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Five hundred bucks – The Thing in the Shadows –

“Five hundred bucks,” says Frankie, shoveling the hair out of his face, looking up at the red-headed man. “It’s only fair,” he says. He frowns. “I mean, we’re not gonna hurt her. Right?”

“He says it’s only fair,” says the red-headed man into a slim red phone. He’s standing in the apartment’s open doorway, dark against the soft grey light outside, leaning lightly on a long portfolio tube. “Did you catch that?”

“What?” says the man in the dark gold shirt. Lit by a single bulb he’s standing in a basement at the foot of a sagging flight of stairs. “What’s fair,” he says, half stooping, swinging his head back and forth, craning to tilt the antenna of his purple phone. “Reception’s fucking wretched down here.” Somewhere in the dark something large clip-clops back and forth, grunting. A woman in a black vinyl miniskirt sits at the top of the stairs. She’s eyeing the shadows nervously.

“Five hundred,” says the red-headed man. “He wants five hundred, Your Grace. Half a thousand.” Frankie biting his lip says, “You’re not gonna hurt her,” to the thin man perched on the arm of the couch. “Right?” The thin man’s looking at the handle of his Japanese sword. His feet are bare.

“Five hundred dollars,” says His Grace. He turns to look up at the woman in the black vinyl miniskirt. She shrugs. “This is the ex,” he says.

“Yes, Your Grace,” says the red-headed man.

“Fuck him,” says His Grace. From somewhere in the darkness a lugubrious voice says, “Sir.” His Grace lifts a hand, finger up, admonishing. “We don’t need him. Not five hundred dollars’ worth of him.”

“Sir,” says the red-headed man. He takes a step out onto the balcony. “I’m sorry, sir, I – ”

“Blast and rot, Gaveston, you know this. We could pull anybody off the street for this, anybody in the city, and you call me to ask if I want to pay out five hundred dollars for an ex-boyfriend. Stop bothering me with this shit.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” says Gaveston. He snaps his red phone shut and stands there a moment, one hand on the wrought-iron railing of the balcony, looking down at the little parking lot. A woman cuts across it, trailing cigarette smoke, a heavy white garbage bag held in one hand out away from her body.

“Well?” says Frankie. “What’s up?”

“We have the pleasure,” says Gaveston, tucking his phone into the pocket of his brown cardigan, “of refusing your offer.”

“What?” says Frankie. The thin man pushes off from the couch, headed for the door. He bats an empty Diet Coke bottle away across the carpet with the scabbarded tip of his sword.

“There will be no counter-offer,” says Gaveston, lifting his portfolio tube. “Do have a good afternoon.”

“But,” says Frankie, as they close the door behind them.

The steps down the outside of the yellow apartment building are quite narrow. They go down single-file, footsteps clanging. The thin man lifts his sword and rests it on his shoulder. “Vengeance,” he says, “should never be done on a budget.”

“The Duke has spoken, Orlando,” says Gaveston. He sighs. “And we cannot but obey.”

In the basement His Grace holds a finger uncertainly over his purple phone. “The middle button,” says the woman in the black miniskirt. “The one that says End.”

“Your Grace,” says the lugubrious voice from somewhere in the darkness. The clip-clopping has stopped. There’s a wheezing grunt, and then that voice says, “He has decided. He will hear your petition.”

His Grace turns there in the circle of harsh light under the bulb and facing the shadows squats in the dust. One hand on his knee he closes his eyes and bows his head. “Erymathos,” he says, his voice ragged. He clears his throat. “You do me unspeakable honor.” He looks up, into those shadows. “My offer is this: two days of safety, and dreamless sleep, and all the meat and cereal, wine and water your belly can hold. In return, come the Equinox, we’ll hunt you with a Gallowglas.” Looking down, he brushes something unseen from his knee. “You will taste the blood of knights,” he says, “and have a chance at oblivion.” His Grace looks up into the shadows again. “That is my offer.”

After a long moment – clip-clop, clip-clop. The shadows gather themselves into a thing that hulks just outside the light. A suggestion of an arc, old yellow in this light, glistening. A black wet eye shines above it. His Grace catches his breath. At the top of the stairs the woman in the black miniskirt covers her mouth with her hand. The thing in the shadows nods, that tooth, that eye ducking once and coming up again.

“It,” says that lugubrious voice, “is acceptable.”

His Grace sighs and looks away, rolling his eyes. “I can see that,” he snaps.

Table of Contents

a Half-dozen T-shirts, most of them black – Formal dress – Some qualities of Vengeance – Every felicitation –

A half-dozen T-shirts, most of them black, are scattered across the unmade futon. There’s a red one that says Farmers & Mechanics Bank in peeling brown letters. The empty legs of tights unrolled, unfolded lying across them, black again, red, dull green, blue jeans, grey jeans that once were black, a couple pairs of workpants, plumber’s navy, package delivery brown, frayed cuffs and the greasy sheen of nylon. Soft flannel shirts, arms tangled, dark green, a plaid of faded berry colors, a short black denim skirt, a longer Catholic tartan. Ysabel in an oversized blue sweatshirt that says Brigadoon! squats at the foot of the futon, looking over it all. The droning spatter of the shower cuts off, and there’s Jo’s voice, “Somewhere like New York City sounds oh so pretty, but let’s leave the timing to fate – !” Ysabel leans over and scoops a double handful of underwear and socks from one of the blond wood crates against the wall.

“I’ll be the one in tears,” sings Jo, coming out of the bathroom in a pair of boxer shorts, towelling her hair, “I’ll be the one who’s trying to make up for the what the fuck?”

Ysabel’s holding up a pair of washed-out pink underwear with a finger crooked through the split side seam. “Do these have some sort of sentimental value?” she says, frowning theatrically.

“What are you doing?” says Jo.

“You have nothing to wear,” says Ysabel, wadding up the underwear and tossing it onto the tangle of clothes.

“What?” says Jo. “Oh, fuck it. Just give me a goddamn T-shirt.”

“I’m perfectly serious,” says Ysabel. “The hunt is Wednesday night, and you have absolutely nothing to wear.” She leans back on one elbow, her mouth trying not to smile.

“Would you toss me a clean shirt,” says Jo. “Please.”

“We must go shopping,” says Ysabel.

Jo throws back her head and lets out a guttural sigh. She stalks past Ysabel and kneels by the futon, pulling a black T-shirt from the tangle.

“Why did you get that tattoo?” says Ysabel. She’s looking at Jo’s belly. Black lines claw up from the waistband of her boxers. Two dots that might be eyes peer out from under her navel.

“Don’t change the subject,” says Jo. She hauls the T-shirt over her head and tugs it down. A red devil leers across the front of it, lined and pocked by silkscreen craquelure. “What the hell is wrong with the clothes I’ve got?”

“You need a dress,” says Ysabel. “Something light, that you can move in, but with a good full skirt – What?”

Jo’s shaking her head. “I’m supposed to wear a dress to go hunting.”

Ysabel sits up, leans forward, her elbows on her knees. “This hunt is being called in my honor. Even though you aren’t of the court, you will be very noticeable. It’s important you dress well.”

“In a dress,” says Jo. She looks over at the glass-topped café table under the window. “For a hunt.” A sword in its black sheath is lying on top of the table, next to a blue vase full of tiny wild roses.

“It’s expected,” says Ysabel.

“You wear jeans,” says Jo. “And pants. All the time.”

“Not at court.”

“So this is a thing?” says Jo. “Like, for your people, all the women have to wear dresses?”

Ysabel’s eyes are dark, and sharp. Her lips purse themselves before she parts them to say, “Yes, Jo. My ‘people’ like to dress formally for formal occasions.” Her bare feet have burrowed under some socks that once were white. She kicks them free. “Don’t yours?”

Jo leans over, grabs a pair of blue jeans, bundles them into a small, irregular wad, tosses them past Ysabel into one of the blond wood crates. She grabs a couple of T-shirts.

“I need to get something myself,” says Ysabel. “I can’t wear any of those.” She’s pointing at the bulky blond armoire looming in the corner, doors ajar, a mad welter of fabrics and colors stuffed within, trains spilling out at the bottom, a froth of lace dangling from a half-open drawer.

Jo reaches past Ysabel, snags her tartan skirt, shakes it out. “You going to sell some of them, or something?” She folds it in half and starts rolling it up.

“I couldn’t,” says Ysabel. “I can’t.”

“Then what are we going shopping with?” Jo tosses the skirt into a crate, followed in quick succession by three more T-shirts.

“You mean money,” says Ysabel.

“Of course I mean money.”

“What I have in mind won’t cost us anything.”

“I’m listening,” says Jo.

Over the two leather armchairs large copper letters say Barshefsky Associates: Quality Assured. Orlando’s in one of the armchairs, absently rolling the tip of his black braid between his fingers and his thumb. Gaveston stands, his knuckles rapping a martial tattoo on the top of his portfolio tube. Behind him a door swings open and his impromptu drumbeat’s lost in a sudden wash of questioning voices and clacking keys. A big guy in a faded red sweatshirt steps through, a pen behind each of his ears. Gaveston smiling offers up a hand. “Arnold Becker?”

“Can I help you?” says Becker. A lick of brown hair sticks straight up from the back of his head. He keeps his clipboard folded up against his chest with both arms.

“I certainly hope so,” says Gaveston, pulling back his hand, still smiling. “You’re a friend of Jo Maguire’s?”

“She’s off today. What can I – ”

“We asked,” says Orlando, not looking up from his braid, “if you were her friend.”

“I’m her boss,” says Becker, looking from Gaveston to Orlando and back again. “Who are you guys?”

“It’s a delicate matter, Mr. Becker,” says Gaveston. “Is there perhaps somewhere we could – ”

“Here’s fine,” says Becker.

“I see. Well.” Gaveston sighs. “The girl? Ysabel? Jo has been seeing a lot of her lately – ”

“She’s off today, too,” says Becker.

Gaveston looks sidelong at Orlando. “She works here?”

“She works?” mutters Orlando.

“Her family,” says Gaveston quickly, loudly, “Ysabel’s family, is concerned. It’s – ” He takes a deep breath. “As I said, it’s a delicate matter, one that requires a certain degree of, of tact, and circumspection.”

“Help me out here, guys,” says Becker. He looks over his shoulder at the door behind them. “I have no idea what this has to do with me.”

His hands together fingers interlaced on top of the portfolio tube, Gaveston leans forward. Something in the pocket of his cardigan sways pendulously. “We’d like to offer you some money,” he says, quietly.

“Money,” says Becker.

“Wednesday night,” says Gaveston. “The day after tomorrow, to be precise. Ysabel intends to attend a – shall we say, gathering, at the Lloyd Center, with your friend, Jo. We would pay you to attend as well, if you were to report back to us your impressions.” Becker’s frowning, his mouth shaping a question. “As it would be late at night,” says Gaveston, “we are more than willing to compensate you accordingly. With half the agreed-upon sum right away.” He thumps the top of his portfolio tube. “On the barrelhead, as it were. All you need do is say yes.”

“This,” says Becker. Still frowning. “Is really strange. Look, you guys – ”

“It isn’t working,” says Orlando from his chair.

“I,” says Becker. “What?”

“You’re quite right,” says Gaveston. He sighs. “It isn’t.”

“It wasn’t working when we came through that door.” Pulling himself to his feet Orlando flips his braid back over his shoulder. “It wasn’t working when we walked into this building.”

“What do you propose, friend Mooncalfe?” says Gaveston.

“Vengeance,” says Orlando, “has no budget.” Smoothing the front of his loose white shirt. “It is not polite. It does not ask.” He looks up at Gaveston. His eyes are pale and blue on either side of his sharp long nose. “It takes what it needs, or it isn’t vengeance.”

“Hey,” says Becker. “You – ”

“Don’t,” says Orlando. “Do not.”

Gaveston’s nodding. “I think I take your meaning, friend. What’s more,” and he hauls up his portfolio tube, slinging it from one shoulder, “I concur.”

And together they walk across the little lobby toward the glass doors.

“What the,” says Becker, and then, as Gaveston’s stepping out into the hall, Becker shakes his head, raises his voice, “What the hell are you doing?”

The glass door closes with a click. Becker wide-eyed lets out a little half-laugh.

“I, um. Hey.”

Becker turns so sharply a pen tumbles from behind one of his ears and he nearly drops the clipboard trying to catch it. “Jesus,” he says. Guthrie’s standing there, black jeans, a black T-shirt that says Gutshot Goose. “How the hell long have you been behind me?”

“Well,” says Guthrie. He looks over at the glass doors a moment, then looks back at Becker. “We really ought to talk,” he says.

The woman in the broad straw hat kneels and reaches out to ruffle the grass with her fingers. “Benjamin,” she says. “Come on, Benjamin. What on earth do you think you’re going to do with that?” A yard or so away a little brindle cat squats suspiciously over a mouthful of dull blue feathers and bright black eyes, a beak wide open, white throat beneath it jerking for air. The cat hunkering down stretches a paw out, eyes looking this way, now that. “Benjamin,” says the woman in the straw hat, slapping the grass. She’s wearing dirty white gardening gloves with yellow cuffs. Looking down, the cat opens its mouth tentatively. The bird freezes, its beak still hanging open, its throat now still. Tilting his head the cat finds a new hold about the bird’s shoulders. The bird starts panting again. “You have no idea,” says the woman. “Do you.” Her hair is heavy and long and dark, glossy chains of curls gathered by a simple yellow scrunchie.

“Majesty?” says a tall man in a black suit, leaning over her from behind.

The cat looks up and that’s when the bird kicks loose, its wing-flaps an explosion in the tiny yard, darting and bobbing low over the grass as it looks for a way out, the house to one side, red brick wall close on the other, trees all about, the cat bounding after. The bird arcs up sharply, threading the gap between gate and ivy-draggled arch, banks over the street beyond under lowering trees, back toward the house and up, headed for open sky. Below, the tall man in the black suit bows slightly, his collar a shining ring of white. The Queen one hand on her hat climbs to her feet. The tall man leads the way to the house. Behind them, the cat has circled back from the foot of the gate. Stopping suddenly, he falls to one side, scrubbing his cheek against the grass. He assiduously begins to lick a paw.

The wide-mouthed jar is half full of gold dust. Lines hashed in white ink down the side denote ounces, gills, mutchkins, a thirdendeal. The woman wearing narrow black-rimmed glasses scoops up a spoonful and taps it into a plastic baggie on one plate of a small balancing scale. A man in a soft blue suit watches over her shoulder, his white hair matted in long dreadlocks. When the French doors behind them open with a creak, he turns. “Majesty,” he says, ducking his head in a brief bow.

“We are always pleased to see the grandson of Count Pinabel,” says the Queen, tugging the gloves from her hands.

He smiles. “You’ve heard the venue’s been announced for Duke Barganax’ hunt?” Behind him, the woman in the black-rimmed glasses plucks the filled baggie from the scale, twisting it closed.

“Of course,” says the Queen. “I’d like a glass of water,” she says, settling herself on the long white sofa.

“Grandfather wonders what is to be done.” He glances down at the baggie held up for his approval and nods crisply. The woman in the black-rimmed glasses tosses the baggie to the other man standing by her table, who catches it in the armload of little baggies crinkling against his chest. His dark blue suit is tight across his shoulders.

“Done?” says the Queen. She leans forward, plucking up a slice of lemon, twisting it into a tall glass of ice water. “What would you have us do, Sir Axehandle? It is our sister’s demesne. It is the Duke’s hunt. We trust he has seen to the necessary precautions. What shall we do, Agravante?” She takes a sip of water. “We shall arrive promptly and enjoy his hospitality. We hope to see you there.”

“Of course,” says Agravante. “Pyrocles will stand for Pinabel in the hunt.”

“Pyrocles,” says the Queen.

The big man nods. “Ma’am.” His long mustaches lend his face a somber air above those crinkling baggies.

“And for yourself and your daughter, ma’am?” says Agravante. “I must say, everyone is eager to see what this Gallowglas you’ve found can do.”

“Indeed,” says the Queen. She sets her water on the table. “This interview has been delightful, Axehandle, but I’m afraid our Chariot has arrived.” There in the doorway by the Majordomo stands Roland, a yellow tie knotted tightly beneath his chin.

“No more need be said, ma’am,” says Agravante. “Pyrocles?” The big man in the dark blue suit leads the way. “Every felicitation, ma’am.”

“Our best to the Count. Anna, if you would also – ?”

The woman in the black-rimmed glasses screws the lid back on the wide-mouthed jar and follows them out. The Majordomo closes the doors as he leaves.

“How is our Gallowglas?” asks the Queen.

“Majesty,” says Roland, stepping forward, leaning against the back of the long white sofa, “she means well. I would never doubt her heart.”

“But,” says the Queen.

“She does not understand, ma’am. What must be done, and how. She cannot take the field.”

“So that you might take her place?”

Roland draws back. “You wound me, ma’am,” he says, quietly. “If there is the chance she might embarrass us by her presence, then she must embarrass us with her absence.”

“You heard Pinabel,” says the Queen. “They all expect to hunt with a Gallowglas. They’ll be disappointed if they can’t.”

“Erne says there is nothing he can teach to someone who won’t learn, ma’am,”

“Really?” says the Queen. She looks at him, then, her eyes dark, her face expressionless. “It’s you they’ll blame, Chariot. Say you’re jealous of a girl who beat you by turning her back. You’re afraid to take the field with a Gallowglas.” She holds up a hand as he opens his mouth to speak. “You wear your pride so openly. Out where anyone might strike it. I can’t have you wounding yourself on every pointed remark.”

“That will not happen, ma’am,” says Roland. “Your pride and honor I place before my own.”

The Queen stands. “See that you do,” she says.

Table of Contents

N.Y.C. Shanty” performed by Danny Wilson, writer and copyright holder unknown.

the Lights above – Leaning green – Glad Wide Jars – What happened, What didn’t –

The lights above the escalator are set in metal cups, the ceiling about them sooty from years of incandescent heat. At the top behind a low glass wall shine three glossy mannequins, smooth white shells with hair and lips and eyelids painted in bright thin colors. One wears a T-shirt that says Virgo! Are you absolutely positive? Another wears a T-shirt with Albert Einstein on it, that says INTP in big block letters. The center of attention! says the poster hanging above them. None of them wears shoes. Jo turns as her step nears the top, looking down at Ysabel behind her. “What?” says Ysabel.

“I don’t know,” says Jo, stepping off. “I figured you as more a Nordstrom’s girl.”

“Nordstrom,” says Ysabel.


“Never mind.” Silvery letters on the wall say Petites. Designer Dresses, say signs atop racks hung with deep greens, reds and browns like wet earth, like wines, all the toasted colors, umbras and siennas, ochres, butters. “Shall we?” says Ysabel.

Arms outstretched Jo presses her hands firmly against the beige walls to either side and regards her reflection. Lips pursed. Eyebrow crooked. Her short hair, blond at the tips, is dark about the scalp. Longer black shocks spike out halfheartedly, already wilting, lying back against the blond. She lifts her chin. Frowns. The dress is long and soft, a heathery grey. Yellow and white stripes pipe down either side. She tucks a black bra strap under. When she lowers her arms, it slips back out. “You know,” she says, “I like the capris better.”

“No,” says Ysabel. A rustle and a thump and her hands appear at the top of the wall, her head peeking over. “I told you. A dress. How’s the skirt? For moving?”

Jo squats, stands up. Rolls her eyes. Plants her feet wide spreading her knees and slapping her hands on them, hunkering over like a sumo wrestler. The skirt stretches taut. She sticks her tongue out at her reflection, googles her eyes. “Well?” says Ysabel. Jo’s knocking her knees together, hands shuffling back and forth in a Charleston. She snorts. “It’s fine,” she says, standing up. “Stretchy.” Half-turning. Her bra clearly visible in the mirror, there where the wide straps of the dress join in the back.

“We can get you one of those bandeau bras,” says Ysabel. She looks down, her head disappearing. There’s another thump.

“I don’t like those bras,” mutters Jo. She hikes up the dress, bending over, peeling it up and off. “And the colors,” Ysabel’s saying. “The colors are perfect. I definitely say that’s the one.”

“So this hunt,” says Jo, standing there in her boxer shorts and bra. “What is it we’re, uh, hunting?”

“I don’t know,” says Ysabel. “Ow.”

“Ow?” Jo looks at the wall, up, her hands pausing, the dress half-clipped to its hanger.

“Ripped a nail. Blasted jeans.”

“So,” says Jo. She hangs the dress from the hook on the door. “We don’t know what we’re hunting. And it’s being thrown by the Duke, right?” She picks up her black T-shirt and still bent over rubs the scab on her knee with her thumb.

“Yes,” says Ysabel. “Duke, umf, Duke Barganax.” There’s another thump.

“The same guy who sent those guys after us.”

“Yes, Jo.”

“So I don’t get it.” Jo sits on the narrow bench by the mirror, turning her T-shirt right-side out. “What do we get by going right up to him? What’s he gonna pull?”

“He’s not going to ‘pull’ anything, Jo. He’s called a hunt, in my honor.” Jo starts to wrestle her way into her T-shirt. “He may even mean this as an apology. Whatever else he’s done, he’s a Duke. I’m leaning toward the green one.”


“Tell me what you think.”

Jo pops open the flimsy louvered door of her fitting room and steps around to the next, rattling its door until it unsticks with a jerk. Ysabel’s smiling, arms akimbo. The green in her dress is rich and deep like old glass bottles. The skirt is cut above the knee to one side, below it to the other. Thin straps leave her shoulders bare beneath her dark curls. “Well?”

“Works,” says Jo.

Ysabel drops one hand, exasperated. “That’s it?”

“It gets the job done,” says Jo. “That’s, which, the two hundred and fifty dollar one? What?”

“I’m sorry,” says Ysabel, sputtering with laughter. “I’m sorry. It’s the, it’s the boxer shorts. Really.”

“Whatever,” says Jo, rolling her eyes, leaning against the jamb.

“We must get you some new underwear while we’re at it. Along with the bra. A thong, considering the cut of that dress.”

“Hell no,” snaps Jo, straightening up away from the door.

“They’re really much more comfortable than you think,” says Ysabel.

“Hell no.”

“Frankie?” says Gaveston. He knocks. “Mr. Reichart?”

Orlando pushes himself up from the wrought-iron railing he’s been leaning against. “Allow me,” he says.

“Just a moment,” says Gaveston. “Perhaps he’s – ”

Orlando hikes up his leg and kicks. There’s a crunch and a twang. Around the deadbolt plate the door buckles. Biting his lip Orlando swings his leg back, taps the ball of his foot against the concrete, swings forward and up, knee to his chest, drives his foot into the door. It pops open, bouncing off the wall inside, swinging shut. He catches it as he steps through. Gaveston shakes his head and is about to follow when somebody says, “Hey!”

At the bottom of the stairs down the outside of the apartment building there’s Frankie, looking up, one hand shading his eyes, a six-pack of hard lemonade dangling from the other. “Orlando!” calls Gaveston, swinging his portfolio tube up onto his shoulder, coming down the stairs quickly, carefully, one hand on the railing. “Who the,” Frankie’s saying, “what are you, hey!” as Orlando pops out of the doorway. The bottles ring and clank but none of them breaks. Hands free, Frankie’s taking a couple of hasty steps backwards, arms windmilling for balance as he turns, leans, starts to run. Orlando crouches there on the balcony and leaps, legs gathered under himself, half-unbuttoned shirt whipping, long slim curve of his Japanese sword up over his head, shining.

Green flocking flakes from the fake topiary to reveal a dark wicker frame. Buckets filled with dusty silk flowers line the bottom of the glass case. A fountain to be mounted on a wall leans against the base of one of the bushes, its lion’s mouth dry, a black tube dangling unattached from its back. On a plinth above a gaggle of grey plastic ducks sits a young girl, her butterfly wings rendered in thick grey plaster. “Jo?” says Ysabel.

Jo looks away from the glass case, the only thing to be seen on this small landing. Ysabel’s standing at the base of the escalator up, one hand on her hip. “Up to housewares?” says Jo.

Ysabel points to a blank door, the same dull white as the walls. “Oh,” says Jo.

“Offices are on this floor,” says Ysabel. “Go through there and down to the last one on the left. There aren’t any doors. Don’t look at anything, don’t say anything, don’t have anything to do with anything but the last one on the left.” She’s reaching into the front pocket of her jeans. “When you get there, knock four times on the wall outside. Do exactly as you are told.” She’s worming a clear plastic baggie from her pocket. A spoonful of gold dust snakes along the bottom. “Answer every question truthfully. You’ll do fine.”

“And then what?” Jo frowns as Ysabel pinches some gold dust and sprinkles it on the doorknob. “Close your eyes,” says Ysabel.

Jo takes a step closer. Shrugs, and closes her eyes. Ysabel pauses, her gold-dusted finger poised by Jo’s face. Looks at her, standing there in her old black jeans and her black T-shirt. The dresses slumped over one arm, soft grey, slippery silky green. Black underwear dangling from a little plastic hanger in her other hand, a packet of stockings. Ysabel smiles. She brushes Jo’s eyelids lightly one and then the other with her fingertip, glittering them. “You’ll be fine,” she says, in Jo’s ear.

Jo opens her eyes. “Whoa,” she says.

The offices are dim. The cubicle walls are chin-high, a dingy, nappy brown. Jo doesn’t look at the plaques by each opening. Warm light glows from the cubicle to the right. “No,” someone’s saying. “Shadow-time’s orthogonal to pseudo-time. Plates? They’re gonna be glad wide jars again. Yeah. The car under the stale light is a familiar answer, but don’t run to the stranger’s benison – there is nothing in the end but now, and now – ” Jo hurries past, dresses rustling like underbrush. Her knocks against the wall outside the last cubicle on the left are muffled. “Come in,” a woman says.

She’s sitting in a black leatherette chair, flipping through an enormous stack of green-and-white fanfold printout next to an old computer terminal, black screen glowing with amber characters. She wears a white blouse and a big soft grey bow knotted under her collar. There’s nowhere to sit. Jo stands in the cubicle entrance, the load awkward in her arms. The woman pauses her rapid flipping, holds a chunk of printout in the air while selecting a clear plastic ruler, which she lays along the blurry lines of data. “Jo Maguire,” she says.

“Yes,” says Jo.

“That wasn’t a question,” she says. “The first question is: do you miss him?”

Jo frowns. “Do I miss him? Who?”

The woman’s peering at the printout. “Do you miss him.”

Jo blinks. Her lips part as the frown slips from her face. She closes her eyes. “Oh,” she says. Opens them. “Yes. I do.”

The clear plastic ruler jerks down a line. “Do you love him?”

“Of course,” says Jo. Her voice rough, far away. She clears her throat.

The ruler jerks down once more. “If you could say one thing to him, what would it be?”

“I’m sorry,” says Jo. “I’m very sorry.”

The woman neatens up her pile of printout. “That will do,” she says, standing. Bending in front of Jo she pats down the dresses, finds a security tag, pops it off with an orange plastic grip. She pulls a shopping bag from the shelf above her terminal, unfurls it with a shake. Jo drops the dresses in, the stockings, the underwear. “Thank you so much for shopping with us,” says the woman.

Becker leans back, rubbing one eye with the heel of his hand. A piano rings softly through the speakers to either side of his computer monitor. Samson went back to bed, a woman’s singing, not much hair left on his head. Ate a slice of Wonderbread and went right back to bed. The office is dark, lit only by the lamp on his desk and the bright white glaring from the door to the kitchen, where Guthrie’s standing, arms folded. “Hey,” he says.

“Jesus,” says Becker, starting. “I thought everybody was gone.”

“I was waiting,” says Guthrie. “We were going to talk.”

“Yeah, well,” says Becker, “perks of being promoted.” He turns down the music. “First in, last out. So.”


“What are we talking about?”

Guthrie’s pulling a chair up to Becker’s desk. “The two guys,” he says. He straddles the back of the chair, frowning.

“Two guys,” says Becker, shifting his mouse, clicking, tapping a number on the keyboard. “Help me out here. What two guys?”

“The,” says Guthrie, “the two guys.” He points to the door to the lobby. “Wanted to talk to you about Jo, and Ysabel.”

“Oh,” says Becker. “Those two guys. What about them?”

“They didn’t seem weird to you?”

“Just about everything with that girl is weird.”

Guthrie’s fiddling with a fat binder clip, opening and closing the little metal arms. It clinks against the rings on his fingers. “You remember how we met her?”

“Jo brought her in,” says Becker.

Guthrie drops the clip into a wire basket full of them. “That’s not when we met her.”

“There was the thing,” says Becker. “When I got bumped up. At the VC. She was there, wasn’t she? And then Jo went off with her to some party up in Northwest, and – what?”

Guthrie’s shaking his head. “That’s not it,” he says. “You don’t remember.” His hands float over Becker’s desk as if he’s unsure what shape to make with them. “We were there. It was a big old house on Everett.”

“No, see, I remember the party,” says Becker. “It was a little, I had a lot of beer. It’s a little fuzzy.”

“I had way too much beer,” says Guthrie. He taps his head. “Still clear as a bell. You remember the girl who tried to steal your watch?”

“Yeah, but,” says Becker.

“Or the one who said she’d been herself in a former life?”

“I don’t – ”

“You remember the band, right?” Guthrie looks up at Becker now, and Becker looks right back at him, eyes a little wide, frowning just. “They were pretty good,” says Guthrie. “You remember Ysabel’s boyfriend picking a fight? With a sword?”

“Now wait a,” says Becker.

“How he stabbed Jo in the back?”

“Guthrie.” Becker pushes back, hands up, as if he expects Guthrie to leap over the desk at him. Guthrie doesn’t move, doesn’t look away. He says, “That’s when you – ”

“I never,” says Becker.

“ – when you went for him. He was still holding that damn sword, but you went roaring at him. Took three of them to hold you back. And he never even looked at you, he just, he put up his sword, and he walked away.”

“You are so full of shit,” says Becker.

At that Guthrie looks down. His pale hands curl in on themselves, fingernails coated in chipped black polish. “I didn’t do anything,” he says. “I just watched them haul you outside. Watched them bundle her up in a blanket. They told me they were taking her across the street and I said okay. They told me not to worry about it. She was going to be fine. And I said whatever, okay. They told me to take you home.” Guthrie flattens his hands on Becker’s desk and looks up at him. “You were standing there on the porch. Staring off at nothing. I said, let’s get you home. You said sure. You’d already forgotten everything.”

“That’s because it never happened,” says Becker, gently.

“Ask Jo,” says Guthrie. “Ask Ysabel.” He pushes back from Becker’s desk. “Anyway. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He stands up, bumping the chair back towards the line of phone carrels. “Which is why I think we should go to this thing tomorrow night. You know. That those two guys were telling you about?” He shrugs. “Or maybe that never happened, either.”

Table of Contents

Samson” written by Regina Spektor, ©2002.

“Puertas a mi izquierda” – We Revellers – the Duke’s ecstatic – Her choice –

“Puertas a mi izquierda,” says the recording. “Lloyd Center, Northeast Eleventh Avenue. Doors to my left.” Jo starts awake, nearly dropping the long bundle wrapped in red. Ysabel’s shaking her shoulder. “Our stop,” she says. Her reflection hangs in the dark window like a ghost, the green of her new dress shining over a dimly lit office lobby across the street.

Outside, Jo in her army jacket and her new grey dress, red bundle under one arm, walks to the end of the platform, looking out over the parking lot. It’s almost empty, drowned in a dulling haze of streetlight. Past it a long barn of a movie theater lit up with neon. Across the street another empty lot spreads before the anonymous prow of a shopping mall. A bell rings. With a rising, grinding hum the train pulls away, clank-chunking over a rail junction. “Where is everybody?” says Jo.

“Inside,” says Ysabel.

“Inside.” Jo points across the street. “In the mall.” She shakes her head. “Of course they’re in the mall.”

“Give me your sword,” says Ysabel.

“It’s really fucking late,” says Jo, holding out the bundle.

“The witching hour,” says Ysabel. She’s unwinding the long red scarf from the short épée in its black sheath. “Hold still.” She stoops on one knee there before Jo, shaking the belt loose. Reaches up, wrapping it around Jo’s hips. “Hold still,” she says, buckling it. “We should have gotten you some shoes.”

Jo peers down at her mismatched Chuck Taylors, the white one held together with duct tape. “They’re comfortable.”

“They’re appalling,” says Ysabel, working the sheath’s ties under the belt. “A nice pair of Nikes, maybe, cream and yellow – ”

“Yeah,” snaps Jo, “and I woulda had to,” and then she looks away, across the street, toward the mall. Behind her the theater marquee suddenly goes dark. “You look good,” she says. “In that dress.”

“Thank you,” says Ysabel, sitting back on her heels.

Jo looks down, at Ysabel’s bare shoulders, the green skirt falling away from one knee. “You chilly at all?”

“If I were,” says Ysabel, reaching up, “would you give me your jacket?”

“That part of the job description?” says Jo, taking her hand.

Ysabel shrugs, and pulls herself to her feet.

The restroom’s dark. Becker crouches over a toilet, feet on either side of the seat, hands braced on either side of the stall. “This is nuts,” he says.

“What?” says Guthrie, one stall over.

“This is nuts.”

“They’ll hear you.”

“Nobody’s gonna hear us.” Becker lifts a foot, stretches his leg out and down. Puts his weight on it. Steps off the toilet, shaking out his other leg. “Oh,” he says. “Whoa, yeah.”

“What are you doing? We have to wait till it’s all clear – ”

“You know what they’re gonna do when they get here, Guthrie? The people you think will hear us?”

“Becker, they’ll see your feet!”

“They’re gonna clean the toilets, is what.” Becker stretches his arms up, arches his back. “They aren’t gonna come in and crouch down and look under the damn doors to see if anyone’s hiding in here and say it’s all clear. They’re gonna straight off clean the toilets. With a mop and a sponge and a bucket.” He works his head from side to side. “We’ll be hard to miss.” He unlatches the stall door. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into coming here.”

“Would you just,” says Guthrie, and then the lights come on, cold and bright. Orlando in a long grey skirt steps into the restroom head up, one hand lifting, a warning.

“Trouble, friend Mooncalfe?” says Gaveston, in a rumpled, rust-colored suit, one hand on Frankie’s shoulder. “God damn,” Frankie’s saying, taking in the glossy white tile, the long stainless steel mirror over the sinks. “Hell of a bathroom.”

“Keep him quiet,” snaps Orlando, kneeling.

“Hey,” says Gaveston. Orlando, black braid brushing the floor, peers under the stalls. “I mean,” Frankie’s saying, “the mirrors! They’re so.” Eyes squeezed shut Becker’s hunkering feet on either side of the toilet seat hands braced against the stall. “Damn shiny,” says Frankie.

“Hey,” says Gaveston again, laying two fingers against Frankie’s lips. “Orlando. Nobody’s here.”

Standing and turning in one smooth movement Orlando draws his sword like a curl of light in the air between them. “I can smell him,” he says.

Becker opens his eyes.

“Fine,” says Gaveston. “They missed a janitor, he’s cowering in the stalls, fearful of your majesty. Who cares? You have an appointment to keep.”

Snarling Orlando swings the sword to one side up and back. “Do not think to mock me,” he says, quietly.

“There’s no one here,” says Gaveston, and then he flinches as a toilet flushes. Orlando spins. Becker’s opening his stall door and stepping out to see Orlando in a crouch, his sword up over his head. Becker stops mid-step, face blanching.

“What are you doing here?” says Orlando.

“Uh,” says Becker. “What are you doing here?”

Orlando rears back, sword lowering, eyebrow climbing. “Waiting,” says Gaveston, quickly, smoothly.

Becker blinks, then shrugs. “Oh,” he says. “Well. We’re done.” He knocks on the door to Guthrie’s stall. “Hey. We done?”

There’s a thump.

“You, ah, you might want to flush,” says Becker. He looks from Gaveston, one hand on Frankie’s shoulder, to Frankie, staring at himself in the watery steel mirror. To Orlando in his grey skirt, sword-tip twitching just above the glossy tile. “So,” says Becker, and he swallows. “All yours.” Guthrie’s door is slowly opening.

Pop and twang from the little brown speaker by the boy’s tapping foot. “The oaten pipes blow wondrous shrill,” he croons, and someone laughs, “the hemlock small blow clear, and louder notes from hemlock large and bog-reed strike the ear.” He’s curled around his big-bellied guitar, leaning against a store-front grate under a darkened sign that says Meier & Frank. “For solemn sounds, and sober thoughts, we revellers can’t bear!” Cheers and applause as he starts a thunderous strumming. Men and woman crowd the footbridge before him, the railings that line the broad open atrium, dark glossy suits in browns and blacks, there a burgundy over a velvet vest, gowns in reds and golds that sway like bells, old ivory, slim black skirts, a shimmer like metalled water. The mall about them is dim, grates lowered over store fronts, signs all gone dark. Lanterns bob on poles above the crowd, keeping time. The ice rink on the floor below glimmers uncertainly. Candles in paper bags light the steps of stalled escalators up to the third floor balconies, where banners have been hung: a blue hound standing primly on a rose-colored ground, a red hawk glaring, its wings slashing across brown, and between them a great bee picked out in black and yellow on a creamy field.

Jo’s leaning over the bee, elbows on the railing, watching the crowd below. An old man in a porkpie hat shuffles up by the boy with the guitar and bends over carefully, finding a microphone there on the floor. Blows into it. More cheers as the boy’s strumming tumbles to a chug-a-lug beat and the old man starts to croak, oh, some ride a black one some ride a brown one mine’s as red as the blood in your veins. Laughter and applause.

“You should be armed, miss. And armored.”

Jo turns, jerking as the sword at her hip bangs the bars of the railing. A big guy’s standing there, blue jeans and a tight white T-shirt, a smile somewhere under his long grey mustaches. Next to him a green and purple table laden with worn brown leather, plate the color of old keys, shapeless puddles of slippery mail. “I’m Pyrocles, miss,” he says. Spears lean against the table, and there by his feet a pile of shields like round-bottomed sleds, like big kites. “I’ll hunt with you this night, under the Count’s banner.”

“Jo Maguire,” she says. I’m a babe in arms and a snake in the grass, comes the old man’s growl from below. I’m a star in the sky up over your head.

“The Gallowglas,” says Pyrocles.

She looks away. “I guess,” she says. “I’m here for the Princess.” The wrist of her left hand leaning against the grubby red tape wrapping the hilt of her épée, pushing it out a little, back. Tucking the scabbard against her legs. “We are all here for the Princess,” Pyrocles is saying.

“I didn’t mean you weren’t,” says Jo, and it’s the heel of her hand on the hilt now. “It’s only she’s not here. She’s off, with her mother or something. Getting her hair done. Besides, I already have a sword.”

“You’ll want a spear.” Pyrocles hefts one, shifting it in both hands, eyeing its rule. “A strong straight haft of oak or ash. A shield would only get in your way, but you’ll want a cuirass. Perhaps some greaves.” He’s shaking his head. “Find one with a good boar-stop, miss.”

Jo lets go of the spear she’d picked up. “Boar-stop?” she says.

The Duke lurching hikes a knee up on a green and purple table and pulls himself after it. “Give,” he says, swaying upright in his cream-colored suit, his yellow tie, “give praise, my brethren,” lifting his glass in the air, “for what you are about to receive – Old John Barleycorn, nicotine, and the temptations of the rock ’n’ roll chord E.” His Grace drains the glass as someone across the food court whoops, a man in a powder-blue tux, leaning on the counter of a darkened Chick-fil-A. Down by the Sbarro a fiddle scrapes to life, a red-headed guy jigging with it by a woman smiling as she lifts her voice, window shopping, finger popping, hanging in our favorite shopping mall. “You’ll fall, Your Grace,” says the woman in the short black dress, peering up at him through narrow black-rimmed glasses.

“You say that,” says the Duke, squatting, bracing himself with his free hand, “like it’s a bad thing.” He hops off the table. “At least I’m not squirreling myself away in the bathroom.”

“It’s your party,” she says, reaching into her slim black purse.

“In her honor,” says the Duke. He lifts his glass, frowns. She’s holding out a plastic baggie with a palmful of gold dust inside. “Here,” she says, when he doesn’t take it.”

“Garçon!” roars the Duke. She flinches. “Garçon! There he is.” Gaveston in his rumpled, rust-colored suit, making his way toward them through the crowd. “More John Barleycorn!” calls the Duke, waving his glass. He giggles.

“Your Grace,” says Gaveston. He nods to the woman in the black-rimmed glasses and reaches for the plastic baggie in her hand. The Duke has turned to set his empty glass on the green and purple table. “Come,” he says, and he throws an arm over Gaveston’s shoulder. “Walk about with me.” Gaveston’s tucking the baggie in his jacket pocket. “He’s ready?” says the Duke, leaning close, speaking softly.

“Your Grace, her friends are here. One of the men we interviewed. And another.”

His Grace is shaking his head. “Is he ready?”

Gaveston nods. “Sweetloaf’s dressing him.”

“It’s five hundred dollars, you call me.” The Duke’s smiling. “You decide to snatch the sonofabitch, broad daylight, suddenly you don’t want to bother me? You just, fft?”

“Your Grace?” says Gaveston. “I’m sorry, I – ”

“Don’t apologize,” says the Duke, jerking Gaveston to a halt. “We needed him, we got him. I’m ecstatic. I wasn’t, believe me, you’d know. You play these games.” The Duke leans even closer, pressing a hand to Gaveston’s chest. “It’s counterproductive. The call’s made? Orlando’s in place?”

“They’re still here,” says Gaveston, looking down at the Duke’s hand. “Her friends. Somewhere in the crowd.”

“The call,” says the Duke. “It was made?”

Gaveston looks up. “I got the machine,” he says. “I left a message.”

“You always get the machine,” says His Grace. “We’re set!” He claps Gaveston on the back. Gaveston winces. The Duke heads up a couple of steps onto the broad balcony littered with green and purple tables. “Your Grace?” says Gaveston, not moving. “Sir?”

The Duke stops, turns, spreads his hands. “I’m going to take her measure,” he says, heading back down the steps. “This girl who got Tommy Rawhead killed.”

“Her friends, Your Grace,” says Gaveston.

The Duke smiles. “Two of them? You interviewed one, and there’s this other guy?” Gaveston’s nodding. The Duke leans in. “I think we outnumber them, Stirrup.”

He’s back up the steps. Gaveston sighs, and follows.

“It fits,” says Pyrocles, tightening a belt at Jo’s hip.

“I look like an idiot,” says Jo.

“A mail shirt would be too dangerous,” says Pyrocles. He steps back, tugs one of her shoulder straps. “A blow from a tusk or hoof would shatter links and drive them into your flesh. A mortification for you, miss, if I’m not mistaken.”

“It’s just so,” says Jo, turning. Her breastplate, painted with milky enamel, edged with gold, shaped to suggest round hips, sleek muscles, well-formed breasts, wide nipples ringed with gold filigree. A navel hammered into the pale stiff belly rayed with gold leaf. “Anatomical.”

“You’ll be glad of it when the hunt begins,” says Pyrocles.

“I like your hair,” says the Duke.

His Grace stands behind Pyrocles, one hand on the knot of his yellow tie. His smirk uncoiling into a smile as he looks her in the eye.

“Thanks,” says Jo flatly, after a moment. “I’m thinking of shaving my head.”

“Won’t you get cold?” says the Duke.

She shrugs. “I’ll wear a hat.” Pyrocles tugs at her backplate, checking the fit. She shrugs again.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Jo Gallowglas, who has caused me so much trouble. You’ll remember the Stirrup,” jerking a thumb over his shoulder at Gaveston behind him. Jo’s eyes widen and she opens her mouth to say something. “I’m Southeast,” says His Grace, “the Duke – ”

“Excuse me,” Jo’s saying, pushing past him, past Gaveston who reaches after her. “Ap,” says the Duke, and Gaveston checks. “Your Grace,” he says. “Orlando – ”

“A moment, Stirrup,” says the Duke.

Jo leaps down the couple of steps from the balcony and past a man in a blue sailor suit dodging a woman in a burgundy skirt turning her sword bouncing off Orlando’s shins as she grabs the arm of a woman in a short black dress. “What are you,” says Jo, and then, “I’m sorry,” and then, “Why do you have that?”

The woman looks at Jo through narrow black-rimmed glasses. There’s a dress draped over her arm, a green dress, a green as rich and deep as old glass bottles. “Miss Maguire,” she starts to say, but Jo’s let go, pushing through the crowd. “Hey!” says someone, and “Watch it!” says someone else. Orlando cranes his head to watch her go, his hand on the hilt of his Japanese sword.

“Mooncalfe!” calls the Duke. Orlando whips around. The Duke nods once, slowly, lifting a finger to tap alongside his nose. Orlando glares.

There’s a hallway off the food court, there beside the Sbarro, lit by more candles in paper bags and the fluorescent light from a couple of doorways at the end, one lined in dull blue tile, the other in dusty pink. Roland stands by the pink doorway, a spear against his shoulder. He shakes his head, the pale fuzz of his hair struck by the harsh light. “They’re not to be disturbed,” he says, quietly.

“I need to see her,” says Jo. “Dammit, Roland – ”

“Oh, let her in,” sighs someone inside.

An old woman with long, glossy white hair and a mouthful of pins kneels on the tile floor by Ysabel’s feet. Ysabel’s standing on something, a low stool, there between the toilet stalls and the row of sinks, looking at herself in the long dim mirror. Her gown is the color of worn ivory, high-waisted, a full skirt waterfalling past the stool to the floor, covered all about with a fantastic garden of beadwork, outlines of great flowers flashing like fireworks. Her black hair piled in artful disarray upon her head. A woman wearing a pince-nez stretching up to tuck in a gold chopstick.

“Jo,” says Ysabel, “I didn’t – ”

“Yes, Jo,” says the Queen. “Thank you for all your efforts on our behalf.” She sits in a long black dress on a yellow folding canvas chair in the corner. “But the situation is, as I’m sure you’ll credit, both subtle and dangerous. Roland will hunt for us tonight.” She stands as Jo opens her mouth to say something. “We wished the secret to be closely kept as long as possible, or we’d have told you sooner. You may stand with us, of course, and be honored as my daughter’s guardian. Or,” as Jo’s turning, throwing up her hands, “Swear to fucking God,” she’s muttering, stalking out of the bathroom, “or,” says the Queen, “you may storm off somewhere and sulk.”

Jo’s gone. Ysabel turns back to her reflection in the mirror.

“Your choice is out of my hands,” says the Queen.

Table of Contents

Tam Lin,” traditional, within the public domain. “Cigareets, Whuskey, and Wild, Wild Women” performed by Red Ingle and the Natural Seven, writer and copyright holder unknown. “Hanging Upside Down” written by David Byrne and Angel Fernandez, ©1991 Index Music, Inc.

Down by the Ice Rink – a Side-bet – a Roomful of Gentry – Her honor – the Very Air –

Down by the ice rink it’s quiet. Differing songs float down through the big central atrium, a guitar, the fiddle, a flute off away somewhere, the slap of a drum not keeping time with any of them. Guthrie’s looking up one wing of the mall and down the other but potted trees and dead escalators and kiosks muffled under dust covers make it hard to see very far. “It was supposed to be a city within the city,” someone says, and he jumps.

There’s this woman next to him, swaddled in three or four skirts in muddy colors and a couple of sweaters under a grubby orange rain shell. “I’m just waiting,” Guthrie says. “Looking for a friend of mine. They’re both – just a minute ago. They were here. He was. No idea it was so late. I.” She’s laughing. Guthrie’s starting to grin. “What?”

“It’s fun, sneaking in,” she says. Her eyes are bright and blue and her hair is lost under a confetti-colored cap. “Like they don’t know.”

“It’s not what we were,” says Guthrie, looking up at the food court. Someone’s yelling. The fiddle’s stopped. “Not what he was expecting, anyway. I’m, uh. Kinda looking forward.”

“It should have been twenty-one storeys,” she’s saying, “just like the Waldorf-Astoria. What’s the Midnight Disease?” She’s pointing at his T-shirt. Her fingerless glove is yellow and spotted with red unravelling stars.

“A band,” he says. “Waldorf-Astoria?”

But she’s looking up at the food court. “We should get up there before they let it out.” There’s another shout, and a crash, metal against metal. “Your friends are probably up there already.” Clangs, now, up there, one after another.

“I hope not,” says Guthrie, and then, “Let what out?”

Orlando leans forward, feet braced, his Japanese sword in one hand down and back. Pyrocles facing him holds his greatsword one hand on the long pommel below the hilt, the other gripping the blade above, where it’s wrapped in ruddy leather. He steps back, then forth, boots squeaking. “What possible reason?” says Pyrocles.

“You presume I might confront you without one,” says Orlando. “That alone is reason enough.” Pyrocles swings once, twice, great looping cuts. Orlando ducks the first and parries the second, his sword scraping into a slice that forces Pyrocles back, back toward the balcony railing, knocking a chair out of the way.

“Shall I get him?” says Gaveston in the Duke’s ear.

“Get who?” says the Duke, and then, “No. Fuck.”

“Do not play with me, boy!” roars Pyrocles, kicking another chair at Orlando who runs back, away, jumping up on a table as Pyrocles follows the chair with a sword thrust at Orlando leaping up and over, skirt flapping, sword slashing Pyrocles’ back.

“Without Jo,” says Gaveston.

“Enough,” says the Duke. “There’s enough in play already. No need to spoil our surprise for a side bet.”

Pryocles twisting catches the next slash with his greatsword like a bar in both hands shoving Orlando over and back off his feet, rolling as Pyrocles shatters a line of tile with a blow.

“Call off your man,” says Agravante. He’s there behind the Duke in his pale pink suit, his long white scarf, his pale, pale dreadlocks gathered in a stiff sheaf at the back of his head.

“The Mooncalfe is no one’s man,” says the Duke without turning.

Another great booming blow and another, tumbling tables in a flurry of dust and chips of tile.

“Call him off, dammit. I’ll not have our huntsman compromised by your silly games.”

“Call him off yourself,” says the Duke. “He’ll be done in but a moment.”

Pyrocles lifting his greatsword for another blow eyes widening as Orlando isn’t rolling but lunging forward not back, up from the floor his sword in both hands curling in a flash through Pyrocles’ chest to burst from his back.

“There,” says the Duke. “All yours, Axehandle.” He leans toward Gaveston. “Make sure,” he says, quietly, “we get someone to fix the floor before we go.”

Pyrocles, wincing, sees Agravante as Orlando yanks free his blade. “Sorry, milord,” he says.

Roland jerks upright as with a rustle of black skirts the Queen steps from the bathroom into the long dim hall. He touches his knuckles to his forehead. She nods once, and heads past him down the hall toward the food court.

Ysabel steps out. Candles in paper bags along the floor light up a flurry of sparks from the beads coiling about her belled ivory skirts, along the trailing points of her sleeves. She stands there a moment, her eyes shadowed, her face still. A trumpet’s sounding out in the atrium.

“I said what I did,” says Roland, “to keep her safe. I – ” But she’s shaking her head. “You should know,” she says, heading past him, down the hall, “I would never give you another chance.”

He shoulders his spear and then he follows her, down the hall, toward the food court.

“Friends and neighbors, gentles all!” booms a voice out there. “Your Queen! Your Princess!”

Pyrocles sits on a spindly plastic chair on the far side of the food court, leaning forward on his knees, head down, grey mustaches drooping from his grey and haggard face. He’s shirtless. The wound in his back is ragged, wet and red. He holds a red plastic cup to the wound in his chest, a puckered maw oozing something white and thick. “Christ,” says Jo, and he starts. “This is somehow my fault, isn’t it.”

“He drew the sword,” says Pyrocles. “I lost my temper. I see no part for your apology to play.”

She kneels beside him. “Let me hold that.”

“That’s for a page to do,” he says, and she says, “You think I give a good goddamn?” and he doesn’t stop her hand from taking the cup. With her other hand she starts to worry at a shoulder-buckle holding breastplate to backplate. “Even if this is the stupidest fucking piece of armor ever.”

He’s smiling, somewhere beneath his mustaches. “So Roland will hunt in your stead, and Marfisa in mine.” Away off in the middle of the food court, the Duke addresses the crowd, arms wide, Roland to one side, his left arm sheathed in a great steel gauntlet, Marfisa to the other in a shimmering minidress like metalled water, greaves of pink bronze strapped to her thighs and calves, a glaive held loosely in one hand.

“Throw Orlando in the mix,” says Jo, “and I’m definitely rooting for the boar.” She’s staring at the stuff seeping from his wound like spun honey, glimmers of gold in milky drops that fall, slowly, into the cup.

“He wouldn’t hunt,” says Pyrocles. “Not even for the Duke. I wonder,” he says, closing his eyes. He touches two fingers to the wound on his chest. “I wonder who.”

The Duke smiles. “I must say I am disappointed,” he says for all to hear, looking from Roland to the Queen. “At this last-minute substitution. Can it be you do not trust me, ma’am?”

“Do not flatter yourself, Southeast,” says the Queen. Ysabel beside her, looking at the floor. “Introduce your huntsman. Let’s get started.”

Pyrocles shakes his head slowly, mustaches wagging. “His Grace’s usual henchmen aren’t about.” He opens his eyes. “The Dagger, the Helm. The Mason.”

“Becker?” says Jo, eyes wide.

“Well,” bellows the Duke, “I know we all hoped to see a hunt with a real Gallowglas on the field. And you all know how I hate to let you down.” The crowd cheers.

Pyrocles, frowning, looks over his shoulder. There’s Becker in his red and green plaid shirt. “I’ve been looking all over for you,” he says. “Did you know he’s here?”

“What the hell are you doing here?’ says Jo. And then she looks over at the center of the court, where the Duke with a flourish bellows, “I give you, friends and neighbors, the huntsman for Southeast – my very own Gallowglas!”

A clatter, a squeak of metal. Titters, rippling through the crowd. A scuffle, and Frankie’s pushed out stiff-legged before them all by a boy in a tight brown suit. Frankie grins as laughter blooms all around him. Stovepipes clamped about his legs. His cuirass a plastic garbage lid in back, a great stainless-steel pot lid before. A colander for a helm. In one hand an iron poker, wobbling in time with his bobbing head.

“Hold this,” says Jo. After a moment, Becker reaches out to take the cup. She stands, her shoulder-strap loose, her cuirass cracked open, breastplate sagging. Her hand on the hilt of her épée.

“Jo,” says Pyrocles. “He means to mock. He wants you angry.”

“And now!” cries the Duke. “If you will follow me to the railings and direct your attention to the ground floor so very far below!” The crowd rushes all across the court, up the stairs, roiling about Frankie turning dizzily in place to be taken in hand by the boy in the brown suit. He drags Frankie with him toward the dead escalators, after Marfisa, after Roland.

“You walk into a roomful of gentry,” Jo says to herself. “Full of nothing. Like that.” Looks back at them. “Becker. Can you stay here, with him?”

“What are you going to do?” says Becker.

“I don’t know,” she says, walking away. “Nothing stupid.”

“You don’t need to stay with me,” says Pyrocles.

“It’s okay,” says Becker, looking at the cup he’s holding. “You’re hurt.” Blinking, then, at the wound above it. “Good Lord!” he says. “What happened?”

“I’m a knight,” says Pyrocles. “The Anvil. My name is Pyrocles.”

“Becker,” says Becker. “I manage a phone bank.”

“I give you, friends and neighbors, our quarry!” The Duke, leaning out over the empty atrium, pointing to the floor below as lights thunk to life down there. “The boar, Erymathos!”

“How many heads?” says Roland, stepping slowly down the dead escalator to the second floor. Cheers ring out from the balconies around the atrium. From the first floor below, a grunting roar, a hurried clip-clop-clip-clop-clip.

“One,” says Marfisa, just ahead of him.

“Venom?” says Roland. “Ichor? Flame?”

“Just a foul temper,” says Marfisa. “His bristled back like a forest of spears. And really big tusks.” The crowd on the second floor has left a corridor clear between the escalator up and the escalator down. Marfisa steps out into it, spinning her glaive above her head, kneeling into a swooping lunge and cut. Sets the glaive to one side, adjusting the buckle of a greave. From below, a tremendous crash, a squeal of triumph.

“You won’t take a cuirass?” says Roland.

She looks sidelong up at him with a wry smile. “Nor you, neither?”

He shrugs, the massive steel gauntlet settling with a clank. “I’ll rush him first, drive him back, then work around and run him up to you for the finish.”

“Simple,” she says, grabbing her glaive. “Direct.” Standing up.

“And no quibbling over who gets the kill.”

“Oh, it’s a joint effort, to be sure.”

“The Anvil is a fool,” says Roland.

She shakes her head. “The Mooncalfe is provocative. What’s your excuse?”

He looks away. “A promise.” He points back up the escalator. “And him?”

“Hope he stays the hell out of the way,” says Marfisa.

Frankie’s clattering down the escalator, led by the boy in the brown suit as laughter washes away the claps and cheers. “Hell of a,” says Frankie, a big smile smeared across his face. “An escalator,” he says, as he follows the boy off the last step. “Never seen one that couldn’t move. Wow.”

“Don’t even fucking think about it,” says the boy, leaning in close to Marfisa and Roland. “Don’t fucking think about offering me fucking fiat paper or valuta or fee fucking simple to keep this fucker off the field.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” says Roland, quietly.

“How dare you suggest otherwise,” says Marfisa, smiling.

“I, um,” says the boy. “I mean. Fuck.”

“What’s that?” says Frankie, grinning.

“Besides,” says Roland, “I think they’d notice, up there. If he weren’t on the field.”

“That clomping noise?” says Frankie. “Like boots? What is that?”

“Fine,” says the boy, scowling. “Fuck it.” He gives Frankie a shove toward the escalator down to the first floor. “Wait,” says Roland. “I’m first.”

Cheers erupt again as Roland spear in hand marches past Frankie to the top of the second escalator. He lifts the spear over his head and the crowd begins to roar, and he throws back his head and roars with them, a deep-throated booming call that swamps the crowd-noise, echoing throughout the atrium. An answering squeal from below, the clip-clop becoming a sudden hailstorm of hoofbeats. Roland lowers his spear and runs down the escalator, taking the stalled steps two at a time.

“Let go,” says Jo.

“No,” says Ysabel.

They’re at the back of the food court crowd, near the first escalator. No one’s looking at them; they’re all leaning over the railings to see what can be seen below.

“You said,” says Jo. “You said he wouldn’t pull anything. That this was just going to be what it was. A hunt in your – ”

“Stop it,” says Ysabel. “Your honor,” says Jo. “Stop it,” says Ysabel. She’s holding Jo’s right hand in both of hers and she pulls Jo stumbling close. Their hands trapped between Jo’s white cuirass, Ysabel’s beaded gown. “Do not throw his lies and his deception in my face.” She leans her forehead against Jo’s. “This is all the Duke’s doing, and none of mine.”

“I didn’t,” says Jo. From below a growl and another crash, monumental, metal twanging, glass cascading, Roland yelling something, the crowd about them taking in one deep murmuring breath.

“And there is nothing you can do,” says Ysabel.

“Then tell me,” says Jo, leaning back, leaning away. “Tell me he can’t get hurt. Tell me it’s against the rules. Tell me it’s only a game.”

“You,” says Ysabel, and then she stops, and then she starts again. “You are impossible, Jo Maguire.”

Jo doesn’t say anything.

“What is he to you?” says Ysabel.

The lights go out. All of them: faint lights deep inside locked stores, safety lights under soffits, the dim sparks left glowing in the big lamps hanging from the rafters far above. Candles snuffed and torches guttered as if they’d never been lit. The crowd shuffling, crying out in a dozen voices, a hundred of shock and alarm and fear. More glass breaks below. Hoofbeats falter and stop. A flash of light, blue-white, everything lit up for an instant and plunged away, and more screams and cries and yells for everyone else to remain calm.

“Her eyes like stars,” says Ysabel. “Her hands of iron. The hair of her head hanging down to the ground.” Another flash of light, flickering now, solidifying into something cold and pale, far below, throwing outrageous shadows up along the walls and storefronts, the rafters and bridges, great black shifting bodiless things with monstrous heads and grasping hands around and above them all.

“What?” says Jo. There’s a piercing wail from below, as thin and pale as the light. “Who?” says Jo.

“She has nineteen names,” says Ysabel.

“Erymathos!” cries the woman standing in the middle of the ice rink. She is wrapped in a long black cloak that she holds shut at her throat. Its folds and tatters are caught along with her snarled black hair in the winds that whirl about her. In her other hand she holds a gnarled grey stick, smooth and dull as driftwood, its tip a spark of blue-white light too bright to look upon. A shriek of grinding metal as clip-clop from the darkness beyond the ice rink comes the boar, up to the low wall about the ice rink. A bent and ragged store-front grate hangs from one great tusk. Glass glitters in the ruff behind the blocky wedge of his head. He lays his snout on the wall, and black blood drips to the ice and smokes there.

“Who has done this?” cries the woman on the ice in that harsh, scraping voice, and the shadows above them all leap and shiver. “Who called you out of sleep and left you stranded in this place?”

“He came of his own choice,” calls the Duke, from above.

“You!” cries the woman on the ice, pointing her stick at him, lighting him up as he leans over the balcony, the shadows suddenly thick behind him. “He is a simple beast, Barganax. Much as yourself. I smell my sister, here.”

“We are guests of the Duke,” calls down the Queen, over across the atrium from the Duke. “This hunt is of his devising. If he truly did not seek your approval of field and quarry, in this your demesne, we offer our sympathies, and gladly take your part in the quarrel.” Out of the darkness away across from the boar comes Roland without his spear, the length of his steel gauntlet stained a bluish black. Marfisa follows him, limping, dragging her glaive along the floor.

“It is true, ma’am, that I am simple,” says the Duke. “I plead simplicity. Of course we shall call off the hunt, and my man on the field stands forfeit.”

“Which is your man,” cries the woman on the ice, as the crowd all about mutters and gasps. “Which is your man?”

“Why,” calls down the Duke, “my Gallowglas.”

Wailing the woman spins on the ice, thrusting her stick at the darkness all about her. “Where? Where? You would use a mortal man to hunt my splendid Erymathos, and send him down to dust? Show him to me!” And the light finds Frankie, cowering against the side of the escalator, his colandered head in his hands. “You!” cries the woman on the ice. “You! Stand up! I would crack open your ribs and set the very air free from your lungs!”

“The hell you will,” says Jo Maguire.

She’s stepping down the dead escalator to the first floor, her épée in her right hand high and pointed at the woman on the ice. “Frankie’s under my protection,” she says.

“Is he,” says the woman on the ice.

“Him,” says Jo, crossing the floor to the low wall about the ice rink, “and her.” She points the sword up and behind her, then levels it at the woman on the ice. “The Princess. Ysabel. Anybody else in here you want, you’re welcome to them. But you so much as give either of them a fucking goosebump, I’ll stick you with this.”

The woman on the ice says nothing, stands stock still, her stick and its bright light pointed at Jo.

“I’m the other Gallowglas,” says Jo. “From what I’ve seen, that’s about all it takes. Right?”

The mall is silent, still. Even the shadows hung on the walls about them hold still for two long breaths, then three. The woman on the ice lowers her stick. From somewhere a quiet sound grows louder, a creak, a crackling groan. She’s smiling. She’s lifting her head. Not looking away from Jo, she’s started to laugh.

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They march – the Conquering Hero

They march past clots of cars and trucks haphazardly parked under the buzzing lights, many of them heading on foot up the curve of the ramp and out to the surface and the night above. The boy with the big-bellied guitar slung across his back is helping a red-headed man load a large white drum into the back of a van adorned with a candy-colored pin-up girl, holding a massive snake above her body with both hands. The side door’s open. Marfisa in a soft blue robe sits slumped, a cloth to her face, her greaves stacked on the pavement by her bare feet, her hair the color of clotted cream hanging like a curtain before her face. Agravante kneels before her, reaching up to brush the hair out of her eyes. “He’s loose,” she says, her voice slurred. One side of her face is puffy, mottled red and white and yellow, the eye swollen shut. “He’s out there, somewhere.”

“The Duke’s problem,” says Agravante, gently. “Not ours.”

Across the garage, halfway up the ramp, Pyrocles pauses to look back at them. His blue jacket draped across his shoulders, his bare chest wrapped in a white bandage. His expression masked by those long grey mustaches. Becker, unlocking the door of a little red hatchback, looks up to see Pyrocles trudging away up the ramp. “I don’t,” he says, looking about the parking garage, at the people marching past, a pickup truck with wood-framed plastic wings stashed in the back, a sedan topped by a monkey-faced stone idol strewn with ivy, spitting water on the windshield. “I don’t want to forget this,” says Becker, but Guthrie over on the other side of the car is looking down at his thin hands wrapped around each other. “Do you,” he says, “need a ride? Anywhere?”

“Anywhere,” says the woman swaddled in those skirts and sweaters. “Anywhere that isn’t.” She’s pointing at a black car parked a couple of spaces over from them, a powerful black thing standing empty. Meticulous lines of hand-painted white letters whorl up and over the sides and hood and roof.

“Give me a minute,” says Becker, closing his door, heading back across the garage.

“Ow!” says Frankie, a hand to his cheek, down by a concrete pillar.

“You with us now?” says Gaveston. “You need another one?”

“No, no,” says Frankie. “No, I’m good. I’m hey! Watch it!” Gaveston’s bent over, tugging at the pot lid strapped to Frankie’s chest. He glowers up at the boy in the tight brown suit. “What on earth did you use, Sweetloaf?”

“Fuckin’ duct tape,” says Sweetloaf, opening a butterfly knife with a practiced whipcrack flourish.

“The conquering hero approaches,” says Orlando.

Jo’s walking quickly over to them, holding her sword in its sheath in one hand at her side. “Miss Maguire,” says Gaveston, straightening up. “A delight to see you again. Congratulations on your – ”

“You hurt?” she says to Frankie, brushing past Gaveston.

“Hey, Jo,” he mumbles.

“Are you hurt?” she says. “Did that thing touch you?”

“No,” says Frankie, “I’m – ” Jo shoves him back, and back again, into the pillar. “The fuck?” she’s yelling. “What the fucking hell were you thinking?”

“I missed you,” says Frankie.

“Well stop!” says Jo. “Jesus. Just stay the fuck away from me.” He’s about to say something and she shoves him once more. “It’s for your own good, you goddamn idiot.”

“Gallowglas,” calls the Duke, walking over to them in his cream-colored suit, his immaculate yellow tie.

“Not now,” says Jo.

“Forgive me, Miss Maguire, but I meant Frankie, here. Frankie Gallowglas.” Smiling, the Duke holds out a stuffed brown leather wallet. “Five hundred bucks, sir,” he says, handing it to Frankie. “As agreed.”

“But I thought you said,” says Frankie, as Gaveston, sidelong eyeing the Duke, says, “Come, Mr. Reichart. Don’t be chary. You’ve served us well.”

Frankie takes the wallet and stuffs it in his pocket, the stovepipes about his shins clanking. “Son of a bitch,” says Jo.

“And now, Miss Maguire,” says the Duke, “for you. Your bravery saved more than Frankie here from the, ah, consequences of my folly.” He puts a hand on her shoulder and she does not shrug it off. “I would grant you a boon, Miss Maguire. Name your heart’s desire. If I can grant it or do it or steal it, it’s yours.”

“Leave my friends alone,” she says.

“What,” says the Duke, “all of them? You’ll have to give me a list.” He steps back. “Very well. It’s done. Nevermore bothered by me or mine! Come, gentlemen.” He turns to go.

“What about the boar?” says Jo, and the Duke stops.

“Erymathos,” he says, “has been taking care of himself for longer than you can remember. The boar,” he says, turning to look back at her, “will be fine.”

Gaveston hurries after the Duke, followed by Sweetloaf.

“I’ll be curious to see what happens next,” says Orlando. “She took a liking to you in there, but you’ve caught her attention.” He smiles. “That’s never wise.” He saunters off after the others.

“Jo,” says Frankie. “Can I – ”

“Shut up,” says Jo, and she walks away. A dark blue car floats between them, the pavement beneath glowing an unearthly blue-white, the hubcaps spinning pinwheels of colored lights. Frankie sits in a clatter of makeshift armor and starts wrestling with the pot lid taped to his chest.

Becker catches up with Jo in the middle of the parking garage. “Hey,” he says. “You need a ride, or something?”

“No,” says Jo, pointing down to the other end of the garage, a long white limousine there, a white SUV by it with gold trim. “The Queen’s giving us a lift. Thanks, though. Maybe Frankie? If you’re feeling generous.”

“Look,” is what Becker says then, “I’m going to forget all of this.”

“I, uh,” says Jo.

“And what I wanted to say is if I’ve been an asshole, I mean, I have been an asshole, to you and her, and I’m sorry, okay?” A sudden blare of a car horn. A grimy white bus is bulling its way down the ramp through the last of the crowd on its way up and out. There’s a man in green coveralls leaning out the front door, yelling and shaking a mop. “It’s all so goddamn,” says Becker.

“Yeah,” says Jo.

“Hey, tomorrow,” says Becker. “Don’t worry about coming in, okay? I’ll square it with Tartt.”

Jo laughs. “Jesus. I hadn’t even. Thanks, Becker, but I really need the money.” She slings her sheathed sword over her shoulder, holding the ties in one hand. “Hell, I’ll bring her along, too. After tonight, she owes me. Big time.”

Becker snorts. “So, what is she, a Princess? What’s that about?”

“You’re going to forget all this tomorrow,” says Jo. “Remember?”

Becker smiles, a little. “Guthrie won’t let me.”

“It’s for the best,” says Jo. “I mean, I appreciate it, really. Thank you. And Guthrie. But forget it. Okay? You don’t want to get mixed up in this. Believe me. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” says Becker. “Tomorrow.” He watches her walk away, down toward the white SUV. Ysabel’s waiting by it in her long ivory gown, Jo’s army jacket draped over her shoulders.

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