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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 42
The Art of Negotiation

“From the boys in the kitchen,” Billy said, sweeping a hand over a generous table of
coffee, fresh-baked pastries, scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon and fresh fruit set up in
Director Carson's office, where the panelists had been herded for a break -- and a heavy
dose of enlightenment as to their position. “Gentlemen, help yourselves and kindly take a
seat. We have come to a critical point in the program.”
Vera, David Weatherall, and Debra Florsheim had already helped themselves and were
sitting on the couch eating. The panelists selected refreshments and, as they did, a huge
crowd outside laughed, sang, waved homemade signs, sipped coffee, ate donuts and
milled around sociably. One sign said, “Free Billy Stone Now!” Another said, “Justice for
the Innocent Nine!”
“Nice to see people on a Sunday outing,” Billy said.
“I'm supposed to be saying Mass,” Father Colahan said.
“I'm sorry, Father, but please bear with me. You came here to minister to Joy Stojak and
so you shall.”
Against the possibility that his honored guests might prefer to be elsewhere and attempt
to go there, Billy had positioned inmate guards around the office with orders to let no
panelist leave. Dr. Kurlan grabbed a coffee and roll and headed for the door. He was
turned back firmly by two inmates, both of whom he had diagnosed as sociopaths.
It was at that moment that Dr. Kurlan realized that he and the rest of the panelists were
detainees. The realization fell most heavily upon Congressman Waters. He had found
himself up to his turkey-wattled neck in a morass showing every promise of killing his
re-election -- and possibly his political career. Carrying coffee and a pastry, Director
Carson headed for his desk, but Billy intercepted him.
“You sit there,” Billy said, pointing to the conference table.
Billy sat down at Carson's big desk. Kali, Durk, Angel, Billy Ruggieri and Johnson
Johnson lined up behind him. Rank-and-file guards stood like statuary along the office
walls. The panelists arranged themselves on one side of the conference table so that all
faced Billy.
“Well, let's start,” Billy said. “First, Father Colahan has come here on a compassionate
mission, having to do with Joy Stojak who has run away from home, as I am sure all of
you have heard. I'd like to help you, Father.”
He nodded toward the office entrance and the inmate stationed there opened the door.
***
Joy entered.
Father Colahan got up and hurried to her. “Joy! Are you okay? Your mother and father are
worried sick. I'll call them so they can come and take you home.”
“No! No!”
“Now, now, you can't stay here.”
“I can't go home.”
“Why not? Of course you can.”
“Because... because ...”
Billy went to her and gathered her into his arms, stroking her back as one would an upset
child. “It's okay, Joy. It's okay. Nobody's going to make you go home.”
While Billy held her, Joy turned toward the panelists and said, “Billy Stone never did
anything to me. Never... never... never! My father lied... and ... and I lied.”
“Don't say any more, Joy,” Billy said softly, now holding her hand. “You've said enough.
Do you still want to release the statement?”
“Yes.”
“You don't have to, you know.”
“I know.”
Vera got up and put a sheet of paper in front of each of the panelists.
“This is a statement by Joy,” Billy said. “It accuses her father of repeated assaults.” Billy
held up a pen. “Joy, are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes.”
“Do you do so freely, without pressure from anyone?”
“Yes.”
Billy placed the statement on the conference table. She took the pen, swiped hair out of
her face, sniffled, and signed.
“You are brave, Joy,” Billy said. “Now I invite all of you to witness Joy's courage by
associating your signature with hers.”
The panelists busied themselves reading the copy Vera had just given them. One by one,
they looked up to see Joy's statement being waved in their face. The panel squirmed,
except for Dr. Bridges. Father Colahan cleared his throat. Congressman Waters tugged at
his cuffs. Captain O'Toole, trying to avoid the bead that Vera had drawn on him, gazed at
the window. Carson fidgeted with his fingers. Facial parts moving like a can of worms,
Dr. Kurlan emitted messages of utter disdain. Dr. Bridges seemed somewhere else, then
snapped out of it.
“I am honored to witness such courage,” Dr. Bridges said. He took Joy's statement from
Billy, scribbled his signature below hers and handed it back to Billy who held it up
enticingly. No one moved for it. Panelists shifted in their seats and looked around at each
other.
Finally, Captain O'Toole, feeling the heat of Vera's fiery gaze, took the statement from
Billy and signed his name below that of Dr. Bridges. Then, as if pulled by an irresistible
force, Father Colahan signed followed by Director Carson. Congressman Waters
shrugged, then signed. Dr. Kurlan sat on his hands glowering non-stop, like a professor
surrounded by slowlearning schoolboys. With the signatures of the others, however, our
young commander had acquired the public relations equivalent of the bomb.
“Thank you,” Billy said, betraying no sign of satisfaction, “for standing up for law and
justice. Joy, it's over. Now, please, go with Vera. I'll come to you as soon as I can.”
He guided her over to Vera.
“Vera, she shouldn't be alone. Thank you.”
Joy -- petite, peachy, soft, kittenish, whimpering softly -- and Vera -- dark, strong, a
cauldron of volcanic fury -- were a study in contrasts as they left the office together, Vera
with a protective arm around Joy. The office was as quiet as an empty room. Billy, silent,
offhandedly tapping on the table, appraised the panelists. He sauntered over to the
window behind Carson's desk.
***
It was a bright spring day with a brisk wind snapping skirts and pantslegs like sails and
causing newly unfurled leaves of the great maple to whoosh and rattle. The crowd had
grown even larger. Now there were children running around out there. In addition, there
were media vans, producers, reporters interviewing people, cables strung everywhere,
and even people cooking up hot dogs and hamburgers on small portable grills. Police
were out there, too, standing by, directing traffic, as if it were just another crowd-control
assignment.
Billy sat down at the big desk. He tipped back in the executive chair, cradling the back of
his head in his hands, waiting for the audience to reach its peak of ripeness. The room
was deathly quiet. He sat upright. He leaned on the desk, propping himself up his elbows
and clasping his hands.
“Gentlemen, the next scheduled event is Joy Stojak telling the world exactly what her
father did to her -- how, where, and how many times. Her story promises to be in marked
contrast to what people have read and heard elsewhere. After that, we will have the two
senior correction officers tell how they arrange human cockfights between inmates for
diversion and profit. I will tell how I was put in a cell with Roger Stansky, fresh from
killing Julio de Cruz, with the intention of having us fight to the death while the guards
placed bets. I will introduce the wagering sheet showing that the odds were 70-30 in
favor of Stansky, on the strength of his proven killer instinct. I will read from the
wagering sheet the names of the correction officers who bet, the amounts, and the total
wagered. I will spread out the confiscated cash on a table for TV close-ups, so that
viewers can count the money for themselves.”
Billy got up and walked over to the conference table. He continued,“Then I will tell how
the human fighting cocks refused to fight, setting off a spontaneous inmate uprising. I
will tell how the inmates, instead of taking vengeance against the guards, treated them
well and even made arrangements for their medical treatment. I will tell how instead of
running away or trashing the place, we gathered evidence for our case.
“Congressman Waters, I will tell the world about the interesting financial shenanigans
involving Granite City School, Fairview University and federal anti-crime funds. You've
done a great job getting money into the area to fight crime. But it seems that a lot of the
federal funds go to the Department of Corrections, pass through the budget of Granite
City School and end up at Fairview University in the form of research grants, fellowships
and professional fees. I will present documents, from files right in this office and other
sources, establishing a financial conspiracy in which Fairfield University used this
facility as a veritable piggy bank.
“And then there are the corporate contracts. Very clever. Very lucrative. Our accountant,
Seymour Silverman, has the full details of these related-party transactions and you may
inspect the documents in his office at your convenience. This is a crime I had never heard
of. Mr. Silverman explained it to me this way: He said it's when you line your pockets or
those of friends and family with money that belongs to others. I tell you, I'm learning so
much.
“And those professional fees! Dr. Kurlan, I was surprised to learn that your fees for
services rendered to Granite City inmates last year were more than your salary from the
university. I will be sharing the exact figure with the world. By the way, eight hundred
forty-seven dollars for a one-page report saying that I am a psycho?”
***
Dr. Kurlan, who had been building on a slow burn all morning, looked like his head was
going to explode. He put both hands on the table as if getting ready to jump up, but a
guard started toward him and he sat back, fuming. Billy gave Dr. Kurlan a warning look
to melt metal and continued.
“Meanwhile, as this information is made public, there is enough weaponry in here to set
off a shootout at the OK Corral. We have armed police officers, armed East Side men
who have joined the mothers, and armed inmates -- guys, let them see your weapons.”
Every inmate guard in the office took out a gun. Billy and Dr. Kurlan made eye contact
with a mutual understanding of rare clarity.
“Keep in mind also that we have a lot of people from the East Side who are here, inside
and outside, to get justice for Julio de Cruz and the other innocent inmates. Right now,
they seem happy because they see that the truth is coming out, but they expect justice to
follow. If it does not, then things could change quickly. It would take very little to set
them off.
“In other words, gentlemen, we have a highly volatile situation here that could blow up in
our faces and get a lot of innocent people killed, including children. Listen, you can hear
the kids outside playing. In the panicky shooting that would inevitably take place, no one
would be able to guarantee the safety of these children or even of this panel.
“To sum up, this is where we are. We can put Joy Stojak through the horrendous ordeal of
which, I promise you, we have only touched the surface. We can titillate TV viewers with
the gory details of human cockfights at Granite City School. We can make the whole
police department appear to be lawless. We can bring into the open the highly lucrative
relationship between Granite City School and Fairview University and set off a big
federal investigation. Finally, we can take our chances of touching off a massacre.
Gentlemen, there is tragedy in the making here. I think it can and should be avoided. I
suggest that we find a way to settle things right here in this office -- peacefully, without
...”
“I object,” Dr. Kurlan interrupted. “I object to being held here against my will by thugs
with guns. You don't frighten me. I have no interest in discussing anything with you.
Tomorrow, you'll all be back locked up where you belong.”
Billy flipped a thumb. Two inmates lifted an astounded Dr. Kurlan out of his seat and
hurried him bodily out of the office.
“Be back in a sec,” Billy said, stepping out of the office and closing the door behind him.
In the hallway, he looked a sputtering and struggling Dr. Kurlan in the eye and said, “Put
him in with House and Hawkeye. They can tell him all about human cockfights. Be great
original stuff for his next piece in “Juvenile Issues.” Stick this trash in a monkey suit.
Gag it. Cuff it. Chain it. Take it away.”
Billy went back into the office.
“Now, where were we? Oh, yes, I wanted to mention that Fairview University and
Wetherall Industries both want this problem settled quickly and peacefully. They have
already had their fill of publicity. They invited Congressman Waters here because they
think he can do what has to be done. And I have every bit as much confidence in the
Congressman as they do. Now, does our program continue or do we negotiate?”
“We negotiate,” said the Congressman.
“Director Carson?”
“I think we should work something out.”
“Captain O'Toole?”
“I ... I ... ” Vera gave him a monumentally communicative look. “... would talk.”
“Any objections Father Colahan, Dr. Bridges?”
They shook their heads.
“It's agreed then.”
***
Billy returned to the desk and sat down.
“I propose the following. The informational program will end immediately and the media
will be sent away. Joy Stojak will not testify further. The two senior correction officers
will not testify. We will not present the evidence we have of extreme abuse of inmates by
these guards and others. We will not disclose information about financial dealings
between Granite City and Fairview involving federal anti-crime funds. We will not give
the U.S. Attorney in Boston evidence that we have of violations of federal law. I believe
you all know what I am talking about. All of you will receive immediate safe passage
from this facility. Neither I nor any of the inmates will take any legal action against
Granite City School nor Director Carson, nor the police, nor the juvenile justice
department, nor the department of social services, nor the city, nor the state. All of this
will just stop now and go away as if it never happened.”
“In return, you want?” said Congressman Waters.
“Three things only, all achieved by a stroke of the pen. First, based on the evidence we
have presented, an order of immediate release for Emiliano Cervantes and the other
aforementioned innocent inmates, including myself, signed by Judge Salera. Second, a
general amnesty for all inmates who took part in the defensive incident here and those
who ran, on the grounds of self-defense, signed by Governor Richardson. Third, a
promise in writing, signed by District Attorney Conroy that no inmate will be prosecuted
for anything done by inmates in self-defense and in seeking justice.”
“Something like that takes time,” said Congressman Waters, who had assumed the role of
chief negotiator for the panel. “It can't just be done like that.”
“Congressman, time must now be measured against the value of our lives. It no longer
has any other meaning. Still, to expedite matters, we have sent evidence presented today
by courier to the homes of Judge Salera, District Attorney Conroy and others, including
Governor Richardson. We are sending Joy's statement immediately to all principals.
When you talk to the Governor, he will have all the information he needs to issue the
appropriate proclamation. For District Attorney Conroy, it would be just another old-
fashioned plea bargain. He does it every day. Judge Salera took ten minutes to put me in
here with no evidence. With the overwhelming evidence we have presented, she should
be able to release me in five minutes.”
“You're serious, aren't you.” Congressman Waters said.
“Congressman, this is not a game.”
Billy took out his weapon and put it down with a clunk on the conference table in front of
Captain O'Toole.
“Captain O'Toole, when the shooting starts, kill me. It's loaded. Empty it into me. I just
ask that you go for the heart and avoid a headshot. I don't know why, but getting it in the
head turns me off.”
Vera gave a little cry of pain.
To Kali Muhammad, he said, “If I'm killed, take over.”
To the other inmates standing guard around the office, he said, “If I fall, Kali will know
what to do. Follow him. He will be a good wartime commander. God bless you all. We
will meet again in eternity.”
“I'll make the calls,” Congressman Waters said.
“Yes, please do.”