Sunday, 11 March 2012

NoHo Noir: Caller I.D.

"Caller I.D."
Written by Katherine Tomlinson
Illustrated by Mark Satchwill

Illustration by Mark Satchwill
Shannon Garrick had a love-hate relationship with her cell phone. When she’d been evicted from her last apartment, she’d left behind an unpaid electric bill, a delinquent gas bill and a cell phone bill that had rolled over three times before her provider finally cut her off.
Since then, her only form of communication with the outside world had been a cheap “pay as you go” phone she’d bought from CVS.  
The phone’s reception was crap but at least she had a number she could give the Human Resources people when she applied for jobs and a contact number if Liam’s school needed to get in touch with her. She refilled the phone’s minutes with pre-paid cards, always 30 minutes at a time. The cards with more minutes were actually a better bargain but they cost more and she never seemed to have the extra cash on hand.
Having a “burner phone” was a relief in many ways because it meant she didn’t constantly have to talk to creditors.
It was exhausting talking to creditors. She hated having to explain her situation over and over and over to people who probably weren’t making much more than minimum wage themselves. They always suggested that if she was in such dire straits she should declare bankruptcy, but that cost money too.
And deep down, Shannon felt that if she declared bankruptcy, she’d be admitting that she’d hit rock bottom. And if she admitted that, she was afraid she would lose heart altogether. She didn’t want to think about what would happen if she surrendered to despair. She didn’t want her mother raising Liam.
It was bad enough that her mother now knew where she and Liam lived. The news of the hotel shooting had gone national and pictures of a wide-eyed Liam surrounded by cops had flashed all over the Internet as pundits waxed philosophical about gang-related violence and the problem of “motel children.”
Her mother had immediately contacted Dr. Drew to offer an interview and use his show as a platform for reaching out to Shannon and the grandson she’d never met.

To his credit, Dr. Drew had been skeptical. He’d asked Maeve how she had ended up so estranged from her daughter that she hadn’t even known she’d been widowed or that she was living in a motel on vouchers.
Shannon’s mother responded to the question with a practiced lie and Shannon had turned off the television in disgust, glad that three thousand miles separated her from the woman who had spawned her.
After the news hit the web, there’d been no way to keep her physical location a secret—the address of the motel had been in almost every one of the stories, along with a photo of the motel’s ruined front window—but Shannon was fairly sure that her mother wouldn’t be able to reach out and touch her by phone any time soon. The reporter who’d covered the motel shooting told Shannon that Maeve had tried to social engineer her number out of her but she’d kept the secret.
And yet, someone had been calling her for the past week; someone with a 213 area code. As far as she knew, her mother still lived in South Carolina, but it was weird that she was suddenly getting a bunch of calls on a number that wasn’t easy to come by.
At first she just deleted the messages without listening to them, avoidance behavior she’d adopted when she first started getting behind on her bills.
If she didn’t talk to creditors and she didn’t open the past-due notices, she could live in denial for a good long time. And by the time services started getting cut off, Shannon was already behind in her rent, so it didn’t matter.
Shannon ignored the calls the first two days but by the third she’d finally broken down and listened to one of the messages. The minute she heard the call was from a law firm,  she’d deleted the rest of the message without listening any more.
She’d talked to people from law firms before, people who started out sounding nice before they’d told her they’d been hired to sue her for payment for some bill she’d run up years before.
As far as Shannon was concerned, nothing good ever came of conversations with lawyers.
The calls continued—several a day for more than a week.
Eventually, exasperated by the persistence of the caller, Shannon finally picked up the call, fully intending to lie and say that the caller had reached a wrong number, even disguising her voice if she had to.
But that hadn’t been necessary.
The woman on the other line had apologized for being so persistent, but said she hoped what she had to say would be good news.
Shannon hadn’t had any good news in so long that she braced herself, unsure how to respond.
When she heard what the woman had to say it was good news indeed.
The lawyer represented Barbara Dinwiddy, Shannon and Liam’s landlady who had died protecting the boy from a gang banger’s bullet.
Barbara Dinwiddy, who’d never really liked Shannon but who had loved Liam like a grandchild, had left everything she owned to the boy—her car, her bank account and most importantly, her motel.
“Ms. Garrick, are you there?” the woman on the other end of the phone asked when Shannon didn’t say anything.
“The motel belongs to us?” she’d finally asked, unsure if she understood what the other woman had said. “Do we have to pay anything?”
“Well, yes,” the other woman responded. “There are taxes and some other fees but we can pay those out of the estate.”
“And we can live here without paying rent?” Shannon queried.
“Yes ma’am,” the lawyer said.
“And the rent for the other units will come to us?”
“Yes, the property is paid for.”
“Oh my God,” Shannon finally said, which was the response the other woman had been waiting for. She’d done her due diligence on Shannon, knew exactly what kind of dire straits she was in.
“Thank you,” Shannon said.
“You’re welcome,” the lawyer responded.
She told Shannon she wanted to set up an appointment to go over all the paperwork for her to manage the inheritance for Liam and promised to ring back soon.
Shannon hung up and the relief she felt was so intense, she was almost sick to her stomach.
“Are you okay?” Liam asked anxiously.
“Come here,” she said to him and he came to her for a hug.
“Would you like pizza tonight?” she asked him.
“Can we?” he asked.
She called in the order, barbecue chicken for Liam and olives and green peppers for herself and the little cinnamon pastry things for both of them. She knew they’d be eating leftovers for lunch the next few days because she’d just blown half her food budget for the week.
But she wanted a celebration.
There just hadn’t been enough celebrations in her life lately.
When the phone rang right after she’d hung up from the pizza place, she answered it without thinking, assuming they were calling back to confirm her order.
She was wrong.
The voice on the other end had a heavy Spanish accent but she had no problem understanding his message.
“If the little boy testifies, he’s dead,” the voice said.
“We know where you live.”

1 comment:

  1. It's a horrible paradox that people living very close to destitution (in a land of plenty) end up paying more for basic things like phone service, because they never have enough money at one time to get a better deal. And things like ordering pizza, that people with good jobs take for granted, become rare luxuries.

    I'm always impressed by how well you get inside the different points of view of your characters.