George Pollock State Kid Issue 50 The Prisoners Eat Lobster It was time for Joy Stojak to go.
She had come through for Billy Stone. Her public testimony had given him the leverage he needed to pry the heel of the juvenile justice system off his neck. With her father in a jail cell, held without bail for Joy's safety and ceaselessly spewing invective against Billy Stone, the police, and his wife for “doin' nothin',” Joy needed to look after a distraught mother. Also, she could no longer bear the sight of Billy and Vera together. At mid-afternoon, Mrs. Stojak arrived at Granite City in the beat-up family Chevy sedan with Frank Jr. at the wheel. They were there to pick up Joy and take her home. Billy -wearing a sharp dark blue jacket, turquoise tie, tan trousers, and spit-shined black shoes -walked Joy out to the car. Joy had changed into a frilly skirt and affixed a pink bow to her hair -- fresh clothes courtesy of Vera -- and was, despite her ordeal, a flower of femininity. Neither spoke. Neither looked at the other. They had already said everything. Mrs. Stojak sat slumped in the front seat. Frank Jr. got out of the car. Billy stiffened. The last time they were in each other's presence, Frank Jr. had chased Billy up the stairs of the Stojak home yelling and waving a hockey stick. “It's okay,” Joy said. “He just wants to say something to you.” Frank Jr. approached Billy. “Look, I ... I... I feel really bad. I'm sorry.” “So am I.” Mrs. Stojak rolled down the car window. “I'm sorry, too,” she said. “Thank you, Mrs. Stojak,” Billy said. “Joy told me she's going to take good care of you.” “You got your license,” Billy said to Frank, Jr. “Just got it.” “I'm getting mine this summer.” “I hear you're getting out.” It looks good, but I'm not out until I'm out.” “You'll get out. No way they can keep you here now, with everybody knowing the real story. I'm sorry, Billy, I didn't mean ...” “I know you didn't. I'll call you. We'll talk. Tell your mother I don't blame her a bit, either. And I just think your Dad needs help. It's going to be okay, Frank.” “Okay.”
Frank Jr. got in the car and started it up. Joy took a few halting backward steps toward the car, without taking her eyes off Billy, then rushed back into his arms. They hugged while Mrs. Stojak and Frank Jr. stared straight ahead, not disapprovingly. Joy broke away and ran sobbing to the car and it took her away. Billy watched the car out of sight, then went back inside where David Weatherall was waiting for him in the recreation room. *** When he entered the recreation room, the TV was on and Weatherall was watching the news along with several visitors. All heads turned his way, the TV and others in the room discarded like a used handkerchief. “Billy, Conroy and Salera just announced the hearing for this Friday at nine,” David Weatherall said. “They strongly implied, and I mean strongly implied, that it will be short and sweet. Make plans for the weekend, my friend!” “The other agreements?” “Waiting for you in Carson's office,” Vera said. “Excuse me, I'll be right back.” Billy rushed out the door, sprinted to Director Carson's office and burst in. “Sorry, sorry, but I was told ....” “Here,” said Director Carson, handing Billy a large manila envelope. He ripped it open, skimmed it and ran out of the office to the recreation room and right into Vera's arms. The two of them hugged, twirled, jumped up and down and danced wildly around the room, knocking over furniture, forcing visitors to hug the walls. “It's true! I'm going to be free! I'm going to be free! Thank God! Thank God!” Laughing, Vera said, “Watch out, world, here comes the famous Billy Stone -- on the loose!” David Weatherall, eyes moist, gave Billy a big hug. “Listen, I have a lot to tell you, but first, some people here to see you.” “Hi, Billy,” said Miss Casey, holding out a gloved hand. “Congratulations. Been a long time.” “Yes, it has.” “You never called me.” “I meant to,”Billy said, shaking her hand. “I wanted to talk to you. What happened to you?” “I quit. Couldn't take it any more. I was afraid I would kill McFardle.” “What are you doing now?” “I work for a publisher in Boston. I've been talking to David here about your book. We may be doing business. I hope so, Billy.” “I'll explain later,” said David Weatherall. “I know things are crazy for you now, Billy,” Miss Casey said, “so I'll just give you my card and we'll get together next week for a long talk. We have a lot to talk about.”
She smiled and pressed her card into Billy's hand. “Next week, for sure,”Billy said. “I was quite unhappy with the sample chapters that you sent me, young man,” said Sister Francis Helen, approaching Billy in her long black habit with starched white collar hugging her neck and with the long rope of beads at her side swinging and clicking. Though her order, Sisters of Providence, had long since made traditional dress optional, she was one of a very few who continued to dress as she always had. “I trust that my note to you made that quite clear. Publishers these days will print anything, but I expect much, much more from you, I hope you understand. Now next week after you're out of this dreadful place, I shall meet with you to talk about your manuscript which, I must stress, is extremely raw.” “Yes, Sister. Thank you, Sister.” What have you read lately?” “Les Miserables.” “All of it?” “Yes.” “Did Hugo speak to you?” “Yes, Sister. I also read A Man for All Seasons.” “Did it give you courage?” “Yes, Sister. It thought about it a lot when I was in the king's tower.” “A great play with much to teach us all.” “Yes, Sister.” “Excuse me, Sister,” Dr. Sam Bridges said,” but I just want to say something quickly to Billy and then you can have him back. Billy, after the hearing on Friday, would you meet with me in my office at the hospital? There's something quite important that I must discuss with you.” “Sure, what is it?” “Better we talk in my office. I'll be at the hearing. We can go directly from there to my office. I won't take much of your time. I know that you and Vera will want to go out and celebrate the big day. Okay?” “Okay.” “Hi, Billy,” said Nathan Silverman. “First of all, congratulations. I've been watching you on TV. I've also been talking with your agent about your book. But it seems we've got some competition. I see somebody is here from Royal Books.” He glanced in the direction of Miss Casey. “But I wanted to tell you directly that we are prepared to sweeten ...” Kali, Durk, Angel, Johnson Johnson, and Billy Ruggieri crashed into the room. “We heard the news, man,”said Kali, and he proceeded to loose a string of joyous obscenities relating Attorney General John Conroy and friends to various body parts and and bodily
functions. They slapped hands all around. Sister Francis Helen marched up to Kali and, two hands planted on her hips, said, “Young man, this is mixed company.” Wagging her finger an inch from his nose, she said, “There will be no more talk like that, understand?” “I told you, Kali,” Billy said. “Now tell Sister that you're sorry and you won't do it again.” Kali looked at Billy as if he had been talking in Swahili. Billy's face said, Hey, do this for me, man, no big deal. “I'm sorry, Sister. I won't do it again.” “See that you don't.” “As I was saying,î”Nathan Silverman said. “We realize that you have other offers but no one can touch us for marketing. We'll send you on a twenty-six-city book tour. We'll set up radio and TV interviews in all the major markets. There will be book signings in ...” Debra Florsheim appeared at the door. “Debra!” Billy said. “Great story! Did you read Debra's piece in the Sentinel, Nathan? She had a terrific piece about the book, too.” “Congratulations, Billy,” Debra said. “I just heard. I stopped by to tell you that ... well ... I'm happy for you. You have to forgive me, I can't stay. I just had the worst night. I'm a little hung over, frankly. I thought my career at the Sentinel was over.” “Why? It was a great story.” “I think it came out fine, in the end. There's actually a story behind the story, Billy. I'll tell you some time. I have to go, now. My head's killing me. Bye.” “Debra!” She turned at the door. “Thank you.” She nodded and left, holding the back of her head. Billy turned to Angel and said, “Are the guys in the kitchen cooking?” “I'm on it, man. They're bookin'.” “Got enough food for our guests?” “Plenty.” Billy addressed the roomful of guests. “You're all invited for dinner. What are we having, Angel?” Angel grinned. “Lobster.” “Lobster?” “Courtesy of World Books,” David Weatherall said. “Why thank you, Nathan,” Billy said. “That's very kind of you.”
*** Outside, Billy was smiling. Inside, he was scared. Officially, he was still an inmate. The hearing still had to be held. Judge Salera still had to act. Everything he had was contingent. Conroy's written promises were for after his release. The air of resolution at Granite City School, which he desperately wanted to embrace, didn't feel right. Things were almost too normal to be believed. Carson was at his desk. Waters was back in Washington. The panel had been dismissed. East Side mothers were gone. Fairview University students were back in classes. The inter-police face-off had stepped back from the precipice. Inmates were back into regular routines. Dr. Kurlan was gone, picked up by his horrified wife who took one look at the welt on his cheekbone and went on as if he had been beaten to a pulp. Dr. Kurlan's mouth functioned as well as ever, however. He and his wife sent up a chorus of howls about the multimillion-dollar lawsuit they were going to file, and had kept it up so long that they had to be literally pushed into their car. Billy did not go out to see Dr. Kurlan off. Also departed was Sgt. Frank Tancredi, the skeptical police officer Billy had ordered locked up for deducing the truth and flapping his mouth about it. As soon as he was handed over to Captain O'Toole, Sgt. Tancredi released his suspicions in a stream. “They took over the school, Captain. They took over the school. Community Dialogue Day is totally phony. It's nothing but a cover-up. They got weapons. They got hostages. Captain, the inmates are running the school. We have to act fast!” “Yes, we know, Sergeant,” Captain O'Toole said, putting the sputtering sergeant in a cruiser. “The situation is under control. Go home. Take a couple of days off. Better yet, take your vacation. I'll fill you in when you get back.” The cruiser took off with the sergeant's head out the window spouting but-buts. House and Hawkeye, both in leg casts, had also been given over to the police in a staged event scripted by Billy Stone, public relations impresario. While cameras clicked, Billy, Director Carson and Captain O'Toole looked on gravely as the two sad-faced guards were put in cruisers. The guards were photographed only from the waist up -- so their leg casts could not be seen. In his sharp business suit, Billy brought to mind a young prosecutor. In fact, he was a prisoner whose fate was not yet decided -- but was about to be.