Chapter 7 - Take Me Home Tonight.
Tristan sighed and flopped down on the ratty old couch in the back office of Red Cape Comics. They’d been at the comic book store for more than an hour already and he was beyond bored. Brunet Guy, aka Michael, was way too into super heroes for a grown man. Talk about escapism. This guy was probably the biggest, most pathetic loser, Tristan had ever met. Which was saying a lot because he’d met some serious losers in his day.
After spending about a half hour jawing with the delivery guy, Michael had taken his time opening up and unpacking the boxes. He’d tried to get Tristan interested in whatever crap he was going on about, but Tristan wasn’t biting. He’d only gone along with this charade because he’d been promised a place to stay for the night. There’d even been talk of dinner. But, instead, he’d been subjected to an hour plus of Michael going on and on about various fictional characters as if they were real people. Was this guy a few fries short of a happy meal or something? Where was the swanky place to stay? When was dinner? If Tristan was gonna be forced to sit around in this dusty little storefront for much longer, he was gonna bail on the whole con.
“Hey, do you know how long this will take. I’m dying here,” Tristan asked snarkily. “I’m still a growing boy, you know. I need sustenance.”
“I’m sure you won’t starve. Or doesn’t Brian feed you?” Michael answered, getting nothing but a shrug from Tristan in return. “Just hold your horses, okay? After I get this stock put away, we can get some food.”
Tristin huffed with exasperation and sank back into the couch again. He was totally bored. He hoped that they’d go get some food soon. Even if he was eventually found out, he was confident he’d be able to maintain his little charade long enough to get something in his stomach before anyone figured out that they had the wrong ‘friend’. Provided, that is, this loser didn’t spend all night thumbing through his superhero porn.
“Okay. I think that’s good,” Brunet Guy finally said as he placed the final stack of comics in a display rack next to the front door. “I can do the rest of this tomorrow.”
“‘Bout time,” Tristan grumbled and rolled off the couch.
“Well, you could have helped a bit and then I would have finished faster,” Michael complained, as he tossed the last empty carton out the back door and locked it behind him.
“Yeah . . . I don’t think so. Don’t want to ruin my manicure,” Tristan replied, pretending to look at his ragged nails which were bitten to the quick in places.
Michael rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything. He hadn’t spent much time with Brian’s new boy toy so he didn’t know if the kid was joking or not. So far Michael hadn’t been impressed. Yeah, the blond was pretty good looking, and he definitely had a nice ass, but as far as the kid’s personality was concerned, Michael thought he seemed like a lazy, rude little cunt. It just reinforced the notion that Justin had latched onto Brian for some alternative purpose. Michael didn’t know if he believed that shit about the kid being loaded or not. If he was, there was even less of a reason for him to be hanging on Brian all the time the way he did. Michael wasn’t sure what the kid’s angle was, but he just didn’t trust him.
Ignoring the boy’s snarky demeanor, Michael tried to focus on the fact that he’d promised Brian he’d take care of the kid for the night. “So, how hungry are you ? We could meet the guys at the Diner for dinner or just order pizza later if . . .”
“Diner. Definitely Diner,” Tristan insisted, his empty stomach growling at the mere thought of food.
Michael gestured towards the door, inviting the kid to precede him out, and then locked up behind them. By the time Michael looked up the kid was halfway down the block, heading in the wrong direction. Which was weird, right? Not that the kid had been around for that long, but he and Brian had been to the Liberty Diner quite a bit, so he should know which direction to head, right?
“Hey, Boy Wonder!” Michael hollered after the wayward youth. “It’s this way, you derp!”
“Right . . . I guess being half starved is making me confused,” Tristan answered as he hurriedly ran to catch up with the annoying brunet geek.
“You know, if you’re that hungry, maybe you should tell Brian to let you up out of bed long enough to eat once in a while,” Michael joked snidely.
“Jealous?” Tristan shot back with a smirk in Michael’s direction.
“Hardly,” Michael replied lamely.
Tristan could tell from the longing look Brunet Guy barely managed to cover up that he’d hit the nail on the head in his first attempt. So that’s how it was, huh? This Michael guy had the hots for Blondie’s boyfriend. Figured. Tristan just chuckled softly as he continued to follow his temporary keeper.
“Hey, don’t get your panties in a wad, Dude. If fantasizing about me and the Stud being together bothers you so much, I can always go back to Kinney’s place on my own,” Tristan offered. “It’s no skin off my back. Why do you want me to stay with you anyway? I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.”
“No.” Michael sounded totally exasperated but determined nonetheless. “Brian said for Emmett and me to look after you so you won’t get into trouble, and I promised him I would do it. Which means you’re stuck with us for at least the next couple of nights, kid.”
Tristen shook his head but didn’t say anything. What he wanted to do was rip Brunet Guy a new one, but he didn’t want to give himself away by arguing with the idiot. He was trying hard to remember just how this Justin-kid talked, all sweet and naive . . . It might be harder to imitate his double than he’d thought. Especially if he was constantly having to bite his tongue to avoid a confrontation with this clueless creep.
“Whatever. But I’m gonna need to go get some clothes if I’m going to stay with you, so we need to go to Kinney’s and get stuff after we eat. And you better be nice to me because Brian doesn’t like when guys mess with me,” Tristin added, causing the brunet to look at him disdainfully.
“Believe me kid, I’m not into chicken. I’m not even remotely interested. Frankly, I don’t get why my best friend is with you at all since he never was either . . .”
“Maybe you just don’t like that I get to do shit with him that you only WISH you could do,” Tristen challenged, batting his eyes and trying to look as innocent as Justin when he said it.
Michael gave him an odd look but didn’t bother responding, letting Tristan know he’d scored another direct hit. He tried not to gloat, though, because that would be totally out of character for his goody-two-shoes double. Tristan totally had Brunet Guy figured out now and he knew he’d find a way to use that knowledge to his advantage somehow. He just had to wait for the right moment.
While he was contemplating his options, the two of them crossed the street and came up to a tacky little dive that Tristan recognized from his time trolling the Avenue. He’d never been inside the Liberty Diner - mostly because he rarely had enough money over and above his quota for Hugo to waste on food - but he’d peeked in the windows a time or two. It had always looked like a welcoming place. So he was more than a little excited by the prospect of finally getting to go inside.
He and Michael were seated in a comfortable booth in the back of the diner, looking over the menus, when Brunet Guy’s tall swishy friend strolled in a few minutes later.
“Hello, Michael. And Baby. How are we today?” Swishy burbled as he took up a place on the bench seat next to Tristan.
Knowing he had to be careful, Tristin smiled sweetly and answered, “I’m kinda tired. Brian and I were really busy with boyfriend stuff last night, so I didn’t get much sleep.”
He was glad he had listened while Justin was talking at the bar the other night, so he could copy the kid’s stupid mannerisms. The scowl on Michael’s face when he said ‘boyfriend stuff’ almost made Tristan laugh out loud. Jerking this guy’s chain around was gonna be fun. He made a mental note to use that stupid phrase as often as possible around the lovesick loser.
Meanwhile, Swishy gave his seat companion a questioning look. In the short time Emmett had known Justin, he’d never known him to be one to talk openly about private moments like that. Maybe the boy was finally loosening up a bit?
“Well, we should all be so lucky to be sleep deprived in such a delicious manner,” Emmett cooed dreamily, fanning himself ostentatiously in the process.
“You know,” Tristan leaned closer to the big queen and lowered his voice to a seductive whisper that had never failed to win him a John, “I’m sure Brian wouldn’t mind me showing you what he’s taught me . . . It could be fun.” Tristan punctuated his statement with a saucy little wink.
“Baby, are you trying to get us both killed? Big Bad would tear me a new one, and not in a good way, if I even attempted to lay one glorious finger on you,” Emmett quickly reacted, scooting a couple inches away from Tristan so as to add a modicum of physical distance between them.
Tristin immediately realized he’d made a mistake. He needed to be careful around this one; this Emmett might seem scatterbrained but he was smarter than he looked. Swishy would certainly be more likely than the comic geek to realize that Tristan wasn’t the right blond. He’d need to be more careful if he didn’t want to get caught.
Luckily, a harried, red-haired waitress came up at that point to take their orders. Tristan ordered as big a meal as he thought he could get away with; a double cheeseburger with chili fries, a salad, and a chocolate shake. When nobody blinked an eye at the feast he’d requested, he added a piece of pie ala mode for dessert. Red just winked at him, commenting about how she loved seeing a boy with a healthy appetite, and wrote it all down. Meanwhile Brunet Guy & Swishy chattered about shit that Tristan had no interest in. That was fine with him, though, because it gave the hungry boy more time to enjoy the delicious hot meal he was served - something that wasn’t the norm in his current life. By the time he was done eating, his stomach was so full he almost felt like barfing, but since he knew that it might be a long time till he got another meal like that, Tristan didn’t care.
After finishing their meals, which Michael paid for while commenting that Brian had promised to pay him back later, they all three headed off to the loft so ‘Justin’ could get some clothes. Luckily, Michael had a key because ‘Justin’ seemed to have forgotten his own. Tristan couldn’t believe how gullible his two companions were; had any con in the history of the world been this easy? Next thing you knew these two would be handing over the family jewels and holding the door open for him while he robbed them blind. Sheesh.
“You know, kid, between your shoes and your keys and all the other stuff you can’t seem to remember all the time, you really need a keeper,” Michael groused as he unlocked the door.
Tristan merely shrugged, which the dupes seemed to accept without question as Michael led the way inside.
Tristin tried not to gape as he stared at the loft apartment that his double shared with this Brian character. Damn, that Justin kid had it fucking made! He’d heard rumors that Kinney was loaded, but he hadn’t expected this. This place was like something you’d see in a movie. It was a totally sleek pad. Tristan couldn’t even imagine living in a place half as dope. It made the fly-by-night motel he’d been holed up in with Hugo’s crew for the past few weeks look like a dump. Which it was, of course. But this . . . This was the life, right?
“You okay, Baby?” Swishy asked, looking at Tristan with a funny expression as the young hustler stood gazing around himself in wonder.
“Uh, yeah . . . Sorry . . . I was just . . .” Tristan scrambled to find some excuse for why his counterpart would be standing there looking around himself like a dolt. “I guess I’m just missing Brian, you know?” He tried to look innocent and wistful but wasn’t sure if he totally pulled it off because that just wasn’t him, but whatever.
“Just hurry up already,” Michael grumbled, apparently buying the lovelorn thing, although Tristan wasn’t sure the tall swishstick who was eyeing him with confusion was convinced.
Tristan decided he better not look around too much longer or Swishy would figure out what was up. Luckily the loft was laid out so that you could see everything as soon as you walked in the door making navigating around fairly simple. While Kinney’s two friends went over to sit on the sofa, Tristan headed up to the bedroom area to begin gathering what he could, hoping not to arouse any more suspicion. Of course, even that was tough since he didn’t know where anything was in the closet or drawers there.
Luckily, one of the first things he saw when he opened the closet was a big black duffle bag. With that in hand, he pulled a couple of shirts that looked like they’d fit off some hangers, rifled through the dresser till he found some underwear, socks, and a pair of designer jeans in the right size, along with a nice pair of boots that were clearly too big for his own feet, but that he thought he might be able to trade for cash. Next, he located the bathroom and loaded his bag with whatever toiletries he could stuff in. Then - after making sure the dweeb brothers weren’t watching - he took one more look around and grabbed a gold watch, a silver bracelet, and some cash that had been left sitting out in a little tray on top of the dresser. In the top drawer of the same dresser he found a small wooden box full of pills and some pre-rolled joints, which he also added to his haul.
After zipping up the bag, Tristan wandered down the steps to the main room and surreptitiously pocketed a digital recorder he saw sitting on the kitchen counter along with a nice little chrome and glass box that he thought he might be able to sell for a buck or two. What the hell, right? A guy’s gotta make a buck however he can in this world and Tristan wasn’t gonna pass up easily fensable shit like that if saps like Brunet Guy and Swishy were practically handing it all to him on a silver fucking platter.
“You finally ready?” Michael asked when Tristan came around the end of the couch with the strap of his now full bag over his shoulder.
“Hey, I’m not the one who’s ass is busy making a dent in the couch,” Tristan replied, unable to control his natural snark.
Swishy gave him another of those confused looks as he unfolded his lanky self off the couch. “You sure you’re feeling okay, Baby?”
“Yeah . . .” Tristan hesitated, trying to think up a way to cover his mistake, but didn’t come up with anything and had to go with the lamest excuse ever. “I just have a bit of a headache, actually. Don’t mind me.”
“Oh. Poor baby. Let’s get you back to the apartment and you can crawl into bed early,” Swishy exclaimed, wrapping a consoling arm around Tristan’s shoulders as he ushered the boy out of the loft and on his way towards the next stop on his con tour.
Since ‘Stan claimed not to know where to find Demarcus - which didn’t make much sense because Demarcus was one of the biggest players on the circuit and everyone knew the man, but whatever - Hugo agreed to go with him to find the other runner and, in the process, show his new bottom bitch the ropes.
Hunter and a few of the other boys had hung back rather than heading off to the track to start their own stroll and decided to tag along behind to watch what went down. There was a lot of whispered speculation about what the fuck was going on with Stan. The boy was acting hella weird. In whispers and gestures, Hunter managed to tell the others about Stan’s little accident and that he thought the kid had probably knocked himself silly.
A still barefoot Justin, who’d fallen far enough behind Hugo that he overheard the comments directed at his behavior, stopped. “I don’t know why you keep calling me ‘Stan, Skinny Boy. I told you, my name is Justin.”
“Yeah, right . . . And I’m Lil Nas X,” teased a short, plump, black kid who looked like he was maybe twelve.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. X,” Justin smiled at the other boy, causing all the rest to break out in gales of laughter. Justin, who apparently didn’t get the joke, chuckled along awkwardly and then added, “as soon as I finish this favor for the Big Angry Man, do you think one of you guys could help me find my way back to Tremont Street? I really need to get home to my Brian. I’m sure he’s probably worried about me by now. I hope he’s not mad because I forgot my phone again. I know he says I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on, but I can’t help it that I never had a travelling phone before so I don’t remember to take it with me. They’re tricky, you know?”
“You’re a fucking kick tonight, Stan,” Mr. X replied with another laugh directed at Justin over his shoulder as he headed off into the night on his own. “Delusional, but a kick.”
Justin turned to face Hunter with what the other boy was coming to think of as his new normal confusion. “Why does Mr. X think I’m delusional? I’m just trying to get home to Brian. Why won’t anyone listen to me, Skinny Boy?”
Hunter put his hand on Stan’s shoulder and began to lead him down the sidewalk in Hugo’s wake before their Daddy got too far out of sight. “Whatever you say, Stan.”
“I’m NOT this Stan you keep talking about!” Justin was getting just a little bit annoyed and it showed in his tone.
“Okay. Okay . . .” Hunter sighed, getting a little worried by that point.
“Hey! Boy! Get your ass moving. I ain’t got all night!” Hugo yelled back at the boys straggling along more than half a block behind him by that point.
Justin sighed and looked back and forth between the Angry Man and his new friend. “I just want to go home . . .” he whimpered a little in his frustration.
“Fine. Whatever,” Hunter relented in the face of his friend’s stubbornness. “But don’t piss off Hugo too much, please. He’ll make life hell for all of us if you keep this shit up. Just go along with him tonight and do what he says and if you still want to go find this Brian guy in the morning I’ll help you try and find him. Okay?”
Since Justin didn’t have any other choice, he reluctantly shrugged and then trotted along so as to catch up to the Hugo man as his skinny friend had requested.
It only took a couple more minutes of walking before they got to the apartment where Demarcus lived. Hugo led the way up the poorly-lit back stairs and hammered on the sturdy-looking metal door. Demarcus let them in with what passed for a friendly greeting for Hugo and an appraising look in Justin’s direction. Before Hugo could get to the point of his visit, though, there was a shout coming from somewhere upstairs and the pimp excused himself saying he’d be right back after he dealt with ‘that problem new boy’. Hugo waved him off, the Big Angry Man’s expression seeming to convey a sympathetic understanding of the trials and tribulations the other man was subjected to. Meanwhile, Justin, who didn’t really know what, exactly, he was supposed to be doing here in the Demarcus man’s apartment, started to look around himself with curiosity.
The apartment was messy and crowded. There was a huge sectional couch that took up most of the middle of the room, its chocolate brown, velveteen upholstery ratty and dirty and marked by holes. Against the wall was a huge piece of furniture that framed the obvious center piece of the decorating scheme - a gigantic 85” television screen with accompanying waist-high speakers. On the scratched and dented coffee table between the couch and the tv was an expensive-looking gaming system, with various game cartridges scattered around amid the detritus of an overflowing ashtray, a bong filled with nasty-looking dark-brown water, and a few small baggies filled with white powder or pills. The few other pieces of furniture in the room were nondescript. Everything was either broken or dirty or both, except for the electronics, which looked brand new. The apartment didn’t even smell clean. It smelled like the funny cigarettes that Brian sometimes smoked that made him sneeze. Justin didn’t like it there very much.
That’s when Justin heard a small whimpering noise coming through a doorway that appeared to lead off into the kitchen area. Curious, Justin poked his head through the opening and saw a huge plastic and metal cage pushed up against the wall. There was a rustling sound inside that drew him closer. When he bent over and peeked through metal grating at the front of the crate, the boy discovered a furry brown snout and two golden-brown eyes staring back at him.
“It’s a puppy!” Justin exclaimed and immediately reached down towards the latch that would open the kennel door.
The dog started growling almost immediately. The Big Angry Man, who’d followed Justin into the kitchen, growled right back at the caged beast. The dog seemed to take that as a threat and his growling escalated to angry barking. Hugo kicked off his shoe and threw it at the dog. When the shoe hit the cage, the dog retreated to the back of the small enclosure and started to whine.
“Why did you do that? That wasn’t very nice, Mr. Angry Man.” Justin gave the big man a judgmental look. “This poor puppy just wants someone to pay attention to him,” Justin insisted as he reached out towards the cage again.
“What did you do, take a stupid pill today?” Hugo pulled Justin back away from the crate, yanking him so roughly that the boy almost fell over. “That fucking dog is a menace; he’ll take your arm off,” Hugo warned as he picked up an empty beer bottle off a nearby counter and started to throw that at the dog as well.
Justin grabbed the beer bottle out of Hugo’s hand and set it aside. Then, ignoring Hugo, he approached the cage again, talking softly to the dog and reaching through the grating without any fear. Hugo just stared in wonder as the dog tentatively sniffed at the boy’s fingers then licked Justin’s hand before nuzzling it. Even he was nervous around this dog - the big Doberman Pinscher was known to be vicious, which is precisely why Demarcus kept the beast around - but Stan was acting like the creature was his best friend. Something was wrong; all the boys were afraid of Demarcus’ dog. So what the hell was going on here?
Meanwhile, Justin kept talking softly to the dog, telling him that he was a sweet baby. He could sense how scared the poor animal was. After a few minutes, Justin pulled up the latch on the cage and coaxed the animal out. The monster came right up to him, rubbing up against his leg, frisking like a puppy.
Hugo backed away, knowing that the dog didn’t like him. He took a deep, nervous breath as Justin sat down and let the dog climb into his lap. Hugo wasn’t sure what to do. Should he grab a knife to protect the boy or should he just leave, abandon ‘Stan to fend for himself, and let Demarcus clean up the mess if the dog killed the kid?
Justin took the collar off the top of the cage and looked at the tag. “So, your name is ‘Boss’, huh? Well, it’s nice to meet you, Boss. I’m Justin,” he said, shaking the dog’s paw before leaning down to attach the collar while whispering into the canine's ear, “even though everyone around here keeps calling me Stan for some strange reason.”
Hugo saw a box of dog treats on the counter and thought they might use them to appease the dog long enough to make a break for it. He started to toss Justin a dog treat, but when he raised his hand Boss growled and began to advance menacingly towards the pimp. Justin grabbed the Doberman by his collar and told him nicely to sit. And, to Hugo’s utter amazement, the meanest dog he’d ever encountered, did just that. Boss let out a happy little yip and hunkered down on his haunches, his snout raised toward the boy with what Hugo could have sworn was a smile.
Justin smiled back and told Boss he was a, “Good Boy.” The youth looked up at Hugo with an ear-to-ear grin. “See, Angry Man? If you’re nice to animals, they will be nice to you.” Then he turned to Boss and told him, “The Big Angry Man will need some training, Boss, but we can get him fixed if we work on it together.”
For some reason, Hugo thought he saw the dog nodding at the boy in agreement. But that was crazy, right? He was just imagining things. Dogs didn’t understand people, did they?