Raw and honest.
That is what Liam Stone claimed he wanted from me, but that is not what he gave me. He lied to me. He hurt me. And still, some crazy, stupid part of me clings to the idea that there could be a logical explanation for what I overheard between Derek and him last night. That same part of me that saw him as my hero, willing to fight my proverbial Godzilla. But he was never truly my hero, and after a sleepless night in the Cherry Creek Inn, I have faced reality. I cannot risk trusting him, or anyone else for that matter, at least not until I confront the past someone wants me to forget. That means leaving Colorado and the persona of Amy Bensen, and heading to Texas, which is exactly what I’m working on now.
Entering the downtown Denver pawn shop on a typical gust of Colorado wind, I swipe my long blonde hair from my face, and glance around the open space where unattended glass display shelves are arranged in a T-shape. Silence seems to be my only companion, but the all too familiar sense of being watched has me fighting the urge to turn and leave, with good reason. This is where the guy at the flea market, the one who’d made a joke of a fake ID for me, told me I can obtain the kind of high quality product that will allow me to disappear. And while I’ve lived in a bubble, allowing myself to know far too little about why and who I’ve been running from these past six years, I am crystal clear on Liam Stone’s money and power. He will hunt me down and he will find me if I don’t cover my tracks.
Glancing at the huge, black-rimmed clock on the wall to my left that reads high noon, I comfort myself with the idea that the staff must be in a back room eating lunch. Perhaps they are watching me on camera, but if so, why not come out and greet me?
“Hello?” I call out, hugging myself and feeling awkwardly underdressed in the too skimpy white shorts and red tank I’d bought at Walmart right after my dinner-turned-disaster with Liam the night before. I hate that I can’t go back to my apartment for my things without him, and who knows who else, finding me. Of course, most of ‘my’ things are items Liam bought anyway. Once I’m ready to disappear, I’ll pull my money from my old New York account and purchase some more basics that really feel like mine. Correction. Once I’m capable of disappearing. I’m ready now.
Determined to do what I’m here for and leave, I move further inside the store, silently praying the twenty bucks I gave the cab driver is enough to ensure he waits for me. “Hello?” I call again, but my answer is more silence.
Seconds continue to tick by and I am feeling increasingly uneasy. I consider walking into the back room, but considering the kind of operation this is supposed to be, I think better of that idea. Deciding to step outside, check on my cab and regroup, I turn toward the exit.
At the sound of the heavily accented voice, I rotate to find it belongs to a rapidly approaching, fifty-something burly man with a thick beard as gray and wiry as his longish hair. “I was looking for Roberto,” I say quickly, hoping this scruffy-looking stranger isn’t him yet hoping he is my answer to freedom in the same moment.
By the time the question is out, the man is in front of me, a mere few steps separating us, the scent of cigarettes wafting off of him, his jeans and t-shirt wrinkled and worn. “I am Roberto,” he declares and I am too discomfited by his nearness to be relieved I have found the man who is supposed to help me. He reaches out and lifts a strand of my long, blonde hair and it is all I can do not to shrink away from him as he adds, “My man said you were brunette.”
It takes all I have in me not to knock his hand away. “Wig,” I say, tugging my cheap, oversized purse I’d bought this morning in front of me and between us. “I brought it with me.”
“For a quick change of identity,” he comments. “Smart Mammi.”
I do not know what ‘Mammi’ means, but after the horrid ID his man at the flea market had made me, I agree it was smart. My last minute decision to toss the bottle of hair color means that, given a worst case scenario, I can still pass with my Amy Bensen photos.
He tugs roughly on the strand of my hair in his fingers before dropping his hand. “$2500.”
I gape. “What? No. I was quoted $500.”
“You need to disappear badly enough to want two hair colors. That means you need the best identification I can make you. That runs $2500.”
“I don’t have $2500. What do I get for $500?”
“Nothing. You were quoted wrong.”
My gut knots. My wig and hair color have somehow revealed the desperation I had coolly concealed from the other man. “I don’t have that much.”
“Well, then,” he says, his lips thinning, “use your flea market ID.” He turns away, dismissing me.
“No,” I say quickly, all too aware that the fake ID made this morning won’t get me through a grocery line, let alone airport security. “Wait.” He faces me again, arching a dark brow in a silent question. “I have $700.”
My mind races, calculating how much I will have left to survive with if I go higher. I settle on a firm, “$1500. That is all I have.”
His gaze rakes up and down my body, then returns to my face and I feel as if I’ve been raped. “Perhaps we can barter,” he suggests. “You give me something I want. I give you something you want.”
My heart lodges in my throat. I want to survive. I want answers. I want to make Amy Bensen disappear but not like this. Not like this. “No, I–”