“Ms. Lancaster requests you follow me to her suite.” The concierge is not impolite exactly. Perhaps he feels as perturbed as I.
Cal and I follow him to a service elevator. I crack a bad joke about being surreptitiously murdered and never found. Cal at least smiles. The elevator squeaks all the way to the fourteenth floor, lurching to a stop.
“Wait here,” the concierge says. He disappears into the corridor then reappears with a motioning hand. We walk two doors down and E pulls us into her room as if saving us from rabid beasts.
“What were you thinking?” E says, practically spitting like a mad cat. “I might expect this from her, but Cal, really, what possibly happened in your brain to make this a positive scenario?”
“What happened in your brain that made you think prostituting young homeless kids was a positive scenario?” I say, just as angry.
“As usual, my sister’s boyfriend is being melodramatic,” she says. She spreads herself over the couch cushions.
“So you aren’t prostituting the others?”
“That’s putting too fine a point on the matter,” she says with a heavy sigh. “Any one of them could have refused. I told them the breadth of expectations.”
“I thought you dug up enough dirt on everybody just they wouldn’t be able to refuse you,” Cal says. His jaw jerks in time with his pumping fists.
“Pour yourself a drink. Anything to calm you.” We don’t move.
“There must be other ways to manipulate this vote,” I say. “I mean, are we really so far back that we have to resort to any manipulation? The bill is good.”
E laughs in an airy, faraway music. “Your greatest blessing is your biggest drawback: you are naive. It’s not how things work. Not here. Not anywhere.”
“If you have a plan, speak it,” Cal says. I can tell he’s working hard to not explode.
“We can work out some kind of vote trade between the senators,” I offer.
“It’s too late in the season. The desperation votes have been spent,” Cal says.
“These men and women have appetites. Whereas once they may have been hungry for vote trades, now they are hungrier for other delicacies. Besides, we’re talking about a handful of senators, here. There are several who support the bill as is but there are some, particularly on the other side of the aisle, who need some incentive.”
“More vile than pretending to be a disappeared writer from middle America, a homeless woman, a congressional aide? More vile than any of the things you or I or any one of us has done to get this far? You’re at the big girls’ table now – no offense, Cal.”
“We’re talking about eight real live actual people. Eight. You can’t just sell them like this.”
“They were sold the minute you took up with them and you know it. You like to think that you had no part in the lies and subterfuge, but you have. Own it. Unless you want all of this to be for naught, you need to get onboard.”
“I’m not saying we don’t strong-arm the votes. But sexual favors shouldn’t be on anybody’s resume unless they choose it outright for themselves.”
“Nothing sells better, though,” E says. She sips a brown liquor.