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Where kitchen workers put a razor blade in his coffee cup.
Occasionally he awakes in terror that he’s back in prison, where guards allowed other inmates into his cell to beat him while he slept.
They’d been a wild bunch back in high school, drinking, partying, doing drugs, fighting, sleeping with one another—and Greg’s past with Brenda, in particular, a mess of arguments and casual hookups, was no secret to anyone.
But they’d all been settling down lately, getting serious, having kids. The words in the police report, which spelled it all out with sickening clarity: how Luke, after returning to the party, had been “holding his rear end.” How, when asked what was wrong, he’d said he was in pain because Greg “made him bend over in the rest room and put a hot dog into his rear end.” Those words still swirl through Greg’s mind. Joellene and his mother put up money for his bail and hired a lawyer, who, convinced a jury would find him guilty and give him life, recommended a bench trial.
He gets out of bed and heads to the bathroom, where he washes his face and looks in the mirror.
Greg didn’t ask for mercy, and he didn’t expect it.
They are a reminder of the evil inside him, a violence that’s always waiting to be loosed. He stares into his eyes, which are inviting, almost kind. It’s far from any school playground, any park, any restaurant that might serve chicken fingers or ice cream. Across the road sits a trailer occupied by a dozen immigrants, he doesn’t know from where.
Down the way, there’s another trailer, one that may or may not be a meth lab; Greg is certain the people who live there are speed freaks. He stops and listens to the bleating of his neighbor’s goats. He climbs into his truck and sets out for Midlothian, about 25 miles west, to do work for a friend who installs wood flooring. His ears still burn when he thinks about it—and he thinks about it all the time. Greg sucks in his breath, tightens his grip on the wheel.
Luke, one of four children at the party, splashed at one end of the pool, and among the adults, a volleyball game broke out. He hadn’t eaten that morning, and now he was starving. It was all a mistake, Greg tried to say; he just needed a chance to tell his story. This trait had put him at odds with his father, a quiet, sometimes brooding plumber named Mike who worked late and didn’t have time for foolishness.
Greg, his mind and body fuzzy from the night before, felt reinvigorated by the water. Then Luke announced he needed to go to the bathroom. Brenda had downed several beers by that point, and John offered to walk the boy to Donna’s apartment. Inside the small one-bedroom, he raided Donna’s refrigerator while she got on the phone. But three months later, he found himself in the same courtroom with Brenda as she described the party to Judge Thomas Thorpe, a 67-year-old devout Catholic: how she’d seen her son come back to the pool with a scared look on his face, how he’d told her what Greg had done with the hot dog, how she’d flown into a rage. An old-fashioned disciplinarian who wasn’t afraid to use the belt, he whipped his son often and hard. “You can’t hurt me,” he’d taunt back, finding strength in defiance.
“We were all a little crazy,” one friend would later say. She and his mother stood behind him, crying, when the verdict was read.
“Greg was a little crazier.” He cussed out his mom. As his tormentor went to open the passenger door, he noticed the man’s wallet sitting on the dashboard. He was rinsing off again in the saltwater when a police officer found him. Granny’s confidence had always kept him going, but it wasn’t enough now to be strong. Stronger than everyone he was about to meet—and meaner, more dangerous. As soon as he got to prison, he began lifting weights.
“I love you,” she’d say whenever he left the house. I’ll take you.” No, Greg said again, but then the man stopped and got out. He moved toward the boy, slapped the weenie on the side of his buttocks, let it drop to the floor, and said, “Look! But instead he was arrested on the spot, for aggravated sexual abuse of a child.