The night meowed at the window of the dingy third-floor office on the wrong side of town like a housecat left out in the rain, trying to draw my gaze from the hand of solitaire laid out on the desk between half-empty cups of cold coffee, old newspapers and an ashtray spilling over with stale butts. I glanced at the window and shuddered for some reason, then wondered who left all the spent Chesterfields there, seeing as how I don’t smoke. They made a good prop, though, so I returned to my cards. If I could just find the other red queen, I was set.
It was the kind of night that slithers through the gutters and alleyways, around garbage cans and dumpsters, up fire escapes and into the ventilation. It always finds a way in, always creeps up behind you, always gets you in the end. There was a knock at the door, and a woman entered.
She was one sad-luck dame by the look of her, all switchblade sadness and razor gloom, whatever that means. She was carrying a laptop computer (which seemed anachronistic given the setting, but this was the Fraud Prevention Unit, and these newfangled bean-counters were the rule these days).
She just stood there for a minute and looked unsure. “Are…are you the one they call ‘Sledge?'”
“That’s me,” I said. “Hank Sledge, Private Fraud Investigator.”
“Oh. I…oh.” She swayed on the spot, as if trying to decide something.
“C’mon, spill it, sister,” I spat.
“Well, it’s just…I got this email the other day and I don’t know what to do.”
I looked at the gray computer tucked under her arm. “And you figure some mug’s got you pegged as an easy mark? Toss that mill up here on the table. Let’s see what we got.”
She placed the laptop on the desk and hit the power button. It took a minute to start up, and the awkwardness hung in the air like burnt toast. “So…um…read any good books lately?” I started to say, but the machine was ready.
“This one right here,” she said, and I read the email.
The message said it was from Facebook, and if it was a ringer it was a darn good one. It went like this:
From: Facebook <email@example.com>
Subject: You have 3 lost messages on Facebook…
Facebook sent you a notification
You have 3 lost messages on Facebook, to recover a messages please follow the link below: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?recover.messages=563f03b5d6f9
How to get back your lost messages on Facebook
At the bottom was a green button that said “Frequently Asked Questions.”
“Did you click on anything in this mess?” I said.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You can’t think so. You either clicked or you didn’t. Think hard.”
“No, I didn’t. Jeez. Jerk.”
“Sorry ma’am. Hardboiled crime fiction. I have to talk to everybody that way.”
“Anyway,” I continued, “it’s good you didn’t click. This is a swindle through and through. See this?” I showed her the message header. “If it was from Facebook, it wouldn’t be coming from some ‘notifierfacebook.com’ domain.”
“And check this out.” I moused over the link. “It says ‘facebook.com,’ but it’s disguised. Every link in the message takes you to this weird ‘winesofworld.org’ website. Classic phishing message. These punks either want to infect your computer with malware or steal your password. There’s also the crummy English; see where it says, ‘to recover a messages?’ Makes no sense. Finally, there’s no such thing as ‘lost’ messages on Facebook.”
Her eyes were dinner plates. “So what do I do with it?”
“If I was you, lady, I’d drill it with my heater,” I spat.
“Just delete it.”
“Oh,” she said, and snapped the laptop shut. “Okay, cool. Thanks. Nice hat, by the way.”
I nodded thanks as she disappeared out the door and went back to my game. Black eight to red nine. The card underneath was the queen of diamonds. “There’s my lady,” I murmured over the lonesome wail of a siren echoing across the night.