James Heath

The Fashion Fit

Ray felt a hand on his shoulder and looked behind him.
          ‘What are you drinking?’ asked Mr. Hudson.
          ‘I just had a coffee while I was waiting.’
          Mr. Hudson addressed the barman. ‘Sim, another coffee. Large Scotch for me.’ He turned and headed over to a table without inviting Ray to follow. Ray took his coffee in one hand and his briefcase in the other and got up from the bar stool.
          At the table, Ray noticed that Mr. Hudson still had the same distracted look on his face that was there a month earlier in his office.
          ‘Did you get the information I asked for?’ he asked.
          ‘Yes, I think so.’ Ray put his briefcase down on the table and took out his iPad. Mr. Hudson looked down at the iPad, then looked away.
          The barman appeared and placed a large Scotch and a fresh black coffee down on the table.
          ‘There’s quite a lot to go through,’ Ray continued. He hesitated and looked apologetic, as though waiting for a response.
          ‘Mr. Hudson, do you remember what I said when you came to my office last month? I mean, the advice I gave you?’
          Mr. Hudson sipped his Scotch and looked over Ray’s shoulder as he continued.
          ‘Mr. Hudson, I’ve been conducting private enquiries for seventeen years and I always advise my clients the same way. The best thing you can do is talk to your wife and find a way through this together.’ Ray waited but no response came. ‘What is it you think you’re getting from this information? The only way to get peace of mind is to find out for yourself what’s been going on. Inside her head, I mean. It’s never straightforward when it comes to matters of the heart. Emotions and so on.’
          ‘But I’m not what you’d call an emotional man,’ said Mr. Hudson. He glanced at Ray very briefly before looking down into his glass.
          ‘All the same. Would you like to give it some more thought?’
          Mr. Hudson was still looking down and waiting. Despite the troubled look on his face, he did not seem to be in a hurry. Ray glanced over at his immaculate dark grey three-piece pinstripe suit and reflected on everything he had learned while working on this job.
          ‘OK then.’ Ray put on his reading glasses. He took out his notebook but he did not yet need to look at it. ‘Well, it seems that, on the face of it, anyway, you were quite correct. Your wife is spending a lot of her time with a young man who’s been visiting her every few days while you’ve been away. I’ve done a bit of digging but I remember you mentioning that you weren’t really interested in finding anything on him. I mean, his name and how he and your wife came to –’
          ‘I think we can skip those details,’ said Mr. Hudson. He was looking away again, turning his tumbler very slowly and carefully with his fingers as it rested on the table. ‘Let’s just stick to the information I need, shall we.’
          ‘Sure, sure. Well, you wanted a physical description.’ Ray began looking through his notebook. ‘Let me see, now. He’s about six foot and one inch tall, with neatly styled black hair, and probably in his mid-to-late twenties. Quite athletic. Let’s see, what else. Now, you said you wanted to know if he makes her happy. Well, from what I can see, she seems quite happy. She always seems very pleased to see him.’ Ray paused and kept his eyes on the page. He had dreaded going through this bit, and knew he was already making a hash of it. ‘I think it’s fair to say that she’s very happy when he’s around, at least, that’s my impression from what I’ve seen. Yes.’ Ray nodded to himself and continued looking down at the notebook.
          ‘Very well,’ said Mr. Hudson. ‘And the other information I requested?’
          ‘Yes.’ Ray removed his glasses and put the notebook aside. He logged into his iPad and opened a folder of pictures. ‘I did manage to get some very good shots, for what it’s worth. I’m just opening them now and I’ll go through them. Are you quite sure you don’t want to –’
          ‘No no no no no. I said I didn’t want to see them.’
          ‘Yes, you did say that. That’s quite correct, you did.’
          ‘I just want the information.’ Mr. Hudson took a longer sip of his Scotch and continued staring into nothing.
          ‘Alright then, I’ll go through them. I’ve got a whole series of shots of him leaving the house over three separate mornings. Now, I did mention to you in my office that this is definitely not my area of expertise, so I’ve had to do a hell of a lot of research over the past few weeks, and I only hope I can tell you what you need to know. Here goes. On the morning of Friday 25th May, he left the house wearing a charcoal flannel three-piece with a white shirt and a plain red silk tie. The jacket is a button three, roll two, with a high gorge on the lapels. The waistcoat also has lapels, and six buttons with five to button. The trousers have forward pleats, and he wore black slip-on shoes. So that was Friday. Then, on the morning of Saturday 26th, he came out wearing a solid navy two-piece with a white linen pocket square. Five buttons on each cuff. This came with a white shirt and a knitted sky blue tie. And he wore the same black slip-on shoes he had with the first outfit.’
          He glanced up occasionally to see that even though Mr. Hudson was still looking away, he was concentrating on nothing but Ray’s voice.
          ‘Then,’ Ray continued, ‘on the morning of Saturday 2nd June, he came out wearing what seems to be a rather sporty-looking black and white puppytooth suit with patch pockets and narrow lapels. With this, he wore a light blue shirt with a black tie of grenadine silk, and this time he had on a pair of brown brogues. With laces, of course. That’s what I have for you so far, Mr. Hudson.’
          Ray put his iPad back down on the table and gently pulled over his fresh cup of coffee and saucer. He decided to wait, and sip, until he had a response.
          ‘Excellent work, Ray,’ said Mr. Hudson. ‘Excellent work.’ He began staring at Ray as though studying him. ‘Is there anything you need from me so you can carry on? I did say I’d cover all of your expenses and so on.’
          ‘No, I don’t think so. But it might be helpful if I had a better idea of what you’re looking for. This information, I can get it all from surveillance. But does it give you what you’re really looking for?’
          ‘Yes, I think so. Send me the bill. Are you happy to carry on with this for now?’
          ‘Well, of course.’
          ‘Excellent. Give my secretary a call when you have more information. I’ve briefed her to prioritise your calls. She knows you don’t have to make an appointment to see me. OK?’
          ‘Fine, fine.’
          ‘Send me the bill, Ray.’
          Mr. Hudson stood up to leave but Ray didn’t want him to, just yet.
          ‘I must say, Mr. Hudson, this has been one of the more fascinating jobs I’ve taken on. I’ve learned a great deal about men’s fashion.’ Mr. Hudson stood and waited, but offered no thoughts of his own. ‘Of course,’ say Ray, ‘in my line of work, you can get by with questionable taste and a modest budget. As you can see.’
          Ray gestured to his own tatty, off-the-peg grey suit. Mr. Hudson offered a thin smile and picked up his tumbler again.
          ‘I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself, Ray. Funnily enough, that suit, for all of its faults, is one of the reasons I was happy to hire you. It’s a crime that men don’t wear suits any more. Wearing a suit is part of being a man. I hire men. I don’t work with silly boys.’ He finished his whisky and put the empty glass down on the table. ‘I never take a man seriously until I see him in a suit.’
          ‘Well, it’s not often I’m taken seriously in my line of work. Perhaps I should save up for something special and then more people would take me seriously.’ He gestured to Mr. Hudson’s pinstripe suit. ‘Where were you measured for this, if you don’t mind me asking?’
          ‘Anderson and Sheppard. Keep up the good work, Ray. In the meantime, send me a bill.’
          Mr. Hudson departed briskly and Ray smiled to himself at the thought of how daft he would have looked in a three-piece pinstripe suit. Totally impractical in his line of work. He had never even tried on a waistcoat in his life.
          On the other hand, he had aged quite a bit in this suit … he realised he would be turning forty-nine in a few weeks’ time. So perhaps it was time to hang this one up and get something a little sharper and more dignified. Still, there was no hurry.
          As he began putting away his iPad and notebook in his bag, he realised he was desperate for the toilet – no doubt due to all the coffee – so he went off to to relieve himself. Afterwards, he washed his hands and dried them under the dryer. Before he left, he looked at himself in the mirror and sensed that he somehow looked different. He fastened the top button of his shirt and straightened his striped tie, then fastened the two buttons of his jacket. Something made him unfastened the bottom button. He realised that the lines of the shoulders were not straight, and that the sleeve heads bunched up when he raised his arms. When he lowered his arms again, he realised that the sleeves were too long. And why on Earth did the trousers seem so baggy?
          He gave it no more thought until late that night, when he stood in front of the full-length mirror on the bedroom wall.
          ‘What are you doing now?’ asked Laura. She was sitting up in bed, looking over her book at him.
          ‘I’m trying my suit on,’ he said.
          ‘Why are you doing that now?’
          ‘It seems a bit out of shape, don’t you think?’
          ‘You’ve had that for years. You had it when we met. You wore that at our wedding.’
          ‘God, did I?’
          ‘That’s the only suit you’ve had since I’ve known you. And that’s the only tie you’ve had.’
          ‘God, to think I got married in this old thing.’
          ‘It wasn’t old then.’
          ‘What’s happened to me? Is it me or the suit? I reckon I could do with a new one. It’s been long enough.’
          ‘What you need is a new tie.’
          ‘What’s the matter this one?’
          ‘Brown and grey stripes, it’s not very exciting, is it.’
          ‘I thought they were green.’
          ‘They’re brown and dark grey. That’s your colour blindness.’
          She was quite right. But Ray’s colour-blindness had never really been a problem until this particular job. This was why he had shown Laura the surveillance photographs before his meeting with Mr. Hudson, so he could write down all of the correct colours in his notebook. After all, Mr. Hudson had demanded precise details.
          ‘Do you mean I’ve been wearing this tie for seventeen years and I never knew what the colours were? I thought they were green and … well, green and dark green.’
          ‘They’re brown and dark grey. You ought to have something that brings out the colour in that suit.’
          ‘What colour’s the suit, then?’
          ‘It’s grey.’
          ‘OK, well we at least we agree on that.’
          ‘What’s started all this? Why do you care all of a sudden about what you wear?’
          As Ray explained, his work for Mr. Hudson had given him a brand new perspective on men’s clothes. Besides, there were other reasons to take a deeper interest in this case. As with any decent private detective, Ray was not inclined to take a client’s request at face value. Aside from a natural curiosity that made him ideally suited to his line of work, Ray always liked to know what he was getting into when one of his more enigmatic clients sent him on a baffling assignment such as this. It was for this reason that he had wanted the name of Mr. Hudson’s tailor.

The visit to Anderson and Sheppard proved worthwhile.
          The solid navy and the black and white puppytooth were unknown to them, but, as Ray suspected, the charcoal flannel three-piece proved more interesting. He had studied Mr. Hudson’s pinstripe suit carefully during their meeting, and it was only when he went back to the photographs that he saw a similarity with the drape in the young man’s charcoal suit. He later discovered that this kind of drape had been very common in the 1950s and early 1960s but not now. But Anderson and Sheppard, one of the finest English tailors, were able to offer this feature in their bespoke suits.
          The two gentlemen he spoke with studied his iPad photographs very carefully, and blew them up as much as possible to examine the details.
          Yes … oh yes, indeed …
          Definitely one of ours, sir …
          No doubt about it …
          And yet the young man wearing it remained a mystery.
          A little odd, suggested Ray. After all, this was clearly a very expensive bespoke suit and here it was in recent photographs, worn by a man who, as far as we knew, had never been measured for it. And yet somehow Ray could sense that the real mystery in this case had less to do with the young man he had been observing, and more to do with the marriage he had walked into.
          Over the next few weeks, Ray continued the surveillance on the house. This was, after all, what Mr. Hudson was paying him for … doing half a job.
          But eventually, he became bored and decided he wanted more from the experience. As with any good investigator, he knew how to follow the money … and, in a case that involved multiple bespoke suits, there was definitely some money to follow.

Ray glanced down at his watch and then looked over his shoulder to see Mr. Hudson approaching. He did not even need to tap him on the shoulder.
          ‘Same again?’ he asked.
          ‘Why not,’ said Ray.
          At their usual table, Ray studied Mr. Hudson’s grey sharkskin jacket and navy tie while they waited for the drinks to be delivered. Then, after a quick sip of his steaming black coffee, Ray put on his reading glasses and logged into his iPad.
          ‘Have there been any developments?’ asked Mr. Hudson.
          ‘Just more of the same, I’m afraid. Were you expecting any developments?’
          ‘No no,’ he said, dismissively, and looked into his Scotch.
          ‘Once again, I have photos of him leaving the house on three separate mornings.’ Ray opened his notebook. ‘We’ll start with Friday 22nd June. He came out wearing a mid-blue two-piece suit which I think might be mohair, I couldn’t really tell, to be honest. But he had on a white shirt with a red tie and black slip-on shoes. The jacket is a button two with lapels of average width. Four buttons on each sleeve. Then, on the morning of Saturday 23rd, he left the house in a dark grey three-piece suit which seemed solid at first, but when you blow these up …’ Ray glanced up at Mr. Hudson, knowing that he still refused to look at the pictures. ‘There’s actually a very subtle check pattern there. I couldn’t tell if the waistcoat has lapels, but the jacket has a clean chest and roped sleeve heads, with slanted pockets and black horn buttons. With this, he had on a light blue shirt, and a black tie with brown and cream stripes. And he wore the usual black slip-on shoes with that one.’ Ray closed the notebook and removed his reading glasses. ‘Have you thought about what all this might be telling you, Mr. Hudson?’ he asked, innocently.
          Mr. Hudson held his tumbler and looked as though he was considering his response very carefully. ‘You’ve done another excellent job, Ray.’ He took and sip a waited, but Ray remained silent. ‘Do go on.’
          ‘Sure, sure. How shall we go on? I understand that you don’t want to see the pictures. And you don’t want to know anything about this young man. And you don’t want to know about anything I’ve found out.’
          Mr. Hudson turned to him with a look of irritation. ‘What do you mean?’
          ‘Well, I’ve taken a lot of pictures and made a lot of notes but anyone can do that. You see, I’m usually paid to find things out. The strange thing about this job is that you don’t want to know what I’ve found out.’
          A thin smile – the only one he seemed capable of – appeared on Mr. Hudson’s face. ‘What did you find out, Ray?’
          ‘Well, it’s quite clear that all of these suits belong to you. This young man, Ross – I might as well use his name because I’ve known it for weeks … he arrives in his own clothes and leaves in one of your suits. He doesn’t bring a suit with him so he must be wearing yours. He works in a shoe shop so he couldn’t possibly afford a bespoke suit. And at least one of them was made by Anderson and Sheppard.’
          Mr. Hudson chuckled to himself and sipped from his glass. ‘What makes you think they’re mine? How do you know my wife isn’t paying for them?’
          ‘She listed them on eBay a month ago but removed them. Like me, she’s obviously noticed that you and Ross are the exact same height and build. You must have known she was getting rid of them because she’s been giving them to him and obviously didn’t think you would miss them.’
          Mr. Hudson shrugged. ‘It was me who told her to get rid of them. I’m never there in any case.’
          ‘Which brings me back to the mystery of why you’re paying a private enquirer to sit here and describe your own suits to you. As worn by a man having an affair with your wife.’
          Mr. Hudson leaned forward on the table. It seemed an odd gesture for him, and, for the first time in Ray’s eyes, he no longer seemed to exude confidence.
          ‘I did tell you I’m not an emotional man. But I suppose my wife is what you might call a passionate woman. It was a marriage of convenience. I knew there would come a time when I could no longer give her what she wants. When I got wind of this young man, I was fine with it, I still am. I just wanted you to give me the information I needed.’
          ‘But the information was all about your suits. You’re more interested in what he’s doing with your suits than what he’s doing with your wife.’ Ray had not wanted to say so much, but the conversation had moved forward quickly, and he couldn’t help it.
          ‘Actually, it’s more about what I think of him as a man. Any bloody fool can have an affair with a rich woman. But it’s someone really special who knows about style. This is why I don’t want to see the pictures of him, Ray. Because I have an image in my head. He’s me, thirty years ago. And this is why I’m fine with it. Because she’s with a man of substance and he’s making her happy, that’s all that matters to me. If she’d been having a sordid thing with some scruffbag, I’d have crushed him. But I have a lot of time and respect for this young man.’ He finished his Scotch. ‘You’ve done an excellent job, Ray. But please be assured that all that nonsense you gave me about saving my marriage was not necessary. That’s what all this is about for me. It’s about my marriage continuing, not ending.’
          Ray nodded his understanding. ‘Yes. Yes, I see.’
          Mr. Hudson winked. ‘Send me a bill, eh?’
          ‘Yes, of course.’ Ray put his reading glasses back on and opened the notebook again. ‘There was just one more thing.’
          ‘Oh yes. You said three mornings.’
          ‘Yes, there was the morning of Sunday 24th.’
          Mr. Hudson chuckled and looked at Ray with anticipation. ‘And which one did he have on that morning?’
          Ray found the pictures on the iPad and glanced back at the notebook. ‘This is a black twill two-piece and he wore it with a white shirt and a thin navy tie.’
          ‘What?’ Mr. Hudson scowled. ‘What was that?’
          ‘It’s a black twill two-piece, with a white shirt and a thin navy tie. Which is actually quite consistent with the narrow lapels on the jacket. It’s a button two. The trousers have a very low rise, and again, he’s wearing the black slip-ons.’
          Mr. Hudson was still scowling. ‘Are you having me on?’
          Ray removed his reading glasses and closed the notebook. ‘No.’
          ‘Ray. I’m no mood to be messed around, you know that. Tell me you’re joking.’
          ‘I’m afraid not, Mr. Hudson.’
          Mr. Hudson looked ready to burst. His eyes looked down at the iPad, then back at Ray. ‘Give me that fucking thing,’ he snapped, and snatched at the iPad. He looked at it with an expression of horror.
          ‘You see,’ said Ray ‘she did buy him one suit. And there it is.’
          ‘That’s impossible.’
          ‘I can show you copies of the receipt if you want.’
          ‘Jesus Christ,’ said Mr. Hudson. ‘Jesus Christ, look at the fucking creases.’
          ‘Yes. I understand it’s known as “fashion fit.” A lot of young men are wearing it nowadays. They wear them tight, to show off their muscles. Just as they’d wear a tight T-shirt.’ Ray smiled and sipped his coffee. ‘It’s a long way from the drape of Anderson and Sheppard, isn’t it.’
          ‘God. Oh my God.’ Mr. Hudson appeared to be in shock, and his voice was now a hoarse whisper. ‘Good God, Ray, what has she done? What in God’s fucking name was she thinking?’
          ‘Hmm. It’s not exactly your style, is it?’
          ‘It’s black. You don’t wear black suits for anything, except a funeral.’
          ‘I see them quite a bit in the city,’ said Ray.
          ‘You don’t wear a black suit!’ Mr. Hudson had raised his voice very suddenly, and Ray could sense people looking over. He saw that Mr. Hudson was starting to breathe heavily. ‘And look … look at … Ray, I think I’m going to be sick.’
          ‘It’s alright. Just be calm, and breathe slowly.’
          ‘That’s a navy tie. Ray, what was she thinking? She ought to know, you never mix black with navy.’
          ‘She was probably just buying him what he wanted.’
          ‘No.’ Mr. Hudson banged his fist loudly on the table and shouted. ‘No!’
          A waiter looked over and Ray made a gesture with his hand to reassure him that he need not intervene.
          ‘Ray, I can’t deal with this … a navy tie is supposed to be the most versatile of all ties. And the one time he wears it, he puts it with black, the one colour it doesn’t go with. Jesus Christ. This is … this is all wrong. This is …’ He stood up to leave, but leaned forward suddenly. Ray worried that he was having a heart attack so he stood up as well. He tried to put his hand on Mr. Hudson’s shoulder, but he pulled away. ‘No, don’t. Don’t. Just … I need to get out, I need some air. I got it all wrong, Ray. She never understood me. She never knew me at all.’
          ‘I’m sure it’s not like that. People change, their perspectives change –’
          ‘No. It can’t. Not with something like this. Ray, it’s over. It’s time to start divorce proceedings. I’m finished with her. Finished with all of this. I need a clean break.’ Mr. Hudson tried to compose himself, and his breathing began to return to normal. He appeared to think of something, and his eyes widened. Then he glanced down at his navy tie and began pulling it off. He crushed it in his hands and then tossed it down on the table in anger. ‘Send me a bill.’
          Ray watched Mr. Hudson walk away, pausing to pay the tab at the bar. He sat back down and slowly gathered his belongings.

          ‘Well, Happy Birthday, then.’
          Ray sat down at the breakfast table and opened the soft package very carefully.
          ‘It’s navy,’ said Laura.
          ‘If you say so.’
          ‘Navy goes well with grey so it will be perfect with your suit. That ought to liven things up a bit. I mean, I know you think it’s just a tie. But you’d be amazed what a bit of colour will do.’
          ‘Thank you. I can’t wait to try it on. You don’t think I need a new suit, then? What about one of those “fashion fit” ones that the young people are wearing? You know, the really tight ones.’
          Laura poured the tea and rolled her eyes. ‘One step at a time, eh? Let’s get the colours right first, shall we.’
          Ray tied his new navy tie in his usual half Windsor knot and looked at it in the mirror for quite some time. He could already see, despite his colour blindness, the difference it made to his battered suit. Somehow a plain tie made him look more professional.
          When he arrived at his office, he found that a small cardboard box had been delivered. He opened it carefully with a pair of scissors and found a note inside, in addition to a cheque for far more money than he was due.
          The note read: Thanks for all your hard work. You have helped me re-assess my priorities. Take this money and find yourself a good tailor. In the meantime, please accept these as a gift. Best regards, Michael Hudson.
          Ray removed a thin sheet of paper and looked into the box. He turned it upside down and tipped the contents onto his desk.
Yes, it seemed that all twenty-seven of these ties on his desk were probably navy. Twenty-seven ties, all the same colour. Still, he appreciated Mr. Hudson’s generosity.
          Wool, grenadine, shantung … and others he didn’t even recognise …
          Truly, the variety was mind-boggling.


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