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George Pollock State Kid Issue 59 Sundered Siblings The others. What had become of the others?

Always, wherever Billy had been -- a foster home, a fugitive on the run, a prisoner, and now a free man -- he wondered about the others; two sisters, two brothers, all younger, all abandoned, all living in separate foster homes, all waiting for a mother who never came, and now all waiting for a mother who never would come. Where were they? How were they coping? Were they being terrorized by Stojak-like foster parents? Tortured by the family's natural kids? Wearing cast-off clothes? Afraid to ask for a glass of water? Did they hate themselves? Were they sad-faced and starved for love? Had they given up? As these dark questions suggest, he feared the worst. The five of them had been split up like puppies. It had been nine years since four had been placed in foster care. Raymond, now nine, was not yet born; three months after he was, he went into foster care. On occasion, Mary and Rebecca had lived together in the same foster home and so had Raymond and Vincent. They sometimes passed each other in revolving doors of foster homes. With the help of Miss Casey's contacts at the Department of Social Services, Billy learned that none had been adopted. All were living in separate foster homes in four different Massachusetts towns. All had moved around frequently. Like most foster kids, they had had a series of social workers. He learned that the state did try to find one home for all five, but never came close. DSS found people willing to take two of the siblings, but never more than two. “I hate to tell you this,” Miss Casey said, “but five was never an option because nobody wanted five kids and, in particular, nobody wanted you. They took one look at your file and said, 'Sorry, we are not self-destructive.'” “Thank you.” “You're welcome.” “I wonder if the others feel the same way about me.” “Why would they?” “It wasn't just our mother who abandoned them. I did too.” “You had to survive yourself.” “I didn't try hard enough. I know that now.” “Well, what's stopping you now?” “After I get my driver's license, I was thinking of taking them to Boston. The five of us. No foster parents. No mother. No social workers. Just five kids on a Sunday afternoon

outing to Boston to run around on the Boston Common and see the city.” “You'd never get permission to take them out in a car by yourself. A parent or social worker would have to drive. They'll tell you that the DSS is responsible for those kids 24 hours a day. The idea of letting five kids -- sorry, Billy, they consider you a kid, too -- go off in a car by themselves would be unthinkable.” “So, basically, the five of us can't go to Boston together.” “Billy, at DSS nothing is simple. Why don't you call your brothers and sisters?” “I don't want to call them up out of the blue. It's too cold and too casual for something so big. I don't want disembodied voices. I want to see their eyes and I want them to see mine. And, to be honest, I don't want to give them a chance to say no. Unloved kids tend to push people away, you know.” “Who's the licensed social worker here?” *** In between his flourishing social life, studies, revising his book, working with Miss Casey doing promotion -- and trying to keep Vera from constantly popping into his thoughts-- Billy went on excursions to scope out his blood brothers and sisters. It had been so long since he had seen them that he was not sure he would even recognize them. To help him, he carried copies of old photographs from their files, again thanks to Miss Casey's DSS contacts. (Their mother's dream home, though a department store of furnishings, had been bare of photographs of her five children.) David Weatherall, a brand new graduate of Fairfield University and working at his father's company, drove. They scoped out foster homes and schools, cruised neighborhoods, conducted surveillance -- and managed to get glimpses of all four siblings. They saw ten-year-old Vincent coming out of school. Instead of getting on the school bus with the other kids, Vincent walked off alone. They tailed him as he walked home, a distance of about three miles. Billy said, “His clothes don't fit. Why is he walking all that way? Why is he by himself?” They spotted nine-year-old Raymond in a playground not far from his foster home, tossing a football with a couple of other kids. They sat in the car and watched him until the other kids rode off on their bikes and Raymond left, walking. Billy said, “No bike. Look what he's wearing -- out of a ragbag.” Billy spotted fourteen-year-old Mary on the front steps of her foster home, sitting alone, flipping through a magazine. It was a fleeting glimpse because when they turned around for another look, she was gone. “That was definitely her,” Billy said, holding up her picture. “Did you see her face? She's sad.” Twelve-year-old Rebecca was the last to be spotted, in the back yard of her foster home hanging out laundry. “Look at her,” Billy said, “beaten down like some kind of whipped dog. Let's get out of here.” “You're going to put your suit back on,” David Weatherall said.

“Why do you say that?” “I see a certain look.” “Well, you're right. Except it's not going to be one of your old hand-me-downs.” *** They drove to the swanky men's clothier where David Weatherall Sr. had bought suits for many years. David introduced Billy as a close family friend. At the mere mention of the Weatherall name, the longtime tailor to the Weatherall family, a balding older man with fringes of gray hair slicked straight back and a tape measure draped around his neck, smiled and sprang into service. He appraised Billy for size with an expert eye and the sure manner of one used to serving a better class of customer. Not wishing to take up a young gentleman's time unnecessarily by showing him suits, he made the selection himself as was his normal practice with clients -- he had no “customers”-- such as the Weatheralls. Accordingly, he helped Billy into an expensive dark blue business suit. Crawling over the suit with his nose to the fabric, he pinched, pulled and fussed. He stretched his tape measure over every fabric plain, from crotch to cuff and across the shoulders and, having Billy raise his arms, down the sleeves. He chalked the suit for custom alteration. “When will you need it, sir?” “Tomorrow?” “Of course.” He was used to such demands. At these prices, it would be his pleasure to accommodate the young gentleman. When Billy offered to pay cash in advance, the tailor wouldn't hear of it and insisted that the suit be put on account. When Billy returned the next day, he tried on the custom-altered suit. He looked in the mirror and smiled. Now this was a suit to strike fear in a DSS bureaucrat's sense of job security! *** Billy placed a call to Richard McFardle at DSS, who was still going strong as director. He would not take his call. Nor was he able to make an appointment to see him. Okay ... Early the next morning, he showed up at McFardle's office in his stylish blue suit exuding power and money and carrying a briefcase to match. He hurried past the secretary stationed outside McFardle's office as if she were a piece of furniture. As he did, he said, ”The traffic is crazy. Gridlock is here.” Before the secretary could recover, he was in McFardle's office. A startled McFardle said, “What the hell -- you don't have an appointment. I'm busy.” “Fine. Read all about it in the Sentinel.” “What are you talking about?” “Foster kids abused, beaten, turned into domestic slaves, fed garbage...”

McFardle eyed Billy. “Evidence?” “Victims and others with direct knowledge.” “How did it come into your hands?” “They saw me on TV. Desperate people will try anything.” “Why not just go to the media?” “I'd like to avoid publicity, if possible.” Billy pulled pages out of his briefcase and placed them on McFardle's desk. “First-hand, hard, just what the lawyers and reporters love.” McFardle flipped through the pages. He got up, closed the door, and motioned for Billy to take a seat. While they went over the documentation, Billy sent out peace feelers. “Mr. McFardle, I never blamed you. You have a tough job and you were just doing it. Look, is there any reason why we can't work on this together, quietly, rationally?” To Billy's surprise, McFardle did not dismiss the thought out of hand. “There's something you should know,” the Director said. “Your mother reported you as a runaway. She yelled at me for five minutes demanding that we send out the police after you.” “What did you tell her?” “I told her I'd notify the police.” “Did you?” “I called Captain O'Toole and the matter has ended.” “Thank you, Mr. McFardle. I appreciate that.” “She should not have been given custody. I'm sorry.” Billy took that as a positive response to his overture. He took the entire folder out of his briefcase and put it on the desk. “Everything I have. I made a copy for myself and no one else. Anything I can do to help, just let me know. I can be reached at Fairview University.” “I understand you were accepted.” “Yes.” “I heard about your book. Are you going to skewer me?” “You fought me every step of the way.” “I see.” “However, Mr. McFardle, I am presently making major revisions. There is still time for you to turn into a more sympathetic character. If you could get back to me on this matter, say, by a week from today, I'd appreciate it. I'll be looking forward to your call.” Billy turned to leave, then paused. “Oh, there is one small thing. As you know, my four younger siblings are in foster care, four different homes. I want to get together with them for a reunion. I think it would be good for all of us. Would it be possible for you to smooth the way so I don't have to slog through the bureaucracy and four sets of foster parents?”

“Let's go see my secretary.” They went out to the secretary's desk and, while Billy stood by, Director McFardle explained the arrangements that she should make to facilitate the reunion. “Mr. McFardle, thank you. You're not trying to make me rewrite, are you?” “Anything else, let me know,” the director said, returning to his office. Billy gave the secretary crisp instructions, which she took in earnest shorthand. *** Billy sent a copy of Billy Budd to each of his siblings, along with a letter that was the same for each except for the name. It read: Dear XXXXXX, I know that you have had much heartache. I am very sorry. I am also very sorry that we have not been like real brothers and sisters. I have been very selfish in not keeping up with you. I am planning a reunion for all five of us after I get my driver's license. How does a trip to Boston sound, just the five of us? The DSS said it would be fine. I will let you know details when we get closer to the time. Your brother, Billy P.S. Enclosed is a copy of Billy Budd by Herman Melville. Hope you enjoy it. It didn't occur to him that the book would be well over the heads of the youngest ones. *** Billy had a sixteenth birthday party in the dorm foyer packed with celebrants. The one person whose presence Billy felt the most was not there -- Vera. He pictured her at his side, arm entwined in his, body moving with his, hugging and kissing him. He never realized how touchy-feely Vera was until she wasn't there. But now he smelled her and felt her and heard her. She laughed and tossed her dark head, digging at him about his getting a driver's license: “Everybody, unless you want to die, stay off the roads!” Mr. Caulfield was there, at least his ghost was, and Billy talked to him as he did to Vera. Just a year before, he had celebrated his fifteenth birthday at Mr. Caulfield's. It had been the happiest day of his life. The Silver Streak bike he got that day remained his most prized possession. He told Mr. Caulfield that. And he told him that his singing happy birthday to him in “the world's worst singing voice” was his most precious memory. “Not as bad as that dreadful poem of yours, as I recall,” Mr. Caulfield's ghost said. David Weatherall was there, too. “Are you father and son again?” Billy asked him. “Yes.” “Thank God.” “What you did was crazy.” “David, I have people who are not stupid. We were fully hedged.”

“What if he had accepted?” “We were sure he wouldn't. We offered him less than what the company is worth. On top of that, it so happens that Weatherall Industries has been on Caulfield Industries wish list for a long time. If he did sell, at that price, our money guys felt we couldn't go wrong.” At first, the elder Weatherall didn't believe the buyout offer from Caulfield Industries was for real. But when lawyers and accountants descended upon Weatherall Industries performing due diligence and dropping David Weatherall's name all over the place, he became a believer. He called his son and sued for peace. “I've never seen him so humble,” David said. “He looked at me in a completely different way, almost like he considered me an equal. Now he consults me about everything.” “Has he told you that he loves you?” “No. But he never has.” “He's learned humility. Maybe next he'll learn love.” *** Miss Casey was there, hovering around her valuable new author; and just as well, since Nathan Silverman showed up sniffing out chances of stealing him for World Books. “Our offer still stands,” Nathan whispered to Billy. Seymour Silverman came wearing three hats: as a lobbyist for his nephew Nathan, as Billy's new personal accountant and as his foster uncle. “Strange idea of retirement you have, Mr. Silverman,” Billy said. “Young man,” Mr. Silverman said. “If anybody was ever in a worse position than you to impute strangeness to another, I have never heard of him.” The attorney for the Caulfield Foundation -- Billy was now Chairman -- came by in a business suit and carrying a briefcase bulging with urgent papers. He managed to steal the birthday boy away for quick financial and legal consultations. The Vice Chairman of the Caulfield Foundation, Dr. Sam Bridges was there, quietly observing, staying close to Billy in case the Chairman, Lord Caulfield VI, should require his services. Director Carson showed up. He was now much sought after as a speaker on enlightened new ways to deal with juvenile criminals. He was being talked about as a candidate for Governor on the Democratic ticket. “Democratic?” Billy asked. “I thought you were a hard-core, law-and-order Republican?” “The Democrats called.” “Mr. Carson, you are a talented politician. What's your next incarnation going to be?” “Depends who calls.” Carson ushered in a special surprise for Billy: Johnson Johnson and Billy Ruggieri, both dressed in white shirts and ties. Billy was still working on getting them released. With the two of them still at Granite City School and after his scolding by Sister Francis Helen about his patronizing attitudes, Billy wasn't sure how to behave with them.

But both boys flew to him. They all slapped hands, bumped chests, joked, laughed -while Wally Witkowski and another correction officer, dressed in civvies, stood discreetly by. “Look at that cake!”Johnson Johnson said. “Can I have some?” Soon he was shoving a gigantic piece into his face with both hands. “Thanks for the trucks!” Billy Ruggieri said. “He didn't believe that huge package was for him,” Director Carson said. “He had never received a package before. We had to tell him it was from you and that it was really for him.” “Outside time” was soon over. Billy clasped hands with Johnson Johnson and Billy Ruggieri and the guards ushered them toward the door. “Later,” they said. “Later,” Billy said. *** Richard McFardle stopped by. He had launched an investigation into the charges of abuse that Billy had brought to his office, and had been keeping Billy informed of progress. He and Billy talked about his upcoming reunion on Sunday, just five days away. “Excited?” McFardle asked. “Yes, but nervous. When I called them to confirm, I got one-word answers, like they couldn't wait to get off the phone. Did you get the book? Yes. Have you read any of it? No. Won't it be fun to go to Boston? Yeah, I guess.” “At least they didn't hang up.” McFardle also had news of Joy. Mrs. Stojak had taken ill, seriously ill, and was in the hospital. Joy and Frank Jr. had been placed in foster care. “We had no choice,” McFardle said. “No relative was willing to take them in. Stojak had alienated them all. Nobody wanted anything to do with his kids.” “This is terrible,” Billy said. “Can I talk to you about this as soon as possible?” “Tomorrow, in my office. Let me know when you're coming.” “We have to monitor this closely, Doctor,” Billy said to Dr. Bridges. “Very well,” Dr. Bridges said, making a note. Billy's mother had been invited to the birthday party, but did not come. Just as well, Billy thought.