The Debt Collector by Jane Risdon
About a year had passed since the incident in the Star Bar. Mike and I had all but forgotten it in the whirlwind of our continuing success and expanding Artiste Management business, when I received the phone call. We were sitting in my office listening to a demo recording of a new band from Sheffield. Mike was standing by the window reading their biography and press cuttings when the phone rang.
I turned the music down and picked up the receiver. “David Hackett,” I said, dragging on my cigar, leaning back in my new ergonomically designed leather chair.
“You remember me?” said a muffled voice in my ear.
“What?” I read the CD cover, flipping to the lyric section.
“If I said Frank Ryan, would that help?” The voice continued barely audible.
It helped. My chair shot upright and Mike jumped at the sudden movement beside him.
“Frank Ryan?” I stared at Mike wide-eyed. “What about Frank Ryan?”
“I said I’d find him didn’t I.” The voice was being drowned out by a lot of yelling in the
“Who is this?” I asked shakily, but I knew. I mouthed to Mike to pick up the extension.
Memories of that September evening a year ago came flooding back…
Helter Skelter came off stage as the laser light show began and the heavy deafening thud of Disco and a chest shaking bass took over from their West Coast Rock. Dancers began to move on to the floor where just a few minutes before their fans had been head banging to the melodic riffs of the lead guitar. Heading for the Star Bar for free booze and a good look at the groupies, was all they could think of as they pushed their way through the sweating, drunken crowd, casting odd looking kaleidoscope shapes around them. Now and again one of the waitresses would bump into them, trays of champagne held high over their heads, breasts jiggling in their tight little bunny-girl outfits, legs right up to their gorgeous armpits.
“Shame they are all he-shes,” shouted Baz from the rear as they ogled one of the girls bending over a crowded booth of blokes out on the pull.
The rest of the band laughed as they entered the crowded Star Bar in the ‘Greatest Nightclub in the World‘ – according to the Press – noticing the liggers and wanna-bes standing round trying to work out who to latch onto next to further their journalism or musical careers. The atmosphere was thick with sweet smelling smoke; a concoction of perfumes, weed, after-shave, raw ambition and need.
The Music Press crowded round them as they entered, anxious for a comment or sound-bite for their next editions. A&R (Artiste and Repertoire) guys sat along the wall, affecting disinterest – let the band come to them – whilst surreptitiously checking out the competition.
Sitting in a dark corner, nursing champagne and an undertaker’s face, a little figure in a black suit watched the room, his eyes moving back and forth behind thick lensed glasses. Beside him sat a huge woman, also dressed in black, with short, tightly curled white hair.
She clung to her champagne, taking huge gulps, always holding her glass out for a refill whenever a waitress appeared, that’s when I first really took notice of them.
Mike and I were feigning interest in a very drunk Rock journalist who swayed to and fro spilling his Stella, as his face kept thrusting into ours, when I saw the little man stand and make his way over to us. He tapped the journalist on the shoulder and gave him the sign for ‘leg it Chum’. Chum legged it.
“Where’s the manager?” he shouted, his head tilted so he could get eye contact with me.
“Which one, band or club?” I yelled back bending down to the little man. Not since he knew we were looking for him and our money.” Mike replied “Guess we’re not the only ones he owes.”
“Not since he knew we were looking for him and our money.” Mike replied “Guess we’re not the only ones he owes.”
“Now!” he commanded, “you’re running this, so find him.” As we moved to turn away the little man opened his jacket revealing a large object which was lodged inside. Mike and I gaped open-mouthed at the sight of the metal glinting in the reflected laser lights. Bloody hell. Message received.
“Got some unfinished business with him, so get him fast.”
“Relax mate, don’t want any trouble,” said Mike glancing round anxiously. “He’s meant to be here. Haven’t clocked him all night: done a runner has he?”
“Don’t know mate, he didn’t hand over the pre-sold ticket money this evening, before the gig, and I’d like to know where he is as well.” I told him. We were both stressed out of our minds, if the money wasn’t handed over by the time the club closed we were for the high jump with Club’s owner who was known to have ways of dealing with those who didn’t play by the rules.
The little man signalled to the woman to join him. She waddled over. “Done a runner again Mabel: you get the car, we’re going hunting.”
He turned to me, “you got a business card?” He held his hand out.
I handed him my card. Mike looked worried.
“Give you a ring when I’ve found the bastard, no point asking his band for the money. Bands are always broke.”
The odd couple turned, lasers dancing off their backs as they disappeared into the dancing crowd.
“What the hell was that all about?” Mike raised his eyebrows.
“Glad I’m not in his shoes, that bastard had a gun.” I said, still shocked, but not enough to call the cops or make a thing about it. Frank Ryan had let us down before. The money was gone, so was he. The little man wouldn’t have better luck than we had, I was sure.
The band wasn’t surprised when we explained what had happened and that the club couldn’t pay them for the gig because their manager had done a runner with all the ticket money. As it was, Mike and I were going to have to find the money from somewhere, or else we would be floating down the Thames in concrete boots. Typically the band threw a hissy-fit for all of ten minutes and then shrugged it off. After-all they didn’t have London mobsters after them. That was Frank’s problem.
Following a search of the club it was clear Frank Ryan was long gone, and we had to accept that we were going to carry the can again for the thieving arsehole. There was nothing we could do. If we wanted to carry on working at the club we had to find the money ourselves and bite the bullet. And we needed the club badly.
Eventually – after a lot of pressure, believe it or not, from their families – Helter Skelter promised us that when they got their advance from the record deal, just provisionally offered by EMI, they would try and repay us for all our support and opportunities we had given them. Mike and I thanked them. I thought there was about as much chance of that as the head waitress being a woman.
We left the club at 6am and drove wearily out of the China Town multi-storey, heading back home. It was still quite dark and the headlights just picked out a figure rushing down the road in the rain, head bent, not worrying about the puddles collecting on the path.
Pulling alongside the man, Mike lowered the window and shouted to him.
“Hey, Frank, you arsehole, you owe us,” and I pulled over.
“I’ll get it mate, I swear, you gotta believe me, I will, I will,” and Frank legged it down a narrow alleyway before Mike could open his door to grab him.
“Let the bugger go,” I shouted. “I’ve been thinking and I reckon that arsehole from the Star Bar will find him for us. He looked like a pro to me.”
In desperation we had to take loans to cover the missing ticket money much to our wives’ disapproval and following a several heated meetings with the club’s management, when the future of our business and our Rock nights hung in the balance. Eventually we managed to smooth things over, the money helping enormously. The future for now was going to be fine.
Our Rock nights went on to prove a huge success in aiding new talent reach the Record companies and the Music press. Our futures were secure. Having learned a hard lesson from Frank Ryan, we ensured we got money up front from managers wanting to showcase at the club in future, or there wasn’t going to be a show.
Helter Skelter got their record deal, not with EMI but with BMG, and were soon selling millions of albums. Amnesia set in when it came to their promises of repaying us what they – and Frank owed us, so we thought, as time passed. But that’s bands for you. We weren’t holding our breath any longer.
And then one morning, out of the blue, I received a phone call from the band’s new manager, Kevin Smith, telling me that the band wanted to repay the money their manager had absconded with. Mike and I could hardly contain our delight when we agreed to accept it. A band, acting honourably was something of a first.
Life was sweet.
Then I got the call. Mike listened silently on the extension, his heart thudding; watching me.
“I found him for you,” the voice said as someone began to scream.
“Now, we are having a bit of fun here in the Falls Road, and Frank is joining in and wanted me to say hello to you.” More screams filled our ears.
“Seems he cannot return your money.” We could hear a pleading voice. “Seems it’s all gone.”
“What we propose is this: one knee for you and one for the band, and then I shall be taking the rest of him for all of us.” The little man seemed to smile down the phone as what sounded like three shots rang out.
Before either of us could speak the voice said, “Debt paid in full.” He laughed.
“I always keep my word and I always collect my debts.” Then he hung up.