The Phone Call

I have hit the wall on my long short story which started to turn into a novella but now looks like being my first novel. Mum suggested I write a short story to get my mind off it, so this afternoon, while I had the house to myself, I wrote the following short story. I initially called it The Phone Call, but then remembered one of the stories in ‘Unfurled’ was called that, so I changed the title. Let’s know what you think.

PHONING HOME

By Chick Dubber

Ring-Ring . . . Ring-Ring . . . Ring-Ring . . . Ring

“Hello”

“Hi, it’s me.”

“Hello, are you there?”

“Hello. Jack, it’s me, Julie.”

“Hello. Is anyone there?”

“Jack, it’s me, Julie.”

“Is that you Julie?”

“Yes. It must be a bad line. I can hear you okay.”

“Julie. What the hell do you want?”

“Jack, we need to talk.”

“I thought you were through talking to me.”

“Things have changed.”

“I think you’ve left it too late for talking.”

“Please. Just hear what I have to say.”

“Why should I? You made your choice when you buggered off with that religious con man.”

“I’m finished with him and his commune. It’s over, I’ve come to my senses. Please listen to me.”

“Where are you calling from?”

“I’m in LA.”

“What are you doing there? I thought you went to some place in the Rockies near Denver.”

“It’s a long story.”

“Okay, you’re paying for the call. Start talking, and it had better be good or I’m hanging up.”

“I made a big mistake. I know that now. Samuel John Baxter cast a spell over me.”

“I thought you called him The Great Leader.”

“All of his followers do. I admit I did too. It’s hard to explain, but I was willing to follow him to the ends of the earth. He was my whole life and I felt so serene and safe in his care.”

“Enough to walk out on me and our two children?”

“I regret that now. I’m really sorry. But it wasn’t me. The Great Leader, Samuel, took over my life. I was sucked up into his circle and wherever he went, I went. Whatever he asked me to do, I did. He said he wanted me to travel with him to Colorado and find my spiritual self. I went.”

“You emptied our joint account before you left. Was that his idea or yours?”

“I didn’t realise I’d done that. He must have made me.”

“Sure.”

“Jack, you have to believe me. It was like I was having an out of body experience. I was in a complete trance.”

“And now you’re not?”

“No. It was wonderful in the commune when I first got there. We were one big happy family. We grew our own vegetables and had domestic farm animals. All the ladies took turns at working in the fields, milking the cows, gathering the eggs, preparing the meals and supervising and schooling the children. All for the common good and for The Great Leader.”

“And what about the men? What did they do all day?”

“Some went to jobs in town to earn money and others were armed guards. The Great Leader said some people didn’t like us or what we were doing and wanted to break us up so we had to protect ourselves from the Satanic forces.”

“And you believed all this crap?”

“I did, yes. But not now.”

“Why? What made you come to your senses?”

“Things started to change, slowly. Samuel, The Great Leader, called me to his office one day. He said he wanted me to be his new personal assistant. It was considered a great honour to be asked. All the other ladies said I was so lucky to be chosen. His previous one had fallen out of favour and made false accusations against him. She had been banished from the commune and was made to leave the four children she bore him.”

“I’m getting a little tired of this rubbish you’re telling me Julie. Cut to the quick. Why did you call me?”

“I told you it was a long story.”

“I’ll give you another five seconds then I hang up.”

“Okay, I’ll get to the point. Some of the habits and needs of The Great Leader I was expected to provide for him were not very spiritual. The opposite in fact. I turned off him very quickly. I decided I wanted to leave, but that wasn’t going to be easy. Luckily I was left alone in the office for part of the day. I managed, through the internet, to get in touch with a private detective who specialised in ‘rescuing’ people from religious sects. He managed to smuggle me out and drove me to Los Angeles and put me in this safe house.”

“So now you’re free. Where do I come into this?”

“You’re the only person I can turn to. I had to leave with just the clothes I’m wearing, Jack, I have no money. I need to pay the private detective and for an airline ticket back to New Zealand.”

“You want me to send you money? Are you completely out of your mind?”

“Jack, please. I’ve no one else to turn to. I’ll pay you back. I promise you. Please.”

“And how do you intend to pay me back?”

Silence.

“Are you still there Julie?”

“Yes, sorry. I was crying. I’m okay now. What did you say?”

“I was asking how you were going to pay me back.”

“The detective suggested I sell my story to a magazine when I get home. He’ll do the same here after I’m safely out of the country. He’s done this before. We split his fee for the American magazine story 50/50. But I have to get out of the country quickly because they’re looking for me.”

“Sorry, that won’t wash. Those ‘I was the sex slave of a commune guru’ stories dried up in the seventies. No magazine here would pay money for it.”

“They would if I gave them the names of the famous people who are followers and benefactors of Samuel John Baxter. They’re household names, Jack.”

“Still think it’s a long shot. Sorry, Julie, you’re not my problem any more.”

“Jack, please. I’ve got no-one else to turn to. Don’t desert me.”

“That’s rich coming from you.”

“I know. I don’t blame you. But please, it wasn’t really the me you loved once who abandoned you. I was sick. Please.”

“Okay, if I decide to help you, how do I get the money to you?”

“You can just give me your credit card number over the phone.”

“You’d better not let me down Julie.”

“Jack, I promise you. I love you and hope one day you’ll forgive me. I’ve been a stupid, selfish woman and I don’t deserve you.”

“We’ll see. Hang on and I’ll get you my credit card number. Here it is.”

Julie put the phone down, turned and looked at the person sitting on the couch.

“Well?” he asked.

“He fell for it, Sam. He’s given me his credit card number.”

“Great. Come over here and get your reward, then we’ll go shopping.”

Jack put the phone back on its cradle just as Becky entered the room.

“Who were you talking to?” she asked.

“Your mother.”

“What did she want?”

“Money.”

“Of course, I should have guessed. Did she ask about me and Steven.”

“No, sorry, she didn’t.”

“Oh well, nothing’s changed. What are you doing with the dog’s collar, Dad?”

“I gave your mother Prince’s registration number. She thinks it’s my credit card number.”

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