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My parents’ bedroom was familiar territory. At the same time, though, it was distinct from the rest of the household. I didn’t go in here very often, not unless I was using the phone, for the most part. On the bureau, there were framed portraits of all four of my grandparents, all four of whom were dead by 1976. The room smelled vaguely of my mother’s perfume, my father’s after-shave.
I sat down on the tightly made bed and lifted the receiver from the phone on the nightstand.
“Hello?” I said into the receiver. “This is Steve speaking.”
I heard a little click as my mother hung up the phone in the kitchen. Another thing about my parents: They didn’t spy on me.
“Steve, is it?” said a male voice.
I felt my heartbeat make a little jump. The voice jolted me for several reasons.
First of all, I had been (realistically, I thought) hoping for a phone call from a girl. The voice on the other end of the call was not only male, it was also edged with an unmistakeable overtone of hostility.
And there was something more, besides. Some kind of an accent.
“Who is this?” I asked, setting an edge of confrontation in my own voice.
On the other end of the line: a low, throaty chuckle.
“You niffy-naffy bugger. You’d better watch your step, keep yourself to yourself. Otherwise, one of us is going to run you through!”
I now recognized the accent: British. At that point in my life, I don’t believe that I had ever actually met a British person, in the flesh; and there were few foreigners of any variety in the Clermont County of that time. I had heard plenty of British accents on television, though.
I couldn’t exactly discern the age of the speaker, but he sounded older than a high school kid, while significantly younger than my parents. Somewhere between the ages of twenty-one and forty, I thought.
And whoever he was, he was threatening me. The entire experience—being threatened out of the blue by an unknown someone with a British accent—was disorienting. But I wasn’t going to take it lying down.
“Tell me who the hell you are,” I said, raising my voice a notch or two.
Another chuckle. “Say a little prayer you never find out, you yaldson!”
What’s a yaldson? I wondered. Then I said, “Do I sound scared, buddy?”
But I was scared—for some reason I could not quite articulate.
More laughter. “You fopdoodling, goose-saddling imbecile! Don’t say you ‘aven’t been warned!”
And with that, the line when dead. A second later, I heard a dial tone.
I noticed that my hand was shaking as I returned the handset to the cradle.
That had been a strange telephone call, by any standard.
A prank, I decided. It must have been a prank.
Still, I wondered if anyone I knew would be capable of executing such a complex prank. I was no expert judge of accents, but that had sounded like a fairly authentic British accent.
Not to mention the unusual vocabulary. Niffy-naffy bugger? Goose-saddling imbecile? (I wondered: Do British people really talk that way?)
And what would be the motive? If that had been a mere joke, it had been a very elaborate one, with no clear purpose.