...And the Other Friends...



Ok, now for all the usual stuff: Don't read this story if you are under 18; it's illegal for you to do so;
or you don't like stories of young gay men that sometimes include sex.
All characters are fictional. Absolutely. I would never even THINK of using my story to even an old score.
Honest to God. ; )
© 2002 by Keith Mystery. No part of this story may be posted ANYWHERE without the express permission of the author.
You may copy it to a file or even print it out, but you may not distribute it for charge.
Not one word may be changed without permission.
This story also appears at www.archerland.net with the permission of the author, and no where else. Let me know
if you run across it someplace it isn't supposed to be.
I love email, so send any comments to
Oh, and if it looks suspiciously like I'm fishing for email... well
You're right. I have no pride


Chapter 9

"Oyez, oyez. All rise. The District Court of Essex County holden at Lawrence is now in session, the right honorable associate justice Arnaud St. Germaine presiding.

"Draw near, all who seek the remedy of Law.

"Gawd save the Commonwealth of Mass-a-chu-setts."

So saying, the short, pudgy man with the South Boston accent adjusted the rumpled gray, tweed jacket and stepped down from the center bar of the court and approached the right honorable associate justice, a tired looking elderly man with glasses and thinning white hair. The judge motioned to the representative of the District Attorney and the three conferred.

Marc heard a noise at the side door and another man bustled into the court, wheezing and edging his bulky frame through the onlookers. He was short, dark, balding, but Marc took note of the clothes. The suit may not have been Armani, but it didn't come off a rack at Sears. It had custom job written all over it.

The man hustled down the center aisle to the gated rail at the front of the court, breathing heavily as he motioned the clerk over and spoke softly. The judge and the others seemed to know the man, but they looked surprised to see him. Arnaud St. Germaine motioned to his clerk-magistrate to admit the man and signaled for him to approach his bench. He covered the microphone with his hand again and leaned forward, since the newcomer was barely at a height with the elevated desk and they conferred. Then everyone looked out over the courtroom itself and the short man shrugged. The judge returned the shrug and the county prosecutor nodded his head but also shrugged.

Marc sat back, prepared for the long wait. He already knew to expect a long morning; the police explained the usual procedure before they transferred their "weekend felons" the two blocks down Common Street to what used to be the main District Court, but since the opening of the new Fenton Center a few months before was now referred to as Annex A. The Fenton Center was a proper trial court; but the overflow of minor preliminary hearings was still sometimes held at the dilapidated old courthouse, a building not quite forty years old. It was a government building typical of Sixties... architecturally out-of-place in its surroundings, inadequate for the volume it was expected to service, and cheap. A blocky, light colored brick building, unremarkable in every way, its one distinctive feature a limestone block bearing three names and three titles; John F. Buckley, Mayor; John Volpe, Governor; and Lyndon B. Johnson, President. Somewhere beneath the uncared for shrubs was a date, but no one noticed or cared particularly about the outside of the building, anymore than they cared about the inside. Narrow corridors around a center cluster, low suspended ceilings covered with water stains gave evidence of decrepit plumbing and a bad roof. The institutional-beige walls were patched inexpertly, but still had fissures here and there. The floors were covered with a cheap, low-pile carpet to mask the cracked and disintegrating vinyl floor tiles beneath.

The courtrooms were packed with low, uncomfortable benches without proper leg-room, a raised dais for the judge, and a metal rail separating the "court" from the galleries. Lawyers sat behind metal-legged tables and in plastic-padded chairs provided for `comfort'. Behind the judge cheap, wood paneling had been nailed to the wall, its only adornment the Seal of the Commonwealth nailed just behind the judge, and to the left and right of this were the federal and state flags. The courtroom was like the building - cheap, functional, and shabby.

By all rights, the building should have faced the descendant of the wrecking ball that had claimed it's more romantic Federal-styled predecessor, but the building still had its uses, and was now referred to as "the Annex". Here, the semi-retired Judge St. Germaine would rush through the morning's work, the "routine" cases from Lawrence and the surrounding towns for a weekend. This meant levying fines for public drunkenness first, remanding the drunk drivers over for a trial date and then a variety of minor cases involving small skirmishes (some domestic) "a shod foot" being the most common weapon. The week-end rush of the low level offenders was handled quietly at the Annex, where the semi-retired Arnaud sat each Monday morning to help clear the "clutter" of the local judicial system, in at eight thirty and out in time for lunch. Serious crimes of violence or involving drug charges would be referred to the Fenton Center, a new and slightly more lavish building completed the year before, but still too small to handle the full volume of Justice in one of Massachusetts' poorest towns.

Judge St. Germaine regarded cases involving prostitutes as a "sad" affair, and always placed them at the bottom of his list to spare the individuals involved as much embarrassment as possible. Typically, the courtroom would be almost empty of spectators, but packed with perps. To the judge, it meant sparing the women the embarrassment of the catcalls and low remarks by other prisoners and the few spectators - their retainers in some cases. Most of these appearances would involve no more than a guilty plea, a more-or-less honest show of feminine remorse and the payment of a fine. One or two might be in violation of probation for another offense, or it could be a second or subsequent arrest on the same charge, and a hearing date would be set for the main court. A few would enter innocent pleas and be remanded for trial with a low bail. Law handled in Arnaud St. Germaine's court was always swift and, for the most part, painless.

Marc sat in the back of the courtroom, with the rest of the contingent from Lawrence. He'd spent the night in the Lawrence Police lock-up, along with thirty others, crowded into the three cells available. Druggies and serious violence offenders were in one cell, the drunks and lesser detainees crowded together in the remaining two. He hadn't seen the women caught in the round up the night before. Lawrence had no facilities for women and they were held elsewhere if they couldn't get anyone to come down and post a bond. It only took fifty dollars and someone to vouch for their appearance in court the next morning. Marc had the fifty dollars, but no one to vouch for him. He hadn't spoken to his family in almost a year and didn't see them rushing to his aid. It crossed his mind that he could have called Joshua, but he knew better. Josh made it clear that if something happened, he was out of it, and supplied each of his boys with a number to call. Unfortunately, that number was in the "supply bag" in Marc's trunk. It hadn't occurred to him to pull the slip of paper out and keep it on him over the weekend. Marc hadn't worked the street since the night he met Josh, and a client wasn't inclined to involve the police if there was a disagreement about services. Marc never handled cash anyway. If someone wanted a refund for some reason, then that was for him and Josh to hassle about over the phone.

The cop who booked him had asked Marc for the name of a next of kin or someone they could contact to sign for him. When he answered none, the cop shook his head sadly. The boy stared at the floor listlessly and answered the questions, until the time came for him to be taken down to the basement lockup. He waited for the cops to say something that would cause trouble for him, but neither said a word and Marc found a space for himself on the floor against the back wall of the crowded cell, and waited.

Sleep wouldn't come. He expected that. Scenes from a dozen movies ran through his head about the first night "in stir". In the end, it was no worse than the reek of a bunch of unwashed bodies and stale booze, the snoring and muffled curses around him. Marc debated for a moment if he should try conversation with one of the others, but no one seemed particularly interested in him and Marc decided that was a good way to go.

At six o'clock another cop showed up and the "serious offenders" in the other cell were roused and taken out. A half hour later the cops began to take each of the remaining prisoners down the hall to clean up. There was no shower, and the only clean up area was a janitor's sink in the basement. When Marc's turn came he was handed a towel, a plastic squeeze jar of liquid soap, and a cheap comb. Marc stripped his shirt but didn't go any further, wiped down his torso the best he could, then his hands and face. His hair still felt okay so he resisted the impulse to shove his head under the faucet. He didn't expect the offer of a razor, but his beard was light anyway. He wouldn't look too bad when he appeared in court. When the last of the prisoners was escorted to the sink and back, breakfast came... a donut and the choice of cold coffee or warm milk. The Lawrence Police Department had no cooking facilities either.

"Beats the old Lawrence Jail," one prisoner grumbled. "That place was so old it didn't have no runnin' water. Shit, piss, drink and wash out of a bucket. And I don't think they cleaned the buckets much between one duty and the other."

Marc raised an eyebrow and looked at the wrinkled face he knew to be "Sully", an occasional guest of the Mid-City... when he had money and wasn't drinking. He was drinking these days, so Marc hadn't seen him for a while "Isn't that against the law?"

Sully opened his mouth, exposing the consequences of bad oral hygiene and laughed. "That fuckin' place was built back in Civil War days, and Essex County never paid a dime to keep it up. Goddam state condemned it twenty years `fore they finally shut it down and give the land to Lawrence Academy. You think this place is a sty? This place is a fuckin' paradise. At least they give you toilet paper here."

That was the extent of their conversation. After that the cops came in again and they were broken into three groups for "transport", which meant a drive of about three blocks from the jail to the court annex on Common Street. Sully was taken in the first group, Marc in the third. He'd half expected to see the leg irons and handcuffs that the earlier group had been given, and was relieved to find these would be skipped. He was given a bag with his wallet, belt, shoelaces, and the contents of his pockets along with his coat before getting into the blue and white van and told to inspect his belongings and then sign for them. Marc put his belt back on and once he was in the van began lacing up his shoes again. He decided to leave the few pieces of jewelry he had on him in his pockets.

The short ride to the courthouse went without incident, and Marc had a brief interview with a probation officer who told him what to expect. He was a first offender, no prior record, not even a traffic citation. "It looks pretty much open and shut according to this report," the clerk said. "It's up to you, of course. If you think you have a case, it's `not guilty, Judge St. Germaine', and he'll hold you on, like, fifty or a hundred bucks cash bail for maybe six or eight weeks before a trial date. Tell the man guilty, and it's a hundred bucks and maybe three months unsupervised probation and it's all done... unless you get nailed for something else. That wouldn't be smart," he'd added pointedly.

Marc nodded. Quick and painless. Say the word guilty and pay up... then get the hell out of this place. Oh, and just in case you forget, you now got a record to follow you around. The charge looks real good on a job application, too.

He settled in for the wait. At least he'd be one of the last called up. That was one break.

The conference at the judge's bench broke up and everyone returned to their proper places, the short heavy man sitting with what Marc took to be the defense lawyers. Marc yawned as the rumpled clerk-magistrate stepped to his podium, adjusted his half-glasses and spoke in his nasal voice after pausing and peering out over the court for relative silence.

"First case. The Commonwealth versus Marc Edward Wildon, on a charge of violation of Chapter 272, Section 53 of the General Laws, being a common nightwalker: and Section 53A, offering to perform a sexual act for a fee. Please rise, Mr. Wildon."

He heard the laughter and the undercurrent of lewd comments, and Marc felt the blood burning his face as he stood. He saw the heads turning, the fingers pointing. Everyone had assured him that Judge St. Germaine always followed the same procedure to save the prisoners embarrassment. Guess fags get special treatment in this court. Why did I think it'd be anything different?

Marc stood shakily, his throat dried and prepared to wrap his mouth around the word `guilty' when asked for his plea. Make it go away quick, then get out of this place.

The latecomer rose from his seat. "Your honor? I'm Mr. Wildon's attorney. We plead not guilty and ask for bail. We'll waive the reading of the police report to the court."

Marc stood, dumfounded, staring at the Danny DeVito look-alike.

The judge nodded, scanning the papers. "Enter the police document in the record, indicating that defense waived public reading. Let the record show that Albert Sciuoto, Esquire, represents Mr. Wildon." He paused and shuffled paper. "Sufficient facts are found in the police report. A trial date is set for... right... April 27, before Mr. Justice Parotti. One hundreds dollars cash bail is set. Bailiff, escort Mr. Wildon and Mr. Sciuoto to the clerk for the arrangements."

A blue-uniformed man came to Marc and motioned him to follow into the hall. Marc's lawyer thanked the judge and said something to the prosecutor and they laughed before bustling down the court aisle and joining Marc and the bailiff in the hall.

"Thanks, Boyd. I still remember the way, is that okay?"

The middle-aged bailiff nodded and smiled. "No problem, Mr. S. Not like this is murder or anything."

Sciuoto reached out and gently tugged Marc's sleeve, coaxing him to start moving. "Let's go, Marc. I got to be in Superior Court in about fifteen minuets. Old Arnaud cut me some slack back there by letting me appear without registering first, but that bastard down the street'll blast me out if I'm six seconds late."

They came to a window, and a smiling woman in her fifties greeted him as Al. "Haven't seen you in ages. What're you doing here, slumming? I heard you got this big practice now and you don't do criminal anymore."

Al Sciuoto laughed. "Kind of a last minute thing, Sharon. Look, can I just sign the papers? I have to be in Judge Farrell's courtroom over in Superior in a few minutes.

Sharon looked at the papers and her eyebrows flew up and she looked at Marc with a slight expression of distaste, but she turned back to Sciuoto. "I suppose so. Do we have the money?"

The attorney reached for his wallet and counted out the cash in fresh twenties. "Had just enough time to stop at the cash machine," he said handing it over, and quickly signed the papers. The clerk withdrew for the rest of the papers she'd need Marc to fill out.

The man smiled at Marc, and Marc sensed that the smile was genuine, not just a mask. "Okay, I have to apologize for what just happened in there. Arnaud had you down for the last hearing for the day... he does things like that to save people some embarrassment. Unfortunately, I only caught the call for this a half hour ago, and I have to be in Superior Court, like I said. I was just the only one in a position to get in here. Arnaud and I are old friends, and he moved you up at my request."

Marc nodded dumbly. The short, heavy-set man checked his Rolex. "Dammit, this is going to be tough. Real quick, we probably won't be meeting again. I haven't done criminal law in years, but like I said I was the only one in the right place and this isn't exactly capital murder, so I stepped up. I'll have someone else from my office getting in touch with you, Marc."

The boy spoke hesitantly, licking his dry lips. "Did... did Josh send you?"

The fat man with the pleasant smile knitted his eyebrows. "Josh? No, I don't know any Josh. My firm represents your landlord, S&M Realty Trust. Lenny called me this morning and said he needed me to take care of you."

Marc was confused. "My landlord? Lenny?"

Sciuoto nodded. "That's right. I've been handling Leonard Stickman's affairs for thirteen years... or technically, S&M Realty Trust's affairs, but it's the same thing. Though why he bothers with that place never mind lives there with his kind of money is beyond me. He called my office in Haverhill this morning, then he got me on my cell when he couldn't get anyone in the office who could make it to Lawrence. We're a good practice, but we're small, if you know what I mean, and everyone was sort of spoken for," he ended with a chuckle, and checked his watch again. He leaned in through the window. "Sharon? Are we all set?"

Sharon returned with a receipt for the cash. "You're all done, Al. I still need this one, though," she said indicating Marc, the distaste clear in her manner.

"Great, darlin'. You're the best." She smiled and called him a liar, and he turned to Marc and held out his hand. "Call that number this afternoon, Marc, and I'll have you set up with someone who can handle criminal matters. Don't worry about it, though. Stuff like this is... well, it's only a little messy personally. It's all pretty much cut and dry, though. Unless the report is an outright lie... well. Do you need a ride? I can lend you for a cab."

Marc shook his head. "It's only a few blocks, Mr. Sciuoto. I can walk," he said tonelessly.

Sciuoto smiled and held out his hand, which Marc shook. Albert Sciuoto hurried down the hallway and out the door to Common St. and the Superior Court building three blocks away. Marc turned and caught the disapproving look of the bail clerk. He did his best to ignore the woman and filled out the papers. When he handed them back she told him without much interest in her voice not to miss the trial date and turned away.

Outside the courthouse several people milled about. One or two looked Marc over and he heard the word patho, and he didn't need to be a Spanish scholar to know what it meant. The women laughed, and he heard a low whistle from one of the men followed by more laughter as he walked down Common Street. He took a right at the condemned city parking garage, and came out by the deserted Woolworth's building giving onto Essex Street, deserted even at that time of day as much as it had been the night before. Marc ignored the familiar site of the empty storefronts, punctuated by the occasional shop that eked out a living on what a generation before was one of the busiest shopping and commerce areas in the region. He walked past the shuttered and iron-gated site of the defunct Regal Jewelers, and next to it the bold brick facade of Kap's Men's Wear... once five floors of the finest ready-to-wear men's clothing in addition to its custom tailor business, now just another once-elegant derelict among so many others. Across the street, even the porn shop had closed, moving north over the border onto Salem's busy Golden Strip - another victim of too many smashed front windows and stick-ups. All of the stores discovered that being only a few blocks from the Lawrence Police Station offered little protection from the routine of robbery and vandalism.

Trash blew around, and gathered in the empty storefronts and along the curb, and Marc walked quietly, his head down, his mind numb, making his way to the Mid-City Manor. He didn't notice the old Ayer Mill looming at the end of Essex Street capped with its clock tower, didn't pay attention to what was left of the fancy awnings appended to the building a decade before, when investors tried to turn the building into a manufacturers outlet store. It didn't work. Ralph Lauren shut down and the others followed, and the Ayer Mills - one of the leaders of the Industrial era in New England - stood empty once again. Now it was only a vague reminder of the sweat-shop days that thrived and created what was loftily referred to as the Industrial Age in America. That is, before the mills learned that poor Southerners would work for even less than the children of the immigrants that once flooded to the manufacturing cities, especially after they had reorganized into unions. Later that would change again, when business saw the value of an almost slave-market economy in over-seas countries, and decided it was cheaper to import than to manufacture.

Marc came to the windowless, aluminum-and-plastic skirted 50's style street facade of the Mid-City that now hid its once fine turn-of-the-twentieth-century Victorian front. Marc pulled on the wired glass front door and quietly let himself in. He eyed the caged desk, which was thankfully empty. He patted his pocket again, and his cell phone was where it was supposed to be. He had to call Josh, make arrangements to get his money. But before that he had to call his job, hope that his boss was too busy to want to question him much and claim sickout for the day. Then he'd call Josh.

Marc made his way silently for the staircase when he heard a door open behind him and he froze.

"Get in here," the familiar, low-key voice ordered

It was Stick, of course. Dressed the way Stick always dressed, in a blue chambray shirt and jeans, hair slicked back and ready for his day. His expressionless face was set in sculpted granite and he held up a single hand, motioning Marc with two fingers.

Marc sighed, and walked wearily into the room, his head down. He'd hoped for a few hours sleep. Inside the room, Stick snapped his fingers and pointed to a chair. Marc sat.

"I have to call my job," the boy said in a tired voice. Stick pointed to his phone and walked into his own kitchen area. Marc dialed, and of course no one picked up, so he keyed Art's box number and lied about being out for illness. He was hanging up when Stick came back into the room and handed Marc a cup of coffee and dropped a box of donuts at the table beside Marc.

"Eat something," the man said in a low voice. "Then tell me why I got a call this morning from Lawrence's Finest confirming your address at 6 AM. Just skip tellin' me you got arrested and tell me why, even if I think I can guess." He grabbed a kitchen chair and spun it around before seating himself, leaning on the back of the chair, his gray eyes drilling into Marc.

Marc took a grateful bite out of a plain donut, then another. He hadn't wanted to eat much in the last few days and it was catching up with him. He made short of the donut and started another with Stick patiently watching him. He took another sip of the coffee to wash down the dry donut. "You know why. Hooking. You've always known about that."

Stick nodded. "And I know you stopped when you got a decent job, and didn't start again until you needed extra money for your car. I know you don't do it just to make things easy on yourself, either. And when you started seein' that McKinnon kid I figured it was all in the past, anyway," he said in a quiet voice. "Now, what happened? Why are you sellin' your ass again?"

Marc explained about the car, and what it would cost... Stick interrupted and asked about Arnold, and nodded his head when he heard Marc had dealt with the assistant. "Arn would have called me before he talked to you," Stick said quietly. "We'd have worked out something for you. Credit."

Marc looked up, confused. "They don't have a credit system."

Stick frowned. "And if that guy hadn't told you that, you'd have never known. I'd just give Arn my credit card number. He'd have made a payment schedule with you, and he'd pass the money back to me. I see him at AA every week, and I can trust him. He's my sponsor. That's kind of how it worked last time." He looked hard at Marc. "That's why you had money come back to you last time... I figured you'd get something for yourself for a change, at least. I knew you wouldn't let me step in, but I could make it easier for you. And sure enough, you quit the hustlin' right after, like I expected."

Marc tried to find reason in Stick's face, but it never changed expression. "Why? Why did you get into it?"

Stick shrugged. " `Cuz you got no one else to help," he said simply. "I tried lettin' you work off what you owed me here, and that was fine... then I figured out what you were doing for that extra money you were giving me. I always knew you were a throwaway kid... even with that bullshit ID I figure your brother bought you. And it's not like you were doing it so you could live a lot better... you kept at that shit job of yours and just came home a little later than usual most times. I already knew you didn't drink or drug, and you never got anything special for yourself. You were doin' it just enough to get by. And it was pretty clear you were ashamed of it, too. So I never said nuthin'. Just helped a little when I could. And when you got that new job you stopped the hustling, like you said, I figured you were worth helping some more, that's all."

Marc bit his lower lip and looked away. "Why didn't you say something?" he asked in a toneless voice.

Stick sighed and pressed his lips together, his eyes focused on Marc. "Because you wouldn't take it, that's why. And you already sold yourself, rather than ask for help. I figured you'd have bolted from here if you thought I knew what was goin' on. Then you'd be really screwed. And I figured I could do some things to help you out - and keep an eye on you, too, so you didn't get in even worse." He snorted. "Guess I didn't watch things close enough, huh?"

"I still don't know why you wanted to help in the first place," Marc said, looking down, confused.

The man's voice not only dropped again, but became gentle. He reached over and laid a hand on top of Marc's, rubbing the back of it. "Sometimes people need a hand, kid. They're too proud or scared to ask, and it doesn't kill me to help someone who needs it. People helped me when I needed it; most times they were after something, but not always. One of these days, maybe you'll see someone who needs a hand. That's when you get yourself even with me - when you do something for someone you know can't pay you back, and you do it anyway."

Marc made a dry sound that might have been a laugh. "Make random acts of kindness? Is that what you're saying?"

Stick shook his head. "Not just that, but it's part of it. It's seein' someone who's a decent guy, and they can't catch a break, no matter what. So you do a couple things to help `em along when they need it, and let them think they did it on their own because that's what they need sometimes. Like you. I gave you a card for a better job when you were finally old enough, and you jumped for it. Better job, just not great. But you didn't take the easy way, so I helped some more."

Marc looked up; his deep brown eyes boring into Stick's faded grays. "Why? I just can't figure why you'd care. Never mind care enough to send a lawyer and bail me."

Stick sat for a moment, looked at Marc, and cocked his head. "Don't matter why," he said simply. "I just did. Maybe I was wrong... if you knew you had someone to turn to, maybe you wouldn't be in trouble now."

"It's a fine," Marc said quietly. "That's what they told me for first offence, and maybe some probation."

Stick nodded. "Yeah, but it's not just a fine and some probation, it's a police record. And that kind of charge doesn't help you much." Stick's voice dropped again, and Marc felt his hand squeeze his own. "Al's sharp, and I'm hoping him and the guys at his office can find you a way out. That's still in the future, though. Right now is something else. What are you gonna do from here? This'll be in the `Police Notes' section of the paper. I can't help with that. They can't fire you at work, but it'll be rough, at least for a while. And what about that kid you're seeing?"

"He's out of it," Marc said. There was a toneless conviction in his voice. "His father already thinks I'm a bum. Once Drew and his father find out about this, that's it, and I... I was gonna break up with him anyway." He gave Stick the quick synopsis of his car. He swallowed hard and looked up at Stick. "This wasn't gonna be the last time, Stick. I figured I'd have to lose him anyway. And now? Hell, I could win the lottery tomorrow and it wouldn't matter. Who wants to run with a whore?"

Stick's voice took on a soothing tone, and he gently massaged the finely boned hand with its long, slender fingers under his. "You did what you thought you had to do. To survive. You weren't the first kid caught in that bind... and it sucks, but you won't be the last one, either." He stood, releasing the hand. He sighed. "You better go get yourself some sleep, kid. I doubt you got too much at the station."

Marc nodded and stood. He began walking to the door again, but stopped and turned. Stick was right behind him. Marc grabbed him hugged him hard, the way he always wanted to hug his father, but never felt he could. Startled, Stick was motionless, except for his arms, which rose for a moment as if to return the embrace, but then he dropped them to his side.

Marc broke the pose and stood back, looking into the hard, gray eyes and saw something in them he'd sensed, but never really seen. It was still the same gray that chilled rather than warmed, but also there was a distant sadness. "Thanks for givin' a damn," he said and hurried out and up the stairs. He fumbled with the lock to his room, and got through the door and shot the bolt into place. Then the tears flooded out. When they stopped because there were no more to be had, he slipped into a craved-for unconsciousness.

Down below, Stick gathered the coffee cup and rinsed them out in the sink. He picked up a manila envelope and emptied it out... checks made out to S&M Realty Trust, but mostly cash. Few of the residents of the Mid-City had checking accounts. The few who did were told that once a check bounced the first time, there wouldn't be a second because future checks simply wouldn't be accepted. Failure to pay cash meant you came home to a new lock on the door and your things packed and ready to go in the lobby. Stick didn't believe in the Massachusetts housing court that let a tenant stay on for months at a time. Stick just threw you out. Many threatened to sue. Most were never heard from again. Not many lawyers took cases from unemployables.

He counted up the cash and made out a deposit slip, then added the total for checks. He picked up several smaller envelopes in the folder, all addressed to a post office box in Methuen, all made out to S&M Realty Trust. They were the financial statements for the month from different banks. S&M Realty Trust was in the black, as always. He grinned when he opened the one from Lower Cape Seaman's National. Charlie Bassett had included a chatty letter, as always. Business done, Stick poured himself another cup of coffee, and sat back at his desk.

Stick opened the bottom drawer and took out a half-empty package of Winston's and a silver Zippo lighter. Under these was a brass picture frame, turned face down. He lit the cigarette, set it in the ashtray. Then he lit a second for himself, and set up the frame. A young man faced him. The clothes were from three decades or more before, wide lapels and an enormous tie, but that's not what Stick noticed or cared about.

Leonard talked to the photo in a quiet voice, told the smiling face what was happening with Marc, sipping his coffee and taking deep inhales on his cigarette. They talked every morning, usually before the sun came up, but today was different because of the call from the police.

Leonard Stickman told him how good business was. Leonard told him all about Marc, and how much trouble the boy was in. Finally, Leonard told the picture of a long-gone boy how much he was missed. For a few minutes each morning they had a conversation over cigarettes and coffee, the way they always had when things were good. Leonard got the chance to look at the happy smile on a too-big mouth, got to look into the soft, deep brown eyes. It wasn't as good as the taste of that mouth, and the soft eyes didn't show the depths of warmth that he remembered. And it would have been really perfect if he could have reached out and run his fingers through the shoulder-length, sandy brown hair, but Leonard had to settle for the cold touch of glass against his fingers. Sometimes, you had to settle for what you had, not what you wanted. First his cigarette burned out, then Leonard reached over and ground out the other one in the ashtray. He finished his coffee.

All three items-photograph, cigarettes, and a silver Zippo lighter, were carefully placed back in the drawer. And Leonard became Stick again.

Stick's composure changed and his face took on the careful, blank expression most who knew him recognized. He popped a stick of Nicorette in his mouth and gathered up his things. Stick had to make the deposit of course, and then he'd wander over to Appleton Way, near City Hall and the Superior Court building. He fully expected to meet with Albert Sciuoto as soon as court broke for lunch.

* * * * *

"You will get a lot of crap about this. You do know that?"

Drew clamped his jaw tight and pulled open the door to the new annex of Lawrence Catholic Academy and headed for the cafeteria. The detention time for Brother Matt's two freshmen had expired, and he'd told Drew and Alan to take the third lunch seating before disappearing down the hallway to his first class "I meant what I said yesterday... I can't change what I did, but I can change what's been going on. I want you back as a friend, and I don't care who knows it."

Alan shook his head. "I told you, you don't have to prove anything to me. I'm not like a priest who can give you absolution, and you don't have to do the sackcloth and ashes bit for me."

"This isn't just about you, Alan. It's for me." And maybe Marc.

Alan gave Drew a questioning look.

Drew looked straight ahead, trying to ignore the stares from the students around them. "I didn't have the balls to be seen with you - because you were different, and I didn't want to be. I lied to myself and I screwed you. I should have just kept you for my friend no matter what people thought or suspected, and let them think whatever. Neither one of us owes anyone in here an explanation for a friendship. Now, where's your locker?"

Alan stopped in the middle of the hall. He started to snicker. "Want to know something? I don't got a clue."

Drew turned to him, a look of amazement on his face. "How the hell can you not know where it is?"

Alan bit his lip and shrugged. "Because I haven't used it since freshman year... I used to get hassled so bad every time I went to the locker room, I just started carrying all my stuff in my backpack."

"What about your coat?"

Alan shrugged. "Brother William saw me stashing it in the library one day, told me to hang it in his office. I guess he heard what was going around, too. Besides, we've got another week of solitary in Brother Matt's office, so I've just been bringing everything there."

Drew nodded, but felt a pang of guilt. Jesus, the guy can't even go to his locker... He reached out and put a hand on Alan's shoulder, just as Reggie Winters swung out of the stairwell and did a studied double take, elbowing another guy with him and pointing with his chin. Drew pretended no to notice.

"Knock it off, will you?" Alan muttered.

"Knock what off?"

Alan pushed the hand off his shoulder. "Goin' out of your way to look like we're buddy-buddy. I said I'd bury the hatchet. I didn't say anything about bein' your trick dog so you can prove something."

Drew winced. "Am I that obvious?"

Alan shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Drew, you were never the touchy-feely type, even when we were close. You think I'm not gonna notice what you're trying to do? Gimme credit for having a couple of brain cells."

They came to the dining hall and Drew lunged to open the door for Alan. "And another thing, okay? I'm not an invalid... I really can open doors for myself. I mean you even did it when I came out of the house this morning and walked up to the car. I said I'd try to be a friend again, not your fuckin' date to the prom."

Drew reddened and stepped out of Alan's way, then stood still. Brother Matthew was standing just inside the door and motioned both boys over to him. "Oh, shit. Lecture time again."

Brother Matthew crossed his arms and tucked both hands into the sleeves of his black robe. "Refreshed enough to mix back in with the general population again, huh boys? Good... none of my young charges are brave enough to step out of line today since they know I need a couple of slaves for the week. And by the way, both Spivettes called in sick today, but that just means they get to stay an extra day next week - besides having to pass the quizzes on what's going on in their classes today." He snickered. "I'd say they outsmarted themselves, but that'd be giving them too much credit."

He brushed some chalk dust off his arm and readjusted the heavy silver crucifix that hung around his neck. His voice dropped some of its volume. "Oh, and by the way, I understand you guys had a little run-in with one of those twits over the weekend."

Drew looked up startled, but Brother Matt held up a hand. "No, don't worry, I'm not going to chew you out for that. That was off school property and wasn't connected with a school event in any way, so I can't do anything about it, not that I'm inclined to. Even with the bits and pieces I've heard, you guys didn't do anything wrong." He leaned down and spoke in a low voice. "But I want you to know something else, too, there's some things being said about you guys."

"Nothin' I haven't been hearing for almost three years," Alan muttered.

Brother Matthew looked down at Alan and smiled. "Maybe not, Alan," he said in a soothing voice. "I wish I could have helped beyond breaking up what I saw happening but... Well. Not much I can do about the past," he said, and gave Drew an unpleasant look. "But right now, I just want you guys to know there's some rumors going around, and they've got a nasty turn. Especially about you, McKinnon. I don't approve of what's being said, but there isn't much I can do about it. I just don't want things getting out of hand - and maybe some fists flying again."

"I expected some stuff, Brother Matt," Drew said firmly, looking the man in the eye.

Brother Matthew nodded, almost approvingly, Drew thought. "Just so long as you don't deal with it at someone else's expense. Again." he said, hinting knowledge he wasn't supposed to have. Drew wanted to say something, couldn't think what, and closed his mouth.

"Okay," Brother Matthew said. "I have to make my rounds, nothing like monitoring the lunch hall while you guys get to goof for awhile. Just remember, no trouble. And naturally, when you get back to my office, start the afternoon just the way I'm sure you started the morning. With the Lord's Prayer."

Brother Matthew sauntered off, not bothering to wait for the false assurance he was sure both boys would profess. As usual, the crowd opened up when the tall cleric passed, and voices tended to drop. Drew and Alan headed for the food line. Drew could feel rather than see the heads turning

Drew shook his head as he picked up a tray and flatware. "That guy hates me."

"Brother Matt don't hate anyone," Alan said, grabbing an orange and a milk container. "He's rough sometimes, but he's fair. It's like a rule with him. No favorites."

Drew snorted, serving himself a heaping plate of limp fries and grabbing for a hamburger. "Every rule's got an exception, and I'm his. He hates me."

Alan said nothing, and picked up a pre-wrapped turkey sandwich as they shuffled down the line. He eyed Drew, and smiled a little. "Look, I'm just gonna head back to the office. You can go ahead by yourself and sit with your friends for lunch, okay? It's not like I'm not used to being alone."

Drew sighed, and pulled out his wallet after grabbing a brownie. "C'mon, Alan. Just sit with me, okay? You can't hide in here forever. And you don't have to. You're not alone anymore. Have lunch with me and some of my friends."

They bickered back and forth until Alan sighed and gave in to the inevitable. Drew on a mission is still Drew on a mission... he never gives in. Some things never change...

They stood just outside the queue, looking out over the dining room. Alan spotted Melissa, minus a Spivette at her side, but sitting with his crew. She ducked and said something to the rest of the table and Alan saw them turning and laughing. Drew saw it, too, and frowned. He eyes searched around the room and he spotted Reggie again, who shifted his eyes away and lowered his head, pretending not to see him. He spotted a few other people he knew well who did the same thing.

Well, fuck `em, he said to himself, and they sat at the end of a table loaded with underclassmen who looked nervously at the two but didn't say much as they gulped down the rest of their food and moved off.

"How's it feel?" Alan asked as he bit into his sandwich.

Drew shoved the fries around on his plate. "How's what feel?"

"Bein' one of the bottom feeders on the food chain?"

Drew scowled, but Alan continued. "Bein' ignored is the easy part. Later on, they start toying with you, like it was a game."

Drew bit down on the greasy burger, then quickly tried to use the bun as a napkin as ketchup and grease oozed down the side of his mouth. "What do you mean?" he asked between chews.

Alan shrugged and ate a spoonful of green jello. "Someone decides to come by, and act like they're your friend. Usually they got at least two other buddies with `em. Then they start making fun of you. Just a little at first, then some more until it's real obvious, and maybe the crowd will pick up when people see what's goin' on. But they'll still act like it's just you an' them, havin' a private talk, and everybody laughs. Maybe they'll even ask you if you wanna go out to the parking lot with `em and they'll let you do `em - and a few of their buddies, too - that way they're all happy and relaxed for the afternoon. And I get a special desert."

Drew swallowed and made a face. "C'mon. It ain't that bad."

Alan raised an eyebrow. "It isn't? Why the hell you do think I eat my lunch in the library?" he looked up past Drew's shoulder. "Hey, cool. Here comes some of your buds now. Let's see which way it goes."

Drew turned his head around and saw Jason Connors walking up with a sneer on his face. A little off to the left was a small group... and that included Melissa, who smiled nastily. Drew knew Jason, one of the lesser jocks at the school, but not well. Jason tended to run with Kevin and Shaun Spivette, which up to a week ago had meant nothing to Drew, either. The few times they'd come into contact hadn't meant much. They even had a few classes together, spoken casually when they had to. But judging from the expression on Jason's face, casual conversation wasn't on Jason's mind. Drew thought it was going to be confrontation time, but Jason veered off at the last moment, making a big show of holding up his hands to protect himself

"Oh man the heat! It's incredible!" he shouted, acting like he was beating back flames. "Catch the heat from that table! Gotta be the two flamers sittin' there! Nothin' like a pair of burnin' faggots to bring up the temp!"

The group with Melissa laughed when Jason joined them and moved on.

Drew snorted. "If that's the worst of it, I think I'll survive."

Alan nodded. "That's just for starters, Drew. Wait'll you catch shit every day, day after day. And the thing is, they don't even know anything." He raised his head up, looking past Drew. "Hey, looks like you got another friend all of a sudden."

Drew glanced over his shoulder, and Reggie Winters was homing in on him. He barely acknowledged Alan as he pulled up a chair.

"Hey, man, what is this stuff I been hearin'? I mean I know you gotta hang with the homo all day because of that suspension thing, but at lunch? And what's the shit I been hearing about you holdin' hands with some guy at Tony's last Friday? Damn, dude, someone even said they seen you makin' out with him!"

Drew sighed. "Well, if you were so worried, you could have called me over to your table when you saw me get out of the line, Reg, instead of duckin' down like you didn't see me." The dig went over Reggie's head, judging from the complete lack of reaction from him. Drew sighed. "And I don't know what you've been hearing from Melissa, but the only thing that happened at Tony's was that me and some of my other friends were sitting and having something to eat when Kevin butted in and started makin' trouble. No one was holding hands. No one was makin' out." At least not right then, anyway. "And I'm sitting with Alan `cuz he's a friend."

Reggie looked Alan up and down like he was an exhibit. Alan pursed his lips, fluttered his eyebrows and extended a pinky before he drank from his milk carton. Reggie shuddered and swung back to Drew. "Dude. This is not gonna fly. You start hangin' with the fag, and people are gonna start thinkin' you're one. And if they think you are, they'll start wonderin' about me, too, cuz we been buddies since freshman year."

Alan sat with a thin smile on his lips, saying nothing. Drew knew he was on his own, that it looked to be time for him to do more than just talk the talk. "In the first place, don't call Alan a `fag' or a `homo' again. He's gay, yeah, and thanks to my big mouth everyone knows that. And if you're worried about everyone thinkin' your gay `cuz you hang out with me, then you better start moving on, okay? But the last I checked, it wasn't contagious."

Reggie looked confused for a moment, but then he clamped his jaw shut and stared wide-eyed at Drew, momentarily frozen into place. "Oh, shit..." he trailed off. "You and Alan are..." he trailed again.

"Alan and I are friends," Drew said sharply. "Yeah, I do have a boyfriend, too, that's who Kevin and the Ice Queen saw me with Friday. His name's Marc, and he's a damn nice guy."

Reggie swallowed hard and then stood, mute and uncertain. "All this time, man - all this time and you been - I mean, we showered together and stuff..."

Drew laughed and eased himself back. "Hey, dude," he said sarcastically. "Don't worry about all those showers we took after gym... honest to God, Reg. I can honestly say I have never looked at your ass and thought it was hot. Or checked out anything else on you, either. At least more than once."

Reggie's jaw dropped and his brown eyes bulged again, and after a moment he moved off. Drew saw him head straight for their old table again.

"Congratulations, Drew. You just made an enemy," Alan said quietly.

"Fuck `em," Drew grumbled, shoving away his plate. "Fuck all of `em. And that was the truth, too. Reggie's ass is just way to big." He smiled and gave Alan a sly look followed by a smirk. "Now, Jason Connors, that's one you would call hot."

* * * * *

Drew got home a little late that evening, and headed up to his room. He wondered idly why his grandmother looked so nervous when he came through the door but passed it off. His mind was on other things... in this case the same thing that had bothered him since Friday: Marc.

He'd swung by the Mid-City after school, and been surprised to see Marc's car there. Drew parked outside for a few minutes and debated with himself about going in and finally gave up on the idea. He wanted Marc, but he didn't want him angry. Marc said to give him the week. Drew grudgingly followed through with Marc's request. Still, it bothered him to see Marc's car so early in the day, especially on a Monday... Had he gone to work? Was he sick? Again, Drew debated whether he should have gone in and asked Stick about him. He would have too, except Stick made him nervous. He stared at Drew every time he went to the hotel now. Drew could feel the eyes boring into his back whenever he turned up the steps, even though the man gave no sign of being interested in him when they were eye to eye.

Drew moped around his room, looking for something to do. Homework was out; he'd spent all day with his textbooks. "And I'll probably have plenty of time for homework after this week, too," he mused.

The afternoon went easily though, with Alan finally accepting Drew's help with Algebra. Drew knew how to get through to Alan. You could explain things a thousand times to Alan and it would never sink in if it involved numbers. Alan only learned by the actual doing, and with Drew stopping him when necessary and showing Alan what he did wrong and making him do it again. It was time consuming, but that's how Alan dealt with numbers. It had been the same way in elementary school, when Drew would painstakingly put Alan through the paces of basic arithmetic and on up through their school years. It was the only subject Alan ever had any serious trouble with.

Reggie had done his work well after he left them in the cafeteria. There may have been some odd looks when he walked in that morning with Alan, and maybe some curiosity when they'd arrived at lunch later in the day, but after the dismissal bell, they both felt the curious eyes on the two of them as they walked down the hall together. Drew heard muttering and saw the looks, sometimes curious , other times hostile. He heard the whispers too, but no shouts - yet. And unless it was imagination, he was sure Brother Matthew casually shadowed them through the hallways, even to the point of pausing and waiting for Drew and Alan to get into the Sebring and drive off. The full report of Reggie and Drew's conversation had probably made the gossip circuit before he and Alan were seated again in Brother Matt's office. Reggie had a mouth. Reggie loved other people's dirt.

Alan commented on it all when they got into the car. Drew shrugged. "Like I said before. Fuck `em. It's my life. But at least I had the choice to tell `em."

And you'll have plenty of time to think about it, too, looks like. Drew rolled over on his bed and glanced at the calendar. Two and a half months to go before the end of the school year. He was the lucky one. Alan still had another year.

He got up and booted the computer, plugged in one of his games and got bored with it quickly. He checked e-mail. His Hotmail was loaded with advertisements. He switched to Yehaa!, which he used for personal mail. Three letters, all from accounts he didn't recognize. He scanned the subject headers. Two were "for the homo". A third said "Yo, cocksucker!" They were all from people he knew, of course. Friends who had his `private' email address, the one never reported to websites. Friends who set up new accounts that afternoon so they could hide their identity. Brave friends. At least Jason Connors had the balls to stand up and say things to my face. Guess this is what you get when you pick your buds based on their popularity.

Drew sighed and deleted the three messages without opening them. He surfed for a while, even stopping for a few minutes on the Nifty Archive, a frequent stop. In the beginning he'd only been interested in stories for their stroke value... Lately he'd been reading a few of the others, the one's with real stories, not just a big sex-fest. No one he'd been following had posted anything new. He tried a few new stories, read through the usual quick self-description that seemed to open almost every story; noted the alarm clocks going off in the first paragraph followed by the long stroke session in the shower of incredibly endowed young men with perfect bodies who find their one, true love in the form of an equally endowed and beautiful boy after a chance encounter in the hallway (usually after colliding with one another) at the onset of their first day in a new school. Or they finally went to bed with their best friend since first grade.

And of course there was the perfect first-time blowjob in the back seat of the super-charged classic sports cars they always drove. No one ever seemed to gag, something Drew remembered very well until he got the hang of it. And dammit, why did everyone have to live in Florida or California? You'd think there were no gay kids in the Snow Belt. Well, a few maybe, but they had private airplanes and a special license so they could fly anywhere.

In any event they were the same, perfectly harmonious relationships forever, in spite of parents, girl friends, or a wicked community. Drew was amazed at the number of teenaged millionaires without parents.

Drew started four of these and closed out of Nifty. On an impulse he brought up the only picture he had of Marc, a quick capture with his web camera the day Marc visited. Grainy and blurred, Drew tried to resize the small image but the shot wasn't good enough and the color blocks blurred the features beyond recognition. Drew spent a few minutes cleaning up the image the best he could and sent it through his printer on photo stock. The results weren't fantastic but they were something, at least. Piss poor substitute for the real thing.

With a sigh he glanced at the clock on his PC and saw it would be more than an hour before dinner. He wandered down stairs again and moped his way into the kitchen, hands jammed into his pockets.

"Nanny, have you seen the newspaper yet?"

His grandmother froze while she peeled potatoes in the sink and then whirled around. "Dammit, Drew!" she snapped. "Don't sneak up on me like that! I'm an old lady. You'll give me a heart attack."

"I didn't sneak," he said defensively. "I just came in and asked if you'd seen the paper yet." Drew paused when he saw the expression on the old lady's face. What's got her all worked up?

"Well, it's not here yet," she answered shortly. "Now, go on up to your room. Watch TV or something."

"There's nothin' on," he answered tiredly.

"GO!" she ordered.

"Jesus," he grumbled, slinking from the room, and muttering as he climbed the stairs again. "All I did was ask if the friggin' paper came yet."

Rita McKinnon looked down into the sink, at the latest copy of the daily Guardian-Post. She ground the peelings over the page to wipe out the print, just in case. I'll just claim it didn't come today. God knows that happens often enough out here. Andy'll just watch the news. But just in case... she smeared the peelings over the page again making sure it was illegible. It was opened to Police Notes, the small-print side bar buried near the classifieds in the last section, where they listed arrests made over the last few days. As always on a Monday, it was a lengthy listing, covering the full weekend. She crumpled up the peelings in the paper and dumped them in the trash. She took the rest of the daily paper and stashed it in the middle of the recycle bin. Part of the paper missing raises questions... the whole damn thing missing, it just never arrived...

Rita sat down heavily in her rocker, fishing in her pocket for her cigarettes. Her fingers still shook. She hadn't seen much... just the name and address. And the charge. She looked nervously towards the stairs. He can't know about this yet... but he's going to. How do we deal with it? It has to me some kind of mistake. Marc's a decent kid; I know it. But if Andy sees that article he'll hit the roof. And when Drew finds out, it'll kill him.

She took a too-deep drag on her cigarette and went into a coughing fit. It subsided, and she took another, shallower drag. The old woman sat, rocking, worried about her men, knowing that there was nothing that she could do but help to pick up the pieces when it was all over. Again.

* * * * *

Drew hit the horn twice Tuesday morning and Alan came out of the back door. He was nervous and impatient. He'd already taken a big step the day before and there was no turning back. Drew dreaded the morning, but another part of him just wanted to get it over with. He caught a glimpse of Eileen Curran standing in the doorway and waved briefly. He didn't really recognize her any more than she recognized him. He'd never seen much of Eileen Curran when he and Alan were younger. Eileen was an adult, and in their child world, she was an outsider... To a child's mind, she was more a distant relative who sometimes came to call around the holidays than a sister. Sisters weren't eighteen years older.

Alan shot out the door and sprinted for the car. He yanked it open and jumped in breathlessly. Drew wondered what it was about, but Alan downplayed it.

"See?" Drew said with a half-smile. "I listened yesterday. From now on, you can open your own damn doors."

Alan stole a quick, nervous look at Drew and knitted his forehead. This wasn't the expression he expected to see on Drew's face.

Drew caught the look and wondered what was going on. Someone do something to hassle him, too? "What's the matter? You look like your gonna be sick."

"It's... it's nothin', Drew. My stomach's just a little queasy." Alan snapped his mouth closed and looked straight ahead.

Jesus, he doesn't know! He can't know and still be this calm...

Drew tried a bark of a laugh he didn't feel. "Yeah, I'm kinda nervous about today, too..." he began and when Alan didn't respond he dropped it. The two boys rode with only the blather of a Boston drive-time DJ filling the air with his Howard Stern wannabe remarks. Drew glanced down and saw Alan's right fist half clenched, his thumb rubbing against his index and middle finger, and he glanced up to the hard-set, small face. The eyes were slits and his mouth a thin line. And he was grinding his teeth. Drew knew the bit with the fingers; something was on Alan's mind. Not anything pleasant, that was for sure. But the expression told him he'd never get the information out of the other boy. Drew concentrated on his driving. He knew that it was going to be a rough day.

Alan's mind wandered to the night before, heating up the oven around five thirty for the chicken, so dinner would be just about ready when his sister came from work. He prepped the pan for the rice dish. Alan wasn't a great cook but he'd learned `survival cooking' from Nanny, and had taken care of most evening meals for him and his father. Eileen joked that even if his cooking was basic, it was less `food-in-a-box' than her own. When the oven was heated up he put in two chicken breasts on a middle rack and started the Rice-a-Roni, covering the pan once he'd mixed the flavor packet with the browned rice and vermicelli. He set the timer for twenty minutes. He knew both would be ready at the same time. And it didn't take but a few minutes to heat up frozen pees. Alan set a low flame under a pan of water while the oven heated. When the chicken was almost done he'd just add the frozen vegetable.

Domestic duties done for the moment, he grabbed the newspaper out of the back door and flipped through the pages of the Lawrence Guardian-Post. He read the comments from callers on the editorial page, then flipped over to the comics on the last page and checked the strips, ignoring only Cathy, Brenda Starr, and Garfield. He saved Crankshaft for last. He flipped through to the jobs section in the classifieds, and made a few notes; he'd need a new job. He wasn't about to go back to Home Station and all their crap. There wasn't much though, and he browsed through the automotive section for something he could afford to buy - or at least imagine he could afford. Eileen would help him with the car. Plus there was money she'd been setting aside for Alan from the support payments her father paid for Alan. She deducted basic expenses from it every month, plus the more expensive `extras' that Alan wanted, and put the rest into a joint account for Alan. Getting money into the bank was not a problem with Eileen, persuading her to take money out was a different matter, as Alan unfortunately had come to realize.

Eileen called herself `careful' with money. Alan called her a tightwad.

Not where important things were concerned... but with what she called `extras'. Right now, she regarded Alan having a car as an `extra', and one that could be deferred for a while. Alan saw it, with all the intensity of a stranded seventeen-year-old, as a necessity. So Alan decided to get a job and set money aside. He didn't know it, but Eileen had been scanning around for a decent car for her brother. She let him work because she thought it was good for him.

Alan sighed at the price of his dream cars and then browsed the wrecks he would likely be able to afford until he folded up the classifieds and was ready to stack the sections back together neatly when his eye caught the Police Notes column. He never read it as a rule but his eyes happened to catch a name and...

Then he read the charge and his jaw dropped. He wasn't sure with the street address of 323 Essex Street, but grabbed the phone book and looked up the Mid-City Manor. It was the same. His eyes shifted to the phone mounted on the wall. He dismissed any thought of calling Drew... that idea scared him too much. And what was he supposed to say? "Hey Drew, what's this about Marc selling his ass?"

Alan dialed David's cell number and got the off-line message. He was about to dial the home number when he gave an anxious look at the clock on the wall. Eileen would be home any minute, and he didn't want to have to explain everything to her. She didn't know Marc and barely knew Drew. Chances were David would be sitting down to his dinner with his own family soon. Alan drummed his fingers on the table, deciding to wait awhile.

At dinner, Eileen watched Alan. She knew he was upset about something. She also knew it wouldn't do her much good to ask. Alan would tell what Alan would tell when Alan was ready to tell it. Clams were conversational compared to Alan when he didn't want to talk about something. She knew something was definitely up when they finished cleaning up in the kitchen and Alan took the phone into his room and closed the door.

Must be on with David again, she mused. Eileen had a good idea what the relationship with David was. Alan just didn't want to talk about it, so she let them be. She figured that both of them could have done a lot worse. And she had to say they were discreet when they got together, but Eileen had a good idea what happened when David was over. Alan was neat, and always made his bed, just not that well. When the bed was neater in the evening than it had been when he left for school...

Alan caught David on the third ring. "Did you see the goddam paper?"

"Whoa! Don't yell into the phone like that, babe. What's the deal? And no, I didn't look at the paper. Besides, we get the Gazette in Haverhill."

Alan reworded what he'd read. The other end of the phone was nearly dead silence. "Oh, man. I don't believe this..." David said, his voice trailing. Then he snorted. "It gets better, babe. I think my dad's his lawyer. He was telling us he caught a case today from one of his clients and had to get a kid off a prostitution charge, and that it was a guy. He didn't give any names, but this is gotta be it. I mean, how many guys get picked up for hooking?"

Alan swallowed hard. "What'd he say his chances were? I mean, of getting off?"

"He didn't. My dad doesn't go into details about his work; he just mentioned it in passing. Plus he doesn't do criminal law any more and he's handing it off to someone who knows a little more about it. He did say from the police report it looked pretty much open and shut. Besides, why are you so worried?"

"Because Marc is a nice guy, David. That's why I'm worked up about it."

"Uh-huh. And he's Drew's honey too, right?" David said suspiciously. "What's with you two anyway? And why don't you ask him about it?"

Alan swallowed and thought fast. "Look, Dave, let's not get into that stuff, okay? Drew... Drew's been pretty decent to me lately. He - he's tryin' to make up for being one of the jerks at school. And I don't like seeing anyone get hurt."

David sounded uncertain, hesitant. "Yeah, well... Alright. Look, don't say anything, okay Toto? I mean they got that old saying about the messenger with bad news for a good reason. If this Drew guy brings it up, fine, if not, let it go. I don't want you gettin' hurt in the crossfire."

Alan hesitated but agreed - but he hadn't looked forward to the morning.

Now here was Drew, all smiles and determination, ready for the day.

Drew looked across the seat and spoke. "Look, Alan, don't worry about today, okay? I mean, you heard it all before and they're just gonna be on my ass at school, so don't let it bother you. This was my choice."

Alan swallowed hard and kept looking straight ahead, nodding absently. He'd seen one nasty break up when Chris found out Jamie was bouncing from bed to bed with every guy he could. That was hard enough, but this was different.

How did you tell someone their boyfriend was a whore?

* * * * *

Marc pulled into the parking lot of New Era Millwork and looked out at the ramshackle building. It looked more like one of those Quonset huts you saw in World War II movies than a factory. He dreaded this moment, almost as much as he'd dreaded the arrival of the paper the afternoon before. Around three in the afternoon Marc slipped out of the building and walked the few blocks to the bodega and bought a paper. He'd stood outside, rifling through the pages until he found the right section. He saw his name, address, and the charge. No story, of course. There was never story about something as mundane as hustling. Would his father see it? Probably. And that meant his brother Seth would see it, too. And Donnie was only a phone call away. His father wouldn't miss a chance to turn his brothers further away from Marc.

Marc slept in his clothes. When he woke, he sat up and stared at the floor. Evening fell and still he didn't make a move. There was a thin chance his arrest could have been left out of the paper. Marc had hopes that just once he'd catch some luck, and he had. Unfortunately, it was just his usual luck.

The boy sighed, rubbed his long jaw for a second and stepped out of the car. There were only a few minutes left before his shift started. Marc entered the building, punched his card, and hesitated at the break room door. He could hear the loud, animated voices of Felipe and Luis, and the sound of Luz scolding the two of them. Just like always. He opened the door and stepped in. The room fell silent.

Well, guess I know who reads the paper, Marc mused, a thin, grim smile crossing his face. He nodded to the girls, who couldn't disguise the uncertain look of embarrassment on their faces. One of the Dominican men leaned over as Marc passed, and he caught the word patho and a snigger. Both Sophal and Kly avoided Marc's face. Marc poured his coffee and tossed his sandwich into the refrigerator and left the room. He heard voices with various accents behind him, but understood nothing being said. He didn't have to.

Let me get through this. Just let me get through the day.

Marc entered the factory, stepped around a skid of hinges sticking out in the aisle at the Exterior shop. Tom Finn looked up from the paper opened up on his workbench, waved, and Marc waved back. Tom lived in Dorchester, a part of Boston, and he'd never see the local paper. Marc walked to his section and stepped behind the Norfield 5000 and grabbed his leather apron, filling the pockets with screws. Then he grabbed his yellow work sheet and began checking out the lift of doors stacked against his production papers, verifying the style, handing and size. The buzzer went off and he heard the voices in the factory before the machines started. As he got close to the bottom of the pallet he dropped to his knees to check out the last few doors. He was aware of people behind him and turned his head.

Luis. Tall, thin, stupid Luis was standing there, an idiot grin plastered on his ridiculous face. His pants were open, his dick was hanging out, and he held out a five-dollar bill to Marc. Felipe, Jose and his brother Juan were a few feet away, and they burst out laughing.

Ten minutes later, after Ross fired him for punching out Luis on company property, Marc strode back to his car, the few personal items from work tucked under his arm. He smiled as he started up the car and flinched at the screeching noise of the brakes. Got plenty of time to get in touch with Josh today, he told himself. He passed Luis, who was walking up the hill of the long drive. Exposing himself hadn't gone over big with Ross either. Luis didn't have his own car, and Lawrence was a long walk from Wilmington. Marc took some small satisfaction in sounding his horn and flipping off Luis as he passed.

Marc glanced at the cuts on his knuckles. They hurt, but he still smiled. He was fairly certain they didn't hurt any where near as much as Luis' mouth did, even after he spit out what was most of his front teeth. And Marc found a lot of satisfaction in that.

Copyright 2002 by Keith. All rights reserved.

AOL USERS PLEASE NOTE. I recently received complaints from readers from a third party that I NEVER answer their letters. Well, the problem really is, I never GET their letters, or a lot of the time I don't, it appears. There seems to be an issue between Lycos and AOL mail. I dunno whose server isn't talking to who, but the upshot is I never see the mail. So if you're in that group... My apologies. I'm really not a snob.

Special thanks to Jayne for pinch hitting as my editor since Marc decided making a living was more important than editing for me.
Also thanks to Nick and Eddie, who made valuable sugestions (most of which I ignored).
Email to Keith_Hackwriter@lycos.com