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A Collision on the Road

by cgb

[Story Headers]

"This ain't no headtrip, honey. This is a collision on the road" - Poe ("Trigger Happy Jack")

*

Toby hears it on the news first. Marion is making coffee and he's loading the dishwasher. The television is on in the living room, barely audible over the sound of stacking dishes. Marion's talking, relating a conversation she had with the principal at the school where she works. He's listening, nodding and making small talk. He hears the words "Oswald Penitentiary" and his hearing fine-tunes to the newsreader's voice.

The words "prison breakout" and "Keller" follow and the plate Toby is holding crashes to floor, shatters into tiny pieces that slide into the corners of the kitchen.

"Toby?" Marion reaches for the broom in the pantry. Toby stares at his hands. "Toby are you all right?"

There's a knock at the door and for an insane moment Toby thinks it could be him. He doesn't move. Marion frowns and goes to answer it.

"Don't answer that!" Toby says. And then reason kicks in. Chris wouldn't come here. He knows they'd go to Toby first. "I'll get it," he says.

He opens the door and there are two cops with guns drawn, pointing at him. Behind them are two plain clothed cops, guns also drawn.

One of the plain clothed cops says, "Tobias Beecher?"

Marion's is behind Toby. "What's going on?" she says.

"It's nothing," Toby says. He tells the cops, "He's not here."

A plain clothed cop flips his badge in Toby's direction. "Detective Garth," he says. "Mind if we take a look around?"

"Be my guest," Toby says. He steps out of the way to let the cops pass. They filter into the bedrooms and the bathroom.

Garth takes out a notepad. "Has he tried to contact you?" he says.

"Has who tried to contact you?" Marion says. She's still holding the broom.

"It's Keller," Toby says. "He's escaped."

She looks at Toby, her eyes wide. Toby wonders if he told her Chris was the jealous type. "He wouldn't come here, would he?" she says.

"No," Toby shakes his head. He turns to Detective Garth. "He hasn't tried to contact me."

Garth nods. "Any idea where he might go?"

"His ex-wives?" Toby says.

"We've already contacted them," Garth says.

"Then I have nothing more to offer."

"No friends on the outside?"

"Not that I know of," Toby says. "He didn't talk about himself much." He talked about himself all the time. Of course, everything he said was of dubious veracity.

"Guess you had other things to keep yourselves busy." Garth lays the innuendo on thick.

Toby ignores him. His head is reeling with the thought of Chris being free and on the streets with god knows what on his mind. The world as he knows it is upside down.

Chris will come for him. He's sure of that. He should call Genevieve's parents - they have the kids for the weekend. He should also call his mother. He does a quick mental inventory of everyone in his life who needs protection from his past and resolves to call them. And he was so close to thinking this part of his life was behind him.

The cops find nothing and leave quietly. Garth gives Toby a card, tells him to call if Chris tries to contact him. "Don't do anything stupid," Garth says on his way out.

Marion folds her arms across his body, palms to elbows. "Does he know about me?" Her voice falters a little on "he".

"Yes," Toby says. He doesn't look at her. "I think you should go home, Marion," he says. It sounds cruel. He doesn't mean it to be.

Marion gathers her jacket, wraps a scarf around her neck. She stands in the hallway, as if she's waiting for him to say something. He doesn't, so she says, "I'll call you tomorrow."

"Yeah," he says.

She kisses him quickly before leaving, a peck on the lips he barely feels.

Alone in his apartment he pours coffee and calls Genevieve's parents.

Chris is free. Toby won't sleep tonight.

*

Two days pass and no sign of Chris. Toby acts normal. He goes to work, counsels clients, call his mom and children and tells them everything is fine. He asks Genevieve's parents to take care of Holly and Harry for a while longer. Just to be safe.

On the third day Toby notices he's being followed. The man at the newsstand looks familiar. He sees the same guy smoking a cigarette on the corner next to Toby's office. He takes Garth's card out of his pocket and dials the number.

"Have you got someone watching me?" he says.

"Two men," Garth replies. "It's for your own safety."

Toby doesn't feel safe. He feels exposed.

On the way home he jumps off the train before the doors close. He doesn't know why. On the platform he sees a man reading a newspaper and a woman talking on her cell. They don't seem interested in him.

He gets on the next train and tries not to look at the people sitting next to him. He calls Marion when he gets home and tells her he thinks Keller is probably in California by now. He doesn't believe it but it feels like it's something he should say. Marion tells him she'll see him on the weekend and he hopes it's true.

Garth calls that night. "What do you think you're doing?"

"I never asked for your protection."

"Well it's like Mick Jagger says, sometimes you get what you need."

Toby hangs up. He thinks about moving to another state. Or getting plastic surgery. Three days and he's already going crazy. Funny how Chris can drive him mad from a distance.

Two weeks go by and no phone calls, letters or postcards.

Garth calls off the surveillance. "Looks like he's over you," he tells Toby.

"Guess so," Toby says. He wonders if Chris finally listened to his head over his dick and found somewhere remote to hide out. Six months is a long time in prison. Chris might have another lover, or maybe a pen pal, one of those prison groupies who gets turned on by bad guys. Chris wouldn't care for the sentiment but he'd have no problem exploiting the attraction.

Toby stops watching the people around him, expecting a familiar face in the crowd.

He's not even thinking about Chris when a car pulls along side him on his walk home from the subway. He sees yellow out of the corner of his eye and figures it's a cab. He doesn't turn around when he hears the door open, doesn't pay attention to the sound of footsteps behind him. He's almost home, only two blocks away.

He feels a hand on his shoulder and a familiar voice says, "Toby! It's great to see you!"

Chris bear hugs Toby, a gesture so over-friendly Toby knows there's a catch. He feels something hard press into his ribcage and Chris whispers, "pretend we're old pals and get in the cab or I'll blow the cab driver's head off."

Toby doesn't need to be told twice. He throws himself into the performance. "Chris! It's good to see you too."

"Let me give you a ride," Chris says. "I got a cab waiting. " He makes a sweeping gesture toward the cab. Toby does all he can to not roll his eyes.

"Great," he says, with fake enthusiasm. He glares at Chris. Chris grins.

They bundle into the back seat of the cab. Toby can see the cabbie's eyes in the rear-view mirror. He looks tired and bored. "Where to?" he says.

Chris gives him the address of a bar. Toby's mother is bringing Holly and Harry home in just under an hour. If she doesn't find Toby there, she'll know something is wrong. He wonders if there were any witnesses to Chris charade, whether anyone saw them get in the cab.

"So," Chris says, still playing the role. "It's been a long time, what have you been up to?"

"Making an honest living," Toby says. He emphasises 'honest.'

Chris slides his hand down Toby's thigh and squeezes his knee. "Same old Toby," he says. "Always the good boy."

The cab driver drops them off at a bar but Chris takes Toby two doors down, into a hotel that advertises rooms to let by the hour. Chris keeps one hand on Toby's shoulder, steering him into the hotel and toward the desk clerk. He's got his other hand in his pocket, still on the gun. It's overkill. Toby would have followed him anyway.

Chris gets a room for the night. The desk clerk is engrossed in a "Baywatch" repeat, barely notices them at all.

The stairs are covered in worn carpet and there's a large bleached spot in the hallway.

"Romantic," Toby says.

"The Hilton was booked," Chris says. He opens the door to their room and shoves Toby inside.

There's a bed with a red quilt in the middle of the room, a desk, a closet, a bathroom. The carpet is faded apricot. It looks habitable. Barely. Outside the window Toby can see a large neon sign spelling out "CANCY" the V and A faded to black.

Chris's takes Toby by the shoulders, kisses his neck. He spins Toby around and kisses him on the mouth, hard and hungry. Toby doesn't know how to respond. His lips move against Chris's like instinct, but Toby's arms are frozen at his sides.

Chris breaks away. "I missed you," he says. "Where the fuck have you been?"

Toby can feel the gun in Chris's pocket pressing into his rib cage. "Busy," Toby says. "I have a job, family."

Chris removes Toby's coat, loosens his tie. "Yeah, all that fucking your daughter's teacher must make the days fly by."

"Fine," Toby says. "I've been in a relationship. What of it?"

Chris steps back, smirks. "Take off your clothes."

"What?"

"Take your goddamn clothes off."

"You kidnapped me so we could fuck?"

"We're going to do a lot more than that," Chris says. He pulls the gun from his jacket, points it at the floor. "Now, are you just going to stand there are argue with me while I'm holding a gun or are you going to take your clothes off?"

"What are you going to do - shoot me?" Toby sounds braver than he feels. Chris is unpredictable, like an infant waving a pistol in Toby's face. It just might go off.

"Maybe," Chris says. "You want to find out the hard way?"

The thing is, Toby's hard, has been since Chris told him to get in the taxi, like there's something Pavlovian about Chris's voice. Chris says Toby's name and Toby's dick jumps to attention.

Toby thinks he shouldn't feel like this when Chris is waving a gun around like it's a toy. Chris would kill for him, has killed for him. It terrifies Toby. It drives him crazy.

It turns him on.

Toby undoes the buttons on his shirt, let's it drop to the floor along with his tie. He takes off his shoes and pants, keeping his eyes on Chris. It's a defiance of sorts. A show of control.

Chris watches like it's a peep show and he's got a fist full of coins. His smile widens when he sees Toby's erection.

"You know what your problem is Toby?" Chris says. "You get all pissed at me before checking which way your dick is pointing. Makes you look like a liar."

"Not everyone thinks with their dick," Toby says.

"Whatever you say, baby," Chris says. He waves the gun in the direction of the bed. "Lie down."

Toby sits on the edge of the bed, leans backward onto his elbows. Chris hovers at the end of the bed, looks serious as his gaze wanders down Toby's body and up again.

"Put your hands above your head," Chris says, not smiling now. Toby does what he is told. Chris climbs onto the bed and crawls along Toby's body until they are nose to nose. Chris kisses him again and this time Toby kisses him back. Toby can feel Chris's groin brushing against Toby's erection.

Chris breaks away from the kiss and sits up, knees either side of Toby's groin.

"What are you doing?" Toby says.

"I've got toys," Chris says. He pulls handcuffs from his pocket and dangles them in front of Toby. "We're gonna play cops and robbers."

Chris handcuffs one wrist, loops the handcuffs around the frame of the bed and handcuffs the other. He leans back, appraises his handiwork. "You should see yourself," Chris says. "You look like Christmas turkey."

Fuck him, Toby thinks. "Are you going to fuck me or just talk about it?"

"Oh, I'm going to fuck you, all right," Chris says. He runs a finger along Toby's chest and all the way down to the tip of his cock. "All night long."

"Then get on with it," Toby says.

Chris laughs. He takes off his jacket and his T-shirt, and then gets to his feet so he can take off his boots and jeans.

Chris is rock hard from prison life. The scar on his chest is white and still slightly purple. He looks the same as he does in Toby's dreams, the evil Adonis with a hint of laughter in his eye, his cock full and hard against his abdomen.

Chris catches Toby looking. "Miss this?" he says. Toby's mouth is too dry to respond.

Chris takes lube from the pocket of his jeans and works it over his fingers. "Bend your knees," Chris says, as he lowers himself onto the bed again. "And spread 'em." Toby does as he's told.

Chris slides his hand long the shaft of Toby's cock and down between Toby's legs to Toby's ass. He touches the rim with his finger, lightly, like he's just going to tease him and then he shoves it in, hard. Toby arches his back, tries not to cry out.

Chris doesn't wait for Toby to get comfortable. He shoves another finger into Toby, curls them both so Toby can feel Chris's knuckles inside of him.

And then Chris's tongue is on Toby's thigh, travelling over his hip and up to his belly. Chris moves down and Toby closes his eyes. breathes deeply in anticipation. Chris reaches Toby's balls, and travels up the length of the shaft. When he gets to the tips he wraps his mouth around the head, sucks Toby in as far as he will go and draws his mouth up again. Chris moves slow. No haste. Without the ever present threat of the hacks and their flashlights, they have all the time in the world. And Toby isn't going anywhere, with or without the cuffs.

And just like that, Chris withdraws. Toby groans when he feels cold air. He wonders if this is how Chris intends to punish him, tease him until he's begging and then just walk away. It isn't beyond Chris's perverse sense of justice.

Fortunately, Chris likes to fuck more than he likes exacting revenge. "I know how much you want me to blow you right now," he says. "But I got something far more important to do to you."

Chris greases himself up, lifts Toby's hips toward his groin and slides in carefully. Toby's spent too long without this, too long pretending he didn't need it. He had sex with Marion and it was good and it was pleasurable, but Chris is inside him, filling him, tearing him apart. This is what it's like to be intimate. Everything else is a faade.

"Chris," he says. "God - Chris - please."

"Toby," Chris says, and it's so quiet, so deliberate, Toby wants to cry. It's been too fucking long.

Chris fucks him with abandon, wraps his fist around Toby's cock and moves his hand in time with his thrusts. Toby comes over Chris's hand, warm semen dribbling down onto his stomach, like a memory. Chris comes soon after, his head thrown back and his eyes closed. In the grip of pleasure he looks almost human, almost real.

He pulls out, slumps down next to Toby, his face inches from Toby's neck, breath heavy and warm against Toby's cheek.

Toby remembers he should be able to feel his hands. He clenches and unclenches his fists. He can't walk away now. Not now.

"Why didn't you just kill me?" Toby says.

"Hospitality before execution," Chris says.

Toby frowns. "What?"

Chris pats Toby's thigh. "Plenty of time for that later."

Chris won't kill him. Toby knows that. Not that it matters. Chris still scares the fuck out of him.

Later, Chris makes good on his promise to fuck Toby all night long.

*

In the morning, he wakes with a full bladder and one hand still cuffed to the bed head. No Chris. He raises himself up on his elbow and looks around, idly wondering if the hotel has a housekeeping service.

"Chris?"

No response.

Toby notices the phone next to bed and picks up the receiver, puts it to his ear. It's dead. In the corner of the room Toby can see where the phone has been unplugged from the wall socket. He isn't surprised. Chris might be mad but he's not stupid. He probably even remembered the "do not disturb" sign.

He doesn't trust Toby. That's not surprising either.

Toby falls back onto the bed. "Fuck," he says.

With nothing better to do, he concentrates on dry desert images and hopes for sleep.

He's dozing when Chris returns, half dreaming, half remembering Oz. In the dream they're in the pod and Toby is trying to tell Chris something and Chris isn't listening. He never does.

"Hey, baby," Chris says, leaning over the bed and kissing Toby full on the lips. "Sleep well?"

Toby rattles the cuffs. "Get this fucking thing off me so I can go to the bathroom," he says.

"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning," Chris says. He takes keys from his pocket and unlocks the cuffs. Toby gets out of bed, goes straight to the bathroom.

When he returns, Chris is outside on the balcony smoking a cigarette. Toby puts his pants on and joins him.

"Still here?" Chris says.

"Did you think I was going somewhere?" The balcony has a view of the neighbouring building and the alley below. Two boys of about ten are playing one-on-one below the balcony. Chris's ash falls on them without their noticing.

"I thought you might have used your window of opportunity," Chris says.

Toby crosses his arms over his chest. It's cold out. Too cold to be shirtless. "Chris... what are you doing?"

Chris doesn't look at Toby. "Smoking."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know."

"You can't stay here."

"I know."

"Where will you go?"

Chris stubs his cigarette out under his foot. "South, maybe," he says. "Somewhere warm." He looks at Toby, and then wraps his arms around him, pulling him against his chest. "Fuck, Toby you're freezing.."

Chris smells like cigarette smoke and sex. Chris always smells like sex - all pheromones and sweat. Pressed this close to Chris, Toby can almost forget the broken bones and dead bodies.

"Let's go inside," Toby says.

Toby searches the room for his shirt, finds it behind the bathroom door. He gets dressed while Chris lounges on the bed, flipping TV channels.

"I miss Miss Sally," Chris says. "Porn doesn't do it for me anymore."

"Do you need money?" Toby asks. He puts his tie in his coat pocket.

"I need wheels before I need money."

"Why?"

Chris shrugs. "I'd say your mother reported you missing last night when she brought the kids back. The cops will check your bank records, flag any transactions you make. You withdraw cash and I'll need to get out of here fast."

"Okay," Toby nods. "Okay, we'll get a car."

Chris turns the TV off. He looks at Toby. "You know we can't buy it, right?"

Toby puts his suit jacket on, catches sight of himself in the mirror. He's got stubble and mussed hair, bleary eyes. He looks like drug dealer. "So we steal a car," Toby says. "You know how to hotwire the ignition?"

"I make do."

"Okay," Toby says. "Let's do it."

Chris gets up off the bed, pockets the cuffs and his cigarettes. He stops before he gets to the door. "You're coming with me, right?"

Toby hears the words in his head: I'm not coming with you. I have children, I have a job, I have a girlfriend, I have people who love me and care about me. Don't you understand? I can't go with you. I won't go with you.

Chris broke his arms and legs. Chris could drive away and Toby would never see him again.

"Yeah," Toby says. "I'm coming with you."

*

Chris steals a car while Toby plays lookout. It's a Falcon station wagon circa 1987. Turns out, Chris only knows how to steal certain types of cars, so they spend all day searching for that particular year and model.

"It's got muscle," Chris says. Whatever that means.

Toby moves automatically, like he's outside his own body. Part of him thinks of walking away, disappearing into the crowd. The other part of him is rooted to the spot.

Chris finally jimmies the ignition and the engine fires up. Toby looks around quickly before getting in the passenger side. Chris checks the glove-box, finds a packet of mentos and two CDs - Foreigner and the Eagles. Chris pops a mentos in his mouth and throws the CDs on the floor.

"Fucking loser," Chris says. Toby figures it's a justification of sorts.

They drive off. Toby winds his window down and the cold air hits him like a slap in the face. He remembers his childhood vacations, being buckled into his seat by his father, his mother feeding him candy and juice. He remembers the beach, children building sandcastles.

And then there's Chris. Last night was the first time they'd had sex with the lights on. It's important somehow.

*

Four hours and Chris is still driving. Chris commandeered the radio and now he's humming along to Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra.

Toby stares out the window, watches scenery speed past, a long blur of greens, brown and greys.

"I saw you more as the heavy metal type," Toby says.

Chris shakes his head. "Not me," he says. "Elvis, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline. You?"

Toby shrugs. "I listened to Pink Floyd in college," Toby says. "I thought it was profound." The year he graduated from college he went to London, paid pilgrimage to "Animals" at the Battersea power station. He got drunk and passed out face first in the snow. "Genevieve preferred classical."

"Genevieve chose the music?"

"Most of the time, yeah."

Chris takes his eyes off the road, looks at Toby quickly. "You want to change the station?"

"No," Toby says.

Chris shrugs, goes back to humming. He looks up at the sky. "You know," he says. "I think it's going to rain."

It's getting dark outside. The sky is already blue-black. "How can you tell?" Toby says.

Chris says. "Smells like rain."

Toby sniffs the air. It smells like cigarette smoke and cheap air freshener - and sweat. He needs another set of clothes. Chris says they'll go to Walmart when they reach St Louis.

"Were you watching me?" Toby says, suddenly. "The whole time?"

"Yeah," Chris says. "You never knew?"

Chris knew what time Toby left work, what time he got off the train. He knew where Toby's children would be and whether Toby would be under police surveillance. Coming after Toby took some planning, but Chris was always calculated.

"They should never have locked you up," Toby says. "National security could use you."

"What can I tell you," Chris says. "I got moves."

It's dark outside now. Lights from oncoming cars flash past one after the other. It's hypnotic. Soon Chris will need to sleep. Toby wonders if he should offer to take over the driving.

Raindrops land hard and heavy on the windscreen.

"Wait for it," Chris says.

And then it rains, crashes against them in a downpour so thick and impermeable they can barely see the road ahead of them. Chris pulls over, turns the engine off and leaves the lights on. He gets out of the car, walks around to the front and throws his arms up to the heavens, catching rain.

Toby winds down his window. "Are you fucking mad?"

"Get out here, Toby" Chris says, laughing. He spins around, whoops at the sky.

Chris's hair is plastered to his head, water runs down his face in little streams. He's soaking.

Toby can't help himself. He laughs, takes his jacket off and gets out of the car, joins Chris in front of the headlights. "You're crazy," he says.

"Isn't it great?" Chris says. He throws his arms around Toby's neck, kisses him. The water gets in Toby's mouth, mixes with the taste Chris's skin and saliva. Chris backs Toby up against the station wagon, rubs his groin against Toby's as he kisses him, mouth open and hungry.

"We're soaking," Toby says. He's smiling though. Chris's mood is irresistible.

"It's freedom," Chris says. "You and me on the outside. You never thought it would happen, did you?"

Never in his wildest dreams. "How?" Toby says.

"I got stuck," Chris says. "One of the nurses figured I was the love of her life and the love of her life deserved to be free. She was a religious type, told me god had a plan for me."

"You're evil."

"And you like it," Chris says.

A car passes, blaring its horn. They watch its taillights disappear over the next hill. Toby blinks water out of his eyes. "Let's get out of the rain before we drown," he says. "Please?"

Chris lets him go and they get back in the car. Chris starts the engine while Toby turns on the heater. It blows cold air until Toby gives up on it and turns it off. Chris stops at a gas station two miles down the road and they dry themselves under the hand driers in the bathroom.

They drive through the night, Toby taking the wheel around midnight while Chris drifts in and out of sleep.

Dawn comes and Toby stops at a truck stop.

Chris wakes up, shakes himself. "Crazy dreams," he says and Toby understands. Oz features in his dreams too.

They eat greasy burgers and fries and Chris buys chocolate and strawberry flavoured milk.

"What is this?" Toby picks up a flavoured milk, reads the label.

"Milk," Chris says.

"All artificial flavour and colour," Toby says. "Nice."

"Good for you bones," Chris says.

"Bullshit," Toby says.

"Just drink it," Chris says.

They're just outside of St Louis. In town, Toby buys a pre-paid cell while Chris goes looking for a shady dealer to sell them new licence plates. Later, they meet at Walmart to buy clothes.

The last time Toby was in a down-market department store he was buying tubing so his chemistry major roommate could rig a still in their closet. His roommate got the idea watching MASH reruns on Summer break. It blew up twice and they had to vacuum the broken glass from the closet after finals. Fake ID would have been cheaper. And less likely to explode.

Chris tries on sunglasses, check his reflection in the mirror before showing Toby and asking him what he thinks. "They're fine," Toby says. Chris looks good in everything.

Toby buys two pairs of jeans and the same t-shirt in three different colours. He sees a grey, hooded sweater and it reminds him of Oz.

They must know by now. They must know Chris found him. Sister Pete is probably praying for him right now.

Chris buys a pair of sunglasses and another pair of jeans. The girl at the checkout asks him to take off his sunglasses so she can scan the tag. He smiles widely, touches her fingers when he hands them to her. She blushes.

In the parking lot Chris pulls another pair of sunglasses from his jeans and hands them to Toby. "These are for you," he says.

Apparently shoplifting is another of Chris's many talents. "How did you do that?"

"Misdirection," Chris says. "The hand is quicker than the eye..."

Toby takes the sunglasses. "They cost $20. I have money - why didn't you just buy them?"

"I wanted to get you a present."

"You stole a $20 pair of sunglasses."

"You're always so fucking uptight. It's the thought that counts, right?"

"What the fuck were you thinking?" Toby says. "You get caught, they call the cops, you go back to jail. End game."

"I didn't get caught." They reach the car. Chris goes to the driver's side, while Toby waits at the passenger side for Chris to unlock the door.

"Not this time," Toby says.

Chris opens the door and gets inside, reaches across and unlocks Toby's door. Toby gets in, leans over and puts their bags on the back seat.

Chris starts the car and pulls out of the parking lot without saying a word.

"You've been in jail three times," Toby says. "What did you get caught for the first time?"

"Armed robbery."

"And the second time?"

Chris glances at Toby quickly. "Armed robbery."

"And the third time."

"Murder."

"Murder and...?"

"Murder and armed robbery. What the fuck is your point?"

"You stink at it."

"You wanna know how many armed robberies I pulled off without being caught?"

"How many?" Toby says. Chris is a criminal mastermind. Unfortunately his burglary skills are average. Toby can't help enjoying Chris's indignation. "Tell me about your vast experience in armed robbery and your recent brilliantly executed getaway where you fell off your bike."

Chris stares at the road ahead, lips pressed firmly together. Eventually he smiles, shakes his head. "Okay. No more shoplifting."

"Thank you," Toby says. He doesn't believe it, but he says it anyway.

"You piss me off, you know that?"

"I do know that," Toby says. "And I think you like it."

This makes Chris smile. "You think so?"

"Yeah."

Chris brakes for a red light. When it turns green again, he says, "Let's get a hotel tonight."

"Fuck, yeah," Toby says.

*

It's a motel. The car is parked out the front, and there's a neon sign outside their window, throwing a ghostly red light over their room.

Toby lies awake, watching Chris sleep. Chris is on his back, one hand across his chest. Toby's done this before, watched Chris sleep. He looks unnaturally beautiful, like he couldn't hurt anyone.

Toby thinks about calling his mother. He's yet to figure out what he'll say. 'Mom, I've run away to live a life on the lam with my prison lover,' springs to mind. Short and to the point. His mother is beyond the need for sugar-coating.

He presses up against Chris's side, buries his face in Chris's neck. Chris rolls over, faces Toby. He stretches a hand around Toby's shoulder and lets it fall down his back all the way to his ass and along Toby's thigh.

"Call her tomorrow," Chris says.

Toby doesn't ask Chris how he knew.

*

Before they leave the motel Toby calls his mother. She is frantic. She asks questions in rapid succession - where is he, when is he coming home, is he hurt.

Toby placates: I'm fine. I'll be okay. Don't worry.

His mother asks if he is being held against his will.

He tells his mother to tell the children he loves them and hangs up, throws the cell in the garbage.

Back in the motel room Chris is brushing his teeth. Toby says, "The cops are there."

Chris spits into the sink. "No shit."

"We should get out of here."

"You ditched the phone?" Chris dries his face.

"Yeah."

Chris says. "Plenty of time."

Toby doesn't answer. It's too close for either of them and Chris knows it.

On the road again, Toby takes a turn driving. The rain is behind them and there are clear skies above with a smattering of clouds. They're heading west with no actual destination in mind.

"I've never been to Chicago," Chris says.

"We'd have to turn around," Toby says.

"Don't' bother," Chris says, he's looking out the window, watching the buildings disappear. "I hear it sucks donkey's balls. Would have been cool in the 1920s, though. Al Capone, the speak-easy's - a lot of dancing in those days."

"Lousy book-keepers," Toby says.

"Yeah," Chris says. "Guess it got easier when they had guys like you helping them evade tax legally."

"That's not what I do."

"That's what you did, right?" Chris turns away from the window, looks at Toby. "See I figure it didn't sit so well with you. You got totalled - helped you sleep easier."

Toby doesn't know why he drank. He remembers the inevitability of it, the way he found himself in bars without knowing how he got there. He felt restless at home and out of place at work. He remembers feeling empty.

"Yeah, maybe that was it," Toby says.

"The mob had this thing," Chris says. "'Hospitality before execution'. Never kill anyone before you've given them a meal."

"Or a blowjob," Toby says.

"That works too," Chris says. "So Al Capone invites two of his hit-men to dinner, toasts them, and whacks them with a baseball bat. Then he shoots them."

"Just like in the movie," Toby says.

"Yeah," Chris says. "But if you think it was gory in the movie, imagine the real thing - two guys, brains and blood everywhere. And you're just trying to have a nice glass of wine with your ravioli."

"And it was Wilkinson that switched the juries," Toby says. "Not Ness."

"What?"

"In the movie it's Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner, who switches the juries. It was actually Judge Wilkinson who made that decision."

Chris looks thoughtful. "I don't remember that part."

"How can you not remember that part? It was the final sting in Ness's operation."

"I don't know," Chris says. "Maybe it's a lawyer thing." He catches Toby's eye and winks.

Toby shakes his head. "You remember the baseball bat scene but not the courtroom scene. Figures."

"Think about it," Chris says, holding up a finger. "Hospitality before execution; why do you think they did that?"

"I don't know," Toby says. "Lull them into a false sense of security?"

"I think it was more than that, " Chris says. "I think they separated business from pleasure. An execution is business, nothing personal. Those guys were still welcome at the table, but they weren't loyal and they had to be taken out. That's just the way it was."

"It's depraved," Toby says.

"It's organised," Chris says. "And honest."

It doesn't need to be said but Toby knows there are far less honourable ways to kill someone. Like becoming best friends with your room-mate before setting him up to be killed by his father.

"LA?" Toby suggests.

"Too many cops," Chris says.

"Texas?"

"Too many rednecks."

"You got any better ideas?" Toby says.

"Sure," Chris says. "Vegas."

*

Toby remembers prison food; no fat and no flavour. Nutrition at its worst.

Which is probably why Chris can't get enough of fries and burgers and flavoured milk. When Toby got out it was pizza with the lot; salty anchovies, spicy hot pepperoni, a taste of oregano and smooth mozzarella.

They're eating at yet another truckstop and Toby is stirring spaghetti and meatballs around his plate, thinking about how delighted Holly was by her father's post-prison diet. Eventually, he stopped ordering takeout and resolved to prepare meals at home. He couldn't cook so he called his mother and she dictated recipes over the phone. By the time Chris caught up with him, Toby's repertoire included Spanish omelette, fettuccine carbonara and beef stir-fry.

Holly preferred pizza. So did he.

Chris stirs ketchup with a fry, concentrating on the map spread out in front of them. It's bright outside and Toby's wearing his stolen sunglasses to shield the glare.

They're past tired. They drink coffee in a constant stream, refill, drink, refill, drink again. They're tired of deserts and the sun bouncing off cracked asphalt, making the road swim in front of them. They drove all night, Toby taking the evening shift and Chris taking the morning. Toby thinks he might have Chris singing. "Always on my mind," when he thought Toby was sleeping.

"You know what," Chris says. "We should go to the Grand Canyon. We're almost there."

Toby and Genevieve took Gary and Holly to see the Grand Canyon before Harry was born. They'd been putting off the family vacation for so long and Genevieve had just learned she was pregnant again.

"It's going to be hard to avoid," Toby says. They're travelling via back roads. The cops are fewer and the diners are cheaper and greasier. They'll pass over the North side of the Canyon. "You want to stop?"

Chris says, "I've never seen it."

"You've been to Vegas before, right?"

"Yeah, flew in from Dallas. Bonnie has a sister there." Chris traces a line on the map from Dallas to Las Vegas. "You've seen it right?"

"The Grand canyon? Yeah." Toby is still stirring his food.

Chris looks at him. "You going to eat that or just stir it around?"

Toby lets go of his fork, leaves it on the plate. "I guess I'm not as hungry as I thought I was."

"You should eat," Chris says. "You're turning into a weed."

Toby's thinner because he doesn't work out four hours a day anymore. "Turns out, I can't cook. You still glad you kidnapped me?"

Chris grins. "I don't need you to cook."

Toby sips his coffee. Truckstop coffee is strong and bitter. Toby's developing a taste for it.

Sometimes they buy coffee in paper cups and drink on the hood of the station wagon. Toby will share one of Chris's cigarettes and it's like being seventeen again without the cheap beer.

Toby turns his attention back to the map, follows the jagged line to the Grand Canyon National Park. "It'll be quiet this time of year," Toby says. It's approaching winter. No school children.

"You take the kids last time?" Chris says.

Toby nods. "It was hot and full of tourists buses. A real pain in the ass. The kids loved it."

"Well, I hope you won't be disappointed if I don't tug on your pants and demand ice-cream," Chris says. "But I can call you 'daddy' if it turns you on."

"Call me what ever the fuck you want," Toby says. He drinks the rest of the coffee and takes out his wallet. He points to Chris's flavoured milk. "Give me one of those," he says.

"You can't have the strawberry," Chris says. He hands Toby the chocolate milk.

Chris told Toby he grew up in foster care and didn't remember his parents. Then one day Sister Pete mentioned Chris's father, said he beat Chris and Chris's sister until they left home at fifteen. With Chris it was always difficult to know what was true and what was fabricated for effect.

In all likelihood, Chris had a rough childhood. "You ever been outside the US?" Toby says.

"Mexico," Chris says. "Honeymoon with Angelique. Spent two weeks out of my mind on mescalin. You?"

"France, Spain, Italy, the UK, Ireland, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru - and Mexico."

"Shit," Chris says. "Where does that leave you?" Chris doesn't like being reminded of their differences. When they were in Oz, all these things were inconsequential. Prison is an effective leveller.

"I've never been to India."

"Maybe next year," Chris says.

Chris will never go anywhere. If not for the break-out, Chris wouldn't even have a chance to see the Grand Canyon.

"Wait until you see the Grand Canyon," Toby says. He stands up, takes his milk and throws money on the table. "After that, there's nothing else to see."

Chris folds the map and stuffs it in his jeans. On the way out he puts his hand on Toby's shoulder, leaves it there until they reach the car.

*

They've pulled over to the side of the road and Toby's head is in Chris's lap. Chris's hands are inToby's hair and he's saying, "Jesus," and "fuck" and "Toby," at random.

They started while Chris was driving but Chris couldn't keep his attention on the road and after the third time they ran off the edge, Chris gave up and stopped the car.

Toby tongues the tip of Chris's penis, one hand around the base of the shaft. Up and down, up and down, up and down again.

Chris's hand slides under Toby's sweater, finds the base of his spine and curves down over Toby's ass, fingers exploring the cleft between Toby's cheeks. Chris squeezes Toby's ass so hard it hurts.

Chris's breathing is controlled, in and out in a regular rhythm, concentrating on making the feeling last. Toby increases the pace and Chris says, "Fuck," one more time before coming in Toby's mouth.

Toby swallows, wipes the back of his hand across his mouth.

"That was amazing," Chris says, and his eyes fall to the bulge in Toby's pants. "You want a turn?"

"Only if you want to," Toby says. He used to say that to his wife. Genevieve said she didn't mind and given that she went down on him more times than he could count before they finally had sex, maybe she didn't. She never smiled when she did it, though. Not like Chris does.

Chris would do Toby in toilets, in elevators and on fire escapes if Toby would let him. Chris aims to please. Chris aims to be indispensable.

"Take your dick out," Chris says.

"What?"

Chris turns back to Toby. "Take your goddamn dick out," he says.

Toby undoes his jeans, pushes them down a little so Chris can see him.

"Stroke it," Chris says.

Toby takes his cock in his fist, runs his palm over the head and then slides down the shaft, says, "Oh Jesus..." He's so close already, and there are people driving by, giving them curious looks. He's not sure if he's turned on or just in a hurry to get the hell out of there.

"Yeah, baby," Chris says. "Just like that."

Chris could order lunch in that voice and Toby would be coming in his jeans. Chris knows it too. He might get off on watching Toby stroke his own dick but it's the power that's really turning him on. He's got Toby jumping when he says so and it's more stimulating than Toby's mouth on his cock.

Some times this knowledge worries Toby. Not right now. Not when he's oh so close, so fucking close and it's only going to take one maybe two maybe three more strokes...

He comes over his hand and over his jeans. He says, "Chris," as he comes and it's like it's not his voice. He's not even sure he's said it out loud until he hears Chris laugh.

"Oh Toby," Chris says. "You should see yourself jerk off some time. It's fucking beautiful."

"I'm sure," Toby says, still trying to catch his breath. He reaches into the back seat, searches amongst the clothes for a t-shirt to wipe his crotch. He tips up the bag Chris bought in St Louis and the cuffs and gun fall out. Toby stares at them for a moment before quickly stuffing them back inside the bag. "I wish you'd get rid of the gun," he says. He finds a t-shirt and wipes himself down, throws it in the back seat without seeing where it lands. They need to do laundry.

Chris starts the car and pulls out onto the road. "Never know when you might need it," Chris says.

"You shoot that thing and I'm gone," Toby says.

"It's for our protection." He emphasises the "our."

"Protection from what?"

"There's some crazy fucks out there, Toby," Chris says. "And don't think the Aryan brotherhood is done with you yet."

"I thought you said Schillinger was killed by one of his own men?"

"He was." Chris grins. "But it's not like they didn't need a little persuasion."

"Oh god, Chris, what did you do?"

"Nothing that can be traced back to me." Chris takes a cigarette from the inside pocket of his jacket. He searches his pockets for a lighter and comes up empty. Toby finds the lighter on the floor, hands it to Chris. "Not by any of Schillinger's dumbfuck brotherhood that's for sure."

Toby takes the cigarette from Chris's lips and has a quick drag before giving it back.

"You want a cigarette?" Chris says, cigarette dangling from his lips.

"No," Toby says.

"The why the fuck do you keep taking mine?"

"I don't need another habit," Toby says.

*

They stop at a thrift store in Page. Toby has the overcoat he was wearing when Chris pulled him off the street and Chris has his leather jacket, so they're not bereft of warm clothing, but the locals tell them to be prepared so they conscientiously browse woollen sweaters and knit hats. Toby buys boots to replace the cheap sneakers he bought in St Louis.

The woman behind the counter cheerily asks them if they've left their wives at home. Chris leans forward and whispers conspiratorially, "we've got them in the trunk." There's a glint in his eye and his tone is low and serious and for a moment Toby thinks the she might believe him.

But she smiles widely and giggles. "Oh, that's awful," she says.

Toby goes in search of a thermos while Chris goes for food supplies. They meet back at the car, Chris proudly holding up Twinkies and bananas.

"I haven't had these in years," Chris says, indicating the Twinkies. Toby remembers Holly begged him to buy Twinkies the last time he took her shopping. He told her they were full of chemicals that were bad for children's growing bodies.

"Give me a banana," Toby says.

"You don't want a Twinkie?"

"I don't want a fucking Twinkie," Toby says, but he smiles to himself when Chris isn't looking.

They stop at Jacob Lake Inn to fill the thermos with coffee before embarking on the North Rim. Toby drives. Chris winds the window down and leans his head out, enjoying the cold air on his face. Toby wraps himself in his overcoat and looks enviously at Chris, still dressed in a light sweater. Chris doesn't seem to feel the cold.

The man serving coffee at the Inn told them snow is expected in the next few days. They got here just before the winter shut down.

The road is buttressed on both sides by pine trees and Chris cranes his neck to take a longer look at the view from the pull off points they pass. Eventually he gets impatient.

"So when do we get to see something?"

"We'll stop at Cape Royal," Toby says. "It's tourist friendly - and it's got a better view."

"Who needs tourists?" Chris says. "We've got you and me and all this." He waves a hand at the view outside the window.

"We don't have bathrooms, water or safety ledges," Toby says.

Chris laughs. "That's my pretty boy," he says. "Gotta have the comforts of home."

"Who are you calling pretty? You check yourself in the rearview mirror more often than you check for traffic."

"I do not, Toby. You're dreaming."

"You're more obsessed with your appearance than you are with your dick. You would stand in front of the mirror in our pod flexing your muscles. Did you think I wasn't watching?"

"I knew you were watching. I was doing it for you."

"Chris, when you caught me watching you pretended you were checking your scar."

"I was checking my scar."

Chris sounds indignant but he's smiling. Maybe he's just glad Toby notices the little things, things only a lover would notice.

"Well, if it's any incentive," Toby says. "We'll stop at Cape Royal where there's a bathroom mirror and you can 'check your scar' again."

"Fuck you," Chris says.

They reach Cape Royal in the early afternoon. Toby leans on the station wagon soaking up the sun while Chris smokes another cigarette. The smell of Chris's cigarette contrasts sharply with the mountain air. It's not unpleasant, just different. Even cigarette smoke smells fresh at this altitude.

"Let's go," Chris says, stubbing his cigarette out in the interior ashtray.

They set off on the path from the parking lot to the viewing point. Toby thrust his hands in his pockets, regretting not buying gloves.

Chris stops occasionally to read the signs by the path. He reads out loud, pronounces the genus names for flora and fauna phonetically. It reminds Toby of summer camp nature walks and lectures on vegetation and native animals and the dangers of wild berries. Toby tries to imagine Chris at summer camp. He'd be the kid who got into trouble for stealing a boat and crossing the lake to the girl's camp. He'd get tossed out of camp but all the other kids would look at him in awe. Toby smiles at the thought.

"What are you smiling at?" Chris says, coming up alongside Toby.

"Nothing," Toby says. He touches Chris's arm. "This is nice."

"This is fucking beautiful," Chris says, and he grabs Toby by the sleeves and pulls him into a kiss. "I could fuck you right here," he says, when he breaks away.

"Don't," Toby says. He looks around but no one is watching. Chris laughs.

They continue along the path until it breaks open and they get their first view of the canyon.

"Fuck," Chris says.

"Fuck," Toby says. It's the most appropriate thing to say.

The path doesn't stop but heads out over a long peninsula with sheer drops on both sides and a hole in the centre.

"Angels Window," Toby says. Chris looks at him. "I read the brochures," Toby says.

They keep walking out along the peninsula. Toby feels a tremor in his legs: mild vertigo. He concentrates on the view and eventually it goes away. He had the same feeling the first time he looked out his boss's 30th storey, corner office window. Chris seems unaffected.

There's a lookout at the end of the peninsula. Chris tilts himself over the railing, looks down like he's trying to see the floor. "Race you to the bottom," he says, and he winks at Toby.

Toby wants to pull him away from the edge, just like he did when Gary pressed his fingers on the railing at the South Rim, angling his body toward the abyss.

Toby lets Chris dangle over the edge. There are worse ways to die.

Toby's memory doesn't do the view justice. It's tainted by travel guide pictures and postcards and the photos Genevieve took with her hair blowing across the lens.

"When I was six I climbed up on the garage roof and threw myself off," Toby says, suddenly. "I wanted to see if I could fly." He doesn't know why he says it. Maybe he wants to remember a time when he wasn't afraid.

"Yeah?" Chris said. "Bet that hurt."

"I landed on the grass," Toby says. "No breakages. Plenty of bruises, though. Apparently I learned how to roll with the fall."

"If I throw you off the edge here you won't be so lucky," Chris says, grinning.

"I'd take you with me."

Chris smiles, looks over the edge, squinting his eyes as if trying to see something in the distance. "What a way to go," he says.

A couple make their way out onto the peninsula. They're speaking German and Toby catches phrases remembered from college classes. The girl is telling her boyfriend that if he wanted lunch at the canyon he should have remembered to bring it himself. The boy is asking why he has to remember everything. Different language, same story.

Chris and Toby leave the lookout to the arguing German couple and head back along the peninsula.

The path leads to other lookout points so they keep walking. Along the way, they meet a woman who tells them that the North Rim is best seen at sunset.

"We saw it last night from Bright Angel Point," she says. She indicates her husband who is looking over a viewpoint further up the trail. "The lodge is quiet so there aren't too many tourists. Very romantic."

Toby looks at the ground. He wonders when they started appearing gay to strangers.

The woman leaves them behind and catches up with her husband. Chris and Toby keep walking.

"She thinks we're fags," Chris says.

"She thinks we're together," Toby says. "She made a comment on us, not our lifestyle."

"It's all the same to them."

"What the fuck does it matter, Chris. Who cares what they think?"

"We're not fags!"

He says it in a forced whisper but Toby's sure the people at the far viewpoint heard. Sexuality is so twisted in Chris's mind even Toby doesn't understand it. Chris hates labels: gay, faggot, homosexual, even bisexual sits uncomfortably with him. When asked, Chris will say he's straight. When asked, Toby will say he's confused.

"Do you want to see the sunset?" Toby says.

"Fuck, yeah," Chris says.

The Lodge gives them an opportunity to drink more coffee and watch tourists while they wait for the sun to go down.

The lodge is full of couples. Chris labels them: "married," "living together," "affair," "trying to get into her pants."

"How can you tell?" Toby says.

"I can't," Chris says. "But they're more interesting this way."

Toby indicates the "married" couple. "She's sleeping with his best friend."

"So is he."

"The girl in the red sweater has sexual fantasies about Britney Spears."

"Who doesn't?" Chris says.

Toby laughs. "Her boyfriend fantasizes about Justin Timberlake."

"Who the fuck is Justin Timberlake?"

"Never mind," Toby says. "Just know they're perfect for each other."

Chris plays with his teaspoon, spins it round on its head, his finger on the tip of the handle. He takes his finger away and it falls over. He doesn't pick it up again.

"What happened to the teacher?" Chris says.

"What?"

"You were dating your kid's teacher. What happened to her?"

"I guess she's wondering where the fuck I am."

"You're still seeing her?"

"No, I'm on the other side of the fucking country with you."

"You know what I mean."

Chris picks up the spoon and spins it on its head again. Toby watches it. 19th century mesmerists used spinning objects to induce a trance state. Chris knows tricks he doesn't understand. "I was still seeing her," Toby says.

"That's - six months," Chris says. "You were serious about her."

Toby was serious about Marion in the way he was serious about being a good father and a good lawyer and good parolee. Turns out he's none of those things. "I guess so," he says.

"Were you in love with her?"

He thought he was. Compared to Chris everything else is mundane, like monochrome compared to full colour. "I don't know."

Chris stops playing with his teaspoon, puts it to rest in his now empty coffee cup. "Sun's going down in an hour," he says.

"Yeah." Toby says. "Yeah, okay."

They walk out to the point. There's a small throng of tourists, nothing overbearing. The sun is already bouncing off the rock face on the other side of the canyon, already tinting the scenery with oranges and yellows. It's breathtaking, too beautiful to mar with words. They watch in silence, side by side, close but not touching. Toby feels calm for the first time in days. If only it could be like this all the time. Maybe then they'd have a chance.

Eventually, Chris says, "What are you thinking about?"

Toby doesn't look at him. "You," he says.

Chris. Always Chris.

*

Chris takes the drive back slow, reluctant to leave. There's nothing to see outside but darkness, occasionally dotted by the headlights of a car in the distance. Toby flips radio stations, finds nothing bearable and gives up.

Chris is waxing theoretical on living at the bottom of the canyon. "What about electricity?" he says. "You see any powerlines down there? No TV, no telephone - kind of boring, don't you think?"

"Maybe they have a generator?" Toby doesn't know what he's saying. He's not really paying attention.

"A generator?"

"Maybe they just talk to each other?"

"Maybe they fuck each other," Chris says. Toby admires Chris's ability to bring everything back to sex. "I bet there's a lot of in-breeding going on down there."

"They're not stuck down there," Toby says.

"So you climb to the top every time you want some action? No one has that much energy."

Toby doesn't answer. Holly and Gary wanted to ride the donkeys that took the tourists to the canyon floor. They didn't have time. He promised them, "one day when you're older."

"Chris," he says. "I need to call my family."

"You can't."

Chris is right, he can't. Digitalisation has made short work of tracing. Even cell phones can be located by triangularisation. His father's law firm hired a private detective company for this purpose. It's rote work. Easy money for a PI.

Letters, emails, text messages - all would give away their location. There's no real solution but Toby can't bear the thought of never seeing his children again. It's not the first time he wonders what he's doing.

"Toby?" Chris says.

"I know," Toby says.

Chris reaches over and grasps Toby's knee, trails his hand up toward the thigh. "Trust me, Toby, I'll look after you."

Toby can't decide whether to laugh or cry.

*

Toby feels Chris's hand on his shoulder, shaking it gently.

"Toby," he says. "Toby, it's Vegas."

Toby blinks. It was night when he fell asleep and now stark daylight hurts his eyes. He looks outside and sees a McDonalds, two paint-faded motels and more signs than anyone can read at 40 miles per hour.

"Great," Toby says, and he shuts his eyes and leans his head back. Vegas can wait.

Chris shakes his shoulder again. "Toby, it's fucking Vegas. We're here."

"I'm sleeping."

"Toby, you've been asleep for six hours."

That wakes Toby up. "I have?"

"I tried to wake you when I stopped at that roadhouse past the lakes. I had to check to see if you were still breathing."

Toby rubs his eyes. Chris drove for six hours in silence. That must have been hard for him. "Fuck," Toby says. "I'm sorry. I didn't realise I was so tired."

"Forget it," Chris says. "We're here now."

Toby takes a good look outside. There's still nothing to see.

"Okay," Toby says. "We're here. Now what?"

"I know a guy who owns a garage in Henderson. He can help us out."

"Help us out how?"

"A job maybe."

"What kind of job?"

"A real fucking job. And before you ask, I didn't meet him in prison and I didn't fuck him."

Toby holds up his hands. "Okay, okay. I'm just trying to keep us out of trouble."

"One of these days you're going to have to trust me," Chris says. "Would that be so fucking hard?"

Toby wonders if it's even possible. Still, they've gotten this far. They got all the way to Vegas and last night they watched the sun set over the Grand Canyon. That should count for something.

Toby stares at the traffic. "Okay, so let's go see your friend." He emphasises "friend." Chris gives him a sideways look, scowls.

Chris's memory of Vegas is vague so they drive around the same block twice looking for the garage. Eventually Chris decides it's another block over. It's not there either and Chris curses everything from the street signs to the steering wheel before turning around and going back the way they came.

"When was the last time you heard from this guy?" Toby asks.

"A month, maybe two months ago," Chris says. "Same address as always."

"He wrote to you?"

"Yeah, he does that sometimes."

It piques Toby's curiosity. "Who is he?"

"Dougie," Chris says. "I've known him a long time. He's okay - never been in trouble."

Toby wonders how it is that Chris has a friend he hasn't met in prison. Or fucked. Or married. He can 't imagine Chris around ordinary people.

Suddenly Chris slams on the breaks, looks behind him and puts the car in reverse. They come to a stop in front of a florist. "That place," Chris says, pointing. "I remember that place."

There's a drugstore on the corner next to the florist. Chris turns left past the drugstore and past the used car dealer next to it. Next to that is a parking lot but on the lot after that there's a garage with a sign out the front saying, "McLally's Tow and Repair".

There's an open workshop with two hydraulic lifts hoisting the cars above the heads of the mechanics. A solitary tow-truck is parked out the front. There's rust on the bumper and no tread on the tyres. It looks like it never leaves. Chris parks the car in the parking spots on the opposite side.

"Which one is he?" Toby says. There are three mechanics in the workshop, all covered in the same blue, grease covered overalls.

"That one," Chris says, and he points to the single mechanic who has noticed their arrival. He's coming toward them.

Chris gets out and waves.

"Fucking Jesus," Dougie says. "Chris, is that you?"

Chris wraps his arms around Dougie in a bear hug, plants a kiss on the side of his head in true Chris fashion. All very masculine. "Long time no see, huh?" Chris says.

Dougie looks older than Chris, but not much. His hair is just longer than his ears and he has long sideburns - a little Elvis and a little Nick Cave. Very Vegas.

Dougie hugs Chris back. "I thought you were in Oz," he says. He releases Chris and puts his chin in his hand. "I wrote you in Oz. When did you get out?"

"A couple of weeks ago. I won my appeal," Chris says. "Finally got myself a good lawyer." He winks at Toby. Toby tries not to roll his eyes.

"What brings you to Vegas?" Dougie says.

"Toby here wanted to see the Grand Canyon," Chris says.

Toby doesn't bother to correct him. He shakes Dougies hand and they make small talk about the canyon. Dougie looks at Toby like he's putting two and two together and coming up with four.

"We're thinking of staying a while," Chris says. "I'm looking for work - got anything?"

"We don't do a lot of motorcycles here," Dougie says. "Maybe next week?"

Chris shrugs. "Sure."

Dougie looks at Toby. "Don't suppose you do books?" Toby wonders why they always pick him for the geek. " We lost our book-keeper a week ago. The accounts are a mess."

"Toby's a lawyer," Chris says.

"No shit," Dougie says.

"Former lawyer," Toby says.

"If you can use a calculator, you're hired," Dougie says.

"He'll do it," Chris says.

"It's really not my area...," Toby says.

"He'll do it," Chris says, again.

Toby looks at Chris, looks at Dougie and then looks at Chris again. "Okay, whatever."

"Great," Dougie says. "Start tomorrow - if that's okay. And I think I can get you somewhere to stay." Dougie waves over one of the blue overalled mechanics and asks about a rental. It's above a convenience store. Just vacated. He mentions someone called "Lovejoy" and the mechanic pats his pockets looking for a phone number. Eventually he gives up, takes Chris into the office to use the phone.

"Who's Lovejoy?" Toby asks Dougie.

"Landlord," Dougie says. "He owns the car lot next door. A real asshole. But the place is cheap and it's got a bed. One bed." Dougie emphasises the "one".

Toby says, "How do you know Chris?"

"Foster care," Dougie says. "He didn't tell you that?"

"Not specifically," Toby says. He's secretly relieved to learn at least one story Chris told him is true.

"You tell me something," Dougie says. "Are you and he together."

"Yeah," Toby says.

"Shit," Dougie stamps the ground. "I knew it. I mean, he had a girl last time I saw him - big girl - and he got married a couple of times before that but he never seemed to mind who was flirting with him. Men, women, aliens - all the same to Chris."

Toby gives a wry laugh. "Yeah," he says. "He gets around."

Chris comes out of the office. "He can meet us there," he says, waving a piece of paper.

"Come back later," Dougie says to Toby. "We'll have a beer."

"Sure," Chris says. He smiles at them both. Chris always knows when someone's talking about him.

Back in the car, Chris studies a hand-drawn map. "It's not far from here," he says, absently.

"Dougie says you were in foster care together," Toby says.

Chris shrugs. "Not for long. He left when he was sixteen."

"How old were you?"

"Twelve."

"Did you miss him?"

Chris starts the car, pulls out of the garage parking lot. "Nah, kids came and went. You never got used to anyone."

It's a lie. Toby can see it in the way Chris is studying the road without falter. Everybody leaves. Chris learned that lesson a lot sooner than most.

"I know nothing about book-keeping," Toby says.

"You'll wing it," Chris says.

*

The apartment is just a room. Four walls and a bathroom. There's miscellaneous furniture including a bed tucked into the far corner, barely a double.

Lovejoy is cheap, polyester suited sleaze. He's in his early forties, wears a gold pin on his tie and wax in his hair. His look suggests affluence but there's no getting away from the fact that he doesn't know how to wear a suit. He tells them he owns property all over Vegas. He says, "You want anything, just ask." And he doesn't have to explain "anything."

He gives them the address of his office - a strip joint called, "Cream." He claims to have bedded every girl there but it doesn't stop him from taking a long look at Chris's midriff when he stretches. It's not even subtle.

"So you're a lawyer," he says to Toby.

"Former lawyer." Toby feels like a broken record.

"I could use a guy like you," Lovejoy says. He leers a little. Chris stands behind Lovejoy and grins at Toby. Chris has Lovejoy pegged already. Chris is a quick study. "If you need some extra cash."

"I'll keep that in mind," Toby says.

"He wants your ass," Chris says, when Lovejoy has gone. He leaves them the keys and tells them to make themselves "comfortable."

"Funny," Toby says. "He seemed more interested in yours."

Chris goes to the sink and turns the water on, rinses out the thermos they bought in Page and fills it with water. "Well," he says. "If we're behind on the rent we've got options."

Toby doesn't want to think about that prospect. "Please," he says. "Not before lunch."

Chris drinks from the thermos, hands it to Toby. Toby takes a sip and hands it back. "So what do you think?" Chris says.

"It's fine," Toby says. "Needs a clean."

"Sure," Chris says. "We'll clean it up, throw a rug down, put a couple of prints on the walls and call it home, sweet home."

"That's your job," Toby says. "I'm the breadwinner, remember."

"Is that so?" Chris gives Toby a sly smile, puts the thermos on the sink, and grabs Toby's waist. He steers Toby toward the bed and throws him backward on top. Chris undoes his belt. "We'll see who wears the pants around here," he says.

Toby laughs. He reaches for his own belt and gets a smack on the hand for his trouble. "You'll get undressed when I undress you," Chris says.

Toby lays back, laces his fingers underneath his head and watches Chris take off his jeans. "I guess I'll just lie back and watch," Toby says.

"You do that," Chris says. He peels his t-shirt off and then he's naked, standing before Toby, stroking his erection.

It's mesmerising. "God, you're beautiful," Toby says. He doesn't realise he's said it until it's out there. He blushes, furiously.

Chris basks in the compliment. It's probably not the first time he's been told. He takes flattery well, like he expects it. He undresses Toby, working his way up Toby's body: shoes, jeans, t-shirt. He brushes Toby's erection as he works his way up, just lightly, like it's an accident.

When Toby is naked, Chris appraises him. He leans back, knees either side of Toby's thighs. "And you're all mine," Chris says.

He descends on Toby, grasps his hips just above the curve of his buttocks and clenches them in his fists. He sucks Toby's cock, from the bottom of the shaft and all the way to head until he's swallowing Toby whole.

Toby's clenches the bare mattress. It's rough in patches and smells dusty the way old furniture does. It's about to be baptised, become sacred.

Chris works Toby's cock, works it so hard and fast Toby doesn't think he can hold on. He wants it to last, wants to draw the feeling out forever. Toby concentrates on his breathing, watches the ceiling, doesn't look at Chris.

And then Chris's fingers drift along the perineum to Toby's ass, touches him gently on the outside before sliding in. Chris massages Toby for a while, lets him get used to the feeling of Chris inside him.

Toby lifts his hips, invitingly toward Chris. "Do it," he says. "Please..."

"Soon," Chris says. "Real soon."

"Now."

"Be patient," Chris says. His fingers flex inside Toby.

Toby grunts, shifts his hips around Chris's fingers. "Chris..."

Chris puts two fingers on Toby's shaft, slides them slowly up to the tip, lets them dance there as Toby's cock jerks toward them. Chris laughs like a small child discovering his penis for the first time, learning what it can do. He draws his finger back down toward Toby's balls. And then he takes his hand away, reaches behind him to the floor and fumbles in his jeans.

Toby times his breathing: in, one-two-three-four, out, one-two-three-four...

Chris spreads lube over his fingers before taking his cock in his fist and jerking off slowly.

Toby lets himself watch. Chris stroking himself is poetry, pure art. Chris touches himself the way he touches Toby, like he's something exquisite.

Eventually Chris turns back to Toby. He lifts Toby's hips toward him, wraps himself in Toby's legs. He slides his cock into Toby, slowly, so the feeling is drawn out. So Toby can feel him going in, inch by inch.

Chris fucks him, lazily. Moves in and out building a measured pace. They breathe in synchronisation, like an organ.

"Tell me it was worth it," Chris says. He shifts inside Toby, a slight movement, a tease. Sweat beads on Chris's brow. He's breathes out and in again, each breath careful and laboured. He holds his position, gives Toby time to feel every move he makes. "Leaving your family, leaving your job, tell me it was worth it."

Toby aches inside, aches where his children aren't, aches for the life he could have had, aches for his son, his father, Schillinger's sons, Said, Hill, Barlog, Cyril, Guenzel, even Adebisi - the long line of dead behind him.

He aches and sometimes, when Chris is inside him, he thinks he can bear it. If only he can have this man, so perfect in his imperfection.

"It was worth it," Toby says. He is parched and dry. He needs moisture, needs Chris, oh god Chris, moving inside him now, unrestrained, fucking him harder and harder, leaning into Toby, mouth on mouth when he comes, a long and low growl in his throat.

"Fuck, fuck," Chris says, mouthing the words against Toby's neck.

*

They don't talk about it over dinner. They don't talk about it afterwards either, and Toby is too busy tearing Chris's clothing off to talk about it when they get home again.

Chris is asleep when Toby leaves in the morning and Toby knows Chris won't be there when he returns. It's a lot like being married. Why discuss tonight what you can put off until tomorrow? Or indefinitely? He resolves to accost Chris as soon as Chris gets home. He owes it to his dead wife not to repeat their mistakes.

He comes home to find the door of the apartment slightly ajar. He pushes it open, carefully. "Chris?"

No one responds. He goes inside, flicks the light switch. Sitting in the chair by the table is Lovejoy, legs crossed, smoking a cigarette.

"Honey, you're home," Lovejoy says.

"You're trespassing."

"I own this place," Lovejoy says.

"You want to debate property law with me?" Toby says.

"Fine. I'm trespassing," Lovejoy says. "Call the cops."

"What do you want?"

"You weren't very nice to me when I visited last," Lovejoy says. "I'm giving you a chance to make it up to me."

The tone of Lovejoy's voice is even. It's unsettling. "How?"

Lovejoy reaches inside his suit and pulls handcuffs from his pocket. He holds them up, dangles them from his index finger. "Look what I found," he says.

"You went through our stuff?"

"Who cares how I found them," Lovejoy says. He smiles. It stretches all the way to his ears. "Just tell me what two upstanding gentlemen like yourselves are doing with a pair of these."

"It's none of your business."

"See, I think it is." Lovejoy stands, stubs his cigarette out under his foot. "Chris is a fugitive."

Toby's stomach somersaults. "What makes you say that?"

"I have sources - people who do research. Especially on subjects I'm particularly interested in."

"Hired a private investigator, huh?"

"It doesn't matter how I know," Lovejoy says, sounding mildly irritated. "One phone call and he could be on a plane back to the East Coast by morning."

Toby takes off his coat and hangs it on a hook behind the door. He learned to play this game in Oz. "You've looked Chris up, right?" he says. Toby leans against the kitchen sink, stays calm, keeps his voice even "You probably know what he was in for. You might even know some of the things he's been charged with since. So you have to ask yourself, what would a man like that do if he was threatened?"

Lovejoy doesn't move. They stare at each other, neither looking away. Eventually Lovejoy gives in. He stands, leaves the handcuffs on the table. "No one is threatening anyone here," Lovejoy says. "I just want you boys to know where we stand."

"Noted," Toby says.

"I'm just saying," Lovejoy says. "You should be nicer to me."

"Are you still here?"

Lovejoy goes to leave, turns back and takes the handcuffs off the table. He waves them at Toby. "Mind if I keep these?"

"Whatever," Toby says.

Lovejoy slinks out the door. Toby remembers to breath again. He empties the coffee maker, his heart still pounding. Lovejoy knows Chris's secret. Cat's out of the bag.

He's replacing the filter when he hears the door open again. He barely has time to turn around when he feels a body crash into him, sending him to the floor. He lands on his side with Lovejoy's weight on top of him, forcing the air out of his lungs. Lovejoy straddles him, pushes his face against the floor. Toby fights to breathe.

"You little bitch," Lovejoy says. "You're going to give me what I want I and you're going to be nice about it."

He takes one of Toby's arms and presses it against Toby's back. Toby feels the cold metal of the handcuffs snap around his wrist. He reaches back with other hand, claws at Lovejoy, grabbing at pieces of him. Lovejoy easily captures Toby's free hand, holds it against Toby's back while he snaps on the other half of the cuffs.

Toby twists and writhes beneath Lovejoy. He kicks his legs out, bucks upward. Desperate acts of a desperate man.

"Hold still, bitch," Lovejoy says. Toby throws his energy into one almighty thrust upward. Lovejoy falls to the side, braces himself with his hand. He recovers quickly and sits down hard on Toby's ass, pressing Toby's groin painfully into the floor. Toby gets a fist to the side of his face, square on the cheekbone. It makes his head ring.

"I said, hold still bitch," Lovejoy says. Toby feels Lovejoy's cold fingers under his waistband, against his skin. Lovejoy clumsily tugs at Toby's fly, gets his jeans open wide enough to pull down over Toby's ass.

"I'll kill you," Toby says. He tastes blood between his teeth, on his lips. "I'll kill you, you fucking cunt! I'll hunt you down and I'll kill you!"

"Shut the fuck up," Lovejoy says. Toby can hear Lovejoy fumbling with his trouser belt. Toby's going to get fucked in the ass, again, and there's nothing he can do about it. For all Oz taught him, he's still getting fucked in the ass. Toby's lot in life.

Lovejoy loops his belt around Toby's stomach and over Toby's elbows. He pulls it tight immobilising Toby's arms. Then something tears and Toby feels cool air on his back. Lovejoy is taking Toby's t-shirt apart. He uses one of the scraps to tie around Toby's mouth.

"You talk too much," Lovejoy says. He pushes Toby's jeans around his ankles. They hold his feet together, shackling him.

Toby muffles a, "fuck you," against the gag.

Lovejoy isn't patient. He parts Toby's legs, forcing his knees between them. Toby feels a wet finger between his cheeks. It slides into him, roughly, and then slides out again, the sole extent of lubrication Toby is going to get. And then Lovejoy thrusts into him, hard and brutal, no finesse. It hurts like fuck and Toby bites down hard on his gag, says, "You fuck, you fuck!" in muffled sobs.

Lovejoy grunts with each thrust he makes, clenches Toby's hips clumsily, like he's lost all dexterity. It's like a wild animal rutting against Toby's back, messy, ugly and noisy.

Neither of them hears anyone else in the room until a voice says, "Get your ugly ass off him."

Toby turns his head to the side. There's Chris standing by the door, gun in hand, aiming at Lovejoy. Hooray for the fucking calvary.

Lovejoy freezes. And then it all seems to sink in and he withdraws. "Let's not go crazy here," he says. "This isn't what you think it is."

"Are you for real? You're fucking my boyfriend." Chris inclines his head toward Toby. "Untie him."

Lovejoy obediently reaches for the gag and loosens it. It falls around Toby's neck and onto the floor. Lovejoy undoes the belt around Toby's waist and Toby moves his elbows, aiding the blood flow.

"I don't have a key," Lovejoy says, he hands out palm up. His pants are still down around his knees, his shirt partially concealing his no longer erect member.

"Where is it?" Chris says.

"I don't know - I only stole the cuffs."

Chris narrows his eyes, presses his lips together tight. He looks calm and in control, his hands are steady and his gaze is unwavering. Killer mode.

Toby rolls onto his back and into a seated position. "Don't do it, Chris," he says.

Lovejoy looks from Chris to Toby and back to Chris again. "Listen to him, " Lovejoy says. "You kill me and your days of living in hiding are over. The cops will be..."

He doesn't get to finish. Chris fires, the bullet landing square in the centre of Lovejoy's forehead. Blood lands on Toby, on the floor, on the refrigerator. Lovejoy slumps back in a heap.

Toby stares at Lovejoy's body. He feels the blood pounding in his ears, his heart leaping into his throat. Lovejoy is dead. Chris shot him. Someone had to hear it; how long before the cops come? How long before the sirens? How long do they have?

Lovejoy is dead. Chris shot him. It repeats over and over in Toby's head, sing-song like.

Chris lowers the gun, gets down on the floor beside Toby. He takes Toby's face in his hands. "Toby, are you all right?" He runs his thumb over the bruise on Toby's cheek. "That fucking asshole had me running a job for him up town. I'm supposed to meet this guy in a bar, but on the way in I overhear these two hookers complaining about the number of cops inside, so I turn around and get the hell out of there."

Toby remembers his cuffed hands. "Key?"

"Right." Chris feels inside Lovejoy's pockets and comes up empty. "Son of a bitch really doesn't have it." He goes to the bag on the floor by the bed, rummages around, before pulling out two keys. He unlocks the cuffs. Toby rubs his wrists and reaches for his clothes.

"You were working for him?" Toby says. He puts his jeans on quickly, searches the mess on the floor for the rest of his clothes. His t-shirt is in tatters. He goes to the bureau and pulls out a fresh t-shirt.

"All above board, I swear," Chris says. "I thought he wanted my ass."

Chris's ass, Toby's ass, Lovejoy probably didn't care. Toby was just the easier mark.

How long until the sirens? Toby listens for the sounds of feet on the steps, shouting, sirens, cars braking on the street. There's nothing. It's early evening. Rush hour. Maybe no one heard?

Not that it matters. They'll find the body. They'll find them.

"Give me the gun," Toby says.

"Why?"

"Your prints are on it." Toby picks his torn t-shirt off the floor, and holds out his hand for the gun. Chris nods, hands it to him. Toby wipes it clean, takes it in his hand and holds it like he's about to fire, aiming at the floor.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Chris says.

There's bloodied footprints everywhere, Chris and Toby's. Toby drops his torn t-shirt to the floor, begins mopping up the blood. "Get out of here, Chris," he says.

"What?"

"Get the fuck out of here!" The floor is still covered in bloodied streaks. Toby tells himself it doesn't need to be clean, just free of footprints.

"Toby..."

"Chris," Toby stops wiping the floor. He puts his hands on Chris's shoulders. "I'll say it was me. I'll say it was self-defence. I'll say I was alone, whatever they need to hear, but for god's sake, Chris, don't let them catch you so they can give you the electric chair."

"For fuck's sake Toby, don't be so dramatic. We'll go together."

"And they'll come after us. How much of a head start do we have? They could be on their way here already."

They both listen to the noise of the street outside. No sirens. "No way," Chris says. "I'm not going without you."

"Yeah, you are," Toby says, and he knows it to be true. Chris is a survivor. He's alive today because he knows when to run.

Chris looks at the door. "It won't be forever," he says. "I'll see you again."

"Yeah," Toby says. "I know you will."

Chris grabs Toby by the neck, kisses him hard on the mouth before disappearing.

Toby watches the door close after him. No more Chris. Just like that.

Toby takes the gun and aims at the wall. He fires, and the shot splits the air around him, the echo ringing in his ears. It's louder than the first shot. He listens for a reaction and hears nothing. Maybe gunshots are a regular occurrence in Henderson?

He puts the gun on the table and goes over to Lovejoy's body. Lovejoy's eyes are open staring up at the roof. He looks pathetic with his trousers still hanging around his knees. Toby is tempted to feel sorry for him. It passes quickly.

He searches Lovejoy's pockets and finds a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. He lights a cigarette, sits at the table and waits.

Eventually, he hears sirens.

*

Toby is lead into the room by a female guard who reminds him of Whittlesy, jaded but fair. Prisons on the west coast aren't so different from the east. The gangs have different names but the inmates are the same, all bravado, all desperation, all remnants of a society that hasn't made room for them.

Inside the room is Toby's lawyer. She stands when he enters, shakes his hand. "I'm Maria Cassidy," she says. His mother hired her. She's no one he knows.

He had a duty lawyer for the arraignment. No bail, of course. Not for a parolee who's clearly in violation.

They sit down and she glances at the papers in front of her.

"Self defence, huh?" she says.

It's rhetorical. Toby doesn't answer.

"I have a string of witnesses who will testify to the kind of asshole Lovejoy was," Maria continues. "Two former charges of sexual assault - no men, but that's hardly going to make a difference, nine different harassment complaints from former tenants and one charge of possession of an illegal firearm. The medical exam backed up your claim of rape and I think we can easily make you out to be the victim of your prison boyfriend who coerced you into leaving and deserted you at the first sign of trouble. Your prison record won't be pretty but you made a mistake and you did time. It's a no-brainer. We get an acquittal and you'll be sent you back to New York to deal with the parole board."

"That simple, huh?" Toby says.

"Except you didn't shoot him," she says.

"What makes you say that?"

"You were cuffed, bound and gagged. There's no way you got to that gun. I don't care where it was."

"Lovejoy's belt wasn't as secure as he thought it was."

"Sure," Maria says, shrugging. "And your prints were on the gun and the GPS test was positive. The cops liked it because the alternative was wasting time trying to find some New York career criminal who deserted his lover to save his own ass."

"But...?"

Maria opens a file. There's a picture of Keller paper clipped to the edge. "Keller was a lot of things - street scum, murderer, con artist, and possibly a serial killer even if it hasn't been proven, but to you he was loyal. My take on events is this: Keller comes home to find Lovejoy raping his boyfriend. He doesn't think twice about it. Bang!" She makes a gun with her fingers. "Lovejoy gets a hole in the head. You clean up, fire another shot at the wall and take the rap because Nevada has the death penalty and a self defence decision will rule out the possibility of Keller being charged for the same crime."

Toby stares at the picture of Chris in Maria's file. Chris could be anywhere by now. Chris could be whoring his ass out to rich, Mexican drug smugglers who stuff hundred dollar bills his pockets and pat his ass. Chris would like that. Nothing thrills Chris more than the dirty sexual proclivities of the rich and powerful.

It occurs to Toby that Maria has a point to make. "You won't let me take the stand."

"Hell, no," she says. "We'll plead self defence, we'll let the state say the sex was consensual, that you liked it rough. We'll let them say you and Keller screwed Lovejoy for rent or drugs or whatever they want - we'll take that chance. But if the DA's office put Keller at the scene, I won't have you perjure yourself saying otherwise."

"Do you think they'll do that?"

"No." She shakes her head. "Even if they think he did it, they've got no real evidence. And if they did get him to trial, I won't be your lawyer and you'll be in the witness box claiming to be Spartacus. They probably don't think they're going to succeed against you either, but at least they don't have to prove you did it, just that you that you weren't acting in self defence."

Toby nods. "We should make them think they have a chance."

Maria raises her eyebrows. "How do you mean?"

"The cuffs were mine. We let them figure that out somehow. They'll stick with the murder charge if they think they can win."

"It's risky," Maria says. "The jury will wonder why you didn't take the stand."

It scarcely matters. Toby's already established that one prison is like another. And the state will ask for life because their case is weak and juries don't like the death penalty. He'll serve out his time in a Nevada prison, whole new set of inmates, whole new set of problems, same old, same old.

"You'll do fine," Toby says.

*

Toby has supporters: his parole officer, his former boss, his mother, even Marion who convincingly testifies to the nature of their relationship and tells the court how Toby tried to protect her when they learned of Chris's escape. She gives him a sympathetic look, like he's her responsibility and she let him down.

Sister Pete makes an appearance and gives the court her version of the Chris and Toby saga. Toby almost laughs when she uses the word, "co-dependent." Not even Pete thinks Chris is that simple. She probably thought it would help, and given the way the jury hung on to her every word it probably did. Nothing like a nun in your court when you need her. Maria is pleased.

The State's case rests on the handcuffs and Chris's sexual deviance. Toby's attempt to become the Em City whore features in Sister Pete's cross examination but Sister Pete just frowns and claims to know nothing of Toby's sexual activity beyond his relationship with Chris. A Sister doesn't lie under oath.

The trial takes a week but it takes the jury a day to find Toby not guilty by reason of self-defence. Toby gets a plane ride back to New York followed by a short stay in a holding cell before being sent back to Oz. His parole violations include leaving the state, aiding and abetting a fugitive and possession of an illegal firearm. He's sent to Em City where everything is different but nothing has changed.

O'Reilly is the first one to say what everyone else is thinking. "Never thought I'd see you back in here," he says. "Not without Keller anyway."

Sister Pete is less succinct. "What in God's name happened?" She says. It's their first session together since Toby returned to Oz. The door has barely closed behind him.

"Chris," Toby says. "Chris happened."

"You're lucky you're not dead," she says.

He knows that. "Thanks for standing up for me at my trial," Toby says.

Sister Pete waves a hand. "Oh, I know you didn't kill anyone," she says. "Not intentionally, and if you had, I'd like to think you would have aimed lower."

She emphasises the word "lower" and Toby smiles. "Sister, that's not very nun-like of you."

"No one's perfect," she says. She leans back in her chair and presses a finger to her chin. "Tobias, how is your family taking this?"

His mother is a wreck. Genevieve's parents have the children. Toby's brother hates him. He's featured irregularly in his children's' lives over the last seven years so to them little has changed. Daddy was a fuck up. Daddy's still a fuck up.

"As well as can be expected."

"That bad, huh?"

"They'll be fine. No vendettas this time. No revenge."

"You think you can promise that?"

"I'll die first."

"What about you?" she says. "How are you?"

"I'll be fine too."

"Do you want to talk about Lovejoy?"

He knows she's really asking if he wants to talk about being raped. It's a difficult question to answer. Lovejoy seems like another time, another world away. And there's a part of him that thinks guys like Lovejoy are his penitence.

"Not yet," he says.

"Some other time?"

He nods. "Some other time."

Sister Pete contemplates him quietly. "I must tell you, Tobias, I'm disappointed."

"I know."

"You have so much more to offer than everyone else in here. You don't belong in here wasting away your life."

"On the contrary, Sister, I think this is exactly where I belong."

"That's not true."

"Isn't it? I can't control myself. I'm a threat to myself and my family."

"So you're saying you brought this on yourself?"

"You wanted me to take responsibility for my actions," Toby says.

"You only learned half the lesson," Sister Pete says. "The other half is learning from your mistakes."

"I guess I was let out too soon," Toby says.

"Tobias!" Sister Pete slams the desk. Toby jumps. The CO outside peeks through the window in the door to see if everything is okay. Sister Pete waves him away. "For god's sake, is this your justification? Keller's going to get you killed one day, but that's okay, because you deserve it?"

Toby looks at the desk. To Sister Pete the choice between Chris and a normal life is a choice between reason and insanity. Toby knows it's not that simple. He can't explain. He wonders if he should tell her about the sunset at the Grand Canyon and Chicago in the twenties and "hospitality before execution". He doesn't understand why it seems relevant but that might be the point. If you must die, maybe a little indulgence is the best you can expect?

Maybe she's right and he's full of horseshit.

"Sister," he says. "I don't know how to do this without him."

Sister Pete rests her elbow on the desk and sinks her chin into her hand. "Tobias," she says. "God help you."

*

Marion visits him in prison. He enjoys her company but he no longer believes he can be the person he was when he was paroled. He realises now that attempting to be normal, like he could just slot back into life, was a lie and destined to come crashing down around his feet. Marion knows this too. She chats amiably but carefully avoids mentioning their relationship. She's an attractive woman who turns heads. He doesn't expect her to keep visiting for long.

He waits the days away, learns from Rebadow, Em City's great survivor, to be the kind of person who fades into the background. He never gets into trouble, never causes it. The Hispanics still war with the Italians and the Brotherhood still war with the Homeboys but the only time Toby fights is when he hears the word "prag" and fortunately it only happens once. Once was enough. After that, no one dared.

Two months pass and he receives a postcard, a picture of the Grand Canyon. It's been sent from Chicago and post-marked three days ago.

It says, "Was it worth it?" Nothing else.

Toby looks at the picture. It's a view from the South Rim. Not that it matters, it's the Grand Canyon, vast and ominous, the wonder of existence laid out before them in reds and yellows that shift in the sun. He tucks the postcard under his pillow.

He'll be out in eight years. If he's lucky it will be six or seven. The years will go by just as they did the first time, day by long day.

And if god is kind, if Toby's learned his lesson, one day he'll be free. And it will be worth it, this time, because somewhere out there, Chris is waiting for him.

Fini

*

Trigger Happy Jack
by Poe

He scares easily
It makes him so angry
At me

And his head it spins around
Just like the Exorcist and I
Find it ever so
Hard to resist his cries

But there's nothing more sadistic than an infant Waving his pistol in my face
He wants me right down on my knees
Crumbling in disgrace

But he underestimates my mind
I know he's messing with my head
My only weakness is
I can't believe the guy could be entirely dead

Can't talk to a psycho like a normal human being Can't talk to a psycho like a normal human being Trigger Happy Jack you're gonna blow
But I'm gonna get off before you go
My Trigger Happy Jack is just a
drive by a go-go

And after awhile he calms down
And he looks at me like a prince
But I know I better bite the bullet
'Cause it's just another one of his
Jedi mind tricks

But this ain't no headtrip honey
This is a collision on the road
And you've got me feeling oh just like a roadkill and you know deep down I know

Why do you make me feel like this?
Why do you gotta be such a dick?
Why do you make me feeling like this?
Why do you gotta be such a dick?
Go-go

And I hate myself
Just enough to want him
But I hate him just enough to get off
But I understand him
Maybe I'm just crazy enough
To love him
Why not? (Why not?)

You can't talk to a psycho like a normal human being...

Please post a comment on this story.









Fandom:  Other (Oz)
Title:  A Collision on the Road
Author:  cgb   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  NC-17  |  *slash*  |  89k  |  07/24/05
Characters:  Beecher, Keller
Pairings:  Beecher/ Keller
Summary:   "If only it could be like this all the time. Maybe then they'd have a chance.”
Notes:  Written for the Oz Lyric Wheel Challenge 2005. This story started from a song – and quickly grew into a monster thanks to lyrics ("Trigger Happy Jack” by Poe) sent by Rustler to whom all gratitude, cheques and/ or hate mail should be sent.
You should mail whatever's left to Maverick who offered encouragement and did beta duty, and taught me to speak American ('pants' not 'trousers' and 'pepperoni' not 'salami' – keep that in mind. kiddies).
And if in passing you could nod to Unwinding who told me all the things I needed to hear, well, that would be sweet.

Disclaimer/Other:  Please note, there is a rape scene in this story. It's essential to the story so I'll hope you'll bear with me.

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