Some people just want to get away. The process of disappearing professionally is a business transaction, and for a few weird months in 2009, I used to be the guy you pay.
I helped ten clients during my short tenure. All of them could be defined the same way. Middle-aged male. Ten more years of child support. Twenty years until retirement. A few kids who hate his guts, a wicked witch of an ex-wife, and no current plans in place to end his own miserable little life. Maybe you know the type. He’s past his prime, now. He keeps a gun in the desk drawer of his shitty little apartment. But the bottle of whiskey on the kitchen counter always comes first, and the fists follow soon after.
My job was to assist with the technical details. Say someone needed a new passport, or citizenship, or some other form of identification – all of those individuals were sent my way. Each part of our organization acted as an individual link in the chain. A third party always escorted the client to our neutral location. I met them there. Then they were off to the next stop. I never met anyone but the client and handler. It was safe that way, and we never broke the tradition. Not until my final customer on my last day.
I decided the man’s new name would be Jonathan Curtis shortly after seeing his photograph. He stood at five feet seven inches. He weighed approximately 220 pounds. Jon was divorced, light-skinned, and had a mess of faded freckles on his face that met a mostly full head of curly brown hair. I found a match for his ID in no time. The fake driver’s license was based in Toronto, Canada, but that did not mean Jon had to go there. A little computer design and ingenuity worked wonders in the 90s. My fakes fooled most international systems. Technology at the time offered little in comparison to today.
I met Jonathan for the first and last time inside a coffee shop in New Jersey.
I recognized our handler immediately across the rows of glossy tables. Sam was hard to miss in most public places. He stood over six feet tall and usually wore a burly beard that made him look insane. I knew my company liked to offer a subtle sign of their strength by sending a large handler – just in case any customer got the idea that they could be fucked on the payment process.
Sam stood and gestured me over to a booth in a corner of the shop. I pushed my way through the crowds of people and sat down across from the man now known as Jon. The tabletop was full of food.
“Sorry, bud, we got started without you. Want me to order you something?” Sam asked in his usual gruff voice.
I shook my head and tried to find a spot for my briefcase. He nodded and continued to talk to Jon with a mouthful of pancakes.
“Our associate will be giving you the necessary paperwork to leave the country. We don’t care where you go. In fact, it’s better that you don’t tell us.”
Jon seemed to like that tidbit.
“And, my wife…. She won’t find me?”
I tried my best not to roll my eyes. Sam offered no such restraint.
“Missing persons cannot be forced to pay alimony. But the key is that you stay missing, right? The moment you can back, all of those rules can be retroactively applied.”
Jon nodded eagerly. He seemed to like the serious tone in Sam’s voice. I could see the metaphorical hamster spinning happily in his balding little head. ‘It’s happening! I’m free!” it screamed.
“Of course, of course,” he offered instead.
I brought out the necessary paperwork and began my part of the speech.
“Each point of identification will eventually be detected as fake by newer technology. That is a given. The key would be to find a foreign location and try to fool them. Use it to get something legitimate. Then you will have a paper trail.“
About halfway through, Sam started to rotate his shoulder with one arm. I thought the motion was absurd so I stopped my spiel and stared at him.
“Hey, you alright?” I asked.
“All good, little buddy, just my arm starting to cramp up. This has been happening a lot lately.”
I continued with the speech. I outlined the necessity of legitimate documentation and the possible crimes that could result if none were obtained. But my rant was interrupted again a moment later when Sam slumped over in his salad.
“Oh shit,” Jon mumbled with horror. “Oh shit, shit, shit.”
Oh shit was an understatement. I had no other contacts with the organization. Sam was the one who hired me. I had no idea what to do next. I thought of ditching the location altogether. But when a woman walked by and started to scream, she broke my line of thought.
“Oh my GOD, this man needs a doctor! What are you two doing! Call a doctor!”
We stared at her stupidly.
“Yes, call a doctor!” I shouted back, eventually, as if overcoming the shock of my apparent friend’s heart-attack. “I am going to check for medicine in his car!”
Jon gave me a look of pure murder as I whisked out of the growing crowd of the coffee shop and pulled out my phone. Sam had given me an emergency number when we first met. I never called it. I never knew who would answer, and I never really wanted to fucking find out. But panic took over. So many people had seen my face. So many people were flocking to our booth. I worried about being identified. I worried about being caught. I needed help.
I called the number and it went straight to voicemail. A moment later, I received a text from an unsaved number.
No calls. Text please. Who is this?
Sirens started to fill the street. Jon stumbled outside through the front door of the shop and rushed over to meet me. I rushed a response to the text.
“Tech guy. Sam had a heart attack. Need new plans,”
The Messenger app hesitated for a moment, then someone started to type back. Within twenty seconds, an answer appeared on screen.
Leave the scene. Bring the client to this secondary location. Use the elevator on the left to travel to the fifteenth floor. We will meet on the rooftop with a helicopter. The address is as follows. Hold for further instructions while we process client payment.
I shoved the cell into my pocket and pulled Jon by the arm as the police and firefighters started to arrive. He followed willingly. I think he liked the idea that we had a plan. My heart thudded so loud in my chest that it became hard to put up a matching strong appearance. I had never done this before. We were all just individual links in a chain. I had never seen the next step.
Luckily, the address given seemed to be one I recognized. The downtown of our city held a few popular high rises. We found it after a five minute walk. I hesitated for a moment, and we shuffled in awkwardly, past a posted doorman. He never seemed to notice. The elevator on the left required a bit of a wait. Jon continued to pepper me with questions the whole time.
“What the fuck happened? Is he dead? Will this affect my escape? I worked with Sam directly.”
I tried to tell him that I didn’t know. That it didn’t matter. That everything was fine. Whatever he wanted to hear. Eventually, mercifully, the elevator came. We hopped on and rode it up to the top floor as my cell pinged again from my pocket.
Transaction complete. We have the funds.
I sighed in relief. I thought that could be it.
Sam is no longer an option. You are our last resort. If the following task is completed efficiently, we will grant a substantial payout. If not, we will consider other measures.
The ultimatum made me shiver. Jon looked at me suspiciously. The doors opened at the fifteenth floor, and we emptied into a wide open concrete rooftop. I almost collapsed from sweet relief at the sound of obnoxiously loud helicopter blades hurdling a short distance away. Jon covered his ears as my phone pinged again in my pocket.
There are gloves under the white construction bucket.
Push him over the edge.
I stared at my phone stupidly as Jon paced back and forth across the roof. He shouted something about finally feeling free. Finally feeling alive. He pulled the belt from his waist high dad jeans and let them sag past his knees. Then he danced around like a clown as wind from the approaching helicopter started to push him back. He tossed his glasses to the ground and stomped them out right in front of me, and then shouted something about not being able to see.
I tried to count how many had been led to the same fate. Guilt filled me like a virus. I grabbed a nearby brick and smashed the phone to pieces while Jon danced to the beat of his own song. I made sure to target the sim card. The helicopter blades whirred closer as I discreetly smacked the elevator down button and offered an awkward grin to my last client.
“Good luck in your next life, Jon. I’m sorry.”
He did not hear my apology, but nodded like a fool and waved anyway with a look of sheer bliss. I have never seen someone so happy before or since. Like all of the weight of his middle class, over privileged, nonsensical burden finally came crashing down around him. I tried to smile as the doors closed. I tried to escape the downstairs lobby normally. I tried to walk slowly down the street. But before I could make it to a bus stop or train, it started to rain, and I slipped on the sleek concrete. Call that fate. Moments later, Jon fell from the sky, and exploded twenty feet from my feet.