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"I'm sorry, Jenn, but that's the way it is." Ron put on his jacket and straightened his tie while he looked at himself in the mirror.
"But you said that Justin would be out SOON! How much longer is it going to be?" Jennifer dabbed at her eyes with a kleenex. She was always doing that. She burst into tears at the drop of a hat these days.
"Julie says that Stockwell is putting the screws on that damn judge," said Ron. "If he wins his party's nomination for mayor then it's going to be even harder to get your son out, Jenn. It stinks, but that's the reality of the situation."
"Justin could be in there for another year!" she cried. "Or even longer! I don't think I can stand it!"
Jennifer was shaking. She'd had a gigantic fight with Craig that afternoon. She had come back from seeing her lawyer and asked Craig to move out, as the lawyer had suggested. And Craig had been totally unreasonable. Not only had he refused to move out, but he threatened to ask for custody of Molly.
Ron assured her that Craig was only blowing smoke, but Jennifer wasn't so sure. When Craig had confronted her there at the Liberty Motel, he was so angry she was certain that he'd kill her. But his WASP sense of propriety stopped him. It wouldn't do to have his golf buddies at the country club read about such a sordid scene. So Craig had shoved Jennifer around a bit and then sped off. But since then it had been open warfare between the two, with each side lining up their lawyers and charges and counter-charges until it was ugly -- very, very ugly.
And now it looked as if Justin wouldn't be getting out any time soon.
Jennifer started crying again when she thought of the look on her son's face when she saw him at the prison that last time. The cold fury in his voice. The defiance. And the way Justin had once again walked out on her. She'd seen Craig's face in Justin that day -- angry, hurt, irrational, lacerating.
And, of course, she had run directly to Ron. He was the only one who didn't turn away from her. The only one who even promised her any hope. And now he was telling her that hope was slipping away. All because of that dreadful Jim Stockwell and his political ambitions!
"I have to be getting over to the hospital to see to my client," said Ron.
His client. He meant Brian. Her son's lover. Jennifer knew it was a terrible thing, but she had wished, silently, that the man would die of his wound. He had been so badly injured that everyone was sure he would. And Ron had been frantic about it. He even demanded to see the warden of the prison and came out of that meeting with permission to visit Brian. As his 'family.'
Jennifer shuddered. Whenever she questioned Ron too much about his relationship with Brian, he either became angry with her or he froze her out altogether. Exactly the way Justin did. The same response over the same man -- Brian Kinney. Jennifer didn't even try to understand what it was all about. It was beyond comprehension by her mind. And so she had hoped that the man would fade away, painlessly, but irrevocably. And then both her lover and her son could forget about him forever.
But, no. Brian was alive and getting better. Now Ron was talking about getting him transferred, this time to a minimum security prison about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh. If he could make the case that Brian was in danger at Stanton, that he had been an exemplary prisoner for a decade, even that he was a famous inmate who had been subject to harassment in Stanton, then it was possible that he might be moved. Jennifer sighed. At least if that happened he'd be out of her son's reach.
"Don't forget to give Bill all of those financial statements," Ron instructed. "It's important. We don't want that bastard, Craig, hiding any of his assets. Do you understand?"
Jennifer nodded. Then Ron leaned over and gave her a quick kiss. And then he was gone. On his way to see his other lover. His male one.
The weather was beautiful. A clear May night. Ron put down the windows as he drove and smelled the wet, green smell from the fields of farmland outside of the small town where Stanton Correctional Facility for Men was the main employer.
Ron pulled up to County General Hospital and parked. He was late, as he often was on the nights when he saw Jennifer. She was always so weepy lately. That was tiresome. He had to spend a lot of time wiping those tears before they could get down to brass tacks. And then she was weepy afterwards, too. He wondered if her little blond son was half as much trouble as his mother. But it was worth it for that creamy pale skin and blonde hair. At least, it was worth it for the time being.
Ron strolled into the hospital and the staff didn't even glance his way. They were used to him and gave him a wide berth. He'd made a stink over their treatment of Brian and they didn't like it. He'd confronted that bitch of a head nurse and that queer male nurse, too. He'd shown them that he couldn't be pushed around!
And that damned Dr. Caputo having him put out by the guard! He'd been on the phone to Horvath first thing in the morning to tell him that Caputo would be sorry if he ever pulled a stunt like that again!
Ron stopped in front of Brian's room. Something was wrong, but at first he didn't know what. Then he realized. The C.O. who was usually stationed by the door was gone. It was about time! They finally realized that Brian wasn't about to get out of bed and walk away!
Ron pushed open the door of the room. And saw that it was empty.
He looked at the clock. It was after 8:00. They wouldn't have Brian out of the room for tests at that hour. Unless -- unless it was an emergency!
"Nurse!" Ron yelled, sprinting to the nurses' station. "Where's my client?"
The nurse blinked at him. "Your client, sir?"
"Mr. Kinney! The patient from Stanton Correctional!" Ron exclaimed. "Did he have a relapse? Is he back in the ICU? Tell me, for God's sake!"
"Oh, you mean the prisoner," the nurse replied. "No, he didn't have a relapse. And he's not in the ICU."
"Then where the hell is he?" Ron demanded impatiently.
The nurse narrowed her eyes at him. This guy had been a pain in the ass from the get-go. She'd be happy never to have to deal with him again! "He's been moved, sir."
"Moved?" Ron was ready to grab the woman and shake her. "Moved WHERE? I want to know where they've taken Brian!"
"Back to the prison," the nurse stated flatly. "They moved him out this afternoon."
Ron stood back from the desk. "No! They can't! No one told me! No one asked me!"
"They can and they did, sir," said the nurse. "The doctor from the prison sent an ambulance over and he was taken back there. One of our nurses went along to supervise. He's now in their prison ward and he's their responsibility. If you want any more information, you'll have to call Stanton and talk to someone there." The nurse turned away, ending the conversation.
"Shit!" Ron whispered. He wheeled around and walked out of the hospital. "Fuck!" He stood on the steps and stared up at the clear, endless sky. "Goddamn it!" he cried. "Brian!"
"Where's Justin?" asked Em, sticking his head in the Rec Room.
Wesley looked up from his homework. Emmy's face was all flushed and she still had on her orderly uniform from the Hospital. "Why do you want to know, Em? Is something the matter?"
"Nothing's the matter at all, babydoll!" said Em, excitedly. "I just need to know where Justin is!"
Wesley licked his lips. "I don't know," he mumbled. And he stared down at his notebook.
Em frowned. "What do you mean, you don't know? You and Justin are as tight as a couple of sailors on shore leave! Now tell me where he is!"
Wes shrugged. "He's off with Stormy... somewhere."
"Stormy?" Em wasn't crazy about Stormy. That kid had an attitude problem. He thought he was a tough guy and was always mouthing off to the queens, as if he didn't take it up the ass regularly, just like all the other punks! When Brian had been in the Quad, Justin didn't hang around Stormy all that much, but things had been different in a lot of ways in the weeks Brian had been gone.
"Yeah," said Wes. "That's who he's with. And Lee -- I think."
"Well, where are they?" Em was getting impatient. He and Dr. Caputo and the queeny nurse from County General had gotten Brian settled into the annex room, but the doc wouldn't let Em leave until her shift was over. She could hardly wait to run back up to the tier and get Justin. Em loved nothing better than a big surprise and she was savoring the thought of a happy reunion between the two!
"Why ask me? They didn't invite me to go along!" Wesley huffed.
"Invite you to go along where?" Honestly, thought Em, getting information out of Wesley was like pulling teeth!
"To Lee's place over in the South Wing."
"The South Wing?" That brought Em up short. She would have thought that the South Wing was the last place Justin would venture. Yes, the low-riders were a spent force, but the ones who were still around all celled in the South Wing.
And Lee. That kid was trouble, too. He was Big Chuck's punk and one of the busiest little whores in the Quad. Chuck was constantly short of money and he vended out his punk in return for swag and credit -- and drugs. Big Chuck was a big user and he traded Lee's ass to get his dope, mainly from the Mexican gang.
Em grabbed Wesley's arm and gave him a shake. "What is Justin doing over in the South Wing with Stormy and Lee?"
Wesley made a face. "Getting high. What do you think?"
Em's mouth fell open. "What the fuck are you talking about? Justin doesn't do that!"
Wesley's look was mournful. "Yes, he does. At least, he's been doing it lately. Mainly with Stormy and Zack. Stormy gets some pot from Lee and he and Justin go and smoke it in the Law Library. With Brian gone, nobody is working in there and Justin has the key. But the last couple of days they've been going over to the South Wing with Lee while Big Chuck is at work and smoking over there."
"That little asshole! Smoking what? Just weed?" Now Em was alarmed. Yes, Justin had been acting weird recently, but Em had never suspected that he was doing something like this!
"I don't know," said Wesley. "I guess it's just weed. They don't tell me anything, Emmy. They know that Al would kill me if he caught me using drugs, even a little pot!" Wesley looked up at Em. "Justin's my friend, but he doesn't tell me things anymore. He just sits in his cell and thinks about depressing stuff. He won't talk about it, but he's hurting. Maybe that's why he goes with those guys to get stoned. Maybe he just wants to forget his troubles."
"But drugs are no fucking way to do it!" Em exclaimed. She turned and headed out of the Rec Room.
"Em! Where are you going?" said Wesley, getting up and following him.
"Over to retrieve our little wanderer," said Em. grimly. "I have a surprise for him down in the Hospital that will be completely ruined if he's too shit-faced to appreciate it!"
Emmett did not like entering the South Wing.
Besides being the former preserve of the low-riders, the South was the territory of Loretta, the leader of the black queens. Loretta saw Em as her chief rival in the Quad and they had an unspoken agreement that they would stay off each other's turf. There had been a few exceptions to that rule, the most notable being Brian's birthday party, but that had been a very special occasion.
Most of the men in the South Wing worked in the Industry Building, either in the machine shop or woodworking, so it was fairly quiet when Em walked onto the first tier.
South Wingers tended to be minorities or gang members, harder core than the East Wing, which housed most of the older and more white collar inmates. The Bros had their turf in the South Wing and so did the Mexican gang. A white queen had to be wary before coming into an area where she hadn't been invited.
Em knew that Big Chuck's cell was somewhere on the first tier, but she didn't know where. There was a C.O. at the desk who glanced at her but then let her pass. All the C.O.'s recognized Em and knew that she wasn't a troublemaker. Most of the gang-activity was on the upper tiers and Em knew that if she'd had to venture up there, the C.O.'s would have scrutinized her a lot more thoroughly and may have even stopped her.
She walked slowly down the tier, sniffing for the tell-tale scent of marijuana. With the clear May weather, it was beginning to get warm in the Quad, so small fans were whirring in a few of the cells. If the boys were in one of them smoking, then they would probably have the fan running, blowing the smoke out the window.
Em noticed that an old sheet was hung up clumsily over the front of one of the cells. That usually meant that something was going on inside that someone didn't want outsiders to see. When the East Wing C.O.'s saw it, they usually made you take it down, but apparently the guards over in the South didn't bother with such small infractions.
"Justin?" Em called into the cell. There was no answer, so she rattled the door and called a little louder. "Justin? Are you in there? Answer me, hon!"
She could hear some whispering inside, so Em leaned closer against the bars. Then she could smell the pot, that slightly sweet, slightly sickening aroma.
"Fuck off!" came a voice. It wasn't Justin or Stormy, so it must be Lee. Em didn't know this punk very well, except by his reputation, which wasn't good. She knew that Lee was in Justin's Creative Writing class. That's how Justin had gotten to know the kid. Ordinarily boys in the East Wing and the South Wing wouldn't mingle that much. There was a natural rivalry there, between both jocks and punks. East Wingers thought the South was full of troublemakers, while the South Wingers thought the East was soft.
"Open this door," said Em, darkly. "Now! If you don't, I'm getting the C.O. and having HIM open it!"
"Shit!" she heard from inside. Then some more whispering and moving around.
Lee came to the door. He wasn't wearing a shirt and his work pants were undone and barely hanging onto his scrawny hips. He also had a joint hanging from his lips. "What the fuck do you want?" Lee sneered at Em.
Em glared down at Lee. Lee thought he was a hard guy, but he was about 8 inches shorter than the tall queen. "I've come to get Justin."
Lee took a toke on the joint. "Maybe he doesn't want you to come and get him. Did that little weasel Wes send you over here? He's a fucking squealer!"
Em pressed his lips together, trying to control her temper. "I need for Justin to come with me right now!"
Lee stepped aside. "Ask him yourself."
Em ducked under the sheet and walked into the cell. The first thing she noticed was the smell. Besides the odor of the pot, the place stunk of dirty clothes and garbage. Lee obviously didn't spend much time cleaning up the place. He was probably too busy turning tricks to keep the place up and Big Chuck didn't seem to give a damn. Some guys were just pigs.
Stormy was sitting on the floor of the cell in his underwear, sucking on another joint. He saw Em and turned up his nose. He reached over and handed the joint to Justin, who was lying on the bottom bunk, naked.
"Hey, Em," he chortled. Justin took a hard pull and blew out the acrid smoke. He was stroking his partially erect dick with his right hand. "Come to join the party?"
"No, thanks. I don't feel much like partying right now. Tell me, are you on anything else besides that weed, Justin?" asked Em. She was trying to keep her voice steady when what she wanted to do was kick the asses of all three of these stupid boys.
Justin snorted and handed the joint back to Stormy. "Just some 'ludes. Not that it's any of your fucking business."
"Get up!" Em ordered. But Justin only lolled on the bunk, giggling. Em grabbed Justin's arm and pulled him off the mattress and onto the floor. "I said get UP! NOW!"
Justin hit the floor hard and groaned while Stormy laughed. Lee sat down next to Stormy and prodded Justin with his bare foot. "Busted, bitch!"
"You boys think this is pretty funny, don't you?" asked Em.
"Look who's acting so high and mighty! MISS Emmy!" Lee sniffed. "You're just some dumb old drag queen! You look at me like I'm trash, but you're nothin' but a big whore yourself!"
Em ignored Lee and fumbled around on the dirty floor of the cell until she found Justin's clothes. The boy was sitting up, looking dazed. He held his head.
"Get dressed," said Em, more gently. "You're coming with me."
Justin stood up slowly and unsteadily. He glanced at Stormy and that boy looked away, unable to meet his friend's eyes. But Lee just kept sneering.
Justin pulled on his grey shorts and his workpants. Em couldn't find Justin's tee shirt in the mess on the floor, so he just put on his workshirt and buttoned it over his pale, bare chest.
"I don't feel so well, Em," Justin whispered. "I think I'm going to be sick." He stumbled to the toilet and threw up into it. Sweat was pouring down his face and the back of his neck.
"I'm not surprised at you, Lee," said Em to the other two boys. "You're nothing but a low-class punk, after all. But Stormy -- I thought you were Justin's friend? I don't think Junior would like what you've been up to -- or who you've been hanging out with."
"What the fuck's the difference, Emmett?" Stormy spat. "This is prison! I've been in and out of jail practically my whole fucking life! You do what you can to pass the time. It's nobody's business."
"It IS my business, Stormy, especially when you drag Justin into it," Em replied. "He hasn't been in and out of the joint all of his life. He's got a chance to get out of here with his soul still intact. Justin has already had some rotten breaks and this doesn't help things. You think getting stoned and fucking around with you two is helping him? You think that's the answer to his misery?"
Lee laughed. "If it fucking feels good, then do it! Leave the sermons to Father Bob!"
Justin was throwing cold water on his face at the sink. He walked back to Em, his eyes on the floor. "Don't blame them, Em. I didn't do anything I didn't want to do. I've done drugs before. Why do you think I'm in here? When I got arrested, that wasn't the first time I'd bought or smoked pot. I've been smoking since I was 15. And I've used Quaaludes and coke, too, plenty of times."
Em sighed. "So it's okay to get stoned and let these punks use you? Let them fuck you? How does that numb your pain, Justin?"
"Who cares?" Justin murmured. "I lost count of how many times those bikers fucked me in that little room, Em. How many times they jacked off in my mouth and in my face. Pissed on me. You don't give a shit after a while. You don't feel anything."
"And you didn't feel anything with Brian?" said Em. "Is that what you're saying?"
"He's GONE!" Lee drawled. "Everyone is sitting around waiting for the Great Brian to return to the Quad! It ain't gonna happen! So why pretend any different?"
"Come on." Em took Justin's elbow and pulled him from the filthy cell. They walked slowly down the tier. Outside of the dim space, Justin looked haggard. His eyes were red and his hair dirty from lack of washing. He also smelled of sweat and come. "We need to get you back to the East Wing."
They left the South and cut across the Yard. The late afternoon sun was bright. A lot of the men were just getting out of their jobs and they took a few minutes to stop in the Yard and enjoy the sunshine.
"It isn't their fault, Em," Justin repeated as they crossed the grass. "Like I said, I haven't been doing anything I didn't want to do."
Em shook his head. "You think you wanted to, babydoll, but it's all about managing your pain. About numbing yourself so it doesn't hurt so much."
"It isn't working, Em," Justin whispered. "After Brian stopped talking to me at night I'd beg him to say something -- anything! -- just to let me know that he still cared about me. And a few times I thought... I thought I could feel him touching me. Reaching out to me. But... it was too faint. I knew that he'd abandoned me. I kept thinking about what my mother told me. That Ron was taking care of Brian now. That he was with him in the hospital. That I meant nothing to Brian except as a convenient fuck."
"That's why he put himself up against Cisco and all of the low-riders to save you? For the sake of a convenient fuck?" asked Em. "Honey, in Brian's world I was a convenient fuck! Any queen in the East Wing was a convenient fuck! Brian didn't need to hook up with you for sex. He did it because...."
"Then it was because he felt sorry for me!" Justin interrupted. "He never would have done it if he hadn't found me on the floor, bleeding from the ass! That's all it was, Em. Pity."
"And after having that done to you, after surviving the low-riders, you think that letting Stormy and Lee get you high and fuck you is a solution? THAT is taking away your pain?"
Justin shrugged. His face was blank. "Sex feels good. And I kept thinking that the last person to fuck me wasn't Brian. It was Cisco. I didn't want him to be the last one. I wanted to get the feel of him out of me. I wanted someone to fuck me so hard that I'd never feel Cisco again. Never feel any of the bikers ever again. But it isn't working, Em. It isn't enough."
Justin's face crumbled as the tears fell silently down his pale face.
Em put her arm around the boy and held him while he wept. "I know, honey. I know. But I think I might have the cure. But first we have to get you cleaned up."
Posted December 1, 2004.