Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

Standing there – an Offer is Made –

Standing there in the middle of the intersection a white paper sack in one hand his other shoving long dark hair a thin curtain from before his eyes frowning “Hey?” he says, soft and deep. A growl of engine an orange car lurid in the dim light swerves around him but he doesn’t look away after it. He doesn’t look up the street where it came from at the big man in a black suit walking at a fast clip up to the corner and around it. He’s looking along the other street, at the man in the long dark skirt, at the long straight sword in his hand, at the woman in the short white parka he’s pushing ahead of him. At the body they’ve left crumpled on the pavement. “Hey?” he says again. The man in the skirt, the woman in the parka, neither of them stopping or turning or noticing at all as grunting, sobbing, they make their way to the corner and around it and they’re gone.

“Jo?” says the man still standing there in the middle of the intersection. He’s wearing a black down vest over a black T-shirt. His arms are bare. The T-shirt says Ted Kord & Maude in white letters. The body crumpled on the pavement one leg kicked to one side asprawl the other folded up under one arm jackknifed to the side hand over belly fingers adangle the other upflung beside the canted head one eye staring whitely up at nothing. He steps closer, closer still, and a siren somewhere blocks away whoops up into stuttering bleeps and stops with a strangled blurt. The stoplight in the intersection behind him clicking and all the blood about the body’s lit up yellow and orange, gold. He stops short. “Jo?” he says, again. The stoplight clicks, clacks, the blood lost again in all the red and black.

A rustle, a plop, the paper sack drops to the pavement there by the body. He squats by the sack, one hand up over his mouth. His other hand not touching her shoulder, her face, rough-knuckled, black-nailed, glittering with silver rings, an ankh, a skull, a pair of dice, snake eyes. “Hey?” he says, looking up, about. “Anybody?”

The stoplight clacks. His dark hair’s splashed with green.

He folds his hand gently about hers there over her belly, turning it palm up as his other hand drifts down to settle over it pressing it between them over the rip in her shirt shining wetly skin and the blood those reds all smeared into one uncertain color by the light. He’s pressing his thumb along her wrist hands shaking and then “No,” he says, “no, no, not the thumb,” lifting his hand away, shaking it out, pressing his fingertips, forefinger and middle pressed together against her wrist as her head lolls a bubble of spittle bursting on her lips cords jumping in her throat and he’s rearing back, “oh,” he says, “oh, okay,” sitting back on his heels. Letting go, dropping her wrist. Rubbing his hands together. Looking about the dark block of the converted warehouse to one side, the unlit windows of the wine shop to the other, the silent construction sites past the empty intersections at either end. A duffel bag there by her foot, a long narrow cardboard box strapped to it. “I need,” he says, “to find, a phone?” A rumple of black there on the pavement behind her a leather jacket. He stands, a little unsteady. “You’ll be okay, right? Powell’s is just, Powell’s is right over there. Somebody’s still got to be there. Right?” Stooping to pick up the jacket. “I’ll, why am I even talking,” and then he freezes, looking down where the jacket had been, the jacket dangling from his hands. “Shit,” he says. He starts to lay it back down, and then he says “Fuck the evidence,” and shakes it out, steps back to Jo. “You’ll be okay,” he says. “I’ll just be a couple of, a few minutes. You won’t, bleed out. While I’m gone. Right?” Hefting the jacket in his hands. Frowning. Patting it down, reaching into the pocket on the side of it that’s dangling a bit lower. Pulling out a glassy black phone.

“Oh,” he says. “Right. Yeah.”

He thumbs a button, pokes the screen until he gets a keypad. Punches in nine, one, one. Stares at it there in his hand, no earpiece, no microphone.

“Nine one one emergency,” says a tinny little voice.

He yanks the phone to his ear. “Yeah,” he says, “hello, can you hear me?

“Yeah, I need to report a stabbing? Someone’s been stabbed. With a sword? I think?

“I don’t know, it isn’t, I think he took –

“Northwest Twelfth between, ah, Everett and what’s the, the, F? Foster? Flanders.

“Yes, she’s, yes, there’s a pulse, and, uh, but there’s a lot of blood. Shit.

“No, I mean, uh,” he picks up the white paper sack the bottom of it soaked through dark and wet, “I got, it’s all over the burritos. Ingrid’s gonna be furious.”

“So,” says the Duke. Looking out the window at the passing lights. “There nothing to be worried over.” His jacket brown with wide blue stripes, his shirt a creamy gold, buttoned up to the collar without a tie. “Ready?”

Beside him in the back seat she’s looking out the other window, at the traffic. Her hair cut quite short, wine red. A buff-colored bolero jacket spangled in red and pink and orange over a severely simple gown the color of old bone. Her arms folded in her lap.

“Jo,” says the Duke.

“What do I say?” says Jo Maguire. “How do you figure I’m ready for this?”

“We could go back,” says the Duke. “One word, this car stops. We get sandwiches from Eastside, we watch some television, we get out of these clothes – ”

“You’re only saying that,” says Jo, “because you know I’ll say no.”

“You think?” says the Duke. A sign slides past out the window behind him as the car slows. Fred Meyer, it says. “I mean I’ve got a copy of that Canadian thing, about the guy. Wrote those plays?” The car stops, the click-clack of the turn signal. “But maybe another night, huh. Because you won’t say yes.” His hand on her knee, squeezing. “Anyway. Offer’s on record. Okay?”

Jo says nothing.

The car pulls into a right turn. The lights from traffic and shops give way to dark sidewalks, parked cars, windows lit here and there, a glimpse of books on shelves, a canvas on a wall a great slash of red and yellow dripped, a candle on a sill, someone face in shadow sipping something from a martini glass. Streetlights here and there blurry in a drifting mist of rain. They park by the side of a big brick apartment block, across the street from an old green house up behind a low stone wall, a neatly narrow garden, big white columns of its shallow porch in the glare of tasteful spotlights. Jessie shuts off the engine, sets the parking brake. Her grey chauffeur’s cap wrapped in clear plastic, a clear plastic raincoat over her grey chauffeur’s jacket. Climbing out the driver’s side door, levering the front seat forward, unfurling a clear plastic umbrella. Leaning in to offer a hand to Jo. In the palm of her hand a piece of paper folded and tucked into a triangle that says Is.

“Let’s go,” says the Duke behind Jo.

Jo looking up at Jessie nods and takes the triangle from Jessie as she climbs out of the car. “We’ll be, ah,” says the Duke, shifting along the back seat, planting his cane, taking Jessie’s hand. “A while, actually.” Settling a brown porkpie on his head. “I honestly don’t know. Go have a drink, go dancing.” Taking the umbrella. “Heck, go to Goodfellow’s. I wouldn’t even worry about starting to wait until after midnight, so – ”

“I’ll call,” says Jo. The Duke frowns. “I have a phone?” she says.

“Oh,” says the Duke, “that, right,” and then Jessie steps between them, up against him, presses a brief kiss to his lips. “For luck,” she says.

“Not a factor,” he says, and he smiles his crooked little smile. “But I’d never turn it down.” He kisses her, a longer, softer kiss, and then, stepping back, looking over at Jo, holding the umbrella up as she steps next to him, as Jessie heads off away down the sidewalk. “What was that she gave you?” he murmurs in her ear. “A note?”

Jo nods.

“For the Princess?” says the Duke. “Good thing for her I’m not a jealous god. Well.” Tapping his cane against the pavement as rain patters on the umbrella above them. “Let’s get this done.”

They set out, across the street to the old green house behind its narrow garden, its low wall, its wrought iron gate.

Table of Contents

one Eye brown, one Eye blue – Hand held High – his Reward – not a Mark –

One eye brown as a forest floor, one eye piercing cloudless blue, both blinking thickly, heavy-lidded. Pinkish orange hair crisply stiff crackles against the pillow as he looks to one side, then the other. Bars, a rack of equipment, digital numbers brightly fuzzy in the dim light. Tubing. A yellow catheter taped to the back his hand. More tubing up along his neck, his cheek, feeding into his nostrils. Beige sheets, a fuzzy blue blanket rumpled about his hips. “Hey,” says somebody, off over that way. “Limeade. Welcome back to the land of the living.”

“What,” he says in a voice scratched thin. “Did you call me.” Smacking chapped lips, licking them.

“Oh, hey,” says a skinny man in pale pink scrubs, his hair a fuzzy bush of tightly kinked black curls. “Nickname. Wasn’t thinking.” Peering at the rack of equipment, checking the yellow catheter with sure and careful hands. Shaking out the blankets. “But what did you call me,” says the man in the bed.

“They brought you over from Hooper a bit ago. Said you were ranting and raving before you passed out, lime to the lemon, lemon to the lime, lime soda. You remember any of that?”

“Limeade,” says the man in the bed.

“Nickname,” says the nurse. “Like I say. Had to have something to call you.”

“Reynard,” says the man in the bed, “Reynardine. Raynaud. Reynolds. Raymond.”

“Pick one?” says the nurse.

“Ray,” says the man in the bed, struggling to sit up. “Raymond. Call me Ray. Something – I have to get out of here.”

“Hang on, hang on a minute, I’ll help you to the bathroom. You probably got a – ”

“Out of here. I must leave.”

“Hold still, Ray.” The nurse gently pushes him back to the pillow. “You don’t just walk away from a coma. Patience. We gotta check you out, there’s these tests, and man.” He smiles. “You’re gonna love the paperwork we got picked out for you.”

“I need,” says Ray, “something to drink.”

“Water I can do.”

Ray shakes his head, pink hair crackling. “Wine,” he says. “Whiskey.”

“Whoa,” says the nurse, shaking his head. “Not here, man. Not in here.”

“I need to get out of here,” says Ray, fighting back up on his elbows. “If you won’t let me leave – ”

“Calm, man.” Not raising that soothing voice but his hand firm on Ray’s chest, not letting him up. “It’s okay – ”

“I’m stripped raw as if I had no,” says Ray, “someone’s coming that’s what woke me,” his hand flapping by his shock of hair, “like a pressure, a pressing on my – ”

“Headache,” says the nurse, both hands on Ray’s shoulders now, steady, fixed. Ray’s breathing heavy, fierce. “Bet it’s a king-hell doozy – ”

Ray claps the heel of his hand over one eye and roars, a deep rumble torn and echoing in the dim room, rattling the IV stand, the clear plastic tubing, the clanking safety bars up on either side of the bed, the nurse steps back, the lights flicker, those numbers blink and change, wink out, flash back in bursts of random nonsense.

And then Ray sinks back against the pillow with a ghost of a smile.

“What,” says the nurse, as loudspeakers crackle, “was that?” An Emergency Department lockdown is now in effect, says a tinny, staticky voice. Emergency Department lockdown, now in effect. “Ray. Talk to me, Ray. Tell me what just happened.”

“I need,” says Ray, barely a whisper, “liquor, I need to go away, I can’t be here, not yet, not yet,” and then blinking, finding the nurse, “lucky,” he says. “Lucky. He isn’t going to, he isn’t coming here. He’s looking for something else. Someone. But he might,” sighing, closing his eyes again. “I must be dulled,” he says. “I need a bushel. Booze,” drawing out the word, savoring it, and then with a little laugh, “no more limeade – ”

Huffing, puffing, “Make a hole,” she bellows, and the four or five men and women in purple and blue scrubs flatten against either side of the hallway as keys jangling, boots thumping she barrels through them and around the corner. Far end down there a couple men, three men holding, dragging a fourth, the only one in scrubs, green scrubs under a white lab coat bunched in the hand of the big man yellow shirt flapping open over a bare broad chest. She stops crouching a little reaching for the handle of the blocky plastic gun strapped to her belt –

“Wilberforce,” says the second man, the one in the tweed jacket, to the third, the tall one in the long black coat.

– the blocky plastic gun in her hand with its bulbous yellow snout coming up free hand cupping the butt of it finger tense against the trigger as that tall man spins coat swirling a loud slapping crack filling the hall her hand jerked up and back the blocky gun pinwheeling away. That long black coat settling, his arms crossed before him, black-gloved hands poised by his hips, over the pearly white handles of the revolvers holstered there. A puff of smoke floating before him curls of it tugged down toward the gun slung to his left. “Like to see it again, ma’am?” he says, a smile somewhere under his enormous grey mustache. “Stand down? Please?”

“Through there,” says the man in the white lab coat, and the man in the tweed jacket says “Luys, with me,” and pushes through a swinging set of double doors. The man in the yellow shirt lets go of that white coat and follows. The man in the long black coat lifts a gloved hand to the brim of his soft pale hat with an absurdly high crown, punched in on one side. “Sir,” he says, to the man in the lab coat, “ma’am,” to the security guard still staring at the broken plastic gun halfway down the hall, “just a minute or two more to get what we came for. Then we’re out of your hair.”

The room beyond is brightly lit. A cluster of people anonymous in blue and green scrubs and white surgical masks about the high table, and “Watch it” someone’s saying, muffled by a mask, and “There, right there” and “It’s dropping” and “God dammit” and “Crashing” and “Flanagan, Security, now.” The man in the tweed jacket holds up one hand burning, flaring like a torch too bright to look upon. “Ladies,” he says, “gentlemen.” In his other hand a clear plastic bag swollen with glittery dust. “The Hawk thanks you for your service and bids you take your leave.” Luys beside him, the tip of his longsword brushing the floor.

“We can’t, we can’t leave,” says one of the be-scrubbed people, and “Don’t, don’t” and “Still dropping” and “Another clamp, if you would.”

“Doctors!” he cries, stepping closer. “Nurses. You have done all you can and more besides and it will not be forgotten I assure you,” and one and then another steps back, falls back before him. “But this is what she needs,” his hand in all that searing light clenched in a fist, “and it’s not for you to see.” And he opens his mouth around a short sharp breath, then lets it out in a word, “Go,” and the passage of that word ruffles scrubs, aprons, flutters caps and masks, ripples the cloth spread over the body that’s been laid upon the table.

The Duke lays the plastic bag on a side table by a rack of stainless tools, a dish, neatly folded squares of gauze. With the hand that isn’t burning he whips sheets back, knocks aside a tented frame, exposes her there, pale, limp, naked, the red ruin of her belly peeled open, laid back. Yanking plastic tubes from his path a long needle from her arm heedless of the blood. “Shut that down,” he says as beeps and buzzes sound, and Luys shrugs and heads for the station behind the table where most of the alarms seem to be sounding. The Duke carefully pries a hissing mask from her face with his free hand, working it off over her wet red hair. “Jo,” he says, under the buzzing, the bleeps. “Please.” His other hand drips fire over her breast, her belly, white-gold light that sizzles against her skin.

By the wall Luys lifts his sword and brings it down in a shower of sparks and the bleeps squeal and shriek and stop and the buzzing dies.

The Duke dips his burning hand into the plastic bag and the whole room lights up, a sun shining there on that table. Squinting he drags it through the air over along her body and again and in its wake her pale skin blooms with color and with warmth. Again, and as that light passes over a third time her belly’s smooth, unmarred.

“Jo,” says the Duke, leaning over her, taking her head in his hands, that sun gone dim, just ripples now, the reflection of light on water somewhere licking at his fingers. “Come back,” he says, a whisper, and Luys looks away. “Jo,” says the Duke, “come back to me,” and he kisses her lips, and her chest rises with a breath, and then another.

As he wipes his eyes an unbuttoned green striped cuff falls away to reveal a watch, heavy and gold. “Thank you,” he says, his voice a rasp.

“Not at all,” says Mr. Leir, brushing cinders from his shirt too brightly white in the harsh glare of the arc light. “You earned it.”

“It’s, I just,” says the man in the green striped shirt. “Words. It’s, they’re inadequate.”

“Of course,” says Mr. Leir, pulling on his white jacket. “Your coat?”

As they leave the cavernous room, Mr. Keightlinger steps into the glare with a broom, sweeping ash from the unfinished wood floor. Mr. Charlock’s at the edge of that circle of light, one hand cupping his eyes, peering out into that darkly empty room, the shadowy suggestions of columns, glints from the glass of the windows lining the far walls. “You hear, like, a laugh?” says Mr. Charlock. “Weirdest damn thing.” Mr. Keightlinger shakes his head.

“What news of the Bride,” says Mr. Leir, in the doorway to the room.

“Unchanged,” says Mr. Keightlinger, stooping for the dustpan.

“Hadn’t left the house in days,” says Mr. Charlock, turning, squinting in the light. “We’re growing moss out there.”

“And tonight?” Mr. Leir’s frowning at the soot-streaked toe of one of his white bucks.

“Dinner,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “You called us in for this shindig,” says Mr. Charlock.

“You’d rather grow moss?” says Mr. Leir, tugging a handkerchief from his pocket. “Mr. Kerr,” bending over to rub at the toe of his shoe, “deserved his reward. Six months ago, Killian wasn’t going to run.” A last wipe at his gleaming shoe, he folds the handkerchief carefully and again. “Today, he’s the clear favorite over Beagle.”

“Well her mother’s got a big dinner party tonight, so hey, good timing on that reward.”

“And the new guardian?” says Mr. Leir.

Mr. Keightlinger, dustpan in hand, stumps over to a bulging garbage bag, empties the ashes into it. “What’s to know?” says Mr. Charlock. “He’s the worst possible choice.”

“Worse than the Chariot.”

“The Chariot was a machine,” says Mr. Charlock. “Predictable. This guy? He’s,” and he shrugs, hands wavering, looking for a word. “Nuts.”

“That’s an excuse?” says Mr. Leir.

“There’s a girl,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“A girl?”

“There might be a girl,” says Mr. Charlock. “That he’s, I don’t know. Seeing. We’re doing what we can.”

“Do more,” says Mr. Leir, turning away.

Mr. Charlock rubs his eyes, blinks, steps further into the shadows. “So you didn’t hear it, huh? High-pitched, like a giggle? A girl, I don’t know – ”

“Mr. Charlock?” says Mr. Keightlinger, by the door. Away across that circle of light the little guy’s a hint of shoulders, a gleam struck from his bald head drooping, kneeling there in the shadows. “What is it?”

“Huh?” says Mr. Charlock. “Nothing.” In his hands a pair of underwear, bikini underpants with blue and white stripes. He wads them up, stuffs them in the pocket of his jacket, stands, turns, steps back into the light. “I’m hearing things. Let’s get back to it.”

The fireplace cold and dark, two wing-backed chairs drawn up before it empty, the reading lamp on the thin-legged table there unlit. On the bed pillowed in a deep down comforter Ysabel on her side wrapped in a short white robe, black hair heavily damp. Feet crossed at the ankles, white nail polish chipped and dingy, no rings on any toes. Calves shaded with delicate black hair. On a flowered saucer on the nightstand a cigarette wrapped in brown paper, burned down to a feathery twig of ash, a thread of smoke still tugging at its smothered cinder. “You will dress yourself for dinner,” says the woman standing at the foot of the bed in a simple black sheath and sheer black stockings. Her glasses narrow with black rims. Ysabel does not respond, or move, or even stir. “If you do not, don’t think you won’t be taken down in that.”

“Don’t encourage her,” says the old woman by the door.

“Goddammit, Ysabel,” says the woman at the foot of the bed, “don’t make me call the Mooncalfe,” and “Anna,” says the old woman by the door, quite stern, and then, quite softly sweet, “leave her to me, dearie. Guests will be arriving at any moment.”

Anna looks back at her, nods once, crisply, turns and takes her leave. The old woman flips a switch by the door and the fixture in the middle of the ceiling fills the room with too much light. Her hair is long and glossy white, hanks of it gathered in braids that wrap about her head like a crown and hang down before her shoulders to either side. Her plain grey dress blushes pinkly iridescent as she sits on the edge of that bed. “Well,” she says, with a heavy sigh. “A lot just keeps on happening, doesn’t it. And none of it due to you.”

Ysabel burrows more deeply into the pillows.

“Oh dear,” says the old woman, “oh dearie dear. Have you given up so,” and “Don’t dearie me,” says Ysabel, muffled by the folds of her robe. “So quickly,” says the old woman. “Did you think it would be easy?”

“Don’t ask rhetorical questions, either. I don’t need a lecture, Gammer.”

“What do you need, child.” She strokes Ysabel’s wet hair, her cheek, just visible. Ysabel lifts her head and looks the old woman in the eye. “A different dress,” she says.

The Gammer leans back on an elbow to look over her shoulder. Hanging from one of the half-open louvered doors there the other side of the bed a froth of white lace draped over a satiny ivory slip. “That will look lovely on you,” she says.

“It’ll look like a wedding dress,” says Ysabel.

“You are the Bride.”

“The King comes back tonight, then? During mother’s ridiculous dinner?”

The Gammer smiles. “Something’s lit your fire,” she says. “I’ve missed that, these past few days. Your mother’s many things, but I’d never say she was ridiculous. What’s got you so frightened, child?”

Tucking the folds of her robe under her chin, Ysabel says, “Am I broken, Gammer?”

“Broken?” says the Gammer. “And what’s put that idea into your head?” Sitting up. “Ysabel?”

From behind her fingers Ysabel says, “I tried a turning.”

“Did you,” says the Gammer, softly. “And how’d you go and do a thing like that? Without the King to hold your hand, and me still here in the world.”

“Wild queens once lived in the mountains,” says Ysabel, “and spun straw into gold the livelong day, and nary a king in sight.”

“The Soames told you some stories,” says the Gammer. Her lips pucker. “A jar of rabbit was it, then.”

“I drank it down,” says Ysabel, and “Ut,” says the Gammer, shaking her head. “I drank it,” says Ysabel, shifting on the comforter, sitting up, “and it did something, inside – ”

“Dearie, don’t,” says the Gammer. Ysabel’s undoing the belt to her robe. “Jo found me,” she says, and “Never should have left you,” mutters the Gammer as Ysabel says, “Jo found me, lying, lying in my own, vomit,” and she opens the robe, “and Roland cut it out of me, and, and,” her words stumble over a sobbing breath.

“And not a mark on you,” says the Gammer, brushing Ysabel’s belly with the back of her hand.

“It hurts,” says Ysabel.

“Oh, it will,” says the Gammer. “But not because of any cut or spew.” She stands, steps over to the bay window, looks out into the street. “It’s not to be drunk, child.”

“Then how.”

“Wait for the King.”

“But why.”

“It’s what is done,” says the Gammer, pushing the curtain open a little more. “The Duke’s arrived.”

“The Duke,” says Ysabel. A cough, to clear her throat. “Who’s with him? The Mason? The Cater?” The Gammer shakes her head. “Who?” says Ysabel. “Not Greentooth, surely.”

“No,” says the Gammer. “Not Greentooth.”

Ysabel kicks her feet off the bed, hurries to the window, heedless of her open robe. Throws another curtain back. Her hand leaps to her mouth. There below in the rain under a clear umbrella the Duke in his brown and blue striped suit, and beside him Jo in a long straight gown the color of old bone, streetlight flashing from the spangles on her jacket, pink and orange and red.

“She’s come,” says Ysabel. “She’s come for me.”

Table of Contents

a Seamless Sky – her Packing’s done – a Season’s worth – Dour men in Rich Black suits – a Heavy limping step –

A seamless sky grey-white floats over an ocean milky green like well-worn jade, the yellow white sand rippled, wind-swept, empty. The big picture window specked with dead raindrops. She sits in a recliner angled back, staring out at it all, legs wrapped in a rug made from rags in colors from old magazines. A cardigan buttoned up to her chin, her head leaned against the heavy shawl collar. Every now and then she closes her eyes as if she has finally fallen asleep, but sooner, later, they blink open again, she shifts a little in the recliner, folds her arms about herself more tightly, tucks her hands back under her elbows, or under the rug, stares out at the ocean through mud-colored eyes.

A huge figure of a man comes into the airy little room, soft blue denim shirt and a moleskin vest, his face a couple of dark eyes, a daub of forehead in an explosion of wiry hair all grey and peppery black and coiling sprigs and shoots of white. In one hand a thick yellow mug that he sets steaming on the tray table by the recliner. His other’s not a hand but a hand-shape, cast in bronze and beaten with whorls of puckered dots. Standing there a moment he watches her as she does not lift a hand for the tea, and then with something like a shrug he turns to walk away.

“Wish we could open the window,” she says.

He stops there by the low shelf buried under a great bouquet of chrysanthemums, heavy heads of yellow and gold and bronzey orange. “Yis builden,” he says, a roughly woven voice, “it’d fall. Yon light’s’ll can be mannered.” Over his shoulder a portrait of a jowled and scowling president from many years before.

“I can almost smell it,” she says, closing her eyes. “And the sound…”

“Ull, that,” he says, tching. “That’ll be, n’manner when nor where, and naught’s to lay by any’s name. Old as ever, it is.” And then that gap in his hair about his eyes narrowing he steps back up to her, lays his metalled hand on the back of the recliner. “Ut,” he says, and she opens her eyes.

Out there struggling against the wind a woman, her grey houppelande too heavy to billow, her hair hidden away in a wimple, both hands on the arm of a young man short and limping beside her, wrapped in a heavy bearskin, on his head a simple round cap of the sort favored by bankers. Bent under the weight of an iron bound chest he’s balanced on one shoulder, steadied with his free hand. Black padlocks clamp the face of it to either side.

“I’ll see to the kettle,” says the huge man, pushing away from the chair.

“Coffey!” cries the Duke, coming through the door in his camelhair coat. Behind him Jessie in her chauffeur’s jacket, a sack of groceries cradled in either arm. “Your Grace,” says the huge man gruffly, directing Jessie with his metalled hand toward a swinging door at the other end of the room. The Duke coming around to kneel, wincing, his weight on the arm of the recliner. “Jo,” he says. “How are you?”

“Cold,” she says, the yellow mug steaming in her hands.

“You know, I think he likes you?” says the Duke. His chin resting on the back of the hand draped over the arm of the chair, his other hand wrapped about the stern hawk at the head of his cane. “They’re pretty much done at your place,” he says. “You might want to look it all over before it’s moved. Just in case. Not that there’s gonna be any problems. And, you’ve got time. Days if you need them. So you don’t have to, it’s not like I think you should be worried about any of it. Just – whatever you need, Jo.” She looks at him, then, his brown eyes sparked with green and gold. “For as long as you need. I’m gonna take care of you, Jo, I – ” She’s turning away, thumping the mug down on the tray table. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Poor choice of words. I didn’t mean.”

“Let’s go,” she says. “Leo.” Lifting the rug from her lap. “Let’s go.”

In the little hallway kitchen cabinet doors left open drawers pulled out empty, all empty, the refrigerator door ajar and dark inside. A cardboard box full of garbage in the doorway to the bathroom, dust and shards of glass and crumpled paper towels. The window on the far wall of the main room of the apartment stripped bare, no curtains, no shade, outside the skinny white faux balcony weirdly sharp in the flat grey light. Folded as a couch the bare wooden frame of the futon, pillows stacked ungainly to one side. A steamer trunk on the bleach-stained carpet, a couple of wooden crates beside it, both of them nailed shut. The glass-topped café table with a couple of spindly wrought-iron chairs set legs up on top of it. In the corner the bulky blond wood armoire stands open, empty, a contraption of thin metal tubing hanging from one side that racks nothing at all.

“Not much, all packed up like that,” says Jo, her black leather reefer jacket buttoned and zipped to her chin.

“You want any of the furniture?” The Duke nudges the refrigerator closed.

“That was all,” Jo waves a hand at the armoire, the glass-topped table, “that came with her. Guess she didn’t want it.” Her hand coming to rest on an upturned chair leg. “The futon was mine, but it’s a piece of shit. I guess they chucked the mattress?”

“Probably?” says the Duke. “There’s a, it’s like a queen-sized bed, it’s all – ”

“No,” says Jo, “but the blankets, I mean, there’s this one blanket.” Toeing a bleached spot on the carpet with her big black boot.

“Probably in the crates. Want to check? Jo?” She looks up, over at him. “If there’s anything about this you don’t like,” he says.

“What else am I gonna do?” she says, with an unsteady laugh.

“Is it the loft?” says the Duke. He limps into the main room. “Is it too close? Too soon? I’m not, it doesn’t, it’s just a convenient,” and Jo’s saying “No, no,” as the Duke says, “Give me a couple of days. We’ll find you an apartment somewhere, a house, whatever. Or.” He pulls something from a pocket, an envelope, unsealed, fat with bills. “I was gonna give this to you anyway, but you could – ”

“The hell’s that,” says Jo, her hands in her pockets.

“Walking-around money,” he says. “It was gonna be. Go on. Should be enough in there, you could call a cab. Get a hotel room. Call me in a week or two. If you want.”

“This is real?” she says, riffling through the bills.

“As any promissory note,” says the Duke. He’s smiling when she looks up sharply. “Every piece of paper in there passed through a printing press, if that’s what you mean. And did time on someone’s hip. Except maybe some of the fifties, those were pretty new.” His smile softens. “Anything you want, Jo. Anything you need.”

She steps away from the table, envelope in hand. “Anything,” she says, looking out the window, out over the little parking lot across the street, the gullied freeway off to the left, the towering arc of the great bridge far off over the rooftops ahead. The dark hills green and black, draped in gauzy shreds of cloud. “I need to talk to her.”

“That,” says the Duke, “that’s not going to happen.”


“Within reason!”

“Christ, Leo,” she says, turning away from the window. “Does she even know I’m alive.”

He looks away at that. “No one’s,” he says, “I don’t, ah, she hasn’t left the house. Not since he took her. But there’s to be a dinner, for the court. Tomorrow night. I’ll see her then. I’ll tell her whatever – ”

“I need to see her.”

“That’s not – ”

“I could go with you.”

“Jo,” says the Duke, his cane-tip thumping the carpet. “You lost. Your office was forfeit and he took the keeping of her. He took your sword, Jo. You aren’t a knight,” and as Jo’s saying “That, that doesn’t” the Duke says, “You have no place. Without a weapon, you’re no more a knight.”

The envelope crinkles in her hand. “So that’s,” she says, and she turns toward the trunk, the crates. “That’s it, then. It’s all over.”

“You lost,” says the Duke again.

She turns back, tossing the envelope onto the table, between the chairs. “So that’s,” she says, “what, the payoff?”

The Duke, blinking, twitches his head as if shaking off a fly. “Excuse me?” he says.

“She said,” says Jo. “The Queen said. When she, when Ysabel tired of her dalliance. That would be the end of it. That I was out. That’s what this is.”

“Now why,” says the Duke, quietly, “would I pay anyone off for Her Majesty, when I could have saved myself a season’s worth of owr.”

And then he’s the first to look away. “No,” he says. “That was rude.”

“I was – ”

“We were both rude,” he says, shoulders hunched, scuffing the carpet with an oxblood wingtip. “I could care less what the Queen said, or wants. What I want,” and those shoulders lift and relax as he straightens with a sigh, “I want you, with me. The Princess? Any fool could see she isn’t done with you. Let me, let me go to this dinner. Find out how things stand, before we,” and then he frowns. “Jo?” he says. “What’s that?”

Leaning against the bit of wall hiding the refrigerator a long black spear-haft angled, the head of it like a mirrored leaf resting the tip of it touching there the corner where the ceiling meets the walls.

“Shit,” says Jo. “We never could get it out of the way with all our stuff in here. Kept tripping over the damn thing. It’s, the Dagger’s spear,” she says. “From the hunt. Remember?”

“If it were the Dagger’s spear,” says the Duke, “it would have been destroyed with him. No, I gave it to you.” His smile’s gone slyly sidelong. “You still have a weapon. Come over here. Take it up.”


“Just go take it in your hands,” says the Duke, and Jo heads around the table past him, puts a hand on the black spear-haft. “Go on,” he says.

“What are we doing here,” says Jo.

“Do you trust me?”

“About as far as I could throw you.”

He shrugs. “Okay. Fair enough. Offer it to me. Offer it now, before one of us realizes how monstrously stupid this is.”

Careful with the heavy thing, ducking under it, she turns and pushes it still angled between floor and ceiling at him, the head of it up there winking in the flat white light from the window. He grips the haft of it there between her hands. “Joliet Maguire,” he says. “Gallowglas.” His voice gone gentle now, and his smile is almost gone. “Do you swear before us all, to withstand oppressor’s power with arm and puissant hand? To recover right, for such as wrong did grieve? To battle guile, and malice, and despite? To kick ass and take names for me, your liege?”

And with a shake of her head, blinking, a laugh, “Sure,” says Jo, and then, “Yes. I do.”

“The Hawk,” says the Duke, letting go the haft, “welcomes the Squirrel.”

“The what?” says Jo, leaning the spear-tip against the wall again.

“The T-shirt? You were wearing? At the restaurant that night, when we were, never mind.” He scoops up the envelope from the table. “Welcome to my company.”

Clear plucked notes a chiming descant over spidery strumming all from a big-bellied guitar wrapped up in the arms of a kid with a blue streak dyed in his bleached white hair. “Weave a circle round him three times,” he’s singing in a rough high voice, “you have to plan your moves at these times. Our hearts are breaking; one more song to go.” Jessie in her grey chauffeur’s jacket, bottle of soda in her hand, clear glass that says Dry Rhubarb in a splotch of red, at the edge of a crowd in the low back room, wool and lycra, satin and fleece, painted cheeks, drooping feathers, a long cardigan vest and a T-shirt and shorts, a lurid sari glittering with colored glass and bits of mirror, sagging jeans and a dinner jacket. “We had some good machines,” the kid’s singing, “but they don’t work no more. I loved you once. Don’t love you anymore.”

She sees him as they’re all applauding politely, as the kid’s ducking his head over his guitar, as she’s lifting the soda for a swig. His face all cheekbones and nose and eyebrows jutting, a white watch cap rolled down over the tops of his ears. A tight ringer T-shirt with a flying contraption printed on the front, all bat-wings and spiraled screws. His bare arms strung with wiry muscles and veins. He smiles at her, nods, as the kid starts picking out a new song on the guitar. “You look,” says Jessie, leaning toward him, “familiar?”

“Sorry,” he says, shaking that head of juts and angles.

“Or not,” says Jessie, shrugging.

“Lough,” he says.


“My name.”

“I’m Rain,” she says.

“How can it hatch,” the kid’s singing, “if it didn’t get laid. Well there’s Vera Lynn, on the violin, Elvis Costello, well he’s playing the cello…”

“A generous shot of heavy rum,” says the old man, “something fermented from the third boiling of the sugarcane, with a good Jamaican dunder.” Ivory hair like a wild crown about his pink head. “To that,” he thumps his four-footed cane against the rug, “a third again of Fernet – the Jelinek, if you have it – and the same of John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum.” His pale blue suit baggy over a pink shirt, a white tie loosely knotted. “A dash of bitters, Angostura if you must, stir with ice and let it sit, this is very important! Let it sit a half-minute before straining.”

“Very good sir,” says the tall man, his chin nodding behind the high white gateposts of his upturned collar.

“Soda water,” says the young man, a hand on the old man’s shoulder, “and a straw.” His pale pale hair just touched with gold hangs in tangled dreadlocks to his shoulders. “The same for me,” he says, “but with ice, and orgeat, and cream. No straw.”

“Indeed.” The tall man all in sombre black walks softly across the dark wood-paneled room, loomed over by enormous oil paintings of dour men in rich black suits. Here and there high-backed chairs with elaborately carved wooden frames and jewel-colored cushions, little tables with barely enough space for their nests of knick-knacks. On an ornate sofa the Duke slouches in his blue and brown striped suit at one end, Jo in her bone-colored gown stiffly upright at the other. “Negroni,” says the Duke.

“More of a summer’s drink, isn’t that, sir?” says the tall man.

“Is it?” says the Duke.

After a moment, the tall man turns to Jo. “Miss?” he says.

“I, oh,” she says, “water?”

“Just water?”

“Try the soda,” says the young man with the dreadlocks. “Water and fizz, cream, flavored syrup.” His suit’s a deep rich blue over a white shirt shimmering like silk. “No alcohol.”

“What he said,” says Jo.

“I am touched,” says the young man, helping the old man to sit in a comfortably overstuffed armchair, “to see someone so committed to the ideal of second chances.”

“Sorry?” says the Duke, leaning forward at that.

“Merely complimenting what must be your new knight, Hawk.”

“How’s your sister?” says the Duke. “Viscount.”

“Louder,” says the young man. “His hearing’s not what it was.”

“Pinabel!” calls the Duke, to the old man in the chair. “Hound! How goes the war?” and as the old man looks up and barks, “As expected!” the Duke lurches to his feet, says in a voice pitched low, “That’s twice you’ve presumed in as many words, Axehandle. In the Queen’s own parlor. Have a care; my second is the Gallowglas.”

“We’ve forgiven what might be forgotten,” says the old man to the room, his head bobbing. The young man, smiling, murmurs “Threats, Your Grace?”

“That’s the best you’ve got?” says the Duke, still low, still fierce.

“And we’ve forgotten,” says the old man, faltering, “what we can forgive.”

“But Excellency,” says the Queen, in the doorway at the other end of the parlor. “That’s nothing.” A black high-waisted gown, her shoulders bare, her long black hair swept back. The Count smiles broadly, his bobbing head settling in a nod. The Duke steps back. Agravante’s dreadlocks rustle as he wryly shakes his head. “Gentlemen,” says the Queen. “How good of you to come.” Ice clinking as a man in a trim black uniform moves among them, offering drinks.

“Nonsense!” bellows the Count.

“Nonetheless,” says the Queen. Beside her a man whose sun-browned head’s quite bald, his cheeks grizzled with a dusting of white beard. The wide knot in his yellow tie at odds with his trim tuxedo. In his hands a delicate flute of some clear liquor, much the same as in the Queen’s, and he lifts it as she lifts hers in a toast. “We salute you,” she says, and all about the room their drinks are raised, then sipped. Jo looks at the thinly milky stuff in her glass, shrugs, downs some more. “That was bracing,” the Duke mutters.

“So who’s her escort?” says Jo, leaning close.

“He’s no escort,” says the Duke. “That’s Welund, the Guisarme. A shark.”

“Welund?” says Jo. “Where’s Roland?”

“Not the best time for questions. Just, keep up. You’re doing fine.” And then, looking past her, “Hello,” he says.

“Leo,” says Orlando, and Jo whips around, steps back, out from between them. A white shirt open at the throat, a dark blue sarong stippled with little white flowers. There’s no glass in his hands. “The Queen has sworn,” he says, his dark eye bearing down on Jo, “never again to have another Gallowglas in her house.” She blinks but doesn’t look away.

“And she does not,” says the Duke. Over away behind him Agravante’s laughing at something Welund’s said. “She has me, and I’m the one has her.” Laying his hand on Jo’s spangled shoulder. Jo twitches. “A nicety, perhaps,” says the Duke, “but merely one such as the many we depend on every day. Captivity suits you, Orlando.”

Orlando’s expression doesn’t change as he shifts his gaze from Jo to the Duke. “I am my own man yet,” he says.

“Then be so good as to assert yourself!” says the Duke. “Call down your charge. Let’s launch whatever this is to be and steer it toward the table. I’m famished.”

“But one guest yet remains,” says Orlando, “though I think he’s just arrived.” Bare feet whispering over the rug he moves past them toward the Queen and Agravante and Welund, and Jo sags, closing her eyes, her breath gone deep and quick. “Drink some soda,” says the Duke, and she scowls at him. “Just three or four more hours to go,” he says, and then, “Well. I guess tonight is a night for bruising a few precedents.”

In the doorway to the parlor the Queen inclines her head, just, to a man in a charcoal-stripe three-piece suit gaping over a sunken chest. A polished silver torc clamped about his knobby neck, his bald head bare and streaked with old grime, his shoulders damp with rain. “We are pleased and honored,” says the Queen, “to welcome our sister’s ambassadour.”

“Forgive my graceless demeanor,” says the man with the torc, and “Chazz?” cries the Count still sitting in his chair, peering about the backs of the men before him. “The invitation came to my attention at the most penultimate of moments, and any resources of which I might avail myself to freshen, as it is said, up, are thin upon the ground.” He takes a heavy limp of a step. One foot’s bare, the nails of his toes quite long and jagged sharp. The other foot’s a wad of mud-soaked bandages, and the leg of his suit hangs in shredded tatters. “A bit of which, the ground I mean, I fear I’ve tracked across your lovely floors.”

“A passel of gimps,” mutters the Duke, and “What?” says Jo. “If that ain’t a metaphor,” he says.

“Gentlemen,” calls the Queen, then. Beside her a woman in a simple black sheath leans close to murmur something in her ear, and she nods. “If you would join me here in the hall to raise our glasses, once again.” And Jo looks down to see her hand in the Duke’s, looks up to see those brown eyes sparked with green and gold. He squeezes, once, and lets her go.

The Queen stands at the foot of a sweeping flight of stairs in marble, carpeted with a runner like a neatly trimmed waterfall of white and gold. “It gives me,” she says, raising her glass, and they all follow suit, Jo behind the Duke, her tall glass half drunk held up in her hand, “such pleasure as I cannot adequately express,” and there’s a rustle up there, a lick of white lace flashing past the bannisters above, a click of heels on marble, “to bid you welcome back once more,” and there she is, at the top of the stairs, in a long ivory slip under a draped and gathered froth of white lace, her black and tangled curls held back with a simple band, and she’s restlessly looking over all those bald heads looking up at her, smiling at the Duke’s flopping brown locks, and then at Jo wine-dark behind him, looking back at her. “My daughter, Ysabel,” says the Queen, and glasses are hoisted, lowered, sipped, as smiling the Princess takes one slow deliberate step after another down those stairs.

Table of Contents

“Faded Flowers,” written by Shriekback, copyright holder unknown. Dry Soda® is a registered trademark used for Nonalchoholic Beverages, Namely, Carbonated Beverages, Drinking Water and Mineral Water and owned by Dry Beverage Inc. “Beginning,” written by Denis Jones, copyright holder unknown. Cocktail inspired by the Backyard Bartender.

“Gentlemen!” – Change & Tradition – Intent – a Fine enough Distinction –

“Gentlemen!” bellows the Duke, and he pounds the hood of the car. The muted conversations, the laughter from the big man in the bulky sweater, all of it rumbles away to stillness. “Thanks,” he says. Maybe ten of them in the little parking lot to the side of the big brick temple, steaming cups in their hands, here and there foil-wrapped burritos, a paper boat loaded with quesadilla. Paper bags, ripped sauce packets, shreds of foil scattered over the hood of the reddish-brown car. “You all know Jo Maguire.” The Duke in his camelhair coat and a snap brim tan fedora, Jo beside him in her black leather reefer jacket, her wine-red hair bright in the thin-stretched morning light, a cigarette smoking wanly in her hand. “Jo, here’s, well, some of the boys. Anybody know where’s the Shrieve?”

“Milwaukie,” says the one in the peach and blue check jacket. The one in the long black coat says, “The Couve.” The Duke shrugs. “Busy man. The Cater,” pointing to the check jacket, “the Mason,” the big man in the sweater beside him. “Stirrup,” is the man in the brick-colored car coat, “the Kern,” a man in a black jumpsuit a-dangle with pouches and loops, “the Harper,” a big blond beard and a sheepskin jacket, “the Shootist,” the man in the long black coat, who tips his pale grey hat and says, “Pleasure to see you up and about, miss.” The Duke’s moved on to a man in a dark green work jacket. “The Axle,” he says, “and that’s the Spadone,” a man in a brown and black ski jacket, a grimy white apron stretched over his belly. “Don’t listen to a word he says – ”

“Yeah, boss, fuck you too,” says the Spadone.

“The Buckler,” a man in grey sweats, a cup of coffee in either hand, “and the Cinquedea,” a man in safety orange coveralls and a long red coat puckered with intricate embroidery. “There will be a quiz,” says the Duke, looking over the litter on the hood of the car. “Didn’t I ask for donuts?” he asks the boy behind him, slouched against the brick wall in a brown bomber jacket. The boy shrugs. “Anyways,” says the Duke, turning back. “The Gallowglas has given up her banner and sworn fealty to ours. So give it up for the newest member of the crew. She’s getting the Helm’s streets,” he says, “full stop,” as eyes avert, heads duck, shoulders shrug, fingernails are closely examined, coffee’s sipped. “Chilli,” says the Duke to the big blond beard, “Medoro,” to the work jacket, “Astolfo,” the grey sweats, a coffee in either hand, “this is name only. Y’all keep up the rounds as you have been. Also! Tonight. The Queen’s dinner. Jo’s my companion, another full stop. Do we have a problem here, gentlemen?”

Not a word or gesture from anyone until the Shootist hikes up his belt, the butts of his pearl-handled revolvers twinkling. “Nossir,” he says.

“Hart and Hive, boys, can I get a fucking hello here?”

And “hello” and “hey” they say, and “hi,” and “Salud!” cries the Spadone, and there are nods, and paper cups of coffee hoisted. Jo looks down, drags on her cigarette.

“Anybody worried about change? Tradition?” says the Duke. “In about a month, this whole damn city changes. Get used to it. Okay,” clapping his hands a sharp pop in the little lot, “let’s settle up.” He heads around to the back of the car, prising a single key from the watch pocket of his brown jeans. Opening the trunk he leans in to wrestle a box to one side and drag another closer, to haul up a glass jug sloshing something viscous, white, frothed with a sheen of bubbles, a hint of warm yellow gold. Balancing it with one hand against the bumper he reaches up for the trunk and as it thunks home yelps, jumps back, catches the jug as it teeters over the pavement. Jo’s standing right there, her frown slipping quizzically from the trunk to him, huddled, clutching that jug. “Startled me,” he says, straightening.

“You don’t need me for this. Right?” she says. “I’ll just head back upstairs.”

“Put that out first,” he says, and rolling her eyes she flicks the half-smoked cigarette away. At the door, her hand on the knob, she turns, looks at them all watching her. “Thanks,” she says, to all of them. “I, ah, yeah. Thanks.” She opens the door, she steps inside.

The Duke leans over to the boy in the brown bomber jacket. “I thought I told you to – ”

“You also said not to fucking let on. She stepped right the fuck up, I shoulda fucking tackled her?”

“Yeah,” says the Duke, sucking his teeth, “well.” Carrying the jug around to set it down before the car. “Okay, boys,” he says, unscrewing the cap, and they’re setting aside coffee cups, swallowing the last bit of burrito, producing bottles and jugs of their own, the Buckler cradling a plastic bag in his hands, quiveringly full of yellow-white frothy stuff. “One at a time,” says the Duke, “let’s go, let’s go,” and the first of them, the Mason, steps up to empty his bottle carefully, carefully into that big jug there on the pavement.

“Jo?” calls Jessie down the airy white room lined to her left the length of it with tall and narrow windows one after another. To her right in the corner a sofa bed’s unfolded, a nest of white sheets and tangled blankets below a big flatscreen television set. A girl asprawl on her belly all elbows and knees and knobby ankles kicked up in the air her big feet dangling, wearing underpants with a mouthless cartoon cat printed across the seat, a video game controller in her hands. On the screen a figure in a scanty purple cheerleader outfit swings a chainsaw in a roundhouse swoop at a shambled knot of zombies, grinding snarls and moans from little black speakers scattered about. She shoots an ugly look at Jessie and jerks her pigtailed head, further back, further in. The cheerleader’s running down a darkened hallway lined with lockers.

Past the sofa bed a long table under the windows, some high-backed chairs, four plates still set out bits of pasta and tomato sauce clinging here and there, an empty wine bottle, a couple of glasses. Past the table a red jacuzzi, over there a sink bolted to the wall opposite the windows by a white door paned with frosted glass half-open on a cramped bathroom. Well past that down a length of empty white plank flooring a queen-sized bed in a pool of soft light from the corner windows and beside it a ladder up to a dark corner of a loft under the high unfinished ceiling. At the foot of the ladder a steamer trunk, a couple of crates nailed shut, and leaning there by the ladder the black haft of a spear. “Jo?” says Jessie, peering up the ladder.

“Down here, sorry,” says Jo, from the floor over on the other side of the bed. On her back, hands folded over her belly, a white V-neck T-shirt and black jeans and her big black boots. A wineglass redly full by her hip. “I can get up,” she says, but she doesn’t.

Jessie in her dark brown cardigan sits on the bed all crisp white sheets and fluffy comforter, an orange God’s eye afghan neatly folded. “It’s okay,” she says. “How’s, how are you – ”

“It hurts,” says Jo. “And I’m still getting,” she swallows, “nauseous like, in waves – ”

“Nauseated,” says Jessie, and then, “No, don’t, nothing. Never mind. Did, did Leo tell you about – ”

“What,” says Jo, flatly.

“Somebody, Karen, from this shop up the street, she’s coming by with some dresses for you to try on. For tonight. Not for a couple of hours. I’m telling you,” leaning forward, elbows on her knees, “I’m telling you this because Leo, he, he moves fast.” Jo snorts. “What I mean is, he decides something, like this, and then he’s, well, up and on to whatever’s next.”

“No followthrough,” says Jo, hands tightening on her belly.

“He’s got people for that,” says Jessie. “Me, mostly. Ever since, for the last couple months.”

“Okay,” says Jo, and grunting she sits up. “You told me.” Picking up the wineglass. “I got a couple hours? I’ll just head upstairs, maybe take a nap or maybe another shower – ”

“Jo,” says Jessie, and Jo sets the wineglass back on the floor. A power cry from the other end of the room, the revving of a chainsaw, roars of pain. “I’m glad you’re here. I know this is kind of a, I mean it is a weird situation, but he really, he cares for you. A lot. So I’m glad you’re here.”

“Weird,” says Jo, “situation, what I don’t need, sorry, no offense, what I don’t need is the girlfriend telling me how cool he is.”

“I am not – ”

“Let’s play this straight, okay? The two of us?” Jo’s knees up, her arms about them holding on. “I’m not here because I want to be. I’m here because this is all I’ve got.” She swallows again. “This is how I get her out of there. So that’s how far I trust him and absolutely no further. Okay?”

“I was never his girlfriend, okay?” says Jessie, as Jo climbs to her feet, scooping up the wineglass. “He’s my employer. I do a job for him, he pays me. This is me being straight with you, okay? He’s a good man.”

“I told you,” says Jo, headed for the ladder, “what I do not need – ”

“Did you mean to kill Tommy Rawhead?”

Jo stops at that. “I didn’t kill – ”

“No?” says Jessie.

“The fuck does this have to do with – ”

“Intent,” says Jessie, leaning back on the bed, tucking a yellow lock behind her ear. “Did you mean to step out in the street when Roland struck him with the sword?”

“I didn’t know how it worked,” says Jo. “When that happened.”

“I was here that night,” says Jessie, “when they brought in, it was a bone, was all that was left. I saw the look on his face, Jo. I know what he’s forgiven you. He’s a good man. He didn’t do, what you said he did.”

“I didn’t mean to kill Tommy,” says Jo. She starts hauling herself one-handed up the ladder, careful of the full wineglass. “But still. He’s dead.”

He leans against the fender of the reddish-brown car, a black stripe down its side, parked across the street from an old green house up behind a low stone wall, a neatly narrow garden, columns brightly white in a tasteful glare. It’s raining harder now. He doesn’t seem to notice. He wears no hat or coat, just a track suit, green, with silver stripes, and darkly splotched with rain. Rain glistens in his close-cropped hair gone pinkly orange in the streetlight. He wears a pair of sunglasses the lenses like jagged pieces of green bottle-glass, and blue and white headphones cup his ears. His hands in fingerless bicycle gloves clasped before him. His face expressionless.

And after a time, though the rain falls much as before, he pushes himself up off the fender of that car, and shakes his head, and slowly walks away.

The soup’s brought out in a gilt tureen held up by a man and ladled out by a woman, both of them in trim black uniforms, and it’s smooth and thick, a brightly golden red in their wide white shallow bowls. Jo reaches for her spoon and the Duke beside her lays his hand on her wrist, barely shakes his head. Another man in a trim black uniform’s got a little cast iron skillet sizzling in his oven-mitted hand, and he scoops a couple-three croutons into each bowl, and the woman following him in her trim black uniform crushes a pinch of herbs over the croutons and sets a dry dead leaf, an oak or a maple, to float atop the soup. Jo reaches again and again the Duke shakes his head, more perceptibly. At the head of the table the Queen’s lifted her spoon. She tastes the soup.

“A passata de ceci, ma’am,” says the Majordomo standing behind her, his chin tucked behind his upturned collar. “A soup of chickpeas and tomatoes, flavored with fresh sage, peppers, saffron, and wild fiori di finocchio.”

“Delicious,” says the Queen, and up and down the table the clink of spoons taken up and dipped into the soup. “Dang,” says Jo, scooping up another spoonful, and then she picks up her glass, looks back for the attention of one of those black-suited figures, “Excuse me,” she says, quietly, as the Duke’s saying “Jo, just – ”

“Is something not to your liking, Gallowglas?” says the Queen.

“No. Ma’am,” says Jo. “It’s really very good.”

“Another drink, perhaps?”

“Well, I, ah – ”

“Speak up.”

All about her the clinks and discreet slurps of soup assiduously ladled up to mouths. “I was going to ask,” says Jo, “whether there was any maybe orange flavor? I mean, this is, this good, but with orange it would,” she sets her glass down. “It would taste like a creamsicle.”

“A creamsicle,” says the Queen. “Well, Majordomo? Might we fulfill her request?”

“There is a blood orange syrup flavor, ma’am.”

“Oh,” says the Queen, looking back with a smile at him, “do whip up a batch. One for everyone, that we all might sample this delicacy.” Looking down the length of the table now at Ysabel sitting at the foot of it, her hand on Jo’s, Jo staring tight-lipped at her soup. “Creamsicle,” says the Queen. “How marvelous. You must tell us, Hawk, how this trick was accomplished.”

“Without more context, ma’am,” says the Duke, leaning forward to catch her eye, “I’d have to fall back to my usual response.” The Queen’s still fixed on Jo.

“Which is?” says the Gammer sitting across from him.

“Clean living,” says the Duke.

“The last we’d heard the Gallowglas was dead,” says the Queen, and Jo looks up from her soup as Ysabel squeezes her hand.

“Left for dead,” says the Duke. “A fine enough distinction indeed, but there we are – ”

“Won’t happen again,” says Orlando, sitting across from Jo.

“Mooncalfe,” says Welund, a warning, there on the Queen’s left. “Blood oranges?” says the Count, alarmed, to her right. “Hush, Grandfather,” says Agravante beside him.

“I had hoped,” says the Duke, opening the fists he’d clenched to either side of his bowl of soup, “not to broach the subject until later – ”

“Yes, tell us, Hawk,” says the Queen. “Why have you brought a Gallowglas in my house?”

“She is now a member of my company, ma’am, and she has been wronged, by someone you have let into your house.”

“Go on,” says Welund gruffly after a moment.

“He means me,” says Orlando.

“They all know whom I mean,” says the Duke, an aside. “Five nights ago he drew on her without warning or quarrel – ”

“I have a quarrel,” snaps Orlando.

“Even if you had,” says the Duke, “even if he had, ma’am, it’s a quarrel long since settled by an earlier duel, a duel he lost, as his eye bears witness.”

Spoons jump. Orlando’s pounded the table. “I will not put up,” he says, and Welund says, “Let him finish.”

“This is absurd,” says Orlando.

“Any quarrel he might have is not with her,” says the Duke, “but me.” He picks up his drink, a finger or so of sticky red liquor clinging to melting ice, and he tosses it back, sets the glass down. “And before you all assembled, I say he is a coward for attacking her in my stead, and I demand the return of her sword, which he is not fit to bear.” Looking away from Orlando up the length of the table to the Queen with a sidelong smile. “Ma’am.”

A clink from Chazz there next to the Duke, chasing the last of his soup.

“That’s all?” says Welund. “The sword?”

“It’s all I ask of him,” says the Duke.

“This is tedious,” says the Queen, waving at Orlando. “Produce the weapon.”

“I am my own man,” says Orlando, quietly, his hands unmoving on the table before him. “No ties of toradh bind me.”

“You have the keeping of my daughter,” says the Queen, “and I’ll not risk your losing her to the likes of him in yet another blasted duel. Produce the weapon.”

His chair scrapes as he pushes it back, tossing a plain black scabbard to the table, with a throat and chape the color of thunderclouds. In his hand the bared sword long and straight, the guard of it a glittering basket of wiry strands that meet in thick round worked steel knots. “I don’t know why I bothered,” he says. “It’s not a terribly good sword.”

“The Anvil,” says Agravante, leaning back away from Orlando, “is the finest smith of this or any – ”

“Oh, I know,” says Orlando, spinning, lunging, thrusting. “I mean,” he says, head cocked, “the design of it.” The man in the trim black uniform confused looks down at the blade piercing his jacket, pinning him to the wall behind. “Only good for poking things,” says Orlando, straightening, leaning close to the man to plant his hand on his chest. “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe her heart’s not in it? No anger,” he says, absently, “no fear…”

Jo eyes wide her left hand fingers knotted with Ysabel’s pressed to the lace of Ysabel’s gown.

Orlando wrenches the sword free from the man’s chest. “You see,” he says, over his shoulder to the Duke, “it’s lousy at cutting – ”

“No,” says Jo, working her hand free as the sword sweeps back. The man against the wall looks up from the hole in his trim black jacket in time for it to meet his neck in a clean quick cut straight through.

Agravante pushes his chair back and Jo leaps to her feet and as the man’s body slumps to the floor the man and woman waiting to either side of him step back along the wall to make room. The Queen her elbows on the table her face in her hands. Welund stepping away from the table, a cell phone to his ear. “Like chopping wood,” says Orlando, turning back to face the Duke. “Do you still want it?”

“Jo,” says the Duke. “Leave.” In one hand the stern hawk head of his cane, in the other the heavy pommel of his longsword.

“I’ll,” she says, shaking her head, “I can take care of – ”

“Go,” says the Duke. “I’d not have the lesson I’m about to impart made permanent.”

“I,” says Jo, and then, “oh,” and then, “oh,” backing away from the table as the Duke lurches to his feet. “I’ll be along presently,” he says. “With your blade.”

Ysabel’s hand’s found hers. Jo looks at it, looks at Ysabel’s eyes shining, her hurried nod, and hand in hand they turn away. A woman in a trim black uniform holds the door open for them as they stumble out into the hallway to the sound of ringing blades and the Queen’s voice bellowing, “Enough!”

Table of Contents

Lollipop Chainsaw ©2012 Kadokawa Games/Grasshopper Manufacture.

“Leo, dammit” – Getting Ready – with All her Heart –

“Leo, dammit,” says Jessie, hands up, blocking his way, and “Oh for pity’s sake,” he says, “it’s my fucking office.” In his blue and brown striped pants and a shirt of creamy gold, open at the throat, a very pointed pair of Persian slippers on his feet.

“She isn’t done,” says Jessie. The room behind her empty but for a big flat wooden desk on four stout legs and a shoulder-high rack on casters hung with dresses in colors that come from flames and dawns, sunstruck bricks, and leaves, just before they fall. A song is playing softly, guitar and piano and a big rubbery bass, on the black Fellini sails, tattered rags that hangs on nails reminds me. A woman in a navy pantsuit’s bent over at an awkward angle, tugging at a zipper in the back of a severely simple gown the color of old bone. Jo’s wriggling her shoulders from the straps, letting the front of it peel away from her chest. “What’s to do?” says the Duke. “That looks fantastic. Like whatshername. With the hair.” He diddles his fingers in front of his face. Jo shoots a look at the Duke, an arm across her breasts. The song’s soaring into a chorus, she had one long pair of eyes, she had one long pair of eyes between her. “Real nineteen-thirties Hollywood glamor thing,” the Duke’s saying.

“There’s a jacket, a bolero jacket with that one,” says the woman in the pantsuit, tugging the gown over Jo’s hips.

“So why are we still talking about this?” says the Duke. “Karen, thanks, I’ll have Sweetloaf run the rest back in a bit, now, if you don’t mind? I need to talk to Jo here, alone.”

“Leo,” says Jessie, curtly, as Karen nods and heads for the door, and “What,” says the Duke. “Is that dress not fantastic?”

“That’s not – ”

“And is five-fifteen not allotted in my schedule for helping Jo to see the light? And am I not already running ten minutes late?”

“Twenty,” mutters Jessie, and “All right then,” says the Duke, gesturing toward the door.

“Actually,” says Jo. “Jessie. If you could stay.” In her black boxer briefs, tugging down her white V-neck T-shirt. Her feet bare.

“I, ah,” says Jessie, and the Duke’s saying “You didn’t, but, okay, sure. Why not. Fine.”

“So this light,” says Jo, and Jessie rolls her eyes, shoving her fists in the pockets of her cardigan, stretching it down and down.

“The light,” says the Duke, sucking his teeth. “Okay. Tonight ain’t what you think it is.”

“What is it I think it is?” says Jo.

“The night you walk out of that house with a Princess on your arm.”

“That’s not,” says Jo, “I wasn’t,” and “Come on,” says the Duke, “tell me. Look me in the eye and tell me. If she takes your hand, if she kisses your cheek and she says to you, Jo, she says Jo, take me with you – what are you gonna do?”

Jo one hand gripping the rack of dresses face hot says, “I made a promise.”

“And so it will be kept,” says the Duke, gently. “Safe and sound, warm and hale. Jo.” A shuffling limp, leaning heavily on his cane, and she looks down. “Jo, look at me.” His hand on her chin, hesitantly, gently tipping it back up. “I could just,” he says, and she lifts her head away with a little jerk and he lets his hand drop, “I could tell you it suits my purposes for you to go, and expect you to put on that dress without another word.” Jessie snorts at that, and the Duke favors her with a sour, sidelong glare. “But I am doing you the signal honor,” he says to Jo, “of explaining myself, a courtesy I rarely ever extend. If she were to walk out of that house with you, tonight. If,” he takes a deep breath, “if the last bond between the Bride and the Queen were broken, and no King were there to take her hand.”

“You’re talking about the coup,” says Jo, and Jessie looks up at that.

“No, no coup. Far worse,” says the Duke, and “Yeah, but, but the stuff,” says Jo, “the turning, the, the,” waving her hand, looking for the word, “the owr. It stops.”

“It’s stopped already,” says the Duke. “We squeeze ourselves dry week after week and nothing but dust comes back. No, I’m talking about it ending. Forever. No more Hive, nor Hawk, nor Hound.” He looks away, a bad taste in his mouth. “It’s started already. I have, Jo, with you, I have nineteen knights gathered beneath my mighty wings. How many came with their bottles to this morning’s Muster?”

“I, ah, so, the King,” says Jo, letting go of the rack, looking over at Jessie, who’s shaking her head. “When does he come back?”

“Once I have sat upon the Throne,” says the Duke, “and stood back up again.”

“Well, okay, so this Throne then,” says Jo. “We have to go find it?”

“It’s not like that,” says Jessie.

“It’s not time,” says the Duke.

“When, when is it gonna be – ”

“I’ve sworn that by the turning of the year I will be King.”

“So that’s, what, a month? A month and a half?”

“Sooner, perhaps.”

“Well what is it we’re waiting for?” says Jo. “What has to happen?”

“Jo,” says Jessie, “just, don’t,” as the Duke says “I will know it when it’s time.”

“It. What it. What are you talking about here – ”

He pounds his cane-tip against the floor. “I’m not ready, Gallowglas.”

“Leo, we’d better,” says Jessie, but Jo’s saying, “You’re not,” as she makes her way down the rack of dresses away from him, one hand brushing their shoulders, straps, hangers clink-clinking against the rail, each other. “Ready.” She stoops, picks up her black jeans, looks at them a moment in her hands. “All of this,” she says, “All, the stoppage. The squeezing. Her being,” shaking out the jeans, “cooped up with her mother, this, all of this, because, Christ.” Looking up at him now with those mud-colored eyes. “You’d better get ready.”

“I swore an oath,” he says. “Before the turning of the – ”

“Your oath!” she cries. “Her wish! Her, vision, or whatever. Herself as Queen. We know it’s going to happen. Why are you even bothering with, she’s – Leo, shit, let’s go. Get it over with. Tonight.”

“Herself as Queen, and you by her side. Is that what she told you? Is that why you flung yourself against the Mooncalfe? You thought for sure you wouldn’t lose? Because of that?”

“I’m here,” says Jo. “I survived.”

“Let’s go, downstairs,” says the Duke. “You jump out in front of a bus. I want to see how her vision saves you then. If we go, tonight, to get it over with, best bring a broom with you, to sweep what’s left of me from the seat for the next candidate.”

“Who’s next?” says Jo, and he laughs. “How quickly I’m thrown over,” he says to Jessie, spreading his arms wide, the cane jaunty in one hand. “Do you see – anyone – else!” he bellows, and drives the cane down to crack against the floor. “Put down those pants, Gallowglas. Take a shower. Have Jessie do something with your hair and your face. Put on that dress. Do these things because it suits my purposes. We leave in an hour and a half.” And he turns away and limps toward the door.

“How?” says Jo, and he stops. “How does it, why risk it? Me?”

“I think you’ll make a decent catalyst,” he says, “provoking and, clarifying, certain actions and reactions. We’ll see how the Queen might back her daughter’s new champion.” His hand on the doorknob. “And I will keep a promise that I made to you: that you might see the Bride, and speak with her.” He opens the door, he nods, he steps through, and pulls it shut behind him.

Jo lets out a sudden blast of breath, shaking her head. “Arrogant,” she says. “Son of a bitch.”

“He’s a Duke, Jo,” says Jessie, scooping back her yellow hair. “What did you expect?”

“Still,” says Jo.

“Where’s the car,” says Ysabel, heading for the front door in a rustle of lace, a clatter of heels, and “Wait,” says Jo, padding after in her slippers, a glitter of spangles, grabbing Ysabel’s arm. “Wait.”

“We’re just going to walk home?” says Ysabel, turning, her hand on Jo’s elbow, her hip, pulling her close, Jo’s hand still on her elbow, her other arm awkward behind Ysabel’s back as Ysabel hugs her tightly, cheek to cheek, her eyes squeezed shut, “Oh, Jo,” she says, then leaning back a little and blinking quickly “They didn’t, they didn’t tell me,” and then as Jo’s saying “I didn’t think so” Ysabel kisses her, quickly, firmly, and then, her hands coming up, Jo’s awkward arm about her waist, she’s stroking Jo’s hair, her forehead against Jo’s, her cheeks wet, she says, “I missed you so much.”

“Yeah,” says Jo.

“You look so, so lovely tonight,” says Ysabel.

“Ysabel, we need to,” says Jo, and Ysabel says “Yes of course” and turns stepping out of the embrace toward the door again, and again Jo catches her hand, “No,” she says, “wait.”

“We should go, now, while they’re distracted,” says Ysabel.

“They’re, they’re done fighting, I think,” says Jo. A muffled bellow from somewhere down the hall behind them. “With the swords, anyway. There’s nowhere to go, Ysabel. I took the Duke up on his offer. I’m staying in his loft, until, I don’t know. Haven’t thought that out.”

“I can stay with you – ”

“Ysabel,” says Jo. “Tell me. All of this. It was about becoming Queen, wasn’t it.”

Ysabel takes in a short sharp breath, then letting it out she smiles just a little and says, “Not at first.”

“Who was gonna be the King?” says Jo, looking down at her hand in Ysabel’s. Their fingers twined. “It wasn’t the Duke.” She doesn’t see Ysabel’s frown, the look she darts sideways, her swallow just before she says, “No one. I don’t need a King.”

“You don’t. But – ”

“There hasn’t been a King for years.”

Jo lets go of Ysabel’s hand. “Yeah, but,” she says. “They seem to think you do.”

“I seem to think they’re wrong. Jo.” She grabs Jo’s hand in both of hers. “All I need, Jo, is a bit of medhu to turn. Once I’ve done it, that’s it, it’s done, and all of mine, and none of hers. We could walk out that door and find some, tonight. Jo, we could try it tonight!”

“I don’t know,” says Jo, “if I could go through that again. If it didn’t work.”

Ysabel pulls her close. “I will be Queen, Jo. I’ve seen it.”

Jo closes her eyes and lays her forehead against Ysabel’s. “Maybe,” she says, “maybe me saying no, maybe waiting for the King to come back, maybe that’s how it is you get to be Queen.”

Ysabel’s grip tightens on Jo’s hand pressed there between them. “You wouldn’t. You’ve just come back to me. You wouldn’t leave me.”

“I don’t know,” says Jo, and Ysabel says “Don’t you trust me? Don’t you believe me?”

Jo’s nose brushing Ysabel’s she opens her mouth to say something, but she doesn’t, she presses it instead against Ysabel’s in a briefly single kiss. “I believe that you believe,” she says, “with all your heart.” Leaning back, stepping back. Letting go. “But you could be wrong.”

“So could they,” says Ysabel.

“I can’t,” says Jo, stepping back again, “I can’t make this decision.”

“You have. You already have.”

“Ysabel,” says Jo, as heels click-clacking Ysabel heads past her down that hall toward the stairs. Jo reaches for her, her sleeve, and Ysabel stops, and turns, her eyes so green, so cold and dry. “Let me go,” she says.

“Here,” says Jo, holding up a piece of paper folded and tucked into a triangle that says Is.

“Is?” says Ysabel, taking it from her.

“It’s from Jessie,” says Jo. “I don’t think she knows how you spell your name.”

“So it’s my consolation prize?” says Ysabel, as she unfolds it, reading it, and her hand starts to wave the note, shake it at Jo, and she says, “She loves me, for what that’s worth. That whatever I want, whatever I decide,” and Ysabel lets the creased note fall to the floor. “She won’t stand in my way,” she says.

“Fuck,” says Jo under her breath as Ysabel walks away, and then, “For what it’s worth,” she says, taking a step after those click-clacking heels, “I’m gonna do, everything I can, anything, to get him on that Throne as soon as fucking possible. I’m gonna – ”

“Imagine my gratitude,” says Ysabel, trudging up the stairs.

“I really don’t want to talk to you,” says Jo around the cigarette in her mouth. She’s sitting tailor-fashion on a little fire-escape balcony high above an empty street, a susurrating patter of gentle wind-blown rain on the awning above her. Across the street a big tan building, windows dark, only the red letters saying Fred Meyer lit up on the sign that hangs down the front of it. She leans forward to tap ash onto the sidewalk below. Wrapped in a puffy white comforter, one foot still in a sequined slipper peeking out there by the railing. Laid beside her on the grated balcony floor a sword in a plain black scabbard to the table, with a throat and chape the color of thunderclouds.

“Mostly I wanted to make sure they got this put in while we were out,” says the Duke, leaning against the sill of the open window behind her, in his dressing gown crowded with paisleys of purple and maroon and gold and brown.

“So this is new,” says Jo.

“Can’t have you traipsing all the way down through this pile to the parking lot every time you want a damn cigarette,” he says. “You really should quit those.”

“Yeah? Anything else I can do, to suit your purposes?”

He’s rubbing his forehead under a flopping lock of brown hair, looking away, down through the grated balcony at the street below. “You could,” he says, “accept an apology.”

Jo shudders then, under the comforter, closing her eyes. “Fuck that,” she says. “I made the decision I made. I’m not about to blame you for it.”

“Was it rough?”

“She hates me now,” says Jo. “I told you. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Do you mind?” says the Duke, on foot in a sheepskin slipper up on the low sill, and Jo shrugs, scoots over, “It’s your place,” she says, pulling the comforter more tightly about herself, careful of the cigarette.

“Yours too, now,” he says, climbing out the window, folding himself grimacing to sit beside her, rubbing his thigh. “What I meant was,” he says, after a moment, “I did a stupid and a foolish thing, to you. I,” and he takes a deep breath, “presumed, upon a trust we didn’t have, a trust that, because of what I’ve done, we may never have.” Looking at his hand, wrapped around the railing before him. “And I’m terribly very sorry for that.”

After, after a gentle pattering moment, Jo leans over to let the half-smoked cigarette fall from her fingers. Tucks her hand under the comforter. “All right,” she says. “Yes. I accept.”

He nods, once. He says, “She’ll get over it.” He looks out at the drifting scrim of rain, looks at her beside him, huddled under the comforter. Wincing, he hauls himself to his feet. “I like it out here,” he says, stepping over the sill, back inside.

“Hey,” says Jo, and he stops there in the window. “One thing. Coffey’s place. Why’d you take me there? How’d you know that’s what I needed?”

He’s smiling his crooked, sidelong smile. “Who doesn’t find sea air restorative?” he says. “Goodnight, Jo.”

Table of Contents

“One Long Pair of Eyes,” written by Robyn Hitchcock, copyright holder unknown.

Muffled voices

Muffled voices on the other side of a door or a wall and she opens her eyes slowly, a richly periwinkle that almost seems to cast a bluish light upon the sheets. Only a weird words that I couldn’t no idea what she was. Stoned out of her mind on something. Gorgeously model tall like a different language, one of the Russians? He’s gonna fucking usually sell it, or living beneath this? With the stuff from the truck.

She sits up. And immediately puts a hand to the side of her head, there under the spill of clotted yellow-white curls. Both hands to her face now pulling it, stretching, breathing heavily through her nose. Frowning. A generic little room, beige walls, two queen-sized beds side-by-side, the one over there mounded high with, with stuff, duffel bags and paper shopping bags and nylon drawstring sacks stuffed full, balls, soccer balls and footballs wrapped in clear plastic, tubes of tennis balls, on the floor before the chest of drawers with a television on top a ziggurat of shoeboxes. Quickly but carefully on hands and knees she moves to the foot of her bed, there the ruins of a brief red dress, torn, mud-stained, wet. She lowers a filthy bare foot to the carpeted floor, follows it down in a crouch. In there, says the one voice, crisp and clear.

Yeah, says the other, high and wobbly. From behind not the main door up the short dark hall that way but the flimsy communicating door, flat in the wall by the television set, the panel on her side propped open with a doorstop that stretching across the floor she reaches for but a click, a clatter, someone’s hand on the knob on the other panel in the other room swinging open.

“Why did you even put her in here,” says the guy pushing this room’s panel open into the room, a tangle of blond hair and a big blond beard and a sheepskin jacket hanging open, and “There was room on the bed,” says the other guy, and “No, I mean in here at all,” says the first guy, frowning, stepping into the room. “You put her where?”

“Shit,” says the second guy, swarming into the room, his hair black and spiky, his jacket grey with lots of little pockets and straps and and the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Heading around to the far side of the bed. “I swear she was in here, I swear.”

“Maybe she’s in the bathroom?” says the guy with the big blond beard, and as he’s turning there’s a squeak and a clack and the door to the room’s pushed shut. She’s standing there so tall, curly hair wildly white in the light, one shoulder back against the wall, one hand up, trembling, those bright blue eyes blinking rapidly. “Porth?” she says, or something like, and the second guy, the one in the grey jacket, he comes back around the bed, “There she is,” he’s saying, “hey, baby, it’s okay – ”

“You mother-defiling moron,” says the guy with the big blond beard. “That’s the Axe.”

The eyes harden, fix, the trembling melts away as the shoulder comes off the wall her hand there lifting from behind her leg the wooden baseball bat she’s holding choked up high in a vicious short swing that catches the second guy in the side of the head and as he’s struck there wobbling, blinking, loops around to thunk against his chest and send him crashing to the floor. “Not. Anymore,” she says, her voice rough.

“Forgive me,” he says, “this far east, news of the court sometimes doesn’t – ”

“You’re,” she says, and she coughs, “Harper. The Duke. Took me.”

“No, no, absolutely not. This little turd,” kicking the guy on the floor, “took you. Found you asleep by the dumpsters out back. He thought you had – potential. You can kill him, if you like.”

“Yes,” she says, shaking her shaggy hair out of her face. “Draw.”

“I will do no such thing,” he says. “Southeast knew nothing of this. I swear it.”

“Draw,” she says.

“No,” he says, and she shrugs, and swings the bat again.

Slumped at the foot of the bed he shudders as she’s pulling off his jacket and he opens his eyes. Watches her as crouching there she pulls the jacket on, buttons the top two buttons, one hand on the bat, her eyes on him, all the while. Patting her way through the pockets she stops, suddenly, softens a little, maybe a smile as she lifts out a little plastic baggie twisted shut around a thumb-sized wodge of golden dust.

“This,” he says, thickly, licking something milky from his lips, “this the Duke will hear of.”

“Fine,” she says, and she kisses the little baggie once, and tucks it away again. “Your pants.”

Table of Contents