DOG DAYS: CHAPTER 3

Welcome to the nation’s premier force in dealing with Infected isolation and retrieval. As a member of MIR, it is vital to keep a number of proven tactics in mind when encountering those infected by the Were Virus. Keep this pocket guide with you at all times to ensure quick access to the best techniques for handling the most dangerous encounters.

What to expect during Suppression?

-Most infected will transform at the peak of the full moon, but some react differently depending on exposure and age. It is best to have all registered members locked in their cells at least three hours before the full moon is visible.

-The Infected DNA and mass will alter dramatically after transformation. It is highly recommended that all sedatives are injected before the registered party transforms to ensure the desired effect.

-Once in their transformed state, Infected may attempt to break loose from their containment if the proper sedative doses are not met. In this event, lie on the floor and hold your knees to your chest. Infected have a tendency to attack large moving targets as opposed to small stationary objects.

Chapter 3:

Put to Sleep

                Judith arrived at the church in her formal officers’ dress. The ill-fitting grooves pressed against her sagging breasts and the bulges around her stomach. The dark green polyester grew suffocating as she began to sweat in the morning sun. Despite its age and wear, her finery still carried remnants of her once unrelenting drive. She had worn this same uniform during her induction ceremony into Midwest Isolation and Retrieval nearly twenty years ago. Her body had been leaner then, rigid and imposing, while her molten hair lied knotted underneath her campaign hat.  Judith was the only woman among the inaugural MIR team of fifty-seven onstage at Glenwood High School.

                The families of Infected filled the gymnasium with applause that day as children held photos of their dead.  Although it was too late for some, Judith had hoped that the crowd had gazed upon something resembling justice, a cabal formed in the spirit of tolerance and order. Judith wasn’t sure what those people would be staring at now. How many of those children had grown, mistaking MIR’s dwindling numbers and resources for apathy?

                Today she was dressed to offer comfort for victims yet again. The Yarvale service at St. Raymond was starting as Judith and her officers found seats in the back. She never attended the funerals of the registered, fearing it would draw unwanted attention, but Ken Yarvale would be the only exception. He had been one of the first to take part in the isolation program, small sections of local jails repurposed for captivity during full moons. These “pounds” allowed every infected person the opportunity for sanctuary during transformation as long as they registered with MIR for continued surveillance. She had seen Ken every full moon for the last 8 years.

                His mother had invited Judith along with any other MIR officers who could make time for her son. The call came as a shock, seeing as how Ken had kept his family life private. Judith remembered Ken as a shy, sweet man, emerging from the changing room in a paper gown with his eyes at his feet. He wouldn’t speak until his sedative was injected and then there was no silencing him until the change.  He spoke of the math classes he taught, the car he was rebuilding, his work at the animal shelter, his desire to move to a better neighborhood, and anything else that passed through his head—anything but his family. He shivered as he spoke with beads of sweat filling his forehead as the time drew near. “You’ll stay with me through the burn, right?” he would ask and Judith would sit by his cell until morning.

                Judith took her seat between Officer Stokes and Montang. The other two filed in the pew behind them. The service ended quicker than Judith expected. Despite the sizable crowd in attendance, few had approached the casket to offer their final goodbyes. Even Mrs. Yarvale stayed seated. Officer Stokes leaned towards Judith. “So how old was he really?” she whispered.

                “About as old as my youngest,” she said with a sigh. “Twenty-seven.”

                “Goddamn, Judy, he looks older than us.”

                “Don’t cuss in the church, Barb.”

                When Barb took breaks from chatting, Judith overheard a conversation between two women three pews up. “The funeral staff did an exquisite job with him,” said one.

                “I know. You can’t even see the burns” said the other.

                Of course you can’t see the burns you twit, thought Judith. Arson had been the preferred method of sorting the infected from the clean. The infected perpetually smoldered while the clean would die as the wolf lovers they were. It also destroyed any evidence of foul play. Although fire was unable to kill an infected, they’d be begging for a shot of silver before long.

                 The casket was moved into another room hidden behind the pulpit before beginning its trek to the gravesite. Judith and her officers were approached by Mrs. Yarvale as they rose from their seats. She took Judith’s hand in hers and wept.

                “Thank you all for coming.”

                Judith saw Ken in her eyes. Mother and son could have easily been mistaken for siblings now. “You have our deepest condolences. No mother should ever bury her child.”

                Mrs. Yarvale gleamed a familiar scowl of pain and terror. “I don’t recognize him. God help me, I don’t recognize my own son.” She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. Judith placed her hand on Mrs. Yarvale’s shoulder to comfort her, but Mrs. Yarvale stepped back.“I know how valuable your time is so if you could proceed to the back room the funeral director will show you to Kenneth.” Judith wasn’t sure what she was referring to, but she wasn’t about to refuse a grieving mother.

                When the MIR team entered the room, the coffin was closed and sunlight streaked colored shapes across the pall—the stained glass depicted Jesus cleansing lepers. The funeral director approached the group as if he had been waiting long. “Just the five of you then?” asked the director. “No problem, I’ll be your sixth.” He proceeded to position himself near the foot of the casket and gripped its railing with his right hand.

                Judith exchanged confused looks with her officers. “I’m sorry, but do you want us to transport Ken?”

                “I assumed Mrs. Yarvale mentioned that in the invitation. That’s why you’re all here.”

                Judith realized that Ken may have been just as tight-lipped about his nights at the pound as he was about his family. Had Mrs. Yarvale known what MIR had done for her son for the last eight years, what she had done?

                “We would be honored, but wouldn’t the family prefer to act as pallbearers?”

                “Mrs. Yarvale instructed us that no friends or family were to touch the coffin out of fear of spreading the disease. I tried to assure her that they would only have to grip the outer rails and that gloves and masks would be provided, but…”

                Judith couldn’t believe what she had heard. Of course Mrs. Yarvale didn’t recognize him; she must have shunned him for the last eight years. Ken didn’t deserve this, and his mother didn’t deserve him. “She’s treating him like a dead rat!”

                “Be that as it may, the family has requested that the MIR officers in attendance fill in as pallbearers due to your experience with handling their remains.”

                She grew uglier when she grimaced, the wrinkles between her brow spilled down to the corners of her mouth in a look of disgust. She asked the director and her officers for a moment alone. When they left she raised the upper portion of Ken’s coffin. He does look pristine, she thought, lying there as he once did after the full moon waned. “I wore my best suit for you, Ken.” She caressed his cheek with the back of her fingers as if to brush off the colored light from the stained glass window above.

*****

                The officers followed the procession in one squad car. Judith sat in the back between Barb and Harry as she had done in the church. She tried to crack her neck by rolling it, wishing the young officer seated next to her could give her a hand. “Harry, when Mrs. Yarvale called did she say anything about pall bearing?”

                “Not a word. I would have remembered that.”

                Judith stared out the window, the urge to scream building with every minute of silence. “Are you a bunch of mutes!? I can’t be the only one pissed about what just happened!”

                 “Let it go, Judy,” said Barb. “The important thing is that we were able to keep Kenny looking dignified. Could you imagine what they would have done if we didn’t show up?”

                “I’m tired of having to find the bright side, Barb. It’s the same thing over and over. No one cares about helping these people, they just want ‘em dead or gone. It could happen to any one of them, but as long as it’s not they all look the other way. It’s not right and I feel like I’m the only one here who gives a shit!”

                “That ain’t true,” said Harry. “We all liked Ken. You just can’t save them all, you know.”

                “I’d like to save one, goddamn it! We did everything by the book and he still got it bad! Who escorted him to the prison last week?”

                “That would be me,” said Barb, raising her hand.

                “Were you followed? Were you careful?”

                “No and yes.”

                Judith tried to think of her last night with Ken, but could only picture the scowl of his retched mother.“He came in, we spoke, we locked him up, and he left. Who escorted him back!?”

                The car was quiet as Judith’s gaze was met with shrugs and shaking heads. “I bet it was Peggy, she never did take this job seriously. I’m gonna have that piece of shit investigated as soon as we get back.”

                The car traveled with a low growl until Barb cleared her throat.

                “You think Peggy had something to do with Ken getting spotted?”

                “Doesn’t surprise me now that I think about it,” said Judith.

                “Judy…Peggy died two years ago.”

                Of course she did. Why did I say that?  thought Judith. She could feel the blood rush to her ears. “I didn’t mean Peggy!” said Judith.”

                “Who did you mean, boss?” asked Harry.

                Judith turned and stared straight in the young man’s eyes.“Not Peggy.” She lingered, daring the young cadet to speak again.

                Barb put her hand on Judith’s shoulder and whispered something she couldn’t hear.

                “What do we have here?”  asked the driver. Small bands of protesters rallied with picket signs by the cemetery entrance. Their faces were covered by cheap bandanas and silver hoods. They chanted for wolves to be left on the streets to rot in the sun, that no infected would enter such sacred ground.

                “Looks like we’ll be on the nine o’clock news with all this pageantry,” said Barb.

                Judith wasn’t amused.

                When the procession stopped, Judith told her people to grab their batons from the trunk for protection. “They won’t attack anyone, cowards won’t even show their faces, but if they give you a reason, aim for their noses and teeth. I want to see who has pumpkin smiles tomorrow.”

                They carried the casket by their waists across the yard to the grave and seated it onto the lowering device. Many of the cars in the procession had turned around at the sight of the protesters. The few family members that did arrive grew weary of the progressively louder taunts and threats. One by one they made their exit. After a few minutes it was just the officers, the priest, and Ken. The priest asked Judith if he should continue and she nodded. The priest had finished a prayer when one of the masked protesters approached.

                “I believe that man has something stuck to his face, Harry. Be a lam and assist him,” said Judith.

The man pulled something from his back pocket. Harry screamed “Grenade” and the officers dived into the grass. Judith spread her arms out to protect Ken’d coffin. I won’t let them take this from you.

                Harry pulled the man’s arm down to his side and struck him in the clavicle with his baton. The man whimpered and curled into a ball on the ground. Harry lifted what appeared to be a grenade, it squeaked when he squeezed it.

                Judith envied  Harry’s youth, admiring the swift, brutal swings that crashed down again and again on the protester’s face. “That’ll do, Harry.”She ripped the bandana from the man’s face.

                Is my head playing tricks again? thought Judith. The man’s eyes were bloodshot and crazed; they were his father’s eyes. “Luke?”asked Judith.

                Harry bound the man’s hands behind his back with a fastener and lifted him onto his feet. He spat blood on her pants before being dragged to the curb.

                It wasn’t Luke, but her other son. They were no longer her boys; they were hate-filled men that had become clones of their father. Judith had higher hopes for Ron, he had her heart once. Judith trembled as she made her way to the squad car, steadying herself with each tombstone. “I don’t recognize him. God help me, I don’t recognize my own son.”

*****

                The Director’s office had still been bare when Judith stepped into the doorway with the exception of a desk, a couple chairs, and a computer. Rumors had spread that Director Hampton had expensive tastes and had furnished her old office with confiscated art. She had been known to help herself to all sorts of contraband.

                Director Hampton was roughly the same age as Judith, but with more generous proportions and an eye that stared off into nowhere. Director Hampton used to joke that she wasn’t hired for her looks, but Judith had found no evidence of why Hampton had been promoted to the position of Director instead of her.

                The Director sat at her desk with the phone pressed against her face. A table had been set up next to her desk. What hid underneath the white cloth was anyone’s guess. Judith waited until she was given a wave to come in.

                “Officer Klove,” said Hampton as she hung up the phone. “I wasn’t expecting your report until Wednesday.”

                “This isn’t the report, Director,” said Judith as she handed in her letter of resignation. The Director glanced at the sheet for a moment and looked up again at Judith with her crooked gaze.

                “And we were just getting to know each other,” said the Director.

                “You have me for two more weeks.”

                “Well this certainly is the end of an era. Any idea of who should replace you?”

                Judith said the first name that popped into her head. “Barb has a good head on her shoulders. I bet she would do just fine.”

                “Well, we have time to decide that later. How long have you been with MIR, Judith?”

                “Would have been two decades this fall.”

                “What brought this on? Was it seein’ the Yarvale boy or was it your little family reunion?”

                You don’t even know his goddamn name. “I wrote that letter weeks ago, maybe today was a push.”

                “A lot happened a few weeks ago: our funding was cut, MIR jurisdiction was shrunk, and I was appointed director from a completely different department. It was an easy enough transition, though. I simply removed the Illinois State Police patch from my jacket and replaced it with the brown paw of MIR.” She tapped her shoulder with the newly affixed patch. “One could make the argument that we’ve never been less relevant to the world.”

                “Better choices could have been made.” said Judith.

                “You know, I’ve been a state trooper for as long as you’ve been in MIR. You have to admit, there are similarities. Both departments even work together when need be.”

                “Raiding our armory isn’t what I would call working together.”

                Director Hampton rose from her chair and leaned against the window ledge. She asked Judith to close the door and take a seat.

                “Did I ever tell you what they called me when I was still on the force?”

                “I don’t believe you ever told me that one.”

                “Do you know why they called me that?”

                Judith knew things would move faster if she played along. “Enlighten me.”

                “Because I took care of my people,” said Mother Hampton. “If you give me a chance, I can take care of you and your people as well.”

                “We can’t even take care of our registered. Their information is kept in the highest confidence. They are escorted to and from the pound in nondescript cars and they still get slaughtered.”

                Mother Hampton’s “Do you think Ken would still be alive if we had more money? “

                Judith was done playing nice. “We could have had a patrol car in his neighborhood! We could have checked up on him!”

                “I’m glad to see you haven’t lost your passion.”

                “I’ve lost everything else for this job and I’ve had enough.” She had never said it aloud before, but it felt right. I’ve had enough.

                Mother Hampton smiled and began to pace about her office. “The truth is, it’s not about how much funding we get, it’s how it’s allocated. The meager amount we do get from the state comes with very strict guidelines. Nothing will ever get invested exclusively for MIR because everyone thinks we’ll be out of a job in the next few years. Even the Governor thinks the problem will take care of itself as long as civilians are killing wolves faster than the infection spreads. We’re more like hospice nurses now, just making their last days easier before the inevitable.”

                “Is it any wonder why I want out? I can’t keep failing them over and over.”

                “Of course not. And you service to MIR will not be in vain.” Mother Hampton glanced at the covered table. “I was going to wait until later in the week, but I might as well tell you now. I found a way to make MIR a little more how it was meant to be.” Mother Hampton looked more like Igor than a director, hunching over her white cloth with a cursed eye.

                “We’ve been leeching off the State long enough. It would be insane to think we could get a different result through the same old channels. I got an interesting call last week from a…let’s call him a philanthropist, who could be a catalyst to the privatization of MIR and other watches just like us.”

                “Why would someone want to help us at this point?”

                “ He’s been a supporter of MIR since our inception—has a soft spot for the dogs. He sent over a little something that I want to share with you now.” Mother Hampton raised the white cloth to reveal a model prison. “This is the first ever, independently run, suppression house. It can hold over a hundred infected with ample room to move around comfortably with regularly scheduled feeding and sedative delivery throughout the night. Each registrant is assigned a room number and they are free to come and go as they please, with the exception of the full moon that is. It will also function as our primary base of operations and training facility.”

                Judith had dreamt of a place like this once. It had been the original goal of MIR when it was first formed to break off from the bureaucratic tar pits and run free. “And none of this is shared with the State budget?”

                “Every dollar is from private backers like our friend the philanthropist and it doesn’t stop there. Imagine a suppression center in every state in the country, each one working and communicating with one another to provide the most sophisticated protection for infected and their families.”

                “He’s paying for all of it?”

                “Granted we can provide him a service. You see, this philanthropist had a daughter who was believed to be infected. That girl was shot to death by an unknown assailant in front of the Piggly Wiggly on Kostner. Her illness had been kept a secret for a long time and she was registered once at a prison for suppression near Grand Rapids. Turns out one of our jailors was selling the names of our guests. Our philanthropist would like us to bring him back alive.”

                “What’s the name?”

                “Fred Doogan. We got a call last night saying some people found his apartment covered in blood. His closest relative lives in Saugatuck. I would start there. With any luck, we can bring him back and find out who he’s been selling names to.”

                “We’ll put out a bounty as soon as we can write it up.”

                “I want you to bring him in.”

                “That’s outside our new jurisdiction.”

                “So you realize that this is to be held in the strictest of confidence.”

                “Why me?”

                “You never brought a wolf in dead, even when the bounty didn’t specify. It’s important that we get him back safe—that’s the rule. I’m giving you a chance to leave this organization better than when you found it. You do realize that this is your legacy?”

                It was true, all of it. But the years had not been good to her. She was slower now, fatter, with bad knees and eyes. And what if she refused? Could she walk away now and live the rest of her life wondering what she could have done to change MIR forever? Judith adjusted her best suit. She would never yield to people like her sons or Mrs. Yarvale, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to capture Doogan alone. “Let me bring Barb along.”

                “But who will replace your replacement?” asked Mother Hampton in a coy tone. “If I were you, I would take one of the new people.”

                “Then give me Officer Montang,” said Judith. “He can hack skulls all day.”

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