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The Printer spits – It’s covered –

The printer spits out a photo of Ysabel, head and shoulders before an empty blue background, her dark hair swept back, pinned up out of her vaguely smiling face. “See?” says the fat man, leaning over the foot of the rumpled double bed to pluck up the photo. He settles back by the laptop near the pillows, handing the photo to Jo. “No red eye. Light’s too bright. Focus off just enough. That’s some quality DMV shit.” His T-shirt has a grainy picture of a graveyard on it. We have found a new home for the rich, it says. It’s hard to tell where his thin beard ends and his scraggly hair begins.

“It’s supposed to say Oregon,” says Jo.

“It will,” says the fat man with the scraggly hair. “It’ll be smaller, too, and printed on a card.” He pats the laptop, scratched silver and snarled in cables dangling off the sides and the end of the bed. “I’ve got a killer template set up for this. That’s a six-jet printer. Not four colors – six. Won’t pass a UV scanner, but it’ll fool any pair of naked eyeballs in the state. All I have to do is plug in the pretty.” He leans back against the pillows, smiling. “Which I do when you show me the cheddar.” He tilts his head, looks past Jo. “We’re done with the camera, baby. Come over here, make yourself comfortable. Or there.” He’s pointing to the other double bed. The coverlet’s been pulled off. It’s hanging over the window at the front of the room. A tall guy’s lying on his belly on the white sheets, his bare feet sticking off the edge of the bed. “Don’t mind Abe,” says the fat man with the scraggly hair. “He’s only sleeping.”

“I’m fine,” says Ysabel, undoing her hair. She’s sitting on a low stool over in the corner, lit up by a harsh light on a tripod. A big piece of blue paper tacked to the door behind her.

“Suit yourself,” says the fat man with the scraggly hair. “That ain’t a wallet,” he says to Jo. She’s handing him the photo. “I don’t need to fool any pair of eyeballs in the state,” she says. “I told you. I just need a cheap-ass license and a social that can fool a crappy copy machine.”

“I get it,” he says. “An I-9.” He tilts his head to smile at Ysabel again. “You illegal, baby? Where you from, Canada?”

“It’s neighbor shit,” says the girl with the floppy mohawk.

She’s sitting on the counter at the back of the room, between the two sinks. Her hooded sweatshirt’s grey, the sleeves hacked off at the shoulders. She’s playing with an empty orange prescription bottle. The sink to her right is full of them, all empty. “Shut up, Mel,” says the fat man.

Mel shrugs. “It’s that shit a couple weeks ago. She’s the one we’s supposed to watch out for, with the hair.” Pointing at Jo. “And she’s the, I don’t know.” Pointing at Ysabel. “Queen of all a them that’s in it, or whatever.”

“Do not start that neighbor bullshit with me,” says the fat man.

“Okay,” says Mel. “But Hib wakes up screaming ever since, and nobody’s seen Christian.” She’s not looking up from the prescription bottle turning over in her hands. “Not since. And you know what they did to Popgun, just up back of the Denny’s.”

“Christian?” says Jo, but the fat man’s saying, “No, Mel, nobody knows who did what the fuck to Popgun, and I do not want to hear this gutterpunk neighbors and vampires and angel-fucking aliens from out of my hairy ass bullshit. Okay?” He’s smiling up at Jo again. “Now. We gonna do business? ’Cause I have other obligations.”

“Business,” says Jo, running a hand through her hair, short and blond and brown at the roots, black tufts lying against it here and there. “Yeah. Like you said, Timmo, it’s an I-9. So she can get paid.” Ysabel’s frowning at her nails. “But until she gets the paycheck – ”

“Not my problem,” he’s saying, shaking his head.

“End of the month, you get paid.”

“Then that’s when you get the ID.”

“Timmo, please, I – ”

“Credit? Dead it.” He leans back on the pillows, hands behind his head. “Especially not for former clientele.”

“I,” says Jo. “We really need this. Please.”

“I tell you what,” he says, tilting his head, looking past Jo. “Baby.” Ysabel on the stool in her tight denim shorts, her white blouse knotted over a yellow tank top. “Sweetheart.” She looks up at that. “How about we clear the room,” he says. “Just you and me. Strictly photography. Whatever you’re comfortable with, but I bet you can convince me to bend the sixth commandment just this once.”

“Oh, hell no,” says Jo.

“What are you, her mouth?” says Timmo. An orange prescription bottle bounces off his head. “Hey!” He bats another one out of the air. “Goddammit, Mel!”

“You,” she’s saying, laughing, “you are such a fucking skeeveball,” scooping up bottle after bottle from the sink. “Mel, you goddamn tweak,” Timmo’s saying as he scoots down to the end of the bed. A bottle hits the coverlet hanging over the window with a soft thump. Jo ducks one. Another one hits the mirror over the dresser and Abe jerks at the clack, drawing in one long bubbling snore. Mel freezes, arm cocked. Timmo sits there at the end of the bed, glaring. Ysabel stands up.

Jo, straightening, watches Ysabel work a hand into her front pocket. “I think,” says Ysabel, pulling out a couple of bills folded between her index and middle fingers, Jo opening her mouth to say something and closing it again, “this should cover it?” Holding the money out to Timmo, his bare feet dangling over the printer.

He sighs. Takes the money. “You got it, beautiful,” he says. Rolling over. Grabbing the laptop.

“Be sure you spend it all in one place,” says Ysabel. “On something terribly impractical.”

The little man walks right into the closed door of the pickup truck and bounces back, arms waving, head wobbling. Grimacing. His teeth are very long and snag the dim streetlight, the blue-white shine from the sign on the corner: Shilo Inn. Affordable excellence. Roland catches him by his collar and his arm. “Well?” he says, leaning in close to the little man’s ear. It twitches. “Bedamned if I know,” says the little man.

Roland shoves, and the little man bounces off the pickup truck again. As he staggers back, Roland grabs him by his shirt and lifts him off the ground with one hand. The other’s holding his sword. The sleeve of his silver tracksuit rent to ribbons. “Tell her, Cearb,” says Roland, and he sets the tip of his sword against the little man’s belly. “Tell your loathly lady the Chariot still guards the Bride.” Leaning into a thrust, he pulls the little man choking down the blade. Across the lot in the crook of the motel’s elbow the door to room 109 opens. Jo steps out, followed by Ysabel. Cearb reaches out a hand his mouth working and Roland hauls him down behind the big beige box that hides the motel’s dumpster, kneeling there, his blade still deep in Cearb’s belly. Roland’s sunglasses are broken, one yellow lens missing. The headphones around his neck askew, an earpiece broken loose.

“How much?” Jo’s saying, working a pack of cigarettes out of the pocket of her workpants.

“How much?” says Ysabel.

Jo stops short. “You know what the fuck I’m talking about and you knew I was going to ask you the fucking question the minute you pulled it out so I wish to God you would for once just give me a straight fucking answer.”

“Nothing, Jo.”

“Nothing what?”

“I have no money. As you well know. I told you the very first day.”

Jo looks away. “So you just.” She frowns.

“I gave him – ”

“Shut up,” says Jo. She grabs Ysabel’s arm, the pack of cigarettes forgotten in her other hand. Starts walking along the motel’s portico, lighted doors to the left, dark lot to the right. “Just shut up. Don’t say a word.”

There’s a crunch out there behind the big wood box that hides the motel’s dumpster. “What?” says Jo. Stopping. “What was that?”

“It’s quiet,” says Ysabel. The red light of the sign across the street. Red Lion Hotel. Welcome Boomers.

“I just heard,” says Jo.

“It’s quiet,” says Ysabel. “It’s all gone quiet. There’s someone here.”


“We shouldn’t have come,” says Ysabel. “Not up here. Not this soon.”

“Timmo doesn’t exactly have an office downtown,” says Jo. “He ever finds out,” she’s looking back at the motel room, “you’re the one that stiffed him.” She shakes her head. “He’s a fuck of a lot more dangerous than anything you’re worried about.”

Behind the dumpster box, Roland’s working his sword free, slowly. “Gallowglas,” wheezes the little man.

Roland nods. “Be glad, Cearb,” he whispers, and the he catches the hand that’s grabbed his wrist and pries it open. “Fair and square,” he says, “you’re out of it. Fair and square.” With a sigh and a slump, Cearb lets his hand fall. “Be glad,” says Roland, “I didn’t call her over to join the fray.”

Cearb smiles around those teeth.

Table of Contents

The Ten Crack Commandments” written by the Notorious B.I.G., copyright holder unknown.

a Scale of One to Ten – the Half-full Glass – Dog-catchers – Hanging up –

“On a scale of one to ten,” says Ysabel, “where one is – ”

“Yeah, I know,” says the man over the phone.

“Where one is – ”

“Not at all satisfied, yeah, I know, you said it already.”

“Please,” says Ysabel. “I need to read the whole question to you as it’s written.” One leg crossed over the other she sits sideways at her narrow carrel, idly plucking at the hem of her skirt there above her knee. “Besides, we might have changed the scale. Just to see if you’re paying attention.”

“So read the question,” says the man.

“On a scale of one to ten, where one is very dissatisfied and ten is very satisfied, how would you rate your most recent visit, overall, to Pet Depot?”

“See?” says the man. “It’s the same one. You didn’t change anything.”

“You’re paying attention,” says Ysabel. She’s pushed her skirt a little higher, fingertips resting on her knee, her thumb drawing loops on the skin of her thigh.

“Can’t you just average up all the numbers I’ve already given you?”

“It wouldn’t be as meaningful as what you say when I ask the question.” Ysabel taps the number seven on her keyboard.

“Well, I’d say seven, but I’ll give ’em a ten if I never get another survey call like this,” says the man.

“I have to ask you to pick just one,” says Ysabel. She’s already hit enter and brought up the next question on her screen.

“I know you heard that one,” she’s whispering. Sits up there on the low bed in the middle of the big dark room, pushing the bare shoulder next to her. Her blond hair ruddied by the light leaking through the tall narrow windows. “Your Grace,” she hisses. “Leo.”

“Cats,” he says, suddenly. “The building’s settled. What?” Grimacing, his head still on the pillow, digging at the corners of his eyes.

“You heard that,” she says.

“Doll,” he says, “there’s a restaurant downstairs. They’re washing up.”

“At three in the morning?” she says, and there’s a clattering crash.

Lights flicker to life in the wide white stairwell as the Duke descends, belting up a dressing gown of purples and golds. “Fucking Tommy,” he’s muttering. “Goes and gets himself killed. Fucking useless Stirrup.” In the foyer, the doors to the right stand open, the room beyond dark. The Duke stands in the doorway a moment. A confusion of chairs upended, resting on tables, legs in the air. A squeak of wood shifting. “Up horse, motherfucker,” says the Duke, feeling for the lightswitch. “Up with the hattock.”

One of the chairs has been set upright on the floor. The man sitting in it is bent over, picking up a platter from the floor. His pants the color of gravel. His shirt the color of ash. He holds the platter up – a lid, from the steam table beside him. “Your eloquence compels me, Your Grace,” he says. His voice slow and lugubrious. His face like old oatmeal. The Duke, there in the doorway, says nothing. The grey man sets the lid on the steam table. “You aren’t happy to see me?”

The Duke swallows. “I did all I said I would do,” he says.

“No,” says the grey man, standing up. “Not for Erymathos.”

“A chance,” says the Duke. “A chance at oblivion.” But the grey man’s walking toward him, shaking his head. “The boar is loose,” he says. “I held him apart, and gave him up to you, and now he’s loose. That’s on your head.”

“Hell,” says the Duke, “she let him walk – ” The grey man puts a hand on his shoulder. The Duke licks his lips, still open around the next word. Closes his eyes.

“You will see me once more yet,” says the grey man.

“Honestly,” says the Duke, “you don’t have to go to all this trouble.” But there’s no one there.

“Hello, people who don’t live here,” says the woman on the television screen.

“Hi, hello!” say the people on the couch.

“I gave you a key for emergencies!” she says. Laughter.

“Why do we go to work so late?” says Ysabel, opening the fridge. “Aren’t you people supposed to work from nine to five?”

Jo’s on her side on the futon, tapping a cigarette into a coffee cup. “Nobody’s worked nine to five in years,” she says. “Third wife sold separately,” says the man on the television screen. More laughter.

“All right,” says Ysabel. “But why do we wait until three in the afternoon?” She’s pinching open a carton of milk.

“We’re calling people at home,” says Jo. She takes a drag. “Better to wait till they’re home from work.” Blows the smoke out. “Life-sized Imperial Stormtroopers from Sharper Image?” says the man on the television screen. “Two,” says the woman.

“So,” says Ysabel, setting a glass on the counter of the narrow kitchenette, “most people just work till three now?”

Jo hitches up on one elbow. “No, Pet Depot’s a national survey. We’re calling the East Coast at three. What are you doing?”

“Pouring milk,” says Ysabel, tilting her head, pouring slowly, watching the level of the milk rise by the four fingers she’s set against the glass. “So it’s people on the East Coast who only work till three?”

“No,” says Jo, “we’re only allowed to make residential calls between six and nine. So we start out there.”

“Right,” says the woman on the television set. “At the end, you choked on a cookie.” The man says, “That was real.” Jo leans up and snaps it off.

“So the time’s different out there?” says Ysabel, opening the fridge

“Time zones,” says Jo. “It’s across the country.” Stubbing out her cigarette in the coffee cup. “The sun moves, you know?”

“Oh,” says Ysabel. “I thought they’d figured it was the other way round. Whichever.” She steps over to the blond armoire in the corner. “It’s twenty of three now.” She pulls out a thin burgundy cardigan. Slips it on. “Or twenty of six. Time for another day on the phones.”

“Are you,” says Jo, and then she looks down and away, smiling, shaking her head. “Are you going to drink the milk?” The glass half-full sits there on the counter by the sink.

“Are you going to take your sword?”

Jo gets up off the futon. “No, Ysabel, I’m not taking the sword with us to work.”

“And I’m not drinking the milk,” says Ysabel.

“Okay then,” says Jo.

“Yes,” he says. And again, “Yes.” He’s behind the scant cover of a payphone, handset tucked between ear and hunched shoulder. His suit’s black. His tie skinny and black, the knot of it lost somewhere under a thick beard the color of mahogany furniture. “I understand,” he says. He’s pulling a black notebook from his jacket, big as the palm of his hand, thumbing the elastic band off the cover. Opens it to a page that says THURS 29 SEPT at the top. “No. No.” He scribbles G-K under that, shoots his cuff, checks the time. “Probably not.” 2.48, he writes. He’s wearing a pair of black sunglasses. Something is written on one lens, in white, spidery letters.

Across the street Jo steps out of the apartment building, laughing, turning to say something to Ysabel behind her. JEANS, he writes, then OVERSHIRT PLAID BERRY, then WHITE SKIRT. “Tonight? This afternoon.” SWEATER = WINE. He crosses out WINE. “As soon as we’re done here.” RED WINE. He closes the notebook, hangs up the phone.

The payphone’s at the edge of a small corner parking lot, by the yellow Pay Here box. He waits behind the phone as they walk past, Jo saying, “that it moves, what I was saying, what I meant was that’s how it,” and then he heads down the line of parked cars toward the black one in the middle, a powerful-looking thing with dark windows. Spidery lines of white paint whorl over the fenders, across the hood and roof. There’s a little guy sitting padmasana on the hood, there in the middle of the concentric rings of cramped white letters. His suit is black. His tie is skinny and black. His eyes behind black sunglasses, the feather tied to one side stirring by the lank grey curls crowding his ear.

“Mr. Charlock,” says the big guy with the thick beard.

The little guy dips his head, rolls it from one side to the other. Takes a deep breath his shoulders opening and tipping back, his chest lifting up and out.

“Mr. Charlock,” says the big guy again.

“Could you shut up for maybe one more goddamn minute?” says the little guy. The big guy shrugs and reaches up for his sunglasses and the little guy says “Wssht!” Roland’s coming up the side street, pale yellow track suit, spotless white shoes, black headphones over his ears, headband stark against his closecut silvery hair. Hands in his pockets. Nodding to himself as he turns the corner after Jo and Ysabel.

“Where they go, he goes,” says Mr. Charlock. He spits in the palm of his hand and dabs a finger in it, then smears a dark wet line right through the circles of letters. Unfolding his legs, he scoots off the hood. “You oughta remember that by now, Mr. Keightlinger.” He yanks off his sunglasses, glaring at the apartment building across the street. “And every fucking thing else. It’s all guns under pillows and leashes on pews up there – I could be at it all night and still get fucking bupkes.”

Mr. Keightlinger opens the door on the driver’s side with a sharp popping squonk. “Time to put it away,” he says. He tucks his sunglasses into a jacket pocket.

“What did our master’s voice whisper in your tremendous ear?” says Mr. Charlock, opening his door. “What errand slipped his mind on the way to the office this morning? Milk to be soured? Thumbs to prick? His dry cleaning?”

Mr. Keightlinger shakes his head. “Something won’t go back where it came from,” he says. “Sullivan’s Gulch.” Jerks a thumb over his shoulder. “Across the river.”

“Some thing,” says Mr. Charlock. He takes in a breath and blows it out, an overdone sigh. “We’re playing dog-catcher?”

“It will be noticed,” says Mr. Keightlinger, climbing into the car. “We keep it out of sight. Favor for a friend.” A jingle of keys. The engine rumbles to life.

“I swear to any fucking god you care to name,” mutters Mr. Charlock, shaking his head, climbing into the car, “if this weren’t the only game in town.”

“On a scale of one to ten,” Guthrie’s saying, as Jo walks by down the narrow aisle of kelly green carrels. “Where one is very dissatisfied and ten is very satisfied.” His T-shirt is black and says Not The Bullet But The Hole. He doesn’t look up. “How would you rate the service provided by the receptionist at Pet Depot?”

Becker’s sitting behind the desk at the front of the office, peering at his computer screen, one hand on his mouse, the other on the phone. Jo snags a chair from an empty carrel and pulls it over by the desk, straddling the back of it. “Hey.”

“You should be dialing,” says Becker. “I just opened up Central. Fresh new numbers, ready and waiting.”

“State law,” says Jo. “Fifteen minutes paid break every two hours of work.”

“You’ve been here an hour and a half.”

She shrugs, elbows propped on the back of the chair. “Wanted to catch you before Tartt left. Tomorrow’s payday. Everything cool?”

Becker takes his hand off the mouse and his hand off the phone and folds them in his lap, sitting back, head tilted. He’s wearing a floppy white T-shirt and his hair’s sticking up in a number of different directions. There’s a pen behind each ear. “Yes, Jo. Everything’s cool. Ysabel will get a check cut tomorrow.”

Jo lets out a breath, dips her head to rest a moment on her forearms. Lifts it grinning. “Great,” she says, getting up. “Thanks, Becker.”

“You’re going to have to tell me,” he says, “one of these days, I mean, how you ended up doing all this stuff for her. It’s nice, it’s great, but.” He looks down, then over at his computer screen. Grabs his mouse. “I mean, it’s your business. Obviously.” Down at the end of the narrow aisle Ysabel’s laughing into the mike of her headset. Nodding, she’s saying something, smiling. Sees Jo and shakes her head, rolls her eyes, leans forward in her carrel, never losing that smile.

“Yeah,” says Jo. “There’s a story there. Look, I should get back on the phones.”

“Thought you were on break,” says Becker.

“Did I say that? I’m talking to my supervisor. We still do that on the clock, right?” Becker scowls over the top of his monitor. “Anyway,” says Jo, “breaks are every two hours. I’ve got another twenty-five minutes to go. At least.” She leans over the desk. “I’m beating rate,” she says.

“You were,” says Becker. “You got nine on the board. You need two more by five to beat rate.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” says Jo, heading back to her carrel.

“Ten minutes, tops,” says Jo into her headset. “And you’ll be helping Pet Depot learn how better to serve their customers.” She frowns.

“I just,” says the woman, into her phone. She’s kneeling, scooping up a clump from the litter box. Sifting loose bits of litter from the clump. “I only ever went the one time.”

“Doesn’t matter,” says Jo. “They still want to know what you think.”

“But we normally go to Pet Samaritan,” says the woman, dumping the clump into a plastic shopping bag that says Thank You! Have a nice day. “I don’t really like those big-box places.” Her sleeve riding up exposes arabesques of blue-black ink circling her forearm. More ink like ivy curls up past the collar of her T-shirt.

“So you’re here in Portland?” says Jo. “I really don’t think,” says the woman, as Jo’s saying, “I mean, Pet Samaritan, right?” Ysabel’s standing by her carrel, her sweater draped over one arm. Jo points to her headset. A short, older woman pushes past, shouldering a gym bag.

“I really don’t think that’s necessary,” says the woman, standing, picking up the shopping bag.

Jo leans forward, elbows on her carrel’s desk, crowding her keyboard. “Everything you say, ma’am, is held in the strictest confidence. It’s why Pet Depot hired Barshefsky Associates. They don’t want to see who’s answering the questions, they just want to see what people are saying. We strip out your contact information when we’re done.”

“I still,” says the woman. “I just don’t think.” She backs through a swinging door into a bright kitchen, yellow walls, an avocado refrigerator. Bag still hanging from one hand. “We only went that one time, for the flea emergency.”

Jo’s bent over, forehead on fingertips, eyes closed. “For the survey to mean anything we have to talk to as many people as possible, whether they like it or not, whether they go all the time or not.”

“Well,” says the woman, opening the back door out of the kitchen. “You could tell them I saw a flea on Colin on a Sunday and he was due for more Advantage anyway, but it was a Sunday – ” From around the corner there’s a clatter, a snorting grunt.

“Well,” says Jo, “there’s a set of questions I need to ask of everybody who does the survey. Like I said, it takes about ten minutes – ”

“Colin?” says the woman, heading down the back stairs, phone still to her ear.

“Ma’am?” says Jo.

“Colin,” says the woman. There’s a clopping sound. The side of the house suddenly lights up, empty yellow recycling tub, green garbage can on its side, clutter everywhere, paper towels, eggshells, a takeout carton ripped open. The shopping bag that says Thank You! Have a nice day plops to the ground. The boar looks up, harsh light catching the grey-white fringe of the ruff behind the blocky wedge of his head. Tusks curling up and up and around, one smeared with peanut sauce. Dark eyes glittering. The phone drops to the ground. The woman lifts a hand to her mouth.

“Ma’am?” says Jo. She frowns. Shakes her head. Lifts her headset off, blowing out a sigh. “She hung up,” she says.

“Whatever,” says Ysabel. “Let’s go.”

“Let me do my timesheet,” says Jo.

Table of Contents

The One with the Tiny T-Shirt” written by Adam Chase, ©1997 Warner Bros.

“Could you maybe describe” – the whole Five Hundred – Room to Clap – No Duty Bound –

“Could you maybe describe what you saw?” says Mr. Charlock.

“Well,” says the woman. She’s sitting on one end of the spavined couch. Mr. Charlock’s sitting on the tile-topped coffee table before her, hands on her knees leaning forward, looking up into her eyes. “Would you really use the word ‘huge’?” he says. An owl’s feather dangles from the sunglasses tucked into his jacket pocket.

“Well,” she says, “I, um.”

“‘Monster’?” says Mr. Charlock. “Is that really the right word?”

“Monstrous,” says Mr. Keightlinger, fingering the gauzy curtains hanging in the big front window.

“I wouldn’t use that word either,” says Mr. Charlock. “Step it back. Last night. What did you do? What did you see?”

“Well,” she says.

“You come out of the house, back door. It’s dark. Hypocrisy in your hands. Light on the side of the house goes on, garbage can, recycling tub, then what? What’s knocked it over? What’s rooting around in the coffee grounds? Just this? All this? All this fuss over a little possum?”

“Coyote,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“A little coyote?” says Mr. Charlock, lifting his hands from her knees. “Well?”

“I guess it was,” says the woman, blinking. A shiver rippling through her. Reaching out to lean on the arm of the couch. “Was just, a, just a.”

“A coyote.”


Mr. Charlock’s standing up. “Makes more sense now, doesn’t it?” She’s nodding vaguely, with a wisp of a frown. Mr. Charlock’s smile slips and twists into a grimace, and he lets his head droop, chin on chest, pressing fingertips into the corners of his eyes. “I wouldn’t,” he says, looking up, smiling again, “I wouldn’t bother with the posters.”

“Posters?” she says.

“‘Lost cat’,” says Mr. Charlock. “Trying would only make it hurt more. Hope, you know?” He shakes his head. “We can show ourselves out.”

“I like your tattoos,” says Mr. Keightlinger, following him.

She sits there on the couch, mouth half open, still faintly frowning.

Jo’s in the corner of the white office kitchen, under the window filled with sunlight, sitting knees up on the white floor, black jeans and a red shirt unbuttoned over a black tank top, mismatched Chuck Taylors, white phone against her ear. “What,” Frankie’s saying. “You think I was gonna have the cops up in here or something?”

“So you just said you did it.”

“I said Austin did it. Had a party, you know, got rowdy, he kicked the door.” Frankie sniffs.

“And they bought it.”

“I paid ’em to buy it. Funny thing. Your friends give me five hundred bucks, but first they break down my fuckin’ door.”

“Serves you right,” says Jo.

“You didn’t need to say that,” says Frankie.

Jo looks up at the windowsill. “So it took the whole five hundred?”

“No, it didn’t take the whole five hundred. Why do you care?”

“I just, I wanted to check to see if there was anything funny about it. The money.”

“Funny,” says Frankie.

Jo takes a deep breath. “Did you spend it all?”

“What do you think?’

“That’s great, Frankie,” says Jo. She lets the phone droop in her hand. “That’s just great.” He’s saying something, a tinny squawk from the earpiece. She looks up to see Ysabel standing by the phone on the wall, her hand on the plunger. She presses it. The handset in Jo’s hand goes silent.

“We’ve been punished enough,” says Ysabel. She holds up two white envelopes. “Becker just gave me these. I understand you have some occult means of turning them into cash?”

Jo shrugs.

“So I want to go out,” says Ysabel. “I want to hear music. I want to dance. And I will not take no for an answer.”

Jo pulls herself to her feet. “Okay,” she says. She hangs up the phone.

The man in the black leather jacket 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-topped white columns. “Hey,” says a burly man, poking his head around the edge of the bus shelter. “Hey, buddy.” He comes over, flip-flops, khaki shorts, a dirty T-shirt that says America the Beautiful over a soaring eagle. “Got something for you.” He’s digging in a side pocket of those shorts, comes up with a clear plastic bottle, label torn, some Snapple tea, something milky sloshing inside. “Yeah?” says the burly man.

“It’s diseased,” says the man in the black leather jacket.

“Naw, bro, no,” says the burly man, shaking the bottle at him. “You got to take it. Kettle’s due.”

“I’m not your brother,” says the man in the black leather jacket. His hair is dark and flops about his eyes and ears, his lean face roughened by a half-grown beard. He shrugs. “Take better care of yourself.” He ducks under the laundry lines of prayer flags, reduced, and steps into the hemp and bead and world crafts shop.

“Dagger,” says the man behind the counter. His hair is richly red and he wears a blue-striped shirt with white French cuffs. The top two buttons undone.

“Stirrup,” says the man in the leather jacket. “You’re the Duke’s man, now?”

“Kills the time,” says the Stirrup.

“And how are you doing?” says the Dagger, leaning on the counter. “With the sword.”

“He’s expecting you,” says the Stirrup, pointing upstairs.

“Sidney!” cries the Duke, opening the white door to his rooms.

“M’lord,” says the Dagger.

“Come in, come in.” The Duke’s wearing brown corduroy pants and a brown sweater vest over a white T-shirt. He leads the Dagger down a dark hall into a room filled with sunlight from tall, narrow windows. “It’s not,” a woman’s saying, “as if I don’t understand. You had your thing with the kitchen knight. Fine. But we should have been there. We would have kept you from embarrassment.” She’s standing by the big brown desk, holding a glass of wine. Her hair short and gunmetal grey. She wears brown tights and a long red shirt. The Duke stops in the middle of the room, spreads his hand, looks from her to the Dagger and back. “What are you,” he says, “my mother?”

“No, m’lord,” says the grey-haired woman. She sips her wine.

“Two things,” says the Duke. “First, should me no would haves. That buck has sailed. Two: I could give a shit about embarrassment. Tonight we’re going up into Northeast to kill that fucking boar.”

“Just the three of us?” says the grey-haired woman.

“Boar?” says the Dagger.

“Uh, Duke?” says the blond woman sitting behind the desk. She’s wearing a satiny pink camisole and holding out a phone. “I got his machine again.”

“Okay,” says the Duke. “Okay.” He sighs. “The three of us, plus two more,” he says to the grey-haired woman. “Catch Sidney up while I make this call.” He steps over, takes the phone. “In the, in the other room. I’ll be right back.”

The blond woman’s smiling at the Dagger. “Want something to drink?”

“But I can’t I-do it if I don’t believe it,” she sings, there in the dark-panelled corner, as the guitars loop around for another chiming pass. “So I sit here alone like a sword in a stone and I wait for a man to come by,” her fingers bouncing from the strings of her bass to lay a floor for them all, “who’s stuck equally fast with the wit to at last pull us free!” The drummer’s ruddy head shines under an errant light behind the whirling blurry fence of his sticks. Red hair bobbing one guitarist’s bouncing behind her, the other not more than a kid curled about his big-bellied acoustic, flocks of bright chords beating about his head canted to find the mike and harmonize with her, “Just a plain and artless Art with a warm spot in his heart for the girl inside the Guinevere clothes – for me!”

Plaid shirts, a green hoodie, corduroy and a wallet chain, tank tops, a leather cowboy hat, glasses and bottles held high cheering and clapping packed between a long L-shaped padded bench and the band there in the corner, blue jeans and striped T-shirts, stubbled head and hornrims, kilts and shorts and a snap-front Western shirt, a trucker’s cap that says Trans-Alaska Pipeline System shouting and whistling, standing on chairs and tables against the back wall. There by the bench Jo has to lift her hands above her head to find room to clap. Ysabel beside her, baggy cargo pants and a ringer belly shirt, holding her hair back out of her upturned face eyes closed, laughing under all the applause. “Thanks,” says the singer, ducking as she hauls the bass off her shoulder. “Thanks for indulging. An oldie, a goodie, ought to be more of a standard than it is.” A waitress carefully navigates the gap between crowd and bench, tray up, empty bottles, a glass full of something light and fizzy. “We’re Stone and Salt,” says the singer. “I think that’s what we decided on.” Laughter, more applause, jumping, jostled, the waitress lowers her tray curling over it braced one hand against the back of the bench.

“We got some whiskey,” says the red-headed man, who’s put down his guitar and picked up a fiddle.

“Is that Willamette Week?” says the singer. “Mark from the Willamette Week, ladies and gentlemen, slaking our thirst. Portland Mercury, y’all gonna put out?” The waitress pushes past Jo who stumbles leaning into a guy in a grey hoodie leaning back. “Is the Mercury in the house?” The waitress puts her hand on Ysabel’s shoulder, Ysabel turning, puzzled, shaking her head, “What?” she says. The waitress trying to give her the glass.

“Portland Monthly?” says the red-headed man.

“Oregonian?” says the kid, not looking up from the capo he’s strapping to his guitar.

“Two Louies, gonna buy us a round?”

Ysabel’s saying something to the waitress, “I don’t want this.” The guy in the grey hoodie lifts his phone up eyeing the blue-lit screen, angling for a shot of the singer, handing up shot glasses from the tray on the floor. “We have a,” she’s saying.

“Anodyne? Anodyne Magazine, in the house?”

“Daily Vanguard?”

“We didn’t order anything,” says Jo.

“We have a problem,” the singer says, standing up.

“I told you,” says the drummer. “I’m not doing jokes.”

“Oregon Business? Street Roots?”

The waitress points back, toward the bar. Jo’s looking, Ysabel craning up on her toes. A man in a black turtleneck looking right back at her, smiling. Waving. “We’re a five-piece,” says the singer. “These days. Not a quartet. I guess Mark couldn’t see our organist, off to the side. We couldn’t fit her on stage!” The drummer rattles off a sudden riff, thumping down the toms to crash against a cymbal. Marfisa’s standing up from behind a couple of keyboards, tangled hair pale like clotted cream shining under the lights. The man in the black turtleneck at the bar shrugging, looking only at Ysabel. Ysabel’s shaking her head. The waitress rolls her eyes.

Marfisa’s tucking a leather bag under her arm, drone pipes clattering. “She’s piping for us this next song,” says the singer, “and that is thirsty work. Can anybody,” and Ysabel’s reaching out to pluck the glass from the tray, the waitress already turned to go, tray wobbling from the shift in weight. “Can anybody spare a glass or a swallow?” says the singer.

Ysabel hands the glass to the guy in the grey hoodie. “Pass it up!” she says. He grins. Takes the glass. “Hey!” he bellows. “Pass it up!”

Hand to hand above the crowd the glass makes its way up to the singer, smiling, who takes it, hands it to Marfisa. “Thanks,” she says, “Yeah,” says Marfisa, leaning into the drummer’s mike. “Thank you, anonymous benefactor,” says the singer. The man in the black turtleneck turning away, lost in the press by the bar. “Okay,” says the singer. A low keening seeps into the room, stilling the crowd. Marfisa’s started blowing. Ysabel takes Jo’s hand. “This one’s gonna be on the album,” says the singer. Jo looks down at her hand, looks up at Ysabel, Ysabel’s eyes on the stage, shining, smiling. “Here it comes,” she says.

“Words,” the singer wails, “what use are words?” An echo, a ghost of a melody laid over the droning pipes. “I’m leaving, like the first morning. I’m held like the wind in your hand.” The fiddle groans, a rotting chord. “I ate my toast with butter and I drank my coffee with cream,” the guitar spieling under it all, “I wore your mask for a year and a day,” and with a crash of cymbals everything drops away but the drone and her voice. “But I’m not gonna scream,” she sings, simply, quietly, the drums fluttering up behind her, building, the red-headed man his fiddle high holding his bow ready, Marfisa hands on her pipes eyes closed blowing and ready, the kid’s hands shivering over the strings shedding notes as she opens her mouth and cries, “I’m leaving – ”

A desk lamp on the floor, plugged into an orange extension cord snaking off into the shadows. By the lamp a rotary phone and an answering machine. A bare foot steps into the light. Above it crisp folds of a dark blue skirt. He kneels there, by the light. Reaches out to press the rewind button on the answering machine. A scribble of voice in the air. Stop.

He sits back on his heels, face in shadow. His long black hair loose, spilling over the shoulders of his white shirt.

He leans forward. Presses play. Stands.

“Orlando, you sonofabitch, I know you’re there. Pick up.” He stands, steps away from the light. Unbuttons his shirt. “Listen, I’m calling on you. You owe me. You know it.” The shirt drops to the floor. A rustle, the darkness of his skirt falling away. The dark windows high in the wall before him, blank with dust weakly catching the lamplight. “I told you to find me a Gallowglas. You did.” Naked, he folds his hands together and bows his head. “You were going to cut her down right there in front of everybody until I told you not to. And you didn’t.” He lifts his head. Turns around. A thin dark line of hair dropping from his navel interrupted by something pale, dead skin tight and shining, a ripple, a knot, scars hunched across his belly from hip to hip.

“Orlando. Dammit, pick up.”

He steps back into the circle of lamplight and kneels. One hand holding a long knife, a slight curl to it, a simple Japanese hilt. “Don’t give me that shit about no oath sworn and no duty bound. You did it.” His other hand floats under the blade shining suddenly harsh. “For me.” Wraps his fingers about it, there below the hand on the hilt. “You need me. Admit it.” He closes his eyes. Squeezes them shut as he tightens his grip. “Tonight we’re going after Erymathos. The Dagger, the Helm, the Stirrup, and Jo fucking Gallowglas. I need you there, to watch my back. You hear me?” A drop of something colorless slides down the blade. Hangs a moment at the tip, an inch from the scar above his right hip. “You hear me? Orlando. Pick up.”

He yanks the knife into himself. Sits there a moment. His breath quick and shallow.

“You owe me. Seven ways, you owe me.”

Forearms tensed fists bunched tight one above the other he draws them straight upright along the frozen ripple of that scar, opening something wet and yellow in the light.

“Dammit.” A rattle, a click. Dial tone. He leans forward, reaches out with a hand shaking to press the stop button. Sits back. Swallows. Pulls the knife from his body.

After a moment he lays it to one side. His other arm cradling the wound, wet and shining, glittering, golden.

He leans forward. Presses rewind. The voice scribbles. Stop. Play.

Table of Contents

Deedee’s Song” written by John M. Ford, ©1987 Paramount Pictures. The Rigveda, composer unknown, translated into English by Ralph T.H. Griffith, within the public domain.

Lighting a cigarette – Life and Limb – an even Half Dozen –

Lighting a cigarette Jo tips her head back, lets a curl of smoke escape the corner of her mouth. “So you’re like a real band now and everything, huh?”

“This whole side of town is dangerous,” says Marfisa, head down, hands tight on the straps of her small purple backpack. Ysabel whoops spinning arms outstretched under the blinking red stoplights ahead of them, streets empty of traffic all around her.

“You got a CD coming out? You giving it away on the internet?” says Jo, heading down the sidewalk after Ysabel. “This isn’t a joke,” says Marfisa, following her. Wingtips clocking past an open lot full of idle Coke machines. “You should damn well know to stay downtown by now.” Argyle socks up over her knees and a tweed coat longer than her short checked skirt.

“We’re two fucking blocks from the bridge,” says Jo.

“You shouldn’t have crossed the water,” says Marfisa.

“Stop fighting!” calls Ysabel back over her shoulder.

“She wanted to see a band tonight,” says Jo, and Marfisa says “It doesn’t matter” as Jo’s saying, “Apparently, she wanted to see you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” says Marfisa, stopping at the corner, and then she lifts her head and calls, “Princess!”

Ysabel walking backwards down the street says, “Sing for me.”

“Lady, come back to the sidewalk.”

“Sing!” says Ysabel. “Your lady commands it.” Laughing.

“Lady, it’s Southeast’s street. The Hawthorne. Runs right through the heart of his demesne.”

“The Duke?” says Jo. “Don’t worry about the Duke.”

“How did it go?” says Ysabel, in the crosswalk now, as Jo says “He promised.” Ysabel’s singing, “I’m wearing Heidi braids, and aviator shades, my sailor suit is blue.”

“He promised?” Marfisa slowly turns her head to look at Jo. “You witless fool.” The next stoplight down the street turns red, and an engine snarls. Headlights appear, turn right, coming at them. Ysabel’s singing, “And if it weren’t for you, I’d take it off and leave it in a heap,” her voice faltering, turning to watch the car approach. “Right here in the street.” Marfisa’s small purple backpack falls to the sidewalk.

The car’s a reddish brown, a black stripe down the side. The driver’s hair is blond. She wears a grey chauffeur’s cap. The engine settles into a slow deep idle. A face appears up over the top of the car, a big smile, floppy brown hair, the Duke, pulling himself up out the window on the passenger’s side, resting his elbows on the roof of the car. “Put it away, Axe,” he says, sweetly. “The Princess is a friend of Jo’s, and I’m a man of my word.”

“Told you,” says Jo to herself. Marfisa holding the hilt of her sword down by her hip point up edges out into the street between Ysabel and the car.

“The Princess is a friend of Jo’s,” says the Duke, a little louder, “but you, Axe, are not – unless?” He looks to Jo, spreading his hands.

“Yeah,” says Jo, quickly. “She’s a friend of mine.”

“Damn,” says the Duke, slapping the roof of his car. “I hope you won’t be too profligate with that particular honor.” Looks down, into the car. “Babe, remind me, at some point I really need to get a copy of that list from her.” Marfisa looking sidelong at Jo, her arm relaxing. The tip of her sword swinging slowly down toward the pavement.

“You’ve interrupted my first night out in over a week,” says Ysabel.

“I know, lady,” says the Duke, “and I am sorry. Direst need compels me.”

“But you can’t mess with her,” says Jo. “And you can’t mess with Marfisa.”

The Duke cocks a finger at her. “Thing is,” he says, “I’m sure, a little work, you could devise a cunning sophistry around how one must first love oneself before loving others, but the spirit of my boon is as clear as the letter: I’m only to leave your friends alone.”

Jo sighs. “But me you’re gonna fuck with however you want.”

“Fuck with?” The Duke shakes his head, sadly. “I need your help, Gallowglas.” And then he smiles, his eyes lighting up. “You ever ridden a horse?”

Pop pop pop a string of firecrackers tossed from the back of the pickup truck slithers along the metal grating of the bridge. The Stirrup in his linen suit jumps, dropping a handful of paper-wrapped packets, bright red and gold under the fluorescent lights, bouncing on the bridge. “Fucking hell,” yells the boy in the brown leather jacket, “not fucking yet!” He reaches up into the truck, slapping at the people crammed in the back, seven or eight of them, hands in ripped leather gloves, a dirty blue goretex shoulder, a black T-shirt snarled with a face in cracked white ink.

“Cut it out!” bellows the Duke, brown boots ringing on the bridge, hands in the pockets of his long red coat. “Now listen up.” The Stirrup handing up the last of his firecrackers, the boy in the brown leather jacket tossing cheap lighters up into the pickup, purple and orange, green and yellow and blue. “My boys, Gaveston and Sweetloaf, they’re gonna in a minute here drive you out by the Lloyd Center. Start dropping you off every couple of blocks.” Pacing back and forth by the back of the truck. “You’re looking for a pig,” he says. “Biggest fucking monster pig there ever was.” The people in the back of the truck watching him, faces still, glasses blank in the streetlight, leaning over to spit something, cheeks pitted with old acne, picking at teeth with a grimy thumbnail. “You find him, you set him off running south. Down onto I-84. Kick up a ruckus, holler, spook him with those fireworks.” Nobody says anything. Maybe a shrug. “Everybody got their money?” Nods now, smiles, “Oh, yass,” says someone, the scarred face. “Okay,” says the Duke. “End of the night, you meet us on the freeway. Job’s done right, and we’ve got our boar, you’ll get double what’s in your pockets now.” Sweetloaf and the Stirrup climbing into the cab of the truck. “Keep in mind,” says the Duke, “there’s no life or limb on the table here. Nobody’s asking you to fight the damn thing. Just run him south, to us. But you don’t do a good job of that…” He slaps the side of the truck as it rumbles to life. “Go get him!”

“How will you stop me?” says Ysabel, sitting in the cramped back seat of the Duke’s car. City of tiny lites, murmurs the radio. Don’t you wanna go?

Marfisa beside her knees jackknifed takes Ysabel’s hand in hers. “I’ll say please.” She lifts Ysabel’s hand to her lips. “Don’t.”

“You can do better than that,” says Ysabel. Tiny lightning, in the storm. Tiny blankets keep you warm.

The Duke’s car is parked down the bridge where grate meets pavement, by the towering red-and-white striped crossing gates. Behind it a dark wall of trees along the riverfront and then up climbs the city, windows lit, spotlights and streetlights, billboards shining jostling building against building, depth lost in the darkness hazed by all that light. Shoulders hunched, hands jammed in the pockets of his red coat, the Duke walks up to the blond woman in the grey chauffeur’s cap, grey uniform jacket buttoned up to her throat, leaning against the fender, her back to the city. She stands as he steps close to her, hands on her hips. “When we’re gone,” he says, “take those two wherever they want to go. If I’m not back in the morning.”

“Leo,” she says. He leans up on his toes, reaching for the back of her head, pulling her mouth down to his. “Don’t,” he says, after the kiss, “don’t call me that. Not here. If I’m not back in the morning, there’s good cash money in the upper left drawer of the desk. Whoever’s next can’t keep it from you.”

“I can never find your fucking desk,” she says.

He kisses her again. “It’ll be there.” Steps back from her. Touches his fingers to his lips. “So where the fuck are these horses?” says Jo, loudly.

The Duke sighs. “Problem, Gallowglas?”

Jo’s on the sidewalk, flicking a cigarette-spark off into the dark past the bridge, out toward the great cranes away south sleeping by half-built bulks of glass-wrapped towers, red guide lights winking. “The Dagger and the Helm are fetching the horses,” says the Duke. “But you’re not pissed about the horses.” He leans on the bridge railing beside her. “And it can’t be Erymathos. You yourself told me off for letting him go, and here I am doing something about it.”

“What did you do with Christian Beaumont?”

“And just like that,” says His Grace, “you make demands of me.”

“Yeah,” says Jo.

“Who the fuck is Christian Beaumont?”

“Someone I used to know,” says Jo. “You picked him up the last time you got one of these posses together.”

“Another friend?” says the Duke. “If you mean the ruffians who set upon yourself and the Princess – ”


His smile is small and tight. “ – then I’ve got to remind you that occurred a couple weeks ago. Well before any words passed directly between us.”

“No one’s seen him since,” she says. “Your Grace.”

A pattering rainfall of hoofbeats, off in the distance. “I’m touched,” says the Duke, turning away, walking across the bridge. “You think I ever even knew their names in the first place.” He looks down the bridge toward the ramp curving up from the dark trees below. The hoofbeats drumming closer, quickly. “Trust me, Jo Gallowglas,” he calls over his shoulder. “When you got Tommy Rawhead killed, the only name I had in mind was yours.”

Up the bridge at a quick trot come the horses, heads tossing, six of them, the Dagger riding at the lead, all in black under his red coat. The grey-haired woman bringing up the rear, stepping her horse back and forth as the horses slow to a walk and stop, blowing, there where the pavement meets metal, there before the Duke. His Grace reaches slowly up, carefully, the horse before him all rust red and black points saddled and bridled, reins tucked away, stands still, shivers, blinks. The Duke’s hand settles on the horse’s neck, and nothing happens. His shoulders drop. His head tilts to the side. Smiling, he closes his eyes, strokes the horse’s neck. “So warm,” he says.

Jo pats the horse next to his, dark with a wide white blaze, gold glittering about the eyes. Fingers the saddle blanket, blue with gold trim. The seal in the corner. “Portland Police?” she says.

“They have horses,” says the Duke, opening his eyes. “We put them back when we’re done.”

“The hounds are away?” says the Helm, her voice rough.

“And so should we be,” says the Duke, lifting his foot into the stirrup, hauling himself up and up into the saddle, his horse stepping back and forth for balance. “Coming, Gallowglas?”

“Who else are we expecting, m’lord?” says the Dagger. Jo reaches up for the saddle of her horse. “We fetched six, but there’s only four of us.”

“I’d thought the Princess would ride one,” says His Grace, “to keep up with her guardian. But the Axe happened along, just in time to – ”

“Whoop,” says Jo as her horse wheels, herself half in the saddle. “Whoa,” she says. “Whoa. Like riding a bicycle.” Teeth gritted, setting her feet in the stirrups, untangling the reins. “A really fucking big bicycle. With feet.”

The Duke laughs. The Dagger’s smiling. The Helm walks her horse over by Jo’s, looks her over, shrugs, nodding at the Duke. “I said,” says Ysabel, reaching up eyes closed to stroke the neck of a grey horse pale among the others, “that I’m going with you.” She opens her eyes. “So it’s just as well you brought them.”

“Lady,” says the Duke, after a moment. “I hadn’t seen you leave the car.” She swings herself into the saddle, leans forward to lay her cheek against the grey’s mane. “You’ll be cold,” he says.

“I don’t care,” she says, straightening.

“I can’t risk it,” he says. “With a Gallowglas on the field. If something were to happen.”

“No one’s asking you to risk it,” she says. “And you were willing enough when you thought you had no one worthy of seeing me home.”

“I thought I’d have no choice,” he says.

“You don’t,” she says.

“And you, Axe?” says the Duke. Jo’s glaring at Ysabel. Ysabel’s shooting Jo a dark fierce look. “You’ll make it an even half dozen?”

Marfisa’s already hauling herself up onto the pinto, kicking one long leg over, settling her skirt, the skirts of her coat. “I would have words with Erymathos,” she says, “before the end.”

“Fine,” says the Duke. “Marvelous. Okay. Head north, for I-5, and take the I-84 exit.” He leans forward and whispers in his horse’s ear. “Soft loam under hoof, and clear sharp air in your lungs, and sweet grass and cold water when it’s done.” He straightens, looks about at the others. “Last one under the Grand Avenue bridge buys the bourbon!” he shouts. “Heeyup!”

The horses gallop away down the bridge, striking sparks, flying under the green sign that says Seattle, The Dalles, climbing the curving off-ramp leaning up and off to the left, into the empty, quiet confusion of freeway lanes. Roland jogs to a stop, bent over panting at the other end of the bridge, sweat-dark T-shirt, sunglasses shining in the streetlight, headphones over his ears. He straightens, claps his hands together, takes a deep breath in through his nose, blown out through his mouth. And again, hunching over, shaking out one leg then the other. And again, clapping his hands together once more, and then again, as one step after another after another and another the Chariot begins to run.

Table of Contents

What Are You Wearing?” written by Nick Currie, ©1998 Le Grand Magistery, LLC. “City of Tiny Lights” written by Frank Zappa, ©1979 Munchkin Music ASCAP.

Those teeth – “Eleleu!” – Backlash – before the End – Clip-Clop-Clip –

Those teeth shining Cearb clings to the green fence railing the bridge above the welter of freeway ramps. A horn blats from the traffic trundling behind him. He’s staring down, humming, one arm hooked through the wire mesh, face pressed against it. Tires whining red lights chase white lights down the freeway under the bridge beneath him. He purses thin lips about those teeth and thunder welling up under the sounds of engines and wheels he closes his eyes.

He opens them. The freeway below is empty. He turns his head. The bridge behind him quiet and still. “Yes,” whispers Cearb. The thunder spills over as one two six horses race around the curl of the ramp down the eastbound lanes, riders in red coats dark in the dim pink light. “Yes!” cries Cearb, letting go, falling back to the sidewalk and tumble scuttling across the empty bridge through a wailing ghost of a horn, clambering up the green fence railing the other side. He perches there panting, hands and sneakered feet wrapped around the green rail. Horses galloping below slow and faltering lean one way and another double back. Laughter and whoops. “Catch me,” says Cearb, “judge me, beat me,” the words like handclaps, “write what I’ve done in your big black book!” His voice a rasp snagging on labored breaths. “But where will you write down all I’ve suffered?” Cearb rears up hands in the air and roars, “Who will rage for me? Gallowglas! Gallowglas!”

Clang the spear shivering head caught in the mesh below his sneakers thrumming arms whirling for balance as below the Duke yells “Dagger!” The laughter’s gone. A horse screams. The spear caught still reaching for the top of its arc, spear-haft a lever, spear-head wrenching the mesh, as Cearb grabs for the railing with one wild hand, hanging there for one long moment, spear-butt floating, drooping, falling, spear-head pulling free with a squawk tumbling butt catching the edge of the bridge with a clunk spinning out over them below, the Duke’s horse rearing, the Dagger’s wallowing sideways hooves churning on the pavement as the spear-haft clatters bouncing end-to-end on the freeway. “The fuck are you trying to do?” The Duke, hauling his reins half-standing in the saddle, glaring at the Dagger. “Strike him? With a mortal on the field, you moron?”

“Eleleu!” cries Cearb, slapping the railing. “Eleleu!”

“Ignore him!” says His Grace, big bay stepping sideways, back again. “Bad enough we’re hunting the boar. Kill that little fuck, you’ll bring her down on our heads for sure. Helm!”

“Lord!” she calls from behind him.

“Take the moron east to the Thiry-third Avenue bridge and hold there.” He looks back over his shoulder at her. “Wind if you see the fucker. Pin him but damn well do not finish him until I show, got me?”

“M’lord,” says the Helm. In one hand she’s holding a coiled horn the color of old piano keys.

“Not so fast, moron,” says the Duke. The Dagger about to kick one foot free of the stirrup settles back mouth pinched. “You leave that thing right the hell where it lays. Gallowglas.” Jo’s looking back and forth, Ysabel to the Duke, the spear on the pavement, Ysabel again, her horse stepping nervously in place. “Eleleu!” cries Cearb above them. “Pick it up, Gallowglas,” says the Duke.

“M’lord!” says the Dagger.

“Go!” bellows the Duke. The Helm kicks her horse into a run down the freeway. “Get the hell down to the Thirty-third bridge!” The Dagger, scowling, gallops after. “Gallowglas, pick up the damn spear.”

“I’m here, uh, to do what I do,” says Jo. “Be on the field of battle. Whatever. I – ”

“I’ll be sure to tell him when he’s running us down,” says the Duke. “Pick it up, don’t pick it up. I were you, I had nothing in my pocket, I’d take whatever I could get.” He’s not looking away from her. Shivering, Jo shakes a foot loose and over her horse’s back, sliding to the ground. “Strike, Gallowglas!” cries Cearb, metal clanging furiously. “Eleleu! Strike!”

“Shut the fuck up!” yells Jo, stock still, fists balled, glaring up into the pink-hazed darkness, and then the only sound is the wind tugging at trees to either side of the freeway. Ysabel’s horse, clopping, one step and another. “Who is that guy?” says Jo.

“You’re holding this end,” His Grace is saying to Marfisa. “You got a horn?”

“If we see him, you’ll hear me,” says Marfisa.

“You see him, I want you hauling ass back over the river,” says the Duke. “I got no fucking clue in this world why I’m not telling you to do that right this minute.”

“I’ll keep her safe, Your Grace,” says Marfisa.

“Yes,” says the Duke. “You will.”

Jo stands, the spear in both hands, looking up and down its length. The head like a mirrored leaf long as her forearm butted by round black quillions almost as long. The haft-wood dark and smooth and straight, swelling at the end to a ringed black ferrule that chimes gently as she shifts it. “Good boar-stop,” she says, and then, “He threw this?”

“You ready?” says the Duke.

“A minute,” says Jo, looking up at her horse. She shifts the spear to her left hand, reaches up for the reins with her right, starts to lift her left foot for the stirrup and stops. “Shit,” she says. Lets go of the reins, takes the spear in her right hand, reaches up with her left for the reins, then the pommel. Takes a deep breath. “Let me,” says Ysabel. She’s behind Jo, reaching down for the spear. “Climb up, I’ll hand it back to you,” she says.

“Avaunt already,” says the Duke. “Ain’t got all night.”

“How was the ride?” says Ysabel.

“I don’t,” says Jo, both hands on the saddle and reins, grunting as she hauls herself up, “I don’t like leaving you alone.”

“I’m not alone.”

Jo looks over her shoulder as the Duke canters away to the east, hoofbeats thudding on the dark freeway. “This is getting out of hand.”

“Was it ever in hand?” says Ysabel, handing her the spear, butt-first. “Don’t think about the traffic.”

“Traffic?” says Jo.

“Don’t think about it,” says Ysabel.

“You mean to strike Erymathos with that?” says the Helm.

White lights shine deep in the blade of the Dagger’s sword. Long and slender, wrapped in brown leather above the quillions, corded hilt ending in a pommel like a great joint. He holds it out to the side in one hand up at the top of the hilt, fingers curled about those quillions. “Bertilak dismounted,” he says, lifting his arm, slowly, “brandished his bright blade, and boldy stepped forward,” lifting that sword up over his head, passing the hilt to his other hand, lowering, slowly, out to the other side. “Strode through the ford to where his foe waited.” Red lights shine, deep in the blade of his sword.

“You’re no Bertilak,” says the Helm. Her horse whickers. Up past the bridge behind her red letters on the wall of a big blank building say Gordon’s Fireplace Shop. “He dismounted. A sword’s hardly the thing to strike a boar from horseback.”

“You still think we’re going to strike the boar.”

“Well,” says the Helm. “There’s but one relay of hounds. If you can call it a relay. It’s to flush him out, not run him down. His Grace posted us here on the off-chance Erymathos misses him, standing in the middle of the damn,” she’s looking up the freeway, turns, looks down it, squinting into the shadows. “Ford,” she adds. “No,” she says. “I don’t think we will. This is a duel, not a hunt.”

“How long has it been since we’ve had a proper hunt?” says the Dagger.

“You’re not angry about losing your spear,” says the Helm.

“The blood, at the unmaking, bright on the snow,” says the Dagger. He laughs, a short flat bark. “How long has it been since we’ve seen a proper snow?”

“Sidney,” says the Helm.

“You saw her,” says the Dagger. “What she’s doing to our lady. Out cavorting all night with her like that.”

“What business is that of ours,” says the Helm, looking at him, the sword in his hand.

“She’s the bride of the King Come Back!” says the Dagger.

“Don’t tell me what you would do,” says the Helm. “And I won’t tell you not to do it.”

“Listen!” says the Dagger, sitting up in his saddle. Off in the dark, the sound of firecrackers, pop pop pop.

One hand beating the steering wheel Mr. Charlock writhes on the front seat blindly kicking the door. Head in Mr. Keightlinger’s lap, face lost somewhere under Mr. Keightlinger’s palm. A wrench and he’s suddenly still, taut, his voice slicing through the car, pitched high, scoured. His back arches, heels dug into the seat, then sagging, drooping, quiet. Mr. Keightlinger lifts his hand. Mr. Charlock takes a deep breath and rolls over in a sudden coughing fit. “Fucking backlash,” he says, when he can sit up, feather dangling from his sunglasses. He straightens his collar, the knot of his tie. Smooths wayward curls by his ears.

“They coming?” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“They’re here,” says Mr. Charlock, pointing out the front window toward the darkness at the end of the street. “Right down the freeway. Whole big chunk of it decoupled.”

Mr. Keightlinger grunts. He pulls off his sunglasses, wipes them on his tie.

“She’s right there with ’em,” says Mr. Charlock, and then pop pop pop pop pop.

Mr. Keightlinger jerks open his door, steps out on the sidewalk. Mr. Charlock’s already running down the street toward the great mass of darkness shouldering treebranches aside, starting into streetlight as another string of firecrackers pops at its feet. Grey and white and yellow hair like quills about its ruff. Tusks swinging through the air as it screams. A man in a dirty blue raincoat yelling something wordless as he lights another string, pop pop. The boar hunching leaning into a run down the street. Mr. Charlock watches as it locomotives past, pop pop pop. “Run you magnificent sonofabitch! Run!” Past Mr. Keightlinger, past the black car whorled with spidery white letters, down the street toward the house at the end, the high fence behind it, the darkness beyond.

The walls of the gulch rise to either side of the freeway, dark and close and lined with shapeless trees, crowned with a row of houses to the north. The Duke’s horse trotting through dappled pools of thin dirty light down the eastbound lanes, Jo behind, leaning in the saddle, the long black spear under one arm. “Come on,” calls the Duke back over his shoulder.

“I’m, uh,” says Jo, reins in one hand out to the side, trying to haul back the spear swinging wide, “a bit distracted – ”

“Well,” says the Duke, looking away, “don’t worry about me, Gallowglas.”

“What?” says Jo, horse leaning one way after the reins, herself the other, after the spear.

“I have an appointment yet to keep,” says the Duke, not looking back. “You won’t be the death of me.”

“Why do,” says Jo, and then “hey, whoa — ” Her horse kicks forward as she lurches back spear tipping out of her hand dropping spear-head striking the pavement with a bright clang. Yanking the reins her horse stomping to a stop. “The fuck,” the Duke’s saying, hauling his horse around. “I thought you could ride.”

“Why do you keep blaming me for that?” says Jo, slumped in her saddle. Looking up. “It was Roland who killed him — ”

“A sword thrust?” sneers the Duke. “A sword thrust is nothing. You hadn’t been there, he’d’ve laughed and bought the Chariot a drink. If you hadn’t been there, Tommy’d be telling me right now what an ass I am, out here in the middle of the night like this.”

“So instead you’d be what, in bed with your blonde?” says Jo, looking him in the eye. “Leave that monster out here to run amok doing God knows what?”

“Hark! The screams!” The Duke lifts a hand to his ear. “The people, fleeing from a monster run amok!” He drops his hand, arches an eyebrow. “Two things, okay, and leave her the hell out of this. She’s a nice girl. First. The boar wants one thing and one thing only and I’m right here and don’t you dare, don’t you dare even suggest I would not keep my word. And anyway, you’re so fucking worried about this monster, why didn’t you come do something about it? Why wait for me?”

“What can I do?” says Jo. Throwing her hands out. “What the fuck can I do? I can’t even hold a goddamn spear!”

“You don’t have to do anything!” roars the Duke. “Just standing there you could kill us all!”

Jo’s horse kicks the pavement, shifting. She doesn’t look away. The Duke’s horse stands still and the Duke is holding a spear now, the spear-haft dark and red, the head a broad flat ugly blade, and he doesn’t look away.

“I don’t,” says Jo, as the Duke says “Pick up your spear.” Above them, away behind the line of houses, the sudden pop pop pop of firecrackers. “Pick up the damn spear!” says the Duke.

A crack and something, boards, flying into the air, a squealing roar, dark trees shaking undergrowth ripping a rattling crash and then the sound of debris, settling. There on the roof of a long low building squatting above the freeway a great dark shape, bristling ruff high above the snout lowered over them, curls of old yellow glistening in the dim light. “The tracks,” says Jo. “He can’t – ” Below the building a sharp drop in the gulch wall down to railroad tracks, a high wall back up to the freeway, ten or fifteen feet up, the great dark shape hunkering low, a growl, Jo’s horse snorting, head tossing. The boar springs from the roof, over those tracks, clearing the wall, a scream and a thunderclap, the horses staggering, “Oh, shit,” says Jo, and there he stands in a cloud of pink-lit dust on the freeway, chunks of pavement pattering down like rain.

“They’ll be fine,” says Ysabel, eyes closed, standing there under the bridge, her cheek against the throat of her pale grey horse. “Or did you really want words with Erymathos, before the end?”

Marfisa stands with her back to Ysabel out on the freeway, watching away down the eastbound lanes.

“He hurt you so badly,” says Ysabel, opening her eyes. “Your poor face. You could have died. Gone down to dust. You still could.”

“My lady seems almost upset at the idea,” says Marfisa.

Ysabel walks away from the horses, out from under the bridge. Puts her arms around Marfisa, leans against her back, her head on Marfisa’s shoulder, cheek against the tweed. Marfisa puts her hand on Ysabel’s hands, her head tilting back, hair the color of clotted cream tangling with loose black curls.

“You’re not very good at this game,” says Ysabel, smiling.

Stiffening Marfisa tries to step away. “I don’t want to play games,” she says, pulling at Ysabel’s hands.

“Then don’t,” says Ysabel, letting her go, pulling her back. Face to face now, Marfisa turning away, looking down, Ysabel’s hands clasped at the small of Marfisa’s back, Marfisa’s hanging useless at her side. Smiling Ysabel leans up, kisses the tip of Marfisa’s nose. “The boar,” says Marfisa, her voice thick.

“Let it,” says Ysabel. Light grows around them, bright, yellow-white.

“We should be – ”

“We should be doing what we’re doing.”

“Lady,” says Marfisa, squinting against the light.

“Shut up,” says Ysabel, pulling her into a kiss as the light splits in two, a sudden blare of engine overwhelming white snout of a truck headlights passing either side buffeted by spinning wheels, the trailer over and around them dark as they kiss clinging to each other red taillights whipping past and gone. The horses watch as laughing Ysabel spinning stumbling tugs Marfisa after her to the barricade in the middle of the freeway another rush of engine dopplering past them slashing ghosts of white and red light through the air. Ysabel half-sitting on the barricade one hand under Marfisa’s skirt the other buried in pale curls stained a dirty peach in the weak light, Marfisa kissing her mouth, her throat, Marfisa’s hands jerking buttons loose, tugging Ysabel’s baggy pants over her hips, Marfisa stooping, those pale curls eclipsing the light winking from Ysabel’s belly. Ysabel one arm around the squat green pillar set in the barricade throws her head back as half-heard half-seen cars and trucks billow past east and west, before and behind her, stitching the darkness with light.

“Oh shit,” says Jo on her hands and knees, “oh God.” Sobbing for breath. “It’s not,” the Duke is saying, strained, over away somewhere, “it’s not dead.” A grunt, the scrape of hair like quills against broken concrete, muscles creaking, something else, metal, something groaning, out of it all a single hoofbeat: clip. Another, clop. Jo scrabbling, Chuck Taylors kicking into almost a run, hands brushing the freeway, head down, “Oh shit.” A blustering, querulous snort. “It’s not,” says the Duke again. “You sonofabitch. You lied.” Clip. “Fuck me, it hurts. It’s not dead.”


The boar Erymathos stands in the middle of the eastbound lanes swaying from side to side. From his left shoulder juts a dark red spear-haft. The pale cracked concrete beneath him smeared black. He blows, head ducking, tusks dipping, takes another couple of steps, clip-clop-clip. Spear-haft quivering. Head turning this way and that. Behind him the Duke’s horse jerks its head up and legs kicking the air rolls upright. The Duke screams. The boar turns to glare at him, head canted, spear drooping. “Stupid! Fucking! Horse!”

There by the barricade the black spear. Jo reaches for it when the boar looks away. The Duke’s horse staggers past, empty brown boot flopping from one stirrup. Clop-clip, the boar unsteadily steps toward the Duke. “Hey,” says Jo, standing, black spear braced in both hands. “Hey!”

“Gallowglas?” cries the Duke. “The horn! The fucking horn!” Trying to push himself up on one elbow. “Don’t be a moron. Blow!”

“Hey!” yells Jo. Clop-clip, clop. That great head grey and yellow and white hair like quills in its ruff turning like a sail, those old yellow tusks, those little black eyes casting back and forth. “Over here!” Clip-clop, and two more steps, clop-clop. “The horn!” says the Duke again.

Jo swallows. Redoubles her grip on the spear-haft. The boar looming over her. “It’s on your fucking horse,” she says, squeezing her eyes shut.

The boar Erymathos takes one last step and with a sigh crumples to the ground.

Jo opens her eyes. She’s on her knees, the black spear laid beside her. Someone’s hand on her shoulder. “The tongue,” says the Helm, grey hair dull in this thin light. “Fix the tongue.” Jo lifts a hand. Drifts of glittering dust spill from her arm to her lap, sparkle across the freeway about her. “Fix the tongue before it all blows away.”

The boar’s head still looms before her. Dust sloughs from the tusks, whips into the air in a sudden gout that suddenly subsides. One of the tusks sags avalanching down the boar’s hollow cheek, dust shining in the ruff itself dissolving into dust. Beyond the head nothing but dust and more dust, empty pavement, thin dirty light. The Helm reaches past Jo for the slack jaw, working it open, the tongue purple and black in her fist. She stabs it with a slender knife, striking the concrete with a tinny clink. Rocks back on her heels, a hand on Jo’s shoulder again. Jo blinking against the glittering dust thick in the air about them. “My leg,” says the Duke, over away somewhere. “Really fucking hurts.”

“Whatsisname,” says Jo, brushing dust from her arms, then reaching for the black spear. “The Dagger. Where – ”

“He won’t want it back,” says the Helm, standing.

“I didn’t,” says Jo, but the Helm’s headed over to the Duke. “I mean,” says Jo. The back of the boar’s head collapses then in swirls of dust. The remaining tusk wobbles, dust unskeining as it settles but doesn’t fall. Hoofbeats. Jo climbs to her feet, the spear left there on the freeway. “Hey,” she says, looking about. “Dagger?”

Marfisa’s riding toward them, leading the Duke’s horse by the reins, Ysabel on her pale grey horse behind. “Jo!” Ysabel calls. Kicking one leg over her horse’s back even as it slows.

“Yeah,” Jo’s saying, looking about. “I’ve got to, um.” She leans down, reaching for the spear.

Marfisa comes up behind the Helm, kneeling over the Duke still flat on his back. “Your leg’s broken,” she says.

“Bullshit,” says the Duke, his face pale, slick.

“I’ve seen one before,” says Marfisa, kneeling beside the Helm. The Helm stands.

“Jo,” Ysabel’s saying, and Jo says “I’m okay. I’m okay,” and “What the hell are you doing here?” as Ysabel says “Are you okay?”

“You were supposed to get the hell out of here,” says Jo.

“We heard the horn,” says Ysabel. “Marfisa wouldn’t. Are you okay?”

“The Dagger,” Jo’s saying. She coughs. “I need to give it back to him. Where the fuck is he?”

The Dagger kicking drifts of dust stalks among the horses. In one hand his slender sword, wrapped in brown leather just above the quillions. In the other a coiled horn the color of old keys.

“Don’t,” Ysabel’s saying. “Put it down. Put the spear down.”

“The Duke,” says Jo. “Killed it. Why is there so much dust.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, and then her eyes go wide. “Ysabel?” says Jo, and she turns to look as the Dagger swings his sword up and back behind his head.

“My DDR game’s pretty much fucked, isn’t it,” gasps the Duke, eyes closed. Marfisa nods, her fingers gently probing his misshapen leg. The Dagger’s boot crunching beside her. She looks up to see that sword swinging around from behind his head in a flat arc at her neck. She has time to say “What?”


Blade tip braced against pavement sword hilt clutched in his gloved fist a fencepost stopping the Dagger’s cut the Chariot, stretched forward in a lunge, chest heaving, T-shirt dark with sweat, sunglasses shining in the streetlight. Straightening as the Dagger steps back. Swinging his sword around to point at the Dagger, leaning back a little, off-hand tucked against his chest. The Dagger taking another step back, and another. “I,” he says.

“Oh, no,” says the Chariot. “Don’t run.”

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, writer unknown, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien, ©1975 the J.R.R. Tolkien Estate, Ltd.

“Leo, honey”

“Leo, honey,” she’s whispering. Down the hallway a booming knock. She sits up there on the low bed in the middle of the big dark room, the Duke beside her on his back, right leg lying on top of the blanket, splinted with thin sticks, wrapped in purple cloth. “I don’t,” he murmurs, eyes closed. Shirt buttons undone. His chest and forehead gleaming, his hair slick with sweat. “Don’t.” Again the pounding at the door.

Belting a short silk robe of whites and pale blues she walks down the dark hall to the white door rattling from another flurry of knocks. “Go away,” she says.

The pounding stops. “I would have words with His Grace,” says someone on the other side, his voice highly pitched, rich and gentle and smooth.

“He doesn’t want to see anyone,” she says. “Or have words.”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to hear that from his lips. Not yours.”

“Go away,” she says. “Come back tomorrow.”

“Is he hurt?”

She opens her mouth to say something, stops. “No,” she says. “Why would you – ” The door shivers at a mighty blow, and another. “The password!” he cries, his voice no longer gentle. Another blow. She steps away, hands up, head down. “Duncan,” she says, “Duncan will be one man.”

“And Farquahr will be two!” The door bursts open. Stepping backward she stumbles and falls, clutching at her robe falling open slipping off one shoulder. His bare feet stride past, dark blue skirt rustling. His long black hair unbound. Past the pitted yellow tusk on the floor still shining with gold dust to kneel by the bed. She sits up against the wall, head in her hand, still clutching her robe.

He’s taken the Duke’s hand in his own. Raised it to his lips. His black hair slipping from his shoulder slithering down, obscuring the kiss. “Mooncalfe,” says His Grace.

Orlando murmurs something, not looking up from the Duke’s hand. “I don’t,” says the Duke, pulling his hand back. Orlando stands. Stoops over the Duke, black hair falling like a curtain again, but the Duke puts up his hand over his face, turning away. Orlando hangs there a moment, then straightens. Brushes his fingertips against his lips, presses them against His Grace’s bare chest. Turns and walks away.

“Whatever will you do?” he says, in the doorway, bathed in the ruddy light of the Coke machine.

“What?” she says.

“Wherever will you go? What was that place called? Devil’s Point? Would they still take you back, I wonder…”

“What are you talking about? What’s wrong with him?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” He turns then, to look at her, his face lost in shadow. “He no longer wants you, either.”

“Where were you?” she says. “Tonight.” She climbs to her feet, steps toward him. “He needed you and you weren’t there for him. Where were you?”

He lifts a hand, curls it in a loose fist and tilts the knuckles toward her. “You are brave,” he says, tightening his fist. Her eyes widen, her mouth opens, jaw working, curling into herself, shivering violently. He drops his hand and she lets out the breath she’s been holding, takes in a great shuddering drag of air, leaning against the wall. “What did you do to me?” she asks. “What did you do to me?” He closes the door gently between them.

Jo still in her black jeans, her black tank top, her mismatched Chuck Taylors lies on her side, facing the wall. It’s dark, the only light leaking up from the street below. Her eyes are not closed.

Ysabel snoring lightly lies on her belly, dark hair pillowed on one arm curled, one bare leg kicked out from under the blankets trailing off the futon onto the carpet. There by her shucked pants the black spear-haft stretching off to the head like a mirrored leaf under a spindly, wrought-iron chair. On the glass-topped table by a low bowl full of sunflower heads and little light-colored roses a plate, something long and dark on it in a puddle of something dark and thick, pierced through by a slender knife.

“I don’t know if I can keep doing this,” says Jo, to no one at all.

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