Calvin Paris sat and contemplated the man blowing cigar smoke into his face.
“Didn't take you for a book reader,” he said, looking around the empty library. His eyes came back to Harold Maine. “Didn't take you for much of anything, truth be told.”
Maine laughed, or grunted, and the space between the two men blossomed with halitosis. “The truth will be told,” Harold smiled. “You can bank on that. But you know what to do, don't you, if you'd rather keep the truth to yourself.”
Paris scoffed. “What truth?”
Maine was silent, but his eyes glittered. Paris had had enough. “You need to stop calling me,” he demanded. “It’s pathetic. You’re a grubby, greedy little parasite. A useless, washed up never-has-been… We’re done here.”
He stood to get up, but Maine gestured him to stop. “So,” he smiled. “How do you like being gay?”
Paris remained seated. “What?”
“Am I wrong?”
“I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Yeah you do,” Maine countered. “I know, believe me I know. You're gay. Have been for about six-seven weeks? Almost overnight? Straight for fifty-odd years, and then one day you wake up and voilà! You're thinking interior design and fake tan. Lost your faith round about the same time too? But you still go to church like a good, straight Texan boy…” Maine let the revelation sink in; one, two, three, four, five. “…Am I wrong?”
Paris did not answer.
“Good,” said Maine. “Now don't you worry none. I'm an equal opportunities blackmailer; treat stags and fags the same.”
Paris’ gaze fell to the floor. “I hope you don't expect me to confirm your allegations,” he sighed. “I have nothing to say to you.”
“Suits me,” said Maine. “I don't want a conver-fucking-sation about Will and Grace and clutch bags.”
“So what do you want?”
Maine shrugged. “I don't know yet,” he admitted. “Money, I guess. I don't know. I'm going to have to get back to you on that.”
“I'm not confirming your accusations,” Paris said. “But I'd like to know where your information comes from.”
“Oh, friends of friends,” Maine said. “I have my sources.”
“I don't know how you got my number, or my name, or my address, but I can find out,” said Paris. “I have my sources too.”
Maine clapped his hands, his face beaming. “Oh yeah - your daughter, right? Works for some secret organisation? CIA or some shit like that? Let's not get her involved in this grubby, greedy little situation. Or your wife, for that matter. Don't want to push her off the wagon, do we? Not when she's come so far.”
“Christ,” Paris whispered, trying to massage an oncoming tension headache away at source. “How do you know all this?”
Harold Maine leaned back and smiled, and his foetid cigar-smoke breath rolled over Paris like fog.
“Contacts,” he said, and he relished the word like cold beer on a hot day. “Contacts.”
° ° ° ° °
Calvin Paris walked out of the library and into the back of a black, brand new limousine. The driver pulled off slowly, integrating with the traffic heading south, and he did not look at Paris, or speak to him, or attempt to interact with him in any way.
Finally, out of public view, Paris allowed himself to sink back into the luxurious leather upholstery and poured himself a drink. The headache was here to stay; no point thinking otherwise. No point trying to avert it, or handle it, or deny it. Just have to contain it, he thought. Limit the damage as best he could.
He'd been incredibly stupid, he realised. He had found himself in a hotel room with another man. No; he had found himself in bed in a hotel room with another man, and - lacking anyone else to confide in, least of all a God he no longer believed in - he had told his new lover everything. How he'd been heterosexual all his life, how he had betrayed his long-suffering wife, how the taste of another man’s sex was so much more satisfying than her’s. Dear Christ, he'd been stupid. He gulped the whisky in one; it burned as it went down, spreading outwards on its way. He poured another.
Harold Maine must have known about the hotel encounter. He must have known about Johnathon. How? Didn't matter. He knew; J had told him - how else would Maine have known about his overnight change from straight to gay? Or his fall from faith?
He looked out of the window at the ambling, aimless folk on the sidewalks. Caught a glimpse of a pretty young thing, then saw her stunted arms and shook his head. “The world’s gone mad,” he said to himself, and withdrew his cellphone from his jacket. He took a large swig of whisky, waited for its fire to turn to velvet, then dialled his daughter's number.
“Carol? We need to talk.”
And the black, brand new limousine rolled on, and the driver was silent.