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the Fiendish little Basket-box – how Many planets, and how Large – her Geis – her Situation – “Yessir” –

A fiendish little basket-box, carved from a single chunk of dark red wood, sits on the desk by a loose stack papers, covered with rows of closely written figures, by manila folders with neat labels that say Riverkeep, Cassino, the Moretti, the Elkins. He sets the cut glass tumbler empty beside the box, under the blue-shaded banker’s lamp, and gingerly strokes the knurled and seamless faces of it, the pips carved into each, simple shapes, a stylized flame, a cloud, a raindrop, a quartered circle. He sighs. “I didn’t hear you come in,” he says, the words thick, and roughly ground.

Behind him in a chair by the door ajar Marfisa curled her feet up on the cushion arms about her knees. “What is that,” she says.

“A boon,” says Agravante.

“For the Guisarme?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He steps around the desk, smoked glass, thick metal frame.

“What was he doing here? Where’s Grandfather?”

“Asleep,” says Agravante, sitting in his chair, a woven contraption of black leather straps.

“Do you know what I’ve seen tonight, brother?”

“I did not even know that you were yet within the city, sister mine.”

Wrapped tightly in her sheepskin jacket she leans her forehead against her knees. On the floor by her chair a knapsack, stuffed full. “The Loathly Mór,” she says, “came with her people openly down the street, and they sang the aisling, and they stopped outside a house, and I swear, brother,” looking up at him then, “she did beg sanctuary there.”

“The Queen,” he says, picking up the empty tumbler, putting it down again, “has been set aside.” He gets up and kneels to open a small refrigerator in the credenza behind the desk.

“By – whom?” she says. “You? The Guisarme?”

“The Duke was here as well.” He stands, a blue glass bottle in his hand, and pours water fizzing into the tumbler. “I believe that’s a quorum.”

“He agreed.”

“He did not disagree.”

“Then,” shifting in her chair, one foot lowering, “Ysabel, is – ”

He shakes his head. “That spark’s blown out, sister love.” A sip of water. “Evermore no Perry shall be Queen, no Queen a Perry. Letters have been sent, to the courts of Engines, Angels, Nickels, asking after – ”

“Sent by whom,” she says, both feet now on the floor.

“They went out under the seal of the Hound.”

She sits back in the chair, looking up at the shadowed ceiling. “So,” she says, with a sigh. Looking back at him. “You would be King.”

He turns, stoops, drops the bottle with a clank back in the refrigerator. “You really think that to be my goal.”

“How should I know?” she says. “Tonight you sigh, you moan like Fénius, agonizing over which words to leave behind. Just a month before you leered like Lothario when you came to urge me into the arms of the Princess,” and “That,” he says, standing abruptly, turning back to her, frowning, “that wasn’t,” and then he sits, heavily. “A lot has happened, this past month. More to the point’s what hasn’t happened.”

“The boon,” she says. “Whose is it. Tell me.”

He leans forward, elbows on the glass, his shadow looming up the wall behind, hulking shoulders, matted dreadlocks, “I swear,” he says, “by the stars above us both. It has nothing to do with this.”

She pushes her hair a ghostly tangle back out of her face, slumping, leaning against the arm of the chair. “Do you know,” she says, “what they can do now, brother, with their telescopes? They scrutinize the stars, much as you might a candle on the enemy general’s desk, across the field, the night before a battle. From the, slightest waver, the least flicker, they can tell – the star has planets. And how many planets there are, how large, what they’re made of, how long their years might be – ”

He’s waving a hand dismissively, “This is just one of your spaceship stories,” he says.

“No, brother,” she says. “It’s real, and very true.”

“So this candle, then. It – ”

“If the stars have planets, worlds of their own to look after – what do you think they care, really, about you, or me, this city, your pathetic little empire of, apartment buildings, and mortgage payments?”

He smiles, then, shifts back, his face slipping out of the light. “It would have kept us safe and secure, for years to come,” he says, gathering together the papers and the folders on his desk. “A bulwark against the Guisarme, and his damnable bank.” He taps them against the desk into a tidy pile in his hands, leans down, opens a drawer. Tucks them away. “He’d never have done to Pinabel what he did to Perry today.”

“What he did?” says Marfisa. Agravante’s holding out an envelope, shining white under the desklamp. “What’s this?” She leans forward, into the space between them, reaches over the desk to take the envelope in her hand. He doesn’t let go. “Money,” he says, twisting his wrist, turning the envelope over to reveal a neat label that says Bus Fare. She lets go. “Take it,” he says, letting it drop to the desk. “Go on. It’ll never be missed. Get out of here.”

“I did,” she says, still leaning against the desk, “try, to leave.” Her hand still over the envelope.

“Do it,” he says. “Don’t look back. If – when,” and he sits back, out of the light again, “if, I sit the Throne, in three weeks’ time, I’d be nothing but a fading memory before the year’s half done. Go on.”

Her hand closes on the envelope, crumples it, her other hand reaching across the desk, closing on the placket of his soft blue shirt, hauling him close, into the light. “And now I can’t tell,” she says, “if you want me to take it, or throw it back in your face.”

“To be honest,” he says, the words a rasp, “I’ve no idea myself.”

She kisses him then, fiercely pressing her mouth to his, then pushes him back into his chair. Stoops to gather up the knapsack, then yanks the door fully open, storms out into the hall, pounds down the stairs.

He sits back in his chair, lets out a pent-up sigh. Smooths the crumpled envelope against the smoked glass. Picks it up, opens a drawer, drops it in. “That works, too,” he says.

Gong-sound as she pushes open the door to step into a foyer filled with junk. Pinched doorway to the left. Through that past a mannequin dressed as a letter carrier, stuffed wolf’s head on its shoulders, into a long dark showroom, hurricane lamp flickering on the counter at the far end where a figure’s slumped a head on folded arms dappled by colored light trickling from paintings hung on the wall behind, spaceships on black velvet rigged with blinking bulbs, a shimmer suggesting a waterfall by a tumble-down mill, tinny whine of its motor the only sound until the rattle of the sword in its sheath as she shifts it slung from her shoulder. The figure stirs, lifts the floppy brim of a dark hat, croaks “Nice coat.” Bit of shadow breaks away from the silhouette, a little rabbit nosing some greens a-sprawl on a plate. “You were briefed? You know how this works?”

“Where is she?” says Jo Maguire. The mane of the mask in her hand hangs limp and still.

“In the back of a truck,” says Miss Cheney. “Think a moment before you – ”

“Where’s the damn truck?” says Jo.

“Not where it will be when you get there,” says Miss Cheney, and she pounds the counter with the heel of her hand. The rabbit’s head jerks up. “Think! You’re down to one!”

“I don’t want to think! Goddammit!” Boots clomp the worn plank floor. “He took her. He took her.” Striding the length of the showroom, mask shaking in her hand. “And already tonight he’s killed the Gammer, he killed the, the Cowboy, and he, his – ”

“Destroyed,” says Miss Cheney, and Jo stops at that, there before the counter, “What do you,” she starts to say, but Miss Cheney speaks up quickly, firmly, “You don’t just kill something like the Gammer.” Milky eyes fixed on her own hands folded before her. “Now,” fingertip tapping a burl of a knuckle, “think. Yes. Why did you come here? What’s it you’re after? Ask, for that. I’ll do what I do.”

“He didn’t kill the girl.”

“Girl,” says Miss Cheney.

“His, I don’t know. Groupie? He didn’t destroy her. In his lair.” Jo’s laying the mask on the counter. The rabbit’s gone back to its lettuce. “He tried to. He sliced her, open, but, she, she’d cut Ysabel – there was, there was owr everywhere – ”

“Owr,” says Miss Cheney.

Jo, who’s trembling, says, “The, gold dust stuff – ”

“I know what it is,” says Miss Cheney, and without looking up she covers Jo’s hand with one of her own. “Are you sure. Are you certain.”

“It’s why she wasn’t dead. The girl. Ysabel had, put it on her, healed, or, I don’t know,” a sob, “maybe it just, splashed, and she’s, and she’s,” and Miss Cheney shushes and says “Please,” she says, “this is terribly important,” but Jo pushes back, whips her hand away, the rabbit scrabbling a frightened click of claws, “Why can’t I just get a straight damn answer, where she is, go there, deal with it, once and for all – ”

“You went to the wrong one first,” says Miss Cheney, turning away, reaching after the rabbit. The tinny whine of the waterfall up behind her.


“You went,” says Miss Cheney, carefully placing each word, “to the wrong one, first.” Sitting up, the rabbit in her arms.

“What does that even mean?”

“I just answer them.” She pushes the rabbit back onto the counter. “Interpretation’s well outside my wheelhouse.”

“Where do I go,” says Jo, “to see her again.”

“Three to a customer only, I’m sorry. Nature of the geis,” but Jo brings her hand down a fist to thump the counter, scattering a handful of emptied sugar packets, knocking over a little plastic pony, pink and orange with a tangled purple mane. Miss Cheney jumps. The rabbit’s gone. “I,” says Jo, and then, a blown sigh, “I,” slumping, “have been running, since, before dawn, from somebody, after somebody, and every time, every time I take a minute to look around I’m further behind with farther to go than I was before. No.” The sword in its sheath the belt of it slipping in jags down the pale leather sleeve of her coat to catch at the crook of her elbow. “I was supposed to keep her safe,” she says, letting it dangle. “That was the deal. Even though he beat me. I could’ve gotten her out of there and, I didn’t, and now he’s taken her, he took her, and I don’t know why, or where, or for what, or, or,” and she abruptly turns away.

“He took her,” says Miss Cheney, “because he could, because nothing kept him from taking her. You could’ve taken her. If you know the right people,” those milky eyes downcast she pats around, finds the pony, sets it upright. “Unscrupulous, informed – wealthy.” Her smile crooks. “You’d never need to work another day in your life.”

“The owr,” says Jo, the word quite small.

“Of course,” says Miss Cheney, and with a flick of her finger she knocks the pony over again, “the ones who know, who are wealthy, and without scruple, are never ever right.”

“Who,” says Jo, turning, hefting the sword back up on her shoulder.

“If it were so simple as the telling of it,” says Miss Cheney, with a shrug of the brim of her hat.

Jo reaches out then, takes up the mask once more. “She’s on a truck,” she says. “It’s on the move. I went to the wrong one first. Three more steps back.” She heads toward the door.

“Perhaps,” says Miss Cheney. “But one step forward, too.”

Jo looks back, over her shoulder.

“The Queen’s been passed,” says Miss Cheney. “Long live the Queen.”

The light seems bright enough inside the semi trailer but it’s pale, washed out, shining only here and there in white-hot spots, on a rack of tools all shining silver and worn black grips, a patch panel festooned with rainbows of cables. Wrapped in the thin black coat she sits on the floor her arms about her moccasin boots, black hair lopping the white fur trim of the hood that’s down about her shoulders. Cheek to bare knee smudged with gold, glittery gold dusting the folds of the coat, the fringe of those boots, the grimy floor of the trailer about her.

Clang of footfalls on a stepladder, a creak, a bustle of black, slick black jacket, black jeans, black hair quite long in front. A black lace choker about her throat, glasses with thick black frames, a camera slung about her neck from a wide black strap. Steaming jacketed paper cups in her hands she holds one out to Ysabel who takes it, smiling just, sips, puckers abruptly, looking away, her smile soured.

“Yeah, sorry,” says the woman all in black. “Out of vanilla.”

“I don’t know vanilla would help,” says Ysabel.

“So it’s possible to get lousy coffee in Portland. Who knew.”

Ysabel says, “No, no, it’s, it’s warm, and that’s,” and then the woman all in black laughs, and Ysabel’s smile’s unpuckered. “That’s enough, for now,” she says, both hands wrapped about the cup held close. “Thank you, Petra B.”

“I was wondering,” says the woman all in black.

“Of course I remember,” says Ysabel. Ducking for another sip.

“I’m gonna be blunt,” says Petra B, sitting back on her heels, “and I’m not gonna apologize because, well, blunt.” A sigh. “You have the look of someone escaping a situation.”

“A situation,” says Ysabel.

“With a capital S.”

Ysabel sets her coffee down, turning to one side and leaning, knees on the floor, tugging as she does the bottom of the T-shirt down, the white-furred hem of the coat over her hip. “What is all this?” she says, taking up her cup again, looking about the trailer, looking outside the trailer at the white-lit night. “What’s going on? What are you doing here?”

“Okay,” says Petra B, rolling the word through her dark red lips, tipping forward, knees to the floor now, hands on her knees. “They’re shooting a pilot.”

“I don’t,” says Ysabel, brows pinched. “Who?”

“I think it’s Fox?” says Petra B. “Shadow Unit. Another paranormal procedural. You know, they solve crimes, they fight monsters. Like Grimm. The fairy-tale cops? Though usually I work for the Leverage boys, when they’re in town. They solve crimes and con people.”

“You shoot. Pilots.”

Leaning forward a little more, frowning, smiling, “No,” says Petra B. “They shoot. I take pictures.” A hand on the camera about her neck. “Usually. Officially. They like documenting these things. But, you know. A lot of the actors are from out of town. The staff, some of the crew. So unofficially, I arrange things? Help find things. Like actual, decent, genuine boiled bagels.” She sighs. “Jimmy Kelly and his fucking bagels. The ones from LA are worse snobs about it than the ones from New York, you know?”

“No,” says Ysabel.

“Well they are,” says Petra B. She’s shifted, leaning to one side, mirroring Ysabel, one hand brushing a tendril of glitter dusting the floor. “Anyway. A fixer, you could say. The local who knows the lay of the land.”

“When you aren’t selling coffee at the grocery store.”

“When I’m not selling coffee. I also do some modeling, I check coats at a club, couple-three nights a month, I used to sell comic books. Girl’s gotta hustle. Was it,” she says, fingers stirring the glitter, “is it the blond guy?”

“Is what,” says Ysabel. “Who.”

“Your situation. The one who tried to buy your coffee? Too chilly to be cute? He struck me as the strict type. I’m gonna press on this,” and as Ysabel ducks away Petra B lowers her head, tries to hold her gaze, “hey, you, you look like you need help. And I need to know what from if I’m gonna do something, and, and,” looking away now. Ysabel’s looking at the floor. “I want to do something,” says Petra B.

“That’s, sweet,” says Ysabel, lifting her cup for another sip. “It’s not Roland. It’s not him.” Sitting up. Her other hand a fist clenched in her lap.

Petra B’s down on one elbow, frowning at her shimmering fingertips. “This,” she says, “it’s almost, it’s like it’s wet, what,” looking up, “what is this stuff?”

“My matrimony,” says Ysabel.

“Your,” says Petra B, “you’re married? You’re getting married?”

The fist in her lap wadding the thin stuff of the coat fur rustling, “I don’t,” says Ysabel, “even know how to answer that.” Shivering. “No,” she says then, “don’t,” setting her cup down, “stop,” as Petra B says, “Sweet,” her fingertips shining there be her shining rich red lips. “What,” she says, and then “whoa” or maybe “oh” as Ysabel grabs her hand, leans close, careful of the camera a weight between them as she pulls Petra B’s hand down to her lap, down to her trembling fist balled in her lap. Petra B’s eyes wide behind her glasses, her lips parting a sudden hiss of breath at Ysabel’s delicate kisses there and there, top lip, bottom lip, licking the glitter away.

“I don’t,” says Petra B, but Ysabel’s opened her fist, pulled open her coat, she’s pressing Petra B’s hand to her thighs, up under the sagging hem of the T-shirt between her thighs, kissing Petra B and kissing her again, Petra B’s free hand coming about Ysabel to draw her closer still as Ysabel jerks against her, her mouth sliding away from Petra B’s mouth, her shuddering slowing, hitching. Stopping.

Petra B looks down at Ysabel crouching before her, down at the mess of light between them, at the glitter that spangles her jeans, her jacket. “What,” she says, and she swallows, “do you need,” sitting up, “a doctor,” but Ysabel’s shaking her head, drawing tighter about herself there on that bright floor, “No, no, I need,” looking up, pushing herself up, “I need to get it out of me, I need to get away from this,” clutching at Petra B leaning back, “I need, I need you.”

“I,” says Petra B.

“Not here,” says Ysabel.

“I have a car,” says Petra B, looking out the open trailer doors.

“Do you have a bed,” says Ysabel, gathering herself, pulling herself unsteady to her feet. Reaching down for Petra B who says, “Yes,” who’s careful of her camera, holding it with the one dark hand away from the other, splashed with shining gold, the one she holds out gingerly for Ysabel to take. “I don’t,” she says, “even know your name.”

“That’s okay,” says Ysabel, a shivery little laugh. “That’s all right.”

“Yes,” he says, and then, “Yessir.” Handset tucked between ear and hunched shoulder mouthpiece swallowed by his enormous mahogany beard. Peering out from behind the scant cover of the corner payphone there by a shuttered yellow foodcart, a banner that says 808 Grinds, at the two figures arms about each other staggering down the sidewalk past a line of three white semi trailers, rear doors open, dim lights shining. “Not a, no.” He’s pulling a black notebook from his jacket, big as the palm of his hand, thumbing the elastic band off the cover. Opens it to a page that says FRI 26 NOV at the top. “There’s no indication.” Under some notes headed WASH-9TH he adds, BLACK JEANS, then JACKET = BLACK / PLEATHER. “We will, of course.” He scrawls a question mark after PLEATHER. Down by the last trailer under the shadows of the trees the figures have stopped, tumbled together in a clumsy embrace, streaked and splattered with glowing golden light. “Subdued,” he says. He closes the notebook. He hangs up the phone.

Parked behind him a luridly orange car with a dusty black ragtop, a complicated sigil crudely painted on the hood in black. He opens the driver’s door, smoothly, quietly, settles in the driver’s seat behind the wheel. “Pissed,” he says.

“Oh,” says the little guy in the passenger seat, “I’m fucking livid.” Empty sleeves of his black suit yanked tight around and tied behind his back, wound about over and over in orange electrical cord. The side of his jaw mottled by a darkening bruise.

“Noise,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “Uncertainty. Property destruction.”

“Who cares!” roars Mr. Charlock, spittle flying. “We had her! In our hands!”

Mr. Keightlinger plants a finger in the orange cord and pushes, nailing Mr. Charlock back against his seat. “Observe,” he says. “Do not engage.”

He turns the key. The engine rumbles to life.

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Shadow Unit © 2007 – 2011 Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, Leah Bobet & Holly Black. Grimm produced by Universal Television and Hazy Mills. Leverage © 2012 Leverage 5 Holdings, Inc.

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