Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

He’s stepping out – a Boon – his Treat – something Wet & Ruined –

He’s stepping out of the elevator before the doors have fully opened, ducking his white-hatted head and lifting a white and ivory brogue over the inner doors opening vertically, swinging his shoulders draped in a long white coat to sweep through the outer doors opening side to side. Behind him a big guy and a little guy in black suits and skinny black ties, the little guy on his heels, thinned hair vainly trying to launch a curl between his brow and the top of his skull, a fiendish little basket-box in his hands carved from a single chunk of dark red wood. The big guy gives the chain that opens the doors one last tug and follows them. His beard’s the color of mahogany and bushy enough to bury the knot of his tie.

The floor about them wide open and dark, plastic sheeting hung here and there lofting and popping in occasional gusts of wind. Bright light from caged lamps leaves deep pools of shadow in corners and along the white-patched drywall. On a folding chair sits a man in a soft blue suit his arms folded, his white hair touched with gold in dreadlocks hanging down about his face, brushing his shoulders, “Leir,” he says.

“Viscount Pinabel,” says Mr. Leir, doffing his hat. His face quite young beneath all that white unruly hair. “I hope the season finds you well? Above us ascends a woman of good face and habit; two men strike at her, and their blows bring about comeliness, beauty, but also all manner of strife and treachery, deceit, detractation, and perdition.”

“Charles. Wentworth. Leir,” says Agravante, and plastic sheeting rustles in a sudden gust. “Tell me why I am sitting in a half-finished building.”

Mr. Leir smiles, hands his hat to Mr. Keightlinger, then slips his coat from his shoulders. “Such a quaint superstition,” he’s saying.

“I told you to tell me,” says Agravante. “What went wrong?” Plastic rustles and pops again.

“To believe that, because one knows the full and true name of a thing, or a person,” says Mr. Leir, folding his coat and draping it over Mr. Keightlinger’s outstretched arm, “one might then control it. As if all that I am, my blood, my bones, every book I’ve read, the sandwich I had for lunch and the two thousand dollar shoes on my feet, the old friends I’ve loved, and betrayed, the vectors of every desire and necessity that have brought me here to stand before you at this moment – as if all that could be summed up and bent to your will with twenty letters written on a piece of paper filed away in the Breathitt County Courthouse.”

Agravante’s standing, chair pushed back. “I don’t care about your shoes” he’s saying but Mr. Leir folds his arms there between Mr. Keightlinger and Mr. Charlock and says “Oh, but you should. It’s precisely the knowledge of these little things that grants us the control we seek. That you, for instance, Viscount,” and he untucks a hand to begin ticking points with his fingers, “chafe under the thumb of your grandfather, that you’ve no stomach ever to try and sit the Throne yourself, that you’ve set aside money and property in an attempt to position yourself with respect to those you see as most likely to become the King Come Back, that – and this may seem the important fact, but it’s not, for you are prudent and adaptable though your current suppositions in that regard are wrong, all wrong,” and four fingers ticked off Mr. Leir now folds three back and lifts his index finger, a final point, “no, the important fact for our purposes here and now is that despite your care and preparation you’ll be terribly surprised by what your sister plans to do in two weeks’ time.” Mr. Leir spreads his hands, and all about them plastic sheeting billows out, blown taut. “Is all that somehow wrapped up in a name I’ve known for years – Agravante Pinabel, Axehandle to Her Majesty’s Court?” He shakes his head. Mr. Keightlinger’s impassively keeping watch over the hat in his hand. Mr. Charlock’s holding that basket box up and out and away from himself. Agravante’s slowly sitting back down. “A name however true and full,” says Mr. Leir, “serves merely to marshal these facts, to bring them to the forefront of my thoughts when I require.”

“You spoke,” says Agravante, “of my sister. And a terrible surprise.”

“But one year and one day ago, Viscount,” says Mr. Leir, “you asked me to intercede on your behalf with certain powers to ensure the success of a construction enterprise.” Looking about the unfinished floor. “These riverfront condominium towers, which were presented in every particular detail drawn up in meticulously beautiful plans.”

“Tell me what you know of my sister, sorcerer!” says Agravante, and all about them the plastic’s snapping taut again, and the lights tremble in their cages splashing shadows about.

“These buildings,” says Mr. Leir, “are not the buildings those plans described. Not in every particular detail.”

“You,” says Agravante, “you must mean, you can’t possibly.” Plastic rustles, flutters, collapses. “Elements had to be changed, I was told, yes, you’d be mad to think – ”

“Compromise,” says Mr. Leir, “is ever the death of art. Had those buildings been built, the ones presented to me last year in those plans, the ones on whose behalf I interceded – your success would have been assured.” He beckons to Mr. Charlock, who steps up with that fiendish little basket-box. “I have fulfilled my end of our agreement. You in turn did deign to grant a boon.”

“I did,” says Agravante, quietly.

“I would have you take this from me, Viscount,” says Mr. Leir, lifting the box from Mr. Charlock’s grasp. “Keep it safe and undisturbed until I ask that you return it. Tell no one that you have it. If you fail me in this, know that not even the grave would keep me from making my displeasure known.” Harsh light shines from where it’s caught in the polished gloss of the dark red wood. “If it is in your power to do this thing for me, our agreement is satisfied, and we will be quits.”

Agravante puts a hand on the box but does not take it. “You must tell me, sorcerer, what it is my sister’s planning to do.”

“Please,” says Mr. Leir, smiling. “Call me Charles.”

“Hup,” he says and she steps forward knee bending deeply sword flashing forward and down whipping to thwap against the red heart pinned to the dummy before her. Her trailing leg a long straight line from planted foot to hip her off arm flung back along it. “And up,” he says, and she pulls back settling her weight on that planted foot knees bent a little, sword-arm crooked the blade at a slight angle before her tip about the level of her eyes, off arm tucked close to her dingy padded jacket empty hand held palm out before her chest. “Hup,” he says, and she lunges wrist flicking blade down whap against the red heart, “and up,” he says, and back she settles waiting. “Hup,” he says again, and then “okay,” he says, “okay,” thoughtfully stroking his salt-and-pepper Van Dyke. “Tell me what you’re doing wrong.”

“She’s chopping,” says Ysabel sitting back to the mirrored wall, not looking up at either of them but down at the small thick book in her lap, legs curled under the stiff pleats of a corduroy skirt.

“Please, lady,” he says. “Less kibitzing. But you were,” he says. “Chopping.”

“Yeah,” says Jo, standing relaxed upright looking down at the épée in her hands. The bell of it dull and dented, the hilt wrapped in grubby red tape.

“What have I told you about chopping?” He steps over to the rack of foils by the dummy and wraps his fingers around a complicated grip with odd bends and hooks like some obscure medical instrument. “Not to do it,” says Jo, as he plucks the foil from the rack and swivels to glare at her down the wiry length of it scored with dings and nicks its dull black rounded rubber tip shivering there before her eyes. “This is a needle, girl. Not a damn cleaver. The reason the tip of it’s padded is that’s the part that’s dangerous. You chop like that and all the power in your legs and hips and arm is wasted. All you bring to the table’s the flick of your wrist. Not nearly enough. And if you do wind up for a decent cut,” he swings the blade back and up and over his head, elbow up and out to one side, “you pull your blade away and leave yourself wide open for acres of time. Anybody could step in here and do whatever the hell they wanted and my one way to stop ’em’s otherwise engaged.” He lowers the blade en garde and then with a little fillip of a salute dips the tip to the floor. Jo’s saying, “I guess I’m just, I keep thinking of how Orlando was coming at me.”

“Mooncalfe’s on a katana,” says Vincent, tip of his sword whicking over a ragged X of blue tape on the floor. “Anybody uses a katana’s a damn fool thinks a saber’s really a scalpel. Every now and then, someone like him’s crazy enough to pull it off.”

“Marfisa wields a rapier,” says Ysabel.

“Well, yeah,” says Vincent. “Many knights do.” Looking back and forth, from Jo’s suddenly pursed mouth to Ysabel still not looking up from her book. “Four times out of five a heavy old-school Italian rapier beats a jumped-up Ginsu knife, all else being equal. Something you want to tell me?”

Jo shakes her head. Ysabel turns a page.

“Goddammit,” snaps Vincent, turning away, slashing at nothing. “What have I told you about keeping a low profile?”

“She pounded down my door while I was making breakfast in my underwear,” says Jo. “That low enough for you?”

“It’s okay, Mr. Erne,” says Ysabel, setting her book to one side, as Vincent’s saying, “You aren’t nearly ready. Not nearly.”

“It’s okay,” Ysabel’s saying.

“The Axe is fast, lady. She’s beaten the Chariot, three for three.” He turns back to Jo. “You cannot keep this shit from me, girl. The hell were you thinking?”

“She hasn’t formally challenged Jo yet,” says Ysabel. “Just said she would. At the Samani,” and Vincent’s saying “Okay, well,” as Ysabel says, “Besides, I made a wish.”

“I,” says Vincent, and he swallows a grimace, not looking away from Jo. “Okay. Well. When she pops the question, then, you dumb enough to say yes?”

“The fuck do you care?” says Jo. “I say yes, I’m dead. I say no, I’m out. Either way you lose your two hundred bucks a month.”

No one says anything. No one moves, until Vincent slams his rapier back onto the rack. “Lady,” he says, hand braced on the edge of the rack, “please. Leave. Take your Gallowglas with you.” His shoulders rise and fall around a sigh. “Come back Monday.” Jo’s kneeling over by the door, shoving her épée into its soft leather sheath. Bundling it up in a couple of folded towels. “Before somebody says something we all end up regretting.”

“Honestly, the two of you,” says Ysabel, walking towards the door. “I made a wish.”

“That’s a pepper bacon with cheese basket and a Black Forest shake, a colossal basket and a Pibb Xtra, two regular burgers no ketchup and a large Diet Coke, an Oregon Harvest with cheddar basket and iced tea. Those regular burgers want any fries?”

“Nah,” drawls the driver, leaning out his open window. Slap ’em up and shake ’em up and then you know, says the car radio over a loping beat. Let ’em off the flow then bait ’em with the dough, you can do it funk or do it disco. The fat man in the back seat leans forward a little face still hidden in the shadows back there. “Get us some a them sweet potato fries. My treat.”

“You want a large order?” says the speaker on the post by the lit-up menu board.

“Sure,” says the driver. His chin is enormous, stained by red and green and orange light from the menu board. His eyes are very small and sleepy.

“Thirty dollars thirteen cents,” says the speaker. “Pull up to window two.”

“Ha,” says the fat man, settling back as the driver puts the car in gear. “Tell him there’s a boom in child prostitution, when he show up at the stroll give him lead restitution.” Singing over the radio. “Ha!” Slapping the beat on bare knees below the ragged hems of his cargo shorts. The girl in the back seat by him sits pressed close against the door her elbow on the window-ledge, head in her hand, light from the drive-through window sliding across her closed eyes. Her hair scraped down to patchy stubble around a floppy mohawk. “Put a fifty in the barrel of a gun, yeah he try to suck it out well you know this one!” Shifting back and forth, scraggly hair wobbling as he bobs his head. Up front the driver’s leaning over, poking the guy in the passenger seat, hand out, palm up. “The fuck,” says the guy in the passenger seat. “His treat. He said.” Dark hair hanging lankly down to his shoulders. Windbreaker zipped all the way up to his narrow throat.

“Timmo’s only picking up the fries,” says the driver. “Ante up.”

“Five million ways, motherfucker!” bellows Timmo, shaking the back of the passenger seat. “You catch Mel’s, too. You owe her I’m pretty sure. I know you’re good for it.” Grumbling to himself the guy in the passenger seat digs through his pockets. The clerk’s handing drinks through the window and the driver hands the shake back to Timmo, then takes some money from the guy in the passenger seat and hands him a couple of large paper cups. “They used to call it Mr. Pibb,” he says. “Pibb Extreme’s a dumbass name.”

“Call it whatever the fuck you want,” says Timmo. He jabs a straw into his shake and takes a slurp. The driver’s taking bags from the clerk and dropping them in the lap of the guy in the passenger seat, who’s holding those cups up and out of the way. “We good?” says Timmo. “We good? Let’s go, let’s go, we divvy it up back at the house. Come on Abe let’s go already.”

“Problem,” says the driver.

“What problem,” says Timmo, leaning forward. Beside him the girl’s stirring, lifting her head, opening her eyes. In front of the car a figure one hand on the hood long black hair lofting in a gust of wind face hidden in the shadows flung from headlight beams. “Fuck her,” says Timmo. “Gun it.”

“I ain’t running her over,” says Abe.

“Him,” says the guy in the passenger seat.

“Him?” says Timmo. “Frankie? You know this fucker?”

The figure’s walking beside of the car now, trailing that hand along the fender. White dress shirt half-unbuttoned, black hair settling about his shoulders. One eye’s not lost in shadow but hidden under a black eyepatch cupped there beside his sharply angular nose. “Go,” the guy in the passenger seat’s saying, “go, go! Go!” Leaning back away from the door as the figure lifts a pale hand to knock on his window.

“He’s in it,” says Mel, scratching at her mohawk. “He’s one of them that’s in it.”

“You want to tell me about this, Frankie?” says Timmo.

“Ho,” says Abe. That pale hand’s around a hilt now, rough black cloth wrapped over a bone-white grip, the butt of it tapping against the glass. “Shit!” Frankie’s saying. Abe’s got a gun in his hand, an ugly little revolver, barrel barely long enough to poke out over the knobby finger curled around the trigger. “Put that fucking thing away!” says Frankie.

“Well maybe you ought to get out of the car and talk to him,” Timmo’s saying. “Seems to me this is all on you and none of ours.”

“You can’t just leave me here,” says Frankie. Timmo shrugs. “How the fuck am I getting back?”

“When you do,” says Timmo, reaching up to snag the bags of food from Frankie’s lap, “you best come talk to me.” The barrel of Abe’s gun pointing at Frankie’s belly now. “Fuck,” says Frankie, yanking the handle of his door, shouldering it open. Even as he’s putting his feet on the pavement something grinds and chunks in the car and as he’s turning to close the door, “Hey!” he yells, it leaps away engine snarling red lights flaring as it slows suddenly whipping right and squealing away down the street. “My burger!” he’s yelling. “You shits!”

“Frankie,” says Orlando, his sword held low at his side.

“Fuck you,” says Frankie, turning to walk away. He stops mid-step. The bare tip of the blade’s resting on his shoulder. He turns back, ducking out from under the sword even as Orlando’s lifting it and pulling it back. “You’re her ex, Frankie. Jo Maguire. Jo Gallowglas. You know a great many things about her, I’m sure. You know whom it is she loves.”

“What?” says Frankie.

“Before,” says Orlando, “I would not have cared how she was removed from court, so long as she was removed. But now – ” He scratches his cheek by the eyepatch, tugging at the skin there a glimpse of something wet and ruined beneath. He lifts the sword with his other hand. “I cannot allow Marfisa to kill her in a duel. Not now. Not before I’ve had a chance to do terrible things to her.” He strokes Frankie’s cheek with the dulled back of the blade. “Things you will help me with.”

“Kill?” says Frankie, voice a squeak, eyes on the sword there brushing his face. “Duel?”

Table of Contents

de occulta philosophia, written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, within the public domain. Five Million Ways to Kill a CEO,” written by Boots Riley, copyright holder unknown.

M.E.Traylor    14 August 2010    #

Interesting take on sword styles. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen them compared before. I dig Vincent, and Orlando needs to talk out his anger.

  Textile Help