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a Stifled shriek – that First sob –

Stifling a shriek she steps too hastily back, stumble-scuff the pavement of the esplanade, arms outflung, bare arms against a fall that doesn’t, she’s, her T-shirt’s back to black, and cracked across the front of it a devil’s leer. Moody’s sitting on a stump with his back to the empty river, the shining city, smiling unctuously, black leather hat tipped up, his ragged jacket of army-surplus green.

“That’s, that’s mine,” says Jo.

“Yeah?” he says, stuffing his hands in the pockets of it, pulling them out, setting his collar, his shoulders as he rolls his neck. “You got my shirt,” with a jerk of his chin. “Took me way too long to put two and two together. You stole it. That night. Didn’t you.”

“How,” she says, and a deep breath. It’s all so quiet about them, even the overpasses behind and above. “How did that happen.”

“What,” he says, looking about, a performance of uncertainty, “all that?” undone by his smile. “Just now?” He points. “I live in your head, Bambi. Rent’s awful cheap.”

“You live,” she says, “in prison,” quiet and cold and definite. “You got arrested. You pled guilty, even if it was only a tenth of what you ever did. A hundred, and twenty-four, months,” stepping across the esplanade toward him, sat there on that stump, “and I didn’t have to think, about you,” she says, “I haven’t thought about you, not at all, not once since then, not till Christian went and said you, you were, back. Danny Moody’s back.”

He scowls, he shrugs. “I bet you don’t believe in tigers, neither,” he says.

“So, what,” she’s saying. “You wanna kick in my ribs? Slice me up? Fool around a little, maybe, before you set me on fire?” but he’s laughing, roaring with laughter, he throws back his head, reaching up to catch his hat, settle it back in place. “Your favorite spot’s a mile away,” she says. “I ain’t gonna go easy. That’s a long way to haul somebody, by yourself.”

“Look at you, Bambi.” Still chuckling. “You got so fierce!” An exaggerated shiver. Planting his hands on his knees. “Truth is,” he says, “I could do whatever I wanted, right here, right now, and there’s nobody here to say boo. Not a goddamn fig.” Sitting back, a sigh. “I just come down to see what’s what. That’s all this is about. And I admit it, I was,” he shakes his head, “trepidatious. Heard you was in it. Rolling deep. But now that I finally see you?” A thunderclap of laughter, shaking his shoulders. “I mean, look at you!” Throwing a gesture at her. She flinches. “Look at what you got left. Nothing. Nobody. You ain’t shit.”

She says, “You were there.”

Again, a shrug.

“You saw how it ends,” she says, reaching behind herself, rucking up the bottom of that shirt. Pulling out a flat black leather sheath, undoing the flap of it to reveal a wire-wrapped hilt. “You,” she says, taking hold with a wiggle, slipping the blade of it free. “Your belly slit open.” The length of it shining even in this dull light, tapering to its ineluctable point. “Strung up by your guts,” she says, looking up to meet his eyes. He’s lowered the brim of that hat, and his smile’s not nearly so broad as it was. “Bleeding out on the Fremont Bridge,” she says.

“Yeah?” His voice emptied of all mirth. “You gonna do that, Bambi? All by your lonesome?”

“She came back with me,” she says. “Not you. Me. I’m the one.”

“Well, if you say so. But,” tipping back his hat, “if that’s how it’s gonna end?” One more shrug. “It ain’t ending here.” That smile is back. “You got yourself a nice T-shirt. You got a pretty little knife, I bet that’s gonna come in handy. Good for you.” Pushing back the army-surplus cuff of his jacket. “I got myself a new toy, too,” he says, showing off the watch about his wrist, heavy and gold.

“You,” she says, the poignard wavering, dipping. “You, if you, what.” A deep breath, the blade back up between them. “What did you do to him.”

Another shoulder-shaking, belly-clutching, hat-catching burst of laughter. “Aw, hell,” he says, theatrically wiping his eyes, “when you finally figure it out? I wish, I wish to God I could be there, to see the look on your face.” Hands on his knees he pushes himself to his feet, and she takes an involuntary step or two back. “But I got shit to do,” he says. A gesture at his wrist. “It’s got all these, dials and rings and, knobs, you know? I gotta figure out how it works. What makes it tick.”

“Moody!” his name ground to dust in her mouth, “get back here!” twisting, lash of the blade at his shadow, “you goddamn sonofabitch!” clawing climbing to a shredded shriek, she leans forward, arms wide, “Moody!” Wavering there with the force of that bellow over the roots of the stump alone. Blinking. Looking about. The empty, lightless river. The long, straight shot of the bridge. The overpasses far above, and the rush and thrum of the traffic back and forth, like wind. She takes a step but her duct-taped shoe crunches slipping down the crumbled edge of the esplanade’s pavement, and she doesn’t so much fall as sink to her knee, heel of one hand on the scrub of the riverbank, clink of poignard on asphalt. One shaking breath hauled in, coughed out. Holding herself a moment there.

Standing, limping away from the stump. The esplanade winds beneath the bridge where it gathers itself to cross the river, and she shuffles into its softened shadow. Working the dimmed blade back into its sheath, looking back, the stump, the lights of the city beyond. A stretch of cyclone fencing’s thrown up here under the bridge, panels leaning drunkenly over the stretch of rumpled dirt it’s walls off, between esplanade and buttressing wall. A white tin placard’s loosely wired to it, stamped with stern red capitals, NO CAMPING NO FIRES NO DUMPING, and then, in smaller letters beneath, Multnomah County Bridge Section. Across the esplanade the ground falls steeply away, calamitously littered with shadowed rocks, all brushed like the bare dirt with dim salmon light. Some time ago some of those rocks were pushed to one side or the other to clear a path down to the river, a boat ramp, though too long, not nearly wide enough for more than a canoe. Shuffle-stumble halfway down toward the water, but stepping aside there, off the path, picking her torturous way across the rocks. Hanging a moment with the effort of correcting for an overbalanced step, one shoe kicked out over the dusty earth.

A squared-off block of concrete, the mighty foot of the pier of the bridge above. She sits herself atop it tailor-fashion, hunched over her knees. The river still deeply black here under the bridge, but not so empty, not this close, the surface silkily limned by streetlight, bridgelight, a dully sullen glowering sheen of yellow and orange never to be found in any sunlight, but even here the lap and slop the sluggish current affords cannot be heard over the endless chords of rushing traffic so far, so high above.

Her first sob seems to take her by surprise, shuddering her, and she closes up her eyes, her mouth. The overflowing swell of it lifts her shoulders, tips her head, but she holds it until she can, slowly, and with some little effort, let it out. She’s better prepared for the next.

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