Sara isn’t the sort of person who likes riddles. Now, problems are a whole other matter: give her signs, give her symptoms, logical chains of events, and she’ll diagnose you before you’ve had the time to say abracadabra. That was a running joke about her at the hospital, because she was the fastest to know what was wrong with a patient. Back in the days of her internship, it was easy, because the answer was usually there on the patient’s very face and body – rashes, nervous sweating, sallow complexion.
Maybe it was because treating people who were externally ill was too easy that Sara decided to work on helping the clinically insane. Really, the symptoms translated just as clearly through body language, their running talk or obsessions provided you with all the right clues to figure out what was ailing them. It wasn’t exactly like solving a math problem, but it was a far cry from those silly riddles her colleagues sometimes teased her with (The more you take, the more you leave behind. What am I?) No thanks. If Sara wanted a headache, she’d bang her own head against the wall just like the inmates.
Not that that was an actual portrayal of what things were like, in Saint Abram’s Asylum. Asylums were the kinds of places that suffered such distortions in the media, you just couldn’t know what the inside of it looked like when you’d never stepped foot in one. For starters, the patients didn’t actually beat their heads against the wall, that was second-degree talk. It wasn’t awful like you would think, it wasn’t uncanny, with patients leering at you with bloodcurdling smiles, empty corridors at night filled with nothing but the sound of thunder and insane laughter. Really, it looked much like a regular hospital, with patients who were more drugged-out and, on the whole, easy to handle.
In this unexciting, sometimes uncomfortable everyday atmosphere, this world of sheer, logical problems, Michael Scofield was the one exception, the riddle that upset Sara’s perfect balance, that left her brain in a turmoil of frustrated incomprehension.
By no means was he more difficult than most patients. Michael took his meds without a struggle, every morning (or so the staff thought), and during his psychological evaluations, he was always very pleasant with her, actually courteous, which was rare around here.
What was puzzling about him wasn’t even really his condition. Doctors and psychiatrists alike had concluded that Michael Scofield suffered from an acute monomania, which developed after the death of his only brother a couple of years ago. Around this period, Michael’s behavior changed. At work, he was aloof, unfocused. This was evidently accepted as in relation with his mourning, but then, he started showing up late, disappearing for entire days without being able to explain himself.
Finally, after a year and a half during which Michael lost his job and became estranged from all of his close friends, he was taken in after having an extremely brutal fit in the middle of the street. Witnesses called the police, an ambulance (some even called the fire department). Apparently, the young man was raving like a wild demon, chasing a vehicle – he described it as a black Sedan, though no other bystander could verify its existence – shouting for people to stop the car, They’re going to kill him, they’re going to kill him.
Now, it was difficult for Sara to imagine calm and meditative Michael Scofield in such a state, but people said he was unstoppable, a real live wire. He simply lost it, was the diagnosis of most of his close relations, in concordance with the doctors who treated him.
When Michael gave his version of the facts to the police – psychiatrists only came later – he claimed his brother, Lincoln Burrows, was very much alive. For the past year and a half, he’d been living in some secret location amidst a group of people whose identity he couldn’t reveal, and Michael had been helping him, helping them, trying to bring down an evil corporation visibly affiliated with the government and which Michael clearly believed to be omnipotent.
‘My brother worked for them, for a time,’ Sara read from Michael’s report. ‘He’s been involved with criminals most of his life. But when he realized more money meant larger scales – in the range of murder – he wanted out. But they wouldn’t let him out. So he faked his death.’
It was important that Michael admitted he didn’t immediately know about this. For a few days, as far as the burial, Michael actually believed his brother was dead. It was only a while later that Lincoln contacted him and explained the situation.
Michael’s file stipulated the brothers had been very close in their childhood, and it wasn’t unthinkable that Lincoln’s death had been enough of a trauma for Michael to invent a new reality in which his brother was alive and well. His talk on the evil entities that had entered his life ever since was remarkably stable. No confusion, no variation or mistakes on their identities. Unlike most patients suffering from such a condition, he didn’t give vague descriptions of a plurality of ‘men in black’. He was capable of giving a minute description of some of the faces he believed he had gotten a close look at. Apart from that, it was your regular conspiracy-theory inspired fantasy. Michael believed he lived in a persecuting universe. That not only he but his brother was in danger, because the evil corporation – he called it the company – knew he was alive now.
But what was really, truly odd about Michael Scofield, wasn’t his story so much as his character. When Sara talked to him, even when she tried to prod him to talk about some of the elements of his imagined world, part of her couldn’t adhere to the thought that he suffered from mental illness.
Sara had worked with insane people for a few years now, enough to always be able to get that tick in her brain, when the pieces of the puzzle came together, when she could tell for sure that a certain mental ailment was the only solution to the problem exhibited by the patient.
Michael Scofield, in his furtive way of escaping categorization, was much more like a riddle (Now you see me now you don’t). Though Michael had been diagnosed clinically insane, Sara didn’t believe him mad. And though, for the past few months, he had stopped talking about his fantasies altogether and was willing to admit they were a self-created fiction, Sara wasn’t convinced he believed it.
But that was before her relationship with Michael Scofield changed drastically, before her life took a sudden turn no one could have prevented or foreseen.
The day had started out rather as usual, except that it was maybe slightly hotter – it had been a hot, very hot summer, and Sara could testify the heat doesn’t make the inmates more manageable. Of course, most patients were allowed sometimes outside in the garden, but it was especially hard on those who were even restricted to solitary – the very few inmates here who were actually dangerous, who’d tried to hurt members of staff or other patients.
The former case was truly rarer than you would think. Instances of attacks on doctors or security guards were nearly inexistent. Though Sara couldn’t deny working here every day required grit and nerve, she was never actually afraid, walking down those corridors, doing her job, interacting with patients.
So, really, that day was just her luck. Sara was always bad with odds.
Her office at Saint Abram’s was in the same wing as the confinement cells, at just a few corridors of distance. There were other offices on that floor, but at noon, on such a day – the heat was stifling enough to drive sane people out of their wits – Sara’s colleagues were most likely outside, enjoying their lunch break or on lunch duty with the inmates.
Sara wasn’t actually planning to spend her one-hour break in her office herself, but there were some files she wanted to check out before her afternoon appointments. Really, she was just going to be a few minutes, maybe do a little paperwork and then be on her way, when she stumbled upon an inmate wandering in the halls.
First, she was only surprised because regular patients had no business in the left wing. And the patients who did, of course, had no business being out of their cells.
The man caught sight of her at the exact same moment she did. The seriousness on his face drained the desire she’d had to chuckle, at the absurdity of her finding – and also, there was the recognition that followed a closer appraisal of him.
Of all the patients in this building. Who could she run into, by herself, but Theodore Bagwell, no doubt freshly escaped from his cell, maybe the only inmate here who had convinced the jury of his insanity to avoid prison in life or even capital punishment.
Sara didn’t deny Bagwell did have a troubled mind, was notably close to your idea of the pervers narcissique who asserts his will through sadism. He hadn’t seen many days outside of confinement – caused far too much trouble to be left amongst the other inmates. Oh, she’d heard all the stories about him, each more sordid than the last, and though she hadn’t seen much of Bagwell during his stay here, there’d been a couple of satisfied grins here and then, which were all to themselves nearly enough to convince Sara that Bagwell would have been more fitted in a prison than an asylum – except if it was the same asylum where they kept Hannibal Lecter.
“Oh, hell.” She vaguely heard him mutter a curse.
Shock wore out for them both and Sara thought of turning around and running for dear life about the same time as Bagwell thought of grabbing her by the throat and pinning her to the wall.
Naturally, he acted faster. Because Sara couldn’t have one day’s luck in her life, could she?
“Don’t scream.” He commanded. “Don’t do anything. You’re in luck, honey. I’m pressed for time, so this won’t hurt –”
He never got around to finish. Sara felt him suddenly collapse against the floor and, like a rabbit magically appearing out of a black hat, Michael Scofield stood erect before her.
It was so absurd Sara would have probably laughed, if it weren’t for the shock and the chilling ghost of Bagwell’s hand on her throat.
Her eyes went from the young man to the prostrate body on the floor. She hadn’t even seen him strike, though he’d most likely thumped Bagwell’s head against the wall, because his nose was burst and bleeding. She should call for backup, of course, but her thoughts weren’t yet in order.
He interrupted before she could think of a question. “We should go,” he suggested politely. “He might wake up.” You would think he was one of her colleagues rather than a patient, wandering around a wing he had no business in, especially when he should be downstairs having lunch with his fellow inmates.
It was a few seconds before she could manage a coherent objection. “No.”
A flash of discomposure flew over his features, so quick it was barely there at all, before the same ask of courtesy was impeccably restored.
“No,” she fumbled for her talkie – yes, they still used those, it was safer than dialing any emergency number and sent directly for the closest people at hand in the building. “I’ll watch him, wait for a security team.” Sara knelt carefully near Bagwell’s body to examine his face. Blood gushed out of his nose, streaming down the lower half of his face and the shirt of his uniform. “He can’t be left alone, he might choke.”
She cast a look at Michael, whose face was strained with the effort of remaining impassive. Probably, he didn’t care much whether Theodore Bagwell choked to death in his own blood.
In silence, he waited as she asked for a medical team and some security to come to the third floor, in the left wing, immediately.
Then he let out an urgent exhale and, when she met his eyes, they were a turmoil of buried concern. “Please.” He said. “Can you please not tell them I helped you? If I go, right now, they don’t have to see us together.”
“What?” Sara shook her head, as if to shake the absurdity from his words. “Michael, there are cameras here –”
“The cameras were tampered with.”
Realization dropped like a rock down Sara’s stomach. “You were escaping with him. Bagwell. That’s what you’re doing here, you were with him in the first place –”
“I don’t have time to explain.” He cut her off. The urgency in his voice was significant, like it was a matter of life or death. “You have to believe me, please. They can’t know I helped you. If they see you as connected with me you’ll be in danger – great danger, Doctor Tancredi. Please.”
Sara was at a loss for a reaction, her mouth slightly agape. “Are you threatening me?”
“I’m trying to help you.”
From a distance, the sound of footsteps started being heard. Michael looked back at her, more serious than ever. “I was never here.” He said. “You must trust me.”
“I know you don’t think I’m insane.” He interrupted. “I’ve been around enough people who do to be able to tell the difference.”
She realized she couldn’t deny his argument. Instead, clenching her jaw, she replied on a gentle tone. “Michael, you know I have to report you. Both of you –”
“You can say you knocked out Bagwell yourself. He won’t rat me out. Not now, anyway, and it’ll buy us time. It’s the only way you can be safe. I’m sorry.”
Then he was suddenly racing down the closest staircase, disappearing as abruptly as he’d appeared, leaving Sara alone, stunned, unaware that her life had just changed forever.