So...what is The Debt Collector about?
Oliver Beckett is a bailiff, and a rather unpleasant chap to boot. He doesn't take guff, he won't listen to sob-stories and he's pretty unsympathetic to what he believes are lazy benefit scroungers.
But there's more to Ollie than just his rotten prejudices. And we begin to learn more about what drives him after he catastrophically messes up one day. Because Ollie, you see, has some deeper issues. And as his life begins to unravel over the course of the subsequent year, we witness Ollie's struggle with mental illness. We witness his deterioration. We witness how the set-up of society can work against people with problems like Ollie's, and how in his case, his life goes from bad to worse.
You see...there's a reason Ollie comes across as an uncaring arsehole, and in life, there are always chances for redemption, even if that means one has to go through some tough times first.
The Debt Collector is a novel, ultimately, about redemption. The intention, in writing this book, was to create a direct experience in forgiveness. To show that there are reasons why people say what they say, or do what they do. To show that sometimes, while forgiveness may seem impossible, it is not. But it is also a book that was designed to put a spotlight on mental illness, and how the workings of our society can operate much to the disadvantage of people who are ill.
Here, then, to tickle the taste-buds, is an extract from my forthcoming novel, The Debt Collector.
I would never really say that I’m a completely heartless bastard - but it would be fair to say I’m tougher than most. Fact is though, I believe in the principle of what we do. And one of the first and most crucial things to remember about this business is that human beings are sob-story-telling motherfuckers. If you can get your head around that, you’ll do well.
They’re all like: Blah, blah, blah…I lost my job.
My kid’s ill.
I’ve got a mental illness.
That one right there is one of the excuses I hear most and it’s one of the ones you get sick of hearing, truth be told.
But like I say, I’m not completely heartless. Some of these losers do want to pay their debts and I believe that. But there ain’t too many that do, and most of them should never have got themselves in the situation where I’ve got to go knocking on their front door in the first place.
See, the thing is this: most of them also have a house filled with a ton of crap you can sell. Computers, jewellery, iPods and iPhones. Cars out front. You name it, they’ll have it. So the point is, when a debt gets so bad it has to involve me, it’s usually because these idiots have ignored all the red letters and hoped they’d just stop coming.
But trust me: they don’t stop coming.
You hear people moaning about bailiffs all the time. We thrive on misery. We make a living from misery. But do you think I shed a tear for these losers?
Way I see it, people should pay what they rightfully owe. If they’d done that, they wouldn’t be blubbering like great big babies on their own doorsteps. Justice system works that way, and I ain’t the one to go crying to. Not when I can charge nearly one whole ton for just a letter, and nearly three times that for banging on your door. So no…excuse me if I ain’t too sympathetic to all your guff.
And why should I be? I got bills to pay, too!
You want to know what the problem with today’s society is? Laziness. Simple as. People are lazy. They say there’s no jobs out there. They say foreigners are stealing all the work. Doing the good jobs at next-to-nothing rates so the Brits don’t get a look in.
You see it all the time. Chavs lazing around. Pissing their benefits up the wall. Most of them have a better income than some poor schmuck who’s up to their armpits in human shit cleaning toilets for a living, and they know it, too. You say to them, “Get any old job…work is work.” And then just sit back and watch how quickly they come up with the excuses.
“There ain’t enough hours.”
“There ain’t enough pay.”
“I can earn more on the dole and guarantee the rent gets paid.”
I once heard some toothless, butt-scratching dole-dosser say he’d calculated that to come off benefits and survive, he’d need at least twenty-grand a year. He had rent to pay and kids to feed and he wouldn’t sign-off unless he knew he had a good wage coming in. But when asked what qualifications and experience he had to justify a wage like that, the sum total was NONE. He’d dropped out of school with no grades and spent his life ever since just bumming around. Thought his army of kids entitled him to a salary for which most people have to work their nuts to the grindstone.
So what’s wrong with people? I’ll tell you what’s wrong. They’re bloody lazy.
Recently, there was this fat woman in the news. She claimed that being on benefits was the cause of being overweight. They paid out so much, she said, that she could afford to eat crap all the time, like McDonalds and KFC. And the whole nation freaked out. United in disbelief.
“GET A JOB THEN!” we all screamed.
But she couldn’t work, she said. She was too fat.
So you see what I’m talking about, right?
The name’s Oliver Beckett. Anyone who matters calls me Ollie. Anyone who don’t…well, they don’t matter, right?
My wife Lola, she joined the admin team ten years back and fell for my charms before ditching her husband and leaving him with three kids. At first, she made a few silly noises about bringing them with her. I put her straight on that one pretty damn quick…I didn’t want them and she knew it, but she didn’t put up much of a fight in the end anyway.
I mean…who wants someone else’s kids bleeding them dry?
Worst I have to put up with now is weekend visits. Two of them are just about bearable. The eldest though; he’s twelve years old, and he’s a cocky little shit. Chip on his shoulder the size of a King Edward, and he’s a dead ringer for his dad, too. So I can’t help myself sometimes. I like to wind him up. A few carefully timed prods of his weak-spots, you know? Make him cry a little. And as far as I’m concerned, he needs to toughen up. At least when he’s older, he can say I did that for him. His dad’s a big fanny who’s just happy to let him float around like knicker-fluff on a spring breeze. Me, I’d rather see a boy grow up to be a Man. And if that means giving him a few emotional bruises to teach him what kind of shit the world has in store later on, well…then that’s what you got to do.
That’s the kind of lesson they don’t teach in the classroom.
His name’s James. He didn’t like me from the get-go; I picked up on that all right. Cold-shoulder from Day One. Probably thought I’d stolen his mum, or something. You know how these stupid kids are. Always the guy’s fault. Never the woman’s.
And as well as looking like his dad, he’s always moping around with his nose in some high-and-mighty book about things in which no twelve-year-old kid should be interested. Philosophy and space and brainy shit.
Might sound irrational, having a gripe against a kid. But he irritates me. That’s all there is to it. It’s not as though the dad’s ever getting Lola back, anyway. But the whole thing narks me. I get this feeling that my money is supporting that idiot’s offspring. And I don’t like it. Can you get that?
I bet you can. You probably know what I’m getting at.
And what’s with the books, anyway? What kind of kid doesn’t want to go out with his mates and play football? What kind of kid wants to sit around reading books, and sulking around the house like some miserable prophet of doom?
It’s not right. When I was his age, I was out kicking a ball around. Getting off with girls, maybe, or sniffing glue. Climbing walls, and playing knock-down-ginger to rattle the neighbours’ knickers.
What kind of dad lets his son do that? That’s what I want to know.
Anyway…I like my work. I get my head into it. I like to make these plebs pay up, and if it means making a few of them cry and beg, well…to hell with them. Like I already said, they shouldn’t have got themselves in that mess to begin with.
I like being a part of something that serves a purpose to society.
They say that there’s two things in life you can count on and that’s death and taxes. But what they didn’t tell you is the third thing: If you owe someone money, I’m coming for you and I’ll make you pay it. Everyone has to pay their debts. So save the sob-stories for someone who cares, and pay up.
That’s my philosophy.
When push comes to shove, the job is a job that needs doing. I don’t know why people get into such debt. Some don’t pay their council tax. Some don’t pay court fines. Some don’t pay their CCJs. But it makes no difference to me in the end, because if it weren’t for people like me then debts would never get paid. From time to time, a little bit of Hard-Arse is needed. Some muscle and grimace, you know..?
That’s how they end up paying debts. That’s how it should be. Because we’ve all got sob-stories.
So…the office recently called me and emailed over the paperwork for the first job of the New Year. There’s this woman, lives about 50 miles away. She has an outstanding debt for council tax. She ignored all the red letters (which don’t go away), and her debt now stands at £800. By the time I’ve paid her a visit she’ll be looking at an extra couple of hundred on top of that.
I get my stuff together and jump in the car. An hour later, the Sat-Nav’s saying I’m there. Some semi-rural little mud-hole. I park the car up, grab my paperwork and walk back through the village, looking at the house numbers. Careful not to step in the mud and the numerous dollops of horse-shit splattered all over the road.
I mean, these shoes weren’t made in some half-collapsed factory in Bangladesh, after all; they’re Ted Bakers, for Christ’s sake!
I stop outside the house marked ten and knock on the door.
Minute later, some fat bird opens the door. She looks me up and down with this face on as though I’m some sort of scumbag.
“Yeah?” she says.
I look at my notes.
“Anna Kingston?” I say.
The woman looks at me. “No,” she says.
“Anna Kingston. I’m looking for Anna Kingston.”
I clock her face. She’s figured out what I am, and I have a fair idea how this whole thing is going to pan out. And that’s fine by me, I suppose. I’ll still get paid in the end.
“Anna Kingston doesn’t live here,” she says.
I stand back and look at the house. “This is number ten, right?”
“That’s right,” she says.
“And you’re not Anna Kingston?”
She shakes her head. There’s a smug look slapped every which way across her face. She obviously thinks she’s got one over me.
“I am definitely not Anna Kingston,” she says.
“Because,” I say, “the person I’m looking for lives at this address, and she’s behind with her council tax. I have a liability order here, which says I have to come and get full payment, or a reasonable offer of part payment.”
“Well, like I said: she don’t live here. So…”
“Well, if you’re not Anna Kingston, can you prove who you are?”
“Yes,” she says, nodding.
But she doesn’t move. She stands there looking at me with her smug face. Her arms folded.
I’m losing my rag now. “Will you do it then?”
She shakes her head, all casual like. “Nope,” she says.
“Why not?” I say.
“Because I’ve contacted your company before. You shouldn’t be here.”
I hear something then that gives me an idea. The sound of a kid in the front room, right behind her. The sound of a child about – I dunno – a year old..? Eighteen months. Something like that.
“That your baby in there?” I say.
The woman looks behind her. “Yes,” she says. “So what?”
“Well, it’s just that this liability order is for council tax, and if it doesn’t get settled then you may find yourself getting banged up. Unless you prove you’re not Anna Kingston, of course. And even if you are Anna Kingston, and don’t pay me any money, you could still find yourself getting banged up. And that isn’t going to bode too well for the little one there, is it?”
I think I’ve got her attention now. What I just said to her is bad. Really bad. I could get myself into a whole world of hell, but if she squeals, who are people likely to believe..? Some lazy, jobless slob, or a certified bailiff?
“So what are you saying exactly?” she says. “How does my baby have anything to do with whatever debt you’ve got written on your little clipboard there?”
“What it means love, is that if you get banged up, you could easily find that your little chap there is taken off you and put into care. Do you get me now?”
I’m taking a BIG risk here. I could get myself totally screwed for it. But this woman hasn’t left me much choice. I’m not walking away from here without an offer of payment at the very least. It’s like I said before: I take my job seriously. And I don’t care what these plebs say…I make them all pay up in the end.
“Yes,” she says. “I think I do get you. You’re telling me, without even knowing who I am, that whatever this debt is all about, it could not only land me in prison, but I could have my child taken from me and put into care.”
“That’s what I’m saying, love. Yes.” Something about this suddenly feels wrong. I think I might have pushed it too far.
She nods. “I thought that was what you were saying,” she says. “I just wanted to make sure, for the recording.”
Oh shit! I think.
“What recording?” I feel my belly suddenly churn. A flood of cold panic makes my nuts crawl, and a throbbing feeling starts booming in my temples.
The woman holds up her mobile phone and waves it around in front of my face.
“This one,” she says. “The one in which I’ve got you threatening me, of course!”
She starts grinning. This big old pleased-with-herself grin. She’s loving this. She’s totally loving it.
“But…” I start to say, when suddenly behind her, the kid starts howling about something. The woman glances back, and then turns to me. “Gotta go,” she says. “Was a pleasure doing business though. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
And with that, she bursts into laughter and starts to shut the door on me.
Which is exactly when I lose it. When I think, no way..! She isn’t getting away with that.
In truth, I’m not thinking straight at this point at all. I came here to get the better of her, not the other way round. It doesn’t work like that. But I’m so mad, my body just sort of takes over.
I throw out my hand, and stop the door from closing. As it jolts to a halt, the woman looks at me with sudden surprise. She wasn’t expecting that. It might be pushing my luck, but it’s too late to care now.
With a hefty shove, I stop the door from shutting and send it flying backwards. I push it wide open, and she reels back with a grunt. Her face drops. Surprise all over it like a smacked arse. She even stumbles slightly, the force being so strong and all. And as she does, I step up into the doorway and hold the door pinned back. I look at her. Her shock gives way to rage, and she takes a few steps back. Regaining balance. Giving herself space to thumb 999 into her mobile.
I see what she’s about to do, and I swing an open palm. I’m not aiming for her or anything. I’m aiming for the phone. I need to calm this down. Take control. Get an offer of payment. But all the while she’s acting like this, I can’t do that. So I swing out, and I swipe the phone from her hand.
Again, she looks at me with that face. That shock. The absolute shock. But what did she expect..?
This is where things get even more messed up, though.
Her kid is in the front room, sitting in one of those baby-walker things. A seat surrounded by a plastic circle with a bunch of lights and noise-making gizmos.
The phone that I batted from this woman’s hand goes flying. And in all the space of that entire front room, you want to guess where it lands..?
Yeah. Right on the kid’s head.
I was in trouble the minute I started dishing out threats. The minute I mentioned her kid being taken away. Now, I was a jobless man walking. Unlawful entry, unlawful threats, assault and criminal damage.
My temper had completely got the better of me, and as the kid exploded into a bawling fit, the realisation crept upon me that I’d made a major balls-up of this whole thing and now had no choice but to make a run for it.
And as the woman bends over to comfort her kid, that’s exactly what I do.
Novel coming very, very soon.