ASP--The Concord Five--Chapter Five--John Stevenson
My last period art class is not my most exciting one. It is mostly freshman who take art to get out of something else. They are not at all interested, for the most part, and spend the hour horsing around. Instead of teaching, I find myself trying to maintain some kind of order and not have too many students leaving the class with painted hair or faces. Today was especially bad since there had been a pep rally just before class and the hormones and hyperactivity were both running high.
As I took a brush from a girl just in time to prevent her giving a girlfriend a blue face, I thought about the previous year's last period class. It was a dream class. It had many great students including Luke Larsen, until he attempted suicide and changed his art into an independent study. I guess Luke was that miracle student, the one each teacher is promised in a lifetime of teaching. Well, maybe they had not been very talented for the most part, but were interested and hard-working. Now what I really wanted was the bell to ring and have these feral teenagers to go screaming and rushing out the door, hyped-up for a football game and more. As soon as their over-sexed bodies were out the door, it would be home and a stiff drink for me and no thoughts of school for two days.
Shortly before time for the bell, the intercom crackled and Ms. Jones called my name. When I answered, she said, "Mr. Stevenson, excuse me for interrupting. I know it's Friday and you want to get home, but I need to see you in my office immediately after the bell. It's extremely important."
I answered that I would be there, and wondered just what could be so important as to keep me from getting out of here in a nanosecond after the last bell. Damn, I wanted to get the hell out of here! The bell rang and what I had thought were totally uncivilized animals became worse as they started shouting and racing out the door. Only Keith Lewis, a poor senior caught in this zoo, spoke as he walked out, saying, "Have a nice weekend, Mr. Stevenson."
"You too, Keith. Any new CDs this week?"
"Nothing I think worth playing, just a bunch of kid groups doing hip hop. Trash in my book. See ya."
"Yea," I replied and turned to walk down the hall to Ms. Jones' office.
When I walked in her office, Ms. Jones' face told me this was not something unimportant. "Sit down, John, I think you'll need to be sitting," she said, and gave me a very weak smile. "I want you to read this before I say a word... and I want you to read it all before you speak." She then handed me a folded piece of lined notebook paper.
On the outside of the paper, written in pencil, was, "Two Miz Joines, Independunce Hi scool Princeipul". I unfolded the sheet and read the inside: "Miz Joines U got one of them cock sucking sex perverts learning kids and i don't mean no 3 Rs. i mean cock sucking and sech. ef you don't believe it ask that keith lewis who hes been fucking and some other queers he's been wit." It was signed, "a christian frend of his". Under that was written, "that means in his holy name to. his holy name, him who hates perverts. read yor bible."
Ms. Jones was right. I needed to be sitting down. This was a bolt out of the blue. Had something similar happened when I first started teaching, I would have been out on my ear without any recourse. Then I had been very careful not to let anyone know I was gay. I still didn't parade it. Of course, anyone who knew Michael and me knew we were more than close friends--although we certainly were close friends. But now, after all that Millie had done, in addition to law suits which gave gays some protection--not enough, but some--I couldn't believe what I had just read.
I looked up at Ms. Jones, and saw she was looking directly at me. "John, I have only one question to ask and I hope and trust you will tell me the truth. Have you ever so much as kissed a student on the mouth?"
What kind of question was this? I had been accused by some ignorant asshole of seducing students and Ms. Jones wanted to know if I had ever kissed one? Had she lost her mind? I didn't know what she was up to, but I looked back at her and said, "Ms. Jones, I have never kissed a student, period. For years I was reluctant to allow a student to hug me, but they wanted to and I finally came to allow it, but it's always the student, not me, who initiates it."
"That's all I wanted to know, John. I'm not sure who is behind this, although I have some ideas. I don't think it will stop with this note. A similar note has gone to the school board already. So far as I am concerned, the matter is closed, but it isn't and I know it. I do want you to know that I never believed a word of it. I have known you too well to even think that you might abuse your position as a teacher. I am behind you one hundred percent, but you need to know that this is probably not the end of the matter. I wish I didn't have to say this, but I think you need a lawyer should this go any further. Call Millie. I have already talked to her and she is livid. I am sure she can recommend someone. John, you don't know how sorry I am that this has happened. You are a gifted teacher--even when given a room full of freshman," she smiled. "You have given much to this school and this community and I, for one, will fight to keep you here and teaching. And there's no accusation of you hitting on principals," she said, walked from behind her desk and gave me a big hug. "Know I'm for you, John Stevenson!" she said, hugging me again.
I didn't think I could face Michael just yet. I needed time to get myself together. I left the school and just drove out into the country. It was a beautiful early-October day with just a hint of autumn, but I couldn't enjoy it very much. What would happen if, somehow or other, the person responsible for the note was to win and I lose my teaching position? Michael had given up a nice place and business in Charleston to stay in Concord with me. What if, suddenly, there was no reason for me to stay? Where would I go? Would he go with me? To tell the truth, recently we hadn't been the two happy lovebirds we had been at the start of our relationship. He had some habits which just annoyed the shit out of me, and when I spoke to him about them he tried to pretend they were not important. And he's always wanting to go out and I just want to have a quiet time at home after dealing with kids all day. To tell the truth, we hadn't been working at our relationship and it showed, especially now that I really needed him, his understanding and support.
I finally realized that I was going to become a basket case any second unless I could feel Michael's arms around me and hear his assurances that everything would be all right. I was shocked when I looked at my watch and saw that it was after 6:30. Michael would be beside himself with worry and I wouldn't blame him for being angry at me for being so inconsiderate. Dreading seeing him and yet knowing that without him I couldn't handle this mess, I turned around and headed home.
When I walked in and saw Michael, I completely lost it. I just ran to him and he took me in his arms and hugged me close, asking what was wrong. He held me tight and rocked me in his arms until I got control of myself.
When I had stopped crying, I looked into his wonderful eyes and thought what a fool I had been for letting little things get in the way of our relationship. He was what I needed and what would see me though this mess. I smiled and then kissed him tenderly.
I showed Michael a copy of the letter and after he read it he said, "This is what Millie has been calling about". "She has called every half-hour since school was out."
Michael had prepared a wonderful dinner for us and, since I was so late, much of it was past its prime. After he had read the letter he, as I, hardly felt like eating, so the dinner went even further down the road of no return. Finally we did eat a bit, and Michael fixed two expressos and brought them and a slice of sinfully rich chocolate cake to the den where I was sitting. As he handed me the cake he smiled and said, "The condemned man's last meal?".
"Not so long as I have breath to fight," I said, and meant it. He almost spilled his coffee as he leaned over to kiss me.
"Or so long as I have breath," he said as he stood.
We had almost finished our dessert when the phone rang. I was almost afraid to answer it and was relieved when Michael did. After he said "Hello," he handed me the phone.
"John here," I spoke into the phone.
"John, Millie. Tell Michael to turn on that dreadful speakerphone mess. I want both of you to hear this."
"Millie wants the speaker-phone on, Michael," I said. Michael reached over and pushed the button and I handed him the phone. "Ok, Millie, shoot."
"John, I don't think I need to say it, but I will. I don't believe for a moment you have ever been anything but professional and helpful to your students--and everyone else for that matter. Constance and I talked for a long time this afternoon after she got the note. I don't know whether she told you or not, but it got to her by a pretty strange route. A student who works as a cashier at Wal-mart gave it to her after lunch today. She is in a co-op ed program and works at Wal-mart in the morning and goes to school in the afternoon. Seems when she was leaving work her supervisor gave her an envelope and said a man had asked that she give it to the student. Inside was another envelope telling the student to take the enclosed note to Ms. Jones. At least that's the story the student told. Constance checked it out and it seems that's what happened. Anyway, when Constance got it, she decided just to trash it and forget about it. Then she got a phone call and a man asked if she had gotten his note, and told her he had sent one to the school board as well. That pretty much meant she couldn't just ignore it."
"The note to the school board came in today's mail. I gave it to Sheriff Putnam and asked that he check it for fingerprints. He checked the one at school as well. Got a few good prints and is seeing if there is any way to trace the notes to the writer. Since one came through the mail, there may be a federal case there. Doesn't matter, as I urge you to get a good lawyer and fight this. If the writer can be found, sue the hell out of him for defamation of character and anything else you can think of. Too much suing going on but, damn it, people like the writer need to be taught a lesson. The school board lawyer may end up working against you--he better be careful if he does--so get someone you trust. If you don't have anyone in mind, I'll loan you one of mine. They draw a salary just to look pretty most of the time. As a matter of fact, I have already told one of mine he is on the case, but you can get another if you like. You know damn well I'm taking this as a personal attack as well as an attack on a damn good teacher and a good friend. I guess I'm wound down now. You have anything to say?"
I must confess, both Michael and I were having to work very hard to keep from laughing out loud. "Don't think I have much to say, Millie, except thank you for having faith in me. I have always known I was open to an attack like this, but I guess I had finally relaxed, thinking it wouldn't happen. I don't know how to defend myself against someone who is afraid or ashamed to sign his name."
"I'm not sure having an x for a signature would help much," Millie said, only half joking. "I'm also concerned about this Keith Lewis. Do you know him?"
"Yes, he's a petunia in an onion patch," I laughed. "He is the only serious student in my last period class, and a senior among freshman at that. Surely you know him. Everybody in Concord knows Bad Man."
"Bad Man? Don't think I know what you're talking about."
"Keith Lewis is Bad Man, the DJ for Saturday morning on the local radio station."
"Afraid I am more than a little bit old for Concord's Saturday morning radio. Is he gay?"
"I honestly don't know. I've never heard the kids teasing him and they usually do, even though it is forbidden. The kids like his show, but he's a real loner. I like him, maybe because he is a serious student in my class from hell."
"Well, if this gets out, I want him defended too. This is absolutely slanderous and could really devastate a kid. Well, just wanted you to know I'm behind you a hundred percent, as is Constance. Michael, you take good care of our boy. We're going to have to kick ass big time over this." Having said that, Millie--in her usual style--hung up the phone without saying goodbye.
After listening to Millie, I'll admit I felt better. It was like discovering you had a Sherman tank on your side when all you thought you had was a slingshot!
Michael and I talked a bit about the note and the mess it stirred up, but soon we were talking about our relationship and how we had allowed it to drift, rather than working at it. We got a lot straightened out, including the acknowledgement that we'd have to do it again and again. Then, both exhausted, we tumbled into bed and discovered we were not THAT exhausted after all. But all good things must come to an end and we finally drifted off to sleep, snug in each other's arms.
ASP--The Concord Five--Chapter Five--Danny
Saturday afternoon, Dr. Walker said I could go home if I promised to keep taking the antibiotic which had proven effective against the bugs in the cultures, drink plenty of fluids and rest. I was happy to promise anything to get back to my own place.
Sunday, I decided I would go by and see Christopher. When I got to his room, he was awake and looked surprisingly well. I mean he was still a pretty sick boy, but definitely on the mend. We talked about what had happened to land him in the hospital--well, not exactly. He just talked a bit about being in the manure pond, not how he got there--and what had gone on here. He couldn't believe the story I told him about how he had been cured. That is he didn't believe until he asked why Michael had been at the hospital. "He came because, when you woke up for a few minutes, you said you needed to talk to him."
"I did? I don't remember that. All I remember is I was sliding down into a dark, filthy pool and needed help to get out. I kept reaching up and and no-one was there to pull me out, and I thought I heard someone telling me to talk to a friend. Strange... All of it is strange."
"You don't know the half of it. You weren't conscious when it all happened. But, tell me, how did you get in that manure pond in the first place? Who beat you up and put you there?" Christopher turned his face to the wall and said nothing, and I didn't push. Finally, after several long minutes, he said, "Danny, I am so ashamed of myself," and started crying, completely out of control.
I walked over to the opposite side of his bed, sat on the edge and pulled his head to my chest, holding him as he wept bitter tears, all the time sobbing, "I am so ashamed".
From the times I had found myself weeping like that in a therapist's office, I know what to do. I encouraged Christopher to cry it all out and he did, weeping an ocean of tears. All the time he was crying, he was clutching at me, holding on for dear life. He must have cried hard for ten or fifteen minutes, and had just regained control when there was a knock on the door. I got up and Christopher lay back on his pillow and said, "Come in". Sheriff Putnam and a deputy came into the room.
After he had introduced himself, Sheriff Putnam introduced the deputy as Deputy Austin. "Christopher, we need to talk to you if you are up to it," the sheriff said.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Christopher," I said.
"Promise," I replied, and nodded to the sheriff and deputy and left. There was more going on with Christopher, I was sure, than just being beaten and dumped in a manure pond, although that was bad enough.
ASP--The Concord Five--Chapter Five--Sheriff Putnam
When I got all the reports concerning the events surrounding Christopher Cicellis, I was very anxious to talk to the lad myself. I had a hunch the work my deputies had been doing for almost a year was about to produce results. I really needed to talk with Christopher, but he was too ill every time I called the hospital. Finally I got word that he was conscious and able to talk, so I asked Deputy Austin to accompany me to the hospital.
When we arrived, Danny Elrod was with Christopher. I have seen kids in trouble too often and, when I remembered how much trouble Danny had been in, I realized that there was always the possibility of them turning around--and Danny was proof of that. When Deputy Austin and I entered the room and introduced ourselves, Danny spoke then left.
"Christopher, we have some questions for you and we hope you have some answers for us," I said. "You were left in a pool of cow shit to die, don't kid yourself about that. Maybe you thought the people who did that to you were your friends and you want to protect them but, if you do, I hope you remember being left to die in cow shit up to your neck."
"Sheriff, I did think the guys who put me in the cow shit were my friends and, while I may have been damn stupid--I have been damn stupid--in the past, I have never been stupid enough to think that anyone who would do what they did to me is a friend. So ask away."
"Christopher, the car you were in before you got dumped was identified by Mr. Heidelberg. Actually, it was almost identified. He gave us a partial description and a partial license number. Fortunately, that was enough because a report of an abandoned car in Lexington fit the description and partial plate numbers, so it was located quickly. There were several beer cans in the car which have provided good fingerprints. And, as I'm sure you know, the prints were on file. They belonged..."
"To me, Kenny Haines, Frank Kitchen and Spike Ellis, right?"
"Almost. Your prints were not on the cans or anything else in the car. But there was a fourth set belonging to Ike Ramsey. Do you know him?"
"Not before Kenny introduced him as 'Ike, our friend and supplier,' that's all. And I did have a couple beers, so my prints should have been there," Christopher said.
"I think they made every effort to hide the fact that you were with them. What were you doing with that bunch?"
Christopher turned his face to the wall and said nothing. I just waited. Finally he spoke, "Sheriff, I am so ashamed of myself. Ever since I got here, I have been taking a little money from the till. Kenny, Frank and Spike used it to get grass and beer for us. I mean I generally paid for everything, but at least they paid attention to me. Anyway, last week Kenny told me we were about to get some really good grass and money as well. 'You need to lay hands on several extra dollars--at least a hundred,' he had said. I told him I didn't think I could, but I'd try. I was afraid Granddad would find out I was taking money if I took that much, so I just took a little each day, and had fifty when they came by to pick me up. We drove out into the country a bit, and Ike stopped the car and opened the trunk and showed us a bunch of little glass tubes. 'There's enough crack there to keep you in weed and beer as long as you like,' he said and then asked for the money."
"'Look, guys', I told them," Christopher continued, "'I don't mind taking money from the till to buy grass, but I am not dealing crack or having anything to do with it'. When I said that, Kenny slapped me across the face and said, 'Give me the money and shut up. You are in this just as much as we are.' I told him again I wasn't getting involved, and he slugged me and took the money I had. When he saw it wasn't what he expected, he hit me again and started kicking me. I passed out and woke up here. That's all I know."
"Can you describe the man with the three?" I asked Christopher.
"Not really. I mean of course I saw him, but never in very good light. He was tall, I guess six-one or two, dark headed--maybe even black haired--but with fair skin. He had a scar on his left cheek and a tattoo of a skull on the inside of his left arm. That's about it. But what about me? How much trouble am I in?"
"I suspect you have to ask Demetri that," I chuckled. "You said you stole from Demetri, but he hasn't reported that. You were with a bunch who planned to buy dope, but you didn't have any when you were dragged from the pit and there were no fingerprints on anything we found. Of course, I expect you to help us all you can."
"I certainly will. I think in more ways than one I have been given my life back." Christopher smiled, "You know that Greek Orthodox immerse babies in baptism so I got baptized again, in cow shit--but I guess cow shit is clean enough to give me a new start. I sure intend to help you all I can, I mean I was almost not here."
"You're right. You came very close to death and would have died had some decent people not worked to keep you alive. Well, Christopher, I think we have what we need but we may be back."
"Anytime," Christopher replied. "By the way, have you caught the four who put me in the pond?"
"Of course we have the three. That was easy since they just went home. We don't have Ike, but I think another day or two in jail will open the mouths of your former friends. We want Ike and Lexington police think they know where he is. But what we all really want is his supplier. Ike's really a pretty small fish. The higher up the chain we can reach, the better."
Christopher wished us luck and we left.
ASP--The Concord Five--Chapter Five--Millie
"When will it end, oh when will it end?" I asked myself as I hung up the phone after talking to Constance. I called her after the secretary at the school board had phoned to tell me someone had brought a letter addressed to the president of the board. I drove over, picked up the letter and read it. I almost exploded when I finished reading the ignorant slander it contained. Michelle, the secretary, told me there were copies sent to every member of the board. I knew there was no way it could be ignored, so I called Constance and learned she had received one as well.
Neither of us had any idea as to who had sent the venomous letters, and both knew that John Stevenson was in for a rough time. I called him and assured him of my backing, and offered one of my lawyers to defend him if he needed it. After I finished talking with him, I felt better and fixed myself a drink.
As I sat sipping my JD and branch, I suddenly felt very lonely. Damn it, I missed Eugene. I had a big hole in my life after Jason left home, and then Mr. Willingham had died, and I was well on my way to becoming a self-pitying old lady when Eugene entered my life. I know he thought I had given him everything, but I could never give him as much as he had given me. I started to call him when the phone rang. It was Woody.
We talked for over an hour. I told him about the attack on John and he was as upset as I had been. "He's a fine man," Woody said, "Anyone who has ever seen him with Michael would know he wasn't playing around with anyone else. Those two may have their problems--do you know anyone in a serious relationship who does not--but there's no doubt they are madly in love with each other. And I should know about being in love!"
Well, we talked about that for a while. It was private, but I will tell you that I felt thirty years younger when I hung up the phone. I suggested Woody might like to come down to Concord for a while and take in the beauty of the mountains in the fall. He said he'd have to give it some thought since he'd hate to drive the distance for only a day or two. I suggested he spend at least a couple weeks. We talked about that and then said goodnight.
As I got ready for bed, I was still thinking about Woody coming down and, at the same time, about what John was going through simply because he was in love. "It's amazing how much hatred is provoked by love. It really is." After I had said my prayers, I crawled into bed just as I heard fire sirens as the fire trucks raced down the street.
ASP--The Concord Five--Chapter Five--Uncle Michael
After John and I had discussed our relationship and sealed it afresh by making love, John quickly fell asleep. I did not. I lay beside the second man who had given me his love and whom I had loved in return. John and I had both been responsible for allowing our relationship to drift without giving it the care I should have known it needed. "An army always fights the previous war," echoed in my head as I came to realize--unconsciously for sure, but it was true nonetheless--I had been responding to John as I would have James, the first love of my life. But John was not James and responded to me very differently. I found both of us were often confused at first, but gradually we came to know each other on a very deep level, but I had, still, often treated John as if he were James, and that was wrong.
My mind then turned to the present crisis--and it definitely was a crisis--provoked by a vicious letter to Ms. Jones. I guess it is true that it is an ill wind which blows nobody good, because the storm the letter was sure to blow up had also shocked John and me into talking about us and getting out a lot of things which should have been out and dealt with weeks before. But we had dealt with things--mostly small, but definitely capable of growing large--and I relaxed, spooned myself into John's back and, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard a car scream around the corner. Almost immediately, there was an explosion and a bright flash of light. Both John and I jumped out of bed and rushed to the front of the house, where we saw flames through the window.
"What in the hell..." John exclaimed, rushed across the room, grabbed the phone and shouted, "I'll calling 911, Michael. Don't open the front door! I can see the flames and I'm afraid you'll be burned if you open the door." He then gave the 911 operator the needed information and turned to me. "What next, Michael?" he cried as we both grabbed our robes and headed for the back door.