In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
September 1, 1993
John read Angie’s file from beginning to end twice during the plane ride back to New York. Then he sat there in the plush seat of the Learjet, alone with his thoughts. Thalia had offered to come along with him, to keep him company. He’d politely refused, knowing that she was going to ask him to join up with their band of enlightened amateurs. He didn’t want to hear that offer because he was afraid he might take her up on it. It had felt good to be in the thick of things like that but the feeling had been short-lived. Ever since leaving the defiled Great House he’d started to get that old empty feeling again, but now it was just a little bit worse. Guilt and longing dulled the adrenaline rush. With the Metastasis to back him up he would have been able to fight his way out of there, instead he’d had to threaten and cajole. Making deals with the enemy was Magwier’s style, not his.
At the base camp he’d changed back into his old clothes, his hands trembling. Why was all this happening now? Why was he being pulled in five different directions at once? Project Pharos. Phil and Zara. Blessed Phelan. Magwier. Angie. They all tempted him, they all made him unsure of what he wanted anymore.
The file brought everything sharply back into focus.
It contained a sheaf of papers and a few photographs; the first photograph effected John worse than anything he’d found in the swamp. It was a mug shot of Angie. It had been taken a few weeks ago, she was garishly made up and glaring sullenly at the camera. She looked defeated and years older. He’d held that photograph in his hand for a long time, tracing his finger along the black and white image, trying to convince himself that this was all some kind of a mistake.
She had been arrested during a routine sweep of Troy’s dens of prostitution and drugs. The paperwork told him that she had been bailed out the next morning. A grainy surveillance photo showed him by who; a tall dark-haired woman wearing sunglasses and tight clothes that showcased her muscular frame. Violet Mendoza was the name they thought belonged to he woman but she was known to have many aliases. According to the DEA report she kept a group of drug-addicted prostitutes as virtual slaves. She catered to some very extreme customers, whatever you wanted to do you could do as long as you had the money. The girls that worked for Violet Mendoza were paid in food and crack.
Angie was one of them. They had made her into a whore.
Part of him wanted to go there now, and tear out Violet Mendoza's heart with his teeth, but he was too old to play the part of the one-man commando now. Besides, that wouldn't change the fact that Angie was addicted to crack. Who was to say that after her 'liberation' she wouldn't go right back out on the streets to feed her compulsion? His head was spinning. What would his master do in a situation like this?
Of course Victor Kovach would never end up in a situation like this. He didn't believe in love, he only believed in power. It was an interesting mental exercise nonetheless, what would he do? The answer was obvious; he would plan, plot and make use of his resources and owed favors.
John spent the remainder of the trip making plans. A car with a silent driver and government plates dropped him off back where he’d started at the police station. With the sun beginning to crest above the horizon he set off for home. He could have called a taxi, but he knew the walk would help him think.
He found Phil sitting on his front stoop, a dozen crushed out cigarette butts at his feet.
“Been waiting long?”
He checked his watch, “Four hours.”
“Must be pretty important.”
“I wanted to talk to you yesterday but you left so quickly...” the tip of the cigarette glowed red as he inhaled deeply, “...like a thief in the night.”
John leaned on his cane, “I see you're still a member of the cliché-of-the-month club.”
“What the Hell are you doing?”
“Trying to get into my house.”
The shadows stretched as the sun, bright yellow and unfettered by clouds revealed itself, “You're obsessed with this Angie character.”
“You don't understand.”
“No. No, I don't understand.” Phil said, “I don't understand why you seem to think you can make time with a girl seventy-something years younger than you are.”
“It's not about sex.”
He waved the comment away, “Please don't feed me any romantic bullshit. Your problem is that you haven't had any pussy since the Nixon administration.”
“I'm in love with her.”
“You think love is strictly human concept? That just because of what I am I don't have feelings?”
Phil pitched his cigarette onto the lawn and buried his face in his hands, “What in the Hell is it going to take for me to wake you up?”
“Look, I know I don't have much of a chance with her...”
“...but I have to try.”
“What about me?” Phil pushed himself to his feet, his knees quivered slightly. For the first time John noticed how old his friend had gotten, how much frailer his body had become, and realized that both he and Zara had at best a handful of years left.
“What about you?”
“I need you.” Phil approached him, “I can't face Victor alone.”
“You said yourself Victor isn't-”
“But what if he does?” they were face to face, “What if he does come back? Who will protect me? Or Zara?”
John brushed a long lock of silver hair from his face, “I'm not going anywhere.”
“Then why are you having the police look for your little girlfriend? At my expense?”
“She- she changed jobs.” John pulled away, Phil was too close, his breath was rank with tobacco, “I just need to find her again so I can go and face her and tell her how I feel.”
“And then what?”
“Who knows?” he forced a smile, “I was always partial to church weddings.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Phil shouted, “Do you honestly think you and her are going to live happily ever after?”
John stared into blazing sun, let its warmth run over him but the thought that she was out there somewhere, spreading herself for men who would never remember her name kept him cold. “All my life I've served others, Victor... the Government... you... I've never done anything for myself, I've always been somebody’s' servant.”
“Just once I want something for myself. Can you understand that?”
They stood there in silence as cars passed on the street. A cluster of anthills sprouted from the cracks in the front walk, John watched the insects bustling. When he was a child they had always fascinated him, Victor had even bought him a few books on the subject. Once he'd said, “Humanity would do well to emulate the anthill my boy. There are workers, there are warriors and there are leaders, each in their own separate caste. It is efficient and it is logical. You don't see any ants signing a declaration of independence, proclaiming that all bugs are created equal, do you? They know their station and are content with it. That is why they will outlast the human race and all its ancillary bloodlines.”
John wondered if that was why he hurt so much inside, because he wanted more than the role fate had selected for him.
“Will I still see you for lunch?”
He shook his head, “I'm going to need some time alone for this, four- maybe five weeks.”
“I can't say much more.” John explained, “I don't want to get you involved.”
“Is that really the reason?” Phil lit a fresh cigarette and inhaled deeply, “Or is it because if I found out what you were planning I'd try to stop you?”
John stepped forward, his passing obliterating the anthill he'd been observing moments ago, he pushed open the front gate, “You should go now.”
Grumbling Phil obeyed. Somewhere a siren was blaring, its passing provoking a chorus of howls and yelps from the neighborhood dogs. The front gate squealed to a close, the click of the latch had a surprising air of finality to it. A cigarette dangling from his lips Phil tried to sound casual, “If you get in trouble, if you need any help...”
From the other side of the gate John nodded, “I'll call you.”
“I mean it.”
“Good luck.” he turned to go, “Don’t do anything fuckin’ stupid all right?”
“Thanks.” John watched his friend walk away. When he was out of sight he whispered, “Good-bye.”