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Flashback to 1969
"Rosenblum, what the hell are you doing with THAT?" asked Officer Powell as Ron stopped at the C.O. station on the third tier. He was leading the reluctant Baby by the arm.
"This is my new cellmate," said Ron, evenly. "So you might want to make a note of it, officer."
"You're kidding, right?" Powell couldn't believe that a sensible, intelligent inmate like Rosenblum would take up with this skanky biker punk. Powell had seen Baby around the Quad, usually skulking in and out of the cells of guys who couldn't get or keep a punk of their own, but who had to trade the low-riders credit to use one of their whores. Powell curled his lip in distaste. It was amazing what a smart guy will do when he gets horny enough.
"No," Ron replied. "I'm quite serious."
Baby stared at the C.O. She'd had very little to do with guards, but being so close to one unnerved her. The low-riders had taught her that the C.O.'s were her enemies. And enough of them had used her since she'd been in Stanton -- usually as a pay-off by Cisco -- to know that they were no better than any of the inmates when it came to abusing a helpless body. She shrank back behind Ron, avoiding Officer Powell's scornful glare.
"I need to get some more government issue for the kid, officer. The bikers took all his stuff and wouldn't give it to me," said Ron. He and Powell were on pretty good terms, so he was hoping that the C.O. would help him with what Baby was going to need.
Powell sniffed. The punk looked bad. The clothes she was wearing hung on her. "I don't know about sizes, Rosenblum. The kid is tall, but it looks like a good, strong breeze would blow her away."
"I know, but he still needs to wear something."
The officer shrugged. "I'll see what I can do."
Ron opened the cell door and gestured for Baby to enter. Yes, she'd been in here before. She remembered the cookies. But this guy hadn't done anything with her. That was weird. She had just gotten on the bunk and fallen asleep. So what did he want with her now?
"Things are a little tidier than the last time you visited," said Ron. "All my files are over at the Law Library now. I'll take you over there later in the week, after you get settled. I'll have plenty of work for you to do."
"Work?" Baby froze. Now she understood. This guy was short of credit, too. Just like Cisco.
"Yes," Ron answered. "I have forms that need to be copied and a lot of stuff that needs to be filed. I also want you to handle the mail and keep the books and magazines in order."
"Forms?" said Baby. "Files?"
"Yes," Ron said briskly. "I need someone to help me in my Legal Aid office. You're it. That shouldn't be too difficult for an ex-Penn State student. I'm sure you remember the alphabet. And I'm hoping that your handwriting is fairly legible. Is it?"
Baby nodded. "I guess so."
"Good. I hate trying to decipher bad handwriting, especially my own. That's what I'll start you on. Copying out reports and things." Ron pointed to the top bunk. "You'll be up here. I haven't had a roommate since the last guy moved out about 9 months ago, so try not to make a nuisance of yourself, okay?"
"Okay," Baby replied.
"I take it that punks are expected to clean up, do the laundry, make coffee, and all those little wifely duties. That's fine for me because I hate doing those things. Is that a problem for you?"
Baby shook her head. "It isn't a problem."
"Good," said Ron. His manner was extremely formal and business-like. "Now, get undressed."
Baby nodded. She was expecting this. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad. He didn't seem like he was looking for her to make him some ready credit. And he was old, but he wasn't hideous. He was tall and had pale blue eyes. He was even kind of handsome. Baby got undressed and watched Ron do the same. He had a lean, hairy body. She liked hairy men. She thought of Glenn and then put that thought out of her mind. That was a life that was dead. Never to return.
"Here's your towel," said Ron. He wrapped it around her thin waist. "Put these rubber sandals on. Your feet are a lot bigger than mine, but they'll have to do for now. I'll have to get you bigger ones with your other clothes." Ron wrapped another towel around his own waist. He opened the cell door. "Follow me."
Ron led Baby down to the third tier shower room. He turned on the water. Then he stood and looked at her.
But Baby was confused. What did he want her to do? She reached to remove Ron's towel.
"No, not that," he said, stepping back. "I want you to wash yourself. Now. Wash off every trace of the low-riders. Their smell. Their touch. Their taste. Every memory of them. Until you do, you can't move on."
He handed her a small bar of soap. It wasn't harsh prison soap, but a pink bar that smelled like roses. And he gave her a plastic tube of shampoo. It was green and smelled like grass. These things felt good on Baby's tender skin. They didn't burn her scrapes or her scars. Her hair felt soft and squeaky and clean.
"Tomorrow I'll take you down and get your hair cut," said Ron as they dried themselves off. "Not too short, but something that doesn't look so faggy, okay? If you're going to work in my office you'll need to look neat and professional. That's why I have to get you some clothes that fit. I don't want my associate looking like a ragamuffin."
"Your... associate?" Baby couldn't stop staring at this man. What was going on? What was all of this really about?
"Yes, my associate," Ron said as he led Baby back to the cell. Things were quiet on the tier, but it was getting close to 4:00 head count. Then the Chow Hall. "And I want you to start eating regularly. You aren't going to be doing drugs behind my back, are you?"
Baby blinked. "No, sir."
"Good, because I hate drugs. Remember when I came to see you in the Hospital?"
Baby's memory of that time was foggy. "I think so."
"If I find out that you've been using, I'll take you over to the West Wing myself and have you tied down until you're clean." Ron's voice was stern. "I know you're clean now. Cisco told me. Is that correct?"
"Yes, sir," said Baby, her eyes huge.
"Good. Don't start up again. I don't want to deal with an addict," Ron said as he got dressed. "Here are some clean shorts and a tee shirt. They're mine, so they might be a little big. You're too damn skinny! There's no excuse for that!" Ron seemed to be mumbling to himself. "If you aren't taking drugs I'm sure your appetite will come back fairly quickly. But in the Chow Hall tonight I don't want you to gobble your food down. You might make yourself sick doing that."
"The... Chow Hall?" Baby hadn't been in the Chow Hall since her first day in Stanton. The low-riders never allowed her to go there. Cisco gave her food -- when he remembered -- and she ate it in the cell. Baby's heart started to pound. She was afraid of the Chow Hall. And the Yard. She was afraid to go anywhere except the cell. Afraid to go anywhere there were a lot of people, staring at her. "Do... do I have to?"
Ron gaze softened a little. He had to remember to speak gently to this creature. Baby was like a wild animal. Ron reached out and unconsciously stroked his hair. It was still damp, but it felt clean and silken. "Don't worry. It will be fine. I'll be right there. We'll take things one step at a time. You'll learn my routine without any difficulty. Everything will be fine. Do you believe me?" Ron turned the kid's chin to face him. To look up at him. "Do you?"
"Yes, sir." Baby was frightened, but not of this man. She felt safe in this cell. Safe with this man. He didn't plan to hurt her. All of that was over. She DID believe him.
Ron smiled slowly. "Good. That means that we're partners from now on." Ron held out his hand and took Baby's. His hands were beautiful, with long fingers. And an ugly tattoo on the middle finger of his right hand. That was the only thing that marred them.
Ron shook Baby's hand, sealing their partnership. "All right," said Baby. "I'll try."
"Don't worry, Brian. Things will be different from now on."
Baby looked at Ron, startled. Brian. Yes, things would be different from now on. Very different. For Brian.
Flashback to 1969
Ron Rosenblum had always been a loner. Even on the outside he didn't have any close friends beyond his family. Ron had always been suspicious of the motivations of other people and the paranoia of prison life only heightened that response.
So it was discomforting at first to have Baby so dependent on him. The first time Ron took Brian down to the Chow Hall, the poor kid seemed on the verge of an anxiety attack just going through the food line.
"Hey, Ronnie!" called Larry, a guy he occasionally ate with. Ron nudged Brian in the direction of the table occupied by Larry and a few of his buddies, Steve, Jake, and Tony.
Larry belonged to a small clique of older, white-collar inmates who hung together for both protection and relief from the relentless threat of life in Stanton. Larry's pals didn't take part in the jocker culture and none of them had punks. Having sex with one of the available boy whores would have been unthinkable. That was something that 'real' convicts were into, not them. These guys also weren't into drugs or gambling or any of the other scams that infected Stanton. Most of them were short-termers and not career criminals, so they steered clear of the guys who were, and they all lived in the more laid-back East Wing, on the second or third tier, like Ron.
"What you got there, Ron?" asked Jake, eyeing the terrified Baby. "New client?" The guys were always joking around about Ron's professional dealings with the prison low-lives.
Ron set down his food tray. Then he pulled out the chair next to him. "You sit down right here, Brian. And eat as much as you can, all right?"
Baby nodded. "Okay." She sat down and looked at the other inmates at the table.
All of these old men were strangers to her. And they didn't seen very welcoming. They were frowning at her. Baby was suddenly very aware of her baggy pants and ill-fitting shirt. She knew that she looked bad. Really bad. Ron, on the other hand, looked almost stylish, even in workpants and prison shirt. His clothes fit him perfectly and they were clean and well-cared for.
"Gentleman," said Ron. "This is Brian."
No one responded. They looked at Ron and then they looked at the kid. This must be a joke. Ron had an odd sense of humor.
"Brian is my new cellmate," said Ron, digging into his meatloaf.
"You're shitting us," Larry replied. "Since when?"
Ron looked up. "Since this afternoon." He leaned over to the kid. "Drink all of that milk and then go up and get more. They'll give you another carton if you ask."
"Okay," Baby said softly.
"What the fuck are you doing, Ronnie?" asked Tony. "Babysitting?"
"No," said Ron, coolly. "I'm not."
"Then what's with this kid? He belongs over in the South Wing," said Steve. "He part of some case that you're working on?" Steve didn't like punks and he didn't like queens. They were freaks and anyone who did anything with one of them was obviously some kind of pervert.
"Brian is my new associate," Ron answered. He didn't like Steve. He was a sneak. "He's going to help me in the office."
The men exploded in laughter. "THAT is going to help you? Help you do what, Ronnie?" Larry asked. "THAT is good for only one thing. I didn't think you were into fag stuff!"
Baby looked down at her plate, feeling sick to her stomach. She was hungry, but she couldn't eat in front of these men. They knew what she was. They would convince Ron to get rid of her. To send her back to the South Wing. And that would be the end of everything.
"I'm not," answered Ron. "I'm going to train Brian to help me with my PLD work. He was a college student and should pick up what he needs to know fairly quickly. I already have more work than I can handle, so having an assistant to do the filing and keep things in order should be just the ticket." Ron looked over at Brian. He was picking at his food, his face red with shame. "Go and get me another pop, will you, kid?"
Brian nodded and stood up. He went and stood in line to get another can.
"You aren't really hooking up with that... that biker trash?" said Jake.
"I'm not hooking up with him. I already told you. Brian is going to help me in the office," said Ron, glaring back at Jake.
"I wouldn't have that freak in my cell! You have no idea what she'll do when your back is turned," Steve declared. He watched the kid going through the beverage line, her tall, scrawny body awkward in the baggy, cast-off clothes.
"Yeah," added Larry. "You have something like that living with you, Ron, and guys are going to assume you're fucking it! That makes my goddamn skin crawl!"
"Then mind your own fucking business, Larry. It isn't your place to like it. And I haven't asked your opinion of the situation." Ron set down his fork. He realized that he didn't like Larry very much. Or any of Larry's pals. In fact, he didn't like them at all. "Brian is my new cellmate and nothing you say is going to change my mind. I'm going to keep him, no matter what you bastards think about it." Ron looked at each man. "Do you have a problem with that?"
Baby came back with the can of pop in her hand. She saw the old men looking at Ron with disgust. Looking at her with worse than disgust. "Here's the drink," she said, setting the can down next to Ron's plate. "I think I want to go back upstairs now."
"Sit down, Brian," Ron ordered. "I want to see you finish your food first. Then we can go back up to the tier."
Steve stood up. "Well, I'm not eating with THAT." Jake stood up, too. They both picked up their trays.
"Then get the hell out of here," said Ron. "And don't come to me if you need any help with your fucking cases. Find someone else to do your legal work."
The two men stalked off. Then Larry stood up. "I have to go, too, Ronnie." He nudged his pal, Tony. "You coming?"
Tony grimaced. "Jesus, Larry! Ron's working on my appeal! Give me a break!"
"Take off, you pussies!" said Ron. "I can't eat with your ugly faces giving me indigestion!" And he watched both of them ditch their trays and leave the Chow Hall.
"I'm sorry," said Baby in a faded voice. "I... I'll eat somewhere else."
"No," asserted Ron. "You won't. Those guys are assholes, Brian. Just wait until they need me to fill out their forms or advise them on their paroles. You'll see how fast they come crawling back. And when they do, I'll have YOU do their work for them. That'll teach them a fucking lesson!" Ron started laughing. He was already savoring the irony of it.
"Then... you aren't going to send me back?" Baby couldn't comprehend it.
"Of course not," said Ron. "I've already told you that I need your help in the office. I've had my eye on you for weeks. I was just waiting for my chance to get you away from that idiot, Cisco."
"Really? You mean that?" Baby gaped at this man. His eyes were so blue and intense. And his hair was dark and curly.
"I said so, didn't I?" Ron replied impatiently. "I always mean what I say. And remember this, Brian -- I have no reason to lie to you. You aren't my client and you aren't a cop and you aren't my wife. Which means that I can level with you. And you can level with me. Which is the way things have to be if you're really going to be my associate. Understand, Brian?"
And Brian nodded. He understood. He picked up his carton of milk and drank it down. Then he went up to the beverage line to get another one. He was suddenly very, very hungry.
Posted November 28, 2004.