Chapter 2 The Second Day
After a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast that Sarah fixed over the fire, she heated two pots of water that they could each use to wash and which Sherlock could use to shave.
“Aaagh,” Sarah growled after they were once more seated in front of the fire. “I’m so tired of this! It’s the fourth day of being stuck in here and smelling like wood smoke and not being able to take a shower and having to flush the toilet with a bucket. I don’t know what we’ll do when the water runs out. I mean there’s a whole lake full out there, but it’s 150 feet down to it. And I’m tired of being cold—I just want to turn up the heat. But if it gets much above freezing today outside, the food from my refrigerator that I have out on the deck won’t make it. And I’m tired of no cell phone signal!” She threw her phone against the pillow next to her. “Why can’t they get the darn towers fixed?”
She stopped her tirade over the unfairness of her situation and looked over at Sherlock who was sitting cross-legged with his elbows on his knees, his palms together, his long fingers steepled against his chin and lower lip. His eyes were closed. “Are you praying?” she asked quietly.
A gunshot split the stillness from somewhere outside, startling both of them. “It’s nothing probably,” said Sarah. “It’s not like gunshots in the city. People hunt out here a lot.” They both listened intently. “But they don’t scream!” Piercing cries for help, far off, but loud enough to be heard plainly inside the cabin caused Sherlock and Sarah to scramble out of the tent. Sarah threw open the front door and stepped outside. Sherlock tried to follow her, but she stopped him since he was just wearing socks on his feet and the porch, though covered, had a coating of snow that had blown in. The cries stopped. “It’s coming from the Gordon’s. That’s the old couple next door.” She stepped back inside and closed the door. “I’ve got to go over there.” She took Sherlock’s arm and tried to propel him back towards the fire. “I think…I think you should stay here.”
“No! I want to come.”
“You don’t even have any shoes!” she yelled.
“Don’t you have an extra pair?” he yelled back.
“Yes, but they won’t fit you!” she hollered. “Wait! I have a pair of cowboy boots.” She left him standing in the middle of the living room while she rushed to the closet in the adjacent guest bedroom. “I bought them at a thrift store for Halloween—they’re red,” she continued while she rummaged through the closet. “They’re way big on me. Ah-ha!” She found the boots and hastily pulled a long, fur coat off of a hanger and from under the plastic that covered it. She ran back to the living room and sat Sherlock down on the couch. “Here, put these on. Now stand up. Here’s a coat. It belonged to my mother. I don’t think it’s real fur.” She shoved his arms into the sleeves. “Here, let me help you button it.” She stepped back and shook her head. “It’s probably a good thing you can’t see yourself in a mirror right now. OK. Come over here.”
She led him over to the kitchen door that led out to the garage and pulled on her own coat and scarf and hat that hung on hooks by the door. She pulled another cap over Sherlock’s head. “Here’s a stocking cap and here are some gloves for you.” She slipped on her own gloves and grabbed two walking sticks that stood in the corner. “I’m afraid that if I try to get the car out we’ll only end up getting stuck. So we’re going to go along the cliff—it’s shorter that way. The Corps keeps a path cleared there. So when we get outside, hang onto the edge of my sleeve like this and let me lead the way, got that? Wait. I need to make sure the screen is in front of the fireplace.” She crawled into the tent, adjusted the screen, and grabbed her cell phone and plunged it into her coat pocket. The Gordon’s property sat higher than hers. Maybe there was a chance of getting a signal there.
With the two of them slogging through the deep snow along the edge of the bluff, it seemed to take forever to reach the Gordon’s house, although in reality it took less than fifteen minutes. Scout ran ahead of them and reached the older, ranch style home first. All was quiet outside. The only tracks Sarah saw were footprints near the back porch. She led Sherlock around to the front porch. The one step leading up to the small porch was icy but they were careful and made it to the door and knocked. Sarah could hear footsteps shuffling inside. “Mrs. Gordon!” It had been a woman’s scream that they had heard earlier. “Mrs. Gordon! It’s Sarah Dunkirk from next door. Are you all right?”
There were more footsteps then finally the door opened and an older woman stood there. She had on a long bath robe and slippers. She stared at them for a moment before speaking. Her voice trembled. “Sarah Dunkirk? From next door?”
“Yes, Mrs. Gordon. We heard a gunshot and someone screaming. Thought we should come check on you. Are you and Mr. Gordon all right?”
“Yes, we’re fine. You should come in out of the cold.” She held the door opened.
Sarah stamped her boots to get off the excess snow and whispered to Sherlock to do the same. They both stepped into the living room. “Are you sure you’re all right, Mrs. Gordon—Anna, isn’t it?” The woman stood in the middle of the living room, looking helpless. “It’s freezing in here. What have you been using for heat?”
“There’s a kerosene heater in the bedroom. It’s all right.” The woman looked at Sherlock like she was noticing him for the first time. “Who are you?”
Sarah quickly answered. “This is uh…this is my cousin, uh, David…David Easton,” she said as she moved toward the closed door of the bedroom.
“No, don’t go in there,” said Mrs. Gordon. “Tom’s sleeping.”
“I think I should just check on him,” said Sarah.
“No, he had a bad night. He’s not been well, you know, but he’s asleep now.”
“I’ll be quiet.” Sarah slowly opened the bedroom door. It was as cold in there as in the rest of the house. The window was opened about an inch, probably for ventilation for the kerosene heater which sat on the floor. Its flame was out. Mr. Gordon lay on the bed, motionless under several blankets. Sarah took off her gloves and reached out a hand to touch his face, but Anna Gordon grabbed her arm.
“Please, don’t,” she sobbed. “You’ll wake him.”
Sherlock had been shadowing Sarah. Sarah pried her arm from Mrs. Gordon’s grasp and guided Sherlock’s hand to close on the older woman’s arm and keep her back from the bed. Sherlock gripped her other arm, also, and held her.
Sarah touched Tom Gordon’s face. It was as cold as the room. She quickly drew back her hand. “Mrs. Gordon, I don’t think your husband is sleeping.”
“No.” The word was a drawn out moan.
“David,” said Sarah, “let’s help Mrs. Gordon into the living room. Do you have a coat, Anna? We need to get you on something warm.” After leading Sherlock and the woman to the couch and having Mrs. Gordon sit down, Sarah opened the closet by the front door to look for a coat. When she turned around she saw that Sherlock was taking off the fur coat that she had found for him and putting it around the older woman. Sarah turned back to the closet and pulled a long black western duster from a hanger. “Mrs. Gordon, do you mind if my friend... my cousin, borrows your husband’s duster?” She didn’t wait for an answer from the distraught woman but slipped it on Sherlock. “And here’s a scarf,” she said, draping it around his neck.
“What’s a duster?” he whispered.
“It’s a cowboy trench coat,” she whispered back. “Mrs. Gordon,” she said, raising her voice a little, “don’t you have a land line? Where’s your phone?”
“It’s there on the end table, dear,” the woman said, waving an arm to the right side of the couch. “But it doesn’t work. The storm must have taken down the lines.”
“Rats,” said Sarah. During the ice storm four years ago, the land lines had worked. She picked up the receiver to be sure, but there was only silence. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket “I need to go outside and see if I can get a signal. Stay in here with her,” she told Sherlock. She headed toward the front door and Sherlock banged one leg into the coffee table as he tried to reach her before she got there.
“No,” Sherlock said, whispering. “First, you need to go back into the bedroom.”
“Look at the man’s face and tell me what color it is.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I believe he might have died from carbon monoxide poisoning from the heater. That might also explain her confusion.”
“I already know what color his face was when we were in there. It was blue, a pale blue.”
“I see,” said Sherlock. “I wish I could see. Things would be easier. How about his eyes?”
“His eyes? They were closed,” she said, still keeping her voice down.
“You need to look at them and see if they are bloodshot.”
“I’m not going to pry open a dead man’s eyes,” Sarah hissed. “I need to see if I can call 911 and get somebody out here. Let go of me and stay inside.” Sherlock had clamped a hand on her forearm while he was talking.
“Something’s not right,” insisted Sherlock. “Why did she fire that shot we heard? And where is the gun?”
“The shotgun is leaning against the kitchen table,” said Sarah. “I can see it from here. She obviously was trying to get someone’s attention with the shot. And it worked, because we’re here. Now let me go outside and see if I can get a signal.”
“But in her confused state, how did she know to do that? Go in there and look at his eyes,” he ordered.
Sarah glanced at Mrs. Gordon who sat on the couch, huddled in Sarah’s mother’s fur coat, and whimpering softly. “All right. Stay here by the door.” Sarah crept to the bedroom door. It creaked when she opened it and Mrs. Gordon looked up and moaned. Sarah ducked inside and came out a few moments later. She crossed the room to where Sherlock was still standing by the front door. “Come outside with me,” she said.
She ushered him onto the front porch and closed the door behind them. “If I never have to do that for the rest of my life, it will be too soon.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It wasn’t supposed to.”
“Well?” he asked. “His eyes?”
“They were bloodshot, both of them. And his face was still bluish.”
They were both still keeping their voices down for fear they could be overheard by Mrs. Gordon inside. “Your Mrs. Gordon murdered her husband,” announced Sherlock.
“What?” Sarah was horrified at the thought. “Why would you say that?”
“If his cheeks had been rosy, even in death, it would be an effect of carbon monoxide poisoning. Bloodshot eyes are a clear sign of suffocation. She suffocated him, probably with a pillow.”
Sarah was speechless for a moment. “Nothing could make me believe that. And how do you know that—rosy cheeks and bloodshot eyes?”
“Everyone knows that.”
“No, they don’t.”
“Then maybe it’s my business to know what other people don't know.”1
“How can you stand there and possibly believe that that sweet old lady killed her husband?”
“Someone did. Do you see any tracks besides ours in the snow?”
Sarah looked at the front yard. “No. There were some footprints at the back door when we came but they didn’t go anywhere. They were just as if someone stepped out of the house and fired the gun.”
Just then a shotgun blast blew out the picture window next to where they were standing. They both instinctively fell to their knees and covered their heads in a protective position, but there was no other sound. “Mrs. Gordon!” Sarah leapt to her feet and threw open the front door.
The old woman was standing in the kitchen doorway. “I came in here to get some coffee and knocked over that awful old gun,” she said.
Sarah rushed to her. “Are you all right?” She ushered her back to the couch. “I’m sorry, Anna, there’s no coffee and no way to make some unless I can find some kerosene and fire up your heater again. Just sit here and I’m trying to call for some help.” Sherlock had followed Sarah back into the house and stood just inside the doorway. “Stay inside with her,” she told him as she headed outside again. “I thought she had tried to kill herself.”
“Not easy to do with a shotgun,” whispered Sherlock. “Long barrel, short arms.”
Sarah came back into the house several minutes later and announced that paramedics and someone from the sheriff’s officer were on their way. “One bar! I only had one bar but it was enough.” She sat down next to Mrs. Gordon. Sherlock was standing off to one side. “Anna,” she said gently, “don’t you have a daughter in Springfield? Don’t you want me to try to call her for you?”
“No, no,” the woman said sadly, shaking her head. “She’d only worry. She doesn’t want her Dad and me living up here by ourselves, you know.”
“Well, I think I should call her. Do you have her number written down somewhere?”
The old woman tapped her forehead. “It’s up here somewhere.”
Sherlock spoke up. “She’s dehydrated. Perhaps you can find her some water.”
Sarah looked up at him. “How do you know that?”
“Let me have your hand.” Sherlock pinched the skin on the back of Sarah’s left hand. It quickly sprang back. “Hers doesn’t do that. I noticed when I was putting the coat on her.”
Sarah went into the kitchen, wondering how he could possibly have noticed the condition of Mrs. Gordon’s skin when he couldn’t see. The old woman had evidently run some water up in one pan before the ice storm hit on Friday night, but it was empty. She opened the pantry door. A twelve-pack of bottled water sat on one of the shelves. The plastic wrapping was torn and one of the bottles sat by itself on the shelf. She opened it and carried it in to Mrs. Gordon. “There’s bottled water in your pantry. Why haven’t you been drinking it?”
“We bought that for emergencies,” she replied, holding the bottle to her lips with shaking hands.
“I think this qualifies as an emergency,” said Sarah.
“I tried,” said Mrs. Gordon. “I couldn’t get the cap off. And Tom was so thirsty.”
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Sarah, tearing up. “I’m so sorry. I should have come on Saturday to check on you. But help’s on the way. The roads are still bad, though, so it’s just going to take a while. Why don’t you drink just a little more and then lie down here on the couch while we wait. I’ll get a blanket for you.”
“Oh, no,” said the old woman, struggling to stand. “I have to check on Tom. He needs me.”
“Stay here, Anna,” Sarah said, holding her to the couch. “I’ll check on him. You rest while we wait for the paramedics.”
“You don’t need to call the paramedics. We’re fine,” the woman insisted. She leaned her head against the back of the couch and closed her eyes.
Sarah stood and went to one of the other bedrooms and brought back two quilts and put them over Mrs. Gordon. Her own hands were almost numb with cold. She pulled her gloves back on and went over to where Sherlock stood. “Listen,” she whispered. “When they get here, don’t say anything about bloodshot eyes or your suspicions. In fact, don’t say anything.”
“But surely the coroner will discover the cause of death.”
“Not necessarily. Tom was an old man, he’s been sick. I’m sure he was under a doctor’s care. He died in the aftermath of a terrible ice storm. There’s nothing suspicious about his death. It’ll probably just be listed as congestive heart failure or something without too much of an examination. This is a rural county. Things might be a little more lax than in a big city.”
It was more than forty minutes before a sheriff’s SUV came up the driveway. Sarah met the two officers at the door and discovered that one was the county sheriff himself who said he was a friend of Tom Gordon. Sarah briefly explained the situation while the two men stood just inside the door. Anna Gordon woke up when they came in, but was even more incoherent. Sherlock stood back out of the way with Scout at his side. The dog had sneaked in when Sarah came back in after phoning for help.
The paramedics arrived about 10 minutes later. It took about an hour to sort everything and load the body and Mrs. Gordon into the ambulance. Just as Sarah had predicted, neither the law officers nor the paramedics acted as if Tom Gordon’s death was anything but “natural causes,” perhaps aggravated or hastened by the circumstances of the ice storm. There was not even a hint of mention of foul play.
The sheriff’s deputy found some plywood in a shed and covered the window that had been accidently shot out when the shotgun discharged. The sheriff offered to take Sarah and her “cousin” and Scout back to Sarah’s and she agreed. The big SUV would lay down some tracks in her driveway and make it easier when she tried to get her own vehicle out. On the way over to her cabin the road was snow packed but drivable and the sheriff relayed how the repairs to the cell towers and electric lines were progressing. With the temperatures this afternoon creeping up to nearly forty degrees and the sun shining there would be some melting.
The sheriff dropped them off in front of Sarah’s garage, then backed up and turned around. Sarah watched them drive back down the driveway until they disappeared around a curve. She felt drained. She tugged on Sherlock’s sleeve. “Come on. The fire’s probably out so it’ll be colder than…than…I don’t know. She stumbled through the snow to the garage door and then realized that Sherlock was not following. She turned to face him. He stood there in the snow with his red cowboy boots and long dark coat with the collar turned up and the wool scarf around his neck. His stocking cap stuck out of one of the coat pockets. “What?” she asked.
“Why didn’t you tell the sheriff about me? Why didn’t you turn me in?”
“I dunno,” she answered quietly. “Why didn’t you turn yourself in? They probably have access to all kinds of missing persons reports. They might be able to figure out who you are and how you got here.”
“I might be on a most wanted list.”
Sarah gave a tired chuckle. “You’re not a criminal.”
“But you can’t know that, John.”
“John! There’s John again. Who is John?”
Sherlock stood there silently.
“Come on. I’m cold.” She went back and took his sleeve in her hand and guided him to the door.
A few minutes later she was kneeling in front of the fireplace, trying to coax the few remaining embers back to life. It was not long before the fire was blazing again. She sat back and without warning, the pent-up emotions she had held back all morning released in uncontrollable sobs. Sherlock put an arm around her shoulders and drew her against him.”
“That was terrible over there,” she said. “It was horrible and it’s all my fault. I should have checked on them.”
“You are alone and isolated here. Has anyone bothered to check on you in the past few days?”
When Sarah did not answer, Sherlock continued. “None of what happened was your fault. And you were there today when you needed to be. You took charge. You were strong.”
“I’m tired of being strong. And it brought back memories of the night my Mom died. She went so quietly. I couldn’t even tell for sure when she actually died.” She was silent for a few moments, her head resting in the hollow of Sherlock’s shoulder, his arm still around her. “Do you really think she killed him?”
“Yes, but I don’t believe she did it out of malice.”
“She did it out of love?” asked Sarah.
“She rambled a little while you were outside using your mobile. I think she thought she was dying, and she knew there would be no one to take care of him if he survived.”
“I wonder how she managed to fire the shot that we heard when she didn’t have the strength to open a bottle of water.”
“Maybe some inner reserve of strength propelled her to make a desperate attempt at getting help. She might not remember what she did to him.”
They were both quiet for a few moments. “I’m going to be like that someday,” Sarah said softly. “There’s not going to be anyone to take care of me.”
“Do you want me to come back and put a pillow over your face?”
“No, I don’t want to die with bloodshot eyes. I think rosy cheeks would be better. I wonder how you know those things. Maybe you’re a doctor.”
“Or a murderer. Or both. When a doctor does go wrong, he is the first of criminals. He has the nerve and he has the knowledge.”2
“Well now you’re scaring me,” said Sarah.
“Sorry. I don’t mean to. I don’t even know why I say things like that. Sometimes, it’s as if someone else is speaking—like the Afghanistan comment I made last night.”
“They’re probably all little bits and pieces of you. If only you could remember who you are. I wish I knew who John was. I’d call him up and tell him to come collect you.”
“I’m glad you didn’t turn me over to the sheriff.”
“Yeah, but they might have gotten you some medical help, you know, for your amnesia and your blindness.” Sarah pulled away from him and wiped her face with the back of her hands. “You must be starved. I’ll fix us some soup or something.”
John here. Lest the reader think that I was serious when I said earlier that I spent the days that Sherlock was missing merely waiting for the phone to ring or enjoying some time with my family, let me assure you that I tracked down every lead I could possibly find to try and locate Sherlock or the two men that Mrs. Hudson had last seen him with. Her description of them left much to be desired. They were wearing business suits and were “swarthy” in appearance, perhaps “Middle Eastern,” according to her. She had heard voices coming from his upstairs flat and they did have accents, but she could not identify their country of origin.
I checked his laptops for clues, but it appeared that the last thing Sherlock had been working on was analyzing the types of plastic used in different brands of bottled water. We had three open cases, all of them in London or nearby, and I visited with each of those clients and others involved to find out if any of them had seen him in the past few days.
Growing more frustrated with each passing hour, on the sixth day of his disappearance, I let my worry win over my better judgment. That morning I wrote on my blog that he was missing. If he were undercover, I would never hear the end of this as this disclosure could perhaps impact some covert operation. But, on the other hand, my blog attracts lots of followers and if he were in trouble, perhaps one of them might step forward with vital information. I really have never understood how he gets in touch with his underground homeless network or I would have turned to them also.
Back in Missouri, after returning from the tragedy at the neighbors, Sarah spent the rest of the afternoon cocooned on one side of the tent in a pile of pillows, stirring only to put more logs on the fire. She would have to bring in more wood before nightfall, but the events of the morning and the stress of the last four days had sapped her energy. She was thankful that her mysterious stranger let her be and did not ply her with questions. He only disturbed her once when he asked if he might play her violin. She did not mind. The house was too quiet and he filled it with soft music. She fell asleep during a particularly sad song that was in a minor key. When she awoke it was almost dark and the music had stopped. Sherlock was sitting on the pallet with his fingers steepled against his chin, Scout lying as close to him as possible.
Sherlock must have sensed she was awake because he spoke for the first time in a couple of hours. “I’ve started seeing flashes of light.”
“Do you think your vision might be returning?”
“Don’t know. But it is a new development.”
“Why didn’t you wake me? The fire is down again.” She stretched and yawned. “I have to get some more wood.” Scout popped up at the chance to go outside. “Should I try the macaroni and cheese for supper? I could cut up some hot dogs in it. I think they’re still good.”
The nap and the supper revived Sarah. Sherlock’s mood had brightened, too, and they spent the evening playing word games and alternating mountain fiddle tunes and classical violin music. When both were ready to turn in, they repeated the sleeping arrangement from the previous night.