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“You said you were going to kill me” – a Pointless rendezvous –

“You said you were going to kill me,” she says, her voice gone soft and thin.

“I might,” he says.

“What is this,” she says. “What are we doing.”

“Magic,” he says. “Take up the blade.” Closing one eye, the other hidden beneath an eyepatch cupped there beside his sharply angular nose, naked on his back on the floor, his wrists bound up over his head with a sheer black stocking, tied to a pole that braces a little yellow table above them both. His long black hair spread over the grimy linoleum like a fan. In the aisle between two lines of those little yellow tables, orange plastic chairs bolted to the poles to either side, she’s kneeling over him, one leg stockinged, one leg bare, black lace stretched taut about her wide round hips. Her long black hair threaded with white ribbons and silvery spangles that sweep over his narrow chest, his belly, her breasts brushing against him as her hand still in a black and white striped arm sock closes about the hilt of the long knife beside him, a slight curl to it, and no point but a sudden wedge of a tip. “It, it feels real,” she says.

“Of course it does,” he says, opening his eye.

“I mean, it doesn’t, it isn’t – ”

“Don’t touch the blade,” he says. “Not with your hand.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, “I didn’t mean to do anything – ”

“Hush,” he says, sharply. “By the hilt. Both hands. Firmly.”

“It’s real, isn’t it,” she says, the blade upright before her face. “I mean, it’s sharp.” The metal of it dark in the dim light, whorled with black streaks, a rainbowed shimmer floating along it like oil on water. On the wall behind her an enormous close-up photo of a hamburger, gone brown and yellowed with grime. “The wakizashi,” he’s saying. “The companion blade. Go on.” It trembles in her hands, her fingers opening and closing about the hilt. Her face lost in the shadows thrown by the harsh light of the desk lamp on the floor away over there, plugged into an orange extension cord that snakes off into the darkness. Plywood nailed above it, a window boarded up. “Gloria,” he says. “Go on.”

The long knife turns over in her hands until the tip of it points at his flat stomach, at the thin dark line of hair drawn from his navel to the sudden thicket of it nestling his limply sidelong cock, that thin dark line of hair interrupted just beneath the tip of the blade by something pale, dead skin tight and shining, a ripple, a knot, scars hunched across his belly from hip to hip.

“No fear,” he says, gently now. “No anger.”

“No fear,” she says, flatly.

“The blade comes down.”

“No anger,” she says.

“Empty,” he says.

She swallows and clamps her hand more tightly about the hilt. “What if –”

“Empty,” he says. “Those are not your hands. Those are not your eyes. Those are not your ears hearing these word I do not speak. That is not your breath, no,” he says, closing his eye. “No.”

The blade comes down. He grunts, head jerking wrists straining the sheer stocking toes curling spreading wide and clenching again his breath gone shallow and quick. His cock stirs, a shadow pulsing at the base of it in the dim light.

“Oh my fucking God,” says Gloria.

“Pull it,” he says through his teeth. He opens his eye. “Out. Now!”

She yanks the long knife up and out, a neat wet yellow cut left in its wake. “There’s no,” she says. “There no. Blood, there’s no blood.”

“Kiss it,” he says, and then “No! Not the blade. No.”

“Oh,” she says, and “oh.” Laying the long knife gingerly aside. The wedge-shaped tip of it wet with something thickly colorless.

“Go on,” he says, and he closes his eye again, and her hair clatters as she stoops over him, one black and white striped hand on his chest, one on his knee, her nose brushing that thin dark line of hair, her lips on the cut. “Sweet,” she says. “Like honey.” She kisses it again, licks it, and he growls and yanks roughly at the stocking about his wrists. She lifts her head. “No!” he cries. “Do not. Stop.” She kisses the cut once more, and opens her mouth to dig into it with her tongue. He howls.

“It’s too cold,” says Ysabel, wobbling along in her white heeled boots.

“Well if we’re lucky then they’ll have the heater turned up way too high and you can complain about how it’s too hot instead,” says Jo, trudging ahead of her along the side of the road. Grey-green trees over across the way and a tangle of brown and black along the ground. A demurely pocketed lot mostly full of cars and the low warrens of an anonymous office park, all brick and blank black glass.

“It is too cold,” says Ysabel, “to be walking for miles through the middle of nowhere to a pointless rendezvous – ”

“Half a mile,” says Jo, rounding on her, “to the bus stop, and it wasn’t fucking pointless until you made it pointless, okay?” A white panel truck that says FedEx in blue and green letters rolls past.

“He wanted us to lie,” says Ysabel.

“It’s sales,” says Jo, snapping the sentence in half, the smoke of her breath swirling in the weak sunlight. “Lying’s part of the gig.”

“What I say,” says Ysabel, “whatever else it might be, is true.”

“Well you don’t,” says Jo, looking away, looking back at her, “you didn’t have to, you didn’t have to tell him that. You know?” Looking away again. “I mean, you could have.”

“What, Jo?” says Ysabel. Head tilted back a little, the hood of her short white parka settling about her shoulders. “I could have what.”

“Asked your question,” says Jo. Shrugging, shivering in her black leather reefer jacket. “I mean you wouldn’t have had to duck the thing about the extra monthly cost on the power bill or the,” and as Ysabel stony-faced pushes past her, “that was how you got all those surveys, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?”

“I should make people fall,” says Ysabel, rounding on Jo, “for me, so I can sell them – what was it again?” And Jo looks down, scuffing the pavement with a big black boot, muttering something. “What?” says Ysabel, and Jo snaps “Yeah okay, appliance insurance, Christ. I got it.”

“Appliance insurance. What on earth is that.”

“Something you don’t know you want till you need it,” says Jo, pushing past Ysabel. “Weren’t you paying any attention to the pitch?”

The bus stop a blue pole planted by the entrance to a sprawling apartment complex. The wooden sign in a stone-walled flowerbed by the driveway says Brookside Estates. Jo’s sitting in the brown grass at the side of the road, her back against the pole. “Five more minutes,” she says, stuffing her phone back in her jacket.

“I’d say it’s cold,” says Ysabel, “but you’d just get annoyed again.” Arms folded hands tucked away she’s leaning against the other side of the pole.

“Yeah, well,” says Jo, looking up and back, “I’d say you shoulda put on pants, but, yeah. Let’s run the list.”

“The list,” says Ysabel.

“Our enemies list?” says Jo. “Starting with bullet number one, Leo the fucking Duke?”

“You’re wrong.”

“So for weeks you’re all he’s bad, he’s terrible, stay away from the Duke,” and “I wasn’t,” says Ysabel as Jo’s saying, “and now that I’ve finally come around you’re all give him a break?” Ysabel shrugs. “So who’s your number one?”

“Must I?” says Ysabel, sighing, and then, “Linesse, the former Helm. She’s been torqued, the Dagger’s destroyed, she blames us for that. And that thing, that Billy thing, that’s just the sort of thing my mother’s sister traffics in.”

“Her with the iron nails and the nineteen names,” says Jo. “Okay. So. How about the Axe?”

“Marfisa?” says Ysabel. “No.”

“What if she, hear me out. What if she’s miseading the situation? What if she sees me as a rival, or – ”

“You aren’t rivals,” says Ysabel.

“What if, I mean what if. She throws away her sword, she walks away from, from you, from all this, she’s pissed, so maybe she goes to your, ah, your mother’s sister – ”

“She isn’t dead, Jo,” says Ysabel, and Jo says, “I didn’t say she was,” as Ysabel’s saying, “Those with the torc are dead. She isn’t. I’d know.”

“Oh,” says Jo. “Okay. Okay. So who’s your number two?”

“If I must,” says Ysabel, “Agravante.”

“Her brother,” says Jo. Ysabel nods. “Okay,” says Jo, “all right, I mean, we’ve got the mystery men to account for, and the Duke says they work for a guy who works for him – ”

“So now you trust the Duke?”

“I’m gonna pretend,” says Jo, “you didn’t say that.” Ysabel squats by Jo, rubbing her thighs, shivering, hugging her knees. Jo says, “If he’s maybe linked to the guy in the skull mask?” and Ysabel shrugs. “Because,” says Jo, “that would make everything awful tidy.”

“We should probably put the Mooncalfe’s name on the list,” says Ysabel.

“You think?” says Jo. “I mean, that attack in the Safeway was completely random and spontaneous.”

“He is the Duke’s ex.”

“He what?”

“I thought you knew,” says Ysabel. She stands. “Here comes the bus.”

Table of Contents

Jo removes her Jacket – two whole Days – He’s in –

Jo removes her jacket, and “You don’t have to,” says Ysabel.

“I shouldn’t have said anything about the damn heater,” says Jo, draping the jacket over Ysabel’s bare knees.

“Now you’re going to freeze,” says Ysabel.

“No,” says Jo, wrapping her arms in her satiny red blouse about herself, “I’m gonna snuggle.” She leans close to Ysabel, working a corner of the jacket up over her lap, pressing closer as Ysabel looks up, about the mostly empty bus, then leaning to one side lifts her arm up and free to drape it along Jo’s side. “There,” says Jo, laying her head against Ysabel’s shoulder. “See? Cozy.”

“You are so absurd sometimes, Jo Maguire.”

“Only sometimes?”

Weakly lemon-colored sunlight dapples them, shimmering between needled branches through the windows to the right. Up behind the driver an older man sits stiffly upright facing that sunlight, a brown banker’s box in his lap, a grey trilby on his head. A few rows ahead of them a woman her head down hands up fingers pressed against white earbuds. The trees thin a moment to the right and they rush past a cluster of yellow bulldozers and backhoes, a patch of earth scraped raw next to a clean new house with black shutters. “Now what?” says Ysabel.

“Which term?” says Jo. “Short, or long?”

“How about when we get back to town?” Ysabel’s stroking Jo’s close-cropped hair.

“I think I have to go see Erne.”



“Jo, you’re not going to – you can’t think you’re going to just, challenge whoever it is.” She looks down at the head nestled against her, the hair under her fingers the color of deep red wine. “Linesse, the Duke – even the Axehandle could best you. Easily.”

“What did you think I was gonna do,” says Jo. “Shoot them?”

“Isn’t that how you people usually resolve this sort of thing?”

“No,” snorts Jo, and then, “well, actually, I might could get a gun if I had to.” She blows out a little laugh. “Let’s just, let’s figure out what to do once we figure out who it is. No, Erne – ” She reaches up to take Ysabel’s hand in hers. “I shouldn’t have.” She sighs. “I shouldn’t have left it like that.” Squeezes Ysabel’s hand. Ysabel’s looking out the window, sunlight licking her face under the white hood of her parka. “You made a promise,” she says to Jo.


“You’re going to keep it.”

“He’s gonna,” says Jo, letting go of Ysabel’s hand, “it’s two hundred bucks. For November. We only paid for October. He’s gonna insist on getting his two hundred bucks.”

“That was part of the promise, as I recall,” says Ysabel.

“That’s more than, what, ten percent of what we’ve got left.”

“I’ll trust you on the math,” says Ysabel.

“So you’re okay with it?”

“It’s not,” says Ysabel, looking down then, “it’s not my decision to make.”

“It’s our money.”

“No it isn’t.”

Jo shifts, looks up, sits up, wrapping her arms back about herself. “Yes,” she says. “It’s our money.”

Ysabel almost shakes her head. “It wasn’t my secret,” she says, and Jo leans into her saying, “We’re in this together,” and Ysabel’s looking away, down, out into the aisle, at the back of the seats before them, and, “I trust you,” she says. “Implicitly.”

“Okay,” says Jo.

“Yes,” says Ysabel. “It’s okay.”

Harsh light from the desk lamp catches here and there a curl or slice of flesh along the length of her, one leg stockinged, one leg bare, black lace still taut about her hips, tucked under a roll of her belly, bare breasts lolling. The nests of her hair undone, braids and ribbons spread out along the linoleum, spangles clattering as she turns her head, lifts a hand, the heel of it rubbing her eyes, then the palm of it her mouth, then her fingers scrubbing at the sticky sheen that’s smeared about her chin and cheeks. “Hello?” she says, a shell of a word. Sitting up under that enormous photograph of a hamburger.

Over the counters the menu boards are empty and dark. Behind them she steps gingerly between rows of long-dead ovens and griddles coated with a thick rime of greasy dust. “Hello?” A wrenching croak of metal, a knock-knock-knock of pipes, a gushing splash of water. In the gloom at the back of the kitchen he’s ghostly by a broad deep sink, splashing his face, his narrow chest, under his arms. Sweeping his black hair back he sees her, stops, lowers his hands. Waiting. She steps closer, hugging herself. “It smells rank in here,” she says.

He reaches for a wrist, peels her arm free, pulls her to him and she lets go of herself to swallow him suddenly in a fierce hug. His hair falling over hers as he kisses the top of her head. “My phone says, it’s like three o’clock? But I don’t know morning or afternoon?” Her words muffled. She lifts her head to look up at him. “But it also says it’s the eleventh? It’s all fucked up. We haven’t been here for like two days, have we?”

“I don’t know.”

“Dad didn’t try to call. Which doesn’t mean anything or anything.”

“Your father.”

“Yeah,” she says, leaning back, her hair clattering, chiming. “Bet you, you didn’t know it was, statutory.” He frowns, and she says in a rush, “It’s not like you care I’m sure or anything because, it’s like you’re a vampire, right?” His frown sharpens. “Not that you are a vampire, of course not, you’re not. I have no idea what you are. But it’s like a, a vampire? Maybe?”

“Should I kill you now?” he says, and she laughs wobbily. “No,” she says. “You aren’t going to do that. You never were.”

“Stay,” he says, his hands on her shoulders, smoothing her tangles of ribbons and braids.

“What, here?” Stepping back from him out from under his hands, looking about the darkened kitchen. “Josh always said this place was a shooting gallery.”

“Stay here, with me.” His hands on her hips now, pulling her close again.

“What about,” she says, her hands on his hips now, “what about your enemy?” Looking down at her thumb, stroking the dulled scar across his belly.

“What about her.” He shrugs. He kisses her, but he stops, rears up and back from her lips and he’s frowning again, and then he licks her mouth with exaggerated care. “Sloppy,” he says. “A sloppy, greedy girl.”

“Yeah,” she says. Her fingers settling about his lengthening cock. “Whatever, whatever it was, last night was the best – the best – ”

“What,” he says. “What is it?”

She shakes her head and squeezes him and biting her lip looks up at him again and says, quietly, precisely, “You son of a bitch.”

“Oh,” he says, “oh no, Gloria Monday – I am the Mooncalfe; I am motherless.”

Outlandishly puffy running shoes strapped and gussetted, spotlessly white, churning the big flat pedals of an elliptical trainer, fingerless bicycle gloves on the trainer’s walking poles, blue and white headphones cupping his ears. He isn’t looking out at anything in particular, not the television hanging over the balcony railing, not the room below filled with the creak of cables and the clang of weights, the grunts of effort, squeaking shoes, slaps against mats. He has no idea how bad it is out there! yells the bald bearded man on the television. He has no idea! Pounding a glass table littered with paper. I have talked with the heads of almost every single one of these firms in the last seventy-two hours and he has no idea how bad it is out there! Stop Trading, says the red sign at the bottom of the screen, above a constant stream of numbers and acronyms. Roland leans back his pace quickening his breathing slow, regular, deeply in through his nose and out in gusts from his mouth. A red-tipped cane’s lifted up by his shoulder wobbling swinging missing, poking a can of his headphones, skewing it from his ear, a soaring burst of violins leaking from it. He jerks back to one side, hands and feet stopping suddenly, a sigh from deep within the machine. The woman standing there holding the cane has a floppy black hat pulled low over her yellow hair. “Hanson?” she says. He’s lowering his headphones, settling them about his neck. “You were running backwards,” she says. He steps from the pedals. His hands on his hips he tilts his head to either side, stretching his neck. She’s rooting around the pockets of her rain-colored pea coat with her free hand. “You’re a goddamn fool,” she says.

“You’d know best.”

“Was that – a joke?” Her free hand a fist tugged from a pocket. “You need to signal them better.” Her fist held up between them opens with a turn of the wrist to reveal a little toy car, silver and green. “Go on,” she says, the brim of that black hat lifting. “Take it.” Her cheeks clench twitching milky eyes. “I won’t have it on me anymore. Bad for business.”

He plucks the car from her hand. “Business,” he says.

“This ridiculous misapprehension of Southeast’s, that we’re in cahoots. No one will deal with me, Chariot.”

“He’s apologized for that, Miss Cheney.”

“Not loudly enough.” The brim of that hat dips again to hide her eyes. “Not so anyone who matters might hear.”

“Who’s repeating the slander?” says Roland. “Give me a name. I’ll see to them myself.”

Her mouth twists sourly. “Not a one will deal with me, knight.”

He turns, scoops up a towel from the railing, mops his brow. “And you, naturally, assumed.” He drapes the towel over his shoulder. “Perhaps no one will deal, witch, because no one has anything to deal with.” He moves past her but that cane thwacks against the floor blocking his step. “Well?” he says, looking down at its red tip. “Have I told you something else you should already have known?”

“Maybe no one else is stupid enough to tell me,” says Miss Cheney. She pulls the cane back, sweeps it to tock against the base of the elliptical trainer. “Something is going on,” she says under the brim of that hat. “Someone’s in cahoots.”

“It doesn’t concern me,” says Roland, stepping past.

“No?” Miss Cheney tocks her cane again. “Well, hell,” she says, as he walks away. “I’ll be sure to miss you all, when you’re gone!”

A steep and narrow flight of stairs. High green walls to either side painted over so many times they still seem slickly wet, all edges and corners rounded and soft. Jo on the landing halfway up in her black leather jacket, a limp buff-colored duffel slung from her shoulder, a long narrow cardboard box strapped to the side of it. She’s looking up to the head of the flight, a white hall, dark double doors, a frosted glass fanlight above them lit from within.

“Jo?” says Ysabel, a couple steps below, white boots and parka.

“Looks like he’s in,” says Jo, and she ducks her head and goes on up.

A wide deep room the far end lost in shadows. Mirrors line one wall floor to ceiling. The dark floor’s marked in a dozen spots with Xes of blue masking tape. A little man in a T-shirt and sweatpants, wiry arms and legs at odds with his barrel chest, steps smoothly from one splash of light to the next, the sword in his hand sweeping slowly a gleam from low at his side almost brushing the floor up and around over his head settling arm out gently bent hand supine at eye level pinching the hilt between thumb and forefinger. His other arm back and up for balance ends in a metal hook. Sinking slowly into a long low lunge that hook sweeping back clacking absently as he reaches his full extension. By the half-open door Ysabel behind her Jo watches as he recovers, angling his blade through precise parries to each of the four quarters, his hook lowering, feet coming together, blade upright before his downturned face, a brief salute. “Two weeks,” he says, snapping the blade down, a flick of his wrist, stalking across the room to lay the sword on a rolled-up mat next to a half-dozen others, all of them tipped with blunt black rubber caps.

“Yeah, well,” says Jo, “stuff happened.” Lowering the duffel, the box resting upright before her. “I’ve got the full two hundred bucks for the month, even though, you know. Two weeks.” He turns, stroking his neck under his salt-and-pepper Van Dyke. Looks at her standing there, hands folded together on the top of that box. “We have to find new jobs though,” she says, “so we might need to talk about the schedule, figure out something if it’s not night work, I guess.”

He steps quickly toward them, leaning forward, peering at Jo’s face. “You’ve been in another fight,” he says, and her hand leaps to the yellowing bruise along her temple. “Sort of,” she says.

“With that?” he says. “May I see it?”

Ysabel steps up behind Jo as she opens the flaps of the box and pulls up the sheathed sword by its beaten metal throat the color of thunderclouds. The hilt of it simple and straight, wrapped in dulled wire, quillions clean straight bars almost as long together as the hilt, and over and around them a glittering net of wire meeting in thick worked steel knots all gathered together in a single cord swooping up to the great silvery clout of the pommel.

Vincent lifts his hand, stops, looks up at Jo, his mouth open to ask a question. She nods. He takes the hilt in his hand and with a faintly scraping ring of steel against leather and metal draws the sword up and up and out. Jo holding the plain black scabbard still in one hand, the other holding the box. Ysabel her hand on Jo’s.

He tilts the blade, sweeps it, swings it wide, “Nice,” he says. “Well-balanced. Light, but that’s good, for you. He hasn’t lost his touch.” Hilt up lifting the sword until the tip of it wavers just over Jo’s hand guiding it into the scabbard, slowly sinking it home. “A damn sight better than that ratty épée.”

“Uh,” says Jo, and then all at once, “I lost that sword.”

“Did you,” says Vincent Erne.

“Along with my favorite jacket? I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it was stupid, I left it in the bathroom of a – ”

“That’s a pretty good jacket you’ve got right there,” he says, and then he walks out of the room.

“Shit,” says Jo, and “Mr. Erne?” says Ysabel, as they turn to follow him, Jo scooping up the duffel and the box. “Mr. Erne.” Heading out of the wide deep room down the hall to an office next door where he’s standing by a long table lost under haphazard stacks of books and piles of paper, pouring a slug of sooty whiskey into a coffee mug. A poster on the wall above him says The Loyal Subject. “For the love you bear my mother, Mr. Erne,” says Ysabel, “would you consent to taking up the training of Jo Maguire once again.”

“Bore,” says Vincent, and he takes a drink from the mug.

“Really,” says Ysabel. “The regard, then, in which I’m sure – ”

“For the two hundred bucks a month,” he says. “But at eleven o’clock in the morning. Now get the hell out of – what do you want?”

A confusion of turning in the doorway to the office. In the hallway a woman in navy coveralls and cap, a grey cardigan obscuring the nametag clipped to her breast pocket. Holding a clipboard and a plain white envelope. “Message for the Gallowglas?” she says.

And after a moment Jo says, “Yeah I, uh, who’s it, what?”

“Who’s it from?” says Ysabel.

The woman in the coveralls looks at the envelope, turns it over, looks at the clipboard. “Frank, ah, Frankie Reichart?”

Table of Contents

Mad Money, writer and copyright holder unknown. Symphony no. 6, op. 111 (Second Movement, “allegro scherzando”), written by Howard Hanson, copyright holder unknown.

George’s, it says – Tea & Peppers – something Pretty Special – a Taste –

George’s, it says, in red and yellow letters in a curve across the big front window. Shoes Repaired. A worktable behind a counter’s mounded high with shoes of every shape and color. On a stool before it Frankie in a bulky green fleece pullover, dark hair washed and brushed and tied back, cheeks shadowed with soft black stubble. “Just a, just a second,” he’s saying, a blue and brown running shoe in one hand, a square-toed black Oxford in the other. “Gordon,” he says. “How’s this?” Strings and woodwinds cycle through a somberly repetitive phrase from the clock radio on the worktable by the pile of shoes. The old man in a pale green chamois shirt standing next to him takes the shoes in his hands and looks them over, tilting them this way, that. Nodding. “You’re starting to get the hang of this,” he says. The wall behind the worktable’s lined with wooden shelves partitioned into regular cubbyholes each just large enough for a pair of shoes. Running his hand along a shelf, tap-tapping, stopping to slip both shoes inside an empty slot.

“Okay,” says Frankie, turning back to the counter.

“The hell, Frankie,” says Jo.

“Yeah,” says Frankie, “been a weird few weeks, I guess.”

“Anyone like some tea?” says Gordon. Jo shakes her head without looking away from Frankie, who says, “No, thanks.”

“Something herbal?” says Ysabel, unzipping her parka.

“I’ll put a kettle on,” says Gordon, ducking through a curtained doorway. Two voices high and rich soar from the clock radio, di-ek eni awik kher ka-ek, shesepi su ankhi yemef. “So,” says Frankie, standing, leaning his elbows on the counter. “There’s this guy. He’s coming for you.”

“Who,” says Jo.

“One of the ones who grabbed me that time, for that crazy, thing? At the mall?”

“For the Duke,” says Jo.

“Which of them,” says Ysabel.

“He had,” says Frankie, “long black hair? And,” gesturing toward his face, “a patch now, like a pirate. And he was always wearing, it wasn’t like a kilt, it was like a skirt?”

“The Mooncalfe,” says Ysabel.

“And like he never wears shoes?”

“How did you,” says Jo, and then, “I told you to stay away from this shit.”

“He grabbed me,” says Frankie. “Again. Right out of Timmo’s fucking car. He had a sword.”

“What were you doing in Timmo’s,” Jo starts to say.

“He’s after you. He grabbed me to talk about you. He took me – you know that abandoned Burger King? On Burnside, right downtown? He, I guess he lives there? Anyway.” His hands scrubbing themselves, grimy thumbnail scraping at a patch of grime. “I wasn’t gonna. I mean it was, it couldn’t have been more than a couple of days, but it was more than a week?” Fingertips rubbing an old scrape along his knuckles. “It was weird.” His hands spring apart, clench into fists, one of them beats the countertop. “He had to get you before somebody else could, but when we left it was too late? It had already happened? It was like, after Hallowe’en, and it honestly I swear it was only a couple of days. And I wasn’t gonna tell him a motherfucking thing, but,” and he looks away.

“Frankie,” says Jo.

“I told him about Billy, Jo. That’s what, he liked that. He was gonna, he is gonna come after you somehow with Billy. I’m sorry.”

“He already did,” says Jo.

“I’m so fucking sorry – ” Frankie looks up, blinking. “He already,” he says. “Shit.” Pounding the counter again. “I called,” he says. “I swear I called and called.”

“I got a new phone,” says Jo, as Ysabel says, “She got a new phone.”

“I even called where it was you worked and the guy there, whatsisname, told me you weren’t working there and I told him to tell you how to find me because it was important,” his hands come up, fingers splayed, to weigh that word in the air there between them, “and he said, you know, he’d do what he could, but.” Frankie shrugs, shakes his head, slumps away, looking toward the back of the little shop. “That’s when Gordon said he had people who could get a message to you, any time, anywhere. At least,” and he sits up, and he sighs, “at least I can do this much,” reaching into the pockets of his khaki pants as a stentorous fanfare unfolds itself from the clock radio. He drops with a rustle and a clatter some wadded-up bills, some coins, a couple of quarters, a dime, some pennies. He smoothes out the banknotes, a couple of tens, a five, a couple of ones. “Here,” he says, pushing it across the counter at Jo.

“This is all your money, isn’t it,” she says.

“I’m doing okay now,” he says. “I owe you fifty bucks. Now it’s, now it’s twenty-two and change. Please, Jo. You can take it. I’ll get you the rest.”

She slowly collects the bills, folds them together, scoops the coins off the counter into her hand. “You gonna go home now?” she says, and he shakes his head. “This is like,” he says, “this is like a step up, you know? Over the last few weeks. I got a place to sleep, and shower, I got some clothes, and I’m, I’m working for all this, you know?” Looking back at the mound of shoes on the worktable. “And I’m not seeing Timmo. He can’t get at me here.” Turning back to Jo and Ysabel. “Gordon rolls pretty fucking deep. You wouldn’t know it but I bet it’s almost as deep as you got, these days.”

“Deeper, I’m sure,” says Ysabel, as Jo leans over the counter toward Frankie, who lurches back, then, shaking his head a little leans in toward her. She kisses him, lightly, and then shaking her head when he tries to kiss her back she straightens, steps back from the counter. “Thank you,” she says.

“How did you end up here?” says Ysabel. “The Mooncalfe wouldn’t have left you with a rabbit, I’m sure.”

“He didn’t?” says Frankie. “He, I mean he, traded me. To Linesse? I mean, not to Linesse, to her, like her boss, for, for this – ”

“For Billy,” says Ysabel.

“I guess?” says Frankie. “Yeah.”

“Linesse,” says Ysabel. “You’re sure?”

“Tall woman? Grey hair? She lives in this abandoned car by this abandoned gas station way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere by the airport.” Looking back at the curtained doorway, suddenly quiet, “I guess her and Gordon used to have a thing? Anyway. She left me here.”

“We should go,” says Ysabel to Jo.

“What about your tea?” says Frankie.

“He didn’t go to make tea,” says Ysabel. Jo’s hefting her duffel bag, the narrow box awkward in the little shop. “Sure he did,” says Frankie, as Ysabel’s saying, “He didn’t want to overhear business that doesn’t concern him.”

“Well you don’t have to,” says Frankie, as they turn toward the door, the window with its curve of letters. “You’ll come back, right? Any time. I mean twenty-two bucks, right?”

The bell rings as Jo opens the door. “Keep it,” she says.

A cramped kitchen, the sink and refrigerator and a bit of wood-topped counter beneath a window blank and black, a couple of gleaming ovens set in the wall beside them, a butcher’s block in the middle with a couple of gas burners set in the top. Jessie in a loose white men’s dress shirt and grey yoga pants slices a couple of red peppers into long thin strips, her blond hair pulled back in a knot held by a couple of red chopsticks. On the burner beside her chopped onions simmer in a cast-iron pan. One of the two doors swings open suddenly and a girl all knees and elbows bops into the kitchen to the beat of whatever’s playing through pink headphones printed with a mouthless cartoon cat. Jessie stops slicing the pepper to watch the girl dance around the butcher’s block in her cropped white tank top, her underwear festooned with rainbow-colored ponies. The girl opens the refrigerator, bends over, long straight dark hair swaying, Jessie staring over her shoulder expressionless at those ponies bouncing back and forth. “Son of a bitch,” says the Duke, limping through the other swinging door, “son of a goat-fucking bitch.” Tightening the belt of his striped robe of purples and browns and golds. The girl backs out of the fridge, knocks it shut with her hip, a tall purple and blue can in her hand. Four Loko, it says on the side. She presses up against the Duke, hiking up on her toes to kiss his cheek, takes a deep swig from the can, arm up, vamping and bopping back out the door through which she’d come. “Smells great, babe,” says the Duke.

Jessie starts slicing the pepper again. “Housewives,” she says, “had this trick: they’d take an onion just before their husbands got home from work and chop it and start it frying in some butter or just chuck the whole thing into a hot oven. Let it make the kitchen smell like she’d been cooking all day just for him, not lying around on the chaise eating bon-bons. Then she could tart up some canned tomato soup with a splash of sherry and some chives or something. Some Mrs. Dash. Like he’d know any better.” She scoops up the pepper strips and dumps them into the pan with the onions.

“I got people,” says the Duke, “there are restaurants,” as Jessie’s saying, “I like to cook,” and the Duke shrugs and leaning on the butcher’s block steps close to her, an arm settling about her waist as she stirs peppers and onions together. “So what is it you’re cooking?” he says.

“Chakchouka,” says Jessie. “It’s North African.” She reaches for a big yellow can that says Cento San Marzano.

“I got that thing with Song Wu in about an hour.”

“It’ll be ready in fifteen, twenty minutes,” says Jessie, clamping a can opener on the can. “You’ll eat it in five, tops.” Opening the can with savage twists of the key. “Does she have to stay here?”

“What, who, Lauren?” Stepping back from Jesse. “She can’t go to Seattle, babe. Jasmine’s not about to move here. What am I supposed to do, kick her out to the curb?”

“She could put on some clothes,” says Jessie, slopping tomatoes from the can onto the peppers and onions.

“You’re one to talk,” says the Duke. “Usually.”

“I get paid to do that,” says Jessie. “By you. Is she getting paid?”

“Okay,” says the Duke, “see, I know for a fact that this is deflection, and whatever it is hasn’t got a blasted thing to do with Lauren because the very idea is fucking ludicrous and we both recognize that fact, so maybe you put down the spatula and take a deep breath and tell me what’s the fucking problem.”

Jessie puts the spatula down, picks up a little yellow bottle with an iguana on the label, shakes out droplets of sauce over the tomatoes and peppers and onions. “Get me some eggs,” she says. “Bottom shelf.” And as the Duke turns and opens the fridge she says, “Who fucked the goat this time?”

“What?” he says. “Oh. Roland. The Chariot. Shows up unannounced, picks a fight with Gaveston, bulls his way up here. Has the cheek to demand I tell him everything I know about that attack on the Princess, where it happened, what I know, has the gall, the fucking gall,” shaking his head, “to use the Queen’s name. Comes this close,” holding up forefinger and thumb pinched together, “to accusing me outright of masterminding this thing I nearly popped him for. The Chariot, I wouldn’t call him subtle or sophisticated, not really in the job description, but this, this is taking density to a whole new cake. Jessie. Hey. Jessie.” She’s scooping little pockets in the simmering tomatoes and peppers and cracking an egg into each and she doesn’t look up at the Duke as she does so. “Whatever happens,” he says, “with me and the Gallowglas, I’m gonna be King come the turning of the year. Ysabel’s gonna be Queen. And her and me, you know, we ain’t exactly what you would call compatible. Now, you and me,” and Jessie looks up at that, the last egg uncracked in her hand, “you and me, we’ve got something, ups and downs, it’s, I think it’s pretty special.” She turns away, cracks open that last egg, lets it drop in the pan. “Maybe right now you’re in a place, you’d rather be with a girl than a guy, which is fine, I can definitely appreciate that, and nothing’s different because of that. Not a thing has to change. Whatever happens, the next month or so, the Princess likes you. A lot. She’s still gonna like you when she’s Queen.”

Jessie’s picked up a pot lid and now she looks at the Duke and, shaking her head slowly, blowing out a fluttery little laugh, she says, “Take my wife. Please.”

He turns away, rubbing his forehead. “I’m just saying,” he says. “Play your cards right.”

“There are no goddamn cards, Leo,” she says. “That’s the problem. Nobody else is playing.” She twists a knob, lowering the flame. “They have to poach for like ten minutes. Go put on a shirt or whatever it is you’re gonna do for Wu Song.”

“The Five-Oh?” says Gloria. “With the beef.”

“She’ll have the vegetable patty,” says Orlando.

“The hell I will,” says Gloria. “Five-Oh. Beef.”

“That is disgusting.”

“I’ll let you buy me dinner,” she says, “but you can’t tell me what I’m gonna eat.”

“She’ll have the vegetable patty,” says Orlando. He tugs a napkin from the neat stack under a burger-shaped paperweight. “I will also have the vegetable patty.”

“Sir,” says the burly guy behind the counter, his hairy forearms dark with blurred tattoos. “She doesn’t want it. I’m not about to make for her a burger she doesn’t want.”

“Besides, those things are totally foul,” says Gloria to Orlando. “Genetically modified industrial soy paste that’s been soaked in additives and preservatives.” He’s folding the napkin and again, closing it between palms pressed together. “Place like this,” she says, “the beef’s a much better choice.”

“Grass-fed, hormone-free,” says the burly guy. “We source it ourselves and hand-form the patties. What’ll it be?”

Orlando twists one hand against the other and holds up a crisply folded twenty. “I will have the totally foul vegetable patty. She will have,” and he sighs, and hands the bill to the burly guy, “whatever she wants.”

“Just a veggie burger? You want anything else on that?”

Orlando says, “Ketchup,” then, “Keep it,” as the burly guy starts to make change.

“I totally get the thing? The vegetarian thing?” says Gloria as they step back from the food cart, white-wrapped sandwiches in hand. Dead leaves crunch on the brick sidewalk beneath her thick-soled black boots, his bare feet. A line of food carts cheek by jowl down the block in the wanly dying afternoon light, and little knots of people here and there peering at signs and menu boards that say Sabria’s Arabic and Philly Cheesesteaks, La Jarochita, Bulkogi Fusion and Smokin’ Pig, Real Taste of India. People sitting on benches here and there, waiting for food, poking at clear plastic boxes and cardboard boxes with white plastic forks, peeling foil from wraps and slices of pizza. Orlando in his long blue skirt and a shapeless grey jacket sits abruptly on one of the benches by a sandwich board that says Dabtong Thupka, and a heavyset man in a tweed jacket stands suddenly at the other end of the bench, a paper cup of soup in one hand, chopsticks in the other, and shaking his head walks quickly away. “I was a vegetarian sophomore year,” says Gloria, sitting herself next to Orlando. “Vegan, actually, mostly. Except I could never stand soy milk, in my coffee?” Her hair done up in its two great hanks again over either shoulder, her lips once more painted carefully black, a long black coat with clear glass buttons over her black high-waisted gown. “I gained like ten pounds? Which, and I started reading about factory farming, and processed food, and exactly what is in those things,” pointing to his burger. Her hands in those black and white striped arm socks. “So even though I mean the guy had like a heart attack, or something, I have always,” and looking at her own burger she chews her lip around a laugh, “been about the excess, so I went total Atkins? Meat only, and lettuce sandwiches, and I lost like five pounds?” She takes a big bite. “But I missed bread,” she says, and swallows. “I missed the carbonara which, my dad makes it, with pancetta from the City Market? Up on Twenty-first?” She looks up then, at the lights coming on in the food carts, work lamps and heat lamps and strings of Christmas lights, at the deepening shadows blue and purple from the buildings that tower behind them. “It’s really Friday, isn’t it,” she says. “I was gone. I was gone from the world for two whole days, just – ” She shakes her head. She takes another bite of her burger.

“That is disgusting,” says Orlando.

“This?” says Gloria.

“Blood, and death.”

“Have a taste,” she says, holding her hand up, fingertips smeared and shining. He draws back. “I’ve tasted blood,” he says.

“It isn’t blood,” she says. “You vampire. It’s pineapple juice and teriyaki sauce and meat juice and it’s very, very good. Okay.” Another big tearing bite of burger, chewing, swallowing, smacking her lips. Leaning close. “A taste.” And she kisses him, and shuddering he opens his mouth on hers and his hands come up to her shoulders and hold there for a moment as he kisses her back before suddenly pushing them both apart. He stands abruptly. Without looking he arcs his wadded white wrapper into the garbage can on the other side of the bench. “Come,” he says, taking her free hand.

“What,” she says, “where are we,” as he pulls her to her feet, “going?”

“The future,” he says.

Table of Contents

Act 2 Scene 2: Akhnaten and Nefertiti,” written by Philip Glass, copyright holder unknown. Not Dying Today,” written by Tori Amos, copyright holder unknown. Hamburgers provided by Brunch Box, quenching PDX’s thirst for burgers since 2009.

an Apple, peeled and cored – Talking Shop – thwarting Mr. Sogge – the Rose Garden –

An apple peeled and cored and split into wedges on a plain white paper plate, the peel of it in one long ragged strand looped on the rug. A fat red candle slumped in on itself on another paper plate, guttering in a pool of melted wax. A black and silver matchbox that says Boxxes in angular slashes of letters about a stylized eye. Olive pits with bits of flesh still clinging, two cheese rinds black and pale red wax, a torn heel of crusty bread. Dregs of dark red wine in a couple of juice glasses, one printed with a cartoon bear in a spacesuit, one a frog in Lincoln scarlet, holding a bow. Over the scratchy hiss of needle on vinyl from some hidden corner a chorus of woodwinds lofts hauntingly simple notes atop gently giguing strings. By the candle a threadbare little rabbit on a leash of string noses a couple of empty yellowed gel caps. “An O?” says the woman sitting on the rug. She scoops the rabbit into her crazy-quilted lap, skirts lapping skirts in wool and watered silk and taffeta and corduroy, her legs in mismatched socks splayed among the paper plates and crumbs. “None for you, Jasper,” she says. Sitting back against a baroquely plump sofa, her hair rustling, her hair loose about her shoulders, tumbling in coils and curls down over her grubby orange rain shell, her hair pooling in slippery hanks along the rug and the bare floor. The woman curled in a corner of the sofa behind her says, “Q,” as she takes up handfuls of that hair in rhythmic, rolling strokes, and little puffs of light spark and eddy to settle again. She wears a baggy sweater the color of flour, and on the sofa beside her a floppy black hat beside a confetti-colored patchwork cap.

“Q?” The woman on the floor leans forward, tugging her hair free in a tumble of light. “There’s no little thingie.” Peering at the loop of apple peel. “Is that a descender? The little thingie?”

“O for whom?” says the woman on the sofa. “Oubliette? Outlaw?”

“Out of Outlaw.” The woman on the floor settles back against the sofa.

“But there is a Queen.” The woman on the sofa starts stroking that hair again. If her milky eyes are looking at anything, it’s the counter at the other end of the long and narrow room, the dim lamp, the beads of oil trickling regularly down the threaded curtain hanging from its shade.

“It might be a Q,” says the woman on the floor. “If everything’s otherwhich.”

“Isn’t it?” says the woman on the sofa. “Honey’s gone sour, sugar’s all but gone.”

“Don’t,” says the woman on the floor, shivering, heels kicking. “Say things like that. We’re not supposed to look at things like that.”

“What you mean we, kemo sabe,” says the woman on the sofa. She plunges her hands more deeply in that hair, and clouds of sparks light her dour moue. “It’s affecting business, yours and mine. Let’s see what can be seen. We don’t have to tell.” Up to the elbows in all that hair. The woman sitting on the floor begins to moan, her eyelids fluttering, rocking with the strokes, and her hands shape something in the air. “The dark,” she croons, “the dark of the year…”

“I’m not a rube,” mutters the woman on the sofa. Then as the moaning redoubles she pulls the woman on the floor closer. “But maybe you are?”

“Oak to oak and never a fig of holly,” says the woman on the floor, gasping, opening her eyes. “A summer and a summer,” she says flatly, “the glory and the fall. Hats.”

“That doesn’t make any,” says the woman on the sofa as rabbit spilling scrabbling from her lap the woman on the floor lurches for the confetti-colored cap. “Hats!” she says.

The sound of a gong as Orlando pushes the door open, holding it for Gloria in her long black coat twisting and turning to look at all the junk piled high in the foyer. “This way,” he says, leading her through the pinched doorway to the long and narrow room beyond, lit by a candle and a lamp and what light’s left to seep through tall and dusty windows. Two women side by side on a baroquely plump sofa under a gaudy tapestry, a dancer in veils and spangles who holds aloft a platter laden with a bearded head. “Your pardon, Ulyssa,” says Orlando. “We can come back.”

“No, no,” says the woman in the floppy black hat. “Just a little shop-talk. What can we, ah,” as the other woman in her confetti-colored cap leaps to her feet kicking over one of the juice glasses with a clink. “O for Orlando!” she cries, skipping over the rug past Gloria to circle about him, her hands over her mouth. “Oh of course of course of course of course of course!”

“You’ve met the Thrummy-cap,” says the woman on the sofa.

“You clear the path! You set the stage!”

“You have a question?” says the woman on the sofa, her smile a wry small thing under that floppy brim. “Ask her. She’s in a generous mood.”

“Gloria,” says Orlando, as the Thrummy-cap bounces before him, clapping her hands, looking from him to Gloria not quite saying something. “What,” says Orlando, “becomes of us, if she stays?”

The Thrummy-cap stops dead, hands clasped.

“Oh,” says Miss Cheney on the sofa.

“Such,” says the Thrummy-cap, “happiness,” a sprig of hair escaped from her cap and coiled along her cheek. “Such joy. Three days or a day, it’s hard to say, but then!” Stepping suddenly from him to her, gripping Gloria’s coat, the scarecrow colors of her skirts and cap stark against the sleek black bulk of it. “A best last night indeed,” she says, and “Get back!” shrieks Gloria, “you little,” pushing her away.

“And there’s the holly!” cries the Thrummy-cap. “Sprung where it’s not wanted to strangle the oak a-borning, and then it’s snow in every April ever after.”

“If,” says Orlando, “she stays.” His voice a husk.

“I’m right here,” says Gloria as the Thrummy-cap cocks her head, cap shifting with a slithery weight. “Don’t worry,” she says to Orlando, then turning to Miss Cheney, “don’t. My sweetie’s getting lunch today. It’s his turn! I forgot I set it all up weeks ago. It’s going to be okay!”

The city, spread over a table that dominates the conference room. A broad curl of blue river painted along one side, a little white boat between white foam core bridges. Blank white buildings jumble the bank of it, a tall cluster down at one end, lowering toward the middle, a low tower higher than the rest at the other end. A man half-bent over it, a thick shock of unruly white hair, a white sack suit and a shining white shirt and a wide white knit tie. He looks up as the glass door to the conference room swings shut, and his face is quite young under all that hair. The man by the door is short and thick, a scruff of grey beard about his chin, his white hair cropped close about the back of his head. A dark windowpane jacket over a heathery hoodie that says Oregon Ducks in green and yellow letters. “Rosie says I ought to talk to you,” he says.

“I have a proposition for you, Mr. Sogge,” says the man in the white suit.

“You’re gonna proposition me, call me Rudy. You work for Pinabel.” He stays there, by the door, and the man in the white suit folds his arms and says, “I’ve consulted for him, yes. But I’m not here in that capacity today. You don’t like to share, do you, Rudy.”

Rudy puts a hand on the back of one of the big brown leather chairs, wheels it away from the table. “Let’s assume,” he says as he sits, “I’m not gonna answer any rhetorical questions, so how about cutting them and any dramatic pauses and other bits of theatrical business out of the presentation, okay?” Closing his eyes.

“I-Óisqis and Iô’i,” says the man in the white suit. “Pah-to and Wy’east, La-wa-la-clough, the Loowit. Tanmahawis. You have no idea who they were, of course not, why would you. They were murdered long before your parents were born, before your great-grandfather ever thought to plat out Hoffmann’s Addition. These people were – gods is not too strong a word, I trust? The very mountains about us, the rivers, the salmon and the trees, who were yet people, that you might speak with as easily as I might speak with you.” Rudy snorts at that, his eyes still closed. The man in the white suit nods. “Oh, the names live on – there’s pizza parlors and blues bands named for some dim echo of one or the other of them. You might even speak with them yet, though their voices are quite dim now, hard to hear, and the effort requires years of study, and ruinous quantities of bourbon and pot.” Rudy his eyes still closed begins to frown at that. “A vacuum was left, is the important point, the takeaway, as I believe you put it. And nature abhors a vacuum.” The man in the white suit turns then, looking out over the city on the table. “She’s been abhorring this vacuum with a vengeance for decades, now. Half this state’s from somewhere else? Three-quarters of this city? And somewhere else is very, very wide. You’re thwarted, Mr. Sogge.”

Rudy opens his eyes at that.

“Your disastrous partnership with Pinabel in Southwest. The way he’s dragged his feet on that charming ærial tram,” gesturing toward a pylon at one end of the city, in the cluster of white towers there by the river. “The Perrys, in Northwest, preventing the destruction of the Lovejoy Ramp, stalling the Brewery Blocks,” gesturing toward high-rise blocks by one of the bridges at the other end of the table. “The Urban Restoration Squad, and Michael Lake, though of course you won’t remember him. The Fox Tower,” touching a high white block in the middle of downtown, and Rudy says, “That isn’t mine.”

“No,” says the man in the white suit, “but you’d still see the benefit if more than half its square footage were leased. Here, across this park that might yet one day be finished, your Park Avenue West,” and he lifts the next tower, a tall slim thing, entirely from the table, “have you done more yet than dig the basement? No?” He tosses the block to Rudy, who catches it deftly. “For more than a year. These impediments have all of them one thing in common: a person, a singular individual. A girl. In a few weeks I shall remove her from these various considerations.”

“Remove,” says Rudy. “You mean, you’re talking about – ”

“Is that a deal-breaker?”

Rudy’s looking down at the blank white tower in his hands. He pushes himself out of the chair, leans over the city, carefully slots the tower back into place.

“There will then be a vacuum,” says the man in the white suit. “It will be abhorred. That abhorrence, Mr. Sogge, is something you might be positioned to capitalize upon.”

“Thought I told you to call me Rudy.”

The man in the white suit shrugs. “I feel it’s best we keep our relationship strictly professional, for now.”

Rudy says, “Okay then.” Leaning both hands on the river. “What is it you want.”

“I? Illimitable power, of course. Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.” He reaches into his white suit coat and pulls out a mirror-bright lighter and a clear cellophane packet wrapped about cigarettes in plain white paper. “Immortality, there’s a no-brainer. But at the moment? At the moment, Mr. Sogge, I’m dying for a smoke.”

“Knock yourself out,” says Rudy.

“So that was a completely wasted day,” says Jo swaying, one hand hanging from the strap above, one holding tightly the duffel down by her feet, the narrow box awkward in the crowd. Ysabel pressed close, holding the same strap. “You made your peace with Erne,” she says.

“Only cost two hundred bucks,” says Jo.

“We now know who,” says Ysabel.

“And I have no idea what the fuck to do with that. The Mooncalfe?”

“I feel as if I’ve won a bet.” Ysabel swallows and closing her eyes lays her forehead against Jo’s shoulder. “I think I now see what it is you see in him,” she says.

“Him which?” says Jo. “You mean Frankie?”

Ysabel nods. “He’d be the Duke, if he could.”

“That,” says Jo, “that is so wrong I don’t know where to, I mean, that isn’t even wrong. Shit.” Something buzzes. Letting go of the duffel, leaning away from Ysabel swaying she pulls a glassy black phone from her jacket, stroking its surface with a thumb. “It’s that girl, with the place off Glisan? We could, we could probably catch a bus directly from the next stop – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, wincing, clutching.

“Hey,” says Jo, tucking the phone away. “Hey.” A hand on Ysabel’s shoulder, Ysabel’s arm clung about her waist. “It’s just one more errand. We’ve got to find a new place. Hey.” Ysabel eyes squeezed shut lowers her head, pressing against Jo. “You’re tired,” says Jo, “we’re both – ”

“I need,” says Ysabel thickly, “fresh air, I need to get off – ”

“Yeah, okay,” says Jo, “okay.”

“Rose Garden,” says a loud recorded voice, and all about them people stirring, collecting bags and packages, resettling coats and scarves, hats, nudging each other, looking out the dark windows. “Doors to my left. Puertas a mi izquierda.”

A wide plaza brightly lit, a tangle of intersections, streets and rail lines, crosswalks, stoplights, off up a low rise that way past a scruff of immature trees the immensely spot-lit bulk of a coliseum and under its pointed curl of a roof a sign that says Rose Garden. There a low freeway overpass, the lights of trucks and cars at standstills yearning north and south, another MAX train at the stop under the overpass, a line of busses idling each with the same Cricket wireless minutes ad on the side. Across the street behind them a wall of silos lights flaring from the tops an enormous billboard plastered along it, hands in black and white reaching up and up, Rise with us, it says, Portland Trailblazers. Away behind that the unlit towers of a bridge over the river, looming against the red-black sky. Crowds flowing from the one MAX stop to the other, heading up along sidewalks to the coliseum, over that way to the busses, waiting at the corners here and there to cross this street or that. “Fresh air,” says Jo. “You want to wait here? Not that there’s anywhere here to hang out or anything. Walk home, over the Steel Bridge? How’s your – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, pointing.

Looking back toward the other train small figures of people getting on and off it, the small figure of a man there among them, silver piping on his green tracksuit flashing in the streetlight under the overpass, bulbous headphones blue and white clamped over his white-blond hair. “I thought he wasn’t,” Jo starts to say.

“We have to go,” says Ysabel, and a bell rings, and with a rising, grinding hum the train beside them pulls away, clank-chunking over a rail junction. “Now. Please, Jo. Before he sees me.”

“What’s he doing here,” says Jo, looking back over her shoulder as she takes Ysabel’s hand. Away across the plaza Roland’s looking along his train, the platform, the crowds about him. “We could head down the other end, out of sight. Wait for the next train there.”

“Which is when?” says Ysabel, and then as Jo’s saying, “Ten? Fifteen minutes?” she says “We have to go,” and over away across the plaza Roland’s turning, heading toward them, but looking back, of to one side, at the line of busses.

“What the hell’s he,” Jo’s saying, and Ysabel’s saying, “I don’t want to talk to him right now,” and “Okay, yeah, okay,” says Jo, and hand in hand they’re headed for the crosswalk as the light changes. Ysabel starts across the street in and among the other with Jo dragged in her wake looking back and back, Roland, there’s Roland, away from the busses now, the crowds, the lights, on the grass that slopes dimly up toward the coliseum. “The hell’s he doing?” she mutters, slowing there in the middle of the street. “Jo!” cries Ysabel, pulling.

Roland looks up.

“Shit,” says Jo, half-laughing as they half-run the rest of the way across the street, the walk don’t walk sign counting down in orange numerals five, four, three, two. “Did he, did he see us,” says Ysabel on the corner as traffic grunts and snorts into motion behind them.

“I don’t know?” says Jo. “I can’t see him anymore. He didn’t wave or anything. What’s he – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel.

“Eastside,” says Jo. “The Lloyd Center. That’s where he was, shit. That night.”

“Jo, please,” says Ysabel.

“This is where that train finally stopped. Remember?” Jo points back to the MAX stop they’d left across the street. “That’s what he’s, why? Why would he, what’s he after?”

“I don’t care,” says Ysabel. “Let’s just. Go. Please.”

They set off across the next street as the numerals count down, four, three, two, one. Blocky yellow construction equipment behind a chain-link fence, a long banner hung there saying East Side Big Pipe – Working for Clean Rivers. The rush and roar of traffic beside them, the rumbling idle from the freeway overpass. Up a low rise and around a curve away from the coliseum, traffic thinning, a flock of bicycles clattering through the next intersection. The corner beyond a park, the ground sloping to a screen of trees and beyond the towers and lights of downtown, over across the river, and there before them the looming black shapes of trusses and girders and cables, red lights flashing from the tops of its towers. “We can lose him on the Esplanade,” says Jo, and hand in hand they cross the street and head into the park down one of the paths that loop away from the sidewalk toward the trees.

As they pass from sight, up and around the curve past that banner hung from the chain-link fence comes Roland at an easy lope, headphones down about his neck.

Table of Contents

Symphony in E minor, op. 32, “The Gælic Symphony” (Second Movement, “alla siciliana allegro vivace”), written by Amy Beach, copyright holder unknown.

a Long and Narrow flight of Stairs – the Duel on the Bridge – One of her Many Names – If –

A long and narrow flight of stairs angles down from the grey pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks. A wide path heads off away along the riverbank, a branch of it there floating on pontoons, the snarling lanes of stalled traffic on the freeway overpass alongside it and above. Another path heads down to the dark bulk of the bridge, the bottom deck of it low over the water, railroad tracks and a footpath under an upper deck busy with cars, busses, a truck, a MAX train rumbling away toward the towers of downtown, lit up against the red-black sky. “Where do we,” says Ysabel, “Jo, how do we,” as they turn about at the base of those stairs. “How are we going to lose him?”

“I don’t know?” says Jo, shrugging the duffel back up on her shoulder. “I thought there’d be more people. There’s usually more people. If we,” pointing, “just head over the bridge – ”

“He’d see us,” says Ysabel wincing, an arm about her belly. “All the way across he could see – ”

“Are you okay?” says Jo, and Ysabel shakes her head quickly, and “What is it?” says Jo, and Ysabel shakes her head again. Jo takes her free hand. “It’s the most direct way home. You want to go back up and catch a bus or a train? It’d be no better,” pointing down the riverbank, “he could see us all the way along there, too, unless you want to squat under those bushes and hope he doesn’t come down looking. Hell, maybe he’s just on his way to Mississippi or something – ”

“Princess!” cries Roland at the top of that flight of stairs, silver piping shining in the dusky streetlight.

“Well, hell,” says Jo, as Ysabel tugging her hand heads for the bridge.

“Princess!” He’s taking those stairs two at a time.

“The hell,” says Jo, “are we running,” and a metal plate on the bridge’s footpath rings under their feet. “Please,” says Ysabel.

“Wait!” cries Roland, halfway down that long and angled flight. “Lady, wait!” At the bottom of those stairs. “We must speak!” Clanging over the metal plate, beating a tattoo against the brick-paved footpath. Jo looks quickly back to see Roland running from splash of light to splash of light the flare in his hand shining in the shadows and “Shit,” she says, letting go, turning, clawing the duffel from her shoulder, dropping to one knee, “Ysabel, run!” The box thumping and clattering as she fumbles at its flaps.

“No!” cries Roland, feet scraping to a stop, left foot forward in its spotlessly white outlandishly puffy shoe, left hand empty, the sword in his right hand held behind, pointed low, at the bricks. “I mean you no harm.”

“The hell with the sword, then,” says Jo, kneeling, her own blade still in its scabbard half out of the box. Ysabel behind her, leaning against gripping the railing low over the water.

“Draw, Gallowglas,” says Roland, gently. His legs bent just, a ready stance, under the low-hanging light. “We cross steel once, a single exchange, and then, unharmed, you lower your arm and walk away, your honor satisfied. I would take the office, and the Princess, from your hands.”

“You’re mad,” snaps Ysabel, before Jo can say anything at all.

“I would merely accept the offer she made before the court,” says Roland. “My own honor is as nothing to the danger facing you, Princess. Facing us all. I have been to see the Duke. He,” and Roland’s left hand squeezes into a fist, “he sent the monsters after you, that night, on the train. He means to frighten you, to drive you from any other solace, to bind the Bride more tightly to him, trusting only him – ”

“You have proof?” says Ysabel, clear and cold.

His fist relaxes, his hand opening, closing again. “I would prove the merits of my quarrel with my body and my own right hand, lady. But say the word.”

“So you have no proof,” says Ysabel.

“You are in grave danger, Princess. You must return with me to your mother’s house. Should the Duke discover what’s been done to you,” and he’s straightened from his stance now, sword held loosely at his side, and kneeling still between them Jo looks from Roland back to Ysabel, who’s let go of the railing, who’s folded her arms tightly about herself, whose white parka’s gone yellow-pink in the bridgelight, who says, her voice flatly quiet, “What has been done to me, Chariot.”

“The, the line, lady,” he says. “The line’s been broken, in you. We broke it, that night, to save you from yourself.” Breathing heavily as he says it, swallowing when it’s done, and that and the lapping of the water are the only sounds about them. Nothing from the deck of the bridge above. Not a growl or rumble from the lights of the empty freeway behind him. “If he learns that you can never be Queen – ”

“You are mad,” says Ysabel, each word a shard. Jo shoves the box from her sword still in its scabbard and stands, slowly, between them.

“Lady,” he says, and then, “Ysabel,” and she flinches at that. “It’s over,” he says. “There’s been no Apportionment, not since the, since before the Samani.”

“That is my mother’s problem, and none of mine,” says Ysabel, “and you forget yourself, Chariot.”

“Come with me, please,” says Roland, quietly. Holding out his empty hand. “Don’t you see? It’s over, it’s all over. You’re free. Just as you always – you could, you and I could go together – ”

“I could what?” says Ysabel, and his mouth snaps shut at that. “You and I could what, knight? Grow old? Together? In a flower-draped cottage somewhere, no doubt, North Portland, maybe.” Her arms still clutched about herself, her voice tight and quiet and low. “But those low, low monthly payments – how would we afford them? If it’s all over, and our offices and titles gone, their prerogatives with them, all of it down to dust. Would you dig ditches, for so small a life? Would you sell, insurance? Or annuities? Would you go every day to sit at a computer for hours at a stretch, and speak with strangers on a telephone? You idiot,” snaps Ysabel, one hand leaping to grab the railing, and Jo her free hand starts to reach for her but stops. “In the few short weeks this mortal girl has been my champion she has,” clinging to the railing Ysabel looks now from Roland, his expression dumbstruck, to Jo, who’s blinking, shivering, whose hand about the throat of her scabbard’s steady and white-knuckled, “she has worked such wonders as you’d never dare. She brought me the tongue of Erymathos and you will hear me out,” and Roland does not take that step toward her, does not say what he’d been about to say, looks away from her, looks down at the bricks, his sword useless at his side. “She brought that monster’s tongue to me,” says Ysabel, “and I ate it, and saw what’s yet to come. I saw my banner over this city, Chariot. I saw myself in my mother’s house, my house, and I saw my Gallowglas by my side. Tell me, then, oh prognosticator, oh chopper of logic, how all this might yet come to pass, if I cannot be Queen?”

Water laps beneath them. A buzzing whine, faint, from the bulb of the lamp over Roland’s head, his head that shakes, slowly. He says, “I do not know, my lady.” Looking up then. “But even I can see you are not well. Come with me, please – both of you! Come, with me, to your mother’s house. Let’s all make sure we know what’s happened to you. Or, or not.”

Ysabel straightens, lets go of herself. Lets go of the railing. “No,” she says. “No, we will both go home, to what is our house for now, and you, you will, go back, to skulking in the shadows. Go wait for someone else to notice how helpful you might be.”

“Lady,” he says, the word bent beneath a terrible weight.

Ysabel turns away from him and carefully walks away down the footpath. Jo stoops, her sword still in one hand, and begins to gather up the duffel and the box. She stops when the point of Roland’s sword presses against the bag before her, then lifts, slowly, toward her face. She lets go of the bag and stands, slowly, and his sword follows her up. “Princess,” he says. “I can still defeat your champion. Take up the keeping of you, once again.”

“You might try,” says Ysabel. “You’ll lose. I’ve seen it.”

“Do you think I’ll lose?” says Roland to Jo. “A month with even the notorious Erne is hardly enough to make you a creditable swordsman.”

Jo spares a glance over her shoulder for Ysabel in the shadows, then takes the hilt of her sword in her hand. Steps back, and back again. “All right,” says Roland, “a single pass, as I proposed,” as she yanks the scabbard from her blade and settles in a stance sidelong to him, the scabbard in her left hand held behind, her blade up and at an angle before. His left hand tucked against his chest leaning back just, his sword arm canted up the blade angled down a little and a little to the left and sliding his foot forward kicking the duffel to one side his sword-tip lazily swinging toward her when he flicks his wrist and it leaps up and over her blade a looping cut she catches with a jerk of a parry, clang. “There,” he says, and steps back, lowering his blade. “Put up.” Shaking out his left hand. “You’ve fought for her, and we can both agree I’ve won. Honor’s satisfied.” And then, “Gallowglas.”

Jo’s blade’s still there between them, up, and at an angle.

“I would not hurt you, Jo Maguire,” says Roland.

“You’re gonna have to,” says Jo. Her hand settling and resettling itself about the hilt.

“You can’t win,” says Roland. Lifting his sword somewhat. “Put up your blade.”

“If you were in my shoes,” says Jo, and she takes a deep breath, “would you?”

And behind her, in the darkness, leaning against the railing over the water, Ysabel is smiling.

Rattle and clack of cassette tapes in a shoebox. He holds one up, clear shell, black label, white scribble of handwriting. He kicks his wheeled office chair down the length of the table lost under haphazard stacks of books and piles of paper. Down by the painted-over window under a poster that says The White Divel, or, Vittoria Corombona, a Lady of Venice, he shoves a teetering stack away from a dusty black tape deck. Punching the eject button with the back of his hook he slots the cassette and twists a couple of large silver knobs. Punches play. Twiddles one of the knobs as big round rubbery bass notes tumble through the room, fluttering and thumping about. Sits back a moment, leans forward and twists another knob as those bass notes stumble into a quick-paced, strutting vamp. Pushes himself to the middle of that table where he works the cork from a bottle of sooty whiskey and pours a healthy dollop and then another into a coffee cup. Sits back in the chair as a tambourine begins to shake. A cymbal shimmies and off in the distance a trombone’s blowing a sinister fanfare and he closes his eyes, the coffee cup swaying in his hand to the beat. As more horns join in his eyes still closed he lifts the mug, swirling the whiskey, and then his hand jerks to a stop short of his lips.

“That’s the point,” he says, and pulls the cup toward himself, lifts it, takes a small brief sip. “Well if I thought we were gonna have an actual conversation and all I might just turn it down.” He sets the cup on the table. There’s a piano ringing in among the horns now, and the bass vamp has settled down with the drums. “Why!” he says, and then, “Why did you come all this way? What could you possibly have to say to me? It isn’t enough you send your daughter to me every – every fucking day, with her ridiculous girlfriend –

“Don’t, don’t give me that sister-daughter crap. Sister-self, goddammit! She is every inch as much yours as – ”

He stands, suddenly, the chair rolling back a little away from him. “Why did you,” he says thickly, leaning his hand against the table, “what the fuck did you, what do we possibly have to say to each other about that! Why are you even – ” His head droops, shoulders sag. “About him,” he says, quietly. His hand closes about the cup. He looks at his shoulder, then up a little, past it, a ghost of a smile framed in his salt-and-pepper Van Dyke. He frowns, a little. “Our?” he says, and then he nods, looks back to the table. “Oh. Ha. She – ” looking at the cup in his hand, “is every gesture, every curl of hair, every sniff and smirk, she’s you, she’s very much you. On the night we first met.”

His chair rolls aside though he does not touch it. “You’ve grown into your beauty,” he says. A smoothing ripples the wrinkles down the back of his T-shirt, wrinkles that are suddenly pressed flat as he leans forward against the table and takes in a sharp deep breath. “Don’t,” he says, “Duenna, please. No.

“Well of course I’m thinking of him. Christ, I, every day, you have no idea.” His hook clacks. “I miss him, so much –

“Do I. Well. I am a selfish man.”

He lets go of the cup, pinches the corners of his eyes, wipes them with the heel of his hand. Steps back suddenly, to the side, a stack of papers tumbling in his wake. “Lymond,” he says, his voice worn thin and pale under the tumult of the horns and the bass and the drums. Blinking. “He means to try for the Throne,” and then his head snaps to one side and he lifts his hand to his cheek. “I’m going to ask you to leave if you –

“Well he picked a lousy fucking time – Unsettled? There’ll be war in the streets, the Count, the Duke, and the Bride out in the open with only a thoughtless slip of a –

“Duenna, she’s terrible. And you, you’ve gone and given her a sword. How could you – Duenna – Duenna?” Shivering, tipping his head back, eyes squeezed shut. A deep breath. He sways a moment, raggedly, not at all with the music, and then he lifts the cup.

“The King is dead,” says Vincent Erne. “Long live the King.” And he drinks the whiskey down.

“I know this building,” says Orlando.

They’re standing before a big pale yellow house that comes right up to the sidewalk. Red double doors in the middle of a skinny porch, great bays to either side rising to erratic clusters of gables and dormers dotting the steep black roof, the dark green trim gone black as well in the dim light. “It’s named for some old judge,” says Gloria. “With enormous muttonchops.” Her hands in their black and white striped arm socks fluffing to either side of her face. “There’s a picture in the lobby. But it used to be called the Lawn.”

Orlando nods at that, looking up at the windows above, some lit, some blank and black.

“Dad was, like, the third person to buy in, when it went condo? Been there for about, ten years. But it used to have, like twenty, thirty rooms for rent? And only two bathrooms. So it was hella cheap. Poets, and painters, and whole rock bands, and the Satyricon after-party like every other night, and when we moved in Dad told me that my closet? A junkie used to live there. And I had no idea what a junkie was. I kept imagining this monster, made of rusted pipes and old car parts, and a toilet bowl for a mouth. Scared the hell right out of me.” She grabs his hand then, both his hands, and pulls him close, and he leans his forehead down against hers as she swallows him in a hug. “Stay,” she says. He shakes his head. She kisses him, her arms about his neck, then her hands cupping the back of his head, kissing fiercely, both of them, his hands cupping her hips, her ass. “I can’t,” he says against her lips.

“Come upstairs. Now. Don’t think about it. Just follow me.”

“What would you tell your father.”

She laughs a sniffly little laugh. “Are you kidding? He’d give you a fucking medal. I’m fat and I dress funny and I never come home. I bring home a boy? Suddenly it’s like a problem he can deal with. You know?” Stroking his hair. “Though you are the strangest thing I think I’ve ever called a boy. Stay. Stay with me. You can live in my closet. My junkie lover.” She laughs. She’s crying. “My junk. They said,” she says, “they said I’d die if I stayed with you. That was what you asked. So stay with me instead.”

“You can’t,” he says, “have one, without the other.” Taking a step back, leaning back, until she grips his head again, pulls him close. “So fuck it,” she says. “Fuck it. You can’t, ethically you can’t force me to save my own life. If I want to, if I want to die, it’s my life. I can, I get to decide, whether it’s worth saving or not.”

“I can kill you now, if you like,” says Orlando.

She crumbles against him then, the whole of her sagging, staggering him back another step. “I want,” she says, a whisper in his ear, “what I want’s three days or just a day of what it was we did.”

He kisses her, gently, and then he says, “It’s not just you. If I stay, if you stay, if we are together, something happens to – everyone I know.”

“Snow in April,” she sniffs. “Christ, it barely snows in January.”

“If,” he says. “If, if, if. I never met a vision of the future but was couched with an if.” He wipes a tear from her cheek with the back of his hand. “Blast,” he says, “and rot all ifs. I will see you again.”

“Give me your hand,” she says.

“Where did you get that knife,” he says.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me. Give me your hand.” The blade of the knife is short and black as ash except the moon-bright edge of it, and the wood-grained handle’s stained with reds and yellows and purples. He opens his right hand there between them, and she lays the edge of the blade against his palm but before she can cut or even take a breath he snaps his fingers closed about it and hissing jerks his hand away down its length. His face creased with the pain of it he opens his fist there by her cheek, her lips, the long clean slash through the meat of his palm slowly weeping thick tears of yellow and white. She kisses his hand, and he hisses again as she licks it, once, pressing his hand to her cheek as he strokes her jangling hair. Then he pushes her away.

“I lied,” she says, as he walks away across the street. “My name. My name isn’t Gloria Monday.”

“But I know where you live,” he calls back to her.

He walks past a parking lot taking up a whole block behind a low stone wall, around the corner and down under big green highway signs that say 405, 26, Right Lane. Past Italianate townhouses, a great red brick apartment building, a low yellow building painted with cheerfully stylized flowers and a sign that says Antiquities and Oddities. He stops in the middle of the bridge over the freeway cut into a gully below and looks at the cut in his palm still slickly wet. He grabs the tail of his white dress shirt and with the long knife in his hand he slices at it, ripping off a long strip around the bottom all the way back around to the other side, and he wraps it over and over tightly about his palm. On the other side of the bridge, he raises that hand in a little salute as he passes a low red building that says Allen’s Radiator Shop in white script letters just below the flat roof. And as the rumble and growl of the freeway traffic fades away behind him, an odd sound can be heard ahead, growing louder – a rushing, clinking sound, the sound of glass on glass.

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“Haitian Fight Song,” written by Charles Mingus, copyright holder unknown.

the Sound of Bottles, clinking

The sound of bottles clinking in the distance. Ysabel tips back her head the hood of her parka slumping. She doesn’t so much blow the smoke from her mouth as let it drift, tugged back as she walks on down the sidewalk. A little parking lot beside them before a pale building that says West Bearing & Parts over dark awnings. She hands the glowing cigarette to Jo, who says, “Feeling better?”

Ysabel shrugs, nods, blows the last of the smoke from her mouth. “How do you feel? Besting the Chariot, two for two?”

Looking down the empty street Jo takes a drag and shrugs. “Does that one even count?” she says, and they cross, against the light.

“You touched steel, this time,” says Ysabel. The corner before them blocked with flimsy orange fencing and a sign that says Construction Sidewalk Closed by City Permit, and up and up behind the fence a thicket of naked girders and beams. They jog across to the opposite corner as a red hand flashes, stop, stop, stop. Jo says, “Do you think he’s right, about the Duke?”

“Do you think he’s right about me?” says Ysabel. A sleekly low-slung chair isolated under a spotlight in the store window behind her.

“I don’t know,” says Jo. “What’s with the cramps?”

“I just needed fresh air, and a walk. I told you. I feel so much better now.” As Jo glaring turns to walk on, Ysabel grabs her arm, pulls her back. “I did, I really did see what will be, Jo. I saw myself as Queen. I saw you and your sword at my side.”

“So, when? Next year? A couple years from now? Five or ten?”

“I don’t – ”

“I mean, it changes a thing or two, you’ve got some kind of peephole to the future. Who’s King?” and as Ysabel’s saying “I don’t know” Jo says, “There’s usually a King in this sort of thing, right?”

“I don’t know,” says Ysabel again. “I didn’t see. But, Jo, you have to trust me. I did see us, together. It will be.”

Jo drops the cigarette butt to the sidewalk. “It’s not a question of,” she says, grinding it under her boot. Cocking her head.

“Not a question of, what? What is it?”

“That sound. The bottles.” Jo heads back to the corner. “The hell with the bottles?” Looking around down Twelfth instead of back up along Everett. “Ysabel, what the fuck?” The next block down a couple of blankly blocky buildings sheathed in corrugated white metal to either side and up between them crossing high over the street a slender conveyor belt, railed with metal, clanking empty green bottles from one open yellow-lit hatch to another. “The fucking brewery,” says Jo. Stepping out into the empty street. “It, they ripped this out. Tore it down. They’re putting up those,” and Ysabel’s saying “Jo” as Jo’s saying “condos, I don’t,” sniffing, “what the hell?”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, over the loudening clatter of glass, “Jo, it’s all, it’s all gone quiet – ”

But Jo in the street’s standing stock-still. A dark shape a block or more away against the light splashed from those bottles, a jacket shapeless about the shoulders, a long skirt, long hair lofted in an aimless gust. “Of course,” calls Orlando, his voice quite clear. “Of course she couldn’t stay. Of course I had to take her home. Of course I had to be here, now, to meet you, one last time.”

“Why did you do this to me,” says Jo.

“Why?” He’s walking toward them slowly, his left hand on the hilt of the sword he’s pulling like a curl of light from the air. “I didn’t want to deny the Axe her satisfaction, but I had to do something. Sending you to your death as you lamented again the death of your son?” He whips the sword before him. “It might have been amusing, had I not been too late. Still. Couldn’t let all that work,” and another whip of a cut, his jacket snapping over the clink of glass, “go to waste.”

“Why me,” says Jo, the word caught in her throat.

“I don’t like you,” says Orlando, stopping there, less than half a block away. “If you try to run again,” and he points his sword at Ysabel, “I will cut her down, first.”

“Remember your duty, Mooncalfe,” says Ysabel at that, and his laughter’s high and wild. “Duty? Not a quarter of an hour’s passed, Princess, since I saved us all by saying no. I’ve done my duty for the night. I trust, Gallowglas, you’ve remembered your sword this time?”

Jo’s dropped the duffel, the box upright before her. She’s opening the flaps at the top. “Jo,” says Ysabel, her eyes wide.

“I know,” says Jo, and she shucks her leather jacket. Her satiny red blouse quite dark in the dim light. She reaches into the box and draws her sword.

“Mark this, Princess!” calls Orlando, holding up his right hand wrapped in white. “I’m down an eye, and a hand. Let no one say this was an unfair fight.” Slinging his sword up and back over his shoulder head down skirt flapping he’s running headlong at Jo who says “Shit” and leaning stepping left foot back she swings her sword her hilt high a parry catching his savage one-handed cut with a shrieking scrape turning just as he runs past pushing his sword and hers up and up and out as he plants his foot and stops suddenly juddering his arm his blade turning down, back, ducking under her arm recovering from that wild parry as he pushes back against her and the wedge-shaped tip of that blade –

Ysabel’s hands leap to her mouth.

Jo trembling lowers her arm, her sword as Orlando turns there to face her. She looks down stupefied at the rip in her red shirt fluttering about the blade of his sword stuck there through her belly. Looks along it to his hand there on the hilt. Looks up. Tries to look up. She can’t quite lift her head. With a grunt he yanks his blade free and her blood splatters to the pavement as he steps back, throws his arms up, “La!” he cries. Jo’s leg buckles under a step she wasn’t about to take and leaning back she topples to her knees. He’s slinging her blood from his sword with a whipping jerk. Ysabel her hands trembling violently tries to catch a scream that just won’t come. “This, this isn’t,” says Jo, falling back, her head clopping against the pavement.

“You’re mine now, aren’t you,” says Orlando. Rubbing his right hand with his left.

Wavering a little her hands still trembling Ysabel walks past him to stand over Jo, trying a couple of times to kneel there beside her without falling. “Quickly, quickly,” says Orlando, as she smooths Jo’s wine-red hair. Kisses Jo’s lips once. Stands, a scrape of metal as she turns, Jo’s sword in her hand.

“Really, Princess,” says Orlando.

“Mooncalfe,” says Ysabel thickly, “I would no more have you in my court.”

“Your court?” he says, and then, “She’s off the field of battle, that will no more hurt me – ” and he steps to one side as she lunges at him, and snatches the blade with his wrapped right hand. Wrenches it from her grasp. Catching her hair in his left hand, hauling her back against him, and the sound of bottles has since stopped. An engine coughs to life, an orange car rumbling past, down Everett. “Let’s go,” says Orlando. He pushes Ysabel up onto the sidewalk, stepping after, Jo’s sword in his hand. “We’ll ask your mother what I’m to do with you.”

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