In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
February 24, 1993
It was down to just Angie, the other waitress Teresa, the night manager Tom, a police officer named Bernie, a cook, a dishwasher that doubled as a busboy, and a trio of heavily made-up, tired looking girls. Alone in a booth, John sipped his coffee and watched Angie banter with the other customers. It was almost One A.M.; things were starting to wind down. For the next few hours the only customers would be cabbies, insomniacs and people coming from or going too mischief. Angie passed him on her way to the kitchen and flashed him a exaggeratedly serious scowl, “Staring problems?”
“Okay then.” she shrugged and continued on her way.
The first time he’d found his way here was by accident. Night after night he would pace his house; sometimes he wandered into the back yard, sometimes he masturbated joylessly as he crouched on the edge of the mattress he used for a bed, and sometimes he sat on the kitchen floor eating box after box of animal crackers. That January night he’d tried all three and still found himself yearning for what he’d lost. The rumbling emptiness never really left him, but on this January night it had been enough to drive him out to prowl the streets. He’d gone out in just jeans, boots and a long-sleeved shirt. The bitter cold had numbed him and that was fine. It dulled the images that flashed before his eyes that were one half memory, one half longing.
John glanced briefly over to Tom and the cop as they sat at the counter and spoke conspiratorially. I was going to kill someone that night. John recalled, I was going to kill the first human being that crossed my path. In fact he’d had his target picked out. All bundled up and walking down the street towards the bus stop. John knew that bus stop, there was an alley nearby, an alley dark enough to give him the time to do what he needed to do. His quarry had suspected nothing, glancing back all she’d seen was an old man walking with a cane. Fine. John remembered thinking at the time, Just what I want you to see.
“Need me to freshen up that coffee?” Angie asked, coffeepot in hand.
John smiled, “I’m fine for now. How have you been doing lately?”
She rolled her eyes, “I’ve been going nuts is what I’ve been doing. My stupid roommate is moving out so I’ve got three weeks to find another roomie or I’m screwed.”
“Why not leave a flyer over at the campus? College kids- ”
“Drink to much and run back to Mommy and Daddy when they drop out halfway though the semester.” she said with a shake of her head.
“Sounds like you’ve been down that route before.” John took a swig of coffee.
“It’s a real long story Johnny.”
He smiled thinly, “I’ve got all night.”
The cook rung a bell and set two plates out. Angie set the coffeepot back down and brought the food out to her customers. Teresa was sitting in an empty booth, counting her tips. She was twice Angie’s age and worked two jobs, here and at a supermarket three blocks away. When her shift at Hanniford's Groceries ended she would change clothes and walk to the diner. John had been following her that night, he’d already killed her in his mind. He already knew where he was going to conceal her remains when he was done. No one would see her vanish from the bus stop on a night like this.
Luckily for her she wasn’t going to the bus stop. He’d almost cried out when she’d crossed the street and headed into the Troy Diner. For a few moments he’d stood there in the shadow of the bus stop kiosk, trembling slightly. Once he’d regained his composure he’d gone into the diner, thinking Maybe the quarry isn’t lost yet. I can always make my move when she’s walking home with her belly full. That will make it even better. When he found his quarry working there, he’d slumped into a nearby booth. He didn’t know what he was doing anymore, he didn’t know what he wanted, and he didn’t know what he was. That terrible final curse reverberated through his skull, “Everything you were- Everything you are- Everything you could have had- All of it gone!”
Sudden warmth had encircled his quivering hand. “Jesus, you’re freezing!” Angie had said.
Disoriented and startled John had looked up, and fallen in love.
Angie and the three girls were sharing a quick laugh as she set the trays down at their table. One of them complemented Angie’s hair and started asking her about how much she made here. The cash register beeped as Tom rang Bernie out. Fran and the busboy were folding napkins. It was all so ordinary, so mundane. John wondered what they would think if they knew about the things he had seen, the things he had done.
“Well, that was an intriguing offer.” Angie sidled back over to John’s booth. She was blushing slightly.
She pointed surreptitiously to the other table, “They said I should come and work with them.”
John stroked the edge of his moustache, “Are they from some other diner?”
“No.” she leaned in close, for a sudden disorienting moment John thought she was going to kiss him, “They’re strippers.”
“They work up at the Bunkhouse. They said I could make a lot more money dancing.” she giggled.
John knew the Bunkhouse, Phil had dragged him there almost a decade ago. All he remembered was an outrageous cover charge overpriced drinks, raucous music, bored-looking girls and Phil getting kicked out for licking one of the dancers. “You don’t belong in a place like that.”
“No kidding.” she turned to go, “I couldn’t dance to save my life.”