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The vibration in her pocket awoke Kirsten the next morning.
In her dream she had been running through the neighborhood streets, but instead of Brandon chasing her it was rats, big disgusting sooty subway rats -- the animals she hated worst in the world --
She screamed and sat up with a start, fumbling for her cell phone. That's what the vibration was.
Her four-poster bed came into focus. She was still dressed in her clothes from last night. On the wall, Ashton Kutscher smiled his customary Good Morning to her. And she felt as if someone had peeled open her head and dropped in broken glass. This was going to be one gigantic hangover. How had she gotten from the sofa to her bed? Was last night -- the whole horrible thing -- one long, bad dream?
She pulled out the phone, flipped it open, and saw Sam's home number on the screen. The time was 10:42 A.M.
"So," she said, putting the phone to her ear, "what's it like to do it with a Phish head?"
There was a pause at the other end. "Hello? Is this Kirsten?" Bobbi Byrne asked.
Shit. It was Sam's mom! Open mouth, insert filthy, New York City-grime-encrusted foot. "Oh! Hi, Bobbi! What I meant was -- "
"It is you, thank goodness!" Sam's mom said. "Kirsten, would you tell Sam I need to speak to her right away?"
"Sam?" Kirsten repeated.
"Yes, Kirsten. I've been trying her and you all morning. Last night Sam mentioned that she might be sleeping at your house. Would you please put her on the phone?"
Kirsten took a deep breath.
This was bad form for Sam. Really breaking the Code, which was -- more or less -- (1) Always complain, always explain (2) Keep in touch (3) When in doubt, cover your girlfriend's butt.
The problem was, you couldn't do (3) very well if you didn't do (2). And you couldn't do any of it well with a raging hangover.
"Well, um...," Kirsten said, "as a matter of fact...I can't put Sam on right now...."
"Oh...I see," Bobbi said. "I suppose she's with the Fish boy?"
"F-Fish boy?" Kirsten said.
"Kirsten, darling, I heard what you said. Fish Head. I wasn't born yesterday. That must be Spencer Fish's nickname, right? The boy in Model Congress? Is that who she's with?"
The thought of Sam Byrne with helmet-haired Spencer Fish, whose nose looked like a pork roast and whose wardrobe was last updated in 1997, nearly made Kirsten fall off the bed.
In the background she heard a groggy male voice saying, "Do ve need to call nine-von-von?"
Rolf from Düsseldorf. With his Teutonic sense of the world, which, if Kirsten didn't handle this situation right, would curdle in a minute. From the way Sam described him, Rolf would be the type to call the cops. And that would be a catastrophe of Olympic proportions. Every sweaty, pencil-chomping, taped-together-eyeglasses reporter in New York City was salivating at the chance to find dirt on a New York Society girl. "Woodley Coed Home After a Two-Day Bender" -- that's what Rolf's meddling would lead to, because at the moment Sam was probably passed out on the floor of some friend of a friend of a friend in Brooklyn Heights or Scarsdale and wouldn't be awake until half-past lunch. Only there was no way Kirsten would tell that to Bobbi and Rolf.
"I meant -- she's not with me because she...got up early and left," Kirsten said.
"So she's not with the Fish boy?" Bobbi asked.
"I don't think so," Kirsten said. "She's probably on her way home right now...or maybe she stopped to get some breakfast or something. Her cell phone is dead, that's probably why she hasn't called you," she continued. She was on a roll. Sam and Julie would be proud.
"Oh," Bobbi said. "Okay."
"Don't worry," Kirsten added. "I'm sure she'll be home any minute...if not sooner."
"Thanks, Kirsten," Bobbi said. "I wish all her friends were like you."
Oh, they are, Kirsten wanted to say. They've been covering for her for years. "No problem. Talk to you soon. Bye!" She hung up, sank back on the bed, and tapped out Sam's number. Oh, the girl was going to owe her big for this. Maybe brunch at the Plaza -- that sounded nice.
"Hello, um, yeah. Sam here. Go ahead and talk, but make it fast. And if you can't make it fast, make it funny...."
At the beep, Kirsten said, "I won't be fast or funny. Where are you? I just got off the phone with your mom, and my nose grew six inches. She thinks you're doing it with Spencer Fish. I told her I'd buy him condoms because it never occurred to him he'd need any. Ha-ha. Just kidding. About some of it. How was Erik the Red? Details, you owe me details. You owe me a lot more, but we'll talk later. Call your mom ASAP, she's getting on my nerves. Good night."
Kirsten hung up and tried to get comfortable on her bed, but the urge to sleep had passed. Her brain still felt like it was in a bowl of broken glass.
A shower was called for. Head function in the morning simply did not begin without something minty and expensive on one's face. Kirsten stood up, slowly. She peeled off her clothes, put on her robe. Then she inched her way into the hall toward the bathroom, one foot at a time.
From Mom and Dad's bedroom at the other end of the apartment she heard a rustling of bedsheets, a snore or two. They'd be good for another hour. She flicked on the bathroom light, then flicked it off. Too bright. Everything was too bright. The night-light would do just fine.
As she closed the bathroom door behind her, she spotted a blinking light on the answering machine in the front hall, by the elevator.
Had that message been there when she'd arrived home? No. It must have come in sometime after 3:00 A.M. or so. But Sam wouldn't call her house phone. She always used the cell.
Still, Kirsten tiptoed out of the bathroom and into the front hall. The answering machine sat on an antique table, flashing a "1" in Mailbox 3. Kirsten's mailbox.
She pressed Play.
Great. It was static, the kind of loud and scratchy, obnoxious noise of a cell phone turned on by mistake in someone's pocket. In the background were a car horn and some distant, garbled voices.
Whoever had done this must have had Kirsten's number on speed dial. Kirsten knew that routine -- she had all her friends on speed dial. If she didn't lock her phone, and she hit, say, the number 3 inadvertently, she'd send Julie sixty seconds of pocket noise.
She knelt and cocked her ear closer to the machine. Someone was yelling or laughing, it was hard to tell which and impossible to recognize the voice, which was obliterated by the roar of a passing bus and the screech of a car's tires. When that noise died down, Kirsten heard footsteps and the fragment of a conversation.
"...is this place..." were the only words she heard clearly. They could have been from Sam, but it was hard to tell. She turned up the sound and heard the voices continue. One voice was female, that was for sure. The other voice was too hard to tell, too quiet.
"...doesn't make sense..." Yeah, that was Sam, she was fairly sure. There was something about the rhythm. She seemed aggravated about something. Not aggravated enough to make a real call to her best friend, Kirsten noted.
The footsteps were quickening now. The voices had stopped, and so had most of the traffic noise. Kirsten heard a thump and a kind of strangled gasp.
And then, piercing through the speaker, clear and sharp, was the knife-edge sound of a scream.
Kirsten jumped back, and the tape abruptly ended.
It was Sam. There was no mistaking the voice.
What had happened? Who was she with? WHERE WAS SHE?
Copyright © 2005 by Parachute Publishing, L.L.C.