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She inched a little farther from the fire and slipped on her wool socks and pulled on a poncho her roommate had woven for her from the wool of organically grown sheep. Ute's eyes, pale as prairie skies and framed by wrinkles only a little leathery since he was careful to use plenty of sunscreen, lit up. Fact is, I always have wished I could get the hang of a comb and tissue and never have.

I'd be much obliged if you could maybe give me some pointers? I'd be glad to show you a thing or two about ropin' in exchange. In line with the amended Code of the West, I aim to show and not tell you all about it. First off, I want you to imagine a little woman about sixty, sixty-five years old, but quick on her feet and strong from lots of dancin' and a good judge of people and a way with 'em from years of bartendin'.

She had thick curly hair that she just plain let go gray, as if there was nothin' wrong in the world with that. Just shows she wasn't one to put all them chemicals into the water system. Besides, lotsa people pay to make their hair lighter. What's wrong with just lettin' nature change it, is what I always say. Anyway, this woman had gone through some tremendous changes in her life because she happened to enjoy a certain type of entertainment with which we cowboy poets are also in sympathy, which is how I came to hear this story.

You see, there were a bunch of devils, and I don't mean only of the strictly Judeo-Christian brand, mind you, more what your Native American Indians might call the evil spirits. These folks decided to eliminate this particular type of entertainment—oh, hell, call a spade a spade. They used to call it folk music, though strictly speakin' that's not always an accurate term. Anyhow, these devils, who were rich and sophisticated and behind all the troubles in this world that people didn't dream up all by themselves, decided to take away the music that sometimes makes people feel a little better about themselves and their work.

Gives 'em a kind of what we cowboy poets would call an eagle's-eye view of their situation, helps 'em get their lives back in control. Anyhow, for a space there—and y'all may not be too well aware of it, but me and my compadres were—these devils by killin' and connivin' managed to get rid of most of the most important singers of the songs and make everybody forget the words to songs people had been singin' for hundreds of years.

Everybody forgot every song sung by every dead singer. When the great Sam Hawthorne died on the very day the Library of Congress folk-music collection got blowed up, almost all the songs in the country were wiped from people's minds.

You notice I said people's minds. Sam had this magic banjo that he passed on before he died, and it remembered the songs, though nobody knew how come. Now, this magical banjo eventually passed into the hands of a very small group of people. One of them was this woman I'm tellin' you about, Ms. Gussie Turner.

All fine musicians except for Gussie and Ms. Randolph, who was a more academic kind of lady. Then there was Mr. Brose Fairchild, a gentleman of more than one color who was a crackerjack blues man and purveyor of Baltic ethnic tunes. And last but by no means least Mr. Willie MacKai, who used to work right here on this ranch where we are now working—though that's another story.

These were the people who came together and ended up as the guardians of Lazarus, Sam's magic banjo. They went over there and with some help from a bunch of ghosts, includin' that of the famous writer Sir Walter Scott, his ancestor the Wizard Michael Scott, and a bunch of their kinfolk, they got back the songs. Then they went after songs from other places than Scotland, such as Ireland, France, Spain, and the like. Gussie, who had become a hell of a storyteller by virtue of bein' possessed—though mind you in a very respectable and respectful way—by the ghost of Sir Walter, came back here to do a little low-profile advance publicity.

She was the chief devil in charge of debauchery. Among other things the musicians learned in Scotland, one was that she used to be the Queen of Fairyland and had come down in the world since then. So she was the one who both helped them and hindered them when the musicians wanted to go into the ballad world to reclaim the old songs that would help them release the rest of 'em.

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Of course, as a devil she was bound to uphold what the rest of the devils wanted, which was to try to keep the musicians from living through the songs, making them their own, and bringing them back to this country to revive all the other songs with the powerful magic contained in the oldest and strongest ballads. Musicians were some of her best people, and she was always a little ambivalent about the whole devilish operation to kill them off along with the music.

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Also, she was always a little wild, as if she was high on some of her own stuff. It seemed to Gussie that the redheaded devil's unpredictableness made her the worst devil of them all—she was like the old mule who'd be nice to you for two weeks just to get a chance to kick you. The Godmother's Apprentice The Princess and the Toad Once upon a time there was a princess who refused to live happily ever after.

Having survived a difficult childhood, the death of her mother, an arrest for possession of illegal substances and the perpetual adolescence of her father culminating in his marriage to a woman who made three attempts to murder her, Snohomish Quantrill felt far older than her fourteen-going-on-fifteen years. She decided that instead of marrying a prince, which she was too young to do anyway, she wanted to be a fairy godmother when she grew up.

Marrying princes was not all it was cracked up to be. She knew that.

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Her father, Raydir Quantrill, had been the Prince of Punk before he became the King of Rock, and she definitely was not ready to take on somebody like him. Besides, she had been through enough counseling to know that you had to get your own shit together before you interfaced with somebody else's kingdom and all of its headaches. The way she decided to become a fairy godmother before she was even a mother was through a counselor friend of hers, in fact. Almost being murdered, once by a hired hit man, twice by your own stepmom, made you ponder on the meaning of your existence in a way that was difficult to communicate to most people.

Her classmates at Clarke Academy had welcomed her back with girlish squeals and touchy-feely hugs. They were so sorry she'd been hurt and were so genuinely glad she was back, and had the hit man, like, raped her or anything? It was too creepy the way they drooled over the details they'd gleaned from the media.

Some of them, she knew, were really, truly pissed at her because they'd been looking forward to attending her funeral and giving tear-choked statements for the six o'clock news. They acted like what had happened to her was some lurid splatter movie instead of her own life for the last month or so. But she had very real scars to remind her of the last attempt on her life, which had landed her in the Harborview ICU for two weeks. Her dad wasn't exactly a pillar of strength either.

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He'd extracted his head from his ass long enough to join the search party looking for her, but in the process had found someone else as well. He fell in love with his fellow searcher, Cindy Ellis, hired her as his own stable manager to keep her around, and lately had spent most of his time trying to convince Cindy that he could change, he really could.

Cindy was nice, and she too had had a wicked stepmother, but Sno couldn't help being less than thrilled with her for taking up so much of Raydir's attention. She didn't know what to do or where to turn. She was what they called marginalized. Way marginalized. On the surface, she seemed okay, even better. Her testimony, at her stepmother Gerardine's trial, was clear and unshakable enough to swathe that fashion slave in prison coveralls long enough for her wardrobe to go out of style and in again. Meanwhile, Sno's grades improved because she didn't have any real friends anymore.

Drugs had almost killed her, and she had no use for them. What she longed to do was to go back into the woods with the seven Vietnam veterans who had tried to protect her. They understood what it felt like to have your life threatened, to be wounded, hunted. There was just one problem.


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They weren't in the woods anymore. They'd returned home to their own lives and their own wives and daughters, who would take no more kindly to some outsider like Sno horning in on their relationships than she took to Cindy Ellis. So she spent a lot of time writing reports on World War II concentration camp victims, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bosnia, Somalia and the new gulag in Uzbekistan, until her teachers stopped being delighted by her industry and became concerned about her thematic choices. The teachers spoke to Raydir, who in turn sent forth an invitation summoning Sno's former social worker, Rose Samson, to dinner one night.

Rose brought along Felicity Fortune, a woman with long white and silver hair and a shimmery, floaty, asymmetrically hemmed, much-scarved outfit that looked like something the ghost of a s movie star would wear to dinner on Rodeo Drive. Felicity was, Rose said, a bona fide fairy godmother. Rosie went on to tell her a fairly complicated account of what she and Felicity had been doing while Sno was hiding out in the woods. They had helped a street kid, Dico Miller, by giving him a talking cat, Puss, which helped him get more handouts. Rosie and Felicity had also confronted the Asian gang harassing Dico and turned the gangbangers into helpful citizens.

The gang leader, Ding, and Dico had even become friends and had discovered a mutual musical talent. Dico was supposedly pursuing his studies of the flute in Waterford, Ireland, while Ding wrote an account of his parents' experiences in the Vietnam War. Rosie and Felicity had helped Cindy Ellis when her wicked stepmother and stepsisters tried to take all her money and make her lose her job.

They'd been instrumental in Cindy's meeting Raydir and rescuing Sno. And, while trying to help two neglected children who had been picked up by a child molester, Rose had renewed her acquaintance with a nice cop named Fred, and they had fallen for each other.