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Warden Carl Horvath's assistant, Raymond Milton, stuck his head in the door of the office. "Lieutenant Clayton is here with Taylor, sir."
"Thanks, Ray," said Horvath, looking over some reports on the stabbing incident that had taken place three days before. "Send them in."
Horvath looked up. "What, Ray?"
"Did you tell Clayton to bring that kid up here bodily?"
Horvath frowned. "Bodily? What are you talking about?"
Ray Milton made a grim face. "You'll see."
A minute later the door opened the Lieutenant Clayton and three of his C.O.'s carried a gagged and handcuffed Justin Taylor into the warden's office and dumped him on the floor in front of Horvath's desk.
Carl Horvath stood up behind his desk and stared at the boy. He was kicking out at the guards and straining against the gag like a wild animal. But even more shocking to Horvath was that the boy was still wearing the blood-stained clothing he'd been wearing that day on the Yard when his cellmate had been stabbed.
"Clayton! Take that gag out of this prisoner's mouth and remove his handcuffs, if you don't mind?" Horvath ordered.
"But, Warden...." the lieutenant began.
"Do it!" Horvath thundered. "Now!"
The C.O.'s removed Justin's restraints and left the boy lying on the bare floor, gasping for breath.
"He was struggling, Warden," Clayton explained. "He wouldn't change his clothes or cooperate with the staff when we told him that he was seeing you. He's been completely defiant the entire time he's been in lockdown."
Horvath's face was red with anger. "And his acts of defiance consisted of refusing to change his clothes?"
"He also rejected food, sir, and declined to respond to direct orders. He was on his bunk and wouldn't move."
Horvath nodded. "So his defiant stance consisted of lying in his bed and not moving. Why wasn't this reported to me -- or to Dr. Caputo in the Hospital?"
Lieutenant Clayton dug in his heels. "Because he's not sick, Warden. He's just obstinate. He was under lockdown for committing a violent assault on another inmate and he was treated as such."
Horvath rubbed his aching forehead. "You and your men are dismissed, Lieutenant. Thank you."
"Ray, will you escort the officers out of my office?" Horvath paused. "And will you call Dr. Caputo and tell him to come up here immediately?"
Horvath's assistant ushered the C.O.'s out, while Horvath stared at the boy, who was lying still at his feet.
"Taylor?" said Horvath, gently. "Are you hurt? Are you in pain?"
The boy wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He was shaking. "Those are two different things, Warden. Two very different things."
Horvath pulled up a chair. "Sit here, Taylor. Please?"
Justin sat up slowly and climbed to his feet unsteadily. He eased himself onto the chair and clung to the sides, trying not to fall. He felt dizzy and disoriented. The taste of the gag that the guards had put into his mouth lingered, just like the taste of the bandanna that the low-riders had shoved between his teeth out in the Yard. The warden offered him a cup of water and Justin sipped it slowly.
"I'm sorry, son," Warden Horvath said. "When I put you under lockdown it wasn't meant to be a punishment. Except for the two who are under secure guard, I ordered all of the men directly involved in this incident into lockdown so that you all might have some time to decompress. I wasn't aware that you... you were in trouble, Taylor."
"I'm not in trouble," Justin replied flatly. "I'm not anything."
"Then why haven't you changed your clothes? Or eaten? Or responded to the C.O.'s?"
"Why should I?" whispered Justin harshly. He touched the dried blood on his workpants. "Why the fuck should I do anything THEY tell me to do? Or anything YOU tell me to do? It's fucked. Totally fucked!"
"I understand your anger, son."
"Do you, Warden?" Justin hissed. "The fuck you do! You don't understand anything! You have no idea what happened out there! What they... they did to me! What they did to... to...." Justin stopped and hung his head.
"Were those the men who assaulted you when you first came in here, son?" asked Horvath. "Hoss' bikers?"
"What do you think? Why do you think Brian was trying... trying to save me from them? So they wouldn't do it again! He said he'd kill anyone who tried to hurt me. But... but Brian was too late." Justin's words caught in his throat.
"Did the bikers assault you again on the Yard, son?"
Justin clutched the water cup. "Hoss and Cisco did. The others... there wasn't time. Because Brian came. And then Em and Wes. And Ben and Al and Junior and the rest of the jockers from our tier." Justin looked up at the warden. "Brian was coming to help me! Brian didn't start it! I was a stupid jerk and let the bikers get me! And Brian was... was saving me. Trying to... rescue me."
Horvath picked up the papers on his desk. "I know that, Taylor. I have statements from a number of inmates, including Benjamin Bruckner, Emmett Honeycutt, Wesley Richmond, Albert Fink, Henry Caton, Jr., and Juan de Sousa, who was playing softball on the diamond at the time. I also have statements from the C.O.'s who responded to the disturbance, as well as Dr. Gomez, who was on duty that day and tended to the victim... to your cellmate. But none of them mentioned a sexual assault."
"They didn't see it," Justin said, his voice emotionless. "But it happened. Ask the bikers. IF they tell you the truth."
"The members of Hoss' gang have been interviewed once and they will be again, Mr. Taylor," Horvath assured him, tapping the report. "But one thing everyone agrees on -- the shank belonged to John Hunt, a.k.a., Cisco, and that he and Matthew Grice, a.k.a., Hoss, were the primary aggressors. That Mr. Kinney was acting in defense of you -- and that you attacked Mr. Hunt in self-defense. If it's true that Hunt and Grice also just assaulted you sexually, that adds to the self-defense aspect of this act." Horvath sighed. This really was a mess in every way.
"What the fuck does it matter in the long run?" Justin said bitterly.
Horvath scratched his head. "Dr. Caputo is coming up here and I want you to go back to the Hospital Wing with him and let him examine you. You need to do this, son. For yourself and also for your family."
"My family doesn't give a shit about what happens to me!" Justin asserted.
"That isn't true, Mr. Taylor," Horvath countered. "Your mother has been informed about this incident and I've told her that you can have a private visit with her. Which is another reason for you to get yourself cleaned up."
"I don't want to see my mother! And I don't want to clean myself up!" Justin replied. "I don't give a damn if I never leave my cell for the rest of my term! Or ever change my fucking clothes! Or see anyone else... again...." Justin tried to control his voice, but he was failing.
Horvath sat on the edge of his desk and leaned over. "Listen, son...."
"Don't call me son!" Justin cried. "I'm NOT your fucking son! And I don't want to listen to you, or the C.O.'s, or my mother, or... or...."
But then Justin stopped. He stared into space, his eyes unblinking, as if he were hearing something faint and far away.
"Son?" said the warden. "Mr. Taylor? What's wrong?"
Finally Justin blinked and glared at Horvath, his mouth gaping. "Why didn't you tell me? Why the FUCK didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what, son?" Horvath moved back. The boy looked more than a little crazy.
"That Brian is alive!" Justin breathed. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Horvath swallowed. This is something that Horvath had hoped to avoid. "Taylor, your cellmate is in very serious condition. He lost a substantial amount of blood. Frankly, the doctors at County General don't expect him to survive."
Justin shook his head. "That's not true. Brian IS coming back. You'll see! I don't care what those doctors say. Or what anyone says. Brian told me! And I believe him!"
The warden coughed. Yes, the kid was a little crazy. The trauma of the sexual assaults and seeing his cellmate and lover murdered -- well, almost murdered -- in front of him was apparently taking its toll on his mind.
There was a knock on the door of the office. "Warden, Dr. Caputo is here."
Justin stood up slowly and painfully. "I'll go with the doctor now, Warden. I need to get checked out by the doc and then clean myself up. To get ready for Brian. He wouldn't like to see me -- or smell me -- in these filthy clothes."
Horvath looked at the kid. Justin was smiling to himself, a strange, almost blissful smile. Horvath felt a chill go down his spine. How could he convince this boy that his cellmate wasn't really speaking to him? That it was the kid's own wishful thinking -- or a large screw loose in his messed-up head? That Brian Kinney was unlikely ever to return to Stanton -- or even to leave County General Hospital, except in a pine box?
"You do that, kid," said Carl Horvath, half to himself. "And tell your cellmate hello for me -- the next time you 'talk' to him."
"Look, babydoll," said Emmy. "I brought some clothes."
Justin was sitting on the table in the examining room, waiting for Dr. Caputo to check him over. He still hadn't taken off his stained pants and shirt, but his shoes and socks were off and he was swinging his bare feet back and forth rhythmically and staring into space.
"Honey?" Emmy prompted. "Let's start with the shirt, okay?"
Emmy slowly unbuttoned Justin's shirt. It was partially stuck to his undershirt with blood. Em tugged at it gently and slipped it off the boy's shoulders, then she pulled the undershirt over his head. Justin let Emmy do it, very passively. His blue eyes watched Em, as if she were undressing someone else, somewhere else.
"Now the pants, hon," Emmy said in a business-like tone. Justin lifted his butt and Em eased the workpants and shorts down. The dried blood on the pants was more profuse than on Justin's shirt, and they were stuck even more stubbornly to his pale skin. Justin flinched as the material tore away from his raw, tender flesh.
"Sorry, Sunshine," Emmy muttered. As an orderly in the Hospital Wing of a prison, Em had seen a lot of troubling, ugly things, but this bothered her in a way those things had not. This was more personal. Justin was her friend. And Brian -- Em couldn't get it out of her mind that this was Brian's blood all over everything.
Emmy thought of her own blouse, with which she'd tried to staunch the bleeding after the stabbing on the Quad. How she'd stood there after the ambulance roared away, the sticky, red-drenched material balled in her hands. One of the C.O.'s had taken it away as 'evidence.'
"I'll just put these in the discard bag, honey," Em continued, folding the ruined clothes.
But Justin snapped to life. "No! Those are mine!" He reached out and grabbed at the shirt in Emmy's hand. "Mine!" he repeated.
"But Sunshine, there's no way to wash out these... these stains. I've brought you a full set of new ones. See?" Emmy showed Justin the pile of clean government issue pants, shirt, and underwear in Justin's size, as well as a fresh pair of socks and his extra pair of sneakers.
"Those are MY things -- and I want them," Justin replied in a dark voice. "Give them back! Now!"
Emmy felt a little fearful for a moment. "Okay, honey. I'll just slip them into a bag and you can take them with you, all right?"
Justin nodded and Emmy searched through the cupboard until she found a plastic bag. The staff saved used plastic shopping bags because there were never enough bags to carry supplies and other odds and ends. Em stuffed the blood-encrusted clothes into a Kaufmann's bag and folded down the top. "There you go. You can take that with you."
Emmy handed Justin a thin cloth hospital gown and helped him put it around his shoulders so he wouldn't get too cold. Then Em ran the water in the sink and began washing him, slowly and carefully, the way you might wash a touchy, unpredictable child.
"Is that warm enough, sweetheart? Feels good, doesn't it?" Emmy kept up a soothing monologue as she washed the boy. Justin's skin was pink and poreless, like a baby's. "That's a good boy! Lift your arm just like that!"
"Em, I want to get another cake," Justin said suddenly.
"Another... cake?" Em frowned. "Sure, hon. We'll get you a piece of cake."
"No, Em. I mean a whole cake," Justin insisted. "All decorated. Like I got for the birthday party. For when Brian comes back. I think he'd like another cake to celebrate his return."
Em held her breath. When Brian comes back. Emmy swallowed. He knew that Justin was upset and that the three days he'd spent lying on his bunk in the dark couldn't have been good for his mental state, but now Emmy was truly apprehensive for the boy.
"When... when Brian comes back?" Em repeated. She stopped washing the boy and held the wash cloth tightly. Justin must know that his lover was dead. But he obviously couldn't accept that simple fact. "Honey, I don't know if... if Brian will be coming back... I mean, anytime real soon."
"Oh, yes," Justin said firmly. "He's coming back to the Quad. I know that for certain."
Em blinked. "You do? How do you know that, babydoll?"
"Because Brian told me so himself. When I was up in the warden's office," Justin replied calmly.
Emmy leaned back and took a few breaths to steady herself. "Was... was Brian up in the warden's office, honey? I hadn't heard that he was up there today."
Justin smiled. "Of course not, Em! Brian wasn't in the warden's office. What would he be doing there?"
"I... I don't know, Sunshine. But if you said that he talked to you there...."
"That's not where he is, Em. Not in a room or an office," Justin explained. Then he touched his finger to a spot just above his right temple. "He's in here. That's where he talks to me. That's where he told me that he's coming back. So I have to get ready for him. I have to be prepared for when he gets here. Brian wouldn't want me to be all dirty, would he, Em?"
Em's closed her gaping mouth. "No, of course not, Justin. He'd likes you all clean and sweet-smelling."
"That's true," the boy agreed.
Emmy wrung the wash cloth out in the sink and helped Justin put on the hospital gown, tying it in the back.
"When... when does Brian... tell you these things, hon?" Emmy looked closely into Justin's eyes. It was like looking into a bottomless pool.
"Up in the warden's office was the first time," Justin answered. "He heard me calling for him when the C.O.'s dragged me out of our cell. But he told me it was okay. That I would be all right." Justin smiled again. "And now he talks to me all the time. That's how I know he's coming back soon."
"How... nice," Em said. She tried to keep her face impassive, but Justin was frightening her badly.
"And do you know what else?" Justin leaned over to Emmy and touched her arm. "We're going away from here. Together. Brian promised. Going to a place where there aren't any walls or bars. A beautiful place. When I get back to our cell I'm going to draw a picture of it and hang it next to my bunk so I can look at it every day while I'm waiting for Brian."
"Wonderful," said Em.
"Yes, every day," Justin repeated. "Until Brian comes to take me away."
The priest looked up to see one of the inmates, Emmett Honeycutt, standing in the doorway of his tiny office behind the Chapel. Emmett, along with his friends Michael and Lou, were regulars at Mass every Sunday morning and Emmett often came to the office to talk things over with the priest.
"Emmett, please come in and have a seat," said Father Bob.
Emmett enjoyed talking to Father Bob. When he was young Emmett had thought about becoming a priest himself. He loved the rituals and the beauty of the Catholic Church and the fabulous and colorful robes that the priests wore. And most of all, Emmett loved and lusted after the handsome young rector of their parish church, St. Theresa's, if only from afar.
Unfortunately, thought Emmett, Father Bob was a long way from being an object of desire. He was in his 50's, balding, and more than a little overweight. But Father Bob was also an excellent listener. And for inmates who had no family, or were troubled, or simply needed a shoulder to cry on, the priest was, literally, a godsend.
"Now, Emmett, what can I do for you?"
"It isn't what you can do for me, Father," Emmett began. "But what you might be able to do for a friend of mine who needs some help right now."
Father Bob nodded. "Is it one of your friends who comes to Mass with you?" Father Bob pretended not to be aware that Emmett's group of friends were the prison drag queens, but he knew. The boys always dressed down when they came to his services, but it was hard not to know the truth when a large portion of your congregation were wearing eye make-up.
"No, Father. Justin isn't even a Catholic." Emmett paused, pondering. "At least I'm pretty sure he's not. But he's in big trouble anyway. When he first got in here Justin was... well, he was assaulted by the low-riders. And then they attacked him again on the Quad."
Yes, thought the priest, this would be a child in great trouble. "Is this the boy whose cellmate was stabbed on Monday?"
Emmett looked pained. "Yes, Father. So you can see that he's not doing very well. Justin was in lockdown for a couple of days, but he spent the whole time lying on his bunk, not moving. He wouldn't even change his clothes, Father! They were all covered in... in blood."
Father Bob frowned. "Wasn't anything being done for this boy?"
"Eventually the C.O.'s took him up to see the warden, Father. But they were really rough with him!" Emmett said indignantly. "There was no call for that kind of roughness with a young boy! Justin wasn't guilty of anything, Father. He was only acting in self-defense! He was finally sent over to the Hospital and Doc Caputo examined him, but it's not Justin's physical health that worries me."
Emmett paused. He wasn't certain how much to tell the priest about Justin's 'conversations' with Brian.
"Is he having nightmares? Is the boy depressed, Emmett?" asked the priest, softly.
"Yes, all of those things," Em continued. "But... but he told me that his cellmate, Brian, you know, the man who was... was stabbed? That Brian was talking to him. Telling him things."
"Perhaps the boy was only dreaming?" Father Bob suggested.
"No, Father. Justin was very specific about when Brian was speaking to him. And he was awake! In the warden's office. In his cell. Even when he was waiting to be examined by the doctor. And since then he's said it to me again. Said it to other people, too." Emmett clenched his hands nervously. "He's scaring me, Father Bob! He said that Brian was coming to take him away to a beautiful place. That's what Justin said -- 'a beautiful place'! It... it sounded like Heaven to me. No walls or bars. Where you were finally free."
"That sounds like a typical fantasy for any prisoner, Emmett," said the priest. "To be free. To be in a place far from here, with no bars. The child has obviously suffered a severe trauma. Has he seen the staff psychologist?"
"Not yet," Em admitted. "But I'm afraid that if the shrink hears him going on about... about Brian talking to him in his head and taking him away that they'll put Justin in the Psych Ward! He's not crazy, Father! Not really. He's only... upset right now," Emmett appealed to the priest. "If you could talk to him maybe you could make him see that it's only his imagination. That Brian isn't actually inside his head. And that Brian isn't coming to rescue him and take him to some beautiful place!"
Father Bob understood Emmett's concern. His young friend had gone through a horrible trauma and he seemed to be dealing with it by retreating into a dream world -- a beautiful place -- where his cellmate and, the priest assumed, his lover was still alive and waiting for him. But wasn't that exactly what Father Bob preached every week during Mass? That the men might be in prison now, but that a beautiful place was awaiting them all if they only had faith?
"What would you have me do, Emmett?" asked Father Bob. "Do you want me to shake this boy out of his fantasy world? Convince him that his... his friend is NOT alive? Convince him that this man is not coming back to get him? Do you think that will bring him comfort, Emmett?"
"I don't know, Father!" Emmett's heart was aching. "But I don't want to see poor Justin going slowly crazy while we stand around and watch him! I don't want it to end with Justin being dragged out not by the C.O.'s, but by the men in the white coats from the Psych Ward! Or...." Em faltered. "Or to find him dead in his cell one day. Find that he's decided to hurry up joining Brian in that 'beautiful place.' He wouldn't be the first boy who took that way out, Father."
"I know," the priest sighed. "But if you take away his fantasy, take away his only hope, then you may be stripping him of his only way of coping with this terrible shock. Perhaps over time, as he comes to accept reality, then this voice in his head will fade away. Your friend will learn to go on with his life and face the world once more."
"And if he doesn't, Father? Then what?" Emmett demanded.
"Then the Psych Ward might be the best place for him. That's something only the doctors can decide." Father Bob sat back and rubbed his eyes. "If this boy would come in a talk with me it might ease his mind. Or I could arrange for the Protestant chaplain to counsel him?"
Em shook his head. He stood up. "Thanks, Father Bob." Em reached out to shake the priest's hand. "But I don't think he'll want to speak with you or with the reverend. Justin seems quite happy 'talking' to Brian. It's everyone around him who are upset by it."
"Then I suggest that you allow the boy to be happy." Father Bob escorted Emmett to the door of the little office. "While it lasts. Because it won't last, Emmett. You know that it won't last. The boy will wake up one day and realize the truth. That his... his friend is never coming back."
"I know," Em replied sadly. "That's what I'm really afraid of."
Posted November 30, 2004.