25. Hello, Friday…

Bracken woke with a mild jolt to loud music thumping overhead. He blinked a few times at the ceiling. He vaguely remembered returning to his room Jaz had gone to hers, and staring at the photos until he’d fallen asleep, sitting up on his cot. Bracken rubbed his face with both hands and stood. Then he yelped as the binder, which had been on his lap when he fell asleep, slid off and hit his foot. He picked it up and dropped it on the bed and then went upstairs into the cafe. Jaz was moving about the workspace with half-closed eyes, unloading white cappuccino cups from the dishwasher and stacking them on the espresso machine. Sarcastic rock resounded through the cafe, a male voice singing about dragons and beasts, drowning out Jaz’s words when she spoke.

Bracken put a hand to his ear. “What?”

Jaz flicked a knob on the radio, and the music faded. “You didn’t lock up,” she repeated. When Bracken looked confused, she waved a hand toward the alcove where the door to the storage room stood open.

“Oh…I…forgot. The albums are still downstairs.”

“Bring them up and put them in the storage room, will you? I’ll get breakfast.” Jaz felt in her vest pocket and came out with a key, which she dropped on the counter near him. “Use this to lock it up when you’re done.” She grabbed two silver pitchers from the dishwasher with one hand, fumbled and dropped them both. They bounced and rolled over the floor, clanging loudly. Jaz dismissed them with an impatient gesture and latched onto a kettle instead.

Bracken had a sinking premonition what breakfast would consist of. He went back downstairs, gathered up the photo albums Jaz had left on the floor and deposited them in the storage room. His body felt heavy and sluggish, his legs not so much bending as wobbling as he moved. When he finished with the albums, he went into the workspace and stopped before the pastry case. He rested his forehead on the glass, looking at a pile of scones. “I didn’t figure out anything from the pictures yet. I’ll try again later. Most of the notes Sadie made don’t make any sense.”

Jaz didn’t answer, but she didn’t tell him to shut up either, so Bracken pushed on. “It would help if we could translate the, um, Sassacus text in the pictures. I bet Blaise’s translator would work on them. He said it will translate anything.”

“He meant anything in his world, not anything literally. Stop touching the pastry case. You’re smudging the glass.” Jaz smacked the faucet, shutting off the water, and dropped the kettle on a heating element.

Bracken lifted his head and rubbed at the glass with his fingers, which only made a bigger smudge. “Don’t worry about it. If it doesn’t work we’ll figure something else out.”

“I’m not worried,” Jaz grunted, yanking Thursday’s cash drawer out of the tray and replacing it with Friday’s.

Bracken sighed and gave up. He looked to the windows. Dawn brightened the sky between skyscrapers that crowded out most of the blue, allowing only thin strips to show between them.

Jaz went into the kitchen and came out with a box of maple scones. Bracken took one with a small sigh. He missed having a normal breakfast, or at least meals that included vegetables. Jaz seemed to thrive on pastry and caffeine alone.

They ate the scones and sipped at some strong, nutty coffee that Jaz said was called Black Ivory, sitting side by side at the counter. Friday’s binder lay open between them.

“These records are more like snippets,” Bracken said, turning the pages. “Did you get bored and throw all the pages on the floor and then only put half of them back?  Because that’s what it reads like.”

Jaz slouched over her plate, swirling the last of her coffee in the bottom of the mug. “Don’t read them if you don’t want to.  Friday doesn’t have much structure.”

“I don’t see how you can read them.”

“I don’t need to anymore. Occasionally I’ll write a note if something important is happening.”  She glanced habitually at the window.

“This is almost gibberish.  It may as well be in code.”

Jaz popped the last corner of scone into her mouth and spoke around it. “Sorry my record keeping doesn’t meet your high standards.”

Bracken had finished his first scone and started on a second. It wasn’t ideal food, but he was quite hungry. “It’s for you as much as anyone.  What if you forget who ‘Rfeg’ is?  Or how many bottles of—” He squinted at the page “—chocolate syrup go in Bingo Capkicker’s monthly order? That’s a fun name.  I hope he comes in today.”

Jaz grunted and refilled her mug.

“I want to see what someone who orders ten pounds of rock sugar and sixteen bottles of amaretto syrup looks like,” Bracken persisted.

“An overstuffed chair wearing a waistcoat.  He’s not until next week.”  Jaz glanced again at the windows, watching someone pass by.

Bracken looked too, and almost choked.

He blinked twice, swallowed a mouthful of scone and said, “That guy is dressed like a beetle.”

“Yep.”

“And what’s she supposed to be?”  Bracken pointed to a passing woman draped in sparkling robes and carrying a thick bronze staff.  Multiple colored orbs were tucked into her tall hairdo, and a line of gold stars dangled from her earlobes.

“Small coffee with a ‘dusting’ of cream,” Jaz said, connecting drink to name. “Starweaver.”

Bracken scoffed. “Are you serious?”

“Yes.” Jaz went to the row of siphons and began preparing coffee in one.

People passed the windows intermittently, looking as people do when coming home after a grueling night shift, except these people wore costumes.

Eventually, one of them entered The Defiant. He wore a black turtle-neck shirt, black slacks and a ski mask pulled over his face.  Bracken glanced at him, then at Jaz, unsure if the masked man had come to buy coffee or empty the cash register. Jaz didn’t flinch.

“Hi Simon,” she said, watching coffee drain from the top vessel into the bottom.

Bracken glanced down at the binder:  ‘Single-Syphon Simon’ was marked down as ‘Customer #1. 6:08/6:14 am’.

“Hey Jaz.  What’s the coffee of the day?”  Syphon Simon pulled the cap off, revealing curly blond hair.

“Black Ivory.” Jaz caught Bracken’s eye and nodded toward the storage room, which was still unlocked with the door wide open. Bracken closed the door, locked it and handed the key to Jaz, who took it with one hand while she poured Simon’s coffee with the other.

As Simon walked out with his drink, the man dressed like a beetle who had passed by earlier walked in. His costume was made of a rubbery black material, with long tentacles waving atop an open-faced mask covering his head and neck. He wore thick rubber mittens, which were either suited to grasping electrical conduits or removing things from hot ovens. He was munching a hand pie that smelled of pepperoni and rubber, grease dripping from the wax wrapper onto the clean floor.

He stopped in front of the register and asked, “What flavors do you have?”

Jaz recited in monotone. “Vanilla, caramel, chocolate.”

He frowned and wiped grease from his mouth with the back of one mitten.  Some stayed at the corners of his lips.  “You don’t have hazelnut?”

“Sorry.”

“That’s a pretty common flavor.”

Jaz just looked at him.

“Well…I don’t know what I want then. What goes with vanilla?”

Jaz half closed her eyes, inhaling deeply.  “Do you prefer hot or cold drinks?”

“Uh…” He squinted at the menu, rubber feelers jiggling over his forehead.  “Surprise me.”

She sighed through her nose and poured him a cup of black coffee.

He tasted it and asked if it could be sweeter.  She added vanilla syrup.

He tasted it and asked if it could be colder. She added some ice.

He tasted it and said it was too cold, and asked if she could add hot milk.

Jaz stared at him for a long moment. Her left eye twitched. “No.”

The man-beetle blinked.  “You can’t?”

“I won’t.”

“Can’t you just—”

“Go away. You’re done.” Jaz went to stand behind the espresso machine, leaving him at the register.

He scowled and raised one of his mittens, opening and closing his fingers and thumb like pincers. “I am not alone. I have many friends. Many friends who will convince you to give me what I want.”

Jaz folded both arms on top of the espresso machine, her expression tepid. “Do you now.”

A scratching along the windows drew Bracken’s attention. He gasped and sidled up to Jaz, tugging the edge of her vest. “Jaz…” He pointed at the windows.

Beetles. Hundreds of beetles. They swarmed from seemingly nowhere, crawling up the panes in a near-solid mass of legs, bodies and antennae. In moments they were halfway up the windows. A mass of them were seeping in under the doors.

The man-beetle began to cackle, still wagging his mittens in the air. “You see! You can’t stop the Beetler, coffee girl! They will do anything I tell them, anything at all! You are powerless! You—”

Jaz walked to the register. She pulled the shotgun from under the counter and leveled it at Beetler’s face. “So if I shoot you, will they keep doing what you told them to do? Or will they go back to being just, regular beetles?”

Beetler’s eyes bulged. He lowered his hands slowly.

“That’s what I thought.”

Beetler glared. “This isn’t over, cof—”

Jaz flicked the gun toward the ceiling and fired.

Beetler screamed. The beetles retreated en mass. They disappeared faster than they had appeared, in time with Beetler’s dash out the doors.

Jaz replaced the shotgun, looking satisfied. “Frothing powered people…”

Bracken, who had hunkered behind the counter once the shotgun came into play, now straightened.  “Did he just call up a hoard of bugs?”

A new customer—this one on the stocky side with an unbuttoned flowered shirt, bell-bottom jeans and hair that flowed loose over his shoulders—entered the shop. He carried a wooden box about two feet tall.  He sat down at a table near the doors and set the box on the table.

Jaz nodded, sparing a glance at the newcomer.  “Some people here have abilities. Flying, calling up storms. Summoning bugs, apparently. It’s really annoyi—”

A blast of bongos and rollicking organ music rocketed through the room.  Bracken and Jaz turned—Bracken with a startled spin and Jaz with resignation—toward the music.  It was coming from Flower Shirt’s box.  He rested his elbow and forearm across the top, grinning at the room.

Now in the doorway stood two midgets, each holding a door open with a gloved hand.  Their heads barely reached the door handles.  They wore identical black shirts and black knit hats. Each had a pair of black goggles, the woman wearing hers on her head and the man sporting his around his thick neck.  Each held their door open with one hand and a bulging leather bag over one shoulder with the other.

Two more hands reached above their heads, pushing the doors open further.  The hands belonged to a tall, athletic man dressed in fitted black clothing that contrasted with his pale hair and eyes.  The midgets swaggered toward the counter in time to the bongo fanfare and the man strode behind them, a king behind his tiny entourage.

Bracken stared at the show, his mouth slack, wishing he had his camera at hand.  Jaz slouched back against the island, one foot against the door of the dishwasher, gently swirling the coffee in her cup.  She scowled at the procession, violet eyes cut in half by her lowered brow, lifting the cup to her lips.

“Hello, Friday,” she muttered over the rim.

________

Note:

Friday, Friday, Friday! One of my favorite day-worlds. ^_^ This world is a collaboration between myself and a friend of mine who is a very talented writer. It’s derived from the dark/noir comic worlds like Sin City, and hero/villain stories where powers abound. From Jaz’s perspective, though, it’s all just a huge inconvenience. (Sidenote: The guy mentioned in the last episode, who made a deal with one of Janus’ people and got to go to another world, was from here.) This world and characters were really fun to write.

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