Shining in the rain a silver egg of a trailer, there at the back of the mostly empty parking lot. In her long black coat she’s knocking at the door of it, rattling the aluminum shell, “Luys?” she says. Red hair a vivid shock in all that grey-white light. “You home?”
The handle turns, the door jerks, opening enough to reveal him big and brown, black hair, blinking, “Your grace?” he says.
“Breakfast,” says Jo. “Remember?”
Inside it’s dark, the only light from without, and hazed by gauzy curtains over slender windows there and there. “I called,” she says. “Your phone must not be on.”
He’s stepping toward the back, out of the way, sitting on the low bed there in a sort of alcove, umber comforter rucked over yellow sheets. His black hair wet, chest bare, a white towel about his hips. “I suppose,” he says.
“We’ve talked about that,” she says, latching the door shut. Head bowed, against the curl of ceiling.
“Yes, your grace.”
“I need to be able to get a hold of you guys whenever I, might, need,” she says.
“Of course, your grace.”
“That’s not what I,” and she steps into the middle of the trailer. Behind her a booth in the nose of it, two benches, a table bolted between them. “Well. Breakfast.”
“Of course,” he says, leaning forward, opening a cabinet at the foot of the bed. Pulling out a neatly folded pair of pants. “Wait,” she says.
He looks up.
“Before,” she says, “you know. I don’t know.” Hands at the buttons of her coat. “I thought, maybe. Unless you’re hungry, I mean.”
“I just, woke up,” he says, brow furrowed.
“I shoulda got some coffee,” says Jo, undoing her buttons, one by fumbled one. “Or tea. Tea. I should’ve brought some tea.”
“My lady,” he says.
“I just figured,” she says. “You have the food carts next door.” Looking over her bared shoulder at him as she lets the coat slip down her arms. “Whatever we decide to do.”
“Jo, I don’t,” he says, as she lays the coat over the table, “what are we,” he says, as she turns to face him, hands on hips wrapped in a short kilt, black plaid shot through with red and white, between a sleeveless black turtleneck and black knit stockings. “Are we,” he says, “to go dancing?”
She hikes up the hem of the kilt an inch and there, the tops of the stockings, bare skin above. Her lip-bitten smile, eyes wide, brows up, uncertain, “You like?” she says. Luys blinks. “Borrowed ’em from Ysabel,” she says, letting the hem drop. “Not that I have her legs.”
“I like the legs you have, your grace,” says Luys.
She blows out a little laugh. “I cleared the morning,” she says. “Nobody on deck. Nothing on tap. Just,” a little shrug. “You and me.”
“Yes,” he says. “Breakfast.” He shakes out that pair of pants. “Luys!” she says, and he halts, pants a-dangle, frowning. “I,” she says, and then, a deep breath, eyes squeezing shut, she grabs the kilt again, lifts the hem again, up and higher up. He drops the pants, his jaw, eyes widening, “My lady,” he says, “you came, all this way, here, like, like – “
“No,” she says, rolling her eyes, “I yanked ’em off in the parking lot, where anyone could see. Luys, I just,” letting go of the kilt, a shake of her head, looking away, “I wanted to be sexy,” she says.
He leans forward, elbows on bare knees. Looking softly up. “Your grace,” he says, “does not need to be sexy.”
“My grace is horny,” says Jo. “We got,” she says, “I just thought, we were interrupted, last night, so I thought, we could take the morning, we could, jump each other, we, and I tried, to call, and you opened the door in just a, a towel, and that was, that was,” her hand up, weighing the next word.
“I had just,” he says, hoarsely, “woken up.” Looking to the narrow stall that alcoves off the bed. “I took a shower.”
“Which, is fine!” says Jo. “Just what I would’ve – thought. But then, you,” that hand, lowering. “Walked away.”
“I,” he says, and he swallows, “I didn’t mean,” but “Ah, fuck it,” says Jo, reaching for the kilt, yanking something, and it swings loose, falls open, down, she lets it go. “My lady,” he says, but one step, two steps, three down the cramped length of the trailer lifting a knee to plant it on the bed leaning to lift the other kneeling a-straddle him kissing, kissing his mouth, his head in her hands, her fingers in his thick black hair, his hands a bit of leather tied about his wrist on her bare hips, brown thumb along the blued shadow of her belly just above an edge of dark curled hair, lifting away as she yanks away his towel, “Oh,” he says, and she kisses him again, pushing him back, down, leaning over him, “oh,” he says, she’s kissing his hairless chest, tilting to run her teeth along the firm undergirding of a pec, he hisses, her hand about lifting the flop of his cock which stirs and swells in her fingers and his head lolls back against the pillow blue and both hands high and “Hanh,” he says, and “hup,” slapping his forehead sweeping back what little hair he has left and grinning, he’s grinning, opening his mouth to let out a whoop, drinking the air in, “ha, heh,” the rise and fall of his soft chest sparsely haired, “whoa,” he says, looking down, to those grey mustaches between his knees. “Now this,” he says, says Arnold Becker, “this alarm clock I could get used to.”
“What, every morning?” Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, dull beads of pewter at the ends of his mustache swaying as he pushes to his feet, his belly a thin softening of fat laid over muscle, chest fuzzed with iron-colored hair.
“We could take turns,” says Becker, sitting up on his elbows. “I have no qualms about waking you up. I mean, I owe you one,” and Pyrocles smiles as he stoops to pick up a salmon-orange towel. “Actually,” says Becker, frowning, “if we take last night into account, I’m pretty sure it’s two. At least two.”
“We’ll settle accounts tonight, or tomorrow,” says Pyrocles, wrapping the towel about his waist. “Or the day after. But today, this morning, I have a valve adjustment, I have two tune-ups, I have a fifty-year-old Galaxie that needs a new suite of belts.”
“What,” says Becker, flopping back on the bed, “no swords to forge? No, no breastplates to pour?”
“Cast armor would be too heavy,” says Pyrocles. “And much too brittle.”
“It was a,” says Becker, rolling over, “it’s a joke,” pulling the heavy blue blanket over himself. “My jokes have to be technically accurate?”
“You have to be getting up,” says Pyrocles, “you’re going to be late.” Padding away from the bed there in the corner of the white-painted loft, and all that light cascading down from the clerestory lining one long wall. “Not today!” calls Becker, snuggling under the blankets. “Finals are over. New term begins next week!” At the other end of the loft Pyrocles draws back a white curtain, behind it a toilet, a sink, a glass-walled shower stall. “But,” says Becker, sitting up, as water starts to fall in the shower. “Oh, shit.” Lunging over the side of the bed, reaching around for a pair of pants in the tangle of discarded clothing, coming up with a phone. He thumbs it on. “Shit,” he says, hauling himself out of bed.
Pyrocles soaping himself turns with a jerk as Becker opens the dappled glass door to the stall, crowding inside, “Sorry,” he’s saying, “sorry,” ducking to wet his head as Pyrocles leans back, blinking water out of his eyes, and the pewter weights swaying and tocking together. “I just,” Becker’s saying, “I have a shift, at eleven, but I was gonna do some shopping first – “
“Becker,” says Pyrocles, hands on his shoulders, water streaming over them both. “Forget the shopping. Take it easy.”
“We have,” says Becker, “maybe two lemons left? I could make omelets for dinner. Very plain omelets. A little salt,” and Pyrocles leans close to kiss Becker’s forehead, and then his lips. “Forget dinner,” he says. “I’ll take care of dinner.”
“You’re not cooking again, are you?” says Becker, and Pyrocles laughs, sluicing suds from his arms, his back, “Go to work,” he says. “Meet me at the garage when you’re done.” Leaning close again. “Trust in me.”
“I do,” says Becker, smiling. Kissing him. “Of course I do.”
Four of them about a round table, and in the middle a dull grey lily pad of a speakerphone. It’s saying, “What? Who was that?”
The man in the striped shirt sits forward. “It’s David, George,” he says. “That’s a list, of key terms, we’re gonna want to – “
“What?” says the phone.
“Key. Terms,” says David Kerr. “We want to salt ’em in any upcoming statements, go over the stump, then a couple of weeks, we get new numbers, we can assess performance and tweak and tune going into the City Club debate – “
“You don’t handle communications,” says the phone. The woman by the door, in her pearly grey pantsuit, folds her arms at that. “This is based on Bob’s work,” says Kerr, and the man leaning against the table might’ve shrugged at that.
“Avery handles communications,” says the phone.
“I’m gonna talk to Avery about this,” says Kerr.
“Avery’s right here,” says the phone. “She’s not happy with the list.”
“And I’ll talk to her about it.” Kerr looks at the watch on his wrist, heavy and gold, a big flat dial. Twenty of ten. “This is the Barshefsky polling, George, and the social media analysis. It’s, it’s impeccable.”
“The corpus is solid,” says the man leaning against the table. “Nothing more than two months out across the Twitter, the Facebook, the comments sections, message boards, it’s,” he opens his eyes, looking for a word, “actionable.” His suit a dour brown, his shirt ecru, his tie burgundy.
“Avery thinks it’s stilted,” says the phone. “Awkward.”
“Avery,” says Kerr, leaning over the phone, “wants to swing for the fences every time you step up to the plate, George.” The stripes of his shirt are slate and gold on white, the collar and cuffs starkly white, his carefully loosened tie of white and blue. “She wants the three pointers, no net, every damn time. But you don’t get those hero moments without the grunt work. Without paying your dues. That’s what this is. These are the dues.” Dark circles under his dark brown eyes. “Every time you use one, you remind them out there, whoever’s listening, of that term, that phrase, that thought, they’ve already had. You’re saying, we’re on the same page. Making a connection, but wholesale, not retail.” Cheeks hatched with stubble, untrimmed, black. “Long run? Makes her job easier. Makes you a winner.”
“I suppose,” says the phone, “it’s hard to lead, if no one’s following.”
“That’s right, George,” says Kerr.
“And you’ll talk to Avery. Convince her, David. Don’t steamroll her.”
“I’ll talk to her.”
“I need her buy-in.”
“Understood, George,” says Kerr.
“All right,” says the phone, and a click, and a burr. The fourth of them, a woman in a frilled white blouse, shuts the speakerphone off.
“Okay then,” says the man in the dour brown suit. “Ms. Upchurch, I hope that was – enlightening?”
“Of course,” says the woman in pearly grey, her voice at once rich and hoarse, but she’s looking down at her folded arms.
Out in the main room of the office Kerr sits at an empty glass-topped desk, white-framed platter of a phone in his hand, scrolling through messages, swiping, tapping, sweeping them here and there. “Give me just a minute,” he says, without looking up, as the woman in pearly grey looms behind him. She plants a hand deep brown against the white vinyl back of his chair, and he sighs, “Okay, okay,” he says, swiveling the chair around against her grip, and she lets go, lets her hand fall away as he looks up at her, phone still at the ready. “It’s gonna be like that,” he says. Looking past her to see the woman in the white blouse busy with the printer on the other side of the office. “There is no way in hell,” he says, quietly, “your name’s really Frances Upchurch, and if you actually have anything at all to do with the Democratic Party of Oregon, I’ll buy a hat just so I can eat it.”
She steps back, looks about. Pulls a chair from the desk across the way and lowers herself into it, nodding to herself, leaning forward, leaning close. Her hair all tiny corkscrew curls, brown and gold, swept back, pinned up. Squeak of the wheels of the chair as she pulls a little closer, even. “What you should ask yourself,” she says, “is this: how does a woman, that is so large, enter in through the eyes that are so small?”
Whatever he was preparing to say melts in his mouth as his shoulders sag. He turns away, to set his phone down on the desk. “If this is about that call,” he says, very quietly, “it’s just a simple objuration. I have some clients, some other clients, who want to change the city’s temperature on a couple of issues? If you want, if you want a cut, if you want in, on the wording, we can talk, we can negotiate that.”
“Tell me about Charles Lier,” she says. Her lips carefully painted the color of brick.
“Lier?” says Kerr. “Dabbled a bit. Fixed things, for powerful people.”
“Did he ever fix anything for you?” A thread of startling blue limns each of her eyes.
“We did, favors, for each other, yeah.”
“You speak in the past tense.”
“Well,” says Kerr, and a hint of a shrug. “Haven’t heard from him since December. End of November. Now you guys are asking questions? Doesn’t seem unwarranted to assume, well.”
“The worst?” she says, and she pushes herself to her feet. “Stay out of our way, Mr. Kerr.”
“You, your,” he says, as she turns, as she’s walking away, “what way?”
“You’ll see,” she says, over her shoulder. He watches as she nods to the woman pulling pages from the printer, as she says something genial to the man in the brown suit, as she opens the door to the office, as it shuts behind her, and then he lets out the breath he’d been holding with a “Shit.” His hand trembles as he picks up his phone.
“Excuse me?” says the woman behind the counter. “Sir?” A couple of people look up from their plates of waffles, scrambled eggs, the woman at the corner has a half-eaten burger in her hands, the man there at the end in a ragged jacket, army-surplus green, only a cup of coffee. “You’re gonna have to step outside,” says the woman behind the counter.
“It’s,” says Mr. Keightlinger, “cold.” He shakes his head. “Wet,” he says.
“Go on,” says the woman behind the counter. “You find some shoes, maybe some pants, you can come on back.” Eggs sizzle on the griddle before her, and the ring and scrape of her spatulas as she stirs them about.
“I,” says Mr. Keightlinger, “I left, in a hurry. Not now,” he snaps, to his right. He’s wearing a black T-shirt, and pale blue boxer shorts, and his legs and his red raw feet are bare.
“Go on now,” says the woman behind the counter, and then she points to a man in a blue meshback cap, a phone in his hand, “I’d rather you didn’t,” she says.
“What if he needs help?” says the man, a finger poised over the phone’s keys.
“I don’t want to involve the cops if we can at all help it,” says the woman behind the counter.
“Look, I really think we,” says the man, and “I asked you nice,” says the woman, and “No,” says Mr. Keightlinger, shaking his brown shaggy head, and the man in the ragged green jacket’s getting up off his stool, and Mr. Keightlinger turns back crashing through the red-framed door to the diner with a wordless bellow, out onto the sidewalk, under the rain, wheeling about and about again, “What?” he’s saying, “I can’t, what?” Out in the street a primly nondescript white sedan is slowing to a stop, turn signal blinking, and bouncing off a Willamette Week newspaper box he lurches from the curb, grabbing the handle of the door of the sedan, wrenching it open as someone inside screams. “Sorry,” he says, as he falls into the passenger seat, “this isn’t, I don’t, you have to,” as the driver’s screaming “What the get the fuck out of my car,” a woman, black hair, intricate tattoos crawling up her neck, one hand held up curled in a fist a blow that doesn’t land as he’s looking at her, as she’s looking at him, his draggled hair, his rain-wet beard, “Ell,” he’s saying, and a look of such wonder passes over him, “Ell,” he says again.
“Jesus,” she says. A car behind them honks once, curtly. “Jesus fucking Christ. Phil. Is that you?”