March 29th 2016: Mistaken identity
How Josie’s Problem Got Solved
, by Caroline Taylor

The phone was driving Josie crazy. It was all she talked about lately. “Why won’t they leave me alone?” she’d wail, shaking her tiny fist at the offending instrument.

There was nothing I could do to help the poor woman, short of suggesting that she call the cable company that had bundled her telephone-TV-Internet service five months ago when she’d moved to our neck of the woods.

“Are you kidding?” she’d said, when I’d first mentioned the idea. “I’ll have to wait hours for a real person, and then they probably won’t speak the kind of English that I can understand. You think I haven’t tried it once or twice, Louis?”

“Well, don’t answer the phone, then.”

She looked at me like I was some kind of dimwit. “It could be my daughter. Or my nephew. Or the doctor’s office, changing my appointment. I have to answer.”

But when she did, far too often the caller wanted to speak to either Terry or Miguel Avila, accent on the first “a”. Apparently, Josie had inherited the Avila’s number from the same cable company, but the Avilas didn’t seem to have notified their extremely wide circle of friends—at least seven calls a day, poor Josie was getting—or their creditors or the cable company.

“Do you know what happens when I call them for tech support?” she said. “I get the same recorded message: ‘I’m sorry, there seem to be two accounts listed at this number.’ Then I have to give them my PIN before they can access my account.” She rolled her eyes. “You’d think they’d clean up their own records, considering they’re the ones who recycled the phone number.”

So, call them. Demand that they at least fix the duplicate number problem. I didn’t actually say any of that out loud because I knew Josie just wanted to vent. She didn’t need advice, like, for example: Caller ID.

I reminded her she could tell who was calling by looking at the display on the phone. “But I don’t remember my doctor’s number,” she’d replied. “And Hank” (the nephew) “is always moving around. He’s never in one place for more than a few months.” She paused. “Says he can’t afford a cell phone, either. Anyway,” she pointed at the phone, which was across the room, “the damn thing’s too far away.”

“Have you considered asking for another number?” I asked her.

“What??” She shook her head. “Why should I be the one who has to tell everybody my number has changed, who has to make sure the bank and the mortgage company and the homeowners’ association have the new one? The Avilas should have done that five months ago.”

But they didn’t.

“Change the message on your voicemail,” I suggested. “Right now, you only say that the caller has reached this number. People calling the Avilas think it’s the right number—even though I suspect you might not have the right accent.”

Josie at least took that piece of advice, and now her voicemail says, “You have reached the number for Josie West. Please leave a message.”

But she still gets calls for the Avilas. Lots of them.

“They’re drug dealers,” she told me one day after somebody had left a message saying, “Hey, man, I’m ready. Gimme a call.”

“Man?” She raged. “Do I sound like a man?”

You’re profiling, girl. He probably wasn’t listening. Of course, I didn’t share those thoughts. I don’t want to get on Josie’s bad side. In fact, I’m doing everything I can to get on her good side, preferably naked and in bed. So, instead, I suggested that the Avilas were like a lot of busy people who forget to notify friends and businesses when they’ve got a new phone number.

“Forget, my ass,” she replied. “They’re dodging bill collectors. Those folks leave recorded messages for the Avílas,” (accent on the “I”) “so I know they aren’t friends, nor do they give up easily. In fact, I’ve had several really threatening messages from collection agencies. Next thing you know, they’ll be standing on my doorstep.”

“No, they won’t,” I said. “It’s only your phone number that’s the same. Otherwise, you’d be getting mail for—”

“—dunning notices, I’m sure.”

“—the Avilas.”

I did a quick check of the White Pages, and, sure enough, the number given for Miguel and Terry Avila was the same as Josie’s. I thought about contacting the White Pages folks to tell them it was a mistake. But they’d probably ignore me, figuring I could be up to some kind of mischief. Besides, the site was just raw data gathered from cable and phone companies, and we already knew Josie’s cable company had not bothered to correct its own records.

In the court of Josie West, the Avilas were guilty of drug-dealing and never paid their bills. I found myself thinking she should answer one of those calls—not the robo calls from debt collectors, but the ones from so-called friends—and tell them they had the wrong number.

“You think I haven’t already done that?” she shrieked after I’d offered that suggestion. “They just assume they’ve misdialed, and so they call again right away, and they get voicemail and hang up. But two or three days later, they try it again!” Her face was red, and I began to worry about her physical health as well.

“You could un—”

“Unplug? And miss my daughter’s calls? Hah!”

“Get a smartphone. Use this one only for emergency notifications, that sort of thing.”

“I already told you, Louis. I am not going to put myself through the trouble of giving out a new phone number to everybody. I shouldn’t have to. They should.”

But they haven’t. After five whole months.

“I bet you anything Terry Avila is doing one of those phone sex things.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Most of her calls are from men,” said Josie. “Late at night. When I am trying to fall asleep.”

Late at night for Josie was after nine, which was still mighty early for younger folks, but I didn’t bother to point that out. “Maybe she works late, and her friends—”

“All of whom are men. I wonder what Miguel thinks of that. If he even knows about it. Maybe he’s the one working a late shift.”

“Or she’s a teenager?” I offered. “They stay up till all hours.”

“Teenagers text.”

Oh. Right. Too bad, we didn’t know the Avila’s real number. It might be worth calling Terry just to see . . .

“I am going to find out where they live,” said Josie. “I have had it up to here.” Her hand rose over the top of her head. “If they’re not on the up-and-up—and I admit I could be all wrong about them dealing or her being a call girl—I’m going to call the police.”

“You’re also going to land yourself in a mess of trouble, Josie.” I leaned forward, elbows on my knees. “If the Avilas turn out to be baddies, they’ll probably have guns. You wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“I’m not going to accuse them of anything,” she said, looking at me like I’d lost a brain cell or two. “I’m going to be my usual polite, calm” (riiiight) “self and just ask them, pretty please, would they please notify folks that their GODDAMN NUMBER HAS CHANGED?”

After my ears had stopped ringing, I told her I would try to help her find them and that I would accompany her so that I, at over six feet and a hefty two hundred, could at least make them think twice about ganging up on cute little Josie. I would pack heat, too, although I didn’t mention that part.

As things turned out, the Avilas lived in the same county, same zip code, same area code, but altogether different town. Figuring they would be at church or doing brunch or just sleeping in, Josie and I cased the joint one Sunday morning.

It was a modest, ranch-style red brick house with a dark green roof and dark green trim on the windows. It was separated from its cloned neighbors by a row of holly trees on one side and a six-foot wooden fence on the other. The yard was neat with grass and bushes but no flowers or flower beds.

“They both work,” I said.

“Well, she certainly does,” said Josie. “If you can call it work.”

No sign of a car or cars, either. “I’m going to take a look around back,” I said. “You stay in the car. If the Avilas drive up, tell them the dog jumped out of the car, and I went after it.”

“The dog?”

There was a fairly large window at the back of the house, but it was high off the ground. My chin-up days being long in the past, I went to the back door. The screen was unlocked, and so was the kitchen door. I could hardly believe it, but then it was a small town, and perhaps people just didn’t bother to lock up when they were only going to be away a short spell.

“Anybody home?” I called out as I pushed the door inward. A swarm of buzzing flies flew past my head.

Yes, I should have gone inside, checked the place out, called the cops. But I had a bit of a history with them that would have complicated things. Anyway, it might have been food left out overnight. But I didn’t think so, and neither did my nose. A letter lying on the counter just inside the door was addressed to Miguel y Teresita Avila. It had been opened, but who knew how long ago. Retching at the awful stench, I slammed the door. Using the tail of my shirt, I wiped the handle and the edge of the screen door as well. Let somebody else deal with the mess inside.

Back at the car, I slid behind the wheel. “I don’t think you’ll have a problem for too much longer,” I said as we drove away.

“What did you see?”

“The place was empty.” It wasn’t exactly a lie.

“They’ve moved out?”

“Looks like it.” If you believe the soul moves out of the body. “It does explain things, though. They left without telling anybody.” Probably also true. “Sooner or later, one of their friends is going to try to find them, just like we did, and that’ll be that.” I sure hoped so, anyway.

Josie clapped her hands in glee. “Oh, Louis. You have made my day!”

Now, if she would only make my nights.

*

Caroline Taylor wrote this story just to get it off her chest. It’s fiction, but only just barely. She has published several stories online and in print and is the author of two mystery novels. Visit her at CarolineStories.com


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