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a Bit of leather

A bit of leather tied about the wrist of the great hand flopped ruddy over the chill blued skin between her breasts. She squints at it, knuckles an eye, lets her head fall back to the red pillow, looking blearily over to one side and owling in surprise at the strong nose right there brushing hers, the closed eyes, the wide-lipped mouth half-open in sleep.

Carefully lifting that arm she worms her way out from under it finding the edge of the bed, one long bare leg slipping free from brown sheet and red blanket to dip and turn and find the floor. A snuffling, she freezes, that hand held abeyant above her. Over the other side of the bed the Duke’s spooned up against the Mason’s broad bare back, face turning up eyes closed to the ceiling, chewing over a rapid sequence of expressions, working something out in one long yawn of a sigh that leaves him settled, slack. Jo slips neatly off the edge of the wide low bed to crouch there naked on the floor, that arm still in her hand, and she kisses the back of the wrist there by the leather thong before she lays it gently on the pillow.

In her blousy black shirt she’s stirring through discarded clothing at the foot of that bed, tugging free the leg of a pair of brown jeans from the mix, freezing as a belt buckle jangles. Carefully running a finger through the watch pocket, patting down the others, front and back, setting them back on the floor with a frown. Digging up a pair of rusty black corduroy trousers, going through the pockets. Sitting back on her heels, empty-handed. Leaning forward she creeps around the corner of that bed, her hand on a corner of paisleyed fabric, purple and maroon, gold and brown. Something scrapes lightly as she pulls it across to her, careful of the stern hawk-headed cane laid on the floor beside it. Up on the bed the Duke stirs, “Distilled,” he says, “a jelly of beer,” and Jo holds herself quite still until he’s still and quiet again. She quickly checks the two front pockets but the weight was dragging further, higher up. A third small pocket, tucked behind the lapel. From it she pulls a single key.

She makes her barefoot way across the long high-ceilinged room littered with empty crushed red plastic cups and here and there a plate, a napkin, a fork, a high-heeled shoe. On a chair tipped back against the wall between high narrow windows the Stirrup in his brown plaid suit snores lightly, one arm dangling, fingers brushing the floor. Over there by the almost empty coat rack a woman with severe blond hair sits on a worn pink sofa, wrapped in a threadbare quilt, nodding along to something unheard through oversized headphones plugged into a welter of audio equipment. Curled in her lap, wrapped in that same quilt, another woman soundly sleeping, with the same blond hair.

Up the ladder into the loft where she throws on a pair of black jeans, jams her bare feet into big black boots. Shrugs into a leather coat the color of butter. That key pinched between her thumb and forefinger a darkly brassy bronze. On her way back to the ladder she stops a moment, looks over the edge at the big white bed below, tangled in a knot of sheets and comforter and three sleeping people, Jessie and Lauren coiled around each other, heads pillowed on each other’s thighs, Lough spooned up behind Jessie, his face lost in her yellow hair, his white cap skewed, his scalp a bluish haze of stubble. Jo stoops, the key closed tight in her fist, and picks up her sword in its plain black scabbard.

Outside it’s still dark, the air still an oily haze of orange and pink. A bus snorts and sighs to a stop at the corner. In the green and yellow light of the sign that says Pepino’s Mexican Grill in neon letters there’s a red-brown car with a black stripe painted across its roof, down its sides. Jo walks around to the back of the car, looking up at the blank brick wall of the temple, criss-crossed by power conduits, unbroken by any windows at all. Looks down at the trunk of the car. Leans her sheathed sword against the bumper, fits the key in her hand to the lock, opens it.

Inside a couple of boxes, one lined with a garbage bag holding a jug. She reaches past, pulls out a mask that could swallow half a head, white, crudely painted with thick black lines to resemble a grinning skull, a mane of long black hair that stirs as she holds it up with a wry little smile and a shake of her head.

There’s something else.

Setting the mask down by the sword she reaches past the boxes again and tugs something larger, heavy, free, a soft brown leather briefcase, buckled shut. She turns about, sits on the bumper, looks it over. The brass fittings on the corner smudged with something brownish that thumbs away in flakes. Not rust. The buckle’s loose, unlocked. She undoes it, pries it open, peers inside.

“Oh, holy hell,” says Jo Maguire.

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“4th of July,” written by Dave Alvin, copyright holder unknown.

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