My new book, Below the Wheel, drops on June 22. Here’s a little taste over the next 3 days from last year’s novel, Angel with a Broken Wing.
Christian Blackmore sat quietly in the law office of Timmons and Weiss in Miami, Florida. He looked around the room at his mother and three sisters as the executor read the Will for his uncle’s estate.
He ran his fingers through his blonde hair and rubbed his eyes. He still felt hungover from last night after the funeral, but the dark cloud of alcohol was beginning to lift from his head.
“And to my dear nephew, Christian, I leave the following possessions… my entire record collection, because I know how much he loves music. My 1974 Ford Pinto, because I want him to have quality transportation. All of my custom luggage, because I know how much he loves to travel. Finally, my favorite briefcase, so that when he goes off to work, he’ll always think of me! HA, HA.”
“Excuse me, sir… But what’s so funny?”
“I’m not laughing, Christian.”
Mrs. Blackmore interjected. “Mrs. Weiss, I just buried my favorite brother. I think it’s nice that he thought enough of my son to leave him some of his personal belongings. I don’t think your attempt at levity is appropriate.”
“But I didn’t laugh, Ma’am.”
“We all heard you, Weiss. It’s the part about the Pinto, isn’t it?”
“Christian, Please. You don’t understand. It says here: ‘and my favorite briefcase so that he can always think of me when he goes off to work. HA, HA.’ That’s what’s written in the will, the words ‘HA, HA.’ See for yourself.”
Christian snatched the document from the old lawyer’s hand and read it closely.
“It does say that, Mom.”
“I told you…”
Mom… is this some kind of joke?”
Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t know, Christian. I just don’t know.”
The next morning, Christian loaded the Pinto and headed back to his home in Woodbury, New Jersey. The old ‘gas crisis classic’ held up rather well over the two days it took him to get home. As he drove he had some time to reflect on his life.
For five years he had worked for Midland Bank. It was a pretty good gig working down at the seashore. Though it was very busy during the summer season, it was dead during the winter months. He had had enough of the resort/retirement community and needed something more. Something that was at least consistent twelve months a year. He had tried to get a transfer within the company to the Philadelphia area. He figured at least there’d be more opportunity and exposure in a more populated area. After months of trying he finally resigned from his position with the bank.
He took a job with a finance company in Turnersville, New Jersey. It was in Gloucester County, a few miles outside Philly on the Jersey side of the Delaware River.
He found that the differences between banks and finance companies were radical. He was asked by management to refer to the firm as financial services, not a finance company.
One day he asked his boss why, and he told Christian that the phrase finance company held a certain negative image.
Christian figured that the job wouldn’t be much different from the one he held at the bank. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. It was like comparing apples to oranges.
When he managed a branch for the bank his duties were, do your audit and compliance books, open checking and savings accounts, develop new business, oversee branch operations, and most of all, keep your tellers happy.
If you get the occasional customer who wants to borrow money, it’s a no-brainer. If he or she had even one delinquent account on their credit report, you simply denied the request. It was that easy. The bank has the lowest rates, so they only lend money to the best customers.
But what if you had a good reason for your late payments? What if you lost your job, or your child was sick in the hospital and medical bills were piling up?
The bank doesn’t care that bad things happen to good people. Sorry.
So what does this customer do to get a loan? Where can he go to get a loan to help meet the needs of his family?
He goes to a finance company. The customer needs money to buy Christmas presents for his kids, or his daughter needs braces, or maybe she needs tuition for school. Whatever the client needs…Christian is there.
As he navigated the old Pinto North on Interstate 95, He thought of the hundreds of customers he had served over the years at Midland Bank. He visualized the typical customer walking out of his chosen branch where he kept his money after being declined for a loan. The bank where he deposited his paycheck every week. The bank where he had his savings account. The place his wife made her weekly payments into their Christmas Club. The bank where his grandfather renewed his certificates of deposit every six months. This man walks out of his bank and comes across the street to see Christian. Christian Blackmore. Finance Company Man!
He thought about how the meeting would go. Turning it over in his mind. They were all just different players in the same game.
“Hey Joe, how’s it going?”
“Not good, Chris. My bank just turned me down for a loan. I’ve been banking there since the joint opened!”
“Well Joe, maybe we can help you here.”
“Really? That’d be great!”
“Why were you declined?”
“I got hurt on the job a year ago, and I got behind on some of my payments because I was out of work for a couple of months.”
“Are you current with everybody now?
“You mean up to date on all my bills?”
“How much do you need to borrow?”
“About $1,500 would do it I guess.”
“Okay, that’s going to be $63 a month for say…18 months?”
“Yea sounds good. Hey, what’s the payment on $2,000?”
“Well Joe… let me get some more info and we’ll see if we can get this done today.”
Christian took a sip from the paper cup filled with bitter black coffee. He turned up the radio to drown out the hammering of the old engine as it pushed the tiny old Ford through the night.
He continued to relive his daily life as he drove on. His loathing for his job helped keep him alert as he entered his sixteenth hour on the road. He thought about how that very same customer would enter his office the same afternoon to sign papers and receive his check for $2,000.
Pretty amazing, Christian thought as he lit a cigarette. Quick and easy. The client’s happy. He can send his little girl to summer camp or get his leaky roof fixed, or pay off his gambling debt to his bookie in Atlantic City.
Who cares. He’s only got to come up with $100 a month. What a super job. What a great guy Christian Blackmore is. What a satisfying vocation he has chosen. Guy had a need, and he satisfied it. The client had some delinquent payments in the past but he’s current now. Handed him a check the same day. The bank would have taken a week and charged him about 12% had they approved him.
But they didn’t.
But Christian did. He charged Joe what his boss told him to charge on every unsecured loan he made, no matter what the credit score looked like. He charges them all the State Maximum for the state of New Jersey.
That rate is 30%!
30%! That’s only 20% less than the loan sharks in South Philly charge.
Christian thought about his boss. That pig Andy. He could almost hear his voice now… “Don’t lose any business boys. If they balk at the rate, cut it back to 28%. Show ’em we’re flexible.”
“Oh yea, thanks, Andy. They’ll love that rate. Don’t people usually like to have their clothes off when they’re getting screwed?”
Christian knew he needed to get out of this job. He could feel the rage rising in him. He took a deep breath and exhaled so as to not drive faster due to his anger. He spoke out loud to himself in the car.
“They love that low payment I quote them. Yessiree! That low payment is packed with Life, Disability, and even Unemployment insurance. It’s sick! People pay so much in interest and insurance we pack into these loans. We make a fortune from their misfortune. ‘At least we get ’em the cash when they need it.’ Andy says.”
“Yea… but what a price they pay. Jeezus, what I do to these hard-working people every day is criminal. I should just go put on a mini skirt and a pair of fishnets and heels, and just grab a handful of credit applications, and go stand on the corner of Mickle Street and the Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden, and peddle my wares with the rest of the hookers!”
Christian maneuvered through the traffic around the beltway in Washington, DC. The little Pinto would sputter and buck whenever he would gun the accelerator. He thought about how a huge part of his job was collecting payments from slow-paying customers. That was the worst part of the job.
“I gotta find another job. As soon as I get back, I’m going to do it. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Damn slow accounts. Calling those people every Tuesday and Thursday night to see if they’ll make a payment on the overpriced loan I made them.”
Christian pushed on for another three hours until he arrived home. He pulled into his driveway. He began unloading his ‘inheritance.’ He was too tired to carry all the junk into the house so he locked it all in the garage, went inside his house, and fell onto his bed to disappear into blissful sleep.
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