Black Heart – Chapter III Part I
by Steppen Sawicki
Hussein scratched at his beard as Bryan finished his briefing on the synagogue. He was silent for a moment, as if expecting Bryan to keep talking. Under the scrutiny, Bryan fidgeted and coughed, then opened his mouth to keep talking, though he wasn’t sure what to add.
But Hussein held up a hand to stop him. “You say it wasn’t supposed to be here.”
“I think so. I mean, yes.”
“Then where was it supposed to be?”
Bryan wasn’t sure how to answer, but he suspected it was a rhetorical question anyway.
Hussein swiveled his chair to the window, though the blinds were closed against the night. Not that they had ever been opened. “I’m going to see what I can do about getting eyes on that place. Kiyoko’s right. It could happen again.”
“I’ll want to check in there tomorrow night,” Bryan said. “To see if I can pick up anything else with my mind clearer.”
Hussein swiveled back to look at him. “Why was your mind not clear enough tonight?”
Bryan flushed. “I…um, got a headache.”
Hussein raised his eyebrows but didn’t remark. “Alright. Anything else to report?”
“Yes, sir,” Harper broke in. “We encountered several demons in a restaurant on the ride back. Ivers had to capture one.”
Bryan gaped at Harper.
Hussein threw his hands in the air in exasperation. “One night, Bryan.”
“I had to,” Bryan argued. “It was – ”
“It was my fault,” Harper said. “I was unable to contain them all myself. One escaped me and exited into the street. Ivers was forced to capture it to prevent further casualties.”
Hussein looked from one of them to the other and gave a prolonged sigh. “Then you’re a fucking hero, Bryan. Fantastic. Anything else?”
“No, sir,” Harper and Bryan said in unison.
“Then Kiyoko, you’re dismissed.”
Harper gave a nod and stood. Bryan didn’t look at her, still angry at her for mentioning the restaurant, even if in the back of his mind he knew that Hussein would have gotten a report on it from clean-up. And she had claimed responsibility.
Hussein watched him as the door clicked shut, than kept watching him.
Bryan uncrossed his legs, and then crossed them again. “Um, sir?”
“What did the gamma do when you took in a demon?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. Just…”
“That’s all?” His eyes bore into Bryan’s, watching him like the gamma watched him.
“Look, the demon in me even invited it in for shits and giggles, and the gamma did nothing. The beta did more than the gamma did, so…” His voice trailed off as he saw Hussein’s expression, and he knew he shouldn’t have said anything about it.
How does he do that?
“Bryan, how am I supposed to supervise you if you don’t tell me you have demons inviting other demons into yourself?”
“Is that what this is? Supervision? Is this kindergarten?”
“This is a job.”
“This is a mother dead on the sidewalk, and twenty others alive because I did my job.”
“I’m not saying you did the wrong thing.”
“Then what are you saying?” Bryan crossed his arms, petulant.
Hussein spread his hands. “Can I be worried about you, Bryan? Please? Can I? You want to be the tough guy, fine. But you still have to report. If this thing gets control of you, how many dead will that be?”
Bryan looked away, swallowed hard. “The beta tried to convince me to let it out, but I recognized it. Its voice did nothing to me. And the gamma didn’t accept.”
It was jealous too.
Bryan shook his head. “I couldn’t tell.”
After a pause Hussein spoke. “You watch it like it watches you. Got it?”
Bryan looked at him again. “Yeah.”
Hussein watched him for another pause, and this time Bryan held his gaze. “Are you okay to go home today? We can put them in quarantine while you rest.”
Bryan looked at the closed blinds again. It was concern in Hussein’s voice, and Bryan knew it. It was a job. It was supervision. Maybe he could leave just one
Why the beta?
It’s the one that talks to you. You don’t need it.
Well of course he didn’t need it. He wasn’t sure why that had crossed his mind.
Don’t listen if it speaks.
“I’m fine,” he said aloud. “I’m watching them.”
He let his bag fall to the carpet beside the door and crossed the room quickly, as if escaping it. He collapsed onto the couch, half expecting to fall asleep right then and there, but he was too hungry. He had barely eaten a lunch. Still, he lay there for a few minutes, relishing being able to stretch out and bend his mind away from the gamma.
Except that it was still watching him, from across the room.
He turned on the tv, barely looking at what had come on – Golden Girls of course, because it was 4 AM. He went to the kitchen and tired as he was he cooked chicken cacciatore from scratch to keep his mind busy. The chopping and frying and portioning (he always measured exactly – that was part of it) and the sounds of Betty White and Beatrice Arthur calmed him, reminded him of who he was underneath the demons. Almost convinced him that he could have a decent conversation that didn’t result in him or the other person getting pissed off. Because that’s what normal people do. They talk and laugh non-sarcastically and have lives and families that they eat with.
He ate with the tv.
He dreamed of the cabin, but there were too many rooms. A maze of rooms. He was lost and there were demons around every corner and he had nothing to capture them in and he could only run from room to room. He thought he found his sister but it turned out to only be Harper, and he was angry with her for being there doing nothing, just kneeling on the floor with her hands tucked on her lap. But he wasn’t doing anything either, only rushing from room to empty room. But he yelled at Harper anyway.
She looked up at him, her eyes dark behind her glasses.
“She’s behind you,” she said.
He woke with a start on the couch, bathed in sweat. He pulled himself up to look at the bag by the door. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but it just sat there, unmoved, unopened.