Many older people find themselves pestered by persistent charity cold callers. Mary was no exception. Or was she?
Mrs Mary Lamb lifted the receiver. She felt apprehensive, her old fashioned phone had no caller I.D. and her daughter’s call was long overdue, yet….
‘Hello?’ she said hopefully.
Good evening madam, may I speak to Mr Gerald Lamb, please?’
Her heart sank. It was another one of ‘those’ calls. Oh, dear, she thought whatever am I to do?
‘I’m sorry, I’m afraid my husband passed away six months ago.’
‘Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that Mrs Lamb, perhaps you might be able to help me?’
‘What is it about?’
‘I’m Jonas Flint, Mrs Lamb, calling on behalf of the charity Aid for Elderly Animals. Your husband was kind enough to help us with a generous donation in the past.’
The smooth, practiced voice of the cold caller went on hypnotically, perfect in rhythm, speed, volume and pitch, ‘in fact, he indicated that he would be willing to set up a direct debit for a regular amount each month.’
Eighty six year old Mary dreaded these cold calls, this was the third one this week. She felt intimidated by them. Mary was from the old school of good manners and politeness and found it impossible to hang up on cold callers.
‘Well, I don’t know about that, he was a generous man, that’s true, but we lived in very modest circumstances Mr Flint. We really couldn’t afford much and I have even less now he’s gone.’
‘Do you have any pets yourself, Mrs Lamb?
‘Oh yes, I’ve still got Molly, our little Cavalier King Charles, we’ve had her a long time now, Mr Flint.’
‘Please call me Jonas Mrs Lamb,’ his voice professionally friendly, ‘So much nicer.’
‘Oh very well, Mr ..er, sorry, Jonas. ‘
‘Thank you. May I call you Mary? It’s so much friendlier, don’t you think?’ He went on without waiting for her consent. ‘Let me ask you, Mary, if anything were to happen to you, what arrangements have you made for your precious Molly?’
Mary was confused, she hadn’t given the matter any thought, she was still mourning the loss of her late husband ‘arrangements? Well …er I don’t really know, Jonas.’
‘Oh dear Mary, that is bad news’ he paused for dramatic effect ‘it probably won’t matter if Molly is very old of course, but a lot of pets, especially the elderly ones that can’t be re-homed, are simply put down when anything happens to their owners. That would be awful, wouldn’t it?’
‘Oh, oh I see, yes, that would be terrible’ said Mary feeling scared and emotional now. She looked at the elderly Molly sleeping peacefully at her feet and her heart filled with love and fear.
Flint pressed on ‘we at Aid for Elderly Animals, give a home to these pets Mary and guarantee that they are looked after until such time as they join their owners again in the hereafter. All we ask for Mary, is say, twenty pounds to help us carry on this important work on behalf of these poor bereaved pets.’
‘Yes, I see’ she said, but I already have twelve charity direct debits Jonas, I really can’t afford another, honestly.’
‘Well, how about a smaller amount then Mary, say ten? And perhaps a modest donation now, say another ten? That would carry us over until the direct debit started Mary.’
When she hesitated he continued ‘surely, ten pounds is not an unreasonable amount to ensure the future wellbeing of your precious Molly? It’s such a worthy cause, and you’d be a vital part of helping other unfortunate animals, too. Have you got your card to hand, Mary?’
He was then silent. The pressure of silence, he knew, builds like a pressure cooker; the question hangs there, awaiting an answer, creating a force of its own. The mind struggles, trying to find an adequate reason or excuse. It nearly always fails in that dreadful vacuum of the deadly silence. Flint called it the embarrassment factor, it was a pressure tactic he used successfully every day.
Mary looked down at Molly again and caved in, reaching for her handbag, feeling confused and emotional. She gave her details. Ten pounds would leave her very short and her pension wasn’t due for another week.
Flint put down the phone, it was break time. He looked at the man in the next booth and slapped him on the back. ‘Coming for a snack, Henry?’
Henry shook his head ‘I’ve not reached my target yet Jonas, still need another three.’
Flint smirked ‘I’ve told you before mate, you’re too bloody soft on them; play to their emotions, sing to their souls, it works every time.’
Henry said, ‘I heard you telling that woman that we look after old dogs until the end of their days Jonas, but we euthanise all those too old to be rehomed, you know that.’
Yeah, right, but she doesn’t know that, does she? ‘
‘But that’s not ethical,’ Jonas.’
‘You can’t spend ethics mate’ Flint replied harshly ‘look, let me show you something, Henry’ he glanced down at Mrs Lamb’s details. ‘Take this old biddy, she says her old man has croaked, that’s a standard defence some these folks put up. It may or may not be true. Ignore it. Next, she says she’s got loads of direct debits. She thinks that will put me off. No way! She’s just told me she’s vulnerable, a sucker, right? She’s done it before, so she’ll do it again. Take no notice of poverty pleas or you’ll never make any bonus.’ He looked at Henry, his hard eyes reflecting his name. ‘Keep on going mate, find their weak spot and go in for the kill. They’ve all got money mate, there’s no reason for them not to give.’
Henry thought of his own grandparents, they didn’t have much money. They got cold calls too, but his granddad was an ex-Sergeant Major who dealt with them crisply.
‘What if they’re genuine Jonas and really are broke?’
‘Then they’ll cancel their direct debit mate, but if you activate it immediately, then you’ll have the first month’s payment and the donation.’
He placed a hand on Henry’s arm. Flint liked to feel important, to demonstrate his superior techniques ‘now, take Mrs Lamb-to-the-slaughter here, she’s scared stiff her dog will outlive her. I spun her the yarn about us looking after her pet when she’s gone, right? Boom, ten quid just like that and a direct debit for ten, too. That was just my foot in her door. I’ll ring her next month to up the DD and press her for another donation.’
Flint looked down at her details ‘Well, bless my soul’ he said laughing ‘I didn’t notice that before, it says here husband’s occupation: Healer and white witch.’ Flint guffawed, ‘I tell you mate, these people are all full of shit.’ He went to his break, still smiling.
Mrs Lamb looked at the cash machine screen, her balance was eight pounds twenty seven pence. Minimum withdrawal was ten pounds. Aid for Elderly Animals had taken her ten pound donation and activated her direct debit simultaneously. She had not expected that, thinking the DD would be set up from the following month. ‘Well Molly’ she said, ‘I’ll be able to buy enough food for you until pension day but I don’t think there’ll be much left for me.’
She came out of the Supermarket with four tins of dog food and a packet of dog biscuits She also had a small loaf, a tin of soup and some margarine. She had just seven pence left. ‘There Molly’ she said gently ‘at least you’ll be alright my darling.’
It was cold now, the weather had turned and snow was forecast. Mary lamb sat in her freezing house bundled in cardigans and coats by a one bar electric fire. She’d eaten the soup yesterday and now she toasted a slice of bread on a fork. She was pitifully thin and hunger pangs conspired with the cold to prevent her getting a good night’s sleep. Molly did her best, sleeping on her bed to help keep her warm. ‘I might not last this winter through Molly my darling’ she said, ‘but my funeral plan is in place and you’ll be looked after by those nice people at the charity.’
Mary’s daughter Mabel lived over two hundred miles away from her mother. Like many a middle-aged mum, she was kept ultra-busy by the demands of her husband, their three teenage children and a full-time job. She tried to ring her mother once a week, but sometimes that slipped.
Her mum always sounded cheerful on the phone, saying she was saving up to come and see them. She used winter travel as an excuse to put off coming last time they spoke, never admitting she couldn’t afford the fare.
Mabel rang Mary and got no reply. Probably nipped out to the shops she told herself and went about cooking the evening meal. At eight thirty she rang again and still got no reply. Now she was worried and rang Mrs Johnstone, her mother’s neighbour. She went around and banged on the door but got no response. The Police were called. They broke in and found Mary in bed. She was unconscious and freezing cold, dehydrated and near to death. They rushed her to hospital and Mabel drove up immediately.
They told Mabel it was touch and go. She sat by her bedside all night, stroking Mary’s hand, praying. In the morning Mary looked a little better and ate a soft-boiled egg and some toast followed by two cups of tea.
Mabel went to her mother’s house and made up the bed in the spare room. She intended staying until her mother was fully recovered and to look after Molly. She was surprised at all the junk mail her mother received, most of it was from charities seeking donations. But why so many? Mabel thought, I don’t get a tenth of these.
Suspicion dawned after she had answered several calls from various charities. She told the callers, that her mother was in hospital. One caller was a persistent, persuasive fellow called Jonas Flint. Mabel worked in sales and recognised his pressure techniques when he tried to get a donation from her. The guy simply wouldn’t give up, in the end she put the phone down on him.
With her mother’s reluctant permission, she accessed her bank account. Mabel was shocked by what she found. Three hundred and eighty pounds a month was going out to various charities. No wonder she couldn’t afford to eat or heat her house properly. She cancelled all Direct Debits immediately, just before her mum’s pension was due to be paid in. Next, she bought her mum a simple pay-as-you go phone.
Returning to her mother’s home, Mabel was just about to ring and have the landline disconnected when the hospital rang, her mother had had a stroke. Mabel rushed back and was devastated to be told Mary had passed away.
The next day her mother’s phone rang again; Mabel recognised the man’s voice, ‘ah, Mr Flint’ she said, ‘I’m glad you’ve called, I want to inform you that my mother passed away from a stroke yesterday, brought about by acute stress. You, and others of your ilk, being largely responsible for that stress. I’ve cancelled all further payments, there’ll be no point in you calling again.’
‘Call me Jonas, love’ he chirped, relentlessly launching into his sales pitch, ‘sorry to hear about your mum and all that. Now, have you considered a donation yourself in your Mum’s memory?’
Mabel could hardly believe her ears, his pushiness and crass lack of sensitivity beggared belief. ‘Yes, Mr Flint, I have’ she said icily, a quiet but intense anger fulminating in her breast ‘and the answer is no.’ She went on to tell him of her disgust at how her elderly mother had been driven to distraction by charity cold callers.
‘Just doing my job, love.’ he answered coldly ‘just doing my job.’
‘No, you’re doing much more than that, Mr Flint. I’m a sales manager and I listened to your spiel very carefully last time. You used every manipulator’s trick in the book. You are a callous individual and you don’t care what misery you cause as long as you achieve your ends.’
‘Just doing my job, love’ he repeated ‘and before you go on preaching, everything I do is legal, see?’
‘Tell me, love’ she spat, unable now to contain her anger, ‘do you sleep well at night?
‘Yeah, I do as it happens’ he responded defiantly.
‘Well my friend, you won’t sleep so peacefully tonight. You see, I inherited certain gifts from my father. You’ll be having a cold call yourself soon. A very cold call indeed’ she said ominously.
‘Yeah, right love, you have me trembling here’ his tone turned nasty and sarcastic ‘what’s the matter love? Did mummy give away all her lovely money instead of leaving it to you?’
Mabel put the phone down.
Next day, the shocked colleagues of Jonas Flint learned that he had suffered a stroke during the night. Later, they heard the prognosis for his future. His mobility and mental capacity would be severely impaired. He’d live like an elderly person for the rest of his days.
Hi Pronto, a well composed story which is so true to life.Being an old geezer myself I often get those type of calls,Some of those callers can e so persuasive that one cannot help but admire their techniques.I can see vulnerable old people being robbed of most of their meagre income and faring like the Mary of your story.My answer to cold callers has been for a long time now:”Ich verstehe sie nicht warum sprechen sie denn nicht in Deutsch?” The result, an end to the call.. I really enjoyed your easy to read and follow story. Well done .… Read more »
Dankeschoen mein herr. Very kind of you to make such kind comments.
A well crafted and engaging story, mate. Poetic justice aside, I found Mabel’s initial response to Flint’s second call a little too tame. I wouldn’t have given the bastard the satisfaction of informing him of Mary’s passing. I would’ve told him in no uncertain terms to f**k off. But that’s just me. I found your predator/prey psychology to be spot on, however, and seeing it played out in your story made me cringe for Mary. Your principal character names, Mary Lamb (Mary had a little lamb) and Jonas Flint (skin flint) are quite clever allusions that add nuance to the… Read more »
Thank you so much for your kind comments and considered response. Very much appreciated. Nice to see that the intended nuanced names were not missed either. I used Lamb in as ‘to the slaughter’ and Flint because it’s hard and unyielding. .
A very good yarn, just as we expect of you. If you wished, I feel the story would be even stronger with some attention to POV and show not tell. These are handily explained in the prose writing tutorial in the forums. It’s good to tell a clear and effective story, as here, but raising the level of interest and involvement of the reader adds an extra dimension. Just as an example, contrast the bald statement ‘sonia was upset’, using an omniscient narrator, , with an observation via one character only. ‘David noticed sonia’s hand tighten on the chair back’… Read more »
John, Thank you very much for your valued critique and recommendations. I have studied show & tell but I’m not perfect by a long shot (Though I’m getting better) I have been studying a book called Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver. It’s an excellent course on writing, full of common sense guides. I’m also reading Self Editing for Fiction Writers By Renni Browne and Dave King.. I have recently published a thriller, but couldn’t afford the services of a professional editor, “Where Terror Strikes” is on Amazon. It’s early days yet and the are a couple of annoying formatting errors… Read more »