DOG DAYS: CHAPTER 32

“My brother is becoming more unhinged. The drinking is getting worse. I need to monitor him more, and things aren’t slowing down at work. I’ve given this a lot of thought; I’d like to stop our sessions.”

“Okay, Luke. That’s fine.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

“This is a big decision for you. I think you’ve done beautifully during our time together, I won’t stifle you now. I trust you.”

“I was expecting some pull back. We’ve been together for a while.”

“You’re not indebted to me, don’t ever feel that way.”

“It’s not that. I just thought…”

“You’re more capable of running your life than anyone. You’re not your brother; you’re not your father. My hope is that you use the tools you’ve developed here. My office isn’t going away. I will be here if and when you wish to come back.”

“What about my mother?”

“Come again?”

“You said I’m not my brother or father—can you elaborate?”

 

Chapter 32:

The Hunter of Hunters

 

The dreams persisted unrepentantly—forcing Luke awake at all hours of the night. They were always about Jenna and her final moments inside Wingfield. Luke’s constant ogling had yielded a painfully accurate likeness of her amongst the flames. She crawled towards him as her skin withered and blackened like a book of matches. Her face deformed into the cheap wolf mask of her murderers, and the dreams ended when she embraced him. The agony of burning alive led to mornings of barely conscious shrieks.

Luke parked outside the house in Midlothian—emotionally and physically drained. He was slow the leave the comfort of the driver’s seat, and he considered lowering it back all the way to get some sleep. Luke nixed the idea to watch for signs of his brother. I’m here for everyone’s sake, Ron. You can’t do this alone.

It disturbed Luke to see how easily the cheery ranch-style home could hide such atrocities. Even the overgrown trees in front shrouded the house from the rest of the block. Although Luke disagreed with his father’s methods, he did believe that Jessup was getting what he deserved. The killer had amassed legions of friends and enemies alike, and Luke kept an eye over his shoulder for each one.

Macho barked, making Luke jump in his seat.

“Goddammit, Macho!” said Luke. He leaned over and opened the passenger door. “Go for a walk and chill out.” Maybe I should do the same, thought Luke.

                He followed the walkway to the porch and knocked on the door. A moment passed before Ron opened up.

“We need to talk,” said Luke.

Ron stuck his head out to scan the area. “Did anyone follow you?”

“I don’t think so; he would have barked at them.”

They watched Macho run is short circles on the lawn and bark at the house.

“Tie him up out here and calm him down.”

Luke followed his brother inside. He watched Ron plod through trash and bottles before sitting cross-legged on the floor. He can make anything worse, can’t he?

“What brings you back?” said Ron as he picked up a bottle of vodka. “I thought I absolved you of all involvement.”

“I have questions about those protesters you’re with.” Luke spotted a rifle propped against the wall next to the door. “The ones with the masks.”

“What they do now?” said Ron.

“They burned Wingfield to the ground.”

Ron paused with the bottle inches away from his lips. “Did they hurt you?”

“My shifts were switched with Jenna…she’s dead, Ron.”

Ron leaned his back against the wall, letting the bottle rest on the carpet. “Wow.”

“That’s all you have to say—wow?”

“I don’t know what to say, alright. It’s shocking.”

“But you’re still going to take their side, aren’t you? Spout some more of their bullshit rhetoric.”

“I wasn’t going to say shit!”

“She was just a kid, Ron!”

“What do you want me to say!?”

“I want you to be outraged!” said Luke. “I want you to show me a basic understanding between the difference of right and wrong!” Luke pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath, just how Dr. Khyzyr taught him. “She just wanted her driver’s license.”

Luke took a bottle Ron handed him and drank deep.

“I’m sorry about your friend,” said Ron. “I parted ways with Wolfsbane last week.  Jessup told me to get out before something bad happened—looks like he was right.”

“They just let you walk away?”

Ron rubbed the back of his neck. “Not exactly—I threw my mask in the dumpster. The next day I came home from work and found the fucking thing nailed to the door of my apartment. I’ve been here ever since. They’re psychopaths.”

“Isn’t that what Dad’s been telling you for years?” said Luke.

“Years of my life just gone forever,” said Ron.

“I know this has been a good hiding spot, but you do realize there’s a full moon tonight?”

“We’re locked up tight. Besides, when was the last time there was a wolf sighting out here? We’ll be fine, but I’m a little worried about you though. Are you sure you don’t just want to stay here?”

“I brought protection,” said Luke. He pulled out a handgun from the back of his jeans.

“When did you start carrying a Glock?”

“It was a housewarming gift from Dad a few years ago. I’m not even sure how to load the damn thing.”

“I can teach you that, but first, another drink?”

Luke nodded, and Ron searched his bottles for booze.

“The good stuff is downstairs,” said Ron. “Jessup gave some excellent recommendations.”

“He’s still locked up, right?”

“Of course he is. Come down with me, you can say ‘hi.’”

“I don’t want to say ‘hi.’ I’ll wait for you up here.”

“Look, its past two, he’s probably meditating. Just come down really quick.”

*****

                Luke and Ron proceeded down into the basement. The isolation chamber loomed with an eerie calm. Ron approached it without hesitation and slid open the porthole as if checking on a pet. He waved for Luke to come take a look.

“I’ve had him on a liquid diet ever since our little choking scare,” said Ron. “But otherwise he seems to be in good spirits.”

Luke observed Jessup through the porthole. His greasy hair had grown well past his shoulders, and his beard had become unkempt and savage. Jessup’s attire was still stained with blood and vomit. “His clothes are disgusting,” said Luke.

“Well, I would have brought him some of mine, but look at how fucking big he is. He’d tear them up.”

“And he just sits there like that?”

“I’ve brought him books, and some of those little Sudoku puzzles, but he prefers this I guess. We usually have conversations over dinner. When he’s quiet like that it’s no use.”

Ron closed the porthole and searched the area for bottles. “I imagine that fire would be all over the news. Did Judith check up on you?”

“No, she didn’t.”

“Typical.”

“I never told her I work retail.”

“So what does she think you do for a living?”

“I told her I was in Law school.”

Ron laughed aloud.

Why did I lie to her about that?  thought Luke. It seems so petty now.

When Ron composed himself he handed a bottle of whiskey to Luke.

“If you’re so concerned about Wolfsbane, why didn’t you contact those agents over by Nicole?” said Luke. “Agent Hampton seemed to take a shine to you.”

“Jessup doesn’t trust them.”

“Well what does Ron think?”

“They aren’t here to help us, Luke. They’re some kind of elite unit with MIR. They make people like dad and Jessup disappear.”

“Eventually Jessup is going to get taken away,” said Luke. “You can’t just hide here forever.”

Ron turned to Luke with a grin.

What’s with the shit-eating grin?

“Jessup has a plan,” said Ron.

“Is step one letting him out?” said Luke. “Maybe take a break from vigilantes for a while, yeah?”

“There are many paths through the forest,” said Jessup. He cleared his throat before continuing. “Let me show you the way.”

“I was wondering when you’d join us,” said Ron as he opened the covering of the porthole.

“I didn’t want to interrupt.” Jessup’s cough turned into a retching sound. “I was hoping to hear more of what Luke thinks of the situation.”

“I think Ron would be safer with me at my apartment tonight.” You did threaten to kill our entire family.

“I reckon you’re standing in the safest place in town. Don’t go getting yourself killed on my account.”

“We’ll be fine if we leave soon.”

“What are you carrying?” said Jessup.  “I find it hard to believe that a son of Jake Reto would be unarmed on a night like this.”

“Go ahead, Luke—show him.”

“I’m not giving him my gun,” whispered Luke.

“What’s he gonna do with an unloaded weapon?” said Ron. “Just do it.”

Luke pulled out the Glock and rested it on the food tray of the chamber. Jessup pulled the gun to him and examined it. He pulled back the slide and snapped it into place. Luke was unsure what exactly Jessup was looking for.

“A fine weapon for shooting coyotes,” said Jessup. His laughter turned into another coughing fit. He returned the gun on the tray. “You should take refuge here tonight.”

“Got plenty to drink,” said Ron.

“I need to get some rest,” said Luke.

“Gin makes you sleepy, I know that much. Not like you need to open the store tomorrow.”

“How about we continue this upstairs?” said Luke. As they walked to the stairs, Luke noticed Jessup waving at him from the porthole.  Luke lowered the cover over the porthole before he left. My god I hate that man.

Luke untied Macho from the porch and walked him inside. “He’s staying with us,” said Luke.

Macho began to bark wildly at the stairs to the basement.

“I don’t think he cares for Jessup,” said Ron.

“He’s not the only one.”

“I understand he makes you nervous,” said Ron. “He made me nervous at first, but you know what they say, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ We could sure due with a friend right about now.”

Luke ignored what Ron said. “Where’re the drinks you promised?”

Luke took shots directly from the bottle throughout the evening, wondering what Wolfsbane used to burn Jenna alive. He suppressed the nightmares one drink at a time.

*****

                Luke woke up with his back against the cool tile floor of the kitchen. There came a tapping, slow like water dripping in an empty tub. Luke’s eyes had not adjusted to the darkness. He felt his way down the steps and realized the tapping was coming from Jessup’s chamber. He turned around to return quietly upstairs, but his foot knocked over an empty bottle.

“Can’t sleep?” said Jessup.

Luke stayed still in the darkness.

“Do you still see her when you close your eyes?”

I never told him about Jenna. “Who?”

“You know who.”

“If everything’s okay in there I’ll just go back—“

“Come closer, Luke,” said Jessup. “Did your daddy ever tell you why we hate Wolfsbane?”

“I’m sure there are a number of reasons.” Luke headed for the stairs.

“We thought we had standards. It was never our intention to hurt people; it was just inevitable in our line of work.” Jessup began to hack and cough again. “I’ve had a lot of time to think in here. I realize that we used Wolfsbane as a gauge for our own crimes. No matter how deep the filth got, we could always look to them and tell ourselves we were clean by comparison.”

“Okay, good. At least you learned something from being locked in here. Is that all you have to say?”

“Tonight I make my resignation from the Finishers.”

“Resignation? Is this part of the plan Ron keeps talking about?”

“Ronald’s heart is in the right place, so was your father’s, so was everyone’s. I’m starting a new group, and I want you both to be a part of it.”

“Not interested.”

“You haven’t even heard the mission statement. I think you’ll approve. Are you familiar with The Furies?”

“The Greek myth?”

“Deities sent to punish men who broke their oaths. Hunters of hunters—your brother will finally get an ‘F’ on his palm.”

“And what do I get?” said Luke.

“Masks—every last one. I’ll rip them from their heads myself if you like.  We can start tonight. We got lighters, rags, and enough alcohol to drown them in a river of fire.”

“That’s not the life I want.”

“That’s a lie. The gun in your waistband says otherwise.  They didn’t think twice about that girl—let’s make them remember. All you have to do is unlock this door.”

“Goodnight, Jessup.” Luke headed for the stairs a third time.

“I forgive you, Luke, and Ron also. I only hope you can forgive me for what I must do.”

Jessup began to hack uncontrollably.

“I’m not falling for any tricks.” Luke slid the cover of the porthole up and peered inside. Jessup kneeled at the far end of the cell with his back to the door. The pale lights showered over his muscular form. Gone were the soiled clothes he had worn for weeks. He gripped his throat as he vomited sanguine, dust-filled clumps. His body trembled as he climbed back to his feet. He steadied himself for a moment and let his hands fall to his sides.

Luke called out to him, eager to break the silence.

Jessup’s right shoulder snapped out of place and fell to the small of his back. His skin turned dark as it cracked and peeled away. His once powerful form had wilted, crumpling into the corner with an inhuman wail.

“Ron! We need to get out of here!”

Jessup pounded the door. The force knocked Luke to the ground, and he scuttled across the floor as the chamber door warped with each strike.

“What’s going on!?” screamed Ron from the top of the stairs.

The chamber door burst from its hinges. Luke narrowly avoided being crushed by rolling to his side. He looked up to find his brother lying at the base of the steps.

“Ron! What happened!?”

“It… It just flew past me.”

“Did he attack you!?”

“I… don’t know.”

Luke fumbled with loading a magazine into his gun as he darted up the stairs. The front door had been shattered in half, and he was greeted by a boom that shook the house. He crossed the threshold into the porch lights with his weapon loaded and drawn. His hands shook with each sheepish step into the yard.

“Macho, come here boy,” whispered Luke.  He flinched as something touched his shoulder. He aimed his gun at a piece of cloth he brushed from his shoulder. He bent down to get a better look.

Is that…Macho’s bandana?

Luke gazed up and found the beast mounted on the roof. The shingles crunched under its massive frame —it’s grisly shape lit faintly by the full moon. Macho ‘s hind legs dangled from Jessup’s mouth. The beast clenched its jaws, severing the dog in half. The lower torso splattered against the walkway near Luke’s feet. Luke stared back at the monster; it appeared to be waiting for him.

Luke lifted his trembling weapon and fired. The wolf remained fixed to his position as bullets whizzed past. He’s not even flinching!?

The beast leapt onto a tree. The roots burst from the ground as the wolf shifted its weight to leap onto Luke next.

Ron ran out into the yard with a flaming rag tied to a bottle of whiskey. He hurled it at the tree and it erupted in glass and splinters. Jessup bounded from the explosion and vanished up the road.

Luke collapsed onto the lawn gasping for air, his body unable to stop shaking. He watched his brother run out into the street, waving his gun for Luke to follow.

“We need to go after him!” said Ron.

Luke stayed on the ground, watching Ron in disbelief.

Ron ran to him and lifted Luke up from the ground by his shirt.

“He’s getting away!!” said Ron.

Luke shoved Ron onto his back. He sat on his waist and grabbed Ron by his shirt with both fists.

“DID YOU KNOW!?” said Luke as he shook Ron.

“How could I—“

“ANSWER ME!!”

“NO! I didn’t know shit, Luke! I swear! Dad just told me to keep him alive; that’s all!”

Luke let him go. He stood up and searched for his dog’s remains in the darkness.

“Oh God, what did he do to you, boy?”

There was no skin left to pet.

“We need to leave, Ron. It’s over.”

“If he comes back we need to be ready to protect these people,” said Ron.

“We can hide out in my apartment until we figure out what to do—“

“NO! I’m sick of this! I’m not running again!”

“You’re not thinking straight. Just give me the gun.”

Ron charged at the front window and bashed the glass out with the butt of his rifle. He went inside and readied his gun at the windowsill.

Luke walked over to Ron. “We’re dead if we stay here.”

Ron watched the street, steadfast and ready.

Luke walked away and opened the window on the opposite side. He aimed his weapon at the road and waited beside his brother.

They stayed on guard through the night. Flies had started to fester inside of the dog’s corpse as the sun peaked out over the horizon.

“That should do it then,” said Luke. “Call Dad and tell him.”

“Do you think he knew about Jessup?” said Ron. “He wouldn’t have done this intentionally, right?”

“I don’t know. I guess you two will have a lot to discuss this morning.”

“We got something!” Ron pointed up the street.

Luke rubbed his eyes and watched as Jessup walked down the middle of the street naked and soaked in blood. Jessup shook the excess from his long hair as he continued his trek back to the house.

Luke and Ron kept their weapons trained on Jessup as he walked up to the hose and turned the valve. Water cascaded down his body and formed bloody puddles of mud around his feet.

“Mornin’, boys,” said Jessup. “If I were you, I’d take those so-called silver bullets back to the store and get your money refunded.”

“How…how long have you been infected?” said Luke.

“This was my third moon, as they say—woke up around your Daddy’s neck of the woods. He wasn’t home, but from the look of things, it turned out to be a productive night all the same.” Jessup threw the hose onto the grass and faced the brothers. “I call this first meeting of The Furies to order. Our first objective will be the procurement of clothing. The second will be the annihilation of Wolfsbane. Are there any questions?”

“What’s on your back?” said Ron.

Jessup peeled off a portion of a red clump on his back that did not wash off. He grinned as he mulled it between his fingers. “I do believe that is paint,” said Jessup. “Cardinal red, if I’m not mistaken.”

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