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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 11
An Equal-Equal Deal

Late one night there was a knock at Mr. Caulfield's place. He opened the door and there
stood Billy Stone.
“I'd like my job back,” Billy said.
“Conditions?”
“We work together man to man, equal-equal, mutual benefit.”
“We talk things over?”
“Yes.”
“Come in.”
Thus did our enterprising fugitive come to have regular employment; to sleep in a bed
under a roof; to eat regular meals at a table; to take a regular inside shower, as opposed to
splashing in a stream. And, on top of all that, he got paid -- though he voluntarily
renegotiated his pay downward, recognizing that Mr. Caulfield was now providing shelter
in addition to food.
“Fair is fair, Jeremy,” Billy said.
“You're a fair man,” Mr. Caulfield said.
In keeping with their new understanding, the word “boy” no longer passed from the old
man's lips in reference to Billy. To forestall any slippage from equal-equal to the old
adult-child tyranny, Billy called the old man by his first name, no disrespect intended. It
was agreed also that Billy would put in a full work- week on the castle, but that his
evenings and weekends would be his own. On his off hours, he would come and go as he
wished just like any other working man.
***
A day soon came when, after a hard day's work and a good supper, Billy got dressed for
bear -- wearing, at Mr. Caulfield's suggestion, clothes that belonged to the old man's son
-- and started out the door for the evening. Mr. Caulfield asked where he was going.
“Out,” Billy said. He wasn't about to lose his freedom in little pieces by letting Jeremy
think he had a right to ask where he was going.
“Okay, okay. Just being sociable -- you know ... making conversation. Just be careful. It's
dangerous out there.”
No doubt it was, but as the days passed and the days became weeks, the fugitive Billy
Stone had became less and less of a priority for his pursuers. A feeling had grown that he
was now California's problem. Official Massachusetts Youth Services reports referred to
Billy Stone as “having relocated to California and thus out of Massachusetts
jurisdiction.”
In the manner of bureaucracies everywhere, Billy's case was soon moribund, and buried
deep within the Department of Social Services where it resisted all efforts by Director
McFardle to breath life into it. Even Miss Casey's interest faded, since Billy had never
even called her.
Politicians and police seized upon the fugitive's reported flight to California as the perfect
reason for not spending any more time and money looking for him in the area. After all,
as Billy himself had often exclaimed to no one in particular, he had “never killed
anyone.” Nor was the state's loss of an expense item hard for authorities to take; every
little bit helped.
So routine damage control kicked in. Failure to catch Billy Stone became: you can't catch
somebody in the area who is not in the area. The patrols dramatically decreased.
Helicopter fly-overs ceased. The mugshot posters at malls and fast-food joints stopped
being replaced and then were gone. The media moved on to other stories.
“Haven't read about you for a while,” said Mr. Caulfield. “I think you should fire your
press agent. You know, a legend has to be fed and nurtured or else it dies.”
“Let it die,” Billy said. “All I want is to be normal.”
In fact, Billy felt more normal now than he had ever felt in his whole life. Like any
working man, he rose early and put in a full day's work alongside Mr. Caulfield. They
worked side by side, as a team. Billy dug rocks out of the hillside; swung the
sledgehammer; lifted rocks sculpted by Mr. Caulfield; and helped him muscle stone
blocks into place. It was raw, back-breaking labor demanding brute strength, and Billy
was up to it.
Sometimes he stayed “home” in the evenings and even on weekends, which said a great
deal. He offered to do chores around the house, such as the laundry. He helped Mr.
Caulfield with various repair jobs. The two prepared meals together. Billy swabbed the
floor. He did dishes. Mr. Caulfield asked for none of this; he didn't dare, for fear of
crossing Billy's invisible line. Billy offered, saying it was only fair.
“We need more fair-minded people like you,” Mr. Caulfield said.
During quiet evenings at home, Billy read. Mr. Caulfield had taken to picking up books,
magazines, and newspapers for him to read, including -- by special request -- The New
York Times. Sister Francis Helen had assigned the newspaper to her class and always had
had a copy on her desk. The sister had said, “It's the world's best written newspaper, put
out by working writers who get fired if they are dull, unclear, or do not know a fact from
an opinion.” She told her pupils that if they wanted to learn how to read and write, the
single best thing they could do was to read The New York Times “every day of your life.”
Billy took her up on the suggestion, along with two Sister's-pet girls and the nerd John
Kelly. The newspaper quickly became a friend, a companion, and a habit. Every story
was new every day and covered the full range of human activities: politics, sports,
science, books, art, finance, society, and opinion. And all of it was in words that Sister
Francis Helen said “could be read and understood by a fifth-grader.” In a real sense, Billy
grew up sitting on the lap of the “Old Gray Lady” as the Times is sometimes called.
While Billy read, Mr. Caulfield puttered, usually fixing something, while listening to
Mozart. One night, with Mozart playing, Mr. Caulfield began to sob.
“What's wrong?” Billy asked.
“Mozart's Requiem Mass. Sometimes it's almost more than I can bear.”
“Compose yourself, man. We don't need two blubberers around here.”
“With all due respect to you, Mr. Stone, I want to feel this music. This is the work of a
musical genius writing on his deathbed. Not only was he creating a requiem to his own
death, but he was giving all of humankind a monumental and passionate musical vision
of the human condition; its fears, longings, and redemption from weakness and sin
through the mercy of God.”
Billy closed his book.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, thank you.”
That was how Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart entered Billy's life.
***
Evenings were spent mostly in silence, except for Mozart, but sometimes the two did
talk. They talked about many things. Each time they talked, they redrew personal
boundaries; and soon, little by little, they told life stories -- and then ventured into each
other's inner core.
“I can't believe it. I can't believe it,” Mr. Caulfield said about Billy's foster parents. “How
could they?” But he also laughed wholeheartedly, to the point of having to hold his
stomach, when Billy told him about his funeral luncheon capers and his California
diversion.
Mr. Caulfield told Billy that his father had died refusing to speak to him because he had
decided not to join the family business.”How could a father abandon his only son for
such a stupid control thing?” Billy asked.
“Because control is what mattered to him,” Mr. Caufield said. “My father owned
everything. You name it, he owned it, including me -- or so he thought.”
He's the “Caulfield” in Caulfield Industries?”
“Yes.”
“And Caulfield Forest?”
“Yes -- and a lot more.”
“Wow. So you are rich?”
“Yes -- even though my father disinherited me. His will specified that I should receive
one dollar and not a cent more. But after his death, my mother got everything and she left
it to me. I got his money anyway. So much for control.”
“But you don't act rich. You don't live like you're rich. No offense, but this isn't exactly a
mansion.”
“I know. Rich isn't everything. That's the one thing I learned from my father. Strangely
enough, it was something that he himself never learned. And that's why he died loaded
with money and power and full of hate.”
“If you're so rich, how come you paid me as little as you could?”
“I don't like to overpay. Upsets the local economy.”
“We have an awkward situation here,” Billy said. “You're rich and I do slave labor. How
can we be equal-equal?”
“Because it is in your nature and it is in my nature.”
“Money in your pocket is more equal than equality in your nature. Which one can buy
you something in a store? Hey, I have an idea-- just give me half your money. Problem
solved.”
“I have no problem with that.”
“Ah, look, Mr. Caulfield -- I mean Jeremy -- I was just making a joke. You know, yuk
yuk. I don't think you should be throwing your money around like that. Do me a favor.
I'm serious. Don't go around tempting people, especially desperate characters like me.”
“Fair enough.”
The subject of the old man's wealth never came up again.
***
There were so many other things going on. On the 4th of July, they grilled hamburgers
and hotdogs outside and afterwards Mr. Caulfield set off a spectacular fireworks display
just for the two of them. The display was so loud and dazzling that hundreds of people
showed up and camped out in the field beyond the dirt road to the stonehouse. The police
also showed up asking for a permit and Mr. Caulfield chased them off the property while
Billy hid inside afraid to breathe.
After supper on Billy's 15th birthday, July 7, while Billy was at the big table reading, Mr.
Caulfield came out of his bedroom singing “happy birthday” and carrying a huge
chocolate birthday cake. Fifteen lit candles danced in the twilight. He placed the cake in
front of Billy.
“Close your eyes and make a wish.”
Billy did and blew out all the candles in one blast of young puff.
“Happy birthday,” Mr. Caulfield said, clapping heavily like a big walrus. “Happy
birthday. I have a gift for you. Be right back.” He went out to the shed and returned
pushing a sleek silver racing bike. He parked it beside the table near Billy.
“Transportation upgrade.”
Billy jumped up. He stared goggle-eyed at the bike. He stroked it.
“Do you like it? Do you like it?”
“I love it.”
He ran into Mr. Caulfield's arms. The old man held him, patting his back.
“Thank you, Mr. Caulfield. Thank you.”
It was Billy's first bike of his own. He always had to borrow bikes from the kids of the
foster parents.
***
Sometimes they took a whole afternoon off to play (but only after jointly determining that
half pay for Billy would be fair since he was present and ready for work). On one such
afternoon, Mr. Caulfield taught Billy how to drive his old Ford pickup. It was the first
time he had ever sat behind the wheel of a vehicle. After quite a bit of bucking and
stalling and breakneck accelerations, Billy spent most of the afternoon driving the truck
over the dirt roads around Mr. Caulfield's place. Mr. Caulfield rode in the front seat the
entire time, at first nervously; but toward the end of the afternoon, he just sat back calmly
back while Billy drove as casually as a commuter.
On another afternoon of playing hooky from work, they staged a mock defense of the
castle from an attack by barbarian hordes. Mr. Caulfield stood in the forefront of the
battlements waving a real colonial sword and decked out in military garb from various
nations and centuries: blue American colonial jacket with gold epaulets and general's
stars; a white-plumed Austro-Hungarian admiral's hat from 1914; Napoleonic-era cavalry
boots with spurs; a scarlet Confederate officer's sash with gold tassels.
“Stand fast, lads,” he shouted. “Archers ready. Take your aim. Stand fa-a-a-a-st. Long
live the Prince -- fire!” The commander ran up and down the line directing the fire.
“Crossbows to the front rank-- fire!” Acting as Aide-de-Camp, Billy stood at the
commander's side in a union Civil War Lieutenant's jacket and a colonial tri-corner hat
that were grossly too big for him. “Crossbows to the rear. Archers to the front rank, fire!”
“Look, my Lord,” Billy shouted. “They're falling back!”
“Yes, Yes,” Mr. Caulfield saidS. “Infantry form to advance. Lower the bridge.” Mr.
Caulfield raised his sword. “Upon my command, brave soldiers. Upon my command.”
His sword came down. “In the name of the Prince, infantry advance! Go with God, lads.
Give the Godless devils a bellyful of Christian steel!”
The Commander and his Aide-de-Camp watched the furious battle, the bloody chaos of
screaming solders in hand to hand combat, the mangled flesh and severed limbs, the dead
and wounded falling in heaps.
“Look, they are quitting the field, my Lord,” said Billy.
“Yes, yes. The day is ours. Thanks be to God.”
“A great victory, my Lord,” said Billy.
The Commander and the Aide-de-Camp went out onto the battlefield. Sword upraised,
Mr. Caulfield acknowledged the cheers of his soldiers: “Long live the Prince! Long live
the Prince!”
“They'll be talking about this victory for centuries,” Billy said.
“Yes, but it came at great cost,” Mr. Caulfield said. He extended his arms as if embracing
the entire battlefield. “Many a brave, God-fearing soldier has fallen for his Prince this
day. But our cause is just. The Prince we serve is the most noble in the land. For such a
righteous Prince, for such a just cause, any soldier would gladly die.”
“Yes, my Lord,” said Billy.