Chapter 8

 Drew sat on the floor with his back leaning against Marc's room, fuming. "I know you're in there," he groused, a scowl on his face and his voice just shy of a shout. His blue eyes were slits. "I saw your car parked out front, Marc! At least be adult enough to open the door. I've been here since 8 AM. It's ten now, and I'm just gonna sit here until you come out!"
There was no answer, so either Marc was sleeping like the dead (which, Drew knew, he could) or he was ignoring him (a distinct possibility). Drew made another face and leaned back on the door again and re-opened his book, an old John Clancy called Red Storm Rising. He wasn't sure why, but John Clancy seemed to be combining "alternate history" science fiction with his usual politics/spy plot. The book constantly referred to an East and West Germany as if they were two separate countries, but Drew kept at it. Besides, when he left the house that morning, he'd taken his grandmother's car and the book happened to be laying on the seat. He had a feeling he'd have to sit it out for awhile before Marc would open the door.
Drew leaned to the left and rearranged his jacket under him to give a little extra padding. Then he accidentally slammed his elbow into the door, made a face because it hurt, and gave shouting another shot. "This isn't real mature, Marc. Grow up a little, willya?"
No answer.
Drew sat back and pouted, then reluctantly went back to his book.
* * * * *
"I've got your estimate here," the man in coveralls said as he handed Marc a clipboard. His Speedy Boys Auto uniform didn't have a name stitched onto it, and Marc thought the scratches that passed for the signature at the bottom of the page might have said `Tom,' but everything else was clear enough - and that was what it was going to cost to fix his brakes. Marc felt the color draining from his face, and his mouth slipped open. He looked up into the bored face of the mechanic who was wiping his hands on an old rag of a towel.
Marc tried to steady his voice, but even he could hear the tremble in his voice. "This is for real, Tom? This isn't some kinda joke?" Marc looked into the man's gray eyes, as if looking to see if it was, in fact, his idea of a joke.
The mechanic frowned. "Name's Tim. And why would I wanna joke about the work? Those things are not only corroded, but what's left of the front discs themselves are warped all to hell," he said, shaking his head. "Dunno why you waited this long. The car must've shimmied enough when you tried to stop. The front brakes've been doin' all the work."
Marc shook his head in disbelief. "I just figured it was because it was so old…" he said, his voice trailing off. "I just had the thing inspected, and they tested the brakes. I passed."
The mechanic barked rather than laughed. "Yeah, Taxachusettes inspections," he said with a sneer, reaching for the coffee pot. "They go over every inch of your exhaust system, but they only check the emergency brake enough to see if the car rolls. That's got nothin' to do with the mess you got." He poured his cup full, then stirred in some dry creamer as he continued. "Everything in there's rusted out and ready to fall apart. By all rights, I shouldn't even be lettin' you drive away from here, but that ain't my business." He sipped from the cup, scowled, and swallowed before looking up at Marc again. "You want `em done today I can do it, but you gotta leave the car, `cuz with Arnold out sick, we're gonna be short-handed and I already got a bunch of people with scheduled appointments for work. But don't count on gettin' it back until we close - say, around six. Even then we'll be runnin' a little late, I think, but we can do it."
Tim paused, then glanced up at the young man in front of him and was surprised by the look in the kid's eyes… more than just the shock, but he saw fear. From the way Marc spoke and moved, Tim figured he came from money… not that it made any difference on the bill. But the fear told him a different story. The kid was broke. Tim knew that look. He'd had it on his own face often enough when something came up. "We, uh... we take plastic," he added, trying to sound a little less blunt.
Marc chuckled. "Cool. I'll pay off in soda bottles, okay?" He shook his head. "Sorry, man - I don't mean to sound like a dick. That was just a joke." He rubbed his chin and sighed. "If I had a credit card, I'd hand it over and say `see ya tonight…' But I don't. Shit, I don't even have a bank account… and that car's the only thing I've got that's mine. I don't even have a job without it."
Tim watched Marc, saw the way he slumped inside himself, and felt himself softening. Tim was twenty-five, and still remembered what it was like when he aged-out of the foster care system at eighteen and suddenly found himself on the street with three hundred dollars in his pocket, the vague memory of a brother somewhere, and no one who gave a damn about him. It wasn't easy knowing you didn't have much and weren't likely to have more in the future. He'd been lucky to stumble into Arny's new garage, just when they needed a pair of un-skilled hands just to help out, and Arnold had the patience to work through Tim's suspicious nature and teach him a trade. Not everyone was that lucky.
"Listen, bud," he said in a softer tone. "If I could help, I would, but I can't give credit. Not even Arny can. The company would can us both on the spot if they found out about somethin' like that. The best I can tell you is, try an' go easy as you can and make `em last. Only drive when you have to, stick to the highway... and when you have to slow down, downshift the transmission to take the load off the brakes." He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. "One heavy foot on a hard stop and those things could give. Treat `em light, and maybe it'll buy you some time to get the money together. Another thing - where'd you buy this thing? Up here in New Hampshire?"
Marc nodded.
Tim snorted. "That figures. Whoever sold you this thing put new brake liners on - that's why you didn't hear `em squeal before. It's everything else that's gone to hell. And you might as well know something else, too… this is the beginning. These cars were designed to be throwaways, like a Bic pen. They're never meant to last this long. My advice is to start lookin' for somethin' else, because you're gonna wind up payin' again what you paid for this thing and you're still lookin' at more troubles waiting to happen. The suspension's shot. Struts last a long time, but they ain't cheap to replace, and you're lookin' at that real soon. I can tell by the sound the engine's makin' you're lookin' at trouble there, too. Fix the brakes for now, then start settin' aside as much cash as you can for a new car - and buy it in Massachusetts. They got lemon laws over on your side. Nobody there could sell you a clunker like this. Up here, you get thirty days and it's `seeya, sucker,' and you could wind up right back where you started."
Marc thanked Tim for the advice, folded up his copy of the estimate and walked slowly to his car, which was sitting back in the lot. Tim watched him, let out a sigh, drained his coffee and went back to work. The line of oil changes and lubes was endless today.
Marc stood for awhile in the open air, staring across at the dirty, blackened mounds of snow that were only now starting to retreat, not thinking about anything. His head was numb. He wasn't certain how long he stood and stared, but finally he reached out and opened the door, sliding into the front seat. He was in no hurry, and wasn't anxious to drive anyway. He tried to think of his options and couldn't come up with any; his brother Don couldn't help, he didn't have access to the kind of quick cash Marc needed. Any attempt to scam their father was doomed. If they tried to feed him a story that it was Paul who needed the work, his father would insist on talking to the shop and transfer the money direct: Paul would never have a chance of laying his hands on it. Seth was only fifteen. Marc considered working on his mother… if she'd even pick up the phone. She wouldn't after the one time he tried to talk to her.
"I'm trapped," he said aloud, in a toneless voice. "There's just no fuckin' way out."
Then an image popped into his head - Drew. Drew has money in the bank, he thought. He'd bail me out in a second; all I have to do is ask.
He closed his eyes. No. I can't ask him… even if things were going good… and they aren't. His father already says I'm a loser… and maybe he's right, too. Besides, how the hell could I trust him? Look what he did to a guy like Alan - somebody he knew all his life.
That was another thing Marc had to decide about. He'd walked away from Drew in shock the night before. He couldn't believe that Drew could be the cold, selfish bastard who betrayed one of his closest friends.
Why not? All yours did.
Yeah, but they walked away. They didn't throw me to the wolves to cover their own ass.
Really? What about Doug? And does just walking away make it hurt any less?
Marc had no answer; he probably never would. He'd seen a few familiar faces in the months since… and just as quickly, they'd turned and gone another way. Marc also remembered the last few days at school before he just walked away from it, when everyone knew he had no place to go - but knew why, and no one would even speak to him. Teachers were civil to him because they had to be. A counselor offered to give him a few names of organizations that might help, but he clearly didn't want to be involved. The guy had previously left urban schools for the wealthy `burbs just to avoid that sort of thing. Finally, official word came that Marc no longer had a valid Andover address-his father saw to that-and the hierarchy of the school made it clear he'd have to go unless he could show a permanent Andover address. They couldn't accept his Lawrence hotel. They made it clear they'd be happy to transfer his records to Lawrence High at the end of the term, since that was only a few weeks away, but he wouldn't be allowed back at Andover for his last year. But the point was moot, because in the end, Marc had no choice but to leave school, since he had to pay rent… and eat.
No car, Marc, and no way of getting' to work. So, what's it gonna be? Back to almost getting' by slingin' burgers at McD's?
His jaw tightened at the memory. No, he reminded himself. You never got by just slingin' burgers. Not even when there was overtime.
Marc looked over the interior of his car, eyeing the worn upholstery and the rug that stopped being a rug on the floor boards long before he ever owned it. Hard to believe I need a shit box as beat-up as this to make ends meet, he mused. There was a way to salvage it, but it was at a price he didn't want to pay.
"The car's like me," he said in a whisper, leaning back in the worn, gray fabric, his head leaned against the back and his eyes closed. "Zero worth. Good for only one thing."
It had taken him months to save enough money to fix his car the last time. Marc knew that even with his pay hike, the car was never going to last long enough to try that again. He needed money, a good-sized chunk of change, and needed it fast.
He reached into his glove compartment and pulled out the cell phone. It cost him twenty-two dollars a month for ninety-minutes of air time, but it was there for emergencies. There was no phone in his room at the Mid-City; a regular phone would've cost him thirty-four a month and change, even if the local calling was unlimited. But his connection with Omnipoint went with him wherever he went, and when you drove an old car, it was a good thing to have - Joshua taught him that. And Josh taught him the value of being able to connect mobile for other things.
He sighed and stared at the phone. Josh… Josh was his only choice.
Marc hesitated, then slowly punched in the number, heard the connect and the ring. Once… twice… the answering machine picked up, as Marc expected. Joshua Blackenshep never answered the phone unless the name on caller ID was one he recognized. Joshua had a separate line for personal use - and another for other areas of his business.
"You're on hold, darling. I'll be right with you," the machine chirped in a happy voice. Mark ground his teeth. Fuck you, Joshua. Fuck you and your stinkin'-
"Marc!" the voice screeched in his ear. "I don't believe it, sweetie! I thought you were retired!"
Marc licked his lips and swallowed, hoping his voice wouldn't crack. His throat was dry and he was shaking, in both fear and anger. "Hey, Josh," he began, forcing himself to sound relaxed, even cheerful. He tried a laugh. "You might say I got some time for a few appointments - if you've got anything."
Josh's smooth, sinuous voice oozed over the phone. "Oh, Marc, please. I always have something for you! So, what is it? You lose your job?" he chuckled, and Marc felt his temper rising. "Or is that nasty old car acting up again?"
Why do you have to sound so fuckin' happy about this? Why can't you pretend you know this is hard and that you give a shit? He regained his composure. "Yeah, it's the car again, Joshua," he replied. "I - I have to come up with some quick cash."
Marc heard an affected sigh. "My children. They only come back when they need something. Any other time - pphhhttt! They don't even give me the time of day. So, honey, tell Uncle Joshie how much you gotta make." He paused, and the tone and pitch of his voice changed. "And you're clean, right? No one's gonna look in your eyes and see the vacancy sign on?"
The boy wiped a bead of sweat from his upper lip. "No, Josh, I don't do that stuff. You know that." Marc told him how much he needed to make.
Joshua laughed at the sum. "Hell, baby - that's no problem! I mean, you could've done that much last time and we wouldn't have to go through all this now; you'd already have the money." He paused, and Marc could hear the sound of papers sliding. " I might… yes, I can fix you up right now. I was going to give this one to Ben, but hey, you'll fit in better… and Ben's always such a mess if he has to get up before sundown. Now, tell me what you're dressed like. And you did shower and freshen-up this morning? You didn't just do the `straight-boy rollover' and fall into some clothes?"
Marc closed his eyes and licked his lips. "Sweatshirt, an old A&E, maroon. Faded jeans… Calvin's. Nike runners, but they're kinda beat. And yeah, I showered and shaved."
The voice nearly purred. "Sweetie, that's perfect! Do you have a ball cap in the car? Go buy one if you don't, and put it on backwards - the guy says he thinks that's hot. He really wants something younger, but you know I don't deal in really jail-time chicken, so try to look all wide-eyed and goofy. Tell him you're a junior or something - you've got that kind of face anyway." He giggled. "That little-boy face of yours can make that money in no time this weekend. You just sit by the phone, and don't you move. I'll get right back to you, hon'."
Marc broke the connection, but left his phone on standby. He sighed a heavy breath, popped a lever under the dash, and got out to rummage through the trunk. Knew I still had this, and came up with a cap Joshua had given him months ago as joke. It had a black and red USC logo on it, and the phrase "Fighting Cocks" in gold. Joshua thought himself clever when he gave it to Marc as a memento when he quit and took his job at New Era. Marc pulled it on his head and turned it backwards. He dug in the trunk more and found a small cloth bag. He unzipped it. Inside was half a tube of KY gel. He shoved the cold tube in his pocket to warm it, then he came up with a half-dozen packs of condoms in varying sizes, and shoved those into his other pocket. He removed his wallet from his back pocket and slipped it into the cloth bag, then dropped it in the trunk and slammed the lid. He slid into the front seat again and waited.
I don't want to do this, he told himself with a clenched fist.
It's the only way. You have to, or you're on the street. Remember that… it's just business.
Marc closed his eyes, waiting for the phone to chirp, which he knew shouldn't be long. And it wasn't.
"Hi, babe. You have a pen?" Joshua was brusquer this time, more the business man, and the campy phrases faded as he settled into hard business. "You have a friend waiting at the Target Motor Inn, not far from you. You're just up in Salem, you said? It's room 2216. You know the Target, right?"
"Yeah, the River Road exit off 93," Marc replied, scribbling the number. "Anything I should know?"
"The usual stuff, the usual fee, and your usual cut. If he wants anything else, have him call me and we'll work it out. And Marc? Remember, don't even think of freelancing your own deal. You've got about forty minutes to get there." Josh paused. "You willing to do some extra stuff this time around? I got an easy one if you do. I can set you up with an extra fee for a guy in Wilmington, if you'll take a bare-bottom and a facial. He's cool, we've done him before - he'll only use his hands, no paddles or anything. Terry usually takes him but he wants someone different this time."
Marc swallowed. "I don't do that stuff but…" He weighed the pros and cons. "How much extra?"
"Fifty. On top of the usual for head, and your time. He won't care if you don't drop a load, but he does like tears and begging. Terry says he'll really get off fast if you try to break away, and he allows a light slap across the face a few times. It's found money, Marc. He always pays for three hours, never lasts much over one, and then sends you off - slam, bam, thank you, Sam."
Marc closed his eyes. "Can I tell you after the first appointment?"
Joshua hesitated but agreed. "Alright. Now hurry up - this one's panting. He won't care if you're early. He's a regular, but I don't think you know him. The boys say he's gonna wanna be top and bottom for this, and that's already figured into the price. He plays nice, so don't worry. Ciao, baby."
The line went dead and Marc switched off. He started the car and slowly rolled out of the parking lot. Speedy Boys' lot emptied onto a lightly-traveled side road that eventually brought him back to the Interstate after a single quick left, and he escaped the two miles of stop-and-go traffic that he would have encountered if he'd driven to one of the more direct entries to the highway. It didn't take long for the River Road exit to come up, and Marc pulled into the parking lot and headed for the rear, near the dumpsters.
The Target was an older motel, with outdoor entries and ramps. Marc knew it well enough to know that 2216 would be on the second level, facing the parking lot. He sometimes wondered if the Target paid Joshua a kickback for all the bookings. Very few of Joshua's customers wanted to bring their escorts to their own homes, although it occasionally happened. Joshua always set up either the Target off I-93 or the Hampton House off 495. The customer didn't need to worry about the charges showing up on his charge card, either; he always agreed to a flat rate up front which usually included a room, but didn't have to. And Joshua somehow managed to bill it out to a legitimate company known as Team Players, a sporting goods store in nearby North Reading. Marc didn't know what the relationship with Team Players was, and he didn't want to know. Marc didn't even want to know as much about Josh's business dealings as he already did.
He backed into a parking spot near where the motel staff parked… and where there weren't any security cameras. It wasn't a rule, but his car fit in with the mostly-junks that were parked there; it would stand out if he parked closer to the motel. He checked his watch - he still had more than twenty minutes. He adjusted his cap in the mirror, rehearsed his `wide-eyed innocent boy look' and false smile, then he leaned back.
Marc hated Joshua - hated him passionately. But Joshua probably saved him a lot of hardship and trouble. They'd met the previous summer, early in July, when Marc was still underaged and working the fast food place for money that was pocket change, restricted to thirty-two hours a week because of his age. Marc was behind in his rent and had literally nothing left after paying up what he could on that. Stick hadn't said anything to him, but it was just a matter of time. Each week he took Marc's money, nodded, and reminded him he was light. Sometimes he'd throw some work Marc's way to take care of it; and Marc would spend his down time scraping out the crud in the bathrooms. Marc did it even if he didn't like it. But he hated feeling that he owed anyone… and even if Stick said they were square, Marc still tried to pay as much as he could to the manager.
Back in those days, Marc lived on a diet of fast-food burgers and fries from his job; sometimes the chicken, too, but that didn't help his skin much. Everything in the place was cooked with oil or packed in grease. Marc constantly stank of grease and oil; it saturated his clothing, got into his hair and skin. He lost weight, in spite of the high-calorie diet; he began eating less and less, and it was beginning to show. The fine lines of his face were suddenly gaunt, and his pants were loose. When he did have extra money he bought fruits… but that was only when he had the money. He was still too thin, still too broke all the time, and hunger, fear and need were always with him. Marc needed a better job or at least some extra income, and one Thursday night, when he was walking the nine blocks down Common Street in Lawrence to the Mid-City, an old Buick pulled up beside him.
Marc turned to the man, expecting to be asked directions. The driver, an older, heavy-set man in his forties, who nodded and rolled down the window. He held up two twenty dollar bills.
Marc gave him an odd look, not comprehending. The man waved the two twenties slightly and held an open fist up to his open mouth and gestured, sliding his hand back and forth, his tongue poking out the left side of his cheek. The boy hurriedly walked away, not saying anything, then he quickened his pace for a block and looked back. The car was still pulled to the curb. The lights flashed briefly.
Forty bucks, he thought. It's not like you've never done what he wants. Forty bucks'll get you clear for the week. You can work off some of the back money you owe Stick, and still have something left.
He turned his head again, saw the lights flash. He stood in profile to the car for a moment, saw it slowly rolling forward down the street. Just be careful, he told himself, and don't do anything too stupid… it'll be okay, just this once. No one will ever know.
Marc slowly walked towards the car. Common was a one-way street, so the driver was on Marc's side. He was old, but not too old. And he didn't look crazy…
The man held up the two twenties again and Marc nodded. He heard the passenger door unlock and walked around to the other side of the gold Buick and slid in. They turned up Appleton Street, which bordered the North Common, and paused at the lights at Haverhill St. The 60's concrete horror of a library sat on the right, the old Greco Roman façade in yellow brick of Lawrence High on their left. They continued for another block, turned, and pulled into the service alley of the Oliver Middle School. The man wanted Marc to wear the paper cap. It took them all of fifteen minutes to finish, and Marc refused the ride back to Common Street.
As the car pulled away, Marc spat on the sidewalk, and began his slow walk back to what was now home. Then his stomach turned, and Marc wretched up what little was in him. On the walk back, even with his head down, Marc noticed for the first time how many people walked around after eleven at night - many of them women who saw his uniform and assumed his age and ignored him. He spotted a few young men here and there… and a few of them easily younger than himself. Not many, but a few. They avoided Marc and each other. They watched the street for traffic and would casually saunter out by the curb if a car drove by. So did some of the women.
Marc kept his head down and walked. At the Mid-City, he handed Stick one of the twenties `on account' and raced up to his room, where he tore off his clothes and then raced for the common shower and spent almost a half hour under the jets. Once again he felt his stomach churn, but nothing came up this time except yellowish fluids. He leaned back to let the flowing water rinse out his mouth, grateful for the gentle warmth of the spray. Then he dried off, crept quietly to his room and curled up on the bed with the light off. He didn't sleep much that night.
The following week the Buick and its driver pulled up again, and Marc nodded to the same man and just walked around to the un-locked passenger door. Marc pulled on the fresh paper hat he'd grabbed before leaving work and they drove to the same spot behind the Oliver. This time he accepted the ride back to Common Street. Marc was still nervous, but he didn't get sick. He walked the short distance to the Mid-City and handed Stick another twenty "on account", then walked quickly to his room to strip down. He did take another long shower, and allowed the water to rinse out his mouth, but his stomach didn't turn.
The third Thursday Marc walked home slowly. Cars passed, some slowed, and he knew he was being looked over, but he never saw his `friend.' He paused a few times in profile when cars passed; some slowed, but no one stopped. Marc got back to the hotel and nodded to Stick, but had no money for him. He showered quickly, then began digging through his clothing, trying to find a few things he hoped would give him the right look. He found a pair of khaki board shorts and a red top, put a little gel in his hair, then he slipped his feet into a pair of sandals and headed for the lobby. He felt the manager's eyes boring into his head when he left the hotel, and began re-tracing his route backwards to Common Street, until he came to the Common itself and turned right to circle it.
Cars came by. Again, some seemed to slow and each time Marc would turn and try to look in the window, although blinded by the light. He passed other figures, mostly women, who would giggle as he passed. One boy maybe two years younger than himself, Marc figured, was sitting on top of the low, ornamental granite gate to the park, swinging his legs. He wolf-whistled when Marc walked by. Marc heard the word `faggot' after the whistle and quickened his pace. He heard the kid's laughter. Further down he passed another form, laid out on the low granite wall. Whoever it was appeared to be about his age. He twitched and murmured things - Marc couldn't tell what - but the boy had lines of sweat streaking his light clothes and running down his face. It was July, but it was a cool evening…Marc recognized the tell-tale signs of someone strung out, and didn't want any part of it. He quickly turned the corner, found himself some low granite wall, and sat, head down, waiting.
Less than five minutes later, a car pulled up, fast. Marc looked up, more than a little fear on his face. It was a white Oldsmobile. He could see a male form behind the wheel, and the window rolled down. There was music playing, but it didn't shatter the air or throb. Marc sighed with relief when he saw the man was neither too old, too fat, or too ugly. He waited, not certain what came next.
The man sat and stared, his expression masked by the shadows in the car. "Well?" came the voice.
Marc felt foolish. Maybe he had this wrong. "Well, what?"
He saw the head shaking, then the head being lifted to what should have been the heavens but was only the roof of an Oldsmobile. "God, they're scarping the lily white suburbs these days, and they still sound dumber than the kids on the short yellow bus." He looked back at Marc. " `Well,' as in are you available well?"
Marc nodded. The figure waited, tapping the steering wheel impatiently.
"Look, kid," he said. "This is where some salesmanship comes in, I hate to say." His voice wasn't exactly free of sarcasm. "You're supposed to at least walk over to the car so I can get a look at the merchandise. You're supposed to smile and look cute, instead of being scared shitless. Once the tour down the runway is over, you lean in my window and make nice-nice about the weather, and how maybe it might be nice to have a little party. But I guess you haven't worked that part out yet, so just tell me: whaddya do, and whaddya get?"
Marc stumbled to the car, feeling as stupid as he was sure he looked, and got a better look at the driver - somewhere in his thirties, he figured. The black hair was wavy and carefully arranged, gelled into place. He had a sharp nose that matched the rest of the man's features, but they were far from unpleasant. The man was heavy-set, but his mouth had a lively smile, with generous lips. His voice was mid-range, and somehow Marc was sure the campy, Nelly tone was a put-on. The eyes were dark, and he could see them shift, taking in every move around him.
Marc shrugged. "Uh... forty. Just head. I don't swallow."
The man grimaced and shook his head again. Marc thought maybe the price was too high. "I could take thirty," he said hopefully.
Now the driver drummed his fingers in a tattoo on the steering wheel. "Honey, you got less street-smarts than anyone I ever saw," the man said disgusted, reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out two twenty dollar bills. "Get in. You were all set for the forty in the first place. Don't be so quick to give discounts."
Marc slid into the front seat, and the car pulled away from the curb. The two twenties were beside him on the seat and Marc reached over for them when he heard the sound of the window rolling up and the door locking. The man looked over at him.
He smiled, and Marc wasn't sure but he thought for a moment the teeth reflected in the street lights. "I see that it's just sunk into that pretty head of yours that this is kind of a dangerous job. See," he added in a conspiratorial voice, "I might be Jeffrey Dahmer's soul mate, looking for a chicken plate. Ever hear of him? He liked having cute little boys for dinner… literally. You know - like with fava beans?"
Marc swallowed hard, and he felt the sweat on his forehead and running down his back. The man drove quick and sure, and suddenly they pulled up in front of the Lawrence Police Station. Marc clenched his eyes shut.
"Oh, shit," the boy moaned. "Shit - you're a cop!"
The shark grin again, a hand on his thigh. "No, sweetie, but I could have been… and you should've asked that before you did something as dumb as offer a service with a price tag attached. Basic salesmanship, hon! Qualify your customer. I came down here tonight because one of my spotters said there was some new talent working the block with a sign saying `dumb bitch' stapled to his head, and I guess he was right. But he also said you were cute, even if you are stupid, and my customers don't really care how you did on your SATs." The man looked him up and down, as if he were checking out a veal cutlet behind glass. "Mmmm-hmmm - you got the right face, the body isn't bad even if it is kind of skinny, and I could see the way you were flopping around in those shorts you got more than the basic equipment to work with."
He raised an eyebrow and nodded approvingly. "I also know good stuff when I see it, and not just in the looks department. Most people would assume those shorts you're in were Kmart knock-offs, but I know Lauren when I see it, and those aren't the cast-offs you find at the crap stores. That shirt may look cheap, but I know what that look goes for, too." The man smiled, and his voice took on a friendlier tone. "You ain't street smart, hon, but you talk right when you open that pretty mouth, and you got class when you move - I was watching you before you stumbled over those big feet of yours to my car. But you won't last long on the street before some loony-toon kicks the hell out of you or the cops get you… and after that, you're no good to me with a few teeth missing because you said `no' to Bubba and his buds in the cell, or came onto the wrong guy on the street. So, I'll lay it out for you."
Marc looked around uncomfortably. The Lawrence Police Station was one of the few buildings in the otherwise-abandoned downtown area that was still properly lit up after dark. "Shouldn't... shouldn't we drive someplace a little more p-private?" the boy stammered.
The man threw back his head back and laughed. "Oh, honey, that is good! This is Lawrence, kid. The cops in there are too busy looking for candy wrappers to trip over so they can go out on disability, and the ones out on patrol are parked in the back of the lot, resting up for their over-time details in the morning. We could have an orgy over there on the front steps, and no one in there would even notice!"
He turned his slender frame body around in the seat, and leaned forward, his face only a few inches away from the boy's. Marc was certain he could feel the eyes drilling right into his soul... and that with a little prompting, the teeth that showed in the man's gleaming smile could rip into flesh without hesitation.
"My name is Joshua Blackenshep," the man said cheerfully. "But call me Josh. You might say I'm in... merchandising."
Marc slid away a few inches, shaking. No matter what the man said, he didn't like sitting in front of the police station. He looked Joshua and his car over. The clothes were like the car - expensive, but not flashy, just a big step above regular. "You don't look like a pimp," he said, trying to make it sound matter-of-fact.
Joshua sat, chuckling, and laid a long, graceful hand on Marc's thigh. One glance told him the man's fingernails were well-manicured.
"Tell you what, honey," the man said gleefully. "After this, we'll drive this rental back and pick up my passion-pink Mercedes with the leopard-skin seats and the solid gold trim work. I'll even put on my best patent-leather red suit and my white crocodile shoes. Oh, and let's not forget the six pounds of gold draped around my neck and the rings the size of jumbo eggs!" He shook his head and laughed, as if he'd just told the most hilarious joke in the world.
Marc managed a weak smile.
"Of course I don't look like a pimp!" Josh chortled. "This isn't a Baretta re-run on TV-Land, hon! I look like a guy in his mid-thirties who drives a nice but not-too-flashy car, and dresses nice but casual. I live in a nice suburban house sans boys in Speedos dancing around the pool, and nobody's turning tricks in the front yard. You don't stay in my kind of business very long if you're stupid. I run a good agency. I keep my boys low profile, and no one takes any risks. We just make lots of money, honey!"
He reached out and gently traced a finger down from Marc's shoulder to his chest. "You're not a runaway," he said thoughtfully. "They're either drugs, thugs, or jerks. You're a throw-away. And this isn't your idea of a good way to make money, either. Everything about you screams that. But that's what makes you worth it to me."
Josh took his hand away, then patted Marc's shoulder reassuringly. "Relax, sweetie. If I want a dumb street whore I can have that little piece of meat stretched out on the wall around the corner, back at the park. Remember him? That's Jason. He's got track marks all over his arms and he pops any type of pill he can lay his hands on. Mind you, I'm not against drugs... but I can't have it show. Bad for business. Young, innocent, and a sense of class are great commodities. And you can make a lot more than just givin' head for forty bucks on a dark street. I can set you up, kid. I've got a few guys your age set-up in nice apartments. They live well, they have lots of money, and they only work out calls. They dress nice and they live nice."
Marc nodded nervously, and realized he was sweating heavily under his arms. He cursed himself for not double-checking his deodorant earlier, back in his apartment.
"Danny said he noticed you a few weeks ago," Josh continued, "walking back from work. He thought you were working it the first few times, but then he realized you weren't - you were just some tired kid walking home. And home is a dumpy resident hotel called the Mid-City. He tested you out and you bit. Well, maybe you didn't bite," he said with a chuckle. "But you certainly sucked - and maybe not too good the first time, but the second time you were more relaxed. He knew you were no stranger to it. I mean, I don't insist that my boys be gay. I've got a few straight guys working for me. But it does help if you at least like what you do, if not who. I can set you up real nice."
Marc looked the man over cautiously. Josh didn't sell it in glossy terms, but he made it sound like a casual business proposition, like he was just selling magazine subscriptions. Tempting... then something flashed in his mind from childhood. He wasn't religious, but he remembered odds and ends. "All this, I promise you, and more..." - or words to that effect.
The boy shook his head nervously. "I work, and I don't mind working. It's just... just..." he shook his head, trying to find the words.
Joshua smiled. "I wish I could gather all the homeless, gay kids under one roof, sometimes..." he said in a dreamy voice. Then he laughed, and his tone changed again. "But if I did, I'd have to build a brothel as big as Maryland. Okay, you don't want a contract with me. But tell you what - I can broker you as a freelance. You will make us both money, and a shitload better than you're doing now, and no risks from cops or loonies. Even these assholes over there," he gestured with his thumb to the police station. "They get off their asses every now and then and round up a few street people when the newspaper bitches loud enough. And white bread like you wouldn't last ten minutes in a jail cell. And if you think the cops would protect your delicate derrière, think again. They might watch, and for sure laugh, but they wouldn't step in... not for a piece of street meat. So honey, what do you say?"
Marc face reddened momentarily, then he looked around through the tinted windows at the decaying city, and thought of his cramped room. He swallowed, hard. Just the thought of finding himself without even that room in the near future terrified him. Even his lousy job would be in jeopardy then. Who would want to hire someone who couldn't clean himself or his clothes working around food? He already knew what hunger felt like... and desperation and fear were what got him to where he was now.
They worked out an arrangement. Marc remained a part-timer, doing a few calls now and then, just to make ends meet. The other things sounded good, but Marc also knew they were a velvet trap. He did what he did to eke out a life - no more. When the time came a few months ago, he took the job at New Era, he said a quiet good-bye to Josh, since no strings were ever attached. And Joshua's taunt echoed over the phone.
"Let me know when you run short of cash, hon. You're a good employee, and I'll always have work for you. You'll be back - just you wait and see."
And Josh was right - like when he needed a new exhaust system only a few weeks ago. And now, when the brakes were ready to fall off his car.
It's just this weekend, maybe part of next, he told himself. Then I'm out of it.
Until the next time something goes to hell, an inner demon added.
Marc sat up and checked his watch. Right on time, he thought, then hopped out of the car, making sure his Cocks hat was in place. He found 2216 and knocked, opening his eyes to what he hoped was a child-like innocence, and a slightly goofy smile on his lips. He knew the drill. The door opened. He froze. So did the man on the other side of the door.
Marc forced the ready smile back, looking at the face of his ninth-grade English teacher. He did have to stifle a real laugh. "Hey, Mr. Timmony. Josh said you might be able to give me some extra help for my College Boards next week."
* * * * *

An hour later, Drew felt the foot on his thigh and looked up. The book was in his lap, and he was aware that the joints in his legs were locked up. His backside was sore. He stared up into the grim face of Marc Wildon.
"What are you doing here, Drew?" he asked, scowling.
Drew stretched and awkwardly stood up, grabbing the door jamb for support when his cramped legs threatened to buckle. "Sitting here waiting for you," he said, his voice mixed with anger and concern. "Where the hell have you been? I been waiting here since before eight! And I saw your car parked outside on the way in."
Marc stood with his key and Drew stepped back. He jiggled the old wood door until the lock gave with a heavy clunk and they entered the room. Marc turned on the light, then eased the door felt like a real coffee and a corn muffin, and there's a place about a block away, so I walked... you must've just missed me. I told you I had to have the car looked at, remember?" He paused, playing with his keys in his right hand. "Speaking of which, I didn't see yours out there."
Drew shrugged. "I borrowed Nanny's Saturn - man, talk about your granny cars! I thought if you saw mine... well, never mind. I figured you were sleepin' or just bein' an asshole and you wouldn't open the door, so I camped out here and read a book she had layin' on the car seat. I brought it in just in case..."
Marc stood with his back to him, not hearing a word. He'd tossed the keys down carelessly and was emptying his pockets. I need a long, hot shower and some fresh clothes, he thought with a sigh.
Drew came up behind him, and tried to slip his arms around Marc's waist to draw him close. "Baby, we gotta talk," he began.
Marc spun around and pushed - hard - at Drew and jumped away. Drew stumbled but quickly righted himself. He saw a look of anger flash across the boy's usually happy face and stepped back quickly.
"Jesus, man," Drew sputtered. "I mean, I know you're mad, baby - but... Jesus!"
As quickly as it came, the anger ebbed away, and Marc turned an impassive face away from him. He began to strip off his maroon sweatshirt. "Sorry," he muttered. "You kinda took me by surprise." Marc tossed the shirt onto the back of his chair, then twisted his face up and looked at Drew. "And do me a favor, okay, Drew? Cool it with the `baby' shit. I... I don't really want to hear that kind of talk right now."
Drew stood, his hands limp by his side. He looked down at the floor and shook his head, then looked up at Marc again. Marc avoided looking him in the face, and began to slowly undo the laces of his Nikes. "But you're my boyfriend," Drew said plaintively, in a small, tremulous voice. "I... I love you."
Marc had his back to Drew again, fumbling with his belt. He stopped and looked straight ahead at the wall, then closed his eyes. "You don't even know me, Drew. Any more than I know you. Last night proved that to me - that I don't really know you." He turned back to Drew, his hands still on his belt. Drew saw the coldness in Marc's eyes, the lack of expression on his face. Drew shuffled uneasily and looked away. "And it's not just you, Drew," Marc continued in a low voice. "There's a lotta things you don't know about me... things I don't want to get into. Not right now, anyway." Things you don't wanna know, the demon voice reminded him.
Marc paused, then looked away, keeping his face a blank. "I think we need a time out for awhile."
Drew snapped his mouth shut and focused his eyes on Marc. "Jesus Christ, gimme a break, will you? I wasn't even fifteen when all that shit with Alan happened! I got scared and I did something stupid. That's all there was to it."
Marc shook his head. "I know that. But I'm not just talking about you and Alan - I'm talking about us. You and I need a time out. We just met... and you're already sayin' that you love me? Gimme a break, dude. I just need some room to breath." Marc stood, fidgeting with his hands. He suddenly felt uncomfortable dropping his pants in front of Drew. "Look, let me just have this week, okay? I know we made some plans and stuff for today and tomorrow but... I think we should call `em off."
"You mean call us off!" Drew snapped back, his features hardening. "What the fuck did Alan say to you?" he demanded.
Marc sighed, slipped down on the couch and began stripping off his socks. "Alan wouldn't even talk about it much - he says it's all in the past for him. He's not anxious to be around you, but he doesn't want to make trouble for you, either." Marc eyed Drew and smiled. "Alan's a strong guy, Drew. Lucky for you he doesn't want to fight you. I don't know what he was like before, but nothin's gonna stop that little guy from getting what he wants anymore. I don't know what happened between you two, at least not all of it. But like I said, you and I just need to stand back a little." He stood, his fingers still fumbling with his loosened belt. "Would you mind leaving? I need to take a shower, and I want to lay down for awhile. I need to be alone."
Drew hesitated, gave Marc a pained look, and nodded. He paused at the door. "Can I at least call later?"
Marc shook his head. "No. I don't want to talk with you for now, and I gotta hang onto my minutes. I'll call you next week, okay? I told you I need some time."
He watched Drew's slow walk to the door, his hand trembling as he clutched the knob. Drew looked back, and his eyes pleaded. Marc thought of an old song he'd heard on the radio... "no one knows what it's like to be the sad man... behind blue eyes..." He couldn't remember much more than that, but he looked into Drew's deep, blue eyes and saw the sadness there. He forced a smile on his face, with only partial success. "Next week, Drew. I promise - okay?"
Drew nodded and left. Marc waited for a few moments, long enough for Drew to make it to the stairwell, then slowly walked to the door and flipped the lock. He stripped off the rest of his clothes and kicked them into a laundry basket that overflowed. That shit can wait. Not gonna be much time for laundry the next couple days.
Marc took a long, hot shower, just letting the water wash over his body, and luxuriated in the clouds of steam that held him like a moist blanket. When his feet and hands began to prune, he shut down the water and eased the curtain open on its circular steel frame and carefully stepped out of the old claw-foot tub and onto the faded linoleum floor. He eyed himself in the mirror and decided he needed a shave for the second time that day. Even his thin beard had to be taken care of; he had to keep boyishly smooth. Josh's customers definitely wanted boys more than they wanted young men. Not for the first time, Marc wondered just how big a stable Josh had... and how low the ages ran. Joshua swore he didn't deal in what he called "serious chicken," but he never exactly defined what that age-range was. Friggin' guy never had any problem sendin' me out on dates when I was underage, he thought grimly.
Marc deftly shaved his upper lip and chin, then looked over his body in the mirror. He didn't have much hair on his chest, but he definitely looked closer to 20 than his prospective clients would probably like. He took a pair of barber scissors and snipped away most of the small blond tuft in the center of his chest and the thin, whitish line that lead down to his navel, then he wet the area again, applied shaving gel, then carefully scraped away with the Bic shaver to get it as smooth as he could. He looked down again.
"Almost forgot the nipples," he said out loud. He washed over the razor, then lightly shaved around the area, allowing the few strands of blond hairs to drop away, taking care not to nick himself. Once done, he put down the shaver and gently rubbed his fingertips over the area.
"Shit," he murmured. "Still not good enough."
A quick trip to his dresser and some rummaging brought out a bottle of Nair - "for totally touchable skin," promised the label - which he applied to the freshly-shaven spots, then to his inner thighs and a small spot between his cheeks. He winced slightly when he felt the mild tingling sensation, especially in the spots he'd just shaved. He sighed, then looked over what Drew always called his `treasure trail' and repeated the process. He wasn't sure what he would tell Drew; his boyfriend had liked taking the thin, golden hairs between his lips and tugging on them as he worked his way down when they made love.
Gee, Marc, said his internal demon. How `bout tellin' him the truth - that his `baby' is a whore? When were you gonna tell him that, huh?
Marc stared at the mirror, unblinking. He knew the answer. Never. You thought it was all behind you... but it's just startin' up all over again. You can never be what Drew thinks you are. You've got to tell him before this goes any further; he already means more to you than you thought. It'd be better if just told him, instead of him finding out from somebody else. Maybe I'll lose him, but at least he won't think I tried to make a fool of him. And better to find out from me than have someone else tell him... like I found out about him.
He finished gently shaving his stomach, being careful to shave with the hairs to avoid getting any razor bumps, then grabbed a pair of scissors and began a careful trim of his crotch. Joshua had been after him to shave it completely, but he balked at going that far. Marc settled for just a trim and shape, then defined it with the razor on his lower belly. He finished by carefully shaving his balls, taking care to go slowly and avoid any nicks. He wasn't looking forward to the inevitable itching when it began to grow in again. He took a wet towel and wiped away the loose hair, then felt the newly-baby-smooth skin with his fingers and nodded satisfactorily. Once glance in the mirror confirmed the effect: he looked very much as he had at 14, maybe 15, tops. And that's a 15 year-old kid with a really big dick, he thought. He permitted himself a small grin.
As a last touch, Marc picked up a tube of salve with cortisone, and rubbed it into the freshly cleaned-up areas of his body. It would help the skin to heal faster and soften it as well. Finally he tossed the disposable razor into the trash bag and pulled on his old terry cloth robe. The Nair found its way back to his drawer and the cortisone ointment next to his keys and wallet. He was sure he'd need it later. Clients may sure as hell want their merchandise smooth, but they seldom bothered to shave extra close themselves. And not every client just wanted his own dick sucked - especially the married ones.
Marc grabbed his phone as he passed what served as his kitchen table and returned to the couch. He punched in Josh's number, got the machine, then sat back and waited. Ten minutes later his phone began to chirp - Josh, of course.
"You're on your way, hon. Great, getting our friend to re-up for an extra hour! He said you're every fantasy he's ever had."
Marc was sure that rutting the hell out of one of his students - even an ex-student - was very high up on Roger Timmony's fantasy list.
They arranged a late afternoon booking, again at the same motel. Then Josh cut to the chase. "Have you given it some thought - I mean, about the spanker? It pays premium, hon. He books for three, but you can be out of there in half that if you do it right. Trust me, once he's shot, he mellows and loses interest. You get paid for three, plus extras, and I can get you another appointment. Easy money, honey! All you have to remember is - tears, begging, and a little crawling."
Marc swallowed hard. Fantasy role-play was one thing, but... Mr. Timmony being his teacher didn't come too hard, but then neither did Mr. Timmony. "Yeah... okay, Josh," he said tonelessly. "But that's the only one, okay? No extra bookings like that this weekend."
Josh chuckled. "Chicken, would your Uncle Josh do that to you?"
He winced. You'd fuck your own mother for ten bucks. "I - I just don't want that kinda stuff. Besides, once I got enough, I'm out. And I'm keeping track, Josh," he added bitterly.
Josh paused, and when he spoke his voice was ice. "Now, listen - I never, ever, shorted you, Marc. You know I don't play that way. This is business, but we need to trust one another."
"Is that why you always warn me never to freelance a side deal?" Marc shot back. "Trust is a two-way street."
There was a pause, then a gentle laugh. "Touché, chicken. You're right. And you've never crossed me, even if you weren't the most steady employee in the flock. No, I know... you only do this when you have to - we had that understanding. But remember, this is the time of your life when you're golden. You could really make the most of it."
Yeah, Marc thought warily. Livin' in one of your apartments, wearin' clothes you pay for... and all I gotta do is screw anyone you tell me to. Then I'm washed up at twenty-two... assumin' I don't catch anything between now and then.
"I know you've got my best interests at heart, Josh," Marc lied. "It's just... it's not the route I want to go, y'know?"
Josh laughed, and Marc wondered for a moment if it was real. "Okay, hon. Four o'clock at the Target, room 1244. It's two hours, and he'll have a friend. And yes, you'll get double. That's on the outside corridor again. Same deal as this morning - look nice and boyish - and make sure you wear hoops in both ears! And some nice, flashy silver chains - I know you've got a couple." The man giggled for a moment. "Damn," he said. "Too bad I can't get you to pierce something besides your ears. Anyway, I'll confirm Wilmington and set up a time. Oh - and Chicken?"
God, I hate being called that. "Yeah?"
Josh giggled that irritating little high-pitched laugh of his. ."Welcome back, little boy."
* * * * *
Drew stretched out on his bed and sighed. Sunday morning - a good, almost-spring day. He'd expected it to be a busy one, racing over to Marc's for no better reason than Marc was there and he wasn't. He debated going over anyway to see if he could reason with him again, but he held back. Marc made it clear... he needed `time.' Time to think over what a lousy bastard I am, he thought bitterly. He's right, too. I am a lousy bastard.
He heard a knock and he eyed the clock. Eight-thirty. Guess we start early today, he thought to himself. Drew pulled the blanket up to his chest, checked the sides quickly to make sure nothing was exposed. He still felt guilty sleeping naked for some reason. "C'mon in, Nanny."
The door eased open and Rita's head popped through. "Guess you're decent, then. I didn't want to just barge in on you." She eyed him suspiciously. "How'd you know it was me?"
Drew snorted. "'Cuz Dad would've kicked it a few times and hollered instead of knockin'. Plus there's that eau de Marlboro you wear every day."
The old lady smiled archly, then walked in and sat on the bed next to her grandson. "You're right about your father," she said, narrowing her eyes, "but you can lose the crack about the cigarettes, okay? Especially since somebody got into my butt drawer the other night."
For a moment, Drew thought about throwing it back at her by pointing the finger at the main culprit, but ratting out his father didn't have much appeal. It would leave the door open to too many questions. The question of Alan was one he'd been dealing with much too often. And his father had said to drop it in front on her...
"I'm not going to pry," she continued, intending to do exactly that. "But it seems to me you're awfully housebound for someone who's got a... er - special friend one town over."
Drew tried not to react beyond a blink. "Boyfriend, Nan. He's my boyfriend."
The old woman twisted her lips and nodded. "Okay, boyfriend. Give me some time on that, okay? It still doesn't come that easy to me. You know it's not because I disapprove. But it's still a hard word for me to think of with you, is all."
Drew nodded. "But you're not happy with it, right?"
Rita sighed, then fished nervously for the package of cigarettes that wasn't in her pocket. "Well, I'm not unhappy. But I'm not about to do cartwheels, either. I'd rather you weren't what you are, only because you've got a harder road than most people. But it's your own life, and you have to find what's right for you." She shrugged her shoulders. "Life's got enough crap in it without other people tryin' to make you be something you're not and can't ever be."
She looked Drew in the eye when she spoke. He was sure it was the truth. "And I've also noticed a big change in you, too, honey," she said quietly. "You've been a selfish, unspeakable little jerk since you got into high school."
Drew started to interrupt, but she held up her hand to silence him. "Sorry," she continued quickly, "but it's the truth. Still, for the last few weeks I've seen a nicer and more considerate kid who actually cares about something else besides himself for a change. And I like that."
Rita paused, and rubbed her chin unconsciously. "You stood up to your father knowing it could cost you. And this week you stood up for Alan, too, and I thought that was just as good." She gave him a sharp-eyed look. "I'm not sure what went down between you two boys. I know it was more than just breaking off a friendship, and not much more, but I know this - he's hiding something about you from us, meaning your Dad and myself. And no," she said, holding up her hand again and shaking her head. "I'm not even going to ask about what. For some reason, Alan was terrified you'd find out about his last night with his father. He begged your father and me never to tell you what happened the night we got him out of there," she said, using her jaw to point to the Curran house, barely visible from Drew's window. "Your father caved, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. But Alan wanted to protect you from something and that's good enough for me. And," she added pointedly, "probably good for you, too."
Drew nodded and sighed. "It's something I've been trying to make up to him, Nan - honest. But... well, I guess you can say it kinda overflowed, and now it affects me an' Marc, too. He's pissed - he's totally pissed-off."
Rita nodded her head. "I don't doubt it. But so he's pissed off! Do something about it! Whatever it is won't go away. Give him some time to come down from whatever caused it first, but don't just let it slide. And if it's something that comes from Alan, you have to settle with him, first. Maybe he can even help."
Drew made a grim face. Yeah, I can see Alan wantin' to help me. "You think so?"
Rita nodded. "He and Eileen live over on Oakcrest in Methuen. It's one of those older developments off Oak Street, leading out to the Loop. I'll write the address down for you with some directions and the phone number if you like."
He cocked his head. "How come you know all that?"
Rita got up from the edge of the bed slowly and sighed. "Because he's as much mine as you are, and I've kept in touch with him regular. I'm the closest thing that kid had to a mother growin' up, and I wouldn't let go of him any more than I'd let go of you - that's why. Just because no one told you about it doesn't mean it's not possible."
She continued walking to the door. "Now," she said, a little louder. "Drag that can of yours off the sheets and get cleaned up. On second thought, no - don't go getting up. You're naked, remember? I'm not really in the mood to relive your childhood when you thought it was funny to streak the back yard with Alan."
Drew stayed put, but thought of something. "By the way, where's Dad?"
Rita rolled her eyes. "Your father claimed he was going to church, but unless Father Mendoza holds service at Rosie's Diner, I'm sure he was lying." She tsk-tsked. "I gave up on him even before he was your age - not that a little time in church would hurt you, either." With that, she quietly shut the door.
Drew grabbed a robe to pull over himself. "I don't see you all dressed-up for church, either," he called after her, with a small grin.
Rita paused down the hallway. "You get an exemption at age 65," she tossed over her shoulder. "Getting old does have a few advantages. You guys will just have to pray for yourselves now - I'm too over the hill for it. Meanwhile, I've got some coffee on, and I picked up some blueberry muffins yesterday. I'll heat one up with butter for you when you've showered."
He heard her going down the stairs, and Drew got ready for the day. In less than forty-five minutes he was cutting through the back roads of North Andover, nearing the town lines. A few minutes after that he was on Rte 110 in Methuen, keeping his eyes pealed for Oak Street.
* * * * *

Alan opened a bleary eye and took in the view. David's face hovered over him, and he could feel half the boy's weight pressing down on him. David was in a crouch. Alan's body was small enough to be covered by him, like a baby bear completely engulfed by its parent.
"Mornin', Toto," he said with a grin.
Alan blinked the early-morning film out of his eyes, and through the slits he barely made out David's features. Part of him cursed what was before him. David had probably just awakened, and except for slightly rumpled hair - which on David was "cute" - his boyfriend looked as if he'd stepped right out of a fashion magazine. Alan knew only too well what he looked like first thing in the morning.
"Toto was a dog," Alan's voice rasped.
David smirked. "Well, last night we did a pretty good imitation of two dogs."
Alan chuckled. "Hey, I wasn't the one with a pillow under my belly and my ass in the air - three times!"
David wiggled his eyebrows. "Hmmm... maybe it's time for some turnabout."
He faked a wrestling hold and Alan braced for it. Then David brought his hands in quick around Alan's middle and switched to a tickle. Alan shrieked - embarrassing himself at the girlish squeal - and tried to draw up in a ball.
"You're such a gu-urllll!" David taunted, taking advantage of the situation. He had Alan's wrists pinned above his head and leaned down to give the smaller boy a kiss.
Alan swung his head to one side as David leaned down. "No you don't!" he warned. "I know what your mouth tastes like in the morning. And I can guess about mine."
David held Alan's hands tighter still, and stuck out his tongue. "Tick-Tack," he said, pronouncing it `Yick-Yack.'
Alan smiled. "Gimme!"
David brought Alan's hands together and held them with one hand, fumbling on the night stand for the plastic container. He spilled it to one side, grabbed one of the green mints, then popped it into his mouth. He leaned into Alan's face and stuck out his tongue with the candy cradled in the tip. Alan giggled, brought his head up and flicked it off with his own tongue.
"Now suck!" David ordered severely. The he began to giggle again. "Yeah, right. Like you gotta be told when to suck."
Alan tried not to laugh in his face. "I am so gonna wail your ass!"
David wiggled his eyebrows. "Uh-uh. Last night was about my ass; this morning is all about your ass." He leaned down and gave Alan a deep kiss, probing the inside of his mouth. Alan responded by thrusting up slightly, and was rewarded with something firm poking his belly. They were still under the blanket, still naked from the night before. Alan sucked on the tongue that probed him, and, unable to free his hands to rub the smooth body, he settled for trying to thrust his own up to it. They made light contact and David gradually eased his weight on top of Alan, and loosened his grip. Alan's hands were free to explore.
He started at the small of David's back, pressing the flesh down firmly onto his as he spread his hands down over his boyfriend's back side, while at the same time arching his own body up hard. David moaned and ground down. He had to break the kiss - Alan was just too short for them to connect at both the groin and the mouth for too long with any degree of comfort, at least in this position - and Alan thrust his face into David's neck, beginning to gently suck the flesh there. David groaned - muttered something about "leaving marks" - and then grabbed Alan around the waist and twisted their bodies onto their sides. This way, he could kiss Alan freely on the mouth, his own hands could wander, and they could also press themselves together easily. Alan slow-humped into David, his legs coiled around the other boy.
David's breathing got heavier, and both of them were flailing off to the side. David came back with a package of condoms and started ripping it open. Alan had the bottle of Wet. Their eyes bore into one another.
Just as they leaned together, they stopped. Three rings from the doorbell, followed by rapid-fire knocking. Alan fell back on the bed in a heap and swore.
"He plans it. I know he does," Alan grumbled.
Dave looked at Alan and knitted his forehead. "Who does?"
"Chris! Who the hell else could it be? He's got fuckin' radar when it comes to us havin' sex."
David got up from the window and peaked out the window. "I don't think so. There's a red Thunderbird out in the driveway."
Alan shook his head and threw a pillow at David, who caught it off the back of his head. "What the hell was that for?" he said, grimacing.
"Idiot. This is my house, remember? The driveway is off the kitchen. That's the neighbor's driveway."
"Oh - duh." David looked up when the doorbell rang again. "You gonna get that or should I?"
Alan grabbed a pair of white boxers laying on the floor and pulled them on, scowling. They were David's and they were loose on him. "I'll get rid of whoever it is... and don't put that away yet!" he added, indicating the unused condom still in David's hand. "I wanna get nailed good at least once before I get screwed at work today."
David pursed his lips and decided against pointing out to Alan he still had the bottle in his hands... or that the shorts needed some adjustments. He slipped his naked body back between the covers and left the opened Trojan package on the sheet beside him. Kid's short, but he ain't small, David mused happily. And after that `idiot' crack, he deserves a li'l payback. David found the thought of Alan flopping out of his boxers when he answered the door particularly funny.
Alan pulled the shade away from the glass and peered out. Drew McKinnon was the last person in the world he expected - or wanted - to see. He clamped his jaw tight and opened the door just enough for his head to stick out. "What are you doin' here? And what do you want?"
Drew looked Alan over, pausing at the boxers. Huh. He's grown some, the last couple years. "Uh, well... I didn't know you were busy. I mean-"
Alan called out over his shoulder. "It's no one, Dave. I'll be right back in." He turned to Drew. "Look, I didn't say anything to your boyfriend the other night, okay Drew? So if you're here to give me some shit..."
Drew shook his head. "No, I'm not here for any trouble, Alan. Marc said you wouldn't say..." His eyes glanced downward and he gestured helplessly. "Dude, you better ask me in. I mean, you're kinda hangin' out of those things."
Alan looked down, flushed, and pushed the door open for Drew. "Shit," he mumbled, tucking himself back in. Why the hell didn't David say something? Without thinking, he dropped the bottle of Wet on the kitchen counter. Drew snickered when he saw the label, but stopped when he caught the expression on Alan's face. It wasn't pleasant.
"Sorry, dude," he said quickly. "I didn't realize you were... uh, busy."
Alan grunted. "Guess you didn't see the black Jetta out front, either," he said impatiently. "Okay, look. What are you doin' here?"
David came out of the rear bedroom, an old plaid robe pulled around him and a sweat shirt in his hand, which he handed to Alan. Drew checked him out without even thinking about it. Oh, man, he thought. Did Alan ever hit the jackpot!
"Hi," David said with a broad smile. "You're Drew, right? The guy that bailed out Toto here last week at school?"
Drew swallowed. The robe was short on David and it wouldn't take much to expose some of the older boy's other secrets. He tried to maintain eye contact "Toto?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
David laughed, and rubbed a hand over Alan's arms. "Yeah, get a look at this guy. Got so much hair on him I gotta brush him out if I wanna give him a ri-" He caught the look of Alan's face and wisely decided to stop talking. Almost. "Well," he said, pursing his lips.. "Guess it's official - I've definitely been hangin' around Chris St. Jacques too long."
"David," Alan began coldly, adjusting the sweatshirt and fixing his boyfriend with a flinty look. "There's a tape laying on the dresser in my room... one of the movies we didn't watch last night. Why don't you go put it on?"
David looked over to Alan, ready to sweep aside the suggestion. He caught the expressionless look on Alan's face, the hard nuggets of his eyes. He froze, his leg half lifted to the chair he was about to lean on. He bit his lower lip and nodded. "Uh-huh. Cool. Get lost, right?"
Alan said nothing, but he did crack a sort-of smile. David nodded and answered his own question. "Yup, get lost. Well. I guess I'll just go on down an' watch a movie. I mean - I can take a hint." He paused, waiting to be contradicted, and wasn't. Finally David pursed his lips and jammed his hands in his pockets. He went skulking off down the hall with his shoulders hunched. "Shit, how comes this never works with Chris?" he grumbled to himself, disappearing into the room and easing the door shut.
Alan watched David disappear, snickered at the routine and then turned back to Drew. The smile drained away. He motioned to one of the kitchen chairs, and took one for himself. "Okay, back to business, Drew. Now tell me... what the hell do you want?" His voice wasn't unpleasant, but it was far from welcoming.
Drew swallowed hard, then fidgeted. "I wanted to tell you again... that I'm sorry."
Alan shook his head. "We been over this and I told you before - sorry don't mean much. So why don't you leave and..."
"And to tell you that... I know," Drew interrupted. "I know how you covered for me that night - the last time you were at your father's house. I know what he did to you because of me, that it was all because of what I said. And I know you still covered my ass with my Dad... and Nanny. And again last night, you could've totally wiped me out with Marc, but you didn't." His voice caught for a moment, then he cleared his throat and continued. "I don't want to just say I'm sorry. I also wanted to say thanks."
Alan studied Drew's face, then shook his head. "It had to be your dad that talked," he said in a low voice. "Nanny would never say anything." Drew nodded his head in agreement.
He continued looking Drew over, like he was a specimen in a science lab. "I didn't do it for you, Drew. I did it `cuz I didn't wanna hurt them. Back then, the only real family I ever had was your father, your grandmother... and - and you. They never stopped caring about me even if you did. They were pissed enough when you dumped me as a friend, but..." He paused and shook his head. "If they found out what you said, I was afraid... afraid that they'd feel bad. And you're important to Marc, too, and I don't want him hurt."
They stared at each other for a moment. Finally, after an uncomfortable silence, Alan gestured towards the door. "Yeah. Well - anyway, thanks for bein' sorry. I'll see you in Brother Matt's office tomorrow, `kay?"
Drew looked down and fingered a pen laying on the table. He looked up over his glasses. "Jesus, cut me some slack, will you? I was only fourteen and I did something stupid because I was afraid. You know I was afraid! Listen to me. I want to be your friend again, Alan. I can't take back what I said, but I can at least stand by you now."
Alan's jaw twitched, and he looked off to the left, then back at Drew again. "Cuttin' me loose was one thing, Drew," he said coldly. "But tellin' everyone else at school I was queer? Just so they wouldn't think you were? Tell me how I'm supposed to forget about that. And what happens when the talk starts this time? And it will start, Drew. Everyone knows you broke off with the bitch, and suddenly you get seen at Tony's Restaurant with me an' two known dikes - and some nice lookin' guy no one knows yet - except sooner or later, someone'll find out who he is, because they know someone in Andover, and why he got chucked out of his house."
Alan folded his arms and gave his former friend a steely-eyed glare. "You gonna walk away again? No, thanks. I'm really not as pathetic as Melissa thought last night. I've got a few real friends... and I've got David. I don't need a backstabber who suddenly wants to buddy up with me."
Drew swallowed hard, and looked Alan in the eye. "I'm not gonna walk out on you, on Marc, or on anyone. Never again. You know as good as I do - Kevin an' Melissa will probably have it all over school on Monday about who I was with. The dumb bitch won't even think of what it says about her until later. I got three months left in that school, and I don't fuckin' care what any of them think anymore. I'll be friends with whoever I wanna be - and yeah, that mean you, too... if you'll let me. People are already wonderin' why I stuck my neck out for you in the first place last week."
Alan considered that and chewed the inside of his cheeks. "Yeah, why did you? It's not like you're exactly known for bein' brave - not for my sake, at least."
"It's because I didn't want to see you hurt!"
Alan's mouth twisted back in a snarl, and he spat out the words in a low growl. "Then why didn't you speak up two goddam years ago?"
"Because I'm a fuckin' coward, Okay?" Drew angrily snapped back. He flung himself back in the chair and extended both arms out from his sides. "Is that what you wanna hear, Alan? Okay - I'm a goddam coward! That's what I told my dad, too. I didn't make any excuses for what I did. There aren't any, and I'm not makin' any to you now! I did it to save my own ass, `cuz I didn't wanna risk bein' the class queer!"
The door to the bedroom suddenly opened and David came out. Drew looked at the features; the `pretty boy' didn't look so easy going now. His mouth was grim and his eyes didn't flinch from Drew's as he walked up, stood behind Alan and placed both hands on the smaller boy's shoulders. "Everything better be okay here," he said in a quiet, deadly voice, then nodded towards the door. "I think maybe you oughta get out. Like now."
Alan reached up with his left hand and rubbed David's right. "We're fine here, David. This'll all be settled in a little bit - don't worry. Just... just go back and watch the movie. I'll be right in."
David ran his free hand over Alan's neck, but never shifted his eyes from Drew. "If something happens out here, make no mistake about it - no one touches Alan. Nobody." He stood for a few seconds more, running his hands over Alan's shoulders and neck, then gently kissed his head. Then he turned and walked down the short hall, hands pushed into the pockets of the robe. There was no humor in his stance this time. He paused before turning into Alan's room to toss a menacing glance at Drew, then disappeared inside.
Drew felt a chill, and tore his eyes away from the empty hall and back to Alan. "So he doesn't know about me, either," he said, matter-of-factly.
Alan shook his head. "No. And he won't ever know until I decide to tell him... if I tell him. Take my word for it - David's someone you don't ever want to piss off."
Drew tried to smile. "Hey, no offense, but I think me and him are pretty equal in the muscle department. I might even have a little on him."
Alan shook his head. "A fist-fight isn't what I'm worried about, Drew. Just... just leave David to me. He'll find out what he needs to know in my own time. If he sees you again, he won't ask you what happened here today. David understands there's things I don't discuss, even with him, and he respects that. You're one of those things that don't get discussed. He won't ask unless I bring it up, and he won't go nosin' around, either."
Drew tried a thin-lipped smile. "But then there's accidents, plus the wrong people mouthin' off, dude. Friday night was proof of that."
Alan tried to shrug it off. "Yeah, well... that's a risk you'll have to take, isn't it? But David just won't find out from me unless I think the time is right, and I'm sure I can keep him calmed down." Alan gave Drew a sharp look. "He takes care of his friends. And he gets real protective about me." He paused. Drew tried not to flinch. "Now... back to where we started. Why are you here? You're safe with Marc as far as I'm concerned - if that's your problem. You want me to talk to him or something? Is that what you want?"
Drew shook his head. "I wouldn't ask that... and I don't think it'd do any good anyway. Even if it would, I still couldn't ask. I'm the only one who can make things right between him an' me, just like I'm the only one who can make things right between us. And that's the only reason I'm here today, Alan - not to get you involved in somethin' else, but to make things right between us, because... dammit..." He cleared his throat, and paused for a moment.
Alan noticed that Drew's eyes looked a little moist from this angle. Naaaa - it's gotta just be the light.
"Because it's the decent thing to do," Drew continued. "I have to start doing the right things from now on. You covered for me with my family. You tried coverin' with Marc the other night, by keepin' silent. You even covered for me just now with David, because you thought I might get hurt. And God knows, you don't owe me a damn thing, but you did it anyway."
Drew stood up, and Alan continued looking down at the table. He reached down and put his hand over Alan's. "A long time ago you told me something and I was too chicken to deal with, and I slapped you and ran away," he said in a thin voice. "I'm gonna tell you what I should have told you then." He bent down and looked the smaller boy right in the eye. "I love you, too, Alan," he said simply. "I guess I always did. Too bad I was too much of an asshole to tell you that when it coulda meant something."
The boy looked away. Drew wasn't sure how Alan felt about what had just been said, but he continued. "Oh, yeah - and you tried to give me another gift that day, too." Drew leaned in and kissed Alan on the cheek, rubbed his shoulder again, then made for the door.
He paused. "And I meant what I said about standin' by you at school from now on. I don't care what anyone says anymore - about me, anyway. If... if you want a ride in tomorrow morning, just let me know, okay? See you around."
Drew opened the kitchen door and disappeared into the March morning.
After the door slammed shut, Alan stared out the window, watching Drew pull back out of the driveway. "Yeah," he said to the empty room. "See ya around."
He sat quietly for a few moments, unsure if he was sad or happy. Finally, he remembered David and walked down the hall. His lover was stretched out on the bed. Alan noted that the TV volume was set down low enough so David could hear, but only if voices rose above normal levels. David's eyes quickly scanned Alan's face for signs of trouble. The boy smiled, pushed his hair back, then slid in beside David, taking his arm and guiding it over his shoulder as he nestled in close.
"You okay, babe?" David asked in a quiet, concerned voice.
Alan brushed his cheek against David's. "Yeah - everything's gonna be alright." He sighed. "Except I gotta be at work in another two hours."
David grinned. "Call `em up and tell `em to stuff it! Lemme talk to Karen at Borders' There's bound to be some jobs up at the Loop that aren't in a sweat shop like Home Station." He licked Alan lightly on the neck to make him smile. "More money and better pay - plus more time with me, maybe. Whaddya say?"
Alan grinned, then leaned in and lightly nipped David on the chin. "I say I don't even bother callin' the mothers... I'd rather stay right here with you."
They settled in comfortably beside each other, just touching lightly from time to time, only half-watching the movie, and Alan just appreciating what it meant to feel loved.
* * * * *
Marc eased into a parking space behind the Mid-City, leaned back in his seat, and sighed. The long, busy weekend was over, and he ran his earnings over in his head. He was still short, he knew that much - short by around eighty dollars. Marc checked his wallet, figuring what he'd need for the week. He'd already bought his food on Friday after work. His rent was covered. He'd get another check on Friday - he hated that New Era only paid once every two weeks, but at least this week was a pay week - and he had some overtime built up. Combined with the pay raise that would kick in soon, life would be a lot easier in the next two weeks. Or would have been, he reminded himself, if it weren't for this damn pile of crap. What the hell is gonna break next?
He had forty dollars left in his wallet. He'd need ten for gas. He carried a lunch every day to save money, but he could do without his morning coffee and muffin off the vending truck that stopped by twice a day. Or Nelson would carry him for the week, he was sure of that. Marc always paid cash, but Nelson kept a "cuff" for a lot of the employees at New Era. He'd already told Marc that he'd add his name to the list if he needed it. As long as he paid up the following Monday after a pay Friday, it was no big deal. Miss that payment without saying something, and Nelson closed the books on credit. Permanently.
That left Marc with an extra thirty dollars, which he could apply to the repairs he needed. Another fifty and I can call in sick and get this thing fixed... and put this shit behind me. I've got enough time for a sick day. Art'll bitch Tuesday but I've never missed a day before, and as long as I call in I'm covered there. And next weekend is all for me and...
The smile faded from his face. Drew?
Marc balled his fist and rubbed it into his forehead. What am I gonna tell Drew? How do you walk up to your boyfriend and say `Hey, by the way babe, I suck cocks for bucks when I need extra money... but don't worry, hon'. I'll always do yours for free.'
The answer seemed easy. You don't tell him. He'd never understand.
Marc creaked open the Cavalier's door and slammed it. He stood for a few minutes, just breathing the brisk night air. The temperature was in the high forties, and it felt good to be able to stand in the open and not be bundled up against the cold or shivering. He did zip up his black leather jacket, since it still wasn't exactly spring, but he felt comfortable enough. He checked his watch again. It was after one, and he knew he'd never make it into work the next day anyway. He'd already tried contacting Joshua a half hour before, when he'd finished with his last client, hoping he'd be able to pick up another before calling it a night, but Joshua never called back. Sunday night was always slow. All the fine business men and professionals were home with their families. Business would be fairly quiet until the next weekend, and Joshua had to keep his regular boys working. Marc was a new face, or at least only an occasional one, and the customers liked the change of pace, so his weekend had been busy enough. History told Marc it would require a convention in the area to pick up any trade between now and next Thursday. He'd have to chance driving in a death trap all week.
Why don't you just ask Drew to help? asked the demon voice. Why didn't you just ask him in the beginning, and you wouldn't have to do all this shit? He's got the money. He'd never think of saying no to you.
Marc grimaced, then thrust his hands into his jacket pocket. If he asked Drew for that much money, then he'd just confirmed Drew's father suspicions that he was just a bum working Drew over for cash. Down deep, Marc knew he probably wouldn't ever be able to pay Drew back. The mechanic told him the car was ready to fall apart, that the brakes were just the beginning. He'd need it again and again... never able to pay Drew back, and always in the position of having to ask for more.
So what are you gonna do? asked the voice. Fuck strangers for cash behind his back every time you run a little short?
Marc sighed and stared at the ground. The answer was so obvious, even if he didn't want to admit it. It'd been one thing to pretend his hustling in the past didn't matter, because it really was his past, after that first weekend he met Drew. Marc never expected to have to trick with a client again after that weekend when he saw Drew unloading equipment at "Uncle Jim's" up in Andover. Uncle Jim had been a gift. He didn't want just a quick trick; the man paid solid cash for a full night with Marc, and he'd earned every penny. Marc glimpsed the bottle of Viagra on the night stand when he'd been led up to the second floor of the house, where little was being done in the way of renovations. Jim had given his wife the excuse that he needed to stay there on the weekends from timer to time to make sure there were no break-ins. Until the family moved back in, it gave him the opportunity to pay and play in comfort. No neighbors were close enough to see who came and went at odd hours. Jim simply arranged to pick up his guests and drop them off after. The only car seen coming or going was his.
Marc still wondered how he'd bluffed it through when he saw Drew. Besides, how could Drew have a clue as to what Marc was there for?
The boy looked up again and decided he didn't want to go back into the hotel just yet. He'd walk a block or two, just to be in the open air. He knew the unhappy answer about Drew. Marc was simply going to have to stop things before they went any further. He couldn't see his boyfriend again and lie, knowing what would happen next time something went wrong.
He felt the tears stinging in his eyes. Better now than later, anyway. By next fall, Drew'll be in college, and you'll still be makin' doors in a sweatshop, hopin' maybe you might finish high school one day. How long before he just drifts away with someone else? Save yourself the trouble. You're already in too deep with him. Break off now when you can... it won't hurt as much.
Marc stopped, looking up to the pale stars that twinkled in the distance. "I had everything growin' up," he said in a low voice. "And when it got taken away because I did something stupid, I made the best of it. Why can't you let me have this one thing? Why can't you let me have someone, just once? Even for a little while?"
But the stars didn't answer, and a cloud rolled by and covered them over. Marc hung his head again and turned the block between the hotel and the North Common, his feet scuffing against the sidewalk. He barely noticed the sound of a car turning the corner and pulling to the curb just behind him, the headlights flashing quickly, just once.
He spun about. A late-model Taurus, with one occupant. Marc knew exactly what was happening. His lip curled. What've I got - a sign on my back?
Then another voice kicked in. This'll wrap it up. You get the shit box fixed tomorrow, and you're all done - for now. He forced a small smile and walked back to the car. The window rolled down. He saw thinning blond hair and an easy smile, and caught the eyes raking over his body.
Thirty, I bet, he thought. And not a troll, either. At least this'll be an easy one.
Marc leaned down to the window. "Hey, bud. Lookin' to party?"
The man smiled even more. "Maybe. What do you have in mind?"
Marc tried to act calm, not betray the inner terror - and revulsion - he felt. This was the first time he'd tried a pick-up since he'd met Josh. It'll all be over... until next time. But maybe things'll go right for a change before that happens. "Fifty, dude. The best head you ever had, and I'll throw in a facial if you wanna give it."
The man nodded, and Marc heard the lock pop up on the other side of the car. He trotted quickly around the front and slid into the passenger seat. He closed the door, heard the lock click, and they pulled from the curb."
They paused at a red light and the driver turned to Marc and spoke again. "Just to be sure - okay, kid? You want fifty dollars to give me a blow job, right?"
Marc nodded. "That's right. Fifty bucks for head. Just take a right here and- "
"Jesus, this one's too easy," said a voice behind him. Another man sat up. He had an old drop cloth half draped over him. He'd been on the floor of the car the entire time! He held a mini-recorder in his left hand, then chuckled. "Damn! We don't get many boy-whores around here, but the few we do come across usually got more brains than you do." He turned his head to the driver. "Head for the station, Gordo. I'll read dumbass here his rights."
Marc slouched down in the seat. He looked up for a moment, and saw the clouds moving away, and the cold stars looked down on him again. I guess I really was askin' for too much. Thanks for reminding me 'bout what I deserve.