Skin Deep Page 14

“Carol Westminster.”

“And the card number?”

“I don’t have it,” I said, trying to sound exasperated. “Did you miss the part about the card being lost?”

“Sir, you just need to look online—”

“I tried! All I can see are the last four digits.”

“You need to—”

“Someone could be spending my money right now,” I cut in. “Do we have time for this?”

“Sir, you have fraud protection.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m just worried. It’s not your fault. I just don’t know what to do. Please, you can help, right?”

The man on the other line breathed out, as if my tone change indicated he’d just dodged a potentially frustrating incident. “Just tell me the last four digits, then,” he said, sounding more relaxed.

“The computer says 3409.”

“Okay, let’s see . . . Do you know your PIN number, Mister Westminster?”

“Uh . . .”

“Social security number attached to the card?”

“805-31-3719,” I said with confidence.

There was a pause. “That doesn’t match our records, sir.”

“But it is my social security number.”

“The number I have is probably your wife’s, sir.”

“Why does that matter?”

“I can’t let you make changes until I authenticate, sir,” the man said in the neutral, patient voice of one accustomed to talking on the phone all day to people who deserved to be strangled.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry.”

“Well, I suppose you could call her,” I said. “She’s off to work, and I don’t have her social handy.”

“I can do that,” the man said. “Is the number we have on file all right?”

“Which one is that?” I asked. “Her cell was in her purse.”


“Drat,” I said, writing down quickly. “That’s the stolen phone’s number. I’ll just have to call her when she gets to work and have her call you.”

“Very well. Is there anything else, sir?”

“No. Thank you.”

I hung up, then rotated the pad to display the number to the others. “The assassin’s phone number.”

“Great,” J.C. said. “Now you can ask her out.”

I turned the pad around and looked at the number. “You know, it was shocking how easy that was, all things considered.”

“Rule number one of decryption,” Audrey said. “If you don’t have to break the code, don’t. People are usually far less secure than the encryption strategies they employ.”

“So what do we do with this?” I asked.

“Well, first there’s a little app I need you to download onto your phone,” Audrey said. “J.C., which of the three competitors do you think is most likely to have hired the woman?”

“Exeltec,” J.C. said without missing a heartbeat. “Of the three, they’re the most desperate. Years of funding with no discernible progress, investors breathing down their necks, and a history of moral ambiguity and espionage. Subject of three investigations, but no conclusive findings.”

“That packet has their CEO’s phone numbers,” Audrey said.

I smiled and started working on the phone. In short time, I had my mobile set up to send fake information to Zen’s caller ID, indicating I was Nathan Haight, owner of Exeltec.

“Have Wilson ready to honk,” Audrey said.

I told him to be ready, then dialed.

It rang once. Twice.

Then picked up.

“Here,” a curt, female voice said. “What is it? I’m busy.”

I gestured to Wilson. He honked loudly.

I heard it over the phone as well. Zen was most certainly tailing us. I hit the button on my phone’s app that imitated static on the line, then said something, which I knew would be distorted beyond recognition.

Zen cursed, then she said, “I don’t care how nervous the other partners are. Bothering me repeatedly isn’t going to make this go faster. I’ll call in with a report when I know something. Until then, leave me alone.”

She hung up.

“That,” J.C. said, “was the strangest hacking I’ve ever seen.”

“That’s because you don’t know what hacking really is,” Audrey said, sounding smug. “You imagine geeks in front of a computer. But in reality, most people ‘hacking’ today—at least as far as the media calls it—just spend their time on the phone trying to pry out information.”

“So we know she’s following us,” Ivy said, “and we know the name of our rival company. Which tells us who has the corpse.”

“Not for certain,” I said. “But it looks good.” I tapped my phone, thoughtful, as Wilson pulled off the highway and started driving through downtown. “Advice?”

“We need to avoid getting in over our heads,” Ivy said. “If that’s humanly possible for us.”

“I agree,” Tobias said. “Stephen, if we can find proof that Exeltec stole the body, the CDC might be willing to raid their offices.”

“We could just raid their offices ourselves,” J.C. said. “Cut out the middleman.”

“I’d rather not do anything specifically illegal,” Tobias replied.

“Don’t worry,” J.C. said. “As an Interdimensional Time Ranger, I have code 876 special authorization to ignore local legal statutes in times of emergency. Look, Skinny, we’re going to end up compromising Exeltec eventually. I can feel it. Even if they aren’t storing the body in their local offices, there will be a trail to it in there somewhere.”

“For what it’s worth,” Audrey added. “I’m with J.C. Breaking in sounds like fun.”

I sat back, thinking. “We’ll go to the coroner,” I finally said, getting a nod from Tobias and Ivy. “I’d rather find proof incriminating Exeltec, and then set up an official raid.” A plan was beginning to form in my head. “Besides,” I added, “breaking in isn’t the only way to find out what Exeltec knows . . .”

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