"Time to head in, ma'am," the guard said, and for just a moment she thought of hurling herself into the water and letting the folds of her traveling dress pull her down to the bottom. She shook off the thought, steeled herself, and gingerly made her way forward, difficult as it was to balance with her hands tied in front of her. The blond boy, whose name was Wendell, had been fishing for snook with the chef, a freed Negro from Georgia, who was using his prized snakewood baitcaster. The chef was fishing and talking, fishing and talking, fishing and talking, a rhythm he had perfected through the years. His topic of conversation, on this morning, was his castor bean garden - his latest attempt at growing wealthy overnight - and he would have succeeded already if a rare frost hadn't killed the plants this past winter. Federal prisoners in Tortuga were dropping dead left and right from yellow fever. The treatment: castor oil. His new batch of castor beans was hardy, and although they covered just a half-acre at present, he had plans for expansion.
Overhead, a brown pelican circled.
"Of course I don't wish yellow fever on any man," the chef said.
Wendell wasn't listening. He'd just caught a glimpse of the ship. "It's a side-wheeler," he announced.
The chef pressed his lips together, annoyed by the interruption. He followed Wendell's gaze. "Scottish Chief. That's Summerlin and McKay's ship. It's probably taking more cattle to the Bahamas."
The side-wheeler steamer approached the dock.
"Why is it stopping here?" Wendell asked.
"I heard we got a new one."
"Oh?" Wendell cocked his head slightly to one side, his way of showing intrigue. "Maybe it's a really crazy one." Those were Wendell's favorites; lunatics were captivating, and the crazier the better. He had lived around them all his life, because his father was the superintendent and chief psychiatrist of the asylum. Wendell believed he was crazy himself, and it was only a matter of time before it was discovered in him and he was locked away with the others. He watched the boat, his eyes wide and drying out in the sea air. The end of his cane pole dipped downward.
"Look, boy," said the chef. "You got one!"
The pole jerked and danced in Wendell's hands. He pulled back too hard. A weighted hook, still with half the bait on, came flying and landed in Wendell's cheek. He sucked in his breath as the hook stuck fast, the fishing line trailing off into the wind. Blood ran down in a trickle from the new puncture. He was hooked good now, good as any fish.
Excerpted from Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall. Copyright © 2012 by Kathy Hepinstall. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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