No one breaks the rule: Kill your double.
My neighbor Ralph killed his twin brother Tim. Just in case Tim was a double. No one filed charges because the killing was “within the latitude prescribed by law.”
Ralph wears his 1 Only shirt to bed. Consider that shirt the badge of the 1 Nation movement, or Oners. A TV talking head first used “oner” as a term of derision to describe 1 Nation members. They wear the label with the same pride they wear their shirts.
Three years ago, Ralph kissed his wife goodbye, threw his duffle and Weatherby deer rifle into the back seat of his 12-year-old Camry and drove away to track his real double, the one he killed at a one-pump gas station on I-15 in Nevada. He spotted the double double dipping the gas tanks when he slowed for a jack rabbit who darted across the highway. The same red hair with African frizz that he and Tim inherited from their Irish father and Nigerian mother.
He parked a mile down the road, walked back to the pit stop with his tire iron, followed the double into the men’s room and painted the walls with blood.
The law doesn’t say: “Kill your double.” It says, “The United States Government recognizes only one doubled person as the legitimate heir to his identity.” The Supreme Court ruled that, “in the absence of other legal enforcement mechanisms, a double’s murder should not be considered a crime so much as an exercise of civic responsibility.”
The rules change from state to state. California law permits sanctuary cities. Nevada shelters tourist doubles but refuses to protect residents. Texas, my state, passed the “Man standing” law, which grants amnesty to anyone who kills their double within state lines.
Even in Austin, cars sport bumper stickers that read: “Keep Austin weird, but singular.”
The Supreme Court decided to use birth certificates to determine true identity. Preference belonged the owner of the older certificate. The ruling led to a rash of phony birth certificates. People back dated their births by months, sometimes years, hoping to improve their odds.
I forge their certificates (far from the career I planned). At the time the court ruled, my Congress Avenue print shop was collapsing into a sinkhole of falling revenue, rising bills and spiraling rent. A colorless concrete facade squeezed between a Jamba Juice and Souper Salad. Identifiable by the blue “KwikKopy” sign and the toner particles that drift onto the street whenever anyone opens the door.
One of my customers tried to send a phony certificate to a color laser printer. I warned him that the most clueless records clerk could spot the forgery. He offered me five thousand dollars to fix it. That covered rent for the month.
He referred me to other clients, who referred me to more. When I finally admitted to my wife how much our income had grown, Shiko didn’t ask how I earned it. She said, “Did you forget I’m an accountant?”
Was it legal? I doubt it. But when doubles settle their differences with guns, poison, hatchets and speeding cars, the law overlooks our indiscretions.
Besides, city leaders welcomed my campaign contributions. I even provided several with birth certificates.
The day I met my double I was kneeling behind the front counter, looking for a receipts I mislaid. A customer leaned over the counter and asked, “Could you help me?”
I recognized his voice. It was mine. As was the impatient tone with which he spoke. Shiko mocks me when I use it with her.
I raised my head above the counter and looked into my face. Forty-five, thin hair combed back from my forehead to cover my bald spot (and not succeeding), mustache with chewed ends, even tortoise-shell glasses.
I pushed my frames to the top of my nose. He pushed his. “Let me guess. You need a birth certificate.”
The color vanished from his cheeks. “Are you going to shoot me?”
“Because you people shoot doubles in Texas.”
I reached beneath the counter. He skipped six steps back. That’s when I raised my hands, empty, to reassure him. “‘You people.’ As if Texans were a minority race.”
“Fuck me,” he said. “I thought everyone in this state was crazy.”
A sentiment I often express myself, but never in public and never share with anyone but my wife. She thinks Texans are “drunken bat shit dangerous crazy.” Especially when they cart their rifles to church.
How does it feel to meet your double?
Imagine your reflection in a mirror. Identical to you, except for the clothes. Your reflection talks back to you, using your voice, but a different inflection, a different vocabulary. Maybe a different language, Spanish to your English or Hindu to your Japanese. With better manners (you imagine your mother telling you). More successful, better dressed, smoother with the ladies.
Or do you detect a hint of alcohol on their breath? The scent of a detestable cologne. Perhaps they’re a step slower on the uptake (you mention the irony in Marvel’s ‘Coy Mistress,’ the use of elevated diction to seduce a naïve maid and they ask if the song is available on iTunes). One hint to suggest that you’re the real McCoy and they’re the cheap imitation.
Warning: When you meet your double (that first meeting — a moment like the first time you recognize the inevitable approach of death), your gut collapses into your bowels, a sodden dishrag in a sink full of filthy dishes. It twists and twists and twists once more to squeeze free the water dragging it to the bottom. You lose the feeling below your knees and your ankles flee the scene leaving you to crash against the concrete floor of reality.
Why else would so many otherwise good citizens snatch their shotguns and atomize the abominations? Or why else would my double think he was dead on arrival when I reached underneath my counter?
Shiko and I often argue whether Texans are quick to draw for self-protection, or because they look for excuses to shoot. I’m surprised someone didn’t shoot him for his mocha turtleneck and sunburst stretch shorts.
I rebooted the conversation. “It’s a long drive to Texas for the sake of a birth certificate.”
He ran his fingers across his forehead and wiped them on his shorts. “I requested a certificate in May. You recommended a photo forger. James Kunstner.”
“I forge the type. He’s a Rembrandt with pixels. My photo forging wouldn’t withstand second-level quantum analysis.”
Kunstner offered his hand. “I disagree. Your work wouldn’t withstand any scrutiny. Nähdä and I moved to Austin to expand our client base. I hoped we might work together.”
“Maybe you should have done more research. It’s the first rule of business, ‘location, location, location,’ and I can’t imagine a worse one to choose.”
James hid in the back until I closed the shop. I backed my car to the shipping door, and he slipped into the back seat floor panel. As I pulled from the alley onto Fifth Street, I spotted one of Ralph’s buddies at the bus stop — farm-boot resting on a knee, arms dangled across the bench back, baseball-sized wad of tobacco in his lower lip. He raised two straight fingers to his eyes and tracked me as I dove past. No ambiguity in that message: kill your double.
That night I bought a shotgun at Walmart. The State approved my license by fax five minutes later. I listened to the latest My Favorite Murder podcast while I loaded the shotgun in the parking lot — an episode on the first double murder. Fran Hanson spotted her husband Dale with a woman while visiting her sister in Des Moines. Only after she poured drain cleaner into Dale’s throat did she learn the man with the other woman was Dale’s double. The jury acquitted her after thirty minutes deliberation.
I climbed James’ porch steps with the shotgun at my side. Shiko answered the door.
Remember your first glimpse of the one? The person to whom you’d surrender your life for a few years of companionship? I glimpsed mine twice. Shiko three rows in front of me during a lecture on the ontology of God’s existence. Intro to Philosophy. Before that class she sat at the back with her retrogoth roommate Beth, draped in black, hair dyed black, black suede boots and a jeweled rose to symbolize the power of the feminine. One day a pin, the next an earring, the next dangling from an ebony bracelet. That day she arrived fifteen minutes late, ducked her head and took the first empty seat on the front row.
Until she opened the door, I scoffed at St. Anselm’s argument. Imagine the most perfect being possible. Would not a condition of his perfection be existence as well? Laughable to all but the most gullible until she stepped into the room. I surrendered to Anselm’s wisdom: perfection could not be imagined without this woman.
The light from her living room framed my second glimpse — the same swan’s neck, cobalt eyes, cheeks carved with a sculptor’s rasp, hair blacker than squid ink. Wrapped in a red silk kimono embroidered with gold and silver koi. Her first words? “You’re not James.”
I pushed her into the house and shot each light until her living room descended into darkness.
I didn’t shoot the street lights. I dragged the blood-soaked carpet to my car, tossed it into the trunk with my shotgun, slammed the lid and drove home. No rush. Let the neighbors spy through their parted curtains, and post video to Facebook before they thought to call the cops.
Nähdä slipped from the rug and wrapped the wound on her arm with the bandages I left for her. The carpet with her blood was the last detail I needed to sell the charade. She climbed through the back seat and into the seat next to mine. Anyone who saw us would assume she was Shiko.
When the police knocked on my door, I surrendered the shotgun and James’s photo, which I stole from their bookshelf. “The guy showed up in my shop out of the blue. When I realized his wife was Shiko’s double, I killed her too. What did you expect me to do? Make my wife shoot them?”
The judge fined me $300 for damages to the house.
We mastered the art of dissembling. I killed James and Nähdä Kunstner, and, having performed our civic duties, Shiko and I returned to normal. No one imagined four actors played two roles.
Until Ralph dropped by while I was at the shop. A Oner buddy stood at each shoulder. “You know what we heard?”
“Another Oner conspiracy theory?”
He leaned across the counter, traces of last’s night’s six pack on his breath, gripped my shoulder. “Truth ain’t conspiracy neighbor. Especially when the truth shines on you.” He winked. “You know what I mean.”
“If you didn’t speak in code, I might.”
He cocked his finger like a gun. Pulled the trigger. Mouthed the word, “Kapow.”
That evening I noticed the surveillance. The same pickups driving past the house every other hour. The deer blind in a tree three houses down. Oners congregating at the street corner with their guns or passing out flyers in front of my shop.
Saturday night Ralph’s pickup blocked my driveway just as I was backing into the street. Six Oners with him this time — armed, locked and loaded. I lowered my window. “Problem, Ralph?”
“A little bird Tweeted that you were packing your car.”
Shiko leaned across the steering wheel. “My mother had a heart attack. We’d like to reach San Antonio before the surgery.”
Two Oners stepped into the glow of our taillights. “What’s in your trunk? Someone that looks like you maybe?”
I stopped the engine and dropped the keys in his hand. “If this will stop the surveillance drive-bys, search the entire car.” I opened the door.
He juggled my keys in his palm for half a minute. Then he tossed them through the window. “I know.” He aimed his finger once again. “I know.”
Two cars followed us to New Braunfels before turning back. A third followed us to Southwest General. The passenger followed us into the lobby and watched us climb onto the elevator. We waited in the cardiac unit’s lounge for half an hour.
James and Nähdä brought coffee, lukewarm but welcome. They’d watched the hospital entrance from the coffeeshop. “They stayed for another twenty minutes,” she said. “But they’re gone.”
James fished through his pockets for the credit card I loaned him. “Saved by the shell game.”
A game I learned as a child. For laughs. It cost me three suspensions from school. Four doubles and two cars make a dozen trips in one day. The odds of losing track increases with each link in the chain of surveillance. Or imagine the phone game. The more updates the Oners shared, the more their signals crossed.
James and Nähdä snuggled on the floor panel until we were certain no one followed, then I took the loop to Interstate 10. We don’t know what we’ll find when we reach San Francisco. The courts may overrule their sanctuary referendum on appeal. Ralph might wait in ambush with a hundred Oners ramped on meth.
It’s still safer than Texas.
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