The White Room
THE IDEA OF escaping from the very exclusive clinic had been in the back of Joe Gibson's mind ever since he'd first been brought in, but he didn't really start thinking about practical ways of achieving it until he'd been there for about a month. It wasn't that he didn't want to get out of the place and back on the street to find out what had happened to his life, but it was complicated, and in those first weeks there had been only the briefest periods when the medication had left him in any mental shape to follow through even the simplest progression of logic. It was really his conversations with West that initially triggered his determination to figure a way to get out and stay out.
He realized almost immediately that it was impossible for him to follow West's advice and convince the staff that they were curing him. He increasingly suspected that it wouldn't be too hard to con Kooning into believing he was retrieving parts of his "real" life. Unfortunately the most perfunctory check would reveal the deception. He couldn't remember his "real" life because he had no "real" life to remember, and he couldn't be cured because there was nothing wrong with him. His only hope was a full-blown, go-for-broke escape.
The escape itself shouldn't be too difficult. Physical security in the place was fairly lax. The staff relied so heavily on drugs to keep the patients in line that they'd become lazy. They simply didn't expect a patient seriously to attempt a breakout. The hard part would be staying out. Once on the street, he was a man with no name. He had no ID, no money, and he didn't see himself taking up mugging or bank robbing to survive. The few days between his return to Earth and the freak-out that caused the cops to grab him and turn him over to the boys in the white coats had thoroughly convinced him that somehow all trace of him had been wiped out. He'd even tried to contact Windemere, but he also seemed to have vanished without trace. During that first forty-eight hours at the clinic, he'd actually welcomed the drugs. There was only so much that a man could take.
He was well aware that his first move had to be a reduction of the medication that was constantly being pumped into him. Even if he didn't have a coherent plan, he knew that he had to cut down on the drugs just to have a chance of formulating one. It was impossible to do anything about the the daily shots, but the pills that came three, sometimes four times a day were another matter. It was comparatively easy to fake swallowing a pill and then hide it in your mouth. Subsequently, getting rid of it was the hard part. Patients were always trying to lose, hide, or otherwise avoid their allotted medicines, and it was the major battle of wills between patients and staff; the staff had become very skilled at spotting those who were doing it and ferreting out their systems of disposal. A grid in the toilet bowls of the individual rooms even circumvented that obvious method.
After almost a week of thinking about it, Gibson decided that he'd come up with a new and, as far as he knew, original dodge that he might well get away with. He started dropping hints during the therapy sessions that, when he first woke up in the morning, he had fleeting memories of his real life but they were too mixed in with his dreams and, like the dreams, he quickly forgot them. He kept this up until, just as he'd hoped, Kooning suggested he keep a pencil and paper at his bedside to jot down these fragments while they were still fresh in his mind. This was exactly what he wanted. Writing materials were strictly controlled inside the clinic, and a patient had to be given the specific permission of a doctor before he could keep them in his cubicle. It was this permission that Gibson had been working toward and, within ten days of starting his campaign, it was this permission that Kooning gave, firmly believing that it was her own idea. He was taken to the administrative office, where he was issued two cheap Papermate ballpoint pens and a yellow legal pad. As he'd hoped, the pens were identical. He'd use one to write and the other, with the ink tube removed, as a receptacle for the pills that he didn't take.
From the moment he'd received them, he carried the pad and pens everywhere with him, and the staff quickly came to accept that it was his particular idiosyncrasy. Although he couldn't use West's principle of demonstrating that he was being cured as a means to get out, it was still useful to win himself a little slack. The staff thought that Gibson was making progress, and they didn't bother to watch him so closely. He was able to ditch the pills out of his hollow pen all over the clinic without anyone noticing him.
His covert reduction of his medication had the immediate effect of allowing him to think a great deal more clearly. He no longer stared mindlessly at Ghostbusters cartoons, the Chipmunks or reruns of Mork and Mindy. He began to make a careful, step-by-step analysis of his situation. One of his first thoughts in this new frame of mind was darkly hopeful. Why was he in this exclusive and expensive clinic at all? As far as anyone could tell in this world of so many changed details, he was an indigent bum. If that was the case, why the hell wasn't he locked up in Bellevue like any other penniless crazy? Someone had to be picking up a fairly major tab for his incarceration in this place, and it had to be safe to assume that whoever was doing this knew who he was, what he'd done, and that he wasn't raving mad when he swore that he'd just returned from another dimension. His newly reclaimed powers of reasoning led him to a single conclusion. There was someone out there who knew all about him and who was keeping him locked up here to insure his silence. If he could get out and find this person, there was at least the chance that he could beat the truth out of him about what had happened to his life.