Harold Maine watched the tiny spider with interest. Watched as it tried, and failed, to build its web. Watched as it climbed back up, watched as it yet again spun its gossamer threads, watched as, with patience and determination, it finally completed its work.
“There you go,” he said. “You did it. Knew you could, knew you would.”
The spider remained suspended in the centre of its web. Such a work of art, Maine thought. Such a beautiful thing. Proof that, despite all the horrors of the world, there were even now uplifting, wondrous things taking place all around, if only one could take the time to see them.
He took the cigar from his mouth and reached out to the newly created miracle; the end made contact, and the silken threads were instantly ruined. The web was unmade. The spider tumbled, then caught itself, and began its task afresh.
Maine turned away, his interest spent. Tormenting the spider had provided most of the afternoon’s sport. Flicking it across the table, trapping it under a shot glass, dropping it into a glass of water and watching it drown, plucking it out with tweezers and then holding it over the waste disposal unit as the mechanism crushed and mashed beneath it. Truth be told, it amused him to torture it, to show it cruelty and kindness in almost equal measure. Hope and damnation. The arachnid had been his plaything for the best part of a week. Sometimes it was just easier to be inhumane to insects.
On the TV, a Mexican game show was playing. He didn't understand it but the noise was welcome. Foreigners - grubby, greedy foreigners - trying to make money through the televised, ritualised sodomisation of dignity.
Another beer found its way from fridge to hand, and thenceforth from hand to floor. He would clean up another time; today he had more important things to worry about. Calvin Paris, for one. The man was dangerous. He wasn't like the others - he didn't submit, didn't tow the line, wasn't so scared that he literally crumbled in his presence, like the others. And his daughter worked for the CIA. He took his cellphone from his pocket, pressed the power button, and navigated to Contacts.
Contact: Calvin, Paris.
Sexual Orientation: Homosexual.
Offspring: Carol Paris (field agent for secret organisation). Susan Paris, died aged seven weeks. Fay Paris, artist, recreational drugs taker
Medical Conditions: None
And so on. He was slightly irritated with himself for having gone so far; but the phone had given him secrets, and they begged to be taken advantage of. They sat latent in his phone’s memory, waiting to be used against his common man. Sitting patiently, wanting to be used.
And used them he had. In the early days, when he was still figuring it out, the phone had divulged to him all his friends’ indiscretions and paraphilias, their hidden faces and their forbidden desires. Jonny Branch, well-known heavy drinker and secret rapist. Jennifer Wade, stereotypical whore with a heart of gold and kleptomaniac. Vance Fielding, plumber and white supremacist responsible for the firebombing of sixteen black-owned properties. The list went on. At first, he thought it was a joke. But then he casually mentioned the arson attacks to Fielding, and his face became a shade of white that even the most hardened Aryan racist would have approved of.
The plumber had mumbled something about keeping quiet, got up from the table, and come back two minutes later with one thousand dollars, give or take.
“This is a gesture of my friendship,” he said.
Harold Maine accepted the gesture calmly, without comment, but his mind was racing. He had always disliked the man, his ugly bug eyes and gangly crane fly limbs, but suddenly he had reason to warm to him. What's yours is mine, he thought.
And to how many others would that apply? Could he do this with all his contacts? Jesus Christ, he was sitting on a fucking fortune just waiting to be made from the misfortune of his friends.
He was that misfortune, incarnate. And yet… Calvin Paris. He wasn't one of Maine's friends or acquaintances, they weren't even aware of each other's existence a few weeks earlier. But one contact had led to another, and another, and another, until his network had spread beyond the initial morass of losers and lowlifes that he used to call his own. Nowadays, he knew people in high places (at least relatively), and their secrets hung in front of him like autumn fruit. It made for easy blackmailing and easy money.
Calvin Paris was meant to be Maine's meal ticket should everything else go awry. That was a mistake. He had friends of his own. Friends Harold Maine didn't know and couldn't control. And his daughter, of course. Who the fuck works for a secret organisation? He would have to start being careful. He had the uncomfortable feeling that life was becoming less simple by the day.
There was a knock on the door as if to prove his point. Vexed, he plucked the little spider from its latest web and crushed its legs. It fell to the floor, tried to wriggle miserably, and died. “Goodbye, Vance," he said. He rubbed his fingers to get rid of the bits. Then looking back at the web, beautiful and vacant, “Yet again, what's yours is mine."
Another knock. He listened intently. Not aggressive, not loud. Apologetic, almost. The knock of a scared man, hoping not to disturb an angry god. He walked over to the door, looked into the hallway through the peephole, and grunted. He unlatched the chain, unsecured the three locks, and with a sigh greeted the unbidden visitor through the iron grille.
“What the fuck do you want?” He asked.
The visitor hesitated.
“You're three days early. What the fuck do you want?”
The man at the door steeled himself, and drew closer. “I have CB infiltration… indistinction… information," he said. "The woman and CV the CV crank. Crab. There woman and the crab…"
Harold Maine unlocked the metal grille. It swung open quietly. The corridor smelt of damp.
“You'd better come in,” he said.
With a curious sense of dread, guilt and relief, Geoff Mansani followed Harold Maine into his apartment, and the grille and the door closed silently behind him.