- Job 14th chapter, 1st and 2nd verse.}
Toya, manager of Meilori's and proud possessor of the shortest skirt in all creation, glowered at me. "What brings your sorry hide here?"
"Trouble," I said, hoping to ease on by her.
She pulled her cutlass from her buccaneer's sash and lightly touched the front of my black T-shirt. "Not good enough, writer boy."
Toya glared at me as if I symbolized everything she hated. Who knows? Maybe I did.
Marlene Dietrich, still trying to burst out of her snug Prussian calvalry outfit, slapped the cutlass away with her saber. "Dirne, the dead ghost of Hemingway has been found by his bed and me in that bed. What does that tell you?"
Toya appraised me with cool eyes. "It tells me you've been a busy boy, Roland."
"I didn't kill him!"
"Of course, you didn't kill him, writer boy. You a boy scout. But every creepy-crawlie out in the Shadowlands will think you did. So the ghosts want revenge and every other damned thing wants the secret of how you kill what can't be killed."
She shook her head, nudging her pirate hat a bit more to an angle. "You're screwed."
"Thanks for the newsflash, but I already had that figured out."
To my left, a leisurely Missouri drawl spoke. "Toya's like an elephant. Everyone likes to look at her, but no one wants to keep her."
Toya grunted, "Clemens, no likes a smart-ass."
I turned to see an auburn-haired Mark Twain laugh, "Why sure they do, Missy. All except the one he's talking to, that is."
Marlene smiled mischieviously. "Sam, your hair seems to have become as dark as Toya's."
He put a forefinger to his lips. "Shhh. When folks hear that name they think McCord, and he has too many enemies here who shoot first and look second."
Mark Twain winked at Marlene and stroked his auburn moustache. "The ladies like the color, don't you know?"
"Sa-Mark," I said. "You're married."
His face lost its light. "Yes, I surely am. And I have been looking for my Livvy ever since I died. I haven't found her. But I will. I will."
Marlene seem to glide more than walk to Mark Twain. "Old friend, you both have died. And so you both have parted. It is a harsh truth."
He patted her slender hand. "You have your truth. I have my dream. We'll see, Valkyrie. We'll see."
Toya gestured to the back of the club with her cutlass. "Shoo, all of you! I will have no maudlin scenes up here spoiling the mood of my place. To the back with all of you."
Mark Twain bristled. "Woman, I thought you liked Roland. The further back in Meilori's you go, the worse it gets."
Toya nodded. "Yes, with HIS creations from HIS unconscious. They haven't been talked about the internet and all God's creation. Roland dies. They die."
Marlene shook her head. "You have never heard of the fable of the scorpion and the swan?"
"Yeah, sweet cheeks, I have. And you'll just have to take your chances with their natures. Or do you want to deal with those Shadowlanders coming in through the front door?"
The three of us whirled about. No one was coming in. I turned back to Toya who only smirked.
"Not yet. But soon."
I suddenly realized Marlene wasn't holding Gypsy's carrier anymore. "Gypsy!"
Marlene smiled. "Do not worry, Liebchen. Elu has her safe in his mirror world."
I swallowed hard. Safe? With Elu? In his deadly mirror world? How safe was that? It occurred to me that it was probably safer than here with me.
Toya broke into my brooding. "Oh, I almost forgot. Death said to give you this."
She reached behind her sash and pulled out a small, ornate box covered in strange runes. She handed it to me. I almost dropped it. It was as cold as dry ice. With burning fingers, I shoved it into my right jeans pocket. It still burned, but not as much or as badly.
"What is it, Toya?"
"Death said it was a box full of darkness."
"How appropriate," softly spoke a silken voice behind me.
"Marlowe," snarled Marlene.
Toya sighed, "I tried to warn you." She spun about on her high heeled boots and left us.
I turned and froze.
The bard aimed his luger straight at my heart.
"Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long."
His smile was even colder than his eyes. "You murder my prose. I murder you. Fitting is it not?"
For my friend, Gardner West, the musical question of the weekend :