A MILLION FACES • by Erin M Kinch

Marilyn crooned into the microphone, her husky voice more like an old-school torch singer than an upstart pop princess. Of course, her voice didn’t earn her the standing ovation. This club catered to men easily impressed by a Barbie-doll figure poured into a crimson spandex gown with peek-a-boo slits. Applause and raucous shouts of “Encore!” followed Marilyn backstage.

“Good show tonight, honey.” Gil, the manager, winked at her as he sent on the strippers.

“Thanks,” Marilyn called over one bare shoulder as she closed the door to her dressing room. The gold clock on the shelf struck one. If he was coming, it would be soon. She hoped she wouldn’t have to come back tomorrow night, though Gil had promised her a job any time she wanted one.

Once behind the wooden screen, her skin warmed and shifted, absorbing the dress back into her body, leaving her naked. She wanted to get rid of the back-breaking figure, too, but she had to stay in character. Marilyn was the bait. She slid on a silk dressing gown, luxuriating in the feel of fabric against her skin.

At the makeup mirror, she stared at her reflection, ignoring the crack in the glass. Marilyn had golden hair rippling down her back in loose curls, full red lips, thick eyelashes, and a dimple in her left cheek. As she watched, her skin shifted and Jenny appeared — a girl-next-door type with freckles and too many teeth. Her features morphed again, and Brenda, a no-nonsense secretary with severe eyebrows, stared out from behind the glass.

Faces appeared more quickly. Rhonda, the waitress with a bad perm; Gina, a waifish model; Bridgette, every man’s fantasy of a Swedish masseuse; Echo, a goth with pale skin and bottle-black hair. Each woman had her own story reflected in her face, her body, her clothes. A million faces — she could blend in anywhere, but the one face she longed for stayed stubbornly shrouded.

She’d left home at fourteen, riding high on her new ability to be absolutely anything she’d ever dreamed of. Soon, she learned the right face could get her what she wanted faster if she buried her conscience in the suburbs with her old identity. Eventually, though, the lawless life lost its appeal, and she allowed the other side to recruit her.

Last year, she realized she couldn’t remember her real face. She hadn’t worn it since she was a teenager, and she’d hated it then. What would that face look like over a decade later?

There were faces she loved, of course. She was partial to Maddie, a redhead with translucent skin and green eyes, and used that face when she wasn’t on the job. Maddie had an apartment downtown and owned a convertible. Maddie had even visited her parents’ graves a few months ago. Until then, she hadn’t known they were dead, their house demolished for a new strip mall.

A loud knock brought back Marilyn’s glamorous face and wide doe eyes. “Come in.”

The man who entered stood over six feet tall. He wore a sports jacket, and didn’t have the stink of the club’s regular patrons. This was the guy they’d been waiting for–the one who could lead them to the funds behind the drug cartel. Marilyn had been constructed as the kind of woman this man couldn’t resist.

“When Gil told me to expect a visitor, I expected someone sleazier.” A sultry grin curved Marilyn’s kissable lips.

“I could try again. Maybe more product in my hair?” He ruffled his dark curls.

Marilyn turned away, reaching for a compact. Her knee bumped against the call button beneath the dressing table, signaling the retrieval squad. She just had to keep him occupied until they arrived.

After powdering her nose, Marilyn strolled to the tiny love seat and motioned for him to sit beside her. “What’s your name, handsome?” When he sat, Marilyn got her first good look at his face. There was something familiar about those greenish-brown eyes. She could almost picture them staring in disapproval after a failing grade.

“Luke.” He ran his thumb over her cheek. “You’re gorgeous, but you probably hear that a lot.”

Marilyn’s heart thudded in her chest. “Luke?” A name from the past, combined with those eyes and that nose — a nose that looked good on a man, but one a teenaged girl would hate. “As in… Luke Andrew Taylor?”

His eyes narrowed. “I haven’t used that name in years.” He leaped up. “Who do you work for?”

With her eyes, she devoured the brother she’d had no hope of finding, committing every detail to memory. Blue eyes darkened into a matching brown, her tiny nose lengthened, and her cheekbones became more pronounced. She grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let go. The heat increased, as if her malleable body sucked in his genetic code, resetting her to what would have been. Honey blonde curls tightened and darkened. The buxom figure slimmed, and her height shot up two inches.

“Lisa?” Luke stammered.

She staggered to the mirror. Staring back was plain thirty-year-old Lisa Jean Taylor.

“Where have you been?” His ragged question pulled her away from the mirror. “We thought you were dead!”

“Go!” Lisa pushed Luke toward the door. “Run and never come back.”

The door burst open and the squad rushed in. Before Lisa could protest, they trussed Luke and carted him away. Her handler, Jack, came in afterward, his prominent jaw working overtime on his ever-present piece of gum.

“Good work, Maddie.” The gum cracked on the last word. Then he took in her appearance and frowned. “I thought you were going with the busty bombshell. That body looks too plain for this guy.”

Lisa sank down on the couch, unable to move.

Jack shook his head. “Guess you knew best. You got the bastard, that’s the important thing. Get out of here, and take a week off on us. Consider it a reward for a job well done.”

Erin M. Kinch lives and writes in Fort Worth, Texas, where she shares her home with her husband and a rambunctious golden retriever. Her short fiction has appeared in various print and online publications, including “Allegory,” “A Thousand Faces,” “Electric Spec,” and “Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic.” For more information about Erin”s stories, visit her blog at www.erinmkinch.com.

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