He walked into my office like Frankenstein, stiff-legged in his old man jeans, and flashed what he must have thought was a winning smile. He was blandly handsome, like he’d just climbed off the cover of the Just For Men box, but not before dumping the goop all over his head. His hair was black, too black for his 60-some-odd years. Except for the sideburns, which had apparently seen a ghost.
“Are you Stain?” he asked. “Sam Stain, Private Investigator?”
I looked up from the cig I was rolling at my desk. “That’s what it says on the door,” I said, nodding at the flaking sign on the frosted glass window, right above the bullet hole a client had put there a few years back, just after she’d seen my bill. I really needed to get that fixed.
I licked the rolling paper, rolled it together and stuck the blunt in my mouth. It tasted like a dead toe, but at least it was cheap. I lit it, inhaled and blew the smoke up at the bland man hovering over me.
The smile faded away from Just For Men’s tanned, garden-variety face, and he said, “I’m W. Mitt Romney. I’d like to hire you, Mr. Stain.”
“What for?” I said.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” he said, running a hand through that too-black hair. He pulled my other chair out and sat down across from me. “It all started back in ’94, when I ran for office for the first time. Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.”
“I remember,” I said. “You ran as a lefty. And not just slightly liberal, either – you were like Kucinich on crack.”
A smile creased the corner of the Mormon milquetoast’s lips. “I was for abortion, gay marriage, the whole shebang. Why, I even passed universal health care – Romneycare, if you will – when I was governor. Or so they tell me…”
“Yeah, right,” I said, puffing a smoke ring in the shape of an S with two lines through it – a perfect dollar sign. “Like you don’t remember. That’s a good one, Mr. Romney. I’ll have to remember to use it the next time the cops find me naked on the Subway handcuffed to a goat with a ball gag in my mouth.”
The robotic Republican leaned forward at me over the desk, his eyes wide, desperation flashing his vanilla features. “That’s just it, my friend. I don’t remember! Any of it! Everywhere I go, people call me a flip-flopper. A two-face. And it’s always confused me.”
I belched out a guffaw. “A flip flopper? Brother, you’re like a landed salmon.”
Mr. Mundane wasn’t laughing. “You remember the story that came out a while ago, about how, when I was at Cranbrook, I supposedly bullied that gay student?”
“Yeah. Jon Lauber,” I said. “You didn’t like the way he wore his hair, so you and your prep school posse pinned him down and you cut his hair while he cried and screamed for help. He ended up killing himself, years later.”
Romney shook his head. “I …”
“You don’t remember,” I smiled. “That’s what you said, when the press asked you about it. Even though everyone else they interviewed for the story remembered every detail, you didn’t recall. Pretty slick, Mitt. That gag’ll get you out of just about anything, if the jury box is full of suckers.”
“But it’s true,” he said, his face reset to a blank slate, like a shaken Etch-a-Sketch. “I don’t remember it, my friend. It’s just like my Senate campaign, or when I was governor and created Romneycare. Or all those investments at Bain, being a corporate raider. A vulture capitalist. Sucking companies dry, laying off workers, outsourcing their jobs to China and India. All this time I’ve been saying, I wasn’t there at the time. It wasn’t me. I left Bain in 1999 to save the Olympics. But now this new story’s come out in The Boston Globe. They’ve found paperwork – SEC documents with my name on them, certifying that I was the President, CEO and sole stockholder at Bain all those years, all the way up to 2002. I even collected an executive paycheck of at least $100,000…”
I hooted out another belly-laugh. “Yeah, right. It was probably more like ten million…”
“Then there’s the matter of my offshore accounts. The Obama campaign keeps demanding that I release my tax returns.”
“So why don’t you?” I said, puffing out another smoke ring.
Romney stifled a cough. “Why should I?” he said. “I paid my 15 percent, my friend. Who do they think I am? Mother Theresa? Besides, like I keep telling them, I have no idea what my money’s doing. It’s all handled by my personal lawyer, R. Bradford Malt. I don’t know anything about these Swiss accounts, or what’s in my IRA from my days at Bain. A shell corporation? What’s that? They say I’ve got millions in the Caymans and Luxembourg, Bermuda and a few other places. But I don’t know anything about it, my friend. Not a thing!”
I gave him a knowing wink. “Like I said, Mitt, it’s a great gag, if you can put it over.”
“But don’t you see, Stain? It’s not a gag! I’m not kidding – I don’t remember any of that stuff.” He sat back and fixed me with his humdrum gaze. Like he was staring down a three-foot putt on the back nine at Augusta National. “There’s only one explanation. A double. A … a clone or a secret twin. Something, I don’t know exactly how they did it, but somehow there’s a second me running around out there. Another Mitt…”
It hit me like one of Katie Couric’s gotcha questions socking Sarah Palin in the lipsticked kisser. “Mother of Newt! A doppelgovernor!”
“Exactly! There’s two Romneys! One – the fake one, of course -- a flaming liberal, the other: a severe conservative.”
Sweet hopping Herman Cains! My head was spinning faster than Mitt’s position on the individual mandate. “Of course! A ringer! It explains everything --- why you have two completely opposite positions on every issue! Abortion, gay marriage…”
He was excited now, like an insurance salesman moving in for the closing pitch. “Immigration!” he shouted. “Stem cell research!”
I chimed back in. “Gun policy. Global warming.”
“Health care!” he yelled, practically jumping out of his chair. “I created it, now I hate it!”
I sat back in my squeaky office chair, letting the pure brilliant madness of it wash over me. Sure, it explained everything. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? No one person could have that many positions. The guy was a walking Romney Sutra of political contortions. Figure 1: The Flying Potus. I let out a whistle. “Two Romneys,” I said. “It’s genius! They can’t tease you about your wealth because you don’t know anything about it. Not the taxes, the offshore accounts, the car elevator, the mansions in La Jolla, Belmont, Mass., Park City, Utah … none of it…”
His pupils flared, like he’d just seen a wad of cash at a million-dollar fundraiser. “You forgot my mansion on Lake Winnipesaukee. Yes, my friend. I know about that stuff. The Cadillacs, private jets, the yacht clubs. The material wealth -- all the tangible luxury items. And Rafalca, of course.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Rafalca? What’s that? Another dummy offshore corporation?” I winced, thinking maybe I’d offended him by calling his corporation a dummy. After all, it was Mitt who’d said that “corporations are people, my friend.” Or, was it?
The Mittster smiled through thin, bloodless lips. “No. Rafalca’s my wife’s Dressage horse. She’s going to the Olympics, you know. She’d better bring home the gold, too, after what I spent on her, or it’s off to the glue factory for that nag.”
So he knew about the wealth, but not where it came from. Interesting. I leaned back, propping my chin on a finger pyramid, thinking it through.
“Someone’s out to get me,” said Mitt. “You can see that, can’t you? I can’t have an evil twin running around, taking all these liberal positions. I’m runnin’ for office, for Pete’s sake!”
It was time to get down to cases. The $64,000 question. I asked it. “So what is it you want me to do, Mr. Romney?”
“Simple, my friend. I want you to find my double. The dupli-Mitt. Find him and report back to me, Stain. Then I’ll deal with him myself, the Romney way.”
“Fill his pants full of gold doubloons and push him off a yacht?”
He smiled vapidly. “No,” he said. “Too easy.”
I snapped my fingers. “I got it! You’ll take him hunting on your secret island – for the most dangerous prey -- humans!”
Mitt looked at me with the blank expression of a soulless cyborg. “No,” he said. “I’m not a big game hunter. Rodents and rabbits – small varmints, if you will. That’s more my speed. No, my friend, I’ll just outsource him. Send him to China, or the Marianas. They’ll know what to do with him there. Put him to work in one of their prison factories, churning out cheap Wal-Mart goods for pennies a day. No windows, no weekends, no freedom. Just good old American manufacturing, my friend. Free enterprise. No regulations.”
He took a thick envelope out of his breast pocket and dropped it on my desk. I could see it was stuffed with cash. Then he stood up, flashing his pleasant plastic smile, all gleaming white teeth and no soul. “Find the other Mitt, Stain. I’m counting on you.”
And just like that he was gone, moving stiffly out the door in his iron jeans.
TO BE CONTINUED