I smiled gregariously at the young couple that walked in, going around my desk to shake both of their hands. "Hello! Hi, please take a seat." I gestured to the chairs in front of my cluttered desk. "Did Amy get you anything? Coffee, tea?"
"Oh we're fine, thank you." The young woman said, confidently taking a seat. She smiled in a friendly way at me, then glanced back at her husband or boyfriend.
He stood for a moment, hands in his pockets, before sitting down. he was obviously from money: even his regular outfit (a t-shirt and jeans) held some class and expensive stitching. Not to mention the way he just took up space and looked at everything.
I waited a moment to let them speak, settling myself behind my desk. "So, you want to leave your old lives behind." I began because the young couple in front of me clearly wasn't about to say anything. Leaning back in my ergonomic office chair, I squeezed the squishy ball my secretary got me for Christmas.
"Yes, yes, we do. And we've heard you're the best in the business." The file said the young man's name was Nathaniel Browne, and a few internet searches later I learned that he was heir to some pharmaceutical company and would inherit newspapers after his self-made mother died. Nathaniel had adopted an expression of practised boredom, while his girlfriend or fiancee or whatever looked right at me.
I smiled. "I am the best, I've relocated criminals, people running away from abusive situations, people wanting a second chance. May I ask what you're looking for, and what degree of sophistication will be needed?" This was key. Usually, I just tweaked some records, moved some money through different organizations and banks and hacked a few government databases. Et voila, a person who never existed suddenly had for twenty years, and shed their old life. One time it was easy as helping somebody move across the country.
I had a sneaking suspicion that it wouldn't be as easy with these two.
The girl, Ayla Idris, was practically a nobody. A lot of digging uncovered that she was an undergrad student who was studying biomedical engineering. A little more digging, and having Amy go undercover as a reporter finally made the pieces click. Ayla had earned an internship at the Browne Pharmaceutical Enterprise and at some point must have run into Nathaniel.
Ayla broke the silence. "Probably extremely sophisticated. You see, we're dating and want to get married," She grinned self consciously at Nathaniel. "But his family doesn't like me. I know, it's probably the most cliche thing you've ever heard. But, we love each other, and his mom has done some pretty dodgy shit to get us to break up."
There were no cliches in this business. Only patterns. Ayla and Nathaniel's story was the seventh of its kind I had seen in my career. All of them had the same plot, but different characters and motives. And, unfortunately for Ayla, none of these ended like they thought it would.
"Nathaniel, do you agree with this?" I asked, and immediately the man frowned. I raised the file. "Had to do some background, occupational hazards, you know? There's always some undercover cops trying something."
Nathaniel took Ayla's hand and looked straight at me. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. "I do agree. Ayla is unlike anybody I've ever met. She's funny, dedicated, talented. She does everything herself and the only reason my mother hates her is that Ayla threatened to publish something she found out. My mother is a lying hypocrite, and Ayla's right, she's manufacturing some insane plots to keep us apart."
Nevermind, turns out there definitely are some cliches. Nathaniel was clearly forgetting a lot of facts here. That lying hypocrite raised him and gave him all the opportunities he took for granted. It was probably why he was wearing an 8,000 dollar watch on a clandestine visit with a shady agent.
"I appreciate that, but I must warn you. The life you are asking for is completely different that life so far. You would have to leave all your friends, your family, and I mean absolutely no contact. You would have to leave your jobs, the positions you have, all of it. Do you understand? Your gym memberships, money, you would have to live differently." I did this warning every, single, time, and every single time some romantic couple fell for it, left, and then less than a year later either gave themselves away or came back.
This is why I preferred the criminals. None of this went through their heads. Ayla looked like she was beginning to have some doubts, and she glanced at Nathaniel. Clever girl, don't give up what you've worked for, I wanted to say.
Nathaniel smiled. "We know what we're getting into. So what will it take to make it happen?" Yeah, obviously the rich boy sees this as some romantic, righteous adventure. He gets to leave his cosy life, experience some "hardships" and return like nothing happened.
Only Ayla would pay the price. Leaving university, her family like that, there could be no rebuilding all this for her. It would be even worse if they got married or something.
"Right, well, if you're sure, my plan is this: I will forge and create new identities for the both of you, and relocate you to a different state and city. You must produce a sum called a living fund, which is what you will live off of as you work to get jobs and other sources of money. I must warn you, you need to give this living fund to me, so I can get you new credit cards and stuff. Under no circumstances can you use anything from your old life, including IDs, passports, credit or debit cards. You cannot use the same accounts for anything." I paused here, allowing them to take in this information. If they didn't back out now, they would soon. While love was sweet and undoubtedly very real, these were people of two different mentalities.
Nathaniel was privileged, he played sports and created art, he had travelled the world in style and had an Instagram account that proved it. No way would he be able to survive one holiday in his new life without those frills. He was a spoiled, favourite son, he had a chauffeur who he joked with and had dated a supermodel. His mother was a self-made black woman who rose to the top, married into old money and created a dynasty. While he heard stories of the struggle, and admirably worked with several charities operating in third world countries, he hadn't lived it. So far, he had gone to private schools, fancy universities, and had everything paid for.
Ayla wasn't poor, but she was lower middle class. She took more than twelve scholarships to pay her way through university, was at the top of her class, had immigrant parents who worked as a teacher and a cab driver. She had gotten her first job at fourteen, and continued to work as she studied. She was a realist, and this was probably the first "adventurous" romance she'd had. A dreamy rich boy who was wandering around his mother's company, who took an interest in her and her work.
She would adapt, he would try. But in the end, his longing for his old life, the fizzling out of a fun romance, and everything would come crashing down. The rich tended to romanticise love and being poor, and I doubted Ayla would put up with it.
I continued, "You will also need to pay my fee, which is a gold level for the amount of work that has to be undertaken. In addition, you need to decide what it is you cannot live without." I had made this mistake at the very start of my career. A criminal client had been successfully, albeit stressfully, relocated and disappeared.
The catch: the moron loved golf so much he rejoined one of this old clubs, he got the attention of an old colleague and before you know it the FBI got him and I had to dismantle years of work.
Sometimes I felt that the loneliness and stress of shedding your old identity compelled my clients to give themselves away.
"I want to continue my work in biomedical sciences, sir," Ayla replied immediately. "I want to go back to university and continue working in research."
"That is an example of something you might be able to pursue, but more likely not," I informed her, and watched her face fall. "It is possible to enrol you into a program, but you would have to re-earn all your scholarships again, study just as hard all over again, and earn the positions you would leave."
Now I'm not against love, hell my husband and I are extremely happy together. We come from radically different backgrounds, yadda yadda. But we're adults, not kids who are throwing away their futures for a fling. From what I have found, at most this relationship is three months old.
I've had leftovers in my fridge longer than that.
"Don't worry, Ayles, we'll figure out the biomed thing," Nathaniel told her, squeezing her hand. "I cannot live without football, or my art, actually, I'll figure out the football thing, but my art I want to continue," Nathaniel said, grinning.
I smiled. I had looked into Nathaniel's art, and admittedly it was stunning. However, I wonder how much he will enjoy having to rebuild a portfolio and reputation. "Right, well, you would have to abandon your portfolio and start from scratch. No agent, no galleries lined up, all over again. Oh, and not too much media coverage, I'm sure your mother or a private eye could track you down." The look on Nathaniel's face made me want to laugh. Sure I felt bad for these two, young love is a bitch. But I also don't recommend drastic action ever. Now if these two had murdered someone of course I would help them run.
But there was no mystery here, no hidden bodies. There was mostly just the awakening of a young man to the hidden realities of his life. He probably stumbled across a vivacious and razor-sharp woman who challenged him and found her interesting. A young girl who had always struggled finally found someone who was everything she wasn't. An artistic romantic, who showed her exciting things and made her feel different from the other 99 percent.
Too bad this wouldn't last. Movies always got it wrong, there was no escaping into the sunset wildly in love. Some people made it work, some people enjoyed the difficulties. But taxes, the fear when a cop approaches you, the terror of someone looking too much into your past. Not finding a job, letting a revealing anecdote slip. All of that eats away at a person, and you have to keep moving, never settling down.
Ayla leaned into Nathaniel and whispered something to him. I pretended to be deeply concerned with some paperwork. He asked her something or made a joke and she giggled.
Yeah, this was depressing to watch. But I'm not a counsellor, I'm a businessman. I don't make the rules, I just like using them to make money.
Nathaniel handed me a wad of ATM cash and smiled at Ayla.
"Well, Ethan Parker and Bahar Zaidi, say hello to the new you." I put on my best smile, only the best for my clients. "In a week a moving company will move you to the state of New York. I had Amy draft rough career paths, please choose one of them."
Ayla tested out the name, wrinkling her aquiline nose.
It was Nathaniel's turn to be nervous as he contemplated the unappealing positions on the sheet. Ayla pointed at one and made a reference to something only they understood. Nathaniel snorted. "Come on, lady, remember what happened when I tried that with your flat? I'm going to get fired within two days."
"Okay, how about, Ethan Parker, the art teacher," Ayla asked, leaning in. "You could be one of those teachers that inspire teens to be better, live their lives."
"We're still talking about American teens, right?" Nathaniel looked intrigued. "Actually, that's not too bad. I could teach them cool stuff."
"You're going to be the least popular teacher in the school." Ayla laughed. "All nerdy and bossy, wearing suspenders and a bow tie. I can't wait for you to yell at someone."
Folie a deux. I left them to this madness, excusing myself for coffee. Inevitably, when I returned the two of them would have picked out new everything and joked about turtlenecks or whatever.
I washed my face in the bathroom. The real fun was creating them, modifying their old identification slightly.
Who knows? Maybe they would succeed. I looked at myself in the mirror, and my face twisted. Nobody succeeds. You can never stop being you.