As we moved farther from the coast, the traffic thinned. The late hour helped too, cars littered the roadside with their occupants asleep within. Parking lots were full and motels displayed no vacancy signs.
We reached Santa Fe by early evening the next day. Following the directions Mouse printed, we found the cafe where we were supposed to be meeting her contact.
Nicole and I went in first. As we stepped into the store, the warmth beckoned me in. Strange aromas swirled, smells I’d never encountered before. The dominant scent was strange—robust and invigorating all at once with notes of spice and a hint of sweetness.
A counter stretched along one side of the cafe. Small wooden tables and high-backed armchairs inhabited whatever space was left. A wood-burning stove sat in the corner, warming the entire room surprisingly well, in spite of the large windows that should have let all the heat escape.
Ordering hot chocolates, we ignored the call of the chairs nearest the stove. We seated ourselves close to the middle-aged man wearing a baseball cap. His hat had a red bird on it and he sat near the door, exactly as Mouse had described.
He didn’t even look up from the game he played as we passed.
We picked up magazines from a pile on the counter. They were old, dated several months ago, but the news was new to us. I flipped through the pages of clothing and relationship advice, pretending that it interested me.
The waitress delivered our drinks as Mouse and Briana walked in. They didn’t bother buying anything, walking over and sitting opposite the man at the table. He didn’t notice them until Mouse tossed the phone onto the table.
I took a long swallow of the heated milk, allowing the chocolate to flow over my tongue
“So, uh, you want the trace, right?” The man’s voice shook. I watched them over the rim of my mug as I took another gulp.
“We just want to know who received the last outgoing call and any details you can give us about them.” Mouse sounded like another person when it came to tech, so much more confident.
The man nodded as he dragged a black bag from below the table. He tugged out a knot of cables, untangling them until he found what he was looking for. The one he selected was white, with a box at one end. He plugged it into his tablet and picked up the phone.
He opened it and extracted a little chip from below the battery. Slipping the chip into the box, he exited the game and set the tablet on a stand while he worked.
From where I sat I couldn’t see what he was doing, so I turned to Mouse. She stared at the tablet, studying it intently. I couldn’t tell if she was watching what he was doing, or examining his gadgets.
He tapped away for almost fifteen minutes, much longer than it took me to consume my drink. When he was finally done, he scribbled a few words onto a sheet of paper at his side. He folded it, slipped it into an envelope and held it out, extending his other hand palm up.
Mouse placed a folded sheet of paper in his hand, containing the agreed-upon fee. He stuffed it into his bag with everything else and stood to leave. He didn’t even check the contents.
Mouse and the others stood to leave. I downed the last of my drink and followed.