(Mutant Town, New York)
The Madrox duplicated informs Rahne that the phone call he just received was from Mrs. Campell, who was calling to tell him that her husband, the alleged “psychic philanderer,” passed away in his sleep. Sitting on the couch, her head in her hands, Rahne sobs that it is all her fault, which Guido tries to deny, saying that it’s not true.
Yeah, it is! she rejoins. She was the one who tracked the psychic form and discovered he was having “spirit sex” with a man named Kim! She’s the one he then attacked! She’s the one who shredded his ghost form, causing some sort of… of backlash that killed his physical body! What does that sound like to him? she asks. “Something out of a comic book?” Guido responds. When the Madrox dupe then informs Guido that he’s not helping, the hulking man agrees, adding that he hears that a lot.
Still in tears, Rahne worries about Jamie – the original Jamie – returning from Chicago. She can just imagine. He’ll probably say…
“Hi. How Y’doin’, Clay?” Madrox – the original Jamie Madrox – asks, still trapped beneath the collapsed wooden beams. Before the assassin, who is holding his revolved to Madrox’s head, can answer, Jamie asks if he will do him a favor. Interested in what it could be, Clay asks what it is. Well, Jamie continues, as the warehouse is burning around them… would this be where the villain spills his guts… to the helpless hero… And if so, could he hurry it along.
The request is mainly a way to stall for time, but Madrox figures that Clay will. Why not? That’s how it always works in film noir. Although, he thinks, he knows it already. Clay killed his dupe because he’s the triggerman for Ed Vance, Chicago’s most connected mobster. And Vance wanted him dead because he found out that he married his fiancée, Sheila. Straight up jealousy. Oldest story in the books.
After a moment of consideration, Clay agrees. “Why not,” he offers. “I killed your dupe.” To this, Madrox offers an equally blunt statement that he knew it. Not finished, however, Clay adds that he killed him on Sheila’s orders. She’s secretly using her mutant powers to take over the mobs, and she wanted him dead because once her dupe realized what she truly was, he ran off.
Madrox takes a moment to take this in, his mouth agape and looking off, away from Clay. A moment later, he looks back to Clay and states unconvincingly that he knew that too.
Their situation sufficiently expositioned, Clay cocks his gun, asking if it covers everything. Madrox replies not really, but Clay is unmoved, telling him too bad. A moment later, a tire iron connects to the back of Clay’s skull, knocking him out. It is a Madrox dupe, the one who betrayed and abandoned the original Madrox not five minutes ago. The dupe is ecstatic that the original Madrox is not dead, explaining to the astonished progenitor that he couldn’t just leave him to die. Howzat for lame? As the dupe goes to work to lift the timber so that he can pull himself free, Madrox replies that it’s the best excuse he’s ever heard.
Before they can move, however, a gun is raised and fired, shooting the dupe in the shoulder. The suddenly wounded dupe staggers forward, violently and involuntarily being reabsorbed by Madrox, who almost goes into shock fro the experience. The world around him spins and he collapses to the floor. He quickly decides that the experience is causing him barely to trust his senses – because what he sees in front of him… is making no sense at all. Standing before him is Clay… as well as another Clay – a duplicate. The original, the one still holding he revolver, wryly asks Madrox if he thinks he was the only one. He doesn’t know anything, he tells Jamie. ‘Least of all what he really is.
Thinking quickly, Madrox stamps his foot on the ground six times, generating six duplicates. The dupes are already on their feet, despite the fact that he himself has not yet risen. As he takes stock of the situation, Madrox figures that creating a wall of dupes will buy him a few seconds. However, to his surprise, the stomping and the sudden increase of weight causes the fire-weakened floor to collapse, and Madrox, his six dupes and the two Clay’s suddenly find themselves in a freefall to the floor below.
As he recovers, Madrox thankfully notes that it’s nice to note that in times of stress he’s producing dupes who are automatically helping him, instead of second-guessing or trying to kill him. Maybe it’s because he’s so focused on escaping. Or maybe it’s the luck of the draw, or maybe, like Clay said… he doesn’t know anything about what he really is. What’s that supposed to mean? he then thinks to himself.
Without another word, or sight of the two Clays, Madrox uses his new ability to absorb the six dupes without touching them. Almost immediately, he hears the ghostly call of Stringer, from a short distance away. As Madrox approaches, Stringer uses his waning strength to inform Madrox that he’s always hated him. As he and a newly created dupe assist Stringer outside the still-burning warehouse, Madrox chastises himself for ever thinking that his old friend was actually behind all this. What and idiot he was. A nickname for private detective is “dick,” he thinks. Never been more appropriate.
Madrox lays Stringer down on the ground. He hears the fire engines and the ambulance in the distance, but he knows that Stringer’s not going to last that long. One of his dupes had spent a year working for a coroner, so he knows wounds, and Stringer’s isn’t a gunshot. Since he knows time is not on their side, Madrox asks Stringer if it was Sheila who did it, to which the dying reporter compliments him on his detection. When Stringer then tries to inform Madrox that Sheila’s not human, to which Jamie replies in kind that she’s a mutant – like them – Stringer disagrees. Not like them… Something… more... Something… else… Stringer’s voice continues to fade, as he tells Madrox that he doesn’t know, but he’ll get right on that. Without another word, Stringer’s eyes roll back into his head and he’s gone.
(Mutant Town, New York)
Carol Campbell sits at a table with Rahne, Guido and the Madrox dupe at “the Power Plant,” the local mutant bar. All are drinking their beverage of choice, but Carol seems to be imbibing more than the rest. I can’t believe he’s gone, she tells the threesome. One minute, Ned’s there, the next… poof.
The Madrox dupe feigns mutual shock at what has happened, but Carol ignores him, asking Rahne whether all of the crazy suspicions he had about him cheating on her… there was nothing to it, right? Rahne is unsure of how to respond, but Guido steps him, smiling widely and stating that she’s right. Not a thing, the dupe agrees, to which Rahne is finally able to muster a “groundless.” Carol replies that she thought as much, then listing her Amstel beer to the others’ drinks. To Ned Campbell! A wonderful, brave man! May he rest in peace the dupe then adds.
From a nearby table, the toast is heard by a blond man, who reacts to the news with shock. He asks haltingly if they just said that Ned Campbell died, which raises Carol’s interest. She confirms, informing him that it happened last night. Did he know her husband? The question asked, Rahne finally recognizes the blond man, knowing that no good will come of the conversation.
The blond man rises to his feet, stammering a response. Y-yes… he… he did, he explains. Very… very well. He just can’t believe… Carol responds that neither can she, and then follows it with an introduction. Watching on in horror, Rahne informs Guido and the Madrox dupe that the man is with whom Ned had been having his affair. Nearby, the blond man likewise introduces himself as Kim, which Carol begrudgingly repeats. When Kim confirms, Carol grows incensed, speaking his name again, but with a fiery rage – which becomes reality as the air around her bursts into flames. Just as suddenly, Carol’s cries of emotional duress become cries of pain.
The rest of the patrons in the bar react in transfixed horror, but assistance quickly arrives from the dupe, who had run to the fire extinguisher and uses it to put out Carol Campbell’s flames, while telling someone to call 911. As Rahne calls the authorities on her mobile phone, Guido asks what just happened. The dupe reminds him that Carol had said she had a mutant power she didn’t like to discuss. He now thinks she didn’t want to because it’s literally too painful. She can set herself on fire like the Human Torch… but unlike the Torch, she isn’t flameproof. Sheesh, Guido tsks. That’s gotta hurt.
Sheila asks Eddie if it hurts, but he reflexively tells her to get away from him. Again, she swears to him that it wasn’t her fault, but Eddie is unmoved. She married that… that freak, he says, more in statement than a question. So disgusted, he cannot even bear to look at her, sitting in his chair and staring at the floor. Sheila tries to explain that Madrox must have had some sort of mind control power… in addition to being able to do the, uh, multiple body thing. She would never betray him willingly, she then adds. He means too much to her!
Yeah, another voice states. For one thing, he’s an endless fountain of information. Eddie finally looks up and sees the new intruder – Jamie Madrox. Apparently unconcerned with his safety, Madrox strolls into the lounge, his hands leisurely in his pockets. Before Eddie can rise or even offer a curse, Madrox continues, explaining that, through Eddie, Sheila finds out who all the toughest nuts in Chicago are. Then she cracks them, one by one. He then tells Eddie not to get too comfy. Once his rivals are all gone, he’ll outlived his usefulness as well.
His anger rising, Eddie rises as well. Though his left arm is in a sling from the gunshot wound to the shoulder earlier, he is hardly fearful. His threats, however, as well as Sheila’s search for an explanation, are interrupted by Madrox. He tells Sheila that she must have been confused. The Jamie Madrox she met… he came to Chicago specifically to live “La Vida Loca,” the wild life. She didn’t realize she was dealing with a duplicate of a multiple man. She thought he was just a wide-eyed, naïve jerk… which admittedly he is. But that’s beside the point. She married the poor sucker, drew him in… and them when he realized the level of dirty work she wanted him in, he rabbited.
Then, she sent Clay to ice him because, as the cliché foes, he knew too much. And since, he has far more moral than his dupe had, but no actual proof what she did… in theory, he has to let her get away with it. With this, Madrox pulls a handgun at Sheila and Eddie. It’s bad business to let the killer get away with it. Bad all around. Bad for every detective everywhere. She killed him and she’s going over for it. Her… and, before her, her beloved Eddie.
Eddie begins to speak a new threat, but isn’t able to complete it, as Madrox fires his gun, hitting Eddie square in the middle of the forehead, a tiny red dot appearing where he was shot. Eddie Vance falls to the ground, just as Clay races into the room.
Hardly emotional, Sheila places her hands on her hips with contempt as she stares down at her husband’s corpse. She tells Clay that it’s all right – James was right. Eddie was going to have to be attended to sooner or later. She knows she volunteered to do it… but since this will save him the trouble, well… she can live with it. Now turning to Madrox, Sheila states that him, on the other hand…
As she speaks, Sheila’s skin begins to stretch and tear. From her forearm and shoulders, insectoid-like spikes appear, followed by the same from the sides of her head. Her mouth begins to stretch open, with a second, likewise insect-like, mouth emerging. Whole spidery legs/talons emerge from her torso, giving her Sheila the impression of being a lean insect, wearing Sheila’s skin as a bathing suit. Finishing her sentence, Sheila tells Madrox that he won’t be living with it at all!
As Sheila lunges, grabbing him with one set of talon, Madrox surmises that he knew she’d be something… else. From the way she’d killed Stringer, he knew. But this… this catches his flat-footed. So surprised is he that the gun goes flying from his hand before he’s even fully registered what he’s dealing with. A moment later, Sheila has positioned herself – and her captive Madrox – over the swimming pool, her insect legs long and strong enough to support both of their weights. Menacingly, she asks her “husband dear” if he has any last words. When he replies that he has just two, she asks what they would be. Paint gun, he replies.
Sheila is confused, but only for a moment, until a gunshot rings from the main house. She looks back to see Clay, whose shirt is now covered with blood – his own – and who looks down in mute confusion. Clay suddenly falls forward, showing Sheila his assailant – the very much alive Eddie Vance, who shot him from behind. His gun still raised, Eddie tells Sheila that Madrox said “paint gun.” He shot him with a freakin’ pain gun. The one in his hand, however… is real.
Nothing left to say, Eddie Vance empties the gun’s clip into Sheila, causing gaping holes to blossom over her like red flowers. It’s Madrox’s guess that he was dead from the first one, which blew her head apart. A debt Eddie obviously felt he owed her. The rest… were interest on the debt.
Both Madrox and Sheila fall into the pool, but it is only Madrox who emerges. He does so on the opposite side of the pool as Eddie, though he knows that he could never escape in time from being shot. Madrox takes the silent moment that follows to mentally compliment Eddie, that he figured things out quick. Madrox was banking on him realizing what he’s shot him with. Realizing… and wondering why he was decorating him when he could’ve killed him. He played possum just as he expected, to see what happened next. Unfortunately, Madrox thinks, he wasn’t expecting this part.
His gun leveled at Madrox, Eddie asks him to give him one good reason not to kill him. Bottom line, Madrox replies, he saved his life. He owes him. Is this the way he settles his debts? Frequently it is, Eddie replies. Oh, Madrox retorts. Well, then… he’s got nothing. A tense moment passes, as Eddie considers pulling the trigger. However, Eddie finally lowers the gun and tells Madrox to get the hell out of there.
As he runs through the woods, Madrox thinks that, for half a second, he can still taste her lips. Feel the warmth of her body against his. Then it’s gone… and so is he.
The entire bus ride back from Chicago to New York, Madrox keeps wondering what he accomplished. A woman he thought he loved is dead. A friend of his is dead. A criminal mob guy is still in place with fewer rivals to worry about. And a man with the same power he has is dead. Except, as he wells knows, the death of a multiple man isn’t always what it seems. He guesses what he accomplished is that he’s still alive. He… supposes. And he’s not always. So that’s something.
Madrox thinks back to the words Clay said to him. “You don’t know anything, Madrox… least of all what you really are.” So… what is he? Who is he? How can he be a detective, find other people, when he can’t even find himself?
Madrox arrives back at his building and climbs the stairs. Arriving at his floor, he finds Guido waiting at the door for him, asking what he brought him. Madrox produces a baseball hat, which Guido turns his nose up at. The Cubs? he asks. He brought a lifelong Yankees fan a Cubs hat? Madrox explains that it was either that or a White Sox hat, to which Guido replies that Cubs works.
Once inside, Madrox is greeted by Rahne, who immediately asks if he found the killer. He answers that he did, but that he doesn’t want to talk about it. So, he says, changing the subject. Anything happen there while he was gone? Yes, Rahne replies. However, she doesn’t want to talk about it. Swell, Madrox replies. So what can they talk about?
For starters, Rahne says, rising from the desk. How about that day she arrived. How’d he know all those things she’d done before she got there? Buying the newspaper, stepping in a puddle and such. Madrox smiles wryly at this, admitting that he had dupes acting as spotters all along her path. They kept phoning in updates. Incredulous, Rahne tells Jamie that he stinks as a private detective, does he know that? To this, Madrox replies that he admits that there’s room for improvement…
Guido interrupts, stating that there was room for improvement on the name of his agency too. “Triple X?” Sounds like a porn outfit. So, he took care of it for him. Confused, Madrox approaches the door and reads the new logo: X-Factor Investigations. Smiling, Madrox closes the door, thinking that it works for him.