Gone for Good Page 43

“This,” he announced, “is where it all happens.”

I saw very little. There was a computer, a printer, and a digital camera. That was about it. I looked at Abe and then at Squares.

“Does someone want to clue me in?”

“Our business is simple,” Abe said. “We keep no records. If the police want to take this computer, fine, go ahead. They’ll learn nothing. All the records are located up here.” He tapped his forehead with his finger. “And hey, lots of those records are getting lost every day, am I right, Squares?”

Squares smiled at him.

Abe spotted my confusion. “You still don’t get it?”

“I still don’t get it.”

“Fake IDs,” Abe said.


“I’m not talking about the ones underage kids use to drink.”

“Right, okay.”

He lowered his voice. “You know anything about them?”

“Not much.”

“I’m talking here about the ones people need to disappear. To run away. To start again. You’re in trouble? Poof, I’ll make you disappear. Like a magician, no? You need to go away, really go away, you don’t go to a travel agent. You come to me.”

“I see,” I said. “And there’s a big need for your”—I wasn’t sure of the term—“services?”

“You’d be surprised. Oh, it’s not usually very glamorous. Lots of times it’s just parole jumpers. Or bail jumpers. Or someone the authorities are looking to arrest. We service a lot of illegal immigrants too. They want to stay in the country, so we make them citizens.” He smiled at me. “And every once in a while we get someone nicer.”

“Like Sheila,” I said.

“Exactly. You want to know how it works?”

Before I could answer, Abe had started up again. “It’s not like on the TV,” he said. “On the TV they always make it so complicated, am I right? They look for a kid who died and then they send away for his birth certificate or something like that. They make up all these complicated forgeries.”

“That’s not how it’s done?”

“That’s not how it’s done.” He sat at the computer terminal and started typing. “First of all, that would take too long. Second, with the Net and the Web and all that nonsense, dead people quickly become dead. They don’t stay alive anymore. You die, so does your social security number. Otherwise I could just use the social security numbers of old people who die, right? Or people who die in middle age? You understand?”

“I think so,” I said. “So how do you create a fake identity?”

“Ah, I don’t create them,” Abe said with a big smile. “I use real ones.”

“I don’t follow.”

Abe frowned at Squares. “I thought you said he worked the street.”

“A long time ago,” Squares said.

“Yeah, okay, let’s see.” Abe Goldberg turned back to me. “You saw that man upstairs. The one who came in after you.”


“He looks unemployed, no? Probably homeless.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Don’t play politically correct with me. He looked like a vagrant, am I right?”

“I guess.”

“But he’s a person, see. He has a name. He had a mother. He was born in this country. And”—he smiled and waved his hands theatrically—“he has a social security number. He might even have a driver’s license, maybe an expired one. No matter. As long as he has a social security number, he exists. He has an identity. You follow?”

“I follow.”

“So let’s say he needs a little money. For what, I don’t want to know. But he needs money. What he doesn’t need is an identity. He’s out on the street, so what good is it doing him? It’s not like he has a credit rating or owns land. So we run his name through this little computer here.” He patted the top of the monitor. “We see if he has any outstanding warrants against him. If he doesn’t—and most don’t—then we buy his ID. Let’s say his name is John Smith. And let’s say you, Will, need to be able to check into hotels or whatever under a name other than your own.”

I saw where he was heading. “You sell me his social security number and I become John Smith.”

Abe snapped his fingers. “Bingo.”

“But suppose we don’t look alike.”

“There’s no physical descriptions associated with your social security number. Once you have it, you call up any bureau and you can get whatever paperwork you need. If you’re in a rush, I have the equipment here to give you an Ohio driver’s license. But it won’t hold up under tough scrutiny. But the thing is, the identity will.”

“Suppose our John Smith gets rousted and needs an ID.”

“He can use it too. Heck, five people can use it at the same time. Who’s going to know? Simple, am I right?”

“Simple,” I agreed. “So Sheila came to you?”



“What, two, three days ago. Like I said before, she wasn’t our usual customer. Such a nice girl. So beautiful too.”

“Did she tell you where she was going?”

Abe smiled and touched my arm. “Does this look like an ask-a-lot-of-questions business? They don’t want to say—and I don’t want to know. You see, we never talk. Not a word. Sadie and I have our reputation, and like I said upstairs, loose lips can get you killed. You understand?”


“In fact, when Raquel first put out feelers, we didn’t say boo. Discretion. That’s what this business is about. We love Raquel. But we still said nothing. Zip, not a word.”

“So what made you change your mind?”

Abe looked hurt. He turned to Squares, then back to me. “What, you think we’re animals? You think we don’t feel anything?”

“I didn’t mean—”

“The murder,” he interrupted. “We heard what happened to that poor, lovely girl. It isn’t right.” He threw up his hands. “But what can I do? I can’t go to the police, am I right? Thing is, I trust Raquel and Mr. Squares here. They’re good men. They dwell in the dark but they shine a light. Like my Sadie and me, see?”

The door above us opened, and Sadie came down. “I’ve closed up,” she said.

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