LEXA HANDED ME THE PHONE. THE SWEDISH TUNE KEPT PLAYING, insistent and diabolical.
The readout glowed in the darkness. Incoming call: Hunter.
"It really is me," I said to Jen. "It's my phone calling."
"Maybe you should answer."
"Oh, yeah." I swallowed and lifted the phone to my ear. "Hello?"
"Hi, uh, I'm just calling because I found this phone. And I wanted to return it to the owner."
"Really?" My foolish heart lifted.
"Yeah, and this number was in the incoming call memory, so I figured the phone must belong to a friend of yours. Maybe you could give me the guy's name. Or his address?"
"Yeah, actually that's…"
My voice trailed off as I came to my senses: why did this person assume the phone's owner was a he?
"Uh, actually…" I looked up at the face on the screen, at arm's length now. The voice on the phone was male and sounded like a big guy
Maybe that guy.
I cleared my throat. "Actually, I don't recognize this number."
"Are you sure? You just called it an hour ago. Like four times in a row."
"Uh, yeah, that was a wrong number," I said, trying to keep the tremor out of my voice. "I have no idea whose number this is."
"Oh, okay. Well, sorry to bother you… Shoe Girl."
The phone went dead.
Shoe Girl, he'd said. That was the name in my phone for Mandy: shugrrl, her instant-message handle. He knew I'd been lying.
"It was him, wasn't it?" Jen said.
I nodded, looking at the grim face on the screen. "He's calling the numbers in my memory, saying he wants to return a lost phone. He's trying to find someone who'll give him my address."
"Oh, crap," said Jen. "But no one would do that, would they?"
"I've got about a hundred numbers in that phone. Eventually someone will give him what he wants. Probably my aunt Macy in Minnesota."
"You could call your aunt," Jen said, "and all your close friends, the ones who know your address, and tell them what's going on."
"That might work if I could call them." I shook my head. "I don't actually keep anyone's number in my head. Without that phone, I'm toast."
"You don't back up?" asked Lexa, scandalized.
"Sure, at home." I tried to remember the last time I'd actually backed up the phone onto my computer. A boring day during Christmas vacation? "But by the time I get there and call everyone…"
"Okay, guys, I was just trying to help with this and not be too nosy. But this is getting weird." Lexa pointed at the screen. "How did that guy get your phone? And why does he care what your address is?"
"Well, after Mandy didn't show up, he did. You see, we were in this old building, and there were these… shoes."
"Shoes." Lexa sighed. "Why is it always shoes with you guys?"
"They were amazing," Jen said softly.
"Can you keep a secret?" I said.
"I mean, really keep a secret."
"Hunter, I got the script for…" (she named the third movie of a franchise in which a certain weight-lifting governor plays an unsmiling robot who shoots things)"… a year before it came out. And I didn't leak a single plot point."
"That's because there weren't any," I said. "Just don't tell anyone about this, okay? Go one picture back."
She clicked, and Mandy's picture of the shoe filled the screen, Lexa blinked, uncrossed her arms, and took a drink of her coffee. Stoking the machine.
It was grainy, jagged, the colors blotchy, but it was still the shoe.
"Wow, the client did that? Didn't know they had it in them."
"We're not sure," Jen said. "It's either a bootleg or some radical new marketing concept. You can't tell from this picture, but the logo has a bar sinister through it."
"It's the anti-client," I said.
Lexa smiled and gave a slow nod. The Nod. "Cool."
"Cool enough to kidnap someone over?" I asked.
"Sure, Hunter." Lexa stepped back, squinting now, blurring the jagged picture with her eyelashes. "Cool is money, and money can be worth anything. That's money's job."
It was a way that only computer geeks talked, but it made sense. Jen gave Lexa the Nod.