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“On a scale of one to ten” – entirely too Sweet –

“On a scale of one to ten,” says Becker.


“On a scale of one to ten,” says Becker, “where one is very dissatisfied, and ten, ah, is very, very satisfied,” leaning close to the monitor that fills his narrow carrel, “how,” he says, “would you rate your satisfaction with, with your, ah, the welcome, you received, from the reception team?”

“Reception team. What’s that.”

“Ah, that’s what it says, sir.”

“Yeah, but, what is it? Is it like when a company decides they won’t call their employees employees, so, they’re like, associates, or cast members, or compadres, or whatever? I mean, reception team. The heck is that? The receptionist? Whoever it was gave me the new patient questionnaire?”

“It’s,” says Becker, “whatever it means to you, sir.”

“Well, that’s stupid.”

“Sir,” Becker adjusts the microphone of his headset. “Your experience with Pet Depot was, was yours, it was singular, unique – ”


“ – but if we take enough of those experiences – ”

“I would’ve said it was pretty friggin’ generic. Pardon the French.”

“If we rate enough of those experiences, sir, measure them, consistently, systematically, we help Pet Depot better determine, ah, where they’re doing well, and where they need to improve, in providing service to, ah, pets, and their people.”

“Pets and their people.” A snort. “That yours? Or is that just what it says?”

Becker drops the headset on the keyboard, frees a wrist from the tangled cord with a jerk. Twiddles his mouse, clicking, closing windows one two three on the monitor. All about people are pushing back chairs, getting to their feet, slipping into rainshells and light jackets, zipping up hoodies, backpacks, each before their own kelly green carrel, just barely wide enough for a monitor, a keyboard, a phone. “Good job,” says the kid who steps out from behind the one desk in that narrow office, making his way upstream as they file past toward the door, “not bad,” he says, “nice numbers tonight, good job, Crecy.” His discretely checked shirt of blue and green at odds with the silver dots on his tie. “Hey,” he says, crouching by Becker’s chair, and Becker still sat in it. “Yeah, I know,” says Becker, reaching for his messenger bag.

“No, you did okay, just,” says the kid, a hand on the back of Becker’s chair, “don’t try so hard.”

“Don’t try so hard,” says Becker.

“Yeah,” says the kid. “With everybody, it’s like, you have to do whatever you can to make them understand. Why we’re doing this. Don’t, you know. Try so hard. Just ask the questions, take down the answers, move on to the next.” Lifting his hand away when Becker pushes back his chair, gets to his feet, looking down at the kid. The knot of that tie’s too wide for that skinny neck. “Tell me,” says Becker. “How long have you been managing this shop?”

“The phone room?” Pushing upright, a shrug. “Couple months.”

The dining room is very bright and loud with laughter, folks sat and stood about a long table piled with books, a slither of unopened mail, half-empty glasses and half-laden plates, clink and clack of plastic and stainless steel, “Not till the third episode,” and “Only if you don’t touch!” and “They’re painting it beige!” and “Who had the mushroom bacon?” Becker’s in the unlit parlor, there by a couple of bicycles, a sandwich board that says Piano Lessons, Weekday Appointments, a low couch piled with coats. Arms folded, he watches a minute, maybe two, before somebody looking away from a joke catches sight of him, “Becker!” she says through her chuckles, and more of them, “Becker!” and “Hey, Becker!” and then, all at ragged once, “Happy Birthday!”

“It’s not my birthday,” he says, tugged into the light, the crowd. “It’s not anybody’s birthday,” says someone, and, “Well, not anybody here,” says someone else.

“I was merely reflecting, on Slack,” says a woman from across them all, in the archway that leads to a kitchen, “that I didn’t get to do much of anything for my last birthday, and Erick agreed, and Amy chimed in – ”

“I never chime.”

“ – and anyway, it snowballed.”

“Didn’t you get the email?”

“I’ve been at work,” says Becker.

“So anyway,” says the woman in the kitchen, waving a spatula, “pannenkœken! Savory, or sweet?”

“What?” says Becker.

“Pfannkuchen sind Liebe!”

“Pancakes for everyone!” says the woman with the spatula. “Do you want ’em savory? Or sweet?”

“I want,” says Becker, stepping back into the unlit parlor, “maybe, I’ll just, head upstairs. Keep it, uh, try to keep it, down?”

The futon’s shoved against one wall of that little room, curled along one edge to make room for a cinderblock shelf just long enough for a dozen or so albums, a handful of books, a sleekly slender turntable, a reading lamp, the only light. Something’s softly playing, a smoothly tempered jazzy line, past Hebrew kings and furry things to the birth of humankind. A thickset man in a long grey cardigan steps on the futon, over the messenger bag there by the pillows, gingerly making his way with a green glass bottle over the blanketed stretch to the window there, wide open.

Out on the tarpaper roof Becker’s laid flat on a rumpled quilt. The thickset man steps through the window with exaggerated care. “Arnie,” he says, sitting heavily, ostentatiously offering the bottle, “and if you’re gonna call me Jimmy, I can call you Arnie.”

“I didn’t call you Jimmy,” says Becker.

“I rest my case. Here,” waving the bottle, “cidre doux. Which, apparently, means entirely too sweet. But a nice fizz.” Becker takes the bottle, but sets it off to the side. “Well,” says Jimmy. “You’re a real stick-in-the-mud tonight.” Tenting the skirts of his cardigan over his knees. “You’re going to have to talk about it, sooner or later.” And then, when Becker doesn’t, “You dropped off the planet, Arnie. Quit your job. Got a new phone and didn’t tell anybody which, believe me, I understand the impulse. But the only reason nobody thought you were dead was Elspeth happened to see you out on the town with a particularly fine specimen of silverback sugardaddy and, forgive me, Arnie, but I honestly didn’t think you had it in you.” Tipping a fond look at Becker, who’s looking away, out over a dark backyard that glimmers with light and laughter from the party below. “And just as suddenly,” says Jimmy, “just as abruptly, here you are. Back – back! – back in the low-rent groove!” he croons. Trees and houses silhouetted by streetlights that smolder too brightly for the stars above, so faint, so few. “What happened?” says Jimmy.

Becker sits up, legs folded tailor-fashion, elbows on knees, fingers against clean-shaven cheeks. “I don’t know. I just,” a deep breath taken in, a plosive sigh. Those fingers sweep up through what’s left of his hair. “The last time I saw him, the look on his face,” he shakes his head. “Whatever it was,” says Becker, “it was, unforgivable.”

Jimmy leans close. “You, Becker, did something unforgivable,” he says. “Details, darling. Details make the story.”

“Details,” says Becker. “There’s a lot I just, I,” arms folded, still looking out into the darkness. “I don’t remember.”

“Drugs?” says Jimmy, with delicately skeptical excitement. Becker picks up the bottle of cider. “Yeah,” he says, handing it back unopened. “Sure. Drugs.”

“Well,” says Jimmy, sitting back on his elbows, “as I said. Mysterious depths, Arnie. I never would’ve guessed,” settling himself on his back, squirming his shoulders to smooth out the quilt, cupping his hands to pillow his head, “ah,” but then the one hand leaps to point, “look!” and Becker follows it just as the shooting flash fades away, a thin faint line of light drawn down the sky, low over the trees.

“How about that,” says Jimmy, lowering his hand. “And I’ll even let you have the wish, generous soul that I am.”

Flare from the tip of the tapering blade to the hilt of it wheeling falling fast, light stretched a line drawn down the sky to stop with a sudden crumpled pop, that building there, an angled bulk two storeys tall, or three, wedged into an awkward intersection, a little garden tucked on the roof of it. The poignard’s plunged upright in unkempt grass, and what can be seen of the blade is mottled with dark blood. The wire that wraps the hilt glintingly underlit by the streetlights below. A susurral thrum of traffic, engine-rumble, tire-whir, the sound of music somewhere, a beat too far away to resolve, the sudden rising rush of air through leaves, a disorganized stumbling thump and fall, a low, bewildered groan. Rustle of grass bent, shoved aside, she pushes up on hands and knees, rolls heavily over to sit, that knife stuck there between her shredded soles of red canvas and cracked rubber. Leaning forward, shirtless back ruddy even in this dim light, she lays a hand wrapped in a fingerless glove on the hilt, firmly still against the swaying grass. Cranes back her head, looks up, the starless night sky rusted with city light above.

“Shit,” says Jo Maguire.

Table of Contents

Slack, written by Stewart Butterfield, Eric Costello, Cal Henderson, and Serguei Mourachov, ©2019 Slack Technologies, Inc. Speed Racer, written by the Wachowskis, ©2008 Warner Bros. Pictures. Brite Nitegown,” written by Donald Fagen, copyright holder unknown. "“New York Groove written by Russ Ballard, copyright holder unknown.

a Jagged crack – 
the Man in the Chair – as she Passes –

A jagged crack across the black glass face of it, and she takes great care, laying it on the pillow, inserting the power cord. Knelt there, wavering, exhaustion perhaps, sagging with sudden relief when the screen of it flickers to life, a black bitten apple on a white field. A photo appears, herself, brown hair short and tufted, cheek to cheek with Ysabel, long black curls, knowing smile. 12:19, say slender floating numerals above. Friday, May 4.

Steam billows from the shower, but she’s by the sink, long robe of buffalo plaid tied off about her waist, empty sleeves a-dangle. She’s smearing creme over her sunblasted shoulders, wincingly persisting till she catches sight of herself in the artfully oblong mirror, ragged hair, that nose, her thin-lipped grimace. From the rumple of robe about her hips a faintly puckered seam runs pinkly up and pale to an ovoid dimple the size of a thumbprint, sheened with a vague iridescence, canted in the middle of her breast.

Wrapped in that robe, squatting in the doorway, she works a plug in a socket. Strings of little yellow lights flick on. Up then, across the kitchen, past a dead bouquet, the counter littered with desiccated petals, brown-pink, black-purple. Down the three low steps into the open room beyond, windows left and right in walls that narrow to a point, and at the top of the room a great dark chair. Knee on the cushions, leaned close to the window, she looks down. A car preternaturally silent passes through the intersection. The marquee of the theater across the way is dark, but the letters can still be made out, Reds 600, Cinco de Mayo la Batalla, 930.

A pot left on an unlit burner, and something dried within rattles loose when she picks it up, sets it frowning in the sink. Shakes out a wadded dishtowel, folds it, leaves it a neat little square on the counter. Opens the fridge on a shrunken lemon half, a couple of wilted scallions, some cans of diet cola and a cardboard takeout box. A slender carton of milk, red and white, Alpenrose, it says. She pulls it out, pinches it open, tips it over a blue-lipped glass, but what pours out is thickly lumpy slopping, fouled, she hurls the carton splattering away to drop a-splot in the sink.

The high wide bed is neatly made, white comforter draping the foot of it, white pillows piled at the head, but the dressing screen’s knocked over, linen panels awkwardly folded over themselves, whitewashed frame askew. White trousers crumpled and a coil of measuring tape, tumbled lace and satin. She’s there in the doorway, by the dresser, another dead bouquet atop it, and a small brass box. Six or seven cigarettes within she stirs about, plucks one, and a ragged book of matches.

Into the room across the hall, around the futon, cracked phone still charging on the pillow. She wrestles open the window at the end there, rattle and grind of the sash. Sits herself on the sill. In her fingers the soft spark of a cigarette she doesn’t lift, or look at, she doesn’t look out, across the darkly empty street, one lone window lit in the apartments opposite, the banner hung that says, Now Leasing. She isn’t looking at the stark white wall of her room, or the plain black scabbard hung there, empty, from a single nail.

She stubs out the cigarette. Drops it out the window to the sidewalk below. Parts her robe just enough to thumb the enameled nodule there against her breast. A wince, a shudder, she closes up the robe, and then her eyes.

Starts awake, sunlight blazing the lozenge, a riot of birdsong. Closes up her robe. “Shit,” she says. Leans over the futon, thumbing the phone to life. 06:31, say the numerals on the screen. Saturday, May 5.

“Shit,” she says.

Dressed now, black jeans, black T-shirt, stood in the sunlit kitchen. Blue-lipped glass still there on the counter, carton still in the sink, the glaze of drying milk. A look back down the hall, lit by those little yellow lights, half-closed doors at the end of it. She lifts her right hand, turns it over and back again, pronated, supinated, fingers wriggled, curled in a loose grip. For a moment she holds herself quite still, feet planted, eyes closed. Reaching for something, arm quivering with the effort of it, until her hand squeezes in a fist, her arm drops. She sighs.

Crashing out the back door, off the little wooden porch, across the potted lawn, past the patterned bronze chiminea, cold and dark. Crouching there, between a couple of raised beds, elbows on her knees. Takes hold of the wire-wrapped hilt of the poignard, thrust upright in the unkempt grass. Yanks it free.

Back inside, down the hall, into the kitchen, past the counter and the bouquet, past the steps, she yanks open and out the door to the apartment. Down the steps to the landing below, two plain brown doors, she knocks at one of them, gently, “Iona?” she calls, tucking the blade in the back of her jeans. “Chariot?” Trying the knob, jerking her hand back when it turns and the door cracks open. Within unpainted walls patched and seamed with unsmoothed plaster, a freestanding rack hung with tracksuits, three or four, yellow and white. “Iona?” she says, again. And then, more quietly, “Ysabel?”

Down the last steep flight, into the lobby, the hall behind her, boxes stacked along one wall, a wooden crate, an ottoman abandoned with a broken leg. She leans on the crash bar of the door outside and steps into the sunlight, the wall of the building rising brown and darker brown behind her, and signs filling the storefront windows across the street, Opening Soon, the letters tastefully slender, Boxer Sushi. She closes her eyes and slowly opens up her arms, a diffident breeze stirring her sunbleached hair.

Heading toward the garage, one arm outstretched, fingers trailing along the brown, brown wall, tap, tappity-tap, tap. Down the drive, around and down the precipitous curl of the ramp, the basement opening out under the length of the building above, polished concrete shining under fluorescent lights, a ruddy, low-slung sedan there, parked at an angle across a couple of spaces. Beyond, stacked against the back wall, banker’s boxes white and brown in mostly regular columns, four or five high, a couple left on the floor by a simple folding table, a high-backed black office chair turned away, and someone sitting in it.

“David?” she says, pitched to carry, blinking at the echo. And then, much more quietly, “Luys?”

He’s asleep, the man in the chair, and short enough his feet in once-elegant brogues are left to dangle, but the fingers of his hands so long and slender, laid over the photographs on his lap, black and white, sepia, dull silver.

“Inchwick,” says Jo.

He jerks awake, wiping his mouth with the back of one of those hands, blinking. Catching sight of her he flings himself from the chair rolling back, photos scattering flutter to his knees with a grunt, pressing his forehead to the floor as she skips back, “Hey,” she says, “hey,” the chair fetching up against the boxes. She squats before him, “Don’t,” she says, “you don’t have to,” reaching toward him, drawing back, “come on,” she says. “You’re Inchwick, right? Get up.”

“As your grace would have it,” he says, pushing himself upright, “though that the mouth of one such as herself should come to be troubled by the shape of the name of one such as this,” and he shakes his head hung low, “what, oh what has come of this vale of tears.”

“That’s,” says Jo, “kinda what I was,” leaning forward, trying to catch his eye, giving up, sitting back. Tugging, smoothing her black T-shirt back into place. Leered across the front of it the face of a red devil, marred by silkscreen craquelure, and her hand stops, splayed across it. She looks away. “Where is everybody?”

“Your grace,” he says, eyes still downcast, “but everybody’s such an amorphous and an expansive assembly, difficult to pin down – ”

“Everybody,” she snaps. “The Queen. The Chariot. The, whoever, washes the dishes, does the, the, the apartment’s abandoned, Inchwick. Please. They’re all gone. Everybody’s gone. Except, except you.” Leaning forward. “You’re here,” she says. “You stayed.”

“Of course,” says Inchwick, head a-bob. “Of course. This one could do no less, your grace.”

“Don’t,” says Jo, “don’t say that.”

“But, your grace,” he says, and “I’m not,” she snaps, hands up for emphasis, and he looks up enough to see her shirt. “I’m not the Duke!” she cries, as he knocks his forehead back to the floor. “I’m not, it’s all,” the heel of her hand to her breast then, and a wince.

“But,” he says, his voice quite muffled, till he lifts his face, “your grace did save the morgue.”

She opens up her eyes. He’s turned half around, looking back to those boxes stacked along the wall. “For that alone,” he says, “this one should serve my lady till the end of all our days.”

“I didn’t,” she says, half-says, and then, a deep breath, “Inchwick,” she says, with terrible patience. “What happened to the Queen.”

“The day your grace disappeared, my lady, if such a one as this might be forgiven for saying so,” he turns back, head ducked once more, “the King passed, too, and every grain of owr in the city was turned to dust with the grief of it. The Queen in her majesty did with an insuperable effort bring forth one last wonder, and did portion it out, in a warehouse toward the river, but,” he’s lifted one of those hands to his mouth. “It was not enough,” he says, breath catching on the word. “Not nearly enough.” A sniff. He blots his cheek. “Her majesty keeps something of a court there, now. The old Eyetalian grocers’, on Taylor.”

She gets to her feet with a squeak of her shoe. He pushes himself up as she steps away, “Your grace!” She stops, looks back, “what is to be done,” he says, “with your grace’s morgue?”

“It’s not,” she says, shaking her head, a sigh. “Keep it safe,” she says. “If it, ah, starts to rain? Like, a lot?” She shrugs. “Get it upstairs.”

“As my lady would have it,” he says, and bows to her as she leaves.

Blocky columns swell in the gloom to groin a lowering roof, and nestled among them an archipelago of candles, guttering wicks in limpid pools, reefed and shoaled about by congealing wax. That lambent glow sheens silks smooth-woven, roughly raw, in purples, magentas, gold, cushions heaped and bolsters, wraps spread, draped, tumbled over thick-piled Turkey rugs the patterns of them breathing in the play of light, light that lends a warmth to olive skin, and pale, that snags black curls artfully tangled, shot here and there with sprigs of silver, that serely slicks severely yellow hair, that swallows, recedes, laps shadows pooled about soft curving plains, abruptly muscled ridges, escarpments of elbow, shin, chin. Ysabel asleep in the midst of them all, her pillow the Starling’s belly, the Starling her arms flung wide, face tipped up, eyes closed, and such a smile of contentment there, glazed with drying white, a frost clung to the stubble that roughens her cheek. Étienne between the Starling’s canted knees, one pale sugar-crusted hand reached over Ysabel’s waist to hold her sister’s hand, Christienne in Ysabel’s arms, her sleeping yellow head against Ysabel’s brown breast, her spume-caked thigh nocked between Ysabel’s thighs, and there a confusion of milk-dusted feet.

A hand on one of those columns, barely touched by that flickering light, Marfisa turns away from them, slipping ghostly into the shadows. Back through the columns toward a thinly seep of daylight limning the nosings of steps that climb into a somewhat brighter light, falling from the foyer above. She stops a moment, hand against the wall, feet on different steps, sleek running shoes, black tights, grey tank, her wild white hair hung low.

Into the foyer, brightly blue graffitied with primary colors, lines and shapes, corpulent miens of exaggerated joy, surprise, exasperation, a tree that scales one wall, leaves and fruit of it trowels and rakes, shears, empty gloves, hoes, hammers, and up the other wall a ziggurat of rough red bricks that somehow become the lines and knots of a net flung high above the stairs and filled with fish, with stars, bones, coins, and painted over the ceiling far above the keel and churning wake of a ship. She crosses yellowing tiles, past the stairs, under a long low arch lit by glowing tubes along the floor, and out into the cavernous warehouse, brightly sunlit. Most of the stalls that march the length of it have been opened to the outside, and clusters of people are sat or stood together among the art, speaking softly, laughing quietly, sipping coffee from paper cups, or tea, dozing in the sun, bent over tools laid out on folded towels, screwdrivers and crescent wrenches, awls and chisels, clamps, taking up each in turn to be checked, adjusted, polished, snapped home in a toolbox or a belt, cleaning brushes in a bowl of cloudy spirits, sluicing paint from roller sponges, mixing color in a pot, dollop of umber in the carnadine, genially disputing a paint-spattered sketch, but conversations falter as she passes, laughter trails away, focus shifts, returns, drops to the task at hand, the cup laid by. No one looks to her, but all watch as she makes her way, footfalls quiet in those shoes, out into the open area before the raised stage, past that main overhead door rolled all the way up to the skeletal staircase there, under the faded painted letters that once said Eastside Italian Market & Grocery, onto the walkway, up to the door there, freshly painted purple and green. She takes hold of the knob, and opens it.

“No, no,” Gloria Monday’s saying, leaned against an escritoire, “where are we gonna put ’em. It’s not like we have a conference room,” and Anna Nirdlinger, sat on the nubbled green armchair, holds up a placating hand, “It’ll be fine,” she says, and adjusts her narrow glasses. “Perhaps the upper gallery.”

“Put whom?” says Marfisa.

“Still smells like God knows what,” says Gloria to Anna, and then, “Where’s her majesty?”

“She yet sleeps,” says Marfisa, and Gloria snorts. Her oversized T-shirt in a pulpy font says Dick Storm in South America. “Put whom,” says Marfisa again, more sharply.

“Her lawyers,” says Anna.

“Your liege?” says Marfisa.

“Our bank,” says Gloria. “They’ll be here after lunch.”

“Why,” says Marfisa, frowning. “Why would they be coming?”

“That,” says Gloria, pushing away from the escritoire with a creak, “is the ten thousand dollar question. That is maybe something her ostensible majesty could weigh in on. Share her thoughts. Maybe give us some insight as to what’s maybe in play, here?” Stepping closer to Marfisa. “So maybe you might could go back downstairs, and this time you could ask her, politely, please press pause on the orgy, just for a minute, so she could,” and her head whips back with the crack of a slap, “the fuck?” she snarls.

“You would do well,” says Marfisa, lowering her hand, “to ameliorate your tone.”

“You don’t touch me,” spits Gloria. “Not ever,” and “Ladies,” says Anna, hands on her knees as if about to stand.

“I swear to God,” says Gloria, rubbing her cheek, “I am never gonna understand,” braced against the escritoire, “what it is you see in that colossally. Useless. Bitch.”

Anna leaps up, stepping between them, “She is,” she says, turning to Gloria, “our Queen.”

“Yeah?” says Gloria. “What has she done for you lately? I’m serious!” leaning to follow Marfisa, who’s turned away. “She isn’t up here, taking people in. She isn’t holding this place together with her bare hands and takeout,” as Marfisa yanks open the door, “it isn’t her name on the goddamn credit card!”

The door slams shut hard enough to bounce open again. Marfisa’s footsteps ringing on the walkway, rattling down the stairs. Gloria stands in the doorway a moment, looking out over them all below. “I wish,” says Anna, behind her, and then Gloria slams the door shut again.

“You wouldn’t,” says Anna.

Table of Contents

Reds, written by Warren Beatty and Trevor Griffiths, copyright holder unknown. Cinco de Mayo la Batalla, written by Rafæl Lara, copyright holder unknown.

a Rasher of Bacon – Rip City!
 – Eatum-Rite & the Duckwall Bros. – the Color it was –

The rasher of bacon limply sheens those fingers greasy with scorched fat, those lips already parting for another bite, “You sure?” A gesture toward the platter heaped with bacon before them all. “Cooked to perfection. Gotta admit,” polishing it off, “you people set your minds to something, you do it right. No matter what.” The platter’s the only food on the long table, the plates before the rest of them all empty, cups and glasses sparklingly clean, napkins neatly folded, cutlery untouched. “Anybody?” A look for each of them in turn, the Glaive to the left, striped sleeves pink and white, the Guisarme in linen to the right, and beside him Mousely in a pink suit, clutching a sleek aluminum briefcase on her lap. Beside her the Chariot Iona, uncomfortably buttoned into a yellow blouse, and then Luys, the Mason, in a brown chamois shirt, and across from her the Gaffer Boggs, black turtlenecked, and the Soames himself, Twice Thomas in green tweed. “Going begging,” says the other, white shirt blazing in the sunlight. Stood behind each of them, at the edges of the shadowed porch, men in blue suits, hands behind their backs, Guerdon and Net, Trident and Serpent, Alphons, Anvil, Alans and Shield.

“My lord,” says the Axehandle Agravante, sat at the foot of the table, his suit perhaps of the darkest blue. “If we might dispense with the matter at hand?”

“What I don’t understand,” says the other, reaching for another piece, “is how any of this does any of us any good.” Munching thoughtfully. “Girl already owns the whole damn building.”

The Guisarme snorts. “Tom Wilson,” says the Glaive, “the girl’s father, held controlling interest in a group invested in developing the property; actual questions of ownership, of the land, of the structures, and so forth, and so on, are, shall we say: murky.”

“The north end of the block,” says the Guisarme, “the restaurant, the abandoned bar, the apartments above, all held by Southeast. Her father’s grandiose plans for the parcel had long been thwarted by the Duke’s refusal to part with them, at any price.”

“That’s not gonna be a problem anymore though, is it,” says the other, and Luys leans forward, “If it means,” he says, “an end, to the Queen’s mad dalliance, and brings her home, to us,” sitting back, with a sigh, “then you shall have it.”

“So we got us a plan,” says the other. “Rickety, but actionable. When do we kick off?”

“My lord,” says the Axehandle, but “This very afternoon,” the Guisarme’s saying. “We’ve already arranged a rendezvous,” says the Glaive.

The other laughs, a bark that crumbles into chuckles, climbing again in spiraling giggles. The Gaffer, starting, looks up to meet the Chariot’s blank gaze. The Mason’s hands to either side of his plate, a bit of leather tied about one wrist. The Soames looks up over his shoulder to the Anvil behind him, the Anvil looking down at his black, black shoes. “All right,” says the other, pushing back from the table, “let’s get ’er done.”

“My lord,” says the Axehandle again, as they’re getting to their feet, “if I might?” A nod for the shining case that Mousely clutches close. “Do we think that wise?”

The other scowls. “We think it’s necessary.”

“It’s the last of our stores, my lord,” says the Axehandle. The Gaffer looks with alarm to the Soames, who looks sharply at the Mason, who glares at the Guisarme, who lays a hand on Mousely’s shoulder. “If something were to happen to it,” says the Axehandle.

“Nothing will,” says the other, with a smile for the Glaive, and the Guisarme. “Y’all won’t let it.” And then, a hand slammed to the table, “Gentlemen! The point is not to make this girl’s day with a shiny new fortune. The point is to isolate your Queen, disband her cavalcade, and bring her home. And if this rickety-ass Plan A don’t work,” a pink hand lifted, a gesture, for that briefcase. “Best have a Plan B riding on your hip. Trust me, folks,” that gesture withdrawn, “ain’t nobody gonna like Plan C.”

“We’ll have your assurance, sir,” says the Mason, voice gruffly raised. “No harm will befall her majesty.”

They all look then, Soames and Chariot, Gaffer and Mousely, Glaive and Guisarme, from the shadows at the foot of the stairs to the other in the sun.

“Well, shit.” The other reaches for more bacon. “Pretty much up to her, now. Isn’t it.”

Up the stairs then, and out into the wide room, and what had once been a great curving wall of a window shattered, as open to the air now as the porch below. A breeze luffs the Serpent’s hair as he takes up a position at the edge of it, where the floor’s still mottled by old rain, as more men in blue suits accompany the rest of them down the front hall. Agravante stops there, in the middle of the empty room, looking down. Another stain blots the floor there, darkly ruddy, dulled by hapless scrubbing.

Out of the wide room, down the hall, past the front door where stone-faced Euric’s standing watch, but turning from him and up the enclosing spiraling staircase, steps quick, down another hall, dimly lit, and photographs hung to either side, a weed-choked vacant lot, a white house stark against an oncoming storm. At the end of it the Laguiole stands by a closed door, and as Agravante approaches, she slips a key from a pocket of her wide-shouldered pink coat to undo the padlock bolted to the door. He passes through, into a room almost entirely walled behind a canopy of white netting. A lamp shines within, and fluttering shadows lop before him, butterflies, their brilliant colors banked by gauze, impressions only left of black and red, of black and yellow, of orange and gold. “Highness,” he says, as the door’s closed behind him, and the sound of the padlock fitted to its hasp. The lamplight’s occluded by a shadow standing, approaching the netted canopy. “Excellency,” she says.

“I trust you slept well?”

“One needn’t trust,” says Annisa, hoarsely. “I do not sleep.” The papery sound of butterfly wings, their whispery alightings.

“The Laguiole,” he says, “the Ronca: they see to your needs?”

“Whichever of them currently looks to the bathroom could stand a lesson or two in mopping,” she says.

“This privation will soon be over.”

“What need of soon? Unlock the door. It might be over now.”

“Highness, the lock’s for your protection. Surely you must see that.”

“What I see,” she says, and the shadow of her shifting, and a sigh. “It’s not my person you’d secure, but my promise. Until the Queen’s returned, you clutch me close not for my safety, but your own.” Her shadow blurring as she steps back. “I am your just-in-case.”

He folds his arms, and if he’d been about to smile before, there’s no trace of it now about his lips. “Whichever case might come to pass, highness, you’re almost certain to end up with a crown – hers, perhaps; or a new one, of a new court, of your very own.”

He knocks once at the door, and a key-click, a hasp-rattle. “Do you know, Viscount,” she says, “Grandson of the Hound – I almost believe that you believe such a simple lock would stop him.”

He looks back as the door is opened. “You mustn’t worry yourself, highness. On this, you have my word – you’ve nothing to fear.”

“Tell me, excellency,” she says, as he steps through the door. “In all your experience with queens, have you ever known a one to see the folly of her ways?”

“Rip City!” he roars, and wipes spittle from his chin. “Rip City!” sitting up in that big brown recliner, shoulders swimming in a grey-beige sport coat. “Nineteen seventy-seven,” he says, “we had, we had giants, in those days.” Legs lost in the quilt across his lap. Jasper’s by himself on the couch, wrapped in a filthy blanket. “Men who played the game. They played hard, but. They played the game.” Wrinkles sour about the CO’s sunken nose. “Didn’t give a good God damn about the money, or the drugs, or, or. Or.” Jasper’s grizzled head nods along, his half-full mug of coffee half-forgotten. “Bill Walton! Dave Twardzik!” That soured face turns up. “Walton! Hurling a rock from the other side of the court to make the damn shot. Rip City!”

“Dad,” says the XO, over across the room. “That was Jimmy Barnett, Dad.”

“Bill!” The CO’s eyes bulge as he sucks in air enough to finish the name. “Walton!” Sport coat shoulders lurch, lapels swell with another labored breath. “Hit the bucket at the buzzer! Won the damn game! Won the championship, first time in the show!” Jasper sits back, sips coffee, looks from the CO to the XO, whose fingers are at his temple, pressing an ache, “Walton was on the championship team, yeah, Dad,” he says, “but it was Barnett hit the long shot that started Rip City.”

“Barnett! Barnett, you ignorant – Barnett was traded after one season! Nineteen goddamn seventy! To the Warriors!”

“And that’s when Rip City happened, Dad,” says the XO, pushing off the wall, heading through the sunlight slicing the ruddy drapes. “Against the Lakers. And we lost.” Squatting before the recliner. “And Bill Walton was a fucking draft-dodging hippie. Come on, let’s get you back to – ”

“I ain’t done yet!”

“Dad, come on.” Dropping the quilts to the floor. “Nobody’s here. No sense – ”

“Whose fault is that! Nobody’s here. Why do you think that is? There were men, in those days!”

“Dammit, Dad! Let me just,” and a ringing clunk, “ow!” Coffee slops the quilts. The XO lifts a hand to his head looking up, “Jesus!” to see Jasper behind him, staring at the unbroken mug in his hand, mumbling something, “wanteda hear a rest of it,” maybe.

“Give me that!” snaps the XO, reaching for the mug, grabbing Jasper’s wrist, “the hell are you trying to,” reaching across to seize the mug itself with his other hand, “you’re as bad as him, I swear – ”

“Chad,” says the CO.

Letting go of the mug, the XO looks down.

“Chad,” says the CO again.

The XO lets go of Jasper’s wrist. “Dad,” he says, “Dad, I’m sorry, but – ”

“Whose fault is it?” The CO’s voice is quiet now, and almost gentle, as he sits up to look down at the XO. “That nobody is here. Why is that, exactly?”

“I told you, Dad. I told you Moody was a bad idea. I told you not to bring him in on this.” The XO lifts up his head, but the CO’s raised his voice again, “Bad idea!” he cries. “Bad idea! Who the hell else had any good ideas around here, huh? Who hooked us up with them new boys, after Duke kicked it? Who set us up with that sweet deal? Who took a beating for us when he went inside? The Dread goddamn Paladin, that’s who! There were men! Giants!”

“He lied, Dad,” says the XO. “He’s a liar.” But he doesn’t look up, to meet the CO’s glare. “He’s the one fucked the deal up for us. He fucked everything up with them that’s in it.” The CO looks to Jasper, nodding, once. “He’s the reason,” says the XO, “Dad, he is,” and then with a sideways sweep of the mug Jasper clonks the XO’s head again, knocking him to his hands and knees.

“So?” The CO bends over the edge of the recliner, wheezing. “So? If that’s what’s going on, why the hell are you just sitting there, whining? If that’s the way it is, boy, what the hell you gonna do about it?”

Somewhere above a ragged chorus of pianos honky-tonks its way through chords too jangly to be sombre, too stately to sprite, chasing each other up and down the scales. “Hello?” calls Jo over the clamor, sunlit street too bright behind her, but the devil on her T-shirt clear enough in the shadowy vestibule. “Luys?” To one side rows of Mason jars filled with keys, sorted by size, price tags about the necks of them, quarter each, seventy-five cents, a dollar. To the other a file of unhung doors canted one against another along the wall. Sunlight desultorily browses past bins of doorknobs and drawer-pulls, glass and crystal glinting, polished brass and dented, plain turned wood, smooth porcelain, some painted with leaves, or hearts, or brush-stroke flowers. “Bruno?” says Jo. Above cabinets crammed with tiny drawers of screws and nails and nuts and bolts and hooks hang pressed-tin signs, Hood River Pears, they say, and Gosling Northwest Apples, Eatum-Rite and Blue Goose, Duckwall Bros., Kiyokawa Family Orchards. “Anybody?” In one of the angled doorways leading further in there’s a boy in a brown bomber jacket, aghast. “Sweetloaf!” she cries, but he darts away, “Wait!” She sets off through that doorway into a room thronged with bone-dry toilets, sinks on teetering pedestals, white enameled tubs lined regally behind them. Sweetloaf’s ducked through the next door into a crooked hall, couple of steps round a corner the one way, a dead end the other, two doors, the signs above them pictures of a screwdriver and a wrench. Jo looks back and forth, pianos clanging somewhere up away, but then the cry “She’s back!” rings out from around that corner.

Around the corner, into a trapezoidal room, the ceiling lost in shadows, a thicket of broken furniture climbing one wall. A long oval table, topped with glass, littered with paper plates, napkins, empty soda cans, a couple pizza boxes, and pushing back their chairs, getting to their feet, the Cinqudea in his orange coveralls, the Spadone his apron dingy with old grease, an older man swiping the bucket hat from his head, the Harper there, his yellow beard, Sweetloaf turning at the foot of it to look back to her, eyes wide. At the head of it Bruno, the Shrieve, in his moleskin vest, “My liege,” he says, quite grave, and bows his head, and they all bow their heads.

“Jesus,” says Jo, “you don’t, come on guys. Guys,” as your graces and my ladies mutter from them all. Sweetloaf blurts, “Your hair’s fucking different!”

“Yeah, well,” says Jo. “Stuff happened.”

“Your grace need not explain,” says Bruno.

“Actually,” says Jo, “the last thing I had to eat? Handful of strawberries. I couldn’t even begin to tell you when that was.” She nods at the pizza boxes. “Any of that left?”

“Strawberries,” says Bruno, “yet tartly pale, and ramps, the first raisins soaked in last year’s vinegar,” he opens one of the boxes, “new cheeses wrapped in lemon leaves, and flatbread charred in cinders: an excellent breakfast, for a day on the road.” He shoves it down the table toward her. “All we might offer your grace is last night’s pizza. Sweetloaf, fetch something to drink.”

Jo snags one of the remaining slices as Sweetloaf with a bob of his matted pompadour bustles away. “So,” she says, chewing, swallowing, “what’s with the concert?” pointing to the distantly crashing pianos above.

A dismissive shake of Bruno’s head, “Merely a household dispute.”

“Yeah?” Another bite. “Nobody’s doing the dishes anymore, are they.”

A look, from the Spadone to the Cinquedea. The Harper snorts. “There are those that are restive,” says Bruno, looking up, “and more,” a shrug, “who’ve left their station.”

“But not you boys,” says Jo, looking to the older man, the bucket hat back on his head. “You’re not one of the boys.”

“Gwenders, ma’arm,” he says, with a nod.

“Right,” she says. One last bite. “The Ladd’s householder.” Dropping the pizza rind to the box. “I was supposed to come talk to you.”

“I’ud nar dream t’impose, ma’arm,” her says, but she holds up a hand, “I said I would. I didn’t. I’m sorry. But it’s been a little,” and she sighs. Looks to Bruno. “Luys didn’t leave,” she says.

“He’s at council this morning, your grace.”

“Without the King?”

“It’s Pinabel leads the council, for now,” says the Harper.

“Agravante,” says Jo, skeptically flat. “On the throne.”

Bruno shakes his head. “The Count, my liege, is awake.”

“The throne’s broken,” says the Harper.

“Oh,” says Jo. Sitting abruptly. Sweetloaf sets a glass before her, sparkling water, choked with ice. “But the Queen,” she says. “Is safe.”

Bruno opens his mouth to answer, but “Seized,” says the Harper. “By the bandit. Just after you left.” He takes his seat, and after a moment so do the Cinquedea, and the Spadone. “Bandit,” says Jo. “You mean Marfisa.”

“Ma’arm,” says Gwenders, taking his seat with a nod.

“But it’s okay!” cries Sweetloaf. “You’re back! You’re fucking back!” Slapping a hand on the table, and Jo starts. “So it’s all gonna fucking be okay! Just, we can just, go and fucking get her,” blinking, “her, her majesty, and, and everything can just,” brushing back his pompadour, “go, go, back, to how it fucking,” sigh, “used to be.”

“There is no more used to be,” says Bruno, still on his feet.

“The owr,” says Jo, and they look one to another, stirring in their seats. “Except,” she says, leaning forward, an elbow on the table, “there was more, wasn’t there? After it all went poof?”

Again, the looks passed back and forth, and the Harper sits up, opening his mouth, but “Not even a firkin, your grace,” says Bruno. “Left whole by some mystery, burnt away in a night. We have heard her majesty’s tried to turn more, and failed.”

“Okay,” says Jo. “Okay.” She drinks down half the glass of water, ice clinking, wipes her mouth with her wrist. “I need somebody to find me David Kerr. A, uh, a magician, worked for the mayor, or a guy running for mayor. He,” hand to her breast, heel of it pressing there, above the devil’s leer. “He made whatever happened, happen. Also,” her hand laid back on the table, “you need to find Arnold Becker. Lives with that big knight, from Southwest. Pyrocles. Used to work with me at, actually, you should also look for Guthrie? Ah, Bill, Bill Guthrie. Is anybody taking this down?”

“Becker was found at Goodfellow’s, that night,” says Bruno, and sits him down. “The good Sir Anvil took him home.”

“So that’s a start,” says Jo. “He was there, with me, and David, when it happened. David,” she sits up. “He might not’ve made it back. I don’t know. We need to know.”

“Back,” says the Harper. “From where.”

“When,” says Jo, standing. “Bruno, tell me. When did you paint the building?”

He frowns. “Ma’am?”

“The apartment building. When did it get to be so fucking brown.”

“I, I would have to make enquiries, your grace. It’s been so since we bought it.”

“Huh,” says Jo. “Okay.” Lifting the back of her T-shirt. “One more thing. Find me a sheath for that,” and she sets the poignard clink upon the table, blade of it streaked and ruddy blotched, spotted with orange here and there. “I don’t want to cut myself.”

“My liege,” says Bruno, a hint of a question.

“Where’s your fucking sword?” says Sweetloaf.

“If I need that,” says Jo, “we really are screwed.”

Table of Contents

The Portland Trail Blazers are owned by Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, a subsidiary of Vulcan, Inc.

Stockings, red and black – cooling Their heels – a timorous Glaive
 – the Question – the Color it is –

Stockings, their red and black stripes tugged out of true by someone else’s fingers that close suspender straps, smooth the blackly satin garter belt, tug the red coatee into place. She lifts her arms as they do up golden buttons, heavy like the gold braid burdening her cuffs, spattering the glossy bill of her red cap, set at a jaunty angle. Those fingers settle the golden hawks pinned to either point of the coatee’s collar, straighten with a tsk her cap. She laughs, lips expertly red. Her sister sat beside her, lining her lips in a blazing mirror with a burgundy stick, her legs stockinged and gartered with polished boots laced up her shins, her coatee slung on the back of her chair, her cap on the counter before her. “Smile!” says Chrissie.

“No,” says Ettie, capping the stick with a disdainful moue.

“Go on,” says Chrissie, and Ettie does, a sudden, glorious grin, ostentatiously effortful, blatantly cruel, washing away to strand her stony affect. Costurere with a last pat for Chrissie’s coatee leans between them, rustle of white, bloomers and camisole, mob cap on her mousey hair. She takes up a little pot and a tiny brush, kneeling there by Ettie, who holds her half-done lips quite still as brilliant red’s applied. “It was easier, when we had the screen,” says Chrissie.

“It was easier with the owr, miss,” says Costurere, with a last deft twist to shape the Cupid’s bow. “If I’d be permitted to say so.” Standing, she reaches for the coatee, but Ettie pushes her chair back, “Go on,” she snaps, “I can put on my own damn jacket. Go help her,” an irritated gesture flung away to the Starling there among the candles, laid out on rugs and pillows and clouds of gauzy black tulle, Aigulha knelt beside her, sheer white shift and a mob cap of her own, painting a bare brown thigh with lines of icy silver. Ettie’s working an arm into a sleeve of her coatee, turning about, wrestling with the other until Chrissie shifts the shoulder of it just, lifts it into place, steps close enough to begin to button it up. Ettie submits with a grimace.

Light approaches, away across the basement, a fluorescent lantern swaying in the hand of Big Jim Turk, and the silent lightning of Petra B.’s camera, capturing in stutter flashes white robe loosely belted, silver shot through short black hair, Ysabel against the darkness, colors about her warming, softening as she steps into the nimbus of those blazing lights. “Ladies,” she says. “They’re here. Five minutes.” Aigulha steps up to unbelt the robe and draw it from Ysabel’s shoulders. Costurere gathers a handful of underwear, a fold of something demurely striped. The Starling gets to her feet, working her head from side to side, shaking out her flashing arms and legs. Big Jim holds his lantern high, a pair of mallets in his other hand, his kilt of khaki corduroy. Chrissie does up the last button. Ettie rolls her eyes away, “The hell is she getting us into.”

“It’ll be fun,” says Chrissie, pressing close, bills of their caps clicking, tipping, lips brushing carefully painted lips. “Spectacle.”

“Under the goddamn lights,” mutters Ettie, and then, as Chrissie steps away, “and we aren’t getting paid!”

“Let me guess,” says Anne Thorpe slyly, and across the stage Anna shudders. “You.” Pointing to Welund, sat at the one end of the nubbled green couch, linen discreetly rumpled. “You’re a lawyer. But you?” Craning over, looking past to Rhythidd at the other end, resplendent in a lustrous blue coat over pink and white stripes, a slender silver watch about one wrist. “I mean,” sparing a glance for the Serpent and the Shield, watchfully still behind them, “y’all’re easy. You’re muscle.” Mousely in pink, sat on the couch between the brothers, silver briefcase in her lap, pillbox hat on her head. “And you’re the help. But you?” Rhythidd favors her with a sidelong look. “You’re the money,” says Thorpe, “but not, like, middleman money. You are the money. I can smell it from here. Which rather demands we ask the question,” pressing her hands together, “why are you,” pointedly ignoring Anna’s bespectacled glare, “cooling your heels for the likes of her?”

“A fair point,” says Welund, with an indulgent smile. Rhythidd looks away with the slightest roll of his eyes. “I’m certain her majesty will only be a moment longer,” says Anna, smoothing her houndstooth skirt.

“Don’t let’s forget Miss Wilson,” says Thorpe with a smirk.

“Of course,” says Welund. Rhythidd looks at his watch. Mousely jumps, startled, the Serpent stiffens, the Shield shakes out a hand, as from somewhere above an unearthly alto note is lifted, held out over the empty warehouse, a note that fluting modulates, becomes a word, a phrase, “A thogha na mban,” and Rhythidd tips back his head, “ná tuig-si féin,” Welund leaping to his feet, “do shlad go n-déanfainn air æn t-slíghe,” stepping out to the very edge of the stage, peering up. On the walkway above, in a gown of greens and purpled blues, Carol strains to shape those words, “le cam, le cleas, ná beartaibh claona,” eyes shut tight, and stood beside her in a baggy grey suit coat Marfisa, white hair undone, a set of pipes under an arm and Carol’s hand in hers, fingers intertwined. As the song rings out, from all those stalls below step hobs and clods, domestics, in boilersuits and yoga pants, denim jackets and work shirts, blouses and paint-drabbled coveralls, “tu-sa agus me-si bheith,” and Marfisa lets go her hand, hikes the sack of the pipes up under her armpit, the drone back over her shoulder, “a mhaighdion mhaordha,” the mouthpiece to her lips and the chanter in her hands, “air feadh ar saoíghil,” and she begins to play.

The arch at the other end of the warehouse flares and pulses now with licks of light, with the rising pop and thump of drums, the whip and lash of Christienne and Étienne in coatees and caps high-kicking, flames streaming from the torches they thrust and withdraw, thrust and withdraw to the cracking rhythm of the Bullbeggar’s bodhrán, the sonorous thump of Big Jim’s big bass drum. Following after a tall figure wrapped in a black hoodie, skirted in black tulle, marching with stiff precision as Petra B. darts about, camera snapping away. Pipes and drums climb to a summit that collapses, beats redoubling, notes tumbling, somewhere a tinwhistle joining the fray, and the hoodie’s whipped away, black gauze a cloud unspooling, the Starling leaping, twirling, black hair twisted in a bun, silvered limbs flashing in the sunlight and the fluorescent light, battling swords a-clash, bright spears leaping to a shout, moonlit hind brought shining down in a clearing as the song of them falls to a halt with her, and only the drone of the pipes, the tinwhistle’s eerie echo, mallets and tipper held high, those torches, all of them motionless but for their labored breath, the glisten of sweat, those candescent flames.

Ysabel steps from the neon-brushed shadows of that arch.

Short black hair brushed back, her coat dress of sombre chalkstripe, black Chuck Taylors laced upon her feet. A smiling benison to either side as she makes her way up the aisle, and to either side then heads begin to bow, Sprocket and Manypeny, Bellman, Lustucru, Teacup Tall and Templemass, knees are taken, Fell Swinton, lucent Himmelbirb, trembling Charlichhold, Getulous and Trucos and looming Meg Greentooth, and on the stage Rhythidd, the Glaive, stands up from the couch, “Majesty,” he says, so loud in that rustling silence. Taking a knee by the Guisarme Welund, already kneeling, and the Serpent and the Shield bow their heads as Mousely scrambles to bow without getting up or letting go the case. Anna ducks her head. Thorpe smiles behind her hand.

“Welcome!” cries Ysabel, as they all about her stand back up again. “Welcome, to our guests,” lifting a hand, “and to our host!”

Up on the walkway the painted door swings open and out she steps, Gloria Monday, stately, plumped in a black high-waisted gown, jet-black hair threaded with white ribbons and gathered in two great hanks, short bangs freshly pinked, arms socked in black and white stripes one gripping the railing, the other hitching her skirts so she might make her way down the skeletal stairs.

“Miss Wilson!” cries Rhythidd, as loudly as before. Gloria stops, halfway down, scowling. “We would not trouble you,” he says. “We’d happily meet with you upstairs, within.”

“You wished an audience, gentlemen,” says Ysabel. “You shall have it, before our court. Press your suit.”

Glaive Rhythidd takes a breath, almost a shrug, very well, and steps back to sit on the nubbled couch where the Guisarme’s already sat, Mousely all elbows and knees between them. “We have broken with the Mason, ma’am. He’s agreed Southeast shall release the properties at the top of the block to us, that we might work with you, Miss Wilson,” looking over and up, “to help you make your father’s dream come true.”

A look comes across Gloria’s face at that, and she begins to laugh, a soundless rippling quiver that hitches her shoulders, tips back her head, erupts in a glittering spray, whooping as she lurches, slapping the railing, “My God,” she says, and the light catches the letters embroidered in silver thread over her bosom, OKBUMR. “My father’s dream,” and she waves a hand over them all, “was to flatten the whole damn block, pour a big flat concrete pad, float a couple-four storeys of cheap-ass shitty balloon-frame condos, with cheap-ass shitty vinyl siding, and those cheap-ass fucking windows, and, and, my father’s dream,” she sneers, “was bullshit.”

A stillness seizes the cavernous room, as a smile quirks the corner of Ysabel’s lips.

“Child,” says the Guisarme, “do not be so quick, to spit on opportunity. The monies to come from realizing even one such dream are enough to leave one in comfort the rest of one’s natural days,” but Gloria’s shaking her head, “I’m already rich,” she says. “Asshole.”

“You are to be commended, gentlemen,” says Ysabel. “Placing these buildings in Gloria’s hands will go a long way toward securing what’s been built here. A truly generous gesture.”

“Ma’am,” says the Guisarme, “it’s not that we,” faltering, looking to the Glaive, who smoothly takes up the thread, “I am afraid, majesty, it’s not so simple as that. We cannot freely make a gift of these properties to the girl – there are obligations to fulfill, investors that must be satisfied – ”

“Twice now,” says Ysabel, “Glaive Rhythidd, in this audience, have you said you are afraid.” Stepping closer to the stage. “We might begin to doubt your courage, were we not confronted by this insinuation, that you might not do as we have said you would.” Her smile is guileless, open. “If such is so,” she says, “you would be right, to be afraid.”

“We may not, ma’am,” says the Glaive in his blue coat. “Not might. Cannot. There are laws, that must be followed.”

“Bonds of mortal toradh, ma’am,” says the Guisarme, “if you will.”

“You are also,” she says, that smile quite gone, “to cease any efforts to demolish, dismantle, or destroy the Lovejoy Ramp.”

The Guisarme moves to respond, but shuts up his mouth at the Glaive’s slightest gesture. “Of course, ma’am,” he says, they both say, and bow their balding heads.

“What I will, is done,” says Ysabel. “Now go, and be about the doing of it.”

An ugly snort from above. “Fucking yahoos,” says Gloria, and then, as that entire room looks up to her on the stairs, “what, did I say the quiet part out loud?” Flinging a gesture over the stage below. “Look at them! Second they get out the door, they’re gonna figure out a way to fuck us.”

“There, actually,” says the Guisarme in his linen suit, “there is,” getting up from the couch, kneeling before Mousely, sat stock still. “There’s but one matter more, ma’am,” he says, resolve a-firming as his patter smooths. “We’d prove detestable ambassadours, to leave without leaving a gift.” Squatting, tugging the silvery case from Mousely’s rigid grip.

“Brother,” says Rhythidd, so quietly.

“It’s all right,” murmurs Welund, laying the case flat on Mousely’s knees, undoing the latches, click and clack. The sighs that thrill that cavernous space as he lifts the lid, spilling golden light.

“We know,” says Welund, turning, standing holding aloft a couple of plastic bags, brightly full. “We know what it means, to see golden promise turn to ashes in our hands. When first the Apportionment thinned, and threatened to wither altogether, we devised a plan, my brother and I: a storehouse, without the city, where we might set some of our portions aside against another such day,” and he thrusts up his laden hand. “It survived!” Swaying those bags from side to side, a beacon bright enough to warm those upturned faces, the hands that lift, that reach. “Enough to support the court,” he says. “Enough to return you all, and keep you, as you ought be kept, enough to – ”

“Enough?” cries Ysabel, and the swoop of the room’s attention, down from his hand to her before them all, pressed close to the stage. “For how long?” says Ysabel, and some of those raised hands falter, drop, even as the Guisarme lowers his bags. “As you portion it out to peers, week after week, and they to their stewards, seneschals, and knights,” turning to look to the crowd of them thronged about, “and they to their henchmen, housekeepers, cooks and valets,” catching the eye of one, then another, Iemanya and Bluelock, Glenn, the Dinny-Mara, Little Conway Coolidge, “to janitors and chambermaids, plumbers and electrickers, gaffers, tapers, bootblacks and chimblesweeps, scullery boys,” smiling when someone cries “Yeah!” and another, “Oh, yes!” and “A portion! Give us a portion!”

“How long!” she says again, and then, cutting through the rising clamor, “How many times?” Speaking to them all from her little space before the stage. “Even at just a mean pinch for each, a crumb at a time, how often could it all be handed round until you’re left to sweep that one last golden speck from the corner of a cold and empty vault?”

“No!” cries someone, and someone else moans. “A Queen might come,” says the Glaive, patting Mousely’s knee. “Whenever she wished,” standing, “to plenish our stores again.” Stepping up, beside the Guisarme, who lifts the bags again, to cries of “Yes!” and “Now!” and “Oh, yes!” Chrissie’s jostled as the Primo Rivas shoves past reaching for that light, Herwydh there, catching her balance in Umlauf’s wake, and Lupe Lupita, the tears in Christian’s eyes, Gordon’s scowl, Biscuit clapping his big hands together, the pop of them loudly, slowing, stopping when no one else joins in.

“She might,” says Ysabel, and there are whoops, “but when she does, if she does,” and at that a stillness raggedly settles over them all. “If we did,” she says. “Those who serve our enemy? Would find themselves without.”

“My lady,” says the Guisarme, tenderly. “There is no enemy.”

Ysabel steps into the crowd that makes way before her. “What if she doesn’t, though,” she says, and though her voice has quieted, her words still carry. “What if we, what if, what if I, cannot.” Turning back to them on the stage, and Gloria on the stairs, Marfisa and Carol high above. “That’s the question, isn’t it. Why you cling to the skirts of that monster, and pack up those last few dimming scraps in a stiff steel case. What if this,” looking now about her, “is it?” Bwbach and Cherrycoke, Offa and Ssidi Kur and stoop-shouldered Quilibet. “Our reign’s been brief,” she says, “not six full moons, and yet,” closing her eyes with a shiver as a hand takes one of hers, Chrissie slipped through them all behind her, “I’ve already lost my King, my Huntsman,” opening quickblink eyes, “the throne itself,” squeezing Chrissie’s hand as more of them press close, Alanbam, Meguis, Botté and Jeaneatte with her wildered eyes, Guytrash and thick-necked Brether Ned, Petra B. her camera forgotten about her neck, little Sproat and Schuka reaching for her hands, her fingers, her shoulders, the sleeves of her coat dress. “We have no Bride at our left hand,” she says, “but two bent Crones do shadow our right,” gazing up at them, Welund agog, Rhythidd looking away. She takes a step back toward the stage, and all those reaching hands fall away. “If the very wellspring of our toradh has run dry,” she says, “if the bond is truly broken – are we yet a court?” Folding her arms about herself. “Are we not a Queen?”

A moment, and another. Rhythidd coughs. “My lady,” he says, “you – ”

“Pack up your dross and go,” she says.

The vehemence, then from the crowd, she flinches, “No!” and “Oh, no!” and “Stop, my lady! Wait!” the surge of them desperate pressing her stumble-step close, hands braced on the edge of the stage, “Or, or stay!” she shouts. “Stay! Stay! Stay here,” she says, to Welund, to Rhythidd there above her, as the shouts and calls falter away. “With us. Make do, with us. See what comes next.”

“Majesty,” says the Glaive, but he’s looking out, over, past the crowd in motion behind her. She turns, Ysabel turns, but they’ve already stepped aside, stepped back, cleared a path. Stood in the slice of sunlight under the big main overhead door, all in black, hands in her pockets, “Uh,” she says, “hey,” says Jo, Jo Maguire, Jo Gallowglas, Widow of the Hawk, the Queen’s favorite.

Slap and squeak of footfalls pelting Ysabel flings herself past all of them, and Jo steps up to meet her, colliding, twirling, stumbling, leaning, laughing, together.

Leaned against the column a dozen canvases or more, almost as tall as she is, awkwardly wide. The painting on the first one’s stark enough to make out in the darkness, slathered black and red on white the suggestion of an arm, sleek lines there a throat, a chin, a head tipped back, pillowed in madly scribbled hair, and gazing out the lone green dot of an eye. She tips it forward enough to see the next one, similar, a leaping gesture, an imperturbable green dot, the next, a twirl, the next, clack of the wooden stretchers loud in the shadows.

“Huh,” says Jo Maguire.

The shadows wheel and sway as cold light blooms behind her, and she lets the canvases drop back to the column, turning away. Out past the blazing mirror of the dressing table someone in coveralls hoists a trouble light on a tripod, over the dying candles, and two more, three approach through the copse of columns, hauling in long flat cardboard boxes that they set down by the rugs and pillows with weighty thumps. Someone kneels, unfolding a clever little knife, and sets to slitting the boxes open. BRIMNES, says one of the flaps, in simple blocky letters. The others pull out long dark planks and set them precisely on the floor in a choreography of lift and step and swing and duck. “Uh,” says Jo, taking a step closer, “I don’t, ah, Ysabel, I mean, her majesty,” as they set to work about those planks, inserting dowels, turning cams, fitting them together in a broad shallow box, “she was supposed to – ”

“Excellent,” says Ysabel approaching, her brief coat dress, those flat-soled shoes, “though the headboard should point north.” One of them licks a thumb, holds it up, then points, nodding, and they all stoop and lift and turn the frame a few degrees, hup! Two more approach with a mattress wrapped in plastic, “Oh,” says Ysabel, “it’s not quite ready, set it there,” gesturing, and more of them now with plastic-wrapped stacks of bedding, great soft unslipped pillows, an enormous white duvet, “careful,” she says, “the floor’s not perfectly clean. I told them to get white,” she says, “it seemed easiest,” turning with a smile toward Jo, “but we can always change it later,” her smile, furling, “if we,” falling away, as she takes in the look on Jo’s face.

“Leave us,” says Ysabel, the Queen.

And chime of tool and scuff of boot, clack and thunk of plank, they do.

“Oh,” says Ysabel, when they are alone. “My beautiful Huntsman.”

Jo looks down. “I broke the mask,” she says. “I lost the sword.” Stood there shadowed before the blazing lights about the mirror. “But you’re still here.”

“Of course,” says Ysabel. Stood there by the tripod, and every line and stitch of her chilly pricked by its argentine light. “Where else would I be?”

“Up?” says Jo. “Away?”

Ysabel steps toward her, and holds out a hand. Jo steps up to take it.

“Day?” says Ysabel. “Or was it night?” And then, “You look like you got some sun.”

“He’s back, isn’t he,” says Jo.

“You saw it?” Ysabel’s other hand grips Jo’s shoulder. “It didn’t harm you, did it?” Jo with a wince shakes her head, her other hand coming up between them, pressing a moment to her breast, there, just about the devil’s brow. “It’s terrible,” Ysabel says. “Everyone insists it’s just the Count. No one will believe me when I tell them. They put me off. They indulge me. But,” tipping back enough to look her in the eye, “you’re back,” hand lifting from Jo’s shoulder to her cheek, “you’re here, now,” hitching up to press a kiss to Jo’s forehead, tilting, tipping down, but Jo turns her mouth aside. “I can’t stay,” she says.

“Of course you can,” says Ysabel. “Don’t be foolish. There’s no one to take care of the apartment. Your things can be brought over as soon as there’s a place to put them. It needn’t be down here – there are so many rooms! Jo. Jo, you must.”

“I must,” says Jo, pointedly flat. Letting go. Stepping back. Her hands crumpled in her black T-shirt, twisting the devil’s leer. Yanking it up, higher, enough to show the nodule over her heart, the color a dulled mirror in this light, and Ysabel’s hand to her mouth, blinking quickly. “I can’t,” says Jo, and lets the hem of her shirt drop.

“Nothing will happen,” says Ysabel.

“It already has!” cries Jo. A sob hunches her shoulders, she wraps her arms about herself, squeezing as she dips her head, hauls in a breath, “two weeks,” she says, and another breath, easier, more of a sigh. Straightening as Ysabel steps close. Takes her hand. Jo’s looking past her, over her shoulder, the cold light, the half-built bed, “You were gone,” she says, the words small in her mouth. “You left.” Ysabel’s arms about her waist. “I chased you,” says Jo, “but you,” closing her eyes as closer still, cheeks brushing, lips, “took off,” says Jo, and a kiss.

“Then that is how I know,” says Ysabel, “it was but a bad dream.”

“I don’t know how I got back.”

“You woke up!” Ysabel wipes her cheek with the back of her hand, then Jo’s, brushing away a tear. Jo shakes her head away, “The magic’s gone,” she snaps, and Ysabel laughs, a giddy bark of surprise, delight. “Why then, your grace,” she says, and lays a hand on Jo’s breast, “we’ve nothing to fear.” Jo looks away, but doesn’t let go. “Ysabel,” she says. “Ysabel, the apartment. What, what color was it? The building?”

“The color?” Ysabel frowns. She’s looking at her hand, laid flat on that black T-shirt. The back of a finger a-glimmer, a golden spark caught in the fine hairs below a knuckle.

“Ysabel?” says Jo.

“It’s white,” says Ysabel. She sluices the corner of her eye with her little finger. “With green trim.” A cloudy droplet clings to the tip of it, and she reaches it to Jo’s cheek, dredging up the runnel of a tear-track there.

“What,” says Jo.

Ysabel shivers. Holds her hand between them, fingers curled but the smallest, and trembling there at the top of it a scatter of tiny, shining kernels of gold.

“Oh,” says Ysabel. “Oh, my.”

Table of Contents

Aisling an Óigfhir,” writer unknown, within the public domain.

Pounding, pounding
 – non sum qualis eram – thrice Setebos –

Pounding pounding, hurling herself against the demure brown door, “You must!” she cries. Adjusting her baggy grey coat she rattles the knob that will not turn. “Open!” she roars, kicks, hurls herself again. It shivers inward, tripping her staggering into a stairwell with a spray of splinters. “Hello?” she calls, pushing back her cloud of white-gold hair. Something saggy flops in her other hand.

Up the stairs then, pounding, back along a balustraded hall past the first door, ajar, to the second. She smacks it with the heel of her hand. “Open!” she calls. “I must speak with you!” Pounding. “Hello!” A deep breath. “I know you are within,” she says, more quietly. “It is of vital importance that I speak with you.”

Clack and scrape, the rattle of a bolt. The door opens enough to show a man peering over a taut-stretched security chain. “You shouldn’t be here,” he says, low and close.

“But I am. I bear news of utmost importance.”

“I don’t give a shit if it’s life or death,” he hisses, “if you wake her, I’m gonna,” but then he catches himself, deflating.

“It concerns the roof over her head,” says Marfisa, “the floor, beneath her feet.”

He leans close to the gap, scowling. “How did you,” he says. “Who are you.”

“Eddie?” a querulous voice from somewhere behind him. He sags even more, shaking his head, dwindling hair of it clipped close. “Nothing, ma’am,” he says. “Solicitor. Go on, now. You need your rest.”

“Nothing, hell,” that voice. “Go on. Let ’em in.”

She lifts a hand, the one with its floppy bundle, as he gently closes the door, but the chain scrapes loose, the door opens again, wide now, he’s stepping back out of the way, careful of the shelves, and all the books.

The walls of the room are lined with shelves dark and pale, unpainted, brightly varnished, a stretch of metal shelving painted industrial mint, all filled stuffed crammed with books, with hardbacks wrapped in tattered jackets, glossy library plastic, pebbly leather, with paperbacks stacked and piled, spines curled and cracked and scored into illegibility, page-edges rumpled, foxed, rigidly cut, greying with old ink, covers creased and flaking, torn, stained, faded, dulled, worn away, but the names, still, the names, Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Andrea Hairston and Begum Rokheya Sakhawa Hossain, declaimed in block capitals, Mrs. H.A. Dugdale, Suzette Haden Elgin, Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, curling in fanciful scripts, Mariame Kaba, Xiaolu Guo and Nalo Hopkinson, Mikki Kendall, Vandana Singh and Nnedi Okorafor, worked into elaborate designs, painted into the illustrations, Tanith Lee and N.K. Jemisin, Benjanun Sriduangkæw, P.C. Hodgell, shaped with tiles or threads or circuitry, Tananarive Due and C.L. Moore, Octavia Butler, Shalija Patel, some of them written in the same peevishly careful hand on spines repaired with duct tape, friction tape, masking tape. Out in the middle of it all a grandly overstuffed love seat piled with pillows and boxes and stacks and pads of paper and primly sat at one end of it a tiny woman bundled in a pale blue quilted housecoat, a pad of yellow foolscap on her lap, her bare brown feet tucked into a shallow tub, the water in it bubbling about them.

“Ma’am,” says Marfisa, stock still before her.

“What is so all-fired important,” that voice now loudly creaky, those eyes peering up through Coke-bottle lenses, “has you banging down my door like this?”

“My lady,” says Marfisa, “Abby Tinker,” sinking to one knee there on the cluttered carpet. “I love your stories,” she says, an elbow on her knee.

“Yeah, okay,” says Eddie by the door, starting toward Marfisa, “let’s go,” laying a hand on her shoulder. She stiffens. “Next time, write a letter,” he says. Abby Tinker on the loveseat shakes her head, and he lifts his hand away. “You had something to tell me about my apartment,” she says, leaning forward. The thrum and chuckle of the water in her bath.

“This building,” says Marfisa. “The men, who hold it. Have the keeping of it. They will come to you, and say to you, that you must leave. What I would tell you,” she looks down a moment, takes in a breath. “What I am here to tell you, my lady Tinker, and also you, Edward – this building,” she says, “now belongs to us. And these rooms, your rooms, we’d give to you, that you might freely stay, so long as you would wish. No matter what those men might tell you.”

Abby Tinker takes up the pad from her lap and sets it to one side, screws the cap back on her pen, “Now,” she says. “Setting aside for a moment the question of whether you can do such a thing.” Leaning forward, closer than before. “Tell me why you would,” she says.

“I heard you read once.” Marfisa unfolds her floppy bundle there on the carpet. “The Whorlagig Road. Planet Chooseday, Klaatu Gawd. The Excellent Canopy. Cynara – the Herd!” Smoothing it flat, her rubbery horse-head mask, the limp snout of it, those bulging eyes. “Your stories are my favorites,” she says.

“You heard me read?” says Abby Tinker, those glasses turning up to look to Eddie. “You must have been a bitty little thing.”

“When I learned that you lived here,” says Marfisa. “You’re why I stayed. You’re why I’m here.” Her hand on the mask. “You’re why I wear this.”

Abby Tinker lifts a bare foot dripping from the tub, plants it on the carpet, bracing herself to lean down from her perch to take up the mask in a leathery hand. “I am not as I was,” she says, half to herself, “in the reign of good Sinara. Would you look at this, Eddie?” Holding up the mask. “She wants to be a Horse.”

“Fuck you, you’re not here, fuck you, you’re not here, you’re not here. Fuck you,” wetly shredding the fricative, “fuck you, you’re not her, you’re not fucking here!” Wiping his wrist across his mouth, dragging in a hissing breath, shoving away the hand she lays on his shoulder. She sits back on squalid cardboard, wrapped in a purple rain shell, grey-callused feet pinched by lime green flip-flops, flat little bottle clutched to her chest. Pit River Vodka, says the label. Blue plastic tarp snaps and rattles overhead. She takes a swig. “Moody, baby,” she says, “you got to stop this. It ain’t good for you.” Another. “Tell me,” she says, “where’d you go. Where you been the last couple weeks.”

He wheels, eyes wide, mouth snarled. “Where’s Lucinda?”


“Lu! Cin! Da!” Shoves her toppled rolling through the blue tarp with a grunt. She stiffly gets to her feet, bottle still in one hand, pebbles and wet grass clung to a knee. The blue tarps slung from a slender tree to the pole of a No Parking sign, a makeshift tent between street and sidewalk. She lifts a flap to see him frantic, rummaging through a bucket, dumping filthy clothing from a garbage bag. “Moody,” she says, all her wheedle gone to steel. “Stop.”

“The Sikes-Fairbourne!” he says, breathless. “About yay long,” holding up his hands, a span between them. “Only fourteen of them, Ada? Ada!” Snapping his fingers under her nose. “The hell you staring at?”

“That’s a nice watch,” she says.

Loosely golden, heavy about his wrist, he shoves back the cuff of his army-surplus jacket to gawp at it, the wide flat face, three small dials set within the largest, each of them hashed with tiny numerals, letters, other inscrutable symbols, the slenderly filigreed hands of them held quivering still, pointed this way, that, but for the single majestic sweep turning slowly above them under the crystal of it. He gingerly settles his thumb and middle finger on the golden bezel of it, forefinger stroking the face, and it chimes, softly. His fingers leap away. The hands of it swing wildly about but for the sweep, which has stopped, pointed right at him.

He looks up at her.

Gasping she drops the curtain, blotting out the sunlight, leaving only the bedside lamp in that dim room, all beige carpet and vaguely striped wallpaper. Blots her forehead with the back of her hand. Tucks a sprig of corkscrew curls behind an ear. She steps to the foot of a queen-sized bed draped with blankets a touch more brown than the carpet and opens a glossy laptop, looming over the light of its screen. Types a brief command. A graph appears, a flat red line crossing from left to right with a hiccup there, a scurry of green and red and orange unknotting, retwining, wobbling winding tipping until at the right edge it explodes, a luridly unskeining rainbow leaping and diving for asymptotes. She touches the screen and the lines dissolve to clouds of points, diamonds, crosses, exes, lurching to the left as the graph updates, and again, as numerals appear in and about the thronging constellation. She picks up a phone from the bedside table, dials a number, then another. “Setebos,” she says, and then, “Setebos, and Setebos.” Waits a moment. “It’s back,” she says, and terminates the call.

In the shadows below a splintered wrack, torn upholstery, draggled filthy stuffing, yellowed spears of grass grown up and through it, and all the shards of glass. He’s stood in his dark blue suit at the edge above it, among juts and angles of more broken glass. She crosses the empty floor toward him, squeak of her golden basketball shoes, yellow blouse uncomfortably buttoned, but stops her long white skirt a-slosh at the sound of voices raised below, one fucking job, give a shit, growling up from the stairwell to a you! before muttering back to indistinguishable menace. She starts across the room again, more slowly, less certain, stopping suddenly when he looks back, a wry smile under his mustaches. “Chariot,” he says.

“Sir Anvil,” says Iona. Stepping up beside him, at the edge. “You overlook our wreck,” she says. “Someone should have cleared that days ago.”

“No,” he says, lifting his chin to point out over the light-struck trees, the city beyond, smoldering in sunset. “I look to him.”

“Him, good sir?” Her chartreuse hair gone weirdly pale in the uncertain light.

“My lord,” says Pyrocles. “My love. He has forgotten me,” a shrug, “he’s forgotten us all. But when the Queen’s brought back – when the owr’s returned,” he says, and again a growl from below, a shout, a screeching howl cut suddenly short. Iona steps back from the edge, looks up, away. Pyrocles, blinking rapidly, ducks his head, brushing his mustaches with a knuckle. “I will see in his eye once more that he knows me,” he says, as footfalls climb the steps from the porch below. There’s Welund in his linen suit, and Rhythidd frantically impatient up behind him, stumbling heedless past him, staring at what’s clutched in both his hands, a curve of bone, a rib, glittered with pink. “Go on,” snarls the other, coming up after them, sleek aluminum briefcase carelessly depended from one hand, “slink on out of here!” And then there’s Agravante, bringing slowly up the rear. “Next time,” the other’s saying, “next time you fuck up like this. Next time you lose your fucking nerve. Next time it’s gonna be one of you.”

“My lord,” says Welund, there in the doorway to the hall, and Rhythidd gone on ahead.

“Oh, don’t worry,” says the other, handing the briefcase off to Agravante. “It’s perfectly safe. Now go,” and that one word a thunderclap in this wide room, and for an instant sparks flare about that squat round body, crawl through the crown of ivory hair. And then the other’s smiling, “All right!” and pink hands clap. “What’s next?”

Iona looks to Pyrocles, who doesn’t look up. “Next, my lord?” says Agravante, briefcase cradled in his arms. That smile upends, a frustrated scowl. “Plan,” says the other, “C,” each syllable deliberate, a stone in a well. “What are we doing. To make it happen.”

“We, ah,” says Agravante, “must,” a breath, “reach out, to the peers, assemble vehicles, matériel – ”

“Then do it!” snaps the other. “Reach out! Assemble! Is that fucking thing leaking?”

The shine of the briefcase shifting, has shifted from colorless silver to buttery gold against the pink fingers reached out to touch it, snapped back when the light flares not from the case but the air about it, and “My lords,” says Iona then, hoarse with wonder.

Out there, past her, past Pyrocles and the broken wall of glass, past the silhouetted trees dissolving in the softly rising dazzle, the ruddy light of sunset swallowed by a light more brilliant and more gold, a gentle summer sunburst just across the river, fading even as it warms their faces, dimming, gone.

“Majesty,” says Pyrocles, the word a merest breath.

“Not again,” says the other, and then, an avalanche crash to fill the words, “not again!” Quasars scratch the air and shadows scribble, the hair unraveling, those pink hands loosed, that shirt too loud, “How!” The ringing echo of the cry and all that energy a breath sucked in, light and shadow collapsing to a hard round belly, white shirt a bit too bright, bald head flushed pink in an ivory crown. “Go and get her,” says the other, a simple exhortation. “Bring her to me. Now.”

Table of Contents

Non sum qualis eram bonæ sub regno Cynaræ,” written by Ernest Dowson, within the public domain. Cynara’s World, written by Abby Tinker, ©1979.

the Gold, the Gold
 – “Come and get it”

The gold, the gold that spills from her hand a glittering trickle to the brilliance mounded in that wooden tub, “After all that.”

“Yes,” says Ysabel, laid back among the rugs and pillows, wrapped in a white robe.

“You said it was broken,” says Gloria Monday, empty hand on the edge of the tub. “Done.” Still in that black gown, and still with ribbons in her hair.

“I said if,” says Ysabel. “If it were broken. If it were done. Would you stay. And the answer was yes. Even so. But now,” her black hair shining, wet, her hands, her throat, her bare shin streaked and gleaming gold, “the toradh is restored.”

“We must’ve been reading different rooms,” says Gloria, stepping away from the tub, past Anna there in her houndstooth, her narrow glasses. Jo in the shadows, buttoning up her jeans, braces herself. “This,” says Gloria, “is fucking unbelievable. This cannot fucking be believed.” Anna lifts a cautioning hand, “Gloria,” she says.

“You know what’s up there?” says Gloria. “You know how all this started? Why?” A step toward languid Ysabel. “It was all the people, all the women,” says Gloria, “you fucked over, with your fucking goddamn question. Me,” she says. “Marfisa. Bobbi, and Anna,” Anna looks away, hand to her brow. “Julia? Tully? Petra, and Miriam, and every, everybody else who’s up there, now,” as Ysabel sits up then, looking to her with those green, green eyes, “who washed your dishes, or, or cooked you something, folded your fucking underwear, slept,” turning to Anna, “in a goddamn shoebox, and you,” whirling back to loom over Ysabel, “said it was all done!” Jo gets to her feet. Gloria straightens, steps back. “I guess that was bullshit.”

“They have all,” says Anna, adjusting her glasses, “we,” she says, “have given freely, of, ourselves.” Nodding, to the tub full of gold. “That gift will be honored.”

Gloria snorts. “You nearly had a fucking riot before. The hell you think is gonna happen when you just, walk that shit upstairs? You have to stop. You have to think about what – ”

“Tell us, child, what we must do,” says Ysabel, and the flames of the candles about her gutter, and tremble back to light.

“Oh, fuck you,” says Gloria, and Ysabel surges to her feet, “There is nothing we must do!” she bellows, a step toward Gloria falling back before the advance. “We,” cries Ysabel, “are Queen!”

“You and what army,” mutters Gloria, but Ysabel’s turned away. “Send for my dressers,” she says, “and once I am dressed, send for those enough to carry this portion up to the main hall. The white suit, I should think, if we have it; something white, and gold.”

Anna, nodding, says, “Miss Monday’s not without a point, ma’am.” Gloria glares. “There are,” and Anna takes a breath, “but few enough,” she says, “peers within, to steward an Apportionment.”

“The Bulbeggar, the Mooncalfe,” says Ysabel with a shrug, “the Dagger – and, of course, Marfisa, will make for more than enough. Oh, but send for the Starling, first: I’d see her restored to herself before the portion’s handed round.”

“Ma’am,” says Anna.

“And of course, if there’s the slightest breath of trouble,” Ysabel turns away from them, “we’ve also our Huntsman – ”

Gloria looks up. Anna takes a step.

“Jo?” says Ysabel, to the empty shadows. “Jo?”

A crumpled cigarette smolders in fingers spangled gold, the hand there on her knee, black jeans brightly dusted. Sat on the low stoop, soles on the sidewalk, music dimly thumping somewhere up behind her, keyboards trilling, lyrics loudly whispered over cries and cheers through the ash and acid rain, I don’t care if the germs eat our books and our brains, all I want is to echoing back through the blue-lit foyer, the climbing murals of tree and ziggurat, the silhouette in the open doorway, “You ever gonna get around to smoking that?”

Jo looks back, sighs, offers up the cigarette. Slip and shuff of bare feet, slickery rustle of leather pants, a brown hand plucks it away. Beads in black hair clack as a drag’s taken in, that shadowed head tipped back to loose a long, soft cloud. “I have nothing against you,” says Zeina, the Mooncalfe.

“I know,” says Jo.

“But,” says Zeina, another drag, “I can’t help feeling,” another cloud, “it’s maybe the other way round?”

“Nothing personal,” says Jo. “It’s just, your predecessor,” wave of her hand, looking for the next word.

“Is deceased,” says Zeina, offering the cigarette. Jo shakes her head, but takes it, “I want to quit,” she says, “but if I do?” Hand drifting back to her knee. Rising thread of smoke from the coal. “Damned if I know what I’d take up next,” she says. Lifting it to her lips, a slow, considered gesture. A drag. The beat still thumps behind them, a different piano over gyring strings and a piercing falsetto never let you go, tomorrow’s party will never end and the whoops and shouts. “Well,” says Zeina. She’s looking at the gold that clings to Jo’s hands, her knees, that’s caught in her sunbleached hair. “You did it.”

Jo nods. “Get yours?”

Zeina shrugs. “There’s time enough,” she says, “and plenty.”

One last drag, and Jo drops what’s left to the sidewalk. A white SUV with discreet gold trim pulls up to the curb. Jo gets to her feet. “Iona?” she says. The passenger door opens.

“Luys,” she says.

“My lady,” says the Mason, stepping from the truck, hand on the door of it to brace him in his wonder. “I’d been told you had come back, but still – I hardly dared to hope.”

“Told,” she says, as the other doors open, and men in blue suits pile out. “Duchess!” cries the Chariot, chartreuse head popping up from the driver’s side. “Welcome home!” In among the blue suits there’s the Stirrup in his brick red vest, and the Axle’s helping Sweetloaf climb out the back. “What is happening,” says Jo. “Luys. What’s going on.”

“Good Sir Mason,” says the Shield in his blue suit, a phone held away from his ear. “The Viscount asks, are we in position.”

“A moment,” says Luys, stepping close to Jo. A hand to her shoulder, “Soon enough,” he says, “all will be well.”

“No it won’t,” she says, ducking out from under.

“Sir Mason,” says the Shield again, and “A moment, sir!” snaps Luys, stepping after Jo, but that’s when Zeina shouts, “Gentlemen!” Up on her feet in the doorway now, and everyone stops. She lifts her left arm, pointing the rapier in her hand. “Everybody here for your portion, line up in an orderly file to the north, one! By! One! Anybody here for anything else?” Shaking out her right hand, she grips and twists a second rapier from the air. “Come and get it,” she says, settling into her stance.

“No!” cries Jo, a hand at the small of her back.

Flash of slender steel those two blades whick and whack as Zeina Mooncalfe catches the Trident’s short sword knocked aside she lurches rapiers whirling over around as she arches back under the Serpent’s cut with a twist of her hips a leap to plant herself riposte

“I said no!” Jo bellows.

into and through the Serpent’s breast. Gurgling his blade drops a-clang to the sidewalk his knees, grasping for the needle-whip even as it slips away. A “La!” from the Mooncalfe as a bit of glimmering bone bounces to the stoop at her feet.

“Enough,” says Jo, quietly, but the word still cuts through the grunts and shouts, and the thunderous crashes and sharp clangs within. They all eye not her but the sword in her hand, the steel of it whorled with dark waves and light, the hilt she grips so simple, so straight, guarded about by a net of wiry strands that glitters even in this darkness. The Mooncalfe settles in a wary crouch, one rapier low before her, “Well,” she says, the other up and back, “want to dance, Gallowglas?”

Jo steps back, and again, bump her back to the side of the SUV. Slowly, slowly she sinks, drawing the sword back to herself until her knee brushes the sidewalk. The Mooncalfe quivering scowling shifting her grips on her hilts, and the jagged little carpal bone spangled with blue by one bare foot. Someone shouts within, behind her, and a crowd roars. Jo lays the sword on the concrete before her, the faintest clink of steel. Lets go. Gets to her feet, looking about, Iona to the left of her, Luys to the right, and all those knights in blue suits. Sets off with a lurching clockwork step, pushing between Alans and the Guerdon, away out into the empty street. “Gallowglas!” cries Zeina behind her. “Huntsman!” But someone shouts, and the light changes behind her, warming, growing, and before her all the suddenly awestruck knights begin to bow their heads, and slowly take their knees.

Walking away from the warehouse lit up against the night behind her, stepping into the shadow of the warehouse across the street, silent, still, unlit. Creative Woodworking NW, says the round wooden sign on the small wooden door of it, brightening in the brightening light. She doesn’t look back, her step doesn’t falter, her arms come up to wrap about herself, her head lowers, she puts one foot in front of the other until

“Jo,” the voice behind her, and she stops.

“Jo,” says Ysabel again, and she turns.

Stood there in the air behind her, loose white trousers, billowing blouse, her hands apaumy and her dangling bare feet slathered with dripping with gold, and shining, shining, stepping down to the pavement, just, and it’s lit up like a summer’s day. Jo closes her eyes. “Please,” is all she says, but

“Don’t you love me?” says Ysabel.

Table of Contents

In Ruins,” written by the members of Fol Chen, copyright holder obscured. You are my World,” written by Jimmy Sommerville and Richard Coles, copyright holder unknown.