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The Phone Call
by Tom Schmidt

The month of May in western New York had been unseasonably cold and wet. Jack Rieger, a young rising  manager at Altex Corporation, had contracted bronchitis from the weather but refused to take any time off to recover from the viral lung infection. He hadn’t become the fastest rising manager of Altex by taking time off for “the sniffles”. He would fight his way through the illness.

All Friday morning, Rieger coughed and wheezed as he continually tried to clear his lungs. Not wanting to make anyone else ill, Rieger stayed within his private office and communicated by phone and email. That is how the entire fiasco about “the phone call” developed.

Rieger needed to get product moving to the southwest portion of the U.S. and that meant pushing his distribution manager Ellen McMurphy to schedule extra trucking for the weekend.  Rieger tapped his fingers nervously while waiting for McMurphy to answer her phone.


Before answering, Rieger was overcome with a coughing spell which he successfully suppressed.  McMurphy continued to asked “who’s there?” while dead air was on the phone. Finally, Rieger answered.

(Soft, almost inaudible) “Hi.” (cough, cough, wheeze…)

“Who’s there?”

(Cough, wheeze, followed by labored breathing) “It’s me.”  The reply took almost all of Rieger’s energy and left him winded.

“Jack, I know it’s you. This isn’t funny.”

“Ellen, I need…” (labored breathing)

“Stop it Jack. I am a grandmother of two and a married woman as well. Yes, my husband is a creep but that is no reason for you to think you have justification to make an obscene call to me.  And doing it at work to boot!!”

“Ellen, I need (more labored breathing)….  I really need…”

“You pervert!!  I am going to report you to HR. Seriously Jack. This is no joke.”

“Ellen, I need (cough, wheezing and labored breathing)…..  my inhaler.”

Ellen McMurphy, remembering then that Rieger had been sick for the entire week simply responded back “Oh, right.  Sorry…..”