The actual words aren’t important, but it’s a tip-off that means we need the other one to call instead of text. Like maybe we want to get out of a situation, or we want to pretend there’s an emergency and we gotta get out of there.” “That’s actually a very smart safety move,” I answered, nodding. “I’ve seen quite a few social media posts recommending it. But go on.” “Yeah, but ours is really silly, it’s this song we heard once…” She paused, looking very vulnerable all of a sudden. This was no longer just two scared college students needing an understanding adult to dish out tea and advice. This had all the trappings of an actual case. She continued when I nodded encouragingly, my pen still poised over the paper. “It’s this song called ‘Loser,’ by Beck. It’s on satellite radio sometimes on this oldies channel. Anyway, we heard it one day and we liked it, and it became this kind of joke between us. When we need the other one, we text this line from the chorus and the other person knows to call and just go along with whatever we say.” “And what’s the line?” I asked, scribbling notes and ready to write it down. Jenae looked sheepish for a second, then continued. “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me.” She started to sniffle, and Sally patted her shoulder. Good grief, I thought, that’s uplifting. “But after I started getting these messages from Mandy, I tried our code.” Jenae’s sniffle continued until she started to cry very real tears, and she choked back a sob. “I typed it, the whole loser part and everything, and she answered…” Jenae broke down, and Sally held her friend closer while she cried. I waited, but I really wanted to get the answer. I gripped my pen tighter. “Whoever is sending these messages didn’t know about our code. They wrote back, but it was something stupid like, ‘Haha, you’re totally not a loser! Why would you even say that?’” My pen tumbled from my hands and clattered to the granite countertop. Warrior’s and Peach’s heads popped up at the noise. They watched me as I scrambled to grasp it. I did and recovered by writing down the song lyric as quickly as I could. When I was finished, I sat up straighter but still at a loss for words. “So? Ronnie?” Sally finally asked. “Can you help?”
I pulled away from my house and clicked on my Bruce Springsteen playlist, still thinking about the frightened young ladies who’d come asking me to find their friend who might be in trouble. I turned up the volume on “Tougher Than The Rest.” Well It's Saturday night You're all dressed up in blue I been watching you awhile Maybe you been watching me too Of course, I would take the case.
I stared up at the photograph. “James? Come on, talk to me. Back to this Mandy case. It’s a little bigger than some of my other ones. Don’t let me down now.” At the sound of my desperate tone, Warrior came into the bathroom and put his paws on the edge of the tub. I smiled at my faithful friend and rubbed his ears gently.