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Authors: JP Bloch

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BOOK: Identity Thief
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“By the way, what’s your name?”

We both laughed. I didn’t know if we were embarrassed or something else.

“Sequoia,” she said.

“And does Sequoia have a last name?”

“Falcon, of course.” She laughed again. “Just kidding. I’m Sequoia Vargas.”

Sportingly, she held out her hand for me to shake. I properly shook it.

“So, Jesse, where is home?”

Good question. Now all I needed to do was invent an answer. “I was house hunting when—you know.”

“But where were you staying?”

“With . . . uh, my mother.” Talk about a mood breaker.

But Sequoia just smiled; she had a beautiful smile. “Am I right in guessing that Mom is not Miss Congeniality?”

I rolled up my shirtsleeves; it was warm in the hospital, but Mom left me a long-sleeve shirt. “Let’s just say getting better is going to be a challenge living with my mother.”

“Don’t you at least need to get your clothes? Your car?” She felt my forehead to make sure I didn’t have a fever.

“No wheels at the moment. And as for my clothes, my mom destroyed them. That’s one of the reasons I went to the bank. We had a fight about . . . I guess you might as well know.” I sat down on the hard, lumpy hospital bed, gesturing for her to sit next to me. I clasped her hand and mustered up the most sincere expression I could. “Sequoia, I have a seven-year-old son, Frankie”—I didn’t want to give her any name that could lead to my real identity—“And I’m separated from my wife. I really
am.
Do you believe me?”

“I probably shouldn’t. But yes, I believe you, Jesse.”

I turned away, as if in private sorrow. “My mother thinks my soon-to-be ex-wife should have custody of my child. I want custody myself. My wife is . . . I guess I have to say it. She’s a heroin addict.”

“Oh my God.” Sequoia squeezed my hand in sympathy.

“I’ve told this to my mother a million times, but she doesn’t believe me. My wife has her wrapped around her little finger. My mother’s very, very traditional. She believes that children belong with their mother, period.”

“I think that’s very unfair. A child belongs with the best parent.” She tenderly rubbed my chest. “By the way, what kind of doctor are you, Jesse? If it’s okay to ask.”

“That’s perfectly all right. I only recently finished my PhD in psychology. I’ve been job searching. In fact, I missed three interviews because of everything that happened.”

Pain pills did little to keep me from getting physically aroused. And for some reason, all the lies I was telling were making me harder and harder. Then, out of nowhere, we fell into a kiss, with that dizzy feeling that makes it seem there is no other choice. It was easily the best kiss I’d ever had. I felt weak and strong at the same time as we made out on the hospital bed. It seemed that my ride home came with a bonus prize.

Sequoia sat up on the bed, combing her hair out of her face with her fingers. “I have a plan,” she whispered. “You come home with me. No strings, no expectations. We get you a suit or two for a job. If we end up hating each other’s guts, you can look for a new place at the end of the month. Hopefully, you’ll have a job by then.”

Catching my breath, I feigned deep consideration. “Okay, Sequoia. Sure.” I don’t know what I would’ve done had she not made this offer, but I tried to make it seem like I was weighing a dozen different options.

“Oh, Jesse, I don’t even have the words. To say I feel wonderfully happy sounds corny, and yet . . . ” She put her head to my heart as I stroked her long hair.

Sequoia didn’t deserve to be hurt, and I thought about telling her the truth right then and there. Only what if she was some undercover cop? Or at least
went
to the cops after hearing what I did? After all, Sequoia did seem so very, very nice. Like she’d never even had a sip of wine. Like it never occurred to her that people didn’t always tell the truth. All my life I’d let my inner good guy rule, and now that I finally met a nice girl, my inner bad guy was in charge. I guess that’s why some people are called losers.

Sequoia drove like she was taking a driving test. No speeding past amber warning lights for her. At stop signs, she came to a full stop, looking both ways even at four-way stops. The radio
very
softly played harmless, light pop rock. Still, the ride was an opportunity for her to supposedly learn more about me—where I supposedly did my graduate work, supposedly how I got married—and also for me to find out more about her.

“I was an orphan,” she said, pleasantly humming along to the innocuous music. “My parents died when I was nine.”

I stroked her knee for want of knowing what else to do.

She stopped at a light about to turn red. In the side mirror, I could see the driver behind us swearing at her.

“I was an only child. I moved in with my aunt and uncle. They had no other children. So they adopted me, and yes, they loved me like their own. I’m sorry if I sound impatient. It’s nothing personal, Jesse. Please understand. I’ve been telling this story all my life, and . . . I don’t know, with you, I want to keep things happy. My birth parents would want it, too. People treat me like damaged goods, and I’m tired of it.”

“May I ask how they . . . uh, died?”

“There was a fire.”

I could see the question made her uncomfortable—even a little impatient, after telling me why she didn’t want to go into details. Well, there was plenty of time to talk about the past. And she certainly was more forthcoming than I’d been. “So do you work?” I asked, changing the subject.

“I’m very fortunate. I have a trust fund that my parents set up for me. But I like working with kids. I volunteer at the city children’s art center a few days a week.”

“That must be fun.”

When she turned on her blinker and looked in the rearview mirror to change lanes, her concentration made you think she was flying a space shuttle. “It’s very challenging. Kids in the twenty-first century. It’s all video games and special effects. It’s hard to interest them in the idea that they can draw a picture themselves. The kids I work with have all been labeled slow, or ADD. A couple of Asperger’s. A lot of them come from—you know, not very nice families.”

“I see,” I offered sympathetically. “You must be a patient person. Patient and giving.”

Sequoia was distracted, though. “A parking place! Have I died and gone to heaven?”

We parked in front of a building that was a plain, five-story rectangle; I was seeing that Sequoia disliked anything fussy. Still, it was in an upscale neighborhood. It also was in the dead center of the city, and as my mom seldom left the suburban tranquility of her condo, it was unlikely she’d bump into me. She lived about a half hour away, but it might as well have been on the moon.

As Sequoia got her mail in the lobby, I noticed that her name was not on her mailbox in the foyer. “Is that on purpose?” I asked. “You know, keeping your name off the mailbox?” In a fit of protectiveness, I wanted to lecture her on identity theft, of all things.

Sequoia sighed, sorting through what appeared to be a typical day’s assortment of bills and junk mail. “Reporters. To this day, they hound me.” She paused at an envelope.

I saw that Sequoia’s name and address were handwritten, though there was no return address.

“Oh, no,” she said. “Not again.”

My slightly sinking feeling at the thought of getting within a million miles of a reporter gave way to concern. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

She flashed her beautiful smile. “Nothing. An old nuisance, that’s all. Go ahead and look around,” she said, as we entered her apartment. “I trust you. I need to finish reading my mail.”

The apartment featured white walls with black furniture that had white accents or black walls with white furniture that had black accents. I’m no interior designer, but I couldn’t help noticing the complete absence of colors. Nothing was even gray or tan. Her own artwork on the walls consisted of black-and-white lithographs; her salt-and-pepper shakers were white and black, respectively. For that matter, I realized she was wearing a white blouse with a black skirt and black high heels. I sneaked a peek into her clothes closet, and sure enough, everything was black, white, or black and white.

“Cool pad.” I smiled at her as she sat at the white desk in the living room.

“I’m nuts for black and white, in case you were wondering,” Sequoia said cheerfully. “I even try to
eat
black and white. White asparagus, never green. White seafood and poultry or else beef charbroiled to black. Black and white sundaes. Marble cake.”

I sat on the white coach. “That’s . . . uh, interesting.”

“I know exactly what you’re thinking.” She sat down close to me and put my arm around her. “That it’s some sort of weird thing because of my parents.” Before I could speak, she added, “Look, I’ve been in therapy. I’m not OCD or XYZ or anything else. For your information, I’ve
always
preferred black and white. It’s who I am.”

“Sounds good enough for me.” I kissed her passionately, and she responded. By the time the long, deep kiss ended, I was a pile of mush. Somewhere in the corridors of memory was my mother’s admonishment for me to move far away, but I couldn’t begin to consider leaving Sequoia for a second.

“Should we make love now, or are you hungry?”

I had the passing thought that she asked what had to be the happiest question a man could be asked. “I can only eat farina for a month.”

“It’s white, what a happy coincidence. I’ll spoon feed you like a little baby.” She quirked an eyebrow in a cute, dirty way.

We went at it three times in three different ways in less than an hour. With Betsy, I was lucky to get it three times a decade. Wasn’t there some old saying about how it’s the nice women who were the most ravenous in bed? Sequoia was solicitous of my wounds whenever we changed positions; I literally thought I might cry. In the haze of making love and pain pills, I slipped in and out of a dream in which Sequoia would reach into my gunshot wound and pull out a baby, a little girl we named Jessica. I know that must sound weird and gross, but the dream itself was beautiful.

Sequoia nudged me and fought to catch her breath. “I guess we should take you clothes shopping. After that, we’ll pick up some farina at the market around the corner.”

“Sounds like a plan.” She stood up, innocently naked, and padded her way to the master bathroom. “I like to bathe alone. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Whatever.” I lay in bed, savoring the ecstatic aftermath. A newspaper on the nightstand caught my attention. I read the headline story, “Counter Spy Ring Grows Larger.” Big surprise. There was some huge corruption scandal in the federal government, and all sorts of lifers in the CIA turned out to be selling secrets for years to China and the Middle East.

Suddenly, I had an idea.

Ondine didn’t realize how right she was when she said I should start an online business. Obviously, getting a job as Dr. Jesse Falcon was out. I might as well have turned myself in to the cops. But being myself wasn’t landing me a job, either. Sequoia’s modest lifestyle was typical of some people who were set for life. She could afford not to work, but certainly she didn’t want to live with a bum. Nor would I get Scotty back without an income. It seemed a matter of logic to use my computer savvy one more time to get money from Jesse Falcon in order to get my online business up and running. After all, thanks to the bank robbery, I was back down to zero. Ondine had suggested I spend a hundred grand, but in what seemed like a moment of restraint, I decided to see what I could do with the twenty grand I wanted in the first place. I considered myself ironically moral, like an alcoholic who usually drinks scotch thinking he was on the wagon by drinking beer instead. I rationalized that banks were insured against thievery, and wealthy people had a way of landing on their feet. Anyway, I told myself that once my business was in the black, I’d redeposit the money, and no one would have to know who I was or where I was. And simply hacking into his account to make a withdrawal was a hell of a lot safer than walking into a bank.

So in the moment, I told myself I was doing the best thing, the practical thing, the only thing. Honesty was an overrated concept, about as useful as my old Boy Scout merit badges. I really had no other choice. As for coming clean with Sequoia—or for that matter, going low profile, like my mom said—the newspaper headline gave me the perfect out.

Looking back, I realize something else. I fell in love with Sequoia at the same time I fell in love with crime. I already missed the surge of power I’d felt when my phony credit was approved or when that poor bank teller bought my story. And as nice as Sequoia was, something about her seemed a perfect fit for this new guy I was turning into. She’d be the honest one, and I’d be the one with all the crazy secrets. It was the opposite of life with Betsy. It balanced things out.

The master bath was shiny and black, and Sequoia stepped out of the bath like a dripping wet Venus. It’d started raining hard, and the pelts of water against the window made it seem like all the world was clean and wet. I gently helped to dry her off with a huge black towel. Then I stepped into the shower. Sequoia demurely did not comment on my hard-on. “Don’t get the hospital dressing too wet,” she said instead.

I turned on the hot jet spray of water but almost instantly turned it off.

“Sequoia, I have to tell you something.”

She shrugged as she towel-dried her hair. “Sure.” I put my hands on her shoulders and set aside her towel. We could barely see our reflections in the steamy mirror.

“You’re not in pain, are you, Jesse?”

Damn, she was sweet. “It’s not that at all. I . . . I just have to say it. I’m doing special work. For the government. I’ll need to set up a cover job. Something online to give me flexibility. But as for what I really do . . . You can’t ever ask me. It would put you in danger. And I may have to . . . you know, go away sometimes. And very suddenly.” Sort of like Pinocchio’s nose, once again my sexual arousal grew with each lie.

Sequoia burst out laughing. “You’re kidding, right?” I hoped my serious expression communicated that I wasn’t.

BOOK: Identity Thief
10.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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