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Orange doors – “Every tool known to man” – Careful; Twilight; Knee – Dropping off – her Majesty’s smokes –

Orange doors, wide segmented overhead doors set one after another down the white walls either side of the alley, all of them that color too luridly deep for the milky light, and a couple of them lifted opened on unlit storage units packed with boxes, furniture, the bulbous rear of a midnight-blue sedan, and the trunk lid’s up, and climbing from it a confusion of pastel taffetas, a striped sock, a plaid plimsoll delicately crushing the snow that’s drifted over the threshold. Straightening a fluff and crinkle of skirts beneath a large black hooded sweatshirt leaning over the fender to offer up a folded bundle soft and grey to Linesse, in her black leather jacket, in a folding lawn chair, legs draped in an afghan, pink and yellow, blue and green.

Squeak and crunch of snow, a man in a knee-length parka and a knit cap, thermos in one ungloved hand, fingers of the other threaded through the handles of mismatched clinking mugs. He offers up his mugged hand to the woman in the skirts, her face still hidden by that hood, and she takes a yellow one that says Is It Friday Yet, and then he swings to offer them to Linesse bent over, she’s unfurled that bundle, sweatpants, and now she looks up, tucks herself back under the afghan, takes a white mug printed with a drooping cartoon mustache. He sets the third on the fender, a black mug that says I’m Not Lost, I’m Locationally Challenged, and pours something richly red and steaming from the thermos into each. He lifts his, and the woman in the skirts lifts hers, and then with the slightest tic of her gunmetal head Linesse lifts hers, and then a nod, and she drinks, and they drink.

At the one end of the alley a pickup truck, and Lymond sitting on the rear bumper in his purple T-shirt, his pinkish-orange hair laid back, dark with sweat, or melted snow. Over the edge of the truck’s bed lopped a couple of shaggy rabbit ears, Glenn’s curled up back there, asleep under a tarp. A creak, a rattle, a bang and another orange door is hoisted, opened, a woman in a pale blue quilted robe shuffling from between a wall of cardboard boxes and a glass-fronted cabinet. A sludgy drone of pipes erupts, counterpointed by bass, and drums, someone’s set an old boom box on a crate, clamoring with the rattle and bang of another door thrown up, someone else stepping out, here, and there, a nod perhaps, a wave.

A short and heavy man climbs out of the cab of the truck, shapeless green coveralls and a battered tweed jacket, a blue meshback cap that says Vanport 15. “He’s here,” he calls out, and Lymond peers around the back of the truck. Trudging down another alley quiet and still, the orange doors all closed and locked, an old man in a pea coat his dark head bald and bare, bent under the weight of an olive duffel. Lymond nods, then sits back against the tailgate. “Gordon,” says the man in the meshback cap.

“Soames,” says the old man with a nod. “That this Prince?”

A brisk nod from the Soames, a jerk of his thumb. “But it’s her,” he says. “Down past Biscuit.”

The pipes and the drums and the bass climb to and end and a guitar jigs out from under it all, a clattering bodhrán, and voices in a harmony distorted by those overpowered speakers sing they’re changing the guard at Buckingham Palace. A man in a worn barn coat’s doing a little dance, there’s a laugh, and a clap, and a whoop. The man in the knee-length parka’s headed back toward the truck, thermos in his hand, and back behind him there’s Linesse in her black leather jacket, her grey sweatpants, one bare foot in the snow and the other lifted to rest against her cocked knee, a tree, her back to the truck, and her mug held up in both her hands.

Gordon stops, dips his shoulder to let the duffel fall, then leaning in lowers himself first one knee then the other beside it.

“She needs shoes,” says the Soames.

“I know what she needs, Tommy Tom,” says Gordon, opening the duffel, digging among a jumble of shoes to pull out a long boot, grey wool and brown leather straps and a buckle, chiming. “Fetch the bolt cutters.”

The Soames Thomas says, “What?”

Up to the shoulder in that duffel Gordon scowls. “Every tool known to man in that truck of yours,” he says. “So reach in and fetch me out a set of bolt cutters.” And then, “You think anyone else of you is gonna do this.”

Around the back of the truck Lymond’s gotten to his feet.

Thomas opens the driver’s door, leans in, working something loose. Up in the back Glenn in his furry jumpsuit sits up as the truck rocks, rubbing at eyes slitted against the thickening light. Thomas pulls out all long dinged yellow levers and snubbed pincers brown with rust and holds them close to himself, frowning at Gordon, who’s pulled the mate of that boot from the duffel. He reaches for the cutters, and Thomas lets them go. “You’re still wearing that hat,” says Gordon, and then he heads off down the alley, past Biscuit, toward Linesse.

“Forgive him, Highness,” says Thomas. He’s taken off his cap, smoothing his thick black hair. “It’s been an extraordinary time.” Biscuit’s putting the thermos in the cab of the truck. “This weather,” says Thomas, putting his cap back on, favoring Biscuit with the briefest look, the merest shake of his head. Biscuit shuts the door, leans back against the truck, blowing on his hands.

“It snowed,” says Glenn, up in the back of the truck. “It never snows.”

Down the alley in their heavy coats and coveralls, their loose black rubber boots, wrapped in blankets and one of them a sleeping bag all splotchy camouflage of pink and red and white and dirty grey, they keep their distance but still, circling about, as Linesse turns to see Gordon there beside her, and his head bowed. She lifts a hand but he stoops away, sets the cutters on the pavement, kneels, heavily, there before her, the boots in his hands, and the music’s now a ringing, chugging guitar riff, a fusillade of drumbeats, a wailing harmony, true love, true love, true love. “And here you are, nevertheless,” says Lymond then, “up with the sun, to see to the needs of your people.”

“My, people?” says Thomas. “Domestics, who can’t keep a hearth? Mechanicals without a purpose? Highness, these, they – these are no one’s people.”

“But,” says Lymond, “when our little band is once more on its way, you’ll have Biscuit open up the truck, and you’ll bring forth the last of my sister’s gift to you, and dole it out to them.”

And Gordon’s buckling a boot about Linesse’s calf.

“Give me your rabbits, Twice Thomas,” says Lymond.

“My rabbits,” says Thomas, toeing a frozen rut.

“The Hare, then,” says Lymond. “A fine emblem it’ll make, on a banner, in the sunlight.”

And Gordon’s tugging the other boot up over Linesse’s foot.

The Soames Thomas, still looking down, hands in the pockets of his jacket, says, “You can’t give us the North, Highness.”

“Can’t?” says Lymond, lightly.

“You can’t,” says Thomas, “make a gift, of what we already hold.”

“A point,” says Lymond, “a fair point,” and Thomas nods, “Highness,” he says. Gordon’s leaning away as Linesse steps back from him in her new boots. He’s climbing slowly to his feet, waving away the hand she offers.

“What you don’t have,” says Lymond, “is a place at court,” and Thomas starts to say, “We’d never,” but Lymond’s speaking over him, “What you don’t have,” he says, “is a full share in the Apportionment.”

Thomas looks up at that. Over to Lymond. “There must be a Queen,” he says.

“Yes,” says Lymond. “There will.”

The cutters in one hand Gordon’s saying something with great force, holding up his free hand, throwing it to one side, and he repeats himself, redoubled, shaking the cutters at her, and when he’s said what he’s saying she reaches out and lets the mug in her hand drop. She unzips her jacket just enough to pull aside the collar and reveal there polished silver. Black Betty, Black Betty had a baby, that wailing harmony’s chanting around itself, Freddy’s dead, that’s what I said.

“It’s not for me,” says Thomas. “It can’t be for me. We won’t allow it. We’ll send who we send to court, and divvy up our share as we see fit.”

“A Count, a Duke, a Marquess,” says Lymond, watching as Gordon levers the cutters open, bites the polished silver with those snubbed brown jaws. “Why not a President, too? The office is yours to fill.”

“I was just thinking,” says Glenn, up behind them, “I mean, are the busses running today? With the snow? We should probably try to figure that – ”

Flare of light and a hollow roar almost a voice and a thump of impact rattling the orange doors in their frames, sending more than one of them clattering crashing closed and closed, and the crowd turns ducking falling away, hands up, shading eyes, and Gordon bellowing staggers back, dropping the cutters smoking to the snow, as Linesse with a slow twist peels the silver torc from about her throat.

“Shit,” says Jessie, working the gas and the clutch, one hand gripping the steering wheel, one hand the gear shift, the car slewing left, juddering, whipping back and settling as speed’s picked up, engine snorting climbing down from its redline howl, snow popping under the tires rolling under the traffic light, past the palatial movie theater on the corner, Bagdad says the big sign in ornamented letters. Careful, says the unlit marquee. Twilight of the Ice Nymphs 1030. Cowards Bend the Knee. “Leo,” she says, both hands on the wheel now to steady it through a shudder. The roar of the heater swallowing her voice. “Leo. Almost home.” He’s slumped over against the passenger door, eyes closed wobbling with the car as it whines over another slick patch.

She brakes in stages approaching the snow-draped temple, those high mullioned windows up between white columns capped in green, and turns with a crunch of snow, gunning up into the little lot between the temple and the glass-walled restaurant, and noses to park at a sloppy angle under the blank brick wall. She shuts off the engine, keys clinking in the sudden thunderous silence. “Leo,” she says, and then she’s overtaken by a mighty yawn. He’s blinking, still slumped, thumbing the corners of his eyes. “Time is it,” he says.

“I don’t know,” she says.

“Sun’s up,” he says. “I think?”

“Took a while to get across town,” she says, “what with the snow,” and he’s leaning over, “Hey,” he says, “that’s not what I was getting at.” His hand in her lap. “Leo,” she says. His eyes squeezed shut, his shoulder leaning heavily against her. “I feel,” he says. “Weird? All bloated and starving at once.”

“Given what you ate,” she says.

“Not talking about food.” He frowns at his hand on her thigh, fingers on bare skin between sock and jacket-hem. “You’re cold,” he says.

“I’m freezing,” she says. “I want to get inside and climb into bed and sleep for two days.”

“Only two,” he says, and then, “okay,” and lifts his hand away.

“I like it when it’s snowing,” he says, opening his door, pushing himself to his feet as she opens hers. “Not so much when it has snowed.” Leaning on his cane, limping a step or two away from the car. “What time is it?”

“Leo.” She’s looking over the top of the car at him. “You feeling okay?”

“Something hurts,” he says. “We got something wrong.” Turning about in the empty lot, lifting his cane, “Nineteen,” he says, with a sweep of his arm, “eighteen – seventeen knights, and who’s here the break of a Saturday dawn, jars and bottles in hand?”

“The snow,” she says.

“Fuck the snow.” He stomps around the front of the car. “Sixteen.”


“You think Luys is coming back? You think any of them are coming back?”

“Your Grace?”

There at the corner by the sidewalk a man in a puffy cream-colored coat, rich red hair flopping from a high widow’s peak, and in his hand a cloudy plastic bottle with a bright red lid, and Leo leaning into it cane-tip squelching in the snow swarms up to him, “You will address my Majesty,” he snarls, slapping the bottle away.

“Leo!” says Jessie.

“Sir?” says the man in the cream-colored coat.

And he draws back, both hands on the head of his cane now, looking from the one to the other, biting his lip. “Let’s go inside,” he says, the words clipped, small, and when the man in the cream-colored coat steps over to reach for the bottle, “Leave it.”

Around the corner then, and up the steps, and through the double doors.

Through the double doors, and across the black-and-white tiled foyer. Up the wide white-painted stairs. She leans against, presses herself against the buzzing red bulk of a Coke machine as his hand on the faceted glass knob he leans close to the plain white door and says, “And Farquahr will be two.”

Down the dark hall, past the big room washed in thin light from those high narrow windows, through an odd little corner and into the cramped kitchen, where she stops, looks back. “Leo?” she says. By the sink a single glass turned upside down.

Through a swinging door into the airy white room, the small round table there in the middle of it, the three absurdly high-backed chairs about it, the white ridge of a sectional sofa down at the one end, the plain translucent shower curtains lining the other, and slowly a hand up before her she walks up to them, and parts them, and steps between racks of clothing, dresses, jackets, a phalanx of skirts, a platoon of jeans, clouds of lingerie. At the end of it all she sits on a low stool before a three-way mirror, in her grey chauffeur’s jacket, her yellow hair swept back under her grey chauffeur’s cap, reaching down her black-socked leg for the laces of her red shoes, those bright red Keds, but her hands fall away and up to wrap about her knees, and when she looks up, her eyes screwed shut, her mouth a twist, her cheeks shine.

Squeal and a scrape of rings as she pushes through shower curtains, clear but rippled with triangles in loud colors. She’s wearing a long white sleeveless T-shirt, and her eyes are clear, and her feet bare. There before her a queen-sized bed in a pool of soft light from the corner windows, piled high with white comforters and pillows. The man in the bed sits up on one elbow, and his smile is rueful, and he says, “I’m sorry. I had nowhere else to go.” His dark hair brushes his shoulders, and his new beard’s neatly trimmed. His chest a thicket of lush dark curls. His eyebrows cock, his smile quirks, “You did ask me to come back,” he says.

“I haven’t slept,” she says, climbing into the bed. “I have got to sleep.” Settling on her side, her back to him. Folding a pillow under her ear.

“So sleep,” he says. “I’ve kept the bed warm for you.” He leans over her, kisses her shoulder, and when she closes her eyes and doesn’t lift her face to him he leans over even more to kiss her cheek. “Kings die,” he says. “They die; it’s what they do.” Stroking her shoulder once more, then rolling over on his back. “Magicians don’t.”

Some time passes before she says, “Lake,” without opening her eyes. “I don’t have a sister.”

His hands clasped together just beneath his chin, those dark eyes gazing up at the unfinished ceiling, he sighs. “Tell me about her,” he says. “Whatever you like. Just until you fall asleep.”

“Certain ancient megaliths,” says Mr. Charlock, “were said to go down to the nearest stream for a drink, at astronomically propitious times of the year.” He’s stretched out the length of the back seat, empty sleeves of his black suit yanked tight around and beneath him, and wound about with orange electrical cord. “Their dead were buried upright, facing west.” He’s looking up, working his shoulders, his neck, trying to see out the window above him. His shoelaces have been tied together. “It is suggested,” he says, straining, “the experimenter, face himself, to the east.”

“East,” says Mr. Keightlinger, stirring from behind the wheel, leaning down to look up and out the passenger window. Outside the snow’s steeped in pale blue shadows, but light sharpens up behind the big house across the trackless street. A broad porch, there, and four front doors each set one right next to another. “Okay,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“He didn’t sing,” says Mr. Charlock. “They sing, in the snow.” Wriggling against the cords. “He didn’t beat his wings against our shields.”

“Keep still,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“Low, keep low,” says Mr. Charlock, “hell yes I did, like a worm in the,” and he frowns, shoulder rolling as he pulls against something, “snow,” wriggling again, “all those wings, and eyes.” Jacket bunching up under the orange cord and there where his white shirt’s showing his hand, twisting about. “He didn’t see us, but he wasn’t even looking. He was, he – was.”

“What,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“Sad,” says Mr. Charlock.


“Sad. Still. As near a miss, as I’ll, ever want.” The car rocks as he kicks, jerks, kicks again. His hand down by his hip clawing at a loop of cord.

“Stop,” says Mr. Keightlinger, leaning even further down. “Be still.”

Out there the third of those four front doors is opening and stepping out there’s Ysabel, black moccasin boots and thin black coat, white fur trailing from the cuffs, white fur about the hood of it framing her face. Mr. Charlock kicks again, hand wrenching free enough to flop against his belly. “Stop,” says Mr. Keightlinger, crouching along the front seat. Ysabel’s turned back, facing the woman wrapped in a long heavy robe the color of wine, her black hair short, and tied about her throat a strand of fine black lace, and the air glimmers about them as she reaches out for Ysabel’s hand. Mr. Keightlinger clucks his tongue.

“What,” says Mr. Charlock, kicking, rocking the car. “What!”

Ysabel says something, lifts her hand away, and Petra leans forward abruptly to snatch a kiss at her fingertips. “Burgundy,” says Mr. Keightlinger, and a jingle of keys. “The hell does that even mean?” says Mr. Charlock. Ysabel’s taken Petra’s face in both her hands and leaned in for a long swallow of a kiss, and light blooms in the shadows about them, and a burning limb of sunlight crests the roof far above. “Around the block,” says Mr. Keightlinger, ducked below the wheel, slotting a key in the ignition. “Get some distance.”

“From what?” Flicking the fingers of his free hand, crossing them index and middle, pinkie and ring, Mr. Charlock twists it about and curls it into a white-cornered fist. Mr. Keightlinger turns the key, and nothing happens. Ysabel lets go of Petra, steps back, steps back again, and Petra B reaches after her, clutching her parting robe, saying something, pleading. “Let go,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“Where,” says Mr. Charlock, fist still tightly curled.

“Wait and watch,” says Mr. Keightlinger, turning the key again, and again, pounding the wheel with the heel of his hand. “Let go.”

“She’s alone,” says Mr. Charlock, rocking the car with another kick. “She has no one! Grab her and be done with it!”

Ysabel’s coming down the steps. Still reaching out her face crumpling Petra sinks to her knees, and light falls from her hand as it closes on nothing. Ysabel careful of her booted feet in the stiff snow, looking up to see the low-slung orange car parked across the trackless street, snow falling from its faded black ragtop as it rocks from side to side.

“We coulda had her last night!” says Mr. Charlock, and Mr. Keightlinger’s muttering “Bind, bind and stop.” Mr. Charlock’s rolled over on one side, his other hand squirming there at the small of his back, fighting free of his rucked-up jacket, fingers jabbing, rigid, a sizzle, a long slash ripping through the vinyl seat-back, and old yellow foam rubber popping from the slit. “We coulda been back in Schenectady by now!”

“Never been,” says Mr. Keightlinger, leaning over the front seat, raising a hand.

“It’s a figure of speech!” shrieks Mr. Charlock, and someone’s tapping on the window, and they freeze.

“Well?” says Mr. Charlock, after a moment.

Mr. Keightlinger ducks back down, peers up through the window. Ysabel’s squinting through the scratched and dirty light-struck glass.

“Go on,” says Mr. Charlock, relaxing his fist, stretching out his fingers.

Mr. Keightlinger leans across to roll down the passenger-side window a couple of inches. “Do you have any cigarettes?” says Ysabel through the gap. “I could really use a smoke, and I don’t, I don’t have any,” and she shrugs. Mr. Keightlinger shakes his head. “No,” he says.

“Okay,” she says, looking away, blinking at the light. “You’ve been following me.”

And a single loud flat bark of a laugh from Mr. Charlock.

“All this time,” says Ysabel, looking back into the car, at Mr. Charlock sprawled across the back seat. “The two of you. All this time.”

Mr. Keightlinger doesn’t say anything. “She’s got us, dead to rights,” says Mr. Charlock.

“And that was you, last night,” says Ysabel. “And on his machine. Place and time. The club. He was going to sell me to you.”

Mr. Keightlinger doesn’t say anything. “Give, more like,” says Mr. Charlock.

From behind her across the street a plaintive cry, “Ysabel!”

“Show me,” she says, and she opens the passenger door. Mr. Keightlinger presses himself back against the driver’s door, “Wait,” he says, as she climbs into the car. “Show me what would’ve happened,” she says, “if he had. If I hadn’t.”

“Observe!” cackles Mr. Charlock. “Wait and watch her climb right in!”

“Ysabel!” wails Petra B.

She pulls the car door shut, and glitter settles on the seat about her. “Go,” she says. “Before that woman wakes the whole neighborhood.”

“Do not engage,” says Mr. Charlock. Mr. Keightlinger turns the key. The engine rumbles to life. And the Queen leans over, punches a button, twists a knob, and the heater roars to life. She holds her hands over the vent in the dash. “Come on,” she says. “Show me what I’m for.”

“Just watch,” Mr. Charlock’s chanting, as Mr. Keightlinger puts the car in gear, “Just watch, just you watch – ”

Table of Contents

Mammoth No Arms,” written by Rare Air, copyright holder unknown. Buckingham Palace; Dunford’s Fancy,” written by A.A. Milne, arranged by the Flash Girls, copyright holder unknown. True Love, Pt. #2,” written by John Doe and Exene Cervenka, copyright holder unknown.

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