Product Placement

Chapter 33 - Bells Should be Ringing


"Damn Tammy – where the hell do you live? Bumblefuck?"

The call had come at six in the morning, because he didn't need sleep to function or anything. That had been Fingers' reason. He'd actually been genuinely surprised to hear Francis had been sleeping when his cell buzzed, rang, and clattered off his nightstand two hours before his alarm was set to wake him. The hustler had almost crushed the device out of spite, until he noticed the ringing, and stupidly answered it.

"This better be fucking important." He had told Fingers, only half listening to his bemused rant on how he figured even robotic workaholics needed to recharge.
"You have work to do. Tammy vanished again and I can't cover her usual shipment."
"And so… I have to?"
"Yeah, that's about the size of it." Before the Hustler could tell him to go fuck himself Fingers added the magic words: "You get to keep the commission."

Because he was the world's biggest greedy idiot, Hustler had agreed, and met Fingers at Hustler HQ, took the shipment of God knew what, packed it into his trunk, and set off to the address, mechanically taking turns and listening to the radio murmur softly under the GPS directions. It was only after he'd sucked down half his thermos of coffee and passed though three towns did he wake up and start to regret his decisions. He glanced out of his back window and ultimately shrugged, figuring what was done was done and he was going to get paid, so no big deal. All he knew was that he better be compensated for gas too. It was kind of a hike to get out here, and his wallet did not appreciate it.

Finally, the helpful little too-human voice let the hustler know he'd arrived at the right spot. But something seemed weirdly off. He checked the address and what he'd punched into the system, then looked back up at the sign he was parked in front of.

"Saint Catharine's School for Girls." He read sleepily "Tammy I am not fucking awake enough for this."

Despite his fatigue he was cautious, and perhaps a bit worried. He'd heard strange things about churches – not that he was particularly non-religious, but it still bothered him. Ruler toting nuns and less than wholesome priests in the news, hypersexed fetishistic schoolgirl insanity from Kink and a few other vendors, fire and brimstone preachers scaring the living hell (literally) out of a few of his peers. All of that, compounded by the horror stories he'd heard about all girls schools (hazing, hormonal, psychotic girls taught by crotchety, bitter, angry old bitches) and the possible flack he was going to get by being male if caught, made him check to see if he was alone, and then if his doors were locked.

But he was being silly. Foolish. Those were all just bullshit stories, exaggerated worse than Butch's outright lies (if he wasn't mistaken, Hustler was sure Butch had told him a few terrifying tales). They were just a bunch of girls in skirts who might or might not have a decent arrangement with Tammy, and therefore needed the crap he was going to supply. And, because he was here, and she was not, he was their only hope. Ergo, they couldn't hurt him. And if they tried, well, he could probably take them. It wasn't like he was going up with a colony of Spinelli (though the thought made him shudder). But that could hardly be the case. The whole infrastructure would collapse in a dog pile trying to figure out who was the best fighter. He had nothing to worry about. He was getting all worked up for nothing.

Which made it all the more embarrassing when a demure hand knocked on his window and made him spasm so much it actually frightened the girl outside.

He took a breath, recovered, and smoothly stepped out of his car. The girl – she was actually pretty cute – smiled and shuffled her feet and played with the hem of her skirt nervously, peering up at her with big blue eyes. Really cute, actually. Not that it did much of anything for him, but he smiled a bit more genuinely.

"Are you uh… uh the…"
"Tammy's guy? Yeah. Sorry she ain't here. Got the stuff though."
"She called. You're Frankie, right?"
"Francis. Call me Hustler."
"And you?"
"Your name."
"Ah-ah…." She flushed, squirming, and the hustler thought it was sort of endearing, but also kind of annoying. "M-Megan."
"Well Megan." Hustler said conversationally, shifting toward his trunk "I'm gonna guess that Tammy told you how much she wants for it. Or what she wants for it."
"And am I correct to assume that you have her payment."

There was a pause. She continued to squirm. Francis stood there awkwardly and looked around, making sure that there was no one else around, that this wasn't a sting of some sort. The silence bothered him and he desperately wanted to be back home in bed, perhaps with a little company, but God did he want to sleep.

"Can I have it?"
"The payment. If you give me that, I'll pop the trunk, and you can take whatever it is that's in there. I'll even help you move it, if you'd like."
"N-no. We've… I've got it." She took a deep breath and checked behind her, then turned and made some sort of arm motion.
"Checkin' me out huh?" He teased, figuring her for scout duty. She flushed a brilliant shade of red – the same kind Butch did when he told him he was cute. "S'cool. I'm just here to make the drop. Do what you gotta do."

Megan smiled thankfully and made the motion again. Five more girls, clothed in the same plain skirts, appeared and hustled toward them. Megan ran to meet them, and after a rushed, hushed girl conference (one of the few things Francis always found rather curious – it was like a football huddle but always seemed to carry more weight), another girl – this one a bit more bold – marched over and handed him a small sack.

"Payment's in there." She said. "Tammy said to just take it."
"You realize if you stiff her I'll get my ass handed to me and then she'll find you, right?" It was a standard warning with Tammy, and the girl seemed unfazed.
"We got it. Pop the trunk. We'll take it from here."

Francis did with a mild shrug and stepped aside. In motions that Francis couldn't help but think resembled that of startled ants, the group grabbed the corners and bottoms and carted the pile away to wherever they stashed themselves. He watched the phenomenon in a stupor, scratching his head. Tammy had really drilled into them what she wanted in customers, and for a moment he couldn't help but be a little jealous. But the group paused, looking between them, then at the trunk, then nervously at him. A quick peek into the trunk confirmed that there was a single box left – too heavy to carry between them, he figured. Second trip would be too risky. So he shrugged and stowed the payment in his coat.

"I'll give you a hand." He offered, lifting and shouldering the box.

They eyed him, but nodded and carried on silently, walking quickly to some building nestled between others. They lead him inside, down a hall, and then back outside again to a small building, where they all entered. However, before he could follow them in one stopped him, took the box, and shut the door in his face. He'd waited a moment, but no one came out or did anything else, so he gave up on that venture, and reminded himself of the nice bed waiting for him.

Just as he had begun to leave there came an awful shuffling. It was too heavy to be a skirt, and at once Francis wished it was a ghost. He berated himself for it, cursing his spending too much time with Butch and his crazy stories, but then there was a thumping behind him, and he turned, coming face to face with an unrealistically old lady. He grimaced at her, recoiling a step. It was impossible someone could live to be that old and decrepit- how in the hell was she able to stand?

"Young man?" came a sudden cry "What are you doing here?"

Hustler turned and ran as fast as he could.


This sucked. He was trapped with a fat wad of semi-innocent schoolgirl money and a nun that could probably rival Finster's age and ability to scare anyone shitless. And this one was aloud to hit you.

Hustler groaned and rubbed his face. Figures he'd pick one of the central buildings – surrounded on all sides but not used. He'd trapped himself in his haste to get away from that nonliving, living thing. Could he have been any more suspicious or shady?

The best part about this whole thing was all he could think about was how much Butch would love to turn this into a story he could market to the masses. It was sad, really; how obsessed he was with the storyteller. At least this story would be fact over fiction. For once Butch would tell the truth. Or at least part of it.

It had been about an hour since he bolted, and no one had come looking for him or sent search parties. He worried about his car being found or hotwired or lifted or something, but then again it was a damn church, and the most he had to worry about was a tow, maybe. Between lying down and sitting up and stretching his legs, Hustler checked the windows frequently, but the grounds seemed to be alive suddenly, crawling with kids and clergy. He had no way to get out – not yet, anyway.

The only thing that kept him from being extremely pissed off about this whole thing was the commission he was going to get – which, even if he got the short end of the stick, was going to be sizable.

He had just recounted the sack of cash for the fifth time on the top of a scratched half-hobbled teacher's desk, doing calculations in his head to estimate his cut when the doorknob began to shiver. His head shot up and he looked at the door, tense and ready to run or hide or jump out of the way. He clasped the closest piles of money in his fist and shifted backward, ready for anything. He knew he was being overly cautious and somewhat ridiculous – but there was really no feasible way to explain his presence in an all-girls school and church with extraneous cash without looking like a pimp or drug dealer.

Luck for him, the person at the door was not some upset priest or angry nun. It was another schoolgirl, who peeked in and set eyes on him and smiled. She let herself in and sighed, smiling, muttering something like 'there you are' in the relieved tone most people use for misplaced pets. Despite still being unnerved, Hustler calmed down and slipped back into his makeshift seat, quickly recounting and setting the piles of money that had been messed up by his fist. He was interested in why she was here, but he didn't press. It was better to wait for information – lest you give something away unnecessarily.

"The girls told me you ran in here." She explained without prompt, smiling kindly.
"Someone saw me?"
"Just the loaders. They told the runners to tell the buyers to tell the scouts to tell me 'cause I'm the fastest to tell you that you can sneak out of here when the six bell goes with no problem. It's only like an hour from now, so sit tight."
"Does this happen often?"
"Only when Tammy sends newbies."
Hustler flinched, still not looking up at her. "Ow. My pride."

She chuckled, catching his joke. He gathered up the money he'd been counting and stashed it in the pouch and stashed the pouch in his coat. He almost asked her why she was still lingering, then figured she was waiting for the bells herself, or to make sure there was no one around. He had no idea how this place worked, and he wasn't about to ask and make a further ass out of himself.

"So you sell stuff, right?" She asked suddenly, eyeing him with curiosity.
"That's about the size of it, yeah." He glanced up at her finally and raised a brow. "You need something?"
"What do you have?"
"What do you need?"

She smiled and made some noise of approval, approaching him. Francis tucked his legs back under him, then tossed them over the edge of the desk he was sitting on, letting them dangle. His hand strayed to his coat, and her gaze followed, only to snap back up to his face.

"Lets say it's not exactly the best thing for a nice young lady to want-"
She stammered, her eyes widening in surprise. "How did you know?"
"Lucky guess." He shrugged. "Going rate for a pack is seven – only got one brand though."
"The brand isn't an issue. The price, however-"
"Don't haggle on narcotics. Sorry."
"I could pay some… other way."

The hustler paused, looking up at her. A smile played on her face and she opened her stance a little, drawing her lower lip between her teeth, playing cute. He gave her a once over since she was inviting it – and he wasn't disappointed. She was pretty, maybe beautiful if she hadn't been slapped with such a dull uniform. Leggy and maybe a little on the thin side, but not disgustingly so. She had pretty features, big brown eyes, a rounded face, shaggy brown hair, smooth curves – just a generally attractive person, who seemed really interested in Francis if all of her squirming and coy looks were any indication.

Francis couldn't stop the words before they flew out of his mouth.

"Sorry – I'm gay."

At the startled look she gave him, Francis' face contorted into a strange one of his own. He had no idea where that came from. It wasn't exactly true – he couldn't believe he lied so easily. He liked girls still, even if he was kind of involved with Butch. Butch was kinda girly. A little – he was thin and slim and submissive. But not a girl. Definitely not a girl. His dick was way too big for that.

Oh and it was such an easy lie, too! He just took off with it. Ran his mouth like a sales pitch he'd thrown a million times before.

"Yeah. I'm taken now actually – dating someone. Really great guy. Cute. You'd probably hit on him too. But yeah, we're together goin' on… I guess a year or something now. So sorry, but no go on that offer of yours. Wouldn't be fair. Couldn't do that to him besides. And not just 'cause he'd rip my balls off and wear them as earrings. I actually kinda crazy about him."

Himself satisfied (both by the impressive half-lie and the look on her face), he smiled and waves as she stomped off. He really had no idea where all that bullshit came from, but it got him off the hook, and he was pleased enough with that. So what if some sex starved schoolgirls would think he was a fag? No skin off his nose. He'd never be back. This was a favor, and maybe, just maybe, if Tammy got wind of this, she'd keep from bringing him back.

Probably not. Bitch was crazy – and he meant that in the nicest, brotherliest way possible.

So, without really thinking about it, he ducked into the next room to be closer to the exit door (taking care to make sure this one was empty), and recounted his profits (to make sure he hadn't been pick pocketed), and hung out. It was kinda awkward listening to the church bells ring and the occasional shuffle of feet and skirts swish by underneath the windows, but he hid, and remained hidden, until the bells rang again six times. That was his cue to leave.


Despite his rather active morning, the escape and trip home had been wonderfully uneventful. He'd treated himself to a meal at a diner and filed up his gas tank and then called Fingers to yell at him for not warning him about the old ass nun. He then hung up on Fingers because he was being a prick (the asshole laughed at him) and made a mental note to box his ears next time he saw him. And then he went upstairs and showered and changed into old clothes and thought about doing some cleaning but ultimately ended up falling on his bed and just lying there.

He would have gone to sleep, catch up on rest he was so deprived of. But something was bothering him. Just a little thing really. It was that he lied. He hadn't for a while now – if one didn't count half truths and withholding some info. He'd rebuilt his reputation from that somewhat shady guy in the trench coat who could get you what you needed by questionable but never discussed means to that honest guy in the trench coat who could get you what you needed by questionable but never discussed means. And he was happy to have people trust him. Honest businessman wasn't such a familiar moniker around here. It was a badge of honor he wore with pride, and wore it well. Which sort of made him feel funny about lying on the job like that.

Then again, it wasn't so much the fact he'd lied. He'd lied before, and well, to bigger rubes. Even now, being the reformed man he was, he still lied occasionally. It was hard to be completely honest. He tried hard to not mix lies and work. But even so it wasn't so muh he had fibbed well enough to fool some potential buyer. It was just that it came out so easy in a situation that he was usually all for exploiting.

That was the kind of thing he'd leapt at before, the kind of thing other guys dreamed of that he got on demand. She was cute, attractive even. And she was clearly interested in him. He had yet to be accused of not being a flexible guy. Three modes of payment were his standard (well, more of two – he was never one for illegal substances), and as far as everyone knew he was still open to those modes. Usually, he was, especially to pretty girls. No one had asked him in a while, was all – mostly offering up cash on the spot or some equal item of trade. But she had offered, quite adequately, and he just let it go.

Because of Butch.

That's what he'd been sitting in his room thinking about for the past hour. How he'd given that easy lay up. How he'd referred to himself as not only being with Butch, but dating him for more than a year. Being his boyfriend. Those lies – and they were lies – had fell from his lips so easily. Naturally. Like the truth. And most troubling of all was how he didn't regret a single word. Which presented something of a problem, though he wasn't quite sure what that problem was.

Francis heaved a sigh, staring up at his ceiling. He'd think more, worry more, because he had nothing else to do – but as it was it sounded like someone was trying to break into his room. He'd worry about that, but the cursing and grumbling was unmistakable. He didn't even lift his head when Butch finally opened the door and huffed.

"You dead?" Butch asked the body.

Butch waltzed into his room, and at the risk of being called a rude jackass, Francis lifted his head. Butch looked a bit worn out and damp and aggravated, but pleased enough to be there. If the hustler wasn't mistaken, he could smell a whiff of smoke from him, which usually meant Butch chain smoked right up until he came inside, which also meant he stamped the butt of his last cig out on the porch. Francis would be cranky about it later. For all his speculating and worrying and thinking earlier, he was rather glad that Butch was here. So show that, he dropped his head back onto the pillow and did absolutely nothing, leaving Butch to start up conversation again.

"Where you been?"
"Making deliveries."
"Ah. Well shit. Missed you this morning."
"I was out at five."
Butch hissed, as if the hour offended him. "Ow. Jesus I thought I had it bad. This gonna be a regular thing?"
"For a little while, maybe. One of the hustlers dropped out of sight. I'm helping cover."
"Well that blows. Kinda wish I caught you, though. Instead had to help move crap around and do chores and other lovely stuff. Sore as hell" Butch looked at the empty expanse of bed with longing enough to make Francis grin at the ceiling, though he couldn't see it "May I?"
"Be my guest."

Butch crawled into bed and flopped down beside him, huffing indignantly. His hands shot out and took up his pillows, pulling them back to his body and curling around them, burying his face into them and whining. He rolled over onto his back suddenly, pillows still clasped to his chest, and glared at Francis over the tops of the pillows as he watched him.

"You're fucking adorable."
"Shut up."

Francis laughed and attempted to salvage one of his stolen pillows, only to drag Butch forward with it. Seeing as how he was latched on like a burr, Francis let them both go, the bundle bouncing a bit on the bed as it landed. Butch made some noise like a grunt and turned to face him finally, still looking at him over the tops of his cushiony treasure.

"What are you thinking?" His disembodied voice asked, partially muffled by the open flaps of the pillowcase.
"Nothing really. Made a strange drop today."
"Butch, I work weekends. We've been over this, and if you call me an old fart again I will hit you. The pillows will not help."
"No, naw – it's not that. You just looked thoughtful. Actually thoughtful – not profit thoughtful."
"There's a difference?"
"There is with you." Butch admitted, shrugging "So what's up?"
"It's just something I heard. Nothing important."

Butch looked like he were about to protest, but he didn't. Instead he released the pillows and put them behind his head, rolling onto his back and shifting upwards to lie on them properly. Francis shifted closer, bumping shoulders with him, and only allowed himself to smile when he saw Butch smiled too out the corner of his eye.

But then he did something weird – something he really couldn't explain himself. He moved his hand a little, then the rest of his arm, and finally his hand just ended up lurching over, his fingers curling over Butch's relaxed hand. As if that wasn't enough, he moved his hand again after a short pause, sliding his fingers between Butch's still limp hand. Francis stared at the ceiling, his brows creased, confused at himself. He glanced at his side and saw the storyteller hadn't moved, save to draw his other arm up to rest on his stomach. Neither one of them made any move to stop the spontaneous handhold. And Francis was kind of glad. Because it felt nice. Butch's hands were smaller than his but not by much, softer and long-fingered. His fingers were bigger, and they filled in the gaps between Butch's tight enough that he could maybe feel the smaller mans heartbeat. And for some weird reason he really liked feeling him so close, feeling his heart thrum against his hand.

"This is gay." Butch announced suddenly, his eyes on the ceiling.
"Like, really gay."
"We could have sex." Francis mumbled, shrugging "That might be less gay."
"I'm too tired and sore and not in the mood."
"So shut up and rest."

The hustler laughed at him, sinking further into the blankets. He almost felt like shutting his eyes and falling asleep, catching up on the rest he was deprived of this morning. It seemed like that phone call had happened days ago, that this morning was nothing more than a weird dream he was paid to have. If he were more awake he would be questioning why he was so into this particular moment, lying beside Butch, fingers straight, palm to palm – but as it was he just yawned obnoxiously and looked at Butch, who had closed his eyes, and followed suit.




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