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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Thriller/Suspense · #1376998
Pay now or pay later. Now featured in Far Side of Midnight.bravehost.com, Issue #2.

"Well, sir, I don't really see what else I can do for you," Curtis said, with some lament in his voice. "You say that I haven't called you and it's true that I haven't called in a while, but my records show that I've called you at least 25 times over the last six months. So, you've had plenty of opportunities to settle this matter.

"Oh, what was that? You can't pay? You don't have the funds for it? Well, what about the new cars? The ones in your children's names, the ones they don't know about? Or how about that time share on Lake Granbury? Didn't think I knew about those, did you? You can afford payments for new cars and you can afford four trips in one year to some new resort on Possum Kingdom Lake, but you can't pay off a little itty bitty past due credit card account? Who's kidding who? Oh, excuse me a second."

Curtis stopped to yawn and stretch. He stood and arched his back, stretching his arms out for maximum benefit. Joints popped as the stretch released built-up nitrogen in the joints. He exhaled heavily, feeling refreshed, and then sat back down, subconsciously fingering his earpiece again. Intertwining his fingers, he leaned back in the chair and continued.

"You might be wondering why I've taken such a keen interest in your account," he continued. "It's true that people like me put ourselves through all this torture because we work on commission. Well, there's a base pay but it's piddling. We get a percentage of what we collect. Still, the law of averages would normally dictate that I move on to the next account, except that, lately, even the next account is like you.

"Ever wonder what it's like for a person like me. We have our own bills to pay, you know. We have families to house and mouths to feed, too, you know. But, you only care about yourselves. You make these debts and then try to renege on paying.
"It would be one thing if you were telling the truth or, hell, even if you were lying, if it sounded sincere. But, no, Congress tries to let you off the hook, so now you're smug about not paying. You even get angry about someone telling you that you need to settle your obligations. You slam down the phone. In fact, you probably would have slammed down the phone on me long before now.

"So, how will you be paying today, sir and/or ma'am? Check, money order, debit card, credit card, now wouldn't that be ironic? What's the matter? Has my little rant left you speechless? I'm just saying what all people like me have been dying to say for years. I guess you could complain to my manager, but I don't think you'll do that. Am I right?"

He spun around in his chair and looked down at the bound and gagged couple on the floor of the bound man's office. Curtis saw that they were terrified; they were sweating profusely as they lay on their sides, the bruises on their faces clearly visible. He smiled and then stood up and walked over to them, watching as they struggled against the heavy-duty rope that bound their wrists and ankles like trussed up calves at a rodeo.

"Actually, this is good news, Mr. and Mrs. Ford," Curtis stated, as he reached over and took up the pistol he'd left on Mr. Ford's office desk. "With the sale of the house and your cars, plus any insurance you have, you won't leave any debt to your children. So, you can consider your account officially closed."

Afterwards, he washed his hands in the kitchen sink and dried them off on a small hand towel from the small briefcase he'd brought with him. He could have used the kitchen towel, but didn't want to leave any hairs that might later be used for DNA evidence. He'd also been wearing latex surgical gloves but they had been the kind with powder inside to make them easier to take off and he had to wash the powder off.

After drying his hands, he grabbed a set of black driving gloves from his briefcase and put them on. They weren't the ones he worn when he'd first arrived, as those were covered in small bits of blood and skin from his making the Fords a little more complacent and compliant. He went over to the sink and turned the water off now that he'd made sure he wouldn't leave fingerprints on the knobs.

He then used the towel to wipe off his pistol, taking careful time with the silencer. He replaced the pistol into an inner pocket in the briefcase and then tossed the towel and used surgical gloves into the case as well. He checked the floor for footprints and then checked his shoes and soles for traces of blood. He wasn't worried, though. These shoes were cheap dollar store variety that he could easily throw away in any dumpster, along with the gloves. He wasn't worried about the rope he'd bound the Fords with either because it had been some old rope he'd found in a culvert during a road trip to Abilene. Finally, convinced he'd left no evidence of his visit, he grabbed his jacket off the back of Mr. Ford's office desk chair and put it on.

He then reached into jacket's inner pocket and produced the palm computer that had replaced his old bulky computer and which also gave him access to his cellphone earpiece and to the Internet anytime he wanted. After tapping it a few times to open up a certain file, he used his pinky fingernail to move the file to its second page. There, he x-ed out a notation for Mr. and Mrs. Ford, noting that they were the seventh name to be crossed out. He also noted, forlornly, that this file had four more pages to it.

He scrolled over to the next page and opened up a sub-file for the next name on the list. He scanned the information, committed it to memory and then read the phone number. He connected to his earpiece and dialed the phone number.

As usual, he got the answering machine, but he knew the drill. Most people let their machines screen the calls. He rolled his eyes while listening to the cutesy message the Hamptons used.

"This message is for Ronald and Nancy Hampton," he finally blurted when the message had finished. "If you are listening, it's important that I talk to you, concerning the matter I've been trying to talk to you about for the last six months. I'm afraid time is running out, so please call my office as soon as possible."

He gave his phone number and then disconnected. He knew he'd never hear from the Hamptons. They'd ignored his phone calls and certified collection letters almost as much as the Fords had. Fortunately for Curtis, he was single and really had no obligations, so the small commissions he did receive for successfully tracking down debt did not affect him too much. On the other hand, he'd always been a great co-worker and it had torn him up inside to see his fellow collectors suffer from not being able to close accounts. Many were family men or single mothers. The way they had to work themselves almost to death just to scrape together a decent commission from people who clearly did not have the guts to settle their obligations had gotten to be too much.

He typed in a note about leaving another message with the Hamptons, saved it and then put the palm device back in his pocket. He grabbed his coat as he began making mental preparations for the next job. There would be one more letter, only this time it would have some detailed information on the Hamptons' true financial status, courtesy of an old college buddy who was an expert hacker. Then, there would be some liens placed on the boats and cottages the Hamptons had put in the names of the children to keep the assets away from creditors. Once he'd backed them into a corner, he'd give them the option of calling one of his co-workers - probably Amy, the single mother of two, this time - to settle their debts and create a nice commission. It would take time, time enough so that police would not be able to convincingly put his most recent phone call into any real time line, but he had plenty of time, certainly more than the Hamptons.

If, however, none of his machinations worked, such as had happened with the Fords, well then, Curtis surmised, there were other options.

"Pay me now or pay me later," he said to himself, "but eventually, we all pay in the end."

He took one last look at the bodies on the floor and then grabbed his briefcase, turned out the light in the office and made sure to close the door behind him.
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