This 3-part story was inspired by the phone calls I have received regularly since I bought my phone five months ago. Each time, the person on the other end asks for someone named Omar.
The first time someone called her phone looking for Omar, they were insistent. They didn’t seem to believe that, not only was Omar not there, but Anne didn’t know him and wasn’t hiding him.
Following that first call, Anne had been nervous. There was something unsettling in the caller’s voice. But since then, she had received a steady stream of other calls from people looking for Omar. Most of them were men, although a few times it had been a woman’s voice. Many of them had heavy accents, but not all.
At times there were two or three of these calls per day, and then nothing for a week or two. It seemed that she received more calls for Omar, in fact, than for herself.
She started asking the callers to spread the word that this was not Omar’s phone number, but the calls kept coming. Perhaps none of the individual callers knew each other. Or perhaps they didn’t believe her.
She had wondered at some point if perhaps she and Omar simply had similar numbers. Maybe one digit was different. But when she asked the callers what number they were calling, they always replied with her exact number.
She had pieced together very little information from these calls, but she knew that they were looking for Omar, that he had given them this number, that he was missing and people were having trouble finding him. Once, a young man had said that Omar was supposed to be at football practice but had not turned up. At some point, either Omar himself, or an acquaintance, had insisted that they must call this number if he did not show up where he was supposed to be.
And so, the calls kept coming.
They were all local calls, from the same area code. She began to wonder whether they lived nearby. Perhaps she had passed them on the street. Perhaps she had passed Omar on the street.
Why, she wondered, was Omar so hard to find?
Her imagination took her down dark alleys of possibility. He had wronged someone, cheated them, and had made up a phone number, her number, to give out to people in the hope that they wouldn’t then be able to find him. He had killed someone. Stolen money.
Eventually, Anne stopped wondering about the mystery of Omar and simply accepted that she would from time to time receive a call from someone looking for him. The calls seemed to peter out a bit, until eventually she was receiving only one call every few weeks. They became so rare that when someone on the other end of the line did ask for Omar, she was almost surprised.
It was, therefore, even more shocking than it might otherwise have been when she answered the door one afternoon to a man who asked for Omar.
“Omar, is he here?” Asked a scruffy-faced man with unruly black hair. He was dressed in a brown, creased and worn leather bomber jacket, black jeans and heavy black work boots. He had dark circles under his eyes and there was something indefinable about him that gave her the impression he did not usually go out during the day.
Never with all her curiosity about this Omar person did she imagine someone may arrive on her doorstep, or in any way connect her to the wrong number they had been calling.
As she stood at the door, squinting into the sun at this man, a shudder of fear went through her. He was looking at her, sizing her up. She thought of how he must see her – she was small, slim and plain looking with straight brown hair down to her shoulders. She wore a grey turtleneck sweater and dark jeans. She realized she didn’t look imposing or tough or in any way able to threaten away an intruder.
“I said, is Omar here?” asked the man again, more insistently.
Anne stopped looking him over and instead looked him right in the eyes, absorbing the waves of fear that were crashing over her.
Her voice shaking, she replied, “Who is this Omar? I don’t know an Omar. All I know is that I keep getting calls from people looking for Omar.”
The man craned his neck, looking around her and into the house behind her. Anne didn’t like the thought of him intruding any further than he already had.
She pulled the door toward her, until it rested against her shoulder, narrowing the possibility of him seeing into her house.
He seemed to be weighing up the situation, considering her response. When he didn’t answer her, she felt anger creeping in to mingle with her fear.
“Look, I don’t know who Omar is. It’s bad enough I get a million calls from people looking for him. I wish everyone would leave me alone and realize I don’t know him, my phone number is mine not his. And I don’t want you people now showing up here looking for him. This is a private residence!”
She was about to close the door in the man’s face, when he put his hand out, quick as lightning, and blocked it.
“You don’t want to do that,” he said evenly, coldly. “If you really don’t know Omar, there won’t be any trouble. I just need to make sure. I have to ask you a few questions.”
“No, you don’t. If you don’t leave my property this instant, I’m calling the cops,” replied Anne, almost just as evenly. Secretly, she was impressed with her ability to master her fear.
“I am the cops,” replied the man, reaching for his identification and handing it to Anne. He waited, then, while this news sank in.
Anne’s eyes scanned the information in her hand, but her mind was reeling and she didn’t really see what she was holding. It seemed genuine, though. Her eyes flicked back up at the man. He didn’t appear to be lying, and he did, after all, have identification.
What if it was fake? Well, if it was, she reasoned, it was a good fake and in that case, he was probably not going to just give up and leave, so she might as well be compliant. She would answer his questions, after all she had nothing to hide, and maybe then he would leave.
Wordlessly, she opened the door wider and stood aside for him to pass into the house.
He entered, looking around as he headed towards the first room he saw, and then sat down in a black leather chair, not wanting to mark the pale sofa with the clothes he had been wearing all night. He sat a bit awkwardly as the chair pitched backwards, having been intended to accommodate more relaxed, friendly visitors.
Anne came in and sat sideways on the sofa, drawing her knee up onto it and resting her elbow on her knee.
She waited for the man to say something.
“We’ve checked your phone records, so we know your name is Anne, and that’s how we knew where to find you,” he began. “Do you know Omar?”
“No!” Replied Anne, somewhat exasperated as she had been telling people for months now that she didn’t know him, and had just finished saying so to the cop. “Wait a second, what’s your name? Isn’t there some kind of protocol for questioning people? Why have you been looking at my phone records? Have I done something wrong?”
“You don’t need to know my name, though it was written on my i.d., but it’s not important. And it’s not protocol. As far as doing something wrong, I don’t know. That’s why I’m here.” He paused. “How often do you receive a call from someone looking for Omar?”
Anne replied, telling him about the first calls, the initial frequency, and the decrease in frequency as of late. She answered his questions about the various callers, from what she could remember. She shared her impressions of the callers in general, the sense of uneasiness they gave her, and the feeling that they didn’t quite believe her when she told them they had the wrong number. She said she was suspicious in a way she couldn’t quite explain, that there was something not right about this Omar and his apparent disappearance.
By the time he got up to leave, the man was convinced that Anne really did not know Omar. Her never told her his name but did divulge that the police had become interested in her when they noticed a number of people they were watching had begun calling the number which had previously been assigned to a man named Omar.
They had easily obtained her details from the phone company and had discovered that the number had been out of use for only six weeks before it had been re-assigned to Anne. It seemed that the people who had previously known the number as Omar’s had kept calling it in the intervening period and when it was reactivated they must have thought it was Omar who had reactivated it.
And now they were calling Anne.
The man left her a card with a number to call in case she needed to contact him. “It’s a direct line to me. I am the only person that will answer this number,” he explained.
“Do you want me to call you whenever I get one of those calls?” She asked.
“No, we have a trace on your phone, so we know when one of them calls you. This is just in case you feel you’re in danger or in case you see or hear anything new that you think may have something to do with this case.”
“Oh, that’s great,” she replied sarcastically, not feeling particularly comfortable with the situation. “Shouldn’t I know what Omar has done, so I can be fully aware of the amount of danger I might actually be in?”
“You should be fine. They don’t know where you live. Only we do, and that’s because we have access to the phone company records. Anyway, they aren’t looking for you, they’re looking for Omar,” he concluded.
Anne couldn’t help thinking that this was a small consolation.
As she closed the door behind him, she glanced up and down the street, feeling watched, like a caged animal at a zoo.
For the rest of the day, she was unsettled. When the phone rang that evening after dinner, she jumped up from her computer, nearly upsetting the table.
“Hello?” She answered cautiously. It wasn’t a number she recognized.
“We know Omar is gone,” began a man’s voice on the other end. “Where is he?”
Shivers ran along Anne’s spine and her mouth went dry. Her throat tightened so that at first she couldn’t find a voice with which to answer.
Finally, she managed to whisper, “I don’t know who Omar is. I don’t know why everyone keeps calling this number. This is a private phone and I don’t know anyone named Omar.”
The line went dead.
Anne thought about calling the cop to tell him about the call, but then she reasoned that although the conversation had been different, the caller still didn’t know who or where she was and was still just looking for Omar.
Instead she went to bed and lay there, tossing and turning, wondering where Omar had gone and how they had found out. Whoever they were. She spent the night that way, half awake, half asleep. Despite her best efforts not to scare herself further, she couldn’t help thinking about everything she knew so far and wondering what it all meant.
As the sun was rising, just before her alarm went off, she fell into a short but terrifying dream. She stood in a grey mist facing a man in a black sweatshirt, its hood pulled up over his head. She couldn’t see his face for the shadows and the mist but she knew that this was Omar.
In the morning, groggy and with a pounding headache, she stood in her bathroom brushing her teeth. The radio was on. She didn’t pay attention at first to what they were saying, but then she heard something about an investigation and a missing person. In her state of mind, she momentarily had an irrational vision of becoming a missing person herself. She turned up the volume and listened.
A man had gone missing, the announcer said, and the police suspected that he had gone into hiding right here, in her town. It wasn’t a particularly big town, not like the big cities that hid missing persons all the time. This was quite unusual, thought Anne. No wonder it was the top story this morning.
As she continued to listen, toothbrush forgotten and dripping blue foam into the sink, the announcer concluded the news story saying that the only information the radio station had been able to find out to date was that the missing person’s name was believed to be Omar.
Shaking her feeling of foreboding, or at least putting it down to the mention of Omar on the news, Anne got ready for work and finally headed out the door. As she left, she pocketed the card with the cop’s phone number scrawled across it. Just in case.
Outside, she locked her door, turning around to face across the street, taking in the bright sights and smells of the fall morning. It was then that she noticed a car parked several metres down the street to her left.
“Well,” she thought, forcing calm on herself, “it’s a residential neighbourhood and cars do park there. Nothing unusual.”
She gave herself an inward shake, took a deep breath and continued down her steps and out onto the sidewalk.
The car’s engine was running, she noted. She could hear its low rumble behind her. Refusing to give in to the paranoia, she fought to maintain her calm, holding her pace to a walk. She made herself think about other things. Not about the phone call last night, not about the news story this morning, and not about the cop. She tried to remember what her plans had been for the coming weekend. But her mind kept going back to the present, to the sound of the car and the churning fear in the pit of her stomach.
Thinking it wouldn’t hurt to cross to the other side of the street, away from the car, she stepped out onto the street, instinctively checking over her shoulder quickly to make sure that nothing was coming. The quiet but clear whistling of tires was almost instantaneous. She only noticed as her foot landed on the tar that the idling car had crept up and was almost upon her.
Anne gasped, looking furiously in all directions to see if any neighbours were about. Strangely for this hour, there was no one. The street was deserted.
The car stopped. It was right beside her. She could see the edge of the chrome bumper, the white paint of the car’s body out of the corner of her eye. As she lunged across the street, trying to make a run for it, a hand reached out. She hadn’t seen him get out of the car, but there he was, at her side, his long, pale fingers holding onto her elbow.
Anne gasped again as she fought to free herself, but the man only gripped her more tightly, and began to lead her back to the car.
It wasn’t until they were sitting on the hard, green, cracked leather of the back seat that she noticed there were three men and that they were all, strangely, dressed as though they were going out for Halloween as 1970s gangsters. White suits, unbuttoned dark shirts with butterfly collars, white fedoras. It was like a bad movie. It would have been funny if the scenario were different. If she wasn’t so scared.
The old car pulled away from the curb and made its way swiftly onto a busy road nearby. Anne desperately looked around but the man who had grabbed her was still holding her hands and she was powerless. The passenger in the front seat turned around, his dark face blank, his eyes cold. They looked right into Anne’s eyes for what felt like an hour but was probably only ten seconds, freezing her in her place, before he dropped a rough burlap sack over her head.
And then she had no idea where they went. She tried to follow the streets in her mind, but after a few turns, she knew she had lost the trail and was thoroughly confused.
The three men remained silent during the drive, while Anne continued to shiver with fear.
After about twenty minutes, the car slowed to a halt. Anne could hear the sound of gravel crunching under tires. Doors opened and she heard the shuffling of footsteps and felt the cool breeze of fresh air through the holes in the sack which was still over her head.
“C’mon,” one of the men grunted at her as he pulled her right arm roughly toward him. She followed obediently, stretching her legs awkwardly as she climbed blindly out of the car. She could see the light from the sun above shining through the sack but nothing else.
She was led down what must have been a gravel driveway for a few steps, then they turned and she heard a heavy metal door squeaking and clanging open. Wordlessly, they continued inside where it was dark and cold.
Another door opened and at the same time, someone yanked the sack off her head from behind her. In front of her was a small, dimly lit, windowless room. There was dirt on the floor and the walls were made of concrete bricks.
Someone behind her gave her a little shove in her back and then she heard the door close behind her. She was alone.
Sinking to the ground to the left of the door, Anne bent her knees, hugging them with her arms and stared across the room, unseeing. She shivered, more from fear than from the cold. She felt she was beyond crying at this point and so she simply sat there, staring. Finally, she pulled the piece of paper out of her pocket and looked at the number written on it.
“Not much good now,” she thought.
At that moment, the door opened and the man who had dropped the bag over her head in the car entered. Seeing the card in her hands, he bent down and grabbed it from her.
“What’s this?” He demanded roughly.
Anne just looked at him.
“We know Omar is gone, and since you have his phone, you must know where he is.”
This was too much. It had all been a misunderstanding! Anne groaned and nearly screamed in frustration and tension, trying to explain the situation to him. “I don’t know Omar, I just keep getting calls on my phone because it used to be his number. But it was disconnected and when I went to buy a phone, his number was available I guess, so I got it. But it doesn’t mean I know him!”
The man shook his head. “We think you know him. He will not get away from us.”
“Get away from you?” asked Anne, curious despite the situation in which she now found herself. “What do you mean get away from you?”
The man simply shook his head and left the room, taking the card with the phone number with him.
It was dark all around her when Anne woke to the sounds of a struggle outside her room. The dim light in her cell had been extinguished and without a window she couldn’t see anything, couldn’t estimate the time of day.
At first, she wasn’t sure what had woken her up but as she came to, she realized that there were several people just outside her door and that they were fighting.
A glimmer of faint hope flared in her. Why were they fighting? Did she dare to hope that she might be rescued?
The next moment, her door was flung open and a man’s voice called her name.
The voice sounded vaguely familiar but she couldn’t quite place it. Before she could answer, he called her again, more urgently this time.
“Anne? Are you here?”
She mumbled something, her mouth dry and her tongue swollen so that she felt as though she had a mouthful of marbles. It was hard to make any clear sounds.
In the dark, someone grabbed for her hands and she blindly hoped that it was someone who could help, rather than her captors, as she allowed whoever it was to pull her to her feet.
Finally, recognition dawned. It was the cop. Somehow, he had found her!
Her mind cleared a bit and she followed as he pulled her by her hand. They began to run down a corridor. She wondered how he could see where they were going; it was still pitch black and she would have run into a wall, she thought, if it hadn’t been for him leading her.
The sounds of muffled cries died away behind her, dissolving into the sounds of her and the cop’s footfalls on the cold concrete floor.
Finally, the cop pushed a door open and they emerged into the cool night. Her heart was pounding and she felt dizzy from the sudden exertion and the adrenaline pumping through her. When her eyes focused, she saw there were flashing lights and police cars everywhere, blotting out the stars overhead.
As she and the cop slipped away from the action toward an unmarked dark coloured sedan, she looked back over her shoulder. Uniformed officers were now leading her three captors to the various squad cars. They were handcuffed.
She turned back to the undercover cop but he didn’t look at her as he held the passenger door open for her to get in. Too tired, too thirsty, too relieved and yet also still too terrified to speak, she simply flopped down onto the seat and sat there, staring blankly forward as he closed her door and went around to the driver’s side.
He let her sit unmoving as he started the engine and backed down the driveway, which she could now see was in the middle of an open industrial park. The building in which she had been held captive was in front of them as they backed away, lit up by the still-flashing red and blue lights. It was a nondescript concrete warehouse building, square and squat, with a heavy metal door and a corrugated metal roof. There were no signs around to suggest what the building might have been used for. From the outside, it looked like an unused warehouse or storage container.
As they turned onto the main road, the cop spoke.
“You’d better put your seatbelt on,” was all he said at first.
Silence settled over them again as the car moved at an even pace through acres of commercial storage buildings.
When she had collected her thoughts, Anne’s curiosity began to push her fear and tremors aside.
“How did you find me?” she finally asked him.
“They were stupid enough to call me. They must have gotten hold of that card I gave you with my number on it.”
“Yeah, a guy found me looking at it – they had locked me up and he just burst in while I was pulling it out of my pocket. You mean they called you?” She found that hard to believe. She had, she realized now, assumed that they were seasoned, intelligent criminals. She realized how little she understood about the truth of what had just happened to her.
“It was pretty stupid,” he agreed. “They didn’t say anything when I answered, but I could hear there was someone on the other line. Maybe they thought it was a number to get hold of Omar. Probably. Anyway, we had a trace going for the number, in case you called it and were in trouble somewhere.”
Anne shook her head. She had a feeling that there was something else, something important she was missing. Gasping in anger, she realized what it was.
“Wait, I thought you said I wasn’t in danger, that they were looking for Omar, not me,” she accused, turning to look at him.
He didn’t take his eyes off the road, and for a moment he didn’t answer. Finally, he said simply, “We didn’t think you actually were in danger but we didn’t want to take any chances. And aren’t you glad about that?” This last question was more of a statement than a question.
Anne turned around in her seat again and watched as the lights of the city began to crowd in around them.
“I’m taking you home now, and I’m going to stay with you, make sure you’re safe. I have some calls to make so I’ll just sit in your kitchen while you go and have a sleep.”
“Sleep?!” Anne’s voice lashed out again. “How do you think I can sleep after everything I’ve been through? After everything you’ve put me through. Yeah, you saved me and thank you for that, but if you’d been straight with me from the beginning, when I asked if I was in danger, none of this would have happened. I would have called you when I saw that car. I would have stayed home yesterday.”
As an afterthought, she added, “and I think it’s about time you told me what the hell your name is.”
He was silent for a while. They were entering the downtown core now, not far from Anne’s home.
“Ok, you can call me Mike” was all he offered.
“I can call you Mike? Is that your name? Look, I think I deserve to know your actual name.” All the tension and fear was coming out now, released finally as she realized, or hoped in some measure, that she finally was safe. At least for now. Anne wasn’t sure she would ever truly feel safe again.
“Woah, yeah, Mike is my name. It’s ok, look I know you’ve been through a lot and I am going to tell you everything I can, but let’s just get you home first. If you don’t want to sleep, that’s fine. I have to make a few calls but then we can go through what happened. I don’t have anywhere else to be and I’m now your security detail.”
They pulled onto Anne’s street and she took a deep breath as she remembered the scene in front of her house the day before. She looked at the spot where the white car had been parked, looked up and down the quiet street and finally looked at her house. Home. Would she ever feel safe anywhere, she wondered again.
Mike helped her up the stairs to her front door, waiting patiently while her shaking hands tried to unlock it. Once inside, they walked through the house together, to calm her nerves. Anne had a security system and it had been armed, but she needed to see for herself that her house was safe.
She left him in the kitchen to make his calls while she went back upstairs to take a long, hot shower. As the water began to cool a bit, she came to, and found herself slumped on the floor of the shower, the water pooling around her legs. Wiping her face, she turned off the tap and stepped out.
When she had dressed, she returned to the kitchen, full of questions, and sat down at the small white table across from him.
Before she could ask anything, however, Mike asked her to tell him everything that had happened since he had last seen her.
Anne began with her sleepless night following his initial visit, the news story about Omar on the radio, the white car that had been waiting for her that morning.
When she had finished reliving the nightmare for him, she stopped speaking and looked him straight in the eyes.
“So? What do you know about all this? What can you tell me?” she prodded.
Taking a deep breath, Mike exhaled slowly. His breath smelled of onions, she noticed. She wondered for a moment when he had eaten last, realizing that she had skipped breakfast the day before. It had been something like a day and a half, she estimated, since she had last eaten. Although, she admitted to herself, her timekeeping had gone out the window after everything she had been through.
Mike waited for Anne’s eyes to refocus before he began to speak.
“Ok. Omar and the three guys who grabbed you yesterday are part of a small, local terror cell. Or were, anyway. We think Omar had second thoughts about whatever it was they were supposed to do and he tried to disappear. That’s why these guys are so desperate to find him. In case he came to us, to turn them in.”
He watched Anne carefully as he spoke, and as long as she seemed to be with him, he continued.
“But the thing is, he didn’t come to us. He just…disappeared. From everyone’s radar. He cancelled his phone, moved out of his place, stopped going to his normal haunts, just left. No trace. Everyone’s trying to find him.
“Us, of course, so we could get to these other guys and to whoever’s giving them orders, to stop them from doing whatever they were supposed to do.
“Them, so they could shut him up before he blabbed. And, well, just because you can’t ever really leave these kinds of organizations.”
Anne nodded. She was thinking about everything Mike was telling her and it all made sense. Of course they thought she was involved, they were desperate and she had Omar’s number.
“So, the calls about him not showing up at football practice or whatever, those were like code? Some kind of code that the person who answered the phone, if they were Omar or knew Omar, would understand to mean that his friends, or whatever they are, knew he’d bailed on the plan?”
“Maybe,” Mike answered, considering this possibility.
“They’re not really very practiced criminals,” he went on. “I mean, they called me. They didn’t seem to be thinking very smartly, which is why it was so easy to find them – to find you. Now we have them, we’re questioning them, trying to find out as much about their mission and their bosses as we can.”
Anne and Mike discussed the case a bit more, but he could see that Anne really didn’t know much that could help him. And she was beginning to fade. Eventually, she got up and went to lie down on the sofa nearby, the sofa she had sat on two days before when he had first come by to talk to her.
He watched her for a bit, until his own eyes began to feel heavy. Staying at the kitchen table, he put his head down on his arms and went to sleep.
Sometime in the early morning, his phone vibrated, waking him from an uneasy, half-sleep. Stepping out onto the back porch, he answered the call. It was one of the inspectors who had been questioning the men. Indeed, they didn’t know where Omar was but they had shared everything about their plans, including that Omar was supposed to have been leading them. They were immobile without him. They couldn’t be contacted by the next person up the chain, and that person, whoever it was, had in all likelihood been trying to contact Omar just as they had – through Anne’s phone.
Sighing, Mike hung up and stepped back inside. This wasn’t over for Anne. If these guys had found her, if they had connected what they thought was Omar’s phone number to her address, so would anyone else who was involved. Certainly the guy who was giving orders to Omar. And that guy, whoever he was, was bound to be smarter than these fools.
In the morning, or whenever Anne woke up, he would need to work on her, get her ready to help the police trace the person who would be calling, inevitably, to find Omar. Because this person wouldn’t know, or at least it was unlikely that he’d know that the rest of the cell had been arrested.
Ultimately, she may need to be protected for longer, Mike was thinking. Who knew how many people, how far up the chain, were looking for Omar? But he would let her sleep for now. He hoped she was having peaceful dreams of a life that had returned to normal. It might be the last time for a while that she could be lulled by that illusion.
Would Omar ever show up again? Mike had his doubts. Knowing Omar as he did, knowing Omar was too intelligent, too skilled at disappearing. If he had really had a crisis of conscience, he was probably far away, and would never be heard from again.
As Anne stirred in her sleep, she was aware that Mike had said something but she couldn’t hear what it was, and didn’t have the energy to care at that point.
“Well Omar, old stranger,” Mike was murmuring to himself, “I’m glad for you that you broke free but, man, you’ve left an awful mess in the end.”
Mike put his head back down on his arms and drifted slowly back to sleep.
- Omar (stubblytroll.wordpress.com)