Stockton Teacher Wins National Short Story Competition

Stockton teacher pictured with his winning short story

Stockton-on-Tees Teacher, Mark Cowan has won a national short story competition that warns readers of the dangers of getting involved with a loan shark.

Mark’s story “The Loan Ranger” is one of seven winning entries in the Stop Loan Sharks Short Story Competition, run by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT).

It has been released as part of the Stop Loan Sharks Week campaign, #SharkFreeSurfing, urging people to avoid online loan sharks and get advice and support if they have fallen victim to illegal money lending.

“The Loan Ranger” is about a father’s experience of being involved with an illegal money lender.

Mark said: “I entered the competition because I hoped to bring some attention to the ways in which vulnerable people are often exploited by unscrupulous loan sharks.

“There was a range of different angles I could have taken on this, but in the story, I decided to focus on a father and his son. The father Samuel is desperate to buy his son Daniel a mobile phone. This stretches his finances to the hilt and he is forced to take more desperate measures to manage his money. I hope that the story is entertaining, but most importantly, thought-provoking”’

Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said: “We would like to congratulate Mark Cowan for his winning entry for the Stop Loan Sharks Short Story Competition.

“Loan sharks are unregulated, often give cash loans without any paperwork and charge extortionate interest rates. They may offer what appears to be a quick-fix small loan, but in the long term, any money borrowed will come at a very high price and may lead to violence, threats and intimidation.

“We would urge anyone who is suffering at the hands of unscrupulous money lenders, or anyone who has concerns that a friend or loved one may be in danger, to contact us. Our officers and a range of support agencies are here to help, you are not alone.

A loan shark is someone who lends money without the correct permission from the Financial Conduct Authority. They rarely give paperwork, can often charge extreme amounts of interest and may intimidate or threaten people if they can’t repay.

The Loan Ranger

Written by Mark Cowan

“But all my friends have got one. Can’t I have one Dad? Please?”

It was the look that Daniel Jimoh had given his Father that made his request so difficult to refuse; that imploring, beseeching look. Samuel Jimoh imagined his son frantically, ecstatically ripping away the wrapping paper that encased the new, shiny mobile phone on the morning of his Birthday. It was not difficult for Samuel to conjure the image of his son’s delighted face. He knew that the cost of these new gadgets was steep. But he had promised. He had given his word. Perhaps some extra shifts at the factory would cover the costs. It was six weeks until Daniel’s Birthday, so there was still time to save up. He could do it. He had to do this for his son. After securing extra hours, Samuel could just about pay for it.

But life has a cruel habit of dashing plans, however well intentioned. Three weeks before Daniel’s Birthday, the central heating, temperamental for weeks, was completely broken. The damage, both to the heating and Samuel’s wallet, was extensive. But it was not an insurmountable problem. Samuel did what he always did for his son. He picked up two more extra shifts. As tired as he was, Samuel was just about in control. But his fatigue clearly had a hand in his own carelessness which saw him caught twice – and fined extensively – for speeding through a town centre. He had no idea how he would pay for these new, unexpected costs.

These thoughts swirled around Samuel’s head as he walked into the Buck Inn pub. He stared into his pint for a long time, perhaps hoping an answer lay in the smooth amber glow of the liquid.

“You’re deep in thought,” said a gravelly voice from the other end of the bar. “You look like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.”

Samuel recognised the man. He was in his seventies, his metallic grey hair swept back from his face and a walking stick by his side. He was a regular in here and a friend of Bobby Martin. He sidled along the bar, placing his pint next to Samuel’s.

“The name’s Jed,” said the man. “You look like you could do with another pint.”

He ordered two beers from the bar, despite Samuel’s protestations. An hour later, they were still sitting there. They had discussed family, football, the factory (where Jed had also coincidentally worked) and finances. Jed was a good listener. The conversation and beer had done nothing for Samuel’s wallet, which was now even lighter, but they had lifted his spirits. He shook Jed by the hand and both men agreed to do this again. Samuel was turning to leave when he felt a hand upon his shoulder. 

“Here,” said Jed, thrusting a bundle of notes into Samuel’s jacket pocket. “This should sort out those speeding fines.”

Ten crisp twenty pound notes had been bundled together.

“I can’t take this,” said Samuel, shaking his head. “It’s incredibly good of you to…”

“It’s not good of me. It’s just a loan,” replied Jed. “Pay me back in a few weeks, when you can. Let’s meet two weeks from now – same place. I don’t need the money any sooner than that.”

Discomfited and grateful in equal measure, Samuel walked home, relieved that at least in the short-term, his money worries had been temporarily resolved.

Two weeks later, Samuel walked into the Buck Inn, two hundred pounds nestled in his right palm. He was proud that he could settle this debt. There was no need for any more expensive outlays until Christmas, which was still three months away.

Jed methodically counted out the money that had been passed to him, note by note. He stopped at the last note and shot a quizzical look in Samuel’s direction. “Two hundred?” he asked, his forehead crumpled into a scowl.

“That’s what you lent me. It was two hundred pounds.”

“I know that,” said Jed impatiently, as though addressing a small child. “But I’m guessing you’ve heard of interest, Samuel? I was expecting three hundred. Are you keeping the other hundred to one side, hoping I won’t ask for it?”

This was so sudden and so unexpected that Samuel was completely disarmed.

“I didn’t realise,” he spluttered. “I thought that I would…”

“Thought what?” interrupted Jed. “That you’d take advantage of an old man?”

“No! I’d misunderstood. You’ve got the two hundred there. Let’s agree that I’ll bring the other hundred this time next week. Then we can call it quits.”

“Fine,” said Jed sharply, turning his back. “Next week it is.”

Samuel felt conned and duped as he left the bar. But Jed was old and probably needed the money. Once the debt was paid the following week, he would avoid him and not come in here again.

When Samuel walked into the Buck Inn the following week, the atmosphere was different. Jed was flanked on either side by two large men, who he introduced as his sons. Extra shifts had been hard to come by for Samuel. He had an extra fifty pounds for Jed, which he reasoned would be enough. But this was not the case.

“Fifty pounds? But we agreed one hundred. You’re not being very appreciative, Samuel. Is he boys?”

The two men shook their heads. “It will need to be one hundred more next week,” said Jed. “Unless you need Mr. Nastese to know how you are treating his friends.”

Samuel gulped. Mr Nastese was his boss. He didn’t need him to know about this. Samuel didn’t have a fixed contract and could be released from his job at the drop of a hat.

The next week was challenging. Samuel was ill with food poisoning and there was no prospect of earning this extra money. He decided to stay away from the pub. Perhaps they would forget about it and leave him alone.

When the doorbell sounded repeatedly at ten o’clock that evening, Samuel had no intention of answering it. At the sound of splintering wood, he concluded that he had little choice.

“You’re running up some serious costs, Samuel,” announced Jed, again flanked by his sons. “What we’ll do is take your car. Once you’ve paid off the money next week, you can have the car back. Then maybe you can get your door fixed,” he added, pointing at the hole that had been created.

As Samuel opened his mouth to protest, a gloved hand reached upwards and held him by the throat. It took no further persuasion for the keys to be handed over.

A week later, Samuel had still not secured the money. He concluded that there was only one thing for it. He walked upstairs and opened the door to his son’s bedroom.

“Daniel, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take your mobile phone,” announced Samuel, lifting it from his bedside table.

“But that was your present to me!” exclaimed Daniel. “You promised me!”

Samuel Jimoh, with the phone in his right palm, walked out of the house and onto the street. These problems had all begun with a mobile phone and this was where it needed to end. He punched a telephone number into Daniel’s mobile phone. He connected to the organisation that dealt with loan sharks. Jed and his sons were preying on the vulnerable. They were violent, threatening, illegal moneylenders and they had to be stopped.

To report a loan shark, call the 24 hour helpline on 0300 555 2222, email the team at reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk or visit www.stoploansharks.co.uk. Live chat is available on the website 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.