In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
August 26, 1993
They elected to have lunch at the hospital commissary. They found the long sterile-colored room bustling with an afternoon crowd that would rival any McDonalds. Plastic trays in hand Phil and John waited to palace their orders. The three cooks shouted back and forth to each other over the snap and sizzle of frying meat. “I'm sorry I missed it.” John said.
Phil nodded, “She was only awake for a few minutes, she started to all agitated. Shit, I'd get agitated too if I woke up and found tubes stickin' in me every which way.”
“I screamed for the nurse and then I went over to her and told her to calm down and that everything was all right.” his voice cracked, “I held her hand and told her everything was going to be all right, that I'd take care of her.”
“Order please?” one of the cooks turned to them.
John was nonplused, he didn't realize it was their turn already. Phil seemed lost in thought. The cook asked again, “Order please?”
“Sorry.” John replied, “Burger and fries.”
“How you want that?”
“Got it.” the fry cook nodded, “And you?”
Phil’s voice was a whisper, “The same.”
“Hm?” Phil seemed to notice the cook for the first time, “What was that?”
“How do you want your burger done? Rare?”
“Christ no! Medium well.”
“Got it.” he flashed them a smile and turned back to the hot grill.
“So what happened?” John asked.
Phil smiled tentatively, “She gave my hand this little squeeze and she shook her head like she was sayin' ‘Yes I know.’ and then she fell back to sleep.”
“That's terrific... isn't it?”
“Well of course by the time the friggin' nurse gets there she's out again and now we gotta wait until she wakes up again. Then they gotta run more tests to see what kind of damage the stroke did to her.” Phil ran a hand over his unwashed.
“She'll be back, she's a fighter.”
“God damn it. God damn it! Why her? It should have been me! I'm the one that smokes! I'm the one that doesn't exercise! Why not me?”
“Phil... don't talk like that. Everything's going to be all right.”
The fry cook placed their burgers and fries on paper plates and slid the plates on to their trays. “You believe that? You really believe that?”
John grabbed his tray but said nothing.
“Everybody dies. I just wanted to be the first to go.” he made his way to the cashier and paid, “I even got cheated out of that.”
John followed suit and they carried their trays to one of the corner tables. The commissary was filled with chatting doctors, concerned relatives and convalescing patients, “Cheated? You call having your health and your life being cheated?”
“At least if I died I could stop being afraid.”
“Afraid?” they found a table near the window.
“Christ John, do I have to draw you a Goddamn picture?” Phil slurped his black coffee, “What if he comes back?”
“You mean Victor?”
“No, I mean Humphrey Bogart.”
“But you always told me Victor wasn't coming back, that he was good as dead.”
“It's called wishful thinking.”
“What makes you think he's coming back?”
Phil took a bite of his burger and chewed thoughtfully, a few tables to their right a woman sitting alone buried her face in her hands and shook with sobs. John watched her, wondering what it was she'd learnt or lost.
“I didn't tell this to any of the doctors, I wasn't even sure if I was going to tell you.” Phil took another sip of coffee, “After Zara... fell down, I had her in my arms, I was in a total panic, I didn't know what to do. She was bleeding from where she smacked her head, and she was convulsing. She had this strange faraway look in her eyes, I thought it was because she was dying. Then I realized she was looking at something behind me. This feeling came over me, like I was being watched, like there was someone else in the room.”
Phil raised a hand, “Let me finish. I turned around and there was nothing there... but for a second I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye.”
“No. It was just a trick of the light and it was gone so fast...” Phil shook his head ruefully, “I must’ve’ imagined it.”
John added six sugars and six creams to his coffee, “Gawain Wight is worried about Victor too.”
“The man from the Project.”
“Oh yeah... so that’s Lionel’s boy huh?”
“Zara was right. I used to make fun of her and her scrapbooks. I should have listened.”
“According to him the Monarchs have already won.”
“He says they took over without having to fire a single shot.”
“Not our problem anymore.”
John took a bite from his burger, “He asked me to come back and work for them.”
“What as? A paperweight?”
“He feels I still have something left to contribute.”
“They just want to run experiments on you. They'll be takin' blood and come samples off you so often all that'll be left of you is dust.”
“I had thought of that.”
“Thinking's the first step.”
“You're not seriously considering going back to the Project are you?”
“The thought had crossed my mind.” John lied. The only thoughts he had were of returning Lucifer to Angie. Would she thank him with a friendly hug or a kiss on the cheek? Would she invite him over for a thank you dinner? Would he find out that Eric the paralegal had been given his walking papers? He was a fool to even hope for anything more than a thank you, but he couldn't help himself. She was like an addiction, he could never fully put her out of his mind.
“What are you? My agent?”
“No, I'm your friend and I'm telling you that once they find out you don't have the Metastasis you'll be out the door. Or worse yet, you'll find yourself under the knife.”
John shrugged and dipped a french fry in catsup, “It was just a thought and thinking's the first step, right?”
“Don't go.” Phil stared intently at the try before him, “I need you. If Victor really is back... even if it's just his ghost... I can't face him alone.”
“You don’t believe in ghosts.”
“No bullshit John. Say you’ll be there.”
“You know I will. I swear on the bones of my ancestors.”