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reclaiming austin

Chapter Thirty

Ok, I know a lot of you had assumed I was ending the story, a few others were just pissed it was taking so long. The truth is, I was stumped at first and was writing and rewriting the legal parts of this never ending story. Finally, Scott Turner offered his assistance and vast knowledge of the Law and legal processes for my help. So if anyone wants to thank him for being the reason this is finally out, write him at And you really should read his excellent story: A fork in the road at

I’d also like to apologize to several of my generous helpers like Jerrie who edits this work and makes me seem literate. I’d also like to thank Amanda for her work, and T-Mo for his attempts to help me.

Anyways, after I got the help from Scott, I began writing like mad as I was so late… And then my lap top dove off the counter and landed on its screen. OOOOOPS!!!! So I bought a new computer and was kind of going as fast as I could because of Vista’s awful, awful, awful, horrid, overly complicated crap programming, which, as soon as I got up to speed on it, told me my Limited time offer was over and I had to now buy a permanent copy of works to use the word possessor. So the story which was almost done, sat on my computer for two months while I tried to raise the money for the new copy of word. It wouldn’t let me use the copy of XP I had, it wouldn’t let me send myself the copy over email, I was screwed, So I finally got my current copy if word kind of working, except it ate several pieces I had written for the story. I hate Vista, really a lot. This was done on my old computer using XP.

So, enjoy this chapter and there will be two more chapters… soon…..ish.

Oh yeah, don’t read blah blah blah. Don’t copy any of this or ten million lemmings will mistake your ass for the Pacific Ocean. And for gods sake, if gay material bothers you, how the hell have you gotten this far???



From the moment we walked into the sparse room, a room that reminded me much more of a collage classroom than one would imagine a true courtroom to be like. I registered that the walls were bare with a simple patterned wallpaper on them. All the Law and Orders and Perry Mason's I had ever seen growing up, had been more formal wood paneled courtrooms; dark and official. This though, was Spartan and sterile by contrast with hanging fluorescent lights over the ceiling. Our lawyer was the district attorney to Orange County, Mr. Mitchell Gravelin. On the opposite team were Jesse and his coterie and a defender named Mr. Luis Stuggs. In their dark suits, they at least fit my image, and so too did the judge when she got there.

We were all asked to stand as the Honorable Judge Evelyn Turner walked in. She was a woman with graying blond hair pulled tight in the back. Her dark robes hid a body I imagined was in excellent shape for a woman in her 50s. She was intimidating to say the least, but one got the impression that she should never have played poker, her moods and thoughts were written all over her face. It was clearly evident though, that she was the wrong lady to ever cross.

I was called up almost immediately, and asked a series of questions by the Defense attorney; most of the questions were meant to make me come off as a flamboyant sexual predator, only late in his examination of me did he ask for recollections of that awful night. Mr. Stuggs asked me about my social activities, making sure to bring out the fact that I was gay and frequented gay establishments. In the end of his examination of me he had a strange series of questions.

“Were you ever bullied in school Mr. Johnson?” he asked.

“Yeah…” I answered cautiously.

Is it safe to say that you were a regular target for bullying?

I paused a moment to try and see where this leading, “Yeah, on a pretty regular basis I’d guess.”

‘So describe some of the bullying you endured, was it just verbal?” Stuggs asked.

“Most of it, but I was beaten up and physically attacked quite a few times as well.” I cautiously answered.

“So fill us in, what kinds of things did the other students taunt you with?” The too smug Stuggs asked.

“Regular cliché’ insults, ‘fag, sissy, gayboy, cocksucker, butt pirate, Homo…’ things like that.”

“And were you?” Mr. Stuggs asked.

Mr. Gravelin stood up, “Objection your honor- Relevance.”

“Mr. Stuggs, try another line of questioning.” The judge ordered as upset by Mr. Gravelin’s objection as she was the line of questioning Mr. Stuggs was on.

“Did the ‘bullies’ have any reason to suspect you were all those awful things they were calling you? Were you out then?”

“I-I- No, I didn’t come out till my second year of college.” I maintained.

“So you never once ever hit on any of the taller, more muscular boys in your school?”

Mr. Gravelin shot up, “Objection your honor, Facts not in evidence and prejudicial, “

Judge Turner knocked on her gavial, “Counselor???” She warned Mr. Stuggs.

Mr. Stuggs smiled a dark wicked smile. “Withdrawn your honor.”

The DA. Mr. Gravelin focused more on my views about the attack. On several occasions Mr. Stuggs objected to questions by Mr. Gravelin, mostly on grounds of relevance, toward his client.

Finally, Mr. Gravelin asked me about the Bullying I had endured in Junior and Senior High school.

“We-well like said, About 60% of the bullying was verbal, including rumors and handmade signs they used to post throughout areas I had class or retreated to. “ I said honestly.

Mr. Gravelin paused a moment then in a softer voice asked, “And the other 40%?”

I paused to, to try and dig up some of the horror that was my high school. “

“On an almost daily occurrence, I got tripped, thumped on the back of my head, pushed into lockers, I had my books knocked out of my hands at least once a week, things like that, I HATED going from class to class, it was a constant nightmare.”

“Was that it?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

“No, that was just the regular daily routine, Sometimes a group of the “in” crowd would surround me and push me back and forth until I cried because I couldn’t get away. Sometimes they’d steal things from me, food, money, books… On several occasions one of the better looking guys would ‘come on’ to me, and start acting like I was his boy bitch. I once had my face painted with magic markers to look like lipstick and eye shadow and was forced naked into my schools hallway. I was sprayed with cheap girls perfume; They somehow broke into my locker and left a bunch of playgirls and male porn mags so that when I opened my locker, all these naked men poured out. After school They’d real-“ I was cut off as Mr. Gravelin said that was enough, everyone got the message.

“I haven’t said anything about the actual times I was beat up.” I said.

“I’m not sure you need to say more Mr. Johnson, I think we all see what kind of hell you went through. So, did you ever tell anyone about this?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

“In Jr. high I did. But by high school, I learned that complaining only made it worse in the long run, and it never stopped them.”

“So how did this daily barrage affect your schooling, you appear to be a very bright young man?” Mr. Gravelin said.

“Thank you, I guess I am, but brains mean squat in high school. If anything, they’re a liability, having brains is equivalent to being gay in the high school mindset.”

“So how did you cope?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

“I stayed home a lot, I skipped some, I got classes close together, I missed an awful lot of school through the years. “ I admitted.

“And what effect did that have on your grades?”

“I went from being on the honor rolls my first semester of both Jr. And Sr. High, to passing with Ds.”

“SO would you say you have a keen understanding of Bullying?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

Mr. Stuggs shot up, “Objection your honor, relavence.”

“I intend to establish Mr. Johnson’s frame of mind that night when faced with a larger, aggressive bully.”

Mr. Stuggs shot up again and whined, “Your Honor!”

Mr. Gravelin withdrew his statement and was given permission to continue with his line of questioning as long as he stopped his snide remarks.

“What gave you the idea that Jesse and his friends were trying to bully you?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

I thought a moment, “Jesse asked if I was a faggot, he jutted his jaw and chest out in typical macho posturing, and he swung at me. I don’t know for sure if the others were just reacting to what I did to Jesse, or to my being gay, but I have no doubt what so ever about Mr. McMurphey.”

“Objection your honor, The witness isn’t qualified to make such wide accusations.” Mr. Stuggs said in an almost whiney voice.

“Your Honor,” Mr. Gravelin said in his best southern drawl, “We’ve already established the years and years of torment and bullying Mr. Johnson went through, surely that makes him qualified to recognize bullying and aggressive posturing.”

Judge Turner paused a moment then nodded to Mr. Gravelin, “I’ll allow it, but stay on a narrow edge Mr. Gravelin.”

Mr. Gravelin thanks the judge then turned to me, “So was there any point during this fight that things could have gone differently?’

“He could have just ignored me.” I said plainly.

“Anything else?” He asked.

“After I threw him the first time he could have just backed away, or fled, After I knocked him out a moment he could have stood down or fled instead of trying to Ambush us with a shotgun.”

“Objection your honor, grossly prejudicial.” Mr. Stuggs complained.

“The jury will disregard that last statement” Judge Turner amended.

“I have two related questions your honor.” Mr. Gravelin said.

“Mr. Johnson, Did you ever fight with any of those bullies from High School?”Mr. Gravelin asked.

“no I-I tried to get away, I never actually fought with any though, several got knocked down trying to block me from retreating.” I said with a small amount of humiliation that I had allowed this to happen.

“Very good, so why did you take up Judo in college?” He asked.

“I got tired of running and cowering, as a small guy, I was even the target for abuse by gays. Judo seemed to be a good bet for protecting myself.”

“So how often have you used it in situations like that night?”

“Out side the dojo? I- I’ve used it twice, once when I thought Nate… I mean Mr. Piper came to my door and I assumed I was being attacked, and the other time in that bar.”

“Can you tell me why? I mean if you had been picked on so badly, that you suddenly stopped being targeted?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

“Self confidence, it’s not just a line they use to promote martial arts. Bullies know when someone is willing to protect themselves; they know who they can pick on. Just like Lions and wolves know which animals to predate on.”

“Thank you Mr. Johnson, No further questions at this time, you may be seated.” Mr. Gravelin said.

It was evident that Mr. Stuggs was a quick tempered and angry man and the tempo of the questioning was going against what he'd planned. In appearance, the two men were sharply contrasted, Mr. Gravelin was a good ol boy, plain and simple, he was a middle aged white man on the plus side of 6' tall and weighed about 245 lbs, his salt and pepper hair was combed meticulously across his head. His accent was soft but distinctly southern; I was surprised at how at ease he seemed among the majority of gay men on our side.

Mr. Stuggs Asked the judge if he could cross examine me a few moments, so I was seated back in the witness stand.

“If Bullies have some instinctual spider sense about who they can and can’t pick on, doesn’t that negate your claim that my client is a bully?” Mr. Stuggs asked.

“Not really.” I said then added, “Mr. McMurphey knew for a fact I was gay, and assumed due to my size and lack of strong musculature, that I’d be an easy mark. He was wrong.” I said confidently. Mr. Stuggs by contrast to Mr. Gravelin, was a shorter, dark ebony colour, thin, with a tight neat hairdo, his style was distinctly big city and he could almost be called "smarmy". I had been the first witness, and had been asked to recall every small detail by both lawyers. It had become pretty clear that the defense attorney was trying to paint a gay-panic case, painting me as a sexual predator while giving the image that the pious Jesse was only trying to protect his manhood from my alleged advances. Mr. Gravelin though was very good at countering those pleas to the jury. He'd get in front of the jury and ask them to "imagine themselves in that particular situation".

For instance, when Stuggs had the jury believing that a small guy would leave the protection of his group to go off and hit on a guy in a red neck bar away from his friends, Mr. Gravelin had the jury imagine themselves in that situation, had them going to the bathroom, and walking through a group of strange men smoking cigarettes that you were allergic too. Men whom no one would ever have assumed were gay. Mr. Gravelin had made a good point, but Mr. Stuggs then reminded the jury of my martial arts training. Mr. Gravelin paused a moment and then reminded the court that I had never once been in trouble before, and if I were in the habit of going around to red neck bars hitting on straight men, it would have certainly caused a great number of fights.

In his cross examination, Mr. Stuggs asked me if I’d ever used my Karate training on anyone else. I said I hadn’t, to which he smiled and said, “I have sworn testimony that you actually attacked Mr. Piper (Nate) with your karate after you assumed he’d been the cause of the breakup between you and Mr. Cable. Isn’t that correct?

He had an air of smugness which needled me, “Not exactly” I said simply with a slight smile, which threw Mr. Stuggs a moment.

“I have a sworn statement that you nearly killed Mr. Piper,” Mr. Stuggs stated. “Are you trying to deny to the court that you’ve used Karate in the past to attack others?”

I sighed, “I’m not saying that.” I said simply.

“Your Honor…” Mr. Stuggs practically whined.

“Mr. Johnson, please answer his questions!”

“I’m trying to your honor, He’s just asking really inaccurate leading questions.”

Mr. Stuggs looked angry, “Let’s start again, ISN’T it TRUE that you attacked my clients using the same Karate moves that you used on Nathan Piper?

“No sir it isn’t.” I said simply, I had a small smile aimed at Collin who was loving this word play. “But you did study martial arts for many years didn’t you? He asked,

“Yes Sir.” I stated quite honestly before adding the qualifier he had neglected to ask about, “However, I studied Judo, not Karate

“Is there really a differences?” Mr. Stuggs asked with forced resolve.

“You asked if I used Karate, and I didn’t, I’ve never studied Karate.”

“Could you please enlighten us as to what it is you did study?”

“I’m a first degree Black belt in Judo, I also spent a year studying kung fu, and a semester of fencing, but mostly it’s been judo I’ve stuck with.”

Mr. Stuggs looked flustered, “Aren’t you relying on technical semantics here Mr. Johnson?”

“No Sir, no more than if you were trying to call a Colt 45 an Uzi, or a double barrel shot gun a bee bee gun.”

As pissed as Mr. Stuggs actually was, he maintained his composure. “Would you kindly illuminate us about the differences between Judo and Karate Mr. Johnson?”

“Well, Judo is a passive art, like Aikido, they rely on the attacker making bad moves and being off balance during an attack, you can’t initiate an attack with either Judo or Aikido. All the force is generated by the actions of the attackers.” I neglected to bring up the fact that I had kicked Mr. Galtree’s knees and that was kung Fu not Judo, but if he didn’t bring it up I certainly wasn’t going to.

I was again asked to retake my seat in the audience.

The Defense attorney called Jesse McMurphey to the stand and had him sworn in. “Mr. McMurphey, would you please explain in your words what happened that night?” Jesse told a similar story to the rest of us until we got to a certain point where he began adding his own imagination as to what happened.

“ SO when Mr. Johnson came out of the bathroom he was making eyes at me.” Jesse said.

Mr. Stuggs pressed him, “No one else can verify this point, are you sure he was flirting with you?”

“I’m positive!” Jesse said which struck me as odd I just couldn’t get it in my mind that he’d have ever say, “positive” without coaching.

“After he took you down the first time, why didn’t you just quit?” Mr. Stuggs asked.

“Where I grew up, you never left a fight, you won or took your punishment. I wasn’t going to let a little faggo…err. I mean gay guy, push me out of my bar, They’da turned it to a gay bar if’n they’da chased me out.” He said in practiced terms.

“So after you’d been knocked out and come to, why didn’t you just leave the bar once and for all?” Mr. Stuggs prompted.

“I tried, before I could get my truck started, the whole lot of them guys spilled out with Alex leading them.”

“Thank you Mr. McMurphey, now could you explain some of your feelings about gays to us?” Mr. Stuggs asked.

Jesse maintained that his religion was totally against homosexuals, Mr. Gravelin gave Jesse more and more leeway to establish his case against me for religious reasons. At some point, after a harsh statement by Jesse that Mr. Gravelin had elicited, Austin and I were looking at each other wondering what side Mr. Gravelin was actually on, what he was trying to do.

The truth of the matter is that we should have trusted him, after all of Jesse's proselytizing about how much Jesus hated gays and his churches stance on these issues, Mr. Gravelin handed him a bible and asked him to find those passages and read them for us, he then paused for a few moments before asking him if he could recite the ten commandments, when he faltered, Mr. Gravelin then asked him what the first book of the bible was called, He then asked who wrote the four gospels, And finally, he asked when the last time he was actually in a church actually was. At one point, Mr. Gravelin asked Jesse what Jesus had actually said about homosexuals.

Jesse thought for a moment then said, “A man shall not lie with a homosexual together.” Mr. Gravelin Smiled warmly at Jesse who thought he had made a point.

“Is that it?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

“Well that and “thou shall not be a homosexual.” Jesse added “I’m pretty sure that’s like number two on the ten commandments.”

Mr. Gravelin still smiled, it was a sickly saccharine smile. “Mr. McMurphey, neither of those lines are in the Bible, would you care to guess how many times Jesus even mentions homosexuals?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

“A whole bunch, god hates homosexuals, especially gay men.” Jesse proselytized.

Mr. Gravelin lost his smile and turned to the Jury. “He never mentions it one time in all the gospels, Mr. McMurphey. NEVER.”

Jesse was caught in his lie and was angry as a piss storm; he glared at Mr. Gravelin and maintained it was in the Bible even if he couldn't recall the exact passage or verse. Mr. Stuggs was shaking his head as if he could rewind the past five minutes. Mr. Stuggs attempted to object, but when the judge asked him on what grounds, he threw his arms up and sat down.

I noticed a smaller black woman in the jury seats, that would smile when Mr. Stuggs or Jesse would make a point, or when Jesse seemed to be making a case with Mr. Gravelin's help, but when the tables turned on Jesse and he was made out to be the hateful, lying bully that never went to church, she stewed. I noticed also that most of the jury would occasionally make eye contact with me; this woman though never once looked at any of us. As if eye contact could contaminate her with the AIDS virus she evidently assumed we all had. After taking the air out of his sails on the religion issue, Mr. Gravelin Asked Jesse if he'd ever been in trouble with the law before. Mr. Stuggs shot up and said, "Objection your honor, relevance?!?" Judge Turner looked over at Mr. Gravelin and raised her eyebrow questioningly.

"Your Honor, Mr. Stuggs broached this subject when he painted his client as a misunderstood saint. We've already established that he doesn't go to church, we ask your honor to allow us a certain leeway to explore this further." He said in his nicest smile. She sat back a moment, and I had the distinct impression that good southern manners didn't have one iota of relevance here. "I'll allow it as long as the D.A. can make a relevant point quickly."

“Thank you, your honor.” Mr. Gravelin bowed slightly before continuing. "You were a boy scout weren't you Mr. McMurphey?"

Jesse’s eyes narrowed, "Yes Sir."

"Wonderful, that's a fine place for a young man to be. How far did you go? Did you ever become a scout master or join the eagle scouts?"

"No Sir."

"Well, why not?"

Jesse clamed up and stewed as he glared at the affable Mr. Gravelin. "Your honor, will you please instruct the witness to answer?"

She had a look as deadly as Jesse's, "Mr. McMurphey?"

"I was kicked out, alright?" He finally said loudly, "Cause those fags wouldn't let us older guys drink a little."

"I see." Said Mr. Gravelin. "Was that it?" After Jesse was finished glaring at Mr. Gravelin, he hung his head and said, "No" softly.

"In fact your honor, I have a list here of the charges that were made to the police. I'd like to submit them as State’s exhibit 24." Then he turned back to face Jesse, "Please, tell the court and the jury what you were arrested for."

"I stabbed Mr. Pennington in the neck with his scout master's knife." A murmur went though the court.

“Well, why on earth would you do that? Did he try to molest you?"

Mr. Stuggs shot up, “Objection your Honor!”

Mr. Gravelin withdrew his statement and apologized.

Jesse fidgeted until the judge asked him for an answer. "He was trying to take my stuff. And he wouldn't give it back."

"Stuff?" the D.A. asked.

Jesse closed his eyes and shook his head; the snake he thought he could control was turning around and biting him hard. "My pot and cigarettes."

Mr. Gravelin turned to face the jury, "I seem to recall a rule prohibiting a scout from doing either of those, or drinking underage. Those rule are there aren't they?" Mr. Gravelin asked.

"I don’t know." Jesse pleaded through an angry visage,

"You don't know like you don't know the Bible or you don't know like you don't know right from wrong?"

Mr. Stuggs shot up, "Objection your honor!"

Mr. Gravelin amended, “Withdrawn your honor."

"The Jury will disregard that last statement.” The Judge said before adding, “Watch it Mr. Gravelin.”

Mr. Gravelin was a master of suspense, he walked back and forth a few times, seemingly lost in thought before he finally said, "So, was that it? Was that your only brush with the law?" Jesse wasn't even trying to look like a good boy now, that battle had been lost.

"You already know it ain't." He said as he glared contemptuously at Mr. Gravelin.

"So fill us in on some of your charges, if you forget any, I have a copy you can borrow; I know there were an awful lot to remember.” Mr. Gravelin waved a very large file at Mr. McMurphey.

"Your honor???" Mr. Stuggs pleaded.

"Please watch your remarks Mr. Gravelin, they may have worked in the past, but I'll not tolerate any passive aggressive indulgences.”

What followed was a long list of fights, assaults, car accidents and one case of domestic abuse against an ex girl friend. Twice the police had been called to break up fights between Jesse and Nate that had become violent. Mr. McMurphey was through finally, But before he could limp back to his seat with his tail between his legs, Mr. Gravelin ‘suddenly’ remembered something and asked Jesse what he had seen when he was in his truck.

“I saw that group of guys,” he said pointing at us, “lead by Alex Johnson coming out after me.” He said this proudly, like he was glad to finally get an answer right.

“Your honor, if I may have your indulgence for a moment, I’d like to recreate things for a moment. She said to make it quick but acquiesced. So Mr. Gravelin had all the guys who where there that night from our group stand up. “Mr. Johnson, would you please step up front for the jury to see?” I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I did as he asked. ‘SO Mr. McMurphey, is this what you saw?”

Jesse looked for a moment and then had Glen and Jason step a little forward, at that point he turned to Mr. Gravelin and nodded, “I think that’s about it.” So Mr. Gravelin did a long slow walk around us, stopping in front of me and turning back to him, “Are you certain?” Jesse was starting to realize he was being set up, but didn’t see how yet.

“Well I’m right confused then,” Mr. Gravelin admitted with a confused scratching of his head. “If Mr. Johnson were right up front like this, why didn’t you just shoot him instead of Mr. Piper?”

Jesse thought a moment before saying, “Well, Nate got in front of Alex.”

“According to the bar tender, the police and the testimony of most of the gentlemen sitting near me, Alex was the last person out of the bar, Isn’t it true that most of these men were already waiting by their van when you shot Nathan Piper in the face?”

Jesse faltered, “I-uhh-I I don’t know, maybe.”

“So isn’t your assertion that Mr. Johnson lead them toward you a lie?” Mr. Gravelin asked the deer in the headlights Jesse.

Jesse just stammered, “I-uhhh-no-well yeah--- I don’t know.”

“That’s all Mr. McMurphey, you’re excused now.”

Austin was called next and While Austin was seated, Mr. Stuggs strode up to him,

“We’ve talked a lot today about Alex Johnson being gay, What is your orientation Mr. Camble?

“I’m bisexual.”

“ Interesting, Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying you’re gay but sometimes sleeps with women?”

“No Sir.” Austin said with obvious annoyance.

“But Isn’t it true that you entered the fight to protect your gay lover?”

Austin looked perplexed, “I-I-uhhh”

“It’s a yes or no question Mr. Camble.” Mr. Stuggs interjected quickly.

“I don’t know how to answer that? Neither answer is right.” Austin said softly.

“Well, Mr. Johnson is your lover isn’t he?”


“And you wanted to protect him didn’t you? I mean he’s your ‘future husband’ Isn’t he?” Mr. Stuggs asked with a dismissive roll of his eyes toward the Jury.

“yes.” Austin answered.

“And a big guy like you would obviously want to protect your {fiancé}, Isn’t that accurate?”

“Yes” Austin replied though he was obviously distressed.

“The other gentlemen you were with night, are any of them gay too?’ Mr. Stuggs asked.

“All but Glenn Rosen, he’s straight.”

“I see, so would all the men who were present that night stand up please?” Everyone was curious but complied.

“Everyone with the exception of Alex is of equal height or significantly taller than all of the native group Isn’t that correct?” Mr. Stuggs asked a bewildered Austin.

“Uhh-uhhh I guess so.”

“Yes or no Mr. Camble?”

Austin hung his head, he hadn’t yet seen the pit fall he was being baited into, but after Mr. Gravelin’s treatment of Jesse, He knew enough to see a trap coming.


“So, the lot of you are bigger AND outnumber the locals, why on earth didn’t any of you just stop this?” Mr. Stuggs asked simply. Austin hummed and hawed, not sure of what to say and not wanting to implicate Michael who had stopped them from getting involved.

“Ok Mr. Camble, let’s move on since you can’t give us an answer. Mr. Cardino’s given testimony about the injury he sustained that night. The injuries he suffered because of your actions. Do you deny that you caused his injuries as a way to assist your gay lover in his fight with Mr. McMurphey?

Austin looked perplexed, “Gabe was grabbing the pool cue, I thought he was going to…?”

Mr. Stuggs interjected quickly, “ It’s a yes or no question, Mr. Cambell. Did you cause Gabe’s injuries during that fight or didn’t you?”

Austin tried to remain composed, “Yes sir, I did.”

Mr. Stuggs gave a small predatory smile, “And you did so to allow Alex Johnson to continue his beating of Jesse McMurphey, isn’t that right?

“No, I did it to protect Alex. It looked like Gabe was going to grab the cue to fight Alex.” Austin said.

Mr. Stuggs paused a moment before asking, “ To protect Alex Johnson? The same Alex Johnson who, with all of his martial arts expertise, was wailing the living daylights out of Jesse McMurphey? The same Mr. McMurphey who had rejected Alex’s advances in a men’s restroom? So you inflict what may well be permanent injuries on Gabe Cardino because he was trying to come to the aid of his buddy and you’re trying to assist your gay lover?

Mr. Gravelin stood up, “Objection! Argumentative multiple questions your honor!

Mr. Stuggs turned away from Austin dramaticly and waved his hand dissmisively, “Withdrawn. I have nothing further for Mr. Johnson’s s’fiancé’!

Mr. Gravelin was next to question Austin, I only hoped he’d be kinder to Austin since we were on the same side.”

“I only have a few questions Mr. Camble” He said as he strode past the witness box. “Do you think there’s any chance that Mr. McMurphey is right in asserting that Alex Johnson tried to flirt with him?”

Austin scrunched up his face, “No way, absolutely no way on earth.”

“How can you be so sure Mr. Camble?”

“Well, first of all he’s got me, why on earth would he go after a greasy low life?” Austin said puffing out his chest.

“So would you describe your relationship as exclusive than?”

“Yes sir, I would.” Austin beamed.

“Any other reason you can mention that would contradict Mr. McMurphey’s testimony?

“Yes Sir, Jesse smokes and was smoking when Alex went to the bathroom.” Austin said solemnly.

“So???” Mr. Gravelin asked.

“Alex is not only very allergic to tobacco; he’s fervent about avoiding any smoke anywhere. The previous owner’s of our house smoked and we have to steam clean every surface and remove every scrap of rug so remove any smoke filled crap. There’s no possibility that Alex would have given Jesse the time of day, much less flirted.” Austin said proudly.

“Thank you Mr. Camble, you may sit down.

Michael was called next, his testimony was essentially the same as Austin’s and mine, that was, up until Mr. Stuggs began asking about why such a large group of large men would allow the smallest guy in the bar, to take on four larger opponents.

Michael wasn’t the least bit phased. “I held our side back and told everyone that it was a one on one fight with no weapons. That man,” Michael said pointing at Jesse,” was being a royal ass, and I knew Alex could teach him a lesson.”

Mr. Stuggs didn’t expect such a straight forward answer, he didn’t know Michael at all. “I see, so why didn’t you try to stop Alex when he was choking the life out of Mr. McMurphey?”

Michael looked like he was bored, “Because that loudmouthed ass…” At that point Judge Turner told Michael to watch his language in her courtroom. Michael nodded and rephrased his answer, “I thought that man needed to be taught a lesson, and I knew Alex could do it. Hell, he’s even thrown me over his shoulder. He knows what he’s doing.”

Mr. Stuggs stepped back a moment, “He’s thrown you?” He questioned because of Michael’s size.

“Yes, and he’s never so much as ruffled my hair, His training is smooth and easy on his partners, as long as he didn’t hold the choke hold for two long, I knew that guy would be alright.”

Mr. Stuggs hadn’t expected such a forthwith witness, he was taken back a moment. “And what if Jesse McMurphey had had Asthma or a breathing problem?”

“In that case I suppose the cigarette hanging out of his mouth was doing more damage than a choke hold than. “

Mr. Stuggs looked pissed. “No more questions!”

Mr. Gravelin had Only one set questions, “How long have you known Mr. Johnson?”

Michael thought a moment then said “Almost ten years.”

Mr. Gravelin smiled, “And in all that time, have you ever witnessed him flirting with any straight men?”

“No, he gets embarrassed when I do.” Michael admitted.

“And did you flirt with any of the men present in the bar that night? Is it possible that Jesse mistook you for Alex?” Because of our size difference, it was an absurd question, Michael towered over me, at a 14” difference no one could have ever confused us.

“No, there were no men on that side of the bar that would have even have caused either of us a second look.” Michael said.

“Have you ever seen Alex with a smoker or anyone smoking?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

Michael thought a moment, “In the last few weeks of his previous relationship, his Ex Jake began to smoke, drove Alex crazy.”

“Thank you Mr. Limoin, you may sit down.”

The bar tender J.J. Becket was called next, he told them the facts as he recalled them, including what he had seen, the rivalry between Nate and Jesse. And what his impression was of Jesse McMurphey.

“He was a regular, drank a lot, liked to make rude comments to women. He and Nate fought a lot, both wanted to be top dog of that little group.” J.J. said.

“Did you see Mr. Johnson when he was flirting with Jesse McMurphey?” Mr. Stuggs asked.

“Nope, sorry, I just figured it was Jesse starting some of his shit again.” J.J. said matter of factly.

“Objection your honor!” Mr. Stuggs said.

“Mr. Stuggs, the court reminds you that ‘you’ asked the witness the question.”

Mr. Stuggs looked pissed, he dismissed the bar tender he had hoped would support his claims.

The police were called up next, Lt. Corbin, who had been the smallish woman who had stayed with me in the ride to the hospital, gave her account, she told about my passing out from insulin shock, and what the police had found when they arrived. Although Mr. Stuggs didn’t have questions for Lt. Corbin, Mr. Gravelin wanted to have a full account of all the legal troubles Mr. McMurphey had been in.

Finally Gabe, the poor guy who was still in a wheel chair with his head bandaged up was wheeled in next to the honorable judge Turner. Although it was clear that while she held Mr. Stuggs and Jesse in the distain she held Mr. Gravelin, she looked on Gabe with sympathy. She didn't give either party a reason to question her impartiality though, indeed, she was almost perfectly indifferent to what was occurring, she ruled in favor of both parties when the case was made. Although I wanted to believe she was on our side, I had no reason to believe that if the case was made, she wouldn't have ruled against us.

Mr. Gravelin brushed his well-coifed salt-n-pepper hair over his ear before continuing.

At that moment, I realized who he reminded me of: Matlock! He'd play the simple polite southern gentleman until he had the prey hooked, and then he'd reel it in at his leisure. And smile politely as they thrashed and squirmed.

"Jesse's defense attorney wants us to believe that Mr. Camble is at fault for hurting you. Is that how you feel?" Gabe looked over at Austin, Austin had his eyes lowered but looked up to meet Gabe's. "Ausin threw the ball. Bu’ ih’ were Jesse's fauld wha’ happen' da me." Gabe paused a moment and took a long breath before continuing. Certain letters and sounds were hard for him to make, no “t”s and some Ds were hard to hear too. "Jesse shoulda never sarted da fite, he coulda jus’ backed away or ignored dha’ guy." Gabe said referring to me. Gabe was struggling for breath, so the judge called a brief recess to allow Gabe time to rest and catch his breath.

A small female court officer wearing a gun walked up and gave Gabe a glass of water and we waited until he'd set it down before we continued.

Mr. Gravelin walked back up to the table Gabe sat at and stood next to him and asked, "Do you feel better now Mr. Cardino?" Gabe nodded, "yes, thank you." It seemed to me he wanted to say more but was afraid he couldn't… his self esteem had to be in tatters by the public nature of this hearing. "Good, we'll do this at your pace, if you need a break, just say so ok?" Gabe had his eyes closed but nodded. "So, Mr. Cardino, you were telling us whom you blamed for your injuries, would you elaborate please?" Gabe looked down and then raised his head and said, "I blame Jess.. Jesse McMurvey… 'f he hadn' s’arded that fite, nonna dhis wouldn'd've happen'." "So what do you personally think of Mr. McMurphey assertion that he was hit on and was scared of homosexuals?"

He left the question open so Gabe could finish it. "I –I thin’ it's a crock of… he'd sdar’ded the fite… before we all knew that that was the gay guy." Mr. Gravelin waited for Gabe to pause then asked, "The gay guy?" which made Gabe stutter as he pointed at me, "A-Al-Ales Johnson." Mr. Gravelin looked almost pleased, “Well how did you know he was gay?"

Gabe took a deep breath and said, "Cause Na’e tol' us, frien’s of his was com'n in and da’ dhe liddle guy was gay, but we bedda’ no’ sdar’ nuddin. Cause we’d regre’ ih’.”

Mr. Gravelin asked him to repeat that last part again, and then he turned to the jury, "So, Mr. McMurphey KNEW a gay man was coming and what he looked like; is that right Mr. Cardino.

Gabe sat defiantly looking at Jesse, "Y-yes sir."

Mr. Gravelin walked around a moment, letting the fact marinade the jury. “One last question Mr. Cardino, Why were you reaching for that pool cue?”

Gabe closed his eyes a moment than looked at Austin with the strangest look, “I was trying to sdop Jesse from grabbing id, He likes to grab pool cues in a fite.”

“Objection your Honor.” Mr. Stuggs said standing up. “Facts not in evidence”

“Your Honor, this is Mr. Cardino’s reference, his opinions based on what he’s seen in the time he’s known Mr. McMurphey.

“I’ll allow it.” She said.

“Have you ever witnessed Mr. McMurphey and Mr. Piper having a fight before?” Mr. Gravelin asked almost as an afterthought.

“Yes sir, Like eve’y other week.” Gabe said,

“Did it ever get physical?” Mr. Gravelin asked.

“About every other week, they’d jus’ yell on mos’ nites.”

Mr. Gravelin thanked him and sat down as Mr. Stuggs stood up. “Did you know for sure that Jesse was going to grab that stick?”

“Yes Sir.” Gabe said.

The cross examination was brief, Mr. Stuggs had Gabe admit to his drunken brawls and DUIs before he was excused. In Mr. Stuggs statements he mentioned how unreliable a witness Mr. Cardino was.

Mr. Gravelin stood up and stopped the man from taking Gabe back to his seat, “Your Honor, a momentary Cross for Mr. Cardino?”

Judge Turner looked pissed a moment then acquiesced, “Please make it brief Mr. Gravelin.”

Mr. Gravelin walked up to Gabe, “Mr. Cardino, what has my office provided you in turn for your testimony?”

Gabe looked confused, “I-I don’ unders’and?”

Mr. Gravelin was smiling, “Have I or anyone from my office promised you anything in exchange for your testimony?”

Gabe sat still a moment, “No sir.”

Then why have you come forward with your version of what went on?

Gabe sat still a moment, gathering his thoughts, “Cause I didn’ wan’ Jesse da ge’ away with Murda, Na’e was my friend, I know he liked Auwsin and his friends, I had da do wha’ I could. I-I-I didn’ even ge’ da see Na’e’s funeral, all becausa Jezze.”

Mr. Stuggs shot up, “Objection your honor, Prejudicial.”

“Your Honor,” Mr. Gravelin explained, “Defense has disparaged Mr. Cardino as unreliable, that he might somehow be benefitting from his testimony. I wanted the jury to see he lost a great deal more than he may have gotten.”

“Objection over ruled.” She said as she banged her gavel.

After some more questioning during which Gabe admitted that he had lost all his friends either for testifying against Jesse for a fag, or because they were now dead, Gabe was wheeled back to his place in the witness's aisle. Because of his testimony, the others moved away from him, I was glad to see our Dennis and Korma go and sit with him.

Jesse was finally called back to the stand. He was brooding and looked ready to snap if much more happened to him. Mr. Stuggs asked a bunch of basic questions then asked, "So Mr. McMurphey, would you please tell the court why you feel the way you do about homosexuals?"

Mr. Gravelin shot up, "Objection your honor! Relevance."

Mr. Stuggs said, "Mr. McMurphey defense is based largely on his feelings about homosexuals your honor. And Mr. Gravelin has spent a great deal of time trying to disparage these feelings."

Judge Turner looked at Mr. Gravelin and raised her left brow, "He has a valid point Mr. Gravelin."

"I was… trying to let the jury know what his mind set was your Honor." Mr. Stuggs said.

"Your Honor," Mr. Gravelin said in his saccharine politeness. "I was unaware that the defense was trying to plead on an insanity defense. His state of mind is irrelevant.

Judge Turner nodded her agreement. "Is defense trying to change the plea in the middle of a trial?" She asked.

"No your honor." A visibly deflated Stuggs said.

Most of the trial had gotten boring, things seemed to pick up for everyone since Jesse had been called up.

In reflection to some inquiry by Mr. Stuggs, Jesse began spouting some basic skinhead diatribe then said, "And we was taught in church that God hates fags." I was rolling my eyes when I happened to see Mr. Gravelin smile when he heard that. Mr. Stuggs had Jesse spout some more almost mandatory homophobic rhetoric, and then asked him if he felt bad for killing Nathan. "Well yeah, I was aiming at that little fag… at Mr. Johnson." He said trying to back pedal slightly.

After Mr. Stuggs was done, Mr. Gravelin sat still a long time. Finally the judge cleared her throat and motioned for him to start. "Yes, excuse me your honor… I was… trying to wrap my head around that last statement. You see, I was always taught in church that the Christian God is a loving and compassionate god, beneficent and forgiving of sins, I'm intrigued to know which church, indeed which god Mr. McMurphey worships?" That began a long series of poignant questions and objections by both sides.

After the district attorney had cut enough holes for a horse to walk through in the opposition’s case, both parties rested. We were instructed to go home and rest and that court would resume the next day at 10 am for closing statements. The Honorable Evelyn Turner thanked the jury and the witnesses, and said we were recessed until 10am the following day. We regrouped after that and Mr. Gravelin said we were doing great, he said his only worry was juror number nine. The old black woman I had noticed. He explained that it was possible even though the judge would tell these people to vote on the testimony, that she might think God's law supersedes Jurist prudence. He said that no matter how good a case is presented, there will be the occasional juror that votes against the majority, and rarely for the logical reason's Henry Fonda did in “Twelve Angry Men.” He suggested to Nate’s family and us, that he might be able to plea bargain, if we wanted. He said we might have a case for murder two, but that that woman juror would never give a man life for shooting at homosexuals. Mr. Gravelin suggested we all think about taking a plea bargain of manslaughter one. He pointed out that if we went for murder and the jury went against us, he’d serve no time, but he could demand jail time as a condition of the plea.

Mr. Gravelin told us to think about it and get back to him before court the next day. Ryan told us that he was being generous and didn’t have to take the families and other victim’s opinions into account. We all agreed to think about it that night and get back to him the following morning.

Once we all exited the court house, we were all quiet on the ride home, none of us even wanted to eat out. Austin had me call Ryan and see if we could all meet up there. I then called Michael and Jason, and then called Glen, and invited him and Dennis over to Ryan's place to sit back for a few beers to unwind. We then called Pizza Hut and ordered a few hand tossed’s. As an afterthought he handed me his phone and asked me to use his speed dial and invite Benji and Megan over too; they were Nate's cousin and sister respectively and we had met at the Seattle scene when I sang Sweet Home Alabama. They accepted and about an hour later the whole group of us were eating pizzas and drinking beers.

“So What do you guys think about Mr. Gravelin’s comments about taking a plea?” Austin asked Benji and Megan.

“I don’t know, I think he’s made an awful good case against Jesse.” Benji said, Megan agreed.

“But there’s that one woman in the jury- she clearly hates homosexuals - she’d go against us on sheer principal. “ I said.

“Yeah, I’d like to see that shit behind bars learning all about gay sex the hard way for the rest of his miserable life, But some jail time is better than him walking away Scott free.” Ryan said.

Benji and Megan agreed readily.

Thor, Loki and Thunder were wound up and excited that so many people had shown up, but we were all drained. We said we’d show our new house to the gang that weekend, Collin had seen it all already, but the others hadn't seen anything but the outside. Austin and I had agreed that after seeing some of the kids we'd seen hanging out on the street, we'd be getting Thunder a few Brothers and sisters.

Collin said, "Shit, with that black panther what do you need more dogs for?" He had been referring to Tempest as a panther recently, though aside from his 26-pound size, when he was nuzzling Austin like a kitten, he didn't look too scary even though he still had a full set of claws.

Benji told us about a neighbor of his with thoroughbred Pit bulls, Austin turned to him all interested when I said, "NO; more dogs yes, guard dogs fine, but not pit bulls.” Austin started to object before I said "Maybe they are misunderstood, but how many children, old women, and innocent bystanders have to be ripped apart because their sweet dogs suddenly turned on them? If you want Rottweillers, chows, Mastiffs, Doberman pinchers, fine… but no pit bulls!" before adding, “or Chihuahuas, they’re all nasty little dogs who love to bite. “ I had said my piece; Austin though looked up surprised, "That's it? I don't get a say? What if I want a pit Bull?" I knew after the day’s stresses, none of us were up to being pushed around. So I held his gaze and said softly "You turn and ask Ryan and Michael if they'd leave Thor and Loki with us if we had a pit bull… then you ask our friends with children if they'd visit” Austin pouted. As big as he was, he just pouted. I had to meet him halfway on this; otherwise this was going to be bad "Tell you what hon, why don't you pick out the non pit bull pups for us?"

"You said we could do rottweillers though right?" He asked finally. "Yeah hon, I've met some rotts that thought they were teddy bears. I can trust a rottweiler, but pitbulls are just accidents waiting to happen. Ask Dawn about the scar on her leg from a PET pitbull."

The dark storm had been redirected and everyone was appeased. Austin was getting his big macho dog and he all was right.

Benji and Megan left about 10:30 as they had to drive back to Volusia county, Collin left last and told us he'd be coming by the next morning to pick us. I helped Austin clean up and then we just walked arm in arm to the jeep. "Hey sweety?" I asked him as we pulled out..

"Yeah babe?"

"You need any help with this whole wedding planning stuff?" He put his hand over mine.

"No, I have good help," he said meaning our Moms, Mrs. Tremere, Korma and the girls and of course, Natasha and Marika, those two had become way too close as friends.

"I do have one question though, well several, but ummm, what are we doing about names?" I knew he meant our last names but I acted dumb and said "I-I like Alex and Austin."

Austin rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean, nimrod. Normally I'd ask you to take mine, but, the way my father was, I’m not sure I’d want that… and you weren't close to yours either… so?"

I thought for a few and said, "well, we could do the whole hyphenated thing… Johnson-Camble. Or we could pick a different name all together… And you know it won't matter anyways, it's not a legal marriage baby."

"I already made a court date the day before the wedding so we could get our names legally changed." Austin said with an award winning smile. He liked to be in charge and he loved to surprise me. “My Mom made a good point though when I told he I didn’t want Dad’s name. Growing up, I was always real close to my Dad’s father, my paternal grandfather, we really hit it off and it drove my dad nuts. I think that made it all the better for Grandpa, he and dad never got along. I could take his name with no trouble.” Austin said.

I thought a moment, “Cool with me, but you’ll have to tell me why he was so cool before I agree to share his name.” I said smartly.

Austin thought a moment, “as soon as the trial is over, I’ll tell you all about my grandpa."

"Cool!" I said.

Austin said. “That's cool I like it…”

Then I added, “Or hey, we could use our nicknames…" Before I could finish my thought Austin snarled, "You will NOT say one fucking thing about ‘Mr. Floppy’ at our wedding, do you hear me?!?!" He demanded.

I gave a demure, "You're no fun."

Natasha and Cole were already asleep when we pulled in and went right to bed. Inside, we went immediately into our bed time routine. Part of that was Austin holding Tempest like a baby and walking around rubbing his chin and playing with his belly. I was glad Tempest had stopped growing, if he'd gotten much bigger I could have ridden him. I was also glad Tempest and thunder got along… I felt sorry for anything that got on Tempest's bad side.

After we both brushed our teeth and I'd done my shot, I crawled into bed and Austin asked, "So, if there's something that we don't agree on, it's always automatically your win?" He asked.

"Not always hon, but it's just an issue I have with that breed, they are bread to be fighters and killers, that's what they were designed for. Is it any wonder so many people have been mauled or killed by them?"

"No… you're right… I was just making sure it wasn't the girlfriend ultimatum."

"Huh?" I questioned.

"It's the, 'you can argue all you want and make all the valid points you want, but ""I'M" always right and you have to live with it.' Shit"… It gets real old, and all girls use it because as long as they hold sex over a guy’s head, they can and will." He said rolling to spoon me.

"Oh, that… Yeah man, sorry, I'm calling that too. Sucks to be you . . .'" And that's all I got out before he began tickling me fiercely. I was spooned against him so he had total coverage over me. I thrashed and rolled and squirmed as I tried to get away from my torturer.

"That's what I thought tough guy!" He said as his fingers relaxed. "So, are you ready? I mean, do you have the ring done and the vows memorized yet? "He asked as he lay back against our head board.

"The ring's being finished up… deep in the heart of Mordor by a dwarf with a gimp leg. And I'm improvising my whole speech up on the spot." I said breathing hard to what I assumed was a scowling Austin.

"Cool, I'm getting the ring of power?" Austin said relishing in my apparent surprise that he knew the reference as this was a decade before the lord of the ring movies had come out, but many of us had had a chance to read the stories in high school. Then he pounced and began tickling me again. "Cause if I have the ring of power, I get to have my pit bulls and I can do this all I want."

I finally bucked off his legs onto the floor and scrambled away. "Apparently you don't need a ring to do that, you do it all the fucking time anyway captain sadist." I breathed hard getting out.

He got an evil smirk, "My Precious, come back to bed my Precious!" After ten minutes I was finally lured back into bed, he made several fake lunges at me that made me recoil, but we were done for the night.

Finally he asked bluntly, "Ok, I don't get it. You can beat a room full of rednecks, you can take Collin down, hell, I’ve even seen you make Michael jump, so why do you let me get away with tickling you? You could stop me anytime you wanted."

I nuzzled back against him, "But then you'd stop. Part of the mystery with me that even I can't explain properly, is that with the right guy, I like to lose. That's what got me and Collin together, most guys in our judo class were scared to go against him, but I'd wait until he was free. One day we were doing mat work- like wrestling, and he had me pinned and I was struggling to get up and he learned over next to my ear and whispered, "I don't think you're struggling very hard to get free, I’m beginning to think that you like to lose." It was like that line I used on you, "”I'm getting you drunk so you'll take advantage of me.” I just got so hard right there in the middle of class. But he was right. We went on a date two weeks later."

Austin had been gently stroking me while I said this, "You really do love him don't you?”

I turned over to face him, not that we could see anything, "Yeah, Of course I do… you love some of your ex's too don’t you?"

He chuckled and said, "Yeah, of course I do. I'm not jealous if that's what you're thinking."

"Good, you have nothing to worry about." I said as I leaned up to kiss him. "I'm not worried; I'm just confused about why he's being so good to you and to me… If anyone should be jealous, it's him." I rolled back over and looked at him. He'd noticed it too… I would have to confront Collin, no way were two of us both wrong about this.

We were in court early the next day and seated promptly at 10am, Mr. Gravelin finally found us before court started and apologized for being late, but said he’d been meeting with Mr. Stuggs and if we agreed later, he was ready with a plea, but we’d continue as if we weren’t until the the closing statements are read.

The bailiff stood and asked us to stand for the honorable Evelyn Turner. First, she had the stenographer reread a few of the ending notes from the last day, and then she told us that both sides would finish with closing statements.

Mr. Gravelin was first, he sauntered up to the jury and said, "Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I'm sorry all ‘a y’all have to be inside on a beautiful day like today. First off, I'd like to point something out that the opposing side has neglected to bring up, they are so busy trying to indict that man there," he said pointing at me" for being gay, and making homosexuality the foremost issue, they've neglected to say that the victim wasn't gay, Jesse McMurphey claims to have been aiming at Alex Johnson when Nate stepped in the way, did Jesse stop? No. We learned that Jesse and Nathan Piper had had a long rivalry and had had the police called several times to break them up. If gays were so antithetical to Mr. McMurphey, why didn't he just leave when he found out that Alex was on his way there?”

“ As to his assertion that Mr. Johnson was flirting with him, well, Alex denied it, Jesse’s friends denied it, Alex’s friends and lover said it was impossible. Jesse’s chain smoking makes it nearly impossible and I for one agree with him that it wasn't very likely, but only those two know for sure what happened. I will point out that even Mr. McMurphey’s closest friends said he hadn't seen the alleged flirting and that Jesse should have just left. We've heard from an indifferent bar tender that Nathan had called Mr. McMurphey out and told him to get lost shortly before his head was blown off. And that they had fought many times in the past, and twice the police had to be called to break it up. There's no question as to what happened here. They don't deny that Mr. McMurphey shot and killed a man, or that he had tried to kill another. They present the case that he was justified. JUSTIFIED in shooting a 23-year-old man in the face with a shot gun? JUSTIFIED in trying to kill another man simply because he's gay and allegedly may have made a pass at that man. JUSTIFIED for shooting a shotgun into a crowd of people? JUSTIFIED after hearing that there will be gay men arriving at the bar and then CHOOSING to stay and CLAIMING he was flirted with by a man who by all accounts only wanted to get back to his friends and lover.

Mr. McMurphey says his church hates gays, and I have no delusions that those churches are out there. But he's a southern Baptist, a southern Baptist like me and many of y'all, Our church is certainly not open minded on this issue, but I've never heard one word about God hating anyone, From the foulest murderer to Hitler himself, anyone could be pardoned for their sins because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesse claimed he had a religious imperative to protect himself from the evil sodomising homosexuals. Yet this Knight Templar in the battle for Christianity and his heterosexuality, can't even recite the Ten Commandments, can't even recall the first book of The Bible, called the four gospels, Mary, Mark, Luke and John."

He paused a moment to let the information sink in. "Where in the Gospels does God command killing a person for a sin? It doesn't, you simply can't use the Bible as an excuse to kill someone. It didn't work with the segregationists in the fifties and sixties who were executing blacks and claiming they had religious authority to do so; it certainly makes no more sense now.

"It doesn't matter "why" he did it. THAT man," Mr. Gravelin said indicating Jesse, "Shot and killed that man," He said pointing to a picture of Nathan from his graduation that had been used several times by both sides. "He ‘claims’ he was aiming at him." He pointed at me, "and scared Austin Camble's face with a pellet that missed Nathan. We all heard from the Lt. Corbin that Mr. McMurphey has a long violent record, he's been in numerous bar fights, he's battered a girlfriend, and he’s had numerous driving violations. This man has had the police called twice to break up fights between the deceased and Jesse McMurphey. This isn't a God-fearing man, ladies and gentlemen; he's a career criminal trying to find an angle out from what he's done.

Mr. Stuggs is going to try and convince you that the true criminal is Alex Johnson, a man with absolutely no criminal record, I repeat, “NO CRIMINAL RECORD.” He’s going to try and convince you that a small, diabetic boy who had been in a coma only a few weeks prior; a homosexual not prone to any aggressive acts, a man allergic to the smoke that Mr. McMurphey was spewing into the air, was going to ignore his healthy, fit, athlete to hit on a scraggly chain smoking obviously aggressive unshaven man in ragged clothing. I find it incomprehensible to believe that Alex Johnson would make an advance toward Jesse McMurphey. Mr. Stuggs will try to imply that Mr. Johnson is a bully who used his skills as a fighter to beat up Jesse for spurning his advances. I don’t know about any of you, but in all the cases of Bullying I’ve ever seen, the larger man bullies the smaller one, especially one who’s gay or assumed to be gay.

You may ask yourself whom bullied whom, but if you take into account all the other witnesses statements, there’s only one conclusion you can make. Find Mr. McMurphey guilty of murdering Nathan Piper; find him guilty of trying to murder Alex Johnson and guilty of endangering the lives of those around Nathan and Alex. And lastly, find him guilty of using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

There is one proverb from The Bible that's relevant here. Proverb 13:24 says, ‘He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.’

There is no doubt but that Mr. McMurphey is guilty of murder. The only question is how guilty you find him. I would ask you to consider this; one man is dead because of him, another was his alleged target, and he scarred another. All those present had their lives ripped apart as well as Nathan’s family and other friends.

Please don't find Mr. McMurphey guilty as a warning to others not to do this, don't do this as a way to get back at him for what he did to an innocent young man. DO THIS as a way to help him learn that actions have consequences. That's the truth of God's law and our state's law.”

Mr. Gravelin thanked the jury, thanked Judge Turner, and thanked the audience. Then he turned around and sat down.

Mr. Stuggs waited a moment, assuming Mr. Gravelin might suddenly stand back up and have more to say, He didn’t so Mr. Stuggs began. “Thank you, your honor. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a tragic case on many levels. On behalf of my client, let me express once more his remorse for the untimely death of Nathan Piper. It clearly was not his intent to end Mr.Piper’s life that night. And, despite Mr. Gravelin’s assertions, his intent does indeed make all the difference in the world under our state’s laws.

Simply put, his intentions when he pulled the trigger that night was to defend himself from a crowd of men, led by Alex Johnson and his gay lover, Austin Cambell, all of whom were marching toward him when the fatal shot was fired.

Mr. Gravelin has made much ado about Jesse McMurphey’s religious beliefs on homosexuality. And, he is quick to question the veracity of Jesse’s faith because he can’t recite all Ten Commandments, or because he can’t cite chapter and verse of Biblical teachings on the sins committed by homosexuals. While it’s not a matter of law, I’ll respectfully submit that if the Good Lord is going to judge us by our ability to memorize specific scripture, most of us would, I fear, be damned to hell on our day of reckoning.

Now, you may or may not have any personal feelings about homosexuality or homosexuals, but you must understand that an awful lot of us have very strong feelings on the subject. And such feelings my have any number of origins. Those feelings might be rooted in religion, they might be rooted in social conventions, they might be rooted in the teachings of our parents. These feelings are what they are, whether or not they are rational. Each of us has the right to fear such things, especially when those fears have been preached to us all of our lives.

So, why then, did he do it. Well, put yourself in Mr. McMurphey’s place on that awful night. You’re at a bar in which you are a regular. You’re comfortably mixing it up with your good friends in an establishment you’ve frequented for a good, long time. You feel at home there. You feel safe, a sense of fellowship and camaraderie, relaxing and minding your own business after a long week’s work. Then, a group of strangers come in and make themselves at home. You’ve been warned that one of them is gay.

So, you’re in Mr. McMurphey’s shoes and now you know that a homosexual has joined you and the other regulars in ‘your bar.’ Once the gay man is done in the bathroom, he exits and makes statements and gestures that you interpret as a flirtatious come on. At a minimum, you’d be justified in being terribly offended by his words and his behavior. Like many of you, I imagine I might feel afraid, even threatened.

Then you make it clear to Mr. Johnson that his advances are most unwelcome. A decent person, gay or straight, would desist. He would apologize for the offensive behavior. A really decent person would take his leave, embarrassed by his actions.

Not Alex Johnson. What Mr. Johnson did, instead, was to engage Mr. McMurphey in physical combat. Using his skilled martial arts techniques, he laid waste to the man who had just rejected his sexual advances. How would you feel, ladies and gentlemen? And I don’t mean just the physical pain of being brutalized by a well-trained fighter. Beyond that, I mean being taken down in front of your friends, in an establishment you frequent often; being debilitated, humiliated and injured by a stranger whose homosexual advances you had spurned. How would you feel?

And then…and then…just as one of your trusted friends attempts to come to your aid and your defense, your attacker’s gay lover…his alleged ‘fiance’…lays your buddy out cold with a pool ball to the head. Poor Gabe Cardino might have permanent physical disabilities because of the melee that Alex Johnson and Austin Cambell wrought on the clientele of the bar that night! Mr. Cardino might still begrudge Jesse for engaging in the fight with Mr. Johnson. Nonetheless, it was Mr. Cambell who delivered the potentially fatal blow to his head. Mr. Cardino’s testimony that suggests his injuries are somehow Jesse’s fault simply defy all logic and reasoning. Gabe was acting to assist Jesse from being attacked further, and another gay man who isn’t even part of the original fight smashes Gabe’s skull! And this is somehow Jesse’s fault? I believe the testimony is clear: it was Austin Camble’s strong arm that caused Gabe’s injuries. There is no indication that Jesse asked for Gabe’s assistance against Mr. Johnson; only that Gabe acted on his own in Jesse’s defense, and Mr. Cambell nearly killed him for his efforts.

So, what do you do? You’ve been attacked by one gay man, and another gay man has laid your friend on the floor unconscious, maybe dead! You do what any sensible person would do in order to defend yourself. You leave. You remove yourself from the threat of a further beating…if not worse degradation at the hands of Mr. Johnson and his gay lover. Mr. Gravelin conveniently ignores one of the most salient facts in this tragic course of events. After being attacked…after seeing his friend Gabe knocked out cold…Mr. McMurphey LEFT THE BAR!! He removed himself from the premises.

At this point he should finally feel safe…safe from further molestation. Alex Johnson has already injured him, and Mr. Cambell has done untold damage to his friend. But now Jesse was safely outside the bar.

But then Jesse looks up, and out of the back door of the bar there appears a small mob coming toward him. A group of seven men, led by Alex Johnson, Austin Cambell and Nathan Piper. He’d already tried to defend himself in the restroom. Then he tried to defend himself near the pool table. Finally, after being beaten, after seeing his good friend knocked cold, not knowing for sure if Gabe was still alive or not, Jesse retreated to the parking lot and the supposed safety of his truck. But still, they came after him. They just wouldn’t quit. They refused to let him escape their brutal threat of a further attack.

I’ll ask you again…what would you have done?

Yes, sadly, tragically, Nathan’s life was cut short, far too short. But, ladies and gentlemen, it is quite obvious that the injustice could have been avoided at numerous points that night. Indeed it would have been avoided had Mr. Johnson kept his lewd ideas to himself while in front of the men’s restroom. It would have been avoided if Alex Johnson had not antagonized and threatened Mr. McMurphey further in front of his friends. It would have been avoided had Mr. Johnson not have beaten Jesse. It would have been avoided if Mr. Cambell had not irreparably injured Mr. Cardino. It would have been avoided if they all had not followed the fleeing Jesse McMurphey into the parking lot.

By the time this grotesque episode spilled into the back parking lot Jesse McMurphey was their prey! Alex Johnson, Austin Cambell and their friends were clearly on a mission! Austin had already left one of them on the floor in the bar, but the man who’d offended Alex apparently hadn’t been dealt with to the satisfaction of this mob! It just wasn’t enough that Alex Johnson beat the tar out of Jesse inside the bar, causing him to flee for his life. It was time to finish the job and teach this supposed homophobe a lesson! A lesson he wanted to teach all those bullies that harassed him in school.

Finally, with due respect to my client and his religious beliefs, what matters in this court of man-made law is not how well any of us can recall the exact words, or whether we can adequately interpret the various passages found it The Holy Bible. What matters here, in this courtroom, is how a reasonable person would interpret the words and the actions of Mr. Alex Johnson, Mr. Austin Cambell, Mr. Nathan Piper and all of their friends on that awful, fateful night. So, as reasonable people, when you gather to deliberate Mr. McMurphey’s fate, ask yourselves and one another honestly: under these horrendous circumstances, what would you have done?

I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, very much, and I am confident that when you weigh all the evidence, you will do the right thing and return with a verdict of ‘not guilty.’

We were given a brief recess after the closings; Mr. Gravelin and Mr. Stuggs went off to plea with each other and see if they could come to an agreement. After twenty minutes the two came back acting like old school buds. When all the people who had been milling around, getting drinks or going outside to smoke began to filter in, court was called back to order.

The bailiff did his intro for Judge Turner, and after she was seated and the court was resumed the judge asked the two lawyers if a plea had been reached, when both answered yes, the judge asked Mr. Stuggs what that plea was.

“Your honor, We agreed after some discussion that we’d opt for a plea of Man 1 with a mandatory term of 25 years with no possibility of parole that would include the time for his using a fire arm and the charge of attempted murder on Alex Johnson.”

“And do you understand and accept these terms Mr. McMurphey?” Judge Turner asked.

Jesse looked awful, like a man who just realized he’d thrown his life away; he raised his low hanging head and said, “Yes your Honor.” His mother broke out crying hysterically a moment later.

Judge Turner then looked over to Mr. Gravelin and asked if he agreed with what the defense attorney stated.

“We do your honor.”

The judge then hit her gavel and said “So ordered, the bailiffs will escort the prisoner to the Prison van.” Then she thanked all those present and said, “Court is adjourned.”

After the awesome tribulations and harrowing time of the trial, all of us were drained, despite the sentence that Jesse got. Although Austin and Collin could go home to rest, Tiago and I were on stage that night, and as we had missed practice the past two days, we called up everyone and had them all agreed to come in early to go over routines. Marika and the gang had been told to rely mostly on Marika’s songs as I wasn’t sure when or if I’d be available.

As soon as I walked in, mobs of people came up to me to hear what the verdict had been and how I was. As good as I was with being the MC on stage, I was equally bad at being surrounded and mobbed, Marika saw me starting to panic and getting anxious, so she made people back up and give me some breathing room. Henna suggested I get on stage a little early and just work it into my opening. So as it was early afternoon still, we just practiced our material, a few customers came in early so they got an early taste of the music. One gay couple were so enthusiastic about our show, I wrote them out a pass for that evening so they could get in. Otherwise they would have had to wait in line and chance not getting in we had become so popular. The one number we didn’t cover that day was going to be Marika’s show stopper.

At 8:00 it was still light out, but we closed the blinds and turned on the spot lights to signal the show was starting. The new place we were going to be moving to had a totally indoor stage area that was perfectly indoors with no windows. The spots came down on me and Marika as usual with a variety of smaller lights illuminating the band and Maki and Vinda.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, before our show, which will be as astounding as you’ve come to expect, I’ve been asked to share my recent legal troubles with you. As most of you know, two months ago Austin and I with a few friends of ours were involved in a bar fight that ended when one of the redn… I mean, customers, shot at us and killed a friend of ours. The past few days we were at his trial. We landed up taking a plea bargain in order to guarantee he served some jail time. Because he used a gun and it was an obvious hate crime, he landed up going down for Man one for the maximum term with no chance for parole. That being the case, I’d like to get back to work.” I said with a few breaths.

We seem to have a thing for doing theme music , and tonight we’ll be stretching our repertoire to bring the music of Eric Burden and the Animals. But first I would like to perform a piece most of you know from occasionally hearing it on oldies stations, this is Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”

Robert did an extraordinary job on his key boards and Vinda and Maki did an excellent job on back up.

There's something happening here

What it is ain't exactly clear

There's a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn

Nobody's right if everybody's wrong

Young people speaking their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind

I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly say, hooray for our side

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you're always afraid

You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down

Stop, hey, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down

Stop, now, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down

Stop, children, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down

With all that had happened recently, I thought we needed a good cathartic elegy. The girls backing made it a whole new song worthy of our performance. In the next few numbers, we did a selection of the more popular numbers by Eric Burden. Our last number in the first set was a Marika-Williams Solo. She dug deep into her down south Blues and belted out the most religious version of “House of the Rising Sun,” I had ever heard. It made the walls shake and the air thick with fetid Bayou swamp air.

Marika’s Gospel trained voice reached into every part of every soul, every fiber in your body, every bit of free space in the room and commanded it to obey her. When she was done the sweat was pouring off her, the audience as one stood and drowned her in applause. To say the she had the audience in her hand was a gross understatement; she dominated all of us and took no prisoners.

We took a much needed 15 minute break and we did a slower second set and then repeated our first set for the ending. Much of the audience had stayed right on through, knowing we’d be doing the set again and not wanting to miss it. Collin came to pick me up after the show was over, he said he’d called Austin and told him he was going to drop me off after we’d had a chance to talk.

Collin strode in on our last set and was there for Marika’s insane rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.” I only had a few things to take care of after the show, so while I was getting ready, Collin was flirting with Marika. When I came out in clothes that were almost instantly wet from my sweat, I found Vinda, Maki, and Marika all sitting with Collin fawning over him.

“I’m serious girls, we don’t have many black performers, you’d be queens down under!” They were eating him up.

‘Baby Doll, we are QUEENS up here.” Marika said with a double snap of her fingers. Maki and Vinda just laughed.

“Nice, first you steal my boyfriend slash husband, NOW you try and steal my fellow singers???!!!” I roared with mock annoyance.

“It’s not like that at all Ma Puce, I was saying that when you are ready to travel, you’ll be gods in Australia.” Collin said with a sweet smile as he rose.

“Honey, you done got your dream man, you go on and leave this one for us.” Vinda snapped with a head roll.

Collin laughed, “Girls girls, no need to fight… Plenty of me to go around.” He said with a smirk as he held his arms wide.

“Yeah, he’s right there…” I said as an aside.

“Do you Mind?!?” Collin said as all eyes had suddenly turned to him. “Really Alex, bloody hell!!! Is dispensing personal information an American obligation?”

Before I could answer Marika brushed against Collin, “Don’t you worry none about him Mr. Tall, Tan, and Hunky. Ain’t like that’s a secret with them tight jeans and shorts you wear.”

Collin actually blushed, in all the time I had known him, I had only made him blush once before.

“Are you ready Alex?” Collin asked as the girls all began to fawn over him.

“Now don’t you go running away, Ain’t nothing that little white boy can offer you that I can’t.” Maki said to her cousin’s laughter.

“I believe you there!” Collin said with a suave grin. “Still though, I’m beat and I promised to get this one back.”

The girls complained a few minutes but hugged us and sent us on our way.

“What were you thinking flirting with those girls? Pandora’s box much???” I asked as we climbed in his mustang.

“Can’t help it, I don’t turn it on and off at will… I flirted, they flirted back and it just spiraled.” Collin pleaded. “I was just complimenting Marika’s cover of “House of the Rising Sun.””Collin said.

“Well, I’d be real careful around them from now on… Judo is all well and good, I think I’d still put odds on the angry black Diva if something went wrong though.” I said as we pulled into a Mr. Donut.

“Yeah, I think your right.” Collin said before saying he wanted some jelly donuts and we could get some coffees and maybe a plain donut since my sugar was starting to get low.

“So whachya wanna talk about?” I asked once we were back in the car heading to his hotel.

“Nothing in particular, we just haven’t had much time by ourselves to talk.” Collin said.

“Are you gunna try and steal me away from Austin?” I teased, though it struck me a moment later that that had been a nasty thing to say.

“Maybe, if Austin wasn’t such a great guy. I’m really happy for you Alex, for both of you.” My spider-sense began to tingle again.

“Is there a ‘BUT’ coming? I asked.

He paused a moment. “No, I’m very fond of you, you know that, and Austin’s like a younger brother I never knew I had… I’m just happy you found someone.” Collin said magnanimously.

“Alright captain vague and mysterious, are you going to tell me what’s going on? I know it’s something, even Austin can tell something’s up.

Collin stopped the car in his hotel driveway and turned to me, “It’s nothing we have to discuss now, it’ll wait until after you’re married. It’s nothing you have to worry about little flea.” Collin said in English to emphasize his point.

“Have we met?” I asked him in annoyance, “My name is Alex Johnson and THAT won’t work on me.” I said to him. Collin was getting out of the car then so he just leaned down and said, “It’ll have to babe, cause I’m not talking more about it until after wards.” And with that he smacked the top of the car twice and began heading in.

“Will you wait up?” I asked as I fidgeted with the seat belt as I tried to get out.

I caught up top Collin by the elevator and before I could speak my mind, Collin said, “You Yanks do Jelly donuts better than anyone else in the world.” He said as he licked his fingers.

“Fascinating, but don’t change the subject dingo boy.” I said annoyed.

“Alex, the subject has already changed; you’re just too damned stubborn to realize it.” Collin said over his shoulder as he got on the elevator.

“You know, I’m not the only one who’s picked up on whatever this is. Other people have been asking me why you’re being so over the top special too?!?” I said, Collin turned and looked me in the eyes,

“A, I already said it wasn’t that important, and could wait until after your wedding, B, do you think I give one flying bloody fuck about anyone else here? And C, have I not always treated you as special and taken care of you?”

I hung my head, he’d gotten me there, “Of course you have baby.” I said before sighing, “Ok, I’ll wait, but you know I’m not forgetting.” I said to his back as he opened his door. He swung his arm and bade me enter.

“Actually, there’s another matter I wanted to bring up with you too.” I said as he was stuffing another jelly donut in his mouth.

“MMMM?” He wondered with his mouth full.

“Austin and I would like you to come stay with us in our spare room.” I said to him as I handed him a napkin.

“No way, I’ll get in the way, and I get full service here whenever I want.” He said before wiping his mouth.

And a newspaper.” I said as a tease.

“Mr. Johnson, are you trying to lure me with your boyfriend?” Collin asked.

“AND we’ll buy those expensive 1000 count sheers you like and a new bed.” I offered.

“Ohhh, now I get it, you just want me to furnish the room!” Collin laughed, I was a little hurt.

“No Collin, I just want you near me, God knows when I’ll get to see you again once you leave.”

Collin looked ashamed, “I know baby, I’m sorry, but really, you already have so much to get ready for the wedding, I’ll just be in your way.” He said with a casual glance over to the small bag on his spare bed.

“You can never be in the way Collin, so much of this wedding is because of you.” I said placing my small hand on his cheek.

“I appreciate that Alex, but you did this all on your own, besides, I get room service here, and the room is paid for until I leave.” Again I caught his eye darting over to that small suitcase.

I reached over and before he could stop me, I flipped open the lid, I saw a million small medicine bottles, I only made out a few before Collin had jumped over and angrily closed the bag and went off about impudent American arrogance. I saw several bottles I knew, delavirdine, zidovudine, indinavir, nelfinavir, they were the newest protease inhibitors and anti virals available. My mind closed down, I began shaking uncontrollable as I looked up into his eyes, his anger giving way to something else.

“How, how could you not tell me.?” I asked numbly.

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