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Standing there – an Offer is Made –

Standing there in the middle of the intersection a white paper sack in one hand his other shoving long dark hair a thin curtain from before his eyes frowning “Hey?” he says, soft and deep. A growl of engine an orange car lurid in the dim light swerves around him but he doesn’t look away after it. He doesn’t look up the street where it came from at the big man in a black suit walking at a fast clip up to the corner and around it. He’s looking along the other street, at the man in the long dark skirt, at the long straight sword in his hand, at the woman in the short white parka he’s pushing ahead of him. At the body they’ve left crumpled on the pavement. “Hey?” he says again. The man in the skirt, the woman in the parka, neither of them stopping or turning or noticing at all as grunting, sobbing, they make their way to the corner and around it and they’re gone.

“Jo?” says the man still standing there in the middle of the intersection. He’s wearing a black down vest over a black T-shirt. His arms are bare. The T-shirt says Ted Kord & Maude in white letters. The body crumpled on the pavement one leg kicked to one side asprawl the other folded up under one arm jackknifed to the side hand over belly fingers adangle the other upflung beside the canted head one eye staring whitely up at nothing. He steps closer, closer still, and a siren somewhere blocks away whoops up into stuttering bleeps and stops with a strangled blurt. The stoplight in the intersection behind him clicking and all the blood about the body’s lit up yellow and orange, gold. He stops short. “Jo?” he says, again. The stoplight clicks, clacks, the blood lost again in all the red and black.

A rustle, a plop, the paper sack drops to the pavement there by the body. He squats by the sack, one hand up over his mouth. His other hand not touching her shoulder, her face, rough-knuckled, black-nailed, glittering with silver rings, an ankh, a skull, a pair of dice, snake eyes. “Hey?” he says, looking up, about. “Anybody?”

The stoplight clacks. His dark hair’s splashed with green.

He folds his hand gently about hers there over her belly, turning it palm up as his other hand drifts down to settle over it pressing it between them over the rip in her shirt shining wetly skin and the blood those reds all smeared into one uncertain color by the light. He’s pressing his thumb along her wrist hands shaking and then “No,” he says, “no, no, not the thumb,” lifting his hand away, shaking it out, pressing his fingertips, forefinger and middle pressed together against her wrist as her head lolls a bubble of spittle bursting on her lips cords jumping in her throat and he’s rearing back, “oh,” he says, “oh, okay,” sitting back on his heels. Letting go, dropping her wrist. Rubbing his hands together. Looking about the dark block of the converted warehouse to one side, the unlit windows of the wine shop to the other, the silent construction sites past the empty intersections at either end. A duffel bag there by her foot, a long narrow cardboard box strapped to it. “I need,” he says, “to find, a phone?” A rumple of black there on the pavement behind her a leather jacket. He stands, a little unsteady. “You’ll be okay, right? Powell’s is just, Powell’s is right over there. Somebody’s still got to be there. Right?” Stooping to pick up the jacket. “I’ll, why am I even talking,” and then he freezes, looking down where the jacket had been, the jacket dangling from his hands. “Shit,” he says. He starts to lay it back down, and then he says “Fuck the evidence,” and shakes it out, steps back to Jo. “You’ll be okay,” he says. “I’ll just be a couple of, a few minutes. You won’t, bleed out. While I’m gone. Right?” Hefting the jacket in his hands. Frowning. Patting it down, reaching into the pocket on the side of it that’s dangling a bit lower. Pulling out a glassy black phone.

“Oh,” he says. “Right. Yeah.”

He thumbs a button, pokes the screen until he gets a keypad. Punches in nine, one, one. Stares at it there in his hand, no earpiece, no microphone.

“Nine one one emergency,” says a tinny little voice.

He yanks the phone to his ear. “Yeah,” he says, “hello, can you hear me?

“Yeah, I need to report a stabbing? Someone’s been stabbed. With a sword? I think?

“I don’t know, it isn’t, I think he took –

“Northwest Twelfth between, ah, Everett and what’s the, the, F? Foster? Flanders.

“Yes, she’s, yes, there’s a pulse, and, uh, but there’s a lot of blood. Shit.

“No, I mean, uh,” he picks up the white paper sack the bottom of it soaked through dark and wet, “I got, it’s all over the burritos. Ingrid’s gonna be furious.”

“So,” says the Duke. Looking out the window at the passing lights. “There nothing to be worried over.” His jacket brown with wide blue stripes, his shirt a creamy gold, buttoned up to the collar without a tie. “Ready?”

Beside him in the back seat she’s looking out the other window, at the traffic. Her hair cut quite short, wine red. A buff-colored bolero jacket spangled in red and pink and orange over a severely simple gown the color of old bone. Her arms folded in her lap.

“Jo,” says the Duke.

“What do I say?” says Jo Maguire. “How do you figure I’m ready for this?”

“We could go back,” says the Duke. “One word, this car stops. We get sandwiches from Eastside, we watch some television, we get out of these clothes – ”

“You’re only saying that,” says Jo, “because you know I’ll say no.”

“You think?” says the Duke. A sign slides past out the window behind him as the car slows. Fred Meyer, it says. “I mean I’ve got a copy of that Canadian thing, about the guy. Wrote those plays?” The car stops, the click-clack of the turn signal. “But maybe another night, huh. Because you won’t say yes.” His hand on her knee, squeezing. “Anyway. Offer’s on record. Okay?”

Jo says nothing.

The car pulls into a right turn. The lights from traffic and shops give way to dark sidewalks, parked cars, windows lit here and there, a glimpse of books on shelves, a canvas on a wall a great slash of red and yellow dripped, a candle on a sill, someone face in shadow sipping something from a martini glass. Streetlights here and there blurry in a drifting mist of rain. They park by the side of a big brick apartment block, across the street from an old green house up behind a low stone wall, a neatly narrow garden, big white columns of its shallow porch in the glare of tasteful spotlights. Jessie shuts off the engine, sets the parking brake. Her grey chauffeur’s cap wrapped in clear plastic, a clear plastic raincoat over her grey chauffeur’s jacket. Climbing out the driver’s side door, levering the front seat forward, unfurling a clear plastic umbrella. Leaning in to offer a hand to Jo. In the palm of her hand a piece of paper folded and tucked into a triangle that says Is.

“Let’s go,” says the Duke behind Jo.

Jo looking up at Jessie nods and takes the triangle from Jessie as she climbs out of the car. “We’ll be, ah,” says the Duke, shifting along the back seat, planting his cane, taking Jessie’s hand. “A while, actually.” Settling a brown porkpie on his head. “I honestly don’t know. Go have a drink, go dancing.” Taking the umbrella. “Heck, go to Goodfellow’s. I wouldn’t even worry about starting to wait until after midnight, so – ”

“I’ll call,” says Jo. The Duke frowns. “I have a phone?” she says.

“Oh,” says the Duke, “that, right,” and then Jessie steps between them, up against him, presses a brief kiss to his lips. “For luck,” she says.

“Not a factor,” he says, and he smiles his crooked little smile. “But I’d never turn it down.” He kisses her, a longer, softer kiss, and then, stepping back, looking over at Jo, holding the umbrella up as she steps next to him, as Jessie heads off away down the sidewalk. “What was that she gave you?” he murmurs in her ear. “A note?”

Jo nods.

“For the Princess?” says the Duke. “Good thing for her I’m not a jealous god. Well.” Tapping his cane against the pavement as rain patters on the umbrella above them. “Let’s get this done.”

They set out, across the street to the old green house behind its narrow garden, its low wall, its wrought iron gate.

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