Author: David Barber

The man in the armchair by the window is Frank Chappel. He’s been widowed for some years now; he walks a little stiffly because of his knee but is determined not to use a stick; his hair may be white but at least he’s not gone bald like some men his age.

Frank wasn’t always a killer.

It started with a phone call, and him grunting to his feet and limping into the hall to answer it. His internet service provider, a voice said, and there was a problem. Seemed he must give them some information so they could fix it.

The third scam call that week and Frank was getting more and more enraged by them. What was the world coming to? he wanted to know. Had they no conscience? He shouted down the phone once and heard laughter before the line went dead.

“Listen you,” began Frank, and was seized by the thought of his anger rushing down the phone line, traveling at tremendous speed, and squirting into the ear of this man who earned his living cheating old folk.

Frank never finished, because there was the clatter of a dropped handset and a woman crying out in alarm. He listened, hardly breathing, until someone said, “I think it’s a heart attack.”

There were other calls, worrying calls about his bank card, if he could just give them a few details of his account; also persistent double-glazing salesmen, and all of them broke off mid-sentence, perhaps with a gasp or a cry. Soon there were no more scam calls. In fact, the phone hardly rang now.

He sat and thought about it, and decided it must be coincidence or something. Imagine trying to tell someone, and how mad it would sound.

But then there were the teenagers. Some mornings Frank took a walk to Mr. Patel’s shop to buy a paper and milk and biscuits. His wife always said he had a sweet tooth.

Outside, some teenagers ran into him and everything spilled onto the pavement.

“Watch out granddad,” one of them called, as they strolled away.

Shaken, Frank leaned on the shop window and Mr. Patel fussed out to help.

“Such boys,” said Mr. Patel, shaking his head. “No respect.”

Frank glared after them, and abruptly they crumpled to the pavement, like puppets with their strings cut.

Next day, a policewoman knocked at his door. She perched on the sofa with the broken spring, balancing a notebook on her knee. Frank stared at her police hat on the coffee table between them.

“Four teenagers having heart attacks at the same time. For the moment we’re treating them as unexplained deaths.”

Yes, the teenagers had barged into him. No, he didn’t know them. Had she spoken to Mr. Patel?

“Because your phone number came up in a fraud enquiry. Another spate of heart attacks.”

Yes, that was his number. Sometimes he got scam calls. Didn’t everyone these days?

The police officer sensed something amiss, but in the end, put her notebook away.

Frank watched her cross the road to her car. He watched her suddenly claw at her chest. He watched the ambulance come and go. Later that day he watched another police car pull up. These officers didn’t even manage to get out of their car.

Frank Chappel sitting by the window, while his phone rings and rings; and there’s some sort of commotion in the street, and armed men creeping round his back yard. What was the world coming to? He just wanted to be left in peace!

The phone stops ringing.

Outside, everything goes very quiet.