In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
March 25, 1993
They sat on the front porch of the modest two-floor house that Phil and Zara called home. “I went to check on Victor today.” Phil said.
John gave him guarded look, “How is he?”
“Alive.” Phil shrugged. “I paid the nursing home for another year of quality care.”
A car passed, the stereo pounding out rap music at an ear-shattering level. There was a butcher shop across the street, the scents of blood and meat filled John's nostrils. “I can't believe the bastard's still breathing.” he said, “I can't believe we’ve let it go on this long.”
“Beats the alternative.”
“Maybe Victor was bluffing.”
“Even now that bastard’s got us guessing and jumping at shadows.” Phil tapped his pocket thoughtfully, “Funny isn’t it?”
“I’d kill him now if I could just be sure that it wouldn’t make things worse. We might give the Monarch’s just what they want.” John ran a hand through his hair, “It’s at moments like this I wish I could see the future.”
“That talent didn’t help August very much did it?”
John gave Phil a sharp glance, “I didn’t want to kill him.”
“You loved it. The look on his face, like a deer in the friggin’ headlights.”
“I did not love it. I was following orders.”
Phil glanced through the screen door, like a boy afraid of being caught at mischief. Seeing they were unobserved he slipped a pack of cigarettes and a box of matches from his pocket. “Yeah, and five minutes later you nearly killed the man who gave you those orders.” he commented.
“It’s not that simple. In those days I had just two things, Victor and my hatred for the Monarchs.” John was staring intently at the butcher shop. They had the back door open and were feeding scraps to the neighborhood dogs.
“It is that simple. You obeyed him for as long as it suited you and as soon as you could you fucked him over.” he lit a cigarette and puffed the smoke greedily, “Just like me and Zara.”
John shook his head, trying to clear it, “We didn’t have a choice, we never had a - What the Hell are you doing?”
Phil tried to look innocent as he tapped ashes away, “What?”
“There's no fooling those razor keen senses is there?”
“What about your blood pressure?”
“Keep your Goddamn voice down!” he jerked a thumb at the house and mouthed the word Zara.
“If she knew you were smoking she'd have me hold you down so she could break your fingers.”
“I don't need you to tell me that.” Phil said, “Besides its just a little thing, a little pleasure to get me through the day.”
“I don't think-”
“Just like you and that waitress of yours.”
“What are you talking about?” John stood, his cheeks reddening.
Phil raised a hand “Sit down.”
“What are you insinuating?”
“Sit down.” Phil tapped more ashes away.
John sat down. “You better explain yourself or it won't be the smokes that'll kill you.”
“I didn't mean to say that I thought you two were fooling around.” Phil chuckled to himself, “Hell even if you could get your hands on those little flapjack breasts of hers I know you wouldn't... you're too goddamn chivalrous.”
John glared at a crack in the pavement, rolling his cane between his hands. The sweet yet pungent odor of the cigarette smoke hid the butcher shop from his all-too sensitive nose. Flapjack breasts! His mind growled, How dare he! How dare he!
“But I know you're in love little Annie aren't you? It wouldn't matter if they were selling filet mignon or monkey-shit soufflé you'd still be there because she's there.” he patted his friend's shoulder, “Am I right? Am I?”
“Her name,” John said icily, “is Angie.”
“Whatever.” a car sped past, its tailpipe dragging noisily, “But the thing is she's what gets you through the day, or night in your case. If not for her you'd have probably gone back to your old ways by now.”
“I can't go back. You know that.”
“You'd try though, and it would be nineteen sixty-three all over again.”
“nineteen sixty-three was a long time ago.”
Phil grinned and inhaled the last few puffs from his cigarette, “It's understandable, don't think that I don't once in a while get the urge once to go back to what I was.”
“What you were and what I am are two very different things.”
“Can't argue with that, but my point was-”
“Oh good.” John grunted, “I was hoping that there would be a point to all this.”
“I was getting to it.” Phil crushed his out his cigarette and flicked the butt into the street, “My point is that your waitress and my smoking are the same thing. It's something to look forward to... they help keep us sane.”
“There's a difference,” John shook his head, marveling at how he always got his arguments turned back at him, “those cigarettes will kill you.”
Phil's smile became bittersweet, “I'll take a dose of cancer over love any day.”