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4:59 becomes 5:00 – Donuts & Leftovers –

4:59 with a clack flops over to become 5:00 and the radio pops and crackles and hacks up a reedy synthesizer, an electric harpsichord, a programmed handclap, a woman cooing was it the kind of records that you played that made me think, was it just the way that you kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kissed me, that showed me, but he’s sitting up in the sleeping bag, he’s rolling over, he’s found the off button. A croak, a burble, wings fluttering, settling, a droning, a chirruping, a ringing chime, a crackle of weight shifting on straw, on seed, a twisting creak as Frankie Reichart bundled in a heavy sweatshirt that says Sheep Rock Trails hunkers down to make his careful way through the dark room under cages heavy with drowsy birds.

Rattling down a flight of stairs bolted to the back of the old brick building, stumping across an empty, tuffeted lot high fences to either side, steaming breath lit up by the bloated moon glowering just over the roof behind him. The gate at the back of the lot hangs drunkenly from a single hinge and he steps over and through it into a narrow unpaved alley lined with tall dry grass that crunches underfoot. Across the alley a small garage, light leaking under its big main door. He opens a smaller door to the side and slips through.

Inside the walls are tiled with old album jackets, duotones in blues or greens of agonized men blowing horns, women in fanciful hats cupping enormous microphones to their lips, whole bands in matching dinner jackets against featureless backdrops of beige or pink or powder blue. There’s a big round table covered in green felt out in the middle of the room, a deck of cards stacked neatly, a plastic tub that says Aunt Ruby’s Peanuts in faded letters, filled with hex nuts and square nuts and round grey washers. He pushes through a herd of mismatched armchairs and recliners about the table toward one off to the side laid almost flat where a man lies sleeping in a rumpled brown suit much too big for him. Frankie fishes something, a penny up out of the pocket of his sweatpants and lays it with a dozen others and a couple of nickels in a blue glass ashtray on the arm of the recliner, then heads for a blank white door in the corner. A tiny room just big enough for a toilet and a sink. Shaking his head his long lank hair, pushing down the sweatpants, smacking his lips, working something loose from his teeth, he takes a long piss leaning one hand against the yellowed wall.

On his way out he stops by the sleeping man’s recliner, looks down at that still and shriveled face. His hand hovering over the ashtray. An eyelid blotched with pale pink spots twitches and there’s the ripping snort of a snore and Frankie’s hand leaps up and back, he shudders, he hurries away.

Back across the alley and the harshly moonlit lot but not up the stairs, instead, he opens a back door on a kitchen, scarred linoleum, darkly looming cabinets, a yellow electric stove with only two eyes. Sitting at a small table topped with glittery teal formica a pale woman, her hair a close-cropped cap of gunmetal grey, a polished silver torc clamped about her neck. She doesn’t look up as Frankie washes his hands in the red plastic tub of the sink, splashes his face. A bell rings somewhere further in past the kitchen. He’s filling a cloudy glass with water and drinking it down. Her hands are folded in her lap.

A rattle of a beaded curtain and an old man steps into the kitchen, rubbing his shoulders, stamping his feet. “Nippy out,” he says. He’s wearing a black and red plaid barn coat. His hair a crisp circle of white curls almost yellow against the reddish darkness of his skin. He tosses a ring of keys on the counter. “Coffee in the front seat,” he says. “Donuts in the back.” Frankie scoops up the keys, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. The woman stands, holds out a hand to the old man, and he takes it and says, “We got a little while. He’ll be fine up front by himself a bit.”

She shakes her head. “No roof over my head,” she says, softly. “No floor beneath my feet.”

“At least you stayed to say good morning,” he says. Stroking the back of her hand with his thumb. She pulls him to her, pushes herself inside his coat and kisses him, and his arms about her hands splayed over the small of her back, cupping a pale bare buttock. “Hollow and hearth, woman,” he says, breath smoking over her lips. “You’re cold.”

Out of the kitchen down a tight hall through the beaded curtain into the main room of the shop, past shelves partitioned into regular cubbyholes stuffed here and there with mismatched pairs of shoes, past the worktable mounded high with more shoes of every shape and color, at the counter Frankie’s opening a couple of pink boxes of donuts, unwrapping a sleeve of styrofoam cups. Something spiky, electric guitars playing the same phrase over and over chiming in and out of synch, pokes out of the clock radio by the pile of shoes. The bell over the door to the shop rings and a widely compact man steps in, worn jeans over longjohns and a bulky blue cardigan, his bald head ruddy. “Hey, Dogstongue,” says Frankie, and the bald man nods, jerks a thumb at the music in the air. “Frasca?” he says.

“Beats me,” says Frankie around a mouthful of cruller.

The bell rings again, and again, a woman in a long puffy coat over a taupe dress, a white apron, a nameplate that says Iemanya, a man in worn blue coveralls and grey leather work gloves and a long red toolbox that he sets down with a clank. Frankie’s pouring coffee, offering donuts, saying hello. Three men and a woman come in together, heavy coats over trim black jackets unbuttoned, formal white shirts open at the throat, black pants with glossy black ribbons down the leg. Two of them wrangle a wide flat tray with a roundly crusted loaf under plastic wrap. They heft it up on the counter, “Whoa, hey,” says Frankie, and the wrap comes off. A wedge has been cut from the loaf to reveal layers of cheese and twirly pasta with tomato sauce and pesto and olives and slices of egg and more besides. “Timpano!” cries the woman with a flourish, and the bell rings again, a fifth of them in that trim black uniform working her way through the door, a dingy red cooler in her arms, “A little help please?”

“Dang,” says Dogstongue, picking at the filling of the loaf. “Compliments of the Queen,” says one of the men, and “Dinner interruptus!” cries the first woman, taking one handle of the cooler.

“They fell to blows over the soup,” says the second woman, opening the cooler on a jumble of bottles of soda and wine.

“Well not because of the soup,” says one of the men, and “During the soup,” says another.

“So,” says the first woman, repeating her flourish, “leftovers!”

“There’s a big old roll of tin foil in one of the cabinets back there,” says the old man from the back of the room by the beaded curtain.

“Okay,” says Frankie, handing off another cup of coffee. “Hey, where’s Batswool? Isn’t he usually,” but the laughter dies, they’re looking away, the three men, the two women, the trim black uniforms. “Hey, what,” says Frankie, frowning.

“Go on, boy,” says the old man, gently. “Fetch the foil.”

Table of Contents

“Another Version of Pop Song,” written by Rose Elinor Dougall, copyright holder unknown. “Electric Guitar Phase,” written by Steve Reich, © Hendon Music, Inc.

“I have told Your Grace” – a Most dangerous opponent – He’ll come – North it is –

“I have told Your Grace,” says Vincent Erne, a towel in his hands, “as I have told her, repeatedly: I cannot teach someone who will not learn.”

“It’s a poor craftsman,” says the Duke in his camelhair coat, tugging an oxblood leather glove from his fingers, “blames his tools, Mr. Erne.”

“I’m not talking about tools,” says Vincent, turning a pointed look at Jo there by the mirrors that reach from floor to ceiling, épée in her hand, mismatched Chuck Taylors on her feet. “I’m talking about material.”

“Then let us test that mettle,” says the Duke, slipping out of his coat, looking about a moment, then laying neatly on the floor by the front wall. He starts unbuttoning his dark red shirt. Vincent tosses the towel to Jo. “I’ll get jackets and masks,” he says, headed for the door. “Foils are – ”

“No,” says the Duke, laying his red shirt atop his coat. Smoothing the front of his white T-shirt. “None of that, and none of your stoppered toys, neither. I said we’d test the mettle.” Pulling his gloves back on, he takes the cane he’d tucked under an arm and lets it fall on the shirt and the coat, leaning now on the heavy pommel of his unsheathed longsword.

“Not here, Your Grace,” says Vincent.

“You’d rather we took it to the street?” says the Duke. “Your sword, Gallowglas.”

She’s already crossing the room to set her épée down in a serrated row of practice swords laid out along the floor. Wiping her hands with the towel, her face, blotting sweat from her chest. At the end of the row her leather jacket’s haphazardly flumped and beside it another sword in a plain black scabbard, the hilt of it simple and straight, wrapped in dulled wire, the guard a glittering net of wire and worked steel knots. “It ain’t talent or skill that’s in question,” says Vincent. “At the current moment.” He clacks the hook at the end of his prosthetic arm. “It’s discipline. It’s respect. It’s not making promises she forgets the moment she walks out that door. It’s not disappearing for weeks at a time and going over my head to Your Grace in the hope of avoiding difficult questions. Do not pick up that sword.”

Jo looks up at him with a shrug. “That sonofabitch is my liege,” she says. She picks up the sword.

“Your, you,” says Vincent. Clack.

She draws the sword from its scabbard. The Duke’s limping into the middle of the room, his sword in both hands at an awkward angle before him, the heavy pommel braced against his belly. “I don’t see the problem, Mr. Erne,” he’s saying. “I won’t hit her. She can’t hit me.”

“An untrained amateur,” says Vincent, “can be the most dangerous opponent in a duel.”

“A wonder, then, that anyone manages ever to become proficient,” says the Duke. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Watch your stance,” mutters Vincent as Jo marches past him. “Strike him, not his blade.” She plants herself shoulder toward the Duke, blade up at an angle before her, free hand tucked up against her chest, almost under her chin. “You’re annoyed,” says the Duke. Turning his back almost to her, his sword still braced awkwardly both arms tight against his torso.

“You said you were gonna go for a walk,” says Jo. “Leave us alone. Let us work. Hadn’t even been ten minutes.”

“I got bored,” says the Duke.

“We’re two blocks from Powell’s,” says Jo.

“I’m gonna go to Powell’s, it’s gonna be my Powell’s,” says the Duke. “You can’t hit me from all the way over” as she takes two quickly scuttled steps and a third kicking into a shallow lunge sword arm up blade-tip down thrust at an angle the Duke turns to catch hilt up blade down over his shoulder the thrust aside a clang and a scrape. She shuffles back. He lurches around, facing her, pommel braced again against his belly, arms in tight. “It’s more than that,” he says. She lunges, thrusts high and to the right, rolling the tip over his blade to come in suddenly low and to the left but with a flick he knocks it aside. “You had a mad on for me all morning,” he says.

Another thrust, parried. “I woke up at eleven,” she says. Darting in low and outside, rolling under to jab up at his chest, he torques his wrist hair flopping blade spinning around and down to swat it away. “I have no idea,” she says, “if I slept ten hours,” another thrust, another whipping parry, his shoulder to her now, hilt in one hand pommel braced against the other, head down, and she’s saying “or if it was five in the morning when I went to sleep” as she swings at his head and he ducks with a sidestep. “I don’t,” her blade wavering, he steps back as she leans in for a thrust, another parry, clang! “I don’t have any idea what the fuck day it is,” she says, a feint, a thrust, a parry and the Duke steps forward with a bellow as she’s trying to swing her sword back, up, trying to catch his thrust before it whicks over her shoulder past her ear.

“That it?” he says, wincing, hobbling back.

“You didn’t kill him,” she says.

“Wednesday,” says the Duke.

“What?” says Jo.

“November sixteenth,” says Vincent. “If you actually feinted at him, rather than near him – ”

“Christ,” blurts Jo, turning away, her blade coming down with a whipping snap of her arm as something ugly masks the Duke’s lips curling nostrils flaring brows crashing together he wrenches his sword up over his head steps limping the blade brought down a heavy chop as Jo’s shoes squeak her arm-snap carrying her tottering around turning sword twisted up to just catch his like a falling bell.

Vincent lets out the breath he’d taken in.

“All right,” say the Duke, stepping back. Jo’s sidelong to him, free hand back against her chest, sword settling between them, before her, at an angle. “Mr. Erne totally telegraphed that last.”

“I was paying attention,” snaps Jo.

“Indeed,” says the Duke. Smiling. Clapping his hands together. “One step at a time. Our first goal was only ever to get your sword back.” Nodding as she lowers her sword, pulls her foot back in toward herself. Wipes her mouth with the back of her free hand. “You’re useless to me without it.”

“For what,” says Vincent.

“Five weeks remain,” says the Duke, “until the – ”

“For what.”

“ – the turning of the, please, Mr. Erne, the year. Our next step – ”

“Oh, no,” says Vincent.

“ – is to, Mr. Erne, please.”

“Hell no, you son of a bitch.”

“Why do you think that to be such an insult?” says the Duke.

“Leo,” says Jo.

“Oh, Leo, is it,” says Vincent.

“Five weeks remain,” says the Duke, “but there is something, next week, we must prepare for.”

“It’s Shakespeare,” says Becker into the phone.

“What is,” says Jo in his ear.

“His old accustomed feast. That’s like Romeo and Juliet.”

“I don’t think he was quoting Shakespeare. If anything I think maybe Shakespeare was quoting him. You know?”

“He what?” Becker’s frowning at a spreadsheet on the computer screen, entering numbers from a handwritten column on the piece of paper in his lap.

“Never, never mind. Anyway. Are you, do you already have plans?”

“For Thanksgiving.”

“Yes, for Thanksgiving.”

“You call me up for the first time in weeks – ”

“Since you fired me.”

“Since I laid you off because we had no work, and you’re asking me whether I want to come to your new, your friend’s place, for turkey and trimmings.”

“No turkey,” says Jo.

“No turkey?”

“He’s kind of a, I mean he’s a vegetarian. Maybe there’ll be turkey. There might be turkey. Is that a deal-breaker? Is this too weird? Is that what you’re saying, this is too weird?”

Becker sits back, phone clamped between shoulder and ear, one hand still on the piece of paper in his lap. A low murmur of voices, four or five backs hunched here and there in the couple dozens kelly green carrels set up atop the long folding tables along the indecisive cream walls. Out the two tall windows across from him the last outriders of downtown’s tall buildings, mostly older brick, a refurbished hotel, a stark new-build apartment block hanging over the highway’s gully, and past all that the hills, black and green and lost in a low grey fog of cloud. “It’s weird,” he says. “But I wasn’t gonna, I didn’t have anything.” He sighs, runs a hand through what’s left of his hair.

“So you’ll come?”

“What the hell.”

“Cool,” says Jo. “You guys were there at the start of this whole thing, I mean, you know? He said I could ask whoever I wanted, but there’s not, I mean, anybody else, really, that I’d want to bring into this, you know?”

“Guys?” says Becker. “What whole thing?” The door behind his desk opens, a woman steps through, “Our phone bank,” she’s saying to someone, a man behind her. “We’re running a bee-to-bee, a business to business right now, it’s a little quiet, but there’s thirty-six stations we can fill with a day’s notice.”

“You know,” Jo’s saying, “it’s, ah, don’t worry about it. A thing. Thirty-ninth and Hawthorne, there’s a, it’s the old Masonic temple? With the Indian restaurant. Upstairs. There’ll be signs, or lots of people, I’m sure. Like five o’clock?”

“While I’ve got you,” he’s saying. The man who’s come through the door, he’s tall, his shirt striped blue and gold with crisp white cuffs and collar, a yellow tie, his hair an untidy mop of shining black curls. “We’ve got a, a thing, a political thing starting up. So it’s residential work. Finally. I could use you and Ysabel on this.” The man in the striped shirt’s looking away as the woman’s saying something about rigorous training and quality assurance protocols, he’s looking down at his wrist, at the heavy golden watch there. He looks up, his dark eyes meeting Becker’s, and Becker blinking looks away, at the computer screen.

“Yeah, well,” says Jo, “that’s, that’s great, but. The situation’s changed.”

The man in the striped shirt’s smiling to himself. “So that’s a no,” says Becker.

“Sorry,” says Jo.

“And Ysabel, too? You guys still a package deal?”

“Like I say,” says Jo. “Situation’s changed. Thanks, Becker. See you for turkey or whatever.”

“This is Arnie Becker,” says the woman as he’s hanging up the phone. “Our Lead Field Supervisor. He has a great deal of experience running surveys of, ah, all different sorts. Arnie, this is David Kerr, who’s overseeing the survey for the commissioner.”

“The committee to elect,” says the man, smiling broadly. “An important distinction. Good to meet you, Arnie.”

“Call me Becker,” says Becker. “Everybody does.”

The parlor’s dark, the paintings high on the walls lost in gloom. A shadow moving through it, only the wide white collar at her throat the dimmest blue suggestion where she is, where she’s going. The collar, and a squeak of a floorboard, there under a rug. She freezes. A faint rustle of hair against that collar, the shadow of a head turning a little, tilting, listening. Light scuff of a shoe on the rug, a popping tock from the floor as her weight shifts. Another scuff, a step, the floorboards silent now, and another, another, headed for the broad doorway, the open foyer beyond steeped in murky streetlight from high thin windows to either side of the broad front door, light that sparks a moment as she steps into it, snagged on the lenses of narrow, black-rimmed glasses.

“Anna,” says Ysabel, ghostly by the front door in that light, white coat, white turtleneck, dark hair tied back. Holding out a hand. The woman all in black takes it, presses something into it, a crinkle, an envelope. “You’ll want to put that somewhere,” she says, opening Ysabel’s coat, “safe, it’s about five hundred – ”

“Don’t,” Ysabel’s saying, “it’s, I’ll – ”

“It’s all I could get on such short notice,” says Anna, stepping closer. “She won’t notice. She wouldn’t ever notice.” Her hand inside Ysabel’s coat. “I checked the bus schedules. There’s a fourteen every half hour till about one thirty. It’ll drop you right in front of the Duke’s place. Just get down to Madison on the Bus – Mall – ” Frowning she reaches up to adjust her glasses. “You aren’t going to the Duke’s,” she says.

Ysabel gently plucks the glasses from Anna’s face. “I’m not telling you where I’m going,” she says, folding the glasses, leaning close, kissing Anna, gently, and Anna squeezes her eyes shut, opens her mouth to kiss Ysabel in turn, and her hand falls away out of Ysabel’s coat. She opens her eyes as Ysabel steps back and looks down to see her glasses in her hand.

“It never occurred to me before to tell you,” says Anna, putting her glasses back on, “how beautiful you are.”

“I never asked, before tonight,” says Ysabel.

Outside on the sidewalk before the old green house up behind its low stone wall Ysabel alone shuts the gate, pulls her white coat tightly about herself, then slowly begins to step around in a tight little circle, one hand up, a pinkie to her lips. Lights here and there in the apartment block across the street, a guitar hollowed by distance, an echoing thump and pop of drums and what’s maybe a chant from the ramshackle house over across the intersection behind a low screen of trees, lit up with candles and Christmas lights. A smile stealing over her face she shuts her eyes spinning faster now until a laugh leaking out she spreads her arms wide and stops, suddenly. Opens her eyes. The music, the ramshackle house behind her, the green house unlit to her left. Ahead only deep shadows, lines of parked cars, dark houses.

“All right,” she says to herself. “North it is.” And she sets out along the sidewalk.

A shadow shifts ahead of her, detaches itself from the shadowed line of cars, only the little white flowers stippled along the pleats of his skirt the faintest suggestion who it might be on the sidewalk there before her. “Mooncalfe,” she says, stopping suddenly, and then, “I thought you were asleep.”

“Always with one eye open,” he says, stepping closer, a blacker shadow in the darkness ruddied by a streetlight back at the corner. “I am a conscientious guardian. It’s much too dangerous for you to be out here by yourself.”

“Dangerous for whom,” she says, and she starts past him, but he puts out a hand to stop her. His long black hair loose, framing the pale mask of his face, slithering over the shoulders of his shapeless grey jacket. “Where are we going,” he says, his hand sliding down one side of her coat. “Downtown’s back that way.” Sliding up the other side, stopping at a crinkle. She steps back, thumps against the side of the SUV parked there at the curb, but he’s already got the envelope.

“Give that back,” she says.

“Your mother’s far too generous,” he says, thumbing the bills stuffed inside. “All this for a night on the town? I’ll keep it safe for her.”

“You won’t need to,” says Ysabel, holding out her hand. “I find I’ve lost my appetite for an evening out.”

“But you stepped out almost every evening, when you were with your Gallowglas,” he says, reaching past her hand to take her arm by the elbow, tugging her more deeply into the shadows. “One might almost think you didn’t like me.”

Ysabel plants her feet, tugs her arm free. “Tell me, Mooncalfe,” she says, “and tell me true. Why do you hate the Gallowglas so much?” A step toward him, and then another, head down, tilting, tipping to look up at him. “Can it be you, want me? That you find me,” lifting her head, looking him squarely in the eye, “beautiful?”

He leans back from her, dark brows pinched together over his dark eyes. “In this light,” he says, absently, his thready voice still clear, but then a smile quirks the corner of his mouth and he looks away, just, and his laugh is a silken thing, and he closes his mouth on it and it shakes his shoulders, his chest, his throat jumping as he tries but not too hard to hold it in. “Forgive me, lady,” he says, swallowing. “I am a terrible romantic.” Taking her hand. “I have a friend. You must come meet her. Ask her your question. I want to see what happens.”

Table of Contents

“Aphrodisiac,” writer and copyright holder unknown.

“Yeah, so, anyway” – the Nine varieties – “press Seven to delete” –

“Yeah, so, anyway,” says Jo, “I just figured, I mean, you and Becker, you were there at the start, you know?” A drag from the cigarette in her hand. “Maybe you got something going on, I don’t know. Give me a call, okay? I, ah, I promise, I’ll stop leaving messages.”

The phone in her hand is little and glossy and black. On the screen a photo, herself and Ysabel cheek to cheek, Ysabel’s hand at the upturned collar of her white coat, black curls trapped lopping over it, looking sidelong smiling almost at Jo eyes crinkled smiling wide and directly into the camera she’s holding up before them, her arm blurrily out of focus at the bottom of the shot. Her hair short and brown and tufted up every which way. Streetlight behind them a dark building somewhere outside at night. The phone’s clock over their heads says 27:29. Monday, November 21. She thumbs the power button on its face and it goes dark. Sits back on the little balcony, looks up at the featureless grey-white sky past the awning above. In the empty intersection below stoplights click from yellow to red, red to green. Dark windows in the big tan building across the street, only the letters saying Fred Meyer lit up on the sign that hangs down the front of it. One last pull at the cigarette, then she leans over, lets it fall from her fingers through the grated floor of the balcony to the sidewalk below.

In through the window. She leaves her leather jacket sprawled over the mattress on the floor, drops the phone on it. At the foot of the mattress a yawning steamer trunk, rumpled clothing, jeans, T-shirts, most of them black, spilling over the sides. A couple of wooden crates, one upended, more clothing, shoes, a pair of big black boots. The white-painted floor ends abruptly on two sides, opening out into the airy white room beyond, tall and narrow windows one after another down the length of it. No railing about that edge, just the uprights of a ladder leaning there against it, leading down into the room. By the ladder a scabbard plain and black, throat and chape of beaten metal the color of a thundercloud, the hilt of the sword within simple and straight, wrapped in wire, the guard of it a glittering net of wire and worked steel knots. Jo toes off her shoes, peels off her sweatshirt, goes to unbutton her jeans but stops a moment, her thumb, her palm against her belly bare, pale, unmarked between navel and waistband.

She comes down the ladder in sweatpants and a black tank top, barefoot, sword in hand. Down the length of the room past the red jacuzzi she draws the sword, lays the scabbard on the long dark table, takes up her stance, right foot before her left, sword up at an angle before her, free hand pulled in close against her chest. Stepping up, stepping back, swinging the blade slowly in parries up, to the left, low, to the right. A long low lunge, a slow thrust, that free hand dropping back in a fist, pulling herself back upright, blade up again, free hand once more tucked against her chest. Again the parries, bare feet shuffling and thumping on the white plank floor.

“That’s wrong.”

Jo straightens, shakes out her arms, works her head back and forth. Behind her one hand on a high-backed chair a skinny girl barely wrapped in a brief brown towel, dark hair a wet rope slung over a shoulder. “I didn’t know anyone was up here,” says Jo, taking up her stance again.

“I was taking a bath,” says the girl. “I like long baths.”

“You weren’t,” says Jo, looking back at the jacuzzi, “there’s no tub in there.” Past it the sink bolted to the wall, the white door paned with frosted glass.

“Sure there is,” says the girl, with a smirk. Jo shrugs, turns to her blade, her feet shuffling, thumping, parry, parry, lunge and recover. “Sometimes,” says the girl. “Your other hand’s supposed to be up and back when you do that.”

“You’re a fencing coach, is that it?” The sword held straight out before her now. “That’s why,” her wrist rolls whipping the blade to the right then snapping back in line, “the Duke’s keeping you around?” To the left. The tip of it trembling, just.

“It’s how they do it in the movies,” says the girl.

“Movies,” says Jo. Whip and snap, whip and snap.

The girl’s walking along the other side of the table, squeezing water from her hair. “You’re jealous,” she says, looking back over a bare shoulder.

“How old are you,” says Jo, “like, fourteen?”

The girl undoes the towel and says, “Older than you, child,” sweeping it off. “Older by far.” Catching up her wet hair in it, twisting it deftly into a turban, patting it into shape up atop her scrawny neck. “You shouldn’t worry about the Duke,” she says. Jo snaps the tip of the sword to the left and trembling back. “He’s far too in love with shades of grey for the likes of me. I’m all loud colors and bright noises and I need a heart as cold as a deep black tarn that’s only fed on snow – ”

“Jesus, Lauren, do I look like I care!” snaps Jo. Throwing her foot forward into another lunge, free hand flung back. Wobbling as she straightens, free hand tucked against her chest. The girl raps her knuckles on the table, turns, hand on her hip, walks away toward the unmade sofa bed off in the corner. “I don’t know why you bother,” she says. “Six weeks, six months, six years,” pawing through a tangle of sheets and discarded clothing she comes up with a pair of underwear. “It wouldn’t be enough.” Yanking them up her legs. “Six decades wouldn’t be enough.”

Jo parries to the right, high, then low, sweeps the blade to the left, parries high, then low again.

A chanted chorus over organ chords from the speakers to either side of the monitor, all I’ve done and all I will do, all I know and all I want to, dissolves into buzzing strummed guitars and over them notes plucked clean and bent in an aching descant. The desk lamp the only light left in the narrow office, except what’s splashed from the half-open door to the break room. Becker shuffles up a stack of handwritten notes, taps them on the desk to even them out. His flannel shirt a faded blue, open over a waffled undershirt. “First thing I don’t get,” he says, “is why you’re bothering to run a poll at all. Everybody knows Beagle hasn’t got a chance.”

“Everybody who’s paying attention,” says Kerr. “And who’s that, in November?” Sitting across the desk from Becker in a chair pulled over from one of the carrel workstations. “A lot can happen in six months. What else?” His shirt brown with wide white stripes, his caramel tie with polka dots in silver and gold.

“Well, I mean, that right there. It’s six months out and you’re spending a fortune on this thing, and it’s, well, it’s,” Becker’s pushing aside a stack of paper, fluttering his fingers over another, tugging free a bundle of typescript bound by a corner staple. “You’re asking about the CRC – ”

“You don’t think that’s a big issue.”

“I don’t see what the mayor’s got to do with it,” says Becker. “It’s all down to regulatory agencies and lawsuits now.” Flipping through the script. “Streetcar spurs, the Yellow line, congestion on I-5, you think it’s transit but then there’s the Timbers and the Trailblazers and major league baseball, the Indigo, the Cyan, the Ladd, demolishing the Lovejoy Ramp, what you think of the NoLo nickname, which, is stupid, by the way – ” Kerr shrugs “ – capping the Tabor reservoirs, how well SoWhat is doing – ”

“So what,” says Kerr.

“South Waterfront,” says Becker. “It’s what they’re calling South Waterfront.”

“And see, I did not know that,” says Kerr. “I’d quote Sun Tzu on the advisability of studying the terrain if I could remember something appropriate.”

“This is one hell of a lot of advisability,” says Becker, tossing the script back onto the desk.

“Sun Tzu,” says Kerr with another shrug. “You have any idea how much money gets spent even on school board elections these days?”

“Well good,” says Becker, “because there’s all the overtime Barshefky Associates gets to charge for going over the survey results every other night with a busybody from the commissioner’s office – ”

“The committee, please, it’s important,” says Kerr, “and are you charging me for this? This conversation? Really?”

“I’m at my desk,” says Becker. “I’m behind a computer.”

“Then by all means let’s decamp. I’ll buy you a drink in lieu of time and a half.”

Becker leans back in his chair. “You mean the committee will buy me a drink.”

“No, me. Cæsar’s wife and all.”

“I – right,” says Becker. “Well. I’d love to, but I’ll have to rain-check. It’s past ten, I’m a fucking pumpkin.” Rubbing the corners of his eyes with a fingertip, pinching the bridge of his nose. “For whatever reason.” Getting to his feet.

“Well tomorrow I have to go to Salem,” says Kerr, pulling on a dark coat, pausing with it bunched up around his arms. “It’s a long shot,” he says, and then he settles the coat on his shoulders. “What are you doing Thursday?”

“Thanksgiving,” says Becker, pulling a heavy raincoat from the coat tree.

“Because, because Huber’s, they do a turkey dinner thing. It’s really, ah, if you’ve never been – it’s the oldest restaurant in town, you know? It’s pretty old skool.”

“Sounds, sounds lovely – ”

“I know, I know, a restaurant on Thanksgiving. But if you’re not going anywhere else, and if you are, I mean, this is maybe the one occasion where I could say, I understand, and genuinely, honestly mean it – ”

“Well, I am,” says Becker, zipping up his coat. “But it’s kind of a party thing?” He leans in to shut off the break room light. “Friend of mine, something to do with her new job. I’m pretty sure I could plus-one you.”

“But it’s me who’s supposed to buy you a drink.”

“Open the door to the lobby,” says Becker, and he snaps off the desk light as Kerr pushes the door open, letting the dim light from out there into the now-dark office. “Let me check,” says Becker. “It’s, I guess it’s a big deal or something. Her boss, I guess he’s this eccentric, rich guy or something, calls it his old accustomed feast.”

“So he’s a Capulet,” says Kerr.

“Okay,” says Becker, as they head into the lobby.

“You know, she really got a raw deal, Juliet?”

“What, with the suicide and all?”

“No,” says Kerr. “Her name. Juliet Capulet. Must’ve teased her mercilessly on the playground. No wonder she couldn’t wait to get married.”

The black T-shirt he pulls on says The Secret of Madeleine Wool in white letters. “I don’t know.” He gathers up his hair in a tail at the back of his head but lets it fall away through slackened fingers. “I don’t know.” Rings glitter there, an ankh, a snakehead, a skull, some dice. Black paint on the nails, chipped and worn.

“She says don’t bother,” says the woman sitting tailor-fashion on the rumpled bed, a chunky green phone pressed to her ear. “She says you’re fired.” Thick blue legwarmers over neon pink fishnets over lacy black stockings over pale pantyhose, stretched-out underpants in a sort of peachy orange, a red strap riding up over one hip, and her fuzzy pink sweater bunched up by an old stained corset loosely knotted. On her head a bulging patchwork cap the color of confetti.

“Erase it,” he says with a sigh.

“Okay,” she says, taking the phone from her ear.

“Press seven,” he says.

“Right,” she says, and she does. “Okay,” she says, listening, “okay, the next one’s from, it’s from Jo,” and a look passes over his face, pinching his lips, hoisting his cheeks, squeezing his black-rimmed eyes, a look she doesn’t see hunched over on the bed, phone pressed to her ear. “She says,” she’s saying, “she says the Duke’s having a feast,” and “We know, we know,” he mutters, and “she says you’re invited, it’ll be a big thing, maybe a lot of people, maybe you don’t want to come, but you should, no, it’s not like you have to, that’s not what she means, yeah, so, anyway, she just figures you and Becker were there at the start, maybe you have something going on. Call her. She promises to stop leaving messages.” She looks up at him. “That’s it,” she says, and he sighs again. “Seven,” he says.


“Erase it.”

She does.

“Do we go?” he says, kneeling on the bed beside her. The bed is low and wide and takes up most of the little room, jammed in a corner under a window full of rain, all too brightly lit by bare bulbs in a ceiling fixture.

“You’re the one she invited.”

“I’m supposed to go by myself?” He leans down on an elbow there beside her.

“The Duke’s door is open to any and all that night.”

“So,” he says, lying on his side beside her, “we both go? But separately?”

“We could,” she says.

“You still don’t know,” he says, and he covers his face with his hands.

“There’s a lot I don’t know.”

“Like whether or not if I go or not I’ll keep somebody else from getting killed or not.”

“What I do know is the lights,” she says.

“The lights,” he says, looking up from his hands.

“In about five minutes,” she says, “maybe four, Mrs. Theodorakis upstairs will try to run her disposal again, which shares wires with these lights in our room in this building that should have been torn down long before now.” Her voice toneless, staccato, stilted. “The circuit in the basement will break again, which will be enough this time to send a flux of power through a grid that will blow up a grey canister on a pole on the corner, which will stop the flow of power to most of this neighborhood, including the stoplight on Burnside. In the confusion, a milk truck with a cartoon cow painted on the tank will plow into a minivan, instantly killing Piper Dupree and her two-year-old son, Noah – ”

He’s shut off the light. Slumps there by the light switch, forehead against the white wall. “The circuit box isn’t in the basement,” he says.

“It isn’t?” she says brightly.

“It’s in the cabinet in that weird little nook off the kitchen.” He turns around, shoulders against the wall. “I bet the little old lady upstairs isn’t named Mrs. Theodorakis, either.”

“If it isn’t part of the story it gets muddled,” she says. “I told you that. Maybe I made whoever it is that owns this building sleep through the meeting where they were going to sell it to whoever it was who was going to put up the big glass tower instead because I knew we might get to stay here a while and I wanted that to happen. Maybe I haven’t done that yet but I’m going to because I don’t want this place where we were once to be torn down. Right now I just wanted the lights off.” She lies back on the rumpled bed, pink fishnets faintly glowing.

“What are you wearing,” he says.

“You like it?” she says. “I wanted to look sexy.”

“All of that?” he says.

“Really, really sexy.”

And he laughs then, and crawls into the bed with her, and kisses her as she hikes a leg over his hip and kisses him right back.

“Why are you still here,” he says.

“Stupid,” she says, kissing his nose. “I said your part of the story was over.” Reaching up for her cap. “I didn’t say your story was over.”

Table of Contents

“Sidesweeper,” written by Fang Island, copyright holder unknown.

Tripping over Something in the Dark – Hers also – in the Foyer – he’s Washed dishes – old John Barleycorn –

Tripping over something in the dark, “Shit,” she says, gruffly, and a hollow echoey thump, a clank and a stumbling clatter, a snap of a light switch and there she is, catching a mop handle as it’s leaning out of the mop bucket there by the door, her with her legs bare under the oversized blue sweatshirt that says Brigadoon! Gently setting the mop back against the wall. Brushing back her wine-dark sleep-matted hair. Before her a rack of cubbies stuffed with spray bottles and cartons of light bulbs and bundles of paper towels under looped hanks of orange extension cord. “Leo?” she says, and then in a smaller voice, “Jessie?” Looking at the door behind her, simple, slender, unpaneled, painted brown, a round knob with a cheap gold finish. “I just,” she says. Her hand on the knob. A sharp rush of breath in through her teeth and a jerk of her wrist and she opens the door.

Outside a hall white with sunlight from a window somewhere down the length of it right there by the doorway the buzzing red bulk of a Coke machine.

“Oh, hell,” says Jo. She closes the door. Takes her hand off the knob. Rubs her mouth, her chin. Turns around and around again in the narrow little closet, brushing the overstuffed rack of cubbies, rattling, clank. “Oh hell.” Her hand on the golden knob once more. Twisting it. Letting go. Flexing her fingers she leans her forehead against the jamb. Maybe she says something, muttering, head rocking back and forth until she lifts it away looking about the closet again, taking up the knob a third time, her other hand a fist in the air, laid flat on the wall, reaching for the light switch there under a shelf. She snaps it off. She opens the door.

“The name, Chilli,” says the Duke, coldly. Squatting there on the floor, idly flipping through inked and painted canvasses and sheets of Bristol board stacked against the wall. “And heed its syllables, as they trip from your tongue?”

The man with the big blond beard doesn’t say anything. He isn’t looking at the Duke. He isn’t looking at the man in the brown plaid suit standing to one side of him, rich red hair flopping from a high widow’s peak, he isn’t looking at the big man on the other side, thick arms folded over a broad chest bared under a half-unbuttoned yellow chamois shirt. He’s looking at Jo, there in the doorway, and so are those two men, and the Duke looks up, sees her, and his scowl softens. “Hey,” he says. “What’s, ah, what are you doing here?”

“I was, looking for the kitchen,” she says. “Coffee.” Opening her hand, letting go of the knob, smooth white porcelain hung from hardware dark with age, set in an elaborately paneled door painted white.

“That way,” says the Duke, pointing down the length of the room lined with high shelves, some stuffed with books and comics, some swarming with homunculi, weirdly muscled figures in bright colors roaring at each other, crowded around a little black car with jagged orange trim, a toy helicopter, blue and white, bristling with guns. “Hey,” he says.

“Yeah?” says Jo.

“Close that door? There’s a draft.”

Jo closes the door on a dim white hallway and heads away down the long room, those jumbled shelves angling around a corner, there’s an overstuffed chair striped in candy-apple reds and greens, a matching ottoman, more haphazard stacks of art. “Hattock and horse, man,” the Duke’s saying behind her, “how were you thinking to deal with this quickly and quietly? Hand her your own sword and run yourself at it?” At the end of the room a swinging door, pale blue, a brass plate she pushes open into a cramped kitchen, a sink, a refrigerator, a bit of wood-topped counter beneath a window filled with watery grey light, a couple of gleaming ovens set in the wall, a butcher’s block there before her, a stainless steel carafe to one side. She fishes a mug from the sink, rinses it out, pours coffee from the carafe. Sips, one hand on the counter, looking at the door she’d just come through, at the other door, across the kitchen. Mug in hand she heads around the butcher’s block toward that other door but stops, her hand on the brass plate. Turns back toward the door she’d come through, pushes it open, steps out into an airy white room, the long wall before her lined with tall and narrow windows one after another. Off to one side a red jacuzzi out in the middle of the white plank floor, to the other a long table, some high-backed chairs. Music playing down that end of the room, it won’t make sense right now, a woman’s singing over soaring keys, but you’re still her friend, and then you let her down easy, and those keys are swallowed by a grinding, stuttering beat.

“Oh, hell,” says Jo.

“That you? Jo?” Down the other end past the jacuzzi there’s Jessie, peering around the corner of an alcove, one hand on a ladder leading up to a loft.

“I was,” says Jo, looking back at the swinging door, the sink bolted to the wall beside it, the second door, paned with frosted glass. “I was just in the kitchen?”

“Dang,” says Jessie, stepping out, leaning against the ladder. Looking past Jo at the swinging door. “He’s been telling me he’d get that done for months.” Her yellow hair undone, brushing her bare shoulders. Complicated briefs, black straps criss-crossing her hips, a small panel of sheer black lace. “Actually,” says Jessie, mouth quirking in a sidelong frown, “it’s a little awkward, now I look at it. Two doors right there like that.”

“I think,” says Jo, “I interrupted a meeting or something? And he wanted to get me, out of the way, or, I could come back? If you need to get dressed?”

“What?” says Jessie. “Oh. Sorry. Don’t,” waving a hand, “don’t do that.” Turning back into the alcove. “It’s your place, too, much as it’s mine or,” shooting a look over her shoulder at the other end of the room, “anybody else’s,” at the music chewing up a stuttered chorus of tell her not to get upset, up–second-guessing, tell her down easy. “Typical, how he didn’t even think where he was gonna put you, just, make room, make room, we’ll deal with it later.”

“I guess,” says Jo, following her, the burning heart in a glistering starburst of red and yellow rays at the base of her spine where black straps criss-cross together in a neat little bow, “he thought maybe, I mean, you guys would be staying together more? Or something?”

Jessie stops, a hand on the corner of the alcove. “I haven’t slept with him in almost two months,” she says, and then she steps inside.

“Oh,” says Jo, leaning on the ladder. “I didn’t know.”

“I swear,” calls Jessie, something rustling, a scrape of hangers, “if the two of you would just sit down and talk.”

“We’ve talked,” says Jo. “Actually, he apologized.”

The rustling stops. “Leo Barganax apologized.”

“Yeah,” says Jo.

“It must be love.” Another scrape.

“It’s not exactly something you just say I’m sorry and it goes away,” says Jo to her cup of coffee.

Jessie’s there at the corner again, half in a little black dress that hangs low and loose from her shoulders. “Are you gonna call the cops,” she says.


“Are you gonna call the cops? Because if you aren’t you need to stop using that word.”

“Do I.”

“It’s getting in the way. It’s fucking you up.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“Is it.” Jessie heads back into the alcove, tugging and smoothing the dress into place.

“Did,” says Jo, stepping around the corner after her, “did he ever – ”

“No,” snaps Jessie. She’s sitting on the edge of the big white bed, working a foot into a slender high-heeled sandal. “I sure as hell wouldn’t be here if he had. Leo doesn’t, he isn’t,” setting her shod foot on the floor, “he does a lot of stupid, thoughtless things, but not anything like that. That’s just not who he is.”

“Did he ever ask you,” says Jo, one hand on the corner, “if you loved him.”

Jessie looks up, her other shoe in her hand. “Oh,” she says. “I told you, it’s not that kind of. No. No, he hasn’t.”

“Do you love him?”

Jessie works the shoe onto her other foot. “I told you,” she says.

“What do you want, Jessie?”

“What do I want?” Intent on buckling the sandal. “A big comfortable chair surrounded by all the books.” Getting to her feet she resettles the drape of her little black dress. “And nothing left to do but read them.”

“When she’s, when she’s Queen,” says Jo. “I think you should stand in her way. For what it’s worth. I think she wants you to stand in her way.”

Jessie looks over at Jo then, in her Brigadoon! sweatshirt, the yellow mug steaming softly in her hands, and then without a word steps through a narrow sliding door into the closet under the loft, and Jo looks away, an exaggerated wince, a hiss of “Shit” to herself, and then “I’m sorry” she calls after Jessie, “I didn’t, she,” a scrape of a drawer from the closet, a rattle, a scrabble, “she read me the, well she didn’t read it to me, she told me what it, said, when I saw her, at the dinner, when I gave it to her, and I, I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry.”

Jessie comes back out of the closet, chunks of red jade hanging from her ears, a beaded rope of rough red jade in her hands, and says “Can you” as she turns her back to Jo, the folds of that black dress open all the way down to frame the burning heart. Holding up the ends of the necklace. Jo sets her mug on the floor. “What are you,” she says, frowning as she fumbles with the tiny clasp, “getting all dolled up for?”

Jessie looks back over her shoulder with a little smile. Turning when Jo closes the clasp, stepping back. “Is that what you’re wearing?”

“I might get around to putting on some pants in a minute,” says Jo.

“You have no idea what day it is, do you,” says Jessie, and Jo’s face goes slack, eyes flat and wide, mouth falling open, “You’re fucking kidding,” she says, grabbing the ladder, turning back, scooping up the mug of coffee, “I swear to fucking God yesterday was Monday – ”

“Happy Thanksgiving,” says Jessie, as Jo hauls herself up the ladder.

It’s an odd coat he’s wearing, the man on the corner, red and draped in dozens of thick pilly nodules that lightly sway as he leans back to look up at torches glowering under the low dark sky. A sign over dark windows says India Oven, and another says Jambo World Crafts, there by a row of limply dangling flags, a great peace sign stitched to a tie-dyed rainbow field, an American flag, its stars replaced by another peace sign, a hawk stooping through a vertical black bar on a tawny field. The cornerstone beyond is marked with compass and square. Up between green-capped white columns the tall windows on the second floor are filled with red and blue lights softened by gauzy curtains that twitch behind the glass to the dulled thump of half-heard music. He shivers, shoves his hands his pockets, setting those stubby tendrils bobbing as he starts up the steps to the wide white doors.

In the black and white tiled foyer another man, his coat a long one, dark, leans against the wall, watching the phone in his hand. Glancing up he nods at the man in the odd red coat who pauses, one foot cocked on the steel-plated heel of his boot. “Upstairs,” says the man in the dark coat, looking back at his phone. The screen of it filled with tiny figures in ancient bronze armor tumbling through a clear blue sky.

“Yeah?” says the man in the odd red coat. A watch cap’s rolled down over the tops of his ears. His sunken cheeks are dark with a couple of days’ worth of beard. The music’s more clear in here, breaking down the walls of heartache someone’s singing, I’m a carpenter of love and affection.

“Indian place is closed,” says the man in the dark coat. “I assume you’re here for the, uh,” looking up at the ceiling, “feast?” Outside a bus pulls up to the corner, and the man in the dark coat straightens, steps away from the wall. Three or four people getting off the bus, one of them a man in a heavy raincoat, a trilby jammed on his head. The man in the dark coat steps up, leans into the crash bar on the front door pushing it open, beckoning to the man in the trilby who shoulders through the thickening rain up the low steps and inside. “You took the bus,” says the man in the dark coat.

“I took,” says the man taking off his trilby, running a hand through what’s left of his hair, “yes, the bus, my car, my car got stolen – ”

“I would’ve given you,” the man in the dark coat’s saying, “a, stolen.”

“ – about a month back, yeah, it’s a, insurance is being a, I mean, it was a piece of junk anyway but the guy, whoever, he totaled it, and, ah, I can’t, I’m sorry, I, I don’t – ”

“I could have given you a ride,” says the man in the dark coat. “Is all.”

“ – I, yeah, um,” says Becker. Smiling now, a little. “Yeah.”

“Shall we?” says Kerr, looking up as the thumping bass above them melts away into high sharp stabs of guitar over a rattling crash of drums. Becker’s mouth twists in dubiety, an eyebrow quirked. “Hey,” says Kerr. “She’s your friend.”

“Yeah,” says Becker.

Up the stairs on the other side of a humming bright Coke machine a door painted white wedged open on an unlit hall that leads to a long high-ceilinged room hung about with dim lamps shaded blue and red. Torchlight flickers outside the high narrow windows, dappling the surging crowd, I’m hurt and I want you to know a falsetto’s singing, but for others I put on a show, so loud atop the spiking guitar, the thundering drums, the hands thrown up over heads tossing in time.

“This isn’t!” says Kerr, “what I think of!” leaning close, “when I hear the word feast!”

“What?” says Becker, tugging at the zipper of his coat.

“Feast!” says Kerr. “This! is not! a feast!”

Those drums drop out and that guitar smacks into a fat and loose bassline. Someone’s catching Becker by the arm, “Hey!” cries Jo, beaming, a glass in her hand, a blousy black shirt, a tight white vest. “You made it! Guthrie with you?”

“What?” says Becker, unshouldering his coat.

“Guthrie!” says Jo.

“David Kerr!” says Kerr, holding out his hand for a shake, and there’s bongos starting up, na-na, na-na na-na-nah, the crowd around them going wild, laughing, cheering, clapping, from somewhere spotlights swooping, shadows leaping, there on the wall at the other end of the room it’s two in the morning, my beeper’s going off, I’m naked I roll over, enough is enough! “Hi!” says Jo, taking Kerr’s hand, giving it a squeeze.

“You don’t mind?” says Becker.

“Pyrocles,” says Jo.

“What?” says Becker.

Turning away from Kerr, leaning close to Becker, “He’s here,” she says, in his ear. “Pyrocles.”

“Who?” says Becker.

Stepping back, blinking, she doesn’t quite smile. Looks at Kerr again. Those shadows across the room, the cheering, the laughter bouncing over that enormous bass, a couple women with the same severe blond hair strutting arms akimbo up on a table or something, the same fierce frowns on their similarly painted faces as they waggle the enormous jellied dildos sparkling pink and purple strapped to their hips, thwapping at each other in a mock duel, what can I say they can’t stay away from the best cock on the block today, it’s eternally hard, “I was going for a smoke!” says Jo, waving back past them toward the hall.

“Smoke?” says Becker, and Kerr shakes his head. “Jo, I don’t smoke!” says Becker.

“No, how is it outside!” says Jo.

“Raining!” says Becker, and “Terrible!” says Kerr, and Jo rolls her eyes. “I’ll be back in a minute!” she says as she pushes past them, “Coat-check’s over there!” Tossing a hand back toward a long open rack crowded with raincoats and jackets and wraps where that man’s bundling up his odd red coat, white watch cap still on his head. Behind him there’s Jessie in her cocktail dress, and she lays a hand on his arm, and he turns, and smiles to see her.

Down the wide white stairwell to the black and white foyer where Jo pauses a moment, looking out at the rain through the windows in the doors. A cigarette jiggling in her fingers, a silvery lighter winking in her other hand. Somewhere above her everybody roaring from the dee to the eye to the ell to the doe! She turns away from the closed front doors, heads back past the stairs to the restaurant beneath them, a confusion of chairs upended, resting on tables, legs in the air. Up front by the shuttered steam table a couple of tables cleared of chairs and laid with trays and dishes laden with canapés and tapas and zakuski and antipasti and amuse-gueles and a couple of figures in trim black uniforms take up this one or that in one hand or the other and “Hang on, hang on,” a man in a brown plaid suit is saying, turning as they bustle past him, “wait,” he’s saying, “they’re still, they went on early and nobody’s ready for snacks, Christ, Maguire, you seen His Nibs?”

“Not since this kicked off,” says Jo, “and if you see him, Stirrup,” waggling the cigarette in her hand, “I wasn’t here, doing this, okay?”

“Gee,” says the Stirrup. “Thanks.”

Off to the side under the sloping ceiling she lifts a chair from a table and sets it on the floor, drops into it, the lighter in her hand chiming as she clicks it and clicks it again before it strikes. “You look sharp,” says the man behind her as she puffs the cigarette to life.

“Frankie?” she says, and she turns, the smoke winding about her face. She snaps the lighter shut. He’s wearing a plain black T-shirt, black pants, he’s drying his hands on a dirty dishtowel. “Hey,” he says.

“You’re,” says Jo, “what are you – doing here?”

“At this party, that’s open this one night, to whoever?” He looks back over at the plates, the trays, the shuttered steam table, the Stirrup trying earnestly to corral the two men and the woman in trim black uniforms. “The folks who do the catering, they come by Gordon’s most mornings. They needed some help with the dishes tonight. I’ve washed dishes.” The towel balled up in one hand now. His brown hair tied back loosely, face clean-shaven, clean. “They were at that dinner, the other night.”

“Okay,” says Jo.

“His name was Batswool.”

“He what?”

“Batswool. I dunno, it’s Arab or something. The guy got killed while you were eating dinner.” The wadded towel shifts from one hand to the other and back again. “You didn’t know that, did you. His name.”

She takes another drag from the cigarette, then leans down, gently presses the top against the floor, breaking off the coal. Gets to her feet with the snuffed cigarette in her hand. “So what,” he says, backing into the aisle to block her way, “you don’t care, is that it? Why you haven’t done anything?” as she steps right up close to him and low and fast says “You just don’t want to pay off that twenty bucks.”

“The hell I do!” He pushes her back with the toweled fist. She grabs his hand, shoves him to one side against a table scraped against the floor, but she doesn’t move on, she just stands there, and he leans there, and “Yeah” he says, a snorted laugh, “go on, hit me. Everybody knows what you did to Marsh. You woulda put the Prick in the hospital that one time I hadn’t pulled you off him and you even got fucking Abe to back down but this guy kills somebody right in front of you and you just keep eating your soup.”

“You don’t have,” says Jo, quietly, “any idea, what he did to me – ”

“How about what he did to me?” says Frankie, pushing himself upright. “I get it, I do, he’s connected, it’d fuck up your new boyfriend. Right? He’s the one, told you not to do a fucking thing, ’cause otherwise – I’m right, yeah?” It’s an ugly little smile.

Jo walks away.

“He here?” Frankie calls after her. “The freak? Is he upstairs? Dancing?” The flutter of the towel behind her, flung at her as she leaves. “I’ll fuck him up, I will! I swear!” Through the foyer, up the stairs two at a time past trim black uniforms hands full of plates of crackers and cheeses and little puff pastries. Around the corner landing up more stairs into the hall she’s brought up short, there, the humming bright Coke machine, she leans against it. Pounds it, once, with the flat of her hand.

The music, the music’s so loud.

There’s a cup in her hand, a red plastic cup. She lifts it to her mouth but it’s empty. She crumples it and lets it fall to the floor. Someone’s hand on her shoulder. “Jo,” says Jessie in her ear. The cup rattles underfoot as she turns. “You’re going to be out here for a bit?”

“Sorry,” says Jo, shaking her head, nodding. A man behind Jessie, tall and thin, a white cap on his head, a tight T-shirt printed with some baroque siege engine. Jessie’s leaning forward to say “You’re not going back to the room?” and he’s looking with a smile on his narrow face at the small of Jessie’s back.

“No,” says Jo, and then, “have you seen Leo?”

“Sorry,” says Jessie, reaching back with one hand, and the man in the white cap takes it after a moment without looking away from the burning heart in its starburst of red and yellow at the base of her spine. “Thanks, Jo. Thanks.”

Somebody’s growling a chainsaw for your birthday, all the wine you could ever drink over a chugging snarl of guitar, lay you in a bed of cold steel, cover your face with my fine white mask, you spend champagne Saturday on your knees but you’ll never have to beg! It’s not so loud anymore. She’s in a hallway, empty, dark but for a grim red EXIT sign down at the one end. There’s a cup in her hand. It isn’t empty. She takes a drink. She’s leaning against the wall with a door to one side of her and a door to the other, both white, hydraulic hinges folded, waiting, at their tops. Brass push plates, both of them.

The cup’s empty. She looks down at it in her hand, at the singed cigarette in the fingers of her other hand. She leans up off the wall. She tucks the cigarette behind her ear. She pushes open the door to her left.

Walls lined with jumbled shelves of books and comics and toys angle around a corner up ahead where there’s an overstuffed chair striped in candy-apple reds and greens under a goosenecked reading lamp, a matching ottoman, haphazard stacks of canvas and board and glossy glass and plastic frames here and there along the floor. “Now, see,” says someone, the Duke, off around that corner, and Jo smiles and shakes her head and makes her way through the shelves, “that’s what I’m talking about.”

He’s holding an orange behind his back, a tiny half-peeled thing dwarfed by beefy, juice-slick fingers. A leather thong tied about his wrist. His broad back bare, and dark, and muscles ripple as he lifts his shoulders, his black-haired head tipped back on that thick neck. A hiss of breath. His buttocks bare, a pale hand, someone else’s, cupping as they clench, his trousers down about his knees, the wide belt lolling, and Jo stops, says nothing, takes a slow and careful backwards step into a clink of glass, a rustle, a slither of slumping, falling paper, one of the stacks of art is toppling.

That head with its black cap of hair is turning, there’s the corner of a frown, but it’s the Duke down there peering past the naked hip, “Jo,” he says, “I,” but she’s turned, she’s fled, she’s gone.

Table of Contents

“Call Your Girlfriend [Feed Me remix],” written by Robyn and Feed Me, copyright holder unknown. “Breakin’ Down the Walls of Heartache,” written by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, copyright holder unknown. “For Those About to Clown,” mixed by DJ Riko, copyright holder indeterminable. “Best Cock on the Block Today,” written by Bitch and Animal, copyright holder unknown. “My Mask,” written by Mark Givens and John Darnielle, copyright holder unknown.

“Laugh, Luff, Love” – Neither of them, or Both – an Other word – his Weaknesses –

“Laugh,” she says. “Luff? Love.”

“Love,” he says, the word askew. He kisses her cheek, the point of her jaw.

“The tennis score,” she says. “If you’re not a fan of sentiment.”

“Go on,” he says. He kisses her throat, her shoulder, nosing the folds of her cocktail dress aside, and she’s tipping her yellow hair away from his mouth. “Luck?” she says. “Lock? Loch,” she says, firmly, opening her eyes, but he shakes his head and kisses the notch of her clavicle. She strokes his head still in that white watch cap. “Lack,” she says, then “Lick.” He laughs around his kiss, his hands on her hips, strumming the bare skin of her back there between the artful drapes of shimmering black. “How,” he says, leaning back a little, “do I get you out of this,” and his hands swoop up that length of skin, and she sucks in a quick sip of air. “Let go,” she says. “Take off your shirt. Go on.”

He steps back bootheel chiming on the wide plank floor, bumps into, sits abruptly on the foot of the big white bed. Tugs his T-shirt free from his baggy black jeans, works it up over his head. His narrow chest asymmetrically furred, the thicker, broader patch to the left brushed with tufts of grey. His ribs can just be made out, and the bones about his shoulders. “Take off the cap,” she says, but he shakes his head. “Chilly,” he says. “Your turn.”

She reaches behind her neck, there under her hair, and does something, her dress slumps, slips down her arms as she lowers them, reaches around her hips and does something, her dress loosens, rolls away down her legs. She steps out of it in her heels and those complicated briefs. He holds out a hand and she takes it, and he draws her to him, one knee on the bed, then the other, to either side of his thighs. “Lick,” she says, again.

“Lough,” he says, the vowels weirdly out of tune, the end of it ragged and rough. He says it again. “Lauch.”

“Look,” she says, kissing his mouth. “Luke.” He’s smiling. “Lake,” says someone behind them, and Lough stiffens, that smile faltering. Jessie looks back over a shoulder with something terrible in her eyes, “You little shit,” she says.

Lauren’s there, at the mouth of the alcove, hands on hips cocked in high-waisted gingham shorts, a matching cropped halter, her long straight hair in sloppy pigtails, dark eyes full. “You’re Lake,” she says, voice trembling. “You’re back.”

“Lauren,” says Jessie, “I swear to God if you don’t – ” but then Lough raises a hand. “Lauren,” he says, roughly. “Yallowshot.”

Those dark eyes shut, spill over, she nods, jerkily, and suddenly all elbows and knees and red Keds slapping runs into the alcove leaping on the bed tackling him in a wild hug Jessie leaning back, away, one arm uselessly up over her breasts, her face knitted in quizzical horror as Lauren kisses Lough and he kisses her right back. “I don’t,” she says, pushing away, “I don’t need this,” but he’s reaching for, he’s caught her hand, “Wait,” he says, pulling her back, and she doesn’t resist. He leans away from Lauren to kiss her knuckles.

“I’m not,” Jessie starts to say as Lauren sits up, grabs her other hand and pulls it toward her, “Stay!” she says. “You have to. That’s the point.”

Lough lets go of her hand, leans across the puffy white comforter, his lap still full of Lauren, and Jessie doesn’t start any further back, she’s looking at Lauren, looking at the hand Lough’s lifted to brush her cheek. She doesn’t set her other foot on the floor. Her hand in Lauren’s shifting, no longer held but holding hers in turn, there on his black-denimed knee. “It’s all right,” says Lough, leaning close, tipping his head back, and holding herself very still she turns just to meet his mouth, blinking quickly. “It’s why we’re here,” he says, and settling back on an elbow, he nods, but he’s looking away from them both with something of a frown. Jessie still blinking at him says “Lake?” as Lauren pulls her close, their hands still squeezed together caught between gingham and bare skin. Jessie turning away from Lough to meet those big dark eyes right there, that mouth opening for a kiss.

It’s a slow and steady thing at first but the breath Jessie catches in the middle of it’s a tremble of a sigh and Lauren’s hiking up off Lough’s lap pushing and she topples slowly back into deep soft pillowy white and the kiss redoubles into something fierce and hungry, snarling, crushing groans from them both.

“What is she to you,” says Lough when the storm has passed, stroking Jessie’s yellow hair.

“How did you know,” says Jessie, kissing Lauren’s throat.

“He was always my favorite,” says Lauren. Biting her lip, pigtails awry, looking at Lough tipped up on his side. “You made such beautiful things, did you think I’d forget?” She pushes up, pushes back, “It’s going to be so good now,” she says, sliding off the edge of the bed. Jessie hitches up a little to look down her body at Lauren’s wicked grin, her quick hands busy with the straps that criss-cross Jessie’s hips.

“What are you,” Jessie starts to say, but Lough leans down, breathes a shush in her ear. His long hand on her breast, her nipple palely pink between his fingers. Her head falls back, her chin lifts, she takes in a breath, and in some more, and more, rising, rising. “You didn’t answer the question,” he whispers, as she claws up handfuls of comforter.

“Wizard,” he snarls, hand the size of a dinner plate flat against Kerr’s chest shoving him dark coat flapping into the wall by the bright red Coke machine. “Pyrocles!” says Becker, grabbing at a slab of shoulder bared by a sleeveless grey T-shirt. Piano rings out over a thumping beat somewhere behind them, I’m a boy, someone’s singing, at an open door, why you staring, do you think you know?

“Actually,” says Kerr, pushing off from the wall, “I prefer the term magician.” Settling his coat, utterly black in the lurid glare of the Coke machine. Straightening his black and silver tie. “Wizard makes it sound like something supernatural’s involved.”

“Melanchlœnidon,” spits Pyrocles, and Kerr tips back at that, an eyebrow cocked, a nod, “Yes,” he says. “That’s another word.”

“I don’t,” says Becker, “I didn’t remember – anything, Kerr, until I saw him. You,” he says, blinking the sweat from his eyes, to Pyrocles, that broad chest working like a bellows, a couple of heavy beads strung from the drooping tips of his mustaches swaying with the force of his breath, tocking almost to the thundering music. “I’m sorry,” says Becker. And then, to Kerr, “There’s something weird going on – ”

“No,” snaps Kerr, and Becker’s brought up short.

“Trust me,” he says. “I’m standing here, telling you. This is weird.”

“No,” says Kerr again, shaking his head. “There is nothing weird in this world,” he says, “nothing above nature, or beyond it, there can’t be. There’s just,” and he taps his temple, “a failure, of your mental model, to account for something that’s occurred, and I’m arguing semantics in a goddamn rave, Becker, are you coming.”

“I , uh,” says Becker, arms folded in his short-sleeved shirt, open at the throat, “I need my coat.”

Wordlessly Pyrocles plucks the bundle from under his other arm, holding it out, Becker’s heavy raincoat, his crumpled trilby. “Oh,” says Becker. “Um. Thanks.” The music drops suddenly as he takes them from Pyrocles, and the crowd off away behind them, it sounds like the whole roomful, they’re chanting along with the chorus, we are not what you think we are! We are golden! We are golden! and Kerr’s face crumples, he lifts a hand as he ducks forward shoulders shaking, laughter that can’t be heard as the song crashes to a close. Becker looks over at Pyrocles, who’s looking at the floor, somewhere almost exactly between Becker’s feet, and Kerr’s. Kerr straightens, quaking with an aftershock, a long sighing breath, “Well, Becker?” he says, and there’s not a trace left now but the hint of a twinkle in his eye. “Coming?”

“I should,” says Becker, and he’s looking down now, too, at the hat he’s pinching and pressing, pushing it back into shape. “I think I’ll, ah – ”

“Take the bus,” says Kerr, with a shrug. “Okay.” Holding up a hand, turning it slowly before them, the back of it, the front, empty but for a plain thick silvery ring. “Yes,” he says, “I am a magician,” and when he turns the back of his hand to them again with a fnap there’s a business card tucked between his index and middle fingers. “Which means exactly what you think it does.” He extends the card to Becker. “Go on,” he says, and Becker gingerly takes it. “I’ll call you.”

A swirl of that coat and off he’s gone, clattering brusquely down the stairs.

“Call me?” mutters Becker, turning the card over in his hand. It’s white, thick paper, stiff, and blank on both sides.

“Becker,” says Pyrocles, his voice a rasp.

Becker shakes out his heavy raincoat, puts his hat on his head. “I should,” he says, “I really should go.”

“Don’t,” says Pyrocles, his hand catching up Becker’s wrist, swallowing it, stained knuckles burred by rough skin, old scars, wisps of grey hair.

“Don’t what,” says Becker, half in his raincoat. “Don’t go?”

“Don’t see him,” says Pyrocles, letting go. Becker slips his arm into the other sleeve of his coat, tucks the card in his pocket. “Men like that,” says Pyrocles, “are bad news.” Becker meets Pyrocles’ eyes at that. “Don’t go,” says Pyrocles.

“I should,” says Becker, “I really should. The bus – ”

“You remember,” says Pyrocles. “Don’t you?”

“I remember,” say Becker, shaking his head, “that there’s something to remember.” He reaches up to lightly touch one of the beads at the ends of Pyrocles’ mustaches. It’s a dull and heavy pewter, irregularly shaped. “Is this, this is new, isn’t it.”

Pyrocles gently takes Becker’s hand, presses the back of it to his lips. “Stay,” he says.

“I, I can’t,” says Becker. “Not tonight.” A step back, his hand slipping free. “Tonight’s,” he says, “too,” his hand stirring the air, looking for a word, “too,” and then he shrugs, and ducks his head, and turns, and with a heavy tread he makes his way down the stairs.

The only light in the cramped kitchen comes from a shallow bay in the door of the refrigerator, a couple of levers and a spigot, she’s leaning over it, white vest shining in the glow, forehead pressed against the stainless steel, wine-red hair lost in the shadows. With deliberate care she fits the glass in her hand to one of the levers, squares her shoulders, pushes. The refrigerator grinds and chuckles and she starts back, yanks the glass away. Sets it against the other lever. Pushes. A jet of water squirts into the glass.

She drinks it down in noisy gulps, sets the empty glass in the sink. The window over the sink blank and black, scratches in the glass touched with pinkish orange. Outside that auroral streetlight’s shining through a fog of oily droplets that’s drifting thickly downward, softening an empty tree, a tiny parking lot two or three floors below, a single car angled across a couple of its spaces, a nameless color in this light that might be brown or red, a dark stripe slashed across its roof. Across the little lot an empty diner, a brilliant pool of indoor light trapped behind glass, red booths, plush red stools at a blue counter, Bob’s Big Boy says the swooning neon sign hoisted up behind the tree. She’s pulled her glossy black phone from a pocket and hiked herself up on her toes leaning over the sink, her elbows on the sill. She thumbs it to life. The photo, there, herself and Ysabel cheek to cheek, somewhere outside at night. 44:44, says the phone’s clock. Louhitag, Frostarious 4.

“Oh, good,” says the Duke, behind her. “You’re up.”

Jo turns away from the window, slipping the phone into her pocket. “Still up,” she says with a cough.

He’s there by one of the swinging doors, across the butcher’s block from her, barefoot in his shadowy paisley dressing gown. His dark hair parted like curtains about his face, curling where it’s tucked up behind his ears. He isn’t frowning, he isn’t smiling, his lips and brow inclined neither up nor down, his gaze open and steady upon her. “I realize,” he said, “a third time under these circumstances is as charmless as it might prove useless – ”

“Why did you do this?” says Jo.

“ – but – this. That?” He points back over his shoulder at the door behind him.

“The party,” she says. “If it’s all as bad as you say it is why are you – doing this.”

“This feast,” he says. “I do it every year. People would talk, if I didn’t.”

“Oh,” she says, looking down. And then, “You slept with him,” she says, and she looks up again to meet his gaze. “Didn’t you.”

His expression’s unmoved. “It’s the Mooncalfe you mean,” he says, after a moment. She nods. “Oh,” he says, “we each slept with the other. Many times over. You aren’t upset about Luys.”

One of her shoulders twitches, a bit of a shrug. “Luys hasn’t tried to kill me.”

“To be fair to us both,” says the Duke, one hand on the butcher’s block, “when we were doing all that sleeping, we neither of us knew that you were even in the world.”

Jo says, “So it’s all my fault, then,” and his brow knits at that. He says, “I get the distinct impression that we keep skipping steps in this conversation.”

“Keep up,” she mutters.

“Damn me for a fool if you must,” says the Duke, “but dance this far in my shoes, at least: he is one hell of a thing to look upon.” His smile’s a gentle thing, almost apologetic. “I’ve always had a weakness for blonds, and beautiful boys.”

“I’m not either,” says Jo, her voice thick.

“No,” says the Duke. “You’re something else entirely.” Tugging the loose gown a little more tightly about his body.

“Do you want to,” says Jo, and she swallows, looking down, takes in a breath, “Yes?” says the Duke, and she looks up, “fuck me?” Leaning back, elbows on the rim of the sink behind her.

“What?” says the Duke, after a moment.

“You heard me.”

“Not so sure I did.”

“It’s a simple question.”

“Like I said.” There by the corner of the block now. “I haven’t been sure of my footing since I stepped in here.”

“Do you want to fuck me, Leo,” she says, and each word’s crisply clear.

“I think,” says the Duke, “what’s paramount, to me at least, this precise moment,” taking another step closer, “is whether you, want to fuck, me,” and she’s taken hold of the lapel of his dressing gown, she’s bunched it in a fist, yanked him one last step to fetch up tight against her, nose by nose, her forehead against his. “Good question,” she says, and she kisses him, and smiles in the middle of the kiss. “Good answer, too,” she says, and he takes in a sharp breath through his nose the gown falling open away from her clutching hand, slipping from his shoulder, down his arm, baring his chest, his belly, his hip, her other hand there between them about his upright cock. His hand on her hip, his hand gripping the rim of the sink, his knee between her knees as she hauls him closer for a deeper kiss and bang that knee of his against the cabinet under the sink. “Unf,” he says, and “Jo,” he says, and “Maybe we should,” he says, pushing back, trying, failing to get the gown back up on his shoulders. Her hands falling away from his shoulder, leaving him a-bob, set to fumbling with the buttons of her vest as she chases his mouth with hers, “I want this,” she says to his lips, “you. Now.” Her vest dangling open she arches her back pressing close to him as his hand slips inside along bare skin where her shirt’s pulled free. “Here,” she says, and she starts to unbutton her baggy white trousers. “Before I lose my nerve.”

“Whoa,” says the Duke, pushing back, brought up against the butcher’s block, naked, the gown draped from his elbows, his hands on her side, her breast, he’s shaking his head, “that’s, that’s what I’m – ”


“That’s what I’m,” he says, lifting a hand to her face. She jerks away. “What.”

“Jo, you’re soused.”

“I am not,” she says, “that, drunk.”

“I don’t want another stupid mistake,” he says, and she leans into him, pulls him into a long and slow and tender kiss that melts away until they’re standing, barely swaying, lips parted just, eyes shut. “I want this,” says Jo, and he opens his eyes. “I want you, Leo Barganax.” And she opens hers.

“Maybe,” he says, gruffly, gathering his gown about himself, looking at the other door behind them. “Maybe we should take this to your room.”

She’s shaking her head. “Jessie’s, she’s,” and Jo doesn’t say what she was about to say, and the Duke nods. “Oh,” he says, tying off the belt to his gown.

“What about yours?” says Jo.

“I told,” says the Duke, “Luys, he’s waiting there. For, ah. Me.”

“Oh,” says Jo. Buttoning up her pants. She grabs the Duke’s hand. “You’ve still got the condoms? They’re in there?”

“Yes,” he says, frowning. “I think. Those are still good?”

“They last for months,” she says as she pushes past him, past the butcher’s block, tugging him after.

“And Luys?” says the Duke, following. “What do we, just kick him out?”

“Maybe,” says Jo, pushing open the door, stepping through.

“Jo?” says the Duke, limping after. “Jo!”

Table of Contents

“We Are Golden,” written by Mika, copyright holder unknown.

a Bit of leather

A bit of leather tied about the wrist of the great hand flopped ruddy over the chill blued skin between her breasts. She squints at it, knuckles an eye, lets her head fall back to the red pillow, looking blearily over to one side and owling in surprise at the strong nose right there brushing hers, the closed eyes, the wide-lipped mouth half-open in sleep.

Carefully lifting that arm she worms her way out from under it finding the edge of the bed, one long bare leg slipping free from brown sheet and red blanket to dip and turn and find the floor. A snuffling, she freezes, that hand held abeyant above her. Over the other side of the bed the Duke’s spooned up against the Mason’s broad bare back, face turning up eyes closed to the ceiling, chewing over a rapid sequence of expressions, working something out in one long yawn of a sigh that leaves him settled, slack. Jo slips neatly off the edge of the wide low bed to crouch there naked on the floor, that arm still in her hand, and she kisses the back of the wrist there by the leather thong before she lays it gently on the pillow.

In her blousy black shirt she’s stirring through discarded clothing at the foot of that bed, tugging free the leg of a pair of brown jeans from the mix, freezing as a belt buckle jangles. Carefully running a finger through the watch pocket, patting down the others, front and back, setting them back on the floor with a frown. Digging up a pair of rusty black corduroy trousers, going through the pockets. Sitting back on her heels, empty-handed. Leaning forward she creeps around the corner of that bed, her hand on a corner of paisleyed fabric, purple and maroon, gold and brown. Something scrapes lightly as she pulls it across to her, careful of the stern hawk-headed cane laid on the floor beside it. Up on the bed the Duke stirs, “Distilled,” he says, “a jelly of beer,” and Jo holds herself quite still until he’s still and quiet again. She quickly checks the two front pockets but the weight was dragging further, higher up. A third small pocket, tucked behind the lapel. From it she pulls a single key.

She makes her barefoot way across the long high-ceilinged room littered with empty crushed red plastic cups and here and there a plate, a napkin, a fork, a high-heeled shoe. On a chair tipped back against the wall between high narrow windows the Stirrup in his brown plaid suit snores lightly, one arm dangling, fingers brushing the floor. Over there by the almost empty coat rack a woman with severe blond hair sits on a worn pink sofa, wrapped in a threadbare quilt, nodding along to something unheard through oversized headphones plugged into a welter of audio equipment. Curled in her lap, wrapped in that same quilt, another woman soundly sleeping, with the same blond hair.

Up the ladder into the loft where she throws on a pair of black jeans, jams her bare feet into big black boots. Shrugs into a leather coat the color of butter. That key pinched between her thumb and forefinger a darkly brassy bronze. On her way back to the ladder she stops a moment, looks over the edge at the big white bed below, tangled in a knot of sheets and comforter and three sleeping people, Jessie and Lauren coiled around each other, heads pillowed on each other’s thighs, Lough spooned up behind Jessie, his face lost in her yellow hair, his white cap skewed, his scalp a bluish haze of stubble. Jo stoops, the key closed tight in her fist, and picks up her sword in its plain black scabbard.

Outside it’s still dark, the air still an oily haze of orange and pink. A bus snorts and sighs to a stop at the corner. In the green and yellow light of the sign that says Pepino’s Mexican Grill in neon letters there’s a red-brown car with a black stripe painted across its roof, down its sides. Jo walks around to the back of the car, looking up at the blank brick wall of the temple, criss-crossed by power conduits, unbroken by any windows at all. Looks down at the trunk of the car. Leans her sheathed sword against the bumper, fits the key in her hand to the lock, opens it.

Inside a couple of boxes, one lined with a garbage bag holding a jug. She reaches past, pulls out a mask that could swallow half a head, white, crudely painted with thick black lines to resemble a grinning skull, a mane of long black hair that stirs as she holds it up with a wry little smile and a shake of her head.

There’s something else.

Setting the mask down by the sword she reaches past the boxes again and tugs something larger, heavy, free, a soft brown leather briefcase, buckled shut. She turns about, sits on the bumper, looks it over. The brass fittings on the corner smudged with something brownish that thumbs away in flakes. Not rust. The buckle’s loose, unlocked. She undoes it, pries it open, peers inside.

“Oh, holy hell,” says Jo Maguire.

Table of Contents

“4th of July,” written by Dave Alvin, copyright holder unknown.