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Forgotten Killer book cover

Forgotten Killer
Book Nine of the New Spearfish Lake Series
Wes Boyd
©2013, ©2015

Chapter 10

Garth really did have things to do. The big item was to check in at the bank and the Western Union office to see if there had been word from Blanchard, but there was nothing at either of the places. He didn’t know if that was good news or bad – or whether the situation with the Rathburn kid just hadn’t developed to the point where there was any news at all to pass along.

Dr. Luce was still at the hospital when Garth got there. “Have you heard anything about the boy?” was the first thing Garth asked him.

“Not a word,” the doctor replied. “I was hoping you had, but if you’re asking me I guess you don’t know any more than I do. I keep trying to tell myself that no news is good news, but I learned a long time ago that no news is mostly no news.”

“I’ve come to that conclusion myself. Anyway, I left the rest of the scouts setting up their camp on my front lawn. The kid who’s in charge of them agreed with me that it would be best to keep them close to town for a couple of days in case any of them start showing symptoms.”

“That’s what I told him, too. I hate to mess up the kids’ trip, but better safe than sorry.”

“Yeah, and there’s the question of the news about the Rathburn boy, too,” Garth agreed. “I sure wouldn’t want to be one of those kids heading downriver without knowing what the deal is with him.”

“That’s certainly a consideration. But I think we need to try to keep those boys separated from the rest of the town without making a big issue out of it. As far as I know, with the exception of the Rathburn boy we don’t have an active polio virus present in town, unless it’s with them. I just hope we can keep it that way.”

“I told the guy overseeing the group to keep the kids at my place and not let them go running around town.”

“That’s a good idea. We might just get lucky and sneak by without getting a major outbreak here.”

About that time Penny Luce walked into the office, with Phil Gravengood trailing along behind her. “Any word on the boy?” she asked.

“Not a thing,” Dr. Luce said. “We were just talking about it. I take it you got him there all right?”

“He was still alive, but mostly unconscious and obviously in pain,” she reported. “The last we saw of him was when we put him in the ambulance.”

“That would be, what? Two, two and a half hours ago?”

“Probably closer to two and a half. We just made it back. This is Phil Gravengood with me; he was the pilot. He just brought me in from the airport.”

“Thank you for your help on that, Mr. Gravengood,” Dr. Luce replied. “I’m glad you were available. If the boy lives it’s going to be at least partly because you flew him down there.”

“I’m not the one to turn my back on trouble,” Phil replied, “and he’s not the first casualty I’ve flown to a hospital. I have to say it’s the first one I’ve had with polio, though. Uh, doctor, your wife tells me that it would be a good idea for me to stay away from my family and my house for a while.”

“Yes, it probably is. Nothing is sure in these circumstances, but you might as well minimize the risks. Do you have small children?”

“Two boys, eight and fifteen.”

“If I were in your shoes I’d certainly keep away from them for a while. The risks of passing on an infection are relatively small, but they do exist, and they’re greater for children of that age.”

“I don’t like it but I guess it’s the smart thing to do. I’ll call my wife and have her leave a sleeping bag and air mattress out in the driveway for me to pick up. Maybe some cans of food, too. I told your wife I can sleep in the office out at the hangar for a few days.”

“Phil,” Garth spoke up. “You don’t have to put yourself out that much. I’ve been exposed to it, too. I’m just going to stay at my house here in town, and you’re welcome to join me.”

“Thanks, Colonel. I’ll take you up on that. Sleeping in the hangar wouldn’t be very comfortable. You’re sure it’s not going to bother your family?”

“No, my family is out at West Turtle Lake and they’re staying there until Dr. Luce here thinks it’s safe for me to see them. In fact, I still have to go out there to let them know.”

“That’s right, you don’t have phones out there, do you?”

“No, and I’m just as glad. One of the things I like about the club is that there’s no phone ringing all the time to bother me.”

“Well, you may not get them there for some time, anyway, at least not until after we get the dial system put in. I guess I’d better call my wife and let her know what’s happening, and then call the company with the same news. Fortunately I’m pretty much working out in the country by myself these days.”

“Dr. Luce?” they heard Denise say from the office door. “We just had a call that Dr. Brege is sending a patient down to see you. It’s a little girl he says seems to be showing frank symptoms of polio.”

“Well, nuts,” he sighed. “Not a local kid, I hope?”

“He didn’t say. He just said the family showed up at his office a few minutes ago. I would think they’d have to be local if they went there first.”

“Well, so much for any hope that we didn’t have an active virus locally. I knew it was too good to be true. Denise, Penny, let’s get ready and be waiting. Full protection, masks, surgical gowns, gloves. Garth, Phil, it’d be best if you weren’t here at all.”

*   *   *

“Alice, did you have a good time?” Marie Bell asked her thirteen-year-old daughter, who had been down at the lake swimming with some friends.

“Not real good, Mom. I was feeling kind of lousy, so I mostly stayed on the beach and watched the other kids swim. I just didn’t feel like doing anything.”

“How do you feel now, dear?”

“I have a headache, and I feel a little achy, like I’m coming down with a cold or something.”

“Summer colds are no fun,” Marie said. “About all I can tell you is take some aspirin and then try to get some rest.”

“Yeah, I was thinking I’d go lay down for a while,” Alice replied.

Marie gave her daughter some aspirin, and Alice went upstairs to her room. It was hot in there, and not very comfortable, but right at the moment she didn’t care. She was tired, very, very tired as she slid her bathing suit off – it was mostly dry since she hadn’t been in the water much – and then pulled on her lightweight and short summer pajamas, and lay down on the bed. Within a minute, she was asleep.

*   *   *

Heidi Toivo carried Betsy in her arms up the ramp to the admitting room in the hospital. She knew where it was – she’d been there before for the birth of each of her three kids. She was a little surprised to see two nurses and a doctor waiting there for her, all dressed in surgical gowns, gloves and masks.

“Now,” the doctor said as he began to examine Betsy. “What seems to be the problem?”

“She’s been hurting a lot, doctor,” Heidi replied. “She said her head hurts, but she ain’t been walking too good and she hasn’t tried for a while. She’s real hot, but we don’t got a thermometer to get her temperature.”

“Has she been coughing much?”

“A little, not much the last couple hours.”

Dr. Luce busied himself with checking the kid out, occasionally making comments, more to his wife than to Denise. Even to Heidi, it was clear that he didn’t like what he saw. “Is she gonna be all right, doctor?” Heidi finally asked.

“I can’t say yet,” Dr. Luce replied, and decided that he’d better be honest. “It’s beginning to look like she may have polio. There’s only one way to know for sure. Denise, let’s get set up for a lumbar puncture.”

In the next few minutes the two nurses and the doctor got the little girl on her side with her knees pulled up to her chin. One of the nurses handed the doctor a syringe with a wicked-looking long needle on it; it hurt Heidi just to look at it. Even as out of it as the little girl was, it was easy to see that it hurt her, too. The procedure only took a few seconds, but it seemed like hours to the anxious mother.

The little girl lay on the examining table, still crying her eyes out even though she wasn’t very conscious. Heidi wanted to sweep her up in her arms, to comfort her and let her know that it was all right, but when she went to do it one of the nurses held her back. “Don’t,” the nurse said. “If she does have polio, it’s very infectious.”

In a couple of minutes the doctor came back into the admitting room. “I hate to say it, but I don’t believe in hiding the truth,” he said. “It’s definitely polio.”

“Is she gonna be all right?” Heidi asked.

“Hard to say at this point,” the doctor replied. “There’s a chance she’ll come out of it just fine, but honestly, there’s just as good a chance that she won’t. Now, has she been around any children, other than your family?”

“No, we live out in the country, we don’t get into town very much. The last time she was in town was last week when we came in ta get groceries.”

“Do you have other children?”

“Yeah, they’re out in the truck.”

“Good,” the doctor said. “In a few minutes we’re going to give you all shots that may help protect you from polio a little. It’s hard to say how much. We’re going to have to admit her here, and about all we can do is to support her as much as we can.”

“Doctor, I see in dat Life magazine those kids, they have ta be in iron lungs. Is Betsy gonna have ta be in one?”

“I can’t make any promises on that and won’t be able to for a while. For the moment she seems to be breathing all right, so she may not have the kind of polio where we’d have to put her into one. Honestly, all I can say is that we’ll have to wait and see. I’m going to continue to be honest and say that there really isn’t much we or anyone else can do for her right now, just try to support her and keep her comfortable. What happens with her is up to the virus and how well she can fight it off on her own. But we want to keep her as isolated as we can so the virus doesn’t spread to others.”

“You’re gonna keep her here, then?”

“It’s the only wise course,” he replied. “We’re really not set up to handle patients who are that contagious, so we may have to transfer her somewhere else. Again, we just don’t know yet.”

“I guess if you gotta, you gotta,” Heidi said. “Do what you can for her, please.”

“We’ll do our best,” Dr. Luce promised. “Denise, I think we better get gamma globulin shots for these folks, right now.”

*   *   *

Garth knew there was one thing he had to do and he’d put the reality of it off as long as he could. Now, there were no other options. The scouts would probably be all right by themselves for a while with Dale watching over them, and he might not get time for this again soon. He got in the Roadmaster, drove down Lakeshore without paying any attention to any girls who might have been on the beach, and headed to the highway.

It was about a twenty-minute drive out to the club, and he spent most of the time thinking about how he would break the news to Helga, what he would have to do – and what he’d have her do. He didn’t like it, but it was his family at risk, after all.

He pulled up to the gate and used his key to open it, then drove on to the cottage. It was a lot smaller than the house in town, almost uncomfortably small, but they were a close family when they were there, not scattered all over the place like they often seemed to be in the house out on the Point. It was one of the reasons Garth liked coming out to the club so often, but right now it seemed unlikely that he’d get to enjoy any more of it this year.

He stopped in front of the cottage, shut the engine off and got out of the car. At least the kids seemed to be playing down by the shore, but Helga was sitting in a lawn chair sunning herself, as if she didn’t have enough of a tan already, although he liked the healthy look it gave her. “Garth,” she said, looking up as he stood up. “You’re home early. Is something wrong?”

“There’s a lot wrong, Helga,” he said. “Go out and tell the kids to stay on the beach and not get close to me. I don’t want you to get near me, either.”

“Garth? What happened?”

“Just do it, and do it now,” he said. “Once you’ve told them to stay away, I’ll explain.”

She got up from her chair, visibly concerned, and hustled out to the beach. She was back in a minute. “Garth, what is wrong?” she asked again.

“Helga, this morning I picked up a kid from a Boy Scout troop on my way into town. It turned out he has polio, bad. Phil Gravengood had to fly him down to Madison so they could get him in an iron lung.”

“Ach, Himmel! Polio? Are you sure?”

“Very sure,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with the boy and he was in the car. I don’t want the children getting close to me so I can’t infect them. I may or may not have been infected, and it’s a little unlikely, but that doesn’t mean the kids couldn’t get it. I’ve had a shot that may protect me a little, but I don’t want to risk the kids any more than I have to.”

“Mein Gott! Garth!”

“Helga, I want you to keep the kids here. Do not go into town until I tell you it’s all right. That means you have to stay away from me, too. I want you to go in, get my clothes and my shaving kit. Get that tarp from the shed, lay it on the lawn, and put my clothes and things on it. Then get away, and I’ll load the stuff in the car.”

“Uh, Ja,” she replied reluctantly, not quite willing to accept the reality. Well, that was all right since Garth really hadn’t accepted it, either, at least not until now. “Garth, how long is this going to be?”

“I don’t know,” he told her. “I may not be able to come back out here until the summer is over. I just don’t know yet. It turns out there’s another polio case in town, and I’d rather have you here than there. Now go get my things. The less time I’m here the better it is for everybody.”

Within twenty minutes Garth had his things in the car and left. He would have liked to have given his wife and his kids goodbye hugs, but he knew it wasn’t wise. It was for their own good, after all; the last thing he wanted was to see one of his kids on the examining table in the admitting room at the hospital like the Rathburn kid had been. Even the thought was almost too much to bear, and he couldn’t even begin to imagine how the Rathburn kid’s folks must be feeling, if they even knew about it yet.

*   *   *

Back in Spearfish Lake, Dr. Luce and his wife were having a hurried conference with Charles Fike and Denise Cramer, the head nurse. “Shouldn’t we send that kid down to Camden?” Fike asked.

“Part of me says it would be a good idea,” Dr. Luce agreed. “But part of me wonders about it, too. Do you have any idea if they’re any better set up to handle infectious diseases than we are?”

“Probably,” Fike shrugged, “but I don’t know. If we’re looking a major outbreak in the face, well, they’re going to have their limits.”

“There’s a risk in even transporting the kid down there,” Penny pointed out, “and speaking from our experience in St. Louis, they’re not going to be any better at taking care of people than we would here. Staff gets stretched mighty thin during outbreaks, and sometimes there just aren’t hands enough to go around.”

“I don’t want to say we’re looking at a major outbreak here,” Dr. Luce said. “But I can’t say that we’re not, either. But I’ll tell you this much: the boy who was in here this morning, we can definitely say that he contracted it out of town. That’s one thing. But this kid in the admitting room had to have picked it up locally, and a week or more ago. I think that means we could be seeing more. I hope not, but there it is.”

“I can tell you this much,” Fike said. “I don’t think Camden is in a much better situation than we are. They were very reluctant to lend us as much gamma globulin as they did, so I think they’re expecting trouble, too.”

“Where are we at on it?”

“Not good, but better than we were this morning. Lloyd brought twenty doses of it back with him. We’ve already used two of them on the two of you, and five on that little girl and her family. With the one we had left over from earlier, that leaves fourteen. It’s twice what we had this morning, but right now it doesn’t seem like enough.”

“Can we get more?”

“I’ve already got Lloyd on the road for St. Marks,” Fike reported. “They say they can give us another twenty doses. But after that, well, I don’t know where more is going to come from. Unless there’s someplace else I don’t know about, we’re talking Milwaukee, Chicago, Madison, maybe Minneapolis.”

“Let’s get a wire off to the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis,” Dr. Luce suggested. “Tell them that we’re looking an outbreak in the face here, and need the Salk vaccine here as soon as possible. Tell them we’re going to need gamma globulin, too.

“I can do that,” Fike agreed. “But what are we going to do about this kid?”

“I don’t know,” Dr. Luce sighed. “I can tell you this much. The admitting room and one of the examining rooms are already contaminated, we know that much. It won’t matter if we keep the child in one of the examining rooms overnight. By tomorrow, she may make up our minds for us.”

“I hate to have the hospital more contaminated than it already is.”

“We may not get any choice,” Dr. Luce shook his head. “We know it is here. It wouldn’t surprise me if another case comes walking in the door in the next five minutes. All we’re able to do is do the best we can.”

*   *   *

Garth was not in a good mood when he got back to the big house in Spearfish Lake. He’d started out to do a simple good deed and he’d gotten shot in the foot in the process. This was going to be a pain in the neck any way he looked at it, but he was not going to put his family at risk.

At the same time, he felt a responsibility to the people of the town. He’d said earlier that he had a gut feeling that the dam was going to break, and it was beginning to look like he was right. That little girl may have been from Amboy Township, but that was local, so there was no more deluding himself that the virus could have come to town with the scouts. If what he’d understood from Dr. Luce earlier about incubation period was correct, then it must have been here for a while, so it seemed entirely possible that things could get worse before they got better. It was more than a chance: a real likelihood of it.

He got back to the house to find his front yard full of scouts. Phil Gravengood was there, with the cab of the phone company pickup stuffed with clothes. Garth figured he must have done pretty much the same thing with his family. Well, at least they could batch it together.

The first thing he did was ask Dale if there had been any word on the Rathburn boy, only to be told that there hadn’t. Dale offered to have some of the kids haul his and Phil’s things inside, and Garth was glad to take him up on it. “How are the kids getting along?” Garth asked Dale.

“They’re worried about Bob,” he reported. “They know he’s in trouble, and they know it could be them next. I mean, nobody is saying much of anything, but I’m not seeing the normal amount of horseplay, either. I sure wish I knew what was going on with him, but then we all do.”

“Guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” Garth sighed.

“What would you say if I had some hamburger, buns, chips, beans, and pop dropped off here?” Phil suggested. “I could get my wife to bring over our charcoal grill, too. Maybe that’ll perk them up a little.”

“Worth a try,” Dale suggested. “It might not make them worry any less, but maybe it’ll get their minds off it for a few minutes.”

“Get it set up,” Garth said. “I’ll pay.”

Phil shook his head. He knew Helga, after all – not well, but he knew her. “What’s Helga going to say when she finds out we’ve been grilling hamburgers in the front yard?”

“Oh, I’ll pay for that, too.”

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To be continued . . .

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