This story contains scenes depicting gay characters and gay sexual situations. If you find that offensive, if you are under the legal age of consent to view/read such material, or it is forbidden in your particular jurisdiction altogether, it is suggested you move on. You have been warned.
© is 2004 by Keith Morrisette, all rights reserved. No part of this story may be copied or reproduced in any way without the express consent of the author.
This story is related to but not a sequel of my two earlier stories, The Boyfriend and Little Secrets, Little Lies (formerly And the Other Friends) and several of the same characters are carried over.

More of this story is available at KeithMorrisette.com.

Comments to Keith_Hackwriter@Lycos.com.

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Leo DiStefano connected the firewire cable branching off the orange receiver to the laptop, then waited patiently for Windows to decide whether or not it was going to recognize the new device.

"You really shoulda gotten the Mac version," he groused at David. "Half the time this piece-of-crap Gates stuff doesn’t even wanna recognize the handset." Leo decided he’d been patient long enough and whacked the side of the laptop in frustration.

David looked across the seat and frowned. "Pounding on the thing isn’t gonna help," he observed. "And Tracker only works with Windows. They didn’t make anything for Mac." David leaned over for a better look. "Did hitting it help any?"

Leo grunted. "Not really. But I feel better about it."

David chuckled. "It’ll be okay once it sees the thing, right?"

The former wrestler gave the computer another solid whack. "Yeah, I tested it last night. Once it figures out what to do, it’s fine. I’ll try rebooting." Leo hit the restart and sat back and waited. "This thing is a toy with a low-end Celeron processor, and that adds to the problems. Seriously dude - if you ordered Mac-compatible, we coulda used mine. We’d be cruisin’." He scowled at the laptop. "This thing don’t have squat for memory, either. That just adds to the problem - you can’t even run a decent game on this. It doesn’t even have a DVD drive or a CD burner."

David shrugged and peered over his shoulder through the rear window of his Jetta to the small, overgrown park on the edge of the complicated seven-way intersection that connected with Route114 in South Lawrence. Considered a prime gateway to the city, the city council used federal money to erect a sign welcoming visitors to witness the comeback of the Immigrant City. Within a week, someone had spray-painted ‘Welcome to Hell’ over it, but no one had ever bothered to clean it up. The decorative fountain was off again - at least once every summer, someone dumped a box of detergent into it that filled the streets with foam and left the pumps all gummed up. That had been the previous weekend.

David looked forward again, squinted, and spotted a lone figure walking down 114, bordering the strip where D’Urso Avenue - Randy’s street - emptied out. He watched carefully until he could make out details and features.

"Here he comes," David said, elbowing Leo slightly. From inside the car, they both watched Randy slowly trudging down the sidewalk.

Leo’s black eyes followed the boy and he shook his head. "He looks like hell."

"I figure he hasn’t slept right since this whole thing started on Tuesday," David put in. "This is Friday. How would you feel if you hadn’t slept right in four days? Had to worry about what might happen if this screws up?"

Leo sucked in his cheeks and tried to look busy with the computer. "Don’t wanna think about that," he murmured softly. "And nothin’ is gonna screw up. This is gonna work."

Randy walked by the car and forced himself not to look, but David saw the eyes flicker off him and smiled back, hoping it would reassure the boy. He fought the urge to toot the horn once, just to let Randy know it was all okay - that he wasn’t alone, and that his friends were right behind him - but they couldn’t risk it. For all they knew, Danny could have access to another car and might already be parked, scouting out the scene to make sure he was in the clear. David had drilled it into Randy’s head: don’t wave, don’t signal, don’t call out when he saw the Jetta. Just wait and look normal.

The light changed and David watched the nervous boy in his rear-view work his way through the multiple stages of the busy intersection it took to reach the park - three separate light cycles. Although it wasn’t exactly laid out like a rotary where the seven streets met, the small park with the fountain was an island in the traffic. This was where Danny had always picked up Randy before, and as expected, where they planned to meet today. It made sense to David - far enough away from Randy’s house so no one could easily spot him getting into an unknown car, but close enough for Randy to get to in a few minutes by foot. Randy claimed Danny always swept around to the back of the small park and met him there. That particular stretch was hardly traveled by anyone, unless they lived in one of crammed-in tenements that bordered the other side of the street. And unless someone were watching carefully, no one driving through the main intersection would ever notice a fifteen year-old boy through the overgrown bramble that called itself ‘landscaping.’

David craned his neck around to watch Randy again. He could make out the figure of the boy well enough from this angle. The kid dropped his gym bag, then sat on a bench with his back turned.

Leo hadn’t looked up as Randy passed, but nodded. He tried to pretend an attitude of calm, then cursed the laptop again.

"Leave my computer alone," David put in. "Not everyone needs something big enough to run NORAD, y’know? The heaviest program for that thing is the word processor, and I didn’t need anything fancy." He pointed to the laptop. "Besides, all that thing has to do is read a map." David gave Leo a sly look and snickered. "Not everyone has to have the biggest toys just to make up for personal shortcomings." He checked the rearview mirror again for Randy.

Leo rose to the bait. "Two guys could split what I got and not come up short, smartass. I don’t care what they say - bigger is better." Leo flashed his front gap in a big smile. "Besides, tell me you don’t like a big one when you can get it," he added with a smirk.

David cocked an eyebrow. "You got naked with Alan? Or did you peek in the men’s room?"

Leo snickered but pretended to shudder and held up his hands in mock surrender. "Okay, I give. You win." He looked down at the computer screen and his expression changed. "Ah - victory at last!" A bird’s-eye view of Lawrence, Massachusetts, popped up, once the GPS receiver had recognized the coordinates of the broadcasting unit tucked in Randy’s bag. David had purchased the software maps for the Metro and Greater Boston area, which included their section of northern Massachusetts and nearby southern New Hampshire and part of Maine. It included every street by name in every town… and if something didn’t pop up right, it would flash the exact position in longitude and latitude. As an extra, David had loaded in his AAA Atlas program for extra reference.

Leo narrowed the range of the map enough until it showed the intersection. "Randy’s transmittin’ just fine," he said, nodding his head. "This GPS program’s great, even if you got a wussy laptop. This should be a snap." Leo reached into the box of donuts and pulled out a cruller for himself.

David glanced at the blinking lights and readouts on the computer screen. He had to admit, it was a nice set-up: too bad he’d never need it again - assuming things went well. If something went wrong, he didn’t want to even consider gambling with Randy again, but...

He turned back to Leo. "So, did they give you any crap about work?"

"A little," Leo said, offhanded. "My boss didn’t much like it, but I haven’t been out a day since I started. And when you work for a landscaper who hires college kids and day laborers most of the time, that’s rare. I’m the best guy he’s got. I told the boss today was important, and if he didn’t like it he could fire me."

David grimaced, remembering how he’d tried the same deal with Barrier Books and quickly found himself on the outside looking in. On the other hand, he didn’t really need a job. But Leo did. Losing it would’ve hurt him a lot worse.

They both turned in their seats, watching out for Randy.

"Heads up," Leo said suddenly, and pointed. David barely caught a flash of red turning onto the backside of the park. He checked his watch - Danny was exactly on time. That little sneaky shit, David thought. He’s probably been parked down a side street for twenty minutes, scoping out the neighborhood, just in case. Leo returned his attention to the laptop, but David kept watch over his shoulder. In less than a minute he saw the red Taurus in traffic, signaling for a left onto Winthrop. David turned around and turned over the engine of his Jetta. He looked back and - "Shit!"

Leo’s head popped up from the computer display, puzzled. "The little dick cut into the other lane and went up Union. Damn!" He caught himself. "Dave, don’t freak. Remember, we can still track him, up to five miles away, as long as that bag stays in the car."

David cut the wheel hard and fast and lunged into a line of traffic, ignoring the screeching breaks and the sound of horns. "You know why I counted on him using this route, Leo," David said, pounding the wheel with frustration. "I’m gonna have to cut down the street in back of the plaza. Maybe I can catch up or… dammit!" He saw the back-end of a tractor rig, illegally blocking the side street. David swayed back into Winthrop. He scanned ahead - there was only one other entrance to the 114 Plaza from where they were, but it was a controlled light. More time lost, he thought. I’ll lose ’em for sure.

Leo tapped him on the shoulder. "Don’t panic, they turned off Union, but…" his voice trailed and his eyebrow knitted together then he smiled. "It ain’t a street - he’s cuttin’ through the parking lot. Keep goin’ straight. I think I know what he’s gonna do: he’ll pick up 114 past the lights, down by Tacky Bell."


Leo shrugged and grinned. "You know, that Mexican fast food place - there’s one right on the corner and Danny don’t have to deal with the extra lights. And…" His finger traced the route of the blinking light on the screen. "Yup. I see a red Taurus cutting through," he said, and pointed across the almost-empty parking lot.

David slowed down at the red light and watched the car. Sure enough, it turned onto their street. David did a quick check in his rearview for cops and calculated he could make it across the intersection before the big Buick taking its left turn would be a danger to him, and charged through the intersection, ignoring another horn and screech of brakes.

Leo’s eyes popped open. "Jesus!" He turned to Dave, his skin a little paler than normal. "Hate to be with you the day your luck runs out," he said, shaking his head and letting out a little sigh of relief.

"That’s three lights he skipped," David said. "That’s two chances Randy won’t have. We only got two left."

They caught up to the red Ford and David eased up on the speed and followed a comfortable distance behind. He picked up his phone, thumb hovering over the speed dial. Up ahead was a theater complex, and Danny made that green light, too… and David floored it and did a Hail Mary yellow.

"I’m tellin’ you, don’t worry," Leo reassured him. "Relax! We can track him okay. Nothin’s gonna happen to the kid."

"I know," David replied, biting his lower lip. "But I’m thinking more of Randy. The kid’s already scared enough, and every minute extra he’s in that car…" He shook his head. "I just want him in the clear."

Both cars rolled through the green traffic signal in front of the theater complex. Only one chance left, he thought. The southbound entrance of 495 was just ahead - and just beyond the overpass, there was one last shot. They passed under the two rusting bridges and Danny swung into the left-turning lane. David sighed with relief. It changed to red, and Danny was the second car in the line. David rolled in two cars behind, watching.

Before the Taurus came to a full stop they saw the passenger door suddenly swing open. Randy stumbled out and sprinted across the two travel lanes and David caught his breath - the kid didn’t notice the through-traffic light was already green and cars were roaring through, barely missing him. David saw Randy make it to the curb, then stumbled on the sidewalk and went down - hard, knee first, and he could tell that it hurt. The boy scrambled up to his feet, obviously in pain and limping, but forced himself to run. He dodged behind the Brighter Worlds Carpet building.

David hit the speed dial, waited for the click of the open line. "He’s clear, Alan," he barked. "Scoop him up - behind the carpet store, right after the bridges… yeah, just take him to your place in Methuen and wait." He held the phone away from his ear, then looked up and scowled before he spoke again. "And tell Martin to stop all that yelling, will you? Look, he banged up his knee, so put some ice on it when you get to your place. I’ll check back later - love ya, babe." He snapped the phone shut.

Just as he was finishing the call, the Taurus’ drivers’ side door swung open and a figure leapt out. David saw the blond boy and he felt something lurch inside him. Jesus, he thought, sucking in his breath. Danny still looks like a kid, hardly more ’n Randy. He caught sight of the boyish face, and it was angry and red.

Danny stood, confused about what to do. Two lanes of traffic kept him from chasing Randy down with the car - although this particular spot was the most dangerous in terms of making a break, it was the safest place for Randy, especially since he’d had to slow down when he banged his knee. At least he wouldn’t have to hop fences or cut through yards. And Danny couldn’t risk just leaving the car and taking off after Randy. He couldn’t even force his way back into the through-lane, since there was a concrete berm in the way and circle around. There wasn’t even enough room for his car to make a U-Turn onto the eastbound lane of 114, not that it would do him any good unless he drove over the center divider. And that would take too much time anyway, not to mention attract more attention to himself than Danny likely would want. His only option was to make the left turn onto the Interstate.

The control signal switched to a green arrow, and the drivers waiting behind Danny sounded their horns. Danny glared at the cars and flipped them off with a flourish, but he was through and he knew it. Even if he circled down on the next exit, it was an intricate cloverleaf that would take nearly fifteen minutes to maneuver, even with limited or no traffic.

Randy was in the clear, which was what David wanted from the beginning.

"Yes!" David murmured. He saw Danny’s mouth working and the glowering anger of his brick-red face as he slid back into his car, rammed it into gear and spun his tires, leaving behind a cloud of blue exhaust and burning rubber as he sped onto the highway ramp.

Leo made a low whistle. "Now, that is one pissed-off little kid," he said, chuckling.

"Don’t be fooled," David corrected. "Danny’s no kid. He’s the same age as you and me, Leo."

Leo grunted. "True… but our job just got a lot easier," he added, brightening. "With Randy out of the car, he won’t be dodgin’ around, tryin’ to confuse the kid about where they’re goin’. He’ll just drive straight home, and that’ll be a big break for us."

They followed at a safe distance, keeping the car just barely in sight in the sparse mid-morning traffic. When Danny exited the highway itself, they fell back even more to stay out of visual range. The GPS signal came through loud and clear, and Leo gave David directions from the map display. They were never closer to Danny than a fifth of a mile or further behind than a half. They no longer had to sweat it out when Danny made sudden changes - the software for the tracker just kept the map current and remembered the route. Even if David and Leo had to stop, as long as Danny was within five miles of a line-of-sight transmission, they could keep track of him.

They only had one worry: if Danny came to a stop and tossed out Randy’s backpack, which held the transmitter. And that was the reason David told Randy to casually toss it into the back seat when he got into the car. Out of Danny’s sight was likely to be out of Danny’s mind, while he was focused on whatever revenge he intended to take on Randy.

"We’re in Boxford," Leo said after a long stretch of silence except for directions. They needed to stay alert and keep the chatter to a minimum, or they might miss something. "Nice rich town… and a buncha fancy houses on five-acre lots, set way back from the streets. The lawn service has a lotta customers out this way." He leaned forward with a start and peered at the computer screen. "Yeah, he just took another left and stopped moving," Leo said crisply. "Might be a light, but not too likely way out here." He looked up and grin, his face bathed in the glow of the laptop screen. "I think our boy might be home."

David’s heartbeat began to race. "Got a street?"

Leo scowled, shaking his head. "Not really… these are all back country roads, and they never made it into the main software pack, which is understandable. But I got the coordinates, and maybe the local AAA Atlas can help. Let’s just make sure, though. Pull over. If I trigger the program it might be too much of a drain and the computer could crash." He gave David a look. "That’s why I bitched about memory. The Tracker uses a lot with the map package goin’, and I don’t want to lose everything. If he stays where he is for the next ten minutes or so, he’s most likely home and I’ll switch it."

David pulled over to the side of the road and parked in the deep shade of an oak, and both young men sat back and waited, with nothing to do. The signal never altered. They waited another ten minutes to be sure, then Leo tried to bring up the street Atlas. The notebook froze. Leo swore, tried bringing up the Start menu so he could reboot, but Windows refused to cooperate. In the next two minutes he loudly voiced his opinion of Chairman Gates and the PC platform, the way only a dedicated Mac-user could. He hit control-alt-delete a dozen times with his thick fingers before the machine finally decided to cooperate and rebooted. He sighed with relief and looked up at David.

"See what I mean? That’s why I wanted to save everything first, just in case. Good thing, too." The notebook completed it’s start up and Leo retried the reference files and fed in the numbers. He sat back, the trace of a smile on his face. "Holy shit," he said in a low voice. "I know that street! We do four houses out here, every Thursday… hell, I was just up here yesterday!" He gave David directions through the back roads. David noticed the almost complete absence of signs.

Leo shut down the program, waited a full minute, then started up the tracker program again. David rolled slowly down the street while Leo watched the signal strength. Suddenly he grabbed David’s arm and told him to stop. "We’re right on top of it." He squinted, saw a mailbox a few dozen feet ahead and nodded. "That’s it, I swear. And the guy is one of our customers!"

David gave him a nasty look. "If he’s one of your customers, then why didn’t you say something before? How many Griff Robinson’s do you think there are?"

"Hey, cool it!" Leo came back defensively. "The customer on the invoice is ‘PGR Associates,’ okay? It’s a standing contract that my boss bills. I’ve never even seen anybody around the place."

"And that never rang any bells?" David demanded. "Made you a little suspicious?"

"No, and why should it?" Leo answered with a shrug and kept a reasonable tone of voice. "A lot of people with money put their houses into trusts and dummy corporations for tax reasons - a quarter of my customer list is marked down like that. And as for never seein’ anyone… people work during the day, David. I’ve never even seen most of our customers! We roll up, do our job, and leave an invoice at the door or in the mailbox when we’re done. My boss takes care of the business end of things. So lighten up, willya?" he added defensively. Somewhere in the back of his mind he had an image of envelopes sitting on a side table at Griff’s old house in Haverhill, made out to PGR Associates… his consulting business. He’d never given it a thought, never even asked what the P stood for. It hadn’t mattered. How could he have expected Leo to think of something like that when it didn’t even occur to him?

"Yeah, yeah," David muttered and rolled the car closer to the drive. They both stepped out of the car and walked around to the front. David peered up the drive but couldn’t see anything. "I’d never know there was a house in there if you didn’t tell me."

"It was a real bitch findin’ it the first time too," Leo agreed. "That driveway sorta curves around some trees, and it’s way back on the lot, so the house itself is out of sight. Whoever built the place must’ve wanted to feel secluded. Not even much of lawn. Nice house, too - at least from the outside. Never seen it inside, and no one’s ever come out." He frowned. "Come to think of it, I’ve seen the shades move a little from time to time when we’ve been working here. Probably that kid. So, what’s next?"

David’s mouth twitched and he scowled again. "Is there any way I can get to the house without being seen?"

"Not really. And they might have alarms and stuff."

David shrugged. "Then screw it. If we’re gonna be spotted, we might as well just drive up to the house, right out in the open." He studied Leo, his own face a mask. "I need you to stay out of it, Leo," he said firmly. "If something winds up going wrong, I want you out of this."

Leo looked worried and eyed David carefully until the other boy spoke again. "And don’t worry, I’m not gonna do anything stupid. I have to… well, I have to talk to Danny on my own. I’ve got reasons."

The heavier young man’s eyes burned into David’s, looking for a sign, but saw nothing. That unnerved him.

David shook his head and held up his arms. "Go ahead," he said with a thin smile. "Check me out. No guns, no knives… nothing like that. And we both know how much I suck in a fight."

Leo never flinched, and his eyes stayed lock to David’s for a very long moment. He’d seen that look before… in a mirror. Finally he looked away, and without saying another word, they got back in the car and rode down a heavily-wooded path up to the house. As they got closer, Leo noted that as usual, all the drapes and blinds were closed, but he thought he detected movement in a second-floor window. David didn’t see it and started to get out of the car. Leo reached for the handle but a hand grabbed his left arm. David shook his head.

"You stay here, and no arguments," David said firmly. "If things get a little physical and it looks bad for me… well, do what you have to. But I don’t think anything’ll happen. Another thing: if I get inside, I want you to see if you can get in the garage. Fix it so he can’t go anywhere."

Leo took in the poker face, then frowned. "What’re you gonna do? And tell me why we’re even here now, will you? I thought the whole idea was just to locate this little crud, and you were just gonna pass on the information."

"Think about it," David replied, nodding towards the house. "Right now Danny’s alone in there and pissed-off at Randy. We’ve gotta make sure he doesn’t start posting those files on the net. It’ll kill the kid if any of that stuff goes out."

The scowl returned to Leo’s face but he had to admit David was right. If he’d been in Danny’s position, he’d likely be doing exactly what David suggested.

"We haven’t got much time," David said firmly. "I’ve broken up files and uploaded them myself - if you know what you’re doing, it doesn’t take long. Now let go, okay? Just trust me. And take care of the car like I asked."

Leo’s grip relaxed and David slid out of the front seat and past the garage. The garage extended out a few feet from the rest of the house, and he lost sight of Leo as he stepped up onto the stoop. He eased the outer door open and locked the pump so it couldn’t close, and put his ear to the door. David grinned. He was sure Danny was right there, listening - the boy couldn’t have missed the sound of the car coming up the drive, and David had made no effort to soften the sound of the closing car door. I know you were peeking out the window, David thought.

He put his own ear to the door, and thought he heard something but reasoned that could be wishful thinking. He examined the door, and recognized this was the same type of re-enforced steel unit that was on his own house, and was perfectly aware of its soundproofing qualities. The he began to pound on the door with a closed fist while leaning on the bell, hoping the racket would throw Danny off base. When that didn’t get any results he stepped back a few feet and lunged at the door with his right foot up, then pounding at it furiously. "C’MON DANNY," he bellowed. "Open the fuck up! Or maybe you’d rather deal with cops instead?" he roared.

After the word ‘cops’ David heard the lock and the door slowly swung open - and there he was: Danny, his face composed in wide-eyed fear that David didn’t care was real or not.

And you got every reason to be scared.

The small, child-like body quivered and a trembling mouth began to stammer but the eyes were bright and alert, looking for an advantage. "Who - "

David didn’t wait for the performance to start. His fist came up and caught Danny in the face. Before the other boy had the chance to react, David seized him by the shoulders and slammed him against the wall of the garage. Danny’s arms flew out from the impact and his eyes looked dazed. Before he could recover David brought his own face within an inch of Danny’s, a sudden thrill running through his body when he saw the thin trickle of blood running out of the smaller boy’s mouth and nose. A triumphant, evil smile played over his face.

"I’ve got you, you worthless rat-fucker!" David growled in a raspy half-whisper, slamming the body a second time. "Remember me, Danny?" He brought his hand up and gave the small blond a second back-hander. Danny’s head flew left and smacked against the side of the building again and an angry red mark formed on the bruised flesh and a heavier flow of blood came out of the mouth. "It’s been awhile, so maybe you forgot. It’s David Sciuoto - we used to be best buddies, remember?"

Half, dazed, Danny turned back full-face and tried to focus. This time the eyes registered a genuine fear as realization set in.

"David?" the boy whispered.

The taller boy heard a sound and swung his head enough to the side to see Leo skittering around the front of the car. He swung his attention back to the dazed Danny. "You and me are going inside now," he said in a low voice, "and I’m gonna lay out exactly what’s gonna to happen from here on. It’s your only option, and I’m telling you right now: try an’ screw me around, and tomorrow night you’ll be the most popular guy at Middleton Jail."

David turned his attention back to Leo and his tone softened as he called out. "Leo!" he called. "It’s all done! Just do what I asked, okay?"

Leo nodded, but kept his mouth shut.

David focused on Danny again and twisted his head around so he could see Leo. "See that guy?" David murmured. "Now, just look at those arms and that thick neck. Makes me look like nothin’, doesn’t he? And guess what - there’s two things in the world he hates: Fags is one, and a molester’s another."

He saw the look of raw fear on Danny’s face. David enjoyed it almost as much as the sight of the blood running from his mouth as he continued to spin his half-truth. He grabbed the boy’s collar and pulled his face closer to his. "Just think of the fun time he could have with you, Danny. It wouldn’t be a good idea to screw with me too much right now."

He grabbed Danny by the hair and the seat of his pants and tossed him through the front door. The older boy followed and slammed it shut behind them.

Leo frowned, looked reluctant to step back, then finally shrugged. He’d heard the hard slap while he sat inside the car, along with the sound of what had to be Danny’s head smacking against the wall before he’d scrambled out. He hadn’t been able to see much of the boy - just a quick glimpse from around the corner, followed by part of a profile jerk into view. Just a blur of small, elfin features and an impression of blond hair before David dragged him into the house. But he could see enough of David to recognize the sheer malice in his face, and the threat of his stance was unmistakable.

Jesus, he thought. Please don’t take it too far. His mind spun back to a night on the grounds of Brown down in Rhode Island, with an image of his own foot shod in steel-toed boots slamming into the body of someone he truly hated. Leo remembered only too well how much effort it took to stop kicking, and it made him sick to think of how far he’d nearly gone. He’d sworn never to do anything like that again… but every time he saw his sister and nephew, he never regretted his actions for a second.

Leo stood by the car the car, helpless. After watching David, he realized it was probably lucky for Martin that Leo had stepped in when he had the week before.

Now what, he thought. Wait for one guy to kill the other? Leo grunted, then stepped around the car and walked to the corner of the garage and peered at the front door, even tried the knob - but it was locked, and there wasn’t a sound.

Leo hovered by the first garage door, listening. He was frustrated. He debated staying there for a little bit more but finally set about the task David had given him. The garage doors were the heavy-duty aluminum type without windows, but Leo knew the red Taurus had to be inside. He tried to raise the door by hand, but wasn’t surprised when they wouldn’t budge; most likely they were electric, locked securely into place once the motor shut down. There was a button on one door - a lot like a doorbell - and Leo thought maybe it was an over-ride in case of a dead battery on a remote, but when he pressed it the door didn’t budge.

"No surprises there," Leo grumbled. Nearby was a numeric keyboard, but he avoided it - too many chances it might trip an alarm if he entered the wrong entry number. He skirted past David’s parked Jetta and around the far side of the driveway, then spotted what he already knew was there - a side door to the garage. He’d passed it often enough pushing a lawn mower but had never paid much attention to it. It had a window and sure enough, as he peered into the dim light, he could just make out the Taurus. Briefly Leo considered wrapping his shirt over his fist and punching in the glass. Then on an impulse, he reached out and grabbed the handle. Much to his surprise, it gave way and Leo let it swing in. He shook his head… people spent thousands of dollars on security alarms, but wouldn’t take the time to flip the lock on a ten-dollar builder’s grade hand set.

The other garage stall was packed with useless junk. Like most garages in America, this one was just an extra storage space for things that were supposed to go to the dump - eventually.

He edged along the wall and got to the driver’s side of the car, and just as he’d figured, the door was unlocked. He reached inside and pulled at the hood latch before reaching into the back seat and retrieving Randy’s bag and fished out the GPS handset. He ripped the duct tape off the transmitter key then switched the unit off before dropping it back into the bag. Next, he propped the hood of the car, trying to decide on the best way to disable it before remembering that subtlety didn’t much matter. Leo reached in and yanked out a handful of wires.

Won’t get far without the spark plugs connected, he chuckled, slamming the hood shut. Once outside he tossed Randy’s bag and the wires into the back seat of David’s car, checked his watch, and waited. His only real function in whatever David Sciuoto’s plan had taken less than five minutes.

Fifteen minutes later, David strode out of the house with something shiny in his hand, looking grim but more at ease. He smiled when he saw Leo but there was still an angry glint in his eyes. "Don’t worry," he said, as he slid next to him on the front seat. "The kid’s still alive, if you’re wondering." He held up two CD-ROMs. "And I made sure Randy won’t be making any surprise appearances on the Net. Let’s get outta here."

"There’s a utility box on the other side of the house," Leo suggested. "Everything comes up out of an underground line, that’s why you don’t see any cables running into this place. I could kill the phones. Hell, I could kill the electricity if you want. Damn thing only has a two-dollar padlock on it."

David shook his head. "Overkill for right now, but it’s good to know about that box. If he had to make a call, chances are he’s got a cell phone stashed somewhere. But Danny knows he’ll only screw himself if he tries to tip off Griff. At least, he does now." He looked back at the house, then shook his head. "Damn. I can’t believe this took less than a couple of hours for everything. And lucky for us, Danny was the only one there. Uh… you made sure he can’t drive anywhere, right?"

"Easy job," he said, pointing to the electrical wires on the front seat. He eyed the disks in David’s hand. David started the engine, then handed them over.

"Do me a favor," David said, letting the motor idle. "Danny swore those are the original and only copies. It’s a safe bet he’s lying, but check ’em in the laptop, okay? At least it’ll give the creation date of the file."

"He might’ve already split up some files," Leo suggested. "Or there might be a backup. He could still cause Randy trouble."

David nodded and smiled without any real humor. "I thought of that too… which is why I bounced his computer of the wall a few times and gave it a few kicks. That way I didn’t have to worry about him reconstructing any deleted files. Plus I felt better just breaking something."

They rolled down the driveway and David turned into the main street by the time the laptop came up complete. Leo dropped in the first ROM and saw it was loaded with AVIs and picture files. He clicked one of the jpg files and saw the date was only a few weeks old. He flinched when he saw a picture of a terrified, very-naked Randy sandwiched between two figures - one very obviously bigger and older. It didn’t require much thought to figure out what was happening to the boy, who looked limp and miserable.

Leo shook his head, understanding more than he ever wanted to know about what Randy had been through. He clicked up two other images and shuddered before he closed the window. Leo looked up at David. "It’s a copy, alright," he said in a low voice. "Everything’s got the same file date, and it’s only a couple of weeks old." He paused and looked at the rest of the disk contents. "Uh, I’m guessin’ the video files are more of the same?"

"I watched parts of a few. You guess right," David said in a low, steady voice and they continued down the road. "That’s why I wanted to get in there, Leo. And that’s why I’m pretty sure Danny won’t make any calls - he knows I’ll call the cops, and that’s the last thing he wants. And I had you take care of the car so he can’t run. Nor for awhile, anyway."

Leo waited for more information, didn’t get any. "Jesus - the cops," he said, looking around anxiously. "Are they next?" he asked as they turned onto a busier street and David aimed his car for the highway.

David sucked in his cheek. "Not yet," was his evasive reply. "There’s still some things that have to be taken care of first."

Leo grunted and slumped down in his seat. "But it’s stuff I shouldn’t know about, right?" He eyed a poker-faced David, who would only nod. "And you won’t tell me anything more about Danny either, will you?"

David eyed Leo first and then switched his attention to the dashboard clock. He reached for his cell phone and hit the dialer. Once again the call was picked up almost immediately. "Alan?" he said. "Everything’s cool, babe. Tell Randy he’s got nothin’ to worry about. Danny’s out of his life. Yeah, for good. What?"

David blushed, listening to the reply and snuck a nervous look at Leo and his voice dropped. Leo didn’t even pretend not to listen. "C’mon! I can’t say that right now, I’m not alone… Huh?" He paused for a few moments, then turned an even deeper red. "Look, are those two punks sitting next to you and listening to this? Good. I know it sounds great, but we won’t have time this afternoon before Eileen gets home. Alan, I know she knows! I know she wouldn’t say anything, but…"

He eyed Leo who stared out the side window and pretended not to be listening. David dropped his voice, knowing it was pointless.

"It’d be too weird if she got home and you and I were in the middle of it. We can go to the pool house again at my place like last night. Anyway, tell Martin and Randy we’re on our way back. I’ll get Randy home and Leo can…"

David paused again and listened. "Whaddya mean they wanna hang out together all day?" He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah… it’s true love and all that happy shit. So you’ll drive ’em back? No, I still have things to do. Okay, babe. Love you, too." He snapped the phone shut and glanced over at Leo. "The kids wanna hang out at Alan’s for awhile, and he’ll drive ’em home later. We’re all done, Leo - well, you are anyway. What are you gonna do now?"

"Oh, I dunno, Leo said with a smirk. "Maybe go visit Sandy, ’cuz she’s off today, no one’s home, and neither of us have a pool house for later."

A red-faced David laughed. At least Leo would be out of the way. David still had some things to do before the day was out, and he didn’t want anyone knowing about them at all.

Twenty minutes later, David watched Leo drive off. After a moment, he picked up his cell again and clicked a speed-dial button. After some delays, Lou Sciuoto’s voice crackled.

"Davey! Look, I got some people trackin’ some leads and - "

"I’ve got him," David cut in nervously, and after an explosion on the line, explained how. He had to hold the phone back from his ear during the second verbal volley, some of it lapsing into an Italian that David sort of understood, most of it dealing with David being stupid.

"Stay right where you are!" Lou concluded. "I’ll call you right back. Don’t go anywhere and don’t do nothin’! I gotta call a friend of ours!"

David sat in the parking lot of the 114 Plaza in Lawrence for ten minutes, mulling the phrase over in his head. Just like a goddam movie, he mused. ‘Friends of ours.’ Jesus, who’s he calling - Tony Soprano? And just how much farther is this gonna go?

The cell chirped and David glanced at the caller ID on the readout. He expected to see the salvage yard number displayed, but all the display said was ‘private.’ He clicked the button and Lou Sciuoto’s voice blared out of the earpiece. "Alright, kid. First off - get everyone with a connection to this mess together tomorrow at my place in Andover - you’re gonna have party makin’ as much noise as you guys can… with luck, enough so the cops come by and make notes."

David frowned. "Then what?"

"Then nothing. You stay put and be a pain in my neighbors ass until you hear from me. I got somethin’ set up with… friends of mine. Now, listen to me - and this time, I mean listen and do what I’m tellin’ you, ’cuz if this thing fucks up, it’s gonna be both our asses. And David? Don’t call me on any of my regular numbers again if somethin’ comes up. Got that? Only this one… just in case we got an audience."

David winced and sat back and let his uncle prattle on. He glanced at his watch again - he still had an hour before he’d be able to take care of the problem with Danny permanently.

* * * * *

David eyed the mid-day crowd eddying around them in the Boston Greyhound terminal, feeling uncomfortable and wishing the whole matter was done with. Danny stared at the ticket, scowling.

"This sucks," he growled. "It’s gonna take forever."

"We don’t have any choice," David said, for the third time. "You know that. The airlines are out - they want ID, and they record everything. I didn’t know Amtrak was doing the same thing, otherwise we could’ve skipped coming into the city… but that’s just as well. No one’s likely to recognize us around here or even remember. But it’s either the bus or you walk. One way or another, you gotta get out of do you really want to deal with the cops? If you’re not there when everything goes down, it ain’t likely Griff’s gonna tell ’em about you. He’d be stupid if he did."

Danny looked at the ticket again. Almost four days cooped-up in a bus - Boston to Los Angeles. And God alone knew how many stops in between. He’d weighed the consequences of sticking it out, but had to admit it; David was right. The last thing Danny wanted was a paper or electronic trail behind him, just in case. Now that they were busted, he didn’t want to deal with cops, Griff, lawyers or any of the rest. At just under 5’ 4", and roughly 120 pounds, Danny looked like a kid - but he was eighteen, and that meant adult court. He wasn’t sure if he could weasel out of jail time, even if he testified and played it out as Griff’s unwilling, brainwashed accomplice - and that meant adult jail.

Danny shuddered. He’d watched enough TV to know what happened to child molesters in prison, and didn’t need it explained how it would be worse for a young, small, good-looking guy. He didn’t care much about who he had sex with if there was something in it for him: but being passed around to anyone who wanted it was different. Plus it didn’t seem too likely other inmates would bother with things like a lube, let alone an inconvenience like condoms. Even if he tried fighting back the only way he could, the thought of having his teeth knocked out for ‘easier access’ didn’t appeal either.

The picture of Randy standing up even in a closed court proceeding to give evidence didn’t seem likely, but then, Randy wasn’t the only one involved. Someone else might come forward, and he’d taken steps against that. The first thing Danny did when David left was to sort through the wreckage of his computer and rip out the hard drive. He fried it with a stripped-off lamp cord and then pulverized it with a hammer - no forensics would ever turn anything up, since there wasn’t enough left. Then he’d fed the notebook he kept with all the names and addresses of his ‘friends’ into the shredder in Griff’s office. He’d stuffed the strips of paper into the wood stove along with kindling and then ground up the ashes.

Other records would be minimal - he’d always called his boys on cheap, pre-paid cells or on pay phones, never a hard house line. There wouldn’t be much there to link the other kids, even if someone found them. Griff’s electronic photo collection was the only problem. Someone might recognize one of the kids somehow, and start looking where they shouldn’t.

He’d worried about that. There was no way he could get rid of the mountain of disks and photos Griff had squirreled in his ‘safe’ room, at least not in time. And as for Griff… Danny had to be pragmatic. Griff no longer had anything to offer, so Danny didn’t need him anymore. Why bother tipping him off by messing with the man’s computer? If the cops busted Griff, they’d be focused on nailing the adults, not the kids. The pictures the cops would have would be enough to convict without ever having to bring a witness into court. Besides, one of Griff’s boy-loving friends was bound to rat on the others, in desperation of saving themselves.

Danny faced an undeniable truth; it was better if he just disappeared. He didn’t know why David was giving him a chance to run, but that didn’t matter much. Danny never questioned freebies in life; he just took them.

He scowled and tossed his duffle bag filled with clothes onto the LA cart. The attendant clipped tags to it and handed Danny Doucette his claim stubs. Danny hung onto the smaller bag filled with the important things - his records, his old cup, and a few other things he didn’t want slung into a bag that was going to be stuffed into the cargo hold of a bus where anyone might get hold of it. He stuffed the ticket into his back pocket.

David checked his watch. "The bus doesn’t leave for another few minutes," he muttered, not looking at Danny’s face. "I’ll wait with you."

"Makin’ sure I get on? You don’t trust me?"

"Yeah," David said simply. "And, no - I don’t." He forced himself to look up and study the boy. Danny still looked so innocent… that was what got to David the most. Even now, when all the dirt was out in the open, Danny still looked barely 13 or 14. It scared David. He shuddered, then dug in his pocket and pulled out an envelope and held it out.

"You’re gonna need money," David said. "There’s a little over two grand in there. It’s not much, but it’s all as I could lay my hands on. If you’re careful, it should help you get set up in LA."

Danny snatched the envelope, looked inside, and his eyebrows rode up. He nodded, pulled out a single fifty, then stuffed the envelope deep down the front of his pants for safety. David looked away and the silence held between them, and Danny studied him. He’s still good lookin’, the boy thought ruefully. Damn, he was nice to look at when he was thirteen. Now he’s gorgeous…

"I still don’t get it," Danny said aloud. He looked squarely at David, who avoided Danny’s eyes. "Why go to all this trouble? You had us nailed. Why bother to help me out?"

David stuffed his hands in his pockets. His eyes skittered off Danny and he looked away quickly, then back. "I owed you," he answered simply.

The snort Danny made was loud enough for several people in the busy terminal to look around, but he didn’t pay any attention. They didn’t matter. "You owe me? How do you figure that?"

David stole a furtive look at Danny. "Back in Haverhill… that last time," David said slowly. "You got me out of there, remember? You tipped me off, and I got away. Then you stayed so Griff wouldn’t come after me." He looked at Danny again and his face with flushed with shame. "I could’ve said something to someone," he said, his voice growing hoarse. "But I didn’t. Maybe they could’ve helped you. But I was too scared of anyone finding out about what I… what we were doin’ together. With what Griff was doin’ to us. I kept my mouth shut just to save my own ass," David continued. "And I let him keep messing with yours."

"You never told anybody anything about me?" Danny said in a half-whisper.

David winced. "No," he admitted. "Not until this week. I’m sorry. And that’s what this is all about, Danny. I’m… I’m finally payin’ off a little of what I owe."

Danny Doucette sat back with his careful mask of childish innocence and nodded quietly mulling over the information. Neither said another word for a few minutes more until Danny looked around and spotted a news stand. He stood up, holding onto his grip bag. "I’m gonna need somethin’ to keep me busy on the bus. Something to munch on, too, ’cause I skipped lunch. I’ll be over there," he said pointing.

David nodded and sat back. There wasn’t much sense in trying to keep a close watch. Once he was on the bus, Danny could do anything he wanted, go anywhere he wanted.

At the news stand. David watched him snatch two thick paperbacks out of a rack, barely even looking at the titles. Of course, Danny would be cooped up in a bus for almost four days, so anything that would help burn time would be a welcome distraction. David watched the kid grab a few magazines at random and load up with a bunch of snack foods.

Kid… he thought. Jesus, I have to stop thinking of him like that. He’s my age, but…

David shook off the feeling. Danny was talking to the attendant behind the counter now. She was middle-aged and looked tough, but David could tell Danny had to be turning on the charm the way her demeanor changed. She smiled, snatched up a notebook from behind the counter and tossed in a pen and then put everything into a white plastic bag. Danny handed over the money. Hope he’s careful with the money, David thought, ’cause it goes fast.

Danny came back and offered David a packaged brownie, which he declined. Danny stripped the wrapper and bit in. "I usually don’t eat crap like this," he said between mouthfuls. "But then, I guess I won’t have to watch my weight as much anymore. And for next few days, it’s gonna be strictly greaseburgers by the roadside."

David watched him chew. "Think you’ll find your family in LA? And what about your father?"

Danny shrugged. He figured his real mother had been dead for years, but knew he’d made up some story about a family when he first met David, though the details were sketchy. He’d dodged the bullet so far, and hoped his luck held. The trick was not to dwell on details. "I got an idea where to look," he said simply. "I mean… mom talked about meetin’ a sister out there a few times."

David shook his head. "So she did leave your father," he said simply.

Parts of the lie trickled back into Danny’s mind and he played up to it. "I think so. I mean, I ran off after that last time you were there. My dad beat me real bad that night, and… well, Griff took me in. You know why," he added quickly and shot David a sorrowful glance, tears forming at the corners of his eyes. "I didn’t have nowhere else to go," he choked.

David grimaced. He wanted to ask why Danny recruited for Griff… but his one-time friend looked so sad, so lost… "Yeah, I always figured it was something like that."

"The thing with Martin…" Danny started.

David raised his hand. "It’s in the past. You don’t have to explain anything."

"No," the smaller boy insisted. "It’s not what you think." He lowered his voice. "Griff made me do that shit, or I would’ve been kicked out a long time ago. I swear, none of it was my idea. Sure, sometimes I wanted to meet guys just for fun. But I never wanted to get ’em into anything… anything dangerous. Especially kids like Martin or Randy."

David stared at the boy. I could almost believe that, he thought. But it’s just too pat. He nodded and turned away.

They sat in silence until the boarding call was sounded for the bus. The two of them walked solemnly along, Danny still clutching his bag. People were milling around next to the LA-bound bus, no one wanting to actually board until they had to. Danny scoped out the crowd carefully, making mental notes. Suddenly he turned on David, wrapped his arms around him.

"Thanks, man… you gotta know how much I appreciate this, Davey," he said, now crying for real. "It almost makes up for everything." He stood back and wiped his tears, then smiled. "You’re the only one, Dave. The only one that ever did anything for me without ever wantin’ something back." Then he leaned in again and gave David a long, deep kiss on the mouth, and the two boys leaned against each other for a moment. David blushed when Danny stepped back. Everyone in the vicinity had seen it, and a few people in the crowd made some nasty remarks. Then Danny sprinted through the door of the bus.

David stood, tears streaming down his face, fighting with himself. He knew he should hate Danny for what he did to Randy, what he’d done to a bunch of other kids like Randy and Martin - kids starved for attention and willing to take stupid chances to get it, only to find themselves trapped and used. But he’d loved Danny once, and in that moment he still loved the skinny thirteen-year-old who had put himself at risk to protect David. Danny had paid the high price for David’s cowardice.

Inside the bus, safely behind the tinted windows, Danny watched David on the platform. Step one complete, he thought to himself, looking at David. What a fuckin’ sap.

Passengers who had seen the display on the platform began to filter into the bus, and for the most part avoided looking at him and steered clear. Then a man in his early forties came by, gave Danny a warm smile and dropped into the seat beside him.

Perfect, the boy thought. I know I saw him out there. And I know he saw the kiss.

Danny leaned back in the reclining seat, a sad look on his face and stealing mournful looks out the window at David until they pulled away. The bus wound its way through the busy Boston streets and Danny made some idle chit-chat to the man, who seemed sympathetic. By the time they turned onto the Mass Turnpike, the tears were running down Danny’s face as he told the man a sad story of a spiteful family forcing him and his boyfriend to split up by sending him to live with relatives in the west.


* * * * *

The bus rolled into the Framingham, Massachusetts terminal - the first stop of many on the cross-country trip - a few hours later. On the edge of tears again, Danny slipped the envelope into his seatmate’s hand. "Just drop it in the mail when you get to California," he said desperately. "Please? It’s so my family thinks I made it out there. My boyfriend’s gonna meet me here," he half-whispered. "Just do that for me, willya? It’ll get ’em off the track. I mean, he’s eighteen… but I’m only fifteen. They threatened to have him arrested if I didn’t go."

Danny looked up to the man with his clear, gray-blue eyes and the man’s heart nearly broke seeing the desperation reflected in them. The older man nodded, the sentimental part of him happy to do his small part for boys in love being forced apart. He knew the hair-brained plan the boys were working had no chance. What parents would wait a week for a letter, when a phone call was only a few dollars? Still…

Danny gave the man a hug and grabbed his bag and hurried up to the front of the bus and out the door, the driver calling out that he couldn’t wait. Danny paid no attention as he ran off and spotted what he needed next.

He turned into the men’s room and closed himself into the first stall. He’d been prepared to slip the man on the bus fifty bucks to mail the letter, but he’d refused it. If he’d been pushed, Danny would’ve invited the man into this stall and enticed him that way, but there was no hint, so Danny didn’t feel the need to make the offer.

He pulled the crumpled, sweat-streaked envelope David had given him out of his shorts and counted out the cash: just as David said, a little over two thousand dollars. Danny chuckled, emptied out his hand grip. He peeled off about five hundred from David’s money, then pulled out the cardboard liner of the bag bottom, and added the remainder to the twenty-five thousand or so dollars he’d looted from the safe in Griff’s bedroom - the second thing Danny did after David left. On the way out of the men’s room, he chucked the baggage claim for his duffel bag into the trash, along with the ticket for Los Angeles. He had no intention of ever going there, and the scraps of clothes he’d randomly stuffed into the duffel bag weren’t worth the trouble.

Danny hit the streets of Framingham by 10AM and found what he wanted. He was in the downtown district and even though most businesses had moved to shopping plazas, there were still enough stores to take care of what he needed. Griff liked him to have the ‘youthful tow-head blond boy’ look, and that was an image Danny now had to shelve - it made him stand out. He found a hair salon and spoke with a cutter in her mid-twenties who could dye hair properly - once she saw a driver’s license to make sure Danny was eighteen. It wasn’t required, but the salon didn’t want any pissed-off parents showing up at their doors. She’d been stunned when she saw the driver license, but knew enough to see it wasn’t a fake.

They talked about how Danny was starting at Framingham State College soon, and joked about how he was desperate to lose his little-boy look. "I applied for six part-time jobs today," he lied. "None of ’em would believe my age."

He selected a shade of sandy-brown from a chart he thought might have been his real color once (it was hard to tell, since he hadn’t seen it in five years) and the woman happily stripped the old colorant and applied the new, then given him a haircut that gave him a more mature look. Before he left, she wrote down the names of a few places where Danny - now calling himself ‘Dan’ - might look into for a job.

Clothes were next, and Danny made the first buys in his new wardrobe, opting for a moderately-conservative preppy look that would blend in better. He bought what he tried on first and handed the clerk the tags for everything, including new underwear, socks, and a pair of shoes. The man gave him a funny look, but Danny - Dan - flashed a smile and lied. "Job interview, man… and someone stole my stuff out of my car this morning. You know how it goes: I walk in lookin’ wrong, I can forget it." The clerk nodded and helped him select a larger carrying bag for the other three changes of clothes he paid cash for. Dan hit the streets and dumped the last of his kid-clothes into a trash bin.

After a quick dinner, he looked over a selection of reading glasses at a drug store, but they all looked flimsy and cheap. Dan was looking for another store when he came across a small optical shop a block away. Inside, he made a deal for a pair of nice-looking frames with nothing more than clear glass inserted, claiming they were a prop he needed for a play he was in. It was against the rules, but Dan picked up a vibe from the young but plain-looking man on duty and flirted a little, even suggested they might have lunch together the next day. It worked.

Out on the street again, he paused in front of a window, staring at the reflection of a short, good looking, and well-dressed young man instead of a kid. He smiled; the transformation was complete.

It wasn’t that late but Dan decided he needed to settle in. It occurred to him he could’ve hustled the optician and stayed with him for the night, but decided it wasn’t worth hanging around for. He felt in his pocket for his cellphone, then remembered he’d deliberately left it behind, knowing that’d be one surefire way for Griff or the cops to track him down. Instead, he found a pay phone that still had a local directory attached and found a cab company; Framingham wasn’t a city where taxis cruised for fares; they had to be ordered. The driver was a student at the state college and knew just the kind of motel Dan was looking for; cheaper because it wasn’t one of the national chains but still clean and quiet.

The hotel suited him perfectly; it wasn’t part of a national chain, and the clerk on duty was willing to skip looking at his ID for an extra twenty bucks over the price of a room, as long as everything was paid for in advance. "You can sign in as Andrew Jackson for all I care," said the clerk, as he pocketed the bill.

Once in his room, Dan flicked on the television set and settled in for the night, but not before looking over a bus schedule and making his decision. If he’d had more time, was sure he could’ve gotten a faked-up license down in Haverhill - even in Boston, he might’ve had a chance, but not with David standing by. He still wished he could risk flying or even the train, but was leery of a paper trail, just in case things got out-of-hand back at Griff’s, as they almost definitely would in a few hours.

He had no intention of heading all the way out to California. Florida suited him better, and at least that was only two days away. He switched off the TV after the eleven o’clock news, relieved there was no whisper of anything going on in placid, upscale Boxford. Just to be sure, he pulled his small gym-bag out of the larger carrier he’d bought that afternoon, and curled up in bed with it.

About three he woke up in a panic, sweating so badly the sheets were soaked through.

He’d dreamed of Roger, the street hustler his mother had hired to show him the ropes years ago. In his dream, Dan saw the young man as he’d last seen him in life: not quite sixteen, but looking older and worn out. Cold, dirty and probably hungry, Roger was standing on the curb in the cold twilight, staring desperately into the windows of passing cars for a glimmer of interest - hoping at best for a john with a warm place for the night and a shower in the morning, but more likely settling for a parking lot quickie and a twenty dollar bill shoved into his hand before getting dumped off. In his dream, Dan saw the boy pushed out of a car and rolling in the gutter… then saw that it wasn’t Roger’s face, but his own.

He was still panting, and his stomach had terrible cramps. It was just a dream, but it could too easily have been his future. His mother had already set him on that hustler road when he’d stumbled into Griff. Whatever else he was, Griff was a like a gift - maybe from the devil’s hand, but still a gift. The comfortable home he’d given Dan was the first safe haven of his life. It had easy-to-understand rules: put out or get out… it was that simple. Sure, maybe Griff used Danny and passed him around to his friends, and for certain he and the other boys were like animals in a carnie sideshow. But he’d saved Dan from the desperation of working the streets, turning one nameless trick after another for money his mother would shoot in her arm… until the day Dan finally got to be too much a part of the street, and guys would drive by him like they did Roger, looking for something fresher. Or just as likely, found himself sick from taking one risk too many for twenty bucks.

He didn’t sleep too well after that, and in the morning, an exhausted Dan Doucette boarded the bus for Miami, figuring from there he could gradually find his way through South Beach or Key West. He’d learned a lot about how to blend into a crowd by watching television instead of going to school, and that was a plus. But listening to Griff’s friends talking about their trips gave him the names of dozens of gay resorts - some fine hotels, others little more than brothels. Dan figured to avoid the brothels if he could, but no matter what, he was determined to steer clear of the boy traders. Too much risk.

He wanted to work in one of the nice resorts... and when the opportunity presented itself, hook up with an older man with money and a taste for younger men. With the cash he had stashed, Dan could take his time and live reasonably well. And with his youthful looks, he figured he could keep going until he was 30, maybe even a little longer.

Being with Griff, Dan had learned when to be the host and when to be the servant. He learned at a young age what liquor and drugs did, so they were never an attraction, no matter what temporary escape they offered. He knew how to flatter old men, and if he could pretend that sex with old Sam was good, he could fake it with anyone. ‘Cheating’ on a daddy wasn’t worth it - he didn’t understand the rationale of having a boyfriend. To Dan, jerking off gave as much relief as doing it with someone, with none of the bullshit. It relieved the tension, and wasn’t that the point?

Most importantly, Dan knew enough not to be greedy and never to blow money. Being young and pretty didn’t last forever, and it wasn’t much of a stretch to figure out that today’s street whore started out being yesterday’s Cute Young Thing.

He yawned, then stretched back on the bus seat and smiled to himself. As long as he used his head about giving it, he’d never wind up another Roger.

to be continued

More of this story is available at KeithMorrisette.Com

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