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Aurora's life is tied to the East and her ailing mother. Duncan's fame and fortune lies in Hollywood.

Can East and West find common ground.


Excerpt from Mirror Image

by Shirley Hailstock



The cameras panned across the row of guests. Aurora Alexander sat with her back so straight it hurt. Not even the plush purple chair offered her relaxation. Her legs were crossed, her red dress short and showing long legs to both the studio and television audiences. The image was all there and she'd played it to the hilt. Her smile could have been painted on by a 16th Century Italian art master and not the makeup artists in the back room. Aurora had perfected her smile, flashing it often when she got that question. Her hair, styled by a team of studio beauticians, enhanced her natural beauty to match those of the show's host.



"Humph," Emma Dawson, the show's hair and makeup wizard, said when Aurora was introduced to her. "I expected to have you in my chair for at least a couple of hours." The stout woman with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and her makeup looking as flawless as if she'd awakened with a perfect face, inspected her. She stepped forward taking Aurora's chin and scrutinized her from every angle. "If it wasn't for those lights out there, you could go out like you are and no one would know the difference." Emma moved back, placing her hands on her barber's chair. "Take a seat."

Aurora didn't know if she should take it as a compliment or an insult. But Emma's face showed no malice and her personality was friendly. Aurora took it as a compliment. Good thing, too. If she'd known the insults in store for her once she stepped onto the stage, she wouldn't be able to site still and wait for the cameras to finish rolling.

Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Beyonce, First Lady Michelle Obama, Michael Jordan, Chris Rock, and talk show hostess Marsha Chambers smiled and made comments to each other while the audience, prompted by the large, illuminated sign directing them, applauded. The look-alikes sat on the stage and waited for the camera lights and the applause sign to go off, indicating the television credits had finished their sequence.

Aurora, the Marsha Chambers look-alike, was the first to stand when the red light on the last camera blinked off. She didn't mill around like the others-smiling and making polite conversation with the other guests and the real Marsha Chambers. She needed to get away from this crowd or she was likely to tell Marsha Chambers what she really thought of her and her show. She headed for the Green Room, her heels clicking on first the hardwood flooring, then the concrete backstage before she reached the carpeted hallway.

Her gait was quick as she stepped over electrical cables. This was the last talk show she was ever going to do, she vowed. No matter how much they paid her, she'd never be humiliated like this again.

"Just what prompted you to have yourself surgically altered to look like me?" Marsha Chambers had asked her -- on camera. Aurora could hear the underlying negative tone in the question, but the audience missed it entirely. They loved this woman.

Aurora was not a duplicate. Trained as a social worker, she had talked to women in trouble. She'd learned to read people, read their body language, hear the questions that weren't verbalized, and look for the underlying reason behind the words. Whatever the rea¬sons for Marsha Chambers' comments, Aurora didn't care. It was obvious the woman hated her on sight.

Surgically altered! she thought again, anger making her body hot with every step. She probably thought Aurora had had her teeth fixed, too. If she'd had herself changed, and she hadn't, it would be so she didn't look like Marsha Chambers. Ever since The Marsha Chambers Show aired Aurora hadn't had an identity to call her own. No matter where she went people mistook her for Marsha Chambers, crowding around her, asking for autographs. Even when she explained, plastered smile in tow, that she wasn't Marsha, people didn't believe her. They thought she was trying to remain anonymous, like the most celebrated talk show host in the country could. But Aurora was telling the truth. At times it got so bad she had to sign the autographs in an effort to get away. But she discovered that signing made it worse. More and more people came, forming a crowd. At one place she caused a near riot. Had it not been for her friend, Nicole, Aurora wouldn't have escaped.

In the maze of unfamiliar hallways Aurora found the Green Room and snatched her purse and raincoat. Not bothering to put the coat on or remove the pound of makeup she wore, she headed for the exit. Getting away from Marsha Chambers was uppermost in her mind. She stepped over cables and around props as she rushed toward the outside. She needed to breathe fresh air. She'd been playing this look-alike role for three years, making personal appearances, usually at parties or on local programs, sometimes doing photo sessions for tourists, but it was getting old. She wanted to be herself.

The income was good. It was the only reason she exploited herself by playing Marsha Chambers double. It paid the expenses for the long-term care facility where her mother resided. Aurora would have to find another way to support herself and her mother now. She'd get a job, two jobs. She'd work night and day if she had to, but she wouldn't do this again.

"Can I help you, Ms. Chambers?" She heard the question as she passed a young woman. Aurora stopped but didn't turn around. She took a deep breath and relaxed her shoulders, damping down her anger. When she faced the smiling woman she was in control.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Amy. Amy Peterson. I work in the research department."

"Are you new, Amy? Is this your first job?"

The blonde woman smiled and nodded. She looked to be in her early twenties. "Yes," she said. "I graduated from Smith last May." She paused then rushed on as if she'd done something that would get her fired. "And I'm so glad to be part of the show."

Aurora raised her hand, cutting the young woman off. She recognized the enthusiasm and wished she didn't have to burst the woman's bubble.

"I know you're doing a wonderful job, Amy, and I'm sure Marsha Chambers appreciates it, but I'm not Marsha."

The woman opened her mouth to speak, then shut it.

"They did a taping today of people who look like celebrities. I'm one of them."

"I know," she said. "I mean, I knew they were doing the show." The woman scrutinized her features as if she were a dermatologist checking out a complaint of skin cancer. "If you hadn't told me I'd never have guessed," she finally said.

"No problem." Aurora smiled. She actually felt better. It wasn't Amy's fault and Aurora restrained herself from exploding her anger on a woman at her first job. With the makeup she wore, Aurora was the image of Marsha Chambers. "Good afternoon," she said, and turned to walk away.

Outside the sun shone bright. Aurora squinted. The threat of rain that had prompted her to bring her raincoat was nowhere in sight. It was warm for September. The studio had been dark, artificial, like Marsha Chambers, all show and no substance. Aurora headed for her car. It wasn't far from the studio door. The parking lot was small. The entire complex was small compared to the major network studios, but this one only housed The Marsha Chambers Show, and that was a long way from the major networks. The building was a one story square structure that looked like a renovated warehouse. A large red and white antenna seemed to grow out of the flat roof, giving it an alien appearance. The words The Marsha Chambers Show reached into the sky in six-foot letters that mirrored the show's logo.

Aurora shifted her raincoat to her left arm and reached inside her purse for her car keys. She had to look down to find them. When she looked up her heart jumped into her throat and she twisted back, avoiding the white van that zoomed in front of her. It came to an abrupt stop. Aurora's anger flared up again, but she cooled it. There was no need to leave in a state of stress. Show business had seen the last of her. She might as well go with a smile.

Aurora waited a moment for the van to move. When it didn't, she started to go around it. She heard the sliding door wrench open and someone get out. Glancing over her shoulder, she thought she'd see who'd been so rude. What she saw was a blur. Someone grabbed her from behind. It was a man. She smelled his aftershave. His hand covered her mouth and his knee dug into her kidneys. Aurora panicked. Without consciously thinking about it she struggled, but he was strong. She felt the muscles in his arms as she tried to pull the hand away from her mouth to scream. She tasted the oily leather of a work glove.

He dragged her backward. He was trying to pull her into the van. She twisted and turned, digging her feet into the ground, fighting against his superior strength. Her heart raced, pounding blood through her system. Who was this? What did he want with her? His gloved hand was in her mouth. She bit down on it hard. The surprise made him yank his hand away, as she'd expected. In the split second before the surprise wore off she balled her hand into a fist, and concentrating all her strength in one elbow, she delivered a punishing blow into the soft flesh of his stomach.

Twisting away, she yelled for help. He wore a ski mask, and his hair was concealed behind a blue and white knitted cap. Fear ran through her at the alien effect of him. His entire body was dressed in black, as if it were night and he'd wanted to blend into the darkness. He wore tennis shoes. Aurora wished she had hers on. She'd worn a navy blue silk jumpsuit and high heels. It was all part of the impersonation. Marsha Chambers was taller than she was, and the heels gave her more of the image she'd wanted to have today. Now she was sorry.

He came after her, grabbing for her. Aurora screamed, running away. Looking over her shoulder, she saw him coming, getting closer and closer. He was going to catch her. She filled her lungs with air and rushed forward, trying to reach the building, trying to get to the door, where there would be help.

Hands closed over her shoulders and she was pushed to the ground. They rolled over and over on the unyielding concrete driveway. Contact with the ground tore through the thin fabric protection of her suit and ripped the skin on her shoulder. Pain shot through her arm. She kicked herself free and tried getting to her feet. One of the heels of her shoes broke, and she couldn't get her balance before he was on her again. Frightened, she fought him, kicking and screaming, using her hands as weapons, but he wouldn't be thwarted.

"Marsha!" she heard someone shout. Instinctively they both looked in the direction of the voice. A man ran toward them. The masked man jumped to his feet. Quickly he looked from her to the van. He was breathing hard. He headed for the vehicle. In the time it took for the Good Samaritan to reach her the van roared out of the driveway, tires squealing and spitting gravel in its wake.





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