Graham Chandler resented the wheelchair more than he had words for, and for him to have no words for it meant a great deal of resentment indeed. With the crutches at least he had been able to give the illusion of autonomy, the idea that his lameness was only a temporary affliction (temporary of more than fifty years; so what) to be overcome – but now, now he was trapped in his own home in a contraption other people could hijack, and there was nothing he could do.
His nephew (in name at least) did just that, seizing the handles in his firm grip and manoeuvring Graham out into a deserted room without so much as a warning. "We're going to have a chat," Cal whispered, applying the brake.
Graham's fingers groped for the catch but found only the pyjama-clad legs of their Golden Boy Candidate; Violet had taken his clothes away as an additional measure, as though junky desperation didn't override mere shame.
You'd think a woman who drinks that much would understand addiction a little better.
Cal swung round in front of the man he called "Uncle" and smiled a too-wide smile (the one Graham'd taught him for the cameras) down at him. Graham reminded himself: Cal is thirty. Thirty. Don't let the schoolboy haircut and "boyish good looks" (thank you, Time Magazine) disarm you.
"Where is it, Graham?" Cal muttered, leaning down over his uncle, his unwashed hair hanging in his eyes. Graham caught a flash of bare chest down the neck of his pyjama jacket and swallowed unhappily.
"Why on earth would I tell you that?" he sneered, not feeling very much on top of the situation. "Violet hid them for a good reason."
"I'm better now," Cal protested. He was right in a sense – the horrific shrieks and sweats were long behind them – but the fact that even thinking about his works leant his face such an unhealthy, manic glow suggested that they were far from out of the woods as far as his mind was concerned.
"If you were better you wouldn't be looking for them at all," Graham pointed out irritably. Cal's pyjama'd leg brushed against Graham's shrivelled twig of a leg and the comparison made him wince internally. Ask the man on the street which of them was the heroin addict and the man on the street would give the wrong answer. "Now," Graham went on, reaching for the brake again, "why should I give drugs to a drug addict, mm? Answer me that." He'd meant it rhetorically, but Cal gave him a new species of smile – one of his mother's most detestable and irresistible, and said:
"You give me what I want and I'll give you what you want, Uncle Graham," in an affectedly sly voice. His hands landed firm on each arm rest, effectively pinning Graham into the chair. "I am right, aren't I, Graham? You do still want …you do still want me."
Hellishly, unfairly, and against all reason he was right, but Graham had been involved in politics and spin for longer than Cal had been alive, and he gave absolutely nothing away, left Cal still talking.
"C'mon, Graham," Cal murmured, running his forefinger up Graham's forearm, almost unconsciously tracing the path of his favourite veins. "Just tell me where my shit is."
"I don't think so, Cal. We need you clean for the Senatorial elections. Or have you forgotten about that little hurdle entirely?" He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Cal was breathing on him from a distance that was too close to be misconstrued as innocent by anyone.
"It helps me keep it together," Cal suggested, giving him the TV smile again. Up close it was terrifying and Graham began to wish he'd never taught him it.
"It does no such thing. That was a pathetic attempt, Calvin. See how weak your mind's become on that garbage?" Graham glared up at him briefly. Cal stood legs akimbo now, a kind of hungry, dreamy expression on his face which would have been utterly compelling if Graham had been the subject of it, and not the magic poppy powder.
Cal straddled him so quickly that Graham barely had time to make a surprised noise before his useless legs were trapped between his nephew's. "If you knew what it was like …" Cal whispered, dipping his head until it almost touched Graham's. He smelt faintly of nurseries (hardly surprising since Violet had been keeping him in Calvin Junior's old room in some kind of guilt-trip exercise), of milk and youth, slightly soured by the faint whiff of his mother's gin.
"If I knew what it was like I'd be keeping it for myself," Graham said shortly as Cal traced formless lines over his sternum through the loose cotton of his shirt. He tried to breathe quietly and steadily. He tried to tell himself, contra to a lifetime of unsuccessful and expensive therapy, that Cal was now too old to interest him, too old by half.
His libido, that traitorous bitch that flourished where polio had ravaged, was not prepared to listen to reason any more than it ever had been.
"It makes weak limbs strong again," Cal said in a sing-song voice, the cruelty of this assertion quite deliberate as he reached between his own legs – still army-muscled, almost – to caress shortly Graham's withered ones. "C'mon, Graham. We'll shoot up together. We can be supermen – "
"- in your head. What does it do to weak minds, Cal? It makes them weaker." Graham's Adam's apple bobbed like a Halloween fruit as he swallowed a little too hard to be convincingly unmoved.
"I'll make it worth your while," Cal crooned, and his gaze would have been unbearable had his eyes not been so unfocussed. He lowered himself onto Graham's lap and began toying with his shirt buttons with a vacant smile. "Look, just like old times."
Graham winced. "You're heavy."
"You used to like me sitting on your lap, Graham," Cal said in a voice that was half-sneer, half-dreamy reminiscence.
Graham said nothing.
"I know you used to like it because I could feel it, do you remember?" Cal redistributed his weight with a shuffle of his thighs that nearly pressed a groan out of Graham's mouth. "Don't say you've forgotten, Graham. You used to love me sitting on your lap when I was thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen – " he took Graham's limp hand and pressed it to his inner thigh like a facecloth.
Graham closed his eyes and said nothing.
"C'mon, Graham," Cal whined, even sounding like the boy he'd been, "just tell me where they're hidden and I'll let you do anything you want."
Breath shuddered shakily in Graham's lungs – in, and out – but he said nothing.
With an impatient groan Cal took Graham's hand again and clasped it to his groin, and Graham's eyes flew open in surprise: hard as a rock in his hand, hot as the hell he was condemning himself to now if he hadn't already. Cal said in a frantic whisper, "You see now? It does for me what I do to you. Just let me have some, Graham, let me have some and I swear I'll do anything you want. Anything." He licked his lips and, by Graham's ear, said in a much slower and more composed drawl, "or do you want me to call you Uncle?"
Unsticking his tongue from the roof of his mouth at last, Graham croaked, "Mercy."
Cal laughed, the TV politician chuckle laced with Violet's bitterest barking laugh and the all-too-familiar cadence of Graham's own self-pitying snicker. He rubbed the heel of Graham's hand almost absently over his cock. "Mercy?" he laughed again and Graham caught it this time, the sound he'd always told Violet was there: the low crackle of madness. "Mercy? Did I just hear that from you?"s
Graham felt as though the paralysis had travelled up his spine to his lips, but his bitch traitor cock was stirring.
"From you," Cal repeated a little hysterically. He did not let go of Graham's hand. "The one who roped me into this nightmare fucking circus in the first place! Who trained me to be Dad's good little successor! Who used me to keep Mother happy – " his voice dropped from high pitched accusations to the low wobbling hum of a confessional, "you who … used. Abused. Trained. Restrained. Controlled me."
Graham managed another whimper of, "Mercy," as Cal's fingers tightened their grip around his hand, as his own fingers were rubbed that little bit more fiercely on the light, tented cotton; through the buttonless fly Graham's fingertip slipped and touché dhot, soft skin and he whimpered again.
"Well," Cal said, in a steady voice, "doesn't this change things, Uncle Graham." He pressed Graham back against the chair with his free hand, his thighs squeezing Graham's as his fingers did Graham's hand. "Tell me where my heroin is and you can put your hand inside there."
Graham said nothing.
"I'm not too old, Uncle Graham," Cal all-but purred, leaning forwards until his sternum brushed Graham's and the bend of his belly crushed Graham's hand against his crotch with no chance of escape. "That's what you're thinking, isn't it? But you still want me." He licked his lips and in his supposedly seductive tones unable to mask the naked desperation that drove his words, said, "give me what I want and I'll give you anything you want …Uncle."
"Cal – "
Cal smiled rather emptily, and slid backwards off Graham's legs. At first Graham thought he'd fallen, so sudden was the movement, but Cal came up still smiling the same empty-eyed smile, hair in his face, and knelt between Graham's legs like a penitent schoolboy.
The simile did not help Graham's already strained restraint.
"Uncle," Cal said, draping his elbows all over Graham's thin, hopeless knees. His hands crept up the inside of his thighs like rising flood water, and his gaze from under his dirty brown hair never wavered.
Graham clutched at the armrests of his stupid accursed wheelchair and inhaled too hard as Cal fingered down his fly with what seemed like a practiced touch. He barely had the breath to say accusingly, "you've done this before."
Cal, his towsled head belying the shallow crows' feet by his eyes, the hollows beneath them, the things no longer concealed by TV make-up artists and spin – Cal stopped moving, poised to dig Graham's long-forgotten cock from its painful hiding place. "You know all about favours," he said casually, "so do I."
Graham was about to protest that he never meant the sexual kind, but then he remembered the little debt he'd eventually paid off, the time Tony'd led an unprotesting teenager (age never asked and ever given) to goatish old Graham's room and left with a smirk, and he shut his mouth; Cal's lips – soft and pinkly-healed from where he'd chewed all the skin off in cold turkey – brushed over and opened around the head of Graham's cock and his mouth fell open again.
Graham's head drooped backwards over the back of his chair and his eyelids fluttered: oh, Cal knew about favours alright, and he seemed to know a thing or two about how to be a fucking tease, too. Must have learnt that from his hooker girlfriend –
- Graham's hands curled like bird claws around the arm rests as Cal's throat opened up like a tobacco lobbyist's wallet and he slid in, in, trying not to think about thirteen-year-old Cal straddling his legs and smiling a half-knowing smile; trying not to ruin it too soon, trying to hold back, concentrate instead on the sallowness of his skin, the uncombed hair hiding lumps of dandruff; concentrate on the sour smell of old milk and new gin … Graham tried not to think Cal is a blood relative because there was a very good chance he might not be, and because if he thought who else his father might be (not Reed – poor, impotent Reed) he'd blow his load already.
Cal's body shifted between his legs, squirming – the action of someone much younger, and Graham knew he was doing it on purpose but that made little odds to his libido – before he could talk himself out of it he was no longer gripping the nice safe arm rests but instead deep in Cal's horrid greasy incongruously childish hair, tugging his face down onto Graham's cock.
And from there on it wasn't long, not long enough before Graham was wincing and groaning and out of control, before he came a poor pathetic payload into Cal's mouth, into his throat …
Graham could not raise his head. Felt as though he'd hobbled a marathon (quick-time, a mile, two miles behind the runners). He did feel Cal slither back against his legs and ask almost authoritatively, "Now. Where is it, Graham?"
Weakened and broken in the aftermath of pleasure, he could hardly stop himself – the words blurred at his lips but stumbled on out regardless: "Your mother flushed it all away."
He lifted his head in time to see Cal stagger away and up to his feet, clutching at his hair in distress so virulent it was almost pantomimic, emitting the wordless howl of a toddler deprived of his favourite toy; the wail settled into a desperate "NOOOOO" and Cal sank back to his knees again, still groping his own head in an agony of dashed hopes.
"No," he repeated, grabbing now at Graham's shirt from below with a manic look and almost beating him in the stomach. "She can't have, there must be some left somewhere - TELL ME WHERE IT IS –"
Graham flapped him away with unexpected composure and heartfelt coolness. "It's all gone, Cal," he said bluntly. "We need you clean for your attack on the Senate."
Cal plopped back onto his haunches and muttered a low, thwarted groan. "You let me blow you and you knew that – "
"You have a lot to learn about politics, Cal. Never play your ace first."
"Actually," Graham said, head still soupy with post-orgasmic sparks, his self-control not up to speed, "you bastard."
Cal didn't rise to it, thankfully. Instead he slumped back, his head lolling over Graham's bony knee, his hands lying limp and corpse-like in his lap, and whined, "I can't keep this up, Graham. I can't keep this family man BS together without it."
"Your father managed it," Graham did his fly back up a little surreptitiously.
"You just said he wasn't my father."
Apparently Cal had been paying attention. Most unusual. Strange that he still sounded like a petulant teenager, and thank all the deities Graham was slow to recover as that self-involved wheedle would already be plucking at his erectile tissue –
"That's not the point. The point is he kept it together – "
"Yeah, right up until he had a great big fucking coronary," Cal pointed out with a decidedly adolescent sneer. "While fucking a whore." So out of place on a man of his age; then again, hadn't Graham and Violet and even sometimes Reed stage-managed Cal so totally from college to council that he'd never really managed to grow up? What decisions had he ever made? He'd had more control over his own life following orders in Iraq.
Cal's eyes drooped shut and he repeated in a voice thick with self-pity, "I just can't do it anymore," and started to cry. Fat tears – probably gin-scented, Graham dared not get close enough to smell – muscled their way out from under his long eyelashes and rolled unhindered over Cal's poll-trumping cheekbones, down into the curve of his made-for-TV mouth, salting his lips. Salting them more.
Graham was unmoved: crocodiles and junkies have tears made of pure liquid deception.
"There has to be some," Cal muttered, knotting and unknotting his fingers between his splayed legs. He looked like a discarded doll. My Little Junkie. Action Addict.
"There isn't," Graham tried to pry Cal's head off his leg but it was heavy and there were no muscles in his thigh to tense, relax, and help him.
"You know people," Cal whined, opening his eyes and giving Graham a pleading look that swam with unshed tears. His housewife-charmers of cornflower blue were streaked with unattractive pink and yellow about the whites. "They can get me some more. Graham. Please. Please."
"I have other aces," Cal said, another tear dropping off his lower lashes like half-hearted suicide. "Really. Anything. Whatever you want."
There was a long silence in which Cal picked at this fingernails and Graham considered going to sleep. Only the desire to preserve what was left of his dignity by not sleeping in a wheelchair saved him – he felt unclean, sitting here in his own sweat, but Cal wouldn't move.
"So I guess my mother was having an affair," Cal said suddenly.
"Two that I know of," Graham said wearily.
"How'd you know Dad - Reed - wasn't my dad, though?"
"My little brother," Graham said, trying to hold down the inappropriately victorious smile, "was not as virile as his athleticism might have suggested."
"So who was it?" Cal dug something out from under his thumbnail with an unnecessary flourish.
"The odds-on favourite was a redneck called Robert Barrell – Bobby "Cracker" Barrell – your delightful mother picked up in a roadside bar," Graham said, speaking fastidiously to hide the mingling of disgust and excitement at the memories, "who ended up in the electric chair after he sliced one throat too many." He cleared his throat. "Your mother was with him when he got caught. It cost us a lot of favours to Tony to keep that quiet."
"Good old Mom," Cal said, slumping again. He rolled his head over Graham's knee and a bolt of pain shot through the tender nerves, pinning Graham still for a second. "Who was the other guy?"
Graham said nothing and examined the ceiling. It had damp patches. The middle of fucking Arizona in the fucking summer and the ceiling had damp patches. Incredible.
"Graham …" Cal prompted.
"Answered your own question," Graham said quietly. "Now get off my leg."
Cal smirked at him. "Did that get you off?" he asked, and in his voice Graham heard the precisely modulated cruelty of Violet when she mocked him for his desires, "thinking I might be yours? Did it?"
Graham maintained his silence and Cal slumped again, his mood sliding back into the miserable realms of the junkless junkie. Presently he began to sob again, muttering, "I can't fucking do this."
Graham smoothed the hair from his forehead awkwardly.
"Graham, I can't. I'm serious. There's too much pressure."
"You'll get used to it."
"It'll crush me first," Cal moaned as Graham picked a strand of hair from his sweaty skin and moved it to one side. "Please. Graham. I'll do whatever you tell me to … here and in the Senate, I swear. Sex, politics, whatever. Just …just get me some more. Not even much. Just a little."
Still stroking errant strands of hair from Cal's forehead with one hand, Graham made a resigned face and groped around down the side of the wheelchair's seat with the other.
As Cal's dull eyes lit up and turned gimlet-sharp, Graham produced a small ziplock baggie containing maybe a gram of off-white powder and dangled it with an enquiring look. "Anything?"
Cal was on his feet like a rocket, nodding hard. "ANYTHING."
Graham didn't have to hand it over – Cal snatched it out of his grasp and stuffed it into the waistband of his pyjama pants. "Now," Cal said with the old gleam in his eye, "don't tell Mother." He bounded away, leaving Graham alone to wonder if he was having his own words quoted back at him.
Such glee on Cal's face: at the winning, at the drugs. Well, let him think he'd won. Let him try and cook up with icing sugar and food dye.