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a suit of Worsted Wool – he Is as he Does – the Girl in her Hand – Company –

A suit of worsted wool, grey sheened through with threads of black, and a crisp white shirt, there by the front door. He’s looking at the watch on his wrist, a heavy silver nest of gears and dials, the numbers and hashes picked out in something that gleams like mother-of-pearl. His sun-browned head’s quite bald, his cheeks dusted with white stubble. Out in the middle of the big front room a sword upright, the hilt of it wrapped in leather yellowed with long handling, and the floor where it’s been thrust is singed in a neat black circle. The window’s empty, the fireplace dark and cold, swept clean. From somewhere further, deeper in the house, a tumble of plucks and picks, flurried strums, mandolin, banjo, a guitar or two. He’s looking at his watch again.

A door swings open over across the room, a glimpse of kitchen beyond as Lymond steps through, wide eyes and maybe a grin, plain white T-shirt and bone-colored chinos and his shock of pinkish orange hair, wiping his hands on a floury towel. “Good afternoon, my lord,” says the man in the suit, but Lymond says sharply, “Welund,” and his maybe grin is gone. “We must find a way to live together, or we won’t.”

The man in the suit purses his lips. “If it regards your mother’s house,” he says, “once the question of succession’s settled, we might discuss what must – ”

“There’s nothing to discuss,” says Lymond.

“It is possible, perhaps,” says Welund, weighing each word, “your highness does not realize the monies needed to keep such a house – ”

“I’ve seen the house,” says Lymond. “What’s required’s some brooms and buckets, lumber, some plaster, some paint, knowledge and time, and hands. Money’s but one way this stuff is put to work.”

“And the owr you’ll need?” Welund spreads his hands, inclines his head. “Everything I’ve done was for the good of the city, and the court, without a King for so long – and now, with every conceivable respect to you, to your mother, your – sister, but. The line is broken. I saw it myself. We have no Queen.”

“You’re wrong, Welund, and everything you’ve done, was wrong.” Lymond drapes the towel over his shoulder. “There’s always a King, and always, always a Queen. You must have faith.”

“Faith does not fill coffers,” says Welund.

“How useful, that excuse,” says Lymond. “What we wouldn’t do to fill those blasted coffers.” Turning toward the empty fireplace, there by the sword in the floor. “And if the coffers prove inconveniently full, well. All that must be done is tip one over yourself, to call upon its power.” That music’s stopped. There might have been a patter of applause. Welund’s frowning, there by the door, “I don’t,” he says, “take my lord’s meaning…”

“This peace, Goodfellow treasures;” says Lymond, careful of the charred floor about the sword, “I’ve nothing but the utmost respect. And this sword! You know the story? How Marfisa struck it here, a single blow, threw everything away – the court, the Queen, her love,” and his hand closes lightly about the hilt of it. “Merely to keep my sister safe from any hint of insult.” Looking up, to Welund there by the door. “But that’s not it, either.” His grip shifts, tightens. Feet braced. “But one thing stays my hand, Welund. From ripping this sword from the floor and striking your head from your shoulders. And that’s that I do not know, to a certainty, that you were the one to unleash the Mooncalfe.”

“Highness,” says Welund, as he tries to settle on an expression, “I can assure you, I would never,” and he catches his hand from reaching for the door. “The Mooncalfe, my lord!” That hand lifted to his shoulder, his chest, pressed flat. “He is as he does!”

And Lymond says, “It’s interesting, Guisarme, to me, that you haven’t drawn a weapon.”

The hand on his chest now a fist, Welund, “Nor you yours.”

Lymond says, “My hand is stayed,” and he lets go the hilt. “Would you like some bread?” And there under his bulging eyes a flash of teeth, his grin.

“Bread,” says Welund.

“Baguettes,” says Lymond. “For tomorrow? I thought, a light repast, crostini or bruschetta. Maybe just some olive oil, and good sea salt.”

“My lord is baking bread.”

“Well.” Lymond’s grin slips wryly sideways. “Mostly I’m staying out of the way. They say,” he holds up his hands, “I don’t have a feel for the kneading. I will see you there?”

“Of course, my lord,” says Welund, and now his hand’s on the knob.

“Good,” says Lymond. “Good.”

Wrapped in glass, in steam, in streaming water, lilting slightly, side to side, one hand held up and out, and the crusts and streaks that glitter her arms, her breast, her belly, that filigree her thighs and knees are crumbling, darkening, melting away, and the water splashing about her feet’s a cloudy grey, larded with ropes of black. She leans back to let the shower soak her hair, that one hand still held up out of the water, a hand still spangled with gold that warmly gleams in the wet white light, burnished, dazzling, a shape of light too bright to look at as flashes pop and spark in her hair, yellow and gold and orange, pink and white along her skin, stars that shining burn and one by one flicker and dim and die. She’s turning under the water, holding that hand under it, and the last of it washes away, the water running grey and gritted black along her arm.

A thick white robe about her, her hair done up in a towel. Behind her the door closes, and the sound of the lock, turning. Clothing’s draped over the desk, drifts of white that shine under the stark light of that white-shaded banker’s lamp, lawn and lace and satin, taffeta, a cloudy hillock of crinoline, and there on the floor a line of shoes, slender foot-shapes balanced tip-toe on delicate heels of various heights, thin sandal-straps of white and silver and grey lolling emptily. She nudges them aside with a foot, reaches into the pile on the desk with a clink of hangers, a crinkle of paper and plastic wrap slitherly settling as she tugs something free, white fur ivoried as she pulls it from the circle of light, a long coat of it, the skirts lopping softly from desk to floor, the lining of it a chilly grey.

The light from the desk lamp’s washed away when she yanks open the heavy curtains. The fogged glass filled a richly blue that shades through white to yellow and red and an orange, and only a simple latch at the top of the sash. She turns it with a solid thunk, and presses up against the frame, and with a shudder the window lifts, a suck of air in the gap and she hisses, then hoists it up with a rattle in the frame, counterweight scraping inside the wall. Ducking her head she leans out, seven storeys up or eight, the street below gleaming wetly in the shadows, and beads of snow strung along the gutters. The face of the building off to the left of yellow brick glowing and glass ablaze in the sunset torching the hills off to the right, the block ahead across the street a parking lot nearly filled, and lining the sidewalks on all four sides of it carts and kiosks, placards, sandwich boards, the steam of cookpots and griddles, the smoke of grills, and lights strung in the bare branches of the trees here and there, and knots of people bundled in coats and hats, scarves, stocking caps, at the corner, before this stand or that, and laughter, and a cry, someone calling someone else’s name. She opens her mouth, as if to say something, to call out, but only the tattered wisp of her breath, a sigh. She leans her elbows on the sill, her face flushed in the light, shadows staining the robe. “Any more than the sun is the sun,” she says to herself. She shivers, and the shiver becomes a shudder. She pulls herself back inside.

The thick white robe in a heap on the floor below the window. The white fur draped over the pale leather top of the desk, and the rest of all that clothing pushed to the edge of it, and over, and “Each of each,” she’s singing to herself, a whisper, if that. “Exactly where.” Sitting on the fur, hands on her knees, head hung low, damp hair a pendulum, drifting. Hands on her thighs now, goosefleshed. The window before her’s still opened wide. She lifts her head, her shoulders, eyes closed, her lips moving around a word, words she doesn’t voice. Lifting a foot to plant a heel on the fur, a hand on her upraised knee, the other between her thighs, thumbing the sprigs of black hair there, her other hand to her mouth now, her lips, her teeth against her lip, her breath quick in and out through her nostrils now and her lips parting, her finger drawn between them wetted, slicked with spit. Lowering her hand her jaw set, shoulders set, rocking now back and forth to the beat of her heart, the squeeze of her lungs, a hiss, a grunt, rocking and a slap of flesh, her mouth in what might be a snarl, a sneer, her eyes opening on that window full of deepening sky.

The window, open, dark, the lamp at an angle, the bare desk. The piles of clothing fallen softly over the tumbled line of shoes. A tongue of white fur there, crumpled to the floor, over around behind the desk she’s kneeling on it, slumped to one side elbow on her knee, fur clenched in one hand, dangled hair brushing the broken glass about her. The cabinet’s sagging broken against the wall. A scatter of dolls, figurines splayed, a woman with a cabled mechanical leg red-lensed goggles and a sledgehammer balanced on her shoulders, a schoolgirl arm akimbo on her kilted hip and black boots and a patch over one eye, a swordswoman fixed mid-lunge in fiercely tangled ribbons and her own long yellow hair, a cowgirl guns cocked chapped legs spread as if to sit on something that isn’t there. A shiver tremors down the length of her, ending as an absent tic of her foot. The girl in her hand wears a cat-eared helmet and a silver maillot and her long-socked leg’s kicked high as if to climb onto something. She sets it down precariously next to a blocky toy scooter and picks up another, a schoolgirl weirdly slender in a tight orange jacket and a flippy little skirt, and dark stockings stretched along elongated thighs, tossing off an arch salute. A thump at the door, the lock rattling, turning. She tips the doll over, fingering a long brown plastic ponytail. The door bangs open, “The hell,” says someone, and then “Shit!” and a bustle into the room, it’s the little guy in the black suit, feet catching in the clothing strewn and a crash into the desk, “Shit” again, and he’s reaching for the open window when he sees her there, and stops dead. “What happened,” he says. The tuft of hair between his brown and the top of his skull uncurled, standing up and out. “It’s freezing in here.” He shuts the window. She rolls onto her back, a clink and crunch of glass. “That was stupid,” he says, rubbing his forehead.

“It’s not as if I could fly away,” she says.

“You can, you could fall,” he says. The doll in her hand. Her hand on her belly. Her wet hand, the edge of it gashed shining yellow and white, and her forearm webbed to the elbow in glistening trickles. “You need a bandage,” he says.

“I won’t run dry,” she says. “Besides. It’s not what he wants. This?” Sitting up, holding up her hand. “This he could get from any of us.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Of course it hurts,” she says. “But it’s the last time it ever will. Let me enjoy it.”

The doll, dropped to the fur. “Do you,” he says, and then, “I,” and then, “We’re leaving soon. You, you’ll need to put something on.”

“Why?” She rolls over onto her knees. “Why put something on,” pushing herself to her feet, “only to take it all off again shortly thereafter?”

“It’s – cold?” he says.

She takes up the fur and shakes it out, a tumble of dolls, a clatter of shards. “I’ll wear this,” she says, slipping an arm into a sleeve, settling it about her shoulders, the skirts of it twirling about her calves. Opening it, holding it open, the grey silk shining behind her. “What do you think?”

“You really,” he says, “made a mess of things.”

“I didn’t like the way they looked,” she says.

He squats, he reaches out for the weirdly slender doll, her orange jacket, her arch salute. “It’s kind of a weird thing to ask,” he says, sitting back, without touching it. “But can I ask you a question?” In his other hand something wadded, a bit of fabric, blue and white.

“If I can ask one first,” she says.

He laughs. “You know,” he says, “I know how that works.”

“Do you,” she says. Hands on her bare hips. “Well?” she says.

“Mr. Charlock,” says the big guy in the doorway.

“I might,” he says. “I might just.”

“Mr. Charlock.” Black suit, bush of a beard the color of polished mahogany. In his hands a stainless steel thermos. “The car. It’s time.”

“Yeah,” says Mr. Charlock, stuffing the wadded cloth back in a pocket. “Okay.” Reaching out to her. “I might’ve let you,” he says. She’s shaking her head. “I wouldn’t,” she says. She takes his hand. “I gave my word. I told you. I’ve given up.”

“Right,” says Mr. Keightlinger, in the doorway. “Check.”

“Uh,” says Mr. Charlock, as they step around the desk. “You might want some shoes.”

“No,” says Ysabel.

The walls tiled with old album jackets, duotones in yellows and reds of elaborately coiffed women sitting at pianos, smiling men snapping fingers, whole bands at feverish work on darkly crowded stages. Out in the middle of the room a big round table covered in green felt, and little stacks and piles of nuts and washers here and there about the edge of it, and by each pile two cards face down, and the rest of the deck there by a plastic tub that says Aunt Ruby’s Peanuts in faded letters. Out in the middle of the table more washers grey and dull red and hex nuts, square nuts, wing nuts all in a heap by four cards in a line face up, the six and jack of diamonds, the five of clubs, the ace of spades. “The hell you been boy,” says the old man in a rumpled blue suit much too big for him, sitting up in the recliner there laid almost flat. His face blotched with pale pink.

“Out,” says Frankie. “Dragged all the way across town, suited up to march back, and then I fell asleep in a tub in a house full of clowns.” He’s standing in the doorway there to the side of the closed garage door. “And then I had to fucking walk back.” The old man yawps at that. “Sorry,” says Frankie. “I couldn’t find a, a bus, because it snowed. And I swear, sorry, I was halfway here, before I even thought to take the kit off? I mean it’s basically garbage, right? All those fucking stovepipes and shit.” Picking at the shreds of duct tape still glued to the shoulder of his jacket. “Sorry. Where is everybody? Where’s Gordon?”

The old man’s lying back down in the recliner. “Company,” he croaks, waving a careless hand.

Across the alley steeped in evening light, the crunch of dead grass and ice, the squonk of the single hinge, the gate hung drunkenly. Up the tuffeted lot high fences to either side of the old brick building there, and there at the back door Frankie stops. A muffled chug of drums, a piano rattling up to a ringing hymn of an anthem, voices raised a shout and an impact that shakes the wall, the door in its frame, the knob in his hand, a smash of falling crockery. He throws open the door. A kitchen, scarred linoleum and darkly looming cabinets, a scuffle, the mouth of a pitcher underfoot edged in jagged shards and a grunt, one man bare muscled arms pushing an older man back, “Gordon!” yells Frankie, leaping into the fist at the end of one of those muscled arms swung to catch him knock him gasping to the floor. A heavy knife in the other first, forearm against the chest of the older man grunting, another scuffle there by the yellow stove, “Frankie,” calls the older man over one of those pale broad shoulders, reaching, and “Chill and still, everybody,” says the big man in the tank top, turning the knife by Gordon’s cheek. “Limpid.” His cheeks dark with stubble, his hair slicked back.

“You let him alone,” says Gordon. The radio on the shelf above his head’s gone quiet, piano contemplative, the drums dropped away. Frankie’s sitting up. A hand’s offered, and he takes it, pulls himself up, careful of the small formica table, and the fourth man in the room, short and wide and bald. “Dogstongue?” says Frankie, looking from him to the man in the tank top and back again. The hand he took’s about his wrist, and doesn’t let go when he tugs.

“Hey, Swift,” says the bald man.

“Due time,” says the man in the tank top, and then, “Cobbler?”

“I give no drop,” says Gordon, leaning away from that careless knife. “I take no pinch. Everyone knows this.”

“Everyone’s upended,” says Swift. “He’s come back, the King. We’re passing the hat. The Hare’s to be a banner now, and Tommy Tom will not go empty-handed to take it up.”

“And domestics?” says Gordon. “Will you take your knife to knock at every cupboard door?”

Swift pushes close, the stove behind them scraping the floor, “The hell,” says Frankie, yanking, as Dogstongue grabs his other hand and says, “Swift.”

“Nothing’s changed,” says Gordon, “not anything real. Nothing at all. You want more than spit from me, you best get ready to cut.”

“Domestics,” says Swift, “clods and hobs,” and stepping back turning the knife in his hand arcing up, “Swift!” cries Dogstongue one more time as Frankie tries to pull away again, as the knife comes down a thunk and Frankie jerks, looking down at the hand on the hilt of the knife in his chest. “Let ’em give,” says Swift, “if they would get!” Muscles bulge, he twists and rips the knife free. The blade of it dark with blood. “I,” says Swift, face falling.

“He’s not,” says Dogstongue, struggling with a sinking Frankie knees buckling jacket lapping open over his yellow shirt welling blood.

“I didn’t,” says Swift. “I thought.”

“He’s mortal,” says Dogstongue, letting Frankie slump. “Was.”

“I had no,” says Swift, waxy pale beneath his stubble. “Idea,” he says to Gordon. Beads rattle. The piano’s found its footing again, banging up a fanfare over the bubbling bass. Dogstongue’s gone. Gordon shaking steps away from the stove and Swift leaps back, over Frankie’s legs, catching himself on the doorframe, ducking through the beaded curtain pattering, away. Gordon kneels, reaching for Frankie’s face, his open eyes. The DJ’s saying something about the weather.

Table of Contents

“Perpetuum Mobile,” written by Simon Jeffes, copyright holder unknown. “The World and I” written by Laura (Riding) Jackson, ©1938. “Gangsterism Over 10 Years,” written by Jason Moran, copyright holder unknown.

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