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Brian's head was aching.
The words on the forms were beginning to swim before his eyes and he knew that he had to stop for the evening even though he wasn't really finished. Brian was prone to blinding headaches that he knew were caused by a combination of eyestrain and general stress. And that stress was always turned up before one of Ron's visits.
Brian rubbed his eyes and then closed up the folders. He filed them away in the cabinet. He hadn't had a chance to work on his own manuscript in over a week. He hoped that after he saw Ron and turned the material over to him then things would ease up and he would have some time to work on his own project. He was looking forward to that.
It was drafty in the Library and Brian shivered in his old, ratty sweater. He made a note on a pad of paper to ask Ron for a new sweater. Well, it didn't have to be new. It could be one that Ron didn't want anymore. It didn't matter as long at it was warm.
It was just past 9:30. Murray was getting ready to close up the main Library, too. They both had to be in their cells for 10:00 lockdown and head count. Brian said good night to Murray and walked out of the Library.
One thing you learned quickly in prison was to be alert to subtle changes in your world. Noticing small things that might save your life. Brian had become especially sensitive to changes in a man's tone of voice or in the flicker of his eye. Things that signaled danger. Or fury. Or impeding disaster. Sometimes it was a feeling deep in your gut that something wasn't right.
The moment Brian stepped into the corridor outside the Library he had that feeling in his gut. It was utterly silent there. But something else alerted Brian's animal senses. An odd metallic smell in the air. And he also noted that the door of the multi-purpose room where Emmy had blown him yesterday was slightly ajar. It had been shut when he went into the Library earlier in the evening.
Now Brian was afraid.
That metallic smell. He could taste it in his mouth. It was blood. A long time ago he often had been forced to swallow his own blood when someone in the biker tip had punched him in the mouth. He still had nightmares of choking on blood. Blood and semen. Choking until he was dizzy from the lack of air. Nightmares of waking up on some cold, hard floor, covered in filth and unable to move. Unable to hope. Except the nightmares were also memories.
Brian pushed open the door of the small room and a slice of light cut the darkness inside.
The figure huddled on the floor moved slightly.
Brian stepped forward, then dropped to his knees.
The white pants of the new fish were tangled around his legs and raked with smears of drying blood.
Brian turned him over gently.
"Justin?" Brian pulled the boy into his arms. "Christ! No!" he whispered.
Brian felt his face, his neck. His white skin was sticky and hot. The boy's pulse was racing crazily.
"Can you hear me? Justin?" Brian took the boy's hand. "Squeeze my hand if you can hear me."
Brian thought he felt a pressure, but then Justin groaned and moved his head. Now he grasped Brian's hand tightly. "No," he murmured. "No."
"I'm right here, Justin. I'm here." Brian felt helpless. He didn't want to leave the kid lying there alone or even let go of his hand, but he had to get help. He pulled his hand out of Justin's grip and the boy whimpered. "I'm not leaving. I just have to call someone. I'll be right back!"
Brian stumbled out of the room and pulled open the Library door. "Murray! Call the C.O.'s! Call down to the Hospital for the doc! Someone's been hurt!"
Murray ran out of the office and gaped at Brian. "What happened? Are you hurt? Brian?" Murray was staring at the blood on the other man's khaki pants and on the front of his old sweater.
"No, I'm okay. Call someone right now! He's in the small meeting room!"
Brian returned to the room. He was almost afraid to switch on the light, but he knew that he had to. They couldn't sit in the dark, waiting for help to arrive.
Brian slipped to the floor. The boy's blue eyes opened and then squinted against the harsh overhead lights. "Brian!"
"I'm right here." He took Justin's hand again and cradled his head in his lap. The boy's mouth was bleeding and his cheeks and golden hair were also streaked with come where they had jacked off in his face. Brian tried to wipe it all away with the sleeve of his old sweater.
"I knew you'd come and get me," Justin whimpered. "I knew you'd save me from them."
"From who, Justin? Who did this to you? Tell me now."
"The Men from Hell," gasped the boy. "That's what they said. That they were from Hell and here to claim me. But I'm not dead, am I? Because you're here. And you're not dead."
The Men from Hell, thought Brian. His own nightmare repeated in this horrible way. The low-riders.
"No, Justin, you're not dead. And neither am I. We're both alive. And we'll both survive. I promise."
Murray came bursting into the room, followed by two C.O.'s barking orders.
But Brian refused to let them touch Justin until the doctor came.
Finally Dr. Caputo and an orderly arrived with the wheeled stretcher. The doctor knelt next to the boy and did a quick examination. He shook his head grimly. "We need to get him to the Hospital STAT."
But Justin cried out in pain and hit out at the orderly when he tried to lift him.
"Let me do it," said Brian. "You're hurting him." And Brian picked up the boy and carefully slid him onto the stretcher. Justin still held tightly to Brian's hand and refused to let go.
"Get back to your tier, Kinney," snapped one of the C.O.'s. "You've already missed head count."
Brian stared at the man with loathing. "Fuck head count. And fuck you! I'm going to the Hospital with the kid! If you want to write me up, then do it. I don't give a shit!" And Brian turned and walked next to the stretcher down the long corridor and back to the Hospital in the West Wing of the Quad.
When Emmy saw Brian all smeared with blood she knew that something bad had happened to the kid. She just knew it.
Brian was standing, dazed, outside the examining cubicle. He had tried to enter with Justin, but the C.O.'s pushed him away and told him to stay outside.
Emmy pulled up a chair and made Brian sit down. "What happened, Baby?" Emmy asked softly.
Brian's throat was dry. "The kid. They got to him. I found him when I was leaving the Library." Brian looked up at Emmy. "He was with you. I left Justin with you!"
Emmy's mouth dropped open. "I... I had to go to work, Bri! He was walking back to his cell with the other girls. I saw him, honey! He was just fine!"
Brian swallowed. "He... he must have come looking for me," Brian said. His voice was dead. "It's my fault."
Emmy touched the man's arm. "You told him not to wander around by himself. We all told him not to! It isn't your fault, Bri Baby."
"It IS, Em. I said I'd look after him... and... and...." Brian put his head down.
Emmy wrapped her arm around Brian's shoulders. "Let me get you a nice cup of tea. The kid is in good hands. Doctor C. will take care of him." Emmy paused. "He's seen this kind of thing before, Baby. Unfortunately."
Brian wiped at his eyes with the damp sleeve of his sweater, but there was blood all over it. Emmy brought a mug of hot tea. She saw that Brian had blood on his hands and neck, as well as his face where he had touched himself after holding the kid. Emmy went to the sink and brought back a damp washcloth.
"Take that nasty sweater off and wipe your face with this," said Emmy in her best nurse's voice. "You'll feel better, honey."
But Brian just sat there, holding the washcloth in his hand. Wringing it first one way and then the other.
Finally, Emmy took the cloth out of Brian's hand. "Let me do that for you, Baby," she said, wiping the smears away as best she could. Then she slipped the blood-stained sweater off his shoulders. "I'll wash this for you, honey, and it'll be good as new."
Brian bolted to his feet when he heard Justin crying out inside the cubicle. But Emmy held him back. "Sit down, Bri Baby. There's nothing you can do now."
So Brian sat back down. The untouched mug of tea sat next to him. Nothing he could do. Nothing. Nothing he could do to protect that kid. Nothing he could do to protect himself so many years ago. He stared at the closed curtain of the cubicle.
When it had happened to him no one even took him to the Hospital. No one bothered. The C.O. on duty walked right past his cell as he was lying there. It was none of the man's business, after all. It was low-rider business. Eventually one of the bikers came and shot him up with some of their smack. Not a lot, but enough to keep him numb. That's all that was necessary. To keep you numb. To keep you under control. To break you down. Until there was nothing left of you.
"That's what a punk is, kid," Cisco, the leader of the tip back then, had told him. "Two holes to fuck. Nothing more. That's all you are. So get used to it."
Dr. Caputo and a C.O. stepped out of the cubicle and saw Brian sitting there. "Are you the one who found the kid?" the doctor asked sharply.
Brian stood. "Yes, sir. I found him and then I told Murray in the Library to call for help."
The doctor glanced at the chart in his hand and made a note. "You're Kinney, right? The Legal Aid guy?"
"Yes, sir. I'd been working in the Law Library. I was on my way back up to my tier for head count when I found him. Found... the kid. In the... the meeting room." Brian's voice faltered.
The doctor looked Kinney up and down. He was in for a long-term but was not a known troublemaker. And he seemed extremely upset by what had happened to the boy, Taylor. Dr. Caputo made a mental note to look up Kinney's record and see what his story was. The doctor glanced at the C.O., who nodded. "Do you have any idea what the kid was doing off his tier at that hour?"
Brian hesitated. Ron had always taught him that when in doubt, tell the truth. That way you didn't have to backtrack and then remember what you had invented. "I think he was looking for me. He knew that I was down in the Library."
"He was looking for you? Why would he be looking for you?" the doctor questioned.
Brian looked down and didn't answer.
Doctor Caputo sighed. "You two hooked up? Is that why he was looking for you?"
Brian took a deep breath. "Yes, sir. We're hooked up."
"Okay, then," said Dr. Caputo. "You should have told me that before, Kinney. You had better come in here. I need to complete this examination and you're probably the only one who can calm him down." The doctor pulled the curtain aside and gestured Brian inside.
In the examining cubicle Brian stood next to the bed and held both of Justin's hands steady while Dr. Caputo and the orderly worked on him. They had the boy in a kneeling position with his face buried in the flat prison pillow. But he was trembling so violently that the doctor was having difficulty.
"Kinney, if you could help me a little here?" said Dr. Caputo, sternly.
Brian leaned over and put his face next to Justin's. "Try to think about something else. Anything else. Okay?"
Justin turned slightly and Brian could see his tear-stained cheeks and red-rimmed blue eyes. "Think of what?" he whispered.
"Think of what you're going to draw for me. You know, the picture you promised me for my wall. Something free. Like a horse."
"What kind of horse?" Justin sniffed.
"A wild horse. Like in the movies. A golden horse with a long tail."
"Running or standing still?" said Justin, his voice a little stronger. Then he flinched and squeezed Brian's hands.
"Don't move, damn it!" the doctor ordered.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," the boy wept.
"You don't have anything to be sorry for, kid," said Brian, his voice steely. "Think about that horse. It's a beautiful horse. It's free."
"It's running," Justin added. "Running in a valley. Everything is green there. So green. And the horse is all golden."
"That's right. Just picture him running right through that valley. He's getting away. No one can catch him. No one." Brian touched the boy's tangled hair.
"Owww! Please!" Justin gasped. "That hurts! Please stop!"
"I'm almost finished," said the doctor. "Take a deep breath."
The boy buried his face deeper into the pillow, stifling his sobs.
"It's almost over, Justin," Brian whispered. "Your horse is running. You can run with him. That's where you really are. Not here. But in that beautiful place."
"Is... is that what you do, Brian? When you... you can't stand it anymore? Think about that beautiful place?"
Brian bit his lip. "Now you know my secret, kid."
"That place... you don't mind if I go there, too. When... when I have to?" Justin asked.
Brian looked over at the doctor, who was wiping his hands on a towel. The orderly carried away the tray and then Dr. Caputo followed him out, closing the curtain behind him.
"No, I don't mind," Brian answered. "I think there's room there for two."
A little while later Emmy came in. Brian was sitting on a folding chair next to the bed.
"I came to see how the kid is doing, Baby. I was going to ask if he wanted a sleeping pill, but it looks like he's already out like a light."
"The doctor gave him a sedative." Brian stood up and stretched. "I guess I better get back up to the tier. If they haven't called out the bloodhounds to go after me."
Emmy smiled. "It's okay, hon. Doctor C. sent the C.O. up to cover for you and kid. They know you're both down here in the Hospital. There are spare beds in the ward. Why don't you lie down in one?"
"Thanks, Em, but I'll stay in here." Brian slumped back down in the folding chair. "In case the kid wakes up."
"I'll get you a blanket, Bri Baby. It's a little chilly in here."
Emmy went to get the blanket. Brian stood up again and paced back and forth in the cubicle, trying to think. The only way to protect the kid was to keep him as close to him as possible. But hooking up? Brian shook his head. When the doc asked him about it, he'd just opened his mouth and that popped out. But Brian knew that not only was hooking up the only way to save the kid, but that it was what Brian himself wanted. Yes, wanted. Maybe it was selfish, but it was true. But it could also be dangerous, both for Brian and the kid. Especially if the low-riders decided to press their claim to Justin.
"Here you go, Baby," said Emmy, handing him the blanket. "I tried to wash your sweater in the sink, but it's kind of falling apart."
"I know. It's a mess. But it's the only one I have," Brian admitted. He sat back down in the folding chair. It was hard and cold. Brian wasn't going to have a very restful night.
"Baby, I'll find you a new one. Why I have sweaters galore! Lots of pretty ones!" Em laughed.
Brian smiled. "I don't think that your style is quite the same as mine, Em. But thanks for the offer."
Emmy looked down at Brian and then glanced at Justin, sleeping fitfully in the bed. "Baby, I heard what you told Dr. Caputo. About hooking up with the kid. Are you sure that you know what you're doing?"
Brian shrugged. "No, but since when has that ever stopped me? You're always bugging me to hook up, Em. Now you're telling me that I shouldn't hook up with Justin? You're sounding like Michelle."
"But, Baby, you know that it's one thing for a couple of queens to hook up. That's no threat to anyone. Besides, everyone in this joint has already had me. But the kid -- he's fresh meat. All the daddies were drooling over him."
Brian's face hardened. "I'm not a fucking queen, Emmett! And I'm no one's punk anymore. If any of the jockers want to challenge me, then they can challenge me. And I'll deal with it when it comes. But I'll be damned if I'm going to let Hoss and his road dogs get their hands on Justin and make him into one of their whores. I... I've been there," said Brian. "And it isn't going to happen to the kid. At least not while I'm alive."
Emmy felt cold inside. "Baby, don't even say that!"
Brian looked directly at Em. "If the low-riders want to press the issue, then it'll happen. But I'm hoping that they'll just leave it alone. Most of those guys are short-timers. Hoss only has a year to go until he's up for parole. Is he willing to risk that for a piece of boy ass?"
"But Bri -- are you willing to risk your LIFE for the same thing? A pretty piece of ass?"
"That's not why I'm doing it, Em," Brian insisted. "The last thing I need in this joint is sex. I can get that any hour of the day, every day of the week. It's about... about something more than that. It's about justice. That boy should never have been put in this shit-hole in the first place. And if the courts and the prison authorities and the C.O.'s aren't willing to protect him, then I have to do it myself. I have to."
"Is this about repaying an old debt, Baby?" Emmy asked. "Because Ron isn't here anymore. And he'd never want you to put yourself on the line for HIS cause."
Brian shook his head. "Don't try to talk me out of it, Em. Because it's too late for that. It's already a done deal."
Emmy sighed. "If you say so, Baby. I have to make the rounds now, but I'll check in on the kid later. Try to get some sleep."
Brian tried to make himself comfortable in the chair, but it was impossible. So he laid down on the floor and covered himself with the blanket.
"I... I'm scared."
"You're okay. No one is going to hurt you. Try to get some rest."
"Will you sit up here with me? Just until I fall asleep?"
Brian stood up. His back felt like someone had twisted it in two. "All right. Move over a little."
Justin moved to make room for Brian on the narrow hospital bed. Brian kicked off his shoes and pulled the rough blanket over both of them.
"What's going to happen to me now?" the boy asked fearfully.
"You're going to be fine. Don't think about it. Just remember that beautiful place." Brian put his arm around the kid, very tentatively. He didn't want to freak Justin out. He didn't want him to be afraid that Brian was only out to use him, too.
But the boy moved closer to Brian, sighing. "I'm there. I'm there right now," Justin said. And they were both lost in a dreamless sleep.
Posted November 22, 2004.