He comes up to me and asks do I want to make 50 bucks and I turn away like I’m not interested. I’ve seen this guy before. In more salubrious places, the kind I rarely frequent, unless I’ve won something on the ponies or had a few days’ work on the trot. He seems well known in those circles, having a laugh, looking like he owns the place, which he might for all I know. This pub wasn’t the kind of place he’d usually be seen but there he was standing next to me, slick as a boiled frankfurt, a ring on each of his pinkies.
I’m well known of course. The Punters, The Percy, The Standard, The Pump House, The Morning Star. You’ll find me in the front bar. A few bucks in my kick and full of life, and where there’s life, there’s hope. That’s me, Mister Hopeful.
Hopeful of what I’m never sure.
He’s standing there at my elbow like he’s waiting for me to say something that I’m not going to.
He calls the barman. A schooner for me and one for my friend here, he says, meaning me. I didn’t say no because I could have done with another and I was down to my last dollars.
I pick up the drink when it arrives and I don’t say thank you. There’s something about this guy I don’t like. Maybe it’s his aftershave, or because I think I can hear him breathing through his nose. Whatever it is, I find it irritating. I look over the bar into the pool room where two dickheads in their football colours are chalking their cues. He’s still there at my elbow saying nothing. I don’t say anything either because I’ve got nothing to say. I’m not the one making offers or anything, I’m just drinking my drink.
Think about it, he says. He drifts off to the other end of the bar, claps some fucker on the back, has a chinwag. He knows I’m not going anywhere until I finish my beer.
He comes back and he calls to the barman and says same again for my friend, even though I haven’t finished the first drink he bought me and I’m not his friend.
I don’t say anything.
Fifty bucks he’s offered me like I’m hard up or something, which I am, but he doesn’t know that and if he does know that, how come he knows it and I don’t like him knowing it. I’m entitled to be hard up in private. I don’t go around telling people I’m skint, unless it’s to a friend, and the friends I have couldn’t lend you money for a box of matches even if they wanted to, which they don’t because they’re all as tight as a rat’s arsehole.
I’m onto my second free drink and he nudges my elbow. I don’t move, like I don’t even notice he’s nudged me.
He nudges me again and I’m thinking fuck this for a joke. I half turn to him. I’m not even looking at him.
And he says, So what do you think? About what? I ask. Fifty bucks, he says. I’m thinking, I could do with 50 bucks.
It’s easy money, he says, for someone like you. I wonder what he thinks I’m like. It’s these tenants of mine, he says. They owe me money.
I owe my landlord money as well but it’s not me he’s talking about. It’s some other poor fuckers like me.
You just go around there, he says. I’ll drive you. He looks at the barman again and there’s another drink in front of me.
I notice he’s not drinking. He hasn’t touched the one he ordered. I also notice that he’s not paying for the drinks. Maybe he’s got a tab. Maybe he does own the joint. It wouldn’t surprise me. But the place is a shithole, not his usual style.
Go around there and what? I ask.
Ask for the rent, he says. That’s all.
It’s 10 o’clock at night by now and I’m half pissed. Maybe for him that’s part of the appeal.
They need a bit of trouble, he says. You look like you could cause a bit of trouble.
I might have been in trouble but I’ve never been trouble, if you know what I mean. Not the kind of trouble he’s talking about.
I ask him, who are they?
A nice enough family, he says. Immigrants. They don’t know up from down. It won’t take much to put the wind up them. That’s your job for 50 bucks.
I don’t say anything.
I haven’t got all night, he says.
I finish my drink and stand there looking like I want another, which isn’t hard as that’s the way I usually look.
Why don’t you go around, I say.
He smiles. I’m a businessman, he says.
I’m thinking, what am I then?
You just knock on the door, he says, and ask for the rent. You don’t have to get it there and then, just ask for it and make it clear that you won’t be asking again. They pay up, three months’ back rent, or there’s consequences.
I guess I’m supposed to be the consequences. I go back there and what?
I’ll wait in the car for you, he says. I’ll even drive you home.
I’m thinking, there’s no fucking way you find out where I live, pal.
A hundred, I say.
He shakes his head. I don’t bargain, he says. Take it or leave it.
I think I’ll leave it, I say.
I can feel his eyes on the back of my head. I’m thinking, you showed that prick. Who’d he think I was? A bit of muscle he could buy for 50 bucks. Couldn’t go to a hundred. I wasn’t worth a hundred.
I half turn to tell him to fuck off but he’s gone.
I turn a bit further and I see him out the window of the bar getting into his red Mercedes. Looks like a 200D. Mid-’70s. Heap of shit.
A hundred bucks!
That’s how much rent I owe.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 4, 2023 as "Red Mercedes".
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