A Man Of Many Doppelgangers
by Jeff Tannen
ou're lying in a claw-footed tub with all of your clothes on. You immediately think about how your girlfriend has been on your case about everything lately--especially regarding your so-called occupational hazards. But you can't worry about that right now because the man standing over you has a hairdryer aimed unsteadily at your chest. (You have no idea why he would actually take aim, seeing as how the real threat is he'll drop it in the water.) While you were tending to your twisted wrist a moment ago he hurriedly plugged in the purple monstrosity. It even has one of those ridiculously large diffusers attached to the front of it.
You had better tell this guy why you were snooping around his apartment while he was drawing a bubble bath. He looks like he means business.
"It doesn't have anything to do with you," you say, half-lying. "This is about a guy named Benjamin Fargas."
The man shakes his head, removing one hand from the dryer to make sure the terry cloth sash on his bathrobe hasn't come loose. His ponytail glistens like a horse's mane and his glasses are foggy with condensation. "I don't know anyone by that name."
"He's your double. Well, one of them anyway."
"Double what?" The man asks.
"Look." You slide your uninjured hand into your breast pocket and offer him a stack of Polaroid photographs. He snatches the bunch from your soapy fingers and thumbs through them like a flipbook.
"Who took these? They're blurry as hell," he says.
"I shot them. Those are your doubles," you say. "Look-alikes."
You can see that he's not going to stand for any of this (what he must think is) nonsense, and since the hot water has already numbed your extremities you sit back, massaging your swelling wrist, and begin relaying to him the events that led you to his apartment.
If you had a choice in the matter you wouldn't reveal that you're a security guard assigned to the graveyard shift at Sky Port Plaza. Especially since a breaking and entering charge could adversely affect your employment there. But since it's pertinent to the story you begin by confessing that you're a lowly mall rent-a-cop who has for years dreamed of becoming a private investigator--if only it weren't for that damn written examination. The one you failed three times in a row now.
When one of the guys who works at the information booth in the plaza said that he needed you to check something out for him you were more than willing to take the job. You knew you wouldn't be tailing a member of the Cosa Nostra or looking into a highly publicized political scandal, but it was work experience nonetheless.
"I've been seeing these different guys all around town who look exactly like my boyfriend Ben," the guy at the information booth explained. "I even bought one of them a café au lait the other day without even realizing he was a complete stranger."
You didn't yet know what he wanted you do, but his case seemed compelling. Multiple look-alikes. Mistaken identities. The assignment sounded intriguing. But in the back of your mind you could hear your girlfriend warning you not to commit to another meaningless investigation. "Funny how you can spend so much time spying on other people, when it's me you should be watching," she would say.
Ignoring your girlfriend's hypothetical (yet soon to be realized) disapproval, you accepted the challenge that you were sure this case would present. In true investigator fashion you took down your client's details, requested a photograph of the man in question, and inquired as to the purpose of the investigation.
"Ben's become super unreliable lately. It's time to recycle him."
"Come again?" you said.
"You know. Whenever you end a thing with someone you usually replace them with somebody comparable. I'm just being proactive, looking for a replacement now so there won't be much of a gap between relationships. If I could find one of his doubles to hook up with it'll be that much easier for me to make the adjustment."
You weren't familiar with your client's theory on recycling partners, and although you didn't know if you agreed with his outlook on relationships, you wanted the work so badly at the time that it didn't really matter. You knew the case would keep you occupied (and temporarily out of your girlfriend's crosshairs), so armed with nothing but a photograph of a long-haired, bespectacled Benjamin Fargas, you set out to find his doppelgangers.
Your girlfriend, as expected, was anything but supportive in regard to your manhunt. "What in the hell is wrong with spending an evening at home?" she said when you told her about it. "Like you need to go gallivanting around the city searching for these metrosexual look-alikes."
"What's metrosexual mean?" you asked.
"It's the antithesis of you!" she said, slamming the door to the bedroom.
You had no idea what all that metrosexual talk was about, but now you have to acknowledge that she had been right about one thing--you really had nothing to gain from this assignment. And now that you are lying in a stranger's bathtub, reflecting on all of the personal humiliation this assignment has brought, you realize you should have taken her advice in the first place.
After three weeks of patrolling areas of the city that maintained high numbers of foot-traffic, showing Benjamin's photograph to coffeehouse employees and bookstore clerks all around the Magnolia district, you finally composed a list of six look-alikes, all of whom bore an uncanny resemblance to the "unreliable" companion in question.
Double #1 had been employed by the California Lottery commission to help figure out how, statistically, the newest scratchers, featuring exotic animals and exotic locales on the front of the tickets (such as chinchillas and Bora Bora--even chinchillas chilling on the beaches of Bora Bora) could bring in more revenue for the state of California while making it look like the money was actually going toward public education.
Double #2, while moonlighting as a transvestite runway model for the semi-annual fundraising fashion shows put on by the Fireman's ball, worked as a software engineer during the day. Although his company believed him to be among the most prodigious minds in their employ, he spent most of his time digitally pasting the heads of his co-workers on the bodies of mythical creatures while listening to Weird Al Yankovic in his cubicle.
Double #3, appeared to be the most normal of the six, being the writer of a column about relationships and commitment for the local paper. It seemed no one knew that he had been married six times himself, three times each to two different women. Talk about gluttons for punishment, you thought--these women have taken turns divorcing and marrying the guy for the last ten years.
Doubles #4 and #5 were twin brothers, which stands to reason, seeing as how there were an unprecedented number of these look-alikes. They were equally unproductive members of society, sitting in their basement all day long smoking cannabis and taking turns on the bongos while the other improvised metaphysically minded spoken-word songs.
You were astounded at first to realize that all of these men, who bear relatively the same appearance and physical features, had absolutely nothing to do with each other. But as you staked them out (of course working around your shifts at the plaza) you discovered that their lives weren't as unrelated as previously thought. It seems that #2 was having some kind of relationship with #4, and maybe sometimes (unwittingly) with #5. #1 was dating the on/again-off/again wife of #3 (who was currently off), and #5 was dealing pot to #3's current wife, who no doubt needed it after her long jerky ride on the marital roller coaster.
Upon making the associations between these doubles you came to the conclusion (because all good investigators come up with an axiom by the end of their episodes) that everyone is somehow connected. Of course, later you more deeply reflected on the situation and in doing so realized that what you'd uncovered was doppelganger incest. It seemed so wrong to you that the lives of perfect strangers should be so interconnected. Especially when all they initially seemed to have in common was their looks.
Of course, the real surprise was double #6, who, in the course of your story has leaned back against the bathroom sink and unplugged the hairdryer. You can tell he is so enthralled by your experience that he's forgotten he found you going through his dresser drawers when he came out of the bathroom to pour himself a glass of sherry.
"So where do I fit in?" he asks.
"Well, uh, the investigation ended with you."
"What do you mean? I'm not gay."
You think you should probably clarify that his involvement in this case has nothing to do with your client's original request, but you're not exactly sure at this point how to put that into words. Instead of saying anything you pull out a pair of sud-soaked panties from the back pocket of your slacks.
"What are you doing with my girlfriend's underwear?" he asks.
"They're my girlfriend's underwear," you say, wringing them out.
For a moment his face remains blank and you watch the water drip from the lace of the underwear while you wait for the information to register. Finally, he nods deeply and, for the first time during this bizarre exchange, he smiles.
"You must be Milo." It seems all has been forgiven as he extends a hand for you to shake. You offer him the hand with the wet panties in it (since he pretty much mangled the other one when he caught you in his apartment), but instead of a simple shake, he pulls you out of the tub.
For a moment both of you are holding your girlfriend's underwear. It isn't until you think he'll never let them go that he finally does.
"Look, I'm sorry," he says with a chuckle. "This is one hell of a way for you to find out about us."
You laugh yourself, though not as lightly as he does, while patting yourself down with a hand towel.
"I think I love her," he says. "And I don't think she loves you anymore."
What he just told you should have been obvious months ago, before you even took the case. You ignored all of the signs. Some private investigator you've turned out to be. As you leave #6's apartment, still wet despite the offer for a change of clothes, you feel more dejected than ever before.
You're not angry with your girlfriend because you knew you had problems in your relationship. And you're not sad; you haven't really lost anything since you haven't been home in weeks. My client hasn't lost anything either, you decide, thinking now that you'll just tell him to keep the boyfriend he has. Sure, you checked the guy out and his "unreliability" was apparent in the way that he snuck into #2's house through the back window every night when he told your client he was going to the club, but at least your client doesn't know about it.
The question now is what to do with your unreliable partner.
Although this doppelganger assignment has left you a little more than unnerved, it has opened your eyes to possibilities. How common could this phenomenon be? As you wander back toward your own apartment you take the twisted panties out of your pocket and toss them in a recycling bin. Benjamin Fargas can't be the only one with a look-alike, you think. Suddenly your client's perspective on relationships seems to make sense. Your investigation may not have to end here after all. It's just a matter of finding another doppelganger. And this time it won't be another Benjamin Fargas.
Jeff Tannen currently has stories featured in MARY, Rhapsoidia, and
The Red Hills Review and is hard at work on a novel called Alex and
Zander Become One. He is an instructor of English in Fresno,
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story copyright by author 2005 all rights reserved