Descent Into Panic

Chapter 15

Monday 1.30pm

The nurse took Sam's still laden lunch tray away, shaking her head. The patient had barely eaten anything in the past twenty-four hours. He claimed he had no appetite. Physically, he was healing steadily, but emotionally he still seemed very withdrawn and depressed. He had not slept well last night, crying out from nightmares in which he seemed to be reliving the fire, and calling out to the woman who'd died in the lift. It was like he was grieving for a loved one - a close relative or dear friend - yet it transpired he hadn't even known the woman before that fateful journey.

Miraculously, only three souls had perished as a result of that terrible fire, which had completely gutted the hotel. The opera singer; a middle aged man who'd thrown himself out of a fifteenth storey window when he couldn't get out the door to his room, and a father who'd been badly burned rescuing his daughter and who'd passed away just this morning in a room down the corridor despite their best efforts to save him. The daughter, thank God, looked set to make a full recovery, as did all the other – far minor – casualties.

The only one Nurse Lisa Buckingham was still seriously concerned about was Mr. Quincey here. Doc Ellis had arranged for the shrink – uh 'counselor' - to come and talk to him later this afternoon, but somehow she didn't think it was going to help much.

It was such a shame. From what the young man, Drew Stoppard, had told her, and what she'd seen herself, he was a sweet old geezer, and had no need to feel guilty over the death of a stranger.

There were some visitors outside waiting to see him. Doc Ellis was still insisting Mr. Quincey needed plenty of rest and quiet, but Lisa hoped they could cheer him up. She warned them that the patient mustn't over-exert himself, and that they shouldn't stay long. They readily agreed.

He didn't seem too enthusiastic when she told him they were on their way in, but with any luck he'd perk up once they got chatting.

Sam assumed it was going to be some friends or relatives of Quincey's. In all likelihood ones who'd heard about his condition and, though they'd not seen him in months or years, decided they ought to pay a visit. There would be long awkward silences on both sides, no doubt, as they did their perceived duty.

Sam was in no mood to make small talk with people he'd have to pretend to know. He just wanted to be left alone. He tried saying he didn't feel well enough for visitors. In truth he was still very tired, he just wanted to sleep and let the world turn without him. He didn't want to talk. He didn't want to think. Thinking always led to the same thoughts - thoughts that tormented him.

However, Nurse Buckingham was convinced she knew what was best for him, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Al sided with her too, having arrived in time to hear the short-lived debate. He wouldn't say who was outside, but was most insistent that Sam should see them. Frankly, Sam was feeling too apathetic and lacking in energy to bother arguing the matter, so gave in with a 'whatever' shrug.

He prepared to cover his ignorance of his visitors by playing on his maladies. Sam was not deceitful by nature, but years of leaping had taught him the necessity of 'acting'. With any luck, they'd soon give up and leave him alone.

As it turned out, the visitors happened to be positively the last people he expected to see.

Bryony Kingston came in first, with Henry, her fiancé, on her arm. Sam smiled at her and then found his jaw floor-bound as Kenneth Attenborough and Woodrow Wayneforth the Fourth came in close behind her.

"You wouldn't believe it!" Bryony gushed. "We all ran into one another in Harrods this morning."

This afternoon her attire was less formal than when he'd last seen her, but no less elegant. She wore a periwinkle blue pleated skirt and jacket, with a white silk blouse beneath. Her shoes, purse and jewelry were all perfectly co-coordinated.

None of the trio showed the slightest evidence of the ordeal they had collectively gone through. They were – in the words of the song – all spruced up and looking in their prime. Evidently, the loss of the entire contents of their suitcases in the conflagration had been taken simply as an excuse to have a shopping spree in Knightsbridge.

"I'm glad to see you all looking so well," Sam told them sincerely.

The men had the unexpected decency to look embarrassed.

"Ah, yes, well..." Wayneforth began awkwardly. He shot Bryony Kingston a look. Sam got the distinct impression that this visit had been at her instigation, and what's more the men were not exactly eager participants.

"Erm, that is..." Woodrow was obviously trying to say something particular, and not sure how to go about it. Sam didn't feel like making it easier for him.


"Uh... It would seem we owe you our gratitude, Mr. Quincey. Without your help, we would probably have all died in that lift."

"Make that 'definitely'! Call that a 'thank you', you pompous, arrogant nozzle?" Al blew cigar smoke in his face, but of course Wayneforth felt nothing.

Sam didn't bother saying anything. For some reason, "You're welcome," seemed to stick in his throat.

He was suddenly struck with an uncharacteristic desire to get a dig in at Wayneforth. He turned to Bryony Kingston, "Speaking of gratitude, I believe Drew and I have you to thank for opening the doors on level 12, Miss Kingston. We wouldn't be here now if you hadn't, so thank you very much." He reached out and took her hand with his fingertips, lifting it to his lips and kissing it gallantly.

"I don't know how you found out, but you're entirely welcome," she replied, coloring in embarrassment. "It was the least I could do to repay you for saving my life." She gave the other two an accusing look.

Wayneforth looked at the floor and cleared his throat. Was that a flicker of guilt on his face? If so, all well and good.

"I know Mr. McFarlane is very grateful too," Bryony emphasized. "I visited him last evening. He's in some pain from his ankle, but he's doing well."

"I'm glad to hear it," Sam smiled, truly pleased that the young man was not too seriously hurt.

Attenborough stepped forward then, waving a piece of paper. He seemed about to give it to Sam, then looked at the still bandaged hands and thought better of it. He placed it on the locker by Sam's bed instead.

"Uh, as a token of our um...appreciation for your actions... we... uh... we've taken the liberty of placing an order with Swaine Adeney Briggs of St. James's Street – splendid firm, well established – well, anyway... a bespoke cane has been commissioned for you to replace the one you lost." He made it sound as if it had been left on a tube train. "By the time you are up and about it should be ready for you to collect from Briggs', just present that..." he waved vaguely at the piece of paper.

"I get the idea, thank you," Sam responded. Not that he was bothered about being thanked or rewarded for what he'd done. Personally, he didn't care. He just didn't like people who took things – or other people – for granted. "A 'token' to Drew Stoppard would be more appropriate. Along with a genuine "Thank you." You owe your lives as much to him…" Sam broke off to cough briefly.

Sam expected them to dismiss the idea out of hand in their usual superior manner, but to his surprise the two men muttered together and nodded, seemingly agreeing to come up with some appropriate gesture.

"I think you may finally be getting through to those hard-heads, Sam," Al observed.

That notion did more than anything else had in the past day or so to lift Sam's spirits.

"You think we behaved appallingly, don't you, Mr. Quincey?" Attenborough asked in a subdued voice.

"Don't you?" Sam shot back. Who did these people think they were?

"On reflection, I confess we rather did."

"I shouldn't have abandoned you," admitted Wayneforth, "I'm sorry. I feared for my life and that fear drove me…" he looked down again, unable to meet Sam's eyes, which had been full of condemnation, but now softened.

"I suppose a lot of people would have reacted the same way." Sam allowed. "But no one life is any more or less important than any other, whoever they may be," Sam told them. "Remember that. You've been given a second chance with yours, gentlemen. Use the gift for more than selfish pursuits. That's the greatest thanks you could give me, or Drew, or anyone."

They looked at each other.

"You have my word, sir," Wayneforth assured him after a moment.

"And mine," Attenborough added.

They both put out their hands to shake Sam's, but he held his up with a shrug. The bandages let them know that such a gesture would be painful to him.

"You did it, Sam." Al told him enthusiastically. "They are changed men. Attenborough sets up an annual scholarship for promising students with insufficient funds – and yes, Drew is the first recipient. Wayneforth gets religion, and not only supports various charitable institutions financially but gives regular talks about selfishness and social responsibility. Wow. Talk about a change of heart!"

Sam smiled at his friend, pleased at positive outcomes as ever, but then turned his head away.

"I think Mr. Quincey is tired," Bryony decided. "We've taken enough of his time. Please get well soon, Mr. Quincey. I want you to dance with me at my wedding!"

Henry nodded. "Thank you for giving me back my fiancée, Mr. Quincey," he said simply.

"My pleasure," Sam assured him.

On which note they took their leave.

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