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Mile Markers

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Enjoy Chapter Two of The Candle in the Window--a Fan-Fiction Tribute to T-Bag from Prison Break!

Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell, convicted murderer, is released from Fox River Prison to help Michael Scofield, whom he once swore a blood feud against, in Scofield's efforts to bring to justice one "Poseidon," the CIA spook who incarcerated him and married his beloved, Sara Tancredi. Scofield even funds a new prosthetic hand for T-Bag, a beyond-the-top-of-the-line marvel that behaves just like any normal one but is many times stronger.

But that isn't the greatest gift Scofield gives him. For T-Bag has a son, one he never knew he had. David--"Whip"--had been Scofield's cellmate while both languished for the past five years in a brutal prison in Yemen.

The plan is hatched, the play unfolds, and David dies just days after Theodore finds out about him. Enraged, he once again lets the demon light the candle in the window of his soul, and kills the CIA spook responsible.

We leave Theodore Bagwell in his cell back in Fox River. His new cellmate is none other than Poseidon himself. This is where we rejoin him and his efforts at redemption. This is where the candle in the window waits to be re-lit.

Chapter One

Chapter Two
A Little Spring in His Step

“Get up,” ordered the warden.

   He stood.

   The guards did a quick check of the cell, then patted him down.

   “Clear,” one grunted.

   The warden entered. He approached until he was standing almost nose to nose with him. The envelope, in his grip, was by his side.

   “I used to believe in my government,” he said after an icy moment of silence. “I used to consider myself a patriot. But I just can’t get behind a government that lets scumbags like you free.”

   He turned on his heel, manila envelope still in hand, and marched out.

   Theodore glanced at the guards just before one, billy club waving threateningly, swung it into his jaw.

   He fell backwards against his bunk. Another kicked him in the nuts, pitching him forward.

   They descended on him.

   He refused to cry out or complain or make any noise of protest at all.

   Fists, clubs, knees, and feet smashed into him. Gratefully, the peace and blackness of unconsciousness claimed him soon after.

He came to.

   He was on a sidewalk. Next to a curb. The same curb the black Lincoln had picked him up at. Outside the walls of Fox River.

   He was free.

   Something was in Vice. Electrical impulses in its fingers attached to nerve endings in his wrist communicated to his brain that the metal prosthetic was holding something. Something thin.

   He tried raising his head to look, but agony in his neck and jaw kept him from moving.

   He spat blood. His neck felt broken. Missing teeth? Ribs—broken? Eyes almost totally swollen shut. Testicles jammed up into his bladder.

   All he had to do now was survive.

   Scofield hadn’t forgotten about him.

   If he died out here, he knew nothing would be done about it. Like the last time he was freed, he was released to the prison’s back street, one reserved for supply trucks and the like. No one from the public would see him.

   He choked out more blood and tried uncurling.


   It was damn cold. And now ... a sprinkle. Sleet. Weather moving in.

   Bulls were almost certainly watching him. No doubt one or two had high-powered rifles trained on him. One might just take a shot and end him. Who would notice?

   A gust of frozen air leeched the weak heat from his broken body.

   He’d forgotten about Vice and whatever it was gripping.

   Vice appeared undamaged, though his wrist just above it throbbed. Even guards with billy clubs couldn’t damage it. In its grip was the manila envelope.

   The distant sound of an approaching car. He lifted his chin as far as the pain allowed.

   Black car. Not a Lincoln. Not a government car. Civilian, older, banged up. It pulled up to the curb just a couple of feet away and stopped. The engine kept chugging.

   The door opened and a woman got out. She bent over him. “Oh, Teddy!” she cried in a thick Panamanian accent. “Oh Teddy, look at you!”

   She glanced with hate up at the towers.

   He recognized her instantly. He insisted while in Panama that she call herself Susan when she was servicing him. He didn’t know her real name. He had left her behind to continue his blood feud against Scofield. Somehow, against all probability, she was here.

   He coughed out a wad of blood and rasped, “ ‘He fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half-dead....’ ”

   “We need to get you out of here—now,” she said, glancing again at the towers. “Right now!” She thrust a hand into her coat and withdrew a phone and held it up, pointing it at the towers, then at him. “If they shoot you or me, the video will go to the authorities. But I need you to stand. I can’t lift you by myself.”

   How he managed to get to his knees and then to his feet he did not remember. Fox River was suddenly receding into the distance, and he was in the passenger seat. He didn’t remember making it to the car, let alone getting in it.

   It didn’t matter.

   He was free.

   Scofield hadn’t forgotten about him.

   He closed his eyes.

“There you are. No, no ... don’t move. You’re covered in black and blue.”

   He couldn’t open his eyes. They had swollen completely shut. He knew he was on his back, and that, judging by the smell and the beeping, that he was in a hospital. He tried opening his mouth, but couldn’t. His face ... was covered not just in bruises, but bandages.

   He swallowed. Agony. He gurgled.

   “Susan" presented a straw to his lips. “A little fruit juice. Doctor said you could have some. Just a little at a time, Teddy. There you go.”

   He tried opening his eyes again after swallowing, but only got far enough to see fuzzy white light. Every breath twinged.

   “You’ve had dental surgery, reconstructive surgery on your cheeks, and have just been released from traction. Both your knees and elbows were broken, and your skull was fractured, and so was your wrist above your prosthetic. You’ve been in a coma for eight days. The doctors did it to spare you the pain and to give your body a chance to heal. I was so worried the guards had killed you. I reported them, but I doubt anything will come of it.”

   He felt her hand grasp his flesh-and-bone one. “I think the only thing they didn’t damage was your metal hand. But they sure tried judging by your wrist. It had three fractures!”

   He heard the door open. A moment later a woman with a normal Midwestern accent spoke up. “I’m glad you’re awake, Theodore. I’m Doctor Alonis. How long has he been awake?”

   “Just now,” answered “Susan.”

   He tried picturing her in his mind. She was a beautiful creature, he recalled: full, dark black locks down to her shoulders, wide, dark eyes, high cheekbones, and a body that defied satiety. He couldn’t really remember what she looked like when she rescued him, only what she looked like back in Panama.

   He groaned. He couldn’t help it.

   “I’m adjusting your drip, Theodore,” responded Dr. Alonis. “You’re going to be in some pain, however, no matter what I do, and those casts aren’t going to come off for a while yet. But we’ll do our best to get you better.”

   “Susan” squeezed his hand reassuringly.

   “We’ll try to give him some liquid food in a few minutes,” said the doctor. “After that, he should get more rest.”

   “Yes. Yes, Doctor,” answered “Susan.”

   When the doctor left, he forced himself to speak. Every syllable felt like hot steel being shoved into his mouth and down into his ribs. En-En- ...”

   “No, Teddy, don’t speak—”

   “En-Envelope. Envelope.”

   “I’ve got it. Don’t worry. I’ve got it. It’s safe.”

   “Th-Th-Thank ... you.”

How close did he come to dying?

   Ximena hugged him. That was her real name—Ximena Gallegos. He hugged her back.

   He would be discharged from the hospital tomorrow. He’d been in here nearly two months. His last day of physical therapy was in less than an hour. He had one cast left, and it was on his wrist above Vice. It was slated to come off in another couple weeks.

   “I never want to go through that again,” he admitted when she pulled back. “But if it means looking once more on your lovely countenance, it was worth it. My ... just look at you. You truly are an angel.”

   The Department of Justice had launched an investigation into the warden and his bulls. Leaked documents from the warden’s office revealed criminal mismanagement, kickbacks, bribes, extortion, even murder. It was almost as though someone took extreme exception to the bulls’ treatment of him and decided to make them pay. The timing seemed far too suspect to be otherwise.

   He smiled.

   Ximena noticed and smiled back before kissing him. “I’ve missed that smile.”

   “And I yours, darlin’. I yours. You promised me that today I could finally look at that manila envelope. Did you bring it?”

   She gave him a playful scowl. “I knew you’d ask, so of course I did. Okay, okay, let me get it ...”

   It was wrinkled from being in her purse, and opened too. She handed it to him. She had stubbornly refused to let him see it until just now. He tried insisting, but her will was immovable. “I’ve looked inside it,” she admitted. “I don’t understand any of it. The warden opened it before you got it, because it was opened the day I got you off that sidewalk. He may have taken stuff from it, I don’t know.”

   He opened it and looked inside, then tipped the contents into his palm—

   —a red origami crane, and a metal bolt.

The bolt looked identical to one he snatched from Pretty back in the day when Pretty was planning his escape from Fox River.

   He inspected it closely.

   “What does it mean, Teddy?”

   He didn’t immediately answer. He looked it over for another moment, then set it on his lap and grabbed the origami crane.

   Scofield, all right.

   He scowled. The warden had indeed gone through the envelope. The crane had been tampered with and re-folded.

   He unfolded it. In black cursive ink was:

If f(x) = ax^3 + bx^2 +cx + d
Then cut the lucky roots with marinara, but tell
Only b or Helen, because they both
Have a sweet tooth.
Put a little spring in your step!

   His scowl deepened. “What ... the ... hell—?

   “What is it, Teddy?”

   “Just to make sure: you didn’t open this crane, did you, darlin’?”

   She glanced sheepishly at him for a moment, then shook her head. “I wanted to ... I almost did. But I remembered how angry you got whenever I got too curious.... I promise, Teddy, I didn’t unfold it. I did go around town and tried to find information about that screw.”

   “Bolt. It’s a bleacher bolt.”

   “Yeah, yeah. A bleacher bolt. Why would someone send you a bleacher bolt?”

   He shook his head absentmindedly.

   So what did he know at this point? Six life terms and a hundred sixty-five years ... the rest of his life in solitary ... bulls beating him to within half an inch of his life ... and Ximena ...

   He stared at her.

   As he recovered, she shared how she had found him. She had fallen in love with him while he was in Panama and had regularly pestered the consulate to get him released from Sona, all to no avail.

   She learned about his past. It didn’t matter. He could call her “Susan” the rest of his life if he wanted; she just wanted to be with him.

   Months later, she discovered that Sona had burned down and he had escaped. She prayed daily at Iglesia San Francisco de Asis for his safety, and set herself the task of finding him. She had saved a lot of money working on her back and used it to apply for a Visa to the United States, which she received after a three-year wait. She moved to Chicago shortly after discovering that he had been sent back to Fox River. She found immediate employment as a translator and ESL coordinator for Wicsam Enterprises, a multinational engineering firm located downtown. It was a plum job with good pay and benefits. She felt extraordinarily lucky and blessed to have found it at all, and as quickly as she did.

   Theodore, when he found out where she worked, made a couple of calls. Wicsam was where Michael Scofield had worked before he got sent up.

   How had Pretty found out about Ximena? Theodore hadn’t shared any details of that period with anyone. Somehow Michael Scofield not only found the only hooker he ever gave even a slight damn about, but almost certainly pulled the requisite strings to see to it that she got her Visa and her job.


Six months.

   He stared at the bolt, then at the laptop screen, then rose to take his pain meds. The beating’s effects may force him to take them the rest of his life, Doctor Alonis had warned. Still, he had felt progressively better, especially the past month or so. A few days there he didn’t take meds at all. It was wonderful. Maybe she was wrong.

   He swallowed the pills with water, refilled the glass, drank it all down, and returned to the computer.

   He’d been at this all winter. Spring was just around the corner, just a couple of weeks off.

   He’d transcribed the riddle to Word, but didn’t get rid of the red origami crane. He knew Scofield. Every single detail was critically important.

   He’d made more than thirty pages of notes. Phone numbers of bleacher manufacturers and sellers, garden and lumber companies, ax manufacturers, notes on various women named Helen, famous and not; every possible reason he could conjure as to why the b in the riddle was not capitalized; information on Chicago candymakers; information on marinara sauces and brands (empty bottles of those lying around); even notes from a high-school Algebra teacher named Mr. Brunk about the equation. It was known, Mr. Brunk told him, as a cubic function, which meant it had three answers—roots. Roots! Curiously, it was possible for two of the roots to be imaginary. Did that mean something? Or was it just another series of red herrings for nosy bureaucrats like the warden, or anybody else who happened across the envelope before he did?

   He picked up the bolt with Vice and stared at both.

   Ever since his stay at the hospital, Vice had felt ... better. Stronger. More responsive. He could almost feel the steel in its grip just like his flesh-and-bone hand could. In fact ...

   He switched the bolt to that hand, felt it for a few moments, then switched it back ...

   It was so close that he had trouble delineating the artificialness of his metal hand now, as he once easily could.

   Did specialists work on it without his knowledge while he was recovering? Did they upgrade it when they worked on the broken wrist it was attached to?

   Scofield was clearly in trouble—again—and needed his help. Why bother reaching out to him? Pretty could’ve simply had him freed and settled the contract and walked away. Instead he got a paper crane and a bleacher bolt, and a goddamned riddle!

   He put the bolt down with a sigh and leaned back in his chair, running Vice through his hair and taking an absentminded look around.

   He and Ximena tied the knot two months ago at the county clerk’s office and moved into her apartment. It was nicer than his, with a little more room, and in a quieter, more secure building. Her salary and his remaining savings was enough to support both of them provided they lived frugally, which they did. She insisted that he stay at home and solve the riddle, which, after returning home and eating the dinner he’d make for both of them, she’d occasionally help with. Her insights were interesting, but so far unhelpful. Still, he logged every idea and reviewed it the next day.

   So what did he know to this point? Almost nothing, save one item, which was the most obvious: the last line of the riddle:

Put a little spring in your step!

   Both he and Ximena felt strongly that Scofield was giving him a deadline: spring—March 21, which was only two weeks away.

   Two weeks to figure out the riddle and then to do something about the information it provided? What if he needed more than two weeks? What if he needed a boatload of money to see the plan—whatever the plan was—through? What if solving the riddle meant putting sweet Ximena in even more danger than she almost certainly was right now? Was she being watched? Was he? It was foolish not to think so. Were their phones tapped? Probably.

   Pretty had managed to bring her here, to the States, and got her a nice, cushy job at his former place of employment. Why? Was she integral to whatever scheme he had cooked up? Why help her otherwise?

   Where was his impatient rage? Where were his silent but ever-present “proclivities” which should’ve been urging him to peruse kiddie porn websites or gay livecams or looking for a scam online he could use to grab some quick under-the-table cash? Was he truly disinterested, or did those doctors inject him with chemicals meant to suppress his more prurient interests? Was Scofield trying to tame him? Should he be paranoid over that possibility?

   The truth was, he felt quite good, better than he had in a damn long time. He felt sharper, clearer, than maybe he ever had.

   He reminded himself every morning after Xi went to work and he had a chance to look himself in the mirror after showering: “Six life terms and a hundred sixty-five years. This only feels like freedom. But it ain’t, Teddy, it ain’t.”

   Try as he might, he couldn’t drum up the rage such a confining reality would’ve called up in the past. Not even close. He had a beautiful wife now, and a comfortable home, and what at least looked like freedom: trips to the store, sleeping in Sunday morning, a four-day vacation to a nice bed and breakfast north of Milwaukee, tending to the plants on the small terrace, takeout Chinese, reading before bed. If this was captivity—and it was—it felt really goddamn good. He didn’t want it to end, and dreaded the day when it would—when he finally decoded Scofield’s maddening riddle. That would be the day the bill for all this faux freedom would come due.

   He refused to think of what would surely happen if he didn’t solve it in time, and how much steeper that bill would be—for him and Xi.

The key, he was convinced, was the equation:

f(x) = ax^3 + bx^2 +cx + d

   He had learned so much this past half year that he felt like he’d taken a crash course in Algebra.

   He dropped out of school in the ninth grade and had only learned the very basics of Algebra. The more he learned of it, the more impressed he became over its simple elegance. It was a language that described the way things in the world worked. He found that remarkable, that he lived in a universe where such a language was even possible.

   He went to the used bookstore across the street and bought several texts on Algebra and took them home. They had remained open on the kitchen table. Xi didn’t mind them there, and it fact had completely relinquished the table to his efforts. They ate dinner in the living room while watching television.

Three nights later he woke, used the bathroom, and was crawling back into bed when, ruminating over the equation as he had countless times now, thought: How long have we known about cubic functions? Who discovered them?

   The thought woke him completely up. He hadn’t thought that before: Who discovered cubic functions?

   Could it be that simple?

   He put on his robe, went to the kitchen, and turned on the light after closing the bedroom door. Xi was out and hadn’t noticed that he’d gotten up—unusual for her, as she was typically a very light sleeper. He booted up his laptop, clicked the tab to Wikipedia, and typed in his query after the site came up. The glow of the screen bleached the color from his face.

   “I’ll be damned,” he said, smiling in wonder as he read. The ancient Babylonians had known about cubic functions!

   He read and made notes. After half an hour, nothing availed itself to him. Frustrated, he was about to close out from the website when the beginning of a paragraph caught him:

   In the early 16th century, the Italian mathematician Scipione del Ferro (1465–1526) found a method for solving a class of cubic equations ...

   He stared, then began a frantic dig-through of all the notes and papers on the table, swearing under his breath. He found the paper he was looking for—the one with the riddle on it.

   “... cut the roots with marinara ...”

   He smiled.

   “Cut the roots with ... tomato sauce? With—” he smiled wider—“I-talian tomato sauce, Pretty? I-talian? Could it be that simple, Pretty? Devino, de Vinci, Devito? Mama mia I wanna pop yuse inna kissa, Pretty? Why else write ‘marinara’ in there, huh? You think you’re so damn smart, Sco-field. Maybe not, maybe not ...”

   He glanced back at the name: Scipione del Ferro. He glanced at his birthdate: 1465.

   “... Son of a be-yotch!” he whispered excitedly, staring. A moment later he was digging frantically again through the note pile.

   He found what he was looking for: a list of bleacher bolt suppliers and manufacturers around the country, two pages long.

   Near the bottom of the first page he saw it:

Clover Hill Associates
1465 Axtell Rd, Ste B, Troy, MI 48084

   “Sco-field!” he whispered fiercely, grinning wildly. He grabbed the riddle again.

If f(x) = ax^3 + bx^2 +cx + d
Then cut the lucky roots with marinara, but tell
Only b or Helen, because they both
Have a sweet tooth.
Put a little spring in your step!

   “Cut the roots—‘ax’!” he murmured, then: “Axtell ... ‘but tell’ ...”

   No telling with the small b, but Troy was easy enough to match up: ‘Helen’ ...”

   “Helen of Troy, Pretty? Really?”

   Clover Hill Associates was located in a suite: “... ‘Have a sweet tooth ...’ Was the ‘lucky’ bit something to do with clovers? (“Lucky clovers”?)

   There was no way this wasn’t a match. The bleacher bolt was manufactured there, or sold there.

   And it was there, Theodore realized, his grin fading, that the price of his freedom and his life with sweet Xi would come due. Right there at 1465 Axtell Road, Suite B, in Troy, Michigan. That was where he had to go in less than two weeks. In fact, that was where he had to go as soon as he could get his bags packed.