LPfiction

Category Linkin Park

Wicked Garden by L.Phoenix

Slingers and Strippers

A/N: Yes, yes, I know, this will be my fourth story! **HIDES** I can’t help it. When I get these voices and ideas in my head, I need to flesh them out or else I’ll go stir crazy, and this story has been boiling for a couple months now. If it’s not worthy, I’ll put it on the back burner, but if you’re invested, I’ll continue. As always, thank you for reading!


DISCLAIMER: F.I.C.T.I.O.N.


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Oakland, CA 1:44 PM


Oakland, better known as ‘Cokeland’ by the locals. It’s a dumpster of a city—a littered, drug infested ghetto. If you’re not packing heat, you may as well just turn around and get your dumbass out and run someplace tamer, like LA or Santa Monica. Oakland’s no joke, just ask Mike ‘Em-C’ Shinoda. He’s been working the streets for the last ten years—slinging, doing rounds, setting up a name and reputation for himself, a goal he’d successfully achieved.


It’s a smoldering California afternoon, and his black cap traps the sweat that’d, otherwise, drip into his jet black Japanese eyes. He hikes up his baggy blue jeans that are two sizes too big on his tall, slim frame and his black shirt, also oversized, sticks to his Tuscan tan skin. He passes by a young guy pushing a metal shopping cart down the sidewalk, the worn wheels squeaking, the basket overflowing with black trash bags stuffed with thrift shop clothes, used shoes, empty beer and liquor bottles. They nod at one another, their glances knowing, and Mike inspects his environment.


He finds an empty park bench next to the bus station and across the street from an apartment complex. Not so unlike the other buildings in the city, it’s run down, dingy, and the overweight, humid weather amplifies the spooling stench of trash and weed. He watches as three young kids shake their spray cans and bring color to the brick apartments. He scoffs at the shitty artwork. He could really teach these hooligans a thing or two about style and color coordination, yet they look over their shoulders at him and make some gangster hand signals, and he smiles and chucks his chin in response. So what if the art is atrocious? He’d rather see youth creating than using.


The left side of the bench dips and Mike doesn’t look away from the vandalizing kids spray painting curse words. Three floors up, a Hulk of a woman opens her window, her pudgy cheeks ruddy, her thin, gray hair wound in pink curlers.


“Hey! ‘Nuff of that! Git outta ‘ere!”


One of the teenagers, a red bandana tied around his dreadlocks, peers up at the woman and flips her off.


“Dre!” Mike shouts and the kid spins around. “Never disrespect your elders! Take your clan and your cans someplace else and apologize to Mrs. Spencer!”


“Yo! Em-C! We ain’t hurtin’ nobody!”


“What did I say, Dre? Don’t make me call your Mama, you hear?”


Dre grumbles under his breath, says sorry to Mrs. Spencer, and he and his two buddies gather their ‘art supplies’ and disappear down the block. Mrs. Spencer thanks Mike with a small smile and he nods, her window slamming shut.


“One these days your gon’ piss off the wrong kid,” says the guy next to Mike on the bench, his metal shopping cart parked in front of them.


Mike crosses his arms, smirking. “Ain’t ever an excuse to be a punk to a lady. Mrs. Spencer basically raised me and I’ll be damned if some bitch ass kids show her disrespect. How ya doin’ Scooter?” he asks, looking at him. He mentally shakes his head at Scooter’s appearance: his frizzy cornrows, tattered clothing spoiled by the ash and dirt of the homeless alleyways. His arms are scarred with track marks, some old, most new. “Man, you’ve seen better days, haven’t ya?”


When Scooter laughs, Mike denotes at once another black gap. That’ll make it the third rotten tooth he’s lost in the last month. “Eh, brotha, ain’t nuttin’ but a thing, y’know? Jus’ livin’ and breathin’. Gotta count for somethin’ right? Life could be worse.”


Mike shrugs. “Suppose. How much today, bro?”


“Jus’ the usual, brotha.”


“That’s what I figured.” Mike opens his mouth, reaches into the back where the tiny balloon is snuggled between his teeth and cheek, and he and Scooter make the exchange—heroin for bills. “Ya got clean points?”


Scooter shoves the blue balloon into his front pocket. “My boy does. Stole some from the pharmacy last night. Needles are gettin’ harder to come by, though. Damn, yo, I don’t know how you’re able to talk when ya got this shit stuffed in y’mouth.”


Mike chuckles. “Years of experience. Not sure if it’s somethin’ I should brag on or not. You need anythin’, Scoot? Food? Water?”


“Nah, man, I got what I need.” Scooter stands up and slaps Mike’s hand, their fingers sliding in departure and concluding with a snap. “I’ll see ya ‘round, Em. I appreciatchya.”


“Take care of yourself, Scooter.”


Scooter grins, gripping his shopping cart. “Always do,” he says and takes off down the chapped sidewalks, whistling.


Mike sighs. He’s been selling to Scooter for three years now and it’s like clockwork every week: every other day they’ll pass each other on the same street, greet with the same nod and knowing glance, meet on the same bench, and they’ll sit for a minute and search for anyone who may come off as suspicious whether it be a young undercover cop or someone from the DEA. Then once they’re in the clear, they’ll chat and Mike will dig for the heroin balloon in his mouth and make the trade. Scooter’s only twenty-three, but to anyone who doesn’t know him would think he’s in his forties. That’s to be expected when you’ve spent more than half your life sleeping under the bridges and shooting up any obtainable drug.


He met Scooter through a partnered slinger, Rage. They were middle school friends and he’d been the first person to introduce Mike to the street life. Like other dealers prior to them, they started out small, distributing dime bags to fellow classmates behind the churchyards, school buildings and house parties. By their junior year of high school, Rage and Mike had climbed the social ladder which eventually led them to the harder drugs. Pain killers and mollies turned into coke and coke to meth and meth to heroin. Mike dropped out of school before his senior year and shacked up with Rage in a studio apartment on the outskirts of Los Angeles, found the right connections with the right people, and before they could count the years, they rapidly became the go-to men; the head-honcho’s; the top-notch slingers. Hell, sometimes he can’t even recall how he went from selling weed to cheerleaders and football players to slinging meth and heroin to the hardcore junkies in downtown Los Angeles and Oakland. It happened over night, or so it felt.


Six months ago, Rage slipped up and sold to an undercover. Anyone would’ve been fooled. The DEA had been tailing him for some time he assumed. The undercover was a young thug and looked the part of a trademark junkie they’d typically sell to in Oakland. The guy was even twitchy, according to Rage, that is.


“Man, Em,” Rage had said to him during one of their prison visitations, “he was all dirty and slurring and there were track marks on him and shit. Like, damn, bro, he couldn’t stand still and he was all scratchy. How’d I know he was a goddamn undercover, y’know? I’m sorry, man. I fucked up.”


“Ain’t a worry, Rage. I’ll getcha outta here. Just gotta give me some time.”


Lawyers were expensive but they had the funds, and Mike soon found himself sitting in an office with a husky man in a suit and tie. If Mike appreciated anyone, it was a lawyer, and a damn good one at that, and Ed Smithers was known as one of the best, but the evidence against Rage was too concrete. His phone had been tapped and he was carrying almost four grand worth of coke and smack on his person and packing heat—a fully loaded Glock.


There was little Smithers could do for Rage. He was, however, offered a plea agreement. If Rage exposed Mike as his partner and main supplier, he’d be released on a ten-grand bail and put on two-years’ probation. Long story short, Mike hadn’t been that scared shitless in his entire life. That’s saying a lot for a twenty-six-year-old man who’d been in gang fights and held up at gun point in a dark alley when he was eighteen.


“Ain’t no way I was given you away, Mike,” said Rage after he was sentenced to five-years imprisonment. “We’d been through too much together, y’know? You my bro; my blood. I’d taken a twenty-year sentence hands down. Ain’t nothin’ more cowardly than a rat.”


How Mike was able to dodge the situation was nothing short of a miracle. After Rage’s arrest, Mike backed off slinging for a year, handing off the actual exchange process to his other partner and middle school friend, Brad Delson, known on the streets as ‘Big Bad.’ Brad was in the middle of law school when he started dealing and he’d been the one to volunteer his services to Mike’s drug ring. Brad was and still is all about living comfortably financially, and once he discovered that slinging drugs was not only more profitable than being a law student but that it was instant capitals as well, he dropped out, saved up his drug money, bought out a building in Los Angeles, and turned it into a male strip club, ‘Machine Shop.’


Within five months of opening, Machine Shop became the most popular hot spot for the gay community. He and Mike hired the best of the best and the sexiest of the sexiest. Brad was straight as a sharpened pencil but he had a business mindset. With a majority of the strip clubs being heterosexual based, he knew he’d only succeed if he took a different approach. Nevertheless, the stakes were high, and for the first few months, he’d almost given up. Mike, also being gay and a business man, came up with a brilliant strategy: he’d hang around Machine Shop on the party nights (Friday’s and Saturday’s) and hand out samples of pure cocaine and Machine Shop business cards to the bar hoppers. Within two weekends, Machine Shop went from being a dud club with two or three dancers and a handful of customers to a full twenty-three staffed team and a packed house every single night of the week.


Between Machine Shop and slinging, Mike, needless to say, lives a lavish life, and although there’s no reason to continue on with his dealings, he’d tell you that old habits die hard. In some sick, twisted ways, he got a thrill out of living on the edge of danger. Looking over his shoulder every five seconds and suffering a thumping heartbeat whenever he’d see a cop car became a way of life, and the more he got away with, the more connections he made, the stockier his supply grew, the more enthralling life became, and why fix something that isn’t broken?


He isn’t a drug user personally. He’d smoke the occasional joint or drink a glass of whiskey every so often while doing his business at Machine Shop, but that’s that. After all, it’s the first and most important rule of being a slinger: never snort, smoke, or shoot your profit. His ultimate addiction? Money. His definitive fix? Reputation and respect. Nobody fucks with him. Nobody dares putting a gun to his head now. He isn’t eighteen anymore. He’s a man. A new-age Cartel that, if fucked with, would result in bloodshed to whoever threatened him.


Bottom line: he’s protected.


Los Angeles, CA, 6:30 PM


Mike is exhausted.


He’d just spent a better part of his day traveling from Oakland to San Diego and Los Angeles selling to his regulars and a few newbies. It’d been a day of constant phone calls and California heat. All in all, to be home is a treat, even if he’ll only be able to spend two hours’ tops in his Los Angeles suburban house before he’s to head out to Machine Shop and from there, it’ll be another couple hours of work in the drug and club department alike.


Groaning and rolling his head, stretching out his taut neck, Mike tosses his cap on the kitchen table, empties his cellphone and wad of cash out of his pockets, and removes his shoes, setting them on the rack next to the staircase. He patters his way to the kitchen, switches on some music, and pours himself a glass of ice water.


Sitting on his kitchen counter, he looks mindlessly around his environment: a stove that’s only cooked for one since he purchased the property a year ago, to the stainless steel refrigerator that’s merely stocked with a few beverages and the necessary ingredients to make sandwiches, to the oak dining table that’s never eaten at. After finishing his water, he’ll go upstairs and lay out a clean outfit on his bed with the gold and black sheets and pillows—a piece of furniture that’s hosted an obscene share of one night stands.


Despite his loneliness, you won’t see Mike mull over his single life for more than a fleeting moment. Over the years, he’s learned the hard way the sort of negative inevitable outcome his ‘slinging’ lifestyle choice has over the ‘romance’ aspects. It’s difficult to find someone who’s able to comprehend the requirements expected of a partner who’s dating a drug dealer, and not just any drug dealer. Mike may as well be on the same level as the likes of Rick Ross or Pablo Escobar. Okay, maybe not Escobar, but Ross for sure.


Mike carries out a life of illegal jeopardy. He can count on one hand the number of ‘serious relationships’ he’s had in the last ten years, and neither one of his two long-term boyfriends lasted more than six or seven months. They were either too greedy, taking gain of Mike’s income and drug hookups, or too sketchy, always asking too many questions: Who did he work with? How much does he make in a day? How does he get his drugs?


He gave up on boyfriends long ago and, to get his dick wet when the yearning arouses, he would bring home a dancer from Machine Shop and then kick them out the second they got off. It never went beyond a simple, ‘wham, bam, thank you, man, here’s your fucking clothes, now get the fuck out,’ scenario. It’s not the most fulfilling approach, but it’s the safest. What if he accidentally got involved with an undercover and he’d end up like Rage—orange jump suit and bars galore? Or what if he committed to a junkie who’d snort or shoot up his profit? And all for what? Romance? Emotional connections? Passion? No, such useless silliness wasn't worth losing the comfortable life he’d built for himself.


Still… still… he can’t refute the human prospect of wanting to share his earnings and success. What’s the use of having a cozy two-story house tucked safely in the suburbs if he couldn’t swim with some hot hunk in the underground pool or spend a lazy, rainy afternoon cuddled up on the couch next to a warm body, watching television or just… laying together? He’s still young and there’s plenty of time left to succumb to a ‘relationship’ if he met the right person, but is there such a thing as the ‘right’ person? Who would possibly want to date a man who has a stash of cocaine, weed, pills, heroin and meth secreted in the ceiling tiles above the top shelf in his walk-in closet? Who’d possibly tolerate that their boyfriend slings drugs in the major cities every afternoon and comes home sunburnt and sweaty with a pocket full of drug money? And to top it all off? Who in their right mind would be okay with their lover co-owning thee biggest gay strip club in the tristate area?


Mike shakes off his loathing thoughts, hops off the counter, rinses out his glass and, walking down the hall, slips his damp shirt over his head, the AC air chilling his sun kissed flesh. Upstairs in his room, he finishes undressing, throwing his dirty laundry into a basket in the far right corner of the room.


He runs a hand through his neon-red hair, pushing back the strands sticking to his sweaty forehead, and stares longingly at his made bed. His body had absorbed the summer heat, making him groggy, and a nap sounds as welcoming as a stiff drink, but there’s no time for a nap when he’s due to be at Machine Shop in an hour and a half. He grunts, rolls his eyes, gives his mattress a loving tap, “I’ll see you later tonight,” and shuffles into the master bathroom.


Avoiding the mirror like it possesses some incurable disease, Mike turns on the shower, grabs a towel, adjusts the temperature, and steps in. He emits a satisfied moan, the cool water beating down on his humid body, and takes his time shampooing and scrubbing off the grime of the dirty streets. His mind wanders to Scooter. Although it’s a written law in the Drug Dealer’s Handbook to leave the junkies on the streets—to not bring their addictions home with you—Mike can’t help himself. He considers Scooter a friend even if they don’t hang out outside of their trades, and Scooter is as set in his ways as Mike, but the track marks are multiplying and his veins are blown.


If Scooter were to die of overdose, it’d be from Mike’s heroin, and it’s not as if Scooter’d be the first, and he certainly won’t be the last, but either way, it’s Mike hands in which the blood will stain. It’s dreadful to think Mike of himself as a murderer, but he is. Sure, he doesn’t put a barrel to Scooter’s head, coercing him to plunge the smack into his veins—that’s all Scooter, and if Mike weren’t the drug dealer Scooter relies on, it’d be some other slinger. However, Mike’s been at this for ten years, and he’s lost a disgraceful quantity of buyers to fatal overdoses on Mike’s supply, and each death is a blow to the chest. Another Rule of the Drug Dealers Handbook? Never let on that you’re affected by the fatalities. A junkies gotta get high, and a slinger’s gotta eat and pay the bills. It’s business—nothing more, nothing less.


Mike turns off the shower, dries off and knots the towel around his waist. He realizes he hasn’t a choice but to dual his reflection and, much to his dismay, it’s worse than he imagined. His cheeks and nose are sunburnt, and he could go for a trim and a dye job, his black roots sprouting below his neon red tresses. His eyes are droopy, his lips dehydrated and cracked, and his goatee is outrageous. He grabs his shaving cream and razor and starts on his throat, scrapping off the stubble, and carefully creates a crisp, clean line on either cheek. There’s a hint of a mustache budding and he tips his head to the side, staring quizzical at his facial features, questioning whether or not to let it grow or shave it off and just leave the goatee.


“Meh, why ruin a good thing?” he says to his reflection and lathers his upper lip in the white cream.


After rinsing his face, he pats it dry, and scours his walk-in closet. He spends ten times the amount of time sifting through his wardrobe as he did debating over whether or not to add more facial hair to his appearance. He takes one shirt after another off their hangers, and legs into one pair of jeans after the next. He’s never been one to be so picky over his attire, and he laughs at himself for his abnormal vanity.


“C’mon, Mike, who you trying to impress? Brad? The same strippers you see every two weeks? Don’t be dumb.”


In the end, he determines the baby blue t-shirt and navy baggy pants will suit him just fine. Back in front of the mirror, he gels his hair into immaculate spikes (he may not indulge on his choosing of clothes, but his hair is a whole other story; it’s his pride and joy, always has been). He locks his spikes with a heaping helping of hairspray, rolls on his deodorant, brushes his teeth, and finishes it all off with a spritz of sandalwood cologne.


He takes one last, heart wrenching glimpse at his bed and jogs down the stairs, slips on his white DC shoes, hides his wad of cash in a pocket he’d sewn into the inside of his pants, and, car keys in hand, locks his front door behind him and braces for Job Number Two.


Downtown Los Angeles, Machine Shop Club, 8:30 PM


It’s always so damn loud in this place, but what strip club isn’t? The thumpa, thumpa could be heard and felt throughout his bones a block away, and there’s a line of people three blocks long waiting to be ID’d and given the okay by the bouncers to be permitted into the building. Mike makes eye-contact with Dave ‘Phoenix’ Farrell. They greet with a one armed hug and Mike whispers into the ginger’s ear, “Remember, let the hotties in first,” and Phoenix affirms with a nod. Mike squeezes his shoulder, sidesteps him, and enters the club via the back door.


The back of the house is crowded with dancers oiling each other up, doing pushups or pull ups in the doorways, and double checking that their g-strings are intact. Friday’s are Angels and Demons night, and there’s half-naked eye-candy either adorned in flashing red devil horns, sequence underwear (white or red, depending on their costume of choice) and halo headbands and white angle wings sewn with gold thread.


He’s greeted with ‘hey, boss’ and ‘what up, Em-C’ as he makes his rounds to each and every one of his employees. As it’s been mentioned, Mike only comes to the club every other weekend, and when he does, he bestows upon Machine Shop as much courtesy as he does on his every other day slinging. He travels from dancer to dancer, testing them to assure they’re hydrated, sober, and comfortable. He inspects their costumes for anything that could be out of place or that could malfunction and present the audience an accidental flash of a testical or mushroom head.


At first Mike figured running a gay strip club would be a borderline ‘mission impossible’ considering his own sexuality. What gay man wouldn’t have trouble containing himself while being cramped into a space full of sweaty, half-naked men, each body just as muscular and fit as the one after it; every face beautifully constructed. He’ll be the first to admit to caving to his carnal needs and screwing an exotic dancer here and there, yet for the most part, he’s kept himself under control and runs Machine Shop professionally and drama free.


Once he’s done picking out skin-tight undies from ass cracks and readjusting halos, demon or angel wings, and conversing with the dancers, Mike begins to head towards the hallway that’ll take him to the main office. However, he manages to make a measly step before he’s frozen in place by identifying a fresh face amongst the familiar ones he’s accustomed to.


The first thing he notices is his hair—neon red spikes an inch or two shorter than Mike’s. The second thing he notices is he’s not in costume and he assumes it must be his first night. The third thing he notices is he’s sitting down on one of the black leather couches, head down, and reading from a paper in his hands. The fourth thing he notices are his tattooed wrists, both of them colored by blue, orange and yellow flames.


Mike walks over to him, kneels down, and taps his knee and, suddenly, he notices a fifth thing: glowing, copper eyes and a silver labret hoop piercing. Before he advanced him, Mike had a lecture written in his head: you should be in costume and oiling up like the rest of them, not lounging on the couch and reading. The second their eyes meet, Mike’s utterly speechless, and he bites down his lip.


“Can I help you?”


Mike blinks and shakes his head. “Sorry. Um… I’m Em-C, the co-owner,” he states, and the way the words come out of his mouth makes him sound absolutely egotistical, which it should, he is this dude’s boss. “What’s your name?”


“Chester.”


“Why aren’t you in costume?”


“Oh… shit.”


Chester, much to Mike’s surprise, bursts out laughing. Mike glares at him. How dare this newb laugh at his boss!


“What the fuck is so goddamn funny?” he snaps. “Get up and get into costume if you wanna keep your job.”


Chester hushes at once, his mouth thin, pale cheeks turning a bright rouge.


“I-I-I’m so-sor--”


“I don’t have time for your apologies,” Mike says evenly, his tone short and showcasing authority. “Costume. Now.” He stands up and, before walking away, gives Chester a quick once-over: slim frame, leather pants and white tank, angular, sharp facial features. “Angel,” he tells him, his stern voice softening. “You’d make a good angel.”


Chester, wide-eyed, gulps. “Yes, sir.”


“Don’t let me catch you slacking again. Clear?”


Again, he gulps.


Mike stomps off down the hall and, entering the office, plops down on the black plush chair across from Brad who’s on the couch on the other side of the glass table between them. Brad peers up from his work binder, his dark brown eyes growing at the sight of his business partner and friend.


“Goddamn, dude, you look beat.”


Mike grunts. “That’s putting it lightly. Got any whiskey in here?”


“Not at the moment. Gonna have to go to the bar for that.” Brad pauses, sets his workbook aside, and rests his bony elbows on his even bonier knees. “Man, I don’t get why you’re still slinging. You know you can hire more dudes to take care of that street shit for you, right?”


“Yeah, yeah.” Mike grumbles and leans his head back onto the back of the chair, his hands folded over his stomach, legs stretched out. “Then what would I do with my days? Sit around my pool like some mafia wife?”


Brad chuckles. “Nah, man, but you could help me out around here more. Shit’s getting out of hand some nights.”


“Yeah, I noticed the line outside the door. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that long before.”


“Ah, well, it’s C-Minor night.”


Mike pries open one of his closed eyes at a beaming, smirking Brad.


“Da fuck is C-Minor?”


Brad sits back in his seat and places an ankle on his knee and his hands behind his head. “My newest money-maker,” he states proudly. “You haven’t been in to see him yet. I hired him in a couple weeks ago. Kinda scrawny for my liking but he has some major sex appeal and a crazy set of pipes; dude can fuckin’ sing, man, lemme tell ya.”


Mike snorts. “So what? He gives a rock show while stripping or some shit?”


“Yep,” Brad answers. “Sure as fuck does. Our profit has tripled in the last week alone because of this mother fucker. The place is packed wall to wall damn near every single night since he started dancing here and I’m fixing to have him sing three nights out of the week as opposed to one. I mean, fuck, dude, there’s been women coming here! Fucking women!


Mike, staring at Brad dumbfounded, thinks back to the dancer he saw in the back of the house; the one with the tattoos and lip piercing. He scrunches his nose in ponder and asks, “You talkin’ ‘bout the dude out there with the fiery red hair and flame tats?”


“YEAH!” Brad boasts excitedly, springing where he sits. “So you’ve already met Chester then! Awesome! One less thing I have to worry about.”


Mike cocks a brow at him, glowering. “He wasn’t in costume, y’know,” he points out to his business partner. “I hope you’re not permitting him to do whatever the fuck he feels like doing just because he’s making you a pretty, shiny penny.”


“What?” Brad retorts. “Of course not! He doesn’t need to be in costume yet. He’s my encore so he has another two and a half hours before he’s center stage.”


So that’s why he was laughing earlier…


“So he’s what?” Mike asks. “After Rob?”


“Yes. Actually, Rob’s the one who brought Chester in. I guess they’re roomies.”


Mike shifts, flabbergasted. Rob’s been dancing for them since the beginning. A strapping, good looking, dark haired, dark eyed handsome beast of a man. He has a surfer’s build and a mysterious air about him, and his shy demeanor quickly had him becoming the most requested dancer amongst the other twenty. Brad’s labeled Rob ‘the best for last’ for the last two years, so to hear him put this newbie after Rob? Well, Chester, C-Minor, whatever, must be as fucking special as a pumpkin turning into a carriage.


“He’s that good?”


Brad bobs his head theatrically, his brown, curly fro bouncing. “Mmmm-hmmm! Shit, I’d turn gay for that man, and not just because he’s making me a—” he creates air quotations, “’—a pretty, shiny penny.’” He claps his hand on his knee and grins, shaking his head. “I can’t explain it. He’s very unique and not afraid to be animated. He owns that stage. You should stick around tonight and see it for yourself. Fucking incredible.”


Mike scoffs. “I’m fuckin’ tired, man, I don’t have time to wait another couple hours just to watch some stripper put on some faux rock show. So let’s just get down to the nitty-gritty. When’s Joe gonna get here?”


“Man, you need to take a load off. You work too much. Have you forgotten what it means to have some fun? You’re all about business and money.” He throws his hands out at Mike. “You’re a gay man who co-owns a gay strip club! Fucking drink it up, man! Get laid! Eeesh, I see more cock than you do.”


Mike pinches the bridge of his nose. “Brad, I don’t have time for your lectures. It’s been a long day, man. Is Joe late?”


“No, Joe isn’t due for another fifteen.” Brad smooths out his button up, white shirt and squints at Mike. “What else is bothering you? You seem out of sorts.”


“I don’t even wanna tell ya because I already know what you’ll say and I don’t want or need to hear it.”


“Is it about Scooter?”


Mike peers at him, his teeth bothering his lower lip. Brad sighs. Mike’s brought up in passing conversations his distress in regards to Scooter and, in a lot of ways, Brad understands why it chews at him. They’ve known Scooter for years. Poor dude had been homeless practically his entire life; a kid who’d been taken away by his junkie parents and then trafficked into a string of abusive foster homes. He eventually escaped the system and worked the odd fast food or gas station job until his oxycodone addiction morphed into a heroin one. Since then he’d been living out of a shopping cart and panhandling. Brad and Mike never asked how he was able to afford his smack—it was none of their concerns just as long as he paid up when it came time to trade. Brad isn’t one to squabble with his best friend, but they’v gotten into shouting matches over Mike having mercy on Scooter and just giving him heroin when he wasn’t able to afford it.


“Please tell me you’re not giving him drugs for free again.”


Mike narrows his eyes. “Of course, not! And don’t tell me what I can and cannot do with my supply. I can’t stand to see him in withdrawals! He’s a good dude and he’s never done us dirty so if I want to give him the occasional freebie, that’s my choice.”


Brad raises his hands at his chest. “Alright, alright, I get it.” Brad massages his temples. “Listen, Mike, I get why you’re worried about him. I kno--”


“I don’t think you do, Brad. You haven’t seen him. There isn’t a single spot on either of his arms where he could possible shoot up. I’ve seen a lot of junkies in my days but I’ve never seen so many blown veins on one person in my entire life.”


“Mike, you can’t help him. Damn, dude, I think you’ve gone soft.”


“Fuck you, man!” Mike stomps his foot. “I have not gone soft! I’m still selling to him, ain’t I? It just sucks sometimes is all. I still have a heart, you know? Just… don’t worry ‘bout me. I’m good. Things are good. Now where the fuck is Joe?”


“PRESENT!” A voice fills the crimson-painted room. The door shuts, drowning out the thumpa, thumpa and hoots and hollers and whistles of the audience downstairs. Joe ‘Remy’ Hahn takes a pew next to Brad and flops his backpack onto the glass table. “I know you’re all about business,” he directs at Mike, his Korean features intensified by his serious manner. “So here we go.”


Mike straightens his posture on the edge of his chair and he and Brad focus on their main supplier as he unveils the items from his backpack and drops them down on the table:


“A brick of pure, uncut heroin, worth 60k. Two bricks of coke, worth 80k. 3k worth of Percocet’s; 5k worth of Oxy; 8k worth of PCP.”


Mike begins dividing out the drugs between he and Brad. “And what about glass?”


“Meth is getting tricky to come by after that huge heist that happened last month with Jason and his ring. Connections are getting a bit tough but I was able to track down a dude on the border. Gimme about another three days or so and I should have somethin’ for ya.”


Mike shakes his head. “Fuckin’ Jason. I told him! I told him his fuckin’ apartment was wired but he didn’t listen. I swear, you’d think growing up with me he would’ve learned a thing or two.”


“Well, your brother can’t always be as a smart as you,” Brad joshes, shooting Mike a playful glance. “At least he didn’t go to jail. Mother fucker got lucky as shit.”


“Only because his buddy took the fall,” states Mike, lifting his pant leg and retrieving the three bundles of concealed bills. “It’s like the whole Rage mishap all over again.” He slides them over to Joe. “Here’s 10k and the other 70k is in the duffel bag next to you. You can count it out if you need to. There’s a money machine on the table behind you.”


“Being a Shinoda has its perks,” says Joe, zipping up his bag. “No need to count. I trust you guys. It’s been, like, three years now? If you guys wanted to skimp me it’d be a stupid move on your half, not mine. Alrighty then!” He claps his hands. “Anything else? You guys good on weed or you need a re-up on that too?”


“Got plenty of sticky,” answers Mike. “Thanks, Remy. Call me when the glass comes in.”


“Will do. A’ight, bros, I’ll catch ya’ll later.”


They bid farewells with hand slaps and fist pumps and, just like that, Joe’s out the door and Brad and Mike are skillfully scooping out heroin and coke into large baggies.


“You gonna be cutting this shit yourself or gonna have one of your dudes do it for you?” asks Brad as he ties up his share of smack.


“I never cut my shit, you know this,” Mike says with a titter. “Ryu takes care of that. He’s a fuckin’ master when it comes to cutting; uses this crazy mixture of baby laxatives and powdered sugar so that it doesn’t lose its sweetness. Pretty fuckin’ impressive.”


“How much does he charge for the work?”


“Why? Interested?”


“Yeah, cutting is a bitch.”


Mike hums, agreeing. “I’ll talk to him and see what he can for you. I’m sure it won’t be a problem.” He points to Brad’s left. “Duffel.”


Brad flings the duffel over to Mike and he packs it with his half of resources and zips it up. “Okay, man, I’m out. Gonna go get some sleep.”


“You sure? C-Minor should be on soon. I’m tellin ya, you’re missin’ out on a helluva show.”


Mike smiles. “I’m sure I am, but the weather kicked my ass today. Haven’t been this sunburnt since I fell asleep on that cruise we took a couple years back.”


Brad bellows. “Oh, man! I remember that! I never knew Japanese men could turn into boiled lobsters!”


Mike, unamused, flips him off and they exchange friendly smiles and a brotherly hug.


“See ya later, Em-C. Don’t be such a stranger and be careful out there on the streets, especially with all the arrests that’d been happening lately.”


“I’m smarter than your average slinger,” Mike reminds him while pulling out of the embrace. “I made the rules.”


“Ah, but every king must suffer his downfall.”


“Only the careless ones.”


With that said, Mike chucks the strap of his duffel over his shoulder and takes one last look around the back of the house. Just as he’s about to turn the knob to the back door, he’s stopped by a curious voice asking:


“You’re not gonna stick around for my set?”


Mike whirls on his heels and his heart relocates into his throat at rocket ship speed. Chester, or C-Minor, or what-the-fuck-ever, is, in fact, in costume, and the vision is unworldly. Angel wings extrude from his back—thick with black and silver feathers—and he’s in a pair of skin-tight black jeans, his naked chest muscular in all the right places and dipped perfectly in others. His milky skin shines from a layer of iridescent glitter. Mike’s eyes wander from the ‘V’ of his pelvis and up his rosy pink nipples and to the spiked collar around his neck and up to his face. A metallic silver stripe is painted from temple to temple, bringing out the copper color of his irises.


Hot fucking damn


“I… uh… erm…” Fucking mother fucker, Mike! Pull yourself together! Don’t be a stuttering fool! You haven’t gone soft! Fuck Brad! “I’ve had a long day and I got business to take care of. But, uh…” he skims Chester from his black, buckle ankle boots and all the way up his frame to his tender gaze. “I like the costume. Have fun tonight. Break a leg or whatever.”


Chester shrugs. “Well, if you change your mind, I’m singing ‘Wicked Garden’ tonight. Not sure if you’re an STP fan or not. But, anyway, that’s my cue,” he directs a thumb over his shoulder at the sound of his name being announced. “Catcha around, boss.”


Mike watches as his newest ‘money-maker’ turns and walks the other way towards the stage, his eyes attaching to his muscular ass, head slightly tilted. He licks his lips; stares at the black tile beneath him.


“Aw, fuck it!”


He sprints to Brad’s office, opens the door, tosses the duffel inside the room, and Brad, startled, looks up at him.


“What’re you doing?”


“Getting a drink,” Mike says then slams the door and dashes to the stairs that’ll take him to the main floor.


I fucking love Stone Temple Pilots.


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