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Chicago shows up at Grand’s, triumphant, smelling like rye.

“Nobody takes precautions,” she enunciates, lying back with her feet in the pool. “Nobody changes the factory password. Nobody locks both drawers in a desk.”

“Nobody expects a fifteen-year-old to be snapping pictures,” says Grand, amused, “through the glory hole in the storage closet.”

“Will now.” Chicago shrugs, wiggling her shoulders against the warm concrete. “Tooo laaate.”

“Tell me which of your victims is which someday,” says Grand, lighting a roach in its clip. He inhales, then proffers it.

“No way,” says Chicago, standing, swaying. “That shit’s bad for you.”


Grip tape on her deck and Swiss ceramic bearings: Chicago likes the language of skating, the tumble and slide of it. It says what it is.

But cars, gah. Their language is so bent and angry, so tired: crankshaft gasket manifold. Ding. Chicago’s got a permit but, she reflects as she hauls him into the passenger seat, they never did get around to those driving lessons. So what. She’s seen a key cranked, she knows about mirrors. How hard can it be? One of them is gas, the other is brake, and she’s got this empirical test to distinguish between them.


Chicago doesn’t have the French for what she’s seeing, but she needs it. English isn’t concise enough: she’d have to list cogwheels and levers by name, belts and screws and mangles. There are wax cylinders and ribbon cables, great discs on arms and tiny hydraulic tubes, the hiss of steam and an electric hum. Some pieces are gleaming and some are shattered. None of it ever stops moving.

Not far above her are people, cars and the lazy downtown sun: Chicago sees the arms rising into darkness and thinks, maybe she does have the French. Machinerie, diablerie, éminence grise. Grand Guignol.


Pretty soon Chicago’s going to end the fight with a kick to the ankle and a shoulder to the jaw, but right now she’s enjoying it. Harley’s got better reach. Harley’s got a scholarship to Wellesley. Lithe, blonde Harley the volleyball player can’t throw a punch.

Not that Chicago took boxing lessons: her cousin Diego taught her to fight filthy, when they were young and short together. Diego grew up with four big brothers. Chicago, with none, always wondered why he didn’t run and hide.

This is what she’s learning: it’s a hot sick good time, hurting people bigger than you.


You can paint the walls green and blue; you can trade the cold bar lights for bulbs. You can hang posters and play music and knock out big windows, but the soul of a hospital, its atomic nature, is its smell.

Chicago wonders if they pipe it in through the little oxygen nose masks. Maybe it steams off the coffee? But it’s not much like coffee–more like instant oatmeal, cooked with disinfectant and chewed fingers and piss.

Things are fucked up, says the smell in its little yellow voice. Things are fucked for you and they are not getting better.


“Do you exist?”

“Of course.”

“How do you know?”

“Cogito, ergo–”

“Not good enough.” Chicago shakes her head. “I don’t believe that anymore, there’s nothing to it. It’s turtles all the way down.”

“Have you got something better?”

“I don’t have to offer anything,” she says, “strictly.”

Grand nods. “Just getting your kicks in at dead white guys, then. Real productive.”

“No.” She goes to the railing and leans over. “I am because I demand to be.”

He picks up the soccer ball and spins it. “Makes you want to spit, right?”

“I bet I can hit that guy,” she says.