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“You cut your hair!” – Who were Those Guys? – the Rain beneath her – what It (he) did –

“You cut your hair!” cries the Duke as he opens his white door.

“Well, yeah,” says Jo, standing there hand-in-hand with Ysabel, Jo in a black leather reefer jacket, Ysabel in a short white parka lined with thick white fur. Jo’s hair cropped very short and dyed a deep wine red.

“Your coats?” says the Duke. From down the dark hall behind him a burst of music, someone singing wake at night always the same, I call your name but you sleep right through and love is the light in your face!

“Why don’t you go find Jessie?” says Jo to Ysabel. Letting go of her hand.

“As you wish,” says Ysabel, slipping out of her parka.

“Huh,” says the Duke, watching her head down the hall, her grey cardigan dress quite short and tight, her matching thigh-high socks.

“Yeah,” says Jo, taking off her jacket. “She’s loaded for bear.”

“It’s a look,” says the Duke, turning back. “Whoa.” Jo’s in a bright red strapless dress also quite short over black leggings. “You’re, ah,” says the Duke. “You’re wearing lipstick.”

“I figured ducal function meant formal,” says Jo. “Ysabel picked out the dress.”

“Well, there’s formal,” says the Duke, “and there’s, well.” His blousy pyjama pants paisleyed in purples and browns and greens and a very pointed pair of Persian slippers and a silk shirt in some nameless harvest color. “C’mon. Let me get you a drink.” Jo heads down the hall and he follows, their coats draped over an arm. “Did I, did I mention I like your shoulders?” he says. “Because I like your shoulders.” Jo’s smiling.

The big room lit by rows of dim red-shaded ceiling lamps and the flicker of torchlight from outside through the high narrow windows, and all the vicious games we play, sings a woman’s voice from speakers here and there, they mean nothing to me, all I know is your touch and the way love should be. A makeshift bar, mismatched wineglasses and tumblers and bottles spread along a couple of folding tables and some crates, a boy in a brown leather jacket and an enormous set of headphones setting up a fresh album on the turntables, people here and there dancing, talking over the music, laughing, falling silent, turning to watch as Ysabel marches across the floor toward the corner by the windows where three men are laughing at something that Jessie has said, her yellow hair swept back in a mane. As her smile falls away and she looks beyond them with shining eyes they turn, the three of them, they bow deeply, they step back, and Ysabel sweeps up to take Jessie’s hands in her own, smiling at her gown, a fall of sequins in golds and browns draped from either shoulder, tied at her hips with brown ribbons. “For me?” says Ysabel.

“You see anyone else?” says Jessie.

“Can I have,” Jo’s saying, “another one of,” twirling the tumbler in her hand, “ah, whatever, this, was?” The bartender eyes the red streaks clinging to the melting ice. “You’re drinking with His Grace,” he says. “A Negroni.” His face is fleshy, his brick-red hair flops from a high widow’s peak. He scoops ice into a tall straight glass and pours gin and dark vermouth. “You’re the Gallowglas,” he says. The music a swirl of strings over rattling percussion. “Yeah,” says Jo.

“It was nothing personal,” he says, pouring thick red Campari.


“Nothing personal!” Shaking a couple of drops of bitters. He stirs the drink with a long gold pick. “I just wanted you to know.”

“What wasn’t personal?” says Jo.

“When we went after you!” he says, straining the drink into a glass of fresh ice. “I didn’t think you’d care.”

“Holy shit!” says Jo. “You’re that, that guy! You’re one of those guys!”

“The Stirrup,” he says, twisting a sliver of orange peel over her drink, letting it drop.


“Gaveston!” He hands her the glass.

“Well,” she says, hoisting it, “nice to meet you, Gaveston!”

At the edge of the dance floor leaning against each other laughing Ysabel tugging up one of her long long socks and Jessie wiping sweat-damp hair from her face and “Oh,” says Ysabel, straightening, “now where did you get that.” Held up close between them in Jessie’s hand a glass vial no bigger than a little finger, inside a slender thread of golden dust.

“Leo said you’d like it,” says Jasmine.

“How generous of him,” murmurs Ysabel under the thumping beat. Someday baby, an old deep voice is singing, you ain’t gonna trouble me, anymore. Ysabel brushes the vial, and Jessie’s fingers. “Ever played with it before?”

“It’s,” says Jessie, “it does different things, every time.”

“I think,” says Ysabel, “Rain,” plucking the vial from her hand, “we both know what it will do to us tonight,” and Jessie smiles, and Ysabel laughs. “Go get some vodka for us. Neat.”

Jessie leans in and kisses Ysabel. “I should,” she says, and, “my,” and then, “it’s Jessie. My name’s Jessie. Not Rain.”

The vial in one hand one hand on Jessie’s hip Ysabel closes her eyes and kisses Jessie. “All right,” she says. “Jessie. Go get the vodka.”

“I know I’ve seen the one guy before,” Jo’s saying. She’s sitting on the broad flat arm of the Duke’s chair. Had a good time, got beat pretty good, runs the rap over the chugging guitar.

“What, the one stole Ysabel’s coat?” says the Duke, picking up his drink from the low brass table before them. Had a good thing going got more than you gave, goddammit now, give it to you, girl you got game.

“No, the other one. I’m pretty sure.”

“That was weird, the thing with the coat.”

“You didn’t poke around?” Jo drains her glass and leans over to set it on the table. “Ask anybody who they are or what they’re doing?”

“Did you?”

“You’re the one with people,” says Jo. The Duke chuckles. She reaches down to grab his hand before he can lift his glass for another sip, and reddened ice clinks. “They could have seriously fucked things up,” she says. “They could have gotten us killed.”

“They did fuck things up,” says the Duke. He gently works his glass free. “They did get people killed.”

“Well,” says Jo, “yeah. So.” Whoops and a smattering of applause away off over the dance floor.

“They’re contract players,” says the Duke, and he tosses back the rest of his drink. “The two of them, anyway. Work for a guy who operates in a, a consulting capacity, for various downtown developers. Pinabel,” and he looks up at Jo leaning over him, takes her hand in his, “the Axehandle, I mean, not the Hound himself, has been trying to get this guy to go exclusive.” He kisses her hand, then shifts, sitting back against the other arm of the chair. “Sum total of what is known to me. Other guy, their friend? The first one? Utter mystery.”

“He wanted Leir. Thought we were hiding him or something.”

“Leir?” says the Duke, frowning. “That’s the consultant.”

“Said he was a sorcerer.”

“Tomato, tomahto,” says the Duke. “As ever, I know even less than I thought.” Wincing he pushes himself to his feet, rubbing his thigh. “Let me freshen these up and when I get back let us speak of other things.” He limps away toward the bar. The music a pounding strut now stabbed by synthesized horns. “Two more,” he calls to the Stirrup, and he turns leaning against the bar looking back over the dance floor, at all the people here and there milling and talking and laughing and dancing, all the way back to the chair by the low brass table, and Jo draped over the back of it, smiling back at him.

Turning back to the bar where the Stirrup’s stirring the cocktails he reaches into a pocket of his pyjama pants and pulls out a small tin box dotted with chipped enameled flowers in pink and gold. Sozodont Powder, it says, For Cleansing The Teeth. He thumbs it open. Inside a spill of golden dust glitters barely in the dim red light.

“What,” says Jessie, laughing, “are you doing?” as Ysabel leads her to a chair over by the windows. “Sit,” says Ysabel, kissing her. “Sit.” Pushing her into the chair. “Ysabel!” cries Jessie, hands leaping to resettle her gown in her lap, over her breasts. Ysabel tocking her hips to the strutting beat, dans les mouvements d’épaules, sings a forceful laughing voice, a plat comme un hiéroglyphe Inca de l’opéra! She leans over bending at the waist and runs her hands up Jessie’s thighs and down again, then straightens and spins and kicks up a foot, planting it on the chair between Jessie’s bare knees. “Take it off,” she says, and Jessie takes Ysabel’s foot in her hands and works the knot in the laces loose and peels the low grey boot open and off. Ysabel spins again and kicks up her other foot and Jessie takes that boot off, and Ysabel hands braced on the back of the chair over Jessie’s head hikes herself up, over Jessie, against Jessie, letting her body slip down and down along Jessie’s body until she’s kneeling on the ground before her, tight cardigan rucked up about her hips, and a man in a tuxedo whistles and claps. Pushing up turning around Ysabel tugs her cardigan back down, smiling at a man in a peach-colored Nudie suit dappled with rhinestones. She sits herself sideways in Jessie’s lap, lifting a leg and then peeling the long grey sock down and down her thigh, over her knee, bunching it bending her leg down her calf, working the thick sock awkward a moment over her ankle, face impassive, mouth a moue of vague amusement, as Jessie watches and giggles and a big man, shirtless, frowns over the shoulder of a woman in a long diaphanous gown of uncertain color. “Well?” says Ysabel to Jessie, letting her empty sock dangle from her hand. “How’m I doing?”

“Not bad,” says Jessie. “About a forty-dollar dance.”

“Forty!” cries Ysabel, letting the sock drop. “For five minutes’ work?”

“You have to split your take with the house,” says Jessie, “but I might tip a little extra, you know? For a little somethin-somethin?”

“So what should my name be?” says Ysabel, lifting her still-socked leg, running her hands along it. “Princess? Or is that too cliché?”

“Lady,” says a man stepping out of the little crowd around them, and Ysabel shakes her head. “Goodness, no!” she says. “Cliché and generic.”

“Lady, please.” His shoulders broad under a tight brown T-shirt, his hair a dark black cap. He offers up a hand, his fingers thick and stubby, a leather thong tied loosely about his wrist. “Luys,” says Jessie, and “Oh, the Mason!” cries Ysabel. “I knew you seemed familiar.”

“The Duke has many rooms, Lady,” he says. “Perhaps you might both wish to retire to one?”

“Oh?” says Ysabel, leaning back against Jessie, looking pointedly across the room to the Duke and Jo, swaying together much too slowly for the beat. “His Grace doesn’t seem to mind.”

“Lady,” says the Mason again. “Let ’em alone!” calls someone from the crowd, and “Go on!” and “Take it off!” The Mason turns to look at them all, saying, “Go on yourselves, go drink, go dance. Enjoy the party.”

“I think,” says Ysabel loudly to Jessie, “he thinks dallying with the Duke’s doxy is beneath me. Are you beneath me, Rain?” Looking up at her. “Well I am in your lap. Would you rather I were beneath her?” she says to the Mason. “We are quite flexible.”

“Perhaps, Mason,” says the man in the peach-colored suit, “you should go get yourself a drink.”

“Cater,” says the Mason. “You object?”

The man in the peach-colored suit with a glitter of rhinestones sweeps an arm to encompass the little crowd. “Not a one of us would quarrel with a countercheck, Mason. Yes.” He draws himself up fringe rustling his arms akimbo. “If you say, these women should remove themselves, then yes. I would object. Directly.”

“Then I will oblige, and call for steel,” says the Mason, and Cater smiles. “Blades!” cries the Mason, turning away, pushing through the crowd, the Cater unzipping his jacket as he follows. “I would toy with this knight!”

“Come on,” says Ysabel to Jessie, grabbing her hand. “Let’s go.” Clambering out of her lap. Jessie shaking her head tries to pull her hand back, “What?” she’s saying, and “No, wait – stop – ” as Ysabel takes her face in both her hands and kisses her hard. Leaning her forehead against Jessie’s she murmurs, “If your fingers aren’t inside me within the minute I will explode.”

“Oh,” says Jessie.

“Shit,” says the Duke, as the Mason marches into the middle of the dance floor followed by the Cater, his jacket slung over one bare shoulder. “Blades, Your Grace!” cries the Mason, and “Sweetloaf!” bellows the Duke. “See to the man!” The boy in the brown leather jacket at the turntables looks up, looks over, bends down, lifting a long bundle draped in dark red cloth. “Come on,” says the Duke to Jo.

“What?” says Jo, swaying a little, half-finished drink in her hand. The Duke seizes her other hand and drags her in his wake, toward an anonymous door at the end of the room, until she plants her feet, pulling back. He comes in close to her and kisses her and says, “I’m getting you off the damn floor.”

“Off,” says Jo.

“Lest a fatal misstep lose me yet another knight,” he says. She leans back shaking her head, “I wouldn’t,” she starts to say, and smiling he says, “I mean we’re also gonna fuck our brains out. Might as well kill two birds while we’re stoned, right?”

“Gloriosky,” says the Duke, blowing the word out like a candle.

“Oh,” says Jo. “Def, definitely.”

And after a moment he rolls over away from her, dragging the dark brown sheet off her, and she doesn’t try to pull it back, her arms at her sides knees up head lolled back on the mattress. He tugs at something, reaches out from under the sheet, a pinkly gravid condom dangling from his fingers. He lays it carefully on a saucer on the floor by the wide low bed in the middle of that dark room, lit only by the low white lamps to either side. “For you,” he says, his voice rough, “I girded my loins.”

“Worth it?” sys Jo, stroking the angular tattoo on her belly.

“Not done yet,” he says, rolling back over winding the sheet about himself, kissing her and kissing her again, his hand at her chin, her throat, her breast, tangled momentarily with her hand on her belly, and down and again and down between her thighs and she sucks in a breath around their kiss and shakes her head loose, “No,” she says. “It’s okay, you don’t,” and “Yes,” he’s saying, and “I must,” and she bites her lip and looks away, and he kisses her throat and then “Oh” she says and “There, right there – ”

Naked he sits up to one side of the wide low bed against a mound of pillows, red and brown. Over across the bed wrapped in the sheet she’s curled on her side her back to him. “If you think about it,” he’s saying, and “I am thinking about it,” she says. “I have to think about it.”

“If you think about it,” he says. “It makes the most sense.” He leans back, looks over at her wine red hair against those dark browns, and he brushes her bare shoulder with his fingertips. She takes his hand in hers and squeezes it. “Sense doesn’t even figure,” she says. “I barely know you. I only just, slept with you. Just now.” She lets go of his hand. “You’re asking me to move in with you.”

“It’s not so much asking as suggesting,” says the Duke, “and it’s not as if you’d be, I mean, you’d have your own suite. Your own apartment, practically. It’s a flexible space. Best that way anyway, for the sake of appearances.”

“Right,” says Jo, hiking up on one elbow to pick up her glass from the floor by her tights and her puddled red dress. “Can’t be living with your mistress when you’re marrying a princess.” She drains the last of her drink. The ice in it long since melted away.

“No,” says the Duke, and then, “okay, yes, but the Queen will be displeased no matter what is done. Still. We should strive to give her as few legitimate legs to stand upon as possible. If it’s an open agreement, with fair compensation, that’s much better than if it seems I’m in your debt, or putting you in mine.”

Jo rolls over on her back. “This is about how it’s dangerous, if you owe somebody.” Resting her glass on her belly.

“It’s mostly about how you’re soon to be evicted,” says the Duke.

“You said you could fix that.” The bottom of that glass streaked with sticky redness that glimmers weirdly in the sharp bright light of the lamp.

“I said I’d have a word,” says the Duke.

“And?” Tilting the glass she peers at the stuff, pokes at it with a finger.

“I’m not so persuasive as I might have been, were you living this side of the river.”

“Can’t you just,” says Jo, peering at her ruddied fingertip in the light.

“Just?” says the Duke. “Just what? Jo? Just what?”

There in the whorls of it small grains of dust quite golden in all that red. “You know,” she says, “I know what this stuff does when you’re hurt, and I know if a bunch of you hold it up and sing it lights up a whole damn block. What I don’t know is what happens when you put it in somebody’s drink.” She rubs her fingertip against her thumb and folds her fingers together and closes her hand in a fist. “Well?”

“Jo,” says the Duke, “just, hold on a – ”

“No, Leo. Tell me.” Looking him in the eye now. “What the fuck did it do?”

The elevator doors open and Jo bursts from it in her black leather reefer jacket, her legs bare beneath her quite short bright red dress. Ysabel stumbles after in her white parka and her grey cardigan dress only somewhat buttoned, her long socks bunched below her knees. “Wait,” says Ysabel, “not so fast,” tugging back against Jo’s hand until Jo stops suddenly, grunting as Ysabel runs into her, catching her by the shoulders. Ysabel clings to Jo’s lapels. “Just a, just a minute,” she says.

“Come on,” says Jo. “We’re almost home.”

“Not one step. No. Not until.” Ysabel leans back, settles herself, smoothing Jo’s jacket. “I was warm. I was comfortable. I was curled up, with some I wanted to be curled up with, for the first time in,” and she frowns, biting her lip, “a while, and then you came in and dragged me out and not a word, and I am not taking one step more until you tell me. Why.”

“You are blitzed,” says Jo.

“That too,” says Ysabel, with a wide wide smile.

“You need a bath.”

“Oh stars above a long one, and hot as I can stand.”

“So come on.”


“What happened,” says Jo, “to as you wish?”

“Why,” says Ysabel, her smile smaller now, and tight. “What was it. The Duke? What did he – ”

“He drugged me,” says Jo, quiet and quick, looking down at that awful orange carpet.

“He,” says Ysabel, blinking, “what?”

“He drugged me,” says Jo, “and then he fucked me, and that is not something I’m gonna stick around, okay?” Stepping back away from Ysabel, pulling a ring of keys from her jacket.

“Jo,” says Ysabel, “Jo, was it, did he,” as Jo’s unlocking the door, “look, we’ll get in, out of these clothes, you can have the first bath, please, I insist, we can talk about it or,” as Jo’s opening the door, “we can sleep on it, whatever, in the morning I think – what? Jo? What is it?” Ysabel steps up behind Jo still standing in the doorway staring at the apartment beyond. “Jo?”

The floor of the little hallway kitchen littered with dead leaves and shards of broken crockery and glass. Curtains billow in the main room beyond where the glass-topped café table’s over on its side in drifts of clothing, T-shirts, skirts, dresses, more dead leaves, shreds of stocking dangling from a spindly wrought-iron chair, all of it lit by a weird blue light. “What,” says Ysabel, and Jo shushes her, reaching back for her hand. Something’s rustling, something that isn’t the curtains, something around the corner. Stepping carefully through the debris Jo leads Ysabel slowly through the little hallway kitchen. A knife and a couple of forks have been driven into the wall by the bathroom door at about knee height. Something dark’s smeared on the wall over the head of the futon. More dark smears on the wall along the side of the futon, and postcards and post-it notes and pages from magazines ripped from the wall litter the rumpled blankets, and everything lit by the blue light shining from the flat-screen television tuned to the auxiliary channel. Something’s under the blankets, something rolling over, rustling, something sitting up, short and stubby, a big head. “The fuck are you doing in my apartment,” says Jo.

“Mommy?” it chirps, lifting stubby arms, “Mommy?” its voice rising, arms shaking, bouncing, a shriek, a wail, “Mommy!”

Table of Contents

Turn to the Sky,” written by Cleo Murray, Loz Elliott, and Tom Ashton, copyright holder unknown. Ysabel’s socks provided by Sock Dreams, selling socks online since August, 2000. Afrahou Gannouh,” written by Dania, copyright holder unknown. Someday Baby,” written by R.L. Burnside and Lyrics Born, copyright holder unknown. Marcia Baïla,” written by Catherine Ringer and Frédéric Chichin, copyright holder unknown.

M.E. Traylor    24 July 2011    #

I fear I have been remiss in reading— just not in the mood. But now I am, and oh damn does it feel good.

Scenes are beautifully clear. I love the build up to Jo discovering her drink is spiked with f--ry blood.

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