No death -- I promise.
At the end of the line
there's no more time
and you go it alone
you can never come home.
At the end of the line...
-Noah Gundersen, "Death"
The house is small, one room with one window.
It's just a hut, a cut above a lean-to, with the kind of cheap vinyl flooring I used to see in the trailers of my earliest clients, before I moved on to the bigger fish with the real money. I can see the wooden angles of the roof through the holes in the ceiling, and afternoon light shines in through the warped slats so that the room, while dingy and in disrepair, is neither dark nor depressing. I think there are birds nesting in the rafters up there, because every now and again there's a chitter or two.
In the corner, there's a small stove, a pitiful thing, paint chipping, eyes broken. There's no gas line in this place, so I'm not sure what the fuck it's doing here, but even in this state, it's cute, in a forlorn sort of way. This place is abandoned, sure, falling apart, sure, but there's a stoutness, a quiet dignity about it as it faces a long, slow journey into dust and ashes. There'll be nobody here to watch it, nobody to miss the way things were while they cook grits on the stove or remember the time their grandmother took a spill while her arthritis was acting up, but this house doesn't give a fuck. It'll stand until it falls, it'll be here until it's gone, and when that day comes, hey, fuck it, we all gotta go sometime, man. We all gotta go sometime.
There are holes in the walls.
Not the kind that come from rot, but from fists thrown in a drunken rage, shots taken at moving targets. I can always tell. It's important, in my line of work, to spot a history of violence when there's one to be seen. But still, I'm almost sorry for what's going to happen here. This house might have seen some not-so-better days, sure, but it doesn't deserve to go out like it probably will tonight. It deserves better, and I'm sorry, but I have no place else to go, nowhere else to run. This is it, all I got in the world. The house ain't mine of course, not legally, but it's been here since I was kid and it's the only place I can think to go now.
So I line the guns up along the walls, one beside the other like dominoes, like crayons, soldiers. Twenty, thirty, forty. Larger than my usual haul, but not the biggest I've ever handled. I like to have a wide selection. My customers can be picky and petty about their guns, and I don't really get what the big fucking deal is myself, I mean, just fucking buy one already, they're all basically the same. But I can respect it. Guns mean a lot to them, more than I'll probably ever know, and they pay on time and pay well. So I line them up for display like we're in a fucking museum or an art gallery. They like it, and you know what they say, the goddamned customer is always right.
When it's done, I sit on the folding chair I brought and cross my ankles, looking out the window. Is it still a window if there's no glass? I don't know. But the breeze feels nice and it's pretty warm out, like it has been the last few days, so that's good. I sit and look around the dignified room and listen to the birds chittering in the rafters and just enjoy the breeze and the sunlight.
It's a rundown shack if there ever was one, that's for damn sure.
But it's not such a bad place to die.
Only one of the guys I got scheduled shows up.
It's Frank Winchester, of course, a man I've known a while, from the old days when I used to have to take the bus to the spot because I didn't have a car and my mom's was always in the shop. He's some Wall Street dude, down from New York. I don't know why the hell he comes all the way out to wherever I am to buy from me -- there are plenty of arms dealers in New York, I'm sure. He could probably have his shit delivered to his door if he wanted, by the looks of him. Even now, when he's wearing a plaid button down and cargo shorts, you can tell he's somebody.
He looks in the window, smiling at me like a goddamned customer service rep.
Frank thinks it makes him look cool to call me D instead of Derek, which is my damn name, but it just makes him look like a fool who tries too hard. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it a little. I like him far more than I should, always have. And Frank, well, he likes me too.
He's always been real good to me.
"Hey, Frank. Come on around back."
The back door is little more than a piece of plywood, but he waits for me to unlock and open it and then steps inside, crossing his arms and surveying the room like this is an open house.
"The usual?" I realize how that sounds -- we both do -- and bite my lip like kid lying about his report card and turn away from him. "This is everything I got."
He nods noncommittally as he stands next to me, looking over the haul. He has lawyer looks, tall and thin with salt and pepper hair and a serious haircut and a clean shaven face. I can imagine him in a boardroom, dressed from head to toe in Brooks Brothers or Fred Segal or whoever makes those suits that heads of state and shipping magnates like to wear. Probably has a top hat and monocle, just like that little dude on the peanut can.
He picks up my only Heckler and Koch G36, a far cry from the Walthers he's always been hard for.
"You want a ski mask with that? Directions to the mall?"
He laughs, and he has a real laugh, not one of those smarmy ass chuckles so many customers give me. It's one of the reasons I know I can tell him where I am and he won't open his mouth to anybody. And in all the years we've been doing business, I've never gotten into any bullshit behind Frank.
And that laugh, it makes me feel some type of way, but I don't want to think about that. Not today. It's too late for all that shit now.
"No," he says, looking sadly at me and handing me way too much money. "Just always wanted to buy something like this. Don't trust anyone else not to exploit me somehow, and if the talk I hear can be believed, you'll be...closing up shop, soon."
"Nothing lasts forever, right?"
He looks sad, and it's making me feel all fluttery in the chest. I wish I could think of something more clever to say, something to cut the damn tension, but I got nothing. I'm always so fucking tongue-tied around this dude.
"I know people," he says. "I could help you." His look turns all serious, like those actors on the promo ads for police procedural reruns on Ion Television. I want to laugh because it looks so damn stupid on his trust fund face, but it also looks tragic. The darkest side of Frank is barely even gray, but I'm sure he does know people, and I'm both surprised and touched that he would call those people for some black dude he goes to for thrills. He might be a poser, but not in any way that matters.
"Nah." I give him what I hope is a convincing smirk and clap him on the shoulder. It's so fake-casual that I want to slap myself. "Don't do anything like that. You just stay out of this. I know you think you're untouchable, but these guys are nothing to fuck around with."
"It's been good, Frank," I say. He's about to get sentimental, I can feel it, and I really just cannot right now.
He nods, his lips pressed into a line, and he extends a hand to me. I take it and squeeze, the way my father taught me. He's staring me dead in the eyes, looking for something, I guess. Don't know what. Don't want to think about what.
After way too long, he finally lets go, and he follows as I lead him out the way he came in. I look out the door and scan the horizon before I send him out; I don't know what time they're coming, and I don't need Frank caught in the crossfire. His ass watches way too many movies for me to let him catch sight of the men after me. I could just see him when things get hot, trying to dive behind that plastic Maserati he drives, thinking that's gonna cover him.
When I tell him it's clear he slips past me and walks officially out to his car, shooting a glance back over his shoulder on the way. I give him a two-fingered salute as he folds his tall self into the driver's seat and slams the door. The windows are so tinted they're damn near painted black, and I can see myself in them, looking raggedy as hell. It's been a while since I could stay in one place for too long, and I haven't been to a barbershop in like two months.
But they'll shave my face, at least, for the funeral, if there even is one.
They do that.
He comes back.
Shoulda fucking known.
He must have made a u-turn in one of the fields, because the road he took to get here sure ain't wide enough. I can't help but smile at the thought of him driving that expensive ass car into the dirt just to come back to me.
He pulls up in front of the house and stops, throwing the door open before he even has the car in park. He sees me through the window and I wave at him, but he's not waving back this time -- he's marching right on around to the back door. I head back to open it up and I barely have the shitty lock off it before he's inside, breathing like he's been running, hands on his hips.
I close the door, but I don't bother to lock it. He'll be leaving soon; this ain't the first time we've been to this rodeo, and I always get through to him in the end.
"Frank -- "
"Don't fucking Frank me." He's walking toward me, and I can't fucking believe it, but I'm backing away like a chickenshit. "Not this time."
"We been through this, man." My back hits the busted wall, and I realize I have no real place to escape to this time. No place to run. "We were cool, and I like you and everything, but it's time for us to go our separate ways. These -- "
"Bullshit." He's way too close now. I've got a close up on his five-o'clock shadow, and I can smell his aftershave. I can't place it, but whatever it is, it smells like fucking heaven, and I can feel myself slipping.
"You don't know what you're getting into here, Frank..." He raises a hand to my face and strokes my cheek while his other hand is fucking with my belt. "These are bad guys..."
"That's what you always say." He's breathing in my ear now and his hand is dancing between my legs. My belt's loosened and my zipper's down, but his hand is still outside my pants. I moan like some horny teenager, and that shit is humiliating, but I can't help it and he knows it. He gets off on teasing me -- hell, so do I -- and I haven't had a lot of time for this kind of stuff since I've been on the run. It's been almost a year since we...did this, and now that he's started I'm desperate.
"It's true." I'm biting my lip and trying to keep my voice even. "They're gonna catch up with me sooner or later. Probably sooner. They're bad buys, Frank."
"You said that." He's really fucking with me now, toying with me through my boxers, squeezing and tugging and stroking until I'm humping his fucking hand. I'm gonna stop him -- I have to stop him -- after a few seconds.
Just a few more seconds.
"Come with me."
"Frank, I -- "
But his tongue is in my mouth now and he's crushing our lips together. His thigh is between mine and he's pressing me into the wall now, his hands gripping my ass and feeling me up under my shirt. I try to resist -- same way I always do -- but it's just too much and the next thing I know I'm clawing his back and shit and kissing him, grinding my body into him.
He stops suddenly and takes me by the shoulders, shoving me back against the wall and looking me smugly in the eye, a filthy smile on his face.
"No more hiding," he says. One of hands slips between my legs again and I spread them wider like a whore. I don't even give a damn anymore. "No more running from me. We've been doing this for years. We're almost forty fucking years old. It's time to stop pretending there's nothing going on here."
"It's simple," I say, moaning. "We're just having fun -- "
His hand suddenly slips all the way inside and he's gripping my naked cock, stroking the head softly with his thumb. I'm groaning pretty constantly now, and all I can think about is him and his goddamn kisses and hands and aftershave.
He laughs again, right in my ear, and I almost come right there. "Right." He loosens his grip in me and starts teasing again. "I've got news for you, D. You don't get this hard this fast for a twenty year fuck buddy. We're doing a hell of a lot more than having fun."
He backs off me completely and takes two or three steps away. His hair is mussed and his lips are swollen and his shirt is rumpled, but he still looks powerful and in control. I don't know he does it, but he always keeps his cool, even more than me, and that's saying something. He can make me lose it, make me beg for him, and I don't beg for shit.
I lean against the wall and make one last weak, futile plea for my dignity. "I'm staying here. Tired of running."
He moves in close again. "Do we have to do this the hard way?" he whispers, reaching for my belt again. "How long do you think you can take it?"
I shake my head; I know he can keep up that teasing shit for hours. "Frank..."
He takes my hand and starts walking.
I follow him, of course.
What fucking choice do I have, I ask you?
I thought I'd get a chance to maybe calm down a little and explain to him that I'm tired of being scared for my life all the time, that I just want the whole thing to be done and over with, finished. That I want to go back to that little house on the prairie and face my demons like a man. But he keeps his hands on me the whole fifteen minutes back to the city, and it's all I can do not to spray the dashboard.
Naturally, he's staying at the fanciest hotel in town, whose name I can't pronounce. He parks in a big garage, taking the corners dangerously fast. Once we've stopped, he lets go of me and rests his hand against my thigh.
As if I could say no.
We make our way to the ground floor in silence, and for once I'm grateful to be wearing jeans. I hate the damn things, but they hide a woody like nothing else. He leads me to a side entrance of the building, and we start up a flight of stairs, him staying just ahead of me. We cut through a few maintenance areas and soon we're walking down a plush hall whose walls are papered with what looks and feels like velvet.
He's skilled at sneaking us into places. Part of me wonders how often he's brought others back to his room, whether he's banging his pool boy and gutter cleaner along with his gun dealer, and I have to swallow some absurd jealousy at the idea. We keep walking down the hall, and I think of how much I really hate coming with him to nice places like this. I do all right, but I'm nowhere near his league, and I can't help feeling like something he picked up on Calle Ocho for the night. I've tried to tell to him how I feel before, but he doesn't understand. He just tried to convince me I deserve it. Said he likes to do nice things for me, that he wanted me to know he cared. I didn't bring it up again after that.
And here we are again, me standing behind him like a good little whore, him fumbling for his room key and dropping it twice. When he finally gets the door open, he yanks me in after him and slams it behind me, pressing me back against it and starting up again. My pants are around my ankles and he's pulling my legs apart before I can even get his belt undone. He's found the sweet spot on my neck and the feel of his stubble against my throat is making it hard to think.
"We...we should talk-"
He laughs that damn laugh again. I can feel that laugh in my prick and I moan again, tugging at the hair on the back of his head. He likes that, and he lets go of my cock for a second to squeeze my ass and press himself against me. He's hard as a rock through those cargo shorts, and the feel of them against my naked prick has me wrapping one of my legs around his.
"Is that what we should do?" he taunts, starting in on my collarbone. "Talk?"
He rips open my button-down like it's a piece of toilet paper.
"You sure you don't want to come first?" His hand is between us again, lightly stroking me and playing around. "It sort of feels like you need to come first."
His kiss steals the words from my mouth, but they weren't very convincing anyway.
He grips me tighter while my mouth is occupied, stroking me hard and then soft and hard and then soft. He knows how to keep me right on the edge, right where he wants me. I try to fuck his hand, to get him to stroke me one too many times, to come. But he strokes me softly again and presses his forehead to mine, locking me in his sights.
"Now, now," he says softly, raising a hand to my cheek, "you know the rules. Don't rush me." He stops touching my cock completely and takes my balls in his hands, stroking them. His voice turns all dark and aggressive. "You know what happens when you rush me."
I can admit to myself that I won't be able to resist him. Not tonight. Frank knows I want this, need it, need him to control me like this. I've been stressed the fuck out for almost a year, running, hiding, relying on my wits, alone, and I need a night off. I don't know how he knows, when he can be so clueless about so many other things, but he always knows what I need when it comes to this.
He backs up off me, unbuttoning his expensive shirt and kicking off those shorts. He's not wearing anything underneath them, of course.
He slips an arm around me leads me into the bathroom. It's about the size of my entire apartment back in Charleston, and there's an enormous shower in one corner. He peels the shirt of my shoulders and stands behind me, pressing his chest, and other things, against my back.
"Remember Vegas?" he whispers.
My knees almost buckle.
Fuck, yes, I remember Vegas.
He laughs that damn laugh again, and he presses something in his hand and the shower comes on. I take his hand to see what the hell it is, and it's some kind of remote.
"You got a damn remote control for the shower?"
"Yeah," he says matter-of-factly. "Comes with the room. For convenience's sake."
Sometime when I'm not about to burst, I'll get into how fucking ridiculous that is.
The water is already warm when we get into the shower and I let it wash over me. It's one of those massaging showerheads that has two dozen settings, and if the one I'm using isn't the best, I can't imagine what is. Frank's found some kind of sponge and is caressing my back with it, and the shower is suddenly full of some scent not unlike Frank's aftershave.
"I've missed you," he breathes, pulling me back against him. His cock is pressed between my cheeks as he soaps up my chest and abs and thighs. He's avoiding my cock, saving it for last. "I've missed you so much..."
I reach back and run my hands through his hair again, just letting myself feel all of him. The water runs over us and between our bodies, and I lean back against him and close my eyes. He drops the sponge and his fingers graze my lower abs head south from there until we're right back where we started, with him stroking firmly and tugging and rubbing and me trying to fuck his palm.
"Derek," he says hoarsely. His hand isn't as steady as it was earlier, and I know what time it is. "You know what I need," he whispers, lips grazing my neck. "What you need..."
I sigh and moan and give in completely, turning to face him. I want to cry when his hand slips off my cock again, but I just take hold of his waist and sink to my knees in front of him. His cock is curved upward a little, and hard as a rock. The water runs over it and drips off it and I can't look away. He steps toward me, a pained and lusty expression on his face.