It’s funny, the little things that provide the inspiration for a story. In the following story, the seed of the idea started with a TV commercial featuring a woman in the kitchen receiving a phone call from a loft insulation salesman. She puts him on hold while she goes off to make a cup of coffee. It got me thinking of all the different ways to deal with cold callers…
Time – 08:00: Here I am, Sunday morning, sitting at my keyboard, working on my blog. It’s another short story, not so much a whodunit as a whytheydunit.
The TV’s off, I’ve put my mobile on silent, logged off from Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media, and locked the wife and kids in the cellar – well, not really, I made that last bit up, but you take my point.
I’m lost in my own little world, the only external contact being my fingers tapping away at the keyboard. The words are flowing, bringing the page alive before my very eyes, I couldn’t be happier… The last time I had a flow like this was a burst water pipe.
Disaster… The landline is ringing. I think for a moment to ignore it. Only my family and close friends know my home number; it might be important. Reluctantly I emerge from my other world…
“Yeah, who’s this?” I ask, making little effort to hide my annoyance at the interruption. If it’s anyone I know I can make my apologies later. If not, I don’t care…
“Is that Mr Brown?” The twat didn’t even have the courtesy to answer my question.
“Who is it that’s asking?” I ask, again…
“Oh I’m sorry, did I not say?”
“Ah, okay, I’m sorry…” He’s lying; he’s not a bit sorry, obviously a salesman of some sort.
“So you said. Now, who are you?”
“Yes of course, my name’s Colin, Colin Smithers.” Smarmy git, he’s trying to control the exchange, like a chess player trying to dominate the middle of the board. Well, I’m not playing…
“What do you want?” I already know what he wants, a sales commission. He won’t be getting one, not from me…
“I’m calling on behalf of Snuggly loft insulation, and…”
“I live in an igloo! I’m not interested.” I say, slamming the phone down. I take a deep breath, just like my therapist advised.
Time – 08:35: I’m back at my keyboard. I can’t help wondering, if I can’t even get some peace and quiet in my own home to write, how the hell did JK Rowling manage it in a cafe? I put the thought from my mind as I resume the sentence I was writing. Now what was it, oh yes I remember, the outline of a murder plot, my fingers returning to the keyboard once more..
Dingggg Dongggg… It’s the front doorbell going…
“What the fuck now?” I mutter under my breath, once again having to tear myself away from my beloved keyboard…
“Yes?” I ask, throwing the door wide open. Standing before me are a man and a woman, of African origin I would say, wearing bright coloured clothing and with equally bright beaming white teethed smiles that would grace the covers of Dentistry Monthly
“We’re from the Holy Hackney Church of the Apostles…”
“And I’m from the Battersea Boy’s Home for waifs and strays, what of it?”
The beaming smiles momentarily wither beneath their puzzled frowns. But only for a moment; they’re trained you know, to deal with stroppy unbelievers. The greater the challenge the greater the reward in heaven, they think. I’m about to throw doubt on their hypothesis…
“Would you be interested in any of our leaflets on the life eternal…?”
I’m glad it’s the man who’s asking. I’m not sexist or ‘owt, but I do find it so much easier being rude and abrupt to another man. It’s a failing, I know; I’m sure if I was a woman I’d feel comfortable with either.
“Not in the slightest!” I reply, about to close the door on this interruption.
“You’re not a believer then my friend?” Asks the female half of the double act.
I feel my blood pressure rising, I take another deep breath, just as I’ve been told. My therapist is going to have to devise a more effective coping mechanism for me; this one is beginning to fail…
“Oh but I am,” I reply, treating them both to a broad smirk, “a fully paid-up member of the Sun Worshiping Pagan Tree Hugging Society, have you heard of us? No? …Thought not…”
It was amusing to see those ‘far too happy to be true’ smiles fall from their faces as they turned to walk away in sync with my closing the door on them. Another unwelcome interruption satisfyingly dispatched…
Time – 09:15: I’m back at my keyboard. A full stop concludes the sentence I was writing, and indeed the paragraph. It’s also the conclusion of my muse for the moment. My ‘flow’ has become a trickle, and no, that’s not a reference to a prostate problem so please forgive the unfortunate analogy.
The brief satisfaction of my dismissal of the God botherers has worn off. I’m still annoyed at them, blaming them for my loss of focus. I sit staring at the screen, the words on the page a blur, my fingers seemingly paralysed. Another hour passes and still the words don’t come. I fill the following hour with all manner of meaningless tasks: tea making, email checks, Facebook updates, anything to fill the void until the words return. Nothing seems to work, I’m becoming jittery, like an ex-smoker in those first few days of giving up. The deep breathing exercises have lost all effect. I resolve to make another appointment with my therapist. I really should take one of my pills, but I don’t want to blur my imagination even more…I take one anyway.
My morose mood is punctured by the sound of the landline ringing, my second call of the day…
“Hello, is this Mr Brown?” A voice asks. With my mind and fingers still not communicating, this time it’s a welcome intrusion.
“Yes it is. Who’s calling please?”
“My name’s John Hargreaves. I’m calling on behalf of Winter Warm Windows about an exclusive offer we have for your area, Mr Brown.”
“Sorry, what was that name again…Har…Grove… was it? Could you spell that please?”
“Spell it..?” I can hear the frustration in his voice.
“Yes, that’s right, just so I know who I’m talking to…” It’s only fair; he already knows who I am…
“Errm… Yes, right then… H – A – R – G – R – E – A -V – E – S.”
“Thank you for that. And the name of your company? Was that Winter Warm or Warm Winter?”
“The first one, Winter Warm, but as I was saying…” The resignation in his voice is becoming more evident, I wonder if he has high blood pressure too?
“And is that all one word or two, or hyphenated maybe?”
“Oh, erm, two words, without a hyphen… But, what I wanted to…”
“Thank you for that John…I can call you John can I?” I’m enjoying this. Before he can answer I continue:
“Tell me, John, what’s it like working for Winter Warm? Are they a good firm to work for, it’s just that I’m thinking of a career change and I quite like the idea of sitting around all day just talking to people…”
“It’s… a bit like that, but…” Again I cut him short…
“And the pay, would you say they pay well? It’s not one of those ‘commission only’ setups is it? I would insist on a decent basic salary as well, wouldn’t you agree…?”
Time to give him a moment to splutter some blurb about what it is he wants me to buy…
“Yes, the pay’s okay, and yes, there’s a basic salary, but what I was calling about was our special offer to customers in your area…”
“A special offer you say, how exciting.” I hope he recognises the distain in my voice.
“Are you offering to double glaze my entire house for free then?” If he says yes I might even start taking this conversation seriously…
“Not free exactly, but we are offering a fifty per cent discount to the first twenty customers who sign up for six new windows.”
“That sounds good,” I lie, “and the payment, can I pay in instalments, would there be a deposit to pay first?”
“Yes, definitely, you can pay in instalments, with just a ten per cent deposit to pay first.”
“And the deposit, can I pay that in instalments too?”
“Well, not really, we do require the ten per cent to paid before any commencement of work I’m afraid.”
“Oh,” I say, trying to sound disappointed.
“I’ll have to give it some thought then. Obviously before making any commitment I’ll need to take a few particulars about your company to verify its legitimacy, you don’t mind do you?”
“No, not at all,” he says, actually believing I’m genuinely interested now.
“First, could you give me the full postal code addresses of both your local and Head office premises, as well as that of any parent company, and of course their respective customer service and administration telephone numbers. I’ll also need your VAT and Company House registration numbers. I trust none of that will be a problem?”
“All the information you’ve asked for would be in the documentation we provide.”
He’s trying to maintain his composure and civility; sales calls are mostly recorded these days. I suspect this is being recorded too, for training and monitoring purposes, otherwise he would almost certainly have either put the phone down by now or bluntly asked if this was a piss-take.
“I appreciate that, but I would still require it beforehand, for my checks you see. And another thing I forgot to ask, is it a new company, and who the directors are? You hear so many horror stories of rogue companies carrying out bad work, closing down, and then opening up again under a slightly different name… Your company isn’t one of those is it?”
There’s an uneasy pause before he answers:
“No, we’re not one of those companies,” he reassures me…
“I’m sure you’re not, but you do see I had to ask don’t you? It’s just that while we’ve been talking I’ve been googling your company. According to their entries, your company was only formed six months ago, and it has… My gosh… Eighty-seven consumer complaints against it and an honorary mention on both the Cowboy Builders and Consumer Watchdog TV programs…”
I wait in gleeful anticipation for his reply… Oh dear, we seem to have been cut off, I conclude as the line goes dead. I’m so grateful for his call though, our little exchange has quite rejuvenated my creativity…
Time – 11:55: The words are flowing again, my mood lifted, and my blood pressure back down in the safe zone. Life is good again as I put together the final pieces of my literary jigsaw. The final dilemma was the method to be used for the actual murder committed by my principal character. I had been torn between a brutal bludgeoning or knife attack, and poisoning. The decision is clear to me now as the final scene comes alive on the page…
Dingggg Dongggg… The sound of the doorbell shatters the tranquillity, again…
Deep breaths, in-out, in-out, fists clenching, blood pressure ready to explode again. I close my eyes in the hope that whoever it is will go away…
Dingggg Dongggg… Why now? Sunday is supposed to be a day of peace and quiet…
They’re still there. I feel an anxiety attack coming on. I’ve not the time to take a pill or ring my therapist. Defeated, I rise from my desk to answer yet another intrusive call…
“Yes!” It’s not a question this time. The man standing before me grins like a Cheshire cat. He’s younger than me, mid-thirties I estimate. His suit is slightly ill-fitting. He’s gone for the executive look, but on a limited budget, it’s more ‘dodgy second-hand car salesman.’
“Hello, I’m Colin, Colin Smithers; we spoke on the phone earlier this morning. I think I may have caught you at an inconvenient moment at the time.”
My jaw drops in disbelief. The arrogance of this prick. Was I not blunt enough with him on the phone?
“What is it you want?” I’m bloody pissed; this really is taking cold calling to a whole new level. I’ve had enough. Well, I think my response will also have to be taken to a whole new level too…
“I think we may have gotten off to a bad start on the telephone earlier, and as I was in the area on another appointment I thought I might call on you personally to let you know about our limited time exclusive offer we are able to offer on account of a budget underspend last month.”
“Yes, perhaps I was a bit hasty this morning. Please come in…”
Time – 13:45: I’m back at my keyboard. I’ve just about finished my story. The murder scene came out better than I could ever have imagined, a gory brutal decapitation for dramatic effect…
It just after 2:20pm when the armed response unit arrived at the house. Mr Brown was sitting at his desk, typing, covered in blood, muttering away to himself, something about ignoring any more interruptions. He hadn’t even noticed when they came crashing through the door, armed to the teeth, screaming at him to drop to the floor. He just looked over his shoulder and calmly turned off his PC, and told them he was done now done and would be happy to oblige. It was the strangest call-out they’d ever had; the odd reports of a possible murder, the site of that severed head hanging from the external door knocker when they arrived and the makeshift sign saying ‘NO COLD CALLERS’.
One year later… Time – 08:00: It’s great here. I’ve got access to lots of PCs, and even one in my room. I no longer have to work, not if I don’t want to, so I’ve got all the time in the world for my writing. The doctors tell me I’ll be here for the next twenty years at least, even longer with a bit of luck, though I’ll have to play up a bit if I want an indefinite stay.
Now, what was I writing, ah yes, a storyline for the murder of an annoying room-mate…
Posted on November 21, 2013, in Humour, Short Stories and tagged black comedy, crime, dark, Humour, murder, short story. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.
Good story, Paul. I think you’ve hit a metaphorical nail on its metaphorical head with the subject matter! When it comes to the ending, I think you could have missed out the penultimate paragraph (third person section) as the reader’s imagination fills in the blanks. Also, the last paragraph would work without the ‘One year later …’ heading. The macabre door knocker could still be included, perhaps even at the start of the tale, almost as though it’s part of the story the author is writing? The most successful paragraph for me is where you begin with: “The brief satisfaction of my dismissal of the God botherers has worn off …” I think it’s because the writing takes the reader directly into the character’s head, as though sharing the cold-caller-hater’s thoughts rather than reading an account of what the thoughts/actions were.There are also some lovely examples of rhythmic writing (I don’t think that’s an actual literary technique term, but I like it!): “I fill the following hour with all manner of meaningless tasks …”. It’s never a good idea to overdo the alliteration, but when used well, as you do positioning it here, it helps the writing, and therefore the reading, flow.
Remind me never to interrupt your writing when you’re in full flow … 😉
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks for your thorough commentary here. I’ll be taking another look at the third person paragraph in my final proof reading. I wasn’t even aware of the rhythmic writing and alliteration aspects until you pointed them out, at least not consciously – it just looked and sounded good at the time – so thanks for highlighting it.
As for being interrupted in my writing, I think the worst one might expect would be a gruff shrug of the shoulders… lol
Thanks as always,
If I’m interrupted, it depends what mood I’m in as to the reception received!
As for the alliteration and rhythm, I think Tom’s trick of reading aloud is a really good way of testing how well something flows. I wait till I’m alone before I do that, though!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Another good read, Paul, and – as promised – completely different to the other posts I’ve read. Absolutely spot on characterisation, which you maintained throughout. Funnily enough, although I know it appealed to some of your other commentators, I actually don’t think you need the third person segment. As a reader we can sense that something nasty happened to Smithers and my imagination was already working out what it might be. But that’s just personal taste, so don’t take it too seriously. It made me smile, so I didn’t take it seriously either…
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes, Julia Lund also queried the third person paragraph, so again it’s something I’ll be looking at in my final editing and proof reading stages.
What do I like about this cautionary tale of disturbing one of our breed? Everything. Writing in first person point of view is tricky unless it’s treated properly, but there are certain types of stories where it works particularly well … and this is one such story.
Crucially, you’ve managed to get across a dark humour in the opening lines, so the reader knows that we’re dealing here with somebody who is quirky, and might well laugh at things that might not appeal to the general public.
The characterisation is first class, and the cold callers were well drawn. I was impressed by the continuity of the humour right to the conclusion. Humour is notoriously difficult to write, but you have a natural talent for it. Well done mate!
Oh wow! Am really pleased you think it worked out okay. If truth be known, my original plan was for a darker, horror type story totally devoid of humour. The ‘funny’ bits just seemed right at the time, and I’ve no idea how, but the story just went off in an unexpected direction. It was one of my early stories, and as such hasn’t had much in the way of reaction, but your comment here convinces me to include it in my anthology. Thanks!!!!
Really liked this one — that head hanging there for the police to find and the guy just writing away like nothings wrong.
Yes, I really enjoyed writing this one.
This is brilliant. My husband would love it. Cold callers is the bane of his existence. In fact, most callers annoy him. lol Great job and I really enjoyed reading it.
Am really pleased you liked it, and thanks for taking the same to say so, it’s really appreciated!
Am glad you liked it, and even more so that you found it funny; it was originally meant to be a straight-forward murder tale, but as the character developed I thought it would work better as a sort of black comedy, so many thanks for taking the time to comment, it’s very much appreciated…
I loved this. It made me laugh out loud. The image of the severed head hanging from the door knocker…what a brilliant twist, and yet he stays absolutely in character. Great story.