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The White Room

GIBSON HAD IT figured. After three weeks of intensively studying the minutest workings of the small and very exclusive clinic, the theft of an old discarded raincoat that had been left behind by a crew of workmen who were repainting the clinic's dayroom, and a trade of his accumulated candy ration with another inmate in return for a blue Mets baseball cap, he believed that he was ready to go. He'd discovered that there was a loophole that happened every day during the lunch period. For over two months, Gibson had been taking his lunch in the dayroom with the other patients who were trusted to eat outside their rooms. It was supposed to be an advanced level in patient interaction. Gibson had initially hated this communal lunching and would have much preferred to have gone on eating in his room. Most of his mealtime companions were doped to the eyeballs and had trouble finding their mouths, and, since the lunches served at the clinic uniformly consisted of various flavors of semiliquid goop, it was always a messy and unsightly affair. Even John West, who was an urbane sophisticate by inmate standards, occasionally missed his mouth with a plastic spoonful of creamed spinach or strained beats, and some of the others looked like ambulatory Jackson Pollacks by the time they had made it through to dessert.

Lunch became considerably more attractive after Gibson noticed that, toward the end of the meal, if it had gone without incident, the three burly male nurses who supervised them while they were eating made a habit of vanishing two at a time into the storeroom in back of the glassed-in nurses' station by the door. While one remained in the station to watch the inmates, the other two were in back, probably smoking a joint or snorting coke. Gibson, having clandestinely curtailed his own medication, was a much more skilled eater than most of the other inmates, and consequently finished much sooner than the rest. After he was done, he made a practice of going to the bathroom that was down the hall from the dayioom at exactly the same time as the nurses were getting high. According to the rules, a nurse was supposed to go with him, but Gibson had become so trusted that the one who was looking out while the other two were taking their turn in the storeroom just waved him through, unlocking the door from inside the station.

Gibson tried this five times before he decided that it was the route for the great escape. He had already stashed the raincoat and the Mets cap in the bottom of a cupboard in the bathroom that was used for mops and buckets and toilet paper, and nobody seemed to have noticed them. Once he was in the bathroom, it was a simple matter to slip into the coat and hat and walk down to the final checkpoint at the front door. He'd gleaned from the conversations of the painters that security on the front door was also fairly lax. The reception desk in the lobby was manned by rent-a-cops and not clinic nurses, and they paid more attention to who was coming in rather than who was going out unless it was obviously a patient. The rent-a-cops wouldn't be familiar with his face, and his only real problem was his white hospital pants and slippers. He was hoping the coat and hat would do it and if they noticed his pants at all they'd assume that he was a painter on his break.

On the day that he picked for the escape, Gibson found that he was almost too nervous to force down his food. The chipped beef and mashed potatoes, at the best of times, turned into wallpaper paste in his mouth, but on this day they threatened to choke him. He couldn't even contemplate the lime jello. As soon as the nurses had retired to their station and the storeroom, Gibson stood up and started for the bathroom. The nurse waved him through without a second glance. A swift walk along the corridor and he was in the bathroom. On with the raincoat and the Mets cap. They didn't install mirrors in the patients' bathrooms, so there was no way of checking his appearance or reassuring himself that he could bluff his way past the front desk. Down the rest of the corridor. An orderly was mopping the floor, but the man didn't give him a second glance as he walked by. Down the stairs and on to the final obstacle. Just a single rent-a-cop was on duty, and he was deep in conversation with a pretty occupational therapist. Gibson mumbled something about going out for coffee and doughnuts. The rent-a-cop nodded. He was too busy dying to peer down the occupational therapist's uniform. Gibson walked out of the main door, doing his best not to run. Suddenly he was out, out in the roar of New York traffic heading for the corner of 28th Street and Third Avenue.


Chapter Twelve | Necrom | Chapter Thirteen