The rain was coming down in bucketfuls as I sat in the kitchen looking out. It had been six days now and still no word on whether I had been accepted into the group and I was beginning to wonder if it hadn’t been a scam to get my personal details, but why all the effort.
Maybe I should go back to give you some context to my current predicament. You see I had been mindlessly flicking through the books on Amazon when my attention had be taken by a small advert in the corner of the page, “Need to disappear” and then an email address. Boredom may well be the greatest reason we make choices that our instincts would normally keep us from making, boredom is that place that allows us to just go “what the hell I have nothing better to do” and bam we set a course that changes our lives.
I didn’t really want to disappear I was just curious what the offer was and as there was no price I thought what was the risk, but you see people who want to disappear don’t generally decide it on a whim they have thought long and hard about it and they generally have a driving need to do so. I on the other hand had none of these issues in fact things had been going very well for me and the new year was looking to be so much better than the last.
Once I had clicked on the ad I was taken to a very home made looking website with a number of testimonials from people who had successfully managed to disappear and how happy they were with their new identities. The thing that stood out for me was the fundamental change in the lives of these people and how they had developed this new found self assuredness and confidence. I think that this was the bit that interested me the most and encouraged me to fill in my details.
So here I was looking out at the rain when the email alert on my computer sounded, I had a reply.
WELCOME TO THE PIGSTROM GROUP
Was the heading in the email and I must admit my first reaction was one of a little unease, Pigstrom is not a word I would associate with happiness but then this wasn’t about being happy this was about disappearing and the name meant nothing or said nothing it was clearly made up so I read on.
It would seem that I had been selected to join the group after a thorough investigation on my background had found nothing out of the ordinary. It was that “nothing out of the ordinary” that worried me the most, it made me feel unimportant as if I was just another boring person with nothing much to offer. But that was the point, Pigstrom wasn’t interested in stars or people with high profiles they were far to hard to “disappear” it was the ordinary people they wanted to work with, people who would hardly cause a ripple as they slipped below the water of mainstream life.
The more I thought about it the more I realised that I was indeed just another boring person taking up space on this planet and wasting my more than precious life. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary I was on the site because I had been bored, it hit me like a brick I needed this experience to get a new perspective on life, I was in.
And so I paid my deposit changed my meagre savings into Bitcoins and cut up my credit card just like I was asked to. They didn’t want you to close accounts as that would indicate that you were doing something out of the ordinary and alert the system. Just by cutting up the card you had stopped any future transactions from happening, nice and quite step one had been completed.
Step two was a little harder and it made me stop and think for quite a while, you see when people disappear they drop out of their social surroundings as well as families and relatives work colleagues etc. once you start adding it up you realise that the list of people who know you and who are interwoven in and around your life is way more extensive than you could have imagined.
All those people who you abused while waiting for your phone to be connected, power to get put on, council to come and unblock the drains. All these people had written down your name and added their comments to it, oh yes the dossier on you is far fatter than you realise and now with the internet it is all connected and you might be boring and you might not be the life of the party but believe me they know who you are.
The more I thought about how I was connected to people the more I realised that most of the connections were not that positive even with some friends and especially the family the more disappearing started to seem like totally the right thing to do. In fact I began to wonder why I hadn’t thought of it earlier, and that is how they get you, they just sow a couple of seeds and leave you to fill in the blanks no persuasion needed. Sure I would miss some of them but I am sure I would meet new and interesting people who were also on the journey so I would meet people who shared things in common who had actually taken control of their lives and made a change.
Now if step two had seemed demanding then step three was a real doozie, leave all your clothes and distinguishable jewellery, watches etc. This was a bit annoying as I had just bought a watch which I really liked and my partner had bought me some jewellery which I really liked. Still I would be leaving her as well so what was a bit of jewellery, actually I wondered if she might like to come on this adventure with me and I kind of tested the water with the odd random question but her family and her job would make it a no go so I would be doing this on my own, I hoped I hadn’t been to obvious in my questions.
Step four was easy, just go down to the local bus stop and catch the lunchtime bus to the city, from there walk to a certain building and punch in the pin number provided to the door on level 13. I followed the instructions and sure enough ended up standing in front of a non de script wooden door with a small cardboard sign ” The Pigstrom Group”.
I punched in the pin and turned the handle and stepped in. The room was as you were probably imagining, small with a couple of chairs and a coffee table with out of date women’s magazines and a couple of car magazines. The walls had a couple of prints of country scenes and that was it, I sat down and waited. I don’t know about you but I always imagine that waiting rooms have surveillance cameras monitoring them so I am careful not to do things that might be embarrassing you know like picking my nose or farting I looked around for any obvious camera but could see none.
After about 45 minutes the door opened and a well dressed lady with a clip board appeared and asked me to follow as I stepped through the door I heard it click behind me. It hit me right at that moment this wasn’t a joke and a wave of terror ran over me, what had I done. I wanted to scream and run back to the door and step back into my old, boring, safe life I had learn’t my lesson and right at that point I would have given anything to be sitting back at home being bored.
But I wasn’t and as the lady walked me down the corridor I heard a voice which must have been mine asking lots of silly questions in a fast high voice. Then another door opened and a man behind a large glass desk stood up and grasped my hand pumping it up and down vigorously. “Welcome to the Pigstrom Group, please take a seat” and that was it I was in. Over the next couple of hours I was presented with some scenarios as to how I might like to live under my new guise with the promise that nothing was in stone and I could change at any time I wished.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU
My identity papers were sitting on the table a new cellphone and an airline ticket under the name of Harry Tompson, it would seem Mr Tompson was flying out that very day, but this was no internal flight Mr Tompson was travelling abroad.
“You will of course not ever contact any one from your past ever” the man behind the desk was saying as my wandering mind snapped back to the reality of the moment, “people always do when they get sick or read about a loved one in a tragedy, but the moment you do that we will cut you off and your new identity will cease to exist, you will become a nobody and that is a very dark place to be.” “So please no contact ever with your past.”
As that sank in I asked the question I am sure he had heard a hundred times before “Can I change my mind” the man behind the desk broke in to what might be described as a wry smile “unfortunately no, it is far to late for that” It would seem that even people who have been planning this for years or who are fleeing a bad situation all have that moment of doubt when the reality of no going back sets in.
“Has anyone broken these rules” I asked, to which the man behind the desk (“people call me Sid”) replied “now and again those who fail to adjust slip up”.
“So what happens to them”, Sid looked at me “I really don’t know, once we cut you off we cease to help and there are some very bad people out there just looking for the weak and the desperate, prostitution, drug trafficking, slave labour, snuff movies”. ” Still best not to go there” Sid said and I realised the topic was closed.
I decided to keep a journal of my adventure who knows maybe I would write a book later and go on the speaking circuits once I had finished this adventure, funny but always in the back of my mind was the belief that I would return to my normal life so much the richer for this experience, taken back into the loving arms of my partner and friends. So with this comfortable thought tucked into the back of my mind I shook Sid’s hand and gathered up my new identity a little swing appeared in my step this might be fun after all.
“Paging Mr Tompson, paging Mr Tompson” it took me quite a while to realise that it was me that was being paged, but once it had set in I set off for the information desk. I was quickly approached by two plain clothed security personal. “Come with us” it wasn’t a request it was an order and just to make it more frightening they had guns in their hands.
Once inside the questioning room things became a little more relaxed, it would appear they had been tipped off that a Mr Tompson was carrying contraband and they just wanted to check if it was me. As I only had a small overnight bag it didn’t take long for them to realise I wasn’t the Mr Tompson they were looking for but they were curious as to why I was flying abroad with no baggage, I told them I had run away from my wife and I hated my job, they both laughed and wished me luck, one of them gave me his card just in case I needed any help in the future. It would seem our security agent also moonlighted as a private investigator, I put his card in my wallet.
The destination for my flight was Australia which I had been told was very similar to the US with a fantastic climate and endless job opportunities, especially for a Mr Tompson who appeared to have worked for some of the largest companies in the US as a senior management consultant. The number of an employment company was given and a certain Ms Peeps as the recruiter, I settled into my motel room and picked up the phone no time like the present.
Ms Peeps was there and a bubbly bright an cheerful person she was, welcome to Australia and yes she had been advised I would be calling and she already had a couple of positions for me to come in and talk about, wow was this ever easy. I found the Australians fun to talk with and they all made me feel at home, this was starting to look like a great adventure actually more like a holiday.
I sat in the waiting room of the recruitment office when my name was called and I was shown into a room and asked to fill in the obligatory forms, the door opened and there stood Ms Peeps. Something made me queasy and as I shook her hand I asked “haven’t we met before” Ms Peeps smiled “I wouldn’t think so” she replied. The interview was more like a conversation around what I was looking for how much I wanted to be paid rather than “give me a time you had to” so I left with three opportunities and a strange feeling I had met Ms Peeps before.
The next six months were a blur, got a great job, found a nice apartment, met some great people and even dated a couple of women, if I had known it would be this easy I would have done this years ago. I didn’t even mind the 20% being taken out for services rendered after all Pigstrom had more than delivered on their side and my life was fuller and more fun than it had ever been.
The phone rang and I picked it up “is that Harry Tompson” I said it was then the line went silent, I knew they were still there I could hear their breathing but they said nothing, after about a minute the phone clicked off and they were gone. This was how it started and after the third time I tried to call Sid, well I left a message as calling Pigstrom was never allowed, in fact once you had disappeared they never dealt with you again, just the money coming out of your account was the only indication they had ever existed.
Over the next few months the calls became more frequent, obviously someone knew who I was and they were letting me know, but they never said anything so blackmail seemed to be out of the question. Then things started to ramp up and by ramp up I mean turn ugly. The first escalation was a whole lot of links to horrific porn sites on my computer at work, luckily I managed to delete them but I knew if ever there was an investigation they would be found. At the same time I started to find cryptic notes on emails nothing sinister more like puzzles that when added together might mean something.
I am the first to admit that I hate puzzles in fact my brain goes into some sort of stupor when ever I see them so I just sat there and looked at them hoping that the answer would just jump out, fat chance.
The thing about anonymous pranks is that you end up suspecting everyone around you, everyone now took on a different persona I started to feel like a real outsider, suddenly I didn’t seem to fit in any more and I stopped going out and socialising I became terrified in crowds and I started to trust no one. The end result was within a very short time people stopped talking to me, I heard the rumours that drugs might well be involved.
It didn’t take long to escalate from there and before long I was called into see the boss, it had been noticed that I wasn’t coping and it was starting to affect my work, maybe I might like to find another job, obviously a great reference would be supplied as long as I went quickly. I picked up the phone and called Ms Peeps, ” I am sorry she no longer works for us” why was I not surprised.
It was 5.30 in the morning when the phone rang, I picked it up, I hadn’t been sleeping anyway. It was Ms Peeps she said that someone had passed on my details, funny how your brain doesn’t work at that time of the morning. I told her everything, just overwhelmed that I could share this nightmare with another person, Ms Peeps let me blurt till I was done.
“It would seem someone may have cracked into our data base” she nonchalantly replied ” you are the sixth person this week to try to contact us and all your stories are similar I will find out what I can and get back to you”. I have learned that when people say ” they will get back to you” there is always a difference in urgency, two days passed and no word from Ms Peeps. I decided to take things into my own hands and fight back with what I could.
My first hit was to ask my boss for a meeting in which I laid out my whole story to date, his first question struck home, if I wasn’t running from anyone or thing and had just done it because I was bored then what did I have to worry about anyone knowing who I was. That question was like a light being turned on and in that moment I realised this was not personal this was just a random approach to see what would shake out. This all fitted with the data base breach the people involved just assumed that everyone who disappeared had something to hide, all they had to do was sow the seed and watch for the fall out.
My boss was not so happy about the porn sites but the IT guy found that they had been sent from an address in Russia so that cleared me of downloading them myself and it reinforced my story so he offered me a second chance, I gratefully accepted.
Ms Peeps was happy I still had my job as the market wasn’t so buoyant as when I had arrived, and it appeared that indeed there had been a security breach and Pigsrtom was working hard to fix it, she confided that this was bigger than they had first thought with over five thousand disappeared at risk of either exposure or far worse exploitation.
But of course things aren’t as easy as that as my identity was actually a fraud as was my bank account and drivers licence so although I was able to pretend to be Harry Tompson I knew it could all turn around in a moment, and in a moment it did. The first things to be cancelled were my credit cards, the accompanying letter stated after further background checks the bank had realised their mistake and were cancelling my cards. It would seem that they were happy enough for Mr Tompson to continue paying off his debts and putting in his pay just not extending any credit. Well I could live with that, a slight adjustment and a debit card and job done.
“Some people from Immigration have just been here” my land lord informed me, ” they said you were involved in some sort of criminal group, you can’t stay here” and with that I was homeless. Or I would have been but my boss came through with an offer to crash at his place till I found another place. But of course it is always more complicated than that and when I arrived at work a couple of detectives were there “just to ask a few questions” the game had started.
My real problem was of course that I had entered the country on a false passport and so I would be charged with entering the Country illegally, I could apply for an extension and as I had regular employment and my boss would vouch for me then they might let me stay but it would be 3 months max then I would have to leave. But the real problem here was that I had no real passport on me so getting back into the States would be impossible unless I was deported but that would mean a criminal record and maybe time in jail back in the US.
I was caught between a rock and a hard place, Ms Peepes was very sorry about how it was turning out but was powerless to do anything as it would seem she was also fleeing another life thanks to the help of Pigstrom.
THE PRIVATE EYE
Hi name was Eugene Pollock and I still had his card in my wallet, I don’t know why I kept it but there you go. “Eugene this is Harry Tompson we meet when you searched me at the Airport about a year ago” the silence at the other end was broken by a grunt ” I meet lots of people what do you want,” I told him my story.
If you can hear people smile then I heard Eugene smiling in fact he was positively chirpy, “your not the first you know, we spotted you straight away at the Airport.” “People travelling overseas with no baggage either have drugs up their arse or are running away, you are so easy to spot.”
“So what do you want from me” I wasn’t sure of that one but a few ideas might help so I asked him if he had heard of Pigstrom.
“It doesn’t ring a bell but people smuggling groups seldom keep the same name for more than a month, far to easy to track”. It would seem that in the world of disappearing that the little fish get preyed upon just like in the business world so keeping one step ahead is important. The problem for me was I needed to disappear again so either I could vanish in Australia, made much harder by my American accent or I could flee the country on a yacht or something as legitimate travel was out of the question.
‘I charge $150 an hour plus expenses, I don’t travel out of the States and I don’t break the law, got it” I got it but I was just happy to have someone in my corner. The phone rang 5 days later it was Eugene ” got an interesting proposition for you, we are bringing a criminal back from Australia and we need an escort, how would you like to become a sworn deputy that way we could get you back into the country no questions asked.” That was all I needed and I jumped at the chance, in hind sight I should have maybe asked what this man was wanted for before I said yes, but hindsight is 20/20 right.
I signed the papers online and picked up my deputy badge, unfortunately it wasn’t made out of metal it was just a piece of paper with my name on it and the details of the criminal I was accompanying. His name was Philip Hindmarsh and by all accounts he was a very dangerous man with warrants from the FBI and Interpol as well as some Russian domestic anti terror organisation. But to look at him you would have thought accountant social worker, because Mr Hindmarsh was only about 5 ft 4 inches tall and had the thickest black rimmed glasses I have ever seen. Mr Hindmarsh was also the politest man I have ever met and did I mention softly spoken.
But here he was shackled round the legs and waist with hands cuffed in front of him, I felt sorry for the man and his humiliation. But if Philip was humiliated he didn’t show it, and he was so cordial to his captors that begrudgingly their respect for him showed in their calling him sir and using the terms of please and thank you when getting him onto the plane.
And that’s how I came to be sitting next to one of the US’s top ten most wanted terrorists on a flight bound for LA on a sunny morning in September, the irony was not lost on me that we would arrive on the 11th. I was not alone while minding Philip there were also two very hung over Australian guards who were only travelling as far as Malaysia before turning him over to to another escort, the Russians I was told who wanted to question him in a neutral country before he was returned to the US. I was there just to make sure he got back on the plane and didn’t disappear along with the Russians after questioning.
The flight was uneventful but as we got closer to Malaysia Philip became increasingly frightened as the thought of the Russians questioning him grew more real until he was so terrified that he had to be administered a sedative to calm him down. Now I don’t know who worked out the dose but the effect was Philip just collapsed and had to be removed from the plane in a wheel chair. To say the Russians were displeased was an understatement as they only had a certain amount of time with Philip before the connecting flight and their star suspect was unconscious. They ran a cold bath in the hotel room and threw Philip into it and held him under the water till I thought they had drowned him, but it would seem these people knew what they were doing and coughing and vomiting Philip came round.
They sent me out of the room but I heard it all through the walls, names, dates, places, phone numbers, they all came out under the relentless beating until the bathroom door opened and they stepped out. Philip was still in the bath and barely concious the bath was filled with blood the Russians laughed and moved towards the door ” he’s all yours.”
They opened the door and stepped into the hallway, there was a sound like a Champagne bottles being opened then nothing. Well nothing wasn’t quite the truth as the Russians were replaced by other people who didn’t bother to introduce themselves but dragged the dead Russians back into the room and locked the door. They looked at Philip in the bath and swore until an exclamation from one of the men searching the Russians came up with a mini recorder, they turned it on and listened nodding as the heard the interrogation.
If I had thought for a moment I should have been wondering how I was going to get out of this, but sometimes you are so “in the now” that you are just a spectator to what is happening around you, only I wasn’t a spectator I was a participant and this was about to get very real. I didn’t feel the blow but I did when I woke up, not like you rub you head and you vision gets less groggy, oh no this was like a relentless migraine and hangover with the pain of a broken bone with no vision at all in fact even trying to see was excruciating.
And I was no longer in the hotel room I was chained to a steel pipe in a room with a dirt floor and no windows. I was totally alone but I heard the sound of arguing coming from somewhere then a door slammed and silence.
They returned and the questioning began, who was I, who did I work for, where did I live. Now I guess that as you read this you will have realised that everything I have said is plausible if not a little stupid and naive but it does not translate well into a different culture except in one way. I was a nobody, I had no home no job and would not be missed if I never returned. No one would spend any time looking for me especially as by now the authorities would have found the tortured body of Philip left for them to find. A blow in the eye for the US and its Allies from another terrorist organisation they had never heard of. The Russians of course would blame the US and another game would begin.
THE TRIP BEGINS
It was perhaps a week later that the door opened and I was dragged out into the sunshine and thrown in the boot of a car. The ride seemed like forever and indeed it was longer than a day as I was left overnight and the ride continued the next day. By now I was starving and dehydrated as well as still suffering from the blow I had received to my head. The thought that kept me sane was I wasn’t really of much value so as I wasn’t dead there was still a chance I would come out of this, hope as they they say springs eternal.
We stopped at a truck stop and I was dragged out of the boot and forced into a container into total darkness. The amount of people in there with me was unknown but all in all if I sat with my knee’s tucked up I could just fit in. But the fear was at all times that we would suffocate from the foul putrid air. The only fresh air coming by way of what looked like bullet holes in the container walls.
The next experience was of movement and then what appeared to be the motions of the sea, it would seem that we were being shipped somewhere and that somewhere was overseas, and I think it was at that point I realised that I was a slave to be sold to the highest bidder to do whatever they had in mind. That thought was quickly followed by pure terror I was now in that very bad place that Sid had talked about when I first stepped into this stupid adventure, I was a nobody.
The thing that people like us who don’t frequent the fringes never think about is what is our value, with that I mean if I was going to sell you to someone who didn’t care about your social status or your intellect and who could only get for you what someone was prepared to give them, what are you worth. What about ransom? well that only works if you are worth something to someone, when you are a nobody ransom isn’t an option. What was I worth? I was about to find out.
The man was of Eastern European descent with very bad teeth, breath and one eye, as he spoke I could tell that to him I was no more than a dollar value or what ever currency they were trading in. My life was in this man’s hands and he couldn’t care less, the phone rang and he picked it up, I could hear the voice of a child on the other end and his voice immediately softened and this totally different man emerged. This man was caring and gentle and funny and while I listened I felt a warm relief that maybe I could reach this man’s decency, he put the phone down.
The snarling man was back and he shouted at the door and someone came in. I awoke again chained but this time the room at least had a floor. Several hours went by and the door opened but this time the man who stepped in was obviously a westerner and by the clothes and the watch someone with not to bad taste and bank account, he bent down and shook my hand.
“Mr Tompson today is indeed your lucky day” he explained that being an American would usually mean a ransom but as I was nobody it would usually mean death most probably in some homo sadistic snuff movie. But for me today I was being given the gift of life, well actually I was being forced to transport a lot of drugs into the US and I don’t mean in a suitcase I mean wrapped in condoms and swallowed. There were 40 in all and it took me over an hour and half a bottle of olive oil but they were in.
The flight back to LA was the best and the worst of my life, on one hand I was coming home on the other it might be to a life in jail, the third possibility was a condom might break and that was death, once again I was between a rock and a hard place.
I stepped off the plane and into the queue, what was up ahead terrified me it was a machine I had never seen before, I asked the guy in front of me”what’s that.” It turned out that “that” was the latest body scanner and it could see what you had for breakfast and what I ‘d had for breakfast would get me 30 years.
“Step this way please sir” I turned to see two men mentioning to me, I stepped out of the queue and they took hold of my arms and moved me to a screening room, my legs collapsed and they held me up as they dragged me inside. “Mr Tompson you have been a naughty boy” I turned to look at the speaker and he look vaguely familiar, of course it was Eugene and he was smiling, “like I told you once before, they are either running away or they have drugs up their arse, well which one is it”
The answer of course was the reason they had taken me out of the line and I was quietly moved to a motel near the airport to wait for nature to take its course, and while we waited Eugene told me a story.
It would seem that Pigstrom was just a recruiting arm for a large international criminal agency controlled by the CIA and as it had been difficult to recruit young people into the agency, especially to do very dangerous assignments then looking for people to coerce into these positions made far more sense. No down side either as if they went wrong then what did it matter nothing to tie people back to the agency. This had now been working for over 30 years and is increasing every year as a greater number of people decide to disappear.
And what happened to me? well I survived the drug mule bit and was offered a deal. I am not at liberty to say exactly what I do but lets just put it this way, I get to meet lots of people wanting to find a new life for themselves and I just happen to know of some great countries and jobs that are looking for people like, well you actually.