Drowned: Chapter Twenty-Nine - No Rest for the Wicked
A/N - …
It has been way too long…
I’ll get straight to the point: I am so extremely sorry for the long, long wait on my content, both Drowned- and Drought-wise. I truthfully thought I would get more written during the summer than one lengthy chapter…but due to my working hours of forty-plus hours a week, home issues, my lack of energy, and my declining mental health…that never worked. While my work schedule is better…well…these past three or four or five or six months have been extremely tough. Not only was I in the worst writer’s block in my life, but I scarcely found the energy to write due to exhaustion and mental health issues. I truthfully hope you understand and are not too disappointed in me…although I am going to state now that updates will become rather slow, I promise that I will always update eventually. I will finish this fic series if it kills me.
As for Drought itself…I’m just not sure. I’ll try to update it, and update this, AND update my new fic as I can…but as of right now, I’m putting it as the least urgent fic on the list. But I promise you that I’ll try my best to write it.
Anyway…you will be seeing some changes on this fic for previous chapters. For starters, I’ve deleted that edgy message video and overdramatic goodbye in Twenty-Eight, and I’ll be doing a little housekeeping (like clearing out old, unneeded Author’s Notes and such). I’ll update the Picrew pictures and LGBTQ+ log as well…but please understand that the changes might not be immediate.
As always, I must thank you for sticking with me in this confusing, upsetting, plot-hole-filled mess of a story. I appreciate you all so very much…more than you’ll ever know… 🖤
I love you, dearest readers. Stay strong and safe.
The early-morning darkness of the studio casts eerie shadows along the walls.
Maybe he’s not in his office…
Maybe…maybe Joey should just leave…just give up…
The lonely weekend had given him plenty of time to anguish about his ruined relationship and addiction…and Monday had turned no successful communication attempts…
Maybe Joey is just better off leaving his love interest alone…
No. He is going to fix this.
The boss knocks one last time…
…And the door finally opens.
The amber eyes Joey has missed so much briefly meet his…then the door starts to shut again–
“No–wait–” Joey stops it with his hand. “Bertrum–please–I–I just need to–”
Joey’s eyes are already stinging–he shallows and starts over.
“I want to apologize…for everything. I’m so sorry for the insensitive comments I made…and I…want to make things right.”
Bertrum watches his boss wriggle nervously under his annoyed gaze.
Joey practically races to Bertrum for a hug, but the latter pushes him away.
“Stop. Don’t think you can talk your way into my arms with just a simple ‘sorry.’ I want you to listen to me.”
Joey takes Bertrum’s hands in his and gives him his most charming, sincere look. “Bertie, I’ll listen to anything and everything you have to say.”
“Knock off the lying and the fake charisma. If you actually paid attention to what I said, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Bertrum with cold eyes pulls his hands out of Joey’s. “If you want this relationship to work, you need to put in some effort.”
The owner is confounded. “Wha–excuse me? I don’t understand. I’ve given you plenty of affection and gifts and–”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You give me materials and sappy words, but there’s more to…what we have going on than that. There needs to be a mutual understanding of trust and respect between us, and you aren’t doing your share.”
“But…I…” Joey is at a loss for words. Shouldn’t Bertrum just be happy with him just the way he is?
Why should I change for him?
“I…no, you’re blowing this out of proportion, Bertrum. Look, I understand that you’re still mad about what I said, but I apologized! What more do you want?!” He isn’t even aware of how fast his temper is rising.
“You aren’t listening!”
“You aren’t being clear!”
“How much plainer can I make it?! I want you to respect me!”
“Then why didn’t you just say that?!”
Joey crosses his arms and huffs like a pouting toddler. “Why do you always have to make things so hard?! I do respect you! And it’s your own fault that you don’t trust me!”
“It’s your fault I can’t trust you! And you don’t give me nearly the amount of respect that you should!”
“You’re never satisfied with anything I do!”
“You never admit that you’re wrong!”
Joey stops, realizing something.
“I’m what?” Bertrum snaps. “Come on, spit it out. I don’t appreciate all the hard work you haven’t done? I don’t mean that much to you? I’m the problem here? What’s your next accusation?”
“Bertrum…” Joey fidgets helplessly in…shame? Withdrawal pain? Sadness? Anxiety? All of the above? “I’m an idiot…”
The other gives him a look that clearly says, “I know…and?”
“I…I’m sorry for all those things I said. Really. I…I need to learn to think before I talk.” That’s what landed us in this fight in the first place. “And you do mean so, so much to me…and I want you to be happy. I know I haven’t been the easiest to work with and that I’ve said some…very, very stupid and unnecessary things. But I want to change.” Joey reaches for Bertrum’s hands again…and this time, the latter lets him. “I don’t want to lose you because of my negligent actions. Bertie…from now on, I promise that I’ll listen. And I’ll give you all the respect you deserve and won’t keep a single thing from you. I absolutely promise.”
The lies slide off his tongue so easily. The boss’s sneaky charm is returning, and Bertrum knows it.
“Why should I believe you? It took me telling you to shape up–and you arguing with me about it–for you to finally 'promise’ that you’ll change. How do I know you’re not just saying that to humor me? How do I know that you’ll actually stick to what you say? In fact…” Once again, he pulls out of Joey’s grasps. “Why should I even go any further than a professional relationship with you if you’ll treat me like this?”
Joey opens his mouth…then shuts it and thinks. “I know I haven’t acted in the most…principled way, and I understand your frustration. But all I ask is that you stay, and I’ll prove to you that I can and will change. Just please give me another chance…”
“Please, Bertrum…just one more chance. I won’t let you down.” The boss wrings his hands in a begging motion and looks up at the other with big, 'please-please-forgive-me’ eyes.
Please…I’ll be more careful about what I say. Please just believe in me…
Bertrum sighs, conflicted. Joey can seem sincere without meaning it…but maybe he does actually want to improve? Is he lying? Is he truthful? Am I just asking to get hurt?
“I don’t know, Joey. I need to…just think about it for a while.”
Joey feels himself being pushed towards the door; he grabs his love interest’s arm. “Wait–I–no–Ber–”
“I know you’re sorry and that you say you’ll change…but I can’t process all of this right now. Just give me some space, and we can discuss it later.” It’s not me, it’s you.
The owner, now out in the hall, is confused and a little hurt. “But…”
No…he shouldn’t argue. It’ll only make things worse, and he needs Bertrum to believe that he respects him–giving him space would do just that.
Joey takes a deep breath. “Okay. Take all the time you need. I’ll be ready to talk when you are.”
And with that, the door is shut and the conversation is over.
Joey is frustrated–that whole scenario, it was for nothing. Useless.
It feels like nothing got fixed. Yes, something happened…they argued…they distanced from each other…but nothing improved. There was an action, but no changed end result.
But…maybe it’s not over. Maybe Bertrum will come around, and they can work things out.
But how long until then? Unfortunately for Joey, not everyone can rationally make split-second decisions like him.
Patience is supposedly a virtue, but waiting feels like a punishment…as does the needless arguing and discontent between them.
Does Joey deserve those 'punishments’?
No. I don’t deserve it…I mean…not really…but…I guess…
Never mind–it’s easier to not think about that.
It’s fine. He’ll come around.
I’ve got other things to do~
As soon as he gets Thomas in his grasps, Joey will finally gain the soul missing piece of the puzzle. Well…that is, if he can get Thomas–lately, the construction worker seems to be avoiding him as much as possible. And Joey’s permanent tiredness and icky feeling don’t help matters…
Aches, fevers, chills, and mood swings lead to ruined relationships, emotional instability, studio failure…and suspicion. Everything and everyone is decaying, inside and out. Same old story, same old cycle.
But it’s fine! Just believe, and everything will be okay! Yes, definitely!
Belief will save me. Belief will save us all.
It worked before, so it will work again.
Ugh…a wave of sleepy nausea hits the boss. Surely he’d be used to it by now?
A long nap would feel really, really, really nice.
But that’s not going to happen. There’s things to do, bills to pay, problems to solve, love interest’s hearts to recapture!
So he has no energy? Too bad–the world isn’t going to change its plans for him. Yet.
There’s no rest for the wicked.
“Why am I so exhausted?”
Putting spying and suspicions aside, Buddy discloses to Dot his emotions as of late. “I don’t understand…I’ve been working less than usual because of the lack of employees…and home life isn’t much different than normal…but I’m just so tired. My brain feels like fuzz, Dot…why?” The gofer, befuddled and drained, slumps against a chair. I shouldn’t feel like this…
The writer mulls over her friend’s words for a short while before she suggests, “I think it might be stress, Buddy. We’ve been poking around in things we shouldn’t be, which might be making you anxious, and the disappearances are making you paranoid. You’re not alone in how you’re feeling–I think everyone is starting to get fuzzy brains because of the situation. Overthinking does that, Buddy. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. Take a deep breath…and tell yourself it’s okay to feel that way.”
Dot’s words seem to help–the gofer takes a deep breath and tries to think of a calming, not-chaotic atmosphere. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.
But…he figures he should check if something else is okay…
“Are you doing okay, Dot?”
A pause. “I…can’t really put a dot on how I feel. There are a lot of emotions going through my brain–on one hand, I want to uncover more secrets and get to the bottom of this mystery…but on the other hand, an intuition is telling me that I’ve seen enough and to avoid journeying any deeper. It’s…”
“…complicated,” Buddy finishes, and Dot nods. “ There’s just a general bad feeling in the air…what should we do?”
“Well…I would advise you to just trust what your gut says is right, but with how your body is responding…I want you to take a break. At least for a little bit, so you can just breathe and process everything that’s going through your mind.”
“Will that really solve anything?”
The writer slides her paper away and faces the gofer with serious eyes. “Probably not, but it will help your brain feel less fuzzy, and you’ll be more ready to deal with the problems after you have some time to relax.”
“Okay. But if I relax, you have to promise me that you will, too. You work the most out of the three of us, so if anyone deserves a break from this chaos, it’s you.”
Dot smiles. “Thank you, Buddy–I really appreciate it. I’ll be sure to take a break too, I promise.”
A series of *thunks* resound through the hall, drawing the two friends out of their conversation; Johnny excitedly bounds over to Buddy with a yellow note in hand.
“Hihi, besties! I got to deliver a slip for Buddy!” They dramatically kneel down and extend their arms, as if they were bestowing the piece of paper to a royal. “For you, oh great one!”
Buddy laughs slightly, wondering what a 'bestie’ is, and takes the note.
Please arrive on Floor K via the elevator as soon as possible. Make sure you are alone–we need to discuss something.
That’s oddly vague and urgent, Buddy considers. Why meet in such an inconvenient place as Level K? Why not his office, or an extra room? Am I in trouble?
The boy takes a deep breath and focuses on turning off those anxious thoughts.
It’s okay. It’s all right. I will be fine.
“I have to go, guys. Something came up.” Buddy bids adieu to his friends and starts for the elevator.
“Wait–Buddy, you forgot–” Dot scoops up the note from the desk, but by the time she reaches the elevator, it has already ascended; she examines the piece of paper, when something catches her eye.
The note is messy and hard-to-read—it seems it may have been written in haste. Dot knows from reading Joey’s memos that the boss’s handwriting is loopy and slanted…but this text is thin and rigid. The content doesn’t appear to include any of Joey’s trademark verbosity, either.
Joey didn’t write this.
“Johnny!” The organist arrives obediently at the writer’s side with a goofy smile, which soon disappears when Dot informs them on the note’s details.
“I dunno…even if he didn’t write it, is it really something to worry about? Maybe someone just wants to talk to Buddy alone.”
“But why would they pretend to be Joey?”
Johnny doesn’t have an answer to that–now that they think about it, it actually might be something to worry about. The note may be connected to the disappearances…
“Maybe we should tell him before he gets too far,” they finally decide to the agreement of their friend.
With that, the two press the button for the elevator…hoping that they aren’t too late.
Meanwhile, Buddy arrives at the entrance to Level K–Heavenly Toys.
Wait, why did he just say 'Heavenly Toys,’ then? Why did he want to meet here?
The department is silent, with not even the toy machine making its regular *clunks* and *clanks*. In fact, it seems completely void of people–not a Joey Drew in sight.
Where is he? The gofer is tempted to give up and go back to work…but a flutter from Shawn’s former desk catches his attention.
Another yellow page lies upon the wood, with a single word scrawled upon it:
“Hello?” Buddy asks it; from behind him, someone creeps.
*Thunk, thunk, thunk* The gofer feels his heart pound anxiously in his chest as he very slowly turns around.
A pair of greenish-blue eyes meet his–Buddy realizes with horror that the familiar person is holding a piece of floorboard, ready to hit him.
Shawn looks genuinely apologetic, but doesn’t lower the wood.
“I’m sorry, Buddy.”
And everything goes black.
Dot and Johnny exit the lift in Heavenly Toys and scan the immediate area for the gofer–the two split separate ways down the department.
“Buddy! Are you here?!”
The search attempts, however, prove futile.
“He’s not here!” Johnny cries when the two meet up again. “He disappeared, just like the others!”
“But why? Why would they take him?” Dot is on the verge of tears. No…it can’t be like this. Maybe he went somewhere else in the studio. Maybe he’s on a different floor. No, he couldn’t have just…
The organist and writer agree to put off their work duties for the day to look for Buddy–the disappearance is far more urgent than anything else.
“But what will we tell Joey?”
Dot thinks, then answers, “Absolutely nothing. He could very well be behind this, even if he didn’t write the note.”
“But what if we get caught?”
“I don’t care if we get caught!” The writer, desperate and determined, grabs the other’s shoulders. “We need to find Buddy!”
“Okay! I’m ready!”
The duo head separate routes through the expansive studio, keeping the hope and belief that they will locate their friend, safely and soundly.
…But is it too late~?
“I hate what I’m becoming!”
In his cramped, dilapidated room, Shawn bawls into Wally’s arms. “I hate what she makes me do, I hate how I live, and I hate that I can’t do anything about it!”
The janitor rubs his boyfriend’s back soothingly and whispers, “It’s okay, Shawny…it’s not your fault–”
“I’m a monster, Wally! I’ve doomed him!” Tears stream down the toymaker’s face onto the other’s shoulder. “He was so young! And she’s gonna kill him–”
“I know, honey, but you can’t blame yourself–”
“But I shouldn’t have done it–I should have stopped her–I should have run when I had the chance!” It’s my fault he’s in danger, it’s my fault she has him, it’s my fault he’ll never see the light of day again, it’s my fault, it’s my fault–
“Shawn.” Wally grabs his lover by the shoulders. “Even if you had tried to run away, she could have caught you–or worse, someone else might have seen. I know you feel terrible for what you did to Buddy, but you had no other option. And no matter what she makes you do, I know that you’re still my brave, good-hearted Shawn.”
He wipes tears off his boyfriend’s cheek and gives him a small, hopeful smile. “And we’re gonna get out of this hell together. I promise.”
Shawn sniffles, his voice weak. “Are you sure?” I don’t have any hope of escaping anymore…
Wally slowly caresses and kisses Shawn’s cheek. “Positive. And you know how we’re gonna do it?”
“I’m gonna quit, and come find you, and we’ll murder Alice, and we’ll leave the studio and run away and get married and–”
“Wait, back up. You want us…to kill Susie?”
The janitor sighs, unsure of how to word this. “…No. I mean…don’t think of her like that. She’s not Susie–she was, but she’s not now. She’s a monster disguised as an angel, and she’s going to hurt even more people if we just let her live here–”
“I know, but we can’t risk our lives taking away hers. This place is going to burn…with or without her in it. And I want to get away from her, not get revenge or stop her or anything.” Shawn feels tears coming on again at the thought of losing Wally. “I know it’s selfish, but I don’t care about anyone or anything else but you and me making it out of here safely.” He remembers the ink creatures he presumed to be Jack and Norman. “I think most of the workers have already met their bad fates, anyway…”
“No, Wallace. We can’t stop her, and I don’t want to.” The toymaster holds his lover against him protectively. “Please, please promise me that you won’t go after Alice.” I could never forgive myself if she hurt you…
Wally hesitates…then vows, “Okay. I promise.” He hugs Shawn even tighter. “We’ll leave her alone and escape together.” The silence is broken only by a relieved sigh. “I’m so glad you’re okay…”
“Mmhm…” Shawn has stopped crying and now nuzzles against his lover…Wally is so warm and cozy…
The custodian runs his fingers through the other’s hair. “Are you tired?”
Shawn nods and closes his eyes.
“She hasn’t been letting you sleep…” Wally has an idea. “One second, Shawny–lemme just–”
The toymaker is surprised to feel he is being picked up–with a mildly confused expression, he clings to his boyfriend. Wally carries Shawn to the sleeping corner of the room and lays him down.
“Shh, just a minute, honey.” The janitor covers his partner with the blanket…then snuggles under it and wraps his arms around him.
“Ahh–oh. I…” Shawn feels sleep coming on, but fights it off. “Thank you…but…don’t you need to–”
“Yes I do.” Wally nuzzles against the other’s neck lovingly.
“But…what if she–”
“She won’t. You’re safe in my arms.”
He knows that isn’t a certainty, but the toymaster is too tired and comfortable and in love with Wally to care. “All right…how long–”
“All night. Please don’t worry–I need you to get some sleep, dear.”
“…Mmkay.” Shawn yawns. “Thank you…really…I love you…”
“I love you too, Shawn,” Wally whispers, and plants a kiss on his lover’s cheek.
Sleeping with Wally is like heaven to Shawn…he’s so warm and holds him securely…and the sounds of his breaths are so soothing…
It’s nice to finally get some rest…
The two sleep soundly, luckily never interrupted by Alice.
It’s almost as if she is busy with something else…
Buddy opens his eyes…to complete darkness.
It seems like he just woke from a very long, very restless, very painful sleep…
The sharp whack of the board was the last thing he had felt before everything had gone dark…
Then…there was the severe, extreme, awful, atrocious pain…he had felt dizzy, his brain like static…
Then it went dark again…but nothing had felt right…nothing was right…
And now he is awake again…or so it seems…
The pitch-blackness makes it hard to tell…
And…he can’t move at all…
It’s as if he’s bound…
Maybe they’ll hear me if…
Buddy tries to call out.
Is anyone here? Please, someone, help! I can’t–
“Oh, you’re awake. Very good.” The voice is female, a little familiar, and menacing. “That will make this all the more fun~!”
“Don’t bother asking questions…or screaming, for that matter.” The voice giggles. “No one can hear you but me~.”
Buddy asks anyway. Who are you, and what are you doing with me?
All he gets in response is the clink of metal…
Then in a flourish, the wool is off the wolf’s eyes…
And before him is an…angelic abomination.
It’s terrible…he wishes he still had the blindfold on…
Like always, Alice introduces herself overdramatically. “I am Alice Angel! And you are the key to my beauty!”
Buddy’s beady black eyes widen as he tries to look at himself–the surgery table restraints make it extremely difficult to move his head, but based on what he can see…
He’s clearly not human.
What’s going on?! You–Alice–me–BORIS?
“Yes. Now shush–I shouldn’t need to and will not explain, for it will not matter. You will be very dead very soon.”
Alice wastes no time; she lifts the knife–
Too late–the blade pierces Buddy’s cartoon chest, and ink splatters like blood upon Alice’s apron.
The wolf’s last word consists of one word: Dot…
“What a mess,” the angel remarks in disgust. “But…it was worth it.”
She has no regret, no shame for what she has just done. Where’s Susie? Only a monster remains…
With careful and precise gloved hands, Alice severs the deceased wolf’s chest; cutting around the heart and taking it out, however, is much easier said than done.
Disgusting liquid…nasty ink…
But I need it…
Alice slowly lifts the blotchy ink heart from the chest. It’s still throbbing slightly…as if it’s still alive…
The tainted saint feels a very strong urge to drop the organ. It’s so gross…
How did my father deal with these sickening things all day?!
She sets it on the table, next to her other 'surgery tools’…and hesitantly pokes it.
A small stream of ink flows out of the hole onto the floor; Alice snatches an inkwell and collects the thick fluid.
Once the well is filled, she sucks the liquid with her syringe…and runs the point against her cheek…
The injection hurts intensely, but it does its job–the side of Alice’s face melts slightly. She molds her eyes and cheek into the form she wants them as…
Stay, stay, stay, stay, she begs to the ink.
And when she’s done…well, it isn’t perfect, but it’s better.
Temporarily better, that is…but it won’t be long before the side of her face skews again…
Maybe, because it came from a heart and not a certain hatted Searcher, this ink will stay longer…
Why can’t it be permanent? Isn’t ink permanent?
In an attempt to distract herself from the shooting pangs in her face, Alice focuses on the still-beating heart.
It’s still alive…how? How did he die, if his heart lived?
She ponders this, eventually inventing a small theory…but she’ll need to test that later.
I’m going to need more hearts–I have beauty to maintain. And perhaps I can work something out to make it permanent.
I will never rest until I’m perfect again.
Meanwhile, Joey stays late in his office, waiting for Bertrum and reading a certain letter over and over and over again…
Mister Joseph Drew:
We are glad to inform you that your request to file for bankruptcy was approved. Your company, Joey Drew Studios, will–
The boss turns over the paper and opens the door eagerly to see…a much less eager Bertrum.
Joey awkwardly just stands there and blushes before realizing that he should probably move. “Oh–uh–come in–”
Joey takes a seat on his couch and gestures for Bertrum to sit next to him, but the latter stays standing.
“Erm, uh, all right then. I–”
“Why–” the architect begins.
“No, um–” Joey tries to recall the message he had been practicing for this occasion and clears his throat. “Never mind–you go first.”
“I’m upset with you–”
I know, bu–“
"No, shut up. I’m not done. You say I’m too vague, so I’ll be straight with you: I’m sick of how you treat me, and you need to shape up, or I’m leaving you and his project.”
“I’m still not done. I do believe I deserve and have earned your respect, which includes you listening to my ideas, my issues, my suggestions. And you can disagree and express your opinions, but you cannot cut me off, or ignore me, or snap at me. Think before you speak. And I don’t want any more lying or deception. Quit acting obnoxious, or we are finished. Do you understand?”
Joey, red-faced and slouched over in shame, nods and whispers, “Yes…and I’m really sorry for being like that…I promise, promise, promise that I will change. Please give me a second chance, and I won’t let you down.”
“Joey, if there’s something you need to get off your chest, you can tell me. I know I’m being tough with you right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t approach me.”
The boss merely gazes at his love interest helplessly, very slightly shaking. “It’s not…that…” He clutches his arms.
“…Are you okay, Jo–”
In a swift motion, Joey stands up, runs to Bertrum, and hugs him.
“…I’ve missed you so much…you make me feel so good…”
The park designer is caught by surprise and doesn’t know what to do with Joey nuzzling against his chest; he mumbles something before hugging back.
Joey basks in Bertrum’s warmth, feeling all his fears and symptoms drain away.
Stay here with me, forever and ever and ever and ever and ever…
I’m all yours…I’ll do anything…
Joey doesn’t want him to leave…maybe there’s a way he can stop him from going to Britain…
But…that would be deception…and he’s just promised…
“Really, Bertie…I’m so sorry…for everything…” Joey, too embarrassed to meet Bertrum’s eyes, instead talks to his chest. “I’ve been such an asshole…but I want you to stay…I want to change…”
“You will change, if you truthfully want me to stay. And I believe that you can, if you just put forth some effort.”
“I will…I promise…” The boss sighs. “It…things haven’t been good, and I let it get to me…”
Bertrum releases Joey from his arms (much to the other’s dismay) and asks, “What hasn’t been good.”
“…Everything.” Already, Joey is longing to be in Bertrum’s embrace again. “I…should probably tell you…”
“The studio…is…” A flood of memories washes over the owner–the start of the studio, interviews of the employees, the building of the Ink Machine, the creation of Alice…the escape of Alice and the other ink creatures…Henry…
Everything I’ve worked so hard to create.
He wants to admit it–it would be the right thing, the correct thing to just tell Bertrum that he’s bankrupt…
But no. It would hurt Joey’s ego, and more importantly…Bertrum might leave if he knew…
He can’t leave…I can’t…
“It’s, um…” The boss tries to put on a brave front. “It’s not in the best place right now financially, and it’s been affecting me emotionally.” Among other things. “But, um, of course, it’s nothing I can’t–”
But the designer calls him out. “You’re doing it again, hiding the details. Tell me the truth, Joey. And the full truth.”
Joey shifts his gaze guiltily, stomach turning from both anxiety and withdrawal. “But I’m not lying, I swear! It’s just a little bit of debt, nothing serious–”
“Then why are you so upset about it?”
Joey hesitates, rapidly deciding on a feasible excuse, before mumbling something about being embarrassed.
“You don’t need to be embarrassed about it–almost everyone gets into a little bit of debt sometimes. Just make sure you pay it off in time, and don’t be so stressed about it.”
Tell me something I don’t know, Joey thinks, but just nods in response and gives his love interest a shaky smile.
There’s more to the picture, but Bertrum can’t identify it. “Is there something else?”
The other shakes his head a little too quickly; the architect asks, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” Joey is glad to find that he sounds much more confident than he feels…whilst his veins are screaming for chemicals. He mocks checking his watch and declares, “Oh, wow, I really have to go, Bertie.” Grabbing the other’s hands and looking deeply into his eyes, the boss quickly says, “Thank you for helping, and I absolutely vow that I’m going to treat you better and that you’ll never, ever, ever be angry or disappointed in me again.”
With that, Joey practically pushes Bertrum out of the office and prepares to leave.
“Wait, why–” The architect grabs the boss’s hand again before he gets too far down the hall.
“I didn’t realize how much time had gone by, and I have a very important appointment. I’m really, really, really sorry–I would spend more time with you if only I could.” Joey rubs his thumb against the back of Bertrum’s hand. “Goodnight, gorgeous.”
And his hand leaves Bertrum’s, leaving the latter confused but charmed.
The designer watches Joey leave, and once he’s gone, stares down the empty hall.
*THUNK* The sudden loud noise is startling–Bertrum goes to investigate, wondering if Joey ran into something on the way out. But nothing in the corridors appears to have been knocked over or moved…
It’s like the sound came from out of the wall…
Fine. Not my problem.
He tells himself that…but it actually hasn’t been the first time he’s heard such unidentifiable noises…
Does Joey know what goes on when he’s not here? Bertrum makes a mental note to ask him that.
It seems without its leader (or even with it)…the studio is in unrest~
“You’re a little late today,” Fredrick remarks.
“I know…had something to do…working things out with someone…” Joey stops to catch his breath–it seems like he ran here. “My head hurts…”
“Then let your favorite doctor take care of that~.” The dealer smirks. “I’ve got a little special something for you–”
“No, no more white pills.” Joey cringes as he remembers what happened just a few days before–and recovering from it seemed to have taken longer than sobering up from his worst hangover did. “Those things were…not good…”
“Aw, had a bad trip? I’m sorry to hear that.” The studio owner doesn’t understand what Fredrick means, but the bootlegger’s teasing-pity voice suggests he’s making fun of him somehow.
“Whatever. Just give me the drinks.”
Fredrick hums smugly. “Mmm, I think not. You seem a little crabby today, Joey~”
“Stop. I just want the alcohol.”
“But what I have is better than that, and I know it’ll make you feel better. But you won’t be able to drink anything with it–you won’t need to, it works that well.”
“I really would rather just–”
“Try it.” Fredrick reveals a thin syringe with a clear liquid inside. “I promise your headache will go away.”
Joey backs away at the sight of the needle. “No, no, no, no. Absolutely not. Get away from me with that thing.”
“It’ll only hurt for a second–”
“I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the drug…the…”
“Morphine~” Fredrick clarifies eloquently. “Guaranteed to relieve you of all your pains, big and small. You’ll feel so free…and…” He pauses and chuckles. “…there are no hallucinations involved.”
“Try it. You won’t regret it.” The dealer taps the tip of the syringe against his hand invitingly.
“That’s what you said about the other stuff, and I sure as hell regretted that–”
“But this is different, Mister Drew. This won’t hurt you. Tried it myself, and I’m still alive.”
Joey stares at the needle and considers all the pain he’s in, from his aches to his nausea. If this could make it go away…
“Okay. Just a little bit, though.”
Fredrick nods. “A little bit is all you’ll need.” He hands Joey the syringe. “Want to do it yourself?”
Joey hesitates, then puts the syringe to his wrist…then backs it away again…
“I–I don’t–can you do it?” He slides the needle back to Fredrick.
“Of course.” With his calm, professional expression when dealing with the substance, Fredrick reminds Joey of a doctor…his 'favorite doctor,’ as the dealer called himself…which gives Joey an idea…
“It’s okay, it’s okay. Just take a deep breath…”
The boss inhales deeply, trying to ignore the prick in his wrist and the slight dizzy feeling he’s getting…
“That’s it…just let yourself relax…”
The effect is immediate, and blissful…
His pain gradually disappears…it feels magical…amazing…
“I feel so…good…happy…calm…”
“Good, good–that’s how you’re supposed to feel.”
Joey gives a relieved sigh. “How long is it going to last…?”
“Four or five hours. But when it wears off, you’ll feel pain again. Soooo~” Fredrick turns around and brings forth a very small bottle of morphine. “You’re going to want more~”
“How much will it be?” The studio owner finds that his senses seem to be working better in addition to the calming feeling and the absence of pain; in this state, it seems, he’s almost unable to worry.
That wakes Joey up. “Fifteen?! For this tiny little bottle?”
“Hard stuff to get my hands on. Do you want it, or not? And don’t tell me you can’t afford it.”
If for some reason this scenario had been going on in the distant future–say, the year of 2021–fifteen dollars from 1926 would have been equivalent to about two-hundred and thirty dollars.
Joey is silent…he really can’t afford to spend any more…
“Do you take any other payments besides money?”
“Wellllll…” Fredrick casts a naughty smile. “You could bring me to a hotel, rent a room with a nice, cozy bed for us, and pay with your body…if you know what I–”
“Oh, all right. Well, then I do not accept any other forms of payment, Mister Drew.” Fredrick waves his fingers in a 'gimme’ gesture. “So hand over the cash.”
Joey looks at the morphine, then at Fredrick, then the morphine again.
“What if I could get you a job?”
The dealer raises his eyebrows, then laughs. “What? This is my job!”
“No, I mean a real job–where you could get paid better, have employee benefits, and be allowed to handle your substances without having to sneak them around as much.”
“Do you know how much I get from this gig? Makes all the 'sneaking around’ worth it.”
“You’d be highly respected,” Joey continues, “and I wouldn’t have to come here every day to get my…things…”
“And what about my other customers? What about my speakeasy?”
“I…I could let you leave when you wanted, just as long as you came back every so often.” The boss stands up to get eye-to-eye with his dealer. “Please, Fredrick.”
Fredrick lifts his nose snootily, still disgustingly smug. “Hmmmm…maybe. Just what kind of job do you want me to have?”
“You want me to be your doctor?!”
The bootlegger’s shocked reaction doesn’t bother Joey–the morphine tells him everything is okay. “No, not exactly–you wouldn’t have to take care of anyone. I have a nurse for that.” If she doesn’t leave. “You’d just need to act like you know what you are doing, and provide me with the morphine and alcohol and all that fun stuff. And I’ll pay you as much as you want.”
“Ninety dollars an hour.”
Fredrick leans against the counter creepily and points to the bottle. “Mmmm, I’ll think about it~ But you still need to pay.”
“Here.” Joey empties his wallet completely onto the counter. “I know it’s not enough, but it’s what I’ve got.”
The dealer spins a nickel with his finger and casts a bored expression at the money. “Fine, but I expect it to be paid in full in two weeks. And since you’re ever so near and dear to my heart, Joey, I won’t even charge you interest~”
“That’s wonderful…” Joey is caught in a dreamy daze, and doesn’t even sweat the details of how he’ll find the money for the morphine.
I feel so young again!
“That’s all I can give you, then,” Fredrick states. “Don’t drink any alcohol with it–they are not a good combination, I’ve been told.”
“That’s fine. You were right: I don’t think I’ll need it…” Joey rises and prepares to leave. “But please consider the offer I gave you.”
“I will, I will. Don’t worry, dear Joseph~”
The owner doesn’t even care that it’s not a promise–he feels too good to fret over it. “Okay. Thank you for considering it and for the…good liquid stuff…”
“Of course~” Fredrick purrs as he watches the other leave.
The dealer checks on his stocks of substances–plenty of morphine, enough ecstasy, enough cocaine, but low on marijuana and alcohol. The first in the second list would be easy enough to hide, but smuggling in the alcohol would be a different story…
People are still at his 'doctor’s office,’ though, so he’ll have to wait until the shade of night covers the sky before he can get 'refills.’
Heh…I probably could pass for a doctor.
He gathers his coat, bag, weapons, and a few other necessary supplies and gets them ready for when he’ll need them…in six hours or so.
It’s going to be a long night–but it always is. And it’s completely worth it–where else could he find such thrills?
Crime never sleeps, because it never needs to…and what an abundance of crime there seems to be not just involving Fredrick…but perhaps certain members of the business known as Joey Drew Studios.
There is no rest for the wicked~