by Trey Nosrac
Life was good.
As I drove home from visiting my beautiful Enterprise yearling, a sprinkle of snow drifted down onto my windshield. My long-range plan was a cozy evening of gambling on harness races from Pompano Park. On the passenger seat was a Subway footlong tuna melt with extra onions. On Sirius Radio, Neil Young was blasting out a live cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” a version I prefer to either Dylan or Hendricks. I was shredding my air guitar, remembering lyrics, and hitting the right notes.
Then the music stopped.
On my dashboard screen was the message,
ANSWER or DECLINE.
Usually, I decline. My theory is that the less you answer the phone, the less bad news you hear. However, in my defense, I know many people in Florida, including relatives dear to my heart, and there are horse training centers in the area, including one where I have a 2-year-old in training. Plus, I have visited the town of Sanford and have had some good times there.
I pushed the answer button on the screen and said, “Hello.”
A slightly growly, energetic male voice replied, “How ya doing man?”
I didn’t recognize the voice. You have probably experienced this awkward moment in a call where you feel like asking, “Who is this?” But you don’t ask because it seems insulting. Besides, you figure you will quickly put the puzzle together.
So, like a fool, I replied with a peppy, “Doing good.”
The voice growled a bit faster, excited, “It looks like a go man, first of the month, five hundred per.”
An idea for caller identification leaped into my head, “Hey, did you get a new phone? Your name didn’t pop up on my screen, just your number.”
“Nah, I’m using Ronnie’s. Mine is in his truck. So, whaddaya think?”
“Um, interesting,” I muttered with surprising enthusiasm.
“Interesting, it’s friggin awesome. So, you’re in?”
I tried another approach, “Was this the horse thing, or the gambling thing, or was it baseball or football?
“Haha, very funny,” the strange voice said with a hint of confusion.
I tried another approach, “So, er, go over the details again.”
“Dude, it’s your idea. We just talked about it a week ago. It’s pretty simple, but very ingenious. Let’s roll.”
No question about it. Hearing my plan referred to as ingenious felt good. At this point, I heard a beep on our connection.
Then the caller snarled, “Ah hell, Ronnie’s wife is calling. Damn good thing she doesn’t know what’s going on. That lady is a real treat. She’s a real fun sponge, ain’t she.”
I replied, “Yeah.” Such is peer pressure or mental insecurity that I just slandered Ronnie’s wife, a person who, for all I know, might be the second coming of Mother Teresa.
He said, “I better talk to her. I’ll call you back in a few.”
He hung up.
At our disconnection, Neill Young continued his wailing, “Said the Joker to the Queen.” The song was proof that our conversation was less than two minutes.
I turned down the volume. This call was disturbing on many levels.
I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot to wrap my mind around things and do some sleuthing. My first step was to use a reverse directory app to learn who the mystery caller was by using the phone number on my previous call list. The result of this search is the most troubling part of this ongoing saga. The app reported – NO MATCHING NUMBER.
No matching number? How was that possible? He just called. I reentered the numbers. Again, the troubling response, no matching number. What the hell? Did he call me on a burner phone?
Next, I typed out the conversation in a text message and sent it to myself for a hard copy. I tried to be precise while the words were fresh in my mind. Then, like some low-rate private investigator, I tried to parse the conversation for clues.
Ronnie has a truck and possibly a high-maintenance wife?
$500 on the first of the month? For what?
I did not receive a negative response when using horseracing, gambling, baseball, and football.
I might be involved in what?
I took some deep breaths. Think. Think. I couldn’t recall any recent baseball or football conversations, but I had several discussions about gambling and horse racing in the previous week or two. The process of elimination prioritized harness horse racing as the top candidate for involvement with the mystery caller. Ownership? Partnership? Wagering syndicate?
Or could this merely be a random misdial for a drug deal or a burglary? Should I contact the authorities?
The nagging part of the whole episode was that the caller had my phone number even if the call was a mistake. Panic began to set in. What else did he have, or could he get? My credit card number? Then I got more nervous. My number does come up in a search, and he could track me down. My horse racing wagering account and my banking account are linked. If this was horse racing ownership or gambling related, I was vulnerable. Could this be a cyber ransom case?
As soon as I got home, I placed a hold on my credit card. The procedure only took a simple phone call. While my outstanding credit card balance was breathtaking, there were no additional charges since I purchased the ingredients for my DIY Margarita kit.
Next, I called to notify my horse race wagering platform to freeze my current banking information. The lady on the phone was very nice. She asked if I wanted the balance mailed to my home. Since the total balance of my available horse racing gambling funds was $4.34, I told her to keep the change, making her laugh.
It has been a month without a follow-up call. I have not been indicted for a crime, received unexpected horse training bills, or been a cyber ransom victim. So far, the strain appears to be mental stress rather than monetary damage. The mystery is still unsolved.
This story does not have a lesson, except perhaps to be careful about answering the phone and maybe be a tad more direct in caller identification. Oh, and if you happen to be in Sanford, FL, and you see a truck driven by a guy named Ronnie arguing with his wife, do not approach the vehicle. Please write down the license number and place it in a cold case file.