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The International Writers Magazine: Life Fiction:

How To Disappear Completely
Mark Robinson

"You have reached the How to Disappear Completely automated helpline; you will shortly hear a list of options; please consider these carefully before selecting the corresponding number on your keypad."
Telephone wedged between his ear and shoulder, he peered out through the blinds at the black car still parked across the street.

"To disappear completely, press one; if you wish to vanish for between three and five years, press two; for all other queries, please press three; not sure how long you wish to disappear for, please hold the line to speak to our operator."

With an impatient finger, Karl pressed one and waited.

"How to disappear completely. Press one to amend your existing account details; if you have previously received a quote from one of our representatives, or online, please press two; for all other enquiries, press three."

He listened to the pre-recorded female call-centre voice reel through the options before punching number three on his phone. "Your call is in a queue; please hold the line while we try to connect you; all our calls are recorded for training and monitoring purposes. Your call is very important to us."

Movement inside the black car flinched him back from the window onto his knees; phone and hold music lost from his ear, skittering across the vinyl flooring against the skirting board. Keeping below the windowsill, he reached out for the phone and slammed it back next to his ear.
"…how can I help you?" Another female voice; this one was slightly breathless and abrupt.
"Yeah, hi; I need to disappear, today." He thought about adding a please to the end, but didn’t really think he had the time. Eyes tentatively peering above the windowsill, the front passenger window of the black car slid down to eye level revealing a lungful of blue smoke mist above the dark interior.
"Okay, Sir; I just need to take a few details from you…"
"Can’t you just send somebody round here?" Black car’s passenger window now fully down; the driver, sat in shadow; the whites of his eyes glaring up in Karl’s direction.
"I’m afraid it’s not that simple, Sir. If you’d like to give me your surname and postcode, please?" The voice, in no rush whatsoever; sat somewhere safe in front of her computer screen, headset snugly in place atop her head like an electronic halo.

With each question, Karl spat out his answer as he watched the man in the black car smoke his cigarette; flick the stub out into the road; roll up the passenger window; then, slowly exit the driver’s side door.

The man was lean; he stepped out of the car like a circus performer on stilts and stood on the pavement opposite watching the window with a grin that stretched across his face like a lipstick line. His hair was jet black and slicked away from his forehead, causing his face to appear more drawn and pale that it naturally was. Beneath his neck he wore a loose-fitting shiny black faux-leather jacket with pockets that he folded his dangling arms into; below that, he wore faded blue demin jeans and white trainers. To look at him wasn’t that intimidating; he appeared as a weird bloke you might see perched at the bar of the local. But, the reason why Karl feared for his life was he actually knew the man; this recent stalker, now checking the flow of traffic before he crossed the road to approach his building, had apparently died on his twenty-first birthday in a car crash that Karl caused around fifteen years ago. This man, now wandering across the street toward his front door, was for all intents and purposes dead and buried to everyone unfortunate enough to have met or known him.

If it hadn’t been for Karl spotting him while walking through a motorway services two days ago, the man might still be dead. If Karl hadn’t needed to interrupt his short journey home from a training course in order to stop off and use the public facilities, he might still be none the wiser; in fact, he wouldn’t have stared at him in the mirror across from the urinals and thought he seemed familiar (nobody could mistake this man for anyone else) and ask him if he was, who he thought he was. The realisation that this man should still be dead didn’t dawn on him until they started talking outside and be revealed that he hadn’t died but had faked his own death all those years before.

Laughter and the humour in it left Karl as the man did toward his own car parked outside in the two hours free parking area as anger took over; Karl was almost imprisoned for his supposed death. Actually, Karl had been quite shaken up for a couple of years following that accident which had affected almost every relationship he had been in; he had also lost his job and touch with his family.

Outside Karl ran over to the dead man walking to his parked car and let fly the burning and, until now, buried hostility he had unconsciously held toward this man; causing quite a scene for groups of passers by.

From what he could visually recollect of the encounter, the man had backed off to retrieve his wallet from his back pocket; Karl assuming he was trying to buy his forgiveness where, in response, lunged at the man, knocking him to the ground. Several minutes of scuffling later, Karl was pulled off the man who got up and disappeared into his car and fled the service station car park before Karl could free himself from the good Samaritans in shorts and business suits.

It was in the space previously taken by his old friend’s black car that Karl spotted the wallet; and, it was inside, as he bent to collect it, that he found the business card for How to Disappear Completely. But, that card only held his attention for a fraction of the time than the driving license that carried his friend’s new identity. And, with this evidence in his possession, Karl decided to take it to the police and, belatedly, clear his name for the crime he never committed.

It was sometime the following day when Karl found that the business card must have fallen out of the wallet and onto the floor of his car; and sometime after that when he received a telephone call from his old tall still-breathing friend who threatened his life for what he had done; as his new life was now over, soon so would Karl’s. "It was just a matter of time" Was what the man said.

From the high-rise window looking down, the tall man was no longer in view; phone still pressed against his ear, Karl pleaded with the woman on the other end of the line to do something.

"I’m sorry, Sir; but your account appears to be already active; one of our operatives are on their way to get you started."
It had been fear; real and genuine terror that some supposed dead man from his past was coming to kill him. And, now? Was it just another joke at his expense? This lanky loser that had died in the car wreck he had been airlifted from, only gaining consciousness in his hospital bed to be greeted by a policeman who informed him that his passenger had died on impact but had, in fact, unbeknownst to him instead called on the services of a small and somewhat obscure company that had assisted in faking his death and providing him with a whole new identity, while everyone else around him continued to live in complete ignorance.

Karl’s new emotion swept him back to the service station car park, two days earlier, as he threw the telephone receiver against the wall and leapt up toward the front door of his flat. After all these years and all this time, for this man to wander back into his life in order to almost destroy it a second time was inconceivable; this joker wasn’t getting away with making him a fool again.

The only weapon he had handy was a fire extinguisher fixed to the wall in the hallway; ripping it from it’s fixtures, Karl strode toward the staircase to make real the death that his old friend had so successfully faked all those years before.

© Mark Robinson November 2008

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