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Lighting a cigarette – Life and Limb – an even Half Dozen –

Lighting a cigarette Jo tips her head back, lets a curl of smoke escape the corner of her mouth. “So you’re like a real band now and everything, huh?”

“This whole side of town is dangerous,” says Marfisa, head down, hands tight on the straps of her small purple backpack. Ysabel whoops spinning arms outstretched under the blinking red stoplights ahead of them, streets empty of traffic all around her.

“You got a CD coming out? You giving it away on the internet?” says Jo, heading down the sidewalk after Ysabel. “This isn’t a joke,” says Marfisa, following her. Wingtips clocking past an open lot full of idle Coke machines. “You should damn well know to stay downtown by now.” Argyle socks up over her knees and a tweed coat longer than her short checked skirt.

“We’re two fucking blocks from the bridge,” says Jo.

“You shouldn’t have crossed the water,” says Marfisa.

“Stop fighting!” calls Ysabel back over her shoulder.

“She wanted to see a band tonight,” says Jo, and Marfisa says “It doesn’t matter” as Jo’s saying, “Apparently, she wanted to see you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” says Marfisa, stopping at the corner, and then she lifts her head and calls, “Princess!”

Ysabel walking backwards down the street says, “Sing for me.”

“Lady, come back to the sidewalk.”

“Sing!” says Ysabel. “Your lady commands it.” Laughing.

“Lady, it’s Southeast’s street. The Hawthorne. Runs right through the heart of his demesne.”

“The Duke?” says Jo. “Don’t worry about the Duke.”

“How did it go?” says Ysabel, in the crosswalk now, as Jo says “He promised.” Ysabel’s singing, “I’m wearing Heidi braids, and aviator shades, my sailor suit is blue.”

“He promised?” Marfisa slowly turns her head to look at Jo. “You witless fool.” The next stoplight down the street turns red, and an engine snarls. Headlights appear, turn right, coming at them. Ysabel’s singing, “And if it weren’t for you, I’d take it off and leave it in a heap,” her voice faltering, turning to watch the car approach. “Right here in the street.” Marfisa’s small purple backpack falls to the sidewalk.

The car’s a reddish brown, a black stripe down the side. The driver’s hair is blond. She wears a grey chauffeur’s cap. The engine settles into a slow deep idle. A face appears up over the top of the car, a big smile, floppy brown hair, the Duke, pulling himself up out the window on the passenger’s side, resting his elbows on the roof of the car. “Put it away, Axe,” he says, sweetly. “The Princess is a friend of Jo’s, and I’m a man of my word.”

“Told you,” says Jo to herself. Marfisa holding the hilt of her sword down by her hip point up edges out into the street between Ysabel and the car.

“The Princess is a friend of Jo’s,” says the Duke, a little louder, “but you, Axe, are not – unless?” He looks to Jo, spreading his hands.

“Yeah,” says Jo, quickly. “She’s a friend of mine.”

“Damn,” says the Duke, slapping the roof of his car. “I hope you won’t be too profligate with that particular honor.” Looks down, into the car. “Babe, remind me, at some point I really need to get a copy of that list from her.” Marfisa looking sidelong at Jo, her arm relaxing. The tip of her sword swinging slowly down toward the pavement.

“You’ve interrupted my first night out in over a week,” says Ysabel.

“I know, lady,” says the Duke, “and I am sorry. Direst need compels me.”

“But you can’t mess with her,” says Jo. “And you can’t mess with Marfisa.”

The Duke cocks a finger at her. “Thing is,” he says, “I’m sure, a little work, you could devise a cunning sophistry around how one must first love oneself before loving others, but the spirit of my boon is as clear as the letter: I’m only to leave your friends alone.”

Jo sighs. “But me you’re gonna fuck with however you want.”

“Fuck with?” The Duke shakes his head, sadly. “I need your help, Gallowglas.” And then he smiles, his eyes lighting up. “You ever ridden a horse?”

Pop pop pop a string of firecrackers tossed from the back of the pickup truck slithers along the metal grating of the bridge. The Stirrup in his linen suit jumps, dropping a handful of paper-wrapped packets, bright red and gold under the fluorescent lights, bouncing on the bridge. “Fucking hell,” yells the boy in the brown leather jacket, “not fucking yet!” He reaches up into the truck, slapping at the people crammed in the back, seven or eight of them, hands in ripped leather gloves, a dirty blue goretex shoulder, a black T-shirt snarled with a face in cracked white ink.

“Cut it out!” bellows the Duke, brown boots ringing on the bridge, hands in the pockets of his long red coat. “Now listen up.” The Stirrup handing up the last of his firecrackers, the boy in the brown leather jacket tossing cheap lighters up into the pickup, purple and orange, green and yellow and blue. “My boys, Gaveston and Sweetloaf, they’re gonna in a minute here drive you out by the Lloyd Center. Start dropping you off every couple of blocks.” Pacing back and forth by the back of the truck. “You’re looking for a pig,” he says. “Biggest fucking monster pig there ever was.” The people in the back of the truck watching him, faces still, glasses blank in the streetlight, leaning over to spit something, cheeks pitted with old acne, picking at teeth with a grimy thumbnail. “You find him, you set him off running south. Down onto I-84. Kick up a ruckus, holler, spook him with those fireworks.” Nobody says anything. Maybe a shrug. “Everybody got their money?” Nods now, smiles, “Oh, yass,” says someone, the scarred face. “Okay,” says the Duke. “End of the night, you meet us on the freeway. Job’s done right, and we’ve got our boar, you’ll get double what’s in your pockets now.” Sweetloaf and the Stirrup climbing into the cab of the truck. “Keep in mind,” says the Duke, “there’s no life or limb on the table here. Nobody’s asking you to fight the damn thing. Just run him south, to us. But you don’t do a good job of that…” He slaps the side of the truck as it rumbles to life. “Go get him!”

“How will you stop me?” says Ysabel, sitting in the cramped back seat of the Duke’s car. City of tiny lites, murmurs the radio. Don’t you wanna go?

Marfisa beside her knees jackknifed takes Ysabel’s hand in hers. “I’ll say please.” She lifts Ysabel’s hand to her lips. “Don’t.”

“You can do better than that,” says Ysabel. Tiny lightning, in the storm. Tiny blankets keep you warm.

The Duke’s car is parked down the bridge where grate meets pavement, by the towering red-and-white striped crossing gates. Behind it a dark wall of trees along the riverfront and then up climbs the city, windows lit, spotlights and streetlights, billboards shining jostling building against building, depth lost in the darkness hazed by all that light. Shoulders hunched, hands jammed in the pockets of his red coat, the Duke walks up to the blond woman in the grey chauffeur’s cap, grey uniform jacket buttoned up to her throat, leaning against the fender, her back to the city. She stands as he steps close to her, hands on her hips. “When we’re gone,” he says, “take those two wherever they want to go. If I’m not back in the morning.”

“Leo,” she says. He leans up on his toes, reaching for the back of her head, pulling her mouth down to his. “Don’t,” he says, after the kiss, “don’t call me that. Not here. If I’m not back in the morning, there’s good cash money in the upper left drawer of the desk. Whoever’s next can’t keep it from you.”

“I can never find your fucking desk,” she says.

He kisses her again. “It’ll be there.” Steps back from her. Touches his fingers to his lips. “So where the fuck are these horses?” says Jo, loudly.

The Duke sighs. “Problem, Gallowglas?”

Jo’s on the sidewalk, flicking a cigarette-spark off into the dark past the bridge, out toward the great cranes away south sleeping by half-built bulks of glass-wrapped towers, red guide lights winking. “The Dagger and the Helm are fetching the horses,” says the Duke. “But you’re not pissed about the horses.” He leans on the bridge railing beside her. “And it can’t be Erymathos. You yourself told me off for letting him go, and here I am doing something about it.”

“What did you do with Christian Beaumont?”

“And just like that,” says His Grace, “you make demands of me.”

“Yeah,” says Jo.

“Who the fuck is Christian Beaumont?”

“Someone I used to know,” says Jo. “You picked him up the last time you got one of these posses together.”

“Another friend?” says the Duke. “If you mean the ruffians who set upon yourself and the Princess – ”


His smile is small and tight. “ – then I’ve got to remind you that occurred a couple weeks ago. Well before any words passed directly between us.”

“No one’s seen him since,” she says. “Your Grace.”

A pattering rainfall of hoofbeats, off in the distance. “I’m touched,” says the Duke, turning away, walking across the bridge. “You think I ever even knew their names in the first place.” He looks down the bridge toward the ramp curving up from the dark trees below. The hoofbeats drumming closer, quickly. “Trust me, Jo Gallowglas,” he calls over his shoulder. “When you got Tommy Rawhead killed, the only name I had in mind was yours.”

Up the bridge at a quick trot come the horses, heads tossing, six of them, the Dagger riding at the lead, all in black under his red coat. The grey-haired woman bringing up the rear, stepping her horse back and forth as the horses slow to a walk and stop, blowing, there where the pavement meets metal, there before the Duke. His Grace reaches slowly up, carefully, the horse before him all rust red and black points saddled and bridled, reins tucked away, stands still, shivers, blinks. The Duke’s hand settles on the horse’s neck, and nothing happens. His shoulders drop. His head tilts to the side. Smiling, he closes his eyes, strokes the horse’s neck. “So warm,” he says.

Jo pats the horse next to his, dark with a wide white blaze, gold glittering about the eyes. Fingers the saddle blanket, blue with gold trim. The seal in the corner. “Portland Police?” she says.

“They have horses,” says the Duke, opening his eyes. “We put them back when we’re done.”

“The hounds are away?” says the Helm, her voice rough.

“And so should we be,” says the Duke, lifting his foot into the stirrup, hauling himself up and up into the saddle, his horse stepping back and forth for balance. “Coming, Gallowglas?”

“Who else are we expecting, m’lord?” says the Dagger. Jo reaches up for the saddle of her horse. “We fetched six, but there’s only four of us.”

“I’d thought the Princess would ride one,” says His Grace, “to keep up with her guardian. But the Axe happened along, just in time to – ”

“Whoop,” says Jo as her horse wheels, herself half in the saddle. “Whoa,” she says. “Whoa. Like riding a bicycle.” Teeth gritted, setting her feet in the stirrups, untangling the reins. “A really fucking big bicycle. With feet.”

The Duke laughs. The Dagger’s smiling. The Helm walks her horse over by Jo’s, looks her over, shrugs, nodding at the Duke. “I said,” says Ysabel, reaching up eyes closed to stroke the neck of a grey horse pale among the others, “that I’m going with you.” She opens her eyes. “So it’s just as well you brought them.”

“Lady,” says the Duke, after a moment. “I hadn’t seen you leave the car.” She swings herself into the saddle, leans forward to lay her cheek against the grey’s mane. “You’ll be cold,” he says.

“I don’t care,” she says, straightening.

“I can’t risk it,” he says. “With a Gallowglas on the field. If something were to happen.”

“No one’s asking you to risk it,” she says. “And you were willing enough when you thought you had no one worthy of seeing me home.”

“I thought I’d have no choice,” he says.

“You don’t,” she says.

“And you, Axe?” says the Duke. Jo’s glaring at Ysabel. Ysabel’s shooting Jo a dark fierce look. “You’ll make it an even half dozen?”

Marfisa’s already hauling herself up onto the pinto, kicking one long leg over, settling her skirt, the skirts of her coat. “I would have words with Erymathos,” she says, “before the end.”

“Fine,” says the Duke. “Marvelous. Okay. Head north, for I-5, and take the I-84 exit.” He leans forward and whispers in his horse’s ear. “Soft loam under hoof, and clear sharp air in your lungs, and sweet grass and cold water when it’s done.” He straightens, looks about at the others. “Last one under the Grand Avenue bridge buys the bourbon!” he shouts. “Heeyup!”

The horses gallop away down the bridge, striking sparks, flying under the green sign that says Seattle, The Dalles, climbing the curving off-ramp leaning up and off to the left, into the empty, quiet confusion of freeway lanes. Roland jogs to a stop, bent over panting at the other end of the bridge, sweat-dark T-shirt, sunglasses shining in the streetlight, headphones over his ears. He straightens, claps his hands together, takes a deep breath in through his nose, blown out through his mouth. And again, hunching over, shaking out one leg then the other. And again, clapping his hands together once more, and then again, as one step after another after another and another the Chariot begins to run.

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What Are You Wearing?” written by Nick Currie, ©1998 Le Grand Magistery, LLC. “City of Tiny Lights” written by Frank Zappa, ©1979 Munchkin Music ASCAP.