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One of the Club’s Private Dining Rooms – Getting Cute –

In one of the Club’s private dining rooms, long tables have been laid with dazzling white cloths and arranged in a blocky U. Two places have been set, on either side of one of the corners: bread plates and soup plates, fish forks and salad forks, butter knives and steak knives, wine glasses and tea cups. Dressed all in black the Queen sits before one of the settings, facing the door, her back to a window overlooking a parking garage. Her head nods. Her eyes close. Her chin brushes her chest. Behind her stands a woman wearing narrow black-rimmed glasses and a black sweater over a white shirt with an enormous stiff collar shading her shoulders. At some unseen signal she bends down to whisper in the Queen’s ear. The Queen sits up, blinking. Smiles uncomfortably.

There is a bustle at the door.

The first to enter is a young man backing carefully, both hands held out with some concern, murmuring encouragement to an old man tottering slowly on two grey orthopædic canes. Ivory hair makes a wild crown about a pink head bobbing loosely, a delicately balanced counterweight to every hesitant step. His arms and legs are quite thin, lost in the copious folds of a soft blue suit, but his belly strains its buttons as raises up a little and croaks, “You’re losing it, Duenna.”

“Grandfather Count is honored as ever to join you for brunch, Your Majesty,” says the young man over his shoulder, “and he offers his every felicitation to your illustrious reign. May it last forever.”

“And we are delighted, as ever, by his company,” says the Queen.

“That girl of yours is like honey,” says the Count, making his slow, torturous way outside the tables toward the Queen, each shaky step braced by a cane in the opposite hand. “Leave a pot of it outside your tent,” and he lifts a cane, poking its rubber tip in the general direction of the Queen, “and the bears get frisky!” He almost falls from the force of his rhetoric. The young man catches an elbow. He, too, wears a soft blue suit, and his shirt is a blushing pink. His hair is also white, just touched with hints of pale gold, and it hangs in tangled dreadlocks down past his shoulders. “There are, of course,” he’s saying, as he helps the Count into his chair, “some matters Grandfather wishes to discuss,” and the young man favors the Queen with a quick nod. “But none so pressing, ma’am, that they cannot wait until after we have eaten.”

“If I might recommend,” says the waiter, who in his white apron and black tie has appeared quite silently on the other side of the tables, “today’s omelet is delicious – wild chanterelle mushrooms, leeks, walnuts – ”

“Boca!” blares the Count.

“I also have black bean chili,” says the waiter, brushing his walrusy black mustache.

“I want my Boca!”

“With,” says the waiter, “semi-sweet chocolate base. And a delicious risotto with lemon and pomegranate – ”

“I want my goddamn Boca burger!” The Count bangs a fist on the table and the silverware chatters. “On sourdough! Made from the goddamn Yukon Gold Rush culture!” Bang! “I want a slab of Irish cheddar steeped in whiskey! None of your goddamn skimping on that – I said a slab and I want a goddamn slab! I want mango chutney and I want my jo-jos fried in goddamn peanut oil and I want fresh coriander leaves, fresh, dammit, you hear me, cut this goddamn morning, and I want the last tomato of summer!” Bang! “And gimme a bottle of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, you hear me?” Bang!

The waiter clears his throat. “I also have many surprises for dessert, but will tempt you with them later.” He bows slightly and stiffly.

“Grandfather will have his usual,” says the young man.

“The omelet,” says the woman in the black-rimmed glasses standing behind the Queen’s chair. “A light salad, oil and vinegar on the side. A cup of coffee. And please make sure we have some Splenda on the table?”

“Of course,” says the waiter.

“Nothing but a jumped-up khokhol in a stuffed shirt,” mutters the Count.

The waiter’s mouth tightens at that, and his steps as he leaves are crisp.

“We should probably begin,” says the Queen, “by discussing our plans for the upcoming year’s end festivities.” The woman in the black-rimmed glasses plucks a manila folder from the leather case at her feet and walks it over to the young man.

“Not while people are dying, we don’t,” says the Count. The young man pauses in the act of taking the folder. “Grandfather,” he says, “is gravely concerned about a recent, incident? Involving the Princess, and some of the Duke’s men – ”

“We fail to see how that concerns the Count,” says the Queen.

“Gallowglas,” says the Count. “That’s how it concerns me, dammit.” He coughs. “All of us. Goddamn outsider, threatening everything. Your girl got cute, Duenna. Whether she meant to or not.”

“Meant to?” says the Queen, arching one thin black eyebrow.

The young man says “What Grandfather is trying to say” as the woman in the black-rimmed glasses says “The Queen must insist that this matter be kept – ”

“Bullshit!” blares the Count. Bang! “She! Got! Cute!” Bang! “And you’re trying to teach her a lesson.” The Count waves this off. “But it’s getting out of hand.” He leans back from the table with a slow push. “You have to call it off.”

“Frederic,” says the Queen, quietly. “You would do well to remember who I am. And that no one – not you, not the Duke, certainly not my daughter – dictates my actions.”

“The Count is invited to note,” says the woman in the black-rimmed glasses, “that the Princess and her guardian are effectively isolated from the court.”

“Grandfather doesn’t feel they’re isolated enough,” says the young man, eyeing the Count closely.

“If the Duke hadn’t tried to kidnap the Princess,” says the woman in the black-rimmed glasses, “none of this – ”

“That’s enough, Anna,” says the Queen.

“Well?” says the Count.

“We have no intention of accepting the Gallowglas at court,” says the Queen. “We have no intention of rescuing our daughter from the consequences of her actions. We will not insult one of our knights by making any more of his recent – indiscretion, and we have no intention of allowing the Duke’s complaints to determine how and by whom the Princess is guarded. We trust this is clear?”

“Nothing will change,” says the young man. The waiter has reappeared. He sets a small plate of dark little pancakes and a bowl of yogurt before the Count.

“Unless I change my mind,” says the Queen. The waiter sets an omelet and a small salad before the Queen, and then he holds up a couple of creamy envelopes. “These were delivered to front desk,” he says, laying one before the Queen and one before the Count.

Anna lifts the envelope and rips it open with a finger. She tips out the card inside and scans it quickly as she hands it to the Queen.

“An invitation,” she says. “From the Duke.”

“To the court,” says the young man, looking at the other card. “A hunt, in honor of the Princess.” He looks up. His face is carefully blank. “This would seem to work against their isolation,” he says.

The Count snorts as he scoops up a small spoonful of yogurt.

Table of Contents

“You don’t have to be any good at it” – This is Not a Sales Call – Hopeless Paperwork –

“You don’t have to be any good at it,” says Jo, punching the fourth floor button. A dusting of powdered sugar is left behind. “Hell, you don’t even have to try. You just have to make do for a week or so.” She stoops and plucks another donut from one of the plastic sacks of groceries at her feet.

“You want me,” says Ysabel, “to work. For money.” One hand hangs by a thumb from a beltloop on her plum jeans. The other holds a bottle of peach tea.

“You said yourself it wasn’t work. It’s just talking to people on the phone.”

“You want me. To exchange my time – hours out of my day – for money.”

The elevator dings. The doors slide open. “Well, yeah,” says Jo, hauling up a sack of groceries in either fist. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

Ysabel rolls her eyes.

“Look,” says Jo, leading the way down the beige and burnt-orange hall. “See these groceries? That tea? If I don’t go in and get my paycheck so I can cover the check I wrote for this shit, well, that’s the sort of thing they take away your bank account for. If you don’t have a bank account, you don’t get to keep the apartment.” At the end of the hall, Jo sets the groceries on the floor by a door and fishes in the cavernous pocket of her workpants for her keys. “And I tend to get cranky when I don’t have an apartment. So. Since I have to go in anyway, and you have to go with me, well, Becker can’t exactly kick you out if you work there.”

“Why don’t you call out sick again?” says Ysabel.

“You didn’t listen to a thing I just said, did you,” says Jo, unlocking the door.

“As little as possible,” says Ysabel.

Jo blinks. “What the fuck?”

The window on the far wall of the apartment is framed by floor-length burgundy drapes. A gauzy shade filters the sunlight into something soft and cool. By the futon, neatly made and piled with a crazy quilt of patterned pillows, a glass-topped café table stands between two spindly wrought-iron chairs. A bulky blond wood armoire takes up the corner behind it, and a contraption of thin metal tubing hanging from one side racks a couple dozen pairs of shoes. The sink in the little hallway kitchen gleams mirror-bright, with only a single glass in it. A bit of milk rings the bottom.

“What the,” says Jo. Looking at the number on the door. Looking into the apartment again.

“You like it?” says Ysabel, sliding past her. “I had someone in to clean the place while we were out.”

“You had someone,” says Jo, hefting the groceries up onto the spotless kitchen counter. “You,” she says again, stepping into the main space of the apartment. “I,” she says, looking at the expansively shaggy bouquet spreading across the table, the thick, stubby candles burning before it. “You,” she says. Shakes her head. “Where the fuck is my stuff?”

“Black cumin,” murmurs Ysabel, stroking some ghostly blue flowers frothing the top of the bouquet. “I’m sorry?” She turns, looks about the room. Points. At the foot of the futon are three or four blond wood crates filled with neatly folded clothing.

“You,” Jo’s saying. “I mean. I. You.”

“You don’t mind, do you?” says Ysabel, opening the armoire, running one hand along the shirts and tops and dresses and jackets and skirts hung within. “It’s just while I’m staying here. Do you think you could make do? For a week or so?”

Jo’s wrinkling her nose. “Smells like fucking Pine-Sol,” she mutters.

It’s a small, windowless room, not much bigger than the round table in the middle of it. Ysabel sits in one corner, staring up at a white board that says WinBank 4.3 an hour How to Improve? A small stack of typescript stapled in one corner on the table before her. Her hair’s pulled back in a thick ponytail high on the back of her head. She’s wearing a light turtleneck sweater in some nameless natural color.

The door pops open and a head peers around the frame. “Um, hey,” it says from behind a curtain of black hair. “Becker said I should come in here and, uh, run you through the script – ”

“Hello, Guthrie,” says Ysabel.

“Um,” says Guthrie, looking up at her. His eyes are ringed with black mascara. “Hi.” He’s wearing a black T-shirt that says Snarky Kite. “So I’m supposed to run you through the WinBank script,” he says, stepping into the room, closing the door. “Um. They call this the Little Conference Room, which I think is some kind of joke, since the other conference room isn’t any bigger.”

“That isn’t part of the script,” says Ysabel.

“Um, no. It isn’t. I guess you’ve already read the background memo?” Guthrie pulls out a chair and sits down.

“When you said that you might remember more than I’d thought, what did you mean?” Ysabel leans her elbows on the table.

“That, uh, isn’t in the script, either,” says Guthrie.

“Humor me.”

He smiles, his eyes jerking away from her. “Um,” he says. “I just mean, well. Becker doesn’t remember how that guy fought Jo with a sword. And, uh. I do.”

“And you think you weren’t supposed to remember this?”

“I don’t know,” says Guthrie.

“Guthrie,” says Ysabel. “Look at me.” His smile has tensed into a grimace that’s crawled up under his nose. “I don’t have any secrets here, all right?” His eyes slide away from her. “I’m not hiding anything. I know Jo said there was an evil boyfriend, and there isn’t, but that was her idea. Okay? I don’t know why she said it. Okay? I’m a lousy liar, Guthrie. Guthrie. Look at me.” He does, now, unsmiling. “It really doesn’t matter if you remember the duel or not, okay? Got that?”

Guthrie nods. “Can we just, you know. Do the script?”

Ysabel shrugs. “Sure.”

“I’ll be the respondent,” says Guthrie, “and you do the survey, okay? Just start from the top.”

Ysabel holds her hands out in front of herself there on the table and traces a vague box shape in the air. She mimes plucking something and lifts it, an imaginary telephone handset, to her ear. She stabs the air with her finger where she’s shaped out the vague box, six, seven times.

“What are you,” says Guthrie. “What are you doing?”

“Calling you,” says Ysabel. “I need to call you on the phone, right?”

“Yes,” says Guthrie, “but, I mean, there’s no need to, to pretend all this, we could just – ”

“Your phone’s ringing,” says Ysabel, pointing to the space on the table before him.

Blinking, frowning a little, Guthrie mimes picking up a telephone handset. Silvery rings glitter on his fingers. “Hello?” he says.

“Good evening, sir,” says Ysabel. “My name is Ysabel Perry, and I’m calling on behalf of Barshefsky Associates. This isn’t a sales call. We’re an independent market research firm located in Portland, Oregon, and we’re conducting a brief survey. Am I speaking with the person who makes most of the financial decisions for your household?”

“Ah, yes,” says Guthrie.

“Would you say that you make all of the financial decisions, at least half of the financial decisions, less than half of the financial decisions, or none of the financial decisions for your household? That’s redundant,” says Ysabel.

“I, what?”

“That’s redundant. You already said you made most of those whatever decisions. So I shouldn’t ask if you make less than half, or none.”

“That’s, ah,” says Guthrie, holding up his hand, then pointing to the script, “that’s how it’s written.”

“It’s written badly,” says Ysabel. “I shouldn’t ask you a question you’ve already answered. It makes me look stupid.”

“Yeah, but,” says Guthrie, pointing to the script again. “Look, you have to ask each question as it’s written. It has to be the same, every time you do the survey or anybody else does. Otherwise, I mean, you’re going to get different answers than somebody who’s sticking to the script like you’re supposed to.”

“Isn’t that the point?”

“I’m sorry?”

“I mean, if you wanted to get the same answers every time, you could just figure out what those are supposed to be and write them down and save the rest of us a lot of time and trouble.”

Guthrie closes his eyes. “Just read the script. The way it’s written. Okay?”

“The whole thing,” says Ysabel.

“Yes,” says Guthrie.

“Because there’s some grammatical errors in here, you know.”

“Just,” says Guthrie. “Read it. What’s the next question?”

Ysabel flips over the first page of the script. “I’m going to read you a list of financial products and services. For each one, please tell me whether you or someone in your household has that product or service. And I have a question here.”

“What,” says Guthrie, who hasn’t opened his eyes.

“What on earth is a ‘financial product’?”

“I, uh,” says Guthrie. The door pops open and Becker sticks his head in. “How’s it going in here? You going through the script?”

“Ah,” says Guthrie. “Yes,” says Ysabel.

“Good,” says Becker. “Ten more minutes, and then you’ll go live, okay, Ysabel?”

“Okay,” she says.

“Um,” says Guthrie.

Becker pulls the door closed and heads down the narrow hall and around a corner into the phone room, full of chatter and grey late-afternoon light. He’s got a new manila folder in one hand and he’s wearing a bulky plaid flannel shirt. Jo’s sitting midway down one side of the U of carrels. The black tufts in her hair stick up around the band of her telephone headset. She leans into her carrel, one hand up holding the mike closer to her mouth. “Well, sir,” she’s saying, “I don’t – Well. We made the appointment with your wife – Yessir – Well, she said – Sir, I don’t believe you. Just what I said, I don’t believe you. Nobody makes all of the financial decisions in this day and age. Well, your wife seemed to think – Sir, you shouldn’t say – Well, fuck you too.” She yanks the headset off and drops it by her computer monitor.

Becker kneels down by her chair. “Hey,” he says.

Jo jumps. “Jesus,” she says. “Hey. He already hung up before I started swearing. Okay?”

“I figured,” says Becker. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something else.”

In Tartt’s little office, with its poster on the door exhorting them to shoot for the moon, Becker holds up the manila folder. “I shouldn’t be showing this to you, but I’m thinking you can help me with Ysabel.”

“Yeah?” says Jo.

“Well, the paperwork for her I-9 is hopeless.” He spreads the folder open on top of a couple of relatively level stacks of paper on Tartt’s desk.

“Hopeless?” says Jo.

“She doesn’t have any of it,” says Becker. “No driver’s license. No passport. No Social Security card. No birth certificate. No voter’s registration card or school ID. She says she was born in the US, but she’s got nothing to prove it. She wanted to know why her word wasn’t good enough.”

Jo chuckles.

“Look, it’s not that funny. If we can’t get this filled out, we can’t pay her. Okay? And if we could, well,” he flips over the larger form and pulls out a small half-sheet, “I’m not sure what the hell to make of what she put on her W-4.”

Jo leans forward to peer at the form and says, “Oh, God.” She claps her hand to her mouth.

“What?” says Becker.

“I had no idea,” says Jo, stifling a giggle, “that that’s how she spells ‘Ysabel’.”

It’s a round room on the third floor of a tower, and it’s empty except for a big three-way mirror and several cardboard boxes of clothes and more clothing strewn across the floor here and there and the woman who’s standing in the middle of it all, wearing a pair of white boyshorts and lifting her mass of pale gold curls up into a pile the color of clotted cream on top of her head. The radio at her feet is muttering something sprightly and bossa–nova-ish. To be all she wants, it’s singing, I cannot do. All the things it would take, just to pull it through.

She stoops and pulls a soft, baby-blue hooded jacket out of one of the boxes. She wrestles one arm and then the other into the long tight sleeves, lined with red piping, that flare suddenly at the cuffs, swallowing the heels of her hands. She has far too high expectations, sings the radio, she thinks she deserves all she can get. What she wants from me is something I cannot be. The hem of the jacket hits just above her navel. She works the one end of the zipper into the other and tugs it up to her throat, then pulls it down, to just about halfway between her breasts. Tilts her head, swings herself to one side, then the other, examining herself in the mirror. Pouts thoughtfully. Tugs the zipper down a little more.

“Hot date?” says the man leaning in the doorway.

She jumps a little. “Don’t scare me like that,” she says to him in the mirror. He’s wearing a blushing salmon shirt, and his pale, pale hair hangs in tangled dreadlocks down past his shoulders. She squats by the cardboard box and rummages through it. “And no, brother dear. I’m just doing a favor for a friend.” She pulls out a long athletic skirt in matching baby blue and red. Sitting on the floor, she pulls the skirt over her feet, then her knees, then works herself back up off the floor to yank it up her thighs and over her hips.

“Hey,” says the man leaning in the doorway. “Let me help you with that.” He steps behind her, helping her settle the skirt into place, low on her hips. Tugs the zipper up in back. “And would this friend be Roland?” he murmurs, in her ear. “And is this favor what I think it is?”

She reaches up and taps his nose lightly with a fingertip. “I told you,” she says. “It isn’t a hot date.”

“Well,” he says, stepping back. “You look fantastic.”

“Naturally,” she says, sitting by another cardboard box.

“Be sure to tell your cool date that your brother’s jealous,” he says, stepping back out of the room.

“Oh, I’ll be sure to,” she says, absently. Pulling out a pair of rose-colored running shoes. Frowning. Reaching back in for a pair of light blue jellied sandals.

Table of Contents

All I can do” written by Johan Angergård, ©1998.

Ysabel Triumphantly – the Changing of the Guard – Now and Here – a Mound of Bicycles –

Ysabel triumphantly lifts her hand, her middle finger poised, circling the phone’s disconnect button. “Why, no,” she says into her telephone headset. “Thank you. I can only apologize for how badly the questions were written, and how boring it must have been for you. Not at all. And you have a good evening yourself. Goodbye.” She punches the button. Sighs. Peers at the computer keyboard that takes up most what little desk space is left by the monitor and taps a couple of keys with index fingers poking out of loose fists. She peers at the screen, then punches a couple more keys. Becker kneels down next to her chair as she reaches for the phone again. “Hey,” he says. “It’s after nine. You’re done.”

“Oh,” says Ysabel, leaning back in her chair.

“You’ve been on the phone about five hours. You logged 42 complete surveys. That’s, ah, pretty much a record.”

“Oh,” says Ysabel. Jo comes up behind Becker, her arms folded, her mouth wryly turned. Behind her, other dialers are scooping up bags, books, empty water bottles, candy wrappers, gathering their things and heading for the door.

“Yeah,” Becker’s saying. “Seth monitored several of your calls – you did a fantastic job. We could maybe do with a little less, you know, insulting the survey, but – ”

“Good,” says Ysabel, pushing back, standing up, brushing off her khaki skirt. “So is that enough?” she asks Jo. “Are we done?”

“Sure,” says Jo.

“Good job, Ysabel,” says Becker, standing.

“Thanks,” says Ysabel, bending over to tug one of her heathery wool socks back up over her knee. “Can we do something else tomorrow night?” she says to Jo. “This was really dull.”

“Um,” says Becker.

Roland in his green and silver track suit is standing on the sidewalk in the pink and orange light, under the multi-colored Tonic banner that whuffles in the evening air. With him is a woman a couple of fingers taller, whose hair the color of clotted cream is piled even higher that that. She’s wearing a soft blue hoodie and a matching full-length skirt. “What,” says Jo, arms akimbo, looking them up and down. “We get an escort now?”

“This is Marfisa, the Axe,” says Roland. “She will take the keeping of the Princess tonight. You and I have something we must do.” He bows his head slightly. “With your permission, of course, my lady.”

Ysabel nods. “Something we must do?” says Jo. “That’s great. What if I already have something to do?”

“What would that be?” says Roland.

“Well,” says Jo, looking away, “nothing, really.” She jams her hands into the pockets of her workpants. “I just, don’t like the way you guys haul off with the orders, you know? You will do this, you will go with me, you will hand over the Princess or get stabbed. It’s rude, you know?”

“She’s not very grateful, is she?” says Marfisa to Ysabel. Her voice is low and round and full.

Ysabel shrugs. “Grateful?” says Jo. “Listen, Glamazon. I’m out a hundred and thirty bucks thanks to your Princess. Hell, that’s just the missed days of work – that doesn’t count brunches and peach teas!”

“You were warned,” says Roland.

“Yeah, I know.” Jo shrugs herself more deeply into her bulky flannel shirt. “I was warned. I was told to walk away and I didn’t and it’s all my fault. You could have just asked, is all I’m saying. The principle of the thing, you know?”

“Jo Maguire,” says Roland, looking down at the sidewalk, spreading his hands. “Though the Queen cannot recognize you as a member of the court, there are, nonetheless, certain events which will require you, as guardian of our Princess, to take a more public role. After some consideration, the Queen in her wisdom has decided you might benefit from some instruction, in how to carry yourself, what to say and do, how to handle a blade. And I, it seems, am to see to that instruction.”

“There, see?” says Jo, after a moment. “That wasn’t so hard. You even made me feel like a shithead. Added bonus.”

“Will you come with me, then?” says Roland.

“Yes, yes, I’m coming. Christ.” As Roland starts across the street toward the corner under the Danmoore Hotel sign, Jo, stepping off the curb, stops. Turns to look back. “Hey,” she says to Ysabel. “You gonna..?”

“She’ll be fine,” says Marfisa.

“It’s all right, Jo,” says Ysabel. “Go on.”

“Okay,” says Jo. “I’ll, ah. See you later.” She sighs, steps off the curb, then trots after Roland.

“An odd girl,” says Marfisa. Ysabel is looking sidelong at her, pursing her lips against a bemused smile. “What?” says Marfisa, looking down at her.

“‘Glamazon’,” says Ysabel.

Marfisa rolls her eyes, folding her arms, exasperated. Then she smiles, just a little. “Yeah,” she says, “okay. You look good.”

“Oh?” says Ysabel, in her oxblood boots, her knee socks, her khaki skirt, her turtleneck sweater in some nameless natural color, cropped an inch or above her hips. Her long high ponytail swings as she tilts her head. “I haven’t been ruined by my exile?”

“Well, tonight’s your night,” says Marfisa, stepping down the sidewalk, swinging around. Offering up the city. “What are you in the mood for? Saucebox? Le Happy? Madame Damnable’s? Panorama?”

“Actually,” says Ysabel, standing still under the Tonic banner, “I was thinking – what with the recent incident and all – that it might be best if we headed back to Jo’s apartment and holed up there. For safekeeping.” She looks away, out into the streetlit night. “What do you think? As my guardian, for the evening.”

“Well,” says Marfisa. “I think. Given the recent incident, we should probably head back to her apartment. Hole up there. Till they get back. For safekeeping.” The corner of her mouth quirks up. “Sounds like a plan.”

Jo and Roland climb a narrow flight of stairs into the heart of an old commercial building. The second floor has white walls and a black floor painted so many times that they still look slick and wet. Corners are soft and round. There at the head of the staircase is a set of double doors with a frosted glass fanlight. Roland raps at the right-hand door with the back of his fist. “Come!” a man somewhere on the other side bellows.

Roland opens the door. The room beyond is wide and deep, the far end lost in shadows. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors line one wall. The dark floor is marked in a dozen spots with Xes of blue masking tape. In the splash of light from a lone fluorescent ceiling panel stands a wiry man. His greying, balding hair is closely cropped, his soured mouth framed by a salt-and-pepper Van Dyke. His eyes are large and flash. “This is it?” he says. He’s wearing drawstring pants and a T-shirt stretched across his broad chest and simple canvas shoes. One hand holds a bundle of swords tied together with a bit of rope. “This is what I’m supposed to work with?” His other hand is a metal hook at the end of a beige prosthetic, attached just below his left elbow.

“Jo Maguire,” says Roland, “Vincent Erne. Vincent, Jo.”

“She’s scrawny,” says Vincent. He walks across the room, laying the swords down on a rolled-up mat. “Terrible posture. An attitude thick enough to have already gotten on my nerves.” He moves quickly, the balls of his feet wisping silently in those shoes on that floor as he circles Jo. “And, of course, she’s a girl.”

“That doesn’t matter,” says Roland.

“To you, yes. I know. I’m the one who has to make something viable of her by Wednesday of next week. Her hair will have to be cut – this is ridiculous.”

“I thought this guy was supposed to teach me how to use a sword,” says Jo, who’s following Vincent with her glare.

“Ha!” says Vincent. “Ha! I’m going to teach you not to embarrass yourself, girl. In our pursuit of this goal, we shall endeavor to avoid anything involving the actual use of a sword. You,” he says, turning and jabbing a finger at Roland, “leave. Come back in a couple of hours. You,” he says jabbing a finger at Jo, “take off that bulky jacket so I can see you move. Then walk down to the end of the hall and back, and I will tell you everything you are doing wrong.”

Jo, shucking out of her flannel shirt, glares at Roland, who shrugs.

“Chop chop!” says Vincent, clicking his prosthetic hook for emphasis. “We don’t have all night!”

As Jo sets off down the dark wood floor, as Vincent says “Shoulders, for God’s sake, shoulders back, don’t slouch,” Roland opens the big black door and steps out into the hall. Yawning, stretching, he sits on the top step. “Chin up! Up!” comes Vincent’s voice faintly from the training hall. Roland smiles.

Ysabel’s fingertip sparkles with gold dust. She holds it above her face, drawing a squiggle in the air, a floral pattern that lingers shimmering like the patterns made by sparklers on a dark night. She smiles at it, her eyes shining. Laughs, just a little. Closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Opens them, and lets it out. The flower dissolves into glittering swirls, lost in a dim apartment lit only by flickering, guttering candles.

“Oh, how I miss you,” says Marfisa, lying naked on her belly on the futon next to Ysabel.

“I miss all of you,” says Ysabel, her hair undone, its dark weight pooled on the pillow, spilling over her bare shoulders. She still wears her wool socks. A small plastic baggie swollen with gold dust lies on her stomach.

“You know,” says Marfisa, “I wanted to make you jealous tonight.”

“Don’t think like that,” says Ysabel.

“I did. I did. I was going to hang on Roland when you came out with that girl and I was going to, I don’t know. It was foolish.”

“It was.”

“Roland thought I was chilly. He offered me his jacket.”

“Roland can be a bit – dense.” Ysabel kisses her fingertip lightly, and dips it into the baggie for another smudge of gold dust.

“You were such a bitch at Robin’s party,” says Marfisa, rolling on her side, looking at Ysabel. “Dancing with that girl while I played your song. And then – ”

“Don’t,” says Ysabel. Her finger slashes through the air, sketching an angry shape. “Don’t think like that. Don’t think you can make me jealous, Marfisa. There’s nothing to be jealous for.” The shape hangs glittering above them, ghosting slowly into the air. Ysabel turns to look at Marfisa, whose pale, pale hair is tangled across the pillows, her shoulder, tangled up with ghostly blue flowers about her wide face falling, her thin-lipped mouth turning down, her blue eyes shining wet and rimmed with red. “I know,” says Marfisa. “I know. Some day the King will come and sit the Throne again. And you will – marry him. But until then – ”

“No,” says Ysabel. “No. There’s no then. There’s no until. There’s no could be or maybe or can be.”

Closing her eyes against threatening tears Marfisa turns her face to the pillow. “I know,” she says, muffled. “Lady, I know.”

“Shh.” Ysabel dips her finger and thumb into the baggie, pulling out a pinch of dust and setting the baggie to one side. She rolls on her side to lie against Marfisa, kissing the thick round blue-tinged shoulder before her. “There’s now,” she says. “There’s here.” She sprinkles the pinch of dust floating glittering down through the air to land on Marfisa’s back. “Oh,” says Marfisa. Shivering. “There’s now,” says Ysabel, lightly stroking the dust into Marfisa’s skin, “and here.”

“Oh,” says Marfisa.

Jo clomps down the narrow flight of stairs and kicks open the door at the bottom, fishing in her shirt pocket for a pack of cigarettes. The door’s swinging shut as she lights one and sucks down a chestful of smoke.

“I liked it better when the brewery was here,” says Roland, who’s sitting on the sidewalk by the door. “I liked the smell. Some people didn’t, but I did. It was rich. Sour, but – rich. Full of life. You knew something was growing here. Being made.” He smiles. “I also liked the way the bottles would clink on the conveyor belt above the street. Like little glass bells.” He looks up at Jo. “How’d it go?”

“He says I should quit smoking,” says Jo, taking another drag. “Among other things. I’m supposed to come back Sunday for a test.” She looks back up at the long, two-storey building. “Freak.” One last drag, and then she flicks the cigarette sparking up at the blank black windows above them. “So what did you stick around for?”

“I thought I might walk you home,” says Roland.

“Oh,” says Jo. Shrugging, she holds out a hand. He takes it. She pulls him to his feet. “You going to tell me more about brewing?”

“It’s good, honest work, brewing,” says Roland.

“Actually,” says Jo, as they set off down the sidewalk toward 10th. “I wanted to ask you something. About, about this thing I do, being a Gallowglas.”

“Go ahead,” says Roland, frowning down at his shoes.

“When you challenged me. At that party. If I’d actually hit you – ”

“You wouldn’t have hit me,” says Roland, walking more quickly.

“Yeah, but if I’d managed to – ” says Jo, catching up.

“You couldn’t manage to – ”

“If, I’m saying. If. If I had. Would I have, well, I mean – ”

“There’s no way you could have. But. If you had – yes,” says Roland, stopping at a corner. The stoplight over the intersection is blinking red in all four directions. “Yes,” he says again.

“Because of who I am,” says Jo.

“What you are. Yes.”

“I could have killed you. Just like that guy the other night.”

“You wouldn’t have – ”

“And you challenged me anyway.”

“There wasn’t any danger!” says Roland. Jo throws up her hands and starts across the street. “There shouldn’t have been any danger,” says Roland, following after.

“Oh, no,” says Jo. “None at all. I just woke up in Ysabel’s house with a hole in my back and no idea what the fuck had happened.”

“Jo,” says Roland. “Jo!” He runs and catches her arm. The two of them swing to a stop, facing each other, before the darkened windows of a bookstore. “I am sorry for that,” says Roland. “And I promise you: I will make amends.”

“You,” says Jo. “Will make amends. To me.”

Roland smiles. Laughs a little. “You are rude, Jo. You’re impatient and disrespectful. You don’t listen and you don’t care and you laugh at things you don’t understand. But the night before last you proved yourself.”

Jo starts to say something, and stops, and then throws up her hands. “Night before last I ran. I got some guy killed, boiled away into nothing, because I didn’t know where to put my feet.”

“You fought,” says Roland, “to keep the Princess safe with everything you had. That’s all that matters to me.”

Jo shakes her head. “I am never going to understand you people.”

“Why should you?” says Roland. He gestures toward the next intersection with his hand, and shrugging, Jo sets off. He follows.

There at the corner of 10th and Burnside, waiting for the light to change, Jo points across the intersection. “What the hell is that?”

On a wedge of sidewalk piercing the five-way intersection, across from a pizza place, is a mound of bicycles: kid-sized bikes in candy colors, mirror-bright dirt bikes, banana-seat choppers sparkling with glitter, white rimmed wheels glowing pink in the streetlight, plastic handlebars feathered with tassels, all piled up in a heap about as tall as Roland. “I have no idea,” he says.

“It just seems like something you people would do.”

“My people?” says Roland.

“Well, it seems like it.” Jo frowns.

“I have no idea, Jo,” says Roland. “The light’s changed.”

“Yeah, yeah,” says Jo.

Table of Contents

“Le Trash Blanc?” – Not her man – Something, Anything, It – Very simple questions –

“Le Trash Blanc?” says Jo.

“Go on,” says Ysabel. “For another fifty cents you get a can of beer.”

Jo shrugs. “Why not.”

“Demi-vegan,” says Ysabel, handing their menus up to the waitress. “And a glass of the Bordelet sydre doux.”

The room is dimly lit and red. Jo and Ysabel sit side-by-side on a low couch under the front window. Over a ringing cocktail-hour piano and a lonely trumpet an unearthly chorus is singing Dare no harienu, daiya no kokoro tsumetai watashi no. Past the closely packed tables toward the back there’s an open kitchen, where a goatee’d man pours batter on a hot griddle, swirling it in a circle with a wide flat paddle. “Ah,” says Ysabel. She’s wearing black jeans and a tight white T-shirt. A black leather jacket rustling with fringe slumps on the couch next to her. “This is nice.”

“Yeah,” says Jo. “We’re under twenty bucks, with booze.” She’s wearing baggy brown cords and a blue and orange rugby shirt, her mismatched Chuck Taylors perched on the edge of the coffee table in front of them. One black, one white, the toe swaddled in grubby duct tape.

“What I meant was,” Ysabel’s saying, “it’s just about been a week since you challenged Roland. And in all that time, we haven’t really had much of a chance to sit down and – ”

“Eat out?” says Jo.

“Don’t,” says Ysabel, quietly. Jo looks down at her hands in her lap, reaches for the glass of water on the table between her feet. Sips. “You think you can spring for dessert?” says Ysabel.

“We’ll see,” says Jo.

“We could split one,” says Ysabel. “The lemon-ginger. And a cup of coffee. That’s it. I swear.”

“We’ll see,” says Jo.

Donna tenshi mo akogare sasayaki mo, the chorus is singing. Otoko no ainado todoki wa shinai, todoki wa shinai.

“So what’s your life like when I’m not interrupting it?” says Ysabel. The waitress in her periwinkle dress sets a glass of cider and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon on the low table.

“You’ve pretty much seen it,” says Jo. “Work. Home. Sleep. Every now and then I order a pizza.”

“Yes, but,” says Ysabel. “I mean, friends. You were out with some last Saturday – Becker, and, well, that funny little goth – ”

“Guthrie,” says Jo, shrugging, leaning forward, popping the top on the can of beer. “And Becker, yeah. Friends from work. I’ve known Becker maybe, what, eight months? He’s kinda turning into an asshole, now that he’s been promoted.” She grins as she pours the beer into an empty glass. “Which is what we were celebrating last week, his promotion, I mean. Not his assholishness.”

Ysabel lays one thin arm along the back of the sofa. “And what about anybody else?”

“What about them?” says Jo.

“You know,” says Ysabel. “Is there? Anyone in particular?”

“Well,” says Jo, the glass of pale beer in her hand. “There used to be.”

Her hand up by her temple, toying with her thick dark tangled curls, Ysabel smiles. “Does this anyone have a name?”

“Frankie,” says Jo. “And, I mean, it’s over. It’s definitely over. It ended badly.” She takes a long drink of beer. “So,” she says, setting the glass down.

“So?” says Ysabel.

“So,” says Jo, shrugging. “It’s over. So I guess the answer is there isn’t.”

“And Christian?” says Ysabel.

“Christian?” says Jo. “No. I mean, what? We just – ”

“How did you get to know him?” says Ysabel.

“He was one of the first people I met when I moved here,” says Jo, looking sidelong at Ysabel. “About four years ago.”

Ysabel sips her cider. “He just,” she says, “doesn’t seem like the sort of person you’d, well. Know.”

“Yeah, well,” says Jo, “he was. Okay? For a while there – I did some stupid stuff, and some stupid stuff happened. And Christian is a wild guy, you know? But, if you’re a friend, he’s there. Period.” She smiles. “It was cool, seeing him again.”

“Stupid stuff?” says Ysabel, an eyebrow raised.

“Yeah,” says Jo. “Which is why these days I go to work, and I come home, to my apartment, and every now and then I order a pizza.”

Ysabel nods a little at that.

“Of course,” says Jo, “your man Vincent doesn’t think that’ll do me a bit of good.”

“Vincent?” says Ysabel.

“He says no matter what, I’m always going to be looking for trouble. Looking for a fight.” She grins a little at herself. “I guess I proved that last week.”

“He’s not ‘my man,’” says Ysabel.

“He isn’t?” says Jo.

“I’ve never actually met Vincent Erne,” says Ysabel. “What’s he like?”

“He talks too much,” says Jo.

“Chin up! Up!” snaps Vincent.

Jo at the other end of the mirror-walled room spins around. “What the fuck?” she says. “I’m walking. Like you said.”

“You’re walking, all right,” he says. The metal hook at the end of his left arm clacks in a dismissive snap. “You’re walking like a goddamn kid. Like you’re going to detention. Like your mother just called you home for supper and you want the whole world to know you hate collard greens.” He’s gliding down the dark, tape-marked floor, jabbing at her with his thin, knobby forefinger. “Boo. Fucking. Hoo.” Jo’s spreading her arms, staring at him, her mouth open in dismay, in anger. “What?” he says, circling her. “What? Come on. Let me have it.” Jo’s mouth tightens. “Whaddaya got? Come on.” Her hand squeezes into a fist and opens up again. “Well? What are you gonna do about it, huh? Come on!” Leaning back to one side Jo throws the heel of her hand at his face.

He catches it easily.

“You have nothing,” he says.

She tries to jerk her hand free. He holds it there in the air between them, his fingers tightening about her wrist.

“You have nothing,” he says again, “and everybody knows it. So you curl up tightly about it and when somebody tries to poke you to see what’s what, all you can do is take that someone’s head off. So go on. Take my head off.”

Jo jerks her arm again, trying to throw her hips into it, and when he hauls her hand back up between them she shoves the motion into her shoulder, lunging at him. He blocks her with his beige prosthetic arm. Then he lets go, stepping back.

“You walk into a roomful of gentry like that,” he says, shaking his head.

“What the fuck is this?” snarls Jo.

“These are people who would as soon gut you and leave you for dead as take your lunch money,” says Vincent. “You walk into a room, full of nothing, like that, you won’t walk out.” Turning away he walks back down the long room toward the lit end. “Now walk like you have something,” he calls over his shoulder. “Walk like you mean it.”

“I killed one of them,” she says.

“No,” he says, standing there under the light at the other end of the room. “No, you did not. The Chariot did. And he wasn’t gentry. He was just Tommy Rawhead. Mothers used his name to scare their kids. ‘Get up to bed, or Rawhead and Bloody Bones will eat! You! Up!’” Vincent shakes his head. “And then some idiot got it into his head he’s going after the Bride, and Tommy got in the middle of it, and you stuck your foot in when you were told to stay put, and this is what you thought you were bringing to the table?”

Jo’s looking down at her boots.

“Luckily, it’s all about appearance,” he says. “If you look like you have it, then you have it. That is the secret, my dear. Plain and simple. If you walk into a room with the Bride on your arm and you look like you have it, no one is going to poke you to find out otherwise.”

“So,” says Jo, “what do I – ”

“Walk towards me,” says Vincent. “By the time you get here, I want to believe you have something. Anything. It.”

Jo takes a deep breath. Squares her shoulders. Looks him straight in the eye. The light’s shining off his forehead, the tip of his nose. His hand held loosely at his side, waiting.

She starts walking, striding down the dark floor toward him. He sighs. Looks away, at the floor-to-ceiling mirror running down the wall. Heads toward her suddenly. She falters as he circles behind her, takes her shoulders in his hand, the butt of his prosthesis, turning her to face the mirror. “Look,” he says, leaning over her shoulder. “Look at yourself. Look. What do you have? What do you have to be proud of?”

Jo’s face in the mirror is slack. The line of her nose is the only sharp thing about it. Shadows pool in her cheeks and smudge the skin under her eyes. Her lips parted, just. Taking a breath. “What is it?” he says. “At the end of the day, what can you look back on and say, I did that? Find that thing. Find it and let it fill you up so you can walk with your shoulders back and your chin up and your head high. Find it so you can look them in the eye and they will see that you are a person to be reckoned with. Find it and show it to them, and you won’t have to prove it.” Jo closes her eyes. Swallows. “But you have to find it, Jo.”

She opens her eyes, looking down at his hand. “Please,” she says. “Get your hand off my shoulder.”

Vincent backs away a couple of steps. “Walk,” he says. “Go on. Down to the end of the room and back again. Go.”

“So what about you?” says Jo, leaning forward to fork up a mouthful of crêpe.

“Me?” says Ysabel, polishing off her cider. It’s too much me, a woman’s singing breathily over a weepy steel guitar, and not enough of the people I wanna be.

“Yeah,” says Jo. “Do you have a particular anyone?”

Nine ninety-nine, sings the woman, pretty good wine, a beautiful time. Ysabel smiles. “No,” she says. “I never have.”

“Never,” says Jo.

“I can’t,” says Ysabel. She leans back, toying with the fringe of the jacket beside her. “I’m the Princess,” she says. “The Bride. I can’t.”

“So this Bride business is, I mean, it’s literal?” says Jo. “You’re going to get married?”

“To the King,” says Ysabel. “When he returns. So I suppose there is a particular anyone, after all.” She leans forward, picking up her fork to chase a last bit of black bean paste.

“What’s he like?” says Jo.

“I don’t know,” says Ysabel. “No one knows who the King will be, or when he will come.” She looks back at Jo. “Which might be why someone was trying so very hard to talk to me Wednesday. Perhaps he thinks it works the same backwards as forwards – if he were to marry me,” and she licks the last bite from her fork.

“He’d become King,” says Jo.

“And it might very well work that way,” says Ysabel. “But until then,” she shrugs. “I can’t.”

“Now,” says Jo, “when you say ‘never,’ do you mean – ”

“I think I mean it’s none of your business.”

“Yeah, but. Never?”

“Did you want to split a crêpe for dessert?” says Ysabel.

The phone rings, so he picks it up. “Hello,” he says, tucking it between his ear and his shoulder, picking up the knife. “I, uh,” he says, crunching a garlic clove under the flat of the blade. “Look,” he says. “It’s a Sunday, for God’s sake. You people shouldn’t be.”

“Oh, I understand,” says Ysabel into her telephone headset. “But this isn’t a sales call. It’s just a survey, sir. We only want to ask you how satisfied you are with various financial products and services. It’ll only take five or six minutes of your time, tops, and you’ll be helping a bank do a better job of giving its customers what they want. Perhaps your bank. Look at it as a good deed for the day.”

“Yeah, well,” he says, peeling the paper from the clove, “I don’t think.”

“And you should understand, sir, that we don’t know who you are. Your phone number was randomly generated. I wouldn’t know you from Adam, sir, if I were to bump into you on the street. So.” She swivels in her chair, looking out of her carrel along the length of the narrow office with its indecisive cream walls. A couple of spaces down, Jo is hunched over her phone, making some emphatic point with her hands. Guthrie’s hanging up his phone. The woman with the wattle under her chin is headed for the kitchen, on a break. Becker at his desk, holding a handset to his ear, monitoring someone’s call. “With that in mind,” says Ysabel, “do you think you might want me?”

“I, uh.” His brown hair is shaggy, and has enough grey in it to look dusty as well as unkempt. He holds the knife in one hand, looking down at a jumble of unpeeled garlic cloves. “What?” he says.

“Would you want to answer my questions?”

“I,” he says.

“Keep in mind, they’re very simple. It’ll only take five or six minutes of your time. For instance: do you find me desirable?”

“I’m married,” he says. Putting the knife down on the counter.

“Doesn’t matter for the purposes of this survey,” says Ysabel. She’s looking at her gold-painted nails. At his desk Becker’s looking up, at her, frowning. “How would you rate me, on a scale of one to ten, one being lowest, and ten being highest?”

“A ten,” he says. “I thought you said this was about financial – ”

“It’s about how satisfied you are,” says Ysabel. Becker’s making slashing gestures across his throat at her. “How satisfied do you think you’d be with me?” Becker’s getting up from behind his desk. “Would you say very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied?”

“Oh,” he says, looking across the kitchen at a woman typing on a laptop on a little desk in an alcove under a crowded bookshelf. “Very satisfied. But – Hello? Hello?”

Ysabel stands as Becker takes his finger off the disconnect button. “What the hell was that?” he says.

“I was,” says Ysabel, “flirting. Trying to keep him interested in doing the survey.”

“That wasn’t flirting,” says Becker. “That was – weird.”

Ysabel shrugs.

“Don’t do that,” says Becker. “You do that again, I’ll have to pull you off the phones. Okay? There’s just an hour left in the shift – ” Ysabel’s hanging her headset up in the carrel, squatting to pick up a little purse from the floor under her desk. “What are you,” says Becker.

“Leaving,” says Ysabel. “I’m bored, and I’d almost certainly do it again. I’m saving you the trouble.”

“What’s up?” says Jo, standing there behind Becker.

“Get back on the phone,” says Becker.

“Shut the fuck up,” says Jo. “Ysabel?”

“Don’t,” says Becker.

“I’m going,” says Ysabel. “I’m done.”

“Don’t talk,” says Becker.

“Let me get my jacket,” says Jo.

“Don’t talk to me like that,” says Becker. People are looking up from their phones. “Jo, sit down. Ysabel, just head over to the Little Conference Room. I’ll meet you there in a minute.”

“I think,” says Ysabel, “I would be very dissatisfied with that.”

“That doesn’t matter,” says Becker. quietly. Not looking at either of them.

“Back the fuck off,” says Jo, yanking her jacket off the back of her chair. Shutting off her computer.

“Don’t you leave,” says Becker.

“If you’re throwing her out,” says Jo, “I have to go with her. You know that.”

“I’m not – ” says Becker. “Sit the fuck down, Jo. Ysabel – ”

“Or what?” says Jo. “You’ll fire me?” She pulls on her jacket. “Come on.”

“What the hell,” says Becker, there in the middle of the aisle of kelly green carrels.

Table of Contents

Song of the Black Lizard” written by Isao Tomita, copyright holder unknown. “It’s Party Time” written by Lisa Germano, ©2003.

Whipped Cream – Like most people – Zoobombing – This Ray guy –

The whipped cream melts into an oily sludge. Fluffy curds calve off, bobbing up and down as Ysabel pokes them with a plastic stirrer.

“We could sell the stuff,” says Jo.

“The stuff,” says Ysabel, not looking up.

“The furniture,” says Jo, leaning forward, her elbows on the table. “The chest-thing. That whoever it was brought, who came in and cleaned up the place.”

“We can’t sell that.”

“We can’t,” says Jo.

“We can’t sell it, Jo,” snaps Ysabel, throwing the plastic stirrer down by her coffee. “Honestly. Do you really think somebody hauled all that up the elevator and set it up in your apartment while we were out shopping for a half an hour?” She slumps back in her chair, looking up at the yellowing ceiling tiles. “It’s not mine to sell,” she says.

“What were you doing on the phone?” says Jo.

“I was flirting,” says Ysabel.

“For flirting,” says Jo, “Becker cuts you off? For flirting, he wants to talk to you in the conference room?”

“Yes,” says Ysabel simply.

“Whatever,” says Jo.

“So,” says Ysabel, picking the stirrer back up. “Do you think you’re,” and she sinks a large, unwieldy blob of whipped cream, “fired?”

“For that?” Jo snorts. “I’d have to go postal or something to get fired there. It’s you I’m worried about.”

“You think I’m fired?”

“I think you quit.”

Ysabel shrugs. Dunks another shred of whipped cream.

“Are you going to drink that?”

“Probably not,” says Ysabel.

“Fine,” says Jo, pushing back her chair. “It’s about time to go meet Roland and whatshername, anyway. You know,” she says, as Ysabel plucks her jacket from the back of the chair, “we could get her to guard you while I’m working – ”

“No,” says Ysabel, heading for the door.

“No?” says Jo.

“No,” Ysabel calls over her shoulder.

“Okay, fine, whatever,” mutters Jo, following after.

After a moment, she’s back, snagging the cup of coffee, taking it with her.

“She surprises me,” says Roland, standing once again under the multi-colored Tonic banner. He’s wearing a silvery track suit with green piping. His shoes are puffy and white and spotless, and blue and white headphones cling to his neck. “I keep expecting her to give up, and she doesn’t.”

“Her nose is too big,” says Marfisa. Her hands are tucked into the pockets of a baby blue fleece pullover.

“The Princess?” says Roland.

“No,” says Marfisa. “I thought you were talking about the girl. Jo.”

“I meant the Princess.”

“The Princess’s nose is fine.”

“I know.”

“I thought you meant Jo was refusing to give up.”

“I know.”

Marfisa reaches up to tuck a curl of hair behind her ear. “And Jo is surprising.”

“Jo,” says Roland, “is surprising in precisely the way you’d expect.”

Marfisa frowns.

“Hey,” calls Jo from the corner, Ysabel behind her, a dark shape in her dark suit. Roland looks over at the front door of the building, back to the two of them coming up the street. “Change in plans,” says Jo. “I mean, we’re still going to Vincent’s. Right? We just, um. Left work a little early.”

“Oh,” says Roland.

Hall light spills onto crinkled posters for plays long since over, with titles like The Maid’s Tragedy and The Courier’s Tragedy, The Insatiate Countess and The Knight of the Burning Pestle. “You weren’t in the studio,” says Roland.

“I’m not,” says Vincent Erne, as the ceiling lights flicker to life, “am I.” He’s sitting cross-legged in an office chair, his back to a long table lost under haphazard stacks of books and piles of paper. He holds a coffee mug loosely, his finger through the ring. On the desk a bottle with a finger’s worth of sooty whiskey.

“You’re drinking,” says Roland.

“Why yes,” says Vincent. “I am. Did you bring your protégée? Jo?”

She’s leaning in the doorway, her head against the jamb. “She’ll be ready for Wednesday?” says Roland.

“What will you do to her, Wednesday?”

Jo’s eyes flick from Vincent to Roland and back again. “Vincent Erne,” Roland’s saying, “you have incurred certain obligations – ”

“You don’t need to remind me, boy,” snaps Vincent. “Why don’t you run along, and allow me to discharge them. As,” he says, climbing slowly out of his chair, “I see fit.”

“Should we go over to the,” says Jo, pointing down the hall after Roland.

“I’m not in the mood for running around and yelling at you,” says Vincent. A long axe, hung with ribbons and limp felt banners, leans in the corner. On the floor a large white kite-shaped shield with a gold and black bee. Vincent squats there, clattering something. “Are you in the mood to run around and be yelled at?”

“No,” says Jo.

“Then we shan’t go over to the studio,” says Vincent. He stands up, holding a sword. “Here.” He tosses it hilt down at Jo who just barely catches it above the saucer-shaped guard.

“It’s a sword,” she says.

“And this is a sheath.” He holds it up, a limp leather sock dangling from the hook at the end of his left arm. “Take off your jacket.”

“Why?” says Jo.

“So I can tie it to your belt,” he says, kneeling heavily before her, catching himself with his hand on the floor.

“You’re not,” says Jo, arms raised awkwardly out of his way. “You’re not one of them. Are you.” The scabbard hangs from a fold of black satiny fabric with a couple of long ties that he works under Jo’s belt. “I mean,” she says, “I knew you weren’t a knight. But I didn’t realize you weren’t a, well, a…”

“Go on,” says Vincent.

“You’re not – you’re like me. You’re like most people.”

“I highly doubt that,” he says, leaning back. “Then, no one is like ‘most people.’ Sheathe the sword.”

“I thought,” says Jo, looking down, aiming the wavering tip at the sheath’s mouth, “I wasn’t going anywhere near a sword, or something. All of a sudden I’m worthy?”

Vincent climbs to his feet. “It’s a piece-of-shit épée that would set you back maybe a hundred bucks.” He grins. “I get them wholesale. Now. Let me show you everything you need to know.”

He takes her left hand in his and places it on the hilt. “The most common mistake a newcomer makes with a sword is to hold it here, by the hilt. Go on. Grab it.” Jo does. The sword swings a little on her hip, the end of it sticking out behind her clunking into the door. “See?” says Vincent. “It’s a long piece of metal. You want to keep it under control, but if you grab it like that, the tip sticks out. If you were to bow before the Queen, you’d put out the eye of whomever’s standing behind you. Let go. Rest your wrist against the hilt. Push the hilt out,” and she does. From its black satiny baldric the hilt pushed out swings the blade in its sheath to tuck up against the backs of her thighs. “Under control,” says Vincent. “If you bow, just remember to keep pushing the hilt out like that. It will become second nature.”

“Okay,” says Jo. “Now. What if I get into a fight?”

“If you get in a fight, Jo,” he says, “you will lose.” He heads over to his desk and pours the last finger of whiskey into his mug. “So don’t get in a fight. Don’t curl up. Don’t snap.”

“Vincent,” says Jo.

“Mr. Erne,” he says, sipping.

“Mr. Erne,” says Jo. “What’s going to happen on Wednesday?”

Swallowing, Vincent lowers his mug. “A hunt,” he says.

“It’s a stupid way to run things, if you ask me,” says Ysabel. She’s sitting on the edge of the counter in the bathroom, next to the sink.

“Hold still,” says Marfisa. “Close your eyes.” She’s standing between Ysabel’s knees, leaning in close, a brush in one hand to smooth a pale and creamy beige across Ysabel’s eyelid.

“She wakes up,” says Ysabel, closing her eyes. “She spends six hours a day telephoning people and asking them how much they like their things. She does this for just enough money so she can come back to her apartment. Sometimes she orders a pizza.” Marfisa picks up a skinny brush and dips it into a pot of bright pink in a jumbled muddle of colors and brushes in a My Little Pony lunchbox. “She doesn’t even have half the things she asks about. Money markets. Mutual funds.” Ysabel’s hands rest idly on Marfisa’s hips. “An annuity. She doesn’t even know what those are.”

“Something that happens once a year,” mutters Marfisa, carefully drawing a thin pink line along the edge of Ysabel’s eyelid.

“I don’t think what she does matters. Whether she’s calling people or making donuts or delivering pizzas. What she’s really doing is shoveling money. From the company that pays people to ask questions to the people who own this apartment building and make the pizzas who probably put it into mutual funds which they aren’t all that satisfied with. It’s like a tide,” says Ysabel, “constantly rushing out, and she has to help it along, and she can’t ever stop and take any for herself.”

“Her loss,” says Marfisa, leaning back a little, looking at Ysabel’s closed eyes. “How’s that?”

Ysabel looks over her shoulder at herself in the mirror. Blinks. “Looks good,” she says, turning to look up at Marfisa. Smiling. “Let’s go.”

“The Bear?” says Roland, as they pass the white brick wall of the old armory. “The Stag? The Boar? None of these?”

“All he talked about was how I walked,” says Jo.

“The Fox?”

“Look,” says Jo, “I didn’t even know there was going to be this hunt until tonight. You haven’t exactly been upfront yourself.”

“I thought he was telling you,” mutters Roland. “He didn’t even talk about the Hare?”

“He gave me this,” snaps Jo, holding up the épée she’s been carrying at her side, still in its black leather sheath, her hand an awkwardly tight fist under the bell guard. “What the hell am I supposed to do with it?”

“Don’t go waving it around,” says Roland, reaching out, pushing her hand down.

“It doesn’t even have a point,” says Jo.

“Roland!” calls someone up ahead. “Roland, is that you?”

“What the hell is he up to?” says Roland, looking back the way they’ve come.

“Who, him?” says Jo, pointing with the hilt of her sword at a man with a shock of pinkish orange hair, up ahead at the corner of the intersection with Burnside. He’s wearing a black leather jacket and black jeans and he’s slouching over the handlebars of a little pink bicycle. His knees jackknife up to either side like some spindly frog. White streamers on the handlebars flutter in the breeze.

“Roland!” he calls. “It is you!”

“I was talking about Vincent,” mutters Roland. “Just hold onto the sword for now, and,” but Jo’s stepped past him.

“It’s one of those bicycles,” she says. She looks back, frowning. “I thought you said you guys didn’t do the bicycles.”

“He’s not one of my guys. Just ignore him, and he’ll – Jo – ”

“Hey!” Jo’s calling to the guy on the bike. “What the hell are you guys doing?”

His face cracks open in an enormous grin. He slings his arms out to either side and yells up into the light-stained nighttime sky, “Zoobombing!”

At the underground station a dozen of them get off the train. They wear sweaters and hooded sweatshirts, jeans and hacked-off khakis. There’s a woman in a green and yellow cheerleader outfit. Somebody’s wearing a rabbit head with a metallic, skull-like face. Some of them carry little kids’ bikes, like the pink one on the shoulder of the guy with the pinkish orange hair. Some of them carry silvery dirt bikes. The cheerleader has a big blue bicycle with fat tires and a flowery white basket hooked to the front. One guy has a rickety looking homebuilt machine with a yellow banana seat and a tiny back wheel and a long fork for the front wheel, like a chopped penny-farthing.

They head for the elevators at either end of the platform. Roland frowning hefts a battered red dirt bike. Jo after him sets a purple kids’ bike on its back wheel. “Hey,” says the guy with pinkish orange hair, last to push his way in. “Roland. If you don’t think this is going to be a blast – ”

“I said I’d do it, Ray,” mutters Roland. “So I’ll do it.”

“Going up,” says whoever’s wearing the rabbit head, punching the top button. The digital readout starts counting down from 260 feet to the surface.

“Young and tall and tan and slender,” sings someone else, giggling.

“You guys do this every week?” says Jo.

“Just about,” says a woman in a white tank top, her muscled arms ringed with tattoos and elbow pads. “First time?”

“Yeah,” says Jo.

“You know, Roland,” says Ray, “You don’t have to – ”

“I said,” snaps Roland, as the elevator doors slide open, “I’d do it.”

“Heads up!” yells somebody outside, and something comes winging in at them. Ray puts out his hand and catches it, thwock! A can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. “Oh ho,” says Ray. A couple of people in the milling crowd outside break into a run, and violently shaking up the can of beer he takes off after them.

Out of the elevator a sidewalk overlooks a cluster of dimly lit parking lots sloping generally down toward the dark gate of the Oregon Zoo. There’s a swarm of people on bikes, people walking bikes, people sitting by bikes drinking beer and bottled water, snapping photos of each other posing on bikes. “I told you,” says Roland. A big guy walks past, wearing only an army helmet and a pair of white underpants. “Not us.”

“Yeah,” says Jo. “But Ray is. Right?”

“Ray is an asshole,” says Roland, after a moment.

“So what are you doing up here?”

“First,” says Roland, “I have to make sure you get back to the Princess.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” says Jo. “She’s in my apartment.”

“And I will not allow anyone to say I backed down from a challenge,” he says.

“It’s not that bad,” says the tattooed woman. “It’s all downhill from here into town. We get up to thirty, forty miles an hour, but the worst we’ve seen is a busted collarbone.” She grins. “You will wipe out. You will scrape stuff up. But it’s a hell of a run.”

Someone’s chanting something – the words lost in a thick fake Cockney accent. Somebody else takes it up: “We are the Self-Preservation, Society! We are the Self-Preservation, Society!”

“Zoobombing,” says Jo, shaking her head.

The swarm sorts itself out into a line snaking up out from under the parking lot lights along the switchbacking length of Kingston. The sky to either side glows with the lights of downtown, the suburbs on the other side of the hills. The only other lights shine from the fronts of the bicycles, bob on helmets, flicker and flash from cameras and cell phones, wink unexpectedly from reflectors in spokes. Kingston dead-ends suddenly at the top of the ridge into Fairview. The line of bicyclists starts clumping up here in ragged groups on either side of the road. There’s Ray, waddling out into the middle on his little pink bike. “Hey!” he yells. “Hey!” He sits there a moment as whistles and claps waft around him, and then throwing back his head he bellows, “Get a bloomin’ move on!” He lifts his feet, jackknifing his legs to get them onto the pedals. The bike wobbling rolls slowly downhill. Picking up speed as he leans into the curve and out of sight.

And everyone starts to follow him. Wheeling and pedaling out into the street and kicking off down the hill, dirt bikes and kids’ bikes and a ten-speed like an old greyhound, a red folding bicycle with little wheels, the homebuilt chopped penny farthing. Whoops and cries ring out. Jo follows the tattooed woman out onto the street, and Roland follows her. “Watch out,” says the tattooed woman, “for cops,” and then she’s off.

“Cops,” says Jo.

“This was your idea,” says Roland.

“You were the one who said yeah, whatever, we’ll do it.”

“You were the one who wouldn’t ignore him in the first place.”

“You know,” says Jo, as the guy in the army hat and the white underpants pedals past, giggling, “there’s a story there. If we make it to the bottom in one piece, you’re gonna have to tell me what the hell it is with you and this Ray guy.”

“Do not think to bargain with me, Jo Maguire,” snaps Roland, and he kicks off, pedaling jerkily down the hill on his red dirt bike.

Jo sits there a moment, looking after him. And then she shrugs, pushes off, finds the little pedals with her feet. “Ho. Ly. Fuck!” she yells, picking up speed.

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English lyrics for “Girl From Ipanema” written by Norman Gimbel, © 1964. “Get a Bloomin’ Move On” written by Quincy Jones, copyright holder unknown.

Marfisa in the Hall – What he wants to Hear

Marfisa in the hall sits back against Jo’s door, long legs in blue and brown striped socks stretched across the orange carpet. She wears blue shorts and a tight grey T-shirt that says Property of S.H.I.E.L.D. Her arms folded over the blue fleece pullover wadded up in her lap. When the elevator down the hall dings, she opens her eyes.

“No, seriously,” Jo’s saying.

“I do not,” says Roland.

“That was one hell of a spill.”

“I do not need help.

“I’m not,” says Jo, as Roland pushes past her, out of the elevator. “Helping,” she says. Following him, the épée still in its black leather sheath balanced on one shoulder, her hand up holding it lightly. “It’s just, you’re limping – ”

“Jo,” says Roland.

The blue fleece pullover wadded about her left hand held up before them Marfisa elbow crooked up high in her right hand holds a sword, fluorescent light stretched thin glaring from the tip at Jo. She opens her mouth to say something.

“Don’t,” says Roland.

“I will,” says Marfisa. “Jo Maguire – ”

“Do not do this,” says Roland.

“Jo Maguire,” says Marfisa, “I challenge – ”

“What has she done to you?” says Roland. “What harm?”

“For her,” says Marfisa. “It’s for her. The way she – ”

“No,” Roland’s saying, “it isn’t. Put up your blade. Put up – Jo – ”

Jo her blunted épée still resting on one shoulder is stepping past him. Marfisa lowers her swaddled hand a little, sword hand still held high. “Stop,” says Roland. Marfisa’s sword is bright, two fingers wide without a curve until its sudden tip, quivering, scraping nervous squiggles in the air. “You know what?” says Jo. Marfisa sucks a quick breath, sword twisting at the jump in her wrist as Jo lifts the épée and her hand drooping lets the black leather tip of it swing down to thump against the carpet. “I’m tired,” says Jo. “I’m really fucking tired. I’m going to walk past you, go into my apartment, I’m going to crawl into bed, and go to sleep.” Jo looks down at the épée in her hand almost swallowed by the cuff of her army jacket. The bell is dull and dented. The hilt under her fingers is wrapped with grubby red tape. She lets go, catching it about the leather sheath. Hefts it, tucking it under her arm. Lifts her head. Marfisa’s looking away, working at the pullover wrapped about her left hand.

“I will not,” Roland’s saying, “mention this to your brother.”

“Thank you,” says Marfisa, and then, reaching out suddenly, her hand on Jo’s shoulder, “Wait.”

Jo eyes wide looks at that hand.

“If you hurt her,” says Marfisa.

Jo frowns. “I won’t,” she says. “Let go.”

“I will kill you if anything happens to her.”

“Marfisa,” says Roland. “Let her go. Leave her to guard the Princess. Let her go, or I will call you out myself.”

Marfisa lifts her hand. Jo awkwardly clamping the épée under her arm fishes for her keys. Marfisa shaking out her pullover watches as Jo unlocks the door. “Well,” says Jo. “Goodnight.”

The door closed, there in the dark, Jo sags back against it, shivering. The épée falls to the floor with a muffled clank.

“So,” says the little guy in the dark suit.

“So?” says Mr. Leir, washing his hands at a stained plastic sink on spindly legs.

“What do you think?”

Mr. Leir, smiling, holds up one finger. His white shirt open at the collar, the cuffs unbuttoned and rolled back. A rust-colored smudge still on one wrist. that he worries with his thumb, walking back across the dusty floor to the harsh white glare of the arc light hanging from a hook. “Well, Mr. Kerr?” he says.

“I, um,” says the man in the blue striped shirt. The wooden floor under that bright light has been swept clear of dust. It’s marred with a smattering of black charred spots. “He was – magnificent.”

“And?” says Mr. Leir, smiling.

“It’s like I was saying,” says Kerr. His tie is much the same blue as the stripes on his shirt, and the watch on his wrist is heavy and gold. “The EPA rules coming down, security, with the terrorism thing – like it’s ever going to happen here, but still. People are scared.”

“Which isn’t what I want to hear,” says Mr. Leir, still smiling. “What I want to hear is those reservoirs are an important part of the fabric of this city. I want to hear you say you have no intention of burying them in tanks under the hillside, that’s what I want.” One of the charred spots still smolders, putting up a thready stream of pale quick smoke. “And for now, he listens to me.” Mr. Leir smothers it neatly with his white and ivory saddle shoe.

“Well,” says Kerr. He is clean-shaven, his dark hair carefully swept back. “I could talk to the commissioner. Arrange another study. It’s not like we can just turn around and say no.”

“But you will,” says Mr. Leir. “Eventually.”

“Um,” says Kerr. He nods. “Thanks,” he says. “Thank you. Very much.”

When Kerr has left, Mr. Leir walks over to the sink, where the little guy waits next to the big guy in the dark suit. “Mr. Keightlinger,” says Mr. Leir, unrolling his sleeves, “tell Mr. Charlock what today’s date is.”

“What I’m saying,” says the little guy, “we can get this girl six ways from Sunday the minute you say the word.”

“Three,” says Mr. Leir, pulling cufflinks from his pocket. “Only one of which is likely to work. Mr. Keightlinger?”

“It’s an expression,” mumbles the little guy, looking down at his shoes.

“The nineteenth of September,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“It’s the fucking eighteenth,” says Mr. Charlock, elbowing him.

“Ten past,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “Midnight.”

“Not even the equinox,” says Mr. Leir. “Months to go, and what would we do with her? Where would we put her?”

“The suite at the Lucia?” says Mr. Charlock.

“We wait until the solstice,” says Mr. Leir, “and then we deal with the one who has her keeping. Not whoever’s the most unusual. Vulnerable.” He smoothes his cuffs, brushes something from one sleeve. “Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Charlock. This was good work. I don’t think it’ll be this girl, but if it is, we’re ready. Meanwhile, you keep up your observations and investigations. Whoever it is, we’ll be ready.”

“Yessir,” says Mr. Charlock. Mr. Keightlinger nods, once.

And then Mr. Leir says, “The boy?”

“Who,” says Mr. Charlock. “Beaumont?”

“He won’t mess this up?”

“Nah,” says Mr. Charlock. “We took care of him.”

“Good,” says Mr. Leir.

“Jo?” says Ysabel.

“Go back to sleep,” says Jo, smoking a cigarette in the dark. The épée lies on the glass-topped café table before her, between the ashtray and the vase full of tea roses unearthly pale in the streetlight.

“Did you pass?” says Ysabel, rolling over, up on one elbow.

“I have no idea,” says Jo. “I got a sword. I rode somebody’s bike down the west hills from the zoo in the dark. Roland wiped out on this corner up by the rose gardens, I helped him get up. Fucked up his knee, you know?” She takes a drag. “What’s the deal with Marfisa?”

“Did she say something?”

“She nearly,” says Jo, and then she says, “Never mind. Forget it.”

“There’s no deal,” says Ysabel, rubbing her eye with the heel of one hand. “She’s a knight. Like Roland. The Axe. What were you doing tonight?”

“Zoobombing,” says Jo, and then she shakes her head. “I have no fucking idea.” She stubs out the cigarette.

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