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Forgotten Killer book cover

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

Chapter 17

Brent was very relieved to see it, and wished that Ryan could have been there too – the cob job had mostly been his idea, and it was clear that it was going to help the little girl. However, it was just too dangerous for him to be there if he didn’t need to be.

But he had to give credit where credit was due. “It was mostly Ryan’s idea,” he said, “and it seemed like a good one; something we could build real quick.”

“We’re not going to be able to keep her in there long,” Dr. Luce pointed out. “There’s no way we can examine her or treat her, but for the moment it’s better than manual respiration. How long do you think it’s going to be before you get the other unit completed?”

“I don’t know,” Brent replied. “We stopped work on it when we started on this, but I know Dan and Joe are working on it now. A couple of hours, give or take, maybe.”

“Get it here as soon as you can,” Dr. Luce said, “though this will do for this girl for now. Thank you for hurrying it done, and give my thanks to this Ryan for thinking it up.”

“Ryan is my son,” Brent replied proudly. “He’s nine.”

“Give him my thanks, please.”

Their attention was diverted by Denise at the door. “Dr. Luce, we have another one downstairs.”

“I knew it was too good to last,” he sighed. “Mr., uh, Clark, is it? Please rush that other unit. I’d better get down and see what we have to deal with.”

“I’ll stay here and run this thing,” Garth offered.

“Good, that’ll give us an extra set of hands,” Dr. Luce said. He headed for the hallway, with Brent following. As they walked toward the stairs, he asked Brent, “By the way, are you any relation to Donna Clark?”

“She’s my stepmother, but we don’t get along and I try to have as little to do with her as possible.”

“Then I’d better not ask you to approach her. I was wondering if she could find a couple of volunteers willing to help out with this.”

“Maybe, she’s big in that volunteer kind of thing.”

“I’ll try to call her when I get a minute, I’d better go see what this new case is, first,” he said. “But I’m afraid I already know.”

Brent left the mask and other things at the hospital, and went out to his truck. Within minutes he was back at his garage, where Dan and Joe were busy working on the Popular Mechanics wooden lung, with Ryan helping out where he could. “Good news,” he told everyone. “It works.”

“Hey, that’s great!” Dan said. “I thought it might, but it’s good to know.”

“Ryan, Dr. Luce sent his special thanks and said you did a very good job thinking that up,” Brent said, exaggerating things a little, even though it was still the truth. “You did a good job thinking it out. They’re not going to be able to keep her in it for long, but it’ll buy us some time to get this thing finished. Let’s get this one done as quickly as we can.”

“We should have finished it up last night,” Joe submitted. It had been his idea to knock off at midnight, and he felt guilty about it.

“We didn’t know,” Brent replied. “Let’s get this done, and as soon as we get it to the hospital, let’s get started on another one.”

“Another one?” Dan asked.

“Dan, I don’t want to get caught like this again. That poor little girl was literally turning blue from not being able to breathe, and seeing the color come into her face was worth the effort all by itself.”

*   *   *

It was getting close to noon before they finished the Popular Mechanics wooden lung. “Given a chance I’d like to get some sealer and varnish on it,” Dan commented as they were putting the finishing touches on it. “It would probably be more sanitary, but it would take hours to dry and under the circumstances I guess we’ll leave it and make do.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more. Let’s get it in the truck. Ryan, I’d like to have you go with me but I still don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“That’s all right, Dad. I understand, and I don’t think I want to risk getting polio if I can help it. I wouldn’t want to have to be stuck in one of these things.”

“Me either, son, but I’ll tell you what, if that little girl were conscious right now I’ll bet she’d be glad to tell you that she can breathe.”

“How long is she going to have to be in there?”

“I don’t know. I’ll ask when I get over to the hospital, but they may not know, either.”

The Popular Mechanics emergency wooden respiration was considerably bigger and heavier than Ryan’s cob job, but the four of them soon had it loaded in the pickup. Joe and Dan rode along, sitting three wide in the cab. “How many of those are we going to have to build?” Joe wondered as they rode up Central Avenue.

“Beats me,” Brent said. “All I can say is that if they want them, we’ll build them.”

Once again Brent drove the pickup to the back door of the hospital and went up the ramp to the admitting room. He found Dr. Luce there and said, “We brought the new unit. It’s out in the truck.”

“Good. Get it upstairs. We’ve got a problem.”

“Another patient?”

“Yes,” he replied. “It’s beginning to look like he’ll need a respirator pretty soon. How soon can you get another unit built?”

“As quickly as we can. We can throw together another cob job like the one we built earlier in the matter of an hour or two, but it probably would be tonight before we can get another like the one outside. Maybe not then, it sort of depends on how it goes, but at least we know what we’re doing now.”

“The unit you have upstairs is working all right, but we need to be able to reach inside to treat the girl. Besides, it’s very noisy and it requires someone to operate it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being critical, I’m glad we have it, but we’re going to need another unit in the next couple of hours.”

“I’ve got an idea,” Brent said. “Let’s take the new unit upstairs and move the little girl into it. We can take the one we brought over this morning back to my garage, cut some doors in it, and put in a viewing window. I’ve got an idea that might make it quieter, too.”

“How soon could you do that?”

“Not long. Maybe an hour. I’ve got three guys working with me counting my son, and I can pull in more people if I need them.”

“All right, do it, but get working on another full-sized unit. When you bring the little one back we can move the girl into it and have the big one free when it’s needed, and I’m just about certain we will need it in a couple of hours.”

By the time Brent was done talking with Dr. Luce, Dan and Joe had unloaded the Popular Mechanics unit from the pickup and were rolling it inside. “Gowns, masks, and gloves,” Brent told them as Dr. Luce stood looking it over. “We don’t want to catch this stuff, and we don’t want to pass it along, either.”

“Right, try not to touch the little girl or anything but this unit,” Dr. Luce told them. “But it’s a good job and it looks like it’ll work as long as we need it to. Best of all, it’s here a lot quicker than the three months or so it would take Emerson to get a unit here. They’re that far backlogged.”

They rolled the unit onto the elevator – it would just fit, something Brent hadn’t even thought about – and took it upstairs. It wasn’t hard to find the room where they were needed, since they could hear the vacuum cleaner running. As they got the Popular Mechanics unit ready and showed Denise how to use it, they noticed that Colonel Matson was running the little unit and keeping a regular rhythm going.

Once again they had to move quickly in planned movements with whom doing exactly what to switch the girl from the little unit to the big one, but once it was running, it was pretty clear it worked just as well. It was a lot quieter, too. “That’s what we were looking for,” Dr. Luce said. “Just so you know, I think the vacuum cleaner was a little too powerful. We could adjust it by how much Garth opened the door, but it was a little bit guesswork.”

“That whole thing was a lot of guesswork,” Brent admitted. “Colonel, how did you keep the breathing regular?”

“Come on, you were in D Battery,” Garth smiled. “You remember how to time a ceremonial salute, don’t you?

“‘Number one gun, fire? Number two gun, fire?’ I remember that.”

“It works just as well here. The things you learn in artillery have the most unexpected uses.”

Dr. Luce followed them as they carried the cob job back down the stairs – it was quicker than the very slow elevator, and Brent realized they didn’t have time to waste. “If you could,” the doctor suggested, “it would be nice to know just how much atmospheric pressure this unit is pulling down. I’ve been a little concerned that it’s actually been over-breathing her a little, but don’t waste time designing something.”

“We’ll get it back to you just as soon as we can,” Brent promised.

*   *   *

As soon as the pickup truck left, Dr. Luce went back upstairs. The Popular Mechanics respirator was working fine, and it was a lot quieter than the little unit the Saunders girl had been in.

“I’m sure glad you thought of this,” he told Garth, who was sitting on the other bed in the room, “and I’m especially glad you were here help with the manual respiration and to run that unit she was in.”

“It had to be done, and I wasn’t doing anything else useful,” Garth shrugged.

“You’ve been a huge help already,” Dr. Luce told him. “Are you up for some more?”

“If there’s anything I can do.”

“Go get a cup of coffee and unwind for a few minutes. There are some rehabilitation things for patients we need to get going on as soon as possible, but we just haven’t had the hands to do them. Do you have any idea where we can find a wringer washing machine?”

“I’m sure they must have one down at the appliance store.”

“We need one here as soon as possible. Do you think you could arrange for it?”

“I’ll give Steve a call and tell him to get one over here. What do you need it for?”

“I’ll explain when we get it.”

Garth went downstairs, and made the call. “I don’t have one in stock right now,” the appliance dealer told him. “Nobody wants them anymore. I do have a used one I took in trade the other day that I haven’t taken out to the dump yet. It works OK, but I don’t know anyone who would want it.”

“They want one here at the hospital, and they want it now. It’s for the polio patients and I don’t know why they want it. Can you load it up and bring it over?”

“Sure, I can have it there in fifteen minutes.”

That didn’t take long, Garth thought as he hung up the phone and went to get some coffee. It felt good to sit down; he’d been going at high speed since Pat Burling had pounded on his door hours before – he wasn’t sure how many. But at least he felt like he had been doing something useful every minute.

*   *   *

“I don’t know how we could measure the air pressure,” Joe commented as Brent drove the pickup across town at well over the speed limit. “I mean, it would be possible to stuff a household barometer inside it where it could be seen through the glass, but I don’t know if it would be accurate enough.”

“It would have to be more sensitive,” Brent agreed. “Something like an aircraft altimeter, maybe? We could ask Phil Gravengood, he might have something.”

“Yeah, that might work,” Dan said. “We need to track him down as soon as we get to your place.”

A couple of minutes later Brent slid the pickup to a stop in front of the garage. Brent went into the house to see if he could track down Gravengood, while the two other hauled the little unit inside.

Phil wasn’t at his house; Rose answered the phone. “I don’t know where he is,” she said. “He’s been staying with Garth since this polio thing happened. He’s either there, or at the airport, or out working on a phone line someplace. Why do you need him?”

“We were wondering if he might have an altimeter laying around,” Brent said. “We need some way to measure how much vacuum is being pulled in our homemade iron lung they’ve been using over at the hospital.”

“There’s a brand-new sensitive altimeter sitting in a box on the kitchen table,” she replied. “It’s supposed to go in the Cub, but he hasn’t gotten around to installing it yet. I’m sure you could use that one for as long as you need it.”

“Thanks, Rose. Someone will be right over to pick it up.” He hung up the phone and turned to Ursula. “Can you run over to the Gravengoods real quick? I need to get out in the shop and help the guys work on that box.”

“Sure,” she replied, knowing what was needed from Brent’s side of the phone conversation.

Brent went out into the shop, where Ryan had been helping with the second Popular Mechanics unit – Bill and Fred had just been cutting pieces and starting to assemble the box. “Ryan, stay away from the little unit,” Brent told him. “It’s been contaminated, but you sure did a good job of dreaming it up. It’s saved that little girl’s life, so far, anyway. You should have seen Mr. Matson standing there running the pressure relief valve trap door.”

“I’m glad it helped. I’ll go somewhere else while you’re working on it,” he said, obviously disappointed to not be able to be a part of the effort.

Ryan went out onto the back porch, where he’d been playing with his Erector Set. He’d torn down the crane he’d built a few days before, and the day before he’d built a model walking-beam oil well pump. It had been something simple, but he’d built it himself from having seen one of them working while on a trip with his parents earlier in the summer. The electric motor from the Erector Set just raised and lowered a weight that kept the line from the pump head straight, and it was a fairly heavy weight.

It had been a pretty simple project, but he’d been happy with it. He wanted to do something pretty complicated next, and had decided on an elaborate cantilever bridge, but he wasn’t sure he had enough parts in the Erector Set to do it. He turned the pump on to watch it work, and sat down to figure out what he would need for the cantilever bridge. But the pump drew his attention, the way it worked with regularity, moving the weight up and down, up and down . . .

Inspiration struck him. He grabbed the pump, made a couple of changes with some additional Erector Set girders, and then rushed the whole rig back out into the garage. “Dad!” he said. “I’ve got a way we can run the pressure relief valve.”

“What is it?” Brent said. The kid had come up with a number of good ideas this morning, and maybe he had some more in him.

Ryan ignored the earlier order to stay away from the cob job respirator. He held the pump up against the side of the box, with the girder he’d added right on the plywood pressure relief valve. “All it would take would be a little bracket screwed to the door,” he explained. “You can control the amount the door opens by where the girder attaches to the walking beam.”

“Might work,” Brent replied, impressed once again with the kid’s ingenuity. “I don’t know if it would be strong enough, though.”

“One way to find out,” Dan said, grabbing a screwdriver.

In only a couple of minutes the toy pump had been attached to the side of the box. They plugged in the vacuum, and everyone was just a little surprised to see that it worked without a problem. The little motor from the Erector Set wasn’t very large – but it had gearing, and the leverage from the beam Ryan had added was enough to do the job.

They all watched it working for a minute or so. “Tell you what,” Dan said. “The colonel is going to be glad he doesn’t have to stand there thinking ‘Number one gun fire’ all afternoon.”

“Let’s get this done,” Brent said. “They want it back at the hospital as soon as possible.”

*   *   *

Thirteen-year-old Tom Perkins had been able to walk into the hospital when his mother brought him over. He hadn’t seemed very sick, just a stiff neck and a high fever, but as soon as he was on the examining table in the admitting room he seemed to slide downhill. It was clear some paralysis was setting in, and all it took was a brief look in the microscope following a lumbar puncture to see that his spinal fluid was loaded with white blood cells.

Within only minutes Dr. Luce could tell that his breathing was labored. He’d seen kids slide downhill quickly before, and this wasn’t new to him – but it was very scary when it happened this quickly. With a case like that, there was a good chance of losing him in very short order.

“Is there any chance they’re close to done with that little respirator?” he asked Garth, who had been helping a little but mostly standing by trying to do what he could.

“Brent said he didn’t think it would take very long.”

“Why don’t you go call and see?”

Garth went to the phone, just as glad to be out of the admitting room. He wasn’t a doctor, he was a banker, and he wasn’t used to standing by and watching kids die. He’d seen men die in combat, and he didn’t think he’d ever get used to that, either – and at least now he wouldn’t have to do that any more.

He was back in the admitting room in a couple of minutes. “They’re on the way,” he reported.

*   *   *

In the last few minutes the crew in Brent’s garage had made a number of changes to the little unit, including installing a single door on one side, and a glass viewing port. Right in the middle of things Ursula showed up with the altimeter that had been supposed to go in Phil’s Cub, and it was only a few minutes work to cut a hole in the box and screw it into place. They all knew the box would work, of course – it had kept the little girl alive for hours already – but they were impressed to see the needle of the altimeter move through a cycle of a couple of hundred feet.

“Anything else we need to do to it?” Brent asked. When he got no reply in a few seconds, he went on, “We’d better get it back over to the hospital. It sounded like they were in a hurry to get it back, and we need to start another Popular Mechanics unit.” He grabbed some wire, a hammer, some nails, and a pair of wire cutters and headed for the truck with Dan and Joe carrying the unit out to the back of the pickup.

Within a minute or two Dan and Brent were in the truck, heading back to the hospital, once again well over the speed limit. Between them they carried the cob job up the steps to the second floor, where Matson and Mrs. Luce were waiting for them. “Good, you’re here,” Garth said. “We were beginning to wonder.”

“We need to get the girl back into this thing,” Penny said. “We’ve got a boy here whose respiration is heading downhill fast. He’s only been here a couple of hours.”

Working quickly, Brent and Dan got the unit set back up. This time, though, Brent opened the window and set the vacuum cleaner outside on the window sill, and with wire and nails he fastened it down so it wouldn’t fall off. Only the hose and electric cord were run through the window. He grabbed a blanket and a couple of towels to stuff in the rest of the opening. When they plugged the vacuum cleaner in, it ran a lot more quietly than it had before – most of the noise was outside.

Once again they planned the moves they would have to make to get Gail from the bigger unit back into the little one, and it took less than a minute to make the transition. As soon as they were sure they had her breathing all right, Garth and Mrs. Luce rolled the bigger unit out the door, to the next room, where Dr. Luce was hovering over Thomas Perkins. “Good, just in time,” he said. “I was starting to think about manual respiration. He’s sinking fast.”

They wasted no time getting the Perkins boy into the unit and getting it running. In only a few cycles, they could see his color improve – the machine was breathing much better for him than he could on his own. “I don’t know if he’s going to make it,” Dr. Luce said, “but he might have a chance now.”

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To be continued . . .

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