Look Out: She’s Got Your Number
Rashelle Reading, an unemployed life organizer and personal assistant to the stars, isn’t going to lie. Yes, she’d had a few that night. It was Halloween weekend and she was painting the town in her Hollywood neighborhood.
Thinking back on it, the 28-year-old can’t recall exactly when she let her guard down. But on Sunday morning, before she could shake out the cobwebs in her studio apartment, a grim discovery shook Rashelle’s perfect world.
Her cellphone was gone.
Big deal, you say?
You must not be 28.
For many people of that generation, nothing is more essential than the cellphone. This was particularly true for Rashelle.
“That’s my whole life,” she says, and whether she had lost it or the phone was stolen, she was determined to get it back, no matter what.
Her Samsung was one of those phones that does everything but tie your shoes. A tiny computer and personal digital assistant, Rashelle also used it for e-mail. Her daily calendar was in there, along with contact information for hundreds of friends and clients, including the passwords, direct lines and credit card numbers of A-list celebrities.
She could almost hear the words “You’ll never work in this town again.” It’s not good advertising for a personal assistant to be so klutzy that the American Express cards of major celebrities might fall into the hands of thieves.
Rashelle tore through her apartment -- “It was pretty disorganized,” the professional life organizer admits -- making sure the phone wasn’t there. She called a cab company to see if she’d left it in a taxi. She walked all the way to Boardner’s, where people were throwing down drinks at 9 a.m., but nobody had noticed sunrise, let alone a missing phone.
Rashelle began calling her cell from her home phone. No answer. So she called Sprint, told them to shut down her service and called police to file a report.
“Look,” she said, “I realize this isn’t all that important on your scale of things, but in my world, it’s everything.”
The police were great, she says. But they made it clear they couldn’t send out a team of detectives or put out an all-points bulletin for a missing cellphone.
At that very moment, another Rashelle Reading was born: detective, vigilante, crusader for truth and justice. She had to have that phone.
Having once worked at Sprint, Rashelle managed to finagle a copy of all the numbers dialed from her phone since it went missing. Some gabby deadbeat had been having a field day before she shut down service, attempting international calls and ringing up half of Los Angeles. Five calls were to the same 323 area code number, one lasting 11 minutes.
Without hesitation, Rashelle dialed that number. When a man picked up, she told him it was crystal-clear that he must know whomever had grabbed her phone. She launched into a long explanation of what the Samsung meant to her, and why he had to help her get it back, to which he finally replied:
“No hablo ingles.”
It only made Rashelle more resourceful. She wrote a letter of explanation in English and went online to have it translated into Spanish. Then she found a reverse directory on the Internet and got a name and address for the 323 number. It was on North Figueroa in Highland Park.
Rashelle had every intention of delivering the letter until she went to spinning class at Equinox, where her friend Deb offered the sage advice of an urban realist.
“Hon, you need to offer them a reward if you want your phone back.”
A reward? To get back her own property?
It seemed absurd, but then, people do pay ransom to get their kidnapped children back.
Rashelle typed out another note in English, got it translated into Spanish and went to get her apartment manager.
“He speaks Spanish,” she says. “Like every other apartment manager in L.A.”
The manager called the 323 number and offered a reward.
“A woman answered this time and asked what kind of phone it was, like she had a stack of them there,” Rashelle says. “My manager told her it was a silver-gray flip phone with Sprint. And she says, ‘Samsung?’ ”
Rashelle brightened. Yes, the woman had said, she’d return the phone for a “finder’s fee.”
Do not go over there alone, everyone told Rashelle.
So what did she do?
She jumped into her car and set out for Highland Park. But was she getting too carried away with the whole private detective thing?
This could be dangerous. The man who said “No hablo ingles” must have stolen or found her phone, then called home to Highland Park five times. That was either stupid or brazen, Rashelle reasoned, so what kind of people was she dealing with?
She called friends and gave them the Highland Park address, so in case she disappeared, they’d know what to tell police.
The neighborhood was kind of sketchy, Rashelle says. A group of men at an auto body shop watched as she pulled up to the apartment building, so she went and called the police to say she was about to go in.
“They said absolutely do not go in by yourself,” Rashelle says. A dispatcher told her to hold on and an officer would be sent to escort her to the apartment.
“But you have to be patient,” the dispatcher said.
“How patient?” Rashelle asked.
An hour, maybe. Or two.
No way. The woman with the phone had said she wouldn’t be there long, and Rashelle wasn’t going to take a chance on missing her. She had already crossed over into another world, anyway, and she wasn’t turning back now.
She rang the buzzer, a woman answered.
Fear, relief, anger, sympathy. Rashelle felt all these things. What kind of desperate life must you lead if you’re in the business of snatching someone’s phone, trying to call all over the world and then selling it back to the rightful owner?
The woman held out the Samsung. Rashelle held out $50.
The handoff was simultaneous, smooth. In a nervous response, Rashelle hugged the woman, partly out of relief and partly to keep the transaction nonconfrontational.
“I thought I better play it cool,” she says, “and not get shot.”
Police told Rashelle they could try to make a case for extortion. But she took a pass, deciding she didn’t want to get stuck in court over $50. As far as she can tell, none of the files in her phone were accessed, so all the celebrities she used to work for (she’s withholding names) can breathe a sigh of relief.
Although Rashelle has her life back, she’s still out of work. But a few more doors could open up to her now. She kind of liked this gumshoe business.
“Maybe I’ll try the FBI,” she says.
Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at email@example.com