Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Validation - The Collection Agent

We all like validation, for someone to tell us we have a talent that makes the world better.  Just as I was beginning to wonder whether anyone but my wife would enjoy my stories, I received a Writers' Journal magazine in the mail.  I didn't remember subscribing, even though I'd entered a short story contest a couple of months earlier.

However, I turned to the section discussing contest winners and found my name in the "Honorable Mentions."  This is my first ever award, although in fairness it was also the first contest I'd ever entered.  My prize was a one year subscription.

So now, for your reading pleasure, or literary disdain, The Collection Agent.

      The man grinned as I stumbled over the curb and nearly lost my balance. He was out retrieving his newspaper and it wasn’t like he’d flat out laughed at me, but the smirk was just enough to annoy.
      Keep it up and you’ll be next, I thought.
      No, I thought again. I’ve got to stay focused on the real job at hand.
      The street I strolled along was unremarkable and could have been part of any suburb in America. Young trees dotted the side of the road, and the fences were in nice straight lines. A sprinkler shot water across a lawn not far away, and I even saw a kid in the street riding a clumsy red bicycle.
      I made my way up the front walk of the white house with the yellow trim, stopping only to glance at the mat that said, “Wipe your paws.” A pity that such innocence would have to end today.
      The sound of my knuckles on the door was also unremarkable, as was the man who answered. He had on a pair of faded blue jeans and a red t-shirt that proclaimed his allegiance to the local college. He looked at me quizzically before speaking.
      “Can I help you?”
      “Mr. Furrow?” I asked. Actually, I really didn’t need to ask, since I knew it was him, but my boss insisted that the niceties be observed.
      His brow wrinkled and a touch of exasperation entered his voice. “Please don’t tell me you’re selling something. Can’t you see the sign by the door that says ‘No Solicitors?’”
      “I’m not selling anything,” I said, shaking my head. “Rather, I’m here to collect something. My name is Grady, and I’m from Dukes.”
      It took him a second for recognition to wash over his face, and that was followed very quickly by apprehension. His skin grew a touch more pale and small beads of sweat formed on his forehead.
      “Wh-what do you mean?” he stammered. “I paid that debt off months ago.”
      “Really Mr. Furrow, there’s no need to try and lie to me. We keep very thorough records and know that your balance is still outstanding. We gave you the benefit of our services several years ago and all that we ask is that you remit payment in full.”
      “Who’s at the door, honey?” called a woman’s voice from inside.
      “Uh, nobody,” he called back. “Just a salesman. I’ll get rid of him.” He stepped onto the front stoop and closed the front door behind him.
      “There’s got to be some kind of arrangement we can come to,” he said, a touch of pleading in his voice.
      “We’ve already come to an arrangement, Mr. Furrow, negotiated eight years ago. We provide you with the means to overcome your rather pathetic situation, and you repay us in kind when the time comes. Well, the time has come, so if you’ll just drop your payment off with me, we can both go about our business and life can go on.”
      His breathing had become more shallow. “I have no idea how my wife will react to what I did…what I had to do.”
      I suppressed a sigh, but just barely. This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered someone who wanted to renege on payment, but my boss would have my neck if I came back with nothing. I wished these folks thought more about the future when agreeing to terms, but if they’d had somewhere else to go, I guess Dukes wouldn’t have had such a large client base.
      “Mr. Furrow, I can either take payment with me now, or I can call the Claims Department and remove everything from the house. It’s your choice, but wouldn’t it be easier to just cough up payment and let this end?”
      At that moment, the door opened and a sweet looking blond in a frumpy sweatshirt stood there, a girl that couldn’t have been but three or four clinging to her leg. I smiled at the child, and she favored me with a small wave before burying her face in her mother’s thigh.
      “Is everything okay out here?” she asked.
      “Everything’s fine,” I said with a smile. Looking at the little girl again, I said, “You’re cute. Are your brothers here too?”
      The woman’s hand reflexively made a barrier between the child and I, for all the good it would do. Her husband stood still, as if he feared even swaying.
      “How do you know she has brothers?” the woman asked.
      “As I was telling your husband, our records are very thorough. We make sure we know everything about those we engage in business with.”
      “What is he talking about?” she asked, her face turned to her husband. “What business?”
      “It’s nothing,” he mumbled. “Years ago; but I paid that off.”
      I knew I had to become more firm. Time was limited and this wasn’t my only job today. “Mr. Furrow, we took care of our part eight years ago. We eliminated obstacles from your path and helped you acquire assets you couldn’t have gotten otherwise. Now, give me what we agreed to or things will get nasty.”
      “I could have done it myself,” he ventured. “I was almost there. I…”
      “Stop,” I said. “You were nowhere near getting there from your position. Your job was a dead end and no one would come near you. We took care of everything in your path and led you to the happiness you said you wanted. We only require a solitary asset for payment, and you will give it to me. Now.”
      “What asset is he talking about?” she asked, her voice trembling. “Steve?”
      I smiled in full now, letting my fangs show. “One of your children.”
      She screeched while Steve took a step backward, bumping into her as he did so. I stepped forward and said, “You have three. The youngest is only six months. Surely you can’t be all that attached.”
      “But they’re my children,” he protested.
      “Wrong,” I countered. “Two of them are, but one belongs to Dukes. Do you want to make the choice, or should I?”
      The woman’s arm was gripping the little girl so tight I feared she would draw blood. I couldn’t take a damaged asset back to Dukes; my boss would be upset and probably lessen my commission.
      “Eight years ago, we took out the boss that stood in your way and set the conditions that allowed your lovely wife” – I nodded at her – “to fall for you. That got you this nice house and a family, but you knew the conditions of the contract when you signed it: one child to serve in Hell’s Army for the Duke of Kylox and the Duke of Marlboge. Payment to be given in full at the date and time agreed upon. Well, that time is here.”
      Now she screamed. I winced but knew time had come for action. I grabbed Steve and threw him across the lawn. Then, I pushed his wife into the wall, making a nice sized dent when I did so. The little girl was sniffling.
      “You’re a bad man!” the little girl said.
      With regret, I nodded. “Yes, I am, but we all have our jobs to do.”
      The little girl ran down the hall and scampered up the stairs. It didn’t matter – she would probably be of little use. Instead, I headed for the playpen in the den.
      I reached inside, careful my claws wouldn’t scratch the lass. As I picked him up, he let loose with a cry that split the air like a steam whistle. I guess the red that my eyes had begun to glow wasn’t helping his fear right now. Didn’t matter – a few demonic rituals and he’d forget all about his fear of me and be ready to march off in Dukes’ latest conquests.
      As I walked out the front door, Steve came to and charged at me. It was a pitiful gesture, and I almost regretted having to hold my hand out and use my power to force him down. His face planted into the earth and he didn’t get up again. I looked back at the house and shook my head again.
      Cradling the child in one hand, I headed back up the street. As I said, this wasn’t my only job for the day. Hopefully the next one wouldn’t be so dramatic, but some people just didn’t realize exactly what they’d agreed to.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Talk about suspense. Nicely done.