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“Put that away” – a Scream – unfinished Business –

“Put that away,” says the XO.

“She has a name, you know,” says Moody, elbows on the table, delicately fingering the pommel of the poignard balanced on its blade-tip before him, turning it slowly about, the long and tapered edge of it gleaming, and the wire wrapped about its handle.

“You named your knife,” says the XO. He’s in the doorway there, looking out from the dim little cabin onto a porched bit of yellowing deck, the placid river just beyond, greyly green. His anorak dappled in chocolate-chip camouflage, the furred hood of it laid back, a ruff about his shoulders.

“Boat has a name,” says Moody.

“It’s a boat,” says the XO. “They’re coming. Put it away.”

“Lucinda,” says Moody, twirling the knife about again. “Why are we on a boat, anyway.” His black T-shirt plain, his worn jacket of army-surplus green.

“I’m not gonna ask you again, dammit,” says the XO.

“A few manners go a long way,” says Moody, tilting the knife back and forth, the tip of it dimpling the table’s dark veneer. Footfalls clomp the dock without. The XO says, “Moody, please. Put Lucinda or whatever the hell away. There’s that old saying, about knives, and gunfights?” A tinny electric bell ding-dongs, and “Come on in,” the XO calls out, without taking his eyes off Moody. Moody slips the blade back in its sheath. The XO nods, turning away to greet the first man stepping onto the deck, tall and broad, straining the shoulders of a shiny blue suit. Long mustaches droop about his mouth, the tips of them weighted with a couple of heavy grey beads. He nods once, stepping aside as the second man enters, shorter and more slender, Agravante in his blue and white striped suit. “You must be the Executive Officer,” he says, with a quick squeeze for the XO’s proffered hand.

“Yessir,” says the XO. “Chad.”

“And I am the Viscount Pinabel. This, the Anvil;” a nod to Pyrocles beside him, “you will take instruction from him, when I’ve instructions to give,” and Pyrocles’ mouth tightens at that, a pinch of a frown.

“I,” says Moody, “am the Dread Paladin.”

They turn to look at him, sitting there, at the table. The XO clears his throat. “One of our jefes, sir,” he says.

“Ah,” says Agravante. “Well. The Anvil, here. Rest assured: when he speaks, it is with my voice.”

“All due respect, sir,” says the XO, “but it’s your money we’d be listening to, mostly.” He gestures toward the table, and his tight white scar lopsides his welcoming smile. “Something to drink?”

“We’re familiar with the broad outlines of your arrangement with the Duke,” says Agravante, who doesn’t move to take a seat. “We see no need to alter the particulars.”

“Well, see,” says the XO, “that arrangement with the Duke, we hadn’t altered in quite some time. Being an established relationship.” He folds his arms, leans back, half-sitting on the table, and Moody behind him. “Market being what it is, we’d want to talk about upping the retainer.”

“And we’d propose something of a trial run, as it were, before commitment,” says Agravante.

“Well, without a retainer, prices do go up a bit.”

“As you require,” says Agravante, a dismissive wave of his hand, but Moody’s leaning forward, “Hang on,” he says. “Viscount, that’s like a Vice President, right? And used to be we worked for a Duke?” Looking up to the XO. “What are we, getting demoted?”

White-gold dreads brushing his shoulders, blue eyes weirdly pale in the dimness, “It really is quite simple, Paladin,” says Agravante. “The Duke’s now gone, and the Duchess too wrapped up in court intrigues to find your services to be of any use.”

“I dunno,” says Moody, as the XO mutters something tersely pungent. “A Duchess,” says Moody. “Sounds like more fun.”

“Jo Gallowglas is many things,” says Agravante, “but I’d hardly call her fun,” as he turns back to the XO, but there’s a pop of a laugh from Moody. “Danny,” says the XO, a warning in his tone, but “Jo?” says Moody. “That’s the Duchess? Jo?” And then, when no one answers, “A girl named Jo. Isn’t that funny?”

“Maybe now’s not the time,” says the XO.

“I used to once know a girl named Jo,” says Moody. “Jo Maguire.” Looking past Agravante to Pyrocles, whose mouth’s set between those drooping mustaches. “Wouldn’t that be funny,” says Moody.

“I believe,” says Agravante, “that is the name inscribed on the cards she carries in her purse,” and Moody laughs again, leans back, looks up to the XO. “I get it, now, why your old man wanted me along.”

“You mean to tell us that you know the Duchess of Southeast?” says Agravante.

“Oh,” says Moody, grinning, “me and Jo, we go way back.”

“Hold still,” says someone, the clatter of dropped blades, rising smoke, a scream, get her down, she’s on her knees, her belly, cheek pressed to polished concrete streaked white with dust, mud, the door flare brightly shadow bulked is walking across the ceiling toward her, where she’s lying, on the falling massive bell-shaped lamp up from the floor behind him crashing fountain sparks that drift quite lazily back up and up she makes me dizzy turn about, flip over, this is she’s the one the gunshot, yes, does she could she I don’t know, black shoes trousers squatting, blue and white and yellow flowers, idiot, reaching for her sword-hilt, get herself killed, hold her, roll her on her back and black smoke whirls before her eyes, about her wrists and arm, her shins and shifting lifts her yanking over and she kicks, she can hear us, black smoke whips about her ankle, hear us she can see us, as he’s leaning over, black smoke trails and tatters of it swirl about the crimpled eaves of hair untouched left still and calm in the ruffling fluttering shut up hold her is it yes it’s open up, make sure, make sure, those thick-fingered hands push her chin to one side grip the placket of her red red shirt and once more there’s a scream, she’s screaming, and as he yanks a button popping free he says, Mr. Keightlinger, his mouth full of black smoke, “Hold still.”

Dull whump, and he shivers, but when dirty smoke billows from the front doors, the roof, he steps out of the grass, into the empty lot, his eyes on the heavy gold watch about his wrist. Every hand on the face of it pointing quivering at that big box of a store.

“Shit,” says David Kerr.

Breaking into a jog, a lope, a flat-out run for those doors hung slackly open in that great oblong thrust above the high flat roof, and behind it, the towering pillar of smoke. Wading over the threshold through that smoke, slapping at tatters of yellow-white flame that lick at his sleeve and trouser-leg, toss his unruly hair, he yelps, ducking, stumbling out into the enormous open empty room, sparks everywhere and the sizzle and popping bangs of dying lamps. A scrap of paper flies past, another, more, he grabs one out of the air, a photograph stiffly glossy, two men in a canoe before a grand stone arch. More photographs, and more, tumbling, skirling, scraping the floor, here and there burning, flaring, wild shadowy flocks of them lofted, sculpting the gusts and blasts of a raging windstorm and there, in the eye of it, over toppled cabinets and the fallen bell of a lamp, hangs a man all in black his feet churning the air, reaching, grasping, wailing, yanking himself about with the effort of clutching the photos that whirl just out of reach.

“Hold still,” says someone loud enough to carry over the wind. A zipping rip of cloth. A big man kneeling darkly crouched over something, red shoes kicked out a-sprawl to one side of him, the gleam of a blade. “Well, do something,” that loud voice again, and Kerr, reaching for the bezel of his watch, finds his feet no longer on the floor, turned about his hands whipped back a grunt and slap, photos against his chest, photos clinging to his arms, the side of his face, a yelp from the Devil over across that room. More photos flutter snap to press against him trembling, he’s lurching himself around in the howling wind. Mr. Keightlinger below spreads that undone red shirt, that ripped black T-shirt, Jo’s eyes wide mouth working a word unheard, and those spatulate fingers press and twist her skin. Kerr hung above a lapped and bristling mass of photographs plastered to his torso, more photos slithering his arms one bending lifted close a hand to grab to peel to rip away the photos crumpling themselves into his mouth, a desperate gulp of air, a single shout, “Lu!” or maybe liu, or leu, it echoes, a distorted clang, and Mr. Keightlinger looks up, startled, as the wind

Kerr’s feet hit the floor, he stumbles to his knees, an elbow, clang and crash the Devil falling from the air, the rustle flutter patterfall of hundreds, of thousands of glossy photographs dropped all at once. Scrape and squeak of shoe on concrete Mr. Keightlinger standing, looking about that enormous, empty, silent room. “Where!” he cries, a forlorn yelp, and then, “Come back!” a ragged shout. Kerr pushes himself to his hands and knees and “You!” roars Mr. Keightlinger, rounding on him a kick to his belly over and tumble, grunt. Hauling him up, handfuls of beige fleece, “I’ll,” says Kerr, but an arm swings back for a punch to his gut, “What did you,” Mr. Keightlinger’s howling. Kerr says, “I’ll speak another,” and then the next punch lands. Kerr grunts, coughs. “You couldn’t,” Mr. Keightlinger’s saying, arm cocked.

“Sure I would,” says Kerr, grin crooked.

“Hey. Fucko,” says Jo Maguire.

Mr. Keightlinger drops Kerr, backs away. Jo’s marching toward them, rent shirts hung open, sword in hand. “Come back,” says Mr. Keightlinger once more, to none of them in particular. “Please.”

“What the hell,” says Jo. Over behind her a scrape of metal pop and clatter, the Devil, rolling over.

“You have it,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “You’re the one that has it.”

“That’s not all I have,” says Jo, lifting up her free hand.

Something rustles in the drifts of photographs, and Kerr looks back and forth, from her to him, to her again, but there, by the toppled cabinets, the skull mask lifts itself, the mane of it drawing itself together as it leaps across all that empty room, a thunderbolt to her hand.

“My morgue!” the Devil’s roaring, kicking over a tumult of wrenched and broken cabinets.

“You,” says Mr. Keightlinger, to Jo as she fits the mask over her head, as the mane climbs up and up, a great black banner flying. “Stay alive,” says Mr. Keightlinger, backing away. “And you,” he points to Kerr, who lifts a useless hand. “I won’t forget,” says Mr. Keightlinger, turning, loping away, off toward the broken doors.

“Your heart!” cries the Devil, staggering, slipping on photographs, stooping to snatch up his cutlass, “in my hand!” as he levels the blade at Mr. Keightlinger’s retreating back. “Now!” And slashing the air with it leaps over the photos after him at a run.

And Kerr, Kerr’s fallen, scrambling back, Kerr’s staring jaw dropped at Jo Maguire, Jo Gallowglas, Jo the Huntsman of the Court of Roses, under that swelling thunderhead that roils the bells of the remaining lamps, swallowing the light, lifting, pointing her flashing blade, “Devil,” she says, and the word booms. And as the Devil stops, looks back, eyes widening, she says, “We ain’t done.”

And he smiles. “Of course,” he says. “The knave will keep.” A jaunty salute of his cutlass, and he sets off, charging back across the room toward her.

That mane hangs in the air above them, lazily coiling about as she ducks, sidesteps his first wild chop, his second, clang and scrape she catches the third, steel screeching as she pushes, he shoves, she stumbles blade whipped wide as both hands gripped his next cut slashes her shoulder to hip she’s falling, heavily, a gasp, and all that mass of mane drops from the air. The Devil steps back, panting, blinking. Swallowing as he takes in the basket of wiry strands a-bob in the air before him, at the end of the blade jammed through his chest. It sinks with him as he falls to his knees, reaching. The blade wobbles, shifts, drops suddenly in a spatter of something wet and black to the floor, by an angled jawbone bristling with golden teeth. The mask falls from Jo’s face with a horrid echoing clack.

Blood wells from the long clean slash across her breast and belly, dark slicks of it already swamping the photographs crumpled beneath her. Kerr kneels over her, looking about, hands hovering uncertainly over throat and wrist, she jerks, a bubbling splat of a cough, and he yelps. Wisping up from her chest the barest tendril, to faint to have any color at all. “Oh, shit,” says David Kerr. “That’s it. That’s what he meant.”

Jo drags up her sodden hand, presses the heel of it a squelch to her breast, tamping it back down.

“I can’t,” says Kerr, “I’m sorry, there’s no way I can call an ambulance. They’re not equipped. I should be running for the fucking hills,” but her head’s rolling back and forth, no, no, as her other hand wrestles something up, her phone, lighting up under a film of red. Holding it up to him. “Luys,” she just manages to say. “The Mason. Call,” her voice catches, “Luys.”

And now the blue is almost gone from the sky, a lemony pale above that shades down through lime and lavender to oranges, to wild magentas that cling to the bottoms of a shadowed flotilla of clouds, down and down to the molten gold still burgeoning over beyond the roofs and towers, the far-off hills, and off behind it pinkly greens through purples unearthly, stately, down into a rumor of the darkness that’s to come. He slips around the corner of the low white warehouse as across the way a streetlight flickers to life. The empty street, the bare sidewalk, the warehouse wall painted over the length of it with a sprawling mural, figures and scenes that lap one over into another, masks and blocks, flames, a gnarled and squamous root-shape crowned with a forest, all the rich colors of it leached away in the deepening dim. Another wall over across the street, grey and blank but for a simple sign, Multnomah County Department of Community Corrections, it says, Probate and Parole. He hunches under the hood of his grimy sweatshirt, hands wrapped around whatever it is he’s carrying, and heads quickly down the open stretch of sidewalk, toward the row houses at the end, the cluster of recycling bins, but even before he’s halfway along there’s an engine-chug, a pickup truck turning the corner ahead, and he stops in the glare of its round headlights. It’s an old truck, an aqua blue weirdly luminous in the gloom, fenders scabbed with rust. “Hey,” says somebody, the driver, through the window rolling down, “hey,” as the truck stops there beside him. “Christian? The hell you doing over here? You know my word only goes so far.”

“You hold my money,” says Christian, tipping back his head, looking out from under his hood. “Not my feet.”

“I hold your money,” says the XO, companionably enough, “and you know if you need anything, all you have to do is ask. Just like I know if I ask you for something, you’ll bring what you got to the table.” There’s a shadow just past him, someone else in the cab. “Now get over here,” he says. “We been looking for you all afternoon.”

“Who’s we,” says Christian. “Who you got in there with you.”

A chuckle from whoever it is, the shadow in the passenger seat. “Oh,” it says, “oh that’s Shizzt, all right,” and Christian closes his eyes with a shiver. The passenger door opens with a scrape. Christian hurriedly takes the shoe he’s holding, wrapped in his hands, the oxblood black in the darkness and the buckle of it gleaming, and stuffs it into the pocket in the front of his sweatshirt, and his hands in after. Moody steps around the front of the truck, lit up suddenly by the headlights, “Shizzt the Drow,” he says, his hands spread wide, welcoming. “How the hell are you.”

“We ain’t got nothing to say to each other,” says Christian, looking down, hunching over the bulge of the shoe in the pocket of his shirt.

“Now don’t be like that, man,” says Moody. “You know I didn’t do half a what they said I did. That’s why I’m out so early. Good behavior, and all kind and manner of false pretenses and shit.” A step closer, and Christian lifts his head up, glaring out from under his hood. “Now you,” says Moody, a hand up against the light, “you ain’t changed a bit. But Bambi Jo?” And there’s that chuckle again. “You seen her, lately? God damn.” Another step closer, and there he is, right there by Christian, one foot up on the curb. “Tell me,” says Moody. “How the hell you think she’s doing, these days?”

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