T H E     T W A I N


1 : Gangsters

Muriel Whyte was definitely in the wrong place at the right time when she met Twain. Let's get a look at Muriel first, so that we can understand why this story goes the way it does: she's an extremely pretty 26 year old almond-eyed Asian American woman with a shock of shoulder-length jet-black hair and a wonderfully robust figure that spins men around on the street. That's right, she's a knockout. She's also quite intelligent and it shows, as does an essential niceness. Muriel is, however, quite unattached as our story begins: set-up for a romance, or what? But then again, she's a lawyer. Okay, she's a nice lawyer. Muriel had recently graduated from law school, and was new enough at the legal profession to still be idealistic and concerned with helping people. She had joined Cleavis & Jackson Attorneys at Law, a humble five-man law firm specializing in people's advocate cases. They had recently become involved with a big one. A gathering of neighbors from the Lower East End were complaining that big bad Sharko Conglomerates was buying up all the low-rent housing to make way for blocks and blocks of very high-cost condominiums, transforming an entire part of town from poor to rich. They were doing so by causing all the buildings in the area to be condemned, so that everyone living there could be evicted, and their properties devaluated to bottom price. This was being effected by gangsters, the group of neighbors claimed, and they needed to find a law firm who could and would do something about it. Being mostly poor or low-income folk, the claimants had come to Cleavis & Jackson, who often did public service legal work. It was decided that this could be filed as a pretty good class-action suit if there was any truth in it. So Muriel was working on documenting complaints, which put her alone on foot that week, covering the Lower East Side. She'd been interviewing people who lived in the threatened neighborhoods, going door to door for several days, building up a case against Sharko Conglomerates. She wore an old sweater and faded blue jeans to blend in with the locals, instead of looking like a lawyer, but she always handed folk her card, not trying to fool them. Those who would say anything had told her of deliberately planted infestations of rats and cockroaches, sabotage of electrical systems, arson, constant vandalism, and threats of personal violence to those who wouldn't move. She was gathering a lot of incriminating information, and had not gone unnoticed as she did so. Muriel had just come down the stairs of a dilapidated old brownstone building, back onto the street. It was a half-seedy neighborhood, with a noisy tavern on one corner, and a cheery local grocer across from it, there were people on the sidewalk, lots of traffic in the street. It seemed safe enough. She was working alone because it was easier to get one-on-one with the people who lived around there, but always at daytime and in public places, no late evenings or dark alleys for her. Muriel was not stupid, she was being careful, wary. She had been paying attention to the stories the local people had been telling her about the new up-and-coming Serbian Mafia. So she checked out the street, and noticed two men who were approaching her from across the street, weaving their way through traffic with determination. Even from a distance, they looked like trouble, and one of them was really big. Muriel checked the other directions for more potential danger, caught a flash of someone running her way—-then saw that it was only a young woman jogging, especially flashy in her blue spandex sports suit--and turned her attention back to the men. She had not counted on real live gangsters accosting her in broad daylight on a street full of people, but that's just what happened. The two men, both extremely short-clipped and tough-looking with cultured stubble, dressed like rebel soldiers in crisp new Army surplus fatigues. They came directly to her and the very big one unceremoniously pushed her hard against a wall, simply ignoring the street full of people around them. "Stop fucking around here, lady," the big man said in a thick Slavic accent, "go way, and don't come back no more." He stood at least six foot six, was heavily muscled and frighteningly strong. He also had a genuinely scary face with a nasty expression on it. The other man was shorter than his partner, but still a lot bigger than Muriel, and although he looked like maybe a nicer guy, he blocked her escape from the big one, both of them professionally aggressive and intimidating. Muriel was more surprised than frightened at first, being on a street full of bystanders. Until she noticed that all the people around her were actively ignoring the scene, turning their heads away, unwilling to get involved. Definitely not standing by. Suddenly she realized that she was quite alone in this. For good reason, these guys were part of that scary new scene in the city: the Serbian Mafia. An old war-buddy of Radovan Karadzik had relocated to New York to avoid a war-crimes tribunal and established himself in the business he knew best: the gangster racket. His twist on the idea was to import loyal, ruthless, brutal Serbians to carry out the muscle work. Preferably men with military experience in Kosovo and Bosnian, also wanted for war crimes and needing new identities, experts at ethnic cleansing. The Lower East Side was full of ethnics. Muriel was facing Sergei Vojislav, ex-sergeant of Serbian military and veteran of several mass executions in Bosnia. Emil Draja, the younger man, was backing up his old sergeant all the way, as he had often done in the good old days. They were well experienced soldiers and neither of them seemed to be at all concerned about witnesses surrounding them. Muriel swallowed hard and tried to bluff being brave. "No, I think you should be the ones to leave," she said, calmly refusing to show fear, lifting her cell phone into view, "or I'll call the police and..." She never finished the sentence, Vojislav shoved her face so that her head crashed against the wall behind her. That hurt, stunned her, scared her. And then young Draja stepped up and deftly punched her in the belly, so that all the air went out of her. She would have collapsed but Vojislav pinned her against the wall, holding her up by her breasts just for fun, giving them a good hard squeeze. Muriel could barely see through the shock and pain, and now fear was setting in. But suddenly she felt a heavy jolt go through the big Serb's body, heard him grunting hard in pain and surprise, sensed him falling backwards from her, and then she was free to stagger back herself. Confused, she looked up to see a flowing veil of long blonde hair swirling past her face as an angelically beautiful woman in flashing blue spandex twirled by, their eyes meeting briefly in the instant after she had kicked Vojislav in the balls. From behind him, between his legs, with enough accuracy and striking power to make him scream and fall down. The woman had nice ice-blue eyes. The other Serbian, Draja, was already squaring off in a fighting stance, element of surprise now gone. Draja looked like he knew how to fight, and he struck at the blonde woman’s face with brutal force, three times rapidly. But he never once connected, because she was far too fast for him, expertly slapping his fists away with her open palms. Then she did an elegant dance step and pirouette, delivering a good solid kick to his head, and Draja too crashed down onto the sidewalk. It took a second for Muriel to realize that this angelic blonde woman had taken down both men that fast, apparently with martial arts techniques. In her tight blue spandex that woman resembled nothing less than some super- heroine, making it look so easy: simply touch those guys a few times--rather violently--and they politely fell down for her. But she obviously knew better than to push her luck, because she grabbed Muriel's arm to support her and said, "Let's get out of here while we still can!" Muriel nodded, still staggering from the blows, too breathless to speak, but just capable of running away from the fallen attackers, who were hurting but already striving to get up.

2 : Paula

The two women ran fast, turned a few corners to get out of sight, came to a subway entrance, went downstairs, caught a departing train, and went rolling away from danger. There were only a few passengers in the car, so they found seats alone in the back. Muriel had to sit to catch her breath, still winded from being punched in the belly. "I don't think they followed us," the woman said, breathing easily, evidently in good form. "Wow, I don't think they DARED!" Muriel said with her first full breath, "My God, girl, you creamed them, that was amazing! Who are you: Buffy? Xena? One of Charlie's Angels?" The beautiful blonde woman smiled, perfect teeth flashing, “I’m Twain." Now up close, Muriel found herself studying this woman who had just saved her: physically impressive, besides the long blonde hair and perfectly angelic face with ice-blue eyes, she was tall, at least 5'10" and elegantly proportioned, leanly sexy, evidently quite strong and fit. And yet, although so perfectly beautiful and fascinatingly feminine, there seemed to be a slightly paradoxical hint of masculinity about her--the way she moved, talked, something. The result was quite fascinating, Muriel wanted to know more. "Twain, hmm, that’s unusual. What’s your last name?” The woman named Twain gave Muriel a look which hinted that she had just been asked for some very private information, if not top secret. But the look lingered, softened, until she was studying Muriel as well, evidently intrigued by something she saw there. She seemed interested, attracted even, and finally there was a smile in those eyes again. "Actually, Twain would be my last name, otherwise I’m Paula," she confessed, as if reluctantly. "Paula Twain? Hmm, any relation to Shania?" Paula Twain grinned and shook her head, “Not as far as I know, but Mark Twain might be a distant uncle." “Oh, that’s...uh,” Muriel puckered her brow, “but wait, that Twain was just a fictitious author’s name...” “..for Samuel Clemens, right,” Paula admitted, shrugged and laughed, “never mind, it’s a family joke.” “Oh...well anyway, Paula Twain, I'm Muriel Whyte, and thanks for rescuing me. My God, that was brave of you." She shrugged. "I couldn't let those bastards get away with that." "Yeah well, there were lots of other people there, and none of them were getting involved. Why did you?" Again, Paula seemed hesitant to answer, then shrugged and said, "Because I liked you, the way you defied them. Besides, your face is so... well...beautiful, I just couldn't let them spoil it." Muriel blinked; it was an answer she would have expected of a man, but not a woman. Women are competitive about their looks, yet this one had potentially risked her own beauty for a stranger's. Muriel suddenly wondered if Paula was a lesbian flirting with her, then decided it didn't matter, she was grateful anyway. And flattered that such an attractive woman might find her equally appealing. "Look who's talking about beautiful," Muriel commented, " you look like a photo model yourself. Kind of surprising to see you whomp two big hoodlums. Was that karate?" "Kung-fu basically, actually a blend of techniques. I spent several years with an old Shaolin priest running a school in L.A. He gave me some particularly concentrated instruction because he thought I was especially talented at it. “I’d say he thought right, I’m impressed too.” “My brother is better at it though, he has more weight and striking power. If Castor had been here, we wouldn't have had to run from those guys." "Well, I think you did just great without a brother to slow you down." "Yeah, it did go rather well, didn't it? But tell me, those two guys seemed to be attacking you specifically, do you know why?" Muriel told about the case against Sharko Industries, how she'd been interviewing people who lived in those blocks for several days. "I think I've gotten too close to getting some answers, I suppose those guys were sent to scare me off." "Or worse. They were reaching for guns, that's why we ran." "Yeah?" Muriel raised an eyebrow, gulped. The train stopped at an Uptown station and they got off, having escaped far enough. Up on the street they walked together towards no declared destination, continuing their conversation. "If you're a lawyer, and actually doing all this for almost no pay in some grass-roots lawyer's association," Paula summed things up, "seems like you're also risking your life for people you don't know." "Yeah, well, dedicated and idealistic little ol' me." "I admire that," Paula said, "actually, I wish I was doing something like that instead of what I do." "So what do you do?" There was another defensive pause, as if too many secrets were being told, but then she shrugged, let it all out. "Actually, something pretty similar to what you do: going into the field after strategic information, investigation, documentation. Although hardly for such idealistic motives as yours, I do it for people who don't deserve it. And for money, lots of it." "Sounds just like being a lawyer," Muriel kidded. "Yeah, but not an idealistic people’s advocate like you." "Then it sounds like you've got yourself a little moral dilemma going on there," Muriel suggested. "I guess," Paula acknowledged with a nod, hesitated again, finally going on to explain, "I--my brother and I--run a kind of research and analysis service. Mostly concerning corporate competitive intelligence. Which is a euphemism for industrial espionage." "Oh. Then you're a detective?" "Not officially, kind of underground. Actually, I shouldn't be telling you about it, forget everything I've said." "Well, you rescued me, so my lips are sealed." Paula seemed to be looking at Muriel's lips as if she wanted to kiss them, then said, "You have such a lovely oriental look: where does that come from?" "My mother's Chinese--from Chinatown in San Francisco, second generation. My dad's a regular ol’ American guy from Boston, who fell for that 'lovely oriental look' too, so I'm the family mix-mash." "I have a fondness for the Chinese," Paula admitted, "having lived very close to them for years." Which she then proved by asking a question: "Ni hùi shuo Chung-kúo hùa ma?" Muriel laughed in surprise, and responded, "Wo tung Chung-kúo hùa, ke-shih wo chiang Kwan-tung hùa." (I can understand Mandarin, but actually speak Cantonese.) "Hen hao!" (very good!) Paula said, "Did you learn it in China?" "No, just visiting my grandmother in Chinatown lots when I was younger. But I'd like to go see The Great Wall someday, if I can ever get some time for myself." "Yeah, me too," Paula said, "there's also a Shaolin temple I want to visit someday." "Well hey, let's go!" Muriel kidded. Paula seemed to study her seriously for a moment, then smiled wistfully and changed the subject. "So are you married?" she asked, “boy friend, whatever?" "Hmm, not right now, no boy friend, that is," then curiously, "why do you ask?" "Just checking," Paula said, allowing herself a contented little smile, "it's just that my brother would fall for you." "Ah," Muriel nodded, as if everything had been explained, this was what the flirting was about. "So is your brother as blonde and beautiful as you?" "Oh yes, we're twins. He's the tall muscular one." "Well then, he's probably got a string of girls anyway." "No," Paula shook her head in mock pathos, "all he has is me, poor baby." For a moment Muriel thought, hey why not set me up? Then the busy attorney in her took command once again and made her shrug and say, "Too bad I don't really have time for dating these days." Paula sighed, slumped a little. "Yeah, me neither. Getting time for myself is just so tricky..." Then she seemed to settle something on her mind and said, "Okay, well, maybe we'll meet again somewhere someday. Good luck with your case." She stood up to go on her way. Muriel realized that she liked Paula, whether she was a lesbian or not, and the thought of never seeing her again was suddenly intolerable. "Wait, you saved me! Let me repay you somehow...uh ...a drink, do a dinner or something sometime..." Paula smiled, "Sounds like you're saying let's be friends." "Yeah, that is what I'm saying. Hey, I like you...and you seem to like me too." "Yeah, I do," Paula admitted, but looked at Muriel somewhat sadly, it seemed. "But I'd probably better pass. Complications, you know. Tsài chìen, Muriel Whyte, it was nice to meet you." Then she walked away, looking back once to wave farewell, and vanished around the corner.

3 : Gossip

Over the next few days Muriel found herself thinking more about Paula Twain than about the men who attacked her. She spent those days in the offices of Cleavis & Jackson, the little law firm sandwiched between several other small firms on the 9th floor of the Wilson Building just off Broadway. During their morning meeting she told her associates about the assault and they were quite concerned. Walter Cleavis, co-owner of Cleavis & Jackson Law Agency, and heroic leader of the group of young lawyers by default, insisted that Muriel not go out for interviews alone any more. Muriel had promised that her "lips were sealed" about Paula's work, but felt free to mention how some heroic blonde woman had rescued her. "A gorgeous blonde who kicks ass?" Jeff being silly, as usual. "Man, I could use a girl like that, didja get her name?" Jeff was tall and thin and neurotic, smart, but still struggling with his bar exam. And unfortunately, rather too interested in Muriel. "Twain," Muriel said, not wanting to encourage him by saying more. "What?" Pete looked up, suddenly alert, "Hey, you don't mean THE TWAIN?" Pete was chubby and balding young, but a good guy. "Hmm, I dunno," Muriel admitted. "Twain, as in Two?" asked Georgia Jackson, the older and very wise black woman, who was also co-owner of the firm. "The two What?" "About this beautiful blonde, did she maybe have especially big boobs? And were there, y'know...two of 'em?" Jeff always went for the crude joke if he could. "Two twins..?" Muriel wondered aloud, then bit her lips. So much for the keeping of them sealed. But the suggestion slipped past as just another guess. Everyone was looking to Pete for the answer. “THE TWAIN is the cover name for a very enigmatic industrial espionage agency,” Pete explained, ”nobody really knows who they are, or how big their organization is. But there was definitely talk about one of them being a spectacularly beautiful blonde girl karate expert.” “So did you ever see her?” Muriel asked, wondering if it was indeed Paula, but still determined not to say too much. “Well no, not me, but I heard about her—-and The Twain—-when I was clerking with SantoCorp, before I graduated. There were stories going around about these corporate spy spooks with total pro hacker skills and hands-on martial arts moves, who could be hired to taking on Mission Impossible stunts. Stuff like James Bond movies, only for real.” “How do you know they weren’t just stories?” Walter asked. “Because while I was there The Twain had just pulled off an especially impossible but successful infiltration of Mitsubishi's research and development program, and SantoCorp scored big. There was a big buzz about it." Muriel frowned uneasily, "So are they... criminals?" "Well--hah!--that's the thing with corporate stuff," Pete confided, "you're in trouble if you get caught, but you're a hero if it goes right. Kind of a gray zone." "Nothing gray about the ethics of it," Walter stated, as moral leader of the group, "it's information rip-offs for big bucks." So Jeff had to say, "Yeah, we could sure use someone like them to find out who's dirty in the Housing Commission." They discussed the case itself, knowing now that gangsters were sending muscle against them if they went on with it. "Our suspicions about the ease with which buildings are being condemned and the inhabitants evicted is justified," Georgia summed up, "Sharko Conglomerates is gobbling up a big chunk of Manhattan where people live and getting away with using gangsters to do it." "And the Housing Commission is obviously deliberately allowing it to happen," Walter noted, "someone in there's got to be on the take." "What we need is names, and proof," Georgia summarized. There was a pause. Then Jeff said, "Say Muriel, can you get in touch with that lady again?" He did not seem to be kidding now. "Didn't get her number," Muriel said truthfully. "Too bad," Walter grumbled, his moral stand forgotten. "But I might be able to get a number," Pete said, "I still know a guy at SantoCorp."

4 : Negotiations

Before she left the firm in the early evening, Muriel decided to try the number Pete had come up with. The phone rang and was answered. A deep male voice said only one word: "Twain." Muriel hesitated a heartbeat, then said, "Uh, hello, I'd like to speak with Paula, please." There was an equal hesitation on the other end, then the man said, "Muriel?" One more hesitation on Muriel's part, this time due to surprise, "Uh...yeah..." "Just a second, I'll wake her," the man said, and the telephone was set down. Allowing Muriel a moment to wonder: What's going on? How did that guy know it was me calling? Paula's voice came online, sounding very glad, "Muriel, ni hao ma? You found us." "Uh...wo hen hao...how did that guy know it was me?" "Oh, that was my brother Castor, he recognized your voice." "But...he's never heard my voice before." There was an easy laugh on the other end. "Pretty tricky, eh? Look, there's a lot of weird stuff that goes on between Castor and me, it's what we do. Consider us psychic; maybe I'll explain it to you some day. But anyway, seems you're tricky too, this is an unlisted number." "I just miraculously ended up with it. Listen, I didn't even tell anyone about our conversation, so you're apparently not as deep underground as you think. But Paula, I'd like to talk to you about your--uh--line of work. Could we meet?" "Ah, you're interested in infiltrating the City Housing Commission, right?" "Uh, how did you know that?" "Pretty funny conversation we're having, isn't it? Each asking how the other knows all our secrets." "Yeah, it’s pretty weird, all right. So how about meeting? Drinks somewhere, my treat." Pause. Then, "Sure. Sounds like we've got some stories to swap. But I have to warn you, Muriel, we don't do charity work, you know, and we're pretty expensive." "Some advice maybe, about how I could go about it myself." "Go in yourself? Oh no, we'd definitely better meet."

5 : Castor

They had arranged to meet at a café in Greenwich Village, one with old-fashioned booths to afford some privacy. Muriel came slightly early to be sure they got one of the better booths. Paula was supposed to arrive at 8:00. But at 8:00 a man showed up instead. Not just any man: tall and blonde, nicely dressed, just as gorgeous as Paula. In fact, he had the same face, the same ice-blue eyes, a perfect male version of Paula, only larger and masculine, with shorter trimmed blonde hair. There was absolutely no doubt as to who he was. There was, however, the question of how he had come into a café full of people and immediately recognized her face in the crowd, just as he'd known her voice on the telephone, since they had never met before. He saw her and came directly to her without hesitation. "Consider us psychic," Paula had warned her. "Good evening, Muriel," he said in that same sexy voice she'd heard on the telephone, and offered his hand to shake, "I'm Castor Twain." Muriel had wondered about Paula's big blond beautiful unattached brother who was supposed to fall for her guaranteed, had pictured him as the suave and confident James Bond corporate spy-type who knew wines and seduced women effortlessly. Be prepared for charming but heartless, she had assumed. Although, getting seduced could be fun once in a while...and it had been a while. But this handsome young man seemed slightly nervous about meeting her. She could see in his eyes that he liked her right away, just as Paula had, and she liked him back, it was that easy. She felt as if they'd met before, maybe in another life, who knows? "Uh...nice to meet you, Castor," she managed to say, then looked around the room behind him. "Isn't Paula coming too?" "Only in spirit. She wanted us to meet instead." He smiled, eyes crinkling nicely, and sat over from her in the booth. "So she set us up," Muriel said with mock indignation and had to laugh. Castor smiled back and nodded, shrugged. "Yeah, a blind date, sorry. Although I certainly don't mind, you're quite...nice." "Yeah, well, you too. In fact you're a dreamboat. But I actually did call you--I mean Paula--to discuss a case I'm working on. I know she said you guys don't do charity work but..." He lifted a hand to stop her from having to plead her case. "Right, Sharko Conglomerate's illegal land-grabbing procedures," he was now very businesslike, "you suspect that the Housing Commission has to be deliberately allowing it to happen, someone on the take. Well, you're right. There are three commissioners being blackmailed to go along with the scam. Would you like their names?" Muriel blinked dumbly, then nodded. He took an envelope out of his inner coat pocket and laid it on the table before her. Muriel looked down at the envelope, then up into his ice-blue eyes, finally remembering to close her mouth. "Is this a joke?" "Not at all, shall we order drinks?" He waved to a waiter. "Let me guess: shaken, not stirred." He smiled at that, "Actually I'm having straight apple juice on the rocks, what about you?" She was about to open the envelope, but suddenly stopped. "Just a minute, before I read this, Paula said you don't work cheap and my little firm hasn't really got a fund for extreme surprise expenses..." "Oh, no, this is a gift. Actually, I should have come with flowers-- first date and all--but I brought you that instead. About that drink?" A waiter was approaching their booth. Muriel was concentrating on the printout now opening in her hands. "Oh, I don't care, anything--maybe some wine, you choose." There were 3 names, office numbers, telephone numbers, addresses and some rather incriminating details about their connections with Sharko Con. Muriel hardly noticed when their drinks arrived, an apple juice with crushed ice for him and a frosted glass of champagne for her. "Oh my God, you've done some fantastic homework here! I mean...how did you DO this? And in minutes!" "Paula's a whiz at hacking computers, you can thank her." "Boy, she must really want us to get along!" "She is a romantic." Muriel pondered a second, then had to ask, "Say, Paula's not...uh... gay, by any chance, is she?" Castor chuckled, "No. Well, not specifically, although maybe a little bi, why do you ask?" "Oh nothing, just a feeling I got, that she liked me...that way, you know." "Oh, you mean the way I like you?" "Well, I don't...uh..." Muriel found herself actually battering her eyelashes like a teen-aged girl, "...do you?" He had to smile, nod, a little shy shrug. Then he lifted his glass of apple juice in a salute to her. "Wow, is that good champagne!" she said at her first sip. "Chambaude de Noif '79. Are you hungry?" "My god, maybe you really ARE James Bond after all. And this really IS a date, isn't it?"

6 : Considering

Muriel hadn't had a boy friend since she'd ignored poor old Larry for her bar exams, a year ago already. No dates, no casual sex, no romance at all since then, there just hadn't been time--nor interest. The closest she'd had to feeling something for a man had been her irritation over Jeff's attempts to flirt with her at work. She was almost beginning to worry that SHE was lesbian. But she found herself quite ready to go to bed with Castor Twain, already seduced, especially after the second glass of champagne. It was hardly just the champagne. They'd talked for hours in that little booth; he was ferociously intelligent, interesting, informed, attentive, charming, funny, and a totally desirable sex object. She was surprised, however, when he ended their date at midnight by saying that "sorry but" he had business to attend to, and had vanished off into the night without her. He'd paid for dinner, but allowed her to pay for the drinks, since drinks were supposed to have been "her treat", after all. Luckily she'd only had two glasses of that champagne, it was expensive. She’d been surprised, but not offended. It was obvious that he liked her and he promised they would get together again. They traded cell phone numbers and a really wonderful goodnight kiss. But he did seem to be careful about saying too much, going too far too fast, and sex on the first date was evidently not happening. Fair enough, that was usually how Muriel played it herself, although she had definitely been willing to make an exception for Castor Twain. When she thought about it later, Muriel was glad they hadn't done it. He might easily be an absolute heart-breaker, for whom any woman would fall, or for all she knew the wonderful Mr. Twain fell for every woman he met. Except that Paula had mentioned how she'd been the only woman in her brother's life these days and evidently really did want to fix him up. Muriel had other things to think about the next day. She took the printout to work and showed it to her colleagues. The gang at the office was excited by the possibility that they were on the right track now, but agreed that they had to investigate those three names to be absolutely certain that their information was accurate. And, of course, they needed some sort of proof to have a case at all. Muriel volunteered to go to the Housing Commission and ask around, but Walter reminded her that she'd been assaulted once already. It was agreed that Jeff and Pete would go, they were strong young men, it was a public building, what could go wrong? Muriel warned them that the guys who had attacked her were not at all shy about making a scene in public, so they should really watch it. Walter asked Muriel about her source, the mysterious Twain. She told him she didn't know much more than their names. "Castor and Paula Twain?" Walter remarked, amused, "Let me guess: they're twins, right?" "Well, yes...but how did you know that?" Muriel asked. "Castor and Pollux are THE twins: Greek mythology, the constellation Gemini..." "Oh yeah, I remember now," Muriel felt stupid for not having thought of that before. Then again, these were real people, not symbols from some ancient religion. "How does that myth go, anyway?" "Hmm..." Walter had to think back to his college days, "...identical twin brothers, except that one was mortal, the other immortal. When the mortal brother died--don't ask me to remember which one was what--his brother traded places in heaven with him every so often so that they could both spend time being alive on earth." "Oh, well, these two are both on earth." Muriel worked in the office, writing transcripts of the interviews she'd made the day before. About noon her cell phone rang, she didn't recognize the number on the digital read-out. Paula's voice, "If you meet me at DelMonico's at 7:30 I'll actually show up. My treat this time." "Uh...all right, sure."

7 : Girl Talk

Paula was already there when Muriel arrived, this time dressed in a summer dress that showed some cleavage, looking very cute. She had already ordered drinks. Muriel was surprised to see the waitress come with two frosted glasses of champagne. "Chambaude de Noif '79?" she asked as she sat over from Paula. "What else?" "I'm surprised you're not drinking apple juice." Paula laughed. "Castor never drinks alcohol, but I do, a little. We're twins but hormones do affect behavior." "Paula, thank you for that list of names you hacked from the Housing Commission. Gives us something to go on." "It was easy. Besides, I didn't want you to try infiltrating yourself." "Neither does my firm, so a couple of our guys have been over at the housing Commission checking those names out today. We have to work fast to save the neighborhoods that are still standing from being gobbled up by Sharko Con. It's incredible, those greedy bastards are out to destroy the entire Lower East Side as fast as they can." "Hmm," Paula frowned slightly, "heard from your guys since then?" "Yes, about 5:00. So they're okay, if that's what you're thinking. I think you scared off all the gangsters yesterday." Paula lifted her glass in a toast, "Let's hope." Muriel had been expecting Paula to be itching to talk about the date with her brother, probing for details, but she never mentioned it. Which was fine, Muriel felt reluctant to talk behind Castor's back, especially with his own sister. But finally Muriel couldn't resist mentioning him anyway. "I must say your brother is quite a lovely man," Muriel admitted. "Glad you think so." "Where is Castor now, on a job?" "No, he's sleeping. Was up all night, poor baby." "Seems you two sleep in shifts," Muriel noted. Paula nodded, "Actually, that's more or less what we do. We cover 24 hours that way." "But sharing an apartment with your own brother, isn't that awkward?" "Oh, we rarely meet, our schedules are so different that we each have the apartment to ourselves most of the time." It was the second time she'd met Paula, but Muriel had a feeling that she already knew her quite well. Probably because she looked and acted so much like her brother Castor. It struck her how they both spoke exactly the same way, used the same vocabulary (favorite word: “actually”), phrasings, nuances, almost as if they were the same person in two versions: one male, the other female. But that was absurd, of course: Paula was tall for a woman, but Castor was much taller, broad-shouldered, had an impressively masculine body; while Paula was absolutely female with shapely breasts and bottom separated by a trim waist. Otherwise, they both had the same body type, slender and lithe, definitely twins. In fact, Muriel noticed, they both even had the same little mole on their necks... "I see that you've spotted our mole," Paula noted. "Oh, excuse me, didn't mean to stare, but My God, it's amazing just how much alike you and Castor look. If you weren't brother and sister I'd guess you were identical rather than fraternal twins." "Actually, we ARE identical twins--or were once. When we were little no one could tell us apart without peeking into our pants. It was first when puberty set in that we grew up and out differently, as boys and girls do." "Uh...well, you DO know that true identical twins are always the same sex, right?" Muriel tried not to sound like a know-it-all explaining a simple fact that Paula ought to have been aware of. "Actually, there are several variations to confuse the rules--" Paula corrected her, "--like the polar body twinning of a split egg, overabundance of aneuploidy, X-chromosome inactivation, and so on--but by defining identical twins as monozygotic, duplicated single-egg fetuses, well, that's what we were." Muriel looked to assure herself that she was talking with Paula and not Castor, she'd sounded so much like him when he got technical, the way men like to do. "That would make headlines..." "Actually, nobody noticed, or cared. Our parents had nothing to do with doctors or hospitals, assumed we were just...plain old twins. We had to figure out what we were for ourselves, and that was later on in life." "But how can you tell that you're not just similar-looking fraternal twins?" "Castor and I have exactly the same genetics, except for an XX and XY chromosome set, otherwise same DNA. We even have the same fingerprints, differentiated only by the size of our fingers. But the clincher is that a retinal scan cannot tell us apart at all, which is pretty rare." "Wow, that sounds...uh, just HOW rare are we talking about?" "Well, hah, so far we seem to be the only ones." Paula shrugged, took a sip of her drink, and went on, "Fortunately for us, no one paid much scientific attention to our weirdness, since we were born into a commune of drug-crazed hippies who thought they were just seeing double." "A genuine counter-culture childhood, eh? Hmm, was that good or bad?" "It was a lot better before they all converted into a cult of fundamentalist religious fanatics who decided that we must be agents of the devil." "You're kidding...right?" "No, but I don't want to get into that now. Let Castor tell you about it someday." Looking for any differences now, Muriel noted that Paula did speak slightly faster than Castor, was more animated, used her hands more. Hormones affecting behavior, as she'd said. "So have you two had an especially...religious moral upbringing?" Muriel asked. "Not really, we've both absolutely rejected that travesty of religion those people tried to lay on us. Why do you ask?" "It's just that Castor...well, he seemed interested in me all right, but didn't...uh...make a move." Paula shrugged. "He's reluctant to make a mistake, easy to do when emotions take over, you know. Love at first sight is a shaky concept." Muriel shrugged back, "Well, nobody wants to get their heart broken..." "It's not that, something else. Listen, Muriel, there's a secret he’ll want to share with you, but isn't ready to reveal just yet. Not until he knows if he can trust you." "Oh? Well, so maybe you shouldn't be telling me about it?" Paula looked satisfied, nodded. "Good girl, Muriel. But don't worry, I'm not about to tell you either, I just want you to know that there's a fair reason for his hesitation." "Hey, we've only been on one date. And we both had a good time, but let's not make it more than it is." Then Muriel couldn't help it, she had to ask another question: "Excuse me, Paula, but I'd like to know: why are you so eager to hook me up with your brother? He could easily get just about any woman he wants, why are you...uh..." "...pimping for him?" Paula suggested with a grin. "...uh, yeah. And why me?" "Personally, because I like you, of course. But for Castor’s sake, what’s most important is this gut feeling that I recognize you as being the right one for Twain--at last.” Muriel recognized the truth when she heard it, but was confused by the way Paula had phrased things. Such as “love at first sight”—but whose first sight? And "Twain" could actually mean either Castor or Paula...or both. Muriel almost asked Paula if she was a lesbian, but didn't. She still felt grateful, whatever Paula's ulterior motives might be. Then again, how devious can it be when someone comes right out and honestly says, "because I like you"? If that is considered an ulterior motive, then it's an awfully strict world we live in. So she asked around it: "So what about you? Do you have a boyfriend or...anything?" "Not yet. Working on it." "Hmm, funny: you and Castor are just about the most beautiful and exciting people I've ever met, yet both of you are unattached.” “Until you came along,” Paula added. “Uh...” Muriel blinked a couple of times before finally saying, “you know, Paula, sometimes it sounds as if you’re planning on sharing me with Castor.” “Oh oh, I’m scaring you,” Paula said with a mischievous grin, “you think I’m a horny lesbian after your body, don’t you?” She was obviously having fun with the idea. Muriel blinked a couple of times, not knowing just how to respond, then grinned herself. “Well, I’m not really scared, just sort of...wondering what’s expected of me. After all, Castor did say that you might be slightly bisexual.” “I think everybody is slightly bisexual, just depends upon with whom,” Paula suggested, then asked, “have you ever been with a woman?” “No!” Muriel said, then was embarrassed that she might have sounded a little too emphatic, “uh...have you?” “Yes.” She shrugged, nothing to it, “It can be nice, sweet—but essentially frustrating without a man around to finish things up. So yes, I’m attracted to you, I admit it. And no, I’m not gay. Besides, you’re attracted to me too, I can tell.” “Hmm, well...yeah, you’re a very sexy sister. But the truth is that I’d much rather have sex with your brother.” Paula laughed, evidently not feeling rejected, “Actually, that’s been our operating plan all along: Castor does the girls, Paula does the boys... although that plan has been on a holding pattern for a while. We’ve both been waiting for the right one—or ones, don’t freak out--to come along. So relax, have some more champagne.” Slightly relieved, Muriel accepted another glassful and sipped at it, as Paula went on to say: “Besides, I could say the same things about you—how can a woman like you be unattached? What’s wrong with you anyway?” Muriel had to smile, shrug. “Oh, I did have a boyfriend, Larry, until my last year at law school. I just sort of burned out, studying so hard, and then the new job, no time, so Larry just sort of found his way out himself. He got another girlfriend and I was off the hook. I’ve just had no interest in men for awhile, don’t really know why. But now I’m ready to go again, lucky for Castor, eh?” “Lucky for you too,” Paula suggested. “Yeah, maybe, I hope so,” Muriel agreed. “Well, since we’re having this heart-to-heart girl talk, how about you? Last love affair, for example?” “Oh...” it was Paula’s turn to hesitate thoughtfully, as if unsure about telling her story, “...actually, you might think it kind of scandalous.” “Oh, was it a woman?” Muriel had to ask. “No no, a man. But much older than me. Chinese.” “Ahh...not your Kung-fu teacher?” She nodded. “My sifu, shaolin master. Actually, I was his concubine for three years.” “Concubine? Isn’t that like being a...slave?” Paula had to smile again, “No, but it IS a study in the art of submission, which most American women never master.” She took a sip of champagne. “Actually, you’d be surprised how much power a submissive woman can wield over an authoritative man. For example, I made him teach me how to really kick ass. And by the end, I could even kick his.” That good Chambaude de Noif had Muriel feeling quite relaxed and easy, especially now that the question of her relationship with Paula had been settled. Although she did find herself casually studying Paula’s lovely face, perfect skin and shining blonde hair, idly wondering what sex with her would be like anyway.

8 : Romance

On their second date Castor took Muriel to his favorite Chinese restaurant, where he was a regular. She was hardly surprised to learn that, among other languages, Castor spoke Chinese just as fluently as his sister did. "I thought Paula learned it from living intimately with her Chinese Kung-fu teacher." "Oh, I've studied Kung-fu too," Castor said, as if that explained it, "Paula and I learn a lot of stuff in tandem, so to speak." "You two seem to learn everything tandem," she observed, "I still don't know how you recognized my voice and face before you'd ever even met me. Video surveillance?" Castor smiled and teased, "Professional secret, my dear, sorry. In our line of work it pays to create a sense of resounding mystery about a spook known only as THE TWAIN." "Well THE TWAIN's certainly got an impressive reputation for mysteriousness, all right. Pete at work has been telling us the industrial espionage war-anecdotes going around about...you. Pretty amusing stories, wonder if any of them are true?" "Oh, I'm sure some of them are. But you aren’t telling any stories about The Twain, are you?" Muriel could see that this was a very serious question. "No, Mister Twain, I'm not...well then, I don't really know any, except those Pete tells me, and I'm not sure I even believe them. So my lips are still sealed." "Good girl." "But that one about Coca Cola and the CIA: that didn't really happen, did it?" "Hey, I was young and foolish." Although Castor was reluctant to divulge secrets about his work, they spoke about many other things: current politics, science, technology, books, movies, music, food. Muriel was once again impressed by Castor's eloquent intelligence, memory for detail, brilliant insights. He seemed to know so much about everything. So very very much. Almost too much. Although herself a well-educated professional person, and generally secure in her self-perception as a reasonably attractive young woman, Muriel couldn't help beginning to wonder if she was really good enough for this guy. Castor seemed to catch on to that right away, and asked: "Oh, crap, I’m overwhelming you, aren’t I?" "Oh...uh...no." "Come on, I can tell. Sorry, I do that to some people. I'm trying too hard to impress you, so that you'll like me." "Oh, I DO like you!" "I know that, but..." he looked suddenly like some insecure teen-aged boy, "...well anyway, I'm ready if you are." "I've been ready all along." They ended up in Muriel's apartment that evening and made love. It was very nice, everything worked the way it should: erections, wetness, orgasms. After the first round they liked each other even more, the ice definitely broken. Their first night together was successful enough to warrant a romance and lots more sex until they got it right, so they became a couple. By the next month they had spent 22 nights together and made love 48 times. Muriel finally said, "Can't we go to your place for a change? I'd like to see how you live. And say hi to Paula again." Castor stalled. "To tell the truth, Paula and I don't socialize together with other people that much." "Don't you get along?" "Oh sure, the two of us alone. But every time we let our friends into the mix it gets complicated. My buddies all end up wanting to score her and her girl friends, well..." "They want to score you?" Muriel said, and laughed. He shrugged, nodded. "Is that so bad?" she teased. "It's just complicated. Paula and I have a rather special relationship, people misunderstand it and get weird on us." "Well, I won't try to score her," Muriel assured him, "even if she is a little bit bi." "You wouldn't even have to try; she's already sold on you. I hope she hasn't been too..." "No, no, she's been nice to me, that's all. We even talked about it, and it's cool. Anyway, I’m sold on her too." "But you're not bi." "No, not hardly,” Muriel insisted, then let a beat pass before she went on, “But I do find Paula fascinating, your dear sister is much farther out there than I’ve ever dared to be. My god, she seduces men to pick their brains, and if they give her any shit, she beats them up with Kung-fu! Way to go, girl." Castor shrugged, half-amused. “Okay, she seems to be a real femme fatale, but she’s not. We Twain don’t damage people.” “Hmm, shoulda seen her whup those gangsters. She hurt them.” “Actually, not,” Twain said with the authority of one who’d been there, “she didn’t kill or cripple them, although she could have. As I said, we don’t harm people. Nor does she break men’s hearts--actually, she’s still friends with most guys who’ve loved her.” Muriel had to smile for Castor’s chivalrous and convincing defense of his sister, “Yeah, that’s what I figured,” she assured him, “so relax, I do like her, really. Besides, Paula’s a lot like you-- and hey, I love you!” Castor smiled in appreciation of her declaration, although they had both already convinced each other of that by the quality of their love-making, and said, “Well hey, she IS me.” “Hmmmm...” Muriel was becoming accustomed to the Twain twins’ confusingly cryptic references to each other, so she smiled back, “..you guys really take this twin thing seriously.” Castor laughed at that and said, “Well, now that you’ve been warned about how weird our social life is, still want to come for a visit?" "Mm-hmm, more than ever." "Good. Friday evening, dinner at the Twains."

9 : Visit

Friday evening Castor picked Muriel up in a taxi and they were transported through the streets of New York to an address near Central Park. Muriel was holding hands with Castor in the back seat of the cab, when she noticed at one point that his hand went limp and he seemed to be asleep. His eyes were closed and she found herself taking the opportunity to admire his face up close. After a minute or two his eyes suddenly opened again, no grogginess or confusion in them. He was looking at her now just as close up, then he leaned over and kissed her, so they both closed their eyes. The apartment was in a building with security and proved to be a classic penthouse 37 floors above Manhattan with a stunning view over Central Park towards the mountain range of skyscrapers: Pan Am, Chrysler Buildings, Empire State. "Oh my God, what a view!" Muriel enthused. "It's even better from the rooftop patio," Castor assured her, leading her through sliding glass doors out into the chilly September evening air. The patio was cozy rather than large, yet open and quite surrounded by skyscrapers, making it a spectacular place. There were plants, some yard furniture, and a tent in one corner. Castor led Muriel to the tent, opened it to reveal a hot tub large enough for several people. When he peeled back the plastic tarp covering the water, steamy vapors billowed white up into the cool darkness. "I like to come out here at night," he told her, "turn off the patio lights, get naked and soak up the view, so to speak. Very relaxing." "Naked? With all these windows looking down at you?" "No one can see us here with the lights off," Castor touched a switch and they were hidden in darkness except for the glow of the city all around them, "see?" "Hmm. This IS kind of sexy," Muriel said, snuggling close to him. "Well, yeah," he agreed. "Maybe we should take off our clothes now," she suggested. He had to laugh. "Oh we probably will, eventually, but maybe you'd like to see the apartment first." "Oh yeah...you've probably got a bedroom too, huh?" The apartment itself was a very comfortable size, large, but not enormous. As impressed as Muriel had been with the view, she was even more taken by the Spartan interior style of the place. Several pieces of strikingly original art, plants and flowers nicely arranged, a comfortable sofa, modern lat-screen TV, quality stereo, yet nothing was especially ostentatious or extravagant. It was like a millionaire's apartment furnished by an ascetic. The lighting was very romantic when they arrived, someone had lit candles and fluffed pillows on the sofa. "Is Paula here?" Muriel asked. "Yes, but she's sleeping now. Her bedroom's at that end of the apartment, mine is at the other." "Oh, I would've said hi to her." "I'm sure you'll get the chance. If you'll excuse me for a moment, I'm going to use the bathroom." Castor went in and closed the door. Muriel was studying the view outside the window when Paula came out of her room, looking sleepy, wearing a big thick white terrycloth bathrobe. "Hi Muriel," she said, "thought I heard voices," "Hi Paula, didn't mean to wake you." "Oh, you haven't, don't worry, I'm on my way back to bed in a minute. I just wanted to welcome you here. And to say that I'm glad everything is working out nicely between you and Castor." "Yeah," Muriel smiled shyly, "my boy friend’s just taken me home to meet his sister at last." "Looks like. Well, you two have a nice night," Paula said with a sleepy smile and turned back towards her bedroom. But she turned to say, "By the way, Muriel, this isn't something that happens a lot." "That's nice to know. Not for me either." "I didn't think so. Good night." And she closed her door. A few seconds later Castor came out of the bathroom, saying, "There's a new toothbrush and towels for you in there." "You just missed Paula." "Yes, I know. I always do." "Oh that's right, she told me you two hardly ever see each other." "We don't need to. We're in touch." "A twin thing?" "Twain thing. Actually, I'll admit it right now so that you can't say I never warned you: Paula and Castor are both the same person." He said it with a straight face. "Yeah, Twain, I know," Muriel said, going along with the game, "in fact I've already figured out how you do it." "Really?" "Magic. You're a shape-changer, like in fairy tales: first you're big masculine Castor and then--poof--you just shed a foot of tallness and a hundred pounds of muscle and bone to transform into pretty Paula with the nice boobs and long hair. Am I right?" Castor's wry little smile of amusement, "Can't fool you." "Okay, Twain, are you going to show me your bedroom now?" After making love, Castor and Muriel made dinner together and had fun doing it. The Twain's kitchen was a pleasure to work in, spacious and modern and bright, full of interesting cooking utensils. A gorgonzola pasta with tenderloin medallions was produced, Greek salad with feta, a light but delicious meal. A portion was put aside for Paula to eat later. They drank aqua minerale on ice, since Castor drank no alcohol and Muriel felt no need for it herself. Then they saw a French DVD lying in bed together, Jean de Florette with Gerald Depardieu, which was so good that they didn't get around to making love again until it was over. They did that in the hot tub. Later that night, Castor was deeply asleep, but not Muriel; enjoying being there so much was keeping her awake. She lay in the dark beside Castor and listened to his breathing with vast wonder, even that aroused her. She pressed up against him suggestively, but he continued to sleep. Then she saw the bedroom door swing slowly open. A sliver of light revealed the contours of the naked woman who entered the dark room. Paula sat on the bed beside Muriel, looking down at her, not saying anything. Muriel half-pretended to be asleep, although their eyes met, waiting to see if Paula was going to touch her or not. Muriel had no idea what her reaction would or should be--nor Castor's, if he awakened to find his naked sister sitting with his naked girl friend. But Paula only smiled and then left the room again. Just before Muriel drifted off to sleep she realized that she had now been with both twins at the same time, so her clever shape-changer theory was officially defunct. Which was all right, she hadn’t really believed it anyway.

10 : Revelation

It was Saturday morning, so Muriel luxuriated by sleeping late with her lover in the big double bed with silk sheets. She opened her eyes upon Castor lying asleep beside her and cuddled up against him, ready to initiate some luxurious morning sex, but he still slept like a stone. That seemed odd: she’d never had a boyfriend who slept through sexual advances. But Castor often fell into incredibly deep sleep, Muriel had noticed it several times. So deep that it made her wonder if something was wrong—like narcolepsy? But he seemed so healthy otherwise, it was hard to imagine Castor having such an illness. She could hear someone puttering around out in the kitchen, certainly Paula. Then the kitchen became silent and Castor opened his eyes. "Hi Muriel, breakfast is ready for us." "Want a quickie first?" Muriel offered, having already gotten herself worked up to some morning fun. "Later, sure, but right now Paula's waiting for us and breakfast is hot..." "Hey, so am I." He couldn't resist, of course. They had a very nice quickie, short but energetic, culminating satisfactorily with simultaneous orgasms. Muriel was thrilled once again, sex with Castor was the best she'd ever had, he really knew what to do with a woman's body. She collapsed back, totally satisfied. But once the sex was taken care of Castor hopped abruptly out of the bed, as if he was much more excited about something else. "Come on,” he said, “there's something I've been wanting to let you know ever since we met, and now it’s time to show you.” He was already pulling on a thick white terrycloth bathrobe. “Oh, is this where you reveal your Big Secret at last?” Muriel asked, being cute, as if there weren’t some mysteries she had been wondering about. "Yep. Let's go," he insisted, handing her a similar robe, leading her by the hand. The kitchen table was set for three people. Scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, orange juice. Paula was already seated at the table when they arrived. But she seemed to be dozing off, not even looking at them as they entered. "Good morning, Paula," Muriel said and touched her shoulder. Paula was instantly awake, looked up at her and smiled. "Good morning indeed, and welcome to our family breakfast table. You too, brother dear." Then she closed her eyes and was asleep again immediately. "Now you're going to see why Paula and I don't usually socialize together," Castor said, holding a chair for Muriel, then sitting down himself, closing his eyes, and falling asleep. Muriel was astounded by their sleep-behavior, first Paula, then Castor. And now that Castor slept Paula spoke up again, "As you can see, Castor and I simply can't be awake at the same time, so we take turns." Muriel looked back and forth between them, like watching a game of ping-pong, Castor was now the one with open eyes and speaking to her. "As I told you last evening, Castor and Paula are one person in two different bodies," he said, closing his eyes, the twins then speaking in unison, "the one person is named Twain." "This is a joke, right?" Muriel asked, "A party number you two have rehearsed for...for some reason?" "No, honest and truly," Twain said, "this is how I live my lives. It's a secret, by the way, very few people know about me. But I thought I'd better tell you, since we are..." His eyes closed, Paula finished the sentence, "...lovers." Muriel turned her head and stared at her in disbelief. Paula went on, "I'm hoping that this doesn't scare you off." Muriel found this game amusing, so she played along with them for a while. "Uh...wait, so then which one is the real you, Castor or Paula?" "Neither, I'm Twain, and there's only one of me. Think of it like one person owning two cars, driving one, then the other." "And just how does that work: some kind of telepathy?" "Actually, I have no idea," Castor speaking, "we've been this way since birth. Maybe it's psychic, spiritual, magic, who knows? My own perception is that I am either Castor or Paula, while my one body is awake, the other sleeps. But it's only me who controls and remembers everything both of us do, so there's no confusion about who I really am. Distance make no difference, we've been on opposite sides of the world and still I can shift from body to body without interference." "So are you...is TWAIN male or female?" "Both, neither, does it matter?" "Well yeah, I'm female, remember? And I was supposed to be in love with this guy..." pointing at Castor. "Gender is only a part of love, and you are more than just a female: I love the way you act and are. Okay, I love the way you look too, beauty is as much an aphrodisiac to me as it is to you. When I'm Castor I think like a man, with a male brain and hormones." "And as Paula?" Muriel looked over at the sleeping woman. Who abruptly awakened to say, "While I'm running on female brain and hormones, I tend to like men a lot. I also like to go shopping and decorate the apartment with flowers, which never occurs to me as Castor. I just happened to be in this body when I met you, but it was essentially Twain who fell in love at first sight. As I told you." "So Paula, does that mean you want to have sex with me too?" Muriel asked Paula with a discomforted look on her brow. Paula smiled shyly, shrugged. "If you want, sure, but it's primarily as Castor. My male desire for you is much more urgent." Muriel found herself uncomfortably aware that these people were not kidding and did not want to play this game anymore. She looked back and forth at them, almost in panic. "So do you really expect me to believe this?" "It's the truth." "Oh, come on, what is this--a swindle number?" "Muriel," Castor argued, "the only swindle number is the show I put on for the rest of the world: that we are normal twins who seem to work together on a psychic level. You're getting the true story only because I want you in my life. Not telling you would be the real swindle." "I know it's a lot to swallow," Paula went on, "sorry about that. But there's nothing I can do about it, I am what I am." "Well, I'm sorry too," Muriel insisted, "because I don't believe you. Either one of you, all of you, whatever. I mean, how could I, where's the proof? All you're giving me is an act that could easily have been rehearsed. And what you're telling me is simply not possible." "Proof?" the both of them spoke simultaneously, sounding quite eerie. Their voices were perfectly synchronized, but now their faces seemed dreamy, as if each only half-awake. "Well, we could do psychic-stuff tricks, if you want. You whisper something to Paula, Castor repeats it, that sort of thing." Muriel felt a shiver down her spine, aware that they'd been doing that sort of thing all along. She reached for a logical explanation, "You mean like...pick a card, any card?" "Implying that any trick we do would only resemble a magician's illusion," they said, still in unison, "okay, so just what would you consider to be undeniable proof?" "Castor, I don't know why you're trying to fool me, but it won't work, okay? You say you love me, I have to wonder if you're fooling me about that too!" "No, Muriel, I..." he sagged, sighed, then said, "..okay Paula, let's give it up. She's too smart for us." "Of course she is," Paula responded, "she's an attorney, after all. So never mind, Muriel, we were just kidding, it's a funny little game we like to play on people, no harm intended." Muriel did not look up to monitor their sleep status. "Really? Why play that game?" "Because people get weird about how Castor and I always seem to know what the other knows. They accuse us of being mind-readers, so we give them this entertainingly fantastic story to digest. The last thing they want is the truth." "Which is what?" Muriel sent Paula a challenging look straight in the eyes. Paula gave her that look back without a smile, shook her head, said, "You've already heard it without recognizing it, so you're evidently not ready for it yet." Floating between frustration and fascination, Muriel considered her next move. Storm out of here, her intelligence insulted? But she really loved Castor. Play along, humor them? But she wanted Castor to be real. "All right, let's play the game. Give me proof, fool me, whatever. Show me what you've got." Paula said, "I really enjoyed our quickie this morning. You and me in there, me also out here, simultaneous orgasms all around. Sorry if Castor spoiled the magic of it for you by getting up too quickly." "Are you saying you were...spying on us?" "No," Castor was speaking, "I'm saying it was me you made love with, no matter which body I was using." "Well that's kinky," Muriel commented. "Listen Muriel, I need you to understand who I am--who Twain is-- because that's who loves you. Castor and Paula are only functioning bodies, not persons." "Like zombies?" "Well no, they're not dead, but they are empty vessels. The only individual spirit they have is mine." "So are you some kind of astral plane spirit that floats around between them?" Paula's voice: "I have no more idea of what my spirit is or does than you have of your own. I’m Paula when Castor sleeps and vice versa, that's all I know. I'm either here or there, no floating around that I'm aware of." Muriel took a folded newspaper from the window sill, opened it, and hiding it from Paula, showed an article to Castor. Across the table, Paula read it up word for word. Muriel tried several variations of that test, leading the twins farther and farther apart from each other, until Paula was shouting answers from the other end of the apartment, while Castor and Muriel ended up in his bedroom. They passed every test. It seemed to be true. Muriel closed the bedroom door, as if that would give her and Castor some privacy from Paula—although she was already convinced that there could be no such thing— then she collapsed on the bed, fatigued and confused from dealing with the impossible.

11 : Reaction

Castor sat down beside her, keeping a careful distance until she seemed comfortable with her new knowledge. “Are you okay with this?” he asked, a concerned wrinkle on his brow. “I don’t know yet,” she answered, as if slightly in shock, “it’s pretty weird stuff.” "Muriel, I don't want you to be afraid of me." "Oh Castor...Twain...whoever you are, I...well, I AM kind of spooked, sorry." "I'm the same man as before, you just didn't know then. I'm not more dangerous now." "I know...well, I think I know... Actually, I don't know shit." "Look Muriel, I love you, so I had to tell you. I've had relationships before, which always went bad because I didn't tell them. You can only live a lie so long. I couldn't let that happen with you, I want to keep you in my life." Muriel studied Castor’s--Twain’s--face, and was about to respond that she loved him too, no matter what, but what came out instead was a spontaneous challenge: "Why me? Why a woman at all, as Paula you could just as easily love a man, couldn't you?" "Easy? There's been nothing easy about love in my life, can't you appreciate that?" She looked up into his face, saw the very human emotions there, the worry in his eyes, and realized that he was more afraid than she was. "And now that I've finally found the one I want," he said, "I may have frightened her off simply by letting her know what I am." Muriel studied his handsome face and appreciated his problem. Her own problem, however, was that if she believed him/her/them/it, she also had to accept that The Twain was something supernatural. And yet he was her lover, her favorite lover ever. Her dæmon lover. Not sure what else to do, Muriel opened her robe, offering her body to him. "Make love with me, let's see how it goes." Physically, it went pretty well. Mentally, Muriel couldn't stop her mind from rolling through all the permutations of weirdness about whom she was screwing. Suddenly she stopped in the middle of it all, listening. Twain was surprised, but patient. "I thought I heard Paula," Muriel said, "moaning." "You might have, I don't know," he said. "Yes, you do. You know," she accused him, "she's getting off on our sex, isn't she?" "Well, actually it's me who's getting off..." "In her body? While you're here with me?" "I can't help it, we're connected..." Muriel sat up, the coitus definitely interruptus now. "So every time we do it...she rides along? Is that right?" "There is no SHE other than ME, you're only with me." "I'm with both of you, then. So I could just as well be having sex with Paula then?" "Muriel, I really like being a man with you. All the proper plumbing, you know? That's what I want." "But you wouldn't mind if I'd do other stuff with Paula too, would you? In fact, you're probably both hoping I'll go for something like that, aren't you?" "Well, since you asked, sure, but..." Muriel hopped all the way out of bed now, working herself up into a frenzy. "Sorry, but I'm feeling really uncomfortable about...this. It's all so creepy, so perverted, so...oh My God..." that which suddenly occurred to Muriel stopped her cold, "..incestuous." It was a beautiful and naked prosecuting attorney who slowly turned and faced Castor, "You two have sex together, don't you?" Castor obviously did not want to answer that one, and looked away. "So what do you need me for?" she demanded. Castor finally got riled up. "Oh right, you think Castor could be satisfied with Paula? Shall I have a conversation with myself? Shall I play a game of cards with myself?" "Shall you screw yourself?" she challenged. "You mean masturbate? Maybe, if I'm horny enough. Don't you?" "No!" Protesting too much, of course. "Never ever?" "Well, hardly ever." "Gotcha. But neither you nor I can really make love with ourselves, since there's nobody else to respond to." "Well, there's nobody here either," Muriel shouted, threw on her clothes, and headed for the door. The wonderful lover's weekend had fallen apart, and she suddenly remembered just how much work probably waited for her back at the office. Castor made no attempt to stop her, although at the door he was clearly upset that she was leaving, saying, "Do we really have to go through this, Muriel?" She turned on him, speaking vehemently, "I do. Thinking about all of this, I've decided that I don't believe a word of it! I think you were both out to fool me and I almost fell for it!" "I only told you my secret because I want to keep you in my life, why would I want to fool you?" "To trick me into some perverted game with your sister, group incest, I don't know. Maybe later you bring out the drugs, cameras..." "Oh crap, Muriel, that's YOUR perverted fantasy, not mine." "Well, as Paula mentioned, I'm an attorney. That makes me professionally suspicious, and I have to wonder what your motives are for trying to make a fool of me. Maybe it's really only the same old standard stuff: sex, power and money; I don't know. Anything's possible--except your story!" "I wasn't lying, ever..." "You WERE, Castor..." Finally he got angry, "Listen, Muriel, the name is Twain, and what I was telling you is true! Maybe you'll leave and never come back, that's up to you, but I won't be crawling and apologizing for what I did NOT do! Nor for what I am, since there's nothing I can do about it. So you go think about it all, decide something one way or the other, then let me know." "Uh... well, I will. Goodbye." "Oh, and please don't tell anyone my secret," he said without shouting, "even if you don't believe it yourself." He shut the door.

12 : Origin

Muriel didn't go to the office at all, but wandered around town heartbroken. She'd found her dream guy and now it was a nightmare because he--and his twin sister--was/were crazy. She finally went home and tried to get her mind off the Twains. Or The Twain. But could not. At midnight she called his/her/their number. "Twain," the telephone responded, male voice, still very sexy. "All right, Twain, tell me your story, I'll listen." "Muriel..." "Come on, just feed me that entertaining fantasy, and let me decide what to do about it." “I’ll have to swear you to secrecy first.” “Lips still sealed, you have my word.” "Very well then, I'm going to tell you things I've never told anyone," Twain said, "so that's there's no ugly secrets to show up later and ruin everything. This might be make it or break it for you and me: if you can live with it, you can live with me. If not, we may as well get it over with." "Agreed." I was born this way, as one person in twin bodies, 33 years ago, ostensibly a normal set of twins, brother and sister. Our parents were stoned hippies living in an isolated commune of drug worshippers, who generally avoided contact with legal authorities or hospitals, so there was never any medical investigation as to just exactly what kind of twins we were. Personally, I like to believe that I/we were conceived while our parents were tripping on a cocktail of experimental chemical hallucinogens and that the zygote which would become "us" was along for the ride, its consciousness expanded to the max, DNA chemically saturated with LSD + whatever at the moment of fusion and we became this one consciousness with two bodies. Well, it's a theory. Actually, my parents and their commune assumed that we'd been damaged by exposure to their drugs. With good reason: as children, we did seem to be mentally handicapped. And we were, in fact, like two sleepwalkers running on half a brain each, over-stimulated and confused, with very little control of our movements or speech. Nor was I even aware that we were one person in two bodies, it was far too confusing. Until, at the age of four, I finally learned how to specify which body I was using, one at a time, and suddenly everything came into focus. After that, everybody suddenly thought we were geniuses, although with some sort of periodical narcolepsy, since we'd seem to fall asleep at odd times. When we started going to school we learned everything doubly fast because although the Castor and Paula bodies had to sleep alternately, my Twain self was almost always awake. I could therefore read twice as many books a day as one person and everything the one of me learned or experienced, the other also shared. But there was more to my intellectual advantage than that: I also had two physical brains, linked by whatever magic it is that binds them. I simply have more brain cells and therefore more neural processing power than any individual person can have at their disposal. Paula's brain is more right- oriented: creative, spatial recognitions. Castor is the left-brained: practical, mathematical. And Twain ends up being the collective genius. I realized early on that I was a freak entity whose true nature had to be kept secret. We twins were considered the common children of a drug- worshipping community of 20-30 hippy parents, so I was confused as to which woman was my/our genetic mother and never did learn who our actual father was, what with all the free love going on. But that happy stoned-out drug- worshipping hippie commune became less loving, more religious, eventually converting into a dangerously fanatic fundamentalist born-again Christian cult who eventually considered their twin darlings to be accursed by the devil. Sometimes I almost believed that as well, not understanding how else we could be what we were. My/our early teen years were rough: I thought I must be insane, and was tormented by shame. My two healthy young bodies had powerful sexual urges, but I was unable to decide which gender to desire. I didn't want to go crazy, but I was so isolated that there were times I thought madness might be the only way out. Or even half a suicide, so that I could live a normal life as either Castor or Paula, one or the other. But I could never do it; I loved being both of them. Nor could I ever be sure how just our connection works-- maybe if one body dies, so do I, who knows? At least no one ever really figured out exactly what we were: I'd learned to keep it secret from everyone just in time. Fortunately, because that fanatic commune we lived in would have sacrificed us on some altar as abomination if they'd known what I really was. Which they did anyway, later on. I secretly named myself "Twain", to distinguish my true self from my two physical identities. I think what did keep me sane was having a name of my own, even though no one else in the world knew it. My secret identity. When I eventually escaped that commune I rejected all the names they'd identified me by, so that "we" became "Castor and Paula Twain". Of course, my life WAS crazy. For one thing, there was no routine, I couldn't just be Castor for 12 hours and have Paula take over the night shift. I'd tried that, it just never worked out— it was impossible for either of them to sleep 12 hours every day. So I took naps, hopping back and forth between my bodies as needed. Nowadays it works great when I'm deep into a job, allowing me to be in two places more or less simultaneously. I can get computer updates while I'm rummaging files in a factory, eyes in the back of my head. How does he do it? they ask. I'd used computers since we were kids, but first learned my real hacking skills when we were about fifteen. I knew a kid named Herbert at school, who was an absolute computer nerd. Herbert was a classic dork, socially unfit and alienated from everyone, but an inspired hacker, a genius. As Castor I asked him to show me how he did it, but Herbert didn't waste time on people, just computers. However, like all geeks, he was hopelessly horny and far too nerdy to ever get a girl friend. So as Paula I offered to trade sex lessons for hacking lessons and he simply couldn't resist. Worked out pretty well: he finally learned how to interact with a woman—he's even married now--and I learned how to make a computer sing. Before you get moralistic about me selling Paula's body for favors, I should mention that I'd wanted to try sex with some boy, but hadn't found any guy I really desired that way, so I justified it with the practical reason of learning Herbert's cyber-secrets. And it wasn't bad, I liked it, Herbert and Paula even ended up having some fun together. But Herbert would certainly have been "grossed out" if he'd known he was effectively doing it with Castor too. Suspecting nothing, he wanted to be friends with Paula's brother, so you can guess at the complications involved. You've seen that I can be half-awake in both bodies at once, but it's very confusing to do. Even after all these years it's difficult to coordinate two separate bodies at the same time, so we stumble, act trancelike, suffer confused vision and hearing, and are quite inept at complex maneuvers. Although we are very good at synchronized moves such as dancing, combat training, and as you've guessed, sex. Yes, I admit it, Paula and Castor used each other for sex. I want to explain that, because you've been thinking: o no, brother and sister, twins, incest, sin, disgusting, yuk! Well, I went through all that when younger. I've always had a strong sexual urge--both of me, in both bodies. The male urge feels different than the female version, but they're each just as powerful. Like everyone else, I've always wanted to love someone-- but could never decide if it was male or female love I wanted. So it was hard to ever have a normal honest and loving relationship with anyone. In fact, I never have. But of course, I did have two bodies, male and female, both beautiful, erotic, tempting, and totally available. As I’ve told you, it was simply masturbation. Oh, I resisted the temptation for years, it seemed sinful even to me. But finally 14-year-old Paula looked down upon my own sleeping Castor body and touched him- and could feel him/myself being touched in his/my sleep. I was aroused as both of us and we screwed in a mutual trance of raw male/ femaleness. It was extremely erotic, and yet...lonely, just me there. No one to talk with, or to love, no emotional satisfaction. But still, intense physical satisfaction was quite a bit better than endless abstinence, and impossible to resist when I/we were horny, which we often were. Oh, I've also had normal sex with others, there have been some few relationships, both male and female. But the questions always came up: "why do you sleep so much? why are you still living with your sister/brother? why are you so weird sometimes?" To have a real relationship I'd eventually have to tell my lover what I was, but was never willing to do that. Twain does not officially exist, you know, just Castor and Paula, who live weird lives. Our lives got especially weird when, at age 18, our parental commune caught Castor sleeping with Paula and they took us to the local police and had me/him charged with incest, decided to call it rape as well. As Paula I denied that it was rape, of course, but nobody was listening to me/her, accusing her of being mentally handicapped, narcoleptic, unstable. This was in a redneck state, so Castor was sentenced to four years in prison and Paula was committed to a mental institution. Our born-again parents had served the Will of God and punished the sinners, hallelujah! Prison was not a good place for such a pretty boy as me. I was considered worth owning by the gangs that ran the sex industry inside the walls. I tried to make friends, everybody needs friends inside, but nobody dared to take on the cons who wanted me, so I was on my own. Except for also being Paula, as her I could escape prison for a while every day. But my Castor body was trapped, and every time I left my cell there was some con getting close to me. I tried to stay in my cell a lot, but had to go to the inmate's kitchen to eat, and even in a moving crowd there were cons hitting on me, telling me to meet them outside in the big yard if I knew what was good for me. I didn't ever dare go to the shower room. Once I was caught on the way back from eating and shoved into a stairwell by a group of blacks. I only got away because a couple of guards just happened to pass that way at that time. Convicts work out, they're strong, and some of them are quite violent. I didn't have a chance against any one of them, much less a group. I needed to learn how to defend myself, and fast. I started doing push-ups and sit-ups in my cell, since I didn't dare go to the weight room with all the other muscle guys. Meanwhile, as Paula I was also locked up, although not as securely. It was more like a school than a prison, so I had access to computers and the Internet. I searched through martial arts schools, and found so many in Los Angeles that I decided that was where to go. It was easy for Paula to escape, but once outside, I had no money, no place to stay. I hitchhiked to LA in 3 days, people were kind to me, gave me food. Paula's beautiful, so many of the men I met were inviting me to stay with them, but I had no time for that. Although I did shamelessly flirt to get pocket money along the way, I wouldn't sell my body. Most guys were all right, although two men did scare me, but I bluffed my way out of getting raped both times. I was even lucky enough to arrive at LA with a family who let me stay with them a few days. I went around to the martial-arts dojos I'd listed, but soon saw that most of them weren't right for me. In one of them the instructor was a big beefy man very much into macho power. He was interested in me, said he could give me special lessons for a special price if I'd fuck him. I finally found a Chinese Shaolin school where the sifu was a little 65 year-old Chinaman about my size. Master Chun. I saw how he taught his students, felt right about it. I approached him, but he was aloof at first, said he ‘never teach girl’ and sent me away. After that it was like the Karate Kid movie, or that old Kung-Fu TV series, I kept coming back, day after day. Master Chun got irritated, then angry, insisting that he "don' teach girls, special' not ‘Melican girls, they have no discipline!" Meanwhile, back in prison, I/Castor was quite desperate by now, so I/Paula asked around and found that old man Chun's wife had died a few years before and that he went to a whorehouse once in a while. So I went to him again, told him that I had no money, was at his mercy, and basically offered to be his concubine if he would teach me to fight. He acted offended, but I knew I had him. There were some negotiations: "Melican girls no good, not submissive like Chinese." "Submission is a form of discipline," I said, "I will submit like a good Chinese woman, if you will teach me to fight like a Shaolin man." He liked that, and eventually we really got into both disciplines. For three years I/Paula was old man Chun's favorite student and learned to fight in both bodies. As Castor, I would go through the same motions in my cell, sometimes training both bodies simultaneously. I'd be assaulted in the prison and defend myself with what Master Chun taught us. I wasn't good all at once, lost some battles, but even losing is a learning process. Paula would then ask Master Chun what to do if an assailant did this and that, and I'd learn the defenses. Then I'd go back out into the prison population and use them. Winning battles was good, not being afraid was better, I even started having fun, began sparring with cons in the weight room. Eventually I could defend myself against almost any man there in a one-on-one fair fight. But prison politics aren't about fair fights, gangs rule. No matter how good I got at martial arts, I couldn't take on a gang. Brunswick, the strong man in the prison at that time wanted me, said I had to be his ho' (prison slang for hole, or sex slave). Once his, I would be protected from everyone else. It was the only way I was going to survive, he informed me. I didn't like it, I'm not gay, but then again, what am I? As you know, I can get pretty horny, but prefer the proper plumbing for whichever body I'm using. What I really resented was being subjugated to a bad man's lust. Granted, as Paula I had learned submission as a form of discipline, accepting being dominated by the older Master Chun. But I didn't mind that, that was the deal and a fair exchange. Besides, I/Paula liked him. Old men and very young women are a cliché in China anyway. But I didn't like Brunswick, and no fair deal was being offered. I almost allowed myself to go along with Brunswick's game of domination, just to survive. But when Brunswick was about to cornhole me I suddenly had a moral revelation: that some things really are unacceptable. I beat Brunswick up, went to the hold for it, and assumed I was a doomed man when I came back into the prison population again. What happened instead was that I'd earned so much respect with that encounter that I had friends to back me up, so that I was no longer on my own. I survived, my asshole intact. Those friends taught me many things in prison, such as how criminals think, of scams and rackets that paid big money, and I learned how those guys all got caught simply because they just wouldn't stay legal. My friend Barry in the library had been in a big international business corporation and taught me about the espionage that went on at the upper ends of legality. That was when I came into contact with certain people in and out of prison who dealt with corporate competitive intelligence. It was a world of its own, all about information being obtained and delivered. And I was the only guy inside those prison walls who, as Paula, could access the Internet and other data banks for critical information updates. I did favors, made more contacts, made money. Finally I/Castor was released from Prison, a year early for good behavior, took the money I'd saved over 3 years, and went to New York. Meanwhile in LA, I/Paula did the same thing, saying goodbye to Master Chun. Being the enlightened old guru he was, he had pretty much figured out what I was, and blessed me on the path I had to take. We're still in touch, by the way. I gathered Castor and Paula here to New York so that we could go into business as THE TWAIN. I was lucky with some big corporate exchanges and mergers at first, the details of which I won't go into right now. Except to say that there are advantages to being two people, it's certainly made me rich. You know that I do corporate espionage, and in a business where rapid secure communication is what it's all about, I have the advantage over everyone. One of me can be infiltrating the field while the other does running research and online backup, alternating POVs, strategic positions, and all the while The Mysterious Twain is controlling all the information. I cash in that information to whichever company has hired me to for the job and the money is good. "The Twain" have a reputation for being an effective team, but no one dreams how effective we really are. The CIA has approached us, but I won't be a spy for them. Nor do I want them to find out what I am, since I don't trust them. I've been content with the money I/we make: we can afford to live comfortably together in our nice apartment on Central Park, travel as much as I want, do what I want. Actually, I’m quite rich. The Twain have been very successful, but I haven't found very much of their work personally satisfying. I felt it was time for a change in my lives, a moral restructuring. And then I met you and fell in love... Twain fell silent, the story told. There was also a long silence from Muriel's side of the telephone line. Finally she said: "I don't know which would be worse, for all this to be a lie, or all true. I think I'll just have to settle for wondering instead of knowing. Goodbye." And she hung up.

13 : Offering

Next day she was early at the office, trying to lose herself in her work. Which was easy enough to do, all five associates were gathered for a meeting. Walter was recapitulating: "We've got the three guilty Housing Commissioners identified, but no hard evidence against them. We've got eye- witnesses against nameless thugs who terrorize people into moving, but...no names. Against Sharko Con itself we've got zilch." Georgia reminded them that: "This is taking far too long! While we're looking for proof enough to get an injunction against Sharko Con, apartments are being closed one after another, tenants evicted every day, and block after block of the Lower East Side are being ripped down." Pete agreed, "Yeah, pretty soon it's gonna be too late to rescue any of it. It'll already be gone." The hallway door opened, someone walked into the forward office area, called, "Hello?" Muriel recognized that sexy male voice, sitting up in surprise. "In here," she called. Castor Twain stepped into the meeting room. "Oh hi. Didn't mean to disturb...but then again, it's good you're all here. I've got something you need." He hefted a briefcase. "And you are...?" Walter asked. Muriel stood up to make introductions. "This is...Mr Twain. He's the one who gave me the list of names from the Housing Commission." "You mean...THE TWAIN?" Pete sounded astounded. "Well, one of them anyway," Castor said, "THE TWAIN is actually a team." "Man, I wasn't sure you were even real..." Pete was quite excited, "...er, excuse me, but while I was at SantoCorp you were considered pretty much THE phantom spook. You know, 'the Mysterious Twain' who could get in and out of any security system. The stuff of legends." Jeff had to make a remark, "Pete's obviously a rilly big fan of yours, Mr Twain," which he said in a way that hinted at Pete's foolishness. "Well then I guess this won't hurt my reputation any," Castor said, opening his briefcase and spreading materials out on the table, "These are tapes and documents from several of the highest executive offices in Sharko Con, confirming orders that were given to deliberately sabotage buildings so that they could be condemned. Telephone recordings of conversations with Vladimir Sobonovitch, the leader of a band of criminal Serbian ex-militia here in town, arranging terrorist activities. Pretty much all the proof you need to go to court against Sharko Conglomerates." Everyone looked at the papers and tapes on the table with stunned astonishment, then up at Castor, who was really only looking at Muriel for approval. Muriel broke the silence, but trying to be cool, "Well, it looks like The Mysterious Twain has done it again." "Good grief, I'll say!" Walter added, "How did you ever GET this stuff?" "Infiltrated, picked it up, it's what I do." "But what if they'd caught you?" Georgia asked, "It must have been dangerous." "They never saw me. But I'm sure Sharko's organization is a hornet's nest right now, they've lost a lot of compromising materials. In fact, now that you have it, you're probably in more danger than I ever was. So watch it." Pete was sorting through the data before him. "Holy shit, it's all here! But how could they be so STUPID as to keep this stuff lying around?" "Everybody's been protecting their own asses," Walter reasoned, sifting through the papers, "generating proof that they weren't personally responsible. Same old same old." "Okay, if you really DID obtain all this from the Sharko Building," Jeff was obviously jealous of what he saw going on between Castor and Muriel, "that HAD to be pretty risky. So WHY did you do it, anyway?" "Personal reasons," Castor answered, looking directly at Muriel. "Whatever your reasons," Muriel said as formally as she could, "we are all very grateful for this, Mr Twain, thank you." Being cool was doing no good, everyone was picking up on what was happening. Embarrassed silence. "Yes, thank you indeed," Georgia said with much more enthusiasm, giving Muriel a disapproving look, "this will at least stop Sharko from tearing the Lower East Side to the ground. We can petition for a court order of cessation today." "Yes, and probably win a good deal of money for damages for all the evicted families," Walter enthused. "Yeah, and our cut too!" Jeff added. "You're all welcome," Castor answered emotionlessly, then nodded to everyone in the room, gave Muriel one long last hopeful look, then left the offices of Cleavis & Jackson Law Agency without looking back. If everyone knew what was going on, Georgia was the only one to comment: "Honey, that boy is sweet on you. Are you really going to just let him go like that?" "It's for the best," Muriel said, but not sounding convinced. A heartbeat later she said, "No, not like this," and went out the door after him.

14 : Snatched

Out in the hallway, Castor was waiting for the elevator to arrive. "I'll see you out," Muriel said. "You don't have to." Now he was being cool. "You didn't have to bring us everything we needed on a silver platter either. Pretty impressive." "As I told them, it's what I do." The elevator finally arrived and he went in, Muriel followed him and they were on their way down nine floors. "No it's not," she insisted, "what you do is steal industrial secrets for money. This was a volunteer action that will help a lot of people to keep their homes. A moral act." "I'm not that altruistic. I did it to get you back." Muriel knew that, but said nothing. Several floors passed by in awkward elevator-silence. "That material wasn't just lying around, how could you even know where to look?" He shrugged, "Not so hard, I went in earlier as Paula and flirted a little." "Does that mean you...I mean Paula...used sex to get results?" "Please, I'm not that kind of girl." "According to your very own story, she is: seducing men she doesn't love for favors, including her brother. Not to mention flirting with me..." "Boy, you're really moralistic about this. I'm the one in love with you, as Castor it's okay, but as Paula it's not? Besides, I never said I didn't feel any affection for the men I knew as Paula, I wasn't being a whore for money. I did love old Chun, still do. Okay, maybe I was ambivalent about how much real desire I had for them, being more erotically oriented towards women. You, for example." It was Muriel’s turn: "All right, that you once had sex with Paula when you were young and horny and stupid I could have understood and forgiven," Muriel condescended, "she's incredibly beautiful, I suppose any male could be tempted, even her twin brother. But I think you’re STILL screwing her... And that you'd like me to join you in a...a brother-sister sandwich, which is way too much incest for me." "It's not incest," he insisted, "and I don't require anyone's forgiveness. You think of Castor and Paula as normal brother and sister, but we're not..." "But they-- I mean you-- ARE brother and sister! Physically, legally, morally..." "No, morally not: the one cannot seduce or exploit the other, since they're both just ME! I can’t misuse and abuse either of them without hurting myself. Those two bodies are like my right and left hands. I can't help that arousing him arouses her, even when they're separated by half the planet. We don’t even have to touch each other to have sex, it’s redundant. The only way I could avoid mutual participation would be by permanent celibacy. Sorry Muriel, but I really DO have to live by a different set of rules than everyone else." "Yes, well, only if what you're saying is TRUE." Castor gave her an exasperated look. "Just a minute: so are you morally offended with me because I'm lying, or because I'm telling the truth? Choose one, please, not both." "Haven't decided yet," she said with a silly little pout. Out on the street, they faced each other as if perhaps for the last time. "So is this goodbye, or what?" he asked. "I...I don't know. I'm sort of beginning to believe your story, and that's scary." He nodded crisply, shrugged, "Well, you let me know, okay?" and turned to go. She stopped him with her hand to kiss him on the cheek. "Okay, I will. And thanks again for Sharko Con." "Sure. You be careful now." They were still staring one another in the eyes, both unable to turn and walk away, when the black van screeched to a halt beside them and three men rushed out at them, pistols in hand. That’s right, here come our old comrades Vojislav and Draja, Serbian gangsters. You just knew they had to show up again, didn’t you? There’s also another Serb called Slobo along for the hit, and a fourth man driving, name not important, he’s just an extra. Draja and Slobo grabbed Muriel, quickly and aggressively, while Vojislav pointed his pistol directly into Castor's face, motioning him to keep back. "Get in the car, lady," Vojislav commanded, "or I shoot your boy friend." Muriel was shoved in through the open side door, sprawling onto the floor of the van. Vojislav said to Castor, "You tell those lawyers we got the girl, make deal later." He backed away toward the van, still keeping Castor at bay with his pistol. Castor called to him with unruffled calm, "Actually, she's the wrong person to take, I'm the one who ripped off Sharko Con's offices. So you fellows should really be taking me instead of her." "Huh? But we're just supposed to get her." The other two Serbs started to discuss in Serbo-Croatian, until Vojislav shouted at them that they could sort things out later, and pistol-waved Castor into the van as well. Inside the van, there was a bench along one side for the three men to sit on, placing them at the advantage over their prisoners lying on the floor. Castor was beside Muriel, who was shouting, "You can't get away with this...!" Vojislav shouted at her ferociously, "Shut up, lady!" followed by a quick hard slap on her face. "You know," Castor mentioned in an easy matter-of-fact voice, "you're probably going to regret that later on." Vojislav pulled his fist back to give Castor one in the face as well, but was too far away to do so and keep his balance. He was about to move closer, then hesitated. This blonde man reminded him of the blonde woman who had surprised him by being a karate expert. No use giving anyone a chance to make any fancy moves. Vojislav was too good a soldier to risk the mission for a cheap shot at the enemy before the situation was in control. He maintained discipline, even his own, and refrained from making a stupid move. Soon both prisoners had their hands tied behind their backs with steel wire, and the Serbs relaxed the tense grips they'd had on their pistols. Muriel asked Castor, "Why did you let them take you? You could have gone for help." "I’d rather go with you," he said, then in Chinese, "Paula lai lak." (Paula's already on her way.) "Tui ma?" Muriel asking if that was so. "No talking!" Vojislav shouted, giving Muriel a lazy kick in the ribs. Castor looked at the man but said nothing this time. Already lying down, he stretched out in a relaxed position. He sent Muriel a little smile, a wink, and fell asleep.

15 : Strategies

Five miles away on the other side of town, on the 27th floor penthouse, lying in Paula's bed, Twain opened her eyes and sat up. She was calm, methodical, activated a cell phone and spoke into it: "Hola Carlos, parece que el problema anticipado han llegado. Eres listo?” (Hi Carlos, looks like the anticipated problem has arrived. You ready?) “Claro que sí, vamanos,” Carlos responded and hung up. End of conversation, which on that phone was always Twain business. Carlos was one of the backup agents The Twain used regularly in their work, and he had been briefed on the eventuality of trouble with the Sharko case, Serbian Mafia, and understood that Paula needed a car and armed driver right away. Carlos had been on standby and was now already on his way. Twain slipped into a bathrobe on her way into the closet, where a secret trapdoor led to another apartment below the penthouse, and she went down the ladder. The downstairs apartment was officially the domicile of a journalist who traveled extensively, but was actually Twain's secret operational base. It was strictly utilitarian: computers, communications equipment, tools, weapons, special wardrobe. Twain activated a hand-free telephone while she was dressing in leather pants and jacket, combat boots, strapping weapons and tools to her body, mace, high-tech equipment, gaffer tape... The phone rang twice, then was answered: "Cleavis & Jackson, Attorneys at Law..." Twain recognized Pete's voice. This telephone was equipped with a vocal octave-shifter, so that Paula's voice could sound like Castor's at the push of a button. "Hey Pete, this is Twain." "Oh yeah, hi again...already," Pete couldn't hear any vocal difference from the man he had spoken with in the office a quarter hour earlier. "Listen carefully, we've got a serious problem: Muriel's been kidnapped by the Serbian Mafia. Wait! I've got a good solid trace on her, but I'll need you people to be ready to contact the police when I find out where she ends up..." The Serb’s van moved through the streets of town for about fifteen minutes, during which time Castor remained unconscious. Muriel couldn't see where they were going, so she studied his face instead, wondering just how much of Twain's story was true after all. Under the present circumstances, it might be good if it was all absolutely true. That would mean that Paula was going into action even now, coming to rescue them. The three Serbians noticed Castor sleeping and discussed it, laughing that anyone could fall asleep under these conditions. One of them nudged Castor with his foot, getting no response. Then they stopped laughing, wondering if he was perhaps dead or dying, which could only cause trouble for themselves. Vojislav shoved Castor's body more rigorously and shouted at him, "Hey stupid, wake up!" "Not...now..." Castor muttered dreamily, struggling to remain asleep. Muriel was suddenly concerned that Twain was indeed Paula at this moment, and that she might have to pass out if Castor was unwillingly awakened. What if, for example, she was even now driving a car to their rescue, would she become unconscious and crash? "He's all right," she called to the Serbians, "he does this all the time." "What wrong with him?" Vojislav asked. "He...uh...faints, when he's afraid," she said. A soldier's sneer curled Vojislav's lip, "Not a brave boy friend you have. What you call--sissy?" Muriel nodded, agreeing to anything. "Yes, I guess he does act like a girl sometimes." Castor was allowed to go on sleeping until they arrived. The side door slid open and Muriel was told to get out. Castor was shoved hard, shouted at, and finally slapped several times. "Don't do that!" Muriel called, "give him a minute or...or he'll have a heart attack!" Vojislav gave her a screw-you look, saying, "Who cares? He get up NOW or..." Just then Twain sat abruptly up, eyes wide open. "Okay, I'm awake, let's go." The gangsters jumped back slightly, surprised by the suddenness of Castor's recovery from a catatonic state. Then they hauled him out of the van and onto his feet. Twain looked around curiously, establishing where he was. They were entering an apparently abandoned hotel building in the Lower East Side, certainly one of Sharko Con's recent acquisitions. "Hey, isn't this the sleazy old Dunbar Hotel? Always wanted to stay there..." "Shut up, just go in." Inside, the building was hardly as abandoned as it looked. Two armed men were on guard in the lobby, voices of others could be heard. Twain’s eyes rapidly scanned the architecture, memorizing details: wide hallways, doors left open; dark corners where one could hide; counting every man he saw. They were taken up to the fourth floor in the elevator. There were five more gangsters there, all men, and evidently awaiting instructions. They were otherwise occupied in eating pizzas, watching television, cleaning weapons, doing whatever gangsters do. They all spoke Serbo-Croatian, so neither Muriel nor Twain could understand any of the conversations. Cell phones were ringing, men were coming and going, the windows were blacked out, it seemed to be a central post in a war zone. Twain counted twelve men in all. The prisoners were taken further on down the hallway to a bare room with only one chair, where they were told to sit on the floor again, hands still tied. Draja sat in the chair over from them, pistol still in hand. "You wait here," Vojislav said to them, "and if you try anything, Draja shoot you, okay?" Vojislav left the room and there were just the three of them. "Okay, Draja," Twain spoke casually, testing the name, "we don't want to get shot, so we'll be nice if you will." Draja said nothing, nor did he correct the pronunciation of his name. Twain went on with the small talk, to ascertain how much English their guard could speak, "Nice place you got here, Draja, I guess this old hotel makes a pretty good gangster hangout, huh?" Draja just shook his head and grunted, either not comprehending the language, or simply not interested in conversation. As if somewhat rebuffed and scorned, Castor shrugged and turned to Muriel, speaking just as casually, although now in Chinese, “Paula has already located this hotel, contacted help, and is coming in now, armed and ready.” Muriel responded also in Chinese, “Then I guess I’d better hope that your impossible story is true.” Draja turned his head towards them, frowning, apparently suspicious of their unintelligible conversation, which he’d been trying to overhear. Castor managed a last Chinese sentence: "So are you going to be my girl friend again if I rescue you?" --and a goofy smile. Before Muriel could answer Draja called out, "Hey, no more talking in that language, whatever it is!" Seems his English was pretty good after all. "Hey, just chatting, Draja," Castor wheedled, "after all, what else can I do?" Draja sneered a nasty smile. "You could faint again, sissy-boy!" "All right," Castor said, sneering back, "I will," and he slumped to the floor, out cold. Draja stared at Castor asleep, then at Muriel, almost with sympathy. "You know, your boy-friend is pretty weird." She had to nod and say, “Yeah, I think so too. But he’s all I’ve got right now.” Paula Twain looked up the address of the Dunbar Hotel in one of the old telephone books she had in the library, and was ready to go down to the street to meet Carlos at the appointed time. Twain rarely ever drove a car her/himself, partly for the very reason Muriel was worried about, but mostly to have the freedom to shift bodies rapidly. Carlos' hotrodded Chevy Astro pulled up just as she arrived. "Hey Mamacita, what kinda mierda we headin' into?" Carlos always talked like some street gang Puerto Ricano, but was in reality a well educated and experienced field agent from his CID days as military undercover in Columbia. She explained the situation: Castor and Muriel kidnapped by Serbian Mafia, etc. "So it's just us going in after them? I could call some of the other guys, bring some guns..." "No," she insisted, "the last thing we want is a shoot-out. I don't want anyone killed, neither us nor the bad guys. I go in alone, rescue the hostages, and we let the police take it from there." "What if the cops get there first," Carlos asked, "guns blazing?" "The lawyers are supposed to arrange a raid in an hour. I plan to be in and out by then-- and if not out, I hope to hide us somewhere in the building so that the police can move in without us getting shot. Now you drive, I've got to tune out." Paula went to sleep immediately. Carlos was accustomed to the Twain twin's sleeping routine, and was well aware that they had some kind of psychic connection for passing information between themselves when they slept. But the mechanics of the process remained their secret, he did not know that both Twains were the same one person. He drove toward the ex-Dunbar Hotel, Paula asleep beside him. Castor Twain awoke to take a look around, saying nothing. Neither Muriel nor Draja seemed to notice. He measured the room with his eyes: how many steps across the floor from the door to where he and Muriel sat, where the door was placed in relationship to Draja's position on his chair, that sort of thing. Then he saw that Muriel was aware that he was awake, but also not saying anything. Good girl, he thought. He looked over at Draja and saw that the Serb was slightly bored, maybe feeling lazy, but not especially drowsy, still alert. His pistol was held loosely in his hand, a big heavy Colt .45 which he lovingly caressed with his thumb. Big hard-hitting bullets, take note. Then Twain laid back and slept again... ...waking again as Paula, in time to see that they were almost at the old Dunbar Hotel. Carlos was good at ignoring traffic laws and had made good time. They drove past the old building, seeing no guards, the place looked abandoned. Carlos turned a corner and stopped the van just out of sight from the building. Twain punched Carlos’ number on her cell phone. His phone rang, right beside her, and he answered it, saying, "Testicles, one two three." They were now online and nodded to each other. Carlos laid his phone on the dashboard, Twain put hers in her pocket with the line left open, so that they could hear each other. She got out of the car, walked back to the old hotel, fluffed her hair, unzipped her leather jacket to reveal a thin t-shirt with no bra, all to make herself look more alluring than dangerous.

16 : Infiltrating

At the entrance of the ex-hotel lobby, the glass doors were locked, so she knocked loudly on them, not letting up until a guard finally came out of the darkness to confront her. The man was probably Serbian, but spoke English with a Brooklyn accent. "Hey, lady, we're closed, you can't come in here." "But my boyfriend's in there, I need to talk to him. His name is Draja." He looked confused, "How come you know Draja's here?" "He told me so." Now the guard looked vexed, rolled his eyes, "Goddammit, he's not supposed to be bringing his private business here. Anyway, Draja's busy right now, in fact, we're all busy. So you can't come in here, go away." "Oh, come on man, it's really important," Twain did her best cute blonde routine, nodding at the walkie-talkie clipped onto the guard's belt, "can't you at least tell him Paula's here?" She was smiling, coming closer to the man, making sure that the guard had to notice her nipples almost poking through her t-shirt. Men usually wanted a closer look, allowing her to approach very close to them. "No, lady, I can't do that..." this guy was playing by the book, but it was already too late, Twain was close enough in to take him out with a fast kick to the solar plexus and he went down silently. She took his pistol and was in. Twain knew the route by which Vojislav had taken Muriel and himself up to the room where they were being held, so she avoided the elevator, taking the wide stairs, deftly bypassing the cluster of gangsters on the fourth floor. Twain met one of them on the stairway and had to knock the man out and gaffa-tape him, but otherwise made it to the hallway unseen. Occasionally she would allow herself to trance out slightly, allowing her to sense where Castor was. Finally she was on the fourth floor and the right hallway and could sense that the third door down was where Castor and Muriel were. She had the guard’s pistol with silencer in her hand for the moment, which she had no intention of using, nor of allowing anyone else to use against her later, so she hid it in a flower pot in the hallway. Taking a pistol into an encounter usually ended up with someone getting shot, which Twain was not willing to do, even though her opponents might. So with no pistol to compromise her, she faced the door, ready for action. Inside the room Castor Twain opened his eyes for a final check on Draja: the young Serbian was slouched back in his chair, looking down at the floor, maybe getting lost in his own thoughts, one hand brushing his hair back, the pistol hand dangling, the weight of the Colt gently swinging like a pendulum. The door was to his left, in that position Draja could swing his pistol up and shoot towards the door in one easy reflex motion before Paula could ever reach him. Not good. Castor began to make sudden choking sounds, as if strangling in his sleep. Louder and more desperate. Then writhing against his bonds and kicking with his feet, as if in a panic. Muriel cried out, "Castor, what's wrong?" Draja sat up, wondering if he had to deal with an emergency. "Do something!" Muriel commanded the Serb, "He's choking to death!" Draja wasn't sure he should do anything, but leaned forward in his chair, pistol pointed at the writhing man, waiting to see how serious it was. Castor kept choking. Muriel was shouting, "Call for help, at least!" When Draja was convinced that the problem wouldn't go away, he got up and went to the door to call for back-up before getting close to either of the prisoners, keeping his pistol pointed at Castor. Draja was a good soldier, knew what he was doing. But as the door opened, so did Paula's eyes. She was still standing out there, ready for Draja, and attacked. She grabbed him by his shirt collar with both hands, jumped both her feet up onto his chest and threw all her weight backwards, pulling him into a headlong roll out into the hall. Draja was caught by surprise, but still had a pistol in his hand, so Twain continued the roll, ending up on top and breaking both his collarbones with a deft double elbow jab. Draja gave a muffled cry and his own pistol went skittering down the hall. Then she crossed her hands across his throat, grabbed his shirt collars and pressured the arteries to his brain, he passed out in mere seconds. Twain didn't like being so rough, but then she didn't like guns either, and Draja had been so unlucky as to have had one in his hand, too bad for him. She taped his hands and feet and mouth, quickly retrieved his Colt .45 before someone else did, hid it in the same flower pot as the other guard’s pistol, and dragged his unconscious body back into the room. The entire operation took seconds. Muriel was watching astounded and wide-eyed, hoping Paula would show up, but still not quite believing it. She'd seen Draja go flying out the door, heard a scuffle out in the hall, and first now saw who was dragging him back in. “Paula—-it’s really you!” “Twain, actually," Paula said, letting Draja's feet drop and pulling wire- cutters from one of her many pockets, "now let's clip us loose." She bent over the sleeping Castor first, to free her other body for action. But that would be too easy, wouldn't it? Behind her, the door opened and Vojislav came into the room, not yet aware of the situation, saying something in Serbo Croatian meant for Draja. But Vojislav caught on fast: Draja was flat out on the floor, bound and gagged, a blonde woman was bending over the prisoners to cut them free. He reached for the pistol under his armpit and had it in his hand, even got it out. But Twain was slightly faster, tossing the wire clippers toward Muriel, turning and leaping and kicking all in one smooth swoop, knocking the pistol out of Vojislav's hand, so that he was facing her empty handed. "You!" Vojislav grunted, now recognizing Paula from their brief battle on the street days before. He backed off a step. "Me indeed," said Paula Twain, squaring off for combat, while over her shoulder she said in Chinese, "Muriel, cut Castor free." Vojislav could have run out the door right then and called for help, Twain could probably not have stopped him in time. But instead he smiled and squared off for combat. Vojislav had a score to settle.

17 : Combatants

Vojislav was much larger than Paula, looked strong, and his moves were those of a well-trained combat soldier. "You think you're some kind of karate- girl, don't you?" he said with a nasty smile, dancing around quite gracefully. "Got you last time," she said, also moving around, so that now he could not make it to the door without going through her. "Yeah, from behind," Vojislav mentioned, apparently offended about that, "I wasn't ready then...but now I am." "Hey, Vojislav, remember being told that you'd probably regret slapping Muriel?" she asked. "Huh?" Vojislav was confused for an instant, wondering how this woman could know about that, and in that instant Twain kicked him in the mouth as hard as she could. Vojislav staggered sideways, but did not go down. He put his hand to his nose and it came away bloody. "You're pretty good, lady, but you got no power," he said, stepping in close to her, no longer intimidated. Twain kicked again, but this time Vojislav parried the blow, and returned a kick to her ribs. He was strong, a combat-trained soldier, it would have been an effective blow if she hadn't rolled back with it. But he was aggressive and fast, his next blow got through her defenses and staggered her. Twain was hurt, but kept her feet. Vojislav kept closing in, to where it would be a matter of his strength over her skill. So Twain closed in herself, attempting to execute a hip-throw, but Vojislav's weight allowed him to reverse it. Twain was sent flying to the other side of the room, where she crashed hard into the wall upside-down, ending up sprawled on the floor. Vojislav charged again and kicked her. Twain somehow made it to her feet again while being kicked, then was rapidly punching Vojislav in the face one-two-three times, driving the man backwards, but still not dropping him. Muriel, meanwhile, had rolled over to grab the wire cutters and was trying to clip Castor free with her own hands wired behind her back, struggling to get into position. But Castor was lying on his back, totally unconscious and quite heavy, his hands beneath him and out of reach. Muriel spun herself around on the floor and pushed Castor's inert body with her feet, trying to roll him over. Suddenly he rolled himself and turned his back to her, as if only half asleep, exposing his hands at last. Muriel heard Paula grunt in pain, and crash down again. She had evidently allowed some of her consciousness go to Castor for an instant, and had paid the price for it. Vojislav was definitely winning their battle, in fact, was beginning to laugh, enjoying it. Now being kicked while she was down, Paula could only fold up to protect herself and take the abuse. Muriel threw herself backwards over Castor's body and felt after the wire bindings, fumbling the clippers blindly into place, taking too long...then ah, the wire went snip! Muriel felt Castor's hands spring free, and he was already rolling away and up onto his feet. Vojislav was about to deliver yet another brutal kick to the blonde woman, when his foot was blocked by another man's foot. Vojislav turned, surprised to find himself facing the blond man, now quite awake, and although smaller than himself, still a much bigger opponent than the woman. "Here comes the part where you’re going to regret having hit ANY woman," Twain said informatively. "Yeah? Well so far I’m liking it!" Vojislav answered, and attacked. He could see that Castor was moving stiffly, having just staggered up from being bound and lying on a hard floor for an hour. And sure enough, Castor's first punch was deflected by the Serb, who was well warmed-up and seemed ready for anyone and anything. Vojislav danced back and in again to punch at Castor, a vast grin on his face as Castor had to fall back before the onslaught. But once again Vojislav was confused by his opponent’s behavior. Castor's eyes were going blank, out of focus, until he seemed to have gone into a trance. Vojislav hesitated a second, waiting to see if his opponent was going to do him the favor of passing out yet again. If so, Vojislav could just take it easy and let him fall, then kick him while down. But the kicking came from behind: Paula caught him in the back of his knees and he staggered. Vojislav managed to recover just enough to turn and see that she too had a trancelike expression on her face, before he was pounded from behind again, by Castor this time. Before he could turn back to deal with the bigger adversary, Paula hit him again. Vojislav now found himself in a crossfire between the blonde twins, a snappy drum-roll of high-impact fists and feet delivered in precise synchronization-- him-her-him-her-him-her --as if they had become a single fighting machine. They moved perfectly in step with each other, a choreography of martial arts moves. He couldn't touch them, they were two whirling dervishes, kicking and punching and dancing around him gracefully, their eyes almost closed, running on zen. Vojislav didn't have a chance. Castor delivered a final slammer to Vojislav's solar plexus and the big man went down, gasping for air. Twain danced back in both directions at once, giving their opponent room to fall.

18 : Just Rewards

"Ohhh, now this is just SO perfect," Muriel sighed, settling into the warm bubbly waters of the hot tub. Powerful water jets massaged her bare skin, golden in the soft glow of the skyscrapers towering above and around her. Rossini’s Quattro Stagione was playing softly from stereo speakers in the tent. This was just the kind of pampering required after such a grueling day. "The most perfect part," Twain said, "being that you're here, since earlier today I wasn't sure if you’d ever be back or not." "Oh that's right: we were saying goodbye forever, something silly like that." "Right. Lucky we got kidnapped." "Yeah,” Muriel flashed him a nice naked shrug, "fear and terror sort of puts things into perspective. Made me realize just how much I really didn't want to lose you— either one of you." There were two people in the hot tub, but three bodies. On Muriel's right, Castor was laying comfortably back, eyes closed, his feet touching hers deep under the water. Over to her left, Paula was soaking warmth into her bruised body. “In fact, the whole thing was so wow-weee: gangsters, guns, all those police showing up like the cavalry, along with good old Walter and Pete coming to our rescue. Twain, you really know how to show a girl a good time, don’t you?” “Whatever it takes to get my girl friend back.” “Hey, you got me. But then how could you not?” Muriel emoted, "heroic rescue, flashing kung-fu fists, dramatic action finish just like in the movies." "Well, I'm glad you fell for it," Castor's foot caressed her leg, "although that big Serb was a pretty nasty fighter, it could have gone either way— if you hadn't managed to cut Castor free, for example." "Yeah, so I'm the real hero--yaayy." "You're one of them anyway, you didn't freeze up." "But really, once you got loose and you two tranced out, or linked up, whatever it WAS you did, that guy didn't seem to have a chance. It was like you were both on a higher plane, Shiva dancing, or something." "Oh I was in a trance, all right. Sometimes I can program both bodies to the same endeavor, and they just seem to cut loose from my brain and run on sheer instinct. I was directing the fight, more or less, but as if from outside and above my bodies, looking down on the room and everything in it. It was pretty spacey." "Sounds like a video game." "I guess it does, except that losing the game in real life can cost more points." "Almost did for poor Paula," Muriel said, looking over at Paula's sleeping face, the only part of her above the foaming waters. She didn't look so bad in candlelight, her black eyes less obvious. Paula opened those eyes and said, "Oh, I'm okay--black and blue, stiff and sore, but nothing broken. Besides, this hot tub is working magic." She closed her eyes again. "I'm amazed you're not crippled, that guy was really hitting on you." "Both of my bodies are in pretty good physical shape, which helps," Twain said, "along with techniques to minimize the impact of an opponent's blows. Sort of like learning how to fall." "I guess," Muriel shrugged, "I would've ended up in the hospital with a tube up my nose." "Maybe we'll just have to get you into shape too, so you can come kung-fu fighting with us." "Oh yeah, wow cool," Muriel pretended to be a kid bubbling with enthusiasm, "can I beat up the bad guy next time?" "Or at least not get beaten up yourself." "Well, I'm just glad no one got shot, neither us nor them. I got pretty scared when those gangsters started waving guns around." "Yeah, me too," Twain admitted. "Really? I thought you were used to that kind of stuff. You know: THE mysterious TWAIN, Super Agents." "Nope. Actually, I've never shot anyone," Twain said, "it's never been necessary. Actual violence is pretty rare in most of my jobs. Although a little self-defense does wonders." "Right, especially since you're both so good at it." Muriel floated over against Castor's naked body. "So, Mr and/or Ms Twains, think I can ever get used to this situation?" "You seem to be handling it rather well," Twain said, sliding a slippery embrace around her, "in fact, I suspect that you're actually beginning to like it." "Yeah, guess I am," she said, running her hands over his masculine body under the bubbles, finding something fun to play with, excited by his response. They shifted their bodies closer to each other. Behind her, Paula moaned, "Mmmm." "Whoops,” Muriel rolled her eyes back toward where Paula was supposedly dormant, “am I in danger of a rear attack?" She didn't sound especially worried. "If you get me any hornier," Twain said, as both Castor and Paula in perfect sync, "your rear would certainly be a prime target. You ARE aware that both my bodies react when I get aroused enough, right?" "Oh you poor guy/girl," Muriel teased, continuing to play with him, "it must really be awful getting turned on both ways simultaneously." "Actually, it's not that bad," Twain playing along, "you should try it sometime." "Yeah well, guess I'd better," Muriel agreed, "if I'm going to be Twain's girl friend." She continued caressing Castor, arousing him, but also sneaking peeks at Paula breathing in the same heavy rhythm as him, which Muriel found fascinating. "I thought you were morally opposed to becoming a sandwich," Twain reminded her, but with two grins at once. "Well," Muriel said with a grin of her own, "if you butter me up a little... it might be kind of fun." “Oh?” She could see that he was giving her a serious look, making certain that she meant what she was saying. "Look," she explained, "it was mostly that I couldn't believe what you were telling me about who--or what--you are. Now I know that it’s true: you're both Twain, who loves me, and I love Twain. No moral conflict there." "Good," Twain said, embracing Muriel gladly, and it seemed quite normal that there were four arms around her now, two sets of legs tangled with her own. "So are we a couple now, or a threesome?" she asked, with a hint of amused anticipation. "Let's just be us," Twain said. "Okay, so what was that about how tranced out you get when both bodies are involved in the same endeavor...?"


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