In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
September 11, 1993
Howard stared voyeuristically over the neck brace, musing to himself that if whoever tried to break Violet Mendoza’s neck had just used a little more force she’d be resting on a slab in the morgue instead of in a hospital bed at the state’s expense. As it was she would never walk or use her arms again. Howard wondered if that was an appropriate punishment for her crimes, his partner seemed to think so. Leaning back in the padded hospital chair he checked his watch. It was almost one in the morning; he was off duty and he should be home, but he wanted to speak to Violet Mendoza as soon as she regained consciousness.
If, he reminded himself, if she regains consciousness. The doctors were making no guarantees, but that just seemed typical for this case. Hell, it was typical for just about every other case he and Barbara got.
Personally, he wasn’t sure John Sig had anything to do with what happened in Violet’s little house of ill repute. The victims had all been stabbed or slashed. It was more than one old man acting along could have done. Unpleasant experience had taught Howard that it took a lot to stab a person to death, so he couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would take to stab over a dozen people to death. None of it made any sense.
Of course, that just served to make Barbara even more certain that John Sig had been involved somehow. She was convinced he’d called Gawain Wight and ordered his spook squad to make a hit.
Howard got up and crossed the cramped, dimly-lit room to stand at Violet Mendoza’s bedside. He’d read someplace that people in comas can hear what’s going on around them, one kid had even been revived by hearing his favorite Tom Petty song on the radio. Still, he felt stupid as Hell when he started talking, “Violet? You don’t know me. I’m Police Detective Connelly. Uhm, Hi.”
Barbara’s problem was that she sometimes placed too much emphasis on her instincts; there was nothing wrong with instinct, Lord knows it had saved his life once or twice but instinct had to be tempered with logic. If Gawain Wight and his cabal of renegades and lunatics had been the ones who attacked the brothel there wouldn’t have been anything left to investigate, no prints, no shell casings and certainly no bodies.
“Violet, I know that you haven’t exactly been a friend to the police but unless you can wake up and tell us what happened, the people that did this to you are going to get away with it.”
If anything this all might be gang related. Word on the streets was that the long-standing partnership between Hector Aznar and Sefu Brown had broken up, leaving the two men fighting for control of their gang and its resources. Violet Mendoza’s brothel was one of their most profitable ventures, perhaps one of the two men had decided to destroy it out of petty vindictiveness, or perhaps Violet Mendoza had taken the wrong side in the power struggle.
“If you can hear me in there and if you can somehow…”
Howard stiffened at the sound of a muffled laugh. It was coming from behind him.
Turning quickly, hand instinctively going for his pistol, he found… nothing.
A shiver traced it’s way up and down his spine. Maybe his wife was right and lack of sleep was screwing him up, making him hear things. Lowering his hand from his shoulder holster he looked back to Violet Mendoza, had she been laughing?
Howard dismissed the idea almost immediately, he would have seen her lips move or some other flicker of cognizance. There was no one here except for the two of them. Damn but he was tired.
Tired? Exhausted was a better word. It just seemed to him that this case was somehow connected to the other weird things he and Barbara had dealt with recently. Maybe it was just his own obsession with Gawain Wight, a government agent who seemed to spend as much time circumventing the law as he did upholding it.
Howard and Barbara had first crossed paths with the Special Agent almost three years ago, when they were dealing with the Veil, a cult whose doctrines preached that the human race’s holy purpose was personified in the act of killing. At first he and his partner had been grateful for Special Agent Gawain Wight’s intervention, he’d saved their lives and gotten them access to resources they’d sorely needed. But then Howard and Barbara began to notice some disquieting things, first of which was the realization that helpful as he might be, Gawain Wight was definitely withholding information from them. Another sticking point was the people he associated with, at best they were members of the lunatic fringe, at worst they were no better than the members of the Veil themselves.
Something shifted within the gloom, a sudden motion, a glimpse of gray. It shocked Howard from his musings, “Who’s there?” he called into the darkness.
Turning quickly he flicked on the lights. Robbed of their shadows, the corners of the room suddenly seemed less menacing. As casually as possible he checked under the bed and found nothing but dust.
“What am I doing?” he chided himself. The only enemy here was fatigue and he was going to take care of that once and for all. He was going home, all he was doing now was wasting time; he turned to go, already dreaming of clean sheets and his wife’s warm body slumbering beside him. He would tell one of the two policemen stationed outside the door to come inside and be prepared to take down a statement. The door’s hinges squealed faintly as he pulled it open.
The blow that knocked Howard Connelly unconscious was as sudden as it was vicious.