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Flashback to 1969
Ron began working with Red Wolf -- whose real first name was Lamar -- to get him ready to face the Parole Board, which meant that he was visiting the low-riders' tip in the South Wing regularly.
And every time he was there, Ron looked for Baby. Sometimes the kid was sitting on the floor of Cisco's cell, nodding out in the corner, or else he was lying in the top bunk, staring out at the tier with blood-shot eyes.
But at other times Baby was out 'working.' Because regardless of all their scams, the bikers seemed short of ready 'cash' -- either the cigarettes or other canteen goods that served as currency in Stanton. Ron was starting to believe that something had gone wrong with the low-riders' drug pipeline. Many of the inmates were complaining that drugs were in short supply and that what was available was often low grade. So Baby and her biker punk compatriots were being hustled all over the prison, as if Cisco and his boys were trying to make up for the short-fall.
One evening Ron was sitting in his cell, going over some cases. Soon he would be moving his books and files over to the Library. He had managed to wrangle a small storage room there that he was making over into a Law Library and Legal Aid office. The PLD had provided the money and Ron had hired some inmates to build him shelves and paint the room. He had also gotten the prison administration to donate an old desk and some file cabinets as well as a typewriter for the office.
As soon as the room was ready, Ron planned to move his flood of case files and open up shop. Ron felt that having his own office would increase his status among the inmates and the administration. The men could come to a real office and Ron wouldn't have to trek all over the Quad to meet with his clients.
"Hey there, Mister R."
Ron looked up and saw Red Wolf at his door. "Mr. Hansen, what can I do for you?"
"Nothing for me, Mister R. Cisco's been pretty happy with the way you've been helping me and the other guys, so he wanted to give you a little present."
Ron stood up. "That's not necessary, Mr. Hansen. You know how I operate. I collect my fee in the 'good will' of my clients." Yes, thought Ron, and in pulling in favors from them when I need them in the future.
"Hey, nobody does nothing for free, Mister R. We know that. And we'll do right by you -- eventually. Cisco's a little... um... short of credit right now, but there's one thing he ain't short of. So here's something to tide you over." And with that Red Wolf opened the door of Ron's cell wider and pushed Baby through it. "I'll come by tomorrow before breakfast and take her back to South. Enjoy yourself, Mister R." Red Wolf turned and ambled away down the tier.
"Wait a minute! Lamar! Mr. Hansen!" Ron called after the biker, but he just kept going.
Well, thought Ron, you wanted to find this kid and now he's been delivered to your door like a goddamn pizza!
Baby leaned against the wall of Ron's cell, glancing around nervously. His smooth skin looked pasty and there were dark shadows under his long-lashed eyes.
"Would you like to sit down?" Ron gestured to the lower bunk. The upper bunk was full of case folders waiting to be taken over to the new office, but Ron guessed that he could clear it off and let the poor kid sleep there tonight.
Baby sat on the bed and bit at his index finger. "Can I have some water, please?"
That was the first coherent sentence that Ron had ever heard the kid utter.
"Certainly." Ron took out a clean mug and filled it at the sink. The kid sucked down the water. Ron wondered if the drugs had badly dehydrated him. He must be hungry, too. "Would you like some cookies? My wife, Jane, made them." Ron pulled a tin off the shelf and passed it to the kid.
Baby stared at the cookies and then stared at Ron. Then he took a handful and shoved them into his mouth as if he were starving.
"Whoa! Careful! Don't make yourself sick, kid," said Ron. He gently took away the tin. "You can have some more later. Are you really... that hungry?"
"It's okay," the kid answered, sniffling. Then he drank the rest of the water and handed the mug back to Ron.
Ron began to clear the top bunk, stacking his files on the floor. "It's getting close to 10:00 lockdown, so if you're tired... I mean, if you want to go to bed, there's plenty of room up here. Or there will be when I move all this crap."
But Baby just watched him, passively. Ron wasn't sure what the hell to say to the kid. Talking about his circus of a trial and his wrongful conviction didn't seem appropriate under the circumstances.
Then Baby sighed and stood. He began to take off his clothes.
"Hey, hold on there, kid," said Ron. "That's not necessary. Really, it isn't."
But Baby just ignored Ron. He took off his shirt and pulled his undershirt over his head and dropped them on the floor. Then he stepped out of his workpants and shorts. He was extremely thin, but still beautifully formed, with a long, smooth torso and long arms and legs. And his golden skin was marred only by bruises along his ribs and across his ass. And by some angry-looking red marks on his back.
Ron reached out and touched the red circles gently. They looked like burns. "What's this? What did they do to you?"
Baby blinked. "Cigarettes."
Ron recoiled. "They burned you with... with cigarettes?"
Baby blinked again. "So what? I can't feel it anyway." Then he lay down on the bottom bunk and buried his face in Ron's pillow.
Ron stood for a long time. He didn't know what to think anymore. He already despised the bikers, but this was beyond the pale. And the way the kid was just accepting it. He'd obviously fought back at first. Tried to run away. But it had been useless. There was nowhere to run. There was no escape. Baby was in two prisons -- Stanton Correctional and the one that the low-riders had made in his own mind -- and he was broken in both of them.
"I'm sorry, kid, but I...." But Ron noticed that Baby was asleep. His head was slightly turned on the pillow and his face looked peaceful. In another time and place he would have made a picture of perfect male beauty -- if only you subtracted the bruises and those burns. If only you subtracted all the horror that had brought him to this place, to this moment.
Ron pulled out another blanket and covered Baby with it. Then he undressed and climbed up onto the top bunk and tried to sleep himself. But it was a restless, troubled sleep.
In the morning Red Wolf appeared at the door of Ron's cell. Ron opened it, pulling on his workpants at the same time.
"Greetings there, Mister R.! How'd it go?" asked Red Wolf. "Any trouble?"
Ron shook his head. "No, Mr. Hansen. No trouble at all."
Baby got dressed quietly while Red Wolf waited outside to take him back to the low-riders' tip. Ron watched him, desperate to say something that would let the kid know that Ron gave a damn. That maybe he could do something. Maybe. Sometime in the future. Something. Ron felt like a fool just standing there, letting the biker take this kid back to a living hell.
Baby looked at Ron one last time. "Thanks for the cookies," he said and turned away.
"Brian! Wait!" Ron said.
The kid turned back and stared at Ron. For the first time there was real life in his green eyes. "What did you call me?"
Ron stepped back. "Brian, I... I want to help you. I mean it."
"How the fuck do you know my name?" the kid demanded. "How do you know who I am? Tell me!"
"I... I mean...." Ron stuttered.
"Fuck YOU! FUCK YOU!" Brian screamed, striking out at Ron with his fists with surprising strength and knocking the man back against the bunk.
But then Red Wolf was there, grabbing the kid, slapping him solidly, and dragging him out of the cell. Brian kept screaming until Red Wolf knocked him silly and then shook him like a tall, skinny doll. Shook him until he was finally quiet. And defeated.
"Sorry about that, Mister R.," said Red Wolf. "She's overdue for her morning hit. Bitches get a little keyed up when they need more shit. Don't worry, we'll take care of things."
"No, it's all right," said Ron. "There was no harm done. Really. Please don't hurt him."
"We'll take care of it," repeated Red Wolf. "Bitch won't do THAT again, believe me. See you around, Mister R."
And that was the last that Ron saw of Brian for quite a while.
Punitive lockdown finally came to an end on Sunday morning when Warden Horvath allowed the inmates out to go to services. Catholic Mass was held in the Chapel at 9:00 a.m., then the non-denominational Protestant service at 10:30, and most of the men attended both just to give thanks for being out of their fucking cells for something other than work.
After lunch the Rec Room and the tiers were packed with lounging men. It was too cold to spend any time out in the Yard, but everyone wanted to stretch their legs and catch up on the latest gossip.
And one of the major topics of conversation was Kinney. No one had seen him back in his cell since the C.O.'s took him away Wednesday morning. There was some speculation that he was in the Hole, while others maintained that he was in the Hospital. But one of the few people who knew the truth, Emmett Honeycutt, was keeping his mouth shut. As a drag queen, Emmy understood the value of image, and Brian's image could only be enhanced by the mystery surrounding the incident with the new fish.
Around 3:00 Michelle, who was leaning up next to Emmy's door, smoking a cigarette, saw them.
"Shit! Em! Barbie! Come quick!"
The other two queens came to the door to see what Michelle was yelling about. And Emmy grinned broadly. "Well, well, well! The Conquering Hero returns! And he isn't alone."
Michelle glared at Emmy. "What's Brian doing with that kid? What's going on?"
"You'll see, dolly. You'll see!"
Brian and Justin were coming up the stairway to the third tier. Justin was moving slowly -- he had only gotten out of bed the day before -- and Brian had his arm around the boy protectively.
"Hi, boys!" called Emmy. "Long time no see!" Which was not exactly accurate, since Emmy had been seeing both of them every night during her shift at the Hospital.
"Hey, Em. Barbie. You, too, Michelle," said Brian.
"Bri -- are you okay? I've been so worried!" said Michelle, purposely not looking at the kid.
"I'm just fine, Michelle," said Brian. "And Justin is feeling a lot better, too."
"You're looking good, Sunshine!" exclaimed Emmy. "Doesn't Sunshine look good, ladies?"
"Oh, yes!" agreed Barbie. But Michelle only mumbled something.
"Thanks, Em. I feel pretty good." Justin glanced up at Brian. "I mean, I do now."
"Let's get back to our place," Brian said, nudging the kid. "We'll see you at chow, Em."
"Sure thing, Baby!" Emmy said. So far, so good, she thought.
Andy was hanging out in front of Beemer's cell -- now his cell, as well -- talking to Al, the guy in between theirs and Andy and Brian's old home. Al, a pickpocket, was hooked up with Wes, a chubby little car thief.
"Holy shit, Andy! Look what's coming down the tier!" said Al.
And Andy looked. Brian and Justin were making a slow and extremely noisy progress. Every guy who saw them had a million questions to ask and a thousand comments to make, and every guy also wanted to get a good long look at the new fish who had been at the center of all the commotion.
Brian stopped at his cell and opened it. Then he headed directly for Andy. Andy backed up, remembering how Brian had threatened him the last time he saw him.
"Get the kid's stuff, Andy," said Brian shortly. "And hurry up. We haven't got all day to stand around here."
"Sure, Bri," said Andy. Beemer, who was over in the Rec Room, had gathered the kid's few belongings into his small duffle bag. Justin hadn't even had time to fully unpack before he was attacked. Andy grabbed the bag and shoved it at Brian. "Everything's in here, Bri. Nice and neat."
Brian handed the bag to Justin. "Here, kid. When we get home make sure that everything is in there. Because if anything is missing...."
"Nothing is missing, Bri! I fucking swear!" said Andy. He couldn't get the furious expression on Brian's face as he was slamming him up against the bunk out of his mind. Andy was beginning to think that Brian was more than a little psycho.
"Oh, and I want your key."
Andy had forgotten about the key. "Sure, sure!" He ducked inside to get the key to the other cell.
Brian glanced over and saw Al and his punk, Wes, watching the exchange between Brian and Andy curiously. He also noticed that Al was checking out Justin with undisguised interest. Al was a notoriously macho jocker who always kept his punk on a very short leash.
"What the fuck are YOU looking at?" Brian barked at Al.
Al was startled. Brian had never spoken to him so sharply. He'd never heard Brian speak to anyone sharply and he'd lived in the next cell to Brian, and before that Brian and Ron, for three years.
"Um, nothing, Kinney," answered Al. "Nothing at all."
"Then quit gawking. This ain't no fucking museum!" said Brian, mimicking Al's usual macho demeanor.
"I didn't mean nothing," Al muttered. And he withdrew into the cell.
But Wes, his punk, grinned at Justin. "Hey, I'm Wesley."
"I'm Justin," the kid replied.
"That's enough girl talk," Brian snapped. "Andy! Where the fuck is that key?"
Andy came out and handed it over. "I couldn't find it for a minute. Sorry, Bri."
Brian snatched the key away and turned away without acknowledgment. He gave the key to Justin. "Don't lose this, kid, or I'll have to kick your ass!" Brian said loudly.
"Yes, sir!" said Justin, brightly. Brian had told him always to call him 'sir' when they were on the tier or in the Chow Hall.
Justin walked into the cell. His new home. THEIR new home! He set his little duffle bag down on the floor next to the bunk.
Brian came in behind him and closed the door. "Well, here we are, kid." Brian prayed that he was doing the right thing. And he thought about the first time he had ever set foot in this same cell, 9 years before. The world had changed 180 degrees for him since then.
"What now, Brian?" Justin asked. He sat down on the lower bunk.
"What now?" repeated Brian. "Now we just live -- and hope for the best."
"What are you doing over there?" said Brian.
"I'm sorting your clothes to do the laundry, what else?" Justin was shaking out a tangle of dirty khaki workpants, shirts, socks, and underwear. "Brian, your shorts and tee shirts are kind of... ratty."
"Justin, put that stuff down. I don't want you doing my laundry." Brian felt ill at ease thinking about someone handling his meager clothing.
"Emmy says that doing laundry is a punk's job. And cleaning up the cell. And making coffee for your old man. And picking up the mail. And...."
Brian rubbed his forehead. "Listen, kid, I know intimately what a punk's job is. But I don't want you thinking that you have to do all that crap for me. I'm perfectly capable of doing it for myself."
"Then why is this pile sitting here in the corner, Brian?" said Justin. "You don't have any clean clothes on the shelf. And you've been wearing those same clothes since... since you come and stayed at the Hospital with me."
"I just haven't had much time to think about that stuff. I've been kind of busy."
"Which is why it's my job to do it," Justin insisted. "You said that we have to make it look like we're really hooked up. That I have to call you 'sir' and not talk to any of the other jockers and all the things that a real punk would do. And taking care of you is part of the deal. Emmy told me."
"Emmy should keep his big mouth shut," said Brian. "He thinks he's playing matchmaker here and he's way too into that role."
"I don't mind doing it, Brian," said Justin, quietly. "I want to do it. Please let me."
Brian lay down on the lower bunk. He was definitely getting another headache. And he was also very aware that he was going to be spending a lot of time in this small space with Justin. With Justin sleeping in the bunk overhead. Bustling around the cell, doing little chores. The laundry. Washing the cups. Making the beds. Eating with Brian. Showering with Brian. Probably spending all day in the Library with Brian, especially after Justin began taking his classes.
And the thought of all of that close proximity was making Brian extremely horny. He couldn't help it. It was one thing when Justin had been lying the hospital bed and Brian had been sitting with him all day, or even climbing up on the bed next to him and sleeping there all night with his arms around the boy. There had been something so innocent and pure about Justin, something the fucking low-riders had damaged forever, that brought out Brian's protective instincts.
But now Justin was out of his sick bed. He was doing well and even seemed cheerful. Happy to be out of the Hospital and back on the tier. And now Brian wasn't sure that he was going to able to keep from jumping on the kid before the evening was over. So how the fuck were they going to be cellies?
And now he was humming. Sorting Brian's dirty clothes and humming.
"Emmy said that she'd go with me down to the laundry room tomorrow. She and Barbie are going to do their clothes, too."
"That's good. I don't want you down there by yourself." Brian sat up. "I'm serious, kid. I don't want you going anywhere beyond the tier unless I'm with you. Or maybe Emmy or one of the other queens. One of them is always hanging around, so if you need to leave the tier, ask one of them to go with you."
Justin turned from the laundry and looked at Brian dejectedly. "I'm sorry I didn't listen to you before, Brian. I... I wasn't thinking. I... was so stupid... and then... then...." He stopped. Justin tried to halt the tears, but he couldn't.
Brian was there in a second. Holding on to him. And then Justin was clinging to him.
Brian sat Justin down next to him on the lower bunk. "It's okay to cry in here, kid. Even I do it. But only in here. And only when you're alone."
Justin sniffed. "I know. Never let them see you cry."
Brian nodded. "Emotion is weakness and there's always someone waiting to take advantage of your weakness. That's why I will have to act like a hard-ass when we're out on the tier, or in the Rec Room, or at chow. They'll be waiting to see if I show any weakness. Waiting for me to betray myself as nothing but a punk. And I can't do that, Justin. Do you understand why?"
"Yes," Justin answered. "Because that's what's keeping us alive."
"Exactly," Brian said. "You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. This Quad, this prison, has been my home for almost a decade, but I can never let down my guard, even now. I can't and still protect myself. Or protect you."
Justin held up his head and wiped his eyes. "That makes me feel like... like something less than a man. That I'll never really be a man while I'm in here."
Brian understood that feeling all too well. "You will be, Justin. But you need to keep that between us. Just us. Our hooking up isn't about anyone else, not even Emmy or any of the other girls. You can confide in them about certain things, but never give away what you're really feeling. Never let anyone know that -- or they might use it against you someday."
"Anyone but you, Brian."
Brian took a deep breath. "Not even me, kid. Save something for yourself. Always. It may be the only thing you have that's truly yours. The only thing they can't take away from you."
Brian didn't even realize that he was touching Justin's face. That he was stroking it with his fingers. It seemed so natural to do it.
And Justin wanted Brian to touch him. The boy's greatest fear was that Brian would be disgusted by him. Disgusted at what had been done to him. That Brian would look at Justin and see someone who had been ruined. Someone who had been used horribly and would never get rid of that taint.
"What's this, Brian?" Justin said. He held Brian's right hand and opened it, running his thumb down the man's middle finger.
"It's a prison tattoo," said Brian. Usually when someone noticed his tattoo Brian hid his finger away. It was something he never talked about. But now he wanted to talk about it.
"You mean, someone made it in here?" Justin was surprised.
"Yeah, most of the men who have tattoos got them in the joint. For some gangs it's a requirement. A badge of honor." Brian looked at the markings on his finger. "For others it's a brand. A mark that you no longer belong to yourself."
"Let me see it," said Justin. It wasn't a request, but a statement. The tattoo was a word crudely inked on the inside of Brian's finger. "'Resist.' What does it mean?"
"I think they meant it as a joke, kid. Because that's what I was always doing -- resisting them. If not physically, then in my head. And they knew it. That's why they put that word on me. Why they put it on that particular finger. As a big 'fuck you.' But the joke was on them in the end. Because I DID resist. I DID get away." Brian smiled bitterly. "At least I got away from them, if not from Stanton."
Justin swallowed. "Got away from who, Brian?"
"The low-riders, of course," Brian answered, as the boy trembled. "When they had me. Just like they had you, Justin. Except they had me for months. Had me and used me. Used me until there was nothing left to be had. Until I resisted them in the most final, irrevocable way I knew how."
Justin felt himself holding his breath. "What... what way was that, Brian? How did you resist, finally?"
Brian blinked. Justin could see the golden flecks all through the dark green of his eyes."I killed myself, that's what."
Posted November 23, 2004.