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He said to Chuck, “Heard much about this place?”
“A mental hospital, that’s about all I know.”
“For the criminally insane,” Teddy said.
“Well, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t,” Chuck said.
Teddy caught him smiling that dry grin again. “You never know, Chuck. You don’t look a hundred percent stable to me.”
“Maybe I’ll put a deposit down on a bed while we’re here, for the future, make sure they hold a place for me.”
“Not a bad idea,” Teddy said as the engines cut out for a moment, and the bow swung starboard as they turned with the current and the engines kicked in again and Teddy and Chuck were soon facing the open sea as the ferry backed toward the dock.
“Far as I know,” Teddy said, “they specialize in radical approaches.”
“Red?” Chuck said.
“Not Red,” Teddy said. “Just radical. There’s a difference.”
“You wouldn’t know it lately.”
“Sometimes, you wouldn’t,” Teddy agreed.
“And this woman who escaped?”
Teddy said, “Don’t know much about that. She slipped out last night. I got her name in my notebook. I figure they’ll tell us everything else.”
Chuck looked around at the water. “Where’s she going to go? She’s going to swim home?”
Teddy shrugged. “The patients here, apparently, suffer a variety of delusions.”
“I guess, yeah. You won’t find your everyday mongoloids in here in any case. Or some guy who’s afraid of sidewalk cracks, sleeps too much. Far as I could tell from the file, everyone here is, you know, really crazy.”
Chuck said, “How many you think are faking it, though? I’ve always wondered that. You remember all the Section Eights you met in the war? How many, really, did you think were nuts?”
“I served with a guy in the Ardennes—”
“You were there?”
Teddy nodded. “This guy, he woke up one day speaking backward.”
“The words or the sentences?”
“Sentences,” Teddy said. “He’d say, ‘Sarge, today here blood much too is there.’ By late afternoon, we found him in a foxhole, hitting his own head with a rock. Just hitting it. Over and over. We were so rattled that it took us a minute to realize he’d scratched out his own eyes.”
“You are shitting me.”
Teddy shook his head. “I heard from a guy a few years later who ran across the blind guy in a vet hospital in San Diego. Still talking backward, and he had some sort of paralysis that none of the doctors could diagnose the cause of, sat in a wheelchair by the window all day, kept talking about his crops, he had to get to his crops. Thing was, the guy grew up in Brooklyn.”
“Well, guy from Brooklyn thinks he’s a farmer, I guess he is Section Eight.”
“That’s one tip-off, sure.”
DEPUTY WARDEN MCPHERSON met them at the dock. He was young for a man of his rank, and his blond hair was cut a bit longer than the norm, and he had the kind of lanky grace in his movements that Teddy associated with Texans or men who’d grown up around horses.
He was flanked by orderlies, mostly Negroes, a few white guys with deadened faces, as if they hadn’t been fed enough as babies, had remained stunted and annoyed ever since.
The orderlies wore white shirts and white trousers and moved in a pack. They barely glanced at Teddy and Chuck. They barely glanced at anything, just moved down the dock to the ferry and waited for it to unload its cargo.
Teddy and Chuck produced their badges upon request and McPherson took his time studying them, looking up from the ID cards to their faces, squinting.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a U.S. marshal’s badge before,” he said.
“And now you’ve seen two,” Chuck said. “A big day.”
He gave Chuck a lazy grin and flipped the badge back at him.
The beach looked to have been lashed by the sea in recent nights; it was strewn with shells and driftwood, mollusk skeletons and dead fish half eaten by whatever scavengers lived here. Teddy noticed trash that must have blown in from the inner harbor—cans and sodden wads of paper, a single license plate tossed up by the tree line and washed beige and numberless by the sun. The trees were mostly pine and maple, thin and haggard, and Teddy could see some buildings through the gaps, sitting at the top of the rise.
Dolores, who’d enjoyed sunbathing, probably would have loved this place, but Teddy could feel only the constant sweep of the ocean breeze, a warning from the sea that it could pounce at will, suck you down to its floor.
The orderlies came back down the dock with the mail and the medical cases and loaded them onto handcarts, and McPherson signed for the items on a clipboard and handed the clipboard back to one of the ferry guards and the guard said, “We’ll be taking off, then.”
McPherson blinked in the sun.
“The storm,” the guard said. “No one seems to know what it’s going to do.”
“We’ll contact the station when we need a pickup,” Teddy said.
The guard nodded. “The storm,” he said again.
“Sure, sure,” Chuck said. “We’ll keep that in mind.”
McPherson led them up a path that rose gently through the stand of trees. When they’d cleared the trees, they reached a paved road that crossed their path like a grin, and Teddy could see a house off to both his right and his left. The one to the left was the simpler of the two, a maroon mansarded Victorian with black trim, small windows that gave the appearance of sentinels. The one to the right was a Tudor that commanded its small rise like a castle.
They continued on, climbing a slope that was steep and wild with sea grass before the land greened and softened around them, leveling out up top as the grass grew shorter, gave way to a more traditional lawn that spread back for several hundred yards before coming to a stop at a wall of orange brick that seemed to curve away the length of the island. It was ten feet tall and topped with a single strip of wire, and something about the sight of the wire got to Teddy. He felt a sudden pity for all those people on the other side of the wall who recognized that thin wire for what it was, realized just how badly the world wanted to keep them in. Teddy saw several men in dark blue uniforms just outside the wall, heads down as they peered at the ground.
Chuck said, “Correctional guards at a mental institution. Weird sight, if you don’t mind me saying, Mr. McPherson.”
“This is a maximum security institution,” McPherson said. “We operate under dual charters—one from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the other from the Federal Department of Prisons.”
“I understand that,” Chuck said. “I’ve always wondered, though—you guys have much to talk about around the dinner table?”
McPherson smiled and gave a tiny shake of his head.
Teddy saw a man with black hair who wore the same uniform as the rest of the guards, but his was accented by yellow epaulets and a standing collar, and his badge was gold. He was the only one who walked with his head held up, one hand pressed behind his back as he strode among the men, and the stride reminded Teddy of full colonels he’d met in the war, men for whom command was a necessary burden not simply of the military but of God. He carried a small black book pressed to his rib cage, and he nodded in their direction and then walked down the slope from which they’d come, his black hair stiff in the breeze.
“The warden,” McPherson said. “You’ll meet later.”
Teddy nodded, wondering why they didn’t meet now, and the warden disappeared on the other side of the rise.
One of the orderlies used a key to open the gate in the center of the wall, and the gate swung wide and the orderlies and their carts went in as two guards approached McPherson and came to a stop on either side of him.
McPherson straightened to his full height, all business now, and said, “I’ve got to give you guys the basic lay of the land.”
“You gentlemen will be accorded all the courtesies we have to offer, all the help we can give. During your stay, however short that may be, you will obey protocol. Is that understood?”
Teddy nodded and Chuck said, “Absolutely.”
McPherson fixed his eyes on a point just above their heads. “Dr. Cawley will explain the finer points of protocol to you, I’m sure, but I have to stress the following: unmonitored contact with patients of this institution is forbidden. Is that understood?”
Teddy almost said, Yes, sir, as if he were back in basic, but he stopped short with a simple “Yes.”
“Ward A of this institution is the building behind me to my right, the male ward. Ward B, the female ward, is to my left. Ward C is beyond those bluffs directly behind this compound and the staff quarters, housed in what was once Fort Walton. Admittance to Ward C is forbidden without the written consent and physical presence of both the warden and Dr. Cawley. Understood?”
Another set of nods.
McPherson held out one massive palm, as if in supplication to the sun. “You are hereby requested to surrender your firearms.”
Chuck looked at Teddy. Teddy shook his head.
Teddy said, “Mr. McPherson, we are duly appointed federal marshals. We are required by government order to carry our firearms at all times.”
McPherson’s voice hit the air like steel cable. “Executive Order three-nine-one of the Federal Code of Penitentiaries and Institutions for the Criminally Insane states that the peace officer’s requirement to bear arms is superseded only by the direct order of his immediate superiors or that of persons entrusted with the care and protection of penal or mental health facilities. Gentlemen, you find yourself under the aegis of that exception. You will not be allowed to pass through this gate with your firearms.”