DOG DAYS: CHAPTER 11

Although MIR is committed to the well-being and care of all infected individuals, some groups should be treated as hostile regardless of the lunar phase.

 

Extremist wolf groups, i.e. dens, should be approached with the utmost caution. Dens favor a philosophy in opposition of MIR’s mission of protection and order. Any actions taken by dens to hinder the efficacy of isolation or retrieval protocol will be met with swift force.

 

Actions designated as hindrance include, but are not limited to the following:

 

Murder

Rape

Arms Trafficking

Robbery

Drug Production

Drug Trafficking

Arson

Battery

Prostitution

 

Any involvement beyond isolation registration or retrieval procedure deemed inappropriate by a commanding officer will result in termination and prosecution to the full extent of the law.

 

Chapter 11:

Not Much for Caring

 

Harry ate his breakfast as her sons had, piling strands of bacon and hash browns onto the center of his waffle, then folding it in half. His utensils rested at his elbow still wrapped in a napkin as the grease dripped onto his hands and plate with each bite. He finished three waffles without stopping to say a word.

           I must have given you quite a scare to be as quiet as you are, thought Judith. Harry had also emerged from his night in the squad car with a heightened level of precaution, waking up early to clean their equipment and file away new evidence. Either that stun gun recharged his batteries or he thinks I’m useless. She wanted to address his new behavior without careening into a conversation about her condition, and sat there, gazing at the trees outside as if the words were nestled within.

“Judith!!”

Her leg jolted against the table. “What’s wrong with you?! I’m right here!”

“Sorry. You looked so far away just now.”

Yelling won’t scare it off. “I couldn’t find the waitress,” said Judith. “I wanted these eggs over easy.”

“You told her scrambled, but I’ll get her if you want. Just say something next time.”

“I don’t need you to get her for me, Harry. I don’t need you to schedule wakeup calls, I don’t need you to carry my bags, and I don’t need you to help me in and out of the squad car. Are you going to start cutting my food for me, too? You don’t seem much for utensils.”

Harry set his food down and reached for his coffee mug. “Nothing wrong with a little chivalry.”

 Is that what you call it? Judith dug through her folder for a copy of the email they had discovered on Bernadette’s laptop. She slapped it on the table and slid it towards his plate. “This brings us into Bedlam country,” said Judith. “If only every bounty was courteous enough to leave a note. What else does it tell us?”

“Are you quizzing me?”

“I want to see your thought process.”

“It sounds like they have family there.” Harry sipped his coffee.

“Whenever you’re ready to start just let me know.“

“And they have ungodly appetites.”

“Okay…seems like a lot for just two people. They might be traveling in a pack. What else?”

“From this email, that’s about it.”

“Look at the date; it was sent over a week ago.”

“So?”

“We already know we’re not the only ones following them,” said Judith. “I’d bet whoever searched Bernadette’s house read this, too.”

“Maybe they’re the people Doogan sold names to.”

“He started selling them fakes and they came after him?”

“Or he stopped selling names entirely. It’s possible he had a change of heart on account of his wife.” He picked up his waffle for another bite and spoke with his mouth full. “You think the aunt’s still alive?”

“Could be they all decided to hide out at the Bedlam complex until things blow over. They’d be safe there for a time—nobody gets past those gates easy.”

“Coming or going,” said Harry. “I still think about those photos they showed us at the academy of members who wanted out.” Harry looked at his waffle before lowering it back onto his plate. “The the best part of losing jurisdiction up here was that they became somebody else’s problem.”

You’re sitting across from somebody else. “You just need to know how to handle them.”

Harry wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I was thinking we should contact Mother for back-up.”

We’re not even supposed to be out here,” said Judith. “She won’t spare anyone.”

“Given the circumstances, I think fresh people are a must.”

“And what circumstances are those?”

“We were just supposed to find Doogan. Now that he’s involved with the Bedlam, two people aren’t going to cut it.”

“Like I said, you just need to know how to handle them.”

“It’s not just our numbers, Judith. This job has taken a toll on you—on both of us. Let’s face it: I’m on the verge of getting terminated and you weren’t exactly sharp yesterday.”

“What do you mean I wasn’t sharp?”

“You know exactly what I mean… for God’s sake, Judith, you forgot what you ordered ten minutes ago.”

“I know what I ordered!” said Judith. She felt the other patrons watching, and she leaned in close to those hazel eyes. “If you don’t want to do this with me, feel free to go back to Mother. See what she does to you then.”

“We’re not ready for what comes next.”

“We’re not stopping,” said Judith. “And no one is coming to rescue you.”

The waitress returned with a plate of eggs served over easy. “I’m so sorry; I brought you the wrong order. Let me clear that away for you.”

“That’s quite alright,” said Judith with her eyes still focused on Harry. “We all get a little confused sometime.”

When they finished their meal they rode in silence for hours. Harry squirmed in the passenger seat, and Judith smirked at the idea of strapping him into a safety chair.

“We can’t just drive up there in a police car,” said Harry.

“They’ll shoot anyone stupid enough to walk up to their front door. There’s a better way inside.”Judith pulled into a forest preserve parking lot. “We wait here long enough for them to spot us and send someone over, we say the magic words, and they escort us inside the complex.”

“I didn’t know MIR had an understanding with the Bedlam.”

Judith sighed and waited for the situation to sink in.

“What have you gotten yourself into!?”

“All I’ve done is protect people; that’s what MIR is all about, always has been. You’ll learn to take help from whoever is willing to give it—if you last long enough.”

“It’s people like these who make me question protecting anyone! They’re the best argument for why we shouldn’t exist!”

“I never said it was an easy decision, but it was the right one!”

“See those cars over there!? Windows shot out, hood covered in blood—I bet that Buick didn’t know the magic words!”

“Calm down before they arrive.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down!”

“They hate loud noises,” said Judith. “And they will gag you if necessary.”

Two boys emerged from the trees up ahead, stepping over tall grass and rocks. They appeared no older than ten, but Judith had no way to know for sure.

“This is it,” said Judith.

One came up to her door, while the other approached Harry.

“Are you here for the festival?” said the boy closest to Judith, his neck swollen and red.

“It doesn’t start until next week,” said Judith. Hope I remembered that right.

The boys stepped away from the car and waved their arms above their heads. Judith scanned the scenery for others and detected movement in the trees above. She heard Harry say something under his breath, but her attention was stuck on the boy’s neck.She reached her hand towards him and he avoided her touch. “I know it hurts, baby. Let me take a closer look.”

The boy stepped forward, ready to jump back if necessary. His neck had a thin protrusion along the tendon.

The tracker must have shifted during transformation. It’s rubbing right up against the tendon…poor thing. “Does he know about this?”

The boy shook his head.

“Stay close and we’ll all see him together, okay?”

He did not smile. “Leave the car and the man behind. We walk from here.”

Judith tucked her accordion folder under her arm and nodded at Harry. “Will one more be a problem?”

“Not if he’s quiet. Follow me.”

*****

They were led to a suite with crates stacked to the ceiling. Their contents were laid out on a white sheet, divided into categories known only by the sorter. The table held a mountain of cell phones and laptops with a machete handle jutting out towards the window, overlooking a basketball court. Judith walked over to get a better look and discovered stains where the less-skilled fighters had been dragged.

A thump echoed behind her, and she did not want to turn around. He was your only option, she reminded herself before facing him. Two guards preceded the old man’s entry. He had aged poorly since the last time Judith saw him, and she hoped her face had hidden her pity. “I see you’ve been playing rough again, Howard.” said Judith as she pointed out the window.

“No rougher than necessary,” said Howard. He came close and reached up behind her neck, guiding her down until their foreheads met.

This is new. As he lingered, Judith wanted to rip away from his grasp, but he felt so brittle she feared his hand would come with her. Soon there’ll be nothing left of you.

When he finally let go, Howard stepped back to look Harry over. “He’s free to walk the grounds. I can send these two away if you’d prefer a private meeting.”

“Everyone stays for now.”

Howard looked at the child that brought them there. “That’ll be all, Riley.”

“That will not be all,” said Judith. ”Look at his neck.”

“What am I looking at?”

“The tracker shifted. How do you plan on correcting this?”

Howard waved away her concern and proceeded to the window. “It wasn’t my idea to tag them in the first place.”

“He’s in pain.”

“Then rip out his throat, he’ll grow another.”

“He needs a doctor to surgically set it.”

“Then I’ll make the first incision.” Howard pulled the machete from his coffee table and approached the boy.

Judith pulled Riley behind her and kicked Howard’s cane from under him.

He drove the blade into the floor to keep from falling, and looked up at her with his sunken, black eyes. “Gentleman, escort Riley out.”

“Harry, stay with Riley.”

They said nothing until everyone had left and the door clicked shut.

“Have you completely lost your mind?” said Judith.

“I was just thinking the same thing.”

“We had an arrangement.” Judith grabbed the cane off the floor.

Howard snatched it from her hand. “I didn’t realize I would be responsible for maintaining the fucking things.”

“Of course you didn’t.”

“Your refugees are enough of a drain on my resources. You would know that if you bothered to show your face here.”

“MIR lost its jurisdiction in Michigan.”

“I’m well aware,” said Howard.” That doesn’t mean you can just dump your garbage here. Or did they slip your mind, as so many other things do?”

“This was never meant to be a permanent solution, but that’s not the purpose of this visit.”

“Judging from your new car, I’d say we’ll have to make it quick, so let’s visit. How are the boys?”

Judith said nothing.

“You still remember their names, don’t you? Tell me, have your little episodes gotten worse?”

“I didn’t come here for this.”

“In all my years I’ve never met a wolf with Alzheimer’s, have you?”

“It’s not worth expediting a gruesome death.”

“I’d take a wolf’s death over your life any day, stumbling in the dark, every face a stranger. You’re sick, my dear.” Howard turned to the door. “Has your partner seen it yet—the glass-eyed hundred-mile stare? Heartbreaking, at least when I saw it. Others may react differently.”

“That’s enough, Howard.”

“Hypocrisy doesn’t suit you, my dear. You’ll defend our right to live, but when faced with a genuine reason to turn, you balk at us. I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve known many like you.”

“The best thing about Alzheimer’s is that I’ll forget you before I die.”

“So why are you here?”

“A very rich man has promised me a golden calf if I bring him someone.”

“If you’re looking for Hugo I can’t help you. He’s been missing for days.”

“I’m more concerned about my rich man. I tried finding info on him and I keep hitting dead ends.”

“How rich?”

“Enough to build state-of-the-art isolation chambers in almost  every state, if I fulfill his bounty.”

“And you believed him?”

“I wanted to,” said Judith. “Now all I have are questions.”

“You and me both. I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

“The person he wanted us to find left a storage room full of coke and silver dust behind at his apartment.”

“And you think he’s here?”

“He may be targeting dens.”

“We’ve lost a few people already.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I let too many in. The people who bought the stuff said the dealer had a birthmark on his face—a deformity.”

“I’ll need to speak with them immediately.”

“I haven’t seen them hanging around lately.”

“When they return have them call me.”

“You have my word.”

Judith opened her accordion folder and handed Howard the photo. “His Name is Fred Doogan, a human running around with an infected wife. He may go by the alias ‘Gator.’”

Howard’s hand trembled as he stared at the photo. “What an incredibly stupid name.”

*****

           Judith spotted Harry and Riley down the hall as Howard led her to the freight elevator. The guards had let them be, and they sat on a bench laughing. She wanted Harry at her side before descending below ground with Howard, but she knew Riley needed him more. “Where are you taking me?”

They stepped into the elevator. “To my office, to catch up on what you’ve missed.”

The doors closed and she watched the lights tick down to the basement level along the side of the elevator.

Howard rested both hands on his cane. “What will happen to Mr. Doogan?”

“He sold the name of our benefactor’s daughter from a local pound, so just about the worst things imaginable.”

He nodded before they stepped out into a vast cavern with more crates and piles like those found in Howard’s room. They made their way to the back where a door with many locks barred entry.

“His wife has family here–Charlene Doogan, we couldn’t find a maiden name or anything before 2005.”

Howard pulled out his key ring and released each lock one by one.“All dead. He left nothing behind.”

“Then Doogan was here.”

Howard threw open the door to reveal a tiny room lit only by computer screens. The number of monitors overwhelmed her, each one a different size and resolution. He’s created a Warg simulator.“What am I looking at?”

Howard closed the door behind them. “Every bit of Bedlam activity in the complex. Go ahead, my dear, take it all in.”

Her eyes jumped from screen to screen. She saw fist-fights in the alley, snipers on the roof, and sex on a pool table. “Do any of them know they’re being filmed?”

“It’s for everyone’s protection, I assure you.”

“This doesn’t strike you as extreme?”

“You’re right. How about we implant computer chips into everyone’s neck instead and hope for the best? Seems to me that my surveillance is more humane than yours.”

Judith squinted at a screen on the lower right corner. “Is that an isolation classroom?”

“I decided to bring in a tutor for the younger members. At this rate our kids will be more educated than the public school children.”

That doesn’t sound like the man who almost cut out a child’s throat. Judith discovered another monitor of people chained to walls with sacs over their heads. One man laid still and she was unable to determine if he was unconscious or dead.“This looks less promising.”

“Every castle needs a dungeon,” said Howard. “Shocking how easily an isolation chamber can be repurposed, no?”

“Who are they?”

“People who didn’t know when my festival began. Have you noticed anything missing from these monitors?”

“Hope, joy, contentment–”

“Do you see an infirmary?”

“No.”

“Do you see any doctors or surgeons shuffling about?”

“Is this your excuse for not taking care of your children?”

“Medical supplies are hard to come by. Even if we had the tools, no one here knows how to use them. No doctors in the neighboring cities will bother for our kind, except for one–Dr. Shand in the upper peninsula.”

“Then take Riley to Dr. Shand.”

Howard sighed and flipped a switch. The monitors refreshed, displaying men and women seated with binoculars dangling from their necks and rifles across their laps. Some were patrolling through the forest while others laid on their stomachs, staring down their scopes.

“We’re not alone,” said Howard. “Without MIR, what remains of the local militias have assembled just outside our walls. Anyone traveling alone is tracked down and killed. I can only send out so many groups at a time, and with so few willing to stick their heads out I can’t conduct raids, hunt down Doogan, and send a convoy to Dr. Shand, so I’m proposing a trade: sneak Riley out and we’ll bring in Doogan.”

He really has lost his mind. “This mission is too important to hand over to you.”

“It’s too important not to hand over! My men already have his scent. They could be closing in on him as we speak. Meanwhile, you have a perfectly good cop car to smuggle Riley out to the doctor. The militias know better than to attack the state police. Take him North, and I’ll have Doogan here by the time you return.”

Harry was right about what he said at the diner, thought Judith. I wasn’t ready for this. Not by a long shot. Take help from whoever is willing to give it, that’s what you told Harry. Well look at you. Have you ever seen someone who needed more help right now? Think, Judith. You can still get what you want out of this. Even if the benefactor is full of shit, you can ease at least one child’s pain. “I need him alive, Howard. Swear to me.”

“He won’t escape. You have my word.”

“Then get me out of this hole. I’ll need to explain this carefully to my partner.”

“Before you go, tell me more about this ‘golden calf’ the benefactor promised you.”

“It was something that I never thought I’d live to see, Howard–an isolation chamber built from the ground up to protect and honor the  infected. It was just a replica, but for a brief moment I saw the culmination of my entire life’s work. It wasn’t just some concrete cells. It was a place capable of repelling all that shame and dread. Wolves could stay there as long as they wanted. No one would ever miss another lunar check-in again, and their families could stay also, because no one should have to face that horror alone. It looked like…”

“Like what, my dear?”

“Howard…it looked like…your complex.”

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