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A small room – Where else, What else –

A small room lined with books from floor to ceiling on dark wooden shelves lit by unobtrusive spots. More books in roughly neat piles on rugs by a couple of wing chairs and narrow end tables bearing up under the weight of yet more unshelved books, leather-bound and dust-jacketed some wrapped in clear plastic, paperbacks tucked here and there and some books blankly featureless in wraps of plain brown paper. A stretch of rug, ankle-deep arabesques where it isn’t cluttered by more stacks of books ragged and angled and tumbled into a wave that’s broken against the broad high oxblood back of a tufted leather sofa pulled before the dying flicker of a fireplace. A bare foot edges up above the back of that sofa, toes pointed, clenched, the bottom of it dark with grime, a gasp and a grunt and it shivers toes unfurling with a glottal, a guttural, a long low groan that judders into a word, “ – God – ” and then relaxes, lowering, settling, the heel of it hooked over the back of the sofa, the nail of the big toe a dead grey ridge.

“Yeah?” says someone, a man. A rustle, a squeak of skin on leather, a sigh. A woman laughs, “That’s, that was,” and then she gasps and her foot on the back of the sofa jerks up and draws back lifting her shin her quivering calf, “sorry,” she says, and “aftershock.” More squeaking and rustling that’s her head there against the arm of the sofa short brown hair dark in the firelight. She’s looking off to the side, her foot braced for leverage, she’s tugging something. “Wait,” says the man. “Jo, just,” and, more rustling, “leave it,” he says.

She says, “I need a minute,” and he says, “I want to look at you,” and she says, “don’t,” but the rustling stops.

“What is this?” he says.

At the other end of the sofa in his soft brown vest the Duke’s leaning over on his elbows his shoulder under Jo’s upraised thigh his arm about her hip his hand splayed over her belly, stroking the harsh, green-black lines of a tattoo along the swell of it from navel to the edge of dark curled hair, an angular thing, abstract, a suggestion of beak and eyes.

“A tattoo,” says Jo. Lying back looking down the length of herself at him. Soft heathery dress drawn in rumpled waves up past her hips up baring her belly up to lap under her breasts, straps askew, black bra still in place beneath. One arm tangled in the folds of it not tugging it down. “Well, yes, a tattoo,” says the Duke. He kisses it. “What’s it of?”

“It’s, a reminder,” says Jo. She sits up, she scoots back, she pulls her foot down from the back of the sofa. “Wait,” says the Duke, sitting back, as her dress falling into her lap she takes his face in her hands and kisses him. “Oh,” he says. On the floor by the hearth a cane topped by a rough-hewn hawk, a sword in a plain black scabbard, a tossed-off red and brown striped jacket, a wadded pair of grey boxer briefs. “That was,” says Jo, and then she kisses him again. His hand on her knee, his hand on her hip under her dress. “It’s been a while,” says Jo. “I can’t believe I’m asking you this. But tell me you have a rubber in your pocket.”

“In my,” says the Duke.

“A condom,” says Jo.

“I know what,” says the Duke, “you have to trust me, Jo, I could no more get you with child than I could bring you down the moon.”

“That’s not,” says Jo, “that’s not all I’m.” She’s frowning. “The music.”

“There’s no,” says the Duke, and Jo says, “It stopped.” Reaching down for the hilt of the sword when from somewhere else in the house a great crack of sound that shakes the sofa and tumbles the books piled all about them. Someone’s screaming. Jo stands abruptly banging into the picnic table rattling the liquor bottles lined across it, five or six of them round and square, clear glass and green glass and deep deep brown. In her satiny black slip, her skinny black jeans, her hands splayed flat on rainbowed graffiti. “Duke?” she says. “Leo?” Someone screams.

“Shit.” Jo jerks herself free of the picnic table, toppling a bottle. Whisky slops to the floor. “Is anyone,” comes a call from deeper, further in, “is anybody, where’s, is anyone? Here?”

“Jessie?” calls Jo down the cramped hall lit by ropes of white lights.

“Hello? Who’s that?”

“Hang on,” says Jo, “I’m coming,” but behind her something thumps and someone gruffly says “Hey!” and Jo catches herself as white lights clatter with the heavy footsteps behind her. “Hey, lady!” Jo turns arms wrapped tightly about herself in a puffy ski jacket some filthy color impossible to name in those shadows under the bridge. One arm of it slashed leaking tufts of white down fill. “Where else am I gonna go?” she’s saying. “Huh? Tell me that.”

“Anywhere,” says the man in the long dark coat, more of a boy, narrow shoulders hunched up around his ears. “Anywhere but here.” A truck booms over the bridge above and he scowls up and waits until it’s passed. “They weren’t all out looking for you they’d be here. They’d be drawing you a circle in the dirt.”

“But not you, huh, Christian?” She sniffs, she gulps. Her hair’s long, dark, the tips of it stiff with dirt patter the shoulders of her jacket as she shudders. “Smart enough to know I’d come back here.” Her Chuck Taylors digging into the gravel, scuffed white toe half torn away, the sock within spotted dark. “I been taxed,” says Jo. “What else she gonna do to me?”

“Lady, what the hell. You hear me? You okay?”

One hand braced against a bare wood rafter Jo’s frowning at the man in the grey suit and the white shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat. He’s got her wrist in one hand and a gun in the other, a snub-nosed revolver pointed at the floor between them. “Let go,” she says, and he does. “Leir,” he says. “I’m looking for Leir.”

“Damned if I know,” says Jo, taking a step back. He takes a step forward. Strings of light clatter. She’s looking at the gun still pointed at the floor and takes another step back. “I ain’t gonna shoot you,” he says, taking another step toward her. “This is for him.” Another step, boards creaking, lights clattering. “Ain’t neither of us got time for this.”

“I don’t know,” says Jo, taking another step back. He doesn’t. He isn’t looking at her, he’s blinking rapidly, his gaze jerks about, gun-hand dangling. Jo steps toward him, bending low, looks up at his dark face. He’s mumbling something turning his head chin brushing the shoulder of his suit. Her eyes on the gun now forgotten in his fist. His face jerks tendons in his throat jumping like he’s yelling at something far away. “Jo?” cries someone from further, deeper in. “Oh God are you gone too?” and the man in the grey suit shudders and blinks and Jo cringes, the hand that was reaching for the gun closing in a fist stepping back and back again she turns on down the hallway stumbling through a door down the one low step beyond crashing to all fours on the rugs laid one over another on the unfinished planks. Lifting herself and starting back suddenly one hand still on the floor the other over her mouth. Not looking away from the puddle of puke on the black-and-white tiles between her bare knees.

Chairs scrape back. “Oh God,” says someone, a blond girl at a desk beside her. Jo looks up to see all of them staring at her and at the end of the aisle of desks before the whiteboard a man in an argyle sweater, cheeks reddening over his thick brown beard.

“What have you done to me,” says Jo Maguire.

Table of Contents

Crouching naked – Mr. Keightlinger refuses –

Crouching naked under thick white smoke that’s rapidly ceiling the room he flips open the scorched grey jacket and the yellowed shirt inside collapses white ash soughing from placket and collar and the blackened bow tie and he’s saying “No, no,” poking the ash-dusted skull, “how could you, how,” as flames rush up the curtain over across the bed and billow the smoke that’s hung above the upended table. He slaps the skull clenches his face runs his hands over and over his bare bald head until the curl of lank grey hair that’s left is standing stiffly straight. “It’s not, it wasn’t, it shouldn’t have done that.” He stands, fingertips digging in the corners of his eyes. “Stupid, stupid. What were you after what were you even doing here you dumb sonofabitch.” Bumping into the bed behind him he sits heavily. Over behind him one of the table legs falls in a splash of flame. The armchair in the corner’s smoking. “You blew up,” says Mr. Charlock, jerking to his feet again, “you stupid motherfucker, you blew up!” and he kicks the skull tearing it loose from a blackened patch of carpet rolling wobbling clacking against the night-table between the beds its jaw askew.

“You blew up,” he says.

Outside the smoke-smeared window there’s movement, shadows. A pounding on the door. Mr. Charlock stands and steps carefully over the body, stoops to pick up the skull. “You blew up,” he says, jabbing his middle finger into an eye-socket, wiggling it, poking, pulling it out, thumbing his fingertip clean of nothing but a little soot. Turning the skull over in his hands. Someone’s yelling “Hey! Anybody in there?” Fire sprouts in a corner of the armchair and rapidly blooms.

“You been dead a while,” says Mr. Charlock to the skull in his hands. “Hadn’t you. Here’s me thinking it was you fucking with my old buddy and all along it was him. He’s the one.” He closes his eyes and kisses the top of the skull lightly, then sets it down in the middle of the smoking bed. Steps back over the scorched grey suit on the floor past the beds towards the alcove in the back, the sink, the overturned wheelchair. Someone outside’s still pounding on the door. He stops in the doorway to the bathroom, one hand resting on his hard round belly, the hair furring his arm, his belly, hanks of it at the tops of his skinny thighs all gone a ghost grey in the bright clean slash of light. “For what it’s worth,” he says, looking back, “I’m sorry.” He steps into the bathroom and gently closes the door. The flames in the corner have reached the ceiling now and the smoke there boils away. Outside a siren’s wailing, coming closer.

The black car growls too quickly down the narrow residential street, jerking to a stop at the corner with a yelp from its tires. The driver’s door’s yanked open with a popping squonk and Mr. Keightlinger’s shaggy brown head pops up, looks left, looks right over the roof of the car lined with hand-painted cramped white shapes like letters. Quiet streets lined with parked cars and houses lit up against the deepening night and nothing moving, no sound, not even rain. “Yeah?” says Mr. Keightlinger, falling back into the driver’s seat. “Vacant lot, vacant lot by the river, where’d the river go.” He leans out over the pavement, hawks and spits. Patting his lips and his beard he looks down at the whitish blot gleaming in the streetlight, a tendril spattered away to the left. He slams his door, guns the motor. The black car wheels neatly to the left and leaps away.

The next corner’s much the same as the last. He’s about to open the door but looking off to the right he doesn’t. It’s bright down that way, wet pavement gleaming in a warm and yellow light. “Huh,” he says, spinning the wheel, working the gearshift and clutch.

It fills a simple intersection, the pavement of it painted in a great circle stretching from corner to corner in yellows and whites a sunflower burning bitterly in all that light, light glaring from the blankened windows of the houses that sit at three of the corners, sunlight gushing from a jagged hole in the night air filled with feathers and eyes, wings lapping wings unfolding and lazily flapping, wings shivering, stretching, eyes that blink and look about, eyes the color of shadowed earth and polished wood and dead dry grass and the high white blue of desert skies. The black car sails under that hole, the spidery white lines of the letter-shapes whorling its hood and roof flaring with a coldly furious light of their own. It squeals to a stop before the fourth corner, where instead of a house there’s a high red gate freshly painted and old paned windows suspended to either side. The driver’s door opens with a popping squonk and Mr. Keightlinger climbs out, scuffing the old yellow and white paint with a black shoe. “Fortuitous,” he says. “Nothing to see here.” Putting on a pair of classic black sunglasses. “Nothing to see here, nothing to see.” Stamping one foot, then the other, shaking out his arms. The left lens of his sunglasses covered with spidery words painted in white ink. All those wings and eyes towering above him shudder and pull together like a great breath taken in and then there is a sound, a monstrous blare of eagle-screams, of lions, of a phalanx of trumpets as they surge toward the gate, the car, only to be brought up short by Mr. Keightlinger standing there unmoved arms up crossed before his face two fingers extended from either hand.

“Oh I don’t think so,” he says.

“Shit,” says Mr. Charlock, sitting up abruptly in the back seat face in his hands. “Oh fucking fuck me hell I do not,” rolling up onto his knees, heels of his hands tight against his eyes, sobbing for breath slumping against the back of the driver’s seat. “Have time for this,” he whispers. Trembling reaching for the black suit laid out on the seat fists knotting the pants and dragging them out from under himself, working them open belt buckle jangling, wailing once as he sits back, a high thin keening through clenched teeth as he lifts his outsized feet toes curled knobby knees jackknifed and jams them all at once into the pants legs. “God!” Chest heaving belly bouncing with fast shallow breaths. Hands clumsily fumbling with zipper and button and belt. “Fuck!” He pounds the back of the driver’s seat and again, and again. Pounces on the black jacket, rips it open, roots in the buttoned white shirt beneath it, yanks out a sleeveless T-shirt and fights his way into it.

Mr. Charlock falls out of the orange car to his hands and bare feet scrabbling on the damp pavement pushing himself up into a stumbling headlong run out into the intersection painted with a great circle of yellows and whites dulled by weather and traffic a sunflower barely visible in the darkness lit only by streetlights at three of the corners. “No,” he’s saying, “no, no, no!” Spinning in the middle of the intersection running his hands over and over his bare bald head. More steadily now he heads for the dark fourth corner, the high red gate, the empty paned windows, the dark vacant lot behind it filled with trees and junk, bare wood, discarded doors, sheets of tin and translucent plastic. “Already gone,” he’s saying to himself, “already fell out of the fucking goddamn hell.” Wiping his mouth with the back of one hand. “Oh this is gonna. Oh I am gonna take someone apart joint by joint for this.”

Over across the intersection a yapping there’s a dog a little shaggy thing tugging at a leash a woman in sweatpants and a raincoat peering at him. “What?” snarls Mr. Charlock. “The fuck you looking at?” Slapping his feet against the sidewalk, clapping his hands. “Fucking pants for no fucking reason,” he mutters, and then he throws back his head eyes wide and bellows, “Wissenkunst, motherfucker! Four walls can’t hold me!”

A jangle of belt buckle, a flutter of white. The woman in the raincoat frowning lets the little dog tug her out into the intersection, across it, toward that dark corner, the red gate. There on the sidewalk a pair of black pants, a white T-shirt, crumpled, empty. The little dog sniffs at them and starts back, growling.

Table of Contents

“I don’t know how much longer it’ll hold” – Jasmine refuses –a Jump; a Landing –

“I don’t know how much longer it’ll hold,” says the gaunt man sitting at one end of the long low sofa.

“And then it’ll start happening again?” says the man with the gun, standing in the low wide doorway to the porch. Outside the wind’s a low and constant wash of sound unbroken by any patter of rain. The woman huddled at the other end of the sofa says, “What was it you said you had parked outside?” Her shoulders bare she’s wrapped in a particolored quilt, her long hair straight and black and loose.

“An angel,” says the man with the gun, and Jessie says “Oh God.” She’s sitting on the floor to one side of the doorway under stained and faded snapshots of various angles and corners of the room about them, each one hazed by wisps and tendrils of smoke that seem to eddy in the uncertain light. Her grey chauffeur’s jacket unbuttoned, sagging open, a scrap of black lace stuffed in one clenched fist. “Ain’t about you,” says the man with the gun. “We here for the sorcerer. Soon as I get him, soon as we’re gone.”

“He isn’t here,” says Jo. Still in her satiny black slip and her black jeans by the porch railing, leaning against one of the peeled and polished branches that serve as columns, arms wrapped about herself.

“He is,” says the man with the gun. “You.” He waves at the gaunt man on the sofa, who says “Michael St. John Lake.”

“Okay. You his wife?” waving it at the woman at the other end of the sofa.

“No,” she says, and the gaunt man says “I’m not married.”

The man with the gun says, “This your place?” to Michael.


“The fuck is it? What did it do to me?” His arms folded now, the gun in his hand tucked away under an armpit, grey jacket rucked open over the white shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat. “To us, right? I mean you saw, we all saw,” looking around the room.

“It’s a teahouse,” says Michael. “A place to be alone with your memories. Or make new ones, with friends.”

“That wasn’t no memory,” says the man with the gun.

“Your – rather precipitous arrival, unbalanced things,” says Michael.

“An angel.” The woman at the end of the sofa snorts.

“Oh,” says Jo, gripping the porch railing. “We’re there. We aren’t here anymore.”

“I would take great care in putting names to things,” says Michael. He takes in a deep breath, stroking his forehead under the cuff of his black watch cap. “This house was always – perched.” His hands in black knit gloves with the fingertips removed. “Now, for want of a better word, we’re falling.”

“Falling,” says the man with the gun.

“The gate,” says Michael. “The piazza. They’re still there. Here. But your angel’s stopped that up.”

“So give me Leir,” says the man with the gun, as Jessie blurts “Leo!” and then, huddled back against the wall, “Ysabel.” Not looking at the man with the gun. “Where are they?”

“And our Lauren,” says the woman at the other end of the sofa.

“Out there,” says Jo.

“I suppose they’re falling, too,” says Michael, “further,” and he shakes his head suddenly, “up, further in. For want of better words.”

“Shut up,” says the man with the gun. “Already. Dammit.” His cheeks gone ashen, yellowed, held tightly stiff, as if his face might break. “You’re a wizard,” he says to Michael.

“A poor one, if at all,” says Michael. “I was once an architect. The best word for me now, perhaps, is host?” He looks up at the man with the gun. “I know of Mr. Leir, but only by reputation. He’s never set foot in this house, I can assure you.”

“That was no. Goddamn. Memory,” says the man with the gun, and he’s pulled it out, he’s pointing it now at Michael. “I saw my brother being put in the ground.” The gun dips. He lifts it again. “In a goddamn wooden box. We are about the Lord’s work. All the signs pointed to here. Here. He called that angel down, his own. Damn. Self. So tell me! How come it’s there, if he’s dead and buried? How could it be?”

The sound of the wind hasn’t changed at all.

“I don’t know, John,” says Michael, looking down. His hollowed cheeks salted with stubble. “If it wasn’t a memory, it has nothing to do with this house.”

“Sinjin,” says the woman at the other end of the sofa.

“Not now, Jasmine,” says Michael. The gun’s wavering jerking toward her, then him, back to her again. “On me, John. Tell me more about Ezra.”

“Ezra,” says Bottle John, and the gun swings back from Jasmine past Jo to point again at Michael. “How did you know that. Ezra.”

“A poor wizard indeed who couldn’t hear it,” says Michael. At the other end of the sofa Jasmine’s getting to her feet, the quilt clutched tightly about herself. “Take it away from him, Sinjin,” she says. “We haven’t the time.”

“She doesn’t have anything to do with us, John,” says Michael, sitting up, standing slowly. “None of them do. On me, John. Just you and me.” His hands in those black knit gloves held out to either side, his spindly arms swallowed by the wide loose sleeves of his pullover. Jasmine’s stooping, one hand holding the quilt in place, scooping something up from the floor, a T-shirt dress, a blond Batgirl printed on it, purple and grey. She lets it fall. Bottle John’s saying “No, wait” and the gun jolts from Michael to Jasmine her quilt dragging on the bare plank floor as she walks up to Jo by the railing and the blank dark beyond and the hissing wind.

“John, John don’t,” says Michael, stepping along the sofa, putting himself between the gun and Jasmine. “On me, John.” At Bottle John’s feet Jessie’s drawing her feet under herself, leaning, pushing herself down the wall under those snapshots away from him as he lowers the gun in fits and starts. “Leir,” he’s saying. Wiping his eyes roughly with his free hand. “Give the sorcerer to me. The angel’s satisfied and this is over.”

“We’ll talk about that, John,” says Michael. “I promise.”

Jasmine’s gripping the porch railing, giving it a shake. It’s solid. She’s thickset, short, a head or so shorter than Jo. Jo’s back is to the railing, watching as Jessie slowly, carefully stands, rustling those snapshots behind her.

“Will you let the others leave?” says Michael, his hands still out to either side, his voice gentle, calm, loud enough just to be heard over the wind. Bottle John’s wiping his eyes again with his thumb, his gun now pointed at the floor. “Jasmine,” says Michael. “Take the girls. Head back to the Heart. Wait there.”

“No,” says Jasmine.

“On me, John, on me,” says Michael as the gun comes up. “Please, Jasmine, for their sake – ”

“I am not going to huddle away somewhere while you try to save whatever you can reach, Sinjin.” She aims a small sly smile at Jo beside her. “What do you think? Shall we go get our neighbors?”

Before Jo can answer, Michael says, “You’ll lose yourselves.”

“And you can’t say how long this house will hold,” says Jasmine. The wind tugs at the quilt down by her ankles. Her calves streaked with dark hair.

“The sorcerer!” roars Bottle John. “Give me Leir! And all this ends!” Jasmine’s grabbed Jo’s hand in hers, and Jessie’s shrinking back against that wall, and “Keep it on me!” cries Michael, coughing. “I’m completely at your mercy,” he says when he catches his breath. “Let them go. Keep the gun on me.”

The gun’s pointing squarely at his chest.

“All right,” says Bottle John.

“Girl,” says Jasmine after a moment. She’s looking up at Jessie. “Come on over here.” Jessie’s looking at Jo, and Jo her hand still in Jasmine’s nods quickly, jerkily. Jessie takes a slow small step away from the wall and another, longer, and another, faster, and another, half-running by the time she makes it to the railing. Bottle John doesn’t watch her go. He doesn’t look away from Michael. Michael doesn’t look away from Bottle John.

“What’s going to happen?” says Jessie, taking Jo’s other hand.

“I don’t know,” says Jo to Jessie.

“Three of us, three of them,” Jasmine’s saying. “Those are good numbers.” Still holding Jo’s hand in hers she tugs the quilt loose from about her shoulders and unwinds it. The wind hauls it up in her grip like a flag snapping over the railing. She lets it go.

Yanked and fluttering dropping tumbling rising up again it falls away from them further and further into that hissing darkness. Jo one hand in Jasmine’s one in Jessie’s mouth open watches it, a scrap of color beating like a moth against the black.

“Well?” says Jasmine. One hand on the railing pulling a leg up to balance awkwardly sitting on it still holding Jo’s hand in hers. Jessie’s looking back at the low wide doorway, at Bottle John standing in it, blowing great bullish breaths in and out through his nose. “My shoes,” she says, looking down at her bare feet.

“Leave ’em!” cries Jasmine over the wind. “Take nothing you can’t stand losing!” Jo’s already kicked a leg up and over the railing, sits a-straddle, black boot dangling over the edge. “Come on,” she says to Jessie.

But Jessie’s leaning back toward the sofa, toward Michael and John, and she opens the fist she’s clenched about the scrap of black lace, and she tosses the underwear onto the T-shirt dress left crumpled on the bare plank floor, Batgirl’s face smiling up from a wrinkle. She turns and sits up on the railing, still holding Jo’s hand.

“Come back,” says Michael Lake.

“Keep the lights burning,” says Jasmine, and she jumps, and Jo jumps, and Jessie jumps.

The drop of light far off shapes a sound, the sound shapes a shout, a letter, the letter a mouth, the mouth stretched wide and straining shapes a face, a pale face, squinted eyes glinting among the wrinkles crimping the bridge of its nose, a single curl of lank grey hair sprung atop the empty furrows of its forehead. That face drags in its wake a body small and sinewy arms spread wide fingertips fluttering in the wind of his passage falling flying headlong down the length of a narrow residential street past cars all unremarkable, grey sedans parked in shadows before houses with dim white walls and the same blank windows over and over and over again, and the light grows about him bright and white and his shout is answered by a blast of trumpets and the roar of a host of soldiers saluting the dawn. He draws his arms in tight against the force of his fall and tumbling rolls over into himself, covering his shout with his hands.

The freshly painted red gate rings and quivers like a bell setting the old paned windows hung to either side of it a-sway and something falls to the brush at its base with a howl and a thump.

“Huh,” grunts Mr. Keightlinger, standing still by the black car, arms still held up crossed before his face upturned in the glare from all those feathers and eyes hanging ponderously above him. Sprigs of hair have worked loose from the club of his ponytail and float gently about his head in the still air. His sunglasses still in place. He doesn’t look to see what fell.

Mr. Charlock lurches to his feet staggers to one side then the other fetching up against a gatepost clinging to it with one hand clutching his head. “My skull,” he bellows. Mr. Keightlinger’s black shoe scuffs gravel against pavement as he shifts his stance. The only other sound the far-off hiss of rushing wind. “Fucking tectonic,” says Mr. Charlock, pushing off the gate to blunder onto the path beneath it. He is quite naked. Swaying a little blinking thickly at Mr. Keightlinger’s back. “Hello to you too,” he snorts.

The cords stand out in Mr. Keightlinger’s neck. Inside his beard his lips part and he ducks his head with the effort.

“No, no, don’t mind me,” snaps Mr. Charlock. “Can’t even manage to keep it together until I get back here, third fucking jaunt in ten minutes and this one – you have any idea how cold it gets out there?”

“Hello,” growls Mr. Keightlinger.

“You? Were right, by the way.” Mr. Charlock brushes a leaf from his shoulder. “John Wesson did have a brother. So I forgot.” Stretching, working his head back and forth. “But he’s been dead for years so I’m still gonna have to call that one for me. On a technicality.” Turning on wobbly feet to look back through the gate. A luxurious confusion has gathered itself from windows and doors and polished wood, roofs of gleaming tin and glass lit up by dozens of warmly gold lamps, trees winding in and out of the rooms built around them. “Whoa,” says Mr. Charlock.

Mr. Keightlinger’s shifted back another inch or so more toward the car with another gravelly scrape.

“So he went in there, right?” says Mr. Charlock. “Bottle John. After something, something he could find quick, because Junior here,” jerking a thumb over his shoulder, “is primed to wipe this place off the map. Something quick, something obvious, something that wasn’t anywhere else we went today…” He shrugs. “Fucked if I know.”

“Pants,” spits Mr. Keightlinger.

“Well I couldn’t fucking bring them with me, could I?” says Mr. Charlock. “Or my glasses neither. I gotta go in there shorn of arms and armor, I’m the one has to rescue the Bride so our boss doesn’t eat us for breakfast, I gotta go tell an old friend I accidentally killed his dead brother, and all you have to do is wrestle with this sorry excuse for an angel.” He stalks toward the open door of the teahouse. “Have a little sympathy, would you?”

Groaning with the effort Mr. Keightlinger forces one foot forward an inch or so, leaning into the step as the angel above shrinks back eyes rolling. “Collar,” he manages to say. Hanging his head shaking it turning to spare a glance over his shoulder he says it again, “Collar,” but Mr. Charlock’s already inside.

Table of Contents

When the Alarm Clock buzzes – How it is – What she Shouldn’t have done – the wrong damn Hatch –

When the alarm clock buzzes the rumpled blankets jerk and twist and spit out a hand. It fumbles about and finds the clock and slaps the snooze button. A head pops out, blinking, befuddled. Mousy brown hair maybe down to the shoulders, tangled with sleep. She kicks herself free of the thick down comforter half-tumbling naked from off the big broad bed to stand there a moment, scratching herself under her breasts. Sunlight shines vaguely behind the drawn curtains. The sound of a shower running somewhere down the hall.

The kitchen’s long and narrow, empty, dim. She’s pouring steaming water from a kettle into a carafe of ground coffee. She’s pulled on a faded yellow work shirt with the sleeves rolled up and only a couple-three buttons fastened. She sets the kettle on the gleaming white stovetop and picks up a plunger, fits it to the top of the carafe. Looks up at the round clock over the stainless steel refrigerator, toying with one of the undone buttons on her shirt. Quarter of nine.

There are two doors at the other end of the kitchen.

One of them stands open, a small dark room beyond, coats on the wall, a couple bicycles leaning together, the corner of a clothes-dryer stacked on top of a washing machine. A pair of rubber boots. The other door is closed. Like the first it’s tall, skinny, paneled and painted white. She walks toward them, bare feet pale against the red and black whorls of the linoleum, reaching for the closed door, its crystal knob set in old greened brass.


Jo spins, hand to her mouth. “Jesus, Duke,” she says. He’s by the sink in a long dressing gown crowded with paisleys of purple and maroon and gold and brown. He stops drying his hair with a towel, head tocking back, struck by a little smile. “You haven’t called me that in a while,” he says. Draping the towel about his neck. “Is there coffee?”

The clock says five of nine. “Oh hell,” says Jo, rushing back down the length of the kitchen. “I don’t know what happened – ”

“It’s okay,” says the Duke.

“It’s only been ten minutes, it should be okay,” she’s saying, grabbing the plunger, leaning on it, pressing down into the carafe, and “Not so hard,” says the Duke, “you don’t want to,” leaning over, peering around her, “pop it, like last time,” as Jo says, “It’s not gonna break.” Hiking up on her toes to force the plunger down. “You want to get down a couple of cups?”

“I dunno,” says the Duke close behind her. One arm snaking about her waist. One hand on her bare hip under her shirt. “Maybe I don’t need the coffee.”

“Leo,” she says, letting go of the plunger as he kisses her neck. “That’s it,” he says, both hands on her hips now, bending his knees a little leaning back. “Jesus, Leo, not so – ” and her eyes get wide and she takes a quick sip of air and grips the counter.

“Well?” says the Duke, leaning forward over her back, kissing her neck again, her ear. “Go on,” she says, still gripping the counter, “if you’re gonna, go on,” and ducking bracing himself hands on her hips again his dressing gown falls open towel slipping from his shoulders belly tight against her ass bared shirt ridden up to the small of her back slapping as he rocks back and forth and she winces hand slapping grabbing the rim of the sink face clenched she bites her lip “Jesus” she says, “Leo – ”

A rattling bang his knees against the cabinets and “Shit,” he says, faltering. “Oh,” says Jo, “hey,” and he leans back jerking her hips back bucking against her again and again a bang. “Fuck!” says the Duke, “hang on,” but Jo’s leaning forward against the sink pushing him back a step and then another staggering vaguely confused his gown slipping from his shoulders his cock bobbing, foreskin drawn back, the swollen purple head of it glistening. “No I can,” he says, reaching for her, but she’s swarming over him grabbing his face her mouth glued to his and they spin about her hair swinging his wet hair pasted to the back of his neck. She pushes him down and down to his knees still kissing him down and back to sit on the floor as she straddles his lap. “There,” she says, one hand on his shoulder, one hand down between them as she settles herself, and “Oh,” he says, “oh that works too.” A phone’s ringing.

“I guess it has, hasn’t it,” says Jo, sitting in a low flat armchair, a glassy black phone to her ear. “We’ve been busy.” In her faded yellow work shirt and a pair of brown jeans. “Well there’s a lot to do, you know? A lot of things to do.”

It’s a wide white room filled with blue shadows, wheat-colored drapes drawn over an enormous picture window. At one end a big white unadorned fireplace, cold and dark, the wall above it darkened by old smoke. There’s an orange couch, long and low on spindly aluminum legs. “I want you to meet him too,” says Jo. Hanging over the couch a sword slung from a red leather strap, the scabbard plain and black with a beaten metal throat and chape the color of thunderclouds, the hilt of it simple and straight, wrapped in dulled wire, swaddled in a basket of wiry strands. “He’s a, well, there’s a lot of things he does. I guess you could say he’s an entrepreneur. But that’s what I mean, he’s always, there’s always – ” Jo leans forward, one leg drawn up, her foot resting on the cushion. “Well, openings, things like that, going out to support this or – ” Rolls her eyes. “I don’t really need one anymore. Actually, I’m thinking of going to school.” Leans back a little. “Yeah. I was thinking maybe art history or – well it doesn’t – well it doesn’t have to be – it doesn’t have to be practical, Mom.” Leaning forward again, elbows on her knees, both feet swallowed by the thick white carpet. “That’s just how it is.” Anger flashes across her face. “Well, I did.” She squeezes her eyes shut, dips her head. “What, I was gonna keep Dad’s name? That would have made you happy?” She leaps to her feet. “Well I did, it’s done. Okay? It happened. It’s done.” Listening, her eyes shutting again, shaking her head. “Mom.” With aimless steps she walks away from the chair, past the front door white in a white frame, high windows filled with reflected white light. “Well – ” she says, biting off the word with stern lips set in a grimace that shivers, softens, melts into something almost concerned, almost a smile. She leans in the doorway to the dim narrow kitchen. “We both said stuff we didn’t – ” Ducking her head again, tucking a wave of hair up behind her ear. “Well I’m – I’m – well, I, I’m – thanks, Mom. Thank you.” Turning in the doorway, folding her free arm about herself. “I’m, I’m sorry, too, Mom.”

There are two doors at the other end of the kitchen.

“What?” Frowning, blinking. Stepping into the kitchen. “I, I missed that. What – ”

One of them standing open, a small dark room beyond, coats, a couple bicycles, washer and dryer and a pair of rubber boots. The other door is closed. Jo’s walking toward them both her bare feet pale against the red and black whorls of the linoleum. “I’m sorry, Mom, can you hang on just a – ” Reaching for the closed door, its crystal knob set in old greened brass. From the front of the house a pounding, a doorbell bonging, and again.

“Mrs. Barganax?”

“What,” says Jo, the door opened just a crack between them.

“Joliet Kendal Barganax?” says the one with the shock of pinkish orange hair. He’s holding up a badge in a brown leather wallet. “I’m Detective Fox.” Tucking the badge back into his black leather jacket, nodding at the man next to him, both hands in the pockets of his black wool greatcoat. “This is Detective Tassick. We have some questions for you, if we could come inside?”

“Here’s fine,” says Jo, lifting a cigarette to her lipsticked mouth. Blowing smoke past them. The little entryway screened by a high green hedge.

“Bit chilly,” says Fox, shrugging. He pulls a manila envelope from his jacket. “You know a Jasmine Chavda?” Showing her a black and white photo, a woman looking away from the camera, a strong nose, long hair straight and black and loose.

“No,” says Jo, letting the door open a little more. She’s wearing a brief black slip with simple ribbon straps and her hair’s done up in curlers, pink and minty green and baby blue. Her toenails painted red and black, except the dead grey ridge on the big toe of her left foot.

“Lauren Yallowshot?” says Fox. “Jessie Vitaly?” More photos, a teenaged girl laughing, one hand on the oversized headphones she’s wearing, a blond woman in a white T-shirt staring expressionless at the camera.

“Jessie, yes,” says Jo. “She used to work for my husband.”

“You know she’s an exotic dancer,” says Tassick. His voice is deep and roughly worn. He wears a salt-and-pepper Van Dyke, neatly trimmed.

“I didn’t know she’d gone back to it,” says Jo.

“But she and your husband, had a relationship?” says Fox.

“So?” says Jo.

“You said she worked for him,” says Tassick.

“Guys,” says Jo, “if everybody with a, a stripper for an ex in this city’s suddenly police business, I mean, damn.”

“We have reason to believe these women are involved in a matter of notional security,” says Fox, reaching into his jacket again. “If you see any of them, or hear from Ms. Vitaly at any point, in the next few days, Mrs. Barganax,” he’s handing her a card, “we’d appreciate a call?”

She takes the card in her free hand, saying, “My name’s Jo – ” Looking down, past the card, her feet in mismatched Chuck Taylors, one of them black, one of them white, the toe held on with duct tape. “This is bullshit,” she says, and lets the card drop from her fingers.

“Mrs. Barganax,” says Tassick.

“I didn’t get married!” screams Jo, and for a moment no one says anything, the detectives outside, Jo clinging to the door. “I’m not the one getting married,” she says, and she ducks back into the house. “Mrs. Barganax!” calls Fox, and Tassick shoves him.

There are two doors at the other end of the kitchen.

Jo cigarette in her hand marches down the length of the kitchen and puts her hand on the crystal knob set in old green brass. “Please,” she whispers, and she opens the door.

A gleaming white bathroom lit by coiled fluorescent bulbs around a mirror over the sink the floor of tiny black and white hexagonal tiles stretching the length of it to a clawfoot tub ringed by clear plastic curtains.

“Ysabel?” says Jo, setting her cigarette on the edge of the sink.

Through the curtains blurry vague the tub’s filled almost to the brim with filthy water clouded brown and grey a greasy sheen to it jackknifed knees upright at one end a hand floating limply thumb just breaking the surface. “Oh God” says Jo, ripping the curtains open hooks ringing, “oh God no,” plunging heedless hands into the tub pulling splashing slippery torso an arm flopping a chin a woman’s face foul water the color of old blood pouring from the slackly open mouth black hair heavy a thickly soaking sheet of it clinging to shoulders breasts as Jo hauls twisting falling back one arm wrapped about the weight of the body half out of the tub now, “Ysabel,” she says, sluicing black hair from that face, “Ysabel!” the half-open mouth, the green eyes dull in the harsh flat light.

“Jo,” says someone, the Duke, a flat question. Ysabel in her arms she turns halfway to see him in the mirror over the sink, his red and brown striped jacket, his face obscured by a streak of something smeared across the glass. “I wish you hadn’t done that.” A drift of grey ash falls from the smoldering cigarette to mar the white bowl of the sink. A tearing retching gasp and Ysabel begins to breathe heaving in Jo’s arms sloshing water from the tub squeaking one arm caught in the shower curtains pulling rings popping ripping loose as Ysabel slips from the tub and they fall back to the tiles hacking coughing spitting rustling in all that clear plastic. “Ysabel?” Jo’s saying. “Ysabel are you okay? Are you there?” and Ysabel, slowly, nods.

Gasping, laughing, Jo pulls her close, “Oh God,” she’s saying, Ysabel clinging to her still nodding, still coughing, and Jo scrapes away more hair to find her mouth her eyes her forehead which she kisses, holding Ysabel calming gentling to her. “Hey,” says Jo then, “Leo.” Struggling with the plastic. “A little help here? Leo?”

He’s standing in the doorway, leaning on his cane, the rough-hewn hawk at its head caged in his fingers. Staring at the tub, the wall beyond, his brow faintly creased by some quizzical concern.

“Christ,” mutters Jo, kicking at the plastic. “Ysabel,” fighting her way upright, “are you, can you,” and Ysabel curled on her side lifts a hand weakly shaking her head, then nods, pushes herself up to her hands and knees, shivering. Jo to her feet now grabs the Duke by his lapels. “Hey!” She slaps him. Blinking, his mouth working, he lifts a hand to his cheek. “You in there?” says Jo.

“Of course,” says the Duke.

“Well fucking help then or get out of the way,” says Jo, pushing past him, wet shoes slapping the kitchen floor.

In the bedroom she hauls open the frosted glass doors of the closet at the foot of the big broad bed to find a row of red and brown striped jackets and little black dresses one after another all the same. Hangers rattle as she shoves them back and forth. “This has got to be your dream house,” she mutters, pulling out one of the jackets free, turning to the bed. Shoving the down comforter to the floor she yanks a woven blanket loose and bundles it with her.

In the living room Ysabel’s crouching on the carpet wrapped in the Duke’s red and brown striped jacket. The Duke in his cream-colored vest propped on his cane leans over her. Jo looks at the red and brown striped jacket in her hands, shrugs, tosses it to him, then kneels by the shivering Ysabel, wrapping her in the blanket. “I have other clothes, you know,” says the Duke, pulling on the jacket.

“Not here you don’t,” says Jo. Ysabel’s squeezing water from her hair with a corner of the blanket.

“You should pay more attention.”

“I should,” snaps Jo. “Where’d you get the idea I’d be wearing slinky little cocktail dresses?”

“We need,” says Ysabel, “to go.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” says Jo, getting to her feet.

“Jo, no,” says the Duke, as she heads to the front door, “not that way,” as she pulls it open. The entryway’s gone. The doorway’s walled off by the high thick hedge. “Shit,” says Jo, shutting the door, heading for the wheat-colored drapes. “Jo, don’t,” says the Duke, we have to, don’t!” as she yanks them open.

The Duke’s gently pushing her back from the window, pulling the drapes shut without looking. The hissing rush of sound dies away. “It’s pretty raw,” he says.

“How do we,” says Jo, shuddering, “is there, what, a back door?”

“We need to go up,” says Ysabel, standing now, wrapped in the jacket and the blanket.

“Or down,” says the Duke. He lifts a hand but doesn’t brush her cheek.

“Up’s good,” says Jo, pointing back toward the bedroom. “I think this place has an attic.”

“Lead on,” says the Duke, and limping after her offers an arm to Ysabel. They follow her into the hall.

Then Jo jogs back into the living room jumps onto the orange couch grabs the sword hanging there. Wet shoes on the orange cushions she takes the scabbard in her left hand and the hilt in her right and tugs free half a foot of blade. The surface of it polished but within deep waves of dark and light steel chase the spine of it. “Okay,” says Jo, sheathing it with a whisp and a snick, slinging the red strap over a shoulder, stepping down off the couch.

In the hall the Duke’s unfolding a stepladder from a trapdoor in the ceiling, Ysabel beside him, huddled in the blanket. “So what’s up there?” says Jo.

“The attic?” says the Duke, his hand on one of the rungs. “Let’s go find out,” he says, limping around to the foot of the ladder, tucking his cane under an arm. “No, no,” says Jo, “let me go first,” a hand on the other side.

“Barganax,” says Ysabel.

“You need to help the Princess,” says the Duke, pushing gently but firmly against Jo, and “Dammit, Leo,” says Jo, pushing back.

“Gallowglas!” says Ysabel sharply. “Southeast!” They both stop and turn to look at her. She’s resettling the blanket about her shoulders. “Jo, you go first. Duke, I’ll follow after you.”

“Princess,” says the Duke, stepping back. “This is hardly the time for modesty.” Jo starts up the ladder.

“Your leg, Barganax,” says Ysabel. “This is no time for pride.”

The Duke looks down, puts a foot on a rung. “No need to be so formal.”

Jo puts her head up through a hatch, works a shoulder then another up and through shimmying to get her elbows up on the floor of a small room framed and paneled in dark wood. Her sword thumping as she hauls it up. Two other hatches open in the floor, one to either side. Oil lamps sway from slender chains. In the corner there is Jasmine, sitting on a pile of folded cloth, robes in richly clashing colors folded one atop another. She’s wearing a greyly black wetsuit, her hair pulled back in a long tight braid. She’s cradling a girl in her lap, all knees and elbows in a schoolgirl’s sailor suit, her face screwed up and ugly red with weeping. “You made it,” says Jasmine. Snuffling the girl looks up.

“Yeah,” says Jo, and from beneath her the Duke’s voice, muffled, “You okay? What’s up there?” Jo shifts, trying to peer down through the narrow hatch, “I don’t know,” she calls, pulling herself up and out. “Not an attic.”

Almost immediately a hand grips the edge of the next hatch over, another hand hoisting up a wooden cane, a stern, rough-hewn hawk at its head. Grimacing the Duke’s pulling himself out of the hatch on the far side of that small room, and “The fuck,” Jo’s saying, “Leo, Christ, that’s the wrong damn hatch – ”

“The hell are you,” grunts the Duke in his red and brown striped jacket, sitting himself on the edge of his hatch, rubbing his thigh. “It’s the only one – ” He stops, seeing her hatch beside his, the hatch beyond, at Jasmine’s feet.

“Can I come up?” says Ysabel somewhere below.

The Duke’s lifting his legs out of the hatch as Jo scrambles over to him, grabbing his shoulder. “Are you you?” She jerks him around to face her. “How do I know it’s you?”

“What kind of question is that?” says the Duke.

“Where is she?” says the girl in Jasmine’s lap.

A wadded-up blanket’s pushed up through the middle hatch, followed by Ysabel in her red and brown striped jacket, her damp dark head turning to take in the hatches, Jasmine and the girl, the pile of robes, the Duke and Jo.

“Where is she?” says the girl, sitting up.

“You found both the Duke and the Princess?” says Jasmine.

“I,” says Jo, leaning over to grab the blanket, “yes.” Wrapping it about Ysabel’s shoulders. “Yes I did.” Watching the Duke all the while, leaning on his cane now in the corner. “Where are we? Back in the teahouse?”

“We’ll never get back!” wails the girl in Jasmine’s lap, and “Hush, Lauren,” says Jasmine, stroking her hair.

“I think we’re on a ship,” says the Duke.

“Never?” says Ysabel.

“What?” says Jo.

“A ship,” says the Duke, pointing to the swaying lanterns.

“We’re somewhere between,” says Jasmine. “It will be much harder to move on, without all three of us.”

“Between, between what,” says Jo.

“Here,” says Jasmine, “and, well, there.”

“You never,” says Lauren, as Ysabel says “No,” and the Duke says “Well, there are nuances – Jo, dammit, wait – ”

Jo’s leaning over the hatch at his feet. “What?” she says. “Three hatches, three of us.” Swinging herself around, her feet a-dangle. “You came out of that one, right?” she says to Jasmine and Lauren, pointing to the hatch on the far side of the small room.

“Yes,” says Jasmine, and Lauren, wide-eyed, nods.

“And we came up out of the middle one,” says Jo, turning to the Duke, “and you came up out of this one. Alone. I think she’s down here.”

“Wait,” says the Duke.

“For what?” says Jo. “I’m just gonna take a look. What’ll happen if I go down there?”

“I don’t know,” says the Duke.

“Anybody?” She looks around at them all in that small room. “Ysabel? Can anybody tell me what’ll happen if I go down there?”

“No,” says Jasmine.

“We need her,” says Lauren.

“Okay then,” says Jo, and she pushes off the edge and drops through the hatch and is gone.

“Oh,” says the Duke, “I wish she hadn’t done that.”

“Well, she did,” says Ysabel, and then someone raps on the door. “Are ye ready?” says a rough voice, hushed, trying to be heard through that door but not much further. The Duke looks at Ysabel, Ysabel looks at the Duke, and Jasmine looks at them both. Lauren’s looking at the door.

“Well?” says whoever it is. “It’s almost time!”

Table of Contents

“4'33",” written by John Cage, copyright holder unknown.

Tinny music – a Knife in the Back – One goes alone – Filled to the Brim with Girlish Glee – How it Should be –

Tinny music from the speaker of a shortwave radio lashed to the beam above them with an orange bungee cord, a carillon peal of notes plucked from a guitar, a man’s voice rendered thin and reedy, Tu m’as manquer mon amour, ne ni cherie willila kan be tama yala en sera Ouagadougou, and Bottle John’s saying “I can’t explain it to somebody who wasn’t there.”

“But I am there, John,” says Michael. “I have been all along. Can I show you something? It’s in my pocket.”

Bottle John’s shoulders shift but he doesn’t look up. They’re sitting side by side on the bare plank floor by the porch railing, their backs to all that wind. Bottle John’s hands are in his lap and the gun rests small and dull in his hands. Michael’s pulling a small flat plastic baggie from a pocket in his loose sweatpants. He holds it out between them lying limply on his black-gloved palm, a corner of it weighted by a smidge of dust. “What is that,” says Bottle John, putting a hand to his chest, his white shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat.

“Leo brings it to me, from time to time,” says Michael. “I take a pinch of it every couple of days. Have for the last four years.” Bottle John’s hand sliding up to his shoulder there under his grey suit jacket. Michael closes his hand over the almost empty baggie. “I was going to tell him tonight that enough was, was enough. That I wanted to stop. That I was tired.” Leaning back Michael reaches through the railing between them and Bottle John lurches back, watching intently hand on his neck as Michael tips the baggie over pinched between thumb and forefinger shaking the dust loose and out and away. As it falls away from them the dust becomes sparks, the sparks become drops of light, the drops grow brighter and brighter, stars ripped loose from their moorings, tumbling about them. “Open your shirt for me, John,” says Michael, letting the empty baggie flutter away.

Bottle John pushes away, to his feet, one hand wrapped around the barrel and the trigger guard of the gun. “It’s too clear out here,” he says, and then, “too cold.”

“You don’t need to hide anything from me,” says Michael, still sitting by the railing. Behind him the stars settling now into lines and shapes that tremble and jump and freeze and tremble again. “Tell me how your brother died, and then open your shirt for me. You shot him, didn’t you.”

Bottle John’s taken a step or two back toward the sofa, away from the railing. “He asked,” he says. “The pain was too much for him.”

“And then you went to the ice.”

“I can’t talk about that.”

“Look, John. Look.” Michael’s standing, leaning on the railing, pointing out at the stars that have fixed themselves against the blackness in regular rows and lines that limn blocks and towers, sparks of light caught in the corners of a thousand thousand windows all about them. “It’s almost time. I’m doing what I can – ” Swooping arcs and nets of light define bridge after bridge marching along the river each grander and more glorious than the last. The radio above him squawks and the chiming guitar dissolves into static and someone, a rich contralto says estoy defendiendo la apuesta de una persona and then a banjo, someone, a couple of adenoidal voices sing a path the blind can use to return, for now the way’s blocked by an inferno, everything’s on fire and I don’t think it rains – Michael reaches up to snap the radio off. “It’s your angel, John. It pushes us further and further away as it tries to get in. I’ll lose my grip soon. They’ll never find their way back,” and Bottle John still not looking back is shaking his head, “No,” he’s saying, “no,” and Michael says, “but you can help us all.”

“We are about the Lord’s work,” says Bottle John, looking at the gun in his hand.

“You can set it aside now. You came here looking for help.”

“No,” says Bottle John.

“You came here looking for a doctor. Doctor Cee. Charley. Charley Leir?”

“No, no,” says Bottle John, looking back, “Charley, he’s no doctor. That’s just what we called him in the service. I thought, I thought maybe he could help.”

“It doesn’t want that, does it,” says Michael, as Bottle John turns away again. “It gave you back your brother, but it’s asking for something, and you, you’re still saying no, John. Open your shirt.”

“He’s a good man, Charley,” says Bottle John, stooping to set the gun down on the long low sofa. “He don’t know what he’s doing, working for Leir.”

“And Leir’s a bad man,” says Michael.

“The worst,” says Bottle John, undoing the first button of his shirt.

“What’s he done, John?” says Michael. Bottle John ducks his head and undoes the next button, and the next. “Open your shirt,” says Michael, stepping away from the railing, and Bottle John does. Whatever it is it’s barely there at all, a glistening streak against his dark skin, a swath gone indistinct, out of focus. “It’s almost over,” says Michael, stepping closer to Bottle John.

“What are you,” says Bottle John, swallowing, throat jumping, his jacket and his shirt sliding from a blurred and indistinct shoulder.

“I’m going to take it from you,” says Michael, hooking his fingers, pressing them against the stuff. Grunting. “It came from the ice, didn’t it.” His face set with the effort. “I’ll give it to the fire, and your angel – will be satisfied – ” Michael tugs and Bottle John looks up and howls. In and among the glittering towers lights swoop and slide, and something very like a zeppelin looms, nosing its way toward the ziggurat at the top of one of the smaller towers.

“What is that,” says Bottle John, eyes lidded, runnels of sweat pasting his shirt to his skin.

“Very old,” says Michael, looking at the cloudy nothing in his hands. “Let’s go. It’s time.”

“Cute gun,” says someone else.

Behind the sofa in the low wide doorway to the porch stands Mr. Charlock, barefoot, wrapped in a white trench coat, one hand lifted, thumb cocked, two fingers curled back, two fingers pointed at Bottle John and Michael. He’s looking down at the snub-nosed revolved in his other hand. “What’s it loaded with? Silver hollow-points?” Sniffing the cylinder. “Ampoules of holy water? Did you dip it in mistletoe oil? Smudge it with sage? Christ, John, you going Catholic on us?” He points the gun at them alongside his fingers. “Shoulda played more D and D growing up. All it takes is a knife in the back to seriously cramp any wizard’s style.”

“Don’t,” says Michael, wobbling, staring intently at his trembling hands full of glistening nothing.

“Sorry, man,” says Mr. Charlock. “Sorry about your brother.” He uncocks his thumb and lowers his empty hand. “Sorry about what went down with Echo. Wish I coulda been there. Woulda told you fucks to run like hell.” The gun’s still pointed at Bottle John, who shivering closes his eyes and nods.

“Stop,” says Michael, “I’ve already pulled it – ”

Three gunshots, loud flat cracks that punch neat little holes in Bottle John’s grey jacket, his white shirt, his wet dark chest. “What?” says Mr. Charlock, lowering the smoking gun as Bottle John sits heavily, slumps, falls over on his side. “Already pulled what?”

Michael’s looking at the last thready wisps of nothing wafting from his empty hands. “You goddamn fool,” he says.

Wet shoes squelching Jo steps carefully through darkness bare sword in one hand scabbard in the other. Up ahead a pool of light, a low-hanging lamp over an overstuffed armchair, a low table, a hand reaching out to set down a steaming mug. The sound of a jangling piano, a man’s voice pattering through it’s wining and dining me, with memory and love the only clothes I let confine me, and break the rules of anyone who thinks they’re really signing me, it’s time again, time again, time again, time again –

“Jessie?” says Jo.

Kicking the tombstones from the middles of my eyes, out to the corners where and the song’s cut off with a heavy click. A blond head peers around the side of the armchair, dark eyes framed by narrow square-lensed glasses. “Jo?” says Jessie. “Your hair. You grew it out?”

“Yeah, well,” says Jo, hurrying up to the pool of light, pausing careful of the sword to fit the tip of it to the throat of the scabbard. Driving it home. The chair’s surrounded, the edges of that pool of light walled in by stacks and piles of books, cheap mass-market paperbacks with curled white-wrinkled spines stacked atop bulwarks of trade paperbacks and here and there foundations laid from thicker, broader hardbound books. There are books splayed open on either thick round arm of the chair, and books piled on the knitted afghan laid over Jessie’s tailor-fashioned lap. A book’s closed about her left index finger holding its place and a book’s held open in her right hand. Her T-shirt says Book Lovers Never Go To Bed Alone. “Let’s go,” says Jo.

“Where,” says Jessie.

“Back,” says Jo, holding out a hand. “C’mon.”

“You go,” says Jessie, looking back down at her book. “I think I’ll stay.”

“You,” says Jo, “you can’t, it doesn’t, it doesn’t work like that.”

“Why not,” says Jessie, turning a page.

“We all,” says Jo, “we went in after them, and we all have to – ”

“Three from the circle,” says Jessie, not looking up, “three from the track. Anyone missing? Leo? Ysabel? Whatshername from Seattle, or Lake’s little girlfriend?”

“What?” says Jo, and then “No, we’re all, we’re stuck, getting back. The Duke thinks we’re on a ship or something.”

“The Duke,” says Jessie.

“We all need to go back together, or we won’t – ”

“Five shall return,” says Jessie, “and one go alone. You ever read Susan Cooper?”

“I,” says Jo, “no. Come on, Jessie.”

“You ever read any fantasy? Ever?” Jessie turns another page.

“What?” snaps Jo. “I read, whatsit. Earthsea? And some of those dragon books. I read Dune.”

“That’s not,” says Jessie, “that’s science fiction, not fantasy – ”

“It’s got dukes and barons and witches – ”

“It’s got spaceships, Jo.”

“That fly with magic spice-powers, what is this? We’ve got to go, Jessie.”

“There’s always a sacrifice.” Jessie sets the one book on the arm of the chair, splays the other open on the table by the steaming mug. “In this sort of thing. Has to be.”

“One goes alone,” says Jo.

“Might as well be me.”

“Jessie,” says Jo. “Fuck the books for a minute. The others, the ones who actually live with this shit, they won’t say it but they’re scared out of their minds.” The scabbard of her sword gripped tightly in both hands. “You have got to come back with me, Jessie. We all have to go back together.”

“Did they tell you that?” says Jessie, her voice rising sharply. “Did they tell you that, exactly that?”

“Jessie – ”

“Did they say to you, Jo, you must bring her back, she’s our only hope?” Jessie picks up the splayed book from the table. “Because I gotta tell you Jo, these people?” Turning a page and then another with quick sharp jerks. “Who live with this shit? Hang out with them long enough and you figure out they know a hell of a lot less about it all than they let on.”

Jo turns away abruptly. Shadows and hints of reflections hung before the chair suggest an enormous window stretching away off and up into the darkness. Jessie slaps her book closed, tosses it to the floor. Plucks up another from her lap. The White Tyger, says the bent spine. “Shouldn’t you be getting back?” she says, flipping through to find the first page.

“This is pretty nice,” says Jo. “You’ve got books, you got tea, you got a view.” Somewhere out on the other side of the glass lights like stars begin to pick out the edges of blocks, of towers, and sparks glint in the corners of a thousand thousand windows. “You know where I was?” Jo turns back to Jessie, who isn’t looking down at the book in her lap. “Some anonymous ranch house somewhere in deep Southeast. I don’t know. I never got outside of it. I was, married, to the Duke.”

“You love him,” says Jessie, flatly, and Jo lets out a bark of laughter. “No,” she says. “Christ no. I like him, but, I never left the house, Jessie. I spent all day just, waiting around, for him to come home from wherever it was he was, you know? I was putting my hair in curlers, for fuck’s sake. I was, painting my toenails.” Outside the light is shifting, growing, firming up into a softly greyish whitely glow of mist that laps about the buildings below, wisps of it flaring with orange and gold and smoldering into red. “I was bored out of my mind. You were supposed to find the Duke, Jessie. I went in for Ysabel.”

“So you love her,” says Jessie.

“I don’t love anybody,” says Jo. She looks down at the sword in her hands. Far off beyond the wakening city a great sharp tooth of a mountain rears itself above the mists, its snows blushed rose and gold and palest blue and a hint here and there of faint green light. “I made a promise,” says Jo. “I will keep that promise. I found her,” looking up at Jessie now, “and I got her out of – ” She looks down again. “She’s not going back there.”

Jessie’s looking away, at the cup of tea still steaming, at the little cassette player on the table beside it. At the books ringed all about her. “You get to have them both,” she mutters.

“I don’t have anybody,” says Jo. “Jessie, please.” She holds out a hand. “We need you.” The light filling the window doesn’t touch the darkness behind the chair, but away off back there up in what might be the ceiling there’s a small oblong of warmly glowing light, a trapdoor, a hatch.

A scrape of gravel, a black shoe shifting, pressed against denting the rubber of a tire. A black pants leg quivering with effort, a grunt. Mr. Keightlinger’s arms crossed before his blank black sunglasses fists clenched tightly as feathers straining bulging eyes press down against him and the very light that soaks the air is trembling at the point where they don’t touch. Mr. Keightlinger suddenly lurches back as the angel surges toward him. He’s pressed against the car, the powerful black car whorled over hood and roof with meticulous lines of spidery hand-painted letters glaring with a chilly blue light. Mr. Keightlinger blows a long sigh from his bushy beard and shifts his arms holding one upright before his face and drawing the other back, “This,” he grunts, “will hurt me,” that arm drawn back the hand beside his face unfolding from a fist, held flat, rock-steady, “far more,” and grimacing he curls that hand back into a fist, “ah, fuck it.” He throws a punch into the enormous dust-brown slit-pupiled eye before his face.

The eye collapses wings snap open scudding yanking the angel back and up into the air away from Mr. Keightlinger buffeted by the sudden winds. Howling shrieking the angel throws its wings all wide and falling from the air on him as ducking he pulls himself over the hood of the car through thickening curtains of cold blue light. Sparks erupt white and blue as he falls onto the other side showering bouncing splashing about him as he scrambles for the freshly painted gate. Behind him the groaning shriek of twisting metal and the pop and clatter of breaking glass and the ripping whump of gasoline igniting.

“Well, hell,” says Mr. Keightlinger, bulling his way through the front door of the teahouse.

In its scabbard a sword’s thrust up through the middle hatch of three in a row in a small wood-paneled room. It wobbles and topples over in Jo’s hand and she lays it on the floor her elbow shoulder brown-haired head following it up and out. “Can you,” she says, squirming her other arm free, hanging a moment there half in, half out, looking at the hatches to either side. There’s no one else in the room.

“Jo?” says Jessie’s voice muffled from below, “Jo, could you,” and Jo says “Yeah, yeah,” pushing herself up and out of the hatch, then crawling thump-dragging the sword to the far hatch as Jessie’s calling “Jo! Jo! Where are you – ” Jo leans over, reaching down, inside. “Oh,” says Jessie, her hand in Jo’s, coming up into the small wood-paneled room. “Why’d you – ”

“Don’t ask,” says Jo.

“Where is everyone?”

“Working on it,” says Jo, crouching, headed back along the line of hatches to the other side of the room. The stack of robes is gone. Jessie’s looking down the middle hatch. “They didn’t go that way,” says Jo, and there’s a thump of a drum outside somewhere, a thinly dervished skirl of fiddles and flutes and a low round horn of some sort struggling to keep up. Stepping over the hatch Jo listens at the door to the room as the music settles into a thumping melody and there’s muffled laughter and applause, a whoop of delight. “Come on,” says Jo, opening the door.

A low short narrow hallway paneled in white-painted wood, a door opposite, doors at either end. To the left the doors have high-set panes of clouded glass. Jo in her satiny black slip and her mismatched Chuck Taylors, one hand on the throat of her scabbarded sword, one hand reaching back, tugging Jessie in her wake, Jessie in her T-shirt and sweatpants, her flip-flops, her narrow square-lensed glasses. Falsetto voices roughly singing three little maids who, all unwary, come from a lady’s seminary, freed from its genial tutelary –

Jo opens the doors.

On the deck below them lit by smoking torches empty wooden chairs in haphazard rows pushed this way and that under a towering mast, a tautly strung welter of rigging and shrouds. “Three little maids from school,” sing Ysabel and Lauren and the Duke in stumbling off-beat high-pitched trills, “three little maids from school,” wrapped in richly clashing robes, kimonos loosely belted, and the Duke bouncing steps up to the rail singing, “One little maid is a bride, Yum-Yum,” and to either side Ysabel and Lauren bounce up beside him, singing to those empty chairs, “Two little maids in attendance come,” and off to the side sits Jasmine on a stool under an oil lamp, sawing away at the fiddle tucked under her chin. “Three little maids is the total sum – ” and Jasmine looks up to see Jo and Jessie and the fiddle squawks and she nearly falls from her stool and turning fluttering faltering Ysabel and Lauren and the Duke, “three little maids – ”

“The hell?” says Jo.

“It is,” says Jasmine, the fiddle in his lap, “the latest from Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan. We thought it might prove entertaining to have the boys done up to sing some selections – ”

“Snap ’em out of it,” says Jo to Jessie, hurrying down the short flight of steps to the deck, past the empty chairs to the high broad gunwale. “If we have offended – ” cries the Duke after her, and Jessie moving to stand between them trying to catch his eye says “Leo, Leo – ”

Dark water below and no gangway or dock or boat. Away beyond the great dark bulk of the shore a bluff looming the pulsing rustle of trees in a low wind and above and beyond and around all that buildings and towers sketched in light, windows gleaming, the arcs of bridges busy with teeming crowds of light passing back and forth, all of it under a lowering red-black sky. Jo her free hand up to shade her eyes points with the hilt of her sword, “There!” she cries. “Look!” Flickers of warm lamplight up there, back among the dark tree-shapes. A porch, a railing of peeled and polished branches. “The teahouse. That’s the teahouse, right?”

“Leo,” Jessie’s saying, “Leo, please,” and he’s standing not quite looking at her as he says “We should resume, sir, we shouldn’t like to disappoint the gentlemen from Oregon City,” and Jessie grabs him her hands on either side of his face trying to look him in his eyes that keep sliding away. “Jo!” she cries. “Jo, he’s not – ”

“Slap him!” says Jo, crossing the deck between rows of empty chairs. “Kiss him! Do something!”

Jessie slaps the Duke, lightly, and then draws her hand back and slaps him again, a loud crack as Lauren shrieks and Ysabel starts forward. Jasmine drops her fiddle with a twang and a crunch. Blinking the Duke looks at Jessie, looks her in the eye, and with a sobbing laughing gasp she pulls him to her and kisses him. The Duke’s hands spring up but he does not push her away. “Oh,” he says as she draws back. “That’s where I left you.” Jessie turns with another half-gasping laugh and grabs Ysabel’s hand. “Rain,” says Ysabel as Jessie pulls her close, “it’s okay, I’m here, it’s me,” as Jessie wraps her arms about her, as Jessie kisses her, and kisses her again.

Jasmine steps up to the railing, her greyly black wetsuit gleaming in the torchlight. “That was,” she says to Jo coming up the steps, “unpleasant.”

“That’s the teahouse, right?” says Jo, pointing. “I think we’re just anchored or whatever in the river.”

“Yes,” says Jasmine, “yes, I think it is.” Lauren beside her twirling with the force of trying to whip her kimono from her arms. “He kept them lit. All right then.” Jasmine heads for the steps.

“There’s no way off this boat,” calls Jo.

“Yes there is,” says Jasmine, as Lauren hurries down the steps after her.

“You’re gonna swim?” says Jo.

“I’ll swim, I’ll climb, I’ll hack my way through the underbrush.” Jasmine grips the gunwale, gives it a shake. It’s solid. “If we stay, I think you’ll shortly end up a gentleman from Oregon City. And we’ll all be spellbound by your Duke’s rendition of the sun, whose rays are all ablaze.” She takes Lauren’s hand.

“I’d rather we didn’t,” says Ysabel, her forehead against Jessie’s. “If it’s all the same to you.”

The Duke’s taking off his kimono. “It’s chilly,” he says, offering it to Jo, who’s watching Jasmine help Lauren up onto the gunwale. “What?” says Jo. “I hadn’t noticed.” She doesn’t take the kimono. She’s still holding the sword. He drapes it over her shoulders. “Hey,” he says, leaning over her, and she turns to look up at him, and he kisses her. “Thanks,” he says.

“Sure,” she says.

And then as Ysabel and Jessie hand-in-hand head down the steps, and the Duke before her follows them, she says, “Wait.”

“Jo?” says the Duke.

Clutching the kimono about her shoulders with one hand looking down, away at the sword, then back up at the Duke, she says, “I, should go with Ysabel. You should go with Jessie.”

Jessie and Ysabel stop there on the steps, looking back at her, the Duke’s frowning. “Let’s go,” calls Jasmine from the gunwale.

“I mean,” says Jo, “it’s how we went in. After you. With the, the hatches and everything.” Looking down at her sword, then back up again. “We should go back the same way.”

“No,” says the Duke, “she’s right, she’s right, that actually,” as he’s turning back to head toward the steps, but Jo grabs his red and black sleeve the kimono slipping from her shoulders pulling him to her for a kiss, and after a startled moment he settles into it his arms wrapping about her. “I’m sorry,” she says to him, as he kisses her cheek, her jaw, her throat. “I made her a promise.”

“But,” he says in her ear, “it’s me you’re kissin’ on.”

“Something like that,” she murmurs, and she kisses him again, and he stoops to pick up the kimono and then he drapes it about her shoulders again.

Jasmine and Lauren sitting on the broad gunwale, Jo handing up her sword to Lauren, hoisting herself up beside them. The Duke in his red and brown striped jacket hands up his cane to her, and Jo takes his hand as Jessie’s pushing up from below. Grunting, gasping, he folds himself over the gunwale and rolls over, sitting up, rubbing his thigh. Jessie pulls herself up beside him, and Jo’s reaching down for Ysabel’s hand. “Shoes,” says Jasmine. “And jackets.” Lauren’s standing carelessly balanced on the gunwale beside her as she undoes the girl’s skirt. Her stockings and shoes already kicked to the deck. Jessie lets her flip-flops fall from her feet, then leans over trying to open the Duke’s jacket. “Nuh-uh,” he says, and she reaches for his cane and he holds it away. “If I’m drowning,” he says, “I’m gonna do it with my sixty-dollar Nunn Bushes on.”

“Leo,” says Jessie.

“We’re not going into the drink,” says the Duke.

“Oh?” says Jasmine.

“Seven to three,” says the Duke. “Any stakes you care to hazard.” He points to the lights up there in the trees. “We’re walking on air the whole way.”

“Suit yourself,” says Jasmine, unbuttoning Lauren’s jacket.

“What,” says Jo to Ysabel, who’s watching, eyebrow cocked, as Jo ties the laces of her mismatched Chuck Taylors together. “I left these in the bathroom of that damn Starbucks,” says Jo. “I’m not losing them again.”

“Ready?” says Jasmine, hoisting herself to her feet, taking Lauren’s hand in her own. Lauren shivering in a thin pink camisole and underwear dotted with cartoon hearts.

“I’m not standing,” says the Duke, tucking his cane under his arm. “We can just, you know. Push off,” he says to Jessie.

“Well?” says Jo to Ysabel, who’s still wearing the kimono over the red and brown striped jacket.

“I agree with the Hawk,” says Ysabel.

“We’re gonna walk on air, huh?” says Jo.

Ysabel shrugs. “Besides. It’s a nice robe.”

“Let’s hope we do,” Jasmine’s saying. “We still have to deal with the thug, and the angel, when we get back.”

“The what?” says the Duke, but they’re jumping, they’re jumping, they’re jumping –

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Tu Vas Me Manquer,” written by Salif Keita, copyright holder unknown. Not Ideas about the King but the King Himself,” written by Drakkar Sauna, copyright holder unknown. War Song or Tombstones or Time Again,” written by Steve Espinola, ©2000. The Dark is Rising, written by Susan Cooper, ©1973. The White Tyger, written by Paul Park, ©2007. Three Little Maids from School,” written by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, within the public domain.

“Where are they?” – White Feathers in Her hair

“Where are they?” screams Mr. Charlock in that white trench coat, brandishing the gun up over his head.

“Shoot me or put it away,” says Michael, squatting by Bottle John laid out on the bare plank floor. “I’m out of patience for threats.”

“He’s dead,” says Mr. Charlock, lowering the gun.

“Dead as his brother.”

“He was dead when I got there,” says Mr. Charlock. “Hell, he was dead before they even showed up.”

“I was starting to piece it together. You’re not Leir, are you.”

“What? No,” says Mr. Charlock.

“So you’re Doctor Charley. Only you’re no doctor.” Sitting back on his heels Michael’s looking up at Mr. Charlock. “The aloosh? Duende? Echo Force. But you didn’t go to the ice – ”

“Hey,” says Mr. Charlock, his empty hand up, two fingers pointed at Michael. “That’s a terrible fucking idea.”

“Shoot,” says Michael, pushing himself to his feet, “or put it away.”

After a moment Mr. Charlock shakes out his hand. “Okay,” he says. Tossing the gun onto the long low sofa. “Wrong foot. We got ourselves a situation that’s rapidly approaching the point of oh my fucking God, so it behooves us maybe to put our cards on the table, see what game it is we’re playing. He told you what he was after.”

“Leir,” says Michael.

Mr. Charlock whistles. “No shit. And the thing you pulled off him?”

Michael shakes his head, his face impassive. “Something qlipothic. Scale of Thamiel, maybe. I was going to feed it to the angel.”

“That thing out there?” Mr. Charlock points back over his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it.” Footsteps are clomping somewhere up away behind him. “My partner’s got that,” turning to look back up that way as there’s a rattle of clattering strings of light, “covered – ” The black-suited form of Mr. Keightlinger bursts into the low wide doorway to the porch, his hair undone in a frizzy halo about his head, sunglasses clutched in one hand. He coughs into the crook of his elbow. “Tell me,” says Mr. Charlock, “tell me that damn thing’s upped and gone.”

“The,” says Mr. Keightlinger, coughing again, “car – ”

“Christ you let it eat the car?” shrieks Mr. Charlock, and Mr. Keightlinger shrugs.

“That isn’t enough, is it,” says Michael, looking down at his hands in their black knit gloves.

“Fuck no,” says Mr. Charlock, running a hand over and over his bare bald head. “Not if that thing’s gunning for a wizard. You couldn’t hold it off just a little bit longer, could you?” he says to Mr. Keightlinger. “Fucking apocalypse breathing down our necks, again, just you and me to hold it all together, again, only I’m fresh out of baling wire this time you sonofawhat are you looking at?”

Mr. Keightlinger’s arm’s coming up, pointing away past Mr. Charlock out past the sofa the railing out into the hissing darkness where bright light picks out figures, six of them hanging motionless, arms outstretched, a sword, a walking stick with a stern hawk at its head, a red and brown jacket, kimonos fixed mid-flutter. “That’s,” says Mr. Charlock, stepping heavily past the long low sofa, “you,” past Michael, and Bottle John’s body, “that’s what you, that’s,” across the porch, up to the railing, “you, you let the Bride, of the King Come Back, you let her jump out into the goddamn void.” He throws his hands in the air. “Well hell,” turning, rounding on Mr. Keightlinger, “we might as well march out the front door right the hell now, because that thing up there’s got a fuckton of mercy compared to what Leir will have in – ” He stops dead looking up past Mr. Keightlinger at the bare wood wall by the low wide doorway.

“What?” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“Wasn’t that wall like, covered in old photographs and shit?”

One end of the sofa collapses in a cloud of dust. A twang of metal a whipping of loose cord a black and silver radio falls to the floor cracking open an empty plastic husk as rattling clattering echoing all around white strings of light stretched taut jump loose fall to the floor go dark with pops and fusillades of sparks. Mr. Charlock scuttles over to Bottle John’s body, pokes it with a bare foot. The tin roof above them shivers. Mr. Keightlinger flips open his sunglasses and jams them on, looking about, then with long lumbering steps down the length of the sofa he hurls himself on Mr. Charlock knocking them both to the floor as one of the porch poles lurches listing bursting in a shower of splinters bouncing and a squeal of tearing metal. There is a sound –

Riding the crest of that rippling crash Jasmine hurtles into the room trying to get her feet under herself as she careens into the sofa turning managing just to catch Lauren before the girl flies headlong over the back of it. Jo and Ysabel hit the sofa side by side Jo’s arms upflung the sword still in her hands. Jessie’s feet clip the railing the Duke reaching for her twisting brushing the floor rolling arms flopping stick flying loose slamming into the base of the sofa as Jessie pinwheels end over into the settling clouds of tufts of down. A clatter of falling boards. Wrenching squawks of twisted metal. Pops and fizzles here and there as lightbulbs explode in the spitting fitful rain.

In the darkness groaning Mr. Keightlinger shifts and lifts himself brushing splinters clattering to the floor. Reaching down he helps Mr. Charlock to his feet as the Duke sits up abruptly and says “Oh, hey.” Wiping down and rain from his face. Mr. Keightlinger’s carefully heading for the doorway but Mr. Charlock grabs his arm. “His shoulders,” says Mr. Charlock. “Get his damn shoulders!” Pointing to Bottle John. Jessie’s moaning as Ysabel pushes her up and over and Jo’s struggling in the drifts of down to pull herself free the sword still in her hands. “Okay,” the Duke’s saying. “The angel. Lemme at ’im.”

“It wasn’t no goddamn angel!” snaps Mr. Charlock as he backs up out of the room, Bottle John’s feet clamped under his arms.

“Michael?” says Lauren. “Are we there? Michael?”

“Sinjin?” says Jasmine.

“Who the hell are you?” says Jo, twisted around on the sofa, spitting white feathers from her mouth. In the low wide doorway Mr. Keightlinger and Mr. Charlock pause, Bottle John in his grey suit slung between them. “Nobody,” says Mr. Charlock. “It’s gone, okay?” He spares a glance for the ruined porch, the rain coming down, the trees outside black against the red-black sky. “It weren’t, you wouldn’t be here.”

“Where,” says Jasmine, standing, looking about the room, “is Michael St. John Lake?”

Mr. Charlock hunched over in that white coat looks at Mr. Keightlinger, who shrugs. Mr. Charlock opens his mouth to say something but shakes his head instead. “Lady,” he says, “I do not have the time.”

And Lauren begins to wail.

The car’s a reddish brown, a black stripe down the side, pulling up to the sidewalk before the apartment building. Behind the glass a harsh-lit lobby, imposing blocks of mail lockers. The driver’s door opens and Jessie gets out, her chauffeur’s cap on her long blond hair, her T-shirt, her sweatpants. Her feet bare. Before she can reach in to lever the seat back up Jo’s worming her way out, wrapped in a purple and black kimono, her sword in one hand. Jessie stands back and lets Jo past, then reaches a hand in for Ysabel climbing out, a pink and green and yellow kimono wrapped about a red and brown striped jacket, white feathers still caught in her long black hair, limply damp. She smiles at Jessie and lightly kisses her knuckles and then her mouth.

“Hey,” says Jo, leaning against the passenger door. The Duke cranks down his window. “You’re sure I can’t talk you into it,” he says.

“Nah,” she says, looking up at the windows towering above her. Closing her eyes against the misting rain. “We need, I need someplace – stable. Safe. After all that.”

“Call me,” says the Duke.

Jo turns, leans into the open window. “I gotta get a new phone,” she says. “I left my old one in the pocket of some pants I’ve never seen before.”

“Look in the coat Ysabel’s wearing,” says the Duke. “I saw it on the couch, in that house? While you were getting a blanket.”

Jo’s looking at her sword, her mismatched shoes. “This is getting fucking spooky,” she mutters.

“Call me,” says the Duke.

“Sure,” says Jo, “if the phone bill out of limbo doesn’t break me.” He’s leaning up a little and she leans down and then she kisses him, and then kisses him again.

“I thanked you,” he says, a smile on his face. “I owe you a favor. That’s a dangerous place for you to be.” Jo starts up, looking at him. He’s still smiling. “I like your hair like this,” he says.

“What?” says Jo, but he’s cranking up the window, Jessie’s climbing into the car, the engine’s growling. Ysabel’s by her side. “Let’s get in out of the rain,” she says.

Jo presses the button for the elevator. “So. He’s, well. He’s dead, huh.”

“I think,” says Ysabel, “it’ll turn out he was dead for a while. And the teahouse never was built. Or never was as – beautiful, as it was. And it blew down in a storm. And we’ll all forget.”

“Forget?” says Jo.

“Do you remember your dreams?” says Ysabel, taking Jo’s hand in hers.

“Sometimes? Ysabel – ”

“Like that, then,” says Ysabel, pulling Jo close to her.

“Ysabel, I – ”

“Just hold me, Jo,” says Ysabel. “Please. Just hold me.”

The sword still in one hand Jo puts her arms about Ysabel and Ysabel pulls them together, tightly, those richly clashing kimonos folding one over the other, Ysabel’s face buried in Jo’s shoulder, Jo leaning her head against Ysabel’s, eyes closed, and then, after a bit, the elevator behind them softly dings.

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