In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
September 11, 1993
The bite mark was almost two inches across and rough and pebbly to the touch, John stared at it in the bathroom mirror. Whenever he made eye contact with the gaunt stranger in the polished surface he had to look away. Four days ago he survived an attack that would have killed a human- but there was a price, there was always a price. Victor had called it “…the protein deficiency caused by your hyper-efficient cellular regeneration system…” but all John knew was that his body was cannibalizing itself to repair the damage Violet Mendoza had done. He picked at the half-circle of scabs until they bled, until trails of blood ran down his cheek to spatter on yellowing porcelain of the bathroom sink.
In the old days he’d shrugged off worse than this. Phelan’s bones! He’d lost whole limbs in Victor’s service! But in the old days he’d had the Metastasis, and the Metastasis somehow regulated a Vlodek’s healing, kept it from killing the body it was trying to save. John had no such assurances of survival now, he literally might drop dead at any minute. He might starve to death in a housefull of food.
And where would that leave Angie?
He frowned and stared at his hands. After all this, after nearly getting a member of the royal family killed, he still hadn’t accomplished anything.
The Monarchs. John straightened as the thought took root, Could the Monarchs make her love me?
Yes, of course they could but there would be a price. Was it a price he could afford to pay?
Stop this! What are you thinking? Are you insane?
The bite had dried over again. The scabs looked smaller now, they would probably be gone tomorrow. The Monarchs had all but wiped out his people and yet he dared to consider going to them? He wondered if this was how Victor had come to conspire with them, in a moment of weakness.
John remembered many years ago finding a copy of Paradise Lost in Victor’s study. He’d never thought much of poetry, with its slavish devotion to structure and the vagaries of simile and metaphor, but something about Milton’s epic poem caught his attention and held it. Alone in his master’s study John read the entire volume in an evening. When Victor found him there in the morning he’d said, “For your information Milton was pitifully incorrect. Satan didn’t fall from grace in one fell swoop, oh no. He fell by degrees.”
A jangling ringing sound stirred him from his contemplations. The phone? Taking his cane in hand he stepped out into the hall, who would be calling? This number was new and unlisted- he hadn’t even given it to Magwier.
He supposed it might be Phil; perhaps Detective Myles had paid him a visit and informed him what a bad boy his old friend John Sig had been. Or worse yet, perhaps he was calling because Zara had died.
The thought made John pause as he descended the stairs. Poor Zara! He hadn’t even given a moment’s thought to her since he began this disastrous little rescue operation. John still remembered the day he was introduced to her, almost forty years ago now- Zara with her sharp eyes and luxurious hair. He’d recognized her almost instantly.
He’d asked his master and father about it as soon as she’d left the room and Victor had been only too eager to brag; “Ah, you noticed the resemblance did you? The dear girl is a product of my all-too-fleeting dalliance with that British Sorceress… It’s so comforting to know that my superior breeding won out over that mongrel Tarik’s… She’s thoroughly qualified in modern medicine, but she has come to us because she is eager to delve into the more esoteric arts… No, of course she is ignorant of the reality of her origins and we shall endeavor to keep it that way, I am certainly not interested in exploring a paternal relationship with her.”
Within a few months Zara had become a welcome addition to the team, and Victor’s wife. John never told her the truth, at first out of obedience to Victor, and then later because he didn’t want to burden her with knowledge of something that could never be undone anyway. He still sometimes shuddered at the thought of what Victor had hoped to accomplish.
The phone was still ringing, John hurried as best he could down into the parlor and answered it, “Yes?”
“Who is this?”
“It’s Gawain, Gawain Wight.”
“How did you get this number?”
There was a chuckle at the other end of the line; “You and I both know the answer to that.”
“Yes.” John looked up to the stairs, to the locked door of Angie’s room, “If this is another recruitment speech…”
“No, no. This is just a little friendly advice.”
“I don’t need any advice thank you kindly, I don’t want any more of you, or the Monarchs or Victor Kovach!”
“No! Listen I have to tell-”
It felt good to slam the receiver back down into the cradle; it felt like he had taken back another piece of himself. No more playing the good soldier, no more following orders. He yanked the phone from the walljack and limped into the kitchen.