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East Multnomah Soil & Water – 
duty – Ward, or Sigil? – Select Passenger – Beautiful Mountain –

“The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District?” a plaintive bellow loud enough to be heard through the front door, even as he’s unlocking it. “How, I ask, can we possibly ever be expected to bear the inestimably weighty responsibility of choosing the directors of such an august enterprise? With only this,” a rattling flutter, “to guide us?”

Through the twilight-steeped parlor, past the bicycles, the sandwich board draped with somebody’s coat, the dining room’s very bright, three people sat about the table piled with books and unopened mail. In the kitchen through the archway Oz is kneading something, shaking her head. A band of angels came to me, weeping, in the night, sings a woman from some unseen speaker, someone’s phone, maybe. “Arnie!” cries a thickset man at the table, lowering the newsprint booklet he’s been waving about for emphasis. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“I’ve told you, Jimmy,” he lets the messenger bag slip from his shoulder, “feel free to call me Becker, just like everybody else.”

“Whatever it is you’re to be called – on which point, you’ll note, this jury is still out,” Jimmy holds up a forestalling finger, “we’d been led to believe you’d be at work tonight. Thus, the surprise.”

“Yeah, well,” says Becker, letting the messenger bag slump to the floor. “I think I, ah, well. Quit.”

Oz stops kneading. Hollis looks up from the paper on the table before him. Blood, color of the flower, emblazoned on your breast, sings the unseen phone. Jimmy blinks. “Forgive me,” he says, “but one is usually a touch more definite about such milestones.”

“I guess. I mean,” says Becker, “I’m not going back. I’m not doing that again. So.”

On the road to Jericho, sings the phone.

“A toast!” cries Jimmy. “An occasion so momentous must be marked. But with something more festive than kombucha,” and a meaningful scowl for the brown glass bottle by Hollis’s elbow. “It’s apple juice,” says Hollis.

“Even so,” says Jimmy, cocking a brow imploringly at Oz who’s leaned in the arch now, wiping her flour-dusted hands on her apron. “No,” says Becker, “that’s okay, I don’t, we don’t need to. It’s fine. So what is this? Some kind of, voting party?”

“Our civic duty!” booms Jimmy, sweeping a sweater-draggled arm over the ballots and booklets, the phones and the tablet spread over the table before them. “Third Tuesday in May, and evidence of the exercise of our franchise must be lodged with the appropriate authorities by eight o’clock this very night.”

“We were gonna walk ’em down to the library,” says the woman across from Jimmy. “Swing by the Bite after,” says Hollis. “But doubtless, Arnie,” says Jimmy, “you have long since posted your ballot by mail, and already confirmed its arrival with the county. Still. We might well benefit from your input, sir, in our deliberations.”

“Actually?” says Becker, attempting a winsome shrug. Jimmy slaps the table. “My good lord, Becker,” he says, “you do disappoint. You were fully intending to work your shift – which, if memory serves, typically extends to nine o’clock, on those evenings when you don’t quit in the middle – without having performed your secularly sacral duty.”

“Jimmy,” says Becker. “I’ve had a day. I’ve had a week.”

“Leave him alone,” says Hollis.

“I shall most certainly not,” says Jimmy, holding up an admonishing finger, holding back a gust of laughter. “This must not, this will not stand. Arnie. If you are half the man I suspect you still to be, that ballot sits,” and he pauses, pursing his lips. “Jimmy,” says the woman across the table from him, but Jimmy shakes his head. “Not in your bag, no. It’s in your room, unopened, isn’t it. Not blatantly, out in the open, no: that’d be too on-the-nose. But innocuously stacked with other items you haven’t gotten around to yet, but mean to, soon enough. So that you might relish the thrills of guilt – sharpened, perhaps, with an edge of self-loathing – that sweep over you whenever you inadvertently catch sight of the envelope’s patriotically red embellishments. Reminding you of this obligation, to your neighbors, your city, that you failed to fulfill. Until you tire of the sport when its returns inevitably diminish over the coming weeks, and you finally toss it out with the recycling. So! Go on. Run away upstairs and fetch it down. Do this thing – not for the ideal of it, or the greater good: do it for yourself, Arnie. Redeem the day you’ve had. I feel certain that, in order to encourage such a rapprochement, between yourself, and your better self, Oz would be willing to break out the good stuff.”

Hollis snorts. The woman across from Jimmy shakes her head with all her dangling, tiny braids. Oz cocks her brow, but she’s smiling. Becker isn’t. “James Frederic Madison DuPris,” he says, “if that really is your name,” and Jimmy’s lips purse again at that. “I’ve moved,” says Becker, “three times, since the last election. Most recently?” Looking about the dining room, the archway to the kitchen, them at the table, and Oz, “Less than four weeks ago. I don’t have, a ballot. It’s probably,” throwing off a gesture, “sitting in a mailbox, back at my old place by the Lloyd Center.”

“You failed,” cries Jimmy, theatrically clutching his chest, “to update your registration?”

“I’ve been busy!” snaps Becker. “And who gives a damn about an election in May, anyway?”

“We gotta vote for Chloe,” says Hollis, a hand on his ballot.

“It’s totally gonna be whatsisname,” says Becker. “Killian.”

“But that’s the point,” says Oz. “Even if he wins, if he doesn’t have a majority, there’s a run-off in November,” lifting a hand to make air-quotes, “the important election, right? So we’ll have time, to – ”

“To do what? Work for Chloe?” Becker hauls his messenger bag back up onto his shoulder. “She doesn’t make the run-off. It’ll be between Beagle, and Killian, which is basically just two different clubs of developers tussling over whose pot of money gets bigger next year. And Killian’s still gonna win.” The song picking its way through the air has changed, another woman’s singing, he gave her a dime store watch, and a ring made from a spoon. Becker turns away, back through the parlor.

“Such cynicism, in one so young,” says Jimmy. “You are not the man I thought I knew, Arnold Becker!”

“What can I tell you, Jimmy?” Becker calls back, over his shoulder. “I got layers.”

Tock and clack of heels on tarmacadam, passing under a sign that says Springwater Corridor, between railroad tracks to the left, a gravel plant to the right, she makes her way toward the high bridge ahead, lit against oncoming night, glown white and sullen red with headlights and taillights to-and-fro-ing above the wheeling flares of red and blue that disrupt the shadows ahead. Those lights suggest colors hidden in the sleekly grey of her pantsuit, but do nothing to illuminate her face, or bring out the color of her corkscrew curls. She spares not a glance to either side, the dark slope to the left, rising to the freeway, the river away off to the right, disaffectedly rippled with light, nor does her stride falter as she rounds a slight bend in the path to see the source of those flashes, the police SUV, the ambulance, parked one before the other to block the narrow path not far beyond the bridge. The SUV’s lights atop its roof, before and behind, all flash and sweep and stutter. The ambulance is dark.

A small crowd stood about, mostly beyond the SUV, joggers and a couple of cyclists in athletic togs, somebody with a high, elaborate backpack, a woman in tights and a filthy T-shirt speaking with a couple, man and woman, both in dark suit coats. An officer uniformed in black by the rear of the SUV, looking up the slope, they’re all looking up the slope, where a couple of figures in white coveralls struggle their way down with some bulky burden. Still looking up, he steps away from the SUV, “Hold up,” he says. “Trail’s closed.”

“It’s okay,” she says, smiling. “I’m from headquarters.” Reaching into her jacket she pulls out not a wallet or a badge but a small white card. “You’re Officer Latif?” Holding the card not so much for him to see, but the tiny lens on the palm-sized camera clipped to his tactical vest. He doesn’t look down at it, printed though it is with black squares scattered about a grid in a staticky random blot. He doesn’t look away from her eyes, large and dark and neatly lined, friendly and welcoming. “Who’ve you got?” she says, tucking the card away.

“Guy who reported it,” says the officer. “Didn’t do it, but he’s the closest we’ve got to anybody of interest. Most everybody else up there scattered.” A sidelong look for the woman still speaking with the two in suits. The SUV rocks behind him, staccato thumps within, a muffled bellow. “Hey!” barks the officer. “We ain’t got a full statement yet,” he says, turning back to her. “He’s, ah. Belligerent.”

“He’ll do,” she says, opening the rear door of the SUV on a wordless howl, the dome light revealing a man, bearded, wrapped in a striped bathrobe, hands behind his back, kicking and hurling his weight about on the plastic back seat. “Stop that,” she says, and the howl breaks, he holds himself, trembling, still, wedged back against the closed door behind him, head at an awkward angle, bare feet braced against the partition. “Can we talk?” she says.

Shivering, tense, still wedged, panting heavily enough to ruffle his overgrown mustache, trouble his rankly matted beard. He swallows. “Sure,” he says, relaxing enough feet slipping on the plastic floor to settle back on the seat.

“Good,” she says, climbing into the SUV, sitting herself on the bench beside him, pulling the door shut. “Hey, wait,” he says, as the dome light clicks off. “You’re, I, what? Who are you?”

“A moment, please.” She’s holding that card up so the printed squares face a smokey plastic globe high up on one corner of that partition between front seats and back. “Your pardon,” she says, leaning across him to hold the card up before a similar globe in the opposite corner.

“What are you doing?”

“Just a moment.” She’s pressed the printed face of the card to the glass that windows the partition, criss-crossed with a wire grill, holding it still there a moment. “That should do it. Keep your voice down, just in case.”

“You’re not police,” he says.

“Oh, I am, of a sort,” she says. “What I’m not is a cop. I can’t abide cops.” Shifting on that plastic bench. “They’ll primly tell you that the seats must be like this, to allow them to be cleaned, quickly, and easily, but they do not have to be so narrow, slick, unyielding. The discomfort is the point. Baked into the very design of the thing.” Tucking that card back into her jacket. “It’s, quite simply, cruel. And I can’t abide cruelty.”

“What was that, a sigil of some kind? A ward?”

“A QR code,” she says, cocking a brow. “We don’t have much time. Lean forward.”

He does, but “Wait!” he blurts, as she reaches behind him, “what are you doing?”

“That zip-tie can’t be comfortable.”

“Leave it!” he says, sitting back, pressing back against the door, away from her. “Leave it.”

“You found the body,” she says. “You reported it.” He nods. “But you didn’t kill him,” she says. “Her. Whomever.”

“Of course not!”

“And yet,” she says, “you’re the one in the back of a police car.”

He shrugs.

She sits back against her door, perched on the edge of the plastic seat. “Is it in remission, then?” she says.

He blinks, and takes much too long to say, “What?”

“By your fundament betrayed,” she murmurs, leaning toward him, eyes closed, for a long, savoring sniff. “You need a bath,” she says, sitting back, “but not so much that it might mask what I can’t smell.” Opening those artfully painted eyes. “Do you know what it smells like? Metastasis? Take that thread of pleasant warmth you can find in the smell of shit, let it swell to the very point it twists into foulness – that’s what I don’t smell. The cancer that was eating its way, out of your colon, into your liver.”

“I,” he says. “I don’t, what? What?”

“You’ve made a deal, Michael Sinjin Lake. The question is, with whom.”

“Luke,” he says, collapsing, slumped on the seat. “Luke. She was supposed to call me Lake. So I’d know it was her.” He looks up, tentatively, something almost like yearning in his eye, but she’s looking at his clean bare feet. “I have to be across town,” she says. “I’d thought this to be a mission of mercy. I’d thought to find a dying, deluded fool. But you, Sinjin? Turns out you’re a smooth operator,” and she knocks on the window, sharply. “Operating correctly.”

“Don’t tell them?” he says, sat there on plastic, his striped bathrobe, his long and ragged beard, his hair, his hands behind his back. “I can do, so much,” he says, low, quiet, urgent. “Please. Don’t fuck this up.”

The officer outside opens the door behind her. “Stay out of our way,” she says, and climbs out of the SUV. He resumes his howling, his thrashing, as the door’s slammed shut.

He cuts through a parking lot under the blue-white light of a sign that says Motel 6, darting through a gap in the shin-high hedge, between a couple of startled trees out onto the street, looking up and down its carless length, a lane of it taken up by a set of tracks. A block up in a pool of streetlight waits a MAX train, and seeing it Christian breaks into a heedless, headlong run, leaping the scruffy median, up onto the sidewalk and down it, across the intersection against the light, the blatting honk of a yellow truck, and as the warning bell dings he manages to hurl himself through the closing doors of the first car, catching himself with one hand the railing by a couple of hanging bicycles. “Next stop,” says a recorded voice, “is Convention Center. Puertas a mi derecha.”

Bent over, settling his breath. His draggled jeans glossy and running shoes stiff with ground-in earth, his clean plaid overshirt too softly large for his skinny frame. No one in the thin crowd scattered throughout the carriage seems to have taken much notice at all of his last-second entrance. He allows himself a brief small smile, under those hunched cheekbones.

Next stop, he steps back from the doors to make room, just in case, but no one seems to want to get off, or on, not here, not through this open door. He looks away, through the opposite windows, small dim park across the street, two improbably slender glass spires lit up behind it, mere ghosts of skyscrapers. “This is a Green Line train to Portland City Center. Next stop is Rose Quarter Transit Center. Este un tren de la Línea Verde a Portland City Center. The doors are closing.”

The MAX sets off, and now various passengers stir themselves, collecting briefcases, shopping bags, a suitcase, themselves, “Puertas a me izquierda,” as an overpass appears, approaches, swallows them, the train sighing to a stop in the attenuated salmon light beneath. Christian is first off the train.

A wide plaza, brightly lit, tangled with intersections, streets, rail lines, crosswalks, and all the stoplights. Up a low rise there past a scruff of trees just coming into their own the immensely spot-lit bulk of a coliseum, and under its pointed curl of roof by a stylized rose, a gigantic billboard of a basketball player preparing to take a shot, back-lit letters that say Rose Garden. A spur off all those intersections lined with idling busses, each with the same Warner Pacific University ad on the side. Away across the other side of the plaza, off toward the unseen river, more lights flare from the tops of a wall of concrete silos, and enormous letters painted along the rumpled length of them some faded time ago say amazon.com wouldn’t fit here. Christian slips in among the flowing crowds, deftly navigating currents that turn away here up the sidewalks toward the coliseum, wash away there toward the busses, eddy at this corner or that, waiting until enough pressure’s built up to spill them across a street, until only a few are left about him, headed toward another MAX stop behind a modest thicket of sculptures, slender white poles topped by skeletal cones suggesting lace, or coral, disconcertingly bright. He ducks around a ticket machine blinking to itself, Select Passenger, Select Passenger, slips past this person, that cluster settling themselves to wait, all the way up by himself to the end of the long slender glass-topped awning. Leans back against a brassy donut ringed about the awning’s pole, just below hip-height, folds his arms in that oversized shirt, creases still clenching the front of it, and the sleeves, he’s half-singing to himself, “all my eye for the fly, the fly,” but he catches himself and he stops, rolling his eyes.

There’s someone else down at this far end of the stop.

Out past the edge of the awning she’s stood before a tall red plinth, peering at the schedule framed on one of its faces, long full skirt and a trim little sweater, hair in a neatly tucked updo, and in her arms a broad round footed platter, a cakestand, all of milky green glass, intricately figured. Catching sight of him having caught sight of her, she offers a flash of a smile and the smallest nod before redoubling her attention to the schedule, clutching more closely her awkward bundle.

With a shrug, a sigh, he pushes off the pole, hands in his pockets, makes his way toward her. “It’ll be along soon enough,” he says. “You don’t really need the schedule. They come every fifteen minutes, pretty much.”

“What I don’t really need,” she says, and pauses, collecting herself. “Thank you, sir, but the operation of a streetcar schedule is within my capabilities.”

“I didn’t,” he says, “I wasn’t, I just,” shrugging, hands still in his pockets, “looked like you were looking for something.”

“I was,” she says, reluctantly, “I seem to have gotten myself turned around. Where might I catch a bus on the Vanport line?”

“Vanport?” he says, shaking his head. “What number’s that?”

“I don’t know the number of any specific bus,” she says.

“No, I mean,” he looks up, turns away. “Where you going, north?”

“Vanport.”

“I mean,” he says, “maybe the six, but that’s over on – ”

“The six?”

“Runs up MLK.”

“Em,” she says, brow cocked, “ell, kay? Milk?”

“No,” he says, drawn out. Tipping his head to one side, looking down. She wears a pair of saddle shoes, well-polished, and frilled white bobby socks.

“I had thought,” she says, resettling her grip on the cakestand, “to ride a trolley for a bit, until I recognized a stop, but,” looking about, “this doesn’t appear to be a stop for the Interstate line.”

“Hey,” he says, pointing to the stylized rail map on the plinth, straight lines of yellow, red, blue and green, orange, neatly twined about the simple cyan angle of the river. The stop almost at the top of the yellow line, there, labeled Delta Park and Vanport. “There you go,” he says. “You’re in the right, ah, place,” but she’s shaking her head. “I think I would’ve noticed,” she says, “if they’d built a trolley out to my neighborhood.”

“Yeah, well,” he says, “pretty sure there ain’t much of a neighborhood out that far. Just, like, a park, and a golf course. And then Jantzen Beach.” The sound, rising about them, rush and whining grind, the train’s approaching, long and white, sloping nose of it swinging about as it uncurls a curve under streetlights, the lights within shining out its windows. Expo Center, say the pinprick letter-lights along the top of the slanted windscreen, by a square of colored lights more orange than yellow. “Here we go,” he says, turning to her, still stood by the plinth, clutching the cakestand, blinking.

“I think,” she says, as the train sighs to a stop, clang of bell, “I’ll wait, for a trolley I recognize.” Doors slough open, down the length of it. “And must you keep staring at my shoes? Look me in the eye to say farewell, as anyone with manners should. Mister, ah,” brow lifted, waiting.

“Beaumont,” he says. “Christian Beaumont.”

“The beautiful mountain.” She shifts her grip on the cakestand. “And you might know me as Cora Bunch.”

“All right,” he says, stepping up onto the train. “All right.”

Sometime later, a bell jingles over the door as Christian steps through into the dilapidated front room of the shop, counter there, worktable behind it mounded high with shoes of every shape and color and then some. Standing there in the middle of the bare scuffed floor, looking down at himself, mud-freighted jeans, filthy running shoes.

Clatter and clack from the back. He looks up. There’s Gordon, strands of bead curtain draping and framing the bulk of him, his ragged sweater, shoulder-seam coming unpicked, his dark bald head with its circle of crisp white curls. “New shirt,” he says.

Christian shrugs.

“You back?”

Christian heads up to the counter then, slips behind it. Pulls a plain brown moc-toed pump from the mound, holds it up a moment. Casts about for another.

“You’re back,” says Gordon. “Tea?”


Table of Contents


Jericho,” written by Susan McKeown, copyright holder unknown. Hold On,” written by Tom Waits, copyright holder unknown. The QR code system was invented in 1994 by Masahiro Hara for the Japanese company Denso Wave. Microphone Fiend,” written by Eric Barrier and Rakim Allah, copyright holder unknown. Warner Pacific University, founded in 1937 by the Church of God. amazon.com is a registered trademark of You Know Who.

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