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Jo removes her Jacket – two whole Days – He’s in –

Jo removes her jacket, and “You don’t have to,” says Ysabel.

“I shouldn’t have said anything about the damn heater,” says Jo, draping the jacket over Ysabel’s bare knees.

“Now you’re going to freeze,” says Ysabel.

“No,” says Jo, wrapping her arms in her satiny red blouse about herself, “I’m gonna snuggle.” She leans close to Ysabel, working a corner of the jacket up over her lap, pressing closer as Ysabel looks up, about the mostly empty bus, then leaning to one side lifts her arm up and free to drape it along Jo’s side. “There,” says Jo, laying her head against Ysabel’s shoulder. “See? Cozy.”

“You are so absurd sometimes, Jo Maguire.”

“Only sometimes?”

Weakly lemon-colored sunlight dapples them, shimmering between needled branches through the windows to the right. Up behind the driver an older man sits stiffly upright facing that sunlight, a brown banker’s box in his lap, a grey trilby on his head. A few rows ahead of them a woman her head down hands up fingers pressed against white earbuds. The trees thin a moment to the right and they rush past a cluster of yellow bulldozers and backhoes, a patch of earth scraped raw next to a clean new house with black shutters. “Now what?” says Ysabel.

“Which term?” says Jo. “Short, or long?”

“How about when we get back to town?” Ysabel’s stroking Jo’s close-cropped hair.

“I think I have to go see Erne.”



“Jo, you’re not going to – you can’t think you’re going to just, challenge whoever it is.” She looks down at the head nestled against her, the hair under her fingers the color of deep red wine. “Linesse, the Duke – even the Axehandle could best you. Easily.”

“What did you think I was gonna do,” says Jo. “Shoot them?”

“Isn’t that how you people usually resolve this sort of thing?”

“No,” snorts Jo, and then, “well, actually, I might could get a gun if I had to.” She blows out a little laugh. “Let’s just, let’s figure out what to do once we figure out who it is. No, Erne – ” She reaches up to take Ysabel’s hand in hers. “I shouldn’t have.” She sighs. “I shouldn’t have left it like that.” Squeezes Ysabel’s hand. Ysabel’s looking out the window, sunlight licking her face under the white hood of her parka. “You made a promise,” she says to Jo.


“You’re going to keep it.”

“He’s gonna,” says Jo, letting go of Ysabel’s hand, “it’s two hundred bucks. For November. We only paid for October. He’s gonna insist on getting his two hundred bucks.”

“That was part of the promise, as I recall,” says Ysabel.

“That’s more than, what, ten percent of what we’ve got left.”

“I’ll trust you on the math,” says Ysabel.

“So you’re okay with it?”

“It’s not,” says Ysabel, looking down then, “it’s not my decision to make.”

“It’s our money.”

“No it isn’t.”

Jo shifts, looks up, sits up, wrapping her arms back about herself. “Yes,” she says. “It’s our money.”

Ysabel almost shakes her head. “It wasn’t my secret,” she says, and Jo leans into her saying, “We’re in this together,” and Ysabel’s looking away, down, out into the aisle, at the back of the seats before them, and, “I trust you,” she says. “Implicitly.”

“Okay,” says Jo.

“Yes,” says Ysabel. “It’s okay.”

Harsh light from the desk lamp catches here and there a curl or slice of flesh along the length of her, one leg stockinged, one leg bare, black lace still taut about her hips, tucked under a roll of her belly, bare breasts lolling. The nests of her hair undone, braids and ribbons spread out along the linoleum, spangles clattering as she turns her head, lifts a hand, the heel of it rubbing her eyes, then the palm of it her mouth, then her fingers scrubbing at the sticky sheen that’s smeared about her chin and cheeks. “Hello?” she says, a shell of a word. Sitting up under that enormous photograph of a hamburger.

Over the counters the menu boards are empty and dark. Behind them she steps gingerly between rows of long-dead ovens and griddles coated with a thick rime of greasy dust. “Hello?” A wrenching croak of metal, a knock-knock-knock of pipes, a gushing splash of water. In the gloom at the back of the kitchen he’s ghostly by a broad deep sink, splashing his face, his narrow chest, under his arms. Sweeping his black hair back he sees her, stops, lowers his hands. Waiting. She steps closer, hugging herself. “It smells rank in here,” she says.

He reaches for a wrist, peels her arm free, pulls her to him and she lets go of herself to swallow him suddenly in a fierce hug. His hair falling over hers as he kisses the top of her head. “My phone says, it’s like three o’clock? But I don’t know morning or afternoon?” Her words muffled. She lifts her head to look up at him. “But it also says it’s the eleventh? It’s all fucked up. We haven’t been here for like two days, have we?”

“I don’t know.”

“Dad didn’t try to call. Which doesn’t mean anything or anything.”

“Your father.”

“Yeah,” she says, leaning back, her hair clattering, chiming. “Bet you, you didn’t know it was, statutory.” He frowns, and she says in a rush, “It’s not like you care I’m sure or anything because, it’s like you’re a vampire, right?” His frown sharpens. “Not that you are a vampire, of course not, you’re not. I have no idea what you are. But it’s like a, a vampire? Maybe?”

“Should I kill you now?” he says, and she laughs wobbily. “No,” she says. “You aren’t going to do that. You never were.”

“Stay,” he says, his hands on her shoulders, smoothing her tangles of ribbons and braids.

“What, here?” Stepping back from him out from under his hands, looking about the darkened kitchen. “Josh always said this place was a shooting gallery.”

“Stay here, with me.” His hands on her hips now, pulling her close again.

“What about,” she says, her hands on his hips now, “what about your enemy?” Looking down at her thumb, stroking the dulled scar across his belly.

“What about her.” He shrugs. He kisses her, but he stops, rears up and back from her lips and he’s frowning again, and then he licks her mouth with exaggerated care. “Sloppy,” he says. “A sloppy, greedy girl.”

“Yeah,” she says. Her fingers settling about his lengthening cock. “Whatever, whatever it was, last night was the best – the best – ”

“What,” he says. “What is it?”

She shakes her head and squeezes him and biting her lip looks up at him again and says, quietly, precisely, “You son of a bitch.”

“Oh,” he says, “oh no, Gloria Monday – I am the Mooncalfe; I am motherless.”

Outlandishly puffy running shoes strapped and gussetted, spotlessly white, churning the big flat pedals of an elliptical trainer, fingerless bicycle gloves on the trainer’s walking poles, blue and white headphones cupping his ears. He isn’t looking out at anything in particular, not the television hanging over the balcony railing, not the room below filled with the creak of cables and the clang of weights, the grunts of effort, squeaking shoes, slaps against mats. He has no idea how bad it is out there! yells the bald bearded man on the television. He has no idea! Pounding a glass table littered with paper. I have talked with the heads of almost every single one of these firms in the last seventy-two hours and he has no idea how bad it is out there! Stop Trading, says the red sign at the bottom of the screen, above a constant stream of numbers and acronyms. Roland leans back his pace quickening his breathing slow, regular, deeply in through his nose and out in gusts from his mouth. A red-tipped cane’s lifted up by his shoulder wobbling swinging missing, poking a can of his headphones, skewing it from his ear, a soaring burst of violins leaking from it. He jerks back to one side, hands and feet stopping suddenly, a sigh from deep within the machine. The woman standing there holding the cane has a floppy black hat pulled low over her yellow hair. “Hanson?” she says. He’s lowering his headphones, settling them about his neck. “You were running backwards,” she says. He steps from the pedals. His hands on his hips he tilts his head to either side, stretching his neck. She’s rooting around the pockets of her rain-colored pea coat with her free hand. “You’re a goddamn fool,” she says.

“You’d know best.”

“Was that – a joke?” Her free hand a fist tugged from a pocket. “You need to signal them better.” Her fist held up between them opens with a turn of the wrist to reveal a little toy car, silver and green. “Go on,” she says, the brim of that black hat lifting. “Take it.” Her cheeks clench twitching milky eyes. “I won’t have it on me anymore. Bad for business.”

He plucks the car from her hand. “Business,” he says.

“This ridiculous misapprehension of Southeast’s, that we’re in cahoots. No one will deal with me, Chariot.”

“He’s apologized for that, Miss Cheney.”

“Not loudly enough.” The brim of that hat dips again to hide her eyes. “Not so anyone who matters might hear.”

“Who’s repeating the slander?” says Roland. “Give me a name. I’ll see to them myself.”

Her mouth twists sourly. “Not a one will deal with me, knight.”

He turns, scoops up a towel from the railing, mops his brow. “And you, naturally, assumed.” He drapes the towel over his shoulder. “Perhaps no one will deal, witch, because no one has anything to deal with.” He moves past her but that cane thwacks against the floor blocking his step. “Well?” he says, looking down at its red tip. “Have I told you something else you should already have known?”

“Maybe no one else is stupid enough to tell me,” says Miss Cheney. She pulls the cane back, sweeps it to tock against the base of the elliptical trainer. “Something is going on,” she says under the brim of that hat. “Someone’s in cahoots.”

“It doesn’t concern me,” says Roland, stepping past.

“No?” Miss Cheney tocks her cane again. “Well, hell,” she says, as he walks away. “I’ll be sure to miss you all, when you’re gone!”

A steep and narrow flight of stairs. High green walls to either side painted over so many times they still seem slickly wet, all edges and corners rounded and soft. Jo on the landing halfway up in her black leather jacket, a limp buff-colored duffel slung from her shoulder, a long narrow cardboard box strapped to the side of it. She’s looking up to the head of the flight, a white hall, dark double doors, a frosted glass fanlight above them lit from within.

“Jo?” says Ysabel, a couple steps below, white boots and parka.

“Looks like he’s in,” says Jo, and she ducks her head and goes on up.

A wide deep room the far end lost in shadows. Mirrors line one wall floor to ceiling. The dark floor’s marked in a dozen spots with Xes of blue masking tape. A little man in a T-shirt and sweatpants, wiry arms and legs at odds with his barrel chest, steps smoothly from one splash of light to the next, the sword in his hand sweeping slowly a gleam from low at his side almost brushing the floor up and around over his head settling arm out gently bent hand supine at eye level pinching the hilt between thumb and forefinger. His other arm back and up for balance ends in a metal hook. Sinking slowly into a long low lunge that hook sweeping back clacking absently as he reaches his full extension. By the half-open door Ysabel behind her Jo watches as he recovers, angling his blade through precise parries to each of the four quarters, his hook lowering, feet coming together, blade upright before his downturned face, a brief salute. “Two weeks,” he says, snapping the blade down, a flick of his wrist, stalking across the room to lay the sword on a rolled-up mat next to a half-dozen others, all of them tipped with blunt black rubber caps.

“Yeah, well,” says Jo, “stuff happened.” Lowering the duffel, the box resting upright before her. “I’ve got the full two hundred bucks for the month, even though, you know. Two weeks.” He turns, stroking his neck under his salt-and-pepper Van Dyke. Looks at her standing there, hands folded together on the top of that box. “We have to find new jobs though,” she says, “so we might need to talk about the schedule, figure out something if it’s not night work, I guess.”

He steps quickly toward them, leaning forward, peering at Jo’s face. “You’ve been in another fight,” he says, and her hand leaps to the yellowing bruise along her temple. “Sort of,” she says.

“With that?” he says. “May I see it?”

Ysabel steps up behind Jo as she opens the flaps of the box and pulls up the sheathed sword by its beaten metal throat the color of thunderclouds. The hilt of it simple and straight, wrapped in dulled wire, quillions clean straight bars almost as long together as the hilt, and over and around them a glittering net of wire meeting in thick worked steel knots all gathered together in a single cord swooping up to the great silvery clout of the pommel.

Vincent lifts his hand, stops, looks up at Jo, his mouth open to ask a question. She nods. He takes the hilt in his hand and with a faintly scraping ring of steel against leather and metal draws the sword up and up and out. Jo holding the plain black scabbard still in one hand, the other holding the box. Ysabel her hand on Jo’s.

He tilts the blade, sweeps it, swings it wide, “Nice,” he says. “Well-balanced. Light, but that’s good, for you. He hasn’t lost his touch.” Hilt up lifting the sword until the tip of it wavers just over Jo’s hand guiding it into the scabbard, slowly sinking it home. “A damn sight better than that ratty épée.”

“Uh,” says Jo, and then all at once, “I lost that sword.”

“Did you,” says Vincent Erne.

“Along with my favorite jacket? I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it was stupid, I left it in the bathroom of a – ”

“That’s a pretty good jacket you’ve got right there,” he says, and then he walks out of the room.

“Shit,” says Jo, and “Mr. Erne?” says Ysabel, as they turn to follow him, Jo scooping up the duffel and the box. “Mr. Erne.” Heading out of the wide deep room down the hall to an office next door where he’s standing by a long table lost under haphazard stacks of books and piles of paper, pouring a slug of sooty whiskey into a coffee mug. A poster on the wall above him says The Loyal Subject. “For the love you bear my mother, Mr. Erne,” says Ysabel, “would you consent to taking up the training of Jo Maguire once again.”

“Bore,” says Vincent, and he takes a drink from the mug.

“Really,” says Ysabel. “The regard, then, in which I’m sure – ”

“For the two hundred bucks a month,” he says. “But at eleven o’clock in the morning. Now get the hell out of – what do you want?”

A confusion of turning in the doorway to the office. In the hallway a woman in navy coveralls and cap, a grey cardigan obscuring the nametag clipped to her breast pocket. Holding a clipboard and a plain white envelope. “Message for the Gallowglas?” she says.

And after a moment Jo says, “Yeah I, uh, who’s it, what?”

“Who’s it from?” says Ysabel.

The woman in the coveralls looks at the envelope, turns it over, looks at the clipboard. “Frank, ah, Frankie Reichart?”

Table of Contents

Mad Money, writer and copyright holder unknown. Symphony no. 6, op. 111 (Second Movement, “allegro scherzando”), written by Howard Hanson, copyright holder unknown.

M.E. Traylor    27 July 2011    #

Miss Cheney is one of those characters where I’m still scratching my head wondering why she’s here, but I imagine it will be revealed.

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