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a House that looks Much Like the Others – Everything to Lose

A house much like the others all along the one side of the street, low, demure, set close to the curb, only a shallow curl of driveway, a freshet of paving stones crossing the scrap of a yard to the front door. He pauses, one Chelsea boot on the front steps, glossy tobacco polish marred by dust, an ugly scuff across the toe. Looks back, over his shoulder. A high stone wall lines the opposite curb, lofting from dim pools of streetlight into thickets of shadow above, themselves swallowed by the looming slope of night. He’s stood in the light of the lamp hung over the warm yellow door, his suit of a blue as dark as those shadows, his salmon shirt buttoned up to the throat, and no tie knotted there. His weird white hair swept back in matted locks long enough to brush his shoulders, just.

He opens the door, he steps within.

The unlit hall, a stairwell spiraling up to the right, a kitchen to the left, cold and dark. A great dark empty space ahead at the end of it that he heads toward, boots quiet on the dust-dulled floor.

No one stands watch at the hole smashed through the great curving wall of window. Jagged blades of glass still hang dangerously above, to either side, framing tree-shapes without silhouetted against the city’s glow away off below down there, a vague brightness drawn in and caught by cracks that leap through the window in every odd direction, faint lightning frozen in the moment of impact creaking and scraping even at the gentlest breath of a breeze. He’s headed for the glass balustrade mounted about the stairwell in the middle of that room, and the long straight flight of steps headed down. “More!” someone growls below. “C’mon! All of it!” There’s light at the foot of the steps, hotly yellow-white but wildly uncertain, guttering, redoubling with a shocking flare.

A hand on the transparent railing, he begins his descent.

“My lord,” an exhortation choked off, he hastens his steps, suddenly thunderous, down to the porch below, long table laden with blazing candles thick and thin, pristine and melted stumps, whites and yellows and oranges and sullen reds stuck atop varied candlesticks and candelabra, the light of them leaping and flaring, swooping with the wind of his passage down the line of them, past the two in blue, the one in pink stood back against the wall, not daring to look up as Agravante sweeps up to the other, sat at the head of it all, pouring the last of a bottle into an overflowing goblet, and runnels of whiskey spilling to spread across the cloth. Lifting a pink hand to pull from that mouth with a plop a bit of bone that’s set, glistening, in a puddle of liquor. “Where in the hell,” says the other, but suddenly scrambling pushes back from the table as Agravante doesn’t come to a stop, as Agravante without faltering leans to clamp a hand about the other’s throat, carried by momentum in a mighty half-stumbled shove that topples the chair slams the other back against the credenza, loomed out over the drop to dark trees below. Pushing further, squeezing. The other grunts, and a weird flicker and flash, that white shirt for an instant too bright, the hand lifted not a hand. “Go on,” snarls Agravante, leaning into the other’s bent frame. “The few who’ve stayed,” quiet, gutturally close, “cling to but a single shred of doubt. Go on!” shove and squeeze, “take even that from them.”

The other, wheezing, spittle bubbling, trembling, lowers what’s once more a hand all pink, heel of it splat against the credenza. Turning a bit, “Leave us,” spits Agravante over his shoulder, without looking away from the other. The hurried rustle, then. Footsteps away and up and out.

One last squeeze. Agravante steps back, throws wide his arms. The other a hand to that darkening throat, red blotches chased under sickly skin. “Where,” a hacking spit, “have you been,” the rush of words burred, unfinished.

“Out,” says Agravante. Leaned back against the table, shadow leaping and faltering over the other, those elbows propped among a litter of unwashed crockery, shaking that wildly ivory-crowned head, “Simple,” and a cough, “instruction. Bring her. To me.” Pushing suddenly swaying up, “That was last night.”

Agravante shrugs. “I had to walk back. The car was, totaled, I believe, is the word,” but “Where,” a growl over all that, “is she!”

“Safe,” says Agravante.

The other launches off the credenza, roaring “I! Will!” and “Eat! You!”

“You’ll lose!” shouts Agravante, hand up, palm forward. The other yanked to a halt, wavering. “Everything,” says Agravante.

“You can’t,” spitting, “you can’t hurt me.”

“I can,” says Agravante. “I have. I will.” He plucks up from the puddled whiskey that bit of bone, glittering purple in the candlelight. “Move a finger against me,” he says, “and I will have the Queen destroyed, and I will have the Princess destroyed, and you will lose everything you came here for.”

“You couldn’t,” snarls the other. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Agravante shrugs, closing up his fingers about the bit of bone. Takes hold of the stem of the goblet. “Where the, hell, was I, you ask?” Tipping the goblet enough to spill some brimming liquor, then lifting it to his lips. “Making certain,” he says, and sips. “I needed someone at the Queen’s new court, now that her majesty’s fecundity’s returned. Someone I could trust with such a terrible charge.” Sets the goblet down. “As for her highness?” He looks up a moment, then back to the other, and there is something almost sympathetic to his mien. “I’ve always had someone I could trust, outside her door. You really must come to appreciate the limits of rule by fear alone.”

“Do it!” bellows the other, and Agravante flinches. “Go on!” Those pink hands flailing. “Destroy them both! Gut yourselves! See if I care! I’ll just light out for another goddamn city! Another goddamn court!”

“But,” says Agravante. “You might do that now, and without this fuss and furore. No,” a deep breath. “You need us,” he says, pressing his hand flat on the table. “We don’t need you, but we can’t seem to get rid of you.” He lifts the goblet again. “But now? Now, we have a choice. We have options. So: I propose, a détente.” He gulps down a mouthful of whiskey. The other, red-faced, trembles before him. “We will set about the business of determining,” says Agravante, a magnanimous gesture with the goblet, “whether we might resume our dependence on the Perry line, or start anew, with our new Bride.” That bit of bone still in his other hand, pinched between thumb and forefinger. “You, if you behave yourself,” flinching again, the patter of slopped whiskey, as the other takes a step, just a single slow and heavy step, struggling against the gravity of some awful other place. “You might well avail yourself of the choice we do not take. Something,” a deep breath, shoring up his tone, “or nothing. What will it be?”

“You,” the word spat up as if cast off by the rocks that churn in the other’s belly. “You. Will. Regret. This.”

“Oh, to be sure,” says Agravante. “Every day of all the days to come. But tonight,” and he sighs. “Tonight, the evening’s pleasant. And I find you spoil the view.”

The other screams, once, as if in answer. Stomps away, floorboards creaking with every pounding step, toppling a thicket of candles with the sweep of an arm, flight of sparks and splash of wax and light, clang and crump of sticks. As those footsteps climb the groaning stairs, Agravante drinks off the rest of the whiskey in one long hissing swallow. Blots his lips with the pink cuff of his shirt. Looks at the goblet in his hand, cloudy glass with here and there an errant bubble trapped in the thickness of it. At the bone in his fingers, an oblong, pitted cuboid of a thing with a couple of smoothly concave facets, sheened purple in the firelight. He hurls the goblet away to smash against a baluster.

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