Can you remember anything unusual about the call? Anything? Anything at all?
Sitting in her manager’s office, surrounded by him, his manager and the VP of her department–plus three serious looking detectives who were staring her down–was NOT the way she wanted to end her day. Looking at their faces, she realized, they were now waiting for an answer– a different answer than the one she’d already given them three times in a row. No…no and no! There was nothing more to tell them. It had been a night like any other, alarms were coming in sporadically, sometimes five, six seven, in a row and then nothing at all–for half an hour. Keeping awake and focused was difficult at times–so she read and periodically checked her phone for messages. Sometimes she even scrolled down her Facebook page in an effort to stay alert. It was all routine tonight–the same stuff she did every other night at her job.
But–something WAS different. Something had happened earlier tonight–that much she knew. Didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this much attention and sitting in the “hot seat” in her manager’s office being grilled–was not the “normal routine”. They had been asking her the same questions now for over an hour! “Try to remember,” the one detective said. He had a notepad in his hand and seemed to be writing down random things–even though no one was talking. “Did you hear anything unusual? Maybe a sound in the background? Someone yelling? Or maybe the woman you spoke to? Was she out of breath? Did she seem distressed at all? Just think back…anything you can remember might be helpful”, her manager said to her–as he had quite a few times before.
So she decided to do as he asked–she thought about the night’s alarm calls. There had been so many–as an operator for a small security alarm company, on any given night, she handled at least 100–but sometimes even 150 to 200 alarm calls. She was an experienced operator–but after doing this job for 20 years–those alarms had all started sounding the same a long time ago. Had she told them that? She must’ve mentioned it awhile back–while her manager had been explaining the “basics” of what her job actually entailed. The incoming alarm hits a her computer screen, the premise phone number appears on the screen and she dials it–if someone answers–she asks them for their “password” or “codeword.” That being a word the customer chooses before signing the alarm contract. If the right word is given–she asks the customer if everything is ok. If the answer is yes–she wishes them a good night and that call is done. She then hots the “enter” button to bring the next alarm down to her screen. It’s the same process over and over and over again–the repetition is dull and boring and sometimes downright–nauseating! It wasn’t a job that required a lot of skill–why in her manager’s own words–“A trained monkey” could do it. Bu then there’s that other “variable”–if the phone number gets called and the correct password is NOT given– well then–there’s a little more “thinking” involved with the job. She would call the police–give them all the information she has on her screen–name, address etc. The police then are dispatched to investigate how, why and by whom–the alarm was set off. The same procedure is followed for a fire alarm–only the fire department gets dispatched instead of the police. For a medical alarm–either sent in from an alarm keypad or via a pendant that the customer wears around their neck–the password is not required but if necessary–an ambulance is dispatched for whatever the medical emergency is–oftentimes it’s just an accidental trigger. Grandma pushed the pendant while she was getting up off the toilet–that kind of stuff. All really very routine –even boringly mundane–except…one in a blue moon or so..when it’s anything but.
Once in a while–just when she comes to the decision that the job was boring her to death –i.e.– slowly killing brain cells in her head that were not being put to any good use–just when she has made up (what’s left of) her mind–to quit–something “new and different” would happen. There would be a REAL burglary–or a REAL fire (eeew that sounds sort of ghoulish but a mind is such a terrible thing to waste and a fire? It gets that mind jump-started again)– and she and her fellow “trained monkeys” would get the chance to feel as close to “heroes” as some ever will. Sometimes a child would answer the phone when she called –a crying child, left home alone by some clueless parent using the alarm as a “babysitter” for their child. Said child–bewildered by the blaring alarm would have to be calmed while the police were being called. How she would hope that those parents got fined for endangering their children that way! It wasn’t much in the way of excitement or stimulation but at least those kind of calls got the blood flowing back to her brain every once in a while!
“Anything? Anything at all?” That question jarred her back into the “present”. She was still in the office and these detectives were still asking the same questions…”No!” she answered again–“A hundred times NO!” She had not heard, seen or sensed anything wrong during THAT alarm call. She had no reason to believe that the specific alarm the detectives were referring to–had been anything but–routine. “What on earth do you expect me to tell you?”, she cried out in frustration. “WHY on earth do you keep asking me the same question– over and over again?”, she whined. Finally, her manager came to her rescue–“Fellas”, he said, “I think that’s it for now–there’s just nothing to be gotten here–she really doesn’t have anything to add to your investigation”. But the second detective (the one in the grease stained sports jacket and the five o’clock shadow on his face) pulls his chair closer to hers and puts his arm on her shoulder –he takes a deep breath and exhales –right into her face (man his breath smelled like onions!) “One more time…” he drawls as she snaps her head back and sees–out of the corner of her eyes that the other five people in the room are now ALL staring at her! FUCK-FUCK-FUCK–she thinks–WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO DO??? The voice inside her head is now screaming! Her armpits were getting damp, and the palms of her hands were cold and clammy as all hell! She felt tiny beads of sweat forming on her upper lip and her throat was dry…so… very… dry. But she knew she HAD to stick to her story–she just HAD to! No matter what! Even if they decided to fire her–what she had told them was –NOTHING–and that was all they were gong to get.
The detective cleared his throat and said very softly…”Someone got killed last night. That someone was in the house, of the alarm, that you called at 7:54 P.M.–the detective slowly said. “Wait–what?…” she sputtered. “HOLY SHIT! WHAT DID YOU SAY?” She cried out (quite convincingly). “What do you mean someone got killed? What are you saying?” Her manager spoke then and said–“The boyfriend got killed. The boyfriend/lover of the woman you spoke to on the phone (for less than 2 minutes) got killed at 7:55 pm tonight. ”
“But HOW? HOW was he killed”?…She asked, trying hard to force a look of utter disbelief and shock to register on her face. upon her face. “Well”, the manger said, I’ll let the detectives fill you in on the rest…and so they did.
Apparently, during that less than two minute phone call with “Mrs. Smith” (who had given her a correct password)–“Mrs. Smith’s boyfriend was attempting to run out the back door of Mrs. Smith’s house–naked–while being chased by Mrs. Smith’s husband–who had arrived (earlier than expected–perhaps suspecting his wife’s infidelity?) and entered quickly through the front door–setting off the burglar alarm. It seemed that Mr. Smith failed to disarm the alarm (by punching in his key code) because both his hands were otherwise engaged–the left hand holding his keys and the tight hand holding his double-barreled shot gun. He aimed and fired the shot gun at the fleeing (naked) body of Mrs. Smiths lover and fatally shot him in the back. All this was happening–while Mrs. Smith (calmly) gave you her password and assured you that everything was “ok” before disconnecting the call.”.
WELL SHIT! She now sat there –looking (appropriately) stunned–slowly letting out a deep–huge–breath. A breath she had been holding in (it seemed) the entire time the detective was speaking. Was he done now? She wondered to herself. But no–he continued speaking–his voice a bit calmer now. He said–very evenly–“So you see, Ms. Jones…As you were speaking to your customer–‘Mrs. Smith’–she was witnessing her boyfriend/lover being shot in cold blood–right before her very eyes!” If we are to believe what you keep insisting is true–the same Mrs. Smith–was calm as a cucumber, while all this was happening? Even managing to give her password and assure you that everything was just fine?”
Well, how man times was he going to repeat that scenario to her–she wondered. But she answered…”Yes–and Yes…and Yes!” Repeating once again that she had heard nothing in the background–absolutely –nothing! No gun shot, no door banging, no other voices, no crying–no shouting–NOTHING! She knew the phone calls were not recorded and everyone at her company knew the equipment was lousy and out-dated–why sometimes there was so much static on the line, an operator could not even hear the customer and had to hang up and try again. “I’m really sorry–so SORRY–but I can’t help you!”, she said, feeling strangely calmer now that the whole “business of what had transpired” was out in the open. “I have nothing else to say–so–can i go now?”, she asked.
The taller detective, the one who had questioned her the first time, stood up and held the door open for her–told her she was “free to go”. So she thanked him and quickly walked out the door. She walked back to her cubicle–her back straight–hoping no voices would be calling her back. This “trained monkey” was no fool. She knew how to “watch her own back”. Of course she HAD heard that gunshot, HAD heard a man’s voice in the background say to Mrs. Smith in a menacing tone…”Give her the damned code word Judy and tell her if she sends the cops…she’s as dead as your damned lover!” So Judy Smith did exactly as she was told–she gave the password but then had whispered into the phone–. ” PLEASE–Don’t send the cops…don’t say anything to anyone…he’s already killed and if you say anything, he’ll find you and kill you too! He will…he will! He’s a mean son of a bitch but he won’t kill me–he knows that’ll just put me out of my misery. It’s too easy…he likes to see me suffer! But he’ll kill you for sure, if you say ANYTHING!”
WHOA! YEAH! She had panicked at that point–had wondered if Mr. Smith could really do that? Could he find her? With one finger on the “drop call” button…ready to dial the police line…she had weighed the odds against her and then her “monkey sense” took over. No one here was paying her to use her head–HELL–hell they were barely paying her enough to pay her rent! She hadn’t gotten one raise in the last five years! She knew exactly what she had to do–so she had slowly moved her finger OFF the drop button and said as calmly as she could…”Well–Thank you Mrs. Smith–As long as everything is okay–you have a good night”. Then she disconnected the call.
She looked down now at the broken chair in her cubicle–the one with the foam arm rests that looked like someone had taken a few bites out of them. She sat down in the tilting chair–put on her headset, hit the “enter” button on her keyboard and took the next alarm. She dialed the premise phone number –listened as the phone rang–once, twice, three times–then a woman’s voice said “Hello”.
“May I have your password please?”, the operator asked, and when she got it–thanked the customer–asked her if everything was OK (it was)–then wished her a good night.
A Good night? Maybe not–But still just another routine night–doing a routine job for (less than) routine pay. She was so tired of this bullshit! Maybe it WAS time for her to think about retirement? Lord knows she wasn’t getting any younger–and Mrs. Smith’s boyfriend wasn’t getting any older *sigh*