Aubrey Bean swept through the salon trailing havoc in his wake. He was obviously in a foul mood. The models, normally prima donnas in their own right, wilted and shrank into the sidelines, unwilling to confront the Maestro in full flight. Aubrey, in a temper, was a force to be feared. No sign there of the limp-wristed, effeminate, persona that he presented in his P.R. appearances. No, this was a very different personality; a savage tough, who reverted to his western suburbs origins, who suddenly confirmed all the dark stories that were purveyed by the rumour mongers. The rosebud lips were thinned, the mascara accentuated the narrowed eyes. Aubrey was good and mad, and the whole of AYBEE fashions trembled.

He had good reason to be mad. On the eve of the most important display of the season, the world renowned Fashion Front Competition, he had received word that the prize of his collection had already been duplicated, and thousands of cheap copies were already available to flood the market.

His P.A. and chief Girl Friday hurried tight-lipped behind him. Monica was wracking her brains to find out how it could have happened. Avril Anders, the chief cutter, followed them. She too had no idea how this appalling situation could have arisen. Tragedy loomed, a whole year’s work was in jeopardy. Jobs were on the line. The whole fragile house of cards could come tumbling down.

Eventually, safely in the office, the doors locked, Aubrey turned on his chief lieutenants,

“Okay, who has a theory. Who could have done it, and how?”

“The drawings are still in the safe.” said Monica” I checked.”

“And I can’t imagine it could have been the cutters or the machinists.” Avril ran her fingers through her dishevelled hair. No-one has the whole picture. To reproduce a garment you need the full design plans or a finished dress. The only completed gowns are still locked up, and there are none missing.”

Aubrey Bean swore. His language was foul and inventive. His audience, although they prided themselves on their liberated modernity, blanched at the colourful invective that flowed from his lips. His tirade faded to a muttered growl. He paused.

“J said WHO, not HOW. Who hates me enough to do this to me?”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Both of the women could think of many who would delight in the discomfiture of Aubrey Bean. He was not much loved, even by his own employees.

“Whoever it was must have been confident of your winning the award. Or feared it. It would be silly to do duplicates of a losing entry” said Avril.

“And the cheapskates who made the copies must have been very confident that you would win.” Monica contributed. “It can’t be any of our competitors!”

“And then there’s the technical side,” said Avril. “For that number to be ready for sale they must have started production at least three weeks ago. They must have had access to the design almost as soon as our own workers. They certainly haven’t stolen a gown. They MUST have got hold of your original drawings.”

“Yes,” said Monica, “Someone got at YOUR sketches. Our copies have been under tight security. There are none missing, and I personally immobilise the copying machines at the end of the day. The toner cartridges are locked in the safe every evening, and besides, the sketches are locked up with them. There is just no way.”

“That leaves only one person,” Aubrey swore again, his obscenities broke new limits. “It must have been Julian!”

The women made no comment but exchanged knowing glances. Julian, Aubreys latest inamorato, was a delicate young man. Aubrey, engrossed in his mid-life crisis, was easy prey for the doe-eyed youth that he met in the sauna. The women studiously avoided his gaze. They were not the ones to point out the error of his ways.

To their relief, Aubrey gave a derisive laugh. “There’s no fool like an old fool! Never mind! We’ll fix the bastard. Tomorrow,” he turned to Avril, “I want your whole crew on overtime. At seven o’clock a.m. I will give you a completely new set of sketches. Don’t forget, ladies, I am the Maestro!”

“You certainly are!” they chorused

Copyright H. St. V. Beechey, 1994