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a Beautiful guitar, and Extravagant –

It’s a beautiful guitar, and extravagant, a second soundbox like a swan’s neck swooping above the fretboard for another ten strings or so, and the red-headed man’s right hand leaps up to strike shimmering sheets from them to punctuate the rollicking tumult hammered and plucked from his left and right hands, notes sharp and clear as peals rung from bells tumbling out of the small black speakers on the stands to either side. Green fluorescent ink on a glassy black board at his feet says Live Music Every Night the Guitarp Stylings of John Wharfinger. Beside it a balloon snifter with a handful of change and some limp dollar bills. A woman all in black, a black apron about her waist, a loaded tray up above her head, a plate of pasta, a couple of burgers, the fish, squeezes between him and a table full of raucous laughter, one of them reading something from the phone in the palm his hand. The red-headed man chases the melody up the fretboard ringing and chiming until it suddenly, irrevocably ends, and his hands leap away, his head down, a long flop of hair hanging over the guitar. The table before him’s still laughing. A desultory flutter of clapping here, there, over in the back. His hands settle on the guitar again, his left hand curled about the neck, his right hand hovering over the soundbox, fingers wiggling. They strike a chord and another, letting it ring, then a third, and someone by the bar drops a tray of glasses with a shattering crash. The room erupts in applause and whoops and laughter.

Later, as he’s wrapping the guitar in a soft brown leather case, a woman scrapes a chair up by his side. She sits in it heavily, her bulk wrapped in an enormous black coat, a little grey snap-brim fedora at a jaunty angle on her head. “New gig?” she says.

“You have me,” he says, working one end of the case carefully around the shoulder of the harp, “at a disadvantage.”

“Really?” she says. “I thought everybody knew me.” He starts zipping the case closed around the guitar’s elaborate shape. “Anne Thorpe,” she says, “I write for Anodyne? Among others?” and the zipper stops for a moment. “You know of me, anyway,” she says.

“I don’t have anything to say,” he says, tugging the zipper closed, securing a couple of velcro straps.

“Not even hello? How’s it going? Sure I’ll let you buy me a drink?”

He sets the case to one side of the stool, frowning.

“That means I’d buy you a drink,” she says. “Because you’d be the one? Saying sure, I’ll let you – anyway. Not a gift, mind. Strictly tit for tat.”

“But I have nothing to offer in return,” he says with a shrug.

“It’s not a story,” she says, “if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m nowhere near a story yet. I just have to know, you know?”

He shrugs again.

“You guys,” she says. She rolls her eyes. “You bow with a blast at the Acme like a month ago and suddenly it’s all anybody can talk about, this album y’all are gonna do that nobody’s heard anything from. You start racking up high-profile gigs at a rate I’ve never seen before in this town, all on good will and word of mouth, until bam!” She slaps one black-draped knee, and the hat slips from her head with the force of it. “Three shows, the last ten days or so. Nocturnal, the Woods, La Luna.” She settles the hat back on her head, her dark hair short and swept back, shot through with grey and white. “Y’all no-show all three, nobody’s calls get returned, nobody’s emails, and here you turn up playing a brewpub on Powell. And Deke,” she jerks a thumb at the bar behind her, careful of her hat, “has no idea he’s got the fiddler from Stone and Salt serenading his dinner rush.”

“Multi-instrumentalist,” he says, looking at the case at his feet.


“I don’t just fiddle.”

She sits back in her chair, looks over at a busser clearing one of the last tables. Looks back at him. “What the hell happened, man? You’ve got something to say, all right, and it’s worth at least a couple shots of Macallan, you know?”

“Redbreast,” says John Wharfinger with a wry smile.


“It’s Redbreast you’d be buying,” he says, “but I’ll tell you for free. Sometimes, these things? They just don’t work out.” He stands, tugging his long green coat into place. “Don’t,” she’s saying, “don’t, don’t do me like this. Don’t send me back out into the rain with nothing but a measly scrap like that.”

“What do you want from me?” says John Wharfinger, scooping the money up out of the glass. “It’s November.”

Table of Contents

Ozark,” written by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, copyright holder unknown.

“You cut your hair!” – Who were Those Guys? – the Rain beneath her – what It (he) did –

“You cut your hair!” cries the Duke as he opens his white door.

“Well, yeah,” says Jo, standing there hand-in-hand with Ysabel, Jo in a black leather reefer jacket, Ysabel in a short white parka lined with thick white fur. Jo’s hair cropped very short and dyed a deep wine red.

“Your coats?” says the Duke. From down the dark hall behind him a burst of music, someone singing wake at night always the same, I call your name but you sleep right through and love is the light in your face!

“Why don’t you go find Jessie?” says Jo to Ysabel. Letting go of her hand.

“As you wish,” says Ysabel, slipping out of her parka.

“Huh,” says the Duke, watching her head down the hall, her grey cardigan dress quite short and tight, her matching thigh-high socks.

“Yeah,” says Jo, taking off her jacket. “She’s loaded for bear.”

“It’s a look,” says the Duke, turning back. “Whoa.” Jo’s in a bright red strapless dress also quite short over black leggings. “You’re, ah,” says the Duke. “You’re wearing lipstick.”

“I figured ducal function meant formal,” says Jo. “Ysabel picked out the dress.”

“Well, there’s formal,” says the Duke, “and there’s, well.” His blousy pyjama pants paisleyed in purples and browns and greens and a very pointed pair of Persian slippers and a silk shirt in some nameless harvest color. “C’mon. Let me get you a drink.” Jo heads down the hall and he follows, their coats draped over an arm. “Did I, did I mention I like your shoulders?” he says. “Because I like your shoulders.” Jo’s smiling.

The big room lit by rows of dim red-shaded ceiling lamps and the flicker of torchlight from outside through the high narrow windows, and all the vicious games we play, sings a woman’s voice from speakers here and there, they mean nothing to me, all I know is your touch and the way love should be. A makeshift bar, mismatched wineglasses and tumblers and bottles spread along a couple of folding tables and some crates, a boy in a brown leather jacket and an enormous set of headphones setting up a fresh album on the turntables, people here and there dancing, talking over the music, laughing, falling silent, turning to watch as Ysabel marches across the floor toward the corner by the windows where three men are laughing at something that Jessie has said, her yellow hair swept back in a mane. As her smile falls away and she looks beyond them with shining eyes they turn, the three of them, they bow deeply, they step back, and Ysabel sweeps up to take Jessie’s hands in her own, smiling at her gown, a fall of sequins in golds and browns draped from either shoulder, tied at her hips with brown ribbons. “For me?” says Ysabel.

“You see anyone else?” says Jessie.

“Can I have,” Jo’s saying, “another one of,” twirling the tumbler in her hand, “ah, whatever, this, was?” The bartender eyes the red streaks clinging to the melting ice. “You’re drinking with His Grace,” he says. “A Negroni.” His face is fleshy, his brick-red hair flops from a high widow’s peak. He scoops ice into a tall straight glass and pours gin and dark vermouth. “You’re the Gallowglas,” he says. The music a swirl of strings over rattling percussion. “Yeah,” says Jo.

“It was nothing personal,” he says, pouring thick red Campari.


“Nothing personal!” Shaking a couple of drops of bitters. He stirs the drink with a long gold pick. “I just wanted you to know.”

“What wasn’t personal?” says Jo.

“When we went after you!” he says, straining the drink into a glass of fresh ice. “I didn’t think you’d care.”

“Holy shit!” says Jo. “You’re that, that guy! You’re one of those guys!”

“The Stirrup,” he says, twisting a sliver of orange peel over her drink, letting it drop.


“Gaveston!” He hands her the glass.

“Well,” she says, hoisting it, “nice to meet you, Gaveston!”

At the edge of the dance floor leaning against each other laughing Ysabel tugging up one of her long long socks and Jessie wiping sweat-damp hair from her face and “Oh,” says Ysabel, straightening, “now where did you get that.” Held up close between them in Jessie’s hand a glass vial no bigger than a little finger, inside a slender thread of golden dust.

“Leo said you’d like it,” says Jasmine.

“How generous of him,” murmurs Ysabel under the thumping beat. Someday baby, an old deep voice is singing, you ain’t gonna trouble me, anymore. Ysabel brushes the vial, and Jessie’s fingers. “Ever played with it before?”

“It’s,” says Jessie, “it does different things, every time.”

“I think,” says Ysabel, “Rain,” plucking the vial from her hand, “we both know what it will do to us tonight,” and Jessie smiles, and Ysabel laughs. “Go get some vodka for us. Neat.”

Jessie leans in and kisses Ysabel. “I should,” she says, and, “my,” and then, “it’s Jessie. My name’s Jessie. Not Rain.”

The vial in one hand one hand on Jessie’s hip Ysabel closes her eyes and kisses Jessie. “All right,” she says. “Jessie. Go get the vodka.”

“I know I’ve seen the one guy before,” Jo’s saying. She’s sitting on the broad flat arm of the Duke’s chair. Had a good time, got beat pretty good, runs the rap over the chugging guitar.

“What, the one stole Ysabel’s coat?” says the Duke, picking up his drink from the low brass table before them. Had a good thing going got more than you gave, goddammit now, give it to you, girl you got game.

“No, the other one. I’m pretty sure.”

“That was weird, the thing with the coat.”

“You didn’t poke around?” Jo drains her glass and leans over to set it on the table. “Ask anybody who they are or what they’re doing?”

“Did you?”

“You’re the one with people,” says Jo. The Duke chuckles. She reaches down to grab his hand before he can lift his glass for another sip, and reddened ice clinks. “They could have seriously fucked things up,” she says. “They could have gotten us killed.”

“They did fuck things up,” says the Duke. He gently works his glass free. “They did get people killed.”

“Well,” says Jo, “yeah. So.” Whoops and a smattering of applause away off over the dance floor.

“They’re contract players,” says the Duke, and he tosses back the rest of his drink. “The two of them, anyway. Work for a guy who operates in a, a consulting capacity, for various downtown developers. Pinabel,” and he looks up at Jo leaning over him, takes her hand in his, “the Axehandle, I mean, not the Hound himself, has been trying to get this guy to go exclusive.” He kisses her hand, then shifts, sitting back against the other arm of the chair. “Sum total of what is known to me. Other guy, their friend? The first one? Utter mystery.”

“He wanted Leir. Thought we were hiding him or something.”

“Leir?” says the Duke, frowning. “That’s the consultant.”

“Said he was a sorcerer.”

“Tomato, tomahto,” says the Duke. “As ever, I know even less than I thought.” Wincing he pushes himself to his feet, rubbing his thigh. “Let me freshen these up and when I get back let us speak of other things.” He limps away toward the bar. The music a pounding strut now stabbed by synthesized horns. “Two more,” he calls to the Stirrup, and he turns leaning against the bar looking back over the dance floor, at all the people here and there milling and talking and laughing and dancing, all the way back to the chair by the low brass table, and Jo draped over the back of it, smiling back at him.

Turning back to the bar where the Stirrup’s stirring the cocktails he reaches into a pocket of his pyjama pants and pulls out a small tin box dotted with chipped enameled flowers in pink and gold. Sozodont Powder, it says, For Cleansing The Teeth. He thumbs it open. Inside a spill of golden dust glitters barely in the dim red light.

“What,” says Jessie, laughing, “are you doing?” as Ysabel leads her to a chair over by the windows. “Sit,” says Ysabel, kissing her. “Sit.” Pushing her into the chair. “Ysabel!” cries Jessie, hands leaping to resettle her gown in her lap, over her breasts. Ysabel tocking her hips to the strutting beat, dans les mouvements d’épaules, sings a forceful laughing voice, a plat comme un hiéroglyphe Inca de l’opéra! She leans over bending at the waist and runs her hands up Jessie’s thighs and down again, then straightens and spins and kicks up a foot, planting it on the chair between Jessie’s bare knees. “Take it off,” she says, and Jessie takes Ysabel’s foot in her hands and works the knot in the laces loose and peels the low grey boot open and off. Ysabel spins again and kicks up her other foot and Jessie takes that boot off, and Ysabel hands braced on the back of the chair over Jessie’s head hikes herself up, over Jessie, against Jessie, letting her body slip down and down along Jessie’s body until she’s kneeling on the ground before her, tight cardigan rucked up about her hips, and a man in a tuxedo whistles and claps. Pushing up turning around Ysabel tugs her cardigan back down, smiling at a man in a peach-colored Nudie suit dappled with rhinestones. She sits herself sideways in Jessie’s lap, lifting a leg and then peeling the long grey sock down and down her thigh, over her knee, bunching it bending her leg down her calf, working the thick sock awkward a moment over her ankle, face impassive, mouth a moue of vague amusement, as Jessie watches and giggles and a big man, shirtless, frowns over the shoulder of a woman in a long diaphanous gown of uncertain color. “Well?” says Ysabel to Jessie, letting her empty sock dangle from her hand. “How’m I doing?”

“Not bad,” says Jessie. “About a forty-dollar dance.”

“Forty!” cries Ysabel, letting the sock drop. “For five minutes’ work?”

“You have to split your take with the house,” says Jessie, “but I might tip a little extra, you know? For a little somethin-somethin?”

“So what should my name be?” says Ysabel, lifting her still-socked leg, running her hands along it. “Princess? Or is that too cliché?”

“Lady,” says a man stepping out of the little crowd around them, and Ysabel shakes her head. “Goodness, no!” she says. “Cliché and generic.”

“Lady, please.” His shoulders broad under a tight brown T-shirt, his hair a dark black cap. He offers up a hand, his fingers thick and stubby, a leather thong tied loosely about his wrist. “Luys,” says Jessie, and “Oh, the Mason!” cries Ysabel. “I knew you seemed familiar.”

“The Duke has many rooms, Lady,” he says. “Perhaps you might both wish to retire to one?”

“Oh?” says Ysabel, leaning back against Jessie, looking pointedly across the room to the Duke and Jo, swaying together much too slowly for the beat. “His Grace doesn’t seem to mind.”

“Lady,” says the Mason again. “Let ’em alone!” calls someone from the crowd, and “Go on!” and “Take it off!” The Mason turns to look at them all, saying, “Go on yourselves, go drink, go dance. Enjoy the party.”

“I think,” says Ysabel loudly to Jessie, “he thinks dallying with the Duke’s doxy is beneath me. Are you beneath me, Rain?” Looking up at her. “Well I am in your lap. Would you rather I were beneath her?” she says to the Mason. “We are quite flexible.”

“Perhaps, Mason,” says the man in the peach-colored suit, “you should go get yourself a drink.”

“Cater,” says the Mason. “You object?”

The man in the peach-colored suit with a glitter of rhinestones sweeps an arm to encompass the little crowd. “Not a one of us would quarrel with a countercheck, Mason. Yes.” He draws himself up fringe rustling his arms akimbo. “If you say, these women should remove themselves, then yes. I would object. Directly.”

“Then I will oblige, and call for steel,” says the Mason, and Cater smiles. “Blades!” cries the Mason, turning away, pushing through the crowd, the Cater unzipping his jacket as he follows. “I would toy with this knight!”

“Come on,” says Ysabel to Jessie, grabbing her hand. “Let’s go.” Clambering out of her lap. Jessie shaking her head tries to pull her hand back, “What?” she’s saying, and “No, wait – stop – ” as Ysabel takes her face in both her hands and kisses her hard. Leaning her forehead against Jessie’s she murmurs, “If your fingers aren’t inside me within the minute I will explode.”

“Oh,” says Jessie.

“Shit,” says the Duke, as the Mason marches into the middle of the dance floor followed by the Cater, his jacket slung over one bare shoulder. “Blades, Your Grace!” cries the Mason, and “Sweetloaf!” bellows the Duke. “See to the man!” The boy in the brown leather jacket at the turntables looks up, looks over, bends down, lifting a long bundle draped in dark red cloth. “Come on,” says the Duke to Jo.

“What?” says Jo, swaying a little, half-finished drink in her hand. The Duke seizes her other hand and drags her in his wake, toward an anonymous door at the end of the room, until she plants her feet, pulling back. He comes in close to her and kisses her and says, “I’m getting you off the damn floor.”

“Off,” says Jo.

“Lest a fatal misstep lose me yet another knight,” he says. She leans back shaking her head, “I wouldn’t,” she starts to say, and smiling he says, “I mean we’re also gonna fuck our brains out. Might as well kill two birds while we’re stoned, right?”

“Gloriosky,” says the Duke, blowing the word out like a candle.

“Oh,” says Jo. “Def, definitely.”

And after a moment he rolls over away from her, dragging the dark brown sheet off her, and she doesn’t try to pull it back, her arms at her sides knees up head lolled back on the mattress. He tugs at something, reaches out from under the sheet, a pinkly gravid condom dangling from his fingers. He lays it carefully on a saucer on the floor by the wide low bed in the middle of that dark room, lit only by the low white lamps to either side. “For you,” he says, his voice rough, “I girded my loins.”

“Worth it?” sys Jo, stroking the angular tattoo on her belly.

“Not done yet,” he says, rolling back over winding the sheet about himself, kissing her and kissing her again, his hand at her chin, her throat, her breast, tangled momentarily with her hand on her belly, and down and again and down between her thighs and she sucks in a breath around their kiss and shakes her head loose, “No,” she says. “It’s okay, you don’t,” and “Yes,” he’s saying, and “I must,” and she bites her lip and looks away, and he kisses her throat and then “Oh” she says and “There, right there – ”

Naked he sits up to one side of the wide low bed against a mound of pillows, red and brown. Over across the bed wrapped in the sheet she’s curled on her side her back to him. “If you think about it,” he’s saying, and “I am thinking about it,” she says. “I have to think about it.”

“If you think about it,” he says. “It makes the most sense.” He leans back, looks over at her wine red hair against those dark browns, and he brushes her bare shoulder with his fingertips. She takes his hand in hers and squeezes it. “Sense doesn’t even figure,” she says. “I barely know you. I only just, slept with you. Just now.” She lets go of his hand. “You’re asking me to move in with you.”

“It’s not so much asking as suggesting,” says the Duke, “and it’s not as if you’d be, I mean, you’d have your own suite. Your own apartment, practically. It’s a flexible space. Best that way anyway, for the sake of appearances.”

“Right,” says Jo, hiking up on one elbow to pick up her glass from the floor by her tights and her puddled red dress. “Can’t be living with your mistress when you’re marrying a princess.” She drains the last of her drink. The ice in it long since melted away.

“No,” says the Duke, and then, “okay, yes, but the Queen will be displeased no matter what is done. Still. We should strive to give her as few legitimate legs to stand upon as possible. If it’s an open agreement, with fair compensation, that’s much better than if it seems I’m in your debt, or putting you in mine.”

Jo rolls over on her back. “This is about how it’s dangerous, if you owe somebody.” Resting her glass on her belly.

“It’s mostly about how you’re soon to be evicted,” says the Duke.

“You said you could fix that.” The bottom of that glass streaked with sticky redness that glimmers weirdly in the sharp bright light of the lamp.

“I said I’d have a word,” says the Duke.

“And?” Tilting the glass she peers at the stuff, pokes at it with a finger.

“I’m not so persuasive as I might have been, were you living this side of the river.”

“Can’t you just,” says Jo, peering at her ruddied fingertip in the light.

“Just?” says the Duke. “Just what? Jo? Just what?”

There in the whorls of it small grains of dust quite golden in all that red. “You know,” she says, “I know what this stuff does when you’re hurt, and I know if a bunch of you hold it up and sing it lights up a whole damn block. What I don’t know is what happens when you put it in somebody’s drink.” She rubs her fingertip against her thumb and folds her fingers together and closes her hand in a fist. “Well?”

“Jo,” says the Duke, “just, hold on a – ”

“No, Leo. Tell me.” Looking him in the eye now. “What the fuck did it do?”

The elevator doors open and Jo bursts from it in her black leather reefer jacket, her legs bare beneath her quite short bright red dress. Ysabel stumbles after in her white parka and her grey cardigan dress only somewhat buttoned, her long socks bunched below her knees. “Wait,” says Ysabel, “not so fast,” tugging back against Jo’s hand until Jo stops suddenly, grunting as Ysabel runs into her, catching her by the shoulders. Ysabel clings to Jo’s lapels. “Just a, just a minute,” she says.

“Come on,” says Jo. “We’re almost home.”

“Not one step. No. Not until.” Ysabel leans back, settles herself, smoothing Jo’s jacket. “I was warm. I was comfortable. I was curled up, with some I wanted to be curled up with, for the first time in,” and she frowns, biting her lip, “a while, and then you came in and dragged me out and not a word, and I am not taking one step more until you tell me. Why.”

“You are blitzed,” says Jo.

“That too,” says Ysabel, with a wide wide smile.

“You need a bath.”

“Oh stars above a long one, and hot as I can stand.”

“So come on.”


“What happened,” says Jo, “to as you wish?”

“Why,” says Ysabel, her smile smaller now, and tight. “What was it. The Duke? What did he – ”

“He drugged me,” says Jo, quiet and quick, looking down at that awful orange carpet.

“He,” says Ysabel, blinking, “what?”

“He drugged me,” says Jo, “and then he fucked me, and that is not something I’m gonna stick around, okay?” Stepping back away from Ysabel, pulling a ring of keys from her jacket.

“Jo,” says Ysabel, “Jo, was it, did he,” as Jo’s unlocking the door, “look, we’ll get in, out of these clothes, you can have the first bath, please, I insist, we can talk about it or,” as Jo’s opening the door, “we can sleep on it, whatever, in the morning I think – what? Jo? What is it?” Ysabel steps up behind Jo still standing in the doorway staring at the apartment beyond. “Jo?”

The floor of the little hallway kitchen littered with dead leaves and shards of broken crockery and glass. Curtains billow in the main room beyond where the glass-topped café table’s over on its side in drifts of clothing, T-shirts, skirts, dresses, more dead leaves, shreds of stocking dangling from a spindly wrought-iron chair, all of it lit by a weird blue light. “What,” says Ysabel, and Jo shushes her, reaching back for her hand. Something’s rustling, something that isn’t the curtains, something around the corner. Stepping carefully through the debris Jo leads Ysabel slowly through the little hallway kitchen. A knife and a couple of forks have been driven into the wall by the bathroom door at about knee height. Something dark’s smeared on the wall over the head of the futon. More dark smears on the wall along the side of the futon, and postcards and post-it notes and pages from magazines ripped from the wall litter the rumpled blankets, and everything lit by the blue light shining from the flat-screen television tuned to the auxiliary channel. Something’s under the blankets, something rolling over, rustling, something sitting up, short and stubby, a big head. “The fuck are you doing in my apartment,” says Jo.

“Mommy?” it chirps, lifting stubby arms, “Mommy?” its voice rising, arms shaking, bouncing, a shriek, a wail, “Mommy!”

Table of Contents

Turn to the Sky,” written by Cleo Murray, Loz Elliott, and Tom Ashton, copyright holder unknown. Ysabel’s socks provided by Sock Dreams, selling socks online since August, 2000. Afrahou Gannouh,” written by Dania, copyright holder unknown. Someday Baby,” written by R.L. Burnside and Lyrics Born, copyright holder unknown. Marcia Baïla,” written by Catherine Ringer and Frédéric Chichin, copyright holder unknown.

Pushing a Dead lawnmower – a sound Sleeper – Cabbages & Storks –

Pushing a dead lawnmower along the verge of a rolling field of dying grass an older man in a charcoal-stripe three-piece suit unbuttoned over a sunken bare chest, his head quite bald, the skin of him dark with old grime. The only sound the rustle of the grass and the squeak of the lawnmower’s wheels. Up ahead in the darkness a cul de sac, a crumbling concrete pad under a broad flat gas station awning, a big roadside sign whose unbroken panel says Leathers Fuels. An old maroon sedan on four flat tires.

He stops pushing the lawnmower, steps around it, minces carefully toward that sedan arms out hands a-dangle, his last few steps a sudden waddling rush until he’s squatting by the trunk. The maroon of the sedan is scaled with rust, orange and white and grey, mottled with moss and lichen, grey and green. The windows dark where they aren’t streaked with green and blackish red. His back to it he scoots along careful with his bare feet toenails long and jagged sharp, clicking absently against the gravel. The handle of the passenger door is clean and almost gleaming, but he’s looking past it at the knob of the door lock just visible through the smeared glass. He lifts a hand to brush aside his collar and touch the polished silver torc that’s clamped about his knobby neck.

He stares at that lock.

He stares at it wide eyes buckling under his heavy brow, his jaw and throat, his shoulders trembling, his whole frame quivering with some motionless effort, staring at it until with a click the door lock pops up and he catches himself, doesn’t fall, one hand on concrete, one hand on the door. He pounds the concrete once and lifts his hand closed about the handle of a push dagger, the wide stubby blade of it sprouting from his curled fingers. He gently, gently pulls the door open.

Inside both front seats laid back as far as they might go. A man asleep in the passenger seat wrapped in a blue tarp and a felt furniture pad over a grimy blue windbreaker. A woman in the driver’s seat asleep on her side naked, her flesh a chilly bluish white but for splashes of some dried mud in tannish, beigeish streaks that flake over the cracked vinyl seat. Gleaming about her neck a polished silver torc.

The man in the suit lifts his push dagger to his lips but frowns before he kisses the tip of the blade. He looks down. Grunts in surprise. There’s a hand wrapped around his ankle, a small pale hand, knuckles rough and dark. The hand tightens, pulls, he topples forward foot yanked under and twisting scrabbling on the concrete he’s trying to pull himself free, whining then shrieking as slavering gnawing sounds erupt and he’s jerked and pulled inch by scraping inch deeper under the belly of the sedan. “Christ,” the man in the passenger seat’s saying, “fucking hell, oh, fuck,” tangled in the tarp and the thick felt pad. “Linesse,” he’s saying. “Linesse!” The sedan shakes as the driver’s door’s wrenched open.

Planting his free foot against a tire the man in the suit’s pushing himself back out and with a gasp and a roar of frustration he pops free rolling away from the sedan dragging the one foot behind him a mangled wreck, shining wet and twisted, the leg of his pants in shreds, holding his dagger up before him pointed at the thing crawling out from under the sedan, a little man with small, rough-knuckled hands, his wet smile full of very long teeth that snag the dim light about them. “I advise you,” says the man in the suit voice ragged with pain and effort, “to restrain your advances,” and the little man opens that mouth much too wide around those teeth and leaps.

With a sound like an axe in oak the woman’s pale bare foot hits the little man’s head knocking him out of the air pinwheeling across the concrete pad. “Stay put,” she snarls at the man in the suit, in her hand a short sword pointed at him, short and broad, a battered round guard rattling loosely about the hilt. She’s striding toward the little man who’s up on his hands and knees now, shaking his head, dazed. “Cearb,” she says, “I told you. Keep away.”

“Assassins,” pants Cearb, “come in the middle of the night,” he coughs, “and who keeps safe the Gallowglas?”

“Dear Linesse,” says the man in the suit, his voice stretched taut, “you must be wrung out, emotionally, morally, from the effort of keeping that mortal thing in meat and drink. I find in general it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, but if I must, I shall – please, please permit me the signal honor of putting you out of its misery. For all our sakes.”

“Chazz,” she starts to say, looking back along her sword at the man in the suit, and then she shakes her head. “Frankie!” she calls. “Frankie, step out of the car.”

“You sure?” says the man still tangled in the blue tarp in the passenger seat of the sedan.

“Frankie, set foot upon the field,” she says, and then as he fights his way out of the sedan, “gentlemen, in a half-minute’s time I intend to lay about with my blade. If either of you remains in reach, so be it.”

Cearb’s already scrambling off the concrete pad. Chazz begins to drag himself away toward his lawnmower. “What holy justice have I wronged?” cries Cearb. “Shut up,” says Linesse, watching them both go. Cearb calls out, his voice falling away in the night, “In our wretchedness, why should we still look up to the stars? Which one am I to invoke, when my reverence is so easily disabused?”

Chazz is pulling himself upright on the lawnmower his foot dangling, a useless wreck. “I’ll be some little time,” he says, “recovering from this indignity. Use it wisely – as I hope I might – consider carefully what you would gain, by granting my request.” And he hops away, leaning on the lawnmower, wheels squeaking in the darkness.

“You can’t stay,” says Linesse to Frankie, half in and half out of the sedan, and she starts walking away, off the concrete pad, out into the cul de sac, her bare feet heedless of the gravel.

“I can’t,” says Frankie, “I don’t want to stay, I never,” turning, stuffing the tarp and the pad into a couple of shopping bags on the floorboard that say Thriftway and Trader Joe’s. “Linesse, hey, wait up! Some clothes? Maybe? This time?” Half-running as he leaves the sedan, shopping bags in either hand bouncing against his legs. “Linesse! Who was that? What the fuck was that about?”

She stops and turns to look back, at him, the sedan, the abandoned gas station, the big broken sign. “Once,” she says, “before? He was the Devil.”

“Seriously,” says Frankie, catching up with her. “Seriously?”

Threads of smoke drift up from the cigarette by Ysabel’s knee, a half-inch of ash dangling from its tip. She’s sitting in a cleared spot on the floor by the windows in an oversized sweatshirt that says Brigadoon! The wrack of torn and shredded clothing has been mostly pooled before the bulky blond armoire in the corner. The glass-topped café table now upright. In the stir of blankets on the futon Jo lies back in the ruins of her red dress eyes closed, mouth open in a gentle snore. Her cheeks criss-crossed with welts, a bruise darkening a temple. Curled against her side a young boy maybe two, maybe three, swaddled in a Spongebob Squarepants towel, his head a tangled thicket of mud-brown curls. One short arm’s flopped over her chest. In his chubby fist a tatter from her dress.

Ysabel sighs and taps the ash into a butt-filled saucer at her feet. “She sleeps pretty soundly, you know,” she says, and she takes one last drag, then stubs out the cigarette. “So we can talk.” Standing, stretching. “Assuming you can do more than shriek.” Jo still lightly snoring. The red tatter still clenched in the boy’s fist. “You worked us over pretty well,” says Ysabel, rubbing her face. The walls over the futon still stained were something dark and wet’s been scrubbed away. “But she’s asleep for now, and we both know I know you aren’t what you are.” Jo’s breath hitches, she turns her head to one side then the other, settling back into her snore. The little fist on her chest doesn’t move.

“Okay,” says Ysabel.

Fluorescent lights flicker to life in the little hallway kitchen and careful of the cardboard box filled with swept-up debris Ysabel’s opening drawers, cabinets, rattling dishes and utensils. “Coffee,” she says to herself. Opens the refrigerator, closes it. Opens it again. Opens the freezer.

She lays an awkward armload of stuff on the glass-topped table, a bowl with an egg in it, a coffee cup half-filled with water, a box of matches, a couple of spoons, some tongs, a red can that says Hills Bros. Coffee with a drawing of a man in a turban and yellow robes. Kicking through the pile of clothes she comes up with a short red crumpled candle. Sitting in one of the spindly wrought-iron chairs, hands hovering indecisively over all these various things.

She lights the candle with a match.

She plucks the egg from the bowl and then timidly taps it against the table. Looks at it. Taps it again. Tries tapping the narrow end lightly against the table. “Shit,” she says, bringing the egg up higher hand trembling then slamming it down and the egg’s smashed, splattering yolk and albumen and bits of shell along the glass, her hand, her sweatshirt. “Shit,” she says again.

She sits back down with some paper towels and two more eggs and mops up the slime and shell. She takes one of the eggs and holding it carefully between thumb and forefinger taps it gently against the edge of the table, and a again, a little harder. It cracks.

She holds it gingerly over the bowl, eyeing the clear slug oozing down its side, and pries it open, wincing as it cracks apart and the yolk plops out. She shakes out the last of it, then sets the smaller-butt end down and picks up the tongs. She clamps them carefully on the jagged rim of the longer narrow half of shell, then scoops up some water from the coffee cup and holds it over the candle flame. When the water starts to bubble, she pours it back into the coffee cup. She scoops up some more, holds it over the flame again. And again. And again.

“What are you doing,” says a small and piping voice.

Ysabel smiles, watching the water in the eggshell as it starts to bubble. She pours it into the coffee cup, scoops up some more. “I’m making coffee for Mommy.” She looks over at him sitting up on the futon, big eyes blinking, his little hands on Jo’s hip. “Want to be a big boy and help?”

“Hey.” Ysabel sitting on the futon by Jo stroking her scratched cheek with the back of her hand. “Hey, wake up.” Smoothing the flaps of the torn red dress. “Wake up, Jo.”

“Boobies,” says the boy. He’s standing naked on a spindly wrought-iron chair, using the tongs to hold an eggshell full of water over the candle flame.

“Coffee ready yet?” says Ysabel, pulling a blanket up over Jo’s breasts.

“Toil! Trouble!” says the boy, pouring water into the cup, peering at it. “No damn bubble.” Scooping more out to hold over the flame.

“Come on, Jo,” says Ysabel, and she starts to lean down, then does, over Jo, closing her eyes, softly kissing Jo’s cheek. “Kissy kissy Mommy kissy,” sniggers the boy. “Wake up,” says Ysabel in Jo’s ear, and Jo opens her eyes. “Ysabel?”

Ysabel sits up.

“He’s still here, isn’t he,” says Jo.

Ysabel nods.

“I have a kid,” says Jo.

“I wouldn’t put it – ”

“Make out!” yells the boy. The water in the eggshell’s starting to bubble. Jo starts to sit up but Ysabel pushes her gently back down, lying down next to her, “It’s busy,” she says. “It’s okay. Just – ”

“Get me a shirt,” says Jo, wrestling with the ruins of her dress.

“It’s okay,” says Ysabel, trying to still Jo’s hands. “We need to take a – ”

“Just get me a damn shirt?” says Jo.

Ysabel rolls over to crawl down the futon, and “London! France! Underpants!” cries the boy.

“What?” says Jo, twisting her dress around to get at the zipper. It’s stuck. “Shut up, you little troll.” Yanking the zipper apart until it rips loose, then working the red rags over her head and off. “Mommy’s naked, Mommy’s naked,” sing-songs the boy. “Shut up,” snaps Jo.

“Don’t egg it on,” says Ysabel, rummaging through the clothing heaped around the blond wood crates under the dark flat-screen television. One corner of the screen’s now webbed with cracks, a crooked line jagging all the way up to the top. She sniffs a black T-shirt, drops it, sniffs another one, tosses that one at Jo.

“The fuck is he doing?” says Jo, working the shirt over her head. A wide-eyed anime girl with pink hair drawn upside-down across it, surrounded by bits of armor cracking open like a carapace.

“Making coffee,” says Ysabel.

“Mommy likes stupid coffee,” says the boy. “Stupid stupid coffee.”

“It’s not breaking anything.” Ysabel scoots back up the futon. “It’s not smearing shit and snot all over the place. It’s not kicking the hell out of you. Or me. Let’s take what we can get.” Jo’s shaking out a cigarette, then hands the pack to Ysabel. “We need to figure out how it got here.”

“Cabbages in the celery patch!” cries the boy. “A stork’s as good in a pinch through the window.”

“It’s obvious,” says Jo, striking a match, lighting her cigarette. “The Duke.” Shaking out the match she hands the matchbook to Ysabel, who shakes her head, taking Jo’s hand in hers, her cigarette in her mouth. She leans forward to light it from the coal at the end of Jo’s. “Kissy kissy!” chirps the boy, and Jo scowls. Ysabel takes a drag, shakes her head, “Too weird,” she says. “The Duke prefers his vengeance raw and right away, or very, very, very well-done.”

“Vengeance?” says Jo. “First of all, anybody gets to be pissed in this situation, it’s me. At him.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, “I tried to explain, it’s – ” and then she stops. “Never mind,” she says. “Number two.”

“Number two?”

“You said first of all.” Ysabel lies back on the futon. “I assumed you had a second point?” Blowing smoke at the ceiling.

“Yeah,” says Jo. “Right.” Lying back next to Ysabel. “Well. We had sex.”

“So I gathered,” says Ysabel. “I’m doing it! I’m doing it!” The boy’s dumping another eggshell of bubbling water into the cup, scooping up more.

“Not tonight,” says Jo. “I mean, yes, tonight, but what I mean is, last week. When we were at the teahouse? When we were,” and her hands come up, searching in the wisps of smoke above them for the right word, “there,” she says, “we, well, him and me, we – ”

“Had sex,” says Ysabel.

“A lot of sex,” says Jo. “I think. It was, like a dream. You know?” The boy’s chanting “The worm goes in, the worm goes out, the worm goes in and out and in and out!” and Jo says, “Jesus. Anyway.” Looking over at Ysabel beside her. “If we, I mean because we did it there, could he have – ”

“It,” says Ysabel, “and no, I don’t think that’s how it works – ”

“Billy!” says the boy, and Jo sits bolt upright. “What about him,” she says.

“Billy Billy Billy Billy Billy,” says the boy.

“Who’s Billy?” says Ysabel, sitting up on her elbows next to Jo.

“That’s my name,” says the boy. “Billy Billy Billy Bill.”

“The hell it is,” says Jo, not looking away from the boy as he pours another eggshell of water into the cup.

“Jo,” says Ysabel. “Listen to me. Jo.” Her hand on Jo’s shoulder. “This, thing, was sent to us. By somebody. Has nothing to do with you and the Duke. We really should start trying to figure out who, and why.”

“Billy Billy Billy,” says the boy.

“We gotta do that to get rid of it?” says Jo.

After a moment, Ysabel says, “No.”

“Then fuck it,” says Jo.

“I’m Billy,” says the boy.

Table of Contents

“Such a nothing time” – Drawing the Circle – What’s left Behind – a Coat to a Cobbler –

“Such a nothing time,” says Becker, “three in the morning.” He snaps the little phone shut and lays it carefully in the worn leather shoe on the floor by a discarded pair of jeans and a big plaid empty shirt. “You stay up till one, sure,” he says, sitting up in the dimly greenish streak of light from the louvered windows lining one long wall of the narrow room. “Two, even, you can go back to sleep for three or four hours. That’s like a full cycle. Enough to keep you going.” His knees tenting the crazed tangle of quilts and blankets and sheets. He scratches the dark hair scattered sparsely across his chest. “Four o’clock, you can give up, get up, go make some coffee.” Folding his hands behind his head. “But what the fuck can you do with three in the goddamn morning?”

Pyrocles his head laid on one arm folded like a wing eyes closed smiles sleepily beneath his crookedly drooping mustaches. “You can keep everyone else around you awake.”

Becker shifts on his side, looking down at Pyrocles. “It’s not insomnia,” he says. “It’s not misery loving company. I just don’t want to miss any of this.”

“I know,” says Pyrocles.

“When I was a kid,” says Becker, and then, “a kid, ha, in high school, which was so long ago – I was obsessed with this idea. I would try, I would do everything I could not to fall asleep.” He worms his way a little deeper under the blankets, closer to Pyrocles, hands tucked under his chin. “Because, sure, I’d wake up in the morning, but it would be a, a new me. Like rebooting a computer. As soon as I closed my eyes and let go, that would be it, for this me.” He taps his forehead. “Like blowing out a candle. Doesn’t matter to the flame that the candle can be relit later.”

Pyrocles hikes himself up on an elbow, a quilt of blues gone black and grey in the dim light falling from his bare shoulder. He leans over to kiss Becker’s forehead. “I did not take too well to sleep at first myself,” he says. “But there are dreams. The candle gutters, but it’s not extinguished.”

“I don’t,” says Becker, rolling onto his back, “I don’t really remember my dreams. Once in a blue moon. But yeah, that’s sort of what I ended up telling myself. There’s like a pilot light. I was obsessed, yeah, but I was also in high school. I was worried sick about reports and tests and grades and getting into a good college, ha, look what that got me.” Running a hand through what little of his hair is left. “And worrying about whether Brian Peake had any idea how gay I was for him. I couldn’t possibly not sleep. And I was way too chickenshit for drugs.” He squeezes his eyes shut, squeezes his whole face shut, shivering. “I should have gone home,” he says. “I shouldn’t have stayed. I’m gonna wake up in the morning, I’m not gonna remember who you are, I’m gonna think I got too drunk again, hooked up again,” and he rolls over on his side again and there’s Pyrocles, head still pillowed on his folded arm, blue eyes half-open, his smile sleepy and sad behind those mustaches. “I’ll run out of here again,” says Becker, “like an idiot. And make excuses at work again.” A hand on Becker’s shoulder Pyrocles draws him close. “And you’ll have to,” says Becker, “come find me, again,” and they kiss. “Maybe you shouldn’t,” says Becker.


“Maybe you shouldn’t come find me again,” says Becker. “Maybe you should just let me go, on my merry, oblivious way. Maybe you shouldn’t start this up again, and again and again – ” and then Pyrocles kisses him again, and again.

“If I thought,” says Pyrocles in his deep rough voice gone soft with sleep, “this was you, asking me this, and not three in the morning, I would do my best to do as you ask. But Becker, you must know that I am weak. The light that shines in your eyes, the way you blush, and duck your head, every time you see me, for the first time – forgive me, Becker. I could not help but seek you out, for another glimpse of that.”

Becker sighs and closes his eyes, and then after a long long moment opens them again. “Not yet,” he says. “Not just yet.”

It’s not rain so much as haze too heavy and wet to be fog, blurring streetlights, drifting slowly down about them. When they stop under the bridge Jo heaves the big duffel bag from her shoulder and sets it gently on the ground, then brushes water from her forehead and the sleeves of her leather jacket. Ysabel in a yellow slicker shakes out her big clear umbrella, then furls it, wiping her eyes. There’s a long narrow cardboard box strapped to the side of the duffel, and it rattles and thumps as the duffel rustles. There’s a muffled whine. Jo looks over at Ysabel.

“That way,” says Ysabel, pointing past the railroad tracks, down the long dark aisle of pillars holding the bridge up above them. “Further in.”

Jo stoops and hauls up the duffel, careful of it and the skinny box, and follows Ysabel into the darkness under the bridge. Buildings shoulder close to either side of the bridge as it slopes gradually to the ground ahead. There are things painted on the pillars about them, a hermit holding aloft a lantern shining sketchily, a black-faced lion awkwardly savaging an antelope under criss-crossed branches, a chalky bird perched on the enormous nose of a face grown from the scraggled outline of a tree, that same bird or one very like it with an elaborate tail sitting on a drawn plinth that says God Is Love, and a scroll beneath that says Light Hope Truth April 7 1948. Something large, a truck booms by overhead. “Ysabel,” says Jo. “Ysabel. How much further. We’re running out of, out of – bridge – ” Ahead the shortening pillars stop as the deck of the bridge above meets a thick blank concrete wall.

“I thought it would be enough,” says Ysabel, looking about.

“I can’t exactly open this damn thing if we’re still here,” says Jo.

“I know, I know,” says Ysabel.

“Oh, I think – I think I have an idea.”

Jo kneels by the duffel as it rustles again and opens one end of the cardboard box. Reaches inside with one hand, both hands, tugs and yanks then pulls with a ringing scrape of metal free her sword. She steps back away from the duffel, out into the space between the last of the pillars and the wall, her sword-tip pointed at the dirt, but she stops before she touches the ground, and lifts it, a little. “I wouldn’t,” says Ysabel.

“Yeah,” says Jo. “I get that.” Overhead a car passes a bit of something popping under its tires quite loudly in the stillness. “Get him out of there.”

Ysabel kneels by the duffel and begins unknotting the strings that hold it shut. “I think drawing your blade was enough,” she says, looking up at the bridge now silent above them.

Jo’s shaking her head. “We need a circle,” she says. She starts to drag the duct-taped toe of her white Chuck Taylor after her through the dirt and the muck.

“You’ve done this before.”

“No,” says Jo. “Not this.”

Ysabel tugs the duffel open and down. The boy’s head pushes up those curls flopping as he twists his head back and forth, stretches his neck. There’s something, a washcloth wadded in his mouth, tied in place with a white terrycloth belt. Jo still dragging out the circle says, “Undo it.”

“I am,” says Ysabel, working the duffel down past the boy’s shoulders.

“The gag,” says Jo. Ysabel looks up at her. “No one’s gonna hear now,” says Jo. “Right?”

Frowning Ysabel unties the belt and pulls the cloth from his mouth and he hacks up a cough or two and spits and says, “Mommy, Mommy! Mommy!” and “Shut up,” says Ysabel, working the duffel down his chest swathed in plastic wrap, his arms pressed tight against him folded in front of him and tightly wound about with layers of the stuff. “Mommy!” he calls, twisting around in the duffel bag, and Ysabel cuffs his head, “Shut up,” she says.

“Ysabel,” says Jo.

“You wanted it undone,” says Ysabel.

“Don’t hit him.”

“No no,” says the boy, “no, no no, not again, I gave at the office.”

“Just,” says Jo, and “What,” says Ysabel, “what?” Jo’s stepping away from the half-done circle, into it, toward Ysabel and the boy in the bag, and Ysabel stands, backs away. “Just let me,” says Jo, stooping.

“Mommy,” says the boy.

“Shut up,” says Jo. “Hold still. Hold very still.” Holding her sword both hands on its blade one of them gingerly close to the tip she pierces the plastic wrap and pushes and twists until it pops and starts to rip. “Oh no it’s time to go,” the boy’s muttering. “I hate to leave you’ll make me though.” Jo the sword laid across her lap tears the plastic wrap away until he can wriggle his arms loose and crawl half out of the duffel bag. “Hold still,” says Jo, wrenching the plastic wrapped around his legs down and off.

“Jo, what are you,” Ysabel starts to say.

“Go on,” says Jo, as the boy crawls all the way out of the duffel. “Get out of here.”

“You can’t, Jo, you can’t,” says Ysabel.

“It’s dark,” says the boy, squatting in the dirt by the duffel, arms folding about himself.

“Where’s it going to go?” says Ysabel.

“It’s cold, Mommy,” says the boy.

“I don’t care,” says Jo. “Just get out of here.”

“You don’t care you don’t care,” the boy’s saying, “you don’t care,” as Ysabel says, “It doesn’t have anywhere else to go, Jo. It can’t go anywhere else. It’s not a kid, it’s a, a thing, a monster that was set upon us, by somebody, and if you let it go it will just – come back – ”

“You don’t care, Mommy,” says the boy.

“What, Ysabel,” says Jo, looking from the boy to her in her yellow slicker, the clear umbrella planted like a walking stick, shaking her head a little, her mouth open around something she’s almost about to say. “What,” says Jo.

“Something,” says Ysabel, tilting her head, “something my Gammer said to me, the very first night we met. I didn’t think it meant anything at all at the time. Just her – babble – ”

“I want to go home,” says the boy. “Shut up,” says Jo. “What was it. What did she say.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel. “Who’s Billy?”

“Billy,” says the boy, “Billy, I’m Billy,” and Jo slaps him. Then puts her hand to her mouth and closes her eyes. Lifts her hand away. “My father,” she says.

“No,” says Ysabel.

“The hell he isn’t!” snarls Jo, standing, taking her sword in her hand. “Bill fucking Maguire, you ask him – ”

“Bill,” says Ysabel. “Not Billy.”

“I’m Billy,” says the boy.

“I,” says Jo. “Ysabel. Don’t. Ask me that. I can’t, I can’t tell you – ”

“Yes you can,” says Ysabel. “Billy. That’s how it was fixed on us.” Stepping closer, taking Jo’s free hand in hers. “Please. Tell me who he is.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” says Jo.

“I want to go home,” the boy’s saying, and Ysabel says, “Yes, I do.”

“No,” says Jo. “You really don’t. I can’t tell you, Ysabel. It would change – a lot – ”

“You can trust me,” says Ysabel, pressing Jo’s hand to her breast.

“That’s not,” says Jo, tugging her hand back, “that’s not what I’m – ”

“I want to go home, Mommy,” says the boy, “it’s cold,” and wailing Jo turns and steps and lunges punching a hole through his chest. The edges of that wound flutter about the blade as his head lurches back and he opens his mouth, letting out a long sighful of breath arms up fingers wigging legs wobbling his head collapsing and his torso in on itself slithering off the sword as shivering he sinks down and down to the mud. Jo stands there over what’s left sword unmoving. Rubbery folds of skin, an empty hand, a foot stuck upright at an angle drooping, that curly mop of hair.

“Jo?” says Ysabel after a moment.

“Don’t,” says Jo. Stepping back. Pulling in her sword, lowering the tip of it. Something large, a truck booms by overhead. A car alarm’s blaring and whooping somewhere blocks away. On the ground before her in the darkness a little stir of something, garbage, a screwed-up twist of greasy paper, a burger wrapper, a yellow dish glove ripped half inside-out, the fingers of it flopped at odd and broken angles, a scrap of some threadbare old stuffed animal with hanks of tangled, curly fur.

“Leave it,” says Ysabel.

“Oh, yeah,” says Jo, shaking her head. “Hell yeah.” Kneeling by the duffel she works the sword back into that narrow cardboard box and drives it home. “I could eat a horse,” she says.

The storefront’s lit up yellow and warm in the blue-grey dawn. George’s, it says in red and yellow letters in a curve across the big front window. Shoes Repaired. Inside a half-dozen or so men and women in the little space between the front door and the counter and as many again in the marginally larger space beyond, bounded by a worktable mounded high with shoes of every shape and color, jogging shoes and sneakers in every garish color lapped open, laces undone, hightop basketball shoes and boat shoes, brogues and wingtips, pumps and slippers in jeweled dye jobs and faded dusty blacks, lurking stilettos, slingbacks and cork-soled clogs, monk and gladiator sandals, spectators and Oxfords, flats and mules and flip-flops printed with the filthy soles of bare feet long since gone, stern little Mary Janes, galoshes and Uggs, jackboots and hiking boots and chukkas and Chelseas, winklepickers, shitkickers, a long black shining knee-high vinyl boot laid crinkled and empty along one side of the mound, forlorn without a foot, and not one of any of them a match for any one of the others. To one side of the mound a couple of cardboard boxes with spigots and little running coffee cups printed on the side. An old man’s pouring coffee from one of them into styrofoam cups on the counter before him. He’s wearing a worn plaid shirt in greens and blacks with threads of yellow and his hair’s a crisp circle of curls from one ear around the back of his head to the other in a white that’s almost yellow against the reddish blackness of his skin. “Unleaded,” says a woman in blue coveralls, holding a stainless steel travel mug, and he sets the first box down and fills her mug from the second.

“An Apportionment,” someone’s saying, and “since the Samani,” and “not since two weeks before,” and “a thimbleful she’s promised twice now,” and “you’ll set up shop as a tailor if she,” and “oh, a supplier to tailors, a veritable thimblesmith,” and there’s laughter, but it’s bitter, muted.

“Yet you all keep on working for them,” says the man behind the counter.

After a moment a man in an olive work shirt says, “What else is there to do?” The name tag sewn on his shirt says Turlupin.

“The work must get done,” says the woman in blue coveralls.

“I think we ought to have another run at the basics of the thing,” says the man behind the counter, sipping coffee from one of the styrofoam cups.

“Oh, no,” says someone by the door, and they’re all turning, craning to look out the window. A woman naked her hair quite short and gunmetal grey a polished silver torc about her neck is marching across the dim and empty street toward the store. Behind her hurries a man in a grimy blue windbreaker, shopping bags in either hand bounced about by his churning legs. The bell over the door to the shop rings, and someone’s slipping out, walking quickly away down the sidewalk as that naked woman her pale skin splashed with something here and there that’s dried in white and crusted swathes crosses the narrow median stepping into the street again without looking either way. The bell dings again, and again, men and women in work shirts and coveralls, jean jackets, paint-splattered sweatshirts and medical smocks make their studiously unhurried way to the left and the right along the sidewalk away from the lit storefront. By the time she steps through the ringing door the man behind the counter is alone, and the little trash can on the floor is filled with empty styrofoam cups.

“Good morning,” says Linesse.

The man behind the counter doesn’t say anything. His eyes wide staring at her and his mouth open just he’s gone quite grey. “You can see her?” says Frankie, setting his shopping bags down on the floor.

“Of course I can, boy,” says the man behind the counter, after a moment.

“Well, good,” says Frankie, sourly. “There’s three or four people and a big-ass bus driver on the number six heading downtown who couldn’t at all.”

“Hollow and hive, boy, she’s dead,” says the man behind the counter.

“Dead but not forgotten,” says Linesse. “Why was your shop filled at daybreak with clods and urisks and domestics who should be about their business, Gordon? Do you mean to turn them all to rabbits?”

“You ain’t come here to talk politics,” says the man behind the counter.

“No,” says Linesse, looking from Gordon to Frankie, and back to Gordon again. “I must ask of you one last boon,” she says.

Gordon looks then at Frankie for the first time, head to toe, then shaking his head looks down at the cup of coffee in his hands. “Well,” he says, “I never said no to you before.” There’s a smile on his face now, rueful, wistful, as he looks up to meet her still stern eyes.

“No matter that I’ve turned my coat?” she says.

“What’s a coat to a cobbler?” says Gordon.

“What’s, what are we doing here?” says Frankie Reichart.

From unseen speakers somewhere up among the maze of ductwork painted white and struts a growling voice is chanting I had money, yeah, and I had none, over a churning organ riff, I had money, yeah, and I had none, but I never been so broke that I couldn’t leave town. “Another one?” says Ysabel.

“Go get some coffee or something,” says Jo. She’s headed for the squat grey shape of a cash machine there under the switchback of the access ramp, by the florist stand, pulling a wad of money from her jacket clamped in a medium-sized binder clip.

“She isn’t,” says Ysabel, looking down the aisles of groceries at the unlit green sign that says Starbucks, down by the deli counter, “they aren’t open.” Jo’s plucked a gold credit card from the binder clip and runs it through the reader on the cash machine. “Jo, what do you need all this money for?” says Ysabel.

Jo’s running her fingers along the options listed on the screen, twenty dollars, forty dollars, sixty dollars. Jo presses the screen by the last one which says Oh the heck with it three hundred. “I’m hoping I don’t,” says Jo. The cash machine starts whirring. It spits out twenty dollar bill after twenty dollar bill, and Jo scoops them up, counting through them quickly, folding them, stuffing them into the duffel bag.

“Jo,” says Ysabel, grabbing her hand. “Please – ”

“Don’t,” says Jo. “Don’t ask. I’m telling you.”

I’m the air you breathe, food you eat, growls the voice over the speakers. Friends you greet in the sullen street, wow.

Outside in the wet grey light Jo rushes ahead across the empty intersection, Ysabel trotting behind, “Jo, wait,” she’s saying. Catching her at the corner. “What are we doing. What’s happening.”

“I don’t know?” says Jo. “I need to, I’ve got to get some sleep, I’ve got to think – let’s just,” lifting both her hands to rub her eyes, her face, Ysabel stepping closer, her hands on Jo’s arms, “let’s go home, let’s clean up enough to collapse. I’ve got to get some sleep.”

“Whatever it is,” says Ysabel, ducking her head to catch Jo’s eyes as Jo looks down, away. “Whatever it is. You can trust me, Jo. Jo, please. Jo.” A hand to the side of Jo’s face, leaning closer. Kissing the bruise above Jo’s eye, then kissing her cheek. Jo standing stiff and still, breathing quickly, trembling. “Whatever,” says Ysabel. “So you had a kid – ”

“Don’t,” snarls Jo, pushing away, “Christ, Ysabel, just, just stop, you have no idea –

“You can trust me, Jo,” says Ysabel. “I trust you, I, I – ”

“It has nothing to do with that,” says Jo, turning, walking away. “Oh. Oh fucking hell.”


Jo’s pointing, down the street, toward the bulk of the apartment building, toward the cars parked along the street before it, toward the reddish brown car parked at an alacritous angle among them, a black stripe painted down its side.

“Oh,” says Ysabel.

“I just,” says Jo, “want to get some fucking sleep –

Table of Contents

The Changeling,” written by Jim Morrison, copyright holder unknown.

that Stern and Rough-hewn Hawk – Egg whites & Eschatology – Sky falls; Mountains crumble – three Answers –

That stern and rough-hewn hawk caged in his fingers the Duke’s leaning on his cane by the glass-topped café table, still in his long and camel-colored topcoat, a red-brown derby on his head. “Was there a riot in here?” he says as they open the door. Behind him by the bulky blond wood armoire Jessie arms folded in a double-breasted pinstripe coatdress, her hair in a tight bun, her lips carefully red.

“Get out,” says Jo, unshouldering the duffel bag and laying it and the narrow box on the floor. Ysabel behind her still in the little hallway kitchen.

“I came here out of concern,” says the Duke, “and frankly, I’m even more concerned, now – ”

“Get out,” says Jo, laying a hand on the glass table-top.

“Words were said,” says the Duke. “In haste. By both of us, I’m not gonna deny it, but in all that heat I had a little light in mind and I’m worried it didn’t articulate in a fully appreciable manner. So maybe – ”

“Get. Out,” says Jo.

“Breakfast,” says the Duke. “I can get us a private dining room at the Heathman, full spread buffet, we can talk, undisturbed – ”

“We already ate,” says Ysabel, as Jo’s saying, “Dammit, Leo, get the fuck out of my apartment.”

“Jo!” snaps the Duke, and he tumps his cane-tip on the carpet. “Listen to me. This is important. If you cannot keep a roof over her head then all bets are off.”

Ysabel steps up close behind Jo then. Jessie’s looking down at the pile of clothing by her feet. “The fuck is that supposed to mean,” says Jo quietly.

“You ever stop to think why nobody’s been coming at you?” Braced on his cane leaning over the table at her. “They’re all wary of the special understanding between me and the Queen, as regards the two of you.”

“Special,” Jo starts to say, as Ysabel’s saying “You don’t have a special understanding with my mother.”

“Precisely,” says the Duke. “And the minute you two get kicked out of this,” sniffing, looking about the small main room, “this shithole,” the mounds of clothing, the broken television, the filthy walls, “the very instant they get a whiff of any instability in your furlough, Princess, they all tumble to that very fact. And they will come a-running for you, Gallowglas. Swords out.”

“Is that how it’s supposed to go down,” says Jo, her voice still tightly quiet. “You graciously offer to do what you can to help us with the eviction, then do not a goddamn thing until it’s too fucking late. When there’s nowhere else to turn but you.”

“He called,” says Jessie, and the Duke thumps his cane again. “He did call,” she mutters. The Duke’s saying, “She didn’t say I didn’t, Jessie. We’re strictly in the realm of the hypothetical, here.”

“Hypothetically,” says Jo, both hands on the table-top closed in fists, “it might have worked.” Her eyes locked on his. “Only you went too far last night.”

“Too far?” says the Duke. “When I threw a party for you? That’s somehow – ”

“When you raped me, you sonofabitch.”

Ysabel lifts a hand but does not lay it on Jo’s arm. Jessie’s head snaps up, she’s looking at Jo, at the Duke gone suddenly pale. The thump of his cane-tip clanks this time and rings and he tilts the head of the cane to one side in his left hand, his right twitching his longsword the tip of it in a savagely quick little circle over the carpet. “Have a care, Gallowglas,” he says, “how you bandy that word about. You’ll force me to name you a liar, and then we’d have to test the merits of our quarrel.” Bringing his hands together again, resting them both on the hawk at the head of his cane.

“Liar?” says Jo. “You drugged me, then you fucked me. What else would you call that?”

“Jessie,” says the Duke, “did you enjoy your rape of our Princess?”

“Leo – ” says Jessie, and Jo roars, “I didn’t know it was in the goddamn drink!”

“Jo,” snaps the Duke, and then, gently, “all it does, in this, this context – I told you. It enhances, your sensations, your mood, your – ”

“Turns maybe,” says Jo, “into yes.”

He closes his eyes, purses his lips. Opens his eyes. “It does nothing to change your mind, Jo, or – ”

“I’m never gonna know that am I?” she says. “You should have just told me. You should have said something, Leo. Just, please. Just go.”

“Jo,” says the Duke, “I’m not about to walk out of here and leave it like this. Listen to me – ”

“Southeast,” says Ysabel, and the Duke closes his mouth, looks down at his hands on the head of his cane.

“Hawk,” she says, and he looks up, eyes dark. “Hind,” he says.

Ysabel puts a hand on Jo’s shoulder. “My champion has asked you to leave,” she says.

“Very well,” says the Duke, turning, holding out a hand to Jessie, letting her looking down the whole time lead the way as he limps out past Jo and Ysabel through the little hallway kitchen. One hand on the doorknob he turns, licks his lips, says, “I take my leave of you.” And then, “I wish you hadn’t cut your hair.”

He closes the door, gently.

“Jo?” says Ysabel, stepping to her side, both hands on Jo’s shoulders. Jo’s eyes are closed and she’s tipping her head back slowly, slowly, her mouth tightening, her breath gone shallow and quick. “Jo?”

The kitchen yellow and cream with glossy granite counters brightly lit against the gloomy morning light outside. Standing at the counter using a fork and knife to cut an egg-white omelette into precisely tiny pieces she’s wearing black, black jeans, a plain black T-shirt, a dark grey cardigan. “Well,” she says, cutting the tip from a triangle of toast. “Send him in.” Spearing a bite of omelette, a bit of toast, biting them both from her fork. The woman wearing the narrow black-rimmed glasses nods and turns and signals to someone in the hall.

“Chariot,” says the woman all in black.

“Ma’am,” says Roland. He hands a small jar half full of something viscous, milky, touched with just a hint of warm yellow gold, to the woman in the narrow black-rimmed glasses. His track suit’s a pale yellow with green stripes down the sleeves and legs.

“Thank you, Anna,” says the woman all in black, and the woman in the glasses nods and leaves, the jar in her hands. “How is my daughter?” says the woman all in black, slicing more strips from her toast.

“Ma’am,” says Roland, “I have not seen the Princess in almost a week.” His hands in fingerless bicycle gloves are clasped behind his back.

“Almost a week?”

He ducks his head. “It will have been a week ago tomorrow,” he says. “Afternoon.”

“And yet,” says the Queen, taking another bite of egg-white and toast, chewing, swallowing, “I saw her last night.” She lays her fork and knife to either side of the plate. “I managed a few hours’ sleep, Chariot. Not only that, I dreamed. Do you dream?”

He nods. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Singularly unpleasant,” she says. “I was suddenly in a filthy little bathroom, quite disgusting. Used wads of tissue littering the corner, grime between the tiles, you couldn’t begin to see your reflection in the mirror. The toilet? Was a horror. A girl lay on the floor, utterly naked, soaking wet, shivering so hard I could hear the teeth clattering in her head, and as I realized it was my daughter lying before me, Chariot, she opened her eyes, and she opened her mouth, and she clutched her belly,” and the Queen’s hands fold themselves together under her breasts, over her belly, “and it,” she says, “and her, it, she – it – ” She pushes her plate away across the counter, the omelette half-uneaten. “I woke up,” she says. “How is my daughter, Roland?”

“She has given herself to the Gallowglas,” says the Chariot. “Who has, in turn, been seduced by Southeast.”

“How is she physically?”

“Physically, ma’am?” he says, looking up to meet a piercing scowl.

“Is she hale? Whole? Ill in any way?”

“She has,” he says, and he looks back down, “assured me, ma’am, that she is well.”

“A week ago.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then it is not as bad as it could be,” says the Queen. “Merely worse, far worse, than we feared. I’d thought to distract her, by indulging her predilections. I never dreamed the Duke would, would stoop to such an oblique angle.”

“Ma’am,” says Roland, but she’s put both hands squarely on the counter, is looking at him frankly, head tipped back just, “Six weeks exactly,” she says, “isn’t it? He’ll try on the Solstice, don’t you think? It would appeal to his sense of the dramatic.” Her mouth smiles but her eyes do not. “The Hawk fancies himself an oak, and for me with all I’ve done it’s to be Gammer-hood, or worse.” Her hands on the counter rippled and ridged with thick veins and dotted the left especially with liver-colored spots.

“If the Bride is well,” says Roland.

“If she is well?” says the Queen. “You said she is well, all else considered.”

“She said she is well, ma’am.” His bicycle gloved hands clasped before him now, fingers fiddling with a velcro strap. “But what if she isn’t? What if she is no more a Princess than, than – ”

“Do you mean to say, Chariot, that she has lied to you?”

His hands freeze there before him. He slowly shakes his head. “What if she were wrong, ma’am?”

“She would know,” says the Queen. “We would all know. It would be the end, of everything.”

Roland walks back alone through the darkened house, rubbing his hands together before him. He stops to knock at a half-closed door, the room beyond lit only by a blue-shaded banker’s lamp on a long library table. Sitting at it the woman in narrow black-rimmed glasses looks up from a thick ledger filled with tiny, handwritten figures. By the ledger a wide-mouthed jar hashed with lines in white ink down the sides denoting ounces, gills, mutchkins, a thirdendeal. A drift of golden dust along an arc at the very bottom of it. “My audience is done,” says Roland.

“I have nothing for you, sir,” says the woman, setting aside a glass nib pen.


“There is to be nothing for anyone this week,” she says, looking back down at her ledger.

“What am I to tell – ”

“That there is to be no Apportionment this week, sir,” she says, taking off her glasses, looking up again. “This last batch was – off. No telling how, or from whom.”

“I see,” says Roland.

“Are you awake?” says Ysabel.

Curtains drawn sunlight thin and grey seeping around the edges. Side by side on the futon under the black and red and orange-brown blanket Jo and Ysabel neither of them eyes closed staring up at the dingy popcorned ceiling.

“No,” says Jo.

“Can I tell you something?” Ysabel shifts a little, turns her head to look sidelong at Jo.

Jo closes her eyes. “Sure,” she says.

“You said,” says Ysabel, “you don’t believe in love, and I said that was because you’d fallen out of love.” She shifts back, looking up at the ceiling again. “And I said I only knew love because I’d seen it in what other people do. I’d never been in love myself before. But seeing yourself like that, seeing what you do, from outside yourself – if I were in love, well, I wouldn’t know, would I.”

“Ysabel,” says Jo, and Ysabel turns on her side, “Shh,” raising a hand to lay a finger against Jo’s lips. Jo jerks her head to one side out from under it, “Don’t,” she says, and “Sorry,” says Ysabel, “I’m sorry,” and “Please just, let me finish.” Settling on her side head on the pillow both hands folded now and tucked beneath her chin. “You’re the first person,” she says, “you’re the only person, ever to tell me no.”

Jo turns her head at that, frowning at Ysabel. “The only, what?”

“You know what I mean,” says Ysabel. “The question, that I asked you. When it started to rain?”

“No, I, I,” says Jo, looking away back up at the ceiling again, “I do, but, Ysabel, I – ”

“Shh,” says Ysabel. “Had you said yes, you would have been bound to me.”

“Bound?” says Jo.

“Like,” says Ysabel, “the Chariot, and the Axe, Rain, a dozen, dozen others.” She swallows. “You said no. Which bound me to you, a link of toradh that will not be broken till, oh, till the sky falls, or the mountains crumble that are made of the dust of the mountains about us now.”

“Bound,” says Jo, shifting to look at Ysabel again.

“I am yours, Jo Maguire,” says Ysabel, as Jo’s saying, “That’s, that’s not love, that’s – ” and Ysabel shushes her again, presses a fingertip to Jo’s lips again, “Please,” she says. “Let me finish.” Stroking Jo’s cheek. “I knew you would say no. When I asked I knew you would say no.” Brushing Jo’s chin. “I am many things, but I’m not stupid. It’s why I asked you. I knew what you would say.”

“That’s,” says Jo, “that’s insane.”

Ysabel smiles. “I know.” She shifts onto her back, looking up again, and takes a deep deep breath. “It’s why I think it’s love,” she says.

Not a sob so much as a choked-off breath, a word maybe, as Jo curls over face clenching, Ysabel saying, “No, no, Jo,” reaching over, pulling her close, “Jo, it’s all right, I’m here, for you, whatever you need,” and Jo’s trembling, shaking in her arms, leaning back, wet eyes half-closed, biting her lip as the sound boils up again in bubbling yelps of laughter. “Jo?” says Ysabel, letting go, sitting up, as Jo rolls over hands to her face saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” in among the gasps.

“This is important,” says Ysabel, and Jo’s laughter redoubles and helplessly squeezing herself legs kicking up under the blanket “I know,” she says, “I know, I’m sorry, if I don’t,” catching her breath, “oh God if I don’t laugh I’m gonna fucking break down and cry for a fucking week, oh Ysabel, oh, oh,” wiping her eyes, “that was, I think that was the sweetest thing you’ve ever said. I’m sorry.”

“I just wanted you to know,” says Ysabel, arms folded in her lap.

“I know,” says Jo. “I know.”

“Whatever you did. Whatever you have to tell me, it doesn’t matter.” Shrugging in her oversized yellow nightshirt, her black curls snarled about her head. Looking down, away from Jo, a bit of a pout to her mouth. “Or not tell me, whichever.”

“There’s a price,” says Jo.

“It doesn’t matter,” says Ysabel.

“Don’t say that yet,” says Jo. “I mean I can show it to you. It’s a very concrete price.”

Sitting up in her black tank top Jo plucks from the white shelf behind them a wad of money clamped in a medium-sized binder clip. She undoes the clip and rifles through the bills, teasing out a gold credit card, which she lays on the pillow between them. MasterCard, it says. Bank of Trebizond. Joliet K. Maguire. Good thru 13/99. “That bank,” says Jo. “They have offices, in the Meier & Frank building, don’t they, or some kind of partnership, arrangement or something?”

“That’s the Duke’s card,” says Ysabel.

“No,” says Jo. “No. I mean he gave it to me, yeah. But it’s mine. All mine. The secret, that I gave them? When you sent me in there? Was worth a hell of a lot more than a couple of dresses and some underwear.”

Ysabel folding her arms about herself, smaller somehow, huddled in that baggy nightshirt, looks down at the card, then back up at Jo. “Billy,” she says.

“For about maybe a week?” says Jo, looking away over Ysabel’s shoulder, the dark sheets of the curtains, dull light leaking around the edges. “I was going to keep him, carry him and have him. I was going to name him after my father. William. Bill, Bill Maguire. Billy.” She closes her eyes. “But,” she says. “I wouldn’t have finished high school. And I – tested well. There were maybe some scholarships, there was some family money we could maybe, I had options, I had things, that I could do, places to go if I just, if I could just – ” She shakes her head, looks down at the gold card on the pillow between them. “I made an appointment, I got an abortion.”

“Oh,” says Ysabel, and then, leaning forward, “oh, Jo, I – ”

“I’m not done,” says Jo, her hand on Ysabel’s knee.

Ysabel looks down at the gold card. Her hand on Jo’s hand there on her knee. She looks back up, and she nods, once.

Jo swallows. “She asked me three questions, the woman with the bank. Whether I missed him. If I still loved him. What I would tell him, if I could. And I said, I said. Yes, I said. Yes. And I’m sorry.” Leaning forward elbows on her knees head down hunching in on herself. “Because it was all for nothing,” she says. “Because look what all I did with all those fucking options. I’m sorry how badly I fucked it all up,” and with a splintery crack the gold card splits into three sharp jagged shards. Ysabel jerks back. Jo puts her face in her hands.

After a moment, Ysabel reaches out to lay a hand on Jo’s shoulder. Lays her other hand on Jo’s other shoulder and leans forward, tugging Jo toward her until Jo buckles her head against Ysabel’s chest, Ysabel’s arms folding about her. She kisses Jo’s wine-red hair, then tilts, leans down a little to kiss her cheek. Her nose against Jo’s temple. “That’s it, then,” she says.

“Yeah,” says Jo, muffled by Ysabel’s nightshirt, sighing, pulling her arms out from between them, settling them around Ysabel’s hips. Pulling her close, a sudden fierce hug, and Ysabel lifts her head blinking, looking down at Jo and opening her mouth a word there trembling which does not fall. She shuts her mouth firmly, closes her eyes, lays her head against Jo’s.

“I got,” says Jo, “twelve hundred on the way home.” Sitting up, pulling back a little, leaning back in Ysabel’s arms. “With what we’ve got here that’s seventeen? Eighteen?” Looking over her shoulder at the cracked television hanging over the foot of the futon. “We sell what that thing didn’t break or ruin? We can maybe clear two thousand.” Leaning back further as Ysabel lets go. “It’s not enough, not nearly enough. Not for first, last, security – we’ve gotta find new jobs – shit.”

Ysabel says, “The Duke offered us a – ”

“The Duke,” snaps Jo, “is out of the question.”

“I know!” says Ysabel. “I, I know. I’m just trying to catch up.”

“Yeah,” says Jo. “Yeah, he offered. Now I wouldn’t be surprised if we go outside and find he’s sent his boys after us again, whatsisname, the Stirrup with his sword out to take you back, for your own good.”

“The Mason,” says Ysabel.

“Or that scary-ass motherfucker,” says Jo, looking down, then suddenly back up at Ysabel, “Oh, hell, Jessie. I’m sorry, Ysabel, I didn’t even – I mean, are you gonna be, do you need to – ”

“Jessie,” says Ysabel, “Rain, well. If I need, if I want something like that, there’s this – ”

“A dozen dozen others?”

“Well,” says Ysabel. Smiling. “Not all of them.”

“Okay,” says Jo, “that settles it. Our next place, we’re definitely getting separate rooms.”

Ysabel laughs. “I’d like to request a proper tub,” she says.

“Why stop there? Full-on jacuzzi. Only way to go.”

“Walk-in closets.”

“Hell, that’s a given. Underwear drawers as high as you can reach. And a fireplace.”

“A ballroom,” says Ysabel, laughing, “a fully stocked wet bar.”

“A decent goddamn kitchen,” says Jo.

“Oh yes.”

“Ysabel,” says Jo, her hand on Ysabel’s knee. “When I find whoever it was who did this, who sicced that thing on me. I’m going to kill them.”

“I know,” says Ysabel, her hand on Jo’s. “I’m going to help you.”

Table of Contents

a screwed-up Twist of Paper

A screwed-up twist of paper on the scarred wooden table before him, yellowed in a pool of streetlight from the tall wide windows. He contemplates it a moment, tilting his head this way and that, long black glossy hair slithering over a shoulder as he leans a little to one side, and then with both hands carefully carefully begins to pick it open, this corner, that fold, gently smoothing it bit by bit against the wood, careful of the spots of old grease here and there, wiping his fingertips from time to time on the thick white napkin to one side. Burger Chef, it says over and over again in pink letters under a stylized orange chef’s hat. Super Shef, repeated again and again. Unfolding the last bit with a crinkle he takes up an edge of it and with a sweep of his hand turns it over. Scrawled letters in purple crayon say BILLY.

He sits back in the high wooden booth with a gentle smile, lifts a glass of water in a little salute to the wrapper and takes a sip. He scratches his cheek by a black eyepatch, tugging at the skin, and there is a glimpse of something wet and ruined underneath. “Excuse me,” says a woman, and letting the eyepatch flap back into place Orlando looks up at her with his one good eye.

She’s quite fat, in a black high-waisted gown and black and white striped arm socks, and her jet black hair’s threaded with white ribbons and silvery spangles and gathered in two great hanks over either shoulder. Her bangs cut short and dyed a virulent pink. “You are,” she says, “striking, and I just wanted, to tell you that. Because men aren’t often told, that they are beautiful, and I think it would be a better world, if they knew, they were.” Her eyes painted black behind thick black cat’s eye glasses. Orlando leans back, looking past her, about, at a table over by the bar, three or four people dressed all in black, white collars here and cuffs there, black net gloves, a black top hat, leaning together, laughing together, looking away from him too quickly. He looks back up at her, quite still, not smiling at all, and she swallows as she meets his eye. “Please,” he says. “Sit down.”

“Gloria,” she says, as she squeezes into the booth across from him. “You can call me Gloria. Gloria Monday.”

“And I,” says Orlando, “am the Mooncalfe. Why are you here?”

“Oh, the show? Bellamy Bach?” Her black and white striped hands rubbing over and over each other. “She’s just, she’s just fantastic – ”

“No,” says Orlando, “why are you at my table?” He looks over at the table by the bar again, and they all look away again, too quickly. “They dared you to come over here, didn’t they. You didn’t think I’d ask you to sit down.”

“I,” she says, “I didn’t – ”

“You want the world to be a better place,” he says.

“Well,” she says, “yes. Who wouldn’t.”

“Better for whom?” he says. “You may find it better that men know you think they are beautiful, but perhaps beautiful men would rather be left alone. Don’t get up.” She sits back in the booth. “You’re here now,” he says. “You might as well stay a moment. I forced my enemy to do a terrible thing tonight.” He folds the crinkled wrapper carefully in half, and half again.

“Your enemy,” says Gloria Monday.

“She is in great pain, now,” says Orlando, and “She?” she says, and he looks at her with his one dark eye, and her black-painted lips snap shut. “She does not know who has done this thing to her. She does not know whom to trust, whom she can depend on. She will lash out. She will do many more terrible things to the people about her in the days to come. Her world is not a better place tonight. But mine is. If you are still here,” he says, as he tucks the folded wrapper away in the pocket of his loose white shirt, “in half an hour’s time, if you have not gone upstairs to the show with your, friends,” and at that she looks over her shoulder quickly at the table by the bar and then back to him, “then,” he says, “I will take you by the hand and lead you to a place where we will not be disturbed. Where you will not be heard. And I promise you this will be the best, last night of your life.” He lifts his glass of water and she watches him drink it down. “When the big hand is on the three, then?” he says, setting it back on the table between them.

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