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The light is thicker, now – her Brother’s things – Why – a Sound too big to hear –

The light is thicker now, the clouds a blank grey haze tinted with a wash of blue hung high above. It isn’t raining anymore. The sign over the storefront she’s walking past says 4 Wheel Parts Performance Center. The next sign down is orange and says Aaron Motel in white and yellow letters. Color TV, Air Conditioning. Wifi and Phone. Weekly Rates. Micro Refrig. Slung from one hand a paper bag, a briefcase the other, sword in its sheath laid flat like a furled umbrella through the handles. Smoke streams back like a banner from the cigarette in her mouth.

Into the motel parking lot, past a couple of pickups, a purple minivan with a set of stickers in the back window, white cartoon stick figures of a zombie family, a mother zombie and a father zombie and two zombie kids and a dog chewing on the leg of one of the kids. The motel’s a single storey, long and low, another set of units detached at the back of the lot. Red doors, curtained windows, dark maw of an air conditioning unit beneath each window, over and over and over again. She’s checking numbers on the doors, crosses over, steps up on the sidewalk by the one that says 109. Sets the bag down, shifts the briefcase from the one hand to the other. A last drag on the cigarette and she flicks it away. She knocks.

A minute or two before the door’s jerked open, a burst of music, skittering percussion and keyboards, thumping bass, “What?” snarls a big man in cargo shorts and a big black T-shirt printed with the image of a thickset man in a dark hoodie backlit by blue-white fog. Ghost Dog, it says. The Way of the Samurai. He squints. “Shit, Jo? Damn. You doing pretty well.”

“Can I come in?” says Jo. Night is cool, a voice is singing. Night is calm. Nothing’s missing, nothing’s wrong.

“How’d you find me? Dammit, Abe,” he yells into the room, “turn that down.”

“You’re a creature of habit, Timmo,” says Jo. “You only got like five joints you stay at. Zach out at the Nordic says hi.”

“That fucker?” says Timmo. The music still as loud behind him.

“So can I come in?” says Jo.

“Like I say,” he says, eyeing her hair, her leather coat the color of butter, stepping back. “You doing well.”

The only light inside’s what makes it through the clouds and curtains and what shines from the screens of a handful of laptops, a couple on the empty bed, over on the dresser by the dead television set, one on the other bed where a tall guy’s lying on his belly, bare feet dangling off the edge, enormous chin on the keyboard. Little speakers dot the pillows, a big one hulks on the floor between the beds. “Abe!” bellows Timmo. Nothing’s missing, nothing’s wrong. Tell us what you want. Abe looks up, his small eyes wet and red. “It’s all a lie,” he says. “It’s all a goddamn lie.”

“Well turn it down,” says Timmo.

“They tell you in the name of it, man,” says Abe, stabbing the screen with a blunt finger. “Something’s Wrong. That’s what it’s called, man.”

“Well maybe work it out between you and the headphones,” says Timmo.

“Headphones, yeah,” says Abe, scrabbling through the cables on the bed, coming up with a stainless steel oversized set he wraps around his neck. “Sit,” says Timmo, propping himself against the other bed.

“What?” says Jo, and the room’s plunged into silence as Abe jacks into one of the speakers on the pillows, even the tinny dregs of music sealed away as he settles the headphones over his ears. “What can I do you for?” says Timmo, his scraggled hair, his wispy beard a pale halo about his leer.

Jo’s looking over the two beds, the one chair in the room piled high with plastic shopping bags stuffed with clothing. She sets the briefcase and the paper bag down, leans back against the dresser by the dead television. Rubbing her one hand with the other she looks up at Timmo. “I need a gun,” she says.

“I don’t deal black jack clips!” says Timmo, loudly.

Jo says, “What?”

“I don’t deal that kind of product,” he says.

“Sure you do,” says Jo.

He sniffs, scratches his cheek. “The hell you need a piece for,” he says, and then, “no, wait, I got it. You need it so’s you can rob a bank to get the money to pay me for it.”

“I’ve got a hundred bucks in my pocket,” says Jo.

He snorts. “I don’t even peek at Craigslist for less than one seventy-five.”

“One fifty,” says Jo.

“One sixty, and I’m cutting it to the bone because I like you so much, girl.”

“One fifty,” says Jo, bending down, tugging the sheathed sword free of the briefcase, “and I’ll throw this in.” She nudges the briefcase across the carpet with her foot. Abe snorts and swipes at the mousepad of his laptop, one hand on the headphones. Punches the spacebar a couple of times, and again. “The hell is that,” says Timmo.

“A decent briefcase,” says Jo, “full of porn.”

He cocks an eyebrow elaborately at that, leaning down to pick it up. Unbuckling it, pulling it open. “Paper!” he says. “Damn, that’s kicking it old skool.”

“Vintage,” says Jo. “We have a deal?”

“Keep your money,” says Timmo. “Give me that sweet machete. I can get you one fuck of a lot of gun for – ”

“You don’t touch the sword,” says Jo.

Timmo blinks, lips working. Swallowing his grin. “The hell you fixing to do, girl,” he says.

“Go hunting,” says Jo.

He sets the briefcase down. “Okay,” he says, “okay. Don’t tell.” Picks up a laptop. “No skin off me.”

She wraps the shirt about herself, winds the two ribbons at its bottom about her waist, ties them in a lop-sided bow. Hooks the black and gold vest from where it’s slouched at the foot of the bed whipping it up over her head, letting it shimmy down her arms in a tidy twirl that leaves the vest settled on her shoulders, the heels of her hands pressed to her forehead, her eyes closed. A deep breath. Her hands all blotched and smeared with filth fumble the loose buttons down the front of the vest heavy with gold embroidery, fighting to seat each one in its buttonhole, working down to the bottom to discover she’s done it up wrong, off kilter, and she jerks each button back out again.

“Your brother’s things,” says the old woman by the door.

More slowly now, with trembling hands she’s redoing the buttons of the vest, mouth quirked.

“Why do you have them out,” says the old woman. Her heavy pink robe with a tangled garden of tea-roses embroidered about the thick shawl collar. Glossy white hair gathered into a thick braid draped over a shoulder.

“You brought them out for Jo,” says Ysabel. “The night she was here. You burned her shirt.” She sits on the edge of the bed and slips a foot into a high black moccasin boot. “Whoever brought my things back from her apartment didn’t know to hide this away in the attic again, or wherever it was it was.”

“Take it off,” says the old woman. “We’ll put them back now. You shouldn’t wear that.”

“Should,” says Ysabel, lacing up the other boot. “Shouldn’t. Who cares.”


“I’m not the Princess anymore, Gammer,” says Ysabel, looking up. Her hair hangs loose in clotted, crusty hanks about her filthy face. A streak of something dark has dried flaking from her nose to the corner of her mouth, along her chin. “I’ll never be the Bride. Who cares what I wear. It’s all gone to hell.”

“Ysabel!” A jerking step into the room at that.

“I couldn’t turn the medhu!” She springs to her feet. “You were wrong, Gammer. Wrong. I am broken.”

“You are not broken, child,” says the Gammer. “There’s no King yet for you. That’s all.”

“Mother can’t, either,” says Ysabel. “It’s all gone to hell. All of it.”

“You shouldn’t say that.”

“It has,” snaps Ysabel. “It’s been hell. For a long time. A very long time.”

“Ysabel. Please.”

“Since my brother was killed. At least. And the King went mad. And mother, she,” stepping around the bed, toward the Gammer. “No. It’s been longer than that, hasn’t it. Since he was born. And mother, her sister – ” and the Gammer slaps her.

A laugh, a sob, a catch in her breath, “Hell,” says Ysabel, and the Gammer lifts her hand again, “damned here,” says Ysabel, straightening, the Gammer stepping back, eyes wide, nostrils flared, “all this time. No more.”

The Gammer lowers her hand then, lays it absently on her breast. Pulling her robe more closely about herself. “I came to ask,” she says, chin dipping as she swallows, “if you knew what they were doing, downstairs.”

“No,” says Ysabel, spreading her hands. “I don’t. I’ve just come from my bath, you see.”

The Gammer presses back against the open door as Ysabel steps out into the hall. “Wait,” she says, reaching after her. “Child, wait. A few days more! It will all be set a-right when the King comes back. He will. He will!”

“Why,” says Ysabel, with a glance back over her shoulder.

“Hell of a view,” he says.

Past the open reception area, the little nooks of pastel armchairs, past the glass walls lining a couple of conference rooms and their empty leather chairs arrayed about identical broad wood tables, windows open on a dizzying height above the river, a dull sheet of old steel under the high blank haze of the sky that loses itself in the rumpled wooded folds of hills to the left, dotted with pockets of houses, lined here and there with little shelves of condominiums along this ridge or that, the swoop of the freeway bridge across it so far below, so small, the grain towers along the riverbank, the container ship anchored alongside a toy that might be picked up dripping with one hand, the pits dug here and there among the warehouses and the parking lots, the skeletal cages of red-black iron rising under the white and blue and yellow stalks of cranes. Another building going up there, a bulky rambling thing, its frame of wood, the color of it raw and bright. A flicker of movement, a white fuselage, a plane lumbering down from the oceanic sky, falling for the lights of the airport winking far off to the right.

“May I help you?” says the receptionist, her black hair pulled back in a simple bun, a small but ornate brass telephone headset clipped to one ear.

He cranes up his worn black leather jacket creaking, his shock of pinkish orange hair bobbing, peering past her at the letters hung on the wall, precisely serifed things cut from some heavy, leaden metal that say Welund, Rhythidd, Barlowe & Lackland. “I’m here to see Welund,” he says.

“Mr. Welund has no appointments this afternoon,” says the receptionist.

“Perhaps he’s left something for me? An envelope?”

“Your name, sir?”

“Perry,” he says. “Lymond Perry.” Leaning close, brow crinkled in apology over his bulging eyes. “It might have been quite some time ago.”

“I’ll ask,” says the receptionist.

“Disgusting,” he says, and the ringing whine of steel on leather.

The Guisarme looks up at that. “Mooncalfe,” he says. Nodding away the woman next to him in a houndstooth skirt and white blouse, pince nez perched on her nose. She takes the little plastic baggie from his outstretched hand, scoops up the bulging plastic shopping bags at her feet, and hurries away, careful of the boxes here and there, the trunk its lid ajar, the little tables empty now of knick-knacks lined up before the sofa. “Where have you been.”

“About my business,” says Orlando. His shirt is white and open at the throat, his long skirt blue and wrapped with a black sash. His bare feet whisper over the rugs.

“If it’s for the Queen, or the Princess,” says the Guisarme, holding up a hand to caution the man in the green coveralls behind him, “you may speak with me. You should speak with me. There’s much to talk about.”

“My business is my own,” says Orlando. The man in the green coveralls is looking from the meagre few of plastic baggies left on the table by the Guisarme’s side to Orlando’s sword, the long and gentle curve of it, the hilt in both his hands, rough black cloth wound about the yellow-white of bone. The man in the green coveralls takes a step toward the table and the Guisarme waggles the fingers of his forestalling hand. “There is no threat,” the Guisarme says. “Put up your blade, sir.”

“I disagree,” says Orlando.

“Name it,” says the Guisarme. “We’ll face it, together.”

“I think not,” says Orlando, and with a long smooth step his blade whicks up, snaps down, splintering the table, scattering the baggies in a cloud of glittering dust. “The threat, you see,” he says, his sword up over his head, turning just to face the Guisarme, “is me. Draw your sword.” The man in the green coveralls has left.

“We have no quarrel,” says the Guisarme, the bundle of fanfold printout clutched to his chest.

“You’re disgusting,” says Orlando. “I finally resolve to take my best last night, only to find you here before me, paying off the help, and rummaging through couches for loose change. Draw your sword.”

“We cannot maintain this house,” says the Guisarme, stepping back. Bumping against the chair behind him. “Changes must be made if we’re to keep the court intact – ”

“What do I care for the court?” The blade lowers, angles, the tip of it scraping the bundle of paper. “I will not ask a third time.”

“I cede the field to you, sir,” says the Guisarme. With a wrench of Orlando’s wrists the blade-tip digs and whips the paper up and away unfluttering tumbling to the floor. “You’ve won whatever you imagine this to be! Now, please, speak with me!”

“No,” says Orlando, and he slashes open the Guisarme’s chest. The Guisarme sits heavily in the chair behind him, catching an arm of it, managing not to fall. Looking ruefully down at the slit in his pinstripe jacket, the vest, his yellow shirt beneath, blotted by a sluggish trickle of something pale. He looks up, at the painting hanging on the wall above, a roughly bearded man in a long black gown, a blanket over his shoulders, a red cravat about his throat, sitting on a stump in a dark wood. His black-gloved hand on the stock of a long rifle leaning butt against the ground. A shapeless fur cap on his head. “This was my favorite suit,” he says, rolling his head over to watch Orlando stalk away, blade up again, “Ysabel!” he’s roaring in the foyer. “Princess! Duenna Queen of Roses! Show yourselves!”

“Shut up,” says Ysabel Perry. Halfway down the stairs above him in her black trousers, her blousy white shirt, the gold vest. One hand on the railing, her hair all wilding threads and clotted hanks about her face and shoulders.

“Well,” says Orlando, his sword still in his hand. “A Prince now, not a Princess. Where’s your mother?”

“Neither,” Ysabel’s saying, then, “Indisposed.” A step down, and another.

“Fetch her.”


“I warn you,” he says, pointing his sword at the front door behind him. “Waiting on the sidewalk is a Gallowglas of my own. I’ll call her in, she’ll dog my heels. We’ll see then what my blade might do.”

“I will go with you, Mooncalfe,” she says, “but you must go with me, and leave your monster at the gate.”

“I warned you,” snarls Orlando, swinging his sword to point at her as she takes another step, and another. “Shut up,” she says again. “There’s nothing for you here, not even me. Leave them all alone. There is no Queen, not anymore, and there will never again be a King in this city.”

He nods, at that, and says, “Not Prince, nor Princess, then, but prophet.” She lays her hand against the flat of his blade and pushes it aside, coming down the last few steps. “Very well,” he says, and he wrinkles his nose. “You reek.”

“You’ll not have me?”

“Oh, I’ll make what use of you I can.” He offers his arm. She takes it.

“Ysabel?” The Gammer’s querulous voice cuts through the silence of that house. Above them, behind them, she’s clinging to the curling rail of the staircase, still in her heavy pink robe shawled with roses, her long white braid dangling over one shoulder. “Go back,” says Ysabel. “See to mother.”

“Stop,” says the Gammer. But Ysabel’s hand is on the knob. “Don’t say such things,” says the Gammer. “Don’t leave. The King will come back. There is hope.”

“No,” says Orlando, as Ysabel opens the door. “There isn’t.”

“Ysabel!” cries the Gammer, as they step out onto the shallow porch between the thick white columns. On the sidewalk outside the gate waits the big woman in her long black coat, leaning back against the gleaming bulk of a white SUV, her hands in white lace gloves, her wide lips painted white. Orlando shuts the front door, smiling in turn under his one good eye. “You have no idea what I will do to you,” he says to Ysabel.

She looks sidelong at him and shakes her head. “You have no idea if it will work.”

He’s taking the first step off the porch when a sound too big to hear blows the front door open, staggers Ysabel, sends him askew to his knees on the steps. The blinding flash. Car alarms going off up and down the street and the sound of broken glass, falling. Her face terrible in the harsh light shining from the greatsword in her hands the Gammer’s striding across the foyer and her voice too loud and deep she cries, “You will stop – ”

Gathering himself Orlando springs from the steps his sword up and out slashing before him and it’s suddenly gone quiet and dark. Crouching in the doorway he looks back to see nothing behind him but the neatly cut white braid falling limply to the porch, and Ysabel, back against one of the white columns, her hands over her mouth. “You,” she says, “you – ”

“Quiet,” he says, his hand on her arm, pushing her down the steps before him.

The sound of the gun cocking is quite clear in all that silence.

Still on the steps above her Orlando stops. “This is hardly fair,” he says.

In the street the dark figure of a man wearing a pale hat with an absurdly high crown. One hand up, an enormous pistol cocked and pointed at Orlando. The other holding up a little phone so he can eye the number he’s thumbing. “Nothing to be fair,” he says, from somewhere under his enormous grey mustache. “Ain’t no duel. It’s justice. I seen you take our Gammer’s head, and you will answer for that, to the Duke if no one else.”

“You forgot one thing,” says Orlando, and then, “Gloria?”

Grunting the woman on the sidewalk’s pushing herself up from where she’s fallen by the wheel of that SUV, and as her head crests the hood the Shootist sees her, phone dipping, gun pulling up and just to the side, and that’s when Orlando leaps –

White shirt blue skirt fluttering over the gate the sidewalk the parked cars sword a curl of light in the greyly shadowed street turning in his hands to come down a pop of a gunshot whine of a bullet the Shootist crumpling to the pavement. Orlando pushing himself up black hair hanging like a curtain. The Shootist coughs, and something dark and wet spatters from his mustache.

“Wow,” says Gloria, leaning against the fender of the SUV.

“It seems she didn’t like you,” says Orlando, climbing to his feet. His hands empty. A sudden gust of wind lofts the pale hat, skimming it away down the street. The whooping of the car alarms is back.

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“Something’s Missing,” written by Simon Carpentier, copyright holder unknown.

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