Tom - Part 2
He deals with the bankruptcy quite quickly in the end. The chap has his papers written up correctly, and everything else is in order. Tom checks it all through, takes the fee, gets him in to see a judge before the main hearings begin at 10:00 am. Like going to see the headmaster about your behaviour in the playground. The judge makes the bankruptcy order and the chap’s back down again inside five minutes, waiting for Tom to draw the order and send him on his way. Next stop for him, the receiver’s office in town… full grilling, confiscation and destruction of credit cards, store cards, cheque books. Comandeering of bank accounts. Notification of his obligations, and of the penalties for failing to mind them. A miserable fucking way to spend your day, and the rest of your life to live with it – even if you’re discharged after a year. Like time in the nick. You come out, but you’re always an ex-.
Tom knows from conversations with the clerks down there that they regard bankrupts as something less than human: a forced smile of greeting, an affected impartiality of tone – all masking a bring-back-the-workhouse mentality. Put their names and faces on the front page of the papers. Put dog turds through their letter boxes. Tattoo their foreheads. Deny them their citizenship rights. Treat them like paedophiles. Send them away somewhere and make sure they don’t come back. Just like some of the attitudes in the court office, really. The snide remarks. The officiousness. The superiority of tone. Lucky these people have got such cosy, untrammelled, guilt-free lives. Uneventful, too, so it seemed: preoccupied with diets and holidays and new cars and pay rises, circumscribed by the demands of work, home, proper conduct, respect for order. Ask any of them to break what they thought was an unjust law and they’d probably look at you like a twelve-inch dick had just sprouted from the centre of your forehead.
Tom types the chap’s name. Andrew John Brewer. He’s a person before anything else. Project Supervisor. Only 28, but the worry has aged him. Dark hollows under the eyes, which jerk around in his head, like he’s used to looking over his shoulder, always expecting someone to jump out waving a brown envelope or something worse. The baseball-bat brigade. Boneheads with tattoos in 4x4s with tinted windows, nasty dogs in back, something dodgy in the glove compartment, down the street at night with the engine running, waiting. He’s done his best to look smart for the day, with a shirt and tie and a borrowed suit. Or one he hasn’t worn since the days before he worried himself away. He sits the other side of the glass while Tom’s typing away on the counter terminal, where Tom watches him from the corner of his eye – running his hands through his hair, wiping his face with a navy blue handkerchief.
The debts aren’t huge in comparison to many. Just under ten grand. The sort of money some footballers earn in a day. That J K Rowling makes in a couple of hours. One per-cent of some City bonuses. The cost of a decent family saloon. A new kitchen. A cruise. The deposit on a small flat. A wedding.
The sense of proportion is all fucked now, Tom thinks. It only means something really big if you haven’t got it when it’s owed. A large part of Mr Brewer’s is credit card debt. There’s also a bank loan. Plus some payments to a finance company. Plus a few store cards. The bank loan was obviously for the car (repossessed). Couldn’t be for house renovations or anything as he’s living in a rented flat. Assets? A TV and DVD player, a stereo, a laptop, a few bits of furniture. Combined value: about £500.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Mr Brewer had said, when Tom had first taken him into the interview room to check his papers. “But I’ve never been in debt like this before. I’ve always managed to live within my means. But the firm lost an important contract, and my job depended on it. I’ve found something else, but on less than half the salary. I just can’t keep up.”
Tom had looked at him. Eyes like piss-holes, full of misery.
“I’m not here to make judgements, Mr Brewer. We’ve all got our reasons.”
He’d seemed slightly reassured. Wait ‘til he gets down the road to the dog pit.
Not small. Not huge, either. Spare change in comparison to some of the the things Tom’s dealt with. Funny how those with comparitively small debts took it the hardest, seemed the most cut up and distraught, whereas those whose debts ran into six or (sometimes) seven figures seemed to be… difficult to know how to put it. Not exactly casual. More relaxed? Maybe it was just that the sense of relief was greater. Six or eight grand was an amount that didn’t seem too far away… perhaps just out of reach. The final lap, the finish line in sight, but your legs haven’t quite got it. Two paces forward, three back. A hundred grand, though? Half a million? You didn’t even make the starting blocks. Didn’t have legs in the first place. Probably so far out of reach as to become absurd. You could seriously worry about small debts. When they got massive, perhaps they were beyond worry. They were beyond anything rational at all. Tom had seen one couple bankrupted by their divorce. Ordinary people. Ordinary jobs. A claws-out, boots on, two-year bitch over an affair she’d had. Arguments in the end over things as daft as the division of the cutlery and the crocks. Knives to him, forks to her. A final bill of £58,000 – two-thirds of it in barristers’ fees. The equity on the house didn’t even cover half. Absolutely fucking crazy. Who came out of that well? What was up with these fucking people?
Tom finishes the order, prints it off, seals all copies, puts one in an envelope for the receiver, another in an envelope for Mr Brewer. He hands him the envelopes, along with a photocopied map of the town. Arrows pointing to the court and the receiver’s office. The shortest route between them marked with pink highlighter. A stretched-out ‘S’ a mile-and-a-half long. More like two arms from a swastika. He shakes Mr Brewer’s hand - a gesture that almost shocks the man, so unexpected is it.
“Thanks for being so helpful and understanding,” Mr Brewer says. A small light in the eyes for the first time.
“No problem. Take it easy, now.”
Then he’s gone. Tom rings down to the receiver’s office to let them know he’s on his way. Mr Brewer. Andrew John. Project Supervisor. An old young man with an ill-fitting suit – a navy blue handkerchief in the jacket pocket. A small flat to go back to. A TV and DVD. A stereo. A down-graded job. Ex-car owner. A man with a mark, now. A man with no money.
“What time did the debtor leave, Tom?”
Not even a name. Just another piece of unwelcome work.
“Just this minute. He shouldn’t be long. I gave him a map.”
“Hope you charged him for it.”
Fucking ha ha.
“I’ll leave that to you.”
He hangs up.
Everyone’s in. Everyone’s chattering, or on the phone. Petitions waiting. Files waiting. Stats waiting.
And here comes the post, too. Stacks.
He reaches for his mug.
His phone rings. He picks up.
“Good morning. Childbury Court Family Section.”
“Sorry, Tom... it’s me again. The bankrupt. What did you say his name was?”