Episode 28 — Chapter 32
At precisely 8:45, Cobb retrieved the shopping bag from under the bed and walked into the restroom. The clothes were lighter and smoother than any he had ever remembered wearing; the design and cut was unfamiliar but not offensive. He removed his hospital gown and put on the underwear—Miss Cain hadn’t mentioned that. Then he donned the shirt and trousers. He squatted on the toilet to put on the socks and shoes. The glasses were a bit large, but they fit well enough. He stared at the blue baseball cap with a large “A” and red bill, and assumed it represented the Atlanta major league team. He tried the cap on and found it to be a good fit. He looked at himself in the mirror. The change of clothes, cap and glasses had done the trick; he scarcely recognized himself.
Cobb pushed the bathroom door open. As he began exiting, he noticed the outer door beginning to open and glimpsed the white skirt of a nurse stepping into the room. Cobb hurriedly, retreated, back inside the bathroom before he was seen and closed the door.
“Oh, excuse me, Mr. Cobb,” he heard the nurse speak. “I was just coming by to check your blood pressure and pulse. I’ll come back in a few minutes.”
Cobb acknowledged his assent with a grunt, his heart racing madly. More than ever before, he sensed that he was a prisoner in the building.
Still inside the bathroom, he opened the door a few inches and peered at the digital clock on the wall next to the bed.
Cobb felt beads of perspiration on his forehead. What lay beyond the corridor, beyond the hospital? Would they suspect a man walking with a limp was a patient? Would he be detained? And if he was detained, would they restrain him?
Cobb’s legs seemed heavy and he began feeling lightheaded. He wanted desperately to leave, but feared doing so at the same time.
Cobb had to leave now! If he didn’t, it would be too late. He would become conspicuous by his departure if he waited any longer. As the digits changed to 9:00, Cobb pushed open the bathroom door. His heart was beating at a frenzied pace. He slowly opened the door to the hallway and peered up and down, half expecting to see the nurse coming down the hall to check on him.
All of a sudden, Cobb heard footsteps and saw a nurse walking down the hallway toward his room. He closed the outer door, remaining inside and holding his breath. He heard the footsteps pass by his room and he breathed a sigh of relief. He opened the door a crack again. He would have to pass the nurse’s station on his way to the elevator.
In earlier walks along the corridor, Cobb had noticed the elevator and observed others pushing a round button, then a chime sounding and the door opening. Now he was unable to visualize even walking into the corridor.
Cobb looked again at the digital clock inside his room.
I’m too late. I missed my chance. God Almighty! I’ll never be able to get out of here.
He had failed. Crestfallen, his pulse rate began to slow now that escape was no longer an option.
While the outer door was still open, Cobb heard voices coming down the hallway. He peered discreetly into the hallway and saw an older man and woman waving good-bye a short distance down the opposite end of the corridor. Cobb glanced back at the digital watch. It was now four minutes after nine, yet there were two people leaving the hospital!
Instinctively, he followed in step, as they passed by, doing his best to walk as naturally as possible without a noticeable limp. The couple passed the nurses’ station and he walked directly behind them with his face lowered. The nurse’s attention remained focused on her computer screen as they passed by.
“Have a nice evening,” the nurse said mechanically, without looking their way.
“Thank you,” the couple responded. Cobb found himself mouthing the words, too, though no sound emerged.
The couple proceeded toward the elevator; it was just forty feet away now, but it seemed an endless distance with an orderly and doctor coming their way. His head still bowed, Cobb continued walking as evenly as possible toward the elevator behind the older couple. Any moment, he expected someone to notice him and restrict his passage. Vivid images of the horrors from the asylum he had visited as a youth filled his mind.
At last, the trio reached the elevator door. The woman pressed the call button. The door remained closed. The few times Cobb had been in proximity of the elevator before, it had seemed as though the door always opened immediately after the button was depressed. Now, the door remained closed and Cobb wondered if it would open at all. He held his breath as the seconds ticked by.
Why wasn’t the chime sounding?
Cobb became aware of footsteps from behind—heavy footsteps. He recognized them at once. It was the heavyset Dr. Cantril approaching.
Why was he here now? He had only seen Dr. Cantril during daytime.
Why wasn’t the elevator door opening?!
Mr. Cobb stood frozen, facing the elevator. He could no longer hold his breath and did his best to exhale normally, before sucking in another deep breath. The crescendo of the stride behind him meant that the distance from the doctor was narrowing. He felt perspiration forming on his forehead; people would surely recognize that he was a patient trying to flee. He expected Dr. Cantril’s grip on his forearm any second, forcing him back to his room.
The heavy footsteps came to a halt a few feet from the elevator. Cobb felt Dr. Cantril’s penetrating stare from behind. His freedom was gone. He watched the couple turn to face the doctor.
“Good evening,” the doctor spoke.
“Good evening,” the couple responded. Cobb remained motionless. He dared not turn or make a sound. If the four of them entered the elevator together, surely the doctor would take note of him and he would be detained.
The elevator chime finally sounded.
But it was too late!
In seconds, he would be discovered.
The door opened.
The couple began moving toward the open elevator. From the corner of his eye, Cobb saw Dr. Cantril also stepping forward to enter the elevator.
“Dr. Cantril!” A voice sounded in earnest from behind. “I can’t find your patient, Mr. Cobb.”
Dr. Cantril wheeled around before entering the elevator and began walking hastily toward the nurse.
“What the hell are you talking about!?” Dr. Cantril yelled back.
Meantime, the couple was now inside the elevator. Cobb remained outside, petrified with fear.
He willed his legs forward, but the elevator door began to shut.
I am doomed!
Suddenly, the man inside the elevator extended his hand into the gap of the closing doors and the elevator doors came to an abrupt halt and then began opening again.
Cobb walked straightway into the elevator without turning, as the sound of Dr. Cantril’s fast-paced steps in the opposite direction echoed in the corridor.
The elevator door closed.
Exiting the exterior door of the hospital behind the couple seconds later, Cobb felt liberated. It was dark outside, and he saw several cars parked near the hospital entrance. Two were white.
Then he saw her waving, standing next to one of the white vehicles. She had a beautiful smile on her face. Cobb rejoiced at the sight of her and felt a swell of gratitude within his breast for her kindness, as he rushed toward her.
Minutes later, they were on the Interstate 85 turnpike heading northeast.
Dr. Cantril entered Room 4-117 in a panic, breathing heavily. It was empty. He cursed under his breath and hurriedly looked in the bathroom. It was empty. He rushed out into the hallway toward the nurse’s station.
“Call security!” he shouted to the nurses at the station nearby. “Mr. Cobb has disappeared. Hurry! He can’t be far.”
Dr. Cantril raced back to the elevator, pushing the call button. “Open up, dammit!” Finally, the door cooperated.
Moments later he exited the hospital onto the street. He looked up and down the boulevard, searching for any sign of Mr. Cobb. There was no one anywhere to be found. Perhaps Mr. Cobb was still inside the hospital and he hurried back to the elevator.
When he returned to the fourth floor, there was a security guard standing near the nurse’s station. “We need to search every floor, dammit! He’s probably still in the building.”
Dr. Cantril turned to the nurse, barking orders in a frenzied voice, “Contact the police. Now! If he left the building, he must be close by. He doesn’t have any money or transportation. Tell them the man’s unstable and dangerous!”