There is collected wisdom these days that calls originating in telephone boxes are unlikely to be valid or true emergencies. Was a time, I’m sure, when the local phone booth was the nearest source of telecommunication to your house, but with the omnipresence of home and mobile phones, these stalwarts of the telecoms industry are rarely used to call us out. And when they do, its typically for the sort of…socially peripatetic person who spends their time hanging around in phone booths.
“A bam in a box…” goes the industry quote, reflecting how frequently these callers are, perhaps, not quite at the cutting edge of emergency medical crises.
The locus for the job comes in first, a call box just down the road from the Digitals and as I’m barely a mile away, I’m swinging the response car into the street in a few minutes. As I pull up my radio starts to buzz and I push the hands free button on the dash.
“Kal, this call is kids on the line. They’ve hung up, but would you mind checking it out?”
And then, because I can see them standing on the street.
“I think I can see the problem…”
About ten of them, not yet in secondary school by the looks of things, gaping at the flashing lights as I step out of the motor. Not savvy enough to learn that one runs from the scene of the crime, rather than hanging around to watch the drama. Nuggets.
“What’s going on, mister?”
I look around, ensuring there isn’t a body on the floor, or someone on fire, or under a rhino or something similarly pressing.
“I don’t know, lads…why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
They stare blankly before one comes back.
“WE don’t know…”
“Well, we got a 999 call from THAT phone box, with kids phoning us, just two minutes ago…”
And here’s where they blow it. I’m a big fan of the theory that if youre going to lie, you either go big, or not at all. But this lad misses the point and stares at me quizzically.
“TWO minutes ago?”
As though if I’d said three, he would have owned up to it.
“Very recently at least…anyone want to tell me what that was about?”
There’s some shuffling of feet. One of them starts to slide sideways from the rest of the group.
“Hang on…I’m not done talking to you.”
He flings a hand out like a railway signal.
“It was Sayeed! Sayeed did it!”
“Fuck off!” shouts Sayeed (I assume) in response, before suddenly staring back at me, realising that his language might be digging him into further trouble.
“Right…here’s the thing. I don’t CARE who did it and I’ve more important things to do than try and work it out. But think about this. I’ve just driven really fast here, through red lights, through pedestrian crossings that are on the green man. What if I ran someone over? Like a little kid? Or your granny? How would you feel if your granny got run over by a car because you played a stupid trick?”
“So here’s how its going to go…” I continue, pulling my black notebook from my pocket and flipping its cover open.
“I’m going to need your names and addresses. All of you. And I’m going to send a letter home to every one of your parents explaining that I’ve given you all a row for doing this and that they don’t need to take it any further.”
A score of eyes widen at me, a few faces go very, very pale. One lip starts to wobble.
“Or….” I continue, hamming up the illusion of considering my options, “We could say that you’re sorry… you can all clear off and we’ll say no more about it.”
They nod, like a window of manic dashboard ornaments.
“But if I ever….” a moment of sotto voce, hoarse, with a little lean forward for effect “EVER catch you boys doing this again, I’ll call a police car to take you back home and you can explain yourself to your parents. Got it?”
More nodding…I’d better stop, they’ll hurt their necks.
And they’re *gone*, bomb bursting away from me in every directions like beads of track suited mercury, speeding into the distance fuelled by relief.
I climb back into the car, radio up Control and make for my break. Community figure, me.