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Water & Wine – Last Thursday –

A glass of water, a glass of dark red wine on the formica table between them. “I know what this must look like,” says the woman who picks up the glass of wine. Cradles it in both hands elbows on the table. She doesn’t take a sip. She’s draped in a brown and yellow striped serape and her hair is short and black in the dim light.

“What’s that,” says the woman across from her, a hazy cloud of curls the color of clotted cream tied in a thick spray of a tail at the back of her head. A sheepskin jacket slung over the back of her chair. They’re up by the front windows, high dark narrow panes behind a slender wrought iron grill. The woman in the serape says, “When one person asks the other person out to a public place to talk about something important so the other person won’t make a scene when they get dumped or whatever, that’s not – ” She sips her wine then, cupping the glass in both hands. “I’m not kicking you out. I’m not asking you to leave.” Another sip. “But it’s unfair. It’s unfair to me, it’s unfair to Jason and Grace, it’s certainly not something we can ask them to – ”

“What is.”

Carol sets her glass back on the table. “I found your dope.”


“Your drugs, Mar, I found your damn drugs when I was cleaning up the – ”

“I don’t have drugs.”

“Don’t!” Carol’s hands clench on the table, “try to, brazen your way out of this, okay? Don’t tell me it’s just glitter. Glitter doesn’t numb your gums.”

Marfisa drinks down half her water in a couple of deep slow swallows. “I don’t have drugs,” she says.

“I don’t know whether this has to do with your breakdown or what – ”

“Carol,” says Marfisa.

“Sorry,” says Carol. She takes another sip of wine. “It’s just,” she says, “it’s such a waste. You know what Streak did, the little shit?”

“Carol,” says Marfisa again.

“He uploaded a couple of tracks to I guess YouTube or something. Sent them around. The Mask Song, and that goofy King Arthur Star Trek thing you had us do?”

“Deedee’s Song,” says Marfisa.

“The Mercury linked to them. People are listening to them. People are talking about them, about us. What happened. Where’d we go. Is there an album, where’s the album.”

“Carol,” says Marfisa, firmly this time, and Carol bites her lip and sits back in her serape. “It’s over,” says Marfisa. “Even if I were willing. Even if I could, you would never get Otto or Wharfinger in the same room with me again.”

“Anne Thorpe,” says Carol. “From Anodyne? Is sniffing around. Wants to do a story.”

Marfisa drinks the rest of her water, sets the empty glass upside-down on the table between them. “You’re right,” she says, “it is unfair, to you, and Jason, and Grace. Your holiday.” Standing, pulling on the sheepskin jacket. “I’ve taken a week. I’m back on my feet. You’ve been.” She looks down. “Very helpful,” she says. “But. It’s not drugs.” Somewhere, outside, there’s a fluttering pop of drums, a thin and distant whine of flutes and whistles. “It’s more like,” Marfisa’s saying, stepping back, away from the table, looking out the windows, stepping toward the door. Carol stands. “Mar?”

Marfisa opens the door. A little bell chimes.

Under the blue and orange neon sign that says Alberta Rexall Drugs a little crowd is knotted all in raingear, dark wool and fleece, gleaming nylon and gore-tex and leather against the seeping rain. Flutes whirl around the ache of a melody over a growing growling drone as drums rattle and clatter closer and closer. Down the middle of the street through the haze of rain hung blushed by streetlight in the air a procession almost outnumbering the little crowd, at the head of it two young boys and an even younger girl in knee-length frock coats, the boys strutting with snare drums, the girl struggling with a clear bass drum strapped to her belly. Next a figure enormous in a crude suit of wicker armor, head hidden away behind a woven barrel of a helm, in one hand a long rattan pole. To one side of him a woman in a blue-black cloak over a gown of watery mail, her short hair gunmetal grey, and beside her trudges a clattering man, ducting and foam insulation clamped stiffly about his legs, a great stainless-steel pot lid hung over his chest, colander rakishly topping his head. Children the smallest barely a toddler wind laughing about their legs in rags and tatters, worn footed pyjamas, a filthy bib, a sodden wrap of fake blue fur. And behind them all a trundling black hulk of a car headlights dark the pavement beneath it lit up blue and green and purple the sides of it crusted with, with a teeming horde of dolls, doll heads, doll arms, jaggedly broken torsos and legs, all of them roughly painted black and glued and welded, bolted to the fenders, the hood, the doors, a coat of stiffly bristled fur combed back and up along the lines of the car, reaching toward the throne that squats on the roof, where’s slumped a black sack of a cloak topped by a tangle of dead black hair hung low, twined with dull white streaks.

“Some Last Thursday thing?” says Carol.

Marfisa’s eyes widen as that tangle of hair shifts, turns, tips back. She looks away quickly, down at the sidewalk, Carol’s heeled brown boots. “But it’s Friday,” she says, a crack in her voice.

“It’s November?” says Carol. “Last Thursday – yesterday – was Thanksgiving, right? Our holiday?” The drummers with flourishes drag their beat to a halt and the little procession stops just past the intersection at the other end of the block, those flutes and whistles still, for a moment only the seep of the rain. “So they do it on a Friday,” says Carol. She’s pointing. “They’ve got something going with Clown House, anyway.”

There in the street they’re all turning to face the house on the corner, peeling pink siding and mud-red trim, a welter of bicycles along the edge of the lot, tipped over onto the sidewalk, people spilling from its cramped front porch, coming out the side door gawking, wildly colored hair and faces painted white, a straw hat, a green and yellow cheerleader outfit, a grey uniform with red stripes, overalls and a plaid jacket, a ruddy round man in a leopard-print bikini and a purple feather boa his thin beard caked with white paint, and pushing to the front of them all is someone wearing a rabbit head with a metallic, skull-like face.

On the side of the car a bony man in a pinstripe suit is standing on the running board he’s reaching up careful of the dolls to take the hand of the woman slumped up there on the throne. He’s singing, a cold keen countertenor slicing through the murmurs of the crowds on the sidewalk, by the house, “Ní dhéanfaidh an ghealach solus d’éin-neach,” as the woman in that dark black cloak rolls out of the throne and he catches her, hefting her down from the roof of the car to the street, and all of them, children and toddlers, motley knights, drums still and flutes quiet, all of them singing along, “’S ní bheidh éisg ann air muir nó air tír – ”

“Is that,” says Carol, “damn, that’s Danny Boy. Spookiest arrangement I ever – Mar?” Marfisa isn’t beside her. “Mar?” Turning, looking back, the sidewalk, the street behind her empty, just the lights from a restaurant, a couple of shops a block or more away.

Table of Contents

Gore-tex® is a registered trademark of WL Gore & Associates. YouTube™ is a trademark of Google.™ “Aisling an Óigfhir,” writer unknown, within the public domain.

the Hat in his hands – the Niceties of Debt – her Business – his Messages –

The hat in his hands a soft pale grey, its absurdly high crown punched in on one side. The brim of it wide. Gold dust shivers away as he turns it over, sparks that flash and fall to the pavement. “Easy enough,” he says. “He got struck a mortal blow, and a Gallowglas on the field.” He hands it to Luys beside him, tall and broad in a brown shortwaisted jacket. “Jo?” says Luys, but the Duke’s limping away down the street, cane-tip tocking loudly in the hush.

“Leo?” says Jessie, there by the reddish-brown car, slewed to a stop in the middle of the street.

“She didn’t do that,” says the Duke, turning, pointing up to the old green house on the corner behind them, dark, lower windows boarded front door ajar, big columns of its shallow porch once white now grimy, scored, stripped, all behind a forbidding tangle of bare branches, a narrow garden overgrowing a low stone wall, threatening the sidewalk. “Get Sweetloaf on the horn. Tell him, have him pull everyone in. Batten the gates, bolt the hatches, hunker on down. I’m gonna see what Goodfellow knows.” He limps on, out across the empty, rain-wet intersection, camel-colored topcoat blown out in the glaring haze of pinkish-orange streetlight. “I’ll just be a moment.” Cater-corned from the old green house a big white ramshackle house, its windows all alight with flickering, winking Christmas lights and candles.

A short straight sword, the hilt of it wrapped in white leather worn and yellowed, the blade two fingers wide down to the floorboards where it’s been thrust, the wood there singed about the upright blade. The Queen’s black pumps primly together there at the edge of that neatly charred ring, her hands clutched to her breast, trapped within them a loosening braid of glossy white hair and Jo’s hand, Jo in her butter-colored coat beside the Queen, arm out at an awkward angle, sword slung over her other shoulder, in her free hand a crudely blocky mask, its mane of black hair lazily floating in the still air. Somewhere far off from the back of the house the plink and clank of an amplified harp. Jo’s looking about the big front room in fits and starts, the stairs, the dim hallway leading away beneath them, the front door, the bay windows with candles melting on every sill, always back and back to the bright doorway, the kitchen beyond the color of toothpaste, and Robin Goodfellow all in black, shaking his head. “I could not allow,” he’s saying, “someone of your stature to become so indebted to me.”

“So damn my stature,” says Ray, says Lymond, one hand clamped to the top of his head as if to keep his wild pink hair from springing away.

“Highness,” says Robin, stiffly.

“No, damn it, damn the niceties, I have come too far today to be held up by this. Forget,” he says, “what has just happened, forget it all, who we are, focus on this. I am someone you have never seen before.”

“Highness,” says Robin, again, and “You have never seen me before,” says Lymond, “and I am asking, you, Goodfellow, if my mother, the mother of someone you have never met before, might not find herself a place to stay, here, for a time.”

The Queen’s reached out with one hand toward the plain pommel of the sword but doesn’t touch it, quite. Robin’s leaning an elbow against the doorjamb, forehead against the heel of his hand. “When one is owed a favor, Highness,” he says, “sooner or later those in one’s debt expect one to need something in return.” He straightens, hand turning a fillip there by his frown, a flutter of a shrug. “I can’t afford that.”

The Queen’s hand closes in a fist she draws back to her breast. Squeezing Jo’s hand there in hers and Jo looks over with a wince of a smile. “I didn’t know,” murmurs the Queen. “If I leave you without a choice?” Lymond’s saying.

“Then by all means,” says Robin. “If coerced, then nothing’s owed.” The harp has twinkled to an end, a patter of applause. “How long were you thinking you’d be?”

“Not hours but days,” says Lymond, “days but not weeks. Mother.” He holds out a hand to the Queen. Jo’s saying, “Is that it? Are we done?” as Lymond says, “We must be off, away over the river as soon as – ”

“A moment, Highness,” says Robin. “How do you mean, then, to leave me without a choice?”

Lymond hand still outstretched turns back to look at him. “Niceties?” he says, and Robin shrugs. The unseen harp has taken up a slower, more contemplative air. “Gallowglas,” says Lymond. “The gun.”

“What?” says Jo, her hand still trapped in the Queen’s.

“Take the gun from your pocket and point it at Robin Goodfellow,” says Lymond, his bulging eyes quite serious, and Robin takes a step back, into the kitchen.

“The hell I will,” says Jo.

“Gallowglas, please. We haven’t any time to spare.”

“Ray,” says Jo, “unless your next step’s helping me find Ysabel, we don’t have a goddamn thing at all.”

“Jo,” says Lymond, stepping toward her, “I need your help.”

“I don’t need yours,” says Jo, jerking her hand free, and the front door bursts open, the Duke sweeping in, stomping his foot, “Goodfellow!” he cries, looking about the big front room, frowning, eyes widening, mouth opening, “The last place I’d look,” he says, half to himself.

“Leo,” says Jo, over the dripping of the harp.

His cane dropped clatters to the floor. His derby hat whipped away into the darkness on the stairs. A heavy step, the scraping drag of a limp, the flop of his long coat opening. Step and scrape and the ringing whine of steel on wool. “Draw,” he says, a gutted croak, longsword in both hands held out before him, pommel braced against his hip.

“No,” says Jo, gone pale.

“No duels,” says Robin, “not in this house, not tonight,” and “Silence!” bellows the Duke. Away off in the back of the house the harp stumbles, stops. “You stole from me, you left me,” he says, “you ruined me,” step and scrape again, “you sent my Tommy and the Shootist now to dust, you broke your oath – ”

“No,” says Jo, stepping away from the Queen, her sword bumping awkwardly on her shoulder, the mane trailing a wake from the mask in her hand. “I only took what was mine,” she says. “And the only oath I swore was to do right, and good, and all that – ”

“For me!” cries the Duke. “You broke your oath to me, Gallowglas, and I will have it proved. Draw your sword.”

“No,” says Jo, and the Duke with a twist of his hips flap of his coat wheels his longsword back and up, over his head –

“Look to your peers, Hawk,” says Lymond.

And like that the blade stops, droops at an angle, and the Duke turns to look on Lymond, pop-eyed, pink-haired, in his black leather jacket. “Who are you,” says the Duke, “that address me so familiar.”

“It was them that did for my mother,” says Lymond. “Guisarme and Axehandle. Look to them.”

“You,” says the Duke, flat-faced, “your,” and then bursting up out of him a snapping bark of a laugh.

“It’s marked me, hasn’t it,” says Lymond. “Same as it’s marked you.”

“You’re next,” says the Duke, turning back to Jo. “Unless?” Looking over his shoulder at Lymond again. “You’d stand as her champion? No?” Grunting he hauls his blade back up, and Jo standing there before him one hand in her coat pocket one hand still holding the mask, mouth set, her eyes the color of mud blinking rapidly.

“Hawk!” cries Lymond.

“Enough,” says the Queen, lifting her head. “Enough. She has the right of it, Hawk. Put it down,” and she steps between them, steps right up to him, “put it away,” and he steps back and back again, sword swiveling in his hands, ponderously lowering down and down until it rests blade-tip squeaking on the scratched wood floor as he leans against the pommel. “Ma’am,” he says.

She walks past him, over to the front door, stoops and picks up the Duke’s cane. “Please,” she says, returning, holding the cane out to him. “Not here, not now. If there is to be a fight,” and she looks across the room, to Lymond, “let it be a fair one.”

The Duke takes his cane from her hand. “Of course,” he says, “we are thrilled your, son, has returned, from wherever it was he went. And we welcome him,” thump of the cane-tip on the floorboards, creak as he leans his weight on the rough-hewn head of it, “with open arms.”

“The Perry have always looked warmly to the support of Barganax,” says Lymond. Beside him in the doorway to the kitchen Robin is quite still, arms folded across his chest.

“Jo,” says the Queen then, and Jo looks down, thumbs her lip, looks up to meet those dark eyes. “Jo Huntsman,” says the Queen. “We have kept you long enough. We would – I would, have you be about your business.” The rustling of the mane of the mask in Jo’s hand in the utter silence of that room. “The Mooncalfe takes bread and salt and oil from no one, but tonight. Tonight he murdered my mother and stole my daughter and for that.” Her voice snagging on the words. “I would have you find him, Huntsman. Find him, and shoot him, like a gangster, and send him down to dust.”

“Yes ma’am,” says Jo with a deep breath. Lymond, his goggle-eyes watching as she nods, the Duke his eyes on the floor as she shifts and settles the sheathed sword a little higher on her shoulder. She walks to the front door, opens it, steps through, and pulls it shut behind her.

She’s down the steps and under the trees that line the street when the front door opens again, slams shut rattling glass, “Jo!” It’s the Duke, crashing down the stairs from the porch.

“Fuck you,” snarls Jo, stalking away down the sidewalk.

“Jo!” Wincing, hissing as he hop-lopes after her. “Jo, wait!”

“After that?” she says. “After all that? Fuck you,” and then, marching back toward him, “I trusted you, you sonofabitch. I trusted you and I waited and I left her. With him.” One hand up churning the air mouth open head shaking from side to side, “Fuck you,” her hand tossing the words at him, the mane of the mask in her other hand whipping, an echo. “You were gonna cut me down in there!”

“Steel’s to be answered with steel,” he says, and she shoves her free hand in the pocket of her coat and tugs it out, the gun, flat and black and pointed at him. “Try it,” she says. The mane shivering, stiff, upright. “If she hadn’t stopped you,” says Jo. “I would’ve blown you away. You stupid motherfucker.”

“Maybe,” he says. “You can put it away, Gallowglas. I think we’re done now.”

“Huntsman,” she says, the gun still pointed at him. “I got a promotion.”

“Only till the King comes back,” he says, looking back, away at the reddish-brown car parked on the side of the street now, in front of that green house cater-cornered. Luys on the sidewalk beside it, his hand on the roof of the car. “And I don’t think I like the way it looks on you.”

“Tough,” says Jo.

“Jo – ”

“Jo what. Jo what! Put the gun down? Get in the car, go back and wait and wait and wait,” her trembling arm she crooks her elbow gun dropping pointed still at his belly, “for you to grow a pair and sit on the fucking Throne already?” Her arm snaps straight again, hauling the gun back up. The mane quivers about the mask in her other hand. “No,” the Duke’s saying mildly, “no, that’s not what I was gonna, by all means, go. Get him. I just,” and he sighs. His eyes on the barrel of the gun. “After last night.” He looks up. “This morning. We’re done. Yeah?” And her arm crooks again, gun hitching up, away. It tips over, pointed down. “Where’re you gonna go with that,” he says.

Her fingers opening the gun lying there not much longer than her hand, the dull black barrel, the letters Kel-Tec stamped in the pebbled metal, grip of it wound about with glossy black tape. “I don’t know,” she says, looking away from him, away from the white house, down along the street dipping under the trees toward a brightly lit intersection where a car drifts silently by. “Nobody knows where he is. Where he would’ve gone. Ray, Lymond, he kept saying it was okay, we’d find him, she’d be okay, but.” She stuffs the gun back in her pocket. “There’s somebody I know of who knows – stuff.” The mane of the mask drifting languidly as she turns back to him. Blinking quickly. “It’s not much, but.”

“Do you love her?” says the Duke.

“I don’t love anybody,” she says.

“Horseshit.” And then, “Burnside and Broadway. That abandoned burger joint. Start there. It’s where he’s been, living, the last little while.”

“Oh,” says Jo. “Leo, I – ”


“Thank you,” says Jo.

“Don’t ever,” says the Duke, turning away, “say that to me again.” Limping back up the sidewalk into the darkness under the trees, toward the car, Luys leaning against. A blaring horn behind her, the squall of tires, some music playing somewhere worn away to nothing but an insistent thump. She heads away down toward the brightly lit intersection, sword on her shoulder, mask in her hand.

A beep echoing harshly off the flat walls stark in the only light from a desk lamp set on the floor, two rows of yellow tables and orange plastic chairs, the enormous close-up photo of a hamburger brown and yellowed with grime, menu boards empty and dark, cold ovens lined up behind the counter in the darkness. A squawk, a recorded voice distorted by volume fills the air, “Yeah. Okay. We’re in. Place and time as suggested.” Rattle and click bounce from the walls, around corners. Plops of water dripping and a high-pitched whine of water rushing somewhere in the pipes, a grinding clank of flexible metal hose being pulled, yanked in the darkness there at the back of the kitchen, a wide shape all in black hauling the spray head out of the broad deep sink, holding it up by her shoulder. Squeezing open the big clamping valve there’s a croak, a knocking of pipes, water erupts and she grunts as she struggles to hold the hose up, blasting Ysabel’s back, soaking her hair slapped against her face as Ysabel turns away braced against the counter. Another croak, water’s gone, just plopping drips again, the whine in the pipes. “God you’re filthy,” says Gloria all in black, opening up the hose again, aimed at Ysabel’s legs, her buttocks, Ysabel hunched over the counter on her elbows. Croak again. Ysabel dripping, shivering violently, there’s a blurt, a babble loud and shrill, “Kay. We’re in. Place and time as.” Clack. “Who the hell has an answering machine anymore,” mutters Gloria, a rustle of something in the darkness, something thrown at Ysabel, she catches in awkwardly, cloth, a pair of pants, sweatpants, the blurting babble again. “Dry off with those,” says Gloria. “And time as suggested,” and then the rattle again of a phone dropped somewhere else, some time before.

“I need my clothes,” says Ysabel.

“They’re soaked. Ruined,” says Gloria. “No time.” More rustling, the blurt and babble, “Okay. We’re.” Clack.

“I have to have something,” says Ysabel.

“I tried to tell him. All my stuff’s too big for you. Try this.” Snapping flutter, something white, Ysabel drapes it over herself, a T-shirt. “This is enormous,” she says. Letters scrawled in black ink across the front say The Gloomadon Poppers.

“Put it the fuck on,” snaps Gloria.

A phone rings, a loud slow clang of a ring, a metal clapper hitting metal bells, and again, and again, as Ysabel and Gloria stand there, listening, dripping. Clack and the harsh beep, a voice then, too loud as before, but higher, drier, the Duke’s voice, “You stupid sonofabitch pick up I know you’re there. Pick up!” Fumble rattle of phone in hand. “Get in,” he says to someone else. “You’ve finally made it. You’re way out beyond the horizon, over the pale, you’re getting your fucking showdown and when the two of you are done with each other, if there’s anything left of you,” a breath too loud, too harsh, overwhelming, “look up, look to the west. That shadow’s me, coming down off the Throne to grind you into dust.” Click-clack.

Ysabel holding the T-shirt, Gloria’s eyes glinting in the darkness, an eruption of babble and then the voice again, “The horizon, over the pale, you’re getting” clack and tumbling squawk, “Know you’re there. Pick up! Get in. You’ve” clack-clack. “Who,” says Gloria looming, “who the fuck, you know who that is. You – you – ” Another glint down low leaning in there she is wide face pressed close her hand in black lace there between them. Jutting from it a short wide blade ash-dark but for the very gleaming edge of it. “When the two of you,” the loud voice says, “are done with each other, if there’s” clack. “Who is that,” says Gloria, “who’s he talking about.” Ysabel against the counter leaning back eyes on the knife pressed close. “Each other, if there’s anything left of” click. Babble.

“You don’t know what I can do with this,” says the woman, pressing the blade a crease in Ysabel’s cheek. “If I’m angry.” Voice stretched taut. “And I hate you.” Pressing hard enough to turn Ysabel’s face to one side. “Thing left of you,” that enormous breath, “look up, look to the west.”

“Who is that,” says Gloria. “Who’s coming.”

Ysabel blinking says, “You don’t hate – ”

Her shriek raw piercing there’s a scramble and that recording dies in a crunch of shattered plastic. Around the corner between the rows of yellow tables he’s crouching low feet fast under his dark skirt shirtless sword held up before him short blade back against his forearm leaping onto the counter beneath the dark menu boards. At the back of the kitchen light’s fizzing in the air Gloria’s falling back Ysabel’s slumping falling to her knees hand to her bright face. He leaps again, kicks off the face of an oven, leaves a swipe of a footprint in the grease-rimed dust on the griddle, alights by the sink between them Ysabel on her side clutching her cheek with both hands floor about her flooded in a shock of white light moaning and he turns blade whipping about in his hand to point at Gloria tipped over a couple of paper bags spilling clothing black and white. “What have you done,” he says, his voice gone quiet and cold.

Table of Contents

“The Secret, the Candle, and Love,” written by Andreas Vollenweider, copyright holder unknown. “On the Way Down from the Moon Palace,” written by Lisa Germano, copyright holder unknown.

the Only light – what Needs doing – Summing up – into the Woods –

The only light from the desk lamp kicked over, the only sound a single distant plop of water dropping and she jerks the gun in her hand jabbing back the way she’s come, ahead again, shadows blotting the enormous close-up photo of a hamburger behind her, weird crawling nets of shadow from the long black mane that snakes about the mask she’s wearing.

Around the corner the light cut off the counter there the menu boards above it blank and dark and the blank blackness of the kitchen yawning beyond. Not quite blank. Gun over the counter wavering tilting she works her wrist resettles her fingers hefts the sheathed sword slung from her shoulder. Tips back the mask, blinking. Free hand up against the harsh light streaming behind her. Somewhere at the back of the kitchen a suggestion of light low on the floor faintly sketches the barest edges of ovens and grills, the hooded bay of the fryer.

Another plop of water. She jumps.

She steps through the gap at one end of the counter fully into shadow now she’s pulling out her phone, thumbing it on, holding it up, faint haze of light from its screen enough just to show where she’s putting her feet. The light ahead is brighter now than what seeps from the phone, enough to pick out the shapes of itself, splashes and splatters, a bit on the floor there, a swipe of it along the edge of something, again a plop of water, a sink there at the back of the kitchen. She stops. Looks down. Her foot tangled in, in cloth, glossy black, a glimmer, spangles. She scoops it up. A vest, heavy with gold embroidery.

The first patch of light there on the floor, a dollop no bigger than her palm, the sullen glimmer of it not enough to sheen the metal of the gun in the hand she holds over it. Unhooking her pinkie from the butt of the gun she dips, brushes the stuff, a brittle crust collapsing into glitter, dusting her fingertip with gold. More dripped along the floor there and there, the swath of it along the edge of the sink, the strings of it hunched up and over a pile of something indistinct, black, black clothing, black lace about a pale arm a boot Jo’s turning standing slowly gun up pointed at the woman lying on her back the swell of her belly hiding her face.

Phone up by the gun white haze struggling with smoldering gold to light up something, anything, the splatter of gold on her breast the shape of maybe a hand, streaked and cracked by something black, head there at an angle a tangle of braids and ribbons black and pale the phone light glimmering in an eye there that blinks, and Jo steps back.

“Are you Death?” says the woman lying there on the floor.

“No,” says Jo, after a moment, lowering the gun. “Can you move?”

Rustle and shift, clatter and jangle, the woman’s rolling over on her side, pushing herself up, gold shivering and falling away, her hand a black shape eddying clouds of it. She grunts. “You okay?” says Jo.

“There was all this blood, I saw it – ”

“Yours?” says Jo.

“Yeah,” says the woman, after a moment. “You’re the one he was talking about, aren’t you. The one who was coming. The showdown.”

“The, owr,” says Jo. “The glitter, the gold dust. Where’d it come from.”

And the woman says, “I cut her.”

“Did you.”

“Her face. And it all, and then it – I fell, and he – he sliced right through me. He killed me.” Shifting, rustling, she’s rolling on her side as glitter soughs and settles about her. “Why am I not dead?”

“You got lucky,” says Jo, a shadow against shadows now, the phone switched off or tucked away. “She took pity on you. Where is she. Where’d they go.”

“It was so fast?” says the woman all in black. “I don’t know. He never told me, where, where he was taking her. To meet somebody, I think, I didn’t ever get what he was doing, we only,” hissing, gasping as she pushes herself further upright, “wow.”

“That’s gonna hurt for a few days,” says Jo. “You got somewhere to go? Somebody who can keep an eye on you?”

Leaning on her elbow on the floor, indistinct in the splashes of dim light, peering into the shadows, she says, “You’re going to kill him, aren’t you.”

“Go home,” says Jo. “Don’t come back.” Walking away out of the kitchen.

Jessie shuts off the engine. Looks up in the rear-view mirror at the two of them in the back seat. “We’re here,” she says.

“I think,” says Luys, slowly, carefully, “yes. It’s what we should be doing.”

“You think,” says the Duke. “How about you,” he says to Jessie. “What do you think we ought to be doing.”

“I don’t know,” says Jessie.

“She doesn’t know,” says the Duke, and then to Jessie again, “Open the door.” Jessie undoes her seatbelt and climbs out of the car and the Duke says to Luys, “One night? That’s all it took? One night.”

“That isn’t why we should help her,” says Luys, his hands, knuckles rough, dark fingers twined together on his knee. “It’s the Princess. We should be – ”

“Yeah?” says the Duke. Jessie’s opening the passenger door, levering the front seat forward. “Get out of the car.” He plants his cane on the sidewalk, braces himself against the seat back.

“Your Grace?” says Luys.

“Get out,” says the Duke, hauling himself up, “of the car. You know what to do. Go. Do it.”

“Your Grace, I – ”

“Get out. Of the car,” says the Duke, and Luys opens his door. “Go. Find her. Save her.”

“Who?” says Luys, climbing out of the car. “Jo? The Princess?”

“Whichever!” says the Duke. “You’re the one knows.” Luys is looking about, wet trees climbing the hill to one side of the street, houses close by the other, beyond them the lights of the city, the curl of the river far below. “Walk,” says the Duke, “catch a bus, I don’t care. Go on, Mason. Do what needs doing.”

Luys looks to Jessie, back to the Duke, nods stiffly, once. “Your Grace,” he says, and he turns, hands in the pockets of his short brown jacket, and he walks away down the dark street. “What the hell, Leo,” says Jessie.

“Wait in the car,” says the Duke. The house behind him a towering Queen Anne lit up by spotlights, gingerbreaded in sherbet pinks and blues, each window with its white lace curtain artfully bunched and tied off in the middle. “This’ll only take a minute.”

The front door set with an arc of frosted leaded glass. He raps it sharply with the hawk at the head of his cane, and again. A creak of floorboards, a rattle of the knob, the door’s opened by a narrowly somber man, his nose and cheeks appled by extravagant gin blossoms, his chin tucked by behind his high white collar. Raised voices somewhere behind him, someone yelling, the words indistinct. “Barganax for the Viscount,” says the Duke, pushing his way in. “I’ll announce myself.” Thump of his cane-tip, squeak of his footsteps, “Handle!” he bellows, and the yelling breaks off. “You puling, knock-kneed, milk-livered giglet of a craven, puling, tangle-boweled shit!” Ringing thump of the tip of his longsword on the floor, one hand on the pommel of it, one against the newel post of the long straight staircase there in the narrow front hall. “I would have words with you!”

Rasp of a sliding door and there’s Agravante at the end of the hall, pale dreadlocks brushing his shoulders, soft blue shirt open at the throat. “Barganax,” he says. A cut glass tumbler in his hand. “Grandfather sleeps.”

“I’ll tip-toe,” says the Duke, hauling up his sword both hands braced against his belly, taking a long creaking step down the hall. “Is that the Guisarme with you?” An older man in the doorway behind Agravante, bald browned head and grizzled cheeks. “Excellent. Saves me a trip.”

“You’d have him as your second?” says Agravante.

“I’d have him next,” says the Duke.

“Not again,” says the Guisarme. His yellow shirt unbuttoned over an undershirt slashed across his chest.

“But a moment, Welund,” says Agravante, tossing back half of what’s left in his tumbler. In his other hand a long-bladed dagger, the hilt wrapped in blued wire.

“It will not be a moment,” says the Guisarme. “It is never but a moment. One of you will stick the other and we’ll call it done but it will fester and seethe and pull us apart precisely when we must work in harness. The time is out of joint, gentlemen – ”

“Says the butcher,” and the Duke swings at Agravante’s head, “the cleaver still wet,” Agravante catching it with the dagger, and the Duke hauls back into an underhanded thrust at Agravante’s belly, “in his paw,” and again with a clang it’s parried, Agravante holding his glass up high out of the way. “How dare you,” the Guisarme’s saying. The Duke’s levered around a cross-body cut, Agravante steps back, leans in, dagger hooking the sword on the followthrough, pinning it against the plaster cracking wall and “Shit” says the Duke tugging the blade held fast by Agravante’s dagger. Agravante hurls his tumbler into the air arm windmilling around and as it comes back up there’s another dagger in his hand about a hilt wrapped blue the long blade pinning the Duke’s jacket there under his arm sinking home, the Duke grunting, Agravante letting go, looking up, reaching up his hand, catching the falling glass.

Stumbling back the Duke’s breath caught on his teeth the blued hilt rising and falling there under his arm. He grips it, tugs, works it scowling back and forth, slowly, trembling, pulls the long blade free. Drops it clattering to the floor.

“The matter’s settled?” says the Guisarme, absently scratching the slit in his shirt.

“I concede it,” says the Duke with a cough. Holding himself up against the bannister. “The Axehandle’s no craven turd, his knees do not knock.” Leaning down for his cane discarded there at the foot of the stairs. “His liver and lights as fine as could be hoped. Nor,” cane in hand he sits suddenly there on the floor, cupping the hole in his jacket, “does he pule. But.” A deep shudder of a breath. “He does dabble, in insurrection.”


“You are both traitors to the court. This was not the argument disproved, and I will see it published.”

“Don’t be a fool,” says the Guisarme as Agravante’s saying “Would you be King of an empty city?”

“Better a city dispersed, than a city usurped,” says the Duke.

“The Perry line’s played out,” says the Guisarme, his eyes gone sidelong at Agravante. “We merely seek a new Bride, a new Queen for the King come back.”

“Merely seek,” says the Duke. “You evicted the Queen tonight.”

“We can’t afford her extravagances,” says the Guisarme, “not until we know we’re once more safe and secure.” Agravante quickly drinks what’s left in his tumbler.

“Tonight,” says the Duke, “the Princess was abducted by her guardian.”

“He went through me to do it!” says the Guisarme, a hand to his chest.

“Yet here you stand, and speak – so utterly unlike the Queen’s mother, or my Shootist.”

“That was none of our – ” says Agravante, and the Guisarme holds up a hand, and Agravante bites his lip. “One word more, Your Grace,” says the Guisarme, “and it’s war you’ll have, not a duel.”

“Really,” says the Duke, looking over to Agravante. “Is that what I’d have, Viscount. The Queen’s named the Gallowglas as her new Huntsman.”

Agravante turns to the Guisarme who’s hand’s still up. The Guisarme says, “Mortals are fragile.”

“So are bankers,” says the Duke, pushing himself to his feet, cane tucked under his arm, hand still clamped over the hole in his jacket. “The Perry line’s played out? I’ll be sure to tell Lymond you said that, next time I see him.”

“Lymond,” says the Guisarme, with an odd half-laugh.

“You didn’t know?” says the Duke, his hand on the doorknob. “Hair’s different, and the eyes, but that was most assuredly the Prince, delivering his mother,” and a heavy clonk of Agravante’s glass hitting the floor, “to the tender care of Robin Goodfellow, but an hour ago.” The Duke opens the door. “I’ll show myself out?”

Jessie opens the door of the car and hurries up the sidewalk as he limps toward her, cane still tucked away. He lifts his free arm and she ducks under it, bearing him up, and he looks down at his cupping hand, shining wetly against the hole in his jacket. “Are you okay?” says Jessie. “What happened?”

“Well I didn’t lose,” says the Duke. He nods toward the car and they make their halting way back to it. “So we’re going home?” says Jessie. “We’re gonna go find Luys and go back home?”

“What?” says the Duke. “No.” He takes his arm from her shoulders, leans against the fender. She opens the door. “We’re just getting started. I’ll – sit up front. Tell you where we’re going. It’s, it’s tricky.”

Ragged hum of a lone bass note held under hissing breath echoing over the speakers and feedback fluttering and whooping like some frantic birdsong and a voice buzzing against a microphone, “From her lair in Devil’s Point Mary’s is proud to present the Starling.” Kisses, a woman’s moaning over the speakers now and a rattle and thump of a single run on the drums as the bass note shifts and drops, kisses like a girl, and Orlando rubs his one good eye. Ysabel’s sitting across the tiny table from him, her back to the stage that’s not much bigger, a figure wrapped and hooded in a dark cloak standing there, starkly lit by tiny white-hot spots hung from the low ceiling, fog spilling across the floor into the laps of the few men and a woman sitting close to the stage, looking up. Ysabel’s face shines in the darkness splashed with glitter along her cheeks, her throat, daubed across her forehead, spangling the sagging white T-shirt she wears under a thin black coat trimmed with white fur. Ring of cymbals and the feedback becomes strummed notes over that drone fading slowly away, all of it, everything waiting, and Orlando isn’t looking at her, he’s looking past her, over her shoulder, and Ysabel almost smiles.

The music crashes into a beat, I, that voice is singing, I’ve got to get out of the palace, and the little crowd’s cheering. Ysabel leans over the table. “You’re frightened,” she says.

Orlando’s head tilts, tilts back, shakes slightly. He’s still looking past her. “They’ll be here soon,” he says. “Time and place, as suggested.” He isn’t looking at the door. He’s looking at the stage.

“You shouldn’t have killed her,” says Ysabel, hands on her bare knees splattered with more glitter, shining in the darkness under the table.

“She shouldn’t have cut you,” says Orlando.

“That’s what has you so frightened,” says Ysabel. Leaning closer to him, speaking into his ear. “You and I are the only ones who know what’s happened. Let me go, now, and I swear to you.” Pulling back away from him, still leaning over the table. “No one will challenge you.” He’s still looking past her. “You will be free to go from this place.”

Again a distracted shake of his head. “They’ll be here soon,” he says.

“Who,” says Ysabel. “Who am I to be given to.” Leaning over, trying to catch his eye. “Do they have any idea what they’re getting?”

His eye flicks over to meet hers, and the corner of his mouth crooks. “No,” he says, and he looks away again. Seems like, the voice is singing, honey you’re always, mad at me, and I wonder, what have I done.

“You’ve never been here before,” says Ysabel then. “Have you. Why. Why are we here, now?”

“You often come to places like this,” says Orlando.

“I prefer places where everybody dances,” says Ysabel, turning in her seat as the loud song crashes to an end, that bass note droning once more, feedback whooping, “but yes. I’ve been here before.” The cloak’s gone. The woman on the stage kneeling breathing heavily kneeling black fishnet stockings and a sheer white négligée held shut by a single bow. She’s untying the bow. The crowd’s cheering. Dollar bills litter the stage about her. Black hair glossy in artful tangles swings as she throws off the négligée, baring her breasts. Rakish atop her head a silvery white tiara. The drone’s shifted from a bass to an accordion, a sinister wheeze that pulses too quickly as new instruments gather themselves beneath it and the woman on the stage grabs the pole to one side and pulls herself to her feet spinning about it, the moon was unsteady, a new voice high and thin is singing, the woods looked so dark and oh so deep. “You shouldn’t have brought me here,” says Ysabel, over her shoulder to Orlando, smiling now, shining. “And you shouldn’t have killed the girl. She could’ve helped you.”

“Can I get you something from the bar? Honey.” The woman in the tight T-shirt, a tray in her hand, leans over them both, her hand on the table between them. “That glitter is phenomenal. How’d you get it to glow like that?”

“You like it?” says Ysabel, as Orlando says, “Nothing.”

“It’s so New Wave,” says the woman in the tight T-shirt.

“Ysabel,” says Orlando, and Ysabel says, “Do you think I’m beautiful?”

“What?” says the woman in the tight T-shirt, “Yes, I,” as Ysabel’s pushing her chair back, standing, and “Sit down,” says Orlando, I’ve been on this job now, that new voice is singing, for a thousand years, and Ysabel says, “Do you want to kiss me?”

“Sure?” says the woman in the tight T-shirt as Ysabel’s arms go around her white fur flowing about her cuffs and the tray clatters to the table as Orlando chair scraping stands abruptly music crashing about them the woman on the stage one hand on her tiara spinning upside-down about the pole, I’d like you better if you’d just go away, the woman in the tight T-shirt stepping back mouth smeared with light blinking one hand to her face Orlando trying to push past her, and Ysabel’s leaning over the shoulder of the man sitting at the next table, his mustache waxed and neatly curled and his frown lights up in a smile at her that folds into another frown, puzzled, looking from her to the woman on stage and back again. “That man,” says Ysabel in his ear, pointing back at Orlando, “with the eyepatch? Is trying to kill me,” and the man with the mustache leaps to his feet as Orlando fetches up before him and Ysabel’s already at the next table over, Orlando’s hand on the hilt of his sword but the woman in the tight T-shirt’s grabbing at it, and the man with the mustache throws a punch. Ysabel’s making her way not to the front door but the back, toward a brightly lit glass door at the far end of the little club under a sign that says Food. Orlando’s roaring. The music’s pounding. Orlando’s roaring. More people swarming about him, seizing his arms, his hands, “Get him!” they’re crying. “Stop him!” Ysabel’s running.

Table of Contents

“Hall,” written by Lea Kreuger, copyright holder unknown. “Because I Wanted to Know,” ©2010 the Walking Hellos.

“Remarkable, the likeness” – a Sudden spark – bright Lights & Lefse – the Long shot –

“Remarkable,” says Mr. Charlock. “The likeness.” Her chin in his hand he tilts her head to one side, the other, hot white light rolling over her cheekbones, gleaming her green eyes. Artlessly tangled black curls stiff with hairspray rustle over bare shoulders. “Flawless.”

“Mr. Charlock,” says Mr. Keightlinger, out in the middle of the club. He’s wearing his sunglasses, the left lens painted over with spidery white words. In one hand a Japanese sword, long bare curl of a blade shining, bone-white hilt wrapped in rough black cloth. The crunch of broken glass as he turns, looks to the front door, the back door, the overturned tables, the little knots of people crowded together by the bar, the private booths where someone’s groaning on the floor. “Sweep,” he says to himself, “something. Couple more minutes.”

Mr. Charlock reaches into the pocket of his black suit jacket. “Let me ask you something,” he says to the woman sitting before him, on the folding chair on the little stage, draped in her sheer white négligée. Fog roiling about her ankles. She nods. Her hands folded together, tucked between her knees. He pulls out a pair of underwear, bikini underpants with blue and white stripes. “These yours?” he says.

After a moment her head begins to shake from side to side.

“You know them? Seen them before?”

Again her head shakes quick jerks back and forth now “No?” she says, the edge in her voice burring the whisper.

“Long shot,” he says, with a shrug. He tucks the underwear back in his pocket. Stands, turns, hops off the stage. Shaking out his hands. He kicks a chair leg out of the way and curls two fingers back against his palm, two fingers extended, thumb cocked. Pointed at Orlando sitting on the floor legs askew in his blue skirt arms up wrists pinned to the wall, eyepatch yanked to one side, wet ruin of an empty scar there leaking yellow tears that stain his loose white shirt. Mr. Charlock hikes his hand up dropping the hammer of his thumb and something hits the wall above Orlando, cracks and a shiver in the air, glass rattling, wood creaking, shrieks and shouts from the people by the bar, by the private booths. “Where is she,” says Mr. Charlock, those two fingers pointed at Orlando again, Orlando who shakes his head, who coughs, who spits. “I don’t know,” he says.

Mr. Charlock steps close and presses those fingertips against that wet scar, Orlando’s head pressed back against the wall. “Had a deal,” says Mr. Charlock.

“She tricked me,” says Orlando, “and bewitched them all, and walked out that back door.” He’s smiling. “If you hurried, you might catch her.”

“You expect me to believe that,” says Mr. Charlock.

“No,” says Orlando.

“Mr. Charlock,” says Mr. Keightlinger once more, and Mr. Charlock steps back. “Bring that,” he says, nodding at the sword in Mr. Keightlinger’s hand. “We’ll want to find him, later.”

“We need an out,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“Quick,” says Mr. Charlock, “and dirty,” and then, “Ladies! Gentlemen!” he calls out. “I must apologize.” His free hand plucking a pair of sunglasses from a pocket. “There’s a chance not all of you will make it out of this.” Looking about the dark little club. “And a Portland landmark will be gutted. Can’t be helped.” Settling the sunglasses over his eyes, the feather tied to one side stirring against his ear. “So take a moment, think back, this wonderful Friday night you were enjoying, the drinks, the music, the ladies,” and he points those fingers thumb cocked at the tiny white-hot spots hung from the low ceiling, that shine on the fog streaming over the lip of the little stage. “Cover and ready,” Mr. Keightlinger’s muttering, “them, them,” as Mr. Charlock says, “Because suddenly there was a spark –

“A taxi,” she’s saying, up through the payment slot in the door, “a telephone, please,” glitter spangled over her face, her hair winking and flashing in the colorless fluorescent light, and the man inside behind the glass is waving her away, “No,” he says, “no, go! Hotel! Go!” Somewhere a couple of blocks away a flat whump that rattles the glass under her hands. She steps back, stricken. “Go!” says the man behind the glass, pointing this way, “Benson!” that, “Governor, go!”

“Don’t you,” she says, “aren’t I,” and he yells “Telephone!” pointing past her at the blue hutch of a payphone on the corner, and a block away behind it a silhouette against the bright-lit busy street, a big man, a dark suit, headed toward her. “Don’t you think,” she says, turning back, but the man’s stepped away, behind the big white sign in the window that says Park & Lock $10.95 a day $5 an hour. Ysabel pulls up the hood of her thin black coat, steps away from the kiosk, forcing her feet to keep themselves at a quick walk fringe pattering on her moccasin boots, white fur trailing from her cuffs.

Across an empty street at an angle past the mouth of a garage up wide low steps into a park, flat pebbled concrete terraces and here and there trees in little plots and patches of dirt, benches, a figure prone in a sleeping bag glossy with rainwater. Peering through empty branches back and down away there’s two men in black suits large and small maybe half a block away and headed quickly toward the park. “Roland,” she says, and then, crying out, “Chariot!” Running down into the middle of that little park, spinning around, dark buildings high on every side, a siren wailing somewhere blocks away, another whooping suddenly much closer. “Chariot!” she cries again. The sleeping bag doesn’t stir.

“It’s all right,” comes a man’s voice, out of breath, “you’re frightened, I know. We’re here to help.” Footsteps rapidly slapping the concrete behind her. She runs for the corner where the next block over and up opens into another parking lot, and three white semi trailers one after another along one side, rear doors open, dim lights shining on racks of cable and equipment packed into each, and a soughing rumble of slumbering engines, threaded with the thin chugging whine of a generator, all dulling those sirens blocks away. She slips between two of the trucks, ducks to one side, looking around at the food carts lining the sidewalk before her, all of them shuttered now, dark. She squeezes between the one that says Homestyle Indian Dishes and the one that says Cuba Libre! Empanadas, Croquetas, Frituras.

The lot’s half full of tightly parked cars and over there another kiosk, colorless light and big white signs. More food carts line the lot, on all four sides, facing their sidewalks, all dark, all of them shuttered and dark but for a couple-three halfway along to the left, under the trees, lit up starkly by great lamps hung about on poles and a rickety scaffolding. She squats low, weaving her way toward the light through the rows and aisles of cars.

“Again,” says a disembodied voice over a loudspeaker, and there’s a flurry of activity around those lit-up carts, a big piece of equipment hoisted smoothly up and back on a crane and to either side of the lights little crowds in suits with umbrellas and yellow and orange raincoats and big flannel shirts and fleece pullovers are waved into place by a couple of people with clipboards and headsets. A plastic orange sign taped to a lamppost says S.U. WTF in big black letters.

“Go,” says that disembodied voice.

The little crowds start walking one or two at a time toward each other, past each other along the sidewalk before the food carts as that big piece of equipment floats down and in slowly, slowly, toward two men standing by the open lit-up window of one of the carts, both of them in trench coats, both of them in dark suits and ties, the older one, taller, his tightly curled hair dusted with grey, his dark skin splotched with darker freckles over his cheeks and nose, his shirt open at the throat, his tie loose, says “Viking soul food?” as that piece of equipment hovers to a stop before them. The younger man smaller and slender and buttoned all the way up, tightly knotted, his brown hair thickly tumbled over a face that’s all eyes and cheekbones hefts the wrap he’s holding in one hand. “Been running on nothing but sugar all day,” he says. “Wanted to lay down a more substantial base.” He takes a big bite, chewing ostentatiously.

“I’ll buy you whatever you need, so long as that overclocked cranium of yours can crack this case,” says the older man.

There’s a moment then, hanging, the younger man still chewing, older waiting, hands in the pockets of his trench coat, little crowd milling about, that piece of equipment hovering.

“Again,” says the disembodied voice.

The crane hoists smoothly back and up over the heads of the crowds being waved back into place. The younger man leans over, spits his mouthful of food into a bucket there at his feet, dropping the bitten wrap in after it. Someone, a woman with a camera slung from her neck, hands him another wrap, then whisks the bucket away. “Beto,” says the disembodied voice, “we need you to swallow.”

“That’s what he said,” says the older man.

“This gets picked up,” says the younger man, “I’m gonna put on twenty pounds by midseason.”

“Ready,” says that voice, then “go,” and the crane floats smoothly, slowly down over the crowd jostling to life, and the older man cocks an eyebrow and says “Viking soul food?” as the younger man hefts his fresh wrap, and “Excuse me, I have to ask you to move along,” murmurs the man in the black fleece pullover, leaning over the hood of the parked car behind Ysabel. She jumps. “I was just,” she says.

“You can watch from across the street,” he says, pointing. His black meshback cap says WTF in blocky white letters. “You’re too close.” In his hand a stubby little cell phone that crackles and echoes that disembodied voice, “Okay, reset for twenty-one. We go in fifteen.”

“Don’t you find me beautiful?” says Ysabel.

His brows pinch. He looks her up and down, her boots, her thin black coat, the worn T-shirt that says The Gloomadon Poppers in scrawled black letters, the glitter splashed over her, catching the bright white lights. A shudder wriggles up out of him and a smile quirks the corner of his mouth. “Girl,” he says, “you look like you had yourself one rough damn night.”

“I’m being followed,” says Ysabel, “two men, in suits,” looking back over the rows of cars. There’s no one there. “If I could just stay here – ”

“Don’t make me insist.”

“They won’t,” and she wipes her eye with the heel of her hand smearing glitter up along her temple, “I don’t think they’ll try anything, with so many – ”

“You got to move it across the street. Let us do what we’re here to do,” he says.

“But,” she says, glitter runneling down her cheeks, “am I, aren’t I,” and “What,” he says, “what.”

“I got this,” says someone else, a woman, the woman with the camera slung about her neck.

“Yeah?” says the man in the meshback cap. “You know her?”

“She owes me a cup of coffee,” says the woman with a camera. Her dark hair short in back, long in front, her glasses with thick black frames.

“Powers that be ain’t happy,” says the man in the meshback cap. “Delays. The rain, those sirens – ”

“Bull never has to know,” says the woman with the camera.

He shrugs, stepping back. “Okay,” he says, a warning lilt, touching two fingers to the brim of his cap.

“Coffee?” says Ysabel, thin and querulous.

“Venti vanilla latte, right?” says the woman with the camera.

“Yeah, well,” says Jo leaning her shoulder against the doorframe flaking glossy white.

“What I got to do,” says Guthrie sleepy and slow on the other side of the door open only as far as the chain will allow.

“It’s not you, so much,” says Jo. “It’s your girlfriend, your friend, does she, ah – ”

“Hey,” says Guthrie.

“ – does she stay here? With you?”

“Hey,” says Guthrie again. Forehead against forearm braced between door and frame. His black T-shirt says Face Holding Embrace in white letters.

“I was gonna come here first, but I heard where Orlando holes up so I went there first, only it was a bust, and, and,” she straightens up away from the doorframe as Guthrie’s saying “Hey, what do you want with,” and Jo says “It’s all gone to hell, Guthrie. Orlando? The Mooncalfe? He took her. Ysabel. I don’t know where, nobody does. I have to find her, I have to, Guthrie – ” He’s closing the door. “Guthrie?” The chain rattles, the door opens, wide, he’s stepping back, making way for Jo in her butter-colored coat, her sword slung from her shoulder, in her hand the mask, the mane of it restless, rustling.

“What do you want with her,” says Guthrie, a shadow in the dark cramped hall.

“She knows stuff?” says Jo. “She knew, you and Becker had to go to the church, that time. Right?” Guthrie stops. In the room ahead of him a light flickers on, overhead, too bright, and he’s silhouetted against a blare of color, pinks and yellows, oranges, reds. “Maybe she knows where he’s taken her?”

“I don’t know,” says Guthrie, turning.

“I mean, it’s,” says Jo, “a long shot, I know. But it’s the only thing I could think of. It’s all I’ve got.”

“I don’t know,” says Guthrie again, there in the dark hallway before her.

“I just, wanna ask her a question,” says Jo, the mask rustling in her hand.

“Blood,” says someone, a quavering voice from that lit-up room. “Blood on the snow. Blood on the burritos. That’s what I saw.”

“Blood?” says Jo, stepping closer, and Guthrie with a sigh steps back, out of her way.

“Blood,” says the voice. “Snow. She stayed. He went back to her. Do you already have the gun?”

Jo’s pushing through the gauzy stuff curtaining the doorway into a bright small room overwhelmed by a bed shoved into the back corner heaped high with blankets and quilts and afghans in a mad mound of color, rich purples and a poisonously bright green and dirty red and yellow stripes and the same beige flowers over and over and over and rows of pink and black robots, grappling, and wrapped up in the middle of it all peering out through a small wadded hole a face blue eyes and a sharp nose shadowed and pale lips bitten before she says, “Do you?”

“The gun?” says Jo in the doorway. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry,” says the face, ducking back under the covers.

“No,” says Jo, stepping into the room, kneeling, sword rattling in its sheath, “please, tell me, can you tell me, where’s,” and a wail erupts from the mound, “Ysabel,” says Jo, “where’d the Mooncalfe,” but the wail’s become words, “No! No! I can’t, I can’t look! I can’t look!”

“Please,” says Jo. Leaning close. “Please. Can you try. You’re my, only – hope – ”

“No,” the wail, “no, it’s not allowed, listen, listen!” and a hand, shaking, held up out of the mound of blankets fingers splayed, and Jo gasps, jerks back, leans back away from it, her breath harsh and quick and the only other sound a rustle, from the floor, the mane of the mask in her hand squirming over the clothing strewn over the floor, reaching, yearning up the side of the bed. “You would have to take my head,” says the voice from the mound.

“Jo,” says Guthrie, behind her, as Jo’s scrambling back, climbing to her feet, tucking the mask away under her butter-colored coat. “I’m sorry?” she says. “I’m sorry.”

That face worms its way back to another opening in the tangled mound. “Maybe the junk shop?”

“What?” says Jo.

“Ninth and Flanders. You could try there?”

Table of Contents

Shadow Unit © 2007 – 2011 Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, Leah Bobet & Holly Black.

the Fiendish little Basket-box – how Many planets, and how Large – her Geis – her Situation – “Yessir” –

A fiendish little basket-box, carved from a single chunk of dark red wood, sits on the desk by a loose stack papers, covered with rows of closely written figures, by manila folders with neat labels that say Riverkeep, Cassino, the Moretti, the Elkins. He sets the cut glass tumbler empty beside the box, under the blue-shaded banker’s lamp, and gingerly strokes the knurled and seamless faces of it, the pips carved into each, simple shapes, a stylized flame, a cloud, a raindrop, a quartered circle. He sighs. “I didn’t hear you come in,” he says, the words thick, and roughly ground.

Behind him in a chair by the door ajar Marfisa curled her feet up on the cushion arms about her knees. “What is that,” she says.

“A boon,” says Agravante.

“For the Guisarme?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He steps around the desk, smoked glass, thick metal frame.

“What was he doing here? Where’s Grandfather?”

“Asleep,” says Agravante, sitting in his chair, a woven contraption of black leather straps.

“Do you know what I’ve seen tonight, brother?”

“I did not even know that you were yet within the city, sister mine.”

Wrapped tightly in her sheepskin jacket she leans her forehead against her knees. On the floor by her chair a knapsack, stuffed full. “The Loathly Mór,” she says, “came with her people openly down the street, and they sang the aisling, and they stopped outside a house, and I swear, brother,” looking up at him then, “she did beg sanctuary there.”

“The Queen,” he says, picking up the empty tumbler, putting it down again, “has been set aside.” He gets up and kneels to open a small refrigerator in the credenza behind the desk.

“By – whom?” she says. “You? The Guisarme?”

“The Duke was here as well.” He stands, a blue glass bottle in his hand, and pours water fizzing into the tumbler. “I believe that’s a quorum.”

“He agreed.”

“He did not disagree.”

“Then,” shifting in her chair, one foot lowering, “Ysabel, is – ”

He shakes his head. “That spark’s blown out, sister love.” A sip of water. “Evermore no Perry shall be Queen, no Queen a Perry. Letters have been sent, to the courts of Engines, Angels, Nickels, asking after – ”

“Sent by whom,” she says, both feet now on the floor.

“They went out under the seal of the Hound.”

She sits back in the chair, looking up at the shadowed ceiling. “So,” she says, with a sigh. Looking back at him. “You would be King.”

He turns, stoops, drops the bottle with a clank back in the refrigerator. “You really think that to be my goal.”

“How should I know?” she says. “Tonight you sigh, you moan like Fénius, agonizing over which words to leave behind. Just a month before you leered like Lothario when you came to urge me into the arms of the Princess,” and “That,” he says, standing abruptly, turning back to her, frowning, “that wasn’t,” and then he sits, heavily. “A lot has happened, this past month. More to the point’s what hasn’t happened.”

“The boon,” she says. “Whose is it. Tell me.”

He leans forward, elbows on the glass, his shadow looming up the wall behind, hulking shoulders, matted dreadlocks, “I swear,” he says, “by the stars above us both. It has nothing to do with this.”

She pushes her hair a ghostly tangle back out of her face, slumping, leaning against the arm of the chair. “Do you know,” she says, “what they can do now, brother, with their telescopes? They scrutinize the stars, much as you might a candle on the enemy general’s desk, across the field, the night before a battle. From the, slightest waver, the least flicker, they can tell – the star has planets. And how many planets there are, how large, what they’re made of, how long their years might be – ”

He’s waving a hand dismissively, “This is just one of your spaceship stories,” he says.

“No, brother,” she says. “It’s real, and very true.”

“So this candle, then. It – ”

“If the stars have planets, worlds of their own to look after – what do you think they care, really, about you, or me, this city, your pathetic little empire of, apartment buildings, and mortgage payments?”

He smiles, then, shifts back, his face slipping out of the light. “It would have kept us safe and secure, for years to come,” he says, gathering together the papers and the folders on his desk. “A bulwark against the Guisarme, and his damnable bank.” He taps them against the desk into a tidy pile in his hands, leans down, opens a drawer. Tucks them away. “He’d never have done to Pinabel what he did to Perry today.”

“What he did?” says Marfisa. Agravante’s holding out an envelope, shining white under the desklamp. “What’s this?” She leans forward, into the space between them, reaches over the desk to take the envelope in her hand. He doesn’t let go. “Money,” he says, twisting his wrist, turning the envelope over to reveal a neat label that says Bus Fare. She lets go. “Take it,” he says, letting it drop to the desk. “Go on. It’ll never be missed. Get out of here.”

“I did,” she says, still leaning against the desk, “try, to leave.” Her hand still over the envelope.

“Do it,” he says. “Don’t look back. If – when,” and he sits back, out of the light again, “if, I sit the Throne, in three weeks’ time, I’d be nothing but a fading memory before the year’s half done. Go on.”

Her hand closes on the envelope, crumples it, her other hand reaching across the desk, closing on the placket of his soft blue shirt, hauling him close, into the light. “And now I can’t tell,” she says, “if you want me to take it, or throw it back in your face.”

“To be honest,” he says, the words a rasp, “I’ve no idea myself.”

She kisses him then, fiercely pressing her mouth to his, then pushes him back into his chair. Stoops to gather up the knapsack, then yanks the door fully open, storms out into the hall, pounds down the stairs.

He sits back in his chair, lets out a pent-up sigh. Smooths the crumpled envelope against the smoked glass. Picks it up, opens a drawer, drops it in. “That works, too,” he says.

Gong-sound as she pushes open the door to step into a foyer filled with junk. Pinched doorway to the left. Through that past a mannequin dressed as a letter carrier, stuffed wolf’s head on its shoulders, into a long dark showroom, hurricane lamp flickering on the counter at the far end where a figure’s slumped a head on folded arms dappled by colored light trickling from paintings hung on the wall behind, spaceships on black velvet rigged with blinking bulbs, a shimmer suggesting a waterfall by a tumble-down mill, tinny whine of its motor the only sound until the rattle of the sword in its sheath as she shifts it slung from her shoulder. The figure stirs, lifts the floppy brim of a dark hat, croaks “Nice coat.” Bit of shadow breaks away from the silhouette, a little rabbit nosing some greens a-sprawl on a plate. “You were briefed? You know how this works?”

“Where is she?” says Jo Maguire. The mane of the mask in her hand hangs limp and still.

“In the back of a truck,” says Miss Cheney. “Think a moment before you – ”

“Where’s the damn truck?” says Jo.

“Not where it will be when you get there,” says Miss Cheney, and she pounds the counter with the heel of her hand. The rabbit’s head jerks up. “Think! You’re down to one!”

“I don’t want to think! Goddammit!” Boots clomp the worn plank floor. “He took her. He took her.” Striding the length of the showroom, mask shaking in her hand. “And already tonight he’s killed the Gammer, he killed the, the Cowboy, and he, his – ”

“Destroyed,” says Miss Cheney, and Jo stops at that, there before the counter, “What do you,” she starts to say, but Miss Cheney speaks up quickly, firmly, “You don’t just kill something like the Gammer.” Milky eyes fixed on her own hands folded before her. “Now,” fingertip tapping a burl of a knuckle, “think. Yes. Why did you come here? What’s it you’re after? Ask, for that. I’ll do what I do.”

“He didn’t kill the girl.”

“Girl,” says Miss Cheney.

“His, I don’t know. Groupie? He didn’t destroy her. In his lair.” Jo’s laying the mask on the counter. The rabbit’s gone back to its lettuce. “He tried to. He sliced her, open, but, she, she’d cut Ysabel – there was, there was owr everywhere – ”

“Owr,” says Miss Cheney.

Jo, who’s trembling, says, “The, gold dust stuff – ”

“I know what it is,” says Miss Cheney, and without looking up she covers Jo’s hand with one of her own. “Are you sure. Are you certain.”

“It’s why she wasn’t dead. The girl. Ysabel had, put it on her, healed, or, I don’t know,” a sob, “maybe it just, splashed, and she’s, and she’s,” and Miss Cheney shushes and says “Please,” she says, “this is terribly important,” but Jo pushes back, whips her hand away, the rabbit scrabbling a frightened click of claws, “Why can’t I just get a straight damn answer, where she is, go there, deal with it, once and for all – ”

“You went to the wrong one first,” says Miss Cheney, turning away, reaching after the rabbit. The tinny whine of the waterfall up behind her.


“You went,” says Miss Cheney, carefully placing each word, “to the wrong one, first.” Sitting up, the rabbit in her arms.

“What does that even mean?”

“I just answer them.” She pushes the rabbit back onto the counter. “Interpretation’s well outside my wheelhouse.”

“Where do I go,” says Jo, “to see her again.”

“Three to a customer only, I’m sorry. Nature of the geis,” but Jo brings her hand down a fist to thump the counter, scattering a handful of emptied sugar packets, knocking over a little plastic pony, pink and orange with a tangled purple mane. Miss Cheney jumps. The rabbit’s gone. “I,” says Jo, and then, a blown sigh, “I,” slumping, “have been running, since, before dawn, from somebody, after somebody, and every time, every time I take a minute to look around I’m further behind with farther to go than I was before. No.” The sword in its sheath the belt of it slipping in jags down the pale leather sleeve of her coat to catch at the crook of her elbow. “I was supposed to keep her safe,” she says, letting it dangle. “That was the deal. Even though he beat me. I could’ve gotten her out of there and, I didn’t, and now he’s taken her, he took her, and I don’t know why, or where, or for what, or, or,” and she abruptly turns away.

“He took her,” says Miss Cheney, “because he could, because nothing kept him from taking her. You could’ve taken her. If you know the right people,” those milky eyes downcast she pats around, finds the pony, sets it upright. “Unscrupulous, informed – wealthy.” Her smile crooks. “You’d never need to work another day in your life.”

“The owr,” says Jo, the word quite small.

“Of course,” says Miss Cheney, and with a flick of her finger she knocks the pony over again, “the ones who know, who are wealthy, and without scruple, are never ever right.”

“Who,” says Jo, turning, hefting the sword back up on her shoulder.

“If it were so simple as the telling of it,” says Miss Cheney, with a shrug of the brim of her hat.

Jo reaches out then, takes up the mask once more. “She’s on a truck,” she says. “It’s on the move. I went to the wrong one first. Three more steps back.” She heads toward the door.

“Perhaps,” says Miss Cheney. “But one step forward, too.”

Jo looks back, over her shoulder.

“The Queen’s been passed,” says Miss Cheney. “Long live the Queen.”

The light seems bright enough inside the semi trailer but it’s pale, washed out, shining only here and there in white-hot spots, on a rack of tools all shining silver and worn black grips, a patch panel festooned with rainbows of cables. Wrapped in the thin black coat she sits on the floor her arms about her moccasin boots, black hair lopping the white fur trim of the hood that’s down about her shoulders. Cheek to bare knee smudged with gold, glittery gold dusting the folds of the coat, the fringe of those boots, the grimy floor of the trailer about her.

Clang of footfalls on a stepladder, a creak, a bustle of black, slick black jacket, black jeans, black hair quite long in front. A black lace choker about her throat, glasses with thick black frames, a camera slung about her neck from a wide black strap. Steaming jacketed paper cups in her hands she holds one out to Ysabel who takes it, smiling just, sips, puckers abruptly, looking away, her smile soured.

“Yeah, sorry,” says the woman all in black. “Out of vanilla.”

“I don’t know vanilla would help,” says Ysabel.

“So it’s possible to get lousy coffee in Portland. Who knew.”

Ysabel says, “No, no, it’s, it’s warm, and that’s,” and then the woman all in black laughs, and Ysabel’s smile’s unpuckered. “That’s enough, for now,” she says, both hands wrapped about the cup held close. “Thank you, Petra B.”

“I was wondering,” says the woman all in black.

“Of course I remember,” says Ysabel. Ducking for another sip.

“I’m gonna be blunt,” says Petra B, sitting back on her heels, “and I’m not gonna apologize because, well, blunt.” A sigh. “You have the look of someone escaping a situation.”

“A situation,” says Ysabel.

“With a capital S.”

Ysabel sets her coffee down, turning to one side and leaning, knees on the floor, tugging as she does the bottom of the T-shirt down, the white-furred hem of the coat over her hip. “What is all this?” she says, taking up her cup again, looking about the trailer, looking outside the trailer at the white-lit night. “What’s going on? What are you doing here?”

“Okay,” says Petra B, rolling the word through her dark red lips, tipping forward, knees to the floor now, hands on her knees. “They’re shooting a pilot.”

“I don’t,” says Ysabel, brows pinched. “Who?”

“I think it’s Fox?” says Petra B. “Shadow Unit. Another paranormal procedural. You know, they solve crimes, they fight monsters. Like Grimm. The fairy-tale cops? Though usually I work for the Leverage boys, when they’re in town. They solve crimes and con people.”

“You shoot. Pilots.”

Leaning forward a little more, frowning, smiling, “No,” says Petra B. “They shoot. I take pictures.” A hand on the camera about her neck. “Usually. Officially. They like documenting these things. But, you know. A lot of the actors are from out of town. The staff, some of the crew. So unofficially, I arrange things? Help find things. Like actual, decent, genuine boiled bagels.” She sighs. “Jimmy Kelly and his fucking bagels. The ones from LA are worse snobs about it than the ones from New York, you know?”

“No,” says Ysabel.

“Well they are,” says Petra B. She’s shifted, leaning to one side, mirroring Ysabel, one hand brushing a tendril of glitter dusting the floor. “Anyway. A fixer, you could say. The local who knows the lay of the land.”

“When you aren’t selling coffee at the grocery store.”

“When I’m not selling coffee. I also do some modeling, I check coats at a club, couple-three nights a month, I used to sell comic books. Girl’s gotta hustle. Was it,” she says, fingers stirring the glitter, “is it the blond guy?”

“Is what,” says Ysabel. “Who.”

“Your situation. The one who tried to buy your coffee? Too chilly to be cute? He struck me as the strict type. I’m gonna press on this,” and as Ysabel ducks away Petra B lowers her head, tries to hold her gaze, “hey, you, you look like you need help. And I need to know what from if I’m gonna do something, and, and,” looking away now. Ysabel’s looking at the floor. “I want to do something,” says Petra B.

“That’s, sweet,” says Ysabel, lifting her cup for another sip. “It’s not Roland. It’s not him.” Sitting up. Her other hand a fist clenched in her lap.

Petra B’s down on one elbow, frowning at her shimmering fingertips. “This,” she says, “it’s almost, it’s like it’s wet, what,” looking up, “what is this stuff?”

“My matrimony,” says Ysabel.

“Your,” says Petra B, “you’re married? You’re getting married?”

The fist in her lap wadding the thin stuff of the coat fur rustling, “I don’t,” says Ysabel, “even know how to answer that.” Shivering. “No,” she says then, “don’t,” setting her cup down, “stop,” as Petra B says, “Sweet,” her fingertips shining there be her shining rich red lips. “What,” she says, and then “whoa” or maybe “oh” as Ysabel grabs her hand, leans close, careful of the camera a weight between them as she pulls Petra B’s hand down to her lap, down to her trembling fist balled in her lap. Petra B’s eyes wide behind her glasses, her lips parting a sudden hiss of breath at Ysabel’s delicate kisses there and there, top lip, bottom lip, licking the glitter away.

“I don’t,” says Petra B, but Ysabel’s opened her fist, pulled open her coat, she’s pressing Petra B’s hand to her thighs, up under the sagging hem of the T-shirt between her thighs, kissing Petra B and kissing her again, Petra B’s free hand coming about Ysabel to draw her closer still as Ysabel jerks against her, her mouth sliding away from Petra B’s mouth, her shuddering slowing, hitching. Stopping.

Petra B looks down at Ysabel crouching before her, down at the mess of light between them, at the glitter that spangles her jeans, her jacket. “What,” she says, and she swallows, “do you need,” sitting up, “a doctor,” but Ysabel’s shaking her head, drawing tighter about herself there on that bright floor, “No, no, I need,” looking up, pushing herself up, “I need to get it out of me, I need to get away from this,” clutching at Petra B leaning back, “I need, I need you.”

“I,” says Petra B.

“Not here,” says Ysabel.

“I have a car,” says Petra B, looking out the open trailer doors.

“Do you have a bed,” says Ysabel, gathering herself, pulling herself unsteady to her feet. Reaching down for Petra B who says, “Yes,” who’s careful of her camera, holding it with the one dark hand away from the other, splashed with shining gold, the one she holds out gingerly for Ysabel to take. “I don’t,” she says, “even know your name.”

“That’s okay,” says Ysabel, a shivery little laugh. “That’s all right.”

“Yes,” he says, and then, “Yessir.” Handset tucked between ear and hunched shoulder mouthpiece swallowed by his enormous mahogany beard. Peering out from behind the scant cover of the corner payphone there by a shuttered yellow foodcart, a banner that says 808 Grinds, at the two figures arms about each other staggering down the sidewalk past a line of three white semi trailers, rear doors open, dim lights shining. “Not a, no.” He’s pulling a black notebook from his jacket, big as the palm of his hand, thumbing the elastic band off the cover. Opens it to a page that says FRI 26 NOV at the top. “There’s no indication.” Under some notes headed WASH-9TH he adds, BLACK JEANS, then JACKET = BLACK / PLEATHER. “We will, of course.” He scrawls a question mark after PLEATHER. Down by the last trailer under the shadows of the trees the figures have stopped, tumbled together in a clumsy embrace, streaked and splattered with glowing golden light. “Subdued,” he says. He closes the notebook. He hangs up the phone.

Parked behind him a luridly orange car with a dusty black ragtop, a complicated sigil crudely painted on the hood in black. He opens the driver’s door, smoothly, quietly, settles in the driver’s seat behind the wheel. “Pissed,” he says.

“Oh,” says the little guy in the passenger seat, “I’m fucking livid.” Empty sleeves of his black suit yanked tight around and tied behind his back, wound about over and over in orange electrical cord. The side of his jaw mottled by a darkening bruise.

“Noise,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “Uncertainty. Property destruction.”

“Who cares!” roars Mr. Charlock, spittle flying. “We had her! In our hands!”

Mr. Keightlinger plants a finger in the orange cord and pushes, nailing Mr. Charlock back against his seat. “Observe,” he says. “Do not engage.”

He turns the key. The engine rumbles to life.

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Shadow Unit © 2007 – 2011 Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, Leah Bobet & Holly Black. Grimm produced by Universal Television and Hazy Mills. Leverage © 2012 Leverage 5 Holdings, Inc.

No sitting or sleeping in Front of the Windows – Snow

No Sitting or Sleeping in Front of the Windows say the signs taped over and over and over again to the sweep of glass along the first floor of the grand old building to one side of the little cobbled plaza. Across the plaza a freestanding colonnade, gold letters pitted and stained along the top that spell out Ankeny Square. In the center a dead fountain, a low octagonal pool, two caryatids back to back, a great basin held over their heads. Sitting on the edge of the pool in her black jeans, her leather coat the color of butter, her sword laid flat across her knees, Jo has one hand on the scabbard, one hand on the stony edge of the pool, a cigarette smoldering between her fingers. On her other side the mask, the mane of it coiled and still. Laughter, a couple blocks away down the alley, two men leaning together on their way to somewhere else, one of them a pink box in his arms, and “Goddammit,” she says to herself.

She takes one last drag, letting smoke plume from her mouth as she stubs the cigarette out on the edge of the pool by another crumpled butt. Leaning to one side her other hand roots in the pocket of her coat, coming up with a crumpled orange pack. Only a couple-three cigarettes left inside.

“Goddammit,” she says again.

Yanking the hilt of the sword then she bares a foot or so of the blade. Knuckles white about the hilt of it, the throat of the scabbard. Fists shivering. “I’ll do it,” she says, and slams it home. Leaps to her feet spinning to look up at the caryatid, “If I have to,” she says. “I’ll beg if I have to.”

That stone face looking down at the empty pool, arms up, bent at the elbows.

Jo shifts the sword, ducks through the loop of its belt, settles it slung from her shoulder across her back. “It worked before,” she’s saying. “It’ll work.” Worming a hand into the pocket of her jeans, frowning, fishing in the one pocket of her coat, the other swaying heavily, grimacing as she plucks the gun from it, digs through that pocket. Holds up a coin pinched between fingers and thumb, a penny almost black. “Okay.” Tucking the gun away again.

She sets one foot up on the edge of the pool but stops there leaning on her upraised knee, looking down at the mask laid out there by her boot.

The mane of it stirs as she slips it over her head and when she tugs it home the stiff black hairs loft in some unfelt tremor of wind, pulled up and out behind her to undulate lazily. She turns the empty shadowed holes where eyes should be to look then at the caryatid and from beneath the crudely chiseled mask-teeth her voice rasps, “I am Jo Gallowglas, the Queen’s Huntsman. I want to make a wish.”

A clang then from somewhere inside the fountain. She steps into the pool to a rising gurgle from the spout up in the basin trembling. She reaches for the caryatid’s upturned arm, stepping onto its plinth as water burbles into the basin above. Another clang, a run of knocks as she pulls herself up and close and the mask tips and looms in close to the caryatid’s ear. The spout above her coughs and that chuckle of water seizes and stops.

Her one hand in the crook of that elbow she reaches with the other around and up into the basin, feeling about, and starts suddenly, freezes, then pulls her hand back down. That penny still clenched between finger and thumb. Turning it over, her hand. Caught in the fine hairs on the back of it a single snowflake glittering faintly in the shadows, already melting.

That mask turning to look out at the snow gently wisping all about, pink and orange in the streetlights, white and grey and blue in the shadows, thickening, gauzy curtains of it falling now, and she laughs, holds out her hand to catch more of it falling in clumps now, a froth of ice cupped in her palm.

Pulling close to the caryatid again she presses the penny to its expressionless lips and tips the mask again to whisper “I wish” into its ear, “I wish Ysabel was home and safe and sound, I wish, I wish I didn’t fuck this up,” and then the mask knocking against the upturned arm she tucks that penny into the stony drape of scarf across the caryatid’s impassive breast. Presses her wet red hand there a moment. It flares under the sudden light too white too bright she lifts it mask turning away red lights now and blue lights twirling, spinning across her white-lit back, her shoulders, the fountain, the falling snow picked out against the night beyond so suddenly dark. A fuzzed squawk of a voice too loud, “Step down,” it says, “step away from the fountain,” and “Shit” says Jo, wrenching the mask from her head. Falling back from the caryatids stumbling in the pool and “Freeze” says the voice but Jo’s catching herself turning in the snow a bumbled step another up over the edge of the pool she’s running, running, under the colonnade, a whoop of siren and pounding footsteps behind her she’s running, head down sword bouncing on her back mask in her hand mane like a banner snapping behind her running past the dark end of the plaza into a crosswalk headlights blaring “Shit” she says again, siren whooping again, scaling up to a sudden alarming chatter, a short sharp squeal of tires.

Under a pavilion between booths draped in anonymous tarps white and blue a low dark hulk of a building behind a chain-link fence draped with a long red banner that says Festival of the Last Minute. The sky a rusty black beyond, over the empty river. “Stop” from behind her a bellow now unfuzzed, “or I will shoot” as she’s running away down a loop of sidewalk toward the shadow of a bridge high above a cracking pop a chuff a zinging twang behind her, past her, a clatter dropping away as head down pelting into the shadow of the bridge, out from under the snow, boot-thuds on the pavement echoing flatly high and far away among the criss-crossed girders stretched out over the river, then back out into a wall of snow whirling hands up against it running a welter of black and white and grey, blue and rust and black tumbled together with the sudden silence, only her gasping breath now, footfalls dulled by the snow on the sidewalk, the grass, and under it only the sound of the snow itself hissing through the air.

She nearly falls up a low swell of the ground turning back a hand on a boulder between two long low aisles of gnarled trees sweeping along the riverbank, bare branches clawing at the snow, and turning again head down to run her foot snags something and hands up she sprawls headlong.

Rolling over scrambling in the snowfall back from the body half-buried in snow, snow drifted against green legs laid flat, green arms folded under snow-mounds over a green chest. Her grasping hand finds the mask flung limp and still there in the snow ahead of her, drags it close, clutches it to her as she leans over the body brushing snow from a forehead, from white-blond hair cropped close and stiff with ice, from cheeks rimed with old snow, brushing the drifts from blue and white headphones clamped over ears. Looking up, looking out, she looks back down.

“Roland,” she says.

He opens his eyes.

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