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Marfisa in the Hall – What he wants to Hear

Marfisa in the hall sits back against Jo’s door, long legs in blue and brown striped socks stretched across the orange carpet. She wears blue shorts and a tight grey T-shirt that says Property of S.H.I.E.L.D. Her arms folded over the blue fleece pullover wadded up in her lap. When the elevator down the hall dings, she opens her eyes.

“No, seriously,” Jo’s saying.

“I do not,” says Roland.

“That was one hell of a spill.”

“I do not need help.

“I’m not,” says Jo, as Roland pushes past her, out of the elevator. “Helping,” she says. Following him, the épée still in its black leather sheath balanced on one shoulder, her hand up holding it lightly. “It’s just, you’re limping – ”

“Jo,” says Roland.

The blue fleece pullover wadded about her left hand held up before them Marfisa elbow crooked up high in her right hand holds a sword, fluorescent light stretched thin glaring from the tip at Jo. She opens her mouth to say something.

“Don’t,” says Roland.

“I will,” says Marfisa. “Jo Maguire – ”

“Do not do this,” says Roland.

“Jo Maguire,” says Marfisa, “I challenge – ”

“What has she done to you?” says Roland. “What harm?”

“For her,” says Marfisa. “It’s for her. The way she – ”

“No,” Roland’s saying, “it isn’t. Put up your blade. Put up – Jo – ”

Jo her blunted épée still resting on one shoulder is stepping past him. Marfisa lowers her swaddled hand a little, sword hand still held high. “Stop,” says Roland. Marfisa’s sword is bright, two fingers wide without a curve until its sudden tip, quivering, scraping nervous squiggles in the air. “You know what?” says Jo. Marfisa sucks a quick breath, sword twisting at the jump in her wrist as Jo lifts the épée and her hand drooping lets the black leather tip of it swing down to thump against the carpet. “I’m tired,” says Jo. “I’m really fucking tired. I’m going to walk past you, go into my apartment, I’m going to crawl into bed, and go to sleep.” Jo looks down at the épée in her hand almost swallowed by the cuff of her army jacket. The bell is dull and dented. The hilt under her fingers is wrapped with grubby red tape. She lets go, catching it about the leather sheath. Hefts it, tucking it under her arm. Lifts her head. Marfisa’s looking away, working at the pullover wrapped about her left hand.

“I will not,” Roland’s saying, “mention this to your brother.”

“Thank you,” says Marfisa, and then, reaching out suddenly, her hand on Jo’s shoulder, “Wait.”

Jo eyes wide looks at that hand.

“If you hurt her,” says Marfisa.

Jo frowns. “I won’t,” she says. “Let go.”

“I will kill you if anything happens to her.”

“Marfisa,” says Roland. “Let her go. Leave her to guard the Princess. Let her go, or I will call you out myself.”

Marfisa lifts her hand. Jo awkwardly clamping the épée under her arm fishes for her keys. Marfisa shaking out her pullover watches as Jo unlocks the door. “Well,” says Jo. “Goodnight.”

The door closed, there in the dark, Jo sags back against it, shivering. The épée falls to the floor with a muffled clank.

“So,” says the little guy in the dark suit.

“So?” says Mr. Leir, washing his hands at a stained plastic sink on spindly legs.

“What do you think?”

Mr. Leir, smiling, holds up one finger. His white shirt open at the collar, the cuffs unbuttoned and rolled back. A rust-colored smudge still on one wrist. that he worries with his thumb, walking back across the dusty floor to the harsh white glare of the arc light hanging from a hook. “Well, Mr. Kerr?” he says.

“I, um,” says the man in the blue striped shirt. The wooden floor under that bright light has been swept clear of dust. It’s marred with a smattering of black charred spots. “He was – magnificent.”

“And?” says Mr. Leir, smiling.

“It’s like I was saying,” says Kerr. His tie is much the same blue as the stripes on his shirt, and the watch on his wrist is heavy and gold. “The EPA rules coming down, security, with the terrorism thing – like it’s ever going to happen here, but still. People are scared.”

“Which isn’t what I want to hear,” says Mr. Leir, still smiling. “What I want to hear is those reservoirs are an important part of the fabric of this city. I want to hear you say you have no intention of burying them in tanks under the hillside, that’s what I want.” One of the charred spots still smolders, putting up a thready stream of pale quick smoke. “And for now, he listens to me.” Mr. Leir smothers it neatly with his white and ivory saddle shoe.

“Well,” says Kerr. He is clean-shaven, his dark hair carefully swept back. “I could talk to the commissioner. Arrange another study. It’s not like we can just turn around and say no.”

“But you will,” says Mr. Leir. “Eventually.”

“Um,” says Kerr. He nods. “Thanks,” he says. “Thank you. Very much.”

When Kerr has left, Mr. Leir walks over to the sink, where the little guy waits next to the big guy in the dark suit. “Mr. Keightlinger,” says Mr. Leir, unrolling his sleeves, “tell Mr. Charlock what today’s date is.”

“What I’m saying,” says the little guy, “we can get this girl six ways from Sunday the minute you say the word.”

“Three,” says Mr. Leir, pulling cufflinks from his pocket. “Only one of which is likely to work. Mr. Keightlinger?”

“It’s an expression,” mumbles the little guy, looking down at his shoes.

“The nineteenth of September,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“It’s the fucking eighteenth,” says Mr. Charlock, elbowing him.

“Ten past,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “Midnight.”

“Not even the equinox,” says Mr. Leir. “Months to go, and what would we do with her? Where would we put her?”

“The suite at the Lucia?” says Mr. Charlock.

“We wait until the solstice,” says Mr. Leir, “and then we deal with the one who has her keeping. Not whoever’s the most unusual. Vulnerable.” He smoothes his cuffs, brushes something from one sleeve. “Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Charlock. This was good work. I don’t think it’ll be this girl, but if it is, we’re ready. Meanwhile, you keep up your observations and investigations. Whoever it is, we’ll be ready.”

“Yessir,” says Mr. Charlock. Mr. Keightlinger nods, once.

And then Mr. Leir says, “The boy?”

“Who,” says Mr. Charlock. “Beaumont?”

“He won’t mess this up?”

“Nah,” says Mr. Charlock. “We took care of him.”

“Good,” says Mr. Leir.

“Jo?” says Ysabel.

“Go back to sleep,” says Jo, smoking a cigarette in the dark. The épée lies on the glass-topped café table before her, between the ashtray and the vase full of tea roses unearthly pale in the streetlight.

“Did you pass?” says Ysabel, rolling over, up on one elbow.

“I have no idea,” says Jo. “I got a sword. I rode somebody’s bike down the west hills from the zoo in the dark. Roland wiped out on this corner up by the rose gardens, I helped him get up. Fucked up his knee, you know?” She takes a drag. “What’s the deal with Marfisa?”

“Did she say something?”

“She nearly,” says Jo, and then she says, “Never mind. Forget it.”

“There’s no deal,” says Ysabel, rubbing her eye with the heel of one hand. “She’s a knight. Like Roland. The Axe. What were you doing tonight?”

“Zoobombing,” says Jo, and then she shakes her head. “I have no fucking idea.” She stubs out the cigarette.

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