Ten o'clock one Sunday night in a quiet Connecticut suburb. The telephone rings. A woman's voice cries, "Help me, help me!" Dial M for Murder? Good heavens, no. Merely a doting mother, anxious to send a surprise birthday cake to her child away at school. No problem. Marcy Hanenbaum, 28, will see it is delivered on time.

Hanenbaum runs Coastal Express Caterers, a two-year-old nationwide gift service. When a customer telephones with an order (to send a nine-inch cake costs about $28), she reaches for the name of the nearest caterer. "With 2,000 names at my fingertips, no town is inaccessible," says Marcy. "I sent a birthday cake to a college girl in the Montana wilderness, and even her mother in Boston didn't think we could do it." Marcy got a restaurant in East Glacier Park (pop. 500) to bake the cake, and the proprietor's son drove 25 miles over snowy roads to present it. For another concerned mother, she sent gallons of chicken soup to a son ill with a cold in Providence, R.I. Other sendables for special occasions include breakfast in bed (champagne and omelets), dinner (anything goes) and picnic baskets.

Hanenbaum graduated with a marketing degree from George Washington University, then became a products manager for an Atlanta electronics firm with a salary of more than $30,000 a year. When her savings account registered $50,000 in 1981, she quit her job to start her business. To conserve capital she moved home to West Hartford to live, rent free, with her mother, Elaine, a pension analyst. Taking the TV out of the family den, she moved in 3,000 phone books and three telephones, searched out prospective caterers, then waged a vigorous advertising and PR campaign that took the bulk of her savings.

It paid off—with orders like the $30,000 one from a Fortune 500 company for 10,000 Christmas fruitcakes. Although Marcy won't reveal her profits, by June she'll be able to buy a $150,000 dream house. That's why her motto is: Life is a bowl of cherries—to go.