Make Mine a Double
by Bill Bowler
part 1 of 2
“Mr. Golyadkin recognized his evening guest. It was none other than he himself — Mr. Golyadkin himself, another Mr. Golyadkin, but completely the same as he himself.” — Dostoevsky, The Double
For one of the very few times in his life, Harry Barnum was at a loss for words. He simply did not know what to say. The numbers were staring him straight in the face. There was no use denying them. Third quarter sales were off 57%. And the downward trend was accelerating. First quarter had been down 16%; second quarter, 35%. The trickle had turned to a flood and the dikes were bursting. They were hemorrhaging badly.
“Metropolitan Robots can not sustain losses like this much longer, Harry,” the District Sales Manager went on. “They’re budget busters. Our business model is not tenable at these reduced income levels. Our expenses are too high. We would have to take drastic measures. It would be very unpleasant.”
“I know, I know,” said Harry. As Director of Sales at Metro Robots, he tracked the figures closely. He had been concerned early in the year, when the downward trend first appeared. He had thought, or hoped, it was an aberration, a one-time dip, within the normal range of fluctuation. But the bigger drop in late Spring, and now the bottom had fallen out. It was no longer a matter of concern; it was time to hit the panic button.
Metropolitan Robots had been serving the city and surrounding communities for thirty-five years, providing the highest quality robot sales and service at reasonable prices. They couldn’t let it just crumble, just fall apart and slip away. They had to take drastic action, now, to turn this thing around. Or else...
“I know what the problem is,” said Harry. “It’s Rossum’s Universal across town and their new line of Famous Celebrity and Sports Hero models. They’ve caught on big time. They’re selling them as fast as they can make them. They can’t even keep them in stock; customers are crowding into the store, lining up at the registers. There’s a three month wait on delivery of new orders and they’re still piling in. Look, there’s one of the damn things now!”
They looked out the display window to the busy street. An elderly woman with a cane hobbled slowly out the sliding doors from the supermarket across the street. An Elvis Presley was pushing her shopping cart, piled high with bags of groceries.
“I’ve seen them. We all have,” scowled the District Sales Manager. “People walking around town with Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jordan. It’s brilliant marketing. If only we had thought of it first.”
“Well, it’s too late now,” said Harry. “Universal is in production and too far advanced. We’d never catch them. We can’t beat them at their own game. We’ve got to go them one better.”
“Now you’re talking,” said the District Manager. “But how?”
Harry arrived home that evening worn and exhausted. He collapsed into an easy chair, loosened his tie, and hung his head. He felt as if the weight of the world were on his shoulders. He had to turn this thing around. Too many people were depending on him. He couldn’t just cut it loose and start over. He wasn’t young and wild and free any more. He had a wife and kids to support; bills to pay; they were deep in debt: mortgage payments; credit cards; health insurance; two cars; private school. The bills did not stop coming just because sales were down at Metro Robots.
“You look beat, honey,” Harry’s wife Carol gave him a little smooch.
“I am,” said Harry with a weak smile. “I am.”
“Poor baby,” said Carol, and kissed him again. “I’ll get you something.”
The front door banged and the girls ran in. Isabelle and Annabelle were identical twins. Fifteen years old. They had the same haircut, wore each other’s clothes, and looked and sounded so much alike that even Harry had to pause and study them sometimes to figure out which one was which, and he was their father. Others might as well give up.
It had been even worse when they were younger. It had been almost impossible to tell them apart when they were babies. At the hospital when they were born, Carol had had to put name tags on their wrists so as not to mix them up. They had baby photos in the album where they still could not be sure, to this day, which twin was which. Not even the girls were totally sure.
“That was sooo funny!” gasped Isabelle. “I couldn’t believe the look on her face.”
“Me neither,” laughed Annabelle. “She looked like she saw a ghost.”
Both girls burst into laughter.
“Quiet, girls, please. Your father’s resting.”
Annabelle ran up to Harry’s chair, “You should have seen it, Dad! It was so funny. You know how much better Isabelle is in math than I am. Mrs. Potts gave a test today and, just for fun, you know, I took gym for Isabelle and she took the math test for me.”
“What?” said Harry. “That doesn’t sound...”
“We did it just for fun, Dad!” said Isabelle, breathless. “And neither teacher noticed anything much except, after the test, I met up with Annabelle at the gym and waved to Coach and she looked a little startled to see us together and then started to get suspicious, so we got out of there fast, but it was really funny!”
“The only time funnier than that,” said Annabelle, “was when you were too nervous to break up with what’s his name, Isabelle, remember? So, when he showed up for the date, I went out with him instead of you and broke the bad news to him and he never even knew it was me and not you.”
Both girls laughed at the memory as they ran upstairs to their room. Harry settled back in his chair, shaking his head. They shouldn’t fool people like that, especially the teachers, of course, but they were harmless pranks and it was pretty funny, after all. Harry chuckled and shook his head.
At 2:00 AM that night, in the midst of a strange dream in which Harry was being pursued by himself, though it wasn’t quite his real self, his eyes opened and he awoke and sat up in bed.
“What is it, Harry?” Carol’s sleepy voice asked.
“Nothing,” said Harry, and he lay back down, but an idea had come to him while he slept, something so obvious but so good, so brilliant, if he didn’t say so himself, that it could put Metro Robots back on the map and knock Universal to second place where they belonged. He wondered how he could not have thought of it before. It was staring them in the face. Harry lay back down and closed his eyes, rolling it over in his mind. He’d speak to the District Manager first thing in the morning.
“Doubles!” announced Harry.
“Doubles. Identical versions of the owner-operator. Twins. Mirror images.”
“I’m not so sure,” said the District Sales Manager.
“Think about it! Haven’t you ever needed to be in two places at the same time? Haven’t you ever wished you could avoid an unpleasant situation and have someone sit in for you to get it over with?”
“You’re a very busy man. Your schedule is full. Your time is valuable. What if you could meet the Regional Director in Chicago and supervise the New York sales staff morning meeting — at the same time? Your productivity would double. Triple. What if you got sick on the day of your big meeting with your most important client? You wouldn’t have to cancel. You could stay in bed and do the meeting. No awkward questions. No delays. No trouble. Everyone’s satisfied. What about your wife’s cousin’s wedding? You don’t want to go. You’d rather have a tooth pulled. But the wife insists. OK. You go. You’re the life of the party. Wife’s happy. But you’re happy, too! You’re on the golf course!”
“Hmm,” said the District Manager. “Harry, you may be on to something.”
“I know I am. This is going to be big. This is going to blow Universal and their bogus celebrities right out of the water. Who wants a fake Marlon Brando when they can have another self? A stand-in, back-up, fill in, reserve, substitute me! Twice as much of me to love. This is going to be huge.”
“OK. OK. Talk to your staff. Talk to R&D. Talk to engineering. Talk to Marketing. Let me know what everyone thinks.”
Within six weeks, the first prototype had been developed. A month later, they went into production. Harry had not been mistaken. Android doubles were an immediate sensation. The fickle crowd at Universal surged back across town to Metropolitan; the orders poured in; Metropolitan had to hire new staff to handle the volume; and android doubles were sold as fast as they could be manufactured, with a healthy backlog of back orders, to boot.
It became a fashion statement, and something of a status symbol, to attend to one’s various affairs in duplicate. The business and home uses seemed endless. It was much more convenient for two of you to run errands (one of you stayed in the car while the other ran in, never to hunt for a parking space again).
It was easier for the two of you to do the shopping together, or the housework, or the yard work. Two of you on the job or at the office, as Harry had foreseen, doubled productivity, and absence due to sickness became a non-factor. At home, one of you watched the kids while the other watched the big game on TV or, even better, took a well deserved afternoon nap on the couch.
There were even some less ethical but nonetheless highly convenient uses for doubles in cases, for example, of extramarital affairs, where the ability to be home with the family while out and about lowered the risks of scandal significantly.
There were other uses of android double technology which Harry had not foreseen, applications in the areas of intelligence and security. Metropolitan Robots’ Android doubles had become so popular and widespread that they had come to be noticed by high ranking municipal government officials. Aside from the obvious personal and business applications, the android double technology, it was realized, could also be employed in certain sensitive areas of government activity.
In past months, faced with a difficult re-election challenge, the mayor had launched a get tough on crime campaign and cracked down hard and publicly on the activities of organized crime.
On the mayor’s orders, the police department had instituted a “zero tolerance” policy and had begun rounding up bosses, under bosses, and foot soldiers of the major illegal enterprises: gambling, prostitution, drugs, etc.
The crackdown had created a climate of tension. Anonymous death threats against the mayor had been received at City Hall. Word was out on the street that the Mob wanted the mayor to go, by any means necessary, and was willing to pay handsomely for the job.
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Bowler