Read Dying to Call You Online

Authors: Elaine Viets

Tags: #Women detectives, #Telemarketing, #Mystery & Detective, #Florida, #Fiction, #Mystery Fiction, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers, #General, #Hawthorne; Helen (Fictitious Character)

Dying to Call You

Dying To Call You


Elaine Viets



“Wit, murder, and sunshine... it must be Florida. I LOVE THIS NEW SERIES BY ELAINE VIETS.” —Nancy Pickard, author of
Ring of Truth

Murder Between the Covers

“Wry sense of humor, appealing, realistic characters, and a briskly moving plot.” —
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Shop till You Drop

“Elaine Viets has come up with all the ingredients for an irresistible mystery.... I’m looking forward to the next installment in her new Dead-End Job series.” —Jane Heller, national bestselling author of
Lucky Stars

“Fans of Janet Evanovich and Parnell Hall will appreciate Viets’s humor.”—
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Elaine Viets’s debut is a live wire. It’s Janet Evanovich meets
The Fugitive
as Helen Hawthorne takes Florida by storm. Shop no further—this is the one.”—Tim Dorsey, author of
The Stingray Shuffle

“I loved this book. With a stubborn and intelligent heroine, a wonderful South Florida setting, and a cast of more-or-less lethal bimbos,
Shop till You Drop
provides tons of fun. Sixtoed cats, expensive clothes, sexy guys on motorcycles—this book has it all.”—Charlaine Harris, author of
Club Dead
Poppy Done to Death

“Fresh, funny, and fiendishly constructed,
Shop till You Drop
gleefully skewers cosmetic surgery, ultraexclusive clothing boutiques, cheating ex-husbands, and the Florida dating game as attractive newcomer Helen Hawthorne takes on the first of her deliciously awful dead-end jobs and finds herself emeshed in drugs, embezzlement, and murder. A bright start to an exciting new series. This one is hard to beat.”—Parnell Hall, author of The Puzzle Lady crossword puzzle mysteries


Dying To Call You


Elaine Viets


Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4V 3B2, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:

80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Copyright © Elaine Viets, 2004

All rights reserved


Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.


To all the people I called who were in the shower, at supper or asleep: I’m really sorry.

I hope you’ll forgive me when you read

this book about telemarketing.



The boiler room in this book resembles none of the telemarketing companies I’ve worked for, except in this way: Most telemarketers have rotten jobs. Hang up on them gently, please.

As always, I want to thank my husband, Don Crinklaw, for his extraordinary help and patience. My agent, David Hendin, is still the best.

Special thanks to my editor, Kara Cesare, who devoted long hours to editing and guiding this project, her assistant, Rose Hilliard, and to the Signet copy editor and production staff.

Many people helped with this book. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.

Thanks to Captain Brian Chalk for his help with the boat chase scene, and to Charles A. Intriago, president of Alert Global Media, Inc., and the Money Laundering Alert newsletter.

Thanks to Joanne Sinchuk and John Spera at south Florida’s largest mystery bookstore, Murder on the Beach, in Delray Beach, Florida.

Thanks also to Valerie Cannata, Colby Cox, Jinny Gender, Karen Grace, Kay Gordy, and Janet Smith.

Rita Scott does indeed make cat toys packed with the most powerful catnip in kittendom. They have sent my cats into frenzies of ecstasy. Read all about them at

Special thanks to the law enforcement men and women who answered countless questions on weapons, police interrogations, and emergency procedures. Rick McMahan, ATF special agent; the Broward County sheriff’s office, and the United States Coast Guard. Thanks to Robin Burcell, author of
Cold Case
. Particular thanks to Detective RC White, Fort Lauderdale Police Department (retired). Any mistakes are mine, not theirs.

Jerry Sanford, author of
Miami Heat
and federal prosecutor for the northern district of Florida, answered many complicated legal questions.

Thanks to the librarians at the Broward County library and the St. Louis public library who researched my questions, no matter how strange, and always answered with a straight face.

Thanks to public relations expert Jack Klobnak, and to my friend Carole Wantz, who takes such joy in books and bookselling.

Special thanks to librarian Anne Watts, the person who lives with Thumbs. Thumbs is a real cat and a real polydactyl.


Chapter 1

“Hi, Mrs. Grimes. This is Helen with—”

“Not interested.”

“Hi, Mr. Lester, this is Helen with Tank Titan Septic System Cleaner. We make—”

“I told you people to take my name off this list.”

“Hi, Mr. Hardy, this is Helen with Tank Titan Septic System Cleaner. We make a septic-tank cleaner for your home system that is guaranteed to help reduce large chunks, odors and wet spots...”

“You just woke me up, bitch. Call here again and I’ll kill you.”

“Have a good day, sir,” Helen said, as he hung up on her.

It was ten o’clock in the morning. Helen Hawthorne had made more than a hundred calls all over the country in two hours, waking up people in Connecticut, irritating them in Iowa, ticking them off in Texas.

She hadn’t sold anything so far today. She was desperate.

So was everyone else in the telemarketing boiler room. Desperation was ground into the foul wrinkled carpet. It clung to the dirty computer screens. It soaked into the scuffed white walls.

How did scuff marks get eight feet up on the walls? Helen wondered.

“Let’s hear you selling, people,” Vito the manager said, as he prowled the aisles, making sure everyone was calling.

“Loud and proud.”

There was nothing proud about this job, although it was loud. All sixty telemarketers were shouting their sales spiel into the phones.

Suddenly, Helen’s computer went blank. It crashed again, making it the third time in a week.

Vita screamed like a wounded animal. “Goddamn it, I’m paying thousands to these computer geeks, and these worthless machines still don’t work. How can I make money when nobody’s calling? Don’t sit on your heinies, people. Everyone in the break room for a pep talk.”

Vito was always giving pep talks, so the boiler room would meet the quotas set by the New York headquarters.

Helen had seen some of the quota makers when they visited the Fort Lauderdale office. They looked like elegant reptiles.

Getting sixty telemarketers into an eight-by-ten break room was like cramming college kids into a Volkswagen. Her coworkers fell mostly into three groups: Hopeful but poorly educated young Hispanics and African-Americans. Middleclass, middle-aged whites down on their luck. Plus a sprinkling of felons and junkies. Helen was on the run from the court and her ex-husband, so she knew what group she belonged in. At least she did not look twitchy and tattooed.

Helen suspected Vito, the manager, had been in trouble with the law. During one pep talk, he’d said, “I know this place looks like a shithole, but you sell a product that works, a product you can be proud of. If you didn’t, the ATF guys would come busting through that door, and you’d be down on the floor with guns to your heads.”

Helen was pretty sure the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives didn’t investigate boiler-room fraud, but she figured Vito knew what a government gun to your head felt like.

Vito was an energetic package of round, pink muscle. His arms looked like thick rolls of bologna. His fingers were sausages. His head was round and pink. Even his black hair looked muscular.

He paced back and forth, then pointed at a young woman with skin like brown satin. “Taniqua, why aren’t you selling today?”

“My computer be acting strange,” she said. “It keep calling New York. They be talking about some kinda terror alert.

They scared. Not my fault I ain’t selling.”

“It is your fault,” Vito said. “So what if there’s an orange alert? I know people are worried about terrorism, but the twin towers have tumbled and you still have to flush your toilet. Life goes on.

“Richie, why didn’t you sell anything this morning?”

“Because people got mad and hung up on me. One guy was ninety-seven and said he didn’t need a seven-year supply.”

“So sell him the three-year supply,” Vito said. “People live to be a hundred all the time.”

A kid from the computer room, who looked like a mouse with a moustache, stuck his head in the door and said, “Computers are up.”

“Quit wasting time,” Vito said to the telemarketers.

“Everybody back to work. I need sales, people. First one to sell gets a free trip to Meyer Lansky’s grave.”

Helen’s computer started dialing State Center, Iowa.

“Hi, Mr. Harmon,” Helen began. She made it past the crucial first paragraph. She steamed through the section about “one of your neighbors in State Center gave me your name as a homeowner with a septic tank.” He still didn’t stop her.

She told him that Tank Titan contained natural bacteria “that will break down and liquefy. And liquidity is just as important in septic tanks as it is in banks, right, Mr. Harmon?”

“Why, yes,” he said. He was still with her.

She told him the product was simple and easy to use. “Just flush a package down your commode once a month.” He let her keep talking. She was on her way to a sale.

She made her final pitch: “We guarantee complete satisfaction with your septic-tank system for seven years, Mr. Harmon, or you’ll get one hundred percent of your money back. Does that sound fair to you, Mr. Harmon?”

“Why, yes it does,” he said, in his soft country accent.

“What’s this gonna cost me?”

“Right now, we are offering an eighty-four-pack supply that will last you seven years for only two hundred ninety-nine dollars. That’s less than twelve cents a day for septic peace of mind.”

There was a long silence. Helen feared she’d lost him and the sale. Then he said, “I guess I do need this product. I’ve kinda let things go since my wife died. We were married thirty-seven years. She died last March.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Harmon,” Helen said.

“I miss her each and every day. I dream about her at night and then I wake up and the bed is empty, and I know she’s never going to be beside me again.”

Helen had to get him back on track. “I am sorry, Mr. Harmon,” she said again. She started reading from her pitch.

“But I am sure our product will bring you complete satisfaction.”

Ouch. That was a bad choice of words. She expected him to slam down the phone, but he didn’t. “What is your address so I can send it out to you?” she said.

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