The Debt Collector
A Tale of Pleasure and Deceit
I wrote his name in my little black notebook after our first encounter. James Sturgeon. Like the fish. The final name in my list of victims. Names I could call upon at a moment’s notice when I found myself in need, so to speak, which was more often than I cared to admit.
Fine upstanding citizens they were. From pastors to politicians. They walked through my door in the dead of night looking to ease their familial and social burdens through reckless pleasure. And if pleasure were a country, then I was the queen.
James Sturgeon was no different. A baron of industry with an old society matron for a wife. Neither party bred to enjoy the more carnal desires of the flesh. I didn’t either, but I was better at pretending. So good at moaning, that he and every man who laid in my bed chamber thought they were gods.
I watched James hustle down the street from the large bay window of the parlour. His white breath escaping from slightly parted lips, bullish hands shoved in cashmere coat pockets. The light from the gas lamps cast a shadowy glow on the sidewalk. Perfect for hiding faces. For hiding secrets.
He knocked upon arrival. I opened the front door to a man who looked like Cinderella run from the ball. Top hat and coat buttons askew. He stood perfectly still. His patrician upbringing apparent in his arrow straight posture and upturned nose.
I played with the clasp of my diamond bracelet, pretending as though he’d bothered me in the middle of undressing. As though I hadn’t spent all night expecting his arrival.
“Would you like to come in?” I asked, my long, heavy gown swished like an extension of my limbs as I moved aside to let him pass.
He studied me. His gaze taking in the sheen of my sapphire satin skirt and bodice, the blue flowered stomacher, the single diamond that hung in the hollow of my neck on a delicate gold chain. He entered over the threshold after a moment or two of contemplation.
I gestured toward a red velvet chair in the sitting room. He threw his coat on the elaborate wooden arm carved at the end to look like peacock feathers.
“Would you like a drink, James?” I poured us both a snifter of brandy before he could answer.
I handed him his glass, which he took from me and placed on the dark wood coffee table in front of him.
“What are you doing, Marie?” he asked, his tone a warning.
I sat across from him, crossed my legs daintily beneath my skirts and petticoats, took a sip of brandy.
“I don’t know what you are alluding to, my dear James.” I wanted to play with him. A cat with a fly, batting him between my paws before I pulled off his wings.
He clenched his teeth. “Don’t play coy! Tonight! At the cottage! At my cottage! What were you doing there?”
I tapped my forefinger against my crimson lips in mock speculation.
“Oh, right!” I said, “I thought I saw you! Very dashing dancer, you are.”
His cheeks colored with fresh anger. “Who invited you?”
I put down my glass on a small wooden end table. Pretended to inspect my fingernails.
“Actually, your wife. Very kind woman. I met her at a luncheon this past week.” I smirked. “She was delighted to extend the invitation seeing as she was such good friends with my mother.”
He got up from his seat in a fury, pointing his finger at me like a dagger.
“Stay away from my wife,” he spat.
His rage intensified my own delight. My smirk stretched itself into a smile that I filled full of contemptable sweetness.
“Oh, love, I don’t think I’ll be able to do that,” I said, “She is exactly the kind of friend a girl like me needs. The queen of the social set. Her guidance is the key to everything.”
“I’ll tell her what you are!” he shouted.
I picked a small string off the lap of my dress and laid it next to my glass.
“And I’ll tell her what you are,” I said.
I turned my gaze back to him looking as far deep into his soul as my own soul could carry me. Threatening him to push back. Knowing he had no recourse. Our secrets safely wrapped up in each other.
I followed his eyes to the pen knife on my desk. The metal edge glinted in the lamp light.
“You could kill me. But where would that get you? Prison? Branded a murderer? Surely, you don’t want that, my dear,” I said.
He began to pace along the threadbare Persian rug. An heirloom from my former life before my parents died and left me and my sister, Emma, penniless. Left me to use my feminine wiles to make some semblance of a life for us.
The fire crackled in the hearth while the wind whipped and howled against the windowpanes. The heavy velvet curtains drawn against winter’s anger.
“How much will your silence cost, Marie?” He stood still. His arms folded across his tuxedoed chest.
I ran through numbers in my mind. What it would take to pay back the last of my father’s debts and still have some leftover. Enough of a foundation for Emma and me to start fresh.
“Twenty thousand dollars,” I said.
He balked. “Are you mad, woman?”
I shrugged. “Keep in mind, James, our extra marital trysts aren’t your only scandal. I’ve become quite cozy with Sir Edmund Price. A shame what you confessed to have done with his investments, and yet he thinks the world of you.”
His face paled. Eyes wide. Mouth slightly agape.
“You’ll ruin me.” His voice a terrified whisper.
“Then it appears that twenty thousand dollars is such a small sum in comparison to what you have to lose. Don’t you agree?”
He stroked his brown beard between his thumb and forefinger as he considered the worth of his secrets.
I took another sip of bourbon. Liquid confidence to wash away the fear that threatened to creep into my stomach, my chest, my fingers. My body buzzed with each passing second of silence. Hoping that I had played him for the terrified fool I knew him to be.
“I’ll wire you the money tomorrow,” he said. He put on his coat and top hat. Exited the house in two long strides. The door slammed behind him and shook the dark wooden walls.
I let out a long breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. I’d have to be careful with what I told Emma about how we came into the money. How I was able to free us. But I had been careful so far. One more lie wouldn’t hurt, if it meant twenty thousand dollars and the promise of a brand-new life.
About the Creator
I am an educational content writer, cat lover, and Ina Garten enthusiast. My creative non fiction essays have been published on Thought Catalog and Mogul. I am also a novelist and flash fiction writer.
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