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The two strange men had been at the church for the funeral mass.
It had been a sparse affair. Only a few family members and some women from the parish who worked with Mrs. Kinney on various committees. They felt they had to be there to support her. She was such a good, devout woman, after all, who didn't deserve all of the grief that had come into her life recently.
There were only two arrangements of flowers with the casket. It was a shame, really. One of the bouquets was from the Altar Society and the other didn't have a name on it. The first was lilies and greenery, which was appropriate for a funeral. The other was a large arrangement of red roses with a golden bow tied around the basket.
Then the two strangers followed the funeral procession to the cemetery in a large black Lincoln Continental. It was beginning to snow again. They parked away from the other cars and walked well behind the rest of the mourners to the gravesite.
The parish priest said the required words. He didn't know the deceased, but he knew Joan Kinney and for her sake he made an attempt to be comforting. But she was stony-faced. Perhaps she was all cried out. Or simply stunned. Or perhaps she didn't feel anything at all. She was a woman who had been numb inside for many years already.
Another younger priest with sandy hair stood with Joan Kinney, patting her hand and offering words of sympathy. But she only stared straight ahead. She didn't even glance at her daughter, Claire, who was standing on her other side.
Claire dabbed at her eyes with a lace-trimmed handkerchief. She gazed curiously at the two unknown men standing on the margins of the gathering. One was a well-dressed gentleman of about 50. Distinguished-looking, with a touch of gray in his dark, wavy hair. The other was a younger man. Much younger. Maybe even still in his teens. He wore a long navy blue overcoat and his blond hair glistened in the weak winter light. His eyes were red-rimmed and he kept turning around, as if he was looking for something. Or someone.
She noticed that the pair were holding hands.
Claire wrinkled her nose in disgust. Who were these men? And what were they doing at her father's service? What possible connection could a couple of fags have to Jack Kinney?
"He has to be here!" Justin whispered. "Where is he? This is almost over!"
"Maybe the authorities changed their minds and wouldn't let him come," Ron speculated. He was worried, too. It was getting late and getting dark. The priest seemed to be finishing his remarks. Then they'd throw dirt on the coffin and John Patrick Kinney would be history. But neither Ron nor Justin cared about Jack Kinney. They only cared about his son. And that son obviously wasn't going to appear at his father's funeral.
"Father Bob said that Brian got permission from Warden Horvath to come to the funeral. So why isn't he here?" Justin couldn't hold the tears back any longer. They slowly coursed down his cheeks and he wiped at them with the back of his gloved hand before they froze to his chilled skin. "I only wanted to see him! I wouldn't have made a scene or tried to talk to him or touch him!" Justin turned and buried his face in Ron's cashmere coat. "He won't come to the Visitors' Gallery! He won't answer my letters! I only wanted to see him for five fucking minutes!"
"It's all right, Baby," murmured Ron, rubbing Justin's back. "Don't cry. You'll see him. We'll both see him. It just wasn't meant to happen today."
"But when?" Justin looked towards the gravesite. He was aware that people from the funeral party were staring at the two of them. But Justin didn't give a shit what they thought. Let them stare! "I'm going out of my mind, Ron! I really am!"
"I know," said Ron, in resignation. "So am I. But there's nothing we can do about it right now, Justin. Nothing to do but wait. And hope that Brian comes to his senses very soon."
Ron looked up at the darkening sky and the snow that was beginning to fall harder. He put his arm around Justin's shoulders and they both walked to the car, heading back home.
Kirk Bradley carried his bag of take-out food up the stairs and unlocked the door of his rented room.
Another fucking flophouse. Another lousy fast food meal.
That was his life. Some fucking life!
He sat on the bed and turned on the radio. He had to get out of this town soon. It was January and he was freezing his ass off. Maybe he'd go to New Mexico or Arizona where it was warm. But he wanted to see his kids first. If that bitch would let him see them. That's the only reason he had come to Tacoma -- because Lisa was here with the kids.
Kirk couldn't understand what had gone wrong. They had been doing okay in Portland. They had rented a house in a decent neighborhood and he had a job on a loading dock and Lisa was working in a mall.
But then it all went to hell. So maybe he was drinking a little too much. So fucking what? It wasn't out of control. And maybe they were living on the edges of society when they might have been doing much better. After all, Kirk was a bright guy -- too bright for his own good, he admitted -- and Lisa was a college graduate. But they were stuck in minimum-wage hell and prices only kept going up. Gas was fucking going through the roof and so was the rent.
And Lisa was always afraid. Paranoid. That was the worst thing for her. Kirk didn't trust anyone and that fear had infected his wife. But it wasn't just paranoia, Kirk reasoned. It was real. It was the only thing keeping them safe.
The only thing keeping Kirk out of prison.
There was a knock on the door. Kirk got off the bed and went over to it. "Who is it?" he asked suspiciously.
"A friend," said the voice.
Kirk held his breath. He didn't have any friends in this city. Fuck, he didn't have any friends, period!
But that had been the code word. 'Friend.' That's what they'd say. "I'm a friend." That's how you knew it was all right to trust them.
Kirk opened the door.
A short man was standing there. He was wearing jeans and a leather jacket and his dark blond hair was down to his shoulders. He didn't look like a cop or a Fed. Kirk wasn't certain what he looked like.
"Kirk Bradley?" the man asked.
"N...no, man," said Kirk. "I'm Pete. You've got the wrong room." Kirk began to close the door.
But the man pushed his way inside. He shut and locked the door behind him.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" said Kirk. "Get the fuck out of here!"
"I don't think so," said the man. He was casing the room. Checking out the dingy decor. And Kirk's meager belongings, which fit into two battered suitcases. "Pete Bennett. Russell Coe. Kirk Bradley. All of those guys interest me."
"I don't know what you're talking about, man," said Kirk, nervously.
"Yeah," the stranger continued. "Those guys all interest me. But another guy interests me even more. Glenn Fitzpatrick. Remember him?"
Kirk gulped. "Never heard of him."
"Oh, I think you have. I think he was a close friend of yours. Very, very close." The stranger went to the window and glanced outside. It was raining. It was always raining in fucking Tacoma! "Almost like a brother. Or even closer. Like you, yourself."
"What the fuck do you want?" asked Kirk. Now he was really afraid. He had to get out of here! This guy must be some kind of cop.
But the stranger was watching his eyes. "No, I'm not a cop. This is my card." He pulled a calling card out of the pocket of his leather jacket and handed it to Kirk. It read 'A. J. Jones, Private Investigator,' with a San Francisco number.
"So?" said Kirk, gripping the card in his hand.
"My client is interested in talking to you. I've been following your movements for a while. Getting to know you a little. You're at the end of the line, Kirk." Jones looked around the room in disgust. "You were going to change the world. This is a pretty sad come-down from that lofty goal. Is it worth it? Is your freedom worth it? And are you really free? Doesn't look like it to me. You're pathetic."
"Get out of here!" Kirk cried wildly. "Leave me the fuck alone!"
"I'm going," said Jones. "Being in this room with you makes me feel dirty. But before I go I want to ask you if you ever think about someone else. A kid named Brian Kinney. A kid you seduced and used and left for the cops. Do you ever think about what happened to him? What happened to the young man who took the rap for your crimes?"
"I don't know who you're talking about." Kirk licked his dry lips.
"Then you might want to check this out." A.J. Jones pulled some neatly folded pieces of paper from inside his leather jacket. They looked like glossy pages from an upscale magazine. "This was published last month. It's in three parts, so be sure to read them all. I think what you read here will be a real eye-opener. It's amazing the things that men can do to other men, but especially what they can do to a naive kid who lands in prison on a 20-year-to-life sentence."
Jones held out the pages and Kirk took them hesitantly. His hands were trembling.
"Adios, Kirk," said Jones, walking to the door. "Enjoy your reading."
"Was he there?" asked Jennifer, meeting Justin and Ron at the door of the condo.
Justin shook his head dismally. "He didn't show! After Father Bob told us that he would be there! I don't understand it."
Justin took off his coat, threw it over the back of the sofa, and slumped down on the soft cushions.
"Maybe something happened at the prison?" Jennifer offered. "Maybe they couldn't get there in time?"
"Possibly," said Ron. He leaned over and kissed Jennifer as she took his cashmere coat and hung it in the closet. "I'll call Stanton tomorrow and see if I can talk to Horvath and get the true story. But the real problem is Brian himself." Ron paused and looked at Justin, who glared back at his mother's boyfriend.
"Brian doesn't have a problem, Ron! He thinks he's doing all of this stuff for our own good -- but it's bullshit!" Justin snapped.
"Justin, please!" begged Jennifer. "Your language!"
"I'm sorry, Mom, if my language wouldn't be acceptable at the country club," Justin huffed. "But the country club is bullshit, too! Fuck the country club and all the people in it! I only want to see Brian!"
Justin jumped up from the sofa and stormed off to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
Justin's adjustment to life outside of prison had been turbulent, to say the least. His moods swung from elation at his new-found freedom to fear of being out in public to depression over his separation from Brian. Justin wrote to his former cellmate almost every day, but, almost two months after his release, he had yet to receive a reply. Justin and Ron had also gone to Stanton for Visiting Day in December, but Brian had refused to come down to the Gallery to see them.
Justin had been certain that Brian would make an appearance at his father's funeral. He had even called Father Bob McHale, the prison chaplain, who assured Justin that Warden Horvath would give his permission for Brian to attend and arrange for his transportation to the church and the cemetery. But both Justin and Ron waited in vain to see him.
"He's very upset, Jen," said Ron. "Justin was devastated when Brian didn't come to the funeral." Ron neglected to add that he had been devastated, too, only Ron had learned to hide his emotions better than the boy was able to.
"Were there a lot of people at the service?" asked Jennifer. She was very curious about the background of Brian Kinney, the shadowy figure who loomed so large in her life.
"Not really," said Ron, sitting in the easy chair and picking up the evening newspaper. "The Kinneys aren't exactly social butterflies. It looked liked a few family members and some older women, probably friends of Brian's mother. And a couple of priests. That was it. There was only one other floral arrangement besides the one I sent."
"That's so sad!" sighed Jennifer.
Jennifer had dinner almost ready, but before she served it she needed to talk to Ron about another matter. This was something that Ron wasn't going to want to hear about, but what was Jennifer supposed to do? She felt caught in the middle. "Honey, I hate to bring this up now, but Jane called while you and Justin were out."
"Shit!" said Ron, throwing down his newspaper. "What the hell does she want now?"
"She wouldn't tell me. She barely speaks to me, you know that," Jennifer reminded him. "But she said it was important. Extremely important."
"That's what she always says!" Ron complained. "The last time she called was to bitch at me about a stupid $20 credit card charge. She'll do anything to harass me!"
"It's because she's angry, Ron," said Jennifer. "The same way Craig was angry at me."
"Jane is being unreasonable -- as usual!" Ron replied.
Even though she had been the one to initiate it, Jane wasn't taking their impeding divorce at all well. But Ron wasn't too surprised. After all, the woman had stuck with him for all of the years Ron had been in prison and now she was feeling more than slightly betrayed.
But Jane needed to face facts -- things hadn't been working out between them. And as much as Ron hated the hassle of going through a divorce, he had to admit that lately Jane was hindering him much more than she was helping him. If that was going to be the case, then Jane was a liability and their separation was a necessary evil.
Max and Hannah were both in college, so it wasn't as if he and Jane were breaking up a happy family. Ron hadn't exactly been a full-time father the entire time he was in prison, so the kids weren't suffering. No, Jane only became upset when Ron's relationship with Jennifer was brought out into the open in the aftermath of Justin's release from Stanton. Jane had felt publicly humiliated by that revelation. Well, there wasn't anything Ron could do about Jane's hurt feelings. It was too late to put that cat back in the bag. She would just have to deal with it.
"Justin! Sweetheart!" called Jennifer. "Dinner's ready!"
Justin came out of his room and sat sullenly at the dinner table. It was set for only three because Molly was at Craig's for the weekend. Jennifer served dinner and then sat down at the table with Justin and Ron. But while Ron described Jack Kinney's funeral, Justin only picked at his food.
"Mom?" Justin said finally. "Remember that apartment I told you about? The one in the building off Liberty Avenue that Mrs. Novotny told me about?"
Jennifer grimaced. Liberty Avenue was where that motel where she and Ron used to meet was located. It was a rundown area with a sleazy reputation. "What about it, honey?"
"I want to move out of here," Justin stated bluntly. "I'm sick of staying in this condo and that apartment is available. I want to move in there."
"Oh, Justin!" Jennifer sighed. "Don't be silly!"
But Justin didn't waver. "I'm not being silly. Mom, your divorce agreement says that Dad has to pay my tuition at Carnegie Mellon, so I don't need to worry about that. And if you can help me with the deposit and the rent on the apartment, I think I can afford everything else. Mrs. Novotny promised me that busboy job at the Liberty Diner and I can eat most of my meals for free if I work there. If you let me have some of the extra furniture from the house I'll have enough to furnish the whole apartment. All that furniture is only sitting in storage going to waste. Please, Mom? I really want my own place."
Jennifer bit at her lip. "Justin, we've already been over this! You're still very shaky when you go out alone. And... and you need me to take care of you!"
"I can take care of myself, Mom!" Justin retorted. "I'm not a child. I'm starting classes next week and... and I want to make a fresh start. And that includes my own place to live. No offense, Mom, but I don't want to live here with you and Molly -- and Ron." Justin glanced at him, but Ron's face didn't change. Justin was never certain what the man was thinking -- if anything. "If I'm going to make any progress, then I have to at least try to be independent. That's what my therapist says."
"I know, Justin, but...." Jennifer looked over at Ron to back her up.
Instead, to Jennifer's surprise, Ron nodded his head. "I agree with Justin. He needs to learn to stand on his own two feet. He's starting college and he doesn't want to live in the dorm -- and after being in the Quad for almost a year, I don't blame him. He's a young man and he wants some privacy and his own space. I'll kick in for the deposit and the rent, Justin, as long as you can handle the rest."
"I should be able to afford it," said Justin, watching Ron's face closely. Ron must have his own reasons for wanting him out of the condo. Ron never did anything without a reason that benefitted himself. But Justin didn't care as long as Ron's actions also benefitted Justin. Such as agreeing to pay Justin's rent.
"But that's less than minimum wage, honey," Jennifer pointed out.
"Don't worry, Mom. Mrs. Novotny says the tips at the Liberty Diner are really good if you have a great ass!" Then Justin blushed when he saw his mother's shocked face. "Um, I think she was joking, Mom."
"I'm certain that she was," Ron added quickly. "You know what an odd sense of humor Debbie Novotny has, Jen."
"I suppose so," said Jennifer. There was nothing she could do if Ron was going to take Justin's side. Typical men!
Ron didn't think that working at that unsanitary dive with Mikey Novotny's mother was the best job that Justin could have, but it was a start. Having to deal with people every day might give the boy some badly needed self-confidence. Later he could move on to a better job. Perhaps next summer he could work as an intern at the Prisoners' Legal Defense. Ron would put him to work as Julie's go-fer. Yes, that bastard Craig would hate that! He already hated Ron, so he would detest seeing Ron and Justin working in the same office.
And having the kid in a separate apartment would get him out from underfoot. It was hard enough living in this cramped condo without having both a hyperactive little girl and a petulant, spoiled teenager sharing the space. With Justin in his own apartment and attending classes at Carnegie Mellon, he wouldn't be sitting around the condo all day brooding over Brian. He'd make some friends and find out what life was like beyond the Quad. And, with Ron paying his rent every month, he would be in Ron's debt.
Ron finished up his Salisbury Steak. Jennifer was a pretty good cook. Not too creative, but she could learn. Maybe he'd suggest a cooking class she could take. And Ron still wasn't tired of her in bed. No, not tired of her at all. As long as Jennifer had to remain in Pittsburgh -- Craig had threatened to sue for custody of Molly if she tried to move to Chicago -- it was convenient for Ron to live there while his divorce was going through. Of course, Jennifer expected them to get married once it was finalized, but they would cross that bridge when they came to it.
The phone rang and Jennifer jumped up to answer it.
"Ron, honey! It's for you!" said Jennifer. "It's long distance.
Ron left the table and took the call.
"Mr. Rosenblum," said the remote voice. "This is Jones. I'm in Tacoma. I made contact with our target and I gave him the material."
Ron's heart almost stopped. "You don't think he's going to bolt, do you?"
"No," said Jones. "He's against the wall. I don't think there's anywhere else for him to run. I'm going to let him stew over his literature for a little while -- and then...."
"And then," said Ron, lowering his voice. "Go in for the kill."
Posted June 30, 2005.