Agent Mahone paced back and forth in front of the wall. He had decoded every part of Michael Scofield's tattoo; every blueprint, acronym, and code phrase. Every part except one:
CJ = s6 + ASbft
The formula was written on a scrap of banner clutched in a dragon's claw. It had been inked onto the skin over Scofield's liver. Mahone had run the formula by chemists, mathematicians, and code-breakers. They all insisted that it was meaningless. In a way, Mahone was glad they'd failed. He'd figured out all the rest. He'd figure out the formula, as well.
A photo of the formula was placed in the exact center of his wall. He'd moved the rest of the photos, of Scofield's tattoos, of the Fox River Eight, of all the information that had gotten him to this point, out towards the periphery of the board. Now they were just context for this one last missing piece of the puzzle.
Felicia stuck her head into his office. She was wearing her coat. "Alex," she said quietly, jingling her keys, "you should go home and get some rest."
"Uh-huh," he agreed absently. The capital letters might stand for names. That had been his first thought. But there was no one in Fox River, or anywhere in Scofield's life, that could be represented by C.J. Scofield's third-grade teacher was named Cheryl Jackson, and he'd spent twenty minutes interviewing her about her memories of Michael Scofield just in case there was some aspect of his relationship with her or the third grade curriculum in the state of Illinois that might play a role in Michael's plan. But it didn't feel right.
"That part of the tattoo might have been an element of his original escape plan from Fox River," Felicia said. "It's probably not important to finding him now."
"Everything's important," said a distant part of Mahone that wasn't caught up in the formula.
The formula could be a set of directions to a location. He'd experimented with a variety of directional, GPS, and coordinate systems. Wasted an hour convinced that the capitalization of letters represented a positive or negative component. Even tried a polar system, with the origin at Fox River, that had given him a location in the middle of the Arctic wilderness. The letters might stand for different towns, street addresses, or landmarks along a route. He had three interns spending their days looking through atlases for possibilities, but he doubted that would pan out. It was too crude, clumsy. And none of Michael's plan was clumsy. It was elegant. So sharp, you didn't even know you'd touched it until you started to bleed.
Felicia cleared her throat. "All right, I'll grant that it may be important, but it might not be relevant at this point."
"Everything's relevant," answered the fraction of his mind that could be spared for getting rid of interruptions. "Start a fresh pot of coffee on your way out, please."
Fresh. He had to look at this with fresh eyes. Mahone closed his eyes. Took two steps forward. Opened them. He was close to it now, seeing the letters blown up larger than Scofield ever would, peering down at his own flesh. Mahone reached out, removed the thumb tacks, and turned the photo upside down to display it the way Michael would have viewed it. He replaced the thumb tacks to secure the photo in its new orientation.
He ran a finger along the edge of the banner, where it curled under the dragon's claw. Could there be more of the formula, hidden behind that curve where he couldn't get to it? No. The truth was there, right there, in this photo. Michael had taken his brilliant, intricate plan and written it there for anyone to read, anyone to touch. All the inner workings of his brain, spelled out on his own flesh like a dare. He'd thought he was safe, that no one would see, that no one would understand.
Mahone saw him. Mahone could understand those tattoos and the quick mind that created them. Because he might not be a good man, but he was a good agent. There was no one better at this than he was. No one. And no structural engineer from Illinois was going to beat him.
Mahone tugged at his loose tie, ripped it off, threw away his suit coat, and started in on his shirt. A button sprang off and part of him made a note of where it landed. Maybe there was something about the location of the formula on Michael's body that was important. He could draw it on his own flesh with a pen, anatomically correct, and see where that got him.
When he found the answer, it would be obvious. They always were.