation.
“Liar. I know they haven’t been in,” responded Mad Mac. “I’ll just look around, as it suits me.”
“Say now, you can’t barge in here and demand things. I forbid you to touch … ”
The fist of Mad Mac came swiftly and ploughed into the temple of Heckie, sending him flying sideways into the wall. Heckie crumpled into a heap upon the floor. Mad Mac stomped through to the back room while Heckie held his head in his hands and pulled himself up upon his now shaking legs.
It took Heckie a moment or two to regain strength, to will the pain in his head to take a back seat to the moment at hand. Moving carefully along the wall, he entered the sewing room. Heckie nearly choked on his breath at the sight of the havoc Mad Mac had wreaked in mere moments.
Bolts of fabric flipped onto the floor. Tweeds and woollens were thrown every which way. Many completed orders, neatly wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string, had been torn apart and thrown asunder. Mad Mac caught sight of the parcel beneath the table, walked toward it and knelt down to retrieve it. Heckie knew he would be in for a right thumping if Mad Mac got to it.
The shoppe owner had heard the term ‘seeing red’ but had never experienced it first-hand until this very moment. This man had not only assaulted his physical body but had violated his very soul by wrecking his livelihood. His anger rose as a fire being doused in petrol. Heckie—now completely void of self-control—instinctively reached for one of his twelve-pound antique irons and raised it above his head.
Seeing a shadow looming, Mad Mac turned toward it. The iron crashed down onto his skull, causing him to slump to the floor. Heckie, breathing heavily, took a few steps forward and kicked the man’s foot. “Get up, ya bastard!” Heckie yelled. “And get away out of my shoppe!”
Mad Mac remained motionless. Heckie knelt down to him, looked at his watch and thought, ‘O heavens, look at the time. I’ll be needin’ my supper soon enough.’ What he said was, “Holy Christ man … are you dead? … well … are you?”
There were no identifying papers on Mad Mac, only a tiny bit of paper which read ‘Fenwick’s Bespoke Tailoring.’ One of the dead man’s trouser pockets held a large rolled-up wad of banknotes. Heckie unrolled them and placed them in his cash drawer.
Heckie closed the shoppe and taped a ‘Back Monday Morning’ note to the door. The following few hours were filled with adrenaline. He needed to wait until night covered the town in soggy black velvet before attempting to move the body.
At ten p.m., the tailor reversed his combi van to the back door of his shoppe and dragged the body along the floor. The dead man was much heavier than Heckie had imagined and moving him was surprisingly exerting. Heckie was quite sturdy himself. Not terribly overweight but wide of shoulder and bulky of midsection.
Once the van doors were shut and locked, he hopped on A90 north, waiting for inspiration. His first thought was to dump the body in Dunnottar Woods, about an hour away, but he soon realized the likelihood of the body being found sooner than later was extremely high. Plus, the head wound would prove foul play.
Cliffs. That was what he needed, as a fall onto craggy rocks to the sea could cause head trauma. It would be very plausible that the man had simply slipped and plummeted while walking the grounds. Yes, he would head to Dunnottar Castle. A half-hour later, a sign advertising the woods and Castle caught his eye. A92. Almost there.
A struggle it was to drag the man along the narrow path from the car park but pulling him up the steep slope toward the castle grounds took ages, as Heckie was forced to stop every couple of minutes to catch his breath. His one re-occurring thought was, ‘Thank goodness there’s no moon.’ He outwardly grunted along the path, ‘You’re a right fecker alright, you can feic right off the cliff.’ Then with a final shove, Mad Mac slid over the edge, tumbling into the North Sea at high tide.
By the time Heckie dragged his sore muscles back to his flat, it was two in the morning. Heckie, whose biggest crime in life had been stealing six bottles of Stout from the back of a lorry when he was a teenager, was now laden with serious offences. He killed a man, but he had failed to notify the coppers, had stolen a considerable wad of cash from the man’s pockets and disposed of a body.