© Clare London
“Tod?” Blake was concerned. Tod’s posture was appalling, the way he was hunched on the couch, the telephone gripped to his ear, and the flushed appearance of his neck…
“Yes, I have been waiting,” Tod snapped into the mouthpiece. “Yes, I have been holding, as per your suggested Option #1, press button #3, then sub-menu #2 followed by #hash, in the vain hope that I may get to speak to someone human at the end of it. Yes, I do have something you can help me with.”
Blake glanced around. Tod had left an interesting pattern of computer parts on the carpet. Rather more worrying was that they had obviously come from his dismantling of his laptop. It sat forlornly on the table, its stripped innards gaping as if in a painful, technological hunger.
“I’ve tried that!” Tod was still snapping. Blake thought it wise to keep his distance. He sat on the chair on the other side of the room and prepared to wait. He picked up a discarded drive and examined it, aimlessly.
“Refer to your manufacturer, it said!” Tod’s skin looked very mottled indeed. “Contact your local fucking dealer.” He rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. “No, of course it didn’t say fucking dealer, that was just my paraphrasing…” He paused: frowned. “OK, so I apologise for my foul mouth. Like you wouldn’t have one too, if the only response you’d had for three fu- for three hours was ‘No help available’.” He bit at his lip. Hard. “No, of course I realise the necessary limitations of default messages, and the opportunity for you to offer me specialist help, according to the restrictive, convoluted, hideously over-priced service agreement that you made me sign at virtual gunpoint before you’d release the fu- equipment in the very first fu- place -”
Blake could hear a voice rising in volume on the other end of the line.
“No!” Tod shouted. “Look, I’ll apologise again if you like, just don’t put me on hold -”
Blake could hear the strains of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons start to trickle through the earpiece. For the first time, Tod turned to look at him, with wide, distraught eyes.
“They put me on hold again,” he said.
Blake nodded. His boot nudged at a thick wad of printout dropped on to the floor. Pages and pages of ‘Error message: this should not happen. Error message: this should not happen’. He cleared his throat. “Interesting.”
“Interesting?” Tod’s eyebrows jerked up and down. “It’s a conspiracy, that’s what it is. Somehow they know how important this assignment is: somehow they know how critical it is that I submit it tomorrow.”
“Somehow they know you’ve left it to the very last minute and should have completed it a week ago,” murmured Blake.
“No,” growled Tod. “The conspiracy theory works for me. Which is more than this heap of shit does.”
Blake frowned. “Why didn’t you call me? Maybe it’s something simple.”
Tod glared. “Like me, you mean?”
Blake didn’t get a chance to reply – the muzak in the background snapped off and a voice chirped from the ‘phone. Tod’s head whipped back around to hunch over it again. “Hello? Yes, I have been waiting. Yes, I’ve already given you that information. Well, no, not you specifically, obviously, because you’re a guy and the other person I spoke to was a girl.” He listened. Blake saw him draw in a long, careful breath. “Why do I need to go through all that again? You have my details.” Another listen: another deep breath. “You don’t have my details. I see. So what was she doing for the last half hour? Playing Sudoku?”
Tod’s eyes widened suddenly. “No!” he groaned. “Not again. Why do you need to transfer me? I’ve spoken to three departments already.” A sudden, pregnant pause. “Of course, no, you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, you said you didn’t have my details. Yes, I did hear you say that. Unlike most of your staff, I am neither deaf nor stupid.” He grimaced. “Fuck! I mean, sorry. No – wait – no, don’t – not the fucking music -!”
The Four Seasons started up its delicate strains again. Tod swung back around slowly to stare at Blake.
“They put you on hold again,” Blake said, gently.
“We will seek to keep your wait to a minimum, they say,” said Tod. There was a note of tragic hysteria in his voice. “Your call is important to us, they say. Then they put me on hold.”
Blake tutted, hoping it sounded sympathetic. He turned over the drive in his hands and stared. “Is that a lump of melted chocolate stuck in here?”
Tod’s fingers tightened their grip on the ‘phone. “Blake, I have a crisis here. I don’t have the appetite for arguing with you as well. You’re meant to be supporting me – you’re the technical guy. Why the fuck can’t these guys understand my problems the way that you do -?”
The ‘phone chirped again and Tod’s head twisted away. “What’s that?” He peered, as if trying to see the words he was hearing. “No, I’ve tried the online help. I’ve tried the help every which fu- every which way you can offer and it doesn’t. Help, that is. Error, it says. The page cannot be displayed.”
“Cannot find server…” whispered Blake, turning away with a sigh born of familiarity with Tod’s impatience and recurring net blindness.
“Cannot find server, it says,” Tod was snapping, oblivious to Blake. “What’s its problem? Needs a map?”
Blake shook his head, though Tod never saw him. He moved away, still holding the drive, making for his den where he knew he could probably fix it, so long as Tod hadn’t dropped anything more corrosive than chocolate all over it. Though he was fond of donuts, too. And those fruit chews that made him dribble orange and yellow spit…
Blake sighed again.
“Operator error?” Blake heard Tod’s voice ringing out from the other side of the room. “What the fuck does that mean? No – wait – I didn’t mean -” There was an anguished wail. “I’ll give you thank you for your patience -!”
Blake smiled, gently and closed the door on the tirade.