The Devil's Cure A Novel

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2001-06-13
  • Publisher: Hachette Books

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Dr. Laura Donaldson has made a miraculous discovery.
Death-row inmate and religious cult leader David Haines may possess the cure for cancer in his own veins. A routine blood test reveals that his immune system has the power to annihilate cancer cells. Laura Donaldson wants more of his blood; David Haines will do anything to prevent her from getting it.
When Haines mounts a vicious prison break, FBI agent Kevin Sheldrake - the man who put Haines away three years before - has to track him down again. Kevin knows that every law enforcement agency in the country wants Haines dead. But Laura Donaldson needs him alive. As Laura and Kevin embark on a terrifying manhunt that takes them across the country and deep into their own troubled pasts, Haines speeds toward his final destination, to fulfill a plan more terrible than anyone could have imagined.


Chapter One

LYING wasted in the quarantine room of the prison infirmary, Frank Hayworth had refused all medication, even the pills that would at least dull the pain as his lungs filled with fluid. The room, a cinder-block box no bigger than his old cell, was without ornament, and Frank's eyes drifted blearily upward to the ceiling. He'd spent so many hours mapping the cracked plaster it was like a personal atlas, the country of his own suffering.

    He coughed, and the pain was stunning, momentarily knocking the sight from his eyes. Everything hurt now: to breathe, to swallow, to bend a finger. But somehow he'd mastered the pain, made it something outside himself, like the numbing, endless clatter of that goddamn air conditioner. Didn't do a bit of good either; his bedclothes were always sodden with sweat, clinging to bony joints that had once been covered with muscle and flesh. His arms were like spindly, knotted branches now.

    On the table beside his bed was a tall plastic container of water with a straw, and a paper cup with two pain pills--in case he changed his mind. He wouldn't. They'd wanted to do a lot of things to him. It was all the devil's work, trying to invade his body with their needles and pills and IV drips. Tried to put a catheter up his dick because he wasn't pissing anymore, but he said no to that too. He didn't need any of it. He would be pure in his death. He'd do that part right at least.

    God bless David for that, for showing him the way.

    This tiny room had contained him for the past two months, ever since the doctors had told him he had tuberculosis, some strain that was especially infectious. "Why not," Frank had said, "I got pretty much everything else." They told him it was his AIDS doing it to him, ravaging his immune system, making him generous host to every bacterium and virus wafting through the prison. There was no point sending him to the county hospital, refusing treatment, spreading germs. So they quarantined him. He loved this room. It was quieter than his cell, and he could think here. It contained him, every breath, every thought and prayer. He was glad there was no window to distract him. The ceiling was the only view he needed. He'd traveled its roads and rivers back to his childhood and through all the bad days and bad things he'd done; he'd seen it all, clear as anything, even the heroin syringe he'd given himself AIDS with, in that basement crib in Cabrini Green. Seen the two men he killed in the robbery, revisited his trial and all his years inside.

    David came to visit him in quarantine twice a week, giving up his one daily hour of yard time. He was the closest thing to Jesus Frank had ever known his whole life. He'd share his food if you asked for some, and anything he bought from the commissary. He didn't expect anything back. Frank had seen him break up fights in the yard, and get punched up for his pains. And all the visits he'd made when Frank was in quarantine--he wasn't even afraid of catching anything. And why should he be? He was an angel. Not one of those ones in kiddie books, with wings and gold hair, all meek and sappy. He was the real thing, fierce and relentless, with eyes that would do a cigarette burn right through your heart and soul.

    Frank had already been on the row six years when David moved in three cells down. At first, when David would get on the bars and do his God talking, Frank had shouted him down like all the others. But his talk wasn't crazy, like some of the other lifers before they got juiced. David talked slow and calm, not trying to raise his voice above the others. He'd just talk it through, and Frank after a while had started to listen. And it made sense, all of it. It awoke in him a terrible hunger: He wanted to do things right. The first thing he did was stop taking the medicine, and start praying. That was eight months ago. David was right, his sickness was a punishment from God, for the life he'd led. Why shouldn't he suffer for what he'd done? And he was only making things worse by taking medicine, trying to thwart God's plan for him. Medicine was like all the other sins, just another way to say no to God. If He wanted to heal him, He'd heal him, and all Frank could do was pray for mercy. He might say no. David had told him that from the start. But he mustn't despair.

    They'd propped him up so he could breathe easier. His lips were tinged blue, and his face had the gray, battered look of a bruised pear. Frank coughed again, bringing up more bloodstained sputum. He knew this room wouldn't contain him much longer.

    With his left hand, he patted the mattress for the call button, and squeezed. A minute later, the duty nurse appeared at the observation window, and entered, a surgical mask across her face.

    "You okay?"

    His tongue stirred and rasped against the roof of his mouth. It had been a long time since he'd spoken.

    "David," he sighed, and his chest was slashed with pain. Again he blacked out for a moment, and then felt a great kicking in his chest as his heart pounded to catch up.

    "David Haines," he wheezed.

    "I'll see," said the nurse, and she left.

    Frank looked back at the ceiling and started to pray. It wouldn't be long now. He grinned. He'd beat death row to the punch.

IN THE din of cell block B, David Haines wrote his letter to the distant sound of his own heartbeat, homemade earplugs nestled snugly in place. He'd cut them from the soles of his prison-issue shower slips--a standard trick to block the grinding of motorized gates, the rage of televisions, and the infernal shouting of the condemned. Blocking out the smells was not so easily done, but he had become relatively inured to the stench of dirty laundry, male sweat, unflushed toilets.

    Sitting on the edge of his cot, back to the wall, he looked up from his letter. For the past three years this windowless six-by-nine concrete cell had been his home, twenty-three hours a day, 365 days a year. In winter, it was achingly cold, and now in the height of summer, it felt like a sneak preview of hell, blanketed by the same heatwave that was suffocating Chicago thirty miles to the north. Hulking on the plains outside Joliet, the Illinois Correctional Center didn't even benefit from the winds blowing off Lake Michigan.

    Joliet, Chicago, Lake Michigan--all these places seemed so long ago to him, so irrelevant. Even the geography of the prison itself was a cipher, he saw so little of it. He knew it was huge, a modern citadel of punishment, thirty-three-foot-high walls enclosing sixty-four acres and more than 2,000 convicts, most of whom enjoyed a luxury of freedom compared to him. For David, there was the scruffy chain-linked yard one hour a day--and then the cell. Nothing else. It was his bedroom, living room, dining room and bathroom all in one, the last home he would ever have.

    The heat seemed to make the cell contract further. It was not enough space for most men to occupy sanely, and for someone like David, who was six feet tall, with a body which used to thrive on physical exertion, it seemed an even crueler confinement. For him, keeping an ordered cell was the same as keeping an ordered mind: There was no escaping either. In the far left-hand corner was a combination sink and toilet, steel and lidless. To the right was his bed, always neatly made. Every third day he painstakingly washed his clothing and hung it to dry on a line fastened from the ventilation grille above his bed to the bars at the opposite end of the cell. The television that jutted from a shelf over the head of his cot was usually silent, and he rarely resorted to watching it. He preferred to combat his boredom, that cancer of prison life, by reading.

    There were times when he felt positively blessed, rejoicing in his monklike luxury. He had time to read his Bible, over and over, and to keep up with the journals to which he subscribed: Nature, Science , and the New England Journal of Medicine , stacking them in order against the left wall, beneath his towel rack. In some ways he was glad he was spared the endless medley of entertainments offered the general population: ceramics, drama, music, softball, movies--like some perverse holiday cruise, the grinning deck staff replaced by more than 200 cantankerous correctional officers, eager to use their truncheons.

    He had done his work in the world, as long and as well as he could, and now he could devote himself to prayer and reflection.

    And his letters.

    From the very start, he'd been deluged, and over the months had winnowed down his list of correspondents. It was not difficult to tell who were insincere and unworthy--teenage pranksters, or merely lonely thrill seekers, the clearly deranged who took indiscriminate pleasure in any sort of violence. These people he sloughed off instantly. They saddened and sometimes disgusted him. But there were also those in whom he sensed an embryonic fervor, a holy hunger. Some had even tasted divine truth, and they wanted instruction. He felt that he must give it to them, in the same way he'd offered God's teachings to his cell mates, to anyone who would listen.

    Frank Hayworth had listened. And so had five others, scattered across the continent, connected to him through letters. For the past month, he had written to them almost daily. They had convinced him of their devotion, but now it was time for them to enact their beliefs, and take up his holy work. He knew what he was asking them was difficult; he tried, in his letters, to guide them, to be as reassuring and explicit as possible. They needed constant coaxing and sterner exhortation. And he prayed that it would not be long before he saw the fruits of their labors. He had great hopes for one of his brethren in Detroit.

    He signed and folded his letter. He stroked his tongue carefully across the strip of glue and pressed the envelope shut. He savored the taste: It had become for him a hopeful taste, a wish for righteousness. Prison regulation forbade sealing envelopes--letters had to be read by censors before they were mailed--but these particular letters would never pass through the prison system.

    From memory he addressed the last envelope, then placed it with the other four inside his Bible.

    "Thy will be done," he breathed to himself.


    The voice reached him like a whisper, and David turned, wondering how long Bob Jarvis had been standing outside the bars. He pulled the plugs from his ears. Jarvis was tall and wiry, and his guard's uniform seemed to hang from his shoulders, the trousers cinched and bagging slightly around the waist. His weedy appearance was deceptive. His body had a whiplike strength and quickness, and when David had first arrived on B block, Jarvis had the reputation as one of the most ill-tempered guards. He was quick to anger, and he seemed to like inflicting pain. Once, in the early days, he'd beaten David for taking too long in the shower.

    "Frank's going. He asked for you. Finlay said it was okay for you to see him."

    David nodded and stood.

    "May I bring my Bible?"


    David picked it up and passed it through a horizontal slot in the bars. It was through this slot that all his meal trays were passed, and now he stood with his back to it, and slid his wrists through so Jarvis could shackle them. The door was buzzed open and David stepped out.

    "Here." Jarvis handed him back his Bible.

    With satisfaction, David noticed that the four envelopes were gone, slipped into one of the voluminous pockets on Jarvis's tunic.

    He'd been surprised when, many months ago, Jarvis had started pausing to talk outside his cell during his rounds. At first he was taciturn, but David was patient, and let him take his time. It came out that he hated doctors; they'd killed his mother. She'd gone from one to the other, and each said she had something different, and when they treated her she got even worse and died in great pain.

    "And now I'm sick," he had told David, "and damned if I'm going to those doctors."

    David said he would pray for him. He suggested Jarvis pray too. Jarvis had grunted, said nothing, but his visits became more frequent, and together, they'd healed him. The chest pains and nausea had not returned. Since then, Jarvis had become one of his faithful. He'd agreed to mail out his letters so David could speak his heart more truly, without fear of being censored. And Jarvis opened a post office box in Joliet, so David's flock could write back to him with equal candor. Without Jarvis, his ministry outside the prison would have been nothing but a longing.

    "They'll go out tonight," Jarvis whispered to him, and then they started down the broad corridor, past the neighboring cells: Harper reading his endless supply of comics, Winslow masturbating shamelessly while watching Brady Bunch reruns, Tucker weeping, always weeping. David had tried to help them, but their hearts were hard.

    "They want to take your blood." Jarvis's voice was tight. "I heard one of the nurses talking. They think you might've caught something from Frank."

    David's step almost faltered. In the past he had submitted to the prison doctors' fumbling physical examinations, but he had never allowed his blood to be taken. His blood was his life, the matrix of his immortal soul, and removing it from his body was terribly wrong. It was a desecration, to treat the blood like some common fluid and subject it to the myopic scrutiny of their machinery.

    David continued walking and tried to calm his mind. Returning to his cell would only delay the doctors. And he would not abandon Frank now. But he could not allow them to take his blood.

    When David arrived outside the quarantine room, Frank was fighting for breath, his body panicking as it began to drown. His face was bloated and gray, his cheek stained with his own blood. Through the observation window, David could see the fear in his eyes as Dr. Finlay and the nurse tried to keep him still, taking his blood pressure, shining a penlight in his eyes.

    Finlay glanced at the doorway. "You'd better get in here," he snapped. "But get masks on first."

    David took the surgical mask Jarvis handed to him and obediently slipped it over his face. He didn't need it, but he wanted to get to Frank as quickly as possible. Jarvis, his own mask in place, opened the door and escorted David inside.


    The dying man stared back at David for a few moments, uncomprehending in his fear. But after a second he made a quick nod, and his body sagged back slightly against the mattress. His lips twitched in a pained smile.

    David felt his eyes sting: The suffering Frank had endured was a true sign of his devotion and repentance. God had chosen not to heal him, and David could only accept that this was as it should be, given Frank's sinful past. But he marveled at Frank's courage. Healthy, he might have achieved so much on the outside, so much good.

    "You will die if we don't treat you," Finlay told Frank loudly. "Do you understand? Do you want us to treat you?"

    David looked at Finlay with contempt. To tempt him now in his greatest anguish. Get thee behind me, Satan. A small grunt emanated from Frank's throat as his head twitched to one side. No. Gulping breath now, his eyes were beginning to roll as he dipped in and out of consciousness.

    David took Frank's hand. It felt heavy and damp, something not fully connected to his body. He was already leaving it behind.

    "You've done the right thing, Frank. The holy thing."

    Frank didn't seem to hear, but a few seconds later he mumbled thickly, "Okay."

    His eyes were half closed now, and his breath came only in infrequent gasps, like startled afterthoughts. David sat on the bedside, opened his Bible and began to read, and when he next looked up, Frank was looking straight at him. David knew he was gone.

    Dr. Finlay put his stethoscope against Frank's chest.

    "His heart's stopped."

    David closed the Bible. "`Verily I say unto you, today will you sit with me in paradise.'"

    He could feel Dr. Finlay's animosity emanating from him like heat. Seeing that the doctor would not do so, he reached over and drew his hand gently over Frank's face, closing his eyes.

    "I'll need to check you," Finlay told him.

    "I'm not sick."

    Finlay nodded to Jarvis to bring Haines out of the quarantine room. "You've spent a lot of time with Hayworth. I don't want you spreading anything into the prison population."

    David saw, waiting across the infirmary, three more guards, and his heart kicked up.

    "I don't get sick anymore."

    "That so?"

    David smiled at the doctor's thinly veiled condescension. He knew Finlay hated him and everything he believed. But in David's eyes, he was beneath notice, a third-rate prison doctor practicing bad medicine because nowhere else would take him. Before his incarceration, David was only interested in those at the very top of their fields, research doctors with formidable skills and intellects--the men and women whose names appeared in the pages of the journals he read with religious attention. Finlay was irrelevant.

    "Up there, please," Finlay said.

    Jarvis at his side, David sat up on the edge of the examination table. Finlay washed his hands, and David watched the three guards by the door. If they all held him down, there was no way he could resist.

    Finlay shone an ophthalmoscope into his eyes.

    "Headache or muscle pain?"

    David shook his head patiently.

    "Fever? Night sweats?"

    "No. And no coughing or any other sign of respiratory distress. No abdominal indications either. No weight loss or diarrhea. And no swelling of the lymph nodes."

    Finlay ignored him and lifted the front of David's orange DOC tunic. He put the stethoscope against his bare chest and listened.

    "Deep breath, hold it. Let it out. Another deep breath, hold. Okay."

    He went around behind Haines and pressed the stethoscope to his tunic.

    "Fabric causes distortion, Doctor. That's first-year med school."

    Again, Finlay ignored him, listening, then let the stethoscope drop. "Lie down, please."

    David closed his eyes and allowed Finlay's cold hands to probe his belly and check the lymph glands in his groin, under his arms.

    "You seem healthy, but I'm going to need some blood."

    Calmly David replied, "I've submitted to your physical, but you're not taking my blood. `The soul of the flesh is in the blood.' Leviticus 17:11."

    "I'm screening for infection and TB and I want a baseline liver function. That's first-year med school, too, Haines."

    "You can do chest x rays, and a skin test."

    "Oh, don't worry, I'll do those too."

    He saw in Finlay's face the coward's pleasure in victimizing a helpless man. The doctor cracked a syringe from its sterile package. "Put out your arm, please."

    "I'd remind you of my religious beliefs and ask that you respect them."

    "I'll say the Lord's Prayer as I take the blood."

    "I want to speak to the warden."

    Finlay looked up from the disinfectant swab he was peeling from its package. "He's okay with it. I checked."

    "You can't take blood without my permission."

    "We don't need your permission on this one, Haines. This is a matter of public health. The greater good comes before God, I'm afraid."

    David had his manacled hands around Finlay's neck and his thumbs gouging into his trachea before the guards were upon him. They slammed him back against the examination table, pinning him flat. As he struggled he could hear Finlay coughing and cursing. Jarvis had him by the shoulders, pushing hard, and even in his outrage, David understood it was what he had to do. He felt his arm get snapped out straight, past one of the guards' waists. It was Finlay.

    "You crazy son of a bitch," the doctor said. He cinched a tourniquet around David's bicep and jabbed the needle into his vein. As the blood left his body, he could only close his eyes in silent rage against this blasphemy.

Excerpted from THE DEVIL'S CURE by Kenneth Oppel. Copyright © 2001 by Kenneth Oppel. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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