“Yes,” says Gloria Monday, tapping a credit card once against the countertop, “my name is Suzette Wilson? I called this morning about an order for some canvases and paints and there was a problem with my card?” Her jet-black hair tied up in a sloppy ponytail, long black coat pulled over an untucked striped dress shirt. “Yes, right,” says the man behind the counter, “eight stretched canvases, plus delivery. The card wouldn’t go through.”
“I know,” she says, “can we,” tapping the card again, “try it here?” Holding the card out to him. He takes it, shimmering grey, looks up from it to her, frowning. “It’s my father’s card,” she says.
“It’s a nine-hundred dollar order,” he says, poking the screen of a tablet computer.
“Can we just, try it. Please. It’s a platinum card.”
He shrugs, swipes. One of the buttons pinned to his red apron says Happen Things Makes Art. The tablet bleeps, he looks up, holds out the card with an apologetic shrug.
“Maybe, try it again?” says Gloria Monday. He’s still holding out the card. She takes it back, a snap of her wrist, and opens her purse, a gutted teddy bear slung from a rhinestone-studded strap. “I guess,” she says, tucking the card away, “they finally figured out he’s dead.”
“Dead?” says the clerk.
“I gotta go talk to my lawyer,” says Gloria Monday. “I’ll be back. For the stuff.”
A golden haze of summery light swirls disturbed as a hand sweeps up, claps the rim of the big white tub with an echoing bong. Jo hauls herself up on her knees, clinging to the tub, head hung low, and gold dust settles on her maraschino hair. Dust shimmering in the tub, shifting as Ysabel hoists a knee, sits up, sloughs brilliant tumbles over the stuff beneath, darker and yet damp. Groaning. “You okay?” says Jo.
Ysabel’s nodding, face in her gold-caked hands. “Is it enough?” she says. “Did I make enough?”
“It’s plenty,” says Jo, sitting back on her heels. “More than enough.” Clink as she picks up a silver flask from the tiled floor, then a crumpled paper cup, tossing them both into the cardboard box against the wall. Squeak and an echoing thump, a grunt from the tub, Jo whirling, grabbing at Ysabel awkward arms a-tangle rubbing her chin, “ow” she says, and “Ysabel, are you okay?” says Jo, and “I’m fine,” says Ysabel, “just slipped,” pushing herself back up, a squelch and squeak of dust. Eyes weighted, cheeks drawn, face pale. Teetering there. Jo offers a hand, and after a moment she takes it, climbs out, shivering. Sits, heavily, on the floor. “I just,” she says, as Jo drops a white robe in her lap, “need to sleep for a hundred years.”
“Right there with you,” says Jo, pulling on a white robe of her own.
“But we can’t,” says Ysabel, elbows on her knees. “We can’t.” The hair at her temple brushed a stroke of white. “What are you,” says Jo, and then, hanging her head, “fuck. The dinner. The fucking goddamn dinner.”
“Indeed,” says Ysabel.
“Can’t we cancel?” Jo leans against the wall, there by the window of frosted glass.
“That would be rude.”
“I just, I don’t know if I can deal with those two, tonight.”
“Did you speak with Bruno yet?”
Jo tips her head back against white tiles, eyes closed. “Not yet,” she says.
“You know how important this is.”
“Ysabel, please.” Jo pushes off the wall. “Luys is running down the guys who were with the Harper, last night, and I gotta talk to them, figure out why it is he doesn’t want to tell us who it was that ripped us off, and – ”
“Jo,” says Ysabel, “you promised,” and Jo looks down. “Yeah,” she says.
“Well,” says Ysabel, sitting up, stretching, “I confess I haven’t spoken with the Glaive yet, either.” Twisting about to reach into the tub.
“So, what, we’re both procrastiwhat are you, what’s,” as Ysabel turns back, wiping golden crumbs from her lips, “So it’s a good thing,” she says. Smiling. “That I made extra.” Holding up a hand, a dollop of wet dust glimmering on her fingertips.
“Really,” says Jo, kneeling.
“I won’t tell if you won’t,” says Ysabel.
Jo bows down to take the laden fingers in her mouth.
“Wait,” says Jo. “What?” In her hand a cigarette, doldrummed in smoke. Under her head a tasseled pillow, propped against the slatted wooden arm of a sofa. A man’s standing by the desk, just outside the light of its lamp. “This isn’t an investment,” he’s saying. Dark blue bowl of a tea mug in his hand. “That might be leveraged, against anticipated returns?” Rumpled corduroy trousers, moleskin vest. “It’d be a gift, a donation to the Sœurs Limoges.” He sits on a pinkish-grey armchair, there by the sofa. Jo sits up, smoke swirling about her, frowning at that cigarette, “Isn’t there,” she says, “aren’t there, ah,” and she takes a quick drag. “Won’t there be, tax benefits?”
“A mitigating factor,” he says, lifting his mug to his lips, “nothing more.” He sips. “Which assumes their paperwork’s in order. But even so – you have to have it, before you can give it away.”
“I don’t,” says Jo, “understand, we’re, we’re rich. Right?”
“Wealthy,” he says, “but not liquid. You’ve been most generous, to the King.”
“And this is for the Queen,” says Jo. “How much could, could I, could we, offer?”
“It’s not,” he says, and sighs, looking up, lips pursed. Blinking. There’s a knock. He looks to the door, exasperated, “I’ll tell you,” he says, and again a knock. “I’ll tell you three,” he says, standing. “Because you want to tell her majesty five.” He heads for the door lit with a stippled pane of glass that says, reversed, Bruno’s, in an arc over Investments.
“And if I do tell her five?” says Jo.
“I’ll do what I can,” he says, his hand on the knob, “to make it work, your grace.” He opens the door.
It’s Luys, in his softly brown jacket, and Jo leans over to stub out her cigarette on a saucer on the arm of the sofa. Bruno’s nodding, saying something about the weather. Luys steps inside, followed by a kid, a boy in a brown bomber jacket, brown hair popped in a matted pompadour, and another boy, a young man not much older, grey hoodie stained, ragged cuffs, Jo’s sitting up, his dark hair’s tightly curled, dark cheekbones hunched like shoulders under squinting eyes, “Christian,” says Jo, but Luys is saying something about Sweetloaf, and slick pavement, and the boy in the bomber jacket laughs. “Christian,” says Jo again. The man in the hoodie’s looking down, at his hands, his filthy blue running shoes, the intricate rug laid over the plain grey office carpet. “Chickie chickie,” says Jo, and he looks up, and Bruno looks up, Luys is frowning, and “The fuck? Your grace?” says the boy in the bomber jacket.
“Hey,” says Christian Beaumont. “Jo.” A shrug. “How long’s it been? Six months?”
“Well?” says Ysabel, dressed in white, sitting back in a low chair, beige leather slung from a sleek steel frame, there before a wide slab of desk, powerfully empty. Standing behind the desk a tall man, and rotund, a rough linen suit over a shirt of pearly green, his knit tie plain pale gold. He’s looking out the sweep of window, brimmed with dull grey cloud. “Your brother, majesty,” he says, scratching the back of his head, rough salt-and-pepper stubble atop his thick neck, the sheen of his collar. “He has been most rash.” Turning to face her, an apologetic cast to his mouth, his eyes. “Demanding what’s been properly apportioned, that he might throw it at a debt already well in hand.”
“You mean the owr,” says Ysabel. “I’m asking after cash.”
“The court’s reserves are stripped, majesty,” he says. “And without collateral?” He spreads his hands. “There can be no loan.”
After a moment, Ysabel says, coldly, “Owr is not collateral.”
“Of course, ma’am,” he says.
“Even if it were,” she says, “you cannot doubt what I produce.”
“Of course not, ma’am,” he says, looking down, his hand loosely curled on his desk.
“So I can’t but think you mean to speak to me of something else,” says Ysabel.
He pushes his own chair back from the desk, a high-backed throne of pale brown leather, and gently sits him down. “All right, majesty,” he says. “One might speak of good will. Our agreement with the Court of Engines was soberly negotiated, prudently arranged. To cast it all aside, in one debilitating swoop – ”
“We never agreed,” says Ysabel, flatly. “Not my brother. Not I.”
“Nevertheless,” he says, “it was made.”
“For a Bride we did not want, and do not need!”
Soft hands spread flat atop his desk, about one wrist a watch, a slender, silvery thing. “The transition, ma’am, was fraught, as I’m sure you will recall. We did what we felt necessary, at the time, to see to the city, and its people.”
“Not,” says Ysabel, “me. Not the King.”
“The court, ma’am,” he says.
She looks away, about the office, the two walls of glass, the two of dark wood paneling. “What of the house,” she says, after a moment.
“Blast it, Rhythidd! Our house! Our house!”
“Your father’s house, ma’am,” he says. “And then the bank’s. The foreclosure is complete; I understand an historical society has expressed some interest?” She looks away again, something bitter on her lips. “Now,” he says, pushing back from the desk, and standing, and a gesture to the door. “If there’s nothing else that I might do to help?”
Gloria Monday black hair swaying turns away from the windowed wall, filled with flat grey sky, back toward the broad conference table neatly set with empty yellow pads, a pen laid at an angle across each, and before each an empty leather chair. She picks up one of the pens, heavy and thick, a burgundy casing printed with precisely serifed letters of cream that spell out Welund Rhythidd Barlowe Lackland. She tucks it away as a glass door opens there in the wall of glass and a woman steps through, a pencil skirt in a windowpane check, crisp black blouse, russet hair framing a narrow pair of glasses with black rims. “Ms. Wilson,” she says, as she sets a redweld of files on the table, “I’m Anna Nirdlinger. I work closely with – ”
“Where the hell is John,” says Gloria.
“Mr. Barlowe,” says Anna. “He’s in depositions this afternoon. I – ”
“Well get him out. This is about my, my father, his money, my money, that I need to – ”
“I assure you, Ms. Wilson – ”
“ – I am not about to get palmed off on some fucking secretary – ”
“Ms. Wilson. Gloria Monday.” And Gloria blinks, falters, slumps a little. “I am a paralegal,” says Anna, “and intimately familiar with every aspect of your father’s estate. That I am meeting with you – that anyone is meeting with you, when you show up unannounced, without an appointment – this is a sign of how very important you are, to this firm. Now.” She pulls out a leather chair, sits down, pulls files from the redweld, one two three. “What might we do, for you.”
Gloria still standing plops her teddy bear onto the table, unzips the belly to spill out a handful of credit cards. Tosses one shimmering grey across to Anna. “It’s getting declined,” she says.
“A number of issues can occur with the winding down of some of the ancillary accounts,” says Anna, taking it up, looking it over. “This isn’t your allowance account.” Setting it down with a snap. “It’s been closed, Ms. Wilson.”
“I,” says Gloria, “could you, could you stick with Gloria? I’d appreciate it.” Folding her arms.
“You have an allowance, Gloria. Two thousand dollars a month, for miscellaneous expenses.”
“It isn’t enough,” says Gloria. “Not for what I need to do – ”
“The terms are quite clear.”
“Look,” says Gloria. “I know what the game is.”
“The game,” says Anna, looking up through her narrow glasses.
“You want to hold on to as much of the money as you can for as long as you can and I get that, I do. I don’t want to get in the way of that. I just, I need – ”
“Gloria, I can assure, you,” says Anna, but Gloria’s blinking, looking past her, out the glass wall of the conference room into the lobby and Anna, turning, sees there all in white Ysabel storming past, headed for the elevators. “What,” says Gloria, stepping back from the table, “what is she,” back again, a booming thump against the window, and the grey sky.
“She’s a client,” says Anna.
“No,” says Gloria. “You know her.”
“I used to work,” says Anna. “For her mother.”
“And one day,” says Gloria, “she asked you.”
Anna swallows. “Yes,” she says.
“And you said,” says Gloria.
Anna says, “Yes.”
“So,” says Christian, looking down, looking over, at the row of filing cabinets behind the desk. “You’re, like, the boss, now.”
Jo waves out the match, drops it to the saucer on the arm of the sofa, “It’s not,” she says, taking in a drag, letting out a smokey sigh, “not really.”
“That guy, Mason, he’s like Sweetloaf’s boss? And then Mason, he was all like – ”
“The Mason,” says Jo. “It’s, a title. His name’s Luys.”
“It’s, okay,” says Christian, “whichever. He sure jumped when you said boo.” Looking over to the door, the pane of frosted glass, the letters, reversed. “And Bruno? He, what, besides letting you kick him out of his own office. Handles your money? You have money?”
“It’s not,” she says, and “Yeah it is,” he says. “You either got money, or you don’t. And you,” he’s shaking his head, looking at his shoes, “you in it. All the way with them that’s in it.”
She’s shaking her head, a puff of a laugh, “Most I’d say is maybe I’m next to it.”
“You’re like a Queen or something. Admit it.”
“They, ah,” she says, “they did make me a Duke. Duchess. Whatever.”
“Fuck you,” he says, with a chuckle.
“The Queen’s my housemate,” she says, and they’re both laughing. “Yeah,” she says, “we got a great little place, Hawthorne and Twentieth. Little garden, up on the roof there?”
“Must be nice,” says Christian.
“So what kind of mask was it,” says Jo.
“What kind a, whoa. Well. Turned a corner, there.”
“Just, what’d it look like,” she says.
“One a those fucked-up floppy horse-head masks, they make, stupid videos with ’em, you know?”
“Why’d you run?” says Jo.
“You were there, with Sweetloaf. Back-up. Muscle. You were,” and she looks down, at her cigarette, the lengthening ash on it.
“Run?” says Christian. “He told us to go.”
“He.” She looks up. “Chilli?”
“Told us to get the hell out. It was personal, none of our business.” His brows pinched, a considering frown. “Whoever it was, they got a real mad-on for each other.”
“Shit,” says Jo. Reaching up to rub, absently, at her chest. Leaning over to tip her cigarette against the saucer, there on the arm of the sofa, but then she grinds it out. “Trying to quit, anyway,” she says.
“Jo,” says Christian.
“Dammit,” she says. “I went looking for you, goddammit. After what went down. Nobody knew where the hell you went.”
“Home,” he says, looking down, sucking his teeth. “I went home.”
“Oakland?” he says, put out. “Holidays at my Gram’s, what can I say.”
“And now you’re back.”
“Holidays are over,” says Christian. “Besides. I don’t know anybody down there anymore.”
“But here, you know Sweetloaf.”
“And you,” he says. “I know you.”
“Yeah,” says Jo. Her hand still at her chest, thumb against her sternum. “Hey,” she says. “Christian. What are you doing for dinner.”
Sprigs of something green, mint, float among cubes of ice, a glass of water, tall and narrow. Black cords looped about it, wound together in a single hank that dangles over to a bulky headset clamped about his ears, over unruly dreadlocks, fuzzed white dully brushed with gold. “After this morning,” he says, “I think it’s clear; they are not worried – or, at least, aren’t mindful, of their precarity.” He picks up the glass of water. “If it’d come to that, I’d’ve made you whole myself.” He sips. “All right,” he says. “All right.” Setting the glass down. “I detest email,” he says, and presses the switch hook on an upright telephone console, silver and black. Drops the headset clattering beside it.
On the sideboard there a rack holds but a single slender glass tube, capped with cork and sealed with pale blue wax, a thread of golden dust within. He opens a drawer, clink of glass as he pulls out an empty tube, and reaches past the rack to lift a weighty plastic freezer bag, careful of a fiendish little basket-box, carved from a single chunk of dark wood. Dipping the tube into the bag, tapping in just enough.
A hallway, and the light diffuse, clouded, morning or midday, getting on toward evening, his footsteps soundless on a long pale rug.
Curtains drawn, and no lights lit, a bed surmounted by a rounded mass of blankets. “Grandfather?” he says. A great pillow, dimpled by a wispy crown of limp white hair. “I’ve brought your medicine,” he says, sitting on the edge of the bed, but in his hand, he looks, the basket-box, black in this dim light.
Back up the hall, down it again, his footsteps muffled thumps. The tube a spark in his fingers.
“Here you go,” he says, peeling back blanket enough to reveal a nose, the eyes squeezed shut in all those wrinkles, the mouth, thin lips he presses a thumb against, prying open as he carefully taps the golden owr from the tube, falling a glimmer to dust the bubble of spit that swells and pops. Blankets shift , lift, a breath drawn fluting through that nose, a rumble somewhere under the blankets, and Agravante draws back as the jaw swings open beneath his hand, and a mighty lumbering eructation, a snarl of a cough. Lips smack, relax, settle half-opened. The eyes still closed.