An old gravestone in a graveyard

Here Lies Vincent Jacobs

“No sorry, you’ve got the wrong number.”

“You’re getting a lot of those calls lately…” Emma says to me through the partition after I end the call. Working in an open-plan office means everyone hears everything. We have entire conversations through the thin fabric-covered panels that separate us.

“Very strange,” I agree. “This time it was ABSA Bank asking for this Vincent Jacobs. Earlier in the week, someone called from a furniture store, and last week it was a clothing account. Clearly, somewhere they’ve gotten his number wrong and now I have to deal with these calls.”

“People lie all the time, maybe he purposefully gave the wrong number and it just happens to be yours,” Adam chimes in from another cubicle.

“Yessss” Emma exclaims, “Maybe it’s identity theft or something. It happens you know!”

“You’re way too excited about this,” I can’t help laughing at her, she’s the first to jump on the difficult traces, relishing the chase until she finds the tax evader. “Not everything is a mystery to solve, it’s just a wrong number.”

“C’mon, Aunty Jan, this could be fun.” Emma’s head pops up over the blue partition, her blonde curls bopping around her cute freckled face. “You know we can find him for them, right?”

Before I could answer, Adam’s head pops up on the other side, his emo hairstyle in contrast to his Harry Potter-like glasses, “Oh wow are we going to use our powers for evil? Can we Mom?”

“No!” I try to say with conviction, but their excitement is infectious, “You both know we can’t do that.” Giving them a serious look that says the conversation is over they reluctantly sit down, sighing heavily.

These youngsters have become like my children in the office, me being more than twice their age and having the most experience in the team. Like them, I also started working for the tax office when I left school. Over the past twenty-eight years I’ve worked in many departments, learned many different skills, and finally was appointed as the team lead in the Tracing Department. It’s our job to track down taxpayers who have outstanding taxes due to the revenue office or have deviated from payment arrangements.

Emma and Adam see tracing as a true crime investigation. They get excited and recount various scenarios of where the person could be hiding out, what their double life could look like, and how they’re spending their money instead of paying their taxes. Their stories are entertaining and have made coming to work almost fun. Despite their shenanigans, they are top performers always “getting their guy” as they would say it. But they do need to be reminded that just because we have access to systems that can look up anyone’s details, we should not abuse them.

My mobile rings again from a number that I don’t know and instead of alerting them to it, I send the call to voicemail. Shortly after I receive a text message saying, “Good day Mr V Jacobs, please contact Standard Bank at your earliest convenience…” with a phone number and an account number as reference.  

Maybe I should investigate him after all, I wonder, then my landline rings and the thought is forgotten “Janet Morgan, how can I help you?”

“Honey, I’m home!” I love saying that every time I arrive home to my wonderful new husband. Love didn’t happen for me in my younger years, many failed almost-relationships but never someone whom I could see myself building a life with. Then about a year ago this handsome, charming, wonderful man came into my life. I was at a singles mixer with a couple of girlfriends, they were more determined than I was to make sure I met someone. John introduced himself, endured the giggles and cooing from my friends, and one date turned into another and we became inseparable within a few weeks. He’s spoiled me from day one, never expecting me to pay for anything, booking weekends away, buying flowers and expensive jewelry, sending me to the spa, everything a woman can dream of. Six months in he asked me to marry him and now I’ve been Mrs John Morgan for three months. Every day still feels like a honeymoon with how much he loves me.

“Honey?” I call again, surprised he hasn’t come to greet me, but the house is ridiculously big so he could be anywhere. I was happy in my city apartment, but John already had this house and even though my commute is a bit longer, the luxury car he bought me makes the ride feel like ten minutes instead of half an hour.

I see him before he sees me. He’s outside in the pink evening sunlight on his mobile phone, pacing back and forth around the pool, his forehead wrinkled up how it does when he’s concentrating. “That’s my man” I can’t help saying, admiring his muscular body evident through the golf shirt and chinos, his short ginger hair illuminated by the sky. At 46 I never thought I would find this kind of love, never mind being married to such a hottie.

He notices I’m home, smiles excitedly at me and points to the phone against his ear. I nod that I understand and go about my usual evening routine, kicking off my shoes as I peek into each pot on the stove simmering on low to keep warm until we eat. “I love you, Mary!” I say for the umpteenth time incredibly grateful for the housekeeper who maintains the house and makes sure we eat wholesome dinners every weekday.

I take the last bottle of chardonnay out of the wine cooler to pair with the salmon. John is still on the phone but takes a glass from me and clinks it against mine mouthing “Cheers”. Trying to gauge what the conversation is about I search his face questioningly but he just shakes his head and turns away. I haven’t heard him say anything instead he’s listening to what I can hear to be a woman yelling on the other side. He’s walked away again so I leave him to his call and wander around the property, the cooling grass crunching under my bare feet. 

Inhaling deeply I take in the freshness of the countryside, earthy, with colourful blooms all around. Closing my eyes, I listen to crickets and cicadas, and an occasional hadeda that’s returning to its nest for the night. I can’t help thinking how perfect my life is. 

The estate boasts a golf course, clubhouse and all the amenities the wealthy could desire, but my favourite part is the view. Built on a slight rise, we overlook a valley untouched by all the construction in the area, and being on the edge, we have access to a forest of pine trees. The shaded paths make for the best jogging routes on a Saturday morning. Walking to the edge of the mown lawn I stare into the woods. The dusk light barely shines through between the trees, dark shadows hiding most of the pathway. Shivers run up my spine, and I imagine it would be the perfect scary movie setting at night. 

“Boo!” John says into my ear, startling me, “Gotcha!” he drawls, wrapping his strong arms around my chest, and kissing the top of my head.

My heart is racing but I’m comforted by him holding me tight, the familiar smell of Hugo Boss and sweat, and the scratchiness of his stubble against my forehead. 

“Missed you so much today,” he whispers into my hair.

Pulling away just enough so I can turn and look up at him, “Me too” and we finally kiss hello. My body instantly reacts, back arching, reaching up on my toes so I can draw him into me more urgently. “Hi baby,” breathing the words onto his lips, totally in love with him.

“Let’s go eat,” he says pulling me by the hand into the house, but before we make it to the kitchen, I hear my phone ringing in my bag where I had left it on the table. 

“Ugh” I groan, reluctantly digging for the phone to answer. “Hello?” I say with hesitation as if I could will the person on the other side to change their mind and hang up. “No, I’m sorry you’ve got the wrong number.”

“What’s that about?” John asks, “It’s as if you knew it would be that kind of call.”

“It’s cause I did, I’ve had calls for some guy several times a day all week. Every time it’s a different creditor. He must have given my number by accident, ’cause they couldn’t all have gotten the number wrong, right?” I look at him to assure me that I’m not going crazy, but he’s pale and shaking.

“Babe, are you OK? Are you sick? What do you need?” Not giving him a chance to answer me I push him into a dining chair, get a bottle of water from the cooler, and put the back of my hand on his forehead. “Are you feeling sick? Do you have a fever? Are you dizzy?”

Suddenly the thought of this man being ill causes me to panic. I’ve been consumed by my love for him and this new life I have with him, I’ve never once considered that something could happen to him. 

“Janet, honey, I’m OK,” he finally says and squeezes my hand with a reassuring smile, “I think I’m just really hungry, haven’t eaten all day.” He ushers me back to the kitchen opening the pots and handing me a plate, calm and collected again as if nothing happened. “Let’s eat.”

“This is the last bottle of white wine, by the way,” I remember suddenly as John refills our glasses emptying the bottle. We settle on the couch without putting the TV on, happy to cuddle and just be in each other’s company.

“No problem, I’ll place an order for delivery, and Mary can restock the cooler tomorrow.” He reaches for his laptop on the coffee table and clicks through a couple of screens. Just as he’s on the payment screen, his mobile rings, “Hi, yeah I’m here, hold on a sec” he says into the phone, then nudges me to shift over so he can get up. “I’ll be right back,” he whispers to me.

Taking his call outside, I sense agitation with the caller and watch him pace again, this time he’s not listening but is yelling at the caller. He’s far away enough that I can’t catch any of his conversation through the open patio door. Returning my focus to the laptop, I grab his wallet planning to complete the transaction for him.

“Hey, what are you doing?” John’s voice over my shoulder startles me. I almost toss the wallet, panicking with guilt. “I’m sorry, I just thought I could finish the transaction for you but…” my voice trails off seeing rage on his face. “Really babe, I’m sorry.”

“Well you could just ask, you know, I’ve got nothing to hide,” he says biting back his anger but clearly annoyed, “And I also value privacy.”

I feel terrible. “Of course, I didn’t mean to, I thought I was helping” but I admit how terrible that looks to find your wife, whom you spoil and absolutely provide for, snooping in your wallet. “I’m sorry, my darling,” I tell him sincerely, handing him the wallet. Wrapping my arms around him I add, “Please forgive me.”

He accepts my affection, “Of course, it just took me by surprise.” He lifts the laptop back up and continues clicking away, and completes the order. “Done. Plenty of wine for my baby coming tomorrow,” kissing my cheek as if nothing happened.

I still feel guilty and he can see it so he suggests, “We should do something this weekend, maybe go out on the boat?” we both love going out to the dam, sundowners on the water and lazy days at the villa. “Can you get off early on Friday?”

“Oh come on” I groan as my mobile rings only seconds after I sit at my desk, the joy of the weekend away pushed aside with anticipation of yet another wrong number call “Hello?” I answer, and right then make up my mind, “Hello there, I’m Janet Morgan from the tracing department at SARS. I’ve been receiving these calls for weeks now and I keep telling the caller that I do not know Vincent Jacobs. Can we work together on this? Any chance you can give me his date of birth so I can do my own searches on him and get to the bottom of why my number is being given to all his creditors?” 

Emma and Adam’s heads immediately pop up, both showing their fingers are crossed eager for a little side action. 

“No of course, I understand you can’t give me the ID number, just the date of birth will suffice, perhaps I can find his tax records and then we can get a usable contact number for him.” I take down the date and keep talking in my super professional voice, “Thank you kindly, please make a note that I confirm this is not Vincent’s number and I’ll call you as soon as I find anything. Have a good day.”

“Let’s have it,” Adam asks, “with a D-O-B we can definitely find him.”

“1972-05-21” I say as their heads drop again to write it down. 

“On it,” they say in unison. 

I barely have time to log into my computer, when Emma says, “Um Auntie Jan, we’ve got a problem.”

Adam and I both stand up leaning over to look into Emma’s cubicle. “What do you mean?”

“Vincent Andrew Jacbos born 1972 on the twenty-first of May, ID number 7205210101085, is dead,” Emma says matter-of-factly.

“OMG,” Adam spells. 

“Are you sure?” I ask, knowing this complicates matters even worse. 

“Yup, home affairs record right here,” Emma points at her screen but I know she can’t be lying. “He’s been dead for just over a year. Now what?”

I sit back down and consider the possibilities, for once the two of them are quiet. Identity fraud? Someone stole a dead man’s identity and is making debt in his name and of course, there’s no way for them to recover it. This is worse than I could have imagined. 

“Can you please put together his whole profile for me?” I need to get as much information together as I can and forward it to these creditors so they can at least stop contacting me. “I have to report this to the police too,” I say more to myself, knowing that this will turn into a bigger investigation from here.

Emma prints out everything she has on Vincent Jacobs. “Alright, let’s get to our real jobs now,” I tell them, planning to work through the documents later. 

“John, honey, I’m home” I call into the big house, an hour earlier than I would normally get home. Mary comes down the hall, “Hello Miss Janet, I didn’t expect you so early” she says giving me a hug. Most days we don’t see each other, with my leaving before she starts in the morning. Her hug comforts me and I feel calmer already.

“I needed to take care of some errands so I left work early today,” I assure her all is well, although in my head I’m thinking about Vincent Jacobs, “Is John home?”

“Yes Miss Janet, he was outside earlier. Perhaps he’s gone for a walk.” she nods her head towards the woods. “He goes there every day.”

I’m surprised by this, although I have no idea what he gets up to all day, I don’t imagine him being someone who goes for nature walks. I’ve asked about his work wanting to know more about his life but he doesn’t like talking about it. My impression was that he didn’t want to brag so he undersold it by saying, “I broker deals and get a percentage, it’s nothing really,” so I’ve left it at that. 

“Thanks, Mary, I’ll change my clothes and go for a jog,” that’s exactly what I need to clear my head. 

Ten minutes later I’m crossing over from the perfectly manicured lawn onto the pine needle-covered forest floor. The warm early autumn air changes immediately to be much cooler, almost chilly in the woods. I fall into a steady jogging rhythm, at first replaying the day’s events in my head but soon just feeling the thump of each footfall on the ground, feeling the earth meet my foot and taking away the stress and worries. 

Half an hour into the woods and I haven’t seen John, the shadows are getting longer and the air is getting cooler. I think to go back on the same path instead of continuing to do the full loop when I see a flicker of light ahead, deeper into the woods.

“John!” I call, hoping it’s him, then think what if it’s someone else? I have never been scared in these woods before but my fragile state today is allowing my imagination to run away with me. “Get it together, Janet.” 

Approaching the light, I see it’s a cellphone, the screen flickering as if someone is calling it. The woods are almost completely dark in this section, the trees so thick the late afternoon light can’t get through to the ground.

“John!” he’s lying face down, seeming unconscious. “John!” trying not to panic, I shake him but am careful to not move him too much in case he’s injured. “John!” I call again searching his body for any obvious injuries and feel relieved to only find a throbbing lump on the side of his head. I look around to see a tree root that he may have hit his head on. I think of how pale he was the other day and worry that it could be related. There’s no sign of anyone else out here so that’s the only explanation I can come up with. 

I grab his phone, having left mine in the house, and call the estate security. “Please send a team to assist in the woods adjacent to unit 4526 and call an ambulance to be ready. I’ll send the location pin now. Hurry.” I finish with the call and turn back to John. 

He’s breathing at least but still not regaining consciousness. Within minutes the security team arrive, secure John on a stretcher, and carry him out to a waiting golf cart to take him to the gate to meet the ambulance. I run to the house, grab John’s wallet and my keys then call to Mary to turn the stove off.

“Ma’am, ma’am,” the receptionist says firmly while steering me towards the front desk, “You can’t help them with him, but you can help us with his details so we can make sure to treat him properly.” 

I can’t argue with this, so I take a deep breath to steady myself and start on the forms shoved in my hands on the clipboard. How don’t I know any of this information? I ask myself, thinking this is my husband I should at least know his ID number and what he’s allergic to. I’ve been so wrapped up in this love story of ours that I feel naive now, totally unprepared for a situation like this as if I’ve lost all sense of reality.

I open his wallet, reliving his reaction last week and feel guilty again for invading his privacy. 

John Morgan, it says, date of birth 21 May 1972, which I knew. But as I get to the ID number I stop writing. 7205210101085. “What the…” I whisper, feeling the blood drain from my body in shock. “It can’t be…”

“Everything OK?” the receptionist asks, concerned about the sudden change in my colour.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine, I just…” I just what? What can I possibly say right now? “I don’t see a medical aid card, but he assured me he was sorted so I don’t know what to fill in.” I manage to say, not actually lying.

“There’s a section you will have to complete for payment then,” and she points to the page. “If you find the card later we can update his file.”

“Sure I’ll fill that in,” my mouth is dry with shock, but I continue to fill out the form. Months ago we discussed these things and he assured me that all his affairs were in order and there was no need for us to combine bank accounts or medical aids, that he didn’t want me to be in any worse financial situation because I’m married now so keeping everything separate would be better, and he would take care of the house, the staff, the vehicles, and basically all the day-to-day expenses. Having taken care of myself and my younger siblings for so long, then all my nieces and nephews, it was a relief when this generous man came along and didn’t want to burden me with any expenses. I didn’t question him. Why would I?

“Thank you, Mrs Morgan, please have a seat and as soon as a doctor has information they’ll come talk to you.” She points to an area with rows of chairs and I pick one on the end trying to avoid the other people who are also waiting for answers on their loved ones. 

I take out the papers Emma printed for me. “Oh my God” confirming the numbers match makes me want to throw up. Why does John have the same ID number as Vincent? 

My bag vibrates and my first thoughts are that Vincent is lucky he’s already dead because I’m tired of these calls, when I see it’s not my phone ringing. I answer John’s phone, “Hello? John Morgan’s phone” not knowing what I’m going to tell whoever the caller is.

“Hello, Janet,” a robotic voice says, making me think of the voice modifiers used when witnesses don’t want to be identified. “If you want him to live you’ll do exactly as I say.”

“I um but…” I can’t find the words to respond. 

“You don’t have to say anything,” the voice says, “Just do exactly what I say.”

“OK” I barely whisper into the phone.

“There’s an envelope on the front seat of your car,” I’m out of the chair and running to the door, “I didn’t say you can leave yet. Sit down.” the voice orders.

“OK,” I obey, aware that this person can see me right now. Trying to calm my panic, I turn my head slowly, looking for someone on a phone.

“As I was saying, there’s an envelope in your car. When I say you can leave,” the voice instructs, “You will get in your car, drive to your fancy house, and only when you’re inside your husband’s study, you can open the envelope and follow the instructions.”

Scanning the waiting area, plenty of people are looking at their phones either texting or playing games but no one is talking. Think, Janet.

“You cannot call anyone, or try to tell anyone you’re in danger,” the voice warns, “because you are in danger.”

I stop looking around and close my eyes, tears threatening to collapse my barely-coping facade.

“If you follow the first instructions exactly, you will receive additional instructions. Go. Now.” and the phone is dead. 

Without hesitation, I leave the hospital, get into my car where a padded white envelope waits on the front seat. I toss my bag on top of it, if I can’t see it, it’s not really there.

Walking through the big house, it feels cold, stark, not like the home I’ve known it to be. Everything has changed. At John’s desk, I steady myself and open the envelope.

“What the actual…” Inside is an ID card, driver’s license and bank card. The name on all three is Alexandra Montgomery. The photos on the ID and license are of me. The ID number is mine. 

“Change into the clothes on the chair.” the note says. I take off my clothes down to my bra and panties and put on the black t-shirt, black tights, black socks, black sneakers, and black hoody. 

“Open the safe in the 3rd drawer and take out all the cash.” the note includes the access code and sure enough there’s a lot of cash I never knew about.

“Put the cash into the envelope, take only the new cards and your car keys, then go back to the car.” I do as I’m told.

Getting into the car I find a black backpack on the front seat and look around, knowing someone is close enough to do this while I was inside, fear rises and it takes a few breaths to calm down again. “You can do this, Janet.”

A phone rings, it’s coming from the bag, again I look around as I answer it, “Hello?” my voice is weak and quivering. 

“So you can follow instructions, wonderful,” the voice says sarcastically. “Now, put the envelope and your new identity into the backpack. There’s a change of clothes in there and you can keep this phone. Drive the car to the lookout point on De Wet Street. Leave the keys in the ignition, put your hood up and leave with the backpack walking down the street. A black SUV will pick you up.” and the call is dead.

The emotions of the day overwhelm me and the tears break free. I don’t see any way out of this so I start the car and head to the street as instructed. With my hood up I walk away from my car and don’t look back. I’m sobbing so hard I’m caught off guard when the SUV stops next to me and a hand reaches out pulling me into the back seat. A sharp smell burns my nostrils and all I see is black.

“Good morning, Ms Montgomery,” the doorman nods with a smile, “Have a wonderful day!”

I flash my own smile, keeping up the pretense that it’s perfectly normal for me to be living in a five-star hotel for two weeks. “Thank you, Mike,” and he holds the waiting car door open.

On the back seat is a newspaper folded to highlight a specific article.

SARS Employee Janet Morgan’s death declared an accident

My heart drops. It’s official then. This is my new life and I can never go back.

This story was inspired by using the writing-igniter by DIYMFA. I randomised twice, then put the options out to my followers on Instagram to vote. I loved writing this story! My creativity was challenged finding a way to make the elements work. I struggled to keep it short – I could have written forever! This has potential for a whole book. So, if you like the story, please comment, give me your feedback! And maybe, you’ll get to read more of this story in the future!

2 thoughts on “Here Lies Vincent Jacobs”

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  2. Pingback: It’s official! I’m writing a book. – Corenne Tavares

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