Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

a Sharp pop – how Sharper then –

The sharp pop of a slap and her head rocks to one side. “Have a care, Princess,” says Orlando, soft and low. “She is dear to me.”

“Yeah,” says the woman beside her, both hands in black lace tightly wrapped about the hand that Ysabel tries to tug free as she’s saying “Let go of me,” and as Orlando says “Princess” with a warning lilt she says “You would do well to remember your place, Mooncalfe.”

“My place,” he says, looking down with a flourish at his bare feet there on the sidewalk, “nor am I out of it.” Folding his arms in his shapeless grey jacket. “No toradh binds me; I owe nothing, and nothing is owed me.”

“You have the office of my keeping,” says Ysabel, yanking her hand free. The woman pouts.

“I won a duel, is all,” he says.

“You’ve said you are a conscientious guardian.”

“I am the Mooncalfe, lady,” he says, his hand quick as that on her chin. “I must do nothing, that I might do anything.” Tilting her head to the side, peering through his open eye. “I left no mark.”

Her white coat falls open as she steps back, her dress quite short, a slip of some dull mushroom color, her legs in sheer black stockings. She wraps the coat about herself again. “If Jo were here,” she says, and he laughs. “If she were here,” he says, “I’d kill her again, and make sure it took.” The woman on the other side of Ysabel chuckles at that, the bulk of her shuddering in her long black coat, hair threaded with ribbons and spangles slithering from her shoulders as she lowers her head.

They’re standing the three of them before the old green house up behind its low stone wall, its neatly narrow garden, the big white columns of its shallow porch glared by tasteful spotlights. “Well I am safely home again,” says Ysabel. “Whatever you would do, your duties are discharged, tonight, at least. I’m cold, and I would get out of this get-up.” She turns to open the wrought-iron gate set in the low stone wall. “You should walk your lady back to her father’s house.”

“Not without that kiss, Princess,” says Orlando.

“Right here’s fine,” says the woman, hair clattering as she taps a cheek with a lacey fingertip.

“She answered the question,” says Orlando. “Sweetly and true.”

The woman’s lowering that fingertip. Her full lips painted black, her hair in all those braids, white ribbons and silvery spangles, her only color at all her bangs, a spray of pink cut short above her wide pale face. Ysabel clutching the throat of her white trench coat steps away from the gate, leans close, her red lips pressed quickly to the woman’s cheek, and any trace of mirth falls from that wide face, those full black lips. Her glittering eyelids tremble and crumple as Ysabel opens the gate and closes it behind her.

“Swear it,” says the woman, catching Orlando’s hand, the one wrapped in a bandage, between her black-laced palms. “Swear you’ll let me do it again.”

“Empty, sweet,” says Orlando. “No fear, no anger.” He might be smiling. “Or else you’ll prove their prophecies all true.”

“You never let me stay,” she says, looking up at that house. “I hate her, so much.”

“You should never have said yes,” says Orlando.

“I counted it twice, boss,” says the boy in the brown leather jacket by the open trunk. “It all tallies.”

“Weigh it out,” says the Duke, leaning on the fender in his loosely open paisleyed dressing gown. “You won’t find a grain of it missing, do it anyway, nobody’s getting ideas. Get Astolfo, Medoro. Don’t bother digging up Chillicoathe. She’s only got the two friends back in the world, the, the telephone guy, the one shacked up with the Thrummy-cap. Get eyes on them – ”

“Who, boss?” says the boy, gently.

The Duke limps slowly toward the trunk, saying, “You. Sweetloaf. Go,” his free hand up striking off each phrase, “find Astolfo. Find Medoro, the Axle. Get them out there. Watching her friends. Get them some phones. She shows up, they call in. They don’t engage. You come back. Weigh the bags. Tell me nothing’s missing. Zip up your jacket.” Leaning now against the open lid of the trunk. “It’s chilly. Wilberforce!”

“Yessir,” says the man in the pale pink union suit.

“To Northwest,” says the Duke. “She doesn’t go in that house. She doesn’t see the Princess. Orlando doesn’t touch her. Clear?”

“Yessir,” he says, somewhere under his enormous grey mustache. Sitting on the steps at his feet a man in a rumpled brown plaid suit, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. “Gaveston,” says the Duke, “get the phones, get everybody phones, help Sweetloaf roust the Axle and the Buckler. Then you go north. Wait for a call.”

“Rabbits,” says the man in the brown plaid suit, looking blearily up.

“Why the fuck else go north,” mutters the Duke. He slams the trunk shut. Snatches the key from the lock. He scoops up his cane from where it’s leaning against the bumper. “Now! Find her!” Sweetloaf hurries past, Gaveston climbs to his feet, Wilberforce holds the door open as they head inside.

Jessie’s left there, alone on the stoop, wrapped in a thick white comforter, her shoulders and feet bare. Shivering in the thin grey light as the Duke makes his way across the little parking lot. “Get dressed,” he says, hands folded about the stern and rough-hewn hawk at the head of his cane. “Fifteen minutes. We’re going over the river.”

A steep and narrow flight of stairs, high green walls to either side painted over so many times they still seem slick and wet, all edges and corners rounded and soft. A paper cup of coffee steaming in his hand, a worn blue gym bag slung from the hook at the end of his other arm, folded newspaper tucked in the handles he’s on the landing halfway up, looking to the head of the flight, white walls there, double doors, a frosted glass fanlight, dark. He’s faintly frowning.

She’s slumped on the floor by those doors, head back against the wall, eyes closed, feet splayed out in big black boots. Her leather coat the color of butter, her close-cropped hair a red like wine. On the floor beside her a paper bag and an old brown briefcase, soft with dark brass fittings. Across her lap a sword in a black sheath, its guard a glittering net of wire. Her shoulders rise and fall with deep, sleep-heavy breaths.

Down the hall he unlocks a door, steps into an office. After a moment he’s back, paper cup clamped by its lip in his hook, in his hand a mug that says How fharper then a ferpents tooth it is. He squats beside her, careful of the bag, the case, the cup held stiffly upright, and waves the mug under her nose. She snorts, starts, looks up blinking. “That isn’t coffee,” she says, but she takes the mug.

“What are you doing here,” he says.

“We need to talk,” says Jo Maguire.

Table of Contents

  Textile Help