Doppelganger

It’s been said that at any given time in the world, there are seven people who look just like you. It is by a struck of pure luck that I found one of mine.

***

I’m  late for work, and speeding down I-35, weaving in and out of traffic. I can see the other drivers flipping me off and yelling obscenities at me as I look in my rearview mirror as I cut in front of them.

“Yeah, yeah, fuck you, too, pal.”

I switch lanes again, when the pickup truck in front of me hit a pothole in the road and something flew out of the bed of the truck and smashed into my windshield, shattering it instantly. I slam on the brakes and swerve onto the shoulder to stop. I get out to look at the damage. Whatever hit me really did a number to my car, but I’m lucky it didn’t go through the glass and kill me. I get back in to grab my cell phone to call for roadside assistance to come pick me up, but can’t find it. In my haste on getting out the door for work, I left it sitting on my kitchen counter, next to the half-empty cup of coffee.

I get out, slam the door, and start walking on the shoulder of the road.  I know there is a gas station just up the road at the next exit, and I’ll call for a tow truck there. The cars are flying by me and get dangerously close as I walk, so I make my way down the grassy slope and start to walk along the frontage road. There is a small wooded area to my right, and a bright color catches  my attention. I stop and stare, and the color moves. I jump back in surprise, and realize it is a homeless man who has made a makeshift camp.

“Hey, pal. Spare change? This old son needs to eat,” he says to me as he sits up. I stand frozen and can’t take my eyes away from the man. Despite his disheveled appearance, the scraggly beard and bloodshot eyes, he could be my twin. I’m stunned and mumble something to him. The man walks toward me, stops a few feet away, and looks at me.

“Well, who’s a handsome fellow, then?”

I stammer a reply and can’t stop staring. The man extends his hand to me, which I take in my own. His skin is dry and his hands are warm despite him sleeping outside all night.

“You…you…uh, we, uh…”

The man chuckles. “I was thinking the same thing, friend. Name’s Jack Easton. Pleasure to meet you.”

“Yeah…uh, Mike Eads. Wow.”

Jack laughs quietly at me. “So, Mike Eads, what brings you here? Not everyone goes for a casual stroll in these parts.”

“My car,” I say and point back behind me to the top of the interstate. “Something hit my windshield and shattered it. I left my phone at home and am walking to that gas station to call for a tow truck.”

“Ah. Sorry for the misfortune, Mike. I’d offer my phone, but I sold it to another bum for some gin.”

I laugh and find myself staring at Jack again. Our resemblance is uncanny. I study him thoroughly. We are the same height, weight, build, everything. Jack’s nose is even bent at the bridge like mine. I wonder if his got broken in high school during a wrestling match, too.

“Hey, listen, can I get you anything from the gas station? Coffee or something?”

“Sure, Mike, that’d be great. Thank you.”

I leave Jack standing by the side of the road and walk the rest of the way to the gas station, where I make my call and am told the tow truck will  be at least two hours. I grab two coffees, a half-dozen donuts, and walk back to Jack’s spot. We sit in his camping area in silence, drink our coffee and eat. I look  around his area and see a mini camp grill, a tin coffee pot, bent and twisted utensils, and a rather expensive looking Bowie knife. My eyes stay on the blade and how sharp it looks, and wonder what Jack is using such an impressive weapon for. I am transfixed on the blade, my eyes follow the curve to the point.

“Mike? Did you hear me?”

I’m brought back from my daydreaming by Jack’s question.

“Hmm? Sorry, I was lost in thought. What’d you say?”

Jack looks at me with narrowed eyes. “I just asked you when the tow truck was supposed to come get your car.”

“Oh, uh, they said about two hours or so.”

“Okay. I need to get a move on soon. I don’t like staying in one place too long. I can stay with you until the truck comes, if you’d like, otherwise…” he trails off.

“Oh, no, that’s fine. If you need to start taking off, I’ll be okay.”

“Well, if it’s all the same to you, I’d better get going. It was certainly a pleasure meeting you. Thanks for the company and refreshments. Good luck to you, Mike.” Jack starts to get up to gather his belongings. I smile and raise my cup of coffee to him. He smiles in return and goes back to what he is doing.

I think about Jack and his life as I watch him pack. If you’ve ever walked by a homeless person, you tend to avoid eye contact. You’re disgusted with their life, how they couldn’t keep their shit together and ended up on the streets. You feel superior to them, the people who beg for spare change. They aren’t worth your time and you hurry along when you see one, pitying these poor souls who are doomed to die among the cigarette butts and gum stuck to the sidewalk. You pity them, but do nothing about it. Human garbage, basically. Jack is human garbage, but not to me. I can help him, and quite frankly, Jack can use the help and he’d be a fool to deny the offer I’m about to propose to him.

“Jack? Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure, Mike.”

“Why are you here? I mean, on the streets.”

Jack stands up and stretches his back, raises his arms above his head and twists his torso around. He looks down at me and doesn’t say anything for a few seconds. He studies my face and I do the same to him. I can see his thoughts forming in his mind and how he is going to tell me the story of how he became homeless.

“Well, Mike,” Jack starts, “basically, I’m running away. You know how when you were a child, you would always threaten your parents by running away because you felt they didn’t love you, or had unfairly grounded you? I finally did that. Years of threatening to run away, and I chose to do it.”

“Why? What happened?” I am beyond curious to find out what could cause a grown man to act on such a childish impulse.

“I did bad things, Mike. I’m a liar, a cheat, and just a general terrible person. I stole things from the people I loved, from my job. I caused everyone around me pain, and I was tired of hurting them, and they were tired of me doing so. I figured the only solution was to remove myself from their lives and here I am.”

Jack’s confession makes me realize fate has brought me to Jack and I am having difficulty containing my excitement. I form my next words carefully.

“So, do you think you’re done with that lifestyle? The lying and whatnot?”

Jack sighs, opens his mouth to speak, then shuts it. He’s quiet for a few minutes.

“Honestly, Mike, I don’t know if I am. I want to be, though. It’s hard out here. You constantly have to fight for your survival, and you need to do that by whatever means necessary. I’ve done some things out here that I’m not entirely proud of, but I needed to do it.”

“Jack, would you like to come stay with me?”

“What, like live with you?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

“You just met me. I just told you I’m not a good person. You really want someone like me to live with you?”

“Listen, Jack. I know you told me things that don’t exactly portray you in a good light, but people can change for the better. Don’t let your past affect your future. I can help you get your life back on track, Jack. If you’ll accept my help, that is. I think you’re a good man who made some bad mistakes.”

Jack stares hard into my eyes. Maybe he’s trying to decide if I’m bullshitting him or not, and I’m not. I really want to help this man. Jack turns around and starts packing again. After he finishes putting everything into his worn duffel bag, he faces me.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

“Yeah? Really? You mean it? You want my help?”

“Yes, Mike. I want your help. I’m tired of this. I want to start over.”

I get up and hug Jack. He just stands there, letting me.

We leave the woods and walk back to my car. Jack puts his bag in the trunk and we wait for the tow truck.

***

Things are going well with Jack. He’s been here about three months, and really made some good strides getting his life back together. He’s trying to find a job, but isn’t having much luck, but I keep telling him to not get discouraged and keep looking. It’s nice having him around. The fact we look even more alike now since Jack got a haircut and shaved his beard down to a less homeless style is kind of bizarre, because we really could pass for twins now. The first time my girlfriend met Jack, she was visibly shaken and kind of skittish around him.

“He just looks so much like you, Mike,” she said to me one night as we were laying in bed.

“Jesus, Mollie, I hope you can tell us apart.”

Mollie gave me a coy look and said, “I think I have a way to tell which is which…” and she put her hand on my crotch. The sex that night was pretty good.

Jack mostly keeps to himself, which I try to get him to come out and socialize with me and Mollie, but he always declines my invitation. He just sits in his room and surfs the internet or writes. He first told me about his writing hobby after he moved in and saw my laptop.

“Mike? Would it be okay if I used your laptop? I’d like to start writing again.”

“You write? Oh, and definitely. Be my guest. I have two, so actually, just let me clean out the hard drive on this one and consider it yours, Jack.”

“Thank you, Mike, I really appreciate it. And I mostly dabble with writing. Nothing serious or good, for that matter, but I was thinking it’d be cool to start up a blog or something and talk about my time on the streets. Might make for an interesting read, I think.”

And Jack did just that. He’s had me read some of this entries, and I have to say, they’re pretty good. I’m trying to talk him into writing a memoir and try to sell it to a publisher, but Jack just smiles at me and says, “maybe some day, Mike. I don’t think my story is quite done being told yet.”

“Fair enough, friend. Fair enough.”

Mollie and I are out at a new bar she wanted to try, and I’m having trouble getting into the vibe here. I’m in my late thirties, and this place is crawling with co-ed’s from the local college. Normally, I don’t mind seeing twenty-one-year-olds dressed like cheap hookers, but when I’m with my girlfriend, I feel awkward. Plus, I wanted Jack to come out with us to help him meet someone, but he declined.

The decor here is annoying and pretentious and I am stuffed into a tall metal bar stool and the bar going across the back is digging into my spine and I shift uncomfortably. The loud techno music isn’t helping my cause, either. Mollie is talking to me about her job at the daycare she works and I’m having a helluva time focusing on what she’s saying to me. I’m trying to avoid eye contact with the scantily clad women, so I’m busying myself by peeling the label off my beer bottle and shredding it into confetti.

“Mike, what’s wrong? You seem a million miles away,” Mollie says.

“I’m sorry, babe. This bar is driving me nuts. Can we go somewhere else soon? I think there’s a Lakers game on tonight and I want to watch some of it.”

Mollie sighs. She hates sports bars. “Are you even listening to me, Mike? Have you heard a single word I’ve said?”

I take a long swig off my beer, draining half the bottle in three gulps. I take the bottle away from my lips and beer drips down into my beard. I reach up to wipe it away and accidentally elbow some big muscle-head in the chest.

“Watch that elbow, fucker,” he growls at me.

“I’m sorry, it was an accident. I didn’t see you there. No hard feelings, man.”

The guy comes closer to the table and sets his beer down next to mine and gets in my personal space. He’s staring down at me and I keep my eyes forward. Mollie starts to say something and I shoot her a “don’t you fucking dare” look, and she shuts her mouth. The guy sees this and turns his attention to Mollie, ogling her up and down.

“What’s a beautiful woman like you doing with a faggot like this?”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

“You know what?” says Mollie, “I’m not really sure.”

Muscle Head laughs loudly and pounds me on the back. “Well, why don’t you un-fuck this situation and come with me and my friends. I guarantee you’ll have a much better time with us.”

Mollie looks at me, finishes her drink, and then gets up from the table. She leans in close to my ear and whispers, “maybe you should pay more attention to your girlfriend, Mike. Have fun at the sports bar,” and she walks away with the guy, who I notice has put his thick arm around her waist. I can hear Mollie giggling.

“Un-fucking-believable,” I mutter. I slam the rest of my beer, walk over to the bar and pay our tab, and leave. I walk about ten blocks down the street to the bar I wanted to come to in the first place and saddle up at the bar.

“What’ll ya have, love?” asks the cute bartender.

“Double shot of scotch. No ice.”

“Ooh, that’s a drink for a man who just got his heart broken. Coming up.”

She fills a tumbler with the golden liquid and sets it in front of me. I grab it and down it in a few swallows. The bartender raises her eyebrow at me.

“Another one, please.”

“Sure thing, love.”

After about four doubles, the booze starts kicking in. I fumble around my front pocket for my cell phone. I start to compose a text to Mollie, but my fingers aren’t cooperating, but I send it to her anyway, and slam the phone down on the bar. The bartender notices and walks over to me.

“Rough night, love? Did you really get your heart broken?”

“Not that it’s any of your goddamn business, but yes. My girlfriend ditched me at the last bar for this Neanderthal fuck.”

“Ouch. Well, you’re better off without her. And may I offer some advice? Don’t text her. You’ll only make matters worse. Trust me, I’ve seen countless men like you, coming in here, bitter at their women, firing off angry text messages, and it only fucks things up more. Don’t do it. Give me your phone, and I’ll get you another drink.”

I look up at her. She’s looking hard at me. “Okay, fine. Deal.”

“That’s my boy,” she says as I hand her my phone.

“Thank you,” I mumble. My head is starting to swim, and I look down and there’s another glass for me.

***

I wake up feeling like the entire world was crushing my skull. I am still wearing the same clothes I had on last night, even my shoes. I roll on my side to look at the alarm clock and it tells me it’s just after 2 p.m. I’m not sure how or when I got home from the bar, but I’m glad I did. I slowly sit up in bed and my head screams in protest. I get up too quickly and have to sit back down. After the head rush passes, I stand up again and succeed. I stumble my way into the bathroom, where I take a bottle of ibuprofen out of the cabinet, shake a handful of pills out, pop them in my mouth, and swallow. I walk into the living room and flop down on the couch and grab a pillow to put over my head. My stomach starts churning. I shouldn’t have taken those pills without water, and it’s letting me know this. I can feel bile rising in my throat and I have a decision to make: try to get up and run to the bathroom to throw up, or just puke on the living room carpet. Not wanting to have to clean up vomit, I go to the bathroom and empty my stomach into the toilet. Jack must have heard my troubles because he’s knocking on the bathroom door.

“Mike? Are you alright?” he says through the door.

I answer him by puking some more.

“I need to run a few errands, so I’m leaving. I can bring you back some Gatorade or something.”

“Sure,” I manage between dry heaves. I rest my head on the toilet seat until the nausea leaves. Once I’m convinced I’m done throwing up, I crawl on my hands and knees back to my bedroom and climb into my bed to pass out.

When I wake up this second time, the room is dark and another glance at the clock tells me it’s 9:38 p.m. At least my head isn’t trying to kill me this time. I make my way to the kitchen to grab a glass of water and see the promised bottle of Gatorade sitting on the counter next to my cell phone and car keys. I check to see if I have any messages, namely from Mollie. Nothing. I cringe as I read the text I sent her when I got to the second bar. No wonder she hasn’t responded to me.

“Fuck,” I mutter under my breath. I don’t know if I should send her another text or not, but I am worried about her despite her leaving me for that asshole at the bar. Wanting to be the nice guy, and because I do care, I type Hey. Please let me know you’re okay, and hit “send.” I take the sports drink with me to the living room, sit on the couch, and turn on the television. Jack comes out of his bedroom and sits in the recliner next to me.

“Sorry you have to see me like this, Jack. I had a bad night.”

“I heard. You told me last night when you got home.”

“Oh, shit…I’m sorry. Did I wake you up? And…how did I get home?”

“Well, I assume someone called you cab. When I left earlier, I saw your keys on the counter, but your car wasn’t outside. I’m sorry Mollie did that to you, Mike.”

“You and me both, Jack.” I pick up phone to see if Mollie returned my message. She hadn’t. I send her another. I know you’re probably furious with me, but I wish you’d have the courtesy to let me know you’re okay. I throw the phone on the coffee table.

“Everything okay?” Jack asks.

“Yes. No. I don’t know. I sent Mollie a message asking if she’s alright and she’s not answering me.”

“I’m sure she’s fine, Mike. Probably not very happy with you, but fine. Give her some time.”

“Yeah. Jesus Christ, what a night. Do me a favor; don’t ever let me drink scotch again.”

Jack chuckles. “Will do, Mike,” and he gets up from the chair and walks into his room and shuts the door.

I spend the rest of the night on the couch channel surfing and end up falling asleep. I wake up the next morning to the alarm on my phone going off. Shit, I have to work. That’s the problem with sleeping your Sunday away from a hangover. I shut the alarm off and check to see if Mollie responded to me. Nothing. “Bitch,” I say through gritted teeth, and get myself ready for work.

Once at work, I can’t concentrate. I’m thinking of Mollie and after a few hours of staring blankly at my computer screen, decide that I’ll stop by her place after I’m off. She can’t ignore me forever. Plus, I’m genuinely concerned about her. The rest of the day drags on, and finally it’s time to leave. I get in my car and drive to Mollie’s apartment. Her car is parked in the lot next to the building, and I circle the block to try to find a spot. All of the ones in front of the apartment complex are taken by police cars, and there’s an ambulance. The neighbors upstairs to Mollie must have really gotten into a huge fight this time and finally gotten the cops called on them. I find a spot a block away and walk into the building to the elevators and hit the number for Mollie’s floor.

The door opens up and the hallway is full of cops and paramedics. I stand in the elevator for a second and my heart drops to my feet. They’re coming out of Mollie’s place. I step out and walk to the door, but an officer stops me.

“You can’t go in there, sir. Crime scene.”

“But that’s my girlfriend’s place! Is she okay?”

The cop straightens his posture and says, “wait right here, sir,” and he disappears into the room. He comes back a few seconds later with another cop with him.

“Michael Eads?” one asks.

“Yeah, that’s me. What’s going on? Mollie!” I yell into the room.

“Michael Eads, you’re under arrest for the murder of Mollie Rogers. You have the right to remain silent…” One of the officers turns me against the wall and forces me against it as he handcuffs me.

“What? Mollie? What’s going on?” I yell. The cuffs are cold and digging into my wrists. The officers each grab an elbow and start walking me down the hall to the elevators.

“That’s what we’d like to know, too,” the cop on my right says.

***

I’m sitting in an interrogation room. My hands and ankles are bound together. A man in a cheap grey suit sits across from me and he’s noisily drinking from a cup of coffee. His slurping is getting on my nerves.

“My name is Matt Foster. Let’s make this as simple as possible, shall we?” the man says to me as he places the mug on the table. “Just tell me the truth and things will go very smoothly for you, understand? No bullshit, Mike. Just answer my questions.”

I nod my head. I don’t want any trouble and I just want to clear this mess up and go home.

“Were you and Miss Rogers having troubles, Mike? Did you get into an argument recently?” he asks.

“Kind of…” I reply.

“What do you mean ‘kind of,’ Mike?”

“Well, we had been out Saturday night and she got mad at me and ended up leaving with some other guy. After she left, I went to a different bar,” I explain.

“Did things get heated between you two at the bar?”

“No, sir, nothing like that. I didn’t do anything but get drunk Saturday night after she left. I walked to a different bar and drank.”

“So no altercation took place Saturday night, is that correct?”

“Yes, sir. That’s correct.”

“Where were you yesterday, Mike?”

“Well, I was at home.”

“All day? Where were you between 3 and 6 p.m., Mike?”

“Like I just said, I was at home. I had a pretty terrible hangover and was sleeping pretty much all day.”

“Can anyone vouch for you during that time?”

“My roommate, Jack. I got up around 2 p.m., and he told me he was…” I stopped talking. I am fucked if I keep going, if I tell this guy that Jack wasn’t at home for a few hours. I have no alibi for that time.

“And he told you what, Mike?”

I clear my throat. “He uh, he told me he was going out to run some errands. I went back to bed shortly before he left and slept for a few more hours. He was home when I got up the second time.”

“So, what you’re telling me is that he can’t confirm your whereabouts during that time. Is that what I’m hearing, Mike?”

A cold sweat broke out on my forehead and I can feel the blood draining out of my face. I feel dizzy and want to throw up. I close my eyes. Maybe when I open them again, I won’t be here in this room being accused of killing my girlfriend. I open them and am still here. Fuck.

“Mike, I’d like to question your roommate. Is this possible? Things aren’t looking well for you at this point, but if I can speak to him, it may help. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

“Yes, sir. I do. His name is Jack Easton, but he doesn’t have a phone. You’ll have to go to my house if you want to talk to him.”

“Okay, Mike. I’ll get that arranged. Until I’m able to do this, we’re done for now.”

I am taken back to my holding cell and lie on the cot in the corner of the room. I can feel the springs underneath poking into my back. Please help me, Jack. I need your help.

A few hours later, Matt Foster stands in front of my cell. I don’t like the look on his face. “Did you find Jack?” I ask him.

“Mike, maybe you misunderstood me earlier when I asked you for no bullshit and to be honest with me. I thought I was being clear, but I guess I wasn’t.”

“What? What do you mean? Mr. Foster, I have been honest! Did you talk to Jack?”

“Mr. Eads, I went to your house. I had a search warrant. I went inside, and there was no one there. There were no signs of anyone but you being there. I talked to some neighbors and they have never seen anyone but you enter and leave. In fact, one of them said they saw you leave yesterday around 3 p.m. Now, what am I supposed to do with this information, Mr. Eads? It seems as if you’re trying to give me the runaround, and I’m not into playing games, especially not with a man accused of killing someone.”

“Mr. Foster, please, you have to believe me. I have a roommate, his name is Jack Easton. He lives with me. He doesn’t have a job yet, so he should have been at home. And the neighbors probably think they saw me leave yesterday afternoon because Jack looks just like me! Just ask Moll–”

“Ask Mollie, Mr. Eads? Is that what you were going to say? Well, Mike, I can’t do that. You know why I can’t do that? Because you killed her. You killed her because you turned into a jealous boyfriend after she left you at the bar. You let your jealousy and rage get the better of you and you took it out on Mollie and killed her. I have several eyewitnesses–your neighbors and some of Mollie’s–who saw you leave your house yesterday afternoon at 3 p.m. and arriving at Miss Rogers’ apartment around 4 p.m. You lied to me, Mr. Eads. I do not like being lied to. You are a liar and a killer, and I will make damn sure you’re punished severely for your crime. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Eads?”

That’s when it hit me. It all came crashing down on me at once. Jack killed Mollie. Jack killed her and then did what he said he always does: runs away. He ran away and now I’m here in his place, being framed for his murder.

It’s been said that at any given time in the world, there are seven people who look just like you. It is by a struck of pure luck that I found one of mine.

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