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"Em," said Wesley. "Justin was having those nightmares again last night."
Wesley sat down next to Emmy on the sofa in the TV Room. She was working on a needlepoint pillow and watching 'Charlie's Angels.' The queens in the East Wing never missed an episode of 'Charlie's Angels.'
Em set down her pillow and sighed. "Just when I think that boy is starting to get better, he goes into another tailspin! He reminds me of my Great-Aunt Lula. She'd be as right as rain and then she'd break a nail and go all to pieces! The females in our family have always been prone to the vapors."
Wesley grimaced. "What's the vapors?"
"Oh, a female complaint that allows a lady to get hysterical at the drop of the hat. But I think it's only ladies in the South who get the vapors in this day and age. And also queens anywhere in the world!"
Wesley frowned. He didn't like Emmy calling Justin a queen. "Well, whatever the heck is the matter with Justin, isn't there something you can do, Em?"
Michelle, who was sitting next to Emmy on the sofa, had been listening to the conversation with interest. "Justin's depressed. And the only thing that is going to snap him out of it is Brian coming back!"
"But we don't know when that's going to happen!" said Wesley. "It could be weeks!" Wesley's voice dropped to a whisper. "Or Brian might never come back to the Quad. Al told me that sometimes after a guy gets stuck, they don't bring him back to the same joint. Sometimes they send him someplace else."
Michelle looked up in alarm. "But Brian didn't do anything! He wasn't the one at fault. It was that fucking Cisco and his gang!"
Wesley's lower lip trembled. "Al says that might not make any difference. They might send him far away! Then what will Justin do?"
"Now, babydoll, don't panic," said Em. "I'll ask Dr. Caputo about that. He goes over to check on Brian every day, so he ought to know how he's doing and what they're planning for him." But Em began to wonder. Dr. Caputo hadn't said anything about Brian returning to the Quad. He still had a long recovery ahead of him and if he was going to come back to Stanton, then they'd have to make special arrangements for him. And no arrangements had been made -- yet.
Em stood up and handed his pillow to Michelle. "I think I'll go and have a talk with our boy."
Emmy walked down the tier and stopped at Justin's cell. Wesley and Stormy had hung the wooden sign that Stormy made in the woodworking shop on the door -- 'Brian & Justin's Place.' Em tapped gently on it.
"Who is it?"
"It's me, honey," said Em. "Come and let me in."
Justin came to the door. His blond hair was all rumpled and his tail was dragging. He opened the cell door and let Emmy inside. Then he went back and laid down on the bottom.
Em sat down on the edge of the bunk. "Feeling poorly, babydoll?"
Justin shrugged. "I don't know. I... I couldn't sleep all night."
"Was... was Brian talking to you, honey?" Emmy asked.
Justin sniffed. "No. But I could feel him. It's like he's out there -- but he's always out of reach. Like he'll never be in reach again." Justin sat up and hugged one of the old prison pillows to his chest. "I'm glad Brian's alive, Em, but I'm afraid that... that I'll never see him again. What if that's true? What if I never see him again?"
"I think you're just being melodramatic, sweetheart," Emmy said, dismissively. "You'll see him again! Why, even Dr. Caputo said that Brian was doing just fine! He's getting better and better every day!"
"I know," said Justin, quietly. And he hugged the pillow tighter.
"Listen, honey," Em began. He wasn't certain about what he was going to say, but he figured it was worth a try. Justin's teacher, Miss Carver, thought that it was important, but Em hadn't been sure.
Em knew that anything about his past was a sore spot with Brian. He didn't like to talk about it and he didn't like other people to talk about it. Unlike a lot of inmates, who couldn't stop gabbing about their crimes and their trials and their appeals and their innocence, Brian never discussed his own case. And Ron had never discussed it with anyone else, either. Whenever anybody asked about it, they were cut off abruptly.
So this supposed manuscript that Brian had written sounded dubious to Em. Em had known Brian for two years and never even suspected that Brian was writing anything, let alone his life story. But Miss Carver claimed to have pieces of it. Justin had given them to her behind Brian's back. And she had shown the pages to people. Important people who thought that it could get published.
And Amy Carver had asked Emmy to get her the rest of the manuscript. But how could she do that? It would be a betrayal of Brian -- and Brian was her friend! Besides, Em had no idea where the pages were hidden. Was she supposed to search the entire Quad looking for them?
Miss Carver seemed to think that if Brian's story were published then it might get him released. Em doubted that highly. Brian had been convicted in a very public and very political trial. It would take more than just telling his side of the story to get him released, or even get him a new trial! However, it MIGHT help with the Parole Board down the line. And it might help to get his case some new attention. Attention was always a good thing, Em thought.
But Amy Craver had also told Em that she thought publishing the manuscript would help Justin almost as much as it would Brian. If the boy could do something -- anything! -- to help his lover get a new hearing, to find a way to proclaim his innocence, then Justin wouldn't feel so helpless. Miss Carver has said that it would 'empower' Justin. That was one of those Women's Lib words, Emmy thought, but Miss Carver could be right. If Justin had something to focus on, something that he might do for Brian, that might bring the boy out of the funk he was in.
"Justin," Emmy said sharply. "I have a message for you from your teacher, Miss Carver."
Justin immediately sat up. "From Miss Carver? What do you mean?"
"After class she asked to speak with me," said Em. "About Brian's manuscript."
Justin stared. "She told you about Brian's manuscript?"
"Yes, and she thinks that if we can get the entire thing to her, then... then there's a good chance that her friend can get it published. And if it gets published...."
"Then Brian will get out!" Justin cried. "I know he will! Everyone will SEE the truth! They'll HAVE to let him go!"
"Hold your horses, sweetheart! Miss Carver says that this may take some time, but it's something that YOU can do, honey. You're the only one who can get the manuscript and give it to Miss Carver. Brian isn't here, so he'll never know it's gone."
Justin licked his lips. "But... but I don't know how he'd feel about this whole thing, Em. What if... what if he doesn't want it published? When I asked him before if Miss Carver could read it, he said no. So I went behind his back and gave it to her anyway. I didn't think he'd ever find out and so no harm would be done. But this...."
"This may be his only chance, Justin. He could be in here another 10 years before he even gets a chance for parole. Is that what you want?"
"No!" Justin wailed. The thought of Brian still in this cell in 10 years was more than Justin could stand. Even if Brian never spoke to him again, it would be worth it! Worth risking anything if he could get Brian free!
"Then you need to get those pages together and give them to Miss Carver the next time you go to class," said Em, firmly.
"But it's not finished," Justin sighed.
"I don't think that matters, honey. Give her what you can find. Brian can always finished it later," said Em. "Or he can write a sequel! And you'll be the star of THAT book, babydoll!"
Justin rubbed his eyes. "I'll do it, Em. It's the only thing I can do for Brian."
"That's my boy!" said Em. She noticed that Justin's eyes looked alive again. Now he had a sense of purpose. A crusade to help Brian -- and he was the only one who could do this.
"Even if Brian ends up hating me for it," Justin whispered. "I'm going to do it."
Dr. Rich Caputo pulled his car up into his reserved parking space in front of County General Hospital. He was tired. He had put in 10 long hours at Stanton Correctional already and he was eager to get home this evening, but he needed to check on his patient. Because he was more than a little worried about Brian Kinney.
Physically, the man was making marvelous improvement. When the ambulance carried Kinney away from the Quad that early April day, no one ever expected to see him alive again. He'd lost so much blood and the wound was a nasty one. A homemade shank like that had a jagged and dirty edge to it and made a horrible puncture. And besides the initial loss of blood, infection had set in and Brian had hovered between life and death for days.
The doctors at County General had been ready to give up on him, but then they didn't know Brian Kinney personally. However, Rich Caputo did know him. While the other doctors only saw a convict stabbed in a prison fight, Rich saw a life well worth saving. He'd seen how Kinney was with the kid, Justin. How he'd turned him around mentally and gave him the will to live after he was raped. And how he'd put his own life on the line to save Justin from the low-riders.
But also how Kinney had always been a peacemaker on the Quad, mediating between groups and individual men at odds. He continued what the lawyer, Rosenblum, had begun by cooperating with Baraka, the leader of the Bros in the South Wing, which kept down racial tensions. And he always made certain that all of the men knew their rights and got a fair shot with the Parole Board and with the warden.
So Rich Caputo had been pleased, if rather amazed, when the man turned the corner and began to inch back to life, slowly but surely. But then Rich had noticed that Kinney was depressed. That wasn't unusual, considering the shock he'd endured. Men who lived through serious injuries often backlashed emotionally. The realization that they were mortal and vulnerable and the prospect of a long, painful convalescence often threw even the most stable person into despair.
But the thing that worried Rich Caputo most was that Brian was now backsliding physically. After rallying so strongly, he was losing weight and seemed to be getting weaker. His blood pressure was low and he was listless. The doctors looked around for a new infection and put him on more antibiotics. And they were still pumping liquid into him, trying to keep him hydrated. But the spark seemed to have gone out of the man.
And his 'family' wasn't helping the situation.
Rich had been astonished when he walked into Brian's guarded room and found Ron Rosenblum sitting at his bedside. Yes, the two had been cellmates and, according to the gossip on the Quad, hooked up for a number of years. But seeing the man in Kinney's room, holding onto his hand and glaring at the staff like a watchdog, was a shock. That he would be allowed to take the place of Brian's family in this situation was something the doctor had not expected.
When Caputo took it up with Mac McHaffie, the County General doctor in charge of Brian's case, Mac had directed him to the head nurse of the ward, who showed Rich a document from Warden Carl Horvath himself, saying that Ronald Rosenblum was Brian Kinney's 'official family representative' and that as such was to have unlimited access to the patient.
Rich Caputo frowned when he read that. After talking with members of the staff, who kept referring to Rosenblum as the prisoner's lawyer, Rich was certain that none of them knew the man was also a former inmate himself -- and Kinney's boyfriend. Of course, now all of the nurses were well aware of that fact because they were constantly walking in on Ron holding the patient's hand or touching him. And Rosenblum snapped at the staff like a cranky spouse, making demands and threatening to have them all fired.
So it didn't surprise Rich Caputo to walk in and find Rosenblum standing in the hallway, railing at one of the nurses. The nurse on the receiving end of the tirade was Andre, one of the few male nurses at County General. He had talked to Rich a number of times about Kinney and mentioned that the patient was getting more depressed. That was what had alerted Rich to the seriousness of the situation. He felt that Andre was a very good and caring nurse.
Rich had also figured out pretty quickly that Andre was a fag. But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Rich thought it made him particularly attentive to an attractive male patient like Kinney. But Ron Rosenblum had apparently noticed it as well, and he didn't like that extra attention Brian was getting one little bit.
"I want you to stay the fuck OUT of Brian's room!" Ron yelled, poking Andre with his finger.
But the nurse didn't back down. "I'm only doing my job, sir. I'm only doing what's best for my patient."
"What's best is for you to butt the hell out!" Ron fumed. The C.O. assigned to sit in his chair outside Kinney's room and read magazines all day watched the scene in amusement, but didn't make any move to step in. A few other nurses stood next to the nurses' station and shook their heads.
"Excuse me!" said Dr. Caputo, moving between the two men. "This happens to be a hospital! There are people here who are ill and need peace and quiet!"
"Then tell this so-called nurse to stay away from Brian!" Ron huffed.
"I came in to give Mr. Kinney a new hospital gown and I was helping him change into it," explained Andre.
"You were helping yourself! That's what you were doing! I saw you!" Ron insisted. "This guy can't keep his hands off my client! If this is the level of care he's getting in this dump, then I'm going to see about getting him transferred into Pittsburgh, either to St. Vincent or City Hospital."
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Rosenblum," said Dr. Caputo, evenly. "Brian is getting excellent care here. Besides, I doubt that Warden Horvath would okay a switch at this stage of his recovery."
"You think getting felt up by the staff is good care? You think being ignored and not getting water or his pills on time is good care?" Ron's face was red. "I think it's fucked! This whole hospital is FUCKED!"
Dr. Caputo sighed and gestured to the C.O. It was ridiculous to have a 24-hour guard on a man who could barely walk to the bathroom, let alone run away, but that was prison policy. "Officer, please escort Mr. Rosenblum to his car. I think everyone needs to cool down right now."
"You can't make me leave!" Ron sputtered. This damned quack! He was like all the others!
"If you don't go now, I'll speak to the warden about having you barred from visiting Mr. Kinney at all," said Rich Caputo. "This isn't the first time you've caused trouble with the staff here, Mr. Rosenblum."
"That's because I'm the only one looking out for Brian's interests!" Ron yelled in frustration. "They treat him like he's some kind of pariah! HE was the victim in that attack! He doesn't need an armed guard. And he doesn't need some creep groping him when he's too weak to resist. THAT is what is causing the trouble here -- not me!"
"Please, Mr. Rosenblum," Rich urged. "Go home and calm down. And when you come back tomorrow try to be a little more considerate of the staff. They are all doing the best they can for Brian."
"Bullshit!" said Ron under his breath. But he realized that he was outnumbered here. They'd be sorry for this debacle. He'd call Horvath and ream him out royally! But then Ron allowed the C.O. to usher him out of the building.
Rich rubbed his forehead. It was throbbing. He was hungry and it was long past dinner time. He'd catch hell from his wife Nancy once again.
"I think you should also step back, Andre," he told the male nurse. "Your presence, at least when Mr. Rosenblum is visiting, is a distraction."
"But Dr. Caputo...." Andre began.
"No, I don't want to hear it. Just stay out of Mr. Kinney's room and out of Mr. Rosenblum's way," Rich said flatly. "That's the end of it. I don't want to hear about any more confrontations."
Andre shook his had. "I dig you, Doc," he said sadly. And he turned and went down the other hallway into the next ward.
Dr. Rich Caputo walked into Kinney's room. Brian was lying in the bed, looking extremely pale. "So, who got ejected? Ron or Andre?" he asked with a wan smile.
"Both -- for now." Rich picked up the chart. Kinney wasn't eating. His temperature had spiked again overnight. And he wasn't sleeping, either.
"That should make it a lot quieter around here," Brian sighed. "Now no one will come into my room at all. I guess that's just as well."
"Ron said that the staff was ignoring you, Brian. And then he accused of Andre of paying too much attention to you. So, which is it?" Dr. Caputo asked.
"It depends on your point of view," Brian explained. "During the day no one comes in here for hours at a time. I don't know if they're too busy or if they're just afraid of me. With an armed guard sitting outside of the door, I guess I don't blame them."
"You're hardly a dangerous character. No offense, Brian," the doctor said.
"None taken. But they don't know that. All they know is that I'm a criminal. A murderer. The only people who even speak to me like I'm a human being are Andre and the morning nurse, Ethel. The rest...." Brian shrugged. It still hurt to shrug. His muscles ached. Any time he moved it seemed like his stomach was on fire, with the pain radiating from his wound. "It's a little depressing."
"Why didn't you tell me this before, Brian?" asked Dr. Caputo.
Brian looked at the doc. He was a nice guy, but he had better things to do than to listen to Brian bitch. No one wanted to hear that. "It's not your problem. This isn't a vacation resort, it's a hospital. That's what that doctor here keeps saying. That I'm lucky I'm alive and should be grateful that they even bother treating me."
Rich Caputo was brought up short. "Did one of the doctors here tell you that?"
"He didn't say it to me, but he said it to the other doctor with him." Brian laughed. That REALLY hurt! "They rarely talk TO me here, Doc. It's more like they talk OVER me, usually while they're sticking me with a needle."
"I'm sorry, Brian. Nothing like that should happen to any patient, prisoner or not," said Rich. Maybe he'd been too hasty to dismiss Rosenblum's complaints. He hated to think of this man, lying in this bed day after day and being treated as something less than human.
The doctor looked at the set-up in the room. Brian was still on the drip, but nothing else too high tech. Nothing they couldn't handle back at Stanton. And with Emmett working on the ward, he'd get plenty of company. And his cellmate, the kid, could come down and visit him. If there was an emergency, he could easily be transferred back to County General in the prison ambulance.
Rich Caputo gazed at Kinney's face. There was nothing but hopeless resignation in it.
"Let me ask you this, Brian," he said. "How'd you like to go home?"
"Yes, Dr. Caputo?"
Em had been folding sheets and pillowcases that had just come back from the laundry. It was an easy task, but it was boring. Anything that the doc had for her to do was likely to be more interesting than putting away linen.
"I want you get the annex room ready. Make up the bed and put the place in order," said the doctor. He was glancing at some charts and shuffling papers around.
"Who are you putting in there, Doc, if I may be so bold to ask?"
No one on the ward was contagious -- at least that Em knew of. In fact, the Hospital had been pretty empty lately. Only a few inmates were in the main ward, all with minor complaints, mostly colds and coughs. Dr. Caputo had been spending most of his time over in the geriatric ward, dealing with two elderly inmates who were slowly dying. That, and going over to County General every day to see to Brian.
Emmy always asked how Brian was doing and Dr. Caputo always replied, "Coming along, Emmett, coming along." He never said anything more detailed or more encouraging. But Em took that as a plus. At least he didn't shake his head and look grim the way he did whenever he headed over to the geriatric ward. Em was glad she didn't work there. It was too depressing.
"New patient," said the doc, shortly. "Take good care of him, okay?" And then he made his way over to the other ward.
The annex room was usually reserved for inmates who were contagious, or for very sick patients who needed extra peace and quiet. And occasionally it housed inmates withdrawing from drugs whose moans might upset the rest of the ward. That made Em guess that they had a new addict coming in, maybe from another prison or from one of the county lock-ups. Warden Horvath insisted that any addicted prisoner either kick his habit before he joined the general population or else be sent to the Psycho Center in Harrisburg for further treatment.
Em put clean sheets on the bed and plumped up the pillow. Then he opened the window and let in some fresh air. It was May and the air smelled like wet grass and rain. Em looked out the window at the Quad. Even in the middle of the day when most of the men were at work, the basketball courts were full and there was a long line at the snackbar.
Em hoped that they'd have ice cream at dinner. Ice cream always made Emmy feel like summer was really coming soon.
The window sill was dusty, so Em wiped it off. And the curtains needed to be washed, but they were so old she was afraid they'd just disintegrate in the machine. Barbie was good at sewing. Maybe Dr. Caputo would kick in for some swag or credit from the Canteen in return for Barbie making new curtains. Actually, the entire ward could use some spiffing up, Em thought.
Emmy strolled out of the annex room on her way back to the main desk. That's when the ward doors opened and a stranger walked in. It was a black man in a crisp white uniform. He looked around, warily. A guard walked in behind him, gestured in Em's direction, and then walked out.
"Excuse me!" said the newcomer in a commanding tone. "Are you the orderly on duty?"
Em immediately bristled. Some strange queen was invading HER ward!
"I'm Emmett Honeycutt." Em sauntered over. "How can I help you, honey?"
"I'm looking for Dr. Caputo," said the queen, imperiously. She surveyed the ward with distaste. One of the inmates in a corner bed coughed and the queen frowned.
"Dr. C. is over in the geriatric ward, but he should be back here soon," said Em, coolly. "If you don't mind waiting."
"Oh, I don't mind," snapped the queen. "We are bringing in a new patient today. Is there some OTHER place where you keep patients here? I mean, somewhere other than this dormitory?"
"I'm sorry if our facilities aren't up to your usually high standards," Em returned. Who did this bitch think she was to barge into HER ward and start making insulting comments? Maybe the curtains were a little tattered and maybe the linen wasn't exactly new, but this was a prison, not a 4-star hotel!
Em always did the best she could to make the place pleasant and clean. And there was no call for this nelly bottom to look down her nose at Em just because she was only an orderly. Em had plans -- big plans! When she got out of the joint she'd get a loan and go to school and get her Practical Nursing degree! Maybe THEN she'd get a little respect!
"Is there another room in here? For my incoming patient?" asked the stranger.
The annex room, thought Em. Of course! That's why the doc had wanted it fixed up.
"Right this way." Em led the queen to the annex room. She went in and walked around, checking out the bed and looking out the window. "Don't you have any monitoring equipment in here?"
"If Dr. C. says that we need it, then we'll bring it in, I'm sure," Em replied.
"Well, I suppose it will have to do." The queen frowned. "Where are the call buttons?"
"We don't have any. If the patient wants a nurse -- he calls for one. With his mouth," said Em.
"And what if he's too weak to talk? Or is in distress?" The queen made a face. "It's like the damn Dark Ages in here!"
Em didn't answer. But she was getting madder by the minute.
"Emmett!" She heard Dr. Caputo calling.
"We're in here, Doc!" Em replied.
Dr. Caputo came into the room. "Hello, Andre," he greeted the invading queen. "How are things going?"
"Doctor, you don't expect me to leave my boy in this place?" said Andre, glaring at Emmett. Dr. Caputo went back into the ward and Em and the strange nurse followed. "There are no facilities here! The bed in that little room doesn't even have a call button! I think we should take him back right now!"
Dr. Caputo shook his head. "I'm sorry, Andre. The decision has already been made. Unless there's a deterioration in his condition, he's going to stay right here until he's fit to return to his tier. So why don't you go and tell them to bring my patient in?"
Andre sighed deeply and stalked out of the ward, the door swinging behind her.
"Doc, what's going on?" asked Em.
"Is the annex prepared?" Dr. Caputo strode to the desk and flipped through some files.
"All ready -- even if SOME people don't think so," Em sniffed.
"Andre is only taking care of his patient, Em," said the doctor. "He's an excellent nurse. That's why I asked him to ride over in the ambulance from County General."
Em blinked. "County General Hospital?"
But then the ward doors swung open. Andre was squawking at the men who were rolling the gurney onto the room.
"You be careful there! My boy has been bounced around enough already today without you making things worse!" Andre ordered. "I cannot believe that they keep sick people in this warehouse! I wouldn't leave my dog here, let alone a man who's recovering from a nasty wound!"
Em rushed over to the gurney, which Andre had stopped next to the desk. He stared down at the new arrival.
"Oh, my God!" cried Em. "Brian?"
"Hey, Emmett," whispered Brian, wincing. The bumpy ride from the town hospital to Stanton had been torturous and the line into his arm had been dislodged when they took him out of the ambulance. "Long time no see, huh?"
Posted December 1, 2004.