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The Multiplex Man
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Jarrow regained consciousness slowly, to a feeling of softness and warmth enveloping him. Subdued light penetrated his eyelids, gently tugging him back to wakefulness.

A muted voice, a man’s, was babbling in the background. Jarrow stretched his legs and felt smooth sheets sliding against his skin. He turned onto his side, and his face pressed into yielding pillows. His arm came up to rest on another pillow alongside. Cool air found a chink by his shoulder; he pulled the blanket closer around his neck. He hadn’t felt so relaxed for years.

The babbling voice resolved itself into the vibrant logorrhea of TV announcers everywhere---which should have been illegal when people were trying to sleep. Jarrow pulled the blanket over his ear and tried to burrow deeper into the pillows, but the voice infused itself through the cracks like water into a leaky shoe.

". . .announcement of a new national enforcement agency to be set up under the Bureau of Environmental Control. Modeled on Europe’s `Green Police,’ the organization will employ agents at federal and state levels to secure tighter compliance with regulations and planning requirements. The agents will have arbitrary powers of search and entry to conduct spot checks, and---get a load of this---will operate on a percentage basis of the fines imposed by a delinquency tribunal. In Stockholm last night, conservation secretary for the Western Consolidation, Gustav Moller of Germany, applauded the news, but called for stronger moves to pressure the Southern World and FER states into line. We’ll have more on that later. Meanwhile, a time check: it’s just coming up to seven-thirty on this chilly but clear Tuesday morning. . . ."

What? Jarrow rolled back over and opened his eyes.

"And to lighten things up a little, we’ve got a story about two penguins who’ve decided to live in a city fountain. And here to tell you about it is Mavis Young, good morning. I must say, you’re looking great today."

It wasn’t Tuesday, it was Thursday! And how could the time be 7:30 A.M.?

It came to him then, suddenly, that a lot of things were wrong. What was a TV doing here? The bed was too big for a doctor’s recovery room. And Jarrow was naked in it. Then he realized to his consternation that the pillows had an odor of perfume.

"Hi Brad," a woman’s voice said from the TV. "Why, thank you, kind sir."

"So, what’s this about vagrant penguins?"

"Well, it all started with . . ."

Jarrow sat up. There was another queen-size bed alongside, untouched except for some women’s clothes strewn on the quilt. On the bedside unit between the beds was a cigarette pack and lighter, an ashtray with several butts, and two glasses, one with an inch of amber liquid.

He gazed around in bewilderment. There was a vanity-cum-bureau running along the far wall, and on top of it, he could see a black briefcase, a lady’s purse, a man’s wallet, loose papers, a set of keys, and some change. None of the items looked familiar. Along with them was a part-emptied bottle of Canadian Club and an ice bucket. Near the bed was a chair with a striped shirt and underwear tossed carelessly over the back. A table with a tray holding dishes and what looked like the remains of a meal stood with two more chairs by a window. The drapes of the window were closed. There was an armchair nearby. On the other side of the room, opposite the window, was a folding luggage stand bearing a leather traveling case and a shoulder bag. A double closet completed the room, which appeared to have two doors opening off from it. One of them was half-open, and Jarrow could see from the view in the mirror above the vanity that it led to a bathroom.

The place had every appearance of being a hotel. This whole situation was insane. Jarrow hardly ever touched alcohol; he abhorred tobacco. Even raunchy jokes embarrassed him, never mind sleazy amourettes in hotels. And the men’s clothes thrown over the chair weren’t his.

He scrambled up hastily, but hesitated when he caught a glimpse of his reflection. There was something odd about his appearance. For the moment he wasn’t sure what. Then, feeling insecure in his nudity, he went into the bathroom for a towel. There, he found a man’s traveling kit by the sink, with toothbrush, shaver, nail clippers, and hairbrush---and again nothing was familiar. There was also a woman’s red zip-up cosmetic purse, pushed to one side and spilling lipstick, compact, nail polishes, and hair grips; nearby was a pack of Band-Aids. Jarrow hitched a bath towel around his waist and went back into the main room to check the window.

Wherever this was, it lay among high-rises in what was clearly a large city center. But whichever way he tried projecting the angles, he couldn’t reconcile it remotely with any view of Minneapolis. He let the drape fall back and stood rubbing his brow, eyes closed, as if hoping to massage the illusion away. But nothing had changed when he opened them again.

Baffled, he turned away from the window, and his eye came to rest on the plastic stand on the table beside the tray, containing copies of the hotel directory and various promotional materials. He picked up the directory and opened it. The introductory page carried the face of a smiling black woman in a yellow blouse and blue tunic. "Welcome!" The caption read,

" . . .to the Atlanta Hyatt."

Atlanta?

Jarrow hadn’t been to Atlanta since a weekend more than ten years ago, when he’d attended an educational conference. He could think of nobody that he knew in the area, nor any business that might have brought him there. He swallowed hard as the realization sank in that something very strange had happened to him; his confusion began giving way to fear.

First, he needed to get dressed. He went back across the room to inspect the closet. It contained a couple of suits, one light gray, one dark with a thin pinstripe, several clean shirts, neckties, a pair of casual slacks, a maroon bathrobe, and a blue, hip-length topcoat. As with the other items in the room, he had never seen them before. The other side of the closet revealed a blouse and skirt, a pair of blue jeans, a woman’s green coat, and an orange dress. No sign of any of his own clothes.

He tried the leather traveling case: socks, underwear, handkerchiefs, clothes brush, and other personal items---all a man’s, but not his. A plastic bag inside at one end contained laundry. He looked briefly in the shoulder bag, but as he had anticipated, it was the woman’s. Frantic now, he searched the drawers of the vanity, the cupboard units at the other end, the shelf above the closets, and even the space beneath the sink in the bathroom. Nothing. He straightened up, filled one of the fumblers from the cold faucet, and took a long drink. Then he came back into the main room and stood, staring at the clothes in the closet again. As was his tendency when he was thinking, his hand came up unconsciously to pinch at his mustache. But his fingertips met a smooth upper lip.

He turned and looked at himself again in the mirror on the closet door. There was a bruise, a day or two old maybe, on his temple. And he had a Band-Aid on one side of his neck a short distance below his right ear. When he explored the spot with his fingertips, it felt tinder and slightly sore.

But the face was familiar: clear-skinned and clean-shaven, with black wavy hair and dark eyes; and he could detect nothing unusual about the lithe, swarthy-skinned body. Yet the sight seemed to jar with strange stirrings half remembered. He’d had the same kind of feeling, momentarily, when he first caught sight of himself in the larger mirror upon getting up from the bed.

He was sure that he had a habit of pinching his mustache when he was thinking or brooding; indeed, hadn’t the reflex just manifested itself? But how could that be, when he didn’t have a mustache? Maybe he’d had one once, and---along with a lot of other strange things that seemed to have been going on---had forgotten getting rid of it. Or could it be simply the remnant of an uncommonly vivid dream? . . . He needed a shave, he noted. But that could wait.

A door opened and closed somewhere nearby in the corridor outside. Voices sounded loudly for a few seconds, then receded, reminding Jarrow of the impending confrontation that could come at any moment. He looked at the woman’s things scattered around the room, the remains of the meal and the drink, the untouched second bed. The vision of casual, abandoned intimacy repelled and unnerved him. Even without the disorientation of his predicament, facing the aftermath would have been ordeal enough. He had to get away and find somewhere to think alone without this kind of complication. And there was only one way. . . .

He took down the pants of the gray suit and measured them against his leg. They seemed to be about his size, anyway. He draped them on the edge of the bed and held the jacket against himself. It was the right width and length. Fumbling in his haste and anxiety, he took some socks and underwear from the traveling case, pulled on the pants, and buttoned himself into one of the clean shirts hanging in the closet. He found a pair of men’s black leather shoes tossed near the wall by the bathroom door, which again fitted perfectly, and selected a plain, dark blue tie from the rack. Finally, he slipped on the jacket and moved across the room to survey the items on the bureau-vanity more closely.

His next shock came when he opened the black briefcase and found a pair of guns staring up at him. He knew nothing about weapons, but one was a large automatic pistol and looked powerful, while the other was small and slim, lighter in construction, probably intended for concealment. With them was a plastic case containing an assortment of what looked like tools, drills, and other gadgets that didn’t mean anything, along with a number of electronic devices, equally baffling. Jarrow stared in horrified fascination for several seconds, then closed the briefcase decisively and pushed it aside. He didn’t have time now to worry about what it meant, and he certainly wasn’t about to risk complicating this situation further by taking it with him.

The loose change went into one of the pants pockets, and after a moment’s hesitation the keys. There was also a hotel memo pad with the top sheet turned over and several phone numbers scrawled on the one that was exposed. They didn’t convey anything. He turned back the top sheet and found scrawled on it the words:

Headman to ship out via J’ville, sometime Nov. 19. Check ref "Cop 3."

Jarrow shrugged and dropped the pad into one of the side pockets of his jacket, along with the room’s electronically coded passcard. He took a handkerchief from the traveling case and then picked up the wallet. Inside was a personal ID card in a transparent window---and that was when he got his next shock, causing him to gasp aloud. The ID card was made out for a Maurice Gordon, said to be from Philadelphia; but the face looking back at him---smooth-shaven, olive-skinned, with black wavy hair---was his own. A hasty check of the wallet’s other compartments revealed that Maurice Gordon was cleared by the IRS to leave the country at will, belonged to the Eastern Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, and had recently visited Washington. Also, he believed in being prepared for emergencies: the wallet contained almost $2,500 in cash. Jarrow stuffed the wallet into an inside pocket, went to the door, and then as an afterthought retrieved the blue topcoat from the closet. He went back to the door again, paused for a deep breath to steady himself, and let himself out.

A sign a short distance away directed him to the elevators. When he was halfway along the corridor, a woman came around the corner, heading the other way. Certain that it was his unknown companion, Jarrow tensed for the encounter, but she passed by with just an uncertain half smile, sensing his apprehension. Getting too jumpy, he told himself as he pressed the call button at the elevator. Calm down. Got to calm down.

The car arrived. Despite his admonition, he felt himself tensing again as the door opened, but the car was empty. "Which floor do you require?" a synthetic voice asked from a grill as he got in.

"Main lobby."

In his present state of mind, a thousand-mile overland trip back to Minneapolis was out of the question. Flying was a far more restricted affair that had once been the case, and a ticket would only be issued on production of a valid internal passport carrying a certificate of compliance issued by the taxation department of one’s state of residence. Since the only travel category authorized in Jarrow’s internal passport was the low-priority grade that came with his junior high-school teacher’s status, he had resigned himself to the prospect of a long wait at the airport. But the thought occurred to him as the elevator descended that the ID he was carrying meant that he would have to collect the mysterious Maurice Gordon’s passport from Reception on checking out, and from the quick assessment he’d made from the contents of the wallet, there seemed a good chance that Gordon might have a higher-category authorization. So one small blessing could be that he’d get home sooner.

When Jarrow came out of the elevator, a man in a white hat was disputing something with the clerk at the desk, gesticulating furiously and then starting all over again whenever the clerk tried to answer. Jarrow watched from behind a pillar. The problem seemed interminable. Another woman came out behind him from the adjacent elevator and again he froze, but she ignored him and went out the front door. Finally, the dialogue at the desk ended, and the man in the white hat stomped away. Jarrow emerged and approached warily.

The clerk greeted him matter-of-factly. "Good morning, sir."

"Hello. Er, room . . . "

Jarrow looked at the passcard in his hand, then realized that he didn’t know the room number. For security reasons the code printed on the electronic passes wasn’t the same as the door numbers. He slid the passcard across the counter without finishing the sentence. The clerk inserted it into a terminal.

"Mr. Gordon, room 1406?"

Jarrow nodded, at the same time swallowing involuntarily. "That’s right."

"How can I help you?"

"I need to leave right away."

""Okay. Let’s see, there are a few extra charges I have to add in here. It won’t take a second."

The clerk consulted unseen oracles and tapped at keys.

Jarrow looked around anxiously, expecting at any moment to hear a shout or see somebody coming toward him from the elevators. A call-tone sounded from a phone behind the desk. Another clerk took it. Jarrow watched uneasily. The clerk said something into the handset, listened, and his eyes came to rest on Jarrow. In his mind, Jarrow could picture security staff already rushing to the lobby, police cruisers drawing up outside. He felt perspiration rushing down his back, certain that every line on his face was a beacon broadcasting that something was amiss and screaming for attention. But the clerk’s gaze drifted casually away again, then he grinned to himself and started ribbing whoever was at the other end. Jarrow looked away, telling himself again to calm down.

"If you’ll just okay that, Mr. Gordon."

"What? . . . Oh, yes." Jarrow inspected the bill that appeared on the customer screen built into the top of the counter, "It says three nights. Is that right? I’ve been here three nights?"

"Today is Tuesday, sir. According to the record, you arrived late Saturday afternoon without a reservation. Isn’t that correct?"

"Sure. I was just checking. That’s okay."

"I need your coder, sir."

"Er, pardon?" He hadn’t thought to check that he had one.

"Your personal verification coder, Mr. Gordon. I need to verify the bill."

"Oh, of course." Jarrow reached inside his jacket and drew out Gordon’s wallet. Rummaging inside he found a PVC with the name MAURICE J. GORDON embossed in visible print. The clerk took it and pushed it into a slot while Jarrow watched woodenly, waiting for the inevitable rejection, or for some other irregularity to signal itself.

"That’s fine, Mr. Gorgon. Here you are," The clerk returned the coder, along with a U.S. internal passport. Numb with relief and not a little surprise, Jarrow accepted them and nodded mutely. He looked at the passport and saw that it was made out in the name of Maurice J. Gordon. The picture alongside the thumbprint was his own. It was in order and carried a high-priority flight authorization.

"Thanks for using the Hyatt. Come and see us in Atlanta again sometime."

"Thank you. Can I get a cab to the airport?"

"Sure. There should be a couple outside. The doorman will take care of it."

"How far away is it?"

"This time of morning, aw, about twenty, twenty-five minutes. What time’s your flight?"

"I haven’t booked one yet. Thanks . . . Thanks again."

"Have a good one."

Jarrow got a cab straightaway at the main entrance, but it was several miles before he felt safe and could settle back in the seat to begin taking stock of his circumstances.

"Driver, what day is it?" he asked, leaning forward, just to double-check.

"Tuesday, all of it, last I heard."

Jarrow sat back again, shaking his head. It was crazy.

 
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