“I don’t have to love them, but I do,” Libby said and sipped at her chai latte.
A bus accelerated away from the bus stop next to her table, leaving a cloud of diesel. Mario turned suddenly in his chair next to hers and thanked the waitress as she set his espresso down. He had a fine aquiline profile, hair and eyes black like coffee.
Libby took another sip. “That’s why I want to put them out of their misery,” she said and looked past him to the clack-clack-clacking source of approaching stiletto heels. Four pairs.
Mario raised his eyebrows, confirming the suspicion that he heard them coming, too. He pulled a cigarette out of a pack, balanced it between his lips and lit it. Libby watched smoke curl away from his chocolate-brown two-day-old mustache.
Four blonde women, one blonder than the next, each exactly the same height, the same weight, the same measurements, wearing the same regulation-blue skirt and white blouse, ID tags wagging merrily over their left breasts, clacked in unison through the tables of the sidewalk café. Another bus pulled away from the bus stop and honked its horn at a courier on a mountain bike. The four women lined up at the counter.
“Probably to order the exact same soy milk latte, no sugar, and an extra shot of clone espresso.” Libby said.
“You know, we’re so close to the city. All the women look like that.” Mario stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray. “I think you’re overreacting.”
“They can’t be real. I’ve been watching them multiply. First there were a few working for The Group. Then ‘we’ all started losing our jobs.”
“’We’?” Mario waved the waitress over, put his empty espresso cup on her tray and nodded, ordering another one.
“Us humans,” Libby said.
“Oh, and it had nothing to do with your all-nighters and your bartending job? I remember how you used to come to work in the morning. Your brother was just as bad, Libby.”
Libby turned her head as the four pairs of stiletto heels ticked in time out of the café, down the sidewalk, towards the center of town. To the heart of the city. The Group.
The waitress set Mario’s espresso on the table and looked towards the clicking of four more pairs of oncoming stilettos.
“They only travel in fours. No matter where they are,” Libby said. “Shopping, in restaurants, even at the bar in the evening. That’s not normal.”
The four women, one blonder that the next, lined up at the counter. They received their drinks from the waitress behind the counter and filed past Libby’s table, down the sidewalk, towards the center of town.
“It’s like a parade. Every morning. In the evening they all go back to their apartments in those new blocks. I heard they’re all furnished the same.”
“I’ve been out with a few of those women. I’ve had them alone.” Mario laughed and shot his espresso back in one gulp. He lit another cigarette. “They aren’t clones. You’re just jealous.”
“You would never notice if they were, Mr. Thirty Seconds.”
Mario shot her that predictable angry glare. A bus slowed at the empty bus stop and then sped up again. Clack, clack, clack came the cadence of three pairs of stilettos along the sidewalk.
Mario turned in his seat. Libby stood. Teetering behind the three women, an offset honey-blonde struggled to keep up with the other three. Her hair was unkempt and her clothes were too small. Or her breasts were too big, Libby wasn’t sure which.
“The novice revenges the rhythm,” Libby said.
“Never saw her around before,” Mario said.
“Should I get her?” Libby said. “I have some of my antidote in my purse. We can try it out and see if it works.”
“What? That stuff you made yourself? It’s poison, you said.”
“Yeah, well, if it doesn’t cure her, it will kill her. I love them too much to see them suffer this horrible existence.”
“Don’t you dare. Look, Libby, as much as I love you, there is no such thing as clones and especially not in Mitteltown. I got to get to work.”
He stood, threw a few dollars on the table, kissed Libby on the cheek and took off towards the center of town. Libby turned and admired the sight of him walking away. She forgot all about him as the beat of stiletto shoes pulsed into motion. Three pairs. Towards the center of town.
The honey-blonde stood alone by the counter. She handed the waitress a bank note and the contents of her wallet emptied all down the counter, coins chinking on the sidewalk. Libby sprang to her side and knelt down next to the newby.
“Let me help you,” Libby said.
The flustered honey-blonde said nothing. Sweat beaded on her forehead. She smelled like a mix of that same perfume all these women wore and some sort of chemical, like bleach.
“Are you new here?” Libby touched her clammy arm and tried to get a reaction out of her.
The honey-blonde dropped one coin after another into her wallet and would not meet Libby’s gaze. Libby sighed, was about to stand up and get a move on. Maybe Mario was right. The honey-blonde touched her hand. Libby looked up, instantly mesmerized by the clarity in the blonde’s steel-grey eyes.
The steel-grey eyes did not blink. “Help me,” she said.