Was prayer enough for a man like him? Was there a point in a sinner’s life when God stopped listening?
He sat at the edge of the cement bunk, head in his hands.
“C’mon back,” he muttered. “I can feel you.” He closed his eyes.
There they were: the teenagers he’d slaughtered so long ago. Their dead stares eternally accused, their blood-streaked visages pale-blue, like ghosts. He’d been haunted by them every single day since.
“But not nearly long enough. Not nearly long enough. Not nearly, dear Lord, long enough.”
Human life had a price, one he was once more than happy to pay. It was like walking the aisles of Wal-Mart, and he didn’t give a damn if anybody was hurt.
That wasn’t right, no. He wanted to see their pain. He wanted to see them cry and beg. It was boiling bile poured into a vessel that demanded to be filled but never could be.
The judge actually smiled when she pronounced his three back-to-back life sentences. “Want to know why I’m smiling right now, Mr. Bagwell?”
“No, Your Honor.”
Behind him, outraged sniffles of the surviving parents, relatives, and friends littered the silence. The courtroom was packed. It was the most popular he’d ever be in his entire wretched life.
“I’ll tell you why, Mr. Bagwell. Because where you’re going, pedophiles do not last long. Where you’re going, people like you often commit suicide instead of serving their full time. Where you’re going, hopelessness reigns supreme. And when you finally and gratefully pass from this earth, I know that the Ultimate Judge will impose an eternal sentence upon you to make mine appear insignificant. That’s why I’m smiling, Mr. Bagwell.”
The courthouse erupted in applause. Bailiffs led him out of court. The door was just closing when the judge began slamming her gavel for order.
“ ‘Woe to the worthless shepherd,’ ” he cried in the dark. “ ‘Woe to the worthless shepherd who deserts his flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye. May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!’ ”
As the faces of those dead children continued accusing, he thought of what he told Susan the day she came to confront him. Her visage had stuck with him ever since.
“That dirty bastard came home, Susan,” he wept into his hands. “There was a candle in the window, and it was lit. It wanted me to walk up those steps. Teddy was back! Welcome back, Teddy! Welcome back!”
Prison life, in a brutal, almost sensical way, suited him. It wasn’t for rehab. He knew that from the many other times he’d been in lock-up. It wasn’t really for retribution, either. Not for ones as rotten as him, of which in this jail there were maybe half a dozen. Prison officials and bulls knew he was beyond rehabilitation. More often than not the true demons inside prison walls became unofficial employees of the state. Those who could be broken with punishment—for good or evil—were “contracted out” to the monsters to be dealt with. Drugs, whores, cushy prison industry gigs, and the like was how they were compensated. All completely unvocalized, of course, but understood nonetheless.
As for rehabilitation ... well, no one in this god-forsaken sewer really believed that, did they? It was, after all, called the penal system, not the rehab system.
He escaped Fox River with Michael Scofield and six others. None were monsters like him, including mobster John Abruzzi or Scofield’s brother, Lincoln Burrows, who was sitting his ass on death row for murdering the vice president’s brother.
That’s how monsters used to be dealt with.
Burrows wasn’t a monster. But he’d just been set up by them. By free monsters. By what others called “civil servants.”
“They shoulda fried me like bacon,” he sniffled. “But I got in just under the wire.” The state hadn’t reinstated the death penalty when the good judge sentenced him. The public outcry over his life sentence was ...
“... Understandable,” he murmured. He looked up. He could just see the opposite wall eight feet away. “They understand. Ain’t no penal system for the likes of Teddy Bagwell.”
He stared down at his hands. His hands.
He lifted the left one and inspected it. Scofield had been responsible for him losing the one he was born with. A little more than six months ago, in his usual, cryptic way, Scofield gave him this one—this metal and electronic marvel, shiny and silver, and much stronger than his native one.
It responded just like that one did—like part of him had stopped growing flesh and bone, and had grown metal instead. He opened the palm and stared at his dim visage in the reflection.
He had gone on a blood feud against Scofield while the “Fox River Eight,” as the escapees were known to all of America, worked at eluding the massive manhunt. And for that blood feud he had ultimately been sent back to prison. He had let the demon light the candle in the window one too many times. He had threatened Scofield’s woman with rape, had tied her up and smacked her angel face and made ready to let that demon come out and play again.
Justice, which seemed to bend to Pretty’s will every time, came a-callin’ shortly after. And there Teddy went back to Fox River after Justice extended his life sentence three more times for his many murderous misdeeds while outside these walls.
But Scofield wasn’t done with him—which somehow meant that Justice wasn’t either. Five years in he was called to see the warden, who excused himself from his own office. Men in dark blue suits waited. One slammed a sheaf of papers down in front of him. “We’re releasing you, Mr. Bagwell. Sign these forms and you’re a free man.”
He signed them. An hour later he was escorted to the gates. The warden, waiting there, made his outrage plain. “You’ll be back in here inside of a month, Bagwell. It’s in your nature. You can’t help yourself. You’re no good. There is no hope for you. See you soon.”
He recalled thinking of the night a couple of years back when the lights in the cellblock dimmed and brightened, dimmed and brightened, as fifty thousand volts coursed through General Kranz’s body in the Kill House.
“No, sir. You won’t.”
He’d meant that with every fiber of his being.
He turned and walked away.
There was nobody to pick him up. He had nowhere to go. But as he gained the curb, a black Lincoln towncar pulled up. The passenger-side window rolled down. The man, wearing sunglasses, said, “Get in, Mr. Bagwell.”
To show him he was serious, the man opened his blazer just enough to reveal a .45.
“I’m exchangin’ six life terms and a hundred sixty-five years for somethin’. I guess this is it.”
The man didn’t respond.
Was that “something” a quick execution at the hands of what had to be the FBI? It seemed likely, almost certain.
He took a deep breath, reached for the back door handle, opened the door, and climbed in. The driver didn’t wait; he punched the accelerator and the door, from the momentum, closed by itself.
“The Langham, gentlemen, if you please,” he said, settling himself. “And don’t worry about steppin’ on it.”
Neither responded. The driver glanced once in the rearview mirror, but that was it. He too was wearing sunglasses, even though they weren’t necessary. It was a thoroughly gloomy day.
He expected them to drive into the country, order him out of the vehicle, and cap his ass near a ditch. But they headed straight for downtown. Forty minutes later they stopped, unbelievably, in front of the Langham.
The one in the passenger seat turned and tossed something to him—a Smartphone.
They appeared to be in absolutely no mood to wait, so he opened the door and climbed out. The car squealed from the curb before he was fully out, the back door slamming shut again. He tripped and fell, falling to his side. Two passing young women were there immediately, and helped him to his knees, and then to stand. “Are you okay, sir? Are you okay?”
His good hand was scraped and bloody, and two fingers on the prosthetic had broken off. They lay on the concrete of the sidewalk between them.
One picked them up and handed them to him with a look of disgust. “Here.”
“Thank you. Thank you kindly, ladies.”
“What an asshole!” the other one yelled, flipping off the sedan as it disappeared around a corner. “Where are cops when you need them?”
“Nowhere I want to be,” he answered, his hand stinging. He thanked them for their concern once more and went cautiously into the hotel.
He was dressed as an ex-con—denim workshirt and jeans—and was sneered at as such. He tried not to pay attention to it. Before glancing at the Smartphone, he examined the broken stubs of prosthetic fingers in his good hand.
“What kind of trials and tribulations do you got planned for me now, Lord?” he murmured under his breath.
He stuffed the fingers into his pocket.
The doorman spied him and came up to him. “Sir,” he offered. “I saw what just happened.” He pointed. “There’s a restroom just past the lobby to the left. Please go ahead.”
Once in the bathroom, he put his scraped hand under cold water, hissing with the sting, and then dried it off using paper towels. The wound still bled, so he put a fresh towel over it and walked back out into the lobby.
The Smartphone, in his back trousers pocket, was undamaged. He found a free coffee table and set it on top of it. With some effort (he didn’t want to get blood on it), he turned it on and opened the only icon on the screen after locating the on switch and waiting for it to boot up. A text message waited:
Central mail: Post office box: #3459
Cain Savings and Loan: account number 45-a233/9hh
“Well, I’ll be,” he said, studying the information. He grabbed the device and made for the front desk, where a young woman behind the front desk smiled nervously at him as he approached. It was a smile he was very used to, one that said, You are terrifying. Please don’t talk to me.
“How can I help you today?” she asked, avoiding his steady gaze.
“I’d like to book a room at this fine establishment, but I’m not sure I’ve got my account information completely ... well, let’s just say it’s a new account.”
She spied the Smartphone. “You can pay with that if you’d like. Just type in Langham.com and book right there on the front page!”
“I’m not really handy with this newfangled techno-whiz stuff,” he said, looking her over. “Would you mind if I stayed here and tried it with your kind tutelage, should I need it?”
“Certainly, sir,” she answered immediately.
He stepped aside to let her assist other patrons. Device on the countertop, he managed to get on the Web. When the hotel’s webpage popped up, he clicked the Stay With Us link and followed the prompts. He booked a suite (why not?) for a week (again, why not?) and went to pay.
Here goes nothin’, he thought, and entered the bank account number. It was already difficult to do with one good hand; it became doubly difficult with loose paper towel getting in the way.
“Well, I’ll be,” he grinned past his frustration when the page came back with: “Welcome to the Langham, Theodore! Please check in with the front desk to secure your key. Let us treat you to the finest stay you will ever have in Chicago!”
“That I will, that I will,” he murmured. He glanced up at the desk girl, who was once again alone and gazing uncertainly at him. “Says here I’m all booked up, darlin’. What next?”
“What is your name, sir?”
She typed it in with practiced ease. Her face creased in a frown for a moment, probably when she saw that he had booked a penthouse suite, which meant she was treating someone poorly who could easily get her fired. Her smile, which she directed at him a moment later, was much wider, the nervousness well-hidden. “I’ve got you all registered, Mr. Bagwell. Let me get you a key quick.” She reached beneath her and produced a card, which she lay on the counter. “Do you have bags today we can bring up?” It was obvious she was trying not to stare at his damaged prosthetic or at his other hand, of which blood was now soaking through the paper towel wrapped around it.
“Not today, Cari,” he said, reading her name tag. “But thank you kindly anyway. Could you direct me to a clothier, and perhaps the elevator to my floor?”
“Absolutely,” she replied. “Across the mall is a Slate ...”
“A ... what?” he interrupted.
“Slate,” she said apologetically. “Um ... men’s clothes. Nice. Just across the mall.”
“And the elevator?”
She pointed to her right. Just take any of them to the thirty-sixth floor.”
“Thank you kindly, Cari.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Bagwell. Have a pleasant stay.”
A couple of basic shirts and trousers. A new belt. Walkin’ shoes. Socks and underwear. All paid with from cash he shouldn’t have and taken back to a suite he shouldn’t have been allowed to get anywhere near.
He pulled the key-card from his pocket at the same time he noticed a manila envelope halfway under the door. He studied it for a moment before bending to pick it up.
“Nothin’ is for free. Never bought it for a second. Here we go.”
Nothing on its front, not even his name. He opened the door, dropped the bags on a seat next to the window, and opened it.
“Well, I’ll be,” he muttered.
It wasn’t his nature to happily submit to having his strings pulled, so a week later and a new lease on a modest studio apartment downtown, he found him—Lincoln. After wading through the standard threats against his life, he showed him the photo. The one that came with the other documents. The ones he wouldn’t share with anyone except their probable author, whom he had once sworn a blood feud against.
Two months later came hyper-advanced surgery and a brand new hand. “Outis” was the financier, but he had no illusions who that was. It enraged him, because he went into debt with no man, especially that one, and because he couldn’t verify that it was, in fact, Scofield. Scofield who, somehow, from whatever hole he was hiding in, managed to get him sprung from the state pumpkin patch and had enlisted the aid of law enforcement, and had stuffed a new bank account with enough scratch to begin a new life.
Nothin’ is free, he reminded himself over and over again as the play gradually unfolded and his part in it became clear. Especially when it concerns Pretty.
Indeed, it wasn’t.
It wasn’t a coincidence that his new bunkmate was “Poseidon” himself. Jacob Anton Ness, Scofield’s nemesis, had himself fallen victim to Pretty’s smarts and seemingly infinite guile.
Ness didn’t survive the night. That was part of the deal. That was the deal. With his new hand and its nearly superhuman grip, he crushed Ness’ windpipe in one swift move and watched him gurgle purple and lifeless over the toilet.
It was much easier and more pleasurable than he ever could’ve imagined. He had lost a son—one he never knew existed—to Ness and his traitorous little cabal of spooks, and once again the ol’ demon lit that candle, and once again he couldn’t resist it. Scofield knew he wouldn’t. Perhaps that was the only reason for the prosthetic. He wouldn’t put it past him.
Pretty would of course be told. The news would get to him. Would Pretty dial up ol’ Justice one more time and get him sprung again?
The warden hadn’t greeted him when he was readmitted. It was his way of saying, See, Theodore? I told you. This isn’t news, so I won’t make it news. But he was there when the bulls led him in chains to solitary. He was waiting at the door to the cell, arms crossed.
“Take a good look, Theodore, because this is your new home. No more gen-pop. This is where you’re going to spend the rest of your life. This is where you’ve always belonged.”
He motioned resignedly at the guards. “Put him in.”
His cell was at the end of a long hallway. The large rectangular metal door looked almost blended in with the surrounding block and opened with an old-fashioned key, which one guard extracted and placed into the keyhole and turned. The lock buzzed electronically and clicked. The guard pulled the door open, and another pushed him inside. There they unchained him. The warden had already left.
Four months passed.
Had Scofield forgotten about him?
Perhaps Scofield had washed his hands of him once and for all and had gone back to Doctor Prissy and her tight angelic butt cheeks, and left him here to rot. After all, what further use was he to him? Always an opponent of lethal violence, Scofield had been a different man when it came to Ness. Was he changing, adding brutality to his guile?
The demon cried out to light the candle again, but for four grueling months now Teddy had refused to heed it. The demon wanted him to rekindle that blood feud, but he couldn’t let himself do it. The reason why stared him in the face every single moment of every single miserable day in this empty bit of purgatory.
He gazed at his metal hand again. It was a marvel, a true medical miracle. Pretty had given him a hundred fifty large, but this thing—this thing—was worth much, much more.
How had Scofield come into that kind of money while sitting his tight buns in a hole full of towelheads in the middle of the Sahara Desert? How had he forged the necessary connections to spring him from prison?
Just how powerful was Michael Scofield anyway?
As he examined his hand, he thought aloud: “Do I hate him anymore? Do I still hate you, Pretty?”
The man had spent five years in a prison that made Fox River look like a country club. Whatever connections he had made while in it came at a huge, soul-crushing price. Sara married his enemy. Lincoln and LJ thought he was dead. They were very close. Pretty had literally given his life to the state in an effort to free his brother.
What brother would ever go that far for another? Not one in a million. Not one in ten million.
“ ‘This is how we have come to know love: He laid his life down for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.’ ”
He flexed his metal fingers and turned the hand over, flexed them again.
Scofield, from that scorching Saharan hole, or perhaps before he was thrown in it, found his boy and enlisted his aid. They had become brothers themselves. Together they found a way out.
“ ‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.’ ”
He closed his eyes. He couldn’t help it whenever the image of his son lying in a pool of blood invaded his mind again, which it did a hundred times a day.
His boy ...
They’d gotten almost no time to get to know one another. Just a few fleeting days. The son he never knew he had.
Scofield had spent five years with him. Five years—in the same cell.
“Do I still hate you, Pretty? Can I still hate you?”
In the past, and given the same circumstances, unbelievable as they may have been, the answer would’ve been simple and instant and given with bottomless jealous rage: Yes! Yes! YES!
But try as he might—and Lord, how he had tried these past four months!—he could not dredge up that blackness. The demon could not reach the candle to light it. And the reason why was he himself: he would not allow it.
As much as he didn’t want it to be true, as much as it galled him, as much as he wanted to hate Michael Scofield and wanted to make war upon him and wanted to take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, he couldn’t! He just couldn’t!
The truth was ... this amazing hand ... this fifty-million-dollar gesture of repentance and reconciliation ... was nothing compared to the gift of being with his son, even for the few days they were blessed to be together.
And Scofield was responsible for giving him both.
“Do I still hate you, Pretty?”
He chuckled sadly. “Wrong question. Wrong question. Can I still hate you?”
Scofield was, after all, much more like him than he was willing to admit. That manila envelope under his suite door at the Langham was proof. The deal it offered to him was proof. The plan it outlined, long-term and brilliant, was proof. Ness’ gurgling, coughing, blue-faced death was proof.
Make no mistake: Michael Scofield had his own demons, and his own candle in the window of his soul. That much was abundantly clear now. Perhaps that was why, in the end, he had not forgotten about him. Perhaps those demons and that candle was his, Teddy’s, insurance policy at this point.
“Are you fightin’ it, Pretty?” he asked after standing and pacing, which he did probably seventeen hours every single day between sets of push-ups and sit-ups and jogging in place, and between moments of sitting on the bunk and writing short stories, the papers of which were always confiscated by guards when he finished. “Are you fightin’ your own Lucifer? He’s callin’ to you, Pretty. You won and you got the lady doctor back, and your little boy, but I know you: we’re more alike than you’re willin’ to admit. I did your biddin’, and I know you want to let me rot. That’s the red-eyed demon, Pretty. Wouldn’t it be nice to let him light that candle and you enjoy your little life ensconced in suburbia knowin’ ol’ Teddy is turnin’ into a pile of bones in solitary confinement in Fox River?”
He continued pacing, his mind gradually emptying. An hour later a guard checked up on him and fed him dinner (turning on the cell’s lights), and gave him his papers back. He wrote some more, handed the papers back, and lay down. The lights went out. Before he dropped off he murmured, as he always did, “Don’t let ol’ Lucifer light the candle, Scofield. I did you a solid—and lost my boy in the doing. Don’t let that bastard win. Don’t.”
He woke to rapping on the cell door. Guards.
“Coming in, Bagwell! Sit your ass on the bunk and put both hands on the mattress, palms up and open, feet flat on the ground!”
He’d been through this many times. Usually it was an inspection of the cell. They’d tear the place up, push him around a little, and leave. He didn’t mind it so much, as it broke up the deadly monotony and gave him something to do—clean and arrange the cell.
“Sitting!” he yelled back when he’d complied.
He heard the electronic lock growl, then click. The door opened. The sounds of others in solitary down the long hall could suddenly be heard.
Three guards stepped in. Behind them was the warden. He held a manila envelope.