Every year hundreds of thousands flock there to celebrate the best of food, drink, music, and love. Weeks flow past and new faces arrive to replace the old and re-energize the locales. Not many linger long enough to discover the real secrets of the well-masqueraded streets and long-partied nights.
Joey was born into this party town. By the time he was old enough to express independence and demonstrate memory he was an active part of the town’s story. Five years old and he was already an insider and attraction. Novelty not age was all that mattered. His handler not only had his trust, he had the trust of his parents. There was a lot for an innocent to learn before he could truly be a money earner. His life began with private showings to local certified club members. Once satisfied (or bored) he graduated to one-on-one shows with other similar aged kids. You couldn’t be in the club without being certified, nor without introducing another new child. Some kids were introduced by family. Others had partial families or indebted families and made perfect inductees.
The hardest part of Joey’s life was following instructions. It was so natural for him to befriend the other boys. As he got older, he still felt like he was the survival teacher to each new comer. There was a lot of punishment for this kind of behavior. Members didn’t pay to watch affection. Toughness was key. Contrary to learning survival from the over protective elder, those who failed to show appropriate aggression were met with punishments so severe that only a bullet in the head could maintain the privacy of the club. Sometimes this required the participation of the elder kids.
For years Joey passed test after test humoring the animal in club member after club member with any number of young associates who never actually graduated. For eleven years Joey was groomed by members known and unknown. Once he was too old for the new kids, he was pushed out. But being outside did not mean forgotten.
It did not take long to discover that walking home from school he was not always alone. Older boys walked with him. Befriended him. They seemed to already know the way into his past. They were always tougher. Bigger. Better prepared for trouble. And never afraid to prove it. Joey was safe so long as he went along. But when he bucked them he was inviting the all familiar trouble he grew up knowing.
Even all-state and all-pro heroes were insiders in this outside world. At 16 years old a gun was not unfamiliar to Joey. What was new was being beating with it. Bruised bones, crushed independence, the life of the perpetual victim was not one to be forgotten. For five years Joey knew only how to satisfy every kind of need the local sport icon had. Even when complying he faced harsh punishment before the animal inside Marsh could be tamed.
Life was lived with an eye on staying in public spaces and avoiding privacy places. Watching over your shoulder, listening for specific vehicular sounds or voices. Yet, with every care being taken, private locked doors in public gas stations could not keep violence from catching up. Leaving town, private messages, secret messengers absolutely nothing protected Joey from Marsh knowing all that was necessary to intrude on the most reclusive hideaway.
How many times had Joey been to the hospital with blood stained clothes, a battered body, and internal injuries? How many stitches? How many repaired organs? How many drugs for anxiety? How many suicide watches? Even if Joey had used an alias for every occasion an ambulance driver, a hospital registrar, an emergency room nurse would recall the face, the drugs, and the injuries. Like a tattoo on a rock star Joey’s wounds were like birth marks to every attentive eye. Yet after weeks in the the hospital under suicide watch he would be released only to be back within two weeks more.
How can one not hide in a town with constantly changing faces? With so many potential clients and victims? With so much work and fun to be had? Yet, privacy was non-existent. Even when attempting to live in the hot light of constant company there was no place to hide. In private invitation only Facebook chat rooms Joey’s conversations were not only found, but trashed. His whereabouts, his friends, his confidents, discovered. For each attempt to extract himself he was punished more harshly.
Now with false ID, new address, and long weeks undercover he resurfaced to greet his true friends. Withdrawal from life, from life’s hardest experiences, were worse than drug withdrawal yet just as alive with physical anguish. Life had taught Joey one significant lesson. Those closest to you were your worst threats. Family was to be protected from the truth, yet family was not protecting him. Friends were his deepest need, yet one of them ceaselessly ratted on him, or infiltrated his circle. How do you confide the truth to doctors or psychologists, even to police when any one of them may have been members of the underground club that invented him.
A month had passed and he had avoided Marsh. The illusion of a smile began to cross his tired mouth. He avoided any and every civilized place. He lived in a borrowed truck that moved every day to a new location in the woods. His only friend, his pistol. He finally took the leap to stay with a friend. A huge vulnerable leap but it worked. The friendship and comraderie was a perfect fit. Who knows … was it the constant address? the cellphone? or another rat?
At 8pm while alone in the house, a knock on the door changed his world yet again. This time, because of his own choices, there were no witnesses. He was battered and victimized for hours. Then forced into Marsh’s truck and driven off to an even more secluded and private location. It took days to learn anything more of him. Until in a show of hubris, Marsh permitted Joey to make one email to 5 people. It was short and clear. I am safe. I am abused. I am hidden in the woods. I live with an electric collar on my neck until my daily abuse. Don’t try to find me, or call anyone.
How many days could this go on. Marsh was not unemployed. He was well known. Honored. Respected. Like a story from Criminal Minds those closest searched their minds for clues. An animal with a cabin in the woods, a job in the city. A truck known by all. Could simply come and go without notice.
It was only days, but it seemed like weeks. Joey could be the most ultimate of victims at any moment. All it would take is Marsh needing to go to work and no confidence in the secret arrangements. Once again Joey was beaten nearly senseless. Victimized and sodomized as though for the last time. Dumped into Marsh’s truck and driven to yet a new obscure location, and dumped handcuffed to a tree for the last hazy moments of life.
Only for a psychic who “saw” the truck leave a cabin, and followed the roads to an obscure tree, Marsh would have resolved a life long problem for many. Instead, Joey was found and hospitalized.
So much of Joey’s story is known by video, correspondence, confidents. Yet the failure of the police to recognize a local hero on camera suggests the presence of police in this party town club. The failure of the FBI to even be aroused to interest lays to rest the ability of federal government to intervene in the lives of US citizens. Hospital records and eyewitnesses have done nothing to support mandatory reporting as a functional tool. Alas. Family itself was the ultimate abuser. Knowingly defending the abuser and faulting the abused.