What I know is this: on January 12 2015 my friend the Diplomat left his iPhone unattended for five minutes, someone nicked the phone and a week later the “new owner” replaced the phone’s cloud data with his own phone book. Whoever is now in the possession of the phone has a “mum” with a Cape Town landline number, a contact detail to which I am privy.
It will not be the first time that I take upon myself the role of spy, but in the past I have had a whole lot more information at hand when making a cold call …
A year ago a friend of mine had a note delivered to her mailbox in which an admirer called her by name and declared his sympathy for the (very private) divorce that she was going through. He expressed his admiration for the breed of dogs she kept and volunteered that he lives down the road at number six. Let’s get it straight: a few doors down from a vulnerable woman lived a guy who knew way too much information about her personal life, including the fact that she was now living on her own. I had to check it out. In this case, however, the stalker had not only freely offered his name, telephone number and home address, but had written his note on the back of his latest medical bill … which stated that his employer was a weapons dealer and presented me with ICD10 codes to google: the emergency treatment he had received the day before Christmas included an IV drip and the stitching up of cutting wounds. Yeah, so not necessarily the kind of guy you’d want as your “admirer” …
Knowledge is power, and my girlfriend could take the necessary precautions in ensuring her safety. When it came to “mum” I needed more information and so I phoned up a friend in Cape Town, a Salesman who makes cold calls for a living, and asked him to phone her for a background check. Alas, after phoning the number morning, noon and night he still couldn’t get anyone to answer the phone. Or so he said. I wasn’t going to give up so I armed my friend, the Poet, who is notoriously talented at striking up a conversation with strangers, with a cover story surrounding the local church’s youth group and handed him the number. The Poet was keen at first, but faded out with an excuse of not knowing enough about the church industry to confidently play the role. Fine, I would have to do the dirty work myself.
On Monday evening I scraped together the courage and dialed it, 0-2-1-*-*-*-*-*-*-*. A posh middle-class accent answered, “Good evening, this is Joey*.”
“Good evening Joey, I’m phoning to speak to you about your son’s new iPhone. Do you have a minute?”
“What has he done now?”
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this Joey, but your son’s new iPhone is stolen goods. It was nicked off a friend of mine on the 12th of January in the gym at Century City.”
“How sure are you? How do you know that it was my son?”
“Well, I don’t know who it was that actually took the phone, but we can see that whoever has the phone now has uploaded their own phonebook … and your number is listed as ‘mum’.”
“Jesus, little shit! I’m so sorry! Are the police after him?”
“I don’t know about that Joey, but the phone has been reported stolen. I just wanted to talk to you and let you know that your son is using a phone that belongs to my friend.”
“Oh, like I said, I really am sorry. I don’t know what to do … but I will talk to him. This has to stop.”
Over the weekend someone finally answered the phone with a blunt “Hello?”.
“Hi, I’m phoning to speak to you about your son’s new iPhone. Do you have a minute?”
“Are you trying to sell me something?”
“Definitely not, I just want to ask you about the iPhone your son got a month ago … ”
“What is this? I don’t have a son.” Quiet, then, “You’re talking about my daughter’s new phone? What? What’s the matter? It’s her boyfriend isn’t it? He got her that phone. I knew he was bad news … ”
“Your daughter’s boyfriend gave her an iPhone a month ago?”
“I’m sure she has nothing to do with it. The phone is stolen, isn’t it.”
“Unfortunately, yes. It was stolen from a friend of mine at the Century City gym. When your daughter uploaded her telephone book I saw your number.”
“She has nothing to do with it! You tell them, it’s that Raymond* boy she’s been seeing. She’s got nothing to do with it, you hear me!”
Phone line goes dead.
Early Thursday morning, before 7am, I dialled the number and heard an old, crackling voice introduce herself as Rose* and I knew that I had about a single minute to convince her to stay on the line.
“Good morning Rose, I’m phoning from Johannesburg. I’d like to talk to you about your son.”
“This number is for a private house … you’ve got the wrong number.”
“This is a private house? That’s fine, I just wanted to talk to you about your son … did your son get a new iPhone a month ago?”
“You know, I’m partially blind. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“All right, but did your son get a new phone recently?”
“You’ve got the wrong number. My son lives in Australia.”
“You don’t have a son in South Africa who recently got a new iPhone?”
“No, my son lives in Australia.”
“I must have the wrong number then. Thanks for your time, Rose.”
One of these endings is the true conclusion to my detective story and I rest my case knowing that I pursued the leads given to me until the very end. Will my intervention bring about the opportunity for a young criminal to change his ways, or a young woman to choose her romantic partners more wisely? We can only hope.
*No real names have been used in this post.