The Disappearing Man
A look into the secret world of a man whose job it is to help people leave their lives behind – forever.
By Christopher S. Stewart
The first person Frank Ahearn ever disappeared was Ken. He spotted him at a Borders in north Jersey about three years ago - a pale, geeky-looking guy in a golf shirt and khakis, thumbing through a pile of books about Central America and offshore banking. It took Frank about a half second to figure him out: Ken was skipping town.
“I betcha you’re going to buy a condo in Costa Rica,” Frank said to the man, his voice low, so no one else could hear. “And bank in Belize.”
Ken’s slackened mouth curled into a big dumb O that almost made Frank laugh. He looked at Frank - a tall, longhaired guy dressed in black with a cartoonish goatee, thick tattooed arms and a twisted and discolored front tooth - and fumbled for a response. But now Frank was talking again, running his mouth in his thick New York accent.
“The problem is, if you’re running from someone,” he rattled on, “they’re going to find you.”
Ken looked like he might faint right there in the café part of Borders. So Frank decided to explain himself. He was a “skip tracer,” he told Ken - a slippery sort of business that specialized in finding people. Mobsters, drug lords, wife beaters, rock stars - Frank found guys for a living. He’d hunted as far as Bali to bring them back. He knew all the tricks, and he couldn’t help but notice that Ken was already f*cking up.
“You bought your books with a credit card and discount card,” Frank told Ken. It was a rookie mistake - both were easily traceable. A couple of well-placed phone calls, and any respectable private eye could find Ken in the time it took to microwave popcorn.
Ken shifted uncomfortably in his sandals, still not believing this guy, wondering if he was for real - or if Frank, in fact, had been sent to hunt him down. But then Frank offered him a business card - depicting a De Chirico-esque mannequin standing alone on a white beach, staring out at a big blue ocean and a headline that asked simply “Are you looking for someone?” - and walked away, just like that.
Two weeks later, Ken emailed. Frank was right: Ken was trying to run away. He was in trouble. Not long ago the government had paid him big money to testify in a fraud case against his former employer, a mid-sized supplies company with government contracts. Ken had been one of the company’s accountants. Somehow his name had leaked, and he was targeted as a rat. He got mysterious phone calls. Threats were made. A man approached him on the street and announced, cryptically, your “life will be made uncomfortable.” An ex-colleague warned “I’m gonna get you.”
Ken told Frank he feared for his life. He’d thought about calling the police – but worried the police would never be able to fully protect him. He didn’t have any big attachments - no wife, no children. He felt there was only one option. But Ken had no idea how to do it.
Finally Ken summoned the nerve to ask Frank a question that changed both of their lives.
“Can you help me disappear?”