Monday, January 26, 2004

Filthy Lucre

Part I of Drunken Banker Week

William had his two chosen files ready well before Mr Pinch returned from lunch. At two o'clock, an air of nervous anticipation began to build in the Credit Branch. All the staff were looking at the frosted glass of the outer office door. There was a lot of fidgeting with pens, very little writing with them. William watched his telephone anxiously.

It rang at a quarter past two.

"It's Sam 'ere, from the Raglan. Mr Ackroyd was wondering about the overdraft like."

"I'm afraid I can only discuss that with Mr Ackroyd. Can he come to the telephone?"

"No," said Sam and went on with peculiar emphasis, "He's just stepped out like. Not more than an minute ago."

"Very well. Tell Mr Ackroyd I shall call him later."

In a few minutes, Mr Pinch arrived back from lunch. The ground glass outer office door was flung open so that it struck the wall and shook the glass. Mr Pinch tottered forward like a man walking into a heavy wind. He pulled himself into an upright posture. He reminded William a little of a guardsman on parade but much more of one of his disreputable uncles, who was rumoured to have general paralysis of the insane. Flouting office custom, William picked up his two files and approached Mr Pinch.

"Mr Pinch," he said, "I need to speak to you about these loans. One of them is for Mr Ackroyd of the Lord Raglan Arms." The other clerks glared at him; this was not the done thing. One did not talk to Mr Ackroyd in the afternoons until he had reached the sanctuary of his own office.

"Bit ... out of the ordinary isn't it Mr Cathcart? Can't it wait till I get myself settled?"

"Shall I come to your office, sir?" asked William.

Mr Pinch glared at his tormentor. "In my office then!" he snapped, struggling to hold his syphilitic posture while at the same time looking William over. "Got the files with you too I see."

Muttering something about "damned impertinence" Mr Pinch finished his walk to the office, with William following. The short cavalcade made a very uneven progress; Mr Pinch was clearly putting a lot of effort into walking a straight line and often halted to take new bearings on the door of his inner office. William walked slowly a good few steps behind, pulling up sharply whenever Mr Pinch did. He gave Mr Pinch plenty of time to clear the inner office door before he ventured inside Mr Pinch's office himself. Mr Pinch was still making his way hand over hand along the edge of his desk towards his chair as William closed the door behind them.

"Now what is the matter um," Mr Pinch searched his memory "Mister Cathcart. What is it?"

"Delinquent debts, Mr Pinch." answered William "Lord Clapper is in default on his mortgage by two months and Mr Ackroyd of the Lord Raglan Arms Hotel has a significant sum outstanding on his overdraft."

"Lord Clapper?" asked Mr Pinch, a little bewildered. "Doesn't he pay us by cheque once a month? Oh, 'scuse me."

"The last two cheques were dishonoured," answered William "Coutts wrote me a letter." he took the letter out of Lord Clapper's file and leaned forward to put it on the blotter in front of Mr Pinch. Mr Pinch too leaned forward in anticipation of reading it. William quickly realised his mistake and pulled the letter back.

"Perhaps I should just tell you the main points," said William. Mr Pinch nodded his assent. it was a long nod; his chin fell to his chest, rested there, then his face came sharply up again, his eyes blinking.

"Yes, main points, absolutely."

"Lord Clapper no longer has an account with Coutt's," said William, "Nor does he have an account with Barings who dishonoured February's cheque. I have a letter from them too." This he wisely left in Lord Clapper's file.

Mr Pinch swayed backwards in his chair and fixed William with a look that might have conveyed an air of judicious consideration at ten o'clock that morning. No such effect remained possible after Mr Pinch's lunch.

"No need to go jumping to conclusions Cathcart. Very sound, Lord Clapper. Friend of the Chairman's. Old duffer's probably just forgotten where he put his new cheque book. Whole thing will be sorted out as soon as he finds it - if he doesn't die first, of course. Then we can take it out of his estate."

"I believe Lord Clapper is only forty-two." said William, who was skeptical about Lord Clapper dying with any estate from which the bank could recover its money.

"What you believe, Cathcart, is of no account." Mr Pinch said peevishly "It won't help your advancement if you keep contradicting your superiors on matters of fact with things you only believe. Now what about this Ackroyd fellow? And hurry it up, I am a busy man you know, I haven't got all day to waste on this nonsense."

This burst of eloquence had strained Mr Pinch considerably; he started to sway in his chair. To William's dismay, he swayed forward a lot more than he did to either side, or to the back.

"Owns the Lord Raglan Arms. Overdrawn 60 pounds. Offered us 10 pounds an month over the next six months. Says its just temporary, mainly due to unpaid bar debts, wants time to trade out of it." William summarised. He threw in the news he thought would secure the result in the case of Mr Ackroyd. "He says he has some long outstanding bar debts that would cover the amount once repaid. he has asked us to carry him until then."

Mr Pinch jerked himself upright with an heroic effort.

"S'pose he says he'll go under if we won't carry him on the slate for a bit longer, eh?" he said, with a hint of malice. "Won't be able to pay the brewery and such?"

"Probably not." agreed William.

"Not our problem, Mr Cathcart, our responsibility is to the bank and its shareholders. Man can't run his business properly, no business, can't tell the difference between idlers and spongers who can't pay their way and upright respectable people who're good for a small loan occasionally," Mr Pinch jerked upright again and asked "Is that all Mr Cathcart?"

"Yes Mr Pinch," William took a pink form out of one of his files and placed it on the blotter. " I will need your signature on this. For the Ackroyd matter." Helpfully he pointed to the bottom of the form where Mr Pinch was to sign.

Mr Pinch took his pen from beside the blotter and signed the form. He was leaning forward again, this time too far to recover his upright position. As soon as William took the form away, his head fell to the desk and Mr Pinch began to snore. William gently prised the pen from his fingers and put the cap back on it. He left the office.

Once outside, he made the customary anouncement: "Mr Pinch does not wish to be disturbed for the rest of the day." At once, Mr Greenspan cleared the document tray which also served as the playing board for the office's ongoing shove-ha'penny championship. The next match in this gargantuan tournament was soon underway.

William returned to his desk to and pinned the pink paper back into Lord Clapper's file, on top of the various statements and letters recording Lord Clapper's continuing defaults. The bankrupting of such a prominent peer would do much for William's advancement. That this might be to the detriment of Mr Pinch - a friend of the Chairman's could not be bankrupted without harsh consequences for someone - did not concern him at all. After all, his first responsibility was to the bank and its stockholders. In his pleasure at the prospect of the coming days, he quite forgot to telephone the Lord Raglan Arms and Mr Ackroyd remained on tenterhooks about his overdraft for the rest of the week.

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