This is a serial novel. To view Chapter Two visit: https://abdallahalalfy.medium.com/phonecall-from-heaven-chapter-two-d741e39a1321
Josh sat idly spacing out at his desk for about 10 minutes when his cell phone rang. “Lake here” he answered without looking.
Josh went silent for a minute
“Who is this?” he finally asked.
“You might have forgotten my voice over the years Josh but the last time we talked was this morning. You know it’s me.”
“I’m gonna get checked out.”
“I’m sure you will. You weren’t very nice to that girl.”
“She wasn’t very nice to me,” Josh growled.
“Still. That’s no excuse. What’s that Chinese saying you always repeated to me? ‘Be good to those who are good. Also be good to those who are not good. Thus is goodness attained.’”
“You’re quoting Taoism now? Aren’t you speaking from heaven? Is that even allowed up there?”
“Truth is allowed no matter who said it Josh. This is something you need to remember given what you do.”
“Mom, stop knocking on that. We’ve had this discussion years ago when you were well…Alive, and I wasn’t hallucinating. It was an unreliable source. He was having episodes, much like the episodes I’m having right now. They woulda sued the very clothes off my back and I never would have been able to write again. Even if he WAS telling the truth. Then there would have BEEN no more truth telling.”
“If you think you’re hallucinating, why are you still talking?”
“I don’t know…I guess I’m hoping that if I work out my issues, all of this will go away?”
“You’re not saying anything new here Josh. I told you I was calling because you’re having issues.”
“You might want to look at your phone after I hang up. A cell phone is nattier than a home phone like that. You have a call log.”
“And what are you using to call me from up there mom? A home phone? A cell phone? A Samsung? iPhone? Sony Ericsson? Nokia?”
“Mind your own business Joshy. Watch out for the man I told you about. And be nicer to the young lady! It’s not her fault you don’t like her daddy!”
“That’s not why I — -“
But there was no longer anything coming from the other end of the line. As Josh put down his phone he took a deep breath in. Then heaved a huge sigh out. This was going to be a longer day than he’d expected. He picked up his phone again to look at this call log. Right enough, there was a phone call in his received call log with “no number” written in the number space. “This is no good” Josh muttered as he started browsing through his contact list. Finally, he came across the name he was looking for. He pressed dial and put the phone to his ear. After what seemed like 40 rings an answer came on the other end.
“Heyo waduuuuppp!!! It’s ma main man Jad baby! How you doin dog!!”
“Why do you always talk to me like that? You’re not black, I’m not black, you don’t talk to other people like that. It’s offensive to me, it’s offensive to black people and it’s borderline racist. Stop it.”
“Racist?” Josh said, the smile on his face showing in his voice, “Watchou on about dog? Ain’t nuthin racist about showin your ay-rab homie some luv yo! Why you wanna go and make me stop that shit lil brother?”
The longsuffering voice on the other end of the line groaned in extreme despair. After a minute of silence in which it became apparent that Josh wasn’t going anywhere his doctor/reluctant friend said in a resigned voice:
“Whaddu want now Lake?”
“I need your professional opinion.”
“Not over the phone.”
“Fine. Come by next week.”
“I’m not sure it can wait that long. I’m coming by the hospital tonight.”
“I don’t have time for your next crazy-idea-of-the-month Lake. Especially considering that you have those every other day.”
“You don’t have time you fucking sand-nigger? The fuck you mean you don’t have time. Don’t you be acting like you on call in the ER n’all that. All you’re doing in that ruin of a hospital is sitting alone in a dark and creepy basement with computers and dead bodies and other God-alone-knows-what unholy stuff down there. You’re the only guy working in a hospital wing entirely devoid of patients. You’d be glad of my company if you weren’t such a creep.”
“It’s called research. And that basement with computers and dead bodies and God knows what else is called a lab. Maybe they would have let you into one back in high school if they weren’t worried you’d set the whole place on fire.”
“What, not a morgue?”
“Well the room is adjacent to one. Where do you think the dead bodies come from?”
“I don’t know. Body snatchers? You’re enough of a creep to hire some.”
“Whatever. At least I passed my secondary education the first time around.”
“For your information, I was an exemplary student.”
“Not only are you a cracker, but you’re a lying cracker.”
“How the fuck would you know? You never went to school with me!”
“No, but I know you now.”
“So I know that even when the mighty fall pretty steep they don’t fall as steep as you Joshy.”
“Eat shit and die.”
“In the nature of things, someone will have strangled you long before my time comes my friend.”
“Fuck you. I’m coming over tonight.”
The longsuffering Arab doctor sighed.
“Fine. But if you must impose so rudely upon me bring me dinner from that Halal burger place on your way over here.”
“Consider it done my oil Sheikh. Does the Emir require anything else? Want me to grab you a couple of concubines from the local strip joint?”
“No. But I’ll settle for having you stop being so bloody racist.”
“I’m not sure you have any right to complain about that. I mean, you’re a world class creep. You want to have your dinner in a room full of dead bodies, right next to the morgue. And you want to have meat, no less. Are you even allowed to eat inside the lab? What do hospital regulations say about that?”
“Hospital regulations say what I tell them to say or I take my research and go somewhere else.”
“Oooh. The little Sultan’s got juice has he?”
“The little Sultan is going to kick your skull in if you don’t stop calling him that.”
“So you admit you’re the little Sultan?”
“I admit you’re a dick.”
“Well that’s nothing new.”
“Get the fuck off the phone.”
“I’ll see you tonight.”
Joshua heaved a sigh as he put down his cell phone. On a personal level he felt completely fine. So fine in fact that he was sure Jad wouldn’t find anything. But these phone calls were driving him over-the-edge-of-the-cliff insane. Something was gonna have to give today before he really did set something on fire.
The hapless office boy narrowly avoided slamming into a secretary loaded up to her neck with binders as he came running to his ruthless task master. He arrived with the wind knocked out of him, gasping for air, with his glasses sliding down his nose.
“Yes Mr. Lake?”
“Tell Peter I’m taking off.”
A terrified expression took hold of the poor teenager’s face at these words, he started shaking visibly as he realized that things had taken an obvious turn for the worse for him today. His voice was no less unsteady as he stammered out a question with an obvious answer.
“Yes Mr fucking Torinsky. How many other Peters need to know if I’m still in the building?”
Before he could answer Lake had slipped his cell phone in one pocket, his wallet in the other and was striding out the door. Three minutes later he was on the street again, and even though the exhaust pipes were pumping full swing now, he felt his breathing go a little easier. With some time to kill before his visit to the long suffering Jad, he figured he’d look around the shops in China town and see if there was anything interesting to buy. He considered public transit for a split second but only to change his mind.
Looking right and left he crossed the street to another building on the other side of the pavement. The place was one of the bigger branches for a huge private mail and courier service. After a cursory glance at the front door he made his way to the back of the building where a huge truck-dock was in a buzz, with guys carrying heavy packages, supervisors yelling and car engines were running. Security looked up when he made his way in but when he saw who it was he smiled vaguely, nodded almost imperceptibly and looked down at his crosswords in yesterday’s newspaper again. Josh was a well known figure around here. And while it was technically against company policy to let non-employees in, half the employees in this particular branch owed Josh some kind of favour or another. Some of them owed him more than a few.
Josh made his way to a huge, tall, beefed up supervisor with short black hair, olive skin and an earring. The man was clearly of Hispanic descent, but to make things more obvious, his right forearm was tattooed in Spanish. The man’s face lit up as he spotted Josh making a beeline for him. They slapped palms and hugged in one arm like they were in sync.
“Yo! Lake! Wassup esse?”
“Not much Savvy. Not much.”
“Still killing it in the paper business?”
Joshua grimaced as he recalled his surprising morning.
“It’s looking like the paper business will be killing me dude.”
“Tough break at work hey? Man I hear you. Two supervisors called in sick today with no replacement so I’m covering my own crew along with two others.”
“Are you for real? Running three crews at a time? Are they paying you for that shit?”
“Fuck no man! But if I wanna keep my job and move up in management everybody’s gotta see that I can pull more than my own weight! Gotta pull everyone else’s too!”
“Dude. No one should have a bigger workload and not get payed for it. You want me to make some noise about it on the pages?”
“Nah man. I’ll Buzz you if they screw us on the overtime or fire me so they don’t have to cover my insurance if I get cancer or something.”
“You do that. You know I ain’t no socialist but people need to learn to do better fucking business in this town.”
“As long as we got people like you fighting the good fight Joshy. As long as we got people like you.”
“Listen, I was hoping for a favour.”
“Any of your guys got a delivery in Chinatown? I was hoping to hitch a ride.”
“Yeah sure, Judy will take you!”
Big Savvy smiled big. It was a huge smile and he seemed genuinely amused.
“Whatsa matter Esse? You don’t have a problem with a woman’s driving a truck do ya?”
“No, I just don’t meet alotta women who break that particular stereotype. Not when the trucks are this big. Where’s Judy?”
“Hold up, I gotta introduce you. She won’t just let some guy she never met into her truck.”
“You seem to underestimate the charming effect I have on women.” Josh said self-mockingly
“Settle down bro. I know you got game. But this girl’s not much for your white collar bullshit you know?”
“Whi — “
Savvy smiled again,
“Relax, I’m just messing with you! Come on, follow me.”
Josh and Savvy crossed the yard to a large 18 wheeler a few parking stops away from the entrance.
A door slammed from the other side and a woman in company overalls and a cap came around the front of the truck. Her sleeves were rolled to her elbows and her cap completely obscured her hair from view, so it left her fair skinned face unframed and made it seem somewhat severe. Her facial features’ slender but wiry setting added to the harsh impression she seemed to give in her manly garb, but overall, she was a lot prettier than half the girls out there.
“Woman I’m your boss! Everybody on this crew calls me boss! Why du gotta be the only one to not do that?”
“I don’t owe anyone any ass-kissing. I’ll call you by your name same as I’d call the manager by his name. Or the CFO. Or the president.”
“Except Savvy isn’t my name woman!”
“Fine. Would you rather I called you Salvador?”
“No. But it’s reasons like this that you ain’t rising up in life!”
“Really? I thought it was because management were fascist, sexist assholes!”
“Shit woman! You think I woulda gotten my promotion if I called the Super-in-Chief by his name?! Ain’t nothing sexist about that!”
“Yeah, well, I’m not a kiss-ass like you.”
“IT’S NOT KISSING ASS IF THAT’S THE ACTUAL NAME OF HIS JOB! HE’S SUPERVISOR-IN-CHIEF AND I CALL HIM CHIEF!”
“I like her.” Josh interposed, “She can wind you up pretty good.”
“Why thank you kind stranger,” she smiled, considerably reducing the severity in her face, “And who might you be?”
“Joshua Lake”, Josh said, putting his hand forward. “But you can just call me Josh. Or Lake if you prefer.”
“The writer?” She said, shaking his hand
“This is odd. I could have sworn I’m not that famous.”
“I suppose the fact that you work across the street from here and everyone on this dock knows you from all the coming and going you do around our little workplace just skipped your mind?” She retorted sarcastically.
The almost graceless Josh barely scraped enough grace together to achieve a blush. He made a very quick recover however. Putting the back of his right hand to face the right from against the left side of his mouth, he whispered to Savvy in a theatrically enhanced, conspiratorial whisper “Dude! She’s not very nice!”
“Told you so”, Savvy smiled, “Listen Judy. Lake here has business in Chinatown. That’s your route today so drop him off there will you?”
“Sure thing. Hop in tabloid.”
Josh climbed into the high cabin with a heave and slammed the door behind him as she did the same from the other side.
“Easy on the door tabloid! You’ll break somethin’!”
“What’s it to you lady? You footin’ the bill?”
Judy laughed. “Nah. It’s covered. The perks of working for faceless, giant, evil corporations.”
“The Leftism is strong within you. I sort of like you again.”
“Sort of?” Judy asked as she started her engine and pulled out.
“Well yeah. I mean my articles take a huge leftist perspective on a lot of issues so people often mistake me for one but in reality, I don’t believe a government should hold down to any particular direction, left or right”
“What then? Middle and moderation? You one of those guys who like to half ass it?”
“Worse. I don’t believe in fixed political stances.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I believe that the rich can get rich without treading all over us little folk, that a person with no income should have a minimum of a free education, free healthcare, a decent roof on his head and healthy food to eat until an income is available to him. What I DON’T believe in is the little luxuries these leftists take for granted and think they have a “right” to without earning them. Like a TV, or a car, or a radio, or food they actually enjoy but does them no good, or a hot tub, or landlines, or mobile phones, or beer and wine. Or pop. Or Ice tea. Or even a private fridge. THESE are the things you have to earn your way to! And I believe the government should institute whatever policies it needs in order to maintain that kind of balance I’m talking about. Be these policies Leftist or Rightist, Capitalist or Socialist, Idealistic or Machiavellian and Pragmatic, these are all names to me. They don’t matter. What matters to me, is the balance. And no, all this talk about ‘for that to happen, we have to push in the socialist direction’ doesn’t work for me because when you push too hard in that direction you make it unethical, immoral, and even illegal for someone to be ambitious and try to fulfil these ambitions. And this kind of binding of the human soul with chains of metaphorical steel always breeds corruption into a society. THAT’S what not believing in fixed political stances means.”
“Wow. That was quite a mouthful.”
“Not too bad right?” Josh grinned half smugly. “I’m good at what I do lady.”
“I didn’t say I liked it. Anyways how come you don’t drive yourself?”
“Lotta folks find it cheaper to use transit.”
“Yeah you’re not a big spender alright. But that’s not it.”
Up flew Lake’s eyebrows
“How dya mean?”
“In your job, it pays to be able to get places the transit don’t go. And it pays even more to get there fast.”
Joshua looked out the window.
“I drive when I have to.” He said curtly. More curtly than he’d intended.
“Yauza! Touched a nerve there didn’t I tabloid? My bad. Didn’t know this was so prickly.”
“I apologize. That came out a little sharper than I meant it. We all have our touchy topics. Now you got a handle on one of mine. How about a scoop on one of yours?”
Judy hesitated for a second. She shifted her eyes from Josh to the window a few times. Finally, she inhaled a long breath, exhaled it and told him one word. “Gambling.”
“Wow. That was easy.”
“I didn’t really want to tell you. But then I remembered what you do for a living and I figured if I made you curious enough you’d go digging up some things that I’d rather leave buried.”
“Oh well. Like I said, we all have our prickly topics. Do you still gamble? You don’t have to tell me if you’d rather not.”
“No, it’s fine. We’re talking about this, might as well. No, I don’t still gamble. Not for three years now. You know it was Savvy who talked them into giving me this job a little ways back. Helped me straighten out a lot of things in my life. I was wrestling with mountains of debts and unpaid bills.”
“Now I’m doing better. Still broke like everyone else in this city but at least I know where my next 3 meals are coming from.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“It’s a sickness you know. Maybe not a sickness in your body but it’s a sickness in the mind. A sickness in society.”
“I’m not judging you.”
“I didn’t say I’m not judgemental. I’m very judgemental. I’ve judged 3 people today and it’s not even close to noon. I just said I’m not judging you here, now, right this second.”
“I don’t know to be honest. Maybe because I’m in a good mood when someone else is driving. Maybe because your past vices pale by comparison to my current ones. You know. Because they’re past and mine are current. Maybe because I have bigger things to think about
today than how you were three years ago.”
“A lot on your mind? is that all?”
“Well no. Maybe I just don’t want you to kick me out of your car.” Josh Smiled.
Judy laughed. “That’s a good reason.”
“Maybe I’m just falling in love with you and I don’t even know it.”
“You don’t strike me as the loving type Joshua Lake.”
Joshua was silent for a little while. His face took on an oddly static quality and his eyes gaze, while unchanged in direction, seemed to shift from the streets he was seeing. As though he were looking into a different time and a different place. Another dimension. When he spoke again it was in a flat monotone.
“No. I suppose I don’t.”
Judy glanced at him sideways from the steering wheel, smiled a cynical, bitter little smile with one corner of her mouth, looked back ahead of her and nodded wisely.
“Bad experience huh?”
Joshua’s voice regained its colourful intonations again as he answered.
“What makes you say that? What if I was just cross checking your impression of me with my past relationships? Seeing if you’re right?”
“Boy I’ve bin around. Seen some shit others haven’t. I know what I know. You had a bad experience.”
“You’re right. I had a bad experience.”
“Well don’t worry. I’m not gonna make you tell me. We’re almost there.”
“I wasn’t worried. You make me tell you, I make you tell me.”
“Pushy little tabloid man aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Little tabloid. You thought I meant you didn’t you?”
“Well I didn’t. Where do you want me to drop you off?”
“Just a little ways after the big building over there. I wanna check the shops for something.”
“Shopping in China town are we? You got it tabloid.”
As the truck pulled up to a stop and Josh opened the door and got ready to jump out he looked back at Judy and said “By the way, we ain’t no fucking tabloid.” Judy grinned but he had already jumped out of the cabin before she could think of a retort. As he closed the door and headed down the street she waved and yelled after him “Be safe, Tabloid!”, Joshua grinned at this too and waved back as she pulled away from the pavement. Then he turned back and kept on walking.
Chapter Four now out at: https://abdallahalalfy.medium.com/phonecall-from-heaven-chapter-four-db7ef68d1745