By Chef Bastard_Wing
I got the call about 11am yesterday. Fortunately, or not, my office is one of those that’s chilled about people taking personal calls during the day. Sometimes you just need to talk to a plumber, a venue manager, or… this guy.
Thing is, if it hadn’t been a withheld number, I wouldn’t have answered. If a number displays you can just google it later, and a few of my friends withhold theirs out of habit. I’m already answering as I walk out onto the landing, expecting an opportunity to troll an insurance agent asking about an accident I’d never had.
‘Sorry, it’s a bit echo-y…’
the landing genuinely is echo-y, there’s usually someone coming or going from one of the other offices.
‘…what name was that?’
‘Just shut up and listen.’
‘Um. Right, who is th/’
‘Right now I’m outside/”
He gives the name of a primary school in south-west London.
‘That doesn’t mean anything to you?’
‘No, never heard of it.’
There was a pause, and I thought this was going to be the point where he apologised and hung up.
‘This isn’t very clever’, he said.
‘What you’re doing.’
‘I’m not doing anything.’
‘I’m outside the school. Right?’
‘Yes, you said.’
‘Don’t be fucking funny.’
‘I’m not the one being funny.’
‘Do I sound like I’m fucking joking?’
‘No, you’re just swearing a lot. Is that for emphasis, coz it doesn’t work. It’s not how normal people swear, it sounds really fake.’
‘Do you think this is the first time someone’s tried this?’
‘Tried what? Treating you like a prick? No, you know what, I bet loads of people have done it.’
‘The kids are coming out.’
‘The kids are coming out for their first break. You might be able to hear ‘em.’
I could, just about.
‘Okay, so? So are you going to start ogling them and telling me about it while you wank off? Is that was does it for y/’
‘I’m not a fucking paedo.’
‘No, you’re a dude who sits outside schools watching the kids for perfectly normal reasons.’
‘Can you hear him?’
I don’t have any children. It might sound weird, but in my head I did a genuine re-count of all the adult years of my life just in case I was wrong. Every kind of stand, from one-night to hundreds. Was I absolutely sure none of them had ever said ‘Hey I’ve had your kid but don’t worry about getting involved with it in any way’? Yes, yes I was. I don’t know how long this took but it was long enough for him to start the conversation again.
‘Your son. Yeah?’
‘I don’t have a son.’
He gives a little puff of air, like I’ve told an unfunny joke.
‘If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard that…’
‘I really don’t have any children.’
‘Surprising actually how many people say that. You get films and TV and whatever going “parents will do anything for their kids, lay down their lives and so on”, but there’s just as many go the other way. Not even offering up their kids instead of them, actually denying they no anything about them. Can’t hurt you if they don’t exist, right?’
‘You’ve honestly… I don’t know if you’ve got the wrong name or number or what, but/’
‘Just fucking listen alright, coz I haven’t got the patience for this.’
‘You know what, neither have I.’
Before I can even shift my thumb to END CALL, he says:
‘If you hang up he’s dead. No warnings, no call-backs, I’ll be in there and out before break ends and he will be gone.’
And I had a… twinge. Just a hint of ‘what if he’s serious?’ What if he’s not calling from a secure psychiatric unit, but actually IS out in the world somewhere? And if he genuinely is watching a school right now and threatening to kill a kid, then surely I’m slightly responsible if he goes off and does it? Because of what I’ve said to him? And all the time he’s on the phone is time he’s not spending… well, doing THAT. Plus he’s more likely to be noticed, reported, arrested the longer he’s sat there, so…
He’s taken my silence as acknowledgement.
‘You know what this is all about so I won’t go on and on about it. You’ve been working with some nasty people, who you knew were a bit nasty, and you’ve been stupid enough to piss them off. To really, really piss them off. Now I will say, I’m not a nasty person. I’m just someone they get to do a job. However. These nasty people know some very nasty people. Very nasty people who like to do very nasty things to kids. I’ll leave that to you to think about. You’ve had loads of opportunities to sort it out, and you’ve not taken them. So now, you’ve got two minutes to make a bank transfer of the full amount.’
‘Or he’s gone.’
‘I thought you said you weren’t a/’
‘I’m fucking not.’
‘I’ve got to do a job. Hundred and ten seconds.’
‘You haven’t even said how much.’
‘You know how much. Hundred and seven seconds.’
‘B-b-b-b-but I’d have to go back to my computer, or phone them, do my login, security checks, whatever, that’s not enough ti/’
I don’t even know why I was making excuses on behalf of someone I wasn’t.
‘You can do it all on your phone these days, one of them apps. Nice and quick.’ ‘I… I haven’t got one.’
‘Well. Aren’t you silly. Ninety-two seconds.’
Fuck knows what anyone from my office, or any of the offices thought as I sank slowly onto the stairs. I think at some point I said ‘please don’t hurt him’, but the guy didn’t react, so who knows, maybe I didn’t. I don’t know which is worse.
And then I knew ninety-two seconds must be up because the car door opened.
The noise of children playing got slowly closer as he crossed the road. It made sense how quietly he was moving.
A twang of metal. There must be a fence around the playground. Did he mean to leave his phone on?
Indistinct child noises. Interest. Confusion. Fear. All the right and wrong ways to respond.
He said a boy’s name. Yes, he had meant to leave his phone on. Otherwise, how would I know?
Ruffling. The boy starts to squeal. Another, louder, twang of metal. The faintest hint of running footsteps between there and the car. The door slams.
He hangs up.
I keep looking for it on the news. The school. The kid. But there’s nothing. Has it all been hushed up somehow? Was it all an insanely sick prank done purely for my benefit? If so, no one’s revealed it.
I don’t really think about the kid. Not much. He was just a scream at the end of a phone, and I like to try and keep sane, however shit that may sound. Sorry, but I don’t regret that.
What I regret is that there’s nasty people out there who’ve made a mistake, and might one day come back to fix it…
…and they have my number.