When I was twelve I told Myron Lasko that I wanted to be him.
"Maybe when you're older, kiddo," he said, and he ruffled my hair and smiled at the nearest camera. Signed the cast on my arm, signed somebody's chest, took selfies with anyone who asked. Disappeared into a limo with a groupie. Another two of him had already gone, right after the concert, he didn't leave multiples behind for autographs. But on stage he harmonized with his own melody line, danced under the whirling lights in perfect step. Matching himself breath for breath and pivot for pivot so perfectly it would have been impossible for a team to achieve by practice, by anything other than being all three of him himself.
There were more by the time I was out of college, six sometimes appearing together, rumors of a seventh. Interchangeable; if one was offstage it wasn't because he couldn't sing out of that mouth, it was insurance, competing obligations, something like that. Six or seven or eight of him. A lot of people wanted to be Myron Lasko. He looked young as ever. Masks didn't age, and there was no reason you couldn't wear a mask of yourself, if you had the money to make them at all. All of him looked twenty-five and fit and beaming and glamorous.
I had an English degree and couldn't bear to move back in with my parents and was sick of eating ramen and I wanted to be Myron Lasko.
On his website's contact page was an email for "Mask Inquiries".
I wrote in.
When I was twelve I said I wanted to be you, and you said maybe when I was older. I'm 22.
Filled in the physical address slot with my sister's place in case my landlady's patience ran out. Gave my real name. Anonymity is for people you don't want to pull over your head like a paper bag.
Zapped a bowl of ramen and listened to all of his Bridges album and half of Arching Skies.
His assistant replied. I guess even if there's seven or eight of you there's some things you want to delegate. There was a form eight pages long asking all sorts of questions. How was I insured for this and that, did I have debt, did I have competing obligations besides being Myron Lasko all day every day, my health history, pets.
I filled it out over the course of four days, not because I was dragging my heels or had to rehome a cat but because forms are excruciating. Sent it back.
Waited a few hours, checking my email over and over, then got a list of possible appointment times. I was supposed to block out a whole day.
I didn't really have any demands on my time. A few standing weekly invitations, karaoke with people I barely knew from college and board games with different people I barely knew from college, things like that, nothing I couldn't unremarkably skip.
I blocked out the offered Monday, slept badly all weekend, showed up in my interview clothes that my mother had bought me as a graduation present. They fit on me but I didn't fit in them; I kept wanting to scratch myself or adjust the collar.
Assistant met me in a little office in an anonymous skyscraper. I'd seen pictures of Lasko's houses and apparently I wasn't welcome in them till I was him. Or maybe the assistant wasn't.
"I'm Briony," she told me. "Have a seat, help yourself to the caramels. How much do you already know about masking?"
"...what everyone knows, I guess," I said.
"You don't have to interview well in a conventional sense to wear a mask," Briony said, "please don't worry about describing it badly, just tell me what you actually know. Everyone doesn't actually know much."
"They're magic. You put one on and you're somebody else."
"I need to make sure you actually know what you're getting into. Legal reasons."
"If I'm wearing a mask of Myron then I'll look like him and feel like him. We'll both be able to do stuff but part of the deal is that he does most of the stuff, since I'm not on a mask-release prison program or something. If I take it off I'm back to being just me like I am now."
Briony nodded. "That's the gist. Mr. Lasko is a very busy man. He currently has an undisclosed number of mask contracts active, not less than five."
"Six. During the East Coast tour -"
"Not less than five. A self-mask does not count," said Briony.
"Oh." I took a caramel.
"He can coordinate all of his bodies at once with full-person amounts of attention, not only when they're doing approximately the same thing like performing. At any given time one may be writing music, another having lunch with friends, another recording, another practicing an instrument, another asleep, another visiting his family, another updating his schedule with me. He tends to expand his to-do list to match whenever he gets a new mask. You should not expect a lot of time in control of the body."
"I don't need much. I'm -" I stopped before I said "boring", shrugged instead.
She nodded. "You can negotiate the exact details, but don't anticipate that you'll wind up with extra beyond what we put in the contract. Other than that, you'll be a passenger. You will look like Mr. Lasko, and you will not be permitted to do arbitrary things with his likeness in public - not even fidget or slouch, although you will probably find sitting up straight and still more comfortable in his form. Taking off the mask for good represents a considerable loss. They can only be keyed to a wearer once."
"I didn't know that part."
"Most of what you've heard is probably about the experimental prison program, yes? They deemphasize expense to the taxpayers; if they make it sound like the masks are reusable..."
"You can take it off and put it back on," she says, "if you want to add in some clause for time spent wholly as yourself, for instance with family. Once a month for a day is boilerplate."
"That sounds fine."
"In addition to his public life Mr. Lasko maintains a private one. He prefers interchangeable bodies - they don't feel obviously different to him in any way while the masks are on - and is unlikely to negotiate limited-use agreement with you except insofar as he will not take undue physical risk."
"...does that mean 'part of being him is sleeping with groupies' or -"
"If that is the limit of your imagination -" began Briony.
"My imagination? How's my imagination factor in?"
"What would you do with extra bodies?"
Briony nodded once, expression perfectly professional.
"...yeah that's cool with me," I said. I had not actually been having dreams about being in the middle of an orgy of multiple Myrons Lasko but I was sure going to start.
"Quite. This is the time to tell me if anything on the form was false or incomplete or complicated."
"I'm not totally sure about all the insurance information. I couldn't find all my paperwork."
"I can look into that for you. Anything else?"
I shook my head.
"Have you read 'Decoy' or a similar memoir?"
"Is Decoy the one about the masker who was the President - I read the one by Tammy Wise's masker, uh -"
"'Star of the Show'," Briony supplied. "That will do. You believe you'll cope all right with the sensation?"
"I think so."
"Reservations -" she prompted.
"Uh. I'm just generally apprehensive. How do people usually cope, are there usually problems?"
"There are not usually problems that lead people to default on their contracts. Adjustment periods vary."
"I wasn't really imagining it being so - contractual -"
"Masks are expensive. Mr. Lasko can afford them but must expect that they'll pay off in added time in his life. If you were hoping for an informal arrangement -"
"No, this is fine," I said.
"Let's go over the standard contract together, then, shall we?"
It was long. It was excruciating. There were so many paragraphs. Briony made me read them all from "...hereafter referred to as the Masker" down to the signature lines.
Though per 11.B Mr. Lasko will consistently use barrier methods and seek regular quality medical attention (see 66.M and 66.C respectively) the Masker will accept that there is non-zero risk of sexually transmitted infection accruing to the body and a non-zero risk of pregnancy in a sexual partner. The Masker acknowledges that the genetic relationship is Mr. Lasko's alone and will seek no custodial rights -
, accordingly, the Masker will not use allotted time in control of the body while wearing the mask to use Mr. Lasko's likeness before witnesses present or remote in any way not concordant with Mr. Lasko's image and stated wishes, notwithstanding Mr. Lasko's technical ability to intervene.
SECONDLY, should it ever be the case that the sole remaining body of Mr. Lasko should be the Masker's, it is understood that the removal of the mask would present a hazard to Mr. Lasko's life and under clause 14 -
The Masker is responsible for, in advance of masking or while on a hiatus (see 29), setting up service "Thespyan" or equivalent of Masker's choice for verifiable authorship of online writings. Mr. Lasko bears no responsibility for unverifiability of writings and is not obliged to disavow, repudiate, or make any statement whatever regarding any publication of the Masker -
"Your eyes are glazing over," Briony said.
"No shit," I mumbled. "Nobody actually reads contracts."
"Mr. Lasko's maskers do read them. And understand them. You can go home if you prefer."
"No, I -" The memory of my apartment seemed very grey and small. "No, I just need a break."
"I can order us some lunch. Thai?"
She sent me a link to a menu and I picked a random curry and flopped on a couch in the corner of her office and stared at the ceiling till someone brought it up for us. I ate it without paying any attention to it.
"You're not a picky eater, are you?" Briony asked.
"Does it matter? His tastebuds."
"That affects it if you think cilantro tastes like soap. If you don't like the texture of yogurt it's another matter."
"I'm not picky."
"Will you need time to set up Thespyan after we've finished going over the contract?"
"I've never actually heard of it before," I admitted.
"It's a face recognition and password app. You show it your face, and you answer a lot of numerical questions, and then after you type up a post on your blog or write an email or something like that, it'll ask you things like what's the number of rooms in the house you lived in age twelve minus the number of people named John you know times the number of second cousins you have? And you do that in your head, so Mr. Lasko doesn't see anything but the answer. And it won't let you send the emails or post the essays unless you get it right, or unless you take the mask off and it recognizes you."
"You don't strictly have to have it but it's recommended. Mr. Lasko will not be spending time on disavowing having 'hacked' your account," said Briony.
"Why don't regular passwords work -"
"Even if he's letting you operate the hands and letting you look away from the keyboard - and that assumes you touch type - he can accumulate body memory. The answers to your arithmetic questions will be obfuscated to make it that much more inconvenient to perform algebra on them, however."
I nodded. "- so am I in, or -"
"Mr. Lasko will want to talk to you briefly himself, but approximately, yes, unless you bail on the remainder of the contract review."
One of Myron's bodies blew in after I'd signed the contract (and Briony had ordered pizza for dinner, and I'd been quizzed on how many second cousins I had and how many times I'd read my favorite book). I was expecting to be grilled. Actually he just shook my hand and asked my name and wanted to know if I was sure, read Briony's notes and asked if they were all right, made sure I'd signed the (interminable) contract - then -
"You want to schedule a trip to the maskmaker for later or just go on now?"
"- uh -"
"She's not busy right now but we can probably get an appointment later this week if you need to wrap anything up," he smiled.
I swallowed and said, "Now's fine."
The maskmaker's workshop was bigger than it needed to be - masks were easily made, quickly enchanted. But the ability was so scarce that they could charge exorbitantly, and the place was beautifully expensive, tiled wall and floor in marble with gilded molding and curtained against the sunset. The maskmaker barely talked to me at all. She just murmured to Myron and took his money and pulled a white mask - no eyeholes, just a cast of a generic face - out of her safe. She chanted softly while she made a short, deep cut across his forearm and caught blood in a pool in the mask. She asked my shoe size. They were too small for Myron and she told me to take them off.
Then she took my hands in hers and arranged them so I could cup the mask like a bowl, and gave it to me, and gestured for me to put it on.
My hands shook.
"Clock's ticking," said Myron. "Has to be fresh, first time you put it on."
I held my breath and pressed my nose into the accumulated blood.
And I was Myron Lasko.
Not being in control of how I moved didn't feel like anything. In the same way I could walk without paying attention to individual steps or hold an object without concentrating moment to moment on keeping my hand closed, I moved as Myron wished. Maybe he was being very deliberate about every bit of body language but I didn't have to be.
He was really healthy. He had good posture. He took deep diaphragmatic breaths and went around by default with a faint smile. He had a low resting heart rate and clear uncorrected vision and a smooth way of moving our hands when he tried them out.
We fixed his other body's hair - a bit of it had fallen out of place. Tipped the masker. Begged the use of a changing room to get out of my clothes and into a set his other body had brought - it did feel strange when he talked, with a little of the phatic reflex of "thank you" and "you're welcome" and "you too" but for full sentences. We sounded like him, but distorted: this was what he sounded like to himself.
Then the other body left, and it was just us being Myron there, which was strange. I wasn't operating the muscles, but I was all alone in my head, and there was a vertiginous feeling of being unsupervised in Myron Lasko's skin. Who knew what I might get up to? But all I got up to was what he thought was next - he changed into the snappier clothes, dumped mine in the bag, thanked the masker again, went out and hailed a cab.
The clothes he'd brought included a phone in the pocket; we pulled it out and started reading his social media aggregator (the contents of which I was contractually obliged not to divulge). Eventually he emailed Briony.
I'm sure you've already seen the debit in the account but yes, the mask's on. Please make appropriate purchases for the house, XOXO
I couldn't ask what appropriate purchases might be, and that - didn't feel like anything, exactly, but did remind me that I wasn't driving. I simultaneously felt like I merely hadn't chosen to speak, and knew that I wanted to.
Myron couldn't even tell. He might talk to me at some point but some point was not this cab ride. We shooed the social media and went into a pitch tuning app and we sang into it, warming up.
We sounded amazing.
Holy shit, I was Myron Lasko.
We got out of the cab at his mansion and nodded to his security. Sang in harmony with another body who was home, though I never saw it; our twinned voices echoed through the halls while we poured ourself a cup of juice and the other body did Myron only knew what. Well. Myron and the applicable masker. It was easy to forget they were there. Presumably they could forget about me, too, they might not even notice I'd signed on if they weren't in use for the mask bleed or the preliminaries. Might not find out till they saw the updated estimate of how many bodies Myron had or he decided to have an all-hands concert. Or orgy. We all looked alike.
The juice tasted nice; whether it was because I would have liked the blend on my own or because I was using Myron's tastebuds was unclear. We sang a bit more. Sat on the sofa and picked at lyrics (which I was contractually obliged not to divulge) on a battered legal pad.
Maskers needed sleep per body as much as anyone else, and it was getting late. We'd only gotten one line down without crossing it out before he put us to bed. Stashed the bag of my clothes in a box in the closet, brushed our teeth, changed into pajamas, crashed.
He fell asleep easier than I did. We didn't toss and turn. Just closed our eyes and morning came.
After we were up and showered (which was really something, although Myron wasn't as fascinated as I was and didn't linger like I might have if I'd been solo in his skin), dressed and breakfasted -
The house seemed empty; the other bodies might have gotten up earlier, or they could be still asleep, or scattered in half a dozen hotels.
"So how are you?" we said.
It took me a minute to realize he was talking to me and that I might be able to move our mouth, if I tried, if he was letting me.
"...fine," I croaked. I still sounded like him, but like a distorted version, his timbre and my tone.
"Forget anything you remembered last night, need a few to tell your folks, having trouble adjusting to the mask...?"
"No. It's - there's not much to adjust to."
"I've been told that. Never tried it myself from your end. You're all set to go back under?"
Is that what it was called. "Yeah. Thanks."
"Mm-hm." And he went back to working on the lyrics from last night.
I didn't have to think about lyrics for lyrics to appear. Without even secondhand access to the creative process I might have expected to get bored, but I didn't. I just went along for the ride and occasionally my mouth hummed or muttered, my hand jotted down a line in his handwriting. Crossed something out, added a question mark in parentheses.
He played a lot of instruments and I was apparently on tap to practice all of them, after he decided to put the lyrics down (they didn't look done). He danced my fingers over piano keys, drilling tricky bits and performing flowing runthroughs of classics and his own compositions. We strummed his guitar and we sang along with it, trying chords. We applied his ridiculous breath control to wind instruments because there were not fewer than six people wearing his mask and he could sing while accompanying himself on the flute if he wanted to.
We had lunch. We called Briony in response to a text I hadn't seen.
Two of his other bodies showed up and he test-drove harmonies for the new song. I kept expecting it to descend into an orgy but he was so resolutely focused on music that I wound up surprised when it actually did.
It wasn't like I'd imagined, which was in some ways a disappointment - no, Myron Lasko did not conveniently have all my favorite kinks - but mostly much improved. Myron Lasko, surrounded by himselves, was as smoothly unselfconscious as if he were alone - he might as well have been for all the attention he had to pay to us, but distributing the sensation across multiple bodies did what one might expect for the experience. Also he didn't pause in the middle of his choreography to be sure that he was acting in character and imagining his own abs in sufficient detail, which gave it all an advantage over fantasy. He might have been careless about distributing the fun and the work between the participating maskers, but I lost track somewhere in the middle, having come out well in the allocation.
So it was a startling upset when suddenly all of us froze and fled in different directions, seizing various of Myron's phones.
We called 911.
One of the other bodies had been murdered.
I didn't get a chance to ask any questions for longer than I considered reasonable. If someone killed a masker, Myron was fine - witness how he was running us around, contacting everybody to tell his family he was fine. Whoever had owned the body, if it wasn't Myron's original, wasn't so lucky. But he chose to first give the police all the information he had on the circumstances on the murder. It didn't sound like much; a different masker wound up being the one who spoke to the police as Myron propelled me to the door to peer through the peephole and let Briony in.
"I came as soon as I heard," she said, wringing rain out of her hair onto the welcome mat and hanging up her jacket on Myron's coatrack. "You're already giving a statement -?"
"Yeah. I didn't see anything conclusive but I can give them what I've got. Might help if they know how tall the guy was or something," we said. She opened her arms to offer him a hug; we took it.
"Who was it? I need to notify the family, the lawyers -"
"You know I don't keep track of them except by vacation dates."
"Have the ones who are left sound off," Briony suggested.
Myron released my voice. I croaked out my name. He took it back before I could ask anything. A moment later he reported, "It was Brightman."
"I'll make the arrangements," said Briony. "I don't think there's any reason someone would have been after her, do you -"
"Even if they were, how could they keep track when I don't? It has to be someone has it in for me, I'll need you to talk to the security company, remove everyone who was posted there tonight just to be safe, double security on net."
"They could be after MacDougal, and just willing to go through people to get him."
"No one even knows about MacDougal," objected Myron. "Not that I've got him in particular."
"His family do, the court does."
"All right, yes, but they've known for the last fifteen years and nothing's happened. Meanwhile I get a heap of mail from people who want to lick my eyes and see my liver every week."
Briony shook her head. "It's more likely they're after you, but it can't hurt to let the police know that it could be someone trying to get at a masker they can't identify through you."
"Right. Fine," we said. "But give the cops all the creepy fan mail they could ask for, don't deliberately lead them down a rabbit hole about MacDougal."
"But you should warn MacDougal."
"He hasn't exactly been catching up with people from his past on his breaks! He's the one who reads Flat Earth articles and watches women's volleyball!"
"I didn't need to know that, Mr. Lasko."
"This one isn't MacDougal, apparently, how'll he find out? Anyway, there's nothing he can do with a warning but worry."
"Mr. Lasko, he has a right to know. If you won't tell him I'll email it to you until you read one of them with the wrong body and then he'll know anyway."
"That's low," we said. We shook his head.
"He has the right. It wasn't specified in contract but it should have been and when this settles down I'm bringing it up with legal."
"Fine. Fine, I'll tell him."
"Thank you. Is there anything else you need from me?" Briony asked.
We shook his head. Briony hugged us again and left.
All my questions had been incidentally answered over the course of that conversation, but I was still annoyed that he hadn't offered to let me ask any. If someone was going through Myron and his maskers to get MacDougal, or was even just out to get Myron, I was in the line of fire.
But he stayed on top of my body with perfect unchallengeable control until it was my day off. We went on the Dennis Mueller Show. We worked with a choir providing backing vocals for a couple songs in his next album. We talked to his agent about scoring a kid's movie. We did a series of concerts, a different venue every night, in groups of four and five, and took home girls and once a boy to ravish in pairs or singly. He sent my body home from the tour the night before he was due to leave me in control.
My first month as Myron Lasko elapsed and he let me have my break.
I woke up in control of my limbs, a sensation so nonexistent that I spent a good few minutes wondering why Myron was staring at the curtains unfocusedly not moving a muscle until I realized he'd abandoned me. Released me, anyway, he was probably still supervising. Could he redivide his attention when he was letting one of the bodies do as its owner liked? What did he use the extra to do, think of song lyrics even faster? Come to think of it, what happened to his attention when some of us were asleep? We weren't all on the same schedule; the bodies slept at this or that hour, while Myron was awake twenty four hours a day.
Experimentally, I tried singing. I had his voice, and that counted for a lot - I even had a month from inside of his body to know what it felt like to sing right - but I didn't have his talent and I didn't have his focus. It came out as though Myron were attempting to portray the Act One version of a character who began unable to sing and would have to produce a stunning solo in Act Three. Embarrassing. Awkward.
I went to the kitchen for cereal; on my day it was my job to feed my body. I brought my phone, from where it was tucked away in a sticky-note-labeled box in the closet, and answered math questions to get onto my various accounts through Thespyan. To my lack of surprise, no one had wondered very hard at my absence. The backlog of messages and mail I had to address once I shooed away spam and notifications about people's pictures of their cats came to three. One from my sister, one from my landlady, one from a board game friend. Huh, I hadn't known she cared... enough to badger me about leaving them short for the co-op game she got for her birthday.
I'd been waiting so much for this day but, just as I'd surmised when I'd decided to put the mask on in the first place, I actually mostly wanted to be Myron Lasko. But his days could be numbered.
I checked the news. It didn't cover the death. The person wearing the mask wasn't a public figure and Myron was still alive, plus maybe they didn't want a lot of reporters swarming around while they tried to solve it and the rest of us could still be in danger. I could appreciate that.
I looked up my stupid long contract. There was nothing about anyone's rights and obligations changing if an assassin had it in for the face I was wearing. I wasn't allowed to give out his email address to anyone except my emergency contact; I wasn't allowed to do extreme sports; I wasn't allowed to comment publicly on his sex life... my bailout options didn't say anything about murderers.
I got the nearest yellow legal pad, the kind he wrote lyrics on. I wrote, I have some questions, Myron, for tomorrow. I could have just said them aloud but I didn't know if he was paying attention. He gave no indication that he was; that would have been out of the scope of the contract. The handwriting came out a weird blend of mine and his. I was the one writing it but I'd been "practicing" his; as far as muscle memory was concerned, I'd been using his style for weeks now.
1. Who is MacDougal?
2. Where are the police on the murder now? News doesn't say
3. If this keeps happening or looks like it's going to, can I bail? Contract doesn't say
2. Where are the police on the murder now? News doesn't say
3. If this keeps happening or looks like it's going to, can I bail? Contract doesn't say
I felt like I should have been able to think of more to ask but that was all I had.
I added And I want to have a conversation about this, not get two sentences and wait another month to ask for clarification.
I taped the page to his bathroom mirror so he'd see it in the morning if he wasn't looking while I wrote it, and answered all my emails. My sister was going to a fancy party and that was exciting and could I reschedule my day off to go with her, she's sure she can get an extra ticket through her friend - no can do, Gina, already taking day off right now, need more notice to adjust timing. I'd told her that I was on a demanding work schedule, but hadn't mentioned the job and she hadn't asked. Landlady wanted to know, had asked weeks ago, if I was going to pay my rent - nope, I'd already rescued the essential items and she was free to junk the rest and keep my security deposit. Board game friend was pissed that she didn't have enough board game guests to play Crowd Mode of her new game, how could I, didn't RSVP, she knew full well I never had anything important to do... that one I ignored.
I was allowed to take off the mask entirely, on my day off. I just had to put it back before going to bed. It had been a long time since I'd seen my own face.
I got naked so I wouldn't be wearing his clothes in my own build, grabbed a blanket in case any other Myrons walked in. Passed the mirror on his closet door on my way to sit down on the bed in "my" bedroom. Gave myself - still Myron - a good looking-over. He was just really unfairly lucky on every axis except for the part where someone was attempting murder.
I reached behind his ears and pulled off the mask.
In a cold rush, like taking off a clammy wetsuit on a winter day, my skin, my own skin, was exposed to the air again. My hair had grown - Myron's had too, he was permanently enjoying a frozen biological moment from when he'd been bled to make his first mask but that didn't freeze his hair; we'd had a haircut a week ago, a manicure on Tuesday. Mine was long enough to brush my shoulders now, not startling for a month of growth but startling to see all at once. I looked pale - hadn't gotten any sun in my own skin. I blinked at the mirror, worried for one hypocritical moment about Myron looking through my eyes to see my own form in the nude, remembered that Myron was in the mask I now held in my hands. He knew I'd gotten undressed and taken the mask off, but the mask was both what let him know that and what let me look like him, and both came off at the same time. I was alone.
I sat on the bed, pulled the blanket around me for warmth. Imagined, vaguely, pursuing something other than being Myron Lasko. I could go to medical transcriptionist training, which Gina had once evangelized to me. I could be a flight attendant and squeeze in tiny chunks of tourism on foreign shores between flights. I could try to get more student loans, go to music school, see if this month had taught me enough to succeed at what I'd given up on aged fifteen.
It didn't appeal. If I'd ever been good at working towards things, I didn't have the skill to reach for it now. And doing anything else would be work, and being Myron was effortless glamour and success and art, held in my arms as long as I was willing to share them. Not everybody would be suited to being Myron but I was, I thought. It was a way to be. Worthwhile. My input to the work wasn't creative in nature, but he could get more of it done with me. Briony wasn't exactly composing concept albums and nobody would have thought she wasn't helping Myron create. I was like Briony, except having more fun than she probably did, and I was good with that.
It was nice to have a day to spare, though, just to make sure that I was a participant in my life.
My phone rang. I let it.
It stopped, then rang again. And again.
I picked it up. "Hel-"
Myron's voice: "Put it back on." He sounded breathless, strained.
"Put - put it - mask -"
I picked up the mask, planted my nose in its nose, transformed back into Myron Lasko.
We said, "This is the only one left."
He let me talk, which I only thought to try because a moment ago I'd been the only person in the room. "The only one left? Did every other body get -"
Myron took over. "It was the matinee in Greenville. Maniac opened fire on the stage, I don't know how he got the gun past security, we fired everyone who was on duty during the first killing so if there was a man on the inside - one survived long enough to call you."
He paused. I tried and found I could speak. "You can - without your original -?"
"My original body's been dead for years. Motorcycle accident, haven't touched one since."
"- you've been just a bunch of masks for years?"
"Yeah. Works fine. And now I'm clause-fourteening you, till I can find more maskers."
I tried to reach for my phone; our arm stuttered, and finally he allowed it. I looked at the contract again to find clause 14. "I didn't realize," I said, "when I first read this, that it meant you don't need your original body. I guess it does. And now I - don't get days off any more?"
"You don't get to take the mask off any more and if I catch you trying I'll stop you because if you do I will die, the one who called you died in the ambulance thirty seconds ago. You can still sometimes do things, like you're doing now."
"Thousands of people will have seen a bunch of you get shot at a concert, you're not going to find more maskers soon."
"The cops are working on it. Once they catch the guy, there's always people who want to be me," he said. "We just hole up in the house, we don't let anybody in, till they have their man."
The doorbell rang.
We didn't move.
"It could be Briony," I said, meaning the doorbell, but, "she couldn't have gotten here from the concert in that time," Myron said, meaning the murderer.
We looked out the window rather than the peephole, barely twitching the curtains. It was Briony at the door. Myron got one of his own phones and called her. She picked up. "Myron! You're alive?"
"Barely," he said, like a person with a mere single body was only just clinging to life. "I'm not letting anyone in."
"I suppose I can't hold that against you," Briony said. "I just wanted to make sure you were all right."
"I had to clause-fourteen this one."
"I suspected as much, although the hospital won't talk to me."
"I'll tell them they can disclose to you -"
"No, state law, they'd need permission from the maskers too," Briony said; we could see her shaking her head on the front doorstep. "The police will talk to me, and they said security caught the suspect, with the gun, so assuming he was acting alone this is all going to be over soon."
"That's a relief. They haven't gotten in touch with me yet."
"They don't know there's one left, no one knows exactly how many you have and they might not have gotten in touch with the jurisdiction that you were in last time yet either. I'll pass it on."
"Thanks. And - cancel everything - just - everything."
"Even though they caught the -"
"I'm down to one body and I'm a little too rattled to sort out priorities inherited from half a dozen, Briony!" he shouted into the phone. "I'll pick some things up once I - later. I'll - Briony, getting shot hurts. I'll pick some things up later. For now cancel everything."
"...All right, Mr. Lasko."
She hung up. We watched her leave.
Myron ran his hands through his hair. Opened up his calendar and watched as Briony pared down the schedule, dizzying flocks of to-dos disappearing until time slots were scheduled only three deep, then two, then a schedule one very determined person without any spare hands or brains could accomplish if he wanted to, then - nothing but a single copy each day of "lunch hour" and "dinner", color coded as things done alone, not while meeting someone for an interview over lobster.
It was lunchtime.
Myron went to the kitchen. Stared into his fridge. I didn't know how long it was going to have to last us before he'd be willing to go out, but at least he wasn't one of those rich people who ate at restaurants all the time and had nothing but mustard and booze in the house. At least he knew how to cook, better than I did even, didn't have a chef employed for the purpose and didn't have to resort to horrific noodle experiments to get anything to eat while fencing out everyone from the building.
He made grilled cheese.
"Put pesto on it," I said, not knowing if I'd be able to suggest it until I already had. I'd seen some on the fridge door.
He paused in assembling the sandwiches, then got out the pesto, slathered some on, resumed cooking. "I feel very small," he remarked. "I've had more room to think than this for - so long, now. I fill it, you'll have noticed I fill it, but I get a whole person's attention for every body, and I don't need it all if they're eating or smiling at a camera or - so I had more space."
"I'm sure lots of people will want to be you once it doesn't look like a good way to get murdered," I said.
"You know, I'm not sure that'd put everyone off? Sometimes people seem to want to put on a mask to stop existing. Might not be too picky about the details, some of them. Probably there are legal reasons not to take on new maskers till the murderer's definitely in custody and definitely the murderer, not some guy the murderer planted his gun on or something... Do you want to stop existing?"
"No," I said. "I left a bunch of questions taped to your mirror, one of them was if I could bail out what with there being a murderer after you."
"Well," he said. "You can't. Not yet, anyway, and by the time I have another masker it'll be past time to worry about the murderer." He flipped the sandwiches.
"Yeah," I said. "I like being you, mostly, at least more than I liked not being you."
"Keeps me on my toes, having an audience all the time. I watch less television now than when I was just one of me. I mean, when I was just my original me," Myron said. "You folks aren't here for that, you're here for the music, the meeting other celebrities, the sex, that sort of thing. Gotta show you a good time, make it as fun as it looks."
I didn't deny it. "Who's MacDougal?"
"He's dead now," said Myron. "Died on stage. He was - you know how sometimes they'll do parolees in masks? It's expensive but it lets them go free, be supervised while they go through the twelve steps or the anger management training. But they don't like to have one parole officer masking a hundred people, too much concentrated power, you see? You wind up with so much room to think, so many people you could suddenly control, and if you quit one day that's a lot of people they have to get masks off of and deal with some other way. And the expense. And there's some worry that a court'll slap down the idea, cruel and unusual, you know, they want to be able if it comes up to trot out poster cases - even though they only do this with prisoners who volunteer. So - MacDougal, he was a rapist. Nasty piece of work, forty girls accused him. I don't know if you heard, you would have been pretty young when he was caught."
"Somebody could have wanted to murder him just like Briony thought."
"Somebody could have, but I still think they were after me. No one but the court and my maskmaker and the family knew who he was wearing... Anyway, they didn't want to let him do his own thing, he played around a lot with plausible deniability and grooming and that shit, not something a parole officer would catch if they were mostly letting him drive, they didn't want someone paying him a fraction of their attention while he set up to do it again. So once they got a conviction, I think half the counts went through, they were like, how about a masking celebrity, it's not cruel and unusual, people volunteer for that, but you won't be able to do your thing, and he said, all right, as long as I get laid sometimes. And nobody ever asks me who's under the mask."
"Creepy," I said. I plated the grilled cheeses.
He bit one, or maybe I did. We bit one. "You've probably fucked him, haven't you, because you were both me and I mixed you all up like my guitar picks until I had to give somebody a day off, but it didn't make any difference to you, did it. Next batch I'm having us all wear inscribed rings. It doesn't matter who's wearing me when I pick up a fan, I'm the only one they meet and the only one making the decisions, and anyway he's dead now. So that's who he is." He talked around the sandwich a bit, and I might not have been able to understand him if I'd heard the sounds recorded, but I could feel what he was going for, and that closed the gap a little like lip-reading from the inside.
"Okay. Thanks for telling me."
"Mm-hm." And we applied ourselves to the sandwich.
The prints on the gun matched the guy Security had nabbed. He was the right height and he didn't have an alibi for the first murder. He didn't make bail.
Myron let Briony in the house, and she hugged us, and he ordered groceries while they discussed scheduling. He un-canceled his attendance at a benefit dinner and un-canceled an interview on the grounds that he needed more maskers and exposure was necessary for drumming up interest. Concert tickets had been refunded and there'd need to be choreography and timing and logistics changes to accommodate there being fewer of Myron anyway - not to mention the costumes he'd been wearing had gunshot holes and blood now - so that slot was still open, for now. He pushed back composing, cut back on rehearsal, rearranged everything to fit it into twenty-four hours a day, with a heavy emphasis on social obligations and face time.
The benefit dinner was fancy; Myron dressed up even relative to his normal street clothes, which were fine and fitted to begin with. I recognized my sister Gina, across the room - was this her fancy party? Wouldn't she be amused to know that I was already there, my rejection of her invitation notwithstanding. She recognized Myron, whispered to the friend she'd brought instead, but she had no way to recognize me. I tried to whisper to Myron that I wanted to say hi, but he was firmly in control; my attempt wouldn't even feel like anything as he swept through the room, shaking hands with the organizer, smiling at people trying to catch his eye, signing an autograph, pausing at his dinner plate to sip water and read the place cards he'd been put with. He was going to sing; he was the musical number for the night and they'd been upset about his cancellation, hadn't been able to replace him on short notice.
There were speakers, first, he was supposed to sing as the appetizers came out. He leaned on his elbow, smiling faintly, probably more to look generally affable than out of any interest in someone's empty buzzwords about her personal connection to ending childhood malnutrition with community gardening and a summer holiday replacement for school lunch. He looked around the room. His eyes settled on my sister and her friend where they were whispering cheek to cheek, glancing at him intermittently and smiling when they realized he was looking their way.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
I strained and searched and squirmed-without-squirming, looking for anything he was leaving to me, but he was effortlessly parked on every muscle I possessed, sitting easily in his damnably flirtatious forward lean, all ready to put moves on my sister in my body. I should have told her. I should have said, "Sis, by the way, my weird job that only gives me one day off a month, not even weekends? It's masking for Myron Lasko. Don't hook up with him, not unless you've checked and it's not me under there." I should have told Myron: "For your information, here are the names and appearances of all my family members; I understand that knowing exactly how many cousins I have will reduce the security of Thespyan, and I'm okay with that".
I tried to shift posture, I tried to blink, I tried to grind his teeth, I tried to make a sound. Nothing.
He wasn't going to go anywhere with her until after dinner. I had that long to wait for him to check in with me at all, to let me say a word while he ducked into the men's room or waited backstage to walk up to the mic. And he'd better do it because if he made me fuck my sister then the next time I had my arms I was yanking that mask off my face and he'd never see it coming.
...would I get prosecuted for murder? It was strange to think about. I'd probably get prosecuted, I didn't know if I'd get convicted.
At any rate, this was mostly my own stupid fault, he probably thought that if I had any sisters they'd know, and she didn't, and he had better let me talk before he brought her home.
The speakers rotated through; when everyone was looking more bored and hungry than they could cover with a pretense of fascination with meals on wheels, appetizers appeared in the wings borne by a fleet of waiters, and Myron excused himself from his tablemates to go around back. He strode on, all bright smile and long steps, and he put the microphone to his lips and he crooned a glurgey song he'd written for the benefit. Exclusive first performance, except for how the other maskers and I were really the ones who got exclusive first performances. I'd liked it better before he revised the third verse.
He smiled at Gina when he got to the last chorus. He had better let me talk.
But my chance didn't come before we sat down and started tasting canapés, or after, when we got the salad course. He was too far away at his assigned seat to talk to Gina, but he kept looking that way. I dared hope he was more interested in her friend, but I couldn't be sure, not based on where he was looking. Probably he was going to aim to pick them both up at once.
I didn't have any chances to do anything, not even twitch his hand to knock over the water or bite his cheek, let alone speak or make some urgent gesture at Gina. Not during the soup course, not while he cut up and nibbled on chicken over a bed of pickled vegetables and something called freekeh that I'd never seen before in my life, not once dessert and coffee came around. He took cream, no sugar, and made eyes sisterward over his demitasse.
He finally went to the bathroom after his second coffee. Let me talk, you ass, let me -
I got out a half-syllable, "Sh-"
And then someone walked in and Myron apparently didn't want to be heard talking to himself, so he shut me up. He did wait, though, parking in the stall silently, letting whoever it was finish their business and clear out. When they weren't immediately replaced, he said, "You were saying?"
"My sister," I blurted. "She's my sister."
"- which one?" he said, sounding appalled.
"I can have the redhead no problem?"
"Never met her but she's hot, go for it," I said.
"Damn. Why doesn't she know?" he asked. "Should have suspected - if your family knew you would have had to tell them that you didn't die, I would've seen - Briony had to notify a lot of next of kin, you didn't want a minute to reassure anyone -"
The door opened, and I didn't reply. Myron let himself out of the stall and washed his hands and went back out. Gazed flirtily only at my sister's redheaded friend. Gina looked offended. I'd have to explain later. How would that go? Dear Gina, Myron was absolutely down to fuck, it's nothing against you as a specimen, but unfortunately for the both of you he's down to one body and it's mine, and fortunately for you and I, I had a chance to tell him before he took you home and covered you in whipped cream.
Myron smiled at photographers covering the event. He signed a large check. When people were milling around between tables, he sidled up to Gina's friend, got her name (Carol), got her number, got her into his car when the valet pulled it up. Gina hissed at her while we left, but her friend was undeterred.
Myron took Carol home. He grabbed whipped cream, because he was predictable like that and had the metabolism of his twenty-five-year-old self forever.
When we came back into the bedroom, Carol was gone and a man stepped behind us from beside the doorframe to aim a gun at the back of Myron's head.
"C-carol?" Myron said.
"Guess again," said a man's voice.
"She's not here any more, Lasko," said the voice. "And I think you'd better stop asking questions."
He jammed the gun harder against our head. I could only tell that Myron was leaving me options because of how I flinched, gasping a high ragged inhaled sound that Myron in his perfect breath control couldn't produce even under these conditions. How had he gotten into the house? It was crawling with security, not even Briony had a key, it -
Carol had been a mask.
"Why," said Myron's voice, and I didn't know if it was him or me. I had enough questions beginning with "why" that it could have slipped out.
"Because you're a mockery of our art," said the murderer. "Half a dozen of you on stage at once? Vacationing in the tropics while you go on television and bed a teenager and eat caviar? It's magic and you've turned it into a spectacle. You're not the only one, no, but you're the worst of the lot."
Don't quip, don't quip, don't quip -
"The proper use is murder?" Myron said, oblivious to my mental plea.
"You disgust me," said the murderer. "Get up."
I tried to sort out in my head how this must have gone down, while Myron did the work of piloting us out of bed and down the hall with a gun to his back. Why were masks scarce? Almost nobody could make them. If one could make them, one could have plenty for one's own use; you could make them out of papier-maché if you wanted, papier-maché and blood.
So working backwards: offer to wear a Carol mask free of charge. Tell her you'll wear her to the charity dinner, you'll buy her plate, tell her to flirt with Lasko, she's exactly his type, all you want is to ride along vicariously while she does it, he'll never look twice at you, and she can take it off when she's done with her night of fine dining and musician-seducing, but if she could please leave you a way to signal if you need to take a breather with the mask off -
(We descended the stairs.)
Might or might not have been an active ingredient that Carol was Gina's friend: tell her to bring someone along Lasko won't sleep with because of course all his maskers updated him on who their relatives are. Could be a coincidence, maybe he would have just also shot Gina if she'd joined in.
(We went out the back door. The house let out onto a private beach, deserted in the predawn light.)
The middle attack had meant to get them all and get Myron to let his guard down if it didn't work, but nobody knew for sure how many maskers Myron had so it had to cover both options. That spree of murders would have finished Myron off if I hadn't answered the phone. Fingerprints matched, but a mask would do that. There was nothing about the process of putting on a mask, as I'd now experienced, that had to be consensual. You could just fill a mask with your own blood and plant somebody's face in it and they might be noticed missing but they'd never be found, until the murderer decided he was tired of being partly in jail and took the mask off. They'd be able to trace the DNA in the mask blood, maybe, but they already had an exact physical copy of him in custody, clearly he wasn't worried about being identified.
(The murderer marched us toward the sea.)
First one, he had to have impersonated someone in security. You couldn't wear a mask of someone without letting them control you if they wanted to, so how did he do that without the security person in question just slipping off the mask? Maybe he'd just done that one conventionally. Snuck in. No, I had to be missing something about that part.
"How'd you get the first one?" I asked.
"I've got the security company owner's son hostage," said the murderer. "Masked. He'll jump off something tall and land as himself if Daddy puts a foot wrong. Very motivating. He happened to get away clean, too, didn't have a chance to crack under questioning. Convenient. I'll let Junior go once I've mopped up this last one of you."
"How do you know this is the last one?" said Myron.
He paused. "Well," he said, "I don't hear sirens."
"Other one's asleep," said Myron.
The murderer frowned at him.
"You've got about four hours to get away, if you don't startle my other body awake by shooting me," Myron said. "I know this is really you, since you were wearing Carol."
"Take your mask off," said the murderer.
"I've got John W. MacDougal under here and I'm not letting him go," Myron lied.
"That was you who took him? Then you won't miss him when he dies."
"Cops'll be on you in five minutes once the other one wakes up to call them. They'll find your other bodies, too, that boy, anybody else, now that they'll know you're a maskmaker."
"...Throw me your phone."
Myron threw him his phone.
"Walk." He gestured down the beach.
When we were a good ways from the house the murderer tied us to a disused pier and ran away.
"That was close," I said.
"And he could turn around any second so tell me now if you're an escape artist," said Myron, squirming in the ropes.
"Didn't think so. This is gonna hurt -" He pulled; the post on the pier gave way before his joints did, though it still wrenched the hell out of his arm. We ran, houseward, as fast as we could.
"I need to call my sister," I said.
"Carol. Gina's friends with Carol. And Carol talked to him, met him somewhere, maybe could find him again - he believed you that I was MacDougal so he didn't set you up with someone related to me on purpose."
"Right," he said. "You do that, I'll - you email her, I'll call the cops on speakerphone?"
"Yeah," I said.
It was a long jog but Myron was up to it. We hit the house running; he threw another phone on the table, dialed, gave me the use of his hands to grab a laptop and log in to Thespyan and write Gina. It wasn't comfortable - I kept reaching for muscles he hadn't thought to give me and kept accidentally typing things he was saying to the police, while he sometimes read a word from my email because our eyes had to be trained on the screen - but it more or less worked.
They arrived without sirens to avoid spooking the murderer, and had the fire department on standby in case he tried arson. Myron told them about the security guy's son, and I waited for Gina to answer her email. Myron didn't want to get off the phone with the cops so I couldn't call her.
Gina was usually pretty prompt about answering emails, but every minute felt like an eternity waiting for them to catch the guy who'd just waved a gun in our face. I wanted to pace; Myron held us still. I settled for sending her another email in case a fuller inbox would bring her answer a moment sooner.
When Gina replied twenty whole minutes after I'd first written her she sent me a great deal of swearing and then added that she'd told Carol to call the police department too, so that was my idea handled. Now Myron paced, marching back and forth across the kitchen with his hands behind his back. There was nothing else we could do but wait for the cops to finish whatever they were doing; the speakerphone was still going but the lady on the other end hadn't said anything for a bit. Reports came in slowly, or they hadn't changed.
"Need another masker," muttered Myron.
"So you can care less whether I live or die?" I replied.
"Don't take it the wrong way," said Myron. "But, well, yes. I've survived being murdered twice - more than that if you count the concert shootings separately - because I had maskers and now I don't and the bastard's still on the run, himself and as many masks as he's got, and his masks can make more masks, and I just have to hope the police academy's trained people to deal with a madman who said 'no, I'd rather not be a multibillionaire by working for half an hour a week, I'm just incredibly into murder, and by the way, anyone I can hold still for fifteen seconds after cutting myself is another one of me' -"
"Yeah," I sighed.
"Uh, Mr. Lasko? Who are you talking to?" asked the cop on the phone.
"My masker," Myron told her.
"This isn't your original body? I'd understood it to be -"
"- you people don't know how masks work, do you," said Myron in exasperation. "Okay. I'll explain. You need to know this if you don't want him to run off and disappear." And he took it upon himself to go over everything there was to know about masks for her. It was soothing, in a way; yes, the police department was dangerously undereducated about a key characteristic of the case, but we were making a contribution to the effort now, even if it was appalling that the effort needed making.
When he'd run out of things to tell the cop about masks, he subsided. "Is it all right if I hang up?" he asked.
"Yes, but we're going to send a squad car out to your house to keep an eye on you," she said. "You don't have to let them in, but they'll be parked in the driveway to scare him off if he approaches, all right?"
"Mm-hm," said Myron, "thank you, officer," and he hung up and went to find us something to eat. Hunger had hit suddenly, after stress had kept it at bay. He fried up a burger. I told him to put pesto on it, and he did.
"I like this being able to talk thing," I commented, when the burger was gone and he was putting milkshake ingredients in a blender.
"I could get used to doing it sometimes. Not in public - though you do have to show me pictures of everyone else you're related to, seriously, especially women aged eighteen to forty -"
"I will, I will."
"I can do it sometimes. It'd be weird if you started talking to the other maskers, though."
"There aren't any yet, perhaps it'll turn out we have nothing in common," I said.
"It would be weird," he repeated. "But if we're alone in a room, I can let you talk in case there's anything you need to say. That's not going to - ruin your experience of being me, or anything?"
"Nah," I said. "- maybe if I talked while you were trying to do music, but I can just not do that."
"If you did I'd stop letting you, I need silence," he said firmly.
"But if you're just making food -"
"You want to tell me to put pesto on it," he interrupted dryly. "Understood. I can work with that."
"No problem. Thanks for, uh, saving my life."
We waited by the phone. He plugged it in to charge, when it got late. He looked at the squad car at the end of the driveway, paced a little more. He attempted briefly to play piano but couldn't keep focus on it. He went to bed.
In the morning he had voicemail from the cops; they'd used Carol's information to find one of the murderer's masks and removed it from the wearer, they'd found the security guy's kid and taken that mask too. The one in prison had been demasked and the wearer released on bail, supposedly tried for the possibility of collaboration in a likely futile prosecutory effort. Which seemed insane to me, but I suppose nobody could prove that he hadn't been the murderer's pawn, helping mow down Myrons just like I occasionally volunteered opinions on pesto.
They had the real, original body of the murderer - they believed - cornered in a hotel room, but he'd gotten a hostage. The hostage was wearing him, and they both had guns, and were pointing them at each other. Cartoonishly enough, the cops didn't know which they could shoot without getting an innocent bystander, and couldn't approach to remove the mask forcibly without whichever one was wearing a mask getting shot. They were having a standoff, or maybe it would be better called a siege. The murderer's bodies could sleep in shifts, each training a gun on the other to maintain their indistinguishability though one would never really fire, but they didn't have any food in the hotel room. Sooner or later they'd, or rather he'd, give up.
Still, they weren't turning themselves in yet, and Myron worried that the murderer was waiting for someone to put on their own mask of him, held in abeyance for whatever reason. This would work if there was still at least one living body of his at the time, but a dead person can't live in an inert mask; if some sleeper masker waited until after the police had shot him to don the thing it would just be stained papier-maché. As long as the murderer was still alive in any body - and this very flight risk meant that he couldn't count on being kept that way in custody - he could turn up across the planet on a moment's notice, supposing that he'd prepped for this.
His face was all over the news. Myron kept it on in the background, and the occasional detour into stories about a fraudster in the finance industry and a guy caught smuggling exotic plants across the border and a speech delivered by the First Lady were invariably interrupted by bulletins with a series of photographs of the fellow: the one from prison before they'd taken the mask off, the ones they were besieging, the one they'd found worn by the security guy's son. The anchor's voice went over and over, maybe prerecorded, over the danger he posed.
"That's not going to be good for my odds of getting another body," muttered Myron. "Everybody thinking about how much this incredibly dangerous murderer wants to waste me and anybody wearing me."
"Was there anybody you had to turn away in a screening before you could get ahold of again?" I asked. "Somebody who you would have had to keep closer track of, not use for some things. Right now you'd rather have one who didn't want you to have sex in their body than nobody, right? Or someone who wanted more days off, or didn't want you to eat, uh, non-kosher food or something."
"Maybe. Briony would know better than I would - she might have already thought of it -" He grabbed the nearest phone, picked out a message to her. "She screens everybody, I only meet people who pass her filter. I don't know how hard she tries to scare people off, but that's mostly about the money and a lot of insurance just paid out big, and it's worth more to me now..."
"She didn't try very hard except for making me read the whole contract," I said, "that part was torture."
"You'd rather have just been stuffed in a mask with no idea that I could clause-fourteen you?"
"I wasn't expecting any of the weird contingencies to come up!"
"They usually don't! But you've had an exciting time of it, now, haven't you," Myron commented. "Not at all the sort of authentic being-Myron-Lasko experience I try to deliver."
"A little too exciting, yeah. I'll be glad when it settles down and you're just back to working again and can play piano for more than five minutes at a time. I like it when you play piano."
"Maybe I should keep better track of this sort of thing since I'm going to start distinguishing bodies with jewelry anyway. What's your birthstone?"
"Alexandrite," I said. "Some months don't have several to choose from, though, you don't want Briony turning someone away because they're an amethyst and you already have an amethyst."
"Drat. I mean, I could vary it in some other way... and it'd help me memorize your birthdays..."
"Oh, do I get a present?" I asked.
"Maybe. Not that I know what to get you, you took me off before you exhibited any characteristics on your break and then I died a few times before you could even get very far into wherever you were going with that, so."
"I didn't have any plans. My life was incredibly boring."
"How does that happen?" wondered Myron. "I know it does, of course, but - how? If you're bored, can't you... go.... do things?"
"...some people aren't as passionate about something as you are? Or they're not good at it, and so when they try to do it as much as you do music, nothing interesting happens, and it feels like a waste of time, and they get less passionate," I said. "Or - or it's like when you start trying to play the piano, and then you can't, and you stop. All the time, with everything, not just while they're recovering from near death experiences."
He looked at his hands. "Yikes," he said.
"It'd be good if more people were like you. I mean, by themselves," I said. "But we're not. So apart from the whole murder thing I'm glad you and me could work something out."
"Me too," he said. "I mean, I feel like you're getting the raw end of the deal here."
"Funny," I said, "I feel like I'm getting something for nothing."
The cops risked tear gassing the hotel room after the siege hit twenty four hours, and the murderer and his masker didn't fire in the distraction; maybe he'd even lost track of which was which however he'd coded their clothing or posture to mean "this one's the hostage". Or he didn't want to endure the pain of getting shot if he couldn't be sure of his aim getting a kill shot on the first try. Or it had been a bluff to give a sleeper time to decide to don a mask to begin with.
They went in and got the guns away and took off the mask. The murderer's original body got shot. There wasn't a protocol for extrajudicially executing a guy for being a maskmaking murderer, but considering the sleeper wearer possibility, nobody really expected the cop who killed him to be convicted, and if she was it'd probably come down to a suspended sentence or something like that. Call it defense of the innocent, whichever patsy had one of his masks in a drawer somewhere and instructions to put it on.
Briony dug up past screened-out candidates who didn't want to have sex with men even if they were other Myrons, or eat anything spicy, or go without a day off every week, and found some who were still interested if their conditions were met. Myron picked and masked two of those whose limits he felt best able to work with. I memorized their names, just in case it ever came up. He also got another parolee, a violent recidivist drunk who wasn't too put off by MacDougal's fate. MacDougal had lived to be fairly old without suffering a day's infirmity, being Myron Lasko, and it was safe enough now with the murderer mopped up (or at least deprived of the advantage of surprise) - there'd been no sign of him rearing his head anywhere, living on as another body -
We were probably safe. Pretty sure.
"It would have been poetic if you'd masked the maskmaker," I commented.
"Probably cruel and unusual for him," Myron said. "Being me when he hated me so much. And that would have left him alive, left his masks active if he even did have any..." He hovered a spoonful of pesto threateningly over a bowl of ice cream.
"Don't you dare," I said, and we laughed, or I did, or he did.
He bought us all silver rings with our initials engraved into them and put them on each right-hand ring finger.
Myron felt more like himselves in four bodies again. He announced a comeback tour, of sorts - after a hiatus of only weeks it was more of a confirmation tour. He called it "Resurgence", wrote a new song about being murdered several times for it - I would have liked it more if it had been a metaphor, but everything in the song was literal.
He looked at my ring a lot, and I saw his other bodies looking at those rings too. He kept track of us.
He did most of his piano practice with me. Ducked into the bathroom to check in before picking anyone up even though he could now recognize my entire family tree and all my exes.
My sister wrote long emails about throwing my life away, but I wasn't. I was exactly what I'd wanted to be when I grew up since I was twelve.
I was Myron Lasko.