The social worker had left, furious but gone. After watching her leave, Jim had looked at Tristan and Jordy, seen the worry in both their eyes, and told them they ought to go up to bed. They had school in the morning, Tristan’s hip was OK to go even if he still was sporting a slight limp, and Jim and Garlen would talk some more.
The boys had looked at each other. Jim thought he saw Jordy blushing. Then both boys had said goodnight, and Tristan had surprised Jim by giving him a hug, and not just a brief one. As he was hugging Jim, he whispered, “I’ve asked Jordy to call me Tris. Can you do that, too?”
Jim had pulled away, finally, and with a warm smile, said, “Goodnight, Tris.”
Upstairs, both boys were nervous. “You want to shower first?” Jordy asked, being the good host.
“Why not together?” Tris suggested, blinking his eyes rapidly, as flirtatiously as an inexperienced 15-year-old boy could attempt to be, and when he saw the look on Jordy’s face, he broke into laughter. “I meant, I’ll use the shower in the hall bathroom and you can use the one in Jim’s bathroom. Look, I’m feeling just as nervous as you look. We are going to go slow with all this, aren’t we? I mean, really slow?”
Jordy did blush this time and nodded. “You’re calmer than I am,” he said accusingly.
“Am not! Come on, we’re wasting time.” And Tris began shucking off his clothes. Jordy pulled his shirt off, then stopped to watch Tris.
Tris was in a hurry, ripping things off as quickly as he could. When only his boxers were left, he gave Jordy a very coquettish glance, then turned and headed for the door. As he reached it with his back to Jordy, he removed the boxers, swung them around on his finger, and let them fly. Still showing only his backside to Jordy, he left the room, the sound of a nervous giggle the only part of him remaining.
Jordy showered quickly and got back to the room before Tris. There was a dimmer on his overhead light, and he turned it so the room was almost dark. He thought about turning on some music and decided that would be tacky. He wondered about what to wear and thought that, if they indeed were going to go slowly, which he knew was what he wanted, then he shouldn’t be naked. If he were nude, how did that conform with his intention not to rush into things? He slipped into a pair of boxers, then got in bed and pulled the sheet up over him.
Tris came in shortly after. He was wearing a towel and nothing else. He looked at Jordy, smiled nervously, and asked, “What are you wearing.”
“Boxers,” Jordy said, his voice resembling a growl.
“Oh, good! I didn’t know…. Can I borrow…?”
“Sorry!” Jordy jumped out of bed to get a pair of his boxers for Tris. His erection gave him away, but Tris’s towel showed the same thing, and so what?
Jordy got a pair of boxers from his dresser, then turned his back after handing them to Tris. “Privacy,” he said, and then he giggled nervously.
In bed, both boys were unsure of what to do.
Tris, showing his new resolve to be who he wanted to be rather than who he’d been the past several months, said softly, “May I kiss you?”
They’d both been on their backs. Now Jordy quickly rolled over on his side, facing Tris, who also was rolling. They met, they moved together, and their lips locked.
They kissed and squirmed and noted each other’s arousal. Pulling away finally, Jordy asked, “Shouldn’t we be talking?”
Tris said, “Umph,” and they were kissing again.
Both boys eventually let their hands roam as freely as their tongues were in each other’s mouth. They found they were both about the same size ,though Jordy was certainly larger; both were circumcised, and both were about as hard as a boy could be. Tris slid his hand up and down on Jordy, marveling at the feel of him and the freedom he had to do so, and Jordy’s body began jerking. He was going to say something, voice his approval, sing Tris’s praises, but he made a gargling noise instead, suddenly not able to speak intelligibly. Tris grinned, broke their kiss so Jordy could reach for the gulps of air Tris knew he must need, and he continued his stroking. Jordy reached his climax and proved it to Tris with his incoherent grunts and copious spurts which repeated themselves over and over again.
When Tris finally felt Jordy’s body relax, he stopped stroking but held on to Jordy’s erection. It didn’t deflate.
“That…that….” Jordy knew he had to say something, but just what, he had no idea.
Tris giggled. “Uh, cat got your tongue?”
Jordy didn’t feel like laughing, but Tris’s lightheartedness was both wonderful and not to be ignored, and he ended up joining in, his stomach vibrating with his giggles. Tris finally moved his hand from what he’d been holding to the bouncing stomach, loving the feel of it.
It took over a minute for the boys to relax. Then Tris said in as sultry a voice as he could conjure up, “Now do me.”
Afterwards, they finally did talk. They talked as long as they could. Both were tired from the tensions of the day and what had just happened. But the reserve both had felt due to whatever shyness had been lingering between them, any worries about what the other might think, the things they thought were wrong about themselves—had been wiped away. They both were able to speak of their fears, and in doing so, became even closer than their activities had just made them. When they awoke in the morning, they were new people, now a twosome facing the world together rather than two boys alone.
Jordy was standing outside the school, waiting for Tris to come out. Tris’s face lit up when he saw him.
“Get everything done?” Jordy asked.
“Yeah. Missing one day didn’t give me much to make up. I tend to be ahead of my teachers in the textbooks anyway. Except for math. Have I told you how much I hate math? Math and my brain operate on completely different wavelengths.”
They began the long walk home. “Math’s the best class they have!” Jordy rebutted. “And it’s fun. It’s English that sucks. All those parts of speech and sentence diagrams and reading stuff like Chaucer! Ugh!”
Tris laughed. “Well, maybe I should do your English homework, and you can to my math assignments.”
“That would be fine if you could take the tests for me and I could for you. Somehow, I think we have to learn the stuff ourselves.”
Tris nodded. “I can help you with English.”
“And I you in math,” Jordy agreed.
They were silent then, each with the same thought. Could they do that? Would they really be living together? Was that going to be possible?
They kept walking, and soon began chatting. At some point, after having gone several blocks, Jordy found he hadn’t tied his shoe properly after practice, and he stopped, knelt down and redid it. Tris was talking about something he’d heard in the cafeteria and had kept walking, not noticing that Jordy had stopped. Jordy looked up, saw that Tris was now ahead of him, and that he needed to jog to catch up.
Still ahead of Jordy, Tris looked to see why Jordy hadn’t responded to the last thing he’d said; he noticed he was quite a ways in front of Jordy. He stopped to wait for him.
“I’m coming,” Jordy said.
Tris couldn’t help himself. He started by fighting a giggle but wasn’t successful. Not being able to help himself, he said, “I hope not,” before laughing harder.
Jordy smiled. “You idiot,” he called out, still a ways behind Tris.
Tris was laughing in earnest by then—roaring actually. As he came up on Tris, Jordy spotted something a half block or so ahead, something that caused him to slow down and walk the final few steps he needed to reach Tris. There, he stopped. “Do you have your phone?” he asked.
Tris heard the change in tone of Jordy’s voice and responded to it, ending his laughter and answering seriously. “No, I left it home. I’m still figuring out how to use it. Why?”
Jim had had an old phone that he no longer used because he had upgraded to a newer model. He’d given the old one to Tris at breakfast that morning along with a laptop he no longer used, telling him they were things any boy attending high school should have.
Jordy pulled his own phone out of his pocket, turned it on and handed it to Tris. “Use this. Head back to the school. Call 911 on the way and tell them there’s a fight going on and you need help. Go. Hurry.”
Tris’s forehead wrinkled. “Wha…?”
“NOW,” Jordy said and pushed Tris back the way they’d just come. “And don’t look back. Just go.”
Tris hesitated, uncertain if he should leave, not knowing what was going on, but compelled by the urgency in Jordy’s voice, he started off. “Run,” Jordy called out, and so Tris did.
Jordy turned back to see what he’d spotted before handing Tris his phone. About a half block in front of him, he’d seen an old junker pull to the curb and four boys get out. They were older, appearing to be the age of the seniors at his school, but were dressed rougher than the boys at his school generally were. That wasn’t what had caught his attention, though. It was the baseball bat the driver had taken from the car after getting out and was now carrying; that was why he’d sent Tris away. The bat, being carried not like a player would carry it but held in the middle—and the looks on the faces of the other three boys—were all pretty clear indications to Jordy of the intent of the group. He’d seen that look before. He’d seen it recently in Red’s eyes.
The four boys were walking toward him steadily, but when they saw Tris turn and run, they suddenly sped up, running toward where Jordy was standing. Jordy stood still, waiting for them.
When they had closed to about ten yards, Jordy made his move. He abruptly turned and ran.
There was an empty field beside the road where Jordy had stopped. Rather than run back in the direction Tris had gone, Jordy left the sidewalk and headed across the field.
“Get him,” shouted the obvious leader of the quartet, the one with the bat. He began sprinting after Jordy. Jordy kept taking quick glances over his shoulder as he ran. The boy with the bat didn’t notice that he seemed to be neither gaining nor losing ground on Jordy. Jordy assumed the guy would simply think it meant that Jordy might be just as fast as he was, but that speed was because he was terrified, and so he’d soon tire out. Jordy hoped he was thinking that, and it would ratchet up his confidence.
However, there were no longer four pursuers closing in on Jordy. Jordy and the boy with the bat had been sprinting and were now considerably in front of the other three boys, who were steadily falling farther and farther behind. Jordy smiled and kept running.
The gap shortened more, however, as Jordy began slowing down, pretending to be running out of steam. Soon the boy with the bat was only a few yards behind. He put on a burst, thinking all he had to do when he caught up with Jordy was give him a hard push. Jordy would tumble over, and then just a couple of hard swipes with the bat would be all that would be needed. Then they could go after the other boy.
Jordy guessed that was what the boy was thinking; he had his own plan. A quick look over his shoulder showed his pursuer only two or three steps back, running hard, his face a grimace with his effort. Jordy suddenly stopped, twisting and crouching as he did so, and then swept his leg out as he’d practiced many times in the gym. The boy was on him, unable to stop, and Jordy’s leg sweep took him by surprise and off his feet. The boy fell hard to the ground, the bat skittering out of his hands. Jordy grabbed it, took the half second needed to be sure the other three boys were still a long way back and waited for his attacker to crawl back to his feet. The boy did exactly in the way Jordy expected him to: he rolled over onto his front, then put his two hands on the ground to push himself up.
That was when Jordy swung the bat, hard, breaking the boy’s right arm at the elbow.
The crack of the bone was followed almost immediately by a loud shriek. The boy rolled back onto his side, his left hand coming up to grab his right arm.
“You have one chance. One,” Jordy said as he raised the bat. “Who told you to do this—and why?” Jordy’s voice was a mean, angry rasp. “You have two seconds to tell me. Don’t and I’ll break the other arm. Then your skull.” He raised the bat and said, “One, two—”
He was starting to swing when the boy, his eyes now full of fear, cried out, “Mr. Burrows and Ms. Coppinger! She was in his office when he told me to get some other Putnam kids and grab your friend, bring him back to Putnam. Don’t hit me!”
“What were you supposed to do about me?”
“Just mess you up some.” The boy moaned again.
Jordy lowered the bat but kept his grip on it. The other three boys were now close but had slowed down. “You guys want to get into this?” Jordy asked. His voice was fierce but showed only curiosity, no fear; it wasn’t the voice of someone the least bit intimidated by facing a trio of older boys.
They stopped and looked at each other, then at Jordy who, though much younger, was considerably bigger than any of them and was holding a bat. They remained frozen where they were, glancing now at their leader, who was moaning piteously.
“I didn’t think so,” said Jordy. “You guys might want to beat it. The cops should be here in a couple of minutes. I’m keeping this one for them.” He nodded at the boy still on the ground, holding his arm and moaning in pain. “But you can wait around if you want to.”
In the near distance, a siren could be heard.
The other boys turned and took off. Jordy turned back to the fallen boy but glanced up in time to see the others jump back into the car, slam the doors and pull their heads down so they couldn’t be seen. Jordy smiled.
Tris was scared. He might well have decided no longer to be living in fear, but he didn’t know what he was running from, and while that’s always a scary thing, that wasn’t his greatest fear. He was worried about leaving Jordy alone. Sure, he’d seen him stop Red and intimidate Red’s friends, so he knew the boy was very capable of defending himself, but he had no idea what Jordy was facing; he did know, however, that he’d told Tris he wanted the cops involved. Whatever it was, it had to be big.
He called 911, told them a fight was in progress at the school, then hung up before the operator could question him further. He had to think! Did Jordy want the cops because he knew he’d need help? Did he think he might be hurt—or worse—and then wanted the cops there to protect Tris because he wouldn’t be able to? Was he just delaying whatever danger was coming so Tris could escape?
All Tris could think of was getting the cops there as fast as possible, then leading them back to where he’d left Jordy.
The problem with this was, he wasn’t sure how he could demand that the cops do anything. How could he possibly do that? He’d seen on TV how the cops reacted when called. They questioned everything and then had a cup of coffee, deciding what to do. They called backup. They delayed forever. If Jordy was in trouble, he needed help now. Not after an hour of the cops questioning and negotiating with Tris.
Yet they’d want to question him before anything else. Then they’d probably look around and question others. Had anyone seen a fight? Well, no. Was Tris just trying to get attention by calling 911? Was it a prank? Tris could imagine it taking forever, and Jordy might not have forever. What could he do?
He decided he wasn’t going to let the police do it their way. He was going to get their help, but the way he wanted it to go, and that was as soon as they arrived.
He could hear a siren as he was nearing the school. A squad car with flashing lights was approaching. He was still running and continued on toward it, beginning to wave his arms as he did so.
The two cops in the car saw him and instead of stopping in front of the school, drove to him before pulling to the curb.
“Help! My friend’s in trouble. Back this way!” And Tris turned and started running back along the sidewalk.
The police car moved forward, and the cop on the passenger’s side yelled out at him, “Hey, stop.”
“No time to talk,” Tris yelled back, and kept running.
The car was keeping up with him. “Get in. We’ll get there faster,” the cop said. The car stopped and the cop who’d yelled to him popped open the back door. Tris had a decision to make.
He jumped in and said, “Hurry!”
“What did you do?!”
“I sent Marco and three of his buddies to take out the big kid and grab Tristan. Just like we discussed.”
“I got a call from the cops! They said Tristan and his friend were attacked. I can’t be involved in anything to do with this. You know that! Everything you do is turning to shit!”
“Well, maybe if you’d get off your ass and do some of this, maybe that would help. I didn’t think there was a chance in hell they’d get caught. This should have worked.”
“It didn’t. Where’s Marco now? Has he talked? We can’t let him talk!”
“He’s in the hospital. He hasn’t talked. He was really messed up; they took him to surgery to fix his arm as soon as he got there. They said he’d be out for a while yet. He’s still in recovery.”
“So he’ll talk when he wakes up? And tell them who sent them after Tristan? God dammit! You can’t let that happen.”
“I’m the only one who has been doing anything. You want to shut him up? You do it.”
“Guess I’ll have to. Everything you’ve done so far has been a giant
“What are you going to do?”
“What you should have done. Shut him up.”
Jim took the boys to Antonio’s that evening. Late evening. They’d spent a lot of time with the cops before that.
The boy he’d hit with that bat, Marco Donelli, was transported to the hospital, moaning all the way. While the two guys in the squad car waited for the ambulance, they asked both Jordy and Marco what had happened. Jordy had told them almost everything.
Marco claimed he’d been attacked by Jordy. As for a reason, he’d hesitated, then said Jordy had told him to give him all his money, and when Marco had resisted, Jordy had hit him with the bat.
Jordy was still holding the bat and had admitted hitting Marco with it, so the policemen had decided that the first thing to do after calling the ambulance was to handcuff Jordy. Jordy had had another suggestion.
“Ask him if he was alone when I supposedly did that. I certainly wouldn’t be attacking a group of guys, all older than I am, would I? Not with only a baseball bat. And why would I even have one of those? I was walking home from school; I don’t play baseball, and it isn’t in season now, anyway. I wouldn't have a baseball bat with me. And to use one to stand off four guys? They could jump me easily. None of that makes sense. If, as he says, I attacked him, he had to have been alone. Had to be. Ask him.”
One cop held on to Jordy’s arm and the other crouched down by Marco, who was whimpering now, still cradling his broken arm in his left hand. “Were you alone when this happened?”
Marco looked around the best he could. He couldn’t see his friends. “Yeah, I was alone.”
“Ask him if he was just walking on the sidewalk, or if he had a car?” Jordy said.
The policeman at Marco’s side passed on the question.
“Uh… Hey man, I’m in pain here. Stop with the questions. Owww. Owwwwww.” Marco’s moaning rose in volume and frequency.
Jordy shook his head. “He wasn’t walking alone. He did have a car. It’s right over there.” He pointed. “He did have three buddies with him. I think you’ll find them hiding in the car. They jumped in to get away when they heard your siren. Maybe they planned to drive away, then realized this guy—” he pointed at Marco “—had the keys. He just told you he was walking. You might check his pockets for car keys. You’ll find one that fits that car. I doubt it was stolen and hotwired; it that was true, those guys would have driven off already.”
Jordy was pointing at the car, and the policemen were looking toward it. At that point, the three guys slammed open the doors and took off running, all scattering in different directions. The cops looked at each other, then one said, “Well, according to our witness here, they weren’t involved in it anyway. We can find out who they were when this guy’s been fixed up. Let ’em go.”
Jordy and Tris were taken to the police station by the two cops. Marco was transported to the hospital. Jordy never was cuffed.
Jordy and Tris both told their story a number of times. They had no idea why they’d been attacked. They were two high-school kids trudging home from school. It would have been unlikely that they’d have much money with them. And in fact they didn’t. Neither boy had ever seen any of the four boys before, so some sort of grudge or previous animosity could be ruled out.
In the end, the two boys were finally released to Jim. Tris’s father had never shown up and hadn’t answered his cellphone. Jim showed up with his emergency foster-care credential that Garlen had secured and brought to him at lunch, and the cops had no more reason to hold the boys.
Jim had noted how both boys had climbed into the backseat of his car as he was driving them to Antonio’s straight from the police station. He had also noted how closely they sat together. He couldn’t see their hands in the rearview mirror but had an easy time imagining they were clasped together. Just like it was easy to imagine them as a couple.
Ben Cooley walked into the hospital in disguise. It wasn’t much of one, but he was pretty sure it would suffice. Instead of the $600 business suit, shined Florsheim wing tips and an expensive, well-brushed and combed haircut, he was wearing a pair of old blue jeans, ratty tennis shoes, sunglasses and a baseball cap from which emerged tufts of mussed hair. He walked to the board that showed what floors various services were on, limping and muttering to himself and displaying a stooped posture.
No one gave him a second glance. All sorts visited the hospital. The most they got were stares and internalized questions, like, ‘wonder what’s wrong with that guy?’
He found the surgical and recovery areas were both on 12. He took the elevator to 6, which the board had told him was nursing services and staff facilities. There, he walked the halls till he found a janitors’ supply cupboard.
He selected a pail with wheels and a mop, pushed them down the hallway to the men’s locker room. As it was late afternoon and between shifts, it was deserted. Ben quickly strode to the dirty clothes hamper and pulled out a set of scrubs that looked big enough for him. The few splatters of something that looked suspiciously like blood didn’t bother him. In fact, they might make people avert their eyes from him in the hallway. Perfect.
In the trash he found a surgical mask and cap. He slipped them on, leaving the mask hanging loosely around his neck.
He put the mop and bucket back where he’d found them, passing several nurses and interns who didn’t even look his way. He had his head down and eyes hidden; it was unlikely they’d have been able to describe him at all if they were asked. He took the elevator to 11, got off, and climbed the last flight of stairs to the surgical and recovery floor.
Now it got harder. He pulled the mask up to cover his face, and headed for room 1206, listed on the board as the recovery ward. He pushed through the double doors and stopped. It was a large room with twenty beds. About half of them were occupied. A few nurses were working the ward. No one was looking at him.
A quick scan of the room showed him two things. One, all of the people in the beds were old. Two, there was a policeman sitting at the end of the room by a closed door.
Made sense, Ben thought. People in custody would have a separate ward. It would be guarded.
He started in that direction, not sure how he’d get in, but knowing he couldn’t do it from across the room. As he walked, he made sure no one was looking and picked up a clipboard from the end of one of the occupied beds. He moved down the ward, stopping now and then when he saw a patient was sleeping or unconscious; he stood over them, pretending to be checking them out.
He moved on then, always toward the end of the room. He was hoping at some point one of the nurses would engage the policeman in conversation.
Then he saw something even better. A nurse had two cups of coffee, and she was walking directly towards the policeman, a smile on her face. Ben immediately followed, just far enough behind her so it wouldn’t look like he was on her heels. His face was down, looking at the papers on the clipboard he carried.
The nurse got to where the cop was sitting. He stood to take the coffee from her and looked at her as she spoke to him. When he was thanking her and answering, Ben, never looking up from the clipboard, stepped around both of them and pushed through the door of the sequestered ward. Peripherally, he saw the cop glance his way, then return to his conversation with the nurse. Ben let the ward door close behind him.
Here there were only six beds. Marco, whom Ben knew from the time he’d spent visiting Putnam, was in one of them. Only one other was occupied, the one next to Marco’s. Both Marco and the other person recovering from surgery were asleep.
Ben had no idea how long he’d have but knew he had to work fast. He stepped to Marco’s bed and looked him over. The problem wasn’t Marco, he knew. The problem was the monitor that was rhythmically beeping at each contraction of Marco’s heart. Ben knew there’d be an alarm on it, which probably made a racket both here and at the nurses’ station if the beeping pattern was interrupted.
He had no time—anyone could come through the door at any moment—so he just acted. He followed the wires from the monitor to Marco and saw where they ended in a small adhesive pad that was attached to the boy’s chest. Ben opened his own shirt, then quickly peeled the pad from Marco and stuck it on his own chest. It took less than a second to do this, and the monitor never registered a noticeable change in rhythm.
Ben then turned to the bed with the other patient and bared his chest. He too was wearing a patch, but Ben doubted anyone would recognize there were now two monitors showing the exact same rhythm. In any case, this was all he could do; he stripped the pad from himself and quickly onto the other man’s chest.
Again, no chirps, no sirens. Ben turned back to Marco. He’d thought of the best way to do this and had come prepared. From the pocket of the scrubs trousers he removed a hypodermic needle fitted with an ampoule of heroin. He looked at Marco’s arms. No needle tracks. Damn. That would have been nice. But any vein would do. He found one in the back of Marco’s hand. It took only a moment to inject it with the entire contents of the ampoule. There was enough heroin to kill a horse. Certainly more than enough for a boy Marco’s size.
Ben slipped the needle and ampoule under the mattress of the other patient, then quickly walked back to the door. He didn’t know if the cop would still be talking to the nurse or not. He hoped he would be. He did not want to talk to the guy. He didn’t want the cop looking at his face. Even with the mask on, his eyes were notable, the same gray as his son’s.
He opened the door just far enough to see through the crack. The nurse was still there! He pushed open the door, half-turned so neither the cop nor the nurse could see his face, and walked away.
He took the stairs down, ridding himself of the scrubs on the way. He walked all the way down to the main floor. He’d thought of going to the basement but realized there’d be many more people to blend in with on the main floor.
He left the stairway and merged into a group of people walking toward the main doors. As he was nearing them, he heard over the public-address system, “Code blue, 1206; code blue, 1206.” He repressed a smile and pulled his ball cap lower on his head as he stepped into the sunlight.