Phu left the room. I sat. I waited.
About ninety minutes later Phu set a driver’s license in front of me with a blue header bar, a driver’s license number printed in red, the South Dakota state seal, the words “South Dakota” written all over the face, and Mount Rushmore in the background. It also had Jacob Greene’s name and address but my face and signature. Next to it, she placed Visa, Discover, and American Express credit cards.
“More,” she said, handing me a Rapid City Public Library card, an American Red Cross Volunteer Blood Donor card—it indicated that I had given six pints—a Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance card, and another card saying I was a proud member of the United States Golf Association—all of them in Jacob Greene’s name.
“These no good,” she said, sliding into her pidgin English. “Just for show. Don’t use. These”—she picked up the credit cards—“good until end of month. Greene get statements then, know something wrong, call companies, companies trace cards. No good.”
I nodded my understanding.
“Three thousand dollars.” She said that clearly enough.
I paid her from my shoe box.
“Do you have a wallet?”
“No.” I didn’t want to use my own.
“Everyone forgets the wallet.” A moment later she produced a worn, thin brown wallet and gave it to me.
I filled it with Jacob Greene’s life.
What did Thoreau write? Beware of enterprises that require new clothes?
Fifteen minutes after I left Phu Photography, I entered the Sears store across from the State Capitol Office Building. I was carrying the shoe box under my arm, which made me a figure of some suspicion to store security—how many people carry worn cardboard boxes into department stores, and why would they? A plainclothes guard was dispatched to follow my every move at a respectful distance, watching me while pretending not to. I made sure I did nothing to arouse his suspicion. The last thing I wanted was for him to inspect the shoe box for either a bomb or shoplifted merchandise.
I found a cart and began loading it up with a week’s supply of socks and underwear, an electric razor, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, and a hairbrush. Next, I rolled over to the men’s department, where I carefully shopped for the most bland polo shirts, Dockers, Top-Siders, sweaters, and blue sports jacket I could find, working hard to choose clothes that would make me appear as colorful and distinct as a loaf of white bread. Finally I selected the ugliest soft-sided suitcase to cram it all into.
The security guard followed me to the checkout.
The cashier smiled without actually looking at me. She took each item and ran it past an electronic eye that made an annoying “bip” sound—I couldn’t imagine listening to that eight hours a day. Instead of a bag, I had her pack each purchase into the suitcase. I added the shoe box last. The cashier rang up a total, and I gave her a wad of fifties. After accepting them, she scribbled across each bill with a counterfeit-detector pen. The ink turned amber—instead of brown—proving that the fifties were all genuine.
It was distressing to know how untrusting people can be.
I drove the posted speed limit in the right-hand lane and was passed by nearly every car on I-94. Some of the drivers gave me a look that bordered on open hostility, while others demonstrated their disgust with hand gestures. Instead of responding, I found KBEM-FM on the radio and cranked the volume, soothing my savage breast with some mainstream jazz. Normally I’d be speeding, too, but I couldn’t afford a ticket-happy patrolman taking a close look at Phu’s handiwork.
I had no doubt that the driver’s license was all right, especially after the rent-a-car folks checked it out, but why push my luck? It had been tense enough leaning on the counter while the agent accessed both Jacob Greene’s driving record and his credit card account. There had been a computer glitch, and when the agent said, “Just a moment, Mr. Greene,” I nearly grabbed the suitcase and made a break for it. As it was, I needed the agent to return the driver’s license before I could fill out his forms—in all the excitement, I had forgotten Jake’s address!
The agent had attempted to put me into an SUV, but I requested something smaller and less expensive. I wasn’t concerned about the money. I wanted a vehicle that was nondescript, only I didn’t want to say it aloud for fear of arousing suspicion or giving the agent something to remember should anyone ask about me. To meet my request, he rolled out a blue four-door Plymouth Neon with a tiny four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, and a tinny AM/FM radio. It only goes to show, you should be careful what you wish for.