Private Number

"1985" playing in the distance, "Private Number" appears on the external display.


"Ugh, have to get up..." walk to the room, grab the phone, look at the number, ponder it a bit, and finally answer it.  "Yeah, I don't do that anymore.  No, no, it's not that.  I just...it's Saturday."  Long pause.  "Fine, but you owe me gas money and a tune-up in addition to the normal shit."


Closet.  There's a bag that's always packed.  Heavy.  It rolls noisily down the stairs, mostly because I'm making little effort to pick it up.  It's cold outside, dark.  My backpack rests comfortably on my shoulders, its contents secured within.  The phone starts ringing again, Aguilera's Candyman playing this time.  My mother.


I've received mail from my student loans.  They're behind by just a bit.  Side effect of the layoff. I tell her my new job will help and I'll be back on track soon.  We talk about her recent trip to Reno. I near the van, and it's time to hang up.  She'll forward the loan notices in the mail.  The suitcase gets tucked in the third row, my backpack next to me in the front row.


Beep-beep.  The speakerphone this time.  With laws recently passed in California regarding talking on the phone, this is my only method of talking to people now.  "Private Number" again.  I sigh loudly, kill the music, and press the button.


The voice on the other end is anxious and strained, piping little nonsensical quips about this and that in between the audible drags on his cigarette.  Traffic is loud in the background.  He's in a city, somewhere.  It's too late in the afternoon for lunch time, must be a coffee break.  He stops, tells me to hold on, talks to somebody else and then returns to me.  "You got that?"  I nod, knowing he can't see me.  "Yeah, okay.  Call when you're done."  "Always," I hang up, pull the speakerphone off its dashboard mount and throw it somewhere behind me.  Traffic around me is light for the afternoon, but not enough to keep my foot away from the brake pedal.


Luggage has been checked and everything identified.  I sit in a terminal watching the monitors and sigh over my magazine.  My phone starts ringing again,1985 seemingly cutting through the endless din of the terminal waiting area.  The woman next to me stares annoyingly as I quell the shrill cries of the phone.  "Yeah?"


It's my roommate.  The utilities are due, and he wants to make sure I got the e-mail with my share.  I tell him I'll have it on Monday, with a bit more for the money I owe him, and that I'll have his share of the cable sent to him later today.  He asks if I'm at work.  I take a look around me and reply that I am, but in the cafeteria, hence the noisiness.  An overhead announcement for a gate change muffles through the conversation.  He swears I'm at an airport, asks if I'm doing a mystery shop.  "No, you're hearing things."  Tell him I've got a meeting, and I'll see him tonight.  


I hate these little trips.  I hate having credit cards and student loans.  I hate being called back to the TSA X-ray machines for my checked luggage and its contents.  And, I hate having to use that stupid ID.


"Yes, they're mine."  Hand over the ID.  "Yes, I'm on official business, and I'd like to get there on time."  Returns my ID.  "Thank you." Walk back through security, shoes off, jacket off, ID and boarding pass in my hand.  Ugh.  My phone starts ringing Candyman while it's in the X-ray machine.  The TSA operators freak out.  Great.


"Private Number" called again once I had touched down.  He sounded even more anxious, concerned about my tardiness.  I told him I'd take care of it, "Fuck off."


They lost my luggage.


I'm standing in the rain, wearing the trench coat that was in my backpack, standing outside of a local pawn shop and cradling a small bundle in my arms.  Picked it up at a locker in a train station, left by "Private Number" after his text message told me where the key was stashed.  My mother left a voicemail telling me she had just dropped off my mail at the post office.


The man behind the three-inch bulletproof glass stares intently at his security monitors and not at me.  He's going through the bundle, making little acknowledgment sounds.  I clear my throat.  He reaches behind him and pushes an envelope towards me.  Inspecting the contents, I tap the counter and walk out into the rain.  "Private Number" starts to bother me again.


"Look, it makes it a lot harder if you keep calling.  I don't turn my phone off, but it's a dead giveaway if you can't take the fucking hint." A short pause, some shaky yelling in the background.  "Yes, it's on schedule.  I just had a little setback.  It's nothing."  The phone beeps, it's the airline.  They found my bag, it's still at my originating terminal, being held by TSA.  It'll meet me tomorrow.  I inform them that there's no need as I'm returning in a few hours anyway.  Stupid TSA.


No time to check into the hotel.  This has been a bad day already, time to get it over with.  Candyman again.  She wanted to make sure I got the voicemail. "Yes, mom, I did."  She loves me.


This is getting old.  I meet "Private Number" in his room.  Didn't know I was coming.  "You paid me already, right?" He has.  "Good, I'm throwing in something else free of charge."  He stopped calling after that.


The mark was across the hall.  He didn't feel me enter the room, and the job was quick, messy and easy.  I hate to scare housekeeping, though, so I did a minor cleanup and stashed him in the bathroom.  


The flight back was peaceful, uneventful.  I picked up my luggage from the airline counter when I landed, quite annoyed that it was not with me on the flight.  It earned me an upgrade on my next flight.  I told the coy girl at the counter that I'd see her in a week.  She laughed; I gagged on my forced politeness.


My secondary account has swelled, but I still struggle on my white-collar salary, the car payments, the insurance, credit cards and student loan payments.  It's more of an outlet than an income.  Everyone needs a stress relief.  Mine just happens to involve my cell phone and a gun.  And traveling.


A call, early in the morning.  "Private Number" flashes on the screen.  "We humbly apologize for his behavior, and did not mean to upset you.  We will ensure it does not happen again."  I hang up, snuggle into my bed, and resume where I picked up on sleep, my trench coat drying in the closet, my roommate's money in the living room, and the mailbox awaiting deliveries from my mother.  All until I start the cycle again.


"I don't see how QA makes you so stressed out," my roommate yells at me from the living room.  Ha.

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