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."
.... There is more of this story ...