Product Placement

Chapter 31 - Of Snitches and Screw Ups, Part 2


After a morning of coffee and running errands, Francis found himself with time to think. Randal had allowed him the morning off to prepare, and as always he was done early. So he had time to think. Being introspective was not one of his many talents, so it took a while, but somewhere along the line (between memories and coffee and wondering if maybe one cigarette would calm his nerves like Butch claimed they did), Francis decided he needed help.

So he went to the one source he was sure would never let him down.

Luring TJ from the rest of his friends was a damn chore, but he managed it, and pulled Detwiler aside to talk to him. He had a whole speech planned, complete with incentives and payments if only he just figure out what to do to make life not such a living hell.

What came out was a desperate, weak sounding: "Please-I need your help."

TJ had been accommodating, as he always was. He refused all of the hustler's offerings, requesting only that he visit Butch and keep tabs on him (something Francis totally agreed with) and for a day to think things over. Hustler instincts aside, he trusted TJ and his do-goodie pals.

But that didn't mean they had to know everything.

He knew TJ knew he was holding back. It was just they way he looked at him and paused, waiting a few seconds for HK to spill a little more before he started his return. The hustler knew that trick. Hell he monopolized it during connections. But he remained vague, watching his words, his gestures. HK kept his eyes on TJ and refused to look away, lest he be called out on his lie. Besides, the less he gave them, the better off he was. Or at least that was how he justified it. It was a damn good reason as far as he was concerned. If Randal even so much as suspected the hustler had sunk so low as to crawl to his most hated enemy, then the stunt he pulled playing it in the cafeteria was going to look like a slap on the wrist. It was almost as comforting as it was horrifying to know that no matter how low HK felt like he got, Randal would always been three flights below him.

Despite all of this he still felt heavy and ached in places. He wanted to write it off as not sleeping well and then exacerbating the problem by passing out on a floor the previous night, but he knew himself too well to blatantly lie. He'd realized what he'd put Butch through, and for that reason and that reason only did he give up. He could only entertain the ratfink for so long, and if he got bored… well, the hustler wanted to put an end to things before that point. Long before that point.

He just hoped Butch would forgive him – for any of this.

But now was no the time for thinking like that. He had to focus all of his energy towards the task at hand. And so he did, taking a breath, and turning the corner, waiting outside Randal's class to be the escort to his car, then to his home, where most of his livelihood would be fair game.


"Whompin' Bobula." Randal had said, rubbing his greasy hands together "I knew you had loads of new money, but who knew you had old money to fall back on? Why aren't you hanging with the Ashley's? You'd fit in juuuust fine."

Francis hadn't answered. He'd barely even spoke since he'd given up the passenger seat of his car to the disgusting rat at the end of the school day. He didn't want to think about any of it. If he thought about it then he would crack and injure someone, and then he would be screwed either by the law (for murder) or at the hands of Randal himself and his cursed little tape recorder. He exhaled and got out of his car, shuffling to the front door while the anxious snitch fluttered around his front lawn, trampling his grass and plants and generally making an obnoxious asshole of himself until the ornate door was opened. Then Randal just breezed right on in like he owned the place, and proceeded to put his greasy paws all over everything. Francis took a breath to steady himself before following suit, making sure there wasn't too much damage done to property that wasn't even really his.

"Stay close." He muttered, knowing he'd be ignored.
"Where's all the stuff I'm gonna get?"
"The shop is this way." Randal ignored him (of course) instead picking up and manhandling centerpieces "Randal-"
"Shut up, Hustler. Whatever happened to 'my house is your house', huh? A little decency towards your house guest would be greatly appreciated."

Sighing, Francis just let it go. He couldn't fight. He was too drained to do it, too tired. It was taking quite a bit not to crawl up the stairs and lock himself in his room. But he gave up enough, sitting on the stairs and putting his head in his hands. He'd wait. Just wait. He was in no hurry to give up his stock. He could take a small rest like this, right here. No one would ever know the difference. Randal wouldn't care.

Something was off.

Raising his head tentatively from his open palms, Francis finally actually looked around his house for the first time since he entered it. He'd been breezing in and out lately, too concerned with himself and his failing to really notice anything particular. But there were clues everywhere now. Little things nudged out of place. Moved. But, thinking on it, it was really probably Randal's doing. Randal was what was throwing his senses off. It was because he let someone in he felt this odd presence. Like he wasn't alone. Francis remembered he wasn't – that Randal was here, nearby, picking through everything. He thought, maybe, he was imagining things.

"Oh my God-" came the sudden, horrified voice from the next room over "Oh my God – is that… is that blood?"

Francis shot up to his feet. No- no logically no it couldn't be. But he had to check anyway. He Blindly listened, as if the echo of the terrified voice would guide him. He found it by dumb luck, nearly crashing into Randal as he backed away from the spill. He had to admit it looked an awful lot like blood. Red and dark and thick, seeping into the fibers of carpet and pooling on the hardwood beside it. But no, it wasn't. He was almost sure.

That didn't mean there was any less trouble.

"No. Fuck. No, Randal, get into the garage. Now." He sounded exasperated and somewhat terrified despite himself, grasping Randal's arm when usually he was loathe to touch any part of him. Randal did not approve.
"But-hey!" Randal ripped his arm from the Hustler's grip "I'm not done yet!"

The sudden, bratty tantrum did little to stop Francis from trying to forcibly drag the fink to the garage so he could rob him blind. But, true to form, Randal fought him every step of the way. The hustler was so weak he couldn't even keep the determined weasel in his grip. They ended up knocking over an address book, which out of habit Francis stooped down to get. When he stood back up, however, Randal did not look the cocky, brash, know it all Hustler had been expecting. He looked pale. Frightened. And when he turned to glance over his shoulder at where the vacant, tiny eyes were staring he quickly figured out why.

Behind Francis, in the doorway, directly in Randal's line of vision was this haunting half-woman. Pale white and gaunt. Swathed in a long, flowing dress that was even more ashen than herself. She looked like a ghost, at most a shell, her eyes vacant and rimmed with black, a red-lipped mouth pursed underneath wild brown wisps of hair that stuck across her face. She swayed on bare feet, clutching a bottle in one hand, sloshing, its contents spilling out on the floor, thick and red like blood spatter. She stepped in them, unheeding of the cool splash or the footprints she was leaving or the pink she was staining the edge of her dress

She smiled, reaching out to them.

Randal ran screaming, pushing Francis ahead of him as a diversion as he made his hasty escape. The woman seemed not to notice, and approached the remaining male in the household, tottering dangerously. Ever the dutiful son, Francis mimed reaching over to help her, but stayed put. He owed her the slightest courtesy of catching her before she actually spilled blood on the floor, if only for scaring away his tormenter for the moment. Francis knew he'd be back, but his mind was elsewhere at the moment. Slowly he turned to face her, as if expecting something. Predictably, he received nothing. But he tried anyway. He owed her that much, and if she didn't want it – then at the very least he owed himself.

"Mom, why are you even home?"
"I'm working boy. Please don't bother me."
"Dad's looking for you."
"Dad – David Latner." She was starting to move now, and he kept careful eyes on her "He called for you a few days ago."
"Oh what a charming man he used to be… Phone calls and letters and beautiful flowers."
"Please give me the bottle mom."

She seemed not to hear him and made to teeter past his still form. He was taller than her now, especially barefoot, but he felt small. He almost didn't reach out for it. But inevitably he always would. With both hands Francis carefully grasped the bottle and waited. She stopped in her tracks and blinked, looking at him. She squinted, trying to get a better picture. He held it by the neck with both hands, trying not to shake. He hadn't been this close to her in years – physically or metaphorically. But she let go and patted his head.

"Be a good boy now." She cooed, voice absent of all matronly warmth.

She left him in the foyer with the wine bottle. He left her when the sink water ran, knowing already she was washing her hands of him.


Lunch detentions were the worst.

TJ slumped against the wall, fed up with hunching over on the prison tables the faculty deemed worth enough to house the kids they had to deal with. He shrugged. No skin off his nose. The only real problem he had with 'em were during detention- otherwise his pals were around to distract him. Shaking his head, he drew his legs up to his chest. He could deal with this. There were benefits for lunch detention; he just had to think of them.

Nothing came to mind right away.

The boy snorted and fell over onto his side, poking the dots and speckles in the linoleum. He contemplated counting them, but that would just be beyond sad. Sitting up and adjusting his hat, TJ figured that, if anything, the only luxury detention afforded him was that of quiet, peaceful, internal thought. The teachers didn't nearly care as much as they did back in Third Street School, so he was left alone to, well, think. Maybe do homework, but mostly think.

It bothered the hell out of him.

TJ scrambled back up onto his seat and slumped forward, his head resting on his folded arms. Well, with all this time to think, what could he think about? What required thought that wasn't schoolwork? There were no major upsets in the school rankings. King Bob had no major crises that needed his expert advice, even after he somewhat shaky ascension to the throne. No problems with his pals or his rivals. So what could he think about for the next half an hour?

Then he remembered the task he had been assigned a day or so ago, and he winced. This… this was going to be a tough one to figure out. Especially alone. So he looked at the facts first, going so far as to pull out pencil and paper to help track his though process (something he'd picked up from Gretchen, of all things).

One: Hustler was in trouble and he needed help.
Two: Butch was also suffering.
Three: Randal was involved (though that was hardly surprising).

That was about it. HK had been incredibly vague and dodgy, and though he'd given TJ the okay to involve his friends, he wasn't sure to what extent or to what end. Hustler had hot-footed it out of there to tend to Randal right after TJ had assured him he'd do whatever he could to help.

That brought TJ to the first part of the problem: Why was Hustler acting the lap dog? What could possibly degrade him to the point of serving the infamous weasel? There had to be some outside reason he was missing. There was no way, absolutely no way in hell HK would reduce himself to that without probable cause. There had to be something big. Big like… blackmail. Of course. Blackmail. Specific blackmail. Probably something on him and Butch. So why wasn't Butch serving Randal? Because he had nothing to offer? No, Randal could have always found a way to use someone. It was probably because Butch had no idea – which made sense if TJ factored in Butch's sudden disconnect from the hustler.

TJ felt impossibly worse with that piece of information puzzled out. The guy was probably a wreck, trying to keep both himself and Butch out of the spotlight. Then again, that distance and the willingness to do anything to keep the worst from happening was probably ruining them more than admission would.

That's probably why Butch was so messed up too. In the short time they'd been friends, they've gotten real close. Closer than just friends. Friends with benefits, as Butch put it. It was… weird to think about. Thinking about it now, they must seem like the most distant pair ever. Hell, he was surprised to find to they even bothered to find out the other existed. He was sure they had no idea of each other's presence on the school grounds. But, there they were. Together as… together could be. Hey, if they were sucking face in the mirror hall, what else could they be doing behind closed doors? It would take someone with know how, with some inside info to see the soft looks they gave each other.

So he wasn't sure – like it wasn't official or anything. But TJ knew. TJ knew a lot of things before they happened, and to him it was sort of obvious the two of them had a thing a little more intimate than a FWB going on. It was almost scary, how they looked at each other sometimes. It was like they were head over heels. But, every time they were within a three feet of each other the whole atmosphere changed. Like the sun coming out, everything warmed up and felt better. It was as plain as the smiles on their faces when they talked. Hell, no one else would mistake the little looks and grins and casual touches for something more than little friendly gestures. But TJ had this… feeling. His gut was telling him that they were pretty much as solid as concrete. They had to be.

They were quite the pair. Apart they were like opposite sides of the spectrum. Butch was all talk and lies. HK was all business and facts. Butch was like a shadow, there and gone but always around somewhere. HK was like a building, always right where you left it and doing its job. Together, though... It was weird. TJ couldn't think of any right way to explain it except they brought the human out in each other. Butch seemed like a figment of the imagination and HK seemed like a robot. They faded into the background until they were necessary, but when they were together they laughed and palled around like normal kids. At most, they would lose something so like a classic love story it was almost scary. At least, they were on the edge of losing a true blue genuine friendship.

TJ sat up and arched his back, stretching his arms above his head. So, TJ was faced with a true problem. Two people, two males who really may actually have something that wasn't a stupid high school romance who were on the brink of loosing it because something or someone (presumably Randal) was tearing it apart and therefore tearing them apart. Butch had been reduced to anger and angst and would barely talk anymore except to shout and exhale clouds of smoke. Hustler had been reduced into a shell and was actually begging for help at this point, even if his reputation was on the line. And TJ had voluntarily stuck himself in the middle of it.

This sucked.

But, he couldn't just let this fall apart. How would he like it if someone came to him for help then was left high and dry? He had to come up with a plan. Something… sneaky. Devious. Effective and efficient. Something like that would require all his friends to help, of course. But what? How could he use his resources to help the downtrodden Hustler and Butch? What could he do to get the upper hand?

TJ's head flopped onto the table, the thud echoing in the cafeteria.

This was harder than he thought. This right here was some kind of serious. He wasn't just trying to overturn a policy or break out of detention, here. This involved people. People that could be very hurt or even changed completely. He had to think of something that wouldn't throw off the natural order of things. Hell, he needed a plan to /restore/ the natural order. He needed his friends for this.

"They'd know what to do." TJ affirmed quietly to himself.
"Who'd know what to do?"

TJ's head snapped up and lo and behold Mr. Dude standing in the doorway. After passing Teacher Training in the lower grades, Mr. Dude was suddenly bumped to High School Earth Sciences due to space issues. It suited him just fine, and it had been the best first day of school ever for TJ. Since they'd inhabited the same building they'd become thick as thieves again. People often mistook them for being related (not that either minded), and they worked together pretty well. Mr. Dude was glad to have someone to vouch for him with the non-Third Street alumni and TJ was content to have a sort of huge mancrush on the former prankster prince. Often it would be Mr. Dude to fetch TJ from detention a little bit earlier then he was supposed to be let out. So here he was once again. The young teacher wiggled his fingers in a brief hello. TJ chuckled and waved back.

"Hey there Mr. Dude."
"Hey Teej. Surviving detention again?"
"To the best of my ability."
"So… who knows what to do?"

TJ took a breath and related the whole story, the trimmed down version. He told him about the Hustlers recent change, and how that resulted in Butch's turn, skimming over a few more important details on the paper in front of him (which really just looked like a jumbled mess by this time). The Dude, ever attentive, sat there and listened, nodding and asking a couple of questions. TJ tried hard not to let it slip they may have something more than just a fast friendship that was heading for rocky shores, but The Dude knew everything.

"So, that's what's up. I've gotta plan I think, but I need to talk to the guys… but what do you think?"
"That depends on your plan."
"Keep it to a sentence so I'm not held liable. Vague if you can."
"Eye for an eye?"

Even if the plan was sort of on the fly, it was totally worth everything Randal was putting them through. But Mr. Dude was shaking his head and looking distressed at said plan.

"No good?"
"I'm sorry Teej." Mr. Dude said, shrugging "But I can't really encourage you to be doing something illegal. You're sixteen now. That stuff can't be passed off as 'cute' anymore."
"Oh, yeah. Didn't think of it that way."
"Mm. Look, talk to your friends. Maybe they have ideas."
"You don't have any?"
"I might – but even if I did I'm not allowed to say. I'm only allowed to meddle so much. Sorry man."
"It's okay."
"Getting old sucks."
"S'why I plan not to for a long time."
"Atta boy." Mr. Dude smiled and patted his shoulder and rose from he table. "Detention's over, by the way. Be good, do your homework, blah blah blah. Later."

TJ waved and hoisted himself up to his feet, thinking for a few minutes. He finally got himself to his feet, resolving to take Mr. Dude's advice and find his pals. If anything, Gretchen could at least point out the illegal ones.


"You're lucky I'm generous." Randal had growled "I could be playing this over the loudspeaker right now, you cheating fink. But I've got better plans for you."

It was a small blessing Randal thought his mother was a complex ruse. At least he didn't have to worry about that rumor hanging over his head as well. He didn't respond to any of his yelling, nor his vague implications of where they were going to end up or what he was going to do. In truth, Hustler was only half paying attention, still clinging to the memories of last night. He had gone straight to Butch's house and after stammering a hasty excuse to his mother he nearly tripped down the stairs in his haste to get to the male he'd been searching for. Before Butch could even question what the hell was going on, Francis had fallen into his lap and banded his arms around the thin middle and burying his head in the soft cloth over the sharp-edged belt, trying not to shake. He didn't speak the entire time, not until they were finished and some time after that, and even then he was abstract about it. Despite his earlier conviction he couldn't make himself confess to anything. Not yet. There was too much to say, and before too long Butch had fallen asleep under him anyway, taking in deep shallow breaths that were so simple he was bewitched by it, watching the rise and fall of his pale, bruised chest for far longer than he needed to.

But that was then, and as they approached wherever the hell Randal had suddenly become hell bent upon taking him, it was harder and harder to cling to the memories. They slipped from him like gasps, replaced with excited threats and idle chatter. Only now did Francis realize where they were, and he already knew it was bad news.

Precisely, they were only a mile or so southwest from the Hustler HQ. Though it made his skin crawl to be this close to his place of work with the snitch of all people, he knew that there was not where Randal wanted to go. Randal wanted the Back Alley, also known as the fight ring, also known as a rancid, half submerged basement where people paid to and bet on beating the hell out of other people. He would have asked how Randal knew about such an illegal place if he had not proudly announced it himself (he'd overheard a couple of bruisers while trying to spy on a completely different group for a completely different reason). Why he hadn't called the cops on them or tired to blackmail the whole group was not mentioned, but Francis knew. If you fucked up the arrangement they had going or broke the rules, they would find you- no questions asked, no mercy given.

It was the kind of place not many people acknowledged existed, but here it was, decked out with mining lights and throngs of people and thick cigar smoke, punctuated by the occasional shadow of some colossus and the splash of sewer water underfoot. Strangely enough, aside from the occasional Cuban cigar, the only crime anyone could be accused of here was assault and battery or gambling. No drugs, no drinking, no animals, no murder – all of that was against the rules. It was admirable to someone like HK- who had an honor code and a business code and ethics and morals enough for an entire company– to see how rigidly these people followed their own rules with such dedication. Randal, on the other hand, was just cocky, toting his prizefighter and griping how he couldn't get more money.

Hustler was given mid-level odds. Not too likely, but not too unlikely. Not an underdog nor the favorite. All these people roughly his size and shape give or take a few inches in height or width, angry slabs of concrete looking for cash and bragging rights. In some way he didn't belong, but the more he looked around, the more he felt like he could fit in if he just forgot there was anything else. Sort of like he did when he was with Butch, though he hated to make that comparison, considering how empty he felt here.

One-on-one brawls were tonight's venue. It was so easy to tack Randal's face onto one of the other fighters and replace his anger. He'd fought before. He went numb. Went through the motions as if her were taking inventory- careful but bored and aching somewhat by the time he was finished. He did fairly well, and the odds tipped in his favor by the third match. Not that he noticed. He glossed though a good amount of the fights numb and vacant. But not numb enough to miss the flash of silver and quick slice to his arm in the fifth match.

Francis didn't realize what had happened until he saw that blood, and he remembered even less afterwards. He thought he felt pain, but he wasn't sure where. He heard shouting, a woman's voice, felt a sudden crunch under his fist. There was blood on his arm and he felt his heart throb angrily. Small cut to his upper arm (not his wrist, he'd checked). Nonvital. He'd heal. They patched him up and disbanded the fight for illegal use of weaponry. Randal got his winnings. Blood money. HK was not doing well anymore.

But he got the night off.


He had tried going back home to lick his wounds, but that had gone just about as well as expected. His mother was still home. And she wasn't exactly a loving figure to help him heal. If anything she made his trauma worse. After two hours he kept finding knives on tables and in chairs and even one on his pillow. He fled to Butch's basement out of fear and longing, ignoring the knife on the table and the disjointed piano upstairs.

Though he knew the totally justified freak out awaited him, it was better that hell than this.

He'd listened patiently while Butch screamed and ranted and raved. He stood still when Butch punched him, then welcomed him right back with open arms. HK had stopped trying to explain himself (why he was bleeding) – he didn't expect one from Butch either (why he was sobbing and trying to hide it). It was hard enough not to feel numb.


Menlo had mellowed out quite a bit since seventh grade. Much like Randal he had kept in contact with his former fellow secretary, and the two shared a bizarre, if not one-sided relationship. However, unlike Ms. Finster, who was the essence of evil (according to most of the student body) and therefore immortal, Ms. Lemon passed away two years into middle school. It had been a bad time for Menlo. And enough he took off work and school and withdrew into himself until TJ (ever the friend despite their not-as-close relationship) with the help of a few others (Randal, a guidance counselor, even Principle Prickly) got him to step outside again.

So Menlo changed a bit. Grew up. He was still a stickler for the rules and knew the school codes of conduct (all branches) by heart. He was the most efficient student in the school, and hyper organized to the point of being a frightening pod person. He still wore ties and slacks and a button-down and glasses, still had buck teeth and short hair, and still held onto his Wilmco Look-A-Head like it was a piece of his soul. Sometimes he was a bit obsessive about his filing system and still way to hard on himself if he screwed up. He rarely left the office or went outside and didn't really have all that many friends. But he had mellowed out a lot. He'd smile and chat people up and was generally pleasant when he wasn't stressed out – and even then he was apologetic about it once the storm had passed.

And as it stood now, Menlo was TJ's last and only hope.

He had seriously tried everything. He'd gone to his friends, petitioning them for advice, but their plans were either illogical, too expensive, took too long, or were too violent. Only after repeated badgering did they both apologize they couldn't help more and ask (perhaps a bit cynically) why they should when they were alternately being denied helpful info and constantly ripped off. But they had tried, and kept trying, and though their plans looked suspiciously good on paper TJ knew from experience they probably wouldn't pan out as well as he could have hoped. He'd consulted others then – people whom the parties affected knew (Fingers, the drama people who seemed to stalk Butch) but he came up with little to nothing to even begin forming a plan. He'd even gone against Mr. Dude's advice in desperation and tried stooping to Randal's level, digging for dirt – but that plan had failed spectacularly as well.

TJ had been this close to giving up, dragging his feet back to the battered hustler and begging for more time, another hint, anything that could even push him in the right direction, when he came across something rather peculiar. He had been shuffling down one of the academic hallways, chewing his lip, rewording his plea and apology to be impossibly more sincere when he noticed Randal. But not the Randal he had been seeing lately. It was the usual content, smug and pleased looking Randal in the middle of one of his spiels, but one that was severely lacking in the hulking bodyguard department. Upon further inspection, he noticed that HK was nowhere to be seen. It was just Randal and (inclining his head around the bend in the hallway) an equally pleased looking Menlo.

They had parted long after TJ hit the bricks, skirting their location a silently as possible. He'd made a ruckus in Mr. Dude's class which, though highly uncharacteristic of him (earning strange looks from both the students and teacher), was inexcusable. Mr. Dude had sent him down to the Pricklys' office, which TJ promptly thanked him for (earning more bewildered looks and the silent demand for an explanation later from both his educator and friends). Now he sat, clutching the strange slip in his hand, shifting wildly in his seat like a child that could barely hold his bladder in check while Menlo, ever the professional, had excused himself to take a brief lunch.

Again, TJ found himself rehearsing. Normally he left Menlo out of things. Menlo had his neat and orderly world, and TJ had his haphazard, normal teenage boy one. Though they didn't mesh very well they were still on decent terms. Now, however, he needed the secretary boy's help desperately. Not for blackmail, not for elicit material of any sort, not even for some sort of clever trickery or ruse. He simply needed to talk to Menlo because he was the only person he'd ever seen Randal alone with that didn't make the ratfink look like he was in or going to be in some incredible pain.

Not a second before or after his scheduled return, Menlo walked in, adjusting his tie and checking his clock, then looking over his desk. Finally his eyes settled on TJ with some faint (but not total) surprise. TJ grinned back at him. He was a troublemaker, after all, and they had had some nice little chats before TJ was sent to the exasperated Prickly.

"Good afternoon TJ." Menlo greeted, ever cordial "I won't say I'm glad to see you – though I am surprised. Isn't this the timeslot you have with Mr. Dudikoff?"
"Hey Menlo. You're right. It is. But I have something more important to deal with right now."
"Is that a note that I should be seeing?"
"Yes." TJ shoved it in his pocket. "But like I said this is more important."
"TJ – I'd really like it if you gave me that note."
"Menlo, please – this is really, really serious."
"So is policy-"

For a moment, the office worker stared TJ down, his brows furrowed and angry. TJ held his ground, screwing up his most determined face to counter Menlo's excessive work ethic. It almost didn't work, and they almost had words (Menlo even opened his mouth to spout procedure and raised his finger), but TJ's charm won out in the end. With an exasperated little whine, Menlo gave in and sighed, waving TJ to come over to the desk.

"Alright, alright. What's so important that you need to see Principle Prickly for?" He asked, somewhat tired sounding, pulling out the necessary paperwork and a clipboard to write it all on.
"Not Prickly." TJ stated, pointing at Menlo "You."
"Me?" He stopped abruptly, looking up with wide eyes.
"Oh… well this is certainly a surprise."
"Yeah I know. Weird right? Look, it's got a bit of back story so just sit tight and I'll let you in."

Though he was flustered, Menlo gulped and nodded, still gathering papers and shuffling them about to distract his hands. TJ sat on the edge of the desk, ignoring Menlo's look of contempt, and started telling him with the barest of details about what he was trying to do, slowly clueing him into the whole process of thought and logistics, the whole issue he was facing. Of course he used the most boring terms possible (and in the wrong way, if Menlo's confused look was any indication). But TJ thought he was doing a decent job, so he powered right on, gesturing with his hands in such a way that made him feel more comfortable, and made Menlo antsy.

"That's all very well and good TJ." Menlo said abruptly, cutting him off "But what does this have to do with me?"
"Oh, well here's the thing. I need you to talk to Randal for me."
"Why me?"
"'Cause you're the only one who he talks to that he's not afraid of or pissed off at."
"Oh Well I suppose that's as good a reason as any."
"So you'll do it?"
"Of course."
"Great!" TJ slipped off the desk and clapped his hands together. "You're a real pal, Menlo."
"One thing-"
"What am I talking to him about?"
"… I didn't make any sense before, did I?"
"Not very much, no." Menlo admitted, smiling sheepishly.
"Ah hell. Oh well. I'll stick to simple playground talk then. Main thing is that I need you to talk to Randal 'cause Randal's kinda blackmailing Hustler and-"
"He's what?" Menlo growled, his fist clenching around the clipboard he was holding
"What did you just say?"
"Randal's blackmailing-"
"I heard you!"

TJ stepped back a bit. The normally composed teen had shot to his feet and was pacing in tight lines, muttering to himself and clenching his teeth. TJ had never seen him this thrown off his game before. It looked like Menlo was only a few seconds from tearing out his hair and screaming. As it was he was yanking at his tie like he was trying to choke himself and smoothing his hair. This was bad. Menlo only preened excessively like this when he was going to snap and splinter.

"M-Menlo?" TJ tried.
"That rat! That liar! That jerk!"
"He promised me! He told me those days were over! That'd he never do it again! He lied- he lied to my face. Do you understand that? I can't believe it! He promised me!"

Menlo continued to rant and pace and damn near foam at the mouth while TJ watched him, mouth agape. Well, of all the reactions he was expecting out of Menlo, this was not one of them. He almost felt bad for bringing it up, and he reflected for a moment he was doing a lot more harm that way lately. But, he rationalized it was for the great good and he would most certainly stand by his decision, even if the office worker was starting to scare him.

"I want in." Menlo snapped suddenly, his eyes fierce and dark "Whatever it is, I'll do it."
"Great. I have a plan already."


Francis had been given vague instructions in order for his problems to be solved. Fair enough considering how dodgy his own information had been. Randal had told him to wait outside for him by his car, that he had important business he didn't want the hustler to go sticking his nose in. For lack of any way to argue against him, Francis agreed, sitting on his trunk, taking a long, hard look at how awful his life had turned out. As it turned out he had precious little time to reflect and feel terrible as moments later TJ came running up to him, out of breath and looking excited, telling him that he had everything figured out.

He might have dragged his feet some. It wasn't that he didn't trust TJ, just that he didn't really believe him. He knew Detwiler was good – really good – but this was bigger than the stunts he usually pulled. It would take a goddamn miracle to get him out of this grave and, not offense to TJ, but he didn't think that the red-capped prankster could pull this off, and even if he could not nearly as flawlessly as he usually did. Besides, getting his hopes up would only set him up for a greater fall later. He wasn't such a chump that he'd fall for it. Not again, anyway.

But his mind changed some once he came to the spot where he'd been told to go (seemed like all he ever did these days was follow orders). Outside, under a second-floor overpass and near a hardly used fire exit. Most people had gone home for the day, teachers included, so HK thought nothing of the emptiness. But he was very, very interested to hear voices.

At first it was nothing. Quite muttering, like someone having a conversation. The hustler wondered briefly if TJ had outsourced his problem, and he then wondered how many times hew as going to right Detwiler's neck for doing so. His violent thoughts were derailed when the voices got louder, one angrier, the other pleading. Hustler quieted himself, his footfalls, his whole person, and crept closer. He copied things Butch had taught him by proxy (which made his chest ache somewhat in memory), sliding along the filthy wall (smokes and ash – more memories to plague him). He shook his mind free of distractions (as tempting as they were), and peeked around the corner, surprised to see Menlo and Randal in an argument. Confused but interested and following orders as he had been told, he listened carefully, watching the scene play out.

"I can't believe you!"
"You lied to me. Right to my face, Randal! After everything we've been through, after all the shit I put up with and after everything I've done-"
"I can-"
"No you cannot explain!"

Menlo ranted for quite a while, but Francis stopped listening. He transitioned between quiet disbelief to shock to this strange, light feeling. Something in him, around him, was cracking. Falling off hunk by hunk with each of Menlo's screams and pointed fingers, with each of Randal's backpedals and stutters. He didn't even know what they were fighting over. But they were fighting, vehemently, in what looked to be a very intimate lovers quarrel. It could have been about anything really – something mundane, something (to borrow the tired word) scandalous, but he knew what it looked like. It looked incriminating. More than that, it looked like his way out.

He whipped out his phone, set record, and watched the rest of the fight, hidden behind a pillar scrawled with foul words and stained with cigarette burns.

After some time, Menlo left, his face red, mouth screwed up in anger, carrying a tape recorder which he promptly dropped in the mouth of the alley and stepped on until it was nothing but rubble. He shot a glare back at Randal that the hustler hoped had killed him with all the millions of daggers it held, but there was no such luck. Randal let Menlo go, but right after he came running up, kneeling down to inspect his ruined device.

"Well well. What do we have here?" The hustler said suddenly, making the snitch twitch violently, his eyes snapping up.

He leaned against the wall in broad daylight, arms crossed, one leg out as support and the other bent at the knee. He suddenly looked better, alive, possessing of a spine and that cocksure knowledge of the next several moves both parties were going to make. In that moment, Randal knew he had nothing left. Not that he wouldn't try to act like he wasn't high and dry, but the icy, sickening feeling of defeat creeping up his throat was not helping him maintain his ruse.

"So you and Menlo…"
"What about?"
"Looks rather… incriminating. Like you're… having relations."
"We're not!" Randal sputtered quickly "It's not what it looks like."
"Oh it's never what it looks like. Trust me. I know."

Randal flinched at the dripping tone. He stalled, filling the alley with sputters and noise, trying to find an explanation. Hustler inspected his nails, checking over Randal's hunched back to make sure they were alone. They were – but when he turned his eyes back to the smaller male that had made his life a living hell, he looked less like a confused and broken man mourning his favorite recorder. He looked angry, the spitfire kind, the argumentative kind. The kind Hustler liked to totally destroy without ever raising his fist.

"You- you can't do anything." Randal accused finally, pointing his finger. "I still have a whole box load of copies! I can sell them, find any other deceive and play them. I can still ruin you!"
"And that will take you, what, a week to scrape up the money to buy a new recorder? A day to find the one with the right specs? A few hours to get you mom to drive you to the mall to get one? Or to get home to put the soundfile online?" He chuckled. "This, on the other hand, is ready to go up online now. Five minutes, tops, if the service around here is bad. I don't have to tell you, of all people, that most people respond better to visuals than to sound bytes. I mean, sure, you'll have the few curious ones downloading or clicking in, provided you get the word out – but there are millions of people who can see this if it goes up on any single video host site. Never mind if it gets passed around."

Again, Randal flinched as if he'd been physically hit, the color slowly draining from his face. The sick, calculating part of the hustler smirked widely, knowing he'd caught his prey without the slightest flaw. Gotcha. But there was something there that the salesman did not like, and is spread across Randal's face like the headlights of a car passing in the night. He went from broken to composed, and though HK knew whatever straw he was clinging to was probably a decent one – but it would be snapped all the same.

"Okay okay. Checkmate." Randal admitted generously, standing up and dusting off his pants, putting his hands up in defeat "You got me. You're off the hook."
"No we're not."
"We're not?"
"But- we're both caught up in the same thing." His voice was cracking, Hustler hid his grin "You've got Menlo over me and I've got Butch over you so-"

"Not so correct." Francis countered, holding up an authoritative finger, just short of slinging his arm around the weasels' shoulders and popping his head like a zit "Allow me to enlighten you to the point you've glossed over. Menlo is an innocent party. As was Butch. As was I. That leaves you, the start of all this mess, as the sole guilty party."

Francis wouldn't drag Menlo down in this, and he feared he'd given himself away including Menlo in the innocent trifecta, but Randal was far to worried about his own skin to even pick up on it and call his bluff. He just shook, his mouth agape, shrinking into himself and against the wall, down onto the tar. He was on his knees, prostrating himself to the hustler, shaking like he was about to get the hell beaten out of him. And he should have. Should have been scared to death. Should have been groveling. Should be beaten within an inch of his life for all the bullshit he'd pulled.

"Wh-What are you gonna do to me?" Randal asked, his voice small and weak, puny and easily crushed.
"Nothing." He affirmed, voice soft but strong, almost a contemptible hiss. "But know this." The hustler loomed in close, trapping Randal between bricks and himself, looking him dead in the eye to make damn sure he hear every syllable "If you so much as think of hurting Butch again I will fuck you up so bad that even Menlo won't be able to save you."

Randal nodded quietly, having gone totally silent. Francis grinned at him, patted his cheek, said something along the lines of 'there's a good boy' and rose up to his full height. He towered over everything now. Looking down at Randal he smiled, waved a bit, and turned, exiting the darkened, ignored corner. He made sure to step on the already ruined recorder and tape pieces. He made sure not to whoop and holler, but to enjoy his freedom with that cool air of acceptance and deservedness. He made sure he had nothing more to worry about before he went running back to the very place he'd missed most.


Butch wasn't quite sure to react to the hustler gently rubbing his back to wake him up.

It was Friday, which meant he had nothing to worry about (save the glaringly obvious) and could afford to sleep in the next few days. Provided he got any sleep, that is. Due to some strange luck he managed to pass out for a little while after dejectedly flopping face first onto his couchbed. His mother, ever the kind and caring sort, left him alone right up until the nice young man Butch had met some months before came knocking. She offered him food and dinner, but he politely refused, wanting to speak to Butch first. She let him downstairs, no questions asked, and the hustler approached the sleeping body carefully, first smoothing back some of the longish hair and then carefully passing his hand over his shoulders and down his spine.

"Fran?" Butch slurred, blinking in the mild darkness "The hell you get down here?"
"Your mom let me in." When the odd looks didn't subside he pressed on "I wanted to see you. It's been a while."
"No shit."

Butch yawned in his face and drew his legs up and over the edge to make room for the other male. Despite still being sort of confused, half asleep, and somewhat miffed by the whole fuck-and-avoid thing that had been going on lately, he was really glad to see Francis again. Not that it meant he knew what to say or do. All he could really think about was that he was here, he was back, and because of that he was smiling stupidly enough for Francis to catch on. And he really didn't see any reason to stop until the hustler leaned over and pecked him on the mouth, remaining affixed in his personal bubble.

"Come over tonight."
"What? No. No Fran. No. Fuck – I'm still really mad at you."
"W-why? WHY. You son of a bitch you abandon me for weeks and don't tell me a damn thing about it and then come right back and act like everything's just fucking fine and it's not Francis it's not I know we're not together or whatever but Christ man we're sleeping together I think I deserve at least something like an explanation."

Butch was almost certain he'd said something like this before, the last time they had actually spoken (not the last time they slept together – then it had been silent). However, even if he was repeating himself he still hadn't gotten an answer, and he felt like he deserved it. So he huffed moodily and tried turning out of the hustler's grip, flopping over on his side with his head mostly buried in the pillow. Francis seemed less than phased by the sudden fit, and if he was upset he didn't let it show. At least not for a few moments.

Just as Butch was about to sneak a little peak he heard thick fabric shift behind him and a pocket of heat descend over his side. Before he knew it he was trapped between heavy-coated arms and underneath a much larger body. Butch could feel him breathe, his languid heartbeat against his arm. He felt the squared jaw dig into and then rest comfortably against his shoulder, the breath come in even puffs against his shirt and neck. He couldn't turn his head or make his eyes roll that far back, but Butch suspected Francis had his eyes shut and was quietly searching for the right thing to say. He sighed finally, the broad chest of him filling with air and pressing Butch's arm to his side, the exhale washing over the underside of his jaw. Francis shifted his arms upwards, clasping his hands over the shoulder hidden by pillow, his knuckles (still rough and bruised) brushing up against his jaw. Butch wasn't sure what to make of this loose hold or the prolonged silence, but he didn't dare say anything to break it.

"Trust me." Francis murmured almost lazily, repeating himself as Butch had "I don't expect you to, but it would be really nice if you did."

And, like always (though he hated himself for it) Butch forgave Francis for all his wrongs. Because he loved him, and apparently that was how his mind worked.

"You suck." Butch politely informed him "You suck and I hate your fucking guts."
"You love me." Francis teased, more than happily burring his face into Butch's neck and making himself right at home there.
"Fuck you." Butch spat (though his heart might have stopped if the accusation had been any more than friendly ribbing).

Francis didn't bother him with words anymore. He simply shut his eyes and inhaled, exhaled against the pale, scarred neck. It was a like he could fucking /breathe/ again. Like he was absolved. Sure, he'd drag this secret down with him to the grave, but everyone had their skeletons. He was just glad he hadn't lost this… thing. This Butch thing. It was totally worth the massive discount he was going to give TJ and Menlo. It was also totally worth the night of not sleeping he was planning on having. Even if he wasn't going to screw the poor bastard's brains out like he desperately wanted, he was going to make him feel less like a booty call by cuddling the living shit out of him whether he liked it or not, either at his (thankfully now) empty house, or right here, for the rest of forever.

"If you're not going to come back with me, can I stay with you?"
"What, here?"
"Yeah. Pull out the bed. Tell your mom we need to work on a project."
"You lie better than I do."
"No, I mean why are you so fucking set on staying with me? I just basically told you to go fuck yourself."
"I missed you."

The answer was so automatic, so simply uttered that Butch was flushing again by the time it registered. It wasn't even a very good reason, but it was totally working. He hated that Francis could do this to him over and over and over again and he'd just fall for it every goddamn time. Predictably, then, he turned a little under the larger male, twisting his spine enough to see him straight on. For the first time in a long time he was able to see him like he remembered – smiling, warm and alive, cocky but deserving. All in all, regardless of cliché, that was the face he'd fell in love with, and the bastard was just lording it over him like always. But he loved it, and he couldn't stop loving it even if it pissed him off so much he felt like beating that fucking perfect smile off his face so he could think about anything else.

"Okay." Butch relented quietly, puckering his lips to just barely brush them against the corner of Fran's already smiling mouth "Okay."



This free website was made using Yola.

No HTML skills required. Build your website in minutes.

Go to and sign up today!

Make a free website with Yola