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the Locomotive – majestic Generosity –

The locomotive stubby, boxy, there between brick-walled warehouses, an idling rumble so large and full they step around, move through it, a dozen or so in coveralls, toward the lone boxcar coupled to the end. A couple clamber up on the walkway running back up the side of the locomotive to knock the panels of it, peer in the vents, wreathed in the streetlight tangled on steaming exhaust. The rest cluster about a sliding door in the side of the boxcar, splashed with graffiti. A lever’s thrown, latches undone with booms that echo under the rumble, that door slides open even as an overhead door grates up on the warehouse there, snort a forklift pulling out onto the loading dock, and shouts, arms waving, someone in coveralls leaping up on the dock to confer heatedly with a man in shirtsleeves. The woman behind the wheel of the forklift holds up a clipboard. The rest of them all in coveralls form up a line across the street, from boxcar to loading dock, hup! a shout as swung from the boxcar comes an enormous burlap sack, hup! as it’s caught and passed to the next, and the next, even as a second swings out, a third, as the first’s heaved up on the dock, neatly dropped on the forklift’s waiting pallet, and the next, with grunts and whups of bags passed hand to hand down the line. I’m the man, someone chants, the publican man, and others join in, that waters the workers’ beer! Yes I’m the man, the middlin’ man, that waters the workers’ beer! What do I care if it makes them ill, or it makes them terrible queer, I’ve a car and a yacht and an æroplane, and I waters the workers’ beer!

Past the warehouse, deep shadows of an overpass, a cast-iron streetlight stands sentinel on high. Two men beside the balustrade up there, couple-three yards above the snoring locomotive, watching them unload the boxcar, another hup! and a hitch in the line, someone slaps the fender of the forklift, the load lurches, lifts, the motor whines as it backs away. From the boxcar tumbles a fresh pallet, grey scraps of lumber nailed ruthlessly square, falling edge-on into the waiting hands of the line to be caught and awkwardly rolled like a cornered wheel up to the loading dock tipped, falling, bang! into place. In its wake the heavy sacks resume their swinging, tossing progress, I reaches my hand for the water-tap, and I waters the workers’ beer!

“Boys wanted to put on a show,” says one of the men up there. “Send it off in style.” His suit a greyly green, his black meshback cap that says FTZ-45 over the bill. “Last delivery by rail to a factory in the Triangle. End of an era.”

“Triangle?” says the other man, sweater the color of oats, shock of hair gone dull in the streetlight.

“The Northwest Industrial Triangle, sire? This vitiated district of your demesne, that we have faithfully served so many years?”

“It’s called the Pearl District, Tommy Tom,” says the King. “Has been since Nu Shooz had a hit.”

“Pearls,” says the Soames, looking out over the warehouse rooftops. He lifts a hand, a benediction, “Well, they’ll grow in peace. These crusty oysters won’t anymore be troubled by the clamor of honest work.”

“You wax elegiac,” says the King. “When this ramp comes down?” A gesture for the viaduct stretched out toward the river, the bridge, the unlit hulks of warehouses below. “When the condos finally go up, all at once? These old oysters will need gutting, renovating, replacing. Construction’s honest work.” A sidelong smile. “And as clamorous.”

“Construction ebbs and flows, majesty. And when it’s done, it’s done.”

“When it’s done, Tommy, there’ll be a brewpub. Fifteen hundred barrels a year.” Pointing to the bustle below. “A grocery store,” waved at an empty warehouse, “a twenty-storey tower,” up along the viaduct, “anchored by the first brick-and-mortar of a major online retailer. And running down Lovejoy, right under our feet? The first new streetcar line in any city since the war! Art galleries, design studios, turnkey manufactories, software ateliers, fulfillment conciergeries, small presses for video, paper, internet, small-batch distilleries, pickleries, roasteries, perfumeries,” leaning out over the stone balustrade, reaching for what’s to come, “creative engineers and fashion directors, indigenous restauranteurs and industrial docents, network cartographers, data sculptors, experiential curators, ten thousand people, right here, and all they might ever need or want but a block or two away.”

“Stevedores,” says the Soames. “Wharfies. Dockers. Teamsters and bullockers, outfitters. Firers. Conductors and yardmasters, longshoremen, switchmen, brakemen and signalers, porters, bulls,” as below, the forklift’s hauling another load away, into the warehouse, and another empty pallet’s tumbling down the line of laborers, I puts in strychnine, they’re chanting, some methylated spirits and a drop of paraffin.

“Tell me, Tommy,” says the King. “Did you ever meet Pearl?”

“Pearl, sire?” says the Soames. “Can’t say I have.”

“You seem quite close to the Viscount, these days; I wondered how far back that might’ve been the case.” And then, still lightly, smiling, “Do you really believe the Duchess set the hounds on Medardus?” That smile slips away. “Or, to be more precise: did either of you believe, that I’d believe.”

The Soames says, “She did spend time with a number of the hounds, my lord. In her days on the street, before she caught your sister’s favor.” Still looking down at the laboring line. “Perhaps they did not do so at her direction, but still, I think, we’ll find: with her license.”

“License?” says the King. “I’d no idea she’d annexed Lake Oswego. I can figure the Viscount’s play in this, Tommy, but you? You surprise us. You’d throw away your sterling word for a bit of backup in your beef with the Marquess.”

“The Duchess, sire,” says the Soame, “we all see how your sister does dote on her. And she did love the Duke, and he loved her, but – she is a Gallowglas, for all that. Who knows what mortal fears might drive her, and to what?”

The King turns about, his back to the stone. “Four terminals,” he says. “Rail yards in Brooklyn and Northwest. The airport, Swan Island, up to your eyeballs in the ten-year and twenty-year development plans, a place at court, and a full share of the Apportionment. No other Soames has risen so high, Twice Thomas, nor done so much for his people.”

“It is as nothing without your majesty’s generosity,” says the Soames.

“Yeah,” says the King. Pushing off the railing then, headed away, hands in pockets, down the ramp, the shadowed street below. The Soames folds his arms. The sacks keep piling up below, huff and grunt and slap, there isn’t the profit there used to be, in watering workers’ beer!

She sits up abruptly, at the table neatly stacked with photographs, siennas, rusts, dull greys, a fumble of her fingers, peeling away the one stuck to her cheek, an image of men in old dark suits on steps before a stolid door, and part of it scratched or scraped away. Blinking thickly at an empty drinking glass, a ring of milk left at the bottom. Turning with a jerk at the footfalls that ring across polished concrete, a man in brown shorts and a brown work shirt, clipboard in his hand, “Your grace?” he calls, down the length of the garage. “Jo Gallowglas?”

“What?” snaps Jo, standing up from the high-backed black desk chair.

“Apologies, ma’am,” he says. “There was no one to sign for this,” and “What?” Jo’s saying, as he holds up a white envelope, “message, ma’am.”

“Who from,” she says.

“Ah,” looking down at his clipboard, “Beaumont,” he says. “Christian Beaumont.”

Table of Contents

The Man that Waters the Workers’ Beer,” written by Paddy Ryan, within the public domain.

Becker’s eyes – a Simple plan – spruce, mahogany, Iron & pine – what Nobody said – the Likes of them –

Becker’s eyes are closed, but his brows lift in surprise or delight perhaps, at something in a dream, a deep breath in through his nose and out through lips hatched about with stubble, pressed together to shape a word he doesn’t speak. The shuff of bedclothes, crisp linens striped with indigo. His eyes blink brownly open as his face arranges a consternated scowl, a grimace as he lifts his head, a wince as he props up on an elbow, looks down the length of himself softly pale in the buttery daylight, boxer briefs pink and black in the clutch of those widely grey-furred fingers crumpling, tugging, grizzled scalp a-bob, blue eyes lifted up to meet his, as from between those lips slips out his cock, stiff enough now to sway over swell of belly, and long grey mustaches trailing, weighted to either side with pewter beads that drag up his skin as Pyrocles smiles and says, “Good morning, beloved.”

“Oh,” says Becker, falling back to the pillows, but then, when Pyrocles takes him in his mouth again, “no, wait,” lifting a weak hand, thumb to a cheek, to the corner of lips that swerve to kiss, “not yet,” says Becker. Rolling away, reaching over, as Pyrocles lays him out to one side on those blue-striped sheets, the leanly naked length of him a-gleam in the suffusing light. Past him a sweeping wall of glass, and out across the river the city edged and cornered shadows hazed by steaming cloud, shreds and lines and clots of trees gone grey and yellow and blue in all the pale and chilly morning light stretched parlous thin through all that air from the one sharp far-off mountain. Becker pokes to life a glassy black phone upright in a charging stand, a snapshot appears of the two of them side by side in a red leather booth, 07:07, say the numerals over the photograph, and Fri, April 20. Sets it back by the books stacked there, the titles along the spines that say Fifty Early Childhood Strategies for Working and Communicating with Diverse Families and Parents to Partners: Building a Family-Centered Early Childhood Program and Remote-Controlled Childhood? Combating the Hazards of Media Culture. “We’ve got time,” says Becker, plucking up a purple squirt bottle from beside the phone. “Plenty and to spare. Tell me something.”

“You’d have me speak?” says Pyrocles, taking the bottle Becker hands him.

“Tell me something,” says Becker, “about, about Vergina.”

“Where the Argead rule,” says Pyrocles, beaming.

Steaming mug of coffee set before him on the counter, there by the white-framed platter of his phone. He pushes back his stark white cuff to check his watch, and the hands of every dial on the face of it tremble, twitch, spin wildly about. He lifts and levels his wrist above the counter and two dials, three, snap to a stop, hands pointed away across the U-shaped counter, past the griddle there in the midst of it, the man in a grubby white shirt and the ring and scrape of his spatulas, past the woman in a fuzzled blue cardigan, “Denver omelet,” she says, setting a plate before the man there on the other side of the counter, taking up his fork, past all that to the door swinging open in its dull red frame, the jingle of the bell, the big man stepping through, dark grey warm-up jacket over a plain black T-shirt, bush of a beard the color of mahogany, sunglasses small and round and purpled green.

Kerr lowers his wrist as Mr. Keightlinger heads down the counter, past empty stools, the windows bright with neon signs against the morning, Open, they say, Fuller’s Coffee Shop, “Sit anywhere you like,” calls the woman in the blue cardigan. Kerr tucks his phone away in the pocket of his light fleece jacket as Mr. Keightlinger rounds the corner toward him, stops at the stool beside him, one big hand leaned against the counter, and Kerr looking up opens his mouth, “Get you anything?” says the woman in the blue cardigan, bustling over.

Those green sunglasses turn away from him to her. “Ice water,” says Mr. Keightlinger, and sits himself on the stool.

“You’re late,” says Kerr. “You look like hell.”

“I failed,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“You, what, you couldn’t get it? Or does he not have it, anymore.”

“He still has the boon,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “The boon is empty.”

“He, it, so. Oh.” Kerr lifts his mug. “He’s out. Oh that is infinitely worse.”

“He’s still somewhere in that house. We would know otherwise.”

“So he’s, he’s trapped?” says Kerr. “He’s still contained? Okay,” and he downs a slug of coffee, leans forward, both elbows on the counter, “okay. The math hasn’t changed, then. He’s still out of play.”

“I’m going back tonight.”

“What? No, no, tonight, tonight is the night. That trigger has been pulled.” Kerr leans back as the woman in the blue cardigan sets a glass of water before Mr. Keightlinger. “It’s like I said from the jump,” says Kerr, quiet and close. “We take this, this thing out, first, nobody has it to play with. Not your friend, not your former employers, nobody fæside, not us, but, I mean, I didn’t have any plans for it. You know? So we take it out, tonight, and tomorrow we go to that house, we find your friend, we take care of him then. Or maybe the day after. Take some time off, in between. Maybe a nap?”

“What if your plan doesn’t work,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“Work?” Kerr snorts. “Tell me, you know anything about nuclear bombs?” A muffled buzz from from his jacket pocket, and he pulls out his phone, “Mechanically speaking, they’re terribly simple.” Glancing at the screen. “Not a lot of moving parts to not work.” Slipping the phone away again. “You just, you take your two pieces of uranium or beryllium or whatever, and you just,” pressing his hands together, a slow clap, or a prayer, “get out of the way. Let it happen. Boom.”

Those purple lenses shift their gaze from the counter to the glass of ice and water. “We must be certain,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “If it can’t be tonight, it will have to be this morning. Right now.” Greening as they turn to look at Kerr. “You owe me.”

“I owe you squat,” says Kerr. “Look, I’m sorry, I said I was sorry, but you were trying to kill me. I think my response was entirely proportionate.”

“You wouldn’t have died.”

“Yeah, well,” Kerr gets up off his stool, “maybe next time your whatever-the-fucks start stuffing photos down somebody’s throat, you take a moment to make sure everyone’s clear it’s all less-than-lethal.” Pausing there, by Mr. Keightlinger’s hunched bulk. “I’m sorry,” says Kerr, again. “Look. I got shit to do, you got shit to do, this, this was an idea, but it’s not gonna,” hands cycling uselessly, spreading in a shrug. His phone’s buzzing again, but he’s pulling out his wallet, laying a couple of bills on the counter by Mr. Keightlinger’s elbow. “Buy yourself some breakfast,” he says. “If you come to your senses, you know how to find me.”

The woman in the blue cardigan steps over as Kerr yanks open the red-framed door. “Something to eat?” she says, over the jingle of the bell.

Mr. Keightlinger looks from the bills on the counter up to her, the light sliding over those sunglasses. “Bacon,” he says.

“Desks, chairs,” the voice comes from just outside the door there, “credenzas, shelves, barrister bookcases,” just visible over all the tarp-mounded, tightly packed shapes of various heights, mostly tall, at least an arm-span in length, but only a foot or two wide at most. “Filing cabinets. A flat file, there, is a monstrous inconvenience, a useless block of wood to be removed before you renovate, repurpose, demolish,” the rasp of a key in a lock, “but a month or two on a ship to here, some spit and polish,” sharp squeak of a knob, scrape of the door, “that block of wood is just the thing an architect’s wanted for the front room of their live-slash-workspace townhouse.” The shorter man in the doorway there tucks a key away in the pocket of his marbled silk vest.

“Flat files?” says the taller man, yellow beard pale in the shadows, yellow hair tied in a knot.

“These aren’t flat files.” Bruno, the Shrieve, squeezes his way into a narrow aisle between tarps, careful of his vest. “I don’t get it,” says the Harper, Chillicoathe, turned sideways to press in after. “You clean ’em up, but you can’t possibly be making enough to cover the cost of getting ’em here. Unless there’s a lot of really stupid architects? I mean,” as Bruno looks back, “here or there, a thing’s worth what it’s worth. Right?”

“Spoken as a brigand, not a businessman.” Bruno lays a hand up on a tarp-draped corner. “The worth of a thing’s not fixed within, to be measured with scales and calipers. It’s found in relationships, between those that have the thing, and those that want it. Granted,” leaning close as his voice takes a conspiratorial turn, “there are such things that by their nature implacably alter the tenor of those relationships – think, perhaps, of a traitor: how much he’s worth to his liege, and how much to his master. Help me with this.” He’s seized the tarp, and Chilli, frowning, reaches up for the other side. Together they haul it heavy down to the floor in a whirl of dust.

The wooden cabinet shining still, panels along the front of it white enamel, filigreed with intricate wooden lacework, and a pitted brass socket there by Chilli’s shoulder, bare threads where a fitting’s been stripped away, its match by Bruno, still with a brass-shaded lamp that might’ve cast light on the long and gleaming lid that Chilli, with a look to Bruno, reverently lifts. The keys beneath, eighty-eight of them, yellowed ivory, and dull black. “Pianos,” says Chilli, looking up, at the oblongs crowding the room. “They’re all pianos.”

“Uprights, spinnets, pianos droits;” says Bruno, “I began by buying up office furniture, but in every city and many of the sizable towns, rows of old terrace houses were being demolished to make way for modern council estates. And in the front parlor of these terrace houses, gathering dust since the days before television, before the wireless, before electricity,” he reaches across the front of the piano, sliding the central panel to one side. The man within snorts himself startled awake, white-haired head laid back against the rows of hammers poised against tautly angled strings. “Spruce!” he blurts, and coughs, patting the pockets of his crisp white shirt, arms tucked close within the cabinet’s confines. “Spruce,” he says again, “from the forests about Old Tjikko, long may he reign,” and fits a monocle to his eye, “chilled in the hold of an old steamer down through the Baltic and the cold North Sea. Mahogany from Brazil, that baked in breathless heat across the Atlantic, between the Pillars of Hercules and up the Balearic to Marseille. Iron,” his smile is beatific, “scraped from Erzberg’s slopes, spun to wire in Vienna and brought by rail across Venetia and Sardinia. Sugar pine from the very wilds of Northwest America about us now,” reaching out of the cabinet to gently stroke the keys below, “stacked for a harrowing, storm-wracked voyage all the way around the Horn, only to end up a century later right back where it began. The ebony veneer from too many different pieces of wood, some of them once keys from other instruments, but not an ounce of ivory to be found: the natural keys are topped with porcelain, which has left them with the occasional chip and crack, though not a piece is missing.”

Chilli’s stepped back, pressed against the draped piano behind him. Bruno’s tugging something from another pocket of his vest, a tiny glassine envelope. “I’ve kept in tune as best I can,” says the man within the piano, with a gesture to the strings arrayed behind him. “Shall I play you something? In a rag-time, perhaps?” Bruno steps close, holds up a fingertip glimmering gold, which the man in the piano seizes and brings it to his lips for a kiss, and a slow and savoring lick. “They don’t need much,” says Bruno, as he plucks that monocle from limpening fingers, slips it back into a pocket of the man’s white shirt. “Mostly, now, they sleep.” He gently slides the panel shut, as the man within lies back against felted hammers. “So tell me, Harper: how much would you say I paid for one of these, when I first began to bring them over?”

“I don’t,” says Chilli, looking at that panel, looking about, all the other pianos crowding them. The tarp, on the floor. “All that work?” he says. “Two hundred, three hundred dollars. Three hundred.”

Bruno shakes his head. “You haven’t listened,” he says. “A house, a hundred houses, to be torn down? Dozens of blocks of wood to be removed? Ten pounds, they paid to me. To haul them each away. Thirty dollars, at the time.” Kneeling then, he takes up the tarp in his hands. “I’ve since sold a number of them,” he says, “for a great deal more than that. If you would?” Chilli stoops, takes up the other end of the tarp. “But now it’s all plastic and computer chips,” says Bruno, as they lift the tarp up and over, settle it, smoothing, patting it down. “Pianos genoux,” he says, with one last tug.

On the table between them a thick roll of bills stood upright, a truncated gnomon. “Go on,” says the man sat beneath the flag pinned to the back wall, “take it,” but the silhouette in the doorway shakes a head, once, and doesn’t unfold his arms. “You were told,” he says, voice full of gravel. “No one was to be cut. No one was to be destroyed.” Sunlight leaks through the door behind to strike gleams from the beads at the ends of his mustaches. “What you did was, unacceptable.”

“Well we ain’t accepting it!” The man at the table slaps it once, there by the roll of bills. “Go on, take it back. It’s all there.”

“The cash is not at issue.”

“The cash is a pledge. We take this very seriously. The guy responsible? Moody?” Sitting back, lifting his hands, “We cut him loose.” Those hands settling back on the dark veneer of the table, to either side of the bills. “What he did, he did in the heat of the moment, but that’s no excuse. Something goes that wrong, we do whatever it takes to make it right.” Sliding the bills away across the table. “That’s what you can expect from this relationship.”

“That relationship no longer obtains.” The silhouette turns for the door but the man at the table springs up, reaching out, “Wait!” he cries, “wait,” hand stopped short of the shoulder of that shadowy blue suit coat. “It’s a,” he says, drawing back, “to speak frankly, it’s a cash flow issue. The retainer, we, we need the retainer. For the next few months, to, it’s, it’s a,” looking down at that roll of bills, “cash flow,” he says.

“Which has no bearing on his excellency’s decision.” Pyrocles opens the door, and steps out onto a porched bit of yellowing deck, then across a gangplank onto the grey boards of the wharf, and the forest of bare masts all about.

“Felt good, didn’t it?” says the man falling into step behind him, light fleece jacket over a gold striped shirt, blue tie loose about his stark white collar. “Telling him off like that.”

Pyrocles looks back over his shoulder, leaps away, turning in a crouch, “Melanchlœnidon!” he roars, wheeling a greatsword around and down as Kerr with a yelp skips back, “Whoa! Whoa!” Peering out from behind his leather satchel held between himself and the tip of that long blade held before his eyes. “I ain’t nobody, man,” and he gingerly pushes the blade aside with the edge of a hand. “Nobody at all. And ain’t nobody gonna tell nobody nothing, okay? You don’t have to worry about nobody one bit,” and Pyrocles straightens, lowers his arms, “I mean,” says Kerr, “it was always you, y’know? Never a contest.” He’s looking from the glare in Pyrocles’ eye to his empty hands to his feet and back again. “I wasn’t into him, not like that, not for that.” A scrap of laughter. “You’re the one to make him happy, and that’s,” looking away, back toward the houseboat, a shake of his head, “I know what you’ve had to do, to make him so? Make sure he takes his medicine, every night? So it has to feel good. Shutting them down like that.” Pyrocles’ grimace is softening, under those mustaches. “So now you don’t have to tell him about it all. And I know you were fretting over that.” Kerr steps close, and a hand on the shoulder straining that blue coat. “You should treat yourselves. Take him out tonight. Remind him why you’re doing all this. Take him back, to where it all began.”

“The rabbits’ church?” says Pyrocles then, with a frown.

“No,” says Kerr, “no, that was the meet-cute. I’m talking first date. I’m talking Goodfellow’s. Take him to Goodfellow’s,” and Kerr steps back, “I mean, nobody tells you what to do. Am I right?”

Pyrocles nods, slowly.

Couple of chiming steelpans and a rubbery bumble of bass, a saxophone lilting from the clock radio on the counter, he’s looking from the shoe in his left hand, a lop-tongued work boot, toe of it scuffed and sharply creased, to the one in his right, a grubby sneaker, laces striped with old black stains from the eyelets, canvas frayed away from cracks in the rubber sole. A deep breath, and he sets them both on the counter, looks up to the old man stood across from it, who shakes his bare head darkly bald above a circle of crisp white curls. “Nope,” he says.

“Man, what the,” says Christian, slumping, a sigh, he folds his arms, draped in a bulky green pullover two sizes two large. “I don’t get it.”

“You will,” says Gordon, picking up the boot, chucking it over the counter to thump to the mound of shoes on the worktable back there. “Don’t force it. Take a minute. Look at the tenny,” and rolling his eyes, shaking his head, Christian glares at the shoe left on the counter. “Close your eyes,” says Gordon. “When I say boo, reach back, let your hand grab the first shoe it wants. Close ’em boy. Go on,” but Christian swells up at that, “Goddammit,” he snarls, “stop calling me that!”

“And I told you,” says Gordon, “take those words out your mouth. They aren’t for the likes of us.”

“I ain’t no damn boy,” says Christian, drawn back. “Sure as shit ain’t yours.”

“Who else gonna take you in hand? Show you what’s what?” Bam, the heel of his hand on the counter, the sneaker jumps, “Go on, get up, walk out of here. Get yourself to your mother’s house, wherever that is. Catch a bus to St. Johns or Gresham, go on. Walk up to her door. Ring the bell. She won’t know you from Adam, you hear me? Her boy, her boy’s in the ground, or worse, and you? You some punk, hustling loose change, sell her some cigarettes, maybe some magazine subscriptions, cut her grass, she got any. You fell out of the world, boy. You ain’t going back. So instead of bulling your way through like you know what’s what, maybe sit down, shut up, listen when you’re told. Now.” Gordon steps back, folds his arms. Nods at the sneaker. “Match that shoe.”

Christian drags a breath in through his nose, then turns abruptly, grabs something from the pile back there, spins back to slap it down by the sneaker, a garish running shoe, stripes and cheetah spots in yellow and vermillion. He eyes them both before lifting his hand away, shaking his head, “Shit,” he says.

“Now, wouldn’t be too bad,” says Gordon, “if they wasn’t both for the right foot.” Picks up the grubby sneaker, heads around the counter, drops it on that pile. “It’s not there’s only the one shoe in the world that does the trick. It’s like people that way. Most any one of ’em can make do with just about any other, with a little effort, a little,” trailing off, he looks away, looks up. “Forget that. Nothing like people at all.” Back around the counter, that old work boot in his hand. “Still. Some pairs definitely won’t never work, but some,” setting the boot down on the counter, by the running shoe, “most definitely do.”

Christian says, “I don’t get it.”

“You will,” says Gordon, sweeping the pair of them off the counter, heading back toward the shelves partitioned into cubbies, many already filled with similarly mismatched pairs. “No, I mean,” Christian’s saying, “why do you even bother? I mean, they come in, they have a shoe. You find the other shoe, now they have both. So why even bother with, that, with the matching?”

“Sometimes,” says Gordon, and a grunt as he squats to reach a slot close to the floor, “it’s as important, what’s left behind,” tucking the pair away, “as what goes on ahead.”

The music’s changed, thump of drums, hesitantly simple piano. “So that high-heeled thing,” Christian says, “with the other sandal, that’s on me, too? Something I left behind?” A shrug from Gordon, still on his knees. “You tossed it back!” says Christian, looking back at that enormous pile. “I gotta go find it again?”

“Went out the door already,” says Gordon. “Couple-few days back. Older white woman, nice coat. Left that tatty old golf shoe, which ain’t never walking out of here.”

“So I’m supposed to go find her?” says Christian, throwing up his hands. “How does this work? What the hell am I supposed to do?”

“I told you,” says Gordon, still on his knees. “Don’t talk like that.”

“Don’t swear? Or what? My tongue turns to stone? My hair catches fire?”

“Cuss all you want, boy, but hell? Damnation? Salvation? That don’t concern the likes of us. So put any notion of supposed out of your head, except how you’re supposed to learn to match up shoes. Now go on, pick another one, let’s see,” but a bell out there jingles, Christian’s looking away, toward the door at the front of the shop. “All right,” says Gordon, bracing a hand to push himself up, “see to whoever that is,” catching the worktable with his other hand, shifting his balance, but Christian’s shaking his head, and Gordon lifts himself to see Jo there, in her leather coat the color of butter.

“I don’t think she brought a shoe,” says Christian.

“Gordon,” says Jo.

“Grace,” he says. Turning toward the beaded curtain back there, “I’ll go put a kettle on,” but “Actually,” says Christian, “we could just, go out back,” and then, to Jo, “You got any smokes on you?”

Gordon folds his arms, frowning. Jo’s looking away with a sigh.

Table of Contents

Fifty Early Childhood Strategies for Working and Communicating with Diverse Families, written by Janet Gonzalez-Mena, ©2007. Parents to Partners: Building a Family-Centered Early Childhood Program, written by Janis Keyser, ©2006. Remote-Controlled Childhood? Combating the Hazards of Media Culture, written by Diane E. Levin and Carol Copple, ©1998. Prickly Pear,” played by Portico Quartet, copyright holder unknown. Pound for Pound,” written by Reid Anderson, copyright holder unknown.

“Oh” – how Does she Ever – blood & water, Lilies, glass – the Point of dreams –

“Oh,” says Jo, and then, “that can’t be right.”

“Holed up in St. Johns, with Chad and his dad. I was up there a couple weeks, sleeping in the damn, the dang basement.” Christian takes a drag from the cigarette and holds it out to her. “I’m supposed to be quitting,” she says as she takes it. “He got ten years. No way he’s out so soon.”

“Good behavior,” says Christian, and Jo snorts smoke. “Danny fucking Moody?”

Christian takes the cigarette back. “Maybe he broke out. Maybe five-oh’s closing in. Hard target search!” Another drag. He offers it to her, but she shakes her head, “It would’ve been in the news,” she says.

He lets the butt drop, grinds it into the mud. “Film at eleven.”

“The hell you were doing up there, anyway,” says Jo. Looking away down the unpaved alley, crowded by garage doors, high back fences, drifts of green grass up to the knee. “Two fucking weeks? The hell, Christian? You walk away from me, you walk away from everything I was gonna do for you, you walk away and you fucking go to the goddamn Dread fucking Paladin?”

Christian turns away. The gate behind them, leaning drunkenly from a single hinge. “Say what you like, the XO still runs the gutters. And for a racist motherfucker, he never stiffs me on what I bank with him?” Tucking his hands up under his bulky pullover, winding and unwinding. “I was gonna sleep up under the Marquam, but then he went and told me Moody’s back,” his elbows pulled in tight, “so I went elsewhere. Out to Avi’s, for a couple days?” and Jo laughs then, “Jesus,” she says, “he’s still,” and “Yeah,” says Christian, “only, Roadhouse? It’s streaming online now or some shit. No way you wear that tape out. So after a couple of days I head back into town, and that’s, that’s when,” a deep breath, “I went to St. Francis, to get some food. No jefes, right? But there’s the XO, tooling by in his truck, and Moody’s with him, and Moody,” Christian shrugs. “Wants me.”

“The hell for?” says Jo.

“Help him get you,” says Christian.

“I,” says Jo, “me,” and her eyes go wide, she steps back, hands up out of her pockets, but Christian’s turning aside, laughter blooming in his throat, and he tips back his head to let it out. “You actually thought,” leaning over, a shove at her shoulder, and “Fuck you,” says Jo, shaking him off.

“He is after you,” says Christian. “Has a serious mad-on for you, but he ain’t doing shit about it. Two weeks we sat in that fucking basement, the CO wheeling around upstairs. Every now and then we’d step out. Do a mischief.” Looking up, through that gate. “Smashed Gordon’s window, one night.” And then, with a tilt of his head, “Hey,” he says. “What kind of shoe did you have?”


“When you first got in all this, Duchess. What was the shoe you had? And the match, that didn’t match. What did he have?”

“I didn’t,” says Jo, “I, I have no idea what’s up with that.”

“Then, how the, how’d you, get into this?”

“How do I ever get into any goddamn trouble.” She pushes the gate open. “I picked a fight with a psychopath. Come on,” and she steps through.

“Come on?” says Christian, scrambling after. “Where?”

“Back to Plan A,” Jo says, heading up the length of the lot tuffeted with soggy grass, up toward the old unpainted brick building, the flight of stairs bolted to the back of it. “You come stay with us, at least until we figure out if he’s gonna pull anything,” and “Jo,” says Christian, but “if there’s any danger,” she’s saying, and he grabs her arm. “Jo!” he says. “I’m fine. Here. It’s good.”

“You have no idea,” she says, and she opens the door.

“I can take care of myself!” But she’s stepping inside. “Dammit! Jo!”

Within, a kitchen, cramped, scuffed linoleum, dark cabinets, Gordon in his blue shirt there by the stove. “Grace,” he says. A kettle’s hissing to itself on a reddening eye.

“Gordon,” she says. “I, ah, we appreciate, what you’ve been able to do, but Christian, he’s gonna come back with me, now.”

“That so,” says Gordon to Christian, who’s looking away, the beaded curtain off down the hall there.

“You don’t need any more trouble,” says Jo. “This is on me. Goes way back, before either of us had anything to do with any of you. It’s on me, so I’m taking care of it. I’ve got you,” she says, to Christian.

“Come here, boy,” says Gordon. In one hand a little paring knife.

“I can, go watch the front,” says Christian, and a step toward the curtain.

“Mr. Beaumont,” says Gordon, beckoning. “Something the both of you need to see.”

“Gordon,” says Jo, but “Porter,” he says, “we’re gonna be formal and all. Mine is an open house, your grace. All are welcome, no one is turned away, and nobody leaves without they say so. We clear? Now give me your hand, boy.”

“Why,” says Jo.

“Gonna show you a thing, like I said.” Gordon takes Christian’s hand in his, and lifts that knife. “Then you make your call. Go, or stay.”

“The hell, Gordon,” says Jo, but Christian sucks in a breath. Gordon sets the knife aside. There’s a trickle from the nick in Christian’s thumb, a milky bead that rolls down to dangle, swelling, touched with gold, from the edge of the heel of his hand.

“This goes back, too,” says Gordon. “Way back. And it’s nothing to do with your troubles. Now go on home, Gallowglas. Back to your unwed Queen. Leave us to get along as we will. Your friend,” and he holds out a clean white rag, “will look to himself.”

After a moment, Christian takes the rag.

Leaning back in the swivel chair, stockinged feet crossed up on the desk, not a smile so much as an air of being on the verge about her mouth and eyes. “David,” she says.

Kerr lets the leather satchel slip from his shoulder. “Don’t like the view from your office?” A glance at his watch. Twenty of eleven, though a couple of smaller dials spin loosely about.

“You aren’t returning my calls.” Her hair’s cut short, in curly spikes the bright red of her lips. “You really should return my calls.”

“What is this, Avery,” says Kerr.

“There’s expectations, of every contractor. It’s why we have contracts. Each obligation set down in black and white so all parties can agree, what must be done, and how, by when and whom,” a rolling gesture to emphasize each point, and now she lowers her feet, sits up, “what happens when it doesn’t. You don’t report. You don’t check in. You blow off staff meetings, you – ”

“There’s nothing to report!” says Kerr. “Avery. I, lay the groundwork. So you can knock it out of the park. Any campaign – ”

“I know what you do, David.”

“Any campaign that needs me to scramble three weeks out is in serious trouble. You’re not in serious trouble. He could totally blow the debate, he’ll still clear fifty-two, fifty-one percent. So no run-off, in November. So you don’t need me coming in Wednesdays and Fridays to say what I said six months ago, last year, it’s all done! You listened, you mostly did what I said, yay team! It’s a waste of everyone’s time.”

“Then we’re left with a – ”

“Who is this for?” says Kerr. “These ambush theatrics. It’s just the two of us in here, and you’ve got to be smart enough to know this does nothing for me. Are you bucking yourself up with this little show? Because, I gotta tell you, that really – ”

“We’re left with a question, David,” says Avery firmly. Her mouth and eyes are nowhere near a smile, now. “If you are done, why should we keep you around?”

“Well,” says Kerr, “that contract also specifies payments, bonuses – ”

“And you’ve established you’re in breach.”

Kerr closes his eyes. “You have got to be fucking kidding me. The debate – ”

“But I thought he couldn’t lose, even if he blew it. Thanks to your hard work.” She leans down, working a foot into the straps of a spindly black heel. “It’s nothing personal, David.” Leaning over to the other side, her other shoe. “I’m sure we’ll work together again. Soon.” Standing, she hands him a blank white envelope. “You’re very good at what you do.” And out she goes.

“Well, shit,” says David Kerr.

A smash of glass out there, a splatter, a shriek, the comforter tumbled tossed up Ysabel springing the length of her arm out snatching a wrap of white lace striding quickly out the door as Chrissie sits up yellow hair askew about her squinted face, “Ysabel?” she says, softly muzzy. Someone’s wailing out there, and wracking, yelping sobs. Chrissie kicks herself free of the bedclothes, crouches naked by the wide white bed, rummaging through scraps of discarded black clothing, “Dammit,” she’s draping an awkward halter about her neck when the cries out there redouble, words can be made out, such a fucking God damn, she scrambles to her feet, cords of the halter dangling loose by the exaggerated lip-print cartooned in red on her flank. “Ysabel?” she calls, out the door, down the hall, into the kitchen, slick of water, shards of glass, the broken stems of a dozen lilies, waxen white-gold petals splayed and crushed. Jo sits on the floor in her coat the color of butter, her back to the breakfast bar, hands held one clutched up in the other and blood, red blood runneling, splotching her coat, her face screwed tight with pain. Ysabel wrapped in white lace kneels on the low steps beside her, murmuring something, and “Oh,” says Chrissie, “oh, that looks,” gingerly stepping about the smashed vase to grab a dish towel from the handle of the fridge, “Stupid fucking what did I,” Jo’s choked growl, and Chrissie kneels at her other side heedless of the water, the flowers, the glass, “let’s get some pressure,” she says, but “Jesus Christ!” spits Jo, jerking away.

“I’m sure,” says Chrissie, “if we could just – ”

“You want to pretend to help?” snarls Jo. “Put on some goddamn pants.”

“I,” says Chrissie, “I just,” but Ysabel takes the towel from her slackening hands. “Go,” she says, her eyes on Jo.

“I could,” says Chrissie, “sweep this up for you, at least let me – ”

“Go,” says Ysabel. “Away. Now.”

Chrissie, slowly, climbs to her feet. A long step over the worst of the glass, then – quietly – out of the kitchen.

“Well,” says Ysabel. Blotting the worst from the gash across Jo’s palm, but fresh blood wells up there between thumb and forefinger. Jo takes a ragged breath, “I’ve ruined your lace, what is that,” she says. “A peignoir? I don’t know all the,” wincing as Ysabel winds the towel about her hand, “It’s a wrap,” she says, “and at the moment, the least of my concerns. Hold that. I’ll fetch some owr. You’ll be fine.” But she doesn’t get to her feet, and Jo opens her eyes. “What the fuck are we doing, Ysabel?”

“Pitching a tantrum, it seems.” Ysabel looks over the spill of water and lilies. “A shame. Today’s bouquet was lovely, I thought.”

“I punched him in the nose, is the thing,” says Jo. “I mean, otherwise? I’d tell you, sure, maybe I saw him get cut or something, scrape a knee, but I wouldn’t be sure. Maybe I was just making up what I wanted to remember. But. First time we met? We just met, and he cracks some stupid, bullshit joke, and I punched him, and what squirted out,” she holds up that reddening, tight-wound towel. “So. Today?” she says, closing her eyes. “When he?” Lowering her hand. Ysabel catches it, lifts it gently back upright, “Hold that above your heart,” she says.

“What do you know about hearts,” says Jo.

Ysabel lets go of her hand.

“He’s gone, isn’t he,” says Jo. “Christian.” That hand up by her shoulder. “I mean, whoever that is, it looks like him, it talks like him, knows what he’d know but it isn’t, it’s, one of you, dressed up, like, and – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel.

“ – he’s dead, he’s dead, I knew it, I knew he was dead, last year, that stupid fucking hunt, I never,” looking away. “I never should’ve said yes.”

Quietly, Ysabel says, “Do you mean that,” but Jo’s catching her hiccuping breath, “Or is it,” she says, “is that it, that when you die, if you die and you’re lucky you come back, as one of you,” but Ysabel starts forward, seizes Jo’s unwrapped hand in hers, leans close, a kiss for her forehead, “Feel,” she says, “the warmth of me, my flesh, my breath – you know I am no ghost,” and Jo, blinking her wet eyes, “My God,” she says, “do you love me.”

“Of course,” says Ysabel, cradling Jo, “there can be no question,” but Jo twists away, “I,” she says, and “you, why, why,” says Jo, “did you pick him,” pulling back, “not me?” Her head against the bar now. Ysabel setting back on those low steps. “Christian fucking Beaumont. He gets in, he gets to go on, with his shoes and whatever and I’m stuck, here, with, with this?” Holding up the blood-soaked towel wrapped tight about her fist. “And Frankie?” she says, and her eyes close up about tears. “And Danny goddamn Moody,” she says, and a tremendous sob. “Jo,” says Ysabel, leaning close, but that fist, that fist, Jo opens her eyes, “Because you need this, don’t you. To answer every insult. To be the law. While you – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel.

“While you lie about, pretending to be queen.”

Ysabel looks down, away, to one side. Puts a hand on the floor, the water there. “I will,” she says, lifting her hand, planting it again, “I will fetch the owr,” she says, pushing herself to her feet. “To stop the bleeding.”

“I’m not the only one,” says Jo, gathering herself. Ysabel holds out a hand, “What do you mean?” she says, but Jo holds her one hand in the other, twists away from Ysabel’s help as she stands, “Ask your brother,” she says, pushing past Ysabel, out of the kitchen, into the hall, through the door to her room.

“My brother,” says Ysabel. “Jo?” And then, “Jo, who is Danny Moody?” And a mutter, to herself, “You’re not making sense.” And then, plaintive, faltering, “Gallowglas?”

That door bangs open. Jo in her blood-splattered coat steps out of the shadows, and in her bloodied, towel-wrapped hand the skull-mask, crude teeth thickly lined with black ink, long black mane dragging the floor, the water, the flowers, the clink of glass.

“Where are you going,” says Ysabel.

Jo hoists that mask. “See about getting rid of this,” she says. Her hand on the knob of the door to the apartment. “I’m,” she says, looking down. “I, tell, Chrissie. I’m sorry, I was, she was just,” but then she opens the door. Looks back over her shoulder. “Let her go home, Ysabel,” she says.

“Wait,” says Ysabel, “please. Stop,” but Jo steps out, she’s gone.

“Few things,” she says, “make any sort of sense now,” as she pokes the glowing embers on the grate, stirring sparks. “Then, I might take up my bright sword, my sturdy burgonet, draw on my gloves and take down my whip from over the door,” a scrape of metal as she sits back. Her left arm sleeved in gleaming plate, cop and pauldron, vambraces and cowter. “My mare without, eager for the narrow road, and the morning at our backs.” Her hair a close-shorn cap, warmly grey in the firelight. “The very bushes would lie flat for us, the streams shrink for us, and men and women bow as we passed. They knew their manners then, and what was proper to a knight. But now that I’ve a banner of my own? The crowd about me, mewling their every need to me, as if I were the source and sovereign remedy, and I must,” closing up her gauntlet in a fist upon her knee, “listen,” she says, with a soured look.

“The irony’s not lost upon us,” says one of the women on the sofa behind her, and her long white hair’s unbound, left loose to float in wisps about her head and shoulders. “The crown of even a Marquess has some heft,” says the other, white hair tightly bound in ruthless braids.

“I sleep now,” says the Marquess. “Since I came back to life, I sleep most every night, and I have dreams.” She hangs the poker from its hook there by the fire. “Or rather – I know that I have dreamed. I wake up, I come back to myself, deviled by these scraps of, not even memories: colors, mostly. A sense of motion.” Clank and squeak she lifts and opens her fist, as if tossing something into the air. “I don’t see the point of them.”

“And yet,” says one of the women. “But,” the other. They sit with their backs against the arms of that sofa, brownish pink, their legs curled up together under a knitted afghan, a god’s eye, neon-bright.

“Last night,” says the Marquess, “and the night before, the same still moment surfaced from all that huggermugger. I stood, or seemed to stand, on the parapet of a tower, high above the city, but no such tower exists. The sun shone, but through a haze, not fog, or clouds, but smoke, as if siege-towers burned at our gates, and the light was at once too bright and dim. But I could see the river, the waters of it risen to swallow bridges, to fill streets and lap at windowpanes, and the flood was dark and red in that awful light, like rust.”

“Blood, I think you’ll find.”

“Rust’s why blood is red.”

“But fire’s what makes rust.”

“Oh, now that’s a reach.”

“What does it mean?” says the Marquess, turned about on the hearth now to face them both, the one of them carefully shaping a nail with an emery board, the other peeling a green apple with a little silver knife.



“We’ll know soon enough.”

“Unless we don’t, of course.”

“True, true.”

That armored hand closes up again in a fist.

She’s pulled on black jeans, and a loose white cardigan over the halter, but her feet are bare on the lush grass. She’s looking down at them, at the grass, and her yellow hair has fallen before her face like a still straight curtain. The sky above a cloudless blue impassively clear, the flowers that fill the raised bed richly white and pink, bright orange, yellow. A latch clacks, hinges squeak, she lifts her head hair swinging, the door there’s opening under the awning of the little wooden porch, and Ysabel black hair streaked with silver in the shadows, lace wrap splashed with something, blood. “Oh, God,” says Chrissie, “is she, are you okay?” but Ysabel’s lifting a hand heavy with light, gold streaks and clumps of shining dust, “Come,” she says.

A lurching step across the grass. “Ysabel?”

“Do you love me.”

“Of course,” says Chrissie, another step, another. “Yes, Ysabel, I – ”

“Do you want me.”

“I, but, what,” says Chrissie, as Ysabel seizes Chrissie by a belt loop with that gold-clotted hand and stops her sputtering with a kiss. “Do you want me,” says Ysabel, dragging her hand up between them, smearing Chrissie’s belly with light, her chest and throat now shining, golden, her eyes closing, lips parting, a breath, but the word, trembling, will not come, she nods instead, quickly, frantically: yes.

Table of Contents

Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire,” written by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, within the public domain.

the Garbage Bag – the Towers, the Hills, the Sun – not yet a Dozen –

The garbage bag’s almost empty, but it sways heavily as she shifts it over by the others, stuffed full but much lighter, there by a half-dozen cardboard boxes. Straightening, hand on her hip, baggy black T-shirt, bit of black lace tied about her throat. The windowless room close about her, lit only by the lamp on the floor. Wild shadows loom up the dusty walls. She kneels by that limply weighted bag, unwinds and spreads it open, and the light that dapples up a spill of softly golden morning reflected off calm water, and her eyes drift shut, her shoulders settle, a deep breath in. Footsteps crackle outside. She twists the plastic shut, a sloppy knot to swallow the light, and shoves it under the other bags.

“Hey, Petra,” says Gloria, there in the doorway, tie-dyed coveralls, the top of them unzipped over a T-shirt that says Skunkguckin in hand-scrawled letters. “Wanted to see how you were settling in. You’ve got power up here, good – are you sure you want this room? We’ve got plenty with windows, you know. If they’re painted over, we can get ’em cleaned. All kinds of stuff we can do.”

The woman all in black straightening, stretching, “I want,” she says, “to hang pictures? My shots, so it’s all, the city. Inside? Sort of?” Folding her arms about herself.

“Do you need blankets?” says Gloria. “It’s still a bit chilly at night – we’ve got a bunch of space heaters. Did Anna tell you about the flatpacks?” and then, as Petra frowns, “Come on, I’ll show you,” beckoning, out into the hall, “a desk or two, couple dressers, some shelves, leftovers from our last IKEA run,” sunlight shining from the grimed-over window down at the end, “though we won’t even have to go out there once we get the broadband and the wifi sorted,” ducking a sheet of the dull beige paint that’s peeling in desiccated swathes from the walls and ceiling. “Them and Amazon? We can get whatever we need, delivered right here. Which is good, since we don’t have a truck,” turning ahead, around a corner, Petra, jogging after, “Gloria!” she calls out, footfalls crackling on fallen paint.

Around the corner, a couple of steps down a short flight, Gloria’s looking up at her, expectantly, and Petra folds her arms about herself again, “I don’t,” she says, “I can’t really, the room is a godsend, a lifesaver, literally, I can’t, I, thank you. I just,” as Gloria turning takes a step up toward her, “I really can’t, afford? To do anything like that now. I mean, I’d be out on the street, if you hadn’t,” but up another step, Gloria’s saying, “No, no, you don’t understand: it’s covered. It’s all covered.”

“Covered,” says Petra.

“Anything you need. New camera? Film? If you shoot that? A laptop, maybe. Whatever. Let me know.” Leaning close. “We will make it happen.”

“Covered,” says Petra, again, unfolding an arm.

Down the steps into a foyer floored with tiny yellowing tiles, “That’s the whole point,” Gloria’s saying, “what we’re trying to do here,” back past the staircase under a low long arch, “take what happened, what’s been done to us,” out into the cavernous warehouse, shadowy stalls marching up the length of those high walls, “and make,” she says, a hand up, her pace faltering, “something,” looking up toward the raised stage at the end of the space, the man there, his back to them, stood before canvases leaned one against another, the painted figure dancing from one to the next. “Can I help you?” calls out Gloria.

He turns about, grey jacket, bush of a beard, small dark sunglasses. “You were with the Mooncalfe,” he says.

“Can I help you,” says Gloria, sharply.

He nods, he sighs. “Marfisa,” he says. “The Axe. Sister of the Hound. It is of paramount importance to the universe entire that I speak with her.” And then, “Marfisa?” he says. “She is quite tall, her hair, white – I’m told she lives here, with you?”

“There,” says Gloria, looking up, to the rafters, the shadows.

Mr. Keightlinger plants his hands and hops himself lightly onto the stage, up past the canvases to the skeletal staircase against the wall. “Gloria,” says Petra. “Are you sure?”

“Not now,” says Gloria, watching him climb to the walkway. “The ladder,” she calls out. He puts a hand on a rung, looks up. Starts to climb.

It’s dark, up under the rafters. The makeshift floor of planks smothered under intricately patterned rugs laid one atop another, and a futon on the rugs, and Marfisa, white-gold hair ablaze in the light from the lamp up on a corner of a low shelf crammed with books. She sets aside a paperback curled and worn, Abby Tinker, say the once-gilt letters on the cover, Cynara’s World, and watches as Mr. Keightlinger climbs up onto the rugs, unfolds himself, shoulders hunched, head ducked, but looking up at the ceiling, just above them, full of stars.

The ceiling’s filled with stars: thousands of them burning, coolly, red and orange, green, blue, white, but mostly gold, spangled in whorling drifts and shoals, great wind-licked curls, so many and so bright, and yet so faint their light can barely reach his shadowed face.

“You used to work with the magician,” says Marfisa.

“I,” says Mr. Keightlinger, lowering his sunglasses, turning away from that ceiling so close, so far away. “Need your help. Your brother – ”

“I have no brother.”

“The Handle,” he says. “The Hound.”

“I’ve left all that behind.”

“He has,” says Mr. Keightlinger, “meddled with something terribly dangerous.”

“There’s nothing I might do to help with him.” Marfisa takes up her book.

“You can open the door to the house for me.”

A moment, then, before Marfisa looks up, with a shake of her head.

“Tell me,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “Who else is in that house, besides your brother?”

“He’s not,” says Marfisa, but then, a hitch of her breath, “Grandfather,” she says.

The sun so bright, so high above, so thin but piercing through the cleanly blue to strike staggering gleams from towers crisp against green-draped hills. The spatters on her butter-colored coat have paled to a shade of mud, the dishtowel dark about one hand, her head down stalking her way across the great wide bridge past idling cars and trucks, stalled by some snarl in the traffic ahead. The mane of the mask in her other hand drags the sidewalk in her wake.

The wisp and scratch of the mane, and the scuff and slap of her shoes.

Stopping she looks up, shading her eyes with her towel-wrapped hand. The susurrous breeze can’t manage to stir her hair. The unruffled river below too bright to look at directly. She steps from the sidewalk to the concrete deck, peers through a sunstruck windshield at the seats empty within. Heads from the stilled sedan to grasp the bed of the high-wheeled pickup next in line. No one’s up behind the tinted glass of the rear window of its cab. Past a low-slung empty roadster, the bus there one lane over, Don’t Let LOL Become DOA, the seats through the windows above the ad all empty, and no one at the wheel. Up on the bumper of a town car, onto the trunk of it grunt of shocks as she leaps onto the roof, a crumpling pop as it settles under her weight. Two lanes stretch bumper-to-bumper down the length of the bridge, but silent, empty, still. The towers ahead, and the hills, the sun, the swoop and wheel of freeway ramps behind, the bridges to either side, and only the bright river lapping below.

She lifts that mask up high. The mane skirls, more from the motion of her arm than any breath of air. She holds it high, and then she pulls it down with both hands, and fits it over her head.

The black mane lofts up huge and high, spreading, growing, a sail, a wall, the shadow of it a darkness eclipsing bridge and river, thunderhead uncoiling far above as out she throws her arms, jaw dropped beneath the teeth of that mask, she’s howling and the sudden blare of horns, rumble and snarl of engines, someone’s yelling down below, laughing she’s catching the mask as it tumbles from her face, leaping a bounce from hood to sidewalk and running, running as the rain comes crashing down.

“Holy shit,” and the peals of steel guitar squeezed through a tinny speaker dissolve in a squawk of static. Scrabble of plastic and cardboard someone clambers out of a lean-to strapped to the high wire fence along a sidewalk, filthy jeans and a jacket of army-surplus green, big black hat, he comes up by the woman there in a purple rain shell and sagging khaki shorts, she’s pointing, but she doesn’t have to, boiling up over the trees, out over the river, the bridges, a wild black cloud that climbs to swallow the sky as a great wind rises whipping their clothes the tarps behind them even the gravel scuttling flap and crash a sheet of cardboard bellies up from the ground, clings to the fence, “Wow,” says the woman, the word lost in that buffeting roar and he falls to his knees, cheeks shining wet, throat jumping, “Moody,” she says, loudly, “Moody!” over his hoarsely yawp, grabbing his shoulder as the first fat drops begin to fall, but he swings a shove of a punch at her, she skips back, “Fuck you,” she screams as he tips over flop to the muddening dirt, she’s stooped over crawling under the tarp, “Fuck you!” as he hauls himself up on all fours, retching, green jacket plastered with flower petals wetly pink and white, and more falling flying wheeling through the rain.

Floor-length curtains drawn along the wall, faint light seeping from some device away off in the kitchen, garbage in heaps and mounds all over the floor, she drops the yellow plastic recycling bin with a clinking crash. Red Keds unlaced, legs streaked with mud or something, pink and orange parka shining slickly, dotted with wet flower petals. She kicks that bin over by a bare foot jutted from under a tumble of trash, tin cans and plastic bottles stripped of wrappers, cardboard cartons, plastic tubs, eggshells and screwed-up twists of plastic wrap, paper, balled-up foil, splat of vegetable peels and coffee grounds pattering as he lifts his head, long brown hair damply lank, “What,” he says, blinking, “Jes? That you?” But she’s headed off toward the kitchen.

When she returns, she’s lost the parka, she’s swigging from a green glass bottle, he’s picking over the garbage in the bin, “This it?” he says. “It’s crap.” The clatter growing louder without. “Is it raining?” he says, peering at her wet hair, and the petals caught in the strands. She empties the bottle, whips it away to crash among all that garbage, “Crap?” she says. “You want some beer?” Planting a Ked on his bare chest, pushing him back, down, to squat over him in the darkness. Rucking up the hem of her dingy tank top over her hips. “You miserable, filthy shit,” she says, and a spurt, then a jet of piss splashes his matted beard, and he opens his mouth to gulp it down as rain pelts the glass without.

White apron streaked with red, slender knife in one hand, she steps from the white-walled back room gleaming into the dimmer, wood-trimmed storefront, past a young man in a white shirt, sleeves rolled above his elbows, down the length of the chilled display cases filled with slabs and cuts of meat, thick steaks wetly red, and piles of sausages, a tray of dark-jeweled livers, kebabs bright with cut peppers and onions and mushrooms and spangled with green herbs, richly hued prosciuttos and jamones, out onto the floor past a customer or two toward the windows, streaked with rain and petals, the crashing bouncing clatter of rain on the sidewalk and street out there already faltering, the light already shifting, the late sun struggling out from under those lifting, parting clouds. “Wow, that was, intense,” says a customer behind her as the last flowers drop from the dying wind. “Oh, Phil,” she breathes, a whisper to herself, “this better not be you.”

Rainwater puddles the floor, soaking the Xes of blue masking tape laid here and there, and sodden petals pink and white, the occasional dark red, trail from the double doors to where she’s sprawled, her back against the mirrored wall, pale splattered coat splayed open, and her crudely bandaged hand in her lap. The mask on the floor there beside her, stiff black mane spangled with water, and petals in its strands. She looks up as a man steps into the wide room, close-cropped balding hair and a salt-and-pepper Van Dyke that frames a soured mouth, a paper cup in his hand, and another clamped in the hook he holds out to her. “What’s the other guy look like,” he says, as she takes it.

“No, it wasn’t,” she says, sniffing, sipping, wincing, “it was, a, a vase.” Another sip, eyes widening, a stiff swallow. “I broke a vase.”

“Still. Better get it looked at,” he says, but she laughs, “This?” Lifting her clumsy mitt of browned towel. “I just need to shove it in a bucket of glitter. I’ll be fine.”

“I’d say don’t be stupid,” and he crumples his emptied cup, lets it drop. “But that train’s left the station. What did I tell you? First thing!” Turning away, he aims a kick at a soggy clump of flowers. “Do not get mixed up in this shit!”

“Oh, Jesus fucking Christ, Vincent, I am sorry.” Jo pushes herself to her feet. “Where’s the fucking broom.”

“Don’t you,” spinning about, “laugh this off,” stepping close, she lurches away to bump herself back-to-back in the mirror, “don’t you dare,” he’s saying, “dragging that goddamn thing back in here,” his hook pointing at the mask there on the floor, “you stupid, thoughtless girl, you don’t have the sense God gave a pea,” but “You told me,” she’s saying, “you told me they’d take one look at me, one look and they’d cut me open and steal my lunch money.”

“Yeah, well,” a deep breath, “they still got time.”

“Eleven,” she says, flatly, starkly. He draws back, frowning, “Eleven?” he says, and a glance at the mask. “Eleven,” he says. “The hell are you – are you, you want to compare body counts? Girl, I have,” but her face screws up and a single tremendous sob shakes her shoulders jumps her throat her head knocked back against the glass a retching cough her hand up curling down about herself a snort of breath she shivers with the effort to hold, to press, to clamp. “Eleven,” she says, letting go. Lifting her head. “Directly, with the sword, or, because, I did, something stupid? Or I was scared. Angry. Stupid. But also, because I was,” a shuddering breath, “told to. The Devil. I can’t, I can’t keep doing this.”

“But you’re in it,” says Vincent, voice gentled to a rasp.

“I want out,” she says. “I want to quit.”

“You can’t.”

“You did.”

He steps back, looks down, the puddled floor, the strips of tape, the petals. “What I did,” he says, “that’s easy. Just, walk away. Drop everything. Take off. Leave ’em in the lurch, alone, let him fall, don’t look back. Try not to look back. If you do,” a deep breath, “I wouldn’t call what I did quitting, exactly.” Turning back to her. “You tell yourself you’re ready, you know what it means. That you’ll never see her again. But you aren’t. You never will be. It will never, let up, the shock of realizing over and over you will never. See her. Again. So,” he says, blinking rapidly. “There’s that.” The doors behind them rattling, someone’s trying the knobs. Someone’s knocking. Jo steps away from the mirrored wall as Vincent turns away, heads for the doors, “Hang on!” he calls as the knocking becomes a pounding, booming. Jo stoops there by the mask. The mane of it stirring as she picks it up and turns it over in her hands. “I wasn’t kidding, about the broom,” she says. “I’ll clean this up.”

“You’re gonna need a mop,” says Vincent, undoing the lock, opening the door. “And careful with the tape. I am not about to reblock Titus.”

Jo looks up, blankly, at the man stood there, grey jeans and a soft yellow shirt, his hair a shock of pinkish orange, “Hey, Dad,” he’s saying, “is she,” and then, as she’s getting to her feet, the mask in her bandaged hand, “Huntsman!” he calls. “Are you well?”

That black mane sways as she takes a halting step toward them both. Shakes out her free hand, lifts it, and light flares in that wide room.

Table of Contents

Cynara’s World, written by Abby Tinker, ©1979. Bile ’em Cabbage Down,” arranged by Buck Owens, within the public domain. Titus Andronicus, written by William Shakespeare and George Peele, within the public domain.

Her sword – the Riches of the City – Peabo’s leaf spring – “It’s all good” –

Her sword the blade of it harshly bright from clean straight quillions set above the glittering wiry net of the guard about her pronated hand up and out to the tip of it quivering just a foot or so from his throat, his chin lifted up and back, his eyes, one blue, one brown, unblinking, fixed on hers. “Gallowglas,” he says, and just the touch of a question to his tone.

“Jesus, girl, put that away!” Vincent, eyes wide, beside them.

“You lied to me,” she says, to Lymond, to the King.

“I assure you, we have not.”

Her other hand still wrapped in that bloodstained towel held low, fingers and thumb clamped tightly about the chiseled teeth of that skull mask, the mane of it dangled just above the puddled floor. “You kept things from me,” she says.

“We have been as clear and open in our dealings as any ruler might,” he says, but she’s lurched forward and a whick of her wrist that shivers the sword to whip the tip of it snag and slice, he jerks back hand up across to clutch his shoulder sleeve there torn, and a yelp from Vincent. Jo lowers her hilt, draws back her blade, the tip of it dulled by a smear of red.

“But I showed you that the day you took your charge from me,” says Lymond.

“What the hell,” says Vincent, off to the side, as “You didn’t tell me,” says Jo. “You didn’t tell me what it means. That you could take this from me!” Hoisting the mask, the mane of it limply swaying. “That all this time you could’ve done this shit yourself!”

“Huntsman,” he says, “your grace,” lifting his hand from his shoulder to hold it slickly red between them, there by the mask, “even if this meant what you think,” wincing as he grips his wound once more, “I could not hold your office. A king might no more be gallowglas, than a gallowglas a king.”

Vincent, stepping close, says, “Let me take a look at that,” but Lymond turns his shoulder away, “Dad, please,” he says, and then, “Jo. You took this office from my mother’s hand. You sought the mask yourself, and you’ve done well by it, and yet – if I could take it from you?” She’s lowering her blade as he steps toward her, and reaches out his free hand to grasp hers wrapped in the bloodstained towel, and the mask a-sway between them. “But I can’t,” he says. “You are the Huntsman. The hunt is yours.” Removing his bloodied hand once more from his shoulder, folding it with his other about her makeshift bandage. “But,” and he takes in a deep breath. “It’s your other office that concerns us, now. You were missed at court, yesterday.”

“Luys,” she says, a croak of a word.

“The Mason was game, but we needed Southeast,” he says. She looks away, steps back, tugging free her hand, her sword and the mask held low as she’s shaking her head, “Jo Gallowglas,” says Lymond, “there is a threat, to your quarter, and our Queen. We understand you wish to set aside your duties; we sought you out today to ask you to come back with us, to,” he blinks, a hint of a frown, “where it all began,” he says, “to, to Goodfellow’s house. We would go to Goodfellow’s house. To show you something there, of duty, and our need. Shall we dress our wounds, and go?”

Her back to them both she lifts up her bandaged hand and holds the mask there a moment, then lets it drop, clack, to the floor, that mane slumping in a tangle. “How’d you know you’d find me here?”

“Christ,” growls Vincent, “you have any idea the ruckus you made with that thing? All anybody’d have to do is follow the damn rain.”

“Yeah?” says Jo, looking back, over her shoulder.

“He called me,” says Lymond. Jo nods at that. “While he was getting the bourbon,” she says. “I didn’t know you guys were speaking to each other.” Vincent, glowering, shakes his head, “You scared the living hell out of me, girl,” he says. “Coming in like that.”

“I’m sorry,” says Jo, looking down. “I’ll go with you, majesty, but first,” lifting her red-shoed foot.

She lifts her foot, she brings it down, a stomp of a step on the mask, crack. It breaks, snap a jagged feathery line of torn papier-mâché from jutting tooth a-curl through cheekline up to wrench an empty eye-hole apart, that last clinging twist of forehead parting as she kicks the pieces away, dead black hair whirling petals skidding through rainwater clink against the mirrored wall.

“I won’t kill anyone else,” says Jo. “Not for you, not for anybody. Not ever again.” Looking up to the King. “We still good?”

He lifts his head, a slow nod, “The hunt is yours, as you see fit, Huntsman,” he says.

“Yeah, well,” she says, and a restless slash of her sword before she heads, abruptly, out through the doors, into the hall.

“I’ll send someone round to clean this up,” says Lymond, after a moment. “It’ll be like it never happened.” And then, “Dad?” But Vincent doesn’t turn to him, or nod or shake his head. He’s still staring at the pieces of that mask.

“Thank you, Mayor Beagle,” says the man at the one end of the stage, as the woman, by far the slightest figure up there, settles back on her stool, her suit a royal purple, a weighty pearl necklace draping her black turtleneck. Sipping some water as the applause smatters away. “Mr. Killian,” says the man at the end of the stage, looking down the line of them. “Your response?”

One of the men stands up from his stool, quite tall, his suit more grey than navy, features sharp, “Thank you,” he says. His narrow black-rimmed glasses like a squint. “And I’d like to thank the Mayor, of course, for such a sterling example of the consistency, of leadership, she provides. And for all the differences we each may have with her,” a sweep of his arm for the rest of them on their stools lining the stage, the high white columns behind, “we must admire that consistency. You can almost set your watch by the moment when, in a soaring bit of oratory, she will reach into her pocket, as she just did, and pull out those stirring words attributed to Charles Erskine Scott Wood,” he spares a smile for her behind him, “Good citizens are the riches of a city. It’s a fine line; a noble sentiment – so much so it’s inscribed on the base of Skidmore Fountain, just a few blocks away.” Looking out over the audience, past the bright lights. “Certainly, we’ve a great many riches piled up in here tonight.” A chuckle stumbles through the crowd, trips over itself, falls away. The man in a neatly pressed plaid shirt on the stool by the Mayor scribbles a quick note to himself. “But my response? Well, your honor, fellow candidates, City Club,” spreading his hands, taking them all in, “so what.” Letting his hands fall. “So what,” he says, again, into the dead silence of the hall. “Four thousand people out there in this rich city, tonight, will sleep without a bed of their own. Less than two thousand will have a bed at all, in one of our overburdened shelters. Seven hundred families, with children, out there, tonight, without a home. Tomorrow, seventy thousand people will wake up in this city to go out and try to find a job, any job, and another hundred and forty thousand will go to work in jobs far beneath their abilities, for much less than they’re worth. And thirty thousand people out there, thirty thousand good citizens, have given up looking for work at all. Is this,” looking about the dark hall, “how we spend,” stepping up, toward the edge of the stage, away from the other candidates, “our riches?” He lifts his hands, presenting his point: “We can’t keep on like this,” he says, a clipped statement of fact, the edges of his words a bit dulled by amplification. “Good citizens are the riches of a city, it’s true,” he says, “but it’s not enough to pile them up and dust off our hands and say we’re done. Riches – wealth – must be invested. Put to work. To make this city bigger, better, richer than before. Good citizens of Portland!” And he lifts his voice, and his hands. “Let’s put ourselves to work!”

It’s a moment before the applause begins, and swells.

“No, no,” says Lymond, “this way,” and Jo turns from the porch to follow him down a walkway along the front of the big white ramshackle house, perched high above the corner, the sidewalk, the cars parked below. Tiny colored lights string bannisters and window frames, and candles burn on sills, but no movement’s glimpsed behind gauzy curtains, no shadows on drawn blinds. Lymond turns into a darkly narrow alley between houses, lined with rolling garbage cans of green and blue, a neat rank of yellow recycling bins half-filled with empty bottles. “Anybody home?” says Jo. Instead of her bloodstained coat she wears an oversized hoodie, hands stuffed deep in the pockets. Lymond’s already around behind the house. No walkway here, just a sketch of a path leading steeply down, between concrete foundation and ivy-laddered fence. “This way,” he calls, already down where the path peters out on the sidewalk. He’s swapped his torn yellow shirt for a hoodie of his own, pulled up over his shock of hair, a darkly anonymous silhouette. Dirt scrabbles as she hurries after almost to slam into him, stood waiting, hand on the knob of a red-painted door. She looks out at the parked cars, the empty intersection, the old green house cater-cornered across, first storey thicketed with scaffolding. “Could’ve just walked down the sidewalk,” she says.

“Then this might not’ve been here,” says Lymond, opening the door.

Down a couple of steps into a basement apartment and a crowd about, chatting quietly, couches and sofas, small tables with flickering candles, “On water lying strong ships,” someone’s saying, quite loudly, a guy lit up in the corner, “and men in weakness skilled reach elsewhere: no prouder places from home in bed the mightiest sleeper can know,” he’s reading, from a slender book held theatrically. “This simple joy,” murmurs Lymond, leaning close. “To walk into a room, and not be known. To not be, for a moment, King. Or Duchess.” Straightening as that guy in the corner belts out, “but a fountain without source, legend of mist and lost patience,” and somebody’s making his way toward them, a small man all in black, spreading welcoming hands. “Never lasts, of course,” says Lymond.

“You majesty,” says the man all in black, “your grace,” quietly, unobtrusively. “What a surprise.”

“Pleasant, I hope,” says Lymond.

“My house would brook no other kind. Food? Drink? A bit of poetry?” That guy in the corner’s emphatically declaiming, “And the dusty eye whose accuracies turn watery in the mind,” as Lymond shakes his head, “Just a bit of business upstairs, if we might. Perhaps after?”

“Ah, if after’s but perhaps, might I bend your ear before?”

Lymond looks to Jo, who shrugs. That guy in the corner holds up his book, “Like an island with no water round in water where no land is!” The applause is sparse. More people are looking to them by the door, as Lymond and Robin Goodfellow head off to one side, someone’s waving, getting up from a couch, it’s Becker, beaming, and Pyrocles in his blue suit getting to his feet, ducking his head in a bow as Jo holds out her hand for a shake, “Your grace,” he murmurs, and then Becker’s wrapped his arms about her in a sudden clap of a hug, “Damn, it’s good to see you!”

“You look, you look good,” she says, “is that a beard?” What’s left of his hair’s slicked back, and his loose shirt’s of a berry-colored plaid, “Life as a duchess must treat you right,” he’s saying.

“It’s,” says Jo, looking away a moment, the guy over there’s saying, “a custard made from the pink powder bought at the store,” and she takes a deep breath, “it’s a challenge,” she says, a half-hearted gesture, a deprecated smile.

“How does Peabo’s leaf spring by you, lady?” says Pyrocles.

“The what now?” says Becker, looking to him. “You’re fixing her car?” Back to Jo. “You have a car?”

“He means my sword,” says Jo. “It,” she looks down a moment. “It’s done everything I’ve asked. You’re, ah, your hammer’s true, Anvil.”

He smiles. “Your grace is kind.”

Over there, Lymond’s shaking Robin’s hand, “I think that’s my cue,” says Jo, stepping back. “Business upstairs.”

“Well,” says Becker, “come back down when you’re done!”

“We’ve been told there’ll be dancing,” says Pyrocles.

“If we don’t have to take off,” says Jo, “I’ll come back down, sorry,” she nearly bumps into, steps around a stolid woman swathed in pearly grey, her dark hair tiny screws, “but this custard is too fine!” cries that guy in the corner. “Sorry,” says Jo, past a dark man draped in a long white shawl, a shirtless woman, arms bound in pink fishnet, a man in beige fleece checking his watch by a man trussed in slashed denim and electrical tape. There’s Lymond, holding out a hand. “Shall we?” he says.

Up a tightly switchbacked flight of stairs, walled in framed illustrations of moths as if specimens pinned to the paper, colors of earth and stone and bark and dying leaves, there’s silver though, and neon spots of pink and yellow, and now white gold and tiger-stripes, butterflies in a sunburst of orange that cools through ruby and amethyst to emerald, sapphire, onyx, and at the very top a cloud of opals about a door that opens on a toothpaste-colored kitchen, brightly empty. “Beer?” says Lymond, opening the fridge.

“If you think it’ll help.”

“Can’t hurt,” he says, handing her a bottle. “Through here,” and a gesture with his.

The wide room beyond, windows lit with candles and strings of light, the hearth at one end cold, swept clean, and nothing else but the upright sword out in the middle of the floor, a neat ring of charcoal burnt about it, the blade of it straight, the hilt wrapped in white leather yellowed with hard use. “Marfisa’s sword,” says Lymond.

“I figured it had something to do with this.”

“You’ve seen it before, I know.”

“I was here when it happened.” She swigs from her bottle. “Well. Not in the room.”

“Six months, it’s stood there, and no one will go near it. Rather crimps Goodfellow’s style.” He hunkers down, there by the blade, careful of the char. “She could put out her hand whenever she wished, and draw it forth,” a gesture with his bottle, “but instead, she’s made do all this time with a bat, and a mask.”

“She’s pretty damn good with the bat.”

“She’s an outlaw, and she steals from you.”

“Oh, Jesus, it’s a,” waving her bottle, “grief she’s got, with one of the guys. Chilli. The Harper. Kind of an asshole. She’s trying to make him look bad – whatever she takes, we’ve covered.”

“Have you spoken yet, with Gwenders?” he says, and as her frown turns quizzical, he shakes his head. “You should’ve been at court, yesterday.” Rocking back to sit upon the floor. “You might replace the owr, but not morale, or respect. You must put a stop to this.”

“And I told you,” says Jo, looking away, out a window. “No more assignments. No little chats. I’m done.”

“I don’t mean a hunt, Jo. Or a duel. Even with the mask, you’d be hard-pressed to take her. No,” setting his bottle down, pushing up on a knee, “I’d have you bring her back. Go and speak with her. Tell her: put out your hand. Take up this sword. Be our Axe, once more.”

“And that’s it,” says Jo. Still looking out the window. “Just like that, she’s back in it.”

“She exiled herself,” says Lymond, getting to his feet. “She’s the one to undo it.”

Jo throws back the last of her beer, turns away from the window, her face in shadow, “Why do you do this?” she says, and a wave of the empty bottle. “You’re not one of them!”

And Lymond laughs, a sudden gut-busting eruption that knocks back his head, rocks him back a step, “Jo,” he says, catching his breath. “I’m the King!” That sword, shining behind him. “And kings are among the loneliest people in this world.” Stepping close, a hand to her shoulder, “It’s perhaps why we so treasure our friends. Take your time; think on this charge. Go home to sleep on it, if you would. Come find me when you’ve made your call.” Lifting his half-full bottle, waiting, until she desultorily clinks hers against it, and then, with a nod, he turns to go.

She watches him walk away, loosely waving her empty bottle about, until he’s stepped through the doorway to the kitchen, and then, a swing of her arm, “You son of a,” but she doesn’t let go, doesn’t throw, turns about. Crouches, leans forward on her knees, close by the sword. The steel of it sleek, whitely silver in the lights, but brightness snags in sparks from dings and nicks in the edges, and scoring the face. “Somebody’s been busy,” she says, reaching out a hand, settling, with a ripple of her fingers, about the yellowed hilt. Squeezing, bracing herself, but she doesn’t pull, doesn’t shift it, doesn’t move it at all. Lets go. “Shit,” she says, pushing up on her feet, stalking back to the window. Heel of her hand against the frame. Forehead against the back of her hand.


She pulls back, blinking. A golden watch, waggled right by her face. “Let’s go,” and the watch drops away, “Wait,” she says, “wait – what time is it?”

“Come on.” He’s in the shadows at the foot of the stairs.

“Come on where,” she says, heading over, heading up after him. “What the fuck is going on?”

“It’s Becker. We’ve only got a few minutes.”

“What, what about Becker? Hey!” The syllable flatly loud as she springs after him, grabs a wrist. “The hell time is it?”

Jerking his hand free, “It’s not that kind of watch,” he says. Tugging a white cuff over the face of it. “Listen,” he says, coming down a step closer to her. “I can talk just about anybody into almost anything, you give me room enough to work. But what I can’t do,” taking her hand in his, “what I can’t do is actually talk somebody into actually falling asleep. Just not boring enough, I guess. So I slipped him a mickey. He’s hitting stage three any minute now, and you need to be as close as possible when that happens. Okay?”

She nods, slowly, in the dim hallway. Looks back, the light coming up from the stairwell there, and shadows all about from fleshy lobes and fronds, and curling stalks that grow in ghostly patches up and down the wall. Someone yells below, a floor or more below, and a crash. “I think the Anvil might maybe’ve figured out Becker isn’t coming back with that martini, so we’ve got time pressure from a couple of vectors, can we,” she nearly trips over a ruck in the rug as he tugs her in his wake, “I think it’s,” stopping by a doorway clustered about with mushroom caps brown and black and grey, trembling, a scramble up the wall, fishscale gleam and a flicker of too many legs. “Yeah,” he says, turning the knob, but “David,” says Jo, “wait. Something’s – off.”

“Listen,” says Kerr, a flash of anger, suddenly smothered. “What he’s got? What he has, it can’t stand what isn’t right. What doesn’t belong. And what’s in you,” he taps her, once, on the chest, she winces, “that doesn’t belong anywhere. Ever. At all. So.” He opens the door.

Shelves lined with the thin spines of vinyl records, and a low-slung hifi cabinet, and Becker sprawled on the carpet before it, headphones on his berry-plaid chest, the coils of its cord, mouth open, eyes closed, an etched glass goblet overturned by nerveless fingers.

“He’s okay,” says Kerr, reaching back for her, but “whoa,” he says, “whoa!” drawn back, she’s wavering in the doorway, head drifting back and blinking forth, in her hand the hilt of her sword, and the blade of it scribing drunken loops and curls. “Jesus!” says Kerr. A slam somewhere below, another shout. “Put that away,” he says, reaching carefully this time to pull her inside, closing the door quickly, quietly, click. “You don’t need it,” he says. “It’s all good.”

“I can’t,” says Jo, planting after a moment the swordpoint in the carpet by Becker’s foot. “I can pull it out, but I still can’t,” legs folding, a slow-motion crash to her knees, “put it back, it goes wild, I might,” a deeply shuddering sob, “I might hurt, somebody,” leaning her weight on the sword like a staff, coughing up a laugh.

“It’s okay,” says Kerr, “it’s all right, it’s all good,” helping her to lie down by Becker, chiming clank as her sword falls to the carpet, he doesn’t fight her as she grabs for the hilt of it, drawing it close, he’s gently shifting Becker to lay his head atop Jo’s chest, Becker stirring, mumbling, homina frazz, “There,” says Kerr, soothingly stroking Becker’s cheek with the back of his hand. “There. It’s all good.” Another door slams, out in the hall now. “Becker!” the roar, and a murmur too low to make out much more than reassurance. Jo closes her eyes. “Here we go,” says Kerr, softly, kneeling over them both, hands held out above them, just in case, footsteps without and the doorknob rattles, someone’s pounding, “mongoose is go,” says Kerr, eyes widening, fingers trembling, “oh,” as thunder bursts, and Avery stops, a hand on the passenger door, as Killian in his grey suit ignores the thunder, smiling for the three or four photographers on the sidewalk, and Vincent pauses, bottle in one hand, cork in the other, then pours more whiskey into his mug as thunder shakes the futon frame to scrape the blue wood floor in that high blue room, Ellen a shadow on those sheets white in the streetlight, thunder troubles the garbage piled about Lake crouching lank-haired, naked, over Jessie sprawled in sleep, and Moody wakes with a start under blue plastic, balling his fists over his ears as the thunder swells, and Petra B. looks away from her phone in that windowless room, to one of the garbage bags piled with the others, and gold-crusted fingers digging, working, snarling against the throat she’s kissing Chrissie grunts and clenches, straining with the thunder to let out a settling breath, and Linesse steps and turns and throws a punch, then draws back, scowling at the Dagger beside her, blue-black fist unthrown, as thunder shakes the lights above them, and the jangle of chains, explosive fluttering, keening screams as Gordon walks the line of cages, soothing, shushing under the thunder the pianos draped in darkness unmoving but the strings shiver within, a polyphonic chorus to haunt the room, as the doorknob crunches, and Lymond throws open the door, and the thunder claps and rumbling dies away.

“Beloved!” cries Pyrocles, filling the doorway behind him. “Majesty, is he,” but Lymond’s sagging, slumping, collapsing to the carpet there by Becker, and the headphones, and the goblet, and Pyrocles falls back. “No,” he’s saying, out in the hall, “oh, my Becker, oh no, my King,” his back against the wall, papered with intricate art nouveau browns and beiges, greens in abstractly fungal patterns, shot through with silver threads.

Table of Contents

There is no Land Yet,” written by Laura Riding, ©1970. “The Flying Attic,” written by Anonymous, copyright holder anonymous.

the Alarm clock

The alarm clock blinking 12:00, 12:00, the blue glass reading lamp unlit. The paperback book, flocked with mold, the cover of it faded, Chanur’s Legacy, it says, just legible. She tosses it to the wrought-iron bed, kicks her way through the clothing strewn about the bare wood floor toward the only flat wall in that round room, the plain wood door and not one of the half-open casement windows, the quiet night without.

Down tightly winding spiral stairs, hair a white-gold cloud in the shadows, her grey overshirt, black boots quiet on the hallway rugs. One hand idly brushes the wall below a line of portraits in darkly ornate frames, a portly white-haired man in an antique suit, sat before a pigeonholed desk, holding up a feathered pen, a gaunt man in a flour-dusted apron looking away from tins and pans and spatulas on the board below his outspread gnarl-knuckled hands, a stoutly white-haired woman in a brassy cuirass and a polished morion, gauntleted hand holding an outsized compass above a calligraphed parchment map, a fat man crowned with tangled white hair, swaddled in blue robes, his ring-bedecked hands clamped tight about the leashes of the wolfhounds at his feet. Down the long straight staircase to the front door, set with an arc of frosted, leaded glass, that she opens quietly just enough to see him there on the front porch, waiting, grey jacket, bush of a beard, small round sunglasses. “Upstairs,” she murmurs, stepping back to let him in. “To the right, the second hall,” but they’re both brought up short. There in the shadows by the staircase, white locks unbound, his belted robe pale blue, Agravante holds a cut glass tumbler in his hand. “Sister?” he says, roughly. “Magician? What is the meaning of this?”

“Go,” says Marfisa, stepping up to block her brother, letting the bat drop into her hand, choking up on the bat as Mr. Keightlinger hurries up the stairs, “Wait!” cries Agravante, but Marfisa knocks him back with a short sharp jab at his chest, and the clink of the ice in his glass. “You swore,” she says, and another jab, “that boon had naught to do with us!” He wards off another blow with his forearm, she shifts her grip and knocks the glass from his hand, smash against the wall. “What have you done to grandfather?” she roars. He ducks under another swing, comes up with a long-bladed dagger in his hand, swipe and thrust, and she leaps back. “Awake!” he cries, swinging, thrusting. “Fear! Fire! Foes! Awake, to me!” She parries a blow with her bat, whock, and another, but then they both freeze, as thunder washes through the house, rattling windows, creaking the frame of it, knocking something to the floor in another room.

“Earthquake?” says Agravante, when the echoes have died.

Marfisa shakes her head. “Thunder,” she says.

“It never thunders here, like that,” he says, and someone screams upstairs.

Up the stairs leaping two and three at a time the bat in her hand he’s racing after, robes a-flutter, as folks uncertainly gather in the hall below, two women in periwinkle dresses, a man in blue scrubs and a tall white toque, another man, his blue vest open, tie undone.

Down unlit halls, round corners, footfalls muffled on long pale rugs, “Grandfather!” cries Marfisa, but “Wait!” cries Agravante. “Stop!” She flings herself shoulder-first at the door at the end of the hall to pop it open shivering splintering frame, “Don’t!” cries Agravante, too late, stumbling into her, catching hold of her arm where she stands stock-still in the doorway.

Curtains drawn in the room beyond, and no lights lit, a bed surmounted by a tumbled mass of blankets kicked aside, pillows knocked to the floor by the body sprawled there, splayed legs trembling, foot a-twitch with one last kick. Grey jacket soaked in something, blood, black as that T-shirt. A snorting, huffing hock and swallow, something’s crouched over the body, over the head of it, shadowy, huge, “Grandfather?” says Marfisa, her voice quite small.

Something looks up, with a shrug to wipe a sheen from what might be a mouth. A growl, almost a word, “Child,” and then, “children,” shadows shifting as something rears up, wavering, “forgive me.” The head of the body below twisted aside, throat and chest torn open, that bush of a beard soaked in blood. “He was, a friend? Of mine, but,” the wavering trembles, collapsing over the body, and a snuffling, coughing gulp. “I just woke up,” the growl gurgling, rising, climbing into a wail, “and I am so hungry!”

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