I was trying to space my chores so I could hear the entire story. I decided that it was long past time for the windows to get cleaned. I glanced behind me and saw the reflection of Wuju sitting at the bar. His glass was still half-full and I hadn't refilled it for some time now. That sad little smile of his had been gone for quite awhile as well.
He seemed to read my thoughts. He half-turned toward me, gave me a grateful smile and tipped an imaginary hat to me. "Y'know," he said, "this is really the first time I've told this story to anyone who wasn't somehow involved with it when it happened. I think it's doing me a world of good."
"It's all part of the job," I replied. "Or, at least, it was supposed to be. So many of my customers just rush through here on their ways from Point A to Point B."
Wuju studied me thoughtfully. "True nice guys are few and far between," he said finally.
I laughed. "Probably because they always finish last."
The man in the tux gave me an odd look. "Don't you believe it, Steve," he told me with a wry smile. He seemed to wait for some response from me.
"Okay," I said finally, not knowing what else to say.
"Anyway, I was saying nice guys are few and far between," he went on. "Luckily, the same is true of their opposites." He seemed amused and then added, "Obviously."
Wuju took a sip of his drink and resumed his story.
So there I was, this nice guy expected to pose as the exact opposite. You'd think it would be easy to sort of let your hair down and be obnoxious for awhile just for the hell of it. Never mind when there were actual lives depending on it.
Not me. I was very nervous about the whole plan. You see, I've always believed that each person has his or her own individual nature, and it's next to impossible to go convincingly against that nature for any great length of time. I still believe that, but I've also learned that knowing exactly what a person's nature is can be very complicated. Especially if it's your own nature you're trying to define. Take my evil double:
I had been fully briefed by Big Al and the others as to the sort of person my counterpart was. There was absolutely nothing to like about him in what I heard. It seemed that our personalities were as different as our faces were alike. For example; my favorite kind of music is rock and roll oldies. Evil Wuju favored something that was currently popular in the Mirrorverse called Heavy Rattle which was sort of a combination of rap and heavy metal featuring accordions and live animals in wire cages which are rattled, shaken and/or dropped to the beat.
I like baseball and basketball, but Woo-Julanski favored Pro-Grestling which, I understand, is a sort of combination of professional wrestling and miniature golf in which huge men armed with golf clubs chase small animals and each other through a deadly obstacle course.
It was the little things that tended to suffer most around my double. The innocent things. That brings up women. My reflection was not partial to women for the most part. This is not to say that he was gay -- a fact which I figure comes as no small relief to homosexuals everywhere. When I say he was not partial to women, I mean that he tended to prefer girls. Young ones. From seventeen down to a well-developed thirteen or fourteen. He also liked them frequently and in quantity. What he'd do is send his agents out to scout families in different towns and cities and have them gently "convince" the parents to hand their daughters over to serve The Bird. Those that were cooperative received some sort of rinky-dink reward, but those that refused wound up in the mustard mines. As for the girls themselves, my double would generally tire of them after a few weeks or a couple of months and they'd simply drop out of the picture.
I honestly believe my counterpart believed that his purpose in life was to make each person he met a little bit unhappier. He was very good at it. Now it was my turn.
As the smoke began to clear, I surveyed the damage: Except for the ruined execution blenders and a couple dozen large splotches of green paint, there was remarkably little. Those in the audience who had not fled for cover were still panicky, but were otherwise unharmed. It was The Bird's servants who had suffered the most from the Mach Turtle's attack. Several black-uniformed SOBs were staggering around in dazes, and I didn't doubt that at least a few of them had been blind-sided by Agent Cheshire on his way to capture my double. On the other side of the square, Commander Griff had clawed open a fire hydrant and was trying to wash the green paint off his face. The smell of wet fur and feathers actually came close to masking the noxious stench from the Mach Turtle's smoke grenades.
Closer to the stage, the Cobalt Caterpillar lay motionless and half-embedded in the press box. He had spun a cocoon around himself. Even nearer to me, Humpty J. D'Ayle's small body was on its hands and knees groping around near the edge of the stage in vain hope of finding some trace of its head.
"Oh what a terrible thing to lose one's head!" lamented the rest of Humpty J. D'Ayle, drifting toward the stratosphere and out of the story.
I suddenly realized Jack and the Tweedles were on either side of me. "What would your counterpart do?" Jack prompted as he watched me watching the helpless Humpty J. D'Ayle.
I stepped out from behind the podium, planted my foot on the press secretary's derriere, and pushed him off the stage. I punctuated this behavior with a diabolical laugh. Big Al and Jack had made me practice Woo-Julanski's laugh for nearly half of the briefing. It was the sort of deep sadistic laugh that can only come from the sort of person who thinks little old ladies slipping on banana peels is the height of humor. It came as no surprise to me, during my briefing of my counterpart's likes and dislikes, to learn that his all-time favorite movie was Leatherface Meets The Three Stooges.
"Very good," whispered Tweedledee to me.
"Very, very good," added Tweedledum.
"Convincing," critiqued Tweedledee.
"I give it a thumbs up," praised Tweedledum.
"Ditto," confirmed Tweedledee.
"Two thumbs up," furthered Tweedledum.
"Ditto-ditto," Tweedledee went on.
"Shut up," snapped Jack obviously pleased that he was telling someone to shut up rather than vice-versa.
I'd never had a migraine in my life, but I predicted that my new teammates would soon be introducing me to my first.
Suddenly, a loud barking voice boomed at me from the crowd and I had to squelch the sudden overpowering urge to scramble up the nearest tree and raise my hackles. "Mr. Chief of Secret Police! Mr. Chief of Secret Police!" barked the voice.
I looked into the audience and saw even the most shell-shocked members of the audience and press corps scrambling to get clear of the booming voice. Its source was the pit bull who had been interrogating the press secretary prior to the bombing. I noticed that he was the only non-SOB to have been hit with a paint grenade.
"Mr. Chief of Secret Police!" barked the pit bull. "Terrorists have just made you and your agents look like fools on national television! How do you feel?"
As my mind fumbled for the appropriate response, I caught sight of Woo-Julanski's abandoned notepad. It had an SOB logo printed at the top, and below it read, backwards:
On the top of the page, in reverse handwriting otherwise identical to my own, the first line had been filled in with "Sam Doggleson" followed by a check in every box. The last blank read "For Being a pain in the ass." It made me smile in spite of myself.
"Mr. Chief of Secret Police!" barked Doggleson. "On what do you blame this gross breach of security and threat to the public safety? Does this attack suggest that the SOBs are impotent against the specter of terrorism?"
"Don't forget who you're supposed to be," whispered Jack.
|"Take him away, lock him in an iron box|
|and play the theme to Growing Pains!"|
Truth to tell, evil Wuju or otherwise, I was finding this guy pretty darn irritating anyway. "I blame the media!" I barked back into the microphone. And then, as if they had been waiting in some dark pitiless part of my brain, the next cold words slipped out: "Guards! Mr. Doggleson is a terrorist instigator! Take him away, lock him in an iron box and play the theme to Growing Pains!"
Doggleson blanched and dropped his microphone. The resulting feedback tactfully covered the reporter's pitiful whining and whimpering as two burly SOBs dragged him away. I noticed Jack and the Tweedles had all moved a pace or two away from me and were looking a little pale themselves.
"Unless the press has any further questions, I'm postponing the executions pending a full investigation," I announced. Then, with my best imitation of Agent Cheshire's scary grin, added in carefully measured tones: "You don't have any further questions, do you?"
There were some mutterings about dentist appointments and Elvis sightings in some other city, and the press corps disappeared as if by magic. The diabolical laugh slipped out after them.
"Geez! Don't over-do it!" whispered Jack nervously.
I felt an inexplicable and uncalled-for urge to squash the little man like a bug, but suppressed it. "The rest of you," I announced to the audience, "return to your homes. Full curfew conditions are in effect until further notice." Like the press corps before them, the crowd vanished.
Next, following the script Big Al had made me memorize, I gave some orders to my troops; or, rather, evil Woo-Julanski's troops. "Deliver Cobalt Cocoon to Mountain Safe-House #9. The same goes for Mr. D'Ayle. I want the entire Jubjub Imperial Legion there on round-the-clock guard duty in case another attempt is made on them."
"Yes sir!" said the SOB who was Bernie's Mirrorverse counterpart. He covered his face in a quick salute and then gave some orders to the SOBs under his command.
"Mmm-mmph?" asked Commander Griff approaching the stage. The huge griffin had gotten most of the paint out of his face, but was soaking wet and smelled just God-awful. I glared down at the lion-eagle creature. I had a score to settle with him. He had put his talons on Janet and, nice guy or no, I was going to see that he got what was coming to him.
"You!" I roared effortlessly staying in character. "I could have been killed! Your job is to protect me, but you were about as much use as knees on a fish!"
"Mph-mm mmm!" protested the griffin trying to explain through the wire holding his beak shut.
"Guards! Put Commander Griff in the same box with Mr. Doggleson for a few hours!"
Jack and the Tweedles stared at me in open-mouthed shock while Commander Griff pitched forward in a dead faint. It took six SOBs to drag him off. Per Big Al's plan, I then sent two hundred SOBs to search for terrorists in an uninhabited wilderness area fifty miles northwest of the city.
I turned off the microphone. The square was empty. "Okay guys," I said. "We got it. The SOBs will be a good hour away, the JIL will be a hundred miles away in the other direction guarding Humpty J. D'Ayle, and Commander Griff is in a box listening to the theme from Growing Pains. Let's go do our job."
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