"He's shown the ideation but has made no attempt," said Dr. Hulet. "Suicide is one of my biggest concerns now, with Clay in a totally foreign environment and his medications and therapy abruptly suspended. We cannot allow Clay to end his life. Veteran suicide rates run roughly double those of the general population, as you might know."
A moment went by. I knew a Marine who killed himself after coming home. Lenny. From Biloxi, Mississippi. Both legs amputated above the knee. Didn't want to live like that. I knew others—some disabled— who wanted very badly to live. I think I understood both sets of mind—opposite sides of the same hard coin.
I watched the trees outside swaying in the breeze. The low temperature up in these mountains last night was thirty-nine. Not that I thought Clay Hickman was out there in the forest. I had the feeling he had covered some miles in the last two days. But it was just a feeling. "Are you his lead doctor?"
Dr. Hulet nodded. "As well as Arcadia's medical director. His leaving surprised me. In all the hours I've spent with him, he rarely talked of a life outside or of running away. I think he felt safe here."
Hard to believe, I thought, that an airman locked in a hospital, swank or not, wouldn't want to fly away. Having been married to a recreational pilot, and still being a pilot myself, I know something about flight. Flying toward or flying away. Either way, it gets into your blood and stays there. Flight is more than freedom. You are subject to nature, your own limitations, the whims of the gods. You are free to fall. "You told me yesterday that Clay is not voluntarily here. That his father is his conservator and makes decisions on his son's behalf."
"That is true," said the doctor.
"Had his behavior changed lately?"
"He was restless. Not at peace. I felt that he was coming to a crossroads that he couldn't articulate."
DeMaris loudly cleared his throat. "Mr. Ford? Or can I just call you Roland? Roland, we've come to the part of the program where you tell us if you're going to take the job we've offered you. Daylight's a-wastin' and our man is in the wind. His family is extremely worried, and so are we. It was good of you to fax us your contract yesterday. Dr. Spencer has approved it and Dr. Hulet and I will sign it. But I do need to ask you, why do you only take cash?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"We report every penny."
"So do I."
"And you're awfully d amned expensive, too. I know. I'm familiar with your world and your type."
"Then maybe you can explain me to me sometime."
DeMaris opened his mouth to speak, came up empty. "That would be my job," said the doctor.
"I'll find Clay Hickman."
Dr. Hulet again pointed her pencil at Alec DeMaris, who pulled a fat envelope from his suit coat pocket and plopped it down. She slid my contract across the marble and handed me a pen.
I signed. Finding missing persons can be difficult when they don't want to be found. Locating is my specialty. To begin this kind of work for a corporate client, I charge three eight-hour days at one hundred dollars an hour. I refund the balance if we get results fast. For families, the hourly goes down, sometimes way down. For political and most religious organizations, the hourly goes up, sometimes way up.
"Thank you," she said. "I have the pictures you said you would need."
She handed me a legal envelope, unsealed. I pulled out the photographs, head shots, one in color and one black-and-white. PROPERTY OF ARCADIA—NOT FOR RELEASE OR CIRCULATION stamped on the backs. Clay Hickman had an open face, a high forehead, and straight white hair. In the color picture I could see that he had a hazel left eye and a blue right one. His expression was alert but calm.
"What was he wearing?"
"Tan cords, a black T-shirt, a brown cardigan sweater, and dress shoes," said Dr. Hulet. "They were caramel-colored, or maybe camel. I'm not sure exactly what they call it. We have video of him taken at eleven fifteen that morning, before he left the grounds."
"Chestnut on the shoes," said DeMaris. "And expensive. The Hickmans do not allow their son to dress down, even here on the funny farm. Hickman, by the way, is five-ten, one seventy. He's fit from the gym, and running and biking around the grounds. Supervised, of course. We encourage exertion. Gain through pain for our insane. That's my joke and don't repeat it. I'll take you out to the wire when you're ready."
I looked at Dr. Hulet. "I'll need the names and numbers for friends he's made here. And all recent visitors—dates are important. I'd like access to any staff he trusted, or talked to. His family, of course."