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Justin felt feverish.
He remembered Brian's body against his all night in the narrow hospital bed. Justin was under the covers and Brian was on top of them, but the two were touching all night long.
Justin had often dreamed of a beautiful man. Touching him. Holding him. Sleeping next to him. He'd wake up in his room in the Taylors' house in Pittsburgh to find that he'd messed up the sheets. Justin pulled them off the bed and hurried to wash them before his mother noticed. It was only later that Justin realized that all boys have wet dreams. Only most boys don't have those wet dreams about other men.
Justin had minor crushes on other boys in his school, but what he really longed for wasn't another boy, but a man. A real man. Someone tall. Beautiful. Strong. Brave. Maybe it was stupid, but Justin had dreams about a man who would sweep him off his feet, just like in the movies. Someone who Justin could worship.
Justin had never met anyone like that at St. James Academy. Or in his upper middle class neighborhood. The boys he knew seemed so mundane. They were all obsessed with sports and cars and girls -- things Justin couldn't have cared less about. And the men were all dull. Businessmen in proper suits, always going to work. Or men in shorts holding their martinis at the country club. They didn't think about the same things Justin thought about. They didn't care about the same things Justin cared about. And everyone was straight. Except Justin. He was a freak and he was terrified that one day everyone would find that out.
And then he was arrested and his world came crashing down for real. Justin thought that things could never be more horrible than that moment when he entered Stanton Correctional on the bus, his hands and feet shackled together.
But that had not been the worst. What happened to him on the floor of that dark little room, what those men with the tattoos -- the Men from Hell, they told the boy -- did to him was underneath the worst that Justin could imagine.
But then he'd felt someone hold him. Stroke his face. Call him by name.
Justin opened his eyes and saw the Face of God. Brian. Everything he'd ever dreamed of.
The day shift physician, Dr. Gomez, noticed that Justin's temperature had spiked. He was afraid that the boy had developed some kind of infection. That meant another painful and humiliating examination, only this time Brian wasn't there to hold Justin's hand and stroke his head. Brian wasn't there to help him live through it and take him to that beautiful place beyond the walls of the prison. Instead, one of the inmate orderlies held Justin down while Dr. Gomez probed and swabbed and then gave him more injections.
Then they closed the curtain of the cubicle, leaving the boy alone, crying for his mother. And calling for Brian.
"Who is this Brian?" Dr. Gomez asked the orderly.
"Tall guy. I think the kid must be hooked up with him."
The doctor frowned. "I thought the kid just got here. And he's hooked up already?"
The orderly shrugged. "You gotta, doc. Or else stuff like this will happen to you all the time. You're fucking fair game."
"Jesus," said Dr. Gomez, moving to the next patient. "What a life!"
Justin drifted in and out of sleep. It was light out, but he wasn't sure if it was the same day. Time had no meaning at all. Another orderly brought Justin some soup, but he threw it up immediately. Then they gave Justin some juice, but he threw that up. too. The doctor came and stuck an I.V. in his arm, pouring a solution into him, the doc said, so he wouldn't get dehydrated. And then he was left alone again.
But something cool and damp was on Justin's skin. A wet cloth. Wiping his forehead, his neck, his chest. The cool water dripped into his hair and down the back of his neck. A hand caressed his cheek, his brow. He knew that hand, that touch.
Justin opened his eyes. "Brian."
"Hey, kid. How are you feeling?"
"Not so great."
"Don't worry. You'll be fine."
Justin closed his eyes again and went back to sleep, knowing that he was safe.
It was evening when he woke again. The light was dim and the ward was quiet. The curtain opened and Emmy came in, wearing her white orderly uniform and carrying a large mug. Justin fluttered his eyes, but he was too warm and comfortable to move.
"Bri Baby," Emmy said to the figure sitting in the folding chair next to the bed. "Have a little tea. I just made some in the break room."
"Thanks, Em. What time is it?" asked Brian.
"About 10:00. Do you have to go back for head count?"
"No," answered Brian. "I squared it with Dr. Caputo. He told the C.O.'s he needed me down here and that the warden okayed it. They don't care. Everyone's still in lockdown anyway."
"Yeah, Baby, lockdown is making all the guys antsy."
"I know, Em. But the warden was pissed about what happened to the kid. So the guys are just going to have to suck it up." Brian sighed. "Do you think this fever is serious? I mean, is he in any danger?"
Emmy patted Brian's shoulder. "No, Baby. His temperature's down and tomorrow they'll take him off that I.V. He'll be good as new in a couple of days."
Brian laughed bitterly. "Good as new? I don't think so."
"Honey, he's young," said Em, encouragingly. "He'll heal. And he'll forget. Eventually."
"Eventually?" said Brian, sadly. "I was only a little older than Justin -- and I haven't forgotten."
"Oh, Baby, that was something else again. That was months and months. And even so you turned out just fine!"
"Did I, Em?" Brian returned. "Am I fine? Because I wonder about that. Because I don't feel fine. I haven't felt fine in... in... not since long before I got to this joint. So many places inside me feel dead. Just... dead."
Emmy's heart sank more than a little. Of all the men in the joint, Brian was one who always put on a strong and steady face. But that facade seemed to be crumbling more and more. She had noticed it first after his cellie, Ron, got out. Brian acted as if he'd lost a part of himself. He walked around, talking to himself as if he still was talking to Ron. And he spent more and more time alone, either in his cell or in the little Law Library, sometimes barely speaking to anyone for days on end.
"Bri Baby, whatever place inside you that's helping this kid sure isn't dead," Em pointed out. "Think about that. Please?"
"Brian?" the boy whimpered.
"Speak of the devil!" exclaimed Emmy. "Good evening, Sunshine!"
"Hey," said Brian, leaning over the bed. "How are you doing?"
"Thirsty," Justin rasped. His lips and mouth felt so dry.
Emmy handed Brian a plastic cup with a straw and Brian put it up to the boy's mouth. He sucked down the tepid water.
"You feel a lot cooler." Brian felt his forehead, then his neck.
"I didn't know you were a nurse," said Justin. "I thought you were a lawyer."
Brian smiled. "I'm neither of those things, kid. I'm not much of anything, actually. Except an inmate. Nothing more."
"Face of God," mumbled Justin.
"Huh? What do you mean?" asked Brian, startled. He thought that the boy was hallucinating.
"I... I saw the Face of God," Justin repeated, staring at Brian.
Emmy raised her eyebrows. "You were dreaming, Sunshine!"
"No!" He reached for Brian's hand. "Don't leave me alone!"
"I won't," Brian replied. "The doc said I could stay -- as long as I didn't get in the way down here. Even the warden said it was all right."
"The warden? Really?" Justin suddenly felt very tired again.
"Yup. He's worried about you and wants you to get better, okay?"
"The warden is worried about me?" Justin pictured the warden as a far away presence, like the president.
"He says that I can keep an eye on you. That is... if you want me to." Brian brushed a strand of blond hair out of the boy's eyes. "Do you want me to, Justin?"
"Yes," he replied. "I want you to." And he closed his eyes again. But he knew that Brian would be there when he opened them again.
As Ron Rosenblum stood, waiting at the entrance to the Stanton Correctional Facility on Visiting Day, he once again mused on the fact that he was the only man in the line.
The other visitors were the wives, mothers, and girlfriends of the inmates. Poor women, for the most part, many of them minorities, but all of them worn-looking and dead tired. Almost all had come a long way by bus, often spending money they could ill afford, in order to visit their men for one brief hour. They stood, shivering in the January wind, clutching packages of food and clothing for the inmates. And next month they would be back again, standing in this same line. With Ron.
At first they had stared curiously at Ron in his expensive three-piece suit, but eventually the women came to accept him. They greeted him and asked him how he was feeling and how his boy was doing. He became one of them, standing in that line. Because he was no longer a lawyer, Ron was unable to meet with Brian more regularly. Instead, he came listed under Brian's 'Family.' All of the C.O.'s, who remembered Ron from when he was inside, knew he wasn't a member of Brian's family, but they went along with the fiction.
Ron gripped his briefcase instead of a bag of food. He always had so much business to get through that there was little time for much personal chitchat. Ron was glad of that, actually. Too much personal conversation might well reveal the truth -- that Ron truly was no different from the wives and girlfriends who came back month after month merely for the opportunity to gaze at their loved ones for an hour and to quietly hold their hands before their men were taken back behind bars. And Ron came for the same reason. He had to see his lover and this was the only way.
The C.O.'s allowed Ron and the women to file inside a waiting room. There were never enough chairs for everyone to sit down, but at least they were out of the cold. The women greeted and kissed each other like old friends, discussing when their men were due for parole, how many months they had left on their sentences, and how soon it might be until they were back at home.
That was one thing Ron never tried to think about, let alone discuss with anyone. Brian's chances of parole anytime soon were so remote as to be in outer space. It could well be another 10 years or more before Brian would even be considered for parole. Brian would probably be in his 40's, and Ron, who was already feeling all of his own 49 years bearing down on him, would be an old man. That thought depressed him.
"Let me have your attention, people!" a C.O. shouted. He sounded very serious, so everyone immediately quieted. "I regret to inform you that all visits have been canceled due to the entire prison being in punitive lockdown! This is by order of Warden Carl Horvath. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, ladies. We hope to see you all next month."
But if the C.O. thought that the women would just go away quietly, he was wrong. Instead, they got angry. They demanded to know what was going on!
"I come by bus all the way from Erie and now you tell me I can't see my man? I wanna know why!" one woman yelled.
The C.O. held up his hands. "Ladies, please! There's been an incident inside and all privileges have been revoked -- and that includes all visits. I'm sorry, but that's the reality. Have a nice day!" And the C.O. turned and walked back inside.
Ron stood with the women and felt like he'd also been hit in the face. Since his release from Stanton, he'd never missed a Visiting Day and only now that it had been denied him did he realize how much he depended on it. Depended on seeing Brian, even for an hour. Ron sat down in one of the vacated chairs and dropped his briefcase on the floor. Fuck his case notes! He wanted to see Brian! Talk to Brian.
The last time Ron had seen him was right before the Holidays. All the women had brought Christmas presents for their men that day. New clothes and boxes of cookies and batteries for their transistor radios and all the little things that made life inside slightly easier. Ron remembered guiltily that he had brought Brian nothing that day, not even a fucking card. Which meant that Brian had gotten nothing for Christmas. Nothing at all.
What a fucking jerk I am, thought Ron, holding his head. What the hell is wrong with me?
Ron looked up to see a C.O. he'd been friendly with inside. Ron had even given the guy some advice on a divorce settlement. Ron often gave the guards a little free legal advice. It always helped to be in good with all sides when you were in the joint.
"Hello, Gene. What's up today? Why can't we go in?"
Gene shook his head. "Some young kid got busted up real bad and Horvath is on the rag over it. But I gotta tell you, Ron -- your boy is mixed up in it somehow."
Ron's heart stopped. "Brian? Mixed up? In what way?"
"I don't know, man. I wasn't on duty when all this shit went down, but your punk is down in the Hospital. Something about that kid who got rammed."
"Brian in the Hospital?" Ron stood up. "Let me in to see him, Gene! For fucksake!"
"You know I can't do that, man! I'm sorry but I can't." The C.O. really was sorry. He liked Ron and he liked Brian. They never caused trouble and their Legal Aid services kept tensions down among the inmates.
Ron sat back down. He felt dizzy. "Brian would never hurt some kid! I don't get it."
"Bri Baby didn't do anything to the kid," said Gene. "The hearsay is that he was defending the punk from some gang, but nobody knows if it was the bikers or the Bros or who the fuck. I don't know if Bri really got hurt bad or not, but he hasn't been back to his cell recently and the word is he's still down in the Hospital. That's all I know, Ron. Sorry."
"Thanks for telling me, Gene. At least that's something. Not much, but something."
Ron tried to think. He wanted to see the warden, but he knew there was no way they'd let him in. He had no fucking status at all. He wasn't Brian's lawyer and he wasn't his family. He was nothing. He was Brian's lover of 8 years -- and that meant zero to anyone. Brian could be injured or even dying in there and no one gave a shit!
So Ron stood up and walked out into the falling snow. Back to his car for the long drive back to Pittsburgh.
Flashback to 1969
"One more thing before I have to go, Ron," said Julie, Ron Rosenblum's Prisoners' Legal Defense lawyer. "You know the Brian Kinney trial?"
"Of course," Ron replied. The Kinney trial had been the cause celebre of the radical legal community for most of the past year. The fact that Kinney had been convicted and given a heavy sentence had been seen as a strike against both the anti-war movement and leftist politics. "I was reading about it in the 'Pittsburgh Clarion' and the 'New York Times.' The kid was fucking railroaded!"
"I know, Ron. That's the way everyone feels," said Julie. "But here's the thing -- John says that his contacts tell him that Kinney wasn't sent to a maximum security prison after all. John says that he was sent here, to Stanton."
Ron frowned. "Brian Kinney? Here? No, Julie, you're wrong. If Brian Kinney was in this prison I would know about it. I know everyone in this joint!"
"Well, Ron," said Julie, standing up and preparing to leave. "John says that he's here and has been here for a month or more. John's contacts in the prison administration are really good, so I tend to take them seriously. If you can track Kinney down, he would be a fantastic addition to the Prisoners' Legal Defense team. His participation would attract other prisoners, as well as giving us more credibility with possible donors who think he got a raw deal."
"I'll ask around, Julie, but I think John is mistaken. He's not in this facility." Ron stood and gave Julie a hug. "Please call Jane and tell her I'm well."
"I will, Ron. She and kids are doing okay, really," she answered.
"Good luck, Ron."
After Julie left, Ron walked back to his cell thinking about what she had said. Brian Kinney in this prison. That was impossible. Although most of the prisoners here couldn't care less about radical politics or well-known legal cases, Ron was sure that the entry of a famous prisoner would cause some talk. Unless the administration had purposely downplayed his presence here. Or unless they were keeping him under wraps. Maybe in protective custody, although why they would do that Ron didn't know. But it all seemed odd.
So Ron decided to do a little investigating.
First, he surveyed his PLD clients. These were the men who Ron was advising on pending cases. None of them recognized the name 'Brian Kinney' or remembered anyone of his description in the Chow Hall or the Rec Room or wandering the Yard. Then he used his connections among the guards. But none of them had ever heard of Ron's elusive inmate, either.
"You got this guy's number?" asked one of the C.O.'s. The guards hadn't been too cooperative and Ron felt that they knew more than they were saying.
"No, but he's new. He must have come in within the last two months. He's young. He was a college student. Not a typical con. A first-timer."
"What's he in for?" said the C.O., crossing his arms defensively.
Ron hesitated. He didn't want to push the radical anti-war angle, especially since most of the C.O.'s were right-wing rednecks. "Second-degree murder, among other things. But he's not really a violent offender," Ron said, knowing how lame that sounded.
"Don't know anything," said the C.O. -- and all the other guards said the same thing.
When Julie came for her next visit Ron told her what he'd found out. Which was nothing. But Julie was unconvinced. "John swears that he's here, Ron. I wonder if they are keeping him in some kind of isolated area. Because if they are, we want to lodge a protest! That's cruel and unusual punishment!"
Ron sighed. "Every fucking thing that happens in prison is cruel and unusual. You can't imagine some of the things I've seen in here, you just wouldn't fucking believe it! The gangs rule the roost, drugs are everywhere, and guys get sexually assaulted right in front of the C.O.'s and they just look the other way! So I don't think any kind of complaint that the PLD might submit is going to have much of an impact. Besides, I can't even find the man, Julie! It isn't like he could just disappear!"
Julie gave him a disgusted look. "What can I say, Ron? The guy is in there. Keep looking."
Ron had one last possibility. Ralph was an elderly man who prided himself on knowing all the ins and outs of Stanton. He'd been in the joint for 15 years and he watched everything that went on from his little corner of the second tier. Ron described Kinney and asked if Ralph knew anything.
The old man leaned back. "You sure you want to track this fella down, Ronnie?"
"Yes," answered Ron. "This is driving me nuts, Ralph. I have to know what's going on here!"
"Well, about two months ago I seen a new fish came in. Young fella. Tall. Good-looking. Scared-looking."
"That's got to be him, Ralph! Was he transferred out?"
"No, Ronnie, he's here. You just ain't seeing him where you're looking."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Then where the fuck is he?"
Ralph gazed at Ron seriously. "Cisco's boys took that kid the first night he was here. He's in the South Wing, second tier, where the low-riders have their tip. He's one of their punks."
"Shit," said Ron. That was bad news. Very bad news. "Then why hasn't anyone seen him in the Chow Hall or on the Yard?"
"Bikers keep their punks on low rations, Ronnie. Low rations of food and high rations of dope. That's how they keep them under control. They probably only let him out for special occasions."
Ron felt himself go cold. "What... what kind of special occasions?"
"Cisco's bikers run two things in this joint, Ronnie -- dope and pussy. That's what they control and that's what they sell. Your boy is what? 21?"
Ron considered. "I think Kinney isn't even 21 yet. He was only a freshman in college when he was arrested."
"There you go. Pretty young kid like that is probably the belle of the ball in the bikers' tip."
"Jesus," said Ron. "But the C.O.'s... wouldn't they do something? They wouldn't just let... let this kid...." He couldn't continue.
"You know the bulls are in the pocket of whoever pays them off. They wouldn't do shit, especially not for some new fish. Especially over in the South Wing. Anything goes over there, Ronnie. Cisco probably lets them have a turn at the kid, too. The more the merrier."
Ron went back to his cell and sat down. He knew the way things worked in Stanton. He had used the corruption of the system himself. When his cellmate had been paroled, Ron had bribed the C.O.'s on his tier to let him keep the cell private so that he could do his legal work in peace.
But this was beyond Ron's comprehension. What the fuck could he tell Julie? That her famous radical inmate was turning tricks in prison for a bunch of degenerate bikers? Well, that was the end of that. Once the low-riders got hold of someone, that was it. They didn't give up their property without a fight and Ron was in no position to fight them.
But over the next week the idea of at least getting a look at Kinney, assessing the situation, and seeing if there was anything that he could do began to consume Ron. After all, Cisco and the bikers had a lot of brawn, but Ron had a brain. And that counted for something, even in the joint. At least Ron hoped it counted for something.
Because it might be that kid's last chance.
Flashback to 1969
It took three days for Ron to work up the courage to leave the relative safety of the East Wing and visit the low-riders' tip in the South Wing of Stanton Correctional.
The South Wing was a place where Ron didn't venture very often. It was sometime referred to as the Wild, Wild South and the name was apt. Even the C.O.'s didn't like to involve themselves too much in the activities that went on there -- except maybe to cut themselves a piece of the corrupt pie.
Ron did a bit of research on some of the low-riders and found out that one of them was due for a parole hearing in a few months. Ron worked up some notes, slipped them into a folder, and headed for the South Wing.
Cisco, the leader of the gang, was lounging outside his cell on a deck chair that looked like it had come off a cruise ship. He was openly smoking a joint and passing it to two of his road dogs, who were hanging out with him, surveying the scene.
"Counselor, what can I do for you, man?" asked Cisco, offering Ron another chair and then a toke on the joint.
"No, thank you," said Ron, declining the weed. "This isn't a social call, gentlemen." Ron produced his paperwork. "I notice that one of your men, Mr. Hansen, is due for a parole hearing in June."
"That's Red Wolf here," Cisco said, pointing to one his pals, a lanky biker with a pronounced squint. "He's getting out soon."
"Well, you might assume that," said Ron. "But, as you know, it always helps to prepare for an appearance before the Parole Board. It helps to make a good impression, to be well-groomed and well-spoken. The Parole Board can turn down an inmate for any reason -- including not liking your looks or your attitude."
"That's true, man!" exclaimed Red Wolf. "I gotta make a good impression!"
Cisco nodded. "And where do you come in, Counselor?"
"It's part of my job as the inmate liaison for the Prisoners' Legal Defense to prepare inmates for parole hearings and court dates."
"The inmate liaison. Your men haven't been taking advantage of our services. I'm here to make you aware of them and to offer to help you learn to use the legal system to your advantage." Ron's heart was pounding, but he thought things were going well so far.
Cisco smiled. "That's mighty kind of you, Counselor. What do we gotta do?"
Ron explained that he would help Red Wolf -- or any of the other bikers -- get ready for their parole hearings. Also, if any of them came up for disciplinary measures, Ron would advise them of their rights and try to mediate with the warden. He would also get them connected to Prisoners' Legal Defense lawyers on the outside to look over their cases for possible appeals.
The more Ron talked, the more Cisco seemed interested. He was nodding and grinning, punctuating Ron's monologue with hoots of "That's righteous, man!" and "Right on, dude!"
"I think we can do some business, Counselor," Cisco said when Ron had finished his presentation. "Let's have us some refreshments to celebrate." Cisco pounded his fist against the door of the cell. "Hey, bitch! Bring out a couple of beers!" Cisco waited a minute and then stood up. "Excuse me a second, Counselor, but I have a situation here." He went into the cell and Ron heard a crash. "I told you to MOVE your fucking ass! Now get those beers out here, pronto!"
Red Wolf shook his head. "He ain't gonna get that bitch to move when she's nodding out. He's got too much of that shit in her."
The other road dog, Speed, shrugged. "What ya gonna do? The bitch is so wasted she can't do nothing." Speed leaned over to Ron. "New bitch keeps trying to run away," he said confidentially.
"Um, that's too bad," said Ron. He had a very bad feeling that he had found his quarry at last.
"Yeah, but Cisco will keep her in line," bragged Speed. "You got a punk over in the East Wing, Mr. Rosenblum?"
Ron cleared his throat. "No, I don't. I'm married."
The low-riders laughed raucously. "Me, too!" said Red Wolf. "And Cisco's got a couple of old ladies in different states. But they ain't in here! No, they ain't. You ever want some good pussy, you just let us know. We got the best in the Quad -- guaranteed. Cisco picks 'em out and breaks 'em in personally."
"That's... very nice," said Ron. He was beginning to be sorry that he had gotten involved in this whole affair. He was obviously in over his head with these creepy bastards.
Cisco emerged from the cell pushing another inmate before him. He was a tall and painfully thin kid and he stumbled as Cisco jerked him to a stop in front of Ron. "Counselor, this is our hostess, Baby. Baby, offer the gentleman a drink."
The kid handed Ron a can of beer. Pot, beer, smack -- there was nothing the bikers couldn't get if they wanted it. Including, as Red Wolf had boasted, the best pussy in the joint.
Ron looked at Baby closely, unable to believe that this was the infamous campus radical and convicted murderer he had been searching for. But there was no denying that Baby was a beautiful kid. He had a delicate, almost classical, face, with full red lips and a pointed chin. But his hazel green eyes were unresponsive, with that stoned glaze that Ron had come to recognize in addicted inmates. And he had some nasty bruises on his neck. Ron imagined that he had a lot more underneath his workpants and prison shirt.
"That's better. Now sit down and keep your mouth shut!" ordered Cisco, plopping himself into the deck chair. Baby slumped down on the cement floor of the tier, almost completely out of it. He didn't look like he was capable of saying much of anything. Cisco patted his head like a dog and toyed with his long chestnut hair. "You like Baby, Counselor?"
Ron took a sip of his beer, but not very much. He was feeling sick to his stomach. "Very nice," he repeated, unsure of the correct response.
"You like getting your cock sucked?" Cisco asked. "Because Baby's got a mouth like a tub of butter and that's the truth!"
"I... I'm sure." Ron knew that he had to get the hell out of there. He choked down the beer as quickly as he could and then stood up. "I'll be in touch, gentlemen. We'll need to prepare Mr. Hansen for his parole hearing."
"Righteous, man!" said Cisco. He stood up and shook Ron's hand. "Anything that you need, Counselor, you just let me know. And I mean anything."
Ron took a deep breath. "I'll keep that in mind."
And Ron fled out of the South Wing. There was no way that he was going to tell Julie that he had found Kinney -- or tell her what he had seen. He wished he hadn't seen it himself. But he also found that he couldn't stop thinking about 'Baby' and what his life must be like in the low-riders' tip.
Posted November 22, 2004.