Strung, Hung & Left to Dry

I wrote this short during a Write along Session with Bhala Writers (bhala.mn.co). The prompt was “You lose your phone at a club and the person who finds it arranges to meet you to return it.”

Like a sack of potatoes, I sank into my couch and exhaled deeply — it was finally over. The plush cushions enveloped me in a warm embrace as though they knew the night I had had. At the end of each day, I could take comfort in this seat and browse through my phone, switching between Twitter, Facebook & Instagram. Tonight was no different but as soon as I raised my hand to bring my phone to my face, a frightening feeling took ahold of me. I did not have my phone. I leapt to my purse on the floor and frantically rummaged through it, even though my phone was too big to fit in there. I emptied the contents of my purse onto the floor and when I finally realized that I had lost my phone, I sat with my back against the wall, breathless. I quickly retraced my steps –lunch at Finale’s and dessert at the Rindge.

Stacy, my neighbor had recently been invited as a member and to celebrate one of her many accomplishments, she’d invited me and some acquaintances to spend the afternoon at the club. The invitation had caught me off guard — although a neighbor, Stacy and I weren’t friends, we weren’t even familiar. I passed it off as a neighbor trying to be kind and after all it had been one of my resolutions to go out more and network. I could use this wealthy network in my new job as the manager of the Cambridge Hedge Fund.

I needed my phone. It had confidential client information that would destroy reputations & empires should it go public. Celebrities, politicians and activists investing in companies emitting greenhouse gases, companies owned by countries violating human rights and selling war weapons. It was encrypted but I couldn’t be sure, someone with the right skills could easily hack it — we hadn’t spent much on securing our data.

I called my cell phone using my house phone and a familiar voice answered. My heart sank as the voice on the line explained that it’d only return my phone if I sent an Apple gift card worth $500. I had heard about this scam but I couldn’t risk losing my job. I scoured the entire apartment for my laptop and when I ran the Find my Phone App, it showed my phone to be at the Rindge. The Rindge was huge — it was the new country club in the suburb and only members and their guests could attend. They had bulldozed acres and acres of forest to build the estate, half of which was the golf course. The golf course was immaculate, the amenities unrivalled and their dessert the talk of the town. I had only agreed to Stacy’s invite after she mentioned dining at the Rindge.

I knew that voice on the other side of the phone. I had the name and picture of the owner of that voice at the tip of my brain. This time they were more aggressive, more assertive and demanding double the amount. I could feel my heartbeat in my feet and my knees felt like they would buckle from the anxiety.

I couldn’t risk it. I had to buy the card and meet them at the 18th hole on the golf course. I needed to get my phone back because I had worked too hard and too long to lose this job. I walked into the RiteAid and was welcomed by the stench of tobacco mixed with alcohol which clung to the air like fog. The store looked completely different from my trip for orange juice in the morning. It was quiet, eerily so. The lights were dim and one flickering at the end of the aisle. It made the dash to the gift card rack more frightening than it ought to have been. I had an uneasy feeling that I was being watched.

At the register, the attendant asked me if I wasn’t being forced to pay for a service with a gift card. I gave her an uneasy smile. How did she know? She explained that their elderly customers were receiving calls from scammers asking them to purchase gift cards. She shrugged and said I looked too smart to be tricked by scammers. I let out a sigh of relief but immediately remembered I still had to deliver the gift card.

As soon as I stepped into my apartment, the house phone rang. It did nothing to allay my persistent feeling of being watched. It was not by chance that as I entered into my home, my sanctuary, the phone rang. They were being violently intrusive. The voice on the phone was so familiar, friendly, neighborly even. Instead of delivering the card to the golf course, they asked me to deliver the card into my mailbox which was next to the parking lot, away from anyone’s view.

Just as I put the phone down, it all came rushing to me. That voice on the other line was Stacy. There was no way she could get away with this. She had taken me to the club under the pretense of forming friendship and when I had let my guard down at the end of the day , she had stolen my phone. I knew just what to do.

I closed all the curtains giving access to my apartment. I assembled my tiny GoPro camera and assembled a contraption to capture the thief in action and programmed it to livestream to my computer. In the previous months, it had been gathering dust and I had made a mental note to use it more. I did not imagine that this would mean capturing a criminal. The phone rang again, the thief was growing impatient, demanding that I hurry. I considered calling the estate security but decided against it in case they were all in on it. After all, Stacy had the gall to commit her crime within the estate. I walked to the mailbox, scared and excited and placed everything carefully and returned to my apartment.

There she was. Smug in her victory. She carefully placed the phone in the mailbox after removing the envelope with the gift card. She removed the gif card and threw the envelope back into the mailbox. She didn’t wear gloves. Didn’t she know her fingerprints were all over that? Tacky! Arrogant.What had she planned to do with gift cards worth $1000. Greedy! Everything was caught on the GoPro. A call came in for me to collect my phone from the mailbox with strict instructions to not lose it again. Smug!

I was grateful to have my phone back. I texted Stacy to thank her for the days festivities and attached the video from the GoPro. Almost immediately my phone rang and on the other end, Stacy, begging for mercy. Pitiful! I had already made my mind up and was texting with the police seated in my apartment ,ready to apprehend the thief. I hung up without saying a word and within minutes she was knocking at my door. I let the detective answer and learned the next day that I had single handedly uncovered the Gift Card scam. All that happened in the cover of darkness had come to light. I shuddered as I considered what should happen should my phone have been hacked and the secrets of my work exposed. It was only a matter of time.