Rupert looked through the file in his hands before getting out of his car. New ID, check. Real estate listing, check. Keys for a 2008 Honda Accord, check. Directions for everything his client has to do for the next eight months while she waits for trial, check.
Rupert opened his car door and stepped out onto the drizzle glazed street and headed toward the cozy diner. Mable’s was his favorite place to conduct this type of business. He even had his own booth in the back where he had a good view of the door. Plus, Mable had the best apple pie. Her coffee was mediocre because she made it so hot that it tasted burnt, but the pie made up for it.
The bell over the door tinkled as he entered, and Mable herself nodded at him from behind the yellow Formica counter where she was clearing some dishes from the last customers. Rupert nodded back and held up his finger to show he wanted his usual order. He then proceeded to his favorite red vinyl booth and settled in to wait.
His client should be there in fifteen minutes. Rupert himself always arrived fifteen minutes early so that he could settle in and be prepared for whatever may happen. In the eight years he had been doing this, he thought he had run into all of the possible situations. A guy who decided to run, a woman who wanted to bring her boyfriend, a guy who was followed and got stuck in a standoff. Rupert was prepared.
Mable brought his pie, coffee, and a small bowl filled with an assortment of creamers. “How are you doing today, sweetie?” she asked genially.
“Oh, same old, same old. You know how it goes.” Rupert grabbed a sugar packet to dump in his coffee, and Mable returned to her work.
Rupert glanced at his watch, and the hand ticked closer to twelve. He generously added hazelnut creamer to his coffee and stirred before sipping. The sweetness almost overrode the burnt flavor… almost. He was preparing for his first bite of pie when his client entered.
Rupert stood as the blond swiveled her head searching the room for him. She saw him and nodded with a frown. As she approached, he took in her hair tied back in a ponytail and her relaxed attire of a baggy red t-shirt synched at the bottom to accentuate her curves and black yoga pants.
“Please take a seat,” he invited, motioning to the bench seat across from his.
“So how is this going to go?” she asked, setting her designer handbag on the seat before sliding in after it. She was straight to the point, which Rupert hadn’t expected.
His client was an Instagram model with thousands of followers who had gotten entangled in some nasty mob business. Who would have thought that notorious mobster Big Nose Tony would have a thing for Instagram?
“You’re going to send out one last pic to throw them off your scent. It has to be something completely unrelated to where you’re going or what you’re doing.”
“How am I supposed to do that? You wouldn’t tell me where I’m going.”
“Pick something from your collection that includes a beach,” Rupert said simply. He looked over to Mable and caught her eye. She was there in two seconds to take the young woman’s order.
“Just a water,” the blond said.
When Mable left, Rupert slid the folder over the table. “Your new name is Ingrid Moore. You’re from Iowa but are moving to Michigan. This is your new ID,” he said pointing to the ID with a less than flattering picture of his client, “and this is your apartment.” He pointed to the listing.
“It’s only one bedroom and doesn’t mention a dishwasher,” she noted.
“Right. It’s basic and unnoticeable like you are going to be for the next eight months.”
“How am I going to keep up with my Instagram?” she asked. “Part of my routine is my cooking pictures.”
“That brings me to the next thing. Let me see your phone.” Rupert held out his hand.
The blond now known as Ingrid reached into her bag and pulled out an iPhone in a sparkly purple case and posted one last pic to Instagram. Rupert took the phone from her and handed her a gray, utilitarian flip phone.
“This is your phone now. Only I have the number, and my number is programmed. You are to call no one. You understand?”
“How would I call anyone? You have my phone with all of my contacts.”
“There will be absolutely no social media. No Tweets. No pictures on your Instagram. Not even a Facebook message to your grandma for her birthday.” He was stern. He had had clients break this rule before. Sometimes people were so addicted that they couldn’t resist the siren’s call of spying on an old flame or connecting with family.
Ingrid pouted. “This is going to kill my brand. I am going to lose so many followers. You just don’t understand.”
“Don’t worry. In eight months, you’ll stage a comeback and explain that you had something huge that kept you from your fans like a Buddhist yoga retreat that has made you a more aware influencer. You will post about the plight of the Tibetans, and everything will be all better.” Rupert neglected to mention that many people that go into Witness Protection need to stay there beyond the trial to prevent retribution for their testimonies.
“The keys there are for your new apartment and a gray Accord you’ll find parked out front. Your car will be towed to a safe place for storage. In the Accord, you will find a box of supplies: some clothes, some food to get you started, and a box of brown hair dye.”
Ingrid lifted the tip of her ponytail. “I haven’t had brown hair since I was fourteen.”
“Well, Ingrid, you have brown hair now, and you are expected to maintain it through the trial. It is part of your disguise. You are too recognizable as you are. How many followers do you have?”
“Three thousand, two hundred, and eighty-five as of this morning,” she answered without missing a beat. “What am I supposed to do for the next eight months if I can’t post?”
“Watch some TV, read a book, practice some new recipes,” Rupert suggested. “Just stay incognito.”
She rolled her eyes. “Maybe I’ll start writing a book,” she said. “No one would believe all this anyway.”
“As long as the jury believes it,” he said and took the last bite of his pie. “No getting in touch with agents to discuss book deals until this is all over. Your mantra for the next eight months is ‘I am incognito.’”
She stared at him.
“Repeat after me,” he said. “I am incognito.”
“I am incognito,” she said mockingly.
“Say it again like your life depends on it, which it kind of does.”
“I am incognito,” she said with less attitude.
“Good. Now, I have one last thing for you.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out a prepaid debit card wrapped in a piece of paper. “This has some funds loaded to it and a website login for the local grocery delivery service where you will be staying. Use it. Have your groceries delivered as much as possible to avoid time in public. Tip fifteen percent. Don’t be stingy, and don’t be too generous to call attention to yourself. You have a budget, so don’t be too extravagant. None of those caviar omelets you like to fix.”
“You’ve seen my work,” Ingrid observed with a smile.
“I do my research,” Rupert replied. “I also included a copy of Harry Potter in your supplies since you said it was one of your favorite book series.
“Your GPS is programmed to take you to your new home with a few pre-approved rest-stops along the way. Don’t wander off the path. Give me a call if you have any questions or run into any issues.
She looked down at the table as if pondering how she had gotten here or what she was going to do now, and then she looked up. “Is this really it?”
“This is it for now. I’ll be in touch to check in on you when you arrive and when we get closer to the trial date. Remember your mantra,” he said, standing from his seat.
“I am incognito,” she said with feeling this time and shook his hand.
He watched her head out the door with a tinkle of the bell, and he placed a ten-dollar bill on the table for Mable. He’d be back next week with his next client. He really needed to hit the gym to make up for all of this pie.