The Passage Page 8

Wolgast felt chastened. "I see your point."

"Good, because you should." Sykes's expression softened; the lecture was over. "So maybe it's the military who's picking up the check. I say let them, because frankly, what we've spent so far would make your eyes pop out. I don't know about you, but I'd like to live to meet my great-great-great-grandchildren. Hell, I'd like to hit a golf ball three hundred yards on my hundredth birthday and then go home to make love to my wife until she walks funny for a week. Who wouldn't?" He looked at Wolgast searchingly. "The side of the angels, Agent. Nothing more or less. Do we have a deal?"

They shook, and Sykes walked him to the door. Richards was waiting to take him back to the van. "One last question," Wolgast asked. "Why 'NOAH'? What's it stand for?"

Sykes glanced quickly at Richards. In that moment, Wolgast felt the balance of power shifting in the room; Sykes might have been technically in charge, but in some way, Wolgast felt certain, he also reported to Richards, who was probably the link between the military and whoever was really running the show: USAMRIID, Homeland, maybe NSA.

Sykes turned back to Wolgast. "It doesn't stand for anything. Let's put it this way. You ever read the Bible?"

"Some." Wolgast looked at the both of them. "When I was a kid. My mother was a Methodist."

Sykes allowed himself a second, final smile. "Go look it up. The story of Noah and the ark. See how long he lived. That's all I'll say."

That night, back in his Denver apartment, Wolgast did as Sykes had said. He didn't own a Bible, probably hadn't laid eyes on one since his wedding day. But he found a concordance online.

And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.

It was then that he realized what the missing piece was, the thing Sykes hadn't said. It would be in his file, of course. It was the reason, of all the federal agents they might have chosen, that they'd picked him.

They'd chosen him because of Eva, because he'd had to watch his daughter die.

In the morning, he awoke to the chirp of his handheld; he was dreaming, and in the dream it was Lila, calling him back to tell him the baby had been born-not hers and David's baby, but their own. For a moment Wolgast felt happy, but then his mind cleared and he realized where he was-Huntsville, the motel-and his hand found the phone on the nightstand and punched the Receive button without his even looking at the screen to see who it was. He heard the static of the encryption and then the opening line.

"All set," Sykes told him. "Everything should be in hand. Just get Carter to sign. And don't pack your bags quite yet. We may have another errand for you to run."

He looked at the clock: 6:58. Doyle was in the shower. Wolgast heard the faucet shut off with a groan, then the blast of a hair dryer. He had a vague memory of hearing Doyle returning from the bar-a rush of street noise from the open door, a muttered apology, and then the sound of water running-and looking at the clock and seeing it was a little after two A.M.

Doyle stepped into the room, a towel wrapped at his waist. Steam moistened the air around him. "Good, you're up." His eyes were bright, his skin flushed from the heat of the shower. How the guy could stay out half the night drinking and still look like he was ready to run a marathon was beyond Wolgast's comprehension.

Wolgast cleared his throat. "How's the fiber-optic business?"

Doyle dropped onto the opposite bed and ran a hand through his damp hair. "You'd be surprised, how interesting a business that is. People underestimate it, I think."

"Let me guess. The one with the pants?"

Doyle grinned, giving his eyebrows a playful wag. "They all had pants, boss." He tipped his head at Wolgast. "What happened to you? You look like you got dragged from a car."

Wolgast looked down at himself to discover he'd slept the night in his clothes. This was becoming something of a habit; ever since he'd gotten the email from Lila, he'd spent most nights on the sofa of his apartment, watching television until he fell asleep, as if going to bed like a normal person was something he was no longer qualified to do.

"Forget about it," he said. "Must have been a boring game." He rose and stretched. "We heard from Sykes. Let's get this over with."

They ate breakfast at a Denny's and drove back to Polunsky. The warden was waiting for them in his office. Was it just the mood of the morning, Wolgast thought, or did he look like he hadn't slept very well, either?

"Don't bother to sit," the warden said, and handed them an envelope.

Wolgast examined the contents. It was all pretty much as he expected: a writ of commutation from the governor's office and a court order transferring Carter to their custody as a federal prisoner. Assuming Carter signed, they could have him in transit to the federal lockup at El Reno by dinner. From there, he'd be moved to three other federal facilities, his trail growing fainter each time, until somewhere around two weeks or three or a month at most, a black van would pull into the compound, and a man now known simply as Number Twelve would step out, blinking at the Colorado sunshine.

The last items in the envelope were Carter's death certificate and a medical examiner's report, both dated March 23. On the morning of the twenty-third, three days hence, Anthony Lloyd Carter would die in his cell from a cerebral aneurysm.

Wolgast returned the documents to the envelope and put it in his pocket, a chill snaking through him. How easy it was to make a human being disappear, just like that. "Thank you, Warden. We appreciate your cooperation."

The warden looked at each of them in turn, his jaw set. "I'm also instructed to say I never heard of you guys."

Wolgast did his best to smile. "Is there a problem with that?"

"I'm supposing if there were, one of those ME reports would show up with my name on it. I've got kids, Agent." He picked up his phone and punched a number. "Have two COs bring Anthony Carter to the cages, then come to my office." He hung up and looked at Wolgast. "If you don't mind, I'd like you to wait outside. I look at you any longer, I'm going to have a hard time forgetting about all this. Good day, gentlemen."

Ten minutes later, a pair of guards stepped into the outer office. The older one had the benevolent, overfed look of a shopping mall Santa, but the other guard, who couldn't have been more than twenty, was wearing a snarl on his face that Wolgast didn't like. There was always one guard who liked the job for the wrong reasons, and this was the one.

"You the guys looking for Carter?"

Wolgast nodded and showed his credentials. "That's right. Special Agents Wolgast and Doyle."

"Don't matter who you are," the heavy one said. "The warden says to take you, we'll take you."

They led Wolgast and Doyle down to the visiting area. Carter was sitting on the other side of the glass, the phone wedged between his ear and shoulder. He was small, just as Doyle had said, and his jumpsuit fit him loosely, like the clothing on a Ken doll. There were many ways to look condemned, Wolgast had learned, and Carter's look wasn't scared or angry but simply resigned, like the world had been taking slow bites of him his whole life.

Wolgast gestured at the shackles, turning toward the two COs. "Take those off, please."

The older one shook his head. "That's standard."

"I don't care what it is. Take them off." Wolgast lifted the phone from its cradle on the wall. "Anthony Carter? I'm Special Agent Wolgast. This is Special Agent Doyle. We're from the FBI. These men are going to come around and remove those shackles. I asked them to do that. You'll cooperate with them, won't you?"

Carter gave a tight nod. His voice on the other end of the phone was quiet. "Yessir."

"Anything else you need to make you comfortable?"

Carter looked at him quizzically. How long since anybody had asked him a question like that?

"I's all right," he said.

Wolgast turned to face the guards. "Well? How about it? Am I talking to myself here, or am I going to have to call the warden?"

A moment passed as the guards looked at each other, deciding what to do. Then the one named Dennis stepped from the room and reappeared a moment later on the far side of the glass. Wolgast stood and watched, keeping his eyes fixed on the guard while he removed the shackles.

"That it?" said the heavy guard.

"That's it. We'll want to be left alone for a while. We'll tell the OD when we're done."

"Suit yourself," the guard said and walked out, closing the door behind him.

There was only one chair in the room, a folding metal seat, like something from a high school auditorium. Wolgast took it and positioned himself squarely to the glass, while Doyle remained standing behind him. The talking was Wolgast's to do. He picked up the phone again.


Carter hesitated a moment, appraising him, then nodded. "Yessir. Thank you. Pincher always does 'em too tight."

Pincher. Wolgast made a mental note of this. "You hungry? They give you breakfast in there?"

"Pancakes." Carter shrugged. "That was five hours ago, though."

Wolgast swiveled to look at Doyle, raising his eyebrows. Doyle nodded and left the room. For a few minutes, Wolgast just waited. Despite the large No Smoking sign, the edge of the counter was rutted with brown burn marks.

"You said you from the FBI?"

"That's right, Anthony."

A trace of a smile flicked across Carter's face. "Like on that show?"

Wolgast didn't know what Carter was talking about, but that was fine; it would give Carter something to explain.

"What show's that, Anthony?"

"The one with the woman. The one with the aliens."

Wolgast thought a moment, then remembered. Of course: The X-Files. It had been off the air for what, twenty years? Carter had probably seen it as a kid, in reruns. Wolgast couldn't remember very much about it, just the idea of it-alien abductions, some kind of conspiracy to hush the thing up. That was Carter's impression of the FBI.

"I liked that show too. You getting on in here all right?"

Carter squared his shoulders. "You came here to ask me that?"

"You're a smart guy, Anthony. No, that's not the reason."

"What the reason then?"

Wolgast leaned closer to the glass; he found Carter's eyes and held them with his own.

"I know about this place, Anthony. Terrell Unit. I know what goes on in here. I'm just making sure you're being treated properly."

Carter eyed him skeptically. "Does tolerable, I guess."

"The guards okay with you?"

"Pincher's tight with the cuffs, but he's all right most of the time." Carter lifted his bony shoulders in a shrug. "Dennis ain't no friend of mine. Some of the others, too."

The door opened behind Carter and Doyle entered, bearing a yellow tray from the commissary. He placed the tray on the counter in front of Carter: a cheeseburger and fries, gleaming with grease, resting on waxed paper in a little plastic basket. Beside it sat a carton of chocolate milk.

"Go on, Anthony," Wolgast said, and gestured toward the tray. "We can talk when you're done."

Carter placed the receiver on the counter and lifted the cheeseburger to his mouth. Three bites and the thing was half gone. Carter wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and got to work on the fries while Wolgast watched. Carter's concentration was total. It was like watching a dog eat, Wolgast thought.

Doyle had returned to Wolgast's side of the glass. "Damn," he said quietly, "that guy sure was hungry."

"They got anything for dessert down there?"

"Bunch of dried-up looking pies. Some eclairs looked like dog turds."

Wolgast thought a moment. "On second thought, skip dessert. Get him a glass of iced tea. Make it nice, too, if you can. Dress it up a little."

Doyle frowned. "He's got the milk. I don't know if they even have iced tea down there. It's like a barnyard."

"This is Texas, Phil." Wolgast suppressed the impatience in his voice. "Trust me, they have tea. Just go find it."

Doyle shrugged and left again. When Carter had finished his meal, he licked the salt off his fingers, one by one, and sighed deeply. When he picked up the receiver, Wolgast did the same.

"How's that, Anthony? Feeling better?"

Through the receiver, Wolgast could hear the watery heaviness of Carter's breathing; his eyes were slack and glazed with pleasure. All those calories, all those protein molecules, all those complex carbohydrates hitting his system like a hammer. Wolgast might just as well have given him a fifth of whiskey.

"Yessir. Thank you."

"A man's got to eat. A man can't live on pancakes."

A silent moment passed. Carter licked his lips with a slow tongue. His voice, when he spoke, was almost a whisper. "What you want from me?"

"You've got it backward, Anthony," Wolgast said, nodding. "It's me who's here to find out what I can do for you."

Carter dropped his eyes to the counter, the grease-stained wreckage of his meal. "He sent you, didn't he."

"Who's that, Anthony?"

"Woman's husband." Carter frowned at the memory. "Mr. Wood. He come here once. Told me he found Jesus."

Wolgast remembered what Doyle had told him in the car. Two years ago, and it was still on Carter's mind.

"No, he didn't send me, Anthony. You have my word."

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