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brightly Shining sun –

Sunlight shining so bright from the corner that they lift their hands to shade their eyes in the otherwise darkness, turn away as they sink to their knees, and the Chariot lowers her gleaming head, and the Axle ducks behind his grimy collar, and Luys, the Mason, stares at the swords in his hands as their blades grow much too bright, and Sweetloaf up on the stoop isn’t looking away, he’s blinking rapidly as all that sunlight swells and leaps a sudden soundless shout so bright it burns away the shadows in the foyer behind him, and the Mooncalfe knocks her forehead against tiny gleaming tiles, and the Trident empty-handed sags against the muralled wall, so bright it washes out the neon colors through the arch behind him, revealing the glass tubes held in place along the floor by uneven strips of grubby tape, and the Shield kneels over his useless fauchon beside them, and the Stirrup blinks gormlessly in the doorway to the cavernous room beyond, so bright it banishes any dimness that might’ve lingered in the stalls to either side, and swallows cold fluorescents in a prismatic flare that sheens the lazuli lapels of knights stood over clenched and squinting coveralled domestics, and all those bright swords drooping, those lowering clubbed-up fists, and the brilliance zeniths as it lights on a wooden tub in the middle of them all, still overflown with mounds of golden dust that shine a dawnlight yearning up to blazing downcast noon, and the Bullbeggar turns from it shoulders draped with fur, and Anna blinks behind her narrow black-rimmed glasses, and Gloria Monday in her black high-waisted gown lifts hands against this absent sun, and the Dagger in his pearly suit squared off against the Sapper in his navy, they straighten from their crouches, lift away their hands, and more domestics dun and olive, khaki and umber past them, and more knights in denim and slate, midnight and cerulean, all recoil, prostrate, gawp, the Anvil on one knee, Biscuit beside him, and Miriam black tie unclipped, the Guerdon behind her, under the big main overhead door rolled all the way up, the sword in his hand a-shine with the light that shines over all of them, through them, past them all, out onto the loading dock, discarded lengths of cyclone fencing woven wire starkly bright, and a blue struck from the glossy black of the SUV parked at an angle there, and the Axehandle scrabbles around the fender of it, falling to his hands and knees in what should have been shade but the light, the light, the dusty asphalt bright below him all the tar-black leached away to gleaming mica, ancient motes of broken glass pressed by the weight of countless tires into pavement-dazzling sparks that fade, that stretching dim, and he looks up, sits up, shaking his white-locked head as shadows spill to pool in hollows left by that retreating brilliance, and the streetlight above once more begins to make a difference about him. He lifts his phone to his ear, “Mason!” he barks. And then, “Shield? Is the Mason there?” Pushing himself to his feet. “Was that,” he says, “was that her majesty?” And then, hushed, “Do you have her?”

A footstep, snap of gravel, chime of chainlink.

He turns abruptly, lowering the phone. The figure stood there, halfway up the gentle rise of the block, shapeless grey coat, something saggy lolling from one hand.

“Sister?” says the Axehandle, Agravante.

She lifts what she holds up over her head to yank it down, a limply flopping oblong swallowing her cloud of white-gold hair in a rubbery goggle-eyed horse’s head. He looks about, over the hood of the SUV, but the loading dock’s empty, and no one’s under the overhead door anymore, “Cetera?” Uncertain laughter within, a brief scuffle, nothing serious. “Jamie!” calls Agravante, sharper now. He seizes the handle of the door of the truck. She’s stepped out in the middle of the street, striding toward him, lifting an arm out to one side, an arm improbably lengthening, somehow slender, a bat slipping down to her palm. He clambers into the SUV, “Luys!” he’s shouting at the phone in his hand. “Fall back! Come to me, now!” Fumbling about, the steering column, the sun visor, the padded compartment between the seats.

Her first swing’s a brusque overhead chop that dents the glossy hood, pops the corners, a bang that makes him jump and drop the phone. She steps back, horse-head a-wobble, shifting her grip on the bat.

“Marfisa,” says Agravante. “Wait.”

Her second blow crumples the front of the truck.


Table of Contents


uncertain Laughter – the Colors of the Hound – exactly as You are – what happened Next –

Uncertain laughter, and a scuffle. A knight in sleekly cobalt sleeves, a woman short and round, white apron over taupe, they’re pulled apart without much trouble under buzzing fluorescent lights racked high above, their shine a harshly cool that somehow warming as it falls to buttery summery softness gathered in so many glimmering sparks clutched tight in hands held high, so many caught on fingertips, knuckles, lingering on lips and cheeks, so many drifting freely among the biding rustle of that wordless crowd. A tickle of strings, a rattle of sticks against the concrete floor, a crash of metal and glass somewhere without. Someone whoops. “The hell,” roars Gloria Monday, there before the raised stage, starting off toward the overhead door, but Anna Nirdlinger catches her arm, “It’s okay,” she’s saying, as a ramshackle beat assembles itself from the clicks and strums. “Gloria, it’s okay.”

“Okay?”

No I would not, a ragged chorus dissolving in giggles as the incipient song redoubles, asserts itself, and then a great breath taken all at once, Carol in her slinky gown, the Blue Streak cross-legged on a crate, cradling his guitar, the Bullbeggar, Otto Dogstongue, knelt on the concrete, coaxing that popping lopsided beat from a couple of overturned plastic buckets, no I would not give you false hope, on this strange and mournful day, laughter still shaking their words, and the joy that dancing whirls about them.

Out in the middle of them all the great wooden tub set down on a couple of pallets and filled with gold, and over around behind it the Queen, sat upon the floor, her loose white blouse unbuttoned, white trousers rolled up past her shins, her bare feet caked with filthy gold. An empty aisle stretches away from her down the length of the cavernous warehouse, where no one dares to cross the line of golden footprints left wavering between the art-filled stalls to either side, up from the neon-brushed shadows of the arch at that far end, oh, little darling of mine, I can’t for the life of me. Her clipped black curls matted with gold, and more gold splashed over lips that part in what might become a smile, and the course of a lifetime runs, but a beat skips, over and over it’s falling a-clatter apart, over again as the song drops away to once more silence. She sits up. Pushes herself to her feet. Turns about.

Over under the overhead door a figure in a shapeless grey coat twirls and catches, twirls and catches a slender wooden bat. Atop the boxy shoulders a floppy horse’s head, and the stiff fake mane of it sweeps this way, that, until a plastic sidelong eye catches sight of the Queen. One last twirl and catch. Limping, then, across the warehouse floor, past the silent band and watchful, into and through the crowd parting before, stepping back, up to the Queen there by the wooden tub. Clack of the bat planted on concrete before her.

“You’re hurt,” says the Queen.

“It is as nothing,” words muffled by that mask. “The Viscount meant to seize and render your majesty.” Unsteadily stooping to take a knee, that ridiculous head hung low. “Would that I could but have run him off.”

The Queen lays a hand on a rumpled shoulder. “Have you come, then,” cupping that crisply stiff mane with her other, “for your portion?”

“Lady?” that head tips up. The Queen caresses the snout of it, and says, “I would have given you salt.” It’s almost a whisper. “I would have given you bread, and oil.” She tugs, lifting away the mask. Marfisa knelt before her shakes out sweat-clamped curls the color of clotted cream. The Queen lets the mask drop to the floor, and the sound it makes when it hits is shockingly loud. “I suppose,” she says, a bit louder as she turns away, “gold will have to do.”

“My lady,” says Marfisa, though the words catch in her throat. “It has ever, and always,” a squeak of wood on concrete, that bat a trembling pillar to support her slowly standing weight, “been you, that I serve,” but “Tell us, though,” the Queen’s saying, “has there ever been such splendor?” Leaning lit up over the tub. “A hundred hundred knights,” she says, “might satisfy their toradh,” dipping her fingers in to stir the brilliance, “yet still!” Turning back. “We’d have enough to light the city!” Thrusting up her shining hand, the shape of it lost in a blare of gold, and her hair and her smile, her breast and the folds of her blouse a-gleam with the same sunny lustre.

“Your majesty is generous,” says Marfisa, bare head bowed.

“Are we,” says the Queen, closing up her hand, swallowing the light in a fist that, tipping, leaks a gleaming trickle, a shining thread that widens a spilling rush of falling gold to the floor between them. “Mark this!” cries the Queen, “and mark it well! Hawk or Hollow, Helm, Hare – all are welcome, here, to this, our court!” Stepping away from Marfisa, the tub, into the bated crowd. “Any one of them, any peer, or merest peon, any of them might bring themselves here, to this puncheon,” a gold-dusted gesture swept back, at the tub on its pallets, “and each of them may freely take whatever they do need. But!” Her hand drawn back. Another step into the retreating press of them all. “If they do serve the Hound?” She’s stopped before a young and slender knight, trembling in his suit of navy broadcloth. He looks away as she straightens his lapels, leaving them brushed with gold. “If they have found themselves,” she’s saying, “beneath the heel of that, that creature, that pretends it is our uncle,” and looks back, over her shoulder, to Marfisa there by the tub. “Or that vaunting Viscount Lickspittle,” and a shake of her head. Turning back to the trembling knight, who’s tried to step back into the crowd that’s stepping back from him. “Stay,” says the Queen. “Doff your jack.”

“Ma’am?” he squeaks, even as he sets about to shrug the coat from his shoulders.

“The colors of the Hound,” she says, nodding at his salmon-striped tie. “Put them off.” And then, as he hastily undoes the knot. “Your name, sir.”

“The, the Sapper, ma’am,” he says, letting the tie drop to join the coat.

“We asked your name,” she says, “not your office, which is forfeit, for what you would have done this night.”

The breaths taken, as the crowd around them at once presses close and falls away, as the warmth about them dims, as the light chills. Blinking, the knight says, “Jeffeory, ma’am.”

“Present your blade, Jeffeory,” says the Queen.

He lifts his empty hand, fingers working, readying themselves, a blink, and he closes them up about the hilt of a sword slipped shivering from the air. Lowering kneeling, he offers it up, neveled across his forearms. She looks away, back once more to Marfisa. “Tell us,” she says. “Would you, could you, withstand, the might of the oppressor?”

“Majesty?” he says, but does not dare to lift his head.

“Should you not restore what’s right?” she says. “For all aggrieved by wrong? Stand firm, against guile, malice, and despite? And might you do this, in service to our court?”

“Majesty,” again, he blinks, looks up, “of course, I have so sworn – ”

“Then rise, good Sir Jeffeory! Sapper no more, but the latest Axe, of this, our Court of Roses! Tell them!” she cries then, to the crowd. “Tell them all! They have but to come to us, stripped of their blues, their blushing pinks – come to us naked! And we will make them new!” She leaves him there, knelt on the concrete floor, staring aghast at the blade across his arms. “Go on!” she calls, to the band there through the crowd. “Play on! We would have music!” Spangled with gold that flings off golden light as she turns and turns about, looking over the crowd, “Starling!” she cries. “Where is our Starling? Is she below? Someone, fetch her for us! We would have our Starling!” And then, stepping through them who scramble out of her way toward the band, “Play!” she cries, and Otto fumbles for his sticks, the Blue Streak picks his way into a chord, Carol blinking takes up the chorus, oh, oh-oh no, no I would not, I would not give you false hope, and the shuffle and slide of resumptive dances, the laughter and the whoops renewed.

Marfisa stoops to take up the fallen mask, brushing a glitterfall of owr from the mane. She pulls herself up, shakes out her limp, and smoothly, assuredly sets off, twisting and slipping through the dancing throng, shoulders, arm, the bat suggesting a path through the crush, away from the tub, past Jeffeory there, still kneeling, without sparing him a glance.

Applause breaks out, and cheers. There at the back of the unlit stage the Starling’s stepping from the shadows, not so tall as she might’ve been before, more slender, draped in a chiton of smokey stuff, and glimmering through the clouds of it lines of silver along her arms, her legs, curled about her breasts now, sleeking her belly. Hands reach up to take her hands, her arms, helping her down, into the out of sight of the crowd. The band crashes into another song, Teakbois! they all shout, over the revving guitar, the whirling sticks, and Carol’s scatting like a trumpet, but the dizzying swoop of the crowd’s attention, the wave of deafening silence, the stumbled steps and turned heads, the murmurs and gasps have nothing to do with the band. Marfisa pushes on through a crowd no longer dancing out of her way, thumped and blundering into the cleared space before the raised stage.

Two figures stood there in the whickering, flannering, golden unfolding light, as the cheers break out, and the applause, the two same frames draped in satiny white and cloudy black, the same hips and thighs, the same olive faces with the same might-sometime smiles under the selfsame eyes of sharply green, and, now, the same hair thick and black and all of it long in artful tangles down past either set of similar shoulders, pressed together, and though the one of them’s still limned in silvery paint, there’s not a streak or smear of gold left gleaming the other.

“Lady?” says Marfisa, leaning both hands on the bat.

“Fret not, gentle knight,” says one of them, the Queen. “We would make you new, as well. There’s already a Mooncalfe running about, but it has been some little time, indeed, since we have had an Outlaw in our court.”

“My lady,” says Marfisa, clenching her hands to squeeze the folded horse’s head beneath them, wrapped about the knurled end of the bat. “I’ve no need of an office, to tell me my duty, or my place.”

The Queen lets go of Starling’s hands, steps away from her, right up to Marfisa. “Even this, you would refuse me,” she whispers.

Marfisa does not look away, nor lower her head, she doesn’t blink, nor does she say a word, but flinches, just, as the Queen takes a step too close, steps past her, headed for and along the crowd behind her, only to stop before a woman, there, sundress and motorcycle jacket, a hand knuckled to her downcast forehead. Muttering something, perhaps. Starting violently when the Queen takes hold of her other hand.

“It’s good to see you here,” says the Queen.

“Melissa,” says the woman, shaking her head.

“We know your name. Of course we know your name. Did you think we could forget?”

“Please,” says the woman. “Don’t.”

“We would never dream to hurt you,” murmurs the Queen, soothing that trembling hand with both her hands. “You, Melissa, we would not make new,” but “Oh, hell no!” a bellow from over by the overhead door, and Melissa looks up, over that way, but “look to us, sweet Melissa,” says the Queen, unperturbed. “Look at me.” Shivering, Melissa does, blue eyes blinking quickly behind thick lenses. “We would not change a thing,” says the Queen. “We would have you exactly as you are: a gallowglas.”

“You get away from,” that bellow, cut off by a yelp and a scuffle. The Queen doesn’t seem to have noticed. “I don’t,” says Melissa.

“We would have you,” says the Queen, “as our Huntsman.” Stepping back then, turning away, spreading wide her white-draped arms to fold them about the Starling’s embrace, as the blinks and gasps, the steps aback begin to spread, and the mumbles, the looks, the questions, the shouts, the piercing shriek all loosed by what’s been said, Ogilvye grabbing Cherrycoke’s shoulders, Trucos demanding an answer of Getulos, Biscuit holding apart a struggling Trident and Dagger, Morcilla wailing, and Val there in her pink watch cap, as Gloria Monday shoves herself from Lustucru’s restaining grip, and Anna starts after her, into the churning rough and tumble of the crowd. Under it all the guitar unseen chugs into a sawed-off riff, but the boom on the buckets won’t fit, and Carol’s singing something else entirely, dragging them in her wake, I’m not getting excited, ’cause the thrill isn’t mine to invite in, and cheers break out over there, and applause, and an outraged shout as the twins severely blond strut onto the stage, kicking their long legs red and black, and hands reach up to grab them, help them down. Melissa’s hands are in Gloria’s now, their heads bent close, and rainbow-threaded Joli’s there, murmuring something comforting, and Anna clutches Petra all in black. Marfisa still grips the end of her bat still planted on the floor, and bows her head a moment, in the light that falls about them, chill and pale, at once too thin and bright.

Then she takes up the bat, sets off through the hurly-burly toward the stage, toward the Queen who’s kissing the Starling before turning then to Ettie, or is it Chrissie, pressed close for a kiss of her own. The clack of the bat planting itself is sharp enough to seize their attention, and they swivel and lift and crane to look to her, the Queen and the Starling, the Sœuers Limoges.

“Is there, as last, some little thing, that you would ask of us?” says the Queen.

“My lady,” says Marfisa, as Chrissie’s arm, or Ettie’s, crimples the smokey gauze about the Starling’s hip. “Why have you done this?”

“We have done a great many things, this night alone,” says the Queen, her hand on the Starling’s hand, tucked in the white satin crook of her elbow. “What, specifically, has you exercised?”

“You named that girl your Huntsman,” says Marfisa.

“Because we would have it done,” says the Queen.

“But you have,” and Marfisa looks back through the crowd, to the tub there, shining. “All was,” she says. And then, to the Queen, “Jo made it back. She has returned!”

The Queen steps close. “We would not,” she says, quietly, “hear that name uttered in our presence evermore.”

“But all was well,” says Marfisa.

Chrissie murmurs something. The Starling leans against Ettie, who reaches to catch the Queen’s hand, the Queen, turning her back to rest of them all as the band plays on.

High ahead the highway swoop and curl of offramp lit by sodium smolder against a dingy indigo sky. Down here the parking lot actinic behind her, striking cold sparks from the railroad tracks as she steps across them. An unlit building ahead, blank bulk dark against the rusted haze. She crosses the empty street, passing under the stoplights shining red above her, through a rank of sturdy bollards, white reflective stripes about their stubby tips. A broad swath of sidewalk ahead, an espresso bar closed at the corner, umbrellas furled, stacks of chairs and upended tables secured by padlocked cable. Slogging past, down the broad sidewalk that meanders the length of the unlit building to another file of bollards along a narrow drive, and then the mighty boles supporting the overpasses keening and moaning above. Crunch of gravel underfoot, her mismatched Chuck Taylors, her black jeans, and her T-shirt, her empty hands. Past shadowed columns the ground drops away into nothing, the complete abruption of the river before her. Across that lightless void the sudden leap of downtown, towers blazing bright enough almost to overwhelm the streetlamps sparse along the esplanade, the diffusing glow of the highway above, falling with the wash and thrum of traffic loud enough to drown any slap or chuckle of riverwater. As she steps out from under the overpass a bridge hoves into view, a line of lights shot straight just past the trees, held up by shallow arches across the river. At the far end vault two girdered towers, and high within each are caged the bridge’s blocky counterweights, storeys of concrete painted red, held somehow aloft. She stands there, looking at them, one hand to her chest, fingers splayed along her collarbone, heel against her breast.

“You ain’t got much time,” somebody says, and she wheels about in the shadows much lower, closer, her jeans still black, her shoes mismatched, but she’s stuffed in a puffy ski jacket of some filthy color impossible to name, “Like it’s gonna,” she snaps, but stops, blinking, frowning. “I don’t,” she says, “need, that much. Time. To pack.” She’s looking about, not at the skinny shadow in a long dark coat, but the apron of scruffily bare dirt that slopes from a blank retaining wall to a row of slender columns that uphold the bridge above, a file of proscenia framing not the river, but a quiet cross street, dimly lit, and narrow onramps rising either side. She heads toward the wall, away from the shadow. A couple of dome tents pitched right up against the concrete, where criss-crossed stripes of whitewash palimpsest graffiti.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” says the shadow, as she crouches on a blue tarp laden with swollen garbage bags. “I said, I didn’t mean to – ”

“Fuck off, Christian,” she says, perfunctorily. She’s digging through the bags, yanking one open, tossing it aside. Yanking open another, digging in to fish out clothing, a pair of tights, some grubby underwear, a T-shirt, black. Stands abruptly, casting about for something, something else. Wraps her arms about herself. One of her sleeves leaks tufts of pale down fill from a freshly ragged slash.

“I just,” says the shadow. “I never figured you’d, I mean, obviously I did, because here you are, but – ”

“Where else am I gonna go?” she says. “Huh? Tell me that.”

“Anywhere,” says that silhouette of shoulders hunched. “Anywhere but here.” A truck booms over the bridge above. When it has passed, “They weren’t all out looking for you they’d be here. They’d be drawing you a circle in the dirt.”

“But not you, huh, Christian?” She sniffs, she gulps. Her hair no longer sun-bleached, the tips of it stiff with dirt pattering the shoulders of her jacket as she shudders. “You knew I’d come back.” Her Chuck Taylors digging into the gravel, scuffed white toe half torn away on the one, the sock within spotted dark. “I’ve been taxed,” she says. “What else is she gonna do?”

He snorts, and she looks up, alarmed. Skinny shadow in the shadows, there before one of those narrow arches between columns. “She ain’t gonna do a goddamn thing,” he says, “and you know it. She’s making with all the sound and the fury, but she ain’t the one you gotta worry about, is she.”

She swallows. Takes a step off the tarp, toward him.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” he says. “The guilt. You got to get out. You got to live.”

Arms still wrapped about herself, she doesn’t say a word. A car turns onto the ramp to the left, headlights swiping over them, too suddenly bright and gone to reveal anything.

“Come on, Bambi. You know what happened next.”

A deep breath, and she says, “I know you never said any of that.”

“So?” He takes a step toward her, but not yet out of the shadows. “I ain’t the one got the order of things all wrong. You don’t start rutting through the bags till about, oh, now,” he says, and another step closer. Streetlight cuts across dusty black boots. “Looking for something to steal on your way out the door.”

“What fucking door,” she says. “Christian, I swear, I don’t know what the,” but “See,” he’s saying, “there’s your problem, right there. You never give nobody their due. Christian.” He snorts. “The hell kinda dead name is that.” Another step, and the streetlight slices up the dusty skirts of that dark coat, and grimy jeans. “You know what to say,” he says. “You know the name,” but he giggles, weirdly echoey loud in the breathless stillness. “Shizzt,” he says, full of mirth, filled with malice. “Shizzt,” he says, “the Drow.”

“Who the fuck,” she says, closing on him, four steps, five, and he smiles. Moody smiles.


Table of Contents


Mother and Child Reunion,” written by Paul Simon, copyright holder unknown. Teakbois,” written by Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, and Steve Howe, copyright holder unknown. I’m not Getting Excited,” written by Elizabeth Stokes, copyright holder unknown.

a Stifled shriek – that First sob –

Stifling a shriek she steps too hastily back, stumble-scuff the pavement of the esplanade, arms outflung, bare arms against a fall that doesn’t, she’s, her T-shirt’s back to black, and cracked across the front of it a devil’s leer. Moody’s sitting on a stump with his back to the empty river, the shining city, smiling unctuously, black leather hat tipped up, his ragged jacket of army-surplus green.

“That’s, that’s mine,” says Jo.

“Yeah?” he says, stuffing his hands in the pockets of it, pulling them out, setting his collar, his shoulders as he rolls his neck. “You got my shirt,” with a jerk of his chin. “Took me way too long to put two and two together. You stole it. That night. Didn’t you.”

“How,” she says, and a deep breath. It’s all so quiet about them, even the overpasses behind and above. “How did that happen.”

“What,” he says, looking about, a performance of uncertainty, “all that?” undone by his smile. “Just now?” He points. “I live in your head, Bambi. Rent’s awful cheap.”

“You live,” she says, “in prison,” quiet and cold and definite. “You got arrested. You pled guilty, even if it was only a tenth of what you ever did. A hundred, and twenty-four, months,” stepping across the esplanade toward him, sat there on that stump, “and I didn’t have to think, about you,” she says, “I haven’t thought about you, not at all, not once since then, not till Christian went and said you, you were, back. Danny Moody’s back.”

He scowls, he shrugs. “I bet you don’t believe in tigers, neither,” he says.

“So, what,” she’s saying. “You wanna kick in my ribs? Slice me up? Fool around a little, maybe, before you set me on fire?” but he’s laughing, roaring with laughter, he throws back his head, reaching up to catch his hat, settle it back in place. “Your favorite spot’s a mile away,” she says. “I ain’t gonna go easy. That’s a long way to haul somebody, by yourself.”

“Look at you, Bambi.” Still chuckling. “You got so fierce!” An exaggerated shiver. Planting his hands on his knees. “Truth is,” he says, “I could do whatever I wanted, right here, right now, and there’s nobody here to say boo. Not a goddamn fig.” Sitting back, a sigh. “I just come down to see what’s what. That’s all this is about. And I admit it, I was,” he shakes his head, “trepidatious. Heard you was in it. Rolling deep. But now that I finally see you?” A thunderclap of laughter, shaking his shoulders. “I mean, look at you!” Throwing a gesture at her. She flinches. “Look at what you got left. Nothing. Nobody. You ain’t shit.”

She says, “You were there.”

Again, a shrug.

“You saw how it ends,” she says, reaching behind herself, rucking up the bottom of that shirt. Pulling out a flat black leather sheath, undoing the flap of it to reveal a wire-wrapped hilt. “You,” she says, taking hold with a wiggle, slipping the blade of it free. “Your belly slit open.” The length of it shining even in this dull light, tapering to its ineluctable point. “Strung up by your guts,” she says, looking up to meet his eyes. He’s lowered the brim of that hat, and his smile’s not nearly so broad as it was. “Bleeding out on the Fremont Bridge,” she says.

“Yeah?” His voice emptied of all mirth. “You gonna do that, Bambi? All by your lonesome?”

“She came back with me,” she says. “Not you. Me. I’m the one.”

“Well, if you say so. But,” tipping back his hat, “if that’s how it’s gonna end?” One more shrug. “It ain’t ending here.” That smile is back. “You got yourself a nice T-shirt. You got a pretty little knife, I bet that’s gonna come in handy. Good for you.” Pushing back the army-surplus cuff of his jacket. “I got myself a new toy, too,” he says, showing off the watch about his wrist, heavy and gold.

“You,” she says, the poignard wavering, dipping. “You, if you, what.” A deep breath, the blade back up between them. “What did you do to him.”

Another shoulder-shaking, belly-clutching, hat-catching burst of laughter. “Aw, hell,” he says, theatrically wiping his eyes, “when you finally figure it out? I wish, I wish to God I could be there, to see the look on your face.” Hands on his knees he pushes himself to his feet, and she takes an involuntary step or two back. “But I got shit to do,” he says. A gesture at his wrist. “It’s got all these, dials and rings and, knobs, you know? I gotta figure out how it works. What makes it tick.”

“Moody!” his name ground to dust in her mouth, “get back here!” twisting, lash of the blade at his shadow, “you goddamn sonofabitch!” clawing climbing to a shredded shriek, she leans forward, arms wide, “Moody!” Wavering there with the force of that bellow over the roots of the stump alone. Blinking. Looking about. The empty, lightless river. The long, straight shot of the bridge. The overpasses far above, and the rush and thrum of the traffic back and forth, like wind. She takes a step but her duct-taped shoe crunches slipping down the crumbled edge of the esplanade’s pavement, and she doesn’t so much fall as sink to her knee, heel of one hand on the scrub of the riverbank, clink of poignard on asphalt. One shaking breath hauled in, coughed out. Holding herself a moment there.

Standing, limping away from the stump. The esplanade winds beneath the bridge where it gathers itself to cross the river, and she shuffles into its softened shadow. Working the dimmed blade back into its sheath, looking back, the stump, the lights of the city beyond. A stretch of cyclone fencing’s thrown up here under the bridge, panels leaning drunkenly over the stretch of rumpled dirt it’s walls off, between esplanade and buttressing wall. A white tin placard’s loosely wired to it, stamped with stern red capitals, NO CAMPING NO FIRES NO DUMPING, and then, in smaller letters beneath, Multnomah County Bridge Section. Across the esplanade the ground falls steeply away, calamitously littered with shadowed rocks, all brushed like the bare dirt with dim salmon light. Some time ago some of those rocks were pushed to one side or the other to clear a path down to the river, a boat ramp, though too long, not nearly wide enough for more than a canoe. Shuffle-stumble halfway down toward the water, but stepping aside there, off the path, picking her torturous way across the rocks. Hanging a moment with the effort of correcting for an overbalanced step, one shoe kicked out over the dusty earth.

A squared-off block of concrete, the mighty foot of the pier of the bridge above. She sits herself atop it tailor-fashion, hunched over her knees. The river still deeply black here under the bridge, but not so empty, not this close, the surface silkily limned by streetlight, bridgelight, a dully sullen glowering sheen of yellow and orange never to be found in any sunlight, but even here the lap and slop the sluggish current affords cannot be heard over the endless chords of rushing traffic so far, so high above.

Her first sob seems to take her by surprise, shuddering her, and she closes up her eyes, her mouth. The overflowing swell of it lifts her shoulders, tips her head, but she holds it until she can, slowly, and with some little effort, let it out. She’s better prepared for the next.


Table of Contents


rolling Over under Untucked sheets – Hands – Bourbon & Blueberry – “Hunt what?” – Compromise – Southerly, for Korea –

Rolling over under the untucked sheets, pastels tangled together, flush of teal, icy pink, a yellow startling in the sunlight, black hair abrupt against the one white pillow. Her arm tugged free still socked in black and white to brush some of that hair from off her face, to dig sand from the corners of her eyes. Not quite a groan, she takes in a breath, sits up, pastels falling away, pale waves crashing back to a rumpled ocean. “Hey,” she says. Shoving the bulwark beside her. “Hey. Want some breakfast?” Reaching across herself to scratch her shoulder, dig under the cuff of the sock. Not a word or a breath from the bulwark. “I want some breakfast,” she says, tugging the sock down, working it off.

He sits up sometime later, blinking thickly in the sunlight, pastels puddling his lap. Absently scratching the wiry black that mats his breast. She’s over by a freshly assembled credenza, the only other piece of furniture in a room that still feels crowded. She’s pulled on brief black shorts, a cropped white T-shirt pasted to the curves of her breasts and her belly, she’s stirring something atop a little electric griddle. He sniffs, and again, deeply, closing his eyes. His mustache thick but neatly trimmed, the black of it hatched with white. “Oh,” he says, “and is that speck you’re frying?”

“If by speck, you mean bacon,” she says. “I’d offer you some.” She shrugs.

“Just as well.” He yawns. Another elaborate sniff. “Odor alone is almost enough, for a man in my condition.” Slapping his jowls, shaking his head. He works his way out from under pastels to the edge of the great thick mattress. “Ghost of a pig,” he says, scooping up a grimy grey union suit, “for a pig of a ghost.” Working his way into it. She’s tonging up slices of bacon, dropping them on a paper plate. Holds up the last one, charred and glistening, turns it about, lifts it for a bite. Hissing, “shit!” dropping the tongs to the credenza, the bacon to the floor, “The fuck,” she says. “The fuck am I gonna do.”

He pauses, stood by the mattress, trousers half-buttoned.

“This was supposed to be a place for people hurt, by her. And now she’s,” slapping the credenza, “I mean, it was one thing when she was just, sulking, in the basement, but last night? Last night was,” looking back, over her shoulder. “What am I gonna do, Jim?”

“You could ask yourself a question,” he says, doing up the last button. “Why is it, d’you think,” wrestling his suspenders up onto his shoulder, “her majesty comes to find herself here, to be doing such things?” Tipping that head of his left, right. “Of all places.” Rolling up the sleeves of his union suit. She folds her arms, leaned back against the credenza, “I don’t know,” she says. “Some fight or something, with,” shrugging, “somebody’s grandfather, hers, maybe, I don’t know. I can’t keep track. It’s family and it goes back years, so I don’t think anybody could really explain it, but there’s probably a lot of money, which means lawyers,” she sniffs. “Our lawyers.”

“That’s why she’s not there,” he says, casting about. “Why is it here her majesty finds herself?” He fishes a cracked brown boot from under drooping pastels. She snorts. “I haven’t kicked her out yet.”

“Sweetling,” he says, sitting heavily on the mattress, “attend the line of inquiry with a modicum of the gravity I’d like to think it’s due?”

“Here is where the action is,” she says. “Simple. But now, she’s got everything she needs, to fuck it all up. Again. And that,” she says, pushing off the credenza, “is the gravity of my, whatever the fuck it is.” Scooping up the uncooked portion of bacon, still in its plastic bag, she opens one of the credenza’s cabinets with a toe to reveal a mini-fridge. “My query,” she says, squatting to stuff the bag away among takeout cartons, a jug of orange juice, a bottle of spumante.

“The point, my nonpareil,” he says, working a boot onto his foot, “that must be taken into account, is this: even,” tightening the laces with a grunt, “even the most capable skipper in all the world, with the sun itself that shines from his very arse,” tugging on the other boot, “why, even such as he’d be utterly lost, at sea, you might say, useless, in point of fact,” snugging the heel of it home with a sigh. “When stood by himself,” he says, looking up, “at the wheel of a mighty clipper, without he has a couple a dozen of these,” and he holds up his hands, the backs of them up to the first knuckles furred with wiry black, the heels of them and the palms edged with rough thick callus, and about the thumb of the left a simple ring of pale gold.

“She’s here, her majesty’s here, for you guys,” she says.

“Who else, to wash her dishes, and fold her unmentionables?” He gets to his feet. “Light her candles when it’s time, and snuff ’em when it’s done? Beat the rugs and polish the glazing? Lay pipe, fit bolt to camlock, joist against beam, set brick atop brick? How else might her palace assemble itself?”

“And you guys,” she says, and takes a bite of bacon. “You guys are here for me.”

“Ah, my dimpled dumpling,” he says, stepping close, “while I’d never be one myself to dispute your inestimable charms,” a hand on her hip, the other her breast, a-stroke till she grips his wrist. “For what me and Marfisa put together, here,” she says. “And Anna.” Souring. “Even if there has been some mission creep.”

Both his hands are on her hips now, and he presses a kiss to her cheek. “You’re never out of sandwiches,” he says, “and the coffee’s always hot.” Letting go, stepping back, “And I’m in need of a gallon or so.”

“Go on,” she says. “I’ll be down in a minute. Soon as I find some pants.”

Up on the unfolded table, then, boxes printed with sprinting cups that trail intricate curls of inked steam. Cackletub turns them about and squares them with the edge of the table so that over on the other side, Christian stooping can punch in the perforated holes toward the bottom of each, working out and securing the black plastic spigots, “Hang on,” he says, pushing past someone pushing in to get at the boxes, the stacks of paper cups Cackletub’s setting out, “gimme a minute,” he struggles to reach the fifth of five and punch it open, but someone’s got a cup already, and another hand on a spigot, and somehow in the jostling he’s struck by a jet of coffee, “Jesus Christ!” he shouts, whipping his hand away, and everyone, the entire crowd, falls back, the aggressively jocular air let out of them all. Someone drops an empty cup.

“Oughtn’t to say that, boy.”

“Ain’t for our likes.”

“Sear your tongue, they will, words like that.”

“Shattern,” the word a boulder powdered by thunder.

“A fellow once I knew – stout Faber Iona, had a hand in the Oriental Fair, he did, and builded Balor’s Dun – why, never could he keep the name of their Sweet Lord’s Son – ”

“Teeth,” another boulder-word, uprooted by tidal spittle.

“ – from out his mouth. Once he’d learned it, of course. Terrible shame, what happened.”

“Really,” says Christian, wiping the back of his hand on his sleeve.

“An nawt a’d say Horwendel’d steer yiz wrong.”

“Jesus,” says Christian, very deliberately. “Ever-loving. Christ.” Working his jaw, his lips around, baring his teeth in a great big smile.

“Well,” says the one of them. “Not right away.” And everyone starts to laugh, Christian loudest of all.

“Donuts?”

“What?” Christian looks up from the sugar dispensers and the pitchers of cream he’s helping Cackletub lay out, the spoons and stirring straws that are snatched as soon as he lets go.”They’re coming,” he says. “The Flynn’s on it. And Ned. You look all shook up.”

“Oh?” says Iemanya, black hair askew, white apron crooked over her taupe blouse. She sets a paper cup on the table, lifts pugilistic fists, “Was fun!” she says through a broad grin.

“I bet.” Christian hefts up a couple of bundles of paper napkins. Cheers from the big open overhead door, where somebody short’s coming through dwarfed by the stack of boxes held before him, “Beignets!” somebody cries, skinnily sallow and tall.

“Blue Star,” says the short man, setting his sagging tower of boxes on the table. “Bourbon and blueberry.”

“Rosemary an raspberry,” says the big man following after, a couple more boxes in one platter-sized hand that are seized before her can set them down. “Soup’s on!” says Christian, stepping back. Cackletub hands him a paper cup filled with steaming coffee, black.

Out in the middle of that cavernous room, past the crowd a-jostle about the coffee and the donuts, there’s the wooden tub, worn staves sawn off at just about knee-height, bound about by riveted iron hoops. A woman approaches it warily, looking about before gingerly planting a foot shod in beige orthopædic leather, thick-soled, velcro-strapped, on one of the pallets that holds the tub above the concrete floor. She leans over the light of it, reaching with painful care to suddenly seize a handful of sunlight, and the look on her face as she holds it up, to let it trickle into the plastic baggie held in her other hand. Looking about again, the empty stage the one end, shadowed arch the other, before dipping in to scoop another blazing dollop.

Sipping coffee, Christian looks past the tub and the woman to one of those art-filled stalls across the warehouse, this one lined with jewel-toned photos of houses and Dutch-angled storefronts. Stood on the threshold of it a woman taller and more slim than the man before her, and she as cooly pale as he is brownly banked, her one arm sleeved in gleaming plate, pauldron and cop, cowter and vambraces, his thickset torso swelling a denim jacket. They say things to each other, much too quiet to make out, as others pass before them laughing, discussing things to be done, problems to solve, the wonders of donuts. Someone else sidles up for a pinch of gold. He sips his coffee, and watches the woman lean slowly down, hesitate just for a moment, as the man turns away, so that her kiss is pressed to his cheek, and not his mouth.

“A fine spread indeed,” booms Big Jim Turk in his union suit, his dungarees, brushing his mustache aside before taking a glistening purple bite. “Who’s to blame?”

“Brether Ned,” says Christian, “and the Flynn,” even as Ned’s saying, “Aye.” Jim fills a cup with coffee. The focus of the dispersing crowd shifts, from tables and pastries and boxes of coffee, to Big Jim Turk, downing that first cupful, reaching to fill it again, and nothing of his donut left but crumbs, fastidiously folded away in a napkin. “All right,” he says. “I’m for the upstairs hallway west. Walls are stripped, and prepped for painting; it’s but a day’s job with a few to pitch in,” a nod there, and there, “Hup” from another, he’s taking note, but “Ah,” says Brether Ned, those enormous hands of his tucked away in his back pockets, “was to taken cable, far ta sparken cellar, but day’s en day are taken sod, fa hroof. Ull need anand.”

Brows lift, eyes widen, “oy” and “ach” and someone says, “The roof?”

“Har majesty insisten,” says Brether Ned.

“It’ll go quick enough with enough of us, to take it in and haul it up,” says Jim. “A break from the painting. What time’s it coming?”

Ned shrugs. “Nuncheon, a thereanent.”

“Herself’s not with a meeting today,” says Jim.

“And her majesty’s below,” says slender, sallow Melia. “Lunch’ll be nothing more than it should.”

“So there’s the day,” says Jim, throwing back the last of his third cup, and they’re all milling about now, some headed off this way, or that. Christian busies himself with tidying up a couple of empty donut boxes, sweeping crumbs away. The thickset man, swelling his denim jacket, is making for him, across the warehouse, his hair a crisp circle of white about his brown bald head. “Let’s go, boy.”

“Stuff to do,” says Christian, opening a fresh box of donuts.

“In case it had passed your notice, there’s peers in the house,” says Gordon. “They ain’t need the likes of us.” Watching, as Christian with a bit of waxed paper fetches out the last couple stragglers from yet another box, consolidating them, tidying, sweeping. “I said let’s go, boy.”

“I am not,” says Christian, looking up, “your boy.”

“We had our fun,” says Gordon. “Now it’s done. Cold light of day. Time to get back.”

“Ain’t nobody gonna be there,” says Christian. “Look around! They’re all here.”

“All the more reason. Nobody to get in the way.”

“’Cause they’re all here! The coffee’s here! The, the donuts are here.”

“That ain’t what’s to be done, boy.”

“I am not,” snarls Christian, and his hands curl into fists that thump the table. “I’ll be by,” he says, then, “later. After.” And he moves to open another box of donuts, even though the one before him’s still untouched.

Gordon steps back. “All right,” he says. “After.”

“At Berbati’s, in the restroom, of all places.”

“Yeah, we, we know, Melissa.”

“Let her speak.”

“It was, uh, last October? The Corner Laughers show, with Wheat. I was there with Julie, and her friend, from New York? Anyway. I went in to, to touch up, you know, and she came in. She came in, she was laughing like somebody just said something really fucking hilarious, but she was by herself? And, I mean, it was her eyes, you know? I looked up, just in time, to catch them in the mirror. Those eyes. And, okay, so maybe I was staring? But I’d already had, like, two of those baklava martinis, okay? And she just, without saying hi, or nice dress, or I really like that color, she just, she asked. And I. I’m not, I don’t, I don’t usually, but I, uh, I, I – ”

“You said yes, Melissa. We know.”

“Gloria.”

“What?” Gloria Monday sits up on the grimy carpet, there before the escritoire. “No, seriously. What.” She’s pulled on a pair of slick blue shorts and a violet T-shirt that says Death & the Maiden & Horace. “What good is this doing. What good did any of it ever do.”

“A lot,” says Anna Nirdlinger in her white dress shirt, one hand on the back of the nubbled green armchair where Melissa’s slumped, still in her sundress and her motorcycle jacket, but “Miriam’s gone,” Gloria’s saying, “Jessie’s gone, Star’s gone, Joli left, Thorpe’s buggered off God knows where, and Petra’s out there playing with them, Addison won’t return our calls, Val’s gone, everybody’s up and gone, and her fucking goddamn majesty,” jabbing a finger at the closed office door, “is gonna make what’s supposed to be our space over into her brand new goddamn palace.”

Marfisa, leaned back against the wall there by the door, says nothing at all to any of that. Her tights are black, her tank is grey, her curls are sloppily knotted at the nape of her neck.

“I thought it was all over?” Melissa sniffs. Behind thick lenses mascara’s dribbled and smeared about puffily red-rimmed eyes. “The dreams, and all. They stopped. Why did she, why did she go and do that to me?”

“She felt she had to,” says Anna, but Marfisa looks up at this, “Jo Gallowglas refused her majesty,” she says. “Her majesty has elected a new Huntsman.”

“But why me,” says Melissa, buckles clinking as she leans forward. “What am I supposed to do? Hunt? Hunt what?”

“The Huntsman,” says Anna, “is usually from without the court.”

“He is a falcon, on the wrist of the King,” says Marfisa, “that flies and stoops at a word.”

“But there isn’t a King, anymore,” says Gloria.

“Stoops?” says Melissa.

“He will come back,” says Marfisa. “He always does. But while he is away, the Queen might come to the Huntsman, and ask a favor of him.”

“But she didn’t,” says Melissa. “Ask. Last night.”

“That’s not a favor,” says Gloria, as Anna says, “She wouldn’t.”

“Once,” says Marfisa, “when the Queen, perhaps, felt the passage of time more keenly than she liked,” hands clasped before her, fingers interlaced, “she found herself become quite jealous of the youth, and beauty, of her Princess.” Looking up and away from them all, in that windowless little office. Melissa sniffs. “And so she came to her Huntsman, and asked this of him: that he would go to her highness and, with such clever ruse as he might devise, urge her with him into the wood, where he was to cut out her heart, to bring back, to her majesty.”

“Jesus, Mar,” says Gloria, kneeling up on the carpet as Anna frowns.

“Wait a minute,” says Melissa, sitting up, clink.

“What you are supposed to do, Melissa Gallowglas,” says Marfisa, and she takes hold of the knob of the door. “Determine, for yourself,” and she opens it, “when the time comes round for you: will you do as her majesty wishes?” Looking back, at them all. “Or will you refuse?”

Out onto the walkway, and the door gently shut behind. Below the cavernous warehouse diffused with cooly shadowed aside bright day without, submerging the sullen warmth of the tub on its pallets, and someone shouts, frustrated, and briefly she closes her eyes. The tables down there have been folded away to make room for three more pallets loaded in under the open overhead door, laden with rich brown rolls of turf stacked high, coiled within with startling green, and a half-dozen or more stood about in coveralls and dungarees, pointing, disputing, we can’t exactly, crane’s not even, swanning about! and but her majesty. Marfisa takes hold of the ladder bolted to the wall and climbs away, up and up to the makeshift floor tucked under the rafters, laid with dusty rugs and ceiled with tiny stars, green and blue and white, red, orange, mostly gold, though, thousands of them. She bulls her way past and through the awkward frame of a truss over dust-furred boards to a lone crate waiting under some sort of hatch. Steps up, reaching, the clack of a latch undone. She hauls herself up in the blaring light of noon.

A field of pea stone stretches out to ankle-high parapets of brick on three sides. Behind her, the brick backsides of the buildings at the high end of the block, a couple more storeys each, sparsely windowed. Down the other end a frail gazebo’s been erected, canopy of palest blue upheld by gauzily curtained poles. She cocks her head, frowns. Sets off toward it, pop and crunch of gravel underfoot.

In the shade of that gazebo Petra B’s squatting over a matte black case, hefting a weighty matte black lens. “I don’t usually shoot people,” she says, fitting the lens to a slender camera body with a click. “And never like this.”

“It’s easy,” says Ettie, knelt on a carpet spread over the pea stone, rocking forward as Costurere kneads gleaming oil into her shoulders and her back.

“Artless dolts do it every day,” says Chrissie already glossy, as Aigulha brushes her severely yellow hair.

“It’s just gonna take, ah,” says Petra, thumbing on the camera’s viewfinder, “some adjustment, okay?”

“Hold that thought,” says Ettie, pointing with her chin. “Here comes Auntie Mar.”

“What are you doing?” calls Marfisa, one hand shading her squinting eyes as she approaches this little island of coolth, the carpets haphazardly laid, the discarded white robes blued by gauzy light, and the whites of Aigulha’s and Costurere’s shifts. “Isn’t it obvious, ma chère?” says Ettie, getting to her feet, taking Chrissie’s hand. “We’re making art.”

“The lobs and hobs must be about their work,” says Marfisa. “They were to prepare the roof for turfing. Her majesty would have a lawn – you had them set this out, instead?”

“The lawn can wait,” says Ettie.

“The sod is here!”

“We’re here,” says Chrissie. “The light is here.”

“And they would make so much noise, ma pouliche,” says Ettie. “Quite distracting.”

“It will dry and die if it’s delayed.”

“Buy more,” says Ettie.

“Her majesty would have our pictures,” says Chrissie.

“Her majesty,” snaps Marfisa, catching herself with a grimace. “You are to have this,” waving, at the gazebo, the carpets, them, “cleared away, within the hour.” Crunch and scrape as she turns to go.

“You really should try to be happier, chère!” calls Ettie to her retreating back. “After all – you won!” And then, without looking away as Marfisa yanks open the hatch at the far end of the roof, “It’s really terribly simple, mon oisillon,” she says. “Most stuff, as you say, like this,” turning then to Chrissie, and she tucks a yellow lock more securely behind an ear, “it’s merely a journalistic exercise,” as Chrissie smooths a streak of oil over her clavicle. “Once, one golden afternoon, Dear Reader, I got to be in the same room as a beautiful girl.”

“I told her what to wear,” says Chrissie.

“I told her what to do,” says Ettie, “and so on.”

“Here’s the proof,” says Chrissie.

“Do something, anything, other than that,” says Ettie, looking over Chrissie’s shoulder to Petra B still crouched by the matte black case, “and we’ll be fine. Today,” turning away, without letting go of Chrissie’s hand, “is all about contrast. Smooth and gleaming,” she lifts a foot from the carpet, “rough and dusty,” setting it with a twist in the pea stone, “brilliant shadows, darkest light. Or, I mean,” frowning, “other way, anyway.” Chrissie smiles. “Anyway,” says Ettie. “Glorious black and white.”

“Color,” says Petra, getting to her feet. “I always shoot in color. Do the monochrome in post, if you want.”

Ettie sighs, “Very well,” she says. “One compromise at a time, I suppose,” and steps from shade into brazen noontide light, and Chrissie follows after.

Red flesh and pink and clean white fat she tips the ribbed slab over, wrestles it about, clack and scrape against wood to fit a slender blade against the ridgeline of bone-stumps down one side. Slicing along it she pushes with her other hand the filade of bones away, slice again deeper and push a bit further, quick smooth strokes and sudden wrenching force, she’s pulled loose a glistening fence of bone-posts bound by gristle and fat and redly striated muscle that she folds once and pushes click aside.

“I do hope you won’t be throwing that away,” says the woman on the other side of the counter. Not too tall, shoulders padded in a peach suit, hair all tiny corkscrew curls swept back, pinned up. “Neck bones chopped in a slow cooker, garlic and thyme and just enough vinegar, collards and macaroni,” miming a chef’s kiss, lips carefully painted the color of brick, eyes limned with threads of startling green.

“Feather bones.” She scrapes red water and translucent scraps from the block before her. “Better if it’s pork.” Turning that slab over and about, chuck-end angled before her, taking up the slender knife again.

“Won’t argue with that,” says the woman on the other side of the counter. “Still. That’s a pot of good stock just waiting to simmer itself down.”

“Someone will be with you shortly,” she says, counting off truncated ribs that can just be made out under the snowy cap. Fitting the blade between numbers three and four.

“Oh, that’s all right, Ellen Oh,” says the woman on the other side of the counter. “I’m vegetarian. Mostly. We can talk while you work.”

The blade only hesitates a moment before smoothly splitting the third from the fourth.

“We met, once before,” says the woman on the other side of the counter. “I must apologize, for the brusque tone I took at the time. It had been a difficult day.” Stepping close, dark hand pressed to the front of the counter’s glass case. “But I see you remember. I see that you remember me, you knew me before I stepped up to interrupt you, yet you have not asked a single question of me.”

“People like you,” says Ellen, taking up a smaller, stubbier knife. “You can’t help but explain everything, sooner or later.” She sets to shaving an ivory membrane from the backside of her cut. “Usually, sooner.”

“And what do you know of people like me?” says the woman on the other side of the counter. “Oh, Phillip, to be sure, and he knew you. But if I were ever to have asked him where it was you learned how to do that,” pointing to the board, the meat, the knives, “he’d say something about the six weeks you worked one frigid summer in a restaurant in Patagonia. But I know.” Leaning forward, her hoarsely rich voice lowering to a more intimate pitch. “It was a much hotter summer, and much earlier. The first time you ran away from home. You worked in Sutter Randolph’s pit. He called you Ginsu the entire time, and you never punched him once.”

Ellen sets the smaller blade aside, looks up, eyes dark, black hair spiky short. Sharp black curls of ink roil up from the open collar of her smock to shape branches that stretch up her throat to the point of her jaw, and intricately calligraphed leaves. “He was a mean old man,” she says, “and his hands were hard. I did work in Patagonia.”

“Of course,” says the woman on the other side of the counter. “The best lies are always true.” And then, “Phillip is dead.”

“I know,” says Ellen.

“The author of his demise sits comfortably in a house in the hills, eats well every day, sleeps soundly at night. How does that make you feel?”

“If you do not like it,” says Ellen, taking up the smaller blade again, “do something about it.”

The woman on the other side of the counter smiles. “Perhaps I am,” she says. Cocking her head, those corkscrews a-tremble. “Your ink is lovely,” she says. “So precise. I almost,” pointing, “recognize that bird,” the beak, the beady eyes, the subtle crest just poking from her foliage. “A fairy-flycatcher, isn’t it. Bit southerly, for Korea?”

“There are a few,” says Ellen.

“Well,” says the woman on the other side of the counter. She lays a card on top of the glass case, fnap. “Should you change your mind.” Turning away, she heads off, past more chilled display cases filled with rounds and stacks of meat, knotted ropes of sausage links and cutlets already breaded with crumbs and cheese, ready to fry, rubied pucks of steak, misshapen lozenges and irregular tubes of aged salumi, whitely dusted with mold, still wrapped in twine. Ellen lifts the card, small but stiff, an ostentatiously plain linen stock, and blank. Turns it over. Frances Upchurch, say slender, sans-serif letters. Beneath them, in the same font, a simple, ten-digit number.


Table of Contents


two Swords, side-by-side – Disappointment – another World – kept Safe – what Makes it Tick –

Two swords laid side by side on the glass-topped table. To his right the blade is long, widening from sharp tip shining clean and straight to the palm’s-width ricasso, where a crude sigil once was stamped some time ago, a simple block shape worn and faded with time, a horn perhaps to one side, the suggestion of a foot, there where the shallow fuller begins its slope down the clear bright length of the blade. The plain cruciform hilt of it stolid and thick gleams even in this light with all the randomed nicks and dings and here and there a notch whacked into the quillions stretching simple and straight to either side, and then the grip, bound about with straps of tawny leather smoothed and darkened by much handling, and the pommel, a wide flat plain-faced coin, thicker through itself than the largest thumb, the beveled edges of it scratched and chipped, even here.

To his left the blade is shorter and more slender, a needle next to the other, shining but darkly, chased the length of it with coiling waves that swirl in the depths of the steel. The hilt is simple and straight, wrapped in dulled wire, and the quillions almost as long together as the hilt, but over and about them a glittering basket woven of wiry strands that meet in thick worked knots of steel all gathering together in a sternly singled cord that swoops to the great silvery clout of its pommel. Stamped above the quillions on what thickness the blade can manage a crude sigil, the lines of it still sharp, a horn clearly emerging from one side of the block shape, and the foot.

“Mason,” someone says, and he looks up. Sweetloaf’s in the doorway, shoulders sagging in his bomber jacket, pompadour a-wobble as he shakes his head, lips glumly pouched. He steps into that trapezoidal room, careful of the thicket of furniture stacked up the one wall, tables perched upon a sideboard, upside-down chairs interlocked, what might be a pew precarious in the shadows up there, and makes his way down the long oval table past emptied pizza boxes to the Mason, and those swords. He lays on the glass an empty scabbard of plain black leather, the throat and chape of it beaten metal the color of thunderclouds, and a loose black belt, undone. Sweetloaf steps back, but the Mason with a lurch seizes his hand, holds it, holds him still, that pale hand long and narrow caged by great rough fingers. Presses it to his cheek. Sweetloaf, blinking, frowns. A bit of leather’s tied about the Mason’s wrist. He lets go, and Sweetloaf steps back, his other coming up almost of its own accord to take, and hold, and stroke, the palm of it, with his thumb.

“Well?” says someone else. They both look up. The Shrieve in a tartan vest at the foot of the table, looking with stern expectation to Sweetloaf, who shrugs. “Her grace wasn’t there,” he says. “Nobody was fucking there.”

“Sweetloaf,” says the Mason.

“Place was even emptier than here, and this place is a fucking graveyard.”

“There’s no need,” says the Shrieve, and the Harper in the doorway behind him, yellow beard and sleeveless sweats, but the kid won’t stop, “They’re, all of them,” he says, “all over at that fucking warehouse with every-fucking-body else!”

“Enough,” grits the Mason.

“Except for fucking us,” says Sweetloaf. “And herself, I mean. Geeze.”

“Sweetloaf!” the Mason. Both hands flat on the table before him. “She will come, back,” he says, in a different voice, but the Shrieve takes a breath, hands tucked in the pockets of his trousers. “You will be disappointed,” he says.

Slap, the Mason’s hand on the glass. “She will come back.”

“Perhaps,” the Shrieve. “But if her grace does return – ”

“When.”

A sigh, then, from the Shrieve. “When she comes, Luys,” he says, “she won’t bring with her the way things used to be. She can’t return to us what we once had.”

“She already has!” cries the Mason, and Sweetloaf abrupts, almost knocking the teetering thicket of furniture. The Harper’s sidled up behind the Shrieve, who blinks. “She already has,” says the Mason, again. “Come back. To the Queen, last night. Together, they turned the owr. After weeks of,” looking down, for a word. “That much, Bruno,” he says, “so much, is come back.”

“They did,” says the Shrieve. “That they did. But that’s her sword, there, on the table, before you. And she’s gone, again, and again no one knows where. And last night, after the owr was turned, the Queen – ”

“Her majesty named a new Huntsman,” says the Harper, folding his arms.

“Fuck,” says Sweetloaf, in a breath.

“There’s been a rupture,” says the Shrieve, even as the Harper’s saying, “Some mousey little nobody nobody’s even heard of.” The Shrieve favors him with a sidelong look, and he shuts up his mouth. “The world is,” says the Shrieve, turning back to the Mason, “different. If we aren’t prepared for that. If we don’t take that into account,” leaning forward, both hands flat on the glass of the length of the table between them, “you will be disappointed. Luys. Luys, listen,” straightening, stepping around the foot of the table, past the more awkward corner of the room, “even if her grace were to come through that door in the next moment, and take up her blade, we’d still be where we are, right now: torn, between,” he pauses, gripping the back of the chair before him, looking to the Harper, then back to the Mason. “On the horns of a thorny dilemma,” he says.

“And nobody to take out the fucking trash,” mutters Sweetloaf, glaring at the pizza boxes.

The Mason pushes back his chair, gets to his feet. “You’d have us choose, for her grace,” he says, taking up the sword to his left, and the empty scabbard, “between her majesty,” fitting the tip of the one to the throat of the other, “and the Count,” slipping the blade home.

“I would have us be prepared,” says the Shrieve.

The windowless room is not much bigger than the round table they’re sat at. A white board covers one wall, most of it taken up by looping orange letters spelling out WinBank May 4.0 or Bust!!! “There’s no sales, right?” she says.

“Ah,” he says. “Well.” Not much more than a kid, really, with his paper-laden clipboard and his unlit tablet computer on the table before him, his rumpled shirt patterned with tiny propeller planes in a brown and gold at odds with the pale blue and purple paisleys of his tie. “We don’t sell anything here, that’s true. Your performance isn’t judged on, how many, ah, units, you move. There’s no commissions, or anything like that. But.” Sitting back, head canted. The knot in that tie’s too wide for his skinny neck. “You will be trying to, talk people? Into doing something they might not necessarily want, to do? You know? And, I mean, isn’t, in every interaction, isn’t there something like, an aspect, of sales?”

“I, ah,” she says, blinking. Blond hair pulled tightly shining back in a high ponytail, and the top two buttons of her plain white blouse undone.

“You,” he says, “you’re trying to sell yourself, to me, right now,” he says, “and I’m, well, I’m trying to, sell you,” he shrugs, “on the idea that, this is the kind of place where, if you work hard, if you, commit, you know, to what we ask of you, you’ll be, you know? This’ll be a good fit. Tell you what.” He tugs a couple pages from the clipboard, pushes them across the table toward her. “Look this over. I’ll go, I’ll find someone to run them with you. If you can stick around,” getting up, “who knows, we might even try you on the phones tonight.” He holds up a hand. “I’m sorry, what was your name again?”

“Jessica,” she says. “Vitaly. Jessica Vitaly.”

When the door’s closed she slips a pair of narrow square-lensed glasses from the purse on the chair beside her. Pulls the pages across the table, turns them over, brow cocking, eyes widening, lip curling. Something buzzes. She lets the script drop and hikes up in her chair to wriggle a clamshell phone from her pocket. Anna, says the little screen on the back of it, buzzing again in her hand. She unfolds it. “Hey.

“Yeah, well. What I said.

“What I said.

“Anna, listen,” she leans back, “I,” tips her head back, looking up at the serried tiles of the dropped ceiling. “Oh my God,” she says.

“Oh my God.

“Is she, did you, did she, you, okay, okay. Okay. But,” and she closes her eyes.

“This doesn’t change anything.

“It doesn’t! I mean,” sitting forward, elbows on the table, “what the hell good do you think I could possibly,” forehead pressed to her palm.

“Well that’s a lovely thing to say. But you and I both know she could, and she has, so. She would. She will. So I’m not going to risk, I, I won’t. I can’t.” Turning in the chair, hand on the edge of the table, “Anna,” she says. “Anna, I know. I know. And I,” a sigh, “I do, too.

“Yes. Yes, but. No. No,” she says, “no.” Listening. “Not yet,” she says, finally, “not yet. Still – yes. Where else am I gonna –

“It’s, I’m, I’m fine, Anna. I’m fine. I mean,” and here, she takes up the script, “I already found a job. I think.”

Becker drops the headset on the keyboard, untangles the cord of it from his wrist with a flick. Taps the enter key, pushes the mouse about, click, closing windows on the monitor, click click. All about others push back chairs, get to their feet, pull on sweaters and hoodies, light jackets, each before their own carrel of kelly green just barely wide enough for a monitor, a keyboard, a corded telephone. Up by the only desk in the office the kid in his tie laughs with a blond woman in jeans and a loose white blouse. Becker folds himself in his oversized flannel of zipatone plaid. “Thanks Crecy,” he says, to the older woman next to him, as she hands him a dark grey meshback cap she’s scooped from the floor. He fits it over what’s left of his hair.

Tinny from an unseen speaker jangling cheerful piano, somebody sings, always said no, then I turned around, saw someone smiling, Becker’s eyes are closed, he’s leaned against himself over and over in the tarnished mirrors reflecting mirrors reflecting pitted amber thrumming with the elevator’s descent, and there’s so many Denices in T-shirts and sweaters and all of those necklaces, and a crowd of reedy TJs green and grey, stepping into, the thinly croon, I stepped into, into another, and the elevator sighs to a stop. The doors grind open. The three of them step out.

Thinned salmon haze of streetlight softens an empty black sky, glare of the sign on the corner across the street, Danmoore Hotel, too bright to be in focus. Without a wave or a look back Becker crosses against the light, past a sandwich board that says Three Lions Bakery. The block after that’s a little open plaza where tracks of light rail curl in a turn-around, power lines and guy wires supported in a complex criss-cross by concrete columns topped with deco glass. The next block lined with restaurants, Indian, Persian, Lebanese, Tibetan, a rowdy throng erupting from the taco bar on the corner, mostly women, shorts and skirts, T-shirts and halters, and so many brightly blazing loops of neon colors, green and blue, yellow and pink, orange and purple glowingly circling wrists, necks, twisted into shining crowns, kicking anklets. They wheel and swarming cross against the traffic, horns and laughter, pealing whoops. He waits with an angular sports car until the last of them tumbles off and it can turn, purring, before him. Shrugs out of his flannel overshirt, knots it about his waist.

Darker ahead, and quieter. He passes under a pedestrian bridge, short trees and greenly slender planted against the curb on his right hand, the windowed galleries of a reconfigured department store to his left. His head is down, crossing the next street past a brightly lit construction site, spinal column of an elevator shaft climbing by a mighty yellow crane, Now Leasing, says the sign on the corner, Fall Occupancy. Sogge & Associates.

Through a little park, serely planted with more young slender trees about a giant chess board and an empty fountain, past quiet apartments now, red brick set with white-framed windows. Another park ahead, the trees much older and much taller here, more stately, stretching with great confidence over the street toward the silent, bricked-over arrière of a grand old theater, Portland’s Centers for the Arts, says the unlit marquee over a side door. Raucous scraps of night sky suddenly fling themselves about, a subcommittee of crows registering displeasure and excitement as he scurries through, away and down a steeply genteel slope by another, much more recent theater, glassed-over ramps and stairwells at the corners and a sign for an Artbar in the lobby. It’s brighter here, out from under those trees, a haze of streetlight once more softening the sky. A couple of elaborately caged lamps ahead preside over a stern low gate, blocking this side street from the traffic ahead, Broadway, say the street signs, and Main.

Crossing with the light, past a courthouse, high steps softly lit, a parking garage, a bright fast-food restaurant set in one corner of it, crew bustling behind the counter. An astylar kiosk across the next intersection, four arches set in a square about a staircase leading down, under the sidewalk, warmed by the glow of Edison bulbs, and just past it a small shelter of brushed steel and glass in its own fluorescent pool, a sign before it listing routes, the 14, the 10. Becker’s pulled his wallet from his pocket, he’s slipping a bus pass free, when he stops, there, in the middle of the street, and frowns.

There’s a man sat upon the shelter’s bench, back against the glass, shoulders straining the jacket of a pale blue suit, the hair of him clipped close and iron-grey, and his mustaches long and grey, drooping to either side of his shaven chin, where the tips of them are caught and weighted by rough-shaped pewter beads.

Becker turns abruptly away, lurching off down the street between courthouse and office tower. Somewhere behind a bus is rumbling this way. Stepping onto the brick-paved walk, around the next corner between office towers, head down, wallet clenched in his hand. The Standard, say the signs about him. Live 95.5. No Parking This Space, Subject To Tow. Killian for Portland’s Future. MARL0. Through the row of trees ahead, all the same scrawny undersize, can just be made out the figure of an enormous woman, clutching a trident, stooped over the front doors of another office tower. Across the street to the right the sandstone blocks of City Hall, and tucked up against it another bus stop, a single brushed steel pillar supporting a roof of cantilevered glass, SW Madison & 4th, says the sign, 4, 10, 14, 30. Becker opens up his wallet again, and waits for an SUV to pass before darting across.

That man steps out from where he’d been leaning against the pillar, his mustaches, those strong, broad shoulders, “Wait,” he says. “Arnold Becker. I ask only that you hear me out.”

“No,” says Becker. “Go. Away. Leave. I don’t,” and he balls up his hands.

“Tell me,” says that big strong man, “that you remember nothing.” Quietly hoarse. “Not a moment. Tell me that you do not even know my name, and I will go. I will go, and trouble you no more.”

“What if I do know your name,” says Becker, viciously quiet. “What if maybe I don’t know what happened, but I know, I know that if,” looking away, then, looking for the words to come, “I take your hand,” and he swallows. “If I take your hand, I would be so, happy, but, but any moment, any morning, I could wake up, again, I would have forgotten it all, again. I’d end up right back here. Again. And I can’t. I can’t.”

“Becker,” the other man, barely more than a whisper. “My love. This, I swear: I will keep you safe.”

“Yeah,” says Becker, closing his eyes. “You will.”

When he opens them, the man is gone. A deep breath, shoulders unhunching. Tipping back his cap. Turning, at the sound of an engine, the bus, turning the corner. 14, say the orange lights over the windshield. Hawthorne.

The glass before him full of yellow beer, the burger steaming on its bun, he dredges a jojo through ketchup but the ketchup’s gone, the plate is gone, the beer, he’s no longer sat in a blocky booth of smooth dark wood, lit by a single low-hung bulb, he’s in a plastic-backed chair, chrome frame of it winking in utter darkness. He’s no longer dressed in brown painter’s pants or his anorak of chocolate-chip camouflage, but a white T-shirt laundered almost to translucence, and royal blue jockey shorts. A plop. Startled, he looks down at the splotch of darkness fallen on the junk mail littering the table-top. Another, it might be red, it might be ketchup dripping from the potato wedge in his fingers. He frowns, but lifts it to his mouth. Someone screams.

Slap of bare feet seizing a doorknob into a garage all shadows looming, a single lamp a-dangle brightly on the other side of a pickup truck, a meaty smack, a muffled gurgle. “Dad?” he says, or tries to say. His voice is gone. Another smack, a yelp, he heads around the front of that truck, squeezing between the bumper and the wall as words climb out of a snarling growl, barely discernible, “What you get,” a sucking, bubbling breath, “is what I let! You! Have! What you,” another wheeze, another, “what you, give me,” the words scaling all the way up to a shriek, “is everything! Is!” and a smack, “my!” and a smack, “due!”

Another of those plastic-backed chairs has been set under the swaying trouble light, a man’s sat in it, arms bound up behind his back with loops of bristled rope. Parked beside it a wheelchair empty but for a rumple of blankets, dingy grey thermal and a threadbare quilt. Crouched on the lap of the man in the chair is a much smaller man all elbows and knees and ears and Adam’s apple and thin wild hair, hunching to clutch lapels and swing a flattened hand, smack! “Now tell me,” snarls the crouching little man.

“Dad!” he yelps, one hand on the fender of the truck.

The man in the lap of the man on the chair looks sharply up.

“I really don’t think this is necessary.” He steps away from the truck, toward the chair. “You made your point.” Dropping the jojo, flicking a splot of ketchup from his fingers. “Stay put, Jasper.” There’s somebody else in the garage, stood just past the reach of that weak harsh light, a shadow wrapped in bulky shadows. He reaches past his scowling father for the greasy rag stuffed in the mouth of the man in the chair.

“That ain’t what you said,” says the shadow behind him, “and that sure as shit ain’t what you did.”

He stops tugging the rag, but doesn’t let go. He’s looking at his father, crouched on the man’s lap, skinny knees cruelly dug into the man’s belly, that untucked shirt, the sharkskin jacket rucked by his father’s clutching fists, fighting to haul in every breath before he shoves it out.

“No,” says the shadow behind him, rustle and step, “you just came in. You watched, you didn’t say a goddamn thing, and when you went and got blood all over yourself,” and at that, the man in the chair with a whine starts to struggle again, yanking the rag away with a toss of his head, bucking enough to rattle and scrape the chair, and his father with a yelp rears up and savagely cracks his head against the bound man’s nose and splatter, blood shining his father’s forehead as he sits back up, and there are the spots of it, staining his thin white T-shirt.

“Well,” says the shadow. “You excused yourself. You went back into the kitchen. You wanted to wash your hands. And then,” another step closer, the light lapping the edge of a filthy blanket dragging the floor. “You told me not to worry.”

“It’s not mine,” he says, half to himself.

The glass, full of beer. The glistening burger, pink tomato, the palmful of iceberg. The jumble of fried potatoes. The light hung low over darkly blocky wood, and sat in the booth across from him, “Moody,” he says.

“Hey, Chad. How’s it hanging?”

“The fuck, man? What the fuck was that?”

Moody’s looking up and out, “Hey!” waving, “yeah, I’ll have what he’s having? This thing,” he says, lowering his voice, hunching forward, “is amazing,” flipping back the cuff of his army-green jacket, holding up the watch on his wrist, “and she just gave it to me!” The XO looks from the watch all heavy and gold to Moody’s darkly glittering eyes under the brim of that black leather hat. “I’m still fiddling with it, figuring out what it can do, and what happens when it does it,” fingertips passing back and forth over the crystal of it, the ticking hands, the bezel, a conjurer’s fillip, “but think about it, man.” He’s looking up at the XO, sharp eyes, sharp nose, sharp chin. “There is no way in hell that any of that was anywhere in her head!”

The XO lifts his glass of beer, sitting back, to drink it down in one unbroken swallow. Holds the empty glass upturned above his mouth a moment.

“Don’t you get it?” says Moody.

The XO sets the glass with exaggerated care back on the table by the untouched burger. “No,” he says, flatly.

“This thing has power, man. There is no possible way she could have known,” a wave, at nothing in particular about them, “any of that.”

The XO’s fists thump the heavy wooden table, chiming flatware, jumping the plate. “Who.”

“Jo fucking Maguire,” says Moody, taken aback. “Who else?”

“And I’m supposed to believe,” says the XO, nodding at the watch, “she just gave that to you.”

“Well,” says Moody. Shrugs. “Yeah.”


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Another World,” written by Joe Jackson, copyright holder unknown.

a House that looks Much Like the Others – Everything to Lose

A house much like the others all along the one side of the street, low, demure, set close to the curb, only a shallow curl of driveway, a freshet of paving stones crossing the scrap of a yard to the front door. He pauses, one Chelsea boot on the front steps, glossy tobacco polish marred by dust, an ugly scuff across the toe. Looks back, over his shoulder. A high stone wall lines the opposite curb, lofting from dim pools of streetlight into thickets of shadow above, themselves swallowed by the looming slope of night. He’s stood in the light of the lamp hung over the warm yellow door, his suit of a blue as dark as those shadows, his salmon shirt buttoned up to the throat, and no tie knotted there. His weird white hair swept back in matted locks long enough to brush his shoulders, just.

He opens the door, he steps within.

The unlit hall, a stairwell spiraling up to the right, a kitchen to the left, cold and dark. A great dark empty space ahead at the end of it that he heads toward, boots quiet on the dust-dulled floor.

No one stands watch at the hole smashed through the great curving wall of window. Jagged blades of glass still hang dangerously above, to either side, framing tree-shapes without silhouetted against the city’s glow away off below down there, a vague brightness drawn in and caught by cracks that leap through the window in every odd direction, faint lightning frozen in the moment of impact creaking and scraping even at the gentlest breath of a breeze. He’s headed for the glass balustrade mounted about the stairwell in the middle of that room, and the long straight flight of steps headed down. “More!” someone growls below. “C’mon! All of it!” There’s light at the foot of the steps, hotly yellow-white but wildly uncertain, guttering, redoubling with a shocking flare.

A hand on the transparent railing, he begins his descent.

“My lord,” an exhortation choked off, he hastens his steps, suddenly thunderous, down to the porch below, long table laden with blazing candles thick and thin, pristine and melted stumps, whites and yellows and oranges and sullen reds stuck atop varied candlesticks and candelabra, the light of them leaping and flaring, swooping with the wind of his passage down the line of them, past the two in blue, the one in pink stood back against the wall, not daring to look up as Agravante sweeps up to the other, sat at the head of it all, pouring the last of a bottle into an overflowing goblet, and runnels of whiskey spilling to spread across the cloth. Lifting a pink hand to pull from that mouth with a plop a bit of bone that’s set, glistening, in a puddle of liquor. “Where in the hell,” says the other, but suddenly scrambling pushes back from the table as Agravante doesn’t come to a stop, as Agravante without faltering leans to clamp a hand about the other’s throat, carried by momentum in a mighty half-stumbled shove that topples the chair slams the other back against the credenza, loomed out over the drop to dark trees below. Pushing further, squeezing. The other grunts, and a weird flicker and flash, that white shirt for an instant too bright, the hand lifted not a hand. “Go on,” snarls Agravante, leaning into the other’s bent frame. “The few who’ve stayed,” quiet, gutturally close, “cling to but a single shred of doubt. Go on!” shove and squeeze, “take even that from them.”

The other, wheezing, spittle bubbling, trembling, lowers what’s once more a hand all pink, heel of it splat against the credenza. Turning a bit, “Leave us,” spits Agravante over his shoulder, without looking away from the other. The hurried rustle, then. Footsteps away and up and out.

One last squeeze. Agravante steps back, throws wide his arms. The other a hand to that darkening throat, red blotches chased under sickly skin. “Where,” a hacking spit, “have you been,” the rush of words burred, unfinished.

“Out,” says Agravante. Leaned back against the table, shadow leaping and faltering over the other, those elbows propped among a litter of unwashed crockery, shaking that wildly ivory-crowned head, “Simple,” and a cough, “instruction. Bring her. To me.” Pushing suddenly swaying up, “That was last night.”

Agravante shrugs. “I had to walk back. The car was, totaled, I believe, is the word,” but “Where,” a growl over all that, “is she!”

“Safe,” says Agravante.

The other launches off the credenza, roaring “I! Will!” and “Eat! You!”

“You’ll lose!” shouts Agravante, hand up, palm forward. The other yanked to a halt, wavering. “Everything,” says Agravante.

“You can’t,” spitting, “you can’t hurt me.”

“I can,” says Agravante. “I have. I will.” He plucks up from the puddled whiskey that bit of bone, glittering purple in the candlelight. “Move a finger against me,” he says, “and I will have the Queen destroyed, and I will have the Princess destroyed, and you will lose everything you came here for.”

“You couldn’t,” snarls the other. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Agravante shrugs, closing up his fingers about the bit of bone. Takes hold of the stem of the goblet. “Where the, hell, was I, you ask?” Tipping the goblet enough to spill some brimming liquor, then lifting it to his lips. “Making certain,” he says, and sips. “I needed someone at the Queen’s new court, now that her majesty’s fecundity’s returned. Someone I could trust with such a terrible charge.” Sets the goblet down. “As for her highness?” He looks up a moment, then back to the other, and there is something almost sympathetic to his mien. “I’ve always had someone I could trust, outside her door. You really must come to appreciate the limits of rule by fear alone.”

“Do it!” bellows the other, and Agravante flinches. “Go on!” Those pink hands flailing. “Destroy them both! Gut yourselves! See if I care! I’ll just light out for another goddamn city! Another goddamn court!”

“But,” says Agravante. “You might do that now, and without this fuss and furore. No,” a deep breath. “You need us,” he says, pressing his hand flat on the table. “We don’t need you, but we can’t seem to get rid of you.” He lifts the goblet again. “But now? Now, we have a choice. We have options. So: I propose, a détente.” He gulps down a mouthful of whiskey. The other, red-faced, trembles before him. “We will set about the business of determining,” says Agravante, a magnanimous gesture with the goblet, “whether we might resume our dependence on the Perry line, or start anew, with our new Bride.” That bit of bone still in his other hand, pinched between thumb and forefinger. “You, if you behave yourself,” flinching again, the patter of slopped whiskey, as the other takes a step, just a single slow and heavy step, struggling against the gravity of some awful other place. “You might well avail yourself of the choice we do not take. Something,” a deep breath, shoring up his tone, “or nothing. What will it be?”

“You,” the word spat up as if cast off by the rocks that churn in the other’s belly. “You. Will. Regret. This.”

“Oh, to be sure,” says Agravante. “Every day of all the days to come. But tonight,” and he sighs. “Tonight, the evening’s pleasant. And I find you spoil the view.”

The other screams, once, as if in answer. Stomps away, floorboards creaking with every pounding step, toppling a thicket of candles with the sweep of an arm, flight of sparks and splash of wax and light, clang and crump of sticks. As those footsteps climb the groaning stairs, Agravante drinks off the rest of the whiskey in one long hissing swallow. Blots his lips with the pink cuff of his shirt. Looks at the goblet in his hand, cloudy glass with here and there an errant bubble trapped in the thickness of it. At the bone in his fingers, an oblong, pitted cuboid of a thing with a couple of smoothly concave facets, sheened purple in the firelight. He hurls the goblet away to smash against a baluster.


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