“Aww, shit,” A1 said.
“I see mine.”
He was coming right at them, soaking wet, and Teddy saw the guards dropping the hose and giving chase. A small guy with red hair, a face like a swarm of bees, covered in blackheads, red eyes that matched his hair. He broke right at the last second, hitting a hole only he saw as Al’s arms swept over his head and the little guy slid on his knees, rolled, and then scrambled up.
A1 broke into a run after him and then the guards rushed past Teddy, batons held over their heads, as wet as the man they chased. Teddy had started to step into the chase, if from nothing else but instinct, when he heard the whisper:
He stood in the center of the room, waiting to hear it again. Nothing. The collective moaning, momentarily stopped by the pursuit of the little redhead, began to well up again, starting as a buzz amid the stray rattlings of bedpans.
Teddy thought about those yellow pills again. If Cawley suspected, really suspected, that he and Chuck were—
He turned and faced the three cells to his right. All dark. Teddy waited, knowing the speaker could see him, wondering if it could be Laeddis himself.
“You were supposed to save me.”
It came from either the one in the center or the one to the left of it. Not Laeddis’s voice. Definitely not. But one that seemed familiar just the same.
Teddy approached the bars in the center. He fished in his pockets. He found a box of matches, pulled it out. He struck the match against the flint strip and it flared and he saw a small sink and a man with sunken ribs kneeling on the bed, writing on the wall. He looked back over his shoulder at Teddy. Not Laeddis. Not anyone he knew. “Do you mind? I prefer to work in the dark. Thank you oh so much.”
Teddy backed away from the bars, turning to his left and noticing that the entire left wall of the man’s cell was covered in script, not an inch to spare, thousands of cramped, precise lines of it, the words so small they were unreadable unless you pressed your eyes to the wall, He crossed to the next cell and the match went out and the voice, close now, said, “You failed me.”
Teddy’s hand shook as he struck the next match and the wood snapped and broke away against the flint strip.
“You told me I’d be free of this place. You promised.”
Teddy struck another match and it flew off into the cell, unlit.
The third match left the flint with a sizzle and the flame flared high over his finger and he held it to the bars and stared in. The man sitting on the bed in the left corner had his head down, his face pressed between his knees, his arms wrapped around his calves. He was bald up the middle, salt-and-pepper on the sides. He was naked except for a pair of white boxer shorts. His bones shook against his flesh. Teddy licked his lips and the roof of his mouth. He stared over the match and said, “Hello?”
“They took me back. They say I’m theirs.”
”I can’t see your face.”
“They say I’m home now.”
“Could you raise your head?”
“They say this is home. I’ll never leave.”
“Let me see your face.”
“Let me see your face.”
“You don’t recognize my voice? All the conversations we had?”
“Lift your head.”
“I used to like to think it became more than strictly professional. That we became friends of a sort. That match is going to go out soon, by the way.”
Teddy stared at the swath of bald skin, the trembling limbs.
“I’m telling you, buddy—“
“Telling me what? Telling me what? What can you tell me? More
lies, that’s what.” ‘
“You are a liar.”
“No, I’m not. Raise your—“
The flame burned the tip of his index finger and the side of his thumb and he dropped the match.
The cell vanished. He could hear the bedsprings wheeze, a coarse whisper of fabric against stone, a creaking of bones.
Teddy heard the name again:
It came from the right side of the cell this time.
“This was never about the truth.”
He pulled two matches free, pressed them together.
He struck the match. The bed was empty. He moved his hand to the right and saw the man standing in the corner, his back to him.
“What?” Teddy said.
“About the truth.”
“This is about the truth. Exposing the—“
“This is about you. And Laeddis. This is all it’s ever been about. I was incidental. I was a way in.”
The man spun. Walked toward him. His face was pulverized. A swollen mess of purple and black and cherry red. The nose broken and covered in an X of white tape.
“Jesus,” Teddy said.
“You like it?”
“Who did this?”
“You did this.”
“How the hell could I have—“
George Noyce stepped up to the bars, his lips as thick as bicecle tires and black with sutures. “All your talk. All your fucking talk and I’m back in here. Because of you.”
Teddy remembered the last time he’d seen him in the visiting room at the prison. Even with the jailhouse tan, he’d looked healthy, vibrant, most of his dark clouds lifted. He’d told a joke, something about an Italian and a German walking into a bar in E1 Paso.
“You look at me,” George Noyce said. “Don’t look away. You never wanted to expose this place.”
“George,” Teddy said, keeping his voice low, calm, “that’s not true.”
“No. What do you think I’ve spent the last year of my life planning for? This. Now. Right here.”
Teddy could feel the scream hit his face.“Fuck you!” George yelled again. “You spent the last year of your life planning? Planning to kill. That’s all. Kill Laeddis. That’s your fucking game. And look where it got me. Here. Back here. I can’t take here. I can’t take this fucking horror house. Do you hear me? Not again, not again, not again.”
“George, listen. How did they get to you? There have to be transfer orders. There have to be psychiatric consultations. Files, George. Paperwork.”