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Junk Calls

written by: Andrew Scobie

 

Brian was just on the verge of doing something in his house he felt to be of great importance when his home phone rang. By the unfamiliar number appearing on the digital readout screen he could see that it was probably a junk call. Having received so many junk calls of late, if he didn’t recognize the number on the screen, he would usually let the call go to the answering machine. If they left a message it would prove they were a legitimate caller and he would ring them back, but these days they would invariably hang up before leaving a message, a sure indication they were simply scammers.
This time, as the phone continued to ring, he answered the call anyway.
“Hello,” Brian said.
There was a short delay before the caller said, “Am I speaking to Brian Smith?”
Suspiciously, Brian asked, “Who is calling?”
“This is Pedro from your telephone company. I am calling about a problem with your Internet connection.” The initial delay before Pedro had first answered was a sure indication to Brian that the call had come from overseas and was a scam. “There is a problem with your Internet connection,” Pedro repeated, “and your service is about to be disconnected.”
Brian composed his thoughts.
“Can I ask you a question, Pedro?”
Pedro said almost instantly, “Yes, certainly.”
“Do you believe in God?”
“Yes,” Pedro firmly stated.
Brian said quickly, “Well in that case you will be going to Hell. If you are trying to scam people God won’t like that, and you will be facing hellfire in the afterlife.” He quickly hung up the phone before Pedro, or whatever his real name was, could reply.
Brian didn’t believe in a god, but such a statement as the one he had just delivered seemed to be a good way to deal with these people.
For Brian, it appeared to be a growing industry in recent years where people from Third World Countries would ring trying to scam supposedly wealthy citizens of western countries. To the contrary, Brian wasn’t rich at all.
Sometimes the callers would sound very young. Brian would on occasions verbally abuse them, in the hope they would desist in their illegal activities. His research told him that these days they would always be ringing from overseas through the Internet—perhaps because that was a cheaper option, though they would also insert ‘dummy’ numbers that would come up on people’s readout screens to pretend they were calling locally.
Brian’s home phone suddenly rang again. He examined the readout screen to discover it was the very same number that had just called.
“Yeah?” he answered.
Again, there was a short delay, before the caller said, “This is Pedro from your telephone company. I am calling about a problem with your Internet connection.”
“You’ve got to be joking?” Brian said. “I know you’re a scammer, Pedro, so piss off and try to scam someone else.”
“I’m not a scammer,” Pedro said.
“Yes, you are! And as I told you before, you are going to hell because of this.” He thought quickly. “Listen! God probably hates you so much now for what you are doing that one of your family members will probably be dead by tomorrow.” He hung up the phone.
He still felt frustrated, but Brian thought his last statement was a good touch.
“Bloody scammers,” he thought aloud. He went to his kitchen and popped some pain killers for his chronically sore back then retired upstairs to bed.
The next morning, Brian was awoken by his home phone ringing downstairs. He waited for the ringing to stop and tried to go back to sleep. But the phone rang again, and then again. Reluctantly, he rose from his bed, braced his bad back, and walked downstairs. When the phone rang again, he snatched it up in his hand.
He said loudly, “hello?”
After the usual delay, the voice said, “Do not hang up. This is Pedro, but I’m not trying to scam you this time.”
“What do you want then?” Brian said with exasperation in his voice.
There was a brief silence.
Pedro said, “You were right about God hating me. Yesterday, my father died from a massive heart attack.”
Brian briefly paused in wonder.
“Are you trying a different scam now, Pedro? It won’t work, pal. You’ll get no money from me—I’ve got no money to give you anyway, for God’s sake…”
“No—no,” Pedro said, “I don’t want anything from you. I’m not trying to scam you, believe me. I was scamming you before… but not now.”
Brian released a sigh.
“Then what do you want?”
“I just want to thank you for setting me on a better path. You were right, God hated me… he killed my father because of what I was doing. I will never do such things again.”
“I’ve got no money for you.”
“I don’t want your money. I just want you to forgive me.”
Brian still suspected it was a scam, but said, “I forgive you, Pedro… and I’m sorry about your father. Now can you please just go away?”
“Thank you, Mr. Smith,” Pedro said, then promptly hung up.
Brian was left holding the phone in his left hand with a puzzled look on his face.
Over the next few days, the calls stopped, but then there was another one.
Pedro rang again, and this time he informed Brian that his sister had died in a car accident.
“I have given up trying to scam people, Mr. Smith,” Pedro said. “Please stop killing my family. You have placed a curse upon me… please, please remove your curse.”
“Look,” Brian said with frustration, “I haven’t placed any curse upon anyone. I don’t even believe in a god. This is not happening. I don’t know what you want. Just leave me alone!” He hung up.
Brian decided it was time he parted ways with his home phone. He had it disconnected but first changed his Internet connection to wireless instead of broadband. He would now rely solely upon his cell phone to make and receive calls. It was his thinking that at least now he wouldn’t receive so many junk calls and at least none from Pedro.
The next day, after he turned on his computer, he accessed Facebook and found to his amazement that he had received over a thousand new messages. Accessing the first message from one of his online friends, it read: “Brian, is this you? What’s going on?” Attached was a newspaper article from The Filipino Review. The headline blazed: ‘Local man claims an Australian citizen has placed a curse upon him’. Incredulous, Brian read the article in full:

Pedro Garcia, a local man from Manilla, says that an Australian man in Sydney has placed a curse upon him. “So far my father has died of a heart attack, and my sister was killed in a car accident,” Mr. Garcia said. “Now my older brother has been killed in a building site accident. This has all happened since an Australian man, Brian Smith, placed a curse upon me. I have pleaded for him to remove the curse, but he won’t. He has disconnected his phone and refuses to talk to me.” We at, ‘The Filipino Review’ are attempting to contact Mr. Smith in Sydney for his comment.

Brian scrolled through some of the other many messages on his computer. They were all to do with the same issue. He buried his head in his hands.
“This must be a bad dream,” he thought aloud.
The nightmare had only just begun.
That afternoon, outside his two-bedroom home, a small media contingent had gathered with news cameras. Reporters began to continually knock on his front door. A bevy of neighbours he barely knew had also begun to gather in his now trampled garden.
“Go away!” Brian yelled through a window, “I have nothing to say.”
He probably realised that this was the worst thing he could have done. The next day the media contingent grew larger, his cell phone continually rang and there were now fifty thousand messages on his Facebook page.
He had noticed when he previously yelled through his window that one of the media contingent outside was the infamous anchor of Channel 69, Louis Lovelace. He knew what he had to do.
With trepidation, Brian rang Channel 69 and asked to speak to Louis Lovelace, and within a matter of minutes he was put through to the said Lovelace who was currently waiting outside Brian’s property.
In a rush, Brian told Lovelace his side of the story, ending with saying: “…and so you have to realise that this is all a big mistake… I know nothing about curses.”
Lovelace said, “Of course, we all know that. Pedro is probably still scamming you as we speak. It’s just complete rubbish, but, Brian, the public want a show. You can’t deny the public.”
Brian pleaded, “What can I do?”
“Leave it up to me. I’m flying in Pedro tomorrow from The Philippines. Just remove his curse and it will all be over.”
“But I don’t know anything about curses,” Brian said with frustration.
“I’ll organise everything.” Brian visualised Lovelace’s sixty thousand dollar smile he had seen many times before on television. ‘Who’s Who’ had reported that was what it cost him to fix his buck teeth before he made the big time. “There’ll be a twenty thousand-dollar payment coming to you for your co-operation. I can’t pay you any more than that… Pedro is already getting ten grand himself.”

The following day, Brian opened his front door and dressed in the ceremonial gown Louis Lovelace had provided for him walked forward through the blaze of camera flashes. As he approached the media scrum, a small portly man rushed forward and threw himself at his feet.
“Please, Mr. Smith, remove the curse,” Pedro pleaded.
Despite his bad back, Brian bent down to place his hands upon Pedro’s head, spoke some practiced lines of what he believed was mere ‘mumbo jumbo’ that Lovelace had taught him, then pronounced in a loud tone, “The curse is lifted!”
Returning inside after the cheers from the assembled onlookers, Brian hurriedly removed the gown. Lovelace then entered the house and stood facing him. He produced a bundle of hundred-dollar bills from his coat pocket and handed them to Brian.
“69 had the exclusive live rights but we were also streaming on social media,” Lovelace said with a nod. “I absolutely love this digital world.”
Brian said, “thank God this is finally over.”
Lovelace flashed his winning Channel 69 smile.
“Afraid not, Brian.”
Brian produced a pensive look.
“What do you mean, ‘afraid not’?”
“I have half a dozen people arriving tomorrow from remote places around the world. Brian, they also want their curses removed, and we’re still taking bookings. The public absolutely loves it. We have commissioned a series.” Lovelace gave him a wink. “Brian, the show must go on, and on again...” He winked. “That’s just show business, Brian.”

Andrew Scobie

Andrew Scobie

Andrew Scobie is an Australian writer and poet.
Andrew Scobie

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