One Good Deed - David Baldacci

Chapter 1

IT WAS A GOOD DAY to be free of prison.

The mechanical whoosh and greasy smell of the opening bus doors greeted Aloysius Archer, as he breathed free air for the first time in a while. He wore a threadbare single-breasted brown Victory suit with peak lapels that he’d bought from the Sears, Roebuck catalogue before heading off to war. The jacket was shorter than normal and there were no pleats or cuffs to the pants because that all took up more material than the war would allow; there was no belt for the same reason. A string tie, a fraying, wrinkled white shirt, and scuffed lace-up size twelve plain Oxford shoes completed the only wardrobe he owned. Small clouds of dust rose off his footwear as he trudged to the bus. His pointed chocolate brown fedora with the dented crown had a loop of faded burgundy silk around it. He’d bought the hat after coming back from the war. One of the few times he’d splurged on anything. But a global victory over evil had seemed to warrant it.

These were the clothes he’d worn to prison. And now he was leaving in them. He comically lamented that in all this time, the good folks of the correctional world had not seen fit to clean or even press them. And his hat held stains that he hadn’t brought with him to incarceration. Yet a man couldn’t go around without a hat.

The pants hung loosely around his waist, a waist grown slimmer and harder while he’d been locked up. He was fully twenty-five pounds heavier than when he’d gone into prison, but the extra weight was all muscle, grafted onto his arms, shoulders, chest, back, and legs, like thickened vines on a mature tree. In his socks he was exactly six feet one and a quarter. The Army had measured him years before. They were quite adept at calculating height. Though they had too frequently failed to supply him with enough ammunition for his M1 rifle or food for his belly, while he and his fellow soldiers were trying to free large patches of the world from an oddball collection of deranged men.

The prison had a rudimentary gym, of which he’d taken full advantage. It wasn’t just to build up his body. When he was pumping weights or running or working his gut, it allowed him to forget for a precious hour or two that he was squirreled away in a cage with felonious men. The prison also held a book depository teeming with tattered, coverless books that sported missing pages at inopportune times, but they were precious to him nonetheless. His favorites had been Westerns where the man got the gal. And detective novels, where the man got the gal and also caught the bad guy. Which he supposed was a funny sort of way for a prisoner to be entertained. Yet he liked the puzzle component of the mystery novels. He tried to solve them before he got to the end, and found that as time went on, he had happened upon the correct solution more often than not.

The jail grub he had pretty much done without. What wasn’t spoiled or wormy held no discernible taste to persuade him to ingest it. He’d gotten by on a variety of fruits picked from a nearby orchard, vegetables harvested from the small garden inside the prison walls, and the occasional piece of fried chicken or soft bread and clots of warm apple fritters that arrived at the prison in mysterious ways. Some said they were dropped off by compassionate ladies either looking to do good, or else hoping for a husband in three to five years. The rest of his time was spent either busting big rocks into smaller ones using sledgehammers, collecting trash along the side of the roads, only to see it back the next day, or else digging ditches to nowhere fast because a man with a double-barreled shotgun, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and a stone-cold stare told him that was all he was good for.

He was not yet thirty, was never married, and had no children, but one glance in the mirror showed a man who seemed older, his skin baked brown by the sun and further aged by being behind bars the rest of the time. A world war coupled with the brutal experience of losing one’s liberty had left their indelible marks on him. These two experiences had successfully robbed him of the remainder of his