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No Rest for the Wicked

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I start my day with a cup of medium sized iced hazelnut latte with an extra shot of that sticky syrup from the Dunkin' Donuts down the street from my apartment building. I could support the local, organic coffee shop across the street, but I rather consume high amounts of sugar for less money. Organic or from a drug farm, three ninety-nine or six fifty; it all ends up tasting the same once you mix two ounces of espresso with fourteen ounces of milk and sugar.

The girl who takes my order still can't get my name right. I know that her name is Jessica and that she's been working at this Dunkin Donuts for three years. I also know that her boyfriend is a college dropout that peddles weed near NYU, ironically the same university he had dropped out from.

But the cup has Frank scribbled across the side in a handwriting that's hard to read, making Frank look more like “BnmF”. She makes the drink -- two shots of espresso over ice. Four pumps of hazelnut flavored sugar. Milk three thirds the way. A couple of shakes.

“ Here ya go, Frank.”

I know more about her than her own mother and yet she can't even get my name right. I put a dollar in the tip jar next to the register and walk with the drink in hand, other in my pocket.

I always have this itching urge to ask her why -- why does she think I'm ‘Frank’. Sometimes I'll look into the mirror, at my own reflection, and take in my features. Is it the eyes? My nose? Lips? What is so ‘Frankish’ about my appearance that an underpaid barista can't remember my actual name?

She smiles as I leave with my cheap caffeinated liquid sugar in a plastic cup.

Maybe that's why I don't bother correcting her. The woman means no harm and she's genuinely kind, rain or shine. Morning rush or no rush.

The ritual ends at 99 Tenth Street in a recently renovated warehouse that looks like a startup company’s wet dream. With my coffee and messenger bag, I look like any of those hip programmers and content editors that weave around midtown on overpriced road bikes, but on the contrary I am a federal agent and this building I'm entering is 600,000 square feet of headquarters for the DEA New York Division.

That's how I know about Jessica and her deadbeat boyfriend. He's in the system along with the hundreds of other offenders that push drugs on the streets of New York City. I've seen him. I've spoken to him. He's one of my informants. The fact his girlfriend works at my local donut shop is just an unfortunate coincidence. Sometimes I wonder what would be her reaction to me the day I ever arrest her boyfriend; would she then remember my name?

Probably.

It's hard to forget the name of a person that crossed you.

At a normal office building, you can escape the noise pollution of the outside world. Crossing from the streets of New York into the offices of the DEA has the opposite effect. Phones ringing, televisions broadcasting cable news, and conversations held at desks and cubicles competing with all the loudness seem as if I'm stepping deeper into a lion's den. There is no escape from the streets when I cross through those doors -- I am becoming apart of it -- and when I scan my identification badge and cross through the metal detector, the transformation is complete.

Every morning, Monday through Friday. Where I become Frank, the Task Force Agent for the New York Division of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

I finish my drink as I walk to elevators on the first floor of the agency. I still feel sluggish; the iced latte still taking its time to stimulate my system with sugars and caffeine. I punch the up button with my thumb, sucking up the water flavored remains of my drink through the orange straw, as a move the ice around in an attempt to suck up the hazelnut syrup.

The elevator makes it announcement with a ding and the doors swing open. I step inside and immediately press the ‘CLOSE DOOR’ button. As the double doors slide shut, a hand juts between them and they're forced open with a loud bang. I watch as the owner of the hand is revealed to be Jon Walker. He jumps in, and the doors close as he stands next to me with his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

“ Good Morning, Frank.” He greets me with a smirk. I respond with the loud sound of a straw sucking up air and liquid. “ I know you saw me but I'll let you slide.”

“ I honestly didn't see you.” I reply, though, I did see him running towards me as the doors slid closed. It's nothing personal; I hate being in small places with other people. Call it claustrophobia, if you want.

“ My name isn't Frank.”

I throw it in despite the fact that I know that he's just screwing around. Jon chuckles as if he found it amusing that I couldn't take a joke. I got the joke, I am just tired of hearing it every morning.

He reaches over and presses the button for the third floor.

“ Every morning I see you with that cup that says Frank. Makes me doubt that your name is George Ryan Ross the Fourth.”

“ The thi--.”

“ Third.” He finishes. I look at him from the corner of my eye. He's grinning and I can't help but to shed away my indifference and smile back.

“ You're such an insufferable asshole.”

“ It takes one to know one.”

I've known Jon since I was transferred here five years ago from the Las Vegas office. He was a great help in getting me adjusted to the hustle of the New York division office. I remember the stories he told me of situations that made the adjustment difficult after his transfer from Chicago. Coming from Chitown, you would have thought he'd seen it all, but the concrete jungle that is New York is unforgiving. I'm glad for his help, I don't think I would have survived the transfer for more than a few months.

We aren't partners but he's the closest I got to one in my division. I trust him with my life.

Dressed in jeans and a loose fitting t-shirt, Jon looks like a sports bar patron watching the game as he scratches his beard covered chin with his left hand, the right stuffed in the pocket of his jeans as he's standing in front of the television propped up on the wall in our division’s section on the third floor. It's set to one of the twenty four hour cable news channels; split screens of talking heads screaming at each other while tickers of information fly across the screen in a perfect display of information overload.

Jon pokes my shoulder and nods over at the TV, “ Can you believe this? Are they honestly debating about defunding after school programs?”

I nod as I watch the television but I'm not as invested into the topic of discussion at hand.

“ That's what happens when people vote for their own interests.” I say, knowing exactly that's something Jon would like to hear. He nods in agreement.

“ Exactly!” He stresses. “ Representation for everyone .”

Jon is too invested in things like this: politics, the economy, etc. He is generally a laid back guy, sometimes coming into work with flip flops instead of the closed toe shoes mandated by the dress code. He always sporting a beard, one that was now peppered with grey, whenever he could that made him look years older than his thirty one. At first glance you would expect him at a coffee shop with an acoustic guitar in hand singing about suns and moons, not a field agent of the DEA focused on illegal prescription drugs sales.

But, unlike me, he's married with a toddler. I guess when you have other people in your life that depend on you for their livelihoods, the crumbling state of the nation would be a pressing priority. Luckily, my only concerns in life are taxes and death.

The two things we humans are guaranteed the moment we take our first wailing breath.

The debate ends and the anchor seamlessly transitions into the next segment for the hour block; entertainment news. The mood of the broadcast changes almost instantaneously, the serious face of a male journalist now replaced with the bubbly smile of a younger woman in her early twenties holding an iPad in one hand, standing in front of a big screen TV, as she rambles animatedly over the top ten hottest entertainment buzz from over the weekend.

Marriages and divorces. Affairs and days out with the kids. It's all mind numbingly invasive and I feel like a voyeur as I watch. Jon seems to have also lost interest, now engaged in a texting conversation with his wife. For all I know it's about their kid and daycare.

Suddenly, his phone is ringing and he answers it immediately. The conversation is about daycare.

I was right.

Jon walks away, wanting his privacy, and I respect it with a nod as my focus is on the garbage being fed through the digital airwaves that obviously didn't care for the privacy of the rich and famous. Somewhere between the fourth and third topic on the hot buzz list, is a side piece about a gala that had happened over the weekend for a prominent real estate tycoon in New York City. The woman is practically gushing as he describes what had happened and who was there that weekend, interceded with shots of guests on the red carpet posing for the media and their cameras.

“ New York’s finest was in attendance for the annual Rickenbalm Foundation Gala, in support of the music and arts in the City’s public schools. For the last fifteen years, this gala brings in New York’s finest and this year was as amazing as last years.”

Celebrities smiled into the cameras as the B-Roll footage zoomed at all sorts of wild angles.

“ The event was hosted by charismatic billionaire, Brendon Urie,”

Suddenly there's a shot of the young gentleman in a tailored white suit standing on the red carpet, his arm around the waist of a petite woman in a flowing black dress that I can only assume is his wife judging by the gold band around his left ring finger and the modest rock resting on her own. The shot is less than five seconds, not even giving us viewers a chance to absorb the moment before we’re given a taste of this charismatic billionaire’s hosting skills.

There's no mistake to the description by the reporter. There's a swagger to his on stage appearance that plays into the cliche of a rich millennial with more money to spend than what he could possibly imagine to do with. He makes an off collar joke that has the crowd in the video laughing before the reporter continues her play by play of the event.

“ I'm amazed he's still in the public eye.”

Jon’s passive voice pulls me from the news and back to reality. I look at him and raise an eyebrow.

“ What do you mean?”

I guess he's talking about that Urie fellow.

“ You haven't heard?” Jon is looking at me as if I've been living under a rock the last few years.

“ No, not really.” I run a hand down my navy tie, smoothing it against my body. Rumors get people in trouble on this job.

“ He's about to be under investigation.”

As if on cue, Urie is laughing on the screen at an interviewer. The timing is impeccable.

“ Really, Jon?” I stick my hands into the pockets of my black slacks and rock on the balls of my feet. A lot of things are commonly known around the office, such as informants and drug rings, but there are certain cases that are on a need to know to avoid compromising and investigation. The finding out that this guy was a target by the DEA didn't seem as surprising as it was odd. Young philanthropist doesn't necessarily meet the description of potential drug lord.

The entertainment news segment is over and the stoic face of the male journalist is back on screen, introducing the next pressings topic that Americans should care about.

“I got called in for a meeting with the captain yesterday evening. Apparently this going to be a thing.” Jon trails off and walks over to his desk. I follow after him, abandoning the television for this conversation. He sits down at his desk and crosses his arms over his chest. “ What do you know about him?”

I run a hand through my hair and shrug, “ Nothing.”

“ Positive?” He cocks an eyebrow and I frown slightly.

“ I'm telling the truth. I've never heard of him.”

I'm not the type to focus on celebrity news. I could care less about galas and parties. I barely even watch the one TV in my own apartment. I waste my time reading books and writing in notebooks like every other avocado toast eating, Brooklyn living thirty year old millennial. I'm just missing the mountain man beard and love vegan burgers.

Working a job with such a strong sensory overload, I need to be able to tune myself out the moment I get home.

“ Him and his wife are always gracing Page Six.” Jon explains. He reaches for an old copy of the New York Post in one of the drawers of his desk and slams it on the desk with much dramatic flair. He quickly opens up to the infamous Page Six magazine, pulls it out and opens to a page and in all of their privileged glory, are pictures of Uries on a yacht somewhere in the Hamptons giving million dollar smiles and drinking fancy champagne.

In large heading, ‘POWER COUPLE HOST THIS SEASON’S HOTTEST PARTY IN THE HAMPTONS’, covers a portion of the page followed by an article going into eyewitness account of a party on a boat that the youngest and powerful of New York in attendance. Musicians, actors, models, real estate moguls -- a six figure circlejerk. I sigh, feeling a headache coming on.

“ They're known for these wild parties.” Jon remarks. “ Every month they hold them with various themes like the white party or the roaring twenties. It feels like a piece taken straight from the Great Gatsby except you need to actually have more than a million dollars to attend. There's also their annual Halloween party that everyone tries to attend.”

He pulls out another Page Six magazine, flipping it open to a double page spread full of pictures from their Halloween party and a half page article gushing in detail about what had happened. In a large photo, predominantly in the center left of the page is a picture of the couple dressed as Sid and Nancy. I wonder if they're aware of the story of the infamous couple. Then again, I read the caption underneath the photo: Zombie Sid and Nancy. There's nothing undead about the way that they look. I guess the editor wanted to save their dignity.

I slowly push the magazine towards Jon with an exasperated sigh. At least it wasn't ‘Random Punk Rocker Couple’.

“ Every young rich kid goes crazy on the weekends.” I sum up.

“ He was unknown until five years ago. Suddenly this random nobody shows up in New York City buying up property, befriending city politicians, and amassing a fortune so large with a basic college education?” Jon throws his hands up. “ The shit makes absolutely no sense.”

“ So the top assumes that because he isn't from a rich family the only way he could become rich is through pushing drugs?”

Jon takes the newspaper and magazines and folds it closed. He shoves it back in his desk.

“ It's not that simple and you know that, Ross.” Jon says with a huff. “ I'm being assigned the case but I told them I want someone else on it. I put your name out and they're considering it.”

I blink, “ Wait, why me?”

I just handle street paddlers and prescription frauds. This type of stuff is way above my pay grade. The look Jon gives me says everything I need to know: I have no say and the decision has already been made.

 

##

 

I always was a fan of the smell of coffee. I would spend most of my college days cooped up in the corners of cafes with a pen and a notebook spilling my thoughts onto lined paper as the aroma stimulated my senses. There was something about coffee houses and it adding to the image of a fledgling writer trying to become a future Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This kid is going to be something one day. The next New York Times bestseller. That's what they're all thinking and I oblige them with talks about the novel I am currently writing and hope to publish once I graduate between sips of overpriced coffee in paper cups. They hang onto every word so they can brag to their friends when that book drops, hoping their names will be in the dedication.

Then reality rears its ugly head and the student abandons notebooks and pens for guns and drugs. That novel is never released and the student store all his notebooks in boxes kept underneath his bed.

I never got tired of the smell of a coffee shop and it's a place I still enjoy hiding away in, even if I spend most of my time asleep on large couches with untouched coffees sitting on tables next to me.

“ You look better than ever.” Spencer Smith greets me sarcastically from behind the counter. I rub my chin, the stubble rough against my fingertips, and shrug. He only smiles at me, that perfect bright smile that reaches his sky blue eyes and manages to melt away headaches (and hearts).

“ Things have been pretty quiet these past few weeks.” I say. I'm not lying; with the current political shift, activity had been stalling in the boroughs and across the river. Which is a good thing, always a good thing.

Spencer nods, busying his hands with rearranging the packages of biscouttis next to the cash register.

“ That's good.” Spencer looks at me. “ So what do you want?”

“ A small black.”

I've known Spencer since he was five and I was six.  We met during a community crime watch event held by one of the elders in the neighborhood. All I can remember was the trays of powdered donuts and chocolate milk that we stuffed our faces with as the adults talked about something that wasn't interesting as to us in comparison to Burger King releasing tapes of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon with the kids meals.

We grew up together under the hot Vegas sun. We blew up lawn mowers, played video games, talked about first kisses and congratulated lost virginities -- hell, we had even started a band together. It didn't go anywhere, even though we spent most of our junior and senior years dreaming of being on MTV and drowning in pussy thinking we were on the road to success after we managed to play one successful live to a crowd of fifty kids.

Those songs we wrote are now collecting dust in a shoebox underneath my bed.

We both went to the University of Nevada on scholarships. I was the creative one, pursuing a useless degree for the sake of chasing literary infamy while Spencer was the practical one: business management. Eventually we parted ways; he went off to NYU to get his masters and I, well, I became a starving artist at the age of twenty two.

Now he's the owner of a chain of coffee shops that cater to New York’s intellectual youth and shameful Wall Street, uniting two mortal enemies under the pretense of coffee and scones.

And me? Interrogating junkies for their connects once I quickly learned that the starving artist lifestyle wasn't going to work out.

Spencer places my cup of coffee down on the counter and slides it towards me. I take it into my hand and lift it in an act of gratitude. He gives me a deadpan stare but I only take a sip without breaking eye contact.

“ You can afford to lose a cup.” I say with a lopsided smirk. Spencer only rolls his eyes at me. He knows it's true. He's rolling in millions, I'm sure of it. He had to be if his name is on five different locations in trendy neighborhoods in this God forsaken city.

“ It'd still be nice to pay up once and awhile, Ryan.”

“ My company and friendship is worth more than this cup.” I say smoothly above the plastic rim of the lid. I take another sip and Spencer grins, writing off the cup in the inventory on the tablet next to the register. I lift the cup in salute before retreating to my usual, quiet corner of his shop.

I come here after work to grab a coffee and let my mind wander. Sometimes Spencer’s here at this location and we’ll catch up on lost time, other times he's handling the other locations and I'm stuck with the police discounted coffee because the barista ‘doesn't know me like that’ and there's ‘nothing from the boss that says I get drinks for free’. But I have a feeling Spencer has specifically told his staff not to give me anything for free.

I let the large, old couch consume my thin frame and sink into the cushions. There's no coffee shop music playing in the background, instead there's a television broadcasting a local channel. Spencer was always about that -- supporting local business, supporting the community.

I hear about the Rickenbalm Gala again and I look up at the television. The report is more in detail, interviewing many of the high profile guests that were in attendance on their reasons of going. Spencer is at my side, hands tucked into the front pocket of his apron. He shakes his head and chuckles.

“ Its amusing watching these guys talk about how much they care for the arts when we all know it's just one, huge tax write off.” Spencer says. I look up at him from the seat.

“ Funny coming from someone like you.” I quip. Spencer looks down at me and raises an eyebrow.

“ I actually don't go to fancy galas to flaunt that I care for stuff that in reality I couldn't give two shits about.” He slaps the back of my head for emphasis and I can only wince and rub where he had assaulted. “ Idiot.”

“ Of course, Spence. How could I ever forget.” We chuckle because that's what friends do. Mock each other, slap each other back into place and then laugh about it.

We turn our attention back to the television and that guy Jon was talking about earlier in the day is being interviewed. It looks like it took place during the gala, people are running about behind him as he rambles animatedly about how important keeping music in the schools is for the kids. I look at Spencer, expecting him to throw an insult in his direction, but instead I see him nodding in agreement. I blink and look back at the television.

“ If I didn't have music in the public schools when I was a kid, I probably wouldn't have learned how to transfer my crazy energy into my enterprises.” I hear Urie say with a perfect smile, flawless skin, and slicked back hair with faded sides that accentuated his facial features, balancing them out. It was a common hair cut for us young men on the cusps of our thirties, even Spencer was sporting one of his own. I had tried my own attempt at it before abandoning it for longer, messier locks I hide underneath fedoras when I'm too lazy to bother myself with styling.

One of my friends had dubbed it the fuckboy look. Considering my sex life as of recent, rocking a hairstyle like that spoke farther from the truth. A change was definitely needed. I still don't know why Spencer bothers with maintaining that cut, especially being engaged to a Manhattan socialite by the name of Linda, but I guess I take things too literally.

It looks better on him than me anyway.

“ I admire that guy,” I hear Spencer say with an air of admiration to his voice. I hum in response, nothing more nothing less. He continues, “ He's come by the shop a few times. Real nice guy. Tips nice, too.”

“ You friends with him or something?” Not that it matters but it's always good to know how the web weaves itself. More habits from my job that bleed into my personal life.

“ We’re more acquaintances than anything. He comes by, we talk, he leaves. I'll get an invitation to those parties but, as you know, I've sworn off that lifestyle.”

Yeah, I know. I also remember how hard you had fallen back when we were in school. It was one of the major reasons why I ended up becoming a DEA agent. I like to keep that moment in our lives in the past. It's easier to stay fucked up than sober. I guess that's why Spencer is focused on his coffee business; it keeps him distracted from temptation in the form of orange bottles sealed with child lock caps.

“ You've been to one?”

“ Once. Just the one time. It was a Halloween party two years ago at their Florida residence.” Spencer scratches his chin. “ Crazy night. “

I can feel his eyes on me and I shrug. I can only assume why, “ I see no evil, speak no evil, or hear no evil.”

Besides that's not how I work. Leave that snooping to New York’s finest.

I stand up, finish my coffee, and hand Spencer the empty cup. He takes it without forgetting to chastise me for my ungrateful attitude towards his gratuity and I merely wave him away like an annoying fly. As I make my way to leave the shop, my attention doesn't leave the television. On the bottom of the screen, a title card flashes with BRENDON URIE and PHILANTHROPIST underneath his name. He's rambling about how nervous he was to be hosting such a large event but I can't help but let my mind wander to the other details I've heard about him today.

Secret underground kingpin. Host of wild parties filled with drugs and alcohol. A black tie and white suit wearing philanthropist for the arts.

I bid my childhood friend one more goodbye before I leave and head home.

 

##

 

I flick open the lid of my zippo lighter, thumb the igniter, and light the joint I had just rolled. I take a few quick puffs to insure the weed is burning and toss the lighter somewhere on my desk. It's something ironic that I indulge in this illegal habit considering my actual job and how many people I've arrested for dealing in it but everyone has their vices.

Mine just happens to be of the green kind. At least I can pride myself I'm not a stumbling alcoholic. A hypocrite, yes.

I take another hit from the joint and let it rest on the ashtray sitting next to my laptop. I exhale the smoke, letting my body relax. I flex my fingers and type into the address bar Urie’s name. Results pop up instantly on the Google search page, coupled with an image of his smiling face and some stats with a link to his Wikipedia page.

I click on the link for his Wikipedia page and immediately take note of his age. He's only a year younger than me…. actually ten months younger. He hailed from St. George, Utah, but judging by the way he looks I doubt he's Mormon like the rest of the people from that community.

“ Brendon Boyd Urie is an American real estate investor and philanthropist.” I read aloud. I look over the overview on his life and click on the Early Life segment of his article.

But it's nothing more than a short paragraph. He's from St. George, he went to Brigham Young University, and apparently, despite my earlier assumption, was Mormon. Though, it looks like he left the church after graduating college. The section ends and immediately jumps to a detailed section on his business career.

He got married to a woman named Sarah whose father was the CEO of a investment company and through that marriage seemed to mark the beginning of a successful career in real estate investment. A few well known gentrification projects are tied to him as well as an extensive list of all his philanthropy.

The article paints him like a bright and young talent ready to become the next new and bright talent in the world of trading and investing. There are no scandals and no mention of his party lifestyle that seems to always be printed in Page Six. The Brendon Urie presented on Wikipedia is definitely not the Brendon Urie explained to me by my friends.

I take another drag and click the back button. News and gossip sites populate most of the results. I click on them but it's just mindless drivel about the perfect power couple gracing the unworthy of their presence.

Why am I even bothering myself with this nonsense?

It’s just rich kid who married lucky.

I take another drag, the effects of the high taking its goddamn time, and I let the joint rest from my lips as I type another query into the search results. This time: BRENDON URIE DRUGS.

Nothing comes up that incriminates the guy. In fact, a bunch of news articles from last year feature a story in which he attended at an anti-drug event at some school uptown as a headlining speaker. No classic stories of rehab or caught outside Manhattan's finest clubs an absolute stumbling trainwreck. There’s not even a mention of the parties that grace Page Six in all its pretentious glory.

I lean back in my chair, take a long drag from the joint before stubbing it out in the ashtray.

 

##

 

“ Tell me more about that Urie guy.”

Jon gives me a look like I had just admitted to the fact that purchase weed from my informant. Which is true but it's not something I would admit to him . We may be acquaintances but I'm sure he'd arrest me at a moment's notice. He's the kind of guy, the one that crooked cops hate and D.A.s on a political climb love.

Besides a happy informant means I get exactly what I want when I want it. I'm willing to get my hands a little dirty if that means I can keep myself sane another day.

I'm pretty sure every agent in this division has a dirty secret that could cost them their jobs. Even Mister Jonathan Walker, the perfect family man, probably has a secret he would rather keep from the others.

He sits up in his chair and crosses his arms, “ Good Morning to you too, Frank.” I ignore the obvious joke at my morning ritual, “ Why? You didn't seem interested yesterday and you're definitely not into gossip so…”

I shrug. Honestly, I am not the type and he is right, but I rather not stumble into the trap he's obviously setting up so he can have more laughter at the expense of my misfortune of being mistaken for Frank every morning by an underpaid barista (who’s boyfriend happens to be my informant and dealer).

“I'll take the job if I learn more about the case.” I lean against his desk.

He's grinning at this point. I don't understand what's so amusing. I adjust the cuffs of my white dress shirt and smooth my black tie.

“ I googled him last night. He's too clean.” I scratch my chin. “ It makes no sense. How can someone like him manage to be so clean and yet … have a reputation as the one that has the parties with the blow and strippers?”

“ Blow and strippers? Wow, what an imagination you have there, Mister Ross. What year is it? 1978?”

I give him one of those looks that would come straight from an 80s sitcom when someone would make a lame joke. It would make sense for me to follow up with a sarcastic quip so that the studio audience can laugh and laugh, but instead, “ Anyway. You told me he had a basic college education but his Wikipedia article says he graduated from some university in Utah with a degree in business management.”

“ Anyone can edit a Wikipedia page.” Jon concludes with little flair and no bite, as if it was common knowledge that Wikipedia is the most unreliable source of information on the internet.

I tell him to move over and reach for his computer. Firing up Google, I type in Urie’s name and find his biography that's up on his company website, UO Investment Company LLC. On the minimalist white page is a picture of himself in a standard grey business suit with a navy blue tie, smiling into the camera -- the cliche business executive look that could be found hanging on the wall of any board room in New York City. He looks different in the photo compared to what I had seen yesterday. He looks younger, bright eyed, with a generic haircut that screamed , “ Look my parents paid my way into Harvard and everyone tells me I'm great!”.

I scroll down the page and immediately point out to Jon the Education part of the bland biography. Jon looks at the page then at me before leaning back in his chair.

“ Interesting.” Is all he says, then, “So you want to be on the case?.”

“ I didn't… say that I want to be.”

Jon stands up and stretches, arms wide up above his head.

“I can't tell you classified information unless you agree to me assigning you to this case.”

I look at him and frown. “ Fine.”

“ I'll notify the team you're coming on board.”

“ Wait. So that's it? You're not, like, going to tell me anything else?”

Jon’s arms fall to his sides and he gives me a look. I know that look.

“ You'll be briefed shortly.”

He got me cornered and playing right into his hands again.

 

##

 

The thing about Jon isn't that he's a laid back officer of the law that doesn't like following the dress code because he pushes more paper than being on the field. The thing about him is that he's always planning something without someone suspecting what it is. He's good at putting up an image of someone who's lazy, who doesn't care about their job or the responsibilities of it. It's probably the reason why he's always attached to investigations that involve long and tedious surveillances.

It's hard for me to always figure out what he's thinking. Most of my assignments have came directly from him, though, all of them involved petty drug crimes. I have no idea why he insisted I be attached to this investigation, considering my past history and experience, but he must know something about me that I don't know. Given the glint in his eye and his smirk, perhaps he knows more than he has let on about me.

My heart beat jumps at the thought of him finding out my little drug habit. I'm not a dirty cop but, damnit, if they knew I was dangling jail time over a punk kid for weed….

“ Did you hear what I just said?” Jon asks me, taking me out of my thoughts.

“ Yeah, yeah.. I heard everything.”

Soon after agreeing to Jon’s favor, demand, whatever it was, we ended up in one of the empty briefing rooms. Jon had brought with him a sizeable folder filled with details related to the investigation. He had called for the two other agents assigned to this case to join us. I never met them, only heard their names in conversation once and awhile, but they were veterans here and apparently the commanding unit on this particular one case.

They were out of the building but would be coming in a few minutes. That was nearly thirty minutes ago. Jon decided to use the time to explain the case to me. Drug trafficking seemed to be the biggest part of the investigation, but money laundering played a part as well.

“ Any questions?”

As he asks me the question, the door opens up and two older men step into the room. Both were dressed like typical field agents; dress shirts, ties, and dark colored slacks. Their federal badges were clipped to their belts. They looked somewhat intimidating despite the less than average height; the tallest of the two looked liked he barely scratched five foot six on a good day. The shorter one looked like he belonged to the IT department, holding a laptop under his arm.

“ Ah, Agent Wentz and Agent Stump, thanks for finally making it.” Jon greeted as the blonde closed the door behind him. They all exchanged handshakes. “ This is Agent Ross, the one I was telling you about.”

They look at me as if they finally realized I was in the room. Quickly they extend their hands out to me and I shake them as we greet each other.

“ Jon really vouched for you, Agent Ross.” Wentz said as sat down on one of the table tops in the room. “ I like using first names. I'm Pete, my partner is Patrick,” the blonde agent in the thick rimmed glasses waves at me and I nod in acknowledgment, “ And you must be Ryan.”

“ Yes.”

“ So, you might be wondering why we're doing this briefing in such an informal matter and that's a legitimate concern. But we needed to do it this way to protect the integrity of this case. As Jon may have already told you, the person of interest is a highly regarded businessman in this city with a lot of political influence. The fact that he's under investigation must not be compromised under any circumstance.”

“ The only people that know about this investigation is the chief of this entire headquarters and us in this room.” Patrick adds, with a soft voice that matches his even softer, if not geekier appearance. Apparently they were field commanders. I'm still trying to come to terms with it.

“ We wanted Jon to initially go in on the field with the investigation but after careful consideration of the actual case, he suggested that we use an alternative approach.”

“ And that would include me … how?”

The two agents look at each other, silently communicating with themselves, as if I just overstepped myself with the question. It's not like I am trying to be a hard ass but I don't really understand the need for the top secret handling of investigating a rich guy. We have so many open investigations on rich powerful men on the floor right now that I don't understand what makes this one any different. Even with what Jon and the two have already told me.

“ Jon told us you have a background in writing.” Pete began after finishing his weird silent conversation. “ A degree in journalism, right?”

“ Creative writing.” I correct. Pete hums but continues nevertheless.

“ One of your friends is Spencer Smith, correct?” I nod. “ We know that he is also acquaintances with the target. That helps us tremendously. We need you to go undercover as a journalist wanting to write a book, or whatever, on the target. Once you're in, we need you to try and get inside his innermost circle and gather as much intel as you can on the guy.

I look at Jon. It's the first thing I do. I look at him like he holds the answers to everything. Life, the universe, everything. But he just stands there, next to that plain white podium, with an air of indifference. He knew all along that this was going to happen, he just needed to plant the bait to hook me in.

“ If you don't agree to this, we will all consider this a wash and walk away. But I would advise that you not speak about any of this to anyone else.” Patrick says. “ But if you do agree, we'll tell you everything you need to know.”

“ So you want me because of some six degrees of Kevin Bacon bullshit?”

Patrick smiles and I slightly recoil, “ Yes, that would make things easier for us.”

Pete taps Patrick on the shoulder and motions for the laptop. Patrick hands him the laptop without a word and he walks over to one of the many white long tables that lined the briefing room in rows of two. He puts the laptop down on the table top, opens it up, and clicks through a few screens.

“ We know about your, uh, arrangement, Agent Ross.” Pete says as he loads up a surveillance photo on the laptop. My eyebrows furrow as he steps aside, revealing the photo at full screen to be me and that NYU informant. It’s a damning image. One that could get me fired.

Fuck.

I look at Jon and he shrugs. “ You knew?” I ask him.

“ We all have our vices.” He replies matter-of-fact. I frown. This is blackmail.

“ If you choose not to do it, we’ll just give you a written warning. Not to damaging, but, would probably reduce you to desk work somewhere else, granted if you piss clean in a drug test. Which… I honestly doubt you would pass clean if we gave it to you now.”

“ We need to catch him and you’re the only guy we got that has the best chances of getting in.” Patrick crosses his arms. “ Please try and understand.”

“ You’re an awfully soft spoken guy for someone that just threatened to blackmail me.”

“ This doesn’t need to be difficult, Agent Ross.”

Way to sidestep the topic, asshole. I sigh, “ How long.”

“ Six months.” Pete says as he leans against the table. He crosses his arms as he gets comfortable. Too comfortable in my opinion. They must get off on pulling strings like this. “ Maybe longer.”

“ What will happen.”

“ You’ll be wiped from the system.  A private citizen. Which means that if you engage in any illegal activities, you will be arrested and charged.”

“ And you guys would just let me hang out there to dry?”

“ If it required protecting the integrity of the investigation, then, yes we would. But I honestly doubt that a fine officer like yourself would get caught up in anything of the sort.”

It's an obvious sarcastic quip at my arrangement with my informant. The irony doesn't go over my head; I've threatened the guy with the same likened terms. I know what he does. I could have him arrested and charged with so many offenses, he would wish he could have stayed back at home in some corn field in Ohio. Do as I say, give me what I want, and he'll be okay to live his life as he pleases.

Now I'm caught and stuck with an ultimatum. It fucking sucks.

Pete lays out more of the terms. My entire history will be rewritten. Drivers license, social security, the last fifteen years of past addresses changed and altered…. Not a single trace of DEA Agent George Ryan Ross III of the New York Division will exist upon accepting the assignment. I will be Ryan Ross, a struggling up and coming writer. I will need to move to new residence and assume this new life just so I can investigate this guy without exposing my true identity.

Except, there's that one problem.

“ Spencer knows I'm a law enforcement officer.”

“ Tell him it was a lie.”

Wow. That easy?

“ Are you kidding me? He's been to my place. He's seen my badge. My gun. He knows he's the reason why I became an agent… How do I just lie to him about all of this and use him to get to this guy?” I run my fingers through my hair with a sigh. “ Don't you guys have a better idea?”

“ How close is he to Urie?” Jon asks me. I scoff, throwing my hands out in front of me. I have no fucking idea.

“ He told me he went to a party once, two years ago, and that was enough to scare him away. They're not friends, if that's what you guys are thinking.”

“ But they know each other?”

“ I guess. They're both young and have money. It's not like we hang out and talk about our social lives all the damn time.” I say tersely.

I’m annoyed, if it isn’t already clearly written all over my face. It seems I’m the only one upset in this room. Everyone else is calm, collected, and probably getting a kick out of seeing some low ranked agent squirm.

“ We are afraid that he'll comprise you.” Patrick says and Pete nods in agreement like some parent agreeing with some reason why the kid can’t hang out with Jake, the teen with the ‘problems’. I don’t know how these two operate but the condescending attitude is gnawing at me.

“ Then I'll tell him not to talk about my job. Problem solved.”

The two have another one of their silent conversations. It's getting on my nerves now. At this point it's not like I can say no and walk back to my desk and resume my job. No, that shit isn't happening now. If I do that I'm going to be fucked over with possession charges. If I say yes, my life as I know it will be over. Molded and rearranged by these two ‘telepathic’ douchebags and the guy I thought I could trust my life with.

“ Fine. We’ll pull you out if compromised.”

Okay, Agent Blonde.

“ No guarantees on the return to normal life. Are you going to do it?”

Fuck you, Agent Slickback.

“ Fine.”

The two agents grin, obviously pleased with my answer. Pete pushes himself off the table and closes the laptop. Patrick walks over to him and he hands it back to Patrick, who holds it under his arm.

“ You won’t be paid your normal salary,” Pete begins, playing with the end of his black tie. “ But you’ll be compensated with an amount that is reasonable for a freelance journalist. Your living expenses at both places will be covered by us under the guise as some rich uncle. You know, to play up the whole ‘I’m a millennial in NYC following my dream but I’m still a leech off of my mommy and daddy’ look. It might not sound nice but it is a pretty decent compensation for what we’re asking. You’ll also get a completion bonus.”

“ Any questions?” Patrick asks with that eerily sweet smile. Of course I have questions. I just signed my life away to the US Government and I still have no idea what the fuck for.

“ You just forced me to sign on to an investigation as an undercover agent and I have not a goddamn idea what the investigation is.”

“ Jon will fill you in on the details since you won’t be reporting to us, you’ll be reporting to him.” Patrick and Pete begin to walk out the room. “ You begin your assignment in two days. Good luck.”

They leave me with my ‘friend’, obviously pleased with themselves leaving such a great first impression. I hear Jon shuffle behind me at the podium. I turn around and open my mouth but words fail to escape. He sold me to the dogs. I thought he had my back; he would be someone I could trust. He did this to me.

How can I forgive that?

“ I know what you're thinking. Don't take it personally.” He tells me with his arms resting atop the podium. He leans backwards a bit, stretching his back. “ But there's a reason why I wanted you and no one else. I've worked with Pete and Patrick before back when I was based in Chicago. They're good guys. Experienced. They know their stuff and when they approached me with this case I knew that I needed to find them someone good.”

“ And that person is me?”

“ Well, yeah.” He chuckles, shifting his weight between either leg. “ But you're also a guy caught in your ways and we needed a push. Please don't get upset with me, but all of this was to protect you. If you think we're blackmailing you, it would be worth knowing that there's been suspicion about your arrangement with your informant for months, Ryan.”

My mouth goes dry. Shit. Are you serious?

Jon continues, as if he knew what I was thinking, “ Getting you off that case and getting you transferred to Pete was the best thing I could do to make sure you wouldn't get into deep shit.”

I run a hand through my hair, “ What the fuck, Jon….”

He stands up and walks over to me. I look at him warily but he steps closer into my space and puts his hand on my shoulder.

“ Ryan, this is big. You wanted to help make a change, right? That's why you became an agent, right? Well this is your chance to cut the head off the snake.”

I shrug his hand off, “ I asked for details. I don't… want to hear you guys try and butter me up, okay?”

He looks at me and sighs.

“ Fine.” He steps away and walks over to the whiteboard at the front of the briefing room. He grabs a black dry eraser pen and writes the name MONA LISA in large letters. “ Welcome to Operation Mona Lisa.”

Chapter Text

Operation Mona Lisa.

A stupid code name for an undercover investigation involving one of New York City’s most influential businessmen. Operation Shadowhand sounded a lot better, in my honest opinion. Okay, that is cliche, but apparently the guy is running a huge drug ring right under the noses of New York’s political finest and the best the Wonder Twins could come up with was Mona Lisa? No one thought to say Puppeteer? Operation Waste of Tax Payers’ Money?

Operation A Waste of My Time?

Jon took his time explaining the whole investigation to me. It begun a year ago after a drug bust lead to a tip off that the supplier was operating under the code name of Mona Lisa. All leads ended up with dead ends until an anonymous tip off implicated the son-in-law of UO  Investments CEO, Brendon Boyd Urie.

But how do you investigate someone that's untouchable with no probable cause?

You send in a rat to bait the snake.

I'm the rat.

Two days went by faster than I expected. One day I was at my desk flipping a pen and bullshitting with Jon over the morning gossip and the next I’m removed from the system and whisked away from my meager life in uptown Manhattan to a tiny, hole in the wall apartment in some part of Brooklyn. The place isn't even two hundred square feet. All I have is a bed, a desk for my government issued laptop, and a tiny bath and kitchen with the bare necessities for civilized human survival.

Nothing belongs to me. I'm pretty sure the place is wire tapped and surveillance cameras are bugged everywhere. I couldn't masturbate even if I wanted to without giving the Wonder Twins smut to jerk off too. They seem like the type that would get off on that shit.

Jon told me I needed to make weekly reports once I got in contact with this Urie fellow. I doubt that's going to happen. Spencer hadn't seen him in a long time and I don't even know where to begin. Midtown? Wall Street? The Hamptons? Where does a guy like that hang out? The Page Six articles Jon supplied me with are just galas and random events.

As if someone like me could just walk right into one without an RSVP. I would be escorted out the premises before I could even get a single word out. No, they couldn't make my life easy with this assignment. No James Bond funding here, folks. Leave the glamour for Hollywood and the reality for the Marcy Projects.

So how does one catch a white collar criminal?

The only way I can think of is to use what the Wonder Twins considered to be the only reason why it had to be me: Spencer’s coffee house. I decide to camp out at one of them. Not the one that I've made myself a regular at in Manhattan but the one located in Brooklyn. Mainly because the staff knows me there and I can’t afford to be exposed. He met the guy a few times, even got invited to a party, so obviously he must come around with a relative frequency. Besides, a rich guy like him who enjoys being artsy has to spend his hard earned investment cash in Brooklyn like all the other cool kids.

Right?

Right.

It feels weird.

I never was involved in an undercover operation before. Not as the agent orchestrating it and definitely not as the agent undercover. I’ve been apart of sting operations but they’re not the same. Sting operations involve getting in, capturing the guy in the act, and grabbing them at the moment of transaction. I’ve caught plenty of low tier weed peddlers by just setting up a trap -- some are so dumb that they believe me when I say a cop is legally obligated to answer if they are one when asked.

Are you a cop?

No.

Transaction completed. You are under arrest for the possession and intent to sell. Bring in the vans and police cars. The kid is practically defecating on himself and I’m having a field day at the expense of his stupidity.

Undercover operations involve months, if not years, of sacrifice to build a case to bring down a group of people. It’s dangerous work and I don’t feel comfortable doing it. I can’t trick a billionaire into a drug transaction. It’s just not that easy.

Even as I sit at this table in the corner by the window, I’m nervous as hell. My palms are sweaty, my keyboard hasn’t been touched since I sat in this chair two hours ago, and my coffee has gone ice cold in the paper cup. I stare at the opened Microsoft Word document and try to think of some bullshit to type into the blank white space. I can’t, though. Nothing comes to mind. I haven’t written anything in months, let alone years, that weren’t a report to be filed after the end of a case to be used as evidence in a criminal trial.

But that isn't what makes this all feel weird. The idea of waking up, not having to wear my usual oxford, tie and slacks. There's no badge at my hip. No morning ritual at Dunkin Donuts to be mistaken for Frank by a barista who's boyfriend was my informant and dealer. No train into midtown and a walk to the office. My life that I have known for years has simply ceased to exist in a matter of forty-eight hours.

I should be in a windowless office under the glare of fluorescent lights. I shouldn't be in a cafe by the window in jeans, t-shirt and Chuck Taylor's hoping for a rich guy to walk through the door by a simple happenstance.

No. I'm not a person that likes change.

Twelve dollars and three days later, Spencer strolls into his coffee shop with a messenger bag and a smile that immediately has his staff greeting him like he's Charlie and they're his angels. I watch him get behind the counter, disappear in the back, and come out throwing on a black apron. He immediately start working. Checking inventory, changing coffee filters, throwing out old brews -- he works seamlessly and efficiently.

I sit back in the uncomfortable wooden chair I've practically made my home now and watch him with a slight awe at his work ethic. I've never really seen him at work; I've watched him, yeah, but I never paid attention to him. It's interesting to say the least, like I’m witnessing a stranger at work not my childhood friend.

He’s gentle with the customers and his staff. Always a smile on his face and willing to make a joke in order to get a smile back. He's on first name basis with the regulars and tries to take time out to learn about the new comers into his shop. It's night and day to what I'm used to and what I know about him.

I go back to typing nonsense into my laptop. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Lorem ipsum sit dolor amit. Anything to appear as if I'm working and not being a loitering creep. I rather not let Spencer know I'm here.

The door jingle rings and suddenly I hear a familiar voice.

“ Hey, Spence! I figured I'd find you at one of your establishments eventually!”

“ Oh, wow, Brendon. Hey.”

Jackpot.

Brendon Urie strolls into the shop with a smile on his face and an energy that seems to clash with the general somber mood of the coffee shop. He’s dressed completely in black; t-shirt, ripped skinny jeans, and sneakers that scream that everything he's wearing coats more than hundred dollars. Paying premium to look like he shopped at H&M on payday. How chic.

His left arm is covered in a tattoo sleeve of mishmash artwork that seem to be representative of random irrational thought in the moment judgement calls than cohesive, thoughtful artwork. His hair is floppy and falls into his face, which has him pushing it back every other second.

He looks nothing like the man I saw on television the other day. He looks like a skater punk, not a billionaire heir to a large investment firm.

Spencer steps from behind the counter and greets Brendon. They shake hands and give a ‘bro hug’. It's something I would have never done with Spencer. We don’t hug. We don’t even shake hands. We just circle around each other like siblings -- we rather greet each other with a sarcastic comment than a genuine concern for the other’s well being. Brendon crosses his arms as Spencer puts his hands in the pockets of his apron.

“ What brings you in?” Spencer asks.

Brendon shrugs, “ Was in the area today and figured I'd stop by and see if you around. I've been looking for you for a hot minute, actually.”

“ Really?”

“ Yeah. Went to every one of your shops this week and you were never there when I was.”

Spencer laughs, “ I don't really keep a set schedule on when I come by my shops. It's just sort of random. I'm sorry about that.”

“ Nah, don't worry about it.”

They speak with such familiarity that has me thinking that Spencer has been withholding information from me for whatever reason. Brendon obviously knows Spencer and it's pretty obvious that they're acquaintances, if not just friends. They've know each other to a degree that's beyond customer and shop owner.

“ So how's Linda been doing?”

I frown slightly.

“ She's doing great. Really excited for the wedding.”

Spencer is very much involved in Brendon’s social circle.

The young billionaire runs his fingers through his black hair after flipping his bangs back and out of his face.

“ I'm sure she is. I hear it from my wife all the time. They've been shopping together with the wedding planner for the final arrangements from what she's told me.”

“ Yeah, yeah. She's glad Sarah’s there to help her out with this because l’m completely clueless as to what's going on.” Spencer laughs and Brendon is laughing with him.

“ Just show up. That's all you gotta do. Show up in the suit and let the day just play out. So, three more weeks until the big day, hun?”

Spencer sighs with a ‘yep’, running a hand through his hair. He looks riddled with nerves. I guess I would be too if I was about to marry into one of New York’s richest families. Spencer had talked about the wedding in passing a few times, mentioning it was taking place out in the Hamptons somewhere (I had forgot the details of exactly where) and Linda had taken the control over everything. All he needed to concern himself with was making sure he was showing up with his best man and groomsmen.

He had asked me to be his best man. I accepted but I haven't heard much since the fittings at the tailor for my suit nearly two months ago. Then again, we are both busy individuals and it's not like we share a common denominator like a significant other to keep us in the loop of what's going on in our private lives. I will admit that it's strange we've come this far and we’re more akin to strangers than the bestest of friends we so call claim to be.

Well, if the display in front of me is any indication of it.

I've only met Linda a couple of times. Once, when I had first arrived in the city and Spencer took me out to celebrate. He tried to ‘break me into city’ with a pub crawl around mid-town. The second, and last time, was at the tailor's when they were taking my measurements. She's a nice girl in control of her surroundings and obviously is keeping Spencer afloat. I can't complain. But it's obvious I should know more about the woman my friend is going to marry.

“ We definitely need to get the details of that bachelor party finalized, man.” Brendon says with a grin. Spencer sucks in a breath and shakes his head.

“ Yeah, I really don't want to do all of that the night before… “

Or at all, really. Parties involve alcohol, but considering his social circle, looks like it involves more than bottles of champagne and brandy. We may be hiding shit from us but I know he definitely is trying to avoid temptations in the guise of bottles. It’s one of the main reasons why I haven’t bothered planning the party. I know his history with it and it's not a good one. And we both had agreed against it.

Brendon playfully slaps Spencer’s shoulder.

“ It'll be good. Trust me. I won't do anything that'll jeopardize whatever you got going on. Just tell me who's coming and I'll set everything up. I mean, come on, Spence! Your last night of freedom can't be spent playing the role of the Virgin Mary.”

Spencer sighs. He’s giving in, “ I admit you do know how to throw a good party.”

“ Exactly.” Brendon looks at his smart watch and sighs, “ Forgot, I have a meeting in an hour downtown. I guess I gotta get back with you later on the bachelor party details.”

“ Honestly, you just handle it all and I'll just show up.”

Hook. Line. Sinker. Just like that. Amazing.

The billionaire looks at Spencer with a playful grin that reminds me of an imp being granted the freedom to do whatever it's little impish desire wants to do. He gives him a pat on the shoulder and a farewell before running off to wherever he has to be. Spencer watches Brendon disappear around the corner with a smile and a shake of his head. Strangely enough he doesn't notice me in the corner by the windows and returns to work; starting an inventory check on the coffee.

I close my laptop and quickly stuff it into my messenger bag. I stand up, swinging the back over my shoulders and grabbing my cold, untouched coffee. I need to get back to my faux home and start trying to figure this all out. Do I approach him about it? Or should I just let this all happen naturally? How can this all happen without having Spencer tip Brendon off that I'm a federal agent?

 

 

##

 

A little girl is running around a multicolored jungle gym. Blonde curls done up in pigtails bounce in tandem with each step she takes with the other similar aged children. She laughs, yells, talks animatedly with the other children. Her father sits next to me on a park bench with his legs crossed, waiting for me to spill the beans in this small neighborhood park in Long Island, as he smiles and waves to his daughter whenever she calls for him to watch her go down the slide when it’s her turn.

Jon’s a good parent. He does it well.

I don’t deal with kids well. I would be shit for a parent.

It's a warm day in Malverne and I'm spending the Saturday morning in a park with Jon and his kid. Not out of choice. Family outings with the co-workers are not something I would willingly do under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, this is the only time he has for me to relay my investigation updates to him. It's also the least conspicuous of my options. Far away from the city in the center of middle class America where families take their kids to the park on weekends and apple pie on the Fourth of July is still a thing. Yeah, this is a great, yet inconvenient, cover up.

I reach into the back pocket of my jeans and pull out a pack of Newports and my lighter. I shake the pack for a cigarette, pull one out, and plop it onto my lips. I pocket the pack and begin to light the cigarette. Jon eyes me with a smirk.

“ You know, you can’t do that shit here.” He tells me as I struggle to light it. I look at the butane tank of the disposable lighter. There’s just enough for maybe one more light. I shake it.

“ Yeah, well, arrest me then.” I mumble as I light the cigarette. I shove the lighter in pocket of my black jeans and suck in the smoke begrudgingly. An elderly woman walks past us with her little toy dog. The dog is old and the tongue is hanging out of the side of it’s mouth. She gives me a dirty look and I just exhale the smoke just so she can see the literal fucks I don’t have for being a model citizen this morning.

She shakes her head and starts walking faster, as if the smoke of my cigarettes might kill her and her toothless dog.

Jon chuckles, “ Well, I see you’re chipper this morning.”

From the distance, his daughter yells for him. He looks up at her, gives her the biggest smile a father could give his daughter, and watches as she goes down the slide for the fifth time this morning. He claps for her, she giggles, and lines right back up.

“ I got a lead.” I say. I take the cigarette from my lips, holding it between my index and middle finger as my hand rests on my thigh. Jon raises an eyebrow.

“ Oh.”

I flick some ash away, “ Yeah. It’s going to be a fucking pain in the ass.”

“ Why?”

“ We are going to be going to the same wedding.” I pause, take a drag, “ Ironically enough.”

Jon laughs. Of course he would find this funny. Just like he finds the whole Frank situation funny. My mishappenings are his pleasures. What do they call that? Schadenfreude? Yeah, I’m going to go the extra mile and say that’s German for asshole. Jonathan Jacon Walker is a fucking asshole.

“ Are you serious?” He says as he waves at his daughter. “ This is just great. I thought your friend and Urie were just acquaintances but he's gonna be at the wedding? This is prime opportunity to get in!”

I take a drag from my cigarette, “ How do I get in without tipping off I'm a fed? He’s my friend. He knows I am a fed. He will introduce me as said fed to his friends.”

“ Just tell your friend not to mention it. I'm sure he's a swell guy that wouldn't sell you out to a bunch of rich kids with too much time on their hands.”

Yeah, a swell guy that’s been hiding the fact that he’s actually friends with the guy and their wives are best friends and planning the wedding together. Yes, such a wonderful trustworthy guy. It’s not like the guy I’ve known for the last twenty four years of my life is not actually lying straight to my face because he may possibly think that I could arrest his cool, new best friend on drug charges. No, it’s not like that at all. Spencer James Smith is the most reliable guy in the world. I am so fucking glad to have him as my one and only friend.

I flick the cigarette off onto the sidewalk in front of me with a click of my tongue. First Jon, now Spencer. I seem to just attract shitty human beings as friends. No one really thinks about me -- they’re only thinking about themselves. And now I’m stuck in a situation I really don’t want to be in, a situation that will jeopardize the flimsy facade of a friendship I already have.

Jonathan Jacob Walker is a bonafide fucking asshole.

“ You’re going to pick that up, right?” Jon asks me. I look at him.

“ What?”

“ The cigarette.”

“ The fuck I look like, Jon? No. I’m not.”

He gives me that look. The one look that lets me know I’m overstepping myself and need to correct it before I make matters worst. With a loud huff, I get up off the bench enough to pick up the cigarette. I sit back down, stub it out against the sole of my sneaker and shove the cigarette butt in my messenger bag. This is honestly the most disgusting thing I have ever done. I feel like those smokers that only smoke half cigarettes, stubbing it out only to put it back in cigarette pack to smoke again. And this damn park doesn’t even have a trashcan nearby.

I hate the suburbs.

“ Happy?”

“ Anyway,” Jon ignores me. “ I would act as natural as you possibly can. Don’t let your friend know anything that might set off alarms. You have met the other groomsmen, right?”

I nod. Jon knew I was attending this wedding -- I had asked him for advice on what I should do as the best man once I accepted Spencer’s request. Be a good, supportive friend was the advice. Maybe that was the tip off that was the catalyst leading up to me in this predicament. I don’t allow myself to dwell on that. I just need to let Jon know what I know and get on the next train back to the city.

“ Yeah, there’s like a few other guys. I don’t know them but Urie’s not apart of the group.”

“ Well, no need to worry then. Urie will probably be there because of the social circle your friend is in. Take advantage of the quote unquote happenstance.”

I give him a look. He shrugs.

“ Anything else?”

“ You don’t have to report to me until after the wedding. Just keep good notes between then and now.”

Jon stands up and calls for his girl to come over. Guess playtime is over. The little girl runs over to him with such a wide and happy smile, it's almost sad at how oblivious she is that the only reason she got to go to the park today was because her father needed to conduct some business. She runs right into his outstretched arms and he gathers her up, nuzzling her cheek before planting a quick kiss. She giggles, complains about his itchy beard, and pulls away.

I watch the two and notice how I’ve immediately ceased to exist in their world. I get up from the bench and shove my hands into the pockets of my jeans.

“ I’m gonna, uh, go now…”

Jon turns around. Two pairs of big brown eyes staring directly at me.

“ Wanna come over for dinner?”

“ I really… can’t do that… I need to catch the train and--”

“ You haven’t been over in days and Cassie wants to meet you again.”

I really don’t want to be out here any longer than I have to. There’s a decent Chinese restaurant around the corner from my hole in a wall US Government provided Brooklyn abode that does not include chatter from a husband and wife.

But Jon is giving me that look again and his daughter is pouting. I open my mouth.

“ Fine.”

 

##

 

The dining room table is small. Just a round table with four chairs. It’s hard to avoid anyone -- Jon to my left, drinking a beer out the bottle, seems relaxed. His daughter, to my right, is as carefree as the wind, playing with her food. Cassie is warm, but I can feel this sense of guardedness emanating from her posture. She doesn’t know what to make of me. I can feel it.

Cassie Walker is a nice girl. She works as an office administrator at one of the regional hospitals in the area during the day, taking the early seven in the morning shift to be home by three to pick up her daughter from daycare and cook and have a hot meal ready by six, the kid washed and in bed by seven, to be in bed by eleven herself, to only do it all over again. Jon has married a miracle. He has made it a point to remind me whenever the opportunity presents itself.

This miracle smiles at me as she sits across from me at the table, but said smile doesn’t reach her eyes. I slowly take a sip of water and look at Jon and wonder exactly what he’s been telling this woman. Is she pitying me? Does she feel sorry for me? Sorry for the fact my life has been ripped from me or sorry that I’m a cop with a bad habit?

“ Jon’s been telling me about your situation. It must be hard having to give up everything.” She tells me as she attempts to make sure her daughter is holding her spoon right.

“ Well, uh,” I put the glass down. “ What did he tell you… exactly?”

“ That you lost your job.”

The words tumble from her lips like dead weights on top of me. I blink, completely taken off guard for the briefest of moments before I actually remember my situation and where I am exactly. Walker’s dining room. A nice all American dinner in front of me. Jon is almost laughing, hiding his grin behind his hand that is holding the Heineken.

This motherfucker.

“ I… didn’t lose my job. I actually quit.” The words fall out of my lips so smoothly. His wife raises her eyebrows.

“ Really?” She looks at her husband and frowns. “ Jon, are you lying to me?”

Jon blinks, “ What? I had thought… wait… Oh, so you quit, Ross?! I… I didn’t know. I’m sorry, man. I thought you got fired.”

“ Why the hell would you assume that? I wanted to focus on writing, obviously. Jesus Christ, Walker, having this poor woman worry about me.”

“  I need to stop listening to the rumor mill at the job. I am so sorry, man.” He sips from his beer and puts the bottle down on the table. Bang. “ A writer. How about that. Did not even know you had it in ya.”

Oh. So this is how we’re going to do this, Walker? Well, two can play at this game.

“ I have a degree in creative writing from the University of Nevada, Walker. I thought you knew that?”

“ Well, most in our field have degrees in criminal justice so I just assumed. I apologize for making you worry about his wellbeing, Cassie.“

“ I am eating.” I smile one of those smiles that eases away the tension behind her eyes and pick up the glass of water in front of me. “ Don’t worry about me, Mrs. Walker.”

“ Call me Cassie, Ryan.” She smiles. “ Well, in any case, eat up. I didn’t make this meal to just have it go to waste.”

I dip my fork into the roast beef.

The dinner goes by rather smoothly; most of the conversation is between the married couple, and I occasionally weigh in, but it’s clearly obvious I’m a third wheel. Jon clears the table once we’re done and Cassie takes their daughter, excusing herself, to clean her up and get her ready for bed. I’m sitting outside their house, on the stoop of their porch as they do their family thing. A cigarette hangs loosely from my finger tips as I wait for Jon to take me back to the train station.

I feel something cold against the back of my neck. I turn around and see Jon offering me a beer. I wordlessly take it and he chuckles as he sits next to me, holding his own from the dinner.

“ You handled that well.” He says and takes a sip.

“ I need to stop assuming that you’re doing things from the kindness of your heart.”

Jon looks at me like he’s offended and I can’t tell if he’s bullshitting me or legitimately disappointed that I would think such a thing.

“ Cassie really likes you. That I’m not lying about.” He takes another sip. “ But I thought I’d take advantage of the situation, you know? And you handled it well. There’s a reason why I wanted you on this case, Ryan. You’re good at weaving stories.”  

I frown, “ What stopped you?”

“ Look around you, Ryan. The answer is everywhere.”

Tree-lined streets, family sedans parked in driveways, children's toys littered across green lawns. Family. Yeah, I guess I can see it. But that didn’t stop the FBI from stealing Joesph Pistone from his family for over five years to infiltrate the Italian mafia, only to be rewarded with a cheap medal and a five hundred dollar check once it was all over.  I bring the bottle to my lips and take a sip. The carbonation of the drink tingles my throat as I drink. I'm not a fan of Heineken, but free beer is free beer.

Jon puts his beer down on the wood floor, reaches into his pocket and pulls out an old Altoids Peppermint box. He pops the lid open with his thumb and takes out something narrow and wrapped in brown paper. He holds it out, offering it to me. I look at the joint and then at him.

“ Seriously?”

It's all I can say. This hypocritical motherfucker has a candy case filled with rolled up joints and he has the nerve to blackmail me for my little weed deal? Like I said, everyone has a little dirty secret. Even this fucker.

“ Just take it.”

“ You're a fucking hypocrite, do you know that?” I say as I take the joint. He takes one out for himself and pockets the case.

“ I could care less about your weed habit, Ryan.” He tells me, words slightly muffled, with the joint hanging from his lips. “ Got a light?”

“ Yeah.” I stub out my cigarette on the floor and flick it into the yard. I grab my lighter and light my joint before handing it to Jon. He takes it and lights up, inhaling deeply, before handing my lighter back to me. He exhales with a sigh.

“ You know,” He begins, “ I didn't know about that whole thing you had with the informant until the day before you got pulled. I tried to get you off the hook for that. Just so you know.”

“ Yeah, well,” I take a drag. “ That doesn’t explain what this is all about.”

“ Pete and Patrick are…” Jon searches for words.

“ Assholes?”

“ Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. They just have their ways. They’re good at manipulating situations into their favor.  Now, I’m not saying that I agree with what they did but I mean, dude, you know that shit is against the books.”

Jon is looking at me now and I sigh.

“ I'm not trying to take the high road here, but, if you're gonna do this shit you gotta be less obvious. My brother hooks me up. I don’t go to a fucking informant like an idiot.”

I take another drag, “ I'll try not to get caught next time.”

“ Good.”

A silence sets before us. To the west, behind the evergreen trees and houses, the sun sets peaking through the open gaps like a blinding twinkling light. A hot breeze blows through the neighborhood and the trees sway against it, casting shadows against the pavement. Birds chirp, children laugh and play, and the night critters begin their song for the evening.

I hate the suburbs.

“ Will my life return to normal after this assignment?”

Jon scratches his chin, “ If everything goes according to plan and your life is not at risk you maybe looking at a nice promotion.”

“ Hun.”

“ Or, a transfer.”

I look at him, “ Transfer?”

“ That's why I'm here. I had an assignment, I completed it, got shipped away with a promotion.”

He takes one more hit from his joint and puts it out against the stoop. I finish mine and stand up, flicking the butt into the yard. I wipe my hands on my pants and run a hand through my hair. It's gotten longer -- the tips brushing against my ear -- maybe I should cut it.

We finish our beers and eventually ride back to the train station a few minutes later. Jon passes me a joint; one for the road, as he put it, and I step out his Kia Sorento with a child seat and a million toys in the back seats, and step inside the station and wait for the train to take me back to civilization. The joint sits in my pocket all the way back to the city like a dead, burning weight. I put it on top of my desk once I get home and throw myself into my bed still in my clothes.

I don't wake up until the following morning.

 

##

 

I wake up to the sound of my phone going off. I slowly get up, feeling like shit, and nearly stumble out of my bed. I pick up the phone up off the desk and look at the screen. If it’s Jon, I’m not answering it. But since no one else has this number, seeing how this is a new phone and line given to me for this operation, the only person that would be calling me at this number would be him. Strangely enough, it’s not Jon. It’s Spencer.

I stare at the phone as it rings and vibrates. How does he know this number? I don’t remember -- oh, wait. Yes, I did give him the number. It takes me a moment to remember that I had texted him the number to the new phone the day after I had got it. Since I needed Spencer to complete my task, it made sense to give him the number. I answer the call, my mouth feeling drier than normal.

“ Hey Spence…” My throat is dry and itchy. I need to wash up. I also need to get used to this lack of a schedule. I actually need to do a lot of things but who’s keeping track. “ Yeah… what time is it? One? Damnit...”

“ Where are you anyway?” Spencer sounds annoyed. I don't blame him. I'm annoyed at a lot of things too. “ I went by your place a few times this week but you haven't been answering.”

“ I, uh, moved. Recently. I forgot to tell you. That’s why I got the new number. New place. New number. You know how it goes.”

I walk into the small excuse of a kitchen and grab one of the two glasses from the cupboard above the sink. I pour some water from the faucet, holding my phone against my cheek. It's a cheap iPhone 5S. They couldn’t even give something comparable to my old phone, a Samsung Galaxy S8, or at least something decent that is larger than the palm of my hand.

“ I wanted to talk to you about the wedding in person but I haven't seen you at the cafe in days and then now apparently you've moved and, Jesus, Ryan can you at least be a little less cryptic about your life or at least after the wedding?”

“ Well, I've been busy with things. Like moving and stuff.” I take a few sips of water. “ And yeah, I'm out here in Brooklyn… now.”

“ Brooklyn.” Spencer pauses and I could imagine the face he's making. It's not normal of me to do shit like this -- spontaneously move. I'm a creature of habit. Wait until he finds out the big news. “ Uh, okay.”

“ Yeah. Needed to change things up and stuff… Anyway, when do you want to meet and where?”

“ You being in Brooklyn makes shit more convenient now… How about I just visit you. Check out the new place and stuff.”

I choke on my water. Some of it comes out of my mouth and it hurts to swallow the rest down before it ends up everywhere. I put the glass down on the counter and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand.

“ Yeah,” I clear my throat. “ Yeah, yeah about that. Um, I’m not actually moved in yet and I rather just like… not do that if we could avoid it....”

He doesn't need to know where I'm living. Especially since I won't be here long anyway. I need to control this situation before I end up falling into a problem won't be able to bullshit my way out of.

He doesn't respond. I quickly add, “ How about I come by your place.”

Spencer sucks in a breath and I can hear the hesitation before he relents to my request.

“ Yeah, whatever.”

 

##

 

I rarely ever visit Spencer at his place. Every time I visit the remodeled rowhouse I feel like I've stumbled into a page of Better Homes and Gardens. Everything is meticulously placed with some sort of lifeless, fictitious purpose. Pictures in frames are scattered everywhere with generic stock photos that come with the frames, except the stock photos just happen to be of Spencer and his fiancé. Potted plants accent the bookcases with books that haven’t been touched in years, if not ever. Expensive furniture look more like set pieces than actual couches, chairs, and tables.

It's not like I avoid visiting him at his remodeled rowhouse in the gentrifying neighborhood of Prospect Heights, but I certainly never feel quite at home in it compared to our childhood days in the basement of his parent’s home, playing video games and drinking gallons of carbonated drinks. I remember when he told me how much it cost: two point two million dollars. With half of that amount advanced to them by her parents as a ‘move in gift’. The other half was mortgaged, with Spencer dropping a nice half million down payment. He said it with a sense of pride even though I nearly choked on the Bud Lite in his kitchen. Yeah, it definitely was not the old home back in Summerlin.

But I guess that's what happens when you're engaged to a the heiress of New York’s old money.

I run my hand through my hair before putting on my black fedora. I’m dressed a little better for this visit: button down shirt and a pair of jeans. My messenger bag hangs from my shoulder. I look more like an unpaid intern at one of the television stations but I really don’t understand how to dress like I actually have money. It seems like the game is to dress like you don’t have money. It’s all too complicated in my opinion.

I ring the doorbell and I don’t have to wait for long because Linda is opening up the door.

“ Oh, hi, Ryan… I didn’t know you were coming over today.” She tells me as she opens the door wider. I can see that she isn’t all that thrilled that I’m here. I’m not either but at least we have something in common. We’ve only met twice and we already have our minds made up about each other.

“ Yeah, it's kind of spontaneous. I told Spencer I was dropping by since he wanted to talk to me.”

“ Ah, well. Come on in. I’ll let him know that you’re here.”

I step into the home and wait at the foyer as she closes the door behind me and shuffles up the staircase. She’s a nice girl I have to admit. Not what I would have expected Spencer to end up with but I see maybe why she’s the one for him. Tall, blonde, and skinny. Sweet voice. Nice smile. The perfect package all wrapped up with a nice bow and expensive price tag. But I know that she doesn't like me. She always has her guard up around me; as if I’m some potential negative influence on Spencer.

I wasn’t there when he cleaned up. I wasn’t there when he fell either. Or maybe I was and I was just too blind to notice it. Given her guarded attitude around me, I am going to assume that she thinks everyone connected to his past before New York are just the walking, negative personification of temptation. I’m pretty sure she knows what I do for a living. I would be the last person to drag Spencer back to that lifestyle -- I would be more inclined to arrest him then enable him.

But if she wants to think that way, so be it. It’s not like I have a reason to be around her any longer than need be.

“ Hey, Ryan!” I hear Spencer call out my name as he comes down the steps. He’s dressed in a navy blue t-shirt and jeans. I guess that’s what the whole, ‘ I’m rich but I don’t look it ‘ look is supposed to be. “ I forgot to tell Linda you were coming. Sorry about that. “

“ Yeah, no big deal. I like making big entrances.” I say sarcastically. Spencer chuckles and sighs. It's one of those, “ Do you always have to be this way” sighs. Yes, Spencer. I do. He leads me away to his study on the first floor of their ridiculous rowhouse.

“ I wanted to talk to you about the wedding.”

“ Oh, yeah. That thing.”

The room is surrounded by bookcases attached to the wall. The cases themselves are filled with books and more framed pictures. There’s some things I can recognize that are distinctly Spencer, like books about percussion and music theory, but most of it is just filler for appearance. His degrees hang in frames on the wall behind his desk. I guess this room is supposed to impress his investors.

I’ve never been in this room. We always took our conversations to the backyard, where we’d drink cheap and poorly made cocktails on the deck to the sound of Brooklyn: sirens, Salsa and Hip Hop playing from cars, and people yelling on the street with an occasional chirp from a pigeon on a tree.

Spencer motions for me to sit in one of the chairs in his study. Between the two chairs is a table with a glass bottle of whiskey and two glasses. Fancy. His taste for high society has definitely improved since the last time I was here. He sits in the chair opposite of me and turns the two glasses over.

“ Yeah, that thing. The thing where you’re the best man.” He says dryly with a roll of his eyes.

“ Yes. That thing.” I smirk. He looks at me.

“ So, Linda was talking to me the other day. About the stuff before the actual wedding.” He takes the bottle into his hand and pulls the cap off with a pop. He pours the golden liquid into the two glasses. “ And remember how I was like avoiding the idea of a bachelor’s party? And I understand that we agreed that we weren’t doing one. Well, she was insisting that I should have one.”

I take the glass that he offers me, “ Uh hun.”

You’re lying to me again about that guy, Spencer.

“ She was telling me that it’s your responsibility to arrange one.”

“ Right.”

How long do you plan on lying about this guy?

“ But organizing that type of stuff isn’t something you do.”

“ Exactly.”

He takes a sip from his drink, “ So, I got a friend doing it. Well, he offered to do it.”

Oh. Now he acknowledges the existence of Mister Urie. I shift in the leather seat, cross my legs, and rest the hand holding my glass on my knee. Gotta get comfortable for this conversation.

“ Are you inviting me or something?”

“ I wanted to ask you if you would mind arranging the party and if so, like, I don’t know… discuss the details or whatever.”

I purse my lips in thought, “ Yeah, no. I’m too busy. Nice friend; you should take him up on the offer.”

It makes no sense that he’s talking to me about this. We agreed that we weren’t having a party and yet, after he speaks with Brendon yesterday, I’m in his office being asked if I wanted to host one. Does he feel guilty about it? I don’t know why he should feel guilty; he out of everyone should understand that I really don’t care much about anything. So what if he has his secret best friend host a party, it's not like I am going to go home crying about it.

Spencer raises an eyebrow, “ O-okay then.”

“ I am actually in the middle of a career change, so, I can’t really focus on setting up a party for you.”

I take a sip from the whiskey and watch as my friend’s blue eyes go wide. I must sound like a dick. Here I am basically telling my childhood friend that he can figure out his wedding himself.

“ A career change ? What ?”

And yet, because I’m such a predictable person, the only thing he’s shocked about is this so called career change. Not the fact that I don’t want to plan his bachelor party or that I am acting completely indifferent throughout the entire conversation.

I put the glass down on the table and sigh. A dramatic one. A sigh that is almost patronizing, as if he should have known all along that I was tired of being a federal agent and realized that my true calling all along was to write books. His shocked expression doesn’t change. He’s buying every bit of the act.

I’m actually impressed with myself.

“ I’m gonna start writing again. The whole… federal business just wasn’t something that really meshed with me, you know? That’s why you couldn’t find me. I was moving and getting situated.”

“ And, like, how long was this…” He fumbles and stumbles for words. “ D-Did you just decide to do this or…?”

“ I was planning it for a while, yeah, but I turned in my notice last week. I don’t work for the feds anymore.”

I watch him. He has to bite onto this lie if any of this undercover business is to work. If he doesn’t believe me I need to call in that the operation has been compromised. In hindsight, that wouldn’t be half bad but then I realize that with The Wonder Twins looming over this whole sting, they could just fuck me over. I’d be facing jail time, and if I’m lucky, a firing and no chance of ever being hired again by any job requiring a FBI background check. I have to make this work.

He takes a deep breath, exhales with a few blinks as if he’s just recovered from the wildest ride of his life. He finishes his drink and puts the glass down on the table with a loud clink.

“ Just like that?” He runs his fingers through his hair.

“ There’s been a lot of … shit bubbling up for a while. Don’t worry though. I’m good, Spence.”

That part I’m not lying about. It’s almost the understatement of the year.

Spencer gives me one more long look. He taps his finger on the armrest of the large, oversized leather chair that belongs in the study of a sixty-something year old hedge fund executive and not a twenty-nine year old coffee shop owner.

“ Well, okay. A messenger bag suits you better than that gun you always carried.”

I look at the black bag in my lap for a brief moment and look up to see him smiling at me. Blue eyes bright and happy as if this is some relief for him. Or maybe he has good news to tell his wife-to-be: Hey, guess what I found out today, Ryan is one of us now. You know? Being a Brooklyn intellectual. We can all go to wine tastings and drink craft beers and not have to talk about drug cases anymore. Isn’t that great, Linda?

And she would smile and nod her pretty little head. I’m so happy for you, Spencer, she would say. Then the frame would freeze, the audience would go ‘awww’ and the credits would roll.

If only they knew. If only.

“ I don’t have to worry that you’re gonna wind up dead one of these days.” Spencer tells me like a million bricks have just been lifted off his shoulder. “ This is really good news.”

I don’t know what to say. That definitely wasn’t what I had expected. I guess I really don’t know Spencer as well as I thought I did. Maybe we really don’t know each other anymore and all of this is just keeping appearances. I laugh, but it's strained because this sickening feeling feels like a lump at the back of my throat.

I’ve been so focused on Spencer’s financial success and his crowd of yuppies that I never actually considered the possibility that he didn’t consider me in the way that his wife does.

“ I’ll be there,” I begin as I stand up. “ Just send me the RSVP. I’ll be there.”

He gets up as well and I start to make my way out of his study. I can see Linda in the corner of my eye, working on a flower arrangement in the kitchen, as I weave through the furniture and make it to the door. I quickly open the door before Spencer can get to it.

I turn around and he’s looking at me with that concerned face that I’m all too used to. I laugh and put my hand on his shoulder, giving him a firm squeeze.

“ You okay?” He asks me and I just nod.

“ I’m good, Spence. Just,” I pause for a second. “ Just don’t mention the fed stuff to anyone. It’s highly sensitive and I rather not anyone find that about me. Safety reasons, you know?”

Spencer nods and I give him a pat on the shoulder before leaving his home. I quickly run down the steps and walk back to the subway station without ever looking back. I imagine he stood there at the door watching me leave until he couldn’t see me again. He worries too much about my well being when it should be the opposite.

I get an RSVP in my private email three days later. I reply with: Yes.

 

##

 

Two weeks later on a Saturday, I’m on a train to Tribeca to attend Spencer’s bachelor’s party. I’ve only been to that part of Manhattan a handful of times, and most of those times involved my job. I try not to venture to Lower Manhattan if I can. Something about people in suits mulling around Canal Street with the dreams of thousands on their shoulders tied up in stocks and other risky financial deals is just depressing.

It takes me about fifteen minutes to find the highrise that the party is being hosted in once I emerge from Fulton Street Station. Its some fancy building off of Spruce Street, there’s even a doorman waiting in his little bellhop outfit. I greet him out of habit and he only smiles, welcoming me to the building and directing me to the concierge at his little desk. He looks at me and notices the bottle of wine in a black gift bag.

“ Mister Urie’s residence, I’m guessing?” He asks me. My heart skips just for a moment. Seriously. This is happening tonight. Of all places a bachelor party could be hosted, the man hosts it in his own apartment.

“ Uh, yeah.” I clear my throat. “ I’m attending the party there.”

He doesn’t look impressed. The concierge looks at his computer screen and clicks around, looking for the approved guest list for tonight.

“ Name?”

“ Ryan.”

“ Last?”

“ Ross.”

I can hear the clicking of the scroll wheel moving as he goes down the list of names in search of mine on the computer. I pull out my phone and open my email, checking that I got the details right. I’m supposed to be at Eight Spruce Street at roughly seven o’clock for the celebration of the end of Spencer’s bachelorhood. We’ll ignore the fact that I’m two hours late and it's damn near nine p.m.  Everyone up there will probably be too drunk to even care and I did send Spencer a text message letting him know I was caught up.

In the middle of a liquor store in search of a gift.

It still looks bad on me being the best man.

“ You’re good. It’s on the sixty-fifth floor. Apartment 65C. Enjoy the party, Mister Ross.”

I nearly balk once I hear the floor number. Sixty fifth floor? Who needs to live that high up? Don’t people suffer from lack of oxygen at heights like that?  

I smile and thank the concierge, finding the elevators that serve floor numbers thirty through seventy-two. I press the up button. The doors immediately open, I step in, and find the button for the sixty-fifth floor. The doors close in front of me and it feels almost like slow motion, as if this moment is a transition into a change in my life that I won’t be able to come back from.

The elevator immediately shoots up and the speed of how fast it climbs up the stories nearly makes my head spin. It feels like I just stepped into the metal box but I’ve already arrived on the sixty-fifth floor, the doors sliding open and revealing a hallway. I step out and I can faintly hear music pulsating down the hallway and loud conversations and laughter.

My feet feel like dead weights as I walk down the hallway. I pass one door, 65A, a few more steps and I’ve passed 65B and the music only gets louder until I’m standing right in front of unit 65C.

Brendon Urie lives here.

In this fucking highrise in the heart of Tribeca.

Fucking hell.

I ring the doorbell and I can hear someone on the other side but I can’t make out who it is. The door quickly opens and I’m face to face with him. My mouth goes dry. My brain goes blank. I open my mouth slightly, and there are words on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t seem to formulate them into actual syllables, let alone sounds.

He’s shorter than I would have imagined. A good inch or two shorter. I’m nearly six feet tall, so he has to be pushing around five-eleven or five-ten. That’s the first thing I notice about him. He’s also dressed in black; skinny jeans and a long, plain black t-shirt. His sneakers look ridiculously expensive. I don’t even want to know how much they cost.

He looks me over. I must look like joke to everyone else there in my black slightly unbuttoned shirt, black skinny jeans with a chain hooked to my belt loop and my wallet tucked in my back pocket, and the black loafers I got at Macy’s on sale during Black Friday three years ago. I sort of styled my hair but I’m sure it's just a mess of unruly waves that need to be cut. I feel overdressed but he eyes me as if he’s trying to burn every part about me to his memory. It’s almost predatory in a way. I shift under his gaze and then shove the gift forward in front of me, offering it to him.

That seemed to have broken the spell.

He takes the gift, “ You must be Ryan, right?”

“ Yeah, that’d be me.”

He smirks, “ Cool. Spencer’s told me a lot about you. Come on in, I’ll get the man of the hour for you.”

It’s funny he says that considering Spencer has never spoken a word about him to me.

He steps aside to let me in. I hesitate for the briefest of seconds before crossing the threshold from the quiet hallway into the loud booming sounds of conversations and trap music. The door slams shut behind me and Brendon makes his way around me, putting my gift on the table along with the other gifts in the foyer of the apartment.

Brendon disappears into the crowd of Spencer’s friends that I don’t know. They look harmless, but they also look well accomplished. As I weave through the crowd, I pick up on the conversations. Trips to Europe and music festivals out west in California and Nevada. Hedge funds and clients. Startups and venture capitalists. How would I bullshit my way into a conversation with them? Hello, my name is Ryan and I want to be a novelist.

Yeah, exciting topic for a conversation.

I make it to the large windows that line the living area of the apartment. The windows are insanely huge and the view -- oh the view is absolutely breathtaking. All of Midtown Manhattan can be seen from this apartment. The Empire State Building, Chrysler Tower… All of it just specs of architectural wonder and light against the darkness of night. It's one thing to see a picture of it but it's another entirely to experience it with your own eyes.

“ Ryan! You finally made it. I was worried that you weren’t going to show up!” Spencer’s happy voice takes me out of my awe with the cityscape view. I turn around and see Spencer; he’s dressed similar to me in a way, brighter colors but at least I don’t look like an overdressed fool compared to the rest of the party. In his hand is a glass. “ Water. I really don’t like getting wasted at parties.” He looks at Brendon and that’s when I notice he’s there too. “ No offense!”

Brendon chuckles, “ None taken.” He hands me a bottle of beer. A craft beer from a company I have never heard of. “ Here. This is really good shit. All the drinks are in the kitchen in coolers on ice. I got everything you can imagine so have at it. If you want, and I suggest that you do, drink for your buddy here!”

I take the beer and sip from it. It’s not bad. Smooth with a rich barely taste. I take another, longer sip. Yeah, I like this.

“ Yeah, this really is some good shit.” I say and Brendon grins.

“ Yeah, I found out about this local brewer down in L.A. and tried their stuff. Had to get the shit in my fridge ASAP. I only drink that now, I can't even touch another beer if I can avoid it.”

“ I can see why.” I take another sip.

Brendon clasps his hands together, “ I gotta play party host and make sure no one damages anything. Just call me if you need anything.”

He bows out, walking backwards for a few steps before disappearing off into the crowd. It's just me and Spencer now, standing side by side by the fancy window. I continue drinking the beer as I look outside the window.

“ He said that you spoke a lot about me to him, you know.” I say, a heavy hint of ‘you’ve been lying to me’ laced throughout my words. Spencer sighs like he’s been caught.

“ I can’t say that we’re friends, Ryan.” Spencer tells me, nursing his glass of water. “ He’s a nice guy and I enjoy the company sometimes.”

“ Where did you meet him?” Spencer raises an eyebrow and I quickly add, “ Just curious. Not everyday I find out my best friend is friends with a billionaire.”

“ Linda and his wife are friends.”

He says it as if to imply that he and Brendon aren’t friends, just merely acquaintances by association. I hum in acknowledgement but don’t say anything else.

“ I appreciate you showing up, Ryan. I really do.”

I look at Spencer, the bottle halfway to my lips, and smirk. “ My brother is getting married. I know I’m not the most social guy out there but I’d never leave you hanging at the alter.”

“ You’ll just show up two hours late. By the way, you missed most of the festivities like the stripper popping out the cake and all that other fun stuff.”

“ Nothing screams excitement like a stripper popping out of a cake.” I add dryly. Spencer snorts.

“ Perhaps if it was a male striper?”

“ Don’t think so lowly of me, Spence. I’m a classy guy.” I tip the bottle of beer at him before finishing it.  “ I just bought you a bottle of vintage Moet. That’s nearly a hundred dollars worth of class.”

He laughs, “ I appreciate it.”

Someone calls out Spencer’s name. I can’t figure out where the voice came from over the EDM and trap music, but it caught Spencer’s attention and he’s excusing himself to greet whoever it is. I’m left in front of the window with an empty beer bottle in my hand and a view of Manhattan that would have cost me at least fifty dollars to see on any other observation deck in town.

I feel someone come and stand next to me. I turn around enough to see who the person is.

“ Nice view, isn’t it?” Brendon asks me. He isn’t looking at me, instead, he’s looking down at the street of taxi cabs lining up and down the streets like yellow and red fireflies. I look at whatever he’s focused on and nod.

“ It’s nice.”

“ Wanna get a better view?”

I lick my lips. The first move has been made. I take my pawn and make my move.

“ Sure. Lead the way.”

Chapter Text

With money comes privilege. With privilege comes arrogance.

I just witnessed a man pay off the concierge a hundred dollars to open up the unoccupied penthouse suite of the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. This man took me down stairs and paid off the guy like it was nothing. Like that hundred dollars did not cost him a single ounce of sweat or tears.

And that man took it like it was nothing.

“ Alright, Mister Urie. Here’s the keys. Just get ‘em back to me in an hour.”

Just like that.

Now I’m on the seventy-sixth floor of this apartment building breaking into an apartment with Brendon Urie, investment banker extraordinaire.

“ And just like that,” He puts the key into the lock and turns it with a click. “ I've got the best view in all of New York.”

This is the finest display of arrogance. Simply textbook.

I look around the hallway and only notice an elevator and two separate wings. There are no other apartments on the wing we’re on. The hallway is dimly lit with mood lightings and it’s oddly, if not terrifyingly, silent. Brendon looks at me and grins as he pockets the set of master keys to the building.

“ This is illegal.” I say. Brendon shrugs.

“ I pay nearly seven thousand dollars a month to live in this building. Until someone rents it out, I like to consider it public space.” He turns the knob and pushes the door open. “ Come on, Ryan, you gotta see this.”

I reluctantly follow Brendon into the penthouse suite.

“ Don't turn on the lights. Don't want to tip off anyone that's there's actually people here.” He whispers.

It captures me by surprise. I didn’t even think people lived like this -- I thought Brendon’s two bedroom was ridiculous on the sixty-fifth floor. This penthouse on the seventy-sixth floor is insanity by definition. I can barely see the details of the large, open space but it’s staged for viewing by potential renters. It takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the surroundings but I sort of make my way around the apartment, following Brendon to the large ten foot windows in a large living space that show the financial district in all its money making glory.

“ This is living.” Brendon says, just as mesmerized by the view as I am. There’s this excited grin on his face as looks down at the streets and various buildings. He even looks across the Hudson at the skylines at New Jersey. “ Imagine someone paying forty-five thousand dollars a month for this. That’s just fucking insane.”

“ Did you just say forty-five thousand dollars?”

He nods, “ Yeah. The most expensive penthouse is sixty-thousand and that’s currently being rented by some super rich dude. He doesn’t even live here. He just uses it to throw parties.”

I wonder how much money someone has to sit on to just waste over a half million dollars a year on an apartment they can’t even own. And here I thought Spencer was dumb for blowing all that money on that rowhouse in Brooklyn.

Brendon sits down on the windowsill, but they seem more like actual benches. He runs his fingers through his hair and rests his hands against the edge. I stand there in front of him and just watch him. He’s different; there’s something about the way his features come together that isn’t conventional. His lips are full, and in a way look perhaps too big for his face but his nose offsets them. His eyes are deep and almond shaped with an almost feminine delicacy to them. There’s a boyish charm that he carries himself with. Nothing of which I would have expected from the picture I saw on his company’s website.

I see why he’s popular in the social scene here in New York.

The light from the full moon casts a blue glow on everything in the room we’re in. It’s a bit too intimate for my tastes, like something you would expect out of a romance movie not from a guy who’s about to become the next CEO of an investment firm. The same man who is hosting a bachelor party for someone that doesn’t even consider him a friend.

“ What do you do for a living?” Brendon suddenly asks me. It takes me out of my thoughts.

“ I write.” I reply. I’ve been rehearsing this scenario in my head for weeks. Brendon chuckles and looks down at his sneakers.

“ What do you write about?”

“ Anything, mostly non-fiction.” I lick my lips. “ I wanted to become a journalist… I just don’t have the patience for chasing the story.”

“ I see.” He stands up. “ Do you know who I am?”

“ Brendon Urie?” I sound like an idiot and he laughs at me. A full hearty laugh.

“ Yeah, that’s right. I’m Brendon Urie.” He takes a few steps closer. “ But do you know who I am?”

I don’t know how the answer the question. Does he want me to answer in a way that implies his so called ‘side business’ or does he want me to reply with what everyone and their grandmothers’ know about him? I tongue my cheek before sucking in a breath.

“ You’re a rich guy?”

“ Hmm, yeah. That’s right too.” He chuckles and I frown. Obviously I’m missing something here. “ It sounds like you don’t know who I am.”

I need to twist this situation into my favor. Manipulate it and lure him into my trap. I take a step forward as I wipe my sweaty palms on my shirt, sliding my hands into the pockets of my jeans.

“ Well,” I begin. “ I would like to learn more about you if you’d let me… Write a piece on you. I am intrigued with what I’ve seen so far.”

“ I don’t even know who you write for.”

“ Freelance.” I quickly say. “ I’m a freelance writer. Perhaps this can expand beyond a piece and we could consider making it a book. With your success at your age I’m sure any kid out there would want to read it.”

I had to have been standing there for at least a good solid minute or two waiting for Brendon to fall into the trap. I can feel my heart racing and I’m so glad it's dark in this apartment so he can’t see how fucking nervous I am right now.

Then, “ Sure. Whatever. You seem interesting enough anyway.”

Wow. That was easier than I thought it would. He looks at me again like he did when he first saw me at the door. That look that seems as if he’s trying to read me. It’s intense and I look away, turning around and nodding over towards the front door of the place.

“ Let’s head back before Spencer thinks I ditched him.” I say.

Brendon walks past me and turns around, walking backwards to the front door. He pulls out the keys from his pocket, twirling them around his index finger, “ Let's make it a date then. This Tuesday night at the Richard Rodgers Theater. Seven forty.”  

Did he just?

I don’t even think. The words just fall out my mouth, “ Sure. Seven forty.”

He grins and turns around. I follow behind him, keeping a fair distance between us. We return the key to the concierge and head back to the party at his apartment. Brendon disappears into the crowd as if what had transpired between us never happened. I’m still on pins and needles and find a corner to isolate my thoughts and attempt to come to terms to what had just happened.

I stay at the party for another hour before I tell Spencer I have to head back to Brooklyn.

My heart's still racing, even when I’m walking through the door of my temporary apartment. I take off my clothes, tossing them anywhere, and get into my bed. I roll onto my back and start laughing loudly at the absurdity of what had just transpired tonight.

I did not just convince this man to let me follow him around and write a book on him. There's no way. Impossible. No one is that stupid to believe the bullshit that came out of my mouth tonight.

“ Holy fuck.”

Maybe he is.

 

##

 

Two days later and I can't believe I'm standing outside this theater. There's a large group of people gathered in front, some hoping to win a lottery for tickets to see the hottest show to hit Broadway in decades. I glance at my wristwatch and check the time: seven thirty eight. I don't know what it was, probably nerves, but I showed up ten minutes early. I even put on a suit, though judging how everyone else is dressed, I missed the mark again.

“ Hey, Ryan!”

I turn around to the sound of my name and see Brendon running towards me while waving. I look around, conscious of those around me, forgetting that this is New York and no one cares about you or people calling you out in crowds.

He's also wearing a suit; a slate grey one, obviously tailored to his frame. It makes him look taller with the way it's cut and with the way his hair is slicked back. He looks like a totally different creature than the one I met two days ago in torn skinny jeans and a t-shirt. Needless to say I don't feel overdressed anymore.

“ Hi, Brendon.” I say once he's standing in front of me. He holds his hand out, I take it into my own and notice how soft they are. At least compared to my calloused ones. He pulls me in for a hug and I awkwardly reciprocate it.

“ I was worried I was gonna be late for this.” He tells me as he pulls away. “ The meeting ran longer than I had anticipated. Anyway, have you ever seen Hamilton?” He asks me and I shake my head.

I look up at the marquee. Ah, right. It's being performed at this theater and that explains the insane crowd of people.

“ Not really a musical kind of guy.”

Brendon’s smile falls slightly from his face, “ Oh, man. I figured you'd be into this type of stuff. Artsy people are always into Broadway.”

“ Well, I don't hate them but, uh, I wouldn't be against the idea of seeing one either.” I scratch the back of my neck. “ Is that what we’re doing tonight?”

“ Yeah, I got two tickets to see it tonight. Box seats, by the way, best in the house. Figure we’d get to know each other and sort of work the details out on this whole piece you wanna write about.”

I nod. Getting to know someone at a Broadway show isn’t what I would consider the most professional way of introduction, but considering who I am dealing with, unconventionality seems to be his power move. He watches me in a way that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I don’t know how to describe it but it carries the same intensity that it had when I first met him at the bachelor party.

Its obvious he’s trying to figure me out. I wonder what Spencer told him.

“ I don’t know if it's me,” I start as we make are way inside the theater. He’s directly to my left and I catch a whiff of the cologne he’s wearing. It smells nice and expensive. “ But do you always treat your guests to expensive outings like this?”

Tickets for this show have been sold out for months. I even heard, back at the office, that the resale tickets are starting at four hundred dollars. I can’t even imagine how much Brendon spent for these tickets. It's weird to spend so much on a complete stranger. Is he trying to impress me? He has to be.

Brendon shakes his head slightly as we walk up the steps to the second level, “ No. I don’t always do this.” He looks at me and smirks. “ I had these tickets for a while. The wife couldn’t make it.”

He starts laughing at my expression. I feel like a deflated balloon, ashamed that I let my mind wander like it did. There was no way this man was going to drop all that cash on some guy he met at a bachelor’s party.

We find our seats at the box on stage right. Brendon undoes the buttons to his jacket, takes it off and rests it on the backrest of the seat. The white oxford shirt looks good on him with the skinny black tie. He has a certain finesse to his style that I only expect to see from Gentlemen’s Quarterly, not the shuffling hedge funders down on Wall Street, with their two for one Men’s Wearhouse suits hanging off of them like oversized coats on a small hanger. He adjusts his wristwatch and sits down. I quickly take off my jacket and rest it against the seatback before quickly taking my seat next to him.

“ Oh, thanks for inviting me.”

“ No problem, Ryan. I’m sure I made the right decision in bringing you along.”

I laugh but not at what he said. I’m laughing because I wonder if I made the right decision.

 

##

 

Spencer told me the reason why he wanted the bachelor party held a week before his wedding was so, if he fell into any temptations that night, he’d have a week to recover. One week to clear his mind and be one hundred percent invested in the day that would take him from the life as a single man to one shared with another human being. United, becoming a family, and legally bounded by law to each other’s financial problems.

He’s only twenty nine. When I take a moment to realize that we’re pretty much guaranteed a good sixty more years on this planet, it makes him seem so young. Couldn’t he have waited until he was at least thirty five? Other than the girl he dated back in university, this is the second woman he’s met and only woman he’s been with for the last five years.

Cupid has spared me it’s arrow. Perhaps it thinks I’m a lost case.

I watch as Spencer paces the the dressing room nervously from across the room. He looks great in his three piece suit. His beard is nice and tightly trimmed. His hair slicked back and waxed to perfection. A friend, some guy I briefly met at the party, walks over to him and puts a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. Ian, I think his name was, whispers some stuff in his ear and Spencer laughs.

I think he was the CEO of some startup. A vinyl trading app or something related to music. It apparently managed to successfully raise two million dollars in a venture capitalist seeding round. It's amazing how an idea can convince a bunch of rich people to turn someone into a millionaire overnight.

Brendon is not here. For some reason, I was expecting to hear his voice commanding the room but it's just the groom and his groomsmen. I never got to ask Spencer why he didn’t bother to tap Brendon on the shoulder to be a groomsman. Considering that his fiance’s matron of honor is his wife, it would seem like the natural choice to also tap the husband. Aren’t the Best Man and Matron of Honor married? Isn’t that how weddings work?

The last time I was at a wedding was over twenty years ago at my mother’s second marriage to my step father. I was the ring boy so my knowledge on weddings is about the equivalent to an eleven year old boy. And seeing how I am probably never getting married, the details aren’t all that important to me. It’s still odd that Brendon has been excluded from the wedding party.

I get up from the seat in the corner of the dressing room and walk over to Spencer. Ian looks at me and gives me a pat on the shoulder before walking away. Spencer shakes his hands in an attempt to shake away his nerves and exhales.

“ So, today’s the day.” I say.

“ Yep. It’s-- it’s happening.”

“ You got this, Spence.” I put my hand on his shoulder and give it a firm, reassuring squeeze. “ Don’t stress out. You’re gonna be a good husband to Linda.”

“ I don’t want to disappoint her, you know? Like, things are going so good between us and then what if I fuck it up once we’re married?”

My hand falls from his shoulder, “ Don’t say that man. How long has it been? Five years? You’ve been living with her for three? Four? You guys are already married. This is just the fancy ceremony so people have an excuse to wear expensive tailored suits and eat fancy food.”

Spencer raises an eyebrow at me but he’s finally relaxed, “ Are you talking about yourself here?”

“ Maybe.” I grin. “ It’s not every day I get to wear a fancy suit and walk my best friend down the aisle.”

“ And here I thought you would be the first one to get hitched.”

I roll my eyes, “ Well, if we continue on this great American revival I doubt I’ll ever see the clerk of courts and I am in no rush to get married any time soon. I’ll just live my life vicariously through my bestest friend in the whole wide world.”

Spencer laughs and I just smile.

You did it, buddy. Just keep your head up and don’t look back at the past.

The wedding planner, a middle aged woman with too much makeup on her face in a cream colored business suit comes into the dressing room while announcing herself. She’s wearing an earpiece and can barely get out what she wants to tell us because she’s directing the venue staff every other second. But she eventually gets to letting us know that it's showtime.

Spencer looks at me and I put my hands on his shoulders. I rest my forehead against his and look right into his eyes, “ You got this.”

I let him go, quickly step around him and give him a push forward.

The wedding ceremony goes as planned. I stand at Spencer’s right side and watch as he tears up when he sees Linda walk down the aisle in her white gown. They say their vows (a bit cheesy and redundant in my opinion). Rings are exchanged. Kisses are had. Hello Mister and Misses Smith.

The guests line up outside the church and throw white and silver confetti at the newly married couple as they get inside the black car that will take them to resort where we’ll have the reception. I get in a limo with the rest of the wedding party and twenty minutes later I'm at some fancy resort in the Hamptons being lead inside the building by the stressed out wedding planner.

Before we even get to the reception, the photographer wants to take photos of all of us with the newly wedded couple. So we do -- to the backdrop of the intercostal -- the groom and his men to the right and the bride and her party to the left. Two shots. Another shot of us being casual and talking. Another one of just me and Spencer. One of Linda and Sarah. The shutter goes of a few more times and then the photographer is happy with what he got and we’re excused to the reception so he can get photos of just the two.

We get to the reception and I find the table I'm assigned to sit at; it's directly across the dance floor where Spencer and Linda are to sit. As the people file in, I take notice of the name cards at the table.

Ryan Ross. Sarah Urie. Brendon Urie.

Oh.

I see the couple weave through the tables as they make their way towards me. Sarah, his wife, is wearing a slender cream colored slim fitting dress that was obviously designed to be different from the rest of Linda’s bridal party since she’s the matron of honor. I didn't really pay attention to her throughout the morning’s events. Even during the rehearsal the day before, our interaction was mostly kept through choreographed movements. Now, that I’m not distracted by a wedding, I can focus on the couple. Brendon is dressed in a black three piece suit tailored just for him. I don’t know how he does it, but even in the simple attire he’s managed to stand out from the rest of the attendees.

It may not not be their wedding but they got the room’s attention on them. I can hear some of the guests whispering amongst each other: “ Oh look how gorgeous.” “ They look even prettier in person “ “ That dress looks stunning on her.”. The two have smiles on their faces but they act as if they aren't listening to the chatter around them. Oh, but they are, they most definitely are.

Brendon pulls out the chair and holds his wife's hand as she sits down at the table. He pushes her chair in and sits down at his assigned seat next to her.

“ Beautiful wedding, wasn't it?” Sarah asks me. I nod.

“ It really was nice.” I say. “ I'm Ryan, by the way. I didn't really get the opportunity to introduce myself.”

I extend my hand and she shakes it. Her hands are too delicate. I feel like if I apply anymore pressure I’ll break the fragile bones.

“ Sarah. I've heard a lot about you from my husband here.” She lets my hand go and elbows Brendon playfully. “ It sounds like you two had a nice time at Hamilton.”

Brendon chuckled, looking at me, “ We just went to see a play and that's it.”

“ I enjoyed myself. I never seen a play before so it was a nice experience.” I look at Sarah, avoiding eye contact with Brendon. “ Thank you.”

“ I'm glad you were able to go. I felt bad I wasn't able to go with him.” She absentmindedly strokes the rim of the champagne glass in front of her. “ So I hear from my husband that you're gonna write a piece on him?”

“ Yes, that's correct.”

“ A book, I think.” Brendon adds. I look at him. “ Isn't that right?”

I didn't plan on what it was going to be. We didn't even touch the project at the theater. We just talked about ourselves; hobbies and interests. It seemed less like a professional meeting to discuss the book and more like an informal date.

But if he wants a book…

“ Yeah. That's right. A book.”

“ That sounds exciting.” She smiles with lips painted in the color of plum. The smile doesn't quite meet her eyes. Is she just entertaining me for the sake of it? Brendon takes her hand into his and intertwines their fingers together.

“ I'm excited to work with Ryan on this.” He says as he looks at me again.

“ Whatever makes you happy, baby, I'll support it.”

Before I can say anything, the DJ for the evening turns on the microphone and announces Spencer and his wife, “ Please, everyone, let's give a round of applause for the newly wedded Mister and Misses Smith!”

The room breaks out into an applause, growing louder once Spencer and Linda enter the reception hall holding hands. They find their seats and wave to the crowd of family and friends before sitting down. The photographer, at this point, is running around snapping photos while the film crew begin to film the evening’s affair.

Food is served and drinks are poured. I keep up appearance and make conversation with the Uries. I pay attention to the way they interact with each other. It looks like Sarah has Brendon wrapped around her delicate finger. If she said jump, he'd probably ask how high. He looks at her as if she's the air he breathes and the water he drinks. She'll card her fingers through his hair and make him smile.

The perfect couple. The photographer makes sure to grab those prized shots of New York’s hottest couple. I heard that this wedding is going to be featured in the next issue of The Hamptons, the most prized publication for New York and Long Island’s elite. It makes sense that this photographer would waste digital space on this couple.

It's time for speeches and after listening to Linda’s father and Spencer’s mother give their speeches, the microphone makes it way to my table and into my hands.  I get up from my seat and feel a room full of eyes on my back. I clear my throat and it echos throughout the room, amplified by the speakers. We had rehearsed this. First the parents, then the best man, then the matron of honor, and so on down the line.

“ I'm not really good with public speeches,” I begin. “ I apologize if this ends up sounding cheesy.” The crowd laughs and I run my fingers through my hair. “ I've known Spencer since I was six. We've grown up together like brothers. I can remember spending a lot of Sunday evenings at the Smith’s household, enjoying a delicious Sunday dinner with his family as if I was one of their own. Then, running off to his room to watch a bunch of VHS tapes and play Sega Genesis; Mortal Kombat for those who want to know, because the violence wasn’t censored.”

“ And I always kicked your ass too!” Spencer shouts at me and everyone laughs, even I do.

“ Yeah, you definitely did with those annoying jump kicks. But, you know, it was like we were brothers. Every moment in our lives has been a moment we've shared together. Even when we eventually drifted apart to pursue our own passions, for some reason, be it destiny or something else, we are drawn back together sharing moments together again. And now I’m witnessing you take the next step to share your life with a wonderful woman. I may not be the best… best man in the history of weddings but I am glad to be here by your side at your wedding. Congratulations.”

I pick up my champagne glass and lift it up to him. He takes his own and does the same and the room claps. I turn around and hand the microphone to Sarah like rehearsed. I sit down as Sarah stands to deliver her speech as the matron of honor. It’s a nice speech spoken with such poise and elegance to be expected from a woman who attended New York’s finest academies.

Two more speeches, three glasses of champagne and a slice of cake later, the father gets a dance with his daughter and the groom takes her away to have the first dance with his new bride. Once the song ends and the lights turn on, the dance floor opens up to be filled with tipsy aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Children run around, weaving through the adults on the floor.

I’m left alone at the table as the perfect couple decide to join the others on the dance floor. I finish my fourth glass of champagne and get up, starting to feel the effects of too much liquid and not enough food in my system. I take off my jacket and hang it on the backrest of my chair. I quickly leave the reception and into the open hallways that lead into the main waiting hall of the resort. I follow the signs leading to the restroom.

I find the men’s restroom a few minutes later and enter it. There's no urinals, just private stalls, and I enter one. I close the door and lock it. As I unzip myself I hear the bathroom door open again and don't think much of it as I relieve myself. I'm at a wedding, it's not like I'm gonna be the only one using the restroom.

I flush the toilet, clean and tuck myself back into my pants, and zip myself back up. I turn around and open the stall door.

“ Holy shit!”

What the fuck. Brendon is standing right there in front of my stall as if he did not just scare the shit out of me. He has his hip slightly cocked to the side and a smirk on his lips. He's leaning against the stall, with one arm against the top, holding his weight, the other with his thumb hooked into the pocket of his pants.

Was he following me? How the fuck did he even know I was here or that I left the reception? This guy is weirder than I thought.

He's not wearing his jacket; leaving him in just the white oxford, black vest and a slightly undone tie. He really looks good in that outfit. Too good, honestly. There’s this feeling at the pit of my stomach as I progress everything I am seeing -- lust? No, that’s not it. Has to be something else. He’s straight, married, and I am obviously looking too far into this.

He smirks at me but doesn't say anything.

I swallow, unsure of what to do. I straighten my posture and try to not look like I was caught off guard or having some inner gay conflict.

“ Can I help you?” I ask.

“ Yeah, as a matter of fact, you can.”

All that police training goes out the window. Years of follow up training gone in an instance. My reflexes have gone to shit because Brendon Urie has got me slammed up against the side wall of the bathroom stall. If this was a case and I was on the street, I would have had him on the ground in seconds, but I'm not on the street. This isn't just some take down. I'm at my best friend’s wedding.

This is my best friend's wedding.

My mind is freezes. I totally forget how to react.

He slams the door shut behind him, locking it with one hand as his other snakes around my waist, pulling me flush against him. He pushes us against the wall again and he dips his face against the junction between my neck and ear. He breaths me in.

Holy fucking shit.

“ I can't stop thinking about you.” He says roughly against my skin. He thrusts his hips against mine. Fucking hell . This is actually happening.

“ W-what are you doing?”

He presses an open mouth kiss against that junction on my neck and trails his lips up around the shell of my ear. He's breathing so hard. My breathing is getting shallow.

This is strangely arousing to me despite my best judgement to just push him away and get the hell out.

“ Spencer told me,” He says as his hands work their way to the belt of my slacks. I try to stop him but he pushes my hands away. “ That you like guys.”

What. Spencer did what .

“ That is--That is none of your business.”

Brendon pulls away enough so I can see his face. His pupils are blown and there's a rosy tinge to his cheeks.

“ You're drunk.” I conclude. He drops to his knees and pulls down my zipper while unbuckling my belt. Once free of my belt, he starts to work on unbuttoning my slacks. I don't know what to do or what to say. I have one of Manhattan’s youngest and richest on his knees before me about to suck my dick. Who on a normal day would have this happen to them?

The United States government has an interest in his presumed illegal activities. He's my fucking surveillance target.

I'm about to get a blowjob from this guy.

Brendon chuckles, “ I’m not drunk,” he says as he pulls my pants and boxers down mid thigh in one swift movement, exposing me to him. “ And you're already half hard for me.”

“ I…”

And I want it.

His hand is already around my dick and he gives me a tentative stroke, as if he's familiarizing himself with it. He pulls his hand away and I'm not even looking down but I hear him spit onto it and his hand is back on me stroking. Up down, up down, twisting and tugging ever so slightly. It still burns. There's no lube and the spit is not enough. But I like the friction. I always did enjoy the friction. I'm getting harder; it's fucking killing me and I cover my mouth with my hand to muffle the sounds coming from the back of my throat.

He stops jerking me off and I feel his lips against the head of my cock. He kisses it tentatively. Once, twice, and then his tongue darts out, tasting me. He takes me into his warm mouth and I'm gone at that point. One hand presses against my hip to keep me from moving while the other holds the base of my cock. His mouth takes me in inch by inch, deeper and deeper, as he sucks harder and harder. He removes his hand and now it’s just his mouth; warm and wet.

He's done this before. I know he's done this before. The way he's sucking my cock tells me he's done this before. No man can take a cock like this and it be his first time.

My other hand drops into his hair but he pushes my hand away like it’s a distraction. He pulls away from my cock with a wet pop and looks up at me. I look down and Christ, his lips are wet and swollen and I just want to suck on them or shove his head forward where he can put them back on my throbbing cock.

“ Don't touch me…” His voice says, thick and raspy. He licks up my shaft, back down, and up again tonguing the slit and tasting my pre-cum. He groans, “ You taste… so good… Just like I'd imagined…”

He takes me back into his mouth. I watch as my dick disappears into his mouth and suck in a breath. I'm so fucking hard it hurts now and I just let myself succumb to the pleasure that is his warm, wet mouth surrounding my dick. He brings his other hand up, and now he has both hands on my hips, keeping me from moving and holding himself steady as he bobs up and down.

I’m fucked up. I am not a good person. I am not a good friend. I could be at the reception, talking to guests and giving Spencer all of my time and attention. He deserves it, after all, since he is the closest thing I have to a brother. I’m not doing that, though. I am not even thinking about that now. I am about to get off in a bathroom stall with a married man between my legs with my cock in his mouth and that’s all I want to focus on now.

Fuck the investigation. I need this. This is so fucking good and… and....

“ Oh, god… I'm not gonna make it…” I mumble behind my arm that's covering my mouth. My other hand slams against the wall behind me as I brace myself since I can’t grab onto him. The sounds coming from this stall must be obscene. Slurping, sucking, the muffled moans, the loud banging of a hand trying to grip onto a stall.

I'm afraid someone is going to come in at any moment.

The fear arouses me even more.

I can feel the pressure building up in me. My lower stomach contracts. My legs start to tremble and my heart rate increases.  

“ I-I… I’m gonna come….” I pant with my eyes shut.

He pulls away slightly, his lips just on the head of my cock, and I'm coming into his mouth. He swallows, mouthing kisses against the sensitive head, before taking me into his mouth again. He sucks and licks me clean as I nearly double over from the orgasm, panting heavily. He pulls off my cock with a pop and licks his lips as he sits up on his haunches.

It's so hard to breath steadily. My mind is a clouded mess. I’m so fucking sensitive. I can't even think. I lean against the stall, the back of my head lands against the stall with a loud thump, and finally gather up the courage to look at the man kneeling before me. His mouth looks thoroughly fucked; full lips slick and red. He reaches behind for the toilet paper, gathers a bunch into his hand, and rips it off the roll. He wipes his mouth and tosses it into the toilet bowl.

“ What the… fuck…” I idly bring a hand to my cock and stroke it once.

Brendon stands up and unlocks the stall. He steps out of it with more finesse than I would have imagined given he just spent the last ten fucking minutes on his knees sucking me off like a cockslut. I pull up my pants and boxers and tuck my shirt back into my pants with shaky hands. I zip up my slacks and stumble out the bathroom stall.

I watch as he runs the water, cupping it under the faucet and bringing it to his lips. He gargles and spits the water out, doing this a few more times until he's satisfied with the taste of cum out of his mouth. I take a moment to look down at his crotch. He’s hard. I don’t know how he’s gonna hide that. Is he just going to stay behind and jerk off? I guess that would be the only thing to do in this situation.

“ I like you, Ryan.” He tells me.

“ So, instead of doing things like normal person and just telling me that , you give me a surprise blowjob?” My fingers stumble over my belt. I just need to get it through the buckle and I'm so fucked up in a post coital high I can't even do that. My fingers fumble over each other and honestly this is really pathetic.

I must look pathetic.

I am pathetic.

Brendon purses his lips, “ I don't give surprise blowjobs.” He smirks, watching as I stumble around like a virgin who lost their virginity on prom night. “ You look like you haven't had sex in years.”

I glance at my reflection in the mirror. My hair is messier than state than normal; waves and curls askewed in all sorts of directions. My vest has a button undone and there’s trails of sweat drying on my neck and face. I run a hand through my hair in a failed attempt to fix it while glaring at Brendon in the mirror’s reflection. Yeah, it's been a while. He doesn’t need to know, though. Gay men like me can’t openly fuck every guy we see in my field of work. The less people know, the better. Call me a closet case, I don’t care, but at least I don’t have to deal with the stupid questions and jokes.

“ Aren't you married?” I walk to the faucet and start to wash my hands. “ Or is she some beard?”

My words carry more bite than necessary. Fuck him and his arrogance.

He blinks. Offended maybe? Doubt it.

“ She's not a beard. I do love her.” He's genuine. I can hear it in his voice. He says it like he can't believe I would even think that the man who just gave me a blowjob, who committed adultery , couldn't possibly love his wife. It makes me more annoyed at the situation I put myself in. Straight men like him who do shit like this always have it easy, but, then again they’re also pretty fucking pathetic. Too damn afraid to admit they like cock; just chalk it up as a fucking kink to justify sucking one.

He looks at me through the mirror, as if he can read exactly what’s going through my mind. “ I'm bisexual.”

Well, okay then. That changes things. Thanks for the clarification, Brendon.

“ We are in a open marriage. She is free to do what she pleases with whomever she wants. I am free to do whatever I want. Just as long as we both know.”

He explains this to me as if he’s telling me that the sky is blue, grass is green, and tigers don’t exist in Africa. Not a big deal. Nope.

How fucking nice for you.

That would explain the smile. She knew her husband wanted to fuck me. She probably thought he could do better than some struggling wannabe writer. Why this poor kid from Brooklyn? Obviously, he’s a gold digger. Can’t you just fuck Sam, the guy that lives off of Central Park West with the jewelry business? You can do so much better, you know.

Why even get married if you’re still gonna fuck around. I scoff and walk over to the paper dispenser.

“ Well,” I pull out a few sheets. “ I don't do threesomes or any of that shit so don’t get some wild idea that I wanna be your sextoy in your fucked up excuse of a marriage.”

I dry my hands and toss the paper in the trash. Brendon walks over to me. I feel his hand on my shoulder and I turn around to face him. It's weird to me that he feels so much more taller, more dominating despite the reality that I have a physical advantage over him. I've never experienced this before. I’ve always been the taller one. The agressive one. The one in control. But here he is, in my personal space tilting his head up to kiss me.

At first it's an awkward pressing of lips against lips. I’m not responding; I just stand there and feel his lips move against my own. He grows increasingly more insistent and suddenly, as if he finally found the button to set me off,  I'm responding to him, opening my mouth enough so he can deepen the kiss. I still can taste myself on his tongue. Bitter and salty.

Brendon breaks the kiss, “ I don’t want a fuck toy.” He kisses me again. My lips. The side of my mouth. “ I want you. If you let me have you, I’ll agree to your little project.”

I can hear the reception faintly in the background. Three hundred people completely oblivious to what is going on a few dozen feet away from them in a bathroom stall.

I can walk away from this, rejoin the party, and act like this never happened.

“ And what if I don’t want to be your fuck toy?”

I can still see myself signing the detail order for this surveillance on this man. An entire agency relying on me to find the smoking gun. An entire agency unaware of the situation I have landed myself in.

“ We’ll walk away from this like it never happened. You won’t ever have to see me again.” His eyes go dark. “If you mention this to anyone I will guarantee that you'll never be work in this city again.”

Fuck.

I can't walk away from this. Even if I could, I can't.

He’s looking at me so intensely. I feel like I'm suffocating.

I lick my lips, “ Okay. Okay.”

“ Is that a yes?” He smiles smugly.

I cup his erection through his pants experimentally and push up against his body, pinning him between the countertop of the bathroom’s vanity and myself. I kiss him, forcing my tongue into his open and willing mouth. Its deep and dirty and he’s moaning against my mouth as he pushes up against me, obviously trying to claim dominance. I aggressively push against him, locking him in place.

No. You’re not going to control me, Urie.

I continue to palm him through his pants and break the kiss -- a line of saliva between our mouths that breaks onto my lower lip. I lick it away. I glance at the bathroom door and pray that no one will want to come in for the next fifteen minutes.

I get on my knees.

Yeah.

It's a yes.

Chapter Text

A soccer ball lands at my feet. A kid, probably no older than twelve, runs over to me to get it while apologizing. I pick up the battered ball and hand it over to the kid with a smile. He mumbles a quick thanks and runs back with the ball to his friends on the green. Jon whistles next to me and I look at him.

“ What.”

He shrugs his shoulders.

“ You say you're terrible with kids and yet all I see is the opposite.”

“ Yeah, well, it's not like any of that matters.”

Another Saturday in the park with Jon to give him an update. I handed him my report once I met him at the train station, with all intents to walk right back into that small building and back on the train to the city. He insisted we ‘talk about it’ and now we’re sitting on a bench like two grumpy men while kids play soccer in front of us. It's been three weeks since I've seen him and he looks different -- he shaved and got a haircut. I didn't bother to ask what the occasion was for because I don’t care. At least now I don't. I have more things on my mind to worry about.

It's been one week since the surprise sexual encounter in a bathroom at my best friend’s wedding.

The memories are still to vivid. If the Wonder Twins bugged the apartment, they have sure been treated to a show of a lifetime. It's become my jerk off material for the last few days and I'm too ashamed to admit it. It's not my greatest achievement in life unless people won awards for succumbing to primal lust and becoming a fuck boy in order to get something in life. Which, I’m sure is happening across college campuses in America between professors and their prized, top students.

I wonder how I am to report this recent development to Jon.

Hey, so I made contact with the target.

In a bathroom.

And we gave each other mutual blowjobs.

Yeah. That's not happening. That did not go in the report.

“ How was the wedding?” Jon asks me. I lean back on the bench.

“ Nice. I got a free suit out of it.”

“ Anything else?”

He says it like someone trying to dig for some juicy dirt. His voice trails with just that slight uptick in intonation to get me to talk. He wants me to spill the beans but I have nothing. No drug deals. No money laundering. Nothing that would be of any interest -- wait -- of benefit to him and the integrity of this case.

Of course there’s things of interest. Lots of things of interest.

Like a blowjob.

“ I managed to make contact but that's it.”

The memory of myself on my knees with his cock in my mouth flashes in my mind. God dammit, I'm so fucked and I haven't even scratched the surface yet. I can still hear his moans and the way his breath hitched as he inched closer and closer to the edge. I still feel the way his fingers weaved through my hair, encouraging me to take him deeper. I can remember how he tasted, hot and thick in my mouth.

I'm amazed I was even able to walk back to that reception with a straight face, even more so at how Brendon effortlessly navigated most of the evening as if whatever had happened in that bathroom never even occurred. He danced with the bride like he didn’t just have my cock in his mouth thirty minutes prior to whisking her away from her groom on the dance floor. He laughed with friends like he didn’t just get his dick sucked forty five minutes prior to that. He left with his wife three hours later as if they were the most monogamous, prime example of a healthy marriage to ever grace a wedding party. The ideal image, as someone said, something that Spencer and Linda should achieve to be.

Ha.

And yet, throughout witnessing Brendon’s display of poise and rationality, I was throwing back champagne and stumbling around conversations like a nervous asshole trying not to get caught red handed in cheating. Mrs. Smith just assumed I was overly ecstatic to be apart of Spencer’s wedding as I fumbled around a conversation about my non-existent sex life. Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. I was just excited and dying to wait for my own special day with my non-existent bride. Maybe if I’m lucky, my best man won’t run off to the bathroom to have sex with one of my acquaintances.

I grip the seat of the bench at the memories until my knuckles turn white. Fuck .

“ So that’s it?”

“ Yeah.”

“ Why do I get this feeling that you’re hiding something from me?” Jon looks at me with a raised eyebrow. “ I know you, Ryan. Your attention details is impeccable and yet the most I’m getting out of you are one liners. Something happened?”

Jon looks at my hands to make his point and I release my grip on the bench.

My phone vibrates in my back pocket. I pull out it and look at the lock screen. It’s an unknown number. I contemplate answering it, staring at the vibrating phone as if I can just make the caller hang up telepathically. No one knows this number outside of Jon and Spencer. When I get a phone call like this, I usually ignore it. Something is telling me that this call isn’t one of those.

“ You gonna answer that?”

I look at Jon, “ Uh, yeah.” I move to get up, but stop because I don’t know if I want to answer this in front of Jon or not. I decide on the former and get up from the bench, hitting the green answer button with my thumb. I bring the phone to my ear.

“ You are a difficult guy to find, you do know that, right?”

I freeze at the sound of Brendon’s phone. I quickly turn around and pull the phone away from my ear.

“ I-I gotta take this. I’ll be over, uh, over there.”

I point over a little ways past the jungle gym where the neighborhood kids are currently running amok on.

Jon shrugs and crosses his legs as he leans back on the bench. I bring the phone back to my ear and quickly walk over there.

“ Oh, hi, Brendon… Um, how--how did you get this number?”

“ Our common denominator.”

“ Our common denom--what? Spencer?”

“ Bin--go.” He sings.

That fucking guy. For someone who isn’t friends with this rich arrogant asshole, he sure likes to run his mouth to him about me. I hold back the urge to sigh rather loudly and pinch the bridge of my nose instead. I need to definitely talk to him about that once he gets back from his honeymoon in Fiji. There’s no way these two aren’t friends. No fucking way.

Unless Spencer has turned into a gossip queen, which then would be a brand new fucking development that I did not know about.

“ Oh. Hun. Well, what’s up?” I later add, “ And why is your number unlisted?”

“ Reasons. Don’t concern yourself with the insignificant details and focus on the more important things in life.”

Everything you do is very important to me. Too bad you don’t know that. I chew on my lower lip and rest a hand on my hip.

“ So… is there anything you need?”

I try to not sound annoyed. Or rushed. I really do try. It just… happens to come out that way.

And I now worry that it's going to bite me in the ass. Nearly two months of work blown to bits.

“ Well, I was under the impression that you wanted to write a book about me so in actuality it's the other way around.” Brendon quickly, yet calmly retorts without a pause as if he was stating the terms to a contract that I've apparently breached. Wow. That's surprising. Guess I am not in hot shit after all.

He continues, “ Anyway, you disappeared into the wind after Spencer’s wedding. I started to think, how could someone write a book on me if they’ve disappeared, and realized that maybe you’re having buyer’s remorse about our little arrangement.”

I close my eyes and grip the phone against my ear, “ N-no, I'm not having any… buyer's remorse .”

Two kids around the ages of eleven or twelve, probably siblings, run around me. I shoo them away with my hands and they give me dirty looks before giving me the bird and running off to join their soccer gang. I want to be shocked but I’ve seen far worse shit than a couple of brats that discovered that the middle finger actually is an offensive hand gesture.

“ So come meet me now.”

“ What.”

“ I didn't stutter. I want to talk about the book details with you.”

I look over my shoulder. Jon is watching me from the bench and quickly turn away.

Book details is like the Urie code word for “ let’s fuck ”.

I can't. I won't.

“ Where.”

Fuck me .

“ Coney Island seems like a nice spot. Let's meet there.”

I glance at my watch. It's ten fifteen in the morning. It takes roughly an hour just to get to Brooklyn from Malverne and then another twenty minutes to Coney Island. All which are contingent on Jon getting me to the train station within a decent amount of time.

“ I’m actually out of town so I won’t be able to get there for another two hours.”

“ Fine. Let’s make it for two in the afternoon.”

I close my eyes and mentally sigh. He’s persistent. “ Okay. Where do we meet?”

“ By the Cyclone. Two o’clock. See you then.”

The line goes dead.

I pull the phone from my ear and look at it. The lock screen doesn’t give me any of the answers I’m searching for. I sigh and pocket the phone, making my way back to Jon at the bench. I dodge a group of kids running in front of me without actually looking and curse under my breath. I really don’t like the suburbs.

Jon sits up on the bench and clasps his hands together in front of him. Despite being clean shaven, he still looks like a slacker with his plain t-shirts, flip flops, and jeans. Which isn’t too far from the truth since he’s a fucking pot smoking hypocrite . I rub the back of my neck.

“ Who was it?” He asks.

“ I gotta go.”

“ Why?”

I sigh, “ Can you just take me to the train station without the twenty one questions?”

“ Everything you do is subjected to questioning, Ross, or did you forget? You know the protocol, you need to cut all ties to your previous life to avoid compromising the investigation. Was that Urie that just called you?”

“ No, no.” I lie. I rub my eyes. “ Its management for the apartment you guys have me at. There’s been some problems and they got a repairman coming in about two hours and I need to be there. You got the report, right? So there’s no more need for me to be out here.”

He frowns at me. I really don’t want to entertain him so I walk past him, across the field, to the parked SUV. Jon catches up with me and we get to his car. He walks over to the driver side and before he unlocks the door, steps forward slightly so I can see him clearly. I don’t react to his obvious annoyed expression.

“ In case you forgotten,” He starts, keys in one hand on the hood. “ We’re tracking your calls. Don’t lie, Ross.”

The door unlocks and I open it, “ I’m not lying, Jon. I know that.”

I just don’t need the attention from you right now or those two idiots right now. Shadowing me will only make the situation worst. Besides, I can't have them find out about the arrangement we have. It needs to be private and I need to figure out a way to coordinate this better. I can't be caught in a compromising position so early on into this investigation.

We ride to the train station in silence. Jon warns me again, this time to stay safe, before driving off to his happy home with his perfect wife and daughter. I click my tongue in annoyance at the thought, purchase a ticket, and wait for the next train back to New York City.

 

##

 

“ Do you always dress in those type of shirts or are you due for a laundry day?”

Brendon laughs from behind a pair of black Ray Bans. The loud screams from the riders on the Cyclone drown him out for a moment and I think he’s said something but I’m not sure if it is anything of importance. I just nod and adjust the strap of my messenger bag that I picked up at the apartment before coming to meet him. He’s dressed in a blue short sleeve button down and dark grey skinny jeans. His tattoos stick out so dramatically against the colors of his dress no one would have thought this man actually owned several investment properties in the city.

He looks more like a punk rocker than anything.

“ I didn’t have time for laundry,” I say and I’m telling the truth. The only clean clothes I had were a white button down and brown slacks. I have the sleeves rolled up to my elbow so I made some effort to liven up the drab fashion. “ Sorry.”

He gives me a look but then shrugs it off, “ Don't worry. I like that about you. The lack of fucks is refreshing, though, I want to talk about this book. So let's ride the Wonder Wheel to talk about it.”

I turn around to look at the ride behind me and then at Brendon, “ Why there?”

“ No one to bother us.”

I lick my lips. This guy is a strange one.

“ Lead the way.”

We walk together to the Wonder Wheel. It's a busy Saturday; the kids are out of school, it's Summer Vacation so tourists and their families are everywhere, and it's hot day. Brendon doesn't try to start a conversation with me as we cross the street into Luna Park and I don't make it a priority to start one myself. I just listen and watch. Who knows what can happen between now and later.

I've never ridden the Wonder Wheel. I've never actually rode any of the rides here at Coney Island save for the Cyclone with Spencer once. There's just something strange about an amusement park nearly a century old with rides older than my grandparents. As we approach the Wonder Wheel, I grow slightly uneasy at the sight of the swinging cars and the screams of terrified children and the laughter of teenagers.

Brendon buys a ticket and without even consulting me lines up directly for the swinging cars. Once one arrives, we step inside the small car, and Brendon waves to the ride attendant when they lock us inside the cage like an excited kid. He sits across from me, looking out towards the beach as we begin our ascent. He takes off his glasses and hangs them on the junction at the first button on his shirt.

“ So let's talk books.”

I grip onto the strap of my bag as I feel the cart inch forward. “ Let’s talk.”

The cart quickly swings forward, sliding down at a high speed. It dips dangerously close to the edge before stopping. It’s perfect timing; like the referee hitting the gong at a boxing match. Here we are, about the start a conversation where I am to set up the terms and get him to play along with them.

We don't go over the tracks as the car settles but I can get rid of the feeling that there is a chance this ride can break down and we will go flying off the tracks to a bloody and painful death. We probably won’t hit the floor, but our bodies will hit the winding metal before coming to a crashing, crushed halt between two carts. People have died on the Cyclone. It could happen here too.

He looks at me expectantly. What does he want from me? Is he expecting something more than a conversation? Is he going to come onto me in this public setting? Why else would we be in tight compartment on a ride that offers a semblance of privacy, enough so that teenage couples can get off in fifteen minutes and not get caught. I lick my dry lips and shift in my seat, inching forward slightly. He raises an eyebrow and makes a gesture for a pen and paper.

Oh. So he legitimately wants to talk about this book. I reach into my messenger back and pull out a pen and a small legal pad. I turn over a few pages and he just chuckles as I scribble a few things down into the pad.

“ Sorry,” I mumble. “ This whole ride thing has got me distracted.”

“ No worries.” He shifts in the seat to get comfortable, crossing his legs and resting his hands on his knees. “ Now what do you want to write about? Or, let me rephrase it, how can someone write about a book about something, or someone, they don’t know about?”

“ You research them. Obviously.”

“ And so you’re going to research me?”

I look at the yellow lined paper and then up at Brendon. I guess you can put it that way.

“ I want to get to know how you work. Your business tactics. How you’ve become so successful at your age.”

He looks impressed, “ Okay. Sounds good. So what do you need from me?”

Time to set the bait.

“ I need full, unfiltered access to you.”

“ Done.”

What.

Wow. He took the bait.

“ I also want to shadow you at meetings and at your job. Your personal life.” My heart is racing. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe it’s going so well. “ In other words, I want to live your life through you.”

The car jerks forward and begins its quick descent down the track. I brace myself against the seat as it jerks to a stop with a loud cling. It swings slightly and then comes to a halt. Brendon is smiling at me.

“ You don’t like this.” He tells obviously amused at my discomfort. I relax, slightly.

“ I… it’s not that I don’t like it. Rides just aren’t my thing.”

He looks out towards the beach. We’re reaching the crest of the ride and Coney Island is all for us to see. I look out at the co-ops as I tap my pen against the legal pad anxiously. I can feel the car begin to move slightly. The metal creaks and whines.

“ I like rides.” Brendon says, his eyes still on the crowd. The car in front of us squeaks and clangs as it quickly slides forward. It slams to a stop with a loud bang. “ It's the closest feeling to brushing with death without actually putting yourself in harm’s way.” Up, up, up. Then we’re falling down, down, down until we jerk to a loud, swinging stop. “ It reminds me that I’m alive.”

I stare at the man in front of me and contemplate writing what he told me. I decide against it. It’s not like I’m actually going to write a book on this him, anyway. We continue to ride the wheel, mostly silent for majority of the ride. Brendon makes a few comments, pointing out things to me, but I don’t bother to respond. I just observe him and the way he reacts to things, moves, carries himself…. He has like a child like wonder with the littlest, insignificant things. A boyish charm that would probably win women over tenfold.

Once the ride ends and we’re walking along Riegelman Boardwalk, I stop. He continues to walk, unaware that I’m not following him anymore.

“ Hey,” I call out. Brendon stops and turns around. He puts his hands in his pocket and raises a well shaped eyebrow. He has the glasses on again. He looks good with them; they fit his face nicely. “ Why me.”

I know why I’m after him. An entire section of a government agency knows why I’m after him. But I don’t know why he knows me. Why he wants me. Why he’s making things so easy for me. It's not making any sense.

He runs his fingers through his thick black hair. The bangs flop forward with an airy bounce and he pushes them back.

“ Why not?”

“ I don’t understand.”

“ There’s nothing to understand. If you spend your life trying to understand things you’re not going to enjoy it.”

He smiles.

So simple. It's just that simple, hun. He makes things sound and look so easy. I don’t get him at all. I click my tongue and roll my eyes. I guess you can have that opinion on life if you can afford it.

“ Aw, don't do that, Ryan. Lighten up!”

He walks over to me and gives both my shoulders a squeeze. I look at him -- at his nose, his full lips, and jaw line. His skin is practically flawless. Clear to the point that it could be compared to a porcelain doll. He is attractive, if not too attractive.

And I have him right in the palm of my hand. The idea is entertaining, if not mildly thrilling.

If I was to kiss him right here, right now would that be overstepping myself? I should find the notion of our arrangement perverse, if not criminal. There is no doubt in my mind that I've just been coerced into this arrangement for the sake of having access to him. In any other circumstance, this definitely would not have happened. I would not have put myself into a situation like this at the risk of potentially losing my job.

Brendon Urie is an attractive man, arrogant but attractive, and I haven't been in a physical relationship for a couple of years. There was this one guy, Alex, from when I first arrived but that was as fleeting as a sparkler on the Fourth of July. Hot, passionate, beautiful and gone within a moment’s blink. And maybe it's the way the sun is hitting his face or how the sunglasses frame him, but I want to lean in and take the plunge for selfish reasons fueled entirely by sexual frustration.

So, I lean forward. I take the plunge into a bottomless pit of no return.

“ Let's get hot dogs.”

I feel his hands leave me and he's already got a foot distance between us. I blink. What the fuck. Just last week he pushed me into a bathroom stall and took me into his mouth without even gagging and now he's playing it off like it never happened? I frown in confusion and straighten up.

He is smiling as if none of that even happened.

Let's get hot dogs then, you fucking cocktease.

Sixteen dollars. Two hot dogs and two Coors lite in a soda cup. We eat in silence on a bench, shoving overpriced hot dogs down our throats and sipping on beers from a straw so we don't break the law. Since meeting him, it is the most ordinary, if not mundane, thing I've done with him.

Eating Nathan’s Famous hotdogs paid with a Titanium AmEx card while drinking a beer.

As normal as it can get.

“ I think this is going to be a great thing between you and I, Ryan.” Brendon tells me as we're tossing our ketchup, mustard, and sauerkraut covered plates in the trashcan.

“ Well, I am looking forward to learning more about you.” I finish off my beer and toss it in the overfilled trashcan. Brendon does the same.

“ As I'm of you. Spencer’s told me a lot of stuff but I have a feeling there's a lot of stuff he didn't tell me about you.”

He pushes his sunglasses up, enough so I can see his eyes. There's a glint to them. An ulterior motive behind those words. I run fingers through my hair, shaking out whatever sand out of it that had blown my way from the beach. I still need to know what Spencer told him. Asking him wouldn't do me any good. How opportune for Spencer to be outside of the country when I need him the most.

We start walking to the subway station. We cross Surf Avenue and stop once we get to Coney Island-Stillwell station. The building is a juxtaposition of the old and new. The exterior still has the old BMT Lines on the facade while the modern MTA signs hang at the gateway into the station.

What a bizarre place, Coney Island.

“ I'd like you to come by the office on Monday.” Brendon pushes his sunglasses over his eyes, resting them on top his head. They push his bangs backwards, making it look like he's sporting some sort of faux pompadour.

“ Okay. Where would that be?”

“ I'll text you the address. You can come whenever. My schedule is open that day.” He looks at his wrist watch.

“ Are you riding the trains back?”

Brendon looks at me and shakes his head, “ My assistant is picking me up at four. Which should be… in the next minute or two.”

I pull out my phone and look at the lock screen. Three fifty eight in the afternoon. I don't recall him ever speaking to anyone during our time together. He kept his attention on me the entire time….

… This guy had this all planned out.

Everything was controlled. The ride, the boardwalk, the hot dogs. All of it was controlled by him. He didn't need to notify anyone, he had this all arranged prior to me arriving here. And as I stand here reflecting on all this information, a black Cadillac Escalade with dark tinted windows pulls up against the curb of the station. A big man with a beard dressed in a black suit gets out of the driver’s side and walks over to Brendon.

“ Perfect timing, Zack.” Brendon says. Zack nods his head. He’s so big, he nearly dwarfs Brendon in size. Is this an assistant or a body guard? Brendon answers it for me anyway, “ This is my assistant, Zack Hall. Zack, this is Ryan Ross, my biographer.”

I didn't know assistants look like secret service men but I greet the guy anyway. He shakes my hand firmly. He's definitely not pushing paper with those hands. They're big and calloused. I can see tattoos peeking from the cuffs of his white oxford.

“ Nice to meet you.” He says before releasing my hand. I nod.

“ I'll, uh, see you then?”

Brendon puts his sunglasses down, “ Yep. Safe trip back home.”

Brendon and Zack walk back to the vehicle. Zack opens the door and lets Brendon in the back seat and closes it. He gets into the driver's side and the car takes off. I stand there on the corner of Surf and Stillwell, watching the Escalade drive down Stillwell until can't be seen anymore.

I don't know how to describe today or the lingering feeling at the pit of my stomach, that maybe I don't have him controlled like I originally thought.

I text Spencer, What did you tell Brendon Urie about me?

I wait for a reply but one never comes. There's social media but I avoid that like the bubonic plague. Obviously he can't reply since he's overseas but I don't stop irrationally hating him on the thirty minute trip back to my place for not replying back.

 

##

 

It must be nice to live on top of the world. You wake up to the site of the world moving slowly as you brush your teeth and get dressed for the day. The return to Earth is momentarily in the confines of a black Escalade before being whisked off again to be at the top. The world is on a string and you are it's puppet master.

Who needs to be a world leader when power is obtainable on the fiftieth floor of a New York high rise. When a bank account is so full a simple twenty thousand dollar donation can have a politician play directly into your hands. Look pretty for the cameras, show that you care for the people. Be the American Dream.

A legacy of those individuals lines the walls of the fiftieth floor of UO Investments in photos dating back to the company’s incorporation years before the Great War to End all Wars. The company has leased out the top twenty floors of this fifty-story building and I'm standing within the walls of the executive level. Private offices break up the floor into rooms of glass and drywall, each containing a personal haven for those that have earned their keep at this company. Nice bonuses, great health packages, and Friday nights at wine bars smoking fat cigars and drinking fine brandy.

I’m sitting in the waiting room for one of the top executives. Across the room are photographs of the current board of executives hanging on the wall in a line. In the center is the company’s president, an older gentlemen with grey hair and an average smile. Directly to it’s right is Brendon Urie’s photograph. He’s smiling, closed mouth and professional. His suit his modest, his hair cut short and and well trimmed. No long bangs or a tight side shave giving off the impression of a millionaire playboy. Nope, instead we have a picture of a guy that looks like he was vomited out of the yearbook pages of the Class of 1969 senior class photos. He, the fine young gentlemen that looks like he graduated top of his class at Harvard by having rich parents that bought his way in.

I get up from the plush couch and walk over to the picture to get a better look. When was this photo taken? Five years ago? Eight years ago? He lacks the arrogance he exhibits today. He almost looks like the perfect guy you’d want your daughter to bring home. The one that mothers gush about; that they wish was their son but instead have to deal with the disappointment locked up in their bedroom at twenty-eight playing Call of Duty against twelve year olds.

He looks like he’d probably wait until he got married before having sex.

Ha. How funny.

“ Mister Ross?” A young woman calls out. I turn around and see a short woman in a modest one grey piece standing in front of a white door across the room. “ Mister Urie is ready to see you now.”

She holds the door open. I nod and thank her the walk into the room. Once inside, I hear the door close behind me and all the noise from the outside cease to exist. The office is on the corner, with glass walls covering half of the room giving a view of the city.

To the left of me is a bookcase filled with books and little sculptures. To the right, the view of the city and a bar of whiskey and two glasses. And, in front of me, Brendon is sitting at his desk in the center of the office. It’s one of those minimal aluminum and glass desks that would only look right if an iMac was placed on top.

Unironically, there is nothing on the desk save for the obligatory iMac, a box of tissues in a silver aluminum case, and a couple of picture frames. Perfectly front and center on the desk is his name plate: Brendon Boyd Urie, COO.

I cross the room and take my seat in front of his desk. He leans back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest, and smiles at me. I don’t know what to say so I just smile back. It probably looks forced -- its because I am forcing a smile.

“ Happy Monday.” He greets me. There’s really nothing happy about Mondays; it's the start of the work week. What should be a day to recover from a weekend of drinking and debauchery is spent under fluorescent lights and in front of a computer screen. There's never anything happy about that.

But I guess for him, when he has the view of the island of Manhattan at every corner of his office, any day would be a happy day. He swings slightly in his chair, waiting for me to say something.

“ Hi, Brendon.”

He plays with the end of his navy tie idly. “ It wasn’t that hard getting here, was it?”

“ No, it wasn’t.”

I got the pin sent to my phone a few hours later the other day after I had returned home from our whatever he would want to call it at Coney Island. The building is off of the Avenue of the Americas and Twenty-Third street. Very hard to miss. Just like his ridiculous apartment off of Spruce Street.

“ Well, I’d figure I let you come into the office and see what I do. You know, to get a general idea of why I am so good at it.” He stops moving in his chair. “ Any questions so far?”

I shake my head as I pull out my notepad and pen. Turn over a few pages. Make it seem like I’m actually doing something with all of this. “ No, not really. I didn’t know you were the COO, though.”

Brendon nods, “ Yeah. Just recently, actually. It feels weird having that title next to my name. Brendon Urie, Chief Operations Officer. It’s the next step before CEO. Like, it just puts things into perspective.”

“ What into perspective?”

“ That, in a couple of years, I’ll be the CEO of this company.” He pushes back in his chair and gets up. “ That all of this will be mine.”

“ That’s how things work here? There’s no board vote?”

I’m starting to take notes. I have to write this all down -- understanding how the company works will shed light on whatever dirt he’s hiding. Is the company involved in his little scheme or not? How deep does the rabbit hole go?

Brendon walks around the desk and leans against the front of it. He rests his hands on the edge of the desk, gripping onto it.

“ The CEOs of this company have all been relatives to my wife’s family. Her father is the current CEO, his uncle was the previous. His father and then grandfather.”

“ Why isn’t your wife involved with the business?”

“ It never appealed to her. Not to say that my success is simply because I married the right girl. I’ve earned this position fair and square, no matter what the others might think. I was here before I ever met her. I was already the VP of marketing by the time I was finally introduced to her. So,” He points to my notepad. “ Be sure to emphasize that in your book. Brendon Urie didn’t marry his way into success.”

“ Brendon… Urie… didn’t marry his way… into success. Got it.” I even circle it a few times to make him happy.

“ The board knows about how things are run here. They wouldn't vote against my father-in-law’s decision. It's tradition.”

It must be real nice to marry into such a cushy situation. All he had to do was say I do and he got a multi billion dollar corporation out of it. Even if there as a pre-nup, Brendon still walks away with the company in the event of a divorce. No matter how he wants to paint the picture, it still looks bad. This wasn't earned, it was just pure luck Sarah found him to be husband material.

I circle his quote one more time.

“ How long have you been at the company?”

“ Almost a decade.”

“ Wow.”

I don't remember how old he is but he can't be much older than me. Which means that he’s implying that he started here when he was in his early twenties? Didn’t he go to BYU in Utah? If that is the case, there was no possible way for him to be in New York at the same time. Internship? But those don’t lead onto executive track careers. Let’s say that Brendon is thirty years old, if he married Sarah five years ago when he was VP of whatever division he was VP at, then that implies that he managed to get a bunch of promotions within the span of a few years. A nobody, like him, from Utah just magically becomes VP at one of New York’s biggest companies? There’s holes in his stories that aren’t quite adding up, stories I’m surprised no one has caught onto yet.

I chew on the end of my pen as I try to connect the dots.

Brendon pushes himself off the desk and takes two quick steps forward, enough so he's now in my personal space. I look up at him. Pressed navy slacks, a crisp white oxford shirt, a navy tie all fitted to his frame. His hair is slicked back with wax; molded to perfection. He even smells good.

He leans down, bracing his weight with his hands on the armrests of my chair. He is now caging me between the chair and himself and there’s no way for me to get up and out of the seat. I lick my lips, a nervous reaction, and fiddle with the pen in my hand. Tap, tap, tap, tap against the notepad. I try to look away but he's everywhere and I'm now too hyper aware of him in my space.

“ I'm tired of this interview, aren't you?” He asks me. He’s so close to me, our faces just mere inches apart from each other.

“ I’m actually not,” I say with a small shrug. “ I gotta write this book.”

His hand reaches out and grabs onto my wrist, stopping me from tapping against the pad with my pen. I drop the pen out of reflex; it falls onto the pad, rolls off and disappears somewhere within the leather seat.

“ You really look good,” He tells me, eyeing my outfit. It’s really no different than yesterday, except I managed to find a brown vest somewhere in my suitcase. “ You did yesterday too. This whole hipster writer look works for you.”

I attempt to move my wrist out of his grasp, “ Well, like I said, I need to do laundry… It’s not intentional.”

I can’t get my arm away. My heart is slightly racing. I have a feeling I know what is going to happen and the anticipation of it makes me shift in my chair. He slowly leans forward, closing the gap between us, “ I don’t want to talk about books anymore.”

He kisses me. It’s soft, not aggressive like the first time he did it. Its certain, there’s a purpose behind the kiss, but it's obvious that he’s waiting for me to take some initiative. So I do. I lean upwards, push up into him and kiss him back. There’s no hesitation on his part; he opens up for me and I take the invitation, tasting him. Cigarettes and coffee. I wonder if I taste the same as well.

The room we’re in is silent. All I can hear is the sound of lips and tongues working against each other in some obscene display of desire. It’s not a pretty kiss, it's not an innocent kiss. It’s hungry and increasingly needy. He lets my arm go, moving both his hands to my knees. He pushes them apart and moves between them. I don’t know how this is going to going to work. The positioning is awkward and I can’t imagine what he can do from this angle. He breaks the kiss, pulling away with a pop.

“ Everytime I’m around you, it’s a fight to control myself.” He tells me, voice hoarse and tense. Laced with desire. His hands move up and down my thighs and I only nod. He sinks down to his knees. “ I have thirty-seven minutes until I’m due for my next meeting.”

Wow. Okay.

I can feel his fingers working themselves on my belt.

“ Back at Coney Island, I tried to kiss you then.” I say as he pulls the belt from the buckle. “ You turned me down. Now you’re trying to blow me. What the hell, Brendon?”

His fingers stop moving. My belt hangs open and the button to my slacks are slightly undone. He raises an eyebrow at me.

“ I can’t kiss you in public, Ryan.” He laughs as if I just told him something ridiculous. “ I’m a married man in the public eye. I can’t just flaunt my partners out in the open like that.”

“ Oh, really.”

He starts working on my pants again. “ It’s bad for business. Stocks would fall. Investors would lose faith in me, which in turn affects the business. I could be voted off the board.” His hand reaches into my pants and underneath the waistband of my boxers. “ This can’t get out.”

I hiss when his hand grabs the base of my cock. I lift my hips, giving him better access to get my dick out. The irony of this entire situation. Closet case bisexual can’t come out and yet he’s pulling my dick out in his office like the shit is normal. Like he does this all the time; that’s how he closes business deals. He just sucks off investors and they in return give him checks worth millions of dollars.

How pathetic.

“ You’re confusing.” I say as he spits on his hand. He gives me a firm stroke and I shift slightly in the seat.

“ What’s confusing about a handjob.” He’s stroking me and I can feel myself getting hard. How could I not with this man in between my legs looking at me and my cock as if a water oasis in a desert. That sucking me off could sate his thirst for the next thirty days. Maybe I should have slept around more; perhaps being in a situation like this wouldn’t be enough to get me turned on. I feel his hand leave my cock.

“ You can’t just --- ah, fuck .” His mouth is on the head and he sucks gently, tonguing the slit before taking me inch by inch.

Oh, this fucking bastard. If a handjob won’t shut me up, obviously the blowjob will. I’m hard at this point and he’s bobbing up and down. I thrust forward and he doesn’t stop me; he just takes me in unapologetically. My right hand reaches for him, curling around the nape of his neck, fingers digging into the short hairs there. He doesn’t push my hand away, not like the last time, and I just hold him there as I fuck his mouth.

He gives a throaty moan and the vibrations feel so good. My stomach clenches, my feet curl, and my heart rate increases. The room, once freezing cold, is getting too hot. I lean my head back, sinking into the chair. My hand drops from his head and he pulls off of me with a pop. I look down and see a trail of saliva from the tip of my hard, swollen cock and his plump, full lips.

I haven’t seen anything as sexually attractive like that in my life.

I’m so close to the edge all I need is just one more push. Just one little push.

“ Our little arrangement stays behind closed doors,” He tells me, voice hoarse, his throat obviously well fucked. I do not know how he’s going to do that meeting sounding like he just took a cock in the mouth. “ It’s a casual affair, nothing more, nothing less.”

He gets up off of his knees and brushes the dirt off of his slacks. It takes me a moment to realize, but he’s walking back to his desk and sits down at his chair. What the fuck is he doing? He can’t just… leave me like this. My saliva covered cock is so hard, pre-cum leaking from the slit, and he’s just going to sit there and watch me. I can’t… leave with a fucking boner out his office.

“ Come for me, Ryan.” He tells me. No, commands me.

What.

What type of Fifty Shades of Grey bullshit is this?

“ Touch yourself and come for me.”

I can see him work on his pants, undoing the belt and then unzipping himself. He pushes his pants and boxer briefs down enough so he can get his cock out. Brendon is so painfully hard and leaking. He spits on his hand and starts to stroke himself slowly as he watches me.

This is the kinkiest shit I’ve ever done in my life. I’m on top of the world, fifty stories up in the air, and I’m about to come all over myself as the COO of a large investment company watches while masturbating. Holy fuck .

It’s all I need to get off. I stroke myself, hard and fast, looking right Brendon. He watches me so intently, it almost feels as if he’s looking right through me into my soul. I look at his hands fisting his dick, and how we’re practically mirroring each other. There's something hot about watching another man touch himself as I do the same. Knowing he feels the same way that I do. Each stroke, twist, thumbing… every action mirrored.

The feeling of doing this in this office, with the door unlocked and knowing that secretary could come in at any moment and see us at our worst is fucking exhilarating. I can only jerk myself faster to the thought. The sounds that fill up the room are obscene; just the sound of bodily fluids siding against skin and the heavy panting of two men chasing a release.

My breath hitches and I’m spilling out onto my fist, hot and sticky. I bite my lower lip to muffle the groans from my throat. My cock twitches in my hand and I mumble out a single ‘ fuck’ as I sink further into the seat. I still continue to stroke my softening cock, unintentionally spreading my cum along the shaft as I watch Brendon inch closer to coming undone. His eyes are closed and he’s slightly hunched over. He throws his head back as he comes into his hand with a loud, guttural moan. It echoes off the walls of the office and I hope no one heard him.

He grabs a few sheets of tissue from the tissue box on his desk and begins to clean himself. His hands, his cock… And tosses the cum stained tissue into the garbage can underneath his desk. With a shaky sigh, he tucks himself back into his boxer briefs and pulls up his pants, zipping himself back up.

Brendon slowly gets up and grabs a few tissues from the box. He walks over to me hand me the tissues and I take them with shaky hands. I mumble a thanks and I clean myself as he watches.

“ You’re so beautiful when you come.” He tells me. I look at him; his belt is still undone and he looks so fucked. His lips are swollen, his hair is slightly askewed, and there’s a red tinge to his neck and cheeks. He still hasn’t come down yet.

I don’t say anything. I wipe my hands after I tuck myself back into my boxers. I ball up the tissues in my hand. I get up from the seat, my pants hanging off my hips, and grab him by the nape of his neck with my free hand, pulling him into a kiss. He’s willing, oh so willing and responsive to me. I can taste myself on him and groan into his mouth. I shouldn't be aroused by this but I am. We pull apart, breathing heavily, and I wonder if we’re ever gonna come down from this. I can feel his hands on my hips, reaching for my pants. He pulls them up over my hips and zips me up.

I must look like a fucking mess right now. In my right hand is a wadded cum stained tissue, in my left hand I’m trying to shake off the tingling sensation running throughout my body, and directly in front of me I can still feel the heat radiating off of him.

I toss the tissue on to the chair behind me. I kiss him again, this time just on the lips, before buckling my belt.

“ This can’t… just be a thing.” I say to him. “ Like, we need to arrange these… rendezvous.” I pull away from him.

“ There’s no fun if it's planned,” Brendon tells me. I pick up the tissue off the seat and walk past Brendon to throw it out in the trash can. “ Spontaneity makes it all the more better.”

Brendon walks to his desk and grabs a sticky note and a pen. He starts writing some things down in a haste before ripping the note off the pad. He walks over to me and hands me the yellow sheet. I look at it; there’s an address written on it.

“ This is the address for whenever you want to do this . Just call me, text me, whatever.”

It looks like an address down in Battery Park somewhere. A second apartment? I pocket the sticky note.

“ This is also for you?”

“ That address is for you whenever you want to ‘plan’ our little arrangement. I, on the other hand, have no intentions of planning any of this. By the way, I’ll be hosting a little yacht party in the Hamptons two weeks from now on Sunday. I’d like you to be there.”

Part of me is saying I should avoid it. Just decline him and stick to keeping up this writer facade. Get the dirt on the company and him. Don’t allow this little arrangement to go any further than where it has gone. Lead him on but don't give in. Keep him at bay, dangle the prize in front of him like a bone at a dog race.

His fingers come up to my face and brush a few stray locks away. It's a tender gesture. One that makes my heart race in my chest and throat go dry.

It triggers the other part of me that says that the only way to find the truth to this man’s claims is to take the plunge. Just keep falling and eventually I'll hit the bottom. And once I'm there, there answer will be waiting. Whatever that answer may be.

“ Sure. I’ll be there.”

Brendon smiles at me. “ I’ll send you the details.”

It isn’t until I’m in the men’s restroom, washing my hands in the sink, that the anxiety of my decision comes crashing down on me. I thought I had control of the situation.

I absolutely do not. I lost control the moment I got on my knees in that bathroom at my best friend’s wedding.

Chapter Text

Impulse.

According to the Webster Dictionary, it means ‘a sudden spontaneous inclination or incitement to some usually unpremeditated action’. In other words, reckless behavior. Something I've always had an problem with. I've always denied it. If someone would bring it up, ‘Hey, Ryan, you need to stop acting on impulse.’, I would immediately tell them that it's not impulse, its intuition.

Breaking up our high school band was an impulse decision. Switching my major from law to creative writing after the first two weeks of university, much to the disappointment of my family, was an impulse decision. Joining the DEA, to the mix reactions of friends and family, was also an impulse decision. So many decisions in my life were made through impulse. I didn't reflect on these choices --- I just did them because I believed that something inside told me I needed to do them. There was something, an incident or event, that forced my hand to act.

We were about to graduate high school and my father wanted me to focus on a guaranteed future. That’s why I broke up the band. I wasn’t happy following my father’s vision. That’s why I changed majors to something I felt I was better at. Seeing my friend succumb to prescription drug abuse -- that’s why I joined the DEA. I could have taken time out to thinking about my options; did I really need to break up the band? We were doing so well and had we pushed a little bit more, we probably could have gotten signed.

If I had just stuck it out, I probably would have graduated with a law degree and working at a big practice somewhere, assuring my father that I would be alright before he died.

And this job. If I had stuck to what I was doing, freelance writing, I would have had the time to be there when my friend needed me most.

Control is something I need to learn. I've always struggled with it. Perhaps it runs in the family -- my mother didn't have control, enough so that she left us. And while growing up I resented her for leaving me behind, I eventually realized that she was too young to play a wife, a mother, and still keep a man fifteen years her senior happy at twenty. My father was stable and stern; my mother felt trapped and was, in effect, rootless and unsteady.

Someone said you can't be like your parents because you're your own person. I like to think that person is a liar. I'm every bit like my parents.

It's why I coerced an informant into giving me weed.

“ Let's talk childhood.”

It's also why I'm poking the bee’s nest as I sit in this high class restaurant where the cheapest thing on the menu is a caesar salad at eighteen dollars. It's why I'm playing the role of a writer slash fuck boy for the enjoyment of a billionaire. I could have said no months ago.

But I didn't.

Maybe because I enjoy the impulsiveness of it all.

“ Let's talk about it then.” Brendon picks up his glass of white wine and takes a sip. Before him is a half eaten lunch consisting of tilapia and roasted vegetables. I just have a glass of water with three lemons. “ What do you want to know?”

“ How was it?”

He puts his glass down, shifts into a more comfortable position in his chair, and sighs. “ It was an average childhood with average parents.”

I scoff and lean forward. I point my pen at him, “ There’s more to it than that,” I press. “ No one with an average childhood can have your lifestyle.”

Yacht parties don't go hand in hand with modest, simplistic religious childhood upbringings.

The party that I was invited to had happened three weeks ago. It was more or less, uneventful. With all that I had heard from Jon and Spencer, I was expecting to be surrounded by dancers, food, alcohol, and rich people high out of their minds. Instead, I spent most of that Saturday talking to some tall guy -- Dallon I think his name was -- about the rock and roll and whether the genre was dying or not. I nursed the one beer I had got the moment I stepped on the yacht throughout the party.

There were less than ten people on that boat, and all were dressed like they were vomited out of the catalogue of the Ralph Lauren’s Polo spring collection. They drank wine, had cheese and crackers, and talked about town gossip.

None of it was about drugs. No one was smoking drugs. No one was snorting drugs. No one was even entertaining the topic of drugs. I did learn that Amanda Feinstein is sleeping with her trainer because her husband, David Feinstein, is having an affair with his secretary that is twenty years his junior. There could be a divorce, but there’s no pre-nup, so everyone is anticipating the eventual blow up from that cluster fuck of a marriage.  

And then there was the elephant in the room.

I would not deny that I was a bit anxious, if not excited, at the prospect of another hook up with Brendon. It seems to be his modus operandi: catch me in an unlocked room when there’s a bunch of people nearby and try to get off before anyone comes in. There were many chances for that to happen down in the rooms of the yacht -- the kitchen, one of the bedrooms, the bathroom -- but nothing happened. We spoke for a bit but he was busy being Brendon Urie, billionaire extraordinaire, and I was busy being Ryan Ross, pathetic undercover agent with an itch.  

Much like now.

“ My father is a doctor and my mother is a dentist,” He tells me. “ I am an only child and grew up in Utah. I did not want for anything.”

Right. Okay. Whatever you say.

“ Only child? I'm an only child too.”

“ Really?” Brendon looks interested. Hun, weird. The only time he's ever seemed interested in anything I say involves an eyefuck which leads to, well, yeah .

Brendon is never interested in what I have to say. This is a new side to him.

“ Yeah. Single parent upbringing. So it was just me and my dad.”

“ Must have been hard, hun? What happened to your mom… Did she, uh, die?”

“ No, she ran away. ” Brendon mouths an ‘oh’, like he just realized he hit a sore spot. I shrug and stick my pen into the spiral bind of my notebook, “ Living with my dad was like living in a bachelor’s pad. Sports, rock n’ roll, and TV dinners. What about you?”

“ I grew up as a Mormon. So everything was very, uh, healthy. My body's a temple and all that.” He grabs his pack of cigarettes and lighter off of the table and pulls one out. He brings it to his lips. “ Obviously I could care less these days.” He says, words slightly muffled as he lights the cigarette. He inhales the smoke and exhales as if to make a point.

“ There was a lot of Mormons that went to my school.” I say, “ I have no idea on what they ate half the time.”

“ Yeah, well, it wasn't TV dinners, I assure you.”

I laugh. The way he said it is dripping with dry sarcasm, something I did not know he was even capable of. High energy and over excitement, yes, but not sarcasm. That is something usually left for me. He isn't smiling and he doesn't have his usual lazy smirk that implies that the conversation is over to make time for sloppy make out sessions and hand jobs. I guess we’ve touched upon a sore topic.

He finishes his wine and flags a waiter over for the check.

“ So why then? If you love your parents and had an average childhood, why leave the church?”

He looks at me as he reaches for his wallet, “ Religion is filled with hypocrisy. Look, this is what I think,” He takes out an AmEx card and puts it in the black check holder that the waiter put down on the table. “ Jesus turned water into wine, right. Mormons can't drink alcohol. Can't even consume foods that are cooked with alcohol. Yet our lord and savior was throwing back wine and bread like it was a buffet at the Olive Garden.

“ So how come the Son of God can throw back some sangria and I gotta refrain from coffee because my body's a temple? It's fucking stupid.” The waiter comes back and takes the check holder. He quickly disappears again, as if not to disturb Brendon in the middle of his rant on religion, “ I don't doubt there's some spiritual being out there but religion is bullshit made up by old men on power trips. Jesus was chillin with everybody and yet black men couldn't become an ordained minister until the 1970s? It's a bunch of bullshit.” He sighs as he runs a hand through his hair. “ What about you? Aren't you from Vegas? Why do you even care? People other than the Mormons go to church out there?”

I start idly playing with the frayed paper stuck in the metal coil, “ I'm a lapsed catholic. I haven't stepped inside a church since my dad died so I guess that's what you could call it.”

“ So you're religious?”

“ I don't know. I don't care enough start doing Hail Marys and confessional.” I pull a frayed paper out of my notebook and start rolling it into a ball. “ I just don't care.”

The conversation abruptly ends. The waiter comes back to drop off the receipt and credit card authorization check for Brendon to sign, which he quickly does. The waiter doesn't hesitate to take the book back and disappears leaving us to our awkward, post religion rant, silence.

Maybe religion is a rough topic for him. The way he became so animated about the hypocrisy of the church seems like something must have went wrong growing up. It could also explain his rumored wild lifestyle.

I've grown up to not care about things in life. My mother’s absence fucked me up as I got older and I had irrational bouts of anger in middle school. But then by high school I realized almost every other kid had divorced parents or their parents were going through a divorce. My emotions went from anger to lethargic so fast that when I decided to let my father send me back up to Seattle for the summer in my senior year, I didn't care anymore. I felt odd. Empty, yet at peace with my situation.

The perfect four bedroom house provided by her perfect second husband and home to her two perfect kids could have gone down in flames around me, and I would have sat there with a s'more on a stick and declare that everything was fine.

Yeah, no, I'm okay, would you like a s’more?

We still don’t have a relationship. There’s the obligatory Christmas card; the one with the entire family on the cover with their two dogs, all dressed in sweaters in red and white color coordination. Two college bound sons, a perfect supporting housewife and a dentist for a husband. Perfect smiles to go with a seemingly perfect family. Merry Christmas from the McAdams Family.

Of course, I don’t actually get the invitation to appear in the photo. I am the secret son no one knows about. Just another name on the list to receive the impersonal Christmas card. Can’t connect a Ross to a McAdams, after all.

I can get aggravated, annoyed, perhaps even irritated when shit starts falling apart. But I don't let shit linger deep inside me. Why be angry at my mother when nothing she has done, or going to do, will affect me. That family is two thousand miles away in a rain drenched city in the northwest. I don’t care what they do.

Brendon, on the other hand. He’s different. As I watch him get up from the table with a cigarette hanging from his lips, in a short sleeved grey oxford and tie that contrast greatly against his mismatched tattoo sleeve, I learn that he carries a lot more weight on his shoulders than he cares to admit.

He's just good at hiding it.

 

##

 

“ How is that book coming along?”

Spencer is washing plastic jugs in the sink. He works efficiently, one hand armed with a spray jet and the other with a plastic jug, quickly rinsing them off and putting them on racks to dry. The coffee house is empty save for himself in the corner by the sink and two part time employees. They're both deep in a conversation about one of their boyfriends, not entirely focused on actually doing their job despite their boss actually being no less than twenty feet away.

But Spencer is like that. He just enjoys working.

I shrug as I lean over the counter with my forearms resting on top. There's been zero progress on this book and absolutely nothing has been happening that would even remotely connect Brendon to this underground drug trade. I don’t even know why I even care about the book; it's not like the damn thing is going to matter once he’s finally arrested on drug trafficking charges.

“ It's been going… uh… Alright.” I say. Spencer rinses off the last plastic jug and puts it on the rack.

“ You've been spending a lot of time with him, no?” He wipes his hands dry on his apron. “ I think you're with him every other day.”

I haven’t spoken to Spencer since he left to Fiji a month ago for his honeymoon. I’m assuming whatever text messages I sent him were lost in the international data waves since I never got an answer back. Spencer seemingly knowing that a lot of my time has been spent with Brendon Urie at my side seems a bit questionable when we haven’t spoken since he’s gotten back. Then again, even though he hasn’t been straight with me on it, Spencer and Brendon seem to talk about a lot of things concerning me.

Brendon doesn’t hesitate to mention it every time we meet up. Oh, Spencer said this about you. Yeah, Spencer mentioned you would do something like that.

Spencer apparently says a lot of things about me to him.

I would be alarmed if it wasn’t for their wives being best friends. I wonder if they all have dinner with each other, gathering around a large table eating fine food and drinking smooth wines, all the while talking about me -- the pauper that has managed to weasel himself into their social circle.

It really isn’t that out of the ordinary, considering the factors at play.

“ There's a lot to write about.” I say with a shrug. Spencer hums like he suspects I'm leaving some details out. I don't bother to entertain his curiosity, if he has any. I’ll leave it to Brendon to spill the beans on this little arrangement we have.

“ I'm sure there is.” He begins to untie his apron. “ What else has been going on?”

“ Nothing worth talking about. What about you? How's the married life?”

Enough about me. More about you.

He pulls the apron up and over his head. “ Surprisingly no different than before. Then again we were already legally married before the actual wedding date and living together way before that so maybe that's why things don't seem all too honeymoony .”

“ I wouldn't know anything about that,” I say as I stand up and stretch the kinks out my back. Spencer walks into the storage room with the apron in hand. “ Though, you never told me about Fiji.” I call out in the direction of where he's at.

“ It was hot. Tropical.” He says as he steps out from the room. “ Lots of sex. Drinks. Good food.” He looks at me and holds crosses his arms and smiles. “ Did I mention the sex? No? Well, there was lots of it.”

“ Wow, Spencer, and here I thought you were just going to lock yourself up in your hotel room and crunch numbers all day.” I say dryly. He laughs and shakes his head.

“ Don't confuse me for you.”

I give him a look. He ignores me as he pops open the bar counter door and steps out from the bar. I move out the way to give him some space. He gently closes it and sticks his hands in his pocket.

“ I'm done for the day so you wanna grab a beer or something?”

I raise an eyebrow. I thought he was completely dry but I guess I was mistaken.

I’ve been making a lot of mistakes -- it’s been my track record for the past couple of months. Impulses and assumptions be damned. Spencer chuckles as he puts a hand on my shoulder, giving it a firm, reassuring squeeze.

“ I'm not going to have anything,” He takes his hand away. “ Jesus, you look like you're about to freak out there. Let's just get out of here.”

Guess I was wrong. He leads the way without even looking back to see if I’m following. We leave his coffee shop, not before he bids his employees goodbye for the day and they reply back like one of his Angels. I wonder if it's some job requirement; that everyone has to greet him like he’s Charlie. They do it every time in that sweet, sickening sing-song voice that seems borderline flirtatious than professional.

“ They think its funny,” Spencer tells me as we’re walking down the sidewalk, reading my mind as always. “ I don’t know why they do it. Must be some kind of inside joke.”

“ I don’t see you objecting to it.”

He shrugs with a grin, “ Why would I?”

It's already the middle of August and the concrete jungle feels like a sauna. Just as we round the corner, a group of kids are trying to open a fire hydrant; one is standing on the corner as a lookout while two boys try to pry the hydrant open surrounded by younger kids in shorts and light t-shirts

There’s been a crackdown city-wide recently on the issue of people opening fire hydrants, with campaigns lead by the councils to encourage the kids to do something more productive with their time rather than cause the taxpayers problems. A few more twists from a wrench too big for their scrawny hands and the cap falls off with a cheer from the kids. They immediately work on the top nut to get the flow started with encouragement from their friends.

“ I sent you a few text messages while you were away on your honeymoon,” I say idly as we quickly maneuver around the incoming explosion of pressurized water. “ I don't know if you got them or not?”

“ Oh, you did?” Spencer doesn't feign ignorance but he also doesn't sound shocked either. “ My phone was off the entire time. Didn't even bother to buy a sim over there. Was it important?”

From behind us the kids cheer as the water is released from the fire hydrant. One thousand gallons of water pumped into the street per minute quickly drenches everything within a ten foot radius in water. The NYFD will be happy about this one.

I glance at Spencer. He has his usual smile on his face indicative that it wasn't a priority in his life. Unfortunately, Spence, it kind of was important.

I've been trying to reconnect with him since everything went down. It's been radio silence until last week when he finally answered one of my text messages. There was a string of apologies for not getting back with me in time coupled with emojis that seemed more like Morse Code than anything I could humanly decipher. I thought he was avoiding me.

Maybe he had found out about what had happened. Maybe he couldn't actually talk to me because he was afraid on how to actually approach the topic of two people he knows in a quasi-sexual relationship behind his back.

The lack of communication for such a long period had me thinking the worst of situations. So many thoughts were running through my mind I genuinely thought I had fucked up this time around.

But, no. He was just busy.

“ No, no not really,” I scratch the stubble on my chin. “ Just some things had came up and I was curious in wondering if you knew anything.”

Spencer stiffens for a brief moment and his smile falls from his face. I don't know if it's out of a gut reaction to something I said or if he suddenly thought of something unrelated. He relaxes just as quickly, and the smile is back on before he replies with, “ Well, what was it?”

I scratch my bare shoulder, opting to take my chances with the sun and risk a sunburn with a blue tank top. I think I'm successfully losing because I can feel my skin burning.

The electricity in the apartment has been on and off for the past few days because ConEd wants to conserve energy until the heatwave is over. It’s why I’m dressed like I’m ready to go to the beach. It's either this or be naked, and fortunately for the citizens, there's decency laws.

“ It's not that important.” I say, sticking my hands into the pockets of my shorts.

“ You're really not good at hiding your true intentions, Ryan.”

I chuckle. Oh, if you only knew.

“ I just want to know what you told Brendon about me.” I say as we turn on some random street I've never been to. We continue walking until we reach a small sports bar smudged between a juice bar and a coworking space. The beauty of gentrification.

“ I haven't told him anything.” Spencer says while opening the door. He motions for me to go first and I oblige him. It's like a joke between us, whoever is paying has to open the door. Silly but it's something that we do.

“ You sure?”

A waitress in black shorts and a tight black polo shirt leaving little to the imagination greets us. She grabs two menus and directs us to a booth. She puts the menus down on the table as we sit down, jovially explaining the lunch specials, and leaves so we can take our time to order.

“ Well, he did ask some questions about you and I answered them.”

I don't bother to go through the menu and neither does he.

“ What kind of questions?” I quickly follow up. I inwardly cringe when I realize I sound like I'm about to begin an interrogation. I try to relax. “ Sorry. Habits from the old job.”

“ Don’t apologize. No, I get it.” He flags down the waitress. “ A beer and a coke. That's all.”

“ Anything else I can get you?” She asks as she takes the menus. Spencer shakes his head and she leaves with the same smile she had greeted us with.

“ Anyway, this had to have been months ago, during the initial planning of the wedding. Brendon and Sarah had came over to the place for dinner. Linda wanted Sarah to be her matron of honor, which is why we had the dinner, sometime during the dinner Brendon asked about being the best man but I had told him I already had someone in mind.”

“ Me.”

“ Right.”

The waitress comes back with our drinks and the check holder. She leaves without interrupting.

“ So that was it?”

Spencer pulls the paper off the straw and rolls it into a ball between his index and thumb, “ Depends. He was curious since he never heard of you before. I showed him some pictures of us when we're in college and said you were my GBF.”

“ What the fuck’s a GBF?” I ask bringing the mug of beer to my lips.

He grins, “ A gay best friend.”

I choke on the beer, some of it coming out of my mouth and he's laughing. The son of a bitch is laughing. Real funny.

“ T-thanks, Spence. I really appreciate it.” I grab a few napkins and clean up the mess. “ So that's it. That's all you told him.”

“ Well, yeah. I told him you weren't always my GBF -- you had girlfriends in the past -- and that you came out in college. I said it was an interesting revelation because you weren't bisexual, like I had originally thought, you were like, gay , but yeah. That was it.”

“ Two girls; and only one of them I actually had sex with. On prom night.”

“ So you're telling me you had your gay epiphany on prom night.”

“ Probably.” I take another swing from my beer, this time a couple of gulps to swallow the conversation down.

It was an awkward night. One minute we’re making out, the next I’m putting on a condom and we’re fucking in the backseat of my 1992 Toyota Corolla. I barely got it up, we fumbled, I slipped out of her more times I could count, and came not even five minutes in. She didn’t even climax. She ended up pushing me off of her and rubbing one out.

I wasn’t even turned on by watching her. I felt like I should have been. All men like watching those cam girls, right? Spread out and rubbing it out on the internet with a camera so close to their cunts, men can fantasize tasting it? So I should have been turned on by it. A good looking girl getting off right in front of me.

But no. I just sat there pulling off a used condom and having an inner conflict. I thought I was bisexual. I had to have been bisexual. I liked girls…. The idea of girls, at least. Maybe. Fuck.

That night was supposed to be a badge of honor. Spencer didn't stop talking about that night for days. We had officially became men that night.

It was also the night I realized I was gay.

So it was more or less Spencer gushing about vaginas and breasts while I just nodded and dealt with my inner gay conflict. Good thing Amanda thought someone else was a better fuck than I was so the breakup wasn't bad at all. Oh you're cheating? Well, I'm gay.

“ Brendon says you spoke to him a lot… about me,” I say, trying to get back to the original topic. The one where I try to figure out if Spencer accidentally compromised me in anyway. “ But that's it. You just talked about my sex life.”

“ Yeah, sounds about right. Just that one time. And showed some pictures. Why? Something happened?”

I finish my beer, “ No.” He watches me as I put the empty mug down with a little more force than necessary. “ Nothing has happened. Just curious.”

Not like Brendon and I are in this fucked up relationship of sexual favors in quasi-public places because you told him about my sex life. Nothing happened at all.

 

##

 

I learn that becoming the shadow of Brendon Urie comes with notoriety that I would have otherwise not have had if I lived my normal, stress free life. While I have avoided galas and places that have the press flying around like vultures circling roadkill on a hot highway road in the desert, and my party tally only consists of the yacht from a few weeks ago, certain people still manage to point me out.

“ Hey, you're that guy that's writing that book. “ or “ You the one that is always around Brendon, must be great!”

But never, “ Oh, sup fuckboy.” or any reference to that . I should consider myself lucky that I haven't had my growing reputation in the millennial elite tarnished with the truth. There isn't a book. There was never a book. I have no idea what I'm doing anymore.

I browse a bookstore -- maybe I can find an autobiography or biography or something I can plagiarize if he ever asks for a preview. Someone he probably doesn't know about: Kissenger, Felt, Hoover, Cohn… Political assholes and figures that a thirty-something year old rich kid from Manhattan wouldn’t have a single iota of an idea of. Take a few words, change out the names for his, and viola -- a biography in progress. I can make him appear to be one of the biggest men in history. He’ll eat every word up, thinking that the world views him that way, and in reality of it all is just the biography of Mark Felt, the guy that ended up sinking Richard Nixon’s political career in a little scandal called Watergate.

I walk up and down the nonfiction aisle, fingers trailing against the spines of books. So many pages of words dedicated to people that, perhaps in a hundred years or more, will be insignificant in the mind of society. Actors, musicians, celebrities -- people trying to chase infamy and instead will be rewarded with a footnote in a television special hosted by D-list comedians as a passing fad that faded away as quickly as it came.

“ Ryan? Ryan is it?”

I stop. My finger pauses right over a biography of some model. Actress? I don’t know. I turn around and see a tall man before me. Very tall. But it works in his favor -- proportionate, not awkward or lanky like an athlete or, well, me.

“ Ryan…? I’m sorry, I must have got the wrong guy.”

I blink, shaking my head, “ No, no… I’m Ryan…” My hand falls from the book to my side. “ I’m sorry, have we met before?”

He smiles, it reaches his eyes, “ Yeah, we did. About a few weeks ago.” Nothing rings a bell. He fishes some more. “ On the yacht?”

Ding.

“ Dallon?”

Ding. Ding.

“ Oh shit. Hi, Dallon.”

The guy from the yacht. Mister rock n’ roll. Dallon… Weekes. Him. The only guy on that boat that didn't come off like an over privileged rich kid with too much free time. How did I forget him? Oh, that's right, I had other things on my mind.

I've seen him a few times before. The bachelors party. The wedding. The yacht. This tall, blue eyed enigma just existing in the background. He doesn't say much but he's aware of his surroundings. Even as I look at him now, he carries an air of certainty and awareness of the situation.

“ I saw you come in and I wasn't sure it was you but then I decided to get a better look and, hey, it's you.”

“ Right, right. It's me.” I say with a nod. “ I'm sorry, I'm not good with names or faces.”

“ No, it's cool. I mean, I've only seen you in collar shirts and pants that I barely recognized you in this whole outfit here.”

I look down at my feet. A pair of oversized Nike sandals. Ah, and the tank top and board shorts. “ Brownouts keep knocking the A/C off. So, uh, gotta stay cool.”

I try to look for an exit strategy. I don't want to be caught up with Brendon’s circle of friends. They're all nosy and once they start asking questions it's hard to get them to back away.

“ So where did you meet Brendon? Known him for a while or something? He's a real private guy so I just wanna know how you've managed to get so close to him.” He runs his fingers through his hair. “ I had never seen you before your friend’s wedding deal.”

See? They want to know everything. Where I'm from. What I do. Who’s my parents. What school did I go to. It's like a fucking interrogation every time. Except, this time, there isn't an excuse readily available for me to just dip out and avoid him altogether. I shove my hands into the pockets of my shorts.

“ Spencer introduced us. Uh, his wife and uh, Brendon’s wife are close friends.” I rock on the balls of my feet. “ I like to avoid the whole social circle if I can so that's why you haven't seen me. But, uh, yeah. It was just an idea and Brendon liked it so here we are.”

“ Nice,” He nods like he understands everything. “ Interesting.”

“ So how do you know Brendon?”

“ Me? For about two years now. We met at a music event and just hit it off. Music is sort of like that thing that we bond really well over. “

I really want to get out of here. Away from Dallon before he starts to put the pieces together and find out the truth.

“ He's a real cool guy and I think you're gonna enjoy working with him.” Dallon continues. “ I gotta go but it was nice meeting you.”

Maybe he's noticed how jittery I've become but he takes the hint. Like I said, he's good at reading situations. He can take a hint.

“ Uh, same to you.” I say as he extends his hands. I shake it and he gives me one last smile before he walks off somewhere, out of sight. Out of mind.

I stand there in the biography section quietly with a million thoughts running through my mind. I need to watch out for him. Keep him off track and off of me. If he continues to snoop around he will blow my cover.

I look at the book that my finger was just on and pull it out. A curvy woman is kneeling on a couch in a 50s style pinup pose while holding a phone to her ear. It looks like she's having a conversation but given how uncomfortable the pose looks, I doubt she has much to talk about.

I never heard of her and I'm sure Brendon hasn't either.

I hold it under my arm and quickly find the cashier.

I buy the book, not wanting to engage the teenager in any conversation about my purchase. Apparently the girl knows the woman on the cover. She asks who I'm buying it for, I say it's a birthday present for my wife. She thinks it's great. I don't really care. I come out the bookstore with a small black plastic bag containing a book about some model (I think).

Be impressed, Brendon, your life will be told through the words of a D-list celebrity that captivates eighteen year old Instagram model wannabes.

 

##

 

Another week passes and I'm sitting on the concrete floor, my feet dangling off the edge, smoking weed with Jonathan “the hypocrite” Walker. We past the joint between each other as we watch the sun set over the Hudson River since he decided to meet in the shadiest place ever that he could find -- the docks at Hell's Kitchen.

We needed a change of pace, he said at the last minute. Wife is getting suspicious and it looks weird to meet a guy everyday at the same time in a park. So what's the next natural course of action? A fucking dock in Hell’s Kitchen. Its textbook Martin Scorsese mafia movie bullshit.

He doesn’t smoke. He just holds the joint. Says a few things. Flicks the ashes and hands it back to me. If he’s willing to be generous, by all means, I’ll smoke it. I’ll smoke two. Three. I’ll smoke the whole damn tree.

“ It’s hot in the city.” Jon says with a lazy drawl. I look at him from the corner of my eye and take a drag. This time I don’t pass him the join and he doesn’t say a thing.

I’m still having to resort to tank tops, shorts, and oversized sandals. The brownouts have not stopped and ConEd has resorted to handing out dry ice so we don’t die in our apartments from heat exhaustion.

But he wouldn’t know what’s that is like in his cozy Long Island suburban home.

I take another drag.

“ Yeah,” I say, smoke escaping my lungs. “ It’s hot in the city.”

“ I read the report,” Jon reaches into the pocket of his jeans and pulls out an Altoids case. “ I don’t think Pete or Patrick are going to be pleased with the lack of progress on the investigation. It’s been three months. We’re at the halfway point.”

He hands me the case and I take it into my hand. With the joint hanging from my lips, I open it up to reveal five neatly rolled joints in brown, unbleached paper. I close the case, pocket it, and take a drag from the joint before passing it back to him. I guess this is payment for something. Whatever that is, I have no idea.

“ It’s not easy.” I say.

“ I want to believe you, Ryan, I really do. But there’s something here that’s not adding up. You said, in the report, that you’ve managed to get unfiltered access to him and yet you have not found anything at all connecting him to Mona Lisa. You went to that yacht party and there was not a single ounce of drugs on site? You’ve had lunches with him and he has not once had any phone calls or met with anyone remotely connected?”

I motion for the blunt, he hands it to me. I take the final drag and flick it out into the dirty, brown waters of the Hudson River.

“ Yep.”

“ Bullshit.”

I want to feel offended. Even shocked, really. But he’s right. I’ve turned up nothing and I haven’t been search for anything either. My reports are fluff pieces; I fill in with details to cover up the ones that I can’t talk about.

“ Maybe he’s not connected. Has that possibility ever crossed your mind?” I eventually say. Jon looks at me as if I just told him the Chicago Bears suck.

“ You’re not trying fucking hard enough, Ryan.” He snaps.

I want to be offended. Honestly, I do. But right now the weed is taking it’s effect and I just don’t care what he thinks. Not anymore at least.

It's hard to add weight to the words of a liar. Especially one who has a drug dealer for a brother and has his weed supplied by him. And now he's trying to get a promotion and is putting fire under my ass so he can get it? Yeah, it just gives me more of a reason not to go digging for evidence just so he can look good and I be discarded like tainted goods.

And perhaps it's irrational to think this way. If I took his word at face value, it was not like he had any say in the matter.

He still could have tried harder. He didn't have to stand there and throw me to the dogs just too look good in their eyes. I would have at least protected him from the Wonder Twins if it were me in his position.

“ Do you have any advice, then?” I slowly get up off the floor. Jon looks up at me -- he’s still cleanly shaven and his hair is nicely cut. He’s even wearing closed toe shoes.

Promotion perhaps?

“ Do what you have to do to get Brendon to talk. I don’t care what it is… J-just do something . If you don’t turn up results, Pete is going to be on my ass about it and I honestly can not afford that right now.”

He’s definitely trying for a promotion.

I lift my arms above my head and stretch. A little to the left, a bit to the right. Drop my arms and nod. If he doesn't care how and what I need to do in order to get what they want, I will just oblige myself to fine wines and fancy dinners.

“ Fine.” I say with a smirk. “ I'll just work harder then. Do something right?”

Jon gives me a look of skepticism, “ Yeah. Right.”

“ Got it.”

I wave a goodbye, forcing a smile on my face that Jon could clearly read as a nice ‘fuck you’. I shove my hands in the pockets of my shorts and wander off, trying to find the nearest bodega in Hell’s Kitchen.

I need to get my mind clear.

I buy a small bottle of Jack for fifteen dollars and quickly open the bottle. I'm not a whiskey kind of guy, I'm more of a beer and cheap wine on a weeknight type. But when I want to get fucked up, I immediately go for good ol’ Jack Daniels.

I toss the plastic wrap that covers the bottle cap somewhere on the street as I walk down 48th street. The sun is already making its slow descent to the horizon behind as I slowly walk around without a destination, feeling the effects of the joint I just took course through my mind, further clouding my thinking. It's good. I welcome it. I don't want to think anymore.

I open the bottle and pocket the cap before taking a swing. It's the cheap stuff, the quickly processed, ethanol masked with peat tasting whiskey and it fucking burns. I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand.

I guess this would be the point where I wander into some alley, lean against the brick wall of some building and cry about betrayal. Scream out into the world that I thought we were friends. Try to garner sympathy points from the audience.

It's not a movie. There's no audience here. Just the reality in knowing that I'm nothing more than of a chip for Jon to use in the advancement of career. He’ll destroy mine in order to gain on his own. What is crying going to do? Nothing. It gets me nothing.

I take another swing. One, two, three -- fuck this shit burns.

I am so fucking angry. My hands are shaking.

I reach into my pocket and pull out my cellphone. I go through the list of recent calls and find that one 212 number. The number refuse to save in this phone because then I would be admitting weakness. The number I have never dialed because I refuse to chase him.

I dial Brendon’s number. He picks up on the fourth ring.

Chapter Text

I've been avoiding this call ever since Brendon gave me that sheet of paper with that address on it. What we have going on now is fine. No strings attached handjobs in public bathrooms to get our rocks off. But this… I know what the implications of this call means.

“ Ryan? What's up.”

I lick my lips, “ Let's meet up at Battery Park.”

There's a pause on the other line. A few seconds before I hear his voice again, “ Sure. Nine p.m.”

Maybe I’m drunk. It would have to explain why I feel so lethargic about this entire situation now. I don't want to fight for control anymore. I just want to indulge in myself for a while. This is a mad goose chase that is not doing anyone any favors. I’ve been on this case for months and nothing has implicated Brendon in any drug activities. If he had to be guilty of something, it would be of being a rich, manipulative asshole completely unaware of those around him.

I fucked up my chances of normalcy the moment I got caught. When this is all over, I'll be lucky if I still retaining my friendship with Spencer. How would I be able to face him again once he knows that I was using him to gain access to Brendon? Jesus, and of course, he’ll find out about the affair as well. Not only is his childhood friend a back stabber but he’s also quick to sleep with a married man.

Everything will come crashing down and there won’t be anything left to salvage in the aftermath.

So, yeah. Impulsive decisions. Like mother like son. I am running away, finding the easy way out. I’ll meet Brendon at that condominium in Battery Park. I’ll fuck my frustration out. I'll use him just how they're using me and when it's all over disappear into the wind with whatever dignity I have left.

I'm knocking on the door of Apartment 1720. It's 9:03 at night, the hallways are quiet save for the soft hum of televisions on the other side of the walls. No one answers the door. I knock again, louder this time, and I hear someone on the other side coming towards the door. I stumble a bit --- I feel the buzz. I'm high and I am pretty damn sure I am drunk. I finished the bottle of whiskey around 23rd street before getting on the subway, realizing Battery Park is pretty fucking far.

The door opens revealing Brendon in a black t-shirt and navy skinny jeans. I giggle as I lean against the door frame. My head rests against it and I smile lazily.

“ Hi.”

He smiles like he doesn't realize there's a drunk man at his doorstep.  Maybe he’s being nice. I appreciate it. He steps aside to allow me inside the condo. I push myself off the door frame and step inside.

It's a small one, minimalistically furnished with the bare necessities. It’s obvious no one actually lives in this apartment. It’s just here, waiting for the cheating executives to sleep around behind their spouse’s back without having hotel receipts as the smoking gun. There's a view of the very Hudson River, the Statue of Liberty, and the Jersey City skyline across the river. Very romantic, if one were to look at it that way.

I hear the door close behind me and the locks being set.

Click. Click.

This is it.

“ Do you want a drink?” Brendon asks me as he walks around me. I lick my lips and nod. Why the fuck not. Let's get blackout drunk so I don't remember any of this tomorrow morning.

I follow him into the kitchen. He presses a glass cabinet door and it pops open revealing bottles of liquor. Grey Goose, Hennessy, Bombay Sapphire, Patron… pretty much every top shelf bottle imaginable. Some look half filled, others practically empty. He pulls out a bottle of Disaronno and two glasses.

“ I'm sure you don't mind Disaronno on the rocks?” He asked me as he goes to the freezer and puts some ice cubes in the glasses. He pours the amber colored alcohol into the glasses to the halfway point.

Brendon turns around and hands me a glass that I take without hesitation. He grabs his own glass and lifts it in a salute.

“ Cheers.”

“ Cheers.” I say and then take a sip. Brendon mirrors me.

“ This is a new look.” He tells me as I finish my drink. It's sweet and not my type of drink but I'm too high to care at this point. I could literally eat cookie dough submerged in high fructose corn syrup at this point. “ Laundry day again?”

I snort and put the glass down on the counter next to me. I lean against it, crossing one leg over the other, and giggle again, hiding it behind my right hand.

“ You say that a lot you know,” I cross my arms. “ No, it's not laundry day. I have no fucking air conditioner because of the brownouts.”

“ Oh,” he takes another sip. “ That's right. Because of the heat wave.”

“ Right.”

He is so disconnected from the real world. Amazing.

I push myself off of the counter and walk across the small kitchen to Brendon. I stand just a few inches from him. He looks at me and doesn't react; the glass of Disaronno is in one hand, held up near his chest. He doesn't take a sip, just stands there and watches me. I take the glass out his hand without effort and finish his drink. I put the glass down in the counter behind him.

“ Your hair's getting longer.” Brendon points out. I reach for the ends of my hair. It's grown out past my nape now. It's just a mess of waves and loose curls framing my face. I've been meaning to cut it but something always pops up.

“ Can't be bothered to cut it.” I say as my hand drops from the back of my neck to my side.

Brendon licks his lips, “ Looks good on you.”

I take it as an invitation and kiss him. He doesn't react; I guess he's just shocked. But I'm not going to let him call the shots -- he's not going to be the one to tell me when I can and can not have him. I won't be controlled anymore.

I push my body up against his and grind my hips down into his own. My lips still move against his and he shifts against me, grabbing onto my biceps to steady himself. I pull away, just enough that our lips are just mere inches apart.

“ I… want to fuck you.” I say between heavy breaths. He doesn't say anything. Doesn't move.

He just stands there.

Then, “ I don't fuck people who are high.”

“ What.”

Who the fuck…. How dare you. How come you decide when we can and can not do this?

“ I don't fuck people who are clearly stone drunk and high.” He takes his hands off of me. I feel like he just threw cold water on me. “ You smell like weed and it's obvious you got shit faced before you came here.”

I scoff, “ Says the asshole who just gave me hard liquor.”

He rolls his eyes, “ I don't care if you want to drink until you pass out from alcohol poisoning. I don't want to fuck somebody who won't remember it the next day.”

I take a step back and laugh. Wow.

“ Fuck you.” I sneer. He raises an eyebrow.

“ Excuse me?”

“ You heard me. Fuck you. How many times have you came onto me without my consent?”

“ Hardly would I put it that way. ” He says with a roll of his eyes. “ I don’t force you to go down on me and you definitely don’t stop me when I go down on you.” I laugh -- I laugh like I just heard the biggest joke of the century.

“ I want to fuck you and I am going to fuck you,” I say as I take off my tank top. “ Because you said when I call you here, that's what it means. I won't let you dictate to me how this arrangement is going to be. It's just like you said, anything that happens here is under my rules.”

Brendon doesn't look phased. In fact, he looks almost bored with me.

“ Do you want me to suck you off? I can do that.” He takes a step forward and we're back in that personal space again, where I can feel his body heat. Smell his cologne. Hear just how rough his voice is. “ I can jerk you off. Will that make you feel better?”

His left hand presses against my chest, downward past my stomach, lower until it brushes against my crotch. My skin prickles from the touch.

“ You're fucking flaccid. You're fucking high. You're drunk and obviously pissed off about something. If I'm gonna fuck, I want to do it without having to worry about the fucking Poltergeist right when I'm about to come.”

Brendon’s pissed off. He doesn't show it; he looks unimpressed but I can feel that he's upset. I can hear it in his voice. His words are sharp and they cut like knives. He steps away from me and walks over to the living room. “ Sleep it off. I'll show you to the bedroom. Pick up your fucking shirt; don't leave it in my kitchen.”

Amazing.

I am standing in a kitchen at an apartment in Battery Park in nothing but my shorts and sandals. I thought I was going to fuck my frustration away but instead I get rejected. I feel like shit. In every sense of the metaphor --- my head is starting to spin, my stomach feels like it's been twisted upside down, and I can't even get it up even if I wanted to.

Fuck.

I grab my shirt as Brendon watches me. Slowly, I walk over to him and he wordlessly leads me into the bedroom.

The bedroom is large. Considering the size of the apartment, it seems odd for there to be such a large bedroom. A king size bed is in the center of it all with white sheets done up like a bed in a hotel. There's nothing else left in the room save for two nightstands on either side of the bed, both adorned with a lamp.

“ Sleep it off.” He tells me again. I sigh and walk over to the bed. I drop my shorts onto the tan carpet and get into the bed. I don't even get under the sheets, I just lay on top of them.

He walks over to me and kneels down on the floor, next to the bed. He rests on arm on the mattress as his other hand reaches for my hair. With a smile he tenderly brushes away the locks of hair that's fallen into my eyes.

“ I'm not going to ask what this was all about,” He tells me softly. “ But you need to sleep this off. You really don't look too good. Bathroom’s across the room.”

I moan in protest and swat his hand away. I don't want caresses or looks of sympathy. Here I am yet again being told to do something. Forced back into to place, reeled back in from impulsiveness.

Brendon sighs like a parent amused with a temper tantrum. He stands up and takes off his shirt, dropping it onto the floor and it's followed by his pants. He walks over to the other side of the bed and I feel the mattress dip with his weight. I turn over and look at him as he lies down next to me.

“ This is cute.”

I frown, “ It’s not fucking cute.”

“ Oh no,” He chuckles. “ This is cute.”

I swat his hand away and move to get on top of him. He doesn’t push me off, he just lies on his back as I straddle his hips with my dead weight, uncoordinated limbs. The room is spinning, my stomach is doing flips, but I am not going to let him tell me what to do. We have made arrangements to benefit the both of us and I won't let him back out of it.

I lean forward and kiss him. Softly, tentatively. I don't know if he'll respond to me. He didn't before. I want him to. I need him to because I'm not like him. I don't take advantage of others to achieve personal gain.

It seems like minutes but it was only a few seconds once he responds to me. My stomach does light flips and I can't tell if that's due to the alcohol or that I'm glad he's responding; that he wants what I want. I take advantage of the moment. I slowly coax his mouth open with my tongue and he allows me to deep the kiss.

It’s slow. We’re taking our time. There isn’t this dirty rushed haste to quickly get off.

I like this.

I grind my hips down on him as I break the kiss. I leave wet, open kisses on the side of his mouth, his check, jawline, down on his neck. I can feel his fingers weaving through my hair, keeping me close. His breath slightly hitches when I nip him lazily over his pulse point with my teeth before licking over the spot.

“ I want to fuck you, Brendon…” I whisper against his skin. Do I sound whiny? Perhaps. I haven’t fucked a person in months. Maybe even a year. I’ve been so busy, I’ve completely forgotten and that’s actually pretty damn sad.

I am going to get what I want -- just like how he gets what he wants. Supply and demand; that’s how the world works.

I grind against him again. I kiss him with an open mouth; sloppy and slow. My hand roams his body as I focus on trying to get him worked up. I slip my hand slowly down his stomach. We're both getting hard --

Wait. The room is starting to spin.

No.

No, no, no.

“ Ryan?”

I pull away and look up at him.

“ Fuck, are you going to throw up?”

My stomach feels like it dropped seventeen stories. I retch. I feel something come up.

Oh, I think I’m going to vomit.

Brendon reacts. Oh, does he react . He pushes me off of him and scurries off the bed. He grabs my arm and pulls me off with him. My legs feel wobbly and I stumble as he practically drags me into the bathroom. I cover my mouth, tasting the stomach acid, bile and liquor threatening to come up, bitter on the back of my tongue.

It fucking burns my throat.

Brendon abruptly opens the door and the it slams against the wall from the force. He’s dragging me to the toilet, but I barely make it, pushing him aside and quickly find the sink. I vomit directly into the glass bowl. It splatters against the edges in a disgusting display of bodily fluid. With a frustrated sigh and grumble about not making it to the toilet, Brendon turns on the faucet and watches as I continue to throw everything up. Disaronno, Jack Daniels, and stomach acid make for a great taste when it's forced back up my esophagus. I should have ate something.

I grip on to the white marble countertop as I empty my stomach in the sink. I feel Brendon’s hand on my back, rubbing circles between my shoulder blades. I don’t understand him.

“ This is why I don’t fuck drunks.” He says idly as I slowly lift my head, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. It stinks. I fucking hate the smell of vomit. I quickly grab the nozzle and spray water around the bowl, trying to rid any reminders of what I just embarrassingly did down the drain.

I cup some water into my hand and drink it. I gargle it, swishing it in my mouth a bit and spit it out. I do it again, and again, until the taste of vomit is no longer there in my mouth. Finally, I look at Brendon in the mirror, “ Fuck you.”

He kisses the back of my neck, “ Go to bed. I’ll be here if you need anything.”

He leaves me alone in the bathroom with the water running in the sink. I look at my reflection. What a mess. I turn the water off and run a hand through my face. I sigh loudly. I need to have better control of my life. I need a system. I had a system and it worked. Every morning, at seven in the morning, I wake up. By seven fourty I’m at the Dunkin Donuts. By eight thirty I’m at the DEA headquarters. By nine I’m at my desk.

Every morning. The same routine. The same system. No chaos. Predictable. No reason to act impulsively.

I want my old system back. I don’t want this anymore.

I take a deep breath and exhale. I step out the bathroom and look around the room. The bed is made up for me to get in, but Brendon is no where in the room. The lights are off, save for the city lights filtering into the room. I reach behind and shut the bathroom lights off. It takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but I eventually do. I look around the room and see the bedroom door is closed.

I walk over to the door and grip onto the door knob. I can hear Brendon’s voice on the other side. He sounds upset, if not frustrated with something. A business deal gone wrong? These business types get calls all times of the day and night, right? The saying is money never sleeps or something like that.

I slowly open the door. I don’t open it all the way, I decide to stay in the bedroom and try to make out the conversation. He’s too far, probably somewhere in the kitchen. I can't make out much, just words here and there. I open the door further and stick my head out.

He doesn't notice. He’s pacing the kitchen in his boxer briefs, a hand in his hair, while the other holds his phone next to his ear.

“ Yeah… yeah …Completely fucked up out of his mind. I know. I’m trying….” A frustrated sigh. “ I am doing that… Fine. I still think we should bring him…. No, don’t fight me on this. I know what I’m talking about.”

Is he talking about me? I want to hear more but I don’t want to give away that I can hear his conversation. Who is he talking to?

“ It won’t backfire.” Another sigh. “ Fine. Remember, this was your idea.”

I open the door all the way and walk into the living room.  But too loudly to let him know I'm in the room. Brendon looks up and sees me standing by the black leather couch. He doesn't look startled, so I guess the conversation wasn't about me. He smiles at me and I smile back.

“ I gotta go, baby.” He says as he watches me. “ Yeah, I know. I’ll be home on Monday. Love you.” A pause, as he listens to the person on the other line. “ Bye, bye.”

He hangs up the call.

“ Who was that?”

“ My wife.” He simply says and tosses the phone onto the counter. He walks over to me. “ Why don’t we just sleep this off. You don’t look so good. What did you have for dinner?”

“ I had Jack Daniels for dinner.” I say dryly. I still feel like shit.

He laughs and shakes his head. I don't react. I just watch as he walks over to me. He grabs my hand and I let him take me back into the bedroom.

I let him.

I let him get me into bed. I let him pull the covers over me. I let him get in bed next to me and pull me into him, an arm wrapped around my shoulder, my head tucked under his chin.

I lie there as I watch him lift a hand into the air and pull at invisible strings while humming a song I have never heard before. I watch those fingers pluck to an unknown melody and slowly drift off to the idea of him being nothing more than a puppeteer -- pulling strings at will.

When I wake up the next morning, with a piercing hangover, he’s gone.

##

 

“ Do you always hang out here?”

Dallon Weekes, the freakishly tall friend of Brendon is standing next to me in this bookstore and I have no idea where he came from. He looks too clean cut compared to Brendon’s usual circle of friends and they’re pretty clean cut. No tattoos, light blue shirt sleeve oxford shirt and a red bow tie, tan slacks and a standard no frills haircut that anyone could get in the city for less than ten dollars with a tip. He looks like a fucking missionary trying to convert this city’s sinners.

How does he keep finding me?

“ I like books.” I mumble as I sort through the bargain bin for something interesting to read.  “ I'm a writer.”

Dallon smiles. A genuine, interested in what I am saying, smile. “ Wow. Well that must explain why we connected so well on the boat. I knew there was something different about you.”

My fingers pause over a book written by some guy named Shane Dawson. I look at Dallon and sigh, “ I'm kind of busy.”

“ Research?” He asks me, clearly not getting the hint. “ Research I’m guessing. These are all biographies.”

I glance at the book. I Hate Myselfie . I hate selfies too, so we have something in common. I have no idea who this guy is but apparently it's a New York Times bestseller. I pick it up and read the back cover. I put it down the moment I read “youtuber” and “comedian”. I wonder how low the bar is these days for D-list celebrities to make it on the bestseller list. If I actually dedicated my time to writing this book would I become a New York Times bestseller?

Maybe. Everyone wants to read about anyone these days if this… Shane Dawson book is any indication. I wonder what my writer biography would be… Former FBI agent turned writer Ryan Ross sold his dignity for a half year to write a fake biography on a potential drug kingpin.

Sounds great. Martin Scorsese can pick up the rights and turn that book into a movie masterpiece. I don't know what he'll do with all the gay sex but I'm sure he can make it work. For every blowjob he can have another headshot assassination by a mobster. It's a good balance.

“ Right. That’s what I’m doing.”

“ I’m a writer myself, actually.” He tells me as I pass on Shane Dawson and dig deeper into the bin. “ Comic books. I draw too. I’m trying to get picked up by an independent studio. “

“ So, you’re a starving artist.”  Hun, look at that. Tina Fey’s Bossypants is in the bargain bin for ten dollars. “ That makes two of us.”

“ Well, I work here so I won't lay claim to that title.” Interesting. So that explains why we just happen to meet at this random bookstore in Brooklyn. I just happened to pick the one where he works at. Great. “ Aren’t you Brendon’s biographer? I highly doubt you’re starving. You must be eating great being able to shadow him and all.”

He chuckles like he just made a joke.

My eyebrow twitches at the thought of Brendon. A couple of days ago I showed up to his company financed apartment too drunk and too high to even function. I nearly begged to let me fuck him only to vomit in the sink that he dragged me to because I would have vomited all over him.

Then after all that sweet comforting and tenderness, I wake up and he’s nowhere to be found.

No call. No text. Not even a fucking letter.

And while we didn't do anything that I can bother to remember, it still feel like a punch to the gut. I'm nothing more than a novelty. Something temporary. It reminded me to not start looking for something that isn't there.

I try to justify the behavior by thinking that I'm no different. That I agreed to this because I needed to get as close as possible to complete my investigation. But I can't because I feel like I'm slipping further and further away from the stuff that really matters: my job and my integrity.

Besides that mess, there was that strange phone call that I still don't know what it was about. I doubt he was talking to his wife. In all the times I've seen those two interact, none of them ever had Brendon speaking to her in such a flustered and tense manner. No, he was definitely talking to someone he did not want me knowing about.

“ … Party? You're going to it, right?”

I blink. Suddenly I hear Dallon again; was he talking all this time? I guess he was. I saw hands and a mouth moving but I couldn’t hear anything. The events of the other night just kept playing over and over in my mind. I look at him and he looks at me as if he just realized I've been ignoring him this entire time. My fingers slip from the books in the bin to my side.

I shake my head slightly like I need to grasp ahold of reality again.

“ Come again?”

“ The party in Harlem. Brendon sent invites for a party in Harlem this Thursday.”

“ No. I haven't heard anything.”

Dallon whistles, “ Aren't you his biographer?” He pauses, like he just realized that maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned it. That this was something that someone like me shouldn’t be privy too. “ Wait. Maybe. Oh, never mind.”

He questions himself. I fill in the blanks in my mind: Wait, should I know? Maybe? Oh, well, it doesn’t matter.

My interests perk up at the sudden, willful withholding of information. Never mind what? Should I actually know about this party? What is it about me that would suddenly make this party out of all parties a hush-hush deal? Have I finally found the lead to the treasure that I’ve spent months looking for?

Suddenly, Dallon Weekes doesn’t seem all that annoying anymore.

“ Actually, I did hear something about a party,” I say as I abandon the bin entirely and turn around to fully face him. I cross my arms over my chest. “ He didn't mention anything concrete. He's really busy, you know.”

“ Yeah, he really is.” Dallon chuckles. “ Oh, good then. I guess I'll see you then?”

I nod as I pull out my phone. “ Can you send me the details? He's just been real busy and I don't wanna bother him with party details, you know?”

“ Y-yeah, sure.” Dallon says as he quickly gets his phone.

I give him my number and he texts me the party details -- Thursday, August 3rd at ten o’clock at night. On the corner of 5th Avenue and 127th. There aren't any other details; it’s not like the usual invitation to a party hosted by the Uries. There’s no theme and it’s not being held in a fancy spot like the Upper East Side or somewhere out in Suffolk County, Long Island. I put the party details in my phone’s calendar.

“ Thanks,” I say as I pocket my phone. “ I’ll definitely be there.”

“ Can’t wait to see you there.” He runs his fingers through his hair. “ It’s going to be amazing. Like, mind blowing. ” He pats me on the shoulder and leaves me alone by the bargain bin of biographies.

I watch as he puts his lanyard back on and gets behind the cashier’s counter. He smiles as he greets customers as they walk in and out of the bookstore. His posture is stiff, if not almost retentive in trying to maintain a sense of respect and poise. As a customer comes up to check out, he handles her book as if it was delicate china. There's a precision to how he scans the barcode, packages the book, and holds the bag as the woman pays with her credit card until the transaction is processed and hands her the bag and receipt with a smile.

There's a charm to it. An almost sickening charm that seems processed and advertently genuine. Almost stepford in a way. If I wait long enough, would he break into a song and dance about books? I could see it. He's definitely dressed the part at least.

I don't know why he and Brendon are friends, let alone in that same social circle. I guess I will see why in a couple of days.

 

##

 

I haven't heard from Brendon.

It's not unusual not to hear anything from him for a day’s time. He’s been working on a particularly large project for the last few months and deal is about to close, so a day without Brendon is not unusual. If he doesn’t call me Monday, he’ll call me Tuesday. If not Tuesday, Wednesday. So on and so on. Rinse and repeat. He’ll call and arrange a place to meet -- the company or some restaurant, and we’ll hang out.

Or get off.

One or the other.

But it’s Thursday night and I haven’t heard a single thing from him. No calls. No text messages. Nothing. Our arrangement has purely be built on him contacting me. I never contact him; I refuse to. When he wants to talk, I go. Last Saturday was the first time I had ever called him and I managed to fuck that up royally.

I guess he’s avoiding me. I don't blame him. I would have avoided myself if I could.

I still find it weird that he’s kept this party a secret. I thought I had his trust. We agreed, I was to have unfiltered access to him. Yet, here I am standing in front of an apartment building in Harlem completely unaware of this ‘secret’ party that Brendon had apparently arranged. Maybe Jon is right, maybe I haven’t been doing my job. Maybe I’ve been played all this time and I've been put on a wild goose chase to hide the truth lying underneath the galas and parties in the Hamptons.

I can hear the bass thumping from the top floor of the modest pre-war apartment building. There’s sounds of conversation and laughter muffled between the staccato beats of the music. As I walk up the steps, a young couple stumble out of the building with high pitched giggles, falling onto each other to keep from stumbling. There's pink and green glitter crudely smeared against their forearms.  I walk around them and catch the door before it closes and I’m locked out the building.

The lobby is clean. Freshly remodeled -- an obvious ode to the gentrification of Harlem. I walk to the elevator and press the up button. The doors open and I step inside. As the doors close, I stare at the panel. I have no idea where this party is being hosted at. It’s probably the roof, but then again, it could be anywhere in this building. I press the button for the highest floor and ride the elevator to the top.

I step out with a exhale once the elevator arrives on the tenth floor. Smoothing my hands over my leather jacket, I follow the sounds of the party to the apartment at the end of the hallway. Apartment 10G. As my hand reaches for the doorknob, the door flies open and another group of party guests stumble out in fits of laughter. They don’t look like the usual crowd of Banana Republic wearing socialites Brendon usually surrounds himself with. These people look like young, drunk college kids and older who got word of a cool party in uptown. There's no need for RSVPs here; it looks like the invitations to this party were strictly by word of mouth.

I slip into the apartment and the stench of weed nearly makes me choke. The billow of smoke hangs overhead like smog in the city. The music is booming, the conversations are trying to compete with it, and since there’s so much pot being smoked, the room is just a purple and red haze from the lights.

I weave myself through the crowd, getting a feel for the room. A two bedroom apartment with a modest sized living room packed with people. The kitchen is filled with party guests making and serving drinks for each other. The dining room table is covered in platters of finger food and chips. There are people hanging out of the emergency escape, letting all the A/C escape into the hot New York night, turning the room into a hot and nearly suffocating sauna.

It’s definitely not a party I would expect Brendon Urie to put together. It seems last minute and unplanned. Something you'd expect happen at a teenager’s party after it got raided by the school’s jocks with a keg.

“ Ryan!” I hear my name and turn around. It's him.

“ Oh, Dallon.”

He looks different. No longer is he the tall Christian missionary from the bookstore, instead he is a guy in a grey loose fitting button down, partially buttoned exposing his chest, and black slacks. There’s glitter smeared on his cheeks and his hair is purposefully messed up. He looks slightly flustered, but it's obvious that he isn’t high. He’s still alert; the flush on his cheeks and the heavy breathing is all from his excitement from the party.

“ You’re here! Glad to see you made it. Are you looking for Brendon? He’s somewhere here.” Dallon says loudly in competition with the music. I wince and take a step back. I don’t think he realizes he’s screaming in my face.

I start to notice that there is in some sort of theme. Everyone has glittered smeared on their bodies. Faces, arms, legs, chests. There’s glitter everywhere.

“ Yeah, sure. Do you know where’s at?”

“ Last time I saw him, he was in one of the bedrooms. “ He gives my jacket a look. “ Also, aren’t you hot? Like, maybe you should take that off.”

He walks away, someone having caught his attention, leaving me standing in the middle of the party. I touch my jacket and consider taking it off, but then decide against it. Fuck him and his jovial, clean cut niceness even in a party like this. If I want to die from heat exhaustion from wearing this leather jacket, so be it.

I move through the crowd, down the hall where the bedrooms are located. To the end of the hallway must be the restroom -- there’s a line outside of it. I find the first bedroom, open the door and find a drunk couple on a bed making out. They don't even notice me. Typical frat party bullshit. I close the door and move to the next bedroom directly across the hall. I grab the doorknob and twist it. Its locked. I knock on the door and lean my ear against it. I can hear voices on the other side but I can’t make out who is actually in that room because of all the noise. The laughter, the yelling, the trap music… all of it is just a muddled sensory overload.

I knock on the door again. Louder this time and I hear footsteps approach the door. I step back and let the doorknob go as I hear the locks be turned. The door opens and there is Brendon standing right there in front of me in a white button down shirt with one button done in the middle and black slacks that hang dangerously low, revealing the distinct v-line of his hips. His chest has red glitter smeared against it, downwards towards his navel. Was he just about to fuck someone? Did I interrupt his fun? He looks shocked to see me here. Good. I just wave and smirk. Let me wreck and expose his little secret life.

I have the chips now.

“ Hi.”

“ Oh... “ He says, obviously caught off guard by my arrival. He runs his fingers through his hair. “ Oh… wow. Uh, hi.” He looks behind him and then steps out, closing the door behind him. He leans against the door as if to protect it. “ Hi, Ryan…. Why…” He blinks. “ Why are you here?”

I laugh, “ Why wouldn't I be here?”

“ I… have no idea.” His hand drops from the doorknob and he leans against the door. “ Who invited you?”

“ Dallon.” I say as if it was common knowledge. Of course Dallon would invite me -- why wouldn't he?  We are all friends, right? Shouldn't we all be in the loop -- especially the one who's sucking your cock?

Brendon sucks in a curse and he looks down the hall, where the party is at. I can hear him curse some more under his breath. I look in the same direction and see Dallon’s head above the crowd, standing out like a large tree in a field of shrubs.

“ Well, uh, have fun then.” Brendon straightens up against the door and grabs the doorknob. I put my hand over his and stop him.

“ What's the matter?” I say, stepping up closer. “ I haven't heard from you in five days. Considering how you're always blowing up my phone about wanting to meet somewhere, I just thought it was a bit strange that you suddenly pulled a disappearing act on me.” I nod towards the door. “ What's in the room?”

Brendon stands taller in an attempt to intimidate. I’m nearly two inches taller than him, so it's almost funny how hard he's trying to ruffle his feathers and try to play alpha male. I appreciate the effort.

“ Stuff that doesn't concern you.”

I tilt my head to the side, “ Really now? So this isn't apart of the arrangement?” I say as I point between us and the door.

Brendon pulls his hand away, “ If it was I would have invited you.”

“ Oh, or do you have another boy toy?”

Brendon laughs, “ You have one hell of an imagination. What if I do? What we have is insignificant. Did you honestly come here to play the jealous boyfriend?”

I push against him, pressing him against the door with my body. I slam my hand above his head on the door with a loud bang. My other hand rests on his exposed hip. I lean down, breath him in. I can feel him shiver slightly. He smells of weed, cigarettes and liquor.

“ You really are a self absorbed fuck to believe I'm jealous over you.” I whisper in his ear. He releases a shaky breath. “ You've been doing some bad things…. tell me what's in the room or I'll expose you for what you really are. Don't take advantage of my kindness.”

Brendon bucks against me but I hold him still. He's not going to take control from me. Party guests walk past us but they're too inebriated to notice two men pressed up against a bedroom door or care who they even are.

“ Fuck you. I will sue and destroy you before you even get the first word out.” He hisses.

I pull back and look at him. He's fuming but there's also a glint of fear behind his brown eyes. Does he think his little rich boy threats are enough to scare me? Doesn't he know who he's messing around with? I am a federal agent. I could shut this whole party down if I wanted to. Then what will he do then from his jail cell at the thirty-second precinct? Call his lawyer and say he's been framed by a federal agent?

Yeah. Try your best, Urie.

“ Idle threats.” My hand leaves his hip and goes for the knob. I grip onto the old, loose doorknob. “ Tell me what's behind the door.”

Brendon swallows spit. He eyes my hand on the door knob and then back at me.

“ You think I'm lying? I have more attorneys and cash to bury you alive. Do you think I care that you're Spencer’s friend? Don't fuck with me, Ross.”

He pushes me off of him with more force than I had expected. I stumble back and hit the wall behind me. I quickly move at him and push him out the way for the door. My hand is on the door knob and I look at him --

I'm daring him to act.

He sucks in a breath. My grip becomes tighter. I can feel the pinching of my skin against the metal.

“ Once you go through that door, there's no going back.” He warns me. His eyes are dark; he's serious. There's no playful glint to them.

Yeah, unfortunately for you, I fell in way deep months ago. I am just now finally hitting bottom.

I turn the knob and push the door open.

There are moments in life where situations can play out like a scene from a movie. A door opens during a tense moment, everything slows down as the hero embraces for whatever they are to encounter on the other side. There's slow motion cuts between the faces of those in the room, and then to add the final cherry: a heartbeat.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

I have just experienced that moment.

Holy fuck.

Now I know why he didn't want me here.

The room is bare save for a table surrounded by folding chairs. In the center of the table is a book bag and a tray of a few pink colored pills. Standing by the table is a big guy in a black suit and tie --- Zack was it? Another person is sitting at the table, but I have never seen him before in my life. He's dressed in a black hoodie and jeans. I can't even make out their face because of the sunglasses and how the hoodie is closed over most of his face. Dressed like that, it's obvious he's not here for the party.

Zack reacts instantly and Brendon throws his hands up. Like a well trained dog, he stops in his tracks and steps back.

Brendon straightens up and pushes me further into the room, slamming the door behind him at the same time. He locks it and the noise from the party is reduced to muffles on the other side of the wall. He pushes past me and buttons his shirt, leaving his chest and midriff still exposed.

It's true. All of it. Brendon Urie is Mona Lisa.

The hooded individual yawns and stands up. I can't get a clear look of his face but Brendon is tense. Something about this person has him freaking out. Which means that if Brendon is nervous about this guy in the room, it would imply that Mona Lisa isn't Brendon….

…. it's the person in the hood.

He doesn't say anything as he walks over to Zack. He leans up, whispering something in his ear that only makes the burly man nod his head. Drawing the strings of his hood tighter around his head, his face is completely obscured. Even through the little exposed opening, I can't make out who he is -- he's wearing a black scarf around his nose and mouth. He grabs the book bag and takes the pills. He puts them in the bag, leaving two on the tray. He walks over to the door, unlocks it, and opens it.

He pauses for a brief moment. Is he going to come back? It's obvious he's contemplating something. But, he steps out without saying another word and closes the door behind him softly.

Click.

Here I am standing in a room with a strung out billionaire drug dealer and his bodyguard.

“ Leave us, Zack.” Brendon says tensley. Without a word, Zack walks out the room on command. He doesn’t even look back. Simply out the door. I could have a gun right now. I could have a knife. There’s so much I could do right now and he just walks out trusting Brendon can handle himself.

Now there is two.

Brendon walks over to the table and traces his index finger against the plastic surface as he walks around it. He stops, pulls out a chair, and sits down.

“ Do you remember when I asked you if you knew me? Why I asked those questions when we first met?” I don’t answer. I know why he asked. “ What do you think is going on here?” He asks me. I open my mouth but nothing comes out. I don’t know what to say without throwing off who I really am. He sighs and rubs his face with both hands. “ Don't be afraid. I won't bite.”

“ Drugs.”

I sound so stupid. The word falls from my lips like a dead weight. He nods.

“ Yep. Drugs.” He leans forward and picks up a pill. “ These are prescription drugs. Oxycodone. Ever heard of it? “

Of course I have. Who hasn't heard of that fucking pill. I shake my head, though. I'm a dumb freelance writer, not an expert on illegal prescriptions.

“ It's opiod, you know, that thing that's killing suburban residences left and right. First, they have a little back pain and then get a bottle of Percocet. But it's not enough, so their doctor ups the prescription and give them something stronger. Purer.” He holds the pill up against the light overhead. It's a simple lightbulb hanging from a wire. “ Oxy. But then they get hooked. And they want more… but their doc’s dropped them and they have no other place to go.”

“ So they go to you?”

Brendon laughs and tosses the pill back on the tray, “ Do I look like a drug dealer? I make things easier for an associate of mine.”

I want to ask who this associate is, but I don't. I just listen. Brendon stands up and walks over to the door. He locks it.

“ I need to figure out what to do with you now.”

“ There's nothing to figure out,” I say calmly. “ What do you think I'm going to do? Rat you out?”

“ I don't know, Ryan.” He walks past me. “ You just threatened to rat me out not even five minutes ago. Truth be told, I don't trust you, Ryan.”

My heart drops. Shit. I'm so fucked. Does he know? If he does, when did he find out? I need to play dumb. Need to throw him off. Make up something. I clear my throat.

“ I smoke weed so you can trust me a-and--”

Brendon cuts me off, “ Weed isn't a fucking narcotic and you know it, Ryan. Don't play dumb with me. Even a grandma in fucking Colorado right now is smoking it out with her grandson.”

Point taken.

He sits back down and crosses his arms over his chest.

“ So what do I need to do with you to keep your fucking mouth shut.”

Shit.

What do I do? What should I do? How far must I go to earn this man’s trust? I feel clammy. My hands feel sweaty and stiff. I flex my fingers to get a feeling back in them. Fuck, fuck, fuck. There's no way out of this room. He's not going to let me leave this room in one piece. Zack is on the other side. He could definitely fuck me up with one hand. I need to do something to gain his trust and not jeopardize myself.

I take a tentative step forward. Then another. And another until I'm standing right in front of Brendon.

I think back to The Wonder Twins and what they said. If I do anything illegal I'm fucked. Weed is one thing -- but this? This is literal fire.

Agents have done far worst to gain trust. Much worst. Assisting in murders. Disposing of bodies. Trafficking drugs. When it comes to protecting the integrity of the operation, an agent must do whatever to save their life. They may never report about it but there's no way one can successfully go undercover and not participate in all activities.

So that is my justification for what I am about to do.

I pull out my cell phone and wallet. I look at the two pills on the table. My hands are shaking and I swear my heart is about to explode out my chest. I take one pill and slide it towards me. With my cell phone, I crush the pill carefully until it's a small mound of a pinkish white powder. I reach into my wallet and pull out a transit card and cut it into two lines.

I’m no stranger to this. I’ve seen it done countless of times. Busted people in the act. Seen what happens to people addicted to this stuff.

But I’ve never done it myself.

I can feel Brendon’s eyes on me. He's watching me. I lean forward and then I snort one line of the drug. I quickly stand up and till my head back, pressing a finger against one nostril as I fight the urge to sneeze it out. It fucking burns . I cough a bit. I can feel the powder sticking to the back of my throat.

Shit. What did I just do? I'm so screwed. I fucked up big time.

I don't know how many milligrams that pill was. Five? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? I'm not trying to get fucked up so I don't bother with the second line. Too much and I can go into a cardiac arrest. I'm playing this as smartly as I can. Brendon is still watching me as he stands up. He turns around and finishes the other line I left.

He doesn't cough. He doesn't look as foolish as I did. He snorts it like someone who’s done this before. This isn't his first rodeo and from the looks of things, it won't be his last. He turns around as he wipes his nose, and pulls me into his embrace. He cards his fingers through my hair as his lips rest against my ear.

“ I told them that I knew you'd be willing to do it,” He whispers against my ear. “ That you could be trusted.”

He nips my earlobe and places an open mouth kiss there.

“ They were worried, Ryan, that you were too clean. I was playing with fire by bringing you in. But I knew you could be a great asset.”

What is he talking about? Did he already take some before now? I lick my lips and just let him talk. Something isn't right here. Why do I have the feeling that our arrangement is beyond the details of a book?

His lips move from my ear to my cheek, down to my jaw, against my Adam's apple. He kisses me on the lips and I eagerly respond to him. It's slow at first, then it deepens, tongues slowly moving against each other, tasting cigarettes and liquor. I fist his hair and I push against him. He groans against my mouth and I kiss hard. I kiss him until I know I bruised his mouth.

I must be crazy doing this. I am crazy. I can not deny my attraction to him. He's offering me a feast I've always wanted, why would I just walk away? The situation is fucked up but I know now that I can control it.

I push him until his backside hits the table. We break apart and he sits down on top of the table, looking at me with such anticipation. I place my hands on his thighs and slowly spread his legs apart, stepping between them. His hands are on my arms, sliding upwards to my shoulders. He pushes my jacket off and I shrug out of it, letting it slide off my lanky arms and onto the floor.

He undoes the buttons of his shirt, revealing milky skin smeared with red glitter. I have no idea what the meaning behind the glitter is, but I let my fingers trail against the body paint. Speckles of glitter stick to the digits of my fingers as I trail downwards to his stomach.

I feel a tingle sensation throughout my body. I guess the drug is starting to take its effect. Oxycodone is a time release, but when you snort it, the effects are almost instantaneous.

Brendon reaches for the hem of my shirt and starts to tug it upwards. I let him pull it over my head and he tosses it somewhere in the room. I work on his shirt, pushing it off his shoulders. He breaks away from me just to take it off and then his lips are back on mine again.

“ I'm gonna fuck you,” I say against his lips. He nods greedily as he opens his mouth and lets my tongue slip in. It's so damn dirty -- I suck on his tongue and he moans against my mouth. He gets desperate, pushing against my body as our tongues move against each other. I feel the body paint smear against my skin, marking me like lipstick. My hand reaches for his crotch and I palm him through the cotton material.

He is so fucking hard. He moves against my hand, trying to chase the friction, obviously wanting to get off. I let him go and break the kiss. He moans in protest like a greedy slut but I ignore him. I'm calling the shots now, not him. I have all the cards.

“ Take off your pants.” I tell him, no, command to do.

Brendon gets off the table and without breaking eye contact with me. He first removes his shoes and then takes off his pants and boxer briefs, exposing himself to me. He steps out of them and kicks them aside. My breath catches in my throat -- this is the first time I've ever seen him fully naked. He stands there, breathing so hard, with his cock hard and flush against his stomach.

I lick my lips. I want to taste him. I want to have him hot and thick in my mouth. I want to turn him into nothing with just my mouth.

I kick off my converses. I unzip my pants and undo the button. I pull both my pants and boxers down and step out of them. He licks his lips at the sight of my body, his gaze lowering until he sees my hard cock. I hear him whisper an audible fuck . Yes, that's right. You're going to be fucked by me. Can't you see how hard you make me, Brendon? Can't you see how bad I want to be inside you?

I step to him and slowly get on my knees. I can feel the effects of the drug slowly coursing through my body now. I feel light, almost euphoric. It's like I'm walking on air and nothing can hurt me. I bring my lips to the head of his cock and kiss it softly. He sucks in a breath, sensitive to the touch. I dart out my tongue and tentatively taste the precum building up at the tip. Oh. I love the way he tastes. I mouth kisses against the length, trailing upwards against the underside until I reach his balls. I mouth them, teasing and eliciting a gasp from Brendon in the process. I pull away and lick my lips.

I take him into my mouth, holding the base of his cock to guide him in. I flatten my tongue against the underside of his cock, relaxing my jaw as I take him as deep as I can without gagging. I hear him hiss as I pull back and then take him back again. I work him, bobbing up and down as my hand strokes where I can't cover with my mouth. I feel his hands weaving through my hair, gripping onto my scalp as he starts to move, trying to fuck my mouth. I bring my free hand up and grip his hips, adding pressure to a painful degree. He stops moving, cursing instead, his grip on my skull tighter than before.

I pull off his dick with a pop and suck in some air. He looks down at me.

“ Why the fuck did you stop.” He groans, pushing my head towards his saliva covered dick. I slap his hand away and lick my swollen lips.

“ I said I'm gonna going to fuck you,” I stand up. “ I never said I'm getting you off. Get on the table.”

Brendon hops onto the table as I ordered eagerly. He spreads his legs and I step between them. With one hand, I start to stroke myself idly as my other hand traces the glitter on his chest. He reaches for me, a hand curling behind my neck and pulls me into a kiss. I oblige; opening my mouth up so he can fuck my mouth with his tongue. I groan into the kiss and stroke myself faster. I thumb the slit of my cock, spreading precum over it as some form of lube.

I break the kiss enough so that our lips hover over each other breathlessly.

“ Fuck,” I say, breathing heavily. I'm so fucking close. I need to be inside him. “ Get on your back.”

Without another word, Brendon scoots up on the table and lies down. His arm hits the tray and it falls off the table, hitting the wood floor with a loud clang. The pill drops somewhere in the room but I can't focus on it. No, I'm focused on this man on his back waiting for me to fuck his hole. I stop stroking myself and place my hand on his thighs. I spread him further.

“ Should I bother prepping you?” I ask as I bring a hand to my mouth. I spit onto my fingers. There's no lube so spit is going to have to do.

“ I don't fucking care,” Brendon mumbles, hand reaching for his cock. He starts to stroke himself. He’s probably too high to feel. We just snorted Oxycodone, after all.

I press a saliva covered finger against his perineum and he immediately lifts his hips to give me better access. I slide my fingers down until I feel the entrance to his hole. I press my index finger against the ring of muscle, feeling the resistance. I press again, harder against the resistance, and then push my finger inside of him. He winces and curses.

He is so damn tight. I pull my finger out and push two into him. He winces and bites his lower lip.

“ When was the last time you got fucked, Brendon?” I ask as I start to fuck him with my fingers. He squirms slightly.

“ I haven't bottomed in--- fucking hell --- ages.”

“ I can tell.” I crook my fingers, trying to find that spot in him that'll bring him crumbling down.

“ Fuck, Ry… “ He pants. I pull my fingers out and spit on them again. I push three fingers back in and he arches against the feeling of intrusion. I go deep, and push upwards and hit the spot that makes him gasp and moan. Found it. I start finger fucking him and he moves against my fingers, trying to ride the wave of pleasure as he mumbles curses and my name in a litany.

I pull my fingers out and pull his knees up, letting him wrap his legs around my waist. I can see his stretched, pulsing hole just waiting for my cock. This is what I wanted. This is what I've been waiting for and now I have it. I grab my dick and position it at his entrance. Without another word, I push into him and he freezes. I can see him bite his lower lip, fighting the urge to cry out. I guess the drug hasn’t completely hit him yet.

“ Fuck, Brendon…” I mumble. I'm not even halfway in and he's still so fucking tight. I push some of my hair out of my face and spit onto my cock a few times to slicken my cock before I push further into him.

I have never went bareback before. Even in my longest relationships, I've always used a condom. I’ve always used lube. I’m not in the game of ripping assholes or causing pain.

But now?

Now I'm not thinking about that now. Everything feels too good. Maybe it’s the fucking drugs, but I feel like I'm on top of the world and no one can bring me down. Every touch and every sound just feels amazing. And, he's just so fucking tight . I don't think I'm going to last long.

This will probably be the shortest fuck ever.

I pull out and snap my hips forward again. He licks his lips and grabs his cock, stroking it and trying to focus on anything but pleasure. I feel him loosening around me, and the saliva mixed with the pre-cum of my cock just makes it easier to move in and out. He’s relaxing and it's a cue for me to move more freely, liberally, as I try to find that spot.

“ Fuck, Ryan, you feel so good…” He mumbles as he fists his cock. I lean forward and he meets me for an open mouth kiss. I suck on his bottom lip before breaking away. My hips snap, slamming against his round ass. Can Zack hear this? I'm pretty sure he's standing on the other side of that door. He must know that we’re fucking. He must clearly be aware that I have turned his employer into a doped up whore on an plastic pull out table.

I adjust my angle, thrusting upwards. He freezes up and moans so loud that I swear the party on the other side of the door could have heard it. I guess I found the spot again. Brendon starts moving his hips, meeting me thrust for thrust as I hit his prostate with my dick. His legs hold me closer, tighter against his body.

I know that the table is moving across the floor, but all I can feel and hear is Brendon. He's all around me, in me, on me. He's the only thing I can register in my mind. I know that there's a party outside these walls but I can't hear it anymore. I am only cognitive of the sound of skin slapping against skin, guttural moans, and body fluids. He says my name over and over again. I reach for his hips and grab onto them for support. I can feel I'm getting close.

“ You're so tight…” I groan.

“ D-don’t stop.” He pants. “ Fuck.”

I push deep into him. I'm coming hot and thick into his hole. Was I supposed to pull out? Is he not into that? I don't know -- don't fucking care. He keeps me close so I guess he doesn't care either. He gasps and freezes, releasing his hold on his dick, as he feels me come inside him. I release his hips, leaning down and burying my face in the crook of his neck as I ride out my orgasm. I leave open mouth kisses against his racing pulse. I still fuck him through my orgasm with shallow, slow thrusts with the roll of my hips until I stop a few seconds later.

I push myself up and slowly pull out of him. He groans and winces as my cock leaves him, his stretched hole sore from the intrusion. I look at it and see some of my cum and other fluids slip out of the puckered, redden hole. His legs drop from my hips and he slowly sits up.

I drop to my knees and take him into my mouth again. I suck him hard and fast. I pull back, lick the head, take him in and tongue the underside, trace the throbbing veins, pull back -- repeat. My jaw is getting tired, but I close my eyes and keep at it. Sucking, licking, and tasting every bit of him.

“ Oh, god, I'm gonna come…” He mumbles. He pulls his lower lip between his teeth, fighting back the urge to sound like a loud, wanton whore. I pull back and mouth the tip of his cock lightly. I tongue the slit, tasting the bitter and salty precum and humming in satisfaction that I made him like this. My mouth turned him into this disheveled, strung out mess. I swallow him again.

Brendon tenses up and comes into my mouth. I take it, drink him down as he burrows his fingers into my hair and pushes me closer, deeper. I try not to gag as I am forced to deepthroat him, swallowing more of his cum in the process. Brendon releases his hold once he finally comes down and I pull off his cock. I suck in air and cough a few times, a reflex from the abuse on my throat. Fuck. I didn’t expect him to do that.

I fall back on my haunches and run a hand down my face. I don't know if it's the endorphins or the synthetic chemicals, but I feel strange. It's like a euphoria I never experienced before. I've been high, but never like this. Weed does not compare to the indescribable way I feel right now in this very moment. I wanna lie down somewhere. I wanna float away. Far, far away.

I stand back up and wordlessly walk away from the table to the center of the room. I slowly lie down on the wood floor with a quiet groan. Shit, I don't like the way this is going. I am starting to not feel anything. I roll onto my back and stare at the ceiling. I hear Brendon get off the table and his feet padding against the floor. He gets down on the floor and lies down next to me. He doesn't touch me and I don't touch him.

I don't hear the music anymore. Just my racing heart beat. Thump. Thump. Thump. I hear my breathing. In and out. In and out.

“ I feel like the world is far, far away.” I say softly. My body feels electrified. The tingling sensation in my fingers won’t go away. “ Everything is so far away and you are everywhere.”

His hand reaches for mine. I let him hold my hand, intertwining our fingers together.

My body feels so light. So light I don't even think I'm even in it. I want to move. I want to feel my fingers. My legs. I want to feel like I am in my body. I want to roll into Brendon and hold him but I can't just get my mind to will my body to do it. I’m looking down on me, at my naked body, lying there on this dirty, cold floor.

I feel him move next to me. I can feel his lips against my cheek. Mouth. Nose. Lazy kisses.

“We are going to run this town….” I hear him whisper. But it's so far away. I swallow but it's hard to do so. I nod, but am I really? I see myself nodding. I know I am nodding.

It's not long before my eyes become heavy and everything goes black.

Chapter Text

My back hurts. It's cold.

Where are my clothes? Who gave me this blanket?

What time is it? The sun isn't out yet so it can't be no later than five in the morning. There's a slight blue tinge to the night sky, so definitely morning.

I sit up and the blanket falls off my shoulders, pooling on my lap. My mouth and throat feel dry. I cough a few times and wince from the soreness. I need something to drink. I can still taste his cum in my mouth.

I stare at my hands resting in my lap. I can't believe I snorted Oxycodone and then fucked Brendon immediately after that. It was so surreal and, despite myself, felt so damn good. I felt so emboldened in those moments. Then, once the pill started to take its full effects, I came down so hard it. Just in a mere matter of minutes. It wasn't a psychedelic, it was more surreal than that. Lucid. I just existed. My body didn't feel anymore. I didn't care anymore. The room could have been raided by cops and I would have laid there naked on the floor and watched with a smile on my face and a numbing tingle pulsing throughout my body.

I ruffle my hair in frustration. Fucking hell. I should have faked it.

I hear the door open and I turn to see Brendon walking into the room with a towel around his neck wearing only a pair of sweatpants that hung low on his hips. His hair is damp; he must have just gotten out of the shower. At least he didn't abandon me this time.

“ Morning.” He greets me with a lazy smile.

I watch as he walks over to the table that's now pushed up against the wall. The table I snorted drugs on. The table I fucked him on. It must be covered in cum and spit and god knows what else. Disgusting. We didn't properly prep and that table is there just reminding me of every possible fuck up I made during intercourse last night.

Never fuck while high.

He leans against it and crosses his arms. “ How you feeling?”

I look around the room. My clothes are folded on the table. I guess he cleaned up sometime last night. Good. I didn't want to see the evidence. The chairs are folded against the wall under the window. Everything else is bare. Besides the table and folding chairs, there's nothing else in the room.

“ Where am I?”

“ You're in Harlem.”

“ I know that. Where exactly? Whose apartment is this?”

Brendon uncrosses his arms and rests them on the table, “ A friend.”

“ A friend.” I pause, trying to make sense of the situation. “ Okay.”

We don't talk for a while. He just watches me with an amused expression. I sit on the floor with nothing more than a blanket maintaining my modesty. I look at Brendon and can see his skin riddled with bruises -- no denying that it was all due to me. His neck and hips are covered in yellowish blue marks. I guess I don't fair much different.

“ You feeling okay?” He cocks his head to the left. “ You were out of it, like, not soon after.”

“ Yeah,” I clear my throat. “ I'm fine.”

I’m still a bit light headed. Other than that, surprisingly, I’m fine.

“ Good.”

“ How long have you been doing this?”

He blinks at me. Don't play stupid, you know exactly what I'm talking about. That’s why you know so much about not wanting to fuck people completely shitfaced. You’ve had experiences in the past but that didn’t stop you last night from spreading your legs for me, you lying sack of shit.

He purses his lips.

“ A while now. You don't need to concern yourself with the details.”

I cross my legs and wiggle some feeling into my toes. There's no tingling sensation; I don’t have an urge to scratch away the feeling of bugs crawling on my skin. I don’t feel like I’ve been kicked out of my body, watching everything I do from the outside like a voyeur. I’m back and whole again. The euphoria is gone.

Thank god.

“ Does she know?” I look at my feet. “ Does Sarah know?”

“ No. She doesn't need to know.”

“ So why are you doing this?”

Brendon scratches the back of his head, “ Because, sometimes you gotta do what you have to do to survive.”

His hands drop into his lap. He’s slightly hunched over as if he’s bored with the conversation already. No big deal; it is what is is.

Is he serious? He has more money in the bank than I could even count in a day. He could potentially solve the hunger issue in America. Probably could finance the repairs needed to actually provide Flint, Michigan with clean, fresh water. And yet he’s hosting wild parties as a farce to cover up his goddamn drug trade? Is he just going to lean against that table and say straight to my face that he pushes illegal prescription drugs to survive?

Is he that dumb? He has to be. He honestly has to be that dumb. He better have a good lawyer once this is all over because no judge or jury in this country is going to believe the straight up bullshit that he just told me.

“ Where do we go from here?”

Tell me, Brendon. What's the next step. How deep do you want me to fall into this pit of temptation and sin. How long will this arrangement continue? Should we even continue this charade. What do you have hidden up your sleeve. You spoke about things that made it seem like I am to be involved in something. So what is it, Brendon?

“ Nothing changes.” He drums his fingers against the table quickly and hops off. He quickly makes his way out of the room only to stop at the doorway. “ The bathroom is down the hallway. You already know where the kitchen is at. It's just us here so make yourself at home.”

He leaves me sitting on the floor. I can hear his bare feet padding off down the hallway. I slowly get up, holding the blanket around my waist. I feel a bit sore; it's obvious there are muscles that I haven't used in a while last night screaming at me today. I’m still light headed as well. Seeing how I’m still alive, I must have taken half of a 30mg. It would explain why I am still feeling these mild side effects of the opioid.

I walk over to the table and pick up my clothes. Everything is meticulously folded. My jeans, white t-shirt, leather jacket…. my shoes are even placed neatly directly under the table. I pick up the t-shirt and jeans and starting walking out the room.

Just before I reach the door, I step on something and hear it crack against the weight of my left foot. I look down, lift my foot up, and see pinkish white powdered crushed against the heel.

I move my foot aside and see the pink pill from last night broken in pieces.

The street value for a pill like this is around sixty dollars. Maybe even more.

And I just crushed it.

##

Jon whistles.

It’s a good whistle. One of those whistles someone gives when they read something good, something provocative. I like that whistle. It means I’m closer to getting out of this investigation. Closer to having my life back.

“ Wow. Just like that.” He slaps the report. “ You got him.”

“ Yeah. Surprisingly.”

“ Surprisingly indeed. Just like that? At some glitter party? Was there any significance to it? Was the people at the party doing any drugs?” He flips through the pages. “ Because I didn’t read any other details in this report.”

We’re sitting at a cafe in Newark. Now that I’m finally in, I need to be particularly cautious as to not blow my cover. Even if Brendon isn’t Mona Lisa, I still don’t know what his bodyguard can do to me if they find out I'm a rat. I need to be discreet.

I think back to yesterday, the day after the party. After taking a shower and putting my clothes back on, I walked into the living area to Brendon and Zack sitting at the table eating pancakes and bacon. There was an additional plate on the table with two pancakes and three strips of bacon. A cup of coffee was next to it. My serving.

The apartment was clean. It didn’t even look like there was a party held in it just the night before. Did they hire a cleaner to restore the apartment back to it’s original state? Someone to get rid of the evidence? It’s almost bizarre how there was not a single reminder pointing to the drug filled, house party.

What was even more bizarre was how the two held themselves at that table. They ate silently in this odd display: Brendon shirtless with damp hair and Zack still in his suit from last night. Add me to the mix with my jeans and t-shirt and I believe we would have created the new, bizarre Normal Rockwell interpretation of modern America. He would title it: American Juxtaposition, and there would be a depressing article from The Saturday Evening Post chronicling about how young Americans are destroying society with their sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.  

The pancakes weren’t bad. The bacon was alright. The coffee was cold. But it helped to have something in my stomach; the oncoming headache from the straight ingestion of a strong opioid on an empty stomach was not something I wanted to deal with. I ate silently, occasionally looking at Zack as he finished his plate of food. Did he hear us? I guess he did. He had to have heard us.

If he did, he’s really good at not letting anyone know. He just sat there shoving pancakes and bacon in his mouth, not once looking at me. If Brendon said something, he'd reply with a word or a grunt.

He definitely knew.

None of that went into the report.

“ I didn’t bother to figure that out,” I tell Jon, picking up a mug of coffee. “ It just all happened at once.” I take a sip and put the mug back down. “ How long until you guys pull me out?”

Jon raises an eyebrow, “ We need evidence. This isn’t substantial enough. We need audio, images, video… We need something that can concretely connect him to the Mona Lisa operation.”

“ Can’t you all just arrange---”

Jon sighs, cutting me off, “ That’s what you’re there for, Ryan. It’s your responsibility to build a case against him.” He slouches in his chair, pinching the bridge his nose. “ We’ve been at this for what? Three months now? And you’re still complaining about this case. Every time we meet you complain and complain and complain. Nothing is going to change.” He looks at me. “ What’s happening? What is really happening that you want to pull out of this investigation so badly? You can tell me, you know. If you feel as if your life's in danger, we have provisions to get you out.”

I look at the coffee in my mug. Is it really that bad? I just infiltrated the secret world of Brendon Urie. I am closer to this man than his own wife -- literally and figuratively. So why am I trying to get out? Everything is going so well. Anyone would probably jump at the opportunity I've managed to gain.

And after Thursday night, I finally have control over Brendon. I run the game. I call the shots. I finally have the control I've been seeking ever since I was forced onto this assignment. So why am I still angry?

I look at Jon.

I'm reminded of why I'm upset.

“ I'm fine. It's nothing.” I finish my coffee and fold my hands together on top of the table. I get comfortable and give him a smile.

I'm not going to allow my contempt towards Jon to mess with what I have going on. I have a good thing here -- a great thing and staying angry will only mess things up. So, Jon, I'm not mad at you anymore. I don't care if you want to use me to advance your career. Maybe if things pick up in your favor you'll be transferred again. Perhaps to El Paso. With the way things are going with the new President and his paranoia, they'll probably need a lot more agents on the border.

“ You sure?”

“ Positive.”

He puts my report back in the brown legal envelope, “ I'll get this to Pete as soon as I get back to headquarters. He's definitely going to love this.”

Yeah, I'm sure he will.

Jon cocks his head slightly to the left. He squints as he leans forward, “ You have… is that a hickey ?”

I bring my hand to the pulse point on my neck. Jon raises an amused eyebrow and leans back in his chair with a lighthearted smirk. Fuck, Brendon marked me there. We need to be a lot more discreet about this. I can't let him get away with marking me up like a coloring book. I pull my hand away and shrug.

“ Met a girl at the party. You know how it goes.”

Jon nods slowly. Right. He knows exactly how it goes.

“ Wow. I didn't think you had it in you.”

Without saying anything else in regards to the apparent hickey, leaving me with that heavy handed declaration, Jon stands up from the table with the folder in hand. He bids me farewell and safe travels.

I reach into my bag and pull out the Altoid case he gave me a couple of weeks ago. My thumb idly runs over the embossed lettering before I pop open the the lid. Inside are the five roles joints. I've been debating smoking them. Five premium joints fresh from the grower’s brother himself. It's a premium product, not going to lie, and if it was any other situation I would have smoked it up.

But something is telling me to hold on to it. That, more than likely, this is going to be my leverage out of a situation. I close the container and toss it back into my bag.

##

I shouldn’t be shocked when I see the text message from Dallon. I shouldn’t even be wondering how exactly he got my number. I gave him my details so I could infiltrate Brendon’s drug dealings disguised as a keg party for kids with too much free time. I am just perplexed that he is still insistent on trying to build some sort of relationship.

I stare at the message. It’s simple: Want to grab a coffee at Starbucks off of Flatbush?

It’s been a couple of weeks since that party. I would have expected Dallon to have forgotten me by now. Its also not like I want to see him in particular. I would have at least expected the same from him. Unfortunately, it seems that Dallon is cut from a different cloth.

I see him, I think of that party, and I automatically think of what happened at that party. Which, not surprisingly, has not been brought up in the days since. I’ve met with Brendon at his office but our relationship has been the most professional yet. We talk about that fucking book. Even if I attempt to infer to anything from that night, he'll dodge the question entirely. I am on edge. He hasn't even broken a sweat.

I considered blowing him off but instead I'm sitting at the said Starbucks with a ice latte in hand and an annoyingly jovial mantree across from me. He reminds me of that Broadway show -- what was it again. Oh right, the Book of Mormon.

“ Are you a Mormon?” I ask him, cutting him off mid sentence. Dallon blinks at first then he chuckles.

“ Wow, well, that's certainly coming from left field. Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am. I even did my missionary work. Two years in Japan. It was really great except the part where no one exactly knows what I'm talking about.” I want to be shocked. I really do. It’s just so hard to be shocked with a literal living and breathing stereotype from a Broadway play. He takes a sip from his water, then he's back at it again, “ I learned some Japanese while I was there, wanna hear some?”

“ I actually don’t--”

He cuts me off, completely ignoring me, “ Hajimey-mah-she-tay. Dallon day-sue.”

I shift in my seat.

“ Wow. Uh,” I take a sip from my drink. “ Nice.”

“ It means ‘ Nice to meet you, I am Dallon.’”

“ I'm sure it does.” I clear my throat. We've been here for nearly an hour and I still haven't exactly figured out what he wanted from me. I've learned about his comic book obsessions and how much he loves Little Shop of Horrors but, fuck , can he just get to the point. I don't wanna be friends.

“ Well, enough about me. I want to know what happened back there at the party.”

Another sip, “ What party.”

You didn't call me here to talk about that party.

“ You know,” He cups a hand around his mouth and leans forward, talking from the side of it, “ The glitter party.”

Ah. You are.

“ Nothing happened.”

Nothing that concerns you. He looks at me disbelievingly. I smile at him and cross my legs. He leans back and sits up in the chair.

“ I saw you two in the hallway arguing.”

God damnit. You didn't look like you were paying attention at the party but of course you would have. That's who you are -- Dallon Weekes, the man completely aware of everything going on around him. Now I know I can't be lax around him. A talker who doesn't miss a beat is bound for disaster.

“ You must have saw someone else.”

“ No. It's hard to miss a guy wearing a leather jacket in the middle of a heatwave.” He says matter-of-fact. I chew on my inner cheek. “ And then you two enter that room and two people step out and I don't see either of you for the rest of the night.”

“ Wait,” I sit up and uncross my legs. “ You said you saw someone leave the room.”

“ Yeah.”

“ Did you see what they looked like? Can you tell me?”

“ Uh. A guy in a hoodie and Brendon’s assistant. You should know him, after all.”

I wave away the topic of Zack. He's not important. “ The hoodie. Did you see his face?”

“ He kept his head down so no. Why?”

I mumble a curse and slouch back into my chair. “ Nevermind.”

Dallon looks at me like he's trying to read me. For what, I don't know. Does he suspect something? And if he does, what could it be? He opens his mouth but then closes it, apparently second guessing the idea to ask me a question or make a comment. I decide to ask him a question. Get in his mind and try to figure out what the hell does he want from me.

“ Why do you want to know? You think something shady is going on?”

“ No. I don't think anything shady is going on.” He picks up his iPhone off the table and turns on the camera. He taps on the screen with his thumb and starts to look at himself in the screen. He brings his free hand to his bow tie and adjusts it as he speaks to me, “ But it does seem like the two of you have a lot more going on besides a book.”

Dallon locks his phone and puts it down on the table. His eyes meet my own; piercing through me as if he just ripped the covers off, revealing an ugly truth he's not pleased with. Is he gay? Is he jealous of me? If he is -- good. Be jealous. I have something you don't have.

“ But I won't ask any further. What you have going on is between you and him. I just suggest you tread carefully or you'll end up being swallowed whole.”

He stands up and picks up his drink and cell phone. I watch him as he gets ready to leave. What did he mean by that comment? He must know something that I don't know. Maybe he's also involved with Mona Lisa, then again, he didn't know what was going on in that room.

Right?

I stand up and grab his bicep, keeping him from leaving. He looks at my hand and then at my face.

“ What are you talking about?” I let him go. He pockets his cellphone.

“ You really aren't that discrete, Ryan. I'd watch myself if I were you.”

I frown, “ I don't speak in riddles, Dallon.”

“ I'm not speaking in riddles, Ryan.” He runs a hand through his hair. “ I'll leave you with this. Other than his wife, Brendon has never allowed anyone to get as close to him as you are right now. Those two are attached to the hip . There’s been a lot of rumors, but affairs aren’t one of them.

“ People talk, Ryan. They watch and they talk. You maybe writing a book but to a lot of them, they know. It's hard to cover things up when the poor little street kid is practically eyefucking the party host on his private yacht or when the two disappear into a bedroom at a party and never come back out.”

“ I don't know what you're trying to imply.”

“ I'm not implying anything,” He smiles at me. That wholesome, ‘have you read this book yet’, smile that would not be on the face of a person that just said eyefuck. He's so fucking weird. “ I'm just saying be careful. You may attract unwanted attention.”

He sips his drink then tips in towards me in a gesture of farewell and leaves me standing there at that table completely flabbergasted.

##

Dallon’s words play through my mind like a broken record player. What is unwanted attention? He must know something that I don’t know; it would explain why he’s always showing up where I least expect him to be. Ever since I met him on that yacht, he’s been like an annoying fly that won’t go away. No matter how many times I swat at that fly, its there just buzzing away being obnoxious. In the case of Dallon, unnecessarily nosy.

Even as I sit at this dining room table with Brendon at the head and his wife, Sarah, directly across from me, Dallon’s words haunt me. Least not that I forget how awkward it is to sit across from the very woman married to the man I literally fucked two weeks ago at a party. I am pretty sure she is absolutely in the dark about Brendon’s activities, which makes this entire situation even more difficult to sit through.

Brendon tells me she knows about us.

But she doesn’t know about his drug activities.

“ This is really good, Sarah.” I say after swallowing a piece of the roast beef I’ve been served. She smiles at me and picks up her wine glass.

“ Why thank you, Ryan. I appreciate the compliment, especially since they are very few and far between these days.” She eyes her husband from the corner of her eye as she sips the red wine. Her lips curl up into a small smile as Brendon feigns shock.

“ I’m appalled you think I don’t appreciate your cooking.” He says with a hand on his heart. She puts her glass back down and laughs. She looks at him.

“ You’re not a good actor but I forgive you.”

He leans forward for a kiss. She gives him a quick peck and they’re looking each other, giggling like high schoolers on a date at a malt shop. They look perfect. He's still dressed in a black suit he wore to work but it looks like he could have easily went to an event in it. She didn't forego the look and matched him in a creamy tan chiffon dress that hugs her in all the right places. And yet, there's me in a white oxford shirt and black jeans.

From my experience, Brendon is a very good actor. This performance I'm witnessing right now might be his best yet. There's no way a man could sit at a table and have such a great, conflict free dinner with the two people he's fucking and yet he can do it so effortlessly. Not a single amount of shame in his eyes.

Everytime I hear Brendon’s voice and immediately think of him moaning loudly while he fisted his cock as I thrusted up inside him, hitting his prostate and making him come undone. I don't hear words. I hear that. I see him on that table. I feel the weight of his cock on my tongue. Why would he invite me to dinner at his apartment with his wife knowing what happened between us? So he can have me sit here watching them act like the perfect 80s sitcom married couple?

He must be a sadist -- he has to be. I grab the glass and finish off the red wine. I reach for the bottle of wine at the center of the six chair table and refill my glass without a word. Sarah watches me with an amused smile. I can hear Brendon cut through a piece of roast beef.

“ How has it been shadowing my husband?” She asks me. I look at her and stop pouring the wine.

“ It’s, uh, interesting.” I say, putting the bottle back. “ He’s really, um, interesting.”

“ Ryan likes to ask a lot of questions,” Brendon adds on. I focus on the roast beef in front of me. The mashed potatoes look great and I dip my spoon in. “ Which is good. It means he’s doing his job.”

“ Well, that’s good. I’m glad everything is turning out well.”

I bring the spoon of potatoes to my mouth. I take a bite and nod at whatever she said. I don’t know if I would use the word ‘well’. I guess it depends on how you would interpret a relationship based on sex and drugs.

I try to focus on finishing the rest of the meal as the two talk amongst themselves, occasionally bringing me into the mix, though I don’t have anything important to add. Sometimes I need to ask what they’re actually talking about, which would then prompt Brendon to make a ridiculous comment about how much I like to stay in my head. Well, anyone would want to stay locked up in their head if they had to deal with Brendon Urie for more than a few hours.

Brendon volunteers to collect the plates once we are done eating. Apparently he and Sarah have a system; if one cooks, the other cleans up. They laugh and joke about it. I laugh with them. It's forced and I'm pretty sure they can hear the edge to my voice. Brendon gathers our plates and brings them to the kitchen to wash them, leaving me alone in the dining area with Sarah.

She picks up her wineglass and swirls the red liquid around in the cup in a smooth motion. She rests her elbow on the table and her chin on the palm of her hand. She smiles at me as I sit there with my hands on my lap.

Sarah is a pretty girl. I can see why Brendon married her. Long brown hair in loose waves and curls frame a delicate face full of small features but in contrast giving away to the widest set of blue eyes I've ever seen. She almost resembles a porcelain doll. Petite and tiny. Too delicate to possibly be human.

I have no idea why he would want to cheat on her with me.

“ You grow hair fast,” She remarks idly. “ It's gotten longer since he wedding. Trying to go for some look? You usually keep it short, like you're the missing member of The Beach Boys.”

“ I haven't really bothered with trying to keep it short.” I reply. She chuckles.

“ It looks good on you. Might wanna work on those bangs, though.”

“ Right.”

Sarah lifts her head up and rests her hand on top of the table. I can hear Brendon singing in the background as he washes the dishes. He has a good voice, I don't know why he decided to waste his talent doing this. Unfortunate knowing he'll probably be doing major time in prison in the next few months. All that talent gone for good. Sarah straights up in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest.

“ I'm interested in knowing why you want to write a book on my husband.”

“ It was a conversation that sort of snowballed into this… thing.”

She hums with a nod of her head.

“ He tends to get excited. Sometimes he won't even think, he'll just jump right into things. The idea that he wants you to write book about him isn't strange to me. What is strange is you suddenly coming out of nowhere to write this book.”

I had a feeling this dinner had the potential of heading south. I did not know that it would swing to the left so quickly. I clear my throat and pick up the wine glass. My thumb runs over the stem of the glasses -- up and down. She only sits there and watches me with this relaxed, but calculating expression. She’s simply dealing out the cards and waiting to see if I’m going to call my hand, fold, or take another.

I sip my wine.

“ He’s an interesting person. He’s achieved so much in so little time that it seem that time is right for him to have his own book. Everyone has books these days, even nobodies with Youtube accounts. Why not Brendon?”

Deal me another card. She raises an eyebrow and nods.

“ So, what has he told you?”

I focus on the New York City view behind her. Who would want to wake up to this view every morning? I can not imagine anyone who wakes up to this be completely humble and at one with the world around them. Only those who are obsessed with power and status can live this high in this sky and look down on those below. No one can be humble with a lifestyle like this.

Sarah’s eyes haven’t wandered. She still looks at me with this playful, amused expression as she waits for me to make my call. Do I deal another card? Do I fold? How should I call my hand -- continue to bluff or do I actually have something. I glance at the wine in my hand. Loose lips sink ships; wine makes lips loose. I put the glass aside and away from me.

“ He just told me little things. Like his childhood, how he met you, and how things just worked in his favor at the company. Perseverance, determination and luck is how he always puts it.”

“ Interesting.”

“ It really is.”

“ What if I told you that I know that whatever he told you may have, at least, ten percent of a truth to it.”

I have nothing. I’ve been holding a two and a five all this time and she’s caught my bluff. I don’t want to give up. Not just yet. I adjust the open collar of my white dress shirt, popping it slightly, and cross my legs. I fold my hands together over my knee and try to remain as calm as possible. I can still hear Brendon in the background singing. How long does it take to wash three plates?

“ What do you mean?”

“ The story -- the one about him being an only child? A lie.” She tucks a few locks of wavy hair behind her ear, revealing a diamond stud that captures the light from the chandelier above us just right. “ He’s the youngest of five. Can you believe that? Why would someone like him want to hide the fact that he’s the youngest of five kids? That would be considered to be a blessing to many. To know that once your parents die you’re not left alone in this world. Someone out there with your blood is still alive. But him? He lies about it all the time.”

Five kids. He has four other siblings out there and he acts like they don’t exist. I look over my shoulder, to the kitchen behind me on the other side of the wall. He still in there. Does he know his wife is ripping apart his walls of lies? I turn my head around and look at Sarah and the way she sits there. She’s not amused or taking pleasure in this. She’s simply calm and collected.

“ His family is poor,” She continues. “ He likes to say they’re rich. I guess to make me look good. People judge in our circle. Poor kids coming in marrying the rich isn’t looked highly upon. He would have never been accepted if they found out he’s just the son of a poor preacher from the desert. So we embellish a bit; craft up this wonderful story about a bright young man from one of the best schools in the west. How he wooed me with his charm and intelligence.”

“ If he’s some poor kid from the west and if your… people don’t like us poor folks…  why did you marry him?”

She laughs. She laughs like I just made a joke. I frown.

“ Do you see this earring.” Delicate fingers come to her ear and she shows off the jewelry. “ It’s not a diamond. They’re zirconias. Brendon was so poor he couldn’t even afford a zirconia when we first met. Hell, he could barely afford the dinner we were having on our second date.” She chuckles at the memory as her fingers drop to her lap. I just watch and listen silently. “ A woman was wearing them and I wanted them. He didn’t know how to get them. He told me he’d save up a few paychecks and buy me a pair but I wanted these earrings. I wanted to know how far he was willing to go to make me happy.”

“ So what did he do?”

“ I told him to go to that woman, fuck her, and take her earrings.”

What.

I guess I couldn’t hide my expression because she’s laughing this time. I shift in my chair as she grabs her glass of wine and takes a sip. She doesn’t put the glass down once she’s done. She holds near her lips.

“ He did it. He took that cheap blonde to a hotel, fucked her and took those cheap, zirconia earrings. ” She finishes the wine and puts the glass back down on the table. “ He came back to me that morning with a pair of earrings in a brown paper bag. I could still smell the cheap perfume of that woman on him. But it didn’t matter because it was proof that he did what I asked him to do. He did what I wanted him to do.

“ That man would destroy the world to make me happy, Ryan. He would throw himself onto the ground and let me walk over his back just so my feet do not get dirty. He worships me and I love him for that. You sit there and think you know the truth. That you know everything because you have a notebook full of notes of conversations you’ve had with Brendon. But you don’t even half the story.”

I laugh. Not because of the story she just told me. At this rate, I will believe anything. I laugh because I thought out of all the characters in this story, she would have been the most level headed of the bunch. But, no, she’s just as twisted as everyone else. Calculating, callous, and uncaring to those beneath them socially and economically.

I wonder what Brendon was like before he came to New York and entered this world of sin and temptation. When did the poor choir boy turned into the manipulative New York executive?

She raises an eyebrow at my reaction and I shake my head. This is ridiculous.

“ What is telling me this going to achieve?” I ask sardonically.

She shrugs like it means nothing.

Or rather, I mean nothing to her.

“ Don’t think that a blowjob here or there is going change anything with him.” She stands up from the table. She doesn’t say it with a bite, like a jealous woman confronting the person who’s taken their man. No, she says it flippantly like we’re having a conversation about the latest town gossip.

“ You look at him like there could be something in the end. You may not be aware but everyone can see it written all over. Ryan Ross, the unknown writer, is smitten with the man he’s been asked to write about. They talk -- everyone is talking -- but it’s okay. You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. You are just a passing thrill, just like these cheap zirconia earrings. ”

She picks up the bottle of wine and pours more into my glass. I watch as the red liquid rises until it’s three fourths full. She fills her glass with the wine and picks it up. From behind, I hear Brendon whistle. When did he come in? How long was he there for? I hear his shoes clack against the tile floor as he makes his way past me to his seat at the table.

“ What are we saluting to?” He asks as he picks up his wine glass. Sarah smiles as she looks at me.

“ To the success of Ryan Ross’ book.” She lifts the glass up, her matte brown painted lips turned up in an innocent smile. “ Salut.”

Brendon lifts his glass, “ Salut!”

I hesitantly pick up mine and do the same before taking several sips from my wine. I don't dare to look at Brendon, instead focusing on the red placemat on the table. I can feel Sarah’s eyes on me as she finishes her wine.

“ I am going to go to bed. It's late and I have somethings to take care of tomorrow morning.” She announces as she puts her glass down. I look up and watch her walk over to her husband and place a soft, chaste kiss on his cheek. She gives me another look, smiling softly before walking off to their bedroom. Her tan dress makes her look otherworldly, layers of chiffon playing in the air.

Brendon watches her like she's a goddess. A smile on his face that doesn't fade away, even she's in the room and the door has closed behind her.

I don't get him. I don't get them .

“ Why do you do it if you're so in love with her?” I ask and I can't help but sound slightly bitter. He looks at me like I just asked him a ridiculous question.

“ Do what? This? Us?” He sticks his hands in the pocket of his tailored jacket. “ Why not?”

God fucking damnit. Can you not do this right now? I push my chair back and stand up. My fingers curl into a fist, nails digging into the palm of my hands until I can feel the skin breaking underneath from the pressure. It stings but the distraction is enough to keep me from assaulting Brendon.

“ Why not? Why … do you two think people are just pawns in a game? That you can just do whatever you want without repercussion?”

His expression doesn't change. He just watches me as if he's waiting for me to get over my little temper tantrum.

“ I do appreciate you, if that's what you want to hear. I do like you, Ryan. I will admit that.” He runs his fingers through his hair. Thick, soft and black locks forced back from falling forward into his face. “ Sarah saved me. You might not get it and honestly I don't think you're capable of understanding. But that woman saved me and I would do anything to make sure that she is happy. Anything.

“ So it's true then. What you told me before -- about your family. It's all a lie.”

“ Maybe,” he puts both hands in the back of his chair and leans forward. “ Maybe not. Does it matter?”

“ It does, actually.”

Brendon looks down at the seat, rocking on the balls of his feet as he uses the chair as an anchor. He looks like an overgrown child, unable to keep himself still for just one single moment to focus on the conversation.

“ It's funny you talk about lies and truths.” He looks at me with that infectious smile of his. “ How many are you hiding under that sleeve of yours, Mister Ross?”

My jaw tightens. Fuck. Does he know? He can't know. I've been so discreet there's no fucking way that he can know who I really am. I don't take the bait. He's baiting me -- I know he's baiting me. It's another test of his, it has to be.

Brendon laughs, “ You are such a tense guy. Calm the fuck down, Ryan. I really think you need to calm down.”

You are a sick person, Brendon.

“ How about this. Let's head down to Battery Park.”

“ It's a Monday night. What about your precious wife.” I say slowly. Brendon shrugs before he starts to take off his jacket.

“ Like I said,” He folds the jacket and puts it on the back of the chair. “ We have an arrangement that, for some reason, a lot of people just don't get.”

“ I don't want to go.”

“ Come on, Ryan. You need to relax.” He walks over to me and reaches a hand towards my face. I can't believe he's doing this with his wife on the other side in their bedroom. He moves to push a few locks of hair away from my face but I move my head away.

No. Not here. We are not doing this here.

“ Let's go.”

##

I should have my head checked. Because no sane person would put themselves in this situation like I do on a consistent basis. My back arches up and off the bed as he pushes into me, hitting my prostate in a way that makes me groan deep from within my throat. My legs are wrapped tightly around his waist, feet hooked at the ankles and presses against his lower backside encouraging him to go deeper. I try to match him thrust for thrust -- he pushes down, I rise up and we both just fall into the animalistic pleasure.

One hand grips onto the headboard as my other hand fists my cock. I can feel him press open mouth and breathy kisses against my body. My cheeks, my jawline, my neck, shoulder. He's trying to mark me; I know he is, and I just let him because it feels too good not to. His grips on my hip hurts so much. I just take the pain and turn it into pleasure. I focus on it. Channel it. Use it to distract me.

“ F-fuck, Brendon… Ah--I-I’m gonna come…” I groan out, fisting my cock faster as the pressure and heat builds up within my body. He fucks me harder, faster as if he wants to come with me. He whispers encouraging words into my skin as I press my feet deeper into his back.

“ Fuck, fuck.” Brendon moans as he thrusts harder up. I grab his hair and pull him in for a kiss once I feel like I'm about to come. It's not even seconds after I'm coming all over my hands and his stomach, muffling my moans with his tongue in my mouth.

He fucks me through my orgasm. I'm tight and tense, and it just encourages him more. He doesn't care about how sensitive I am or how bad I'm shaking from it all. He takes advantage of it; chasing the releasing building up inside of him. His thrusts are frantic and heavy. I try to meet him, to get him to finally reach his peak.

And then he's coming deep inside of me. I feel the warmth gathering at the tip of the condom and, in some disappointing way, regret even forcing him to put one on. I wanted to feel him fill me up, just as I did him. It's so fucking foolish but I want that intimacy.

My legs drop from his sides onto the the mattress and he slowly pulls out of me. I wince once I feel his head pull out with a pop against my stretched hole. We are both breathing heavily -- I watch him from my prone position as he kneels between my legs. His cock is softening, the condom still on, covered in lube and other fluids from prepping earlier. He pulls the condom off and ties the end of it before tossing it in the trash by the bedside.

“ You relaxed now?” He asks me with a grin as he leans forward between my legs. His hands land on either side of my body as he leans upwards to kiss me. I let him, opening my mouth greedily for him.

We kiss and kiss until I break away and nod.

Yeah, yeah. I'm relaxed.

He rolls off of me and onto his back on the bed. We didn't even bother to get under the sheets.

I lift a hand up and look at the red fingernail prints on my palms. Crescent shaped marks caked with dry blood smeared with sweat and cum. Disgusting. I drop my hand down and wipe it against the white sheets.

“ It's true, you know. What she told you.”

“ What?”

“ I'm not an only child. I'm the son of a Mormon preacher from middle of nowhere town in Utah.” He rolls onto his side and rests his head on his propped up hand. “ And I did fuck a stranger and stole her earrings.”

I turn my head and look at Brendon. He reaches over and plays with my hair, curling the strands around his slender fingers.

“ But don't put that in the book.”

I rest a hand on my stomach.

“ Who was the guy in the hoodie.” I ask. I could care less about Brendon’s fucked up marriage. If his wife wants him to fuck all of Manhattan and steal all the cheap jewelry in the city, I don’t care. That’s on them. I need all the information I can get so I can build my case and get the fuck out of here.

Brendon whistles, “ A personal friend,” he lifts his hand up into air. He toys with the air.

What.

I lick my lips.

“ Who.”

Brendon smiles.

“ Jonathan Walker.”

Chapter Text

They say marijuana is a gateway drug. I remember sitting in the cafeteria in the fifth grade listening to Officer Johnson talk about how bad drugs are during a D.A.R.E assembly. Behind him on the stage was a banner hanging up with duct tape, it had a cartoon lion with his arms crossed wearing a black t-shirt that said D.A.R.E. in these cool, flashy red letters.  The lion looked cool; all the kids liked the lion. Even I liked the lion.

No one knew what D.A.R.E meant. It was just this thing we did once a month with the school resource officer. He’d spend an hour at the end of the school day to tell us to avoid drugs. He’d scare us with stories -- drug busts, shootings, all sorts of deplorable things related to the evils of drug usage.

Back in the nineties, we were just coming out of the crack-cocaine epidemic. Prior to crack, there was the issue of heroin and before that marijuana. So what would be the obvious point to beat into the heads of a group of ten and eleven year old kids in the nineties?

Marijuana is a gateway drug.

One little blunt and we’re heading down a slippery slope to drugs, prostitution and eventual overdoses. That’s how all the greats died in music, as Officer Johnson put it. They all smoked marijuana and then moved on to stronger stuff until they were found dead with needles in their arms and vomit coming out of their mouths.

After months of listening to that police officer talk about how bad weed is, we’re rewarded with a trip to see a baseball game. The entire school district of fifth graders gathered at Cashman Field to stuff our mouths with free Cracker Jacks and hotdogs over a game with the Las Vegas Stars. Even the lion came out onto the field and threw the first pitch. See? If you live a clean and healthy life, you two can be as great as that lion.

Five six years later, me and Spencer are getting high in the back of my Toyota. We can barely remember what our history teacher told us to research on that day, let alone what a cop in a lion suit had to say. They told us, swore by us that marijuana is a gateway drug. It didn’t seem like it. It wasn’t as if we were trying to find the nearest coke dealer in Las Vegas after spending a Friday night wasted, parked outside my house. We smoked, we stuffed our face with late night Taco Bell, and watched Quentin Tarantino films.

The thing is that marijuana isn’t a gateway drug. I never once wanted to get high because of one tiny blunt. The downfall into drug addiction is the pressure of society. The exposure to other drugs and the social struggle of fitting in, of being one of the crowd. That’s why Spencer struggled in University. It wasn’t because of Brent, our rich roommate that had a connect that supplied us with some quality hash. No, it was because Spencer gravitated to a crowd of folks that abused pills.

And I watched him struggle. Man, did he struggle and I just stood there and watched it happen. He never admitted to me but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when your childhood friend is sitting in front of you nodding in and out of consciousness because he’s so fucking high from a pill he took. And the excuse? He can’t sleep because he has dissertations due. Grad school. Student loans. Whatever. They were sleeping pills and I didn’t bother to question him if that was even true.

He got hurt. Senior year, two weeks before graduation. Took one too many pills and crashed his car into a tree. Luckily, he wasn’t going fast and he managed to come out of it with just scrapes and bruises, but he got hit with a DUI. He nearly risked his graduation but when you come from a well to do family with a community influence and have a solid academic record, it's easy to sway the District Attorney into your favor to drop charges. It still didn’t stop the questions coming in my direction.

I was his friend.

Why didn’t I do anything?

How could I have not known?

It’s easy to lay blame on the person that was supposed to be there for your son. So I reacted. I joined the DEA. I wasn’t going to let this happen again. I wasn’t going to play ignorant anymore. Spencer flew to New York and continued to struggle and I trained, graduated from the academy and became a field agent. I felt like I had some moral high ground whenever I wore that badge.

I, George Ryan Ross, did not succumb to drugs. I did not allow marijuana to be a gateway drug. I did not fall victim to temptation.

Ha.

How funny.

What a fucking hypocrite I’ve become.

I’m sitting here at this table in this coffee shop across from my childhood friend. My friend who’s battled addiction. My friend who turned lows into highs and now is successful. My friend who is the reason why I joined the DEA. I sit here in front of him, scratching my arm and hiding the fact that I’m slowly losing my grip on rationality and resolve. That I am slowly turning into what Spencer has spent years trying to overcome himself.

And as he sits there and talks to me about anything and everything happening in his life and with the state of the world in general, my mind drifts to the last few weeks spent snorting crushed pills and fucking for a high that I can’t seem to get enough of.

Is this how a junkie is created? I guess Spencer would know. Should I ask him?

“ If you keep scratching, you’re gonna end up bleeding all over the place, Ryan.” Spencer tells me observantly. I look at my forearm. The hair there doesn't mask the red trails of nails raking against my skin. I can see prickles of blood threatening to come up to the surface. Shit. I need to focus. “ What’s the matter?”

“ I, uh, went upstate this past weekend and ran into some poison ivy. It fucking itches.” I pocket my hand to discourage myself from scratching. “ I got ointment but it’s like not working. Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

Weekends.

I haven’t seen Jon in weeks. What is that fucker doing anyway? All of our meetings have been arranged by him and suddenly he goes radio silent? It’s his fault. All of this. Everything. It’s all his fault.

My leg is restless underneath the table.

God dammit I’m so fucking strung out.

Fuck.

Fuck. Fuck.

Fuckfuckfuckfuck.

I think to that night. The night after the weird dinner with Brendon and his narcissistic wife. The night that we jumped in an Uber to his apartment in Battery Park and fucked. The night Brendon decided to drop a bombshell.

That motherfucking bombshell.

 

##

 

“ Who?”

I can't even get manage to vocalize the question. It's a dry, hoarse whisper into the air. A question layered with shock twisting itself into paranoia. Brendon looked at me, undisturbed by my inability to vocalize what I want to say. My stomach twists, my chest constricts, and my tongue feels so heavy in my mouth. I stare at Brendon and try to search his face for anything that might indicate he's lying.

But he's on his back now, an arm propped behind his head while the other hand is raised above his head,  plucking away at whatever is catching his imagination.

There's no way. It can't be. How -- how … All this time. All these months spent chasing Brendon Urie around New York and the culprit was right in front of me this entire time? Jonathan Jacob Walker is Mona Lisa?

“ Jon Walker,” Brendon answers again. His hand falls on his stomach, fingers coming in contact with my thick come. He absentmindedly spreads it across the tight, smooth planes like it’s nothing. “ He was at the party.”

He pulls his hand away and looks at the white mess on his fingers. He grabs a tissue from the tissue box on the nightstand and cleans his hands and stomach.

“ O-oh.”

I sit up and run a hand through my hair. Fuck. What the fuck do I do. I did not expect this. He has to be playing with me, right? This is a test and he knows who I am. He’s testing me, trying to see if I’ll take the bait. It’s the only logical assumption because there is no way that Jon Walker is a rat.

None.

He must have found out about my meetings with him. That explains all of this.

Brendon turns his head to look at me.

“ What's the matter, Ryan? You look spooked.”

I shake my head. “ I, uh, just remembered something.”

“ Suddenly you realized you remembered something?” Brendon looks at me with skepticism. It's the first time he's ever looked at me that way.

I'm fucking up. Calm down, Ryan. Think.

“ Do you know Jon?”

“ No! Never heard of him. I just-- it's nothing.” I twist my upper body enough to look at Brendon. He is still looking at me as if I am hiding something. As if he knows I’m lying. I chew on my lower lip.

He can't find out. Not when I got this far.

I have no idea what’s going on anymore. There could be that possibility. The thought has crossed my mind before. I can’t simply put my faith blindly into the hands of another person. No, not anymore.

Everything has changed; it's not just me versus a powerful man, it's now become me versus my own so called allies. Just when I thought I had things under control and finally was close to being free, my preconceptions are proven once again to be true.

Not only is Jon a fucking hypocrite. He's a goddamn rat.

Wait. I need to calm down. He could be a rat. Could be .

But what if he is a rat. Then what?

I've been played all this time by a man I trusted my life with. Every weekend spent giving away information to enemy. A fucking loop of events; never ending.

So does that mean Brendon knows about me? Has Jon told him about me? What is really going on?!

Fuck.

“ Give me something to calm me down.” I tell Brendon. I move on top of him, straddling his hips. I can feel his softening cock against my ass. Yes, let me focus on this. This works; this keeps us both distracted from the truth.

I can't think. This is just too unreal for me to comprehend.

His left hand reaches for my cheek. He caresses it, then trails his fingers against my jawline, down my neck, chest… further down.

“ How do you want to calm down?” He asks me as his fingers trace the lines and ridges of my stomach. “ I have something, but, I need to know why?”

I grab his wrist and press my thumb against the pulse point, “ There's a lot of things going through my mind right now.”

“ Like a Mister Walker?”

“ No. No.” I gotta sell it. Make him drop the suspicion. “ Your wife has me… really strung out. She told me things, you know? It’s just fucking with my head…. This whole thing is just becoming a bit too much.”

I let his wrist go and move off of his body. My feet hit the floor of the bedroom and I get up off the bed. I'm sore and feel so stretched out but I try not to wince as I move. I try not to give it away as I search the room for my clothes.

“ I don't think it's about her.” He hums as he sits up. I pick up my shirt off the floor and quickly put it on.

“ Where do you keep it?”

“ Keep what?”

My hands fumble in the air as I try to come up with a name to call the drugs, “ That stuff you deal with. That stuff that Walker guy has.”

I start buttoning my shirt. I ignore the cum drying all over my body -- on my chest, stomach, even in my pubic hairs. I can take a shower later once I'm back in Brooklyn. There I can think of some sort of contingency plan. All I need to do is just jump on the F train and get the fuck out of here. It’s after midnight; the trains are practically empty so it won’t matter that I stink of sex and sweat. It’s New York, people have done far worst on public transit.

Brendon silently looks in the nightstand closest to him. He pulls open the drawer and takes out a small dime bag filled with a familiar powder. My fingers stop moving over the buttons of my shirt. I watch as he takes out a black plastic tray with a business card and black straw on top.

He had fucking drugs in the apartment and I didn't even know.

“ I prefer downers,” Brendon explains as he empties the bag onto the tray. “ I can't focus if I'm strung out on psychedelics and uppers. I need to focus . I can't focus if I'm fucking tripping out with the heartrate of a fucking mouse.”

He tosses the little bag into the trash. He picks up the business card; it's slightly worn around the corners from use. This isn't the first time he's done this in this apartment.

“ I have anxiety, you know. Had it all my life. It's only gotten worse as I've got older. Doctors told me it's due to the ADHD. My dad, bless his twisted soul, thought the best way to deal with it was to pray it away. So that’s what I did for sixteen years; lock myself up in the prayer room, sit in a corner, and pray.” He starts cutting the drug. “ Oh heavenly father, please forgive me for I have sinned. I did not pay attention to your words at sermon this morning because of the devil’s affliction.” He cuts the drug with an increasing aggression, as his voice grows tighter with each word from a prayer he must have said thousands of times, “ Please guide me towards your light oh heavenly father. Please guide me so that this illness will pass.”

He tosses the business card on the night stand and picks up the black straw. Before he snorts the powder, he looks up at me, ” Imagine having a mind going a million miles an hour. Imagine having a father who forces you to prayer for hours because of it. Makes you think that everything's your fault and that’s why the devil has poisoned you. So you pray, and pray, but concentration is impossible because something is always screaming for your attention. You know you need to actually focus and can't seem to just make it stop, your body betrays you can kicks into this fight or flight mode. You just shut down. Completely .

“ That's why I take downers. So I can function. Cocaine fucks with me. By the end of the night I think I'm going to die. Ketamine gives me panic attacks. I’m too lucid to function and it freaks me out. Molly brings out the worst in me; I do and say things I end up regretting the next day. But this? I can relax.”

“ And what is that?”

“ The stuff from the other night.” He beckons me over. “ You said you wanted to calm down, well, if I can't fuck it out of you I guess this will do the trick.”

I slowly walk over to the nightstand and kneel down. I can feel Brendon’s fingers against the nape of my neck, playing with the hair there. I look at the white powder. I stare at it. This here is what people kill themselves over. That destroy lives over. That Jon is pushing all over the city. This fucking shit right here.

Brendon hands me the straw. I take it into my hand.

I lick my lips before leaning forward and, pressing one nostril closed, insert the straw into my nose and snort the prepared line of the opioid. I throw my head back and fight back the urge to cough. I close my eyes shut tightly and fight through the burning sensation ripping through my nostrils and the back of my throat.

“ Fu--ck!” I groan as my head falls forward. I quickly wipe my nose. I swallow spit and cough a bit as Brendon rubs circles into my back. He gives me a few pats before taking his hand away.

Without saying another word, Brendon takes the straw from my hand, picks up the tray and finishes the other line. He sniffs a bit, wiping his nose, as he puts the tray and straw back down the nightstand. He throws his head back and I can see his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he simply lets the drug do its thing. His head slowly drops forward and he looks at me.

I feel the tingling sensation slowly encompassing my body again. This must be a stronger dosage from the party. It’s hitting me harder than I thought. My body feels heavy, my head feels light, and every breath feels like a weight is on my lungs. I can’t stand up… I move sluggishly to the bed while on my knees and rest my head against the edge of the sheets. One of my hands rests on top the sheets and a gather them into my hands.

“ Fuck….” I hiss. Where’s the euphoria. Why does it feel like the room is slowly spinning.

“ Get on the bed, Ryan.” Brendon tells me. “ Get on the bed and on your side.”

I turn my head to look at Brendon, “ Why…”

“ So you don’t choke on your vomit.”

I slowly push myself up into a kneeling position next to Brendon. My head lulls upwards as I look at Brendon.

“ You think I’m overdosing?” I ask dryly. I am not amused.  

“ No, but you still can throw up. Nauseation is side effect, after all.”

I groan and get on the bed. Great, so now I am nauseated. I was supposed to feel good -- that’s why people shove this shit up their nose, right? To feel good. I said it once, and I’ll say it again, fuck Brendon. I crawl to the other side of him and lie down on my back. I don’t feel so bad in this position. Well, not as bad as I had been moments earlier.

Good. I’m not going to choke on my vomit tonight.

“ So,” I lick my lips. That tingling sensation won’t go away. It’s like bugs are crawling under my skin. I scratch my arm. I know they’re not there but I can’t help it. If I scratch the bugs go away. “ Who’s Jon.”

I feel Brendon’s weight leave the bed. I watch as he walks around the room, naked and unabashed, as he starts picking up the clothes off the floor. Mine. His. It doesn’t matter. He picks them up, drops them at the foot of the bed, and starts to fold them. I noticed that about him; he hates things being in a state of disarray. Everything must be meticulously placed somewhere and the least amount of things in the room the better.

“ He’s a connect.” Brendon places my folded jeans gently down and starts on his dress shirt. “ Between me and the supplier.”

Wait. So Jon isn’t Mona Lisa? Then who exactly is Mona Lisa if it isn’t Jon?

“ A supplier?”

“ Someone you shouldn’t concern yourself with now.” He places my boxer briefs down on top of my jeans. He holds his hand out. “ You gonna sleep in that shirt?”

I shake my head and start to unbutton my shirt, “ When will it actually concern me?” I shrug out of it and ball it up. I throw it at Brendon and he catches it. He opens the shirt and starts to fold it.

“ There’s two that don’t think it’s wise to bring you in,” He places the folded shirt gently on top of my clothes and moves onto his own. “ But I think you have a lot to offer.”

My body is settling into the drug because I don’t feel so nauseated anymore. That euphoric feeling is creeping throughout my body. I feel lighter, the weight being released off of my chest. This is why people abuse this drug -- pain is replaced with a false sense of security. Comfort.

“ I don’t have much to offer.” I mumble as I roll onto my side. Brendon scoffs as he gathers the folded clothes into his arms. He walks into the bathroom, lays them on top of the countertop: mine to the left, his to the right. He steps back into the bedroom and walks back to the bed.

“ No,” I feel the mattress sink with his weight as he sits down. “ You have a lot to offer us.”

I chuckle. Probably because of the drug, but I find it cute that this sociopath talks about me like I'm some final piece to their master plan. I am a lot of things to their operation but the final key isn't one of them. I sit up, no longer feeling the urge to throw up as the drug settles in my system. I still feel the tingling sensation throughout my body but I focus on ignoring it.

I get behind Brendon and wrap my arms around his shoulders from behind. He doesn't react to me. I burry my face against the junction of his left ear and jaw.

“ Your wife doesn't like me,” I whisper against his ear. I chuckle. “ She thinks I'm in love with you.”

“ I have no opinion on that.” Brendon says stiffly. I lap at the shell of his ear.  

“ When will I find out all the details of your grand master scheme.” I pull away and Brendon turns his head around enough to look at me.

“ Has anyone ever told you that you're a persistent one when fucked out your mind?”

“ I want to learn more.” I kiss him. Short and sweet. Maybe I do become a bit clingy when fucked up. I feel the most in control when I am.  I don't worry so much -- I can just focus on me and only me. “ You'll tell me, right?”

“ Maybe when you're not so high.” Brendon pats my arm and moves to get up. He slips out of my grasp and I groan from his flippancy as I watch him stand next to the bed. Yeah, let the junkie take the fucking high road here. The functioning junkie that thinks he’s better than me.

I don’t care. Too much energy wasted on such trivial things. We’re all junkies here.

It’s amazing how these drugs work. One minute, I feel like I’m being pinned under a huge weight and the next minute I feel so fucking good. I want to make the most out of this. Why am I going to let the trivial things bother me? I don’t even care about Jon anymore. Why do I want to focus on a traitor when I have one of the most powerful men in New York City in bed with me? Life is so fucking good when you don’t have to live with stress.

I wonder what it would be like to live everyday like this.

No cares, no worries.

Just a bed, a body, and a sweet euphoria. I roll onto my back and get comfortable on the sheets. I close my eyes and sigh with a content smile on my face.

“ Remember the first time? At the party. It was good. So, so good.”

My hand trails from my stomach, up to my chest as I stretch my body. I know he's watching. Let him. I will get what I want.

“ What do you want?”

“ I want to feel you come inside me.” I hum contently. “ We’re here in this apartment, right? My rules. My demands. Give me what I want.”

He watches as I spread my legs. I open my eyes and look at him with hooded eyes. I touch myself. My dick. My balls. I touch everywhere. I pull my lower lip between my teeth. Ah, yes. Don’t ignore me, Brendon. This is why we’re here, right? At the end of the day, the root to all of this is to get high and fuck, right?

Sex is so much better when high.

He gets on the bed and moves over me, not between my legs, but knees on either side of my body. I push myself up on the bed, enough so my mouth is at level with his cock.

“ Fine.” He tells me. “ Put that mouth to use.”

 

##

 

Fuck Jon Walker.

“ Something the matter?”

“ What?”

I’m not in that bedroom. I’m not getting fucked by Brendon. Spencer is sitting in front of me with his brows furrowed together. How long was gone for? Did I look spaced out? I did not even realize I had slipped away back into that bedroom with him. My fingers tingle; I feel like I’m attached to an electrical grid on the fritz.

Spencer is still staring at me. He’s concerned.

Why would he be concerned about me? I’m totally fine. I should be the one concerned about him and his recovery.

This has to stop.

“ Spence, I…” I open my mouth. I want to tell him everything. Tell him what’s really going on with Brendon and me. He’ll know what to do--he--he’s been through this before. He’ll know exactly what I need to do so I can get my life back. I just need to tell him.

Get the words out.

Spence. I’m sleeping with Brendon.

Spence. I think I’m becoming addicted to pills.

Spence. There is no book. I’m an undercover agent.

“ I gotta go.”

“ What? What do you mean you gotta go?”

I stand up from the table and grab my bag off of the chair adjacent to me. Spencer looks so confused right now. He tries to reach for me but I move before his hand comes in contact with my arm.

“ Ryan? Hey, what’s the matter? Are you sick? You really don’t look too good.”

“ I-I’m fine. I just gotta go.”

The shop is closing in on me. I feel like I’m burning up. I bring a hand to my forehead and I can feel the beads of sweat forming at the brow. If I don’t get out of here, I’m going to suffocate. There’s a dull throbbing pain behind my left eye. Fuck, I need to get out of here.

I can’t do this right now. I need to just… figure this out. I need to focus on something other than the gnawing itch deep within my body that wants me to find Brendon and his supply.

He’s turned into my Doctor Feelgood.

Without acknowledging Spencer, I quickly leave the shop and onto the sidewalk.

I don’t know where I am going. I just need to get away from the noise and the people. I need a quiet place so I can fucking think about my next plan of action. I scratch my arm again. Shit. Why is it so loud? Why is it so bright? Why are there so many fucking people on the streets right now. t’s a Wednesday afternoon in Brooklyn, for Christ’s sake!

I cover my mouth and lean against the glass wall of a window display. How stupid can I fucking be? I should have never agreed to this case. I should have said no. I should had stayed firm and walked away. I should have taken the fall and did the time. None of this is worth it.

None of this.

I’m withdrawing.

I laugh because it’ so goddamn absurd. Me. A Drug Enforcement Agency field agent withdrawing off of a fucking opioid.

I push myself off the window and stand up. I feel light headed. I take small, careful steps. I don’t want to over exert myself. All I need to do is make it to the train station so I can get to the apartment. There I can just take whatever Brendon gave me and I’ll be good again.

One step at a time as they say right?

I think I hear my name. It sounds like that fucking hypocritical Mormon. Not the short one with too much money to spend; the oversized broke one that looks like that Jared guy from Silicon Valley.

“ My God, Ryan, it is you!”

I feel Dallons fingers wrap around my bicep, steadying me and keeping me from falling.

Shit.

Why are you always around me, you sick freak. Are you stalking me? You must be stalking me it would only explain why you’re always fucking there . No matter where I am at in this damned borough, you’re right there not even five feet away. I feel his hand against my forehead and jerk my head away from his hand. Don’t touch me. You’re also to blame for this -- should have never told me about that party.

“ What did you take, Ryan?” He asks lowly. I glance at him and roll my eyes. Obviously, you know. “ You’re sweating. Come on. Let me get you off the street.”

 

##

 

Water is good.

I like water. I like aspirins too. Those make headaches go away.

I’m sitting on a fold out chair in a small studio apartment. The room is barely furnished; there’s a bed up against the window with an airconditioning unit propped right in the window. Tucked away in a corner is a small kitchenette. There’s no tv and couch. It looks like a place where someone is temporarily residing in -- much like my temporary shithole.

Dallon comes out of the kitchenette, wiping his hands on a blue towel. He tosses the towel on the bed when he sees me. Suddenly the apartment seems a hell of a lot smaller when there’s a guy as tall as him standing in it.

“ I see you found the gifts.” He says lightly with a smile. I blankly stare at him. I don’t remember how I got here. Last things I remember was him hailing a cab, passing out once I got inside of it, and then waking up in a small bed and seeing a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin. I guess I’m at his apartment. “ How you feeling?”

“ Like shit.” I finish the glass of water. My mind is still clouded and I feel clammy. This is going to persist until I take a hit of Oxy or ride out the withdrawals into the night. I haven’t been taking the drug long so I don’t think I’ll need any medical attention.

At least for now.

Dallon walks over to the table and sits down across from me. He crosses his arms over his chest. He still wearing those shirts and bowties. Does he have anything else in his closet other than looking like a cast extra from the Book of Mormon? He smiles at me and I subconsciously push my chair back, away from him.

Freak.

“ Good. Good. At least you haven’t been on it long enough to warrant any actual medical attention. I think you’ll be okay.”

My brows furrow together, “ What are you talking about?”

Dallon crosses his arms and leans back in the chair. He’s still smiling.

“ At first I thought you were Mona Lisa,” He begins lightly. My jaw tightens. Now the situation’s changed. I knew something wasn’t right about him. I take note of the door -- three bolt lock. I glance towards the window --- we’re about three stories up and there’s a fire escape. If anything were to happens at least I know my escape routes.

Dallon continues, unaware of me trying to plan my escape, “ Suddenly someone that has Brendon’s full attention appears out of nowhere? Must be Mona Lisa. Has to be Mona Lisa. Brendon is Mona Lisa’s right hand, after all. “

Brendon is Mona Lisa’s right hand? That’s new information. I shift in my chair and continue to listen.

“ But then I realized something was... off . You didn’t act like you knew what was going on. You always were on edge. Observing things, taking in your surroundings with such caution,” He grins, “ Just like you’re doing right now. You don’t trust people. Then there was the yacht and there I realized there was no way you could be Mona Lisa.”

I laugh. This is fucking absurd. I knew something was off about Dallon, but this is taking things to new heights. Someone like him that’s so close to the Mona Lisa drug circle must be trying to pull something on me. Is he an agent for Mona Lisa? Is he trying to get me to confess to something?

I’m not going to give him the pleasure. I wipe my sweaty hands on my knees.

“ I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

Dallon claps. One big clap. Like he just had his ‘Aha!’ moment for the day. He snaps his fingers and points at me.

“ That’s it. Right there.” Dallon tilts his head to the right and clicks his tongue as his hand drops on top of the table. “ You’re not really not a good liar, Ryan. You always sound like a kid that just got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.” His voice raises in pitch as he puts his hands over his heart and dramatically acts out the denial, “ What ? Couldn’t be me -- I-I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

My jaw tightens.

“ Who are you?”

Dallon stands up and walks over to the small dresser that is placed up against the wall, adjacent to the bed. He pulls open a drawer and pulls out a black wallet looking object. He walks over to me and flips it open.

Holy shit .

“ Special Agent Dallon James Weekes. FBI.”

He tosses the badge on the table and sits back down. “ I thought you were connected to Mona Lisa. Maybe a proxy or some sort of middleman. A new recruit into the business, perhaps. But then I realize that something wasn’t quite right. So I looked you up in the database… you know, the usual,” He starts counting off of his fingers, “ Driving records, voting records, vital records but nothing came up. Nothing that matches the description of a white male around the age of thirty named Ryan Ross. Nothing. It’s like you never, ever actually existed.”

My eyes won’t leave the open badge on the table. The man in the photograph doesn’t look like the one in front of me. His face is stoic, he’s wearing a black suit and tie, and his hair is modestly kept; combed over to the side. Right next to his picture is the word FBI in bold, blue letters followed by the seal and his name and rank. Beneath it is the actual FBI badge and his oath followed by his signature and agent number.

He’s the FBI.

This guy is an actual special agent in the FBI.

Fuck me, how did I not figure that out?

Dallon still keeps talking despite my obvious facial journey, “ But then I started thinking of a conversation I once had with your friend, you know, the one that owns all those coffee shops.”

“ Spencer. “ I say dryly.

“ Right. Spencer. I spoke to him a couple of years ago. He mentioned to me he had a friend working for the government. A fellow named George who liked to be called Ryan. So I called my team and had them do a few searches and, viola , you popped up. Field Agent George Ryan Ross the III, New York Division of the Drug Enforcement Agency.”

I sit there and let the words he told me sink in. He watches me with his smile, legs still crossed and his fingers folded together, resting around his knee like he’s patiently waiting for my reaction to his detective skills.

I lick my lips. They’re dry and chapped. I pull my lower lip between my teeth and nibble on it in thought. Then, “ How long have you known?”

“ After the glitter party.” He scratches the side of his face. “ I have to say, I knew of agents going in deep while undercover but I didn’t think I’d ever see an agent willing to go that deep. ” He chuckles. It’s almost condescending.

“ Remember what I told you? People talk?” I nod slowly. “ I wasn’t talking about your little affair. I was talking about those connected to Mona Lisa. You think you’re undercover right now? They know who you are, Ryan. They’ve always known.”

“ How?”

My heart is beating heavily against my chest. Fuck. I am so fucked .

“ Ask Jonathan Walker.” Dallon takes his badge off the table and flips it closed. “ He’s the one that’s compromised you.”

He stands up and walks to the dresser. He puts his badge back inside and closes it shut.

“ How do you know all of this?” I stand up. “ How the fuck do you know all of this?”

Dallon doesn’t turn around. His hands rest on the dresser drawer and he doesn’t look up. I just look at his back, shoulders hunched over and watch as he sighs.

“ I’ve been on this case for three years. Three years, Ryan, and I am close to finally figuring out who Mona Lisa is. But then you come along and cause a huge mess in your wake. In a way, I should be glad since a lot of focus has been lifted from me but at the same time, with your inclusion, everyone else is now on high alert. They’re protecting Mona Lisa, Ryan. So what do you plan on doing? Get on your hands and knees for Brendon? Do more drugs?”

I laugh. How dare this guy call me a fucking whore. FBI or no FBI, he doesn’t know what I know. He hasn’t seen what I’ve seen. If he’s been on this case for three years, how come I’ve gotten closer to Brendon than him? What a fucking joke. Insults aren’t going to help him solve the case.

Fuck you, Dallon. You don’t think I’m trying to do my job here? You thin--”

The draw slams shut. It cuts me off instantly.

“ Don’t you get it , Ryan? They’re turning you into a junkie so you’ll can be incapacitated. Brendon is just a distraction and you’re just falling right into it!” He runs his hands through his hair, messing it up in the process, “ He is there to protect Mona Lisa and you haven’t realized that yet. What type of agent are you, Ross?”

“ Then what the hell do you suggest I do then, Dallon?!” I pull on my hair. I have no fucking idea what I am doing. I take a deep breath, count to three, and then sigh. Calm myself. Think. I need to think. “ You stand there and preach to me about how I’m fucking up this investigation, what I’ve managed to do in less than five months took you three years and I’m still closer. So what do you want me to do, Dallon?”

Dallon stands there and looks at me blankly. His face is unreadable and I can’t figure out what he’s thinking. It doesn't matter because I’ve managed to wipe that smug smile off his face.

I take breath. I try to calm down,  “ There’s no way he thinks I’m a federal agent.” I say, slowly. “ Not with what I’ve been doing. It’s like you said, you never seen an agent go this far before. So if this is all a bust, what do you suggest I do?”

Dallon runs his hands down his face with a loud groan. It’s like he’s frustrated. Well, welcome to the club. He leans against the dresser and crosses his arms, “ Why haven’t you figured it out yet?” He mumbles to himself, but loud enough that I could still hear him. “ Instead of letting Brendon twist you around his little finger, why don’t you focus on Jonathan Walker.”

“ Why?”

“ He’s the one that told them that you’re an DEA agent.”

Chapter Text

What do you do when you discover that everything you knew was a lie? Would you confront the issue head on or would you deny it, act like it doesn't exist. The red pill or the blue pill; which one do you take?

Neo took the red pill and became the savior of the human race. But what had he done if he took the blue pill? Would it had actually mattered? Think about it for a second: the entire human race was reduced to organic energy for a sentient robotic army. They lived in a loop, a program, which gave them everything they desired in life. They lived and died as if they were alive in the physical world, ignorant to the reality that existed outside of their induced dream-like state.

So what was so bad about The Matrix? Was it all that important for humanity to be saved from the program? Did anyone take into consideration what would have happened to those billions of humans, locked up in pods, suddenly forced to wake up and be faced with the harsh reality that it’s not 1999 but in fact hundreds of years in the future where the Earth is just a sunless wasteland?

When you look at it and consider all the factors in the entire situation of it all, it really wasn't that bad.

I would have taken the blue pill had I known the truth that Morpheus teased Neo with.

I look at the small pink pill in front of me on the coffee table. Thirty milligrams of synthetic opium condensed into a tiny pink pill. I pick it up and hold it up against the light in the tiny living area of the shit hole apartment Pete has me living in. It's amazing -- I'm amazed -- at how much of an effect something so small can have on a person. Mentally, physically, and emotionally.

It's the last pill I have left in my stash. I haven't seen Brendon since that night at the Battery Park apartment and I have not bothered to answer any of his messages or calls since my meeting with Dallon a couple of days earlier.

Morpheus told Neo that if he took the blue pill he'd wake up in his room like nothing had ever happened.

This pink pill is my blue pill. I take it, allow my body to be consumed by it, and everything simply goes away. I stay oblivious and ignorant to everything around me. I crush it, snort it, and float away to a place where nothing matters except the euphoria of instantaneous gratification.

I like the feeling.

But then there's my second option. My red pill. Like Morpheus, Dallon introduced me to the idea of a rabbit hole. Only I could decide if I want jump in and see how far it actually goes. He handed me the pill and gave me the autonomy to choose what to do.

I still don't know what or who Brendon is. I do not know if the man I'm sleeping with is even who he says he is. Yes, I've been to his office. I've seen him at work. I've met his circle of friends. But then there's the other side, the dark side that is completely unknown. The side that shows itself in bits and pieces like his wife and his bodyguard. The wild, drug induced parties. The aggressive, manipulative side that manage to twist me into whatever he wants to me to be.

I put the pill down on the coffee table. Next to it is a short glass, a metrocard, and a straw. All three cakes at the edges with my growing habitual usage.

I can see myself in the reflection against the black lacquered surface of the tabletop. My hair is a uncontrolled mess of waves framing my face. I haven't shaved in days; the stubble becoming more of a thick, untrimmed five o’clock shadow. There's a lifelessness to my eyes that I have never seen before. Dark circles and eye bags show fatigue. I've let myself go. I'm a mess.

Is the blue pill really that worth it? Do I want to continue to be a slave to my own addictions?

I pick up my phone that's next to me on the couch. I look through the messages and see several from Brendon within the last day. I open the chat history and read the message:  

Hey u -- Im hosting a party this weekend. I would like for u to b there. Lemme know.

- Received 07:38PM

The next couple of messages follow the similar tone. There's a party and he wants me to go but he hasn't given me any details other than it's happening this weekend. It's currently Wednesday, which only gives me two days to decide and plan what I am going to do.

I go straight to my contacts and look for Dallon’s number. I could continue to take the blue pill but what good will it do me when my own division are pieces in this intricate game of cat and mouse. I'll take Dallon’s offer. I'll take the red pill and see how far the rabbit hole really goes. I call him and he picks up immediately. There's no happy-go-lucky tone to his voice; he’s serious. Prompt.

“ Yes, Ross?”

I lick my lips, “ Brendon is hosting a party this weekend,” I begin. “ I think we should go together. I don't feel comfortable discussing this over the phone so how about we meet up somewhere and talk about this in person.”

“ Sure. Where do you want to meet?”

I look outside the window. The sun is setting casting the city in hues of blues and oranges.

“ How about Columbus Circle.”

“ Sure.”

I leave the pill on the table and gather my wallet.

***

The sun has set over New York and the park is cool. It’s been awhile since the temperatures have been comfortable and I take advantage of it. I need too; I’m still trying to kick the drug out of my system. I think I’m doing good. I don’t feel too bad. At least not as bad as I had felt earlier in the week when I passed out in the street with Dallon there to save what little dignity I had left.

I’m on my third cigarette since arriving at the park. Cars circle around me, honking their horns in frustration at those that become confused to where to actually get off. Families and tourists mull around the square, taking pictures oblivious to the the guy sitting at the foot of the statue of Christopher Columbus in a black button down shirt and black jeans with cigarette stubs gathered at his feet.

Well, except for the tall federal agent that comes my way. He's still dressed in his usual bow-tie wearing innocent Christian boy attire. I guess we all have to maintain appearances when we're working undercover. He can play the clueless, happy go lucky bookstore employee and I can play the strung out, unshaven aspiring writer slash junkie in the making. Perfect.

I stand up and take a drag from my cigarette. I exhale, a breeze carrying the smoke away from me and whipping my long bangs around my face. Dallon places his hands on his lower back and stretches. Must suck to be as tall as him and reliant on the crowded public transportation. I don't envy him at all.

“ Hi.” I say, dropping the cigarette butt onto the floor. I stub it out with my booted toe. Dallon shrugs.

“ Nothing much. Heard you wanted to talk.”

“ Yeah, something like that. Let's start walking.”

We leave Columbus Circle, heading toward Central Park, and walk down the sidewalk on West 59th street, adjacent to the park. There is not too many people on this side of the sidewalk and the further we get from Columbus Circle, the quieter things become in comparison.

“ I got an invitation from Brendon to go to a party this weekend. He hasn't said anything else. I guess he's waiting for a reply.” I say.

“ I got invited as well. I already said I was going.”

I hum to myself, “ Well, that's good then. Great even.”

We reach West Drive and turn into the park. Night is finally setting in and the park is becoming scarce as people leave to head home or finish their plans for the day. I stick my hands in the pockets of my jeans, my left hand grabbing my lighter. I play with it, fighting the gnawing urges at the pit of my stomach to take the blue pill.

“ What are you trying to do, Ryan?” Dallon asks. He isn't looking at me but I can tell he's wary of me. I can hear the skepticism in his voice. Understandable; I am fucking the target and he just confessed that he's an undercover agent. This can go either way at this point.

“ You told me that things aren't quite as they seem. I have take your word for it. There could be a high probability that Jonathan Walker could in fact be a rat and that my mission itself has been compromised. So I want to team up with you.” I stop walking. Dallon stops as well and I turn around to look at him.

He raises an eyebrow, “ You want to work on this together.”

“ Yeah.”

Dallon sucks in a breath, “ Our agencies aren’t even working together on this. We’re in it for two completely different reasons.”

I still don’t know why Dallon is here. Drug investigations aren’t under the jurisdiction of the FBI. They focus on crimes that cross state borders such as money laundering, kidnappings, murders, and the sort. I’m sure Dallon has amassed enough evidence against Brendon to put him away for years so why hasn’t he done it only can mean that he’s not here to catch Brendon. He’s here to catch someone else and Mona Lisa has direct ties to it.

“ Right. But you’re in and they still don’t know who you are. I’m compromised. I think if we combine our efforts we can finally wrap this case up.” I pull my lighter out of my pocket and my pack of cigarettes from the back pocket of my jeans. I pull out a cigarette and offer the pack to Dallon. He looks at the pack and shakes his head. I shrug and pocket the pack. I bring the cigarette to my lips and start to light it, covering it from the wind. “ We need to get Jon.” I say, words muffled by the cigarette. I strike the lighter two more times before I get a flame.

“ Jon is insignificant to this case.”

I inhale the cigarette, pocketing my lighter, “ He may be insignificant to you but he’s my superior on this case. You said he rated me out. He compromised me and if there’s rat here I gotta catch it before causes more damage.”

“ I’m telling you, in hindsight of everything going on right now, Jon is insignificant. What you need to do is focus on finding out who Mona Lisa is. Yes, he’s dirty but I only told you that because you need to understand that you can’t trust anyone. That you are too sloppy and you’re going to get yourself killed.”

He thinks I’m going to get killed. Nice to know he has that much faith in me and my skills as an officer of the law. I still don’t get it. Why is he hesitating on this? He’s the one that weaseled himself into my life and now he’s backing out on me. He’s the one that gave me all this advice, even now standing here and talking down to me as if I’m some rookie straight out of the academy. This guy has a lot of balls for someone that doesn’t even want to get his hands dirty. I take a long drag and exhale. The wind carries the smoke directly into Dallon’s face and he coughs, waving it away. I smirk at him. Good. That’s what you get.

“ If we get Jon out the picture we’re one step closer to Mona Lisa.”

“ You remove Jon you’ll fuck yourself. There’s a reason why Brendon hasn’t fed you to the dogs.”

“ What do you mean?”

Dallon laughs and shakes his head, “ You need to just leave Jon alone for now and focus on getting to Mona Lisa because he is going to be your key.”

“ Well,” I take another drag and toss the cigarette, “ This was a glorious waste of my fucking time.”

“ I will help you, Ryan, but I’m not going to impulsively jump into a situation. You look better, by the way. Guess you’re kicking the habit?”

I run my fingers through my hair, pushing the bangs out of my eyes. I can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or not. It’s only been two days, it's not like people immediately recover from shit like this in two days. I nod anyway because it is true. I am kicking the habit … or at least trying to.

I pull out my phone and respond to Brendon’s text message, confirming that I’ll be going. A couple of seconds later I get a reply. Just a smiley face. I raise an eyebrow and look at Dallon. He looks at me with a cocked eyebrow.

“ I told him I’m going. He replies with a smiley face. No details. Just a smiley face.”

“ You’ll find out soon,” Dallon wipes his nose, sniffling a bit, “ We always do.”

“ Why do I get this feeling you're hiding something from me?”

“ We all need to play our cards right.”

We spend more time in the park just talking about the case and the details. Neither one of us go into much detail. There's a wall of suspicion that Dallon had put up no I can't seem to break through it. I don't know if I should take it as a sign leading to something bigger or a consequence of him being a FBI agent under a different investigation.

“ I'll see you at the party. Figure out your next move, Ryan. It's going to be the one that'll make or break you.”

We've managed to make to back to Columbus Circle and the Eighth Avenue subway station. He waves at me, that annoying joyful smile on his face once we are back in the mass crowd of people lining the sidewalks in the night. He walks away, his tall form being swallowed up by the crowds leaving and entering the station.

I reach into my pocket and pull out my pack of cigarettes. I flip the lid and look inside to only find two sticks left. Shit. I smoked five cigarettes in the hour I spent with that Mormon agent (then again the Mormon thing must be an act for all I know). I take one, bring it to my lips, light it and stuff it back into my pocket.

Taking a drag, I look at the subway station sign. I haven't been back in Manhattan in months without it being connected to Brendon in some way. I wonder what my neglected apartment looks like. Are my plants dead? They must be… it's not like the Wonder Twins are taking care of them. I still have a stash of weed left there too. Anything to kill the itch to take the blue pill will do.

I know going back will probably jeopardize my mission but I'm already fucked. No thanks to Walker.

I head back to Brooklyn.

***

rise and shine, sunshine.

its a beautiful friday meet me on the corner of amsterdam and 166th @ 7pm

- Received 10:08AM

That fucking phone vibrating wakes me up with a message from Brendon. Dallon was right; the guy was going to eventually send me the details. I roll over and fall right off the couch, hitting the hardwood floor with a loud thump. I curse and groan as I sit up, rubbing the throbbing pain out of my right shoulder. I blink the sleep out of my eyes and look at the coffee table -- it's littered with empty packs of cigarettes, an ashtray overfilled with cigarette butts, and four empty bottles of Corona. Untouched on the table is the pink little pill. It’s been two days.

I pick up the phone off of the coffee table and squint at the brightness of the backlight as I try to read the text message. Brendon had not sent me anything since the happy face. Two days of nothing and then suddenly this message. It can mean anything. I try not to look much into it and put the phone back down. I run a hand down my face. The rough bristles of facial hair irritate my hand.

I need to shave.

I lift my armpit.

Ah, I need to take a shower too.

The bathroom is tiny. I’ve always hated it. Tub is tiny and my tall, awkward frame can barely fit inside of it if I wanted to take a bath. The toilet sits right up against the ceramic, stained tub like it was some after thought. The water is hot; it almost scalds my skin. The steam fills the small space and it's almost choking. I stand underneath the shower head and let the water wash away everything. Maybe if I stand long enough it’ll erase the imperfections, the stress, the guilt and confusion.

I turn the water off and hang my head as I close my eyes, breathing in the stuffy, thick air.

Jon’s gone radio silent. I haven’t heard anything from the Wonder Twins since I got put on this case. Dallon suddenly emerges in this case as a federal agent and even he’s wishy-washy at best.

Then there’s Brendon. He has me wrapped around his little finger. It’s no secret. I can admit it now. I want to blame the drugs. It's easy to say, ‘ The drugs made me do it ‘, knowing that it’s a flat out lie. I loved the drugs and I loved doing it with him. I love the idea of being in bed with him and doing nothing but talking. He’s good. Real good at keeping my mind off the prize and I’m real bad at trying to keep my mind on it.

And the sex is good. Too good.

I look at myself in the mirror. The razor sits in the sink covered in shaving cream and facial hair. It's amazing how different I look without the facial hair. Almost younger, in a way. I feel my cheeks and chin, the skin smooth to the touch. I bring my fingers to the ends of my hair. It has gotten long, longer than I’ve ever had it. The brown locks curl themselves around my face, brushing my jawline and covering my ears.

Once this is over I’m getting my hair cut.

I throw on a white button up and black slacks. I put on a black tie. I slip on some sneakers and grab my phone and wallet.

Fuck what Dallon thinks. I need to visit Jon.

***

There's something beautiful about an American summer in the suburbs. Time seems to pass by slowly as kids take to the streets on bikes to explore their imaginations. Mothers and fathers set up barbecues and invite neighbors over as they talk about life before the kids, not realizing that they sound just like their own parents. A never ending cycle of ideal comfort wrapped perfectly in a four bedroom, three bath house on a tree lined street.

But as I approach the house of Jon Walker, the tranquil illusion I had built up in my mind comes to a crashing halt. I hear snot nose kids picking on the younger ones, telling them to eat shit and cry to their mommies, a woman follows after her husband screaming at him -- apparently he's cheating on her with the secretary.

I hate suburbia.

I ring the doorbell and wait for someone to come to the door.

There’s a sound of someone coming to the door and I take a step back. I pull on the ends of my shirt, flex my fingers, lick my lips… try to mentally prepare myself for this encounter. The door opens and it’s not Jon.

It’s not even his wife.

I don’t know who this is. I glance at the street number. It’s right. It’s Jon’s house.

But this isn’t Jon.

“ Excuse me, do you want something?” The middle aged woman asks me. She’s has bleached blonde hair with her roots exposed. Jeans and a t-shirt from a local 5k run event from 2005. She isn’t alarmed by me, just curious; she’s even smiling.

“ Is uh, is this the Walker residence?”

She furrows her eyebrows together. Yeah, she doesn’t know who I’m talking about and it’s obvious they’re not here anymore.

“ Oh. That last family! With the cute little girl, right?”

“ Uh, sure. Yeah. Them.”

“ Oh, dear. They moved away about a couple or so weeks ago.”

“ They moved?”

What?

A kid comes up from behind me. A teenager probably no older than fifteen dressed in a navy hoodie and jeans. The boy doesn’t even acknowledge us -- he just mumbles an ‘excuse me’ and shuffles inside the home. The woman looks over her shoulder, yelling for him to wash his hands before he touched anything in the kitchen and looks back at me and smiles apologetically.

Teens . He’s hitting puberty so he’s been a bit moody. I’m sorry about that.” She crosses her arms. “ So, yeah, I’m sorry about that. We just moved in this week and didn’t actually meet them. Just the mother and the daughter.”

I hold back the urge to sigh and curl my hand into a fit instead. The nails press into my skin and I make sure to add enough pressure so that the skin breaks. Fucking Jon Walker .

“ Did they sell this house or…?”

“ It’s a rental, actually.”

“ Oh.”

Where did that fucker go. How in the hell did I miss the memo on this. Was I that fucking high that I completely missed out on Jon skipping out on town.

Wait.

Why didn’t anyone tell me of this? I should have been notified about this. Someone should have told me. Pete should have told me.

I smile. It’s small, but it’s something, “ Do you know exactly where they moved to? I’m actually a co-worker and he hasn’t been to work in a few days and well… the team sent me out here to see if anything was wrong.”

It’s a bullshit excuse. I don’t know how anyone would buy it but she gasps, bringing a hand over her mouth. Her eyes go wide and wow, I can’t believe it -- she actually bought it.

“ My God,” Her hand falls from her face, “ I did not know… Wow. The wife said it was a job transfer back to Chicago. I-is he okay?”

“ He appeared to be okay… but he was acting kind of funny shortly before he, well, disappeared . It’s okay though. Thank you so much, ma’am.”

He’s disappeared. His family had just packed up and left like thieves in the night. Amazing.

I say goodbye to the woman and thank her for her assistance. She apologizes again and wishes us good luck on resolving our little problem. What we need is more than luck.

Shit.

I just wasted two hours getting out here just to find out that he’s skipped town. Nothing seems right. There’s something off about this entire situation. There’s no way that Jon would simply skip out on town if he’s so deep within the Mona Lisa operation. If Jon was killed there would have been something in the papers or Pete would have contacted me. So he has to be alive…

I call for a taxi and it picks me up at the former Walker residence. As the cab takes me back to the train station, I go through the limited contacts in my burner phone. Brendon, Dallon, Jon, and Spencer. I tap on Jon’s name and look at the number. I should call him. I haven’t heard anything stating otherwise that Jon was in danger or off the case. Even if he’s a rat, that wouldn’t change the situation over at the agency. He’s still an active agent.

I tap on the phone icon and bring my smartphone to my ear.

The number you’ve dialed is no longer in service .

Shit.

This is not good. Not good at all.

I hang up and go through my messages. I find the one Brendon sent me and read it again. Amsterdam and 166th. Washington Heights.

My old neighborhood.

Why do I have a feeling that this is a set up.

I need to the city as fast as I can. I pocket my phone and tap on the window that separates me from the driver. He looks at me from the rear view window and I tell him to pick it up. He rolls his eyes at me but once I flash a hundred dollar bill, the attitude changes and I’m at the train station fifteen minutes earlier than the usual time it would take from Jon’s former home.

I purchase a ticket for Penn Station.

It’s feels like the longest train ride I’ve ever experienced.

***

It’s been months since I’ve been back to what I used to call home. It felt like ages and the only thing that reminds me that it wasn’t such a long departure is how everything is still the same. Life continues to go on even if you’re caught up in a web of lies and mistrust.

It’s almost four in the afternoon. There’s another three hours until I’m due to meet with Brendon on the corner of 166th and Amsterdam. I stand outside of the 168th Street station and head over to the Starbucks on the corner. I need a place to focus and process the situation. I gotta figure out my next move.

As I wait at the corner for the light to change, I feel something pressed against the small of my back.

“ Don’t say anything. Just listen to what I have to say.”

My heart drops. My eyes go wide in shock.

“ Jon?”

“ You’ve fucked up, Ryan. Come with me. Now .”

I swallow and nod slowly. The pressure against my back disappears and I feel Jon walk around me. He’s dressed in the same hoodie that I saw him wearing at the party. Brendon was right -- Jon was the connect he met at the party. He walks ahead of me, clearly giving me indication that he wants me to follow him.

I do. I have no other choice at this point.

We enter a tiny parking lot on 168th. Across the street is that new budget hotel. We keep walking until we’re inside the garage and away from the view of the street. Jon turns around and flips back his hood. I don’t know what to say when I see him. He looks horrible -- a thick beard, unruly hair, and dark circles are prominent under his eyes.

He runs a hand through his hair with a loud sigh. Yeah, he’s pissed. I also notice he doesn’t have a gun. Good, I’m not going to die tonight.

“ So.” I start. Jon clasps his hands together in front of his mouth. He sucks in a breath.

“ I’ve been shadowing you this entire time. Since the beginning . You were only supposed to get evidence against Brendon. That was all. That was the only job you had to do.” He points at me. “ You didn’t do that.”

“ What do you know? You’ve literally gone MIA and suddenly you appear again out of the blue after I went back to your house? You got some balls, Jon.”

“ You don’t get it, do you?” His hands drop to his side, “ You weren’t supposed to fuck him. You weren’t supposed to get high with him. You only needed to get what we needed and you failed and now the case is compromised.”

I laugh, “ Compromised? You compromised the case, Jon! You’re a fucking rat!”

“ I’ve been working undercover, Ryan! It was set up this way!”

What the fuck.

Are you serious? It was set up that way? I scoff. Dallon was right; I have not a goddamn clue what’s going on.

“ Why-why didn’t you tell me? Why did you keep this a secret?” I feel this rage building inside of me. All this fucking time Jon was working undercover on this case and no one told me? No one thought it would have been worth my sanity to let me know that Jonathan Walker was on this case?

Jon doesn’t look perturbed by my silent frustration. He only continues, his voice layered with a shaking frustration at my obvious ineptitude, “ Things are complicated and letting you know that I was also undercover would have fucked things up even further. The reason you’re even on this case was because I got compromised.”

“ What?”

“ I was compromised.” He exhales slowly and then looks at me. “ How long do you think we’ve been working this case, Ryan?”

My mouth moves but I can’t formulate a number. Jon does me the favor, though.

“ Five years.” He flicks ashes away. “ Five fucking years. Me, Patrick and Pete were transferred from Chicago to this god forsaken city just for this case.”

“ Five years?” I laugh. Unbelieveable. “ You mean to tell me you’ve all been chasing this fucking Mona Lisa for five years . So what is your role in all of this?”

“ I am a double agent. I infiltrated them as a crooked cop. Rose up the ranks.” Jon talks animatedly with his hands, “ This is the closest we’ve gotten to Mona Lisa and yet, and yet , you’ve managed to fuck that up.”

“ How in the hell is that my fault? You told me to get close to Brendon and that’s what I did!”

“ You were supposed to distract him! He’s a fucking bisexual junkie with too much time on his hands!” Jon reaches into his hoodie and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. With shaky hands, he takes out a cigarette and brings it to his lips. He pockets the pack of cigarettes and points at me, “ Brendon is the fucking wall between us and Mona Lisa. You have to get Brendon out of the picture in order to get to Mona Lisa. If we got him out the way, I could have quickly found their operations and we would have grabbed them.”

He takes out a lighter and lights the cigarette. He takes a drag. He’s pacing back and forth.

“ That’s all you were there for. A fucking distraction and you couldn’t even get that right.”

What kind of sick game is this. I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t put my life at risk so that they could play me like this. I suck in a breath.

“ So you knew…. You knew everything.” I say slowly. Jon stops pacing. He takes one more drag and flicks the cigarette away.

“ Look at you,” He says, cigarette smoke coming from his mouth. “ You’re a fucking junkie in the making. When did you start taking the drugs? Before or after you started sleeping with him?” He gives me a look and scoffs.

I lick my lips. My head throbbing. Just when I thought I kicked the urges. Fuck. Fuck ! Fuck them all to hell.

“ I haven’t taken anything.”

It's a half truth. I haven't taken any in awhile, which is why I'm withdrawing, but I'm hooked. I know I'm hooked. I've been going on benders in that forsaken apartment in Battery Park for weeks now. I'm lucky that I still know what day it is.

“ Bullshit. ”

“ Fuck you.”

The thing about that drug is that the euphoria doesn't last long. You take it, it quickly triggers your nervous system, and then it's like all your worries and pain disappear for a couple of hours, maybe even minutes if you're not lucky. Then, the high wears off and you're lethargic, tired, and soon in a deep, dreamless sleep.

But the body craves it. It wants more of it. The dependency is formed and you become a slave to the drug. I get it now -- I finally understand why Spencer fell victim.

I shove my hands in my pockets. I won’t give him the pleasure in being right. Don’t fucking pivot the topic on to me. I'm not a junkie. I can get over this.

“ You still haven’t told me how this is all my fault? I did what you said. Obviously I was successful enough. Tell me, Jon , how is this my fault?”

Jon laughs like this is the most ludicrous thing he’s ever heard.

“ That fucking rich brat trusts you over me. He has completely shut down all access and handed you the keys. Five years of investigation gone to shit because he has a crush on you.”

“ What?”

“ Didn’t you hear me? I said the investigation has been put on a standstill because Brendon Urie is smitten with his boytoy. He doesn’t even know that you’re the fucking DEA. Can you believe that? And the sad part about all of this is that you’re too fucked up on Oxy to even be of any use. So yeah, Ryan, you’ve fucked up. You’ve fucked up big time.”

“ I didn’t even want to be on this case in the first place!” I yell.

“ I’ve been pulled out.” Jon announces, ignoring the fact that I completely went off on him. “ My family has already been relocated. So, good news for you, Ryan, the investigation is over. Once I’m safely pulled out we’re gonna pull you out as well.”

This is what I wanted to hear, right? It’s over. The case is over. I’m going home, back to my normal, drug free life.

But why don’t I feel satisfied with this result.

I think back to what Dallon told me. Mona Lisa is closer to me than I thought. Brendon has been telling me things for weeks. Alluding to this notion that I will meet Mona Lisa -- that I will have some role in this drug empire.

It’s not over. I can’t let them pull me out.

I am not going to let this all be for nothing.

“ I meet with Brendon tonight. Give me time. I can get you what you want. Just give me the opportunity.”

Jon jaw ticks as he contemplates my offer. He puts his hands on his hips and looks down at his feet. Let me do this, Jon.

He looks at me with skepticism, “ Fine.” He clicks his tongue, like he already knows, “ I suggest you visit your apartment. There’s a reason he’s arranged to meet here.”

I take a deep breath and give him the same look.

I don’t know who to trust.

***

Four flights of stairs. Down the hall, fifth apartment to the right. I forgot that I used to walk those flights of stairs everyday since this building lacks an elevator. The temporary location has an elevator despite the inadequate, bare minimal living conditions. My hand clutches on to the doorknob and I suck in a steady breath as I stick my key inside the lock.

I turn it to the left and don't feel resistance of the lock popping. I raise an eyebrow and turn the key to the right.

It locks.

Weird. I swore I locked this door before I left. Other than the building’s super, no one should be able to get in and unlock the door. I twist the key again and pull it out. I take a step back and inspect the door for signs of a break in. I don't see anything. A simple grey, metal door with bronze painted numbers, 506, hammered to it without a single sign of damage. I grab the knob and open the door.

I enter the apartment. There's a light on in the kitchen but the rest of the apartment is dark. I don't bother turning on the lights, there's enough light from the street lamps outside to illuminate the room in a warm orange hue to make out that everything is untouched. Or at least appears to be.

But there's someone here. I know there is.

I close the door behind me gently and slowly approach my home entertainment system. Inside the cabinet holding my bluray player and sound system amp is a black case. I pull the box forward and slowly open it to not make any noise. Inside is my federal issued 9mm. I rarely use it; I hate the thing but with the last few months, I am not going to take anymore chances. Who knows what the fuck or who the fuck Mona Lisa is.

It feels heavy in my hands but I hold it with the nozzle pointed downwards as I slowly walk towards the kitchen. I hear something rustling around in there. Against the soft bluish white light reflecting off the walls of my dining area is a faint shadow of someone. Fuck. There is someone here.

I get closer to the wall and line my back up against it. I slowly inch towards the entrance way to the kitchen. I take a quiet breath and count.

One.

Two.

“ Hands up!” I quickly enter the kitchen with my gun pointed at the invader. “ Wait… Brendon ?”

Sitting at the table against the wall of the nook is Brendon. It's no illusion; there's a thirty year old drug peddler in a black suit sitting in my kitchen with a can of beer, my beer , in his hand with a cigarette in another one. He taps the ashes off of the cigarette into an ashtray, my ashtray , and takes another drag. The cigarette rests between his lips.

I lower my gun.

“ I was wondering when you were gonna come around.” Brendon says nonchalant. He takes the cigarette from his lips and sips from the beer before putting the cigarette back.

“ How the… fuck… why are you here?”

I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do. Why is he here? How did he figure out where I actually lived? My brain is running with so many questions and yet I can't get it to let me formulate them into words. Brendon takes another drag, putting the beer can down on the table.

“ Why can't I be here, Ryan?” He says as exhales the smoke, “ I thought we were, you know, lovers. I've shown you my secret little hiding place at least you could have shared yours.”

“ We are… not lovers. This is not a relationship.” I click the safety back in and slowly put the gun down on the counter next to me. Brendon doesn't flinch. He sits there smoking a cigarette lazily with his legs crossed.

“ Hun, interesting.” He takes a final drag and puts the cigarette out. “ I thought we were in a relationship.”

“ You're married. How does that even work.”

“ Cheating attorneys sleep with their secretaries and shower them with roses and diamonds. Are they not in a relationship? Of course it is, even if it's an illicit one but, you know, sometimes the secretary wins.” He chuckles. “ And then sometimes the ex-wife will sneak into the house and blow both of their brains out.”

I don’t care anymore. I don’t care about his little stories and grandiose, nonchalant entitlement.

“ Why are you here?”

“ Why would I not be here, George.”

Fuck.

Chapter Text

“ Why do you look so shocked? It's your name, right?”

He knows. He knows everything. I watch as he sits there, flipping a lighter between his fingers as he watches me with a genuine smile. But, there can also be a possibility that he doesn't know. This is just a coincidence. Perhaps he asked Spencer about me and got my name that way.

That still doesn't explain why Brendon is here. I told Spencer I moved. Even if he did ask for my address, Spencer should have given him the one in Brooklyn not this one. I made sure to cover up my ties to the DEA so there's no way that Brendon could have figured this out.

Unless he found out from someone else.

Dallon’s words creep into the back of my mind. Jon compromised the case. That’s what he told me. It was Jon that ratted me out to Mona Lisa. But then, on the other hand, Jon just told me today that he was compromised. If I was brought into be a cover for Jon, to distract Brendon from Jon’s investigation into Mona Lisa then why.

“ I'm just shocked that you're here.” It's not a lie. “ W-why are you here?”

“ Like I said, I found out you had a secret apartment and I wanted to find out if it was true or not. Your building super sure knows how to haggle, by the way,” Brendon flips the lighter lid open and shut rhythmically, “ Gave him hundred dollar and he talked me up to three for access to this place.

“ I wanted to meet with you and have you take me here. That's why I texted you the location but I got impatient. I needed to know.” Brendon continues. He stands up and pockets the lighter in his jacket. I take a step back subconsciously; I don't even realize that I had done it until Brendon walks past me, into the living area. “ I must say you have a really nice place.”

I turn around and follow after him. He flips on a light switch and a lamp turns off, illuminating the room in a pale yellow glow. He whistles as he walks around the space, taking in the interior decorations. His fingers run along my brown leather couch as he whistles at my collection of vintage advertisements from the industrial period and vaudeville leaflet reprints.

“ I didn’t know you were into vaudeville.” He remarks as he comes to a stop, “ I always loved the culture behind vaudeville when I was a teen. Imagine traveling the country in a troupe, performing in top hats and fancy tailcoats. The illusion of being something you’re not night after night was always attractive to me.”

I lick my lips, “ I just like collecting vintage stuff.”

“ I do too. The wife doesn’t let me keep it.”

He moves again, walking over to a stand against the wall, adjacent to my bedroom door. There’s a few framed photographs there and I suck in a breath. I can see the photo -- the one from my graduation from basic training -- of me in a suit recieving my badge and certificate. He reaches for the framed 8x10 photograph and picks it up. My throat is dry. My palms are beginning to sweat. He hums with interest as he looks at the photograph.

Ten seconds.

Twenty seconds.

Thirty seconds.

He doesn’t put the framed photo down.

“ You look so different in this photograph,” Brendon tells me lightly, “ I can’t believe they make you shave your hair.”

“ Brendon…”

“ They told me about you. Said you were an agent with the DEA. I didn’t believe them at first. I mean, look at you,” He chuckles as he puts the photograph down. He looks up at me and motions at the way I’m dressed, “ You look like you fell out of a Spike Jonze movie. No one that looks like you could possibly be a federal agent with the United States government…. But they swore to me that you were an agent. “

I don’t say anything. I just watch him as he stick his hands in his pockets and rocks on the balls of his feet.

“ They gave me proof. That picture.”

How…? Who gave him that photo?

“ Fine,” I straighten my posture, try to show that I’m not intimidated by him, “ You got me. What are you going to do?”

I just walked right into a set up. I fucking had a feeling I was being set up and it ended up being true.

He stops rocking, “ Well, this is where things get complicated. The part about the open marriage isn’t a lie. I genuinely fuck anyone I find attractive. You see, I did not plan on this whole thing to spiral out of control like this.  I mean, I didn’t expect to be attracted to you. Once I found out you were gay I wanted to take you for a spin. A blow job here, hand job there… If we managed to fuck, well, that would have been great.”

I growl in frustration, “ What the fuck are you going on about? What do you want, Brendon?”

“ Wow, aren’t we impatient? But you see, that’s what I like about you. Impulsive and emotional. Not too creative with the whole struggling writer character but that’s okay. It’s a change of pace from what I’m used to. I was supposed to get rid of a problem -- that problem being, well, you -- but I did not expect to actually fall for you.” He sighs rather loudly, running a hand through his hair, “ This is really fucking frustrating!”

“ … Brendon.” I take a tentative step forward, “ What do you mean by them?”

He’s always referred to a group of people. How he’s had to convince them about me; assure them that I am who I say I am. That I was someone to be trusted and yet I could never figure out what he meant. For all I knew, he was just trying to withhold their identity by being vague with the pronouns. I don’t think that this is a person… I think that there’s several people involved now.

“ You are like this itch that won’t go away. I want to trust you. I need to trust you. You’ve proven to me that you are willing to do what needs to be done. You’re loyal to me. I love that about you.”

How can someone be in love with a lie? I can't even tell if what he is saying is true. I don't want to acknowledge his obvious attraction to me. It would only cause me to own up to my superficial attraction and I can not afford to allow my emotions to get caught up in this mess called Brendon Urie.

There are some things in life that you will know way in advance that it's gonna end badly. This is one those things. I change the topic, try to get him to give more information.

“ Brendon, how do you know Jon?”

“ Jon? He’s an agent just like you.” Brendon says matter-of-factly. “ He keeps the distribution lines open by keeping the cops off our track. If we go left, he’ll get them to go right. If he can’t, he warns us to close up shop and move operations.”

So that’s how Jon did it… The son of a bitch. He was the lead. He was the ‘anonymous tip’ from the drug bust all those months ago that linked Brendon to Mona Lisa. How could I not put two and two together?! All the signs were there and I didn't even see them. How could I’ve been so stupid? Then again, why did they just decide to withhold all this information and lure me into a ruse so blindly?

I take another step forward.

“ Did he tell you about me?”

“ Him? Pfft, we can’t trust him as far as we could throw him. Even if he did, we would not have believed him at face value. Like I said, we already knew about you and we had him bring you in.”

He walks over to me. I tense up. I have no idea what he plans on doing to me. He’s too amped up and twitchy. My gun is in the kitchen and I’m only a few feet away. If he tries anything, I definitely know I subdue him and call for reinforcement. Put an end to this entire game once and for all. He’s only an arm’s length away from me when he stops. I look into his eyes and see that his pupils are dilated. Yeah, he’s on something.

“ I don’t know why you’re so focused on someone that is absolutely insignificant to what we’re doing, Ryan.” Brendon says as he shrugs out of his jacket. He tosses it onto my couch and works on his tie.

Ah, he’s high and horny. Great.

“ What are you doing?”

“ Well, I figured that we’d snort some coke and fuck.”

“ Brendon, are you serious? Why would I want to have sex with you after what you just told me. Are you even thinking right now?”

He pulls his tie off and lays it on the couch. He works on the cuffs of his white dress shirt and pops the buttons loose. He rolls up the sleeves, revealing his tattoos. Suddenly he doesn’t look so prim and proper anymore.

“ But I figured that perhaps you would not be in the mood for that .” He flexes his wrists, “ They still doubt you, though. Think I’m just talking with my dick instead of my brilliant mind. I told to come here to test your loyalty to me. I really like you, Ryan. I’m offering you the world here. Come with me and you could literally have the world in your hands. Isn’t that attractive? You saw what my lifestyle can offer. You could have that too.”

I feel like I’m being propositioned by a cheesy villain in a 1980s B-rated film. I don’t doubt his attraction to me. I can definitely tell he likes me but he doesn’t like me. People like him, like his wife, are superficial and materialistic. They only want what they can’t have. They come into the lives of others, offering the world to them only to take it all away when the wind suddenly blows in another direction. What we have is lust; a sexual attraction to each other fueled by the rush of drugs and alcohol.

Jon mentioned to me that Brendon is the wall. No one knows who Mona Lisa is because Brendon protects Mona Lisa. If you need to get to Mona Lisa, you need to get rid of the obstacle in the way. I don’t know how close Jon got to Mona Lisa but whatever has happened to Jon obviously has played a huge part into why I am in the situation I’ve managed to land in today.

I need to know more. I need to figure out who Mona Lisa is.

I was supposed to distract Brendon with a book as the Chicagoans worked their ways to Mona Lisa and exposed the operation. Instead, I’ve fallen into this quasi-relationship built on lies, sex, and drugs. Jon is no closer to Mona Lisa than I am. Brendon is still withholding information from me. It’s like he’s waiting for me to make a decision -- a choice that could either make or break this entire investigation.

I still don’t understand why I am such a significant part to this operation. I didn’t know Brendon before and I definitely don’t know who they are for them to know so much about me. This being a complete setup from the beginning: my recruitment into the operation, the eventual fucking and drugs, it bothers me. It is eating me up inside.

It's so easy to get on my knees and suck a dick. So easy for me to wrap my mouth around a cock and work it up, get it hard with a sloppy mouth and a talented tongue. It's not difficult to make a man cum. It doesn’t take much effort to snort a line of coke and then fuck each other till kingdom come. The pleasure aspect of it all is not hard. If sucking a cock is all it takes to win narcissistic junkie’s trust, then I can do it. I’ve done it already.

We’ve moved beyond that, though. That train has already left the station and I am not going to bother getting on the next train. Riding his cock is not going to get me closer to Mona Lisa. Taking him deep into my throat is not going to reveal Jon’s role in this entire operation. Snorting a line of coke is not going to get him to open up about why I’ve been targeted by Mona Lisa and dragged into this mess.

They say sometimes it takes is all a kiss. A kiss to wake the princess from an eternal slumber. A kiss to turn a frog into a prince. A kiss to turn a frozen heart into a warm, beating one.

So I walk up to him, slowly lean forward, and I kiss him softly on his lips.

I pull away, “ You trust me, right?”

“ Yeah…” He licks his lips. I shift, bring a hand to his hair and run my fingers through it. He presses his forehead against mine and closes his eyes.

Shit. My chest tightens.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

“ Then you can tell me everything,” I whisper softly, “ I want what you have. I want your lifestyle. I want to continue this. But you need to let me know everything.”

I’ve considered it. God knows the nights spent in bed with him contemplating just leaving everything behind and joining his little scheme. Forget trying to expose this entire drug operation and simply live a life of comfort as a paramour. Unfortunately, life isn’t easy and a life like that is just a lie. Its destructive. Eventually one of us would end up dead and it’s there’s no way to enjoy the high life when you’re six feet under.

He nods and I kiss him again. My hand falls from his hair to his neck; I feel for his pulse point. It’s fast. Too fast. I can’t tell if it's the drugs or his own nervous. I coax his mouth open and he responds to me. We simply stand there kissing with our tongues moving lazily against each other. This is probably the most intimate we’ve ever been with each other and it scares me.

It scares me to think that there might actually be something more to our arrangement. It scares me to consider that Jon was right; he does love me in some fucked up way.

“ Take me to Mona Lisa, Brendon,” I say as I break the kiss. “ Take me there.”

“ A-alright,” He nods as he pulls away from me, “ I’ll take you.”

We leave the apartment together. Brendon left his jacket and tie behind. I wonder if he noticed? I guess it doesn’t matter. When we make it outside the apartment, there’s a black car waiting for us in front of the building. The tall burly guy, Zack, is standing outside of it with his hands clasped in front of him. He sees us and immediately opens up the backseat door. We wordlessly get inside of the car -- Brendon first, then me -- and I suck in a silent breath as the door closes.

This is it.

It’s happening.

Zack gets behind the wheel and looks at Brendon through the rear view mirror. He looks at me briefly. I can see him from the corner of my eye. I don’t know exactly why he’s looking at me but I guess he wants to be sure that he isn’t making a mistake.

The unfortunate thing is -- he is.

“ Take us.”

Zack opens his mouth. I can see the hesitation in his eyes -- he wants to ask if Brendon is making the right choice by bringing me.

But he doesn't say anything. He starts the ignition and pulls the car out onto the street. As the car turns onto Broadway, I feel Brendon reach for my hand. I look down and open my palm out and he takes the invitation, intertwining our fingers together.

It’s unfortunate how all things must eventually come to an end.

I gently run my thumb over his knuckles. I’ll be selfish and take the moment for what it’s worth.

***

It’s night by the time we arrive at the destination. The car pulls into a back alleyway and Zack slowly drives the car until it reaches the fence that separates one block from the next, preventing drivers from using it as a thru-way. He turns the car off and gets out. I look outside the window, trying to get an idea as to where I am at. I know we haven’t left Manhattan, we didn’t enter any tunnels or drove over any bridges that would lead us outside of town, but Zack avoided main avenues and took sidestreet upon sidestreet. It was obviously done on purpose.

More than likely he wanted to confuse me.

The door opens and I get out of the car. Brendon follows after me, closing the door behind him. Zack whispers something into Brendon’s ear and Brendon shakes his head, patting the man on the shoulder. His bodyguard gives me on last, uncertain look before getting back in the car. He starts it and pulls out of the alleyway, leaving the two of us behind in a dimly lit space.

“ Relax, Ryan,” Brendon tells me as he walks up to a back door directly in front of us, “ There’s nothing wrong with a taste of what you’ve paid for.”

Yeah.

Nice way to put it.

He knocks on the door twice and waits. Then, we hear a knock coming from the other side of the steel door. Brendon knocks three times, pauses for a couple seconds, then knocks twice again. I hear several locks clink and clack against each other. Brendon looks over his shoulder and motions at me to join his side. I join him as the door slowly opens.

This is it.

I am going to find out who Mona Lisa is.

I am just disappointed at myself for not expecting to it to be him.

My eyes widen, my heart seems to just stop beating.

I did not pay for this.

***

The first time I did drugs I was in university. Not counting all the marijuana I had smoked up until that point because marijuana is as much of a drug as a cigarette, in my honest opinion. Drugs, though, were still a foreign concept for me as a sophomore in university. I had managed to avoid them. Was too focused on trying to figure out what I wanted to actually pursue. I was in prelaw struggling with the idea of becoming something I did not want to be.

Sophomore year was the year I decided to pursue my dreams. I switched majors. I had my first sexual experience with a man. It was the year where I finally thought I had my life figured out. It was the year I ended up at a frat party off campus and snorted two lines of coke.

James, a white bread American from Savannah (who was deeply in his little closet), told me I overdid it. I told him to suck my cock (I ended up sucking his). I was fucked out my mind. I said things I would never say. Did things I would never do. Felt like my heart was about to explode in my chest but it didn’t matter because I was too fucking happy, too excited that I was out of the closet, managed to suck a dick of a closeted conservative, and was damned sure I would be the next Truman Capote.

Then I crashed.

Was it the alcohol? It had to have been. Beer, vodka, gin… It was one hell of a party. My nose started bleeding. I was freaking out. James, the picture perfect example of 1950s American with a small penis, dropped me off at the hospital like a sack of potatoes. A bleeding sack of potatoes. A sack of potatoes with a literal twenty dollar nosebleed.

I don’t remember what else happened that night. I woke up in a shared hospital room with my father standing at the foot of my bed with a disappointed, yet relieved expression on his old face and a rosary in his hand. Ever the devoted Catholic he was.

I learned my lesson. It wasn’t worth putting my father through the hell of seeing me in a hospital bed with an IV stuck in my arm and the crust of a nosebleed against my upper lip. It also wasn’t worth putting the second closest person in my life through that hell. The only person I would call my brother. Blue eyes looking at me with such a relief that I was alive and well from my bedside.

The person I have let down time and time again.

But now in this back alley, nearly a decade later….

… This person has let me down.

“ Hi, Ryan. Looks like you passed the test.”

Blue eyes look at me with a genuine, pleased glint. A smile on a familiar bearded round face.

Spencer is Mona Lisa.

“ Wait,” I look at Brendon, “ Are you… this is some fucking joke right? You guys are fucking with me… right?!

My voice echoes throughout the alleyway. Brendon raises an eyebrow and tries to reach for my hand. I instinctively pull my hand away. No. No, no, no.

No .

Spencer looks between me and Brendon. He frowns, “ I thought you said it was done , Brendon.”

“ He’s just… He’s just overwhelmed, that’s all, Spence. I mean, aren't you two childhood friends? I'd react the same way too, you know..” Brendon reasons with Spencer. I can hear it in his voice: he’s nervous that everything he’s planned is about to backfire. He reaches for me again, grabbing my hand and pulling me close to him. I feel his lips against the shell of my right ear and shiver.

“ You agreed to this, Ryan,” He whispers low and hard, “ You agreed to this.”

It feels like a threat. He must be threatening me. I glance down the alleyway. There’s no car. It's just me and them. I don't know if Spencer is armed. I don't know what's behind him in that building. It's too dark to even figure out what part of Manhattan I'm in. The buildings are too high and block the view from any land markers. I could run and call for help but I have no hard evidence linking any of them to the drug operation. Just assumptions and theories. The consumption of drugs is not the punishable offense. Possession is.

I am in the lion’s den with no way out.

Spencer sighs as if he understands and holds the door open, “ Right, right. Come on in. I’ll explain everything. It really isn’t as bad as it seems, Ryan.”

He smiles at me but it isn’t familiar to me. It’s not a smile that I recognize. A person I’ve known all my life is standing directly in front of me but I don’t know that person. Instead of smiling back, perhaps even making a snarky quip like I would always do, a dry, cold shiver runs up my spine. I don’t know when it happened, but the Spencer that greeted me in that hospital room, the Spencer I smoked weed with in high school, the Spencer that I would blow things up with as a kid in the summer is not the Spencer smiling at me today.

When did he change. Why did I not notice this or picked up on it. It’s like someone slammed brick of revelations against my head. I always had known that the operation seemed funny to me. Why, out of everyone in the agency, did they want me on this case. Someone like me that has such a close connection to the target.

It makes so much sense now.

There were so many hints laid out in front of me and I did not pick up on them.

Brendon always mentioned Spencer. Everything he knew about me he learned from Spencer. My sexuality, my character, my interests… Spencer was the only one that knew of that picture. I had shown it to him when I arrived in New York for my transfer. He had asked for a copy of it to show his family. I emailed it to him.

I guess he was only trying to protect himself.

I just don’t understand how this is all possible. If it were Jon or Pete.. hell, even the dorky blonde with the glasses, I’d understand. Crooked cops and drugs go hand in hand with each other. Not hipster coffee shop owners.

Spencer steps aside and with a little bit of help from Brendon pulling me with him, I enter the building. There isn't much light but from what I can make out I am in a storage room of some sorts. I hear the door close behind me.

“ Follow me,” Spencer tells us as he walks past, leading the way to a staircase leading to the basement of the building.

We walk down the steps and come to another door. This time there's no need for code phrase knocking. Spencer just opens the door and walks inside as if he’s just walking into office. Brendon follows after and I follow behind Brendon.

The room is empty saved for a table in the center of the room. There’s an overhead light above the table that barely brightens the room. The corners are dark, with faint gleam of discarded metal pull out chairs letting me know there’s no one waiting to jump me. But there’s someone sitting one of those pull out chairs.

I suck in a breath.

I’ve been played.

“ Well,” Dallon cracks his knuckles as he stands up. He looks different; I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is but he looks different. Carries himself differently, like there’s some air of arrogance surrounding him; like someone who’s just seen the fruits of his manipulation come to play.  “ Hello, Ryan. Welcome to Mona Lisa.”

Spencer stands beside Dallon and Brendon steps away from me. I feel alone. I don’t know these people. I don’t know who they are. It’s amazing how in a moment’s time two people that I’ve known deeply and intimately have just become complete strangers.

I reach for my tie and tug at the knot, loosening it so I can breath. I pop the top button at the collar.

“ What is this?” I begin. I run my fingers through my hair, “ Is this some kind of sick joke?”

Dallon raises an eyebrow, “ Why would you think that, Ryan?”

“ Spencer, what is going on. Why… are you here?” I look at Brendon, “ What is your whole role in all of this?”

Dallon tsks ruefully at me then he looks at Brendon. Nodding his head in my direction, he crosses his arms, “ You swore up and down he was to be trusted. Seems like my assumptions were correct, Urie.”

“ Look, he’s just in a state of disbelief. I’m telling you guys that he’s willing to join us.”

“ Is that your dick talking or is that your brain talking? I see a skittery DEA agent, not a compliant one.”

“ I thought you were a FBI agent, Dallon.” I say. All three of them look at me. Dallon raises an eyebrow, interested in what I have to say. Spencer runs a hand down his face -- it’s obvious he didn’t expect that it would turn out like this. Brendon looks hopeful but I can see the growing disappointment in his eyes. “ I thought-- you told me to find Mona Lisa. You told me to forget Jon. You showed me your fucking badge!”

“ Anyone can buy a badge if you offer enough money for it, Ross.”

Wow.

I can’t believe this.

“ And that apartment?”

“ Investment property.”

“ Spence…”

He looks at me, “ I know what you’re thinking, Ryan, but there’s a reason behind all of this. A really simple and legitimate reason to all of this.”

I walk over to one of the corners in the basement and grab a chair. I bring it over to the table and shake it open, slamming it down onto the concrete floor to no reaction from the three men watching me quietly. I sit down and cross my legs and my arms. I wet my lips, “ Fine,” I look at Spencer, “ Explain.”

Spencer looks at Brendon then at Dallon before looking at me, “ I needed the money. I needed money to help fund my business. I didn’t have enough to keep me out of the red. Linda’s family gave me an advance and I promised a high return on it. So, I was desperate because I was in a contract and they could have sued me for the cash back.”

Wow. What a nice family. Make the fiance to your daughter sign a contract over a venture seed. The fucking rich are just as despicable as I thought they were. Greedy and uncaring to those beneath them.

“ That’s when I met Dallon,” As if on cue, Dallon waves at me and I frown. Don’t wave at me, you lying sack of shit. “ He was the only regular I had when I opened up the first shop. We started talking and bouncing ideas off of each other. Then he told me he has a degree in chemistry and I remembered how much money I would spend to get high.”

“ Let me get this straight. You decided to push narcotics because you were broke and needed cash to start your business? What is this? Breaking Bad? ” I lean forward and raise an eyebrow, “ What? You think you’re fucking Walter White and Dallon over here is Jesse Pinkman?”

“ It’s good to know you haven’t lost your wit, Ryan,” Spencer tells me dryly. “ Yes. We decided to cook. I had the money to start the operations and he knew what we needed to get. We started cooking in the basement of my coffee shop.”

I sit up and look around the room again. We’re at his coffee shop. He was running a goddamn drug ring out of the very coffee shop I would go to just to have a conversation with him and catch up on whatever was going on in our lives. He managed to run an elaborate drug ring right under the nose of a DEA agent. I honestly can’t believe this.

“ So where does Brendon come into all of this?”

“ We had to keep moving our operations. It’s not like we can get outside of the city to some random desert and cook without interruption, since you want to use Breaking Bad as a reference point.” Dallon says, nonchalant. He sits down backwards in the chair he had been occupying earlier and rests his arms on the backrest. “ Spencer’s wife knew Sarah and well, as you should obviously already know, Sarah is Brendon’s wife ---”

“ You used Linda to get to Brendon through Sarah.” I interrupt Dallon and he raises his eyebrows, impressed with my deduction.

“ Yes, that is absolutely correct.” Dallon grins. “ You’re a smart one.”

“ Don’t patronize me.”

“ I facilitated the warehouses. Invested in junk properties under the pretense of potential commercial development for the company.” Brendon tells me. I look at him. Did he just admit to using his wife’s family business as a conduit for this drug ring? “ When things got hot, I got another property ready. Rinse and repeat.”

“ And the parties?” I look at Dallon, “ Is where we meet with the connects and complete the transactions.”

Mona Lisa isn’t just one person. It’s all three of them.

I lean back in my chair and sigh loudly. I run both hands down my face, “ Why are you telling me all of this? I am a fucking DEA agent.”

I feel Brendon’s hand on my shoulder. I look up at him and he smiles at me.

Jesus Christ, I think he’s in love with me.

I can see it in his eyes. He believes we have something and that I won’t betray whatever we have. I look away. The guilt is too much.

“ Your friend Jon infiltrated us. We don’t know how it happened but I was tipped off. Apparently his team had been working on the case for a few years and we didn’t realize it. We had, a sort of,” Brendon moves his hands around as if he’s searching for words, “ Problem that needed to be solved. Then Spencer decided to reveal a secret…”

“ That secret being you. His best friend was also a DEA agent.”

Dallon finishes Brendon’s statement. It’s sort of creepy how the three of them bounce off of each other. Spencer and I never did anything of the sort. Snarky comebacks, slap games, pranks… Normal, non-creepy shit. I guess dealing in narcs cooked in the basement of a coffee shop will do some shit to a brain.

“ At this point he was just working as a point of contact for a buyer. We learn that this buyer is the DEA so now we have two problems to deal with. But, Spencer comes up with a good idea.”

“ And what would that be?”

Spencer scratches behind his ear and looks down at his feet. It’s like he’s ashamed to admit that he even suggested what he’s about to say. I watch him shift where he stands, dressed in his usual work outfit slacks and a button down shirt, and I realize that somehow the man I know is still there. Somewhere.

“ We threatened his family.”

“ You did … what ?”

Dallon chuckles. Out of the three, he has to be the worst. I can feel it. I see it. To him, this is a game. The longer I sit in this room, the more I realize that perhaps Brendon and Spencer are nothing more than pawns being controlled indirectly by a looming shadow.

“ That bothers you? You’ve seen worst, I’m sure, Ryan.” He tells me with a roll of his eyes. Yeah, I’ve seen worse but it wasn’t my childhood friend behind the trigger. “ He complied. Actually, he practically offered his services. Something like he couldn’t just come clean from the go, he had to work his way in… Honestly, it was a bunch of horseshit but we let him in anyway. He did great too. Really helped advance our business.

“ But then there was the issue of you. So we had Jon bring you in and had Brendon figure you out. Everything from the seating arrangements at the wedding to the meeting at Coney Island… even the party. Everything was planned. “

“ Everything,” I point between me and Brendon, “ Even this here?”

That was unplanned. The goal was to fish you out and figure out the answer to the burning question -- would you turn on your friend?”

“ I had to be sure, Ryan,” Spencer tells me softly, “ Too much is at stake here.”

“ But now we have a problem. Jon has gone missing. His family has disappeared. And then we have you insisting on trying to capture Mona Lisa.” The jovial, cool expression on Dallon’s face immediately is replaced by a cold and calculating one. I swallow spit. “ How do I know that you’re not playing us. No offense to Brendon, but I really don’t trust his judgement on you when I consider that two days ago you wanted to ‘join forces’ and turn us all in.”

Fuck.

Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuck.

“ I wasn’t in the right state of mind then,” I wipe my hands on my pants, “ You know what the hell was going on then, Dallon. I was withdrawing and-and shit, I have a lot against me. I just can’t fucking leave the force and I still have people to report to.”

“ Right.”

He doesn't say it like an affirmative. He says it in a tone that yells to the world, ‘ this guy is bullshitting me’. Damage control. I gotta control the situation and take the power back from Dallon.

“ I like it. I… want to be apart of this. Brendon’s right when he says that I’m just in shock. But hearing everything out… I-I want in. I understand and I want in.”

“ Hmmm,” Dallon looks over his shoulder at Spencer and motions his hand at me, “ We’re a team here. I say no but you know him better than me.”

“ I trust him, Dallon.” Spencer looks at me. I feel small under his gaze. “ He’s like my brother.”

“ Brendon?” Dallon shakes his head, chuckling, “ Well, considering everything, I think we already know. I’ve been outvoted. You’re lucky, Ryan, that these two think so highly of you because if it were up to me, you’d be dead.”

He stands up and stretches. I release a breath I did not know I had. He walks over to Spencer and puts a hand on his shoulder. He squeezes it, “ You may say he’s your brother but all I see is a modern day Cain.”

He gives me one last smile before walking up the stairs and out of the basement. Spencer looks at me warily and I don’t know what to say. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out. He looks at Brendon.

“ I refuse to be Abel.”

He leaves.

Chapter Text

I stare at the drawer containing a contract in my desk.

Terms printed in 12pt font, double spaced, on five eight by eleven inches of white, Georgia Pacific computer paper. It’s held together with one staple in the top left hand corner, neatly contained in a navy blue folder worth less than five cents. The paper is worth nothing, but once printed on it turns into sixty-five thousand dollars.

There’s nothing in the drawer save for that contract. I haven’t opened up the drawer since I put it in there one year ago. Having that contract in my hand reminds me of how little her family thinks of me. Why couldn’t their daughter find a more respectable person, like someone who wasn’t a recovering addict that barely graduated from graduate school. Who gives their future son-in-law a fucking contract for a personal loan?

Linda told me her father does this with everyone in their family. I smiled and nodded as I signed the papers but I remember overhearing her parents talking about me one night. They needed a contract; I could blow all that cash on drugs and alcohol. Had to protect their interests or whatever. It pissed me off.

I love her, though, so I kept up appearances and signed it.

One year. Sixty five thousand. Expected ROI of a hundred and twenty thousand in pure profits with no loss.

The deadline is in less than a month and a half. The shop has barely turned profit.

There’s no way I am going to be able to pay back the sixty-five thousand without closing up shop and liquidating everything. I am not going to do that.

I refuse to let that man win.

I hear my name being called from the storefront. It’s enough to break my fixation on the contract and bring me back to the real world. I walk over to the sink by the swinging door that leads to the storefront and wash my hands as I look at my reflection in the mirror. There’s faint dark circles forming under my eyes. I look tired. I am tired.

I turn off the water, flicking the water off of my hands in the sink, and try to give my best smile. The smile that people say have a boyish charm on a young clean shaven face. It falls from my face. I breath in slowly, breath out and close my eyes.

I emerge from the back of the store, wiping my hands on my apron, smiling.

“ Hey, Spence, Dallon’s here to see you.” Amanda says with a dry monotone as she sees me. I look at her; a young girl probably no older than twenty. She’s a natural blonde but dyes her hair jet black and dresses like it’s still 2008, MTV still played music videos, and Hot Topic wasn’t about go bankrupt. Dark eye makeup, lip ring, and a depressing deposition. She’s my first, and only, employee. A good employee.

There’s no one in the shop. Our morning rush was only five people. It’s now close to one in the afternoon and daily profits are only at a hundred and fifty dollars. The coffee still sits on the burner and hasn’t been changed three hours. I would yell at Amanda to change the coffee out but I guess she’s finally picking up on my less than optimistic vibes.

Dallon is standing by the register with his usual, cheery disposition. He’s become a regular as of late. Probably two or three months ago. Every day around 9am for a tall cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun. I don’t know how or when the conversations started but I guess out of boredom. Worry? Stress? Someone might say there’s my fiance who’s there to comfort me and be some sort of support.

And she is.

But there’s differently something she doesn’t understand and I don’t expect her to. She’s born rich, spent her entire life in this city, and well… For a upper-middle class guy from master planned community west of the sinfulliest city in all of America, things are just… different . New York isn’t Summerlin and Summerlin isn’t Las Vegas.

That’s why I can talk to Dallon. He’s from the desert like I am. He’s from a good family. He knows how it is to be a fish out of water.

“ So,” Dallon begins as he adjusts his bow tie, “ How are things?”

“ Well, I think you can see how things are doing.”

Dallon looks around the empty store. He crosses his arms, and like it’s some 90s sitcom, shrugs his shoulders, “ Looks like things are booming in my opinion!”

In my head I can hear the laugh track. I laugh with it.

“ Yeah, yeah it’s booming alright.”

“ Well, thought I’d drop by and have a chat with you.” He points with his thumb over his shoulder at one of the tables by the window. “ Got some time?”

I nod and take off my apron. Amanda takes my apron from me, balling it up and placing it next to the coffee machine with the four hour old coffee. I tell her to toss it and make a new pot and she does with her air of indifference and lack of apathy for her job. I step from behind the counter and we walk over to one of the tables. Dallon sits down, crossing on long leg over the other, and follow suit, leaning back and sticking my hands into the pocket of my jeans.

“ You don’t look so good.”

“ Things haven’t been going too well.”

“ How so?”

I sigh, running fingers through my hair, “ I don’t think the shop is going to last.”

“ I thought things were going great for you? You look busy in the mornings. Tip jar looks pretty healthy.”

“ That time in the mornings is the only time we get business. The tip jar is because I throw cash in there every morning to appear like we’re doing good and get the customers to tip as well.”

Dallon looks at me with an expression I can’t necessarily read. Does he think I’m about to ask him for a loan? Hardly. I don’t even know what he does for a living. He mentioned something about a bookstore but I can’t see how anyone in this city, who’s not a student, can supplement their living experiences over minimum wage pay at a bookstore. Regardless of what he does, I would never ask him for a loan. I’d close up shop before I ask anyone for a handout.

He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a small case. With his thumb, he flips the lid open and pulls out a cigarette. He closes the lid and shoves the case back. I never seen him smoke before let alone cigarettes in a case. Unless those are not exactly cigarettes. He looks at me as if asking for permission and I just shrug. Amanda smokes like a chimney in the back and I don’t have enough customers to even suggest telling him no. He brings the cigarette to his lips.

“ I am not much of a smoker. I only smoke for special occasions,” Dallon tells me as he pulls a book of matches from his pocket. He rips a match out and strikes it. He lights the cigarette and sucks in a few puffs, extinguishing the match as he does so. “ I only carry three. No more, no less. I’m down to one now. Once that’s gone, that’s it.”

“ Is that like three a day or?”

He always as an odd fellow but his peculiarities is what makes him interesting. A active church going mormon who drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes is not an everyday thing.

He shakes his head and holds the cigarette between his fingers, “ For the year. This is a really stale cigarette but it’s not as bad as the stuff they sell in the shops. I roll it up myself.”

“ You roll your own cigarettes?”

“ Well, yeah. It’s not like I particularly enjoy the act of smoking a cigarette but there is quite a demand for a cheap, freshly rolled cigarette in this city.”

I watch as Dallon takes another drag from the crude looking cigarette. Did he imply what I believe he just implied?

“ Are you saying you sell… ‘cigarettes’?” I ask, putting cigarettes in air quotes. Dallon chuckles, flicking the ash onto a paper napkin in front of him.

“ I legitimately roll cigarettes and sell them. Forty cents a cigarette. Quite a steal considering a pack is around thirteen dollars. It’s illegal but no one is going to suspect a guy like me of selling untaxed cigarettes.” Another drag.

I watch him as he finishes the cigarette.

“ I never quite understood what you did for a living.”

“ Didn’t I tell you this?” He chuckles as he folds the napkin covered with cigarette ash and a used cigarette, “ I work at a bookstore in Brooklyn. I’m the manager. It pays decent. I see your expression though… How does a guy like me afford to live in this city on such small earnings.”

I nod.

“ There’s this,” He tells me, the ball of napkin filled with cigarette ashes in the palm of his hand, “ And then there’s something else. Of the similar vein but not quite… so….” He winds his index finger in the air, “ So…. so….”

“ Legal?”

He snaps his fingers, “ That’s right! Legal.”

“ What do you do…?”

The napkin sits on top of the table between us. It slowly comes undone, refusing to be forced into the shape that it was rolled into.

“ Got time to spare? I'd actually like to show you.”

I would rather not leave my shop alone in the hands of Amanda. Despite what I think about her, the work ethic she possess is practically non existent. I am positive that if I left the shop for more than thirty minutes she would use that opportunity to stay in the back room, smoking cigarettes and eating from the pastry inventory.

Business has been unbelievably slow today and I need something to get my mind off of it. The contract that sits in my locked drawer feels like eyes watching my back. It's an looming burden and everything around me -- from the furniture to the inventory -- is just a reminder of my foolish attempt at running a business.

Degree or no degree, perhaps I am simply not cut out to be a businessman.

I sigh and give in to Dallon’s offer.

“ Fine. Is it far?”

He shakes his head, “ We can get there by car in about fifteen minutes.”

I'll be gone for about an hour. Not too bad. I let Amanda know that I'm heading out for an hour or two. She nods but I can already see the gleam of relief at an extended cigarette break. We leave the coffee shop and step into the cool Autumn air of Manhattan.

Dallon hails for a yellow cab and we get inside.

It doesn’t take long. Not long enough for Dallon to talk my ear off about anything and everything. It's in Hell's Kitchen near the piers. We get out of the cab on the corner of fifty-seventh and eleventh avenue after Dallon pays the ridiculous fare.

“ I make a good amount of money. There’s actually a lot of money in it.” He tells me as he leads the way to whatever he wants to show me, “ Perhaps enough money to keep your own shop afloat.”

Is he gambling? That would make sense. Anyone can sell cigarettes and weed. I know there’s no money in that. So he has to be gambling in the underground poker rings here in the city. That’s how he’s making his money.

Right?

“ Yeah, if it’s gambling, I don’t want any part of that.”

“ No, I’m not gambling. I have terrible luck.”

If he’s not gambling then importing? That can get illegal if stuff is being smuggled. He did take me to Hell’s Kitchen and it’s not like these piers are known for importing the legalist of product into New York.

We continue walking up fifty-seventh, towards the pier, until we stop at a small single floor warehouse smudged in between two large recently built buildings. There’s a for sale sign hanging in one of the cloudy, aged windows. I look around the area and can’t really guess what reason a guy like Dallon would have to being here.

He takes out a set of keys from his back pocket and unlocks the heavy metal door. He opens the door and steps aside for me to enter. I step inside the warehouse and take note at the lack of light inside. With the buildings on either side, sunlight is completely blocked save for the little sun coming from the opened door and front windows.

I hear the door close behind me.

“ I started working on this a couple of weeks ago,” Dallon says as he walks past me and over to, what I would assume to be, the breaker panel on the other side of this building. “ But I’m sort of in need of some assistance to really get it going.”

“ Like... what type of assistance?”

The lights flick on with a loud burst from the iridescent lights over head. The walls of the build maintain the dark red brick, nothing is painted over, and the floors are a dark concrete covered in dust. I move my toe against the dirt and easily pick up about a half inch against my black sneaker.

In the center of the warehouse is a few tables and, I guess, what looks like a chemistry set. There's beakers and bottles of chemicals hooked up to tubes and held over heaters.

“ I guess I should be a bit more honest with you, Spencer.” Dallon tells me as he walks over to the table with the chemistry set. “ I'm a chemist. I have a masters in biochemistry and I know what you're thinking, Spencer and you are absolutely right -- it does not explain why someone like me with such a degree would be working at a bookstore at slightly above minimum wage.”

The guy is a scientist. He works at a bookstore but he plays with a chemistry set in a run down warehouse on the edges of a gentrified Hell’s Kitchen. Nothing's making sense to me.

“ Well, yeah. Do you like own this place?”

“ I do.” He picks up a beaker and looks at a clear liquid inside of it. “ I need to get rid of it, which is why I have the for sale sign.”

He owns property in Hell’s Kitchen. A guy with a masters in biowhatever who works a bookstore for minimum wage owns a eight hundred square foot warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen. And it is not like he's an older fellow with a life savings -- he's only six years older than me. That's not old. Dallon never gave me the impression he comes from a rich family, so how is this all happening?

“ What is this job you do then… the job that pays for all of this?”

“ I like to call it more like a drug farm entrepreneurship.”

“ A drug what?”

I look at the set. I cock my head a bit to the left and then to the right. I open my mouth but I can’t seem to get out. I blink a few times.

This isn’t exactly making any sense right now.

I am glad Amanda is nowhere to be found. Even if we were at the cafe, I would have excused her to enjoy a cigarette break. It would be a time that I would have been relieved that her toxic dependency on nicotine would not have allowed her to sit in on this conversation. I don’t know what the girl would have done if she heard that. She’s lethargic but she still has a conscious, enough to keep me from touching the bottle again. Amanda knows my struggle -- we met at an AA meeting after all -- and she also knows of my past.

It helps to have people around to keep you tethered to reality that actually understand and are on the same path of recovery as you.

“ I like to call myself a drug farm entrepreneur and I’m actually here to propose an offer. A partnership of sorts.”

“ I don’t want to take part in anything illegal -- ”

“ It brings in two-hundred forty thousand dollars a week. Nine hundred sixty thousand dollars a month. Tax free. According to my calculation if I were to sell it at sixty dollars a pill, producing roughly four kilograms a week.”

Quick and concise. He’s looking at me like he’s interested in what I have to say. He just made his proposal and he’s waiting for me to simply drop all logic and say yes to this insane proposition of, if I am understanding all of this right, drug trafficking. This isn’t a joke and I am being offered a part in some sort of a drug deal. Is this guy crazy? He has to be. He must be.

“ No.”

He raises an eyebrow, “ This is the answer to your problem, Spencer.”

“ I won’t do this.”

“ I know about your past, Spencer. I know. I asked around…” As he says this he puts the beaker down and walks around his set. “ She’s a nice girl but she has a really loose tongue.”

I have no idea why Amanda told him about my past and recovery. I need to talk to her about this later. No matter what he says, I will not bite.

Which is why I need someone like you to help me with this. You know the product.”

I frown, “ Are you suggesting that I help you push pills? Are… are you serious ?”

Is this man crazy? He has to be. No one in their right mind would ever ask a recovering junkie to sell drugs. I don't care if I'm about to lose my shop. I don't care if my future father-in-law is going to sue me for the investment return. I will not go back down that road again.

I start to walk away. I can hail a cab and get right back to the coffee shop before Amanda finishes her third cigarette.

But I see Dallon scurrying towards me like a car salesman afraid of a deal walking out on him.

“ L-Look, I understand that you think this sounds crazy. And it does sound crazy. But I have a legitimate and rational reason behind all of this.”

“ Legitimate or not I don't think you understand what the hell you're asking for.”

He runs around me, blocking the exit. He holds his hands up, “ Just hear me out.”

I reluctantly give in. I’ll hear what he has to say, decline the offer, and keep going with my life. I am not going back to drugs.

“ Fine.”

He sighs and walks over to me with a smile. He wraps an arm around my shoulders and guides me back to his set while patting my arm as if we’re buddies having a good ol’ chat.

“ We’ve been talking about your shop for a while, right? It’s not a good situation with that horrible contract. We’ve bounced ideas and they’re all really good but this will solve your problem.” He releases his hold on me and steps in front of me. He crosses his arms and cocks his head a bit to the left, “ Okay, how much were you spending a week to get high?”

I lick my lips, “ Two hundred and forty dollars every two weeks… Four pills.”

He claps his hands and points at me,“ Right. Two hundred and forty dollars every two weeks!” He quickly walks behind the chemistry set and picks up an empty flask, “ Imagine what that dealer was making in one week. What the supplier was making. There’s a business here, Spencer, that can get you out of your problems and back on your feet. I’m not asking you to do any of this. You don’t even have to be anywhere near the product. I just need your help in funding the equipment and a place to cook without risk of being caught.”

I watch him skeptically. There’s something fishy behind this. Something is not right. He has a motive here and I can’t figure out what it is. There is no way he is willing to risk his life to cook for me and all I need to do is just give him the money to keep the operation afloat.

“ I guarantee that if we start cooking within the next two weeks, you’ll have the cash and interest to show your father-in-law that the shop is successful.”

Wait.

I am starting to understand what’s going on.

He needs someone to launder the money. It’s not that he wants to save my shop -- he needs a business to legitimize the earnings from the drug sales.

“ You want my business to launder the money.”

He puts the flask down and furrows his eyebrows together, “ Don’t put it that way. You’re benefitting from this too, you know.”

“ How in the hell am I going to benefit from this? How in the hell does a small time coffee shop make nearly a million dollars in one month? It makes no sense, Dallon!”

“ If you play your cards right, Spencer, it will! You don’t take all of the cash, Spencer, you take a reasonable amount.  And as your business grows and you open more shops, more and more of the money can be filtered through. It’s a no-brainer. I need to make product and you need to save your business. We both have needs that can be mutually met.”

My ears perk at the mention of him saying that he needs to make product. I take a step forward and rest my hands against the table.

“ What do you mean you need to make product?”

“ Personal issues. I’ll tell you later… I will tell you everything if you’re willing to agree to help me on this.” He holds his hand out to me. I look at his outstretched hand. “ If there was another way, I would take it immediately. Desperate times call for desperate measures and you’re the only guy I can trust.”

I look up at him, directly into his eyes. He’s not lying. There’s something there behind those eyes that are letting me know that he’s not lying to me.

I need the money. I need to save the shop.

A-and its not like I want to do this.

As long as I am far way. Out of sight and out of mind, as they say, from whatever he is doing… It’s good. I am good.

I can’t disappoint Linda and her family. Not now. Not ever.

I slowly reach for his hand and he grips onto mine tightly.

“ To the beginning of a beautiful partnership.” He says.

Chapter Text

I watch Brendon eat pancakes smothered in butter and maple syrup as if he has not eaten in days. There's a large side order of french fries next to his plate covered in ketchup. A sweating bottle of Heineken sits next to the potatoes but he hasn't touched it, opting for the glass of water. He hasn't said much to me since we've arrived at this diner around the corner from my actual apartment.

With what's been going on these last twelve hours, I doubt I'll be returning to Brooklyn. I just don't know how to let them know that.

After the big reveal, I needed to think. Get away from everything and try to process what I had just heard. Brendon, on the other hand, wanted to have a heart to heart. I reluctantly agreed; I rather have him thinking I am completely on board with their insanity rather than risk ending up weighted down in the Hudson River. Zack was waiting for us and we got in. Maybe the two are telepathic, but the bald guy knew exactly where to take us without Brendon saying a word.

Or perhaps this was just another plan crafted up by Brendon and everything we've done has just been written out by him. I am nothing more than a puppet with strings being pulled by him, an actor in a play taking stage cues from a director and not cognitive of it.

I’ve taken the blue pill and I’m nothing more than programmed code in a Matrix.

I glance outside the diner window. It's dark outside and except for the red neon lights advertising the diner’s specialties, the area looks dead. There's no businesses on this street and the only thing illuminating the area are the street lamps. The black Lexus that we've been escorted in is parked directly in front. Zack is standing outside of the car, leaning against the front passenger door and looking at his phone. Occasionally he'll look up at us and I'll quickly look somewhere else. I'll admit he scares the living fuck out of me.

“ You're not touching your food.” Brendon observed as he wipes his mouth with a napkin. I look down at my plate of an average looking club sandwich.

I haven't touched it

“ Not much of an appetite.” I say.

“ You’re not a big eater, I’ve notice.”

“ I have a lot of things on my mind.”

He takes a sip from his glass of water, “ I can imagine.”

I haven’t said much since we left the basement of one of Spencer’s coffee shops. I have a feeling that I’m standing on the edge with Dallon’s hands against my back, threatening to push me over. He doesn’t trust me and I fucked that up big time. There was something off about him, I didn’t pick up on it, and he conned me into believing he was an agent.

This could be another game where I don’t know the rules and I end up losing. If Dallon could lie so easily to me, what is stopping Brendon from leading me down another rabbit hole? I could be looking into something that isn’t there. Maybe Brendon doesn’t like me in the way I think he does. There’s Spencer, though, and he was not faking it. I know he wasn’t. Spencer was never good at lying but his strength is in misleading others and putting up appearances.

Hiding in plain sight.

Spencer saved me tonight. And, even if I don’t want to acknowledge why he did it, Brendon saved me as well.

I feel Brendon’s hand on top of my left hand. He runs his thumb over my knuckles, caressing them softly like a lover wanting to touch their significant other on a date. There’s an intimacy to the contact that I am not familiar with -- not from him. I look at our hands and pull my lower lip between my teeth, chewing on it nervously.

“ What is this,” I say lowly. I stop chewing on my lower lip and look at Brendon, “ What is all of this?”

His thumb stops, “ Isn’t it obvious?”

“ No, it’s not that obvious.”

He pulls his hand away and sighs. I pick up my glass of water and take a small sip from it.

“ You’re in. You’re Mona Lisa. Just like me. Just like Spencer. Just like Dallon. You are one of us.”

“ And this?” I point between us.

“ I think I’ve been pretty forward on this.” Brendon sighs a laugh and puts his hands on his lap. He leans back into the booth and hangs his head slightly.

“ You want to continue this as a legitimate relationship.”

Legitimate. Relationship. The words feel heavy on my tongue.

“ And what about your wife? Don’t you love her?”

An affair. A caricature of intimacy.

He looks at me with a lazy smile, as if this all makes sense, “ King Louis XV of France was married, lovingly so to his consort, Marie. But there was someone in the court that took his attention. Captured it. Rejuvenated something in him that he had thought he lost. Madame de Pompadour .”

He says the woman’s name with a french accent and a twist of his hand.

“ She became his chief mistress. Can you believe that? The French monarchy had titles for their mistresses . And it worked. It actually worked. She was there for him emotionally and physically and as long as she didn’t lose favor with the Queen Consort, she was able to live a life of comfort in the bed of her king.”

“ Your justification for our relationship is based on a three hundred year old affair.”

“ No. I am saying that it is possible to be involved with two people for two completely, different reasons, as long as everyone is completely within the know.”

Oh.

Is he serious.

Who in their right mind would even -- wait.

I run a hand through my hair and sigh.

“ Is this some kind of twisted Mormon interpretation of marriage? Do you want Sarah and me to play sister wives or something?”

“ What?” He blinks. “ No. What the fuck, Ryan? I’m not going to marry you. I am trying to say that I need you in ways that Sarah can’t provide.”

I must look offended. I am offended but I won’t say it to his face. He’s entitled, of course. Any guy that believes he can simply pay his way through life is someone that feels entitled. Brendon must have picked up on it because he’s running his hands down his face with a groan. I guess he realized his fucked up analogy isn’t working.

“ Sarah knows about us, Ryan. And no, not like you’re some random fuck, but that I want to be involved with you. I want to be with you. She doesn’t care. As long as I am happy, she doesn’t care.”

That beer is looking really good right now. I grab the bottle with no protest from him and start drinking from it.

“ What if I don’t want to be with you, Brendon?” I put the bottle down and Brendon’s eyebrows furrow together.

Well shit.

“ What do you mean? Are you trying to tell me that you don’t feel the same way about us?”

“ I’m just curious,” I take another swing from the bottle, “ That’s all.”

“ I put my ass on the line because I legitimately like you. I risked my partnership for you, Ryan, when I was told to simply keep you away because I thought that we may have something.”

Jon was not lying. Funny.  Perhaps I am putting myself too far into this affair. I simply do not want to be attached. I do not want to come out of this less of a person because I gave him something that he could not be able to return. I know how this story is going to end. There is no happy ending here.

He will go to jail. I will put him there.

We can not be together. No matter how badly I would like that to not be true, it is just a fact of our reality.

I reach over the table and cup his cheek. I run my thumb over his cheek and smile. I smile because my heart tightens when he melts into my touch. I smile because I enjoy being with him. I smile because, had we met under different circumstances, maybe in a different life, I think we could have had something.  

“ I am not going anywhere, Brendon.” I say softly. “ I simply rather have all of you than half of you.”

I pull my hand away. Brendon ruffles his hair, a mess of bangs falling into his eyes. My heart skips like a teenager in love for the first time. Why is he so attractive? I fucking this assignment. I hate how personal it's become. I hate being tricked into it.

I hate knowing I am going to lose everything in the end.

It happens so fast.

He drops a fifty on the table and nearly drags me out the booth. He’s pulling me out the empty dinner and out onto the sidewalk. Brendon tells Zack to go home and he reluctantly follows the order, eyeing me with reservations he only dares to keep to himself. We quickly walk around the corner, hand in hand, in a haste to my apartment. Through the door, up the flights of stairs, and after stumbling with keys to unlock my apartment door, it’s not even a second after the door slams shut behind us that he’s on me.

He whispers against my skin as he nearly rips my clothes apart to taste my body. He’s happy, he’s relieved, he’s never going to let me go. He mumbles nonsense, almost worshiping me as I lean against the back of my couch, gripping the backrest as I stand there naked and watch as he drops to his knees and take me into his mouth. I don’t say anything -- I won’t let myself fall into this willingly. I rake my hands through his thick black hair and bite my lower lip. I will myself to focus only on the primal urge to simply get off, not the nagging in my chest that wants me to simply give my all to him.

It’s not until I’m on my back on my couch and he’s pushed deep into me that my resolve breaks. Maybe it’s the scent of his sweaty body consuming my senses. Maybe it's the way his lips feel against my face, neck, and ears. Maybe it’s the feeling of having him rock against me, in me, deep. I don’t know what it is. I wrap my legs around his waist, I press my chest against his, close my eyes and I whisper into his ear, “ I love you.”

He kisses me, laughing against my lips.

I open my eyes and look into his. He cups my cheek. My heart is racing.

I wish it was the drugs.

It’s not.

***

It’s been weeks, if not months, since I’ve been back in this apartment. Things feel foreign yet familiar. There is a lingering, nagging fear that my apartment has been entered in without me knowing. People have been here, touching things, looking through my paperwork, trying to figure me out and my purpose.

Of course, that could not actually be true and maybe it's my own paranoia consuming my mind.

I stand in my bathroom with a towel wrapped around my waist. I've wiped the condensation off the mirror but it's slowly becoming cloudy again from the lingering humidity from my shower. I can see the bruises from Brendon’s fingers all over my body. The marks from his teeth over my neck, behind my ear, over my chest…

We didn't fuck last night. We made love. Desperate, frenetic love. Like we wanted to consume one another and become one. There was actual feeling behind each touch, each gasp, and each word spoken.

I shouldn't have done it.

I sigh and wipe the mirror clean again. I don't know what to do. I-I actually like this. I like him and honestly I don't care if he makes me a kept man. I've been thinking of the possibilities of having my time back again. Being able to actually write and express myself like I always wanted. Become the next Truman Capote.

I hear a knock on the bathroom door and turn my head to see it slowly open. Brendon peaks his head in and I smile. He smiles in return and opens the door all the way, stepping inside. The cool air rushes into the hot space and makes my skin prickle. He took a shower before me while I was sleeping and helped himself to my clothes without asking. Sweatpants and a t-shirt.

“ You've been in here a while. You okay?”

I nod and run my fingers through my damp hair, “ Just thinking.”

Brendon purses his lips and I can't help but find it cute. It's ridiculous for someone like me to feel this way.

“ Do you have a pair of scissors?”

“ Why?”

“ Something needs to be done with that bird’s nest you got for hair.”

I reach into the drawers underneath the bathroom sink and rummage through the junk of razors, bandaids, condoms and other useless things that should be thrown out. I find a pair of cutting shears, something I bought when I foolishly thought I could cut my own hair and save money, and pull them out. I hold them out to Brendon and he takes them from me.

“ Get a comb and meet me in your dining room.”

When I come into the dining room in a pair of boxers and a comb in hand, Brendon motions for me to sit in one of the chairs. I sit down as I hand him the comb.

“ Since when did you cut hair?” I ask as I feel him move behind me. I feel the comb against my scalp and close my eyes as he parts my hair.

“ My aunt ran a salon in the town I grew up in. One of those small places where everyone goes to get a perm and all the equipment hasn't been updated in years. Even the pictures of the models with outdated hair styles hanging in the window are sun beaten and faded. Like, it was a one light town a ways north of St. George and pretty much only five families lived there.”

“ Right…”

I'm surprised he's telling me his story. Or at least a part of his story. Not the lies his wife has crafted up for him for appearance; the truth. I wonder if she even knows.

I feel him take a lock of hair between his fingers. Snip.

“ I would hang out there a lot. She would babysit me and I would just watch as she did hair. Eventually she taught me once I was tall enough to reach behind a client in a chair. I ended up working at the salon every summer. Just trims and stuff, no coloring or chemical processing. If a kid needed a cut for church or something, I'd do it. Had I stayed I could have taken over the shop. She wanted to teach me.”

I feel more hair fall against the back of my neck. I hear the snipping from the scissors. I feel his fingers against my head, moving me to his will as he snips away at my unruly mess.

“ So, what happened? How did you go from apprenticing as a stylist at your aunt in town in the middle of nowhere to a billionaire philanthropist.”

“ Gay little boys don't survive in a Mormon fundamentalist community.”

Hun.

“ I thought you were bisexual.”

“ I enjoy men more than women,” He gently tilts my head forward and starts cutting at the nape. “ Sarah is, well, Sarah. I love having sex with her. I can't say much for another woman. But since society needs labels, bisexual is what I use. Until I met her, I mostly identified as gay.”

“ You grew up in a fundamentalist community?”

“ Yeah. There was the church and then us. Most of the families were plural. Mine wasn't but my siblings all entered into plural marriages. Except me, of course. I was excommunicated when my parents realized I couldn't pray the gay away.” He tilts my head back and moves around in front of me. He takes a comb and brushes my hair forward. “ It's weird seeing your sister become a third wife. Even growing up in it, being surrounded by it, the whole polygamy thing is just weird.”

I don't know what to say. Does he not realize that he is essentially doing the same thing? He feels justified in having multiple partners and yet in the same breath finds that his sister marrying as a third wife is weird. Is it the religious aspect of it? I'm not familiar with Mormon fundamentalism but I'm sure the entire basis of the polygamy is religious based.

What a confused little boy.

He snips away at my bangs until I can see without hair obscuring my vision. He steps back and looks at my hair, shakes his head, and goes back to even the cut.

“ How did you end up in New York?”

“ Chance. My aunt drove me to St. George and gave me enough cash for a bus ticket to someplace far and five hundred bucks to start my new life. Can you believe that I was only seventeen then? I was lucky I graduated high school in time. So, I asked for a ticket somewhere out east. It got me a ticket to New York.”

“ At seventeen you ended up in New York City.”

I was about to start my first year of university. Spencer was in his final year of high school. And Brendon was exiled from his fundamentalist family.

Life is something.

Hair covers my hands, arms, and chest as Brendon snips away, styling my hair into something I have yet to see. I try to brush the hair away and he nudges at me to stop moving. I feel the scissors nearly ear as he edges around it.

“ I didn't know what I was doing. I just got dropped off as Penn Station with nothing more than five hundred dollars and a backpack of clothes. I spent hundred and thirty dollars at an Ecolodge the first night. Then, from there, things just sort of happened.”

The scissors move to my other ear.

“ Explain.”

“ I got a job at my company,” I notice how he emphasizes UO Investments as like it is his own, despite the fact that the company can belong to anyone at this point. He isn’t CEO, and yet, he believes he has it in the bag, “ I worked as a custodian. Night shifts. Under the table because child labor laws and all of that. I worked there for a year and a half. That’s when I met Sarah.”

“ I thought you met her when you made VP of marketing,” I pause, then realizing how that made no sense, “ Nevermind.”

“ You remember how I said she saved me -- tilt your head for me -- I am not lying. That woman saved me. Gave me a new life. A second life. All I had to do was promise her that I would do anything for her. And… we are done.”

He takes a few steps backwards and puts a hand on his hip, cocking it slightly to the left and tilting his head to the side. With a hum of approval he walks away into the kitchen with the scissors. I hear him run the water in the sink as I stand up. I brush the hair off my body, shoulders, back of my neck and look down at my feet. There’s a lot.

I rub the back of my neck. He managed to cut it tight against my nape. I continue to run my fingers through my hair. It’s short. It almost feels like my old haircut. I walk into the kitchen and see Brendon standing in the center, holding a large cooking spoon. He hands it to me and I look at my reflection.

Ah. My so-called Beatles haircut is back.

He’s good though. Real good.

I hand him the spoon and he takes it from me, putting the spoon down on the counter next to us. He crosses his arms and grins at me.

“ What you think?”

“ You’re good.”

“ I know.” He walks past me, “ Where’s your broom? Gotta clean this mess up.”

“ Uh, in the linen closet. Next to the bathroom.”

“ Gotcha.”

He disappears from my sight, leaving me standing in the kitchen with a fresh haircut and a lot of questions.

Mister Brendon Boyd Urie, billionaire philanthropist, chief operations officer of UO Investment, charismatic socialite, and husband to Sarah Urie, sole heir to the Orzechowski fortune is nothing more than a queer excommunicated Mormon boy from a bumfuck town in Utah, who by some weird stroke of fate, ended up in the saving graces of a pretty rich girl and had his history completely wiped away and rewritten to meet a narrative that seems larger and life.

Only for it all to end up as funnel for an underground drug operation.

Or is it really an underground drug operation? All three of them are operating in plain sight. Brendon and his family have political ties and influence. Spencer has weaseled himself into the local community board and law enforcement. Dallon is just everyone’s favorite bookstore employee with a bunch of ‘investment’ properties.

And then there’s me, George Ross, DEA Special Field Agent.

No one would suspect four guys like us of orchestrating one of the biggest illegal prescription drug trafficking crimes in the city of New York in decades.

I hear Brendon humming in the dining room. I step inside and lean against the doorframe as I watch him sweep up my hair. He bends down, sweeps up the hair into the pan, and as he gets up he finally notices me. I smile at him and he smiles back.

It’s mildly nice. I guess this is what the domestic life feels like.

“ I’m just confused. If you were just a janitor how… How were you able to hide that. How were you able to just… create this new life. It’s not like we were born in the 1920s and you can simply walk into town and craft a new life with no papers to follow.”

He shrugs as he stands up. He walks into the kitchen and dumps the dirt into the trash bin.

“ When you’re a small town kid from a backwaters town, educated in the church, and the only piece of government paper to your name is your birth certificate, it is very easy to rebuild a new life.”

“ You’re telling me you were completely off the grid until you met Sarah?”

“ Pretty much. I mean, if someone really wanted to find me, they’d have to dig .” He chuckles, “ They won’t find much. Excommunication from my church means I no longer exist. If anyone were to go to that town, they would deny my entire existence. So, to bring it back to your analogy, yeah, I guess you can say I was born in the 1920s.”

I feel his fingers graze the back of my neck as he walks past me. I shiver from the touch.

“ How did she do it?”

Brendon throws his arms above his head, stretching. The shirt he’s wearing, one of my grey training shirts now that I realize, rises up revealing a sliver of creamy skin that I am all too familiar with.

“ You keep asking questions. That’s going to get you into trouble someday.” He tells me as he drops his arms.

I roll my eyes, “ I think it's fair that I know everything about the guy I’m fucking.”

“ Fair enough.” He walks over to me and kisses me lightly on the lips. “ But I rather save the storytime for another day. It's almost nine and I am going to be late for work.”

I watch as he pulls off the shirt, tossing it onto the couch. He grabs his clothes from last night into his arms and steps into the bathroom, closing the door softly behind.

When he comes out, he’s fully dressed without a slight wrinkle in his outfit. His hair is slicked back, having helped himself to my hair products. God knows what else he helped himself too in my bathroom. He quickly walks over to the door, slipping his feet into his dress shoes. I don’t move from where I standing in the doorway of my kitchen. I just watch as he opens up the door, toeing his shoes onto the hardwood floor to make sure they are properly on.

“ I’ll be back tonight,” He says. I raise an eyebrow. “ We have a lot to talk about.”

I nod and watch as he leaves. The door closes and I can hear his footsteps fading away. I walk over to the window facing the street and look down below. The black Lexus is waiting out front and I wonder when he called Zack to pick him up. Brendon emerges from the apartment, skipping down the steps and gets inside the waiting car. Zack closes the door and I swear he looks up at my apartment for the briefest of moments before getting in the driver’s side. The car speeds off and I let go a breath of relief.

I look at the old antique clock hanging above my tv. Eight forty six. Knowing him, he did plan Zack to meet him outside at that time. He’s too precise with his time like that’s all he thinks about. Last night was the first time I ever saw him act without concern for the clock. The first time I ever saw him caught in the moment.

When the minute hand strikes forty seven my doorbell rings. I slowly walk over to the door. It could be anyone and I don’t want to take any chances. I peek into the peephole and see Jon standing on the other side. My eyes widen and I quickly open the door. 

So much for trying to figure out how I was going to get in contact with the team. Looks like Jon has been shadowing me all night.

Jon gives me a disapproving look, “ I see you had fun last night,” He says dryly, “ And you got a haircut. Looks good.”

“ Hurry up inside, Walker.” I hiss, grabbing him by his hoodie and dragging him into my apartment. I rather not dwell on the thought that he potentially heard me sound like a pathetic cockslut last night. I slam the door behind us and lock the door. “ What is it?”

“ I’ve arranged for you to meet with Pete tonight.” Jon reaches into the pocket of his hoodie and pulls out an old flip phone. He tosses it in my direction and I catch it. “ He’ll be calling you on this phone. Once you’re finished talking, destroy the phone. Pete will provide you with a new one once you meet him.”

I look at the phone in my hands, “ Burner phones.”

“ We have to keep this as discreet as possible.

“ Should I know the number?”

“ It’s one-way communication now. We contact you, not the other way around. Once you get the call. Destroy the phone.”

I sigh, “ I meet with Brendon tonight.”

“ Figured. Which is why we’re setting you up with Pete tonight. I have a feeling you’re going to find out where their labs are at. We need that information.”

“ Does this mean you’re out?”

Jon nods slowly, a sad smile on his face, “ Yeah. This is it. I have a flight booked for Chicago this afternoon. I have a transfer pending. Don’t know where yet.”

I hold out my hand and Jon takes it. He pulls me into a hug that catches me by surprise.

“ Stay safe, Ryan. Make the right choice.” Jon tells me, patting my back. He pulls away and I can only nod. “ Don’t let emotions cloud your judgement.”

Emotions clouding my judgement. I think we’re well beyond that now.

Jon leaves my apartment.

I don’t even know if I can do the right thing.

Chapter Text

“ Forgive me father for have sinned. It’s been,” I pause, running a hand down my face. “ It’s been years since my last confession.”

It’s been nine years and hundred thirty days days to be precise. I can remember it so vividly because it was the day after I laid my father to rest that I last stepped into a church and confessed my sins. I thought the confession could help me feel better about myself. Make my father’s death easier to deal with because maybe it was divine intervention that allowed him to succumb to the cancer. Maybe it was my sins that caused my father to die.

Maybe.

They taught us in church that Jesus died for our sins and that the church has the power, bestowed upon them by the Creator Himself, to forgive us of all sin. But I guess homosexuality is a sin that could not be easily forgiven. And, well, it's hard to go back to church when you’ve just been admonished for being you.

I couldn't understand why my father was so devoted to the church that would bestow such power upon men to judge with so much vitriol. Even as I attended Catholic school and went to mass every Sunday, I did not understand how someone could remain so faithful to a religion, to a God, that would forsake him time and time again.

Or maybe it was just me projecting my anger on to him to justify my hate.

I have is an old prepaid phone sitting in my back pocket waiting for a call to come. Brendon is going to meet me again and the chances of him taking me to the labs where they are cooking the drugs is high. There are two choices in my hands and I don't know what to choose. That’s why I decided to visit this church today. That’s why I’m crawling back to God for some sort of guidance.

Maybe he’ll have an answer for me. Showing me a guiding light on what to do… what I should do.

“ Many have strayed but eventually they come back. Do not find fault in your lapse. You are here now and that’s all that matters, my son. God understands and forgives.”

I look at the mesh separating myself from the priest on the other side. I can’t see him, just faint glimpses of black and white between small holes.

“ I have made some questionable decisions in the last few months. Some decisions that I would not had made if I wasn’t under the… influence… of certain individuals. ” I hear the father shift on his bench. I guess he’s ramping up the judgement from the almighty. “ And now I have to decide between turning on some people close to me, potentially ruining my relationships with them forever or standing right beside them and,” I lick my dry lips, “ Support their… endeavors.”

“ Are these… friends of yours the same questionable people that have tempted you these last few months?”

“ Yes.” I run my fingers through my hair with a sigh, “ But one of them I've known since childhood and the other one is… someone I am… romantically involved with.”

“ So you care for them.”

“ Yes. I-I care for them a lot.”

The night replays in my head. His body on top of mine. The feeling of him inside me, filling me up to the brim. My confession. His kisses. The fleeting moment of having someone want me is like a drug, the feeling ten times better than anything a pill could give. I don't want it to end. Not what we've created between us, no matter how superficial it may end up becoming.

I don't want to let go.

“ So why are you so conflicted? You have a friend and a companion. Is this infidelity? Is this woman married to your friend?”

My heartbeat skips. I shift in my seat. No, it's not a woman. No, they're not married.

“ No, I-I am engaged to her. It's not… we are not… It's not that. I… if I go and do this thing I could potentially save my friend. But I will lose both of them in the process.”

I'm lying during confession. Great.

I'm pretty sure the big guy above will understand. He is all merciful as they've said time and time again throughout my childhood.

“ What is it, my child? What is wrong? Don't be afraid to speak. I can not and will not speak of this to anyone.l because this is between you and God.”

I suck in a small breath, “ My… fiancé is a CPA and has been cooking my best friend's books. Has been doing this for a while and I just found out. I don't feel comfortable with this continuing because if it continues there's a high possibility that they will get caught and sent to prison.

“ But when I found out, I was… propositioned by them to help… and I did. Initially. I did. T-the money was good and I helped. But I do not know if I want to continue doing it. I do not know if I can continue to help them. I feel like that this is some sort of blackmail and they're using my emotions for them to their advantage. Why else would he still be my friend? Why else would he-s-she still be with me?”

“ Why did they come to you?”

“ Because I work for law enforcement. I am… a,” The words hang heavy on my tongue, “ … federal agent.”

I hear the priest hum. He's obviously interested. I guess it's not everyday he gets a guy in his booth talking about tax evasion who's a federal agent.

“ Understand that by helping them you are putting yourself at higher risk because of your employment. If you love these people you should do the right thing and help them stop doing whatever they are doing. Turning a blind eye is just as guilty as participation.”

“ It's not only just that,” I lean back against the back wall of the confessional booth and stare up at the ceiling. “ I've helped them. In the past. Given them advice… I've been complicit before… But there's someone else involved that I believe is using them… and I really want it all to end.” I close my eyes, “ I just want it all to end.”

“ You've stolen money, and stealing is a sin, but I am glad you have come back to seek redemption from Christ.” The priest tells me, though I can hear an underlying suspicion. He knows I'm not telling the complete truth and he's trying to fit the pieces together as he talks, “ I can not say what you should do other than follow the Lord’s light for guidance. You've come back so the light is there. Just continue to follow it. Do three Hail Marys to cleanse yourself and seek purity. Help your fiancé see the error in her ways.”

He shifts, the sound of polyester robes rubbing against each other seemingly louder than it really is, and sighs, “ I will be frank with you. I do not know you. You have never attended mass at this church. This is the first time we’ve ever spoken… so I have no prejudice against you. I am glad you have returned to the Church and more than likely this will probably be the last time you step inside one. Well, until the next major crisis in your life. That’s how it always it -- you cast off the church and then when things become too hard come back for guidance and forgiveness. Fortunately for all of us, God is benevolent and forgives. He also will forgive the truth you’re actually concealing from me.

“ I do not know of a fiance who blackmails their partner. What I do see is a man who has been entrapped by lust and temptation. I do know is that if you feel as if you’re being manipulated then you must sever ties. Lust is a sin. Greed is a sin. Living a life of sin will only lead to damnation. If you want to save yourself , you need to walk away. There’s a saying, ‘You can bring water to a horse, but you can not force it to drink it.’”

“ Are you telling me to just run away?”

“ If I were you, yes. Save yourself.”

I stare at the mesh window that separates me from the priest. Run away? That's the best advice he has for me? Just run away from everything? And then do what… what should I do once I have ran away? It's not like I'll be able to work again. I have nobody to go to -- there's nothing in Las Vegas for me and I refuse to go crawling back to my mother and her picture perfect Hallmark Card family.

If I wanted to save myself from sin, yeah, I guess I could run away. Cut my losses and live a life reborn. Perhaps in California somewhere with my savings. I'll get a rescue dog and we can live together in a quiet little two bedroom, happily away from all the drama. No lovers. No friends. Just unconditional companionship from a dog. God will eventually forgive me for my sins.

But…

... he can't save me from the guilt of knowing that I let Spencer down again. That I wasn't able to get Brendon out of this whole money laundering scheme. If they died, killed either by the drugs they sell or by a rival gang looking to reclaim territory, I will feel the guilt of my inaction from the safe and happy abode of my Southern Californian villa.

“ Thank you, father.”

“ May God bless you.”

“ And to you.”

I leave the church. I don't want the father to see me -- so I leave as fast as I can. I don't look back at the crucifix displayed predominantly on the pulpit. I don't do the sign if the cross. I don't even bless myself with the holy water. I leave the church with a heavy heart and guilt. I push open the doors and close my eyes, breathing in the cool autumn air and feeling the warm kiss of the sun against my skin.

Suddenly, the phone Jon gave me starts to run. I pull it from my back pocket and look at the number on the screen. Unknown number. I stare at the phone. I feel the way it pulses in my hand with each vibration. One ring. Two rings. Three rings.

If I pick this up, this will be it. It will all come to an end.

I take a deep breath and flip the phone open, brining it to my ear.

“ Hello.”

“ Wow, well, hello there, Ryan. Long time no talk! How are you?”

I recognize that voice. That annoying tenor.

“ I’m doing fine, Pete.”

“ Heh. Well, I think you'll notice a car waiting for you there at the church. Get in.”

I look around the neighborhood. I don't see the black Lexus. Zackis nowhere in sight. At the foot of the steps is a silver unmarked Cadillac Escalade with black tinted windows. I guess indescript isn't Wonder Twin’s style. I flip the phone shut with a flick of my wrist and shove it back in the pocket of my pants. I quickly make my way down the steps and the front passenger door opens.

I get inside and close the door. The bodies from the outside world are nullified leaving me in the quiet confines of a well tinted, expensive car. The dashboard is completely touch screen navigation. There's even a video feed of the rear view displayed. I look to my left and see a face smiling at me in a pair of thick rimmed glasses that I had not seen in months.

“ Hi Agent Ross, I’m Agent Stump. It's been a while.”

I frown slightly, “ Where's Agent Wentz?”

“ Busy at headquarters. But he'll be meeting us at the rendezvous point. Shall we go?”

“ Do I have a choice?”

The blonde looks at me with that cheery, innocent smile, “ Nope.”

We pull off into the street.

***

There's nothing more conspicuous than a rendezvous at a hotel in the middle of Newark, New Jersey. The Hilton, to be exact, at Pennsylvania Station. Nearly an hour and a half stuck in a car with no conversation --- not even a radio. Patrick just drove with a smile on his face straight into Jersey leaving me to my own torturous thoughts.

After parking the car, we get out and make our way into the hotel. For some reason, I feel like I'm being escorted as a prisoner. Patrick, now that remember his name, always makes sure to look over his shoulder ever so often as if he's doubtful that I have remained completely loyal to the investigation.

It makes me wonder what Jon has told them.

We get into the elevator and Patrick swipes the keycard against the reader, granting access to the floor button panel. He presses the tenth floor and starts humming to himself as the elevator rises. I look at him and he looks at me, raising an eyebrow.

“ Something the matter?” He asks me. I just shake my head.

“ Uh, no. It's nothing.”

We reach the tenth floor and the elevator opens its doors with a ding.

“ Oh, okay. Follow me.”

We take an immediate right. Patrick guides me to the last door on the right and swipes the keycard. The door clicks and he opens it. I follow behind and once instead the room, look around to see nothing out of place. It's like no one is staying in the room.

Actually, it's exactly like there isn't anyone occupying the room because the beds are completely clean, there are no suitcases, and Pete Wentz is sitting at a small business desk in the corner by the window typing away at his laptop. Patrick clears his throat and Pete looks up. He looks around at his surroundings before he notices me in the room. He acts startled. He's not a good actor.

“ Ryan! Long time no see!” He greets me with a grin. My insides recoil. He's like Dallon; creepy and too carefree, obviously using others as pawns in a game where he makes the rules.

The two of them are dressed in black slacks and oxford shirts, though Pete makes it a point to forego the black tie and roll his sleeves up to showcase his bizarre mishmash of tattoos that look like the messed up accessory case inside of a Hot Topic. Patrick walks past me, occupying the chair directly across from Pete at the table and takes the laptop away from Pete. Whatever Pete was working on, Patrick seamlessly continues it without question.

“ You've cut your hair! Looks good on you.”

“ Uh,” I rub the back of my neck, “ Y-yeah. I figured I was overdue.”

Pete holds his chin thoughtfully for a moment, looking at me with a piercing glare that makes me feel as if he's trying to decode me. He's trying to read if something has changed and hopefully I don't let on any hints that things have changed. He drops his hand into his lap with a slap and stands up.

“ So, churches, hun? Never thought you were the religious type.”

“ I'm not…”

“ According to your background check, you attended a catholic school for twelve years,” Patrick rambles from behind his laptop. He doesn't look up at me, instead focused at whatever he's typing away at. He only stops typing to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose, “ Though you applied to several catholic-sanctioned universities. Not that it is indicative of your religious beliefs but it does leave a strong impression that you are, in fact, a very religious person.”

“ Uh…”

Pete walks over to his partner and gives him a huge slap on the shoulder. It doesn't startle Patrick but he jumps a bit, quickly adjusting his glasses in a classic nervous display of a guy suffering from a case of classic 80s nerd. Pete rubs Patrick's shoulder like a father proud of his son.

“ My partner here likes sticking to the facts. Isn't that right, Patrick?”

“ I-I wouldn't make such a general statement like that. There are factors involved that would determine if I would need to waste time and resources on a background check.” Patrick doesn't look up but he slightly shrugs his shoulders in an attempt to get Pete to remove his hand. Which he does.

“ Anyway, Ryan, we got your reports from Jon. For a writer, you like to leave out a lot of details. I mean, if I was fucking one of the richest men in New York I would get all up in there with the details.” Pete takes his hand and makes a gesture. I resist the urge to roll my eyes. “ He must be great in bed, right? Please tell me it was good.”

“ I am not going to divulge in that, Agent Wentz.”

“ Fine. Admission to narcotic possession would leave me no choice to arrest you.”

What.

“ Haha! I kid! I am not going to arrest you! Though it was something seeing all those surveillance shots of you absolutely fucked out your mind from a couple of weeks ago. Right, Patrick?”

“ No comment.”

Pete laughs, putting his hands on his waist, “ He loved them. Anyway, you're successfully in. Literally and figuratively. Which is grrr-eat. But we can't actually move in until we find the laboratory. We want the lab where the Oxy is being cooked.”

I close my eyes and sigh, “ I don't know where the labs are at. They didn't tell me.”

“ And that makes sense. We know that he knows who you are.” Pete pauses for a moment, “ Wait, there's a they?”

“ Mona Lisa is not a person. It’s a group.”

Pete looks at me. He crosses his arms and looks over his shoulder at Patrick. His partner, realizing that Pete is looking at him, looks up from the computer and pushes his glasses up with his middle finger. Pete grins and Patrick doesn't react. He simply looks at Pete expecting him to say something.

“ I can't fucking believe it.” Pete says as he turns his head around to look at me again. “ It's a group!”

“ You… didn't know?”

Jon was working this case for five years and in that time they did not figure out that Mona Lisa was more than one person? Even it appeared he knew that there were more people at play here.

“ We had a hunch but we could never get close enough. Brendon was the most active; whenever product appeared Brendon was there. We just assumed that either Brendon was Mona Lisa or he worked for Mona Lisa.”

He's lying.

I'm not calm but I'm not nervous either. I have no idea what I should do and, honestly, I can't believe this is even a debate for me. Give Pete what I know, set up a bust, and close down their operations. That's what I swore to do. That's why I became an agent.

But as I stand here and watch Pete ramble on and on about the case, I just feel guilty. I feel betrayed. Pete knew. He knew and he used me to get to them. Jon couldn't do it so he needed someone who could. So they compared notes and realized that they hit the jackpot when they learned one of their own personally knew one of the players in the act.

That's why I was under surveillance. That's why they knew I was blackmailing that kid for weed. They wanted to know if I was a rat and when I came up empty they decided to use me.

It all makes sense now. I can't believe I did not see this sooner.

“ You knew.”

Pete stops talking. He raises an eyebrow.

“ What?”

“ You knew Mona Lisa was more than Brendon Urie. You knew Mona Lisa also Spencer Smith.” I take a step forward and scoff. Unbelievable. “ You knew and you had Revenge of the Nerds over there run background checks and when it came up empty you kept digging for ways to get to them and I came up. You knew and blackmailed me .”

Pete scratches his cheek. He looks around the room and with a dramatic sigh sits down on top of the neatly cleaned king size bed with a slap of his hands on his thighs. He scratches the back of his head and then looks at me.

“ Yeah. You got us. Sorry about that.”

“ You asshole!” I yell. I don't know what pisses me off more. The fact my best friend used me by pimping out his business partner to woo me into doing whatever they wanted or the fact my own job had planned on using me against my friend. “ How long!? How long did you know?!”

“ Hmm. How long was it, Patrick?”

“ Two years.”

Pete smiles, “ Two years.”

“ I can't believe you two…”

“ You need to understand something, Ryan. We have been at this for five years. We want them off the street and we will do anything and use anyone to do it.”

I run my fingers through my hair frustratedly. I begin to pace the hotel room, shoving one hand in the pocket of my slacks. The two of them just sit there watching me. One with a face of indifference and the other with a slight curiosity at my sudden outburst. I chew on my lower lip nervously.

“ Well,” I hear Patrick begin, “ We didn't have anything on Spencer Smith connecting him to Mona Lisa. We simply knew that he was an acquaintance of Brendon Urie through Jon’s reporting. Spencer Smith is your childhood friend so we saw an opportunity. Having an idea of your relationship with him, we figured it would not be of our best interests to implicate him directly when we propositioned the job detail to you. You might have resisted or even compromised our investigation by confronting him directly which could potentially tipped us off.“

I stop pacing and look at him. He takes off his glasses and wipes the dust off the lenses against his shirt. “ But you've just revealed that he is also apart of the operation so I believe we were not wrong in using you for our operations. Had you gone to him in the beginning, with your status as an active DEA agent, we would have lost everything we had worked for.”

He puts his glasses back on and smiles at me. “ Please, do not take this personal, Agent Ross.”

“ We we're going to pull you out as we did with Jon with the current change of events, but,” Pete stands up and puts his hands on his hips. “ Jon convinced us to let you stay on. He said you were in and we agreed we shouldn't miss this golden opportunity.”

I cross my arms and cock my narrow hips to the left a bit. I am not giving him an interesting expression. I'm sure I look unimpressed, if not pissed off and annoyed. The two of them are unfazed by my display. Nothing seems to bother these two. Pete just continues talking.

“ We have enough evidence to put Brendon and, uh,” Pete starts snapping his fingers, “ What's that other guy’s name? Dade? David? Dan? Dale?”

“ Dallon Weekes.”

“ Yes!” He throws his hand up, points to Patrick and grins, “ Mister Dallon Weekes and Mister Brendon Urie will be facing at least ten years in prison based off of the evidence we have of them dealing. But if we can prove that they're actually producing the product. Thirty years, tops!”

“ Brendon doesn't deal.” I say, then wincing when I realize I sounded as if I was defending him. Both men look at me as if I told them the sky is green right at this moment. “ H-he doesn't deal. “

“ Not according to Jon’s reports.”

“ I know Brendon. I've been with him… at the parties. He doesn't deal. I don't know how they're distributing the product but Brendon doesn't deal.”

“ Then what does he do?”

Launder the money.

“ I don't know. “

Pete narrows his eyes and purses his lips, “ You are not a good liar, Ryan.”

“ I seriously don't know what he does. I just know that he's involved.”

Pete looks at Patrick. His partner looks at him and shakes his head before focusing on his work, furiously typing away at the laptop. He looks at me and smirks. A dread creeps from deep within me; I don’t understand why but I know Pete can see through me. Nothing I say or do will get him to quit.

“ It doesn't matter. That Urie fellow will be going down regardless just by association.” Pete comes over to me and swings an arm over my shoulders. He pulls me close. His voice drops, enough so Patrick can't hear, “ We need to find the labs and until you find the labs this case is not over. Talk it out of him. Fuck it out of him. I don't care how you do it.”

It is something when your colleague treats you like one of the informants on the street rather than like an actual agent. Is that what this has snowballed into? I look at Pete as he squeezes my shoulder before unlinking himself from me with a couple of pats against my back.

He doesn't trust me. He never did trust me. In his mind I am no different than the people he has been trying to catch for years. The people that consist of a childhood friend. The people that consist of someone I've foolish have fallen for. I would not doubt it if he thinks I will turncoat in him and side with the enemy.

But things like this don't last forever. With Jon having been pulled out it's obvious that the Wonder Twins don't have much time to solve this case. I am their answer, their golden goose. It all hangs on me and the intel I've gathered in this investigation.

“ How long do I have?”

“ We have less than month before our funding completely runs out and we're forced to shut down.” Patrick answers me. “ They don't believe Urie or Weekes are connected. The drug is of the same quality as a pharmaceutical. They just think it's pain clinic junkies selling their prescription on the street.”

“ It’s hard to convince top brass that the son-in-law of your biggest political donor is a drug kingpin when all you have is circumstantial evidence.” Pete says as he walks away from me to sit on the foot end edge of the bed, “ It's hard to convince them that this is being cooked somewhere in the city, not just a bunch of pain clinic shoppers swinging their scripts around town for top dollar. Rumors are not evidence. But I know that you know more than you're letting on and we will get what we want.” Pete tells me as he watches me with a glare of suspicion.

“ Jon was surveilling you. While your reports were vague, Jon’s reports filled in the holes.” Patrick tells me as he types. “ We know everything, Agent Ross.”

“ It would be in your best interests to be thorough with your findings.”

The air conditioner kicks on. The loud humming from the window unit consumes the empty sound the has fallen between us as I stand in front of these two agents with an unreadable expression. The sound is jarring; it drowns out Patrick’s typing. I feel a cold breeze against my cheeks but I'm still burning up. My heart is racing. I feel like I'm burning up inside.

This must be what they meant about being on a hot seat.

They don't trust me. Jon is gone and he can't save me. Then again, has he ever? According to them, Jon was filling them in on everything I kept from them. He was watching me after all. Pete has not shied away from making it clear that he knows I'm sleeping with the target. That I've gone to parties and slipped away with the billionaire to get high and fuck. If Jon was following me -- he must have seen it all, or well everything outside the bedroom. I hope.

It's sad. It's not like I wanted to do this. I have stayed committed and they treat me like a criminal. They've always treated me like one.

“ You don't trust me.” I say after a few moments.

Pete doesn't hide his smile as he looks at me with his hands in between his lap. He isn't glaring at me anymore. It's a look of someone being glad that I finally figured it all out. He runs a hand through his short hair and nods.

“ You're too compromised to be trusted, Ryan.” He reaches behind and grabs a brown legal sized envelope off the bed. I didn't notice it before and watch with curiosity as he pinches the butterfly clip holding the envelope seal shut open. He opens the envelope with his free hand. “ Take a look at these.”

He holds the envelope out to me and take a couple of steps forward and take the offering slowly into my hands. I reach inside and feel a few sheets of paper. I slowly pull them out and my eyes instantly go wide at what I see.

Pictures. Surveillance pictures of me and Brendon caught having sex in a room with the blinds pulled up. A clear and perfect view for a voyeur. I don't remember when these pictures were taken but it was obviously at a party and we were obviously fucked up on something. It's a bedroom; someone’s bedroom, I have no idea, but we're on a bed and he's very much riding me as we're embraced and making out.

I flip through the pictures and it's just if the two of us engaged in such an obscene way I can't help but feel an embarrassment for myself at letting this happen. I almost feel violated. They knew. They had pictures.

The pictures look like they were taken from a distance with a long range lense. But the details are impeccable. There's no mistaking who's who in this photo. The last set of photos is of me snorting something off of a tray as Brendon laid beside me smoking a cigarette.

Does the department know? Has these pictures gotten out?

I shove the pictures back in the envelop and toss it back on the bed. Pete looks at his outstretched hand. Patrick is still typing.

“ Who took those.” I ask, then swallow the bile that has creeped up my throat. “ Who took those photos.”

“ I did.” Patrick tells me like there's nothing wrong with this situation. I want to take his laptop and toss it out the window. “ Jon alerted us of a party where a potential transaction would take place. I was tasked with obtaining photographic evidence. It was unfortunate we did not get what we exactly wanted but it did confirm Jon’s reports that you had engaged in a relationship of some sort with the target.”

I am amazed at how disconnected he can sound from a situation. He talks quickly and monotonously; not once balking at the notion that he just confessed to invading my privacy in the most horrific way for a drug investigation. It's like he's the resident detached alien officer on a science fiction show -- purely logical, devoid of any humanity. There's no room for human decency if it means it will result in the capture of the enemy.

He stops typing and looks at me directly, “ You are a risk. You have proven to be a risk. Your behavior has not indicated to us that you are someone that we can trust. I will continue to monitor your activities as a precaution.”

He ends his declaration with a smile. Well, at least my original fears were confirmed. These two fucks were watching me at my most intimate. For all I know they masturbated to those photos while they discussed ways to dick me into a corner.

The air conditioner cuts off with a loud jolt. The room is silent again. I look outside the window and watch the cars on the highway come up and over the hill. The light rail approaches a train station and a group of people get off before it slowly leaves the station. The leaves are changing but the skies are still grey. I wonder who decided to call New Jersey, The Garden State , when all I can see for miles is abandoned industrial buildings.

Pete clears his throat and it takes me out of my thoughts. I look at him as he makes a motion at Pete for something. His partner stops his furious typing to reach into a backpack. He pulls out a black flip phone -- a burner phone. He puts the phone on his lap.

“ Let me see your phone. The one Jon gave you.”

I reach into my pocket and pull out the phone. I hand it to Pete and he takes it from me. He flips open the phone and with both hands snaps it in two, separating the screen from the body. He opens the back of the phone and pulls out the SIM card and battery. He tosses the two broken pieces into the trash can near the dresser and hands me the new phone.

“ We will be contacting you on this phone. Do not use this phone for outbound calls.”

“ What about the other phone.” I ask. “ The one you gave me at the start of the operation.”

“ That's the only way they can contact you, right? Don't worry. We've been monitoring that phone. Quite the call log, I might add.”

I frown. They probably have copies of my text messages too. The thought of it makes me angrier. I feel like I've just been a sitting duck for something bigger. Except they never expected things to end the way that it did. Never expected Jon to be compromised. Never expected Brendon and I to, well… You get the idea.

Now they're forced to use me.

“ Find the lab. Report back to us.”

I pocket the phone they give me. I guess this is it; the conversation is over. The rules have been set and the game is about to begin. I give them one last look, a confirmation of sorts and I don't get another word. Not even a good luck or a fuck you. I leave the hotel room. So that's how it's going to be.

I walk down the hall to the elevators. At the elevators I press the down button and look up at the floor indicator.

Fourth floor. Fifth floor. Sixth floor.

It's a distraction from my thoughts.

Seventh floor. Eighth floor. Ninth floor.

I have two choices

Tenth floor. The doors open.

No. I have three choices.

I step inside the elevator and watch as the doors close.

My job. My relationships. My own freedom.

A phone rings. Not the burner phone. The one Jon gave me. The one Brendon calls me on. I reach in my pocket, pull it out, and answer the call.

“ Hi, Brendon.”

I press the button for the lobby. The elevator starts the move. There's a song playing on the radio inside -- a nineties alternative rock song I remember hearing as a child growing up. Flagpole Sitta. That's it.

He wants to meet soon. I tell him Penn Station in one hour.

Paranoia. Paranoia. Everybody’s coming to get me. Just say you never met me.

He sounds so happy. So content on the phone. He hangs up as I pull the phone from my ear.

The agony and the irony. They're killing me.

I need to make my decision. As the elevator arrives on the lobby floor and the doors open, I still don't know what I want to do. I step outside and the song is still playing.

I'm not sick but I'm not well. It's such a sin to live so well.

I'm on a dirty New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station. The windows are cloudy and yellow with years of grime. There's people standing in the aisles. Kids crying. Conversations in multiple languages. Battery Park is just in the distance, the peaks of towers above Jersey’s landscape of industrial graveyards.

I still don't know what I want to do.

***

Ol Blue Eyes croons through the car speakers. I’m familiar with this song. There isn’t a place in Las Vegas that you can go to without hearing Frank Sinatra’s voice in the background. He may be known for New York City’s unofficial theme song, but the most iconic years of his life were spent in a casino singing to drunks and gamblers in the Middle of Nowhere, Nevada while chain smoking and downing glass after glass of expensive liquors. The song is melancholic -- I’m not a fan of the crooner but I know this one song like it’s the back of my hand.

It was my father’s favorite song. He was a much older man -- old enough to serve in the vietnam war -- and well, old enough to appreciate a song about a middle aged man singing about the women that come in and out of his life like the seasons.

“ When I was sevente-e-en, it was a ve-ery good yea-ar...” Brendon sings softly from behind the wheel. He sounds better than my father ever did. He was always flat, pitchy, and barely could keep a key. Brendon on the other hand is different. He’s keeps pitch and he’s always on key. It’s soothing to my ears.

I lean back into the passenger seat and watch the scenery in front of us. We’re in Long Island and have been for the last two hours. Zack isn’t here and this is the first time I’ve actually been in a vehicle with him actually driving it. He’s dressed in the same clothes I first met him in -- black shirt, black skinny jeans, and sneakers. He doesn’t look like the controlling, billionaire businessman that lives in a ridiculous highrise and looks down at the people like ants in a kid’s pet ant colony. He doesn’t look like the guy that would throw his status around to get what he wants.

He looks, well, normal .

My eyes drift to the stickers all over the dashboard. Rounded labels with a cigarette crossed out. Warnings to not smoke. I turn my head and see the cigarette hanging between Brendon’s fingers. He taps the ash outside the small crack in the window as he reaches the crescendo in the song.

“ It was a ve-ery good yea-ar for city gir-rls…”

He still has zero regard for rules. What is a two hundred dollar fee to a billionaire?

Montauk.

That’s where we’re at.

The leaves are changing color. The houses are far and few between. The skies are greyer. This is the part of Long Island where people go when they want to hide away from society. Those who live in Nassau County want the city action but the suburban life. Suffolk County is the high society one percenters escape from the city where they can host yacht parties and not worry about unpleasant grime of the Hudson River. Montauk? That’s where people go to hide.

Brendon isn’t Montauk. He’s Suffolk County. The Hamptons. White parties on yachts. Champagne glasses and cocaine.

Why are we out here?

He continues to sing and I just let go and listen. I watch him with hooded eyes and he glances at me. His full lips curl up into a smile as he sings, “ We’d ride in limousines, their chauffeurs would drive when I was thirty five.”

I look at him and smile back. He continues to sing, attention back on the road. I reach over with my hand and brush my fingertips against his soft hair, caressing his cheek.

The sun is setting by the time we finally pull off State Road 27 and to a dirt road. We keep driving and he takes another turn. I notice there’s barely any houses and if I do see one, it's a large cottage with its own private road. These are the people that seriously want to get away from society.

One last turn, through an opened gate, and he slows down. Rocks and dirt crack under the weight of the car as a large home comes into view. Behind that home, nothing but the grey Atlantic Ocean. Given how I can’t see the beach the closer we get to the home, I realize we’re on a private cliffside. We pull up directly in front of the home and Brendon parks the car. He cuts off the engine and pulls the key out of the ignition. Wordlessly, he gets out of the car and closes the door. I watch him as he walks around the car and to my side. He opens my door and I get out.

The house is two stories. Probably five bedrooms, judging by the amount of windows. It’s wood paneling is painted grey, but weather beaten, yet the beams and trims are of the brightest white. An ideal New England home on a cliffside that you would expect to find in a home and garden magazine. The wind is strong and it’s whipping Brendon’s hair around. I close the car door and I wrap my hands around my arms; the sun is nearly at the horizon and the autumn chill is cutting through my skin.

“ Let’s get inside.”

He walks up the steps to the house as I follow behind him. He pulls out a set of keys from his back pocket and unlocks the door. Pocketing the keys, he opens the door and flicks on the lights. I step inside after him and close the door behind me.

It’s big. The house is very big. Directly across the way are french doors leading out to a large covered patio and a view of the setting sun against the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a staircase leading up to the second floor. A kitchen to the left, a living room in the center of the home, and to the right a guest room and a den. It’s decorated precisely; like a model home with a purpose to leave an impression to entice a buyer.

I don’t realize that Brendon has gone to turn on the heater until I hear the machine kick on. He comes from the kitchen.

“ Why are we here?” I ask him. I haven’t moved from the entranceway. He’s across the house standing adjacent to the staircase.

The house is so quiet. There’s a grandfather clock somewhere clicking away. The waves crashing against the shore line are muffled and distant.

“ I have this feeling that… I need to take advantage of the time that we have.” He tells me.

“ So, a trip to Montauk.”

“ The walls are always listening. But not here. Never here.”

I lick my lips and fight the urge to suck in a breath. He knows.

He knows about the investigation. He knows he’s been watched.

“ This house belongs to my wife’s family. It’s her parents’ summer vacation home. In the winter, the roads are cut off and it’s either be snowed in or fly south to Palm Beach.” He runs his fingers through his hair, “ There’s not a house for a five mile radius. The beach is mine. The property off limits to non-residents.”

“ In other words, we’re alone.”

“ Yes.” He smirks. “ We’re finally alone .”

Montauk. Where people go to hide.

I walk up to him. I enter his space. We’re only inches apart. I can hear his soft breathing, smell his cologne, and can clearly see the faintness of freckles on his cheeks. I could count them if I could. He’s looking at my lips, as if he’s daring me to make a move.

Slowly, if not hesitantly, I take his left hand into mine and intertwine our fingers together. I don’t feel the familiar coldness of a ring against my knuckle. His wedding band is gone. Why is it gone. Why isn’t he not wearing it. He’s always worn that plain, gold band on his ring finger.

So why now?

“ Do you trust me?”

He comes closer. I feel his chest against mine. I can feel the goosebumps from the proximity.

He lifts his face up, brushes his lips against mine.

“ I want to trust you.”

I kiss him.

I know what I want.

It really is a sin to live so well.