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“July, July!” – Ganesa’s Smile –

“July, July!” sings Jo in the shower. “It never seemed so strange, it never seemed so strange!”

Ysabel sitting in the open window lights a cigarette and takes a drag. Shaking out the match she blows the smoke outside. Stretches one long bare leg onto the skinny white faux balcony. She’s wearing an oversized blue sweatshirt that says Brigadoon! She reaches up to pluck a crumb of tobacco from her lip.

“And the water rolls down the drain,” sings Jo, opening the bathroom door. Her wet hair is plastered to her skull, black tufts smeared back against yellow fuzz. She’s wrapped up in a Spongebob Squarepants towel. Jo plops herself on the foot of the futon and starts digging through a tangled nest of laundry. “Aha!” She yanks a pair of black tights free and holds them up. Sniffs them. Shrugs.

“You live in a pigsty,” says Ysabel.

“What?” says Jo, standing up, tugging the tights up over her hips.

“You live,” says Ysabel, “in a pigsty. You should have someone in here to clean it.”

Jo looks up at Ysabel. Coughs up a single snort of laughter. “Yeah,” she says. “I’ll get right on that.” She unwraps the towel and ducks her head into it, ruffling her hair.

It’s a small studio apartment. There’s a narrow kitchenette along the wall opposite the bathroom. The sink is filled with dirty dishes, empty Ramen wrappers, a half-empty ashtray, the remains of a case of Diet Coke. A petrified sprawl of old, dried spaghetti clings to the wall above the little electric range. Jo’s futon takes up most of the open floorspace. In the corner by the window is a big black bag overflowing with shoes: high-heeled sandals with thin straps, high soft limp brown leather boots, spotless black and yellow and white athletic slip-ons. A small television set sits on a milk crate up above a welter of potato chip bags and more Diet Coke cans and a stray shoe or two.

Ysabel primly moues her mouth and looks out the window, at the green hills to the west, sweeping north. Past the scatter of highrises and apartment buildings, the great curve of the highway bridge looms over the river. The sky is high and white. It’s going to be a hot and humid day.

“Damn,” says Jo. She’s pulled on a black T-shirt. There’s a big red devil’s face on it, sticking out his tongue. “I wish it would make up its mind and start with the rain already.”

“It will,” says Ysabel. “Soon enough.” She leans back against the window frame, then looks up and over at Jo. “I’m hungry,” she says.

“There’s still some pizza left over.”

Ysabel lets a mouthful of smoke leak out the window. “I don’t want cold pizza,” she says.

“So we can heat it – ”

“I don’t want hot pizza, either.”

“Oh.” Jo’s digging around in the pile of laundry again, and comes up with a black denim miniskirt. “There’s ramen,” she says, wriggling into it.

“You know what I want, Jo.”

“And I’m talking about what you can have.”

“I want,” says Ysabel, “to go to a restaurant. And have a proper meal.”

“And I want a million bucks,” says Jo, pulling on a couple of mismatched tube socks. “Isn’t gonna happen anytime soon.”

“You can’t possibly expect me to survive on a diet of noodles and those,” she shakes her head, “those flavor packets!”

“And Diet Coke,” says Jo. “And cigarettes. And pizza.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, grinding out her cigarette butt on the slatted floor of the faux balcony.

“I mean, you’re perfectly free to go wherever you want.” Jo fishes up one big black battered boot. “As far as a restaurant or whatever. Hell, I’m not stopping you.”

“Jo,” snaps Ysabel, swinging around to stand up.

“What?” says Jo, and then, waving off Ysabel, “Don’t tell me, I know, I know. I have the keeping of you.”

“You do,” says Ysabel, folding her arms across her chest.

“Like it was my idea,” says Jo, sighing.

“It’s not my choice, either,” says Ysabel. “Nonetheless. I’m your responsibility. And I want to go to a restaurant and have a nice brunch.”

Jo stands up, her leg canted a little, one boot on and one boot off. “We’ll go to the Roxy,” she says. “You can have an omelet.”

Ysabel opens her mouth and then stops, frowning. She nods. “At least it gets us out of this – apartment,” she says.

“Whatever,” says Jo, bending over to scoop up her other boot. “You might want to put on some pants first.”

The man in the linen suit stands on the corner looking up at a big, blocky brick building. The cornerstone is marked with a Masonic compass and square. Signs advertising an Indian restaurant and a head shop hang over the front doors between green-capped white columns. The man in the linen suit ducks under a bouquet of tie-dyed shirts sales tags fluttering and steps into the hemp and bead and world crafts shop.

“Hey,” says the kid behind the counter. “Can I help you?”

“Yes,” says the man in the linen suit. He picks up a small statue, a whip-thin figure coiling into an improbable, prayerful pose. He smiles at it. His face is fleshy, and his rich red hair flops from a high widow’s peak. He carries a long black artist’s portfolio tube slung over his shoulder. “Tell His Grace the Stirrup is here to see him.”

The kid behind the counter picks up the phone and says something into it. The Stirrup looks up at a wall papered with overlapping Hindi religious posters. Ganesa looks down at him with soft dark eyes. If he’s smiling, it’s hidden behind his pink trunk.

“Go on up,” says the kid behind the counter, hanging up the phone.

“Gaveston!” cries the young man who opens the door.

“Your Grace,” says the Stirrup.

“Come in, come in.” His Grace is barefoot. He’s wearing pyjama pants and a floor-length dressing gown crowded with paisleys of purple and maroon and gold and brown. He leads Gaveston down a dark hall into a room filled with sunlight from tall, narrow windows. A low bed stretches across the middle of it. On the bed lies a woman, on her stomach. She has long blond hair and wears a pair of black lace shorts and has a pen in her teeth. She’s frowning at the crossword puzzle in a newspaper.

“Please excuse the mess,” His Grace is saying. “I was just getting ready for the morning staff meeting.”

“I had hoped,” says the Stirrup, “that we might have a word in private?”

“Oh, don’t mind Tommy,” His Grace says, sitting on the edge of the bed. He points to the squat man, wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans and standing to one side of the door. His long dark hair gleams in the light. “Tommy hears everything. That’s his job.”

Tommy grunts. The Stirrup looks at the woman on the bed, then looks back at His Grace. Who winces sheepishly, and leans back next to her. Strokes the small of her back. Kisses her shoulder. “Darling?”

“What,” she says, “is six letters long and means ‘the magic word’? It starts with P.”

“I have no idea,” says His Grace. “Maybe you could go look it up? Give us a minute, to talk business?”

Sighing, she rolls out of bed, scoops up her newspaper, and pads past Tommy down the dark hall.

“Well?” says His Grace.

The Stirrup takes a deep breath. Shifts the weight of the portfolio tube hanging from his shoulder. “Your Grace,” he says. “If you will allow, I shall see to it that – by this time tomorrow – you will be a married man.”

His Grace frowns. Points at the doorway. “To her?” he says.

“Oh, no, Your Grace,” says the Stirrup. “To the Bride.”

“Oh,” His Grace says. He looks over at Tommy, who shrugs. He looks up at the Stirrup. “Go on,” he says. He smiles. “I’m listening.”

Table of Contents

July, July!” written by Colin Meloy, © 2002 (ASCAP).

Portland, Divided into Four Fifths – Brazilian Beer, Thai Noodles – Shooting the Moon –

“Portland,” says Ysabel, spreading marmalade on her toast, “is divided into four fifths.”

“Four,” says Jo. “Not five?”

“Four,” says Ysabel. Leaning over her plate she takes a bite of toast, careful of her sleeveless peach silk top. “There’s Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, and Northeast.” Her finger taps four vague quarters on the purple tabletop between her plate and Jo’s coffee cup.

“What about North?”

“What about it?”

“It’s a whole chunk of town,” says Jo, leaning back. The jukebox under the giant plaster crucifix on the back wall is singing about how you’re all grown up, and you don’t care anymore, and you hate all the people you used to adore. “Isn’t it one of the fifths?”

“There’s no one there.”

“There’s nobody in North Portland.”

“But few of any sort,” says Ysabel, shaking pepper on her omelet, “and none of name.”

“Okay,” says Jo. Stirring her coffee. “But it’s still there. It’s still a part of Portland. It’s still a fifth.”

“If you wish to be finicky, you might also note that there’s no one technically ‘in’ downtown, either,” says Ysabel, cutting a neat triangle from the corner of her omelet. “Or Old Town. So you might speak of six fifths. Or seven. But.” She forks it up, chews, swallows. “I’m trying to keep things simple. For instance: the whole city is, technically, under my mother’s sway.”

“Because she’s the Queen.”

“Also, the Ban. Sometimes. But. Her power is concentrated in Northwest, and that fifth represents the practical limits of her demesne. There’s too many mushrooms.”

“What?” says Jo.

“In the omelet. There’s too many mushrooms. And she still hasn’t brought my soda. Her colors,” says Ysabel, “my mother’s colors,” before Jo can ask her question, “are gold and white. Also, black and red. Sometimes. The rest of the fifths are parcelled out to those who owe her fealty.” Ysabel takes another bite. Jo sips her coffee. “Southwest is the Count’s, Count Pinabel. His colors are white, blue, and rose. He doesn’t go over the hills much anymore, and most of downtown is open, unclaimed, so his is the smallest fifth, and the weakest power. The largest fifth belongs to Duke Barganax; he has the most knights enfeoffed – ”


“Sworn to him.” The waitress in a tight black T-shirt that says Merry Fucking Christmas sets a tall glass on the table next to Ysabel’s plate. “Orgeat Italian soda with cream. Anything else?”

“Actually,” says Ysabel, looking up, “this omelet – ”

“Is fine,” says Jo. “The check?”

“Sure,” says the waitress.

Ysabel drops her fork clattering on the plate. Sits back. “I must,” she says, “constantly remind myself that you know nothing of who I am and what your proper place is.”

“Right,” says Jo, leaning forward, her elbows on the table. “So you were saying? About this Duke, with the biggest fief?”

After a long moment Ysabel picks up her fork. “He has the most knights,” she says. “Were it not for my mother, he would most likely have seized the Throne by now. His colors are red and brown, though sometimes he affects black and gold.”

“Okay,” says Jo. “So. Northeast.”

Ysabel chews thoughtfully. “Some colors are rarely if ever seen,” she says.


“We almost never go to Northeast Portland.”

“Yeah, but who’s there? It’s the fourth fifth. Who has it?”

Ysabel looks down and away, her heavy dark curls slipping from behind one shoulder to spill in front of her lowered face. She lifts them up and back with one hand. “The hair of her head hanging down to the ground,” she says in a quiet voice. “Her eyes like stars, her hands of iron. The nails of her hands and feet like sickles. She changes herself to a dog, a cat, a fly, a spider, a raven, an evil-looking girl, and she enters the houses of the people and hurts the women and brings trouble upon the children. She brings changelings, and she has nineteen names.”

“What the hell was that?” says Jo, after a moment.

“Northeast Portland,” says Ysabel. “Black and grey and cold moon silver.” She smiles brightly. “You might want to pay the woman, Jo.”

The waitress is setting the check on the table. Jo digs through her black backpack and pulls out a folded wad of bills held by a medium-sized binder clip. Peering at the check, she peels off a five and four ones, then a fifth. “We should have just had the pizza,” she mutters.

“Yes, but how much more pleasant was this?” says Ysabel. Polishing off her toast.

“And here I’d thought the deal was you go where I go,” says Jo.

“Because you end up going where I want to go.” Another bright smile. “See how easily it all works out?”

“Well,” says Jo. “You damn well better want to go to work with me now.”

“Indeed,” says Ysabel. Sighing.

A boy in a brown bomber jacket sprints through the front doors of the former Masonic temple and takes the stairs to the second floor two at a time. His brown hair pops in a matted pompadour. He carries a brown paper bag. At the top he cuts around a humming bright Coke machine and comes up short before a white door hidden on the other side. He knocks a rollicking tattoo with one hand. There’s a rustle behind the door and a deep voice booms, “Duncan will be one man.”

“And Farquahr will be two, motherfucker,” says the boy. “Open up.”

The door opens with a burst of bright music and a bark of laughter that doesn’t come from the man holding the doorknob. He’s short and powerfully built. His eyes are big and wet. His long black hair gleams. The boy in the bomber jacket pushes past him and down the dark hallway into the bright room at its end. The music has a rolling bassline and a hard flat sliding pop, someone chanting I gotta pay respects to my posse from the West, and the laugh’s from the young man in the gold silk shirt leaning back in the airy mesh-backed office chair. He wears a gold bracelet and monk’s sandals. “Sweetloaf!” he cries. “What news on the Rialto?”

“I got your fucking beer,” says the boy in the bomber jacket. “Your Grace.” The floor is covered in sunlight from two tall windows. He crosses it quickly brushing past the Stirrup in his linen suit to hand the brown paper bag to His Grace, who sets aside a white takeout container with a couple of red chopsticks jutting out of it. He pulls a six-pack of dark bottles from the bag. Holds up a bottle for Sweetloaf, who shakes his head without looking away from the big flat television hanging on the wall. On the television two girls in school uniforms kiss in the rain.

“Brazilian beer,” says His Grace, flipping the bottle through the air to the Stirrup, who just manages to catch it. “Bhangra music. Russian videos.” He works another bottle free and holds it out to the short man with the long lank hair. “Thai noodles on a whim.” He works a third bottle loose and holds it up, his thumbnail under the lip of the cap. “Cell phones and cable modems. Japanese porn. German cars. Italian shirts.” The cap pops loose spinning into the air. “The world keeps getting better, every day and in every way. And it all shows up on my doorstep with a phone call. So tell me,” and he tosses back a swig, “why I should fuck it all for your dumbass idea.”

“Because it will bring you the one thing you do not have, Your Grace,” says the Stirrup.

“The Bride,” says His Grace.

“The Bride,” says the Stirrup. “She and the Queen have had a falling out. This is indisputable. The only person watching the Bride these past few days has been the girl.”

“Mortal girl,” says the short man with the long lank hair.

“Who can’t fight,” says the Stirrup. “And I do not think your own knights will have cause to strike one another?” His swigs some beer. “The Bride left the Queen’s demesne Sunday afternoon, Your Grace. Since then she’s crossed neither river nor highway. You won’t step on anyone’s toes.”

“So how does this work?” says His Grace. “I walk up to her, hey, baby, how you doing, you wanna come back to my hideout?” He leans forward in the chair his elbows on his knees. “I don’t think so.”

“Let us presume,” says the figure leaning there, in the shadows between the light that spills from the two tall windows. He has a long thin nose and the edges of his face are sharp. His eyes are pale blue and his long black hair is gathered in a single thick braid. He wears a blue and black sarong and a loose white shirt half-unbuttoned. “Perhaps the Bride is threatened? A gang of ruffians, shall we say, sets upon her as they leave this building tonight. A not uncommon threat, in any area of this city not held tightly by a strong lord.” He inclines his narrow head toward His Grace. His voice is highly pitched, rich and gentle and smooth. “Luckily, some knights happen to be passing by. They quickly put paid to these ruffians, but a problem presents itself: her current guardian obviously cannot keep the Bride safe. Whatever is a responsible knight to do?”

“Of course,” says His Grace. “So you think it’s worth the risk.”

“Risk?” The man in the blue and black sarong spreads his hands in a magnanimous shrug and smiles. “Who could fault you for taking her under your protection?”

“How about you, Tommy?” says His Grace.

“I mislike it, m’lord,” says the short man with the long lank hair with his deep, growling voice.

“I pay you to mislike it.”

“It’s too neat, m’lord. Too easy. Her Majesty is no fool.”

“True enough,” says His Grace, and then for a moment no one says anything. The stereo pops with tablas and rumbles with bass. Then he stands. “Sweetloaf,” he says, “crack some petty cash and roust us some hounds. The usual places: under bridges, shelters. Enough to make Orlando’s gang of ruffians.”

“Fuckin’ A,” says Sweetloaf.

“M’lord, you shouldn’t,” says Tommy.

“They’ve already got a mortal on the field,” says His Grace. “Won’t change the balance. Gaveston.”

“Your Grace,” says the Stirrup.

“You work with Orlando here, and take Tommy with you. Just make damn sure the hounds don’t fuck this up. They are not to touch her. Got it?” He claps his hands together. “Make me proud, boys. Tonight you’re going to bag me a Bride.”

“Actually, Jo,” says Becker from his desk at the front of the phone room, “can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure,” says Jo, her hand on the back of her chair.

“Let’s use Tartt’s office,” says Becker.

Tartt’s office is the same indecisive cream as the phone room. It’s just big enough for a desk and a couple of chairs. Tacked to the bulletin board above the desk along with Post-it notes and phone messages is a big blue card that says Of course I don’t look busy, I did it right the first time. Becker in his big plaid flannel shirt half-sits on the edge of a desk piled high with stacks of paper. Jo folds her arms and leans back against the closed door. The poster over her shoulder is a big picture of the full moon and says Shoot for the moon… Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

“It’s not that I have a problem,” says Becker.

“So why are we here?”

“Jo, is she going to be hanging out here every night?”

“Who, Ysabel?” Jo is looking directly at Becker, who’s looking down at one of the piles of paper on Tartt’s desk. “I told you. She has evil ex-boyfriend issues. She just doesn’t feel safe by herself right now.”

“Doesn’t she have someplace else she could go and, uh, not be by herself?”

“It’s just until we get stuff sorted. What’s the deal, Becker? I mean, it’s not like you have a problem with it or anything.”

Becker looks up. Nets his fingers together in his lap. “She’s a distraction.”

“She stays in the kitchen reading a goddamn book!”

“People ask questions. Tartt is asking questions.”

“So that’s Tartt’s problem.”

“Jo – ”

“Dammit, Becker, you said it would be okay!”

“I said it was okay on Monday. It’s Wednesday. Jo, it’s great you want to help her and all, but – ”

“Shut up, Becker, okay? Just don’t.”

“Jo.” Becker looks down at his hands. Up again. “I know it’s only been a couple of days, but try to remember that I’m your boss now?”

“I’m sorry,” snaps Jo, “was I not respectful enough?”

“Jo, dammit, just – ”

“Sorry,” says Jo. Looking down. “Sorry.”

Becker takes a deep breath and blows it out in a sigh.

“If you’re kicking her out tonight I have to go with her,” says Jo, still looking down and away. “I don’t have anything set up to take care of her tonight.”

“Yeah, well, your numbers, it might not be such a bad thing.”

Jo looks up, startled. “I got you five completes per hour last night – ”

“Four point eight. And five’s the expected. Some people, Guthrie, Lee, are hitting sixes and sevens. You’re slipping, Jo.”

“So I’m slipping – ”

“She can stay here tonight,” says Becker, standing up from his lean on Tartt’s desk. “But tomorrow I want her gone and you here. A hundred percent.” Jo’s still leaning back against the door, her hands at her sides. “Jo,” says Becker, “I have a job to do. Just like you. Okay?” Jo doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t nod. “I mean, it’s great you want to help a friend and all. But,” says Becker, and he lets it trail off.

“But what?” says Jo.

“Are you guys,” says Becker, “I mean, is everything going to be okay?”

“It’ll be fine, Becker,” says Jo, opening the door. Not looking at him. “It’ll be just fine.”

Table of Contents

All Grown Up” written by D.P.A. MacManus, ©1991 Plangent Visions Music. Romanian fairy tale cited in At the Bottom of the Garden, written by Diane Purkiss, ©2000, from “Two Thousand Years of a Charm Against the Child-Stealing Witch,” by Moses Gaster. “Nukhe Chakhee Javana” performed by Achanak, writer and copyright holder unknown.

Light from Fluorescent Ceiling Panels – a Dusty Hollow – Going Home – What is so Dangerous –

Light from the fluorescent ceiling panels careens about the white kitchen. At the small table under a darkening window sits Ysabel in a white plastic chair. Tortoiseshell sunglasses, a can of Diet Coke, and a small plastic baggie lie next to the small thick book she isn’t reading. Her eyes are closed. One corner of the baggie holds a pinch of something golden.

A thin man whose dark-nailed hands glitter with silver rings pushes open the door, letting in the mutter of an active phone room. She doesn’t look up. His black T-shirt says Elegant Casualty. He yanks open the refrigerator, takes in a deep breath, blows it out half-heartedly. “You smoke?” he says.

“Who,” she says, looking up at him. “Me?”

“Do you?” he says, closing the refrigerator. “Because the idea of warmed-over tempeh goulash is not revving my motor.”

“Sometimes,” says Ysabel. “Did you want a cigarette?”

“No,” he says, looking down at his hands, over at the coffeemaker. “I don’t smoke. I just thought you’d maybe like to have something to do. When we go outside to talk.”

Ysabel looks at the closed door leading to the phone room. Uncrosses her legs. She’s wearing tight blue jeans that flare at the ankles. “We’re going outside,” she says.

“Yeah,” he says.

“What are we going to talk about?”

“How’s Jo?” he asks. He brushes something from his black jeans.

“Jo’s, ah,” says Ysabel. She sits up a little, uncrossing her legs. “Jo’s fine.” She looks at the door to the phone room. “Is something wrong?”

He’s looking over at the employee posters spelling out overtime rules, state-mandated lunch breaks, a busy spot of color on the blank wall. “It’s all working out for you? Crashing at her place?”

“Her apartment is much too small. And it’s wretched.” Ysabel’s smile is small and wry. “I take it we’re not going outside?”

But he’s brushing at his jeans again. “How’s your boyfriend?”


“Your boyfriend,” he says, looking down at her book, at the little baggie beside it. “That’s what Jo said. You’re staying with her because your boyfriend is a mean sonofabitch.”

“Then I’d say,” says Ysabel, sitting back in her chair, “he’s still mean.” She crosses one leg over the other again. She’s wearing leather thong sandals. Her toenails are painted gold. “You’re Guthrie, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” he says, his head canted to one side, still peering at her book. “What’s that you’re reading?”

Ysabel pulls the book into her lap and flips through to a page toward the beginning. “She turning back with ruefull countenance,” she reads, “cride, Mercy mercy Sir vouchsafe to show on silly Dame, subiect to hard mischaunce, and to your mighty will. Her humblesse low in so ritch weedes and seeming glorious show, did much emmoue his stout heroïcke heart, and said, Deare dame, your suddein ouerthrow much rueth me.” She closes her book and smiles at Guthrie, who’s frowning at a corner of the table. “Spenser,” she says.

“And see,” says Guthrie, “that’s the thing. That seeming glorious show. That was some party Saturday night.”

“Yes,” says Ysabel. “It was.”

“Do you,” says Guthrie, taking a deep breath, looking up at the bright ceiling, “have them often?”

“When we,” Ysabel starts to say.

“Because,” says Guthrie, looking down, looking at her, squinting a little, “I think I remember more than you think.”

Ysabel’s face is still for a moment. Then she says, “I don’t know what you’re on about. But if you’re trying to secure an invitation to the next one – ”

“I don’t want an invitation to the next one,” says Guthrie.

“What do you want?” asks Ysabel.

Guthrie reaches up and runs a hand through his thin hair. Bites his lip. Topples forward suddenly, hingeing at the waist, looming over Ysabel, catching himself on the back of her chair, the edge of the table. “I want to make sure,” he says, in her ear. “That you get it. Jo’s not alone in this. Okay? Whatever it is.”

There’s another burst of phone-room chatter as the door’s pushed open. A blond girl with a coffee cup squeezes past Guthrie, headed for the coffeemaker. Guthrie straightens. “I should get back to the phones,” he mumbles, reaching for the door.

“Guthrie,” says Ysabel.

He stops, halfway through the open door.

“I do appreciate everything she’s doing for me,” she says.

“Good,” he says, with a little shrug. The door swings shut behind him.

“Do you have any idea where the creamer’s got to?” says the blond girl.

From the sidewalk the ground slopes steeply to an old cyclone fence. Beyond that a retaining wall drops twenty feet to the four-lane highway full of sixty-mile-an-hour traffic. Sweetloaf in his brown bomber jacket picks his way past a neatly trimmed shrub toward a dusty hollow tramped down in the weeds where the fence meets the concrete buttress of the bridge over the highway. On a flattened cardboard box squats a man wearing a grimy check sports jacket and a brown wispy beard. Next to him a filthy girl, grease smeared on her cheeks, her blackened hands wrapped in rags. An old mohawk sprawls across her stubbled scalp. The man standing by the bridge holds an empty bottle like a club. The others stare at Sweetloaf stepping carefully in his moccasin boots. The man by the fence doesn’t look up from the traffic.

“Got a proposition,” says Sweetloaf, his hands held out and away. “Fuckin’ simplicity itself.”

“Everything goes by the CO,” says the bearded man in a rusty monotone. “You know that.”

“Of course I know that,” says Sweetloaf, smiling. “And your CO said whatever, fuck it. Run it by the jefes, do it fucking ad hoc, he doesn’t give a fuck. So now I’m running it past the jefes. So.” He hunkers down next to the bearded man. “Jefe. You want to make some fucking money?”

“Sure,” says the bearded man. There’s a long roll of industrial felt, grey, flecked with dark colors, wadded up against the concrete buttress. Twitching. It rolls over. There’s a wild-eyed face poking out near one end. “Shut up shut up shut up,” it says.

“These two girls,” says Sweetloaf. “One of them has blond hair with these little fucking black bits in it. Can’t miss her. She’s wearing a black T-shirt with a devil on it and combat boots. They’re going to come out of that building – ” he leans back and points up at a modest skyscraper looming over them – “at a little after nine o’clock. That gives you a couple of hours.”

The roll of industrial felt sits up and whoever’s inside it wriggles half out of it, a torso and a couple of arms in a puffy, dirty, pink ski jacket, that face tucked in under its hood. “Shut up I’m trying to sleep goddammit.” Sweetloaf looks over at it and back at the bearded man. “Yours?”

“No,” says the bearded man.

“Okay,” says Sweetloaf. He looks at the girl with the mohawk, who’s still staring at him. “You getting all this?” Sweetloaf snaps at her.

“The other one,” says the girl with the mohawk.

“Yeah,” says the man by the fence, who’s more of a boy. His cheekbones hunch like shoulders under his squinting eyes. “The other girl.”

“You said there was another girl,” says the girl with the mohawk.

“I did,” says Sweetloaf, looking down at the dust. “Shut up shut up shut up,” says whoever’s in the pink ski jacket. “You might be familiar with her,” says Sweetloaf.

“Yeah?” says the girl with the mohawk.

“The Bride,” says Sweetloaf.

“Fuck that,” says the boy, pushing off the fence. “Fuck it. No way the CO signed off on this shit.”

“You’re just fucking hounds on this,” says Sweetloaf, jerking to his feet. “You scare them. That’s it.” The boy isn’t looking at him. “You don’t get your hands dirty because you don’t even fucking think of touching them. Just put on a show so His Grace’s men can rescue them. And only His Grace’s men. Nobody else. You have my word.”

“Shyeah,” says the boy.

“Shut up shut up!” shrieks whoever’s in the pink ski jacket. It might be a woman, standing up, kicking loose from the heavy felt. “No peace no goddamn peace! Fucking niggers! Fucking goddamn slope niggers sand niggers spic niggers slit niggers fucking goddamn trying to fucking sleep!” The bearded man doesn’t look away from Sweetloaf. The girl with the mohawk is looking up at the building. The boy is looking back out over the highway with his arms folded.

“None of your Queen’s men?” says the bearded man.

“Fucking goddamn pixie niggers!” she yells, kicking the felt.

Sweetloaf grabs the woman pinning her back against the concrete with one hand. “Boo!” She flinches. “You know what I just did?” says Sweetloaf. “You know what the fuck I just did to you?” She’s looking down, holding up a hand as a shield. “I just took a fucking year of your life, that’s what I did!” he yells. “I took a filthy fucking year of your worthless miserable life!” She’s panting, shallow, whooping breaths of air. “You want to try for more? You want to say it again?”

She says nothing. Coughs.

“Well?” snarls Sweetloaf.

Her hand still up as a shield.

“None of your Queen’s men?” says the bearded man. “We’re not getting caught in the middle of another skirmish.”

Sweetloaf lets go, steps back. “No,” he says. The woman in the pink ski jacket slumps down to sit with her back against the concrete. “You have my fucking word.”

“And?” says the girl with the mohawk.

“Twenty dollars.” Turning, Sweetloaf fishes three crisp new bills from his shirt pocket. “Each.”

The bearded man smiles. “You have your hounds.”

The door to the phone room swings open. Jo ducks her head around. “You ready?”

Ysabel looks up from her book.

“Let’s go,” says Jo.

“Where to now?”

“Home,” says Jo. And as Ysabel opens her mouth to respond, “Don’t even,” says Jo.

“Just for a drink,” says Ysabel. “One song.”

“You can go wherever you want,” says Jo. “I’m going home.” She ducks back into the phone room. Ysabel slaps her book shut and stands.

In the hall, Jo punches the down button for the elevator. “It doesn’t have to be a bar,” says Ysabel. “Or a club.” Jo doesn’t say anything. “It,” says Ysabel, “we could go – ”

“Where?” says Jo.

“I don’t know.”

“Where, Ysabel? Where’s the free drinks? With no cover? Huh?”

Ysabel looks back at Jo. “We don’t,” she starts to say.

“You blew the last of our cash on lunch.” Jo kicks the elevator doors. “Slowest goddamn elevator in town, I swear.”

“Second-slowest,” says Ysabel.

The elevator dings. The doors jerk open. As Jo steps on, Guthrie and a short, older woman come out of the office down the hall. “Hey,” says Guthrie, “could you hold..?”

“Oops,” says Ysabel, pressing the close door button. The doors close. The elevator judders into motion.

“What did you,” Jo starts to say.

“Is he,” says Ysabel, “a friend of yours?”

“What does that have to do with – ”

“Does he talk to you? Did you talk? Tonight?”

Jo leans back. Dozens of dim Jo reflections lean back with her in the tarnished mirrors lining the elevator. “We’re on the phone all the time,” she says. “We don’t exactly hang out and chat.”

“You’re tired, aren’t you,” says Ysabel. “You don’t actually do any work at this job, but – ”

“People telling you to fuck off gets a little draining after a while,” says Jo.

“So just,” says Ysabel, lifting a finger, “one drink – ”

“We can’t!” snaps Jo. “Christ. Just take off by yourself.” She’s looking Ysabel up and down, her hip-hugging jeans, her peach tank top. “You wouldn’t have to pay for a goddamn thing.” The elevator grinds to a halt.

“If I go anywhere,” says Ysabel quietly as the doors jerk open, “you have to go with me. You know that.”

“Well,” says Jo, stepping out, “I’m going home. There’s your options.”

“It’s your duty,” snaps Ysabel, following her.

“Fuck that,” says Jo, storming across the brightly lit lobby.

“You said yes!” calls Ysabel, click-clacking after her. “You agreed!”

“Wish to hell I hadn’t,” says Jo, rearing back, aiming a big black boot at the crashbar of the glass outer door, kicking it open. Outside, sunset smolders behind the western hills. The sky is a deep blue shading into indigos and blacks in the east, where only a few of the brightest stars can be seen. There is still more light in the air than what’s put out by the streetlights and the bright hotel sign on the corner. Jo catches the closing door and holds it open for Ysabel. “Look,” says Jo, who takes a deep breath, and then in a rush says “You can’t come here tomorrow.”

“What,” says Ysabel flatly, stopping there in the doorway.

“You can’t come here tomorrow,” says Jo, looking down. “Becker said.” She’s still holding the door open for Ysabel. “You have to stay at my place.”

“And you,” says Ysabel, still standing in the doorway.

“Will go to work. Just like today.”

Ysabel takes a deep breath. The street is empty. The only real sound is the susurrus of traffic on the highway two blocks away, hidden in its great gully. “You still don’t understand,” she says.

“You don’t understand,” snaps Jo. “I don’t know what it was like, hanging out with Roland. Maybe he had some magic credit card, I don’t know. I don’t have that. Okay? We don’t get to do that. I have a job. I have to have a job. And my boss is giving me shit because of you and I am not going to get fired.”

“None of that matters,” mutters Ysabel. She starts walking down the street, away from the highway behind them.

“So you can stay home tomorrow,” Jo says as she lets the door close. She heads after Ysabel. “Or go wherever the fuck you want. I officially do not care.”

“None of that matters,” says Ysabel. Jo leans out, catches her arm. Jerks her to a halt. “The fuck?” she says, as Ysabel’s saying, “I am your responsibility. You have the keeping of me.” Her eyes are wide, her mouth in a frown. She’s trying not to breathe heavily. “You can’t just leave me in that pigsty. Alone. You must keep me safe. No matter what.”

Jo blinks. “Can you stop with the pigsty cracks?” she says.

“Dammit, Jo!” Ysabel jerks free. There’s a weirdly distorted, glassy clink, somewhere away behind Jo.

“What?” says Jo. “What am I keeping you safe from?” There’s a clank, and another.

“Jo,” says Ysabel.

“What is so dangerous?” Another clink. “That you need a freaking bodyguard, twenty-four seven.” Clonk.

Ysabel points. Jo turns.

Down the street from the bridge over the highway come four people: a girl with a limp mohawk, her hands wrapped in rags. A man in grimy grey and black camouflage, his shoes a pair of disintegrating Nikes. A tall boy in tight black jeans. A boy in an old grey sweatshirt, his face twisted in a scowl. He’s got three empty glass bottles in his right hand, his fingers and his thumb jammed in their necks, and he lifts them and clinks them together, and again. “Chickie chickies,” he says. “Boo,” says the tall boy. They’re a block away and spreading out, into the street, and the girl with the mohawk is holding her hands wide, grinning. “Chickie chickie,” says the boy with the bottles. Clink. Clonk.

“We’d better,” Ysabel starts to say, as Jo, frowning, takes a step towards them. “Christian?” says Jo.

“We’d better go,” says Ysabel.

“Aw, shit,” says the boy, dropping the hand that holds the bottles. The girl with the mohawk says “Come on!”

“Christian?” says Jo again. “What’s going on?”

“Shit,” says the boy. “The fuck you doing here, Jo?”

Table of Contents

The F--rie Queene, written by Edmund Spenser, lies within the public domain.

“Chickie chickie?” – Scattering the Hounds – Unexpected Violence – Sanctuary –

“Chickie chickie?” says Jo, laughing.

“Shut up,” mutters Christian, tugging a bottle off his thumb. He tosses it up the sidewalk, spinning sideways. It smashes against the doorstop of a diner. “Would have worked. Would have scared the fuck out of you, you didn’t know me.”

“Christian, man,” says the girl with the mohawk, digging her toe into the groove of a trolley track.

“Shut up, Mel,” says Christian.

“You know these people?” says Ysabel. She’s looking up toward the bridge over the highway, back down the street toward the unseen river.

“I know Chris,” says Jo.

“Christian,” he says, throwing the last bottle down the street to pop against the curb.

“Jo,” says Ysabel.

“How long’s it been?” says Jo. “Almost a year?”

“What are we doing here? Huh?” says the tall boy in tight black jeans.

“More than a year,” says Christian. “Not since the trip to Sauvie’s Island. Last August. How you been?”

“About,” Jo starts to say.

“Come on, Christian,” says the girl with the mohawk.

“Shut up, Mel,” he says.

“About the same,” Jo’s saying. “Still working. Christian? What the hell are you doing?”

“Scaring you,” says Christian. “Boo!”

“This ain’t right,” says the man in grey and black camo. “I ain’t letting your friend put me wrong with the neighbors.”

“Yeah,” says the tall boy. He chops the air with one hand.

“Fuck that,” snarls Christian. “The neighbors want to go at each other, trust me. Twenty bucks ain’t enough to stand in the middle of that.”

“Twenty?” says the tall boy.

“We said we’d do something,” says the man in camo. “We got to make that right.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, tugging at her arm. “We really – ”

“Boo!” yells Christian, throwing his arms wide. Ysabel flinches. “We said we’d scare them,” says Christian to the man in camo. “We tried. We failed. Fuck it.”

“I didn’t get twenty,” says the tall boy.

“Jo,” says Ysabel, grabbing Jo’s arm. Tugging her back up the street toward the bridge over the highway. “We really should go.”

“But,” says Jo.

“Now,” says Ysabel.

“The apartment,” Jo starts to say, pulling back against Ysabel.

“We’re not going back there,” says Ysabel. “Over the bridge. We’re going back to my mother’s house.”

“Ysabel?” says Jo. Frowning. Taking another step after her up toward the bridge. “These guys, they don’t – ”

“These guys aren’t the only ones here,” says Ysabel.


The word bells out around them in a loud clear voice. The man in camo throws up his hands. The tall boy yelps and runs away down the street. “Shit!” says the girl with the mohawk. Ysabel turns. On the bridge over the highway stands a slim figure in the shadows between the pinkish orange streetlights. Dressed in a blue black skirt, a white shirt, holding to one side a Japanese sword pointed lazily at the street.

“Too late,” says Ysabel. “Too late.”

“Run, hounds!” cries the figure. Walking toward them, slowly, raising the sword. “Flee! And pray we do not find you when our business here is done!”

“Fuck you!” yells Christian, stumbling after the man in camo.

“He’s got a sword,” says Jo.

“I see that,” says Ysabel.

“He’s got a fucking sword.”

“I see that. Jo.” Ysabel tugs on Jo’s arm.

“Right,” says Jo. They’re backing away together, turning, walking quickly, breaking into a jog, Jo’s boots thumping, Ysabel’s sandals flip-flapping. Ysabel pulls them out across the street toward the corner under the big Danmoore Hotel neon sign. “If we get across Burnside,” Ysabel’s saying.

“Hold, my lady!”

This voice is deeper, though not so loud. In the middle of the street before them as they turn the corner is a man in a pale linen suit. A long black portfolio tube is slung from one shoulder. “There is no need to run,” he says. “We will keep you safe.” Three blocks behind him, traffic rolls quietly up and down the cross street.

“I was in no danger,” says Ysabel. There under the buzzing hotel sign she takes Jo’s hand. “I have my guardian. Go now, with my thanks.” Jo’s looking back and forth, up Morrison, along 12th, the man in the linen suit before them, the figure in the blue-black skirt still stalking towards them, the sword now held in both hands. “Ysabel,” she hisses.

“It would seem your guardian, my lady, is not up to the task,” says the man in the linen suit. He unshoulders his portfolio tube and rests the butt end on the pavement. “There’s no telling what else might beset you.”

“Like you, perhaps?” says Ysabel, loudly. “You think you will lay hands on your Princess? Call off the Mooncalfe, Stirrup.” The figure in the blue-black skirt has made it to the sidewalk on their side of the street. He crouches and takes long slow steps so that his head and shoulders and arms and sword remain smooth and steady. His feet are bare.

“Where the hell is everybody?” says Jo.

“My lady,” the man in the linen suit is saying, “it need not come to that – ”

“Call him off, Gaveston!” snaps Ysabel.

The Stirrup flinches. “Hold a moment, Orlando.” He lifts his chin, scowling, so that he can loosen his red tie. “You’re frightening our Princess.” He unbuttons the top button of his shirt, then blots his brow with his forearm. The Mooncalfe glides to a stop, still in his crouch, his sword angling to point directly at them. A couple of blocks away, unseen, a trolley hoots.

“They’re here,” Ysabel murmurs to Jo.

“What?” says Jo.

“They’re here. So we aren’t exactly there, anymore.”

Jo frowns. “I, um,” she says.

“All we ask is that you come with us a moment, my lady.” The Stirrup unzips the top of his portfolio. “Our master would have words with you.”

“Do you have any ideas?” says Ysabel quietly to Jo. “At all?”

Jo, looking at the Stirrup, at the Mooncalfe, at the two empty streets, shrugs. “Scream,” she says, out of the corner of her mouth.

“Scream?” says Ysabel.

“Hope it rattles them? Gives us a head start?” She glares at Ysabel. “Jesus. I don’t know.”

“Well?” says the Stirrup. “My lady?”

Ysabel squeezes Jo’s hand. “What if,” she says, and she swallows, “I didn’t want to have words with your master?”

“I would be sorry to hear that, lady,” says the Stirrup. He leans against the portfolio. “Truly sorry.”

“In that case,” says Ysabel, and she screams.

“Oh, fuck,” says Jo, turning and starting to run, dragging Ysabel after her. The Stirrup flips back the unzipped top of the portfolio and frees the pommel and hilt of a sword. There’s a scrape of metal as he draws it. The portfolio and the scabbard hidden inside drop with a clatter. “Orlando!” he bellows. “Tommy!”

Along 12th, crossing Morrison, Jo’s boots clomping, Ysabel gasping, hand in hand. The Mooncalfe leans into a run at them, his feet slapping, but they’re past him, across the street, hitting the sidewalk, running past the long blank wall of windows, posters advertising gold bank cards and low mortgage rates. He curls into their wake. The Stirrup huffing and puffing follows after. Barrelling around the corner ahead of them a short thick man with long hair roaring, long arms spread to catch them up in a crushing hug, his face broken by a hideous snarling grin. “Gotcha!” He howls, throwing his hands into the air. Ysabel lets go of Jo’s hand and staggering with her momentum turns her head jerking to look behind at the Mooncalfe half a block away bowed low at a dead run sword swept up and back, at the Stirrup behind him, his sword like a baseball bat up over his head. Ysabel calls, “Jo, we – ”

But Jo put her head down when Ysabel let go of her hand and arms pumping boots stomping runs straight at the short thick man with the eyes suddenly going wide as he tries to sidestep. Jo’s shoulder her arm up slams into his chest sending the air whoofing out of him and he takes a stumbling step backwards and then another, those long arms waving for balance as Jo headlong running loses her footing and tumbles to the ground rolling. The short thick man sits down heavily, gasping. Retches up a cough. Jo sits up hands scraped tights ruined ripped around one bloody knee. Ysabel hands up over her mouth her eyes wide stands still in the middle of the sidewalk. The Mooncalfe stands upright waiting his sword held out away from his body, head cocked, alert. The Stirrup slowing lets his arms relax, his sword point drop. Tommy leans back on one elbow, holding his chest, noisily sucking air.

“Ysabel!” says Jo, reaching out.

And Ysabel takes a step and then another, past Tommy, faster, as Jo kicks herself to her feet catching Ysabel’s hand. They’re running. They’re at the end of the block. They’re pelting across the next street. The Mooncalfe patters after them, crouching low again, his sword up and back again, past Tommy without looking back. The Stirrup, his sword on his shoulder, jogs up to Tommy. Bends over. Slaps his shoulder, chuckling. “You okay?”

“Bitch,” says Tommy, gasping. “Bitch knocked the breath. Out of me.”

“Well,” says the Stirrup. “You’re getting it back. Come on!”

Tommy glares. The Stirrup helps him to his feet.

“The parking lot!” says Jo, pointing, and halfway across the street she jags left tugging Ysabel after her. Past a shuttered Indian food cart the parking attendant’s booth is lit up, empty, a small chunk of bright indoor light trapped behind glass. They run past the far side of it. Jo winces as she slows, peering down the long dark rows of cars anonymous in the dim pink and orange streetlights. “Damn,” she says. They have just come through the only entrance to the lot, which stays level as the street rises past it. Its far end is a wall chest-high with a railing above it. Behind them the rapid fluttering shuffle of the Mooncalfe’s feet, the loudly hollow tocking of the Stirrup’s shoes. Tommy, growling, huffing and puffing behind them.

The Mooncalfe stops suddenly beside the empty attendant’s booth, struck by the spill of white fluorescent light. He closes his eyes and the city around him grows quiet. The rolling surf of tires on pavement fades. No horns honk. No alarms shrill. No puling compact engines accelerating away from stop lights, no deep-throated rumbles of idling trucks, the brakes of the busses blocks away don’t hiss and sigh as they stop. No one shouts. No music leaks from open windows. The white noise of rooftop ventilation fans washes away, and the wind doesn’t toss the leaves of the trees before the church across the street. His sword dips and points slowly toward one aisle of parked cars. He takes a deep breath, and turns, slowly, pointing now toward the next aisle of cars.

“Well?” says the Stirrup, standing behind him.

Sighing, the Mooncalfe lifts his sword. “Be quiet,” he says.

“We should,” Tommy starts to say.

“Be quiet,” says the Mooncalfe.

“It fell apart,” says Tommy. “We should cut and run.”

“It has gotten a little out of hand,” says the Stirrup.

“We told the Duke we’d deliver a Bride,” says the Mooncalfe. “We will do just that.” He closes his eyes again, and levels his sword. “Now shut. Up.”

Tommy glares at the Stirrup, who shrugs. He holds his sword lightly in one hand, resting on his shoulder, where the blade rumples the collar of his jacket. There’s a scrape of gravel as someone deep within the parking lot shifts weight, and the Mooncalfe leaps suddenly onto the hood of the hatchback parked in front of them, his blade sweeping back, his bare feet slapping as he takes two steps and then over to the sedan and then to the Jeep, from hood to roof and hood again. Aggrieved car alarms whoop to life. A third of the way from the far end of the lot Jo’s running out from behind a minivan, Ysabel ahead of her. “Go!” yells Jo, looking back over her shoulder at the Mooncalfe leaping lightly toward them, the cars left rocking and wailing in his wake.

The wall at the end is too high. Ysabel jumps up her blue-jeaned legs kicking to grab the railing, but she can’t pull herself up and she loses her grip and falls back to her feet. She’s calling out to Jo shaking her head as Jo runs up to her and hoists herself with both hands onto the back of a parked pickup truck and from there bounces once and catches the railing of the sidewalk above. She kicks the wall with her boots as she worms her way under the lowest rail.

“The church,” Ysabel says, gasping.

“Come on!” says Jo, still on her belly, reaching back under the railing for Ysabel’s hand. Ysabel shakes her head, saying somewhere under the yowling alarms, “I’m just in the way. Go on. Get out,” as Jo’s yelling over that “Come on, goddammit! Get up here!” Jo catches Ysabel’s hand. “Step up on the bumper!” The Mooncalfe leaps from the curved roof of an Audi to delicately step along the top of a convertible’s windshield once, twice, and from there up to the roof of the minivan. Ysabel’s wincing her feet kicking as the bare skin between her top and her jeans scrapes against the top of the wall. Jo squirms around and plants a boot against the railing pulling. Rolling over on her back Ysabel hunches over the edge of the wall and Jo pulls her through onto the sidewalk. A leather thong sandal kicked loose falls from Ysabel’s foot as the Mooncalfe’s blade strikes sparks from the concrete behind them.

“The church!” Ysabel says again, pointing.

Across the street is the bulk of an old stone church. The side door is tucked into a neat little porch blocked off by a metal gate. Jo helps Ysabel to her feet. Tommy’s rounding the corner coming at them at a run. The Stirrup’s pounding down the aisle of parked cars headed for the wall. The Mooncalfe steps lightly from the roof of the pickup truck. On the ground he takes four quick steps back away from the wall as leaning on each other Jo and Ysabel limp quickly across the street to the steps of the church. As Tommy slows to a walk looking up and down the empty street, as the Stirrup runs up behind, as Jo grabs the bars of the side-door gate, rattling the sign that says No Loitering Church Business Only Police Enforced, the Mooncalfe squats.

Then he jumps.

Jo turns in time to see him floating in the air, arms holding his sword up above his head, his blue-black skirt flapping, his half-opened white shirt billowing as one foot brushes the top of the metal railing. He lands crouching at the edge of the street.

“Don’t let go of the gate,” says Ysabel. Who has not climbed the steps after Jo. Who stands at the bottom, hugging herself tightly. “Leave her alone!” she cries.

“Ysabel?” says Jo.

“Leave her out of this,” says Ysabel. “If you let her go unharmed, I will go with you wherever you wish.”

“My lady,” says the Stirrup, still in the parking lot. “We have no intention of harming either of you.” He drops his sword ringing on top of the wall and pulls himself laboriously up after it.

“I want your word,” says Ysabel. “As knights. As gentry.” The Mooncalfe putting a foot forward stops at that, and does not take his step.

“Ysabel!” says Jo.

“Don’t,” says Ysabel, turning to look up at Jo. There at the top of the stairs, holding onto the gate, one knee an angry red behind the sagging tatters of her ripped tights, her black T-shirt leering its red devil’s grin. “Don’t let go of the gate,” says Ysabel, quietly.

“My lady,” says the Stirrup. Bowing his head. “As gentry, we cannot but honor your request.” He holds out his hand.

“Halt!” someone cries, and they all turn.

A man in a green track suit with silver stripes is running up the street. His yellow jagged sunglasses shine weirdly in the dim light, and in one hand he holds a long sword with a heavy golden pommel.

“Roland,” says Ysabel, and she closes her eyes and sags in on herself. She smiles, just a little, as she takes a deep breath.

“The Chariot!” yells the Stirrup, and he scrambles for his sword.

“Oh, shit,” says Jo.

Table of Contents

The Music’s Loud – as Gentlemen Settle – the Second Thrust – the Nighttime City, Filled with Light –

The music’s loud. Jo in her leering devil T-shirt slumps in the dark red booth, laying her head back against the pillowy vinyl. Ysabel slides in next to her, her heavy black hair swinging as she leans over the table. Roland leans his sword against the table and slides into the booth across from them, ripping open the velcro of his fingerless gloves. A woman’s voice is singing about how you can make dew into diamonds, and pacify the lions, but you know you can never love me more. Roland tugs his gloves off and lays them flat on the table. Looks up at Ysabel. Lifts his eyebrows, tries on a smile. Her expression doesn’t change. “My lady,” he starts to say.

“You really killed him, didn’t you,” says Jo, her head still lying back against the booth.

Roland looks down at his gloves on the table and tries again. “My lady. I am sorry I have not been with you directly these past few days.”

“It’s no longer your office,” says Ysabel. She holds one of her hands in the other, her thumb absently stroking a wet red patch, rubbed raw, on her palm.

“It is no longer my office,” says Roland. He looks directly at her again. “And, I am sorry I was not with you sooner tonight.”

“We got by,” says Ysabel.

“You really did kill that guy,” says Jo, glaring at Roland. “He’s dead.”

“You should not be forced to ‘get by,’” Roland’s saying. “My only defense is that it should have been inconceivable for the Duke to act so openly, so quickly.” He looks down at his gloves again. “A sad excuse, I know.”

“What will you guys be having?” says the waitress.

“Vanilla Stoli and Diet Coke,” says Ysabel crisply, putting her hands in her lap.

“Water for me,” says Roland. “Thank you.”

“And you?” says the waitress, turning to look at Jo and knocking Roland’s sword over. “Oh,” she says. “I’m sorry!” bending down to pick it up.

“That’s a real sword, you know,” says Jo.

“I’m, um,” says the waitress, propping the sword back up against the table. “What?”

“That’s a real sword. That’s why it’s so heavy. If you pull it out there’s blood on it. He just killed somebody with that sword.”

The waitress looks over at Roland, who’s looking down at his gloves on the table. “You know,” she says to Jo, “state law won’t let us serve anybody who’s visibly intoxicated.”

“I’m not drunk,” mutters Jo. “Yet.”

“Well?” says the waitress.

“You buying?” says Jo to Roland.

“I suppose,” he says.

“Then bring me one of those fishbowl drinks,” says Jo. “Whichever one has a lot of rum in it. And umbrellas. And those little plastic mermaids.”

“Okay,” says the waitress.

Let the rain pour down, the woman’s singing, let the valleys drown, still, you know you can never make me love you more.

“Look,” says Jo suddenly. “I want out.”

“You want out,” says Roland. Ysabel’s looking away, over at the bar, a dim confusion of shadowy people and light-struck glass.

“Yeah,” says Jo.

“You were warned,” says Roland. His eyes are a pale blue that washes away to nothing in the dim light.

“I don’t care,” says Jo. She covers her face with her hands and digs at her eyes with her fingertips. “I don’t care,” she says, her hands falling in on themselves to rest on the table. “I’ll just, challenge you to a duel or something. I’ll lose, I’ll let you win. You can have her back. Take her back. I’m sorry,” she says to Ysabel. “But.” Ysabel doesn’t say anything.

“It doesn’t work like that,” says Roland, looking up. The zipper on his jacket flashes, pulled up to his chin.

“Why not?” says Jo. “It’s how I got into this mess.”

“The Queen would never – ”

“Fuck the Queen,” snaps Jo.

Roland’s hands curl into tight fists on the table. Ysabel blinks and turns her gaze slowly on Jo.

“Okay?” says Jo. “I mean, what’s going to happen to us? To me?”

“Happen?” says Roland.

“With the cops!” says Jo. “And,” she frowns, “and the cops!”

“It’s none of their concern,” says Ysabel.

“None of their,” says Jo. “He killed that guy!”

“No, Jo,” says Roland. His voice is gentle. He looks down at his fists, pursing his lips. Looks up at Jo. “I didn’t,” he says. “You did.”

“What?” says Jo.

The Mooncalfe runs to meet the Chariot’s charge as car alarms wail and yowl around them. The Stirrup scrabbles for the sword he’d left under the railing. The Mooncalfe swings his Japanese sword with two hands, hunkering low, his hips twisting this way, that. The Chariot takes his stand sideways, head leaning back and away, his off-hand tucked against his chest. Every now and then a straightforward cut is blocked by a solid parry ringing like a great bell cracked and sinking out of tune. More tentative ripostes and probing thrusts swatted aside sound like someone banging to clear the pipes of a steam radiator. “Roland!” cries the Stirrup, hefting his sword. “Roland! Surely we can settle this as gentlemen?”

“We are,” snarls the Chariot, his blade scraping against the Mooncalfe’s as they push and shove.

“Ysabel,” hisses Jo from her perch at the top of the steps leading to the church’s side door. Still clinging to the gate there she leans out, calling to Ysabel at the foot of the stairs. “Get up here!”

Ysabel looks up at Jo and shakes her head. At the corner on their side of the street stands Tommy, arms folded, his eyes on the fight. The Mooncalfe stumbles against the curb behind him. Ducking under the Chariot’s slash sends him almost to his knees. “No quarter!” roars the Chariot. “Come at me as you like!”

“Surely we deserve to hear the nature of our crimes?” says the Stirrup, shifting his weight so one leg leads, his sword held low at his waist, away from the Chariot. “We only sought to protect the Princess!”

“Liar!” bellows the Chariot, backing away from the Mooncalfe. “I call you a liar, sir. And I will make good that claim upon your person.” And as the Chariot lifts his blade and takes his first running step toward the Stirrup, as the Stirrup crouches, his sword still down, waiting, as Tommy stands there on the sidewalk, halfway between the corner and the church steps, his arms folded, watching the fight, the Mooncalfe steps up on the fender of a little round compact car and launches himself twisting into the air, his sword up above his head for a final blow. The Chariot’s second step buckles as he ducks, rolling onto his back, his sword up.

“Hurk,” says the Mooncalfe.

He crouches over the Chariot. Stuck on the blade passed clean through his body. His Japanese sword clatters dully as it falls to the pavement.

“Are these the Nazis, Walter?” says the nervous little guy on the big flat television hanging on the wall.

“They’re nihilists, Donny,” says the big guy. “Nothing to be afraid of.”

His Grace on the brown leather couch in his paisleyed dressing gown chuckles. The blond woman at the other end of the couch sits under the only light in the room. She’s wearing black stockings and a black teddy, and she’s reading a thick yellow paperback book. There’s a muffled shout outside. Footsteps pounding up the stairs. “Baby?” says His Grace, scooping up a remote. The television freezes on the image of a man doubling over, clutching his crotch, his face a cartoon mask of pain. The blond woman doesn’t look up from her book. “You might want to,” says His Grace, and then down the hall the door bursts open. His Grace leaps to his feet. The blond woman rolls her eyes and fiercely turns the page.

“Gaveston?” calls his Grace.

It’s the Mooncalfe who’s first into the room. The Stirrup, his tie loosened, his shirt open, is next.

“Well?” says His Grace. “Is she here?” He looks from one to the other and back again. “Well?” He frowns. “Where’s Tommy?”

The Stirrup looks over at the Mooncalfe, who isn’t really looking at anyone.

“Where the fuck is Tommy Rawhead?” says His Grace.

The Stirrup reaches into his rumpled linen jacket and pulls out a bone. It’s a good-sized bone, thick and long, the tibia of a short man. It glitters.

“Oh,” says the blond woman, peering over the back of the couch. “Oh, no.”

As His Grace takes the bone in a trembling hand, gold dust shivers into the air, sparkling. He lifts the bone in both hands and rests his forehead against the knobbed flange at one end, his eyes closed. The Stirrup looks away. The Mooncalfe is still looking at no one in particular. Then with one hand His Grace brushes up some of the gold dust still clinging to the bone. His eyes still closed he touches his fingers to his lips and murmurs. Then he opens them.

“Who did this?” he says.

“Hurk,” says the Mooncalfe.

The Chariot reaches up to plant one hand on his chest and pushes him up as he pulls the blade down and out of his body. The Stirrup’s running up, lifting his blade –

“Hey!” yells Jo.

– and the Chariot rolls to one side as Ysabel looks up startled at Jo at the top of the church steps and Tommy standing beside Ysabel reaches up to grab her arm and the Stirrup’s blade swings down in a mighty blow to clang against the pavement where the Chariot had been lying. The Chariot on his feet blade up backs away. The Mooncalfe clutching his belly stomps angrily over to the curb. “Fuck!” he yells up into the pink-hazed night sky over the piercing car alarms.

“Let me go,” Ysabel’s saying. “Let me go!”

“Hey,” says Tommy, easily holding her arm in his big hands. “Roland.”

The Stirrup and the Chariot circle each other, blades wary between them.

“Hey,” says Tommy.

The Chariot suddenly breaks for the church steps as Jo lets go of the gate. Startled, the Stirrup starts after him, as Jo runs down the steps toward Ysabel. Tommy hauls Ysabel over to one side away from the Chariot’s wild lunge, throwing up one long arm to protect himself, as Jo scrambles on the steps to turn, reaching out for Ysabel’s hand. Tommy knocks the first thrust aside letting the Chariot’s blade slide along his forearm as Ysabel takes Jo’s hand and then looks up to see her there and then cries out, “Oh, oh no. Jo – Roland!”

The Chariot’s second thrust hits home, and everything is suddenly quiet.

Tommy looks down at the metal that’s stuck in his chest. Opens his mouth. Something dark and wet falls out of it to spatter onto the sidewalk.

“Gallowglas!” bellows the Stirrup.

“I didn’t,” says the Chariot. He pulls his sword out of Tommy’s body, and Tommy sinks softly to his knees. The front of his black turtleneck is stained with something that glitters in the streetlight. “I didn’t know,” says Roland.

“Gallowglas!” The Stirrup is marching toward the sidewalk, toward Tommy falling onto his side, toward Jo, holding Ysabel’s hand. The Mooncalfe on the other side of the street is climbing to his feet.

“Ysabel?” says Jo. “What’s – ”

“Run,” says Ysabel.

“Gaveston,” calls the Chariot. The Stirrup doesn’t hear him. Doesn’t look down at Tommy as he marches past, headed after Ysabel, and Jo, running now for the corner. The Chariot swings his sword and knocks the point of the Stirrup’s sword down. “It’s over!” He grabs the Stirrup’s shoulder slamming him back against the church wall. The Stirrup gasps. “It’s over,” says Roland. An SUV jerks to a stop in the intersection, honking as Jo and Ysabel hand-in-hand run across the street in front of it. “Take him with you and get out of here,” says Roland.

“You will pay,” says Gaveston.

“Go,” says Roland.

“I’m a Gallowglas,” says Jo. With fumbling fingers she manages to get the miniskirt unzipped but working it down her legs she stumbles and falls onto her futon. She rolls over on her back. “I’m the Gallowglas. Hey. Hey. How come the other guy didn’t die?”

Ysabel sits on the edge of the futon with a glass of water in one hand. “You should drink some,” she says, holding it out for Jo.

“Need a towel.” Jo tries to sit up and rolls over on her side. “Just in case. How come?”

“You weren’t on the field of battle then,” says Ysabel. She sets the glass of water down and picks up the Spongebob Squarepants towel. She smoothes it out on the futon by Jo’s head. “It’s only when you’re actually fighting that, well.”

“I make them. I can kill them. They can be killed,” says Jo. “Makes no sense.”

“It’s not supposed to make sense,” says Ysabel.

“It makes perfect sense,” says Jo. “I fuck everything up.” She pulls her knees up to her chest. Worrying at the ripped knee of her tights. “I fucked up the fight. I fucked up that guy. I’m fucking up my job. I fucked up my life. I fucked up high school. I could have, I would have gone to Harvard. Did you know that?” She reaches out for Ysabel’s hand. “If I had the money. I would have gone to Harvard. Or maybe Berkeley.”

Ysabel strokes Jo’s hair. Smiles, a little. “You should drink some water and get some sleep,” she says.

“But I fucked that up,” says Jo. Closing her eyes. “And I’m fucking you up,” she says. She opens them, looking up at Ysabel. “I’m fucking up your life,” she says. “I’m fucking up your life, and I’m really sorry about it.” She closes her eyes again.

“Shh,” says Ysabel. Setting the glass down on the floor by the futon she stands up and steps carefully around the piles of dirty laundry and shoes, past the sink full of dirty dishes, to the front door of the apartment. Out in the hallway stands Roland, his hands in the pockets of his green and silver track suit, looking down at his spotless white shoes.

“Do you need anything, my lady?” he asks, quietly.

“Well,” she says.

“Anything I can bring you?”

“No,” she says.

“My lady,” he starts to say.

“Answer me this, Roland,” she says. “Did my mother set you to watching me?”

“Well,” he says. “I mean, well – ”

“Did she?” says Ysabel.

Roland shrugs. “Yes,” he says.

“In that case,” says Ysabel, stepping back into the apartment, “I’ll be seeing you around.”

“My lady,” says Roland, “I – ”

She shuts the door.

Inside, on the futon, Jo snores.

Ysabel stands there in the middle of the cluttered apartment, in her hip-hugging jeans, her peach tank top, the nails on her bare feet glittering with gold paint. She swallows. She closes her eyes and bites her lip and briefly, just for an instant, shudders.

Then she reaches out and snaps off the light.

She makes it to the windowsill without stumbling. Jo mumbles at the stiff croak of the window as Ysabel cranks it open. She sits on the sill, working one long leg out onto the faux balcony. Plucks a cigarette from a crumpled pack and lights it with a match. Jo starts snoring again in great bubbling snorts. Blowing smoke out the window, Ysabel looks out over the nighttime city, filled with light: the pink and orange haze of the streetlights, white-hot spots of arc light at a construction site, here and there rectangles of yellow still burning in buildings all around, neon squiggles in primary colors hanging in dark shop windows, billboards lit up like giant television screens. The stoplight below changes from red to green and with the change in color the whole world subtly shifts. Engines rumble and growl. Headlights and taillights start to move. A thumping bassline slides past. Ysabel leans back against the sill and closes her eyes.

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Love U More” written by Sunscreem, ©1993 BMG Songs, Inc. (ASCAP). The Big Lebowski written by Joel and Ethan Coen, ©1998.


“Fareless,” says Christian to the bus driver. His hands are jammed in the pockets of his old grey sweatshirt, tugging it low. He doesn’t flash a transfer or a pass. He doesn’t drop quarters in the fare box. The driver shrugs. “Lloyd Center?” she says.

“Yeah,” says Christian. “Whatever.”

The bus is nearly empty. He swings himself into the seat just behind the back door. His reflection glowers at him in the black window-glass.

“Running to Northeast,” says one of the men sitting in the very back seat to the other one. “Now that seems pretty smart, first time you look at it.”

The other man, the big one, doesn’t say anything.

“Nobody’s going to look for you up that way, at least not right off the proverbial bat,” says the first guy, the little one. “Certainly not the people you pissed off. And not the people they pissed off, neither. You’re out of the middle of them, and yay team for that. Plus, you’re crossing water.” The bus changes gears, surging up and around an on-ramp onto a bridge. “Always good to get some running water between you and your troubles. Not that it necessarily has any practical effect, mind you. Come to think of it, it doesn’t have much of any effect at all, does it? But it’s what everybody does, they hit a patch of trouble too big for their britches. Makes you feel a little better to be doing it. It’s something. You know?”

The big guy doesn’t say anything.

“And see,” says the little guy, “you start looking at this plan, this whole running to Northeast plan, with that attention to detail, well. It all starts to look less like a home run and more like a bunt, and maybe not even a base hit, you know? I mean, hell. Northeast. Here there be monsters. You don’t know the signs and signals, the ways and means, you’re gonna end up as lunch, make no mistake.”

“What you need,” says the big guy, “is a friend.”

“And that is precisely what I was about to say, Mr. Keightlinger. Hot damn. Hot damn indeed. Who wouldn’t want a friend in times like these? The other fellow has somebody to back his play, what do you need? Somebody to back yours. But not just a friend, no. Not any old friend will do. You need a friend with britches big enough to stand up to your troubles. You need a friend with deep pockets to back your play. What you need, Mr. Keightlinger – ”

“Dude likes the sound of his voice,” says Christian, loudly.

“What you need, Mr. Keightlinger,” says the little guy, “especially if you’re a loud-mouthed pushy little sonofabitch like Christian Beaumont here, what you need is a goddamn patron.”

“Make no mistake,” says the big guy, who has a thick beard the color of mahogany furniture, bushy enough to bury the knot of his skinny black tie.

“The fuck are you?” says Christian, who’s spun around on his seat to look at them.

“Me?” says the little guy, who’s wearing a black suit just like the big guy’s. “I’m Mr. Charlock. My associate is the aforementioned Mr. Keightlinger. And I’m assuming that you are in actual fact Mr. Christian Beaumont. If you aren’t, what I’m saying probably makes no sense whatsoever. But if you are, my friend, well, you just stood yourself up between two houses of the gentry who are determined to butt heads and none too particular about what happens to the little folks stuck in the middle. Hell, you’ve got one or two of ’em ready to see to it personally you end up flatter than not. The kind of trouble you’re in doesn’t come any bigger. You need a patron. And we can fulfill that role, my associate and myself.”

“And what if I told you to go fuck yourself?” says Christian.

“Well,” says Mr. Charlock. “You have a couple of options, all of which involve running out of town. But! That costs money, doesn’t it?”

“Quite a bit of money,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“More than Mr. Beaumont has, anyway.”

“Fuck you,” says Christian.

“He could hitchhike, I suppose,” says Mr. Charlock, “or hobo his way south or east. Or he could sign up to fight forest fires! ’Tis the season, after all, and the commercial outfits aren’t too picky about who they sign up. He could be out at the Three Sisters burn in a matter of days.”

“He doesn’t have days,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

Christian rolls his eyes.

“Oh, you’re right there,” says Mr. Charlock. “That Mooncalfe is a vicious bastard. Murderous. What was it again he did to that obnoxious cowboy in the parking lot of the Red Lion?”

“Bet he didn’t talk his motherfuckin’ ears off,” says Christian.

“No,” says Mr. Charlock, his voice suddenly flat and quiet as the bus pulls into a stop. “No, he didn’t.”

“Lloyd Center,” calls the bus driver. “End of Fareless Square.”

Christian hauls himself up out of his seat. “So what do you want from me?” he says.

Standing, Mr. Charlock says, “You see, Mr. Keightlinger?” They follow Christian out the back door and onto the sidewalk in front of a dimly lit park. “The street is a harsh mistress, but her lessons are taken to heart. The invisible hand of the marketplace is hard at work, ensuring that services are rendered for value received. A patron is no mere friend, after all, to flee when the fair weather turns; a patron, after all, is a mutual obligation. So let’s by all means cut to the chase: we will, Mr. Beaumont, keep you safe from the Mooncalfe and the Stirrup and anyone they might send to effect their revenge. In return for which, you will educate us in the ways of one Jo Maguire.”

“Jo?” says Christian.

“You do know Miss Maguire, don’t you? Mr. Beaumont? Otherwise, I’m afraid this has been a dreadful waste of everyone’s time.”

Christian jams his hands into the pockets of his sweatshirt. He looks away from the two men in their black suits up the sidewalk toward the parking lot of a movie theater, filled with a slowly churning traffic jam of people and cars working their ways home after the last show. A number eight bus pulls up to the stop, opens its doors expectantly. He waves it off. “Buy me a burger,” he says. “Let’s talk about it.”

“By all means, Mr. Beaumont,” says Mr. Charlock. “By all means.”

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