The Heart is a Poor Judge Ch. 04

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I tell him we can stop, that I’ve gotten enough information to work with for a while. He looks relieved. I glance around and realize how much the place has changed since I first started coming here. Vending machines burst from the polished concrete of the south wall. The old dropped ceiling has been torn out; exposed beams and ductwork are painted bright colors. Leafy plants hang in red clay pots along the perimeter.

“Think it’ll be published before I get out?” His face is transparent, full of hope.

Miguel does this sometimes. I love him for it. Just when you think he’s done with the world, closed up shop and begun his ascension, leaving all unfiltered interaction behind out of equal parts boredom and frustration—he opens himself up in overt search of guidance. He is back on the ground and deferring entirely to you.

Answering him breaks my heart. “No, there’s no way I can finish it by then. Besides, I don’t know how I feel about publishing it. Even if I decide I want to, there’s little or no chance it will generate interest.”

“Don’t you dare start talking about this even-if-I-decide bullshit. We’re way past that. If you’re not going to at least try, I’ll steal the whole thing and try to sell it myself.”

I laugh.

“I’m dead serious.”

“You think I don’t know that?” I close my notebook and rest my arms across its white-flecked cover. “Alright, I’ll look into publishing when the time comes. But as of now there’s too much work left to do. I shouldn’t even be thinking about it. Anyway, you’ll be out of here long before it’s done.”

“Yeah. Okay.” He doesn’t hide his disappointment from me.

“It’s a good thing, Miguel. You’ll be getting out soon.”

“Five months.”

“That’s not far away,” I tell him, but even as I say the words, I know what we’re really talking about. I’ve read about it, and although Miguel isn’t one to fit many molds, he fits this one. I know that sooner or later, in one form or another, I’ll need to say it out loud. So I draw in a small breath. “Is it scary? The idea of getting out—does it scare you?”

His eyes dart around the room. They are wet. His answer follows what feels like an eternity to me: “Yeah, I’m scared.” He won’t look at me right now. I know that. “Man, I’ve been in here a long time. I’m fucking scared to death.”

Ever since the kid uttered the words, Miguel had been trying to shake it—to un-see every familiar smile lighting up the kid’s face, to un-hear the way his deep voice inflected up each time he finished a thought, even when it was not a question, just like that enigmatic man Miguel used to know. He was struggling, without much success, to shed the presence of his dead mentor.

Gabe had insisted he was different from his father. Miguel understood the importance of such a distinction—fuck, he even believed the kid. And he wanted desperately to see it for himself. But so far, it wasn’t happening that way. And yet Gabe’s behavior would soon depart from his father’s in a number of ways, the first of which arriving as a shock.

It happened as the elevator door opened in the foyer of his building. Alice had produced some very strong drinks tonight—she was always up to something—and in turn, Miguel had gotten the kid a little bit drunk. He was a little bit drunk himself. Neither had been his intention, and besides, his motives were pure. He would offer Gabe his bed and sleep on the couch. It was a very comfortable couch. He had slept there himself on occasion, even when there were no visitors—it was that comfortable.

Miguel had been plotting through this when the distorted double tone sounded and the door rolled open on worn, dry bearings. Gabe stood beside him, and then, as the wood and mirrors of the compartment were revealed to them both, the kid seized up. Miguel heard him draw in a strange, wheezing breath of air, then pinch it off in his throat. Gabe’s hands rose up like serpents and clamped over his dark brown eyes. He stumbled backward and his shoulders slammed into the opposite wall. He slid down, bending at the knees, landing crumpled on the floor.

By this time, Miguel was kneeling next to him, pleading with him, prodding at his shoulder, asking him what the fuck was happening. At first Gabe made odd, flailing attempts to push him away, but then he seemed to give up, hugging his knees, burying his face between them. Then, gradually, his arms fell to the floor. He expelled a long breath of air. His face was still down and Miguel heard his deep, muffled voice plead, “Why? Why now?”

Miguel shook his shoulder. “What the hell’s going on?”

Gabe untucked his head, looking confusedly around as if he had completely forgotten his surroundings. “Nothing. I’m so sorry.” He stood up suddenly, swaying, legs shaking, saying, “That’s it. What’s the nearest train? I’m going home.” He started walking toward the exit and Miguel followed.

“Hey, wait up. Please don’t leave. Is it the elevator? We can take the stairs. I know all kinds of people who don’t like elevators.”

Gabe whipped around urfa escort to face him. “Look, I think I just had a panic attack. I’m not sure. Anyway, I’m not going to burden you with this.”

“But I’m asking you to stay. I don’t want you to go.”


“Because I want to spend time with you. I don’t see why either of us has to be alone tonight. Not over such a little thing.”

Gabe’s breaths were short and clipped. “It’s not a little thing.”

“Well, what am I supposed to say? I don’t want you to go.”

“You want to spend time—”

“Yeah, just…you know, talking and sleeping. That’s it.”

“Talking and sleeping…”

“Yeah. Hanging out.”

Gabe froze in place, and for a terrifying instant, Miguel thought it was about to happen all over again. But then something seemed to click in the kid’s brain. “Alright, I won’t go.” He walked back to the elevator and pressed the button.

Miguel stood there watching him from a few feet away. When the door ground open again, Gabe gestured inside as if demonstrating. “See? Nothing.” He spoke as if to convince himself as much as Miguel. “I’m fine. There’s nothing.”

Miguel put on a smile and followed him inside. He wasn’t about to let the kid think he was worried. But Gabe was right. A panic attack wasn’t a little thing. Had it been wrong to insist he stay the night? Miguel tried to imagine the alternative: a long train ride through the early-morning darkness, the snaking tunnels, and the hollow apartment waiting at the other end, where the kid’s parents had raised him, where one had ended her life. Where Gabe discovered her body. (Eddie had eventually revealed this tragedy to Miguel.) No, surely that was worse.

Besides, Gabe actually did seem better now. The color returned gradually to his face and his grip relaxed on the brass handrail of the elevator car. A thousand of their exhausted reflections assembled in the mirrors. When the door opened again, Miguel led Gabe over plush burgundy carpet to the very end of the hallway, through a mint green door with a gold placard that read one-zero-zero-nine, and into his modest home.

Miguel tried not to appear hopeful as the kid took in his small apartment for the first time. He had been living a quiet life, and Gabe was his first visitor in months.

“It’s so peaceful here.”

“It’s a little outdated,” said Miguel quickly.

“If you think this is outdated, you should see where I live.”

Miguel led him to the small galley kitchen. “Check out these appliances. Look at the sink. It’s like a fucking time capsule in here. But I like it. Gives the place character.”

The kid swayed slightly in place with his hands in his pockets. He gave Miguel a supportive smile, seemed unable to move his eyes away from Miguel’s for a few seconds. He coughed and went over to the windows overlooking the port. As he walked near the back of a chair, he steadied himself against it. “I think I’m drunk.”

“You sure about that? I’ve never seen a drunk person have a panic attack before.”

Gabe turned around. He looked embarrassed. “I don’t even know if that’s what it was.”

“But you’re okay?”

He nodded. “What’s your bedroom like?”

It seemed like a strange question, but Miguel was happy to show him, leading him back into the small adjacent room. “Not much space for anything besides the bed. There’s a closet, though.”

“I like it,” Gabe said. He pointed at a poster on the opposite wall. “Who’s that?”

“Diego Maradona—a soccer player from Argentina. He’s a legend.”

“You like soccer?”


“Do you play?”

“I used to.”

“I see.” Gabe sat himself on the end of the bed. His feet dangled a few inches above the carpet. He was now facing Miguel. “Why did you stop playing?”

Miguel stayed put in the doorway. His present life suddenly seemed very boring now that it was under inspection. He wished he had a more interesting answer for the kid. “Man, I don’t know. You get older, and some of the things you did when you were younger…you just don’t do them anymore.”

“How old are you?”

“I turned twenty-one last month.” Now, finally, Miguel would capture that elusive number from Gabe. “How about you?”

“I’m eighteen.”

Miguel tried to hide his surprise and his relief, but they must have shown up anyway, because the kid sort of smirked, saying, “I know, I look young for my age. It doesn’t help that I’m small. I’ll be nineteen in August.”

“You’re not that small.”

The kid suddenly lay back, legs still hanging over the edge. His deep voice slurred and his eyes stared blankly up at the ceiling. “I am. I’m short, like my father was short before me. At least he made up for it by lifting weights and looking strong. I don’t even have that. It’s fine. I made peace with it a long time ago. Anyway, you even said I was short, so you can’t go back on it now.”

“No I didn’t.”

Gabe kicked his legs. “You did. The first time I ever got out of the car, you said escort urfa it. You said, ‘Thought you would be taller.’ Remember that? Don’t worry, I wasn’t offended.”

Miguel scoffed. The kid was adorable. He hated the word, but it fit everything about the way Gabe languished on the bed, his voice droning dreamily along.

Gabe moved onto his side, looked sternly up at Miguel. “Are you just going to keep standing there like that?”

“Like what?”

“Never mind.” He propped himself up on his arms. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m lying on your bed like this.”

Miguel laughed. “Do what you want.”

“It’s just…you’re embarrassing me…just standing there.”

Miguel went to the bed and lay down on his side, facing Gabe, their heads cradled by separate pillows. “There, now we’re equals.”

Gabe smiled faintly, looked down at the pillow. “I have a secret to tell you. I don’t think you’ll judge me for it, because of what you said at the pub.”

“I won’t judge.”

The kid closed his eyes. “I’m like you.”

“You’re like me how?”

Gabe’s eyes were still closed. He looked like an angel. “You know.”

Miguel did know. But he hadn’t suspected the kid one bit until now. Wasn’t that true? He’d never had any reason to assume… “You’re brave for telling me that.”

“I don’t feel brave at all.”

“Yeah, well, take a number.”

“But you stopped. How did you stop it? No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to stop.”

“Stop what?”

“Those feelings.”

“Gabe, I never—why would I want it to stop?”

Gabe’s eyes opened. Ten different emotions tumbled across his fragile dark features. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know why I thought you—” He stopped himself.

“It’s alright.” Miguel felt the kid’s pain deeply, as if it were his own—and at one point, a lifetime ago now, it had been. “Do you want your feelings to stop?”

“Well I…” He paused, looked Miguel in the eyes.

Miguel tried to hold him there, coveting his gaze as if something huge were at stake if he allowed it to drift away yet again.

“I don’t know.”

“That’s okay.”

Gabe said nothing, but his arm moved away from his body. His fingertips probed curiously at Miguel’s hands, one of which lay cupped in the other. Miguel’s reached out in earnest, but Gabe had already withdrawn. The kid looked sleepy, confused.

“Maybe I should get ready for bed,” Miguel said quietly. “You’ll be okay tonight? I’ll just be out in the living room.”

“Aren’t you going to stay here?”

“Wasn’t planning on it. Do you want me to?”

Gabe looked all around himself. “I’ve never slept in a bed this big before.”

Part of him wanted to laugh at such a statement, but the other part understood exactly what Gabe meant. “If you want me to stay, I will. Otherwise I’ll sleep on the couch. It’s very comfortable.”

“Please, don’t sleep on the fucking couch.”

Miguel put up his hands, surrendering. “The bed it is. I have to go wash my face, but I’ll be back.”

Gabe made a strange murmur of approval, and Miguel was sure that when he returned, the kid would be asleep.

As Miguel’s head sank into the down pillow five minutes later, Gabe mumbled, “I’m not going to the bathroom anymore.” His eyes were closed.

Miguel looked over. “You sure that’s a good idea?”

The kid said nothing more and his breathing grew heavy. Miguel knew he must already be dreaming.

Of course it had been panic that consumed Gabe down by the elevator. It should have come as no surprise at all to Miguel. Gabe’s father was dead for only a year, his mother, for only weeks. Through it all he had gradually acquired knowledge, in staggering detail, about the nature of his father’s work.

Miguel knew how it must have been. One moment, you’re just a driver, doing what you’re told, urging a car along through the violet night. Before long, you’ve begun the process of accepting it…different classes, different weights, all amounting to the same gorgeous, glittering white substance. If it had not been clear to Gabe when he started, it most certainly was now. A year was plenty of time to get acquainted with the unambiguous reality of what he had become—a trafficker.

Miguel would know. He sat at the helm of quite possibly the largest single concentration of class-A and class-B snow dox in the entire city. They called it the warehouse, but it was really just a large garage, clad in steel just like many others surrounding it. The others served as marine engine shops and buoy overflow, grease traps and storage houses, among countless other functions. One was filled front to back with huge spools of chain and rope. Many had windows, but of course theirs did not. It sat, unassuming, tidier than most but not out of place, locked tight through the heat of the day under the thrum of its rooftop air conditioner—the only suggestion to daytime workers that it was used at all.

He had been proud the night he first took sole urfa escort bayan control, and his pride had only grown since then. There were only two keys that would open the side door: One was with Eddie; the other stayed with Miguel at all times (it now lay on the floor between the bed and the wall, stuffed deep in the pocket of his jeans).

Miguel felt himself fading. He lolled his head over to look at Gabe. The kid had gotten himself almost naked, apparently while Miguel was in the bathroom. His black pants and gray t-shirt lay fused together on the carpet. The blanket rose up above his waist, so Miguel couldn’t see anything. Miguel removed his own shirt in one slow, exhausted motion and let it fall on top of his pants.

He looked down at himself, examining the cluster of dark brown hairs that had recently sprouted from the pit of his sternum. He looked then at Gabe’s chest, where, he was fairly certain in the dim light, there was no hair at all.

Miguel’s attraction to his boss had been difficult to manage at first. Marco had a sturdy appearance and was very handsome. What few wrinkles his face divulged only heightened his allure. And, physical qualities aside, Marco was nothing less than Miguel’s savior. Miguel felt an incredible sense of gratitude to him, and an even stronger resulting affection—but he had nowhere to place it. If Miguel had known one thing for certain, his boss did not return his affection and never would. Over time, he had learned not to waste his time and energy wishing it could be so. And then Marco died, so there had been no more wishing after that.

Miguel looked over again. He couldn’t believe it. All that time, all those moments together, and Marco had kept a beautiful secret the whole time: a son. One who was, as it happened, not much younger than Miguel. A son who—was it actually true?—hosted the same relegating trait that to this day caused Miguel occasional twinges of shame. He still couldn’t accept the situation as reality; it was as if the blurriness of the night sustained a fantasy, and tomorrow it could all be gone. He reached over and brushed his fingertips along Gabe’s smooth, tan arm, hopeful that this boy was as real as he seemed.

Miguel fled the rooftop, descending rapidly through the glass residential tower. He didn’t look back, and could later form no mental image of Daniel’s lone form shrinking behind him. He would instead imagine his old love disintegrating to dust (like any proper figment would), the wind carrying him away in an inscrutable cloud, high over the city’s crowded web of lights.

His watch read nearly eight o’clock. His father would be home by now; they had probably just missed each other when Miguel ran from the house an hour before. Dread filtered thick through him like black tar. Somehow he had been so sure he could confide in his mother. She would be partially destroyed…but she would not share his terrible secret. Now he could see that it had been a tragic misjudgment on his part. Miguel was sure his father had already been told.

He unlocked the front door, stepped through, relocked it behind him. There was a kink in the scarlet and gold runner paving the hallway to the kitchen. He heard their voices murmur from within, then stop abruptly. His father stepped quietly into the far end of the hall. He pointed up. Miguel turned and began trudging up the stairs to his room. He was no longer heavy with dread. He weighed nothing. He was numb. In the last hour, his life had turned completely unrecognizable.

He was aware on some level that his father followed—those thumping, heavy steps shaking the stairwell were not his own. Miguel almost believed that he would continue rising once the stairs ended, like a ghost, up through the ceiling, attic, clay tiles of the roof, and into the night. But It didn’t happen that way.

He entered his room, felt the heat from his father’s body directly behind him. The door slammed shut and the mirror above his dresser clattered against the wall.

“Turn around, Miguel.”

He did so, eyes now level with the weary brown of his father’s. A stillness overtook the room.

“There is a point at which your mother and I have done all that is required. We’ve kept up our end of the bargain, and much, much more.”

“You have,” said Miguel. “I know.”

“This is not our doing.”

“Of course it’s not.”

“You are given choices in this life, Miguel. They are there to test your accountability…to God, to us, to yourself. They are very clear choices. You are smart, and you know how to choose correctly. We’ve given you all the tools you need. Yet you have chosen wrong. Please, Miguel, tell me why you have done this.” His voice shrank as he leaned in slightly toward his son. “You have had so long to correct it.”

“Many things are choices,” said Miguel. He hated that his voice trembled so much. “But this isn’t like that. I am this way. It wasn’t ever about choosing.”

“Yes it was. Yes it is. It’s always a choice.”

“Fine, then I choose this. I like who I am. I’m glad I turned out this way.”

“Take that back, Miguel. Right now.”

Miguel hung his head. He cried openly. “I’ll never take it back. Never.” He looked up, straight into his father’s eyes. “And how dare you ask me to? How dare you make me feel guilty for so long, for something that isn’t my fault?”

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