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Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013, 12:13 pm
The story so far

I could talk about my life - but whatever, livejournal, there are more perplexing things going on right now.

Last night around midnight Edbury and I were gchatting about an interview I have coming up. Even though we're roommates we probably talk more often over gchat than in person - but also I'm not home. I'm house- and dog-sitting for a friend in Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco.

I've gone through my texts and gchats with Edbury and put the events together in the following narrative:

It's midnight and I'm talking to Edbury about, I don't know, TV or the internet or something. While we're chatting, Edbury receives a weird text. It was from 972 676 9168, but according to the metadata appended to the SMS that's a proxy for 931 338 XXXX. The message reads:

half hour, union square

Now, we live just a few blocks from Union Square. Eddie and I were intrigued of course. Mysteries! I was kinda nervous about him being all alone, and thought he shouldn't bring his wallet or phone, and wished I was there to safety-wingman him for ... whatever it was. But: Sausalito. Mostly I was thinking it was some weird OKCupid person. While I don't think he's all Eyes Wide Shut in his personal life, he has had what I would consider to be very mildly unusual assignations through OKC, so maybe it was just a weird hookup thing. Weird, but just you know, lower case w.

We debate whether he should go at all, and he decides he will. And at the required time, Edbury leaves the house and starts walking over there. He responds to the text with

I'm ready.

and receives the response


Weird. Five minutes later Edbury messages me

There are like. Cops everywhere in the park and a guy on the corner clearly waiting with a briefcase.

The cop part isn't too weird. The Nike Women's Marathon is on Sunday, and the park is mostly taken up with the marathon's pavilion and registration tent, and is well covered by the fuzz for civic safety purposes, presumably.

But that guy. Just standing there. Briefcase. Edbury's description:

brown blazer and slacks
chin length hair, but clean cut

Edbury starts kind of circling around him, walking past and trying to surreptitiously take a picture. He definitely doesn't know the guy and definitely has never seen him before.

But also like, that could just be a guy who's standing near the park. At 12.30 at night. In empty San Francisco. Coincidence, right? Then the guy takes out his phone and dials a number and EDBURY'S PHONE RINGS.

The guy is calling me. It's def him.

Edbury is standing too close to him to answer the phone without the guy realizing Edbury is standing kind of near him (though Edbury has walked within a few feet of him several times at this point, and there's no one on the street). Edbury doesn't answer.

Also: the phone call? FROM A DIFFERENT NUMBER THAN THE TEXTS. The caller ID on the phone call reads 415 399 1613.

Yeah no idea who this guy is.
Okay what if I text him "just leave the case." ?
I'm kind of just waiting and watching from behind.

Edbury and I spend a few minutes gchatting and trying to figure out what to do next. Edbury is finally like, fuck it, and texts him

Just leave the case

The guy checks his phone, sees the text, looks at it for a second, then starts SPRINTING.

What do I do he's running down post and I'm like semi chasing


Nm I stopped wtf I can't chase some stranger

And that was the end of the night. Edbury watches the dude recede into the distance. It was like 1.30am at that point. Edbury went home and I got set up in the guest room here and we both went to bed. Sorta. Both of us sat up all night thinking about that shit.

This weirdness was the first thing on my mind when I woke up today. I was still inside this weird dream. And I immediately messaged Edbury and started trying to research the numbers on the internet. There are a bunch of boards where people talk about the robonumbers they get calls from. Mostly it's just like "Candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, left message in Spanish", but for the first number Edbury got the text from - 972 676 9168 - there are these two notes on 800notes.com, left on Mar 3, 2011:

I keep getting a text from this number with a +17864437089. The text goes on about us being friends and I need to let him know what's up. He adds little smiley faces and says his name is Guille...


Just got a text from this number followed by the word "Diamond"

The other, second number is registered to a Jeffrey Cox, age 59, 895 Chamberlain Ct Mill Valley, CA 94941.

A bunch of us who are fascinated by this started calling. The first number, 972 676 9168, just yields the message "Could not complete your call, please try again".

Will called the second one, 931 338 XXXX, the "Jeffrey Cox" number.

well I got through to the second number
and I said
and a male answered
sounded mid 20s/30s
and he was like
what? hello?
and then was like
you have the wrong number
and hung up

I called the 931 338 XXXX number myself an hour later and talked to the guy for a (very) little while. He seemed slightly older to me definitely more 50s/60s than 20s/30s. But he spoke with a distinct Hindi accent. Will thought it was Spanish-sounding, but I think he's wrong. The guy admitted he lived in California but refused to answer any of my other questions, and legitimately didn't seem to know wtf I was talking about. He said he didn't know anything about Union Square. A little while later he called me back wanting to know who I was. I didn't tell him anything.

James/Jim called the third number, 415 399 1613, the one Edbury supposedly received the phone call from. It's weird computer noise and James hangs up, frightened. I call it and record the sound:

Now I'm trying to find a program that can turn audio data streams into something more useful. Though Jim is probably right that it's just some handshake protocol, not actual data.

I try calling the 786 443 7089 number from the "Guille" comment, in case that's not a red herring or coincidence. Not in service.

Then: Edbury deduces the Indian guy is "uninvolved."

she* is like 90% sure the second number is spoofed
his number is just text content sent from google voice
but whoever owns that number could just set that

*[Edbury's computer-engineer co-worker, who is also investigating]

Edbury's Jim's theories:

some weird misguided silk road FBI thing
a viral marketing scam
and actual awkward and maybe shady wrong number

My theory in the comments. Right now I've been at this for like twelve hours straight and no matter how fascinated I am, I haven't had anything to eat or drink, and I need to put this computer down and go to the bathroom. And maybe try to get some work done today. But damn. It'll be hard to pull my brain out of this.

UPDATE 1.56pm PST The "Jeffrey Cox" number, 931 338 XXXX, at the end of which I spoke to a Hindi-sounding man, texts me asking what is going on, and saying "My phone was not with me". I reply asking if he is saying his phone has been out of his possession in the last 24 hours. Awaiting reply.

UPDATE 3.36pm PST Jeffrey Cox number redacted because it is in fact the number of a real person.

UPDATE 3.42pm PST Jeffrey Cox number texts me to say his phone was out of his possession yesterday at "orientation", and his friends - who wanted to play with his 41 megapixel camera - sent out texts as a joke, asking random numbers to meet them at Union Square. This would have been early in the day though, not at midnight. He apologizes profusely. But if that is true ... who was Briefcase Guy? Jeffrey Cox number doesn't seem to be able to check his phone to ascertain whether those texts were or were not sent from his phone. I wonder if he isn't just assembling fiction from the fact that I asked him about Union Square when we spoke earlier, and questioned him about whether texts had been sent from his phone. He says "if you say it was from my number its impossible to say or prove that it was not me".

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 07:17 pm (UTC)

I'm pretty positive at this point that this is just an elaborate alternate-reality game for the future-set role-playing game that Edbury DMs. I think the biggest give-away that the only people whom I have direct knowledge of who are interacting with this narrative are me, Edbury, Will, and Jim: That is, the DM and three players of the future game. Edbury's other close friends do not appear to have been contacted by Edbury when this shit started hypothetically going down. He's has been relaying the theories and investigations of his co-workers, but I haven't spoken to any of them directly.

But still. The fact that I didn't even start considering that possibility until an hour or two ago ... that I've been consumed by this for the last 12 hours is a testament to how awesome it is.

The future-set RPG is a really good one, btw. We started playing last year. It's set a couple hundred years from now, but in the game's canon the apocalypse happened on October 31, 2013. Soonsville.

At this point I honestly don't even care if this is Edbury playing us all. I don't care. This is amazing and he should quit his day job and just do The Game for a living.

Edited at 2013-10-18 08:24 pm (UTC)

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 10:47 pm (UTC)

This is brilliant

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 07:40 pm (UTC)

Fair enough, I DID call the crazy machine noise number and hang up, frightened. Not my brightest or bravest moment.

Anyways, there's no way for us to know whether or not that sound is something totally mundane-- like, who knows. Maybe a telecom engineer would hear it and immediately say, "Oh, that's a totally stock standard 'analog modem handshake' sound."

Also those are my three theories. Re: your theory-- I'm not convinced, but since my response ("Proceed boldly forward!") is the same either way, it's immaterial to me.

I'm devoting most of my research time looking up currently ongoing ARGs and virals in the Bay Area.


Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 08:19 pm (UTC)

Oh, my other theory is that Edbury was somehow targeted for a scam, which doesn't explain everything. Like, remember that if you respond to one of those Nigerian Prince e-mails and go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole the scammer eventually voice calls you and may even meet with you either in person or via an accomplice or something.

It might seem insane and impossible to have been singled out for some bizarre con, but I mean-- the odds of being targeted for some kind of fraud are probably in the same tier as the likelihood of getting mugged (that's maybe more common) or kidnapped (probably less common).

Also, I'm just thinking of all of the contexts in which you're texting with someone -- anyone, maybe a stranger, maybe someone you THINK you now but don't, maybe you're doing something illicit or weird -- and you get a text that says "Just leave your bag." In these contexts splitting is totally a reasonable course of action.

I also want to be clear for the record that I hung up because I was specifically frightened of Sadako and/or a mimetic thought-virus being transmitted to me via the modem sound. I think these are fair concerns. THANKS FOR UPLOADING THE RING VIDEO TO YOUTUBE, DAVID.


Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC)

Wait. Isn't that just the sound you get when you call a number that's set up to receive faxes?

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 10:23 pm (UTC)

The traditional Close Encounters scale is visual, we need to come up with a complementary scale for non-physical interactions. What happens when you text with an aliens? When you talk to one? When you flash SETI signals? I propose we amend the "close" part of the nomenclature?

Secondly, I believe this is what we in "the business" call a Ground Zero moment right here folks. One for the history books. Well, if there were going to be any more history books.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)

This is Washu. How come it offers me 5 or 6 possible log-ins but none of them are LiveJournal?? Whatever.

So anyway, what, he left the case there?? Unattended?

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 07:58 pm (UTC)

No, he ran away with the briefcase.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 07:56 pm (UTC)

I'm gonna call all these numbers: "I'm gonna chase you again, and this time... This time you won't get away."

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)

I feel like if we were there together we would have run him down.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 08:13 pm (UTC)

How does he handle PVP in his game? I personally go outside and smoke- let the players kill each other without my help.

Sat, Oct. 19th, 2013 04:03 am (UTC)

You know ... I don't think I've ever been in a game where there was an instance of pvp.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC)

I'm fucking exhausted.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 08:34 pm (UTC)

intriguing. if edbury is gaming you, my advice to him would be don't use a briefcase next time. briefcase is too cliche. bowling ball bag or old school laptop case might be more mysterious but less gamey. unless i am totally wrong and sf financial district guys still carry a briefcase (or anyone for that matter).

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 08:54 pm (UTC)

You have awesome friends. That is all.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 08:56 pm (UTC)

But everything that's happened has happened to HIM. How is that fun or interesting?

I hate to say it, but I don't think this is anything at all. I think it was a wrong number, and the "spooky sound" is a fax machine. Sorry to be such a wonderkiller.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 09:04 pm (UTC)

And the reason for the proxy numbers is that it's a drug deal. When Edbury was like "leave the case," dude thought he was being robbed of the goods.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 09:59 pm (UTC)

you probably already did this, but the number you are waiting for a reply from is Teresa Dennany, in kalamazoo. She has one facebook friend, and her one facebook friend "Terry Hancock" has one friend, her. However, the creepy continues, check out when I google this woman..

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC)

(obviously not related but just..everything is weird!)

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 10:02 pm (UTC)

yeah, whaaaa

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 10:09 pm (UTC)

Oh wait, yeah, for a minute I thought it was the same person and I was flipping out.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 10:25 pm (UTC)

Do you mind if I signal boost this, try to crowd source it through Tumblr & Twitter & some other back channels?

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 10:46 pm (UTC)

yeah, just let me obfuscate that Indian guy's number though, so he doesn't get 10,000 reddit phone calls. He seemed to be legit uninvolved ....

at least until this last series of texts when he claims his friends sent texts about Union Square to random people yesterday. Which ... Now I don't know what to think.

Edited at 2013-10-18 11:07 pm (UTC)

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 10:55 pm (UTC)

uh, ok, done, go for it

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 10:30 pm (UTC)

This is like the white, San Fransisco version of the elaborate drug deals from the Wire! I'm no criminal investigations expert, but it seems like the most reasonable explanation is that someone just texted a wrong number?
I took a nap with my baby right after I read this, had a bizarre dream about it, woke up thinking I must have invented it myself, got on my iPad again and nope, it's real.

Sat, Oct. 19th, 2013 04:04 am (UTC)

That's how I felt waking up today too.

Fri, Oct. 18th, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC)

My biggest take away is that I should have gone down the rabbit hole as deep as possible when I had the chance. That case should be in our hands, mundane or no.

Sat, Oct. 19th, 2013 12:31 am (UTC)

Yeah. Though I'm not entirely ready to give up on the idea that some crazy drug shit was going down and you just happened to pick up the phone (like Miracle Mile!). So I'm glad you didn't wake up dismembered in a barrel of acid today.

Sat, Oct. 19th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC)

Yeah, the "my friends sent texts to random numbers telling people to meet them in Union Square" sounds like bullshit in and of itself. I accept Edbury's spot judgement -- that Briefcase Guy's phone use corresponded too well with Edbury's received texts and voice calls to be coincidental. I dunno, it sounds like a lie just based on... It's super unlikely-- is that a thing that real humans do with their friend's phone? Really? And actually get somebody near Union Square? And then there's coincidentally a creepy Briefcase Guy? And why didn't he relate this story when people started calling him on the phone investigating?

Anyways, just putting this out there but the Jeffrey Cox voice doesn't seem to correspond to the caucasian-seeming Briefcase Guy.

After a day of research I'm confident that this isn't part of a currently known ARG, although that doesn't rule out that Edbury was on the very bleeding edge of one by some weird chance. I dunno, though, the whole point of an ARG is that they swiftly yield results to basically anyone who puts in any effort at all, right?

Also ruling out anything involving silk road, but that was a reach in the first place.

My only knowledge about drug deals comes from Breaking Bad, so my usefulness as an analyst is pretty limited, but Google research suggests that real drug dealers use *67 and disposable mobile phones as opposed to spoofed numbers.

Best theory I've got is that Briefcase Guy and the actual real owner of the Jeffrey Cox Phone know each other and are the world's dumbest first-time Shady Stuff Dealers. Who knows what kind of shady venture; it could be anything. It explains the awkward backtrack lie, the choice of location -- a public and safe place for a nervous guy -- the sudden sprinting escape; the weird, stilted code-speak over text (donations?).

Doesn't explain how Edbury's phone # got into the mix, but I mean... Even though it's spectacularly unlikely that you might dial a wrong number and get someone coincidentally 7 minutes away from your meeting place, it's still not impossible. It doesn't sound completely unbelievable, anyways. And I guess that if this is an even vaguely accurate picture of events that some kind of Six Degrees of Edbury Enegren thing might explain the phone # mix-up.