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Justin and Wesley went down together to pick up the mail for themselves and their jocks. The mailboxes for the whole wing were down on the first tier, but Justin was hoping for a package as well. He was waiting for his mother to send some of the gifts that she had promised to get Brian for his birthday.
Emmy and Michelle had agreed to hide Brian's presents in their cells until the day of the party. Justin had already finished making the wrapping paper. He had also arranged for a cake and soft drinks by trading his drawings with guys in the kitchen and at the canteen.
Justin was surprised to find that most of the older men didn't ask for portraits of themselves, as Wesley had wanted, but instead they wanted drawings of their wives, girlfriends, and children. Most of them handed over snapshots of their loved ones, which Justin quickly turned into large, full-color drawings that the men could put on their walls.
In fact, Justin was now doing a brisk business creating pictures to order. He had even done a special comic-like portrait of Juice, decked out like a superhero in bright red tights and cape, for Michelle. She and Emmy were providing all of the decorations for the Rec Room and both of them had even managed to keep the other queens from spilling the beans about the birthday party -- which was a feat in itself.
Now, he was waiting for the gifts to arrive.
Justin opened his mailbox. Letters from his mother and his grandmother, and another from one of his favorite teachers. And a long letter from his friend, Daphne. Justin loved reading Daph's letters, but they also reminded him of what he was missing. She was in the middle of her freshman year in college, full of news about classes and boyfriends and parties. Well, thought Justin, I can write about MY classes and MY boyfriend. And also about my big party, too!
But Daphne seemed to think that being in prison was like being away at summer camp. Justin couldn't bring himself to tell her about what had happened to him in the small meeting room or the days he'd spent recovering in the Hospital. Or about seeing Lee's jocker, Chuck, beating him in the corner of the Yard for some perceived indiscretion. Or about poor Wesley being picked on by the other punks. Or about seeing one of the low-riders dragged off to 'The Hole' by the C.O.'s for trying to stab another biker in the Chow Hall. No, he couldn't tell Daphne -- or his mom or grandmother or his teacher or anyone even half of what went on inside.
Some of it he was writing down for Miss Carver. Not for the whole Creative Writing class, but just for her. He'd handed over some pages of his own along with more of Brian's manuscript and Miss Carver had accepted the writings avidly. But even for her Justin censored himself. Some things he just couldn't tell a woman, while others were still too raw, still too painful to recount.
Justin unlocked Brian's box. Two magazines -- the 'New Yorker' and also a legal journal for the Law Library. And a thick envelope from the Prisoners' Legal Defense -- more paperwork for some of their inmate clients. And... something else.
A letter. Justin frowned. Brian had never gotten a personal letter before. But this was definitely personal. Hand written. On thick stock writing paper. And no return address.
Maybe Brian's parents were finally writing to him? Or maybe Brian had broken down and gotten himself a pen-pal from Beemer's list of prison groupies? Justin smelled the envelope. Beemer's and Andy's pen-pals always drenched their letters in Chanel #5 or Ambush or some other heavy cologne. This letter just smelled like nothing. Justin looked at it again. No, he was wrong. What it smelled like was trouble.
"Did you get your package, Just?" asked Wesley, clutching a couple of envelopes and catalogs. Al loved getting catalogs. Al never sent away for anything, but he loved looking at the catalogs and thinking about sending away for things.
But there was no package slip in Justin's box. If he had a package, then the boys would take the slip and walk through the passageway over to the Administration Building and the main Mailroom to pick it up after it had been opened and searched for contraband.
"Nothing," said Justin in frustration. "I can't figure it out! My mom told me that she got my list."
"Maybe they're holding it for some reason? Did you ask for food or porn or something?" Wes offered.
"Of course not!" Justin insisted. "I asked for some clothes and books for Brian. And a radio. I have mine, but I want him to have his own -- with headphones!"
"Maybe one of the books is a problem?" Wesley suggested.
"No, there was nothing dirty or subversive on the list! Unless you think that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jack Kerouac are dirty and subversive?"
Wes made a face. "I don't know. I never heard of either of them!"
"Come on. Let's go back."
The boys walked back up to the third tier. Brian was lying on his bunk, reading through some legal paperwork for a guy in the South Wing who was trying to get an appeal going.
"Brian, this is for you," said Justin, handing him the letter.
"For me?" Brian sat up and took it in his hand. "Are you sure?"
Brian stared at the envelope and then opened it slowly, as if expecting it to explode in his hands. Then he began reading. He lay back on the pillow and read the letter with his teeth clenched.
Justin tried not to keep watching him, but he couldn't keep his eyes off Brian and his letter. He tried tidying up the cell, putting away some of his art supplies and folding some pants and tee shirts.
Finally, Justin had to get out of the room, so he walked down to the Rec Room. Joey was in there, reading a comic book, so Justin sat down and shot the breeze with him for a while.
"Justin?" He looked up to see Brian standing in the doorway. "I'm going up to the Gym. I'll be back before head count."
Justin returned to the cell immediately. He knew that the letter was there, somewhere, so he began searching, methodically. He checked under the mattresses and on the shelves, between the piles of clothing, then he hunted among Brian's books. Justin finally found the letter, missing its envelope, tucked between the pages of Brian's worn paperback copy of 'The Olympian.'
Justin held the letter in his hand. He knew that he shouldn't read it, but he had to. He needed to!
Justin unfolded the pages.
"Baby," it began....
I waited for a full hour in the Visitors' Gallery, hoping that you would show up. I couldn't make myself believe that you wouldn't come, knowing that I was sitting there! And you DID know I was there! I'm always there, Baby! You know that nothing could keep me away!
I don't understand why, all of a sudden, you have changed so much! I can't believe that your feelings have changed. I DON'T believe it! I think you're angry with me for blowing up at you the last time was there. I'm sorry about that. I should have written to you right away. I'm an idiot for not doing it then. I didn't mean to blow up at you, Baby. I didn't want to get angry, but you shocked me with that story about hooking up with the kid. That was the last thing expected! You can't blame me for feeling upset. Everything is just fine and then you blind-side me with something like that. How was I supposed to take it? You knew I'd be hurt -- but you acted like that didn't make any difference to you! Like how I feel doesn't even matter!
For 9 years you make me think that you care about me -- and then you take up with some new punk you're known for about a week? I understand that it's nothing but sex, but it's still a kick in the teeth! Especially when you now refuse to come down and see me! I sat there for a fucking hour! I didn't come to talk about any cases -- screw the cases! I came to see YOU -- that's always why I come! You KNOW that! Maybe I don't say it out loud, but I don't HAVE to say it out loud. You KNOW, Baby! You KNOW!
And now you're trying to punish me. That's it, isn't it? Just trying to make me sweat, just because you CAN! Well, OK -- I'm sweating! I'm upset! Does that make you happy, Baby? Does it?
I've done nothing but fight with Jane since I got back from Visiting Day. She knows I'm upset and I'm sure she knows why, although she would never admit that she even knows about you. So I'm getting the cold shoulder at home. She's so jealous of you that it isn't even funny. Does that make you happy to hear? Does that make you feel powerful, Baby? So I can't concentrate at the office and I don't have any peace at home -- all because YOU are being so pig-headed! I know you are a stubborn Mick and all that, but have a heart! Give me a fucking break, Baby! Why are you doing this to me?
I know you don't really mean to ignore me and that when you get over being in a pissy mood that you'll tell me you're sorry and everything with be OK again. I'll be there next month -- of course! -- on Visiting Day. I have it circled on my calendar. I also know your birthday is coming up. I have THAT circled, too -- of course! -- so tell me what you would like. All you ever have to do is ask for something and I'll bring it to you. Haven't I always made sure that you had what you needed? Your parents didn't give a damn and sent you nothing, but I ALWAYS shared ALL my stuff with you. Anything I had was also yours. Maybe you are forgetting that now that I'm not there every day. It's easy to forget, right? Out of sight, out of mind, right? I hope you liked the cookies. I'll bring more next time.
Remember what I told you a few months ago about the Family Visit arrangements? I've filed about it again AND I've written to Horvath about the unfairness of the situation. I think I am making good progress there. Horvath and the prison administration don't want to look as if they are punishing you or discriminating against you because you are estranged from your biological family when you have been an exemplary inmate for so many years. The unfairness of the situation is obvious and Julie thinks that I can make the argument stick on those grounds.
I TOLD you before I was paroled that I WOULD get a Family Visit -- and I expect to! Maybe even in the next month! You'll see! It WILL happen! Maybe you're angry because you're frustrated. Well, so am I! But that doesn't mean that I am giving up! I never give up! You know that very well. And when it happens I know that it will make you as happy as it will make me!
Please write to me soon and I'll write again, too. I should have been writing to you regularly all along, but things have been so hectic since I got out, between work and family stuff. I know you understand. And since I saw you every month -- and NEVER missed a Visiting Day! -- I thought that was enough. But it wasn't enough to keep the lines of communication open. I know that now. Please keep them open from now on! Don't close yourself off from me! Don't shut me out, Baby! Don't!!!!
Write back the MINUTE you get this! I'll be waiting, Baby.
Love -- Ron."
Justin read the letter. And then he read it again. He didn't know what to think. He'd never spoken to Ron in his life and only seen him twice from far away, but his words hit Justin like a truck hits you going 60 MPH.
What had Brian thought, reading this? What did he feel? Justin wanted to run up to the Gym and talk to Brian. Ask him what the letter meant to him. Ask him what Ron meant to him!
Justin folded the sheets, shoved them between the pages the paperback, and put it back on the shelf. Then he went out and walked two doors down.
"Andy? Can I ask you a question?"
Brian's ex-cellie was lying on his bunk, reading a letter from one of his pen-pals. Justin could tell from the pink smelly paper.
"Sure, kid? What's up?" Andy set the letter aside and sat up.
"Tell me what you know about Family Visits."
Andy laughed. "Ask Beemer about that! The last time he had one of those, with his wife about a year and a half ago, she was his EX-wife about a month later! Why do you ask, kid?"
"Oh, my mom mentioned something about it in her last letter." Which was true. Jennifer had mentioned requesting one. "And I wanted to know more about it."
"Well," said Andy. "You know those trailers outside the Administration Building? That's where they have them. For you, it would be your mom and your dad and whoever else in your family and they'd come and stay with you in the trailer. There's beds in there and a little kitchen and a TV and, well, I guess you'd visit with your family. Your mom can bring food and cook for you and you can watch TV and whatever. That's a Family Visit."
Justin swallowed. "But what about, like, older guys? I'm sure their mothers don't come and stay with them."
Andy shrugged. "They could. But for most of the guys a Family Visit is a 'Conjugal.' That means 48 hours of straight fucking! Forget the food and watching TV!" Andy started cackling. "Those trailers do nothing but bounce up and down the whole time! But you don't have to worry about THAT, kid! Unless your parents decide to get it on while they're visiting you!"
"That's gross, Andy," said Justin. He wasn't smiling.
Justin took a deep breath. "Would they allow a guy to visit another guy? Like for a 'Conjugal'?"
Andy frowned. "No fucking way! Then they'd have to let girlfriends visit. It's gotta be family or you gotta be married. But two guys? Forget it! That would seem like the prison administration was approving faggots and they'll never do that! It's one thing to look the other way when it comes to jockers and punks, but real fags? That's where they draw the line. Why are you asking, kid?"
"I'm just curious, that's all," said Justin.
So, Ron's hope for a Family Visit didn't seem very likely. Unless... unless he had some kind of angle. Brian was always saying that Ron was a genius for finding a new angle. That's what had made him such a successful lawyer -- and such a successful scam artist. Until Ron got careless and ended up in Stanton.
Now Justin had a headache. He went back to the cell and got out his sketchpad. He had to finish a portrait for a guy down in the canteen who was providing some of the snacks for the party, but his head was throbbing and he couldn't concentrate. Justin put the drawing aside and lay back down on the bunk, waiting for Brian to come back from the Gym.
Flashback to 1969
Baby didn't know what day it was and she didn't care. What difference did it make? Every day she was alive was just another day of failure. But she'd get another chance. Someday. Cisco would leave his belt behind, or he'd leave the cell door open and she could get to the edge of the stairwell, or else she'd get hold of his razor or... something. Someday. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. What difference did it make? None.
Since they had sent her back to the tier from the Hospital, Baby had barely left the cell. She mainly lay on her bunk, sniffing and rubbing her burning eyes, climbing down only to piss or take a drink of water from the sink.
The low-riders, and especially Cisco, ignored her. Once Cisco had come into the cell and found her washing her face in the sink. He'd kicked her out of the way, cursing. He was angry that she'd fucked herself up! No one wanted to deal with a fucking psycho! No one wanted her in their cell because there was no telling what a crazy bitch would do. She might take a bite out of their dicks or attack them or try to off herself right there. Yeah, Baby was nuts, so fucking forget it, man! No thanks! Cisco couldn't even peddle her ass at half the going rate.
Baby was hurting and Baby was hungry. She was whining for some shit, but Cisco wasn't about to waste good dope on her. The docs had cleaned her out in the Hospital, so there was no need to get her started up again, especially if he was thinking of getting rid of her. If somebody else wanted to supply her with smack, fine. Then it wouldn't be Cisco's fucking problem! No, not anymore! If Baby was hurting, then let her hurt. Fuck YOU, Baby!
Baby heard the low-riders arguing. Maybe it would be better to get rid of her and cut their losses. If another gang would take her off their hands, then the bad karma would be on their heads when she offed herself. Because the low-riders had no doubt that she'd try it again. She was a psycho bitch and that's what psycho bitches did. They messed themselves up. Or maybe they should keep her and see if she got better. She was still a sweet piece of ass. Even fucked up, she was still the best looking punk the bikers had. On a good day she was the best looking punk in the whole Quad! Fuck, that's why they'd taken her in the first place!
Except she wasn't getting better. She was just lying around, taking up space. Even Cisco didn't trust her alone in the cell. It was a fucking pain having somebody watching her all the time. If she tried to off herself again, that would be even worse karma than before, man! Shit!
But who was gonna buy her? The Bros? They didn't want any part of some crazy white bitch. And the Latinos -- they were superstitious, too. And Baby had a black cloud hanging over her. She was bad luck, brother, any way you looked at it.
The low-riders were divided, but in the end Cisco made the final decision. He didn't want Baby in the tip anymore. They were losing money every day that she wasn't bringing something in. And the dope pipeline was fucked up. The bikers were hurting because both of their main sources of income were drying up.
Even if they couldn't get much for Baby at auction, at least she wouldn't be their problem anymore. She'd be some other bastard's headache!
"But what if nobody bites?" asked Speed. "Who's gonna want to buy a fucking time bomb?"
Cisco shrugged. "If nobody buys, we'll toss her into the Yard. Then she'll be the C.O.'s pain in the ass."
Baby blinked. Baby was afraid. The low-riders were bad, but there were worse people in the Quad. Baby knew there were. She had been in their cells. Been at their mercy. Yes, worse people. Baby hid her face in the dirty pillow and pretended that she didn't exist.
Cisco put the word around about the auction. He didn't try to sugarcoat it because everybody knew that Baby was a fucking psycho who would probably jump off the tier the first chance she got.
"But what the fuck?" Cisco urged some of his best customers -- the ones who had used Baby's services in the past. "Use the bitch up! Come on, man!"
But the possible buyers were balking. On the day of the auction the low-riders took over the Rec Room on their tier in the South Wing. A couple of their other punks tried to make Baby look presentable, washing her up and putting a clean pair of workpants and her own chambray shirt on her. Speed's punk even combed Baby's long chestnut hair. But nothing could hide the bruises or put any life in her red-rimmed green eyes.
Cisco dragged her out of the cell and into the Rec Room. A lot of guys were crowded in there, but few of them were serious bidders, especially after getting a good look at Baby in the stark light of day. She was thin and frail, her long arms and legs like sticks, and she had a feverish flush on her pale skin. She looked like she could hardly even stand up. Who the fuck wanted a punk like that? She couldn't clean up your cell or do the wash or do much of anything except just lie there on the bunk. And who even wanted to fuck a punk like that? It was creepy.
Baby stared at the men and started shaking. She was terrified to leave the bikers' tip. Better the Hell you know than the Hell you don't know. She covered her face with her hands and cowered on the floor of the Rec Room while Cisco harangued the on-lookers, trying to talk up the bidders.
"All right, I think I've heard enough of this," said Ron Rosenblum, elbowing his way to the front.
"We're just having a little auction here, Counselor," said Cisco.
"Yes, I know," Ron replied. "I'm here to put an end to it."
"Huh?" said Cisco, frowning.
Ron took out a notebook and consulted it. "It seems that you and your group owe me a large chunk of credit for my legal services. Mr. Hansen's Parole Board preparation alone took up quite a bit of my time and expertise, not to mention other pending cases that your men have, Mr. Hunt," Ron said to Cisco. Ron snapped his notebook closed. "I'm here to collect on your debt."
"Uh, but we're a little short right now, Counselor," said Cisco. "I think I explained that to you. But we should be rolling in shit in a couple of weeks -- guaranteed! And then we'll more than make it worth your while, won't we, boys?" And all the low-riders nodded.
"I'm sorry, but I've come to collect right now." Ron paused. "I'll take the punk that you're offering. Then we'll call it even."
Cisco gaped at the lawyer. "You... you want Baby? Is that what you're saying?"
"Yes, Mr. Hunt. If there are no counter-offers on the table, I'll take him immediately." Ron looked around. "Are there any other bids? Anyone else want to challenge me for ownership?"
A couple of the men who had been thinking that they might get the punk for a song backed off. Mister R's legal services didn't come cheap and they all knew that he'd done a lot of work for the low-riders. None of them wanted to spend the amount that it would take to top Rosenblum's bid just to buy a punk that was liable to off herself the next time she freaked out.
Cisco was still suspicious. "Are you sure about this, Counselor? You've never handled a punk before -- and Baby is a tough one. She needs a firm hand. I don't know if you're up to it."
"Oh, I can see the results of your firm hand, Mr. Hunt," Ron retorted, noting the bruises and Baby's general condition. "I'll take my chances. If it doesn't work out, then you haven't lost anything."
"No returns, Mister R. You take the merchandise as is, get it?" Cisco warned.
"I understand, Mr. Hunt. The minute I take custody of Baby, we are square. Any debt you incur after this moment will be part of a new obligation. Are we clear on that?"
"I guess so," said Cisco.
"Please hand over Baby's gear so I can take it with me," said Ron. His eyes were on the punk, who hadn't once looked up at him.
Cisco snorted. "There is no gear. What she's wearing is it. You want her, you gotta get shit for her. Like I said -- she sells as is."
"Very well, gentlemen," said Ron, holding out his hand to the leader of the bikers. Cisco took it and shook on the deal. "Thank you and good day."
Ron went over and tapped Baby on the shoulder gently. "Come on. Get up."
"No!" Baby wailed. She was terrified to leave. She didn't know where she was going or what was going to happen to her.
"Move it, bitch!" said Cisco, giving her a hard kick.
"Excuse me, but that's my property," said Ron, his voice low and cautioning. "Don't touch it again under any circumstances."
Ron grasped Baby's arm and slowly pulled him to his feet.
Baby felt unsteady. Baby remembered this man. The East Wing. The cookies. He knew who she was. This man knew! Baby stared directly at the man. What did he want? What was he going to do with her?
"Come on, Baby," Ron said. "We're going home now."
Posted November 26, 2004.