In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
April 24, 1993
Four men with huddled near the doorway of an abandoned hotel passing a crack pipe amongst each other. Richie had suggested they go inside and check the place out for something saleable. At first Jerr, Ken and Bri had been more than happy to follow along. Richie was always good at getting money to fuel their habit, he always seemed to know what cars didn’t have alarms and what apartments where the best to break into. The man had a gift.
Once they got near the building however their nerves started to go south. Everyone started getting paranoid and seeing cop cars that weren’t there. It made Richie crazy, he wanted to go in there and find something to sell. Jerr was the one to say what was on their minds, that he thought the place was haunted.
That got Jerr a good slap in the mouth from Richie. From there things deteriorated into a lot of whining and shouting until finally Richie said they’d all have a little crack to get their nerves up, then they’d go inside.
They were just finishing up when Bri saw the old man. He wasn’t one of the local crazies, none of the four had ever seen him before.
Whoever he was it was suicide being here in this neighborhood, at this hour of the night. This was a place where the streetlights were few and far between, and the police only visited in well-armed groups. The four crackheads watched the old man approach, listened to the steady click click click of his cane hitting the pavement. Leaning in the doorway of the abandoned they awaited his arrival. “I guess we don’t have to go inside after all.” Richie whispered.
“I dunno I'm on probation.”
“Christ Jerr, you and your fuckin' probation.” Richie gave him a rough shove, “Lookit him, he's gotta have money.”
“Then what's he doin' here?”
“He's old! He probably don't even know where he is!”
“But what if he's got no money?”
Richie's only reply was to slap Jerr hard across the face.
“But-” Another of the foursome piped up, “He's right, what if he don't have any money?”
Waving his hand dismissively Richie said, “Then he’s really gonna get a beating.”
Before there could be any further argument their target stepped onto their block. Only Richie and Jerr were armed with guns, Brian and Ken had to make do with knives. They watched him, trying to gauge if he was aware of his peril, but he was plodding on steadily towards his doom. The four of them tensed with each click of his cane. Richie couldn't help but smile, he could care less if the old man had money or not- all he wanted to do was make him bleed and beg. Jerr shifted nervously in place, images of a return to prison filling his mind. They waited for the old man to pass, but he didn't.
He paused right in front of them, staring up at the abandoned hotel. The four crackheads looked around uncomfortably, unsure of what to do. Up close he was nothing like they had imagined, his hair was long and his frame was burly- there was no fear in him.
Ken was the first to speak, “What are you lookin' at?”
“Yeah.” Brian agreed.
“This is where it all ended.” the old man pointed to the ruined building.
They looked at him with a combination of confusion and disbelief.
“I haven’t been here in thirty-five years. I can’t believe this place is still standing.” the old man rambled on, “Maybe August was right after all. Poor August.”
“What the fuck are you talkin' about?” Richie didn't know who the hell August was and that was making him all the angrier.
“You see, we thought it was s rescue mission but it wasn’t. I should have suspected.” the old man shrugged, “After all Project Pharos was really nothing more than a training camp. A way Victor could gather allies for whatever it was he was planning. I’m still not sure what it was plotting to do, he just said that he would move when the time was right. And when he did he would change the world.”
Jerr's resolve broke, “Just get the hell out of here old man!”
He sighed sadly, “He never even confided in me and I’d been with him the longest. It didn’t matter though, I was sworn to protect him and even if I wasn't... he was all I had.”
With a hot glance to Jerr, Richie reached in the pocket of his ratty jacket. His hand closed around the handle of his .38, he was going to shut this old man up real fast.
But the old man apparently had other ideas. He stopped talking and strolled casually past the four of them into the old hotel. That confirmed Jerr's belief that the old man was suicidal. After a furtive glance around to make sure no one was watching, Richie followed. Ken and Bri followed.
“Hey!” he called, “Hey old man.”
Jerr stiffened catching a fleeting glimpse of a quick, animal-like movement, a fluttering shadow against a backdrop of shadows. His blood turned to ice as he heard a guttural muttering. Feeling like he was trapped in a nightmare, Jerr reluctantly followed.
They were in what must have once been an opulent lobby, now it was naked, with peeling walls and a sagging ceiling. Illumination filtered in through the boarded up windows, not enough to see by, just enough to confused their light-starved eyes.
“Old man!” Richie drew his pistol from his jacket, Bri and Ken drew their knives. Jerr drew his gun but kept it pointed down. Richie waved at the three of them, making them spread out, “Old man! Just give us your money and we'll let you go.”
The muttering became a low growl.
A shape pounced on Brian, his scream was cut short as he fell back, his arms pinwheeling. Jerr caught him and issued a cry of his own as he saw the man's throat had been torn open.
Taunting laughter filled the alley. Brian was twitching, his fingers clawing at the ragged hole in his windpipe. Jerr let him fall to the ground and ran back out the door.
The sound of blows hitting vulnerable flesh filled the air. Ken screamed, “Jesus help me! Jesus!”
Richie fired wildly, the muzzle flash giving him glimpses of the old man moving too fast, his clothes dark with blood. He kept pulling the trigger until he was out of bullets. His ears rung and he was flash- blinded but he knew he had to have hit something.
When his vision cleared he saw the old man standing before him, his face gore-soaked. In that one fatal moment all Richie's street-honed survival instincts failed him and could only stand paralyzed as the old man sprung forward.