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Bad Debts

found Edward Dollery, age forty-seven, defrocked accountant, big
spender and dishonest person, living in a house rented in the name
of Carol Pick. It was in a new brick-veneer suburb built on cow
pasture east of the city, one of those strangely silent
developments where the average age is twelve and you can feel the
pressure of the mortgages on your skin.

Eddie Dollery's skin wasn't looking good. He'd cut himself several
times shaving and each nick was wearing a little red-centred
rosette of toilet paper. The rest of Eddie, short, bloated, was
wearing yesterday's superfine cotton business shirt, striped, and
scarlet pyjama pants, silk. The overall effect was not

'Yes?' he said in the clipped tone of a man interrupted while on
the line to Tokyo or Zurich or Milan.He had both hands behind his
back, apparently holding up his pants.

'Marinara, right?' I said, pointing to a small piece of hardened
food attached to the pocket of his shirt. Eddie Dollery looked at
my finger, and he looked in my eyes, and he knew. A small greyish
probe of tongue came out to inspect his upper lip, disapproved and
withdrew. 'Come in,' he said in a less commanding tone. He took a
step backwards. His right hand came around from behind his back and
pointed a small pistol at my fly.

'Come in or I'll shoot your balls off.' I looked at the pistol with
concern. It had a distinctly Albanian cast to it. These things go
off for motives of their own.

'Mr Sabbatini,' I said. 'You're Mr Michael Sabbatini? I'm only here
about your credit card payment.'

'Inside,' he said, wagging the firearm.

He backed in, I followed. We went through a barren hallway into a
sitting room containing pastel-coloured leather furniture of the
kind that appears to have been squashed.

Eddie stopped in the middle of the room. I stopped. We looked at
each other.

I said, 'Mr Sabbatini, it's only money. You're pointing a gun at a
debt collector. From an agency. You can go to jail for that. If
it's not convenient to discuss new arrangements for repayments now,
I'm happy to tell my agency that.'

Eddie shook his head slowly. 'How'd you find me?' he said.

I blinked at him. 'Find you? We've got your address, Mr
Sabbatini.We send your accounts here. The company sends your
accounts here.'

Eddie moved aside a big piece of hair to scratch his scalp,
revealing a small plantation of transplanted hairs. 'I've got to
lock you up,' he said. 'Put your hands on your head.'

I complied. Eddie got around behind me and said, 'Straight

He kept his distance. He was a good metre and a half behind me when
I went through the doorway into the kitchen. There were about a
dozen empty champagne bottles on various surfaces around the
room—Perrier Jouet, Moet et Chandon, Pol Roger, Krug. No
brand loyalty here, no concern for the country's balance of
payments. The one on the counter to my right was Piper.

'Turn right,' Eddie said.

I turned right very smartly.When Eddie came into the doorway, the
Piper bottle, swung backhand, caught him on the jawbone. The
Albanian time-bomb in his hand went off, no more than a door slam,
the slug going Christ knows where. Eddie dropped the gun to nurse
his face. I pulled him into the room by his shirt, spun him around
and kicked him in the back of the right knee with an instep while
wrenching him backwards by his hair. He hit the ground hard. I was
about to give him a kick when a semblance of calm descended upon
me. I spared him the grace note.

Eddie was moaning a great deal but he wasn't going to die from the
impact of the Piper. I dragged him off by the heels and locked him
in the lavatory along the passage.

'Mate,' he said in a thick voice from behind the door, 'mate,
what's your name?'

I said, 'Mr Dollery, that was a very silly thing to do. Where's the

'Mate, mate, just hold it, just one second...'

The freezer had been stocked for a two- or three-week stay, but all
the recent catering had been by Colonel Sanders, McDonald's and
Dial-a-Dino. Dessert was from Colombia. There were dirty shirts and
underpants all over the main bedroom and its bathroom. The
mirror-fronted wall of cupboards held three suits, two tweedy
sports jackets and several pairs of trousers on one side. On the
other hung a nurse's uniform, a Salvation Army Sally's uniform, a
meter maid's uniform, and what appeared to be the parade dress of a
female officer in the Waffen SS. With these went black underwear,
some of it leather, and red suspender belts. My respect for Mrs
Pick, florist and signatory to the house's lease, deepened. By all
accounts, she had a way with flowers too.

I was passing the lavatory on my way back from looking over the
laundry when Eddie Dollery said, 'Listen, mate, you want to be

He had excellent hearing. I stopped. 'Mr Dollery,' I said, 'meeting
people like you is riches enough for me.'

'Cut that smart shit. Are you going to do it?'

'Do what?'

'Knock me.'

His was not a proper vocabulary for someone who had been an
accountant. 'Don't be paranoid,' I said. 'It's that marching powder
you're putting up your nose.'

'Oh, Jesus,' said Eddie. 'Give me a chance, will you?'

I went into the sitting room and telephoned Belvedere
Investments,my temporary employer. Mr Wootton would return my call,
said Mrs Davenport. She'd had twenty years as the receptionist for
a specialist in sexually transmitted diseases before joining
Wootton. J. Edgar Hoover knew fewer secrets.

I looked around some more while I waited. Then I sat down next to
the phone and studied what I could see of Mabberley Court. Nothing
moved except a curtain in the house opposite, a building so sterile
and with surroundings so perfectly tended that it could have been
the Tomb of the Unknown Suburbanites.

The phone rang.

'Jack, my boy. Good news, I hope. Speak freely, old
sausage.'Wootton was in a pub.

I said, 'Dollery thinks I'm here to kill him.'

'Got him, have you? Bloody spot on.'

'I expect to be warned about the armed and desperate, Cyril.
There'll be an extra five per cent deduction to cover my shock and
horror at having a firearm pointed at me.'

Wootton laughed his snorting laugh. 'Listen, Jack, Eddie's a
disloyal little bugger with lots of bad habits but he wouldn't
actually harm anyone. People like that think the worst about
everything. It's the guilt. And eating icing sugar with their
noses.What's on the premises?'

'Ladies' uniforms,' I said.

Wootton laughed again. 'That's one of the habits. He's got the
stuff on him, hasn't he?'

It was starting to rain on Mabberley Court. Across the road, an
impossibly white cat had appeared on the porch of the Tomb.

On my way out, I stopped to speak to Eddie. You can't help admiring
a man who can get the local florist to dress up in Ilse Koch's old
uniform over crotchless leather panties.

'Mr Dollery,' I said outside the lavatory, 'you're going to have to
be more cooperative with people whose money you have stolen.
Pointing a firearm at their representatives is not the way.'

Eddie said, 'Listen, listen. Don't go. Give me the gun back and
I'll tell you where to find ten grand. Go round the back and put
the gun through the window. Ten grand. Notes. Old notes.'

'I know where to find ten grand,' I said. 'Everybody keeps ten
grand in the dishwasher. And everybody keeps seventy grand in the
airconditioner. Wootton reckons you're short twenty. I'm pushing a
receipt for eighty grand and a pen under the door. I want you to
sign it.'

There was a moment's silence.

'Mate,' Eddie said, 'every cent. Tell him every cent.'

'You tell him. Just sign,' I said.

The receipt came back, signed.

'The pen, please.'

The pen appeared. 'Thank you. Goodbye, Mr Dollery.'

Eddie was shouting something when I closed the front door, but he'd
stopped by the time I reached the car. Across the road, the white
cat was watching. I drove out of Mabberley Court. Two hours later,
I was at Pakenham racecourse watching a horse called New Ninevah
run seventh in a maiden.

The next day, I went to Sydney to talk to a possible witness to a
near-fatal dispute in the carpark of the Melton shopping centre. It
was supposed to be a six-hour quickie. It took two days, and a man
hit me on the upper left arm with a full swing of a baseball bat.
It was an aluminium baseball bat made in Japan. This would never
have happened in the old days. He would have hit me with a Stewart
Surridge cricket bat with black insulation tape around the middle.
Except in the old days I didn't do this kind of work.

Bad Debts
by by Peter Temple

  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage
  • ISBN-10: 1596921293
  • ISBN-13: 9781596921290