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Portland, Divided into Four Fifths – Brazilian Beer, Thai Noodles – Shooting the Moon –

“Portland,” says Ysabel, spreading marmalade on her toast, “is divided into four fifths.”

“Four,” says Jo. “Not five?”

“Four,” says Ysabel. Leaning over her plate she takes a bite of toast, careful of her sleeveless peach silk top. “There’s Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, and Northeast.” Her finger taps four vague quarters on the purple tabletop between her plate and Jo’s coffee cup.

“What about North?”

“What about it?”

“It’s a whole chunk of town,” says Jo, leaning back. The jukebox under the giant plaster crucifix on the back wall is singing about how you’re all grown up, and you don’t care anymore, and you hate all the people you used to adore. “Isn’t it one of the fifths?”

“There’s no one there.”

“There’s nobody in North Portland.”

“But few of any sort,” says Ysabel, shaking pepper on her omelet, “and none of name.”

“Okay,” says Jo. Stirring her coffee. “But it’s still there. It’s still a part of Portland. It’s still a fifth.”

“If you wish to be finicky, you might also note that there’s no one technically ‘in’ downtown, either,” says Ysabel, cutting a neat triangle from the corner of her omelet. “Or Old Town. So you might speak of six fifths. Or seven. But.” She forks it up, chews, swallows. “I’m trying to keep things simple. For instance: the whole city is, technically, under my mother’s sway.”

“Because she’s the Queen.”

“Also, the Ban. Sometimes. But. Her power is concentrated in Northwest, and that fifth represents the practical limits of her demesne. There’s too many mushrooms.”

“What?” says Jo.

“In the omelet. There’s too many mushrooms. And she still hasn’t brought my soda. Her colors,” says Ysabel, “my mother’s colors,” before Jo can ask her question, “are gold and white. Also, black and red. Sometimes. The rest of the fifths are parcelled out to those who owe her fealty.” Ysabel takes another bite. Jo sips her coffee. “Southwest is the Count’s, Count Pinabel. His colors are white, blue, and rose. He doesn’t go over the hills much anymore, and most of downtown is open, unclaimed, so his is the smallest fifth, and the weakest power. The largest fifth belongs to Duke Barganax; he has the most knights enfeoffed – ”


“Sworn to him.” The waitress in a tight black T-shirt that says Merry Fucking Christmas sets a tall glass on the table next to Ysabel’s plate. “Orgeat Italian soda with cream. Anything else?”

“Actually,” says Ysabel, looking up, “this omelet – ”

“Is fine,” says Jo. “The check?”

“Sure,” says the waitress.

Ysabel drops her fork clattering on the plate. Sits back. “I must,” she says, “constantly remind myself that you know nothing of who I am and what your proper place is.”

“Right,” says Jo, leaning forward, her elbows on the table. “So you were saying? About this Duke, with the biggest fief?”

After a long moment Ysabel picks up her fork. “He has the most knights,” she says. “Were it not for my mother, he would most likely have seized the Throne by now. His colors are red and brown, though sometimes he affects black and gold.”

“Okay,” says Jo. “So. Northeast.”

Ysabel chews thoughtfully. “Some colors are rarely if ever seen,” she says.


“We almost never go to Northeast Portland.”

“Yeah, but who’s there? It’s the fourth fifth. Who has it?”

Ysabel looks down and away, her heavy dark curls slipping from behind one shoulder to spill in front of her lowered face. She lifts them up and back with one hand. “The hair of her head hanging down to the ground,” she says in a quiet voice. “Her eyes like stars, her hands of iron. The nails of her hands and feet like sickles. She changes herself to a dog, a cat, a fly, a spider, a raven, an evil-looking girl, and she enters the houses of the people and hurts the women and brings trouble upon the children. She brings changelings, and she has nineteen names.”

“What the hell was that?” says Jo, after a moment.

“Northeast Portland,” says Ysabel. “Black and grey and cold moon silver.” She smiles brightly. “You might want to pay the woman, Jo.”

The waitress is setting the check on the table. Jo digs through her black backpack and pulls out a folded wad of bills held by a medium-sized binder clip. Peering at the check, she peels off a five and four ones, then a fifth. “We should have just had the pizza,” she mutters.

“Yes, but how much more pleasant was this?” says Ysabel. Polishing off her toast.

“And here I’d thought the deal was you go where I go,” says Jo.

“Because you end up going where I want to go.” Another bright smile. “See how easily it all works out?”

“Well,” says Jo. “You damn well better want to go to work with me now.”

“Indeed,” says Ysabel. Sighing.

A boy in a brown bomber jacket sprints through the front doors of the former Masonic temple and takes the stairs to the second floor two at a time. His brown hair pops in a matted pompadour. He carries a brown paper bag. At the top he cuts around a humming bright Coke machine and comes up short before a white door hidden on the other side. He knocks a rollicking tattoo with one hand. There’s a rustle behind the door and a deep voice booms, “Duncan will be one man.”

“And Farquahr will be two, motherfucker,” says the boy. “Open up.”

The door opens with a burst of bright music and a bark of laughter that doesn’t come from the man holding the doorknob. He’s short and powerfully built. His eyes are big and wet. His long black hair gleams. The boy in the bomber jacket pushes past him and down the dark hallway into the bright room at its end. The music has a rolling bassline and a hard flat sliding pop, someone chanting I gotta pay respects to my posse from the West, and the laugh’s from the young man in the gold silk shirt leaning back in the airy mesh-backed office chair. He wears a gold bracelet and monk’s sandals. “Sweetloaf!” he cries. “What news on the Rialto?”

“I got your fucking beer,” says the boy in the bomber jacket. “Your Grace.” The floor is covered in sunlight from two tall windows. He crosses it quickly brushing past the Stirrup in his linen suit to hand the brown paper bag to His Grace, who sets aside a white takeout container with a couple of red chopsticks jutting out of it. He pulls a six-pack of dark bottles from the bag. Holds up a bottle for Sweetloaf, who shakes his head without looking away from the big flat television hanging on the wall. On the television two girls in school uniforms kiss in the rain.

“Brazilian beer,” says His Grace, flipping the bottle through the air to the Stirrup, who just manages to catch it. “Bhangra music. Russian videos.” He works another bottle free and holds it out to the short man with the long lank hair. “Thai noodles on a whim.” He works a third bottle loose and holds it up, his thumbnail under the lip of the cap. “Cell phones and cable modems. Japanese porn. German cars. Italian shirts.” The cap pops loose spinning into the air. “The world keeps getting better, every day and in every way. And it all shows up on my doorstep with a phone call. So tell me,” and he tosses back a swig, “why I should fuck it all for your dumbass idea.”

“Because it will bring you the one thing you do not have, Your Grace,” says the Stirrup.

“The Bride,” says His Grace.

“The Bride,” says the Stirrup. “She and the Queen have had a falling out. This is indisputable. The only person watching the Bride these past few days has been the girl.”

“Mortal girl,” says the short man with the long lank hair.

“Who can’t fight,” says the Stirrup. “And I do not think your own knights will have cause to strike one another?” His swigs some beer. “The Bride left the Queen’s demesne Sunday afternoon, Your Grace. Since then she’s crossed neither river nor highway. You won’t step on anyone’s toes.”

“So how does this work?” says His Grace. “I walk up to her, hey, baby, how you doing, you wanna come back to my hideout?” He leans forward in the chair his elbows on his knees. “I don’t think so.”

“Let us presume,” says the figure leaning there, in the shadows between the light that spills from the two tall windows. He has a long thin nose and the edges of his face are sharp. His eyes are pale blue and his long black hair is gathered in a single thick braid. He wears a blue and black sarong and a loose white shirt half-unbuttoned. “Perhaps the Bride is threatened? A gang of ruffians, shall we say, sets upon her as they leave this building tonight. A not uncommon threat, in any area of this city not held tightly by a strong lord.” He inclines his narrow head toward His Grace. His voice is highly pitched, rich and gentle and smooth. “Luckily, some knights happen to be passing by. They quickly put paid to these ruffians, but a problem presents itself: her current guardian obviously cannot keep the Bride safe. Whatever is a responsible knight to do?”

“Of course,” says His Grace. “So you think it’s worth the risk.”

“Risk?” The man in the blue and black sarong spreads his hands in a magnanimous shrug and smiles. “Who could fault you for taking her under your protection?”

“How about you, Tommy?” says His Grace.

“I mislike it, m’lord,” says the short man with the long lank hair with his deep, growling voice.

“I pay you to mislike it.”

“It’s too neat, m’lord. Too easy. Her Majesty is no fool.”

“True enough,” says His Grace, and then for a moment no one says anything. The stereo pops with tablas and rumbles with bass. Then he stands. “Sweetloaf,” he says, “crack some petty cash and roust us some hounds. The usual places: under bridges, shelters. Enough to make Orlando’s gang of ruffians.”

“Fuckin’ A,” says Sweetloaf.

“M’lord, you shouldn’t,” says Tommy.

“They’ve already got a mortal on the field,” says His Grace. “Won’t change the balance. Gaveston.”

“Your Grace,” says the Stirrup.

“You work with Orlando here, and take Tommy with you. Just make damn sure the hounds don’t fuck this up. They are not to touch her. Got it?” He claps his hands together. “Make me proud, boys. Tonight you’re going to bag me a Bride.”

“Actually, Jo,” says Becker from his desk at the front of the phone room, “can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure,” says Jo, her hand on the back of her chair.

“Let’s use Tartt’s office,” says Becker.

Tartt’s office is the same indecisive cream as the phone room. It’s just big enough for a desk and a couple of chairs. Tacked to the bulletin board above the desk along with Post-it notes and phone messages is a big blue card that says Of course I don’t look busy, I did it right the first time. Becker in his big plaid flannel shirt half-sits on the edge of a desk piled high with stacks of paper. Jo folds her arms and leans back against the closed door. The poster over her shoulder is a big picture of the full moon and says Shoot for the moon… Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

“It’s not that I have a problem,” says Becker.

“So why are we here?”

“Jo, is she going to be hanging out here every night?”

“Who, Ysabel?” Jo is looking directly at Becker, who’s looking down at one of the piles of paper on Tartt’s desk. “I told you. She has evil ex-boyfriend issues. She just doesn’t feel safe by herself right now.”

“Doesn’t she have someplace else she could go and, uh, not be by herself?”

“It’s just until we get stuff sorted. What’s the deal, Becker? I mean, it’s not like you have a problem with it or anything.”

Becker looks up. Nets his fingers together in his lap. “She’s a distraction.”

“She stays in the kitchen reading a goddamn book!”

“People ask questions. Tartt is asking questions.”

“So that’s Tartt’s problem.”

“Jo – ”

“Dammit, Becker, you said it would be okay!”

“I said it was okay on Monday. It’s Wednesday. Jo, it’s great you want to help her and all, but – ”

“Shut up, Becker, okay? Just don’t.”

“Jo.” Becker looks down at his hands. Up again. “I know it’s only been a couple of days, but try to remember that I’m your boss now?”

“I’m sorry,” snaps Jo, “was I not respectful enough?”

“Jo, dammit, just – ”

“Sorry,” says Jo. Looking down. “Sorry.”

Becker takes a deep breath and blows it out in a sigh.

“If you’re kicking her out tonight I have to go with her,” says Jo, still looking down and away. “I don’t have anything set up to take care of her tonight.”

“Yeah, well, your numbers, it might not be such a bad thing.”

Jo looks up, startled. “I got you five completes per hour last night – ”

“Four point eight. And five’s the expected. Some people, Guthrie, Lee, are hitting sixes and sevens. You’re slipping, Jo.”

“So I’m slipping – ”

“She can stay here tonight,” says Becker, standing up from his lean on Tartt’s desk. “But tomorrow I want her gone and you here. A hundred percent.” Jo’s still leaning back against the door, her hands at her sides. “Jo,” says Becker, “I have a job to do. Just like you. Okay?” Jo doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t nod. “I mean, it’s great you want to help a friend and all. But,” says Becker, and he lets it trail off.

“But what?” says Jo.

“Are you guys,” says Becker, “I mean, is everything going to be okay?”

“It’ll be fine, Becker,” says Jo, opening the door. Not looking at him. “It’ll be just fine.”

Table of Contents

All Grown Up” written by D.P.A. MacManus, ©1991 Plangent Visions Music. Romanian fairy tale cited in At the Bottom of the Garden, written by Diane Purkiss, ©2000, from “Two Thousand Years of a Charm Against the Child-Stealing Witch,” by Moses Gaster. “Nukhe Chakhee Javana” performed by Achanak, writer and copyright holder unknown.