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Twenty-Coats: An Accidental Millionaire

It’s been a long time since I’ve told you about any of the local folks, mainly because now that we live farther north, I don’t really know any. But I came across something my husband wrote a while back which I thought you might enjoy, about a man from our former village.  I never met him but Sem knew him fairly well, so here’s the tale, in Sem’s words…

Old Twenty-Coats has died. He must have been ninety, at least. They called him Twenty-Coats because that’s what he wore, near enough. Twenty may be an exaggeration or an estimate but summer and winter he wore many layers of clothes, the top one being a World War II infantry khaki coat.  Or formerly khaki, rather, because Twenty-Coats liked all things mechanical and the coat was deeply stained with rust, oil and other things probably best not examined too closely. He was short and stooped with long arms and powerful shoulders. His complexion was brown, whether from his outdoor life or an undisturbed coating of dirt, I am not certain. He had a broad, rodenty face. Many people thought Twenty-Coats was simple. Others thought he just pretended to be.

Twenty-Coats was an accidental millionaire. It just happened to him, which was nice, but it meant little to him. He had inherited his father’s dirt-poor small farm so he did some farming, but he made more money fixing people’s broken implements. He could repair anything though he preferred tractors, combine harvesters and arcane old antediluvian agricultural equipment. He’d service your car if you insisted but he’d make you wait a while. Cars didn’t interest him, see.

And so he got by for a few years until one day a Man In A Suit came visiting. The man said they wanted to establish a quarry on his little farm; the rock was particularly good for road surfacing. They would pay him for a lease and he’d get a royalty for every ton of rock extracted.

Twenty-Coats read the papers the man gave him. It took a long time as he worked through the unfamiliar language, lips moving as he read. He queried a clause or two, got some of them altered and a few put in or taken out. When he was satisfied he signed and sat back to watch his first million accumulate. He was able to keep his house, though it became a little shaky with all the blasting, and he still had a few fields. He earned some more money at the quarry by keeping the crushers and trucks running. He didn’t take to gambling, drink, women or travel, nor even expensive tailoring. He still dressed in his twenty coats.

 

Decades passed, each year quite similar to the last for Twenty-Coats. He raised his cattle, sold them at market, worked his magic with old machinery, paid what tax was unavoidable and ignored his growing bank balance. It was very, very large by then. I saw him often in those years. Whenever any farmer needed an extra hand to get a job done, Twenty-Coats was happy to oblige. He was a nice guy, self-effacing, softly-spoken, very polite, especially to women. He smelled of diesel.

One day another, younger Man In A Suit came visiting. They had lost the contract for road surfacing and would be closing the quarry. The lease was terminated amicably and Twenty-Coats was the proud owner of a considerable hole in the ground.

Sometime in the ’70s, another Man In A Suit visited Twenty-Coats. Highland Council was in desperate need of his hole in the ground for a landfill. Actual lawyers were employed this time. The money involved was immense. Twenty-Coats would still retain his tumbledown house and he could, if he wished, be employed as site watchman. He wished, and so it was all agreed upon. The landfill was treasure-trove to Twenty-Coats. He liberated tons of old machinery and spare parts, the better to mend rattly old combine harvesters and seed drills. And, of course, his bank balance knew no limits. A plague of financial advisers descended upon him, bristling with plans for his money, but he quietly and politely sent them away.

About twenty years ago two young thugs, having heard of Twenty-Coats’ great wealth, decided to burgle his house. That was a mistake twice over. First, because there was nothing in his house that any normal person would want, and second, because Twenty-Coats wasn’t a feeble old man but a guy who heaved engine blocks around every day. He beat them both, much to their surprise (and likely embarrassment).

For no good reason, Twenty-Coats was a money-magnet. He’d have done well just out of his little farm and his mechanical genius. The payments for the quarry and the landfill were, to him, unimaginably large lumps of money that fell from a clear blue sky. I doubt if he spent the first penny of that unearned income. He wasn’t a miser; he just didn’t need it. There was nothing he wanted to spend it on. He died after a long, contented life, in his dilapidated house. His money went to cousins he barely knew. Not that he would care.

That’s a true story. I know his real name but I never heard it said. He was just Twenty-Coats.

 

Deb Segelitz

Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.

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