TPC – Chapter 2.12

Chapter 2.12 – The Hardhat Life

“Rise and shine meatheads, let’s get to fuckin’ work!”

Richard groaned and rolled over on the mattress, and nearly tumbled off–he reached out and found a post and stopped himself, then looked around. He had no idea where he was. In fact, he had no idea where he was supposed to be. He had no real idea who he was, either, for that matter. It was easier to start with the where–so he did that.

It was a long metal room, the two sides lined with bunk beds. All around him, guys were clambering out of their own narrow mattresses, all of them naked, and pulling on a wide variety of grungy, unwashed clothing that had been heaped in the center of the room. He laid there, watching, until someone came up and gave him a smack upside the head. He looked down and saw a face glowering up at him. “Newbie! Get your ass up, get dressed, and get your ass outside.”

The knock and the barking of the order was enough to stiffen his little cock, and he did as he was told. By the time he got down and lumbered over–his body just didn’t feel right, somehow, but he didn’t know how it was supposed to feel anyway, so maybe this was how it should be–the pile of clothes had dwindled to nearly nothing. He pulled on a filthy wifebeater than smelled like someone had pissed on it recently, found a set of overalls that were too long for his shorter legs, and ended up in sets of mismatched socks and workboots, but he was dressed. The last one out the door, he took the hardhat the boss handed him, and put it on like the rest of the men milling about in the yard. The crowd was larger than just the men who had fit in his quarters, which now that he was outside of it, he saw was a converted shipping crate. There were three more in the vacant lot where they were now wandering around. Some guys were trying to swap clothes, others were standing, waiting for orders probably. The Boss called them to order, and they all stopped what they were doing, and listened.

“Alright, we got the usual three spots today, and some special jobs I’ll be assigning myself. Twenty of you on the right–twenty on the left, and the rest in the middle.”

There was some jostling, and Richard ended up on the left flank.

“Alright. Right hand side, you have the project with House of Kings, working on their new compound. Left, you’re working the apartments up the block. Center, you’ll be broken into smaller teams for odd jobs. Alright, let’s get to it.”

The men broke off and headed to their assigned locations, Richard swept away with the twenty other grunts headed for the apartment job. They got there in a few minutes, and another Boss was waiting for them, lined them up, and assigned them duties. He gave Richard a once over and sighed. “Newbie, you’re gonna be runnin’. Just make sure everyone’s got the shit they need, and try not to fuck anything up,” he said, and then moved onto the next guy in line. Richard wanted to ask him what they were doing, why he was here, but he didn’t get a chance, and the other guys didn’t seem particularly interested either. When he was finished assigning duties, they broke off and headed to their duties, but Richard stayed behind.

“I…uh…I don’t know why I’m here, I think…I think there’s a mistake.”

“There’s no mistake hardhat. Get to fucking work.”

“But…I don’t think I work here. My name…my name’s Richard, and–”

The Boss slapped him across the face, and for the second time that morning, Richard found himself with an embarrassing hard on. “Get in the fucking trailer. I don’t know where they’re getting you fucks lately, but they aren’t even cleaning you out properly.”

Richard gulped, but did as the Boss ordered, following him into the trailer. He noticed a couple of other guys watching, then they shook their heads and got back to work. Richard felt a little shame at that, but what had he done wrong? He just didn’t understand. The door closed behind them, and he had no chance to think before the Boss whirled on him, put both of his hands around his neck, and shoved him back against the wall.

“Now, you need to listen real close, Newbie. I don’t like having to explain shit, and you fucking hardhats are too fucking stupid to understand half of it anyway. You don’t have a fucking name–not anymore. You’re a fucking hardhat. You’re all interchangeable. You work, you eat, you sleep, and you do it again the next day, got it?” Richard nodded, but the Boss only squeezed his throat tighter, until he was gasping for breath, and then released him. Richard fell forward as he stepped back, and he landed on the floor in front of him on all fours. Without letting him catch his breath, he shoved the toe of his dirty boot in his mouth. “Clean it, pig.”

Richard tried to pull away, but he just pushed it harder, rolling him onto his back, the bottom of his boot against his mouth, while the Boss pulled his belt free from his pants, doubled it, and gave him a sharp smack on the nuts with it, making him grunt–and much to his horror, leak profusely, enough to wet the front of his ill fitting overalls. “I said clean it, pig. I know you fucking hardhats love the taste of a grimy boot.”

Richard realized he was already licking the boot by the time Boss gave the order. Even worse, he realized that he was enjoying it. He reached down to grope his cock, only for Boss to smack his hand away with the belt. 

“Keep your hands off pig–do a good job, and maybe I’ll let you cum with my cock deep in your guts.”

That image just made Richard lick harder, much to his shame. But the shame only made him more excited, made him leak even more, and that made him lick more, and he…he was enjoying this. He wanted this. When the boots were clean, he begged Boss to fuck him, begged him to breed his dirty pig hole, and Boss eventually relented–but only after looping his belt around Richard’s nuts and pulling it tight while he fucked him good and rough. That was enough for him to explode with a loud squeal, shooting his load all over the desk he was bent over, and once Boss had finished inside him, he made Richard clean off the desk, then his cock, and then gripped his neck again.

“Now, who are you?”

“A…hardhat, Sir.”

“And what is a hardhat?”

“A…stupid pig, sir. A stupid, horny, stinking, gross pig…”

“And what are you gross pigs good for?”

“Work sir. And fucking. But mostly work…will…you fuck me again sir, please?”

“You’re fucking disgusting,” he said, and released him. “Get to fucking work, don’t you realize how much of my time you wasted, Newbie? Give me that hat.”

Richard handed him the orange hat he’d received that morning, and Boss handed him a yellow one. 

“You know what that means?”

Richard shook his head.

“Means you’re today’s urinal. Tomorrow too–as long as I think necessary, until you get used to being a filthy hardhat. You’ll still be running, but all the hardhats know what that hat means. Think you can do that? If not, I have another one you can wear instead,” he said, and pointed to a brown hardhat on hanging on the wall. “But maybe you’d like that one too much.”

Richard gulped.

“Now get out of my sight.”

Richard scrambled out of the trailer and back towards the workers, and saw that quite a few of them were waiting to see him come out–and when they noticed the swapped hat, more than a few of them even looked a bit jealous. Richard understood why. Boss stuck his head out, hollered at them all to get back to work, and they scrambled back to their duties, Richard quickly finding a little bit of a flow. Guys would shout at him if they needed something, and he’d find it and get it to them. If there was no one shouting, he started asking around–and if they didn’t need something, they usually needed to piss, and Richard was more than happy to drink it down for them.

“Lucky fucker,” one of them said as he finished, “Wanna trade hats? I never get to be the urinal.”

The hardhat considered it for a moment, then shook his head, and headed off to check with someone else, his concerns already evaporating, as the day heated up. He was a hardhat now–he didn’t need to know more than that–but he did, for some reason, hold onto his name. It wasn’t important really, but he liked the sound of it, how it felt in his mouth. Richard. He whispered it softly to himself that night, and each night after that–and before long, it was all he had left.

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TPC – Chapter 2.11

Chapter 2.11 – Lost in the Hideaway

Dennis quickly discovered that The Hideaway wasn’t so much a bar, as a fucking maze. The hallway made a few turns, and then ended at a junction going left or right. The corridor was narrow, and barely lit. He stood there for a couple moments, waiting for his eyes to adjust, and then went right, trying to follow the sounds of what he assumed would be the crowd at the main bar. But after following the corridor for a little ways, he came upon a dead end with a sling hanging from the ceiling. A man clad in a rubber body catsuit was in it, another fisting him rather deep. The fister looked over at him, leering, and Dennis quickly retreated back down the hallway. Easy enough–he’d just go the other way at the junction.

But he never found the junction again. He couldn’t remember taking any turns or choices, but each time he turned a corner, it seemed he found himself in a loop, or a dead end, or some other obstacle he couldn’t seem to bypass. He was beginning to panic, sweat building up under his shirt from the heat of the place, and again, he felt that same need or hunger building up inside him. Feeling light headed, he took a seat on a little perch for a moment, unbuttoned the front of his shirt, and felt…something underneath it that didn’t seem like it should be there.

It was a leather harness. He didn’t own a single piece of leather in his whole wardrobe, aside from shoes. He gave the leather a tug, feeling it pull against him, and then attempted to loosen the buckles, but they refused to budge. 

“Ah, I had a feeling it was gonna be you.” Dennis looked up at the voice and saw the same bouncer from the door looming over him–and blocking his only exit from where he was sitting. “Some guys said someone was running around the halls, didn’t look like he belonged, but it looks like you’re already fitting in a little more, eh?”

“I…I didn’t put this on. I don’t know where it came from,” Dennis said. “Can…you help me get out of here?”

“But you were so eager to get in earlier. Besides, if Pigtown wanted you gone, you’d be gone. I think you’re right where it wants you. I did warn you about the dress code though–so the rest of that is gonna have to go.”

The bouncer stepped into his space and started tearing away Dennis’s clothes, first his shirt, then his pants, leaving them as shreds on the ground. Similar to the harness, he saw that his underwear had become a leather jockstrap, and on his feet were not the sneakers he’d put on earlier, but a couple of black work boots. 

“See, isn’t that better?” the bouncer said, grabbing hold of Dennis’ nips in his fingers, and toying with them, watching him wince and gasp. “I’d stay and play, but technically I’m on the clock, and Boss doesn’t like that. Maybe later, eh? I like my boys a little broken in anyway.”

The bouncer backed off and turned down the corridor, leaving Dennis to scramble down and try and reassemble the scraps of his clothes–but nothing was even there. It had all just vanished into nothing. It was impossible, but then, all of this was. He turned the corner and went after the bouncer, but he’d already slipped away into the dark, and Dennis found himself turned around again. Now, however, the corridors were not nearly as empty. They were full of men in leather and rubber gear, all of them leering at him, sniffing the air, following behind him until he came to another dead end.

“Where do you think you’re going, boy?” one of the men said. He stepped forward, a tall, burly fellow in leather vest and chaps, with a thick cock swinging between his legs. He pulled Dennis into him, and while he tried to will himself to fight the man off, as soon as the man laid his lips on him, something inside him roared to life, and he found himself passionately kissing the leatherman, as the others came around. He had no idea what this hunger was, this desire. The leatherman pushed him back onto a ledge, hauled up his legs, and Dennis felt his cock press against his hole. He hadn’t been fucked in years, and he tried to say something, ask him to go slow, but the leatherman worked the head in, and a swirl of pleasure and pain swirled through Dennis’s mind.

One after another, the men fucked him. Most were smaller than the leatherman had been, and so Dennis had no trouble taking each of them in turn. He had moments of clarity, thoughts that he should resist, that he couldn’t be doing this, but another cock would slot into him, and he’d be carried off on that same pleasure all over again. After the crowd had taken their turn, they left him on that ledge, ass drooling cum under him, and he stood up and hobbled away down the hallway–and there it was, the corridor. The bathrooms. The breakroom. The alley. He could run. He could get out. But the hunger, he was so hungry now, every fuck had only made him want it more, and so he turned and continued into the dark, now hunting–and it wasn’t long before he smelled the smoke, and found his way to where Kyle and Marshall were smoking cigars and kissing, a pig on the ground licking both of their boots, stopping only to look up and take the ash off their cigars as it accumulated.

“K-Kyle…” Dennis managed to say, but his voice felt so parched and dry all of a sudden.

The young man turned towards him in confusion, and in the dark, he struggled to recognize him at all. Dennis stepped closer into the red light, and Kyle’s eyes lit up. “Fuck, again?” he said with a laugh. “Hey Master, look who it is.”

Marshall turned to look at Dennis, and he felt, for a moment, that cloud of smoke clear, enough that he could recognize the older smoker’s face from…from the shop, and from Depot, though neither of those memories made much sense. Marshall sighed. “I told you, he must like you.”

“We just kissed once! I was just curious, I didn’t even like him that much.”

“Kisses mean different things to different people.”

The kiss in the garage. Dennis had tried to tell himself it hadn’t meant anything either, that Kyle didn’t mean anything to him. He’d just wanted to protect him, and care for him, and…and suck his cock, and beg him for his seed, and oh gods, this had been a mistake. The hunger was for Kyle, but not just Kyle. For this freedom, if that’s what this was, but Kyle was the root of it. That stolen kiss, he’d never felt so brave before in his life. No wonder he’d held onto it so hard, though he’d never been able to admit it. “Please, I…I don’t know why, I remember…can you tell me what’s happening to me?”

“Pigtown’s happening to you, friend,” Marshall said, “Like it happened to all of us. What do you think, should we help him out, Apprentice? Go on boy, play with him. He’s yours, make him what you want him to be.”

Kyle stepped up to Dennis, close enough that he could feel the heat of his cigar on his cheek. “You always treated me like a kid. Do I look like a kid to you?”

Dennis shook his head.

Kyle took a long draw off his cigar, wrapped one gloved hand around the back of Dennis’s head, and kissed him again–but it was nothing like the kiss he’d taken in the garage. He’d been timid before, anxious. He’d let Dennis guide him, and tease him. But this was forceful, rough. He pushed the smoke into Dennis’s lungs, and while he tried not to breathe it in, it drove deep anyway, flooding not just his body, but up into his mind as well, making him feel lightheaded and uneasy on his feet.

“You’re going to be the boy now,” Kyle said. “Cute little cub with a hungry little hole, looking for a Daddy to take care of you, and fuck you, and play with you. That’s what you are tonight.”

Dennis felt something in his shift, the smoke warping his body, filling his body out with a soft layer of fat as he lost a little height, his first few wrinkles smoothing out, his beard pulling in and becoming a sparse goatee as his hairline grew back to a point it hadn’t been in years. 

“Nicely done, apprentice. You’re such a fucking natural.”

“I learn from the best.”

Dennis looked down at himself, at his strange body, at the two handsome Daddies in front of him, and he dropped to his knees, inched forward, and started sucking on Kyle’s cock. Marshall came around, lifted up his ass, and the two of them spitroasted him, and when they came, Kyle’s cum tasted and felt like smoke, and Marshall’s load swirled in his guts, into his veins, settling inside him like ash. They left, and Dennis tried to get them to take him with them, but Kyle stopped him. “Not tonight, pig. Tonight, I think you belong to The Hideaway, don’t you?”

Dennis…knew he was right, somehow. The bar claimed him, for violating its…its rules, though he couldn’t recall wearing anything other than what he had on now. He roamed the halls, circulating, stopping whenever he found a handsome Daddy perched in a corner to suck their cock and beg for a load, before moving on again, until he found himself at the bouncer’s booted feet again, looking up at him eagerly.

“See? Nice and broken now, aren’t you?”

Dennis nodded.

“Alright cub–come on home with me then, and let’s have some fun.”

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TPC – Chapter 2.10

Chapter 10 – Emptied Out

Richard found himself dragged down some concrete steps into the basement of the house where Barry had driven them. It was not his house–where in the hell was he? He tried to focus on what was going on around him, but it was difficult. He never drank that much, but Barry had just kept filling his glass from all those pitchers, and he was such a good guy, he hadn’t wanted to disappoint him. Now he was here, in some strange basement, with two guys cutting his clothes off before strapping him down to a table.

“Good evening Richard, my name’s Ian, how are you tonight?” one of the other men said, looming over him. 

“I don’t, what are you doing to me? I didn’t want to come here.”

“It’s going to be ok Richard, trust me, alright?” Barry said, coming around to the other side of the table. “You know I would never steer you wrong.”

“I…but what am I doing here?”

“You’re helping me out, Richard. You like being a helpful guy, and you’re helping my friend here out too. It’s just a little test is all, everything will be just fine. All you have to do is trust me.”

Richard nodded, but that didn’t do much to alleviate his fear.

“Alright, let’s see what you’ve brought me then,” Ian said, and placed his hands on the side of Richard’s head. 

What happened after that was difficult to explain. He felt something push into him, into his mind, and start pulling on strings, poking around into various nooks and crannies. It wasn’t a physical sensation, but it was pleasurable. Richard let out a moan, and when the man pulled his hands away, he was embarrassed to realize that his cock had gotten fully erect right in front of them both.

“Well damn, this is some good stock you’ve brought along. I didn’t think it would be quite this good.”

“So it’s worth something?” Barry asked.

“Oh, I can find a buyer for a lot of this, for sure. You’ll get your cut too, of course. Finder’s fee. Your promotion, and I’ll throw in a little extra too, since it looks like you got a taste of a little bit of what else I can do tonight.”

“Fuck, you can make this…permanent?”

“It won’t be quite as intense, but it’ll be there. What ends up as waste material is the more…intense stuff. I’d explain it if I could, but this is all new, cutting edge shit.”

“No kidding, how…how is any of this possible?”

“Ask Pigtown,” Ian said. “It’s been a wild couple of years.”

“I don’t–did I do ok? On the test?” Richard asked, “Why did that feel so good?”

“You did great,” Ian said, “But this next part is more important, alright? So just relax. It’ll all be over before you know it. If you thought it felt good before, just you wait, bud.”

Richard lifted his head up, and watched as Ian took a strange tube from the cart beside him, and attached it to his cock. It was a flexible silicone sleeve with a tube coming out the top, but the bottom sealed around the base like a vacuum. “Alright, let’s start off with the finder’s fee,” Ian said, flipped a switch, and Richard gasped as the milker on his cock started sucking at it, making him shudder and buck.

Ian came around behind his head, put his hands on Richard’s temples again, and the same sensation happened as before, but more focused. Ian wasn’t looking through everything all at once this time, instead, he focused on Richard’s work at the office. Not just his work, exactly. His promotion. He saw himself in Evan’s office, getting his softball interview, already knowing he was a shoe in for the position. The team congratulating him. It was more than just that though–it was his charisma. His confidence. His trust. All of it was being bundled up and pushed lower. Down into his neck and then his chest, deeper and deeper until he felt all of those memories and emotions and sensations down in his balls, which were churning more and more as the milker tugged on his cock. The pleasure grew more intense then, and Richard couldn’t stop it as he came–and when he did, he felt all of the memories and thoughts he’d had pushed down there forced out as well, and by the time he realized he was losing them, he no longer could remember what he’d even lost.

“And there it is,” Ian said, holding up a vial that he disconnected from the end of the milker. It looked like a load of cum, but it was shimmering in a way that Richard had never seen before. He knew that what he’d lost was in there, but couldn’t articulate what, exactly, it was. “Usually I’d dehydrate it, but it’s just as potent now. Go home, drink it up, and go to sleep. You’ll feel everything in the morning. If you have an issue, contact me.”

“What…what’s gonna happen to him?”

“I already have a buyer lined up, don’t worry.”

“Like…” Barry was thinking slavery, but he didn’t really want to know. “Look, thanks, really.”

“No, thank you–you enjoy that,” Ian said, “You earned it.”

Richard watched as Barry took the vial from Ian, and left up the stairs without so much as saying goodbye to him. “Wait, he’s…he’s my ride,” he gasped out, still riding the wave of that massive orgasm.

“Oh don’t worry about that, I’ll make sure you get home safe and sound,” Ian said, “But we still have more to get out of you first.”

“What?” Richard asked, but before he could get another word out, Ian turned the milker back on, and he shuddered. “Wait, it hurts, I…”

“Hush now, it’s going to feel so good, just trust me. Now, what next?” Ian said. He placed his hands on his head again. “I know a few closet cases that would love a good beard.”

This time, Richard felt a different set of memories being pulled to the front of his mind. His wife. His two kids. His family. The house where they all lived together, everything he could remember about all of them, their likes and dislikes, family vacations together. This he clawed at, trying to keep it in his head, trying to keep it from sliding down, but the pressure was immense, and the milker on his cock was relentless. He begged and pleaded with him to stop, but Ian just cooed back at him, talking to him like he was a child, telling him everything would be just fine soon enough. Again he came, and he tried as hard as he could to hold onto some of it, any of it, but it was gone, and he was left shuddering on the table, tears in his eyes, trying to remember what he felt so sad about. Ian watched as the wedding ring disappeared from Ian’s finger, all of his marriage now held in a second vial. He detached that one, and put on another.

“No, please, not again.”

“Don’t worry Richard, don’t you want to feel good? This feels so good.”

Ian continued the process for the next hour or so, filling vial after vial with everything in Richard’s head he could turn a profit on. He pulled out his education, and bottled it. He pulled out his upper class background, and bottled that. He started working on his body next. He bottled two decades of youth from him, watching Richard go from 25 to 45 in a matter of minutes. He stole his quick metabolism, and his body expanded, packing on close to fifty pounds of fat in a matter of moments. He stole his brow, jawline, a few inches of his height, and whatever charm he’d had left after giving most of it to Barry, and lastly, he milked away half his six inch cock and balls, leaving him with a modest package buried in a new fat pad. Richard had long since passed out at this point, and barely stirred as Ian pulled the milker off his now thick, short cock, and gave his new chubbier body a feel. Hugh had watched all of this in silence, always amazed at what Ian could do, and feeling a little jealous of the skill that had developed in his friend over the last few year and change. He’d get a commission from this one too, at least, and the job wasn’t quite finished yet anyway.

“Alright Richard, time to wake up, you did great,” Ian said, cracking open some smelling salts and waving them under his nose, making him sputter awake. 

“I…what happened, where…where am I, I–” Richard said, his voice deeper and slower now, more ponderous.

“Everything is fine, Richard. You’re dehydrated. Go ahead and drink this up,” Ian said, and handed him a little glass of water. It shimmered a bit–he’d put in a little bit of a mix–some muscle, some construction knowledge, a good dose of submission and homosexuality of course. Pigtown would take care of filling in the rest soon enough, but that would get him ready for his new role come morning. After all, plenty of folks in Pigtown needed bodies for work, and Richard would be doing plenty of that from now on. 

He took the glass and drank it down in a few gulps, his eyes sparkled, and then dimmed again as he collapsed back on the table, shaking a bit, and then settling down. Ian pulled out his phone and made a call, “I got your goods, ready for pickup,” he said. Twenty minutes later, they were helping the now much heavier Richard out of the basement, and into the back of a pickup truck, which drove off with him into the early morning.

“Looks like a good haul,” Hugh said.

“Fuck, I haven’t had a guy like that in ages. We don’t get fellows like that around here anymore.”

“Well you sucked most of them dry.”

“Shut up. I have a feeling that Barry could be a very good contact for us in the future. Remind me, next week, to touch base and see if he’d be interested in helping us out with acquisitions.”

“Hunting, you mean.”

Ian glowered at him, “What’s with you, Hugh? You’ll get your cut, and more waste to sell once I process everything.”

“Nothing, it’s nothing,” Hugh said, “I’m just tired is all. Gonna head home and get some sleep.”

Ian waved goodbye, and went back down into the basement. This was the harder part, really–refining the product. He’d given Richard the raw stuff, and it worked just fine, but it could cause some messy situations if you weren’t careful. For a little shift like that though, it wouldn’t be a problem, he was sure.

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TPC – Chapter 2.9

Chapter 9 – Taking the Bait

For the rest of the week, Dennis found himself running that odd encounter with Kyle’s father over and over in his head, trying desperately to fit all of his memories of the last week into some sort of order. Some of the pieces now felt like they didn’t fit anywhere…(had he really seen Kyle that night in Depot? If he had, why would he have taken him home? If he couldn’t take him home, why had he gone down and intervened?). Some of the pieces now felt too small (he’d gone downtown on Tuesday to that weird precinct, where he’d gotten the runaround…(but hadn’t something else happened hadn’t it? He’d seen someone, but now it all was shrouded in fog, or maybe smoke). Some of the pieces felt right, but nothing connected to them…(He could remember, after speaking to Kyle’s father, how he had moved out, how he had heard about the fight through the neighborhood grapevine, but if he’d known that, why did he only know it now?)

His brain kept trying to shove everything together in different ways to no success. Something, he realized, was missing. There was a bit of the puzzle that he didn’t have, though he couldn’t imagine a shape that would make all of this come together in a way that made sense. This was only intensified by an increasing restlessness he’d never felt before in his life. He had trouble sleeping, and was plagued with dreams he would only half recall. Thursday morning, he’d awoken to wet sheets. He’d thought he’d just sweat, until he realized he’d had a wet dream he couldn’t even remember anymore. He’d never had one before in his life, not even when he’d been a teenager. It felt like something had awoken inside him, or taken up residence, and it too didn’t have a shape or form that made sense to him. 

On Friday evening, he got home early from the hospital. Barry wasn’t going to be home until late, because of some work function that he’d assured Dennis didn’t need to be at. That left him alone with Misty the cat, which wasn’t usually a problem. He’d planned on watching his shows, having a simple dinner, and early bed, but all afternoon and early evening, he found it impossible to settle and relax. He was trying to piece his memories together again, but more than that, he was craving something, a taste he couldn’t begin to describe. Frustrated, he fed the cat, got dressed, and drove downtown. He’d decided to start at the precinct and retrace his steps–see if he couldn’t find what he’d forgotten in that fog…(smoke, why did he keep thinking smoke?).

Just like the week before, the sidewalks were already busy with folks getting their weekend started at the various bars and clubs around the nightlife district. Dennis had been so annoyed the week before though, that he hadn’t noticed just how different the crowd was just a block or two over, once he’d crossed that invisible boundary into Pigtown. The precinct was, much to his surprise, busier now than it had been during the daytime, with a steady flow of officers going in and out of the front door, including a few guys in cuffs obviously being arrested. Some of them were doing their jobs then, at least. From there, he looked around and tried to piece together the memory he was missing. He’d been going back to his car, but he’d seen something. No, someone. He’d seen someone heading down the other direction, and he’d followed them. Letting his feet guide him, he crossed the street, went down the block, but pulled up short in front of a smoke shop. Marshall’s Cigar and Briar. Why would he stop here? He thought again, thought about the fog, how he kept thinking it was smoke, didn’t know what to make of any of it, and the shop was closed anyway. Closed, but the lights were on. 

He didn’t quite know why he did it, but he crossed the street again, staked out a spot at the mouth of an alley, and watched the door. He’d give it twenty minutes, and see what happened. More than a few guys passed him in the alley, slowed down and gave him a look, but his scowl in return generally dissuaded them–though one guy went so far as the flash him and try and kiss him, and Dennis had to forcefully shove him away, before he took the hint. He couldn’t quite fathom what must have been making these men behave this way. They all seemed to be gay, but the city had never really been known for much in the way of gay nightlife. Now, there wasn’t just a resurgence of gay clubs, but they were brazen enough to be fucking in alleys, apparently.

He was about to give up, and try again in the daytime, when he saw some movement in the shop. He emerged from the alley and stood behind a car parked on the sidewalk, and after a few minutes, two men emerged from the shop, after turning out the lights, locked the door, and walked off down the sidewalk at a leisurely pace. 

Dennis followed them on the other side of the street, not sure if he should be trying to be sneaky or not. He wasn’t even sure who he was following, or why he was following them in the first place. The reached the end of the block, where the light was better. They were both in leather and denim, like a good number on the guys on the sidewalk were, and both were smoking cigars. One of them turned and looked in his direction, and Dennis realized that it was Kyle–but not quite the Kyle he recalled from some of his memories. A little older, a little thicker, with a full beard cut short across his face. The man he was with, Dennis recalled him as well, didn’t he? The memories of him either didn’t quite fit…(sitting at a table in a gay club, kissing Kyle, when Dennis pulled him away for a reason that no longer made sense), or were shrouded in that same fog as the shop…(righteous anger, jealousy, something in his ear, the smell of smoke, but what else was there behind all those clouds?). Dennis knew, somehow, that this was the piece. Part of the piece he was looking for. He kept following them down the street for a couple more blocks. They were deeper in Pigtown now, and the streetlights seemed dimmer, the men around him a little hungrier, a little more brazen. Leather was the norm now, along with quite a bit of rubber. More than once, he passed men whose cocks and asses were exposed, some even erect. Several times, someone felt him up in passing. Dennis was almost unnerved enough to turn around and go home, when Kyle and the other bear stopped and stepped into a bar, called The Hideaway. 

Dennis jaywalked after them, got to the door where a bouncer was sitting on a stool in full leather, and when he tried to push past him and go inside, the man put an arm out and stopped him, and laughed. “First time, buddy?” he said, “We have a dress code here, and you don’t meet it. BLUF only.”


“Breeches, Leather, Uniform, Fetish. Denim and cowboy get in too on theme nights. Damn, you must be real new if I have to tell you this shit. Maybe I should let you in for a little fun,” the bouncer said.

“I…look, someone I know just went in, alright? Guy named Kyle. I just wanted to talk.”

“Kyle? Marshall’s new apprentice?”

“I…yeah, him.”

“Ex, eh?”

“No! He’s only eighteen.”

The man laughed. “Look fella. You gotta be dressed properly to get in here, sorry. Go get some gear and come back when you’re a little more seasoned. This place’ll eat you alive otherwise.”

Dennis walked away, sensing that no manner of appealing to the bouncer’s sense of right would work in this case. Should he go home? That same…something inside him was thrumming now. It felt like hunger, or thirst, or something else, some other need that he didn’t have the right word to articulate. He felt like an alien here. He knew he should go home, that he didn’t belong here, but whether he wanted answers, or whether he wanted to feed whatever it was beginning to claw at his guts, he slid down an alley next to The Hideaway, and around to the back of the building. The alley was narrow, with very little lighting. As expected, there was a back door propped open by a block of wood. There was some chatter–probably employees on break or something not too far away. Peeking inside, he saw a break room, as he expected, and a hallway leading down to some bathrooms and the bar proper. Before he could second guess himself, he slid inside and down the hallway, hoping he wasn’t getting in over his head.

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TPC – Chapter 2.8

Chapter 8 – The Friday Night Party

Thursday evening, after work, Barry was on the corner where Hugh had told him to wait. Depot was down the street, and he watched the nearly unmarked door keep a steady traffic going in, even this early. Barry was surprised that a club would ever be that busy on a weeknight, but he found himself thinking about the dance floor again, thinking about how he’d almost gotten lost there, but lost the feeling instead. That sense of doubt almost made him abandon his plan, but he held on. Hugh showed up a few minutes late, and they walked down to a bench outside a rather unkempt park, and chatted.

“Alright, so here’s what you asked for,” Hugh said, and passed him a little baggie with two pills in it. “Have you used those before?”

“No!” Barry said, a bit defensive. 

“I’m not in the shame business, calm down. Look, it’ll take a bit for them to kick in, and when they do, he’s going to be, well, useless. You have a plan on how to get him to the lab?”

“I was gonna get him to my car and drive him.”

“And when people notice?”

“I mean, it’s not perfect, but it’ll do, right?”

Hugh dug around in his pocket with a little smirk. “Alright, I had a chat with Ian, and he agreed to let me slip you a little something extra. If you play your cards right, you might not even need the roofies. Here.”

Barry looked at the vial Hugh pressed into his hand, and it was similar to the shimmering dust he’d sampled back at the house, which had given him those…visions of being a little club twink. “I don’t think he’ll be doing coke at the party, if you want me to try and give him this shit.”

“It’s not for him, it’s for you. It’s not that club drug you sampled before. Ian has all kinds of homebrew back in the lab. Most of it is just, well, waste product, I guess you could say. Little bits and pieces from his work that get pulled out with everything else. The buyer might not want them, or they might not fit in afterward, so he’s left with the stuff. Ephemera is what he calls it. Some of it works…like a vision. That was what the dust at the house did for you. Other stuff he makes gives you little boosts, or temporary shifts. I keep telling him to market the shit, call it Prestige or something, but he says he can’t guarantee supply, so whatever. His loss, your gain.”

“So what’s it do then?”

“It…makes you important. People want to listen to you more, they’re more willing to do what you say. You can’t make someone jump off a building, but I don’t think you’ll have a hard time convincing your friend to take a ride with you if you’re on it.”

“How long will it last?”

“That should get you through the whole evening, no problem.”

He paid Hugh for the drugs, and was assured that if he didn’t end up needing the roofies, he could return them for a refund later. All day Friday, it was impossible to focus. He couldn’t believe he was really considering this, that any of this was really possible. He’d considered taking a little bit of what Hugh had called prestige that morning, just so he could get a grip on it, and figure out if it would be helpful, but chickened out. Part of him sensed he was going to chicken out tonight too, that he wouldn’t make an opening, that he would, once again, sabotage himself like always.

Anticipating the party, most everyone at the office was taking an easy day, getting a little work done, but mostly chatting and planning out their weekends. Richard seemed to mingle with all of them so easily, and knew more about some of them than Hugh had ever bothered to learn, and he’d only been with the team for a week. It was effortless for him. But then, Hugh had always felt like he needed to guard himself, hide part of him away out of shame. He couldn’t really talk about his family, or what he got up to on weekends, because no straight person would look at him the same way afterward. No wonder they’d picked Richard over him. They all probably thought he was an asshole who didn’t want anything to do with them, when really, he was the one terrified of them all.

He almost bailed at that point, and skipped the party entirely. What drove him to push on was fear. It wasn’t really the promotion he wanted. It wasn’t even really the respect. It was the fact that, if he didn’t pursue this, if he didn’t follow through, he knew he’d be right back with Ian, agreeing to cash it all in. He’d spend the rest of his life as some stupid circuit bunny, without a thought in his head other than the pulse of the beat, and maybe he’d be happy. Maybe. But he’d never be satisfied with that. It was time to swallow that fear and seize something for once in his damn life. Maybe it was time for these straight fucks to be afraid of him, instead.

They went to the bar near the office, the same sports bar they always went to for events like this. It was just as despairing as every other straight bar Barry had ever gone to. He did his best to mingle and fit in, but it was clear he’d already been frozen out. Word had gotten around that he’d been turned down for the promotion, and it seemed like everyone was rather pleased about it. He suspected that the dislike from them he’d always thought might be paranoia was more likely real. Again, his resolve shook, he ended up in the bathroom, making a line of prestige on the counter, knowing that this would probably be his only shot.

After all, none of those people would let him just take Richard with him. They’d all probably think he was going to rape him or something. He snorted the line, expecting a sensation similar to the one he’d had at Ian’s office, a vision of…something, but instead, he just felt this warmth suffuse him. It wasn’t a rush, and it wasn’t a high. He just felt centered, and confident. In the mirror, he straightened his jacket, and realized he hadn’t had a jacket on a second ago. He was wearing a rather sharp suit now, and while he recognized his reflection well enough, his face was just a bit sharper. His jaw was a bit more defined, the pimple on his nose had disappeared, his stubble gone, hair filled with highlights. He looked damn good. Like Hugh had said, he looked important.

He stepped back out into the party, and it was like meeting a bunch of strangers, somehow. They all gravitated towards him, wanted to talk to him, wanted to be seen with him. The conversation came easy, and Barry found that the forced congeniality Richard had been treating him to was stripped away, replaced by a genuine curiosity. He ordered a round of pitchers that came on the house, and everyone drank at his urging, especially Richard, who never had an empty glass. Just like Hugh had said, he didn’t even need the roofies. The party ran longer than they usually did, and as he made his way around the room, multiple people confided in him that they thought he should have gotten the promotion, not Richard. He just didn’t have the same charisma. Barry was always gracious, but just that little bit of ego stroking made him eager to move onto the next step.

Richard was nearly falling over, and in no shape to drive. Barry, who hadn’t been drinking at all, offered to drive him home, and everyone thought that was a great idea, he was so kind and generous, a terrific human. He just smiled, nodded, and helped Richard out of the bar and into his car, and they drove off.

“Don’t you need my address?” Richard asked.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get you there just fine.”

“You know, I…didn’t really like you at first, Barry. I kind of thought you were a stuck up asshole. But you’re a real good guy, you know that?”

“Thanks Richard, that’s nice of you to say,” he said.

“Are we heading into town? I live out by Butte Creek.”

“This is a shortcut, you can trust me.”


A few minutes later, Barry pulled into the little driveway in front of the house where Ian ran his business, and drove around into the back yard. Ian and Hugh were waiting for him there, and helped Richard out of the car, and down into the basement. “I don’t…where are you taking me?” he mumbled, but couldn’t put up much of a resistance.

“Don’t worry Richard, the real party is about to get started,” Barry said, and followed them down into the lab.

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TPC – Chapter 2.7

Chapter 7 – Smoke and Shadow

Upstairs that evening, Marshall had Kyle assist with cooking dinner, and after they’d eaten, he led him into the living room. There, against the wall, was another humidor full of Marshall’s private stash of cigars, and hanging beside it, a rack with his pipes. He pulled out two cigars, handed one to Kyle, and soon they were on the couch, kissing and swapping smoke, and it wasn’t long before Marshall stood up and dropped his jeans.

Kyle realized it was the first time he’d seen his new Master naked, and it caught him by surprise. Where he’d expected a cock, there wasn’t one at all. With a bit more investigation, he realized that Marshall had a pussy instead, buried within his pubic hair. “You uh…huh,” he managed to say, and Marshall let out a laugh.

“Don’t worry boy, I can make all the equipment I need,” he said, “took a deep breath off his cigar, pulling the smoke deep inside him, and he watched as something pushed its way out, a silvery cock growing from Marshall’s crotch, made entirely of smoke, with two low hanging balls to match. “That enough for you to handle, boy?”

“Uh…yes Sir, I…I mean…I haven’t…”

“Yes you have, you just don’t remember it yet. Let daddy remind you,” Marshall said, and pushed him towards the sofa.

It turned out to be plenty. Marshall pinned him down on the sofa and fucked Kyle’s ass, sucking on his cigar, pumping more and more smoke into him with his cock until he came, and then, he flipped Kyle over, and rode his new apprentice’s cock to completion, leaving them lying there sweaty, room fogged with smoke, and he pulled him close. “You’re a hot little fucker boy, glad you walked your way over to me that evening, and not some other big, burly bear.”

Kyle, heaving for breath, realized after the fact he’d lost his virginity, and hadn’t even really noticed. All of it had felt so natural, so vital. So exhausting. It hadn’t even been his virginity, had it? He could recall now, all the other, many times he and his Master had fucked around before–like reality was still knitting itself together around him. He laid back on the couch, nursing the butt of his cigar, while Marshall went into the bedroom, and a few minutes later, came out dressed again, this time in leather pants, vest, boots and smoking a sizable pipe. “Come on boy, get your ass up.”


“You’re in Pigtown now–you thinking you’re going to sleep? Good luck. You won’t get more than a nap in before you need another smoke.”

Wait, then…are you saying we can’t sleep?”

“Well, not ‘can’t’. Come on, I have some gear for you boy. You represent me now, out on the street, so I expect you to always look your best.”

Gear, apparently, meant a leather jock, boots, harness, and not much else. Kyle refused at first, and Marshall responded by simply manipulating the smoke flowing through him now, and forced him to dress himself in what was laid out. “You’re mine now, boy, for the foreseeable future. You don’t mind, do you?” he said, cupping a hand under Kyle’s chin, and giving him a deep kiss. The pipe smoke didn’t just taste different–it felt different. Somehow, he could…sense the slight shift in flavor, in density, in temperature. “I promise, I’ll never make you look anything other than the handsome, fuckable man you are, agreed?”

Kyle was still reluctant, but once they hit the sidewalk, he realized that he was actually not nearly as kinky as quite a few others on the dark street, going from club to alley to sauna and back again. Many looked, but no one touched–it was clear, somehow, that he was Marshall’s boy, and that meant they would need permission to use him, Kyle assumed. They made their way to a small bar, the air saturated with smoke, and Marshall started introductions. After a drink, he started passing him around, and Kyle found himself sharing smoky kisses with men whose name he could barely remember. He was fucked by some, blew others, the drinks piling on with the cigars, until it all became a blur, and next thing he knew, he woke up next to Marshall in their bed, head throbbing, throat creaking, and aching for smoke.

Marshall was already up, and passed him the cigar he had ready. Kyle sucked in as much as he could, feeling a bit more human after a few minutes, and realized it was morning, but he had no recollection of making it back here. “I…must have drunk more than I thought,” he said.

“Oh no, it wasn’t the drink, just the good ol’ Pigtown Hangover. Happens every night, you get used to it.”

“Every night?” Kyle asked.

“I said, we got to sleep somehow. Now come on, it’s time for breakfast, and you’re cooking, boy.”

Kyle wasn’t a great cook, but he could fry some eggs and make toast–it seemed to be enough to satisfy Marshall. Once they’d eaten, they went downstairs to get the shop ready to open up, and Kyle had a moment to check his phone. His only real important message was from Jim, asking him if he’d heard anything about Marlon yet.

He’d completely forgotten all over again. He thought about what had happened to him over the last day, what Marshall had…done to him, and the story that Jim had told him, about Marlon disappearing into a shadow, seemed all the more possible now, after what he’d seen. Maybe Marshall would know something, even. He told Jim to come visit the shop, he might know someone who could help. A couple of hours later, between regulars, while Marshall was showing Kyle the intricacies of blowing smoke rings and hardening them, Jim came through the door, asking what he knew.

Kyle explained the situation to Marshall, and Jim retold him what had happened that night after leaving Depot the week before. Around the time he mentioned the shadows, Kyle felt the smoke in his master quicken beside him, and he looked over at him. Outside, he seemed unaffected, but he definitely knew something. Jim finished the story, how some police officers had appeared and helped him get back to his car without Marlon, and the next day, it was like he had never even existed. 

Marshall sat back, took a long drag off his cigar, and pushed a cloud towards the ceiling. “Wish I could help you, young man, but I have nothing that can help you with this one.”

Kyle tried to say something, point out that was clearly a lie from what he had felt, but before he could even speak, he felt some lingering smoke in his mouth knot up around his tongue and gave it a squeeze. Marshall, apparently, was not interested in what Kyle might have to say.

“But…Kyle said you might know something.”

“I know a lot of things. What I can offer you are two options that you have right now. One, you can forget what you saw. It will be easy, once you decide to do it. I would suggest you not show your face around Pigtown again, if you do this, but I give that suggestion to most everyone.” Marshall paused, almost whether he was considering whether to even continue. “The other option would be to go to Precinct 27 and file a report.”

“I already tried to call the cops, but I couldn’t even prove he existed. They treated me like I was crazy.”

“That’s why I told you to go to Precinct 27. It’s just down the street here. They will be more sympathetic than I can be, and far more so than your usual cop. I wouldn’t choose to deal with them myself, but that’s your choice to make.”

Jim looked over at Kyle, who thought about trying to undo the knot around his tongue and get Marshall to tell them everything, but he didn’t. His loyalties had shifted in ways he hadn’t quite expected. He trusted his master. If there was a reason he wasn’t speaking about it, it was probably a good one.

“Now, unless you’d like to purchase something, I’d suggest you leave.”

Kyle nodded to Jim, and his friend left the shop, frustrated and feeling even more confused than before. The knot around Kyle’s tongue relaxed, and he asked, “You know more than that, what didn’t you want to tell him?”

“I know a lot of possibilities. I don’t know anything for sure. What it sounds like, is that Shadow got himself out of jail.”


“Acquaintance. We have different interests, different targets. Never really had a reason to fight, or cooperate. I respect his abilities and his autonomy so long as he respects mine.”

“Why are you bullshitting me about this? Just tell me what the hell is going on.”

“There’s a lot about this place, about the people here, that you don’t know, little apprentice,” Marshall said, “A lot of history. But the thing about history is that it’s just a story. Who’s telling the story matters just as much as anything else. Maybe if we see Shadow one night, he’ll tell you the story himself. I don’t know everything about it, just what gets passed around as gossip between the regulars.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“You’re right, it isn’t.”

Kyle glowered at him, “You’re treating me like a kid.”

“You’re barely a resident here, apprentice,” Marshall said, “That boy there, he’s still freshmeat. I gave him what he needed to know. What could actually help him. The precinct…I don’t agree with them entirely, but I can respect their desire for order, even if their methods are questionable. But then, they were cops, they can’t help themselves.” 

“Wait, they were cops? I thought you said it was a precinct?”

Marshall shook his head, “I wish I knew how to tell you all of this so that it would make sense. I wish I could just give you everything I’ve seen since I came here, but I can’t. You have to see it for yourself. You’ll have your own story before long–now come on, get back to work.”

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TPC – Chapter 2.6

Chapter 6 – Counteroffers and Missing Pieces

Of all the things that Barry had considered that meeting might be, he was left with a result, afterward, that was so far beyond his expectations that by the time he got home, he was sure that it must have been a dream of some sort. A hallucination, perhaps. He checked his wallet twice, but everything was there. He hadn’t given out any personal information that he could recall, but maybe he’d been under some sort of strange influence, and just didn’t remember. Dennis asked him why he was home late, and he came up with some excuse about working late on a deadline for a meeting in the morning that seemed to satisfy him. In all honesty, he wasn’t sure that Dennis particularly cared, beyond the fact that it was a disruption in his routine.

Dinner had already been made, and he ate it alone, since Dennis never waited for him to get home if he was late. He thought again about what he had felt for that moment, under the effect of that dust, the sheer lust for life that had pulsed in his veins, but while he appreciated the sensation, it was not what he wanted, not really. He wanted something more…ephemeral than that. He wanted a husband who would be willing to wait until he got home, who would eat with him, who would ask him about his day and genuinely care about his answers. He wanted a job that gave him a sense of dignity and respect, without feeling like he was being constantly placated with condescension. He felt like everyone around him treated him like a child. He tried to push beyond himself, wondering if he was asking for this. Maybe he was a little childish. A little petulant and unfocused, a little afraid of commitment and authority. But that wasn’t his fault. He’d just never been given a chance to show that he could do it. That he could be the adult in the room. They treated him like a child, which made him want to act like a child, which only reinforced the way they all treated him. A vicious cycle, one he’d been swirling in too long to see the edge, but this was a sword that could cut through all of it. He just wanted respect–and even if he couldn’t get something so immaterial, maybe he could at least get that…promotion.

It seemed like it should be possible to him, given what he’d seen and learned today. The more he thought about it, the more right it sounded, and the more he was willing to accept what he’d seen, if it might mean getting the life he thought he deserved. Dennis asked him if he wanted to join him on his evening constitutional around the neighborhood, and Barry declined. Instead, he went up to his office upstairs, and gave Ian a call. He’d expected him to agree, but instead, Ian gave him a sigh. A familiar sigh, to Barry. It was a sigh people gave him when he’d asked for too much, for something an adult would understand was impossible.

“Well see, now we’re not so much talking about you as a seller, and changing our conversation to that of a buyer,” Ian said.

“What does that mean?”

“Well, now you’re asking for something that’s worth more than what you have to offer, which means it’s going to have to come with a price tag. That’s not a problem, mind you, but to get my hands on something like that–to find someone willing to give it up…It’s not impossible, mind you, just, well, let me quote you something.”

He gave Barry a number that made his guts twist around a bit inside. They were wealthy, sure, but not…like that. “You’re kidding.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not.”

“Anyone who could pay that sort of money could already buy the damn respect of people in the first place!”

“You’re not wrong,” Ian said. “There is another possibility.”


“If you were to…acquire someone with the sort of qualities that you’re looking for, and then perhaps bring them here, I could see that you get a finder’s fee for the service.”

“I don’t…know if I quite understand what you mean.”

“If you’re asking for this, then you already know someone who has what you desire, don’t you?”

“Hypothetically, yes.”

“Then if you were to bring them to the house, I would be able to process them. You would get what you desire, and I would be able to process the rest into goods to be brokered with others.”

“That’s…I mean, what happens to them?”

“I’m a broker. There’s always a buyer, even for waste product in most situations.”

“I see.”

“Do keep in mind my other offer though, Barry. I do think that you have some prime assets to sell, and you would be quite satisfied with the results, I assure you.”

“I…I’ll let you know.”

“Have a good evening.”

Barry hung up, and considered what Ian had told him. He thought about Richard again. He thought about how everyone was going out on Friday evening. He pushed that away, but each time it did, it came circling back again, and each time, it looked a little more attractive than before.

Meanwhile, Dennis was walking the neighborhood in the pleasant summer evening. It was almost eight and the sun was still shining near the horizon, folks were out on their porches, kids were out in the street chasing each other. It was pleasant. It felt normal, and comforting to him. He waved at the various families he passed, stopping on occasion to catch up, to ask how their gardens were doing, if they had any vacation plans. He worked his way down the street until he reached the house where Kyle lived, and saw Kyle’s father in the garage, working on some project. He gave a wave, and got a scowl back at first, but then a half-hearted wave in return. Dennis figured it would be better to keep walking, but you didn’t change minds without a bit of exposure. “How’s the project going, Eric?” he said.

“Just fine, thanks for asking.”

“Good to hear. Hey, how’s Kyle doing? Barry and I might be taking a week in August for a trip to see our folks, and we’d love him to watch the cat.”

“Why the fuck would I know that that faggot son of mine is up to?” Eric spat back at him, and Dennis looked at him, confused. Had…Kyle told him? 

“What…what happened?”

“Moved into the city after he graduated, told us he was gay, that he didn’t want anything to do with us. Haven’t heard from him sense, and don’t fucking want to. At least he had the decency to not make me pay for his fucking college tuition–won’t be getting a dime of my money if I have anything to say about it.”

Dennis took all that in, gave another wave, as Eric went back to his project, and he kept walking, picking up his pace a bit, trying to sort out what he’d just learned. Kyle hadn’t moved out, had he? Hell, just a few days ago, they’d brought him home from the club! Dennis tried to pin down the events, but as he did, they were getting a little foggy and confused. He did remember seeing Kyle in the club with that bear, but…

He got home, went upstairs and found Barry in his office, head in his hands and staring at his phone. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Huh? Sure, what’s up.”

“We…gave Kyle a ride home on Friday, didn’t we?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I swear we did.”

“Dennis, Kyle moved out his parents place a few months ago. We saw him at the club with that older guy, yeah, but…” Barry shrugged, “The kid’s making his own choices now. Nothing we can do about it, you know?”

“I guess,” Dennis said, standing in the doorway, still trying to sort out his own memory. There was something else too, nagging at him. Something that seemed to be missing, another little piece of the puzzle, but one that had mysteriously slipped from the box. “I’m gonna go to bed early, I have a surgery tomorrow.”

“Alright, I’ll be there in a bit,” Barry said.

He heard Dennis go into the bedroom and the shower turn on, and he picked up the phone again, and saw that Ian had replied to his text asking for Hugh’s contact number, and given it to him. He put in the contact, and sent another message to Hugh, and then sat there, anxiously waiting for a reply. He had a hard time taking his own mind on this seriously, but it was the first idea in a very long time that he felt a sense of certainty about. If he wanted people to respect him, then he was going to have to get out of this hole he was in. This was the first time someone had offered him a way out–and he wasn’t going to back away from it, not this time. His days of being treated like a child were over.

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PTC – Chapter 2.4

Chapter 4 – The Broker

The phone call on Monday had been cryptic:

“Brokerage,” a rather deep voice had said on the other end of the line, after Barry dialed the number he’d been given.

“Yes, hello. My name is Barry Gersholm. I was given a card with this number to contact a Mr. Ian Miller.”

There was a bit of silence. “Who gave you the number?”

“A fellow named Hugh.”

“Are you buying or selling?”

“Excuse me?”

“Buying or selling?”

“I guess…I’m not sure? I was told that I…uh…had some assets that might be valuable. Selling, I guess?”

A little more silence than before. The man asked him for his name again, gave Barry an address to write down, didn’t repeat it, and then hung up.

It was not the sort of business contact Barry was used to dealing with, but then, nothing about Hugh, or Depot, had been anything like he’d expected. The more he thought about it, though, the less likely it seemed like something he ought to do. He had no idea who this person was. If he told Dennis where he was going, he would have a conniption–taking a drug dealer up on a possible job offer with a third party, without knowing anything about what they did? Was he an idiot? Maybe he was, he thought, but at the same time, it was exciting. He couldn’t really remember the last time he’d taken a risk–an actual risk, barebacking while on PrEP didn’t really count, not that Dennis could know about that either. That evening, he thought about telling him, but didn’t. Tuesday morning, at the office, he spent all day trying to figure out how to get out early. He had never been good at believable excuses. Richard checked in with him again, and his smarmy fucking demeanor made him want to be there even less.

“Hey Richard, I’m gonna take off early, get a little work down at home this evening,” he said, “I got a doctor’s appointment, hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not, any meetings you might miss?”

“Nothing on the schedule.”

“Then no problem. Oh, but in exchange, you have to promise to come out with the rest of the team on Friday. I want us to have a little party, you know, to celebrate our near completion of the project.”

More likely, it was to celebrate his own promotion, but Barry agreed to go. If nothing else, it would be beer he didn’t have to buy on a Friday night. Around three-thirty, he packed up his stuff and left the building, and about ten to four, he arrived at the address that had been given to him. It was a rather dilapidated house, looking like it had survived a few rezonings in its time–on one side was a liquor store, and on the other, a little string of businesses being run out of repurposed buildings like this one, until they ran up against a sizable apartment building that took up the rest of the block. Unlike those other little shops, this one didn’t seem to have a sign anywhere around it, but the address was right. He walked up the steps, gave a knock on the door, and after a moment, it opened up, revealing a rather tall fellow in business casual, maybe a bit younger than Barry was. “Barry, right?” he asked. It was the same voice from over the phone, but in person, he was putting off a little more charm.

“Yeah, you must be Ian,” Barry said, and the man nodded as they shook hands. 

“Come on in, let’s have a chat.”

Barry followed him into the living room, which still felt more like a living room than the meeting room it might be used as. There, sitting in a sagging armchair, was Hugh. Ian sat in a second armchair, leaving Barry the couch in front of them both. He gave a little nod to Hugh, but he wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. If he’d been suspicious that they were selling drugs before, he was almost certain of it now, and he wasn’t sure this was the sort of move he wanted to make. Best to go through the motions, though. He pulled his resume out and handed it to Ian, who set it aside without looking at it. “Hugh and I have been talking about his impression of you on Friday, and I asked him to join me for our chat today, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t,” Barry said, “I suppose I just feel a bit in the dark about all of this. What exactly is it you do here?”

“The growth in this part of the city over the last year has opened up a number of possibilities that would have been unimaginable before,” Ian said, putting on a tone not unlike half the tech startup gurus who were rotated through his office for various seminars each year, “I have found myself in a rather fortuitous position, to be able to offer folks the ability to take part in a commodities trade unlike anything that has been in existence before this.”

Barry nodded along, and then decided he didn’t quite feel like nodding. He was being sold a line of bullshit already. “That all sounds very fascinating, but it doesn’t tell me anything–I’ve been in sales long enough to know a pitch when I hear one. Just be straight with me.”

Ian looked over at Hugh, and gave him a look that could have meant a number of things, part shrug, part curiosity, perhaps.

“I’m a broker, as it says on my card. But what I buy and sell isn’t anything…physical, exactly. I’m in the business of buying and selling emotions, experiences, pasts and futures. Livelihoods.”

“Sounds like drugs.”

Ian gave another one of his little shrugs. “You sound like that’s what you were expecting, but no. I know Hugh has many hustles, but this isn’t drugs, not exactly. Like I said, I’m merely a broker, trying to help men find their way to happiness. Everyone has things they don’t like about their life, of course. But to someone walking down the street, perhaps that life you have is exactly what might make them happy. You in turn, might desire aspects of another. My services and skills help men like this connect, and make one another happy. To give each other the assets that they no longer appreciate.”

“That…what does that even mean?”

“Here, let me show you something,” Ian said, picked up a remote control, and turned on the TV hanging on the wall.

Barry recognized the location–it was the couch where he was currently sitting, but instead, a rather slender, twinky fellow was sitting there. “I’ve tried to gain weight all my life, I guess. I’ve always just had this strange desire to be…fatter. I can’t really explain it. I know I should be happy with how I look, but I’m not,” the young man said, “Can…you really help me?”

The video cut to the young man lying on a table in a sterile looking room. It looked like hyperlapse, what came next, but it was too smooth. The man’s body began to swell, packing on weight while he laid there, seemingly in a matter of moments. He went from a lean 170 to well over 300 pounds, and after the strange transformation, the video cut back to the couch, where the…new man was sitting, grinning with delight.

“How are you feeling? Adjusting well?” Ian’s voice said from off screen.

“Fuck, I’ve never felt better man, I finally…feel like I have the body I was supposed to have. I know that sounds a bit sick, but I can’t thank you enough.”

Ian paused the video, and waited a moment while Barry digested what he’d just witnessed. “That’s just one of many, many testimonials I could show you. Some changes are physical, like this young man. Others want a different persona. Others want a different line of work, a different past, a different family. Anything that you want to sell, I can try and find a buyer to connect you with, or if not, I’m also happy to take unwanted aspects in exchange for payment.”

“I…that’s unbelievable.”

They watched a few more videos, and either Ian should have been in Hollywood doing special effects, or he was telling the truth. Hugh slipped in then, and made a pitch. “I could see that you wanted another chance there at the club. A younger body, carefree, able to dance the night away, resilience and vigor and all of those wonderful things. You, in turn, have a respectable career, a husband who you seem at odds with. But those things could be an asset to someone else, and you, in turn, could have what you wanted on Friday night.”

Ian had gotten up for a moment, went to a glass display case on the wall, pulled a little jar from it, and returned to where they were sitting. He tapped a small bit of the powder out from inside the jar, and made a small line on the coffee table. “Here, this isn’t the real thing, but I’ve managed to…synthesize, some of what I do downstairs for folks. If you want a little taste of what I can offer you, try this.”

“So it is drugs.”

“It’s an emerging product line, still in development. I merely want to help you fully understand what I can offer you. I assure you they’re completely safe. The effect only will last a few minutes.”

A bit suspicious, and thinking it would probably be just a little bit of coke, since all of this had to be a very complex ruse, or scam, or…something. He took the hit anyway, because he felt like he deserved a little coke for listening to this bullshit, but what happened when it hit him was unlike any drug he’d experienced before.

He wasn’t…in the house anymore. He was in a club. What club didn’t matter, what did matter was the pounding of the music, the throbbing energy in his body, and when Barry looked down at himself, it wasn’t…his body he was looking at. He was slender, and young, and vibrant, with a…sizable bulge in the front of the skimpy underwear he was wearing with nothing else. But he wasn’t there to look at himself, he was there to dance, and vibe, and it felt like he could do this forever. The euphoria that washed over him wasn’t from a drug, it was the sheer thrill of that moment, and just as he grasped it and held it, believed it, it was gone–and he was sitting on the couch again, eyes tearing up slightly, while Hugh and Ian watched.

“Now do you understand? That could be you. For real.”

“I think…I think I need to go,” Barry said, wiping his eyes. That had been….too exquisite. Too tempting. He needed some distance to think about this.

“No worries, my offers are always open ended. You take the time you need to come to the decision that would make you happy. You wouldn’t be the first to walk away from it–sometimes, knowing what you could have is enough to make you appreciate what you already possess. I’m merely offering you the possibility of something else, alright?”

Barry retreated back to his car, and just sat in the silence for a while. He could feel it, the pulse of the music in his bones again…but was that really what he wanted? It would be pleasurable, sure. Fleeting, maybe. But what was really missing from his life didn’t seem like something that could be bought and sold. But then, what if it could be?

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TPC – Chapter 2.3

Chapter 3 – Getting The Runaround

As soon as Dennis stepped into the lobby at Precinct 27 on Tuesday around noon, he gave a little grimace. This was not the well kept, shiny sort of police station they had out in the suburbs (or at least, it wasn’t the idea of a well kept, shiny police station that he had in mind, since he had never stepped foot in one aside for a tour with the boy scouts when he was a teenager). The room was dimly lit, the tiles were dingy and didn’t look like they’d seen a mop in quite some time. There was one cop at a desk behind a plexiglass partition, but it didn’t look like he was doing any work–just reading a magazine or something, leaning back, and…no, he couldn’t be doing that, that would be so unprofessional!

Dennis cleared his throat as he stepped up towards the glass, and the officer sighed, put down the magazine under the counter, and scooted forward. If he had been engaging in something unpleasant down there, he made no effort to zip back up. Dennis hoped he’d been wrong in his assumption. “Hi, I’d like to file a report,” he said when he got to the glass.

“What about?”

“A club in the area. Depot. I was there on Friday, and I witnessed more code violations than I’d have liked to see. Underage drinking, indoor smoking, drug dealing, public sex, all sorts of stuff.”

He’d expected a little bit of concern from the officer, but he just looked somewhere between bored and annoyed that Dennis was standing in front of him at all. “That sounds like a job for the liquor control board and the health department, bud,” he said.

“I already called both of those places, and they said that, for whatever reason, Precinct 27 handles that stuff around here, so here I am.”

“Ah, I see. Alright, well, we’ll look into it then.”

Dennis stood there in the silence, and he realized that the officer was just expecting him to leave, after that. “Aren’t you going to take my name or number? File a report? I’m a witness.”

With a heavy sigh, the officer pulled out a pad of paper–not even anything official looking, and a pen. “Name?”

“I’d like to speak to your supervisor,” Dennis said.

“He’s out.”


“Yeah, he’s out. It’s lunchtime. You can wait if you want, but you look like a real busy fellow. Or how about this, you can give me your name.”

Dennis sighed, gave the officer his name, phone number and address, then watched as he tossed the pad back in the drawer beside him and closed it. “I’ll make sure to inform an investigator, don’t you worry.”

The condescension was almost enough for Dennis to take the man up on his offer and wait there for his supervisor to come back, but likely that would just waste more time, and he still had appointments that afternoon at the hospital. So he left. No wonder Depot was flouting the law so brazenly, if this is the sort of enforcement this part of town was dealing with. He was busy coming up with a list of folks even higher up to email that evening–police commissioners, city council members, the mayor even–when he saw a couple of guys on the other side of the street, and his jaw dropped.

It was Kyle again. Kyle, and…and was that the same fucking bear from the club that he’d pulled him away from? They were walking down the sidewalk, chatting, Kyle holding a bag of takeout, likely from one of the hole-in-the-walls around there, before going into a shop front for Marshall’s Cigar and Briar. Dennis jaywalked across the street and followed them inside, as they were doling out the contents of the bag between them.

“Hey bud, come back in a bit, it’s lunchtime,” the older bear said without looking up. Kyle though, recognized Dennis, and his face went pale. Twice in less than a week–was Dennis following him or something?

“Hey, Mr. Case…”

“Kyle, what are you doing here?” Dennis asked, “And isn’t that the guy from the fucking club?”

Marshall finally looked up, recognized Dennis, and gave a little huff. “Oh, it’s you. I hate how this place does this.”

“What?” Dennis asked.

“Bud, Kyle here is an employee of mine. We are currently having lunch. I assure you, everything here is perfectly fine. If you’d like to purchase something, why don’t you come back in half an hour. Otherwise, you can go ahead and fuck off.”

“You’re working? Here? For him? Since when?” Dennis asked Kyle, “Why didn’t you say anything about that on Friday?”

Kyle wasn’t sure what to say, and mostly he just wanted to slip under the floorboards for a while, and maybe die. “You…you won’t tell my dad, will you?”

“Tell your dad you’re working at a fucking smokeshop? Maybe I should. Maybe I should also tell him you’re going out to clubs underage while I’m at it! I still haven’t made my mind up about that, either, you know.”

“You don’t understand, alright? I’m fucking eighteen, you can’t just…just decide what’s fucking best for me!”

“You’re fucking eighteen, you don’t even know what’s best for you!” 

While they’d been yelling, Marshall had been calmly preparing a cigar for himself, and lighting it. Before Dennis could wheel on him, and likely try and chastise him for smoking indoors, He took an inhale, and pushed it all into Dennis’ face. Kyle watched, horrified, expecting Dennis to start coughing and explode even more, but instead, he watched as he went rather calm, almost like he was in a bit of a trance.

Marshall stood up, and beckoned Dennis over to the counter where he was standing, and without a word, Dennis did as the finger commanded. Then, Kyle watched as Marshall caught a wisp of smoke out of the air between his fingers, and twisted it, making it longer and thinner, with a little hook on the end. He put one hand on top of Dennis’s head and tilted it to one side, before sliding the wisp of smoke into his ear, twirling it a bit, and then pulling it out–along with…something else. Something a little smoke-like, but almost opalescent. Before Kyle could get a good look, Marshall had waved his hand through both hook and the bit he’d pulled free from Dennis’s head, and they dissolved into the air.

“Now, you’re going to leave my shop, and continue along whatever path you were going before, understand? You will never tell Kyle’s father about his activities. If asked by him about Kyle, you will only ever talk about what a good kid he is, responsible, and as an adult, he should be given as much autonomy as he needs, understand?”

Dennis nodded his head.

“Good, now get out of this shop.”

Dennis turned around and left, leaving Kyle with his jaw on the floor. “What did you do to him?”

“I know a few tricks,” Marshall said.

“Yeah, I’ve seen a couple of them, but what was that?”

“I pulled out the memory of him seeing us on the sidewalk, coming in here and trying to start a fight. Then, I used a little control on him, told him to carry on with his day. Easier than talking to him–I hate blowhards like that, they never know when to shut up. Come on, let’s eat.”

Marshall sat down and took a bite from his sandwich. Kyle stood on the other side of the counter, took a smaller bite from his own, and then set it down. After a couple of minutes, he asked, “Can…you teach me how to do that?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Marshall said.

“What…does that mean?”

“You said you’re going to college soon?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Out of state, right? One of those ivy league places,” Marshall put down the sandwich, and picked the cigar back up. “This place, Pigtown. It’s not just a place, you know. What’s happening here, it’s complicated. Most guys who come in here, eventually, they don’t go back out.”

Kyle thought about Marlon for a moment, the first he had all day, and pulling that memory free was like dragging it out from a swamp. He nodded.

“There’d be no college,” Marshall said. “No family outside of this chunk of city.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I just need you to believe me, and trust me,” Marshall said, “What you want is not a simple thing. This place makes you give up more than you ever thought you’d have to. What you get back is…well, I wouldn’t want to leave, I can tell you that. But if he was right about one thing, it’s that you’re, well, young, Kyle.” He saw him start to get defensive and Marshall shook his head, “I don’t mean it like he does. I mean, you have potential. A future. Many futures. This place is hungry for people like you. It wants you, badly, and it brought us together because it knew I had something you wanted, and wanted bad. I don’t mind giving it to you. But you ought to know what you’ll be giving up. Most never get the choice.”

“I do want it.”

“I know you do,” Marshall said, and picked up his sandwich again, “But think about it. Really think about it for me. We’ll talk again tomorrow, alright? Now eat up, we’ll have some regulars looking for their smokes banging on the door soon.”

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TPC – Chapter 2.2

Chapter 2 – Marshall’s Cigar and Briar

Kyle woke up on Saturday morning with a throbbing headache and a sore throat, enough that when he went downstairs, his mother asked him if he was catching a cold, while his father just kept reading the paper, uninterested. Kyle waved his mom off, worried he might still smell of alcohol, or worse, smoke, but if either of them noticed, they didn’t say anything. He sat down, had breakfast, and the entire experience was such a break from what had happened the night before, that it was becoming easier and easier to just assume that it hadn’t. He’d just imagined the whole thing, dreamed it. After all, what was more likely–he’d had a wacky horny dream, or he’d actually smoked a cigar that had summoned a smoke version of a guy he’d met for five minutes a club, and they’d had sex?

But upstairs in his room, he saw that the cigar had been real, at least. The band was there on his desk, with the name and address as before. Later in the day, he went poking around in the shed on some other pretense, and he could smell it in there still, the smoke, and there, across the floor, was the faint outline of a dried spatter of some sort. If that was real, he wasn’t sure how to disprove the rest of it.

He checked his messages, and saw he had something from Jim, wanting to talk to him. Kyle wasn’t sure if he wanted to divulge the details of what had happened to him that night entirely, but the situation with his gay neighbors was too stupid not to tell his friend. He suggested they meet up at the park about halfway between their homes, and half an hour later, he was waving Jim down from the bench he’d snagged. Jim hustled over, and got on the bench across from him.

Kyle could see something was wrong–his eyes were bagged, and he looked like he hadn’t slept at all that night. “Hell, you must have had a good night man, sorry I had to leave early, you won’t fucking believe that happened.”

Jim just stared at him. “Kyle…have you seen Marlon?”


“Marlon. My boyfriend. He went with us last night. Have you gotten a text from him? Anything?”

Kyle just stared at Jim, feeling like he was pulling a prank on him. Jim was single, wasn’t he? But now that he heard the name, it was…familiar, somehow. Jim pressed him on it, and Kyle came to the realization that he was right. They had gone out with Marlon the night before–how on Earth had Kyle just forgotten that?

“You’re not the only one,” Jim said, “I can’t find him on any social media, his number just disappeared from my phone! My parents don’t remember him, and I’m afraid to call his house, I…I don’t know, we…something happened when we were leaving the club, and I thought it was a nightmare, but…but now I’m not so sure.”

So Jim recounted what had happened as they were heading to the car, the strange shadows, the man in the leather who had stepped out to greet them, Marlon just up and disappearing into the dark, the police who had interrupted them and gotten him to his car, alone. Kyle just listened, unsure of what to say about any of this, but it put what had happened to him in rather stark relief. When Jim had finished his story, he considered describing the cigar in the shed to him, but didn’t. It felt…wrong, and Jim was freaking out a bit, so Kyle went around, sat beside him on the bench and put his arm around him. 

“Look, he’s probably fine, alright? I…I believe you, I do, but…but people don’t just disappear like this. There has to be an explanation.”

“But from everything? I can’t even find pictures of us. It’s like some black hole opened up and swallowed everything about him.”

They sat in silence for a while, and then Kyle said he’d let Jim know if he heard anything, he’d try texting him too, and see what he could find on the internet–then they went their separate ways.

But he couldn’t find anything about Marlon, anywhere. By the end of the evening, he found himself wondering if he actually was being pranked, if Jim was just faking the whole thing after all. But he’d been distressed, that hadn’t been an act. He went to bed that night, feeling rather unsettled, and didn’t feel much better the next day. He’d looked up the shop, called Marshall’s Cigar and Briar, and saw it was closed on Sundays–he’d decided to go into the city on Monday and check it out. Now he was having second thoughts. What if he just…up and disappeared too? Could that even happen? Even now, he was still struggling to hold onto the memories of Marlon that Jim had dredged up for him. Almost like, if he didn’t keep bringing them forward in his mind, they kept threatening to slip away into whatever void they’d gone down into before.

But Sunday, he had a fight with his Father, enabled by his Mother. It was over nothing, but he found himself bristling at being in this house, in this neighborhood for another minute. Sure, college would be an escape in a few months, but would it really get him away? His parents were still paying for it, the whole thing out of savings. If he tried to be out, if he dated a guy and they caught wind of it, he’d be cut off for sure. He didn’t know the cigar bear–named Marshall, he assumed–at all, but that one evening with him was the first time he’d felt respected by someone older than him, by someone who could be his father. In the end, he decided to take the risk, drove downtown, and on Monday afternoon, stepped into Marshall’s Cigar and Briar.

It was a narrow space, made narrower by the glass counter cutting down the length of the shop. Underneath the glass were countless pipes–not glass ones, like he would have expected, the kind his friends usually use for pot. These were tobacco pipes, and Kyle realized he’d never seen one of them in real life, beyond movies and that sort of thing. Across from the counter, there were magazine racks. One of them was an assortment of newspapers and magazines, and further in, judging from the black plastic plates in front, was a rack of porno mags. Along the back wall were jars of loose tobacco, and behind the counter was a wall of boxes, full of cigars, he assumed, and even more in humidors further in. Close to the door was a cash register, and behind that was the bear he’d met first at the bar, and then in his shed, though dressed more casually today, in jeans and a sleeveless shirt for the heat, flipping through one of the magazines from the news rack. Marshall lowered it, and smiled, “Ah, good to see you again, and sooner than I expected.”

“I…uh…” Kyle said, but didn’t quite know what to do next. He’d pictured himself getting in the door and then, well, he didn’t know what was going to come next, at all. But that was part of the excitement. For the first time, really, he felt like he’d taken a genuine step off the path that had been laid out for him, and now, he didn’t know what he was supposed to do.

“How have you been? I hope the fellow who dragged you away treated you well that night.”

“Yeah, he’s…a neighbor, of my parents. And me, I guess. I watch his cat sometimes.”

“I see.”

The man flipped to the next page in his magazine, and Kyle was left floundering for something to latch onto. Everything in the club, everything in the shed had felt so obvious, but now… “I…I thought you wanted to see me again,” he said.

Marshall smiled, “You must have wanted to see me again too,” he said, “But now I suppose I have to ask you, what would you like? Cigars? A pipe? What interests young men like you these days? I don’t know anything about that new vaping thing I see twinks do sometimes, it seems so cold to me.”

I guess…I don’t know. I thought…we could, you know.”

“Ah, you came for me, and me alone, did you?”

“I think you’re teasing me.”

Marshall smiled. “Well, I haven’t had lunch yet. Why don’t we go get some food, and we can chat a bit more? I’d be interested to get to know a little bit more about you, I think.”

That seemed as good of a foothold as any, and they ended up at a little restaurant down the street, Marshall poking around and asking Kyle about not just his plans, but how he felt about his plans, about his general dissatisfaction. It ended with a surprising offer–Marshall suggested he might work with him in the shop for the rest of the summer. He’d fallen behind on some of his organization, and there was always cleaning to do. It wasn’t the sort of job that Kyle had ever thought about doing, but he accepted without any hesitation. The more time he spent with Marshall, the more of a pull he felt. After just an afternoon, he felt a deeper connection with him than anyone else before. His mind called it love, but that might have been youth talking. They went back to the shop, and Kyle’s heart was beating fast, wondering what else might happen that day, only for the feeling to cut off when Marshall handed him a broom. 

“Go ahead and start off with a good sweep, will ya?” he said, smiling at him.

Kyle, who had never really had to work a broom in his life, just gripped it and stared at him, but Marshall was serious. So he took the broom and the dustpan, and started sweeping, while the bear went back to the register, took a cigar from the humidor beside him, and started smoking while reading his magazine. Kyle felt a little hoodwinked, and yet, when he caught a whiff of the smoke, he had to stifle a moan, as his cock leapt up. Marshall was smiling at him, and gave him a wink, but what felt like it could have been something more, was stifled by a steady stream of customers for the rest of the afternoon, and when it was time to close, he was given a wage right from the till, and sent on his way home. 

“I…Are we gonna, you know, again?” Kyle asked, not really wanting to leave the shop and step out onto the dark sidewalk.

“Is that what you want?” Marshall asked him, and Kyle nodded. “Well, Pigtown will usually give you what you want, Kyle. But you should be careful that you don’t lose what you need. Now get on home–shop opens at ten, and I want you here at nine thirty every day.”

Kyle nodded, not sure if that was a yes or a no…but he’d take it, either way.

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