This is not a grand story. Actually, it’s awful. I’d been sucking a dry spell for a long while in the Nineties so i forced myself to write something simple. After 4 or 5 pages i stopped but my sister later found it, read it and wanted an ending. I wasn’t interested so i rushed it. I include it here because it did open me up to writing again…better stuff. And, of course, every scribble i find from the past lands up here.
Think it was 1997 for me. Here’s that little horror story about greed…
The circus red envelope that slid beneath the door into the flat, was an alien to the post. Trapped by a black border, its round window exposed the bold lettering:
TED N. GALBRAITH
Further into the room stood a queen size bed atop which a woman slept and a man snored. With the howling of the telephone, they awoke, the man groaning from the intrusion into his hangover and the woman fumbling with one hand on the floor until she found the noise. She muttered hello, paused for a moment before a quizzical expression entered her face, and then passed the receiver to the man.
The man wasn’t surprised at her questioning look. He didn’t remember her name and only a blurred memory of meeting her at Sand Pebbles nightclub under too bright dance lights oozed into his head. Hell, this must be her place. Geographically, he had no idea where he was. So who would know where to find him?
“Yes,” he mumbled. “Ted here.”
“Mr. Galbraith.” The male voice was firm and distinct, rather like the disembodied yet self-confidence reassured voice of a stereotyped butler in a sitcom. “Your payment is late and under-“
“What payment,” Ted interrupted, “and how’d you get this number?”
“Your personal loan and under the conditions-“
“You didn’t answer my second question!” Ted snapped.
There was only one loan. Everybody else had turned him down. But Staples & Partners Loans Enquiry Service had said yes. One thousand rand was what he’d needed to get through the month. One thousand with which he’d visited the slot machines, partied and gotten drunk. One thousand that had made him popular for one night. One thousand that he’d wasted. That was one month ago. Payday had come and gone a few days before and instead of paying the loan’s first installment of two hundred, he’d begun the vicious cycle again.
Ted was fully awake now; angry at being disturbed which made his head feel worse which in turn made him angrier. If the caller was shocked by his outburst, it did not register in his voice that replied as impassively as before, “Our trade requires such means.” Although the tone gave nothing away, Ted knew that he wasn’t going to receive a proper answer. “Under the conditions to which you agreed,” the voice continued, “we will have to take appropriate action if your payment is not received by lunchtime, one o’clock to be precise.”
“Nonsense,” Ted retorted. “I never received a bill, a statement … nothing … let alone a final demand. And what the hell do you mean by ‘appropriate action’?”
“You should read your contact more carefully, Mr. Galbraith. All the details are included. Check your mail and it will remind you of your financial responsibility. We await you.” The line clicked and was dead.
“Who was that Teddy Bear?”
He had forgotten about her and now, as he stared at her, he knew what had drawn him to her the night before. He was a breast man and hers hung like unopened sachets of milk but with nipples upturned. Her face was pretty enough but it was her look of I-was-born-to-be-screwed-and-make-coffee-and-little-else that was appealing.
“Teddy?” she questioned again.
“Just one of my buddies pulling a prank. And no, I’ve no idea how they got your number,” he snapped as she opened her mouth again. His mood was boiling so he was surprised to find himself hardening. He reached for her; a stress reliever he told himself. A smile of relief and satisfaction loosened her frown as his fingers explored. Within a minute he was ready and as he was about to shift his weight onto her, the phone screamed again.
“Huh,” she answered irritably. She listened for a few seconds and then dropped the receiver onto the bed. Worry crept into her eyes as she said, “How did he know…?”
“How did who know what?” But as he asked her, a sickening sensation of knowing grabbed his stomach.
“It was the same man,” she confirmed. “He said to tell Teddy Bear that he’s wasting time. How-“
“What!” Fury flushed his uneasiness away and shot him off the bed to the front door, which he yanked, open, heedless of his exposed and dwindling erection. The passageway was empty and the stairs were silent. The glowing digit above the lift door told him that the lift was way above this floor. He slammed the door.
What was going on? How did he know the pet name she’d started calling him last night? Is the place bugged? It was then that his foot brushed the envelope and as soon as he saw its ghastly redness, he again experienced that queasiness of unexplained knowing. Hesitantly, he picked it up and the words that sprang at him confirmed his feeling. What the hell was going on?
He crossed to the window. It gave a grimy view of the street four floors below. Alongside massed traffic that waited for the light, pedestrians insected the sidewalks. Everybody was going about his or her shitty business. Humdrum. Nothing suspicious. Wait! In front of a shoe store, a bald man, taller than the people passing him, stood motionless. Maybe he was waiting for someone. Someone like Ted? Stop it, Ted warned himself. You’re getting crazy. But logic failed to subside anxiety.
“Teddy,” she called. “What’s happening? You’re getting me worried.”
“Don’t. It’s not the first time my buddies have pulled a prank.”
“Yeah … some of them call me Teddy Bear … back from school days,” he lied, more to keep her quiet than to reassure her. The fact was that he had no friends and didn’t want any. Life was simpler that way.
Distracted, he hadn’t noticed the bald man leaving. See, he chided, nothing to it. He drew the curtain and ripped the envelope open. There was only one page. He recognized the contract. His signature testified at the bottom.
“What you’re reading?” He felt her arms around him and a kiss on his back.
“Are you coming back to bed?”
“No,” he replied without looking at her. “Be a star and make us a cup of coffee.” He needed something to unlock his hangover so that he could think clearly.
She sighed. “Milk and sugar?”
“No. Black. Strong. Loads of sugar.”
He skim read the standard print. Nothing remarkable. It was to the small print that he gave his attention.
1. With the event of a late payment, the payee will be granted twenty-four hours to pay the full loan amount and double the interest accrued.
2. Should payment not be forthcoming, a meeting of the Staples board will be convened to determine which of two options will be pursued:
Option A – Arrears to be paid within a further twenty-four hours at 4.00% interest per hour.
Option B – If the payee is deemed unable to pay in accordance with option A, then the payee’s life is forfeit and the payee’s soul auctioned to the lowest bidder.
Blood escaped his face. He was dealing with lunatics. He couldn’t go to the cops ‘cause in the last city he’d been in, he’d racked up sufficient unpaid bills to earn him an outstanding warrant of arrest. His name was different now but he couldn’t risk the chance of someone oiecing one and one together. Things were catching up with him. Think carefully, he ordered himself. Get dressed. Get in your car. Get out of here. Where to? Doesn’t matter, just move. But how had they found him here? His pyramid of escapes crumbled. Shit! They’d found him once so maybe that could do it again. Gotto think. His mind teased him with its emptiness. There was no way out. Gotto find the money and pay the cocksuckers. It’s only a thousand plus the interest. That makes it … mmmm … an extra two hundred … doubled … one thousand four hundred bucks. Four percent times twenty-four equals ninety-six, say one hundred. Two hundred times two add … one thousand eight hundred. Six hundred in the car. One thousand two hundred to go.
The words ‘payees life is forfeit’ hit him again. Nuts!
Although it had seemed long to him, his thoughts had catapulted and collided for less than a minute. Now, having decided on a course of action, he felt more confident.
The flat was bachelor sized but the designers had taken the extra step and closed off the kitchen area. Convenient ‘cause Miss No-Name was still in there. Now was his chance.
He crossed quietly to her side of the bed, his bare feet making no noise against the thin carpet. Besides ornaments, an alarm clock (which told him that it was eleven o’clock) and a tissue box, the area was bare. Part of the duvet has slipped onto the floor and he brushed this aside. He was in luck. Her handbag lay there, already open with a few cosmetics having spilled out. He threw a look at the kitchen entrance; never saw her but heard her humming a mindless tune that he, thankfully, never knew. In the handbag, he found her purse and hurriedly took all the notes, leaving the coins so as not to make undue noise (but half regretting this decision as coins could add up to a lot nowadays. His heart jerked as the kettle whistled that it was ready. He ordered himself to be quicker as he put the duvet back in place.
He made it to the door, shoes and socks in one hand, shirt hanging open, as she entered the room. Before she had time to say anything, he’d slammed the door and was hurtling down the empty stairs. He had already cleared the second flight before her shout caught up to him, “Bastard! Don’t you ever come back here!”
Not likely, he thought. Dumb bitch.
Part 2 on Tuesday.