Thelma put down the Patterson crime thriller she was reading and with a deep sigh once more checked her watch. He had promised he wouldn’t visit the casino again after leaving the office on his way home. She had cashed in one of her ISAs to pay off his last gambling debt. Over the last several months he had been writing IOUs like other people write cheques.
‘No more’ she said to herself, shaking her head. His gambling addiction had ruined their relationship and his answer to being put on a three - day week, with the company experiencing hard times, was to try to bridge the financial deficit by more gambling. A while later Simon arrived and entered the lounge. With his tie half undone, along with his top two shirt buttons, he looked somewhat dishevelled and more than a little sheepish.
‘No need for me to ask where you’ve been until this time.’ she said, sitting very composed while giving him an icy stare. He looked like a lost boy, not knowing which way to turn for safety or security. Then sitting down, facing her, he leaned forwards with his hands clasped together, ‘I was so close. An hour ago, I was on a roll. Seven hundred up. Just needed to squeeze a little more,’ he replied, in an animated fashion, ‘Then suddenly it just went belly - up. Such a devasting turnaround.’ He shook his head, as if in disbelief at his misfortune.
‘And you left having signed another IOU.’ she said with a shake of her head. He unclasped his hands and with palms open said, ‘I had no choice.’ She stood up and moved closer to him, assuming an air of superiority.
‘Well, I have a choice. Not to bail you out this time. How much was it for?’ He then gave her an appealing look before saying,‘Just two Grand.’
‘What a coincidence. It’s only a shade over the estimate of our new flat roof replacement, for which I have just enough in my savings account.’ She turned her back on him and with folded arms, walked to the other side of the room.
‘But surely we could delay that?’ Quickly turning around and with a piercing stare, she said.
‘No, we can’t, because there’s a high risk of the ceiling falling in.’
‘There’s no one else I can turn to. Remember, in sickness and in health, and it was very nearly real wealth. So very close. I nearly won a packet.’
With anger in her voice, she replied, ‘What won was your addiction again. You’re a pathetic loser. You’ll never change.’
‘I can. I know I can. It’s trouble and strife, but with the support of my wife.’ He smiled weakly and tried to move more closely to her.
‘Don’t try your poetry on me. It worked in our early days; your little romantic poems on Birthday and Christmas cards. But no more. Some are born with silver spoons in their mouths. Others start with nothing and get nowhere. But many more, make something of themselves through sheer hard work.’
‘I’ve tried. I really have. But there were obstacles.’
‘You had clothes on your back. Money in your pocket and sometimes you were able to hold down a job.’
‘That just wasn’t enough. I needed more.’
‘Your aspirations were unrealistic. You were a dreamer.’ She pointed a finger at him.
‘Nothing wrong with having dreams. Walt Disney said “If you can dream it, you can do it.”’ he responded, trying to sound assertive.
‘Initially, Disney struggled. But through hard work, endeavour and creativity he made a breakthrough. You tended to think the world owed you a living. Then envy and greed took over.’ She resumed her seat and shook her head.
‘It was seeing what others had. Easy lives with no striving.’
‘You were just filled with an overwhelming compulsion to have it all. Life isn’t like that. This is the hand you were dealt and you have to make the best of it.’
‘O.K., so maybe I took the wrong fork in the road. It happens. But you can help me get back on track.’ He gave an appealing look, like that of a naughty child trying to avoid censure.
‘By again paying off your IOU? You can’t pay, and I won’t pay’ she yelled.
‘But they’ll find out where I live. Send Heavies to collect. They could break in; steal stuff to cover the debt.’
‘They could try. But you won’t be living here. I want you out tonight. Just pack a few things and once you’re settled, I’ll send the rest of your stuff on. It’s over! Finished.’ He sat with his mouth open and a look of disbelief, as she turned her back on him and again walked to the far side of the room. As she turned to face him, he made a move to rise from his chair, but she pinned him down with a menacing stare.
‘But I should be here to protect you if they try to collect.’ She responded with a wry smile.
‘That’s not something you’d be any good at. Besides, I have my guns and with my experience at the Gun Club, I’ll be able to deter any debt collector. So, you’d better start packing.’
Three days later in the evening, having dealt with the debt collector, Thelma made two emergency calls. The first was for a hospital, saying that a man had been shot in the leg and needed urgent treatment. The second was for the police, explaining that a man had barged into her house, threatened her, attempted to steal her jewels, but she had apprehended him by shooting him in the leg. She said an ambulance was already on its way.
Sitting, leaning against a wall in the hallway, the collector moaned in pain as Thelma re-tightened the tourniquet above his left knee. A jewel box lay at his side.
‘You mad bitch. You didn’t need to shoot me.’ he said, trying from his lowly position to sound assertive.
‘You shouldn’t have threatened me with your knife and try to steal my jewels. You got what you deserve. I really hope you have a police record.’
‘When Jack Bailey hears about this, you’ll be for the high jump.’ He raised a hand and wagged a pointed finger.
‘The notorious casino owner. Perhaps the police will have enough evidence to put the rat-bag away. Maybe you’ll be able to share a cell.’
A police car and ambulance arrived at about the same time. Inspector Martin Huntley entered, and seeing the injured collector, sat leaning against a wall, said ‘What are you doing down there Shifty? Savouring dessert? Just desserts by the look of it.’
‘She should be arrested for shooting me. I only popped round to ask her to settle her husband’s IOU at the casino.’ He tried to raise himself as he spoke, but the pain he was experiencing pulled him back down.
‘Such a simple request. Well perhaps Mrs James can tell us what really happened.’ At that point a medic walked in and crouched down to examine the debt collector’s leg.
‘Did you apply the tourniquet Madam? It’s a rather expert job.’
‘Yes, I was a nurse out in Iraq, tending our brave shoulders. I aimed for the calf, just to disable and deter. I could have shattered his knee joint, but I thought that would be disproportionate.’ She looked at the inspector, who responded with a nod and a wry smile.
‘Well Shifty, alias Sid Silvester, has certainly been deterred. Where’s the gun?’
‘Just over there on the hall table. It’s a Mauser. One shot fired. I also have a Berretta which I keep in the bedroom. I’m a member of the local Gun Club. I shoot regularly. The Mauser fits my hand so comfortably. The barrel just feels like an extension of my fingers. Germans and Italians are clearly the best makers of hand guns. Sorry I’m rambling on.’
‘You should check her out inspector. Shoots regularly. Perhaps she’s a hit woman.’ he implored.
‘Just button it, Shifty. I’ll get to you later. So, Mrs James, he barged his way in demanding payment for a gambling debt?’
‘That’s right. When I said my husband wasn’t here: I threw him out three days ago; he threatened me with a knife. Said he’d carve my face to shreds. I feature in cosmetic ads in magazines, just a part-time activity.’
‘I never said that. Just said I’d mess things up a bit in the house and suggested she could give me her jewels. I couldn’t go back empty handed. Jack would have me beat up or worse.’
‘Quiet, Shifty. Carry on, Mrs James.’
‘He strong armed me into the bedroom with his knife at my throat. I pointed out the jewel box. He let me go while he examined the jewels. Said it might be enough. Then, as he made his way through the lounge into the hall, I followed him and when he opened the front door, I took out the Mauser from the hall table drawer and pointed it at him. Told him to put down the jewel box and get out of my house. He turned and laughed. Said I wouldn’t dare shoot him. I threatened him again, but he just kept walking, so I shot him in the left calf. He stumbled and fell on one knee cursing me’.
‘What about the knife?’
‘He’d put it in his inside pocket,’ The inspector bent down, retrieved it and held it up to Shifty, ‘Well, you don’t mess about. Six - inch blade. A very intimidating weapon.’
‘I’ve never used it. It’s just to persuade the debtor.’ The inspector gave a contorted smile.
‘Anything else, Mrs James?’
‘I made the calls, stressing the urgency, then quickly applied the tourniquet.’
‘She should be locked up. I’ll sue.’
‘You’re the only one who is going to be locked up.’ Then turning to the medic, he said she could take him now, explaining that he would send an officer over in case he tried to do a runner. He chuckled at the prospect. Before he was wheeled out of the house the inspector said, ‘If you give evidence about Jack Bailey, I might be able to persuade this nice lady, when she gives her statement, not to make it too damning, such that you might get a couple of months in jail rather than a couple of years.’
‘Yes, well I’d certainly like to see Bailey get his comeuppance for tempting my husband with IOU’s. I’d be happy to go soft on Mr Silvester, if it helped your case.’ Shifty perked up a little at her response to the inspector.
‘He regularly offers them to gamblers who are hooked, and they can hardly ever manage to pay. I’ve collected for him several times, usually in - kind. But I’ve never hurt anyone. Threats are always enough.’
‘Now we’re getting somewhere. That’s what we need in your statement Shifty. We’ll talk later.’ He was then wheeled away to the ambulance.
‘Well, Mrs James I can see how you will be a very credible witness. Sorry about the breakup with your husband. No chance of reconciliation?’ She shook her head.
‘I just couldn’t live any longer with a gambling addict.’
‘You’ve heard of AA?’ She nodded and gave him a quizzical look.
‘You’re not going to tell me there’s a GA?’ she chuckled.
‘Exactly! And for many it works. They don’t have to just settle for the cards they were dealt.’
‘Maybe I’ll talk to him about it, when he lets me know where he’s staying.’
‘Deal him a different hand, but on probation.’ he replied.
© Bryan Smith