Hannah’s father stood at the Asylum gate, his hands on his hips, his frown lopsided. “You got a toolbox in that truck, Clem?”
“Ain’t my truck.” Clem was staring at the faces looking back at him through the bars of the gate. “Sir,” he added.
“What’s that got to do with the price of gum? Go on now and look for something we can use on this lock.” Mr. Robinson nodded and smiled at the patients.
“Clem, my boy. Use whatever imagination you’ve been blessed with.” He looked sideways at the teenager. “Hannah never showed you how to pick a lock?”
The question got Clem to look away from the crowd. “Sir?”
Mr. Robinson liked his daughter’s friends. If Hannah believed in someone, he did too. But Clem…he shook his head. This was not the time to wonder about Clem. He shooed the boy off to the truck then turned back to his audience. “Good evening.”
Only a few seemed to hear him.
“My apologies for showing like this, and I can see it was foolish of me to think I could just open this gate. I don’t suppose anyone of could point me in the direction of a key?” He leaned forward and smiled. He waited. “Well, how bout telling me who I could talk to? Things appear to be going a bit pear-shaped in there if you don’t mind my saying so.”
Someone stumbled, pushing someone else forward. The gate rattled. Clanging came from inside the truck.
“Any of you happen to see my daughter in there? Bit on the tall side. Short thick brown hair. Wearing black, I’m sure. Might’ve…” It was awkward to admit. “Might’ve been picking locks?”
“Me.” The thin voice came from the left.
“Yes?” Mr. Robinson looked from face to face until he spotted a child, ten perhaps, bald, in a heavy nightdress. “You saw my Hannah?”
The child nodded. “Lock.”
Mr. Robinson sighed with relief. “Good! I mean…is she okay?”
“What nurse? Is there a nurse who can help me?”
But Clem appeared, dashing forward, brandishing what he’d found. “Bolt cutters, sir! Right under the passenger seat!” And without waiting to discuss it, he strode over the gate and before Mr. Robinson could reply, the chain was unraveling from the gate. It hit the ground with a thud and puff of dirt.
The gate opened and Mr. Robinson was knocked backwards. He scrambled to get out of the way of the patients heading out. Clem pulled him upright. “You okay, sir?”
“Clem, my boy,” he replied. “There’s a nurse who can help us.”
“What about these people, sir? They’re going every which way.”
Mr. Robinson looked around, the belt of his bathrobe loosening. He spotted the child. “Hey there, little one. You’ll help us, won’t you. You can tell me where this nurse is, right?” He bent forward, resting his hands on his knees to more equal to the child. “We can find the nurse together and then help everyone, can’t we?”
The child stared and a grin slowly stretched across her face. “Nurse,” she said. “Nurse.”
Neither Mr. Robinson nor Clem could’ve explained how surprised and unsettled they were by the child’s very white, bright teeth.
* * *
Inside the Asylum the old woman peered from the stairwell door. “He’s out of the way.” She stopped, realizing her companions were gone. “Meredith?” The old woman hurried to look into the office. There was no sign of Hannah nor the nurse. “Damn. Meredith. What’ve you done?” She closed her eyes to concentrate her thoughts and her senses. She sniffed the air. “Ah, that soap,” she muttered. “I told you it smelled of stupidity.” But the old woman was no longer confused. She followed the scent to the far corner of the room.
The wall looked normal enough, but the old woman knew better. She and all the patients knew much more about the building’s secrets than Nurse Meredith Stillmark could imagine.