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Beta: Fantastically, encouragingly and speedily beta-ed by Dorilon. Thanks!
Copyright: Edgar C. Gambodge, Elizabeth Lightbody and Martha Grosbeak are mine. Sadly so are Father Michael and Gruner.
Warning: In my Oz universe, many of the events from the last two episodes of Season Six are fictitious.
Settling the Bill: Angus and Toby (10/17)
After a mysterious substance killed every occupant of the mailroom simultaneously, Oz was declared a biohazard and evacuated. The prisoners were spread out among various correctional facilities in the county. Toby, O'Reily, and some of the others were sent to Lardner. Toby's sense of irony was deepening by the day. He even found the whole biohazard phenomenon deeply symbolic of Oz in general and of his own inner state in particular. Nonetheless, he kept his views to himself about the source of the substance and feigned amazement, along with everyone else. Deaths were not well investigated in Oz and the Aryans were unpopular, although they had wealthy supporters on the outside. Very probably nothing would come of it.
I guess I'm out of Oz at last, Toby thought with a wry smile, as the battered silver bus pulled away.
"One should be careful what one wishes for," he said aloud to Rebadow.
Rebadow studied him for a moment, his face drooping like a bloodhound's in the half-light.
"One should be specific about what one wishes for," he replied.
Angus Beecher often came to see his brother in Lardner, which was, if anything, even grimmer than Oz. He came as often as he did partly out of concern for Toby and partly to make up for their mother's absence. Mrs. Beecher couldn't face another prison. Angus couldn't really blame her. He often felt as if he couldn't face Lardner either. There was also the matter of Holly. The adults had agreed between the three of them that Holly shouldn't spend too much time with her father. Mrs. Beecher privately felt that Holly shouldn't be exposed to any more correctional facilities at all. The child already had an anxiety disorder. But Holly insisted on seeing her father and worked herself into a state when disallowed. Harry, by contrast, refused to see Toby. Everyone decided to leave it at that.
When talking to Toby, Angus tried not to dwell too much on problems with the children, because he knew this made Toby feel helpless and guilty. Angus also tried in their conversations to stay away from too many fun or pleasant things, because that made him feel helpless and guilty. Toby was so moody sometimes that every topic of conversation seemed loaded. He'd been away so long that Angus was often surprised by how out of touch Toby had become. How life had moved on without him. Angus had many friends now whom Toby had never met and frequented places Toby had never visited. They'd started to correct that when Toby had briefly made parole, but now it was uncomfortable to refer back to those few weeks.
Today, Angus had a dangerous topic to broach. Christopher Keller. He didn't quite know how to bring it up and wasn't at all sure how Toby would take it. But it was unavoidable. He was still trying opening lines in his head, when Toby flopped down on the other side of the smeary glass and picked up the `phone. Angus picked up his `phone too. Speaking to Toby like this just emphasized how "long-distance" their relationship seemed.
"Hey, Gussie," Toby said.
He sounded tired and older. He had started to tone down his beard, so as not to alarm his daughter when she came to see him. At the moment it looked reasonably calm and well-groomed. He'd grown out the shaved parts. He actually always trimmed it before Gussie came too, so as not to alarm him either.
"Hey, Toby," said Angus, "how are you doing?"
"Not sleeping so well. O'Reily got me some sleeping pills today. I think I'll take one this evening."
"O'Reily's working in the infirmary here too?" said Angus.
"Don't ask," said Toby tiredly. "I don't."
Angus had met Toby's cellmate couple of times before. He knew what Toby meant.
"Um, Toby?" said Angus. "Have you seen Christopher Keller recently?"
"Why?" asked Toby suspiciously.
Chris had been staying away from Toby, as per request, but had been writing to Toby almost every day. He gave little news of himself in his letters, which were full of concern about Toby, how he was doing, how to protect himself, how much Chris loved and missed him. He may as well have been writing from Death Row again.
Toby replied desultorily. He didn't enlarge on anything he mentioned, knowing full well that what he didn't say would cause Chris worry. But he read every word of Chris's letters, no matter how repetitive they sometimes seemed. He kept them all in his footlocker, underneath his shirts, in a large manila envelope that some of his legal documentation had arrived in. He reread them too, when O'Reily wasn't around. Occasionally, when he was feeling very low, he would use one as a book mark, so that he could sneak a peek at some of it, while pretending to read his novel. Parole was taking forever to materialize and Toby was starting to despair.
"Keller's been to the house," said Angus as casually as possible.
Toby froze in mid-yawn.
"When?" he said sharply.
"Actually, it's been a couple of times," admitted Angus.
It had, in fact, been four times and Keller was due again that weekend. But Angus didn't tell Toby that. Instead he started telling Toby about his first meeting with Keller. It had been a trifle unexpected.
Angus had come home one day to find his mother and a dark-haired man he didn't know in deep conversation on the living room couch, over cups of coffee. Mrs. Beecher was doing most of the talking. They looked up at Angus as he came into the room. The stranger rose and Angus found himself looking into intense blue eyes that regarded him with an almost predatory focus.
"Angus, dear, this is Christopher Keller," Mrs. Beecher explained.
Keller extended a hand. Angus gaped.
"What is he doing here?" he demanded, running his hand through his hair distractedly. "Mother, we need to speak."
He bustled his mother out of the room into the hallway, leaving Keller examining his mother's crystal-animal collection.
"Are you insane?" Angus hissed as soon as they were out of earshot. "What did you let him in here for? He's a...a criminal!"
"He's my guest," replied his mother evenly. "We were talking about Toby. He's a criminal too, remember?"
Angus omitted this part of the exchange when he related the events to Toby.
It transpired that Mrs. Beecher had answered the door to find a tall, dark, good-looking stranger, clad in a charcoal cashmere polar-neck and blue jeans, smiling at her. Noticing her alarm when he introduced himself, he offered to speak to her on the front step, but Mrs. Beecher glanced at the neighbors' houses and invited him inside.
He called her "ma'am", explaining that he was concerned about Toby and wanted to make sure he was alright while awaiting his parole hearing. Mrs. Beecher felt really bad having to admit that she hadn't seen Toby in some time.
"That's understandable, ma'am," Keller had assured her, "most inmates' families find it tough visiting."
"Prison's such a dreadful place, Mr. Keller," whispered Mrs. Beecher.
"It sure is, ma'am," replied Keller.
Soon, over coffee and with Keller's undivided attention, Mrs. Beecher was telling him all about her experiences of Oz and the law since Toby's incarceration. It was like opening a floodgate. She had never really been able to discuss the subject with either her husband or Angus. And certainly not with poor Toby.
"But I'm afraid I'm boring you, Christopher," she stopped at last, awkwardly.
Keller's focus and concentration were flattering and a little unnerving at the same time.
"No, I like hearing you talk about how you found Oz and how it affected your relationship with Toby," Keller told her.
"You'll think I'm a bad mother," she said anxiously.
"How could you be a bad mother when you've raised such a wonderful son?" Keller asked.
"But look where he's ended up?" Mrs. Beecher attempted.
"He made a mistake," Keller insisted.
"But such a terrible mistake..." said Mrs. Beecher.
"And he's paid a terrible price. You all have," Keller said. "That's why we need to keep him safe until parole. My lawyer will get him off, I swear."
Mrs. Beecher felt as if years of misery had suddenly been rolled away. She felt at least ten years younger.
By the time Angus had found them, they were talking about Toby's childhood and Mrs. Beecher had given Keller the name of the aftershave that Toby's father used to wear. Mrs. Beecher was surprised Keller remembered it after all this time, but did not think to mention this part of the conversation to Angus when he pulled her out of the room. Angus tried under his breath to remind his mother in the hallway that Christopher Keller was partly responsible for wrecking Toby's parole, but she would hear none of it.
"He loves Toby very much," was all she'd said. "I can tell."
"Mother!" said Angus between clenched teeth. "He's a man!"
Angus also deleted this part of the proceedings when he was speaking to Toby.
However, after being persuaded to join them for coffee, Angus found himself starting to change his tune. Keller wasn't the thug Angus had imagined him to be, but rather a quick-witted and articulate conversationalist, whose speech was a not-unpleasant mixture of good vocabulary and street grammar. His catlike intensity and self-possession were off-set by his charming self-deprecation and impressive lawyer. Everyone knew Gambodge, even if only by reputation. Angus tried to remember what he knew about Keller's manipulative abilities and wondered if he was being played as he felt himself being slowly won over. He resisted as long as he could, but what finally swayed Angus was a conversation with Holly after Keller's second visit.
Mrs. Beecher was organizing lunch with the housekeeper, while Keller waited in the living room with Holly. She was drawing at the coffee table and had barely raised her head from her picture to greet Keller. Her shyness around strangers seemed to be getting worse, not better, despite therapy. Angus toned it down though when he told Toby about her. Keller, it seemed, had asked Holly if she was looking forward to having her daddy back home again and she replied that she was scared.
"Why are you scared?" he asked.
In the light of the answer, Angus admired Keller for asking the question at all; he himself would simply have assumed that Holly was scared because Toby was virtually a stranger to her.
"Because I can't look after Daddy and I don't want him to die," she sobbed, "bad men took Gary away and he died and I couldn't stop them and then Grandpa went to visit Daddy and died and I tried to look after Mommy, but I couldn't and she died too."
"Kids don't have look after grown ups," Keller told her. "Don't worry about Daddy. I'll look after him and if you're ever worried about him, you tell me and I'll fix it."
Holly seemed a lot friendlier when Mrs. Beecher came back to call them to lunch and she related the conversation to Angus and her grandma after Keller left. After that, any doubts the Beechers might have had about Christopher Keller disappeared. Mrs. Beecher was an especially staunch supporter.
"Bitch!" said Toby.
"Who, Mother?" said Angus startled.
"No, Chris," Toby said, "he's seducing you both."
"But he's really very nice," Angus began. "And he's not on the graft - he's mentioned an investment that paid out and he's living very comfortably..."
Toby suddenly realized he really needed to place a call to Chris Keller.
Their conversation was brief. Chris picked up at the first ring.
"Chris," said Toby, in his best businesslike voice.
"Hey, Toby," Chris's voice radiated sunshine.
Toby could imagine that megawatt smile lighting up the room on the other end of the line. He found himself clenching his jaw so hard it hurt.
"Stay away from my mother," he told Chris.
"She's invited me to lunch on Sunday. It'd be rude not to go," Chris sounded undaunted by Toby's tone.
"Since when were you worried about being rude?" Toby inquired.
"She's your mother, Toby," was all Chris said.
"I'm watching you," Toby snarled, realizing, as he said it, how stupid it sounded.
Chris paused a moment. This infuriated Toby, who wondered if he was smirking or not and had no way of telling.
"So how ya doin'?" Chris asked at last, his voice soft.
"Crappy, thanks," Toby replied meaningfully.
"I'm sorry, Toby," said Chris and sounded as if he meant it.
Toby was thrown.
"I've gotta go," he muttered.
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