Wilhelm’s, where she had worked until just now, listed itself as “in the business of data acquisition over the telephone.” Most people assumed this was a polite way of saying “Telemarketer.” This is what the description was meant to make you think. In reality, Gretchen spent her days there pretending to be the IRS and calling old people and immigrants. She would then scream at them until they gave up their social security numbers and their bank account numbers and their passwords. The social security numbers would be passed along to upper management to do whatever particular brand of identity theft they wanted. Gretchen would use the password and the bank account number to log in and reroute every single cent into an offshore account, which would then automatically bounce the money between a series of proxies before finally settling in the company accounts. The kinds of people Gretchen called did not tend to have much money in their bank account, but when you did it for as long as Gretchen did it added up. Especially when you were as good at it as she was.
Indeed, it was the first thing in Gretchen’s entire life that she could have been called “good at.” She still fondly remembered the day she had first come to the company. Her job search after graduating middle of her class at the most third prestigious public university in Minnesota had been difficult. The best thing that could be said about that time was the admirable speed she was able to leave a job interview after the inevitable “Thank you, but we’re looking for someone with a bit more experience.” This skill in rolling over had been something she had been cultivating her whole life.
It was this quality in particular that had endeared her Charlotte. Charlotte was an old university friend, who in any other circumstance wouldn’t have been able to lead her way out of a paper bag. However, Gretchen’s ability as a natural follower more than made up for any difficulties by Charlotte’s unnatural suitableness for leading. It was in the hopes of reclaiming those idyllic university days that Charlotte reached out with the offered to bring her old pal on board to the company she had just received word she would be starting at.
Gretchen’s training had been a short lesson on the wisdom of not testing the old adage “snitches get stitches” and was then given a telephone and a list of phone numbers and told to get to it. Charlotte barely lasted three weeks. Gretchen had nearly followed. It had been horrible at first — she had only able to bring in anything from the few people who were so scared the bank was calling they practically threw the numbers at her. And that, it turned out, had been the misplaced key to unlocking Gretchen’s confidence. Finally, she was given tasks where she could not lose. The rest of it fell into place.
On the phone at Wilhelm’s, she became something new. She was an angel. She was the devil. She was a fair authority figure you should feel guilty to disappoint. She was an implacable beast who would rain fire down at the slightest provocation. She was reasonable. She was insane. She was whatever she needed to be to get those numbers.