City of Corpses: Start the Countdown

I just sent to my editor the corrected galley proofs for CITY OF CORPSES (the second book of the Dark Avenger’s Sidekick trilogy, which is the fifth book of the Moth and Cobweb duodecology). I have seen the rough draft of the cover illo, which promises to be splendid.

He says that the book will be available for purchase in a fortnight, or perhaps in a week. So ready yourselves and start the countdown.

What that, you say? You’d like to read the first chapter free of charge, you say? I am happy to oblige.

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CHAPTER ONE: The Cobbler’s Club

1.      Maiden of Arrows

She did not know her mother’s name.

Yumiko Ume Moth showed none of the desperation and sorrow smothering her soul on her face. Without expression, without food, without sleep, without hope, the Japanese girl walked the sidewalks of the gray metropolis, her dark eyes hot with hidden turmoil. Dawn could be glimpsed as a narrow strip of gray light overhead, where the sky was trapped between frowning walls of surrounding buildings.

Even at this early hour, the sidewalks were filled with hard-faced crowds. The streets were snarled with creeping cars with glaring lights and honking horns.

It should have thrilled her to have found her own name again. Instead, gloom came. There was no one with whom to share the dazzling news. Her cousin Elfine had been kidnapped by a knight on horseback in the middle of modern Manhattan. Yumiko had failed to protect her.

Knowing her father’s name was cold comfort. Shodotekiken Moth was his name, which meant: Impetuous Danger Moth. It was a strange name. She had no face to match it, no memory.

Knowing her own name was cold comfort. Yumiko. It meant Maiden of Arrows.      She had heard it spoken, not seen it written, and different kanji characters might have carried different meanings: Beautiful Girl, or Brave Child, or Born-of-the-Evening. But the first meaning was hers. Ume meant plum blossom. This was the flower of fidelity and perseverance, for it bloomed in midwinter. This also was hers.

What was not hers was the rest of her. Her home, her past, her life, all were still lost in the mist.

And her mother was lost. She could recall no face, no touch of hand, no sound of voice. That, more than anything, drained her of hope.

Yumiko had stopped at a phone booth, surprised to find one unvandalized, and looked in the phone book. There were no Moths listed in the New York City white pages, and the yellow pages listed only exterminators.

She knew of no one who would help her.

And her mother’s death? She remembered nothing of that, only an echo of pain. Pain called for retaliation. She must find and kill her mother’s killers. It was a duty.

On she walked. Yumiko passed the Chrysler Building. Central Park was to her left, an occasional green glimpse between gray walls. The sidewalks grew more crowded and the street traffic more raucous. The strip of sky grew bright above, but the claustrophobic streets were cold with early spring chill.

Soon, she saw the Chrysler Building again. She was going in circles. She had no aim, no destination. Her thoughts also went in circles.

To whom she could turn? It depressed her that the human world was enchanted, held in the Black Spell, mesmerized and mind-controlled by some sort of vast conspiracy of nonhuman, ancient, cruel, and magical beings: the mazoku, which the Westerners called elfs.

Was her amnesia caused by the same spell? Was there any way to break it?

Winged Vengeance had also sworn to kill the enemy. It should have solved all her needs to find again the master whose disciple she was. Instead, each word spoken atop the Empire State Building after midnight had been like another arrowshaft into her heart. Her mother was dead. Her beloved was missing. She herself could no longer be trusted since she had been captured by the Anarchists.

This strange group had declared war against both man and elf and sought to topple all nations, break all laws, and shatter all crowns. They were a cabal of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and warlocks, for they broke also the laws of nature. The Supreme Council of their seven leaders were named after the days of the week. From a ghost she had learned the name of the one called Thursday, whose werewolf packs were poised to strike at New York City. He boasted that he would conquer the metropolis and keep men alive only as herds of cattle on which his wolves would feed. His name was Lucien Cobweb.

Remembering his laughter, recalling the sensation of being trampled beneath him, his hot jaws one inch from her throat, made a rush of fear and hatred, like a dark cloud, boil through her brain.

Had he been the one, himself, who slew her mother? It did not matter. He was one of the seven who had done it: the Anarchists.

Winged Vengeance said Yumiko’s former life had ended when she had fallen into Anarchist hands. Therefore she must be an impostor, a hypnotized puppet, or possessed by a ghost. Winged Vengeance called her his enemy. It was an added insult when Yumiko discovered that her master truly did not believe her competent or capable of escaping from the Anarchists.

The truth was too strange for belief. An unexplained miracle had saved her from death. In a dream or vision, a bright lady had given her words to say and washed away all her oaths, all need for vendetta.

Winged Vengeance did not believe it. Yumiko was not sure she believed it herself. And so he had cursed her, denounced her, and wished her to commit suicide.

And then he departed on dark wings into the night, leaving her hollow and lost, with no tears to shed.

He did not even tell her the name of the young man she loved.

Perhaps suicide would be best. She was no coward, to cling to life when fate said otherwise! Submission to fate, and detachment from all desires, was the path to serenity. Joy was not meant for her.

Had she indeed failed to fulfill her oath, whatever it might be, to Winged Vengeance?

Yumiko found herself standing on a small arched bridge of dark brown stone in Central Park. Trees with naked branches stood bright about her, shivering in the cold March wind. She could not see how deep the stream ran. Perhaps not deep enough for a drowning.

It seemed that suicide was the reasonable and expected answer: to cast away this failed life, one of an infinite number, and to make amends in a next. Her next life would be fresh and clean of stain, and the memory of this one would be blotted out…

A noise made her stop and look up. Unlike the city noises, it was music, haunting, echoing, like a voice calling over the rooftops.

It was the chime of the churchbells in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, ringing the hour of morning prayer. The golden metal notes seemed to mock her thoughts, to threaten that there were not an infinite number of worthless lives given to man, but only one, and that one infinitely precious. The golden voice seemed to promise something higher and better than submission to fate.

It was hypnotic, intoxicating. A strange emotion touched her. It was a terrible emotion. She did not know if it were fear or joy.

She turned north, walking away from the park, and back into the streets.

Perhaps she had tried to cast her life away, and this had been prevented, or forbidden. Who or what was the bright lady she had seen in a dream? What was the strange message she was burdened to carry?

She recalled the words well enough.

Therefore tell the Twilight people, who are neither wholly of the Daylight World nor of the Night World, that when eternal day breaks, twilight is no more. Then will all their deeds be laid bare and judged.

What was the task she was meant to do?

Let not the soul of thy beloved be drawn into darkness.

Whatever it meant, it meant some injustice had been done, and there was none but she must right it. Someone was relying on her. Someone she loved.

With a start, she looked up. Somehow, she had wandered into the Upper East Side, past 72nd Street, to Lexington Avenue. Here, once again, was a looming sign: THE COBBLER’S CLUB. Not far away was the empty backlot where she had watched the werewolves Whelan and Phelan die. Her tracking devices that had been planted on the corpses yesterday showed that the bodies had been moved to this location. This was also the place where she had first met Elfine, who was also being attacked by the Redcaps.

As suddenly as that, all despair, all thought of suicide, all doubt quite vanished. Her feet were wiser than her head, and had brought her here. This was the only thread left to follow. Before her was her mission. She may have forgotten it, but still it was hers.

2.      Gainful Employment

The second time she walked past, she saw a help wanted sign in one corner of a dark and highly decorated window. Yumiko’s eyebrow quirked. She knocked.

A dark-haired man in a dark jacket and tie with dark sunglasses opened the door. He looked Yumiko up and down. “We’re closed. We don’t open until four.”

He spoke with the slightly wobbly precision of a fellow with a few drinks inside him, and trying not to show it.

Yumiko recognized him from the fight in the alley. He was a twilighter who had been helping the werewolves. Apparently he did not recognize her.

She said, “You have a help wanted sign in your window.”

She could not see his eyes, but his lips thinned into a sarcastic moue. “For a waitress, not a paralegal. We’re looking for girls with a certain, you know, masculine appeal. You ain’t it, sweetcakes. Sorry.”

And he closed the door.

Yumiko thought of herself as a modest girl, but this curt dismissal offended a feminine pride she had not realized possessed her. No masculine appeal, eh? Her eyes narrowed in determination. She looked left and right and then trotted down the street to the alley where she had first seen Elfine. If expensive clothing barred her way, she would see what it took to open it.

Yumiko unbraided her hair and shook it down her back. She wished she had Elfine here to brush it magically into the shampoo-commercial shine she had earlier. Yumiko then took off the blouse, skirt, and jacket, and stood in a black lacy garment that might have been a bustier or might have been a leotard. She left on her stockings, but donned her long black boots, rolled down to the knee. She stowed everything in her cloak, which she turned into a sash, but instead of tying it obi style around her waist, she tied it pirate-girl-style around her hips, to add a touch of emphasis.

Swaying her hips, her heels tapping on the pavement, she went back to the door and knocked. She assumed the sultry expression she had seen on advertisements for lipstick or lingerie: chin up, lips parted, eyes half-lidded.

A different fellow answered the door, a thin and acne-scarred teen boy in a black leather hat and black jacket smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. He gawped at her, and the cigarette dropped out of his lips.

“I am here for the waitress job,” she said, flinging her hair back off her shoulder with a toss of her head.

The youth beckoned her in without a word.

Inside it seemed dim as night after the glare of the sunny, early-morning street. There was a podium for the maître-d’ to her right, a hat-check closet to the left, and before her were stairs leading down to a lounge. In the lounge were small tables crowded around a Plexiglas dance floor beneath a battery of mirrored balls, colored spotlights, and laser emitters. At the far end was a bar of white marble beneath mirrored shelves holding bottles of every shape and hue. The tables on the floor were currently empty except for a three customers lingering from the previous night. The air smelled of sweat, alcohol, and opium.

The youth yodeled, “Mr. Licho!” and this summoned the man in the dark glasses once more. He was carrying a steaming pot from which the rich aroma of freshly-brewed coffee arose.

“What is it, Blud?”

Blud, the youth, merely gestured toward the half-clad girl.

This time, he stopped and drew his dark glasses off his nose to inspect her. She now saw why he wore dark glasses: each eye had two pupils instead of one, lending a freakshow ugliness to his naked stare. He did not once raise his gaze all the way to her face, and may not have even known she was a same girl of the same race and height as the one he had dismissed as unappealing a moment ago.

He said to her, “You’re in. Go up to the second floor, take a right, knock on the first door. Boggy is our captain of waitress staff. If she’s drunk, just pour this pot over her head.”

He passed the handle of the steaming pot to her. She turned to go up the indicated stairs, feeling the man’s stare on her as she climbed.

She was blushing by the time she reached the first landing.

There was a mirror on the wall of the corridor at the top of the second landing. The girl who looked out at her was the same she had seen last night in the lady’s room of the coffee shop, but a few hours older and wiser. “Whatever you were in your past life, you are not someone who lied to police or seduced enemies with her masculine appeal.” She shook her head. As far as a woman’s weapon went, this was a blade with no grip, one that cut the swordsman when it struck. She felt shamed and small. “I am not Mata Hari.”

The girl in the mirror inspected her. “You might get used to it in time.”

“That is what I fear.” At the moment, she was the type of girl who would not cheat a tollbooth. That was a type of purity she did not necessarily want to let slip from her hand. It might shatter, with no way to put it back. “And what would my boyfriend think? I don’t even know who he is or what he is like.”

The eyes in the mirror narrowed. “Now is not the time for qualms. You are Mata Hari at the moment if you want to sneak into an enemy stronghold and poke around.”

Yumiko shook her head, put the pot down, undid her sash, took out the blouse and skirt, and put them on. More demurely dressed, she picked up the coffee pot.

Across the hall from the mirror, the first door had a card thumbtacked to it: Boginki Cobweb.

Inside was a desk crowded with papers, flowerpots, and ashtrays. To the left was a sofa on which boxes of bottled vodka were resting. Three walls were crowded with shelves on which a large number of dun orchids and thin cactuses were drooping and dying. The floor beneath the shelves was littered with brown leaves and dropped needles. The final wall was crowded with framed autographed pictures of celebrities, always posed with the same portly man in a top hat and tuxedo. A four-bladed wooden fan in the ceiling was turning, but the office was hot and airless nonetheless.

Behind the desk was a thin, hatchet-faced matron wearing a rather old-fashioned gown of dark stuff, buttoned up to the collar. Her hair was gray and worn in a bun, but her eyes were as bright as the eyes of an eagle.

She looked up. “Well?”

Yumiko said, “Mr. Licho sent me up with the coffee.”

The gray woman nodded and took a small white cup off the shelf that had a fern growing in it. She dumped the plant and soil into the neighboring flowerpot, wiped the cup with her fingers, and beckoned. She thumped the cup down on the litter-coated table. “Give it here. Big night last night.”

Yumiko approached, wiped the cup with her sash, poured, put the coffee pot down carefully, turned the white cup, and presented it to the woman with both hands.

Boggy took the cup, with a scowl. “Who are you again?”

“I am the new girl. Mr. Licho sent me up here.”

Boggy said, “Back up. Turn around. Let’s take a look at you. How high can you kick?”

Yumiko thought it was a strange question. “How high would you like me to kick?”

“Just show me as high as you can.”

Yumiko looked up and pointed at the ceiling fan. “There?”

Boggy looked surprised, then skeptical, then sarcastic. “Um. Sure.”

Yumiko flipped into the air and tapped her boot heel on the ceiling between the turning fan blades, landed, spun, and did it again with the other foot, tapping the ceiling on the other side of the fan.

Boggy said, “Well, well. We are limber, aren’t we? Did you bring a letter?”

“A what?”

“A résumé. A list of where you worked before.”

Yumiko said, “I am new in the field.”

Boggy scowled. “And Licho just up and hired you? Without checking you out?”

“Well, no, I had taken off my blouse…”

“I got the picture. Tell me no more! Iron nails! Where did I put it?” And she dug out a piece of paper. “The Magician keeps saying he is going to upgrade and computerize, but there is never enough money in the budget for it. Always funds for hiring another pretty face to smile for the marks though. What is your name?”

“Yoshiko Kawashima.” It was the first name that sprang into her mind. It was the name of the Manchu princess who served as a spy for the Kwantung Army in World War Two. The Eastern Mata Hari.

Boggy scribbled the name down and passed a handful of papers to her. “This is the employment form, your withholding, health insurance, and waiver. Write down your bank deposit and routing number here because we don’t cut checks any more, and this is a nondisclosure agreement. You do not have to join the Actors Guild if you are appearing only in the chorus line. Well, technically you do, but the local bosses give us some leeway as long as you contribute dues. Any questions?”

“I don’t have a bank account. In fact, I don’t have a place to stay, so I was hoping you would give me an advance on my wages.”

Boggy laughed and then took a large swallow of scalding coffee. “So you come in here with no references, no past, no place to stay, and you expect to be hired as a girl in our world-famous chorus line of Peach Cobbler Girls because you can kick the ceiling?”

Yumiko bowed. “I wish to create no trouble. If you wish to speak to Mr. Licho about the…”

An electronic noise came suddenly from the desk, a bleak squawk. Boggy looked under one pile of papers, and then another, and then found an intercom box. Boggy worked a toggle beneath a flashing bulb.

She said, “Yes, sir..?”

A rich, rolling voice issued from the speaker. “Hire her. Never mind about the paperwork. Have the wardrobe mistress outfit her with a costume and send her to my office.”

There was a click.

Boggy stared at the intercom box for a moment, one eye larger than the other, baffled. Then, she took another burning swig of coffee. “Mine is not to reason why. You are in. Take this slip downstairs and go backstage. Leshenka is the name of the wardrobe mistress. Be nice to her. She is a little pixilated. She will set you up with a locker and such.”

“A little… I beg your pardon?”

“Pixilated. Afflicted. Bewildered. Touched. She spat on an unlucky day and must have angered the pixies. The Goodly Folk, you know? But she knows her way around a needle and thread.”

3.      Stage Magician

When Yumiko stepped into the wardrobe room backstage, she saw the black ring on her finger in the reflections on the wall-to-wall mirrors there. Anyone helping her change clothes was sure to see it. She slipped the invisible ring in her pocket. Only then did she knock and ask for Leshenka.

Not long after, Yumiko found herself dressed, or, rather, revealed, in a cute but skimpy outfit consisting of a top hat, a white bow tie, a tight black-and-white corset decorated to look like a tuxedo, shiny black hotpants, and fishnet stockings. False cuffs and cufflinks circling her wrists completed the outfit even though she wore no sleeves.

Yumiko wondered if such a costume was designed as a type of subtle psychological warfare to rob serving girls of so much dignity that none would dare assassinate their superiors with pufferfish poison before committing ritual suicide. On the other hand, she was not sure how often Americans were killed with pufferfish poison. Maybe the Americans just liked pretty girls and lacked decorum.

The shoes were arch-breaking three-inch closed-toed pumps.

Leshenka the wardrobe mistress showed her the locker room and issued Yumiko a combination lock whose combination one could reset oneself. Yumiko left her expensive suit of clothing in the locker and put everything else into her sash, which she rolled up and hid in her top hat. The ring, still invisible, was hidden in the sash as well. She did not trust that the locker would stay locked.

She piled her hair up atop her head to expose her neck, a dainty spot she was sure men would find alluring, and used several pins driven through the hat band to keep the top hat in place perched on the coiffure.

Yumiko thought again of her psychological warfare theory when she was next sent to the office of the owner. The door to his office was big, the walk was long, the carpet was red, the desk was high, and the man himself was both large and tall.

The wall behind his desk was wider than the wall opposite, which meant the walls to her left and right receded the deeper in the room she walked.

He was wide of girth, but on him, the bulk looked imposing rather than comical. He was dressed, despite the early hour, in a tuxedo. His hair was dark, parted in the middle, and white at the temples. His face was square. A top hat was propped on the bust of Shakespeare next to his desk. He wore white kid gloves.

He gestured her, smiling, to a three-legged barstool in the center of the red carpet. Yumiko sat. He flicked a toggle on his desk. The red and gold drapery to her left and right drew back, revealing two walls paneled in mirrors. She was rather acutely aware that he could now stare at her from both sides and from behind.

Yumiko straightened her poise, crossed her legs, interlaced her fingers on her upper knee, and smiled her most charming smile. She thought darkly that no one who plays at being Mata Hari can object to attracting men’s stares.

Her smile froze when she noticed his eye dart immediately to the image in the mirror where her hands were reflected, first in the mirrored wall to her left and then to her right. She continued to smile, hoping her expression betrayed nothing. But in her heart she blessed whatever paranoia told her to hide the Ring of Mists in her hat.

But, like her, he continued to smile. “I am Wilcolac Cobweb. You’ve heard of me, I suppose? Here I am, the real thing, large as life!” He uttered a hearty laugh. “But you can call me Willy. And what exactly is your business here?”

Yumiko said, “I need a job.”

He leaned back in his wide, black leather chair and looked at the ceiling. “Of course, of course. No place to stay, as I understand it? Why not stay with relatives?”

She said, “My people are in Japan.”

“What part?”

“All of them.”

He looked surprised and then laughed. She put her hand to her mouth to hide a laugh, and once again his eyes darted to the mirrors left and right. Lifting up one hand had revealed the hand beneath.

She said, “Sorry, I am from Akita Prefecture.”

He smiled again. “Are you really? Do you come from a big family?”

She said, “No. My mother is dead.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” he said and bounded to his feet. He walked with an excess of energy, like a young man, despite his girth.

He crossed to the front of the desk, saying, “No, no! Do not get up!”

And he stood and loomed over her, staring down at her in her skimpy little outfit with cold eyes and a genial smile.

She suddenly realized that it was not some generic tuxedo her immodest showgirl outfit was meant to copy, but his, him in particular.

She wanted to stop smiling, to fidget, to wipe away the beads of nervous sweat she felt accumulating. But she glanced at the calmly smiling girl in the saucy outfit in the mirror, and her eyes gave her a warning glance as if to remind her that she was on a mission, and persons unknown may be relying on her.

He walked with his hands behind his back, circling her. The lights from the ceiling gleamed off his spats.

Willy Cobweb said, “So why did you come here?”

She had to crane back her head to look up at him. “Well, I have heard of you, of course. And the Peach Cobbler Girls are world famous.”

He nodded, “Hmm. True enough.” His expression was puzzled, as if he were surprised at how reasonable that sounded. “How is the outfit?”

She said, “I think I can move it in.”

“Hmm. We do a winter holiday review, where you have to dress like one of Santa’s elfs. That means you work holidays at the base rate of pay. Are you fine with that? No Christmas break.”

She said, “I am fine with that.”

“You don’t, ah, celebrate Christmas?”

“In Japan, it is treated more like a romance time. A boy might buy an expensive present for his girlfriend on that day… or make for her…” And suddenly, to her surprise, her voice choked up. Something that was more than a memory tickled her for a moment, but was gone before she could snare it.

(What had her own beloved given her? The magic ring? Or something he had made?)

Willy was speaking. She had not heard the opening of his comment. “…started in the theater as a magician. Much better than shoemaking! But the more I studied, the more I found how truly odd some of the people in this line of work were. Did you know, for example, that Houdini once commissioned the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft to pen a treatise exposing the origins of superstition as produced by the prehistoric ignorance of mankind? Both of them made their living from bewildering and frightening people, but both urged the public to be skeptical, to be disbelievers.”

She answered, quite honestly, “I had not heard.”

“Pure camouflage, as it turns out. Houdini knew that the ignorance was deliberate: a cloak thrown over the head of mankind to hoodwink and blindfold us all! It was his investigations into the causes of that ignorance which led to his murder. Yes, his death was not an accident, as is often told!”

Since Yumiko had no idea who this Houdini was, she tried her best to contrive to look surprised. She was about to comment that perhaps the police should be told, but then she realized Willy might be talking about an historical character, dead for hundreds of years.

So all she said was, “I am sure the truth will come out.”

He frowned, looking even more puzzled, as if that were not the answer he expected. Willy stopped pacing, stood behind her, and rested his hands gently on her naked shoulders, which Yumiko found rather menacing.

“So do you think magic is not real?” he said.

She said, “You would know better than I. You are the magician.”

Willy put his fingers into one of her ears, and before she could flinch or draw away, he pulled a pearl, white, shining, and solid, from her ear.

He tossed it in the air, caught it, and pressed it in her palm. “Touch it! Stroke it! Scratch it with your tooth if you like. It is real: I just took it from your ear, where you had no idea it was hidden.”

He was watching her carefully.

Yumiko said, “Since it was found in my ear, may I have it?”

He frowned thoughtfully, plucked the pearl out of her palm, and crossed around to behind his desk. With a theatrical flourish of his coattails, he sat. Then, he lay the pearl carefully on the blotter and put an empty shotglass mouth-downward atop it.

He said, “Why do you want it?”

He took out a handkerchief, waved it in the air, and draped it over the shotglass.

She said, “I was hoping for an advance on my wages. I am low on funds…”

“…and you want to be paid in pearls rather than banknotes?” he said, grunting.

She was not sure how to answer that, so she said nothing.

He said, “The first rule a magician learns is that the first rule is a trick and a distraction meant to take your eyes from the second rule.”

Yumiko was not sure what to make of that. “I see. Ah. So what is the second rule?”

“That everything is misdirection and deception. That nothing is as it seems. Even the rule that nothing is as it seems is not as it seems.”

Yumiko was even less sure how to take that. “So what is it? The true second rule, I mean. If the second rule is not what it seems?”

“The true rule is that the true rule is hidden. Stage magicians are allowed from time to time to glimpse beyond the veil, or even draw it aside for no longer than the time it takes to gasp in awe or in fear! Allowed, I say, tolerated, because no one believes our work is the work of true magic, deep magic, dark magic. Stage-tricks, they call it, illusions, done with mirrors. All that is stripes on a zebra and color on a chameleon.”

“So is the pearl mine or not?”

“What pearl?” He slapped his palm down atop the covered shotglass. His hand was wide and meaty, and his glove made an enormous noise when it struck the blotter. He yanked his hand up.

“Here. Catch.” He tossed a small, glinting object at her face.

Expecting it to be shards of a shattered shotglass, she flung herself backward, leaning so far back that her head was below the level of the stool seat on which she sat. She had hooked her toes through the rungs of the barstool so that she did not topple off the tiny, round seat. Her top hat was pinned firmly enough on her head that it did not fall off and give everything away.

She saw the small metal thing he had thrown flying by overhead: It was a rough-hammered iron nail connected by a keyring to a doorkey. She snatched it out of the air with her left hand and straightened up.

Willy was open mouthed.

Yumiko tucked some stray hair back into her top hat, cleared her throat, and crossed her legs again. She held up the key on the nail and wiggled it to make it jingle. “Thank you. What is this?”

He had recovered his composure. “The key to the stage door in the back. You have to come in for rehearsal at three, an hour before opening. We open at four. There is a show at seven and again at midnight. Between shows you wait tables. You are second chorus, which means you don’t need to do anything other than look pretty and do a simple step-kick in time, a shimmy, a shake, and a strut. I assume you have never waited tables before.”

She said, “Why? I mean, I haven’t, but what gave it away?”

Willy drew a breath and let it out, and his genial smile vanished as if it had never been. He said, “It would be rare and strange to find a half-fairy serving spirits to mortals.”

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