"Best to open it quickly," he thought, as though he might take the bomb by surprise, and with that he vigorously ripped the envelope apart. He flinched for a second, waiting for the blast that would end his life and provide a personal answer to that eternal question about what happens next. "Is it heaven or hell? Or is the whole universe so vindictive that it places us back on earth to live this same life all over again?" He thought for a moment about the horridness of eternity before the realisation that there had been no blast. There was no bomb. Life went on as normal. "Shit!" said Musson, who now had to front up for another day in the door-to-door insurance sales industry.
His disappointment quickly turned to anger when he discovered the real contents of the package. His phone bill was normally an inconsequential item, comprising a slightly more than acceptable charge for having a phone, then a meagre amount for calls to the Chinese takeaway downstairs. Its only variance was by the number of days in the billing period, although once, four years ago, he did call for a mechanic when his car wouldn't start.
Other than that, with no social circle whatsoever, Musson never called anyone. In fact, the main reason he had a phone at all was to accept phone calls from telemarketers. They provided a rare opportunity to talk to human beings who weren't going to be rude to him. He would chat to them for hours, before electing not to buy anything. If market researchers called he could turn a 20-minute survey into a two-hour discussion that, to him, would happily pass as an evening's entertainment.
Common tricks to elongate the call were to ask the caller to repeat himself, to engage in detailed discussion around the semantics and then, just before reaching the end, asking the researcher to go back to the start because he thought he might have changed his mind on some of the early questions. In his mind, Musson saw this as payback to organisations that intruded on his home life but, in reality, he was a desperate, lonely man who welcomed any form of human interaction. It's the same reason lonely old people listen to talkback radio. No one would normally listen to them, but just a phone call away is a highly paid, egotistical bigot who will give them the time of day, squeezed in between a traffic update and the sports report.
Unfortunately, for Musson, calls from telemarketers had become less regular lately thanks to the Do Not Call register. Lots of people signed themselves up so they wouldn't receive unsolicited phone calls, usually from vast call centres in third-world countries, like India or the Philippines, or Wales. Musson was unique in that his name had been added to the list by the telemarketers themselves, who were keen to ensure that they never had to talk to him again. Yet he still received calls offering anything from do-it-yourself penis enlargement to timeshare properties in Fiji. In the case of the former, he had once accepted the free trial in an attempt to reduce the distance to his right hand, but he was still a good 10 centimetres short.
There was no time for self flagellation this morning though. Musson was a man on a mission. He was angry at being inadvertently billed three times his annual salary, but there was an upside. This was a perfect opportunity to complain and complaining was one of his favourite pastimes. He'd once signed up to an internet service provider, not because he wanted to access the internet, but because he'd heard they had unacceptably long call queues and he wanted to complain about it.
The phone bill was from VastTel, the nation's largest telecommunications provider. It listed 48 pages of calls he clearly hadn't made. That meant someone at VastTel would now be faced with several hours of the irate ramblings of a sad, lonely and bitter man who would insist on going through each call, line by line, in immense detail.
In readiness, Musson made himself comfortable. He piled cushions behind his ample frame, placed a coffee on the side table, and picked up the phone. His first call was to the office, saying he was feeling a bit off colour and wouldn't be in. The person at work who answered the call had tried to sound interested, but had such poor attention to detail that he forgot to mention the call to anyone. Musson's boss would be so furious about his absence, the first day in 22 years, that he would decide to sack him instantly. It's a decision that would have little impact on Musson's life given he would shortly be charged with murder. Murderers rarely return to work straight after being charged with such a serious crime. It's just not acceptable behaviour, even in the finance industry.
So Musson was ready to complain. He stretched his arms above his head, felt his back click slightly out of place, or back in place, he could never be sure, then took a deep breath and readied himself for the call. Today wasn't going to be such a bad day after all.
The Incumbent is Phil Dobbie's first novel and these excerpts have been used with his permission. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. To purchase the entire novel in digital format, click here. It is also available in printed format ... for more details click here.