Chapter 6 The Day after Tomorrow
It did not go as Sherlock planned, if he even had a plan. Sherlock, Sarah and I took my car and parked it a few blocks from what had been a metal fabrication plant in Thamesmead in southeast London. We approached the abandoned suite of buildings from the opposite direction from where Sherlock said the government agents would be. A locked door that led down some stairs to the basement was easy for Sherlock to open. We wound around some dark corridors, with our torches, until we came to some stairs.
Sherlock whispered, “Lights out. These are back stairs. We’re going up them in the dark to the second floor landing. We should be able to see and hear everything from there. Sarah, are you sure you don’t want a gun, just in case? John probably has two on him.”
“No,” she whispered. “I’m OK. Probably shoot my foot off.”
“Sherlock,” I said, trying to keep my voice down. “For the last time, don’t do this. Let’s just go back the way we came and get out of here.”
“Follow me,” Sherlock said, starting up the stairs.
The stairs were concrete and we made very little noise as we ascended, holding onto the railing in the darkness. The steps made a turn before the first floor and then again two more turns to the landing. Sherlock opened a door which led out to the mezzanine. There was some light coming from one of several old offices or cubicles on the floor below us. Whatever it was had no ceiling. We crept along the back of the landing a few yards. There were several large pieces of machinery looming between us and the front railing of the landing. As our eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could see where another set of stairs led down from there to the first floor. We settled behind one of the old machines and listened, but in the cavernous plant the voices were muffled, indistinct.
We didn’t have long to wait, though. Less than twenty minutes after we arrived, shouts erupted from the lighted cubicle, followed by gunfire. Running footsteps echoed throughout the building and stray bullets flew in our direction, pinging off of the metal structures around us. “Sherlock,” I hissed. “We need to retreat.” I could see our escape door to the back stairs and there was sufficient cover until the last two yards or so, if we kept low. I was closest to it, but Sherlock scrambled around me.
“Something’s gone wrong,” whispered Sherlock. “Sarah, follow me and stay down. John, bring up the rear.”
Sherlock scuttled off with Sarah at his heels. I hung back slightly so as to not crowd them. They stopped when they came to the open space in front of the door which was closed now but would swing toward the stairs when opened. The gunfire raged unabated and now seemed to emanate from all parts of the first floor. I had my Sig Sauer L106A1drawn and ready to fire if necessary.
Sherlock, a gun in his right hand, seemed to be counting the firings, trying to detect a pattern so as to calculate an opportune time to sprint for the door. There was no pattern. The shots were coming from everywhere. I saw Sherlock motion something to Sarah behind him and then he sprang across the open area and hit the door, turning the knob. I could see what happened next to him. What I could not see because of where I was crouching was the man with an AK-47 who had appeared at the top of the front stairs.
“No!” It was a primordial scream that came from Sarah, as she dove toward Sherlock to knock him out of the way. The bullet that should have hit his spine instead caught her in her lower right back and exited through the left side of her abdomen. And what happened next caused me for an instant to flash back to firefights in Afghanistan because I had seen soldiers with serious and even mortal wounds do what she did. She did not even know she had been struck. The gun Sherlock had been holding went skidding across the floor as a result of her collision with him. Sarah hit the floor and went sliding after it, scooping it up in both hands and jumping to her feet, spinning to face the shooter. The assailant’s attention was on Sarah now and just as he sprayed more shots at her, I recovered, stood and fired at him, a single shot through the heart. He staggered for a few seconds and then collapsed.
Sarah stood pointing the gun where the Saudi had been standing. Her jacket was opened and I could see blood already spreading across the front of her shirt from the exit wound made by the first bullet.
“Sarah,” said Sherlock, approaching her cautiously. “Put down the gun. You’ve been shot.”
The adrenaline that had been pumping through her body suddenly drained. “What?” She looked down at the blood-drenched shirt. “Oh.” It was a long, drawn-out “oh,” and then she collapsed into Sherlock’s arms and he lowered her to the floor.
The last few minutes of the chase and the gun battle and the capture of the Saudis seemed to swirl around us as if we three were in a bubble by ourselves. My immediate concern was to stop the bleeding. She would be dead in a matter of minutes if I could not stem the flow or, at least, slow it down. Sherlock still cradled her head in his arms. I shrugged out of my coat and slipped it under her back where the first bullet had entered. A second bullet had grazed her cheek, but it appeared to be superficial. I pulled off my jumper and pressed it against the exit wound in her abdomen. Of course there was no way of telling how much damage had been done to any internal organs as the bullet passed through. She may very well have been far past any chance of survival, but I would use every ounce of my training and trauma field experience to try to save her. While I could still hear shouting and gunshots I did not want to call out that we desperately needed an ambulance, but I knew if she did not reach a hospital soon, my efforts would certainly be in vain.
Sherlock was speaking softly to her and her eyes were open. “Sherlock,” I ordered, “get out of your coat and warp it around her as tightly as you can.”
He gently let her head down against the floor and did as I said.
“I’m really cold,” she said aloud.
“Your body’s just trying to protect your really important organs like your brain and your kidneys.” I explained. “It draws blood from your extremities and…”
“And pours it out my stomach?” she asked weakly.
“I’m doing my best to keep it in,” I said. “Keep her talking, Sherlock.”
“Sarah,” said Sherlock, holding her head again in the crook of his left arm, while his right hand clasped hers under his coat that he had put over her. “Why did you do that? Why did you push me out of the way?”
“That’s what friends do,” she answered.
I had checked her airway and it was clear, but she was struggling to get the words out.
“No, they don’t.”
“Course they do. Oh, John, it’s…uh…it’s really starting to hurt.”
“I’m sorry, Sarah,” I said.
“I’m not going to make it, am I?” Her voice was growing weaker.
“Of course, you are,” said Sherlock. “Just hold on.”
“Keep her talking, Sherlock.”
“Think of a good memory, Sarah. Pleasant things. When I got shot, that’s what I did. Good thoughts. What was the best time in your life? Oh, I know! You told me you saw the Beatles, you went to a Beatles concert. Tell me about the Beatles, Sarah. That must have been something.”
There was no response from her.
“Sarah, tell me about the Beatles concert.”
“’It was…great,” she said, her voice trailing off. “But not now…”
“Sherlock,” I said.
“Tell me, Sarah. Tell me about the concert.”
She seemed to rally a little. “It was…it was 1966. Their last American tour, but…of course, we didn’t know that then. My best friend and I flew to Chicago to see them. Sherlock, I don’t want to die.”
“I’m not going to let you die. But you have to stay awake, Sarah. Keep talking. How old were you in 1966 when you saw the Beatles?”
“We were only 14. We stayed with her brother in his apartment. There were four other guys who lived there, too. Don’t think our parents knew that. And…and the Beatles stayed in a hotel just a few blocks away. So…uh…so we joined thousands of other fans outside the hotel. The police would try to keep us across the street. But sometimes someone would drop a piece of paper out…out of one of the windows on the upper floors, and…and we would all surge toward the hotel. And the police…the police would beat us back with their billy clubs. Oh, that day was so much fun.” She stopped talking and Sherlock leaned closer.
“And the concert itself. What about it? Tell me.”
“Oh, it was wonderful. Wasn’t quite like we’d seen on the news…with all the girls screaming and crying. You could scream, but if you stood up, the guards…the guards would shine a light in your eyes and you couldn’t see. We were on the mezzanine, way back from the stage, but some girl near us had binoculars and she passed them around so we could get a close-up view. And on …on the last song, our whole section got up…too many for the guards to stop. We moved along the railing toward the stage and stopped even with it. George…George Harrison was closest to us, and…and we all yelled his name at the same time and he looked up at us…and he smiled. You know, no cell phones in those days, we didn’t even have cameras with us, but that image…the image of George looking up and smiling is imprinted on my brain forever. Fifty years and I can still see him. Time…time really does stand still sometimes.” Her eyes had been open throughout the story, although she seemed to be focused on something high above us on the ceiling. But she closed her eyes and cried out softly, “Oh, John, it really hurts. It feels like my insides are on the outside. Am I still all there?”
The gunshots had stopped, but there was still shouting from different parts of the plant. Footsteps on the front stairs startled both Sherlock and me. He reached for his gun which lay on the floor near him. I could not release the pressure on her wound to grab mine. Fortunately, it was two British agents who came into view, guns drawn. They saw the dead Saudi and us and quickly accessed the situation. “We need an ambulance,” one of them turned and shouted to the men who were below on the ground floor.
It would still be several minutes before aid would come, several minutes too late, I thought. I shifted my pressure hold and found her left wrist with my right hand in order to take her pulse. It was weak and thready, just as I expected. If I had been able to take a blood pressure reading, I knew what I would find.
“Sarah,” said Sherlock, “Sarah, look at me. Help is coming. It’s going to be all right.”
“I just need to go to sleep,” she said.
“No, Sarah,” I said. “You have to stay awake. You have to stay with us.”
“Tell me another story,” said Sherlock.
“No, your turn, Sherlock,” she said. “You tell me a story.” Her voice was so small.
“All right, but it has to be interactive. You have to ask questions or make comments as I go along, so I know you’re paying attention. Understand? Here goes. Um…once upon a time…once upon a time there was a very brave princess…”
“She’s supposed to be beautiful,” said Sarah. Her eyes were closed, but at least she was talking.
“OK,” agreed Sherlock. “There was a beautiful, brave princess… named Sarah.”
“That’s my name.”
“I know. And the princess would often journey to the dragon’s lair to rescue those whom the dragon had imprisoned and was going to eat.”
“What… what was the dragon’s name?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think maybe Khomeini.”
“Funny name for a dragon.”
“But he wasn’t a funny dragon,” said Sherlock. “He was a terrible beast. And on one of her missions into the dark den of the dragon, the beautiful, brave Princess Sarah saved a young man, snatched him from the jaws of the evil dragon just as the beast was about to devour him. And you know what?”
There was no response from Sarah. “You know what?” repeated Sherlock.
“The man went home to his wife who had missed him for so very long. And their love manifested into a strange, little boy.”
“Why was he so strange?”
I glanced at Sherlock’s face as he answered. This story-telling bit was another side of him that I had not seen before.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sherlock answered. “He was just different.” He paused. “But he loved to go on adventures and he himself became a dragon slayer and sometimes…sometimes he discovered the dragons were within him.”
“And did he slay them all?”
“No.” Sherlock’s voice was so soft, barely a whisper. “But he usually managed to keep them at bay.”
“And did he live happily ever after?”
“Happily? No. But he lived longer than he thought he might because he was always surrounded by people who protected him.”
“Were they his friends?”
I was amazed that Sarah was still talking coherently. She should have been dead by now. Where was that damn ambulance?
“The strange little boy had never had any friends, so he wasn’t quite sure, but, yeah, I think they were his friends.”
“What were their names?”
“There was John.”
“Dr. John,” she said.
“Have I met Mary?”
“Did Mary shoot you?”
“Ssshh. That’s a secret.”
“Oh, sorry. Were there other friends?”
“There was a Detective Inspector. I don’t know his name. It was Graham or Gary or...”
“Greg,” I whispered.
“And there was Mrs. Hudson, the boy’s housekeeper.”
“Landlady,” I corrected.
“Mrs. Hudson used to bring the little boy tea and biscuits because she knew that he sometimes forgot to eat when he was busy fighting dragons.” Sherlock paused in his narrative. “And there was Molly.”
“Do I know Molly?”
“No, but you read about her, remember? Molly has the best job in the whole world. She works in a morgue.”
“Oh, then maybe I’ll meet her soon.” Sarah opened her eyes and looked at Sherlock and I’ll swear she winked.
“Not very soon,” continued Sherlock.
She closed her eyes again. “I don’t think working in a morgue would be a very good job.”
“Oh, but she has a wonderful laboratory there and sometimes she lets me…sometimes she lets the little boy play there.”
“Any more friends?”
“Oh, yes. The boy had a wonderful auntie named Sarah.”
“That was the name of the beautiful princess.”
“It was the very same Sarah. She had watched over the little boy since before he was born. She took care of him when…when he wasn’t quite himself. And she taught him to play the fiddle because he only knew how to play the violin.”
They’re the…the same thing.”
“But they don’t sound at all the same. And he’d been practicing, but he hadn’t gotten a chance to play the fiddle for her yet.”
“And was…was his Auntie Sarah so very old?”
“Oh, she was 120, at least.”
“Not that old, surely” said Sarah.
“Oh, but, you know, there’s something peculiar that happens with certain people. For some people like Sarah, age is just... pages on a calendar. She wouldn’t even have known how old she was if there were no calendars to remind her. Because inside she was still twelve years old and always would be and everything was an adventure.”
“Just like the strange, little boy.”
“Maybe that’s why he was different,” Sherlock said. “He never grew up.”
“Maybe…maybe Sarah and the little boy weren’t people at all. Maybe they were salamanders—Grotto Salamanders.”
Sarah had completely lost both of us with that last comment. “Sorry,” said Sherlock. “Salamanders?”
“Sometimes,” explained Sarah, “they choose not to grow up.” She moaned softly and then lay still.
An awful silence followed and I really thought she had left us. I grabbed her wrist again for a pulse but then she spoke again, her voice barely a whisper. “Cowboy, are you still there?”
“I’m right here.”
“Did we dance?”
“Yes, Sarah.” I had never see Sherlock cry before. He had such a total disregard for his own feelings or the feelings of others. I could only see the right side of his face and those wild curls of his covered part of that, but there was no mistaking the tear trickling down to the corner of his mouth.
Suddenly, the bubble that had surrounded us burst and the second floor exploded with activity as the paramedics arrived along with some obviously higher ranking agents than the two men who had stood there during Sherlock’s story time. Detective Inspector Lestrade was on their heels. No one was happy with us being there. I was allowed to go in the ambulance with Sarah and left Sherlock behind to talk himself out of this one.