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The Grifter


September 25, 2017

My middle brother used to have a friend called Colin. I knew him as a teenager. He was an odd, furtive boy who walked like a toddler learning to walk. Instead of heel first, Colin walked on his toes in a jerky, stretching of the Achilles way. He had curly hair and looked like a younger, less-attractive Colm Meaney.

Colin started his working life as a bricklayer, working his way up to property development through cunning and skulduggery. Anyone who had anything to do with Colin in a professional way quickly learned to detest him. He lied, reneged on promises and tried very hard not to pay bills.

About twenty years ago, Colin built a large, showy house in Whangamata, a beautiful seaside town in New Zealand. Colin didn’t actually build the thing himself. He got other people to do it, all of whom would later have to pursue him for payment. One of these was my brother Bruce. After the job was completed, Colin became elusive. He didn’t answer calls and was never available. On one of his many visits to the house, Bruce managed to catch him upstairs discussing bathroom interiors with a saleswoman.

‘Are you going to pay me?’ Bruce asked.

Colin looked horrified and told my brother to wait downstairs. After the saleswoman left, he went down to see my brother.

‘Don’t speak to me like that in front of people ever again!’ he said. Colin was outraged. Who did my brother think he was, marching in like that and demanding money?

Bruce waited for him to finish before replying, ‘If you don’t pay me, I’ll bash you.’

Colin had small, unattractive teeth but he must have been quite attached to them. He promptly stopped arguing and took out his chequebook.

The next time they crossed paths was in a drinking club where Colin was hobnobbing with some local business types. Bruce walked up to him, smiling in a friendly way. He greeted him with a hearty ‘Hello Colin’ before pinching his ear between his thumb and forefinger and twisting it all the way around like the timer dial on a toaster before continuing to the bar to buy a beer.

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