Someone knocked on the door of my apartment.
The door opened with a shriek.
“Do you have classes?”, Sophie shouted.
“I don’t, what’s up?”
I walked down the stairwell to the landing so I could see her.
“Can you help me with something?”, she asked while looking up at me.
“A friend of mine got her phone stolen, and she traced it to some pawn shop,” she paused briefly, “so she asked me to go with her to pick it up.”
“Uhm, oh, really?” I replied in surprise. “Did she report it to the police? Did she ask them for help?” I added.
“Yes, they made a file, but said they can’t do much about it. It’s not a priority for them.”
“Okay. So, how can I help?”
“Well, it’s not really in a safe part of town and we’re just two girls …”
Twenty minutes later I was sitting in the back of a Hummer-like car. Sophie, in the front passenger seat, discussed strategies with her friend Mithra behind the wheel. This was going to be more than simply picking something up …
“So, what will we tell them?”
“We can say we’re Pitt students”, Mithra replied to Sophie.
“Where are you studying?”, she briefly turned her head towards me, then fixed her eyes on the road again.
“Oh, don’t tell them you’re from CMU, they’ll know you’ve money, they’ll raise the price you know, we’re all just from Pitt, okay?”
“Sure”, I replied, but I was still a bit puzzled about the whole thing and only half awake. Just half an hour ago, I was engaged in my daily morning routine, specifically: having breakfast.
“I was wondering: how did you track the phone?” I continued.
“With some remote tracking app you can see where it is,” she replied hesitantly. “After I found out where it was I called the phone.”
“You called your stolen phone? Did someone pick up?”
“Yes, a man answered and he was willing to give me the phone for hundred bucks.”
I blinked, frowned and repositioned myself after Mithra’s car hit a pothole.
“So, what was the catch?”
“We arranged an exchange, but he backed out and asked me to come to his shop.”
“So, that’s the shop we’re going to?”
“No, no, it’s a different one.”
“So, you tracked it to this shop?”
“No, I did a remote wipe and then could not track the phone anymore,” she paused, “I didn’t know the wipe would do that.”
Uh? I decided to end my cross-examination. I inferred she had probably frantically called pawn shops around town, trying to locate those with iPhones, after she lost the tracking signal.
We crossed a huge bridge across the Monongahela river.
“So, where’s the shop?” Sophie asked.
“Just across the bridge, in one of the side streets”, Mithra replied.
She turned left onto the street where the shop was supposed to be. We passed an intersection and were supposedly almost there. Since no cars were behind us, Mithra slowly let her car roll forward.
“That’s the place, that’s it”, she said.
We parked the car somewhere around the corner and walked up to the shop. With every step closer the atmosphere became grimmer. A tall black guy with a black cap was leaning against the shop front, arms crossed, while discussing something with an older woman. Some other people were standing around waiting. We reluctantly joined them. Two people could be seen scurrying around inside the shop: one with a ring beard and dreadlocks resembled Wyclef Jean, the other, in the back, was harder to see.
After several minutes “Wyclef Jean” came to the front door and opened it. The other person, apparently the shop owner, followed him at a distance. Black cap moved inside, as well as all other people that were waiting, including us. The large store was full of “second-hand” stuff: flat screens, stereo receivers, and phones.
Mithra walked to the back of the store and addressed the shop owner. I fixed my gaze on his face, it was scarred. He seemed to be in his late thirties, the girls thought he was of Iranian descend.
“I called about an iPhone? For about hundred-fifty dollars?”, Mithra asked.
“Oh yes, yes, we have three or so,” he assured, “but there are lots of people interested in these phones, so the price will be higher, you know.”
Although the shop was quite large, Sophie, Mithra and me stood huddled together in the back. The atmosphere was grim. Two girls came in, one of them holding something small. Wyclef Jean shoved them dollar bills in, what was intended to be, a concealed way. Some other guy came in with a host of items that he wanted to sell and bantered with the shop owner.
Finally, the owner gave us two phones to try and yanked out a third one after Mithra insisted. Not all of them were charged, so we had to wait for a while. Sophie walked around looking at various gadgets. She contemplated buying something, before deciding that it probably was a bad idea to buy anything here, despite the shop owner reassuring here that she would get a “full week warranty”.
One of the three phones was obviously not Mithra’s, as it turned out to be an older model. After one of the remaining two was charged, Mithra handed it to me.
“Is this one mine?”, she asked nervously.
I looked at the palm of my left hand where I had written the serial number of her phone that she told me in the car. Unfortunately, this phone was somehow locked and I could not get into the right menu to actually check it. Mithra asked the shop owner to unlock the phone. After hooking the device up to a MacBook we could see the name of the original owner: it wasn’t hers.
We examined the last phone and established it could not have been hers either. The owner tried to sell us some other “wares”. After repeatedly asking him about other iPhones, Mithra gave up. We walked out the shop and back to the car, crossing our fingers that it’d not been vandalized.
It wasn’t, and in a matter of minutes we were back on the road. Mithra called other pawn shops to try and locate more iPhones, she seemed to obsess over it.
“You want me to tell you the obvious?”, I asked. “Let it go, it’s just a phone and your data is no longer on it, just buy a new one, and … I mean, how did you lose it in the first place?” I continued. My brain had fully awakened.
“I left it on the counter at Target, the next moment it was gone.”
I sighed audibly. “Always leave your phone either in your pocket, bag or in a secure place”
“I know,” Mithra replied, “but we girls don’t always have enough pocket space for a phone.”
After ten minutes we were home. Sophie and I got out of the car.
“Thanks for coming,” Mithra said. She drove off.
“That was weird,” I concluded as we went back inside the house.
Sophie nodded in agreement.