Funny Business - Part 4, The First Steps are always the Hardest
Samantha Michelle Davies (SamanthaMD)
Liz sat on her bed in a foreign city wondering how things could get any worse. Her deepening gloom was eventually interrupted by a quiet knock at the door.
“Go Away Charles”
“Scusilo Signora” came a female voice.
“What do you want?”
“Mr Charles asked me to speak to you about my designs”
With a mood of resignation Liz got up from the bed and went open the door.
When she opened it, she saw a young woman standing there alone.
“Signora Fuller? I’m Fiorella Messe. I have come from Roma to speak to you”
This half snapped Liz out of her fug.
“Please come in. Where is Mr Charles?”
“In his room Signora. He said it would be better for me to speak to you alone”
Liz shut the door.
“Please sit down Signora Messe. Can I get us some Tea or Coffee?”
“A glass of that Chianti would be nice”, said the woman noticing the half empty bottle on the table.
“A good idea”
Then Liz realised that she’d not eaten since the morning.
“Can I get you something to eat? I don’t want to drink on an empty stomach”
“Please Signora Fuller”
Liz handed her the room service menu.
“Please make your choice. I’ll have the Pasta Bake with smoked Pancetta.
“That sounds good.” She replied still uncertain of Liz.
Liz ordered them the food and a bottle of the same wine.
She put the phone down and sat on the bed near Fiorella who was sitting in the chair by the window. She had the chance to get a good look at her visitor.
The young slim woman was very well dressed (like most Italian women until they have their first child) in a grey two piece knee length suit. She had long black hair in a style that suited her very well.
“Now Miss Messe. What have you to tell me?”
“Fiorella it is then”
“Mr Charles told me that you are working on an article about the theft of designs.”
“Yes that is so”
“He showed me some pictures of a collection from a London show some three years ago. All the designs were mine. You see, I was at school here in Milano for three years and was preparing my final collection when my mother became ill and I had to leave and return to Roma and look after her”
“What happened to your materials?”
“I left them at the school. I was going to come back the following year to complete my studies. But my Mother didn’t get better”
Liz was all ears now.
“Did anything happen in the last weeks before you return to Rome”
“What do you mean?”
“Did anyone show any special interest in your designs?”
“Oh Yes Signora. Mr Stevens. He would come and visit the school every year and look at the work of the final year students. The school welcomed him, as he was an agent from a Paris Fashion House. He said that he was looking for new talent”
“Do you know which one?”
“Which Fashion House?”
“I never knew. I don’t think he told anyone. He did mention a few famous names”
“What sort of names?”
“Chanel, Ungaro and Alexander McQueen”
“Fiorella, Alexander McQueen is a London Fashion House”
She nodded her head.
“It wasn’t until I was telling my mother about the whole thing that I realised it was all wrong”
“But you did nothing?”
“Family is everything to us. My father died in an Earthquake when I was six. We moved to Roma where my mother could find work. She is the head of the family. It is my duty to look after her. My brothers provide money for us not that she is no longer able to work”
Liz asked the $64,000 question.
“Do you have any records of your designs?”
“No. I left everything apart from a few very early sketches I took home to show my Mother that Easter”
“Is there anything that could help in identifying your work?”
“Yes. All my designs have a signature stitch on the hem. One that comes from my family’s home in the mountains”
“So if you were to see one of the garments you might be able to say for sure that it is yours?”
“Yes. I would know in an instant”
“What do you think about the designer who may have stolen your designs?”
“They are a thief and need to pay me lots of money. Then I could look after my mother”
Just then their food arrived.
Over dinner, Liz questioned Fiorella further. She began to like her as a person. She was dedicated to her family.
Soon after the meal was over, Fiorella looked at her watch and said.
“I must leave now to get the last train to Roma. I can’t leave my mother overnight”
This dedication nearly brought a tear to Liz’s eyes.
“Thank you for coming to see me. I can’t promise that anything will happen for several months. Can you wait that long?”
She smiled at Liz.
“I have waited for three years. I can wait a little longer.”
Liz sat down and reviewed the visit from Fiorella. The more she thought about it, the more she felt very uneasy. Charles had totally messed up her evidence. She came to the conclusion that although interesting there was very little that would stand up to very close scrutiny in the long run.
It was no wonder that Charles was not a litigation attorney; he was crap at getting the facts out of people.
She began to sink back into her mood of depression when there was a knock at her door.
“Liz. Please let me in”
“No. Go away”
“Liz. I have something to tell you”
Eventually, she was worn down and went to the door.
“Well, what do you want? If it is to do with that useless woman you sent me, you can forget it”
“No. It is nothing to do with that. It is to do with us”
“Charles. There is no ‘US’ as you put it”
Without her realising it, she’d let him into the room. He closed the door behind her and gently, he led her over to the bed where they sat.
“Jake told me all about you. It was not easy so please don’t blame him. I understand abo…”
“How the hell can you understand me? You are not me in anyway shape or form”
“Godammit Liz will you please shut the hell up”
This had the desired effect.
“Liz. I’m sorry for everything. Truly sorry. I had no right in digging into your past without your permission. Jake really didn’t want to tell me. It wasn’t until I told him that I loved you that he told me about you. I don’t frigging care ok. What has happened in the past is past. I want us to be together”
“Charles. You are a very nice man but it will never work between us. You have too much to lose. Take your family for a start. How do you think they will react when they find out their wonderful son is in love with a girl who was once a man. Eh. Just think of that. If you think you can hide who I really am then you are very much mistaken. Your ilk wants you to be with people from the right ‘set’. People who went to the right ‘school’. Fucking hell Charles, this frigging country is more class ridden than mine”
Charlie was quiet for a moment.
Then he said softly.
“I don’t care. I have secrets too you know. Thinks that no one in my family know about”
“Yeah, you go on the occasional bender to AC and lose a wad and have sex with some hooker” said Liz only slightly sarcastically.
“No Liz. It is nothing like that. It was probably what attracted me to you even though I didn’t know it at the time”
He paused, looked at his hands and said quietly,
“I like to dress as a woman too”
“Now you are really fucking having me on. Here laugh at the poor tranny. Do you thing this is some game? Do you think I can just change my clothes and I can return to being plain old Wayne? Eh?”
She cupped her breasts with her hands.
“These are real. Well as real as the surgeon could make them”
She paused. There was still no reaction from Charles.
“Do you think I still have a dick hanging between my legs? Do you? Well, I don’t. It’s now my fanny. Get it. I am me, a fucking freak. Now do you get it?”
She pulled up her customary long sleeves.
“Do you see these scars on my wrist? Do you they got there by accident?”
“I am going to be like this forever. You may think you can love me. Then after a while, you will tire of me. Or your mother will start asking questions about grandkids. Whatever you say now, won’t mean a brass farthing when that day comes? Then I’ll be on my own again. Now do you get it? It won’t work between us. It can’t work between us. Don’t you get it?”
The tears started rolling down her cheeks.
She didn’t notice that Charles moved over and sat beside her. She didn’t notice that he put his arm around her. She didn’t notice that her held her hand.
“I know all that and it does not matter,” he said quietly.
“I don’t care about my family or what they think of us, of me of you”
Charles sat there holding Liz until she stopped crying and fell into an uneasy sleep. Carefully, he laid her out on the bed and covered her up.
Then he went and sat in the chair near the bed to watch over her.
Dawn came and went. Liz was still fast asleep. Charles woke up and quietly got up and stretched his legs, arms and his neck. He was just putting a ‘Do No Disturb’ notice of the bedroom door when Liz stirred.
“Are you still here?”
“Yes my darling I’m still here”
She sat up in bed.
“I guess I made quite a scene last night didn’t I?”
“Yet you are still here. Why?”
“Because I want to be here. Can’t you understand that? I’m here because I want to be here”
Liz didn’t say anything.
“I’d like us to start over again if that is possible after everything”
Then he stopped.
“This is hard for me. It is hard for me to show my emotions. I love you Liz. I don’t care about your past. If we were in the States right now, I’d offer to take you to somewhere that has legal same sex marriages and make an honest woman of you. To me, you are a woman, nothing but a woman. The woman I’m in love with.”
Liz sat there with her mouth open.
Then he chuckled.
“At least to don’t have ‘its that time of the month’”
Liz saw that he was trying to be funny. She also saw a different side to the normally reserved and formal Charles.
“Did you mean it what you said last night?”
“I said a lot last night”
“About wanting to dress up as a woman”
“Yes I did. I was perfectly serious. At school, I always wangled the female parts as I went to an all boys’ school, I loved wearing dresses. I loved having for a few hours at least, long hair”
“Didn’t you get bullied over it?”
“No. The bullies knew that they would be made to wear them themselves if they did. That would make them look decidedly un-cool believe me”
“You are full of surprises”
There was a long period of silence.
“Don’t you want children of your own? You know I can’t have any.”
“Not really. I did think long and hard about this when I was married. I’m not a baby sort of person. Ok once they get to 5 or 6 but until then, you can keep’em. It was probably one of the things that caused the marriage to fail like it did”
“What about parent pressure?”
“There are other ways to have kids around the house you know”
“Who in their right mind would let a child within a hundred miles of someone who has tried to take their own life is quite beyond me”
“That is a question for another day. Today is more about you”
“Yes. You. You are the most important thing in my life at this time. Getting you back to something like your normal state is my chief desire at the moment”
Liz managed a small smile.
“Then you can get the hell out of here so I can get up, get a shower and put on a decent face. Then we can have lunch. What about it eh?”
“Ok. Just don’t take all day ok?”
A much prettier and on the surface happier Liz joined Charlie in the Restaurant for a late lunch. Even so, she still picked at her food.
“You really messed up in Rome didn’t you”
“Yeah. I know. I was somewhat over enthusiastic. “
“You can say that again”
“I just wanted to prove to you that I was up to this job”
“You did that all right. Right up to your arse”
“Did you get anything useful from it?”
“Yes. The name or alias of the man who is doing all the scouting”
“Isn’t that worth something?”
“Not unless it turns up again. Anyway, shouldn’t you be asking those sort of questions”?
“You really know how to make me feel useless you know”, said a slightly unhappy Charlie.
“Just don’t do it again ok. There is only one shot at this and we must get it right”
“Ok. Ok. I get the message”
Then he looked her right in the eye.
“What about you? Are you going to be all right?”
“I will be if you don’t keep fussing over me. I am not a 5yr old you know”
Charles was about to say something but thought better of it.
“What do we do now?”
“I have another lead from the Milan School. This time the person is in Lausanne”
“Well that’s heading in the right direction at least”
“Why don’t you set it up for tomorrow afternoon depending upon the trains?”
“I’ll get the Hotel to sort everything out”
“Good. Now you can take me sightseeing and perhaps La Scala tonight if there is anything half decent on”
Charlie did take Liz to La Scala but only to have a look around. That evening’s performance was sold out and even copious amounts of Euro notes waved at the concierge could get any tickets.
Bright and early the next morning, a Taxi took the pair to Milan Central Station for them to catch the 08:25 train to Lausanne.
Liz relaxed as the Alps came ever closer. She wanted to forget this particular visit to Milan in a hurry.
Once in Lausanne, they checked into their hotel, which was right on the lake and after a brief lunch, they took a Taxi out to the suburbs and their meeting.
Liz rang the door.
A youngish woman answered the door.
“Guten Tag. Sorry. Hello. You must be the people from the magazine”
“Yes that’s us. You must be Helga”
“Yes. Helga Muller. Won’t you please come in”?
They followed her into a modest yet comfortable house.
“Please excuse the mess. My son gets everywhere. He is with his grandmamma today so we won’t be disturbed”
“Please sit down. Can I get you anything?”
“Some tea would be nice please,” said Liz.
“Good. The kettle boiled a few minutes ago”
Over a cup of tea, the questioning began.
“We understand that you were a student at the School in Milan for three years?”
“Nearly. I was just a week away from graduating when my son, Jacob arrived a month early. That was the reason why I didn’t finish the course”
“How close were you to completing your final work?”
“Oh, I’d just about finished. I suppose it was the stress that made me go into labour so early. By the time I got out of hospital, it was too late to submit my work. So I left virtually everything in Milan and came back here”
Liz smiled at Charlie.
“Do you know what happened to the things you left behind?”
“I left the clothes naturally. But my tutor was kind enough to send my drawings here”
“Do you have the drawings?”
“Yes. Several are on the wall in my Bedroom. Why are you asking me this?”
“It will become clear in a few minutes. Could you get a sample of them please”?
“Yes. I can’t think why they would be of any use now. I’m a mother not a fashion designer”
Helga disappeared to get the drawings.
She returned with three A4 sized framed drawings.
“These are my favourites,” she said proudly.
Liz nodded at Charlie.
“Can we show you some pictures? Let us know if there is anything that you recognise”
“Ok. I am not sure what use this will be but please go ahead”
Charlie got out Liz’s laptop and started browsing through the pictures of the collections.
After some 20 minutes, Helga said.
“That seems familiar”
Charlie made a note of the item. Then he carried on. Three pictures later Helga said,
“No. Stop. That can’t be true”
“What is it?”
“That dress there is the same as my drawing. The one there” said Helga excitedly pointing at one of the framed drawings.
Charlie held the drawing alongside the picture of a model on the catwalk.
They all agreed that it was identical. All the notes with the drawing tied in exactly with the finished item.
“I don’t understand,” said Helga.
“Your design was copied without your permission”
“What about the School. Don’t they have some rights?”
“Yes but only if you have given them permission. Did you give anyone your permission to use your work?”
“I don’t think so. Everything was so busy then. And then my baby came”
Liz decided upon a different tack.
“What were you going to do if your son had arrived on-time and you had graduated?”
“Once I found out I was carrying, I decided not to pursue a career in fashion. I carried on really just to prove to myself that I could do it. You know graduate”
“Did anyone from outside the School take an interest in your work?”
Helga thought for some time.
“There was this one man. He said he was an agent for some Fashion House. I can’t remember which. He looked at everyone’s designs.”
“Did he take an interest in yours?”
“I don’t know. He talked to me about the baby and what I was going to do after the birth”
She nodded at Charlie who said something for the first time.
Helga. It is very possible that your designs have been plagiarised”
“Plagiarised? I don’t understand this word”
“Kopiert ohne Ihre Erlaubnis” said Charles in faultless German.
“Is that not wrong?”
“Yes. It is very wrong. That is one of the reasons why we are here”
“What do you mean?”
“We are writing an article which will tell the world what has been going on with people like you. One designer has if what you have said to us been systematically stealing the designs of people like yourself who attended Design School but didn’t pursue a career in Fashion” said Liz.
Then she continued.
“My partner Charles, is a lawyer and is proposing to begin legal action against this designer to recover some money from the person who stole your designs and also recognition of your work in the Fashion Industry”
“How long will all this take?”
“We are aiming to have the article ready for publication by the time of the autumn shows in Paris, London, Milan & New York. It may a bit longer for any money to come through. There are a lot of things as yet unknown that will have to be worked through”
“I don’t have any money to hire a lawyer”
“There won’t be any costs to you. The magazine will be paying for a lawyer to handle all the legal action”
“Are you sure? Lawyers are very expensive?”
“Yes. I’m sure. I’m part of the legal team at the magazine”, said Charlie.
Helga bought into the project and signed on the dotted line.
Liz resisted giving Charlie a ‘high five’ until they’d reached their hotel.
“That went rather well didn’t it?” said a grinning Charlie.
“There is a long way to go but yes on the whole it did. Certainly a lot better than Milan.”
“Shall we celebrate?” suggested Charlie.
“Not yet. Something about Counting Chickens and all that”
[Continued in Part 5]
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