written by James Rada, Jr.
A serial fiction story for your enjoyment
7: The Last Fight
Tim Ross wandered from window to window in the basement of the nurse’s building of the State Tuberculosis Hospital in Sabillasville. The foundation of the building was stone, but except for load-bearing walls, the inner walls in the basement were all frame construction. Most of them were empty, but some had been converted to storage.
Tim looked out the windows, expecting to see Dr. Vallingham or one of his personal orderlies/guards approaching the building. Tim had already been down here overnight, but no one had come into the basement, not even Frank Larkins, the orderly who had hidden him here.
It was probably better that way. If someone saw Frank coming into the basement, it would be suspicious. Tim was getting hungry, though. No one had brought him food, and he hadn’t found anything to eat down here, although he did find a half-filled pint bottle of moonshine. It slaked his thirst and calmed his nerves.
While he hadn’t seen anyone other than nurses approach the building, Tim thought he heard sirens at one point. He also saw more vehicles driving around than he had seen in his short time at the hospital.
Tim jumped. He spun, holding a fireplace poker he had found in one of the storage rooms. He relaxed when he saw it was Frank.
“Give a guy some warning,” Tim said.
“I did. I said your name and stayed back from you,” Frank told him.
“You didn’t bring me breakfast by chance?”
Frank shook his head. “Sorry.” Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out an apple. He tossed it to Tim. “You can eat that for now. I’ll get you something to eat.”
“Does that mean I have to stay down here?” He bit into the apple. It was sweet and crunchy.
“Not for too much longer, hopefully. Someone saw Vallingham drive away last night. I’m hoping that means he knew the game was up and won’t be coming back.”
“He deserves to be in prison.”
Frank shrugged. “I’m sure they’ll catch up with him eventually. I’m just happy he’s not around here interfering with the bootlegging.”
Frank and some of the other employees at the hospital ran a bootlegging operation from the powerhouse.
“And killing patients,” Tim added.
“That, too.” Frank chuckled to himself. “Boy was Dr. Cullen furious when I told him what was happening. His face turned deep red, and he stomped around the office. He called the police himself; I give him that. He’s a good man, and this hospital is important to him.”
“Surprised he let something like this happen then.”
“Well, there’s a lot going on here nowadays. We’ve got the regular TB patients, the children’s hospital, and the nursing school. One man can’t run it all.”
“I suppose not.”
Frank left and arranged for a nurse he trusted to bring Tim breakfast, so that he wouldn’t risk being seen coming into the building again. Tim ate the pancakes and sliced apples with cinnamon and then took a nap. He had been up all night worried Vallingham would find him.
Frank came back after lunch. “Things are in an uproar. They are still searching for Vallingham in the woods. We had to break down our still and store the pieces in different locations.”
“Do you think he’s in the woods?” Tim asked.
“I doubt it. Why would he stick around? They’re just being careful, and so are my people.”
“So, is it safe for me to leave?”
“I suppose you can. The police have been asking for you, anyway. I guess they want to talk to you about everything.”
“You didn’t tell them where I was?”
“I do my best to avoid the police. It’s a habit. I don’t want them recognizing me if they spot me at a still.”
Tim followed Frank back outside the nurse’s building. He looked at his watch and saw it was dinnertime. He went to the dining hall and ate while he listened to the surrounding conversations, as people speculated on why the police had been at the hospital all day.
After dinner, he walked through the connecting hallway to the administration building. The police were eager to talk to him. Tim sat through two hours of questions from Dr. Cullen and the Frederick County States Attorney. Tim explained everything that had happened to him, leaving out finding out about Frank and the moonshiners who operated in the powerhouse. By the time he finished, it was dark out.
He walked back to the shack and wondered if the police were still wandering the property trying to find Vallingham, or if they had moved their search away to other locations.
When he walked into the shack, it was dark. He turned on the light in his ward and saw Vallingham standing there with a pistol.
“What did you tell them?” Vallingham asked.
“Everything. At least everything concerning you.”
Vallingham grimaced. “You have ruined everything. I was trying to heal people.”
“So, if you killed some along the way, that’s all right?”
Tim wondered if he could turn off the lights again before Vallingham shot him.
Vallingham jabbed the pistol in his direction. “What would you know? You just stumbled into something that was beyond you. I tried to get my notes from my safe, but the police were all over the building.”
“They will catch you.”
“Doubtful. I have money saved. I can disappear and start my research again elsewhere. I had hoped to get what I had done so far.”
“You don’t think a new doctor studying tuberculosis might give you away? You want attention.”
Vallingham paused and thought for a moment. “I want…”
That’s when Tim turned the lights off and threw himself backwards into the entry area. He heard the shot fired and the impact when it hit the wall. He scrambled out the door on his hands and knees and then ran.
Tim meant to run for the administration building, although he wasn’t sure anyone was still there, but when he came down off the porch, he slipped and tumbled down a hill toward the woods. Then, he heard Vallingham coming after him and another shot fired. Tim took off for the cover of the woods.
The shots would undoubtedly bring the police if they were still around, but Tim couldn’t wait to see if they would show up before Vallingham shot him.
He ran into the trees, feeling like he now knew what Max Wenschof had felt like when he ran into the woods chased by a moonshiner. He slowed as he reached the woods because he didn’t want to trip on a root. He wasn’t thinking about going somewhere in particular, he just pushed further into the woods. He stumbled once but caught himself on a tree. After that, he moved slower and kept his hands out feeling for trees.
He heard Vallingham coming behind him, but he also heard the man yell when he tripped and fell.
After a few minutes, Tim saw a low light in the distance. He headed toward it, thinking it must be one of the hospital buildings. However, as Tim came into a clearing, he saw it was four moonshiners working by lantern light around a still.
They yelled when they saw Tim, but he didn’t stop. He shouted, “Revenuer coming.” Then he ran back into the woods.
Out of breath, Tim dropped behind a fallen tree and tried to find a place where he might hide.
He heard more shouts and gunshots. When the gunshots stopped, Tim heard voices speaking too low to be understood. He heard metal and wood hitting each other. After fifteen minutes, things fell silent.
Tim pushed himself and walked back toward the clearing. The lanterns that had cast the low light were gone. He tripped again, but this time, he hit the ground. As he pushed himself up, he felt something soft and realized it was clothing. He patted it. It was a body. He felt for a pulse. Whoever it was, was dead.
Tim pulled out his matchbook and lit a match. It cast a small circle of light. He held it toward where the head was. He saw Vallingham’s dead eyes looking back at him.
Tim shook the match out and sighed. Then, he slowly stood and made his way back the way he came, although he came out far from his shack.
Police were walking around with flashlights on. One of them shined a light on Tim. “Who are you?”
“Tim Ross. Dr. Vallingham, the man you’re looking for, is in there.” Tim waved toward the clearing. “He’s dead.”
“Dead? Did you kill him?”
“No, he ran into bootleggers. They shot at each other. He lost.”
By morning, police were swarming over the hospital grounds. In Dr. Cullen’s office, the doctor profusely apologized for what had happened.
“I’m alive, at least,” Tim told him.
“Yes, and like you, I mourn for those other patients who aren’t so lucky. There are doctors from the state right now pouring over hospital records, looking over all patients Dr. Vallingham supervised. Their families deserve to know the truth.”
Tim nodded. Dr. Cullen was right, but Tim had been thinking that he was alive while Dr. Vallingham was dead. This might have been Tim’s last fight, but at least he had won it.