He spun the silver case towards him and popped the catches. The bills were in the proper denominations. A quick leafing through revealed no sequential serial numbers or blank fillers. The men with the chrysanthemum and Koi tattoos, while willing to kill over the hint of a perceived slight, were punctual and true to their word. Both traits were hard to find and as precious as diamonds.
Charles snapped the case closed and bowed from his waist. "As always it was rewarding doing business with you."
The man across the table grunted and along with his two hulking guards slipped into the shadows. Izumi fell in step as Charles left the meeting place.
"That was quick," she said has her head swiveled side to side.
"Yeah, the short one doesn't talk much. Any trouble?"
Charles shook his head. "No lying. No backstabbing. This is how organized crime should be. Tell the boys to pack up. It's time to go."
She nodded and despite her heeled boots moved away without making a sound on the grit covered concrete. A grunt drew his attention to the right. Henrik was down on his hands and knees. Over him stood a woman. She was dressed in a form fitting white outfit with a spray of black starts that marched diagonally across her torso. A white mask with jagged black line that encompassed her eyes crossed from one temple to the other covered her face beginning at the tip of her nose and ending in two points above her forehead.
The woman in white gave Henrik a kick that sent him to his side and stepped over him. Without hesitating, she swung her hips and swept a leg out low. Charles tossed the case behind him, lifted his front leg, and turned it slightly to absorb the impact. Her full lips parted into a smile.
"Good, you aren't just a suit. This might be fun."
She favored her right so Charles circled away from it. The second kick came without warning. Charles caught it against his body and offered a smile of his own. She returned the expression, twisted in his grasp, and an instant later her free foot caught him across the jaw. His legs gave way and he crumpled to the floor. Charles shook his head in an attempt to clear this thoughts and pushed himself onto his hands and knees. He rolled to his left as a white boot swept through the space he previously occupied. His legs felt like rubber but he regained his feet and willed himself into action.
The left jab missed its mark even as his right cross was on the way. She stepped inside the second blow and wrapped her arms around his chest. Charles knew he was in trouble when he realized her hips were lower than his. Air whistled past his ears before he slammed into the ground. He blinked repeatedly to remove the small points of light floating across his field of vision. The woman was partially sprawled on top of him. Her left leg was hooked under his while her forearm pressed heavily against the side of his neck.
"Why are the pretty ones always disappointing?" she asked.
The pressure on his neck was painful and made it difficult to swallow. It took two attempts before his hand slipped into his pocket. He pressed the stun gun's two metal contacts against his leg, hoped the cocky little salesman hadn't been lying about its power, and pressed the trigger. Despite the weight bearing down on him his back arched, his teeth clicked together, and he heard his jaw creak.
"Boss are you OK?"
The voice faint and sounded distant. Charles struggled but couldn't focus. A sharp blow caused pain to blossom across his cheek. The shock helped him find clarity. He opened his eyes. Henrik and Izumi were standing over him. He shook his head and sat up. The costumed woman was sprawled on the floor next to him.
"I'm sorry boss she came out of nowhere," said Henrik. He extended a hand and pulled his boss to his feet.
Charles put a hand on his man's shoulder to steady himself. "It's OK Henrik. It's happened to all of us at some point." He gently touched his cheek and looked at Izumi. "You enjoyed that didn't you?"
Her expression didn't change but her eyes softened. Charles cocked his head to the side and looked past Izumi. Another woman in white was lying facedown on the concrete floor. He blinked in confusion as his eyes wandered back and forth between the two women.
"Twins?" he asked.
Izumi shrugged. Charles turned his head to the side and spit blood out of his mouth. He pushed on a molar with his tongue, it felt loose.
"Bring them both. I want answers."
Izumi fished plastic zip ties out of her pocket and set about her work as Charles went to retrieve the case. One woman fit easily in the trunk. The other was stashed in the floor well between Izumi's leg. She kept the unconscious woman upright with a hand firmly nestled in the long blonde hair. Charles slid into his usual rear seat.
"Remind me again, who said a larger sedan was a waste of money?" Charles asked.
Izumi's eyes narrowed. Henrik chuckled and received a slap to the back of the head. The car smoothly accelerated away.
"Boss," Marcus said.
Charles leaned forward in his seat looked out the windshield. A woman in white was standing in the middle of the street. Her arms were crossed over her chest and familiar spray of black stars decorated the front of her costume.
Charles placed his hand on Marcus' shoulder. "I stunned one and Izumi took the other. She can't stand up to a car. It's a bluff."
Marcus nodded and pressed down the accelerator. As the distance narrowed the woman's posture became more and more uncertain. At a car length's distance she leapt to the side. Henrik's phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and held it to his ear. He nodded twice, mumbled a reply, and thumbed it off.
"Boss, Mason completed the Smith job. A woman in a white getup showed up but they got out of there OK."
Charles looked back to see the woman standing with her hands on her hips. "What the hell is going on?" he asked as darkness swallowed the white figure.
Charles shook two capsules into his hand, shoveled them into his mouth, and followed them up with a swig of water. A knock on his office door came a moment before it opened. Izumi leaned in and nodded. Charles pushed himself to his feet and sighed.
"A boss' work is never done," he said as he moved through the door and past Izumi.
"That's why I haven't ousted you."
"Oh Izumi, I like you too."
The punch caught him in the side and made him grunt. Henrik, with his ever alert eyes, was standing guard next to a battered door with his hand pressed against his right side.
"You should have the doc check you out," suggested Charles.
Henrik attempted to shrug nonchalantly but winced halfway through. "I'll live."
Charles nodded, he wasn't going to question the man's durability in front of someone else. "Izumi, please wait out here," he said as he reached for the doorknob.
The small room held only two chairs. The woman in white was bound to sturdiest looking one by her wrists and ankles. Charles slipped into the free one, leaned forward, and untied the cloth gag. The woman worked her tongue around her mouth before focusing on him.
"You're in trouble," she said.
Charles spread his hands. "Am I now? You're the one tied to a chair."
"When your men brought me in I saw the mountains and the cooling towers. We're in the old Watson Industrial Park."
Charles kept his hands apart and shrugged.
"What I know, she knows."
Charles extended his hand. "I'm Mr. Simon by the way."
The woman snarled and spat. Charles retrieved a handkerchief from his pocked and wiped his hand. "Who is this 'she'?" he asked. Silence stretched out over several minutes. Charles placed his elbows on his knees and leaned forward. "If someone knew you were here wouldn't 'she' have rescued you by now?"
The woman leaned back in her chair. Her jaw pushed forward as she scowled.
When it became evident that the conversation was at an impasse, Charles left his seat and pulled the door closed behind him.
"Henrik, no guests for her."
The thickly built Swede nodded.
"Izumi, would you please fetch Mason?"
"I hopped in the back of the van and we got away. I have to admit I was worried there for a moment."
Mason was very still in his chair as he relayed the events from the previous night. His right thumb rubbed the side of his index finger relentlessly.
"What are you leaving out?"
Mason's eyes looked down and to the left. His tongue darted out and licked his lips.
"Any detail, no matter how crazy it sounds, will be helpful."
The dark haired man sighed and his thumb stopped moving. "Well, Boss. When I jumped in the van she was right behind me. After I pulled the door shut, I looked out the window and I swear there were two of her."
Charles smiled and placed his hand on Mason's shoulder. "Thank you, that was important. You did a good job."
After the door clicked shut Charles looked at Izumi. She reclined casually against the back wall of the office.
"Do you think duplicates can..." Izumi frowned. "Duplicate themselves?"
Charles shook his head. "If that were the case I think we'd be awash in a sea of them by now." He scratched at the stubble on his chin. "And if we had the original she would have created a copy and freed herself the moment we left her alone."
Izumi raised an eyebrow. "So, we have two copies."
Charles gestured towards the door. "I think it's time we paid our second a guest a visit and see what we can learn."
The pair walked down the long hallway in silence, a florescent bulb flickered weakly overhead. Marcus was leaning against the wall next to the door of the second detention room with his arms crossed over his chest when they arrived.
"Both of you stay here," Charles directed as he reached for the knob. He opened the battered door and stepped inside. A rickety table sat between the two chairs. A black eye was evident despite the mask and dark bruise covered the left side of her face. Izumi knew her trade and was ruthless. Charles sat down in the chair.
"I feel I need to state the obvious to stress the gravity of the situation. You are my prisoner."
"And you are?" she asked.
Charles cocked his head to the side and considered the answer. "Charles Simon." He drew a knife from his pocket and set it on the table.
"That won't do you any good," she said.
Charles arched and eyebrow and scraped the blade across the top of the table. "Won't it?"
"If you kill me she'll know everything I know."
Charles frowned. "So, it's in my best interest to keep you alive?"
Charles laughed. "Ah, good. I appreciate honesty. It makes things go much easier, yes?"
She swallowed but did not reply.
"So, you are a balloon that pops when you are pricked? Or maybe A marionette with very long strings? Perhaps a pale imitation of the original?"
Her face clouded. "I'm not a puppet or an imitation. I'm an extension."
Charles tapped his finger against his chin. "Ah, I see. So when you expire," she opened her mouth but he held up a forestalling hand, "whenever that me be, your original gains all of your knowledge?"
"Yes, and you better start running now. I know where we are."
"So, if she gains all your knowledge I think it would be safe to assume she also shares your experiences, yes?"
A touch of worry crept into her eyes and her confident smile faltered. Charles let the uncomfortable silence extend for several minutes before he tucked the knife away and pushed himself out of the chair
"We'll, speak again soon," he said over his shoulder as he exited the room. Charles gave the door a sharp tug to ensure it latched properly.
"So, what now?" asked Izumi.
Charles rubbed his hands on his pant legs. "I need a drink. How about you?"
"Marcus, look in on her from time to time, but don't speak with her."
The young man nodded and Charles, with Izumi in tow, began the return trip down the dark hallway.
"Are we sure he's ready for this?" Izumi asked.
Charles shrugged. "He's expressed a desire to be more than a wheelman. I'm willing to give him the chance to prove himself."
Izumi raised an eyebrow.
"He has a girl in the village, so I'm not concerned leaving him alone with our pretty guest."
"You think she's pretty?"
He rubbed his shoulder as he opened the door to his office and made his way to the sidebar. Thankfully, she'd honored their agreement against kidney punches. Charles poured two fingers width worth of scotch and held the glass out to Izumi. She took it with a nod and leaned her shoulder against the wall, her right foot crossed over the other. Charles filled a glass for himself and sat on the corner of his desk.
He took a sip and lowered the glass. "OK, here's what we know. The copies aren't connected to each other," he said matter-of-factly.
Izumi quirked an eyebrow.
"The one you captured didn't know my name after I introduced myself to the one I caught."
"The one your stun gun caught," Izumi corrected.
Charles waved a hand dismissively. "Same thing. They don't share a physical connection either considering neither favored any injury the other had." Charles took a long sip from his glass. "Now, this is where it gets interesting. Yours said her knowledge is incorporated by the original once she expires. Mine hinted at the same thing. It's also safe to assume they have a built in expiration date. Yours hinted to as much."
"So?" Izumi asked. She sauntered to the bar and refilled her glass.