Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Suspense

#74



What if one call was all it took? What if you could drop a dime and make your problems drop away? Would you do it? Or would you want to check out the fine print first, just so you know what you're getting into? Something maybe Mr. Perry Richards should consider...

 
 

One Call Does it All
 
 

By Tim Wilkins


THE ONE-CALL ESCORT SERVICE SEEMED like an ordinary enough place. No one really ever paid much attention to escort services anymore. Everyone thought that they knew exactly what they offered their clients, but anyone thinking that about One-Call would be wrong… dead wrong. All a person had to do was call and their problems would disappear forever. It only cost $4.99 per minute to set the deal up and then a final fee when the deal was closed. A bargain at any price…or so it might seem.

Perry Richards was a typical customer of the One-Call agency. He had been having problems with Norman Foster at work since he had started working at Spencer Pharmaceuticals 6 years ago. Perry had been denied promotions that he was certain he should have received as well as being passed over for raises for the last 5 years. He was always told his department, the quality assurance department, was unable to afford “luxuries” such as employee bonuses or raises. However, that so-called shortage never stopped Foster, his supervisor, from receiving a large raise annually. It was enough to make anyone want to take drastic measures.

Perry had never been good at standing up for himself or anyone important to him. He had been that way all of his life. He was a small, shy man who feared confrontation more than death. If he had ever actually stood up to Foster, he was sure he would most likely be pounded into the ground. So, he let things stay like they were.

***

One evening after a particularly brutal day of Foster’s harassment, Perry was browsing the classifieds in the local newspaper hoping to find the perfect job to take him away from Foster. In the last few months his browsing had become a ritual of hope and comfort for him. He had almost finished the help wanted section when his eye caught the lines of the last ad in the personals section. It read:

“Have a problem person in your life? Let us help you take them away. Call One-Call Escort Service 1-900-687-3377, 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Initial consultation $4.99 per minute plus tax where applicable. Many custom packages available to suit your needs and budget. Remember: One-Call does it all!”

Perry couldn’t believe his luck! Finally a solution to his problems! With shaky hands, he picked up the receiver of his phone and called the number. By the time someone answered on the other end, his palms were sweating and beads of nervous perspiration were dripping down his face. ‘God, I’m such a coward’, Perry thought as he waited for the voice on the other end of the line. ‘I can’t solve my own problems…why should I think that I can get anyone else to do it for me?’ He started to hang up when the phone was answered by an angelic voice.

“One-Call Escort Service…how may I help you?”

“H-Hi, I was calling to ask about your services…” Perry swallowed hard and continued. “Could you tell me what you do?”

“Sure, honey. All I need is your credit card information and then I can tell you all about us. Will this be put on Visa, Discover or American Express?”

Perry panicked momentarily. He hadn’t counted on this. “I -I guess my Visa. He gave the number to the operator and waited while she verified it. She gave him a confirmation number for his records.

“We offer a wide variety of professional quality services to handle the…umm…difficult people in your life. Our basic package is designed to look like a mugging gone wrong. It is $2,000 total cost. Of course, we can’t guarantee the reliability of this package, sir.”

There was a moment of silence on the line. Perry let the words sink in. ‘Oh my God! Murder! That is what she’s selling! She’s an angel alright! An angel of death….’ He suddenly realized that The One-Call Escort Service was not an escort service for those wanting company for an evening. It was a disposal service for the person the caller wanted escorted out of their life permanently. Perry spelled out the phone number and realized that it spelled 1-900-MURDERS. ‘Oh my God!’, he thought in horror.

Perry’s first instinct was to hang up and hope that no one ever found out about his call. However, they had his credit card information and knew more about him that he was comfortable with. Besides, he was curious to know more about One-Call. It was like watching a house on fire. You wanted to turn away but you just couldn’t. Something about it made you stay and watch.

“No, I don’t think that will do. I want the best and most fool-proof package possible,” Perry replied.

“Oh, well, in that case, you want our deluxe package,” the operator cooed. “It is our top of the line package. This one is so special that only our best escorts handle them. Want to hear more?”

“Sure,” Perry replied. He listened as the details of the package were explained. The more he listened, the more he knew that this was the right package for him. “I’ll take it!”

The operator told him the cost.

Perry flinched when he heard the price, knowing it would max out his credit card. Perry wiped the beads of sweat from his brow, and asked, “When can I get delivery?”

“We guarantee delivery within 48 hours. All we need is the proper information to carry out the details of our package. You have the option of meeting one of our representatives in person, mailing the items to our post office box or faxing them to our corporate offices. It is your choice.”

Perry thought for a moment and told the operator that he would fax them to the office.

“That will be an extra $5.00 per page charge for processing,” the operator told him.

‘That is a bargain for this job,’ thought Perry, ‘Especially since I don’t have to do anything and no one will ever know I did anything!’ “That is not a problem, put it on my credit card.”

The operator gave him the fax number and told him the final total. After that, Perry hung up. He breathed a long sigh and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Finally, something would be done about Norman Foster! Perry fell asleep in his recliner and dreamed of his life without Foster. It was a deep and pleasant sleep, the first he had had in quite a while.

***

The following morning, Perry got up early, dressed and went to the office before anyone else arrived. He faxed over all the information that One-Call had asked for. It was like opening the doors of a prison. He just knew that things in his life were about to get better. He just knew it!

Perry was a changed man at the office that day. He walked through the office with confidence and handled problems with an authority he had never shown before. It was so obvious that all of his co-workers noticed it and commented about it to him as well as to each other. Perry chalked it up to a good night’s rest.

As the day progressed, he discovered a newfound sense of courage and hope now that he knew that his problems would soon be over. Perry even found that he could tolerate Norman Foster. Perry supposed that this was the case because he knew Foster would be out of his life in the next 48 hours.

By mid-afternoon, Perry’s change of confidence and demeanor was so pronounced that it caught the attention of Norman Foster. Foster’s best attempts to bully and fluster Perry failed. If anything, Foster’s attacks seemed to help Perry become even more confident.

Foster called Perry into his office. Foster was on the phone when Perry came in. Foster motioned for Perry to sit down and wait for him. Perry sat uncomfortably in the chair as he waited for Foster to end his call. While he was waiting, Perry looked at his boss. Foster was an imposing figure of a man that no one wanted to cross. Foster was 6’3” and weighed 300 pounds. He had black hair with flecks of gray. His hair was cut in a military style haircut. He wore the best clothing that money could buy. He often told the rest of the company that you dress for what you wish to become, not for what you are right now. Foster had brown eyes that were so dark they appeared to be black. Overall, his appearance was one of an intimidating, powerful man in charge of his world.

Foster hung up the phone and picked a cigar out of humidor and clipped the end of it off. “Richards, what the hell is going on with you today? It’s like you aren’t the same person!” Foster put the cigar between his lips and lit it. He drew a large draw on the cigar and exhaled in Perry’s direction. Perry coughed a little.

“Well, Mr. Foster, I took care of a big problem in my life last night. It made me feel so good that I guess it has changed my life,” Perry replied.

Foster leaned back in his chair and scratched his head. “So, was this a personal problem?” asked Foster.

“You might say that,” said Perry. “The problem had been affecting my work performance, now all of that is behind me.”

“I am glad to hear that, Perry,” Foster replied. The big man leaned forward in his chair and reached across the desk to pick up his coffee mug with the words “Dare To Dream Big” written on its side.

“I’ve been thinking that maybe I have misjudged you, Richards. I thought you were just a spineless little worm that wouldn’t ever amount to much.

“I appreciate hearing that, sir” The word “sir” tasted like sour milk in Perry’s mouth. He had to get out of that office as soon as possible. “Mr. Foster, I need to get back to work now. May I be dismissed?”

“Sure,” Foster said as he leaned back in his chair. “Thanks for talking with me.”

“Your welcome” , Perry replied.

Perry got up and started toward the door. Foster called his name.

Foster said, “Richards, would you mind meeting me here after work for an evening business meal? We need to discuss your future with this company.”

A chill ran down Perry’s spine and the metallic taste of fear formed in his mouth. He replied, “Sure, no problem.”

“Great. Well, we’ll talk more tonight.” With that, Foster picked up the phone and dialed a number. He spun his chair away from the door and began to talk to someone on the other end of the line.

Perry looked back momentarily, stunned and then opened the door, walked out and quietly closed the door behind him. For the rest of the afternoon, his confident demeanor wavered each time he thought about the upcoming dinner meeting with Foster.

***

By 5 o’clock, Perry was reluctant to get up out of his chair. He had gotten more accomplished than he ever had during that afternoon. For once, he hadn’t spent the time daydreaming of ways to get rid of Foster. Perry jumped when he heard Foster’s voice behind him.

“Perry, are you ready to go eat?”

Perry? Since when did he call me Perry?’ After composing himself, Perry said, “Sure, let me shut down my computer.”

“Ok, but hurry, I don’t want to wait forever.”

Perry finished shutting down his computer, locked his desk and got up from his chair. He followed Foster from his cubicle and down the hallway. This is so weird, thought Perry. What is his plan? Am I going to be fired? He tried not to dwell on the subject too long. Instead, he tried to remember that almost 24 hours had passed and he would soon be rid of Norman Foster forever.

The two men got into Foster’s Jeep and headed downtown.

“Perry, I want to take you to one of my favorite places to eat. It is a quiet place that serves good food, has good service and respects the privacy of its patrons. All of these things are very important for us, especially tonight, we have a lot to discuss.”

A few minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot, got out of the Jeep and walked toward the door. Once inside, Foster stepped up to the maitre d’s desk and told him that he had reserved a table for two. The maitre d checked his list, picked up two menus and told them to follow him. He seated them in a small room away from the rest of the diners.

They ordered their drinks. Foster ordered an imported beer and Perry ordered a martini. The waiter left to go get them. “I’m really glad you could meet with me tonight, Perry,” Foster said. “Let’s get right to the point. I am looking for people to promote who have confidence. I want people working under me who have the courage to make things happen. I hadn’t realized it until recently, but you seem to me to be that kind of a person.” Foster smiled at Perry.

“Thanks, Mr. Foster.”

“Call me Norman, Perry.”

“Ok, thanks, Mr., umm… Norman. I didn’t think you noticed my work or that you even wanted me to work at the company. In fact, I always felt like you were trying to get rid of me.”

“No, far from it! I wanted to see how you would respond under pressure. The times when I have ‘picked on’ you were merely tests to see if you were made of the right kind of mettle for a management position. I passed you over a few times because I didn’t think you were ready. Now I believe I am ready to take a chance on you.”

My God! I‘ve made a terrible mistake! I’ve got to stop this agreement with One-Call., Perry thought. He paled a little as this thought struck home. It’s been over 24 hours and they said it would be completed in 48. I still have time! “I appreciate your confidence in me, Mr., uh, Norman….” Perry forced a smile and tried to keep a calm exterior.

“In fact, I will have an opening on the management team very soon. Would you consider becoming the new Vice-President of Customer Services?”

Perry sat there blank for a minute. He had gone from being ignored to being promoted further than even he anticipated in his career. ‘What do I say? What do I do?’ ran through Perry’s mind. He hesitated a moment then replied, “Uh, sure…I would like to take that position. Are you sure you want me and not one of the up and coming hotshots in the company?”

“I’m sure, Perry, I’m sure.”

The drinks arrived at the table. Perry picked his martini off the waiter’s tray and drank it in one gulp. “Another one just like that, please,” he told the waiter.

Foster watched Perry, trying not to laugh. The waiter sat Foster’s beer in front of him and turned to refill the order. “You a little nervous, Perry?”

“I guess…uh…I just never expected anything like this. Usually when your boss wants to take you out to eat, it is generally bad news, like you’re being laid off or something.”

Foster’s attempt at hiding his amusement failed at that moment. He broke into a hearty laugh. “Perry, don’t worry. This is anything but bad news for either you or the company!” Foster picked up his beer and took a hearty drink and set it back down, “No sir, no bad news here.”

The waiter returned with Perry’s second drink and proceeded to take their dinner order. After each man had ordered, the waiter turned and left the table. The mood of the dinner took on a whole new tenor following Foster’s offer. From that point, the conversation turned to discussion of the company, its recent history and future plans for growth. They drank a few more drinks as they waited on their dinner to arrive. They also talked about family, friends and other things that most friends would discuss.

Perry couldn’t help but feel regretful about his plan. He just didn’t know what to do about it. He hated it when he wavered in a decision! It would be a lot harder now to stop this than it was to begin it. He couldn’t be certain that the person or persons assigned to deliver the goods hadn’t already been put on the job. What if they were here right now? The thought sent fear shivering through Perry’s body once again. He tried to focus on the flow of the conversation and not worry with the problem until he could get back home.

Their dinner finally arrived. Each of the men had a large steak prepared for them with all of the trimmings. They talked and laughed as they ate their meal and drank the wine they ordered to go with the meal.

When the dinner was over, Foster ordered two cognacs and pulled two cigars from the breast pocket of his jacket. “Cubans,” he said with a wink, “Got them the last time I went to Canada for a business trip. I’ve been saving them for a special occasion.”

Foster took out his cutter and clipped the ends off the cigars and handed one to Perry. Foster lit his cigar then handed the lighter to Perry. Perry put the cigar in his mouth and started to light it. His hands shook as he did and Foster noticed it.

“Are you ok, Perry? You look a little . . .tense.”

“I’m ok, just new at cigar smoking,” Perry replied.

“Oh, well, you are in for a treat with these babies. Smoothest cigars I ever smoked.”

Perry finally got the cigar lit and pulled his first draw of hot smoke into his mouth. He inhaled deeply and started coughing.

Foster started laughing again. “Perry, you don’t inhale! Just let the smoke play around in your mouth for a minute then let it go!” He demonstrated for Perry.

Perry finally quit coughing and regained his breath. He puffed on the cigar and did what Foster taught him to do. It was a pleasant enough experience after that, though he felt a little light-headed. Perry figured it was the combination of the alcohol and the cigar that was making him feel this way. He sat back in his chair and enjoyed the buzz as he and Foster talked.

The time passed quickly as they got to know one another better. Five o’ clock became 10 o’clock before they realized it. The restaurant was closing and the manager came over to ask if they would mind leaving. They agreed that it was time to go and got up to leave.

By this time, Perry knew he had made a mistake in wanting Foster out of his life. It was time to get home and try to fix his mistake. Though, for some reason, the light-headedness he experienced earlier was getting worse. He was sure it was getting worse. He was glad he hadn’t driven. He hoped that he would be better by the time they got back to the office. If not, he would stretch out in the backseat of his car and sleep it off.

They got into Foster’s jeep. Foster started the engine and said something to Perry that he couldn’t comprehend. As they pulled out of the parking lot and started down the road, Perry realized that they were headed west instead of east back toward the office.

“Norman, what gives, man? I thought we were headed back to the office?”, Perry asked groggily.

Foster replied, “I have a couple of things to take care of before that. You don’t mind do you?”

“No, I guess not. I don’t feel well,” Perry said.

Foster replied, “Hmm, I wonder if perhaps you overdid it a little with the booze? Maybe you need to take it easy next time.” Foster smiled a big smile at him. The kind of smile a cat would have right before he ate the canary, if a cat could smile.

At some point during the trip, Perry passed out.

***

When Perry awoke, dawn was just beginning to break on the horizon. He looked at his watch. It was 6 a.m. ‘6 a.m.—less than 24 hours left until…!’ Perry jerked up from his reclining position in the passenger seat and immediately grabbed his head. It felt like someone was pounding it with a giant hammer. ‘What happened?’ Perry looked at Norman and asked, “Norman, where are we?”

Norman looked over at him, “We’re driving down the highway to one of my favorite places in southeastern Oklahoma. I told you I had something to take care of.”

Perry rubbed his hand over his face and tried to will away the pain, “Yeah, I know you did, but I thought it was like pick up bread and milk or something, not take a major road trip. If I had known that, I would have had you take me back to the office.”

“You are part of the reason that I needed to take this trip, Perry. Just sit back and try to enjoy the view. It is beautiful country out here.”

Perry looked out the window and worked at trying to clear the cobwebs from his brain. Foster was right, this was indeed beautiful country. The trees closing in on them as they headed down the highway made Perry feel a little claustrophobic.

Foster reached an intersection and turned back south. He sped up as he entered the highway. “It won’t be very much longer, Perry, old boy! I think you’ll like this place. Yes, sir…no place like it. Makes you want to be there forever!”

Foster pulled a cigar out of his jacket pocket, clipped it and lit it. He drew deeply and asked, “Would you like another?”

Perry shook his head no at the offer and wished that he hadn’t. His head throbbed again.

“Suit yourself, but you’re missing out,” Foster said with a smile. He drew another long puff on the cigar and sighed as he exhaled. “You know what I love about America, Perry?”

“No, what?”

“I love the fact that a man or woman can make themselves into whatever they wish to become. This is country was built by and for entrepreneurs. Where else in the world can a guy like you or me start a side business and still hold on to the secure day job until it gets going?”

“I don’t know of anywhere else,” said Perry.

“Damn right!” Foster drew another draw on his cigar and continued speaking as he exhaled. “Almost any business you can think up will succeed if you have the right market. Take, for instance, my business venture. It is something that will probably never make national headlines nor find a place on the New York Stock Exchange, but it meets the needs of my clientele just fine.”

“What kind of business is it, Norman?”

“You might say I am a consultant called in to deal with problems that people have with others.”

“Oh, really? You mean like helping to straighten out messes in companies and help them to become healthy again?”

“No, it’s much more personal than that. I deal more in resolving interpersonal problems. You might have heard of it, the One-Call Escort Service?” Foster looked over at Perry with an evil grin.

Perry sat in the seat stunned. “T-T-That is you?” He backed away as far as possible from Foster.

“Yeah, I got an interesting assignment, too. There is a guy in my office that wants me dead. Got the information on my fax machine yesterday. Can you imagine that?”

Perry didn’t know what to say. He thought about jumping from the car, but realized that a move like that would do him more harm than Foster. “Yes…um…no, er, I mean—it’s not like it sounded. I was angry. You screwed me over for promotions and raises, Norman. I wanted to get you back. I wasn’t REALLY going to go through with it…honest. I was going to call as soon as I got home last night and cancel the deal.”

“You were, huh? Well, I don’t generally go back on deals and I sure as hell don’t give refunds. So what good would that have done you?”

“I don’t know.” Perry was shaking by this time. He hated confrontation and there was no way to avoid it now.

“You see, the way I see things is this: it’s either you go or I go…and I am not planning on going anywhere! So, by process of elimination, that leaves you.”

Perry was trying to think of some way to escape from the situation but couldn’t find one.

“I drugged your cigar last night. That’s why you were so out of it when we left the restaurant. I was counting on the fact that you would be out for a while so I could get you out of the city to my favorite place. It’s quiet, it’s serene and it’s a place where a guy could spend an eternity. I thought to myself, ‘Why not Perry? He deserves a nice place to spend eternity, doesn’t he?’ I mean, hell, I didn’t want to leave you someplace inappropriate like an alleyway or something. Hell, I kind of like you. That’s when I thought up the idea of inviting you to dinner and bringing you out here. Besides all that, you know what they say? The locals in these parts say that if you bury a body out in these woods, the chances are slim to none that they’ll ever be found. See, I found you a nice, quiet place where no one will bother you.” Foster laughed and looked at Perry.

Perry was trembling as he sat in the passenger seat. ‘Damn, now what am I going to do? I guess I deserve it. I did this to myself.’ He sulked as he thought about his options. There were many -- and none of them were very appealing.

A few minutes later, Foster pulled off the main highway onto a logging road and made his way east for 5 or so miles. They passed several sites where loggers were working to clear trees for the lumber companies. Foster then turned south down a trail for a quarter of a mile and pulled up to a locked gate. He turned to Perry and said, “Stay put. I have to go unlock the gate. Don’t get any ideas about running.”

Perry’s head still hurt and he had no ideas about where he would run even if he could. He watched through the windshield as Foster unlocked the gate and swung it open.

Foster walked back to the Jeep and pulled it through the gate. He got out again and locked it back up. He got back into the Jeep and headed down an unmarked trail winding through the brush and trees.

“This is my place,” Foster said. “I bought it last year with part of my “moonlighting” money. It’s a great place for my wife and me to get away from it all and go camping. I also use it for deer hunting. I just know you are going to like it.”

Foster stopped the Jeep, killed the engine and puffed again on his cigar then placed it in the ashtray. “Well, Perry, we’re here. Let’s get out and I’ll show you around. After all, you are going to be here for a long time. You might as well get the chance to look the place over.” Foster laughed again and clamped his arm around Perry’s shoulder as they walked. Perry knew what a mouse must feel like when the cat played with it before eating it. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

Foster produced a pair of handcuffs from his coat pocket. He had Perry stretch his arms out in front of him and put them on him. Foster roughly grabbed the chain and attached a dog leash to the middle. “C’mon, let’s go look at your final resting place,” Foster said.

Foster jerked Perry along by the leash and led him around the property, telling him about all the features of the land. They walked until they reached a marshy area. “That’s far enough. It’s time we ended this thing. My wife told you that the deal would be done in 48 hours and I intend to keep that promise. I wouldn’t want any complaints from my clients.” He laughed and unhooked the dog leash from the handcuffs. Foster pushed Perry toward the edge of the marsh. “Stand over there…”, he growled.

Perry stepped over to where Foster pointed and wondered what would happen next. That is when it struck him. What have I got to lose? I’m going to die anyway…why not die fighting?

With all the strength that he could muster, Perry launched himself at Foster. Foster heard the sound and turned. He pulled a pistol from his waistband and fired at Perry. The bullet came so close that Perry felt the breeze it stirred. Perry hit Foster square in the body and knocked him to the ground. He lost his balance and fell to the ground.

Foster jumped up and dropped on top of him. “Alright, you want to make this tough? I can do that. You aren’t the first guy I’ve killed that went down fighting’” He leveled the pistol at Perry’s head and pulled the hammer back. “Say goodbye, Perry!”

Perry worked his arms free and hit Foster’s arm about the time Foster was going to pull the trigger. The blow knocked Foster off balance. The pistol slipped from his hands and landed just beyond the two men’s reach. As Foster fell to the ground, Perry brought a knee up into Foster’s groin and then jumped onto the middle of Foster’s chest. Perry pressed the chain of the handcuffs into Foster’s throat. The look of surprise was evident on Foster’s face. Perry pressed down harder when Foster reached for his throat and head. Foster’s face turned from a bright red color to a subtle shade of purple in a matter of moments. Moments later, Foster stopped fighting and fell limp to the ground.

Perry relaxed and then dug in Foster’s pocket for the key to the handcuffs. He removed the handcuffs with the key, stood up and dusted himself off. “Foster, you’re right. I’m just not myself… it’s a good thing too. I would be dead if I was my old self.” Perry turned his back on Foster and headed toward the Jeep to get a shovel. That’s when he heard the noise.

Foster hadn’t died as Perry had thought. He had only passed out from lack of oxygen. Foster struggled to pull himself up onto his hands and knees to catch Perry. When he realized that Perry was too far away for him to grab, Foster looked for the pistol. When he looked up at Perry, that’s when he saw the smile on Perry’s face and the pistol in Perry’s hands.

“Looking for something?” Perry said as he brought the pistol up level and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck Foster in the forehead. He fell to the ground and didn’t get up again.

***
Late afternoon, as the sun was starting to move toward the west, Perry pulled away from the gate in the Jeep. He hoped that the locals were right about not ever finding a body in these woods.

“It’s been one hell of a day.”, he said softly as he drove away.

Perry wondered if there was any way to get a refund from One-Call.  

The End.


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This story is copyright by Tim Wilkins. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)