Friday, November 04, 2005

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Garry Brown wound down the window of his white Range Rover and trained his powerful binoculars upon the cottage nestling half way up the hill. Beside him in the passenger seat Rip his Alsatian raised his head and looked at his master with quizzical eyes, licking his lips in anticipation. Garry Brown surveyed the house with professional precision for five minutes before he lowered the binoculars, a knowing smile playing on his lips. He had spotted someone moving through an upstairs window. He made a note of the time in his notebook. Catching the debtor before he made a run for it was half the battle. He had only just bought the debt from the credit card company but the acquisition already looked like it was going to turn into a profitable investment. He patted the Alsatian’s head and turned the keys in the ignition. The big car began moving up the hill with all the finality of a Sherman tank.

As he approached the cottage he dialled Nick Sterling’s number on his mobile, knowing it wouldn’t be answered. It didn’t matter. The object was to create maximum confusion in his target’s mind, to disorientate him. He only wished that he was allowed to use stun grenades the way he used to do when he was in the SAS. He’d bought the debt for twenty per cent of face value – the issuing bank behind the credit card reckoned it was a hopeless case – so any result was bound to be a good one.

Garry Brown was a big man and he clambered out of the Range Rover onto the driveway with difficulty. Rip leapt down after him and he tied the dog to the door handle of the vehicle. Let the target see the dog, he thought, grinning. He kicked the dog so that it snarled at him and began barking. He didn’t attempt to calm it. He had a baseball bat in the boot but he knew he wouldn’t need it here. That instrument was mainly for inner city use, and even then most people gave very little trouble once he had cornered them. Generally speaking you had to be pretty feckless to get so deeply into debt, not the kind of person who usually put up much of a fight.

There was no doorbell so he knocked loudly on the wooden door with his big, calloused knuckles. There was no reply so he bent down and opened the letterbox. “Anybody in?” he barked politely into the shadowy void.

There was no response. “I know you’re in there,” he called through the letterbox, “I seen you through the binoculars.”

When there was still no response he ambled back to the Range Rover. Taking his time he first fed the dog then clambered back into the vehicle where he poured himself a cup of coffee from a thermos and took out a mutton pie from his plastic lunchbox. While he ate he read the Sun. He was well-prepared for a long siege. When he had finished his meal he switched on Radio One and tilted back his seat and dozed lightly.

He repeated his assault on the door a further four times as the morning wore on until finally, just before midday, the door was slowly opened. A gaunt middle-aged man dressed in pyjamas lurked in the shadows of the hallway. His ashen face was unshaven, his shoulders drooping in defeat. His whole body trembled with terror.

“You took your time, sunshine,” the debt collector said, smiling pleasantly, “You deaf or something.”

“I was in the toilet.”

“Blimey, you must be constipated all right.”

“I…I’ve not been well.”

“You certainly look like shit. Have you seen a doctor?”

“I…no, not yet. Who are you?”

The man flashed a business card. “Debt collection agency.”

“What is it you want?”

The debt collector’s eyes twinkled. “Come on, sunshine, what do you think? Money, innit. The stuff that makes the world go round.”

“I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. I’d like to help but the fact is I’m absolutely broke myself.”

The debt collector laughed. “I know that matey, that’s why I’m here. I’ve come to collect the money you owe on your credit card. Or rather, what you used to owe. I’ve bought the debt, see. Now you belong to me.” He grinned. A large, toothy, cannibalistic grin.

“What do you mean? They can’t do that. I don’t owe you anything.”

“Oh yes they can. Do it all the time in fact. You owe the money to me now, pal. Don’t look so upset. It’s all legal and above board. So, what about it then? What about the money you owe me? When am I going to get it back?”

“I’m unemployed.”

“Your wife’s working, isn’t she?”

“My wife? It’s got nothing to do with her.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Is she working?”

“She’s working but my old company’s bank is already stopping half her salary.”

“You’re getting brew money though, eh?”

“It’s a pittance. Not enough to live on.”

“Good. Very good. I’ll have some of that. What about the house?”

“It’s signed over to the bank.”

“Oh,” the debt collector frowned. “Why’s that then? You owe them too?”

“I put the house up as a guarantee for my business loans.”

“Did you? Very silly. Very, very silly. I see it all the time. People never think of the consequences, do they? When are they going to take possession?”

“I don’t know. Soon.”

The debt collector thought for a moment, a smile playing on his lips. He enjoyed the challenge of extracting blood from a stone, which was mostly a question of thinking laterally and then applying pressure in the appropriate place. Most of the time you COULD get blood from a stone, even if you ended up having to crush it to dust. “What about the contents?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ha!” he exclaimed triumphantly, “There’s always a way. Them’s mine then. Mind if I come in and look around?” He looked over Nick’s shoulder. “That’s a nice looking fridge. A Smeg is it? That’ll be worth something for a start.”

“Of course I mind. There’s no way you’re coming in here.”

The debt collector turned and whistled to his Alsatian. The dog immediately leapt to its feet and started barking, tugging ferociously on its chain. He turned back to Nick and shrugged his shoulders sympathetically. “You don’t want to have to put up with that all night, do you?”

Suddenly feeling that the situation was hopeless Nick stepped back and the debt collector sauntered into the hallway. He took out his notebook and started making an inventory.

“Nice piece of furniture,” he said admiringly, running his hand across the mahogany table in the hall. “Should get at least a grand for that in the auction.” He whistled when he peered into the sitting-room. “Wow. Look at that. Georgian if I’m not mistaken. That’ll do nicely. Right, give me your credit card.”

Nick fumbled in his wallet and handed over his platinum card, his hand shaking. The debt collector took out a pair of scissors and cut it in two. He handed one half to Nick. “That’s yours.”

“You’re going to take everything?”

“I wish I could. Got to leave the necessities unfortunately. The cooker. Somewhere to sleep. I can take the rest. You got any paintings? Any originals? What about antiques? Silverware? Jewellery? Any heirlooms? Books even? Oi, I’ll have that DVD player for a start.”