Who could be calling me this early?, Linda thought when she heard her cell phone’s ringtone coming from the kitchen. Since retiring from her job as a librarian two years earlier, she had become accustomed to a very quiet life, and this included the traffic on her phone. A call at ten a.m. was highly unusual, and she couldn’t help finding it a little ominous.
“Is this Ms. Turner?”, a man’s voice inquired.
After receiving Linda’s confirming answer the man continued.
“This is Sheriff’s Deputy John Swindler. I am calling to warn you about a crime that is likely to be attempted against you.”
“A crime?”, Linda gasped. “What do you mean?”
“Lately there has been a series of extortion attempts in our town,” the deputy Swindler said gravely. “And we have reason to believe that you will be the extortionist’s next victim.”
The kitchen seemed to be spinning as Linda tried to get her head around what she was hearing. “Extortion, you say? But I haven’t done anything that an extortionist could take advantage of.”
“I’m sure, Ms. Turner, but our man doesn’t need any dark secrets to make his victims give him what he wants. He simply commits robbery over the phone.”
“How?” Suddenly Linda had become more curious than anxious.
“He phones his victims and tells them that he will hurt them somehow if they don’t give him a certain amount of money. He seems to do a lot of research on his victims, and apparently he’s quite convincing. But don’t worry, his threats are empty. Unfortunately, however, most of his victims are so intimidated by his knowledge about them, and his threats, that they just give him what he wants.”
“We don’t know why exactly he has chosen you this time, but we’ve been following the activity on his phone, and we know that he’s been doing research on you. He will be calling you soon, and when he does I want you phone me immediately and I will tell you what to do. It’s very important that we play along with him, so that he won’t become suspicious. He must be caught red-handed. With your help, he will this time.”
I’m going to help catch a criminal!, Linda thought when the call had ended. Me, of all people!
It was twenty past two that same afternoon when her phone rang and Linda saw a new unfamiliar number on its screen. This has to be the extortionist, she told herself as she picked the phone up from the kitchen table with a slightly trembling hand.
“This is Linda,” she managed to say calmly, wondering how she would be able to pretend to be as stupid as the extortionist believed she was.
“Ms. Turner,” a hoarse voice said. “I have something very important to tell you.”
“Okay…” She could barely keep herself from laughing out loud. “And what’s that?”
The voice paused for a few seconds. “You probably haven’t noticed it, but I have been following you for a long time.”
“You have?” With her hand over her mouth so that the extortionist wouldn’t notice the laughter in her voice, Linda tried to think of what his victims normally would say at this point in the conversation. Not arousing his suspicion was crucial, she knew. “Hmm, that’s interesting.”
“I know everything about you, Linda. What car you drive and what house you live in. What time you go to bed, and what time you get up. Trust me, there is not one detail about you or your daily routines that I don’t know.”
For a second Linda actually felt intimidated by the extortionist’s knowledge about her, but she quickly managed to remind herself that his threats were empty. “And I gather that you intend to use this knowledge to hurt me,” she said, perfectly composed.
“Yes.” The voice paused again, this time a little longer. “And if you don’t want that to happen I suggest that you follow my instructions.” Another pause. “You will put a plastic bag, containing ten thousand dollars, in the garbage can next to the main entrance of the post office. Exactly at four p.m. today. And then you immediately leave the area.”
The call was ended.
With her hands wildly trembling with excitement, Linda nevertheless quickly found the deputy’s number, and dialed it.
“Deputy Swindler here.”
Relieved to hear his soothing voice, Linda told him every detail of her conversation with the extortionist.
“Now we’ve got him!”, Deputy Swindler shouted euphorically. “Great work, Ms. Turner!” He paused. “But there’s still some way to go, and we’ll have to be very careful. He will be watching you the whole time, so you’ll have to pretend that you will actually give him the money. You’ll go to your bank, withdraw the money, put it into a plastic bag, and you’ll put the bag in that garbage can. Exactly as he told you. Once he tries to get the bag - wham! – we arrest him.”
As she drove towards the post office – with a plastic bag, containing exactly ten thousand dollars, on the seat next to her – Linda Turner couldn’t have felt better. She knew she was about to become the talk of the town.