Clem forgot the way he’d come from the Asylum. He took several turns and suspected the roads were purposefully taking him in the wrong direction. That was impossible, of course.
He gave up on finding the back entrance headed to the entrance everyone in town knew but avoided, the front gates. Hannah’s father had said nothing since they pulled away from his house. Clem considered making small talk, but he’d been taught to let the adults take the lead in a conversation. The truck rattled and jostled and that was sound enough.
What met them at the Asylum gates surprised them both. A crowd of people stood staring out between the thick wrought iron bars. Clem stopped, and the headlights shined through bars and over the crowd. Many of them were in pajamas.
“My Hannah responsible for this?” Mr. Robinson stared through the windshield back at the patients.
“Why you think that, sir?” Clem asked.
“I know my daughter,” Mr. Robinson replied. He frowned. “Sometimes.”
“Well, sir. Then you know Han does what she thinks is right.”
“It’s a lovely day, my boy, when what she thinks is right and what actually is right align.”
“But she’s smart.” Clem didn’t take his eyes away from the crowd. They didn’t appear concerned or interested in the arrival of the truck. They didn’t even shield their eyes from the glare of the truck’s headlights. “She’s the smartest girl I know.”
“And how many girls do you know exactly?” Mr. Robinson was now staring down at his bathrobe and pajamas, his frown deepening.
“My sisters count?”
“Young man. Never mind!” He sucked in his gut and fussed with the bathrobe’s belt. “I just wish my Hannah were smart enough to stay out of trouble.”
“Ain’t nobody that smart all the time, sir,” Clem replied.
Hannah’s father let out a hint of a laugh. “You ready?”
In the crowd were boys and girls, adults and children, a few with oxygen tanks and canes. Someone was pulling themselves up with the bars, but the top with its varied, twisted points would be difficult to climb over.
“I think we both know Hannah isn’t going to be waltzing through that gate on her own. We’re going to have to go in. We’re going to have to deal that crowd.”
“Maybe I could drive the truck through the gates, sir. Smash right through. They’d all take off runnin’ and we’d be in.”
Clem cleared his throat. “Sorry, sir. But those people. They don’t look right.”
“Imagine how we must look to them. No, my boy. You and me, we’re going to walk up to that gate and talk them like decent folks.”
“We’ll tell them what we’re going to do and let them move out of the way.” Mr. Robinson put his hand on his door handle.
“Sir,” Clem said. “What do you think they’ll do when the gate’s open?”
“I suspect some of them will end back where they started, and a fair few will act free. But we don’t need to worry ourselves about that now. We’re here for Hannah.”
The teenager and the father sat in the cab another minute in silence watching the unmoving crowd. Finally, the boy spoke. “I’m ready when you are, sir.”
Mr. Robinson sat up straighter. “Remember,” he said. “I’m doing this for Hannah.” And with that he opened his door.