The story was in every magazine. Gossip shows were flooded with images. Many supported Muffy: This was a member of her staff, a guy who was supposed to be with her at all times. But it had happened before. Others weren't so quick to defend her because of this, these others sleeping with their entourage and trying to cover it up.
Whatever was going on here though, it didn't affect Buster. He was ousted from the apartment, told to hit the road. Muffy gave him a ticket back to Elwood City, told him to get the fuck out of town. He had to agree. She was paying him to do so. She'd think of consequences if he didn't take up her offers.
He was on the plane, hidden by a hat and sunglasses. No one looked at him. They didn't quite know who he was yet. No biographical information, no confirmation—he was still anonymous until someone made the next move.
He kept up with the action on his phone. Social media exploded. It gave him plenty of material for the scandal part, when the news broke. He prayed for a happy ending as he landed in Metropolis, hailed a cab bound for Elwood City.
His mom took him in without question. She fed him dinner, told him everything about work. They hadn't talked in months, maybe a year. Buster felt guilty, but he'd been busy. Muffy was his life for the last year-plus. What else was he supposed to do?
"Oh, and Arthur is in town. He saw me the other day in the office," Bitzi announced. Arthur left town right after graduation for school. Buster didn't keep in touch. "He was with someone but I didn't know who she was. She looked familiar though." Buster nodded, "Jenna Morgan, well Morgan Read now," Buster told her. Bitzi nodded, "I remember their announcement now! They made such a cute couple," she grinned. "Is there anyone special in your life?"
"No," he replied. He was too quick to answer. Bitzi noticed, "That had a tone to it. Recent breakup? It's okay. You can tell me anything," she pried. Buster resisted, "I just needed to be out here again. The weather is so-"
"Don't lie to me, Buster. The weather is shit and you know it," she growled. The weather was shit, 31 degrees and rain in the forecast. It'd be an ugly night. Buster was back in town for a reason and Bitzi wanted it. Buster resisted, "Can't I just come back home every once in a while? It's awful out there. Maybe I just needed to come someplace kind of nice, or at least the kind of shitty I can deal with."
"Fine, don't tell me. I honestly don't care, Buster. I'm just trying to help you," she muttered. She flipped on the television. A tabloid show was on. Muffy was all over it. Bitzi sighed, "Are you letting her business get to you? I mean, you do still work for her, don't you?" Bitzi asked.
Buster was astounded. His face was everywhere but she was oblivious. He kept his mouth shut, not wanting to give it away. Bitzi was frustrated, "Fine, keep to yourself. You can stay here as long as you like, but keep that attitude in check. I didn't raise you to be an ass like your father."
Buster drowned her out. The gossipers were going crazy. Smash Phillips had fled the country. Muffy was apparently heartbroken. Would she turn to that body guard of hers for comfort? So much speculation, such a mind-numbing experience for Buster. He jotted down the headlines in his phone. Then he flipped the channel. Cartoons. He thought of changing it. A yearning for childhood filled him. He left it there for hours.
Arthur looked Buster over. They were in the Sugar Bowl, both getting lunch. Everything outside was awful, wet and frozen. The only successful commuters were pedestrians. They filled the diner looking for a hot meal.
Arthur didn't want conversation. Buster didn't either, but Jenna was there. She flew out of the bathroom like a fairy or something. She hugged Buster. He didn't push her away but he wanted to. She invited him to eat with them. Arthur shook his head. Buster did the same. Jenna wouldn't have it. She ordered for all of them, her new-found confidence from high school still in place.
"Sorry," Arthur muttered. "She knows about your problems. She must want answers," he added. Buster shrugged, "Not like I have anything. I'll eat with her but be thinking of a way to get us out of this."
Arthur carried the tray to the table. Jenna gave out the food. Buster stared at the table, tried to eat in silence. Jenna wouldn't have it. She was pushy. She wanted details about California. Arthur tried to defend him, "Come on, babe, he wants to eat in peace. Maybe we should let him go." Jenna argued, "No, he's fine. Look, he's enjoying his burger. He can't take it with him, not in this weather. Just tell me how warm it is there now."
"Use your phone!" Arthur hissed through gritted teeth. Jenna gave him a hard look, "You are just as curious, Arthur! You need to catch up with him. He's your best friend! Come on, ask him!" she demanded. Arthur shook his head. They squabbled, then Arthur gave in. He sighed, "I just want to know what it's like being Muffy's body guard. The tabloids-"
"Are lying," Buster interrupted. "I don't know what's going on, but that's what they always do." Jenna scoffed, "But Muffy would totally do that, use her power over her staff. Her own mother got caught with a gardener once-" "Jenna!" Arthur pleaded. She grinned, "He just doesn't want me to know all the secrets," she winked. "I just want to know what it's like to work with her, not the juicy bits."
Arthur nodded, "That's all we want." Buster nodded, "Well, it's just your standard body guard job. I guard her from creeps, keep her safe. I don't know what they're saying in the gossip columns but that's all I ever did, I swear it," Buster whispered. His eyes flickered. Jenna didn't notice but Arthur did. Buster realized it and looked down. One burger down, one more to go. He grabbed it and ate it as fast as he could.
Buster escaped when the food was gone. He rushed home, tried to find something to do. He had nothing right now, and the story wasn't going fast enough. No new updates, just talk. He couldn't write a whole screenplay about talk.
His phone buzzed. Buster looked to see Arthur's number. He thought he'd lost it, but there it was. Arthur wanted to meet up. Buster invited him over. Arthur was there quicker than Buster expected. He admitted he was in the neighborhood. They sat in the living room.
"So, it's true. Muffy's boyfriend, well ex-boyfriend, was right," Arthur guessed. Buster nodded, "But I don't know how he found out. No one really knew, just me and her, maybe a few night guards. One just warned me, but I doubt this has anything to do with him." Arthur sighed, "You never know, but I can't believe this. I thought you hated her."
"At first, I did. She thought she was better than everyone else. Something changed when she became my boss. I needed money, she had it. It was all good. The servicing? Well, I never thought that would happen. She just called and made demands one day. I accepted. I was bored and horny. She offered herself to me like a buffet."
"Is she in wild in bed as they claim?" Arthur asked. Buster grinned, "You have no idea. Toys, handcuffs, the whole deal sometimes. I don't know how some of these people keep up with her, Smash included." Arthur nodded, "I thought so. Francine used to talk after they had a falling out. I thought she was bullshitting, but I see the truth now."
"Who all's left in the city that might think bad of this?" Buster asked. Arthur shrugged, "Depends on where this goes. Is Muffy throwing you to the wolves?" he asked. Buster shrugged. "Well, I don't know what to tell you. All I can say is I'm sorry. We should've been in touch more. Maybe I could've talked you out of this craziness."
"I'm hooked now," Buster admitted. "I like her for some reason. I can't explain it." Arthur shook his head, "Lust is powerful. Jenna was right earlier. Her mom pulled the same thing. Ed forgave her, but that gardener had to leave town. In this, you're the gardener. I hope you made other connections out there because this one's dried up." Buster shrugged, "I don't know who's on my side."
"I'd find out soon," he said, standing. "Jenna wants me home. The weather has her uneasy. I agree with her, but maybe it was seeing you again. This is going to get ugly. She wouldn't have sent you here otherwise." "Who said she sent me back?" Buster asked. Arthur stared at him. Buster nodded, "You have a point. Be careful out there."
Arthur left. Bitzi arrived a few minutes later. She ranted about the ice while cooking dinner. Halfway through, the power went out. Buster used it as an excuse to go to his room. The power was out all night. He didn't mind at all.
Muffy looked up. Her agent smiled and slid into the chair in front of her, "You haven't left home since the story broke. How are you handling this?" she asked. Muffy shrugged, "Smash thinks I'm the devil, my staff is completely lost. What am I going to do?"
"That's why I'm here. I have a plan," the agent smiled. This agent was Margaret Friedman, better known as Firestorm. She was good at starting shit, fanning the flames—making problems bigger than necessary. Hollywood thrived on this sort of drama. Muffy just wasn't ready to be a part of it rather than writing about it.
Firestorm leaned forward, "You're throwing that body guard under the bus. Hard. Hurl him under there. You've got tapes. Say he snuck in, took advantage of you, abused you behind the scenes. Pay the others to agree. A little hush money never hurt anyone. Then Smash will take you back...if you promise to use his men," she said. Muffy realized why she was here. She was working for him. She really lived up to her nickname.
"Buster is an old friend. I can't do that. He's trying to be a screenwriter," Muffy cried. Firestorm scoffed, "So is half of California, Broadway, and everywhere in between. Fuck him, Muffy. If you want Smash back, if you want your empire to live on, you cut this guy loose. What's he going to do, defend himself? Pay him off. Get him a good job back home. Just don't let this bring you down."
Muffy was tempted, so tempted. She had the power to do this. She could pay off Diego and the others. It'd be worth it to save her business. She looked up to Margaret. There really was fire in her eyes, a storm in the background. Muffy nodded, "Let's do this. You'll do all the dirty work?" "As long as you sign the checks, I'll do whatever you want."
The letter came suddenly. Fancy paper, embossed return address—Buster knew the envelope's contents before he opened it. He made sure he was alone. He was glad to do this. As soon as he broke the seal, a check flew out. 25,000 was on it. The letter told him to expect 25,000 more—Muffy was buying him off.
Buster flipped on the television. Muffy and Smash were top headliners on the gossip stations. Together as one, the scandal an illusion. Hollywood had done it again, and Buster was in the crossfire. Stay quiet or be decimated: Those were his options.
Buster wrote them down. Then he took a walk to think things over, careful to avoid the slick spots he remembered from his childhood. It was damp and cold outside, bitter to all parts of him. But his heart felt the coldest. Muffy had betrayed him. And he wasn't about to stand for it, not for one second.
When he got home, he burned the check. He called a contact in Hollywood, a guy with connections to a tabloid magazine. He'd offered Buster money before for a good story. Now he had one, his own, and he couldn't wait to sell it.