I'll leave you two alone, Bessaline Baxter says behind me, and she slips her way past the two of us out the door (back to reality). I don't see the expression on her face.
I take a small step back and stretch out my hand.
Nice to see you again, I say. His handshake is more aggressive.
And so soon. I was under the impression, he says, that our interview wasn't until next week.
Just doing some research, I say. I keep my eyes on his.
And anyway, I say quickly, we can always speak off-the-record.
Oh, he says, of that I am well aware.
He strolls into the room, large deliberate steps toward the desk.
How does it feel to be tonight's Guest of Honor?, I ask, his back to me.
Did she show you the index cards?, he asks, ignoring me. Without waiting for a reply: She does that. Samuel Shade. He shakes his head as he gathers up the card and places them back into the open drawer.
A bedtime story, he says. A fable. There was no Samuel Shade. No John Shade, no generations-old love affair. But mothers will do as mothers will do, as her mother did for her, and her mother before that. Just lies they tell to their little girls.
He eases the drawer back in.
But you're not here about Bessaline Baxter, he says.
No, I say, I suppose not.
So why are you here?
To interview you, I say as coolly as possible.
Oh, don't give me that bullshit, he says, taking a step toward me. Raleigh Durham? Really?
Gin. He has been drinking gin.
The only reason he's still in business, he sneers, is because he's barely a thorn in our side. Your friends at the Star might have been able to fool some senile septuagenarian, but they crumbled when my office gave them a call.
So, he says, why are you really here?
I'm no longer looking at him, instead weaving myself into the fibers of the carpet, the possible explanations I could give him whirl around the perimeter of my mind but I can't latch onto any.
I will tell him the truth.
I look up, his pupils dilated, his face stern, and I brace myself for the fallout.
I, I say, am a friend of your father's.