Tuesday, July 18
Archie was released from the hospital the next morning. George drove Alexandra and I to the hospital to pick him up. Daddy was chatting with him in the ward, helping him into his coat when we arrived.
“I hope you realize just how lucky you were,” he said, clapping his patient on the back. “That could very easily have been a lethal dose. I trust you’ll take more care where and what you drink from now on. And maybe stick to legal substances, hm?”
Archie gave a solemn nod, but I wasn’t sure how sincere it was. “Yes, sir.”
Perhaps guessing his message wasn’t quite hitting home, Daddy narrowed his eyes, the same look he’d used on me after Mother caught me at the speakeasy. “Do you know how many people are in this ward right now because of methyl alcohol poisoning? Or because they drank something cut with denatured alcohol?”
He sobered visibly, shaking his head.
“Twelve. And those are just the ones who made it to the hospital. This week I’ve already had to study samples taken from two people who were not lucky enough to walk away. And for every person admitted to this hospital, there’s at least one more out there who doesn’t realize how severe his symptoms are, who doesn’t seek medical attention because they don’t think it’s that bad, or maybe they just don’t like doctors. Often their deaths are attributed to something else–heart failure or a stroke, they just died in their sleep. Well, let me tell you. Healthy people in their twenties don’t die in their sleep of heart failure, not unless there’s something else at work.”
“I–I’ll be careful, sir,” Archie said, his bravado failing. For a minute, he was the boy of thirteen who liked to play pranks on his sister and his friends, and was all too often caught out.
“I’m not telling you to be careful, Archibald Grant, I’m telling you to mend your ways before they kill you. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter how you feel about Prohibition. The end result is it’s made it far too dangerous to drink anything even resembling alcohol. You got off easy this time. You might not get so lucky again.”
The three of us, hung back, unwilling to interrupt Daddy’s fatherly lecture. At last, he clapped Archie on the back again and smiled. “Now, I think you have an escort here to take you home.”
Archie turned, noticing us for the first time, and his old devilish grin returned. “Well, what took you all so long?”
We greeted him with hugs and more slaps on the back. “Come on, let’s ankle. I’d love to get a bath and some real food,” he said, leading the way to the exit.
“I’ll catch up in just a moment,” I said, hanging back with my father.
“Are you looking for a lecture, too, or is this about something else?” he asked, one good-natured eyebrow dancing upward.
“I wanted to ask about those other patients.”
“Well, I helped you with the tests on that seized liquor. Were you able to tell if it was the same stuff?”
Daddy sat down on the foot of Archie’s vacated bed. “It’s hard to tell. Any one of the bottles we brought back last week could have caused anything from vomiting to blindness to death.”
“So you don’t have a way to link them?”
He gave a little shrug. “Some of them had higher concentrations of some chemicals than others. One of the bottles, sample number three, I think, was mostly methyl alcohol and water, and one of the samples tested positive for high levels of methyl alcohol.”
“What about mercury?”
“Mercury? I assume you mean that first bottle, the Hudson Castle?”
“Yes. It showed high levels of mercury, didn’t it?”
“Yes. It was probably cut with denatured industrial alcohol. I doubt they bothered to redistill it, or if they did, they didn’t do a very good job. It’s a miracle more people haven’t been poisoned by it, but as I told Archie, for everyone who comes in here with stomach complaints or other symptoms, someone else writes off their symptoms to spoiled milk or somesuch, and dies before help can arrive and no one bothers to look further, attributing the death to heart attack or stroke or just an ‘internal complaint.’ I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen that on a death certificate.”
“But you can tell who drank it?”
“I’d have to run more tests. Why all the questions?”
I bit my lip, knowing he’d be upset. I hadn’t thought of it until that moment when I had to explain.
I sank down on the bed next to him. “I’ve been looking into it. I wanted to find out where the bottle came from.”
For a moment, he just stared at me. “What do you mean, you’ve been looking into it?”
“I went to the house where the party was, the night Archie got sick. I found another bottle of the Hudson Castle in the trash. And George and I found a label and a broken bottle of the same whiskey near where we picnicked on Friday. I think that’s where they’re doing it–they’re bringing in whiskey from Canada, mixing it with industrial alcohol, and then selling it, telling people it’s real whiskey.”
“Druscilla! What were you thinking?” he hissed. Glancing around at the other patients, he grabbed my arm, hauling me to my feet and dragged me out to the hallway. “Do you have any idea how dangerous that was? How reckless? What on earth possessed you to do such a thing?”
“I know! I know it was dangerous, Daddy. But the police weren’t doing anything. Mother said they didn’t have the manpower to follow up. They could shut down the parties and the speakeasies, but they couldn’t track the liquor back to its source. I had to do something. What if Archie had died? What if those other people die? You said so yourself, more and more people are getting sick. Someone has to stop them!”
The sound he made was somewhere between a grunt and a sigh. He ran his fingers through his hair, then fished a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his white coat. “Your mother is going to kill you,” he muttered, placing one of the slender gaspers between his lips. “She’s going to kill you, then me for letting you help in the lab in the first place.”
Striking a match, he lit the tip. I waited as he took several puffs, running his free hand through his hair again.
At last, he sighed again. “Go catch up to your friends. We’ll talk about this at home.”
I left before he could change his mind.