In the winter of 1990, I was working in real estate in London with my business partner, Steve Collins. One of our clients, a wealthy Indian named Jamal, entrusted us with the sale of nine houses in Hampstead, and over a few weeks we put a lot of effort into showing the properties. Eventually we sold the houses and after the transaction was complete we went to see Jamal in his office to arrange for our commission payment. Times were very hard for us then, and to say that we really needed the money would be a huge understatement. We sat in front of Jamal’s desk and waited impatiently for him to arrive. He owed us the equivalent of about US$60,000 and all our problems were solved.
Eventually Jamal arrived, resplendent in silk suit and tie, and took his position in the huge chair behind his desk. We smiled at him, expecting him to pour praise upon us for selling his houses so quickly in very unfavourable economic conditions, but his opening words stunned us. “I’m not going to waste your time gentlemen,” he said. “I’m not going to pay you.”
Steve and I looked at each other. “Why not?” Steve asked when he had recovered sufficiently from the shock.
“Because I don’t have to,” he said.
We looked at each other again. “But we have a contract…” I stuttered.
Jamal smiled smugly. “I know all about the contract. Get yourselves a good lawyer and sue me if you can afford it.”
Next thing I knew we were on the street outside in the freezing cold, without even enough money for a cab fare home. Many and varied expletives escaped our lips as we came to terms with what had just happened. We looked at Jamal’s Bentley parked across the street. I wanted to smash the windows and set fire to it but Steve calmed me down. “You’ll just get yourself arrested. Let’s make him pay some other way,” he said grimly, and produced a handful of letters from inside his jacket. “We know where he lives.” I grabbed the letters and looked at them. Somehow, at some point during our ejection from Jamal’s office, Steve had found the time and the presence of mind to grab the pile of letters that had been sitting on his desk. “We’ll have the last laugh,” he said. “I don’t know how, but we’ll get him in the end.” I took some solace in the thought of revenge as we bowed our heads into the howling wind and started the long cold walk to the tube station.
As a result of Jamal’s refusal to pay us, we were forced to leave our nice four bedroom rented house in Uxbridge in North London and prise the boards off the windows of Steve’s previously repossessed two bedroom townhouse in the East End. We moved in and officially became squatters, with no electricity, no gas, no phone and no hope. We had sold our cars many months before to buy food and pay bills and now we were stuck in a damp and neglected house, wrapped in blankets against the fierce cold and eating nothing but baked beans on toast cooked on a borrowed camping stove outside the back door.
One day we woke up about midday and Steve, the genius, had perfected a plan for revenge while he slept. Using the letters he had taken on impulse from Jamal’s desk as proof of ID, we would get all the utilities – electricity, gas, phone – switched on in his name and rack up some enormous bills for him until everything finally got cut off. It wouldn’t get us any of the money we were owed, but at least we would know that his cheating us had cost him a considerable amount of money, plus we would have a warm place to stay until we got back on our feet.
Everything went smoothly, and a few days later we had every light in the house on round the clock, an electric bar fire on full blast in the living room, the central heating on max, every burner on the gas stove burning brightly, plus gas oven on full and oven door open. It was like a sauna in that house for weeks. As planned, everything eventually got cut off for non-payment, and as the final coup de gras, every night for a week before we left the house we called gay sex chat lines in the US and left the phone of the hook all night. I don’t know if we cost him anywhere near US$60,000, but I bet it was close. I wish I could tell you I hope the ‘gay’ thing didn’t cost him his marriage, but I can’t. It’s Karma baby, and he deserved everything he got. He nearly cost us everything.