“Could you maybe describe what you saw?” says Mr. Charlock.
“Well,” says the woman. She’s sitting on one end of the spavined couch. Mr. Charlock’s sitting on the tile-topped coffee table before her, hands on her knees leaning forward, looking up into her eyes. “Would you really use the word ‘huge’?” he says. An owl’s feather dangles from the sunglasses tucked into his jacket pocket.
“Well,” she says, “I, um.”
“‘Monster’?” says Mr. Charlock. “Is that really the right word?”
“Monstrous,” says Mr. Keightlinger, fingering the gauzy curtains hanging in the big front window.
“I wouldn’t use that word either,” says Mr. Charlock. “Step it back. Last night. What did you do? What did you see?”
“Well,” she says.
“You come out of the house, back door. It’s dark. Hypocrisy in your hands. Light on the side of the house goes on, garbage can, recycling tub, then what? What’s knocked it over? What’s rooting around in the coffee grounds? Just this? All this? All this fuss over a little possum?”
“Coyote,” says Mr. Keightlinger.
“A little coyote?” says Mr. Charlock, lifting his hands from her knees. “Well?”
“I guess it was,” says the woman, blinking. A shiver rippling through her. Reaching out to lean on the arm of the couch. “Was just, a, just a.”
Mr. Charlock’s standing up. “Makes more sense now, doesn’t it?” She’s nodding vaguely, with a wisp of a frown. Mr. Charlock’s smile slips and twists into a grimace, and he lets his head droop, chin on chest, pressing fingertips into the corners of his eyes. “I wouldn’t,” he says, looking up, smiling again, “I wouldn’t bother with the posters.”
“Posters?” she says.
“‘Lost cat’,” says Mr. Charlock. “Trying would only make it hurt more. Hope, you know?” He shakes his head. “We can show ourselves out.”
“I like your tattoos,” says Mr. Keightlinger, following him.
She sits there on the couch, mouth half open, still faintly frowning.
Jo’s in the corner of the white office kitchen, under the window filled with sunlight, sitting knees up on the white floor, black jeans and a red shirt unbuttoned over a black tank top, mismatched Chuck Taylors, white phone against her ear. “What,” Frankie’s saying. “You think I was gonna have the cops up in here or something?”
“So you just said you did it.”
“I said Austin did it. Had a party, you know, got rowdy, he kicked the door.” Frankie sniffs.
“And they bought it.”
“I paid ’em to buy it. Funny thing. Your friends give me five hundred bucks, but first they break down my fuckin’ door.”
“Serves you right,” says Jo.
“You didn’t need to say that,” says Frankie.
Jo looks up at the windowsill. “So it took the whole five hundred?”
“No, it didn’t take the whole five hundred. Why do you care?”
“I just, I wanted to check to see if there was anything funny about it. The money.”
“Funny,” says Frankie.
Jo takes a deep breath. “Did you spend it all?”
“What do you think?’
“That’s great, Frankie,” says Jo. She lets the phone droop in her hand. “That’s just great.” He’s saying something, a tinny squawk from the earpiece. She looks up to see Ysabel standing by the phone on the wall, her hand on the plunger. She presses it. The handset in Jo’s hand goes silent.
“We’ve been punished enough,” says Ysabel. She holds up two white envelopes. “Becker just gave me these. I understand you have some occult means of turning them into cash?”
“So I want to go out,” says Ysabel. “I want to hear music. I want to dance. And I will not take no for an answer.”
Jo pulls herself to her feet. “Okay,” she says. She hangs up the phone.
The man in the black leather jacket stands on the corner looking up at a big, blocky brick building. The cornerstone is marked with a Masonic compass and square. Signs advertising an Indian restaurant and a head shop hang over the front doors between green-topped white columns. “Hey,” says a burly man, poking his head around the edge of the bus shelter. “Hey, buddy.” He comes over, flip-flops, khaki shorts, a dirty T-shirt that says America the Beautiful over a soaring eagle. “Got something for you.” He’s digging in a side pocket of those shorts, comes up with a clear plastic bottle, label torn, some Snapple tea, something milky sloshing inside. “Yeah?” says the burly man.
“It’s diseased,” says the man in the black leather jacket.
“Naw, bro, no,” says the burly man, shaking the bottle at him. “You got to take it. Kettle’s due.”
“I’m not your brother,” says the man in the black leather jacket. His hair is dark and flops about his eyes and ears, his lean face roughened by a half-grown beard. He shrugs. “Take better care of yourself.” He ducks under the laundry lines of prayer flags, reduced, and steps into the hemp and bead and world crafts shop.
“Dagger,” says the man behind the counter. His hair is richly red and he wears a blue-striped shirt with white French cuffs. The top two buttons undone.
“Stirrup,” says the man in the leather jacket. “You’re the Duke’s man, now?”
“Kills the time,” says the Stirrup.
“And how are you doing?” says the Dagger, leaning on the counter. “With the sword.”
“He’s expecting you,” says the Stirrup, pointing upstairs.
“Sidney!” cries the Duke, opening the white door to his rooms.
“M’lord,” says the Dagger.
“Come in, come in.” The Duke’s wearing brown corduroy pants and a brown sweater vest over a white T-shirt. He leads the Dagger down a dark hall into a room filled with sunlight from tall, narrow windows. “It’s not,” a woman’s saying, “as if I don’t understand. You had your thing with the kitchen knight. Fine. But we should have been there. We would have kept you from embarrassment.” She’s standing by the big brown desk, holding a glass of wine. Her hair short and gunmetal grey. She wears brown tights and a long red shirt. The Duke stops in the middle of the room, spreads his hand, looks from her to the Dagger and back. “What are you,” he says, “my mother?”
“No, m’lord,” says the grey-haired woman. She sips her wine.
“Two things,” says the Duke. “First, should me no would haves. That buck has sailed. Two: I could give a shit about embarrassment. Tonight we’re going up into Northeast to kill that fucking boar.”
“Just the three of us?” says the grey-haired woman.
“Boar?” says the Dagger.
“Uh, Duke?” says the blond woman sitting behind the desk. She’s wearing a satiny pink camisole and holding out a phone. “I got his machine again.”
“Okay,” says the Duke. “Okay.” He sighs. “The three of us, plus two more,” he says to the grey-haired woman. “Catch Sidney up while I make this call.” He steps over, takes the phone. “In the, in the other room. I’ll be right back.”
The blond woman’s smiling at the Dagger. “Want something to drink?”
“But I can’t I-do it if I don’t believe it,” she sings, there in the dark-panelled corner, as the guitars loop around for another chiming pass. “So I sit here alone like a sword in a stone and I wait for a man to come by,” her fingers bouncing from the strings of her bass to lay a floor for them all, “who’s stuck equally fast with the wit to at last pull us free!” The drummer’s ruddy head shines under an errant light behind the whirling blurry fence of his sticks. Red hair bobbing one guitarist’s bouncing behind her, the other not more than a kid curled about his big-bellied acoustic, flocks of bright chords beating about his head canted to find the mike and harmonize with her, “Just a plain and artless Art with a warm spot in his heart for the girl inside the Guinevere clothes – for me!”
Plaid shirts, a green hoodie, corduroy and a wallet chain, tank tops, a leather cowboy hat, glasses and bottles held high cheering and clapping packed between a long L-shaped padded bench and the band there in the corner, blue jeans and striped T-shirts, stubbled head and hornrims, kilts and shorts and a snap-front Western shirt, a trucker’s cap that says Trans-Alaska Pipeline System shouting and whistling, standing on chairs and tables against the back wall. There by the bench Jo has to lift her hands above her head to find room to clap. Ysabel beside her, baggy cargo pants and a ringer belly shirt, holding her hair back out of her upturned face eyes closed, laughing under all the applause. “Thanks,” says the singer, ducking as she hauls the bass off her shoulder. “Thanks for indulging. An oldie, a goodie, ought to be more of a standard than it is.” A waitress carefully navigates the gap between crowd and bench, tray up, empty bottles, a glass full of something light and fizzy. “We’re Stone and Salt,” says the singer. “I think that’s what we decided on.” Laughter, more applause, jumping, jostled, the waitress lowers her tray curling over it braced one hand against the back of the bench.
“We got some whiskey,” says the red-headed man, who’s put down his guitar and picked up a fiddle.
“Is that Willamette Week?” says the singer. “Mark from the Willamette Week, ladies and gentlemen, slaking our thirst. Portland Mercury, y’all gonna put out?” The waitress pushes past Jo who stumbles leaning into a guy in a grey hoodie leaning back. “Is the Mercury in the house?” The waitress puts her hand on Ysabel’s shoulder, Ysabel turning, puzzled, shaking her head, “What?” she says. The waitress trying to give her the glass.
“Portland Monthly?” says the red-headed man.
“Oregonian?” says the kid, not looking up from the capo he’s strapping to his guitar.
“Two Louies, gonna buy us a round?”
Ysabel’s saying something to the waitress, “I don’t want this.” The guy in the grey hoodie lifts his phone up eyeing the blue-lit screen, angling for a shot of the singer, handing up shot glasses from the tray on the floor. “We have a,” she’s saying.
“Anodyne? Anodyne Magazine, in the house?”
“We didn’t order anything,” says Jo.
“We have a problem,” the singer says, standing up.
“I told you,” says the drummer. “I’m not doing jokes.”
“Oregon Business? Street Roots?”
The waitress points back, toward the bar. Jo’s looking, Ysabel craning up on her toes. A man in a black turtleneck looking right back at her, smiling. Waving. “We’re a five-piece,” says the singer. “These days. Not a quartet. I guess Mark couldn’t see our organist, off to the side. We couldn’t fit her on stage!” The drummer rattles off a sudden riff, thumping down the toms to crash against a cymbal. Marfisa’s standing up from behind a couple of keyboards, tangled hair pale like clotted cream shining under the lights. The man in the black turtleneck at the bar shrugging, looking only at Ysabel. Ysabel’s shaking her head. The waitress rolls her eyes.
Marfisa’s tucking a leather bag under her arm, drone pipes clattering. “She’s piping for us this next song,” says the singer, “and that is thirsty work. Can anybody,” and Ysabel’s reaching out to pluck the glass from the tray, the waitress already turned to go, tray wobbling from the shift in weight. “Can anybody spare a glass or a swallow?” says the singer.
Ysabel hands the glass to the guy in the grey hoodie. “Pass it up!” she says. He grins. Takes the glass. “Hey!” he bellows. “Pass it up!”
Hand to hand above the crowd the glass makes its way up to the singer, smiling, who takes it, hands it to Marfisa. “Thanks,” she says, “Yeah,” says Marfisa, leaning into the drummer’s mike. “Thank you, anonymous benefactor,” says the singer. The man in the black turtleneck turning away, lost in the press by the bar. “Okay,” says the singer. A low keening seeps into the room, stilling the crowd. Marfisa’s started blowing. Ysabel takes Jo’s hand. “This one’s gonna be on the album,” says the singer. Jo looks down at her hand, looks up at Ysabel, Ysabel’s eyes on the stage, shining, smiling. “Here it comes,” she says.
“Words,” the singer wails, “what use are words?” An echo, a ghost of a melody laid over the droning pipes. “I’m leaving, like the first morning. I’m held like the wind in your hand.” The fiddle groans, a rotting chord. “I ate my toast with butter and I drank my coffee with cream,” the guitar spieling under it all, “I wore your mask for a year and a day,” and with a crash of cymbals everything drops away but the drone and her voice. “But I’m not gonna scream,” she sings, simply, quietly, the drums fluttering up behind her, building, the red-headed man his fiddle high holding his bow ready, Marfisa hands on her pipes eyes closed blowing and ready, the kid’s hands shivering over the strings shedding notes as she opens her mouth and cries, “I’m leaving – ”
A desk lamp on the floor, plugged into an orange extension cord snaking off into the shadows. By the lamp a rotary phone and an answering machine. A bare foot steps into the light. Above it crisp folds of a dark blue skirt. He kneels there, by the light. Reaches out to press the rewind button on the answering machine. A scribble of voice in the air. Stop.
He sits back on his heels, face in shadow. His long black hair loose, spilling over the shoulders of his white shirt.
He leans forward. Presses play. Stands.
“Orlando, you sonofabitch, I know you’re there. Pick up.” He stands, steps away from the light. Unbuttons his shirt. “Listen, I’m calling on you. You owe me. You know it.” The shirt drops to the floor. A rustle, the darkness of his skirt falling away. The dark windows high in the wall before him, blank with dust weakly catching the lamplight. “I told you to find me a Gallowglas. You did.” Naked, he folds his hands together and bows his head. “You were going to cut her down right there in front of everybody until I told you not to. And you didn’t.” He lifts his head. Turns around. A thin dark line of hair dropping from his navel interrupted by something pale, dead skin tight and shining, a ripple, a knot, scars hunched across his belly from hip to hip.
“Orlando. Dammit, pick up.”
He steps back into the circle of lamplight and kneels. One hand holding a long knife, a slight curl to it, a simple Japanese hilt. “Don’t give me that shit about no oath sworn and no duty bound. You did it.” His other hand floats under the blade shining suddenly harsh. “For me.” Wraps his fingers about it, there below the hand on the hilt. “You need me. Admit it.” He closes his eyes. Squeezes them shut as he tightens his grip. “Tonight we’re going after Erymathos. The Dagger, the Helm, the Stirrup, and Jo fucking Gallowglas. I need you there, to watch my back. You hear me?” A drop of something colorless slides down the blade. Hangs a moment at the tip, an inch from the scar above his right hip. “You hear me? Orlando. Pick up.”
He yanks the knife into himself. Sits there a moment. His breath quick and shallow.
“You owe me. Seven ways, you owe me.”
Forearms tensed fists bunched tight one above the other he draws them straight upright along the frozen ripple of that scar, opening something wet and yellow in the light.
“Dammit.” A rattle, a click. Dial tone. He leans forward, reaches out with a hand shaking to press the stop button. Sits back. Swallows. Pulls the knife from his body.
After a moment he lays it to one side. His other arm cradling the wound, wet and shining, glittering, golden.
He leans forward. Presses rewind. The voice scribbles. Stop. Play.