Product Placement

Chapter 3 - Philanthropy

It had been about a month since the… incident.

Hustler, though he did have the tendency to drive a hard bargain that only got worse as he got older, was rather lax when it came to his one and only employee. Butch's stories had been working very, very well. His profits had nearly doubled in one month alone, and for that he'd admit to taking a bit of a liking to the compulsive liar. In fact, it was a bit more of a liking than he was familiar with. Sure, he liked his other business contacts just fine. But they never really felt like this. Then again he didn't really know closely guarded secrets involving scars and sexual abuse about any of his contacts, either. Not that he'd ever tell. Oh, he'd never tell. He was an ass at times but he wasn't that bad about anything nearly as troubling. But, then again, Butch was too valuable to him to tell him anything otherwise.

He, at a loss for any other thing to identify this relation by, entertained the thought more often than once that Butch was an actual friend.

It was a little unusual, but not for reasons that he thought would be normal. Sure, he could brush it off as something of taste. Butch was nothing like him. Not the slightest bit. He was crass and rude, a liar and a conman worse than he ever had been. He smoked like a chimney and lived to scare the hell out of anyone who dared enter his territory. He was standoffish, smug, quiet and cunning,

But that wasn't the reason.

No, it was more that Francis had never really had a friend. He'd had contacts, acquaintances, partners (both in business and pleasure), and so on. But he'd never had a real friend. Not like Butch, anyway. The closest he'd come to this thing he had with Butch was Fingers (and Tammy – but she was a class all her own). They were opposites attracting and forming a bond like two magnets. It was odd how this worked. He wasn't sure that he felt this way during any other business partnership, though that could be blamed on the nature of the information passed between them. Their… arrangement had been working out well so far, Francis reflected, so he shouldn't be having any real problem with this.

Except Butch was definitely trying to scam him.

"What's the deal, Butch?" the hustler drawled, stowing away his money carefully.
"I just told ya. I need another one of those permission slip thingys."
"'Cause I lost mine."
"No, I mean why should I just give one to you?" He asked, crossing his arms
"I dunno- I figured since I'm doing half your job I'd get a break or two." Butch drawled, shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly all while glaring daggers at him.
"You're not doing my job. You're doing your job. It was our deal, remember?"

Butch kept him held in a steady gaze, his face a cross between anger and indifference. He did care, but at the same time he didn't. But he wouldn't just let it go. Not without a fight he wouldn't. That wouldn't be his style. Far be it from to invoke the wrath of the fearsome storyteller, but backing down wasn't the hustler's style either.

"Look, I just need the slip. Can't you cut me some slack?"
"What the hell why not?"
"Because, Butch, my good man, if I start treating you special, then I have to give everyone a special little freebie on something. And that's how you go out of business." He slid his arm around the reluctant shoulders and walked him a few paces forward "Now, if there's nothing else I can do for you-"
"At least lemme explain!" Butch cried, "Cut me a deal, then."

This made the hustler pause. It wasn't against anything in him to turn down a deal, but with Butch he was wary. Butch could be tricky; he could be angry and rather brutal from what he heard whispered around the corners and alleyways. Still, something about it made the hustler sit back and think for a minute. Whatever Butch came up with, it surely wouldn't be boring.

"I'm listening."
"Lemme tell you what happened."
"Oh, here we go-"
"No! Really- I'll tell you what happened and then you can decide to take pity on the poor soul that is me. Okay? Do we have a deal?"

Francis rubbed his chin and eyed the outstretched hand, glancing up to the desperate face. At the worst, it'd give him a couple of minutes of entertainment. At best, he'd have a good point and he'd be doing a friend a favor. Either way, this was not normal for him, but rather than be struck by the oddness of him bending to Butch he was more struck by how abnormal he found a normal friendly exchange. Surely there must be something wrong here that he was so hesitant. But, then again…

"Alright, I'll bite." He murmured, taking the other male's hand in a firm shake "But on one condition."
"You gotta tell the truth."

Butch blinked, but otherwise gave no indication of the panic inside his head. How was he supposed to tell him what happened? The last time he told the guy sensitive information he ended up being a friggen lackey. Granted, being jumped and mugged was much less humiliating than nearly being raped but it was still humiliating. It was bad enough he was kinda skinny he didn't need Franny thinking he couldn't hold his own. Not that they were just picking on him for the hell of it; they weren't even after the slip- mostly his cigs, but the slip had gotten away and he was totally screwed now. It wasn't just that this tip was supposed to be friggen awesome – it was the principle of the thing… and, he really wanted to get out of math class just this once. Francis, though, clasped his hand so firmly he couldn't fight his way out of the situation now. Alright. No problem. He could do this.

But before he could stop himself he launched into a tale involving witches and wits and crossing a bridge that ultimately sounded really, really good but also had Francis shaking his head slowly and tsking by the end of it. He knew he was sunk, but it was worth a shot.

"So whatdya say?"
"I say you've got some serious screws loose."
"W-Wait, Franny! C'mon!"
"One, don't call me Franny." The hustler growled, turning on his heel "Two, bother me when you got cash."


In his wandering, Francis had time to think. Usually it would be used to count money, reflect on sales, think f who he needed to call, place orders, record some talk he'd overheard, decide on what he needed more of, et cetera. Business stuff. Familiar stuff.

But this time he was too busy feeling guilty.

Something about how Butch stared at him while he left was irritating him. It was the same mixed feeling of pity and something else churning in his gut that he felt when Butch spilled the story about his scars. Truth be told, he felt kind of like an asshole. He wasn't one – not really. He had a business to run was all. Start cutting Butch some slack and everyone would be looking for handouts left and right. He'd be ruined because he went soft. Like hell he was going to let that happen. He'd worked way to hard to etch his name up in the high ranks. He was not going to relent. No way, no how.

But he'd looked so upset…

Francis grunted at himself and made a few quick turns, deciding to skip the stop he was going to make to Hustler HQ. He needed time alone to think. Just a little while. Dammit, ever since Butch came waltzing on into his life everything had become so damn complicated. Francis had to sit and think more often than ever and while he wasn't opposed to working his brain every once in a while this was pushing it. Of all the times for him to grow a damned conscious. Why did he let Butch command s much of him like this? It just wasn't fair.

"Hey, pass me some 'o that."

The hustler paused and looked up. He'd wandered far enough off the beaten path, but not so far as to be completely lost. He knew he didn't know those voices. They were a bit too hick for him to be in the pleasant side of town. With a short grimace he realized he'd skirted his neighborhood and was floating around somewhere near the warehouses. He knew he was probably in trouble here if he stayed much longer- but it was still light out and the voices sounded around his age. If need be, he could take them. Not that he would. He was going to leave.

Right after he overheard a few things.

"These is some good cigs."
"Good thing that faggy kid came walkin by. I was outta cash."
"What the fuck was up wit 'im? He got dis weird hair shit goin on."
"I think he's dat kid who tells dem stories."
"No shit?"
"Yeah – he zat lil' bastard dat tells dem spook stories. In my lil' brudder's grade I tink."
"He ain't gonna tell no one 'bout dis, izzy?"
"How'dya know?"
"You go runnin 'roud telling people when yah get the snot kicked outta yah?"
"Fuck naw."
"See? 'E ain't gonna tell nobody no how. 'E can't tell da truth. Probably tell someone a troll fucked 'im up or some shit."

Something boiled in the hustler's blood then. He found his hand clenching into a fist, his teeth pressing together in what he knew was a scowl. He got that same feeling in his gut when he thought he was being cheated or someone was stealing from him. This was a feeling the hustler did not like, and it, more often than not, resulted in his knuckles being sore and someone trying very, very hard to stop blood flow.


Francis looked at his clenched hand and moved his jaw to unlock it. How strange. He wasn't being cheated. He'd just happen to overhear one of his – well, his only employee had been cheated. Surely is shouldn't affect him like this. But then again…

If Francis took this… friendship idea he'd been toying with, then he had reason to be pissed off. Butch was his friend. His friend. No one was supposed to mess with things Hustler considered his.

Figuring he'd eavesdropped long enough, Francis unclenched his fist (why did it keep doing that?) and resisted the urge to go straighten out the two who disrespected him. It was better not to fight. He disliked having to clean blood off of his things. And besides, he had something more… pressing to take care of.

Now where would that storyteller be at this time of day?


Butch could be very, very jittery when snuck up on, Francis noted.

The male in question had all but passed out on the expanse of grass, an unlit cigarette in his mouth and a smile keeping it there when Francis found him. When standing over him or gently calling his name a few times didn't work. The hustler decided Butch was a heavy sleeper, and as such he could just stick the replacement slip he'd managed to rustle up in his coat pocket and be off. But Butch seemed to be selective about when he felt like waking up, so the second Francis had loomed over his side and tried to slip the paper in, Butch rocketed up and skittered away.

Once Butch had caught his breath and he'd lit up a cigarette, he stared the other boy down. Francis, sitting on his knees, waited patiently. He watched Butch's eyes flicker between the paper and his own. It was slightly amusing.

"Why are you givin this to me?" Butch said finally, giving him his full attention.
"What? Is it so hard to think I might have found it in me to… lighten up a little bit." Butch continued to stare "Alright – you guilted me into it. But don't go telling no one, you got that?"
"Sure." Butch looked at the paper and smiled more "Does this mean I get a discount on cigs, too?"
"Don't push it."
"Okay, okay! Just checking it out. Don't jump down my throat or nothin."

The smile on his face was… oddly bewitching. For some reason the hustler found himself smiling as well. Butch read the paper a few more time, as if convincing himself it was the real deal. He only smiled wider when he convinced himself of its validity.

"You really did this for me."
"Don't look too much inta this. We ain't goin steady or nothin. I just did you a favor."
"I know. Yeah. I'm just gonna head home. It's gettin' late."
"See you tomorrow."
"Don't forget about the –"
"Don't worry. I gotcher back. See ya."

Butch hoisted himself to his feet and rolled his shoulder, taking a deep drag on his cigarette. He tossed the butt on the ground, stomped it out, and walked off. Francis shrugged and stood up, brushing himself off briefly. He'd get home and take care of a few things and then take a well-disserved rest.

"Hey Francis!" Butch suddenly called, his hands cupped around his mouth to catch his attention.
"What?" The hustler shouted back.

As Butch disappeared over the hill, dashing out of sight, Francis figured that maybe, just maybe this whole 'friendship' thing could work out.



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