©11 The Media DeskThe Detective 8
I was in 'countdown mode' when what I've come to think may be the one case that defines the last quarter of my career came to me.
"This one has you all over it," the Captain said handing me a file.
I looked at the summary line, instead of anything that was usually considered a felony it said 'telephone harassment'. "Sir? That's not the usual sort of crime that I..."
"It is when the harassee is a city councilman."
"Ahh, OK," I took the folder and opened it and read the brief. When I looked up he was still standing there.
"Well?" The Captain asked me.
"This isn't a practical joke for the short timer is it?"
"No, it's not. He's so upset by it he's been either sleeping in his office or in a hotel."
"In that case, I'll do my best, sir."
The councilman had reported that he had been getting calls from his wife, Carolyn.
The only problem with that was that Carol had died from pneumonia many years ago. There was initially some disagreement about just how long ago now, but that had been resolved by somebody calling vital records and getting the correct year. At first the councilman thought it had been a bad joke himself. But then when he had initially reported it the calls had been monitored and recorded. And while the security guard heard the voice, the voice wouldn't record.
I've been a cop for most of my life. In the service I was a Military Policeman, and then as soon as I got out I started in our department. It's all I've ever done. I've seen a lot of weird things, and been involved in some strange cases, but I've yet to see a ghost, or get a phone call from one. My gut instinct told me that this was some sort of hoax, and I intended on exposing it and charging somebody for the crime. I closed the folder and reached for my hat and coat.
"So, where you going to start?" He asked me.
"In the phone room."
"What phone room?"
"Ours. I don't know how they work, and to break this case, I'll need to know."
The Captain nodded and I went downstairs.
In the next hour I got more education about telephony than I ever wanted. But I learned one very important thing relevant to the case. The old two wire land line telephone in the councilman's house had nothing to do with the fancy thing on my desk upstairs that I could barely use to order lunch.
Which was good and bad, but in either case, if him and his security detail heard a woman's voice on the incoming call there was no reason it couldn't be recorded at the house.
So I went to the house.
The Councilman was at city hall, where he'd been spending most of his time, but his domestic staff, one housekeeper who was herself so terrified of the telephone's ringing she wouldn't answer it, was very happy to see me and showed me the entire house from basement to attic.
"The telephone man was here and rewired the whole thing from the pole in the ally in. It's all new," she said.
I looked at the panel on the wall in the basement. It certainly was new, with an install date of five days ago written on the sticker.
The individual telephone sets in the house ranged from a multi-purpose speakerphone and answering machine in the office to a venerable old wall unit in the kitchen, and several wireless handsets here and there.
"And he's heard the voice on all of them?" I asked the housekeeper.
"Oh, not just him, I heard it once. I answered the one upstairs one night just before I left, you know, habit, I wasn't thinking about it when it rang and I answered it." Her eyes got wide and her bottom lip trembled, "And it was Her. Miss Carol. She asked me if Ed was here."
"You knew her?"
"Oh, no sir, she passed before I started here. But I described the voice to him and Charles, you know, his son, their son, and they both said it was her."
"Has Charles heard the calls?"
"Yes, and she talked to him. Asked him why he was up so late. He's usually away at college, he just happened to be home that weekend."
"So the calls are interactive?"
"I guess so, sir. I've never heard anybody say that about a phone call before."
I nodded, "Neither have I, but there's a first time for everything."
"If you say so, detective."
The one thing the security firm had done was to have the calls traced. It wasn't a big problem because they occurred about the same time three or four nights a week. Usually within a few minutes either way of ten at night, and the voice would stay on and hold a conversation with whoever answered, even if it was a security guard.
The calls had come from two different numbers at a department store downtown.
My next stop was to go check out the store to see if the calls came from inside the building or from somebody clipping onto one of their lines somewhere outside.
The store's maintenance and security staff were as baffled as everybody else.
"Oh yeah, I remember her. That was, what, ten, twelve years ago? I went to her funeral. The store wasn't closed that day, but it may as well have been," the janitor who introduced himself as 'Manny' even though his name tag read Gerald Smith said.
The security man agreed, "It seems everybody had the flu that year, some of us got over it in a day or two, and others got sick as a dog from it."
"And poor old Carolyn died of it," Manny added.
I remembered something from the folder, "It said she died of pneumonia in the hospital."
"She had the flu. She came to work a couple of days when she shouldn't have, and they took her to the hospital from here one day. Then it turned into pneumonia."
I nodded, some details just never make it into official reports. Then I asked my question. "Where's numbers 3117 and 3120?"
"One twenty is at the registers in house wares," Manny said, "I'd have to look for seventeen. Do you know where it's at Barry?"
The Security man shook his head, "doesn't sound familiar."
Manny had blueprints and wiring diagrams in the maintenance office. We scoured the old plans and found 3117 in an area that had a penciled in note on it saying it had been remodeled several years ago.
"Yeah," Manny said, "I remember now, that used to be where the register was for women's foundations," he grinned, "lingerie to the rest of the world. The old manager thought it would be better to have a separate check out for women who were buying their underwear."
We caught the elevator upstairs and walked to the area on the blueprint.
"And that would be, right there," Manny pointed through racks of women's things to a wall.
Instead of a cash register and a telephone, there was a large solid looking wooden sideboard with a mannequin's torso wearing something lacy next to a small cardboard display of skin creams.
The credenza was used for storage and contained spare hangers, a pricing gun that was out of tape, and a box with more of the skin cream jars to replenish the display. But no telephone or cord for one.
"The jack must be behind it," Barry said.
The unit was large and heavy and didn't want to move. Its feet had become part of the carpet and the back of the unit had been partially painted to the wall. We gently leaned it forward and peered behind it.
"I can see the label," Manny said, "it's seventeen."
"One, seventeen." I asked to clarify.
"Yes, sir, detective, that's what it is all right. One One Seven."
"This thing has been there a long time without being moved at all," Barry picked at the disturbed paint along the top where it'd broken free of the wall.
"So maybe they plugged into the cabinet downstairs and called out on that line," I offered to show my knowledge of how telephone systems worked.
"We can go look."
Not only had nobody moved the sideboard, nobody had been in the telephone cabinet in ages either. The telephone company seal was intact when we broke it to inspect the cabinet and the wires that Manny called 'jumpers'.
"That's where seventeen is supposed to be, there's not even a house pair for it. Evidently the wire's been either cut or cannibalized for something else. It's still on the count, but it's not in use."
Barry agreed, "Probably when they ran the lines for the credit card machines. They put in a new line that doesn't go through the system, then broke it out and took it up there on the existing cable."
"Yeah, they did a lot of that then. Down and dirty on the cheap."
"Is there any way to mask an outbound call to make it look like it was coming from that line?"
"You'd have to hack into the system from the main office upstairs. And that room is more secure than the cash office."
"Let's go see."
Not only was the telephone, security and computer server room secure, the systems themselves were probably more secure than the ones at headquarters.
The administrator of the system was very helpful and brought up a screen that generated a report of all calls made from the two extensions over the last month.
"Well, I'll be damned," the admin said as they read the screen, "There it is. Outbound calls from extension 3117 at 2205 then at 2157... and more. One about every other day."
"There hasn't been a phone on that jack for ages." Barry said.
"And no other calls on it, just the ones to the Councilman." I read down the list being printed for extension 120. There were tons of calls from it to almost everybody in the world, then I spotted two at the right time to the councilman. "These match what the security people out there said."
"How are they doing that?" Manny asked, "Can the system itself make an outbound call?"
"Only to the diagnostic line for the system vendor. That's a dedicated line into the back of the switch." The Admin answered. "If you tried to call out from here, it'd show up as the main trunk number, not an extension. You'd have to reprogram the system to do that, and I'd bet you'd crash it if you tried. It doesn't take kindly to new programming. We have problems every time they come in with a software update."
The three of them were looking at me for an official response to the development.
I glanced over at the display of security camera monitors. One of them was in the walkway not far from the sideboard in the lingerie department, except it was facing the stairs.
"There wasn't a phone call last night. So I've got an idea," I said.
I made a few phone calls to set up my plan. Once it was approved we put things in motion.
Manny was more than happy to get on a very tall ladder and turn the fixed view camera and adjust it until Barry said he could see the credenza. He was going to set the camera to record constantly in real time from nine that night until midnight, just in case.
Then we left everything else as it was.
I stopped at home and changed clothes and prepared to spend the evening sitting in the office at councilman's house waiting on a phone call.
I sat in the office until just after ten, reading a book of short stories that was on the shelf next to the desk and watching a ball game with the sound muted.
Then I sighed and got up to leave, one thing I did know about both ghosts and hoaxers from my general life experience, they weren't overly reliable.
"We'll do it again tomorrow night," I said to the TV as I turned it off. Then I walked to the kitchen with the water glass I borrowed.
I had just put the glass in the sink when the phone rang. I expected it to be somebody checking on the case and whether or not I'd gotten the expected phone call.
I picked up the handset of the wall unit and answered it.
"Is Ed there?" A woman's voice asked.
The cold chills that ran down my entire body almost left me speechless.
"Yes'm but he's down in the basement getting me some parts. I'm just here working on the kitchen sink," I said the first thing that came into my head. Then I checked my watch, it was 10:09 PM.
"Oh, I've told him for years that that sink needs to be replaced, I hate that old yellow color. Is it leaking again?"
"Yes, ma'am." I said looking at the almost brand new stainless steel sink.
"Well, if you're still there when I get home, I want to talk about replacing it."
"Yes, ma'am," I tried to think of a way to keep her on the line, "Is there a message you'd like me to give him when he comes back up?"
"Just tell him that I just got off and I'll be home soon."
"Yes, ma'am. He said something about you needing things to bake with, were you going to stop at the store?"
"No, I don't think so tonight. I'm a little tired." The voice started to sound faint and far away now.
"So you're just coming straight home? If so that's what I'll tell him."
When she answered, I could only make out about half of what she said, then the line went dead.
"Oh, my God," I whispered to myself.
The next morning I went to the store before I went to headquarters.
Manny and Barry, the Admin and I all sat and waited while the various systems produced their data from the previous night.
"There it is, twenty-two oh three, system time."
"I had oh nine," I gestured with my wristwatch.
"Our clock's been known to be off a bit now and then," the Admin said. "But it's there."
"How about the security tape?" I asked Barry who was watching it in fast forward.
"Coming up on ten o'clock now. The store is closed and everybody should have been on their way out. Nobody's touched the cabinet."
We all sat and watched the video on the largest monitor at normal speed. The lights in the area went out leaving only a few scattered display and security lights on.
"System time, 10:00," Barry commented as the numbers on the screen changed.
"Give it a minute," I said, "or, nine."
The numbers on the screen said it was 10:06 when we noticed something.
"Stop it, back it up a minute," I said. "Can we turn these lights off in here?"
"Yes, sir, I saw it too."
"What did you see? I didn't see anything," Manny said as he flipped the switch.
"Just watch," Manny said as he ran the video backward for just over a minute of screen time and started it again.
"There." I said.
Off to one side of the credenza what seemed like a ripple was moving back and forth. Then it glowed slightly. At 10:06:15 it moved to the other side of the sideboard and quivered. At 10:07:10 it became what the TV shows would call 'an orb'. By 10:08:30 it had stopped glowing and was fading away.
"Was that the ghost of Miss Carol?" Manny asked.
"I don't know what it was. But I don't believe in coincidence," I said. "We have an outbound call from a jack that isn't connected to anything, at the same time I get a call from that number, while there is an unknown phenomenon on the security tape."
Barry nodded, "I don't know how else to explain it."
"Neither do I."
"What are you going to tell the Councilman, and your Captain?"
I looked at the monitor, "That I'm retiring."
I got copies of everything and took it first to the Captain, who didn't believe it either, then we both took it to Ed the Councilman and Charles, his son at their house. They didn't want to believe it, but saw no other option once we showed them the telephone reports and the security video.
"She still wants to come home," Ed said, "when she was in the hospital before she died, that was all she talked about, wanting to get better and go home. And she never got to." Then the man physically sagged and cried while his son tried to comfort him.
The captain and I sat there silently for a long time, then we just got up and stepped out quietly.
"So, where were you when you talked to her?" The captain whispered to me.
"In the kitchen, this way."
We were still standing in the kitchen when Councilman Ed and his son came out of the office to find us.
"Sorry about that, gentlemen, I just couldn't...." he stopped talking and just stood there wiping his eyes and nose with a handkerchief.
"That's all right sir, we understand how emotional things like this can be," the Captain answered for both of us. "But what are you going to do now?"
Charles looked at the telephone on the wall, "Change the number, or just do away with it all together, we've both got cell phones."
The Councilman shook his head, "No, that wouldn't be right. She just wants to talk to us. I'll come back, and answer it..... And tell her I still love her."
"That might be all she wants to hear," I answered.
Outside I stood next to my car and shook hands with the Captain.
"So, you're sure you're going to leave your retirement paperwork in?" He asked me.
I smiled first, then I said, "I'll give you a call."
End Detective 8
For more adventures with The Detective see:
1. The Robbery
2. murder and other fun at The Sun Club
3. The Water Murders
4. Amused To Death
5. Too many suspects spoil the case.
6. The Grand Conspiracy.
7. Murder isn't a Joke.
8. "Sometimes you can't arrest the perpetrator."
9. A Partner In Crime.
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[NOTE: All characters, places, events, and businesses/organizations are FICTIONAL. NO inference to REAL anything is to be made. No similarities to ACTUAL anything is intended. This Piece Is FICTION, enjoy it as such. Thank You -the Author.]
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