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Brian stepped outside the trailer and lit a cigarette.
That was quick, he thought. Now I have to go through the fucking search process all over again. His asshole wasn't looking forward to that at all.
"Brian?" said Father Tom, coming out of the trailer. "Please don't go."
Brian regarded the young priest. "You want me to stay here and spend the next two nights in that trailer with them? Are you crazy, Father?"
The priest sighed. "It's taken me months to get them this far, Brian. Please stay and try to speak with them."
Brian shook his head. "Can you tell me why I should do that, Father Tom? You saw how they are. This isn't about me at all. I'm a stranger to them -- and I've always been a stranger even though I lived with them for 18 years. They don't know who I am and they don't want to know. It has nothing to do with me being in prison. It doesn't even have to do with me being a queer. It's just ME that they hate."
"I'm sure you're wrong, Brian," said Father Tom. "I'm sure that your mother and father love you in their own way."
"Love me?" Brian almost laughed in the priest's face. "My parents don't love me! They've never loved me. They didn't want me. Your religion forced them to get married when my mother was pregnant with my sister. And then your religion also convinced my mother to have me even though she and my old man didn't want another kid. Do you know what it's like to grow up knowing that? To have you own parents actually tell you that they didn't want you to be born? It's not a very nice feeling, Father."
"I'm sorry, Brian," said Father Tom, regretfully. "No child should have to hear something like that."
"No shit!" Brian replied. "But I thought I'd be able to escape them. I got a scholarship to Penn State. I was going to make a life for myself, by myself." Brian took a long drag on his cigarette. "But then it all went to hell. I... I fell in love with the wrong person. For the first time in my life I was really happy. I thought my life was changing for the better. And... and then...."
Brian paused. He didn't know how much this strange priest knew or cared about his case or how he had been convicted. But it didn't matter anyway. The past didn't matter. There was nothing you could do to change the past. You could only try to survive the present.
"I have to get going, Father. Maybe I can make it back to my cell for 4:00 headcount."
"Brian, please stay for dinner," urged the priest. "At least do that much."
"Dinner?" Brian sniffed. "You think my mother is going to make dinner for me? Get real!"
"She's already made it, Brian," said Father Tom. "She brought food and she was going to heat it up in the oven. And she made a chocolate cake. She said it was your favorite kind. Please, Brian -- they have been planning this visit for weeks. I've been counseling them about it."
"Why, Father?" asked Brian. "Why do you give a shit? I know it's your job as a priest to save souls and all that bullshit, but why drag me into it?"
Father Tom touched Brian's arm and squeezed it. Brian stared into the priest's face. He seemed sincere, but there was something else there. Brian couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"Because your father is going to die soon, Brian, that's why. The truth is that they are both terrified. Your father is terrified of death and your mother is terrified of being alone. Do you know that they both have had trouble with alcohol over the years?"
"Alcohol? Then nothing's changed," said Brian, coldly. "They've both been alcoholics for as long as I can remember. But I can't help them with their fear. Do you have any idea of the kind of fear I have to deal with every day of my life in the Quad? Do you know that I've been raped, Father? That I had to prostitute myself to survive? That I was a junkie? That I tried to kill myself more than once? And that I almost died last spring when my psychopathic ex-jocker stabbed me after raping my cellmate? So don't tell me about my parents' fucking fear! If you want to know the truth, I think the old man is better off dead! At least he'll die in a clean bed, surrounded by his so-called loved ones. And I'm sure you'll be there, too, Father Tom, saying prayers and holding his hand."
"Yes," said Father Tom. "I'll be there if he wants me to be."
Brian nodded. "Of course you will. But me -- I'm likely to die in a dark cell, alone. Or maybe on a cement floor in some prison corner. And who will be there to hold my hand, Father? Who the fuck?"
Brian began striding back towards the Administration Building, but Father Tom still followed him.
"I know you're bitter, Brian," said the priest.
Brian halted in his tracks.
"Bitter? Bitter doesn't even begin to cover it! How about I'm so fucking full of rage that I almost can't stand it sometimes? But I have to stand it, Father Tom. I have to hold it in. Because I want to live and the only way you can survive in the joint is by being in control." Brian took another puff on his cigarette and then tossed the butt away. "And I have my cellmate to take care of, too. I have to think of Justin and his survival. Because he's a short-termer, Father. And he's going to get out of here in one piece if it's the last thing I do in my life. That's MY fucking religion! And that's why I can't let my bitterness show. Because I can't let Justin lose hope."
"Brian, I know that you're a good person at heart," said Father Tom.
"You don't know that at all, Father!" Brian shouted. "I'm a convicted murderer! I'm in for 20-to-life! I'm a number on a roster -- or on a workshirt." Brian touched the number over his breast. 196921455. "That's all I am."
"I don't believe that, Brian," said Father Tom. "Father Bob says that you're always helping other people. So maybe you might take this opportunity to help your own parents. And to help yourself. Please try! Just stay for dinner. Father Bob and I will stay and referee."
"Referee?" Brian laughed. "Where the hell were you when I was 15 and really needed someone to referee between me and the old man?"
"I'm sorry about that, Brian," said the priest. "I'm sorry that no one was there for you. But I'm here now."
"Whatever the fuck," said Brian.
He looked up at the sky. It was so clear and blue. The prison seemed far away. And the trailer was air conditioned. He was a little curious about what his mother had cooked. She was a horrible cook, so it was liable to be something inedible, but Brian was used to inedible food.
Brian sighed. He turned and began walking back to the trailer with the priest.
"After dinner I can go back, okay?" said Brian. "Because that's all I can take."
"I promise, Brian!" The priest grinned.
It was a start, thought Father Tom. One step. But maybe there would be more later. God willing!
Justin climbed up to the third tier, sluggishly following the C.O. who was escorting him over from the Hospital Wing.
He yawned as they walked down the quiet row of cells. Justin had slept last night on a cot in the breakroom of the Hospital. Or, rather, he had tried to sleep. All night he kept waking up, listening to the sounds of sick inmates coughing or mumbling to themselves in the ward. Listening to the sounds of the night orderly's transistor radio playing disco music in the office next door. Listening to the night nurse making his rounds.
Listening for, but not hearing, the sound of Brian's breathing next to him in bed.
Brian had asked Dr. Caputo to allow Justin to stay in the Hospital while he was gone for the 48 hours his Family Visit was scheduled. It was a good idea in theory, but Justin found it impossible to get comfortable on the lumpy cot, or to get any rest in any room where Brian wasn't. Justin thought that Brian's fear for Justin's safety while he was in the trailer with his parents was exaggerated, but Justin wasn't about to argue about it with his jocker, especially not after the incident with Justin's tattoo.
Finally, when Justin saw that it was beginning to get light, he got up and dressed. Then he asked the night nurse to call one of the C.O.'s to take him back upstairs so that he could be in his cell before morning headcount.
The C.O. unlocked the door of E-320, let Justin inside, then locked it again.
The moment Justin took a single step into the cell, he knew that Brian was there. He could smell him. Sense him. Feel it from somewhere deep inside. Justin went over to the bottom bunk and sat on the edge of it.
Brian's eyes were already open. "Hey," Brian whispered. He lifted the sheet and Justin kicked off his shoes and climbed into the bunk.
"Hey." Justin put his arms around his lover and pressed against him. Even one night away from Brian had seemed like an eternity. "What are you doing back already? Did your parents bail out on you?"
"Nope," said Brian. "I bailed out on them. I stayed for the dinner, but I couldn't do any more than that. My mother brought some ground beef casserole that made Stanton's slop seem like dinner at the Ritz. Then she pulled out a cake she made that she claimed used to be my favorite desert. It was chocolate on chocolate on chocolate. It was so sweet I couldn't even swallow it. The two priests ate most of it."
"Two priests?" Justin said in surprise. "I knew that Father Bob was going over to the trailer with you, but I didn't think he'd stick around for dinner."
"Oh, he stayed," said Brian. "Which was probably a good thing. I didn't have to say very much. Father Bob sort of picked up the slack in the conversation."
"Who was this other priest?" asked Justin. "And what was he doing there?"
"Father Tom. He's my mother's pastor. Turns out that Father Tom was the one who cooked up the whole idea of this Family Visit fiasco. He had some 'Godly' notion about reuniting Mom and Pop with the Prodigal Son. That's me, by the way."
"I figured that much," sighed Justin. "That's my role in our family, too. The Prodigal Son."
"See?" Brian smiled. "We have more in common than just a taste for dick and our stunning good looks!"
"So did you have a big reconciliation scene, Brian?" Justin asked. "Did they cry and tell you that they were sorry for treating you like shit for so many years?"
"No." Brian rubbed his forehead with his long fingers. "It wasn't really about me at all. It was about them. Mainly about my old man." Brian swallowed. "He's dying. They don't think he'll last until Christmas."
Justin felt a lurch inside his gut. As much as he was angry at his own father, the thought of Craig Taylor dying was horrible to think about. Even after all the shit Craig had pulled, Justin still loved his dad. At least, he loved the dad he remembered from his childhood.
And Justin knew that although he claimed to be indifferent to his parents, Brian still had strong feelings about them. The problem was that those feelings were so conflicted that Brian was unable to sort them out or talk about them, not even to his lover.
"I'm so sorry about your dad, Brian," whispered Justin.
"Don't be." Brian closed his eyes, trying not to think about it. "Jack has lived his life. If it's time to go, then it's his time to go."
"Did he want to say goodbye to you?" Justin asked gently.
"Not really. I'm not certain what it was that Pop really did want. Maybe only to see me once more." Brian caressed Justin's golden hair. It was so soft. And real. Much more real than his parents. Much more real than the world beyond the gates of the Quad. "Or maybe Pop only went along with the Family Visit to shut up Mom and her priest. But nothing was resolved. Nothing was settled. The next thing I hear will probably be a message from Father Bob telling me that the old man is dead. And that will be that."
"That's sad, Brian," Justin declared.
"I know, but it's sadder for them than for me," Brian replied. "After dinner we sat for a while and the two priests talked to my mother while Pop stared at the television and sucked air through a fucking tube attached to a can of oxygen. He's got lung cancer, so I guess it's hard for him to breathe. Then when the C.O.'s came to take the priests back outside, I decided to go with them. Barton, one of the C.O. assigned to the Administration Building, brought me back up here right before 10:00 headcount. By then it was too late for me to go over to the Hospital Wing and get you."
"That's okay, Brian," Justin said. "We're both here now. That's all that matters."
They lay silently in the bunk for a while. It was almost time for the wake-up call. Justin was glad that Brian was back home. Now things could go back to normal and their routine be uninterrupted.
"Oh, Brian -- I went to the Visitors' Gallery yesterday," Justin told him. "Ron gave me some papers for you. I took them to the Law Library and filed them so that no one else would see them."
Brian frowned. "What did Ron give you?"
"Looked like contracts. And proofsheets. There's a letter with them that explains what you need to do." Justin sat up in the bunk. "I read it. I hope you don't mind, Brian."
"Of course not. This has to do with you, too, Justin. It was all your idea, after all." Brian took a deep breath. This was the point of no return with his manuscript. Once Brian signed the contracts and sent the corrected pages back to Ron there was no stopping the process.
"It's going to be so fucking great when it's published!" Justin said excitedly. "It's going to change everything, Brian! I know it will!"
"We'll see," said Brian without much enthusiasm. But then he remembered something else important. "Justin, tell me again the name of your lawyer. Who was that friend of your father who represented you at your trial?"
Justin's lip curled in disgust. "You mean Gordon Maxwell? He's some asshole who belongs to our club, The Arcadian. He plays golf with my dad. Maybe he's a great golfer, but that didn't mean he was a great lawyer, too. Because here I am! He did a piss-poor job with my defense."
"Gordon Maxwell," Brian repeated almost to himself. "I thought so."
"What about him?" Justin asked curiously.
"Nothing," said Brian. "It was something my old man said that reminded me of his name."
They heard the C.O. begin walking down the tier, calling for the men to get ready for morning headcount.
"We better get up now," said Brian. "I'm hoping that whatever we have for breakfast will wash the taste of my mother's hideous casserole out of my mouth!"
"It was that bad, huh?" laughed Justin.
"You have no fucking idea, Sunshine!" Brian grinned back.
Then he kissed Justin. And then kissed him once more -- while he still had the chance.
Brian stood in line, waiting his turn to use the payphone on the first tier.
In his hand Brian clutched a handful of quarters he'd traded two cartons of cigarettes for. This was the only phone working in the East Wing right now and Brian knew that if he didn't get his call through that morning, then he'd have to chance venturing over to the South Wing and trying to use one of the payphones over there. He'd probably have to bring more swag to pay off whatever gang was running the phone scam in the South, but it would be worth it if he could get this information to Ron.
"I'm waiting to talk to that bastard who's supposed to be representing me in my appeal," said Sam, an inmate from the second tier. He was standing directly behind Brian in the line.
"I told you that the Prisoners' Legal Defense would look into your case, Sam," Brian reminded the man. "That's what we're here for."
"My old lady is paying that shyster an arm and a leg to defend me, Bri," Sam griped. "But he ain't doing shit for me."
Brian sighed. "Stop by the Law Library tomorrow and I'll see what I can do about it. Do you have any information about the progress of your appeal?"
Sam shrugged. "I dunno."
Brian rolled his eyes. Some of these guys didn't have a fucking clue about the status of their own cases. No wonder they were constantly getting screwed by the legal system.
"Well, bring whatever you have. I'll try to work up a file for you, okay?"
"Gee, thanks, Bri," said Sam. "I owe you. You're a stand-up guy."
"And Sam, when you come in to see me, try to remember the name of your lawyer. That will help," said Brian.
"Sure thing," said Sam, grinning.
The line for the phone crawled at a snail's pace. Inmates getting calls out was not a big priority with the Administration, so when a phone went down it often took weeks before it was back in working order, leaving the men to depend on whatever phones happened to still be working.
At the payphone the man in possession of the precious instrument was screaming at his girlfriend about a rumor he'd heard that the bitch was cheating on him. The long line and most of the first tier was regaled with the details of 'that fucking cunt' and her infidelities.
This is ridiculous, thought Brian, crossing and uncrossing his arms nervously. But the real problem was that an angry inmate often took his frustrations out on the innocent payphone -- which meant another phone out of order until the C.O.'s bothered to call someone in to fix the damn thing.
Finally, after almost two hours, Brian reached the front. He prayed that Ron was in the office as he dialed the number of the Prisoners' Legal Defense office in Pittsburgh.
"Hello?" said Brian. "Ron Rosenblum, please. This is Brian Kinney calling from Stanton Correctional."
Then the wait while the secretary connected him. Brian tried to calculate how quickly he'd get through to Ron, or if Ron wasn't there, to Julie. He had his pile of quarters, but the time always seemed to fly as the minutes ticked off and the quarters were fed into the pay slot. Reversing the charges was forbidden from Stanton, for fear the inmates would make harassing calls from prison.
"Brian!" Ron cried. "I missed you at the Visitors' Gallery yesterday!"
Brian breathed a sigh of relief to hear Ron's voice. "Hey, Ron. Sorry about that."
"Baby, I thought that you were in the trailer with your folks for 48 hours? That's what the kid told me at the Gallery."
"I bugged out early," said Brian. "It's a long story, but the short version is that my old man has lung cancer. He's got a couple of months left, tops."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Brian," said Ron. "Please let me know if there's anything I can do. Any arrangements that I can make for your parents."
"Thanks," said Brian. "I'll let you know."
"Did you get the papers for 'The Project?'" Ron asked. "Have you had a chance to look them over?"
"Not yet, Ron," Brian admitted. "But soon. Thanks for sending them. But that's not why I'm calling. This has something to do with Justin's case."
"Did you hear about Stockwell being arrested? Is that what this is about, Bri?"
"Yeah, I heard it on the news. But this might be something else to look into, Ron," Brian said. "Gordon Maxwell. Check him out."
"Gordon Maxwell? He's an attorney here in Pittsburgh," Ron replied. "Didn't he handle Justin's defense?" Brian could hear Ron making notes at his desk.
"If you call what Maxwell did a defense," Brian snorted. "He's not a defense lawyer, Ron, and it showed in the way he conducted Justin's case. But I'm beginning to think there may have been something else going on."
"Like what?" asked Ron, all attention. He knew that Brian wouldn't be wasting his time if he didn't have a feeling that something was amiss. Ron trusted Brian's instincts in such matters more than he trusted solid facts presented by other people.
"My father is a union man and he spends a lot of time at his union local -- drinking, playing cards, and shooting the breeze with his cronies," said Brian. "Anyway, when I was in that damn trailer a news story came on the television about Stockwell's arrest and I made a comment about what a fucking sleaze he is. So my old man says, 'Jim Stockwell is a great guy. I met him last spring when he came to the local trying to drum up support for his mayoral campaign.'"
"And this was when, Bri?" Ron inquired.
"The old man wasn't sure of the exact date. But it was around the end of March," Brian stated. "It was just after he'd been diagnosed with lung cancer, but before he'd begun treatment. Jack was thinking that he might need a lawyer because, of course, he didn't have a will. So he's talking to one of Stockwell's flunkies about it and the guy slips him a card and says, 'This is a good lawyer. Tell him we sent you to him and he'll give you a good deal.'"
Brian heard Ron take a sharp breath. "Don't tell me -- it wasn't Gordon Maxwell?"
"It was, Ron. Stockwell's stooge recommended the lawyer who supposedly defended Justin in a case directly prosecuted by Stockwell himself."
"That isn't necessarily against the law, Bri," said Ron. "However, it suggests some kind of tenuous connection between Stockwell and Maxwell. It's not big enough to be a payoff, but...."
"It's something, Ron!" Brian almost shouted. He was down to his last quarter and time was running out. "There's something there! I know there is! Please pursue this. I'm begging you!"
"I'm going to, Brian," Ron asserted. "I'll get Julie working on it right away. She can dig up more skeletons than a graverobber. Don't worry, Baby. You can count on me."
"Thanks, Ron," said Brian, in relief. "If you can pull this off and get Justin out of this place...." Brian's heart was racing. "I owe you. I owe you everything."
"You don't owe me a thing," said Ron. "Everything I do for you, I do out of love, Baby. Never forget that."
"I won't," said Brian. "I won't forget it."
"Good, Baby," Ron said before hanging up. "That's all I ask. That you don't forget."
Posted June 22, 2005.