Cawley chuckled. “Think of the lies you tell your parents as a child. How elaborate they are. Instead of keeping them simple to explain why you missed school or forgot your chores, you embellish, you make them fantastical. Yes?”

Chuck thought about it and nodded.

Teddy said, “Sure. Criminals do the same thing.”

“Exactly. The idea is to obfuscate. Confuse the listener until they believe out of exhaustion more than any sense of truth. Now consider those lies being told to yourself. That’s what Rachel does. In four years, she never so much as acknowledged that she was in an institution. As far as she was concerned, she was back home in the Berkshires in her house, and we were deliverymen, milkmen, postal workers, just passing by. Whatever the reality, she used sheer force of will to make her illusions stronger.”

“But how does the truth never get through?” Teddy said. “I mean, she’s in a mental institution. How does she not notice that from time to time?”

“Ah,” Cawley said, “now we’re getting into the true horrible beauty of the full-blown schizophrenic’s paranoid structure. If you believe, gentlemen, that you are the sole holder of truth, then everyone else must be lying. And if everyone is lying...”

“Then any truth they say,” Chuck said, “must be a lie.”

Cawley cocked his thumb and pointed his finger at him like a gun.

“You’re getting it.”

Teddy said, “And that somehow plays into these numbers?” “It must. They have to represent something. With Rachel, no thought was idle or ancillary. She had to keep the structure in her head from collapsing, and to do that, she had to be thinking always. This”— he tapped the eye chart—“is the structure on paper. This, I sincerely believe, will tell us where she’ gone.”

For just a moment, Teddy thought it was speaking tO him, becoming clearer. It was the first two numbers, he was certain—the “47” and the “80”—he could feel something about them scratching at his brain like the melody of a song he was trying to remember while the radio played a completely different tune. The “47” was the easiest clue. It was right in front of him. It was so simple. It was...

And then any possible bridges of logic collapsed, and Teddy felt his mind go white, and he knew it was in flight again—the clue, the connection, the bridge—and he placed the page down on the bed again.

“Insane,” Chuck said.

“What’s that?” Cawley said.

“Where she’s gone,” Chuck said. “In my opinion.”

“Well, certainly,” Cawley said. “I think we can take that as a given.”

THEY STOOD OUTSIDE the room. The corridor broke off from a staircase in the center. Rachel’s door was to the left of the staiis, halfway down on the right-hand side.

“This is the only way off this floor?” Teddy said.

Cawley nodded.

“No roof access?” Chuck said.

Cawley shook his head. “The only way up is from the fire escape.  You’ll see it on the south side of the building. It has a gate, and the gate is always locked. Staff has keys, of course, but no patients. To get to the roof, she’d have had to go downstairs, outside, use a key, and climb back up top.”

“But the roof was checked?”

Another nod. “As were all the rooms in the ward. Immediately. As soon as she was discovered missing.”

Teddy pointed at the orderly who sat by a small card table in front of the stairs. “Someone’s there twenty-four hours?”


“So, someone was there last night.”

“Orderly Ganton, actually.”

They walked to the staircase and Chuck said, “So “ and raised his eyebrows at Teddy.

“So,” Teddy agreed.

“So,” Chuck said, “Miss Solando gets out of her locked room into this corridor, goes down these steps.” They went down the steps themselves and Chuck jerked a thumb at the orderly waiting for them by the second-floor landing. “She gets past another orderly here, we don’t know how, makes herself invisible or something, goes down this next flight, and comes out into...”

They turned down the last flight and were facing a large open room with several couches pressed against the wall, a large folding table in the center with folding chairs, bay windows saturating the space with white light.

“The main living area,” Cawley said. “Where most of the patients spend their evenings. Group therapy was held here last night. You’ll see the nurses’ station is just through that portico there. After lightsout, the orderlies congregate here. They’re supposed to be mopping up, cleaning windows and such, but more often than not, we catch them here, playing cards.”

“And last night?”

“According to those who were on duty, the card game was in full swing. Seven men, sitting right at the base of the stairs, playing stud poker.”

Chuck put his hands on his hips, let out a long breath through his mouth. “She does the invisible thing again, apparently, moves either right or left.”

“Right would bring her through the dining area, then into the kitchen, and beyond that is a door that is caged and set with an alarm at nine o’clock at night, once the kitchen staff has left. To the left is the nurses’ station and the staff lounge. No door to the outside. The only ways out are that door on the other side of the living area, or back down the corridor behind the staircase. Both had men at their stations last night.” Cawley glanced at his watch. “Gentlemen, I have a meeting.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask any of the staff or visit McPherson. He’s handled the search thus far. He should have all the information you need. Staff eats at six sharp in the mess hall in the basement of the orderlies’ dormitory. After that, we’ll assemble here in the staff lounge and you can speak to anyone who was working during last night’s incident.”

He hurried out the front door, and they watched him until he turned left and disappeared.

Teddy said, “Is there anything about this that doesn’t feel like an

inside job?” ‘

“I’m kind of fond of my invisible theory. She could have the f

•           mula in a bottle. You following me? She could be watching us right now, Teddy.” Chuck looked over his shoulder quick, then back at Teddy. “Something to think about.” Copyright 2016 - 2024