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Brian met Justin outside the Chow Hall and they went into lunch together.
Justin was grinning like the cat who ate the canary and Brian pretended that he didn't notice. Obviously, the preparations for the party were going well. Brian smiled to himself, thinking about how surprised to act when he walked into the Rec Room that evening.
Justin rushed through his food and then he and Em and Michelle and Wesley darted off to 'do the laundry,' leaving Brian lingering over his lunch. He wasn't really too hungry. He had a lot on his mind. The party was tonight. And then Thursday was Visiting Day. Ron would presumably be there again, waiting.
But Brian hadn't decided whether or not he'd see Ron this month. Maybe he should go and talk to him and make certain that Ron gave up on that Family Visit that he seemed obsessed with recently. It was a waste of time and energy. Not only would the prison administration never approve of such a thing, but Brian wasn't about to participate in it. Maybe 6 months ago, Brian might have considered it, but not anymore. He was hooked up with Justin and he took that very seriously. Ron had never been so focused on their so-called 'relationship' when they were together, so what was his problem now?
That letter Ron wrote had pissed Brian off. He'd never heard such bullshit in his entire life! Ron knew all the buttons to push in order to play on Brian's feelings of guilt and helplessness.
However, Brian wasn't feeling all that guilty or helpless lately. No, he was feeling more empowered than he ever had. He had a status in the Quad that was based on his own performance in the Legal Aid office and he had a measure of acceptance among the jockers on his tier. And he had some new friends, too. His own group of 'road dogs,' to steal a biker term. Jockers like Al and Juice and Junior. Stand-up guys who would watch your back in the Yard. Guys who gave him some respect. And that was important in prison culture.
Brian noticed the low-riders looking over at him from their corner. And Cisco was sitting in the middle of them. They were fawning all over the creep like he was some returning hero. They all probably knew him on the outside -- or at least knew him by reputation. Cisco had been considered a 'bad dude' in his day, but that day was long past. Brian also noticed that Cisco was walking with a limp. Maybe he'd been downed in a fight somewhere or wiped out on his bike and fucked up his leg. Either way, he was old and he was damaged. But Brian was still young and in the prime of life. Brian wasn't afraid of Cisco anymore. Or if he was, he couldn't let anyone know it. To show fear or weakness was to be destroyed.
Brian stood up and threw his tray on the rack. When he turned around Cisco was standing there. Brian went cold for a moment, but he didn't blink. He didn't even acknowledge that he knew who Cisco was. Cisco was nobody. Cisco was nothing.
"I seen you yesterday, Baby, out on the Yard."
Brian stiffened his whole body. "So what?" Then he tried to move forward, but the biker was blocking his way.
"Who was the big guy you was with? The muscle-head?" asked Cisco. "Your new daddy?"
"No," said Brian, coolly. "My friend."
Cisco snorted. "You got jockers for buddies now? Ain't that nice! Where's Mister R. these days? Don't he get jealous? He was always the jealous type."
"He's outside. Almost a year now."
Brian moved a step forward, but Cisco didn't budge.
"I can't believe you're at loose ends," said Cisco in a low voice. "That just ain't right. You must be lonely, Baby."
"Move out of my way," said Brian. "Now."
Cisco leaned in and stared Brian straight in the eye. "Hear me out, Baby. I seen you last night at dinner with the kid. And then coming in here today with him, too. You like playing the jock, huh, Baby? Hoss tells me that kid belongs to US! Hoss and his boys turned that kid out -- and then you took him! That don't sit right with me. It don't sit right at all."
"Then I would head back to the South Wing and the hole that you crawled out of over there, Cisco," said Brian. "Because I don't give a shit what does and doesn't sit right with you. And no one else does, either. So stay out of my business and out of my way. And if I hear that you've even been looking in Justin's direction...." Brian let the threat hang. "I've got to go. Now."
Brian tried to move past Cisco, but the biker grabbed his arm. Cisco might have been older and fatter, but he was still strong, with a grip like a vice.
"You got two things that belong to us, Baby. One is that blond kid. And you know what the other thing is. That shyster lawyer may have suckered me out of my property once, but he ain't here now to do it again."
"Fuck off, Cisco," Brian whispered.
"You like hanging out with that kid? Don't worry, Baby. In the tip you two'll be together all the time! You can hold hands while I take turns fucking your asses! That will be real sweet, won't it?" Cisco grinned, showing a ragged row of teeth. "I said, won't it, Baby?"
"And I said, get the fuck out of my way!" Brian pulled his arm out of Cisco's grasp. He looked up and saw Juice standing there, glowering. Cisco turned around and also saw the muscular jocker. Cisco stepped back, away from Brian.
"Brian, come on! I've been looking for you," said Juice. He glared back at Cisco.
"I'm coming, Ben," said Brian. And the two of them walked out of the Chow Hall and back up towards the tier.
"You want to take a walk?" asked Juice. "Just get some air?"
"Sure, Juice. Why not?" said Brian, indifferently.
It was beginning to cloud over and there was a rainy smell in the April air, but there were still a lot of jocks shooting hoops and throwing softballs around the diamond. Brian and Ben headed for the gravel track and began walking it, circling the open grass and the game areas.
"So," Juice said. "You want to talk about what was going on in there, Brian? How about you clue me in?"
"It's nothing," Brian replied, kicking at the gravel. "Ancient history."
"What was going on between you and that biker didn't look too ancient to me," Juice retorted. "It looked right up to date! So, who is that guy anyway?"
Brian gave a short laugh. "No one! Just my worst fucking nightmare -- that's all!"
Juice scratched his beefy forearm. "I never thought you had that much to do with the low-riders, Bri."
"I don't. Or as little to do with them as I can," said Brian. "But that wasn't always the case." Brian looked at Juice seriously. "Do you know how long I've been here? Any idea?"
Juice shrugged. "I don't know. A long time, according to Michelle. Maybe 6 or 7 years?"
"It's 9 actually. Except for a couple of the old lifers in the Hospital Wing, my old cellie, Ron, was the last one left who remembered when I came in here. But now there's another one. Because he's back in."
Juice nodded. "That low-rider. So he was here when you were a new fish, huh?"
Brian took a deep breath. "Yeah, he was here. John Hunt, AKA Cisco. He was the leader of the biker gang back then. A vicious, heartless, evil motherfucker. He may be a little older now, but I'm sure he hasn't changed too much."
Juice frowned. "But I don't get what that has to do with you, Bri."
"Nothing, really. Or everything, depending on your point of view." The two men kept walking, but Brian slowed his pace, as if something was dragging him down. "Because when I first came into the joint, I was Cisco's punk."
That made Juice stop dead in his tracks. "Jesus! But I thought that lawyer? The guy you mentioned who got out? Your cellie? Michelle said that he was...."
Juice paused. He wasn't certain what to call Ron Rosenblum. Had he been Bri's jocker? His lover? His partner? It was obvious that their relationship had been very different from the usual arrangement between a jock and his punk. Even the other jockers recognized that it was different. Less about sex and convenience and more about business and cooperation. Bri had been Ron's apprentice in the Legal Aid office and when Ron got out, Brian took over the operation. At least that's how many of the other men saw it. Which was one reason why most of the jockers in the East Wing accepted Brian as one of their own. Bri was far from the typical punk and always had been -- as far that they could remember.
But the news that Brian had been a biker punk was a shock to Ben. Maybe it was common knowledge on the tier, but nobody talked about it. Michelle certainly had never mentioned it to him. It was evidently something very painful to Brian. And the confrontation in the Chow Hall with this low-rider -- Cisco -- had definitely thrown Bri for a loop.
"I hooked up with Ron after that," Brian continued. "It's a long, nasty story, but the bikers wanted to get rid of me -- and Ron took me up. Lucky for me, I admit, or else I doubt that I'd still be here. But it's hard to forget an experience like that, even though it feels like it happened to another person. Maybe it DID happen to another person." Yes, thought Brian, another person altogether. Baby.
"Shit!" Juice exclaimed. "I can't even imagine having to deal with those bastards, let alone living with them!"
"I wouldn't call it living," said Brian, quietly. "It was barely existing. And now...."
"Now what?" asked Juice. "What the fuck does that guy want, Bri? What was he telling you?"
"He wants Justin," Brian answered flatly. "They feel that the kid belongs to them. They turned him out when he first got here, just like they turned me out, and so they think that makes him their property."
"Turned him out?" Michelle had told Ben that Bri's kid had been gang raped shortly after coming into the Quad, but she said no one knew for certain who had done it. But the kid knew. And it was apparent that Brian knew, too. "The bikers were the ones who attacked Justin?"
"Yes," said Brian. "But you can't repeat that to anyone, Juice. Justin's life would be in danger if the low-riders know that Justin remembers what happened to him and who did it."
"I get it, Bri," Juice nodded. "You can count on me! I won't say a fucking word! I promise."
"Thanks, Ben," said Brian. "Now you see why this is so personal to me. First, those fuckers take me, humiliate me, drive me to try to kill myself, and make my life a living hell. Then they hurt Justin. Take away his innocence. Damage him, physically and emotionally. And now they're threatening to reclaim him." Brian closed him eyes. "And they've threatened to reclaim ME, too. That's what Cisco told me. That once you belong to the low-riders, it's forever. So Cisco doesn't only want Justin -- he wants BOTH of us."
"But that's fucked, Bri! Those SOB's don't have that kind of power!" Juice cried. "They can't just TAKE guys!"
"Oh, no?" Brian countered. "They've done it in the past. And ask the punks who are in their tip right now if they're there because they want to be. Maybe the low-riders can't just drag a kid off in front of the whole Quad, but they can still cause a shitload of trouble. I'll need to watch my back every second of the day, Juice. And I'll need to keep a close eye on the kid." Brian's mouth was set in a firm line. "Because if anything happens to Justin, I'll kill Cisco. Really, I'll do it without any hesitation. I don't give a fuck about myself, but I won't let them get that kid!"
"Don't worry, Bri!" said Juice, puffing out his massive chest. "I've got your back! And so do the other guys in the East Wing. Everybody likes Justin and nobody wants to see the goddamn low-riders hurt him!"
"Thanks, Ben," said Brian. "Let's hope that this doesn't get ugly."
"Well, if it does," said Juice with determination. "Then we got to be ready to get ugly right back at them! Fight fire with fucking fire!"
"Right," said Brian, sadly. "As if this fucking world wasn't ugly enough already. But sometimes it's what you have to do in order to be a man."
And that's when the rain, which had been holding off all morning, began to fall on Stanton Correctional Facility for Men.
All through dinner Justin was biting his nails. He could hardly sit still in his seat, he was so excited.
All the queens were giggling and winking at him. The punks were all giving him the high sign and looking smug. Even the guys in the food line gave Justin the thumbs up, letting him know that everything was a go for the party, which was due to start at 8:00 in the third tier Rec Room.
But Justin couldn't help but notice that Brian was quiet over dinner. Very quiet. They were sitting with Michelle and her new jocker, Ben. As usual, Michelle was running off at the mouth, so much so that Justin was afraid she'd spill something about the party. Michelle was like that -- she said things without thinking. Stuff just came blurting out of her mouth, without any way to stop her. That really bugged the hell out of Justin, but there wasn't much he could do about it.
Emmy, on the other hand, was very careful about what she said. She understood the importance of keeping your mouth shut when it was necessary. Em knew a lot of secrets about a lot of people in the Quad, but she knew better than to yap about them. One lesson that Justin had learned in Stanton -- some things HAD to be kept secret. Knowing certain things could make life very unpleasant, or even get a guy killed.
Emmy, who was at another table with her contingent of queens, stood up and signaled that it was time to go. The queens needed to get the decorations put up in the Rec Room and then get dressed before the party started. Em nodded to Michelle, who then got all flustered and dropped her fork. Michelle was always dropping her silverware.
"I gotta go," said Michelle, standing up.
Justin frowned at her, warningly.
"I gotta... um, do some stuff!" Michelle finished. Then she stumbled after Emmy and Barbie and the others.
Ben started laughing as he watched her go. "Michy is always up to something," he commented to Brian.
Justin looked at Ben closely. He almost acted like he KNEW about the party! Or that he at least knew something was going on. Ben grinned back at Justin. He'd been spending quite a bit of time with Brian recently, shooting hoops with him, and working out with him up on the iron pile. That was good. Brian needed strong jocker friends. Having a big, macho guy like the Juice Pig as a buddy was good for Brian's status in the Quad. And Brian really seemed to like Ben. They often talked together about things going on in the prison and also about political events.
Unlike some of the inmates, Ben was fairly well-read, if self-educated. He'd been drafted in the mid-1960's and sent to Vietnam, where he'd been a sergeant in the Infantry. When he got out he'd worked in a number of jobs as a bouncer, which was a natural for a big, muscular guy. There was also some talk that Ben had been a low-level enforcer for some mob guys in Philadelphia, breaking the arms and legs of guys who 'forgot' to pay their debts. But Ben had also been into various drugs, including steroids to build himself up, which had turned out to be his downfall.
"Brian? Is everything okay?" Justin asked.
"Hm? What?" Brian answered. "No, everything is fine, kid. What would be wrong?" But Brian glanced around. It was almost as if he was nervous about something. Justin noticed that Ben also glanced around the Chow Hall, too. Almost as if he was on alert.
"I need to go and do a few things for... for class," said Justin. "What if you meet me in the Rec Room at 8:00 and we can watch Emmy and Barbie play ping pong, okay? That should be funny!"
Brian shook his head. "I need to work in the Law Library all evening. I have a bunch of new cases and files to get in order to hand over to Ron on Thursday. I'll be back in time for lockdown. I'll see you then." Brian stood up. And Ben stood up at the same time.
"Brian, no! PLEASE come to the Rec Room with me! You can do the files tomorrow!" It had never occurred to Justin that he wouldn't be able to get Brian over to the party! Now what was he going to do?
"I'm heading to the Library, too, Bri. I'll walk along with you," said Ben.
"Sure," said Brian. And he took his tray over and tossed it on the rack.
Ben leaned over to Justin. "I'll make certain that he gets to the party in time, kid. Don't worry about it."
Justin stared at Ben. "I didn't think you knew about the party, Juice!"
Ben laughed. "I live with Michelle, remember? You know she can't keep a secret! Most of the jocks know about the party, Justin. Don't worry, we'll all be there -- with bells on! It'll be a great party. You did a good job, kid."
"Thanks, Ben! Thanks a lot!" Justin broke into a huge grin. Everything was going to be great! The party was going to be a blast!
Ben followed Brian out of the Chow Hall. And Justin waved at Wesley and Jackie, who were going to help him carry the wrapped presents from Emmy's cell to the Rec Room.
"Pretty thing," said a low voice.
Justin turned around. A biker, an older guy who Justin didn't recognize, was standing right behind him.
"Excuse me?" said Justin, moving away.
"I bet your skin is nice and soft," said the low-rider. "I bet your ass is like a sweet, juicy peach."
"Get away from me," said Justin, pulling himself up straight. Never let them see that you're afraid. Never let them see you cry! "I'll tell my old man that you were hassling me!"
The biker smirked. "Your old man, huh? He's got a sweet ass, too. Real sweet. And I oughta know. I've fucked it enough times. Yeah, and I'll have it again, too. Sometimes I have wet dreams about Baby. And I think I'll add YOU to that wet dream, Blondie. You'll get to like my dick. You'll get to like it just fine! Both of you will!"
Wesley and Jackie came up to Justin and stood next to him. Justin backed up just slightly, but he kept glaring at the biker. "I said to get away from me! And stay away from Brian, too! Stay away from both of us! Or you'll be sorry! I fucking mean it!"
"You got pretty little balls, Blondie. Pretty little balls," said the low-rider, his breath hot and harsh. "But you shut your sweet mouth if you want to keep those balls, darlin'. Keep it shut from now on -- unless I'm putting my dick into it!" And the biker turned and stomped away.
Justin was shaking. Shaking and sweating.
Wes put his hand on Justin's shoulder and rubbed it. "Who is that asshole?"
"I... I don't know. Some old guy. I never saw him before." Justin turned around and hustled Wesley and Jackie out of the Chow Hall. "Come on. We have to get ready for the party!"
At ten minutes to 8:00 Juice stuck his head in the door of the Law Library. "Hey, Bri. It's time to go over to the party."
Brian sighed and closed the folder he was working on. "I really have to do this, don't I?"
Juice grinned. "If you don't, you're going to disappoint a hell of a lot of people who are over there, waiting for a party to start." Juice put his hands on his hips. "Besides, the kid has done a lot of work to get this thing going, so the least you can do is play along."
Brian stood up and stretched. "I guess you're right." He started putting the files away.
Murray, the Librarian, stopped by the door. "I'm closing up now, guys."
"Isn't it a little early, Murray?" asked Brian.
Murray frowned. "I don't want to miss the party! And you better get your ass over there soon or you're going to ruin it!"
Juice started to laugh. "I told you, Bri -- this thing is bigger than just you."
"Jesus, what did Justin do? Invite the whole Quad?" said Brian. "If I see Horvath there, that's the last straw!" Brian slammed the drawer of the file cabinet shut. "Damned parties," he mumbled. "I don't see that just because a guy happened to get born 29 years ago, it's any reason for a party!"
Juice sniffed. "That's plenty reason for most people. And I thought it was 30 years ago?"
Brian rolled his eyes. "29 or 30? What difference does it make?"
Brian locked up the office and he and Juice walked back towards the East Wing.
"You ever hear from your parents, Bri?" asked Juice. Michelle had mentioned that they never visited Brian. His only visitor was his ex-cellie, jock, and Legal Aid partner, Ron.
"Nope," Brian answered shortly. "I think they've forgotten my existence. So, we're equal, because I've forgotten theirs."
"Sorry about that, Bri. Sounds rough."
"Nothing to be sorry about, Ben," said Brian. "My mother used to send me religious pamphlets and holy pictures and crap like that. Once she even wrote to the chaplain and the priest came to the cell, looking to get me to go to Mass. That was pretty funny because Ron fended him off and gave him his long rant about religion being the opiate of the masses. I think Ron had been reading Marx at the time. Then he accused the poor priest of coming around because he wanted to get into my pants! I wasn't sure if Ron was kidding about that or if he really thought the priest was giving me the eye, but the guy took off like a shot! And after that my Mom stopped sending me her religious stuff. God only knows what Father Tom wrote her about me! I can just imagine!"
"What about your dad?" Juice asked.
"Oh, Pop gave up on me a long time before that. Pretty much from the moment I was arrested. But he was never too fond of me, anyway, so it wasn't a big hardship for him. He wasn't all that crazy about either me or my sister. That's what comes of a good old fashioned shotgun wedding. It makes for such happy families." Brian rubbed his eyes. He could feel a headache beginning behind his eyes. "What about you, Juice?"
"My father's dead, my mother's remarried," said Juice. "They live in Florida. My mom writes to me regularly. But I'm the family disappointment, I'm afraid."
"No shit!" Brian laughed. He slapped Ben's hand. "Welcome to the club!"
Brian saw Justin standing at the top of the stairwell on the third tier, waiting for him. The kid's face was a mask of worry, but he broke into a broad grin when he saw Brian and Juice climbing up the stairs.
"Hey, Brian! You're just in time...." Justin paused. "To watch the ping pong match!"
"The ping pong match?" said Brian. "Of course! We hurried up here especially so we wouldn't miss it!"
Juice stifled a laugh and walked on to the Rec Room, leaving Brian and Justin to follow.
"Brian? Is everything okay?" Justin asked. "You can tell me."
"Sure, kid. Everything is just dandy." Brian put his arm around Justin's shoulders. The kid seemed so vulnerable, and yet Brian knew that Justin had a backbone made of pure Pittsburgh steel.
"It's just that you seemed a little down today."
"It's because I'm such an old man!" Brian replied. "Old and cranky! I think I better sit around and play cards with Andy and Beemer and leave all the excitement to you crazy kids!"
"Will you quit it with that old man shit?" Justin huffed. "You're younger than Juice! And younger than Al and Big John and all those guys!"
Brian shook his head. "I know. That's my curse. Too young to be a jock and too old to be a punk!"
"I don't see why everything has to have a label on it, Brian. Why can't you just be YOU? Why can't we just be US?" Justin asked.
"Because that's not the way things work, kid," Brian answered quietly. "Everybody has their role and it's hard if you don't fit into your assigned part. But that's always been my problem. I've never really fit in anywhere."
"Me neither," said Justin. "I think that's why we fit together so well. You let me be me and I let you be you."
"See? Those Philosophy books are paying off!" Brian leaned over and whispered into Justin's ear. "But forget Philosophy. Let's go back to the room and I'll fuck your brains out! Then I'll chase you around the cell and fuck you again when I catch you. How about it?"
"Brian!" Justin wailed. "Be serious!"
"I'm very serious. Completely serious!" Brian breathed into the boy's pink ear. "Don't you want me to fuck your brains out? Let's go!"
But Justin stopped in front of the Rec Room. "Brian! We can't!"
"Why not?" Brian asked innocently. Or he tried to look as innocent as possible.
Justin pushed open the door of the Rec Room. "This is why!"
And Brian heard everyone yell, "Surprise!"
"Oh, shit!" he replied.
Posted November 26, 2004.