New York in Winter

New York in Winter

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Customer Satisfaction

by Terence Hughes

The salesman showed up at her front door before even the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He consoled her for her loss. He asked about her late, beloved husband. What sort of man had he been? What sort of health had he enjoyed? His habits of personal cleanliness? His feelings about immortality? He leaned forward and asked her, in a hushed voice, had he left an appreciable amount of DNA behind?
She confessed she didn’t know. The cleaning lady had been there just yesterday and done her usual thorough job. The plane crash had only been the evening before that. They confirmed his death just yesterday morning. Less than 24 hours ago. She was in shock.
There, there. The salesman’s face was the mask of tragedy. He patted her hand. He said, You mustn’t give up hope. He could come back to her. It was being done all the time these days. It wasn’t as expensive as many believed. It was far more reliable than the Channel 99 Action Reporter claimed.
The salesman asked if he could use the bathroom. Which bathroom did … he … use most?
She pointed. Her hand dropped in her lap. She stared at a wall until the salesman came back with a gleam in his eye. He was holding a well-used Q-Tip which rested on a Kleenex. What does this look like to you? He asked.
She said she didn’t know. Earwax?
-- DNA! He exulted. If you want, you can have your husband back. Bill/1 may be gone but Bill/2 can be RESURRECTED. He will be as good as the original Bill. You will not be alone.
That evening she signed the papers with Vale of Remembrance.
It took two and a half years to resurrect -- clone -- an adult male. It seemed interminable yet it seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. She had too much time to think about Bill. She spent countless nights in tears. She often woke in the four o’clock darkness convinced that he lay next to her, that he was ready to take her. Waking brought desolation.
– He was my all --. And she choked up and spent the hours until dawn in bereft longing.
She wondered if he would come back exactly the same. She had always overlooked some very unfortunate behavior in him. He cursed and raged at everything that got in his way. He had a tendency to ridicule her in front of their friends. He was a monster behind the wheel; “road rage” was invented with him in mind.
Bill was a bigot, too, especially when he got drunk, which was often. His favorite targets were the handicapped and the gays. He imitated and lampooned them, in his cruel drunkenness, to their faces. Her protests were mild. – Oh Bill, really. But if she had protested more energetically, he’d have decked her. She knew when to shut up.
While she awaited the resurrected Bill -- Bill/2, as they said -- she kept her job at the local unemployment office, where Unoriginals now came to seek work in large numbers. After work she went to the gym regularly; when Bill came back she wanted to thrill him again with her supple, responsive body. For all his faults, she belonged to him.
Fear warred with certainty: yes, she would get Bill back, but would he remember her at all? They told her that memories and life experiences were coded into brain and the DNA. If you selected the premium package, you were guaranteed a highly reliable transfer of memories, thoughts and feelings. 99.7% accurate guarantee. She wondered how they measured that. Satisfaction guaranteed. Did that meant they’d refund her money if Bill/2 wasn’t satisfactory? What would they do with him in that case? She was afraid to think these thoughts.
She selected this package for optimum recall. It was outrageously expensive, but she could afford it. She wanted her man. She wanted all of him. More or less.

When she first saw Bill/2 she fainted. The cloning-service staff was used to it. They grabbed hold before she could hit the floor and threaten a lawsuit. She thought the floor was slippery. She was dressed in a hospital gown and booties so as not to bring in germs from the street. Her hair covering fell on the floor and they made a fuss until they’d stuck a brand-new one on her head.
When she came to, she drank in the sight of him with something close to delirium. It was Bill, all right. The same tall, well-muscled figure, the same strong jaw and resolute brown eyes. The same dark hair now flecked with gray, maybe a little more gray than she remembered. Handsome and – what was the word? – sardonic. It was his favorite word for himself. In that cruelty lay great charm.
They assured her that Bill/2 had many, if not all, of the memories and feelings that Bill/1 had had. He would remember her, although, they warned, she might have to prod him for occasional dates, events, and so on.
             But then, most Originals don’t remember their wedding anniversary, do they?
Nervous laughter.
They drove home, calmly, no curses. All the documentation verifying his Resurrection and Clone-1 personhood resided in the Cloud. She looked at him while they were stopped at a light. She thought, -- It’s a crime to murder him. Just like a real husband.
Then she chastised herself, both amused and horrified by her thought. He was real even if he wasn’t an Original. She wondered how he would accept the very real status downgrade from Original to Unoriginal. It was a stark worry.
Bill/2 remarked mildly that the road must look familiar. Was this a new car? Did they still live in Belmont? Who won the last election? He seemed pleased that Bush VI was president.
She answered his questions to his satisfaction and thrilled as he took her hand and held it in his. It was big and very warm.
His raspy voice made her thrill. -- Wait till I get you behind closed doors. He made a growling sound and pawed her as far as safety allowed.
She was swollen with anticipation. Bill is back!
Despite herself she had a crying jag.
He gave her a searching look, one of curiosity. He reached for her bare thigh where her dress had ridden up.
When they got to the house, she showed him the new stuff she’d bought with just him in mind. The two new 180 inch wallpaper TVs alone were meant to make him glad he was home. His reaction was mild – Oh yah, that’s hypaah. Using the slang of three years ago. Bill/1 would have exulted and pumped his fist in the air over every new thing, especially the TVs. He would have spent the whole night fiddling with them.
There were new pieces in the living room, and a new patio leading to the pool.
Bill yawned. He said he just wanted to go upstairs. He was beat. -- Aren’t you? he asked.
-- You must be, too. All that programming and stuff wears you out.
He said he didn’t want supper or even a snack. He wanted to get her in his own bed after two long years.
She didn’t show any disappointment or crossness. She followed him upstairs. They undressed immediately, and Bill/2 got into bed nude. He’d seldom done that before in all their 15 years of marriage. It presaged a wild night. She tore off her clothes and got under the covers. She kissed him hungrily. – Oh, Bill, you don’t know how I’ve —
-- Shhh, he said. Me too, baby.
Something wasn’t right. She sensed it the moment they got in bed. Bill’s aggressive old ardor wasn’t the same. They fucked satisfactorily, but he couldn’t keep a hard-on very long. He didn’t hard-thrust her the way he had before the crash. She had loved his brutal rage in fucking, his animalistic abandon. It wasn’t there.
His gaze was evasive – he scarcely looked at her. He had many more lines on his face than she remembered. Couldn’t they control for all these things? Should she demand a discount?
Bill fell gently asleep. The sense of worry and dislocation kept gnawing. She really had to talk with the Vale of Remembrance people.
She told the people at Vale of Remembrance of their difficulties, and they told her their difficulties in adjusting to each other were quite normal. They said it was a little appreciated fact that 25% of half-clone couples sought divorce within a year of the resurrection. Mr. Crapshaw himself, the president of the firm, told her that men seemed to have an especially hard time with cloned wives. He wouldn’t speculate as to why, though he mentioned that during the long process of clonation, some men take mistresses. Some go with whores, he told her, and a few even start alternative households.
It irritated her to hear that it was somehow her fault – as if she was a clone! --  that Bill was less than passionate and equal to his old self in unpleasantness. She had hoped he’d be different since he was reborn. Instead she dreaded his return home every evening.

Bill’s concern was less general. He felt she didn’t appreciate was how hard he worked to keep his old, unpleasant impulses under wraps. He’d had plenty of time to think about and regret them. Going with whores was one thing, slapping her around was another.
During The Forty Days, as the people in clonation called the two-plus year waiting period, he had thought about her almost to obsession. So beautiful, so passionate – a wildcat in bed and sometimes outside of it, a consummate dishthrower, he wanted to shout “Opa!” every time she got into her rage zone. She’d been so playful, so quick with the banter. She never approved of his drunkenness and its side effects, granted, but they seemed united in other ways.
He had loved her in his way, for her ways. He didn’t love the possessive clod she was now. Magnificent tits aside, she looked bad – like melted birthday cake, for Chrissakes. What happened?
Bill turned over and saw her sleeping form, lying on her side, snoring in a mucous-y way. – Hey, he said, poking at her back. Enough with the snoring, baby.
She stirred, went silent, then began at full volume.
He gave her a stiff kick, with the same result. He got up and went down to the kitchen to make coffee.
The sky was brightening. He sat in the half-light. The cyberbird awoke and began a pretty song. He sat on a kitchen stool with a mug of coffee and examined his arms, his hands, his fingers. Tested the skin for suppleness and color. He thought about the way hers looked now with its slackness, at least relative to what he remember from before, and its extreme oiliness. And was it him or was her IQ about 20 points lower now? Fuck, he thought, she’s as repulsive as some distorted creature in a motorized wheelchair.
He mused. What’s the good of cloning if you got an inferior product back? They might just as well stay dead.
He sat up. He wanted his money back. All of it. Satisfaction guaranteed. All of it.
She sat across from the personal-injury lawyer in his strip-mall office. He was a thin, nervous man of forty who kept pushing his lank hair out of his eyes, and kept staring at her breasts.
-- Clones are men, ma’am. They’re women. They’re full-fledged human beings with all the human virtues and vices. The list you’ve given me is hardly firm evidence that there is anything wrong with your husband from a cloning viewpoint. Sometimes adjustment to the world, returning to the old habitat is, well, not as easy as everyone hopes it will be.
            -- I realize all that, Mr. Cohen, but what if the cloning is so flawed, so incompetent, that there’s no alternative but complete replacement? She made a point of closing her jacket around her breasts.
-- I just said that you’ve presented me with no substantial evidence —
-- What if I can? What if I hire a detective to dig around at Vale of Remembrance and follow Bill/2 around for a while?
-- First of all, complete replacement is tantamount to murder. I think it’s much more constructive to think of a simple divorce, alimony and all the rest of it. By the way, why did you pick a questionable outfit like Vale of Remembrance for the job? You should’ve gone with a big company like American Express. They have top-notch refund and discreet, thoroughly legal elimination policies.
-- Well, he said after a pause, as she thought despairingly about what he’d said, Let’s gather data before we act rashly. Call this man. He pushed a slip of paper at her. He’s a very able PI.
The president of Vale of Remembrance was a smooth customer, he thought, what with his legal serpent whispering in his ear. Bill was going to have to come up with something definitive. He had to, because now he hated his wife. Like every American, he sought a fresh start when things started getting difficult.
Mr. Crapshaw, company’s president, was clearly skeptical of his claims. He exchanged glances with his corporate attorney, Mr. La Chance. – Tell us what you feel is wrong.
He listed half a dozen items. This was behavior he’d never seen before cloning, so far as he could remember. He mentioned that.
-- These seem normal behaviors and, frankly, not dependent on clonation.
-- Mr. Crapshaw, you’ve just made me feel I’ve wasted $1,500,000.69 on nothing. Nothing. And I had to sell everything of value to pay all the “extras” you stuck me with. This isn’t my wife, it’s some sort of alien parasite.
-- Now for your own good, sir, I’m glad your legal wife, the recently cloned, isn’t here, because what you’ve just said constitutes hate speech. Mr. Crapshaw and the counsel exchanged a look and laughed. How would you like it if we played back this language to your wife? In divorce court?
-- She’d find it funny in the extreme, the lawyer said gravely. Hilarious.
-- You made her out of earwax, you fucking idiots. What’s more you fucked up and gave her the memory of me being made of that shit. How fucking sloppy is that? Where are your ethics – not to mention your basic procedural standards? Your operation is shit. Maybe you should hire some decent Chinese doctors instead of these half-wit bozos who went to Grenada for medical training.
Bill took a moment. – I’ll start a class action suit. He stood up, livid. He towered over the dumpy little men. I’m sure the ACLU will love to set their teeth in that one. What you’ve done is create at least a two-tiered system of clones that are supposedly Clone-1s. I mean, she’s supposed to be a Clone-1. She isn’t. I don’t know where she fits in. If I can’t get rid of her, through divorce or some other means, you’ll have to pay a shitload to compensate me for it. Pain and suffering. Big damages, big media exposure.
Mr. Crapshaw and Mr. La Chance conferred behind their hands. – Let’s not be hasty, the attorney said at last, I’m sure we can work something out.
Lenny Page, private investigator, met her on a park bench on a fine day with a crowd of office workers taking lunch all around them. Mr. Page was what she had expected. Short, overweight, rumpled. He wore a toupee that resembled a small animal. All he needed to complete the picture was a cigar stub stuck in the side of his mouth. He was sucking on a weed vape.
He was explaining the fine points of tailing Clone-1s. He was looking intently at her, and it made her feel creepy. He was also taking in her breasts, which were visible to the sun. She was wearing the new Minoan style of dress. Her breasts gleamed with SPF 50.
-            - Smart as you or me, not like them poor bastard 2s. So they’re slippery, like Originals. Liars, too. People get this idea clones come out truthful and all that. Bull. Shit. When they program the memories and so forth, you’re getting your old lies and delusions back. Can you trust a clone? Can you trust your Congressman? Same answer.
-- Can I ask you something? Can you usually tell a clone from an Original? I mean, up front, right away?
--This is just me talking. Yes. Yes you can. He looked her hard in the eye. He looked away. Usually. Depends on where the DNA comes from.
–What do you mean?
--There’s a saying, Earwax is not eyebone. Earwax, the shit from your eye, dandruff, toe cheese – that material gives different results from bone or muscle, or from most skin.
Her voice grew small. – How?
-- I ain’t no scientist, okay, but there’s something about cell walls and other stuff I don’t understand. Waxies don’t walk the same, look the same, and they don’t act the same. There’s something kind of dipsy-doodle about them.
-- What? She had to laugh. The man was so quirky. He smiled, adorably comical.
-- They lack precision. They seem out of focus. Sloppy, some way. Oh, sorry. He gave her a glance. I’m really out of line. He was still staring at her stunning cleavage.
She screwed up her face. – The man from Vale of Remembrance was so forceful, so sure – I am going back to them and –
--They are some hard people, ma’am. Don’t fuck wit’ em.
She took out a Kleenex and dabbed at her eyes. – Oh, what can I do, Larry?
-- Lenny. He smiled to himself.
She begged his pardon and cried. “Please, please help me.”
Lenny seemed flustered. He took out a match and chewed on it. –This waxie – I mean your husband – will expose himself before long. Don’t you worry, I’m on the job for ya. I’ll be tailing him day and night. I got me a clone too, and he ain’t no waxie. You got two for the price of one, Lenny/1 and Lenny/2. We never sleeps, that’s my tagline. Lenny paused.
-- We never sleeps. Get it? It’s tricky but…
She shrank back a little. It wasn’t the idiotic wordplay. She saw that the opportunities for treachery were multiplying. Who was she talking to now? How many more clones would step out of the shadows? More to the point, how the hell could a loser like Lenny Page afford a Clone-1? She thought, angrily, He must have shaken down a lot of confused widows and unfaithful clones.
He wiped his hand before he shook hers. She realized her hand was moist, and she wiped it on her skirt. She stared at her hand as if it didn’t belong to her.
Lenny disappeared into the lunchtime crowd.
She sat in the warm sunshine when it occurred to her that she would have Bill/2 disposed of, no matter what Lenny Page came up with.
Bill wished he’d never listened to his mother-in-law.
She flew in from the East Coast to beg him to “resurrect” her daughter. When he balked she demanded, --What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you love her?
Shrugging, he said, -- We’d been having some problems.
-- What kind of problems?
-- Compatibility. And – He reddened.
-- Money, she said. I knew it! You two were living way beyond your means. That stupid start-up of yours. I’m writing you a check for the clonation, and one for the, shall we call it the sweetener? Is this enough to save your little company?
She all but sneered at him through her veil. Only Originals were permitted to wear a veil. It was plenty, and he said so.
-- Fine. Now find me some of her DNA. Meanwhile she wrote the checks on her phone.
To his lasting regret, he took two seconds and dug an old Q-Tip of earwax from behind the toilet.
And now here he was stuck with a clinging waxie of inferior intelligence. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck!” He wished he could call a hit service or do it online without any tracing.
The only good development was that the mother died months before the Resurrection. The money was his and only his.
Bill got up and fixed himself a large Scotch and soda. Sipped, thinking of ways to get the job done.

Lenny Page got back to her in a week. Today he looked less rumpled and better put-together than he had last time. She wasn’t sure if this was the 1 or the 2 version.
-- The news ain’t so edifying, I’ll tell you that. What you suspected – true, and more. He spends a lot of time with waxie whores and beats up them up, and then he celebrates by getting drunk at all the crummiest dives in town –
-- Clone dives?
-- No. Bars where Originals go. I don’t think he’d fit in the other places.
She stared. –What are you telling me?
-- Ma’am, he may be a nasty customer, but he’s an Original. Your husband ain’t no waxie. Far from it. An Original. Lenny paused, taking a deep breath and looking away. The other thing you should know is, he’s been meeting with Vale of Remembrance to, you know, replace you. I got videos of everything. With good sound.
She grabbed the arms of the chair to hold herself upright. – I don’t understand. She did but could not believe it.  
Lenny took a deep breath and slowly went on. -- Lady…You’re the clone here, not him. You’re the one who got killed in the plane crash. You were the one who got –
-- You mean I’m the waxie? She felt as if she’d stepped through the door and jumped without a parachute. She felt like she was still falling to earth when he spoke.
-- Look, I – Lenny looked away. I knew it the first time I saw you. As if to illustrate this, he looked hard at her breasts. She was wearing another Minoan-style outfit. My hunch was right. He’s the Original. You didn’t turn out right for him. And…
-- He’s trying to get me eliminated.
Lenny reached out and took her forearm. – It don’t have to be that way. You ain’t just some Russian whore he can kill and no one will notice.
But she wasn’t listening now. She had to take time to think. Bill was the Original. She was an Unoriginal. So he was telling her. So, she thought, I’m more vulnerable to whatever anyone wants to do to me. Female clones had no hope for justice or mercy under the law. She saw where she was clearly and very coldly: Kill or be killed. She knew which she wanted to be.
She would talk with Mr. Cohen. He must know a dozen contract killers.
-            - He’s a Clone-2, but completely reliable, the lawyer was saying. They’re very loyal, you know.
-- But he’s Lenny Page!
-- Larry, not Lenny. Larry Sharpe. Very handsome and charming. Likes to garrote. Larry and Lenny were married before Larry got killed in a home invasion. Lenny was grief-stuck so he had him cloned. So Lenny’s double-dipping here. Cohen rubbed thumb and index finger together.
She had a hard time taking this in. -- Who’s ‘they’? Whose errors?
-- Our friends at Vale of Remembrance. Crapshaw and his bunch.
Windows were lit in her soul. – So, she said slowly, make it look like Crapshaw and Co. were the target, and Bill’s a blameless bystander.
Mr. Cohen smiled sunnily. She smiled back. She felt like an original self.

The next day Mr. Crapshaw himself called, saying they’d discovered an error in Bill’s cloning.
-- We want to discuss how to make it right to you. Could you come to our office at seven this evening?
She said of course. She made a phone call.
-- Mr. Cohen? She used a code they had worked out. -- Are those papers you promised me ready?
Bill found himself at Six of One, the main clone bar in town. A man had called and asked him to present himself at 6 pm. His phone vibrated.
-- Bill?
A muffled voice was on the other end of the line. Restricted number. Same voice.
Bill looked at the clone whore he was going to work over. She exclaimed, – Honey, you look Original. Buy me a drink?
The voice on the phone spoke quickly. -- Bill, consider me a friend. Your wife has a big surprise for you. Figured you hate surprises. They aren’t always so great, you know?
– What do you want?
-- Turn around and I’ll tell you.
A tall, handsome man with his own hair moved down the bar and introduced himself as Larry Page.
Mr. Crapshaw was sweating when he unlocked the door. He looked outside as he closed it. She saw that he left it unlocked.
-- Please wait here. I’ll be…
He left the reception area. She sat tensely in the waiting room. Posters of happy clones and their loved ones covered the walls. Not the same but the same she read.
A handsome man of as tall as Bill came in. He looked at her critically. – Who are you?
-- Mr. Cohen recom –
He raised a hand and went to the corner to talk on his phone. – Okay. You’re the one…
At that moment Lenny Page came in the front entrance.
-- Larry, what’s going on –-
Larry and the man she knew stopped dead. Lenny looked confused.
Bill walked in the front door, and appeared to be astonished at the gathering of characters. – I wasn’t expec –
--Get me Crapshaw, Lenny said. He seemed much harsher than the Lenny she knew; was he 1 or 2? -- If we’re out for vengeance, don’t you think we ought to start with him? I’m thinking his approach to business isn’t appropriate any more.
Larry brought Crapshaw back, frog-marching him in. -- Crapshaw, you and your clonation monkeys have fucked up way too often, Lenny/2 said. If the state regulators won’t set things right, I guess we will. Despite your stupidity, this little place is worth a cool billion. Time for a middle-management change. He leaned amiably toward Mr. Crapshaw.
-- Boss, what are you --
-- Gus, do you prefer the garrote or the ice pick? The garrote lets you feel something before you die. As long as there’s pain, you’re still alive, ness par?
While Crapshaw, drenched with sweat, considered the choice, Larry stuck the ice pick in just the right spot.
Bill said, looking at the sprawling body, -- Crapshaw really should have had a satisfaction-guaranteed policy. We wouldn’t be here otherwise.
She turned to Bill in shock. –You’re going through with it? Bill, no. Please.
Bill towered over her, whispering,  -- I’m not the one dying here tonight, baby. I’m not the waxie with the crummy programming and the oily skin.
-            - Well, don’t stand there like dummies, Lenny/2 said, piqued. I haven’t got all night.  Who paid what for the whack?
Bill piped up. – Twenty grand on her. Paid in full by Vale of Remembrance.
Lenny/1 walked in the front door like a gaping tourist. He smirked and looked at Lenny/2. -- Weren’t you going to tell me this? Where’s my cut?
-- Very funny, Lenny/2 muttered. He reached in his jacket pocket and counted out $5000 in 100s. He didn’t look pleased.
-- Larry, you went behind my back?
She certainly wasn’t feeling pleased. -- Lenny, are you going to let him get away with this? -- she demanded hotly. – I’m paying you good money!
Lenny/1 sighed, -- Oh human life has gotten way too cheap. And we work for nothing. He began to say something else, but Larry was already garroting him. Lenny/1’s eyes bulged and fixed on Lenny/2, whose eyes gleamed with pleasure.  
-- Now it’s just you and me, Larry.
Bill went up to her. – Forgive me, baby. I was freaked. It’s you and me – both of us against this fucking world.
She nodded at Larry. – Kill him. She blew a kiss at Bill. You should know better than to fuck with a clone. We’re going to take over.
Larry garroted him. She enjoyed his kicking and grunting. The bug eyes that seemed to beg for mercy. – Oh, Bill, my love.
Larry lined the three dead Originals up and posed them like the three monkeys.
-- Let’s get out of here, Larry said. Lenny/2 went to him and asked, -- What about me?
Larry sighed. – All right. You’ve done okay by me.
-- Torch the place, she said. She gazed at the dead men. – Leave no good-quality DNA behind. I don’t want to see them again.
The three Unoriginals left the office as the fire spread and destroyed the evidence. She left the male clones arguing in the street. As she walked to her car she laughed thinking that she had enough money to buy a better class of man. An Original.

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