DOG DAYS: CHAPTER 5

               “Please enter your password”

                4693.

                “You have one new messages and one saved messages. To listen, press two.”

                2             

                “We know what your’re trying to do, Euwie. But Jessup can’t protect you anymore. Now that    Jake’s in charge, things have…unraveled a bit. Please don’t make this harder than it has to be. I wish I could say he’ll give you the full two weeks, but we both know how he gets—“

                “Message deleted. Saved message.”                                                                  

                “Hey, Dad. It’s me. I got a flat on 294 South. I’m on the shoulder about a mile from Exit 12. I have             a spare, but the tire’s rusted on. If you could come out here with the sledgehammer I’d really               appreciate it. Call me when you get this. Bye.”

                “To replay message, press three. To delete, press seven. To exit, press pound.”

                #

Chapter 5:

Circumstantial Evidence

 

                 The police lights throbbed against his eyelids as he took deep breaths. Is this my boy’s grave? thought Eustace as he listened to the officers carry bag after bag out of the apartment and into the nearby coroner vans, rustling with each footstep. There’ll always be a part of Danny in this place, even after they rip out the carpets and bleach the walls. Maybe he was never here; maybe he never ran off. When I open my eyes I’ll be in the livin’ room and Danny will be eight years old again, lyin’ on the couch with a cat on his chest. When he opened his eyes he was still sitting on the curb with Kalvin at his side.

                Eustace had only discovered three bodies. Two were placed head to toe in the bathtub; another had been impaled on a bed post. He didn’t look under the bed or in the closet where the officers had found three more. I could have fuckin’ known for sure had I just searched better. Any bag could contain Danny, whatever may be left, and the methodical pace of the Warren Police made the wait all the more excruciating.

                “Is this your other son?” asked the detective.

                Eustace glanced over at Kalvin who had curled into a ball.

                “No. A friend of the family.”

                Beyond Kalvin, he watched two officers carry chains upon their shoulders. The manacles that dangled off the ends would have been the size of bear traps had they remained intact. How many lives have been ruined by that brittle piece of iron?

                The officer spotted the chains as well. “For what it’s worth, I think it was awful brave of Danny and the others to try and kill that thing.”

                Eustace scratched behind his sideburn and looked up at the officer. “Thank you.”

                “It looks like it got away tonight and there’s no sign of the tenets. It most likely ate them whole.”

                An officer shouted out to the detective with word that two more bodies were found up the street, both female, both Venuses.

                “Venuses?” asked Eustace.

                “No arms, like the Venus de Milo.”

                “You find a lot of people like that?”

                “Enough to give it a name. I think it has something to do with the movement of the limbs—it gets their attention.”

                Eustace watched Kalvin rock back and forth with his head down. “What happens next?”

                “After we finish up here we hand over our report and samples to the local Watch and they check their database for a match.”

                “Don’t the police have a database for that already?”

                “That’s what people don’t realize about these transformations. It’s not only the appearance that changes; it’s everything, right down to the DNA. We have to connect the murder to the wolf and then the wolf to the man. Not many states can afford all that testing. In most cases, it makes more sense just to shoot the damn thing on sight.”

                “You can’t even tell me which way it went?”

                “We’re doing all we can, Mr. Bully. I know you want it dead, but my best advice is to think about your family and be there for them.”

                “I can’t tell my wife he’s dead until I know for sure. Let me see my boy.”

                “The identification unit will be open at 8 a.m. tomorrow. We’ll have them ready as soon as reasonably possible. Until then I’m going to ask you two to stay close. I know a few decent motels in the area you can stay tonight. We appreciate all your cooperation, gentlemen.”

                Another officer called out to the detective. “We cut the lock off their storage container,” said the officer. “You might want to take a look at this.” The detective excused himself and they were alone in the street.

                “I told you to call the Watch,” said Eustace.

                “I dialed the first number I could think of,” said Kalvin.

                “What the hell are the police gonna do?”

                “They’re the police! They figure this stuff out! I don’t even know what the Watch’s number is.” Kalvin scratched his neck. “Do you think he’s…?”

                “I don’t know. Don’t ask me that again.” Eustace rubbed his forehead where the migraine felt sharpest. “You saw the same apartment I did. I’m not stoppin’ until I know for sure. If you’re not up for this then call your dad and leave.”

                “He’s not answering.” Kalvin gave an offhand glimpse of his phone. “It’s not like him to ignore a call.”

                “So you’re done then?”

                “I didn’t say that. I was going to say that I have good feeling about Dan.”

                They were quiet for a time. “What makes you say that?”

                “I don’t see his car anywhere. That’s a good sign.”

                “Could’ve been stolen,” said Eustace. “These huntin’ parties act like goddamn pirates sometimes.” Guess I’d know better than anyone. “I won’t believe anythin’ until I can see Danny with my own eyes.”

                 Eustace stood to stretch his legs and eyeballed the open doors of one of the coroner’s van. As he came closer he noticed no cops had remained on this side of the building after the latest discoveries. His nerve grew, realizing he may be able to unzip a bag or two before anyone noticed. “Call Danny.”

                “What are you doing, Eustace?”

                “Seein’ with my own eyes, now call Danny.”

                Kalvin looked down at his phone and tapped the screen. He looked up at Eustace with a nod.

                Eustace turned his attention to the coroner’s van and stayed perfectly still. He breathed slowly in anticipation. For a moment he could hear the sway of branches in the summer wind, but no ring came. It was worth a shot. Now we do it the hard way.

                Before he took another step, Eustace heard music. It was muffled, but he recognized Dark Side of the Moon. He climbed into the back of the van and kneeled beside the bodies. The song continued among the white plastic. Eustace lowered his ear to the pile. I’m here, Danny. It’s time to go home. He grabbed the zipper and pulled. The music yielded to the most terrible scream.

                A face emerged, black with blood, its eyes wide and frenzied. Eustace toppled onto the other bodies as Kalvin yelled for help. The bag thrashed about before spilling onto the pavement. The man crawled out of his cocoon and bolted off, babbling nonsense.

                “Get after him!” yelled Eustace.

                Kalvin froze as the man raced past him, crossed the street, and entered the forest preserve.

                Eustace got to his feet and made his way to Kalvin. He grabbed the collar of his shirt and cursed him between gasps. “I said get after him, fucker!” He shoved Kalvin in the direction of the crazed man. Eustace hobbled to the trunk of his car, popped the door, and reached for his sledgehammer

*****

                Adrenaline carried them deep into the woods. The two men trudged though the twigs and tall grass and trees blocked whatever moonlight lingered. Eustace gasped until his chest ached.

                “I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Kalvin.

                “Keep your voice down,” whispered Eustace.

                “Do you want me to carry that?”

                 “Just keep movin’ ‘til you see him.”

                Eustace fell to one knee and vomited in the grass. He used his hammer to keep steady. Kalvin stopped to help him up, but Eustaced waved him off. “Find him.  Go find him.” And without a word, Kalvin ran ahead.

                Eustace threw the handle to the ground and crawled to a nearby log. His body trembled under his weight and his head pounded with the beat of his heart.  I’m tryin’, Claire. Don’t you tell me I never tried. He wept there for a moment, thinking of what he had done and what he failed to do. He killed those people, not Danny. He tore those people apart, he fueled the massacre. His last chance of finding his son was somewhere in those woods, and giving up now would only cement his place in hell. This is your mess to clean you miserable old fuck.

                He reclaimed his weapon in the darkness and listened. Water was close-by. Eustace followed the trickle of the stream punctuated by splashes. When he made his way deeper, he found Kalvin, crouching by a stump.

                “He’s there,” whispered Kalvin as he pointed downstream.

                Eustace spotted the dark figure, squatting over a moonlit pond. He put his hand of Kalvin’s shoulder and brought him close.

                “Follow me quietly,” whispered Eustace. “And don’t you dare freeze up again.”

                The two men stepped lightly over rocks and roots. Eustace held the sledgehammer with both hands. As he approached the figure, its long gray hair came into view, its rotting smell more pungent. It wasn’t until Eustace saw the hole torn in its shirt that he recalled the impaled man from the crime scene. The long-haired man continued to splash water in his face, muttering lunacy.

                When they reached striking distance, Eustace readied his stance. He looked over his shoulder and nodded at Kalvin. When Kalvin nodded back Eustace swung back and put his whole weight into the blow. He growled with the follow-through and caught the man in his ribcage with a vile crunch.

                He screamed louder than before and writhed in the mud, holding his torso together.

                “Hold him down!” ordered Eustace.

                Kalvin didn’t hesitate and pinned the man to the ground.

                “Why do you have his phone?” asked Eustace.

                “Get off me!”

                Eustace crushed the man’s foot. Another cry erupted.

                “Why do you have it!?”

                “We were going to do it quick, Ralph promised!” said the long-haired man. “I begged them not to go out on a full moon, but they wanted its head!

                Eustace kneeled by the man’s face.“Tell me what you saw!”

                “It was dark! I followed in from the back and grabbed whatever I could find, but we weren’t alone!”

                “Grab the phone out of his pocket.”

                Kalvin winced as he felt for Dan’s phone, but managed to retrieve it quickly.

                “They left me there! They left me there for days! Don’t know how many times I died…only to hang there and listen! I heard everything!”

                “The people who lived there, you heard them talking after the attack?”

                The long-haired man nodded. “I’ll tell you everything if you promise to kill me. I won’t end up like them!!”

                Eustace looked at Kalvin. “After he talks, I want you to head back to my car and grab one bullet from the cartridge in the glove box.”

                “But we don’t have a gun,” said Kalvin.

                “We’ll find a way.”

                The long-haired man told them about the beach house in Saugatuck and where they hid the bodies. He confirmed three voices, two men and a woman. When he told them all he knew he demanded his payment.

                Eustace stood and imagined a carnival high striker where the man’s head rested. He planted the sledgehammer into the man’s skull and let it stand there. Kalvin pulled himself off the corpse and wiped the specks of blood from his clothes.

                “Don’t keep me waitin’,” said Eustace. “He’ll be back soon.”

*****

                Kalvin peeked under the awning of the tavern like a little boy looking up a woman’s dress. He also didn’t know what he was looking for.

                “What are you doin’?” asked Eustace.

                “Char mentioned that wolf-friendly bars had markings above the door, a small circle, you know, like a moon. Or maybe it was some letter.”

                “You won’t find friends here.” Eustace pointed at a paper sign taped to the front window that read “NO PETS” with a crude drawing of a wolf. When they entered they found a container shaped like a wolf, allowing patrons to ram their canes and umbrellas down its throat.

                They sat by the front window with a full view of the park. A neon sign hovered above them, lit and buzzing. Eustace faced the door and watched patrons flow inside. The flow halted when a man wailed outside the entrance. He fell back onto the sidewalk and gripped his wrist, his palm red and blistered. He got up and shouted profanity at the door as the bartender chuckled to himself. Eustace wondered how many times the silver door handles had been stolen.

                Kalvin could barely keep his head raised. Eustace knew he had asked much of him in the past 24 hours. More would be needed still, but this bar could ease their minds for a time before driving to Saugatuck in the morning.

                “What’ll you have?” asked Eustace.

                “I still smell like that guy.”

                “You’ll feel better with food in your stomach.”

                “How can I eat after that?”

                “Drinks it is.”

                Eustace ordered Scotch while Kalvin took sips from his water glass. He reached into his pocket. “I forgot to give you this.”

                Despite its week-long ordeal, Danny’s phone remained intact. Eustace plucked it from Kalvin’s hand and remembered the fight he had with his son about opting for the cheapest flip phone the store had in stock. If he had let him get a more expensive model it would not have survived a night in that apartment. “It even has a charge.” Eustace flipped it open and saw a photo of their cat Sully. Listed below was a message that stated Danny had received 37 missed calls. After Kalvin’s most recent missed call, a deluge of the word “Mom” filled the screen. Look what you put your own wife through, thought Eustace.

                He scrolled through the contacts and found Charlene’s name and number. He pushed the call button only to get a recorded message that said the number was no longer in service. “We leave for Saugatuck first thing in the morning.”

                “Do we know where in Saugatuck?”

                Eustace shook his head and laughed. “How many beach houses could there be?”

                The waitress placed Eustace’s drink on the table and scowled at Kalvin. It was unclear whether she had a problem with his drink order or foul odor. Kalvin did not appear concerned and lifted his glass in the air.

                “What are you doin’?”

                “Cheers.”

                “Cheers to what?”

                “Danny’s still out there.”

                “Put your glass down, Kalvin. Let me explain something to you. Just because my son survived this clusterfuck doesn’t mean he’s invincible. Danny is either a bag of guts or a monster. From the looks of what he did to those people, I think we know the answer.”

                “We don’t know he killed those people. Even if he did, they came to kill them. It was self-defense.”

                “Was it self-defense when he tore those girls’ arms off? He’s not the Danny you remember. He’s not the son I raised.”

                “So you are going to kill him.”

                “No! How many times do I have to fuckin’ say it?! No!!”

                “You said there are people after him, that truck on the expressway. You can’t just bring Danny back home like nothing happened, so what’s your plan?”

                “I haven’t decided where ‘home’ will be yet. The life I had disappears if I find Danny alive— new home, new job, maybe even a new name.”

                “’Bully’ suits you.”

                Eustace took a drink of his Scotch. Kalvin watched his hand lift the glass to his mouth then back down to the table. “What’s that on your palm?”

                “It’s nothing.”

                “It looks like an ‘F.’ I never noticed that before. Is it a tattoo?”

                “I said it’s nothing.”

                “What does it mean?”

                “It was an accident—an old hunting accident.”

                Eustace finished his drink when he spotted the largest biker he had ever seen, walking outside the tavern. He was lead by the man who burned his hand on the door handle.

                “This is the place,” said the red-handed biker.

                The giant gripped the silver door handles and his palm sizzled. He pulled the door open as if the burning did nothing and he had to hunch over to fit through the entrance. His leather vest and chaps looked as if they were made from an entire herd of cattle.

                 He ripped off the “NO PETS” sign from the window and crumpled it into a ball. “Wherfs ta manaijer!?” said the giant. The other patrons kept their eyes on their tables. The bartender told him the manager wasn’t in tonight. The giant walked to the bar. He squeezed the bartender’s mouth and told him to open. He placed the waded paper inside and closed the jaw shut. “When yur done eetin’, tell ta manaijer dat ta silber neebs to go.” The bartender nodded and slinked away into the stockroom.

                The red-handed biker chuckled and repeated “manaijer” in a mocking tone. “The old man really did a number on your mouth didn’t he? Open up, Hugo. Let’s see those baby teeth.” Hugo smiled wide with a jack-o‘-lantern’s grin.

                “I’ve seen that vest before,” whispered Kalvin. “Char had one with the same ‘B’ logo on the back. Hers wasn’t nearly as big though.”

                Eustace was familiar with the “B” of the Motor City Bedlam. The Finisher Militia had been partly created to prevent their spread into the Chicagoland area. It was common practice to leave their bodies in the street naked with a “B” carved into their chests. These two had proved true to their namesake.

                “I think we’ve had enough fun for one evenin,’” said Eustace. “Can you drive?”

                “Yeah, just tell me where to go.”

                Eustace left his payment on the table and the two men headed for the door. They were almost on the sidewalk, but their scent had been detected.

                “This kid smells like shit,” said the biker. “Lucky for him I’m giving out free showers.” He threw his drink on the back of Kalvin’s head. His eyes pleaded for help.

                “Just keep movin’, Kalvin,” said Eustace.

                The biker then hurled his empty glass at the doorframe, its shards burst in all directions. Eustace raised his hands and turned around. He pulled Kalvin behind him and told him to go start the car.

                “He didn’t do anything to you!” said Eustace. “If you want to fuck with someone you fuck with me!”

                Hugo grabbed Eustace’s wrist and twisted his palm up. The giant cocked his head as he stared at the upside-down “F.”

                “A Phinishur,” said Hugo with a hollow grin. “I tink we will phuk wit you!”

                A blast erupted behind them as the red-handed biker took a round to the chest, knocking both him and the barstool to the floor. When Hugo turned around, the bartender leveled his magnum at the giant’s forehead and painted the ceiling red, a plume of blood coated Eustace’s face. The giant fell to his knees, still holding onto Eustace’s wrist.

                The patrons ran for the exits, screaming and knocking tables and drinks to the floor. Eustace freed himself from Hugo’s lifeless grasp and walked out the front door. Before he left he caught a glimpse of the bartender waving goodbye, a tiny “F” branded in his palm.

                Eustace sat in the passenger seat.

                “I heard gunshots,” said Kalvin.

                “So did I,” said Eustace. “Now we both need a shower.”

                They drove for a time before Eustace noticed that Kalvin was crying.

                “It’s okay, Kalvin, the bartender’s got our backs.”

                “It’s not that,” said Kalvin. “It’s my dad. He hasn’t returned a single call tonight.”

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