A powder-blue town car swings a left turn under the yellow light, jerking to a halt there to the side of a green two-storey clapboard building, backing and filling into a space just past the corner as a couple of cars struggle around. Settling a good two feet from the curb. The old man with some effort climbs out from behind the wheel, closing the door firmly, wiping the chrome handle with a cloth that he folds and tucks into the pocket of his suit coat, a dark brown sharkskin gleaming in the dark grey evening light. The corner of that green building the angled foyer of a modest storefront, and hung above it a blue and orange sign, jutting out over the sidewalk, neon bright against the darkening, Alberta Rexall Drugs, it says. Scowling, he brushes down the front of his suit, his vest, runs fingers through his hair, that circle of crisp curls almost yellow against the reddish darkness of his bare bald head. Takes a deep breath.
Inside, round formica tables each with a candle guttering, some with diners, couples, glasses of wine, water, plates of bread, little bowls of salt, cruets of oil, vinegar, “layered with a pesto,” a woman’s saying, “of tarragon and parsley,” as she’s handing a wine list to a man sitting at one of the front tables, but “Excuse me, miss,” says the old man, door swinging shut behind him. “Where is she?”
“I, ah,” she says, looking up at him, startled. “Do you mind?” says the man with the wine list, affronted.
“’Fraid not,” the old man says to him, and then, “Miss?”
Wordless she points, back that way, to a door, painted red.
Through that door, a dim hall, clatter and rush of the kitchen to one side, a canvas curtain lifted to reveal an echoing room, opening out, the floor and walls painted an old thin dusty black, brightly lit. Folding chairs in rows on stepped platforms raised up, three sides about the room, and up there behind him, he’s turning about, a woman sits in the last row, draped in a thin white gown, her left arm sleeved in polished plate, cop and pauldron, vambraces and cowter. Her hair a close-shorn cap, gunmetal grey. “Gordon,” she says.
“Linesse,” he says.
“So. Now that you’re here,” faint squeak and scrape of metal as she gestures, clack, “what do you think?”
He shrugs. “Slap up some paint, pull in some tables, maybe a couple of four-tops, it’s a nice private dining room.”
“I like the theatre.”
“You’ll never make any money,” he says.
“That’s not why I like the theatre.”
He shifts, scuff of shoe. “I need a favor.”
Smiling, she stands, comes down the steps, whisper of gown, slip and snap of sandals, clank of plate about her arm. “So that’s why you’ve dressed,” she says, looking him up and down in his suit.
“This morning,” he says, as she passes behind him, “some of Tommy Tom’s bravos came to coffee. Boggs Gaffer, and also Swift, and Dogstongue.”
“It seems we’ve got off on the wrong foot,” she says, at his side, “if we’re to speak of boons. I should’ve named you Porter, and not encouraged such familiarity.”
He stiffens, draws an aggrieved breath, “That’s not what I am,” he says. “No drop, nor pinch.”
“But you did not renounce your office,” she says. “You still serve the court.” He flinches at the touch of her hand, a ghostly thing beneath the bright cuff of the vambrace. “I wonder,” she says, stepping back, and again, “were I to draw on you,” two more steps back, in a rush, plated arm lifted before her, shining in the light, and held low in her other hand a sword, the blade of it short, and broad, “were I to cut at your chest, your head,” a sliding sidelong step toward him, that sword swung out, and back, and up, “would you block it, with your mace?”
His eyes are closed, his head inclined. His hands at his side. “Marquess,” he says. “I would ask of thee a boon.”
Clank and squeak as she lowers her arm. “Speak to the Soames,” she says. “Your problem’s with his men, not mine.”
“You know I cannot do that,” he says. “But – from one peer, to another – “
“When I’ve no stake in the matter?” she says, stepping toward him.
“More domestics come to my house from your fifth, than any other,” he says. “Do it for them, if not – “ but she’s taken another step, another dismissive flick of her fingers, “You keep an open house,” she says. “Free to all. Even bravos.”
“There are limits!” he cries, words ringing in that space.
“Then make them known,” she says, moving past him, “and see that they are kept,” headed back to the stepped rows of folding chairs.
“If not,” he says, and he stops. His hands clasped together, lifted up before his chest, beneath his chin. “For what we’ve meant, to each other.”
One foot on a riser she stops, looks back, over her shoulder, “What’s that, exactly?” she says. Turning, when he doesn’t respond, to look at him there, in his brown suit, head bowed under all that light.
“I will speak with him,” she says, then. “Though it will do no good.”
“It is as you say,” says Gordon.
Wide noodles slippery under a dollop of red ragù, white feathery curls of cheese, a sprinkle of herbs, his fork, gleaming in his hand. “It’s, um, it’s fantastic.”
“The smell of it?” Pyrocles points with his own fork, a fat round ravioli hanging from its tines, dripping a plum-dark sauce. “You haven’t had a bite.”
“Sorry,” says Becker, scooping and twining up a noodle. “Sorry, I just, a – “
“Did you want something else?”
“What? No! No.” Becker takes his bite, slurping, chewing. “Hey,” he says, “so,” and swallowing, “now I know what wild boar tastes like.” A gesture of his fork. “How’s, ah, how’s your celery root?”
“Delicious,” says Pyrocles, forking up another ravioli. “You do not recall, but we met – the first time – at a boar hunt.”
“We, we did?” says Becker.
“One the old Duke called,” says Pyrocles, “for Erymathos Kernel-Hearted. I was to stand for the Hound, but,” a small smile, “the Mooncalfe drew on me, for no reason, and took me with his tricksy stop-thrust.” The pewter beads at the ends of his mustaches gleam in the candlelight. “And you, you came and held the cup that caught my offering,” and Becker looks away, blinking, and a clatter of dropped fork Pyrocles reaches for Becker’s hand, “oh, blast me for a fool – the last thing that I wanted,” and “No,” Becker’s saying, “no,” squeezing Pyrocles’s hand, “it’s, it’s,” and a sniff, “you don’t,” he says, “why would you, why hunt a boar? You don’t eat boar.”
“Of course not,” says Pyrocles, brows pinched. “He was a monster. One does not eat monsters,” and Becker laughs, a sputtering cough too loud, quickly swallowed. Works another noodle onto his fork but doesn’t lift it, yet. “David Kerr found me today,” he says.
“The melanchlœnidon,” says Pyrocles, and “Ah, yes,” says Becker. Pyrocles tosses his wadded napkin to the table. “I would do no murder, love,” he says, “but that man I’d leave bleeding in a ditch.”
“He didn’t do anything,” says Becker.
“He’s done enough,” says Pyrocles.
“He just, he wanted to talk. He let something slip, I don’t know. Maybe it was on purpose. He told me why it was he wanted me to have that awful job.”
“He wants you,” says Pyrocles.
“No, no, I mean yes, but, he also,” leaning forward, “he wants what I do. When I’m not – the thing that forgets, he said. That doesn’t want to know. That’s what he – wants.”
“He will not touch you,” says Pyrocles. “He will not approach you again – he came to your work? The day-care center? I will speak with the Viscount. We will have someone to watch over you, when we must be apart,” and Becker’s saying, “That’s, that’s, he just, he didn’t try to hurt me, or anything, he just – he rattled me – “
“He means to take you,” says Pyrocles. “I will not let that happen.”
Becker smiles, a little.
“What is it, love,” says Pyrocles a moment later, two.
“That’s,” says Becker, “that’s the question, isn’t it.” A hand to his temple, his thinning hair. “What is it, in me, that does that. Fucks things up. That he wants.”
“It is you,” says Pyrocles.
“But what about me,” says Becker. “If we could, figure that out, get rid of it – not just hold it off,” and he laughs, takes up his fork again. “I mean, it’s not like there’s a doctor I can see about this.”
“You are what doesn’t want to know,” says Pyrocles, gently. “You are what forgets. There’s nothing to get rid of. It’s, you.”
“But that’s why we, that’s why I take the stuff,” says Becker. “So I don’t lose me. So I don’t go away.”
“Yes,” says Pyrocles, frowning, looking down. “I, yes.”
He picks up a pair of sunglasses from the floor, the left lens of them spiraled with spidery letter-shapes written in white ink. “Let me guess,” says Ellen. “Those aren’t yours.”
“They’re mine,” he says. “But I left them over there. On the dresser.” He moves to tuck them into a pocket, but he’s wearing a bright aloha shirt, splashes of blue and yellow and white, and no pocket to put them in.
“So,” she says, looking about the grubby little room. “You get this by the week or something?” The rumpled green walls, the neatly narrow ned, thin beige blanket tucked and folded, neon blinking shining on and off and on again through the one lone window.
“I gave them a bunch of money a while ago,” he says. “They leave me alone.”
She’s looking at the mirror hung above the dresser, written over in curling, branching, slashed and dotted letter-shapes. “So it pays well, huh? This stuff?”
“You’re angry,” says Phil, sunglasses in his hand.
“You’re back,” she says, turning away from the mirror, “you’re safe,” heading for the door, “there’s no bogeyman or pea-soup vomit to clean up, so I’ll, just – “
“Dinner,” he says.
“I – should go, Phil. I’m sorry. I have to work in the – “
“Wait,” he says, “wait,” unbuttoning the wildly flowered shirt, “let me – “
“Keep,” she says, “the shirt. I never, I hate the way Dan looks in that damn thing.”
“You,” he says, and then, “you’re close.”
“You don’t get to ask that,” she snaps, and he starts to say “I’m” but “Goddammit,” she says, turning away. “I was really starting to like it here.”
“You don’t have to,” he says, but “North,” she says. “I’ll just go north. Keep going. All the way.”
“Ellen,” he says.
“What the hell, right? Yellowknife! I mean, what are the chances you’ll.”
“Ellen,” he says, again. “Don’t go. I’ll go.” Stepping toward her. “Ellen?” She doesn’t shift to follow him as he steps to one side, doesn’t finish her sentence, lower her hand, blink, doesn’t breathe. “It,” he says, looking from her to the window, red neon shining balefully, steadily, on. Just on. “Oh,” he says. He turns to look at the door. There’s a knock.
He opens the door on a woman pugnaciously short, all in pearly grey, who pushes past him into the room, right up to Ellen, hiking up on the toes of her sensible shoes. Peering at the fronds and feathers of black ink that curl about the collar of Ellen’s denim jacket. Stepping back the woman favors Phil with a look, brow cocked over blue-limned eyes, something skeptical about the set of her brick-painted lips. “You,” says Phil, but she’s moving on, peering a moment at the written-over mirror, sliding open the closet door. Rattle of hangers, crinkle of plastic. “Three,” Phil’s saying, “months.”
“Vacation is over,” she says, pulling out a suit wrapped in a clear dry cleaner’s bag. “Or did you think you’d been let go? Feet first. You know that.” She rips open and off the plastic.
“I thought you’d forgotten,” says Phil.
“Backlog,” she says, laying the suit out across the bed, flat, black, jacket and pants. “Which means work to be done. An entire verse of Antethesis, loose in the world.”
“That,” he says, and then “I,” and then, looking to Ellen, “well. I know where it must be.”
“Dormant in a heart, but which?” says the woman all in grey. “The Queen’s? Her pet’s? Or perfidious Lier’s?”
“You,” he says, a turn of his head, a shake of it forestalled. “You think Lier?”
“His name’s still known,” she says. “Antethesis didn’t take him. What else could?”
Leaning over the bed, he lays a hand on the black suit jacket, and a breath. Then Mr. Keightlinger takes it up.
He fills the little doorway, and behind him a wild bright blaze. Making way for her he backs into it, candlelight that soaks him golden, white, his plain white T-shirt, yellow cardigan, black hair gleaming, gentle smile. “Jesus, Luys,” says Jo all in black, red hair aflame, looking about the cramped trailer, and candles everywhere, along the little countertop, tapers lining the sills of the windows, and back there over the low bed in its alcove, votives scattered over the floor of the narrow shower stall, immensely glossy blocks with three wicks each or four clustered on the table there in the nose of it, and a small feast of take-out boxes arrayed with napkins, chopsticks, a couple of bottles of beer. “After this morning,” he says, as he lowers himself into the booth.
“That’s,” she says, “you didn’t, there was nothing to make up for – “
“I wanted to,” he says. “To do something romantic.”
“It’s certainly that,” she says, picking up one of the bottles. Taking a swig.
“Well sit down,” he says, “dig in. I got you a whole order of, of the garlic broccoli,” and he frowns. She’s still pulling at the bottle, great thirsty swallows, and most of it gone when she lowers the bottle, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Is everything all right, your grace?” he says.
“I lost Christian,” she says, and she polishes off the beer.
“Lost,” he says.
“He said no. He walked away. He took the money.” She’s shucking her long black coat, turning about, careful of all the candles, “Tell me something,” she says, her back to him, laying the coat over the low bed. “It’s a little weird, but, did you see him, eat? Anything? Last night?”
“At the party?” says Luys, sitting back. “I think so. Yes.”
“You think so.”
“Yes you think so, or yes you did?”
“Jo,” he says.
“Sorry,” she says, turning about, sitting there on the bed. “Sorry. It’s, it’s stupid, but.” Looking down, at her red shoes. “I had a dream, last night.” He leans forward, elbows on knees, intent on her. “More of a fragment,” she says. “An impression. I was, I was back at the bridge, at the World Trade Center, waiting for the sorcerer, and Ysabel, to come up the escalator, only, it wasn’t them, coming up? It was Christian, I could see his face, coming up, only he was dressed all in green, and I knew, the minute I saw him, it was too late. I wasn’t gonna be able to save him. That I hadn’t saved him, because it’d been too late long ago.” She looks up at him. “I think something happened, after what went down, last year. I think, I was thinking. Maybe he’s a ghost.”
“Christian?” says Luys.
“That’s a thing ghosts don’t do, right? Eat?”
He leans forward, reaches out for her hand. The bit of leather about his wrist, dull against his yellow cuff. “I’ve never met a ghost, my lady,” he says.
“Oh,” she says, “I thought,” sitting back, her hand slipping free, “I thought maybe,” and she sighs. “I don’t know,” she says. “I just don’t goddamn know.”
“Lady?” he says.
“Can I,” she says, “can I show you something? I just, I gotta,” all at once she lifts the hem of her turtleneck skinning it up and off to drop on the floor before her. “Right,” she says, eyes closed, “here,” fingertips pressed to her sternum, trembling, “just look,” she says. “It’s not,” twisting, wrist, hand, pressing again, “sometimes,” and she yelps, slumping, he’s swarming out of the both on his knees to catch her, hands on her shoulders, “Lady,” he says, and “Look!” she snarls through her teeth. Knuckled fist pounding her chest. “Look!”
He does, and he looks away, and again, and he sighs. “I see nothing that should not,” he says, and then, “oh.”
“You see it,” she says.
“I thought, perhaps,” he says, “a shimmer?” His hand, roughly brown, tenderly shades her skin.
“The shine, the rainbows, like, like soap,” she says.
“Like oil,” he says. She sags against him in his arms about her. “What is it?” he says.
“The, the, it’s the quicksmoke,” she says, against his chest.
“What is that,” he says.
“You don’t.” Leaning back she looks at him. “You don’t know what quicksmoke is.”
He shakes his head. “I’ve never heard the word before this moment.”
She leans back against the bed, out of his grasp, closing her eyes. “Well, shit,” she says.
What little light there is leaks in from other rooms to catch on dishes piled in the sink, dents in the counter’s aluminum trim, the chrome frame of a plastic-backed chair, and abrupt slashes shine across the black and white checkerboard floor, a warm glow struck from the doorknob there in the back, jiggling, rattling, a clank. It turns then, in that oblong of dim light, and the door, shivering, opens.
He steps through, ragged jacket, broad-brimmed hat, moving with quiet care. Slipping a contraption of snarled wire into a pocket. Looking about. A television’s burbling, somewhere else in the house. A table, there, piled with loose paper, stacks of mail. He sits, carefully, in one of the chairs beside it, slips the duffel from his shoulder, sets it quietly, on the floor. Doffs the hat, holds it a moment over the crammed table, then sets it in his lap. Leans back in the chair. It creaks. He cocks his head, listening. The television’s laughing at its own jokes.
Again, he leans back. Again, a creak. Then he pushes the chair back, a scrape, and listens. A murmur, a cough, something’s said, a sharp retort. A thump, a slam, heavy footsteps, coming closer. At the table he smiles, then swallows it, a hand up over his eyes.
Snap of a switch, light flares, “Son of a bitch,” says the man in the doorway up there, that awkward corner landing, behind a heavy bannister. “Moody?” His T-shirt says Still Haven’t Used Any Algebra Yet. His jockey shorts are purple. “The hell did you get in here,” he says. His jaw salted with stubble, and along the one side tight white skin, a scar that skews his scowl. “How the hell you even know where here was, to get into?”
“XO,” says Moody, hand still shading his eyes. “Mind turning off the light?”
“Fuck you,” says the XO. A short staircase at his feet, mostly covered over with a sheet of plywood, a makeshift ramp. “I told you where to find Winks,” he says, coming crabwise down it. A can of beer in his hand. “You’re overdrawn at the favor bank.”
“I spent seven months in solitary,” says Moody, putting his hat back on, “for killing a man on the chow line. He was a rapist and a pedophile and he deserved to die most cruelly, but it brought me to their attention. On my seventeenth day in the hole, a man came to see me.”
“I do not care,” says the XO, as Moody says, “This man had come up through the ranks in the black site prisons of Antaviliai and Djibouti, and was once in charge of Extreme Interrogation at Guantánamo. He invented half the tricks they use to cause excruciating pain without a single incriminating mark.”
“Moody, man, you cannot sit here and keep,” says the XO, but Moody’s rolling on, “Every day for five of those six months he used those tricks to ask me questions, over and over again, and I. Never. Answered. One.”
“The hell is that on your face,” says the XO. Somewhere else away off in the house another thump, a churning squeal, getting closer.
“But every single one of those questions,” says Moody, tugging down the brim of his hat, “was about you. And the CO. And the jefes. All the things, we used to get up to.” Up on that awkward landing a rattling clank, a squeak, a wheelchair backing out of the shadows, grey plastic push handles poking up out of a grey thermal blanket draped over the back of it, over the shoulders of the man glaring over his shoulder at them, “What on earth,” he growls, one eye squinted shut by the snarl of wrinkles that radiates from his sunken nose. “Who is this, Chad.”
“Just Danny Moody, Dad,” says the XO, and then, “sit the hell down!”
“I’m paying my respects,” says Moody, half out of his chair. He sits himself back down. “An honor, to finally meet the CO,” he says.
The old man’s chin juts up at that. “You a jefe?”
“He was, Dad,” says the XO, as Moody says, “The Dread Paladin, sir. I’ve been down in Salem the last little while. But I’m back.”
“And who was it, asking questions,” says the CO.
“The feds, sir,” says Moody. “My guess, a task force aimed at rolling up your whole network. But they didn’t get anything out of me.”
“Dad, he’s just,” says the XO, as the CO says, “What do you need.” The XO blurts out, “Dad!” Moody’s smile is pointed, there under the pointed beak of his nose, over his dark-scabbed chin. “A place to sleep,” he says. “I wouldn’t say no to a hot shower.”
“Make it so,” says the CO, setting himself to the wheels of his chair. The XO looks down, muttering something, bare legs knobby and pale in the light. “Thank you, sir,” says Moody, as the CO squeakily wheels away. “You won’t regret it.”