Raleigh, North Carolina. Present Day…
Eric listened over the cordless phone for several more seconds. Same results.
Eric shot one of his index fingers to his mouth as he shushed his older co-worker, Barb. Both froze on spot in the downtown high-rise office they were cleaning. An executive office they had just finished cleaning. And that’s all they were supposed to do.
Barb playfully smacked the early-twenty-something on one of his shoulders with one of her cleaning towels after he disconnected the cordless with the push of a button. “Eric, you’re going to get us both killed!”
“Why? I didn’t say anything that gave us away!”
Barb, rotund and in her fifties, shook her head as she pushed their shared garbage cart out of the posh suite and rolled it out into the hallway; Eric close behind, as he turned out the lights and shut the locked door.
“The Beneficial techies could look in their phone records and see their calls. It doesn’t take a genius to see the time matching up with third shift…they’ll figure it out and you’re screwed, young man!”
Eric waved her off as he grabbed his master card-key from one of his pockets and opened the next office for the team to clean. They, each, began their respective routine for cleaning a business facility—Eric started on dumping the trash containers into one of the large barrels they were pushing around in their cart; Barb began her dusting.
“It was a little different this time…”
Barb never broke from her stride with her dusting. “You mean that phone call you shouldn’t have answered?”
Given that Eric was Swifty Shift’s cleaning crew’s resident trickster, she expected him to laugh, send a sarcastic remark her way…something. But he was actually serious that time.
“There was nothing over the phone line…not the electronic clicks that we usually hear when it’s an automated telemarketing computer. I mean, you could tell someone was just listening to me, and then hung up!”
She glanced at him as they both worked. “Kind of taking this a bit serious, aren’t you? It just could’ve been a wrong number.”
“With someone over the line saying nothing for literally a minute? Most people apologize and hang up…at the very least, they’d just hang up!”
Barb shrugged. She was working her way to the back of the suite, while Eric was already at the last office at the back area. “Could’ve been Mr. Turner, himself…maybe he called to see if someone would answer the phone to his own office?”
Now Eric froze with fear! Barb smirked. Eric then visibly relaxed as a thought occurred to him. “I don’t think so. You said it yourself: businesses have the ability to monitor calls. Why bother staying up late at night to call in and see if the janitors are fooling around with his phone in his office? Wouldn’t an executive of a multibillion dollar insurance company have a lot of better things to do?”
Eric actually had a good point. Barb shrugged again and continued with her work. “I told you weeks ago not to answer all those phone calls in all those offices. Remember? Now you’re having to look over your shoulders…”
This time, Eric had no wisecrack for Barb. She was right, after all.
The small cleaning crew had just gone on their second break for the evening. There were about ten employees in total, not including the night supervisor. Barb had gone off with a couple of other female workers in a cafeteria elsewhere in the edifice. Like most of the others, Eric just broke into a small package of junk food and ate it in the main lobby of the high-rise since their breaks weren’t all that long. He was taking a gulp of his lukewarm coffee in one of those ubiquitous, cheap Styrofoam cups when his smartphone vibrated. He didn’t recognize the number in the caller id section.
His phone was in working order, and there was no interference in the lobby. The connection was open and the clock on his smartphone’s call-timer was counting when Eric looked at it—to make sure the caller didn’t hang up. It was just that no one was talking.
“Barb,” Eric said over his phone; laughing, “are you trying to teach me a lesson? Look, I got it, OK? I won’t…”
Eric broke off from his sentence because he looked up and saw Barb walking back to the lobby area, with her two co-worker friends…and she was not on her phone!
“OK,” Eric said over his phone; at a whisper and tense, “I’ve had it with your shit, whoever this is…first it was in Turner’s office tonight, but, now, my own phone? I’ll trace this call and go to the cops, you got that?”
Eric’s phone was still lit up and the call-counter was still going. He put the phone back to his ear to see if he could get any clues—background noises; breathing…the caller finally disconnected the call.
When Eric finally looked up from his phone, he saw that Barb had noticed that something was wrong. She broke with her friends and went over to see what was going on with Eric. When she got to him, all she did was look at him with an inquisitive face.
“That call again,” was all he said to Barb; his eyes staying on his phone.
“You mean you got a similar call on your cell, like the one from Turner’s office?” Her eyes were wide with surprise and concern.
“Yup…Barb, this was not a wrong call.”
“Trace it,” she shot out; starting to get tense, herself. “Get a copy of the records from your provider and—”
“Yeah, I already threatened him with that…” Eric thought for a second. “Or her.” He shrugged.
The other cleaners were starting to break up and head back to work.
“Wait a minute,” Barb said; calling out to Eric before he started for the elevators. “Even if you’re right about this being the same person, how would this individual get your personal number?” She looked around and began to whisper. “Turner’s company number, I can see someone Googling that. But your cell…?”
They both thought for a bit. Eric then gave Barb an askance look.
“Hey, I didn’t give out your number to anyone else! And we know it wasn’t me. So— ”
Just then, their young boss was making the rounds in Beneficial Security’s lobby, to make sure his team was going back to work…Eric and Barb quickly made their way to the nearest elevators.
Third shift for Swifty was finally done. There actually were some over-achieving office workers showing up for work! Sometimes whenever Eric seen such determined, career-minded people at the high-rise he would feel a shot of regret that he hadn’t pushed himself to finish his business degree at the local community college. He was still very young, so he had not given up on the idea. But, like so many Millennials of the early 21st century, Eric was stuck in the cycle of finding a full-time job to pay the bills and he did not want to risk being burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of tuition the second he graduated!
So, like he’d done so often in his young life, he settled on his current situation—
“Hey, Donland,” Andrew, Swifty Shift’s night supervisor, called out to Eric from the maintenance area, “someone’s here to see you! Said she’d meet you in the loading area!”
Eric frowned to himself. He was not the most social creature, and the few people he did know were mere acquaintances from work or back home in Utah; where his parents and his siblings still lived. So…?
“Who is it,” Eric lobbed back to Andrew as the last of his co-workers zipped by; excited their shift was finished.
“How the hell should I know?”
Eric looked around, hoping to see Barb still around. She was like his out-of-state aunt to him and had often relied on her for support over the four years he’d been working for Swifty. She was nowhere around as he walked toward the truck-docking area…
Before Eric got to the door that led to the loading section, he could already see the middle-aged woman standing by the mostly-glass door. She was formally dressed and had a very business attitude about her.
“Hi,” Eric said cautiously as he kept the dock door half-opened, “is there something I can do for you?”
“Hi, Eric, I’m Detective Thyla Grimes with the Raleigh Police Department…”
Oh, shit...all those calls I’ve been answering in the offices, he thought with terror as the detective continued talking.
“I was told that your shift stops around four o’clock?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Do you have some time to talk?”
Eric looked at her perplexed. “Uhh, sure…”
He followed the young detective to a more open part of the loading dock area. Given that it was Summer one was able to see indigo creeping into the early sky of the morning.
They stopped at a spot and Detective Grimes just looked at him for several seconds; making Eric very uncomfortable.
“Mr. Donland, I see you like to do a little extracurricular activities during work.”
His stomach dropped! “Detective Grimes…I, I won’t even try to pretend I didn’t do it. Barb, my co-worker and friend, tried to tell—“
“Yeah, we know that’s who two of her work buddies got their drugs from…we already had them all in custody while you were finishing up your shift.”
Now Eric was numb and, no doubt, looking quite dumfounded!
“Mr. Donland,” she continued; but with a more curious tone, “I don’t know if you realized just how lucky you are?”
“What? How’s that?”
Again, the detective gave a rather apprising look at him. Perhaps Grimes thought Eric was playing dumb? “Mr. Donland, for future reference to whatever jobs you might have later in life, you might want to be careful how you horseplay. In this post-Nine-Eleven era, everyone is video recorded in some form or fashion! Even if you don’t see a camera, there’s bound to be one somewhere!
“At the office while we looked at Beneficial’s security cameras, we noticed a very curious thing with you during those sessions…every time Barb came at you, a phone in the office would ring!”
“What?” Eric’s mind began to replay how just within the past few weeks, the phone calls began to happen during his shift. He looked up at Detective Grimes, whom was stoically nodding her head in affirmation. “But that’s crazy! OK, the RPD picked her up on drug charges, but what does that have to do with her trying to hurt me?”
“Kill you, Mr. Donland…sometimes it was a pair of scissors from a desk; other times a letter opener from another office…remember, we have it all on Beneficial’s cam records.”
“But…” Eric was almost in denial. Almost. “Why would she want to kill me?”
“You were a risk of exposing her and you didn’t even know it…”
It was at that point the detective pulled out her RPD-issued smartphone and brought up a picture of a selfie he had taken with Barb and the two women he had seen her go to lunch break with earlier that night! It was during a party at one of the other lady’s house…where Eric had, indeed, stumbled across a hidden factory for some of North America’s hardest drugs on the streets! Eric remembered he had acted as if he had never seen it whenever he was around Barb.
And that party had taken place a few weeks earlier…
By that time, Eric was shaking his head for the disbelief that a so-called friend would have, literally, stabbed him in the back. After four years of working so well together!
“Anyway,” Detective Grimes said; placing the phone back in her pocket, “I just wanted to touch bases with you about all this. Like I said, Mr. Donland, I’d cool off on clowning around any worksites from now on. Thanks for—“
“Wait a minute,” Eric said; stopping Detective Grimes as she turned to walk off. “So, Raleigh Police didn’t do those calls, then?”
“Of course not,” she said with the biggest smile Eric had seen her with since meeting her. “We’re the ones who noticed the timing, remember? Besides, when we monitored the videos, they weren’t real time.”
“So how did someone know when to call me?”
Both squinted their eyes as they thought on the question. Detective Grimes walked back to where Eric was with a hand held out.
“May I see your phone?”
“Yeah…” He simply handed his smartphone to her.
Eric could see that the detective was quite adept at maneuvering through his phone’s call history list…then she flinched.
“That call in Mr. Turner’s office tonight…was it around quarter after ten?”
Eric thought for a few seconds. “Yes, as a matter of fact. About that time. But I had gotten a call on my cell around two-fifteen…why? Were they the same number?”
For a while, Detective Grimes said nothing as she kept her head lowered; reading Eric’s phone history. “Yeah, according to RPD’s records they’re the same phone number that called you at Turner’s office and your phone. Thing is, it’s been disconnected for years. It used to belong to Barb’s dead husband.”