"North Star Assistance. Summer speaking. How can I be of assistance?"
There was silence on the other end of the connection. "May I speak to Yolanda, please?"
Summer rolled her eyes, sitting up. Sometimes, the people who called figured there was one person to cover the whole Eastern seaboard. "I'm sorry, Yolanda's on another call right now. Can I help you?"
"Oh." Another silence. "I don't suppose you would be kind enough to tell me how to unlock my car? I followed Yolanda's instructions, but they don't seem to be working this time."
Summer's eyes widened. It was the English guy! The guy who left Yolanda crying like a kid and insisting she was taking Tommy back. "Uh, sure," she said. "Do you have the keys in the car with you?"
"No," English guy replied. "Miss Mills, my partner, is most insistent about taking them with her. I believe she doesn't trust me not to experiment with the controls in her absence."
Summer grinned. "Did she crack the window?" she asked.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Your partner," she said. "Did she leave the window open so you can get air?"
She heard the man moving on the other end of the line. "It appears not," he said, his voice a little more urgent than before. "Is there a possibility of suffocation?"
"Not at all," Summer said quickly. "I was just joking around."
"Ah. I see. How... amusing."
Summer made a face. "Let's see what we can do to get you out of there."
"I would be so very obliged," he said, his voice all polite, but Summer knew sarcasm when she heard it.
She pulled up the specs of the car he was calling from, and made a note to tell Yolanda that her English guy wasn't as polite as she made out.
"North Star Assistance. Tony speaking. How can I help you?"
"Good afternoon, Tony. This may seem a foolish request, but the entertainment system has failed to be entertaining."
Tony dropped his pen and leapt to his feet, gesturing at the headset. Sonia and Tenille on the other side of the desk raised their eyebrows. Tony gestured at the earpiece urgently. The English guy! Again! The last time he’d called, it was to give their boss a lecture about impolite and mocking staff. Summer had ended up in so much trouble that they’d all started sticking to the script for a while.
"Please can you confirm if the engine is running, sir."
"Unfortunately no," English guy replied. "The keys are otherwise occupied, and I would quite like to listen to something on the wireless until Miss Mills returns."
Tony called up the specs. "Are any of the lights on the dashboard on?"
"The dashboard..." The man murmured.
"The panel along the front of the car, where the entertainment system is."
"Ah! Yes. The light beside the sound system is indeed illuminated."
Tony grinned. "Okay, now is the small screen beside it showing any numbers?"
There was a silence. "Yes, it appears to show eighty-eight point five. Is that significant?"
"That means the entertainment system is switched on, sir," Tony replied. "It sounds like there's a problem with your volume control."
"Can that be remedied?"
"There should be two sets of arrows to the right of the screen," Tony said. "Two pointing vertically, two pointing horizontally."
"I imagine the up arrow would raise the volume?"
"You got it," Tony said at once. "Press the up button to raise the volume to a comfortable..."
From the sound of it, English guy was holding the button down as hard as he could, and Tony could hear AC/DC blasting through the system.
On the other end of the line, half-muffled by the music, he heard the car door open and a woman yell, "Crane! What the hell are you doing?"
Tony didn't even get a chance to finish the call, he was laughing too hard.
"North Star Assistance. Tenille speaking. How can I help you today?"
"Good morning, Tenille. I hope you can."
Tenille snatched up her stressball and lobbed it at Tony.
"English?" he mouthed.
Tenille nodded. "What can I do for you, sir?"
"Would it be possible for you to unlock the rear space of the car from where you are? I'm afraid the keys are locked inside."
A huge part of her wanted to demand how the hell he'd locked his keys inside his car, but there were standard questions and standard answers, and she knew she'd get in trouble if she went off the set script.
"You should be able to pop the trunk if the car is open," she said.
"And how exactly does one pop the trunk?" he inquired. "Quickly, if you please. I fear it may be a matter of life and death."
Tenille's eyebrows felt like they were trying to get to her hairline. "Okay," she said. "Are you in the driver's seat?" She heard the scuffle of someone moving.
"I am now," he said. "Good lord, there's not much leg room."
"You can move the seat back," she said. "There's a handle underneath the seat. Pull it and push the seat back."
"Ah! I see. Now, the trunk?"
"There are buttons just behind the steering wheel," Tenille said. "D'you see them?"
"You want to press the middle one," she said. "It should release the trunk for you and you can get to your keys."
"Much obliged, Miss Tenille," he said. She could hear him scrambling out of the car as he spoke, and the door slammed.
"Thank you for calling, English guy," she said, hanging up.
“North Star Assistance. Yolanda speaking. How can I help?”
“Oh! Yolanda! Good afternoon!”
Yolanda’s face lit up. “Mr Crane! It’s you!” she exclaimed, then frowned. “You’re not locked in the car again, are you? I heard you had to call a few times.”
“Not this time, mercifully,” he said. “How do you fare?”
“I’m good,” she said, smiling. “Me and Tommy, we worked things out.”
“That’s splendid news,” he said, so warmly that she could almost believe a complete stranger gave a damn about it. “I did wonder if something had gone awry. I seem to have spoken to every one of your colleagues in recent days.”
She didn’t dare look up from her computer, knowing every person within hearing distance had just put their calls on hold to hear what the English guy had done this time.
“Just a vacation,” she demurred. “So, what can I do for you?”
“As I recall, you have the ability to unlock and lock the car from great distance without need for the keys,” he said. “I was wondering if I might beg a favour of you.”
Yolanda’s shoulders shook. “You want me to lock your car for you?”
“Something of the kind,” he said. “But at a precise moment. We seem to have encountered rather a dangerous beast, and trapping it inside the car seems the best way to give us time to escape it.”
She blinked. “What now?”
“A bear,” Crane said. “Let us call it a bear, for want of a better word. We would quite like to put a reasonable distance between ourselves and the bear, and locking it in the car temporarily would solve our conundrum quite nicely.”
“You want to lock a bear in your car? Mr Crane, are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Not entirely, but presently, I suspect it’s the only option,” he said. “Miss Mills lost her keys and presently is somewhat… occupied in diverting its attention. Therefore, I would prefer the bear was closed up in the car and she and I were at liberty to make our way to safety.”
“Uh… okay, I guess I can do that,” Yolanda said, shaking her head in disbelief. “But you call me and let me know you both got out okay, all right?”
“You have my word, Yolanda,” Crane said solemnly. “Now, Give to the count of ten, then lock every door. Count aloud, if you could be so kind.”
She could hear him scuffling about and oh my god! It did sound like a bear, growling.
On ten, she hit the buttons to slam the locks in place.
She took her earpiece off, looking around the now-silent office. “Are there bears near Sleepy Hollow?” she asked no one in particular.
“North Star Assistance. Josh speaking. How can I help?”
“Josh. How very fitting.”
Josh rubbed his eyes. The late shift was always a bitch. “Good evening, sir. Can I help you?”
“I need you listen very carefully to me, Josh,” the man said, and god. English accent. He wanted to bury his head in his arms. He’d heard about the English guy and his crazy requests. “My partner and I are in a great deal of trouble. She requires me to drive the car back to town. Please can you explain how I do this?”
Josh lowered his hand. “You want me to tell you how to drive?” he said in disbelief. “Buddy, this is a helpline for technical problems, not a driving school.”
“Yes, I’m quite aware of that,” the English guy said. “But my partner requires immediate assistance and none could reach us fast enough. I must get her to town.”
“Someone’s hurt?” Josh straightened up. “You want me to call 911?”
“I have told you what I need, Josh,” English guy said. “Please. Help me get her to someone who can help her.”
Josh swore, using words his mother would have yelled at him for. “Okay, have you ever driven before?”
“Only once. Explain the use of the pedals. I’m sure it can’t be difficult.”
The next half hour was the most terrifying and surreal of Josh’s life, as he helped the crazy English guy not just drive a car for the first time, but to get back to town without killing anyone, hitting anything, or otherwise, wrecking the car.
“That scoundrel just tried to drive me off the road!”
“Whoa, whoa! English! Which side are you driving on?”
“There are particular sides at this time of night?”
Josh’s face was close to the screen, following the tracking signal on the map. “English, there’s always two sides. You gotta stay on the right one!”
Josh watched the blip of light speeding along the road. “English! You missed the hospital!”
“That isn’t my destination,” English snapped. “My friend needs a very particular kind of help. Now, what does the arrow with a red line through it mean?”
“Don’t turn that way!” Josh yelped.
“Ah.” English said awkwardly. “Too late.”
Josh buried his head in his hands. “You can’t just do a wrong turn! The cops’ll come after you!”
“That won’t be a problem,” English said. “I am one. Technically. Oh dear.”
“What’s ‘oh dear’? “Josh wailed.
“Blue lights. Don’t worry. I think I have the hang of this now. I’ll get rid of them.”
“NO!” Josh yelled, jumping to his feet. “English! Those are the cops! You can’t just run away from the cops!”
English didn’t say anything for a while, and Josh watched as the blip sped through town, turning this way and that, and finally, English spoke, sounding like a smug son of a bitch. “You know, it’s much easier than using a carriage.”
“Jesus, English…” Josh said, sagging back into the chair. “I thought you’d died or something.”
“Not again,” English said.
The blip came to a halt on the far edge of town.
“Abbie!” A female voice echoed over the speaker. “Jesus, Crane! What happened?”
“Our adversary,” English guy replied. “A curse, I believe, but you may recognise the countercharm.”
“You bet I do,” the other woman said. “Help me get her inside.”
“Hey! Hey! English guy!” Josh exclaimed. “She going to be okay?”
“Thanks to you, I think we both shall, Josh,” English guy said. “Thank you for your assistance.”
The boardroom was silent.
“You all know why I brought you here,” Sawyer said. He was the head of department, and didn’t descend from on high very often to talk to the people at the bottom.
The twenty people gathered in the room looked at each other.
The boss was in the room and they’d been called in separately to a meeting with a random group of their colleagues.
One of them raised a hand cautiously. “Is this about the calls from that English guy?” Tenille asked.
Sawyer nodded. “I’ve heard a lot about this English guy,” he said. “Some of it not complimentary, but it seems that all of you have made an impression on him.” he nodded to the table and an array of baskets. “These were delivered this morning.”
Wary looks were exchanged.
“What are they?” Tony asked.
“It looks like muffins,” Josh volunteered. “Chocolate chip ones.”
“And thank you cards,” Sawyer agreed. “But next time any of you take a call from a man trying to escape a bear, please remember to call the emergency services as well.”