THE CLONE

 

 

  Two men in the lavatory tried to rouse him but he was unconscious, face down in the toilet stall.  They turned him over.  His face and clothes were soiled with filth from the floor.  His eyes were shut, but he gasped for breath.  A thin stream of blood trickled from his nose into his mouth and down his chin.

  The two men and the manager carried him up the stairs to the bar and laid him on the floor.  Within minutes a crowd surrounded him.  The manager asked if anyone was with him or knew who he was.  No one knew but the doorman said he had seen him come in.

  “Was he alone?” the manager asked.

  “No.  There was a guy with him.”

  “Where is he?”

  No one knew.

  “Back off and give him some air.”  A voice spoke out.  His collar was unbuttoned and belt unfastened.  Alarmed by the blood and gray pallor of the man’s face, the manager finally called 911.  The manager kept asking if anyone knew who the unconscious man was and where his companion had gone.  The man’s body convulsed then went limp.  The door opened and two policemen entered.  The manager told the police what he knew.  “He was out cold when we found him downstairs next to the toilet.  I carried him upstairs with the help of those two guys standing near the bar.  They can confirm what happened.  Jimmy, the bouncer, said he saw him come in with a partner.  That’s all I know.”

  “Is that Jimmy over by the door?”

  “Yes, officer.”

  “And no one else saw his partner?”

  “I don’t know.”

 

two

  San Francisco Police Detective Price Huntman was thirty-nine, salt and pepper hair, degree in criminal psychology, a likable nature, and always dressed immaculately.  He slowly read and reread the report.  The victim, Nat Trambles, had overdosed in a nightclub.  The suspect in custody had been found at the victim’s home address.  He claimed he was the original Nat Trambles and the victim was a clone.  The body lay in the morgue.

  Detective Huntman looked across the desk at the suspect, an handsome man in his late thirties, five foot nine inches, thick brown hair, lean athletic build, wearing black jeans and a white T-shirt.  Huntman noticed a scar above the suspect’s right eye.  The detective swiveled in his chair and looked out the window.  It was raining and a dense gray fog was rolling in.

  The report indicated the suspect showed detachment upon hearing the news of the victim’s death.  The detective returned to the suspect.  “Mr. Trambles, were you read your rights when taken into custody?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “I notice several details in the report that need clarification.”

  Trambles clumsily shifted in the chair.  He glanced around the room then looked down.  He seemed restless and strung out.

  The detective leaned forward.  “Do you feel any sadness over the loss of your friend?”

  The suspect’s eyes narrowed then widened as tears formed in the corners.  He replied, “What do you think?  Yeah, I feel deep sadness.  You don’t understand.  I’m not the same person I was.  I don’t know what to say.  I loved the clone.  It was like a brother but then it turned into a terrible parasite.  It lied, betrayed, and robbed me of everything.  It left me empty.”  Trambles’s jaw locked for a second.  His hands clasped.

  Huntman studied the suspect.  “You knew he or it was a drug addict, right?”

  Trambles’ legs shook as he replied.  “User, not addict.  We were celebrating.  Nat, I mean, the clone wanted to push it that night.  Generally, the clone was managing its life okay.  I didn’t realize how out of control it would get.”

  “‘Nat?’  You called each other by the same name?”

  “Uh, yeah, we called each other by the same name.”

  “What were you celebrating?”

  “The Inaugural Show at the new Museum of Modern Art.”

  “If he was your double, then I’m guessing you’re a drug user also?”

  “I have my tendencies.”

  “Tendencies?  What do you do for a living?”

  “I’m an artist, a painter.”

  “An artist?  How much do you get for your paintings?”

  “Not enough.”

  “So how did you afford a clone?”

  “I got it on a swap with Biotech Laboratories.  Eight of my paintings hang in their corporate headquarters.”

  "A sweet trade.  How’d you get the scar above your eye?"

  Trambles voice hesitated then spoke.  “A car accident.”

  There was a knock at the door.

  “What’ve you got, Bailey?”  Detective Huntman asked.  A slender, attractive Asian policewoman with a black ponytail handed the detective a file and waited.

  Huntman read the autopsy report.

  “Trambles, Nat, W M, 5’10”, 155 pounds, approximately forty-five years old, brown hair, snake tattoo on right arm.”

  His eyes skipped down the page.  The forensic examination revealed the victim’s lungs and liver were severely deteriorated by years of abuse.  Detective Huntman looked up.  He studied the suspect before returning to the report, indicating, “Death occurred by a lethal injection of heroin and cocaine causing cardiac arrest.”

  The detective dismissed the policewoman then returned to the suspect.

  “If his death wasn’t accidental, I’m guessing you had something to do with it.  There’s a doorman who can put you at the scene.”

  “No.  You don’t understand.”

  “How long have you had the clone?”

  Trambles paused.  “About a year and a half.”

  "A short lived clone."  Huntman contended.  “Do you have any proof of identification with you, Mr. Trambles?”

  “I’m Nat Trambles.”  The suspect spoke up nervously.  “The clone had my wallet.”

  “What was the clone doing with your ID?”

  The suspect’s eyes searched around the room avoiding the detective’s scrutiny.  His hand opened then closed.  “I’m Nat Trambles.  I’m Nat Trambles.  I’m Nat Trambles.”

  “Why did the clone have your wallet?”  Huntman watched waiting for an answer.  “Do you have a tattoo, Nat?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Let me see it, please.”

  The suspect pulled up his left sleeve.  There was an ink blue circular snake eating its tail.

  The detective nodded then asked.  “Who are you?”

  “I’m Nat Trambles.”  The suspect hesitated and stuttered, “But who is Nat Trambles?  I ask myself that question everyday.”

  “You mean you don’t know who you are?”

  “No, not really.  I’m Nat Trambles, but who is Nat Trambles?”

  “Let me put it to you this way, Mr. Trambles, or whoever you are, the medical report checks out with the person we found overdosed.  The victim is none other than Nat Trambles.  What I’m saying is you don’t exist anymore.  I don’t know who or what you are and what happened last night, but I’m going to find out.”

  Huntman spoke into the intercom.  “Ishmael, send in someone to process Mr. Trambles.”

  The suspect was escorted from the room.

  Detective Huntman returned to the window and stared out at the impending gray mist.  His instincts lead him to believe the suspect was the real Nat Trambles who had murdered his own clone.  It made sense.  Trambles was a drug addict, dangerous to himself and anyone around him.  The detective considered it possible the dead victim intended suicide.  Or was it an accident?  Was he set up?  Could the deceased be the real Nat Trambles, and the suspect his clone?  The forensic examination clearly stated the body had endured years of abuse, not a year and a half (Do clones inherit the physical decay of their host?).  It was 1995, and clone technology was so new that there wasn’t a criminal precedence.  The suspect in custody appeared less aged and unblemished than the autopsy findings.  The detective sensed Trambles was lying.  What was he hiding?  Clues breed clues, the detective’s fingers thumped.

 

three

  I was fingerprinted and had my tongue swabbed.  The cops confiscated my shoe laces, belt, and pocket contents.  They took me to a small cell with a battered metal cot hinged to the wall next to a toilet and sink.  I sat on the cot and wondered how I’d become such a stranger to myself.

  I felt a chill and curled up.  There’s been a number of times in my life when things got so bad that I couldn’t do anything but hide.  I imagined a place somewhere far away.  I’m not certain if I slept.  All night long I felt bugs crawling over my face.

 

four

  Price Huntman was in love with the Police Captain’s daughter, Elizabeth, who was quite fond of the detective in return.  The Captain thought Huntman a good prospect.  The detective was scheduled to go before the Police Review Board the following week, hoping for a promotion and a raise.  Cracking this peculiar case would further validate his qualifications, but Huntman knew little about clones.

  Detective Huntman called Bailey on the intercom.  “Check out Trambles' life and career.  See what turns up.  Let me know the instant Washington verifies the fingerprints, and have forensics run the results of the suspect’s DNA matched against the deceased.”

 

five

  I was awakened by the clattering of wheels rolling on concrete.  There were no windows to indicate the time of day, and the lights were kept on.  A jailer escorted a kitchen hand who passed me a sandwich from a metal tray.  My body craved nicotine.

  I stared at the floor.  I noticed a torn and wrinkled piece of paper lying under the cot.  I picked it up and unfolded it.  It was a news clipping about a murder in Wisconsin.

  It read that a woman awoke to rattling sounds of forced entry.  Fearing for her family, she shook awake her husband.  He wondered why Sam, their watchdog, wasn’t barking.  The husband darted to the closet and retrieved a 9-mm handgun.  He heard footsteps as he noticed the back door was ajar.  A man’s figure appeared in the darkness.

  “Freeze!”  The nervous husband hollered as the figure approached.

  Shots fired into the darkness.  Their eyes met for an instant.  The intruder fell to the floor.  The husband trembled as he turned on the lights.

  “Oh my God, how could I have done this?”  The husband exclaimed as he recognized his own son.

  The boy had come home unexpectedly early from a camping trip.

  I reread the story several times.  In one way it seemed unlikely, yet in another way, it was plausible enough.  It occurred to me the outcome of a situation could lead in many directions.

  Some time later, a guard directed me from my cell to a long corridor, up several flights of stairs, then along another corridor to the interrogator’s office.

 

six

  Detective Huntman stood and greeted, “Good afternoon, Nat.  I trust you haven’t been too inconvenienced.  I’ve taken a particular interest in your case.”

  The policewoman entered and handed the detective a printed sheet.

  “Thanks, Bailey.”

  The door swung shut.

  The detective scanned the page.  Huntman looked up and peered into the suspect’s eyes.

  “I‘m a great admirer of art.  Someday I hope to be able to afford one of your paintings, Nat.  I see here you’ve quite a list of exhibitions.  I notice a flurry of activity in the last year.  You’re quite popular at the moment.”

  “After a lifetime of obscurity.”  Trambles spoke sorely as he turned his head away.  He scratched his elbow.

  “Are you a reader, Nat?  Did you ever read “William Wilson” by Edgar Allen Poe or “The Double” by Dostoyevski?  They’re stories about characters challenged by their duplicate selves.”

  “No, Detective, I’m strictly a player.  I’m too hyper to read.  Besides, books are a thing of the past.  If you can’t watch it on a screen, it’s too slow and complicated.”

  Huntman tried another approach.  “I want to understand you, Nat, and possibly I can be of help.  I’m not here to judge you.  Please, Nat, tell me what happened.”

  “What can I tell him?”  Trambles thought to himself as he sat confronted by the Police Detective.  “The total reality as I know it?”  He bit his thumbnail tearing a strip.  He held it under his tongue.

  The detective prompted.  “I’m all ears, Nat.”

  “You look like you got eyes and teeth too, Detective Huntman.  You see on the news how the Russian river flooded and washed away all those peoples’ homes?  Eucalyptus trees toppling in Golden Gate Park.  Mud slides eroding Highway 101.  If this rain continues, one day this whole city might sink into the Bay.  Prepared for that, Detective?”

  “Were you born in San Francisco, Nat?”

  “I hitchhiked out here during the Summer of Love from Chicago and have lived in the Bay area ever since.”

  “Briefly describe your circumstances prior to the clone.”

   "I was unprofitable, cloneless and almost homeless."  Trambles snickered.

  “Don’t be a smart-ass, Nat.  There’s a probable murder charge hanging over your head.”

  “Cool, cool.”  Trambles composed himself.  His tone changed.

  “I don’t know.  For years, I’ve strived for legitimacy in the art world.  Maybe it was the collapse of the art market that gutted me, or maybe it was my paintings.  Either way, no one was buying them.  I looked in the mirror and saw myself aging.  My habits had outlived my desires.  My dreams had come and gone, yet I kept hoping for some reason to endure.”

  “Detective Huntman, life after a certain age becomes a lie, a denial of truth.  No one can accept their mortality and denies their own weakening.  We imitate our former selves and fake our foothold.  We pretend but we all know it’s a lie.”

  Huntman sat back in his seat with his arms crossed, intently listening as the suspect continued, “I thought the clone would be a chance to renew myself.  It was a last ditch effort to save myself, to succeed where previously I’d failed.”  Trambles’ voice trailed off into silence as his teeth pulled at a scab on his right knuckle.

  Huntman sat up in his chair.  "Quit chewing and talk to me, Nat.  Tell me more about you and the clone.  What was your first meeting like?  Tell me everything in detail."

  Trambles legs shook faster, and he breathed heavily as he tried to recall.  “It’s kind of a fog.  I’m trying to remember.

  “It was 1993, and the 80’s art boom had long since evaporated.  I had fallen into terrible debt, and was desperate, Detective.  I forced myself to apprentice as a commercial graphic artist in order to survive.  Then suddenly from out of nowhere, a woman named Mrs. Arkly contacted me.  She was a corporate art consultant who had selected my work through a slide registry.  She wanted eight paintings!  She asked if I would be interested in an exchange with Biotech Laboratories.  My thoughts ran wild.  I imagined an working clone earning a decent salary who would free me up so I could go back to painting.  I also imagined loyal partner.  Biotech extracted samples of my DNA, and several months later arranged the delivery.

  “It was in early September, and the delivery was a week late.  I heard a knock and opened the door.  The clone startled me.  ‘Hello.’  I said.  ‘Is it really you?’

  “‘Yes, it’s me.  What up?’  The clone shot back.

  “There was a long pause.  I immediately felt a mixture of excitement, envy, and disgust.  He was a younger version of myself with brighter, more unafraid eyes, yet they were my eyes.  I glanced away.  I looked back and touched the clone’s shoulder.  The clone’s eyes stared into mine.  It nodded and smiled back at me.

  “‘Make yourself at home.’  I offered as the clone scanned the room.

  “‘It feels good here.  I love all the windows, very spacious.’  The clone spoke.  It was my voice.  I felt invaded.  The clone sensed my terror.

  “‘Don’t be frightened.  Please, trust me.  I want to help you.  We can accomplish great things.  Show me where we begin?’  It queried.

  “‘Where do we begin?  Good question.’  I searched its eyes for some inner-connection but there was none.  It stared back at me like a mirror.  This thing was walking into a life it knew nothing about.  There were secrets I could never admit to it.  This was a chance to change my fate.  I prayed the clone was my salvation.”

  Trambles’ body clumsily shifted in the chair.

  “I do art because I have to.  Sometimes I slash or destroy paintings.  It’s not about an audience, rather my sanity, self-respect, spiritual calling.  Painting is the only way I know to love myself.  I sink into despair when I’m not creating.  I know I’m selfish and all screwed up.”  Trambles looked up at the detective just as the telephone rang.

  “Excuse me, Nat.”  The detective picked up the phone and spoke into the receiver.  Elizabeth, what’s up?  …Uh, huh….  …Yeah….  …Hmmm….  …Ah, hah….  …Yuh, yuh, yuh….  …Oh, baby, sure.  Listen, I’m in the middle of something, let me call you back.  …Will you be home?…  Love you too.”  Huntman hung up the receiver.  “Where were we, Nat?”

  “Know the joke about the obscene clone fall?”

  “Cut the nonsense, Nat!  Don’t you realize the seriousness of your situation?”

  “Yeah, I guess.  I mean, yes, Detective Huntman, I don’t want to go to prison.  I didn’t murder anyone.”

  “Then get serious and tell me about your relationship with the clone.”

  Trambles’s shoulders slumped as he sat back in the chair.  His fingers rubbed his chin and mouth.  “I took the clone to a bar in the Mission to meet some friends.  We all got trashed and my buddies started poking fun at it.  The clone hid crouching beneath the table.  I probably should have defended the clone but instead I felt humiliated.  I walked it home.  I couldn’t have realized at the time but the clone was baiting me.  It had a more devious version of my own intelligence.  What I didn’t conceive was the clone’s penchant for self-sabotage.”

  “Explain to me about your destructive tendencies.”  The detective interrupted.

  “You mean why I slash paintings or get so wasted?”  Trambles asked.

  “Your drug habit, not your art act.  I need to understand the extent of your addiction or ‘self-sabotage’ as you call it.  Don’t worry, I’m not here to bust you for narcotics, Nat.”

  “I’ve always enjoyed a good buzz, but I guess I’ve been pushing further since the clone.”

  “Did the clone liked a good buzz too?”

  “Yeah sure, Detective, but not in the beginning.  At first, I tried to protect it from my own weaknesses, but near the end, getting wasted were the only times we could relate.  The clone would dance insanely.  I used to love it.  The clone could be an outrageously funny character.  You know that song they play on the radio?  ‘Dum dedelee, dumdum dedelee.  If you knew how hooked you are, you wouldn’t run.  Dumdum, dedelee, dumdum.”  Trambles foot tapped and his hands made gestures.

  The detective pointed his forefinger at the suspect as he ordered, “Enough, Nat!  Look at me!  What drugs?  Tell me about your habit.  How frequent and expensive is it?  How is your conduct affected when you ‘get wasted?’  Be specific.”

  Trambles crossed his legs and turned his head sideways and snickered.

  “I swear, Detective Huntman, I’m an occasional user, not a drug addict.  I pay what I can afford at the time.  I hurt inside.  The loner in me urges, ‘Forget and feel nothing.’  Sometimes I like to cry.  I don’t want to admit this but maybe I’m into pain, like I’m supposed to suffer.  I guess I’m comfortable with the defeat of getting wasted."  Trambles’ thumb curled up in his palm then his fingers closed.  "Getting wasted is a celebration of the incurable loneliness of my soul.”  Trambles hung his head.

  “I’m no psychiatrist, Nat.  People admire and buy your paintings.  Why squander your money on drugs and mire in self-pity?  What a waste of life and opportunity.  What kind of a person are you?”

  The suspect sat silent.  Huntman’s brow furrowed.  “I don’t believe you, I think you’re playing me, Nat.  What are you hiding?  Why do you think you deserve to beat yourself stupid?”

  Trambles’s shoulders shrugged.  He stared at the floor and faked a snicker.

  “Whoever Trambles was, the damage was real,” Huntman thought.  “A sad specimen of humanity.  Or was Trambles a convincing actor pandering for sympathy?  Huntman had a hunch the suspect was conniving.  Several times Huntman saw an expression of smug delight flash across Trambles’s face.  The detective listened and watched for the subtlest clues.

  The detective urged, “Let’s get back to the clone.”

  Trambles faced Huntman.  “I know I’m messed up.  My life is out of control; one mistake after another.  I don’t know how to stop.  I hate the despair in me.  I want to find love.  I begged the clone, ‘Stand by me and believe in me.  I’m longing and hurting.’  For a while the clone had a positive influence in restoring hope back into my life, but things changed.  It became more independent, sarcastic and egotistical.  I’d probably encouraged it but not purposefully.  I didn’t know what I was doing.”

  Trambles pressed his fingers against each other and stared out the window.  “Detective Huntman, I’ve never fathered children and the clone was certainly not my child.  However, I was trying to instill a positive spirit in it; raise it if you will.  If the clone was to be my makeshift messiah, then it needed to take in my moods yet I was reluctant to reveal too much.  How would it interpret my past?  Would it understand my sins and darkness?  I wanted it to honor, love and listen sympathetically, but I got paranoid.  I felt like I was being smothered.”

  “What exactly are you talking about, Nat?  Why did you feel smothered?  What do you mean by messiah?  Do you believe in God?"  The detective concentrated on the suspect’s body language.

  Trambles clumsily shifted his body in the chair.  His eyes darted.  “No, Detective.  There is no God."

  Detective Huntman’s hunch was confirming (science could be a clone’s only possible god).  “You mentioned you felt paranoid and smothered, Nat.  When did that occur?"

  The suspect glared down at the floor.  "The clone was constantly pumping me for information like it had a hidden agenda.  It asked me, ‘What were you like when you were younger?’  I told the clone I was wild.

  “The clone kept pestering me, ‘Be more revealing, please, tell me some stories about your past with details.  Come on, you can tell me.  You never let me into your inner thoughts and feelings.  Why?  What are you hiding?  What happened to you?  Tell me.  Tell me!’  Now that I think of it, the clone sounded a lot like you, Detective.”

  The detective rubbed his chin.  He fussed with his tie.

  “‘Cool out!’  I shouted at the clone.  ‘Give me some space.’

  “‘You don’t trust me, do you?’  The clone accused.

  “I replied, ‘Yeah, I trust you.  You’re all I’ve got in this world right now.’

  Trambles’ eyes peered into Huntman’s.  “As soon as I said that, I wanted to take it back.  I needed so badly to be saved, but honestly, the trust wasn’t there.  I looked at this thing and shook my head.  I was so desperate I tried anyway.  I reached out to hug and hold the clone.

  “No, that’s not how it happened.  Some of this is difficult to remember, Detective.  The clone was sitting.  I collapsed on the floor like it was a church.  I knelt down and pressed my head against its knees and cried to the clone.  ‘I don’t know what I’m doing or where I belong.  I need help.  I want to get better.  I‘ve never been able to see the big picture until it’s too late.  I always concentrate on the past and what it could have been.  The present is a struggle and the future is unthinkable.  I always hope my life will somehow change for the better.’

  Trambles looked up at the ceiling.  “I broke down unable to understand how this relationship could work.  There’s so much pain inside me.  I’ve been bad and messed up in some weird, hairy places.  Done some regrettable stuff.  The clone didn’t need to know all that.  Detective Huntman, I’m not a bad person.  I’ve never committed any real crimes.  Self-destruction is my only crime.”

  “Please, continue, Nat.”

  Trambles turned his head away.  He looked back at the detective.

  “I explained to the clone, ‘To me, painting is flight from some former self to an undiscovered self.  It’s a suicide mission against one’s own personality.  Everything I make is crippled.’

  “The clone looked puzzled.  It questioned.  ‘Crippled, why?  I don’t understand.  Why does it have to be so painful?  Why can’t you make happy paintings?  I don’t understand.’  I laughed relieved by its innocence.

  “As much as I was fascinated by the clone, I always suspected it.  Our involvement was complicated.  The line between reality and fantasy got blurry.”

  “Blurry?  Explain yourself.”  The detective interrupted.

  Trambles shifted restlessly in his chair trying to gauge whether or not the detective believed him.  “I’m a totally impractical person living in a dream world and desperately needing to compromise with reality.”

  Trambles’ voice lowered almost to a whisper.  “I wasn’t being honest with myself.  I wanted to forget who I was, sit back and watch the clone.  I wanted to believe the clone was me.”  Trambles scratched his elbow.  His legs shook.

  “Yes, uh, huh.”  Detective Huntman nodded while scribbling into a notepad.  He’d begun to notice subtle repetitive patterns in the suspect’s behavior.  The detective had growing suspicions concerning the suspect’s appearance.  The suspect looked too unsullied for his age and given the circumstances of his past.  Trambles looked more like he came out of a test tube eighteen months ago than someone who had lived in the streets on and off for forty-six years.  Had the original Nat Trambles intentionally killed himself in a dejected mid-life crisis?  Why would a clone commit suicide?  It had everything to gain.  Do clones have souls?

  The detective studied the suspect with skepticism.  He conjectured on the suspect before him.  If it was indeed a duplicate, then it was capable of unconscionable deceit.  Whatever integrity the real Nat Trambles had would have to be one step removed in his clone.

  As the detective scribbling into his notebook, the suspect listened to the pen scratch the page.  Trambles wiped the corners of his mouth, listening to the rain patter against the window.  He sensed the Police Detective’s growing suspicions.  Trambles bit and pulled at a cuticle.  He coughed, not knowing what to say.

  Huntman looked up.  “Excuse me, Nat.  I can’t pretend to understand or even imagine what it would be like to live with a clone.  This thing was pushing you out of existence, am I right?  It’s probable that you resented and hated the clone enough to murder it.”

  “I’m not a murderer, Detective Huntman, I swear.  Ask anyone who knows me.”

  “Who knows you, Nat?  Do you have family?”

  Trambles squirmed in his seat.  “A brother.  I had a brother.  He died.”

  The detective questioned, “What was his name?”

  The suspect looked puzzled, darting his eyes around the room.  “Uhhhh, Nat, I mean, Roy, Roy trambles, that was his name.”

  Huntman pressed, “You had a brother who died, and you have trouble remembering his name.  How and when did your brother die?”

  Trambles bit a nail.  “I, uhh, don’t remember.  It was a long time ago.  We were kids.  He drowned in a lake.”

  “Having trouble remembering your past, Nat, inventing as you go along.  Your story is breaking down.”

  “Sometimes I have trouble remembering the past.”

  “Possibly a past you never knew?  Come clean!  Maybe I can cut you a deal with the D.A.’s office.  You’re a fragile person looking at some serious hard time.  My guess is Murder One and that carries a life sentence.  Talk to me, Nat.”

  ‘Life sentence’ echoed intimidatingly in Trambles’ mind.  He desperately tried to stay focused.  “I couldn’t help but resent and hate it.  The clone kept wanting more, taking and not sharing.  People were more interested in the clone than me.  I convinced myself I was an inferior version.”  Trambles put his hands in his pockets.  His legs shook.

  Huntman sympathized, “I understand, Nat.  What was once considered ‘State of the Art’ is now known as toxic waste.  There are systems indispensable today that will be obsolete by tomorrow morning.  In this era of incessant upgrades, everything gets so old and boring so fast.  So the clone was in control?”  Huntman indicated.  “How were you dealing with that?”

  Trambles couldn’t discern if the detective believed him or not.  “Detective Huntman, don’t you understand?  I didn’t want to feel my feelings.  I wanted to feel numb.”

  “In the back of my mind, I can’t tell you which day or moment, I  feared in some way or another that I’d have to pay for getting involved with this thing.  I realized the clone was my punishment not being good enough.”

  The detective felt something ominous in his gut while eyeing the suspect.  He crossed his legs and wondered, why hadn’t the victim put up more of a fight?  Granted, Nat Trambles felt diminished by seeing a more youthful version of himself, but why had he practically handed over his life?  It made more sense to assume this was the clone fabricating a story to cover its tracks.  The detective wondered if any of the suspect’s statement was true.  The suspect was a good looking man with an air of self confidence.  It was as if he were speaking someone else’s lines.  The whole story sounded too far-fetched.

  Trambles feared his secret would be discovered.  He wondered how much longer they would hold him.  Desperate for a way out, he admitted, “The clone turned gay, which destroyed me.  Everything was out of control.  At first I thought the clone turned gay to spite me, but he really dug it.  I couldn’t face it anymore.  The clone began sneaking.  I found things.”

  Huntman began laughing and couldn’t stop.

  “It’s not funny!  Hear me out.”  Trambles countered.

  The detective uncrossed his legs.  “Forgive me, Nat.  You caught me off guard, and it’s getting late.”  Huntman thumped his fingers on the desk.

  Trambles sat up erect in the chair.  “The clone walked in followed by a long haired skinny boy.  They laughed and held each other.  I ignored them.”

  “‘Meet Nicky.’  The clone flaunted.

  “‘You’re nuts!  What the hell is going on here?’  I suddenly snapped.

  “‘That’s no way to treat a guest.  Fix your hair, and put a smile on your face!’  The clone demanded.”

  The detective smiled and seemed entertained.

  Trambles’ eyes closed tight.  “I hated what I’d let myself become.  Even though the clone kept me medicated, I noticed stuff missing: sunglasses, a warm-up jacket, CDs, my wallet.  I sat up all night searching for the wallet.  While going through the closet, I stumbled on a black metal box.  Inside were several discs.  I immediately placed a disc in my laptop.  What I discovered were detailed illustrations depicting the bastardizations of my image, a genetic descendency of hyenas in mine and the clone’s likeness, pitiful orphans displaying grotesque distortions, gangly organs fisting and sodomizing.  It appeared the clone had a perverse side as well, at the expense of my identity.  I was furious and terrified.  The clone’s ego porn loomed more scary than my own freakiness.  Did it intend to show these images without my knowing?  I smashed the discs into pieces.

  “I confronted the clone.  ‘I found your filthy little stash of sick thrills.  You’re disgusting!  Is it me or you in those pictures?  I hate you for bringing out this ugliness in us!’

  “‘Calm down.  You’re not seeing the bigger picture.  Creativity has no boundaries.  I was experimenting, testing limits.’ The clone insisted as it picked up a camera from the table.”

  “‘Limits?  You call that smut, limits?’  I hollered.

  “‘You don’t get it.  You’re mine!  I own you!  Sit.’  The shutter clicked.  The clone fired off five or six photos.”

  The detective queried, “So, are you aware of any homosexual tendencies in yourself?  Elaborate please, Nat.”

  Trambles looked tired as he replied, “I don’t know, Detective.  I used to think I was straight, but if my clone is gay, what does that say about me?

 

seven

  It was dark outside the window in the detective’s office.  Huntman wondered, “Was the suspect the clone?”

  Trambles slumped in the chair.  His legs shook.  He bit a loose thread from his T-shirt and chewed it.

  “Have they fed you yet, Nat?”  Detective Huntman asked.

  “Yeah.”

  “But you’ll join me for a snack?  I’ll have something brought in.”

  Detective Huntman spoke into the intercom.  “Ishmael, please order us two breakfasts from that new place around the corner.”

  The detective returned to the suspect.  “You’ll feel better after you’ve eaten.”

  The policewoman appeared in the doorway.  She gestured with her head for Detective Huntman to step out.

  “Excuse me, Nat.”  The detective walked from the room.

  In the hallway, the policewoman spoke in a low voice.  “The suspect’s fingerprint and DNA samples though exceedingly similar, don’t precisely match those of the deceased.  There’s a narrow discrepancy.”

  “What?”  Detective Huntman looked confused.  “Trambles stated the clone was hatched from his DNA sample.”

  The policewoman continued.  Washington identified a Nat Trambles, born 1950, originally from Chicago, seven prior arrests, and two convictions: trespassing, marijuana possession, conspiracy, indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, a D.U.I., and soliciting a prostitute.”

  Detective Huntman ordered the policewoman, “Bailey, get me Trambles’ early medical records and family contacts in Chicago.  There’s got to be an explanation for the discrepancy.  Try reaching the chairman of the cloning division of Biotech Laboratories, and put the call through to me ASAP.   Maybe we need to have a look at Trambles’s cadaver.  Call Forensics and let Peterson know we’ll be coming down.”

  “Yes, Sir.”

  Don’t all reproductions lose something from the original?  There had to be an rationalization, the detective reasoned.

  He returned to his office, sat in his chair, and studied the suspect.  Trambles picked at a paint spot on his pants avoiding the detective’s scrutiny.  They sat in pensive silence.

   An older bent over policeman knocked then entered the office carrying a tray of food.  “Here’s your usual, Detective Huntman.”  He said as he set the tray down on the detective’s desk.  “Two stacks of pancakes with one side of sausage and one side bacon.”

  “Which would you prefer?”  Huntman offered Trambles.

  “How is the bacon done?”  Trambles asked peering at the bacon.  “I‘ll take the bacon.”

  Detective Huntman dug into his pockets and fished out some bills.  “Thanks, Ishmael.”  The older policeman exited.

  As the suspect picked up a rasher and stuffed it in his mouth, Huntman continued.  “Tell me something, Nat.  This deep despair, where does it come from?”  The detective stared at Trambles.  “Is it contempt that you feel beneath all your numbness?  Is that the underlying motive for murder?  Where does that shame come from, Nat?  Is it something you did?  Something from out of your past?  What happened to you?  What did you do?  What did your parents do to you?”  The detective pressed.

  Trambles stopped chewing.  The question surprised him.  His eyes raced around the room.  He stared at the floor.  His voice changed sounding strangely guttural.  “What did I do?  What did my parents do to me?  I can’t talk about the past.”  Trambles mumbled shutting his eyes.  His chin fell to his chest.

  “What’s wrong, Nat?  Why can’t you talk about the past?”  Detective Huntman probed.

  Something curious was happening.  Tears formed in the corners of Trambles’ eyes as his arms and legs spread out.  The plate of food dropped spilling to the floor.  He whispered, “What did I do to my parents?”

  “Nat, Nat, what’s going off inside you?  Are you aware of yourself?  Why are you having such difficulty?”  Huntman delved.

  “Go to hell!”  Trambles’ temper flared.  His complexion flushed as his fists clenched.  A rage exploded inside him.  He lurched from the chair towards Huntman’s desk.  The detective immediately pushed the intercom.  “Officer needs assistance!”  Huntman hollered.

  A huge uniformed guard burst in and restrained the suspect.  Trambles lapsed into a trance as the guard handcuffed his arms behind his back.  “Take the suspect back to his cell.” the detective ordered.  Huntman curiously watched as the guard escorted the suspect from the office.

  Detective Huntman stood and stretched.  He glanced at the spilled food.

  The detective guessed, the suspect had no memory of a past he’d never lived.  Maybe the suspect was the clone believing itself the original but having no knowledge of its family and origins.  The clone couldn’t accept it could be a fake, Huntman thought.

  Detective Huntman picked up a ball point pen in his hand and with his thumb began clicking.  His tongue ran over his teeth.  He smelled his promotion, Chief Detective Price Huntman.  He called Elizabeth but there was no answer.  He wondered why her answering service wasn’t working.  Later, he would bring her something extravagant to celebrate his triumph.  He called maintenance to clean up the mess.

 

eight

  The policewoman knocked and entered Detective Huntman’s office.

  “I’ve received some information regarding the Trambles’ case.”

  Detective Huntman grinned and pointed a finger.  “Shoot, Bailey.”

  “This just came in, Sir.”  The policewoman handed the detective a photograph of Nat Trambles with his arm around a man of nearly identical appearance.

  “Take a closer look, Detective Huntman.”  The policewoman suggested.

  Huntman examined the picture.  There was no mistaking the two people in the photo resembled the suspect, but one appeared older than the suspect.  It seemed this identical other person (the deceased?) had lived a much harder life.  His eyes were wrinkled and dull, his mouth and cheeks drawn, and his hairline thinner.

  Huntman stared at the photo then looked up at the policewoman.

  “Talk to me, Bailey.”

  “According to a relative in Chicago, Nat Trambles has a twin brother named Roley, both of which survived a fatal car accident in 1966, which killed both parents.  Roley Trambles was the driver.”

  “A car accident that killed both parents?”

  “Yes, that’s right, Sir.  The boys were sixteen.  Afterwards, Nat ran away to San Francisco.  Roley went to live with his uncle who put him to work in the commodities market.”

  “Cut to the chase.”  Detective Huntman demanded.

  “Do you remember that financial fiasco about eighteen months ago in the news.  A rogue trader at the Chicago Board of Trade sold mortgage backed futures derivatives leaving a Japanese bank belly up.  Most of the money vanished with Roley’s uncle.  At the same time, large deposits began to funnel into Nat Trambles’ bank account.  Roley Trambles was suspected to have fled the country with his uncle.  When I began inquiring into the Trambles’ family background, the F.B.I. contacted us.”

  Huntman shook his head as the policewoman continued.  “Given they were twins, Roley was able to assume Nat’s identity.  Traders will do anything.  Roley started pumping money into Nat’s career, convincing everyone around them.  The charade was completely undetected.”

  “So there never was a clone?”  Huntman’s hand rubbed his brow.

  “No, Detective Huntman, there never was a clone.  The F.B.I. and other authorities are expected to take custody in the hour.  They want Mr. Roley Trambles real bad.”

  Huntman’s eyes closed.  His jaw clenched tight as he swallowed.  Just then Ishmael appeared in the doorway.  He whispered to the detective, “Elizabeth on line two wishes to speak with you, Detective Huntman.”

  As the detective reached for the telephone the lights flickered.  There was a stunning jolt.  The earthquake force threw him hitting his head on the desk then crashing him onto the floor.  The emergency alarm rang throughout the shaking building.  He heard running footsteps and frantic voices.  His head throbbed and his face felt numb.  In his mind he saw a prisoner escaping, then everything went black.  There were several aftershocks which caused extensive damage throughout the area.  Many of the prisoners escaped in the chaos.

 

nine

  Price Huntman never fully recovered.  He would not wed his darling Elizabeth.  The blow sustained permanent damage to the left side of his brain.  The S.F.P.D. retired him with full benefits.

 

ten

  “I, Roley Trambles, write this knowing it will never be read.  I live in an undisclosed location far from the United States.  Maybe this confession will give me some closure.  I don’t know.

  “Dear Nat,

  “I deeply regret the night we hit that shit.  We were celebrating your acceptance in the San Francisco MOMA Inauguration Show.  We had been warned the stuff was strong but you were fearless.  You always had more nerve than me.  Maybe that is reason why the family got so upset when you split.  You were supposed to be the champion.  The family had so many expectations.  All you ever wanted was your own life.  You just stood up and walked away.  The trouble was, you invariably felt like such a failure.  Expectations always dogged and destroyed you.  You struggled your whole life.

  “I am the orphaned last of the Trambles, witness to my brother’s overdose, and cursed with committing parricide.

  “Like you used to say, ‘Mom and Dad’s death was an accident and life is full of them.  Mistakes are how you learn, Roley.  Make masterpieces out of your mistakes.’

  “Everyday I ask for forgiveness in my prayers.  Nat, you were the bravest and most genuine person I’ve ever known.  I miss you so badly.

  “I got to laugh about Detective Huntman.  I wonder if the detective ever found out the truth.  He was so eager to believe, and so quick to betray his own instincts.  Truth is, I liked Huntman, and can’t believe he’s a detective.  He should have been a shrink.  He almost got me to snap and reveal too much.  But I won my freedom by a shaky stroke of luck.

  “You’d be proud of me, Nat.  I got your art act street rap down.  I spoke with your pain and spun a crazy-ass story.  I’m all alone now, but you know me.  I’ll survive, and likely even to succeed.  Love you, Bro.  Say hello to Mom and Dad.

                                                  Signed, Roley.”

***

  Chicago-San Francisco-Asheville, 1993-1995