The limousine arrived on schedule, Sunday morning. I was waiting in the driveway with my single piece of luggage, trying not to shiver in the cold morning air. The driver placed my case in the trunk and then opened the door to the back. For just a moment I was able to pretend I was someone important going off on some leisurely trip. The illusion was only slightly shattered by my well meaning parents, waving goodbye from inside the house. I smiled and waved, ever the dutiful daughter.
I sat down and the driver closed the door with a soft clunk. My hands went immediately in search of a seatbelt, old habits die hard I guess. The leather was cold against the bare skin of my legs and I wondered for the twelfth time that morning, if it was a mistake to wear shorts and a t-shirt. It was only then I realized I was not alone.
“Good morning, Miss Beaumont.” Mr. Candle said.
He wore an amused smile and a black suit. I could feel his eyes drinking in my own less than professional appearance and I mentally cringed at the thought. There was no room for my insecurities and so I pushed them aside and pretended not to care. I smiled back at him with only the lightest touches of a blush on my cheeks.
“Good morning, sir.” I replied. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here.”
“I had thought to delegate the responsibility but then I thought you might not be as receptive if someone else did the job.” He said.
“Are we playing twenty questions or were you going to get to the point?”
The words were out of my mouth before I even realized I had said them aloud. My heart thudded in my chest as I struggled to decide whether to be embarrassed or simply act as bold as my words sounded. I settled on somewhere in the middle.
“I’m going to guess you are not a morning person.” He said.
“Whatever makes you think that?”
“My apologies, I was expecting to be alone.” I said.
“Quite alright Miss Beaumont. We have matters to discuss though and I’m afraid they cannot wait for your mood to improve.”
Maybe it was the constancy of his gaze or perhaps it was the bluntness of his words, but he made me feel like a bratty little girl and a professional woman all in the same breath. I could feel the heat of shameful blood rushing to color my cheeks. Unable to meet his eyes I focused on my fidgeting hands laying useless in my lap.
“I’ll need your undivided attention. These matters are far beyond important.” He said.
He remained silent and I realized he was waiting for me to respond with more than a look and a nod. I took a breath and forced the embarrassment to subside.
“You have it, sir. Please continue.” I said.
“As you will recall, we discussed the need for secrecy and discretion in revealing your involvement with Q5.”
“The training course I am sending you to is a necessary tool in preparing you for your work, but it is inconsistent with your cover position as an administrative assistant.”
“Might we have a moment to discuss that cover?” I asked.
Mr. Candle paused mid-breath, mid-explanation and his appearance made it obvious he was not used to being interrupted. In fact, I was quite certain he was on the verge of becoming annoyed with me. I regretted his reaction but for my mom, it was a subject I could not ignore and an opportunity not to be passed up.
“Is it important or can it wait until you get back?” Mr. Candle asked.
“It can wait, but it is important.” I said.
“Very well. What is it you wish to discuss?”
“There must be an alternative position we can use for my cover.” I said.
“I fail to see the importance. It is a title and pay scale appropriate for a new entry into my company. Your actual duties are in no way tied to your cover.”
“This is not about me. I need this to be altered for my mother. Obviously doing so now would be a problem but in a couple of months I would very much appreciate a change.”
“Forgive me for being dense, but I really don’t see how a fake title effects your mother?”
“It’s the whole being a secretary thing. I don’t really expect you to understand but bottom line my mother would rather see me unemployed than working as a secretary.”
“But you are not a secretary. Your title isn’t even secretary.”
“Secretary, administrative assistant, there isn’t any difference.” I said.
“There is a world of difference Miss Beaumont.”
“Not for my mom and she’s the one that matters in this discussion.”
I’m not sure if it was frustration or bewilderment in Mr. Candle’s eyes, but the way his muscles were tensed in his hands I was betting on frustration. My argument sounded silly even to myself and I wished I had taken more time to plan out what I wanted to say to him. Still, the crux would be the same no matter how I said it.
“Fine. I will see what I can come up with while you are gone.” Mr. Candle said.
“Now if we might get back to the matters at hand?”
“Yes, of course.”
“There are precautions we must take in order to secure your anonymity as part of the Q5 team. Obviously, Allison Beaumont will not be attending a training program such as the one you are being sent to.”
“But I am.”
“Yes, however it is not in keeping with your cover and in order to preserve your cover as long as possible, it will be necessary to participate in a charade.”
“I don’t think I understand.”
“I have arranged for records to indicate Allison Beaumont’s attendance at a training class in administrative duties for the week. However, you will not be there except in name. It would not do for you to be in two places at once so for the training program you are attending you will assume a different identity.”
“You want me to be someone else?”
“I want you to be you only with a different name.”
“I’m not sure I can do that.”
“I have all the documents here. All you need to do is learn to introduce yourself and respond to your new name. For simplicity, this identification will serve as your identity whenever you are on assignment with Q5.”
“I don’t really have any say in this, do I?”
“You can refuse, but you need to understand there is a risk involved if certain other people learn who you are.”
“I told you before, I am not comfortable with lying.”
“I understand. This however is not lying, the identification I have arranged is all you, it is only your name which has been altered. I am trying to protect both you and your family.”
“Fake id’s are illegal. If I get caught with them at the airport or something, I’ll be in a lot of trouble and don’t think for a second I won’t point the finger right at you.”
“These aren’t fake. These are official documents, authorized and produced by the government. Think of it as an official alias, it isn’t your name, but it might as well be for all anyone will ever know or care.”
“Other than me.”
“It is your choice Miss Beaumont, but I urge you not to make a rash and emotional decision.”
“I don’t like this.”
“I didn’t expect you would. That is why I chose to tell you myself.”
“Okay. Who am I?”
“Very funny.” I said.
I wasn’t laughing. Mr. Candle wasn’t either but his eyes were lit with amusement again. The man seemed incapable of a bad mood or taking anything too seriously. I’m sure he thought I needed a chill pill or something equivalent to one.
He handed me a manila envelope. Carefully, I undid the clasp and poured the contents into my hands. The drivers license caught my attention first. It was standard California issue and even had the same picture that was on my real license. The name and address however, were utterly foreign.
“Virginia West?” I said.
“I thought it had a nice sound to it.” Mr. Candle said.
“For an eighty year old grandmother, maybe.”
“Virginia is a very popular first name and West is actually more common than Smith or Jones.”
“In what century?”
“It can be altered if necessary but not in time for this trip.”
“It’s fine. I’ll have to do something with it, but I’ll deal.”
I looked through the rest of the things while we continued in a somewhat awkward silence. They included a birth certificate, social security card, a passport, a health insurance card, a library card, a AAA card, two credit cards, a bank atm card with pin number, an iPhone and a key ring with a car key and what appeared to be a house key.
“This seems like an awful lot of trouble for a fake name.” I said.
“It’s a bit more than a fake name. This is an alternate identity and in order for it to pass more than a cursory examination it has to be reasonably complete.”
I held up the keys between us.
“I hope you aren’t expecting me to take on a mortgage and car payments to keep this up. You aren’t paying me enough to live two lives.” I said.
“No of course not. The company will pay all the bills through a special account set up in the name of Virginia West. You should view the credit cards and bank account as an expense account and everything else as perks which you may enjoy when the opportunity presents itself.”
“Are you on board with this?”
I stared at Mr. Candle for a moment wondering what he would say if I said no. It wasn’t like I had a real choice in the matter. Mr. Candle had made it clear enough; do as he wanted or risk someone getting hurt. Somewhere in the back of my head a voice of sanity was screaming for attention, but it was well passed the time to walk away. Wishing I wasn’t being forced to make the decision while on the road to the airport, I nodded my head in agreement.
“I realize you have reservations at the moment but I think in time you will come to agree this is all for the best. I have an alternate bag packed for you in the trunk with items appropriate for the training camp you are attending. I’ve been assured everything is in your size.” He said.
He handed me a small purse.
“Virginia West’s?” I asked.
I opened it up to find it void of anything more than a wallet, hairbrush, and sunblock. The wallet had two hundred dollars cash in it and plenty of room for my new identification and cards. The hairbrush was not exactly my style, oval-shaped cherry wood with a flat back, but I imagined it was Mr. Candle’s sense of humor shining through. Looking at the sunblock it occurred to me I would probably be spending a bit more time outdoors than I’m usually do. I put everything in the purse and closed it up just as the limo came to a stop at the airport.
“I guess this is where I get out.” I said.
I stepped out onto the curb and the driver brought me a bag on wheels which looked nothing like the one I had brought with me. I shook my head wondering just how I was going to pull this whole thing off. I’m not a spy and I’ve never been any good at deception. I looked inside the car to Mr. Candle who clearly had more confidence in me than I did.
“Good luck, Miss West.” He said.
I smiled and made up my mind. Whatever journey I was about to embark upon, it was clear to me it was a step toward a future brighter than I could ever have imagined. I was afraid, but I was also ready. It was time to look toward the future. I glanced at Mr. Candle one more time before heading off.
“Call me V.” I said.