Name That Tune - Winner

Sarah Kingsley

The Leather Coat
Name That Tune


Sarah Kingsley is a freelance writer living in London. She is currently editing the first draft of her first novel and has also written many short stories but this is the first one she has entered into a competition. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys Tai Chi, crafting and country walks.

The Leather Coat By Sarah Kingsley

I was working in a cocktail bar when I met Adam. I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t swapped shifts with Liza McDonald. Was I ripe for picking? If it hadn’t been Adam, would it have been someone else? Of course, I must not blame myself. So my counsellor said. But she never understood the full story. No-one did, not even me.

Coconut Grove was the cocktail bar in London back in 1986. All we had up until that point were dingy, smoke-stained pubs, carpets choked with spilt beer and trampled peanuts. Coconut Grove was a beacon of pink and chrome, with floor-to-ceiling mirrors and a menu of sexed-up cocktails.
I’d just left secretarial college, but it was obvious to everyone I wasn’t secretarial material with my short, peroxide-blonde hair, frothy fringe and cluster of earrings. Yet parents think they know best and my yearning to be a fashion designer had been vetoed from the start.

I was still at the stage of life where consequences hadn’t dented my confidence and I sweet-talked my way into a waitressing job at Coconut Grove, despite my lack of experience. I didn’t even like cocktails. I wasn’t keen on the gimmicky uniform either - the pink cheerleader skirt and branded t-shirt weren’t my style - but I customised it with a black studded belt and oversized jewellery.

It was Adam’s long black coat that captured my attention first. In my mind it was a vampire cloak which he swirled around his shoulders with a flourish. In reality it was heavy, close-fitting leather which creaked as he moved. I tried it on once but felt weighted down, enclosed, swallowed up by the hefty shoulders. It looked good on him though. I’ll give him that.

He was sitting with a loud, glitzy crowd that morphed into a mass of neon catsuits and back-combed perms. I’d acted like I hadn’t noticed the glint in his eye at my every turn. It struck me that I was like a photographic negative of him, me with my white-blonde hair and him with his dyed black hair, spiked fringe, and piercings creeping up his ears.

As he left, he handed me his business card. 

“I like your look,” he said.

I feigned indifference, slipping the card into my pocket without a glance, as if it was a regular and tedious occurrence. Adam Aston, Music Video Producer. Bold, black type on silver.

The next day he returned, alone, and slid onto a barstool at one of the mirrored tables near the window. It was early evening; the place was almost empty and the sound system not yet pumped up to its usual volume.

“I’d like you to appear in one of my music videos,” he said when I handed him the drinks menu.

I raised my eyebrows as I waited for his order.

“You’ve got attitude. That’s what I’m looking for.”

I didn’t answer, turning the words over, clasping the moment. He slapped the menu shut and handed it back to me.

“I’ll have a Rebel Yell, ice and a dash of lemon juice.” I soon learnt that he always ordered off-menu.

“What kind of music videos?” I asked when I returned with his drink. It was the first time he smiled at me. I remember wishing I had held out for longer.

She was nothing without me. I changed her into something exciting, something everyone wanted. That was part of the problem. I had to shield her from the snake charmers who’d slither round her, hanging onto every fluttering eyelash, every swing of her hips. I knew their type. The music industry was crawling with them. Of course, she had no idea what I saved her from, I protected her so well.

I was transfixed the moment I saw her. It was at a trashy cocktail bar, frequented by West End boys in baggy suits and perfumery girls perched on patent heels. The cocktails were rank - I doubt the bartenders could mix a pan of soup, let alone a cocktail – and I was in a foul mood. Then I saw her.

Tara walked like she was in a film, gliding between tables, aware that everyone was looking at her but not capitalising on it. She had a naivety about her, dressed up with attitude. She could turn something ordinary into something unusual just by a twist of a belt, a turned-up collar, a vintage brooch.

I knew she’d be perfect for a band promo I was filming. I wanted a radical new look and Tara was that look.

My world became both bigger and smaller.

I’ll be honest, we had some good times. Adam was 15 years older than me, he’d travelled the world, knew famous people, owned a swanky penthouse overlooking Regent’s Park. What 18-year-old wouldn’t be impressed?

But he liked things his way. At first, I was an extra in one of his music videos. Then his assistant, later a backing singer. In fact, I slotted in wherever I was needed. Yet he didn’t pay me. He said I could ask for money whenever I needed it. Which I didn’t because I never went anywhere without him.

At what point do the bad times outweigh the good times? I think the badness crept up, imperceptible day-by-day, like creases on a brow, but over time it became ingrained.

I don’t know why I chose that particular morning. Maybe because it was dank and drizzly and I couldn’t face getting out of bed. As always, Adam was already up and about.

“What are you still doing here?” He loomed over me.

“My throat’s killing me.” I winced, as if in pain. “I’m sorry, I can’t go to the studio today.”

Adam scowled. He regarded illness as an inconvenience, a weakness.

“We’re meeting Duran Duran’s manager to discuss their next video. This is important.”

“I can’t,” I said in the weakest voice I could musterA few minutes later I heard the front door shut with more force than usual.

I lay in bed, oscillating between relief at being alone and dread that he might return. Finally, I heaved myself up, pulled on leggings, a sweatshirt and trainers – an outfit Adam described as my ‘lazy look’ - and poured myself a black coffee, still hot from the percolator. Maybe if it had been sunny I would have drunk my coffee on the terrace and the weather might have lifted my mood. But that morning the overhang of grey clouds seeped through the cracks in the windows and into my soul. Something had to change.

I dragged a suitcase from under the bed, grabbed an armful of clothes from one of three wardrobes bulging with barely worn outfits. I took £40 from Adam’s drawer and scribbled a note.
I’m sorry but I need time on my own. I appreciate everything you’ve done. Please don’t contact me. T

I placed it on the kitchen table. I remember thinking how lonely it looked on the vast black table where nobody ever sat.

I had just zipped up the suitcase when I heard the front door. Adam strode into the bedroom and glanced down at the case.

“I thought you were ill.” His face was all snarl.

“I still love you,” I said, my voice thin and unstable. “But I need a break. I don’t know who I am.”

“Oh, poor I don’t know who I am you,” he mocked as he turned away and walked into the kitchen.
It was like having a small overtaking gap on the motorway: accelerate and go, or miss the opportunity. I grabbed my handbag and suitcase. But Adam was right behind me and as I twisted the latch and stepped out of the front door, he tried to pull me back.

“You’re nothing without me,” he whispered with such venom that I almost slipped back into his web, too afraid to disentangle myself.

I’m not clear what happened next. Did I stumble backwards down the communal stairs? I do know that he kicked my suitcase as I fell and watched it ricochet against the wall and land on top of me. Did he laugh or did I imagine that?

I heard the phone ringing from inside the flat. “You’ll regret this,” he yelled and slammed the door.
The stabbing pain in my back was superseded by an urgency to escape. I abandoned the suitcase, ran down the next flight of stairs and out of the main entrance. But I was so unused to doing things by myself that I walked aimlessly, unsure where to go or what to do. As I turned down a side street I saw an elderly woman get out of a black cab. We all have moments in our lives which change the next moment in a dramatic way, sometimes planned, sometimes random. This was my unplanned moment. If that taxi hadn’t been there, I would have gone back to the flat and apologised. Of that I am certain.

I took a cab to Euston and a train to my parents’ house. If my parents – whom I hadn’t seen for five years without Adam at my side - were shocked, they didn’t show it. They were just relieved, I guess. And so was I.

The experience shrank me. My parents shielded me from him and eventually the phone calls and letters ceased. One morning a courier arrived with five suitcases of clothes. His leather coat was in one. It smelled of him. Or perhaps he had smelled of leather, I’m not sure. But it seemed dated, from a different time. I picked it up and turned it around, struck by how much better it would look as a jacket. I retrieved my sewing machine from the back of my wardrobe and, after two days of trial and error, transformed the leather coat into a jacket and a mini skirt.

The next day I requested a prospectus from the London College of Fashion. Nothing was going to change my mind this time.

Judges Comments

'The Leather Coat' by Sarah Kingsley was an easy choice as the winner of WM's Name That Tune short story competition. Stylish, clever and exuberant, it took its cues from The Human League's hit Don't You Want Me without every mentioning the song's title. Much more importantly, for copyright reasons, it didn't use any of the lyrics - a lot of excellent stories missed the boat in this competition because they didn't heed WM's warning not to include any copyrighted lyrics.

'The Leather Coat' conjures the style-obsessed 1980s that were the period when the song was released: a glamorous London of nightclubs, cocktail bars and music videos where 'the look' counted for everything. Tara, young , naive and working as a waitress at the Coconut Grove in Sarah's story, has got that, and trendy, predatory Adam in his vampiric leather coat wants it. In true Bluebeard/Svengali fashion, Tara falls under his influence – but in this lively telling, she gets away.

Neatly, cleverly, in a story about the importance of style, Tara gets to enact her revenge on Adam by remaking his trademark coat into something stylish of her own. It's a fitting resolution to this story, revealing that style need not be superficial as Tara, having broken away from Adam's malign influnce, learns who she is and how to fashion herself the life she wants.


Runner up and shortlisted

The runner up in WM’s Name That Tune short story competition is Fay Dickinson, Corby, Northamptonshire.
You can read her story at
Also shortlisted were: Ken Balding, London; Antony Crossley, Chobham, Surrey; Ian Dodsworth, Cheltenham, Gloucester; Christine Griffin, Hucclecote, Gloucester; Georgia Griffiths, Patchway, Bristol; Liz Gwinnell, Trowbridge, Wiltshire; Gary Loader, Teighmouth, Devon; Cecilia Maddison, Perivale, Uxbridge; Rosemary Marks, Rugby, Warwickshire; Pauline Massey, Osney, Oxford; Ginny Smedley, Redhill, Surrey; Linda Whitehouse, North Ferriby, East Yorkshire