#Author: excerpt from The Inheritance.


gentlemens-agreement-and-other-stories

“Tell me, how much money do you owe? And I don’t mean the mortgage.”
Campbell struggled to focus and find a smart reply but, failing to do so, he shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows? Who cares? Anyway I’ll be selling up as soon as I can so then I won’t owe a penny.”
The end of the sentence was subdued, not triumphant, as if he doubted his own words.
“Then I’ll go away and relax in the sun for a while.”
But the expression on his face remained the same and I guessed that images of shimmering blue seas and golden sands failed to change his mood and his mind stayed in a darker world, as though he was trying to disentangle himself from a web of financial deals.
I tried to catch him unawares. “Who’s Huan?”
He started, but kept his lips firmly pressed together.
I leant against the living room wall opposite him with my hands in my trouser pockets. “Let me guess, John. You’ve been doing business with the Chinese but they’ve outsmarted you, haven’t they?”
I saw him clench his jaw, but his eyes became guarded and he remained silent. Was it because he was uncertain how much I knew, or was he afraid?
“How is Jenny involved?”
“Jenny?” Campbell smiled. “She’s not involved. We just had some fun times together. A
bit like me and Rosemary used to have before she became fat and boring and judgemental.” He scowled bitterly. “I only wish I hadn’t hurt Mum.”
Campbell’s gaze fell to the floor and he was silent.
I tried goading him into telling me more. “You’re keeping the shop, then.”
Campbell’s greasy fringe had fallen forward and he peered at me from under it. “We have been busy, haven’t we?”
I raised my voice and said, “What will you do?”
“I don’t know!” shouted Campbell. “My God! You’re as bad as her; nag, nag, nag.”
There was an uncomfortable silence as he tried to regain his composure.
“I don’t know,” he repeated more calmly. “I have some business to see to and then I’m leaving the city. I need a change, a breath of fresh air.”
I pressed him further. “Who do you owe money to? This ‘business’ isn’t quite above board is it? There are people after you and they were here last night. Nothing you have can cover your debts.”
“Get out,” shouted Campbell. “Get out of my house. Get out!”
I stood up. “I’m going, but I’ll be back; either to speak to you or to look at your dead body.” I went out of the living room and, pausing at the front door, I called back to him.
“If I were you I’d clean the house and have a wash. Your mother might come round.”

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About S.A. Aslam

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