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O'Toole residence on the West Side. The uniformed chauffeur, David Weatherall, got out and opened the door for Billy Stone, who stepped out from the back seat wearing a snappy navy-blue blazer, maroon tie, tan trousers and black shoes shined to parade-dress standards. Captain O'Toole and Mrs. O'Toole greeted their visitor as they would a dignitary -- on their feet, standing together outside on the the front landing. The three went into the living room to await Vera's appearance. Billy sat across from Captain and Mrs. O'Toole, who were together on the couch. “At last, I get to see you in person,”Mrs. O'Toole said. “But I feel that I already know you from the TV. Naturally, Vera tells me nothing.” With a straight face, Billy said, “Well, I hope you don't think you're going to get any information out of me, not with a cop sitting right there. How do I know the two of you aren't wired?” Mrs. O'Toole laughed, full-throated, delighted and, Billy thought, with relief. Ice broken, the three chatted easily. Soon Vera appeared on the stairs. Billy stood as did Captain and Mrs. O'Toole. For this big occasion -- Billy's first Saturday night of freedom, his first time meeting Vera's parents at home, their first real date -- Vera had foregone her usual black vamp style. Instead, she wore an elegant, clingy, sleeveless turquoise sheath, well above the knee, with a low scooped neckline. She carried a petite white beaded evening bag. Her face was one big smile. Her dark, luminous eyes danced. Billy drank in the radiant sight. He had never seen her in a dress. His eyes went to her legs, which he had also never seen, then to her neckline, another new and exciting sight. Captain O'Toole glanced at his daughter's hemline and neckline; the first was higher and the second lower than what he would have preferred. “You look beautiful, Vera,” he said, exercising military forbearance. “Princess,” Billy said, approaching her and taking her hand. “You are a princess. I didn't know turquoise could be so beautiful.” “Don't try this color on your own.” Billy seated her in a stately wing-backed chair beside him. “Where did you say you were going?” Mrs. O'Toole asked. “We're going for seafood,” Billy said. “Vera knows a good place, but she refuses to tell me.” “You'll find out when we get there,” Vera said. “Now do be nice, Vera,” Mrs. O'Toole said. “Maybe you should whisper in my ear where, just in case.”
“Mom, stop worrying.” She glanced at Billy. “Ready?” At the door, Mrs. O'Toole said, “You take good care of our little girl, now.” “Mom! I'm not a little girl.” Captain O'Toole stepped between wife and daughter. Not wishing to be the next target of Vera's sharp tongue, he said only, “Have a wonderful evening.” They were surface words, however, dutifully mouthed and, for Billy -- who had come to know the captain quite well -- a poor cover for his true feelings. Billy saw in his eyes a worried father reluctantly releasing his precious gamine to a young man who, however blamelessly, had been too much with the evil of the world. He saw a father standing by helplessly, against all instincts, as a notorious ex-prisoner absconded with his daughter right from his own doorstep. He didn't even get to know where she was going, despite Mrs. O'Toole having asked directly. “They're worried,” Billy said to Vera as they walked down the front walk to the limo. “Why don't you tell them where we're going.” “Sonesta Seafood,” Vera said over her shoulder, not looking back to see the disappointed expressions that she knew would be there. Billy turned and said, “Don't worry about a thing. We'll be home early.” He raised his right hand. “Promise.” Both O'Tooles, not feeling much better, smiled wanly. “Suck-up.” In the limo, Billy said, “Sonesta Seafood, driver, and be smart about it.” “Yes, Sir.” “David, I hope you don't think this is beneath you.” “Oh, of course not.” “David, you can't be too versatile.” “Don't push it.” The three laughed. Billy and Vera snuggled up in the back seat. *** When their limo pulled up in front of Sonesta Seafood on the East Side, it attracted a crowd. Billy and Vera stepped onto the sidewalk, first to curiosity and then, when recognized, to smiles, clenched fists, and thumbs-up for showing them that “East Siders ain't takin' it no more.” Sonesta Seafood was no Bostonian, where Billy had dined with his mother the previous night. It had no gold-gilt private rooms, no velvet-swagged drapes, no waiters more classist than the customers. It was an East Side neighborhood joint with a bar, takeout, lots of noise and smoke, and the best baked stuffed lobster around. Oddly, locals didn't eat the lobster. They went for the baked lemon-pepper catfish and fried fish and chips. But so many West Siders, as well as people from other towns, came
for the lobster that it was Sonesta Seafood's leading profit item. West Siders tiptoed in like foreigners, always for the takeout, getting in and out as fast as possible, looking straight ahead and all but wearing signs saying: I DON'T LIVE HERE. They came because the baked stuffed lobster was out of this world, quick, and a steal. Billy and Vera were the only white people eating in the place and the only people eating lobster. These facts escaped their notice as well as that of the other sitting customers; only the West Side take-out crowd noted their presence in such a louche place. Not that Billy and Vera did not stand out. Both were way overdressed. That did not keep locals away from their table. A steady stream came up to shake Billy's hand or slap his back. Some pleaded for help for a family member ensnared with the police or already in the lock-up. They pressed scraps of paper into his hands with names, the trouble, telephone numbers and addresses. “I'm sorry to hear about this trouble,” Billy said to them. “Let me make a few calls, talk to some people. I'm sure we can do something about this.” He carefully put each hopeful scrap of paper into his pocket. He would do everything he could to help every supplicant, but not tonight. Tonight was his and Vera's. The world, for once, could wait until morning. He went back to attacking lobster. “Oh, my God,” Billy said. “This is so unbelievably good.” “Did I tell you or what?” *** Billy told Vera about his night with his mother. “Oh, I feel so bad for you. How could she do that? Why didn't she just shut her face and say something to her son like congratulations, you're free, you're wonderful, and I love you?” “I know, Princess. I was hoping.” “Well, somebody should tell you.” She took Billy's hands in hers and leaned forward so that, on the tiny table, their faces were inches away. “Congratulations, you're free, you're wonderful and I love you.” She kissed him on the lips, a lingering kiss that caught the attention of the whole place. Patrons whistled and cheered and Billy and Vera acknowledged them with ear-to-ear smiles. The joint quickly returned to boisterous eating and drinking and laughing. “But, you know something,” Billy said, “she was happy. She was enjoying herself. I didn't want to spoil that for her.” “Billy, do you need her?” “No, not any more. I think the need has been crushed.” “Good. It's agreed. Send her a card once a year on her birthday.” “The trouble is, Vera, she's alone. She needs me.” “She abandoned you. She doesn't care about you. She cares only about herself and
things.” “True.” “Well?” “Should I do to her what she did to me?” “You owe her nothing. First chance she gets, she'll eat you alive.” “She can't hurt me any more -- as of yesterday.” Billy also told her that he was now Lord Caulfield the Sixth and that henceforth she had to make sure that her head was lower than his at all times. “In your dreams.” “Well, the first part is true,” he said. And he told her the whole story. “Does that make me Lady O'Toole?” “Maybe Lady Caulfield, eventually, if you ever acquire adult characteristics.” “Well, My Lord Caulfield the Sixth, what do you say we parTEEE!” Did they ever. *** High-mindedness can take one only so far. The time had come for even the virtuous young lord to descend from the mount and set aside its baleful influences for earthly selfnourishment; in this case, a raucous, rolling, singing, party in the limo as it cruised the streets of Fairview. Billy partied hard and was not sorry afterwards. A blissful Vera was equally incontrite. Still, as promised, Billy got Vera home at a decent hour. He walked her to the door and, even as the front light went on by the unseen hand of an adult O'Toole, they hugged and kissed. They parted only when sounds within the house had become a veritable racket. Billy danced down the walk to the limo, blowing kisses back and was soon happily asleep in his dorm room at Fairview University. Freedom was oh, so sweet.
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