Of course, when the alarm went off I panicked. Iíd been disarming the place for eight months and rearming it when I left for the night without a glimmer of difficulty. Six days a week for eight months without trouble. Now, after a month off the first concrete piece of evidence of my presence was a loud general alarm all over the property, at the Alarm Company and at the local police station.
I tried to remember the instructions about reversing the mistake and nothing came to mind. So, of course, I went into the directorís office and checked the numbers on her corkboard for the Alarm Company. I found it, picked up the phone and tried to get an outside line, but the signals were all jammed. I couldnít get through. I remembered my cell phone, reached in my pocket but it wasn't there. I had left it...in my car.
I raced out of the place and into the parking lot where my car was standing alone in the darkening, stone covered terrain. I pulled out my keys, or thought I had, but found instead a small piece of paper. I didnít have the keys. I had left them somewhere, probably inside the place. So, of course, I went back to look for them.
The alarm was deafening. Constant and deafening is the best way to describe it. Or loud and piercing and rhythmical. I was certain that people all up and down the road could hear it. Probably everyone was calling the police by now. I had graduated, I was sure, to the level of public nuisance.
Back inside the place, I went back to the office, which was still dark since I hadnít turned on a light and spotted my keys on the desk, next to my hat. I grabbed them hastily, rushed back outside, leaving the door ajar and headed back to my car. Even before I was close enough I was squeezing the "unlock" button. I repeated that gesture three times before the interior lights came on indicating access was possible. I opened the door, reached in and grabbed the phone.
Of course, after all that I couldnít remember the phone number so it was back inside the office inside the place one more time. I read it, dialed and waited. A recorded voice asked me if this was an emergency and by now it was more than just an emergency: it was an urgent emergency. I punched in the code that the recorded voice asked for and waited.
Jennifer was the real live person whose voice came into my ear.
"What is your emergency?" she asked me.
I explained where I was and who I was and what had happened. She carefully and slowly took it all down.
"Have you called the police yet?" I asked her.
"Oh, yes, they were dispatched about five minutes ago."
"Well, what do we do now?"
"I need the special word, sir," she said calmly and her calm helped my inner calm come back. Of course, that only lasted a few seconds.
"The word," I said. "Oh, God, the word. I have it written in my notebook which is at home which is three miles away. And you said the police were coming and I canít leave here, not without re-arming the place." Panic was back for real. "Canít you do anything without my giving you the word?"
"No, sir, we need the code word."
"Let me think for a moment. Iím so rattled by this. Iíve never been through this before." I thought for a moment. A word came to me and I knew it was wrong, but I suggested it to Jennifer all the same. There was a pause.
"No sir. Thatís not it. Is there anyone you can contact who might know the code word?"
"Well, yes, there is, if sheís home. But I donít know the number and Iíd have to go back into the place and find it and if the police come and Iím in the place wonít that look bad?"
"I donít know sir," she said.
"Well. Iíll do it and either Iíll call you back or someone will." I hung up and went back inside. Of course, I couldnít find the directorís number on any of the lists she had posted in her office. I knew where there was a phone directory, but I didnít want to start turning on lights, so I grabbed the book and took it back outside with me. In the glare of the porch light, I found the number - after spending a minute or two on the wrong page - and dialed her. She picked up on the fourth ring and I almost sighed with relief. Until I heard her voice. It was strained.
"Yes, who is this?" she said, rasping and I was sure I had awakened her.
"Hi, Lois," I said cheerily, "itís Fred. How are you feeling?"
"Oh, hello, Fred. Iím better, I think." She had been down with stomach flu. "So nice of you to call...but...whatís all that noise?"
"Iím... at the place," I said, "and... have you possibly changed the code? I entered what I always did and the alarm went off?"
"Are you sure you entered it?"
"I did. I donít know what happened. All Hellís broken loose. And I hear the police are on their way."
"You have to call the Alarm company," she said tersely.
"I did. I did, but I never had to do this before and I canít remember the code word. And they canít...."
"...do anything without that word, I know," she said finishing my sentence.
"Whatís the word?"
She told me and I thought, with the logic of it, Ďof course.í
"I should call them right back and get this stopped."
"Well, if you need me, call me back," she said. "Iíll come and bail you out."
"Thanks, but I hope it doesnít come to that."
I hung up, hit the directory button on my phone, found the Alarm company and hit redial. It rang briefly and, of course, I got the recorded message again. I pushed the code numbers for real life help and in a jiffy there was Jennifer.
"Hi, Jennifer, itís me again. I have that code word."
"Who is this?" she said.
"We just talked, not two minutes ago." I gave her my name again and the name of the place. She acknowledged me and I recited the special code word identifier. There was a pause and then she said that it was okay. I paused for a moment fully expecting the alarm to go off, but it didnít.
"So, how do we make the alarm stop?" I said to her. "And how do we halt the police?"
"Oh, I donít know. I think it just goes off in about ten or fifteen minutes by itself."
"Itís been going for at least that long," I said.
"Well, let me look here and see which kind of system you have. You donít happen to know that, do you?"
Of course I didnít.
"Okay," she said. "Here we go. And donít worry about the police. I already notified them not to send anyone."
"Great," I said, "thanks."
Just then I saw the headlights of a car heading up the driveway.
"But itís too late. Theyíre here and the alarm is still going."
Two uniformed officers, and not ones Iíd met before, were getting out of the vehicle and heading my way. With my almost free hand - it was holding the phone book - I waved at them, reassuring them that I wasnít armed and that everything was going to be all right.
"I have the alarm company on the phone right now," I said. "Everythingís all right."