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"I don't feel so well, Em," said Justin, feebly.
The boy was sitting on a folding chair in the breakroom in the Hospital Wing while Emmy gently rubbed lotion on his new tattoo.
"Just relax, sweetie," said Em. "It'll be fine."
"You think?" Justin closed his eyes, thinking about how he had almost passed out while Stevie the Greek was making his tattoo. Even sitting in the chair, he still felt dizzy and slightly sick to his stomach.
"Here's a bottle of lotion," Emmy instructed, wrapping the bottle in a piece of newspaper. "Don't be tempted to use it for -- um -- any other purpose except rubbing it on your tattoo. I'm letting you have this whole bottle, but don't tell Dr. Caputo I gave it to you. It's supposed to be for patients only!"
"Thanks, Em," Justin sighed.
"You have to keep that thing moist, so you'll need it, babydoll."
"It doesn't look too good, does it, Em?" Justin asked. The tattoo had been oozing earlier and it still throbbed like crazy. Luckily, Emmy was an orderly in the Hospital and he brought Justin over to the West Wing and treated the tattoo.
"You have to let it heal, honey," said Emmy. "It will probably scab over, but don't pick at it or scratch it, for heaven's sake, or it might get infected!"
"I'll try not to," Justin swallowed.
Em smiled encouragingly. "In a week or so it will look absolutely beautiful! All the other punks will be so jealous!"
"Really?" Justin asked hopefully.
Justin's shoulder ached and he was sweating. Emmy had given him an aspirin, but it didn't seem to be helping the pain.
Poor Sunshine, thought Emmy. Brian is going to hit the roof when he sees that thing. But it's too late now. Way too late.
They both started when they heard Dr. Caputo calling from the ward.
"I have to go, sweetie," said Em. "You hustle your pretty butt out of here and go back up to your cell and lie down. And don't forget your lotion!"
"I have it," Justin said, clutching the little package. "I owe you one, Em."
Emmy kissed the boy on the forehead. "You scoot now! I mean it!"
Justin trudged back up to his tier. He'd been so anxious to get the tattoo and now all he wanted to do was hide it.
"Hey, Justin!" called Wesley from his cell. He came out and grinned at his friend. "Where've you been?"
"Around," Justin said shortly.
"What's that?" Wesley pointed to Justin's shoulder. His sleeve was rolled up to give the tattoo some air. "Did you get a tattoo? For real?"
"Don't touch it!" Justin cried, wincing.
"Cool!" said Wesley. "Al has a bunch of tattoos. He has a mermaid on his arm and an eagle on his back from when he was in the Navy. I wish he'd let me get a tattoo! I didn't know that Brian said you could, Justin."
Justin sniffed as he opened the cell door. "He didn't. I didn't tell him I was getting it done."
Wesley's eyes widened. "Shit, Justin! What's Brian going to say?"
"I don't know," Justin admitted. He sat on the bottom bunk and set the package of lotion on the floor next to the bunk.
"Maybe he'll like it?" Wesley offered, sitting next to Justin.
But Justin shook his head. "I think this was a big mistake."
"It'll be okay, Justin," said Wesley. "Brian never gets mad at you. Not like me. I'm always pissing Al off about something."
Justin shuddered thinking about the times he had heard Al beating Wesley in the next cell. Or Junior beating Stormy in the cell across the way. It was considered a good thing for a jocker to show a punk who was the boss by smacking him around regularly. Otherwise the punk wouldn't respect his man. Then the kid might disobey his daddy or do something really stupid behind his back.
Like getting a tattoo without permission.
"Don't cry, Justin," said Wesley. "Does it hurt that much?"
"I don't know yet," said Justin, wiping his eyes. "But I guess I'll find out soon."
"Shit," thought Brian. "What am I going to do?"
A Family Visit. In all of the years he'd been in the Quad Brian had never had a Family Visit. Because he didn't have a family. Oh, he had one, technically. But the Kinneys were no one's idea of the All American Family.
Early in his sentence Joan Kinney had sent Brian some letters, mainly encouraging him to repent of his many sins and abominations. She seemed to feel that Brian's homosexuality was even worse than his conviction as a murderer, arsonist, and anti-American radical.
Brian never responded to those letters from his mother. At first he read them and then threw them away. But after a while he didn't even open them anymore. Still, Brian got upset every time one appeared in his mailbox. He went into a deep depression and refused to eat or go to recreation for days afterwards.
That's when Ron began bribing the mail handlers to give him the letters before they were put into Brian's box. Ron read the nasty things and then destroyed them. Fucking religion! Ron thought that Brian's mother must be a major lunatic bitch to treat her only son like he was some kind of sinner, especially considering what he'd been through during his mockery of a trial and then in his first hellish months at Stanton Correctional.
Eventually, the letters stopped coming. The Kinneys seemed to have forgotten about their son or else given up on him as a lost cause. Much later Ron told Brian about his diversion of the letters, but by that time Baby didn't seem to care. It no longer mattered. His life before he'd come to the Quad and all of the people he'd known on the outside were no longer relevant. Brian's entire existence consisted of Ron and the East Wing and the Law Library. Anything beyond that was unimportant.
The Kinneys were back.
What could they want? And why now?
Brian shook his head anxiously as he opened the door to the cell.
It was very quiet. Too quiet.
"Justin?" Brian could see the boy lying in the top bunk. He seemed to be asleep. "What's the matter? Are you sick?"
Justin sniffed and turned over under the thin sheet. He blinked his blue eyes. "I don't know."
"Let me feel your head," said Brian, with concern. "Do you want me to call Emmy? Maybe you should go to the Hospital, Justin."
"No," Justin sighed as Brian touched his forehead very gently. "I... I only want to stay here. I don't feel like going to dinner tonight."
"You don't feel feverish," said Brian. "Why don't you climb down into the bottom bunk?" That was where Justin usually slept, in the lower bunk next to Brian. Justin only rarely slept in the upper.
"I think I'll stay here," said Justin. "I want to sleep now."
The C.O. walked along the tier, calling for 4:00 headcount.
"I'll bring you back something from dinner, okay?" said Brian.
"Thanks." Justin's voice was so low and he sounded far away.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Now Brian was getting worried. What if the boy was really ill?
"I'll be okay." Justin huddled under the sheet miserably.
Brian sat on the bottom bunk and looked through his latest issue of 'The New Yorker' while he waited for the C.O.'s to rack the doors and let the men down to the Chow Hall. If Justin wasn't better by morning Brian would make him go to see Dr. Caputo, even if he had to carry him!
Finally the doors unlocked and the men began to file down to the bottom tier.
"I'm going to dinner now, Justin," Brian said. "I'll bring you back an extra dessert, okay?"
But Justin only nodded silently.
Brian walked down to the Chow Hall alone, lost in thought. Al and Junior and a couple of the other third tier jockers were sitting at a table and they motioned Brian over.
"You seem real chipper, Bri Baby," Al needled and the other jocks laughed. "Even though that little bastard of yours pulled a fast one on you, huh?"
Brian frowned as he set down his tray. Something was up.
"Yeah, he did. So what?" said Brian, playing along. It was never a good idea to seem like you were ignorant of something. It was a sign of weakness.
"If Stormy did a fool thing like that, I'd bust the little punk!" said Junior. "I've messed him up for a lot less, lemme tell ya!"
"You bust up Stormy for sneezing in the wrong direction!" sniped Big John.
"He's a hard little shit," Junior said proudly. "Stormy can take it." Then he narrowed his eyes at Brian. "My Stormy ain't a soft little faggot like Justin. My kid never makes a sound, even when I take my belt to him. If Brian did that to his kid, the bitch would break in two!"
Brian felt his face getting red. "I've got no reason to take my belt to Justin. And he's a lot stronger than any of you know. He's survived a shitload of grief since he's been in the joint. He doesn't need me to make things worse for him."
"Yeah, that's why your punk thinks he can get away with murder!" said Big John. "He thinks he's better than the other punks just 'cause he's some rich kid from the fucking suburbs. But a punk is a punk, Bri. And a punk needs discipline." Big John glanced at the other men at the table. "Unless you're pussy whipped, Bri Baby. Pussy whipped by a fucking little punk!"
The jocks seemed to think this was the funniest thing they'd heard in a long time. But Brian wasn't laughing. He knew that he was being challenged. These men were his jocker buddies in the Quad, but the truth was that no man was really your friend in prison. It was dog eat dog and every day was a struggle for status among the inmates. The only person a man could truly trust was his punk. Unless his punk betrayed him. But that could never happen to Brian. Never.
"If I told Stormy to get himself branded, he'd do it! He'd get my name drilled onto his ass in a heartbeat!" proclaimed Junior. "But if he went out and did it himself, then I'd knock his fucking block off! I don't want my goddamn name tattooed on some other guy's body! That's real faggot stuff!"
"Come on!" said Al. "Justin ain't like Stormy. He's a real little queen! You gotta expect him to do shit like that." Al nudged Brian with his elbow. "Maybe Bri Baby likes to see his name inked onto the kid. Maybe it'll scare away any other jocks who'd like a taste of pretty blond ass!"
"Yeah, I like it," said Brian, coolly. But inside he was boiling. It sounded like Justin had gotten a tattoo. Brian couldn't believe it, but it seemed to be true. "I like it fine."
"Wesley says that Justin didn't ask you first before he went to Stevie the Greek for the tat," said Al. "Your kid doesn't ask you much, does he, Bri?"
"Pussy whipped!" laughed Big John. "I told ya!"
Brian pushed his chair back. "I have to go. I've got work to do over in the Law Library." Brian stared at Big John. "It seems that you have a hearing with the Parole Board coming up, John. You wouldn't want me to fuck it up, would you?"
Big John swallowed his laughter. "No, I wouldn't want it to get fucked up, Brian. I gotta get my Parole! I promised my old lady I was getting out before Christmas."
"Then I better go and work on it," said Brian. "Right?" He stood up and took his tray to the rack.
No wonder Justin didn't want to come down to dinner. And no wonder he was hiding in the top bunk. He didn't want Brian to know about the tattoo. The fucking little shit!
How could Justin have done it? How could he stain his beautiful skin that way? And with Brian's own name! That was bad. Really bad.
And what the hell would Justin's mother say when she saw it? She already hated Brian. Now when she saw his name imprinted on her son's otherwise perfect body she would detest Brian with all her heart.
"Hey, Brian! Wait up!"
Brian turned to see Ben Bruckner coming down the tier behind him.
"Hey, Ben." Brian waited for the Juice Pig to catch up with him.
"Michelle told me about Justin and his new tattoo," said Ben. "All of the queens are talking about it."
It seemed that everyone in the Quad knew about Justin's tattoo. Brian was apparently the last one to know about it. News traveled like wildfire in the stifling atmosphere of Stanton.
"Yeah, and all of the jocks, too," said Brian. "Junior and Big John were giving me the third degree. They said that I was pussy whipped for letting Justin get away with doing whatever he wanted behind my back."
Ben nodded. "I bet." They walked a little way in silence. "So what are you going to do about it, Brian?"
"What the hell can I do?" Brian replied. "What's done is done! I can't erase the fucking thing!"
"I don't mean about the tat," said Ben. "But about Justin."
Brian looked at Ben. He felt a chill go through him. "I won't do it! I can't!"
Ben stopped and put his hand on Brian's arm. "Do you trust me, Bri? You know I wouldn't steer you wrong."
"I know, Juice," said Brian.
"You want to be a jock, Brian?" said Ben, seriously. "Then BE a jock. You want to have a punk? Then you have to discipline your punk. If you don't then you're going to lose face in the Quad. You're already walking a thin line. The men respect you because you've done murder and that's a righteous crime. And also because you stood up to the low-riders and took a shank to defend your punk. But in the eyes of a lot of the jocks you're still the Lawyer's Punk, Brian. You're still a prime piece of ass. And if you let it look like Justin is pushing you around...." Ben looked grim. "You know how bad that can be."
"What can they do? Demote me?" Brian spat. "Fuck that!"
"Maybe not Big John or Junior or any of the guys in the East Wing," said Ben. "But there are men in the South Wing who wouldn't mind taking you down a peg. And a couple who wouldn't mind getting a piece of you. And a piece of Justin, too."
Brian was startled. "Like fuck they will! Over my dead body!"
"I'm only warning you, Brian," said Ben. "I'm watching your back. And I'll always watch it. We're pals. I'm your dog and you're mine. But I can't be everywhere. You've been in this Quad longer than I have and you know the way things work here. And you know what you have to do."
"Yeah," said Brian, dismally. "I know what I have to do."
Posted June 22, 2005.