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Category Archives: Zach


“There are idiots trying to kill me,” Sara says to Yerucham, across the narrow table.

“I know nothing about that,” says Yerucham. “Pickle?”

“You sure? It sounds like your style.”

“Sara!” he says, genuinely hurt, and not just in the fake way that “genuinely hurt” usually implies. “You and I, we have an arrangement.”

“Then you need to arrange to find out who else is in town, and pissed.”

“Yes, yes. I will email. But for the latter, it’s probably Nasser.”

“What? Why?”

He raises his eyebrows. “Damascus.”

“Oh,” she says. “You heard about that?”

He grins.

“Christ,” she mutters, “men.”


István leaves to go to the bathroom and Hidebound kills Pál with a knife. It’s that quick, so Zach is still staring at the blood and wondering if this is a prank when two scarred fingers drag him by the nostrils out of the safehouse.

“Ow fuck!” says Zach. Upon consideration, he adds: “Shit!”

“Whatever puppydog pity she took on you, be grateful for it,” says Hidebound, “because it’s the only thing keeping my fist out of your brains right now. How does it feel to be a hostage, Zach?”

Like so many things in Budapest, Zach reflects glumly, it hurts.


THE MUSEUM OF TERROR, says the shadow of a stencil on the concrete wall. Hidebound fiddles with the fire exit and drags him in; Zach wonders if he is to be the latest exhibit, or a curator.

There’s an old chair with straps on it. Hidebound sits him down hard, puts the straps to their intended use, and pulls up a little stool.

“Why are we here?” says Zach. He can feel holes in the chair under his hands and feet.

“Atmosphere,” says Hidebound. He removes a silver cigarette lighter from his boot.

Hidebound, Zach happens to know, does not smoke.


Sara’s stumbled over her words since she was a child; it made her cautious, then precise, and now she’s an irresistible brand of fire when she speaks. But on rough days she falls back to fifth-grade habits. She rehearses sentences as she walks, over and over, in mutters of breath.

“Nasser’s and my relationship is,” she begins, then “Nasser and I have this weird thing. Listen, there’s this guy Nasser–”

She shuts up on realizing she has no reason to explain any of this to Zach. Before she can think of one, she’s at the safehouse door, already scenting blood.


Sara just looks at the camera.

“Sara!” it says in a bandpassed version of Nasser’s voice. “I didn’t know you were in the city. Please–” The barred door buzzes and two very clean men in sunglasses step out to pat her down.

She lets them. When they stand up, István breaks the left one’s knee and takes the other through the door by his throat. Sara follows placidly.

“I don’t know what you’re upset about,” says Nasser, scrambling back with a tight rein on the tone of his voice.

“You never do,” Sara says, “but I’m starting to think it’s congenital.”


Nasser’s man Iakob–the one whose knee was recently reconfigured by István’s claw hammer–would recognize Zach if he saw him. They met last week, when Iakob came to Littleford’s agency to hire a killer. He wasn’t supposed to get a good one. Nasser just wanted to pull Sara’s hair.

Now Littleford is dead, and Pál is dead, and Zach and Iakob are in tremendous pain. Nasser can’t tell Sara what she wants to know; Zach knows very, very little.

Nasser’s smile is cold and sweaty, the smile of a man whose reach exceeds his grasp. Hidebound doesn’t smile at all.


At length, Hidebound retires.

Zach doesn’t actually cry until he’s alone in the darkened room. He stops crying after a while, and gets angry, as his hands and feet pulse with the maddening pain-tingle of blistered burns. He explains aloud the reasons that this whole situation is so stupid, and whose fault it is, and why, and fuck them. Then he cries some more. It’s awkward, trying to wipe his eyes and nose on his shoulders.

Zach sleeps. A woman enters, unbinds him, and mists lidocaine onto his wounds.

She is the Vulpine Phalanger.

She is going to kill someone.


Sara, meanwhile, has run out of things to break with István’s hammer.

Nasser watches with weary eyes. “This is an old story, my dear. I damage your self-respect; you destroy my property. But I can buy another television.”

Nézem,” István growls.

“Either call your Magyar to heel or have him hit me, Sara,” says Nasser. “But you can’t quite do either, can you? You must be dangerous, must be the fearsome subversive, but actually dirtying your hands… no, I don’t think you could bear it.”

Sara’s arms are trembling; she doesn’t want it to show. “Nasser,” she says, “you’re projecting.”


“My hands don’t hurt,” says Zach, staring at them. “Why don’t my hands hurt? Or my feet–”

“Shut up,” says the Vulpine Phalanger, hustling him down an alley constipated with protesters. “Don’t talk. Don’t question. Do exactly as I say and you might get to bore your grandchildren with this story, understand?”

Zach opens his mouth, shuts it, and nods.

She stops and turns back. “No talking. No questions.”

Zach nods again.

“No. Talking.”

Zach nods, slowly, one final time. She turns to start walking again.

“But why don’t my hands–”

“I don’t know why he didn’t kill you,” she says.


Had Zach completed the training Hidebound claimed to have given him, he would have known that the impact of a bullet while wearing a vest is like a kick to the breadbasket by a medium-sized ungulate with smallish hooves. Had Hidebound been trying to show off, he might have used his favorite example, the okapi.

This would not have helped Zach, who believes that okapis are total nerds from Japan.

“Whough,” he says, falling gracelessly, denied any useful point of comparison. The Vulpine Phalanger has already vanished. Hidebound curses himself for aiming at the center of mass: training, you know.