Mann walked onto the Toyota dealership's shiny blacktop wearing a new face. The old face had pinched in the wrong places, tugged at his ears, and made his eyes almond shaped, even thought the face was supposed to be Anglo.
Mann smiled, the grin coming easy to the new face. He brought up his lotion-smoothed fingers of his right hand to his new face, and felt the muscles slide the smile into place. He would frown, then smiles, frown, then smile again, wondering why he hadn't made this new face earlier. It made him feel giddy, an almost sexual pleasure rippling up and down his spine. He caressed, fondled, (italics)felt up(italics), the musculature of his countenance, much like a lover. Still, it didn't quite fit his ears right, tugging in that uncomfortable way that made him twist his neck every once in a while.
A soft crunching approaching him broke his reverie. Mann's right hand jerked away from its tender stroking and hid in the pocket of his jeans. Mann shrugged his shoulders, twisting his neck, and adjusting the brown leather knapsack into a more comfortable position. The source of the crunching was a salesman wearing khakis, a light blue polo shirt, and a dark blue sports coat. The coat hung uncomfortably on the salesman's shoulders, and it seemed to Mann that the dark blue-black almost clashed with the light, sky blue of the polo shirt.
Mann studied the salesman an intent that was almost desire. Yes, the desire had sparked in him again, and Mann knew that it would only be a matter of time until the desire grew too strong to resist. Mann cataloged every nuance in the salesman's gait, the way his eyes squinted in the bright afternoon sun. Mann took careful note of the fold of the salesman's brow, the curvature of the lips, the nervous tic of the left thumb. By the time the salesman reached him, Mann felt certain he could replace the salesman with little difficulty
“Hello. What can I help you with today?” Carl Banning companioned his greeting with that false smile, the slick smile, that came so easily after years of selling cars. “Name's Carl. Interest you in a new car today?”
“Yes. I just made a new face today, and I was hoping to find a new vehicle to go along with it.”
Carl's slick smile broadened, having seen this before. Person goes in, plastic surgeon nips and tucks, presto: new person. Although Carl was sure he misheard the customer say 'made' instead of 'got' or 'had done.'
“Well Mister Mann…” Carl paused for a second at the play on words, then continued, “what you're probably looking for is a sports utility vehicle. Let me tell you, they're the hot thing right now, 'the big fad.' And we Californian's, we love the 'big fad,' don't we?”
Carl guided his customer to a line of 4-Runners, Rav 4's, and Land Cruisers sitting on the lot like children waiting to be adopted, and continued his narrative, “And Toyota has three of the best on the market. Of course, there's the 4-Runner, one of the original, and still the best.” Carl chuckled, settling into his spiel, “Now, Toyota introduced the Rav 4 a few years ago, and was met with rave reviews. It had one of the most successful launching of a sports utility vehicle ever. If you're looking for sporty and rugged in one package, the Rav 4 is your best bet.”
Carl was chugging along now, like the steam engine trains of old, and about as easily stopped, “Okay…here we have the Cadillac of ess ewe vees, the Land Cruiser. If you don't mind spending a little extra, the Cruiser will get you through the rugged terrain of the Sierras or West Hollywood in style.”
“I don't mind spending a little extra.” Carl's customer replied.
I'll bet you don't, Carl thought to himself, since I'm sure that new face of yours set you back a pretty penny. “Well, let's take a look at her, shall we?”
Minutes later, Mann sat in Carl's office, fidgeting slightly. To say the office was small was like saying the Titanic was big. Carl's desk took up three-fourths of the space, with a gray file cabinet and a small plastic palm tree fighting for breathing room in opposite corners. The chair Mann was sitting on was also elbowing for space, and Mann's Back was flush against the wall. Mann felt his heart begging to thump faster in his chest, and his breathing became sharp. Hung above the cabinet was a picture of Carl with his wife and young daughter.
To calm himself, Mann studied Carl's face, envy and an almost sexual desire flooded through him again. In fact, Mann could feel his groin tingle. Carl shifted around his facial features with ease and grace. The more Mann watched, the more he knew he had found the one he was looking for.
Mann nodded at the right times, and asked the right questions, playing Carl like a well-tuned viola. Unobtrusively, Mann reached into the knapsack sitting next to the chair, palming a thing tuve into his left hand. Carl bent forward, and pushed a small stack of papers across the desk towards Mann.
“Jest a few things for you to sign,” Carl's brown eyes broadcast triumph, “and then you are on your way in a brand new Land Cruiser.”
Mann snagged a pen from an unused coffee cup. He crossed his t's and dotted his i's, and signed a dozen different names to the various forms. The easy smile slid back onto Carl's face as he stuck out his hand. Mann took it, yanked Carl over the desk, and jabbed a small syringe into Carl's heart. With access to the main pump of the human body, the drug quickly took effect, relaxing every one of Carl's muscles.
Mann eased the car salesman back into his chair, then reached into his knapsack. Man held up a pair of cigar clippers into the harsh fluorescent light. Carl's eyes widened, pupils darting from the syringe in his chest to the silver clippers now held close to Mann's right hand. Mann moved around the desk, thankful that the only window was the tiny pane of glass in the door. He sat on the desk in front of Carl, a bulge in his crotch and a gleam in his eye.
If he had been able to, Carl would have furrowed his brow, then screamed like a little girl. Mann opened the clippers and placed his right index finger between the two blades. With a quick snip, Mann clipped off his finger just above the middle knuckle. With a mixture of horror and surprise, Carl watched as not blood, but tiny red-gray tendrils snaked out of Mann's half-finger. Using a checkered handkerchief fished out of his left pants pocket, Mann retrieved the other half of his finger, and gently placed it on the desk.
The tendrils wove and snaked over Carl's face, caressing it with a dry slither. After their inspection, the tendrils pulled away, and crawled through the air to Mann's face. Two of the tendrils disgorged ivory colored blades, and took their place at Mann's forehead, just below the hairline. Without warning, the blades plunged into Mann's skin, and the two tendrils began to carve an outline of his face. No blood spilled from the ever lengthening incision. The blades withdrew when they met just above the adam's apple. The two ivory knives were joined by three more, maneuvering to different points of the incision. All five knives slid underneath the opened skin, their tiny bulges visible, writing and disconnecting the nerve endings. Spider leg sized hooks emerged from the last two tendrils, quivering in anticipation, colored the same as the blades. Soon, the five ivory knives slid free of Mann's face, and the hooked tendrils took hold of the skin, pulling it free.
With a we flop, Mann's old cae fell into Carl's lap. Man sighed with a moment's regret. He hated to lose such a good face, but the salesman's face held so much more promise. Carl's job, family, the whole situation was perfect. It was the exact thing the Master said to look for. Slack-jawed, Carl moaned, the only noise he was capable of making. Looking at the clock on his desk, Carl moaned again, in despair. It was now six-thirty. All of the sales staff would be gone by now, knowing Carl's penchant for working late. The car salesman willed himself to faint, to scream, to do anything to escape this thing in front of him. Completely unable to move now, all Carl could do was watch.
Their work on Mann done, two tendrils positioned themselves at Carl's forehead. He couldn't see them. All Carl could look was was Mann's skinless face, and wonder where the blood was. An opaque substance, like mucus, pulsed and twitched over Mann's face muscles. There was a sudden, stabbing pain, then burning agony as the two blades outlined Carl's face. His blood was poring down his neck in a red torrent, soaking his clothes.
With agonizing slowness, five blades got under Carl's skin, and began to separate his face from his skull. Carl could feel the knife-stabbing snap of every nerve separating and the writing of each tendril across his facial muscles. At last, the tendrils withdrew, and Carl's face was peeled off like the skin of a fruit. With startling precision, the car salesman's face was attached to Mann's, and soon Carl looking at himself. Man stood up once the operation was a success, and turned Carl around until he was staring at the back wall. Mann put Carl in a sleep hold, and with a quick snap, broke his neck.
The tendrils reattacked Mann's index finger while he dug in his knapsack. Man produced a white tube that tapered off to one end. He clipped open the tube, and poured a greenish-brown viscous liquid over the dead man's body. Gray-white smoke rose from Carl's body as he slowly evaporated. After several minutes, all that remained was clothes, clumps of hair and clean white teeth.
Mann's knapsack then produced some cleaner and a rag. Mann scrubbed, washed, and sanitized his new office. He also decided it was time to ask for a larger space, and maybe a raise. Mann smiled at the thought, while he dressed himself in Carl's clothes. Mann stuffed the dark blue sports coat into the knapsack, along with Carl's hair and teeth. After a quick survey, Mann nodded with satisfaction, and left the office.
One of Carl's co-workers, also working late, stopped Mann on his way out.
“Did you lose him?”
“Yes.” Mann answered with that easy smile, “But, sometimes you lose one to get a better one.”
“That's a good attitude Carl. See you tomorrow.”
Mann waved, and walked over to his new car. There was a moment's panic, as Mann struggled to remember the Master's lessons on how to drive. After a couple seconds, it was gone, as the instructions came to him in a heartbeat.