IN A RATHER ill-favoured and ill-savoured neighbourhood, Reg Smallmind runs his business from his office above the betting-shop. The sign on his door informs his customers that he offers payday loans of up to £1000 at "competitive rates" and points those unlucky enough to visit whilst he is out to his website, www.spondulicks4u.co.uk, where a few clicks will secure them the cash they need to achieve lasting happiness.
Of course, for some unfortunates lasting happiness will cost rather more than £1000. Reg, however, will cater for them too, although he is less eager to publicise this side of his business. It would be somewhat of an exaggeration to describe as "competitive" the interest rates that these unfortunates must pay, and somewhat of an unpleasantness to describe what Reg or his underlings might do to them if they don't.
Reg is, however, a reasonable man. Before he takes enforcement measures against those foolish enough not to keep up with their repayments, he will always pay them a visit, to see if a little mild persuasion might make them see the error of their ways.
Today he is making such a visit; the debtor in question being one Matt O'Gridley.
* * *
Reg does not like to be called a 'loan shark', but that is one of the descriptions of him used by Inspector Gormless, others including 'extortionist', 'blackmailer' and 'thief'.
Inspector Gormless and Reg Smallmind have crossed paths on many occasions, usually in the custody suite or at the entrance to the local magistrates' court. These days, the Inspector has his men follow Reg and his underlings as a matter of routine.
So it is that today DCs Razor and Sharp have followed Reg to Bellend House. Having previously seen Reg's underlings snooping around the same location, quick as a flash they come to the conclusion that 'something must be going on' there.
Accordingly, they report back to Inspector Gormless, who responds like any good police officer by having a surveillance camera set up outside Bellend House.
* * *
Three days later Inspector Gormless is viewing the first surveillance tape from the camera.
"Hello, hello." He says, resisting the temptation to repeat the word a third time. "Who have we got here?"
Who we have got is Matt O'Gridley, caught on the camera leaving Bellend House. He is clutching a plastic bag full of papers, and appears to have a recently-acquired black eye.