The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday January 12, 1995
Phil was back at the critical care ward first thing in the morning. He brought coffee and doughnuts for the nurses as if somehow that might make Zara matter more to them than any of the other patients clinging to life around her. Phil didn't like to think about how much money he was wasting on taxis but he never had the nerve to risk applying for a driver's license under any of his false identities. He'd faced monsters, bloodthirsty cults and appetites from outside conventional reality but he had never worked up the nerve to cross paths with the DMV.
Once he had gotten an update from the staff he sat down in the chair next to Zara and sighed heavily. No new news, no old news. He thought, It's only a matter of time now isn't it?
Of course it was, the clock had been ticking since last year, he just hadn't been willing to face it. Now he was waiting for her to die, he was waiting and making preparations and hoping that would be enough. He stared at the life support machines allowing himself to become hypnotized by the regular beeps and hisses.
Were there more than yesterday?
Phil shifted in the chair, he felt like he might nod off at any moment but the pounding in his skull was more than enough to prevent that from actually happening.
Stupid kid nearly killed me. Phil washed down a handful of aspirins with a mouthful of black coffee. Little bastard was smarter, and stronger than I thought.
Which meant of course that he had to trust Tristam. The problem was that everyone Phil relied on betrayed him. Victor went mad, John skipped town and Zara had to go and start dying on him.
That's a shitty way to think. He thought to himself, and he gave Zara's hand a little squeeze just in case she'd overheard his thoughts. You could never be too sure.
Not only did he have to trust the boy, he also had to give him what he wanted. Phil didn't like to think what Tristam might do with that power. He'd watched the kid's little revenge games last night and had been surprised to see such a sadistic streak in someone so young.
Victor would have either recruited him or killed him. Phil thought with a smile. And if the Monarchs notice him, they'll eat his mind thought by screaming thought.
Still though, in a matter of days it wouldn't be his problem anymore, he and Zara would be in a better place. Either option was better than living in the world Victor Kovach and the Monarchs had made.
A few sips of coffee later Phil was sitting in his chair and listening to the ebb and flow of conversation in the critical care ward. If he was lucky he might hear snippets of doctors talking about Zara's case, most time all he heard was the nurses complaining about their men and their shoes. Phil found most women rarely seemed to find lasting satisfaction with either.
A new voice entered the network of whispering voices and machines, a voice that was cool, professional and almost familiar. Phil wondered if he had backup standing by. He wondered if this new Project Pharos still arranged for the occasional 'disappearance'.
Then he thought of John.
Measured, easy footsteps were approaching. When he walks in here I could throw a cup of hot coffee in his face then take his sidearm…
There was a certain thrill to the idea of going out in a blaze of glory but Phil knew he had better stick to the plan. If Victor was going to devour their souls he was going to have to fight for them.
A man approached Zara's bedside, his blonde hair was graying at the temples and slicked back, his expression was warm but his eyes were haggard. “Hello Phil.”
“Do I know you?” Phil sipped from his coffee; he couldn't believe how much the boy looked like his old man just softer. “Are you from the insurance company?”
He scanned through the charts and files hanging off the bed, “My name is Gawain Wight. I tried to talk to you the first time Zara was hospitalized…”
“Who's Zara?” Phil said, “My wife is named Lucille. Are you sure you're in the right place sonny?”
He sighed, “I'm a special agent attached to Project Pharos.”
“Project Pharos, the same people you used to work for.”
Wrong dumbass. Phil thought, You work for the government, I worked for Victor Kovach.
Phil gave the Special Agent his best confused look “Mister, I worked for General Electric for twenty years.”
“Why are you doing this?” Gawain raised his voice, “I can help you.”
“You're no government agent. You're some kind of a repo man! I told you bastards that I sold the damn car. It never worked right from day one anyway.”
“I understand that forty years of old habits are hard to break but Phil, you have got to understand how counterproductive this is.”
“Forty years?” Phil scratched his chin, “Is this about that cross-eyed girl I knocked up in Mississippi when I was in basic training?”
“Whatever secrets you're keeping aren't dangerous anymore, whatever or whoever you're hiding from is no longer in power. This is a different world, a changed world.” Gawain stared down at Phil, “I want to help you.”
“She said she was gonna get an abortion!”
“You two are the last surviving members of the original team, there is still so much we don't know about, so many records were lost.”
“Are you… are you my son? Am I your daddy?” Phil had to fight hard to keep from bursting out laughing. Screwing with the suits was better than a decent bowel movement any day.
The look in Gawain's eyes began to give way to anger, “Please, we just need to know what happened to Victor Kovach for once and for all.”
Sure. Phil thought, Then maybe you can take care of us like you took care of John.
“I have no idea where John Sig is.”
Phil stood suddenly spilling his coffee over both their shoes, “Don’t you bring him up. I didn't even say anything about-”
“I know.” Gawain took a step forward, he was a few inches taller than Phil and he used it well, “But I heard you anyway. You must be pretty tired, last time your thoughts were better protected.”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
“Or maybe you're just getting old.”
“Self righteous little prick. I'd gut you like a marlin soon as look at you.”
Gawain smiled, “Now that's the Phil I've heard about.”
Phil smiled back, “Your old man was self righteous too. Maybe that's why he got his throat slit.”
“What do you know about how my father died?”
“More than you.” Phil stuck a thoughtful pose, “At least I think he got his throat slit. It was either that or he choked to death swallowing some guy’s jizz.”
“You just watch your mouth!” Gawain shook a fist at the old man.
“See, I'm old and I can never quite remember.” Phil crossed his arms, “I do remember him gurgling but the rest is kinda fuzzy.”
A pair of nurses with fire in their eyes stepped through the curtains, before they could say anything Phil pointed to Gawain and said, “I have no idea who this man is but he won't leave me alone. I think he’s trying to sell me Jesus, or Amway!”
Gawain Wight bristled as the nurses scolded him coolly and professionally. One of the nurses lead him out of the critical care ward.
The other nurse checked on Zara and offered to get Phil another coffee, he declined. When he was alone with Zara again he walked over to the window and tried to see if he could spy Gawain or the modern equivalent of a Project Pharos retrieval squad, but all he saw was a cloudy sky and plain ordinary cars.
“Things are really starting to come to a head aren't they?” He mused to the woman on the bed. Phil doubted he would have to worry about armed goons at this stage of the game. Lionel’s boy was still convinced he could get a few members of the old team back together again, so he could weedle a few remaining secrets out of them. Phil wondered what Gawain Wight wanted to know more- how his father died or how Victor Kovach sent the Dark Gods packing in 1937. That was what this was all about, Phil was sure of it; Gawain thought he could push back the Monarchs using the same methods. Idiot. Phil thought, The Monarchs drove the Dark Gods away, and it would have happened no matter what anyone did. Victor just helped them sink their claws into the world good and deep. He was just a pimp and he whored out the whole damn world.
Phil shook his head at the thought, it only served to remind him that the sooner they were out of this world the better.