In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
August 26, 1993
The day had been a scorcher with temperatures cresting into the middle nineties in the afternoon. By evening the sky had begun to cloud over, but there was no rain; they just stayed in place, stretched over the horizon like a filthy membrane. John's shirt clung to his back as he made his way up the hill to the Troy Diner. With each heavy breath his doubts in the logic of his plan grew. The very idea that he, of all people, would be the one to discover Angie's lost pet was ridiculous. He wasn't the kind of man to believe in coincidence, he never had been.
So where did that leave him?
About ten minutes away from making a fool of yourself that's where! “I must never come here again.” Remember that?
But it was Lucifer, it had to be, people lied but scents didn’t. The only other option was that his mind was deceiving him and John wasn't ready to believe that his sanity was crumbling away.
The air conditioning in the Troy Diner was going full blast, the temperature differential was enough to make John feel nauseous. The door swung to a close behind him as he leaned on the counter and tried to recapture his equilibrium. He remembered the last time he was here, sitting there with Magwier and his little entourage, feeling like Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party.
“Hey, John! Where have you been keeping yourself?”
He flashed Tom a weary smile, an old man's smile, “A friend of mine had a stroke, I've been helping take care of her.”
“I'm sorry to hear that. How's she doing?”
“That's too bad, a stroke took my mother eight years ago. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.”
John nodded, “I'm taking it one day at a time.”
“That's all you can do.” Tom picked up a menu, “Is it just you?”
“Table or a booth?”
“Angie's section please.”
“Ah...” a pained look crossed Tom's face, he directed John to the booth nearest the front counter and sat down across from him.
“Listen John,” he began uncertainly, unable to make eye contact, “I know you liked Angie.”
“I mean, last time you were here you gave her a hundred and twenty dollar tip!”
John could only offer a shrug for an explanation.
“Then you never show up again, we thought you were dying and that was your going away present.”
“Tom, where's Angie?”
“She got fired John, about a week after you were last here.”
“We had to let her go.”
“If I tell you this an it gets back to her she could sue us. I'm trusting you.”
“She was late all the time. She was rude to the customers. She was stealing other waitresses' tips.”
John shook his head, “Angie wouldn't-”
“She did. She had a drug problem, I'm pretty sure it was cocaine.”
“I've never heard such a load of-” he was halfway out of his seat when Tom caught his shoulder and tried to push him back down.
“It's true John. Believe me, I know the signs.”
“How the Hell would you know anything?” he grabbed the offending hand and shoved it away.
“Because five years ago I was the same way.”
“I was... I am a cocaine addict, I know the signs and she had them all.”
John slumped back in his seat, unable to speak. The words, Fired, Addict, and Stealing echoed through his mind. He'd never expected her to be perfect but this...
“I'm sorry John.”
“Where does she live?”
“I can't just give you her address,” Tom shook his head, “And what do you think you're going to do? Talk some sense into her? An addict has to want to stop or all the rehab in the world won't do a lick of good.”
“No.” he wanted to reach across the table and throttle the information out of him, “It's just that I've found her cat and I need to return it to her.”
“It's the truth! How many cats named Lucifer can there be out there?”
“I'm sorry, I can't do it.”
Inhaling deeply John decided to change tactics, “Does your wife know about the man you're seeing? Does your brother?”
Tom flinched as though he'd been slapped, “W-what?”
“Your boyfriend... it’s that cop Bernie isn’t it?”
“I don't- I'm- I'm not-”
“Then why are you so upset?”
“Because I don't like being accused of being a faggot!” Tom whispered furiously.
“If it's not true then you have nothing to worry about. Just tell them crazy old John is off his rocker.”
“Is that why you got hooked on drugs? Because you couldn't face up to what your were? Because you were trying to live a-” John made little quotation marks with his fingers, “normal life? That's a one way ticket to misery. I know that for a fact. All it takes is one glimmer of the truth and the whole thing starts to fall apart.”
“What the Hell is this? Are you trying to blackmail me?”
John nodded, “Yes.”
“Angie's address and you keep your mouth shut?”
“Angie's address and you never see me again.”
Tom got up and headed for the back room, “Sounds like a bargain to me.”
Victor would be proud. John thought as he waited for Tom to return.