22/08/10 | Posted by MattPage
When he awoke Shep’s face was inches from his own.
“So, why don’t you have the money?”
Bernbaum winced. Not just in anticipation of the fate he knew awaited him, but because even the smallest of pauses postponed his impending agony for a few seconds more. Men who owed drugs baron’s money rarely came out of it well. And he owed A LOT of money.
Shep repeated the question, only quieter and more calmly.
“So, why…do you not…have…the money?”
Bernbaum reckoned he probably preferred the shouting. He desperately groped around the darkest reaches of his mind desperately hoping for something to say, anything, that might get him out of this mess. His eyes flitted about from side to side, sweat formed on his brow, and yet instead of coming up with a list of at least semi-plausible excuses, all he could think of was whether he would ever see Josh and Mary again.
Shep starred at him disbelievingly.
“Nothing? Nothing? Not even a pathetic story about some job you’re about to pull?”
He turned and signalled to a man in the corner, the man who had dragged Bernbaum off from the comparative comfort of the fence.
“Finish him off, and deal with the kids”.
The man pulled a flick knife out of his pocket and moved menacingly towards Bernbaum, as Shep glided impassively towards the door.
“Wait” Bernbaum yelped. “Have patience with me and I’ll repay you. I promise”, releasing his last sliver of self respect to slip down the drain. Bad enough that he was a drug addict, a petty thief and a hopeless gambler, but now he couldn’t even die like a man. But Shep stopped and stared back at him, lost in sheer disbelief.
“That’s it? That’s really all you got?”
The corner of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.
“That’s the best you can do?” He sniggered. “You’re just going to pay it back?” His face folded in on itself with the sheer preposterousness of it. “3 million pounds?”
He was holding his side and howling with laughter now. “Just like that? I’ve been making widows for 17 years now, and I’ve never heard anything as feeble as that.” People usually manage to at least come up with something, but this? He was just beginning to regain his composure now. “You know what? I’m in a good mood. I’m feeling a little generous, magnanimous. Maybe just this once I’m gonna let you off. The whole amount. Call it a ‘good deed for the day’”.
Bernbaum looked back in astonishment. Surely this was just a cruel trick? But no, his would-be assassin was now shoving him towards the door whilst his boss continued laughing to himself.
Bernbaum began the long walk home awaiting the tap on the shoulder, or a stab in the back. Gradually the nervous glances over his shoulder became less and less frequent, and his mystified relief began to dissipate. By the time he was back in his neighbourhood he was becoming absorbed in more practical matters. Sure, Shep had let him off, but what was he going to do about his many unpaid bills? And how was he going to afford to buy some lunch? Lost in thought, he didn’t notice Ripley until he’d walked right into him.
““Have patience with me, Bernie. I promise I’ll repay you.”
That was it. Ripley still owed him a hundred quid. It might not pay off all of his gas bill, but it might be enough to get them to turn it back on again.
“S’been too long Ripley. It’s October, the kids are getting cold. It’s time to pay up. Now.” Ripley made some plea or other, but Bernbaum wasn’t really listening. It had been too long. He punched him several times, dragged Ripley to his flat, forced him to open the door and looted all he could find. Slamming the door behind him he headed towards the dodgy pawn shop at the entrance to the estate.
And it was then that he felt the tap on his shoulder…
(Based on Matthew 18:23-35)
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