By the end of the first month, the world slowly began to feel solid under hi_eet, the edges of things stable and reliable, his skin his own.
At home, Spyder kept the TV on, but the sound off. He tried to listen t_usic, but everything sounded flat and dull. Spyder made a couple of calls an_e and Lulu started doing work out of Luscious Abrasion, a body mod studi_ear their old place on Haight Street. A small but steady part of Spyder an_ulu's new clientele were demons, Gytrash and other non-humans.
"Word's spreading about us. You know what this means?" asked Lulu.
No one at the studio ever seemed to notice, and their special clients alway_aid in gold so everyone was happy.
In May, on Orson Welles' birthday, an old art house theater in the Missio_istrict had a marathon screening of his films. Spyder had seen the earl_tuff dozens of times, so he only came for late night flicks, It's All True, Welles' doomed Brazilian epic, and The Other Side of the Wind, a dark, micro- budget film about a bitter director, played by John Huston. He knew ther_eren't enough guns or tits to get Lulu to sit through either movie, so Spyde_ent alone.
It was almost two in the morning when the movies let out. Spyder went to th_orner where he'd parked the Kawasaki and lit a cigarette. It was cold an_et. Heavy fog was blowing through the streets like sparkling ghosts.
She was leaning against the front door of a check cashing shop. Through th_pen door, restless illegals pretended not to see the down-on-their luc_hites who were busy pretending to be somewhere else entirely.
Spyder sat on the bike, took a drag off the American Spirit.
He said, "I have this scar on my arm. Sometimes at night I touch it just t_ake sure I didn't imagine it. It's where the Clerks marked me. On the tabl_y my bed, I have this big black knife. I close my eyes and my head is full o_he strangest images. And none of it seems real. Like maybe all those things _hink I remember are kind of the opposite of a drunken blackout. A drunke_icture show. But when I fall asleep it's all okay because at the end of th_ictures, I get the girl. Only I didn't, did I?"
"I'm sorry I ran off. I'm worse at goodbyes than you are," said Shrike.
"How's your father?"
"I'm really sorry to hear that."
"It's all right. I took him home, to the Second Sphere. He rallied briefly. _hink he was happy when he went."
"So, there's a happy ending, after all. I'm glad you both got that."
"You don't have to be so magnanimous."
Spyder nodded, took a pull on the cigarette.
"Yeah, I do. Otherwise the walls start doing that closing in thing and I wan_ drink and I'm trying real hard not to want that."
"You're not drinking? That's a good thing."
He shrugged. "Leaves more money for cigarettes."
"I'm so sorry I left you like that."
"You said that already."
Shrike walked over to him. Her eyes were clear and bright, though a littl_ark, as if she hadn't slept in days. Spyder looked for the white cane tha_oubled as her sword, but he didn't see it.
"My father was dying. I knew it the moment I saw him back in Madame Cinders'
tower. I had to take him home," Shrike said. "And I had to get away from you."
"Did I do something to upset you?"
"Just the opposite. You saved me."
"Bullshit. You're the one with the sword, the one who knows magic and how t_ove between worlds. I was just faking it, doing card tricks."
"You don't understand. I'm a killer. I'd dedicated my-self to destroying lif_ecause mine had been stolen from me. I told the few people who asked that _as sorry I had to do it, but it was all that I knew. The truth is, I enjoye_aking life. And doing it for something as cheap as money made it all th_etter. I wanted to burn down the world for what it did to me and my family."
"I know the feeling."
"If things had gone a little differently years ago, I might have becom_omeone like Madame Cinders. If you hadn't come along on this journey, I woul_ave given her the book. I would have made a deal with the Dominions to blood_he whole world. I still thought about doing it, right up until the end."
"You. I used you that first night because I wanted sex, so I gave you drugge_ine. I needed someone to stand next to me at Madame Cinders', so I took yo_long. I needed someone who knew Hell, so I dragged you into something tha_ould have killed you a thousand times. And I wouldn't have blinked if it had.
Every time you gave me something I needed, I was ready to cut you loose. I wa_tringing you along because I knew how."
"If you came back all this way just to call me a sucker to my face, missio_ccomplished."
Shrike came closer, resting a hand on the bike's throttle, not touching him.
"I kept waiting for you to bolt. I kept waiting for you to catch on and sel_e out. Betray me. But you wouldn't. At first I thought you were playing _ame, angling to get the book for yourself. Then, I decided it was simpl_elf-preservation. You wanted to get out alive and get the magic to restor_our precious ignorance. But you kept not betraying me. You kept… " Sh_esitated.
"Caring about you?"
"I told myself you were trying to manipulate me, but you gave the book t_adame Cinders to save my father. Then you destroyed the book, and I kne_ou'd never tried to deceive me. I would have killed anyone to have the powe_n that book. You already had it in your hands and you threw it away. I kno_ou wanted to save your world, but I think partly you did it for me."
"You know I did."
She looked way and frowned. "And I couldn't bear that. I couldn't look you i_he eyes after I'd lied and used you all down the line. Being with you brough_ack all these feelings I'd thought I'd burned up years ago. Then, when I ha_y father and I knew he was dying, it was too much. I had to run away. Can yo_orgive me?"
"No," she said, holding onto his coat sleeve. "Not like that. Don't forgive m_ike you forgive some street urchin who picks your pocket. I need you to sav_e one more time. I need to know you can forgive me from that other part o_ou that refused to betray me or leave me when you could have."
Spyder tossed his cigarette, and put a hand over hers. "I can. I do. I alway_id. I wanted to strangle you for -pulling that ghost act back in the tunnels, but I knew you must have had a good reason. And I always knew I'd see yo_gain."
"No. That was me being Cary Grant. I didn't know what the fuck to think whe_ou took off. I was going out of my mind and I hated you. But you didn't lif_y wallet, which is more than I can say for most girls you meet in alleys."
Shrike smiled and leaned against him.
"Maybe we can go to your place and try that first meeting again."
"On one condition."
"Teach me magic. I still have all this juice left in me from falling into th_ook, but it comes out in strange ways. I was dreaming of my younger self bac_n Berenice the other night, and in the morning my bedroom was full of all th_eys to all the cars I'd ever stolen."
Shrike put her hands on Spyder's shoulders and stood up.
"I'm glad you asked. I'd love to teach you. When you're ready, there's plent_f work for us to do. I'm going to take back my kingdom from the bandits wh_re running it now. After that, we'll figure out a way to drive the Dominion_ack into the oblivion where they belong."
Spyder ran his hands down Shrike's back, thrilling to the reality of he_armth, her presence right there with him.
"It's cute, how you have no ambition," he said.
"We'll have to leave this Sphere to do it. You'll come with me?"
"I'd be a fool not to."
Shrike climbed on to the back of Spyder's bike, wrapping her arms around him.
Spyder kicked over the motor and gunned the engine. They shot off and the fo_losed in behind them, swallowing the tail lights and even the engine noise.