The seventh (Special Surgical) floor was quiet; there were two nurses at the station. One was making progress notes in a patient's chart; the other was eating a candy bar and reading a movie magazine. Neither paid much attention to Ross as she went to the chart shelf, opened Benson's record, and checked it.
She wanted to be certain that Benson had received all his medications, and to her astonishment she found that he had not. "Why hasn't Benson gotten his thorazine?" she demanded.
The nurses looked up in surprise. "Benson?"
"The patient in seven-ten." She glanced at her watch; it was after midnight. "He was supposed to be started on thorazine at noon. Twelve hours ago."
"I'm sorry… may I?" One of the nurses reached for the chart. Ross handed it to her and watched while she turned to the page of nursing orders. McPherson's order for thorazine was circled in red by a nurse, with the cryptic notation
Ross was thinking that without heavy doses of thorazine Benson's psychotic thinking would be unchecked, and could be dangerous.
"Oh, yes," the nurse said. "I remember now. Dr. Morris told us that only medication orders from him or from Dr. Ross were to be followed. We don't know this Dr. McPhee, so we waited to call him to confirm the therapy. It- "
"Dr. McPherson," Ross said heavily, "is the chief of the NPS."
The nurse frowned at the signature. "Well, how are we supposed to know that? You can't read the name. Here." She handed back the chart. "We thought it looked like McPhee, and the only McPhee in the hospital directory is a gynecologist and that didn't seem logical, but sometimes doctors will put a note in the wrong chart by mistake, so we- "
"All right," Ross said, waving her hand. "All right. Just get him his thorazine now, will you?"
"Right away, Doctor," the nurse said. She gave her a dirty look and went to the medicine locker. Ross went down the hall to Room 710.
The cop sat outside Benson's room with his chair tipped back against the wall. He was reading Secret Romances with more interest than Janet would have thought likely. She knew without asking where he had gotten the magazine; he had been bored, one of the nurses had given it to him. He was also smoking a cigarette, flicking the ashes in the general direction of an ashtray on the floor.
He looked up as she came down the hall. "Good evening, Doctor."
"Good evening." She stifled an impulse to lecture him on his sloppy demeanor. But the cops weren't under her jurisdiction, and besides, she was just irritated with the nurses. "Everything quiet?" she asked.
Inside 710 she could hear television, a talk show with laughter. Someone said, "And what did you do then?" There was more laughter. She opened the door.
The room lights were off; the only light came from the glow of the television. Benson had apparently fallen asleep; his body was turned away from the door, and the sheets were pulled up over his shoulder. She clicked the television off and crossed the room to the bed. Gently, she touched his leg.
"Harry," she said softly. "Harry- "
The leg beneath her hand was soft and formless. She pressed down; the "leg" bulged oddly. She reached for the bedside lamp and turned it on, flooding the room with light. Then she pulled back the sheets.
Benson was gone. In his place were three plastic bags of the kind the hospital used to line wastebaskets. Each had been inflated and then knotted shut tightly. Benson's head was represented by a wadded towel; his arm by another.
"Officer," she said, in a low voice, "you'd better get your ass in here."
The cop came bounding into the room, his hand reaching for his gun. Ross gestured to the bed.
"Holy shit," the cop said. "What happened?"
"I was going to ask you."
The cop didn't reply. He went immediately to the bathroom and checked there; it was empty. He looked in the closet.
"His clothes are still here- "
"When was the last time you looked into this room?"
" -but his shoes are gone," the cop said, still looking in the closet. "His shoes are missing." He turned and looked at Ross with a kind of desperation. "Where is he?"
"When was the last time you looked into this room?" Ross repeated. She pressed the bedside buzzer to call the night nurse.
"About twenty minutes ago."
Ross walked to the window and looked out. The window was open, but there was a sheer drop of seven stories to the parking lot below. "How long were you away from the door?"
"Look, Doc, it was only a few minutes- "
"I ran out of cigarettes. The hospital doesn't have any machines. I had to go to that coffee shop across the street. I was gone about three minutes. That was around eleven-thirty. The nurses said they'd keep an eye on things."
"Great," Ross said. She checked the bedside table and saw that Benson's shaving equipment was there, his wallet, his car keys… all there.
The nurse stuck her head in the door, answering the call.
"What is it now?"
"We seem to be missing a patient," Ross said.
"I beg your pardon?"
Ross gestured to the plastic bags in the bed. The nurse reacted slowly, and then turned quite pale.
"Call Dr. Ellis," Ross said, "and Dr. McPherson and Dr. Morris. They'll be at home; have the switchboard put you through. Say it's an emergency. Tell them Benson is gone. Then call hospital security. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Doctor," the nurse said, and hurried from the room. Ross sat down on the edge of Benson's bed and turned her attention to the cop.
"Where did he get those bags?" the cop said.
She had already figured that out. "One from the bedside wastebasket," she said. "One from the wastebasket by the door. One from the bathroom wastebasket. Two towels from the bathroom."
"Clever," the cop said. He pointed to the closet. "But he can't get far. He left his clothes."
"Took his shoes."
"A man with bandages and a bathrobe can't get far, even if he has shoes." He shook his head. "I better call this in."
"Did Benson make any calls?"
"No, last month."
"Look, lady, I don't need any of your lip right now."
She saw then that he was really quite young, in his early twenties, and she saw that he was afraid. He had screwed up, and he didn't know what would happen. "I'm sorry," she said.
"He made one call," the cop said. "About eleven."
"Did you listen to it?"
"No." He shrugged. "I never thought…" His voice trailed off. "You know."
"So he made one call at eleven, and left at eleven-thirty." She walked outside to the hallway and looked down the corridor to the nurses' station. There was always somebody on duty there, and he would have to pass the nurses' station to reach the elevator. He'd never make it.
What else could he have done? She looked toward the other end of the hall. There was a stairway at the far end. He could walk down. But seven flights of stairs? Benson was too weak for that. And when he got to the ground-floor lobby, there he'd be, in his bathrobe with his head bandaged. The reception desk would stop him.
"I don't get it," the cop said, coming out into the hallway. "Where could he go?"
"He's a very bright man," Ross said. It was a fact that they all tended to forget. To the cops, Benson was a criminal charged with assault, one of the hundreds of querulous types they saw each day. To the hospital staff, he was a diseased man, unhappy, dangerous, borderline psychotic. Everyone tended to forget that Benson was also brilliant. His computer work was outstanding in a field where many intelligent men worked. On the initial psychological testing at the NPS, his abbreviated WAIS I.Q. test had scored 144. He was fully capable of planning to leave, then listening at the door, hearing the cop and the nurse discuss going for cigarettes - and then making his escape in a matter of minutes. But how?
Benson must have known that he could never get out of the hospital in his bathrobe. He had left his street clothes in his room - he probably couldn't get out wearing those, either. Not at midnight. The lobby desk would have stopped him. Visiting hours had ended three hours before.
What the hell would he do?
The cop went up to the nurses' station to phone in a report. Ross followed along behind him, looking at the doors. Room 709 was a burns patient; she opened the door and looked inside, making sure only the patient was there. Room 708 was empty; a kidney-transplant patient had been discharged that afternoon. She checked that room, too.
The next door was marked SUPPLIES. It was a standard room on surgical floors. Bandages, suture kits, and linen supplies were stored there. She opened the door and went inside. She passed row after row of bottled intravenous solutions; then trays of different kits. Then sterile masks, smocks, spare uniforms for nurses and orderlies-
She stopped. She was staring at a blue bathrobe, hastily wadded into a corner on a shelf. The rest of the shelf contained neatly folded piles of white trousers, shirts, and jackets worn by hospital orderlies.
She called for the nurse.
"It's impossible," Ellis said, pacing up and down in the nurses' station. "Absolutely impossible. He's two days - a day and a half - post-op. He couldn't possibly leave."
"He did," Janet Ross said. "And he did it the only way he could, by changing into an orderly's uniform. Then he probably walked downstairs to the sixth floor and took an elevator to the lobby. Nobody would have noticed him; orderlies come and go at all hours."
Ellis wore a dinner jacket and a white frilly shirt; his bow tie was loosened and he was smoking a cigarette. She had never seen him smoke before. "I still don't buy it," he said.
"He was tranked out of his skull with thorazine, and- "
"Never got it," Ross said.
"Never got it?"
"What's thorazine?" the cop said, taking notes.
"The nurses had a question on the order and didn't administer it. He had no sedatives and no tranquilizers since midnight last night."
"Christ," Ellis said. He looked at the nurses as if he could kill them. Then he paused. "But what about his head? It was covered with bandages. Someone would notice that."
Morris, who had been sitting silently in a corner, said,
"He had a wig."
"I saw it," Morris said.
"What was the color of the wig in question?" the cop said.
"Black," Morris said.
"Oh Christ," Ellis said.
Ross said, "How did he get this wig?"
"A friend brought it to him. The day of admission."
"Listen," Ellis said, "even with a wig, he can't have gotten anywhere. He left his wallet and his money. There are no taxis at this hour."
She looked at Ellis, marveling at his ability to deny reality. He just didn't want to believe that Benson had left; he was fighting the evidence, fighting hard.
"He called a friend," Ross said, "about eleven." She looked at Morris. "You remember who brought the wig?"
"A pretty girl," Morris said.
"Do you remember her name?" Ross said, with a sarcastic edge.
"Angela Black," Morris said promptly.
"See if you can find her in the phone book," Ross said.
Morris began to check; the phone rang, and Ellis answered it. He listened, then without comment handed the phone to Ross.
"Yes," Ross said.
"I've done the computer projection," Gerhard said. "It just came through. You were right. Benson is on a learning cycle with his implanted computer. His stimulation points conform to the projected curve exactly."
"That's wonderful," Ross said. As she listened, she glanced at Ellis, Morris, and the cop. They watched her expectantly.
"It's exactly what you said," Gerhard said. "Benson apparently likes the shocks. He's starting seizures more and more often. The curve is going up sharply."
"When will he tip over?"
"Not long," Gerhard said. "Assuming that he doesn't break the cycle - and I doubt that he will - then he'll be getting almost continuous stimulations at six-four a.m."
"You have a confirmed projection on that?" she asked, frowning. She glanced at her watch. It was already 12:30.
"That's right," Gerhard said. "Continuous stimulations starting at six-four this morning."
"Okay," Ross said, and hung up. She looked at the others.
"Benson has gone into a learning progression with his computer. He's projected for tipover at six a.m. today."
"Christ," Ellis said, looking at the wall clock. "Less than six hours from now."
Across the room, Morris had put aside the phone books and was talking to Information. "Then try West Los Angeles," he said, and after a pause, "What about new listings?"
The cop stopped taking notes, and looked confused. "Is something going to happen at six o'clock?"
"We think so," Ross said.
Ellis puffed on his cigarette. "Two years," he said, "and I'm back on them." He stubbed it out carefully. "Has McPherson been notified?"
"He's been called."
"Check unlisted numbers," Morris said. He listened for a moment. "This is Dr. Morris at University Hospital," he said,
"and it's an emergency. We have to locate Angela Black. Now, if- " Angrily, he slammed down the phone. "Bitch," he said.
He shook his head.
"We don't even know if Benson called this girl," Ellis said. "He could have called someone else."
"Whoever he called may be in a lot of trouble in a few hours," Ross said. She flipped open Benson's chart. "It looks like a long night. We'd better get busy."