Under the cover of the El train tacks, a lone man finds himself surrounded by three men, one of whom punches him squarely in the stomach. Seeing the man buckle to his knees, the attacker scoffs, asking the man, whom he calls Stringer, if that is it. One punch? That’s all it takes for a tough reporter like him? After all those stories he wrote about Mr. Carpetti… he should’a seen this coming, doesn’t he think?
Spitting his words out through the blood in his mouth, Striger promises that he will lay off. Laughing at this, the man repeats that he will lay off… after the D.A.’s opened an investigation. A little late, the man states ominously. Suddenly, the tenseness of the situation is eased every-so slightly by an amused Wow. Turning to see the new arrival, the men see a relaxed Madrox, his hands absent-mindedly resting in his pocket. This is exciting, he continues. I mean… it doesn’t get any more noir than this.
“Nwar,” the head of the gang repeats inquisitively. What the heck’s “nwar?” Hearing the answer from one of his cohorts, the first and his companion at his side turn around. Their cohort explains that the new arrival is referring to “film noir,” – a French term literally meaning “dark film” – pertaining to 1950’s crime movies noted for their cynical, amoral characters in a sleazy setting, pervaded with a sense of hopelessness. Having received his answer, the first tells his cohort to shut up – which he complies – and returns his attention to Madrox.
Rather than return the attention, Madrox moves to Stringer, who is still sitting on the concrete. When Madrox tells the reporter that it’s been awhile, Stringer curses at seeing his old acquaintance, lamenting that as if his day doesn’t already suck. Seeing this interchange, the lead thug reminds Madrox of the news flash: this ain’t no movie. To this, he bets Madrox that a shot to the stomach makes him double over, too. Daring a wry smile, Madrox bets the man that he’s right.
On cue, the thug launches his right fist into Madrox’s stomach, causing a duplicate to emerge behind him. The left cross that follows creates yet another to Madrox’s right. The thug barely has a moment to notice what has happened before the three Madroxes return the favor and begin to pummel him back. As he and his dupes go to work, Madrox notes to himself that the man had no way of knowing that each impact just creates more duplicates. The question, he thinks, is not whether this joker is screwed… but by what multiple of screwed is he screwed?
The first thug quickly knocked out, his cohorts turn tail and run, leaving behind Madrox yelling at them to step up – six fists, no waiting. Quickly finding that they are alone, Stringer, hardly thankful, asks Madrox what the blazes he’s doing in Chicago. Looking for him, the prime Madrox replies. It’s lucky for him they jumped him right near his apartm… Interrupting the prime, one duplicated Madrox dabs a cloth at Stringer’s bloodied mouth, lamenting the action of those thugs, brutalizing such an exquisite face. To this, he then asks Stringer if anyone has ever told him that he has a very shapely mouth.
Stringer begins to ask what is going on but Madrox feigns ignorance, absorbing both duplicates. As he is absorbed, the dupe entranced by Stringer tells Madrox that he’s in denial – and Madrox notes that this could turn into his latest problem – starting rumors about himself. Stringer jumps on the implication telling Madrox that he didn’t know he was… Madrox quickly replies that he’s not. But, y’know, everybody has some little bit of that… Just as quickly as Madrox’s protestation, Stringer rejoins that he doesn’t.
Whatever, Madrox replies, changing the subject. He needs his help – he needs access to the Trib’s archives and he figured he’s the reporter to help him. Shrugging off Madrox’s buddy-embrace, Stringer tells him to forget it. The last thing he needs is to be seen hangin’ with a mutant. Calling out to Stringer, Madrox tells him he wounds him. Or could it have anything to do with… he doesn’t know… him being a mutant? Placing his a finger to his lips and looking skyward in contemplation, Madrox wonders aloud how many subjects would talk to him if they knew he could read minds. Not many, he bets. Gee, he further ponders, maybe he’d have to give back his Pulitzer Prize.
Unable to counter Madrox’s move, Stringer simply tells Madrox that he hates him. This out of the way, he then adds that they’ll go in the morning. Great, Madrox says. He’ll crash at his place – does he still have that comfy sofa? Hit again with the realization that Madrox will be spending the night, Stringer now tells him that he really hates him.
Standing on the observation balcony amongst tourists, a man speaks into his mobile phone incredulously. Alive? he asks – is he sure? In reply, the voice on the other end tells Clay that he has many connections and word reached him through one of them that someone named “Madrox” hit the town last night. Taking this, Clay supposes that it might not be him, but after hearing from his caller that the Madrox duplicated himself Clay states that it is.
Diverting his attention to his surroundings, Clay studies a man looking through one of the many pay-telescopes that line the balcony. The man is middle-aged, over-weight, sporting a conservative haircut and clad in a blue business suit, in contrast to Clay’s attire. Covering his deep-tanned skin, which is in turn covered by a patterned white tattoo, is a simple tank-top t-shirt, over which Clay has almost casually thrown a brown coat. His hair is long and pure white, contrasting his skin. His sunglasses, worn as if they are never taken off, hide his eyes.
Continuing their conversation, the voice on the mobile asks Clay if it was possible he only stabbed a duplicate. Dismissing the accusation, Clay retorts that he stabbed his target: the Jamie Madrox who returned to New York three days ago from Chicago, watched him stagger away, bleeding. No way he survived. When told by the voice that he didn’t kill the original, Clay states that he wasn’t hired to. For all he knows, the one in Chicago now is another dupe.
Dupe or not, the voice states, he’s probably investigating the first one’s death. With a half-hearted “prob’ly,” Clay walks behind the man peering through the telescope, as if waiting next in line to use it. Unaware of Clay’s wandering attention, the voice orders him to kill every Madrox he can find, until they stop coming. To this, Clay replies that he’s on another job, only to hear the voice order him to cut it short. With almost a sneer, Clay closes the clamshell of his mobile, voicing a “fine.” Moments later, the middle-aged, over-weight, business suit clad man finds himself hurtling down from the observation balcony to the unforgiving terra firma below.
Elsewhere, in Mutant Town, Rahne asks the Madrox dupe what he is doing. Answering the rhetorical questions, the dupe holds up a window pane and replies that he’s putting in a new glass. Dismissing the thought, Rahne reminds the dupe that his “original self” set up the detective agency, and suggests that they wait for him to get back before they make any changes. Sniping back that “wait” is for watchers, the dupe turns his attention to Guido, asking how the sign is coming along.
Announcing that it’s almost done, Guido finishes and then presents the stenciled window on the door and asks what the rest think. Taking a moment to inspect the window, now with the logo of “XXX Investigations” and “Jamie Madrox, president,” Rahne informs him that she thinks it’s backwards. When Guido doesn’t get it, she asks him to open the door. When he complies, he realizes that the logo is facing the inside… making it backwards to those approaching the door for entrance. “Aw crud,” he grimaces.
Before he closes it, Guido finds someone on the other side of the door – a brunette, asking if the place is XXX Investigations. Remembering the problem with the window, Guido asks how she could tell. Before she can answer, however, Rahne suggests that maybe she’s dyslexic. Taking charge of the situation before they lose their prospective client, the Madrox dupe tells her that she’s in the right place, and asks how he can help her.
Following Madrox to his desk, the woman introduces herself as Carol Campbell. Her husband and she live there in Mutant Town. A little surprised that she’s a mutant, the Madrox dupe asks if she minds what her power is but, leaning against the desk, Carol states that he does. As Madrox recoils a little at the social faux pas, Carol composes herself and continues with her problem – she believes her husband, Ned, is cheating on her. When asked by Madrox if she means with another woman, Carol glares back and with an icy and sarcastic voice replies no… with a cocker spaniel. Half turning to Guido, who is sitting at his left, Madrox guesses aloud that he walked into that one. Guido guesses back aloud that he did… “Holmes.”
Turning back to Mrs. Campbell, Madrox asks her is she has seen him with another woman. Receiving a no, he then asks if she’s caught him with lipstick on his collar. A strange bra in his pocket? Again receiving a “no” and “nothing like that,” Madrox presses further. In response, Carol states that he calls out her name every night. “Kim! Kim!” He thrashes around… it’s disgraceful! Pressing her point, Carol tells Jamie that he has to find her! She needs to confront her! Reviewing the situation, Madrox tells that Carol that her only proof is that he talk about her in his sleep. To this, Carol counters that if she had photographs, she wouldn’t need him, would she? Fair enough, Madrox states.
Chiming in, Rahne tells Madrox that they can follow him. She can be verrrrry stealthy. Telling Rahne that it’s a good idea, he then tells Mrs. Campbell that she can inform them when he’s preparing to go out and… Interrupting Madrox, Mrs. Campbell dismisses the idea with a wave of her hand, informing the group that he never heads out – he’s a quadriplegic. She believes he’s cheating by way of astral projection. As thrown off balance from this concept as Rahne and Guido, Madrox manages to mutter a wide-eyes terrific.
Madrox – the original – follows Stringer through the halls of the Chicago Tribune, thinking about their shared history. They originally met back during his “X-Factor days,” and kept in touch. Well, Madrox has with him. Stringer… he’s always afraid he’ll “out” him - and Madrox can’t imagine that. Being so afraid of what people might think of him that he has to keep his true nature under wraps. Then again, when he has it in his power to never be alone, fears of being shunned aren’t a big priority.
As they approach the archives, Madrox explains to Stringer about his reabsorbing his stabbed wayward dupe, and getting flashes of Chicao-related images from his dying mind. Images including a woman from his May 24th Tribune clipping. Showing his boundless sympathy at Madrox’s story, Stringer replies, “like I care about your problems.”
As the two enter the research room, Stringer then points out to Madrox that he could’ve pulled this up from the public library. Dismissing the idea, Madrox retorts that he’s not wild about libraries. Y’never know if the FBI’s watching. Chuckling at this with a “cripes,” Stringer replies that he thought he was paranoid. Drawing Madrox’s attention to the room and the computer he’s sitting at, Stringer informs him that they used to call the file room “the Morgue.” You’d rustle through manila folders with ancient clippings. It smelled of news in there. Now, it smells of Pinesol and the screen gives him a headache. Now, is that progress?
As Stringer ticks away at the keyboard, Madrox reclines in a chair and grins. Stringer pretends he’s a cynic, he thinks. That’s okay. It’s how he disguises his basic optimism. He can relate. He makes jokes. Cracks wise. Grins like a fool. Best way to cover total despair. He can live any life he wants. Follow any direction. Follow all potential fates simultaneously. But if everything’s possible… then what’s the point of anything? It’s all…
Leaping from his chair in mid-thought, Jamie tells Stringer to stop. Pointing to the monitor screen, he says that that’s the photo he saw… the clipping. Turning half around to Madrox, Stringer asks if he’s kidding him. When Madrox denies it, Stringer then tells him to tell him he’s kidding him. Detecting a pattern, Madrox asks Stringer if he knows her. Still in disbelief that Madrox is ignorant of who he has picked out, Stringer informs him that the woman is Sheila Desoto – longtime lover… and newly minted fiancée of Edward Vance, a multi-million dollar industrialist… with alleged ties to organized crime. To this, Stringer adds that Madrox will want to steer clear of her. In fact, if his dupe didn’t, that’s why he “bought” it, guaranteed.
Reading the article, Madrox notes that it says May 24th was her birthday party. Apparently, it was a huge bash. No shock there, Stringer states. Eddie Vance invites you, you come running no matter who you are. To this, Stringer asks Madrox how his dupe got to know her. Receiving a “no clue,” Stringer chides him as “some detective.” Unaffected by the jest, Madrox counters that if he knew, he’s have nothing to detect.
After having Stringer print a copy of the photo clipping, Madrox asks Stringer is he knows where she lives. Everybody knows where she lives, he states. She lives in Vance’s gated mansion on Riverside. He’ll never get in. Examining the photo, Madrox informs Stringer that he studied with the shaolin. He’s be amazed what he can do. Now remarking at the photo, Madrox notes that she’s quite the hottie. Scorching, Stringer replies – the kind that gets you killed, grasshopper. Countering this, Madrox reminds Stringer that they already killed him. Didn’t take. Besides, look at her, he states. She’s definitely to die for.
Welcoming in his fare, the cab driver asks Clay if it’s his first time in New York. Slumped in the seat, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses, though it is night, Clay tells the driver that he’s actually been there a few days. Really? the driver asks. Most fares he picks up from the Port Authority, they just got there. Almost in random though, the driver then asks Clay if he heard about that jumper at the Empire State Building. Some people…
Finally getting to business, the driver asks Clay where he can take him. Rather than answering, Clay asks as question of his own. A couple of days ago, Clay states, the driver had a young fellow bleeding in the cab. He knows this because he noted his license plate when the man got in. Where did he drop him? Taken aback, the driver tells his fare, “No way. No freaking way.” He was glad enough to get rid of the guy and if he thinks he’s going to let himself get dragged any more into this mess he’s… Noting the pistol being pointed at this face, the driver finishes his thought, “… a reaaaally good guesser.”
Standing outside the stone wall surrounding the Vance Estate, Madrox notes to himself that he heard tell it is the nicest house in Chicago. It’s nice to know he’s got such good taste. Or at least his dupe had.
Changing his thoughts to his dupe, Jamie thinks that he’d feel better about it if his dupes weren’t so unpredictable lately. They’ve developed independent streak before, he recalls, but some of them are hitting new heights of behavior. Rapping his knuckles against the wall five times, Madrox is quickly joined by five dupes, the first of which announces sheepishly that he can’t say he approves of this. It’s trespassing. A second opines that if one of them was having it off with another man’s girl, he deserved what he got. A third berates the second, calling him a freaking wuss. He was one of them! They send one of them to the morgue, they send one of theirs to the freakin’ cornfield. That’s the Chicago way!
Hearing the fourth muse about the cycle of violence and the fifth asking about what is on television, Madrox yells out to them that he’s doing this. Now, he can either keep making new dupes until he gets five cooperative ones, or they can save him some time, okay? As the five begin to form a ladder against the wall, three as a base with the remaining two standing on the bottom three’s shoulders, Madrox thinks of how Wolverine doesn’t have to put with this. Not Spider-Man neither. The Hulk, kinda sorta… but even so…
Between reaching the top of the wall and jumping down, Madrox reabsorbs the dupes. This bunch was pretty conspicuous, he thinks. For all he knows, left on their own one of them would have felt morally obligated to alert Vance’s people that he’s there. You’d think that he, of all people, could trust himself to cover his own back.
Before stepping from the wall, Madrox notices a security camera perched on a tree, quickly betting to himself that it’s not the only one. Fortunately, he reflects, as he runs into the woods, he wasn’t just blowing smoke about the shaolin thing. If having dupes argue with each other is the downside of absorbing different memories and experiences from his long-term “explorer” dupes… the acquired knowledge is a definite plus.
Lowering the cup of coffee from his mouth, one of the estate’s security guards asks his partner if he just saw… Taking a moment to raise his eyes from the paper, on whose headline reads “Magneto alive again?” the second guard asks if he saw what? Now studying the security monitor closely but seeing nothing, the guard guesses that he imagined it.
Stalking the estate through the shroud of darkness, Madrox makes his way through the woods. Best thing, he thinks, is to come around from the back. Moving closer to the mansion itself, he quickly notes the smell of chlorine ahead… and the sound of splashing; must be a pool. Noting that the cameras look to be turned away from it, Madrox surmises that Vance apparently likes his privacy. Emerging from the woods, Madrox thinks that he sees why.
Swimming through the enormous pool is a vision of beauty, whose name is Sheila Desoto. Swimming alone, Sheila has on a two-piece bathing suit, although she wears only the bottom. Yup, Madrox, thinks – to die for. After a few breathless moments of watching, Madrox orders his own heart to resume beating, his lungs to start breathing again. Then, as Sheila begins to rise from the pool at the ladder, Madrox finally forces himself into action – but first asking what Bogie would do…
Sheila is startled at the sound of a male voice as she dries off with her towel, perhaps even more so by the flippant, “Nice night for a swim, eh gorgeous?” The shock is short-lives, however, as she immediately recognized Madrox, yelling out James!!! Oh, thank God!!! Discarding her towel, Sheila runs to James, uncaring that she is once again topless, and kisses him deeply. Score, thinks Madrox.
Finally breaking the kiss but not the embrace, Sheila grins at Jamie, telling him that he tastes like candy. It was a chocolate cigarette, he replies. When then notes that she’s shivering, Sheila promptly asks Jamie to warm her, beginning again a kiss. As their moment of intimacy continues, Madrox thinks to himself that he has absolutely no idea what’s going on… and he couldn’t care less.
Speaking on the phone, the Madrox dupe sits at the desk, talking to Rahne. Confirming that she’s staked out outside the Campbell’s apartment, he asks if she really thinks she can track an astral projection, presuming there is one. As he listens to Rahne’s response, the dupe is unaware that he has come into the crosshairs of a rifle’s scope. A moment later, the Madrox dupe slumps from the chair, a spray of blood splattering on the window, now shattered by the sniper’s bullet. In an apartment across the street, the sniper, Clay, remarks “two down.” His sunglasses temporarily set upon his head, Clay looks across the street at his handiwork with his naked eyes, which are all white, lacking any iris or pupils.
In Chicago, the original Madrox recoils in the pain of his dupe being shot. As Sheila tries to understand what is happening, Madrox loses his balance and falls into the pool. Still unable to regain his mental composure, Madrox sinks to the bottom.