Product Placement

Chapter 4 - The Drama of Christine

"Oh Buuuutch…" came a soft, melodic cry "Come out come out wherever thou art!"

The male in question snorted and spat on the ground. Stupid friggen Drama Club. He sunk into his alley as much as he could. Part of him really wished he still had his black coat. That way he could bend in more. He probably should try and find a more secure hiding place, but he was far too lazy. He puffed on his cigarette and looked at the sky. Wouldn't be too much longer now…

"Ah-hah!" that same pretty voice said, "We've finally found you!"

Butch eyed her with a rather bored expression. Timithia Tiswell. A tall, honey-blond, dingbat with the biggest goddamn blue eyes he'd ever seen fit on a human head. He would have considered her attractive (she had a nice enough rack.) if she wasn't batshit insane. Her real name was Tina Craig; Timithia Tiswell was just her 'stage name.' Butch snorted. Like a seventeen year old needed a stage name. He rolled his eyes as the rest of her lackeys fanned out and blocked his routes of escape. He cringed a little; he didn't like being cornered…

"I already told you jamokes, I'm not gonna be a chick in yer stupid play."

He breathed a particularly thick cloud of smog in Timithia's direction and flipped them off for good measure. She seemed unmoved. She smiled a pretty little smile at him and Butch wondered if it would be rude for him to suddenly make a run for it by pushing her into the opposite wall. It probably would be.

"Oh, but I have something no tobacco addict can resist!" she chirped. She produced a small bag out of nowhere. She reached in (and here Butch really hoped it wasn't going to be some sort of 'smoking gun' joke) and pulled out five or six palm-sized boxes. Butch blinked, nearly choking on his own smoke. Could it be?

"Are… are those mint cigs?" Butch asked, pushing off the wall and taking a few tentative steps forward. Holy crap! How did she have the money for that? Those things cost a friggen fortune, like fifteen bucks a singe pack. He reached out a little and she withdrew her hands and took a step (it was more of a flourish) back.

"Mm-hmmm!" He nodded and flipped her hair. "And that's not all! I've got chocolate, cherry, frost, even a coconut one!"
"I don't like coconut."
"ANYway, I've got like twenty packs here and they're all yours, Butch" He re-pouched the cigs and put a hand to her lips. Her cronies smiled "If! If you play the part of Christine…"

Butch smoked his normal flavored cig and looked at the ground, thinking carefully. The Drama Club stood waiting, Timithia at the head. He'd break. Everyone had his or her vice. When put up against it, every man fell to his knees. Her smile of triumph never broke the careful mask she wore as Butch raised his pretty face and smiled a little.

"…You've got yourself a deal, lady."


Francis, aka Hustler, grumbled and stalked back into the school. At least the front doors were open. He'd hate to waste even more time trying to break into the building on account of a single slip up. Figures. He carried around that damn book from here to Kingdom Come and when he actually needed it, where was it? In his damn locker. The salesman growled and stalked down the empty hallway, making a few quick turns before he got to his locker. He dialed in the combination angrily and yanked the door open, searching the tiny space with his eyes before he ducked down and picked up the troublesome book.

He slammed the locker door shut and stowed the text somewhere in his coat. He looked around the abandoned halls, his bad mood quelling into a calm one. He'd never seen the school so empty before. He shrugged his shoulders and turned to walk back the way he came. He figured he'd already wasted enough time that a throwing away a little more wouldn't kill him. He'd just grab something from one of the better soda machines and then he'd hop in his car and head home and try not to burn the stupid book that had caused him so much trouble.

If he remembered correctly, the best, cheapest machine was somewhere near the auditorium, in Drama Fag terf. Well, they had to be gone by now. Even if they weren't, he could outrun them or buy them off his back. He'd be quick. A few bucks and a button press. Get in, get out, no one gets hurt.

He checked his back, down both ends of the hall and stuffed the money into the slot, keeping a wary eye and ear out for a funny-looking costume or a wig or some weird dancer. He pressed the button, and the bottle clattered to the bottom of the machine. HK bent down to get it, and in that instant the door to the Drama Class flew open. He panicked and stuffed himself into the space beside the wall and the contraption. He heard voices. They sounded male. Maybe. He wasn't sure. He waited them out, but the door didn't close and the voices didn't stop. Hustler gulped and, against his better judgment, peeked around the wall to get a look at what was going on.

He gasped.

In front of him was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. She was… was perfect. Long, stunningly blood-red hair, exquisite fair skin, absolutely gorgeous face and the most bewitching dark eyes he'd ever laid eyes on. Hot damn! He gripped the wall and felt his face heat up. It was like time stopped. He nearly fell over, and he forgot how to breathe. Oh good sweet Mike she was… was…


She had ducked back into the room and HK blinked himself back to reality. He slowly emerged from his hiding spot, still staring at the place where she had stood, hoping she'd materialize again and he could maybe keep his head long enough to talk to her. Oh God… he was in love. Completely and totally. There was no question about it. He would see her again and have her as his own forever and ever. She would haunt him until he did.

He walked out of the school in a daze, a smile on his face. He'd start asking questions first thing tomorrow.

Butch emerged from the room again. These people were fucking gone. He had made up some excuse that the room was too hot and he needed actual air. He stepped into the hall and thanked whoever was watching over him that all these rehearsals were after school and no one saw him. Oh well. He sighed and padded over to the soda machine. He could at least get a root beer and then-

The cross-dresser paused, kneeling down to examine the slot. He tilted his head and picked up the not-yet opened drink. He looked around. Who would leave a perfectly good root beer out? He shrugged. Oh well. Free drink.


The hustler's search proved unfruitful. No one had heard of or even seen this chick. Not even the kids in the drama club (though they did say something about it reminding them about something they read of some such crap, he really hadn't paid much more attention after they said 'no'). He sighed. This was gonna be the death of him…

He slipped into the shadows Butch normally hung out in. He didn't feel like hustling. All he wanted was a name to go with the face. Then he'd be happy, even for a little while. He'd prefer to see her face over and over and over again, but despite his best efforts he had nary a single clue. He sighed and sat on the ground. This was seriously depressing. He waved a little when he heard Butch's boots crunch up to his side. It was only when Butch sat beside him that he bothered to really acknowledge he was there. His brain was occupied.

"You looked bummed. Sup?"

The hustler paused, debating on whether or not it would be a good idea to spill to someone like Butch. Sure, he was a nice enough guy, but how could he help? Would he be jealous of her? They were friends now – or at least he would like to think. It had been a few weeks since he went out on a limb and got that permission slip for him, and since then Butch had at least doubled his income with those stories of his. Aside from that – he had heard some horror stories of his own about friendships being destroyed through some bitch. This was different, he assured himself – this was true love and he would be with her forever if he could just /find/ her. He cleared his throat and Butch puffed away, waiting expectantly like a child waiting for a story. What could the harm be?

"I… met this girl."
"A girl? Hey, congrats Franny!"
"Stop calling me that."
"Yeah yeah noise, noise. So what's she like? She go here? Another hustler pal of yours?"
"No, no. It's… well… I saw her yesterday… but before I could talk to her, she vanished. And no one knows who she is or even so much as her name!" He sighed and tapped his fingers on his arm.
"Hey, I bet she's just new." Butch offered a sympathetic smile.
"Yeah… that's probably it…"
"So? Spill man. What she look like?"
"She's absolutely beautiful, Butch" Hustler sighed wistfully and shut his eyes, a smile on his face. Butch smirked. He musta fallen real hard for this one. "I've never seen anyone like her. She got this long red hair and such a pretty face and the most fuckin amazing eyes I've ever seen. When I saw her… she had a long white dress and black necklace and God what a body on her…"

Butch gaped at him. There was no way. No fucking way. This wasn't possible.

"She sounds ah… real pretty." He started, trying to ignore the smile on his face "Where…. Where did you see her?"
"By the auditorium. She came out of the Drama Club class thing. " He sighed again, a happy one, and Butch was ready to smash his face into a moving truck.

Fran had seen him. SEEN him dressed as a friggen chick! His blood was boiling hot enough he was sure he would explode. He bit his tongue, trying to keep from screaming in his face. He balled his hands squarely at his sides and willed himself to keep them there so he wouldn't start throwing had to be some elaborate joke to make fun of him. Stupid asshole. He glared at the hustler. Something inside him twisted (he wasn't sure if it was jealously or humiliation) and he coughed a little.

"Look, ah.." Francis lifted his head and smiled a little bashfully, his face turning pink "I… I know you don't really know people, but do you have any idea who she is or where she's from? Have you ever seen her?"

Butch blinked, taking in Franny's face and something inside him snapped and cracked and formed the most perfect reaction to get back at that jerk. He smiled a little and lit himself up a cig and seemed to think. Francis watched him, expectant and wide-eyed. Fine. If Franny wanted to keep up this little act to humiliate him, then he was gonna play it up too, dammit. Like hell he would be the butt of his sick joke. Pompous asshole.

"Long red hair, pretty face, nice bod…" he sat up and snapped his fingers. "You gotta mean Christine!"

To most people, the Hustler just smiled at the information. But Butch knew him better than that – that expression on HK's face was that of unbridled joy. It would have been missed by someone who didn't know the hustler that well, but Butch saw it and he instantly knew he made a mistake. Francis really did think he saw some magical mystery perfect chick. Oh hell. Oh this was anything but good. Wasn't he normally able to pick out when he was lying?

"You… you know her!" He asked, his voice nearly cracking in anticipation.
"Ah, well, actually… no." he winced a bit at the fallen face "I don't know her too well… but if I find anything out you'll be the first to know."
"Thanks Butch. You got no idea what this means to me. I owe you big time."

HK seemed to have this unsettling habit of rebounding pretty fast. He smiled at Butch and threw his arm around his shoulders and hugged him a bit. Butch winced a little and backed up. Oh man, he had messed up big time. But he was in over his head now. There was no turning back. Once the hustler had separated himself with a friendly pat Butch nodded too him, puffing heavily on his cig. He felt like curling up into a ball and dying. He smiled at Francis, the sudden, alien feeling of guilt churning in his gut.

"What are friends for?"


Butch was screwed. Totally. Screwed. Franny had told him he'd be staying after school again to catch up with her and hopefully talk to her and maybe ask her out. He looked so damn happy. Butch kicked himself. He'd just set up the first real pal he had in years for a major fall. That kind of stunt definitely earned him a special torture pit in hell.

He leaned against the door and tried peeking out. No sign of Fran, but he was out there, somewhere, waiting for his mystery woman to appear and fill his life with joy and rainbows. Butch had never felt so bad. He chewed his lip and tried to think. Maybe… maybe he could pretend. He could lie. He was good at lying. It got him into trouble this time but he'd gotten out of bigger jams by lying more. He could throw the guy a bone. Say he –no, she- was a foreign exchange student and had a beau back home. Or that she was married. Or betrothed. Or had ten kids already. Butch winced and rubbed his face. But how should he tell him? He didn't know how to imitate a girl, unless it was Finster. That would be sure to scare the living fuck out of any hopeless romantic, but he wanted to let the guy down easy, not scar him forever.

He paced, thinking and thinking and trying to think and damn near crying 'cause he was swayed by some fucking cigarettes into making his only friend in love with a fictional character that he played. How could he ever possibly explain that if push came to shove? No. No he wouldn't have to explain. He'd take it to his grave. He just had to get Franny off his back till he could burn this crap. How… how how how how? How could he make it seem like she wasn't really a she when his voice sounded-

That was it! He wouldn't speak. He would sign! Both his aunts on his mother's sister's side and at least three of his cousins were deaf and taught more than enough to get by. And what he didn't know he could make up. How would Francis know the difference? He could fuck up his handwriting too, if it came to that. He punched the air in triumph and wrapped his mouth in the bandages that had to be there for the first three acts. He'd let Fran down gently, and even if he crushed his hopes and dreams he'd still have Butch to comfort him. He grinned and steeled his nerves. Now he just had to act like he couldn't speak. Simple.

He took a deep breath and stepped out. Looking both ways, he gulped quietly and shut the door behind him. Maybe… maybe Fran had gone home for the night or got sick of waiting or-

"Excuse me?"

Butch spun, his eyes wide. How had HK gotten so good at sneaking up on him? He almost squeaked, but he kept quiet and put a hand over the padding that covered his heart and smiled through the bandages. The other male was red, and he looked like he had forgotten to how talk. Hustler stood, chewing his lip with his hands shoved deep into his pockets. He just stared, and Butch shifted a little, feeling his face grow hot. Fran never stared at him like that before…

"Ah.. I'm sorry to bother you…" The taller male flushed and seemed to snap back into reality "But I… are you… is your name Christine, by any chance?"

Butch nodded carefully and Francis sighed, total adoration in his eyes. He removed his hands from his pockets and coughed a little. It was so strange to see the steel-nerved, infallible HK reduced to trembling mess. His face was growing brighter by the minute and the tremor in his voice matched the ones shaking his hands. Butch gulped, distantly remembering and thanking whatever higher power reminded him to cover up his Adam's Apple. Butch almost whimpered; What he wouldn't give to be able to smoke right now.

"So.. uhm.." Francis tried again, clearing his throat "You're in the.. play, right?"

Butch winced a little for him. The poor guy's nerves were shot to hell all over someone who didn't exist. If anyone ever saw him like this he'd never hear the end of it. Despite the horror of the situation, Butch couldn't help but notice Fran was kind of cute like this, all babbling and red-faced. The cross-dresser nodded and smiled at him, keeping quiet.

It grew silent for a while, and HK tore his gaze away from her in embarrassment. God this was awkward. More awkward than he would have ever imagined. All he had to do was take a breath and ask. Just ask. Just ask her to go out somewhere after rehearsal. It was that simple. Why was he so pathetic? It wasn't like he hadn't gone out with people before. He'd been with other girls before. It wasn't hard and they never caused him this much grief – but this one was so… so different! He lifted his gaze again, and Christine tilted her head expectantly, and his brain broke and halted his ability to speak. He gulped and squared his shoulders and looked her right in the (beautiful, deep, alluring, magnificent) eyes.

"Hey… I know it's sudden but if… you're not uhm, doing anything after rehearsal… would you like to go out? Get some coffee or just uhm…?"

He glanced up at her (he had looked away from her without realizing somewhere in the middle of his request) and she seemed to sigh. He watched her look away from him and he scrambled to cover his mistake.

"We don't have to, if you don't like I mean I was just-" Christine cut him off by raising her hand. "Is there… something the matter? Is it that you can't hear me- no, no you can hear you wouldn't have answered me before otherwise. What is it you're trying to-"

She cut him off again. She made some motions with her hands, but he didn't understand. She exhaled and pointed to her mouth, then her throat, then shook her head. Mouth, throat, no? What did that mean? Were the bandages in the way? Was she shy? For the life of him Francis couldn't piece together what Christine trying to tell him.

"You… you can't speak?" Hustler tried.

She shook her head yes.
He… wasn't expecting that.

"Look, uhm… I-" He met her gaze again and reached out to touch her arm "Not to sound weird or anything but… I'd like to get to know you. Please consider-"

Again she cut him off, tilting her pretty face down and shaking her head sadly. She made a few more gestures, and when he gave her a confused look she tried simplifying them. That didn't seem to take either, and Butch was at a loss of what to do. He almost panicked and resigned to making a sign for paper and pencil, but then a sudden look of understanding and utter rejection washed over Hustler's face.

"There's… someone else, isn't there?" He asked quietly. Butch nodded, trying to keep it less enthusiastic than he wanted to. The taller male seemed to slump in on himself and Butch felt lower than fucking dirt. He peered up at him with the most heartfelt apology a look could give. He didn't seem to catch it, and even if he did he was too upset to make much of it. He smiled dejectedly and tried to make a graceful retreat.

"I…I see. I'm sorry to bother you, then. Uhm… break a leg." He tried, backing up and slipping away into an adjoining hall. She waved at him and he waved back before they were out of each other's sight.

The hustler let out a long-bottled sigh and covered his face with his hands. That… that sucked a lot. Too much. Fuck it actually hurt to be shot down this time. He swallowed thickly and sighed, running a hand through his hair. He belted and buttoned up his coat and hunched around himself, hoping to slink off home before anyone could see him like this.

Butch ducked back into the dressing room and removed the bandages, trying to spit the cottony taste out of his mouth. He wanted to crawl in one of the Diggers holes and just curl up and die. He felt awful. Terrible. But… the deed was done. It would only get better from here, right? Butch could fix him up. He eyed the reflection of the perfect woman in the mirror and he sneered at it.

What a tramp.


The hustler was in his shadows before he was the next morning. Butch eyed him carefully, a pit forming in his stomach. This couldn't bode well… He strode over, sucking on his cig, he tried to catch Fran's downcast gaze. He could play the clown to make Hustler hustle again. He flipped himself upside down, trying to get in the way of Francis' intense focus of the ground. Butch found, however, that Francis' eyes were unfocused. Oh this was bad. Maybe the spoken material would go over better. He was getting dizzy upside down like this, anyway.

"Dontcha have a job to do, Franny?" He asked, righting himself and tilting his head "Or you get run outta business by the Gusler Kid again?"

There was no answer. This worried Butch. He felt that knot form in his stomach again. After not sleeping the previous night he thought maybe, just maybe it would be gone for good. He couldn't even force himself to eat it was bad. Smoke seemed to be the only thing he could choke down. He wondered if Francis had eaten. Butch shook his head, trying to banish the queer thought from his mind.

"Hey… what's the matter Francis? Cmon, you can tell me." He gently tugged the hustler's coat and he was rewarded with a glance.
"You…" He seemed to finally breathe, and Butch got the sigh he was looking for. "You remember that girl I was tellin' you about?"
"Yeah. What happened?"
"She's taken."
"Ouch… tough break, Fran. Sorry."

He shook his head and tried to put an arm around him to make him feel better, but Hustler was stiff despite it. Butch winced a little, canceling the next sentence that was going to fall from him. Somehow he figured the 'plenty of other fish in the sea' line wasn't going to cut it this time. He damn near grimaced at the glum looking Hustler under his arm.

"I just… she was perfect, Butch. I'd do-"
"Hold it right there. None of that talk. It's not gonna happen, Fran. You and I both know that. If she's off the market, you can't just sit around pining for her. It'll ruin you. This mopin' stuff is already wreckin yah. Lookit yerself. You haven't sold nothing in days. You gonna let Fingers take over yer business just like that?"

Butch glanced at him, trying not to stare imploringly at the other male to just get back to normal already. Belatedly he hoped that that little speech of his didn't sound too obvious. Thankfully, HK sighed and rubbed his eyes. He patted Butch's arm and detached himself from the storyteller's grip.

"Yeah… I guess you're right" he murmured after a few moments of silence "Look, ah, thanks Butch. Really."
"No problem. Don't mention it." He almost added a 'please' to the end of it and he stepped backwards into the shadows, just about ready to melt away. "I'll call you later, kay? We'll talk business."

The hustler nodded and turned to get back to his stomping grounds. Butch lit up another cig and took a heavy drag. He peered at the fancy brown packaging and it's swirly letters. They… didn't taste as good as he thought they would have.


Everything seemed to patch itself up the closer it got to show time, like a paper cut on a fingertip. It hurt like hell for a few days, but after that is just became an unnoticeable scar. Or, at least Butch hoped that was how Fran felt. He seemed less hung up on being shot down, and he'd even laughed and smiled like old times. But Fran could act pretty well. The smoker hoped he was okay.

He had tried his hardest to be there for him, but rehearsals consumed his after-school life. He covered with some story about redoing his parents room, then his brothers, then the bathroom. Parents and their home improvement kicks. Go figure. Butch had been there when it mattered, though. They'd gotten back to the natural rhythm of things, and that seemed to suit them both just fine. If Butch didn't have to play her, he was sure he would have forgotten all about Fran's perfect woman.

A few days before opening night, though, Fran made it clear that he hadn't forgotten at all.

"I'm going to go see that play…" He mused, looking at one of the poorly-copied posters tacked to the cork board outside the main office, completely missing Butch's choking noise.
"What for?" he asked casually, recovering and puffing carefully.
"I want to see her again. Even if it is from the back of the auditorium."
"No one goes to those things, Fran. You'll get a front row seat."
"Better for me then."
"Whatever floats your boat, HK." He replied, fighting the urge to punch him out and hide him in a box until the final show.
"Damn…" Franicis' brows knit and he frowned, ignoring Butch again "Can't make any show 'cept the last night" Hustler muttered.

Butch shrugged and they wandered off in opposite directions. Once out of Hustler's sight he clutched his chest and sighed in relief. He could at least prepare himself for the inevitable. Still, Butch didn't trust himself to say anything more. He had a little under a week to compose himself and hope to God nothing went too wrong.


As it turned out, everything went off without a hitch. Butch didn't exactly have to worry about lines (he was a ghost who didn't speak and put people into deep sleeps for performing lustful acts under the tree he/she was raped under. Not exactly much for him to say). He just had to remember where to stand and when to pop out from behind the curtains. He didn't mind it as much as he though he would have. The Drama Douchebags might have been demented, but the crew was actually pretty cool. They made fun of the actors and got him a beer and listened to one of his creepy stories and otherwise left him the hell alone. That was enough to get on Butch's good side.

When the last show came, Butch found himself caught up in the first bout of stage fright he'd had. However, he secured his resolve and put on the show like he had every other night, though the cast said it was better than usual. Butch wondered how they figured. He was scanning the crowd every ten minutes to look for a certain smitten salesman rather than focusing.

He didn't see him. Not in any of the four acts. He skipped the curtain call like he had for the other nights in spite of heated protest from overzealous thespians. He had to get out of this costume and burn this itchy wig and wash his face. After that was done, Christine would be no more and Hustler wouldn't have to worry and Butch could die with another secret weighing him down. That kind of drama he could deal with.

Unbeknownst to him, Francis was in the audience, waiting to see Christine.

When she didn't come out to bow, he figured she was trying to make a quick get away to avoid the reporters. He smiled and slipped out the back while the audience clapped and roared with applause. Hustler tipped the guard and slipped into the 'Actors Only' section, carefully retrieving the flowers he gotten to congratulate her on her performance. She really had done a good job; no one he knew but Butch could pull off a haunting ghost-like entity that well.

The Hustler slipped into the Drama Club classroom. He knew this seemed a tad stalker-like, but he couldn't shake her. He'd just… have a chat with her and he'd sever himself from her for good. Butch was right, after all. No use in trying to buy an unbuyable. He just wanted to see her one last time. Leave on a good note rather than the lame one he had last time. He cleared his throat and peeked around the corner. He caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror and the red hair that fell down her back. He smiled and moved around the corner, just in time to see her pull her hair away from her face and… off her head… and he watched it fall away, revealing brown hair with a white streak down the center of it.

Before he could process the image, Butch turned and faced him, totally in costume, makeup and all, except for the wig. They stared at each other. Francis dropped the flowers and his jaw followed suit. Butch flushed redder than anyone should be able to under that much makeup. It was the worst kind of awkward silence. Butch broke it buy swallowing thickly and smiling nervously.

"Eheh… hi?"

Hustler didn't react. He barely breathed. He looked blank, broken, shattered even. He didn't say anything and Butch wondered if he could somehow get around the bigger, stronger, taller male and out the door before he snapped back into consciousness and broke him in half. Surely he could live down running home in a dress. Anything was better than dying at the hands of a jilted, angry, heartbroken former-best friend. However, Butch couldn't seem to move.

It took a long, very long time for Hustler to respond. He still looked blank, but his eyes seemed to focus on Butch and said male backed up, cowering between the flimsy fold-out chair and the vanity table. HK took a few moments trying to think of the words to say. The most articulate things he could come up with was:

"Butch… what the fuck?"

Already the babble had started. Butch spat word after word to try and explain himself. Francis barked question after question, approaching him with fists clenched and teeth grit. Their voices grew louder and louder until finally Francis screamed at Butch to shut up. Everything went quiet after that for a few moments. Hustler looked pissed, but hadn't moved. Butch was shaking a little, but he shored himself up and tried once more to explain himself. He spoke nervously, quickly. A little too quickly.

"…and it's not like I meant for this to happen. No, not at all. They came and found me. Bribed me with cigs and-"

Butch flinched at the sudden jerk of HK's head. He clamped a palled hand over his painted mouth. That part wasn't supposed to get out. So much for taking this to his grave. The hustler seemed to break, shattering for the briefest of moments before piecing himself back together. He looked hollow, and Butch couldn't remember being this horrified in a long, long time.

"You lead me on… for cigarettes?" Francis asked finally, deceptively calm.
"No! No it's not like that."
"You… for smokes?"
"No! Francis I didn't want to do that to you-"
"Then why did you let it happen?"
"It was a mistake! I thought you knew it was me and you were yankin my chain."
"Even after I told you-"
"So you lead me on-"
"I tried to let you down gently…"
"I can't even look at you…"

The hustler shook his head, looking broken and angry and defeated all at once. He groped for the doorknob, and with one last piercing glare despite his claim and eerie calm exterior, he left.

Butch sighed and collapsed back onto the makeup chair. He put his face in his hands. He could have cried, but he didn't. He just sat there and eventually got up to wash the crap off his face, scrubbing a bit harder than he probably should have. He became Butch again and left out the same door Fran had taken. His eyes stung, his skin burned, and most of him itched something terrible – but it wasn't enough.

There had to be some way to fix this.


There was a knock at his door.

Hustler poked his head out of his stockroom and looked around. He put down his ledger and shuffled over to the doorway. It was probably his old man sending some weird message from China or wherever the fuck he was now. While he wasn't in the mood, whoever was out there wouldn't stop knocking until he humored him. So Francis opened the door and instead or a postman or an angry subordinate, there stood a timid-looking Butch.

He tried to slam the door shut, but Butch shoved his boot in the way. He muttered a few pleas, looking everywhere but at his face. He managed to catch the door and open it regardless of the hustler's attempts to keep it from opening. Francis glared at him despite giving up on the door. It had been a few days since the incident, but Hustler wasn't so quick to forgive someone who cheated him. He stared expectantly at Butch, and the storyteller squirmed a little.

"Well?" The salesman started "What do you want?"
"Ten minutes to explain."
"You have six"
"Seven and a half starting now."
"I… I'm sorry." Butch said, taking a deep breath and looking every bit the part of a kicked dog. "I never meant to lead you on like that, really. I just thought you were jokin, and then yer face lit up like that and… I got spooked. You know how bad I am with lying… it just snowballed. Honest to God. I thought you'd be able to catch me and pin me like you always do and that would be the end of it but you didn't and I… I panicked. You gotta know I'd never would've messed with you if I could think straight but that was the best plan I could come up with and… ah… I dunno what to say other than I'm sorry and… here."

Butch pushed a bag into the Hustlers hands and slipped off to his side, sliding into the garage. He was looking at the floor, looking contrite as ever. HK looked at the sack and arched a brow. He opened it, his gaze shifting from Butch to the contents of the bag.

"What's this?" he asked in a low voice.
"My bribe. All of it… more or less. I may have taken a hit or two."
"See, the way I figure is I got 'em for free and then you can make a crapload of profit on 'em. I mean… uhm… they don't… taste as good as I thought they would."
"Uhm… my seven is pretty much up and I'm just gonna go-"
"Butch, wait."

He closed the bag and Butch turned, his face toward him but his eyes were searching the floor. The hustler shook his head and sat in one of his nearby chairs. He set the bag on the floor and rubbed his eyes.

"I'm… I shouldn't have blown up at you" he muttered, "It's not your fault, completely. Mostly, yes. But not completely."

The storyteller smiled a little and took a few tentative steps toward Franny while he picked up the bag and pawed through it. Butch smiled - he had some decent shit in there. Fran was gonna make some good money. It was the only thing he could think of that would soothe his guilt in the slightest. There was something still bothering him, though. He knew giving him some stuff to sell wasn't going to smooth things over, but that wasn't what irked him. It was something he'd said…

"Hey…" Butch started, kneeling in front of him, snapping him out of his inspection mode "Did you… mean what you said?"
"What? He snapped, lifting his gaze from the bag to Butch.
"You…" Butch cleared his throat softly. He could feel his face go a little red, but he pressed on. "You uh…really think I got nice eyes?"

Francis blinked and he tilted his head. He /did/ technically complement Butch a million times on his eyes, but that was when they were done up with mascara and eye shadow and whatever other gunk he plastered on his face. He hadn't gotten a chance to look at them since. Butch did have an especially girly face, moreso when he reached up and pushed away some of the hair that was covering it. They were nice, he decided. Really nice. Hustler smiled a little and removed his hand, letting the hair fall back to where it normally fell. He cuffed Butch on the shoulder and shook his head.

"Yeah, you got some nice eyes, Butchy Boy." He muttered. Butch smiled.
"Thanks Fran."



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