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“Where are they?” – White Feathers in Her hair

“Where are they?” screams Mr. Charlock in that white trench coat, brandishing the gun up over his head.

“Shoot me or put it away,” says Michael, squatting by Bottle John laid out on the bare plank floor. “I’m out of patience for threats.”

“He’s dead,” says Mr. Charlock, lowering the gun.

“Dead as his brother.”

“He was dead when I got there,” says Mr. Charlock. “Hell, he was dead before they even showed up.”

“I was starting to piece it together. You’re not Leir, are you.”

“What? No,” says Mr. Charlock.

“So you’re Doctor Charley. Only you’re no doctor.” Sitting back on his heels Michael’s looking up at Mr. Charlock. “The aloosh? Duende? Echo Force. But you didn’t go to the ice – ”

“Hey,” says Mr. Charlock, his empty hand up, two fingers pointed at Michael. “That’s a terrible fucking idea.”

“Shoot,” says Michael, pushing himself to his feet, “or put it away.”

After a moment Mr. Charlock shakes out his hand. “Okay,” he says. Tossing the gun onto the long low sofa. “Wrong foot. We got ourselves a situation that’s rapidly approaching the point of oh my fucking God, so it behooves us maybe to put our cards on the table, see what game it is we’re playing. He told you what he was after.”

“Leir,” says Michael.

Mr. Charlock whistles. “No shit. And the thing you pulled off him?”

Michael shakes his head, his face impassive. “Something qlipothic. Scale of Thamiel, maybe. I was going to feed it to the angel.”

“That thing out there?” Mr. Charlock points back over his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it.” Footsteps are clomping somewhere up away behind him. “My partner’s got that,” turning to look back up that way as there’s a rattle of clattering strings of light, “covered – ” The black-suited form of Mr. Keightlinger bursts into the low wide doorway to the porch, his hair undone in a frizzy halo about his head, sunglasses clutched in one hand. He coughs into the crook of his elbow. “Tell me,” says Mr. Charlock, “tell me that damn thing’s upped and gone.”

“The,” says Mr. Keightlinger, coughing again, “car – ”

“Christ you let it eat the car?” shrieks Mr. Charlock, and Mr. Keightlinger shrugs.

“That isn’t enough, is it,” says Michael, looking down at his hands in their black knit gloves.

“Fuck no,” says Mr. Charlock, running a hand over and over his bare bald head. “Not if that thing’s gunning for a wizard. You couldn’t hold it off just a little bit longer, could you?” he says to Mr. Keightlinger. “Fucking apocalypse breathing down our necks, again, just you and me to hold it all together, again, only I’m fresh out of baling wire this time you sonofawhat are you looking at?”

Mr. Keightlinger’s arm’s coming up, pointing away past Mr. Charlock out past the sofa the railing out into the hissing darkness where bright light picks out figures, six of them hanging motionless, arms outstretched, a sword, a walking stick with a stern hawk at its head, a red and brown jacket, kimonos fixed mid-flutter. “That’s,” says Mr. Charlock, stepping heavily past the long low sofa, “you,” past Michael, and Bottle John’s body, “that’s what you, that’s,” across the porch, up to the railing, “you, you let the Bride, of the King Come Back, you let her jump out into the goddamn void.” He throws his hands in the air. “Well hell,” turning, rounding on Mr. Keightlinger, “we might as well march out the front door right the hell now, because that thing up there’s got a fuckton of mercy compared to what Leir will have in – ” He stops dead looking up past Mr. Keightlinger at the bare wood wall by the low wide doorway.

“What?” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“Wasn’t that wall like, covered in old photographs and shit?”

One end of the sofa collapses in a cloud of dust. A twang of metal a whipping of loose cord a black and silver radio falls to the floor cracking open an empty plastic husk as rattling clattering echoing all around white strings of light stretched taut jump loose fall to the floor go dark with pops and fusillades of sparks. Mr. Charlock scuttles over to Bottle John’s body, pokes it with a bare foot. The tin roof above them shivers. Mr. Keightlinger flips open his sunglasses and jams them on, looking about, then with long lumbering steps down the length of the sofa he hurls himself on Mr. Charlock knocking them both to the floor as one of the porch poles lurches listing bursting in a shower of splinters bouncing and a squeal of tearing metal. There is a sound –

Riding the crest of that rippling crash Jasmine hurtles into the room trying to get her feet under herself as she careens into the sofa turning managing just to catch Lauren before the girl flies headlong over the back of it. Jo and Ysabel hit the sofa side by side Jo’s arms upflung the sword still in her hands. Jessie’s feet clip the railing the Duke reaching for her twisting brushing the floor rolling arms flopping stick flying loose slamming into the base of the sofa as Jessie pinwheels end over into the settling clouds of tufts of down. A clatter of falling boards. Wrenching squawks of twisted metal. Pops and fizzles here and there as lightbulbs explode in the spitting fitful rain.

In the darkness groaning Mr. Keightlinger shifts and lifts himself brushing splinters clattering to the floor. Reaching down he helps Mr. Charlock to his feet as the Duke sits up abruptly and says “Oh, hey.” Wiping down and rain from his face. Mr. Keightlinger’s carefully heading for the doorway but Mr. Charlock grabs his arm. “His shoulders,” says Mr. Charlock. “Get his damn shoulders!” Pointing to Bottle John. Jessie’s moaning as Ysabel pushes her up and over and Jo’s struggling in the drifts of down to pull herself free the sword still in her hands. “Okay,” the Duke’s saying. “The angel. Lemme at ’im.”

“It wasn’t no goddamn angel!” snaps Mr. Charlock as he backs up out of the room, Bottle John’s feet clamped under his arms.

“Michael?” says Lauren. “Are we there? Michael?”

“Sinjin?” says Jasmine.

“Who the hell are you?” says Jo, twisted around on the sofa, spitting white feathers from her mouth. In the low wide doorway Mr. Keightlinger and Mr. Charlock pause, Bottle John in his grey suit slung between them. “Nobody,” says Mr. Charlock. “It’s gone, okay?” He spares a glance for the ruined porch, the rain coming down, the trees outside black against the red-black sky. “It weren’t, you wouldn’t be here.”

“Where,” says Jasmine, standing, looking about the room, “is Michael St. John Lake?”

Mr. Charlock hunched over in that white coat looks at Mr. Keightlinger, who shrugs. Mr. Charlock opens his mouth to say something but shakes his head instead. “Lady,” he says, “I do not have the time.”

And Lauren begins to wail.

The car’s a reddish brown, a black stripe down the side, pulling up to the sidewalk before the apartment building. Behind the glass a harsh-lit lobby, imposing blocks of mail lockers. The driver’s door opens and Jessie gets out, her chauffeur’s cap on her long blond hair, her T-shirt, her sweatpants. Her feet bare. Before she can reach in to lever the seat back up Jo’s worming her way out, wrapped in a purple and black kimono, her sword in one hand. Jessie stands back and lets Jo past, then reaches a hand in for Ysabel climbing out, a pink and green and yellow kimono wrapped about a red and brown striped jacket, white feathers still caught in her long black hair, limply damp. She smiles at Jessie and lightly kisses her knuckles and then her mouth.

“Hey,” says Jo, leaning against the passenger door. The Duke cranks down his window. “You’re sure I can’t talk you into it,” he says.

“Nah,” she says, looking up at the windows towering above her. Closing her eyes against the misting rain. “We need, I need someplace – stable. Safe. After all that.”

“Call me,” says the Duke.

Jo turns, leans into the open window. “I gotta get a new phone,” she says. “I left my old one in the pocket of some pants I’ve never seen before.”

“Look in the coat Ysabel’s wearing,” says the Duke. “I saw it on the couch, in that house? While you were getting a blanket.”

Jo’s looking at her sword, her mismatched shoes. “This is getting fucking spooky,” she mutters.

“Call me,” says the Duke.

“Sure,” says Jo, “if the phone bill out of limbo doesn’t break me.” He’s leaning up a little and she leans down and then she kisses him, and then kisses him again.

“I thanked you,” he says, a smile on his face. “I owe you a favor. That’s a dangerous place for you to be.” Jo starts up, looking at him. He’s still smiling. “I like your hair like this,” he says.

“What?” says Jo, but he’s cranking up the window, Jessie’s climbing into the car, the engine’s growling. Ysabel’s by her side. “Let’s get in out of the rain,” she says.

Jo presses the button for the elevator. “So. He’s, well. He’s dead, huh.”

“I think,” says Ysabel, “it’ll turn out he was dead for a while. And the teahouse never was built. Or never was as – beautiful, as it was. And it blew down in a storm. And we’ll all forget.”

“Forget?” says Jo.

“Do you remember your dreams?” says Ysabel, taking Jo’s hand in hers.

“Sometimes? Ysabel – ”

“Like that, then,” says Ysabel, pulling Jo close to her.

“Ysabel, I – ”

“Just hold me, Jo,” says Ysabel. “Please. Just hold me.”

The sword still in one hand Jo puts her arms about Ysabel and Ysabel pulls them together, tightly, those richly clashing kimonos folding one over the other, Ysabel’s face buried in Jo’s shoulder, Jo leaning her head against Ysabel’s, eyes closed, and then, after a bit, the elevator behind them softly dings.

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M.E. Traylor    15 March 2011    #

So. Satisfying. Like a meal of wild rice and bear fat and olives and sea palm.

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