The steel door slammed shut behind Robbie. Even for a visitor like him there was an echoing finality about the sound.
"You sure about this whole idea?" Ken asked. "It was being political that got you into trouble in the first place, you know. If you hadn'ta felt like you had to 'engage' these guys-"
Robbie pointed an aluminum crutch at him. "Stop being so maternal or I'm gonna shove this up your ass."
"I bet I'd actually feel it, which is more than I can say about your dick."
Robbie started to respond, but his heart was not in it. The two of them, along with Murphy, were walking down a brick-walled corridor of Suffolk County Jail. With it's lumbering guards and low ceiling, this place was just too oppressive for jokes.
The visitors' room was empty except for the three people they had come to see. "Wait here," Murphy said and then went over to speak with his clients. It was clear why Murphy had made them stand at the door. The prisoners were all immediately shouting and arguing with their attorney, gesturing at Ken and Robbie.
When things calmed down, Murphy called them over. A guard with a nightstick hanging at his side took up a position behind the prisoners. Despite everything that had happened, this was actually Robbie's first good look at his attackers. They were kids, just like him, maybe eighteen or nineteen. Switch their prison orange for blue jeans and there would be no telling them from any other teenager.
"Okay, Robbie," said Murphy, "I've explained to the guys what your proposal is and they've agreed to hear you out."
All three prisoners had folded their hands and sat back, watching with disdain and feigned boredom. Robbie almost laughed. He found that he was not scared of them at all. This would be almost too easy. Not like this morning in the DA's office.
"Are you forgetting what those animals did?" Markham shouted. His anger sounded all the more palpable because of his broad East Texas accent, so out of place here in his Boston District Attorney's office.
Robbie tried to respond forcefully, but managed more of a squeak. "I just d-don't think that-"
"You ain't thinking' at all."
Greg Markham was handsome, even now, with an intense scowl defacing the jovial smile that defined his usual camera-ready image. His rough, mature, good looks and rustic manner had made him a star in Massachusetts politics. Now, Robbie was seeing him in a way the public never did. And this Greg Markham was scary.
Robbie managed to say, "It's just not fair to my way of think-"
"It's the fairest thing in the fuckin' world you little shit! They bust you up, I put 'em away and the public gets to see justice at work. End of story. Everyone's happy." Markham turned to one of the assistant DA's and said, "Can you believe this little idjit?"
Ken's hold on his hand tightened. Robbie squeezed back reassuringly. Then, he told Markham, "Charging them with a hate crime isn't right. It's just a way of punishing them for what they think and I'm not going to be a part of that."
The speed with which Markham whirled at him was unbelievable. "Don't tell me what you want. This is my trial. We gonna do things my way! You just do as you're told."
And that right there flicked a switch in Robbie. The man's contempt and refusal to take him seriously was just too much. Before he understood why, he had exploded out of his chair and was leaning across the prosecutor's desk, nose to nose with the big man.
Robbie spoke slowly. "I know your type, Markham. You're just too glad to steamroll three punks so you can say, 'See? Justice'. Your problem is that if you don't make it a hate crime, then you don't get the headlines so you can show the world how great you are. You think I don't know what all this is really about?"
Was that a flicker of guilt in Markham's gray eyes?
"I read the papers," Robbie continued. "I know you want to be governor. I know this case is just a tick you need for your resume so you can get liberals to vote for you. You don't care if it means those guys gotta do two years extra just for thinking bad thoughts." Robbie's injured right leg was hurting now, but he refused to sit. "I also know that you can't win without me or my boyfriend. If we decide we're not testifying, then you don't even have a regular old-fashioned assault conviction. I bet that'd go over well with the voters. And you know what? I don't care if those three guys go free, it'd be worth it to cost you a few points in your election, you pompous piece of shit."
Markham backed away, a hand holding his forehead, like he'd just been hit by the world's biggest headache. He signaled to his two assistants and they left. He said, "Ken, I need to speak to Robbie alone. Could you give us some time?"
Ken looked over at Robbie. He clearly did not want to go.
"I'd just tell him everything afterwards anyways," said Robbie.
"Not this. This has to be just you and me," said Markham. "Please."
Robbie could barely believe that Greg Markham had told him 'please'. "Okay," Robbie said.
"You sure?" Ken asked, surprised.
"Yeah, I'll be fine."
When the door had closed behind Ken, Markham walked around his desk to Robbie and sat on the edge of it. "I think you need to be educated a little bit more about how this world works," Markham said. He started taking off his jacket.
"This supposed to scare me or something?"
"Just be quiet," said Markham, unbuttoning his left cuff. He thrust his arm under Robbie's face and pulled back the sleeve. The scars were unmistakable: the word 'faggot' scrawled across the skin.
Robbie could say nothing as he digested just what Markham was telling him.
"But- but you're married!" he finally blurted.
"Yeah, I'm married. That was a choice I had to make. Tough choices is what life is about. Except you kids don't know shit about making choices."
Robbie could not stop staring at the jagged letters in front of him.
Markham continued, "Life isn't about what makes you happy. It's about what works. That's what you don't understand. The ones who did this to me thirty years ago were just like the ones who came after you. And someday they're gonna go after someone else if we don't stop them now. Stop them hard."
With a tenderness that stunned Robbie, Markham reached out and held his chin. "You know, you're so beautiful," the man told him. "You're young and bright and there's no weight on your shoulders like with me. If you don't stop these guys now, they're going to keep coming back until they've taken all that from you."
"They can't," Robbie said.
"Bullshit. This thing on my arm? They carved that with a piece of chicken wire. Had to press it good an' hard to get it done. I can still remember what every moment of that felt like. Don't tell me about what they can and can't take from you, boy..."
Robbie could tell Markham was about to blow his top again. As the man continued to speak, Robbie limped over to him.
"...warning you about. Time after time-"
With a swift hug, pressing into the big man's chest, Robbie silenced him. Tentatively, Markham slid his hand across Robbie's back and returned the pressure.
"I'm sorry I misread you," Robbie said when he finally pulled away.
"So you understand?"
"I understand," said Robbie. "I still don't agree with you, but I understand."
"Look, you basically said it yourself. Your way is the way things used to be. What guys like you had to put up with back then, I respect that, but this is a different world and-"
"The world doesn't change that easily, son."
"Maybe. But I still know what I consider fair and I want you to do things my way. Just give it a shot, okay?"
As he buttoned his shirt back up, Markham said, "It's a tough man that can keep his principles after he's had his teeth knocked in. I respect that. I'll do this your way because of that, if nothing else."
"It's real simple," Robbie told the three prisoners. "I've convinced the DA to drop the hate crimes charge. That's a lot of prison time I've saved you."
"And what do you want in return, pervert? A night with us?"
"Nothing. I just wanted to come here so you can see that people like me, no matter how much you try to degrade us, we're still people. I wanted to look you in the eyes so you could see that we've got feelings and ideas and codes of honor and everything else that makes people human."
The one in the middle glared at Robbie, but said nothing. The one on the left stared into space. The one on the right, though, he said, "I'm supposed to respect you now? That it?"
Ken answered before Robbie could. "Maybe you're too dumb to get it, asshole. Let me simplify it for you a little, okay? If it was up to me, I'd stick your bitch ass in a cell 'til Jesus comes back, but my boy here's too nice for his own good. So when you get out of prison earlier than you deserve, I want you to remember that you owe your freedom to a faggot."
The prisoner Ken was talking to jumped to his feet right then. The guard behind him pressed him right back into his chair. "Siddown, motherfucker!"
"I think it's time you left," Murphy said. "You got what you came for, right?"
"Right," said Robbie.
Outside, in the parking lot, Ken started crying.
"Dude," said Robbie, lifting his boyfriend's head up, "Dude, relax, it's cool."
"I'm sorry, Robbie. I know you wanted to do that all dignified and proper, but I just couldn't take it no more. I-"
"No, you don't."
Ken looked at him with guilt on his face. "When you told me what you wanted to do at the DA's office, I went along with it because you seemed so serious, but in there, all I could remember was that night. How I felt so useless, you know, watching while they kicked you over and over."
"They were holding you, Ken, I don't-"
"Doesn't change how I felt, not being able to do anything about it. And now, now that I can do something about it, I want to pound them into the ground! I want to make them pay every price there is to pay."
"See, this is why my way is better," said Robbie putting a light hand on Ken's back. "My Ken, the Ken I love, is a different guy from what you're describing. Once you think about this a little bit, you'll see I'm right and you'll be glad we did this."
"But what if we're wrong?" Ken asked, taking Robbie's crutches from him and sticking them in the back of the little gray Hyundai.
"We're not. Remember the guy sitting on the left? The one who didn't say anything the whole time?"
"When we were leaving, he looked right at me, just for a second and he moved his lips. He said, 'I'm sorry.'"
"No kidding," said Robbie. "Now get in the car and take me for a burger. I'm starving."
********* Let me know what you think.
Funtails@hotmail.com, May, 2008.