The very definition of man was looking at me. Unfortunately I wasn’t in front of a mirror. It had been a long while since my peek, and I’d never looked as good as this guy. Shirtsleeves revealed a network of raised veins tight over thickly muscled arms. I’d put him mid-forties and there was no sign of a belly. I took a shamed look at my own – it only took the slightest flicker down of the eyes to catch sight of it these days.
‘You must be Joe’s replacement?’
He nodded his yes.
‘You got a name?’
His heavily stubbled jaw never moved as the name left it in a whisper.
He didn’t look like a Sam and probably wasn’t. He didn’t want me to know his name that was fine – we had to work together, we didn’t have to be friends. I just needed some way of addressing him – Sam was as good a way as any.
‘We better make a move; we got a lot of stops tonight. This recession, it’s brought a lot more customers the organisations way, but I ain’t convinced it’s been good for business – none of them pay up.’
I was making small talk. Sam knew the score. Mr Weir had hired him as muscle to collect unpaid debts. But, I’m awkward around new people – tend to talk for the sake of talking.
‘Do you want to drive?’
I offered the keys.
‘I don’t drive.’
I’d have notched his lack of skills behind the wheel up as a point to me. But, I couldn’t be sure his next line wasn’t going to be, no need, I’m faster than a speeding bullet and fly.
Sam took the shotgun seat. I slipped in next to him at the wheel. My awkwardness with strangers took over my tongue as we ate up deserted roads. I rambled questions semi-rhetorically. Sam barely acknowledged my presence.
I was glad to arrive at the first address on Mr Weir’s list. At least there would be someone else I could direct my words at. Not that they were going to be keen to listen either.
The board over an upstairs window and knee-high grass on the front garden told me everything I needed to know about our chances of seeing the money we were here to collect. I looked at the list again.
‘Danny Rideout, borrowed two-large, owes three and a half,’ I said.
Sam acknowledged me with a nod – progress, maybe. He was all business. He followed me as I made my way past a gate hanging on buckled hinges and knocked on the front door. Music played inside the house at a volume that wasn’t polite, especially at this time of night. No one came to the door. I looked around at Sam and without speaking asked how he thought we should play this. Sam answered by reaching a veiny tree trunk over my shoulder and pushing on the door. It was open.
Inside it was even more obvious why Danny Rideout had turned to Mr Weir for cash. This was not the home of a man that was going to find a loan from the bank easy to come by. Weir never asked whether a person had the ability to pay. He just made it clear you had to. Uncarpeted floors revealed broken boards. Walls in need of fresh paint wore heaving chips.
I led the way in the direction of the room in which the music played. I felt floorboards strain underfoot and imagined them breaking as Sam’s gladiatorial frame followed. I pushed open the door. The room stood in darkness. I stepped inside and felt a change to the flooring. It wasn’t carpet.
The light came on. I turned to see Sam’s hand on the switch. A look to the floor revealed thick clear plastic sheeting covering it. The man sat at the back of the room, gun trained on me wasn’t Danny Rideout. It was Joe. I don’t suppose there ever was a Danny Rideout.
I guess Sam wasn’t Joe’s replacement. He was mine.