Uncle George and I stood there in the open doorway, watching until Mitch and Bobby turned the corner and disappeared from sight. His hand had been on my shoulder the whole time, and now he squeezed it.
"Well, let's get to it. I've got some calls to make." He said as he turned me around and guided me to the living room.
"Peter, I know what I said earlier about calling your teammates, but I've rethought that and it probably isn't such a good idea. It sounds like Bobby's brother is already doing that. Besides, there are bound to be a lot of questions, and we don't have any answers." Uncle George thought for a moment then went on. "Why don't you call one of your running buddies, and let them know you won't be running with them for a while? You can tell him that I don't want you overdoing it because you tore a couple of stitches out yesterday, and I've grounded you until the doctor says it's OK. Ask him to pass the message on to the others when he sees them in the morning."
Uncle George paused and locked eyes with me. "In case you are wondering, you won't be telling him any lies or half-truths. All of this is absolutely true… Got it?"
As if I wasn't miserable enough, now I had to miss my workouts. I sighed and just nodded my head. Truth be told, I didn't want to talk with anybody but Mitch right now. "Can I call Mitch first?" Shit, I didn't mean for my voice to sound so whiny…
Uncle George just smiled. "Call one of your running buddies first. I think you will want to take your time when you call Mitch. Don't you?" Mitch was right! Uncle George really is the coolest person ever! I grinned and nodded my head. "Don't take too long on the first call. You need to tell Mitch not to call the others. OK?" I was already reaching for my brand-new smartphone. "While you're doing that I'll call Kevin (Coach Anderson) and give him a heads up about your physical condition."
I went to my room and lay on top of my bed before I called Robert and let him know about my 'new' restrictions. He said he would pass the word, then roundly chewed me out for doing whatever I had done to rip out my stitches. I never said what it was and he didn't care. He just told me to take care of myself and get healed so we could play ball. That kinda lifted some of the doom and gloom I was feeling. It's still a new feeling that people care about me.
Then I called Mitch. I told him about my new restrictions and he laughed at me! I faked being mad and said it was all his fault. We must have talked for an hour, never talking about what we did last night. We did talk about what Bobby had told us. We both came to the conclusion that Uncle George was right. If Mitch wanted to stay in the closet, and he did, then we couldn't hang out, at least for a while. After the call ended, I felt miserable again.
The rest of Sunday was pretty boring.
I reviewed my homework and even got ahead in Math and History. Then I played some games, but not the ones Mitch and I had picked out. Those went into a dresser drawer and would stay there until we could play them together. At some point, I realized I was sulking like an eight-year-old. I looked at the clock and figured out what I could do to lift my spirits.
I could make a nice Sunday dinner. Yeah, it was Uncle George's night to cook, but so what! So I ambled into the kitchen to see what we had. Hmm, a top-round steak, some cherry tomatoes, carrots, onions, and potatoes. A pack of frozen green beans… Yes! A Swiss steak sounds nice. With mashed potatoes and green beans on the side… Bacon, do we have… Yup. That'll not only taste good, but it will take some time to make.
The meat tenderizing hammer has a flat side and a swiss side. Three guesses on which one I wanted. So I went to work on the round steaks. It took me about 30 minutes, using my left arm, to pound out both sides of the two steaks. Another 30 minutes to brine them. While I was waiting for the brine to work, I sliced up the onion and slivered the carrots. By then it was time for a mere 2-minute sear on both sides of the meat. Once the meat was seared, I added the tomatoes to get the heat to release the juices, then added the onions and carrots. Next, I opened a can of beef broth, added a few other spices, added the steaks, and left it all to simmer and reduce while I peeled and boiled the potatoes.
I think I already mentioned that I knew how to cook!
Back in San Bernardino, I used to make Sunday meals all the time, when I was living with my mom. I wanted to make at least one meal a week, something special. So I was always looking for recipes I could use to make something, with what we had in the house. I wanted some recognition that I could do something right. Hindsight being 20/20… You just know that never happened.
By the time it was all ready, it actually was just about dinner time. So I set the table and called my uncle in to eat. Unlike my mother, Uncle George at least told me how good my cooking tasted. He even got a twinkle in his eye when he said I would make a good housewife someday. At first, I wasn't sure if I should be shocked and hurt or if it was a back-handed compliment! I couldn't help but wonder if he had ever played tennis. There weren't any rackets in the house that I'd seen, but he sure had a well-developed backhand. I decided it was a compliment.
After we ate, I began cleaning everything up. It wasn't a whole lot, as I tend to clean as I cook. I was almost done when I heard, "Peter! Get in here NOW!"
I hurried into the living room and Uncle George pointed to the TV. On the screen was the Sunday evening newscast from KENV:
"... On the local scene, we had a disturbing incident occur at the start of this weekend. However, before I go into the details of that, I need to refresh your memory about another story.
On the night of October 6th, 1998, a University of Wyoming at Laramie student was taken out of town. He was tied to a fence post, horribly tortured and beaten, set on fire, and left for dead. Matthew Shepard was found the next morning and taken by Life Flight to a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. He died six days later. His murderers were found, tried, and convicted. What was Matthew's crime? What could he have done that someone would do this to him? … According to those who murdered him, he was openly gay.
I mention this bit of history, because last Friday afternoon, while in the locker room after baseball practice, at Elko High School, it has been alleged that a student called another student a name, using a homophobic slur. Then he shoved this student, who was younger and smaller than him, into the lockers. This action injured the smaller student badly enough that the paramedics had to be called, and the student had to be taken to the emergency room for treatment.
Is the young victim of this assault gay? We have learned that it was rumored that this student was gay. Rumored. Not fact, mere rumor. It is also interesting to note that we learned these rumors were started by the alleged perpetrator.
We have also learned that the alleged perpetrator was arrested at the scene, by Elko police officers. Yet when brought to the Elko Police Station, he was released into his parent's custody without being charged for the criminal assault that was committed in front of a dozen witnesses.
Do we have gay students in our High School? Statistics say we do, and the existence of a Diversity Club at the High School seems to confirm it. Should it make any difference? It shouldn't. Every student has the right to a safe school and a safe education, whether they are Gay, Straight or purple polka dotted.
We need to stop and think about this incident. Do we want Elko, Nevada to become the next Laramie, Wyoming?
In national news, the President today…"
"So much for any kind of low profile, I'm supposed to take. How the heck did this make the Sunday Night News? Shit!" As I said that, I looked at Uncle George.
He was just sitting there looking at me with a huge smile on his face. Suddenly I remembered the stories I used to read to my brothers and sisters. OMG! That's what Lewis Carroll was writing about! I'll never see the Cheshire Cat the same way again. "OK, you know something, don't you? What gives?"
"That was what's called a 'pre-emptive strike,' Peter. If you were Carl's dad and you watched that little news story, what would you tell your son? Knowing that this news story was about your son, and what he did, what would you say to your boy?
"Now, being the cynic that I am, let's suppose you actually approved of what your kid did. But with that broadcast, you have to know that if anything else happens to that other student, your son is gonna be the very first person the authorities will look at… And when they look at him, they'll be looking at you too.
"Now let's suppose that you own what is perhaps the largest cattle ranch in Elko County. That makes you, perhaps, one of the wealthiest people in the county. Perhaps even one of the most influential people, and you do not want this kind of attention. What do you suppose Daddy is gonna tell Sonny Boy?
"Peter, you haven't been here in town long enough to know, but Carl Turner's father is Jordan Turner. One of the most influential people in the county and the city and perhaps the wealthiest. I know this man and my gut feeling is that the son is much like the father. However, I know this man will allow nothing to stand in the way of his influence. Not even his son."
"OK… If I'm following your logic, that takes Carl out of the picture. Leaving his goons. Carl can always use them to get back at me.
"That still doesn't answer the question of how you knew about this."
"One of the calls I made earlier was to Larry, he's the lawyer you met yesterday. He found out how Carl was released without being charged. So, we concocted this little scheme. Larry has several contacts in the local and state media."
"No! This is going statewide?
"What is it we know that makes it necessary to go statewide?"
"Carl was allowed to make an immediate phone call to his father. Jordan used his influence to spring Carl. It was the Police Chief that allowed Carl to walk." My uncle looked like he had just tasted something shitty. His nose wrinkled, and his lip twitched slightly before relaxing.
"There are several other things that may be in play. Besides the broadcast you just watched, KRXI in Reno and KVVU in Las Vegas have picked up the story.
"This is where politics comes into play. These are both Fox-affiliated stations. Normally, these conservative stations wouldn't air such a story. But because those two counties vote very progressively, Nevada is listed as a Blue State. The gay bashing of a high school student that resulted in a trip to the ER… Well, Fox News is gonna make all the hay they can about the liberals and their hypocrisy.
We are thinking that because of the subject matter, and that Fox News aired the story, CNN and possibly MSNBC will pick up the story as national news…"
"CNN!" I squealed before I hid my face in my hands.
"Um, Peter? Do you want to know which newspapers we sent the story to?"
"Fuck me," I mumbled.
I wasn't mumbly enough. "That's Mitch's job." Uncle George burst out in another belly laugh. "The Elko Daily Free Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and the Reno Gazette-Journal. Oh, and the AP wire. The Elko paper will have a front-page headline leading to an opinion piece tomorrow morning. Just so you know."
I just sat there overwhelmed and dazed. "Uncle George? I don't feel too good. I think maybe I'm coming down with anthrax or sumthin'. Bet I caught it from that damn Carl! I don't think I should go to school and infect everyone…" Without warning my throat tightened up as I croaked out, "At least no more than I already have… Everyone is going to be looking at me!!! Shit. Shit, shit!" That did it. I was officially 6 years old again, overwhelmed, and scared. I did the only thing I could think of and launched myself at Uncle George.
I don't know how long I sat there with his arm around my shoulders. I'm pretty sure it wasn't very long. Somehow, just sitting next to him gave me the reassurance I needed. Then he started talking in a soft voice.
"I wouldn't worry too much about people looking at you. You are one good-looking dude. No surprise there. You look just like your father did when he was 14. You were so focused on Mitch that I guess you didn't notice all the heads you turned, both male and female, while we were shopping. And I'm sure the same thing happens at school.
"You're right, I bet that a lot of the students will be looking at you tomorrow. Some will be looking because, in their eyes, you're famous. Others will probably be seeing a hero. Of course, there will be those who will just see an attractive young man.
"But, let's not worry about any of that now. It's late, and tomorrow is a school day. Why don't you get ready for bed? Let's see how you are feeling in the morning, and go from there. OK?"
I nodded. "Yeah. That makes sense."
I realized that my cell had been buzzing me ever since the broadcast had ended. I looked at it. 35 texts. The first one was from Mitch. The last four were from him too. In a weak attempt at humor, "Guess I better see what my fans are saying." So I got up and went into my bedroom while I called him.
He picked up on the first ring. "Hi, Mitch."
"Pete! I take it, you saw the news?"
"Not only saw the news, but my uncle let me know the story is likely to go statewide and maybe even national!"
"Yeah, he told me that a Reno and Las Vegas station has picked up the story and they think it will be picked up by CNN. Oh, they sent it out to several newspapers, one of which is our local. It will have an opinion piece, headlined on the front page tomorrow morning. I'm fucked, man!"
"Shit man. Did your uncle find out how Carl was sprung?"
"Yeah, I guess his old man is some kind of big shot around here. He got the Police Chief to let Carl go without charges."
"Carl Turner… Now that you said his dad sprung him, makes me wonder if his dad is Jordan Turner, Elko's biggest cattleman."
"Um… Yeah. That's who my uncle said he was."
"I never gave it a thought before, but it explains a lot about Carl's arrogance and why he thinks he's better than everyone else."
"Well, it might explain that, but it doesn't explain why Uncle George talked about him like he'd bitten into a turd."
"I can tell that George hasn't told you a few facts about life in Elko."
"Whatcha ya mean, Mitch? Uncle George is just an everyday guy who happened to find enough money in his mines to almost retire. I mean, we don't live any better than most other people."
"And it didn't strike you odd that your uncle had an attorney on call and this attorney made a house call, on a weekend? Or that there is suddenly a media campaign to embarrass the local authorities?"
OK, that took a moment to process. The best response I could come up with was a snappy, "You make Uncle George sound like some sort of Mikado or sumthin."
"You mean Machiavelli?"
"Probly… it's one of those Portuguese guys." I snickered. I wasn't sure how to interpret the laughter coming out of my new Smartphone. I do OK in history but it isn't one of my strongest points.
"My dad says that George is as wealthy, maybe more than Mr. Turner. He's just one of those guys that never flashes it around. And if George has that kind of money, he has that kind of power. Dad says George has always been very low-key about things."
After that, the conversation drifted into less intense subjects. Finally, I glanced at the clock. OMG! It was after midnight. If Uncle George found out, he might finish grounding me … forever! I also realized that I was pretty well spent, and some sleep sounded good. The call ended on a happy note, and without a single thought about the coming day, I climbed into bed and slept soundly.
Monday morning came much too early. Even though I slept an hour later than I usually did, going to sleep so late last night didn't help at all. By the time I had taken my shower and dressed for school, I was at least functional.
When I wandered into the kitchen, Uncle George was already there, sipping coffee and looking at some papers that had obviously come out of the open briefcase sitting beside him, on the breakfast counter.
"Good morning Pete! Did you sleep well?"
"Umm, yeah, I guess so." As I said this I poured myself a cup of coffee and started fixing some scrambled eggs and toast.
"So how are you feeling? Any signs of the plague? Oh, wait... it was anthrax, wasn't it?"
I had my back to him while I stirred the eggs, but I could hear the smile in his voice. I couldn't help but giggle, it did sound silly now. "Nope, feeling pretty good. I guess I dodged the bullet." His only response was a chuckle. "But, I am a little nervous about what school will be like this morning.
I filled my plate, grabbed my cup and brought them over to the breakfast counter, and sat down to eat.
My uncle was still chuckling as he slid the morning paper across the bar to me. There on the top banner of the front page was:
"No need to read the piece, Peter. The paper lays out the facts and gives a very harsh opinion about how the police handled your assailant and that the school won't comment on what it is doing about the attack. No names are given because you both are minors."
I rolled my eyes as my uncle went on, "The only real difference here is that the paper states you came out as gay to the team the day after you were attacked. The paper must have interviewed some of your teammates. The quotes are very supportive of you. In fact, the entire opinion piece is very supportive."
"Well, there's gonna be no hiding anything now." I shook my head a bit. "Would you check my bandages? I think they're OK, but I'd like to be sure."
Uncle George quickly changed both bandages. The one on my arm and the one on the back of my head. When he finished he said, "Wear that sling, Peter. That's not only the doctor's orders, but they are also mine."
I sighed. "Yes sir."
Just as I shouldered my backpack, the front doorbell rang. I walked into the front room adjusting the pack as I went, to open the door. "Jesse! Robert! Um… Good morning, guys? What are you doing here?"
"We're your escort, Pete." Robert smiled.
"Yeah. Everybody drew straws, and we lost." Jesse added with a toothy grin and a "whoof" as Robert's elbow caught him in the middle.
"Shit. Carl ain't stupid enough to try anything after yesterday's TV and this morning's paper, is he?"
"Maybe, maybe not. But his goons are another story. So let's go. Time's-a-wastin!"
We live about a mile south of the school. It just doesn't take that long to walk. Along the way, the conversation was all about the TV news and what was in the paper this morning. As we approached College Ave., the street that runs in front of the main building on campus, Jesse held out his hands to stop us.
"Holy shit! Will ya look at that!" I looked ahead at what Jesse was seeing. Keerist! "Robert, round up a couple of the bigger guys as quick as you can. Get them over here so we can surround Pete." Without even replying, Robert ran across the street to where a group of kids had gathered. Jesse motioned me to backup so that the news vans and the reporters couldn't see us.
I don't know how many were parked across the street from the school, but it was a bunch. There were at least four of them, but the biggest van blocked out whatever was behind it. The one I could identify was my biggest nightmare… a CNN mobile unit.
"Pete, I don't know what kind of shit your uncle has stirred up, but as soon as Robert gets back, we're gonna surround you and walk you into the school. Here, put this ball cap on, and let's make sure that bandage is covered. Hope we can shield your arm and that sling. That's what these guys will be lookin' for."
It was only a minute or two before Robert came back with six other guys who effectively surrounded and shielded me from the reporters. We walked across the street and up onto the grass and then into the main building.
I thanked everyone and fist-bumped them as we all split up to get to our homerooms. "What the fuck has my uncle done?" I asked no one in particular as I looked back out the doors we had just come through.
I took the hat off and handed it back to Jesse. "Pete, your Uncle George… What does he do?"
"He's a semi-retired miner. Why?"
"Hmm… George Williams. He own some mines up in the Jarbridge area?"
"Yeah, I think so. Over in the Rubies and some on the east slopes of the Sierras. Why?"
"Let's get ta our homerooms. I'll tell ya at practice."
"Oh, OK. See ya then. Thanks, Jesse." He waved and took off.
I went to my locker and traded out the books I needed for my morning classes. All around me the hall was filled with noisy kids doing what I was. Normally I would hear bits and pieces of chatter about a whole lot of different things but today, there was just one topic. Everyone was excited about all of the news trucks outside, and how all the reporters were badgering anyone they could get to talk to them.
When I walked into the room, it was as if a curtain had been drawn back, and I was the only person in the center of the stage. Everyone stopped talking and just stared at me. I quietly walked over to my desk, sat down, and still, everybody just looked at me in total silence. OK. This was now just weird! They were doing exactly what I told Uncle George they'd do.
Mr. Whittaker took roll. He had assigned seating in homeroom, so he only had to look for empty seats. As he finished up, he looked around the room before he stood up, from his desk.
"Alright, guys… As you may have noticed, there is a media circus going on outside. How many of you have not seen the news last night or this morning's paper?" Nobody raised their hand.
"I am deeply concerned that in this day and age, any student would be attacked for any reason, let alone because of his or her supposed sexual orientation. I'm even more concerned that this led to that student's public outing of himself." Mr. Whittaker looked at everyone before continuing, "However it has happened. This has now become national news. It sheds a very bad light not just on our school, but on our entire community. Should any of you decide to talk to those idiots outside… think long… and hard… about anything you might say…"
"Peter Williams, please report to the administration office. Peter Williams, report to the office."
"OK Peter, I have no idea what this is about but you had best gather your things and head over to the office." Mr. Whittaker said, with a look of embarrassment.
I shouldered my backpack and walked out of the classroom. As soon as I was in the hall, I took out my cell, unlocked it, and speed-dialed my uncle. It barely rang for the first time.
"Peter? What's up? Why are you calling?"
"Um, Uncle George, I've just been called to the office and there are a ton of news media vans outside."
"Shit. That was not expected… OK, I'm at my office with Larry and a couple of other friends. We will all be at your school in a few minutes. Duck into a restroom for a couple of minutes, to give us time to get there. When you do get to the office, do not go anywhere else, or say anything, until we get there. Stay put, and say nothing. Understood?"
"Yes sir." The call disconnected and I went into the nearest restroom and pretended to pee. What now? Was I supposed to whistle aimlessly, and act innocent or something? Probably not a good idea I thought to myself. So, I just stood there, with my dick hanging out, and feeling silly. After a couple of minutes, I came out, rounded the corridor, and walked into the office.
I walked up to the counter as a student worker looked at me. I caught the attention of a lady behind the counter, I think she was the school secretary. "Hi. I'm Peter Williams. I was told to report here?" All activity in the office stopped.
"Ah yes, Peter, Dr. Danbury, our Principal, wanted to talk with you. Have a seat while I call him." She picked up her phone to make a call. I turned around and found a chair to sit in.
I don't think I had been sitting for more than a minute or so when two other people walked in. One I recognized as my counselor, and the other I had to assume was the Principal. Dang! He was big, over six feet tall, and looked like he might be into weightlifting or something. My counselor was looking perplexed, while the other guy had that look of authoritative disdain… You know that look. The one that says that you're nothing but a kid and are taking up time that could be spent on better things.
"You are Peter Williams?" I nodded to the guy who asked. "What took you so long? When you are called to the office, Mr. Williams, you do not dawdle."
"Sorry, sir. I had to use the restroom."
"Not on my time young man. Now, come with me."
I stood up. "Um, no sir." The man that ordered me to go with him, looked down his nose at me. I thought quickly, "I was told not to go or speak with anyone until my Uncle gets here." I sat back down.
"You will come with me this instant!" The man looked as if he was about to explode. Before anything else could be done or said, he took two quick steps and grabbed my bad arm, and literally yanked me to my feet. Agonizing pain ripped through my arm and shoulder. My world shrank and became a pain-filled bubble. I couldn't help myself. I screamed as he started dragging me out of the office.
"What The Hell Is Going On Here!" I recognized my uncle's bellow. Everything became a blur. I heard lots of yelling and shouting. The next thing I knew, I was falling and my shoulder, the one that hurt really bad, hit the floor. More excruciating pain! If anything, worse than when he yanked me out of the chair. I was still almost screaming so racked with pain I was. I know I was holding my arm with my other hand and I could feel the wetness seeping rapidly through the bandages, the t-shirt I had on, and the sling.
I heard someone else shouting for the police and an ambulance. Others were shouting at Dr. Danbury and Uncle George.
Then I felt someone gently pulling my left hand away from the grip it had on my newly injured arm.
"I'm sorry Peter, but I have to cut your clothing and bandages so I can see the damage." A softer voice was speaking to me. The pain, while still very bad, was becoming tolerable. Enough that I wasn't screaming. I heard, rather than felt, the snipping of scissors, some gentle tugging and a moment later, "All of his stitches have been ripped out and it appears that a new tear was made. He needs to get to the ER, now!" I was dimly aware that another bandage was gently being placed on my arm.
"Get that bastard outta my sight before I do something we will all regret!" I recognized my uncle's growl.
I thought I could hear someone being read their rights. Lots more shouting. Bright lights.
Then someone was holding me. "It's gonna be OK Peter. They're not gonna hurt you anymore. I swear it!" I could finally focus on some things and I was being held by my uncle. Tears were streaming from his eyes as he gently rocked me in his big arms. It seemed like there were reporters everywhere, with cameras, and lights, filming what was happening. I was still crying from the pain, but somehow that was alright. I felt safe now that Uncle George had me.
"It hurts, uncle. It hurts really bad." I hardly recognized my own voice as the words came out between sobs. "I'm sorry Uncle George. I didn't mean…"
"Get those god damned cameras out of his face!" He roared at the crowd, then turned back to me.
"Shhhh, Peter. You didn't do anything wrong. It's gonna be OK. No one is gonna hurt you anymore." I could see three guys rolling in a gurney. Then hands were lifting me and the pain came back worse than ever! Only it wasn't just my arm. My shoulder hurt worse than anything I had ever felt before. I could tell that I was placed on a gurney.
"Please, make it stop hurting… Please!" I cried out.
"Where's it hurt the worst, Peter?" A new voice said.
"My shoulder… It hurts something awful… And my arm. It's bleeding again, I can tell."
"Dan, it's the same kid we took in last Friday afternoon." I vaguely recognized the voice. "Jesus kid. You really messed up your arm this time. Let's see about your shoulder." Fingers started probing my shoulder and I screamed again. This time the voice was almost mechanical. "Patient is a 14-year-old male. Previous injury to right arm. Seen last Friday afternoon at ER. Current injuries, right arm to include shoulder. Possible torn rotator cuff. Original three-inch laceration on arm is now four inches. The original sutures have been completely ripped. BP 182 over 120. Pulse 110. O2 sat 99. Temp 97.2. Minimal blood loss. Inserting IV with saline drip. Five minutes out. Transporting code three."
I could feel myself moving and I could sense a whole bunch of people around me… Sunlight… More movement… I could hear a siren, and then… nothing. Blackness had overtaken me.
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