Claudia parked in the lot of the sad looking stucco office building that sat amongst the abandon buildings of NE Glisan. She climbed the stairs to the third floor and looked for number 308. She knocked and opened the door to find a short, unimpressive looking brunette seated behind a pine wood desk. The woman stood up slightly.
“Emily,” Claudia asked.
“Yes, are you Claudia?”
“Have a seat.”
Claudia took a seat across from the woman, studying her carefully as she went. She was short and plump. She had dark circles underneath her dull brown eyes and her fingernails had been bitten down to the quick. She wore a grey sweatshirt over black leggings and a worn pair of black Keds.
“Would, you like a glass of water or a cup of coffee?”
“No, I’m okay. What is it they have you doing here, “Claudia asked looking around the small, dank office.
“I set sales appointments for janitorial service salesmen with office building managers around the country.”
“So, how does this all work?”
“Well, you just tell me what our relationship is supposed to be, then you email me whatever backgroundinformation you have told them about yourself. I study it and we go to whatever event it is you need to go to.”
“The event is in two days, you’re supposed to be my aunt Becki. Will two days be enough time?”
“Plenty, I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, ya know. “
“How did you get into it?”
“I answered an ad on Craigslist.”
“No, I’m not I was an out of work actress. I was looking in the talent section when I came across an ad that said, “actors wanted for a unique opportunity.” I met a guy in a parking lot who told me that the job was for the United States government and before he could tell me anymore, I would have to take some tests and a background check. I was skeptical, but intrigued. I went to the federal building the next day and went through a background check for a secret clearance, six weeks later I was a leading lady in the Witness Protection Program’s core of actors.”
“Doesn’t it make your personal life hard; I mean not being able to tell anyone what you do?”
“I tell them I’m in the mortuary business. They never ask any questions after that.”
Emily smiled and walked over to the coffee machine where she poured herself a cup.
“How did a nice girl like you end up in Witness Protection?”
“Dated the wrong guy.”
Claudia suppressed a giggle.
“I dated him for about a year and one day he invited me to go away with him and visit his friend in Seattle.
He asked me to deliver a gift for him. I was supposed to go to his sister’s house get the gift and take it on The bus with me to Seattle.”
“You were traveling on the bus and you were going to meet him there?”
“Yeah, he was flying in from New York. But, when I got off the bus I was immediately arrested. The present Was actually three pounds of top quality heroin and about $12, 000 of stolen money.”
“Holy shit. You had to testify against your boyfriend?”
“No, it was his brother that they wanted. The only way I could avoid jail was to squawk. They offered me the program.”
“That’s rough. What was your boyfriend doing in New York?”
“He lived there. It was a long-distance relationship.”
“Oh, where did you meet him?”
“Yes, so had you two ever actually …. I mean. Did you ever meet him, like in person?”
“This was going to be the first time.”
Claudia suppressed another giggle.
“So, tell me all about your Aunt Becki, “Claudia said taking out a notebook.
“Well, you raised me when my mother died on a mission to India. You love musical comedies and you work as a civil rights attorney.”
“You are 58 years old. Even though you couldn’t afford to send me to college, you always made sure that I was very well read. You are very liberal and love to talk about politics.”
Claudia was secretly impressed she figured Emily for some conservative, hillbilly moron like all the rest of them.
“So, do we fight for women’s rights together or something?”
“Oh no, I hate you. I ‘m really conservative. Ya, see the way I figure it is, if I hate you, I don’t have to see you very often. The guy at the agency told me I only got seven visits and after that I was on my own. He told me it was like $200 a day. Is that true?”
“Well, yes if you want the whole day..”
“I can’t afford that shit. What I figure we do is fight in public and that way my friends will be real uncomfortable and they won’t be on me to get you to visit again.
Claudia hated to admit it, but the plan was pretty clever.
“Now, let me tell you a little about my friends. Julie is a hair dresser. She is really into astrology, so you may want to say something about what BS it is. Karen is my neighbor, she has cats, so maybe just say you’re a dog person, or something like that. Steve is Karen’s boyfriend. I met him at a Trump rally, he’s a white nationalist. “
“Okay,” Claudia said not looking up from the pad on which she was taking notes.
“Now just for back up I was wondering if you could not bath on the day you come and If you could chew with your mouth open, that would be greatly appreciated.”
“Look, Emily, I think that may be going a bit over the top.”
“Yeah, maybe. It’s just …You don’t know what it’s like being in this program. It’s not like in the movies. They dropped me off at a pay by the week hotel and told me I was all paid up for two months. They gave me $5000 and a list of people who would give me a job reference. They told me they could occasionally provide an actor to play a relative or friend and that was it.”
“That’s rough,” Claudia said. ‘But, you’re an idiot,’ she thought to herself.
“How about I just chew with my mouth open?
“Cool, “ Emily exclaimed.
“Let’s think of a few neutral memories, just for plausibility. Did you ever take a trip when you were a child?”
“I went to the Wisconsin Dells when I was eight.” I’ve been to Seattle a bunch of times.”
“How about we went to Seattle five years ago and went to the art museum.
“I’ve never been to a museum except on school field trips.”
“We took a boat ride.”
“I’ve never really been on a boat.”
“The Ferris wheel?
“I’ve been on that.”
The two discussed a few more details and Emily described the bungalow in which she had told everyone she grew up. Claudia tried not to laugh when Emily said she had been on the track team and secretary of the student council.
They discussed favorite foods and movies for a bit and Claudia was not at all surprised that Emily loved Taylor Swift and Applebee’s.
They parted and arranged to meet early on the morning of Thanksgiving.
Claudia got in her car and began to drive back to the Motel 6. She wondered if it was too late to look on Craigslist for a real job.