So he tells me to hold one grip and he holds the other and there’s this sort of flash behind my eyes as if a bolt of lightning had zipped across inside my head.

Erosion patterns on Mars, courtesy of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA

You want to know about MacGuffin? Well, Mister, you sure came to the right place. Listen, I’ve told them a thousand times I’m not him. Do you think they believe me? No, sir! If it looks like MacGuffin, walks like MacGuffin and talks like MacGuffin, then it’s MacGuffin. And MacGuffin has to die.

Do you know how these savages execute people? They inject a chemical that dissolves bone; all of it, clean away! You end up flat as a spatchcock chicken and crushed under your own weight. Then they drag out all your innards and tan your hide for a rug. That’s gonna be me in six hours. And MacGuffin? That bastard will be sitting on some tropical paradise planet knocking back gin and tonic and laughing at the whole thing. Son of a bitch!

Me? I’m Mario Massimo. Yeah, that Mario Massimo. Is there more than one? I’ve won every golf major for the last two years. I know, Massimo doesn’t look like MacGuffin. That was the whole point. You can’t make money betting on a guy that never loses. These days they only make book on who’s gonna come second.

So MacGuffin comes up to me one day in the departure lounge at Cary Grant Spaceport and tells me he has this infallible scheme. I’m sitting in that cavernous waiting area, twiddling my thumbs and moping at the boards that tell me all flights are delayed because of solar flares. I didn’t know then he was MacGuffin of course. He asks me if I’m entering the inaugural Paradine Open.

Well of course I am; the prize money ain’t great but I’m short of cash as usual. I don’t know where it all goes. So he says to me he’s not a bad golfer himself; three handicap. “Yeah, yeah,” I say. “Well done you.” I get this sort of crap all the time.

“Hold on a minute,” he says. “What I’m saying to you is that my body is capable but I don’t have the talent. Now suppose you were in my body, you could win a tournament like always, only no one would be expecting it, see, so we could clean up in the betting.”

Well, I start looking around for port security, don’t I? Here’s this lunatic on the loose.

“Don’t panic!” says MacGuffin. “I’m not crazy. Tell me you don’t need the money; I’ll disappear.”

“So what if I need the money?” I say. “I’m not inside your body. Mister, you got a screw loose in the brain compartment.”

“I can see how you’d think that,” he says. “Anyone would think that, Mario. That’s why this scheme will never be so much as suspected. What would you say if I told you I had access to top-secret government research into identity transference?”

“I’d say garbage!”

“I’m serious, Mario. Uncle Sam tried to develop a scheme where an agent could take over as head of a foreign government. Only they gave it up because they couldn’t stabilize the transfer for more than five days.”

“What happened after five days?”

“They automatically re-exchanged, didn’t they? Left you with a foreign president who’d been in US custody for just long enough to make him madder ’n Hell. No good for them, but for us it’s perfect, don’t you see? Five days gives you a practice round and four days of the tournament. Then it’s back to normal and nobody any the wiser.”

“And you expect me to believe this bullshit?”

“I don’t expect you to take my word for it. I can show you. We don’t have to wait five days. We can switch back as soon as I prove to you that it works.”

Well, I reckon I don’t exactly have a lot to lose, right? He can’t rob me, because I spent my last dime on the ticket. I’m all expenses paid after arrival or I’d be sleeping in the clubhouse.

So, we follow the signs to the nearest bathroom. Usual spaceport facility: cracked tile walls, waste paper towels in the washbasins, automatic taps that don’t work, disgusting smell. There’s no one there except this balding, chubby old guy wearing a suit and tie. He gives us a strange look and then leaves. What the hell, who cares?

MacGuffin pulls this gizmo from his pocket. It’s nothing much to look at: just two plastic hand grips connected by a wire.

“That’s it?” I ask him.

“Sure,” he says. “What’d you expect? Truckloads of machinery? How d’you figure they could smuggle that close enough to a foreign president?”

So he tells me to hold one grip and he holds the other and there’s this sort of flash behind my eyes as if a bolt of lightning had zipped across inside my head. Then, just as I’m figuring that it’s all a con, I realize I’m standing there looking at myself! There I am smiling at me and saying “See, told ya!”

So I go over to a mirror and take a look. Only I’m not looking at myself, am I? I’m looking at MacGuffin. Man you could have knocked me down with an old lady’s sand wedge.

“Go on,” says MacGuffin. “Try a swing or two. I told you, my body’s in good shape; I play at least nine holes most days.”

Well, he’s around my build. I feel strangely comfortable in his body. “You know, we might just pull this off,” I say.

MacGuffin is all smiles and he hands me one of the grips again. Same flash of lightning as before and hey presto, I’m back in my own body. Soon as I get over feeling queasy I look at him and I have to admit there’s one problem.

“I got no cash for a stake,” I say.

“That’s okay,” says MacGuffin. “You do the hard work on the golf course; I stake us both with the bookies. Fair division of labour?”

Well, to cut a long story short, we handle the whole thing exactly the way he said. MacGuffin had been leading amateur in one of the minor qualifying tournaments. He’s last man in the draw, so he’s scheduled to tee off at the crack of dawn in the first round on Paradine. Not exactly what I’m used to, but at least there are no spectators that early to wonder why MacGuffin’s using Massimo’s clubs.

By the time Massimo tees off four hours later MacGuffin’s already back in the clubhouse, in a three way tie for fourth place with a nice quiet two under par. Nothing suspicious there; we’ve all seen one round wonders before. They always fall back when the pressure’s on.

You know I’m sure that clock’s fast. I don’t believe we’ve been talking for an hour. Do you mind if we speed this up? You will speak to the Governor for me, won’t you? You’re my only hope, Mr. Latour; persuade him to grant a stay of execution until we can trace MacGuffin — that’s Massimo, I mean, or the guy who looks like Massimo. I can’t die this way, Mr. Latour. Say — you wanna come a little closer to the bars? My voice is getting kinda hoarse.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the first round. Well Massimo cards one over. That’s my worst opening round for five years, or would be if it was actually me, see? MacGuffin handles the press conference well; gracious congratulations to the surprise leaders; blames spaceship lag and tells them to watch his smoke the next day.

Only the next day he’s bunkered twice and takes a double bogey sticking him in the sorry half of the pack. Big news! Rumours go around that he’s sneaking drinks between holes. Meanwhile I’ve edged my way into second. I’m playing like crap by my standards, but you’d be surprised how long it takes to get used to driving another man’s skin. It’s not all bad though; less suspicious this way. By the time I’m standing on the eighteenth tee for the fourth time, two days later, I could take a bogey and still win.

So I collect the trophy and hundreds of photographers take my picture and then I head for the hotel room so that the identity switch back won’t occur in public, see? Only there ain’t no switch back, is there? And there ain’t no MacGuffin neither.

Front desk tells me Massimo left a message. He’s making the rounds of the bookies whilst he still remembers who they are. Well it don’t look good for Massimo to go collecting in person after betting against himself but I can hardly argue, so I go back to the room and wait. Then I have dinner and wait some more. Still no switch back and still no MacGuffin.

Just as I’m starting to get really upset, there’s this knock on the door of my room.

“Room service for MacGuffin,” a voice calls. Nice voice. Nice blonde, curved in all the right places and almost wearing a maid’s outfit. I know I didn’t order room service, or any other kind of service come to that, but I figure maybe MacGuffin did and he probably intended it for himself after the switch back.

Okay, I’m pretty pissed off with MacGuffin by this time, but I’m still expecting him to turn up full of excuses. I figure he now owes me extra for my trouble and it would be a pity to disappoint this nice young lady who’s already down to her underwear without any unnecessary preliminaries. Let’s say the next few hours do not drag like the previous few. I don’t remember worrying about MacGuffin once.

In the middle of the night I wake up, thinking I hear a prowler outside, or maybe it’s MacGuffin. The girl is still sleeping next to me. She hasn’t been disturbed; just as well because she ought to be pretty tired. I roll out of bed as quietly as I can, grab my three iron and sneak over to the door. Then I whip open the door and swing back the iron all in one movement. No one there, but I catch sight of a shadow at the far end of the corridor. I figure maybe a guy’s hiding around the corner.

So I leave the door open and I tiptoe down the corridor, ready to do damage if some creep steps out, but I don’t want to hit MacGuffin, see, on account of I still think I’ll soon be feeling the bruises myself if I do. When I reach the corner I nerve myself to jump around it in one bound. For a split second I’m gonna take a swing at this guy and then I realize it’s not a guy. It’s a life-size bronze statue; it’s all swathed in bubble wrap and the only thing I can make out is that it has my face. That’s MacGuffin’s face, right?

So I remember the winner of the inaugural Paradine Open is to have his statue set up outside the clubhouse. The thoughtful organizers seem to have brought the thing round to my hotel for approval first. Only they don’t want to disturb me during the night so they’ve left it in the corridor until morning. Nice gesture, huh?

I rub my eyes and make my way slowly back to my room. The door is still open. Inside, everything is just as I left it, if you don’t count the guys with guns pointed at me. One of them switches on the lights. I consider that me and a three iron against three guys with shooting irons is not a fair contest. I don’t put up a fight. The girl is sitting up in bed and already handcuffed. They haven’t found it necessary to let her get dressed first.

Behind the frosted glass door of the bathroom, there’s the profile silhouette of another man. The shape seems familiar. A moment later the door opens and this balding, chubby, old guy comes into the room. It’s the same guy we encountered casually, as I thought, in the Cary Grant bathroom.

“Good evening, Mr. MacGuffin,” he says. He has a lugubrious way of speaking, like a recording running slower than intended. “Such a pleasure to meet you at last. How very thoughtful of you to have your photograph beamed to every planet in the known universe. It does so speed up a manhunt for a murderer.”

“Murderer? What murder? I won a golf competition, is all. Nobody died.”

“Not on Paradine, no, Mr. MacGuffin. But two weeks ago on Tenochtitlan the Governor’s wife died. You’ll remember her perhaps? A very nice blonde lady; not unlike this young lady here in fact. Here, my dear, cover yourself up.” He hands the girl a bath towel and she tries to drape it over herself, struggling with the cuffs.

“I’ve never been to Tenochtitlan.”

“No? How strange that you were photographed there so many times. Frequently in the company of the unfortunate lady herself, in fact. By the CCTV in her bedroom, standing over her body, for example. If you hadn’t had your own spacecraft we’d have caught you back then. I was pretty sure it was you last week in Los Angeles, but I couldn’t figure out what somebody like you would be doing with Mario Massimo. Then I lost you in the crowd and I didn’t know which flight you’d taken after all the confusion with the flares.”

By this time I’m panic stricken. If MacGuffin has his own spacecraft you can bet he’s long gone, taking my body and all the loot with him. I’d been a fool to believe him when he told me the switch back was automatic. I should have made him prove it. He’s played me for a sucker. Not only am I framed for a murder that he’s committed but I’ve funded his escape and provided him with a new identity.

Of course I try to explain to the chubby guy that I’m not really MacGuffin, don’t I? He just smiles and nods his head. Then he looks at me with those sad eyes and says, “Never mind. I understand that the pain only lasts for an hour or so. Then there’s a whole new life of useful service to look forward to. Everyone appreciates a doormat.”

Nice huh? Well that’s about it, Mr. Latour. They bring me straight here to Tenochtitlan in a police cruiser. Then there’s this travesty of a trial where nobody will listen to me and nobody is willing to go find Mario Massimo and make him testify. If we can only get him here, Mr. Latour, I swear I can prove he’s not the real Mario Massimo. That guy ain’t gonna know half of the things about my life that I know; how could he?

Get my mother here. Get my girlfriend. They’ll be able to tell who I am. Only none of them will be able to help me if you let them turn me into a doormat. Truly Mr. Latour, you gotta believe me. I’m Mario Massimo; I’m not MacGuffin. I shouldn’t have to die for another man’s crime. In the name of all that’s holy Mr. Latour, you gotta help me.

What’s that? The identity transfer equipment? Yeah they found it in Massimo’s room. My room. No, I mean MacGuffin’s room, of course. He didn’t bother to come back and pick up his stuff — my stuff. Well, he didn’t come round and pick up his own stuff either. He beamed the hotel an apology and the credit as soon as he arrived back on Earth. Said he’d just been too upset and distracted after losing; hadn’t meant to leave without settling his account. Told them to donate all his clothes to charity. My clothes, the bastard!

Yeah, they let me keep the transfer equipment to humour me. They prefer it when I’m not shouting and screaming that I’m not MacGuffin. I’ve spent every hour of every day since the trial trying to figure out how to make the damn thing work. No dice. It just sits here like a useless piece of junk. The Tenochtitlans think it’s a kid’s toy. It beats me. Maybe MacGuffin disabled the power source. Maybe it’s only good for three transfers and now it’s exhausted? I don’t know; what do you think? All I know is that blasted clock is fast.

Look, you take the equipment. It’s no use to me. Take it with you to the Governor. Tell him if he gets MacGuffin here — I mean if he gets the guy who’s pretending to be Massimo here — he can force him to make it work. It’s worth a try isn’t it Mr. Latour? Here, take it. It’s gotta be worth a try.

Well, I’m glad now you see things from my point of view. Don’t look at me like that. You’re there behind bars for a heinous crime. Quite sorry about the doormat thing. You can try telling them that you’re not MacGuffin, if you like. Tell them your name’s Andre Latour. It’ll make a change from telling them you’re Mario Massimo.

Oh, you can keep the equipment. You have about four hours to figure it out. Maybe you can exchange with one of the guards.

I have to go now. There’s a private spacecraft waiting for me here on Tenochtitlan, you know? No, just the one. That’s right, MacGuffin’s. Well now that you mention it, I guess it is odd that Massimo would run to MacGuffin’s ship after all that, isn’t it? Farewell now. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. You have a nice day, Mr. Latour.

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