Updated: Jan 3
“Listen,” he said leaning across the metal desk, the stink of his coffee breath tickling her nose, “we have done this before and we will do it again!” His partner paced, fingering the latch on his gun holster before doing a quick turn and slamming his fist down on the table, which rattled against the floor and simultaneously clinked against his wedding ring. “Do you or do you not want to end up like Beyoncé?”
She hesitated, perplexed. There was no right answer under these circumstances and to ask for clarification would seem snide. As cool as she was pretending to be, she had already urinated on herself, just a little, but each time out of fear from the barking men.
The space was unfamiliar: it looked like the interrogation room of every police procedural she had ever seen but it was dirty, the light was yellow and sizzled, sometimes surging bright or fading dim; and it was located, as far as she could make out from the smells and sounds she was able to catch as they walked her here, in some deep basement — deep enough that she hadn’t bothered to scream. She had watched enough torture porn horror to know that screaming only bothers the audience.
The men, however, were familiar. They were her new-ish security guards. Hired a month ago after her former guards didn’t show up. Upon hiring the two men she said, “I’m just trying to appreciate what I have and settle into a normal life. Your job,” she said, “is to keep me safe until I’m not important enough to be desired any more.” They agreed and brought with them their own vetted employees to man the gate and patrol the property. But it was only Arnold and Harold who were allowed in the house or to escort her publicly.
She was not frightened by them in particular when they both appeared in her room at midnight, but she was concerned, “What’s happening? Is everything okay?” Their answer was a gag, zip tie handcuffs, and a hood over her face. Dread competed with that fear, dread that the news of this moment would only add to her fame, which she did not want.
“Are you willing to rejoin Orchid Riot?”
She pushed up all her courage and said, “No. I just want out.” She took a long pause and looked from Arnold to Harold, who then looked at each other, and Jan noticed that they had started to look like each other. “You know I want out. And, you know that’s why I hired you.” She spoke clearly and with strength, but her declarative sentences barely hid her fear.
“Harold,” Arnold said, “show her the file.” He said this with his back to her. He said this in the flickering light with his hands on his hips. Harold began to drop eight-by-ten black and white photos on the table. First was Beyoncé, five years of hairstyles ago, dead on luxurious dense pile white carpet, blood like ink exploding from the side of her head. Then another photo of Beyoncé, recent and fabulous. “Which Beyoncé do you want to be?”
“I —“ she started, but Harold cut her off.
“You know. We know you know. Make a decision.” Arnold threw down another photo silently: Paul McCartney, young and dead in some sixties outfit with a swag-lamp dangling in the corner. “We need you to do your job,” Harold said as Arnold threw down a second photo, “or someone else will.” The second photo was of the man named called Saul — the clone who supposedly replaced Paul McCartney after an “accident.” Harold turned around, and despite the difference in their facial hair and hair color, looked more and more like Arnold: “You have a choice to make — you can be like John and Ringo and George, or...” he waited, “you can be a Paul, and the world will get their Saul.”
“I just don’t want to perform anymore!” Her cool was breaking. “I just want to be free!” Her cool was gone. “I want to just be Jan! Just Jan! I don’t want to be an Orchid anymore! I just want to be me! I want a life!”
A new photo fell on the table. Blood in black everywhere. A small dress. “Her parents wanted a real life for her, too.” Another photo of the same scene: a dead infant. Another photo. Another. Each one moving closer to the corpse as Harold spoke, his back turned, as if he were the voice of Arnold: “And we got what we needed from the Ramseys.” A photo of Miley Cyrus fell on the table. “Different names. Same DNA. Same job done.” Arnold adjusted the photos to be side by side. “This one did two jobs.” Jan looked back and forth between the image of Miley and Jon-Benet.
She cried out: “Who are you people?!”
Arnold pulled out a badge as Harold spoke slowly, as if an anvil was falling between each word: “We are the Bureau of Doppelgängers.” Jan inhaled sharply. “And we have very important work for you to do... you are the government’s most powerful distraction.”
Together Harold and Arnold said, “You’re too valuable to quit.” The resonance of their dual voices in unison sent a chill down Jan’s spine. Harold took out the gun from the holster, the latch no longer flipping back and forth indecisively.
“Jan,” he said, “you are running out of time. You have to make a choice.” She was sobbing. “Zero-sum proposition. You get everything or nothing.”
She cried out: