A teenager was the victim in an arson attack at a mall in the Chicago Ridge area. Wingfield Sports Collectables was approached by a group of masked patrons shortly after 9:00 p.m. yesterday. The group blocked the backdoor exit before raising the front gate and dousing the entrance with alcohol.

16 year-old Jenna Douglas suffered 3rd degree burns across 65 percent of her body. She was taken to Little Company of Mary Hospital for treatment.

It is believed the group mistook Douglas for an infected person and set the store on fire to coax her into the open to be killed with silver bullets.

Store Owner Bill Wingfield has provided no comments at this time.

Chapter 27:

Playing Dead

They came in alone; their family and friends had parted two checkpoints ago, and they were left to face the night on their own. Gator waited at the other end of the corridor, watching the registrants slow their pace at the yellow line. “Keep moving!” said Gator as he motioned the stragglers towards MIR officers seated at folding tables behind him.

One by one they approached under the florescent lights of the prison basement. Men wore ball caps and sunglasses, while the women wrapped their faces in scarves. The winter months were better suited for disguises. In the heart of summer, Gator could feel the heat radiating from each passerby. They would keep their faces hidden until locked away for the night. No place is safe, thought Gator.

Each registrant presented their paperwork at the table. They were soon directed by guards to their cells. The lines rarely grew more than three deep before sundown. After that, Gator barely saw the entrance through the sea of bodies. I told Sarina to get here before eight, now look at this shit!

His eyes darted from person to person to find her. Their plan only worked if he got to her first. The regular officers were oblivious, but the Auburn Hills closure brought new faces to The Pound. New faces made Gator nervous, especially after the rumors. Just come straight to me, Sarina. Don’t make this difficult.

A fight broke out as they usually did so close to midnight. Gator seized the inciters, wrestling them to the ground and pressing his knees into their backs. Excessive force did not exist here. He found the resiliency of the infected liberating—the perfect canvases for his art. The MIR never questioned his methods, no matter how brutal.

After the rioters were dragged away, Gator noticed an airy figure weaving through the crowd. It wore a coat of dark rags that ruffled like feathers. Sarina would have fooled him had she not worn a pink designer poncho with the matching duffel bag over her shoulder. She continued to cut ahead to the front. A guard reached for her, but Gator intervened.

“I’ll take care of her,” said Gator. He pulled her by the arm through a side door. They stepped past the detained rioters and turned down an empty hallway, proceeding to the VIP block. It traded the spacious flow of the barred cages for privacy and silence—a respite for those still unaccustomed to the clamor of the change.

Gator locked the door behind them. With his back to Sarina, he pulled two-thousand dollars from his wallet and folded the bills into his palm. This ends tonight.

“You didn’t have to grab me so hard,” said Sarina. “I’ve been taking classes. Touch my arm again.”

Gator tapped her shoulder, and she began writhe and whimper. Even her eyes filled with tears.

“I get it, you can stop now.”

She wiped her eyes, “I’m really good, huh? Oh shit.” Sarina pulled out a compact mirror from her jeans. Her performance had loosened her eyelashes.

“How ‘bout we just keep our hands to ourselves?”

“God, you’re already grumpy.”

“You don’t give me much choice.”

Sarina smiled as she slid the mirror back into her pocket. “I’m sorry I was late, but I think I can make it up to you.” She ripped off the poncho and shook her black curls loose. Her fingers undid a clasp by her collarbone and her coat of rags fell around her heels. Underneath was a pink hockey jersey. She had tied the front in a knot, exposing her taut midsection.

“I know the colors are wrong, but it’s cute.” She spun around slowly with her hands on her hips, arching her back to show him every angle. “DOOGAN” was embroidered across the back, along with the number twenty-one on the sleeves. “Do I have the right number?”

She’s not gonna make this easy for you. “You do.”

Sarina sighed. “But you hate it.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Didn’t have to.” Sarina tugged the knot loose and let the jersey cover her.

“It’s flattering, okay? I’m flattered, but…we need to talk.” He stepped closer to her and began to whisper. “The men that are after you are Finishers.” Gator paused. She has no idea what I’m talking about. “They’re not like regular hunters. They’re police chiefs, judges, senators, and maybe even a handful of guards working here.”

“That’s why I have you, right?” Sarina wrapped her arms around his waist. “We have an understanding, don’t we?”

Gator lifted her hands off his body and lowered them to her sides. “If they know who you are—what you are—they’ll just keep coming.”

“So you’re going to abandon me?”

“In another time, in another life, I’d be right there with you, but getting involved with them puts Char in danger. That’s too much to ask from me.”

“You can’t just leave me!”

“We’ll figure out something, I swear.”

“I can’t believe this is happening because of your fucking wife!”

“What did you say?”

“Every month all I hear about is what a cunt she is!” said Sarina, “a vindictive, emasculating cunt!”

“I don’t know what you thought was gonna happen here tonight, but you’re way out of fucking line.”

“You’re my bodyguard! I paid you to protect me!”

Gator handed her the fold of bills.

“Mother fucker!” She slapped away the folded clump and it scattered across the floor. She sat on the bed with her head in her hands. Gator sat beside her.

“Why are you doing this to me?” said Sarina.

“I know you’re scared, but there’s a place you can stay. They can protect you better than I ever could. All you need is the password. I’ll even come see you when I can. You won’t believe this now, but I still care about you.”

“If you love her so much, why aren’t you with her tonight?”

“We need the money, but if she needed me more I wouldn’t be here.” Gator stood up from the bed and reached for the door. “I’ll be back around eleven with your sedative.”

“Just stay away from me.” Sarina hugged her knees up to her chin.

“No one knows you’re here. If I don’t come back, no one will.”

“I think you’re needed elsewhere, Frederick.”


Gator did not recognize his reflection across the bar.  He ran his hand across his clean-shaven scalp. A tailored Italian suit hid most of the bruises and bandages while his new facial hair grew between the deeper cuts. The bartender blocked Gator’s view as he placed a drink on the counter. Gator picked it up and set it down with a wince. He reached for it again, this time with his left hand.

He had removed the splint that morning and his wrist was still tender—a memento, of sorts, from the attack at his mother’s house. He had kept several. He drove the van the hunters arrived in and sold the bikes the Bedlam left behind. Gator was especially thankful for Mr. Rocha—the last surviving hunter whose cowardice had yielded the name and a location of Sarina’s killer.

Clayton Allred had business in Chicago this week, and liked to unwind ninety-six floors up in this lavish perch. Half the lounge was separated by a velvet rope for a fundraiser for Leukemia.

“Can I get you another drink, Mr. Rocha?” said the bartender.

“I’m fine for now,” said Gator. “Can you tell me if Mr. Allred has arrived?”

“Yes, sir, he has.”

“I don’t see him anywhere. Can you point him out?”

“Yes, sir. His table is facing the west window in the corner—best view in the house.”

Gator found a white-haired old man, gazing sleepily out over the skyline. “That it is. Thank you. I’ll have to say hello before I leave.”

Gator slipped some cash in the tip jar and returned to his drink. He caught a glimpse of a woman in a gray pantsuit out the corner of his eye. She looked him up and down—old enough to be his mother. Gator turned his attention back to the skyline as she hoisted herself onto the barstool next to him.

“I feel like I know you,” said the woman.

Gator ignored her. This isn’t your night, momma.

“It’s surreal. I’ve heard so much about you from so many. It’s like seeing an old friend. I’ll admit, you clean up nice.”

Was Allred expecting me? Gator turned and looked her in the eyes.

“I respect your methodology even if I don’t fully understand it. It’s blunt and simple and cold. You stay focused on the task at hand and follow through ‘til it’s done. But that’s had diminishing returns, hasn’t it? Your apartment in Warren, Aunt Bernie’s in Saugatuck, and now your mother’s house—do you really want to add the Hancock Building to that list?”

“Show me your—“

The woman presented her palms before he could finish. “I just want to talk, Gator. May I call you Gator?” She lowered her hands and reached forward to shake his. “I’m Judith.”

Gator stared at her hand. “Judith, you have five minutes to explain yourself before I do what I need to do.”

“Fine, let’s start with some names. You entered ‘Monique Slay’ into the MIR database without any further details. Why?”

Sarina’s actress name always put a smile on his face. “I’m bad with computers.”

“Are you familiar with any of the following: Marle Hollowday, Gretchin Munn, or my favorite, Cheshire Kat?”

“Never heard of them.”

“They’re all the same person. Your girl rotated at many isolation wards, conning men into killing hunters for her. She was quite the little actress. Did she ever tell you her full name?”

This is some kind of joke. That girl trembled in my arms. “She told me Sarina. That’s all.”

“Sarina Holly Allred. Clayton Allred’s only daughter.”

“This is fucking bullshit!”

“She finally got her revenge after he disowned her. Now you’re caught up in a family tiff. That old man even wanted you alive for questioning until he just changed his mind one day.”

“I tried to keep her alive! There was a rat at that prison and I did everything I could—“

“It was too late by then.” Judith put her hand on his shoulder. “They got her scent and that was that. I know you didn’t sell her out, but I keep coming back to the storage closet at your apartment.”

“What about it?”

“Gator, are you aware what the police found in there?”

“We never had to use it. It should have been empty.”

“Silver dust and cocaine packed to the ceiling—you honestly had no idea?”

“Someone’s trying to set me up. I’m not in the business of rot powder.”

“Didn’t think so.” Judith glanced at her watch. “It’s been five minutes, Gator. May I ask how you plan to kill him?”

“Prisoners make shivs out of toothbrushes—I’ll stab him to death with a fork if I have to!”

Judith laughed. “I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you. I believe you when you say you’ll kill him, but what does that get you? Maybe thirty seconds of revenge before you’re put down? And tomorrow, another monster takes his place. I won’t get in your way if you really want that man dead. He deserves it, but maybe I can offer an alternative?”

“I’m willing to listen. What do you got?”

“Your father-in-law has officially severed ties with the Bedlam, and plans on staying at a commune somewhere in Alaska with your wife. I can’t for the life of me pinpoint the location.”

“He called it ‘Leek Denaa ,’ but he never told me where it was exactly.”

“I’ve tracked more than a few infected in my time. Finding them isn’t the issue; getting inside will be. That’s where you come in.”

Judith pulled out a dossier from her bag and handed it to Gator.

It contained page after page of his profile, documenting his childhood, education, resume, evaluations, training, and relationships. “How did you get this?”

“Howard kept tabs on everyone who stayed at the complex, but your file was the thickest. He wanted to make sure you were perfect not only for Charlene, but for the Bedlam. The last page contains notes in his handwriting about you. I can’t tell when they were written, but at some point, he mapped out the transition of leadership from him to you and Charlene. He may not have liked you, but he respected the hell out of you.”

“I’ve had to kill some of his people.”

“I don’t think he cares at this point. Come with me, and you’ll have a chance to be with your wife when she needs you most.”

I left her to rot in that shithole. She won’t want anything to do with me. “She made her choice.”

“You don’t believe that. I know this situation isn’t ideal, but I doubt a man who has spent as many years around infected as you would think she had full control of her actions during the change. That’s not fucking fair and you know it.”

“So are you some kind of cop? Why do you want to get into the commune so bad?”

“Howard Fettel’s long career with the Bedlam has caught the attention of the FBI. He’s considered a terror leader and currently holds a bounty for two and a half million dollars. That’s the most ever for an infected person. They believe he has information leading to other wolf dens throughout the country, maybe even overseas. So here’s what I propose—we find the commune, welcome your wife’s children into the world, and drag that son-of-a-bitch back to the mainland. We split the money and go our separate ways. I’d hope you and your family could start fresh somewhere away from the Fettels and the Allreds of the world. And if you should still want your revenge, you can buy an awfully effective fork with that kind of money.”

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