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“Remarkable, the likeness” – a Sudden spark – bright Lights & Lefse – the Long shot –

“Remarkable,” says Mr. Charlock. “The likeness.” Her chin in his hand he tilts her head to one side, the other, hot white light rolling over her cheekbones, gleaming her green eyes. Artlessly tangled black curls stiff with hairspray rustle over bare shoulders. “Flawless.”

“Mr. Charlock,” says Mr. Keightlinger, out in the middle of the club. He’s wearing his sunglasses, the left lens painted over with spidery white words. In one hand a Japanese sword, long bare curl of a blade shining, bone-white hilt wrapped in rough black cloth. The crunch of broken glass as he turns, looks to the front door, the back door, the overturned tables, the little knots of people crowded together by the bar, the private booths where someone’s groaning on the floor. “Sweep,” he says to himself, “something. Couple more minutes.”

Mr. Charlock reaches into the pocket of his black suit jacket. “Let me ask you something,” he says to the woman sitting before him, on the folding chair on the little stage, draped in her sheer white négligée. Fog roiling about her ankles. She nods. Her hands folded together, tucked between her knees. He pulls out a pair of underwear, bikini underpants with blue and white stripes. “These yours?” he says.

After a moment her head begins to shake from side to side.

“You know them? Seen them before?”

Again her head shakes quick jerks back and forth now “No?” she says, the edge in her voice burring the whisper.

“Long shot,” he says, with a shrug. He tucks the underwear back in his pocket. Stands, turns, hops off the stage. Shaking out his hands. He kicks a chair leg out of the way and curls two fingers back against his palm, two fingers extended, thumb cocked. Pointed at Orlando sitting on the floor legs askew in his blue skirt arms up wrists pinned to the wall, eyepatch yanked to one side, wet ruin of an empty scar there leaking yellow tears that stain his loose white shirt. Mr. Charlock hikes his hand up dropping the hammer of his thumb and something hits the wall above Orlando, cracks and a shiver in the air, glass rattling, wood creaking, shrieks and shouts from the people by the bar, by the private booths. “Where is she,” says Mr. Charlock, those two fingers pointed at Orlando again, Orlando who shakes his head, who coughs, who spits. “I don’t know,” he says.

Mr. Charlock steps close and presses those fingertips against that wet scar, Orlando’s head pressed back against the wall. “Had a deal,” says Mr. Charlock.

“She tricked me,” says Orlando, “and bewitched them all, and walked out that back door.” He’s smiling. “If you hurried, you might catch her.”

“You expect me to believe that,” says Mr. Charlock.

“No,” says Orlando.

“Mr. Charlock,” says Mr. Keightlinger once more, and Mr. Charlock steps back. “Bring that,” he says, nodding at the sword in Mr. Keightlinger’s hand. “We’ll want to find him, later.”

“We need an out,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“Quick,” says Mr. Charlock, “and dirty,” and then, “Ladies! Gentlemen!” he calls out. “I must apologize.” His free hand plucking a pair of sunglasses from a pocket. “There’s a chance not all of you will make it out of this.” Looking about the dark little club. “And a Portland landmark will be gutted. Can’t be helped.” Settling the sunglasses over his eyes, the feather tied to one side stirring against his ear. “So take a moment, think back, this wonderful Friday night you were enjoying, the drinks, the music, the ladies,” and he points those fingers thumb cocked at the tiny white-hot spots hung from the low ceiling, that shine on the fog streaming over the lip of the little stage. “Cover and ready,” Mr. Keightlinger’s muttering, “them, them,” as Mr. Charlock says, “Because suddenly there was a spark –

“A taxi,” she’s saying, up through the payment slot in the door, “a telephone, please,” glitter spangled over her face, her hair winking and flashing in the colorless fluorescent light, and the man inside behind the glass is waving her away, “No,” he says, “no, go! Hotel! Go!” Somewhere a couple of blocks away a flat whump that rattles the glass under her hands. She steps back, stricken. “Go!” says the man behind the glass, pointing this way, “Benson!” that, “Governor, go!”

“Don’t you,” she says, “aren’t I,” and he yells “Telephone!” pointing past her at the blue hutch of a payphone on the corner, and a block away behind it a silhouette against the bright-lit busy street, a big man, a dark suit, headed toward her. “Don’t you think,” she says, turning back, but the man’s stepped away, behind the big white sign in the window that says Park & Lock $10.95 a day $5 an hour. Ysabel pulls up the hood of her thin black coat, steps away from the kiosk, forcing her feet to keep themselves at a quick walk fringe pattering on her moccasin boots, white fur trailing from her cuffs.

Across an empty street at an angle past the mouth of a garage up wide low steps into a park, flat pebbled concrete terraces and here and there trees in little plots and patches of dirt, benches, a figure prone in a sleeping bag glossy with rainwater. Peering through empty branches back and down away there’s two men in black suits large and small maybe half a block away and headed quickly toward the park. “Roland,” she says, and then, crying out, “Chariot!” Running down into the middle of that little park, spinning around, dark buildings high on every side, a siren wailing somewhere blocks away, another whooping suddenly much closer. “Chariot!” she cries again. The sleeping bag doesn’t stir.

“It’s all right,” comes a man’s voice, out of breath, “you’re frightened, I know. We’re here to help.” Footsteps rapidly slapping the concrete behind her. She runs for the corner where the next block over and up opens into another parking lot, and three white semi trailers one after another along one side, rear doors open, dim lights shining on racks of cable and equipment packed into each, and a soughing rumble of slumbering engines, threaded with the thin chugging whine of a generator, all dulling those sirens blocks away. She slips between two of the trucks, ducks to one side, looking around at the food carts lining the sidewalk before her, all of them shuttered now, dark. She squeezes between the one that says Homestyle Indian Dishes and the one that says Cuba Libre! Empanadas, Croquetas, Frituras.

The lot’s half full of tightly parked cars and over there another kiosk, colorless light and big white signs. More food carts line the lot, on all four sides, facing their sidewalks, all dark, all of them shuttered and dark but for a couple-three halfway along to the left, under the trees, lit up starkly by great lamps hung about on poles and a rickety scaffolding. She squats low, weaving her way toward the light through the rows and aisles of cars.

“Again,” says a disembodied voice over a loudspeaker, and there’s a flurry of activity around those lit-up carts, a big piece of equipment hoisted smoothly up and back on a crane and to either side of the lights little crowds in suits with umbrellas and yellow and orange raincoats and big flannel shirts and fleece pullovers are waved into place by a couple of people with clipboards and headsets. A plastic orange sign taped to a lamppost says S.U. WTF in big black letters.

“Go,” says that disembodied voice.

The little crowds start walking one or two at a time toward each other, past each other along the sidewalk before the food carts as that big piece of equipment floats down and in slowly, slowly, toward two men standing by the open lit-up window of one of the carts, both of them in trench coats, both of them in dark suits and ties, the older one, taller, his tightly curled hair dusted with grey, his dark skin splotched with darker freckles over his cheeks and nose, his shirt open at the throat, his tie loose, says “Viking soul food?” as that piece of equipment hovers to a stop before them. The younger man smaller and slender and buttoned all the way up, tightly knotted, his brown hair thickly tumbled over a face that’s all eyes and cheekbones hefts the wrap he’s holding in one hand. “Been running on nothing but sugar all day,” he says. “Wanted to lay down a more substantial base.” He takes a big bite, chewing ostentatiously.

“I’ll buy you whatever you need, so long as that overclocked cranium of yours can crack this case,” says the older man.

There’s a moment then, hanging, the younger man still chewing, older waiting, hands in the pockets of his trench coat, little crowd milling about, that piece of equipment hovering.

“Again,” says the disembodied voice.

The crane hoists smoothly back and up over the heads of the crowds being waved back into place. The younger man leans over, spits his mouthful of food into a bucket there at his feet, dropping the bitten wrap in after it. Someone, a woman with a camera slung from her neck, hands him another wrap, then whisks the bucket away. “Beto,” says the disembodied voice, “we need you to swallow.”

“That’s what he said,” says the older man.

“This gets picked up,” says the younger man, “I’m gonna put on twenty pounds by midseason.”

“Ready,” says that voice, then “go,” and the crane floats smoothly, slowly down over the crowd jostling to life, and the older man cocks an eyebrow and says “Viking soul food?” as the younger man hefts his fresh wrap, and “Excuse me, I have to ask you to move along,” murmurs the man in the black fleece pullover, leaning over the hood of the parked car behind Ysabel. She jumps. “I was just,” she says.

“You can watch from across the street,” he says, pointing. His black meshback cap says WTF in blocky white letters. “You’re too close.” In his hand a stubby little cell phone that crackles and echoes that disembodied voice, “Okay, reset for twenty-one. We go in fifteen.”

“Don’t you find me beautiful?” says Ysabel.

His brows pinch. He looks her up and down, her boots, her thin black coat, the worn T-shirt that says The Gloomadon Poppers in scrawled black letters, the glitter splashed over her, catching the bright white lights. A shudder wriggles up out of him and a smile quirks the corner of his mouth. “Girl,” he says, “you look like you had yourself one rough damn night.”

“I’m being followed,” says Ysabel, “two men, in suits,” looking back over the rows of cars. There’s no one there. “If I could just stay here – ”

“Don’t make me insist.”

“They won’t,” and she wipes her eye with the heel of her hand smearing glitter up along her temple, “I don’t think they’ll try anything, with so many – ”

“You got to move it across the street. Let us do what we’re here to do,” he says.

“But,” she says, glitter runneling down her cheeks, “am I, aren’t I,” and “What,” he says, “what.”

“I got this,” says someone else, a woman, the woman with the camera slung about her neck.

“Yeah?” says the man in the meshback cap. “You know her?”

“She owes me a cup of coffee,” says the woman with a camera. Her dark hair short in back, long in front, her glasses with thick black frames.

“Powers that be ain’t happy,” says the man in the meshback cap. “Delays. The rain, those sirens – ”

“Bull never has to know,” says the woman with the camera.

He shrugs, stepping back. “Okay,” he says, a warning lilt, touching two fingers to the brim of his cap.

“Coffee?” says Ysabel, thin and querulous.

“Venti vanilla latte, right?” says the woman with the camera.

“Yeah, well,” says Jo leaning her shoulder against the doorframe flaking glossy white.

“What I got to do,” says Guthrie sleepy and slow on the other side of the door open only as far as the chain will allow.

“It’s not you, so much,” says Jo. “It’s your girlfriend, your friend, does she, ah – ”

“Hey,” says Guthrie.

“ – does she stay here? With you?”

“Hey,” says Guthrie again. Forehead against forearm braced between door and frame. His black T-shirt says Face Holding Embrace in white letters.

“I was gonna come here first, but I heard where Orlando holes up so I went there first, only it was a bust, and, and,” she straightens up away from the doorframe as Guthrie’s saying “Hey, what do you want with,” and Jo says “It’s all gone to hell, Guthrie. Orlando? The Mooncalfe? He took her. Ysabel. I don’t know where, nobody does. I have to find her, I have to, Guthrie – ” He’s closing the door. “Guthrie?” The chain rattles, the door opens, wide, he’s stepping back, making way for Jo in her butter-colored coat, her sword slung from her shoulder, in her hand the mask, the mane of it restless, rustling.

“What do you want with her,” says Guthrie, a shadow in the dark cramped hall.

“She knows stuff?” says Jo. “She knew, you and Becker had to go to the church, that time. Right?” Guthrie stops. In the room ahead of him a light flickers on, overhead, too bright, and he’s silhouetted against a blare of color, pinks and yellows, oranges, reds. “Maybe she knows where he’s taken her?”

“I don’t know,” says Guthrie, turning.

“I mean, it’s,” says Jo, “a long shot, I know. But it’s the only thing I could think of. It’s all I’ve got.”

“I don’t know,” says Guthrie again, there in the dark hallway before her.

“I just, wanna ask her a question,” says Jo, the mask rustling in her hand.

“Blood,” says someone, a quavering voice from that lit-up room. “Blood on the snow. Blood on the burritos. That’s what I saw.”

“Blood?” says Jo, stepping closer, and Guthrie with a sigh steps back, out of her way.

“Blood,” says the voice. “Snow. She stayed. He went back to her. Do you already have the gun?”

Jo’s pushing through the gauzy stuff curtaining the doorway into a bright small room overwhelmed by a bed shoved into the back corner heaped high with blankets and quilts and afghans in a mad mound of color, rich purples and a poisonously bright green and dirty red and yellow stripes and the same beige flowers over and over and over and rows of pink and black robots, grappling, and wrapped up in the middle of it all peering out through a small wadded hole a face blue eyes and a sharp nose shadowed and pale lips bitten before she says, “Do you?”

“The gun?” says Jo in the doorway. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry,” says the face, ducking back under the covers.

“No,” says Jo, stepping into the room, kneeling, sword rattling in its sheath, “please, tell me, can you tell me, where’s,” and a wail erupts from the mound, “Ysabel,” says Jo, “where’d the Mooncalfe,” but the wail’s become words, “No! No! I can’t, I can’t look! I can’t look!”

“Please,” says Jo. Leaning close. “Please. Can you try. You’re my, only – hope – ”

“No,” the wail, “no, it’s not allowed, listen, listen!” and a hand, shaking, held up out of the mound of blankets fingers splayed, and Jo gasps, jerks back, leans back away from it, her breath harsh and quick and the only other sound a rustle, from the floor, the mane of the mask in her hand squirming over the clothing strewn over the floor, reaching, yearning up the side of the bed. “You would have to take my head,” says the voice from the mound.

“Jo,” says Guthrie, behind her, as Jo’s scrambling back, climbing to her feet, tucking the mask away under her butter-colored coat. “I’m sorry?” she says. “I’m sorry.”

That face worms its way back to another opening in the tangled mound. “Maybe the junk shop?”

“What?” says Jo.

“Ninth and Flanders. You could try there?”

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Shadow Unit © 2007 – 2011 Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, Leah Bobet & Holly Black.

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