DOG DAYS: CHAPTER 7

In keeping with MIR’s mission to public safety and maintaining a humane quality of life for infected persons, each officer will be assigned a monthly quota of bounties. These bounties include registrants who have failed to complete their lunar check-in date or respond to isolation summons.

Quotas are set at five per month. Any bounties retrieved after the initial five will carry over to the next month. However any bounties in excess of ten per month will result in a bonus to the officer’s base salary in the amount of $1,000.00. Once all bounties are redeemed for the month, the officer’s bounty number will reset to zero.

Each officer is required to submit a report for each bounty retrieved.

There is no limit to the amount of bounties an officer can retrieve in a given month. 

If an officer fails to fulfill their quota they will receive a demerit. Officer performance will be evaluated every six months. Excessive demerits will result in a warning. If an officer is given a warning and fails to meet quota on the seventh month they will receive an unpaid suspension for the remainder of the calendar year. Two consecutive suspensions will result in termination.

Chapter 7:

Photophile

                Nothing was denied. Judith would have asked for a foot bath and a plasma screen had she known the benefactor would be so beneficial. No one with this much cash is a saint, thought Judith, rifling through her accordion folder as Harry drove. The squad car had been on the top of the list, followed by the Michigan State Trooper uniforms, the search warrant, the laptop, earplugs, two new Tasers, fifty rounds of rubber bullets, sixteen rounds of 12 gauge beanbags, and a box of tranquilizer darts. Then again, he’s provided more funding to MIR in one day than the state has all year.

                The darts were meant for any unplanned wolf encounters, but the kinetic munitions would suffice in capturing Doogan. She was pleased with the new Tasers—they could fire up to three shots before being reloaded. She practiced removing and inserting the cartridge at the station before the outset of their long ride north. Harry’s constant questioning made the journey feel longer. He finally shut-up, thought Judith. Maybe I can get though Doogan’s file without him interrupting every five minutes.

                Her first “human” bounty, though she could not imagine a more ill-fitting word. The man used an isolation ward as an auction house, and vindication for the Ken Yarvales of the world would be appropriately vicious. When finished, Judith would hand him over to the benefactor. She didn’t know what he had in store for the man who sold his daughter, but she knew Doogan deserved it twice.

                But her files portrayed the Doogans as a relatively docile couple. Married young, Fred and Charlene settled in Warren after a stint in Chicago. He found work as a prison guard while she sold handmade jewelry on the internet.  His worst crimes had amounted to petty theft and his only jail time came when he was under 18. It was difficult to ignore the surge of missing equipment and sedatives from the pound during his tenure, but nothing to indicate treachery of this magnitude.

                “Why’d you print all that out?” said Harry. “You can view everything on our database.”

                “I can hold this,” said Judith. “I can open it in two seconds, no power cord required. God forbid MIR’s server goes down or we have a blackout while we’re up here.”

                “Do you make folders for all your bounties?”

                “Every last one.” Judith watched the lake pass by beyond the trees. Harry’s profile came into view; his best features were blocked by ridiculous aviator shades. “You have to send Hampton a report regardless. Are you telling me that you write your report after you’ve retrieved them?”

                Harry fidgeted in his seat. “Seems like a waste if you don’t bring them in.”

                “You’ll always bring them in if you take the time to prepare,” said Judith. “This job is half patience and half discipline. Take the time to learn about your target and put yourself in control.”

                “I used to believe that…before my suspension.”

                 “How are your numbers now?”

                The young officer shook his head and kept his eyes on the road.

                “How many, Harry?” Although she had his file tucked inside her accordion folder, Judith wanted to hear him say it.

                “One.”

                “It’s July.”

                He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned pale. “I know what month it is.”

                “You’re lucky I’m here,” said Judith as she gazed over the dunes. “While we’re tracking Doogan I can help you retrieve some bounties. Shouldn’t be too difficult, Michigan’s infected population is nearly triple that of Illinois. With this car and these uniforms I don’t think we’ll have to worry about jurisdiction much.”

                Harry muttered a response.

                “I didn’t catch that last part, officer.”

                “I said ‘I don’t need your kind of help.’”

                Challenge accepted. “What exactly is ‘my kind of help’?”

                “I know you’re a warg.”

                Judith chuckled and tossed her folder onto the backseat. “Do you even know what a warg is?”

                “It’s how you get all your bounties, isn’t it?”

                 Judith surveyed the road for others; not one person was out that early. Looks like we’re clear for landing. “Why don’t we pull over? You’ve been driving all morning.”

                Harry pulled to the side of the road and yanked the keys from the ignition. He removed his shades and tucked them into his shirt pocket. His eyes were like drops of smoked jade. “Every month we all see the bounty totals and every month your numbers are double compared to everyone else’s. There aren’t many bounties to go around to begin with.”

                And the long eyelashes didn’t hurt either. “Let me drive the rest of the way and we’ll talk about it.”

                He tossed the keys on her lap. “I’ve been with MIR for nearly two years and you’re the only one who’s made money off of bounty hunting,” said Harry. “People like you prevent regular folks from keeping up with the numbers. I’m going to lose my job because of you, so you can stop lecturing me about being prepared; it means nothing coming from a fraud.”

                They stepped out of the car and stretched their legs. When Harry came around the hood Judith fired her Taser, latching the electrodes to his stomach. His screeching sounded pitiful against the crashing of the waves. He clipped the bumper with his forehead before landing unconscious in the street. And I still have two more shots. She removed the electrodes and cuffed him. His body was dragged back the way he came and laid out on the backseat. She prpped her accordion folder on the passenger side and continued her preparation.

                Based on appearances, Judith thought the Doogans made an attractive couple. Charlene reminded Judith of herself at that age. How she yearned for her old body. Judith wanted to reach into the photo and shake her by the shoulders. “Get out before he ruins you.” As for Fred; he was hidden behind coarse black hair and lackluster photography, but his eyes had a way of commanding attention. She had seen them countless times before learning his name, a recurring feature in her visions.

                But where have I seen him before? All too often his visage was framed against nondescript stone and mortar, but his last appearance had been unique—an intimate setting with candlelight dancing along the blades of a ceiling fan, a four-post bed complete with ruffled skirt, and walls adorned with vintage guitars and LP covers of bands she could not name. Déjà vu set in when she examined the next photo from the crime scene— a fan dangling by exposed wiring, LPs stained black with blood, and a body impaled on a splintered bedpost. It appeared to Judith that their files were woefully out-of-date.

                Son of a bitch, she’s infected! Fred had first-hand knowledge of what infected people endured, a fact that made her reconsider bringing him in alive. He had even managed to build a sophisticated isolation den in their bedroom. Had she been bought? Judith hoped he had acted alone, but the ingredients in their storage locker said otherwise. Bags of coke filled half their unit to the ceiling; the other half had been stocked with silver dust. Who were they making the rot powder for? Judith shuttered at the thought and shoved the photos back into her folder. You fuckers were made for each other.

                She didn’t drive long before Harry started to wake. “Feeling better after your nap? Waking up back there bring back a lot of memories?”

                “Get me out of these!”

                “Not until we clear something up. To answer your previous question, yes, I am a warg. If you want to use that as an excuse for why you’re terrible at this job you can, but you’ll only be able to use it for a couple more weeks because this is it for me.

                “You’re quitting!?”

                “That’s right, which means there’ll be a lot more bounties for you not to bring in. A smarter man would learn what he could from someone like me while he had the chance instead of shooting his mouth off—something to think about while you’re still in timeout.”

                They drove in silence as the sun began to rise out of Lake Michigan.

                “I’ve never met a warg before,” said Harry. “What are the visions like?”

                “Imagine sitting really close to a television screen while someone twists the channel dial too fast—static and all.”

                “That doesn’t sound all that bad.”

                “And each channel causes a migraine so intense that you want to rip your brain out through your eye sockets. Sometimes the channel sticks and you find yourself tearing into a ten-year-old’s stomach.”

                Judith slid an envelope of photographs back into her folder. “Pictures help me focus on one wolf at a time. Without them it’s excruciating. That’s why these are so valuable to me.” Judith’s ex-husband had taught her about the trick with the pictures. He used to bring her a handful every full moon to help her sleep and ask about her visions the next morning. When she found out he was using her to hunt and kill wolves, she refused to let him live.

*****

                She parked the squad car in a cul-de-sac near the deck of the beach house. Bernadette Saunders was a retired financial planner. Charlene’s aunt had built quite a nest egg from the look of things, a slice of sandy secluded heaven before the majesty of a Great Lake.

                “Keep sharp,” said Judith as she unlocked Harry’s cuffs. “Doogan could be here already for all we know. If it’s just Ms. Saunders, I have a search warrant to get us in. Don’t lose your cool; we’ll only get one chance at this. If she calls the real police we’re fucked. Mother Hampton won’t come get us if things go ape shit.”

                They dug their feet into the dunes and scaled up the hills. To Judith’s delight, stone steps had been installed within the steeper portions to ease the strain of the climb. When they reached the top they discovered a better view of the two floor tree house cottage. The upper deck had been fitted with porch screens while the lower deck had been filled with old dining room furniture repurposed for the patio. Judith dreamed of retiring  and relocating into a place like this. After this job, she would have to spend her final years in a cheap apartment, that is, until her mind lost its grasp on reality entirely and she was relegated to a facility.

                 They looked out over the water as they climbed. Sail boats glided in tandem with the clouds and seagulls overhead. “A private beach has its advantages, doesn’t it?” said Harry.

                “Hadn’t noticed,” said Judith.

                They knocked on the front door, followed by a few presses of the musical doorbell. No one answered. Harry tried to see into the house thought the front window.

                “Stop that! Just be patient.”

                “Maybe we missed her, said Harry. “We can stake things out ‘til she gets back.”

                “Her car is still parked out front.”

                “She can have more than one car.”

                 Judith felt vulnerable leaving herself out in the open. “Go see if you can climb onto the deck and enter through the back.”

                Harry made his way to the back and left Judith alone. As she waited for him she felt a wave of dread pass through her as if she would disappear if she didn’t grab hold of something. For a moment, she had forgotten why she was here.

                When Harry returned his gun was drawn. “Something ripped the doorknob clean off.”

                They entered through the laundry room, hunkering down by mounds of dirty clothes and hampers. They kept their backs to the wall as they proceeded up into the kitchen. Silverware had been dumped out onto the floor along with the cabinet drawers. Gunshots dotted the walls and ceiling like a constellation and crumbled plaster dusted the sinks and kitchen table. “What the hell were they shooting at?” said Harry. He attempted to line up his gun to match the trajectory of the bullet holes. He bumped his elbow into a butcher block and knocked over a set of knives.

                “Watch what you’re fucking doing,” said Judith.

                Harry picked up the assorted blades and dropped them into their appropriate slot. “She’s missing a Chef’s knife. Looks like a killer’s on the loose.”

                Judith realized that she couldn’t remember the officer’s name, but she remembered the knife. She planned on killing her husband with it after her went to sleep. What was the officer’s name? Was it Ron or Luke? No, those are my boys’ names. After she kissed them goodnight she walked back into the kitchen and pulled the filthy knife from the sink, pig grease and all. She hid it under her shirt before going to bed upstairs, terrified of slipping on the steps and gouging herself. The blade felt cool pressed against her stomach, her slender body drenched in the summer night air.

                “Are you okay?” said Harry. “I was just kidding about the knife.”

                It wasn’t night anymore and Judith didn’t know how long she had been standing in Ms. Saunder’s kitchen. “Finish checking the rest of this floor, I’ll take upstairs,” said Judith. She gripped the handrail to steady herself. You are in a beach house in Saugatuck. The year is 2014. If you don’t snap out of this you’ll get yourself and the boy killed. Ms. Saunder’s second floor had an eerily similar layout to Judith’s first house. They even had the same number of steps. Judith laid in wait that night for her husband to come to bed and counted nine steps, clenching the knife to her breast.

                You are in a beach house in Saugatuck. The year is…the year is…

                Judith grabbed the doorframe of the master bedroom. It would be her last stop in the sweep of the second floor. She didn’t think to check the closets or guestroom. Instead she climbed into the unmade bed. I just need to rest. The year is 2014. She recalled how her husband slept so silent that it was hard to tell if he was breathing. The lights were off and his bare torso basked in the moonlight. He had left photos for her on the nightstand.

                Why am I in her bed? I have to go to work. Whose bed is this? Judith lifted the knife out from under her shirt and kneeled on the bed, tensing every muscle to prevent the mattress from squeaking. She knew she would get one chance at a deep stab, maybe a few if the adrenaline took over, but the only thing that controlled her then was fear. If you don’t stop him he will kill again. She gripped the handle with both hands and plunged it into his chest. When he started to move she dove in again and again, grunting with each thrust. She didn’t know what she was stabbing anymore and she wouldn’t stop until he went cold.

                “All clear down here, Jude!” said Harry.

                Judith found herself curled in a ball at the foot of the bed; her fists trembled in the sheets.

                “Judith, is everything alright up there!?”

                “Don’t come up here!! I mean, nothing up here either!”

                “Got it! No one’s home, but I found something good! Get down here!”

                The living room was in the worst condition with chairs overturned and broken.  Someone had the good sense to unplug the TV before stomping it into the carpet. “Don’t touch a thing until you put on gloves, Harry. I’ll be damned if we get our prints on this mess.” Why would they escape to such beautiful surroundings just to smash it all when they got here? It appeared to Judith that they weren’t the only ones tracking the Doogans. This was the work of a hunting party.

                Harry pulled his latex gloves on. “There’s a laptop on its side over by the coffee table.”

                “Is it busted?”

                “It might just have a drained battery. See, the power cord is still plugged into the wall over there.”

                Judith didn’t know how long this window of clarity would last.“Grab all of it. We won’t stay here any longer than we have to. Would you mind driving back to town?”

*****

                They setup a temporary headquarters in a motel room in Holland. Judith had felt better in the car ride over. Maybe something in that house was setting me off.She did not want to risk another episode so she kept her eyes on the motel lobby carpet. As they moved to their room the red and yellow zigzag pattern made Judith’s vision blur. Just let me make it to my bed.

                The room was unimpressive compared to Ms. Saunder’s beachfront getaway, but it would have to do. Judith ordered Harry to search Ms. Saunder’s computer for any relevant data regarding Fred or Charlene as soon as he finished setting up her new laptop from the benefactor. “You might also want to hold on to these.” Judith handed Harry a packet of earplugs.

                “What are these for?”

                “I’ve been told I snore.”

                Judith decided to take it easy that night. They ordered food and spoke little to one another. The only sound between them was the clicking of laptop keys. She had spent most of her time searching for local doctors. Whatever was causing these episodes needed to be dealt with long enough for her to complete the job. She tried to think of the best way to explain what was happening to her to Harry. I barely know what’s happening to me, how can I expect him to understand that I’m losing my mind?

                She had spent enough time worrying about herself. She needed to focus on the bigger picture and find Doogan. But first I need to know more about this mystery man before I get myself killed. Could he really have enough money to build the Isolation Center? Judith logged on to the MIR database and started with a search for the girl who had allegedly been sold out by Doogan. The database was spotty and unorganized, but she was able to find a record for a slain girl found on Kostner Street.

                “Monique Slay?” It was a dead end. The database listed only the name without any further details regarding what the girl looked like or where she was from. No birth date, no next of kin. None of the isolation officers on duty that day had properly registered her in the system. Had she used a fake name to protect her family? If it was fake, how could Doogan sell her information to hunters?

                Doogan, Charlene, Ms. Saunders, Mother Hampton, Harry, Barb, Ron, Luke—the names clouded in her brain until another migraine forced her eyes shut. She rubbed her eyes to fight it, but it only made her nauseous. When she opened her eyes she was back in her old home. She needed to check on her boys, they weren’t safe while her husband was awake. She stood up from the bed only to find no doors. She had to check on her boys, he would take them away from here forever. It was too late, his footsteps thumped against the carpeted steps, louder and faster. She counted them. When she reached nine she would know he was at the door, but there was still no door. “Three, four, is that you Ron? Six, seven, If you boys are playing on the stairs mommy will be mad!”

                “Eight, nine.” She became dizzy from her search for a door. “I’m safe aren’t I? No doors for him to get in, no place to escape.”

                Her husband walked out from the periphery of her vision. He stood there with no expression on his face.

                “I’ll kill you this time, Jake! I won’t let you ruin me!!”

                “Put down the knife,” said Jake.

                “I should have slit your goddamn throat!!”

                “My name’s not ‘Jake,’” said Harry. “We’ve had a long day. Let’s just get some fresh air. Let me crack open the door.”

                “Show me where the door is!”

                “Watch me, do you see?” Harry opened the door of their motel room. Judith remembered the red and yellow zigzags. This wasn’t her old house, and that wasn’t Jake.

                “Harry!?”

                “Judith?”

                Harry looked at her with those jade drops with such pity that she fought hard not to cry. “I didn’t find anything yet on Ms. Saunder’s laptop,” said Harry. “I’ll try again in the morning. I think we should get some sleep for now.” He tossed his earplugs onto Judith’s bed. “I won’t be needing those tonight. I’m sleeping in the squad car.”

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