Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality
One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!
Crime du Jour #29: Telemarketing Fraud
I UNDERSTAND AND I APPRECIATE YOUR CONCERN
So our son, Charles.
Every man wants to think that his son will replace him in the world, and carry on a sort of immortality for him. Every man is disappointed to discover that his son can’t do that.
As Charles became a grown man, I began to lose touch with him.
I can’t blame it on “kids these days” or video games or even porn. Lynette thinks I’m just missing the fact that Charles is a genius, and he has so far exceeded me that I simply can’t follow. Lynette, although she has always been the sweetness in my life, has a blind spot when it comes to that boy. She always coddled him, saying that the way we were raised wasn’t good enough. I’ll grant her that. Nothing is ever good enough for your kids, if you have the ability to love them. You tear yourself open, thinking, What can I do to make his life better? It’s never enough.
This is different.
Charles is a grown man. Lynette says he’s not quite a grown man, but he is. He’s reached his full growth. When he was sixteen he was already six feet, looked like a damned scarecrow. He’s twenty-two now, never had a job. No plans to move out. He can drive but he won’t. He’s on the computer all day in the basement. Boxes arrive at the front door for him. I ask Lynette if she’s paying for what comes in, and she says she isn’t. I haven’t quite stooped to checking her credit card bills, but it may come to that.
He doesn’t speak to us. I can hear him talking to himself downstairs. Lynette brings him food. The only time he comes upstairs is to pick up his boxes. He’s a stranger.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think he has a cache of guns in the basement. I don’t think I’m going to be on the news one day as “parents found dead in home after killer goes on a murderous rampage.” I don’t think we’re going to find out that Charles is a serial killer, or a rapist, or some kind of weird digital pedophile. I don’t think that.
The sound in the house carries. From the air vents I can hear him talk. He started out saying things like, “This confidential message is to inform you that a legal matter will be filed against you within the next twenty-four hours.” And “We are contacting you in regards to a complaint being filed against you.” And “I’m calling today to offer you the opportunity of a lifetime.”
At first I thought he had a job working for an online call center. Even a telemarketing fraud company. But I quickly disabused myself of the notion. It’s the way he repeats the same phrase over and over again, with a different tone each time: “I understand and I appreciate your concern. I understand, and I appreciate your concern. I understand, and I appreciate your concern.”
That went on for months.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, it got stranger.
“Hello, is this Mrs. Johnson? My name is Charles Adair, and I’m calling about a confidential manner,” he’d say. Then, “Confidential matter.” There’d be a pause, and he’d say, “Confidential matter, confidential matter. Hello, is this Mrs. Johnson? My name is Charles Adair, and I’m calling about a confidential matter. Yes, that’s right.”
He talked to himself—corrected himself—for hours. All day and all night.
Lynette says everything is fine, that he’s working on a programming project. I ask her what it is, and she says it’s a secret.
Yesterday, Lynette came down with the flu. I got my shot at work, but she kept putting off getting hers, and now it’s too late. Charles, of course, won’t leave the house to get his. It’ll just “slow him down.” I’m making everyone’s meals today, both because Lynette is bedridden and because she doesn’t dare touch anything he might eat.
I make him tomato soup and a couple of cheese sandwiches, then go downstairs and tap on the door of his room.
“Just leave it outside,” Charles calls.
“We need to talk,” I say.
“Not now, Dad,” Charles says.
I open the door. He’s sitting in the dark with the computer screen turning his face into a blank silhouette. He sighs and says, “What do you want, Dad?”
“I’m worried about you,” I say.
“I realize that I live like a slug down here,” he says, “but it’s a big project.”
“What is it?”
“I’m working on an artificial intelligence program that can run scripts in a natural-sounding voice for first-tier technical support, charity phone banks, things like that.”
“Telemarketers,” I say. “I’ve heard you speaking. The sound just kind of carries.”
He sighs again. “Okay, I am testing it out as a telemarketing scam,” he admits.
“Why?” I ask. “Some kind of get-rich-quick scheme?”
“There’s no such thing as a get rich-slow-scheme anymore, Dad,” he says, which is true. It’s get rich quick or inherit, these days.
I say, “I understand how that is, but all the money in the world won’t do you any good, Charles, if you don’t take care of your health. And your relationships.”
He says, “You’re probably right about my health. But…if this works, I can write a program that talks to girls and lets the AI weed out the ones who will never like me. I’ll save years that way.”
I give him a chuckle. “I suppose you will, at that. Just remember to move your lips when you’re talking to someone in person. Otherwise it gives the whole show away.”
His jaw dropped.
“Your mom sends you her love,” I said. “Be sure to have your computer call her. She’ll like that.”
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