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two Swords, side-by-side – Disappointment – another World – kept Safe – what Makes it Tick –

Two swords laid side by side on the glass-topped table. To his right the blade is long, widening from sharp tip shining clean and straight to the palm’s-width ricasso, where a crude sigil once was stamped some time ago, a simple block shape worn and faded with time, a horn perhaps to one side, the suggestion of a foot, there where the shallow fuller begins its slope down the clear bright length of the blade. The plain cruciform hilt of it stolid and thick gleams even in this light with all the randomed nicks and dings and here and there a notch whacked into the quillions stretching simple and straight to either side, and then the grip, bound about with straps of tawny leather smoothed and darkened by much handling, and the pommel, a wide flat plain-faced coin, thicker through itself than the largest thumb, the beveled edges of it scratched and chipped, even here.

To his left the blade is shorter and more slender, a needle next to the other, shining but darkly, chased the length of it with coiling waves that swirl in the depths of the steel. The hilt is simple and straight, wrapped in dulled wire, and the quillions almost as long together as the hilt, but over and about them a glittering basket woven of wiry strands that meet in thick worked knots of steel all gathering together in a sternly singled cord that swoops to the great silvery clout of its pommel. Stamped above the quillions on what thickness the blade can manage a crude sigil, the lines of it still sharp, a horn clearly emerging from one side of the block shape, and the foot.

“Mason,” someone says, and he looks up. Sweetloaf’s in the doorway, shoulders sagging in his bomber jacket, pompadour a-wobble as he shakes his head, lips glumly pouched. He steps into that trapezoidal room, careful of the thicket of furniture stacked up the one wall, tables perched upon a sideboard, upside-down chairs interlocked, what might be a pew precarious in the shadows up there, and makes his way down the long oval table past emptied pizza boxes to the Mason, and those swords. He lays on the glass an empty scabbard of plain black leather, the throat and chape of it beaten metal the color of thunderclouds, and a loose black belt, undone. Sweetloaf steps back, but the Mason with a lurch seizes his hand, holds it, holds him still, that pale hand long and narrow caged by great rough fingers. Presses it to his cheek. Sweetloaf, blinking, frowns. A bit of leather’s tied about the Mason’s wrist. He lets go, and Sweetloaf steps back, his other coming up almost of its own accord to take, and hold, and stroke, the palm of it, with his thumb.

“Well?” says someone else. They both look up. The Shrieve in a tartan vest at the foot of the table, looking with stern expectation to Sweetloaf, who shrugs. “Her grace wasn’t there,” he says. “Nobody was fucking there.”

“Sweetloaf,” says the Mason.

“Place was even emptier than here, and this place is a fucking graveyard.”

“There’s no need,” says the Shrieve, and the Harper in the doorway behind him, yellow beard and sleeveless sweats, but the kid won’t stop, “They’re, all of them,” he says, “all over at that fucking warehouse with every-fucking-body else!”

“Enough,” grits the Mason.

“Except for fucking us,” says Sweetloaf. “And herself, I mean. Geeze.”

“Sweetloaf!” the Mason. Both hands flat on the table before him. “She will come, back,” he says, in a different voice, but the Shrieve takes a breath, hands tucked in the pockets of his trousers. “You will be disappointed,” he says.

Slap, the Mason’s hand on the glass. “She will come back.”

“Perhaps,” the Shrieve. “But if her grace does return – ”


A sigh, then, from the Shrieve. “When she comes, Luys,” he says, “she won’t bring with her the way things used to be. She can’t return to us what we once had.”

“She already has!” cries the Mason, and Sweetloaf abrupts, almost knocking the teetering thicket of furniture. The Harper’s sidled up behind the Shrieve, who blinks. “She already has,” says the Mason, again. “Come back. To the Queen, last night. Together, they turned the owr. After weeks of,” looking down, for a word. “That much, Bruno,” he says, “so much, is come back.”

“They did,” says the Shrieve. “That they did. But that’s her sword, there, on the table, before you. And she’s gone, again, and again no one knows where. And last night, after the owr was turned, the Queen – ”

“Her majesty named a new Huntsman,” says the Harper, folding his arms.

“Fuck,” says Sweetloaf, in a breath.

“There’s been a rupture,” says the Shrieve, even as the Harper’s saying, “Some mousey little nobody nobody’s even heard of.” The Shrieve favors him with a sidelong look, and he shuts up his mouth. “The world is,” says the Shrieve, turning back to the Mason, “different. If we aren’t prepared for that. If we don’t take that into account,” leaning forward, both hands flat on the glass of the length of the table between them, “you will be disappointed. Luys. Luys, listen,” straightening, stepping around the foot of the table, past the more awkward corner of the room, “even if her grace were to come through that door in the next moment, and take up her blade, we’d still be where we are, right now: torn, between,” he pauses, gripping the back of the chair before him, looking to the Harper, then back to the Mason. “On the horns of a thorny dilemma,” he says.

“And nobody to take out the fucking trash,” mutters Sweetloaf, glaring at the pizza boxes.

The Mason pushes back his chair, gets to his feet. “You’d have us choose, for her grace,” he says, taking up the sword to his left, and the empty scabbard, “between her majesty,” fitting the tip of the one to the throat of the other, “and the Count,” slipping the blade home.

“I would have us be prepared,” says the Shrieve.

The windowless room is not much bigger than the round table they’re sat at. A white board covers one wall, most of it taken up by looping orange letters spelling out WinBank May 4.0 or Bust!!! “There’s no sales, right?” she says.

“Ah,” he says. “Well.” Not much more than a kid, really, with his paper-laden clipboard and his unlit tablet computer on the table before him, his rumpled shirt patterned with tiny propeller planes in a brown and gold at odds with the pale blue and purple paisleys of his tie. “We don’t sell anything here, that’s true. Your performance isn’t judged on, how many, ah, units, you move. There’s no commissions, or anything like that. But.” Sitting back, head canted. The knot in that tie’s too wide for his skinny neck. “You will be trying to, talk people? Into doing something they might not necessarily want, to do? You know? And, I mean, isn’t, in every interaction, isn’t there something like, an aspect, of sales?”

“I, ah,” she says, blinking. Blond hair pulled tightly shining back in a high ponytail, and the top two buttons of her plain white blouse undone.

“You,” he says, “you’re trying to sell yourself, to me, right now,” he says, “and I’m, well, I’m trying to, sell you,” he shrugs, “on the idea that, this is the kind of place where, if you work hard, if you, commit, you know, to what we ask of you, you’ll be, you know? This’ll be a good fit. Tell you what.” He tugs a couple pages from the clipboard, pushes them across the table toward her. “Look this over. I’ll go, I’ll find someone to run them with you. If you can stick around,” getting up, “who knows, we might even try you on the phones tonight.” He holds up a hand. “I’m sorry, what was your name again?”

“Jessica,” she says. “Vitaly. Jessica Vitaly.”

When the door’s closed she slips a pair of narrow square-lensed glasses from the purse on the chair beside her. Pulls the pages across the table, turns them over, brow cocking, eyes widening, lip curling. Something buzzes. She lets the script drop and hikes up in her chair to wriggle a clamshell phone from her pocket. Anna, says the little screen on the back of it, buzzing again in her hand. She unfolds it. “Hey.

“Yeah, well. What I said.

“What I said.

“Anna, listen,” she leans back, “I,” tips her head back, looking up at the serried tiles of the dropped ceiling. “Oh my God,” she says.

“Oh my God.

“Is she, did you, did she, you, okay, okay. Okay. But,” and she closes her eyes.

“This doesn’t change anything.

“It doesn’t! I mean,” sitting forward, elbows on the table, “what the hell good do you think I could possibly,” forehead pressed to her palm.

“Well that’s a lovely thing to say. But you and I both know she could, and she has, so. She would. She will. So I’m not going to risk, I, I won’t. I can’t.” Turning in the chair, hand on the edge of the table, “Anna,” she says. “Anna, I know. I know. And I,” a sigh, “I do, too.

“Yes. Yes, but. No. No,” she says, “no.” Listening. “Not yet,” she says, finally, “not yet. Still – yes. Where else am I gonna –

“It’s, I’m, I’m fine, Anna. I’m fine. I mean,” and here, she takes up the script, “I already found a job. I think.”

Becker drops the headset on the keyboard, untangles the cord of it from his wrist with a flick. Taps the enter key, pushes the mouse about, click, closing windows on the monitor, click click. All about others push back chairs, get to their feet, pull on sweaters and hoodies, light jackets, each before their own carrel of kelly green just barely wide enough for a monitor, a keyboard, a corded telephone. Up by the only desk in the office the kid in his tie laughs with a blond woman in jeans and a loose white blouse. Becker folds himself in his oversized flannel of zipatone plaid. “Thanks Crecy,” he says, to the older woman next to him, as she hands him a dark grey meshback cap she’s scooped from the floor. He fits it over what’s left of his hair.

Tinny from an unseen speaker jangling cheerful piano, somebody sings, always said no, then I turned around, saw someone smiling, Becker’s eyes are closed, he’s leaned against himself over and over in the tarnished mirrors reflecting mirrors reflecting pitted amber thrumming with the elevator’s descent, and there’s so many Denices in T-shirts and sweaters and all of those necklaces, and a crowd of reedy TJs green and grey, stepping into, the thinly croon, I stepped into, into another, and the elevator sighs to a stop. The doors grind open. The three of them step out.

Thinned salmon haze of streetlight softens an empty black sky, glare of the sign on the corner across the street, Danmoore Hotel, too bright to be in focus. Without a wave or a look back Becker crosses against the light, past a sandwich board that says Three Lions Bakery. The block after that’s a little open plaza where tracks of light rail curl in a turn-around, power lines and guy wires supported in a complex criss-cross by concrete columns topped with deco glass. The next block lined with restaurants, Indian, Persian, Lebanese, Tibetan, a rowdy throng erupting from the taco bar on the corner, mostly women, shorts and skirts, T-shirts and halters, and so many brightly blazing loops of neon colors, green and blue, yellow and pink, orange and purple glowingly circling wrists, necks, twisted into shining crowns, kicking anklets. They wheel and swarming cross against the traffic, horns and laughter, pealing whoops. He waits with an angular sports car until the last of them tumbles off and it can turn, purring, before him. Shrugs out of his flannel overshirt, knots it about his waist.

Darker ahead, and quieter. He passes under a pedestrian bridge, short trees and greenly slender planted against the curb on his right hand, the windowed galleries of a reconfigured department store to his left. His head is down, crossing the next street past a brightly lit construction site, spinal column of an elevator shaft climbing by a mighty yellow crane, Now Leasing, says the sign on the corner, Fall Occupancy. Sogge & Associates.

Through a little park, serely planted with more young slender trees about a giant chess board and an empty fountain, past quiet apartments now, red brick set with white-framed windows. Another park ahead, the trees much older and much taller here, more stately, stretching with great confidence over the street toward the silent, bricked-over arrière of a grand old theater, Portland’s Centers for the Arts, says the unlit marquee over a side door. Raucous scraps of night sky suddenly fling themselves about, a subcommittee of crows registering displeasure and excitement as he scurries through, away and down a steeply genteel slope by another, much more recent theater, glassed-over ramps and stairwells at the corners and a sign for an Artbar in the lobby. It’s brighter here, out from under those trees, a haze of streetlight once more softening the sky. A couple of elaborately caged lamps ahead preside over a stern low gate, blocking this side street from the traffic ahead, Broadway, say the street signs, and Main.

Crossing with the light, past a courthouse, high steps softly lit, a parking garage, a bright fast-food restaurant set in one corner of it, crew bustling behind the counter. An astylar kiosk across the next intersection, four arches set in a square about a staircase leading down, under the sidewalk, warmed by the glow of Edison bulbs, and just past it a small shelter of brushed steel and glass in its own fluorescent pool, a sign before it listing routes, the 14, the 10. Becker’s pulled his wallet from his pocket, he’s slipping a bus pass free, when he stops, there, in the middle of the street, and frowns.

There’s a man sat upon the shelter’s bench, back against the glass, shoulders straining the jacket of a pale blue suit, the hair of him clipped close and iron-grey, and his mustaches long and grey, drooping to either side of his shaven chin, where the tips of them are caught and weighted by rough-shaped pewter beads.

Becker turns abruptly away, lurching off down the street between courthouse and office tower. Somewhere behind a bus is rumbling this way. Stepping onto the brick-paved walk, around the next corner between office towers, head down, wallet clenched in his hand. The Standard, say the signs about him. Live 95.5. No Parking This Space, Subject To Tow. Killian for Portland’s Future. MARL0. Through the row of trees ahead, all the same scrawny undersize, can just be made out the figure of an enormous woman, clutching a trident, stooped over the front doors of another office tower. Across the street to the right the sandstone blocks of City Hall, and tucked up against it another bus stop, a single brushed steel pillar supporting a roof of cantilevered glass, SW Madison & 4th, says the sign, 4, 10, 14, 30. Becker opens up his wallet again, and waits for an SUV to pass before darting across.

That man steps out from where he’d been leaning against the pillar, his mustaches, those strong, broad shoulders, “Wait,” he says. “Arnold Becker. I ask only that you hear me out.”

“No,” says Becker. “Go. Away. Leave. I don’t,” and he balls up his hands.

“Tell me,” says that big strong man, “that you remember nothing.” Quietly hoarse. “Not a moment. Tell me that you do not even know my name, and I will go. I will go, and trouble you no more.”

“What if I do know your name,” says Becker, viciously quiet. “What if maybe I don’t know what happened, but I know, I know that if,” looking away, then, looking for the words to come, “I take your hand,” and he swallows. “If I take your hand, I would be so, happy, but, but any moment, any morning, I could wake up, again, I would have forgotten it all, again. I’d end up right back here. Again. And I can’t. I can’t.”

“Becker,” the other man, barely more than a whisper. “My love. This, I swear: I will keep you safe.”

“Yeah,” says Becker, closing his eyes. “You will.”

When he opens them, the man is gone. A deep breath, shoulders unhunching. Tipping back his cap. Turning, at the sound of an engine, the bus, turning the corner. 14, say the orange lights over the windshield. Hawthorne.

The glass before him full of yellow beer, the burger steaming on its bun, he dredges a jojo through ketchup but the ketchup’s gone, the plate is gone, the beer, he’s no longer sat in a blocky booth of smooth dark wood, lit by a single low-hung bulb, he’s in a plastic-backed chair, chrome frame of it winking in utter darkness. He’s no longer dressed in brown painter’s pants or his anorak of chocolate-chip camouflage, but a white T-shirt laundered almost to translucence, and royal blue jockey shorts. A plop. Startled, he looks down at the splotch of darkness fallen on the junk mail littering the table-top. Another, it might be red, it might be ketchup dripping from the potato wedge in his fingers. He frowns, but lifts it to his mouth. Someone screams.

Slap of bare feet seizing a doorknob into a garage all shadows looming, a single lamp a-dangle brightly on the other side of a pickup truck, a meaty smack, a muffled gurgle. “Dad?” he says, or tries to say. His voice is gone. Another smack, a yelp, he heads around the front of that truck, squeezing between the bumper and the wall as words climb out of a snarling growl, barely discernible, “What you get,” a sucking, bubbling breath, “is what I let! You! Have! What you,” another wheeze, another, “what you, give me,” the words scaling all the way up to a shriek, “is everything! Is!” and a smack, “my!” and a smack, “due!”

Another of those plastic-backed chairs has been set under the swaying trouble light, a man’s sat in it, arms bound up behind his back with loops of bristled rope. Parked beside it a wheelchair empty but for a rumple of blankets, dingy grey thermal and a threadbare quilt. Crouched on the lap of the man in the chair is a much smaller man all elbows and knees and ears and Adam’s apple and thin wild hair, hunching to clutch lapels and swing a flattened hand, smack! “Now tell me,” snarls the crouching little man.

“Dad!” he yelps, one hand on the fender of the truck.

The man in the lap of the man on the chair looks sharply up.

“I really don’t think this is necessary.” He steps away from the truck, toward the chair. “You made your point.” Dropping the jojo, flicking a splot of ketchup from his fingers. “Stay put, Jasper.” There’s somebody else in the garage, stood just past the reach of that weak harsh light, a shadow wrapped in bulky shadows. He reaches past his scowling father for the greasy rag stuffed in the mouth of the man in the chair.

“That ain’t what you said,” says the shadow behind him, “and that sure as shit ain’t what you did.”

He stops tugging the rag, but doesn’t let go. He’s looking at his father, crouched on the man’s lap, skinny knees cruelly dug into the man’s belly, that untucked shirt, the sharkskin jacket rucked by his father’s clutching fists, fighting to haul in every breath before he shoves it out.

“No,” says the shadow behind him, rustle and step, “you just came in. You watched, you didn’t say a goddamn thing, and when you went and got blood all over yourself,” and at that, the man in the chair with a whine starts to struggle again, yanking the rag away with a toss of his head, bucking enough to rattle and scrape the chair, and his father with a yelp rears up and savagely cracks his head against the bound man’s nose and splatter, blood shining his father’s forehead as he sits back up, and there are the spots of it, staining his thin white T-shirt.

“Well,” says the shadow. “You excused yourself. You went back into the kitchen. You wanted to wash your hands. And then,” another step closer, the light lapping the edge of a filthy blanket dragging the floor. “You told me not to worry.”

“It’s not mine,” he says, half to himself.

The glass, full of beer. The glistening burger, pink tomato, the palmful of iceberg. The jumble of fried potatoes. The light hung low over darkly blocky wood, and sat in the booth across from him, “Moody,” he says.

“Hey, Chad. How’s it hanging?”

“The fuck, man? What the fuck was that?”

Moody’s looking up and out, “Hey!” waving, “yeah, I’ll have what he’s having? This thing,” he says, lowering his voice, hunching forward, “is amazing,” flipping back the cuff of his army-green jacket, holding up the watch on his wrist, “and she just gave it to me!” The XO looks from the watch all heavy and gold to Moody’s darkly glittering eyes under the brim of that black leather hat. “I’m still fiddling with it, figuring out what it can do, and what happens when it does it,” fingertips passing back and forth over the crystal of it, the ticking hands, the bezel, a conjurer’s fillip, “but think about it, man.” He’s looking up at the XO, sharp eyes, sharp nose, sharp chin. “There is no way in hell that any of that was anywhere in her head!”

The XO lifts his glass of beer, sitting back, to drink it down in one unbroken swallow. Holds the empty glass upturned above his mouth a moment.

“Don’t you get it?” says Moody.

The XO sets the glass with exaggerated care back on the table by the untouched burger. “No,” he says, flatly.

“This thing has power, man. There is no possible way she could have known,” a wave, at nothing in particular about them, “any of that.”

The XO’s fists thump the heavy wooden table, chiming flatware, jumping the plate. “Who.”

“Jo fucking Maguire,” says Moody, taken aback. “Who else?”

“And I’m supposed to believe,” says the XO, nodding at the watch, “she just gave that to you.”

“Well,” says Moody. Shrugs. “Yeah.”

Table of Contents

Another World,” written by Joe Jackson, copyright holder unknown.

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