CHARLIE concentrated on the mirror, watching his cheekbones moving slightly in and out, trying to decide where would be the best position for his grand entrance. His left cheekbone stuck for a second, protruding a little further then the right. He could hear the hydraulics straining away beneath his skin, could feel the nerves tingling as their messages were ignored.
He gave himself a good slap and the cheekbone jerked into place. Damn that cheap surgery. Cheap! Even these shoddy implants had cost his manager the best part of a years earnings. Still, they had more then paid for themselves, and were still generating income. He was the human chameleon. Never mind dressing like Minelli, he could become Minelli.
God, how cliched he'd become in his old age.
Charlie brushed on the last touch of blusher, and applied the merest hint of lipstick. His manager was always trying to get him to have those electro-sensitive tatoos done. Added to the hydro-skull he could really affect some astounding changes, but he resisted. He just couldn't imagine getting the same boost in confidence he got from a little foundation and blusher. Watching his face smooth over, seeing his eyes come to life, his lips fill out. It was one of life's best little pleasures, and he was damned if he was going to give it up.
Opening his handbag he pulled the last confidence builder for the show. A small plastic envelope, the 'Boots' logo proudly displayed upon it. Using the small spoon he carried he measured out a small amount of the white powder contained within and chopped it into lines upon his pocket mirror.
Before snorting it he looked into the mirror one last time. He had to admit it, he was beautiful, even now. He had come close to being a real star, just like the ones he imitated. Bowie, Jagger, Minelli, Streisand, Debbie Harry. He could have been as big as any of them.
Oh, hazy days, fronting his own band, playing his own songs. And what costumes. Long swishy dresses, satin blouses, purple mascara, and long curly hair that changed colours in time with the music.
Most of all he missed performing his own songs.
But, after they had produced one, well received album, EMSony dropped the bombshell. Post modernism was dead, deceased. It would no longer sell.
People no longer wanted cheap imitations of the originals, not on Microcube anyway. No, they were quite happy with the classics. The Beatles and the Stones were still selling very well thank you very much, and there wasn't one single album by a new band that outsold the Prodigy's seminal 'Voodoo People' album last year, and that was over a hundred years old. No, they were right, there was no reason in releasing material by new bands any more.
They carried on for a while, playing live shows, moving into the lucrative tribute band arena. That was when he'd had his skull done. That had given them a real edge over the competition, metamorphisising from Tim Curry into Patti Smith before their very eyes. They even managed to keep their big hit, "Do Call Me Babe" in the set. But the rest of the boys soon became unhappy. They were artists, they could never stay happy performing other people's material all their lives.
Neither, it must be said, could Charlie. But a girl's gotta earn a living, hey? He just wished there was some other way then entertaining old ladies and their grandchildren in a four hundred year old pub on the unfashionable side of the river.
He snorted the cocaine, and waited for it not to matter so much before getting up and walking over to his platform. He took deep breath stepped on the start button, and he was off.
CHARLIE sat opposite his wife in the Megacafe. It was a bit like eating in an aerodrome, but they both liked the lack of ambience. No-one ever noticed anyone else here. But Charlie was not happy. Even the Soya Burger and chips swimming in fat upon his plate did not look particularly appetising. His appetite had not recovered from last night's chemical additives.
He gazed over at his wife, looking ever so smart in her pin-stripe suit, and felt a little dowdy in his plain A-line skirt and beige cardigan, but hey, he wasn't working today.
Suddenly his wife gestured to someone at the door of the cafe, maybe a hundred yards away. A major social gaff, but then, he supposed, that was one of the reasons he had fell for her, wasn't it? The way she cared not what people thought about her. Maybe. He couldn't really remember.
Charlie looked across the room.
"No. Maggie, you didn't..."
"Sorry Charlie, but he has a proposition. I really think you should listen."
"Oh, come on. If we get the band together we'll have to split everything..."
"It's not about the band."
"Hi, Charlie, long time no see."
Charlie tossed his long blue hair from his face to get a good look at Matthew. He was wearing a leather waistcoat and trousers, no shirt. His nipples were joined by a chain with the words, "TO LET" hanging from it, each letter engraved upon a gold square. He had cut his hair to within a millimetre of his head, and let it return to its natural brown. Charlie thought he looked silly.
Matthew sat down next to Maggie, edging in close to her in a way which indicated a conspiracy was in the offing.
Charlie pulled a cigarette from his black PVC handbag, lighting it before resuming eye contact. Matthew knew better then to speak before this ritual was complete.
"I have a proposition for you, Charlie."
"So I'm told."
"The perfect crime."
"Why would I want to get involved in the perfect crime. I am not a criminal."
"There's a lot of money involved, Charlie," added his wife. "Neither of us is exactly raking it in, are we?" Her voice was accusing, reminding him that he had not provided her with the life he had promised. But, hey! That's life.
"You know about this?"
"Of course, Charlie. It's the chance of a lifetime. A fortune. And all you have to do is walk in and take it."
Charlie laughed. "I thought you real women were supposed to be the sensible ones."
"Yeah, well. I'm the one who has to work for a living..."
"Hey, I pay my share..."
"I know that, Charlie," admited Maggie. "But come on, you don't exactly have to work for it, do you. Wearing your favourite clothes in front of the world..."
"You don't know how I feel. I hate getting up on stage like some geriatric drag queen. But it's all I'm qualified to do."
"Girls, girls..." soothed Matthew. "I didn't come here to cause an argument. You are eminently qualified for this job, Charlie. That's why I want you in on it."
"Oh, yeah. why?"
"Because my friend, you have an extremely fluid identity..."
"I don't know..."
"Just think how good you'll look lying on a Malibu beach in a gold bikini," his wife enthused.
Charlie looked at his wife. Did she really think he was that shallow?
HE looked at himself in the vanity mirror of the car. He was nervous. Very nervous. He had studied the pictures and spent ages on his hair and make-up. He had concentrated very hard to get the hair just the right colour. They had sat outside her office all morning to ensure they knew what she was wearing and spent all their capital buying an exact replica of her dress. She did not dress cheaply. Charlie looked spot on. Or he would have done if he wasn't a couple of inches taller then her. Flat shoes almost took care of that, but he was screwed if the security guard turned out to be a leg man...
"Are you sure this card will work?" he asked Matthew.
"Yeah. I copied it myself. I do the cleaning in this building."
"Nice to know you've gone up in the world."
"Don't be so bitchy, Charlie."
"Sorry, Maggie. It's just nerves. I've never done anything like this before. It don't feel right."
"Charlie," offered Matthew, "this is EMSony you're doing over, the people who ruined your career. And come on, you hated Joanie Witherspoon."
"Did I?" asked Charlie. "I can't say I remember her."
"There she goes," shouted Maggie.
They watched her leave. Joanie Witherspoon, head of Marketing for EMSony. The woman with their world in her safe.
As soon as she turned the corner Charlie was on the street, rushing back to the door she had just come through. Passing the security guard he breathed, "Forgotten something." The guard just nodded as he flew past. He could see the lift door, open, a small crowd of people crowding in whilst he rushed across the concourse. He could see the doors closing now, he was only feet away, one last dash, slipping between the doors as they glided together meeting behind him like two lovers after a week apart.
"Joanie. What have you forgotten this time?"
Charlie glanced up at the man addressing him, looking down very quickly, lest he spot the difference. Charlie was breathing heavily, desperately trying to exaggerate his tiredness, breathing his reply in his best impression of Joanie's famous Manchester accent. "My purse."
The man looked suspiciously at Charlie's handbag for a second, then suddenly shouted.
Charlie looked at the open doors, shook his head clear, announced "Oh, yeah," and rushed out into the purple lined corridor.
Joanie's office was directly opposite the lift. She didn't like to walk too far. Now came the dangerous part.
Charlie pulled the card from his purse and slid it through the lock. The light clicked red. He typed into the keypad the code. That much he did remember. "69 Dudes." Joanie never did have any real taste.
He walked into the office. It was much as he remembered it. He did feel bad. He didn't like to hurt people. He suddenly remembered he hadn't been in this office in a good few years. He thought that was strange, but then that was the nature of the business. She hadn't changed it much. It was still all fibre optic lamps and pink paintwork.
The safe was just where it had always been, hidden behind the Warhol 'Monroe' print. It opened as easily as the door had done.
There it was. Bjork's diamond studded bra, due to go auction tomorrow. Joanie could never have dreamt of not looking after this one. The diamonds alone had cost four hundred and fifty thousand pounds when it had been made for her 1999 Apocalypse tour. That was apparently a lot of money back then, so who knows what they'd be worth now. Probably about ten million.
He pulled the replica, a prop from his stage show that he would be needing no more, swapping it with the original.
HE changed before leaving the office. Bringing his cheekbones in so far it hurt, well, if he was caught on film he would rather it was an image he never used. He could feel his skin sagging. Soon be time for that all important first lift. Then he concentrated until his hair turned ginger. Not his favourite colour. He threw off the coat and shirt, revealing a nice halter top. which held his falsies rather well, it must be said. But it couldn't hurt to inflate things a little. A quick push of the button and the Sun would have been proud to feature him. All draws attention away from the face. Pulling the knee length skirt off to reveal his mini, and slightly too muscular legs. Throwing on the sun-glasses and fixing his make-up in his vanity mirror completed the process. He was a new woman.
He strolled calmly out of the building past his own car, ignoring the two passengers. He could sense Matthew's head following him, and gave the boy a swift wiggle. Anything in a skirt. Some people never change.
He strolled around the corner and slipped into the car that waited there.
"Nice to see you again Joanie."
"Nice to see you Charlie."
"I still don't see why you couldn't have swapped the bra."
"More fun this way. Anyway, if anyone saw you, well, who did they see? Someone with a fluid-ident-skull. Never be able to recognise you again. And, if anyone ever notices the diamonds are glass, well, we blame it on some dead PR man. It's a perfect crime."
"Yeah, I don't know why no-one thought of it before."
"They'd better not have."
They both laughed as Joanie put her foot on the accelerator and the engine hummed to life, taking the car almost silently into the traffic.
"Do you think you'll miss your wife, Charlie?"
Charlie adjusted his face in the car's vanity mirror, trying to decide on an identity. It was never easy.
"Not half as much as I miss me."
He has also had work published in small press magazines Odyssey and Defying Gravity, and has so far failed abysmally to get his first two novels published.
The above story has previously appeared on Gina Ivy L Snowdoll's website.