“Puertas a mi izquierda,” says the recording. “Lloyd Center, Northeast Eleventh Avenue. Doors to my left.” Jo starts awake, nearly dropping the long bundle wrapped in red. Ysabel’s shaking her shoulder. “Our stop,” she says. Her reflection hangs in the dark window like a ghost, the green of her new dress shining over a dimly lit office lobby across the street.
Outside, Jo in her army jacket and her new grey dress, red bundle under one arm, walks to the end of the platform, looking out over the parking lot. It’s almost empty, drowned in a dulling haze of streetlight. Past it a long barn of a movie theater lit up with neon. Across the street another empty lot spreads before the anonymous prow of a shopping mall. A bell rings. With a rising, grinding hum the train pulls away, clank-chunking over a rail junction. “Where is everybody?” says Jo.
“Inside,” says Ysabel.
“Inside.” Jo points across the street. “In the mall.” She shakes her head. “Of course they’re in the mall.”
“Give me your sword,” says Ysabel.
“It’s really fucking late,” says Jo, holding out the bundle.
“The witching hour,” says Ysabel. She’s unwinding the long red scarf from the short épée in its black sheath. “Hold still.” She stoops on one knee there before Jo, shaking the belt loose. Reaches up, wrapping it around Jo’s hips. “Hold still,” she says, buckling it. “We should have gotten you some shoes.”
Jo peers down at her mismatched Chuck Taylors, the white one held together with duct tape. “They’re comfortable.”
“They’re appalling,” says Ysabel, working the sheath’s ties under the belt. “A nice pair of Nikes, maybe, cream and yellow – ”
“Yeah,” snaps Jo, “and I woulda had to,” and then she looks away, across the street, toward the mall. Behind her the theater marquee suddenly goes dark. “You look good,” she says. “In that dress.”
“Thank you,” says Ysabel, sitting back on her heels.
Jo looks down, at Ysabel’s bare shoulders, the green skirt falling away from one knee. “You chilly at all?”
“If I were,” says Ysabel, reaching up, “would you give me your jacket?”
“That part of the job description?” says Jo, taking her hand.
Ysabel shrugs, and pulls herself to her feet.
The restroom’s dark. Becker crouches over a toilet, feet on either side of the seat, hands braced on either side of the stall. “This is nuts,” he says.
“What?” says Guthrie, one stall over.
“This is nuts.”
“They’ll hear you.”
“Nobody’s gonna hear us.” Becker lifts a foot, stretches his leg out and down. Puts his weight on it. Steps off the toilet, shaking out his other leg. “Oh,” he says. “Whoa, yeah.”
“What are you doing? We have to wait till it’s all clear – ”
“You know what they’re gonna do when they get here, Guthrie? The people you think will hear us?”
“Becker, they’ll see your feet!”
“They’re gonna clean the toilets, is what.” Becker stretches his arms up, arches his back. “They aren’t gonna come in and crouch down and look under the damn doors to see if anyone’s hiding in here and say it’s all clear. They’re gonna straight off clean the toilets. With a mop and a sponge and a bucket.” He works his head from side to side. “We’ll be hard to miss.” He unlatches the stall door. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into coming here.”
“Would you just,” says Guthrie, and then the lights come on, cold and bright. Orlando in a long grey skirt steps into the restroom head up, one hand lifting, a warning.
“Trouble, friend Mooncalfe?” says Gaveston, in a rumpled, rust-colored suit, one hand on Frankie’s shoulder. “God damn,” Frankie’s saying, taking in the glossy white tile, the long stainless steel mirror over the sinks. “Hell of a bathroom.”
“Keep him quiet,” snaps Orlando, kneeling.
“Hey,” says Gaveston. Orlando, black braid brushing the floor, peers under the stalls. “I mean,” Frankie’s saying, “the mirrors! They’re so.” Eyes squeezed shut Becker’s hunkering feet on either side of the toilet seat hands braced against the stall. “Damn shiny,” says Frankie.
“Hey,” says Gaveston again, laying two fingers against Frankie’s lips. “Orlando. Nobody’s here.”
Standing and turning in one smooth movement Orlando draws his sword like a curl of light in the air between them. “I can smell him,” he says.
Becker opens his eyes.
“Fine,” says Gaveston. “They missed a janitor, he’s cowering in the stalls, fearful of your majesty. Who cares? You have an appointment to keep.”
Snarling Orlando swings the sword to one side up and back. “Do not think to mock me,” he says, quietly.
“There’s no one here,” says Gaveston, and then he flinches as a toilet flushes. Orlando spins. Becker’s opening his stall door and stepping out to see Orlando in a crouch, his sword up over his head. Becker stops mid-step, face blanching.
“What are you doing here?” says Orlando.
“Uh,” says Becker. “What are you doing here?”
Orlando rears back, sword lowering, eyebrow climbing. “Waiting,” says Gaveston, quickly, smoothly.
Becker blinks, then shrugs. “Oh,” he says. “Well. We’re done.” He knocks on the door to Guthrie’s stall. “Hey. We done?”
There’s a thump.
“You, ah, you might want to flush,” says Becker. He looks from Gaveston, one hand on Frankie’s shoulder, to Frankie, staring at himself in the watery steel mirror. To Orlando in his grey skirt, sword-tip twitching just above the glossy tile. “So,” says Becker, and he swallows. “All yours.” Guthrie’s door is slowly opening.
Pop and twang from the little brown speaker by the boy’s tapping foot. “The oaten pipes blow wondrous shrill,” he croons, and someone laughs, “the hemlock small blow clear, and louder notes from hemlock large and bog-reed strike the ear.” He’s curled around his big-bellied guitar, leaning against a store-front grate under a darkened sign that says Meier & Frank. “For solemn sounds, and sober thoughts, we revellers can’t bear!” Cheers and applause as he starts a thunderous strumming. Men and woman crowd the footbridge before him, the railings that line the broad open atrium, dark glossy suits in browns and blacks, there a burgundy over a velvet vest, gowns in reds and golds that sway like bells, old ivory, slim black skirts, a shimmer like metalled water. The mall about them is dim, grates lowered over store fronts, signs all gone dark. Lanterns bob on poles above the crowd, keeping time. The ice rink on the floor below glimmers uncertainly. Candles in paper bags light the steps of stalled escalators up to the third floor balconies, where banners have been hung: a blue hound standing primly on a rose-colored ground, a red hawk glaring, its wings slashing across brown, and between them a great bee picked out in black and yellow on a creamy field.
Jo’s leaning over the bee, elbows on the railing, watching the crowd below. An old man in a porkpie hat shuffles up by the boy with the guitar and bends over carefully, finding a microphone there on the floor. Blows into it. More cheers as the boy’s strumming tumbles to a chug-a-lug beat and the old man starts to croak, oh, some ride a black one some ride a brown one mine’s as red as the blood in your veins. Laughter and applause.
“You should be armed, miss. And armored.”
Jo turns, jerking as the sword at her hip bangs the bars of the railing. A big guy’s standing there, blue jeans and a tight white T-shirt, a smile somewhere under his long grey mustaches. Next to him a green and purple table laden with worn brown leather, plate the color of old keys, shapeless puddles of slippery mail. “I’m Pyrocles, miss,” he says. Spears lean against the table, and there by his feet a pile of shields like round-bottomed sleds, like big kites. “I’ll hunt with you this night, under the Count’s banner.”
“Jo Maguire,” she says. I’m a babe in arms and a snake in the grass, comes the old man’s growl from below. I’m a star in the sky up over your head.
“The Gallowglas,” says Pyrocles.
She looks away. “I guess,” she says. “I’m here for the Princess.” The wrist of her left hand leaning against the grubby red tape wrapping the hilt of her épée, pushing it out a little, back. Tucking the scabbard against her legs. “We are all here for the Princess,” Pyrocles is saying.
“I didn’t mean you weren’t,” says Jo, and it’s the heel of her hand on the hilt now. “It’s only she’s not here. She’s off, with her mother or something. Getting her hair done. Besides, I already have a sword.”
“You’ll want a spear.” Pyrocles hefts one, shifting it in both hands, eyeing its rule. “A strong straight haft of oak or ash. A shield would only get in your way, but you’ll want a cuirass. Perhaps some greaves.” He’s shaking his head. “Find one with a good boar-stop, miss.”
Jo lets go of the spear she’d picked up. “Boar-stop?” she says.
The Duke lurching hikes a knee up on a green and purple table and pulls himself after it. “Give,” he says, swaying upright in his cream-colored suit, his yellow tie, “give praise, my brethren,” lifting his glass in the air, “for what you are about to receive – Old John Barleycorn, nicotine, and the temptations of the rock ’n’ roll chord E.” His Grace drains the glass as someone across the food court whoops, a man in a powder-blue tux, leaning on the counter of a darkened Chick-fil-A. Down by the Sbarro a fiddle scrapes to life, a red-headed guy jigging with it by a woman smiling as she lifts her voice, window shopping, finger popping, hanging in our favorite shopping mall. “You’ll fall, Your Grace,” says the woman in the short black dress, peering up at him through narrow black-rimmed glasses.
“You say that,” says the Duke, squatting, bracing himself with his free hand, “like it’s a bad thing.” He hops off the table. “At least I’m not squirreling myself away in the bathroom.”
“It’s your party,” she says, reaching into her slim black purse.
“In her honor,” says the Duke. He lifts his glass, frowns. She’s holding out a plastic baggie with a palmful of gold dust inside. “Here,” she says, when he doesn’t take it.”
“Garçon!” roars the Duke. She flinches. “Garçon! There he is.” Gaveston in his rumpled, rust-colored suit, making his way toward them through the crowd. “More John Barleycorn!” calls the Duke, waving his glass. He giggles.
“Your Grace,” says Gaveston. He nods to the woman in the black-rimmed glasses and reaches for the plastic baggie in her hand. The Duke has turned to set his empty glass on the green and purple table. “Come,” he says, and he throws an arm over Gaveston’s shoulder. “Walk about with me.” Gaveston’s tucking the baggie in his jacket pocket. “He’s ready?” says the Duke, leaning close, speaking softly.
“Your Grace, her friends are here. One of the men we interviewed. And another.”
His Grace is shaking his head. “Is he ready?”
Gaveston nods. “Sweetloaf’s dressing him.”
“It’s five hundred dollars, you call me.” The Duke’s smiling. “You decide to snatch the sonofabitch, broad daylight, suddenly you don’t want to bother me? You just, fft?”
“Your Grace?” says Gaveston. “I’m sorry, I – ”
“Don’t apologize,” says the Duke, jerking Gaveston to a halt. “We needed him, we got him. I’m ecstatic. I wasn’t, believe me, you’d know. You play these games.” The Duke leans even closer, pressing a hand to Gaveston’s chest. “It’s counterproductive. The call’s made? Orlando’s in place?”
“They’re still here,” says Gaveston, looking down at the Duke’s hand. “Her friends. Somewhere in the crowd.”
“The call,” says the Duke. “It was made?”
Gaveston looks up. “I got the machine,” he says. “I left a message.”
“You always get the machine,” says His Grace. “We’re set!” He claps Gaveston on the back. Gaveston winces. The Duke heads up a couple of steps onto the broad balcony littered with green and purple tables. “Your Grace?” says Gaveston, not moving. “Sir?”
The Duke stops, turns, spreads his hands. “I’m going to take her measure,” he says, heading back down the steps. “This girl who got Tommy Rawhead killed.”
“Her friends, Your Grace,” says Gaveston.
The Duke smiles. “Two of them? You interviewed one, and there’s this other guy?” Gaveston’s nodding. The Duke leans in. “I think we outnumber them, Stirrup.”
He’s back up the steps. Gaveston sighs, and follows.
“It fits,” says Pyrocles, tightening a belt at Jo’s hip.
“I look like an idiot,” says Jo.
“A mail shirt would be too dangerous,” says Pyrocles. He steps back, tugs one of her shoulder straps. “A blow from a tusk or hoof would shatter links and drive them into your flesh. A mortification for you, miss, if I’m not mistaken.”
“It’s just so,” says Jo, turning. Her breastplate, painted with milky enamel, edged with gold, shaped to suggest round hips, sleek muscles, well-formed breasts, wide nipples ringed with gold filigree. A navel hammered into the pale stiff belly rayed with gold leaf. “Anatomical.”
“You’ll be glad of it when the hunt begins,” says Pyrocles.
“I like your hair,” says the Duke.
His Grace stands behind Pyrocles, one hand on the knot of his yellow tie. His smirk uncoiling into a smile as he looks her in the eye.
“Thanks,” says Jo flatly, after a moment. “I’m thinking of shaving my head.”
“Won’t you get cold?” says the Duke.
She shrugs. “I’ll wear a hat.” Pyrocles tugs at her backplate, checking the fit. She shrugs again.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Jo Gallowglas, who has caused me so much trouble. You’ll remember the Stirrup,” jerking a thumb over his shoulder at Gaveston behind him. Jo’s eyes widen and she opens her mouth to say something. “I’m Southeast,” says His Grace, “the Duke – ”
“Excuse me,” Jo’s saying, pushing past him, past Gaveston who reaches after her. “Ap,” says the Duke, and Gaveston checks. “Your Grace,” he says. “Orlando – ”
“A moment, Stirrup,” says the Duke.
Jo leaps down the couple of steps from the balcony and past a man in a blue sailor suit dodging a woman in a burgundy skirt turning her sword bouncing off Orlando’s shins as she grabs the arm of a woman in a short black dress. “What are you,” says Jo, and then, “I’m sorry,” and then, “Why do you have that?”
The woman looks at Jo through narrow black-rimmed glasses. There’s a dress draped over her arm, a green dress, a green as rich and deep as old glass bottles. “Miss Maguire,” she starts to say, but Jo’s let go, pushing through the crowd. “Hey!” says someone, and “Watch it!” says someone else. Orlando cranes his head to watch her go, his hand on the hilt of his Japanese sword.
“Mooncalfe!” calls the Duke. Orlando whips around. The Duke nods once, slowly, lifting a finger to tap alongside his nose. Orlando glares.
There’s a hallway off the food court, there beside the Sbarro, lit by more candles in paper bags and the fluorescent light from a couple of doorways at the end, one lined in dull blue tile, the other in dusty pink. Roland stands by the pink doorway, a spear against his shoulder. He shakes his head, the pale fuzz of his hair struck by the harsh light. “They’re not to be disturbed,” he says, quietly.
“I need to see her,” says Jo. “Dammit, Roland – ”
“Oh, let her in,” sighs someone inside.
An old woman with long, glossy white hair and a mouthful of pins kneels on the tile floor by Ysabel’s feet. Ysabel’s standing on something, a low stool, there between the toilet stalls and the row of sinks, looking at herself in the long dim mirror. Her gown is the color of worn ivory, high-waisted, a full skirt waterfalling past the stool to the floor, covered all about with a fantastic garden of beadwork, outlines of great flowers flashing like fireworks. Her black hair piled in artful disarray upon her head. A woman wearing a pince-nez stretching up to tuck in a gold chopstick.
“Jo,” says Ysabel, “I didn’t – ”
“Yes, Jo,” says the Queen. “Thank you for all your efforts on our behalf.” She sits in a long black dress on a yellow folding canvas chair in the corner. “But the situation is, as I’m sure you’ll credit, both subtle and dangerous. Roland will hunt for us tonight.” She stands as Jo opens her mouth to say something. “We wished the secret to be closely kept as long as possible, or we’d have told you sooner. You may stand with us, of course, and be honored as my daughter’s guardian. Or,” as Jo’s turning, throwing up her hands, “Swear to fucking God,” she’s muttering, stalking out of the bathroom, “or,” says the Queen, “you may storm off somewhere and sulk.”
Jo’s gone. Ysabel turns back to her reflection in the mirror.
“Your choice is out of my hands,” says the Queen.
“Tam Lin,” traditional, within the public domain. “Cigareets, Whuskey, and Wild, Wild Women” performed by Red Ingle and the Natural Seven, writer and copyright holder unknown. “Hanging Upside Down” written by David Byrne and Angel Fernandez, ©1991 Index Music, Inc.