[Image courtesy of Katheryn Holt (c)2016. For more of her work, visit her site.]
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202-339-6732. The phone number I found scribbled on the title page of the book I was reading, a Milo Weaver spy novel. Normally I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Used books often contain jottings from previous readers. The phone number could belong to anyone—a friend, dry cleaner, business contact, call girl—but it had nothing to do with me. My curiosity was easy prey to fantasy, though, immersed as I was in a story of international intrigue. I was strangely tempted to call. Ridiculous and potentially embarrassing.
What would I say to the person at the other end of the line? What reason could I give for calling? Of course, I could just hang up. If he or she called back, I’d say I dialed the wrong number. No harm done.
My flight for Atlanta was delayed and I had at least an hour before boarding. I opted for a drink at the Hofbrau Haus near the gate. It was Milwaukee, so—no surprise—a waitress wearing a dirndl and a smile brought me a dish of pretzels with my Pilsner. I took a sip, settled back and resumed reading. Milo Weaver was in a tight spot, implicated in the murder of a fellow agent and on the run in search of the real killer.
But that phone number distracted me, somehow even more compelling than the novel itself. I kept turning back to the title page, staring at each numeral as if it might provide some important clue. A quick web search on my phone told me the area code was in Langley, Virginia. I drew a deep breath and dialed. Beads of sweat were forming on my upper lip. The phone rang seven times before a man answered, his voice raspy:
“You got my message.”
“I— I found this phone number in a book. I’m not sure why I’m calling.”
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
“You have?” This was really weird.
“I need your help.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“We can’t talk long. This call could be traced.”
“Traced?” Sweat was now dripping from my forehead.
“Catch the next plane to LaGuardia.”
“But I have a business appointment in Georgia tomorrow morning.” I should have hung up right then, but I was intrigued.
“This is more important.” He sounded very certain.
My life was pretty humdrum. “Okay. What should I do when I get there?”
“Call me again. I’ll give you instructions.”
“I should know your name at least. Mine’s Jason.”
“I’m Milo. “ He hung up.
* * *
About William Torphy: My poetry, critical essays and articles have appeared in Sebastian Quill, Artweek, High Performance, and Exposee. Ithuriel’s Spear in San Francisco has published “Love Never Always” (poetry), “Snakebite” (young adult fiction) and “A Brush With History” (biography). I’m an art curator living in the San Francisco area.