“Sure,” Chuck said eventually, his face still flushed.
The dock appeared as if by trick of light, stretching out from the sand, a stick of chewing gum from this distance, insubstantial and gray.
Teddy felt dehydrated from his time at the toilet and maybe a bit exhausted from the last couple of minutes; no matter how much he’d learned to carry it, carry her, the weight could wear him down every now and then. A dull ache settled into the left side of his head, just behind his eye, as if the flat side of an old spoon were pressed there. It was too early to tell if it were merely a minor side effect of the dehydration, the beginnings of a common headache, or the first hint of something worse—the migraines that had plagued him since adolescence and that at various times could come so strongly they could temporarily rob him of vision in one eye, turn light into a hailstorm of hot nails, and had once-only once, thank God—left him partially paralyzed for a day and a half. Migraines, his anyway, never visited during times of pressure or work, only afterward, when all had quieted down, after the shells stopped dropping, after the pursuit was ended. Then, at base camp or barracks or, since the war, in motel rooms or driving home along country highways—they came to do their worst. The trick, Teddy had long since learned, was to stay busy and stay focused. They couldn’t catch you if you didn’t stop running.
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 s6rattled 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 MCPH’ERSON 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/:]oor.
The orderlies came back down the dock with the mail and fhe 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.