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The stuff in the Bucket – a Surprise – the Men about the City – how Things are Done –

The stuff in the bucket’s thick, frothed with iridescent bubbles around the edge of it, creamily flat in the center, and all a milky white that’s warmed with hints of gold. “I just,” says Jo, “pour it in?”

In the tub Ysabel nods, steaming water up to her chin, droplets shining silvery in the darkness of her short short hair. “All at once?” says Jo. “Or slow and steady, maybe drizzle it around?”

“It’ll be slow,” says Ysabel. She opens her eyes. “Which do you have?”

“Uh,” says Jo, her hand on the bucket, “this is North’s. The, I guess the Hare, now?”

“Pour yours first,” says Ysabel.


“Yes,” says Ysabel, closing her eyes. “Yours.”

“Okay,” says Jo. “Okay.” Shifting the bucket to one side she reaches for the growler, unscrews the cap of it with a fluted pop. Heaving the weight of it up in her arms she sidesteps back to the tub and a boom as she sets it on the edge, balanced at an angle in her hands. “Okay,” she says. “Here we go.” Tipping the growler, leaning it scraping the edge of the tub, “whoops,” and a sucking oozing glug of a sound, a drop, gathering itself in the mouth of the jug, swelling and sagging, distending, slipping the lip of it falling reluctant paloop to the water where it unfolds, clouds of white, billowing open, shreds and tatters spreading, over Ysabel.

“Gallowglas?” says Luys, a down vest over his yellow chamois shirt.

Above him Jo’s stopped on the landing, a hand on the railing of the next flight up. “There’s only two storeys,” she says. “This building only had two storeys, outside.”

“Three one two,” says Luys.

“I don’t think,” says Jo, scowling past him to the ground floor below, “this is a storage unit.”

“No,” says Luys. “It isn’t.”

That next flight ends in a narrow landing, just large enough for them both to stand before a plain brown door. Black numerals, a three, a one, a two, hung above a peephole, the rim of it pitted with rust. Jo lifts a hand knuckled to knock, lowers it, looking over at Luys. He shrugs. She lifts it again when someone inside, Ysabel, calls out, “It’s open!”

Jo opens the door.

The room beyond an airy kitchen, white and blue and stainless steel, and on the counter there a mound of roses, yellow, white, pink and orange, mottled red and white, striated, a deep rich red that’s almost black among the dark green leaves. “Ysabel?” says Jo, stepping in, followed by Luys. Past that counter down three low steps an open room, windows to the left and right in walls that narrow to a point and there stands Ysabel in her grey suit, smiling. On a sofa to one side a man in a brown suit coat, and on the cushions beside him a briefcase veneered in some lightly colored wood. He gruffly pushes himself to his feet as Luys inclines his head, a bow, “Majesty,” he says.

“You’ve gone and spoiled the surprise, Mason,” says Ysabel.

“The hell,” says Jo, as Luys says, “She came to us, quite upset, ma’am. It seemed best.”

“Very well,” says Ysabel, her gesture offering up the room about her, the roses, the kitchen and past it, behind them, the hallway strung with yellow lights, the open doors there, and there. “Welcome home,” she says, and Jo turns about there by the door to the apartment, taking it all in, “What,” she’s saying, “you said,” and then, “I’m sorry,” to the man in the brown suit coat, “you’re, who are you? Who is this?”

“You hadn’t met the Shrieve?” says Ysabel.

“I don’t, I’m sorry, I don’t know the Shrieve,” says Jo.

“Bruno, lady,” he says, with a nod, quite short, standing next to Ysabel. He wears no collar or tie, and his pants are rumpled corduroy.

“What do you think?” says Ysabel, and then, bounding forward, up the steps, “come on,” into the kitchen, taking Jo’s hand, dragging her along, “come and see.” Down the hall, under the lights, two doors left, and right, “I thought you were,” Jo’s saying, as Ysabel says “Separate rooms, see? Like we said,” and through the one doorway yellow and white, and white on white through the other, and “you were getting a tub,” says Jo. Under the window in there a row of crates made from polished blond wood, a steamer trunk, “Wait,” says Jo, “is that,” but “Oh,” says Ysabel, pulling Jo down to the end of the hall, the door there open on gleaming white tile and frosted glass and “the tub,” says Ysabel, the great enameled slipper of it. “It’s not a jacuzzi,” she says, taking both Jo’s hands in her own, “but,” letting go to open the last of the doors, ducking under a dangle of yellow lights, pulling Jo in after. In the kitchen Luys looks after them, looks back into the open front room, tucks his hands away in his pockets. Bruno with a shrug sits himself back on the sofa, there by his briefcase.

Through a narrow dark room, the blank glass portholes of clothes dryer and washing machine, “Out here,” says Ysabel, opening the door at the other end on a trickle and seep of rain, stepping out under a low canopy, a little wooden porch, a single step down to a pocket of yellow grass and low green scrub out to the low parapets to either side, and here and there islands of the building’s infrastructure, a ventilator hood, chimney pots, the boxy bulk of a fan. Wooden tubs there and there that hold small leafless trees, a raised bed filled with bare earth waiting, a couple of unpainted Adirondack chairs before a patterned bronze chiminea on spindly legs, and everywhere strung from branches to poles more strands of little yellow lights. “We have a garden,” says Ysabel.

“You,” says Jo, turning about, a shadow in the dim light, “you moved,” fingers flashing as she waves back into the apartment, “my stuff.”

“You were supposed to sleep in,” says Ysabel.

“I got,” says Jo, “antsy. I wanted to do something.” And then, “You didn’t tell me!” and Ysabel steps back, blinking. “I wanted it to be a surprise,” she says.

“Well.” Jo looks away, looks about. Wiping her eyes. “Hey. That worked.”

“Tonight, after you, said goodbye,” says Ysabel, stepping close again, “I would have brought you here. Home. To this.” Jo ducks her head, shoulders settling her arms about Ysabel, and Ysabel’s about her. “And tomorrow, together, we turn the owr, and tomorrow night we give it out again. To everyone.” Pulling them together, tightly. “We’ve made it, Jo. We did it.”

Jo nods. She leans back, in Ysabel’s arms, “So what are we,” she says, and a sniff, “what are we talking about here, this apartment. It’s ours? Or just the tub.”

“Oh,” says Ysabel, a chuckle, “it’s more than that.”

Thumbing open the locks of the briefcase in his lap, lifting the lid, a manila folder, a calculator, a scatter of pens, a foolscap pad, he takes out the folder, careful of a couple of not quite empty glassine envelopes that he tips back into the case. Closing the lid he rifles through a number of stapled documents, “I’ve had to take some decisions,” he says, “given mandated outlays, dispensations, remittances, the portfolio could not I’m afraid remain, ah, intact. But.” His smile’s a flash, there and gone again. “There are options.”

“For, what?” says Jo, on the sofa beside him, a panini in her hand, greens, tomatoes, soft white cheese. “What is all this?”

“Your fortune,” says Bruno, laying out the documents he’s selected.

“My,” says Jo, “what?” Plucking up a page. “That’s a quarterly projection,” he says. “I cast a number of them, under differing,” that smile again, on-off, “assumptions?”

“Quarterly,” she says, the sandwich drifting toward her mouth. She doesn’t take a bite. “This is what comes in every, every three months.”

His brow pinches, a frown that doesn’t flit away. “There are,” he says, “more aggressively liquid postures to be taken,” shuffling through the pages in his hands.

“I don’t,” says Jo, looking up, to Ysabel there in the kitchen, “understand. What is all this?”

“Let the Shrieve explain,” says Ysabel, white coat in her hands. “He’s very good with all these rituals and incantations, and, unlike some,” slipping her arms in the sleeves, “eminently trustworthy.”

“Your majesty is too kind,” says Bruno, and then he lunges after the pages slipping to the floor as Jo beside him leaps to her feet, hand to her chest, “You’re leaving?” she cries.

“I must,” says Ysabel, sweeping her hair back, settling her white hat on her head, “now see to my mother. Another appointment. I should be back in plenty of time.”

“This, is,” says Jo, headed across the room, “you can’t just,” up the steps to the kitchen, and “You’ll be fine,” says Ysabel. “Ask your questions of the Shrieve, heed his advice.” She catches Jo’s free hand in hers. “Nothing needs to be done right away. We’ll talk, about it all, tonight, tomorrow – ”

“If I might, ma’am,” says Bruno, gathering pages, “some signatures are required, resolutions, power of attorney,” but Ysabel says, “Which might wait, until tomorrow, or the day after,” and Bruno, looking up, nodding, says, “Of course.” Stacking pages together. “Yes, ma’am.” Binding them with a clip.

“Do you need me with you?” says Jo.

“It’s my mother, Jo,” says Ysabel. “If I end up running late,” and she opens the door to the apartment. A woman’s waiting on the landing, powerfully built, thick arms folded in a yellow track suit with white piping. “Majesty,” she says with a nod, unfolding her arms, “your grace.” Her close-cropped hair’s been dyed a virulent chartreuse.

“Ysabel?” says Jo.

“If I’m running late,” says Ysabel in the doorway, “I’ll meet you there. Mason? Can you be at the Huntsman’s disposal, should she require a driver?”

“Of course, ma’am,” says Luys, sitting at the counter by the mound of roses.

“There,” says Ysabel, stepping out onto the landing. The woman in the track suit leans in to pull the door shut.

“There,” says Jo, as footsteps descend the stairs outside. “Okay,” she says. Turning, to look at Luys, at the counter, at Bruno, down there on the sofa. The pages on the briefcase in his lap. “Okay,” she says, again. “This, this fortune. Those numbers. Ten words or less. Where’s it come from.”

“It,” says Bruno, hesitantly, feeling his way, “has, always been, Southeast’s, milady.”

“But what is it,” says Jo, setting her sandwich on the counter, stepping down into the open room. “Where does it all,” and then, frowning, she turns, looks back at the door to the apartment. “Rents, mortgages,” Bruno’s saying, “real, fixed properties and their associated monies,” but “Lady,” Jo’s saying to herself, “grace,” turning about again, there in that room, “Southeast,” she says, looking up at Luys, who’s looking down at his hands.

“Holy shit,” says Jo Maguire.

“A pretty speech;” he says, circumspectly, “airy words on the honesty of labor, the filthiness of lucre. I believed he meant them, at the time.” His sun-browned head’s quite bald, his cheeks grizzled with a dusting of white beard. “Then that son of a bitch walked away and left me holding the paper.” The lips of the man beside him pinch at that, and he smiles, pointing with his glass for emphasis, “Such delicacy, Pinabel,” he says. “I use the term advisedly – she whelped him, did she not? Or must I now take care, in how I speak of Gammers?”

The man beside him shakes his head, white dreadlocks brushing the shoulders of his pale blue suit. “Only when our host’s so free with wine,” he says, looking over the long and heavy table that dominates the room, and the city laid out atop it, blank white towers cut and shaped from foam core lining a broad blue curl of river crossed, here and there, by the delicate spans of bridges. “Also, you’re left a house,” he says.

“A wreck,” says the bald man, “a ruin. A slap, to my face.” His suit like most of the others in the room is dark, a navy subtly flecked with grey and back. “As if he’ll accomplish anything without my bank.”

“Then he’ll be back, when he’s something to accomplish,” says Agravante. “And he may well slap you again, Welund. Kings never love their creditors.”

“Gentlemen,” says a man at the front of the room, and conversations still, attentions turn. He’s short, thickset, the scruff of beard about his chin too neat to be an afterthought. “No need for introductions,” he says. A baggy tweed jacket over a bottle green sweatshirt blazoned with a brightly yellow O. “We all, each share a, concern, for how this city,” waving his hand, a distracted benison over the towers, “is grown?” He turns to the man beside him, tall, sharp-chinned, sharp-nosed, narrow black glasses like a constant squint. “Mr. Killian here,” says the man in the sweatshirt. That sharp-featured man’s leaning over to hear what’s murmured to him by a man who’s pointing to the heavy gold watch on his wrist. The sharp-featured man nods. “I wanted you,” says the man in the sweatshirt, turning back to all those dark-suited men, standing about the city, “to hear what he has to say.”

“Thank you, Rudy,” says the sharp-featured man, stepping up to the head of the table, adjusting his glasses. His high-buttoned suit’s a lighter grey than most of the rest in the room. “I’d like to think,” he says, “most of you already know of me; certainly, I know of all of you. But it’s the first time many of us have met. My name is George Killian; I will be the next mayor of Portland. I’d like to tell you what that means, for you.”

A meander of paving stones across a scrap of yard, dead leaves, dying grass, black boots clomping, brown work boots following, hurrying, “Milady,” he says, and she stops so abruptly he almost runs into her, “Do not,” she says, “call me that.”

He nods, he swallows, big hands open to either side of her. “Jo,” he says. “Are you certain,” but she’s up the front steps, she’s pounding the yellow front door, “Ray!” she yells. “Lymond!” Rattling the knob, it clacks, the door pops open. “Lady,” says Luys, wincing, and then “Jo, wait – ” but she’s already off inside.

Inside, a long hall, the chugging whir of an air compressor, the chunk chunk, chunk of a nail gun. Jo in her black jacket bursts out into a high wide room, one great curving wall of glass and black trees falling away outside, into a formless chasm of cloud. The air compressor whines away down to silence, and the flap and snap of translucent plastic sheets draping a frame of two-by-fours built around a great square hole that’s been cut in the floor to one side. A man in buff coveralls studiedly checks a level. Jo calls, “Lymond!” again. To the other side an armchair under a blue plastic tarp, a low table beside it, the only furniture other than the table saw, the compressor, the stack of lumber. A second man steps around a corner of the frame, his hair a pinkish orange, his sweater soused in sawdust. “Huntsman,” he says. “Mason. A pleasant surprise. And as good a time as any, for a break?” The man in the coveralls sets his level down, dusts off his hands as Luys ducks his head, “Majesty,” he says, and “Goddammit, Lymond,” says Jo. Lymond pinches off a smile. “Jo, come,” he says. “Walk with me. Mason, if you’d let Scuppernong show you to the kitchen?” He lifts a corner of plastic to reveal the top of an aluminum ladder, leaned against an edge of that great square hole. “After you?” he says, a fillip of his hand in a bulky work glove.

Down through the floor, under the house, the ground falling steeply here, sturdy squared stilts rising up from concrete pilings to meet rough-edged joists and beams, criss-crossed bracings, all of wood the color of old coffee. The ladder rests on a platform built of new yellow lumber, cantilevered out over the vertiginous drop, the house above, the clouds below, the wet roofs of the other houses, black trees all about and the drip of fallen rain. “Tell me you’re not this stupid,” says Jo, as Lymond steps off the ladder. “I wanted a deck,” he says, moving past her carefully to the edge of it all. “I didn’t want to spoil the view.”

“Southeast,” she says.

“Yes,” he says, his back to her, straightening, sighing. “You are to be created a Duchess.”

“Just like that.”

“There’ll be a ceremony, tomorrow, at the Apportionment – yourself, Linesse, Twice Thomas.” He’s looking down. He’s smiling, to himself. “Ours is a terribly new court. But yes,” he says. “Just like that.”

“And you, you’re, you were maybe gonna ask me?” and “Jo,” he says, sharply. She recoils. “What say you, to money?” he says. “Power?” Looking over his shoulder, turning to face her. “Never a need to worry again about the roof, over your head? Your next meal?”

“That’s not, what I – ”

“You saved the Queen, Gallowglas. You saved the city. We’re not ungrateful.”

“That’s not!” she cries. “That isn’t why I did it.”

He cocks his brow over those bulging eyes, one brown, one blue. “Then tell me why,” he says.

“I,” says Jo, and a sudden shivering shake of her head, she looks away, “it was,” she says, “the right thing to do. She needed – someone, had to do it.”

“And she needs you yet,” says Lymond. “We’re all a long way off, from happily every after.”

“Me,” says Jo.

“Southeast,” says Lymond, looking back out over the drop, the trees, the rain, “the largest, richest fief in the city; without a clear and certain succession it will fall, to infighting, and take the city with it.” His hands in those bulky gloves clasped behind him. “But a hero? Loved by the city? Closely tied to the King, and his Queen?”

“Me,” she says, a squeak, a gasp of a laugh.

“The Hawk was your liege, Gallowglas. You fought for him and when he was cut down, you took a vengeance swift, and terrible. No one will,” and she punches him, a stiff-armed blow to his shoulder, “Is this how it works,” she cries, and he rolls with it, and pulling up from the follow-through she grabs at him, clinging to his dusty sweater, “is this how things get done?” She pushes away from him, “I can’t,” she says. Unsteady, the both of them, there at the edge. “Do this. I can’t.”

He grabs a stilt, grabs her jacket, “You can,” he says, easing her back, letting go. “You will. You’re not alone, Jo.”

She snorts. “Alone,” she says, “the hell I’m not alone,” but he’s stripping a glove from his hand, “what are you,” she says. He tosses the glove to the platform between them. “Whoa,” she says, “hey, I didn’t,” and then he thrusts his bare hand at the stilt, the splintery edge of it, hissing when he hits it. “We’re in this together,” he says, holding up his hand, and the gash torn in the heel of it an ugly color, red, dark red, blood, red blood oozing over his palm, down his wrist.

Climbing the hillside, under the trees, crossing and crossing again a neat little roadway doubling back, looping the shoulder of a rise, they come out under an open sky starless, moonless above, a small empty parking lot before them, and the orange haze of streetlight shifts, yellows, warming in fitful flickers from the light they carry in their hands, swelling as their voices swell in a ringing, chorused shout. At the one end of the lot a railing, and a ramp that leads down the side of it to a round of greensward, a slope to a low stone-fronted stage, a stretch of black gravel before it, and all about rise crumbling cliffs of black rock clutched in knuckled tree-roots. They come down that ramp, silently now but for the rustle of their coats, the patter and tramp of their feet. More of them spill over the red clay basketball court at the end there, pushing back shadows with their light, merging and mingling into a crowd that stands, waiting, looking toward the bare stage under the blank sky far above.

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Magazine,” written by Kaki King, copyright holder unknown. Garage & Grace,” Trio Subtonic, copyright holder unknown.

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