Головна Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy

Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy

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In this thrilling collection of original stories some of today's hottest paranormal authors delight, thrill and captivate readers with otherworldly tales of magic and mischief. In Jim Butcher's ' Curses' Harry Dresden investigates how to lift a curse laid by the Fair Folk on the Chicago Cubs. In Patricia Briggs' 'Fairy Gifts,' a vampire is called home by magic to save the Fae who freed him from a dark curse. In Melissa Marr's 'Guns for the Dead,' the newly dead Frankie Lee seeks a job in the afterlife on the wrong side of the law. In Holly Black's 'Noble Rot,' a dying rock star discovers that the young woman who brings him food every day has some strange appetites of her own.

Featuring original stories from 20 authors, this dark, captivating, fabulous and fantastical collection is sure to have readers coming back for more.





* * *



Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy

Introduction

Curses

How the Pooka Came to New York City

On the Slide

The Duke of Riverside

Oblivion by Calvin Klein

Fairy Gifts

Picking Up the Pieces

Underbridge

Priced to Sell

The Bricks of Gelecek

Weston Walks

The Projected Girl

The Way Station

Guns for the Dead

And Go Like This

Noble Rot

Daddy Long Legs of the Evening

The Skinny Girl

The Colliers’ Venus (1893)

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3

4

5

6

7





King Pole, Gallows Pole, Bottle Tree

About Ellen Datlow





* * *





Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy

An anthology of stories edited by Ellen Datlow





For my parents, Doris and Nathan Datlow, whom I love dearly and who infected me with their love for reading.





Introduction




The term urban fantasy was originally applied to fantasy written in reaction to the works most popular up to the early 1980s—high-fantasy, imaginary worlds with medieval trappings. Instead, some writers began to inject magic into contemporary times and into urban areas, both real and invented. Mark Helprin set his charming novel Winter’s Tale in New York City, and John Crowley set his classic Little, Big at least partially in a recogniz; able New York. Many of Charles de Lint’s Newford stories and novels take place in a thinly disguised Toronto, while Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks is indelibly linked to Minneapolis. Terri Windling was influential in the subgenre’s “founding” by creating Borderland, a shared-universe original anthology series (the first two edited with Mark Arnold), set in an imaginary city in which humans and magical creatures could meet and interact.

Urban fantasy as we have come to know it today combines the often-dark edge of city living with enticing worlds of magic. Its subgenres include noir crime and paranormal romance. But the urban landscape is what’s crucial.

As one who lives in and loves New York City and enjoys traveling to other cities around the world, to me, urban centers seem to seethe with an energy, cultural diversity, and creativity that is more difficult to find in suburban or rural areas. You can lose yourself in a big city or you can find yourself.

In soliciting stories for this anthology I asked writers to consider all types of locations (as long as the story takes place in a city—existing or made up). I wanted the city to be as important as anything else in the story—in other words, where the story takes place should matter, in some way, to the story. Perhaps the most fun of editing an anthology such as this is the sheer variety of types of stories that can fit under the rubric “urban fantasy.” Some of the authors chose existing cities that are well known and easy to identify. There are several New York stories—each very different. Other stories take place in London; Berlin; New Orleans; Haifa, Israel; Chicago; Seattle; Mexico City; Las Vegas; Asbury Park, New Jersey; and Cherry Creek, Colorado. Others created imaginary cities.

Urban centers are packed with people, and this component of cities can be both a boon for gregarious types or a curse for those who are shy and reserved. It can also be utterly intimidating to newcomers, such as the pair of odd-couple immigrants in Delia Sherman’s historical fantasy, or it can be an opportunity for those with bad intent, such as the protagonists in Jeffrey Ford’s and Matthew Kressel’s stories. A weird joyousness pervades John Crowley’s story, which takes some off-the-cuff remarks by inventor, futurist, and visionary Buckminster Fuller quite literally, creating an unexpected fantasia.

Some of the greatest loneliness can be experienced when surrounded by people—such is the case for the eponymous character in Kit Reed’s “Weston Walks,” a recluse who ventures out only periodically; Nathan Ballingrud’s displaced person, a haunted refugee from the natural disaster that took his home; and Peter S. Beagle’s bitter academic hoping for a last chance of stability. Naomi Novik has written the quintessential New York story.

The Naked City was the title of a 1948 semidocumentary crime movie, inspired by the book by famous urban documentarian/crime photographer Weegee. In turn, the lauded television series Naked City ran in half-hour episodes 1958 to 1959, was canceled, and then was reincarnated in 1960 as an hour-long show, lasting until 1963. (An uncle of mine played a minor role in one episode, but I was too young to stay up and watch it.) The catchphrase was “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” The city was New York, and eight million was an approximation of the population at the time. So aside from being catchy, the title reflects the diversity of what lies between these two covers.

—Ellen Datlow





Curses

A DRESDEN FILES SHORT STORY

BY JIM BUTCHER




Jim Butcher is the bestselling author most known for his urban fantasy series The Dresden Files. He also writes the Codex Alera series. Butcher lives in Missouri with his wife, son, and a ferocious guard dog.





* * *


Most of my cases are pretty tame. Someone loses a piece of jewelry with a lot of sentimental value, or someone comes to me because they’ve just moved into a new house and it’s a little more haunted than the seller’s disclosure indicated. Nothing Chicago’s only professional wizard can’t handle—but the cases don’t usually rake in much money, either.

So when a man in a two-thousand-dollar suit opened my office door and came inside, he had my complete attention.

I mean, I didn’t take my feet down off my desk or anything. But I paid attention.

He looked my office up and down and frowned, as though he didn’t much approve of what he saw. Then he looked at me and said, “Excuse me, is this the office of—”

“Dolce,” I said.

He blinked. “Excuse me.”

“Your suit,” I said. “Dolce and Gabbana. Silk. Very nice. You might want to consider an overcoat, though, now that it’s cooling off. Paper says we’re in for some rain.”

He studied me intently for a moment. He was a man in his late prime. His hair was dyed too dark, and the suit looked like it probably hid a few pounds. “You must be Harry Dresden.”

I inclined my head toward him. “Agent or attorney?”

“A little of both,” he said, looking around my office again. “I represent a professional entertainment corporation, which wishes to remain anonymous for the time being. My name is Donovan. My sources tell me that you’re the man who might be able to help us.”

My office isn’t anything to write home about. It’s on a corner, with windows on two walls, but it’s furnished for function, not style—scuffed-up wooden desks, a couple of comfortable chairs, some old metal filing cabinets, a used wooden table, and a coffeepot that is old enough to have belonged to Neanderthals. I figured Donovan was worried that he’d exposed his suit to unsavory elements, and resisted an irrational impulse to spill my half cup of cooling coffee on it.

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“What you need and whether you can afford me.”

Donovan fixed me with a stern look. I bore up under it as best I could. “Do you intend to gouge me for a fee, Mr. Dresden?”

“For every penny I reasonably can,” I told him.

He blinked at me. “You … you’re quite up front about it, aren’t you?”

“Saves time,” I said.

“What makes you think I would tolerate such a thing?”

“People don’t come to me until they’re pretty desperate, Mr. Donovan,” I said, “especially rich people and hardly ever corporations. Besides, you come in here all intriguey and coy, not wanting to reveal who your employer is. That means that in addition to whatever else you want from me, you want my discretion, too.”

“So your increased fee is a polite form of blackmail?”

“Cost of doing business. If you want this done on the down low, you make my job more difficult. You should expect to pay a little more than a conventional customer when you’re asking for more than they are.”

He narrowed his eyes at me. “How much are you going to cost me?”

I shrugged a shoulder. “Let’s find out. What do you want me to do?”

He stood up and turned to walk to the door. He stopped before he reached it, read the words HARRY DRESDEN, WIZARD backward in the frosted glass, and eyed me over his shoulder. “I assume that you have heard of any number of curses in local folklore.”

“Sure,” I said.

“I suppose you’ll expect me to believe in their existence.”

I shrugged. “They’ll exist or not exist regardless of what you believe, Mr. Donovan.” I paused. “Well. Apart from the ones that don’t exist except in someone’s mind. They’re only real because somebody believes. But that edges from the paranormal over toward psychology. I’m not licensed for that.”

He grimaced and nodded. “In that case…”

I felt a little slow off the mark as I realized what we were talking about. “A cursed local entertainment corporation,” I said. “Like maybe a sports team.”

He kept a poker face on, and it was a pretty good one.

“You’re talking about the Billy Goat Curse,” I said.

Donovan arched an eyebrow and then gave me an almost imperceptible nod as he turned around to face me again. “What do you know about it?”

I blew out my breath and ran my fingers back through my hair. “Uh, back in 1945 or so, a tavern owner named Sianis was asked to leave a World Series game at Wrigley. Seems his pet goat was getting rained on and it smelled bad. Some of the fans were complaining. Outraged at their lack of social élan, Sianis pronounced a curse on the stadium, stating that never again would a World Series game be played there. Well, actually he said something like, ‘Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,’ but the World Series thing is the general interpretation.”

“And?” Donovan asked.

“And I think if I’d gotten kicked out of a Series game I’d been looking forward to, I might do the same thing.”

“You have a goat?”

“I have a moose,” I said.

He blinked at that for a second, didn’t understand it, and decided to ignore it. “If you know that, then you know that many people believe that the curse has held.”

“Where the Series is concerned, the Cubbies have been filled with fail and dipped in suck sauce since 1945,” I acknowledged. “No matter how hard they try, just when things are looking up, something seems to go bad at the worst possible time.” I paused to consider. “I can relate.”

“You’re a fan, then?”

“More of a kindred spirit.”

He looked around my office again and gave me a small smile. “But you follow the team.”

“I go to games when I can.”

“That being the case,” Donovan said, “you know that the team has been playing well this year.”

“And the Cubs want to hire yours truly to prevent the curse from screwing things up.”

Donovan shook his head. “I never said that the Cubs organization was involved.”

“Hell of a story, though, if they were.”

Donovan frowned severely.

“The Sun-Times would run it on the front page. CUBS HIRE PROFESSIONAL WIZARD TO BREAK CURSE, maybe. Rick Morrissey would have a ball with that story.”

“My clients,” Donovan said firmly, “have authorized me to commission your services on this matter, if it can be done quickly—and with the utmost discretion.”

I swung my feet down from my desk. “Mr. Donovan,” I said. “No one does discretion like me.”





* * *


Two hours after I had begun my calculations, I dropped my pencil on the laboratory table and stretched my back. “Well. You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right,” said Bob the Skull. “I’m always right.”

I gave the dried, bleached human skull sitting on a shelf amidst a stack of paperback romance novels a gimlet-eye.

“For some values of right,” he amended hastily. The words were conciliatory, but the flickering flames in the skull’s eye sockets danced merrily.

My laboratory is in the subbasement under my basement apartment. It’s dark, cool, and dank, essentially a concrete box that I have to enter by means of a folding staircase. It isn’t a big room, but it’s packed with the furnishings of one. Lots of shelves groan under the weight of books, scrolls, papers, alchemical tools, and containers filled with all manner of magical whatnot.

There’s a silver summoning circle on the floor, and a tiny-scale model of the city of Chicago on a long table running down the middle of the room. The only shelf not crammed full is Bob’s, and even it gets a little crowded sometimes. Bob is my more-or-less-faithful, not-so-trusty assistant, a spirit of intellect that dwells within a specially enchanted skull. I might be a wizard, but Bob’s knowledge of magic makes me look like an engineering professor.

“Are you sure there’s nothing you missed?” I asked.

“Nothing’s certain, boss,” the skull said philosophically. “But you did the equations. You know the power requirements for a spell to continue running through all those sunrises.”

I grunted sourly. The cycles of time in the world degrade ongoing magic, and your average enchantment doesn’t last for more than a few days. For a curse to be up and running since 1945, it would have had to begin as a malevolent enchantment powerful enough to rip a hole through the crust of the planet. Given the lack of lava in the area, it would seem that whatever the Billy Goat Curse might be, I could be confident that it wasn’t a simple magical working.

“Nothing’s ever simple,” I complained.

“What did you expect, boss?” Bob said.

I growled. “So the single-spell theory is out.”

“Yep,” Bob said.

“Which means that either the curse is being powered by something that renews its energy—or else someone is refreshing the thing all the time.”

“What about this Sianis guy’s family?” Bob said. “Maybe they’re putting out a fresh whammy every few days or something.”

I shook my head. “I called records in Edinburgh. The wardens checked them out years ago when all of this first happened, and they aren’t practitioners. Besides, they’re Cub-friendly.”

“The wardens investigated the Greek guy but not the curse?” Bob asked curiously.

“In 1945 the White Council had enough to do trying to mitigate the bad mojo from all those artifacts the Nazis stockpiled,” I said. “Once they established that no one’s life was in danger, they didn’t really care if a bunch of guys playing a game got cursed to lose it.”

“So what’s your next move?”

I tapped my chin thoughtfully with one finger. “Let’s go look at the stadium.”





* * *


I put Bob in the mesh sack I sometimes tote him around in and, at his petulant insistence, hung it from the rearview mirror of my car, a battered old Volkswagen Beetle. He hung there, swinging back and forth and occasionally spinning one way or the other when something caught his eye.

“Look at the legs on that one!” Bob said. “And whew, check her out! It must be chilly tonight!”

“There’s a reason we don’t get out more often, Bob,” I sighed. I should have known better than to drive through the club district on my way to Wrigley.

“I love the girls’ pants in this century,” Bob said. “I mean look at those jeans. One little tug and off they come.”

I wasn’t touching that one.

I parked the car a couple of blocks from the stadium, stuck Bob in a pocket of my black leather duster, and walked in. The Cubs were on the road, and Wrigley was closed. It was a good time to knock around inside. But since Donovan was evidently prepared to deny and disavow all knowledge, I wasn’t going to be able to simply knock on the door and wander in.

So I picked a couple of locks at a delivery entrance and went inside. I didn’t hit it at professional-burglar speed or anything—I knew a couple of guys who could open a lock with tools as fast as they could with a key—but I wasn’t in any danger of getting a ticket for loitering, either. Once I was inside, I headed straight for the concourses. If I mucked around in the stadium’s administrative areas, I would probably run afoul of a full-blown security system, and the only thing I could reliably do to that would be to shut it down completely—and most systems are smart enough to tip off their home security company when that happens.

Besides. What I was looking for wouldn’t be in any office.

I took Bob out of my pocket so that the flickering golden-orange lights of his eyes illuminated the area in front of me. “All right,” I murmured. I kept my voice down, on the off chance that a night watchman might be on duty and nearby. “I’m angry at the Cubbies and I’m pitching my curse at them. Where’s it going to stick?”

“There’s really no question about that, is there?” Bob asked me.

“Home plate,” we said together.

I started forward, walking silently. Being quiet when you sneak around isn’t difficult, as long as you aren’t in any rush. The serious professionals can all but sprint in perfect silence, but the main thing you need isn’t agility—it’s patience and calm. So I moved out slowly and calmly, and it must have worked, because nobody raised a hue or a cry.

The empty, unlit stadium was … just wrong. I was used to seeing Wrigley blazing with sunlight or its lights, filled with fans and music and the smell of overpriced, fattening, and inexplicably gratifying food. I was used to vendors shouting, the constant sea-surge of crowd noise, and the buzz of planes passing overhead, trailing banners behind them.

Now Wrigley Field was vast and dark and empty. There was something silently sad about it—acres of seats with no one sitting, a green and beautiful field that no one was playing on, a scoreboard that didn’t have anything on it to read or anyone to read it. If the gods and muses were to come down from Olympus and sculpt unfulfilled potential as a physical form, they wouldn’t get any closer than that hollow house did.

I walked down the concrete steps and circled the infield until I could make my way to the seats behind home plate. Once there, I held Bob up and said, “What have we got?”

The skull’s eyelights flared brighter for a second, and he snorted. “Oh, yeah. Definitely tied the curse together right there.”

“What’s keeping it going?” I asked. “Is there a ley line passing underneath or something?”

“That’s a negative, boss,” Bob said.

“How fresh is it?”

“Maybe a couple of days,” the skull replied. “Maybe more. It’s an awfully tight weave.”

“How so?”

“This spell resists deterioration better than most mortal magic. It’s efficient and solid—way niftier than you could manage.”

“Gee. Thanks.”

“I call ’em like I see ’em,” Bob said cheerfully. “So either a more experienced member of the White Council is sponsoring this curse, and refreshing it every so often, or else…”

I caught on. “Or else the curse was placed here by a nonmortal being.”

“Yeah,” Bob said. “But that could be almost anything.”

I shook my head. “Not necessarily. Remember that the curse was laid upon the stadium during a game in the 1945 World Series.”

“Ah, yes,” Bob said. “It would have been packed. Which means that whatever the being was, it could blend in. Either a really great veil or maybe a shapeshifter.”

“Why?” I asked.

“What?”

“Why?” I repeated. “Why would this theoretical being have put out the curse on the Cubs?”

“Plenty of beings from the Nevernever really don’t need a motivation.”

“Sure they do,” I said. “The logic behind what they do might be alien or twisted beyond belief, but it makes sense to them.” I waved my hand at the stadium. “This being not only laid a curse on a nexus of human emotional power, it kept coming back week after week, year after year.”

“I don’t see what you’re driving at, boss.”

“Whoever’s doing this is holding a grudge,” I said thoughtfully. “This is vengeance for a genuine insult. It’s personal.”

“Maybe,” Bob said. “But maybe the emotional state of the stadium supercharged Sianis’s curse. Or maybe after the stadium evicted Sianis, who didn’t have enough power to curse anybody anyhow, someone decided to make it stick.”

“Or maybe…” My voice trailed off, and then I barked out a short bite of laughter. “Oh. Oh, that’s funny.”

Bob spun in my hand to look up at me.

“It wasn’t Sianis who put the whammy on the Cubs,” I said, grinning. “It was the goat.”





* * *


The Llyn y Fan Fach Tavern and Inn was located down at the lakeside at the northern edge of the city. The place’s exterior screamed “PUB” as if it were trying to make itself heard over the roar of brawling football hooligans. It was all whitewashed walls and heavy timbers stained dark. The wooden sign hanging from a post above the door bore the tavern’s name, and a painted picture of a leek and a daffodil crossed like swords.

I sidled up to the tavern and went in. The inside matched the outside, continuing the dark-stained theme on its wooden floors, walls, and furnishings. It was just after midnight, which wasn’t really all that late, as bar scenes went, but the Llyn y Fan Fach Tavern was all but empty.

A big red-haired guy sitting in a chair by the door scowled at me. His biceps were thick enough to use steel-belted radials as armbands. He gave me the fisheye, which I ignored as I ambled on up to the bar.

I took a seat on a stool and nodded to the bartender. She was a pretty woman with jet-black hair and an obvious pride in her torso. Her white renaissance shirt had slipped entirely off both of her shapely shoulders and was only being held up by her dark leather bustier. She was busy wiping down the bar. The bustier was busy lifting and separating.

She glanced up at me and smiled. Her pale green eyes flicked over me, and the smile deepened. “Ah,” she said, her British accent thick and from somewhere closer to Cardiff than London. “You’re a tall one, aren’t you?”

“Only when I’m standing up.”

Her eyes twinkled with merry wickedness. “Such a crime. What are you drinking, love?”

“Do you have any cold beer?” I asked.

“None of that colonial piss here,” she replied.

“Snob,” I said, smiling. “Do you have any of McAnally’s dark? McAnally’s anything, really.”

Her eyebrows went up. “Whew. For a moment, there, I thought a heathen walked amongst us.” She gave me a full smile, her teeth very square and straight and white, and walked over to me before bending over and drawing a dark bottle from beneath the bar.

I appreciated her in a polite and politically correct fashion. “Is the show included in the price of the drink?”

She opened the bottle with an expert twist of her wrist and set it down in front of me with a clean mug. “I’m a generous soul, love,” she said, winking. “Why charge when I can engage in selfless charity?”

She poured the beer into the mug and set it on a napkin in front of me. She slid a bowl of bar nuts down my way. “Drinking alone?”

“That depends on whether or not you’ll let me buy one for you.”

She laughed. “A gentleman, is it? Sir, you must think me all manner of tart if you think I’d accept a drink from a stranger.”

“I’m Harry,” I said.

“And so we are strangers no longer,” she replied, and got out another bottle of ale. She took her time about it, and she watched me as she did it. She straightened, also slowly, and opened her bottle before putting it gently to her lips and taking a slow pull. Then she arched an eyebrow at me and said, “See anything else you like? Something tasty, perhaps?”

“I suppose I am kind of an aural guy at the moment,” I said. “Got a minute to talk to me, Jill?”

Her smile faded swiftly. “I’ve never seen you in here before. How is it you know my name?”

I reached into my shirt and tugged out my pentacle, letting it fall down against my T-shirt. Jill studied that for a few seconds, then took a second look at me. Her mouth opened in a silent “ah” of understanding. “The wizard. Dresden, isn’t it?”

“Harry,” I said.

She nodded and took another, warier sip of her beer.

“Relax,” I said. “I’m not here on Council business. But a friend of mine among the Fair Folk told me that you were the person to talk to about the Tylwyth Teg.”

She tilted her head to one side, and smiled slightly. “I’m not sure how I could help you, Harry. I’m just a storyteller.”

“But you know about the Tylwyth Teg.”

“I know stories of them,” she countered. “That’s not the same as knowing them. Not in the way that your folk care about.”

“I’m not doing politics between members of the Unseelie Accords right now,” I said.

“But you’re one of the magi,” she said. “Surely you know what I do.”

“I’m still pretty young, for a wise guy. And nobody can know everything,” I said. “My knowledge of the Fair Folk pretty much begins and ends with the Winter and Summer Courts. I know that the Tylwyth Teg are an independent kingdom of the Wyld. Stories might give me what I need.”

The sparkle returned to her eyes for a moment. “This is the first time a man I’ve flirted with told me that stories were what he needed.”

“I could gaze longingly at your décolletage while you talk, if you like.”

“Given how much trouble I go to in order to show it off, it would seem polite.”

I lowered my eyes demurely to her chest for a moment. “Well. If I must.”

She let out a full-bodied laugh, which made attractive things happen to her upper body. “What stories are you interested in, specifically?”

I grinned at her. “Tell me about the Tylwyth Teg and goats.”

Jill nodded thoughtfully and took another sip of beer. “Well,” she said. “Goats were a favored creature among them. The Tylwyth Teg, if treated with respect by a household of mortals, would often perform tasks for them. One of the most common tasks was the grooming of goats—cleaning out their fur and brushing their beards for Sunday morning.”

I took a notebook from my duster’s pocket and started making notes. “Uh-huh.”

“The Tylwyth Teg were shapeshifters,” Jill continued. “They’re a small folk, only a couple of feet tall, and though they could take what form they wished, they usually changed into fairly small animals—foxes, cats, dogs, owls, hares, and—”

“And goats?”

She lifted her eyebrows. “And goats, aye. Though the stories can become very odd at times. More than one Welsh farmer who managed to capture a bride of the Tylwyth Teg found himself waking up to a goat beside him in his bed, or took his wife’s hand only to feel the shape of a cloven hoof beneath his fingertips.”

“Weregoats,” I muttered. “Jesus.”

“They’re masters of deceit and trickery,” Jill continued. “And we mortals are well advised to show them the proper respect, if we intrude upon them at all.”

“What happens if we don’t?”

Jill shook her head. “That would depend upon the offense, and which of the Tylwyth Teg were offended. They were capable of almost anything if their pride was wounded.”

“The usual Fair Folk response?” I asked. “Bad fortune, children taken, that sort of thing?”

Jill shook her head. “Harry, love, the Queens of Winter and Summer do not kill mortals, and so frown upon their followers taking such action. But the high folk of the Tylwyth Teg have no such restrictions.”

“They’d kill?” I asked.

“They can, have, and will take life in acts of vengeance,” Jill said seriously. “They always respond in balance—but push them too far and they will.”

“Damn,” I said. “Those are some hard-core faeries.”

Jill sucked in a sharp breath and her eyes glittered brightly. “What did you say?”

I became suddenly aware of the massive redhead by the door rising to his feet.

I swigged a bit of beer and put the notebook back in my pocket. “I called them faeries,” I drawled.

The floorboards creaked under the weight of Big Red, walking toward me.

Jill stared at me with eyes that were hard and brittle like glass. “You of all, wizard, should know that word is an insult to … them.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “They get real upset when you call them that.” A shadow fell across me. I sipped more beer without turning around and said, “Did someone just put up a building?”

A hand the size of a Christmas ham fell onto my shoulder, and Big Red growled, “You want me to leave some marks?”

“Come on, Jill,” I said. “Don’t be sore. It’s not as though you’re trying all that hard to hide. You left plenty of clues for the game.”

Jill stared at me with unreadable eyes and said nothing.

I started ticking off points on my fingers. “Llyn y Fan Fach is a lake sacred to the Tylwyth Teg over in the Old World. You don’t get a lot more Welsh than that leek-and-daffodil emblem. And as for calling yourself ‘Jill,’ that’s a pretty thin mask to cover the presence of one of the Jili Ffrwtan.” I tilted my head back to indicate Big Red. “Changeling, right?”

Big Red’s fingers tightened enough to hurt. I started to get a little bit concerned.

Jill held up a hand and Big Red let go of me at once. I heard the floor creaking as he retreated. She stared at me for a moment more, then smiled faintly and said, “The mask is more than sufficient when no one is looking for the face behind it. What gave us away?”

I shrugged. “Someone has to be renewing the spell laid on Wrigley Field on a regular basis. It almost had to be someone local. Once I remembered that the Fair Folk of Wales had a rather singular affinity with goats, the rest was just a matter of legwork.”

She finished off the beer in a long pull, her eyes sparkling again. “And my own reaction to the insult was the cherry on top.”

I drained my mug and shrugged modestly. “I apologize for speaking so crudely, lady. It was the only way I could be sure.”

“Powerful, clever, and polite,” she murmured. She leaned forward onto the bar, and it got really hard not to notice her bosom. “You and I might get along.”

I winked at her and said, “You’re trying to distract me, and doing it well. But I’d like to speak to someone in authority over the enchantment laid on Wrigley.”

“And who says our folk are behind such a thing?”

“Your cleavage,” I replied. “Otherwise, why try to distract me?”

She let out another laugh, though this one was softer and more silvery, a tinkling and unearthly tone that made my ears feel like someone with fantastic lips was blowing gently into them. “Even if they are, what makes you think that we would alter that weaving now?”

I shrugged. “Perhaps you will. Perhaps you won’t. I only request, please, to speak to one with authority over the curse, to discuss what might be done about it.”

She studied me through narrowed eyes for another silent moment.

“I said please,” I pointed out to her. “And I did buy you that beer.”

“True,” she murmured, and then gave me a smile that made my skin feel like I was standing close to a bonfire. She tossed her white cloth to one side and said, toward Big Red, “Mind the store for a bit?”

He nodded at her and settled back down into his chair.

The Jili Ffrwtan came out from behind the bar, hips swaying in deliciously feminine motion. I rose and offered her my arm in my best old-fashioned courtly style. It made her smile, and she laid her hand on my forearm lightly, barely touching. “This,” she said, “should be interesting.”

I smiled at her again and asked, “Where are we going?”

“Why, to Annwn, my love,” the Jili Ffrwtan said, pronouncing it “ah-noon.” “We go to the land of the dead.”





* * *


I followed the Jili Ffrwtan into the back room of the pub and down a narrow flight of stone stairs. The basement was all concrete walls and had a packed-earth floor. One wall of the place was stacked with an assortment of hooch. We walked past it while I admired the Jili Ffrwtan’s shape and movement, and wondered if her hair felt as soft as it looked.

She gave me a sly look over one bare shoulder. “And tell me, young magus, what you know of my kind.”

“That they are the high ladies of the Tylwyth Teg. And that they are surpassingly lovely, charming, and gracious, if you are any example, lady.” And that they could be psycho bitches from hell if you damaged their pride.

She laughed again. “Base flattery,” she said, clearly pleased. “But at least you do it well. You’re quite articulate—for a mortal.”

As we got farther from the light spilling from the staircase, the shadows grew thick, until she made a negligent gesture with one hand, and soft blue light with no apparent source filled the room around us. “Ah, here we are.”

She stopped beside a ring of large brown mushrooms that grew up out of the floor. I extended my otherworldly senses toward the ring and could feel the quiver of energies moving through the air around the circle like a silent hum of high-tension electrical lines. The substance of mortal reality was thin here, easily torn. The ring of mushrooms was a doorway, a portal leading to the Nevernever, the spirit world.

I gave Jill a little bow and gestured with one hand. “After you, lady.”

She smiled at me. “Oh, we must cross together, lest you get lost on the way.” She slid her fingertips lightly down my forearm. Her warm fingers intertwined with mine, and the gesture felt almost obscenely intimate. My glands cut my brain out of every decision-making process they could, and it was an effort not to adjust my pants. The part of my head that was still on the job got real nervous right about then: There are way too many things in the universe that use sexual desire as a weapon, and I had to work not to jerk my hand away from the Jili Ffrwtan’s.

It would be an awful idea to damage her pride with that kind of display.

And besides, my glands told me, she looks great. And smells even better. And her skin feels amazing. And …

“Quiet, you,” I growled at my glands under my breath.

She arched an eyebrow at me.

I gave her a tight smile and said. “Not you. Talking with myself.”

“Ah,” she said. She flicked her eyes down to below my waist and back, smirking. Then she took a step forward, drawing me into the ring of mushrooms, and the basement blurred and went away, as if the shadow of an ancient mountain had fallen over us.

Then the shadow lifted, and we were elsewhere.

It’s at this point that my senses pretty much broke down.

The darkness lifted away to light and motion and music like nothing I had ever seen before—and I’ve been to the wildest spots in Chicago and to a couple of parties that weren’t even being held inside our reality.

We stood inside a ring of mushrooms and in a cave. But that doesn’t really cover it. Calling the hall of the Tylwyth Teg a cave is about the same as calling the Taj Mahal a grave. It’s technically accurate, but it doesn’t begin to cover it.

Walls soared up around me, walls in the shape of natural stone but somehow surfaced in the polished beauty of marble, veined with threads of silver and gold and even rarer metals, lit by the same sourceless radiance the Jili Ffrwtan had summoned back in Chicago. They rose above me on every side, and since I’d just been to Wrigley, I had a fresh perspective with which to compare them: If Wrigley was any bigger, it wasn’t by much.

The air was full of music. I only call it “music” because there aren’t any words adequate to describe it. By comparison to any music I’d ever heard played, it was the difference between a foot-powder jingle and a symphony by Mozart, throbbing with passion, merriment, pulsing between an ancient sadness and a fierce joy. Every beat made me feel like joining in—either to weep or to dance, or possibly both at the same time.

And the dancers … I remember men and women and silks and velvets and jewels and more gold and silver and a grace that made me feel huge and awkward and slow.

There aren’t any words.

The Jili Ffrwtan walked forward, taking me with her, and as she went she changed, each step leaving her smaller, her clothing changing as well, until she was attired as the revelers were, in a jeweled gown that left just as much of her just as attractively revealed as the previous outfit. It didn’t seem strange at the time that she should grow so much smaller. I just felt like I was freakishly huge, the outsider, the intruder, hopelessly oversized for that place. We moved forward, through the dancers, who spun and flitted out of our path. My escort kept on diminishing until I was walking half hunched over, her entire hand covering about half of one of my fingers.

She led me to the far end of the hall, pausing several times to call something in a complex, musical tongue aside to one of the other Fair Folk. We walked past a miniature table laid out with a not-at-all-miniature feast, and my stomach suddenly informed me that it had never once taken in an ounce of nutrition, and that it really was about time that I finally had something. I had actually taken a couple of steps toward the table before I forced myself to swerve away from it.

“Wise,” said the Jili Ffrwtan. “Unless, of course, you wish to stay.”

“It smells fine,” I replied, my voice hoarse. “But it’s no Burger King.”

She laughed again, putting the fingers of one hand to her still proportionately impressive bosom, and we passed out of the great hall and into a smaller cavern—this one only the size of a train station. There were guards there—guards armored in bejeweled mail, faces masked behind mail veils, guards who barely came up over my knee, but guards nonetheless, bearing swords and spears and bows. They stood at attention and watched me with cold, hard eyes as we passed them. My escort seemed delightedly smug about the entire affair.

I cleared my throat and asked, “Who are we going to see?”

“Why, love, the only one who has authority over the curse upon Wrigley Field,” she said. “His Majesty.”

I swallowed. “The king of your folk? Gwynn ap Nudd, isn’t it?”

“His Majesty will do,” rang out a voice in a high tenor, and I looked up to see one of the Fair Folk sitting on a throne raised up several feet above the floor of the chamber, so that my eyes were level with his. “Perhaps even, His Majesty, sir.”

Gwynn ap Nudd, ruler of the Tylwyth Teg, was tall—for his folk, anyway—broad shouldered, and ruggedly handsome. Though dressed in what looked like some kind of midnight-blue fabric that had the texture of velvet but the supple sweep of silk, he had large-knuckled hands that looked rough and strong. Both his long hair and beard were streaked with fine, symmetrical lines of silver, and jewels shone on his fingers and upon his brow.

I stopped at once and bowed deeply, making sure my head went lower than the faerie king’s, and I stayed there for a good long moment before rising again. “Your Majesty, sir,” I said, in my politest voice. “You are both courteous and generous to grant me an audience. It speaks well of the Tylwyth Teg as a people, that such a one should lead them.”

King Gwynn stared at me for a long moment before letting out a grunt that mixed disbelief with wry satisfaction. “At least they sent one with half a sense of manners this time.”

“I thought you’d like that, sire,” said the Jili Ffrwtan, smiling. “May I present Harry Dresden, magus, a commander of the Order of the Grey Cloak, sometime mortal Champion of Queen Mab and Esquire of the Court of Queen Titania. He begs to speak to you regarding the curse upon the Field of Wrigley in the mortal citadel of Chicago.”

“We know who he is,” Gwynn said testily. “And we know why he is here. Return to your post. We will see to it that he is safely returned.”

The Jili Ffrwtan curtsied deeply and revealingly. “Of course, sire.” Then she simply vanished into a sparkling cloud of lights.

“Guards,” King Gwynn called out. “You will leave us now.”

The guards looked unhappy about it, but they lined up and filed out, every movement in sync with the others. Gwynn waited until the last of them had left the hall and the doors boomed shut before he turned back to me.

“So,” he said. “Who do ye like for the Series this year?”

I blinked my eyes at him several times. It wasn’t one of those questions I’d been expecting. “Um. American League, I’m kind of rooting for Tampa Bay. I’d like to see them beat out the Yankees.”

“Aye,” Gwynn said, nodding energetically. “Who wouldn’t. Bloody Yankees.”

“And in the National League,” I said, “the Cubs are looking good at the moment, though I could see the Phillies pulling something out at the last minute.” I shrugged. “I mean, since the Cubbies are cursed and all.”

“Cursed?” Gwynn said. A fierce smile stretched his face. “Cursed, is it?”

“Or so it is widely believed,” I said.

Gwynn snorted then rose and descended from his throne. “Walk with me.”

The diminutive monarch walked farther back into the cavern, past his throne, and into what resembled some kind of bizarre museum. There were rows and rows of cabinets, each with shelves lined in black velvet, and walls of crystalline glass. Each cabinet had a dozen or so artifacts in it: ticket stubs were some of the most common items, though there were also baseballs here and there among them, as well as baseball cards, fan booklets, team pennants, bats, batting gloves, and fielders’ gloves.

As I walked beside him, careful to keep my pace slow enough to let him dictate how fast we were walking, it dawned on me that King Gwynn ap Nudd of the Tylwyth Teg was a baseball fan—as in fanatic—of the original vintage.

“It was you,” I said suddenly. “You were the one they threw out of the game.”

“Aye,” King Gwynn said. “There was business to attend, and by the time I got there the tickets were sold out. I had to find another way into the game.”

“As a goat?” I asked, bemused.

“It was a team-spirit thing,” Gwynn said proudly. “Sianis had made up a sign and all, proclaiming that Chicago had already gotten Detroit’s goat. Then he paraded me and the sign on the field before the game—it got plenty of cheers, let me tell you. And he did pay for an extra ticket for the goat, so it wasn’t as though old Wrigley’s successors were being cheated the price of admission. They just didn’t like it that someone argued with the ushers and won!”

Gwynn’s words had taken on the heat that you can only get from an argument that someone has rehearsed to himself about a million times. Given that he must have been practicing it since 1945, I knew better than to think that anything like reason was going to get in the way. So I just nodded and asked, “What happened?”

“Before the game was anywhere near over,” Gwynn continued, his voice seething with outrage, “they came to Sianis and evicted him from the park. Because, they said, his goat smelled too awful!”

Gwynn stopped in his tracks and turned to me, scowling furiously as he gestured at himself with his hands. “Hello! I was a goat! Goats are supposed to smell awful when they are rained upon!”

“They are, Your Majesty, sir,” I agreed soberly.

“And I was a flawless goat!”

“I have no doubts on that account, King Gwynn,” I said.

“What kind of justice is it to be excluded from a Series game because one has flawlessly imitated a goat!?”

“No justice at all, Your Majesty, sir,” I said.

“And to say that I, Gwynn ap Nudd, I the King of Annwn, I who defeated Gwythr ap Greidawl, I the counselor and ally to gods and heroes alike, smelled!” His mouth twisted up in rage. “How dare some jumped-up mortal ape say such a thing! As though mortals smell any better than wet goats!”

For a moment, I considered pointing out the conflicting logic of Gwynn both being a perfect (and therefore smelly) goat and being upset that he had been cast out of the game for being smelly. But only for a second. Otherwise, I might have been looking at coming back to Chicago about a hundred years too late to grab a late-night meal at BK.

“I can certainly see why you were upset and offended, Your Majesty, sir.”

Some of the righteous indignation seemed to drain out of him, and he waved an irritated hand at me. “We’re talking about something important here, mortal,” he said. “We’re talking about baseball. Call me Gwynn.”

We had stopped at the last display cabinet, which was enormous by the standards of the furnishings of that hall, which is to say, about the size of a human wardrobe. On one of its shelves was a single outfit of clothing; blue jeans, a T-shirt, a leather jacket, with socks and shoes. On all the rest were the elongated rectangles of tickets—season tickets, in fact, and hundreds of them.

But the single stack of tickets on the top shelf sat next to the only team cap I’d seen.

Both tickets and cap bore the emblem of the Cubs.

“It was certainly a serious insult,” I said quietly. “And it’s obvious that a balancing response was in order. But, Gwynn, the insult was given you unwittingly, by mortals whose very stupidity prevented them from knowing what they were doing. Few enough there that day are even alive now. Is it just that their children be burdened with their mistake? Surely that fact also carries some weight within the heart of a wise and generous king.”

Gwynn let out a tired sigh and moved his right hand in a gesture that mimed pouring out water cupped in it. “Oh, aye, aye, Harry. The anger faded decades ago—mostly. It’s the principle of the thing, these days.”

“That’s something I can understand,” I said. “Sometimes you have to give weight to a principle to keep it from being taken away in a storm.”

He glanced up at me shrewdly. “Aye. I’ve heard as that’s something you would understand.”

I spread my hands and tried to sound diffident. “There must be some way of evening the scales between the Cubs and the Tylwyth Teg,” I said. “Some way to set this insult to rights and lay the matter to rest.”

“Oh, aye,” King Gwynn said. “It’s easy as dying. All we do is nothing. The spell would fade. Matters would resume their normal course.”

“But clearly you don’t wish to do such a thing,” I said. “It’s obviously an expenditure of resources for you to keep the curse alive.”

The small king suddenly smiled. “Truth be told, I stopped thinking of it as a curse years ago, lad.”

I arched my eyebrows.

“How do you regard it, then?” I asked him.

“As protection,” he said. “From the real curse of baseball.”

I looked from him to the tickets and thought about that for a moment. Then I said, “I understand.”

It was Gwynn’s turn to arch eyebrows at me. “Do ye now?” He studied me for a time and then smiled, nodding slowly. “Aye. Aye, ye do. Wise, for one so young.”

I shook my head ruefully. “Not wise enough.”

“Everyone with a lick of wisdom thinks that,” Gwynn replied. He regarded his tickets for a while, his hands clasped behind his back. “Now, ye’ve won the loyalty of some of the Wee Folk, and that is no quick or easy task. Ye’ve defied Sidhe queens. Ye’ve even stuck a thumb into the Erlking’s eye, and that tickles me to no end. And ye’ve been clever enough to find us, which few mortals have managed, and gone out of your way to be polite, which means more from you than it would from some others.”

I nodded quietly.

“So, Harry Dresden,” King Gwynn said, “I’ll be glad t’consider it, if ye say the Cubs wish me to cease my efforts.”

I thought about it for a long time before I gave him my answer.





* * *


Mr. Donovan sat down in my office in a different ridiculously expensive suit and regarded me soberly. “Well?”

“The curse stays,” I said. “Sorry.”

Mr. Donovan frowned, as though trying to determine whether or not I was pulling his leg. “I would have expected you to declare it gone and collect your fee.”

“I have this weird thing where I take professional ethics seriously,” I said. I pushed a piece of paper at him and said, “My invoice.”

He took it and turned it over. “It’s blank,” he said.

“Why type it up when it’s just a bunch of zeroes?”

He stared at me even harder.

“Look at it this way,” I said. “You haven’t paused to consider the upside of the Billy Goat Curse.”

“Upside?” he asked. “To losing?”

“Exactly,” I said. “How many times have you heard people complaining that professional ball wasn’t about anything but money these days?”

“What does that have to do—”

“That’s why everyone’s so locked on the Series these days. Not necessarily because it means you’re the best, because you’ve risen to a challenge and prevailed. The Series means millions of dollars for the club, for businesses, all kinds of money. Even the fans get obsessed with the Series, like it’s the only significant thing in baseball. Don’t even get me started on the stadiums all starting to be named after their corporate sponsors.”

“Do you have a point?” Donovan asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Baseball is about more than money and victory. It’s about facing challenges alone and on a team. It’s about spending time with friends and family and neighbors in a beautiful park, watching the game unfold. It’s…” I sighed. “It’s about fun, Mr. Donovan.”

“And you are contending that the curse is fun?”

“Think about it,” I said. “The Cubs have the most loyal, diehard fan following in Major League ball. Those fans aren’t in it to see the Cubs run rampant over other teams because they’ve spent more money hiring the best players. You know they aren’t—because they all know about the curse. If you know your team isn’t going to carry off the Series, then cheering them on becomes something more than yelling when they’re beating someone. It’s about tradition. It’s about loyalty to the team and camaraderie with the other fans, and win or lose, just enjoying the damned game.”

I spread my hands. “It’s about fun again, Mr. Donovan. Wrigley Field might be the only stadium in professional ball where you can say that.”

Donovan stared at me as though I’d started speaking in Welsh. “I don’t understand.”

I sighed again. “Yeah. I know.”





* * *


My ticket was for general admission, but I thought I’d take a look around before the game got started. Carlos Zambrano was on the mound warming up when I sat down next to Gwynn ap Nudd.

Human size, he was considerably over six feet tall, and he was dressed in the same clothes I’d seen back at his baseball shrine. Other than that, he looked exactly the way I remembered him. He was talking to a couple of folks in the row behind him, animatedly relating some kind of tale that revolved around the incredible arc of a single game-deciding breaking ball. I waited until he was finished with the story, and turned back out to the field.

“Good day,” Gwynn said to me.

I nodded my head just a little bit deeply. “And to you.”

He watched Zambrano warming up and grinned. “They’re going to fight through it eventually,” he said. “There are so many mortals now. Too many players and fans want them to do it.” His voice turned a little sad. “One day they will.”

My equations and I had eventually come to the same conclusion. “I know.”

“But you want me to do it now, I suppose,” he said. “Or else why would you be here?”

I flagged down a beer vendor and bought one for myself and one for Gwynn.

He stared at me for a few seconds, his head tilted to one side.

“No business,” I said, passing him one of the beers. “How about we just enjoy the game?”

Gwynn ap Nudd’s handsome face broke into a wide smile, and we both settled back in our seats as the Cubs took the cursed field.





How the Pooka Came to New York City

BY DELIA SHERMAN




Delia Sherman is the author of numerous short stories, many of which are to be found in anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Her adult novels are Through a Brazen Mirror and The Porcelain Dove (which won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award), and, with fellow fantasist and partner Ellen Kushner, The Fall of the Kings. Her novels for younger readers are Changeling, The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen, and The Freedom Maze. She has taught writing at the Clarion and Odyssey science fiction and fantasy workshops and at conventions. She is a founding member of the Interstitial Arts Foundation. Sherman lives in New York City, loves to travel, and writes in cafés wherever in the world she finds herself.





* * *


Early one morning in the spring of 1855, the passengers from the Irish Maid out of Dublin Bay trudged down the gangway of the steam lighter Washington. Each of them carried baggage: clothes and boots, tools and household needments, leprechauns and hobs, fleas, and the occasional ghost trailing behind like a soiled veil. Liam O’Casey, late of Ballynoe in County Down, brought a tin whistle and the collected poetry of J. J. Callanan, two shirts and three handkerchiefs rolled into a knapsack, a small leather purse containing his savings, and a great black hound he called Madra, which is nothing more remarkable than “dog” in Irish.

Liam O’Casey was a horse trainer by trade, a big, handsome man with a wealth of greasy black curls that clustered around his neat, small ears and his broad, fair temples. His eyes were blue, his shoulders wide, and he had a smile to charm a holy sister out of her cloister. He’d the look of a rogue, a scalawag, faster with a blow than a quip, with an eye to the ladies and an unquenchable thirst for strong drink.

Looks can be misleading. Liam had an artist’s soul in his breast and a musician’s skill in his fingers. One night in the hold of the Irish Maid, with the seas running high and everyone groaning and spewing out their guts, he pulled out his tin whistle to send “Molly’s Lament” sighing sweetly through the fetid air. All through that long night he played, and if his music had no power to soothe the seas, it soothed the terror of those who heard it and quieted the sobbing of more than one small child.

After, the passengers of steerage were constantly at Liam to pull out his tin whistle for a slip jig or a reel. Liam was most willing to oblige, and might have been the best-loved man on board were it not for his great black dog.

Madra was a mystery. As a general rule, livestock and pets were not welcome on the tall ships that sailed between the old world and the new. They made more mouths to feed, more filth to clean up. Birds in cages were tolerated, but a tall hound black as the fabled Black Dog, with long sharp teeth and eyes yellow as piss? It was the wonder of the world he’d been let aboard. And once aboard, it was a wonder he survived the journey.

“A dog, seasick?” Liam’s neighbor, a man from Cork, pulled his blanket up around his nose as Madra retched and whined. “Are you sure it’s nothing catching?”

Liam stroked Madra’s trembling flank. “He’s a land-loving dog, I fear. I’d have left him behind if he’d have stood for being left. Perhaps he’ll be easier in my hammock.”

Which proved to be the case, much to the amusement of the man from Cork.

“The boy’s soft, is what it is,” he told his card-playing cronies.

“Leave him be,” one of them said. “Fluters and fiddlers are not like you and me.”

When the Irish Maid sailed into New York Harbor, New York Bay was wide as an inland sea to Liam’s eyes, the early morning sun pouring its honey over forested hills and warehouses and riverside mansions and a myriad of ships. Islands slid past the Washington on both sides, some wild and bare, some bristling with buildings and docks and boats. The last of these, only a stone’s throw from Manhattan itself, was occupied by a round and solid edifice, like a reservoir or a fort, that swarmed with laborers like ants on a stony hill.

The Cork man broke the awestruck silence. “Holy Mother of God,” he said. “And what do you think of Dublin Bay after that?”

With all of America spread out before him like a meal on a platter and the sea birds welcoming him into port, Liam had no wish to think of Dublin Bay at all. He’d come to America to change his life, and he intended to do it thoroughly. Country bred, he was determined to live in a city, surrounded by people whose families he did not know. He’d live in a house with more than one floor, none of them dirt, and burn coal in a stove that vented through a pipe.

He’d eat meat once a week.

As the lighter slowed, the hound at his feet reared himself, with some effort, to plant his forepaws on the Washington’s rail and panted into the wind that blew from the shore. After a moment, he sneezed and shook his head irritably.

The Cork man laughed. “Seems your dog doesn’t think much of the new world, Liam O’Casey. Better, perhaps, you should have left him in the old.”

Madra bared his fangs at that, for all the world, the Cork man said, as though he spoke Gaelic like a Christian. Liam stroked the poor animal’s ears while the lighter docked and the steerage passengers of the Irish Maid began to gather their bundles and their boxes, their ghosts and their memories and staggered down the gangway. On the pier, customs officials herded them to a shed where uniformed clerks checked their baggage and their names against the ship’s manifest. These formalities concluded, the new immigrants were free to start their new lives where and when they pleased.

The lucky ones, the provident ones, embraced their families or greeted friends who had come to meet them, and moved off, chattering. A group of the less well prepared, including Liam and the man from Cork, lingered on the dock, uncertain where their next steps should take them.

With a sinking heart, Liam looked about at the piled boxes, the coils of rope, the wagons, the nets and baskets of fish, thinking he might as well have been on a wharf in Dublin. There was the same garbage and mud underfoot, the same air thick with the stink of rotting fish and salt and coal fires, the same dirty, raw-handed men loading and unloading wagons and boats and shouting to each other in a babel of strange tongues.

“That’ll be you in a week or so,” the Cork man said, slapping Liam on the shoulder hard enough to raise dust. “I’m for the Far West, where landlords are as rare as hen’s teeth and the streams run with gold.”

A new voice joined the conversation—in Irish, happily, since his audience had only a dozen English words between them. “You’ll be needing a place to sleep the night, I’m thinking. Come along of me, and I’ll have you suited in a fine, clean, economical boardinghouse before the cat can lick her ear.”

The newcomer was better fed than the dockworkers, his frock coat only a little threadbare and his linen next door to clean. He had half a pound of pomade on his hair and a smile that would shame the sun. But when the boardinghouse runner saw Madra, his sun went behind a cloud and he kicked the dog square in the ribs.

“Hoy!” Liam roared, shocked out of his usual good humor. “What ails you to be kicking my dog?”

“Dogs are dirty creatures, as all the world knows, as thick with fleas as hairs.”

“A good deal thicker,” the man from Cork said, and everyone snickered, for Madra’s coat after five weeks on shipboard was patchy and dull, with great sores on his flank and belly.

The boardinghouse runner grinned, flashing a golden tooth. “Just so. Mistress O’Leary’d not be thanking me for bringing such a litany of miseries and stinks into her good clean house. A doorway’s good enough for the pair of you.” And then he turned and herded his catch away inland.

Liam sat himself down on a crate, his knapsack and his mangy dog at his feet, and wondered where he might find a glass and a bite in this great city and how much they’d cost him.

“Yon was the villain of the world,” Madra remarked. “Stinking of greed and goose fat. You’re well shut of him.”

“The goose fat I smelled for myself,” Liam answered. “The greed I took for granted. Still, a bed for the night and a guide through the city might have been useful. Are you feeling any better, at all, now we’ve come to shore?”

Madra growled impatiently. “I’m well enough to have kept my ears to the wind and my nose to the ground for news of where we may find a welcome warmer than yon gold-toothed cony-catcher’s.”

“And where would that be, Madra? In Dublin, perhaps? Or back home in Ballynoe, where I wish to heaven I’d never left?”

The hound sighed. “Don’t be wishing things you don’t want, not in front of me. Had I my full strength, you’d be back in Ballynoe before you’d taken another breath, and sorry enough to be there after all the trouble you were put to leaving in the first place.” He heaved himself wearily to his feet. “There’s a public house north of here, run by the kind of folk who won’t turn away a fellow countryman and his faithful hound.”

“You’re not my hound,” Liam said, shouldering his pack. “I told you back in Ballynoe. I did only what I’d do for any living creature. You owe me nothing.”

“I owe you my life.” Madra lifted his nose to sniff the air. “That way.” Moving as though his joints hurt him, Madra stalked away from the water with Liam strolling behind, gawking left and right at the great brick warehouses of the seaport of New York.





* * *


The Pooka was not happy. His eyes ran, his lungs burned, his skin galled him as if he’d been stung by a thousand bees, and the pads of his paws felt as though he’d walked across an unbanked fire. He was sick of his dog shape, sick of this mortal man he was tied to, sick of cramped quarters with no space to run and the stink of death that clung to mortals like a second skin. Most of all, he was sick, almost to dissolution, of the constant presence of cold iron.

He’d thought traveling with Liam O’Casey was bad, with the nails in his shoes and the knife in his pack, but Dublin had been worse. The weeks aboard the Irish Maid had been a protracted torture, which he’d survived only because Liam had given over his hammock to him. This new city was worst of all, as hostile to the Fair Folk as the most pious priest who’d ever sung a mass.

Yet in this same city, on this poisonous dock, the Pooka had just met a selkie in his man shape, hauling boxes that stank of iron as strongly as the air stank of dead fish.

The Pooka had smelled the selkie—sea air with an animal undertang of fur and musk—and followed his nose to a group of longshoremen loading crates onto a dray. As he sniffed curiously about their feet, one of them grabbed the Pooka by the slack of his neck and hauled him off behind a stack of barrels as though he’d been a puppy.

“What the devil kind of thing are you?” asked the selkie in the broadest of Scots.

“I’m a Pooka,” he said, with dignity. “From County Down.”

“Fresh off the boat and rotten with the iron-sickness, no doubt. Well, you’re a lucky wee doggie to have found me, and that’s a fact.”

The Pooka’s ears pricked. “You have a cure for iron-sickness?”

“Not I,” the selkie said. “There’s a Sidhe woman runs a lager saloon in Five Points. All the Gaelic folk who land here must go to her. It’s that or die.” The selkie pulled a little wooden box from his pocket and opened it. “Take a snort.”

The Pooka filled his nose with a scent of thin beer, sawdust, and faerie magic. “One last question, of your kindness,” he said. “Would a mortal be welcome at this Sidhe woman’s saloon at all?”

The selkie replaced the box. “Maybe he will and maybe he won’t. What’s it to you?”

“We’re by way of being companions,” said the Pooka.

“Dinna tell me he knows you for what you are?” The selkie whistled. “That’d be a tale worth the hearing. Tell it me, and we’ll call my help well paid.”

The Pooka knew very well that his tale was a small enough price for such valuable information, but it was a price he was reluctant to pay. Stories in which he was the hero and the mortal his endlessly stupid dupe—those he told with pleasure to whoever would hear them. A story in which the stupidity had been his own was a different pair of shoes entirely. Still, a favor must be repaid.

“I will so,” he said.

The selkie bared strong white teeth. “But no just now: I’ve work to do, and you, an Irish fay to see. Shall we say before midsummer? Ask for Iain. Everybody kens me here on the docks. Oh, and dinna fash yourself over yon mortal. The woman’ll no harm him—if he keeps a civil tongue in his head.”

“Oh, he’s civil enough,” the Pooka had answered, somewhat sourly. “He’s the gentleman of the world, he is. The creature.”

Which was why, as much as the Pooka resented Liam O’Casey, he could not dislike him, and why, after six months in Liam’s company, he was far from home, iron-sick and mangy and too feeble to shift his shape, burdened with an unpaid blood debt and no prospect of paying it.

The Pooka had a nose as sharp as a kelpie’s teeth, but lower New York was a maze of bewildering and distracting smells. The streets reeked of dung and garbage, of dogs marking their territory and the sweat of horses pulling heavy drays. The Pooka was startled out of what remained of his fur when a scrawny, half-wild sow squealed at him. Prudently, the Pooka whined and wagged his tail submissively. The sow snorted at him and trotted on.

Bowing to a pig! If the iron-sickness did not finish him, surely shame would do the job. The Pooka thought he’d like to kill Liam for bringing him here. But not until he’d saved his miserable life.





* * *


Liam had been hungry and thirsty when he got off the Washington at dawn. By noon, he was tired and footsore as well, and as bewildered as he’d ever been in his life. Listlessly, he watched Madra sniff the door of Maeve McDonough’s Saloon, which looked no different to him than the fifty other such establishments he’d sniffed along the way, except for a sign in the window offering a free lunch. Liam read the fare on offer—cold meat, pickles, onions—and sent up a short and heartfelt prayer to the Virgin that their journey might end here. He sent a second prayer of thanks when Madra pricked his ears, raised his tail, and trotted down the filthy steps and into the dark room beyond.

Upon inquiry at the wooden counter, Liam learned that the free lunch came at the cost of two five-cent beers, which he was happy to pay, even though the beer was poor, sour stuff and the meat more gristle than fat. While he ate, a woman, well supplied with dark hair and bold eyes and an expanse of rosy-brown skin above the neck of her flowered gown, cuddled up, giving him an excellent view of her breasts and a noseful of her musky scent.

“Like what you see, boyo? I can arrange for a closer look.”

Head swimming, he was on the point of agreeing when another woman’s voice spoke, tuneful and sweet as a silver bell. The whore hissed, showing teeth a thought too long and pointed for beauty, and slid back into the crowd of drinkers.

Startled, Liam looked up into the face of the tall, redheaded woman on the other side of the bar. She’d a faded-green woolen shawl tied across her bosom and a look about her he was coming to recognize after six months in the Pooka’s company: a luminous look, as though her skin were fairer, her hair more lustrous, her eyes more lambent, her whole person altogether more light-filled than an ordinary woman’s. It was not a look he’d expected to see in the new world.

“Welcome to Five Points,” said the woman. “There’s a fine dog you have.”

Liam looked down to see Madra sitting by his leg, panting cryptically. “Oh, he’s not mine,” he said. “Not in the way of ownership. Our paths lie together for a while, that’s all it is.”

The woman’s smile broadened. Liam noted, with relief, that her teeth were remarkable only in being uncommonly white and even. “A good answer, young man. You may call me Maeve McDonough. I am the proprietress of this place. You are welcome to drink here. Should you be looking for a place to lay your head this night, I’ve beds above, twenty cents a night or four dollars a month, to be paid up front, if you please.”

Liam laid the silver coins in Maeve’s hand with a bow that made her laugh like a stream over rocks, then recklessly ordered another beer and carried it toward a knot of Irishmen who looked as though they’d been in New York a week or two longer than he.





* * *


The Pooka yawned nervously and licked at a sore on his flank. It seemed to him that it, like everything else in this forsaken place, tasted of iron. How many nails were in this building? How many iron bands around the barrels of beer? He could sense a stove, too, and most of the customers, unless he was much mistaken, were armed with steel knives. Some even carried pistols. It was almost unbearable.

It was unbearable, and the Pooka was beginning to realize that there was nowhere in this city where he might escape from the pain that gnawed at his bones. Hemmed in by mortals, surrounded by iron, with more mortals and iron outside on the street, the Pooka was ready to bite everyone around him and keep on biting until he died or the pain went away, whatever came first.

A cool hand touched his head. A fresh scent, as of spring fields after a rain, soothed his hot nose and cleared the red mists from his brain. The Pooka looked up into the amused green eyes of a Sidhe woman.

“I am called Maeve,” she said. “Follow me.”

The room Maeve led the Pooka to was, if anything, darker and hotter than the saloon itself. Stacked beer barrels lined the walls, and a complex apparatus of glass and tin on a table smelled strongly of raw spirits.

“A Pooka,” Maeve said, setting down her lantern. “I’ve not seen your like before on this side of the wide ocean. A word for you, my heart. The city’s no place for a creature of the bogs and wilds.”

“Yet here I am,” the Pooka said irritably. “On the point of paying with my life for the privilege, too.”

“Well, perhaps it needn’t be as costly as that.” Maeve regarded him gravely. “What is your life worth, Pooka?”

“I haven’t much to give you,” the Pooka said. “Would you accept my everlasting gratitude?”

Maeve laughed. “What a joy it is to have a trickster to bargain with, even one half dead. I’d save you for the pure pleasure of your company, but that would be bad business. Come, give me a dozen hairs from your tail, that I may call upon you at my need.”

“Good will is good business, lady. Three hairs will buy you my respect and affection as well as my service.”

“Seven hairs I’ll take, and no less. Unless you’re willing to give the mortal over to my hands, to do with as I will.”

The Pooka hesitated. “Much as it galls me to admit it, there’s a small matter of a blood debt beween us.” He sighed heavily. “Seven times I’ll come to you, then. You drive a hard bargain, missus.”

“Sure, and it’s a hard city for the Fair Folk to live in.” Then Maeve went to a shelf and brought back a charm, which she wove into the thick fur of the Pooka’s ruff.

The charm bit like flies and nettles. The Pooka whined and scratched at his neck.

“It won’t help you if you get rid of it,” Maeve said mildly. “It’s tear it off and die, or endure it and live. It becomes less irksome with time.”

“I’ll endure it,” said the Pooka.





* * *


Out in the saloon, Liam was learning a number of facts.

Item: Work, although possible to come by, was not as plentiful in New York as poor men eager to do it.

Item: What work there was stretched from dawn to dusk, taxed a man’s back more than his mind, and paid barely enough to keep body and soul together.

Item: Not all the poor men looking for work in New York were mortal.

Among Liam’s new drinking companions were a midget in a bottle-green coat, sporting a pair of coppery sideburns to rival Prince Albert’s, a boyo in threadbare moleskin with black curls hanging down around his ears, and a shortish man with curly golden hair and a clay pipe between his teeth.

Mindful of his purse, Liam refused a bet on a race between a horse and a pig and an opportunity to invest his savings in a sure moneymaking business. But when the golden-haired man pressed him for his name and county, Liam bethought him that his purse was not the only thing in danger here.

He made a dive for his knapsack and withdrew his tin whistle. “Anybody for a tune?”

The midget brightened. “D’ye know ‘Whiskey Before Breakfast’?”

“Do I not?” said Liam, and began to play. If he hadn’t been tipsy and perhaps a little more than tipsy, it’s likely he’d have made a pig’s ear of it, with his heart thundering in his breast and the spit dry in his mouth. As it was, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” came pouring out of his tin whistle as clear and clean as a May morning in Ballynoe, with all the birds singing.

The midget tapped his tiny, beautifully shod feet. The boyo hooked his elbows over the shelf nailed along the wall and sighed. The small man laid down his clay pipe and clapped time. “Whiskey Before Breakfast” rippled out over the room, until the whole saloon was listening to the bright notes skip through the rafters and ring against the stone bottles ranged behind the bar.

After playing the air three times through, Liam dropped the tin whistle from his lips and opened his eyes.

“Another,” the midget said hoarsely.

Liam gave them “The Witch of the Glen” and “The Lady’s Pantaloons” and “I Buried My Wife and Danced on Top of Her,” which jig had them dancing as they roared out the words. And then he segued, without thinking about it, into an air he’d made before he’d decided to make his fortune in America.

When he was done, the boyo embraced him, dripping salt tears on the top of his head.

“All hail the fluter!” the midget shouted, and lifted his tankard.

“The fluter!” the others echoed.

A tankard appeared at his hand. When he’d drained it, another took its place. Liam wet his mouth and played again.

By and by, Liam felt a nudge at his knee and looked down to see Madra, looking, if possible, more miserable than he’d looked before, with a great mat of twigs and mud tangled in the fur at his neck and a wild look in his piss-yellow eyes.

Liam tucked the whistle away and knelt. “Is it well with you, Madra, my dear?”

“It is not so,” said Madra, irritably. “How do you think it makes me feel, responsible for you as I am, to see you hobnobbing with leprechauns and cluricans and gancanagh and other such scrapings from the depths of the faerie barrel? And me no more fit to protect you than a day-old puppy?”

Liam laughed. “Is that what they are? Well, they seem to like my music well enough. They’ll not harm me, I’m thinking, as long as I play for them.”

“Very likely,” said Madra dryly.

Liam felt a hand upon his shoulder and looked up to see Maeve McDonough herself smiling down at him.

“My thanks, sir, for the entertainment. You’ve put a thirst on my customers the like of which I’ve not seen since I came to these shores. I’ve sold enough drink this night to pay for your dinner—yes, and your dog’s, too, if he’s a stomach for a bit of meat. Come eat it in the back room, away from this moither, and then you’d best take yourself off to bed before they suck you dry entirely.”

Left to himself, Liam might have taken the dinner and forgone the bed, so flown was he on beer and praise and his own dancing music. But he’d Madra to think of, and Madra looked to be on his last legs. So Liam followed Maeve into the back room, where he absorbed a bowl of quite reasonable stew, as well as Madra’s portion, which the poor beast was far too ill to eat.





* * *


Indeed, the Pooka could not have been worse. The charm Maeve had given him to counteract the iron-sickness bit into his neck like a wolf. His muscles trembled, his vision blurred, and he’d a mighty thirst on him that water did nothing to assuage. In all the long years of his existence, he’d never suffered so—not even when he’d stumbled into a steel trap set for poachers, which he’d been saved from by a stale-drunk horse trainer named Liam O’Casey.

By the time Liam had eaten, the Pooka was too weak and sore even to stand. Clucking, Liam scooped him up in his arms and carried him bodily up the rickety stairs.





* * *


The state of Maeve’s saloon had given Liam a tolerably accurate notion of the accommodations she had to offer.

It was a dismal enough apartment, low ceilinged and airless, with a door at each end. The side walls were lined with wooden shelves upon which Maeve’s boarders were stacked four high and two deep. Liam found an unclaimed space on the lowest shelf, near the far door and right over the piss pot, and tucked Madra into it. He fit himself as best he could around the dog’s burning, shivering body and fell asleep.

Thanks to the excitement of the day and the number of five-cent beers he’d downed, Liam slept heavily. He woke once when his fellow boarders retired, drunk and stumbling on the rickety ladders to the upper sleeping shelves. He woke once again when someone trod on his hand climbing down to use the piss pot. The third time he woke, it was to the piteous whines of a dog in agony.

Liam opened his eyes to see a dozen tiny, glowing creatures. Their gauzy wings whirred as they hovered about Madra, pulling at his ears and whiskers and the small hairs about his eyes. Liam shooed them away like bees, and like bees they turned upon him and pinched at his face with sharp little fingers. Owning himself defeated, Liam gathered Madra in his arms and bore him carefully down the stairs to the saloon. And there the pair of them spent the balance of the night, curled on a floor only a little fouler than the sleeping shelf above.





* * *


In the gray dawn, the Pooka woke to the toe of a boot in his ribs and Maeve’s face looking down at him. “The top of the morning to you, trickster,” she said. “And how are you finding yourself this lovely spring day?”

The Pooka levered himself to his feet. His body was sore but no longer wracked with pain, and the burning glede upon his neck had cooled a degree or perhaps more. He yawned hugely and shook himself from ears to tail. “I’m alive,” he said. “Which comes as a pleasant surprise. As to the rest, I wish I were back in Erin, deep in a nice bog, and a rainy night descending.”

“And so do I, trickster. So do I.” For a moment, Maeve allowed her true face to show through the glamour, gaunt and fierce as a mewed hawk. “Now wake your mortal, trickster. I’ve the floor to sweep and the charms to make for any iron-sick Folk who chance to wash up at my door the day.”

So the Pooka nudged Liam O’Casey with his nose and gave him to know it was time to be up and about.





* * *


Liam awoke with a foul mouth, a griping in his belly, and an aching head. Dunking his head in a barrel of stale water did something to resign him to a new day. A five-cent beer and a slice of soda bread hot from the oven did more. Thus fortified, Liam O’Casey set out into the April morning in search of employment.

Madra came with him.

Left to his own devices, Liam might have stopped to pass the time of day with someone, preferably a mortal like himself, who might give him advice a mortal could use. As it was, he could only follow Madra, trying not to get knocked down by a heavily laden cart or trip over a feral pig or run into a pushcart or one of the hundreds of gray-faced men on their way to work. He was hot and out of breath when Madra stopped in front of a big square clapboard warehouse.

Liam looked up at the sign: GREEN’S FINE FURNITURE. EST. 1840. EBENEZER GREEN, PROP.

“No doubt it’s slipped your mind that I’m a horseman, Madra, not a carpenter.”

Madra heaved a sigh. “There’s a stable behind, you great idiot—I can smell it. Go on in now; it can’t hurt to ask.”

Liam brushed down his jacket, straightened his cap, and walked into the warehouse. The place was busy as an ant’s nest, with an army of roughly dressed men running about with raw lumber and finished furniture, while a burly man in a loud silk waistcoat over his shirtsleeves and a porkpie hat shouted orders. Presuming this to be Ebenezer Green, Liam approached and greeted him in his best English.

Mr. Green turned a pig-eyed glare on him. “Speak American, Paddy, or git out. Better yet, do both. This is a know-nothing shop. We don’t do business with Micks and such-like trash.”

The man’s voice was flat and loud, his accent unfamiliar. His tone and look, however, were as clear as the finest glass goblet.

“I’ll be bidding you good day, then,” Liam said. “Mr. Know-Nothing, sir.” Then he turned on his heel and marched out.

“It seems a strange thing to be bragging of,” he said as he and Madra left Green’s Fine Furniture behind them.

“He certainly knows nothing about horses,” Madra said. “Did you see his nags? Like harrows they were, draped in moth-eaten hides. You’re well out of there.”

The next stable Madra found was attached to a hauling company near the docks. It was run by Cornelius Vanderhoof, who, like all Dutchmen, didn’t care which language a man spoke as long as he was willing to take a dollar in payment for ten hours of work.

“I’ve no need of a stableman,” he told Liam kindly enough. “I have two horse boys, and that’s all I need.”

“All boys are good for is to feed and water and muck out,” Liam said. “I’d care for them like children, I would.”

Mr. Vanderhoof shook his head. “Come back in May. I might have work for you, if you can handle a team.”

And so it went all the weary day. One livery stable proprietor had just hired someone. Another offered Liam fifty cents to shovel muck. Another shook his head before Liam even opened his mouth.

“It’s April,” he said. “Nobody will be hiring until summer. You’re Irish, right? Why not carry bricks or dig foundations like the rest of your countrymen?”

“I’m a horse trainer,” Liam said, hating the pleading note in his voice.

“I don’t care if you’re the king of County Down,” the livery man said. “Ostlers are a dime a dozen in these parts. You want to work with horses, take a train west.”

As they emerged from the livery stable, Madra broke the heavy silence. “It’s getting on toward dusk. Shall we be heading home?”

Liam looked at the heavy carts piled high with crates and boxes lumbering over the rutted streets, at the ragged, gray-faced men plodding homeward in the fading light, at the street children, dirty and barefoot, lingering by pushcarts in hopes of a dropped apple or an unwatched cabbage. His ears rang with the rumble of wheels, the squeak of unoiled axles, the shouting and swearing and laughter.

“I have no home,” he said. “Just now it seems to me I’ll never have a home again.”

He waited for Madra to call him a pitiful squinter or prescribe a pint or a song to clear his mind. But Madra just plodded down the street, head down and tail adroop, as tired and discouraged as Liam himself.





* * *


Being immortal, Folk do not commonly find time hanging heavy on their hands. A day is but an eyeblink in their lives; a month can pass in the drawing of a breath. The Pooka had never imagined being as aware of the arc of the sun across the sky or the length of time separating one meal from the next as he had been since his life had been linked to Liam’s.

Today had been a weary length indeed.

At first, the Pooka had simply been glad to be alive and reasonably well. Maeve’s charm itched, but it was a healing itch, and he felt some strength return to his limbs. He kept running up to railings and barrels and iron-shod wheels just to touch them and sniff them and prove once again that they had no power to hurt him.

The encounter with Ebenezer Green shook him. Had he been on his game, the Pooka would have nosed out what manner of man Green was before they’d even crossed the threshold.

But the Pooka was not on his game. A whole day on the town, and he hadn’t tricked so much as the price of a drink out of a living soul. The fear grew on him that Maeve’s charm had cured his iron-sickness at the expense of his magic. What he needed was something to knock him loose from the limited round of mortal concerns he’d been treading since Liam had freed him from the poacher’s trap. He needed a bet or a challenge or a trick. Something tried and true, for preference not too dangerous, that would put him on his mettle and bring Liam a bit of silver.

“Liam,” he said. “I have an idea. Tomorrow, as soon as it’s light, we’ll take ourselves up out of this sty to wherever it is the rich folk live. You shall sell me as a ratter for the best price you can get.”

“Shall I so?” asked Liam wearily. “And what if no man needs a ratter or will not buy an Irish one?”

“There’s always a man wants to buy a dog,” the Pooka said confidently.

Liam shook his head. “I will not, and there’s an end. What kind of man do you take me for, to sell a friend for silver money?”

“Oh, I’d not stay sold,” the Pooka assured him. “I’d run away and meet you at Maeve’s before the cat can lick her ear.”

“And if you can’t escape? What then? Will I steal you back again? It’s stark mad you are, Madra. The city’s gone to your head.”

The Pooka was charmed with his plan and argued it with cunning and passion. Yet Liam would not be moved. It was illegal, he said, immoral, and dangerous, and that was an end on it. All of which confirmed the Pooka in his opinion that Liam was no more suited for city life than a wild deer. Were the Pooka not there to look after him, he’d surely have been stripped of his savings and left to starve in a ditch before he’d so much as fully exhaled the ship’s air from his lungs.

West, the Pooka thought. He’d like it out west. Tomorrow I’ll think about getting him on a train.

A furious squeal interrupted the Pooka’s planning. Hackles rising, he turned to find himself nose to bristly snout with a big, ugly, foul-breathed sow.

A fight’s as good as a trick for clearing the mind.

The Pooka bared his teeth and growled. The sow’s amber eye glittered madly, and she wheeled and trotted back for the charge. The Pooka spared a glance at Liam, saw him surrounded by a handful of half-grown shoats, squealing and shoving at his legs. Liam was laying about him with his knapsack, cursing and trying to keep his feet in the mired street. If he were to fall, they’d trample him sure as taxes, and possibly eat him where he lay.

Fury rose in the Pooka’s breast, then, pure and mighty. Ducking the sow’s charge, he leaped into the melee around Liam, landing square on the largest of the shoats. The pig threw him off, but not before the Pooka had nipped a chunk out of its ear. Spitting that out, he fastened his teeth into the nearest ham. The shoat it belonged to squealed and bolted, leaving only four and their dam for the Pooka to fight.

He’d not endured a battle so furious since St. Patrick drove the snakes into the sea and the Fair Folk under hill. This fight he intended to win.

At home on his own turf, the Pooka would have made short work of the pigs. At home, even in his dog shape there, he was faster than a bee, mighty as a bull, and tireless as the tide. But weeks of iron-sickness and short commons, stuck in one shape like a chick in its shell, had sapped his strength.

The Pooka slipped in the slurry of mud and dung; a sharp trotter caught him a glancing blow. He felt the bright blood run burning down his flank, and a wave of pain and terror washed through and through him. Immortals cannot die, but they can be killed.

Instinct told the Pooka that he must shift to save himself. Fear whispered that he could not shift, that he’d lost the knack, that he’d been a dog so long, he’d forgotten what it felt like to have hooves or horns or two legs and a coat he could take off.

Seeing her enemy falter, the sow took heart and charged, squealing like a rusty hinge, her tusks aimed like twin spears straight at the Pooka’s soft belly.

Instinct triumphed.

Tossing his streaming mane, the Pooka screamed and aimed his heavy, unshod hooves at the sow’s spine. Quick as he was, she was quicker yet, scrambling out from under his feet at the last instant. The Pooka turned upon the shoats around Liam like an angry sea, striking with hoof and tooth.

The sow, seeing her shoats threatened, charged again, barreling toward the Pooka like a storm full of lightning. Wheeling, the Pooka reared again. This time, his hooves crushed the sow into the mud.

The Pooka stood over the bodies of his enemies and trumpeted his victory into the evening air.

An arm snaked across his withers and clung there. Liam’s voice, shaky with relief, breathed in his ear. “Oh, my heart, my beauty, my champion of champions. That was a battle to be put in songs, and I shall do so. Just as soon as my legs will bear me and my heart climbs down from my throat.”

The Pooka arched his neck proudly and pawed at the corpses piled at his feet. A shoat, recovering from its swoon, heaved up on its trotters and staggered away down the street, straight into the path of a bay gelding harnessed to a shiny black buggy driven by a man in a stovepipe hat.





* * *


Bruised and shaken as he was, Liam was no more able to leave a horse in difficulties than swim home to Eire. No sooner did he see the shoat run between the bay’s feet and the bay shy and startle and kick its traces, than he ran to its head and grabbed its harness.

The bay tossed him to and fro like a terrier with a rat, but Liam hung on, murmuring soothing inanities in Irish and English, until the gelding’s terror calmed and it stood silent and shivering.

Liam stroked the bay’s nose and looked around him.

The street was a shambles, with the corpses of his late assailants bleeding into the mud. A crowd of day laborers stood all around, goggling with their mouths at half cock. Off to one side, Madra the hound was licking the blood from a gash on his flank.

The gelding’s driver climbed down from the buggy, his cheeks as white as his snowy shirtfront.

“Thank you.” His voice, though flatly American, was kind. “That was bravely done. I take it you know something about horses?”

Liam touched his forehead with his knuckle. “I do so, sir.”

“Ostler?” the gentleman asked.

“Back in my own country, I was a trainer. Racehorses.”

The gentleman looked startled. “A horse trainer? I’ll be blowed! Do you mind if I ask your name?”

“It’s Liam O’Casey, if it please your honor.”

The gentleman laughed, showing strong teeth. “Honor me no honors, Mr. O’Casey. I’m plain William Graves, and I breed horses.” Mr. Graves produced a pasteboard card. “Here’s my card. I’ve a little farm up past the orphan asylum—Eighty-fifth Street, more or less. If you care to come there tomorrow, it may be that we’ll find something to talk about.”

Mr. Graves shook Liam’s nerveless hand, climbed back up into his buggy, collected the reins, and drove off.

“Well, that was a piece of luck and no mistake.”

It was Madra’s voice, but when Liam turned, he saw no dog beside him but a tall man in a black-skirted coat as filthy as it was out of fashion. His skin was pale, his crow-black hair was tied with a strip of leather, and his narrow eyes were set on an upward tilt, with his black brows flying above them like wings.

“You can be shutting your jaw now, Liam O’Casey,” the Pooka said. “I’m not such a sore sight as that, surely.”

“Madra?”

“For shame, and me standing before you on my two legs as fine a figure of a man as you are yourself.” The Pooka linked his arm through Liam’s and propelled him down the street. “Come away to Maeve McDonough’s and stand yourself a whiskey for a good day’s work well done. You may stand me to one as well.”

Looking back over his shoulder, Liam saw a pair of cart horses in thick collars pulling a piano in a wagon over the broken bodies of the swine. “My knapsack,” he said sadly. “My tin whistle.”

“The works of the late lamented J. J. Callanan were beyond saving,” the Pooka said. “The tin whistle, on the other hand…” He held it out to Liam, dented, but whole. “I saved your purse, too.”

“And my life.” Liam stopped in the street and offered the Pooka his hand. “I’m forever in your debt.”

The Pooka looked alarmed. “What are you after saying, Liam O’Casey? There’s no question of debt between us. Favor for favor. Life for life. We’re quits now.”

“Will you be leaving me, then?” asked Liam, and the Pooka could not for the life of him tell whether it was with hope or dread he asked it.

“Not before I’ve had my drink,” he said, and was ridiculously pleased to feel the arm in his relax its tension. “I’ll see you safe up to Mr. Graves’s farm first.”

“Do you think he’s prepared to employ me?”

“Of a certainty. And give you his daughter’s hand in marriage, I shouldn’t wonder.”

Liam laughed aloud. “He’s not much older than I, Madra. His daughter would be an infant, presuming he had one at all. This is the real world we’re in, after all, not a fairy tale.”

“Are we not?” They’d reached Maeve McDonough’s by now and descended into the hot and noisy saloon. “And here am I, thinking there’s room enough for both in a city the size of this. New York’s got life in it, my friend. I’m minded to stay awhile. As long as you come down from the country from time to time and give us a tune. There’s no joy in a city where you cannot hear ‘Whiskey Before Breakfast.’”





On the Slide

BY RICHARD BOWES




Richard Bowes has published five novels, two collections of short fiction, and fifty stories. He has won two World Fantasy Awards and the Lambda, International Horror Guild, and Million Writers Awards. Recent and forthcoming stories appear in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and the anthologies Digital Domains, The Beastly Bride, Wilde Stories 2010: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, Haunted Legends, Best Gay Stories 2010, Nebula Awards Showcase 2011, Supernatural Noir, and Blood and Other Cravings. Several of these stories are chapters in his novel in progress, Dust Devil: My Life in Speculative Fiction.

The author’s home page is www.rickbowes.com.





* * *


Sean Quinlan caught the 6:30 wake-up call almost before his cell phone began its first ring. He murmured, “Thanks,” glanced at Adrianne La Farice, who wore only a soft, lovely smile and barely stirred in her sleep, thrust the phone aside, slipped from the bed in the pearly morning light, and padded quietly out of the room.

He wasn’t awake so much as in a place where the line between work and dreams had been erased. In the ample living room he flicked on the DVD player, keeping the sound way down. In the kitchen he started the coffee. Back in the living room he sat in his shorts on the arm of the couch and watched the opening scene in an episode of the old Naked City TV show.

Grainy black-and-white detectives in suits and hats chased a gunman over the roofs of early 1960s New York. Sun through the apartment windows made the gray figures look like ghosts, and Quinlan liked that effect.

The gunman turned to fire, and the detectives ducked behind a chimney. An actor playing a uniformed cop fell, shot. The fugitive fled down a fire escape with the two detectives firing after him.

Quinlan turned up the sound half a notch to catch the voice of the old character actor who played the hard-bitten police lieutenant in the series. “Wounded in the hunt, with the law on his trail, the fugitive returns to his final lair, his first home, the old neighborhood.” The trumpets played the city-at-dawn theme music, which mixed nicely with early rush-hour street noise from downtown Manhattan fifty years later.

The episode was set in a neighborhood of five-story tenements that Quinlan didn’t quite recognize. It had probably been torn down and turned into high-rises. When coffee smells spread, he stood and discovered Adrianne in a floor-length robe, with her eyes barely open, leaning in the doorway and watching him. Her smile was gone.

“More detectives,” she mumbled. “You never stop working, do you, Sean?”

“My granddad and his friends used to make fun of what they called ‘twenty-four-hour-a-day cops’—guys who were always on duty,” he said. “Now it’s like I’ve become one. Can I offer you some of your own coffee?”

“Yes, please.” She made her way to the bathroom saying, “When we were kids, I remember guys backing off from confronting you because they just knew you were the law.”

Adrianne La Farice had been Adie Jacobson when they were in their early twenties and she waited tables while he took care of the door at Club Red Light over in the Meatpacking District back in the now-legendary early nineties.

She returned saying, “I don’t need to be up this early. I don’t need to be up at all. With business the way it is, I could spend the day in bed, and I think I will.” She uttered some variation on that every morning and never followed through.

His divorce had left him broke. Adie’s divorce from Henry La Farice, the designer, was much more successful, leaving her with this renovated condo and a partnership in a prosperous real estate business. Sadly, like everything else in New York, that was now in the tank.

Over the last several years they’d made it their pleasant habit to get together like this each time he’d been in New York on a job. And it was in Quinlan’s mind to see if they could turn this into something more permanent.

When he brought Adie the coffee and half a bialy, she was sitting up in bed reading e-mail on her laptop. “No apartment in Manhattan’s going to be sold today. Everybody who owns one remembers when it was worth two million dollars. Anyone who wants one will offer a quarter of that and then either can’t get financing or can’t explain where they got the cash.”

Quinlan took a jacket and slacks out of the corner of the closet that he’d been assigned, and got socks and underwear from the rolling suitcase in which he’d brought them.

In the bathroom he stared through the steam at the serviceable face he was shaving, the short hair with almost no gray. “The family face, anonymous and perfect for stakeout work,” his grandfather “Black Jack” Quinlan had said. Jack Quinlan had made detective lieutenant on the job. He’d died almost thirty years back, when Sean was barely thirteen. He thought about the old man almost every day.

Sean looked in the mirror and smiled just a bit. Lately he’d had occasion to notice that the Quinlan face was also perfect for a man on the run. He put on a jacket and shirt but no tie because suddenly there wasn’t time. On the way to the bedroom he picked up the brown snap-brim that he’d been wearing for practice and put it on his head with just enough tilt.

When he kissed her Adie said, “Brazil! I’ve got a Brazilian with money interested in a penthouse, and with that trade agreement he doesn’t even have to explain where he got the cash.”

Then she looked up and said, “You are beyond retro, mister. You disappear and I’ll start believing in Sliders.”

“People talk about Sliders. Have you ever known one?”

“It’s escapism, not reality. I think they took the name from some old TV show nobody watched. I know a woman who described her teenage son as a perfect 1969 hippie. He had the clothes and the hair; his room was papered with old posters, and he hardly ever left it. One morning he disappeared, and she thinks he slid back there, claims she found notes from him written on old yellow paper and telling her he was OK. Of course, she’s also delusional enough to think the Dow will hit sixteen thousand some fine day.”

Turning to go he said, “Remember the Peggy McHugh party tonight.”

Adie nodded and pointed to a set of handcuffs attached to one of the brass rods on the headboard. “Can you hide those before you go? The cleaning lady’s coming today.”

Outside on Rivington Street, it was still early enough that Quinlan got a cab with no problem. This Lower East Side drug pit of his youth had gotten gentrified and hip beyond measure. But times like this, on mornings with bright, merciless sun shining on empty shop windows, it had started to look a bit shabby again.

As the cab rolled across Houston Street into the East Village, he noticed people setting up folding tables on the widened sidewalks, opening for business in the big informal flea market that had grown up there.

Portable dressing rooms lined Avenue B. On Tenth Street police barricades blocked traffic onto that side street. Miss Rheingold posters and ads for Pall Malls covered over the Mexican restaurant and reflexology parlor signs. Extras were ready to stand on the corner in greaser haircuts or lean out of first-floor windows in housecoats and hairnets. Down the block, lights brighter than the sun illuminated a tenement.

Getting out of the cab Quinlan was spotted by a couple of the film crew. “Morning, officer,” one said, and they all laughed.

For their amusement and his own he did an imitation of the old cop he’d heard on TV. “This is my once and future city. My life consists of long periods of waiting and brief flashes of action and violence. My name’s Sean Quinlan. And when I can get the work, I’m an actor.”

Big parts of Quinlan’s life were in a condition he didn’t want to think about. But he had a good part in a medium-sized film. Nothing else would matter for the next few hours.

At 9:22 one day in the spring of 1960 New York Police Detective Pete McDevitt climbs out of an unmarked Buick, flicks his half-smoked cigarette away, and steps into East Tenth Street. His suit is gray and his shirt is blue to match his eyes. His tie is bloodred and his hat is tilted back a tad to give full value to his face. Detective Pat Roark exits from the driver’s side wearing brown with a white shirt and blue tie, as befits a steady backup man and faithful partner.

McDevitt was played by Zach Terry, star of Like ’60, a Hollywood production currently shooting exteriors on the streets of NYC. Detective Roark was Sean Quinlan’s role. As a featured player it was his duty to exit on the far side of the car and step smoothly into his proper place one pace behind and two feet to the left of the star.

Pete McDevitt keeps his eyes fastened on an upper floor of the tenement opposite. But Pat Roark gives a quick scan over his shoulder, to see if anyone is watching them.

Quinlan planted that gesture in rehearsal and put it in each of the takes, wanting it there to emphasize that his character was the competent by-the-book cop. No one has commented one way or the other.

What he kept in his mind was a street full of guys and women setting out dressed for work, kids going to school on a spring day more than fifty years before. He blocked out what he actually saw—the trucks, the crew, the commissary table, the lights, and the crowd of gawkers.

Sean Quinlan felt a bit dizzy, like he was about to fall or maybe fly and wondered if this was how the start of a Slide felt. He had created a background for his character. Roark and McDevitt were supposed to pick up Jimmy Nails, a