DOG DAYS: CHAPTER 16

In addition to being thoroughly documented in the MIR database, registered members of MIR’s isolation program are required to be tagged with the latest in tracking technology. This tracking chip is implanted under the skin behind the neck. The chip is designed to be imperceptible to the naked eye to maintain registrant confidentiality.

The chip broadcasts location data in the form of a GPS. Tracking may be activated remotely at any time, and will only be used under extreme conditions.

If the chip becomes misaligned or damaged, the registered party must have their chip serviced by a certified technician*. In most cases, the procedure can be completed within a few hours, and the patient may resume normal activity immediately after the sedative has worn off. Removing a chip outside the proper channels will result in a fine of $10,000.00 and up to 14 years in jail for both the registrant as well as the remover.

*applicable fees are the responsibility of the registrant or legal guardian.

Chapter 16:

Outpatient

“What about this one?” said Harry, turning the radio dial to 107.5 The Saddle.

“Keep going,” said Riley from the backseat.

“How about this?” Harry tuned in to a Christian Rock station.

“That’s even worse.”

“Amen.”

The boy’s been good for him, thought Judith. Takes his mind off me for a bit. He didn’t even offer to drive up to the hospital.

“We’re running out of options, Riley, but we might have Blues on the FM2 stations if that’s more your style?”

Just pick something Goddamnit. The tuning grew akin to her visions—hundreds of conversations bleeding into one another, forming its own mad tongue. Judith had enough surging through her brain after her morning with Howard. Why did the benefactor’s isolation model match Howard’s complex? Why didn’t I see it before?  “Turn it down, Harry. I can’t hear the GPS.”

“We’ve got another hundred miles before the next exit. There’ll be nothing to hear for awhile, but we’ll shut up if you want to take in all the ‘breathtaking’ scenery.”

Judith was old enough to recall Michigan’s natural splendor. Her childhood summers were spent in Sleeping Bear, hiking with her father through lush forests and leaving tracks in the dunes. It wasn’t long before the flames found them. The mainland had suffered its share of knockdowns over the years, and it took longer and longer to regain its footing. I suppose tenacity can be beautiful, thought Judith. But if there was any left in Michigan, it wasn’t on this road. “Maybe it’ll get better when we cross the Mackinac. Until then, leave it on The Saddle.”

“But I’ve never heard the Blues,” said Riley.

Harry turned until a symphony orchestra filled the squad car. “This is coming in pretty clear,” said Harry. “This work for you, Boss?”

Judith glanced at him. His fingers were still fixed to the dial—those hazel eyes had turned honey-amber in the setting sun. He had not been her first choice for this mission, but Harry took whatever she threw at him. That was all she ever wanted from her people. “I can live with it.”

“How ‘bout you, Riley…Riley?”

Judith angled her rearview mirror to catch the boy’s reflection. His chest heaved behind the prisoner cage as color fled his face.

“Turn it off!” said Riley.

“It’s just Yo-Yo Ma,” said Harry.  “Give it a chance.”

“I SAID TURN IT OFF!”

Judith killed the music and pulled over. She undid her seatbelt and turned to face Riley. The boy shivered in the summer heat. “It’s okay, baby. Just breathe. We don’t have to listen to anything if you don’t want.”

“T-Thank you.”

“What the hell was that about!?” said Harry.

“Don’t antagonize him! Riley, do you want to walk around a bit, get some fresh air?”

The boy nodded, and they left Harry with the car.

Her boots crunched over what was left of the highway. Riley shuffled alongside with his head down and his hands in his pockets.

“I’m sorry if the music was too loud. We forget how sensitive ya’ll can be to sound.”

“It wasn’t too loud.” He scratched his neck.

“You didn’t seem to mind the other stations.”

Riley stopped moving forward. He stared at a rock and nudged it back and forth with his foot. “Are you really going to fix my neck?”

“Absolutely. It’s our job to make sure you guys are taken care of.”

“Are you taking me back?”

Judith kneeled to get a better look at his face. “We promised Howard we would. He’s helping us find a very bad man.” Supposedly.

He avoided eye contact as he approached. “Do you have to?”

“What about your family? I bet you have a lot brothers and sisters there to play with.”

Riley began to count his fingers. “Seven.”

“That’s a lot of people who’d miss you.”

“We don’t play anymore… I won’t be missed.”

“Don’t say that, Riley.”

He touched his forehead to hers. “Please don’t take me back there.”

Judith took him in her arms and let him sob into her shoulder. She ran her fingers through his hair as she had done with Ken Yarvale. Watch over this boy, Ken, if you have any love for me still. “I’ll see what we can do, baby. For now, let’s get something in our stomachs, okay?”

*****

                After dinner, Judith drove while the boys slept. I wanted better for you, Riley. Howard wasn’t always this way. With or without the law, she protected no one. If only I could start all over again… The thought offered little comfort. She knew she would get her wish soon enough, and every achievement, every joy, every memory that made her Judith, would fade like footprints across a dune.

“Take exit 344B for US-2 toward Manistique Escanabasaid,” said the GPS. The voice made Harry stir.

“I much prefer this land in the dark,” said Harry.

“If Howard keeps his word we may never come back.”

Harry turned to check on Riley. “And what does the future hold for him?”

“I think they’ll be complications,” said Judith. “I think he’ll have a bad reaction to the tools at the hospital and he’ll never see the inside of the Bedlam complex again.”

“You still think MIR can keep him safe?”

“We’ll get that chip removed and he’ll stay with me until I can find someplace long-term.”

“With you?”

“Why not me?”

Harry sat up straight. “I just never thought of you as the motherly type.”

“I have two sons.”

“Perfect. Ask one of them to take in Riley. Any grandchildren around his age?”

They would have told me if they had children, wouldn’t they? They wouldn’t keep something like that from me? “Maybe you should take him in.”

“I don’t want the ones I have,” said Harry with a chuckle. “Before we jump the gun, let’s just get him fixed up. When Doogan’s brought in, we’ll see about getting Riley relocated to another Watch, maybe someplace on the West Coast.”

Judith watched Riley sleep in her mirror. Headlights came alive above his head. They were distant, too far to make out the car let alone the driver, but they lingered there, staring back at her.

“Were they behind us before the sun went down?”

“Couldn’t say.” Harry leaned over to glance in the mirror. “Howard’s boys?”

“They’d have been on bikes.”

“What do you want to do, pull them over?”

The last thing she wanted was to stop. “That won’t scare them.”

“Honestly, Boss, this is a long highway. It’s not that big a coincidence to have another car on the same long stretch.”

It eased her mind to hear someone say it out loud. She wondered if it would do the same for the model. “Did the Bedlam den look familiar to you?”

“Just your average, run-of-the mill shit hole.”

“It looks exactly like the model isolation facility in Hampton’s office—the one the benefactor delivered.”

“The Bedlam den is just an old apartment complex. What better way to house that many infected in such a small area? Plus the benefactor’s from Michigan and I’m sure that design is nothing special around here.”

“Why haven’t we been given his name?”

“You’re being paranoid.”

“Something doesn’t sit right with me, Harry. Call it what you want, but I think we’re being used.”

“Okay.”

“That’s all you have to say about it?”

“Who’s Jake?”

It came without warning, like all vengeful spirits. “What did you say?”

“You pointed a plastic knife at me the other night and called me Jake.”

“I never called you Jake, you hear me?”

“Okay.”

Judith glanced again into her rearview mirror, and the headlights had grown larger.

When they arrived at the hospital, Riley was still asleep. Judith flashed her lights and parked near the entrance. “Scoop him up and take him inside.” Harry did as he was told and Judith watched the automatic doors close behind them. She turned around to find their pursuers in neutral by the curb—their faces obscured by the pale glow.

They won’t try anything with so many people around, thought Judith. Might as well introduce myself.  She stepped out of the squad car and tried to lock eyes with the driver as she approached the vehicle. Two up front, maybe a third in the backseat. Her hand grazed the Tazer holstered at her side before the car continued down the road. Enjoy the drive back, fellas.

The automatic doors closed behind her. She found Harry a few steps away at the front desk.

“Looks like someone’s all tuckered out,” said the receptionist.

“I’m afraid his night is just getting started,” said Harry. “We’re looking for a Dr. Shand.”

“Oh, is the appointment for her?” She pointed at Judith with a puzzled look.

“The boy needs a doctor, not her.”

“Dr. Shand is a Gynecologist. I’m not sure what she can do for your little boy.”

“We’re looking for a surgeon,” said Judith. “Dr. Manger Shand?”

“We only have a Dr. Emily Shand here.”

“This is Ruther General?”

“It is, but we have no doctor by that name.”

“Do you know any doctor here who treats…infections?”

The receptionist crossed her arms. “What kind of infections?”

He lied to me! That son-of -a-bitch! Judith pulled down Riley’s shirt collar to reveal the irritated lump. “Please…we’ve come a long way.”

“None of our doctors have the proper certification. It would be illegal for any of them to operate.”

“He’s a little boy,” said Judith. “You can’t just ignore him.”

“It doesn’t need a doctor, it needs a technician. That chip is the responsibility of the Watch group that implanted it. Bring it to them.”

“And if that group no longer exists?”

“Officer, you won’t find what you’re looking for here.”

*****

                They began their drive to a motel for the night. Judith sat in the backseat with Riley’s head in her lap. I hoped you used this time wisely, old man. All our deals are off. She played with the boy’s hair as he slept, contemplating who she hated more: Howard or herself. Of course he lied to you. You went for the easy way out and look what it got you. This boy will think of you every time his fingernails dig into his throat for relief that will never come. “Stop the car, Harry.”

“What’s the plan?”

“We made a promise to him. Get me enough tranquilizer darts from the trunk to put down a bull elk. I’ll remove the chip the best I can.”

“There’s a knife in the glove box.”

Better than a machete. “Is it sharp?”

“The blade is short, but it’ll do.”

“Riley. Riley, honey, wake up.”

“Do we have to wake him?”

“We need to see if the sedatives work.”

Judith grabbed Riley’s shoulder and jostled him awake. His serene eyes hardened under the light of the car.

“Is it over?” said Riley.

“No, sweetie. I need you to count back from thirty. Can you do that for me?”

Harry stuck needle after needle into the boy’s arm, their marks vanishing after each injection.

“Thirty…Twenty-nine…Twenty-eight…”

When the boy’s eyes closed, Judith asked for the knife. “Take everything out of the trunk and put it in the backseat. We’ll lay him down in there. There’s going to be a lot of blood.” When Harry finished preparing the site, Judith unfolded the blade from its handle. Just a little cut and massage it out. Simple. She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her arm and stared down at her husband, lying on their bed. You wretched fuck. I never thought I’d get a second chance. Your heart was on the wrong side, but I won’t make the same mistake. Your throat is right there, clear as day.

She placed the blade under his left ear, her arm shaking above his chest. She steadied her wrist with her left hand and slid the edge towards her until the tip dug into his Adam’s apple. She lingered there before pulling the blade across the rest of his neck in a single vicious swipe. Blood seeped into the pillows and sheets.

Make sure this time, Judith. Make sure! She returned the knife to its starting position.

“You’re cutting too deep,” said a voice.

Judith looked up to see her son Ronnie in his pajamas. “It needs to be deep, baby. He needs to die.”

“I said you’re cutting too deep!” Ronnie stretched across his father’s corpse to grab the knife from her hands.

“Why do you keep defending him? WHY!?”

“Give me the fucking knife!!” said Harry. “You’re cutting his head off!!”

Judith looked down to find Riley in a pool of blood.

Harry ripped the knife from her hand and shoved her to the ground. He reached into the trunk. “Got it!”

His hands glistened when he threw the device against the street. He stomped on the chip, mashing into the asphalt with his boot heel.

“You can’t break it,” said Judith. “She crawled over to pick it up and hurled it into the woods. “Let them find it now.”

Harry grabbed her shirt by the collar, staining her uniform with Riley’s blood. “Tell me your full name!”

“Judith Annabelle Klove.” She avoided his stare and faced down the road. Light swept over the horizon, approaching fast.

“What is my full name!?”

“Harry.”

“Harry what!?”

“Harry, they’re coming!”

They bolted into a forest of dead trees, snapping dry branches underfoot. They found something to hide behind as the car screeched to a halt. They opened fire.

The squad car lit up with sparks and tracer fire. The windows and tires blew out along with the head and taillights. When the volley ceased, a man in a ski mask scanned the trees nearby with a flashlight. Judith stifled her breathing as she looked up into Harry’s wide-open eyes.

The masked rider examined the trunk next. He looked back at his driver and shook his head. The man joined the others and drove off towards the mainland.

When the car could no longer be heard, Judith called out to the child. “Riley! Please God say something!” She stumbled to reach him first, but Harry beat her to the trunk. He took one look inside and fell to his knees. Harry took hold of the bumper and lowered his head as if praying at an altar.

“I’M DONE!” said Harry. “I’M DONE WITH YOU, I’M DONE WITH HAMPTON, I’M DONE WITH ALL OF IT!”

Judith felt her phone vibrate against her hip. Had it not been for the call, she would have felt nothing, standing there in the middle of the road. The screen read “Mother Fucker.” She answered, listening to a steady roll of static hiss by her ear like waves in the ocean.

“This is Klove.”

“Return home,” said Hampton. “Your services are no longer required.”

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