Glynn was standing on the stage behind the cafeteria, reporters scrambling for attention in front of him, holding out their microphones. Glynn looked both annoyed and resigned, his usual half-smile on –he’d been through much worse in the past few years.
“Warden Glynn, do you know who gave Duane Lennox the knife?” “And how the knife passed the metal detector in what is supposed to be a high security prison?” “Who’s responsible for letting it happen?”
Yeah, Leo, just explain that; I’m listening –Toby thought he could hear Duane laugh far in the distance; throw his head back and howl like a wolf.
Leo Glynn shook his massive head, explaining again. “It’s impossible the weapon was brought in; we assume it was given to Lennox by another inmate.”
Like Glynn was going to acknowledge publicly that one of his CO’s had screwed up big time. Always the same old bullshit.
At that point Tobias Beecher rose from the couch where he was sitting and switched off the TV. There would be an investigation, as usual and as usual it would shed no light on what had happened. Why waste money for a death-row inmate who would’ve died anyway?
Toby was safe.
He stood there for a moment, watching the black screen. God save your soul, Duane Lennox, he thought. I did what you asked, you got what you wanted. Now… He could hear Duane’s voice in his head. “After it’s over, Beecher, forget me and move on. Find yourself a nice girl…”
“A woman? Why not a man?”
Lennox’s eyes had turned to a very dark shade; wrong question.
“Whatever you want,” he’d said, “Just move on.”
Easier said than done, Duane.
Toby had believed that Lennox’s death would free him from this mesmerizing, possessive, smothering, impossible love, cut this tight umbilical cord, leave Oz and Schillinger and Adebisi, even Saïd’s friendship and Pete’s affection behind, start fresh, new resolutions, a new Beecher. No such luck; memories were sticking to him like glue, following him, poisoning his days, his nights, ruining the few moments he had alone, tainting even the time he spent with his kids.
Toby pressed his palms against his eyes and sighed loudly, trying to breathe out all the pain, the worry, the guilt…
Things weren’t that simple.
Suicide… Lennox’s last “fuck you” to the society, the judges, the cops, his victims’ families; Lennox’s way to keep the upper hand until the end. “I broke the law –once more- and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it.”
In the District Attorney’s office the conversation had been going on and on for a full hour, Reuben and his assistants trying to process the little information they had, tension and excitement filling the room –Christopher Keller kept silent, listening to the others until finally Reuben turned to him and asked for his opinion. An expectant silence fell, all attention on him now. Barely moving his shoulders in a dismissing shrug, Keller said, “No idea. I’ll pass on this one, I guess.”
He’d kept his tone light and indifferent, convincing as always –he was lying, Reuben could tell; he knew his brilliant assistant much better than anyone else did and he never passed on anything.
Keller had an idea, he just wouldn’t voice it.
When the others left Reuben held him back.
“So? No idea, really?”
“Come on, Keller; don’t pull any of your tricks, I know you’re up to something.”
Keller stared at him for a moment, shook his head.
“Tobias Beecher did it. He was in Oswald with Lennox; shared his pod. Lennox had his back in exchange for the usual prison currency -sex. Plus he’s a keen opponent to the death penalty, just like this psychiatrist in Oswald, the nun. He *gave* Lennox the shank.”
“Any evidence to back this up?”
“No. Believe me, if I had any, Beecher would already be back behind bars.”
“No evidence, no charges; no charges, no trial. No matter how much you dislike Mr Beecher, I won’t go there.”
“I didn’t ask you to.”
Reuben knew better than insisting; he sighed and Keller strolled out, like a tiger on the hunt.
Christopher Keller meeting Tobias Beecher on the next day was pure coincidence. They met on the staircase; Keller walking up to his office, Beecher stepping down; their eyes met like swords.
“I heard you took up Desmond’s case?” Keller asked.
Keller nodded. “One more desperate case? Do you make it your area of expertise?”
“Desmond is ill. Psychiatrists diagnosed schizophrenia; you don’t send a schizophrenic to the electric chair. You can’t.”
“Exactly what kind of game are you playing, Beecher? All this pro-bono work you’re doing in Oswald. Is it the only way to keep in touch with your old friends? Sink to your old comfort level? Or are you trying to shield as many criminals from justice as you can?”
Beecher’s game hardened, his lips a straight thin line.
“You know, Mr Keller, the more I know you, the more I think you’re one of the most loathsome individuals I ever met.”
“Really? Of course, considering *who* you’ve been hanging around lately I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“By the way, I’m curious. How did you get the shiv to Lennox? How did you manage to avoid being searched?” Keller said, staring at Beecher, his eyes like scalpels.
“I didn’t give Lennox anything.”
“Don’t bullshit me Beecher, of course you did. He asked you for it as a proof of your love; he was in, you were out and that made you feel so guilty; you got the shank and found a way to take it inside Oswald, allow Lennox to give us his last ‘fuck you’. You were his lawyer after all.”
Beecher had to grab the rail to keep his balance; Keller didn’t miss that.
“Was that psychiatrist, Sister Pete, involved in the plot?”
Something on Beecher’s face gave him away; Keller felt the rush of victory, adrenaline burning through his veins. Just what he needed, the best and only drug -triumph. He allowed himself a moment to savour it, a moment to keep Beecher trapped under his gaze before shrugging.
“You can sleep in peace, Beecher, I have no way to prove anything and Reuben doesn’t even want to hear about it anymore. But I know, and you know it’s what happened. I can tell; I knew Lennox, I worked on the fucking psychopathic’s case when he was first arrested 10 years ago.”
“Takes one to know one, something like that?”
Keller didn’t even grace him with an answer, just flashed a smile and walked down the stairs, his shoulders brushing against Beecher’s when they passed each other.
Jesus, the man was dangerous, Beecher thought; and fucking smart; he hadn’t expected such a frontal attack.
/I dealt with tougher than you, Keller; it will take more to drag me down. /
Joey “Little” Desmond’s trial started a month later. Joey was only 17 when he killed five people in a bar, pretending that a demon hidden in the TV set had ordered him to. Sheer schizophrenic delirium, a diagnosis confirmed by two psychiatrists. But Keller remained unconvinced and dug a little deeper; he managed to find something about old unsettled debts; Joey belonged to a gang that owed a lot of cash to one of the victims; he read the psychological reports again; Joey was schizophrenic but his IQ was above average; Keller found another shrink to say that maybe the boy wasn’t really schizophrenic; maybe just a borderline case.
“Desmond wasn’t hearing voices that night; there was no demon hidden inside the TV set. He planned the whole thing; killed five people to cover the murder of the only victim that mattered. Desmond may be crazy today but that night 18 months ago he was in full possession of his faculties. He deserves to be judged for what he was and did at the moment. A calculating cold blooded murderer.”
Desmond’s mental state had worsened in prison. At barely 21 he was emaciated, disfigured by facial tics, manic; keeping his eyes on the ceiling, talking to himself, drugged by the antipsychotic meds he was fed. What should’ve worked in his favour backfired; Keller knew how to play to the jury’s fears. A psychiatric hospital, even lock-up wards, isn’t a prison –what if Desmond escaped and killed again? What would the voices ask him to do if he stopped taking his meds –and he would, schizophrenics did most of the time? Were they ready to take the risk? Would Mr Beecher take responsibility if the worst happened? Could the jury live with themselves?
And even Beecher’s brilliant defence wasn’t enough for a reversal; Keller won. Desmond understood the verdict and clutched to Beecher, begging him, crying, yelling, spitting curses at the judge, at Keller and the jury while Beecher tried to calm him down, hugging him like a child, a terrified animal lost in a world filled with demons that no one could see but him; Keller was the only one who didn’t look away from the unbearable scene as the guards dragged Joey out.
Beecher stood in the courtroom long after that. Keller was packing his files, ready to leave but Beecher had to let go of his anger now, if he kept it inside any longer he feared he would do something stupid. Get drunk. Hit someone.
“Why don’t you just use a firing squad?” Beecher asked him.
“I’m only doing my job, Beecher, protecting people from the likes of your client.”
“Stick it, Keller, I know better.”
He was walking out when Keller grabbed him, seized his arms and pushed him into a dark corner of the hall.
“Care to explain that last remark?”
Payback time, you asshole, Beecher thought.
“I spent three years with men who killed for sport, for fun, a word, a glance, anything; I shared my cell with Duane Lennox who’d tortured and killed 5 young men; I know what a killer is, I know how their minds work. There are killers on both sides of the law.”
Keller’s hands were bruising his arms but he didn’t care.
“You’re one of them,” Beecher said, “destroying lives just the same.”
The grip loosened; Beecher was barely able to stand up, shaking with anger and stress; Keller stepped back, his face hidden in the shadows.
“No. You’re wrong,” Keller’s voice had a strange tone. A pleading tone. Beecher shrugged; why would he give a fuck about Christopher Keller? He took a step forward and was about to walk away but he was pushed back again.
“You think you know everything, don’t you? Rich family, everything handed to you on a silver platter, nothing to fight for. Do you know what I had to go through to be where I am?”
“No. And quite frankly I don’t give a shit. Now you let go of me or I’m going to file a harassment lawsuit at you faster than you can spit.”
“You were given everything,” Keller shouted at Beecher’s retreating back, “and you threw it all away! What kind of person are you?”
“A man –which is something you obviously forgot to be for a very long time,” Beecher said above his shoulder, and left without one more word.
Keller stood there for a while then finally drove back to his apartment, any sense of triumph washed away; he showered, ate a cold pizza, and crashed in front of his desk, Beecher’s words echoing through his mind, rousing old fears, half-forgotten nightmares.
Reminding him of the lies he’d been told, some of them he’d believed.
He’d believed he’d succeed in being someone in spite of an underprivileged background; he’d believed if he made enough effort, worked hard enough, gave up everything–love, friendship, entertainment- he’d reach the top. Well he did; it took him much longer than it should have because he had to study in a an anonymous university when rich guys like Beecher were welcomed in any of the Ivy fucking League places, and because he lacked most of the cultural experience he needed; he had to work probably three times more than Beecher to be acknowledged as a good lawyer; becoming an ADA had been an obstacle course. In the end he’d got used to people looking at him strangely, talking behind his back, because in the end he was *good*, in the end he was *better* than anyone else; he’d overcome the loneliness, the void of feeling constantly out of place because he’d believed that his own merits would open some magic door and that he’d find a place where he’d fit.
“Care only about the work,” one of his teacher told him, someone he’d considered almost as the father he didn’t have, “the rest will follow.”
But nothing had followed. The friends he’d lost; the loves he’d given up, three years of a disastrous marriage –nothing had ever replaced that. Loneliness was no more a feeling; it had turned into a physical pain; and it wasn’t about sex; sex he could get whenever he wanted it; cheap sex, loveless sex; he’d had lovers, he’d been loved. But along the way he’d forgotten how to love and sex without love made him sick, made him angry, made him feel worthless.
He went through his datebook, skimming through the names of people he hadn’t seen for months, years –he barely remembered them; even those who’d been close, good friends, lovers, he felt nothing for them anymore.
For the first time in years he felt scared. He wasn’t 40 yet, how would he live the rest of his life like this?
That night he got drunk, woke up hungover, threw up, went running in the park, took a cold shower and went to work. Just another day.
But at the end of the morning, as he was sitting on his desk, dressed in a Prada black suit with a crisp white shirt, looking a lot like a picture in a magazine , Beecher knocked at the open door and walked in without waiting, stood in front of him, wearing khakis and a polo shirt; casual Friday wear at Beecher’s practice, Keller guessed, waiting.
“I owe you an apology for yesterday; that was insulting and unfair. I… I got carried away; the case had gotten at me, I would’ve said anything. I was just looking for disparaging words…”
“What makes you think I was insulted? What the hell makes you think I cared?”
“Nothing. I just felt I had to apologize.”
“You don’t have to. I don’t give a fuck, really; and who do you think you are, anyway? A walking AA poster going through your 12 steps program, forgiving everyone?”
Beecher made a strange noise –half a laugh, half a sniff.
“Believe what you want to believe; I did what I had to.”
Don’t you play all righteous on me Beecher, Keller thought, staring at the man. I know who you are; ex-con, prison bitch, reinstated lawyer…
“Listen… I’m gonna tell you how I feel about all this shit. People like you seem to close ranks when it comes to people like me. Sometimes I think that those who work with me still feel more comfortable with men of your social standing even though you’ve been in prison, even though you let a psychopath use you; even though you drove drunk and nearly killed a little girl; in spite of all this you’re closer to them than I’ll ever be. So please don’t bother and apologize, you’re wasting your time. And mine.”
That earned him an exasperated sigh.
“You’re that tough, uh? Whatever, I did it.”
“Yeah and it didn’t work, obviously…”
“Jesus. You’re one paranoid motherfucker.”
“You don’t think I’d let my personal feelings towards you influence my professional behaviour, do you?”
Uh, uh, wasn’t that the real question, after all, Beecher thought.
“The idea actually occurred to me.”
“I don’t. I don’t like you; but then I don’t like many people and I certainly never let my personal feeling mess with my job.”
“Oh. I’m relieved then. Still that wasn’t the reason why I came. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter.”
Beecher was turning on his heels, ready to leave but Keller held him back, caught him by the arms staring at the nasty bruises on his wrists.
He’d done this; purple marks on the pale skin.
Looking up he saw that Beecher had gone quiet and silent, mesmerized by the sight of Keller’s fingers stroking his skin in a slow unconscious motion; Keller saw a loose strand of blond hair dance just inches from his eyes, he saw Beecher’s flushed face and his eyes bluer than ever. He wanted to let go of him because he didn’t even like him and instead found himself sliding his fingers higher, pulling Beecher closer, waiting for him to say something, laugh at him, push him away, protest, call him back to his senses, relying on him for that and when he didn’t Keller kissed him.
Barely a kiss, just the brush of lips against lips, Keller’s gaze not leaving the open door in case someone would walk by. He counted to three and Beecher didn’t move; so he let go of him, went to the door and closed it; Beecher standing there, his eyes clouded, a little breathless –waiting for more?
Jesus, Keller thought, what am I getting myself into? But if felt so damn good, so damn right, he was tired of jerking off alone in the shower and fuck, Beecher had been through much worse after all so why not; not like he was trying to push him awayn maybe Beecher missed that after all, a man’s touch?
Get a grip, Keller; it might be a trick, a plan to make you dirty, compromise you, give Beecher something to use against you, break you, get his revenge… Don’t. Just fucking don’t.
But he came back to Beecher, seized his hips, pulled him against him, laced his fingers in thick strands of hair and looked deep into these blue eyes.
“What fucking game are you playing, Beecher?”
Then it was too late, the man’s scent, his warmth, were too enticing, Keller didn’t care about anything anymore; desire was too strong this time, he didn’t have the strength to fight it, didn’t even want to try.
Beecher’s lips opened against his, their breaths melted in an urgent kiss, Keller pulled Beecher’s shirt out of his pants and ran his hands all over the warm skin –God it felt so good and hearing Beecher’s moans as he kissed him back, Beecher’s hands locked on the nape of his neck were just what he needed to fuel the fire.
When the kiss ended they just stood there face to face and after a moment Keller let go of Beecher’s body, stepped back, took a deep breath and said, “I think we need to talk.” And Beecher nodded.
First time Duane Lennox showed up was to rescue Toby from the Aryans. Toby had been doing some pretty good fighting of his own but he was alone against three, reaching the end of his rope when the tall brown haired silhouette materialized beside him; Duane was a good fighter and the Aryan fucks finally took off.
“Does this happen to you everyday?” Lennox had said, a little breathless.
“Yeah, it does.”
They were bloodied and bruised; Lennox looked like one of the Three Musketeers, long hair, dark eyes, narrow face with a small moustache and a short beard, muscular body.
“I’m alone in my pod, you’re alone in yours, why not ask McManus? We could share.”
“I’m talking about the pod. You’ll be safe. Nothing you don’t want.”
Duane Lennox was dangerous, his reputation kept everyone away, even Ryan O’Reily; he was suspected of killing five guys, maybe even raping them, and other details Toby wasn’t interested in, didn’t even want to learn about; there would be a second trial later, the bets were on a death sentence but Lennox didn’t seemed to worry. He read a lot, wrote a lot and listened to Toby; from time to time he seemed to disconnect from the reality and just fly away. In such moments his face was like a sculpture made out of the hardest marble; Toby’s newly acquired instincts told him to just shut up and leave him alone.
Later sex came to them naturally; they both felt lonely and in moments of anguish sex was a natural sedative. That had nothing to do with any kind of prison deal; Duane didn’t consider himself as Beecher’s protector although within months he became more and more possessive and jealous; and the inmates knew better than to call Beecher a bitch anyway; those who had still had painful memories of what would happened to them next.
Two months before being released Toby realized he had it bad for Lennox who seemed pretty hooked himself. They exchanged childish oaths, kisses and tears and hugs and after his release Toby kept visiting twice a month in spite of it all; sometimes Duane didn’t even show up, sometimes he was a bitch, sometimes he was just the man Toby loved.
Shit; Beecher cried his heart out when Lennox died and that was something he could share with no one; every time Lennox’s name was mentioned Sister Pete’s brows furrowed in disapproval and she changed the subject.
Sitting in front of Christopher Keller in this bar, far enough from any familiar place where they could’ve been recognized, Beecher realized maybe it hadn’t been love. Maybe he’d kept a part of himself distant enough all along, enough to be able to keep living, keep moving, keep having a life even after he’d lost Duane and the memories of long black hair sliding between his fingers, the dark gaze roaming over him, the taste of his skin, the feeling of his kisses were slowly joining another place in his mind; a place where only dreams lived.
“You’re a survivor,” Duane had told him last time they met, after their last kiss, as Toby gave him the shank, “you’ll forget me and move on.”
“A penny for your thoughts,” Christopher Keller said.
“You don’t want to know. Anyway this, I mean being here together, is a foolish mistake; if anybody finds out…”
“Finds out what? We’re only having a drink, what’s wrong about it?”
“Who are you trying to kid? Since we’ve been here the only thing we’ve been able to think about is when and where we’re going to do it. And how we’re going to hide it afterwards.”
Keller leaned back in his chair and folded his arms, a wicked smile on his lips.
“Really? That’s what you’ve been thinking? I’m a bit surprised, Mr Beecher that a man like you…”
“Yeah,” Keller said, his voice low and hungry, his eyes wandering over Beecher’s face and body, “that’s the idea. Come on, let’s take it to my place; I want to fuck you into tomorrow. And as for hiding it… I’ll trust you on that; aren’t you the one who managed to pass a weapon through Oz security checks and fuck us all over?”
Beecher’s face hardened.
“You’re not gonna let this go, are you?”
The wicked smile narrowed, Keller’s eyes burning with cold determination.
They left, Keller drove to his apartment and even in the elevator they kept silent, not touching; not until the door was locked and Keller pulled Beecher in his arms with rough impatience –and kissed him.
Stripped him out of his clothes, pulled him down to the bed, kissed him again.
Beecher was a silent lover, nothing more than muffled moans and hisses of pleasure; when Keller pushed his cock inside him he rested a hand against Keller’s chest.
“Go slow; I want to feel it.” His voice shaking.
Keller obliged, muscles straining, fighting the urge to just let go and fuck Beecher hard, until Beecher was the one who begged for more.
“Fuck, you’re good,” Beecher said, stumbling on the narrow border of ecstasy, wanting to fall, held back by Keller’s hands.
“Yeah,” Keller said with one last thrust, pushing them both over the edge, feeling the earth open under them, “No one complained yet.”
Later Keller fixed a meal; they didn’t really know what time it was, maybe the middle of the night, maybe the cold hours before dawn. Beecher was looking at the shelves loaded with books in the living room. Law books, essays and many books about psychiatry; “Diagnose paranoid delirium”, “Schizophrenia: the viral possibility”, “Psychotic, Lock them in or cure them? The ultimate choice.”
Curious, Beecher pulled out one of them, the one about Schizophrenia; flipped through the pages annotated Keller’s writing and a little picture fell out; a pretty woman in her thirties, brown hair long and curly, empty gaze lost somewhere in a faraway place, a hesitating smile on her face. She was dressed in a long dyed mauve skirt, a black seersucker blouse, barefoot, round glasses sitting low on her nose; glass pearl necklaces around her neck. On the back of the picture was a name. “Michka; 1938-1992”
The book and the picture were pulled out of his hand roughly.
“Who was she? Why are you so interested in mental illness?”
Keller’s gaze, so dark, brows furrowed.
“You don’t go around poking in my things, OK?”
Keller’s muscular bulk was blocking Beecher against the shelves, Beecher felt his body tense at the idea of being trapped, his hands clenched in fists, his gaze turned cloudy and hard, he was on edge, ready to pounce.
“Easy,” Keller said in a softer tone, “Easy, I’m not going to hurt you, come on, Beecher, it’s OK.”
Beecher relaxed, breathed. “Sorry, sometimes it’s…”
“Yeah. Why don’t we just have something to eat.”
There were scrambled eggs and coffee and sausages and when they were done Keller said, “So, what about spending the whole day in bed, fucking?”
“Sounds good to me,” Beecher said.
“Doesn’t have to be anything more than fucking.”
“Yeah. Just fucking. Nothing more.”
A week later Toby went to Oz –he wanted to see Desmond, but couldn’t, the poor fuck was in solitary so he went to Sister Pete’s office and sat in front of her, telling her the name he’d found on the paper. Michka.
“Michka? Why do you think I should know this name? Is that a first name?” she said, searching her memory, shaking her head.
“I don’t see… ah… wait, maybe there’s a Michka…” then rising, going to her locker and pulling out a file, opening it.
“Wait… Michka Rivers… 32 years old, tried to kill her 6 year old son; convinced a voice in her head ordered her to do so, that he was the incarnation of the devil. I remember this case, when Shirley Bellinger was first incarcerated here I found so many fascinating similarities… Except the fact that Michka Rivers ran after her son with a carving knife through the house and into the street; in the end a crowd of people brought her under control. She was institutionalized and her son was placed in foster care. Terrible story. Poor kid.”
Pictures of Keller’s broad shoulders, dark gaze came dancing in Beecher’s mind. Poor kid.
“But the story doesn’t end there. The woman escaped, managed to find her son, stalked him and tried to kill him again, still because of the voices in her head. This time she nearly succeeded. After that they sent her to a penitentiary hospital far away. I don’t know what happened to the kid but if he’s still alive he probably has heavy psychological sequels.”
“Or not,” Sister Pete sighed, “children are very resilient.”
“Yes… very resilient.” Beecher said thinking of his own kids and what he’d put them through.
Sister Peter leant forward.
“Just out of curiosity, how did you hear about this woman?”
“Oh, a coincidence. I found a picture with her name on it in a book at the library, a book about schizophrenia while I was working on Desmond’s case. I guess I just got curious about her.”
She nodded, satisfied.
Beecher walked back to his car slowly. Did the story explain Keller’s attitude in Desmond’s case, taking revenge on his mother in some way? Keller was probably able to distance himself from the story, but then can you ever distance yourself from something like that? He sighed and sat behind the steering wheel.
Fucking Keller had been great; much better than anything he ever tried, better than O’Reily’s heroin, better than Duane, so much better than making love with Katherine. It had been sizzling, dazzling and curiously soothing; they’d parted late in the afternoon and made no promise but the last kiss felt like a promise in itself...
Since then Beecher hadn’t gone to the courthouse again and Keller had given no sign of life so maybe it had just been that –fucking.
But sometimes when he was alone Beecher wished it were more.