A character owes a debt to someone, but is unable to pay the sum being demanded, or they can't pay it in the time allotted. Or maybe they don't want to have to Work Off the Debt
, either because the debt-holder is a Jerk Ass
, the debt was incurred via Blackmail
, or the debt was a result of a Leonine Contract
or an offer that initially couldn't be refused
. So what to do?
Why, get rid of the debt by getting rid of the debt-holder, of course! After all, if you don't have anyone to owe, there'll be no debt to pay, right?
The amount of money being owed doesn't matter, though usually in fiction it's a very hefty sum. What this trope is about is the debtor rationalizing that the debt will be canceled with the lender's death, and his/her trying and/or actually succeeding to kill the lender. Also, the debts in question are often of shady or otherwise unwanted means, such as with gambling debts
(though this trope is in response to any
kind of financial debt to an individual).
If said lender was a Jerk Ass
, Loan Shark
or worse, being killed by the debtor will turn that person into an Asshole Victim
. However, this trope doesn't count if a person owes money to a financial institution, such as a bank or credit union, as those debts are generally legit (unless the lender in question is of questionable morals
killing the debtor
is an inversion. The debtor failing to kill the creditor is a subversion (including if the creditor then dies due to unrelated factors).
Note that in Real Life
, this doesn't work if the debt was official and in writing (e.g. a promissory note). The executor of the dead person's estate, or the deceased person's heirs, can take legal action to collect from anyone who owed money to them.
Not the same as the Ballistic Discount
, which is where a person goes into a gun-shop, asks to try a gun, and then shoots the salesperson and leaves without paying for the gun.
- In the Justice League fanfiction Flash By Northwest, which is set in a crime-thriller story inside a magical book, this turns out to be the motive for Wally West's character to kill Mari McCabe's character, albeit indirectly. According to the script, J'onn's character, an unscrupulous accountant, had loaned Wally money that was skimmed from Mari's accounts, but Wally couldn't pay the loan back; the theory is that he may have killed Mari as a way to get the loan forgiven.
- There's a Dragon Ball fanfic called Bad Man, where a man who owes money to some criminals kidnaps Bulma so that he can blackmail Vegeta into killing the criminals for him.
- In Glitter, Billie's former manager hasn't received his money from her new manager and makes threats at Billie to that effect. When he hears about this, the new manager viciously assaults the old manager. Eventually inverted when the old manager confronts the new one and shoots him dead.
- Played with in Spaceballs where a debt that Lone Star and Barf owe to crimelord Pizza the Hutt is cancelled upon Pizza's death. However, they didn't do the killing; Pizza killed himself when he got locked in his car and ate himself to death.
Live Action TV
- In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov kills the old moneylender, though his motivations are more complex than just getting rid of the creditor.
- In the Star Wars Extended Universe stories, Luke Skywalker inadvertently released everyone in debt to Jabba the Hutt when he killed the gangster with his plan.
- On Chicago Fire Cruz's brother owes a debt to a gang leader. The gang leader threatens to hurt or kill the brother if he does not get his money. When a building used by the gang catches fire, Cruz is one of the fire fighters sent to the scene. While searching the building, he finds the gang leader in one of the rooms. Rather than rescue him, Cruz exits the building and leaves the gang leader to die in the fire.
- In The Unusuals one of the detectives, a born-again Christian, is being blackmailed by his old partner-in-crime for several crimes he had done back in Texas, and the detective ends up killing his former partner because he can't pay.
- In Angel, Angel wages his soul for Gunn's (which he had sold willingly), double or nothing. Upon losing, Angel immediately incapacitates the demon creditor (the demon couldn't be killed easily), then asks the casino patrons how many of them owe this demon. The mob then proceeds to kill the demon, fulfilling this trope en masse.
- In the Law & Order episode "Terminal" a struggling businessman shoots a woman at a social event to keep the check he wrote her from bouncing. The governor wants the death penalty, but Adam Schiff successfully argues the possibility that he was only trying to injure the victim.
- Shadowrun. Once the runners have succeeded in a mission their next task is to be paid by "Mr. Johnson", the person who hired them for the run. Unfortunately, if Mr. Johnson is ruthless he may decide to kill the runners so he doesn't have to pay them (plus they know too much). Players have been advised in official supplements to get half of the promised payment in advance in order to reduce the incentive for Mr. Johnson to betray them.
- In the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC pack Dragonborn, an orc loan shark by the name of Mogrul will saddle you with a debt owed by someone who you hired to head off to Tel Mithryn to act as Master Neloth's steward, since Mogrul is too scared to approach someone under a Telvanni mage-lord's auspices. His reasoning is a fine piece of Insane Troll Logic. Killing him is considered a feasible option to end the quest (as long as you do it in a manner that doesn't raise the ire of the town guard).
- King Philip IV of France did this to The Knights Templar by framing them for heresy.
- Inverted with the Burke and Hare murders, which started with tenants who couldn't pay rent.
- It is thought that a few pogroms against the Jews were done for this reason, as in medieval times Jews were prominent in banking or money-lendingnote . Some unscrupulous borrowers must have thought it was easier to slay the banker than repay the loan; for example, the anti-Jewish pogrom in York, England in 1180 is thought to have been initiated by a local lord who borrowed money from Jewish lenders on behalf of an unscrupulous king who refused to pay it back.
- This is the likely source of the German idiom jemanden übers Ohr hauen, which literally translates as, "to strike someone over the ear." It means to cheat or swindle somebody, and likely refers to a debtor killing his creditor to avoid holding up his end of the bargain, or else knocking them out to make an escape.