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Debtor’s Prison (1982)

Debtor’s Prison (1982)

©1982, 2013 by Dallas Denny. Illustration ©1982 by Carla Schultheis. Front cover ©1982 by Al Ramirez

Source: Dallas Denny. (1982, October). Debtor’s Prison. Alternate Realities, 5, pp. 19-21.

This is one of several of my pieces published by the North-Carolina-based science fiction magazine Alternate Realities.



Alternate Realities Pages (PDF)


Debtor’s Prison

By Dallas Denny

They almost got him that time. The black Mercedes had swerved onto the sidewalk thirty yards in front of Hadley, mowing a swath through pedestrians and parking meters with its cowcatcher. It was the sound of impact that alerted Hadley and sent him scurrying into a doorway just in time to avoid being impaled on the hood ornament. Hadley, of course, did not see the lettering on the door of the sedan. Hadley was quite blind.

It was illegal, not to mention unethical, for a collection agency to try to run down a delinquent client on a busy street in broad daylight, but small agencies were every day opening in abandoned gas stations or in seedy office buildings, and it was difficult for the authorities to keep track of them. It was wise for a man to avoid the fly-by-night establishments and to do business only with the large companies. Hadley knew this, but was constantly in debt to two or three small businesses. Hadley had never been wise.

Hadley retrieved his cane and his shopping bag and hurried on his way before the limousines of the Better Business Bureau arrived to investigate. As he approached his apartment building, he could hear sirens in the distance.

There was a letter in Hadley’s mailbox. It was thoughtfully written in Braille. It read:

In case you’ve forgotten… your billing date is the fifth day of the month. Please mail your payment today in the handy enclosed envelope. If you payment has already been sent, thank you and please disregard this notice.


T. Gray

Credit Manager

Barney’s Collection Agency

Hadley crumpled the letter and the handy envelope and threw them on the ground.

Hadley’s wife had beaten him home by several minutes. She had come from the courthouse. “Fritz had his eye put out,” she announced. “But he got his balance decreased twenty percent because of what the judge called ‘unethical practices.’”

“That’s not a bad deal,” commented Hadley, settling into his favorite chair. “His fingers will heal. By the way—I was almost run down again. They were in a Mercedes.”

Hadley’s wife looked at him with her good eye. “How do you know it was a Mercedes?”

“It was a diesel. Barney’s men are the only one who drive Mercedes.”

There was a knock on the door. It was safe to open it because regular business hours were over. The Chamber of Commerce did not take kindly to clients getting worked over after hours. The collection agencies heeded this because not one of them could match the Chamber’s firepower.

There was a salesman at the door. He sold Hadley a seeing eye dog. Hadley had had a dog at one time, but it had been fed ground glass by the industrious employees of the Ace Collection Agency. The new dog was, of course, one of the more expensively-trained animals. And, of course, Hadley charged it. He used his left arm as collateral.


In bed that night, Hadley and his wife talked. “How did Fritz take it?”

“He wasn’t happy. He thought he should have gotten forty percent off. He doesn’t think he will ever be able to use his fingers again.”

“I meant, how did he take the loss of his eye?”

“He screamed and raved. He even called the judge names. She was just trying to do her job.”

“Some people will never grow up. I think losing this eye will teach him the value of the other. It takes a little mutilation to make a youngster like that really settle down.”

“I suppose so.” Hadley’s wife unbuckled her prosthetic leg and leaned it against the bedpost. “Good night,” she said.

The next morning, over eggs and toast, Hadley’s wife scanned the paper, but found only two or three bargains that would be worth checking into. The phone rang three times before it was time for Hadley to leave for work. The first time it was Barney’s Collection Agency. The third time, it was Fritz.

“I’m coming up. Hold on.”

Hadley had no intention of holding on. He grabbed his hat. As he was leaving, he asked his wife,” I wonder what he wants?”

“Probably to return your credit card,” she called after the slammed door.

Fritz must have called from the lobby. He stepped out of the elevator as Hadley was pressing the down button, his face gaunt from lack of sleep, a makeshift patch over his left eye socket, bandages on his hands.

“Recognize this?” he asked Hadley. “I’m sure you can guess what it is. I’ll give you a hint. It says on the back, ‘In case of loss or theft, card holder shall be responsible for any misuse prior to notification of the company, such liability not to exceed four appendages or one eye.’”

Hadley made a grab in the direction of Fritz’ voice.

“Oh, you can have it, Hadley. I’m quite through with it. But you can be sure I’ll pay for what I charged, just as you were so prompt in making payments on the note you convinced me to co-sign for you. The note that cost me my eye and two bunged-up hands.”

“How much,” croaked Hadley. “How much did you charge?”

“The limit,” said Fritz. “Both arms and both legs.” He strode back into the elevator and punched a button. Hadley stood there as the elevator door closed. He was still there when the door opened again and two of Barney’s hired thugs stepped out, brass knuckles at the ready. Regular business hours had begun.