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Forgotten Killer book cover

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

Chapter 14

Garth wasted no time getting back to the hospital, with the tattered magazine on the seat by his side. He rushed into the hospital, to find that Dr. Luce was still with the little girl who had been brought in earlier, but Fike was there. “Charles, look at this,” he said.

The hospital administrator took only a moment to glance at the article. “Looks like it would work,” he said. “But maybe we’d better ask Dr. Luce.”

It was a few minutes before the doctor was available, still wearing the surgical gear. “Garth, what is it?” he asked.

“Look,” he said, holding the magazine open to the first two pages of the article. Would this work?”

“It looks like it,” the doctor replied after a moment. “If it works at all, it would be better than we have now. How soon do you think it could be built?”

“Hard to say. Soon. If you think it’s worth the trouble I’ll get someone going on it. It’s made of plywood, and that’s one thing we have plenty of in Spearfish Lake.”

“Go to it,” Dr. Luce said flatly. “The sooner, the better.”

With that for inspiration, Garth rushed back out of the hospital. He didn’t know right off who he could get to build it, and he was sure he couldn’t do it himself. But he hadn’t made it to his car before he realized who could; he turned around and went back inside, and got on the phone to Ursula Clark.

“Sorry, Brent’s not here, Garth,” she replied to his question of her husband’s whereabouts. “I’m pretty sure he’s at the Bertram cottage out on the north side of the lake.”

“OK, I know where that is,” he replied. “We financed it. Thanks, Ursula. See you later.”

The Bertram cottage was about halfway to the club. Garth would have liked to go out there just to make sure his children were all right, but right at the moment this was much more important. In a few minutes, he braked the Buick to a stop in front of the cottage, noticing that Brent’s pickup truck was there. He went right inside, where Brent and a couple of workers were busy doing interior work; he wore the surgical mask, of course. “Brent,” he announced. “I need your help.”

“What’s the problem?” his best friend asked. “And why the mask.”

“We’ve got a polio epidemic in town,” Garth explained. “Have you heard about it?”

“Not a thing,” Brent shook his head. “Bad?”

“Very bad. A kid died this morning. The doctor there says he might have been able to save him if he’d had an iron lung. Phil Gravengood flew the kid down to Madison, but it wasn’t soon enough to save him. It could be the delay that killed him.”

“News to me. What do you need me for?”

Garth opened the magazine to page 262. “To build a wooden lung. From what I understand this not as good as a commercial unit, but it beats nothing, and there don’t seem to be any commercial units available.”

“Let me see,” Brent asked; Garth handed him the magazine. Brent glanced through it a little more carefully than Garth, Fike, and Dr. Luce had done. “Yeah, we could build that,” he said after a minute or two. “The wood part is easy. The mechanical part, well, I’m not a mechanic.”

“We can get someone who is,” Garth said. He thought for a moment and went on, “I talked to Dan Evachevski earlier in the week. He’s on seconds out at the plant, and he’s pretty good at cobbling together things like this.”

“Yeah, Dan would be good, and maybe we could find another set of hands or two. It doesn’t look like there’s anything here that would be impossible to get. I probably have most of what we need in my garage.”

“Good. If you have to buy anything, have it charged to me. How soon can you get it done?”

“How soon do you need it?”

“Yesterday, and I’m not kidding. That kid might have lived if we’d had this thing for him then.”

“All right,” Brent replied. “We’ll get it done as soon as we can. Bill, Fred, let’s knock off here for the day and go over to my place. My garage is probably the best place we have. Garth, there’s no phone here. Can you go roust out Dan and get him over to my place?”

“I sure can. I’m trying not to get very close to people, but if there’s anything you need, let me know. I’ll check in on you guys now and then, but I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t want to get close to you.”

*   *   *

Donna Clark knew as well as anyone else the frustrations of trying to make a long-distance call out of town. She’d already sent telegrams to everyone she could think of in the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, as well as the people she knew in the March of Dimes. For a while she was kicking them out faster than Sarah Ferguson down at the Western Union office could keep up.

However, she soon ran out of ideas. The only thing to do was to attempt the nearly impossible: the phone.

Donna was a very determined woman even when she didn’t have to be, and she could be even more persistent when felt it was necessary. She also didn’t deal with frustration easily. Now, all she could do was launch an all-out assault on the phone system. For once, her determination was rewarded: after hours of trying she managed to reach the national foundation office, only to have a receptionist tell her that none of the people she needed to speak to were available.

It was only with great effort that Donna kept from exploding. “Look,” she said, trying to be nice but obviously strained at doing so. “We have a major epidemic breaking out here. We’ve had four cases in a town of five thousand people in the past day, and I haven’t heard what’s happened in the last couple hours. It’s taken me three hours to get this phone call through. Now, I tell you I need to talk to someone, and I need to talk to them quickly before the connection gets dropped.”

There was something in the urgency of Donna’s voice – perhaps the unspoken threat that she was likely to fly into the national office and strangle someone if she didn’t get her way had something to do with it – but the receptionist said, “Very well. I’ll see what I can do.”

Donna had to wait on the phone for several minutes, but somehow the connection held up. “This is Basil O’Connor,” the man on the other end of the line said. “I understand you have a problem there?”

“Yes, sir,” Donna said respectfully. Apparently whatever she’d said to the receptionist had worked – this was the national director of the Foundation and the March of Dimes! “We’re just a small town but we’ve got a big problem.” In a few sentences she summed up the crisis. “For the moment we’re all right for caring for new patients so long as we don’t get bulbar polio patients,” “But we need the Salk vaccine here as soon as possible, or we’re going to be in a lot worse shape very quickly.”

“Very well, Mrs. Clark, I’ll see what I can do. I’m not sure how soon we can get some Salk vaccine to you, since it’s in very great demand. However, we try to route it to where the need is the greatest, and it sounds like it’s getting great for you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Donna replied. “That’s all I can ask.”

“We couldn’t fight polio without the help of people like you, and we need to help you when we can.”

Donna was amazed as she hung up the phone. Now, that was a miracle just to get through – and to get through to Basil O’Connor himself! Now, if the Salk vaccine would just get here in time . . .

*   *   *

“Sure, I’m willing to help out on that,” Dan Evachevski said on the phone in response to Garth’s call. “The only thing is, I’ve got to go to work here pretty soon.”

“Go work with Brent,” Garth told him. “I’ll square it with Wayne.”

“That’ll be the day,” Dan replied. “I know how long you and him have been at each other’s throats.”

“This is different,” Garth told him. “Very different. Get going. They may need that wooden lung over at the hospital at any time.”

Garth hung up the phone. Despite the temporary truce in the Matson-Clark war, he didn’t feel like he wanted to push his luck any further than necessary. But there was no point in putting it off, either. He rang Central again, and asked for Clark Plywood, and then got them to put him through to Wayne.

The Clark Plywood president was about as grumpy as ever to hear Matson’s voice, but after Garth explained what was happening, Wayne said, “Yeah, Dan is about as good a man as there is to throw together something like that. Joe Paulsen is pretty good at that kind of thing, too. He’ll be getting off shift in a little bit, I’ll see if he can come over and pitch in.”

“Thanks, Wayne. I really appreciate it.”

“We’re not doing this for each other, Garth. We’re doing it for the kids, don’t forget that.”

“I won’t and that’s why I appreciate it, Wayne.”

*   *   *

It was not a smooth ride for Phil Gravengood in the Stinson. It was rough, worse than the day before, even when he was above the level of the cumulus clouds. Worse, off in the southwest he could see some towering cumulus. He hadn’t had a chance to check weather and only heard snatches of it on the radio in the plane, but it looked to him like things were going to get worse before they got better. He knew that towering cumulus clouds were usually the precursor to thunderstorms, and they were bad news for pilots.

The situation didn’t get much better as he pressed on to the south-southwest, but at least they weren’t looking any worse, either. When he stopped at Cedar Rapids for fuel, he got a chance to actually check a weather report, but the only thing he got out of it was the possibility of thunderstorms, which he already knew. He also confirmed that the gas pumps were open until nine, and unless something went terribly wrong he’d be in and out of there before then.

Phil didn’t stay at Cedar Rapids long; as soon as the plane had been fueled and he’d gotten to a rest room, he was back in the Stinson heading on toward Kansas City.

*   *   *

Things were busy in Brent Clark’s garage, which also served more or less as the shop for Clark Construction. Brent didn’t even stop to wonder if he had all the wood that would be needed for the emergency ventilator; he had everything he needed, and more besides. The metal items were going to be a little more difficult, but not impossible.

“It’s all pretty common stuff,” Dan Evachevski told him. “I’ve got most of what we need in my garage at home. It’s just going to take time to pull everything together, and there’s a fair amount of welding to be done.”

Just about that time Joe Paulsen pulled his car into the Clark driveway. “Wayne said you guys needed me here for some kind of emergency.”

“Yeah, we do,” Dan told him, and explained what was going on. “I guess you and me are going to have to build the guts of this thing.”

“Let’s go to my place,” Paulsen said. “I’ve got a lot of what we need. Then we’ll go by your place and get what we can from there. After that, we can go to the hardware store for anything we don’t have.”

“The only thing I’m a little concerned about is an inner tube from a tractor tire,” Dan said.

“Go get what you need,” Brent told them. “I’ll take a run out to the farm service center out towards Albany River.”

“Those things aren’t cheap,” Joe pointed out.

“Neither are kids, Joe,” Brent replied. “There could be a kid who needs this thing to survive anytime now.”

*   *   *

There were now three patients upstairs at Sanford Memorial Hospital, and one or the other of the Luces was keeping a close eye on them.

The Toivo girl, Betsy, was very quiet, and not moving very much. It appeared that she was at least partly paralyzed, if not all the way there yet, but she was so comatose it was hard to tell. At least she was still breathing reasonably well. “I think I can say fairly safely that she doesn’t have bulbar polio,” Dr. Luce commented. “But if she pulls through this stage, it’s still going to be hard to tell if she’s going to recover completely.”

“I doubt it,” Penny agreed. She’d seen more polio than her husband over the years. “But I’m beginning to think she’ll eventually come out of it. It could take a few days, though.”

Their second case, the teenaged Alice Bell, had been comatose since she’d come into the hospital, and hadn’t moved a muscle; she had a heartbeat and was breathing, but without her being awake there was little they could do to tell how paralyzed she might be. Herman got no response when he tried to test her reflexes, but that might not mean anything other than the fact that she just wasn’t conscious.

The third patient, Gail Saunders, was different. She was conscious and in considerable pain, doing a lot of screaming and crying. Worse, both the Luces got the impression that her breathing was slowly getting worse. “I don’t know what to think about her,” Dr. Luce said. “I’d be very tempted to give her morphine to ease the pain, but I’m afraid it might interfere with her breathing. She may find herself needing all the breath she can get. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has bulbar polio and needs that respirator Garth has those people building.”

“She may not,” Penny replied hopefully.

“I hope not. But it’s too early to say.”

*   *   *

By now Phil had flown the Stinson off the edge of the large-scale sectional charts he had, and had to rely on the smaller-scale WAC chart, which wasn’t as useful for his “thumb on the chart” navigation. Kansas City was fairly big, but he hadn’t been there before and had little idea where the airport was actually located.

But he had an ace up his sleeve: the low-frequency Adcock range was located near the airport. After leaving Cedar Rapids, he’d aimed a little to the right of his planned course, and when he got closer he tuned his low-frequency receiver in to the station. He kept listening to the dot-dash of the “N” leg until he got the steady tone of the main leg coming down from Des Moines. Once he had that, it was no trick to bear to the left a little, keeping the steady tone going – if he wandered off course a little he’d hear the Morse code for either the “A” or “N” legs, and that would take him right to the airport.

Although he wasn’t trying to get there by flying blind, the system worked pretty well, and before long he could see the airport loom through the disc of the propeller. That worked just like it was supposed to, he thought as he let down toward the airport in front of him.

Phil knew he didn’t have a radio frequency that would allow him to reach the tower, but as he got closer he saw a green light being flashed at him – the signal to come on in and land. He kept heading toward the airport and letting down, and soon he was close to a landing. The wheels touched the ground, and he turned off the runway to taxi to the terminal building.

In a few minutes he had shut the Stinson down and he was inside the terminal. This was a much larger place than at Madison the day before, and he’d never actually gotten inside the building there. He had no idea of how he was supposed to meet with whomever it was with the gamma globulin needed so badly at Spearfish Lake.

“Excuse me, sir,” a man said to him. “Are you Phil Gravengood from Sanford Memorial Hospital in Spearfish Lake?”

“Yes, I am. Are you from the lab?”

“Yes, and I have your order if you have a check for me.”

“Good enough,” Phil said, reaching in his pocket to pull out the cashier’s check. “Here you go. Let’s get it loaded.”

“You guys must need it bad up there,” the guy said.

“I don’t know, I’m just the errand boy on this one, but I do know they want it bad.”

“Well, you’re lucky. Another hospital wanted it but couldn’t come up with the money right away.”

“So long as it works I don’t think anyone is going to get picky,” Phil replied as the man grabbed hold of a four-wheel cart that had two aluminum coolers on it. “Is that the stuff?”

“Yes,” the guy said. “You even get to keep the coolers for that big a purchase. I think they cost $1.95 each at Woolworths. There are enough ice packs to keep the gamma globulin vital for a while if you can’t make it back today. We got telegrams that part of this order is to be shared with two other hospitals up there. They told us to have you stop at a place called Camden so you can drop off an order of two hundred units for Camden General. They’re supposed to have someone waiting for you.”

“Good, I’d planned to stop there anyway.”

In a few minutes the two coolers were being loaded into the back seat of the Stinson and strapped down there, while a fuel truck was topping off the bird with eighty octane. In only a few more minutes, Phil was back in the air, heading for Spearfish Lake.

He kept the Stinson climbing up until he was above the level of the cumulus clouds again, where the ride would be at least a little smoother. It was only when he leveled out and set the plane up for cruise that he realized he’d forgotten one thing: he should have found the bathroom.

Well, it was too late to turn back now, he thought. He’d just have to grit his teeth until he got back to Cedar Rapids.

*   *   *

Usually Jim Blanchard liked to get out and drive long distances. It gave him a chance to see the countryside, to see what was over the next hill. He’d always been curious about seeing what was out there, and it was part of the reason he enjoyed taking scouts on river trips, just to pass along a little of that love.

But there was no enjoyment to this trip. This was going to be one of the hardest things he’d ever done as a scoutmaster. No, the hardest thing, by a long shot.

It had been very hard to call Mike and Ruth Rathburn the day before with the news that Bob had polio and had been flown to Madison where he was in an iron lung. Of course the news had come right straight out of midair for them, and they dropped what they were doing and started driving madly for the hospital. Bob was in the iron lung by then, and he desperately needed it breathing for him. He was in and out of consciousness, but at least the Rathburns had arrived in time to catch him in a period of awareness, although they couldn’t get close to him.

Jim had done what he could for him as they sat in the waiting room most of the night, hoping that things would work out. From what they had been told, the time when his folks had seen their son had been one of the last times he’d been partially lucid and aware. At least in the iron lung they could give him some morphine to ease his considerable pain a little since it wouldn’t matter if it degraded his very poor breathing for a while.

While he’d waited with the Rathburns, Jim had taken the time to call each of the parents of the boys on the trip. He told them the troop was safe in Spearfish Lake and the last he knew none of the other boys were showing symptoms of polio, although he had to admit that his news was several hours old.

Then, in the early morning hours, a doctor had come into the waiting room to pass along the bad news. Bob had died – there was no telling exactly what had happened, other than that the disease had overwhelmed him despite everything a large university hospital could do for him. That hit him hard, even though he told himself that there had been nothing more he could do, and that the kid almost certainly had contracted the disease even before he left home.

It was worse for the Rathburns, of course. Lots worse. About all Jim could do was to drive them home in their car since neither of them was in any shape to drive, not that he was himself. He’d gotten them home about dawn, and immediately contacted several of the parents again, wondering what they wanted him to do.

It soon turned into a group discussion in Jim’s living room. The parents were all worried that one of their kids could have contracted the disease from Bob, and they all felt that the canoe trip should be ended and the kids brought home. Jim wasn’t totally sure he agreed – the kids had worked toward the outing and looked forward to it for a long time – but he had to concede to the parent’s wishes. It did not take a long for several of the parents to volunteer to drive up to Spearfish Lake to bring the boys home.

Jim didn’t want to have Dale break the news about Bob to the boys, or the news about the trip ending. While Dale was a nice guy he was little more than a kid himself. All he could do was to send a telegram to Garth Matson, who had befriended them at Spearfish Lake, telling him to hold the kids there until the convoy of parents arrived.

The best thing that could be said about the trip back up to Spearfish Lake was that Jim didn’t have to drive most of it himself. He was in Ron Shorthouse’s car, and that gave him a little chance to sleep, not that he slept very well. The trip that had started out so well had gone very wrong.

“Ron,” he told Shorthouse at one point, “I’ll tell you what. I love doing these trips with these kids, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to do another one. This is just . . . well, I never expected this to happen.”

“I know, and what’s more, I know it’s hard,” Shorthouse replied.

“Ron, there wasn’t anything I could do. Nothing! Maybe if he hadn’t been along he could have gotten to a doctor a little sooner.”

“True,” Ron said, “and it might have come out the same way it did anyway. Jim, you can’t blame yourself for this. You did everything you could.”

“Yeah,” Jim shook his head, “but it wasn’t enough. I really hate to be the one to have to take all this to the boys, but I know I have to be the one to do it.”

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To be continued . . .

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