Jacob finished watching his fifth consecutive porn flick in a row when a loud pop up almost shattered his ear drums through his headphones.
“We are your last resort,” the pop-up read. “Can’t pay your rent? Is your phone service provider about to cut you loose? Click NOW!”
No image accompanied the message; no big-breasted women or rapidly engorging dicks, just black comic sans font on a white window.
Damn, these targeted ads are getting good, Jacob thought before closing his laptop.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, signalling an incoming call. Jacob checked the caller ID and saw his caller was no other than Rich Stanson, his tech-savvy landlord. Considering July 6th marked today on the calendar, he probably wanted rent. Jacob’s chequing account held four dollars and thirty-seven cents at the moment, so he decided to leave the house instead of answering the phone.
He left the cool, air-conditioned safety of home, hoping if he locked the door and didn’t answer Rich’s calls, he might avoid eviction by simple means of unavailability. This strategy proved effective for the last two months, but Jacob knew avoiding his landlord wouldn’t work forever.
Jacob made his way down from the fifth floor of a worn-down apartment building off Main street where the gentrification fizzles out and the city starts to get grimy. The air weighed heavy with heat, even at six o’clock in the afternoon. His feet carried him to the closest gas station where he purchased a slushie. The flavoured, frozen ice chips cost Jacob a dollar even, leaving three dollars and thirty-seven cents in his anemic bank account.
His phone buzzed again, a text this time, though he avoided checking the message because the number registered as 66666 – an automatic texting service.
Jacob wound his way into the seedy part of town, figuring that he might as well look for some means of escape. He’d been unemployed for two months since losing his salaried position at the local nursery. Jacob’s career went belly up when he watered a number of exotic plants with electrolyte-loaded sports drink. He’d been trying to make up for neglect, Jacob forgot to water the expensive plants, but the salty water killed them instead.
At the corner of Main and Hastings, Jacob approached the crowd of drug-dealers and derelict minds. His phone buzzed again so he checked the text message and found an unfortunate alert from his service provider; your phone service has been suspended. Please settle your balance so we can reinstate your account. Have a great day!
Jacob shrugged, thinking a non-functioning phone might discourage Rich. His eye caught on the next text message from number 66666 and he stopped walking out of shock. His abrupt stillness caused him to bump into a skittering meth head and Jacob muttered an apology.
The message read we are your last resort. If you’re in a tight spot and need funds, call us at 666-666-6666.
Jacob shook his head, reminded of the weird pop-up. Who could possibly know about his situation? He could count his friends on one hand and most of them lived in other states. Jacob tried the number on his phone, just for the fuck of it, and felt shock as an operator said “calling collect. Please stay on the line as we connect your call.” The phone rang once before an automated voice answered.
Thank you for calling lifeline, your one-stop shop for debilitating debt and financial strain relief. If you require assistance please press one. If you-
Jacob pressed one on his phone as he ducked into a side alley to avoid the steady press of people. The phone rang three times before someone picked up on the other end.
“Thank you for calling lifeline, you’re speaking to Cynthia. Can I start with your name?”
“Jacob Senner,” I said into the phone. “Wh-“
“Please hold your questions for now Mr. Senner,” Cynthia said. The sound of frantic typing came through the earpiece. “Ah yes, I see, you’ve accumulated over twenty-thousand in debt. A nasty predicament.” “Yeah,” I said. “So are you going to help or are you just going to state the obvious?”
Cynthia laughed. “Why not both? You’re fucked Jacob. As stands, you’ll never crawl out of this. I see here you’re several months behind your rent, your phone just got caught off and your storage locker-“
“Fuck,” Jacob said. He’d completely forgotten about the storage locker he inherited full of his parents stuff.
“Yeah, the locker is slated to be on tomorrow’s episode of Storage Sultans, they’re going to find an Ancient Egyptian mummified cat in it.”
“What?” Jacob said. “There’s no mummy in that locker…”
“Precisely. Now, I’m happy to say you qualify for our program Jacob.”
“What is your program exactly?” Jacob asked.
“If you follow my instructions exactly, you’ll be debt free in the next thirty minutes. You’re a good person, and we want to help. Are you ready?”
“Yeah, for sure.”
“There’s a taxi approaching from the south side of Hastings. I want you to get in.”
The taxi pulled up to the sidewalk in front of Jacob and the driver made eye contact. Jacob held his phone with his cheek and shoulder as he got into the cab. The taxi started driving immediately, heading towards the waterfront district.
Angling his shoulder against the cab’s back window and Jacob whispered, “I don’t have any money.”
“No matter, your fare has been taken care of,” Cynthia said.
“Thanks,” Jacob said.
How did they know so much about him? Surely, rent information wouldn’t be available on the internet. Jacob imagined Rich’s greedy pink face with his gold-coin grin and predatory eyes. The bastard definitely wasn’t above posting personal information online. He’d been in the tech sector before taking up the title of land baron. How did the cab find him though?
“How did you find me?” Jacob said.
“Triangulation,” Cynthia said. “This is 2017 Jacob, anything is possible.”
Jacob nodded because that’s how they always found people on TV shows.
The cab pulled up outside of a beach-front playground along the waterfront district and Jacob got out. “Thanks,” he said, but the cab already pulled away from the curb and circled back towards Main and Hastings.
“What now?” Jacob asked.
“A black sedan is going to pull up. Get into the back seat,” Cynthia said.
“All right,” Jacob said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigs. Knocking the bottom of the pack with his palm, Jacob lifted one of the smokes to his lips and lit the end.
A black sedan pulled up before he took a single drag.
“You mind if I smoke inside?” Jacob asked. No response from the tinted windows.
Jacob sighed, threw down his smoke and got into the sedan.
The doors locked as soon as he closed the door and Jacob settled onto the jet-black leather seats. Jacob turned to look around the car and leaned back in surprise. A tinted divider separated the back seats from the driver, and other than Jacob, the back of the sedan was empty.
The sedan started to drive, and Jacob tried the windows. Child’s lock? Really? The sedan wove through the waterfront district passed embarking cruise ships and sped into the underground tunnel connecting the north side of the city.
“Where are we going?” Jacob said.
The driver made no move to respond. Jacob repeated the question into his phone. No response. He checked the phone and found Cynthia hung up at some point. Jacob tried the nearest handle of the sedan and found the door locked.
“What the fuck is going on?” Jacob said. “You can’t do this – I have rights.”
No response still. Jacob began screaming as he kicked against the divider. Music started blaring through the vehicle; a lo-fi version of When the Man Comes Around. Jacob couldn’t hear the sound of his shouts over the crackling voice of Johnny Cash.
The sedan wound through the city and turned up Main street, not far from where the cab picked Jacob up originally. The sadistic bastard behind the wheel took Jacob through his own neighbourhood, only a few minutes walk from home.
“Let me out,” Jacob screamed. He hammered the tinted glass, trying to get the attention of two carefree girls only feet away. One girl blew bubbles in the summer sky, and the other sent out miniature weather systems from her electronic cigarette. Neither paid him any mind.
The sedan turned up Jacob’s street and Jacob could’ve cried. Freedom so close, and yet so far from his flailing fists. The car’s windows must be tempered because he’d beaten his knuckles bloody trying to shatter the glass.
Slowing down, the sedan swerved into an open parking spot right outside of Jacob’s apartment. Jacob’s screams died in his throat and the music cut abruptly into silence. The engine went still.
The driver got out of the car and Jacob squeezed his eyes shut, hugging his knees. The sound of the door opening drew his attention. Jacob snuck a peek from squinted eyes and then sat up, aghast at who he saw.
Rich, his landlord, stood to the side of the car, holding the door open.
“Try running without paying me again, and this has a very different outcome,” Rich said.
“What? How? How did you-“ Jacob trailed off, heart racing.
“I started a tech company boyo,” Rich said amiably. “Sending you a little message was like getting a drink out of the fridge. Cynthia’s my girlfriend and I did triangulate your phone. Not hard to send a pre-paid taxi to a location with your description.”
Jacob blinked twice, considered bolting, and then slowly got out of the car. He wobbled towards the door, looked back at Rich, and shuddered, before climbing the steps towards the apartment.
“What’s on your schedule first thing tomorrow morning?” Rich asked.
Jacob didn’t need to think about his answer.
“Getting a job,” he said.
Prompt from reddit.com/r/writingprompts