By Tyler Clark
Redeeming a loan with a human life as collateral may not be so straightforward as repossessing a home or hastily-purchased jet ski, but the finance industry has more than enough creativity and talent at its disposal to find a legal means of dealing with the problem. Prison and hard labor were the rule for a while, but when our impulsivity and greed finally caught up with our talent for moving numbers around on paper, there weren’t enough cells to house everyone who defaulted on their loans. Lenders and law enforcement had never seen anything like it, so they dealt with the high delinquency rates using the bluntest of all financial instruments: “liquidation of physiological assets.”
On the day the life mortgage bubble burst, every telephone pole in the country became a cross holding up the battered, moaning bodies of the foreclosed. The obesity crisis disappeared overnight as the fat of the debtors sizzled and popped over a thousand hastily kindled tire fires. The rats gathered to nibble the toes of the crucified, getting fatter with each morsel of barista or orthodontist that fell their way. In a world now crammed with delicious rodents too hefty to run, it was a good day to be a cat.
One fat cat of the financial variety sat opposite from Bob and Lisa Jones, an average couple with dismally average financial literacy. The thin, slouching Bob and his plump, stern wife shrunk beneath the gaze of a young, recently inducted banker, a recent college grad at his first job. With his dirty blonde hair and square jaw, the banker was clearly the kind of man who had received enough attention in his youth to develop the mild sociopathy required for a job in finance. This man was a living Ken doll, and like his plastic counterpart his face was cold and inanimate yet cheerful, with blue eyes glazed over by the boredom of his bloody trade. Bob and Lisa nervously watching him pull up the spreadsheets on his computer, the history of poor financial decisions that led them to the wrong side of his desk.
“Mr. Harris,” said Bob, a thin and easily intimidated man. “What’s it looking like?”
“Please, call me Kevin,” purred the banker. “I like to be on a first name basis with my clients, I find it helps people be at ease.”
“Well, Kevin,” said Lisa, the chunkier and more outspoken of the couple. “There’s people being crucified for foreclosure out there. I’m not sure being all casual about it is helping my nerves.”
“Please, Mrs. Jones,” smiled Mr. Harris. “We don’t say ‘crucified’ here, we prefer ‘redeemed.’ You’re redeeming your mortgage, not being murdered!”
Bob and Lisa winced at the noises coming through the window. Muffled screams sounded in time with the pounding of a hammer driving nails through a wrist.
“Anyway,” continued Mr. Harris. “I’m sorry to say it’s not looking good. You’d be pretty close to paying off your debt, but with the interest rate at 25%…”
“25?” interjected Bob. “We signed on at 5% APR. Not 25%.”
“Yeeeeah,” sighed Mr. Harris. “You signed on to an adjustable rate life mortgage starting at 5%. But Bank of Freedom raised the interest rate a while back, and-”
“Wait, hold up,” said Lisa. “We signed on with you guys, not Bank of Freedom. This has to be a mistake.”
“Well here’s the thing,” said Mr. Harris, glancing down and to the left. “We sold your mortgage to Bank Freedom and they raised your interest, then bundled your mortgage up into a security. Sorry, my hands are tied here.”
“Well,” muttered Bob. “That’s wrong. Morally wrong.”
“Maybe, but it’s legal!” chuckled Mr. Harris. “I’m sorry guys, I really wish I could help. Anyway, that’s how it is, let’s talk about your options.”
“Options,” snorted Lisa.
“Hey, you think you got it bad, think of all the money investors lost when that security became worthless,” laughed Mr. Harris.
A moment or two. A clack of the keys, a click of the mouse, and Kevin delivered the verdict:
“Ok,” he said. “When you signed on you agreed that in the event of foreclosure you could redeem your life mortgage via imprisonment, indentured servitude, or liquidation of physiological assets.” Mr. Harris made a slicing motion across his throat with a finger.
“Well that settles it,” said Bob. “Lisa stays home and works her current job while I work in the mine.”
“Yeeeeah,” said Mr. Harris, again with his glance to the left. “You see, the amount you can pay off via indentured servitude is limited by certain brackets determined by life expectancy; your age, weight, medical history, et cetera. I’m afraid that you’d still owe about $5.67 even if one of you worked for the maximum labor period of 50 years.”
This was met with wide-eyed silence by the condemned.
“Buuuuut, Lisa here qualifies for a higher bracket, being only 45 and weighing 30 pounds more than you, Bob. And correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve put on a little weight since our last meeting, right Mrs. Jones? I think we can get a little more money for you.”
“Gee,” muttered Lisa. “Thanks.”
“Unfortunately,” continued Mr. Harris “due to tax and legal concerns we only allow one spouse to enter indentured servitude. Otherwise you’d have people abusing the system left and right. I’m afraid one of you will still have to be liquidated.”
“Right,” conceded Bob. “I suppose it’s only fair.”
“Fortunately,” pointed out Mr. Harris, “we can resolve the remaining 5 bucks with a little creative accounting.” He gave Bob and Lisa a sly wink to show them he was on their side. “So instead of liquidating you entirely, Bob, we’ll only have to liquidate both of your legs. Listen, I know it sucks, but that’s about the best I can do for you.”
“Eh,” muttered Lisa. “What do you think, Bob?”
“Yeah,” muttered Bob with a shrug. “I guess we’ll take it.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Mr. Harris with an excited clap of the hands. “Two legs from Bob, and Lisa gets off with only 50 years in the coal mine. Guys… am I good, or am I good?”
Bob and Lisa didn’t commit one way or the other, but they did sign and initial at the places indicated by Mr. Harris.
“It’s been wonderful doing business with you two,” said Mr. Harris. “And again, thanks for banking with us.”
With that, Mr. Harris slapped a large red button on his desk, summoning two pairs of very large, very burly men into the room. Each duo seized a sobbing, bewildered Jones, pulled a burlap bag over their heads, and pried them from each other’s arms before carrying them off to their respective transactions.
Bob felt the air-conditioned atmosphere of the bank give way to the stifling humidity of that blood-drenched summer, thick with the smell of burning flesh and the howl of the dogs. Through the gaps between the burlap fibers, he saw the silhouettes of the wretched as they writhed on their crosses, despised and rejected by the economy they loved.
He heard the roar of a chainsaw, a sudden giving way beneath him, and the sting of the hot iron that cauterized the two stumps left behind by his creditors. The bag was roughly torn from his face, and he saw one of the men wrapping his suddenly truncated knees in complimentary gauze while the other gathered his severed calves into a black plastic bag.
“Thank you for your business, sir,” said one of the men, before leaving him in the street and returning to the cool air, gentle music and complementary coffee of the bank. “Have a nice day.”