Who’s listening? This week we take a fictional look at a very non-fictional issue surrounding our personal privacy.
I first saw it resting in a planter next to our table at Café Cucina. A black rectangle was camouflaged against the dark soil amid the thick stalks of a corn plant. I bent down to take a closer look. Somebody dropped their phone, I think. I pick it up and tap the power button.
The screen lights up – CALL IN PROGRESS. Huh? I didn’t make a call, and this is not my phone.
Renata pushes her long auburn hair from her face and stares at me, “What’s going on?” She says.
“What do you make of this?” I say, handing her the phone.
The waiter arrives and hands us menus. “Today’s specials are___.”
I cut him off, “Give us a few minutes.” The waiter snorts, pivots, and leaves.
The faint scent of garlic and onions lingers in the air. The late summer sun is streaming through the large plate-glass window beside our table. She angles the phone away from the window to avoid the glare. Renata works for Homeland Security. Both a bomb specialist and an M.D. she’s one of the smartest people I know. That she would give me a second look, much less a second date astounds me. I work at NIH here in DC, fiddling with the genes of deadly viruses all day, a boring and very geeky job compared to hers.
Renata’s expression changes. Her lips tighten and her eyes widen. She puts her index finger up to her lips to quiet me and then draws a finger across her throat. I get the message, Shut up. Her persona changes again. She straightens up in her chair and forces a smile. “I think I’m going to have the tilapia florentine. You?”
Figure it best to play along, “Call me boring, but spaghetti and meatballs are the true test of a great Italian restaurant. Do that right and all the other fancy, dancy Florentine stuff will be good too.”
Renata fakes a laugh, “OK, now that that’s settled. Listen, can you meet me tomorrow at 2:00 in West Potomac Park by the railing along the river, across from the Jefferson Memorial, and bring along that sample we discussed?” She nods her head emphatically up and down, my cue.
“Sure. I’ll bring you the latest strain, but you know what we’re doing could get me in a lot of trouble.”
She doesn’t miss a beat, “I know. Just make sure you’re not followed the way I showed you. Hey, listen. It’s Sunday. We don’t have to rush back to work or anywhere else for that matter. I’m not hungry. Let’s skip lunch and go back to my place and have some dessert. I’ll give you a taste of something you’ll never forget.” She winks at me.
I feel my face redden. This is moving much faster than I expected. I mean it’s only the second date. We just had a warm, sweet kiss goodbye after the first date. Thoughts are swirling in my head. The phone? Meeting in the park? Sex? What’s going on here? I silently raise my hands palms-up, miming my question.
Renata taps the red button on the mysterious phone, disconnecting the call. She removes the phone’s battery and SIM card. Then she takes a silver Faraday Bag from her purse, puts the phone and battery inside, and seals it. “We’ll have a look at this back at the office. Maybe we can figure out who it belongs to.” She studies the worried look on my face. “It’s a ZombiePhone,“ she says.
“What? What’s a ZombiePhone?”
“Somebody wanted to listen to our conversation. So, they hid this phone in the planter. He or she set the ringer to silent and the phone to auto-answer. We sat down and our intruder called this phone, it answered silently, and he or she was listening. It’s high-tech and low-tech at the same time. Pretty clever, eh?”
“That’s some scary shit. What do you think they want?”
“Not sure. That’s why I made up that stuff about meeting in the park tomorrow.”
“I got that part. That’s why I played along. Obviously, I can’t share my work with anybody. So, we’re not meeting in the park tomorrow?”
“Oh, but we are meeting in the park. I’ll have the place totally surveilled and surrounded. If that’s what this phone is about, we’ll find out and nail the bastard,” she says.
“I never suspected our second date would turn into a spy novel, but I did like that part about going back to your place.”
“Oh, that was an act too. The other possibility is that my ex-husband put the phone there to spy on me. I’ll nail him too.” She pauses, noticing my face fall. “Oh, don’t look so disappointed. Once we get to know each other a little better, I might invite you over for a little dessert,” she smiles and tears apart one of the dinner rolls sitting in the basket at the edge of the table. Chewing, she says, “Now, let’s order lunch.”
I’m not sure how I feel about all this. I’ve definitely lost my appetite. But looking into Renata’s beautiful brown eyes and taking in her self-confidence, my nerves start to settle. The waiter returns and takes our order.
She pats her lips with her cloth napkin and reaches out, taking my hand in hers. “You know there’s one other possibility.” She pauses and tilts her head, “Your boss might want to have a serious conversation with you tomorrow morning, and you might need a very good lawyer.”
- – END –
Curious about what happens next? Read the sequel: Zombie Phone 2
To find out more about ZombiePhones and other vulnerabilities that inspired this story, check out Is My Cell Phone Bugged? by Kevin Murray.
Read for FREE some of my recent short stories:
Love in the Park
Missing the Ghost in the Palace Theater
The Science of Regret
Moon Landing Memories
NOT SO DONE – paperback from Amazon – ships in one to two days
Order the Ebook – read immediately
Kindle Unlimited – read immediately
Audible Audiobook – listen immediately
NOT SO DEAD Trilogy – Kindle/ebook and Kindle Unlimited
P.S. My original fast-paced thriller NOT SO DEAD and the new techno-thriller, NOT SO GONE, are also available on Amazon. Read more about it. Better yet, buy a copy
Audiobook versions available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes
Find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn also
Oh, and please do join the Mailing List for future stories and posts.
Zombie Phone was interesting but would like the rest of the story.
Glad you enjoyed it! Funny, I’ve had a number of people say they loved the story, but wonder what happens next. Stay tuned and check back – there may be a sequel:)
Wow, out of today’s politics, lol. It was a great story. I also would enjoy a sequel!
Thanks- I’m delighted you enjoyed it. It was fun to research and write it. I think you’re right – it’s ripe for a sequel.
When they meet at the park an hour early to set up the surveillance they are ambushed.
It turns out that his company, along with the FBI, is doing the Zombiephone because they are “worried” he is passing classified info to someone else.
He is arrested for treason, hence the need to talk to his boss the next morning and a good lawyer.
His boss is actually covering up his own tracks, since he is selling out prior to leaving the company.
Thanks for joining in the fun. I really like your twist about the boss. Stay tuned. I can’t wait to see how this turns out:)
What happens when Renata and our protagonist meet at the river? ____________
A beautiful woman approaches them, throws her arms around him and says “It’s so good to see you again.”
When it becomes clear he has no idea who she is, she apologizes, acting very embarrassed, and goes off through the park.
Renata’s “people” report they have a tail on her but then lose her in a crowd at a street vendor’s stall when someone runs off without paying for their food and, when our hero checks the pocket where he was carrying a fake sample of “the latest strain” Renata had given him to fake the exchange he finds that he’s been pick-pocketed.
Who’s listening on the ZombePhone? _______
They don’t know for sure because the phone is a readily available model and the software which allowed it to silently answer is a standard product available through “spy shops” in many American cities. The best indication is that it MAY be the Chinese since the phone is a very recent Huawei model.
What happens next? ___________
Renata’s people obtain video footage of the woman from a security camera across the street from the food truck, work their investigative magic and manage to identify the woman. She has no criminal or security history but she did date a known right wing activist back when she was in college. Unfortunately, she’s disappeared and their best efforts can’t locate her.
What’s the twist at the end? ___________
Our woman is walking through a large airport. The overhead signs use the Cyrillic alphabet. She is met by a man in a Russian officer’s uniform who says, “welcome back comrade _______. welcome home. I hope your project had a successful outcome.”
She smiles. “Even better than I expected. Our little distraction was successful and while our Homeland Security friends were chasing their tails looking for me, our agent in NIH should be able to obtain a sample of the latest strain within a few days. Weaponizing the strain and getting it into the hands of our agents and ensuring we have enough of the vaccine to treat our own people won’t take more than a few months, so I think we can look forward to giving the world an end to this second decade that will make them all wish they’d had 20/20 prevision … and we’ll blame it all on the Chinese, just to be sure there’s maximum division and unrest. Never fear my friend, the master race will rule the world.”
Wow – I love your evil mind. Your twist reminds me of Kevin Kostner in No Way Out where our hero turns out to be a Russiian spy in the ned. I think you’ve conjured quite a story – thanks so much for sharing.
Her ex listens and goes to the park. When he finds them absent he phones his anonymous contact at the white House who sends further instructions via encrypted text.. Later Renata comes down with a strange virus and dies. Her new boyfriend researches with a specialized from the CDC and he recognizes it as the new strain of bird flu hes invented. This new strain has no cure but is 99percent fatal. Later the corpses wake up.as. bird eating zombies.
LOL – truly off the rails. I don’t think I can kill of Renata as I need her in my latest book. Zombies – maybe:) Thanks for joining in the fun!
He goes to the park and sits on a bench to wait for renats. He waits 45 minutes and attempts to call remata w o success.
Maybe she was called into work, he muses. He checks his phone again to see if She has left a msg, and this time there is a msg from unknown number. ” shes not coming, it says. Dont go home , its dangerous .
Thats it he thinks , dont go home where is he supposed to go and why not home
He goes to his favorite cafe to wait and see if he hears from renata and while there hears on the news that his work has been broken into and viles of deadly virus sample are missing.
And as he discovers later, so is renata misding
That’s a fun idea and heightens the mystery. We may have to turn this into a series:) I want to know where missing Renata and the missing viles went?
What happens when Renata and our protagonist meet at the river? ____________ when they arrive at the park they don’t see anyone so Renata sits on one of the swings. Our protagonist watches her swing back and forth, her yellow sundress gently brushing her legs and the sun casting a reddish halo around her red curls. He’s captivated by the sight and is startled when a dog runs out of the bushes and drops something at his feet before it darts off towards the street before he can react. He glances down and is shocked to see a bloody arm with a strange looking ring on the ring finger. Renata reaches down and grabs the hand and tries to remove the ring, but it doesn’t budge. I tell her that’s Professor Simeon faculty ring.
Who’s listening on the ZombePhone? _______ he wonders why his old college professor didn’t contact him directly, but chose to play spy and place the zombie phone at the restaurant. Professor Simeon was his inspiration for the work he does at NIH. He knows everything about viruses. He seeks out our protagonist at the NIH.
What happens next? ___________ Renata and our protagonist find the professor dead in his burnt out car and they rush to his office to try to find answers as to why he tried to contact them and how they can stop the virus from being sold to Russia.
What’s the twist at the end? ___________ professor Simeon was a Russian scientist and was involved in espionage for many years until his conscience finally made him turn on his former country and try to make up for his treasonous acts. He tried to stop the sale of the virus he stole from NIH and wanted help, but wasn’t sure about who Renata was to our protagonist and whether she was trustworthy.
Wow, I can always count on you, Marlene, for an elaborate and well-developed plot. I can picture the whole scene and the intrigue as you laid it out. Stay tuned as the plot thickens.
Thanks Charles! I thought more about the scene in the park a bit afterwards. I think the arm is not real. But feel the dog is very much a part of the story! The twist will be its involvement with the professor and the virus!
1. & 2.Her ex, who was listening on the ZombePhone, is at the park waiting. Then realizes they are not coming! He’s been had! He calls his contact and explains…
3. His contact is furious. He thinks her ex, Michael is a bumbling fool. He should have handled this himself…
He gains a sample of the virus and laughs, the world will be mine. They never should have treated me the way they did! I’ll show who has the superior mind! I’ll be king of the world…
4. Why would ( her date) need an attorney he wonders? What does she know or think? I bet she thinks I did this. I’ll have to prove to her it’s not me! She’ll see how much I care for her…OMG says Renata! I was right about needing a good lawyer! Only it wasn’t for you, how could I have missed this? I never suspected your boss as the listener. They embraced, it was finally over. How about we go back to my place for that desert I promised you❤️
I love all your twists and turns. Thanks for joining in the fun and stay tuned to say it all finally turns out.