Sybil Shainwald, the prominent attorney who pioneered women’s health litigation, was the guest at our house in East Hampton for lunch last Wednesday. We made it a special occasion. We set up our best tableware on the dining room table, opened the French doors to the brick patio swimming pool and the little waterfall we’d built there, and after we clinked glasses and toasted the summer with a cabernet from Wolffer Estate Vineyard, my wife brought out cold gazpacho, shrimp salad, corn and green beans.
The conversation ranged from family news to world affairs, and we were discussing the recent Supreme Court decision involving abortion rights, when my cellphone rang. I had forgotten to bring it to the table. And I was expecting a call.
Since we’d all heard it ring far off somewhere, I excused myself, got up and hurried through the kitchen to the living room where I saw it blinking and throbbing on my desk. It was now in its fourth ring, the last before it defaults to voicemail. So I reached out and swiped at it, hoping to catch it. But I missed.
The phone spoke. “This is 911. Can you tell me the nature of your emergency?”
“There’s no emergency.”
“Please give me the location you are calling me from.”
“I pressed the wrong button. It is a mistake.”
The screen of my phone was showing my personal information. I hadn’t asked for this. My name. My age. My date of birth. A list of my maladies and the pills. My wife’s phone number.
I pressed buttons to make it go away but it stayed there.
I gave them my address.
“Are you safe?”
I thought, “They don’t know the real Dan is tied up and gagged on the floor in the TV room. And it’s me on his phone.”
“11937,” I said. “But there’s no emergency. I’m him. Everything is fine.”
No, it’s not fine. Heh heh.
“Stay right where you are. I hear you. I am transferring this call to the East Hampton Town Police Department.”
“That’s not necessary.”
Play along. Don’t make waves.
“This is the East Hampton Police. Can you give me information about your emergency?”
“I went to answer the phone and somehow it called 911. There’s no problem here.”
Nice and innocent. Sweet.
“We’ll have an officer stop by. He’s on his way.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“It’s just a procedure we have to follow. Whenever a call comes in like this we have to go.”
I’m gonna be right upstairs. One wrong peep outta you and after he leaves I’ll come back down and that will be the end of you.
Out the living room window, I saw a car with flashing lights coming up the street. We live right across from where the boats back up to the road. We have a great view of the water. And the sunset sets beyond. Now the police car was turning into our driveway.
And wipe that blood off your face.
I was holding my cellphone, which was still showing all my information. Again I tried swiping at it. I pressed buttons at random. The screen stubbornly stayed.
The doorbell rang. I walked over to it quickly and opened it. On the other side of the screen door was a young police officer, radio on his shoulder, pistol in a holster on his hip. Do I invite him in? Why not? I opened the door and made a motion for him to come in. He could see for himself everything was fine.
“Not necessary,” he said. “But thanks. We know this was a wrong button thing. It happens.”
“Can you get this screen off my phone? I can’t budge it. So I can’t use the phone.”
He took it, pressed a few buttons.
“There. And I reset it. Did you just get the phone?”
“Sometimes they set it up for this one button to call 911. I disabled it. You probably didn’t even know that had been done.” He handed it back. “Have a good day, sir.”
“Thanks. So what do I do if I need 911?”
“You press 911,” he said, simply. And he tipped his hat, got in his car and was down the driveway and gone.
I closed the door, looked upstairs—nobody there—and walked through the kitchen to the dining room, and returned to my seat.
“Who was that?” my wife asked.
Sybil had set a white box saying “Tate’s Bake Shop” on its side onto the table. Opening it, she lifted out a stunning little three-layer cake.
“Beautiful,” I said. “Front door was Amazon, just letting us know something was there. Then they go off.”
Then there was the unmistakable sound of the front door opening and closing.