A serial fiction story for your enjoyment
written by James Rada, Jr.
4: The Power House
Tim Ross wasn’t sure what to do. A man in white had run out of the woods around the Maryland Tuberculosis Sanatorium, calling his name. Then, just as quickly, he had disappeared back into the trees. It had been dark, but Tim thought he also saw another man pursuing the man in white, although that man had remained in the trees. Tim had just been getting ready to go after the man in white when he heard shots.
That gave him pause. He had seen some shootings in Baltimore, and he knew better than to walk blindly into a place where men were armed. That was a good way to get shot himself.
Still, someone had known his name. Only a few people on this mountain knew him.
This hospital was supposed to be a place where he could recover from TB, but it was beginning to resemble a prison with lots of rules, a stern warden, and now, armed men around it.
Tim had trouble sleeping that night. He kept waiting to hear the man call for him again or more shots. He heard neither. He fell asleep at some point, but he was awake with the sunrise.
He dressed and walked out across the field to the tree line where he had seen the man in white. He looked around, but he saw nothing that made him think someone had been here. Of course, he wasn’t a tracker. He walked to where he thought he had seen the man re-enter the trees. He looked into the forest and slowly entered. He saw a log and, just beyond it, marks in the dirt. One of them was a handprint. Someone had been along this path, although who knew how old the print was. Tim’s best guess was that the person had tripped over the tree in the dark and fallen.
He continued along the path, looking for more signs. He was about to turn back when he saw a large rock with a stain that Tim recognized. He had seen it on his clothing and boxing ring mats before. It was dried blood.
He kept walking, wondering if someone might need help, although the blood on the rock had dried. Not too far beyond the rock, he saw what looked to be more blood on the leaves of a bush. Tim set off in that direction.
He soon came to a clearing where there was a large stone building. He thought it was a home at first, but when he approached and looked in a window, he saw it had machinery inside. It must have been the power house Dr. Vallingham, the hospital’s assistant director, had told him not to go near.
Too late now.
The door was locked, but looking in the windows, he saw large boilers and a furnace. The piping to other buildings on the grounds must have been buried underground. Then, he saw something familiar. It was a moonshine still set up inside the power house. No one was around, but it looked to be in use.
He turned around and saw Frank Larkins, an orderly from the hospital. The man wasn’t wearing the friendly smile he’d seen at the train station when Frank picked him up.
“What are you doing out here, Mr. Ross?”
“I’m looking for someone.”
“In the power house where you aren’t supposed to be?”
Tim nodded. “Last night, I saw someone running in this direction, and I heard a shot. I went looking this morning and found blood.”
“Really?” Frank sighed. “You have created a problem for me and others.”
“You mean the still?” Frank nodded. “I’m from Baltimore where they are pretty much ignoring Prohibition. I don’t care about the still, although I wouldn’t be against sampling some of your product. Right now, though, I am just trying to find out what happened to that man. The blood has me worried.”
Tim was thinking about asking Dr. Cullen, the hospital director, about it, but he needed something more to tell him than a shadowy man running in the dark and some possible blood.
“Did you see anyone around here last night?” Tim asked.
Frank shook his head. “I wasn’t here. Are you serious about this man?”
“Well, people have been shot at near here.”
Frank nodded toward the power house. “Why do you think?”
“Has anyone been hurt?”
“Not here, but there are different groups on this mountain who are making a lot of money and want to protect themselves. The Clines and Russmans over in Smithsburg are in a shooting war. Each group wants to control all the moonshine in this area.”
Tim had heard about Smithsburg, but he didn’t realize it was close. The area had made national headlines as having an “old-time mountain feud” between John Cline and Henry Russman, involving night raiding, indiscriminate shooting, and fights. They were accused of wrecking a church, dynamiting a sawmill, killing one person, and wounding others.
So much for the quiet country life where he could recover from TB.
“So, if the bootleggers were doing the shooting, who were they shooting at?” Tim asked.
Frank rubbed his chin and shook his head. “We haven’t heard of any bodies being found or anyone being shot. However, if a patient was out last night, and the Smithsburg bootleggers were prowling around looking for our still, they might have thought he was one of my crew.”
“Well, someone was out there, running from someone, and it was someone who knew me. I want to find him. I couldn’t care less about your operation.”
Frank stared at him for a moment. “I believe you. You seem like a stand-up guy. My men work at the hospital and in town. I’ll have them ask around and listen for anyone who is talking about someone missing.”
“I appreciate it. Your still is what I saw in the power house?”
Frank nodded. “It’s isolated and no one but people who I work with come here. It’s also close to the train station, where we ship out a lot of our product. Being on the hospital ground gives us some protection from other moonshiners. Plus, the revenuers never think to look there.”
“Is that why Dr. Vallingham tells patients not to come out here?”
Frank chuckled. “No, Dr. Vallingham is a drinker, but he would never be caught dead drinking moonshine. He has his private pre-Prohibition stash. Besides, Vallingham is a jerk. He would turn us in if he knew what we were doing.” Tim smiled. “Dr. Cullen would, too, but at least he is polite to the staff. We would much rather deal with him than Vallingham.”
Tim shook Frank’s hand and started walking away. Then he paused and turned back. “If I come back sometime, can I buy a bottle?”
“I’ll give you the best we have.”
Tim followed a path up the hill and through the woods. When it came out in a clearing, he saw the laboratory building. It was a two-story stone building, much smaller than the power house. This was where medicines were prepared for the patients.
He walked over to the windows and looked inside. He could see tables with test tubes, bottles, Bunsen burners, and the other types of things one would expect to see. Nothing looked out of place. It didn’t look like it was used often.
He tried the door and found it open. He walked inside and up the staircase to the second floor. Here, he found a cabinet filled with vials. A small desk sat in one corner. What disturbed Tim was the three beds with straps that would be used to restrain who ever lay in the bed.
What was going on here?