BOOK II (Continued from BOOK I)
Luna found Harmon on the first floor of the old coal breaker where the man had recently taken up residence, smoking the last of his cheap cigarettes, watching Saperion-shaped clouds listlessly drift beyond the town. He wore battered jeans, the knees half-worn through, a paint-stained white t-shirt, trim black steel-toed work-boots and a faded form-fitting shawl-neck cobalt sweater. Beside him, upon an anthracite sorting table, lay a small black backpack and a high-collared gunmetal-gray puffer jacket.
The entrant gently knocked upon the door-frame, whereupon the man languidly turned, pale face somber and expectant.
“Thought you might like the paper.”
She waved a ink covered sheaf and extended it to him.
He took it from her hands with a cordial nod and read the headline aloud, “Local man, 52, dies in street altercation,” a photo of his late friend, Harold La’Far, occupied a small portion of the right side of the sheet. He found it disgraceful the editor had chosen to refer to Harold only as ‘local man.’
“What is it? Did you know him?”
Harmon read the headline once more, silently, and set the paper down upon the sorting table next to his pack and coat and spoke without looking at his guest.
“Yeah. I knew him. He was a friend.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. Wasn’t you that killed him.”
His eyes wandered to the mugshots of the perpetrators, tattooed faces malformed with malice; faces familiar in construction.
When the man said nothing, Luna turned to leave, walking awkwardly to the door.
“Thanks. For the paper.”
The woman forced a smile and left Harmon to the monochrome faces of Harold’s murderers.
Harmon left the coal breaker at dawn and passed the homeless encampment which lay in the wasted ground between the site and what had once been a trainyard, waving to Luna as he went, and trekked up into town, stopping at the closest payphone. He removed a small bone-white business card from his jacket pocket, punched in the number inscribed on it and waited amid the tumbledown block as hostile eyes probed him from shuttered panes.
At length, a unfamiliar female voice sounded in his ear, “Partridge Publishing. How may I help you?”
“This is Harmon Kessel. I’m calling in regard to a prospective submission. Mr. Partridge previously expressed interest in my work.”
“He’s been expecting you, Mr. Kessel.”