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The Lazy Lookalike

A. C. Spahn wanted to be an interstellar starship captain when she grew up. Since nobody was hiring, she became a writer instead. She enjoys training in martial arts, organizing messy rooms, and researching a hobby-of-the-month. When not commanding imaginary starships, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, son, and feline overlord. She is the author of the Endurance series of comedic sci-fi novellas and short stories appearing in Outposts of Beyond, Disturbed Digest, and other publications.
Cara Watt, paranormal investigator, wrinkled her nose at the smell of trash. The junkyard piles blocked the skyline of nearby Watson Ridge. Rancid odors mingled with the tang of rusting metal.
Before her, a woman in overalls shifted uneasily from foot to foot. "It's fishy, Ms. Watt. With all the yattering about disturbances lately, I thought you should check him out." She eyed a bright yellow machine across the junkyard, its long neck ending in a giant, dangling electromagnet.
Cara cleared her throat. "Him? The machine?"
"No, its operator." The two women watched the magnet seize the front half of a broken car and shift it to a salvage pile. "Drew's only worked here for six months, but I thought he was reliable. Then yesterday, I run to the bank, and he's lounging outside the coffee shop, chugging down a Forte size mocha cocoa frappalini thing. He ran when he saw me, and when I got back here, he claimed he'd never left. Trouble is, I almost believed him."
Cara chewed her lip. "Elaine, are you sure it was Drew you saw at the shop?"
"Positive. Same clothes, same hair. Same watch and ear piercing, even."
"And you think he's lying for some reason?"
Elaine nodded. "Been hearing whispers about trouble with... their type. The paranormals, you know? Kidnappings, extortion, all of that. Somebody's stirring the pot, and I'm worried my magnet operator's in it."
"Is he paranormal?"
"Don't think so. Myself, I've got some elf blood from my great-grandpa, but it's far back enough that it doesn't show up much. Sometimes I can tell when it's gonna rain, but that's about it."
Cara nodded. "I'll talk to Drew. We'll get to the bottom of this."
"Appreciate that. Leave your phone in the office, so's the magnet don't scramble it."
After dropping off her cellphone, Cara picked her way to the yellow machine, avoiding stepping in anything too suspicious. Drew the magnet operator looked down at her as she approached. "Hi," he said, pulling a lever to send the magnet back to the junk heap. "Can I help you?"
Cara put on a smile. "I hear you had some trouble with your boss."
He grimaced. "Some. Yesterday she got back and started yelling at me about ditching my work. But I was here the whole time. I even showed her the piles of stuff I moved around while she was gone. But she swears she saw me in the city."
"Maybe she did. Have you ever heard of a doppelganger, Drew?"
"Paranormals who take the shape of other people?"
"Yes. I think you might have one. Probably copied your appearance based on your social media photos. If so, there might be trouble."
"Legal trouble, or spooky trouble?"
"Both." Cara drew a notebook from her purse and flipped it open. "I can help you, but I need a full list of what you're wearing, to help me track down the doppelganger."
"Uh, okay." Drew frowned as the magnet strained to free a chunk of scrap metal wedged beneath a couch. "I've got jeans, a black t-shirt, er, underthings, my watch, my earring, socks, and work boots. Oh, and sometimes I wear sunglasses."
"The boots, they're made of leather?"
"I think so."
"Denim jeans?"
"Yeah."
"Stainless steel earring?"
"Uh-huh."
"Cotton t-shirt?"
"I honestly don't know."
"The watch, it looks like it's made of brass?"
"Y-yeah. Are you sure you need to know all this?"
"Positive." Cara scribbled another line in the notepad, then chewed the pen cap. "Last thing. Can I see your phone, to look for any strange calls?"
"Sorry," said Drew. "I left it in the office. The magnet messes with it, you know?" The machine hummed as it continued to struggle with the scrap metal.
Cara folded her notebook. "Then perhaps you'd prefer to tell me what you're doing here while the real Drew was at that coffee shop, doppelganger."
Drew startled. "How ...?"
"You're working with an electromagnet," said Cara. "One strong enough to make you leave your phone inside. Yet you weren't concerned about your stainless steel earring pulling out of your skin. It's not an earring at all, is it? It's part of you, duplicated from the real Drew's earring using your powers."
Drew's skin rippled, as did the stud in his ear. He flipped the power lever, and the magnet died with a sigh. Drew leaned out of his seat and whispered, "Please don't tell. We aren't hurting anyone."
Cara arched an eyebrow. "We?"
"Me and Drew. We have an... arrangement. I work half his shifts and give him days off, and he lets me use his face to hide."
"Hide from what?"
"All the chaos. Paranormals being abducted, beaten up, robbed. They say there's a guy behind it all. Calls himself the Baron. Even the dragons are afraid of him. I don't want any part of it."
Cara's heart quickened. Here was a clue she could bring to the police to help resolve the growing unrest. In the meantime, sympathy warred with her sense of duty. "Look, your boss hired me to investigate this, and she's frightened. I can't lie to her for you."
Drew's face fell.
"But I'll tell her you're a good worker and no threat to anyone. I'll suggest she let you keep your... arrangement. And keep it a secret, to protect you."
The doppelganger sagged with relief. "Thank you."
"Tell Drew to be more careful about going out when you're working. A doppelganger isn't a free source of vacation days. And DrewTwo? I suggest you give more thought to what you 'wear' around heavy machinery."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

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