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Six of them – Milo, Dub, Jonesy & Goose – a Capital suggestion – no Shout, no Cry, not a Word – Who He is –

Six of them in the room, and him, slouched in the doorway, hands tucked in the pockets of his grimy sweatshirt. “That you spend time,” the withered old man is saying. “And I pay money, for that time.” A low, incantatory growl, a bellows-rasp of breath between each phrase. “That I buy, your time. How. How can I, buy time.” Sunlight glowers behind heavy ruddy drapes drawn over a picture window. “Hand me some time. Put, in my hands, an hour of your day.” He’s sitting in the big brown leather recliner, leaning forward, soft shoulders warmly wrapped in an old quilt. “See what good,” he says, and under the quilt a hand jolts, and another wheeze of breath, “it does. Either of us. Some of you.” One of those eyes squinted shut by a snarl of wrinkles, radiating from that sunken nose. “Think it’s your effort. Not time, but labor. Work. That if you try. That if you strive. That’s what I want. That’s what I pay for. But I don’t. Pay you. What I want. What I want.”

The XO’s there, across the room, frowning around the stiffness of his scar, and three men on the couch, the two of them at either end upright, elbows on knees, the one in a soft plaid workshirt, a steaming cup in his hand, the other in a brown and blue down vest, empty hands scraped rawly red about the knuckles, and between the two of them Jasper, leaning forward, elbows on his knees, grizzled head in his hands. “We, built,” the CO’s saying, from his recliner, “the finest country, the shining city, our green Jerusalem. We did that.” One hand springs from the quilt, clawed in a fist. “No one paid us. No one. Paid. Us.” There in the corner, Moody sips his coffee, watching the XO, who’s watching the CO. “We built it. It was ours. Until the others came, and took it.”

At that, he pulls his hood up, ducks back around the doorway, away down the unlit hall. Back in the sunlight, Moody smiles over his cup. “Even so,” the CO’s saying, that hand of his drooping, “even so. With every advantage, in their grasp. The, laws. The rules. Politicians. Media. The, the,” and he pulls that hand of his back under the quilt. “The rules,” he says. “The rules.”

“The banks, Dad,” says the XO.

“The banks!” spits the CO, trembling, coughing. “The banks,” he says, again. “Even with, all this. Even with every advantage. Our country, in their hands. Smirking. Laughing, at us. Even with all that, it’s, still, there. We can.” That hand, working its way free of the quilt again. “Pay you?” he snarls. “Your time? Your labor? You take it, you take it and you go out, and you take it! You build it up again! Rip City!” That hand of his, upthrust, a fist, and after a moment over on the couch a raw-knuckled fist is lifted, and the hand that isn’t holding a cup is wadded, help up, and a nudge for Jasper between them, who shakes his grizzled head. “Go and get it!”

A general exodus from the couch, bump and stumble and one or the other of them helping Jasper to his feet, the XO waving them over, rubbing his chin. Moody’s looking across the room to that unlit hall beyond, but the CO’s reaching up out of the quilt about him, grabbing at Moody’s sleeve, “Where is everyone?” he says, his voice gone querulously thin. “What happened?”

“It was a fine speech,” says Moody, plucking at that hand. “Very inspirational.” The XO’s jabbing a finger, making a point, looking from the one man to the other, as Jasper opens the front door, a blare of daylight. “Where is everyone?” the CO says, again. “The jefes? Where is everybody?”

“They’re here,” says the XO.

“Where was Milo?” says the CO. “Where was Double-Dee?”

“Dub was, Dub was here, Dad,” says the XO, kneeling by the recliner. “Dub just left,” but the CO’s saying, “Where’s Jonesy? Where’s,” and “Jones,” says the XO, taking his hand, “Dad, who are you,” as the CO says, “where’s the Goose?”

“Dad,” says the XO. “Goose died, like, two years ago. Two and a half years ago.”

Down the unlit hallway, out onto an awkward corner landing, Moody cup in hand is careful of the plywood ramp laid over the steps down into the kitchen. Through that, down another short flight, a door at the end half-open, and sunlight falling from a small window set high in the wall. “Hey. Shizzt,” says Moody, setting his nearly empty cup down by a limp black duffel. “Hey,” he says again, nudging open a louvered door, a small closet, and there’s Christian in his grimy sweatshirt, sitting on the floor of it, beneath a mirror pasted over with stickers. “Weren’t thinking of sneaking out, were you?” says Moody, and Christian hunches further under his hood. “You always was smart,” says Moody, hunkering down in the doorway. “You know this is your best play, you know this is where it’s going, and we all know you’re gonna help us get there. So I know you know better than to go walking out in the middle of a sermon, yeah?” His thin lips curl companionably as he tries to peer under the margins of that hood. “He ain’t talking about you. You get that, right? You get he’s talking about the Russians and the Vietnamese, he’s talking about the fucking Mexicans, for Christ’s sake, he ain’t talking about you. You’re smart. You’re good – ”

Christian’s hand catches Moody’s, that was reaching for that hood, “The fuck you know,” he growls.

Moody yanks his hand free, standing, stepping back, and his reflection in the mirror lapped by the peeling stickers on the glass, black and grey and here and there some red, and the letters on them white and silver and black, shaped like blades, like bolts of lightning, like letters from old Bibles, the Boreads, they say, and Sheriff Pain, Article XVIII, Hróðvitnir. “I know you’re pathetic,” he says. “You’re weak. You never had the guts to go join a gang of your own. Your mother never had to get around to kicking you out of the house. This is all you got now, and I’m the only one here who’s got your back. So. Get up off that skinny black butt and get upstairs and make yourself useful, that’s what I know.”

He opens the glass door off the sidewalk, steps inside, a wall of mailboxes, six of them, dully stainless steel and sharp corners and scuffed plastic over handwritten box numbers, and around the corner a short flight of steps up to a landing at the base of a steep staircase, and Jo, sat there, her sword in its scabbard across her lap. “My lady,” says Luys, all in browns. “I had not meant to make you wait.”

“No,” says Jo, “no, you’re fine,” and sighing, looks up the switchback stairs. “Chrissie’s here.”

“What, again?” says Luys.

“Still,” says Jo, getting to her feet, her red Chuck Taylors, her baggy black jeans, her tight black T-shirt. “Let’s get to it.” Swinging her sheathed sword up to rest on her shoulder. “Unless you’d rather skip straight to waffles?”

“As my lady wishes,” says Luys.

“One of these days,” says Jo, headed for the door, “I’m gonna get you to admit you want something I don’t wish.”

Outside, and the wall of the building rising white and green beside them, and across the street the dark empty windows stretching up, plastered with signs, Now Leasing, The 20 on Hawthorne, Units Available. Jo up under the latticed fire escape is saying “So how do you know?” Looking back over her shoulder. “What gives it away? Nine times out of ten I can’t get you to bite on a feint. What’s my, whaddaya call it. Tell.”

“I couldn’t say,” says Luys, with a bit of a smile.

“You couldn’t, you couldn’t say. That’s some good teaching, there.”

A shrug of those broad shoulders. “I merely know, my lady, when you mean to strike, and when you do not.”

“Okay, so, wait, so yesterday,” says Jo, planting herself, reaching out to stop him, “did I really get you with the over-under? Or did you just not take the block so you could set up the cut?”

“My lady,” says Luys, nodding at something past her, behind her. Jo turns. Down at the corner there’s a garage door, set at an angle, a couple of recycling bins blue and olive in a slice of shade. Beside them a boy’s leaned back against the wall, brown bomber jacket and his brown hair in a wilting pompadour, an arm crooked over the hand-truck there beside him, loaded with a large plastic tub, a couple of pink boxes, a pallet of water bottles and atop it all a tray of paper cups of coffee. “The hell?” says Jo. “Sweetloaf? What is all this?”

“Hey, boss,” says the boy, pushing off the wall, “sorry, yeah, I don’t have a fucking key for the big door, and I didn’t want to try to wrestle this fucking thing through that fucking little door there, and,” but Jo’s talking over him, “No,” she’s saying, “no, Sweetloaf,” and then, to Luys, as he stoops to unlock the garage door, “Is this your idea?”

“It’s none of mine,” says Luys, hauling up the door.

“So there’s towels,” Sweetloaf’s saying, with a kick for the plastic tub at the bottom of the stack, “for sweat, I guess, or if you spill any fucking water,” a slap for the plastic-wrapped pallet of plastic bottles, “lots of water, and hey, Mason, I know you like those fucking Staccato donuts, but my connect’s with Voodoo, and these are fucking good, fucking primo,” and Jo says, “Hey, Sweetloaf,” but he’s saying, “and of course coffee, can’t fucking go without coffee,” and “Sweetloaf!” says Jo. “Why. Did you bring. All of this. Here?”

“Shrieve said to,” says Sweetloaf.

“But there’s just the two of us,” says Luys, frowning, as Jo says, “Bruno,” and then “shit,” and then she’s headed off under the door, down the ramp within, “My lady?” says Luys, and “There fucking better be more than just the two of you,” mutters Sweetloaf, but there’s a clangor echoing down there, steel on steel, and Luys starts running after Jo, “Gallowglas!” he’s yelling, “Gallowglas approaches!”

“Can I,” says Sweetloaf, “a little fucking help, here? Hello?” Lifting the tray of coffee cups with one hand, grunting as with the other he leans the handtruck back and wrestles it around, trundling toward the ramp, “No, seriously,” he’s muttering, “fucking thanks.”

Around and down the precipitous curl of the ramp the garage opens and stretches out under the length of the building above, fluorescent lights, polished concrete, the SUV and that low-slung, muscular sedan. Milling about there, half of a dozen turning, lifting fists and weapons in salute, a burble of “Your grace” and “Duchess” and “My lady!” as Jo stalks toward them, “Okay, so, ah,” she’s saying, stepping into the midst of them all, “gentlemen, ah, folks,” a blink, “I’m guessing the Shrieve told you guys to show up?”

“And a capital suggestion!” cries a man in a blue-and-white striped sailor’s vest, whipping his rapier back and forth, and “A dash of finality to spice our play,” says a shirtless man, the sleeves of his orange coveralls tied about his waist, and a short wide-bladed sword tipped to his forehead.

“Yeah,” says Jo, still looking about.

“Is there some concern, Duchess?” says the burly woman looming over them all, her long hair dyed a watery green, and a barbed harpoon leaned up against her shoulder.

“What?” says Jo. “No, Peg, no, we’re all,” and then, raising her voice, “there’s refreshments, everybody, avail yourselves, and I guess there’s towels? I dunno. Sweetloaf!” Beckoning him over, and he sets down the coffees as the knights, murmuring, laughing, approach, and hustles through them, followed closely by Luys. “Get upstairs,” she says, quick and low in his ear, “and make certain Iona is with the Queen.”

“What?” he says, too loud, alarmed. “Boss, why?”

“Just do it.”

“What is it, lady?” says Luys, as low and close, as Sweetloaf hustles off.

“Chilli isn’t here,” she says. “But he will be. I need to know who in this room is with him.”

“He’s much on the outs, since the robbery,” says Luys. “The Cater and his cronies,” he’s nodding at the man in the sailor’s vest, raising a paper cup of coffee to them, “have made their disdain clear.”

“Well somebody’s up to something,” says Jo. “Watch my back.”

“My lady,” says Luys, with a disarming chuckle, “no one would dare.”

“Hey, Astolfo!” Jo’s calling, and she lifts her sheathed sword from her shoulder. “You want to show me how those shield-thingies work?”

“Is her grace quite certain she doesn’t mean Medoro?” says the man in grey sweats, sipping carefully from the cup in his bucklered fist, and “No,” says Jo, “my grace does not, Medoro’s the Axle,” and the man in the grimy T-shirt lifts an exaggerated hand to his breast, “and you’re a fucker, fucking with me. C’mon, let’s go!” One hand on the hilt of her sword, the other about the beaten metal throat of the scabbard of it, as amidst laughter and claps and backslaps he steps out into the open space, tightening the straps on his bucklers, the one on his left hand edged with a sharp polished rim, the one on his right bossed with spikes. “But wait,” says Jo, and he stops. “You got the ante?”

“Ante, ma’am?” he says.

“A pinch of owr,” says Jo, “or thereabouts, in case you poke me. Can’t have a Duke bleeding all over the floor now, can we?”

“But, your grace, that’s hardly fair,” says the Cater, stepping up with a broad smile to temper his stern judgment. “We pay to cut you, but if we are cut instead – we’re done for!”

“Don’t think of it like that, Connie,” says Jo, turning to him. “Think, instead, that I will lose a knight – which will hurt me quite a lot, seeing as how I’m so fond of all of you.” Luys stifles a chuckle at that, as the rest of them turn from one to another, uncertain, hesitant. “So, what, too spicy, folks?” says Jo, drawing her sword. “Come on! Try to get as close as you can without touching – anybody trust their skills enough to play?”

Luys says, “Perhaps, my lady,” but the Cater laughs, a sharply cornered bark, “Mason!” he cries. “You’ve had her every morning of the week! Let the rest of us have our,” but he stops, brought up short by the tip of Jo’s sword, lifted in a sweeping arc to wind up there, an inch perhaps from the end of his nose. The chuckles of the knights behind him turn to whistles, cheers, a booming “Ha!” from Peg. His smile widens, his eyes flash, his rapier whips up whick-whack knocking her blade aside and a hasty riposte that sends her leaping back. She stoops to lay her scabbard on the floor, then steps back again, to the side, leading them both out into the open space. “So tell me,” she says, “Connie, how long you been fencing?”

“Why,” he says, twisting to follow her prowling steps to one side, then the other, “I cannot remember a day I’ve not held this hilt in my hand.”

“Well I’ve only been at it about, six months,” but already Jo’s lunging, high over his blade twitched around and under as he lifts to parry the feint and whooping he skips back, slashing the air with his rapier. “So go easy on me,” she says, settling into en garde with a grin.

“Of course, your grace,” says the Cater.

Whick and snick thin scrapes and snap his needled blade against her slender steel, the wisht of his rope-soled espadrilles on polished concrete, the squeak of her red Chucks. He’s pressing her, quick thrusts that lick at her quartered parries, rapid enough she doesn’t have time to riposte, retort, reply, a constant clash till back she steps and back again and he doesn’t take what she cedes. He lowers his blade, guardedly, and a quirk of a smile. “Six months?” he says.

She shrugs.

“Who’s next, then,” says Luys, “to try her grace’s hand,” but even so the Cater’s blade-tip loops high and then a lazy fillip about Jo’s frantic parry to hitch back under and plunge home, canted at an oddly hilt-high angle, and gasps about as breaths are caught. Jo looks down the length of his steel to that needlepoint plucking a belt loop of her jeans.

“The distracted hunter,” says the Cater, stepping back, “might be caught in her own snares,” and lifts his rapier in a salute.

Jo coughs up a wry chuckle, “Okay,” she says, “okay,” whipping her sword back, shaking out her wrist, “point taken.” And the eruption of laughter at that, which she joins, after a moment. “So who is next?” she yells out over the ruckus, “who’s gonna give me another pointer?” But even as she bites her lip looking off away at that with a wince they’re all turning away, squeak and rustle in the fallen hush, and the clink and faintly chime of weapons gripped more tightly, swung about and hefted, at the ready. No shout, no cry, not a word is spoken, but there he is on the rise of the ramp where it swings out of the garage, one foot forward, lower than the other, and his hip slung back, his empty hands at his sides, his white blouse open at the throat, laces loose a-dangle below his big blond beard, his matted tangle of blond hair, Chillicoathe, the Harper.

“Shit,” says Jo, under her breath.

“Hey,” says Chilli.

That growl’s coming from the throat of green-haired Peg. “You,” snarls the Cater, there behind Jo.

“Me!” cries Chilli. “Am I not a knight yet in this company, and as game to play as any of you?” and his empty hands spread wide.

“Oh, it’s not play we’d be about,” says the Cater, and he points his rapier past Jo, up at the Harper, and Jo’s looking from the Cater, to the Harper, to Luys. “Who would you have as your second?” the Cater’s saying. “Oh, but who here would stand as second for the likes of you?”

“My second?” cries Chilli, with an overabundance of alarm, as the Cater steps past Jo, his sword still up and out, “You’ve disgraced this company,” he’s saying, “your weakness, your cowardice insulted our Duke, our Queen, and I would see it proved upon your body,” and a slash, at the air, and another, “as I should’ve done, weeks ago!”

“Well if that’s the matter,” says Chilli, looking about at the rest of them, “what say you, friends? Anyone willing to help the Cater out? To step up, and stand as my second? Gerlin? Medoro? Peg Greentooth? Anyone?”

The man in the orange coveralls steps out of the little crowd of them, his short wide sword held low, and a nod as he heads past the Cater to the Harper’s side, “Pwyll!” says someone, Astolfo with his bucklers, but the man in the coveralls holds up his free hand, “I do this office,” he says, “that we might see this done,” and Chilli welcomes him with a sweep of his arm, “I thank you nonetheless,” he says, still smiling. “Hold up,” says Jo.

“Who then will stand for me?” cries the Cater with a showman’s flourish, and even as Astolfo, and Medoro, as Gerlin and Peg lift up their hands and weapons, “Hold it,” says Jo, louder, “that’s enough, you guys, okay,” stepping out between the two of them, “enough!” Standing before the Cater now, her free hand out toward Chilli. “We are not having a fucking rumble today, is that clear?”

“Your grace,” says the Cater, “I must insist,” but “My lady,” says Chilli, “his insult will not be borne,” and “it is an affront to” and “demand satisfaction” and “stood there like” and “blade and body” and “sneering clown” and “here and now” and “Enough!” bellows Luys, off to the side of all of them. “Gentlemen. The Duchess has spoken.”

“Your grace will not deny me satisfaction, surely,” says Chilli, waving him off.

“You and me, in a minute, Harper, we’re gonna have words. Until then, shut the fuck up.”

“My lady is yet young,” the Cater says, “and as new to the reins as the hilt. Let me shoulder this odious chore – I’ll cut him down, to the size he would affect!” But even as he’s lifting his rapier again, Jo’s glaring at him over the shoulder of her sword-arm, “I hunt for the King,” she says. “Don’t you ever even think you can tell me what I have or haven’t done,” and he’s blinking, his face goes blank, “Ma’am,” he says, “I would never,” but his sword’s still pointed past her, at Chilli, who lifts his hands and claps them together in a flash of light, to draw out between them his short and heavy sword, one hand now wrapped about the golden-pommeled hilt, the other stroking the flat of the blade of it down to its tip and off. “My lady, please,” he says, and his shaggy yellow head is slowly shook. He looks up to her. “Do not ask me to set this aside.”

“I ain’t asking, I’m telling,” says Jo. “Christ, Chilli, this is one hell of a long way to go to get out of talking to me. Put it away. Put them all away!” Swinging about to encompass the lot of them, that glowering arc arrayed behind the Cater, swords and bucklers and steel rod and harpoon a-bristle. “Lower your goddamn weapons! This is not how we are doing things today!” And her own sword droops. “I swear!”

“Please, my lady,” says Chilli then, behind her now, quite calm, his sword held high. “Let me show you who I am.”

Jo looks from the Cater to Chilli, then, and “Not like this,” she says, but “Villain!” cries the Cater. “Reprobate! Cack-handed milk-sodden fustilarian!” And Chilli, swelling up with a great breath, lets it out all at once, “I want my coat!” he roars, and leaps in swinging.

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