True enough, it doesn't say "Action Line" at the top of the page. Nevertheless, it gladdens my heart to reveal that I have helped make Mary Knieser of Arlington a little wiser, a little richer and a whole lot happier. Mary took on the biggest bad wolf of all -- Ma Bell. With a little help from this corner, she won.

The saga started on July 19, when Mary placed a happy birthday call to an old high school classmate living in Lansing, Mich.

Whenever she can, Mary waits until 11 p.m. to make long distance calls, because the rates drop considerably after that time. But she must have bought her clock radio at the same place I bought mine. The bloody thing is always wrong by a few minutes, and never in the same direction twice in a row.

So to be sure she was safely to the cheap side of 11, Mary called 844-2525, the phone company's own time check recording. When the canned voice declared it to be 11:02, Mary put through the call. It lasted for 61 minutes, but Mary thought nothing of it.

Until her bill arrived on Aug. 7.

According to the phone company's computer, the Lansing call had been placed at 10:55 p.m. The tab for the call: $16.77, instead of the $10.32 Mary had thought she'd spent. Wriggle as she might, rationalize as she might, she was told by the Virginia office of C&P Telephone there was nothing they could do -- or would do.

So Mary wrote me, and I called Web Chamberlin of C&P public relations. The next day, Web called back to say the company would knock $6.45 off Mary's next bill. "Our records do indicate the call was made at 10:55, but we're going to give her credit because she's not the kind of person who's complained before," he said.

How does The Victor feel about her victory? "Vindicated," said Mary, who is a bookkeeper for the International Apple Institute. "Like justice has been done."

Any plans for the $6.45? "I promise I won't use it on the phone. I'll go out and buy stamps instead."

More on Phones: Patricia Smith of Fairfax had considerably less luck when she called C&P the other day.

Her question: what are the names of those new companies selling long-distance packages that are often cheaper per call than C&P's? Replied an operator in the Virginia office: "I've never heard of any such thing."

When Patricia asked if she could speak to someone else in the office who might have, the operator said: "Nobody in this whole office has heard of them." And hung up.

I wouldn't expect to get stonewalled if I called Hertz to ask about Avis. I'd expect a joke or two, followed by a good-natured "Gee, I don't know." Where have you flown, C&P courtesy?