She opened the magazine to the spread showing the cover gown and several of Lexi’s upcoming pieces from her fall line. The dresses were haute couture—one of a kind—the simplest design priced at twelve thousand dollars and going up to twenty-five thousand. They’d each been put together completely by hand, every fabric panel, every gather, every individual bead hand sewn. The fabrics were the highest quality and often European, the designs complicated and utterly unique.
Seeing layouts like this always reminded Lexi of just how far she’d come—all the way from the ghettos of Kentucky. Emotion swelled inside her, tightening her chest. She was proud of what she’d accomplished. Excited about her future. But she had to admit, she was also lonely. Too often painfully so. She knew mindless sex wasn’t the answer, but it wouldn’t be a bad start either.
To keep her mind off the fact that more bankers than studs had frequented her life for far too long, Lexi pulled out her phone and slipped her Bluetooth headset onto her ear, then tapped into the speech-to-text program.
She opened Rubi’s Secret Squirrel app without ever touching her screen. Even after she’d read both the introduction and the instructions,
Lexi was more confused than ever.
By voice, she directed her phone to dial Rubi’s cell, then switched back over to the app.
“Lexi,” Rubi answered, “you know I love you, but I’m a little busy, if you know what I mean. Are you okay?”
“Sure, fine. Tell me about this app.”
“Did you just hear—?”
“He’ll wait,” Lexi said, referring to whatever hot guy she’d picked up between the time she dropped Lexi at the airport and now. “They all do. What is this app all about?”
“It’s an information-gathering app. A highly secured and encrypted tool. Did you read the—?”
“Yes. You might be a brilliant designer, Rubi, but you’re not the best technical writer.”
“Couldn’t possibly be the reader, could it?”
Rubi whispered something to whomever she was with. Fabric rustled.
“Okay,” she said, “it’s not a complicated application. It uses technology hundreds of other apps out there already use, called augmented reality. You know the ones where you use your phone’s camera to view the surrounding area and the app overlays information on top of the picture—like neighborhood restaurants and the type of food they serve or gas stations with their prices.”
“This app is exactly the same, only I’m gathering different information from the targets.”
“Targets?” Lexi frowned at the screen. “I don’t think I like the sound of that. How is the NSA going to use this?”
“I can’t say. That’s why it’s called Secret Squirrel.”
Lexi heaved a sigh as fatigue settled in. This day had been almost twenty hours long. “Fine.”
“For testing purposes, the prototype simply collects cell phone numbers. So just start the app and scan the area. Where there is a cell phone, the number will register on your screen.
“Then, just call the numbers by tapping on them to make sure the person possessing the phone on your screen is the person who answers that phone in reality. That’s it.”
“But, what am I going to say? I can’t just hang up on them. They’ll have my number, they’ll call me back—”
“Your number is both blocked and encrypted. Their numbers have no identifying information attached, so unless you were to go to crazy lengths to get it, their privacy is retained. I don’t need any lawsuits. If you get confused about who you’ve contacted, you can assign tags to their numbers. That way you’re not contacting one person multiple times by accident.”
“Still…that’s kind of uncomfortable.”
“You never made crank calls as a kid, did you?”
“We didn’t have a phone when I was a kid.”
Or a car. Or air-conditioning. Or, often, food. Heat and water had been sketchy too. Medical and dental had been covered through welfare. Lexi had told Rubi she’d grown up poor but no more. That was another one of their opposite traits—Rubi’s father was a multibillionaire, and Rubi was a millionaire in her own right. She’d made her share of the money modeling, but far more from her IT consulting as a programmer and these crazy apps she created. Lexi had funneled all her modeling income into LaCroix Designs—her real passion and the only reason she’d modeled to begin with.
“Can I text them instead?” she asked.
“As long as you can be sure the number you see on the screen corresponds to the person holding the phone, that’s fine. The data is transmitted to me through the app, and I’ll analyze it on my end to make sure the program is pulling in what I need, the way I need it from the radio signals being used. All I want to do right now is test the app under different circumstances and make sure it’s targeting accurately.”