The morning mist hung low over the streets. Even by nearly 9AM, the outside air in the city seemed grey, thick, and heavy. It was as if mother nature couldn't decide whether to flick the switch for winter to begin, or to let autumn drag on for another week or two.
Less than two miles from his home, Dylan sat glumly in the vet's waiting room, staring at the cellphone in his hand. From the looks of it, he'd missed two early morning calls from Angel -- one at 5:10, and another at 5:45.
Little shit didn't even leave me a message, he mused... then his jaw muscles tightened. No -- he left me a message, alright.
"Dylan?" chirped the receptionist down the hall.
He looked up. "Yeah? Is she gonna be okay?" Dylan hopped from his seat and jogged up to the counter. In the background, a dog whined and yelped. Dylan instantly winced, hoping it wasn't Lady.
The woman beamed. "Yes. The doctor says she'll be fine. Oh, Dr. Callister?"
Dylan turned just in time to see a white-smocked middle-aged man push through the side door. He looked grim, but relieved.
"She's a very lucky dog," he said wearily. "We were able to stop all the bleeding, and whoever did this somehow managed to miss all her major organs. She had a punctured lung, but she seems to be on the mend now."
The boy's eyes momentarily filled with tears. "Thanks," he said quietly. "When can we take her home?"
The vet shook his head. "Hard to say. Lady's going to need to stay here at least three or four days, just so we can keep her under observation. We may have to do one more operation to drain the fluids, but I think we've got her out of the woods."
Dylan nodded, then started to speak. The doctor put his hand on his shoulder.
"Do you know who's responsible for this, son?" he asked quietly. "We're going to have to file a report with the county animal control officials about the incident."
"I'm not sure," Dylan lied. "Our maid's already called the police. I'm sure they can find out. Look, Doc -- would it be okay if I saw her, just for a minute or two?"
Dr. Callister nodded. "She's still unconscious, but I think that'd be alright -- but only for a moment. Right through here."
Dylan followed the man through a side panel in the front counter, then down a long corridor. His nose wrinkled as he detected several pungent aromas wafting through the air. Even worse than the human hospital, he thought. A few steps later, the man turned a sharp corner and Dylan found himself in a medium-sized room, with about 20 animal cages lined up along the left wall. Most of them were empty; the cage closest to the door right held a small fox terrier with a large white patch on one eye.
"Over here," called the doctor.
Dylan walked over to another group of larger cages on the left. The one in the center was a bit more open. Through the bars, he could see that Lady was sprawled on her side, breathing quietly. About half of her fur along one flank had been neatly shaved off, revealing a checkered pattern of stitches across pale pink flesh, covered with white gauze, which was dotted with several red stains. The doctor opened the cage door a little wider.
"We're going to keep her medicated for at least another 6 to 8 hours," the man explained. "When she comes to, we'll have to put a protective collar around her so she can't try to open up her stitches."
Dylan nodded, then reached out and absent-mindedly stroked her head. I'm going to have to kill Angel, he thought. Kill him -- before he tries to kill me first.
"Are you going to be alright, Dylan?" the doctor asked. "Should I call your parents and have them pick you up?"
"No," he replied wearily. "I'm just... I've been up all night. I've gotta get home." He rubbed his eyes and yawned. "If it's okay, I'd like to check in with you later on today, just to make sure she's okay. Maybe even come by again."
The vet nodded. "Certainly. If I'm not here, Irene at the front desk will be here 'till four. After that, you can reach me through the service."
Dylan thanked the doctor and made his way outside, hopped in the BMW, and again stared at the cellphone.
Might as well get this over with now, he thought, as he hit the speed dial. After six rings, there was a click and a recorded voice.
"It's me -- Angel. I'm not around, so leave a message, and I'll call you back -- if I feel like it!" The boy's voice giggled, and then there was a beep.
Dylan's eyes narrowed. "You motherfucking asshole," he growled into the phone. "I can't believe what you did... to a defenseless dog! Angel, I'm gonna stomp your goddamned ass into the ground so deep, I'm gonna have to leave a tombstone with your name on it!" With that, he clicked off, tossed the phone down on the passenger seat, then gunned the engine and tore off down the street in a cloud of blue exhaust.
By the time he made it back to his parents' driveway, he was pleased to see that not one, but two police cruisers and an unmarked car were already parked in front of the house.
Good, he thought, as he clicked on the emergency brake and silenced the engine. I can't wait to tell these guys about this little monster.
As he jogged briskly up the front steps, he ran through the scenario again in his mind. No question, the moment Angel was arrested, the boy would probably deny everything, then tell the cops about their affair. Fuck it, Dylan thought. I was gonna tell my parents everything anyway, at the shrink's office on Monday. Two days early won't kill me.
As he opened the door, he was greeted by a uniformed officer, who led him down the main hallway through the living room. To the left, a dark-suited man was taking flash photographs of the bloodstained white carpet on the far end of the indoor swimming pool in the living room. To the right, another dark-suited man was talking to Yolanda, whose face brightened when she saw Dylan's.
"Dylan! Is Lady gonna be okay?" she asked.
He nodded. "Yeah. The vet said none of the wounds were serious."
The plainclothes policeman turned to Dylan. "You're Dylan Callahan?"
"Yeah. Listen, I think I know who did this."
Two other policemen glanced towards him and raised their eyebrows.
The man nodded. "Acquaintance from school?"
"Something like that," Dylan replied. "Just a kid I know in the neighborhood." He rubbed his eyes again. "Listen, is it okay if we sit down in there?" he asked, pointing towards the kitchen.
The man nodded and followed him through the hinged doors, then pulled a chair up to the dining room table. "I'm Detective Montgomery," he said, opening up a small spiral notebook. "Tell me what you know, Dylan. What time did you come home last night?"
The boy related the events of the last few hours, omitting the sordid details of what had happened in the barn the night before with Angel. Yolanda brought over two cups of coffee and sat with them at the table. In the distance, one of the other police officer's walkie-talkies beeped noisily.
"That's some dog you've got there," Montgomery commented. "From the looks of it, she was injured outside, fell into the swimming pool, then somehow managed to swim underwater through the opening over there and make it inside to the living room."
Dylan nodded. "Yeah. The pool was designed that way. But she's never done that before." Maybe because she'd never been desperate enough, he thought.
"Quite a mess outside," the detective continued. "Whoever did this apparently got surprised by the dog while he or she was trying to break into the house with a screwdriver."
Dylan looked at the man curiously. "You sure about that?" he asked.
Montgomery nodded. "Yeah. We've found both animal and human blood just outside the kitchen door, and metal scratches by the lock. For an Afghan, I'd say she's one helluva good guard dog."
Dylan smiled slightly, took a sip of coffee, then stifled a yawn. "Sorry," he said. "I've been up all night, and I'm really beat."
The detective shrugged his shoulders. "I can imagine. Now, can you give us a description of the person you suspect did this?"
Before Dylan could answer, another officer walked over and whispered something into the man's ear. The detective stood up.
"Excuse me for a moment," he said. "I have to take this call." He hurried out of the room.
Dylan idly stirred the coffee. Yolanda leaned over and put her hand reassuringly on his shoulder.
"It was that Angel boy," she said softly. "Wasn't it?"
He nodded. "Had to be," he said dully. He shook his head, then turned and looked at Yolanda, her face grave with concern.
"I've already called your parents," she said. "They were already en route on the company plane from LaJolla. They'll be here in less than half an hour."
Before she could continue, the detective returned, flanked with two of the officers.
"Dylan," the man said. "Do you know Michelangelo Thompkins?"
"Man," the boy said, shaking his head. "You guys are really fast. Yeah -- that's the asshole who tried to kill my dog. Angel."
Montgomery looked grim. "He was a friend of yours, right?"
"Yeah. But not any more."
The man hesitated. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid Michelangelo is dead. They just found his body at his house, about ten minutes ago."
The room began to fade.
"No," Dylan whispered. "It's not possible." The world stopped for a moment as he was overcome with several images of Angel's face -- innocent Angel, conniving Angel, loving Angel, and murderous Angel... How could they all be part of the same person?
The detective put his hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Dylan, but we've got to ask you to come with us. We need you to answer a few questions back at the local precinct."
"Now, you wait just one minute," said a voice to the right.
Dylan looked up and was surprised to see it was Yolanda, who scowled at the officers.
"You best wait until his parents come home," she said sternly. "This boy is under age, but he's still got his rights. And I'm going to call the family's lawyer right this minute."
Dylan stood up and turned to the older woman. "It's okay, Yo," he said quietly. "I'll tell 'em what I know. I got nothing to hide." Not now, anyway, he thought ruefully. Not anymore.
She leaned in closely. "You listen to Yolanda," she said quietly. "Don't you tell these men nothin' without your parents or a lawyer there. You hear me? Not a word."
He nodded, and she hugged him and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, and he made his way through the kitchen doors.
"I'll be back in a coupla hours. I'll be at the..." Dylan stopped and turned to one of the officers. "Where are we goin' again?"
"Devonshire station," replied the other detective.
"Right, Devonshire station. That's just ten minutes away in Northridge." Dylan continued walking through the living room and out to the patrol car. "I'll be back in no time, Yo," he called over his shoulder.
When they reached the car, one of the officers glanced over to a sprawling million-dollar mansion next door. "Nice houses you've got out here, kid. Hey, isn't that where that big movie star, Max Montreaux, lives?"
Dylan nodded. "Yeah. I've seen him once or twice."
Detective Montgomery chuckled. "So've we. We've had Mr. Action Hero down to the Devonshire station quite a few times for DWI."
The boy eyed the patrol car's backseat. "You need to put the cuffs on me first?"
The detective shook his head. "You're not under arrest, Dylan. Just in for questioning." He eyed the teen warily. Just under six feet, he guessed, maybe 190, 200 pounds. Probably a football player. Nothing we can't handle. "Tell you what -- Sgt. Migliore here will sit with you in the back. This is all voluntary, Dylan. It shouldn't take more than an hour or two."
From the front door, Yolanda watched as Dylan rode away with
LA's finest. Sweet Jesus, she prayed to herself. Please keep an
eye on this boy.
§ § §
"I'm sorry, Dylan, but it just doesn't add up." The detective tossed a folder of papers and photographs down on the desk and paced back and forth, while another man sat nearby.
The boy sighed and glanced nervously at his watch. 10:45 -- where the fuck is the lawyer? And what about my folks?
"But it's the truth," he said finally. Maybe not all the truth, he thought, but enough that it should hold up. "I was with Kyle from about 4:30 to 6:30 this morning at the hospital, and then at the vet's less than an hour later."
The other man shrugged. "The time of death is still inconclusive," he said, consulting his notes. "Angel was violently beaten, then strangled. The neighbors heard some kind of loud argument just after dawn, but didn't call the police until a couple of hours later, when they noticed that the front door of the Thompkins' home was wide open."
Dylan rubbed his eyes wearily, then took a sip of coffee from the paper cup in front of him and made a face. He'd never felt so exhausted in his life.
"Think, Dylan," Montgomery said. "Do you know anybody who hated Angel enough to kill him?"
Just as Dylan began to answer, the interrogation room door abruptly opened and in walked a short, balding man in his late 40s. He was wearing a white tennis outfit, as if he'd just stepped off the court, right in the middle of a serve.
"Don't say another word, Dylan," he said curtly, then turned to the officers. "I'm Jim McBrian," he explained. "I'm Mr. Callahan's attorney. You have any questions, they come through me first. Got that?"
The officers nodded and stood. "You want us to give you two a few minutes?"
"Make it twenty. His parents are on their way over." He turned to Dylan and smiled, but it was a grim smile. "I hope you kept your mouth shut, kid."
Dylan shrugged his shoulders. "I don't have anything to hide."
McBrian waited for the door to close, then shook his head. "That isn't the point, Dylan. One slip-up, and you give these jokers an excuse to nose around in a lot of areas they don't need to be in."
He sat down at the table and thumbed through the photographs. "Jesus," he said, glancing over the shots. "Whoever did this just about tore the poor kid limb from limb."
Dylan closed his eyes, trying to mentally block the image of Angel's battered and bruised corpse from his mind. At least his eyes were closed, he mused to himself.
The attorney eyed him warily. "Whoever it was would have to be pretty strong. Maybe somebody who knew martial arts."
"No fucking way," Dylan spat. "I already told the officers -- sure, I might've killed Angel if I could have, but somebody beat me to it."
"Yeah. Your maid told me on the phone about the dog." He paused for a moment, then leaned closer and dropped his voice to a whisper. "And about your relationship with the Thompkins boy."
Dylan's face momentarily reddened. So Yolanda knew the whole time, he thought. Shit. If she's told Mom and Dad...
McBrian shook his head. "Kid, it's just a matter of time before the cops find out, and they're only going to come to one conclusion. You'd better tell me the whole story right now -- everything -- and don't leave a word out."
Dylan nodded, then he took a deep breath.
§ § §
§ § §
Fifteen minutes later, McBrian leaned back in the chair, thoughtfully rubbing his chin.
"And once I got back to the house around 8:30," Dylan continued, "the cops were already there, waiting for me. I didn't even know Angel was dead until they got the phone call a few minutes later."
The attorney glanced through his notepad. "It's clear that Michelangelo -- excuse me, Angel -- attempted to enter the back of your house sometime around dawn, maybe 5:45. Judging by the police photos, he was trying to use a screwdriver to jimmy open the glass doors. The dog must've surprised him, and he stabbed it a half-dozen times."
Dylan glared at him. "Her. The dog's a she. Not an it."
The attorney rolled his eyes. "Whatever. But at least that explains the bite marks on the boy's body. I'm sure the human blood type found on your pool deck will match Angel's." He flipped through his notes again. "Why didn't Angel just use the alarm code to get in the house? You said he did that once before."
The boy shrugged. "After K.C. died a week ago, I made sure all the security doors were locked, and I changed the alarm code so Angel couldn't get in without us knowing about it."
"Smart thinking." He glanced over at Dylan's now-empty coffee cup. "You want a refill, kid? Your parents should be here any second, and I wouldn't mind a cup myself."
"Yeah. Just tell me I can get out of here and go home and sleep," he said wearily. "I'm about to fall outta my chair."
The attorney got up and reached the door. "One more thing, Dylan. Your parents know about you and... you and Angel?"
Dylan sighed. Great, he thought. This was gonna be the moment he'd been waiting for. "No -- not yet, anyway," he said quietly. "But if Yolanda knew, then they probably suspected."
Before McBrian could reply, the door opened and Detective Montgomery walked in, trailed by two uniformed officers. "I'm sorry, counselor," he said. "The situation here's just gotten a little more serious. The DA's on his way in, and we're going to ask to indict your client under suspicion of rape and murder."
Dylan's eyes widened. "What?"
Montgomery continued. "Give it up, son. We know you raped the Thompkins boy last night, then beat and strangled him to death early this morning."
"You're nuts!" sputtered the teenager.
"Quiet, Dylan!" ordered the lawyer, who turned to the officer. "I'm instructing my client not to say another word until we've had a chance to talk to his parents."
"They're on their way in," said the detective. "But for now, I've got to move you to a secure room on the other side of the building." Dylan raised an eyebrow.
"Don't worry, kid," said the attorney. "It's for your own protection. They use isolation cells like this to segregate minors from the other prisoners." He stood up, then leaned forward. "Don't forget," he said quietly in Dylan's ear. "You're still not technically charged with anything yet. Just keep your mouth shut, and let me do all the talking." He turned to the detectives and waved his hand towards the door. "After you, officer."
As they were walking down the hall, Dylan stopped to get a drink of water at the fountain. Jesus, he thought. This nightmare is never going to end.
One of the officers turned to McBrian. "Haven't seen much of you since the Jaleel Washington trial two years ago, Bob."
The attorney nodded. That was one of the more sensational trials the city had seen over the past few years. An LA Lakers basketball player had accidentally run over a woman in a crosswalk, then fled the scene, but the charges were reduced after it was learned the victim had some drugs in her system. Washington wound up pleading guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter, and got just 3 years of probation. The local papers had been incensed with the verdict, calling it 'one of the worst miscarriages of justice since O.J. Simpson.' And one of the biggest victories of my career, the attorney thought to himself, almost smiling.
"Yeah," McBrian replied. "Let's hope this one won't take me nearly as long to win."
The officer snorted. "This one's a lot more open-and-shut than that, counselor. You got your work cut out for you this time. The circumstantial evidence alone..." He shook his head.
Dylan shot the attorney a concerned look, but the man reassuringly squeezed his shoulder as they continued down the corridor.
"That's what they said about Washington's case, too, and I beat the pants off 'em," he said, chuckling.
They turned a corner and stopped at a locked door, which a uniformed officer opened for them.
The detective turned to them. "Maybe next time the jury'll be wise to your tricks, McBrian," he said coldly.
Just then, an ear-splitting scream erupted in the hallway, and all four of them looked up. "Get out of my way!" a female voice screamed. "Let me in there!"
Dylan stared at the source of the angry voice as it came around the corner. It was May Thompkins, Angel's mother, her face red and twisted, blotchy with tears, hair askew. She pointed accusingly at his face.
"You!" she hissed. "You killed my son! It was all you! You lied to me... you lied to both of us! You convinced me you were his friend, gave him gifts... all just to..." She choked momentarily, then began to sob. "All just to force him to have vile, deviant..."
Within seconds, she hurled herself forward, flailing her arms madly. Two officers held back the hysterical woman, who began to wail. "YOU KILLED HIM!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. "First, you took his innocence... then you beat my baby and strangled him to death!"
All the color drained from Dylan's face. "No," he began. "May -- Mrs. Thompkins, I swear... I didn't do it."
She croaked out a response, then collapsed in hysterics, and the officers led her back down the hallway. After a few moments, her cries diminished in the distance.
"But you admit you did have sex with him -- didn't you, Dylan?" snapped the detective.
"That's enough, Mr. Montgomery," interrupted McBrian. "There'll be a time and a place for that kind of questioning later on. For now, I want my client to get a little rest. He's been awake for over 24 hours. Can he sleep here in the isolation cell, undisturbed, just for the next few hours?"
The detective nodded, then checked his watch. "Yeah. We're meeting with the DA in an hour. We should be able to formally charge him by this time tomorrow. Sooner, if we're lucky."
Christ, Dylan thought. There's no fucking way this can get any worse.
"Son!" a familiar voice called.
He looked up just in time to see his mother and father walk quickly into the corridor, then embrace him.
"We got here as fast as we could," his father said, slightly out of breath. "Yolanda told us everything."
One glance from his mother confirmed his darkest fears. On second thought, he sighed to himself, it's now officially worse.
§ § §
"We had no idea all this was happening to you," the father said, closing his eyes and gently squeezing the bridge of his nose.
Dylan sighed and glanced nervously to the other side of the cell, where his mother wept quietly.
"I'm sorry, Dad. That's why I had to take your watch -- all the money went to Angel, so he wouldn't... wouldn't tell everybody about us. About me." Dylan stopped and was surprised to find a tear trickling out of his left eye, which he nervously wiped off. "I figured that'd be the end of it, and he'd just give up and go away, but..." He gestured helplessly in the air, then leaned against the wall and put his head down, leaving the sentence unfinished.
Callahan sighed. "Your mother and I knew for some time that you might be a homosexual..."
Dylan's eyes widened. But that's impossible, he thought, his mouth hanging open. I was careful -- I know I was!
His father smiled wanly. "Okay, maybe knew is the wrong word. Suspected."
"How?" the boy asked.
"That boy from Phoenix," his mother said quietly. "Three years ago. That was where it all started." Her eyes glared at him, accusingly. "I thought it was a phase -- just something you'd grow out of over time."
His face reddened. "No, Mom," he said. "I think I've been this way... all my life. Most of the crap I've been through lately... I think a lot of it happened because I was trying to hide what I was." He looked her in the eye. "I'm not gonna ever do that again."
She shook her head. "No," she said firmly. "We're going to get you help. Dr. Rosenfield suggested..."
Dylan rolled his eyes. "That jerk! I bet he told you everything."
"Not everything," his father said. "Just enough to tell us you were having some... problems."
Being gay isn't the problem, Dylan thought. It's lying to everybody -- and myself. That's the problem.
Suddenly, a buzzer sounded and the entrance door clicked open.
"That's it for visiting hours," said a stern-looking matronly woman, carrying a metal clipboard. She turned to the Callahans. "You can come back tomorrow between 10am and 2pm."
His father nodded and stood up. Dylan stepped towards his mother to hug her goodbye, but she shook her head and walked quickly out of the cell, her heels clicking down the corridor, then echoing down the outer hall.
Dylan felt a cold feeling in his stomach.
"Your mother isn't taking this well, Dylan," his father explained. "But don't give up on her yet. I'll convince her that we've got to let you live your life your own way."
The guard folded her arms, then tapped her watch. "Time's up, you two."
"One minute," said Callahan, then turned back to his son. "Listen, Dylan. Don't worry about your mother. We'll work this out. Between me and Yolanda, I think we can convince her. Just give it some time."
Dylan started to speak, but his voice caught in his throat. Damn, he thought. I can't cry now -- not in front of my father!
His father nodded and gave him a hug, then disappeared out the door. Dylan winced as the cell door clanged shut, then watched as the guard left and closed the hallway door behind her. The boy sat back down on his bunk, then lay back, and pulled the sheet up to his chin, praying desperately for sleep to overtake him.
§ § §
Four hours later, Dylan awoke with a start. It took a moment for his memory to kick in, reminding him where he was. He sat up and glanced around his new accommodations. This particular area had three individual 10 x 12-foot cells, with dull gray bars between them and along the front. They'd placed him in the one in the center, which was the only one with a window -- a small 2' square opening covered by a single piece of solid plexiglas. One glance told him the window was probably thick enough to withstand everything but a direct hit from a bazooka. Not even David Copperfield could get out of this place, he mused.
The room smelled musty, as if it wasn't used very often. McBrian had explained to him earlier that these protective-custody cells were sometimes used for juveniles, usually those awaiting transportation to the larger LAPD facility downtown. From there, the route eventually wound up at the California Youth Authority, about five miles north of Sacramento. That facility was reserved exclusively for teenage offenders -- mostly in for drug-related offenses -- but was every bit as grim, violent and dangerous as any real adult prison.
Dylan shivered at the mental image painted by his attorney, then he yawned, rolled over and glanced up at the large, old-fashioned clock above the hallway door outside the cell. Almost 7:30, he thought. I still feel like shit, but at least I don't have to talk to anybody for awhile. Not even a TV set.
He struggled to his feet, then yawned again and stretched. His left shoulder still throbbed from the bruise he got during the game Friday night -- god, was it only 24 hours ago? -- and his mind still reeled from the confessions he'd had to make to his parents. At least they didn't pry too much for the gory details.
Dylan ran his hand through his hair, then sat down wearily on the bunk. He sniffed his shirt and made a face. He'd worn it since yesterday morning, and it stank of body odor, plus a little beer from last night's party.
Suddenly, a loud mechanical buzz sounded from the outside corridor, and a metallic door clanked open, followed by the sound of several footsteps. Dylan looked up. It was the attorney, McBrian, flanked by a uniformed guard and a man in a white coat.
"Hi, Dylan," the attorney said, as he entered the cell. "You still haven't yet been formally charged, but these gentlemen have a court order to get a DNA sample from you."
"For what?" the boy asked quizzically.
The attorney took a step forward and spoke quietly in his ear. "To see if it matches the semen found in the victim's body."
Dylan stiffened. Shit, he thought. Neither of us used any condoms last night. It's almost like Angel intended to frame me -- for his own murder!
He eyed the man in white, who produced a cotton swab and turned towards him.
Dylan took a step back. "Don't tell me he wants a sample of my..."
"No," the attorney interrupted. "Just some of your saliva."
The doctor held the swap near the boy's mouth. "Open up," the man ordered.
Dylan did as he was told, then turned to the attorney. "Mr. McBrian," he said quietly, "I already told you... me and Angel did have sex the night before. Him with me, too."
The attorney rolled his eyes. "Unfortunately, that won't do us any good now, Dylan," he replied. "They can't do a reliable semen test beyond a few hours. And even if they could, it wouldn't necessarily help your case."
"But I still didn't kill him!" Dylan insisted.
"Just a second." The man turned to the two uniformed officials. "If you gentlemen are done now, may I have a few moments with my client?"
"Ten minutes," said the guard, who closed the door behind him as he and the doctor left the room.
McBrian affectionately squeezed his shoulder. "I believe you, kid. I've known you and your family for three years now, and I'm a pretty good judge of character. You're not the first high school athlete to have a run-in with the law. So far, most of your story checks out."
Dylan began to protest, but the attorney held his hand up. "Look at it from the police's point of view, Dylan. That phone message you left for Angel this morning, for example."
"What about it?"
The attorney shook his head. "You threatened to kill him right there, and they've got the whole thing on tape."
Dylan leapt to his feet. "Yeah, so? But he was already fuckin' dead when I made the call!"
"Did you know that?" the man asked quietly.
The boy stopped and glared at him. "Of course not! I told you -- I went straight from the vet's office back to my house."
The attorney paced back and forth. "The police seem to think you may've stopped by Angel's house first, around 8AM, and strangled him to death. Or even if you killed him earlier, you could've just left the message as a fake alibi. Either way, that gives them an additional charge of 'lying in wait,' which gives them extra ammunition."
"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Dylan snapped.
McBrian sighed. "Dylan, there's about a 75% chance they're going to charge you with first-degree murder some time in the next few hours. I think they've conceded that the rape charge won't hold up, but now there's a new wrinkle."
Dylan rolled his eyes. "Now what?"
"They found the videotapes. Your friend Angel had about six hours' worth of videos with you and some other boy... in various positions."
The teen's face turned bright red. "Yeah," he replied. "I figured they'd find those eventually. But I told you he was blackmailing me!"
The attorney stopped pacing and stared at him. "Blackmail's an excellent reason to kill somebody, Dylan -- especially if they have a rich family and a reputation to protect."
"God-DAMMIT!" roared Dylan, as he leapt to his feet. "I swear to fucking God, I didn't kill the little shit!"
The two glared at each other for several long seconds.
Finally, McBrian spoke. "That's quite a temper you have there, Dylan," he said evenly. "I'd strongly advise you to simmer down, especially when you talk to the police. Now, let's go over your story one more time. When we meet with the DA's office in the morning, I want to make sure there's not a single hole in this tangled web of yours."
Dylan sat down on the bed and ran his hands through his hair. Jesus, he thought. Will this nightmare never end?
§ § §
§ § §
Hours later, Dylan awoke. The cot was small and uncomfortable, and he felt a chill from the drafty air-conditioning inside the cell. By the dim light, he could still make out the odd lime-green color of the brick walls. Why green? he wondered, then remembered. He'd read somewhere that this color was supposed to help keep people calm under stressful conditions, like hospitals and jails. He clenched his jaw. Dylan felt a lot of things at the moment, but calm definitely wasn't one of them.
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. He wasn't as tired as he was before, but now he felt an uncomfortable feeling creeping up from his stomach -- a peculiar combination of fear and despair over his current situation, and... yes, maybe even a little sadness over Angel's death.
Angel was dead. It didn't seem possible! Angel had been so alive, so kind and loving... Dylan shook his head. Loving... or at least doing a good job imitating it, he thought ruefully.
Dylan slid off the bed and took three steps over to the nearby chrome-steel toilet, which was firmly bolted to the floor. Just as he finished emptying his bladder, he gave it two shakes and reached over to flush, when a voice spoke out from the darkness behind the bars to his left.
"Hey! More than two shakes, and yer jerkin' off, kid."
Dylan jumped back and quickly zipped up his fly.
There, in the cell next to him, was a man lying on the bunk. He was on his stomach, watching him intently.
"Who the fuck are you?" Dylan hissed.
The man grinned. "Please allow me to introduce myself..." he sang. "I'm a man of wealth... and taste."
The boy stared at him.
"Call me Kansas," the man said, sitting up on the cot. "The cops know me by a few other names, but that's what my friends call me."
I'm not your friend, Dylan almost said, but stopped himself. "I'm... I'm Dylan Callahan."
The man roared with laughter, then stood up. Dylan warily took a step backwards. Even with several dozen 3/4"-thick steel bars between them, this Kansas guy was huge: at least six-foot-four, mid-forties, maybe 250 pounds. His arms were enormous, covered with multicolored tattoos, and there was a glint from the top of his shaven head.
"Too hip!" the man chortled. "Dylan's my second-favorite artist, man! Next to the Stones, of course."
The boy shrugged. "Yeah. My parents are into that 60's shit. Totally old school."
The man stepped up to the bars. In the dim amber light, Dylan could just make out the number '13' tattooed onto the man's neck.
"What's that?" he asked, pointing with his right hand. "Number 13?"
The man looked down and grinned. "I keep that there to remind me of the 12 assholes on the jury and the fuckin' judge that got me locked up." He gave Dylan a curious look. "So, what's a nice kid like you doin' in here?"
"I'm innocent," Dylan began. "I didn't..."
Kansas roared with laughter again, his voice echoing down the hallway. Dylan's face reddened.
"Hey!" yelled someone in the distance. "Shut the fuck up!"
"I got news for ya, kid," the prisoner said, lowering his voice. "We're all innocent in here. You can ask any one of 'em. Pure as the driven snow."
But I really am innocent, Dylan thought, as a cold feeling began to grow in his stomach. What if nobody believes me?
The hulking man sat on the corner of his cot nearest to Dylan's cell. "They brought me in a couple hours ago, when you were still conked out." The man leaned a little closer, as if to get a better look at him. "So -- I take it you've never been, ah... in-car-cer-a-ted before?" he said, distinctly pronouncing each syllable.
Dylan shook his head. "Worst thing I ever got before this was two speeding tickets."
"Thought so." Kansas smiled. "You got a lot to learn about bein' in stir, kid. Come over here, and lemme explain a few things to ya."
Dylan walked slowly up to the bars, then stopped. The man leaned his head over, as if he were about to whisper something of vital importance to him. Dylan instinctively leaned over, and suddenly, the man reached out and yanked his arm through the bar, slamming the boy's head against the metal with a dull clang. Dylan's face contorted against the bars, and Kansas bent the boy's arm back until almost the breaking point, then brought his face inches away from his.
"Rule number one," he whispered. "Don't ever get too close to strangers in jail. You never know what bullshit they might try on ya."
With that, he let go of Dylan's arm, and the boy went sprawling down on the concrete floor. He quickly jumped to his feet and rubbed his elbow, which was already red and bruised.
The man chuckled softly. "Relax, kid," he said. "If I wanted to kill ya, I would've done that already."
"I fuckin' doubt it!" Dylan snarled. "I've got a brown belt in karate, dumbass."
"Yeah?" Kansas said, raising one eyebrow. "I think the last kid I butt-fucked in Chino was a karate champ, too. 'Course, it didn't help him much, since there were four black brothers holdin' him down on the shower floor at the time."
Dylan began to protest, but the man cut him short.
"Shut up and listen. Fish like you need a little dose of 'Prison 101' -- mouth shut, and ears open."
For the next hour and a half, Kansas explained the law of the jungle. Who to trust; who not to. How the system worked, everything from showers to work-relief squads, to walks out in the yard. How you shouldn't talk to anybody in prison; keep to yourself. How to buy and sell anything you wanted in prison -- for a price. And when you dealt with cops or the guards, the three most important words were deny, deny, and deny. And the 11th commandment: don't ever snitch on anybody, no matter what.
"'Bout the only thing worse than a snitch," Kansas spat, "is a fuckin' child molester. 'Short eyes,' they call 'em. If somebody ever finds out you been rapin' little boys or girls, they'll probably cut your balls off and shove 'em down your throat. Or worse."
Dylan gulped. If his case ever got to trial, the other prisoners would eventually know all about him and Angel, just from the newspapers and TV reports.
"Don't ever let anybody see you cry," the man continued. "Don't take any favors from nobody -- I mean no gifts, no cigarettes, no nothin'. And don't do nothin' nice to anyone, kid. The moment you do any of that crap, it'll be taken as a sign of weakness. And if that happens, you're sure as shit gonna wind up as somebody's punk." He grinned and looked Dylan up and down. "I know guys who'd love to break pretty rich boys like you. They'd fuck you so hard, they'll break your punk-ass in two. Slock and cock ya, before you even know it."
Dylan's eyes widened. He'd seen one or two episodes of Oz on cable, but generally avoided it because it was too bleak and depressing. Now, there was a very good chance he was going to be living that show -- for real.
"Whatever you do, don't ever become somebody's bitch," Kansas continued. "Don't ever do nothin' sexual for somebody in jail. It might seem like it's just temporary, but it'll just get worse and worse. First, it's a little hand-job -- just a guy helpin' another horny guy out. The next week, you're blowin' the dude. Before you know it, you're doin' his laundry while he plows your ass every night."
The boy felt a twinge. It wasn't like that with Angel, he thought. Same with K.C. On some level, he was sure Angel always loved him, albeit in his peculiar, twisted way. Until recently, Dylan had never even thought about sex being violent, or being used as a way of controlling somebody. But then that's just like Angel controlled me, he realized.
"Hey, kid -- you listenin' to me?"
Dylan cleared his head, looked up and nodded.
Kansas ran down the various gangs in prisons -- the white Aryans, the Mexican mafia, the Black Muslims, even Native American Indians -- and gave him various philosophies on how to avoid getting caught in the middle of gang disputes. He gave him some of the detail of the pecking order of the guards, and the inside politics that rule most prisons. After another few minutes, he finished by explaining where the boy would most likely be sent the next day -- Men's Central Jail, on Bauchet Street in downtown LA. Normally, he'd go to a facility just for minors, but a highly-visible case like Dylan's made it an exception.
"Before you get there," he said, "they'll take away your belt and shoelaces so you can't hang yourself or use 'em as weapons, then strip-search you, put you in an orange jump-suit, and chain your wrists and ankles together. Even fuckin' David Copperfield couldn't get outta that shit."
Dylan's face was a mask. "My parents'll get me outta this," he said quietly. "They've got money and connections. No way am I gonna stay in jail long. My lawyer said one day -- maybe two, tops -- and they'll bail me out."
Kansas sighed and shook his head. "You'd be awful surprised what can happen in 24 hours, kid," he said. "I remember the first time... no, it was the second time I ever got arrested, back in DC, back in the early '70s. I was busted for sellin' pot; I was probably 'bout as old as you are now, 17 or so, but I always looked older, so I got shoved in a big cell with a dozen other guys. They were hard-timers, too, bein' held overnight for transport to a bigger pen."
He paused, as if reliving the experience. "We heard there was some big kinda anti-war demonstration late that afternoon, over by the Washington Memorial mall. A buncha dumbass college kids got arrested; most of 'em just posted the forty-dollar bail and got out real fast, but one of 'em..." he shook his head. "One knucklehead decided he was gonna make a statement about 'freedom of assembly' or some such shit, and he was bound and determined to stay overnight, just to prove his so-called point. But I think he got a little more than he expected."
The man crossed his arms and leaned back. "The guys in my cell got real quiet when the guards dragged this kid in. I think he was barely 18, but to me, he looked like he was barely outta diapers, maybe 14... 15, tops. Wore blue jeans, and had on a Grand Funk T-shirt with an American flag on the back. Long black hair down to his shoulders. Short, skinny dude, kinda pale, but sorta good-lookin'. Delicate.. almost like a chick, ya know?"
Dylan nodded, and fought to keep the image of Angel out of his mind.
"The moment the cell door slammed shut, one of the guys started singin' an old Elvis tune -- 'number 47 said to number 3, you're the cutest jail-bird I ever did see!' And a bunch o' the guys laughed. Even the guard laughed. But the kid didn't say nothin."
Dylan stared into the darkness, imagining what it'd be like to be a shrimpy teenager thrown into a jail cell, surrounded by a dozen hardcore inmates. He shuddered.
"It took a coupla hours," Kansas continued, "but I'd say not more than a minute after lights out, that kid was spread-eagled on the floor and guys were lined up, just waitin' for their chance at that virgin ass! Somebody shoved a rag or somethin' in his mouth, so all he could do was squeak and thrash around a little. After awhile, he didn't even fight back no more. I just watched, like it was some kinda weird fuckin' movie."
The man stopped, then wiped a bead of sweat from the top of his bald head and idly flicked it off into the darkness. "The next thing I knew," he said, "somebody shoved me towards him and said it was my turn up to bat. I shook my head, said I wasn't into no fag shit, but some bigger dude got in my face and said it was all of us or nothin' -- either I did it or they'd take me out. That way, I couldn't ever testify against 'em."
"So what'd you do?" Dylan asked.
He shrugged. "I took sloppy seconds." He laughed. "Shit -- more like sloppy 14th's. After I finished, I took a good look at the kid's face. He was all glassy-eyed, and there were a buncha tears rollin' down his face, but he didn't make a sound. Just barely breathin', maybe twitchin' a little bit, and bleedin' like a stuck pig. Next thing I knew, somebody tossed over a passkey to the cell door, and we shoved the kid outside. They dragged him down to the next cellblock down the hall, and all those guys did him, too." He paused again and reflected. "That went on all fuckin' night... all over the jail."
Dylan shuddered. "Jesus H. Christ," he whispered. "Where were the guards when all this shit was goin' on?"
"Who the fuck knows?" Kansas snapped. "Those dickheads don't give a crap if some Ivy League kid's gettin' boned! That ain't their problem. Shit, for all I know, the cops threw the kid in there deliberately, just for laughs."
He got up and turned his back, then Dylan heard a steady stream of urine trickle into the adjacent cell's latrine. "Anyway," the big man continued, flushing the toilet, "after an hour or two, the guys across the way from our cell actually let the kid rest awhile. I guess they realized he was goin' into shock, so they cleaned him up a little and talked to him and let him rest awhile, just so's he wouldn't drop dead. But by about 4am, he was back in the saddle again -- sometimes two or three guys at a time. I heard 'em goin' at it all the way 'til dawn."
"Did the kid die?" Dylan hoped the answer was yes; nobody could possibly live after being beaten and raped that many times.
"I never knew until years later," Kansas said, as he leaned back on his bunk, putting his hands behind his head in a reflective pose. "Saw him on one of those TV news documentaries not too long ago. He looked like he weighed like 350 pounds, and he was all snivelly and effeminate. Stuttered a lot. But I still recognized the face. He was heavier and older, and he lost a lotta hair, but I never forgot those eyes. Bright blue, real innocent."
Dylan got the mental picture. Shit, he thought. Could two or three decades of nightmares about one night really make a kid wind up that way? He didn't dwell on the answer.
"After bein' in and out of rehab for most of his life, now the guy was with some kinda group to try to stop prison rape," the man continued. "Said it happened to him, and he was gonna try to 'make a difference.'" He snorted derisively. "Sure made a difference on him... about 200 pounds' worth."
"Fuck," said Dylan in a low voice, then realized he was trembling and fought to keep the quiver out of his voice. "That's not ever gonna happen to me."
Kansas stood up and looked him up and down. "Kid like you? Pretty decent face, got some meat on those bones..." He cocked his head. "Trust me," he said with a nod. "They're gonna try. And when they do, you better fuckin' resist. Even if there's twenty of 'em against ya, you fight 'em off as long as you can. They're lookin' for easy targets -- but if they know you're gonna go nuts every time they try to fuck with ya, they'll eventually leave you alone and go after somebody who's less trouble. Somebody they can turn-out real quick, and make 'em their punk-ass bitch."
Dylan nodded. Yeah, he thought grimly. Like a little shrimpy kid.
The man yawned. "That's enough 'Prison 101' for tonight. I'm gonna hit the hay." He pulled out the sheet and got under the covers.
Dylan thought for a minute. "Hey, Kansas," he said. "What'd you say you were in for?"
There was an uncomfortable silence. "I didn't say." Then: "You first."
The boy rolled his eyes. "Sorry, man. My attorney says they're gonna charge me with first-degree murder tomorrow morning."
Kansas sat up slightly. "My, my," he said. "First day in school, and you're already headed to the top o' the class. Mighty impressive." He thought for a moment. "Drugs?"
Dylan shook his head. "Naaa. They think I beat up and killed some kid in the neighborhood."
"Yeah," Dylan said.. "They're gonna try to charge me as an adult."
Kansas let out a sigh. "Sounds real fucked up," he said sympathetically. "Use a gun?"
"Never touched one," he replied. "Whoever did it strangled the kid."
The con nodded. "That'll add to your rep, if you get convicted," he said. "Killin' a guy with your bare hands takes a lot more guts than just shootin' some asshole." He eyed the muscular teen. "That's unless he was some little guy, in which case it might work against you."
Dylan gulped. "So," he said, anxious to change the subject. "It's your turn."
"At the moment," Kansas said, nonchalantly counting off the fingers on his left hand, "they got me on two charges of manslaughter, ADW -- that's assault with a deadly weapon -- plus drug possession, conspiracy, fraud..." He thought for a moment, then winced. "Oh, and owin' alimony to my fuckin' ex-wife. Stupid cunt."
The boy cocked his head. "But why're you in here?" he asked. "They told me this part of the building was PC -- protective custody."
"Yeah," the man replied, as he rolled over on the bunk, the mattress springs protesting under his bulky form. "They're keepin' me out of the general population until I testify on Monday."
"I copped a plea," Kansas said with a yawn. "I overheard a guy in my cell last week say he raped and cut up that little girl from San Diego."
Dylan stiffened. The case of little 'Dorothy Strickland' had been the lead story on all the local news channels for the past month; the missing 6 year-old's dismembered body had only just been found a few days ago, in a swampy area out by Solana Beach.
"I told 'em where they could find what's left of her," the man continued, "and the name of the asshole that did it, and in return they're commutin' my sentence to five years in minimum security at Fresno -- then I'm out."
"Wait a minute," Dylan said. "You mean you're a stool-pigeon? But you said..."
Kansas laughed. It was a low, evil laugh, and Dylan saw a pale glint reflected in the man's eyes through the bars.
"Last two lessons for tonight, kid: first, don't believe any shit people tell you in the joint. And second -- you do whatever you gotta do to stay alive. Sometimes, the rules don't apply. Now, just shut the fuck up an' sleep."
Dylan slowly lay back on the hard mattress, glanced up at the dim light coming through the mesh in the ceiling, then closed his eyes.
excerpt from "Jailhouse Rock"
music & lyrics by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
c) 1957 by Leiber & Stoller Music, Inc. (ASCAP). All rights reserved.
excerpt from "Sympathy for the Devil"
music & lyrics by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
c) 1968 Abkco Music, Inc. (BMI) All rights reserved.