Originally Published in Adelaide Year III, No. 9, Volume 2
I took a seat across from a man with black hair, a matching mustache, and eyes as icy blue as my late business partner’s.
He sipped from a steaming cup. “Mr. Smythe, I presume?”
“That’s correct. I gather you’re a relation of Bill Brown.”
The British accent fit for a king disappeared. “Sam, it’s me.”
The beer stein I’d been drinking from too early in the day slipped out of my grasp and shattered on the floor. “What have you done--?”
He shushed me before I could call him by name “I’m tired of getting paid to do nothing more than trip over myself for laughs. I studied at the Royal Shakespeare School, for crying out loud.”
“And I trained right alongside you. I’ve been right there for twenty years. Yet I didn’t fake my own death. Not only did I not do that, I didn’t not warn my right-hand man about my plan. I didn’t let him wonder how he was gonna go on without me.” As I finished, rage scalded me from the inside out.
“I’m sorry, Sam, but you have a natural talent for every kind of comedy. I couldn’t risk your performance of grief being unconvincing. I knew the cameras would be watching you.”
“Gee, Bill, thanks for your confidence in my acting abilities.” I got in his face and whispered through gritted teeth. “And thanks for the compliment about my comedic skills, especially since I spent two decades as your straightman.”
“Now, Sam, I’m sure you would’ve pulled it off. I just couldn’t take any chances. This is a decision I can’t go back on, obviously. Unmasking the illusion would take away any career I have.”
“You might want to spend some time reflecting on what you’ve had. What we’ve had. Because this charade can’t last. The makeup giving you an olive complexion is also gonna give you permanent hives.”
“Maybe so. In that case, I’ll just enjoy this second life while I have it.”
“And what am I supposed to do?”
Bill chewed his lower lip. “Take up comedy. Find a straightman of your own.”
“People will never accept me as the klutz. You know that.”
“Then say that after my death, it felt wrong to replace me, so you’re going for dramatic roles.”
“Thanks for choosing my career path for me, Bill.”
“You can handle it. You’re an actor. You need a challenge. To find yourself again. We’re not a pair of Siamese twins.
“What are we now?”
“I’m your late partner’s previously unknown twin brother. You met me in London, and we struck up a long-distance friendship. You can write to me at this address." He slid and a slip of paper across the table.
“No. Thanks, Mr. —“
“Willis. Simon Willis.”
“Thank you for the generous offer, Mr. Willis, but your tastes are too fine for me. Any connection I would have to you would be due only to your resemblance to my late partner. Knowing you’re so similar yet so different would make the relationship too painful for me to continue.”
My chair screeched across the floor as I pushed it under the table and left the café.