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Carl Alves

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Answering Service
By Carl Alves
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

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Very loosely based on a true story, all kinds of craziness can happen when you're working alone at night taking in some weird phone calls.

All alone, Chet Carroll thought as Val packed her bags.  The thought of being all by himself hadn’t bothered him when he applied for the overnight shift at the Alston Answering Service, but now, if was honest within himself, he would have to admit to being just a tad uneasy. 
    “You got my home number,” Val yelled.  “You get tripped up at all, or you got any questions just call.”
     Chet frowned. 
    “You’ve picked this up like it was nothing.  You’re a natural.”
    Chet Carroll removed his head set and turned his swivel chair to face her.  “You think?”
    “Shouldn’t be surprising,” Val said.  “Man, you’re wicked smart.  What did you say your major was?”
    “I’m an EE.” 
    Val’s brow creased. 
    “Electrical Engineering.”
    “I don’t even know what that is, but it sure sounds impressive.”  Val yawned as she looked at her watch.  “It’s almost two.  You shouldn’t be getting too many calls until about six in the morning.”
    After a few minutes without any calls, Chet took out his Electric Circuit Theory text book and worked on this week’s homework assignment.  A total insomniac, Chet studied at night while his housemates were sound asleep.  After he had lost interest in several jobs, he saw an advertisement for the overnight shift.  The manager had told him during the interview that there were infrequent calls between one thirty and six in the morning, so he could make extra cash and do his school work. 
    Chet jumped when he heard a snapping sound coming from outside.  Damn, his nerves were getting to him
    He tried to focus on solving his final Electric Circuit Theory problem.  There was a scratching sound at the door.  There was no way he was going to finish this problem if he kept jumping every time he heard a stray noise coming from outside. 
    He took a deep breath, grabbed a flashlight and walked to the front door just to set his mind at ease.  He cracked the door open and peered outside.  Nothing.  He stepped out to the chilly October night and looked around.  Still nothing.  He turned around and jumped back, hitting the door when a cat ran past him.
    Chet shook his head.  “Get a grip, man.”
    He went inside and got back to work.  Just as he finished his last problem, the line for McFarlen’s Repair Shop rang.   Chet adjusted his head set, and answered, “McFarlen’s Repair Shop, this is the answering service, how may I help you.”
    “Um, is this the answering machine?” the woman said.  
    Chet put his hands in the air.  “No, ma’am this is the answering service.  The shop’s closed until the morning.”
    “Um, should I wait for the beep to leave my message?”
    “Do I sound like an answering machine to you?”  Chet couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. 
    “I guess not.”
    “You can give me a message and I’ll pass it on to them.”
    Damn, people are stupid. 
    At four in the morning, Chet ripped open a bag of Doritos.
    A call came in, the first this hour.  “Advanced Cardiology Associates, how may I help you,” Chet answered.
    “Yeah, it’s my mom.  She has heart problems.  Who’s on call?”
    Chet looked at his monitor.  “Dr. Martin is on tonight.”
    “I need to talk to the doctor.”
    “Is this an emergency?”
    “Of course this is an emergency.  Mom has a bad heart.  Why else would I call?”
    “Okay, what is your name, sir?”
    “It’s Verne Motta.  My mom’s name is Matilda.”
    “Okay Verne, hold on.  I’ll patch you to the Doctor.”
    Chet dialed Dr. Martin’s home phone number.   At the third ring a groggy voice answered, “Hello.”
    “Hello, Dr. Martin?” Chet asked.
    “Yes?”
    “This is your answering service.  I have Verne Motta on the line.  His mother is having heart problems and he says it’s an emergency.  I’m going to patch him through.”
    Dr. Martin sighed and muttered something inaudible.  “All right.  Put him through.”
    Chet patched Verne to the doctor, excused himself from the conversation and then disconnected his line.
    Before Chet started his next physics problem, the phone rang. 
    “Nash and Sons Plumbing.  This is the answering service.” 
    Silence greeted him.  Chet waited a few seconds.  More silence and then a click on the other end.   Chet shook his head, and removed his head set.  This was the second time tonight someone had called that number and hung up. 
    After going to the bathroom, he returned to his station to see the line for Advanced Cardiology Associates ringing.
    “Hi, this is Dr. Martin.  What’s your name?”
    “Chet Carroll.”
    “I’m guessing you’re new at the answering service.”
    “Yes I am.”
    “Listen Chet, don’t ever put that guy through again.  Verne Motta is a forty two year old loser who lives with his mom.  He calls us almost every day.  There’s nothing acutely wrong with his mother.  Every time she sneezes, he calls.  It can wait until our office hours.  I work long hours and I don’t need to be bothered at four in the morning for nonsense.”
    “I’m sorry, Dr. Martin, but I can’t make that decision.  If someone tells me it’s an emergency, I can’t refuse to put them through to you.”
    Tension radiated through the phone.  “Then call me first, and I’ll tell you whether or not to patch them.”
    “That’s fine.  Sorry to wake you, Dr. Martin.”
    Dr. Martin hung up the phone.
    “Wonderful.” 
    He had a hard time concentrating on his school work, instead contemplating whether or not taking this job was a wise idea.  He just wanted to make extra cash and do his homework.  The last thing he wanted was get in the middle of a dispute.


    Chet caught Val before her shift ended. 
    “Hey, someone keeps calling the Nash and Sons plumbing line, and they always hang up.  Do you know anything about this?”
    Val sighed.  “I guess I should have mentioned it.  The guy who’s calling you is the most disgusting, vile person ever.  Man, he calls up late at night and says the crudest things.  I don’t even want to repeat it.  I just hang up when he calls.  Sometimes I’ll ring a bell in his ear, but he just keeps on calling back.”
    “Can’t you just ignore the call?” Chet asked. 
    “Unfortunately, no.  We have to answer all the calls.”
    “You can probably get it traced.”
    Val shrugged.  “It’s not worth it.  Don’t worry.  I’m sure he won’t bother you since you’re a guy.”
    “All right, catch you later, Val.”
    After two weeks of working the overnight shift at Alston Answering Service, Chet had grown used to being all alone in the small building at night. 
        A couple hours into his shift, Chet’s stomach grumbled.  He had forgotten to bring food.  At some point in the wee hours of the morning, he always got the munchies and snacked on junk food.  As night became morning, he kept glancing at the clock.  There’s no way he could hold out.  He tried to busy himself by studying for his Quantum Mechanics quiz, but his stomach kept grumbling. 
    At two thirty in the morning, Chet could no longer take it.  His shift ended in four hours.  At this time of the morning, calls were sporadic.  He could go an hour without getting a call. 
    He took off his headset and bolted out of the building to the Store 24 across the street.  “Damn.”  There were two other people in line when he got to the store.  He nervously shifted from foot to foot as he waited in line.  After paying for his Doritos, he ran back to his building. 
    His heart sunk when he saw the line for Advanced Cardiology Associates was on its twentieth ring.  He answered, “Advanced Cardiology Associates, how may I help you?”
    “This is Verne Motta.  What took you so long to answer the phone?  Mom’s not doing well.  Not at all.  She could have had a heart attack during the time it took you to answer.”
    “I’m sorry, there have been problems with the phone line.”
    “I need to talk to the doctor.”
    Chet looked at his screen and saw that Dr. Martin was on call.  He inwardly groaned.  The last couple of times that Motta had called and Dr. Martin was on call, the doctor had refused to allow Chet to patch him through, causing Motta to go into a fit of hysteria.  He even cried last time. 
    “I’ll call Dr. Martin.”
    “No you don’t understand.  I need to talk to the doctor.”
    “I’m sorry Mr. Motta, but I’ve been instructed to inform him about the situation, and then he’ll tell me how to proceed.”
    Chet cut Motta off as he continued to protest.  He put him on hold and dialed the doctor’s number.  “Hello, Dr. Martin.  I’m sorry to disturb you, but I have Verne Motta on the line saying his mother is ill and he needs to talk to you.”
    “You can’t be serious.  No, I’m not talking to him.  I just saw his mother yesterday.  There is nothing acutely wrong with her.  Tell him to call back during regular office hours.  This guy’s nuts.  He needs a shrink, not a cardiologist.”
    “Will do, Dr. Martin.  Have a good night.”
    Chet took a deep breath before re-connecting with Motta.  “Mr. Motta, Dr. Martin said to call back during office hours.”
    “No!” Verne shrieked.  “I have to talk to the doctor.”
    Chet was going to suggest he take her to the Emergency Room, but didn’t want to get involved.
    “I’m sorry, but those were the doctor’s instructions.”
    The panic in Motta’s voice rose.  “I don’t care.  Put me through to him, now.” 
    “I’m really sorry, Mr. Motta, but I can’t do that.”
    Motta hung up the phone.  Chet closed his eyes and sank back into his chair. 
    To make matters worse, later he got a call on the Nash and Sons Plumbing line.  He expected the pervert caller to not say anything when he heard Chet’s voice.  This time the man spoke. 
    “So how do you like working with all of them girls at the service.  I bet you have a different one every night.  You probably take turns going down on them…”
    Chet balled his fists.  He felt like cursing the man out, but that would only further fuel him.  “Yeah, that’s exactly right.”
    The pervert continued to say all sorts of nasty things.  Chet responded with, “Sure, right, uh-huh, whatever you say.”
    After a while Chet grew tired of him.  He lowered his headset and brought out his Quantum Mechanics book.  A few minutes later, he put the headset back on.  “Are you still there, dude?”  He heard heavy breathing on the other end.  “Hey buddy, you need to get a life.”  He disconnected the line, hoping this guy got it all out of his system and wouldn’t call back.
   
   
    Two days later, Chet froze when flipping through the paper before going to work.  A caption in the Obituaries caught his eye.  Matilda Motta, a retired nurse and mother, was dead at the age of seventy two from cardiac arrest.  She died shortly after being taken to the hospital yesterday morning.
    “You all right, bro?” Chet’s housemate Gene asked.
    Chet slowly shook his head.  “No.  I gotta go to work.”
    On his way to Alston Answering Service, a car nearly ran him over.  He hung his head.  Matilda Motta had to be Verne’s mother.  The last time he was at work was two nights ago.  If Matilda died yesterday morning, then it had to have been shortly after Verne called.  It was all his fault.  Verne had pleaded with him, but Chet had followed orders and refused.  If only he had disobeyed the doctor’s instructions this one time…
    When he got to work he expected to be fired for what had happened.  But his boss locked the front door and wished him a good night.  No mention of Matilda Motta. 
    He was unnerved that night, unable to concentrate on his Differential Equations assignment.  Instead, he read the obituary over and over again. When answering calls, he had to keep asking the callers to repeat themselves. 
     Overwhelmed with guilt, he went over the last conversation he had with Motta.  He wished he could relive that night and put him through despite Dr. Martin’s protests. 
    As he stared at his monitor, Chet drifted asleep.  The phone line rang, jolting him awake.  Uhh.   Nash and Sons Plumbing. 
    “So were you banging those chicks just now, weren’t you?  I hope I didn’t interrupt you.”
    Chet shook his head.  “Yeah, two at one time.  Listen, I don’t have time for this tonight, loser.”
    He was about to hang up, when the pervert said, “Is that beat up Ford Escort in the parking lot your car?”
    Chet froze. 
    “I saw you pulling in to the lot.  You have curly blonde hair, and were wearing a Phillies cap.”  The pervert laughed.  “And I know where you live.  Say hi to the girls for me.”
    Chet’s hand shook.  This scumbag was stalking him.
    He bolted to the front door and turned it to make sure it was locked.  He then peaked out the front window, but didn’t see anything odd.  Even the Store 24 parking lot was empty. 
    Calm down.  He was just trying to mess with you.
    Chet was on edge the rest of the night while taking calls.  When the sun rose the next morning, he dialed Val’s home number. 
    A groggy voice answered the phone.  “Hul-ah.”
    “Hey Val, it’s Chet.”
    “Chet?  Whatcha doing calling me at 6:30?”
    “I had to call you.   You know that pervert that keeps on calling.  Well, last night he identified my car in the parking lot and said he knows where I live.  What the hell’s going on?”
    Val cleared her throat.  “Um, really.  Well I guess I should have mentioned that a couple of times he followed me home.  That’s kind of why I stopped working nights so often.”
    “He followed you home?  Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”
     Val yawned.  “Like I said before, I didn’t think he’d mess with you since you’re a guy.”
    “Well obviously he is.  I can’t believe this.”
    “Don’t worry about it,” Val said.  “I’m pretty sure he’s harmless.  He followed me home a couple times but he never actually came up to me.  He looks wimpy.  You could take him.”
    Chet shook his head in irritation.  “Thanks for reassuring me.  What do I do if he has a gun or a knife?”
    “You’ll be fine.  He never attacked anyone—that I know of.”
***

    Chet calmed down after a week passed and nothing happened.  He considered quitting his job and even interviewed for a couple campus jobs, but this paid better and he was kicking ass in school.  Since he did all of his studying at night, he freed up his days.  He still didn’t sleep much, but that was nothing new.
    It was two in the morning, and Chet’s stomach rumbled.  He forgot to bring food with him, and his stash of junk food was on empty.  He stood at the window with his arms folded, staring at the Store 24 across the street.  It beckoned him.  He needed chips, maybe some Cheetos as well.  It was that kind of night. 
    There were no incoming calls.  He could get there and back before another call came through.  He bolted out the door and crossed the street into the parking lot.  Once in the store, he went straight to the snack bin, took what he needed and brought it up to the counter.  The cashier was agonizingly slow. 
    Shoving the change into his pocket, he ran out of the Store 24 and returned to his building.     He jumped onto his seat, knocking over two nearby chairs.  No phone calls.  Thank God for small favors. 
    He tore open a bag of Cheetos and began munching when a call on one of his medical lines rang.  Just then, he heard a sharp noise coming from the back, like an animal was walking outside the building.  He answered the line, when he heard what sounded like footsteps.  “What the?”  he muttered. 
    “Excuse me,” the caller said.
    “I’m sorry,” Chet said.  “Can you repeat what you just said?”
    He quickly dispatched the caller.  After checking to make sure the front door was locked, he started a pot of coffee, needing something to calm his nerves. 
    He returned to his work station and saw the Nash and Sons Plumbing line was ringing.  He answered the phone, and the prank caller spewed obscenities about what he would like to do with the women who worked at the answering service.
    “I don’t have time for this shit tonight, asshole.”  
    Before he disconnected the line, the prank caller said,    “I saw you run over to the store and get your snacks.  I prefer Spicy Nacho Doritos myself.”
    Chet momentarily stopped breathing.  The pervert had to be right around here.
    The caller went into another rant about Chet’s female co-workers.  “…and then I would bend her over backwards, and pull those panties down…” 
    Chet looked out the window.  Maybe he was parked nearby.
    The pervert broke off his rant.  “How come you’re not working alone tonight?”
    Chet frowned.  “Huh?  What are you talking about.”
    “There’s some other dude working with you tonight.  Some bald guy with glasses.”
    Chet turned around and stifled a scream when he saw a non-descript balding man with glasses, wearing a rumpled sweat shirt, with a coffee stain on one of the sleeves. His face was pale and his lips were thin and narrow. 
    Chet slowly backed away.  He accidentally kicked a trash can.  “Who are you?”
    “Why didn’t you listen?” the man asked. 
    He recognized the voice.  “Verne?”
    “She’s dead and it’s your fault,” Verne Motta said.
    “Verne, what are you doing here?”
    Verne’s lip trembled.  His voice rose.  “You killed her.  Mother was all I had and now she’s gone.”
    Chet saw the glint of black metal in Verne’s hand and slowly backed away, breaking into a cold sweat.   “Listen, Verne.  I was just following Dr. Martin’s instructions.  Believe me, if it was up to me, I would put you through every time.”
    Verne’s hands shook.  “You killed mother!  She was everything I had, and now she’s gone.”
    Chet backed away, staring into Verne’s vacant eyes.  “I’m really sorry about what happened to your mother, but I was just doing what Dr. Martin told me to do.”
    “Oh, don’t worry about Dr. Martin.  I’ve already taken care of him.”  Verne let out a chilling laugh.
    Chet turned and ran.  A thunderous sound emerged from behind.  Searing pain ripped through his shoulder.  The impact of the bullet lifted him off his feet as he crashed face first into the water cooler.  He grabbed his shoulder and felt his own blood. 
    Chet howled in pain.  He had to buy time.  “Please Verne, I was just doing what the doctor instructed.  Don’t kill me.” 
    Verne had a crazed look on his face.  Drool dripped down his chin.  “You killed Mother and now you will die.”
    He wanted to get to his feet but had no control of his legs. 
    Verned pointed the gun and pulled the trigger twice more.
   


    “This won’t bring back mother.”   Verne Motta took a deep breath.  “But I feel much better now.” 
    He sat on the chair.  The line for Advanced Cardiology Associates rang.  “They don’t want to help you,” he muttered. 
    He stared at the screen, and blinked twice rapidly.  There was an open line.  He picked up the headset that Chet had been using, and heard heavy breathing.   “Freak.”
    He took off the headset and walked out of the Alston Answering Service, never looking back.  Behind him, sirens rang in the background.


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