Weekend Wind Down – Desperately Seeking Jaz

This is an extract taken from Trust a Few the opening book of Haruspex Trilogy part of the Fortune's Fools.

A short time later he walked into in a small eatery which served the needs of the spaceport workers in the sector. The sign on the window said: ‘Real Cooked Food. All Day – Every Day.’ in orange and green flashing letters. The food smelt very good and having survived on the cafeteria fare of the recycling plant for the last ten days, Avilon used some of his new, positive, financial status to purchase a meal, with no hesitation at all. The teenager who served him was unmistakable, as if a familiar shadow fell upon his features, shaping them to look slightly different in Avilon’s mind.

He had come to the right place.

Having paid for his food, Avilon sat at a table near the counter to eat it. It tasted good, better than any meal he could remember eating. When he finished, he went back to the counter and ordered a drink which he sat with as the lunchtime rush subsided and the number of new arrivals slowed up. Soon the teenager began moving round mopping the tables ready for the next shift change and rush of diners. Avilon waited until he came over to the table nearby so he did not have to raise his voice at all.

“I’m looking for the man who owns this place. We were in the military together.”

The youngster stopped wiping the table and just stared, as if he had not even noticed Avilon before. Then his expression changed as his gaze fixed on the wide scar which cut down one cheek, the puckered skin where the tech-port drilled into Avilon’s skull and the three deep-ridged lines of badly healed flesh running over the back of one hand, looking like some kind of tribal or gang identification mark.

“Jaz. Jazatar Baldrik,” Avilon prompted, keeping his voice low.

“Ma!” The boy’s eyes remained on him, looking resentful at his presence: “Ma, there is someone here asking after the sperm donor.” Then a wealth of dark emotion visibly welling into his eyes from somewhere deep down, the teenager turned away and vanished behind the counter into the kitchen area beyond.

Avilon sat very still. Far from the expected warmth and welcome, he just landed in a new warzone without Lattice support.

A woman came through the door at the back of the counter, her gaze finding him right away, although there were one or two other people still eating and now glancing with some curiosity at Avilon. She wiped her hands on a cloth which she left behind the counter, then she approached him and, without a word, sat down at the table.

“I’m looking for Jazatar Baldrik,” Avilon repeated. “We served together. You must be Tillsa – he spoke of you.”

The woman neither acknowledged nor denied the name.

“I’m sorry. Jaz is gone,” she said. “This never was his place – it is mine.” She added the last as if it explained everything. Avilon watched her, trying to match the figure in front of him with the image he had formed from the little Jaz told him about the woman he shared his life with.

Avilon was not a complete stranger to women, there were always some in the Specials and like the men, they were in general cold, sexually aggressive and violent. Civilian women, he had read, were, in general, not. This one did not have the beauty he expected from Jaz’s fixed commitment but looked much the same height as Jaz as she was only slightly shorter than Avilon himself, with a strong face, strong hands and weary eyes. She brushed away a streak of mousey hair that slipped out of the hygiene covering, pushing it back. Her eyes held his own and he saw something in them shift a little as if she noticed something about him she had not seen before, and from there, her expression also changed.

“Don’t mind what, Tarn said. He’s not been dealing so well with learning his father -“

She broke off and broke the eye-contact, looking down at her own hands for a moment then across to the hand he rested on the table, the one with the triple cut scarring. He saw her tense, not in any form of recognition but in its opposite – a profound alienation, close to revulsion. She would go in a moment and the chance would be lost.

“I just need to speak with Jazatar Baldrik. He is expecting me.”

The woman’s eyes swept up to his own again and the line of her mouth became a fraction tighter with some inner resolution.

“I told you, Jaz is gone. I don’t know where he is.”

She started rising and Avilon fought back his desperate need to grab her hand and make her sit, make her stay, make her tell him. But civilian rules of behaviour did not permit that. It could count as assault and an assault charge would have him returned to the Specials without any appeal. So he let her stand and watched the emotions raw on her face, so personal and revealing she could have been standing naked before him. But one of the emotions looked like courage and another, maybe, compassion – or something as kind.

“If it is any help, I think he’s left the ‘City. You hear – things – sometimes. He made some people feel unhappy when he came back. I think he tried hard to keep legal – maybe too hard. Sometimes people don’t let you walk away from who you were.” Her expression shifted again, hardening as if aware she gave away more of her own feelings for Jaz than she should. Avilon searched his mind for the right question. It mattered, because he knew he would only get the chance to ask one question now.

“Would anyone know – more?”

The slightest nod and a quick glance to be sure no one paid any attention to their conversation.

“Shame Cullen.”

She turned away as soon as she said it and went back behind the counter and through the door beyond. A few moments later the teenager came out again and started cleaning the counter area. One of the lights had a strange flicker, a visual irritant and the slight sounds of people eating seemed louder over the low beat of the background music.

Avilon got up and left, opening the door of the diner feeling more alone than he could recall and stepping out into a blasted waste which had no markers or waypoints, no shelter or supplies and so little gravity his stomach felt close to nausea.

E.M. Swift-Hook.

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