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They march – the Conquering Hero

They march past clots of cars and trucks haphazardly parked under the buzzing lights, many of them heading on foot up the curve of the ramp and out to the surface and the night above. The boy with the big-bellied guitar slung across his back is helping a red-headed man load a large white drum into the back of a van adorned with a candy-colored pin-up girl, holding a massive snake above her body with both hands. The side door’s open. Marfisa in a soft blue robe sits slumped, a cloth to her face, her greaves stacked on the pavement by her bare feet, her hair the color of clotted cream hanging like a curtain before her face. Agravante kneels before her, reaching up to brush the hair out of her eyes. “He’s loose,” she says, her voice slurred. One side of her face is puffy, mottled red and white and yellow, the eye swollen shut. “He’s out there, somewhere.”

“The Duke’s problem,” says Agravante, gently. “Not ours.”

Across the garage, halfway up the ramp, Pyrocles pauses to look back at them. His blue jacket draped across his shoulders, his bare chest wrapped in a white bandage. His expression masked by those long grey mustaches. Becker, unlocking the door of a little red hatchback, looks up to see Pyrocles trudging away up the ramp. “I don’t,” he says, looking about the parking garage, at the people marching past, a pickup truck with wood-framed plastic wings stashed in the back, a sedan topped by a monkey-faced stone idol strewn with ivy, spitting water on the windshield. “I don’t want to forget this,” says Becker, but Guthrie over on the other side of the car is looking down at his thin hands wrapped around each other. “Do you,” he says, “need a ride? Anywhere?”

“Anywhere,” says the woman swaddled in those skirts and sweaters. “Anywhere that isn’t.” She’s pointing at a black car parked a couple of spaces over from them, a powerful black thing standing empty. Meticulous lines of hand-painted white letters whorl up and over the sides and hood and roof.

“Give me a minute,” says Becker, closing his door, heading back across the garage.

“Ow!” says Frankie, a hand to his cheek, down by a concrete pillar.

“You with us now?” says Gaveston. “You need another one?”

“No, no,” says Frankie. “No, I’m good. I’m hey! Watch it!” Gaveston’s bent over, tugging at the pot lid strapped to Frankie’s chest. He glowers up at the boy in the tight brown suit. “What on earth did you use, Sweetloaf?”

“Fuckin’ duct tape,” says Sweetloaf, opening a butterfly knife with a practiced whipcrack flourish.

“The conquering hero approaches,” says Orlando.

Jo’s walking quickly over to them, holding her sword in its sheath in one hand at her side. “Miss Maguire,” says Gaveston, straightening up. “A delight to see you again. Congratulations on your – ”

“You hurt?” she says to Frankie, brushing past Gaveston.

“Hey, Jo,” he mumbles.

“Are you hurt?” she says. “Did that thing touch you?”

“No,” says Frankie, “I’m – ” Jo shoves him back, and back again, into the pillar. “The fuck?” she’s yelling. “What the fucking hell were you thinking?”

“I missed you,” says Frankie.

“Well stop!” says Jo. “Jesus. Just stay the fuck away from me.” He’s about to say something and she shoves him once more. “It’s for your own good, you goddamn idiot.”

“Gallowglas,” calls the Duke, walking over to them in his cream-colored suit, his immaculate yellow tie.

“Not now,” says Jo.

“Forgive me, Miss Maguire, but I meant Frankie, here. Frankie Gallowglas.” Smiling, the Duke holds out a stuffed brown leather wallet. “Five hundred bucks, sir,” he says, handing it to Frankie. “As agreed.”

“But I thought you said,” says Frankie, as Gaveston, sidelong eyeing the Duke, says, “Come, Mr. Reichart. Don’t be chary. You’ve served us well.”

Frankie takes the wallet and stuffs it in his pocket, the stovepipes about his shins clanking. “Son of a bitch,” says Jo.

“And now, Miss Maguire,” says the Duke, “for you. Your bravery saved more than Frankie here from the, ah, consequences of my folly.” He puts a hand on her shoulder and she does not shrug it off. “I would grant you a boon, Miss Maguire. Name your heart’s desire. If I can grant it or do it or steal it, it’s yours.”

“Leave my friends alone,” she says.

“What,” says the Duke, “all of them? You’ll have to give me a list.” He steps back. “Very well. It’s done. Nevermore bothered by me or mine! Come, gentlemen.” He turns to go.

“What about the boar?” says Jo, and the Duke stops.

“Erymathos,” he says, “has been taking care of himself for longer than you can remember. The boar,” he says, turning to look back at her, “will be fine.”

Gaveston hurries after the Duke, followed by Sweetloaf.

“I’ll be curious to see what happens next,” says Orlando. “She took a liking to you in there, but you’ve caught her attention.” He smiles. “That’s never wise.” He saunters off after the others.

“Jo,” says Frankie. “Can I – ”

“Shut up,” says Jo, and she walks away. A dark blue car floats between them, the pavement beneath glowing an unearthly blue-white, the hubcaps spinning pinwheels of colored lights. Frankie sits in a clatter of makeshift armor and starts wrestling with the pot lid taped to his chest.

Becker catches up with Jo in the middle of the parking garage. “Hey,” he says. “You need a ride, or something?”

“No,” says Jo, pointing down to the other end of the garage, a long white limousine there, a white SUV by it with gold trim. “The Queen’s giving us a lift. Thanks, though. Maybe Frankie? If you’re feeling generous.”

“Look,” is what Becker says then, “I’m going to forget all of this.”

“I, uh,” says Jo.

“And what I wanted to say is if I’ve been an asshole, I mean, I have been an asshole, to you and her, and I’m sorry, okay?” A sudden blare of a car horn. A grimy white bus is bulling its way down the ramp through the last of the crowd on its way up and out. There’s a man in green coveralls leaning out the front door, yelling and shaking a mop. “It’s all so goddamn,” says Becker.

“Yeah,” says Jo.

“Hey, tomorrow,” says Becker. “Don’t worry about coming in, okay? I’ll square it with Tartt.”

Jo laughs. “Jesus. I hadn’t even. Thanks, Becker, but I really need the money.” She slings her sheathed sword over her shoulder, holding the ties in one hand. “Hell, I’ll bring her along, too. After tonight, she owes me. Big time.”

Becker snorts. “So, what is she, a Princess? What’s that about?”

“You’re going to forget all this tomorrow,” says Jo. “Remember?”

Becker smiles, a little. “Guthrie won’t let me.”

“It’s for the best,” says Jo. “I mean, I appreciate it, really. Thank you. And Guthrie. But forget it. Okay? You don’t want to get mixed up in this. Believe me. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” says Becker. “Tomorrow.” He watches her walk away, down toward the white SUV. Ysabel’s waiting by it in her long ivory gown, Jo’s army jacket draped over her shoulders.

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