I stared at the screen of a modified burner phone operating off the wifi in the coffeeshop where I was sitting, refreshing an app that a few months ago I would have dismissed as some bullshit for kids. Sally sat next to me, drinking a latte, dressed like she was going to yoga class, looking a lot more calm than me. Maybe that was what being a parent did to you, forced you to compartmentalize. Or maybe just enjoy the rare moment where you didn’t have to do anything.
The app updated. Our burners were muted. Our actual phones were elsewhere. My brother put mine in his locker at work. Sally’s friend brought hers to a yoga class. I bumped Sally’s knee with mine under the table. She looked up and opened the app.
Brown Ford CT 687GTA
We put on leather gloves and I pulled the keys from my pocket. A taurus was parked on the side street, nondescript, old enough to not have a transponder, with fake temporary plates.
I drove it off the lot that morning before meeting Sally. We had met twice before. She looked like the soccer mom that she was. She was also in excellent shape and wearing loose fitting clothes today. If she’d worn yoga pants like the last time we’d met, everyone would have noticed and remembered her. Not her face, but still, they would have remembered.
I pulled out and sat at the light. She pulled up the only other app on our phones.
“They’re a little South,” Sally said pointing left, “heading our direction.”
I pissed off the driver behind us by not turning right on red. We watched a brown sedan pass by.
“That’s them,” Sally said, her eyes not leaving the screen.
We followed them at a distance. We could track them, but we had to time this right, so we couldn’t hang back too far.
They parked on the street a few miles from where we had picked them up. Nik’s was somewhere between a lunch counter and a diner and famous in the neighborhood. One of those good, cheap places that never gets written up, but has a following. It was also a favorite of beat cops and I could see two sitting at the counter through the plate glass window.
Sally used the app to send a message, tagged with our coordinates:
Nik’s on Capitol.
Seconds later, we got a reply: Go
I pulled up right behind the car, and slowly edged forward with my foot on the brake until we hit their bumper, and only then put it into park and pulled the brake. I grabbed the temporary plate that was sitting on the dashboard and Sally grabbed the paperwork from the glove compartment.
She didn’t say a word or even look at me as she closed the door behind her. Sally had opened a knife and twice stabbed the back right tire of the car in front of us. She then removed the fake temporary license plate on the back bumper of our car and stuffed the paper into her jacket pocket before continuing to walk down the street, earbuds in her ears, as though she was just out for a walk.
I locked the car behind me and pulled out a knife, stabbing both tires on the left side of the car. The first one I took care of with two quick thrusts. The front tire I pretended to bend over for some reason and made sure I went deep and could hear air escaping before I walked on.
Sally walked South and I walked North. At the corner I waited for the light to change. As I did I pulled out the burner.
A car approached and pulled up near where I had parked. It didn’t park behind me, as I had parked behind the car in front of me and people had been doing. Instead it double parked, blocking the brown sedan. A man stepped out of the drivers side who I couldn’t ID after the hazards started blinking. He locked the car behind him and began walking South on Capitol before taking the first side street. I could see Sally in the distance, who kept walking in a straight line.
The light changed and I crossed. All the exterior cameras on the block had fizzled out at the same time for one minute. They should be back on now. I hesitated, wanting to go back and watch, but kept to the plan.
There was a trash can on the corner two blocks later. I paused to untie and re-tie my left sneaker, and took a look around. Then while waiting for the light to change, I pulled out my phone and removed the SIM card. I snapped it in two and tossed one half into the trash can.
I walked a few more blocks to the bus station and standing on the corner, tossed the other half of the card into a trashcan. I only had to wait a few minutes until the 118 arrived. I paid cash and took a seat in the back. I heard a few languages from the people scattered in the bus, talking to each other or on their phones. The Spanish I could mostly understand. I wouldn’t have been able to hold a conversation, but I understood the gist of what was being said. I could hear Creole and another romance language. Two women were speaking Korean or maybe Tagalog? This was the background noise I grew up with. This was the sound of America. I wondered how long the war would last. This was just the first day.
No, I corrected myself. The war had been going on for a while now. This was just my first day. The old song came to mind: Only thing I did was wrong, Was staying in the wilderness too long.