All characters are the copyright of Marvel comics. This story is for non-profit purposes of private entertainment only.

The Number You Have Reached...

Mac O'Roni

     Bored, bored, bored, bored. What a job. How fun. Sitting behind a desk for eight hours with nothing to do but answer the phone and transfer calls. This was simply not the sort of job to give a Master Thief.
     ~*ring ring*~
     Okay, here we go, Gambit thought, picturing it in his mind’s eye. Pink hair curlers, blue housecoat, fuzzy pink mules, cucumber facial mask, Bronx accent. Non—Jersey. He lifted the receiver.
     “Xavier Institute. How may I direct your call?” he said, actually miming filing his nails on a non-existent emery board as he spoke.
     “May I please speak to Dr. Henry McCoy?”
     “Just a second, sweetie-britches; I’ll patch ya through.” He hit the transfer button and dialed the extension code for the doctor’s office.
     A second or two later, the phone rang again.
     Schwartzenegger, he thought, picking up the receiver again.
     “Grüsen Sie sich. Ix-afier Institoot.”
     “Hi, I’m sorry—my cat stepped on the phone and hung up on me. Could you please patch me back through to Dr. McCoy? And…say, what happened to the lady I was just talking to?”
     “Coffee break. She’ll be bach.”
     The lines fell silent, and there was no movement from the line of faculty offices behind the reception desk, so Gambit pulled open the deep bottom drawer of his desk and tore a bottle from the six-pack he kept there. 24-ounces of Code Red Mountain Dew—lighter fluid for the hyperactive. He spun the cap off and drained the bottle in a single chug, throwing his long neck back. Then he re-capped the bottle and tossed it into the recycling bin on the far side of the reception area.
     "Bingo!” he exclaimed as it landed neatly in the cardboard container. Nothin’ but net.
     Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored. Still, it was kinda cool, sitting behind this desk. Sure, he was just a telephone operator with a fancy title—“receptionist”—but he felt a little like a sentry perched out here, the last line of defense for the frazzled faculty locked away in their tiny, cluttered little offices while he had all this space. He pictured himself as a guard dog stationed outside a prison. A Doberman Shepherd. Or was the kind of dog he was thinking of called a German Pinscher? Ah, hell, who cares. He was a cat person anyway.
     ~*ring ring*~
     Intermission over. Time to get back to business.
     “Seeing as you’ve reached the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, one of the most powerful institutes on the face of the planet,” Dirty Harry advised the startled caller, “I know what you’re thinkin’. Is he gonna patch me straight through to whoever I wanna talk to, or put me on hold for an hour to listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits as interpreted by Zamfir and his magic Pan flute? Just ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well? Do ya? Punk?”
     ~*ring ring*~
     “You have reached the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning,” he answered in a robotic voice. “I am WAO, your Wholly Automated Operator. To whom do you wish to be connected? Please speak loudly and clearly.”
     “Professor Xavier, please.”
     “Invalid code entry.”
     “…Professor Xavier?”
     “Invalid code entry.”
     “Professor Charles Xavier?”
     “Invalid code entry.”
     “Charles Xavier?”
     “Invalid code entry.” Sheesh, does dis person never give up?
     “Invalid code entry.”
     “Professor X?”
     “Invalid code entry.”
     Woo hoo! Break out the champagne!
     ~*ring ring*~
     “Hello, Xavier Institute. Charla speaking. How may I help you?”
     “Oh, thank goodness. I just got done wrangling with your automatic answering machine.”
     “Yes, we’ve been having problems with that system. Let me guess: invalid code entry?”
     “Tell me who you’re trying to get hold of, honey-buns, and I’ll patch you through.”
     “Professor Charles Xavier?”
     Gambit fought back the urge to say “invalid code entry.” Instead he said, “It’ll just take me a second, hon. Oh, and just for future reference: the valid code for Professor X is ‘Chuckletrousers.’”
     “…Really? Um, why?”
     “Because he wears these funny pants all the time. Like yesterday, see, he wore these red fuzzy things that squeaked when you squeezed the crotch! It was a riot! He let me squeak him three times last night. It was wonderful.”
     Now, dat’s gotta get dey attention. He patched the call through without another word and drained a second bottle of Code Red. The long plastic bottle arched neatly through the air, over the heads of two startled students who had just wandered in from the halls, and thunked down on top of the other empties in the recycling bin. “Can I help you?” he asked the girls.
     “Yeah, we were hoping to catch Mr. Summers before next period. Is he in his office?”
     “Nope, he ran off to Cancun wit’ Mr. Logan. I’m sure it’ll be a lovely honeymoon,” he said, with a most sincere smile.
     A blank stare.
     He sighed. “He’s in a class right now. His office hours’re posted on’is door, d’ough.”
     “Okay…thanks, sir…” The girls hurried out, casting nervous sidelong glances at him as though afraid he would attack. He grinned at them, showing a mouthful of very large, sharp-looking white teeth. With his red-on-black eyes glowing like the pits of hell, he knew he must have looked pretty scary. Judging by the girls’ twin yelps as they scampered away, in any event.
     He chugged yet a third bottle of Code Red. The day wasn’t even close to over and already he’d torn through half his stash. Maybe he could pick up another couple of six-packs over lunch. A bottle of Bourbon could help time pass nicely, too.
     The inevitable effect of all that soda culminated in a sudden, pressing need to pay a visit to the can. It wasn’t far away, and he wouldn’t be gone long—not even out of earshot if the phone rang. He got up and left the desk.
     He heard the phone ring just as he was zipping up. He washed his hands quickly and galloped back to the desk.
     “Hi, Xavier Institute. Sorry to keep you waiting. I’m not the regular receptionist,” he said, panting as though frazzled.
     “That’s quite all right.”
     “My sister is the secretary here, you see, and they just took her to the hospital.”
     “Oh, no, that's terrible! What happened?”
     “She was bit by a moose.”
     "No, really. She was carving her initials on the moose with the sharpened end of an Interspace toothbrush given to her by Svenge—her brother-in-law; an Oslo dentist and star of many Norwegian movies: The Hot Hands of an Oslo Dentist, Fillings of Passion, The Huge Molars of Horst Nordfink..."
     Okay, he felt guilty about that one. Stealing from Monty Python was beneath him, but he was rushed. He’d do better next time.
     ~*ring ring*~
     “…I’m sorry?”
     “Maoooow, mrrrrow?”
     “Um…is anyone there?”
     Gambit purred into the receiver.
     “Uh, nice…kitty…”
     Ha! What a putz!
     A long stretch of inactivity. He was amazed that no one had yet called to complain.
     Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored. He passed the time making ninja stars out of paperclips and flicking them at the wastebasket. This was only moderately diverting since his aim was infallible.
     ~*ring ring*~
     “The number you have reached is no longer in service,” he announced, and hung up.
     ~*ring ring*~
     “Hi, lover,” he said in a breathy female voice. “I’m Sheila, and I wanna be your…naughty…little…love monkey!”
     Now, dere’s somebody’s Gramma won’ be callin’ back any time soon, he thought, cackling maniacally in the empty office.
     ~*ring ring*~
     Shall we dance? he thought, and answered in a flawless imitation of Fisher Stevens as Dr. Ben Jabituya from the movie Short Circuit and its equally pitiful sequel. “Oh, good golly! You have reached Abdullah’s Psychic Friends hotline. You have reached dis number by accident. You were trying to reach the Xavier Institute of Higher Learning. Please to hang up now, and to redial. Allah be with you!”
     ~*ring ring*~
     “You know,” he said into the receiver, voice contemplative. “Sometimes, when these phones really get to ringin’ off the hook like this, I just feel like tracing the numbers back and getting all your addresses and visiting your houses late at night with a blow torch and a hacksaw.”
     ~*ring ring*~
     “Hola. Mira lo, usted es un Mono muy bonito. Azote mi extremo, por favor. Soy un Pingüino travieso,” he said. Hello. My, but you are a very pretty monkey! Spank my bottom, please. I am a naughty penguin. I’ll take “Phrases not found in a standard Spanish to English dictionary” for $400, Alex.
     And so it went, hour after hour. Finally it was five o’clock—quitting time. With laudable punctuality, Professor Charles Xavier summoned Gambit to his office.
     Let’s jus’ see what Mr. Chuckletrousers has t’say about today’s little piece a’work, Gambit, he thought.
     He poked his head in the door. “You wan’ed t’see me, Chuck?”
     “Yes,” Professor Xavier said, his carefully cultivated Oxford accent betraying nothing. “Do come in, and close the door.”
     Dum dum da dum, da, da da dee da dee dum, Gambit thought, doing as he was bid. Dis is it, boy.
     “I wanted to speak to you about your behavior today, on the telephone. It’s hardly customary for a receptionist to hang up on callers, lead them to believe they have the wrong numbers, or to threaten their lives.”
     Gambit stood silent, impassive. Inside, he was turning cartwheels. I’m fired, I’m fired! Manic joy.
     Xavier held out a hand. Believing this was to the Professor what a kiss on the lips was to Don Corleone, Gambit shook it solemnly.
     “I just want to say, ‘keep up the good work.’”
     Gambit’s eyes widened a titch, but otherwise he remained in exactly the same position. “Beg pardon?”
     “Keep up the good work. On the telephones, I mean. People are loving it. Some of them called back several times just to hear what craziness you’d come up with next. Everyone enjoys the odd surreal experience—you brightened a lot of people’s days, today. I’m keeping you on the phones full-time.”
     Gambit didn’t move. He couldn’t. Slowly, realization sank in and, still without moving a muscle, arm still extended for the handshake, he fell over backwards onto the Professor’s expensive Persian carpet. Telepathy or no telepathy, Professor Charles Xavier could actually hear the busy signals in the poor man’s brain.