“Sure,” Chuck said.
“And, hey.” The kid gave them a small smile as he reached for the door. “Try not to die in those few minutes, okay? I’d appreciate that.”
THEY WENT THROUGH’the door and entered a cell block of granite
walls and granite floors that ran the length of the fort under archways ten feet wide and fourteen feet tall. Tall windows at either end of
the floor provided the only light, and the ceiling dripped water and the floors were filled with puddles. The cells stood off to their right and left, buried in the dark.
Baker said, “Our main generator blew at around four this morning. The locks on the cells are controlled electronically. That’s one of our more recent innovations. Great fucking idea, huh? So all the cells opened at four. Luckily we can still work those locks manually, so we got most of the patients back inside and locked them in, but some prick has a key. He keeps sneaking in and getting to at least one cell before he takes off again.”
Teddy said, “Bald guy, maybe?”
Baker looked over at him. “Bald guy? Yeah. He’s one we can’t account for. Figured it might be him. His name’s Litchfield.”
“He’s playing tag in that stairwell we just came up. The lower half.”
Baker led them to the third cell on the right and opened it. “Toss him in there.”
It took them a few seconds to find the bed in the dark and then Baker clicked on a flashlight and shone the beam inside and they lay Vingis on the bed and he moaned and the blood bubbled in his nostrils.
“I need to get some backup and go after Litchfield,” Baker said. “The basement’s where we keep the guys we don’t even feed unless there’s six guards in the room. If they get out, it’ll be the fucking Alamo in here.”
“You get medical assistance first,” Chuck said.
Baker found an unstained section of handkerchief and pressed it back over his wound. “Don’t got time.”
“For him,” Chuck said.
Baker looked in through the bars at them. “Yeah. All right. I’ll find a doctor. And you two? In and out in record time, right?” “Right. Get the guy a doctor,” Chuck said as they left the cell.
Baker locked the cell door. “I’m on it.”
He jogged down the cell block, sidestepping three guards dragging a bearded giant toward his cell, kept running.
“What do you think?” Teddy said. Through the archways he could see a man by the far window, hanging up on the bars, some guards dragging in a hose. His eyes were beginning to adjust to what there was of the pewter light in the main corridor, but the cells remained black.
“There has to be a set of files in here somewhere,” Chuck said. “If only for basic medical and reference purposes. You look for Laeddis, I look for files?”
“Where do you figure those files are?”
Chuck looked back at the door. “By the sounds of it, it gets less
dangerous the higher you go in here. I figure their admin’ has gotta be up.”
“Okay. Where and when do we meet?”
The guards had gotten the hose working and fired a blast, blew the guy off the bars, pushed him across the floor.
Some men clapped in their cells, others moaned, moans so deep and abandoned they could have come from a battlefield. “Fifteen sounds right. Meet back in that big hall?”
They shook hands and Chuck’s was damp, his upper lip slick.
“You watch your ass, Teddy.”
A patient banged through the door behind them and ran past them into the ward. His feet were bare and grimy and he ran like he was training for a prizefight--:fluid strides working in tandem with shadow-boxing arms.
“See what I can do.” Teddy gave Chuck a smile.
“All right, then.”
Chuck walked to the door. He paused to look back. Teddy nodded.
Chuck opened the door as two orderlies came through from the stairs. Chuck turned the corner and disappeared, and one of the orderlies said to Teddy, “You see the Great White Hope come through here?”
Teddy looked back through the archway, saw the patient dancing in place on his heels, punching the air with combinations. Teddy pointed and the three of them fell into step.
“He was a boxer?” Teddy said.
The guy on his left, a tall, older black guy, said, “Oh, you come up
from the beach, huh? The vacation wards. Uh-huh. Yeah, well, Willy
there, he think he training for a bout at Madison Square with Joe Louis. Thing is, he ain’t half bad.”
They were nearing the guy, and Teddy watched his fists shred the air.
“It’s going to take more than three of us.”
The older orderly chuckled. “Won’t take but one. I’m his manager. You didn’t know?” He called out, “Yo, Willy. Gotta get you a massage, my man. Ain’t but an hour till the fight.”
“Don’t want no massage.” Willy started tapping the air with quick jabs.
“Can’t have my meal ticket cramping up on me,” the orderly said.
“Only cramped-up that time I fought Jersey Joe.”
“And look how that turned out.”
Willy’s arms snapped to his sides. “You got a point.” . “Training room, right over here.” The orderly swept his arm out to the left with a flourish.
“Just don’t touch me. I don’t like to be touched before a fight. You know that.”
“Oh, I know, killer.” He opened up the cell. “Come on now.”
Willy walked toward the cell. “You can really hear ‘em, you know?
“SRO, my man. SRO.”
Teddy and the other orderly kept walking, the orderly holding out a brown hand. “I’m AI.”
Teddy shook the hand. “Teddy, M. Nice to meet you.”
“Why you all got up for the outside, Teddy?”
Teddy looked at his slicker. “Roof detail. Saw a patient on the stairs, though, chased him in here. Figured you guys could use an extra hand.”
A wad of feces hit the floor by Teddy’s foot and someone cackled
from the dark of a cell and Teddy kept his eyes straight ahead and didn’t break stride.
A1 said, “You want to stay as close to the middle as possible. Even so, you get hit with just about everything ‘least once a week. You see your man?”
Teddy shook his head. “No, I---“