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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: The Final Fandango (16/17)
Some weeks later, Chris Keller was visiting Ryan O'Reily. They were sitting hunched towards each other over a table in the corner, talking so intensely that they could be mistaken for lovers.
"Shit, K-boy, you're as blind as a fucking bat," O'Reily was trying on Keller's spectacles. "What does it look like seeing Beech clearly for the first time?"
"A lot better than seeing you," Keller replied, beetling his heavy brows.
O'Reily wasn't sure if the scowl was because Keller was pissed off or just focusing. The uncertainty added piquancy to their conversation. He put Keller's glasses down again and got back to business.
"We cut off the fucking body, K-boy, not the head," he said.
Keller grinned a wolfish grin.
"Yeah, now the head's all yours to play with."
"Hey, cool, man. I owe you," said O'Reily, happy as a kid.
"It's on the house," said Keller, "just one thing - whatever you do, make it slow."
It was O'Reily's turn to grin.
"Ya know Vern's back in Em City, now that he's all on his own. He was even in Protective Custody for a while after the entire Brotherhood bought the farm. For some reason, Querns thought Vern'd be next and talked McManus into taking him back. But now there's a vicious rumor doing the rounds amongst the Bikers that Vern was behind the stuff that wiped out the mailroom. I know - doesn't make any sense. Can't imagine where it started. But my intuition tells me ol' Vern's days are numbered."
"He scared?" Keller smiled.
"Shitless," O'Reily assured him. "By the way, I got a new pod-mate."
"Vern?" asked Keller, putting on his glasses again.
"Alvarez," said O'Reily, nodding towards Alvarez who was holding Wolfgang Cutler's widow's hand at the far side of the room. "Vern got Torquemada. It was a toss up between him and Dad."
"The odds are fifty-fifty and Shamus O'Reily gets the winner?" asked Keller. "Hear there's a new drug lord in Oz. Broke Torquemada's monopoly."
"Nope, just a couple of old ones with new suppliers. Call `emselves the Button Boys. Monopolies ain't the American way. Now it's free enterprise again."
Dark heads together, laughing darkly.
"Hear Howell bought it too," O'Reily said after a pause. "And she'd apparently just had a baby and all."
"Eh?" said Keller, smiling perfect teeth and cupping his right ear.
"Shit happens," said O'Reily phlegmatically.
"Sure does when you pick up Mr. Wrong," agreed Keller. "Talking of buying it, did anyone ever find out who sent the Aryans that anthrax - or whatever it was?"
"Nah," said O'Reily. "Apparently the investigation's closed. No evidence. `Sides, those Nazi fucks had so many enemies in Oz and out, it could be almost anyone."
"You gotta be pretty mad to mail some guy anthrax," Keller philosophized.
"Or whatever it was," agreed O'Reily.
"So have you thought about getting out of here?" Keller asked him, after a pause. "I can make it happen."
"I deserve to be here," O'Reily's eyes dulled a bit. "'Sides, everyone I love is in Oz. My family's together at last. What's left of it. And Gloria, of course."
"Your mother and Gloria can leave whenever they want to," Keller reminded him.
"Dad doesn't want to die alone. I promised him he wouldn't," O'Reily explained.
"After what he did to you and Cyril?" Keller snorted.
"I've forgiven him," said O'Reily, looking suddenly like the hopeful kid he was back when Keller first met him.
Back when O'Reily still believed that his father could change. Before he learned otherwise. The last traces of Keller's smile dropped from his face.
"That piece of shit doesn't deserve to be forgiven," he said.
"Jahfree's coming round, at last, letting me sit next to him in the cafeteria and take messages to Mom from him. The other day he even said he'd be happy to watch Dad di e. Only it sounded friendlier when he said it - I think he meant `be with Dad when he died'," O'Reily compromised, "and I get to see Gloria every day."
"At least I got more than one lousy kiss from Beecher in six years. The first time we..." Keller began.
"Whoa, K-boy, don't need to know," O'Reily told him.
"Hey, maybe she'll kiss you again in six years' time," said Keller.
"So is it good with you and Beech now?" asked O'Reily a little enviously.
"It's better than it was," said Keller unenthusiastically. "He's staying off the sauce, but he's still at his mother's place. Says he wants to be with Holly. His mother adopted her after his in-laws adopted Harry. Anyways, now he has something to be guilty about all the time."
"Sounds as if Paradise ain't all it's cracked up to be, K-boy," O'Reily didn't quite hide a smirk.
Keller smirked back.
"I'm making it work for me," he said, "believe me."
Murphy called a warning for five minutes left.
"I gotta go," said Keller standing and pulling his jacket off the back of his chair.
He reached into its side pocket and fished something out. "I got something for you."
He dropped a silver chain and medal into O'Reily's hand. O'Reily recognized it as Keller's old St. Dismas medal.
"Figured you could use it. Sister Pete finally gave it back to me when I left Oz. She also gave me a new one. Said it was for my new journey in life. See."
Keller pulled a St. Christopher dangling from a new silver chain out of his shirt.
"Sorry to tell you, K-boy," said O'Reily, "but he's not a real saint."
"I don't think Sister Pete thinks I'm a real saint either," said Keller, flashing teeth. "Still it was real sweet of her to give it to me. Maybe I should drop by her convent and thank her sometime. You know where to reach me if you change your mind."
Later, in the infirmary, Dr. Gloria Nathan noticed a thin silver chain and medal around O'Reily's neck, instead of the gold one with the crucifix.
"I got it from Keller. We go way back, K-boy and me," O'Reily told her.
"Where is your cross?" asked Gloria. "I've never seen you without it in all these years."
"On your desk," said O'Reily, studiously counting autoclaved dressing packs.
"Mr. McManus, sir!"
A familiar voice hailed him across the parking lot. Tim McManus, who had been leaving Oz early for a change, flinched. It sounded just like Chris Keller. Of course, it was Visiting Day. He turned slowly to face Keller who was leaning against a new silver supercharged Saleen Mustang. Keller's smile was not unlike that of a large predator. Not a bear, Tim thought distractedly, but it'll come to me. Thinking about large predators delayed the eventuality of having to answer Keller. But Keller waited for him to do it.
"Hello, Keller," said Tim. He suddenly felt weary. And wary.
"I'd like to interview you for something I'm researching," Keller told him.
"No shit?" said Tim. He still couldn't place that predator.
"Yeah," Keller smirked. Tim could swear he smirked.
"For a newspaper?" Tim hazarded.
"Nah, I'm at night school."
How? As if reading Tim's mind, Keller said rather pointedly:
"I got my GED at Cedar Junction."
"So now I'm takin' a Social Sciences course and we're writin' a paper on authority figures."
A wolf? Tim was starting to sweat.
"Why don't you try Querns?" he said squeakily, fitting his car key into the lock, without taking his eyes off Keller, who remained leaning against the Mustang, his head slightly to one side, his ankles crossed and his arms folded.
"I'd much rather interview you," Keller practically purred.
A panther? Yeah. Could be a panther.
"Why?" Tim demanded, stealing his fingers around the door handle.
"I know you better," said Keller, "'sides, I've decided to go retro and do a Foucauldian analysis of the Em City set-up. Ya know - discipline and punishment, surveillance, the Panopticon, and all."
Tim didn't know, but it sounded horrible. He wrenched the car door open and jumped into his much humbler and older beige Mazda.
"Let me think about it," he lied.
He'd already made up his mind to have nothing to do with it. As he slammed the door, he glanced up at Keller. Keller just grinned. He knew. And suddenly Tim knew that he'd be doing that interview regardless of what he wanted and that the order to co-operate would probably come from Querns. Keller pushed himself off the Mustang and opened its door. He waved at Tim. Tim didn't wave back. He felt strangled. He'd figured out what the predator was. A python. He gunned the motor.
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