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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.

Chapter Text

The hottest Rowe’s ever been for me was the day I almost cut one of his drivers to ribbons on his living room carpet. He’d told the guy to bring the car around, and the guy hadn’t answered quick enough for my liking. I took offense at basically nothing, like I’ve been doing for months, expecting to get a bit of a scuffle and a telling-off for my trouble. Only this driver was a new one, and as it turns out he was the kind that goes off at the slightest provocation, just like Ricky does. The minute I put my hands on him, the guy blew his top. Before I knew it we were on the floor, scrabbling around at Rowe’s feet, clawing and kicking at each other like a couple of alley cats. Then the driver got a hand free and pulled a knife, and all of a sudden I had my knife in my hand too, and the next few seconds went by like hours. He slashed at me and got nothing but sleeve, and I laughed in his face. He tried again and this time he sliced my forearm open like an envelope. I don’t remember much after that, but when Rowe’s lackeys prised us apart, the driver was doubled over and hugging himself, one arm around his thigh and one around his stomach, and I was soaked in what I thought must be sweat. The old man came up close and put his hand on my cheek for a moment, and when he took it away his palm was red and wet. Look at this, he said, holding his hand out toward me. Look at the mess you’ve made. Then he ordered everyone out, everyone but me, and the lot of them scarpered so quick you’d have thought the house was on fire. By the time he was done with me, I wouldn’t have noticed if it had been.

I reckon that night was the worst Head Lackey’s ever wanted to give me what for, too. After the old man had finished with me, he made Head Lackey wait in a side-room with me while the doctor drove across to patch my arm up, and every minute we were in there together would’ve been excruciating if I hadn’t known exactly what his deal was. I sat on the hard little chair next to the desk, with a towel wrapped around my forearm and the best hungry smile I could manage on my lips. Head Lackey sat on the sofa, not looking at me. He wasn’t looking at me so hard I could feel my skin prickling. Now, the thing with Head Lackey is, he doesn’t mix business with pleasure. I know all about his tastes, I know what he gets up to with the boys down the Silver Birch on a Saturday night. I even know about the little room at the back of his house, the one with the red walls and the red lights, on account of one of those boys having a loose tongue and bills that needed paying. But I also know Head Lackey’s never laid a finger on any of Rowe’s pets, not even the ones who were really asking for it. Well, Ricky’s really asking for it, he’s been asking for it for months now, but that’s not enough. So we waited there for twenty minutes, with me wanting a piece of him, and him wanting a piece of me, and nothing except thick silent air between us. We waited until the doctor arrived, and then Head Lackey made the quickest exit he could without breaking into a run.

Since then he's avoided me like the plague. Won't stay in a room alone with me for more than a few seconds. Always has something urgent to do when Rowe starts getting physical with me. Like just being around me is poison. But tonight he's sitting there next to Rowe, perched on the edge of the low leather sofa not ten feet away from where I'm getting the worst pasting I've had all week, trying not to let his eyes wander into the middle of the room and onto me and my friend here. That's interesting.

"What are you for, then, decoration?" The blond guy laughs, and swings his boot up in a tight little arc that ends in my stomach and knocks all the wind out of me. Surprisingly strong, this one. He's a bit scrawny, and when I laid eyes on him I thought I'd take him easily, but as it turns out he's not bad at all. I've been paired up with bigger guys plenty of times—Rowe likes a bit of variety for these fight nights, and he likes seeing me struggling to stay on top—but this guy's giving me a rougher time of it than any of those bruisers managed. In my defence, though, he's better-looking than they were, and I can't help getting distracted, can I? I mean, look at him. Tight jeans, pomade-glossy hair, and a sheen of sweat on his chest that makes him glitter a bit under the lamplight so he looks almost golden. Reminds me of Miller, if Miller was a head shorter and peppered with smudgy tattoos.

"I reckon I should get your half of the money for this," the blond guy says, all smooth and warm and smug. "You know, since I'm doing all the work here."

I answer him, but it comes out as a reedy little wheeze of air, shuddering out of me as I push myself up to my feet again.

"You say something?" He laughs again, glancing over at the old man like he wants to make sure the guy who signs the cheques is getting every minute of this. And he is, trust me. He doesn't do much more than nod and give the odd approving grunt, but Rowe's paying attention, alright. He won't miss a thing. Everything I do right, and everything I do wrong, I'm going to pay for the lot of it afterwards, when we're finished warming up. But that's later, and I need to focus on now, otherwise this whole thing is going to get away from me.

I wipe my mouth and give the blond guy a nice, wide grin. "I said: what money?"

He lunges at me, and I lunge at him, and we meet in the middle like a couple of dance partners joining up for the big finish. The blond guy's punches connect, every single one of them, layering bruises on top of my bruises, but mine hit him just as hard. There's no skill in what I'm doing, just fury. I don't know where it comes from. I haven't fought like this since I was a kid, and even then it was a half-hearted fumble compared to what I'm doing now. What Ricky's doing now. There's nothing like that in me, not really. All of this is just me getting into character, maybe a bit too much. Like a phantom pain, I guess. Phantom fury.

"Mr Rowe, I really think you should look this over yourself." Head Lackey says, firm but just a little bit apologetic, like he's interrupting his boss's golf game.

"Later." Rowe says, in the tone that means be quiet if you know what's good for you. It's not often Head Lackey hears that one, but it's getting more common every day.

"Mr Rowe, if—"

"Relax and watch the boys."

And he is watching. As much as he knows he shouldn't, he's watching me so hard it's like having his hands all over me already. I can feel his eyes on me, as I throw the blond guy down onto the floor. I lean hard on the guy's throat, putting all my weight on my forearm, and as the warm body underneath me starts bucking and writhing, I glance up at Head Lackey and for a moment I feel like I'm looking right through him. Like I can see everything in that padlocked box he calls a brain. I can see him, and he can see me too, and if he'd only let his grip loosen just a little, if he'd only let me in—

"You win, Ricky." Rowe laughs, and throws the little bottle of lube onto the floor next to me like a table-scrap.

I ease up off the blond guy, and give him a quick smirk.

"Not many games I like losing as much as this," he says, under his breath, keeping his face fixed in just the kind of scowl our audience wants to see.

"Didn't throw it, did you?" I say, close to his ear, as I turn him over onto his stomach.

"As if," he laughs, and the laugh trails away into a groan when I yank his jeans down to his knees.

I fuck him right there at Rowe's feet, pinning him down with a hand on the back of his neck and his arm twisted up behind his back. He calls me every name under the sun, spitting the words out like a rough little drumbeat underneath the rhythm of my thrusts, and the whole time he squirms and struggles underneath me as if he couldn't really throw me off the minute he got bored.

"I'll bring these with me tomorrow," Head Lackey says, tucking his little stack of paperwork back into its envelope. "You can look at it then, sir."

Rowe nods, but he doesn't even bother glancing at Head Lackey. We're getting to the big finish, and the old man's not going to be distracted. He keeps his eyes on me and the blond guy, and when I look over at him, he doesn't meet my eyes either. It's our bodies that get all the attention, the faces could be anybody's. So I can watch him openly, and I can let my gaze stray over to Head Lackey, to where he's loitering by the half-open door, holding onto the handle of it like a life-raft. His eyes are on my face, but whether he's seeing me or just the ghost of the boys that came before me, I can't say.

"Go on, and shut the door on your way out." Rowe orders, and Head Lackey jumps a little, like he'd forgotten the old man was there.

"Yes, sir." He disappears and closes the door quietly behind him.

That's my cue. No need to drag this out any longer. I hook an arm around the blond guy's throat and pick up my pace, giving it to him hard and fast while he struggles underneath me. He brings his hands up to make a show of pulling at my arm, digging his nails into my skin for good measure, and that's all it takes to hit the spot. I lean over and give him a good hard bite on the shoulder as I come, and he yelps like I really have torn a chunk out of him. He's good at this bit too, and a better actor than I am, anyway. Knows how to put on exactly what the old man wants to see. If I wasn't around, he might even have a chance of getting picked up for a long-term spot, like I did. And he didn't even have to take on two of Rowe's tough guys at once, either. Some guys get all the luck.

"Get out." Rowe says, as soon as we're finished.

The blond guy gives me a little squeeze on the shoulder as he picks up his clothes, and then he disappears too, shutting the door just as quietly as Head Lackey did. If Rowe dismisses you, you fade away silently if you know what's good for you. Even Ricky knows that.

"Here." The old man stretches out one of those leather-gloved hands and points at the spot between his feet.

I crawl over to him, like I have done so many times before. I kneel there and let him wrap his hands around my throat again. I press forward against his grip, whining in the back of my throat and asking for more, staring up at him and licking at my lips with all the hunger you'd expect from a starving dog. But the whole time I'm thinking about how Head Lackey's probably waiting in the next room, trying not to listen, trying not to think about what he left behind when he made his obedient little exit. I think about that and it gets me hotter than the hand around my throat. Success is a hell of an aphrodisiac.

 


 

Alright, so asking for it’s not enough, but it’s close. Over the last couple of weeks it’s been getting closer and closer every time Ricky misbehaves, and I reckon if I play my cards right, tonight might be the night. Rowe’s out of town on one of his weekend trips, and that leaves Head Lackey in charge, all on his own, with no-one to watch over his shoulder. Just the way I want him. I’ve been hanging around the office all day, watching him, needling him, getting in his way. And now it’s late enough that almost everyone’s gone home. It’s just me, him, and one of the junior bookkeepers. The two of them are leaning over a table full of ledgers, and the bookkeeper’s explaining something with a taut, worried face. Whatever they’re looking at, it’s bad. Bad enough that when I prop myself up in the doorway and say “You busy, Bates?” he doesn’t even look up at me. He just waves his hand, and says “Out,” like he’s shooing a dog out of the house, and then he carries right on talking to the bookkeeper as if I’m not even there. He should know better than that. He should know how Ricky reacts to being ignored.

“It’s alright,” I say, taking my knife out of my pocket. ”I’ll wait.”

He doesn’t look up, but the bookkeeper glances across at me, and when I flick the knife open, his eyes widen and he looks away like he thinks staring at me might get him turned to stone. I’m lucky the chief bookkeeper’s out of town with Rowe, because I’d never pull this off it was that old buzzard sitting here talking to Bates. I wouldn’t have even bothered trying. But this young one’s got no spine, and he’s the perfect target. I feel sorry for him, he’s done nothing to deserve what he’s going to get. I feel sorry for the guy, but Ricky doesn’t.

“Mr Bates,” the bookkeeper says, with a little quiver in his voice. “I think we should leave this until the morning. Looking at it with fresh eyes will probably make all the difference.”

Bates looks at him, and then at me, and his expression doesn’t change at all. It doesn’t need to. I know what’s going on under there. I know what he wants, and all I need to do is keep pushing until he snaps, until he reaches out and grabs it the way he’s been dying to all these months.

“Alright,” he says evenly. “Come back in the morning.”

The bookkeeper says “Yes, sir,” and stands up, takes a couple of steps towards the door, and then stops dead all of a sudden, as if he’s only just realised the doorway’s got me standing in it. He takes a step back, and then starts forward again, but he can’t keep his nerve as he tries to walk past me. At the last minute he looks down at his shoes, just long enough for me to step into his path.

“You got a problem with me?”

“What?" The bookkeeper looks up at me, and then his eyes dart away. “No, no, I—“

“Can’t even look at me, can you? You office boys are all the same, you think you’re better than me, don’t you?” I point at him with my knife, jabbing the tip of it into the air in front of him, and he steps back with his eyes fixed on the blade.

“No, listen,” he says, showing me his palms. “Listen, I—“

“Ricky.” Bates stands up, shoving his chair back so hard it scrapes against the floor. In about two seconds flat he’s right next to me, with one hand circled round my wrist and the other on my shoulder. “Put that away.” he says, looking down at me with nothing at all in his eyes. “Now.”

The bookkeeper knows his chance when he sees it, and he makes a break for it without even saying goodnight. I listen to his footsteps pattering along the corridor and down the stairs, to the door opening and shutting behind him, and then to the silence that floods in around me and Bates again, just like it did the last time we were alone. Then I look up and give Bates my best sneer.

“You want to let go of that wrist, if you know what’s good for you.”

He doesn’t say anything, and that blank expression just gets blanker.

“Course, that’s not what you really want,” I laugh, and make a show of trying to tug my wrist out of his grip. “But it’s what you’re going to do, isn’t it? Let go of me and push all those nasty thoughts back down into their box, where they belong.”

“Someone should—“ he starts to say, but he cuts himself off and goes right back to staring at me silently.

“Yeah, someone really should, shouldn’t they?” I grin up at him, and step a bit closer. “Only there’s no-one around to do the job, is there?”

He looks down at me, and I look up at him. I look at the shadows under his eyes. I look at the gleam of the lamplight on his hair. I look at the hard lines of his mouth, and the brick wall he’s got behind his eyes, and I tug at his grip again, and say “Or is there?”

Bates doesn’t say a word, but his fingers tighten around my wrist, his eyes get harder and sharper, and his mouth hardens into a frown with more expression in it than I’ve seen on his face in all the time I’ve been here. I’m close, I know it. I’m almost there. I just need to push him a bit further. Just a little more and—

“Get out.” he says, flat and cold, and before I know it he’s shoved me out into the corridor, hard enough to stagger me.

“What’s the matter?” I sneer, starting toward the doorway again. “You lost your nerve, Bates? Maybe I should’ve tried my luck with that pencil-pusher friend of yours. He might have a bit more guts.”

Bates doesn’t reply. He just shuts the door in my face, like I’m salesman he’s tired of listening to.

Well, that’s alright. That’s fine. He’s tired of my pitch tonight, but a few more goes and he’ll buy it. He’ll buy it so hard it’ll bring the walls down.

Chapter Text

“Don’t know why we’ve got to get another out-of-towner in for this,” Lou mutters, and then he shoots me a look about as subtle as an ice-pick. “Bad enough as it is with him hanging around.”

Normally I’d be on him like a shot for a line like that, but the door opens before I’ve taken a step toward him, and a much better prospect walks through it. He’s ushered in by a couple of junior tough guys who look like they’re barely holding off from bowing and scraping as they go, and at first I think he’s just some big shot from the next town over. Then he takes off his hat, and I get a look at that lined, stony face, and it takes everything I’ve got not to crack into a grin. He looks at me, and I can see in his eyes he recognises me, even after all this time. I can see the beginnings of a smile twitching at the corner of his lips. Now, maybe he’ll hang me out to dry, but I don’t think so. Either way I want to find out right now, so I roll the dice and walk right up to him.

“Who’s this?” I say, staring up into those hard grey eyes. “You brought your granddad along for company, Jimmy?”

Ricky!” Jimmy hisses, elbowing me in the side. “This guy’s the real deal, show some respect!”

I don’t look at Jimmy. I just keep smirking up at Slater, and he keeps staring down at me, not smiling, not saying a word, just standing there like he’s made of granite. He’s not going to blow my cover. He’d have done that the minute he laid eyes on me, if he was going to.  He’s going to play along, and that means I can have a bit of fun and shore up both our reputations into the bargain.

“The real deal?” I scoff, squaring up to Slater as if I haven’t noticed he could snap me like a twig any time he got the inclination. “This guy? Don’t make me laugh.”

Jimmy makes an angry little sound like he just choked on his own hot air, and grabs me by the arm. “Shut it, Ricky, shut it right now! We’ve had this job planned for weeks, and if you ruin it all with that big stupid mouth of yours, Bates is going to—“

“Bates can go hang for all I care, I ain’t afraid of him.” I shrug off Jimmy’s hand and give him a scowl, but that’s all I do. I don’t want to push this too far too soon, so for now Ricky’s going to bide his time. I go over to the other side of the room, stick my hands in my pockets and lean against the wall. There’s a couple of seconds of silence, and then Jimmy gives a big sigh, asks Slater to sit down, and starts going through the plan. We’ve all heard it three times already, and I had it down pat after the first go, but Jimmy really puts his back into it this time, talking the job up like this is the biggest heist the north’s seen in years. I’m not buying it, and by the look in his eyes neither is Slater. He can see as well as I can that this lot are barely holding it together, and as Jimmy keeps talking, Slater’s expression just gets grimmer and grimmer. By the time Jimmy’s wrapping up his spiel, the old guy looks like he’s ready to put the kid through the nearest window.

“And that’s it. Simple, right?” Jimmy says, smiling like he’s just pulled a rabbit out of a hat.

Slater frowns. “Making the split then and there’s a bad idea.”

Which is the perfect cue for Ricky to get both of us out of here. “Sure…” I sneer, pushing myself away from the wall. “And I’ll bet you’re gonna volunteer to hold onto the cash for us, aren’t you? Just for safekeeping.”

“Now, hang on,” Jimmy says, putting his hands up so I can see the sweat on his palms. “Don’t go throwing accusations like that around, Ricky, you know Bates said we all need to work together if this is going to—“

“Bates this, Bates that. What are you, his secretary?” I let my voice get a bit louder, a bit more ragged.  “I don’t give a damn what Bates thinks. It’s him that hired this guy in from god knows where, and paid him double the going rate for it, too!”

Lou looks over at Jimmy and draws his mouth into a tight little frown. “That right, Jimmy? Is this guy getting twice what we are?”

“Well, look,” Jimmy says, with a little crack in his voice that sounds like music to my ears. “Different rates for different skills, Lou, it’s the way it’s always been.”

“Doesn’t make it right, though, does it?” Bailey the driver mutters, and I feel like I deserve a round of applause, because Bailey says about three words a fortnight, four if he’s feeling chatty. If I’ve riled this lot up enough to get him grumbling, I’m doing alright.

“Wouldn’t be so bad if the boss was paying for quality,” I sneer, turning back to Slater. “But paying big money for a clapped-out old fossil like—“

“That’s enough.” Slater growls, and when he stands up and grabs hold of my tie I can feel the other guys tensing up right along with me.

“What’s the matter?” I laugh. “Did I hurt your feelings, granddad?”

The slap Slater gives me cracks the silence like a gunshot, knocks my head to the side and makes my cheekbone throb as hot as a three-bar fire. “You.” he says, grabbing my shirtfront with both hands and dragging me up close. “You need teaching some manners.”

Everyone around me holds their breath in unison as Slater reaches across and opens the door, and when he slings me out into the corridor I can feel half a dozen pairs of eyes burning into me through the open doorway.

“Mr Slater…” Jimmy says, quiet and soft, like he’s really sorry it turned out this way. Like him and the rest of this bunch of chumps wouldn’t love to see me get what’s coming to me. Like he wouldn’t pay for a front-row seat. Well, if they want a show, they’re going to get one.

“Think you’re tough, pops?” I scoff, pulling my knife nice and slow, like I don’t even need to try to outpace him. “Bet you were hot stuff back in the old days, weren’t you?”

That’s all he lets me say, but it’s enough. Before I’ve taken another breath, Slater’s grabbed hold of my wrist with a grip that feels like shaking hands with a mangle. I cry out, hoarse and high-pitched like a dog that got trodden on, and my knife goes clattering to the floor.

“Your boss lets you talk like that, does he?” Slater says, using that hold on my wrist to steer me back against the wall.

“I talk how I want,” I sneer, as convincingly as I can with my wrist on fire and my arm throbbing. “And if you don’t like it, you can—“

His free hand clenches into a fist and swings up into my stomach, and the rest of that sentence gets knocked to one side as the air rushes out of me. It’s been too long since someone gave me an expert working-over, too long by half, and that one punch is enough to make my knees buckle. I push myself back against the wall to keep myself upright, and when Slater lets go of my wrist and grabs hold of my throat, I have to hang onto his arm to keep from stumbling.

“You’re going to take a walk.” he says, drawing his fist back and letting it slam into my ribs. I hiss out a soft little whimper of pain by way of an answer, and the old guy gives it to me again just as hard, right on the same spot. It feels like someone wrapped barbed wire right the way around my chest, and every time I breathe it digs in a bit tighter.

“I don’t want to see your face again, understand?” he growls at me, coming up so close I can feel the heat of him through his suit. I know he’s play-acting, but the look in his eyes gives me the chills all the same. If he wanted to, he could paste me so bad my own boss wouldn’t recognise me. He could crack me wide open with one arm behind his back. He could—

Understand?” he says again, and this time his fist slams into my stomach hard enough to double me over. He lets go of my throat, and without his hand on me I couldn’t stay standing if I tried. My knees go again, and I drop to the floor in front of him, coughing and clutching myself as if a couple of arms wrapped around my middle’s going to stop it hurting.

“Yeah,” I say, about as close to contrite as Ricky ever gets. “Yeah, I understand.”

“Get up.”

It takes me a minute or so, but I get there in the end, and by the time I’ve gotten to my feet again, Slater’s picked up my knife from the floor and folded it closed. I stand still as he comes up close again, and when he drops the knife into my top pocket, I hold my breath without meaning to.

“Go on,” he says, shoving me in the chest. “Get out.”

I don’t reply. I just turn and go, as casual as I can with everything from my collar down to my belt aching and throbbing. As I’m making my way down the stairs, I can hear the other guys talking, hushed and excited like a bunch of gossiping schoolkids.

“He’s had that coming a long time.”

“That and a lot more.”

“Yeah. Won’t stick, though.”

And they’re right, you know. It won’t.

 


 

 

When Slater finally comes out onto the street, I feel like running up to him full pelt. An hour and a half he was in there. An hour and a half of me standing here in this alley, with nothing to do but wait and think. I thought about a lot of things. About the last time I saw him. About what things were like for me back then. How young I was. I wonder if I look any different to him now. Probably not. At his age, the distance between twenty-four and twenty-seven must seem like nothing at all, but it feels like a lifetime to me. Then again, the last couple of months have felt like a lifetime all on their own.

I follow him down the street, but not carefully. I’m no good at tailing, and Ricky’s got no business being any better at it than I am, so I don’t even bother trying to be discreet. I just shadow him about five yards behind, with my hands in my pockets and my head down. He knows I’m there, I saw the smile on his lips when he was crossing the road ahead of me. The first time he ever smiled at me it felt like the sun breaking through the cracks in a storm-cloud. Tonight it feels like someone lit a fire underneath me, and I have to clench my fists to stop myself running to catch up with him.

I reckon I deserve a medal, because I manage to keep a lid on it all the way to his hotel. As I follow Slater up the stairs, in my head I’m thanking him for not taking the lift, because I don’t think I could’ve stood a foot away from him and kept my hands to myself. I can’t remember the last time I had to pretend this hard not to be interested in someone, the last time it was all private property, trespassers will be shot on sight. I don’t know, somehow the more Rowe keeps me stoppered up like one of his bottles of wine that no-one else can have a taste of, the less it feels like he really owns me at all. Which I guess is for the best, considering how all this is going to end.

Slater leaves the hotel room door open, but he doesn’t wait for me. I follow him inside and shut the door behind me, and he gives me a long, hard look, the kind that feels like being under one of those sun lamps. Then he smiles, just slightly, grabs hold of my arm and pulls me close. “You were waiting out there a long time.”

A few months ago I’d have shrugged and rolled my eyes at that. Right now I can’t be anything other than honest with him. I lean against him, and run my hand up over his chest, over his lapel, up to rest on his shoulder. “Would’ve waited all night if I had to.”

Slater laughs. “Keen, aren’t you?”

“You don’t know the half of it…” I try to laugh casually, but it comes out taut and brittle, so I keep going. “Ten weeks I’ve been up here. Feels like ten years. No-one’ll lay a finger on me because of who I 'belong' to.”

“Well, I know who you really belong to,” he says, grabbing a handful of my hair. “And he likes you to get a bit of exercise, doesn’t he?”

“Exercise?” I groan and tip my head back into his grip. “The old man passes me around like a box of cigars…”

“Well, next time I see him, remind me to say thanks.”

I start to say “Sure,” but before the word’s half out of my mouth, he drags me up into a kiss. If I had any intention of playing it cool tonight, all that goes out the window the minute his tongue brushes against mine. All I can do is hold onto his shoulders and try not to moan too loud, and when he pulls back and shoves me down to my knees, the force of it knocks a groan out of me. I work his fly undone with one hand, and get started on my belt buckle with the other, and even though I know it’s not one of Slater’s rules I still brace myself for a smack when he spots me unbuttoning my own trousers. But I don’t get a smack, or a harsh word, or even a dirty look. I get his hand wrapped tight in my hair and a quiet groan that I can feel humming through him as he shoves his cock into my mouth.

It’s been so long since anyone but Rowe fucked my mouth that it’s almost like I’m discovering all this for the first time again. The taste of Slater’s skin, the scent of him, the blunt pressure of his cock forcing its way into my throat, the whole lot of it’s almost like a foreign country to me now. One I could go for getting lost in. I push myself down, taking as much of his cock as I can, burying my face in his lap on each downstroke, and every time my lips brush the base of his cock I can feel him tensing up a little, tugging harder on my hair, thrusting up a bit deeper into my throat. If I didn’t have my mouth full, I’d be smiling. I might not be getting the variety I’d get at home, but at least I haven’t gotten rusty.

“Even hungrier for it than last time, aren’t you?” Slater says, grinding my face down against him.

I groan by way of an answer, and when he lets me up for air I pull back and give him a smirk. “What’s the matter, pops, worried you can’t keep up?”

He laughs, rough and warm, and grabs a handful of my hair so tight it forces a yelp out of me. “Still just as much trouble, too,” he says, and then his other hand comes down across my cheek, blunt and hard like it’s made of stone, and the noise that drives out of me is pure hunger, loud and shameless and uncontrollable. He does it again, giving me the back of his hand this time, and then again with his palm, and he keeps on going, smacking me harder and harder until my face is burning and my cheekbones are throbbing and all I can think about is getting a taste of his cock again.

When he pushes me back down, the moan that wells up in my throat is so pathetic it should have my cheeks burning all on its own, but I don’t care. There’s no shame left in me. There’s nothing left except need. So I throw myself into it, taking his cock all the way each time, forcing myself down until my throat is full of his shaft, until the hair at the base of it scrapes against my lips and makes them feel twice as raw, until my jaw aches and my eyes water, and the hand I’ve got curled around my own cock gets tighter and faster like it’s got a mind of its own, and the whole time Slater’s yanking hard on my hair, hauling my head up and down like I’m just a toy, groaning harsh and rough every time I start to choke around him, and it all adds together to get me so keyed up I barely know what I’m doing. I feel like I’m drowning.

Then all of a sudden he slides his cock out of my mouth and lets it slap against my cheek, smearing spit all over my skin, and I try to turn my head, to suck it again, to lick it at least, but he won’t let me move an inch. He holds me still and rubs his shaft against my face, watching me the whole time with those hard eyes, and between the way he looks at me and the weight of his cock grinding against my cheek, I can’t keep from begging.

“Please, let me suck it, I need it, come on…” I say, with about as much dignity as a whining dog.

“Look at you…” he laughs, rubbing the head of his cock across my lips. “You’d love it if I came in that greedy little mouth of yours, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah…” I moan against him, and then I realise what I’ve said, and look up at him frantically, shaking my head. “No, not in my mouth, in my ass, I need it in my ass, please—“

He yanks my head back hard, so hard my eyes start to water. “Desperate for it, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” I say, nodding as much as I can, and when the hand I’ve got curled around my own cock speeds up a bit, Slater glances down at it and laughs.

“Get over there.”

I’m about to ask “Over where?” when he hauls me up to my feet and shoves me over the big sofa next to the bed. I push myself up onto my elbows and start unfastening my tie, and before I’ve gotten the knot undone Slater’s grabbed hold of my trousers and yanked them off me. I lie there as he pulls the rest of my clothes off and throws them aside, and by the time he’s got me spread out naked underneath him, I’m reaching back to paw at him and begging again like it’s life or death. He doesn’t let me rush him, though. He kneels behind me as he lubes up his cock, taking his time over it, making me watch as his fist works up and down along the length of his shaft, and when he finally reaches down as strokes his fingertips along the cleft of my ass, I have to bite my lip to keep from moaning. Then he leans over me, pinning me down with a hand on the back of my neck, and now there’s no way I can keep quiet.

“Come on…” I look up at him, at that hard mouth and those flinty grey eyes, and I can’t help groaning. “Don’t make me wait, come on, give it to me…”

Slater laughs and slaps my ass. “You’ll get it, don’t you worry about that.”

And all at once he’s pressing forward, forcing his cock into me slowly, too slowly, slow enough that I can’t help wriggling and squirming underneath him, trying to take a little more, a little faster, whatever I can get. He just chuckles and keeps feeding it into me inch by inch, taking his time over it. When he’s all the way in, he stays still for a minute, but I can’t stay still, not for a second. My legs are shaking, and I can’t stop pushing back against him, and if it wasn’t for the way my nails are digging into the upholstery my hands’d be shaking too. I feel like I’ve been starving for weeks, and now I’m trying to bolt down a three course meal without choking. I can’t, I can’t take it, I can’t wait another second, I need it so much I can’t stand it, and when I groan out a long, ragged “Please,” it feels like the most honest thing I’ve said for months.

Slater doesn’t say anything. He pulls back, almost all the way out, and then he slams back into me, as hard as any punch he’s ever thrown my way, and I cry out so loud it shocks me. It doesn’t sound like me, and it doesn’t sound like Ricky. It sounds like a boy who hasn’t been fucked for weeks. He keeps hammering into me like that, slow and heavy and relentless, and all the while I’m begging him to go faster, begging for more and harder, pleading with him not to hold back. Slater just laughs and grinds his cock into me even slower, like he’s trying to drive me mad. So I change tack, and throw him one of Ricky’s cockiest smirks.

“What’s the matter, granddad, you worried you’ll put your back out?”

There’s a glint in his eyes that could be amusement or anger, and he grabs hold of my arms tight enough they’ll be black and blue tomorrow. “No matter how many times you get taught a lesson, it never sticks, does it?”

“Never,” I laugh as he turns me onto my side. “It’d be boring if—”

Then he pushes my knees up to my chest and slams back into me, deeper now than ever, and the rest of that sentence gets swallowed up in a moan. I look up at his face, at his eyes, and the way he’s looking down at me makes me shiver. I can feel his eyes on my skin, on my ass, on the way his cock spreads me open every time he thrusts forward, and knowing he’s watching gets me so worked up I can’t keep still. I reach up and run my hand over his chest, trailing my fingertips through the hair of it, along the lines of the smudgy tattoo just under his collarbone, and then he grabs hold of my wrist and twists my arm up behind my back, and I’m begging again before I know what I’m saying.

“Harder…” I moan, slipping my free hand down to stroke my own cock again. “Come on, give it to me harder, let me come while you’re fucking me…”

 “You need it that bad?” Slater says, with something between a laugh and a groan.

“Need it more than anything, come on, please…”

“Alright,” he says, hooking one hand under my knee. “Let’s see how much you love it, then.”

He flips me onto my back, wrenches my legs up and as far apart as they’ll go, and leans back so he can see everything. Just knowing he’s watching, it feels like the volume got turned up to full on every bit of sensation, every bit of pleasure and pain. I keep working my hand over my shaft while he watches, while he keeps slamming into me, filling me up with so much hard cock I can barely breathe, let alone think. His hands are tight around my ankles, keeping me in position as easy as if I was made of paper. I can see the muscle of his arms and chest tensing as he holds me down, and between that and the way he looks of me with those hard eyes, I feel like I could come just from watching him. Then he ratchets his pace up, pounding into my ass harder and faster than he’s nailed me all night, and now I know I’m too far gone, I can’t hold off now, not for anything.

“Close,” I moan, staring up at him, begging him as much with my eyes as with my tongue. “Please, let me come, I can’t—“

“Do it.” he orders, and not a moment too soon, because I haven’t got any choice in the matter. I arch up underneath him, bucking and thrashing, pulling against the grip he’s got on my ankles, but those hands are like iron around me. He holds me in place, keeps me pinned down and impaled on his cock, and he doesn’t let go until the last shudder of pleasure’s ripped through me, until I’m stretched out underneath him, weak and sticky with sweat and come.

And that’s when the gloves really come off. He lets go of my ankles and grabs my throat in one hand and my hair in the other, and he fucks me in short, brutal thrusts that’d get me whimpering even if I wasn’t already spent and sore. Well, I don’t care how tired I am, I’m going to give Slater the five star treatment tonight, just like he did for me. So I cling onto his shoulders, clutching at him like I’m hanging onto a life raft, and I give it everything I’ve got, begging him to keep fucking me, begging for his cock, begging him to come inside me, telling him how much I need it, how I’ll do anything for it, anything if he’ll keep filling me up with cock, anything if he’ll pump my ass full of come, and either he likes my spiel or he’s got a lot of pent up tension, because it takes him about two minutes flat of listening to me beg before he’s growling out a few choice words and slamming all the way into me, drilling me like he’s trying to split my ass in two. Then as he finishes, it occurs to me that maybe this’ll be the last taste I’m going to get of anyone other than Rowe for a good long while, and when Slater pulls out I find myself hanging onto him right up until the last moment.

It’s partly because of Slater himself, I’m not denying that. I like the old guy, and I don’t mind who knows, but it’s more than that. Just being with someone who knows the boss, someone who knows how things are back home, I feel like I can breathe again for the first time in months. Just talking to someone who knows the old man’s name, I feel like maybe I’m not so far away after all. Like maybe I’m still me after all, like maybe everything I’ve done up here’s just going to wash away like cheap dye once I’m back home. It’s the best I’ve felt since I got here, and for that I reckon I owe Slater a heads-up.

“Listen,” I say, as I start getting dressed. “This job, you should give it a miss. These guys don’t know what they’re doing, they haven’t got half the police protection they say they have, they’ve had to borrow the cash for the set-up because they’re bleeding money so bad, and they—”

“I know, kid.” Slater laughs, and throws me my tie. “Anyone with eyes can see this place is about to go under.”

“Yeah, and you don’t want to be around when it does.”

“I won’t be, don’t worry about that.”

I rub the back of my neck and look away. “I wasn’t worried.”

Slater gives me a few seconds of silence so I can start feeling really uncomfortable, and then he puts his hand on my shoulder. “When d’you go back?”

“Don’t know. Whenever this outfit finally collapses, I guess.” I stay where I am, and I just keep tying my tie, not looking at him. “D’you reckon you’ll be around, when I get back?”

“Who knows,” Slater laughs, and takes his hand off my shoulder. “Got to go where the work is, haven’t you?”

I look up at him and smirk. “Yeah, tell me about it.”

Chapter Text

You know, when Miller said this organisation was on its last legs, I didn’t believe him. I mean, we’ve all heard about this lot. The size of their territory makes us look like small fry, and Rowe’s family have had a death-grip on it for decades. It sounds like the last place you should try your luck. But Miller said there were cracks in the foundations, and the longer I stay here, the more obvious those cracks get. Rowe’s family have had a hold on this place for decades, alright, but it wasn’t this Rowe who did the legwork. This one took over a few years ago, after he persuaded his cousin to take early retirement, and ever since then this place has been slowly going to the dogs. Bates is a holdover from the old days, and to listen to the old-timers around here, him and the new Mr Rowe have never worked well together, not half as well as he worked with the old one. He’s loyal, but it’s not personal loyalty. He’s committed to the organisation, and I reckon he’ll defer to whoever’s running it at the time, but you can tell when you watch him and Rowe together that that’s all there is to it. You could replace Rowe with any of his flunkeys, and Bates would go right on “Yes, sir”-ing like nothing had happened.

And the way I see it, that’s the biggest weakness they’ve got. It’s not the money problems, it’s not the way all their friendly coppers have stopped answering the phone, and it’s not Rowe’s liking for mad dogs. It’s the way Bates feels about his boss. The way he doesn’t feel about him. That’s what’s going to do them in. With a little help from me.

 


 

 

“I don’t know why you’re sticking up for him,” Lou says, stabbing his eyes into me like a couple of skewers. “It’s his fault Slater bailed out.”

I don’t say anything. I just grin at Lou and pull my knife out of the wood panel I’ve been throwing it into for the last ten minutes.

“It wasn’t just him, though, was it?” Jimmy shakes his head. “Mr Slater wasn’t impressed with any of us, you could tell that a mile off.”

I throw my knife again, and when it jams into the doorframe Jimmy shoots me the kind of dirty look he must’ve learnt off of Lou. Then there’s a grunt from the corner of the room, as Bailey stands up and gives the whole lot of us a withering stare. “Well, it wouldn’t have happened in the old days, I can tell you.”

“Oh, here we go,” Lou says, with a big sigh. “Go on, tell us again how wonderful everything was before Mr Rowe took over, I haven’t heard it for a week and I think I’ve forgotten the details.”

“You can laugh all you like,” Bailey says, jabbing his finger at Lou. “But back then we were a force to be reckoned with. Even the scrawniest kid we had on the payroll could’ve wiped the floor with the likes of you, boy. Old Mr Rowe’d be having another heart attack right now if he could—”

The door opens, and everyone clams up just in time for Bates to walk in like he hasn’t heard a word.

“We’re all ready to go, Mr Bates.” Jimmy stands up with a grin on his face big enough you’d think the job was in the bag. “You just say the word.”

“Alright, get going.” Bates says, with about equal parts tiredness and hardness in his voice. “But not you, Ricky. You’re off the job.”

And just like that, I’ve got three trains of thought charging away from me. Either Bates has rumbled me, or he’s decided I’m unreliable enough it warrants overruling Rowe’s orders, or I’ve gotten to him so bad he fancies keeping me back for a bit of hands-on discipline. If it’s the first one, I need to get out of here. If it’s the second, I need to blow up at him, with enough fireworks to convince him he’s right to start acting on his own. And if it’s the third, then I’m really in luck, and all of this is going to fall into place like magic. Pity my luck’s never that good.

So I glare at Bates and start to say “What’s the idea,” but Jimmy jumps and cuts me off.

“But Mr Bates, that’s not how we planned it, if we start changing things now…”

“We only need one lookout. Lou can handle it fine on his own.”

“But Mr Rowe said—“

“I don’t care what Mr Rowe said.” Bates snaps, and I feel like cheering. That’s it, that’s what I’ve been after for months, and I don’t care if he has rumbled me, I don’t care if I have to run all the way home with three of his lackeys on my heels. I’ve won.

“Oh yeah?” I sneer, pulling my knife back out of the doorframe. “You getting ideas about taking over, Bates? Feeling like maybe someone else might be due for early retirement?”

He just stares at me, and when I walk back over to other side of the room, I’ve got every pair of eyes in here burning holes into me.

“Well, you’re kidding yourself,” I scoff, and I throw the knife again, so it jams into the wall next to him. “You haven’t got what it takes.”

“Ricky!” Jimmy hisses. “You can’t say—“

“Go on, the rest of you.” Bates cuts him off, hard and clipped. “Get going.”

If Rowe gave that order, they’d scatter. But it’s only Bates, and his authority’s not what it should be, so it takes Jimmy herding and steering the rest of the guys like a flock of sheep before the room finally empties. And then it’s just me and Bates, and it’s time to find out whether my luck’s going to hold.

“You could have all of this.” I come up close and yank my knife out of the wall. “All of it. But you won’t take it, even if it’s offered up on a silver platter, will you? You haven’t got the guts.” I stay close, looking up into his eyes, watching him try not to react. He’s almost there. He just needs a little nudge. “I mean, you couldn’t even stop Rowe taking over and pushing your old man out, could you?"

He turns away for a moment, and when he turns back, the punch he throws gets me square in the mouth and knocks me back a couple of feet. I go with it and drop to my knees, and when I smile up at Bates I can feel blood trickling down over my chin.  I wipe my mouth off on the back of my hand and give him a long, hot look. “That’s more like it,” I say, keeping my voice quiet and soft. “Maybe you have got it in you, after all.”

“Shut that mouth.” He spits the words out and grabs hold of my throat. His fingers are hot against my skin. I can feel the calluses on his palm scraping against me as he tightens his grip.

“Or what?” I bring my hands up to circle his wrist. “You gonna shut it for me?”

He doesn’t reply, but his fingers tighten again, and now I couldn’t get the words out to needle him if I wanted to. But I don’t need words now. I just need my throat in his hand, and my eyes on his. I let go of his wrist and move my hands down to his legs, bracing myself against his thighs as I start to choke, digging my nails into him when it starts to get bad, and when he loosens his grip I slide my fingers up to brush his lap. He’s as hard as I am, and I haven’t even touched him yet. He ought to be ashamed.

“More…” I breathe, pressing my throat forward into his grip. “Harder, don’t stop…”

He lets go of me all of a sudden, pulling back like he’s scalded his hand. I’ve blown it. I’ve gone too far, and now he’s spooked and it’s all ruined. I’m kicking myself inside as he turns away. He should’ve shut my mouth for me, he would’ve been doing me a favour.

Then he looks over his shoulder and says “Not here,” and it’s such a relief I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying “Yes, sir.”

I get to my feet and follow him out into the corridor, but when he starts heading for the stairs I laugh and shake my head.

“No need to go far,” I say, opening the door to Rowe’s office. “Not when there’s a perfectly good spot right next door.”

He stands in the corridor, just watching as I take off my jacket and prop myself up against the edge of Rowe’s desk. He watches, but he doesn’t make a move.

“You want it, so why don’t you come and get it?” I throw my tie aside and start unbuttoning my shirt. “Or have you been shut out so long you’ve forgotten what to do with a boy?”

His face seems to change as he crosses the threshold. It was hard and grim before, but now it’s full of fire. I wonder if this is how he looks to those extracurricular boys he takes his stress out on, or if this is just for me. I mean, just for Ricky.

“You’ve been asking for this for months,” he says, as he locks the door behind him. “Months,” he says again, but he spits the word out so harshly it sounds like by ‘months’ he means ‘years’, and by ‘you’ he means ‘you and all the punks that came before you’.

“Give it to me, then.” I grin at him, and when he grabs hold of my hair, I tip my head back and let a soft laugh well up in my throat. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”

The back of his hand comes down across my cheek before the words have dried on my lips. It stings, but he can do better than that, so I roll my eyes at him, and open my mouth to tell him not to bother if he’s going to do it half-hearted. He doesn’t let me get a word out. This time he slaps me hard enough to knock my head to the side, hard enough to force a swallowed-down little moan out of me, hard enough to make my back arch and my hands slide up to his lapels.

“On your knees,” he says, grabbing me by the shoulders and shoving me down.

I smirk up at him as I drop to the floor. “Thought you’d never ask.”

I reach up to his fly, but he bats my hands aside and does the job himself, and before I can bend my head to take his cock in my mouth, he grabs hold of my hair and forces me down. That’s what I like to see. It’s not enough that I want to suck it, oh no. Not after all the needling he’s had to put up with. He’s not going to be satisfied unless he’s made me take it. So I kneel there and let him fuck my mouth, and when he pushes forward and grinds my face against his lap, I don’t even try to take it smoothly. I let him see every twinge and shudder that ripples through me, I let him hear every cough and gasp, and the whole time I cling to his legs, hanging on to him even as I’m pushing back against his grip. I show him the side that wants to fight back, and the side that can’t get enough. I show him everything, and he laps it right up.

“That’s right, take it,” he laughs. I’ve never heard him laugh before. It’s a rough, jagged sound, half bitterness and half triumph, as hard as his grip on my hair and as vicious as his pace. He stabs his cock into my throat deep and fast enough that I can barely keep up with him, and the more I choke the happier he sounds. I look up at him on the upstrokes, watching the expression on his face. He's watching me too, but it feels like he's not really seeing me. He's looking me right in the eye, but it feels like he's looking past me. He's seeing all the boys that came before me. He's seeing all the chances he's missed. If I could, I'd laugh at him.

"Get up," he says suddenly, yanking my head back.

For a minute I'm worried he's gotten cold feet, but then he drags me up to my feet and spins me around, tugging my shirt off as I turn, and all that worry melts into exhilaration. I sweep my arm out across the top of the desk and clear it off, knocking all of Rowe’s stuff down onto the floor. “There,” I say, throwing Bates a grin over my shoulder. “Now there’s nothing in your way.”

“There never was,” he says, and he sounds like he’s talking to himself.

He shoves me down against the desk, leaning all his weight on me so the bare skin of my chest is pressed tight against the leather inlay. I look back him and smirk. “How many times have you sat outside listening while he was in here fucking me? How many hours have you spent out there, doing his paperwork, pretending not to hear it, wishing it was you in here giving me what for?”

“Keep that mouth shut,” he hisses, clamping his hand over my lips.

That works for me, but it’s not going to work for Ricky. I sink my teeth into Bates’ palm, and I laugh at him as he snatches his hand away. I’m still laughing when he slams me down against the table, but when he grinds his cock against my ass, that laugh drains away into a moan. He lubes up quickly, no messing about, like he's on a deadline. He doesn't waste any time at all. Just pushes forward, giving me his cock slowly enough to let me adjust to it, but no slower. The bare minimum of care that he needs to show to get what he wants, that's all Ricky gets. The noise Bates makes when he's all the way in, halfway between a hiss and a sigh, sounds like years of tension melting away. Then he starts to move, and any ideas I had about him letting go of that frustration, they go right out the window. He slams into me fast and hard, hammering into me like clockwork, pounding me down against the desk. There's no let-up, not for a second, and all the while his pace stays as steady as a machine.

Well, if there's no let-up for me, I'm not going to let him have an easy time of it, either.

"Come on, give it to me like the old man would, use me like he would…" I twist around to look up at him, letting my lips fall open as he slams another moan out of me. "Like all the boys before me, the ones you never had the guts to touch..."

"That mouth," he hisses, twisting his hand in my hair. "That mouth is going to be the end of you, Ricky."

"Better enjoy me while I'm here, then, hadn’t you?"

He takes that idea to heart, it seems like, because he slams my face down against the desk and steps his pace right up as if that deadline just got closer. I can't mouth off at him anymore, all I can do is groan and whimper and hope the all noise I'm making is getting Bates as overheated as a smart line would. And then at last, at last, he hisses my name out like it's poison and gives me one last shuddering thrust, one last yank on my hair, and then he's done.

He slumps over me, breathing hard and letting me take so much of his weight I have to brace myself with both forearms against the desk. He stays like that for two or three seconds, and then he pushes himself up off me and pulls out fast, like my skin's too hot to touch. By the time he's fastened his trousers and straightened his tie, the look on his face has snapped back to normal. It's hard and blank and cold, and there's nothing in it for me. Nothing at all. But Ricky's not smart enough to see that, not by a long shot.

"He goes away a lot, you know." I say, as I slip my shirt back on. "You could have this on a monthly basis. Like payday, only better." I watch him watching me with neutral eyes, and I give him a grin like I really think he's going to go for my spiel. "You could take me to his place, if you wanted. Seems a shame to have a big house like that empty and unused while the boss's away…"

"No." Bates shakes his head, and picks the phone up off the floor where it landed along with the rest of Rowe's stuff. He doesn't look at me. He just puts the receiver to his ear and starts dialling.

"No? What's the matter, you lost your nerve?"

"I made a mistake." He glances to the side of me, like the wall next to me is the nearest he wants his eyes to get. "And now I'm going to apologise."

I force myself to scowl, but my lips want to smile. He could have put all the blame for this on me. He could have handed me over to Rowe all wrapped up with a bow on top, and let the old man take his temper out on me and me alone. Bates is wasted on Rowe, and he's wasted on Ricky. He's about the only reason I regret all this. He's the only bit I'm going to miss, when I'm back home this time tomorrow.

"Suit yourself." I shrug, and make my way out of the office. My fingers are tight around the handle of my knife, and they stay that way, even once I'm out on the street. I hang onto the knife like a rosary, squeezing it, stroking it, weighing it in my hand as I walk. I don't let go until I'm at the train station.

I came down here first class, but Ricky's only got enough on him for a second class ticket, so it's sheer luck that I end up on my own in an empty compartment. I would have been better off with some company. The peace and quiet makes it too easy to imagine what's going to happen if Bates has a last minute change of heart and sends one of his guys to bring me back for Rowe to pass judgement on me. The train was due to leave ten minutes after I got on, but it feels like I've been sitting here an hour already, watching the station clock, silently begging the train to get moving, pleading with the wheels to start turning and get me out of here.

And then at last we lurch forward, at last my ears are full of the screeching of the wheels on the track, and now my mouth is full of a laugh I can hardly clamp down on, loud and triumphant and wild, and not mine, not mine at all.