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Tightrope

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He takes out a cigarette, and I lean forward to light it, like clockwork. I can feel two or three pairs of eyes looking daggers at me while I do it, but no amount of dirty looks is going to put me off. Not when he's looking down at me like that, like he can see right through me. Not when I know that the minute this meeting's wrapped-up, it's going to be me and the old man alone, and I'm going to get what I've had coming to me all day.

"You want another drink, boss?"

"Later." He waves me away like a fly.

The guy standing behind me gives a sharp, nasty laugh. "Yeah, why don't you save your lapdog act for when we haven't got business to take care of?"

I wheel around, pulling my knife as I turn, and I hold it close enough under his jaw that he'll open a vein if he so much as swallows too hard. "You think you can talk to me like that?" I hiss, getting right up in his face, staring straight into his dull, muddy-blue eyes. "You say one more word and I'll cut your tongue right out."

"Ricky." the old man says, not raising his voice even slightly. "That's enough."

"Okay." I nod and take a step back. By the time I've put the knife away, the guy with the big mouth looks like he's almost remembered how to breathe again. I give him a nice big grin, which he doesn't like, and then I turn around to face Mr Rowe, who doesn't seem to like it much either.

"You've got the details," the old man says, to the tall thin guy opposite the desk. Bates, his name is, but I think of him as Head Lackey. I've got all their names memorised, along with all the other bits of information Miller gave me, but I don't like calling them by their names. It's like how you're not supposed to give names to animals, on account of you end up getting attached to them. Sooner or later I'm going to drop this guy and all his friends right in it, and when it comes down to it I don't want to feel like I know them at all. Head Lackey it is.

"You'll coordinate the others," Rowe says, and Head Lackey nods. "Keep Lou and Ricky in the back, since they're the greenest."

Alright, maybe I don't follow that rule about names with everyone. I gave up any hope of not having complicated feelings when I set eyes on Rowe. He's not a patch on my boss, that goes without saying, but he's not bad. Fifty-six, my notes said, but he looks older. Grey hair with bits of white shot through it. Shorter than me, but somehow when he looks at you he might as well be eight feet tall. Sharply-dressed, always in black or charcoal, and almost always wearing leather gloves. My eyes get stuck on those gloves about twenty times a minute.

"The thing is, Mr Rowe," one of the younger guys says, spreading his hands, "how do we know we can trust this copper?"

Poor chump. He's only asking a question, but anything less than blind obedience sets Ricky off like a roman candle. I launch myself at him before the words have dried on his lips, and I swing my fist into his face, bloodying his nose and my knuckles along with it. One punch would do the job, but I don't stop at one. I keep at him even after he's fallen back onto the floor. I crouch on top of him, still whaling on him with both fists right up to the moment Head Lackey grabs my arms and hauls me backwards.

"You're crazy!" the guy says, through a blood-soaked handkerchief. Then he turns to Rowe and says "He's crazy," as if the old man might not have noticed.

If I tried this kind of act at home, Joe would've done a damn sight more than haul me off the guy. I'd be drinking my meals through a straw when he’d finished with me. But Head Lackey's no Joe. He hates it when I fly off the handle, he thinks Rowe should get rid of me now before I cause any real trouble. He thinks a lot of things, but he doesn't show it. He doesn't even frown as he shoves me away from the guy with the bloodied nose, but it doesn't matter. I know what he thinks of me, and that's enough to work with.

"Out, all of you." Rowe stands up, and his lackeys make themselves scarce like they've all just remembered they left the gas on. I follow them, a few steps behind, but the old man doesn't let me get through the door.

"Ricky."

"Yeah?" I turn around and give him a wide, sharp grin.

"Come here." he says, crooking one of those leather-gloved fingers.

I go over to stand in front of him, but I don't say a word. I keep my hands in my pockets, and I run my thumb across the handle of my knife, tracing along the ridge of it, over and over while he stares at me. I don't know if he can see me doing it. It started off as a trick to keep me in character, but now my hands slip down to toy with the knife whenever they're not busy with something else. I keep stroking the knife as I stare at him, and he keeps staring back at me, fixing me with those hard grey eyes until I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up at attention. It's the kind of look that makes me want to drop to my knees, but it makes Ricky want to square up to the old man and see exactly how far he can push it, so I step forward and give Rowe my best so-what smirk. Then the old man leans forward, just slightly, but close enough that he could reach out and grab hold of me if he felt like it, and when I flinch it isn't even half put-on.

Rowe leans back in his chair and gives me a slow, faint smile. "You need to control that temper, Ricky."

Yeah, sure. He wants me calm and even-tempered about as much as I want him kindly and amiable. "I am doing," I say, grinning. "He was breathing when he left here, what more d'you want?"

"Here." He points at the spot just in front of his feet, and now his voice is like iron. I stand where he tells me to, and as soon as I'm in place he says "Down." I don't make him tell me again. I just sink to my knees, like I have done so many times over the last couple of months, and I brace myself for what's coming next.

"I ought to put you on a leash." Rowe says, bringing his hand up to my throat. He just strokes his fingers around it at first, lightly, like he doesn't mean me any harm at all, just enough to give me a taste of that warm leather.

"Try it. You might get your hand bitten right off."

His hand tightens suddenly around my throat, and now I can feel his fingers digging in under my jaw so hard it might as well be an iron claw underneath the leather. My cock twitches and throbs as he starts to cut off my air, but I keep my hands on my thighs. I don't get to touch myself, not until I’m on my own. I've learned that the hard way. So I just kneel there and press forward into his grip, whining softly in the back of my throat, like I'm desperate for a treat he's holding just out of reach.

"You're a bad boy, Ricky, and one day you're going to go too far."

Just like all the others. All the boys who overstepped the mark and disappeared. Rowe's tastes are a liability, alright, but it's not just his health they're hazardous to. Miller warned me three times about this. Said I could pass the job up, if it was too much of a risk. It'd be like walking a tightrope, he said. Too light on the bloodthirsty act, and Rowe'll lose interest. Too heavy, and he'll have me put down like a mad dog. Either way, if I lose my balance for a second, I'm done for. Sitting in the boss's office, with the old man and Joe looking at me, with Miller's hand on my arm, I felt invincible. I just grinned at Miller and said, Sure, I can do it, when do I leave? Amazing how easy things sound when you're sitting in a comfortable chair, behind three sets of locked doors, with half a dozen heavies downstairs that'd get in the way of trouble before it got within spitting distance of you. Now it doesn't feel so easy. Now I can feel that tightrope swaying underneath me every time Rowe curls his fingers around my neck.

“Yeah, but you don’t want a good boy, do you?” I lean forward, pressing my throat against his palm. “A good boy wouldn’t want to suck your cock after you’d half choked the life out of him.”

Rowe doesn’t smile, but I can see the approval in his eyes, and I can feel it around my neck, as his fingers tighten up again suddenly, hard enough to wring a choked little groan out of me. I tip my head back, holding his gaze, staring up at him as he keeps on squeezing. I can feel my pulse hammering under his thumb. He must be able to feel it too. He must be able to see in my face what all this does to me. That’s why this is the best part of the job. This is the bit where I don’t have to lie.

“Filthy boy…” he says, digging his thumb in harder under my jaw. “You love it, don’t you?”

“Love it…” I wheeze out, nodding as much as his grip lets me. “Harder…”

“Harder?” Rowe smiles, and it makes me flinch. And I was right to, because his other hand comes up to grab my hair, and he yanks my head back hard enough I can feel my eyes watering. “You think this is about what you want, boy?” he says, with a laugh as smooth as warm leather. “You’ll get what you’re given and like it.”

I try to say “Yes, sir,” but all that comes out is a shallow little breath, a whisper of air that slips away from me like it was made of wet silk. My pulse sounds so loud in my ears, it’s a wonder he can’t hear it too. My hands are balled up into fists, jammed down hard against my thighs to keep them from sliding into my lap. He lets go of my hair and moves that hand down to my throat, sliding it on top of the first one, wrapping both around me so I’m wearing his grip like a collar. Then he tightens both hands, and before I know it I’m reaching up to grab hold of his arms, tugging at them, trying to prise my throat out of his grip, fighting back without even meaning to. This is the bit of the job where I couldn’t lie even if I wanted to. My body shouts everything loud and clear, whether I like it or not. I think I could have lasted a few more minutes, but my hands have got other ideas, and when it gets to this point they do as they please. Not that it matters. My fingers circle Rowe’s wrists about as forcefully as a couple of paper bracelets. He might be coming up on twice my age, but the old man’s got enough iron left in him to keep me in my place without breaking a sweat. Enough to keep on squeezing right up to the point where I really start to panic, where I start wondering if this is it, if I’m going to have to pull my knife and finish this off the bad way.

Then he lets go of me, and all the air in the room seems to flood into my throat and down into my lungs like syrup. I sag forward against his legs and just stay there, with my mouth open and gasping, and my cheek pressed to his thigh. I stay there while Rowe rests a hand on my head, stroking my hair like he’s petting a dog. I stay there while his palm slides down from my forehead to the nape of my neck, over and over, again and again, and I try to slow my breathing down to match the rhythm of it. I do pretty well at it, too. When the old man finally grabs a fistful of my hair and drags my face up to his groin, I’ve even stopped shaking.

“You love it, and you love this best of all, don’t you?” he says, unbuttoning his fly with his free hand. I don’t get a chance to answer. He just hauls my face into position and shoves his cock into my mouth before I can say a word. There’s no warm-up, no mercy at all. He knows exactly how to get me overheated. He makes me feel like I’m just a piece of meat, just a bit of trash he can do whatever he likes to, just a wet mouth and a willing ass to be fucked whenever he feels like it, and the upshot is I’m always ready to go the minute he gets me alone, always hard the minute he orders me onto my knees, always desperate to be fucked he lays a finger on me. I’ve had to lie about a lot of things since I came up here, but never this.

The old man gives a harsh groan and ramps up his pace, forcing my head up and down with one hand twisted so tight in my hair it feels like it’s about to rip right out, and the other hand curled around the side of my neck just as snug. My throat burns, and my jaw aches, and my lips and chin are sticky with spit, and all of that adds up to me being wound so tight that I have to dig my nails into my palms to keep from just unzipping my fly and taking myself in hand. If anything in this job’s going to push me off-course, this is it. Two months of never getting to feel a firm hand gripping me, never getting to come while someone’s fucking me, never getting to lose control while a pair of cold eyes stares down at me. Two months and I feel like I’m dying of thirst. No wonder all of Rowe’s boys are unhinged. If they weren’t mad when he picked them up, this’d drive them over the edge soon enough.

 “Swallow,” Rowe says, and it sounds like an order and a compliment and a threat, all at once. Well, Ricky’s a bad boy, but he does as he’s told. I kneel there and take every spray of come the old man gives me, and when he’s done, I stay in position and lick his cock clean like a good little lapdog.  He must be in an easy-going mood, because he gives me three whole seconds to catch my breath before he tells me to get out. I never hang around afterwards, not even when he’s left me dizzy and limping. I always head straight out, and I never look back. Ricky’s a faithful pet, but he’s not sentimental, and as soon as he’s off the leash he’s away after the next bit of excitement.

I close the door behind me and make my way through the outer office, past the handful of lackeys still waiting for the old man, and as I pass by I wipe my mouth off with the back of my hand and throw them a long, leering grin. All three of them know what went on in there, and it bothers them all in different ways. The young one, Freckles, is just plain jealous, and bitter that he hasn’t got what it takes to catch Rowe’s attention. The big stocky driver, Legs, thinks it’s unprofessional, and Rowe should keep it out of the office, behind closed doors, like in the old days. And then there’s Head Lackey. He likes the look of me, I’ve caught him staring enough times to get that message loud and clear, but he hates his boss’s tastes, through and through. He thinks they’re a liability. He thinks I’m a liability. And he’s right on the money.