Wrong Number

When I was a child, I thought life was vigorous enough just having one brother.  My brother Mark and I held places in each other’s lives alternately as best friends and bitter enemies.  That rendered us similar to many pairs of siblings.

As I approached adulthood, my parents had divorced, and my mother remarried.  This brought us to a new town, not too far away, a larger house, and a merger with three new step-siblings.  Five teenagers in one house made for intriguing events on an ongoing basis, as the more personalities made for richer interactions.

Mark and I experienced a lessening in the intensity of our interactions simply because we became parts of a larger family, but we retained our brotherly bond.  Symbolic of this was our phone line.  Younger readers should understand that in the 1980’s, cell phones were rare, so all our phones were connected by wires to walls, and we could not carry them around.  While in the 60’s, even large families only had one phone, perhaps with multiple extensions, it became fashionable by the time our large new family had formed for homes to have multiple phone numbers.  My mother and stepfather had the main phone number, my step-siblings had their own, and Mark and I had ours, and we each had an extension in our separate bedrooms.

Within a few days of getting our new number, I discovered a small inconvenience that had resulted from mere chance.  The last four digits were 7574, and that resulted in several calls each day from people trying to reach an establishment called the Southern House, a restaurant in the next town over.  Their number ended with 7475.  It was annoying, but not a hardship.  Whenever I answered someone’s misdial, I would merely explain that this wasn’t the Southern House and help them confirm what the correct number was.  It required some patience, but many things in life are like this.

The Southern House, incidentally, had earned a reputation for one of the best places for fried chicken, spare ribs, pulled pork, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cobbler, and all manner of southern-style food.  Patrons could eat in or take out.  Those who did the latter, of course, would call their orders in, which resulted in the misdials I have explained.

My brother Mark is three years younger than I.  He was about fifteen when this chance relationship emerged between us and the Southern House.  Mark was broody and temperamental, intolerant of ongoing problems without a solution.  For the first month or so, he responded tensely yet lucidly to wrong numbers two or three times per day.  “No,” he would say, “This isn’t the Southern House; their number is 7475.”

Sometimes an incredulous caller would insist he or she had dialed correctly.  You could hear Mark trying to keep calm as he replied, “Well, whatever you think you dialed, you’ve reached 7574.  This isn’t the Southern House.”

Perspective did not come easily to Mark.  He has a rich, perceptive understanding of his own existence, but the world seems to fade away outside his immediate sphere of experience.  Often, our younger step-brother Jimmy and I would try to console Mark.  Jimmy was 13 and an intelligent, well-spoken kid.  “Come on, Mark,” he’d say, “In this house we all have phones in our rooms.  Think of the starving people around the world.  Some of them only have one phone in their entire village.”

“I’ll bet that phone in the middle of a poor village doesn’t get calls for the Southern House!” Mark would reply.

“Yeah,” I’d jump in, “but you’re missing the point.”

“Why is it our phone,” Mark would roar back, “that has to have a number almost the same as a phone hundreds of people a day try to call?”

“Sometimes bad luck just has to land somewhere,” I’d offer.

“Why on us?”

“Look,” I’d assert, “if that’s our share of bad luck, I’ll take it.  Lots of worse things could happen.”

Mark was never satisfied with that.

Over the months, Mark became increasingly irate as unwitting people continued to misdial, and he would answer.

“No! This isn’t the Southern House, you moron.  Dial right!” I would hear him holler from his room.

In another instance, Jimmy and I were listening to music in my room–Van Halen at top volume–and we could still hear Mark screaming incontinently at some poor person who was merely trying to order dinner on a Friday night.

“What is with you idiots?” Mark shouted into the phone.  “How do you even survive in the world?”

Jimmy turned down the volume on “You Really Got Me,” and we listened to Mark continue to rip into this caller.  He was seriously starting to get personal.

“Well, dial the number right, idiot!” he raged on.  “I’m dealing with this all day!”

I followed Jim out of my room and to the doorway of Mark’s, which was downstairs.  Jimmy wouldn’t walk in with Mark that angry, but I marched right up to my brother.

“Hey, take it easy!”

Mark slammed the phone down, incandescent with rage.  “I don’t call them six times a day asking to order food!”

“Mark,” I tried to reason, “neither do they.”

“Yes, they do!  You answer as many wrong numbers as I do!”

“Mark, each of those individuals perhaps dials one wrong number a month.”

“But it’s always here!”

“Haven’t you ever dialed a wrong number?  It’s a simple mistake.”

“Not a half-dozen times a day!”

“Mark,” I tried to remain calm, “you don’t seem to get it.  Don’t you see that–”

“Get out of my room!” he thundered.  “I’m not listening to you take their side.”

“But, Mark–”


I felt the need to respect my brother’s personal domain, so I left him to his frustration.  Jimmy shook his head in perplexity as we walked back to my room to continue listening to music.

The following Monday was the day after Easter, and everyone had the day off.  We truly had a full house.  Unfortunately, there were lots of full houses and empty stomachs.  As the dinner hour approached, people would start calling to place takeout orders.  Inevitably, calls would come to the phone number I shared with Mark.  I figured that if I could answer each call on the first ring–before my brother could answer–I could screen all of the wrong numbers.

And there were lots of calls.

“No, sorry,” I would say politely, “This isn’t the Southern House.  Their number ends with 7475.”  This happened maybe eight times within an hour.  I had developed a kind of rhythm, as I kept my phone on my desk in my room, and I was catching up on some reading for school.  The instant the phone rang, I could simply pick it up before my brother got to it.

Then I had to leave my room.  Too much tea, I think.  And the bathroom near my room was taken.  My stepsister Donna was getting ready to go out to meet some friends.  I had to go downstairs.  If I could just go quickly, I thought, I could be back in my room within minutes.

On my way, however, I passed my brother in the hallway near his room.  He was in a bad mood because his friend was grounded, and Mark couldn’t go visit him.  They were supposed to practice guitar together.  Mark would have to practice alone, and he was having trouble mastering a particular challenging technique.

As I finished in the bathroom moments later, I emerged and heard Mark practicing one particular passage over and over.  It did not sound perfect, but he was clearly a day or two from perfecting it.  It was the opening to the song “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin.  Jimmy was in his room, next to Mark’s, playing Atari, and he and I nodded to each other, both of us impressed with my brother’s determination and practice.

But one part always gave him trouble in that repeating pattern of the guitar lick, and after flubbing it three times in a row, I heard Mark cry out and kick a chair next to where he was practicing.  That reminded me that I’d better get back to my room so I could be next to that phone in case it rang.  Mark’s nerves were already afire.  His friend was grounded, and he was at the very door of mastering a challenging guitar riff, but he was not quite there.  That can be an excruciating feeling, and not one to leave him with much patience.  A wrong number for the Southern House would be just the thing to push him past his ability to control himself.

Just as I took a step toward the stairs to go back up to my room, our phone rang.

I thought to barge into Mark’s room and pick up the phone before he could get to it, but that would be an invasion I would never tolerate in my own room.  Instead, I said a silent prayer that it wasn’t someone misdialing.

Mark struck an angry chord on the guitar, then I heard two quick steps to the phone.  He grunted out a tense, irritated “Hello!”

Then, an unaccustomed pause prevailed.   I could not make sense of it.  Perhaps it was not someone dialing a wrong number after all.  It might be someone Mark would actually be happy to talk to.  I heard my brother take a deep breath.  

“Why, yes,” he said, “This is the Southern House.”

Puzzled, I walked toward his room.  I saw Jimmy in his room putting down the Atari joystick and coming to his doorway.  We looked at each other in confusion, then looked over to Mark in his room, speaking civilly on the phone.  He was also speaking cryptically.  We could not figure out why he would pretend that the caller had indeed reached the Southern House.

“Yes…” he went on, with pauses between the things he said, “…uh-huh…yes…and spare ribs…mashed potatoes…yup.  Anything to drink with that?”

Jimmy and I looked at each other and grinned.  We knew what he was doing.  He was going to get revenge on the people who were irritating him, though the irritation was the result of innocent mistakes.  At some point the idea came to him simply to pretend he was a Southern House employee, take down the callers’ orders, and let them show up at the restaurant to pick up orders that the establishment knew nothing about.  We started laughing, and the more we thought about it, the louder we laughed until Mark raised a finger to signal us to quiet down.  We could spoil the whole prank.

“Yes,” he continued, “…uh, very good then.  Your order number is 53, and it comes to $32.67.”

Jimmy and I were holding our breaths trying to keep quiet.  This was ingenious.  And just when we thought it couldn’t get any funnier, my brother added a stroke of true brilliance.

“And when you arrive, if you use the special password, ‘Snaggletooth,’ our cashier will take twenty percent off the price…Uh-huh.  See you in about thirty minutes.”

Then he gently hung the phone up.

The three of us exploded into hysterics.

“That was classic!” Jimmy exclaimed.

“Mark,” I said through my heaving hilarity, “How did you stay calm?”

“I decided yesterday I was fed up.  ‘The next time I pick up for a wrong number,’ I told myself, ‘I’m gonna take down the person’s order and waste much more of their time than they do of mine!’”

Jimmy had tears streaming down his cheeks from laughing so hard.  It took him time to recover himself to ask about something that had him completely mystified.

“What the heck is that crazy word you used?  Snazzle…something?”

“Snaggletooth,” my brother corrected.  “It’s the name of one of my old Star Wars action figures.”

Again, Jimmy and I were now unable to stand up.  I was crouched down, cuddling my abdomen, which ached from laughing so much.  Jimmy was on his side, hands over his face, trying to wipe away the streaming giggles.

At length, we recovered ourselves.  As I got to my feet, I heard Jimmy doing an impression of the ersatz customer walking in the door of the Southern House, saying, “Yes, uh, order number fifty-three, and, uh…” looking left and right so as to prepare to reveal a secret, “Snaggletooth!”

Again, we both collapsed.  Mark hadn’t thought the gag that far through, so he was laughing, too, deriving deep gratification from his revenge.

“Can you imagine the cashier?” I asked.  “What kind of look will be on her face when she hears that?”

“Oh!” Jimmy said, almost in awe, “Are you thinking of the one I’m thinking of?”

“Yes!” I returned.  “She’s actually one of the owners!  She’s all business, too.  She doesn’t go for jokes.  Barely even pleasantries.”

“Jeez!  There’ll probably be a huge argument!  This will be great.  Too bad we can’t actually see it!  What kind of person was it who called, Mark?”

“Sounded like a rough guy,” Mark said.  “Deep, gravelly voice.”

“Incredible!” Jimmy cried.  “Paul, come on!  Drive us over there so we can watch it!  I have to see this.”

“No,” I said.

“Oh, come on!”

“Uh-uh,” I remained firm.  “It will have to remain in your imagination.”

My brother broke in: “You know, now I am actually looking forward to wrong numbers.”

Having more reading to do, I decided to break up the gathering.  “I guess I can concentrate a little better now that I don’t have to worry about getting to the phone before you do.  I’m going back to my room.”

Days passed with Mark no longer dreading the inevitable calls from people who had dialed the wrong number.  In fact, he looked forward to each instance, as each gave him an opportunity to play a new prank.  He would vary some of the details, but in all cases, he pretended to be an employee of the Southern House, cheerfully listened to and repeated back people’s orders, made up a final cost, and invited them to retrieve their meals within a half an hour.

Neither Mark, however, nor I, nor Jimmy gave much thought to what could happen next.  We simply imagined a confused scene at the take-out counter, perhaps an argument, and definitely an angry, disappointed customer.

But we never thought beyond that.  With Mark sending several people a day to the Southern House to pick up meals that didn’t exist, wouldn’t someone–particularly someone at the restaurant–pick up on the pattern?  Could this not possibly come back to Mark in the form of justice…or at least revenge?

Mark may never have thought about it because in his mind, these people deserved to be confounded and punished.  People who dialed wrong numbers and disturbed him multiple times per day were evil.  The Southern House was a corrupt institution for having a phone number so similar to ours.  Of course, the Southern House had had their number for years before we had our private line installed, but no matter!  Justice was already served.  Any further consequence fully avoided Mark’s consideration.

And Jimmy’s…and my own.  I didn’t give it much thought because I had school to think about, work, being a teenager, my car, getting ready to go to college.  Besides, Mark’s pranks were his own business.

Then, one day, something happened.  Perhaps the hundredth putative customer to fall victim to Mark’s vengeful sense of humor was infuriated enough by arriving at the Southern House to find himself duped; was incensed enough to have uttered some nonsense discount password only to have a cashier stare blankly back; in short, was angry and determined enough to have thought back to when he dialed the wrong number and was able to figure out the precise mistake.

And with that knowledge, he would redial that same mistaken number, knowing he would not reach the Southern House, but the imp that had sent him on a fool’s errand.

So…the phone rang, and Mark cheerfully answered.


Then a break of a few seconds, followed by, “Ha!  Good, ya moron!  I’m glad!”

I had heard it.  I was in the family room with Jimmy.  We were watching a Yankee game.  Jimmy and I looked at each other and figured out instantly what was going on.

We jumped up from the couch and ran to the doorway of Mark’s room.

“You deserve it!” he was going on.  “I’m sick of you idiots dialing my number and wasting my time, so now you know how it feels.”

I didn’t like the sound of this.  Our family understood Mark’s impatience and even followed his logic–even if we did not agree with it.  But this person calling could be anybody–a lunatic, a violent criminal, a professional wrestler–and he was hopping mad!

“I’d like to see you try!” Mark taunted.  Obviously, the caller was threatening to visit physical retribution on my brother.  I was concerned.  Again, Jimmy and I looked at each other, unsure of what to do.  Then something happened that required us to intervene.

“Yeah, I’ll fight you!”

At that, Jimmy and I barged into Mark’s room.  I tried to take the phone away, but Mark parried and pointed a threatening finger at me.  He continued to bellow into the phone.

“No!  If you wanna fight, you can come to me!  You know where Midstreams Road is?  Well, I live on the north side of it.  I’m at 158–”

At that moment, Jimmy slammed his hand down on the switchook of the phone, while I grabbed the receiver from Mark’s hand.  We had barely succeeded in preventing Mark from inviting a homicidal maniac to our home.

“You guys, get away from me!  Get out of my room!” Mark shouted.

“Are you crazy?” Jimmy shouted back.

“What were you thinking?” I added.

“Out of my room!”

“No!” Jimmy asserted.  “You can’t just give our address out to random angry people!  He could be a murderer for all we know!”

“Mark,” I broke in, “your prank is clever, but that move you almost pulled was really dumb.”

Mark thought for a few moments.  He did not want to admit fault, but he had that look on his face that showed he knew he was wrong.

“Well,” he said, “whatever you think, I said to get out of my room.”

Jimmy and I departed, but we went to the kitchen and poured some soda for ourselves.  We needed to talk about this.  If my mother and his father were to find out about what Mark had nearly done, they would be very concerned.  Still, we talked about telling them because we were concerned ourselves.  They were in the basement trying to organize two households’ worth of what accumulates over the years.

“What would have happened if we were not around?” I asked rhetorically.

Jimmy offered an answer anyway: “Some really angry dude would have shown up at the house!”

“And knowing Mark, he would not have backed down.”

“You don’t think so?” Jimmy asked.

“No.  He’s too proud.”

“Not even if it was a huge guy with tattoos and muscles?”

“Not even then.”

“If only,” Jimmy said, “there was some way to scare him…to teach him a lesson.”

“No man–no matter how scary–can cow him.”

“Ha!” said Jimmy.  “I think I have an idea!”

Jimmy was a bright kid, but I felt he was wasting his spirit trying to come up with a plan to overcome Mark’s ego.

“Skip it,” I said.  “Let’s just go downstairs and tell Mom and Richard.”

“No, seriously.  I know what we can do.”

I looked at him skeptically.

“Look,” he continued, “you said, ‘No man,’ but what about ‘men’?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean a whole bunch of guys.  Big ones.”

“Jimmy,” I said, finding this idea tedious and infeasible, “let’s just move on.  We can consult your dad.”

“No,” he insisted, “just listen.”

I gulped down my soda, put my glass in the dishwasher, and closed it with a finality that signaled an end to the conversation, but as I attempted to walk to the basement door, he blocked me.

“Follow me,” he commanded.  He seemed as determined as I was, so I saw no risk in at least considering what he had in mind.

We walked out the back door, and he led me around the house to the front sidewalk and to the corner of our street.  As he turned left and crossed to the next block, I had to ask where we were going.

“Where the big, bad dudes are!” Jimmy replied.

We turned a corner at the next street and approached the house of Jimmy’s friend, Ron, whose father–large, tattooed, and fearsome looking–was fixing his Harley Davidson motorcycle in front of the garage.  A dim understanding of Jimmy’s plan started to form in my mind.

As we walked up the driveway of Ron’s house, this enormous man looked our way, scowled, stood up from where he was crouched at his work on his motorcycle, and took a few steps to meet us in our path.  Towering over us and looking down, he changed the frightening expression on his face to a warm smile.  “Jimmy!” he said.  “I haven’t seen you in a while, buddy!”  The two shook hands heartily.

“Hi, Mr. Smoltz,” Jimmy returned.  “That is one gorgeous motorcycle.”

“Jimmy, how many times do I have to tell you?  Call me Larry.  And it’s not just a motorcycle, it’s a Harley.”

“Right, Larry!” Jimmy chuckled.  “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to ride one.”

“Soon enough” Mr. Smoltz returned.  “Ron’s inside.  Go on in.  Who’s your friend here?”

“Oh, this is my stepbrother, Paul.”

“Hello, sir,” I said.

“Stop the sir stuff, Paul.  It’s Larry to you.  You look like a grown man.”

“Almost,” I said.  “I’ve just been accepted to college.”

“Larry,” Jimmy said, “I’m actually here to see you, but I want Ron in on the conversation, too.  I’ll go get him.”

Larry and I talked about his Harley until Jimmy emerged from the house with Ron.  When Larry asked what Jimmy was going to talk to him about, I couldn’t give a detailed answer.

“Jimmy,” Larry said, “Paul here thinks you’re up to something, but he doesn’t quite know what.”

“Right!” he replied.  “I have an incredible idea for a prank that just may protect my family, and I need your help.”

Larry and Ron were both perplexed, but Jimmy huddled up with them and related the details as I listened, a few steps away.  When he finished, Jimmy spoke a little louder.

“Do you think you could get some of your biker friends to be part of this, too?”

Larry and Ron were laughing almost as hard as Jimmy and I were laughing at my brother’s earlier prank.  I was chuckling, too.

Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang.  It was again the line shared by my brother and me.  I heard him pick it up, and I could tell it was another misdial for the Southern House as my brother softened his tone and cheerfully took down someone’s order.

This time, however, the caller was not so distant and unknown.  Perhaps he was to Mark, but not to me and Jimmy.  We snickered to ourselves as we listened from the hallway.

And we experienced no trace of surprise when precisely thirty minutes later the phone rang again.  We took no alarm when Mark escalated his tone with the caller, who had evidently begun to berate my brother.  We made no attempt to intervene when Mark accepted the caller’s challenge to fight.  He invited him and all the help the “idiotic loser” could muster from his “moronic friends.”

They seemed to agree that the epic fight would take place in fifteen minutes, and neither Jimmy nor I interfered as Mark spelled out our address to the caller and gave special directions which would ensure a quick arrival.

As Mark stormed through the hallway on his way to the front porch to wait, he looked in on me and Jimmy in the family room.  We pretended not to notice what was afoot.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know what’s going on!” Mark said, craning his neck through the doorway into the room.  “I know you were listening.”

Jimmy yawned, feigning that he was waking from a nap.  “Huh…wha–?  What’s going on?”

I looked up from a magazine with a puzzled expression on my face.  “Is something the matter?” I asked.

“Some idiot is on his way here because he’s mad his chicken and ribs weren’t ready when I sent him on a dummy-run to the Southern House.  Don’t worry!  I can handle him.”

“Mark,” I said, “are you sure you’re not getting yourself into a mess?”

He didn’t answer.  He simply zipped his jacket and stepped out the front door.

Jimmy and I had a chuckle as the door closed behind my brother.  Jim scampered over to the kitchen phone and dialed.  From the couch I could hear his end of the conversation:

“Hello, Mr. Smoltz–I mean, Larry–I just wanted you to know Mark is in position…yeah.  

Uh-huh…Are you serious?  Ha-ha!…Ha-ha!…This is gonna be epic!…Absolutely!…Jeez!  I wish I had one of those camcorders so we could get this on video!….All right, yeah!  See you in a few.”

He walked back into the family room, but he refused to answer any of my obvious questions.  There was clearly another dimension emerging to this scheme, and I was dying to know what it was.

“Just let it unfold,” he said.  “This is something we’re gonna tell our grandkids about.  C’mon.”

We went to the living room window to await the approach of Larry and his friends.  But long before we saw anything, we heard a low rumble.  It grew gradually louder, and it sounded like a combination of thunder, a freight train, and an earthquake–with someone slowly turning a volume knob to make it continuously get louder.  Only the knob did not stop at ten…or twenty…or thirty.  It just kept getting louder…and louder…and louder…and we still couldn’t see anything approaching on our street.  The windows began to hum lowly, then we could hear the fancy china dishes in the glass cabinet start to vibrate.  Soon it felt as if the whole house were shaking.  We looked around to see whether we were experiencing a real earthquake.

Then we returned to the window and pulled aside the curtain again–and we saw it.  A procession of motorcycles turned onto our dead-end block.  There were four to a row, and we could not count the rows.  Twelve, sixteen, twenty…the roaring sea of Harleys was led by Larry at the front.  Neighbors started to come out their front doors to investigate.  Jimmy and I nodded to each other, proceeded to the front door, and walked out.

The bikers fanned down to the end of our street, revving their engines as they parked.  No fewer than fifty motorcycles filled the neighborhood with a roar to drown out all other sound–and even thought.  Larry parked his own bike directly in front of our house.  Almost simultaneously–as if on cue–all of the bikers shut their engines off, and the thunder and earthquake ceased.

“I’m looking for the jackwagon who sent me on a wild goose chase to the Southern House!” Larry called over to us.  “Tough guy says he wants to fight me.  Told me to bring my friends.  Well, here we are.”  

He dismounted from his hog, stepped up the curb, and took two paces onto our front lawn.

My brother is no coward, but he had no way of expecting something like this.  Heck!  I, myself, vaguely knew the plan but could not predict anything on this scale.  Mark was never going to run away from this, but he clearly was trying to think of precisely how he would handle himself here.  He looked to me with an expression on his face of astonishment as well as of questioning.  Then he turned to Jimmy.  We both shrugged.

“Which one of you was it?” Larry continued, though he said this only for show.  He knew who Jimmy and I were.  Jimmy nudged Mark forward, and Mark turned sharply to show Jimmy an irritated face.  Still, he took the cue and descended the steps of our porch.  “I’m your man.”  Then, in a front of cockiness, he added, “How did you enjoy your order?”

“Oh!”  Larry answered, “a bigmouth and a comedian.  So let’s see if your fight is as bold as your talk on the phone.”  He took off his helmet, his leather gloves, and his sunglasses, putting the latter two in the helmet and propping the helmet on the seat of his bike.  He took off his leather jacket to reveal a physique roughly twice the mass of my brother’s–and solid muscle.

Mark swallowed, then marched forward to his fate, declaring, “I’m sick of dozens of people a week calling my phone.  You got what you deserved.”  He put up his hands and assumed his fighting stance.  It looked comical.  Within seconds he could be pounded to a pulp.

“Oh, yeah,” Larry said, “Well, now it’s your turn bigmouth!”

But Larry did not put up his hands.  Instead, he turned his back, put two fingers in his mouth, whistled, and yelled, “Blanket Squad!”

Eight men emerged from the sea of cycles, one of them carrying a heavy wool blanket.  They approached Larry.

“Hey!” my brother protested.  “My fight’s with you!  Nine on one is not fair!”

“Sorry, bigmouth!  You told me to bring my friends.  You ordered the goods, and I’ve delivered.”

“Well, I shouldn’t have to fight nine–”

Before Mark could finish his sentence, four of the men had taken corners of the blanket and opened it out like a trampoline.  The other four took hold of my brother and threw him on the taut surface and took up their grips on the sides.  The remaining four dozen bikers rushed into our front lawn and created a ring around the Blanket Squad, who used the woolen cloth to toss my brother into the air.

Again and again, the bikers pulled the blanket up and down, hoisting Mark higher with each toss.  As he rose, the ring of onlookers cheered, and the higher he was tossed, the louder they cheered.  Sometimes Mark went up horizontally, sometimes diagonally, sometimes writhing, sometimes trying to gesticulate with his arms and hands, and always with an outraged expression on his face and trying to yell something that no one could hear because of everyone’s cheering.

Neighbors who had watched the arrival of the bikers from their doorways now ventured across their lawns, across the street, and toward our house.  No one could understand precisely how or why this spectacle had come together, but they certainly were not going to miss the opportunity to see the teen-aged kid flipped around like a pancake.

I beheld the scene with tears of laughter in my eyes, and I felt grateful that my brother might learn this lesson without any harm coming to him.  Then, I felt Jimmy clapping me on the back, and as I turned to him, he was laughing, and he pointed toward the other side of our front porch, where my mother and stepfather stood, completely mystified, yet as thoroughly entertained as every biker on our lawn and every resident on our block.  We had never considered that from the basement they might hear the commotion.

With one final heave, the bikers launched Mark aloft.  He flipped over, and as he landed in the blanket, the bikers gently let him down to the ground.  Larry, who had been watching the entire operation standing next to his Harley with his arms folded, strode over to the blanket and joined his comrades in assisting Mark to his feet, some men steadying him in his daze and confusion.  They all patted Mark affectionately, and Larry threw a fraternal arm around him, propping him up and smiling as he walked him to the porch steps so he could sit and recover his senses.

The bikers gave one last cheer in unison, then, they started up their motorcycles, revved their engines in a roar, and as quickly as they had arrived earlier, rode their thundering earthquake up the block, around the corner, and away into the distance.

Jimmy stepped over to our parents, apparently explaining what had happened, and the neighbors, chuckling, shook their heads and proceeded back to their homes.  I sat next to Mark and Larry on the step.  Ron had somehow arrived unnoticed during the confusion, and was sitting on the other side, next to his father.

Mark was now feeling more coherent and realized he was sitting on the porch with his adversary’s arm around him.  He darted to his feet and resumed his fighting stance, clearly ready to see things to the finish if necessary.  As the rest of us started to laugh, Mark put his hands down and joined us in our giggling.  Larry rose, patted him on the back, and walked him over to the beautiful Harley Davidson that he had parked in front of our house.

“Here, kid–put this helmet on,” Larry said.  “Ron just ordered takeout, and you can come with me to pick it up.  Join us for lunch at our house–on me.”

“I’m not sure I can eat after the way I was tossed around,” my brother replied tentatively.  “What kind of food did you order?”

“Good question,” Larry said.  “Hey, Ronnie,” he called over to his son, “Where’d you order lunch from?”

Ron looked around at all of us, a sly grin creeping onto his face.  “You really wanna know?”

Larry looked impatiently at his son as if to tell him to spit it out.  Then Ron replied, “I ordered from the Southern House, of course.  Just for Mark!”

Mark dropped the helmet, put his hand over his mouth, and ran into the house.  Jimmy, my mother, and my stepfather crouched into a huddle of laughs.

And for the rest of our years living at that address, my brother never answered our phone again.

7 thoughts on “Wrong Number

  1. This was the best read I’ve had in a long time. I was glued to every word. And imagining every scene in my head. It was hysterical. And was written magnificently.

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