Sometimes, between the visits, Daniels would walk over to a window that had been frosted over with industrial paint. He’d stand next to it listening to the pigeons scraping and cooing on the ledge outside. He couldn’t see the pigeonsjust their silhouettes, which bobbled around like Balinese shadow puppets behind the scrim of paint.
He had been in the void since July. Back then, the bug had shriveled him down to 108 pounds, but being cooped up in the void and brined in drugs had made his face puffy and sallow. I was a pretty beautiful guy, he thought. Handsome. I knew myself. I knew my face.
He wondered, of course, when he would be able to leave. But it wasn’t a good idea to think about that in the void, because there was a chanceslight, yes, but still plausiblethat the answer was never. There was a chance that Daniels would be locked up in the void for the rest of his life.
Even though Ward 41 is on the fourth floor of a hospital, it is not, jurisdictionally speaking, part of the hospital. It is an area set aside for inmatesincluding murderers, rapists, drug dealerswho happen to be sick. Ward 41 is subject to the strict rules and regulations of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man who has put a great deal of time and energy into branding himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
All of which means that even though Daniels hadn’t been charged with a crime, he was in jail.
In the middle of his locked door was a square glass porthole through which Daniels could see the guards, the nurses, and the cleanup crews passing by the void, going about their lives, waving to him, speaking in muffled voices. If he peered across the hallway, he could see other inmates, the criminal ones, drifting around or lying in their beds. Those inmates had it easy. They knew when they might be getting out of jail. Daniels did not know, and as far as he could tell, he could escape from Ward 41 only by accomplishing one of two things: Either he would rid his body of a bug that had proved resistant to some of the strongest drugs in the medical arsenal, or he would die.
Ever since his family had come to the United States, during the Gorbachev years, he had seen America as a place of plenitude and freedom. So it was hard to grasp how he’d wound up in a place like the void, and he had a number of gnawing concerns. First was the concern, as the days and nights blurred by, that he just might be losing his mind. And second was the question of why he, “the afflicted,” an American citizen who’d had the misfortune of catching a deadly disease, was being treated like a prisoner of war.
Dr. Bob England is the director of the Department of Public Health in Maricopa County, Arizona. He is the man who signed the court order to confine and isolate Robert Daniels. He does not, when you meet him, give off the impression of a sadistic gulag master. He is gracious and calma western hippie in repose. He’s lean and fit from riding his bike to the office. He wears his hair in a graying ponytail.