tapped Teddy’s arm several times, light taps, as if playing a drumbeat with his fingers. “You’re it! To the tenth degree. Hee!” He leapt down the dark stairwell and they heard him shouting “Blammo” all the way down.
“... forty-nine bottles of beer! You take one down...”
Teddy looked over at Chuck. His face was damp, and he exhaled carefully through his mouth.
“You’re right,” Teddy said. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Now you’re talking.”
It came from the top of the stairwell:
“Somebody give me a fucking hand here! Jesus!”
Teddy and Chuck looked up and saw two men coming down the stairs in a ball. One wore guard blues, the other patient whites, and they slammed to a stop at the curve in the staircase on the widest stair. The patient got a hand free nd dug it into the guard’s face just below his left eye and pulled a flap of skin free, and the guard screamed and wrenched his head back.
Teddy and Chuck ran up the steps. The patient’s hand plunged down again, but Chuck grabbed it at the wrist.
The guard wiped at his eye and smeared blood down to his chin. Teddy could hear all four of them take breaths, hear the distant beer bottle song, that patient on forty-two now, rounding the corner for forty-one, and then he saw the guy below him rear up with his mouth wide open, and he said, “Chuck, watch it,” and slammed the heel of his hand into the patient’s forehead before he could take a bite out of Chuck’s wrist.
“You got to get off him,” he said tO the guard. “Come on. Get off.”
The guard freed himself of the patient’s legs and scrambled back
up two steps. Teddy came over the patient’s body and clamped down
hard on his shoulder, pinning it to the stone, and he looked back over
his shoulder at Chuck, and the baton sliced between them, cut the air
with a hiss and a whistle, and broke the patient’s nose. Teddy felt the body underneath him go slack and Chuck said, “Jesus Christ!”
The guard swung again and Teddy turned on the patient’s body and blocked the arm with his elbow.
He looked into his bloody face. “Hey! Hey! He’s out cold. Hey!” The guard could smell his own blood, though. He cocked the baton.
Chuck said, “Look at me! Look at me!”
The guard’s eyes jerked to Chuck’s face.
“You stand the luck down. You hear me? You stand down. This patient is subdued.” Chuck let go of the patient’s wrist and his arm flopped to his chest. Chuck sat back against the wall, kept his stare locked on the guard. “Do you hear me?” he said softly. ‘, The guard dropped his eyes and lowered the baton. He touched the wound on his cheekbone with his shirt, looked at the blood on the fabric. “He tore my face open.”
Teddy leaned in, took a look at the wound. He’d seen a lot worse; the kid wouldn’t die from it or anything. But it was ugly. No doctor would ever be able to sew it back dean.
He said, “You’ll be fine. Couple of stitches.”
Above them they could hear the crash of several bodies and some furniture.
“You got a riot on your hands?” Chuck said.
The guard chugged air in and out of his mouth until the color returnedto his face. “Close to.”
“Inmates taken over the asylum?” Chuck said lightly.
The kid looked at Teddy carefully, then over at Chuck. “Not yet.”
Chuck pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, handed it to the kid.
The kid nodded his thanks and pressed it to his face.
Chuck lifted the patient’s wrist again, and Teddy watched him feel for a pulse. He dropped the wrist and pushed back one of the man’s eyelids. He looked at Teddy. “He’ll live.”
“Let’s get him up,” Teddy said.
They slung the patient’s arms around their shoulders and followed the guard up the steps. He didn’t weigh much, but it was a long staircase, and the tops of his feet kept hugging the edges of the risers. When they reached the top, the guard turned, and he looked older, maybe a bit more intelligent.
“You’re the marshals,” he said.
He nodded. “You are. I saw you when you arrived.” He gave Chuck a small smile. “That scar on your face, you know?” Chuck sighed.
“What are you doing in here?” the kid said.
“Saving your face,” Teddy’ said.
The kid took the handkerchief from his wound, looked at it, and pressed it back there again.
“Guy you’re holding there?” he said. “Paul Vingis. West Virginia. Killed his brother’s wife and two daughters while the brother was serving in Korea. Kept them in a basement, you know, pleasuring himself, while they were rotting.”
Teddy resisted the urge to step out from under Vingis’s arm, let him drop back down the stairs.
“Truth is,” the kid said and cleared his throat. “Truth is, he had me.” He met their eyes and his own were red.
“What’s your name?”
“Baker. Fred Baker.”
Teddy shook his hand. “Look, Fred? Hey, we’re glad we could help.”
The kid looked down at his shoes, the spots of blood there.
“Again: what are you doing here?”
“Taking a look around,” Teddy said. “A couple of minutes, and we’ll be gone.”
The kid took some time considering that, and Teddy could feel the previous two years of his life—losing Dolores, honing in on Laeddis, finding out about this place, stumbling across George Noyce and his stories of drug and lobotomy experiments, making contact with Senator Hurly, waiting for the right moment to cross the harbor like they’d waited to cross the English Channel to Normandy—all of it hanging in the balance of this kid’s pause.
“You know,” the kid said, “I’ve worked a few rough places. Jails, a max prison, another place was also a hospital for the criminally insane...” He looked at the door and his eyes widened as if with a yawn except that his mouth didn’t open. “Yeah. Worked some places. But this place?” He gave each of them a long, level gaze. “They wrote their own playbook here.”
He stared at Teddy and Teddy tried to read the answer in the kid’s eyes, but the stare was of the thousand-yards variety, flat, ancient. “A couple of minutes?” The kid nodded to himself. “All right. No one’ll notice in all this fucking mayhem. You take your couple minutes and then get out, okay?”