The Finishers will adhere to these laws until only the wolves created by God remain. They will follow the one deemed Commander until such paradise is reached. Law 1: A werewolf’s existence will not be tolerated. Monsters must never know comfort. Their lives are agonizing and brief. Law 2: Suspected werewolves face due process and confirmation before execution. Speculation is no substitute for conviction; rumor is no substitute for truth. Law 3: The confirmation of a Finisher’s kin presents that Finisher with a right. They may decide the execution of their kin. Blood has the final say. ****[REDACTED]****
Chapter 10: The Integrity of the Human Femur
The Dust private quarters were large enough to accommodate only a cot and a storage trunk. Jake used the trunk as an altar, and prayed, as he always did, in a succinct listing.
The list had grown since the full moon. He prayed for Nicole and Tara, Luke and Ron, for Soot, for Tim, and for Walt. Walt’s death must have angered the Lord, and for that Jake was not granted the life of Dan Bully. This is his plan, Jake reminded himself. The mystery will bring you to Alaska for reasons you do not yet understand. He was not alone. Nicole’s faith in him had corroded, and even he had his doubts.
She’ll understand when the Lord makes us stronger, thought Jake, but he questioned how much longer he would have to wait.
Jake steadied his hands on the trunk to lift himself back onto his feet. He carried the rest of his belongings in a Dust-branded rucksack. He had accepted the hospitality of The Dust much slower than Terry, and had stowed the gear they provided in his truck the night before. The busy work kept his mind at ease, distracting from the threats Nicole had made the night before.
Jake checked the truck once again on his way to the mess hall. His plan was to fill his stomach, report to Grit, and drive nonstop to Bridgeview. Fog had softened the dirt, and he followed the trail of boot tracks beside grass weighed down by morning dew.
He wiped his boots on a floor mat inside the hall. When he looked up, not a single Finisher acknowledged him. Dozens of men and women watched a TV bolted in the corner of the ceiling in silence as news flooded the hall. Jake read the headline “Wolf Attack at Murrel Finished Metals,” and lowered his rucksack to the floor.
The news anchor detailed what police had discovered just a few minutes ago. A dozen factory workers had been left in pieces throughout the facility. Some names Jake had known over twenty years, and the number was expected to rise as more of the facility was investigated. None of them were Finishers, but it would difficult to explain to the media why they were allowed to work during a full moon.
The last wolf attack in Bridgeview took place almost seven years ago. Is this retaliation from Choke Chain?
Jake scanned the room for Terry. The lieutenant waded through the grief stricken, pausing only to nod his condolences and reassure people with a pat from his good hand. When Terry reached Jake, his mouth moved, but no sound was heard. Jake looked about the hall and discovered he could hear nothing. The headline on screen had updated to “23 Dead in Factory.”
Jake was brought back to Earth with a hand on his shoulder. He turned his head to see who it belonged to.
“Joe needs to speak with you,” whispered Soot. “You’re in for a long day.”
Soot led Jake into the funicular. The red lights flashed as it made its crawl to the belly of Dust HQ. As they scrolled past Soot’s face, she appeared like she wanted to tell Jake something.
“I’m sorry about your friends,” said Soot.
“Thank you. It’s a grim reminder that no one is safe until the infection is wiped out. Speaking of which, did you compile enough footage from the operation?”
“We’re still going through everything, but we’re excited with what we’ve seen so far. This project will show the government exactly what the Dust Bomb is worth. We might even get to retire early.”
They made their way to Grit’s interrogation rooms at the lowest point of the facility. Grit waited for them with armed soldiers by his side. His damp, chill refuge had prompted him to cover his legs with a blanket that clashed with the tone of his gray-colored hands. Like the mess hall and barracks, a TV had been mounted in the corner of the room, replaying the news of the day.
“Where do we even start?” said Grit.
“I’m still wrapping my brain around it,” said Jake. “For all intents and purposes, Bridgeview is locked down when it comes to wolf security.”
“All but one it seems,” said Grit. He nodded at Soot. “Show him.”
Soot placed an open file on the table in front of Jake. “These were taken this morning at the location you provided,” said Soot. “Our team went to retrieve Jessup Murrel and found nothing.”
“That’s impossible,” said Jake as he sifted through the photos. He recognized the interior of the house in Midlothian. “My son Ron was supposed to be guarding him. Get him on the phone.”
“Keep looking,” said Grit.
Jake found photos of the isolation chamber that had been repurposed for Jessup’s captivity. The door had been ripped from its hinges, mangled and deformed. It appeared to have been ruptured from inside the chamber.
Could Jessup have been–?
“Harboring unregistered infected is a serious crime,” said Grit, “even if it’s your commander.”
The final photograph showed Luke’s dog Macho ripped in two. Luke wasn’t supposed to be involved!
“Had I known what Jessup really was I’d have taken his head!!”
“You put him in there to begin with,” said Grit. “How could you not know!?”
“We were covered in blood at the time!! He barely fought back!!”
Noise from Grit’s radio cut in, instructing him to turn on the news. They turned their attention to the TV screen. A reporter stood beside an imposing figure among the stacks of cylindrical steel in the factory.
“Jesus Christ,” said Grit. “It’s him!”
The volume number rose as the reporter began the interview.
“I’m standing here with the owner and operator of Murrel Finished Metals, Jessup Murrel. Mr. Murrel, can you tell us how you are coping after this tragedy?”
“My heart goes out to the families of the victims,” said Jessup. “All I can give are my thoughts and prayers after this senseless and brutal massacre.”
“Do you know why your employees were gathered here the night of a full moon?”
“The factory is closed during every full moon, obviously, for safety reasons. These employees had gathered to form a hunting party, a vigilante group if you will, outside of their employment at MFM.”
“Do you know how long these gatherings have been taking place?”
“This is the first time I’ve been made aware of such a group. I want people to know that management is working closely with local law enforcement to see this group dismantled.”
He’s throwing us under the bus! thought Jake.
The camera swayed to the right to reveal two men standing behind Jessup.
That’s Ron and Luke!!
“Mr Murrel, we appreciate your time with us today. Do you have any words for your employees you’d like to share at this time?”
“Yes, my lawyers have reminded me to let my people know that If they need help coping with this tragedy, to please see their supervisor Mr. Jake Reto. He’ll be able to answer all their questions.while I’m away on business in Alaska.”
This is just one big fucking game to him!
“Sounds like he’s heading to the same settlement Fettel ran to,” said Grit. “I’ll make a call to our friends at the Canadian border. You still haven’t answered my question, Reto.”
“What would I possibly have to gain by protecting an infected!?”
“Murrel is a wealthy man. Maybe he cut you a deal.”
“I put my own sons in charge of guarding Jessup!! You think I’d have done that if I knew he was infected!?”
“You mean his lawyers? They looked pretty comfy standing next to him. And why involve your family at all? Why didn’t you assign another Finisher to stand guard? Seems peculiar to play this so close to the vest.”
Grit’s radio squealed with a message that Finishers on the property had begun to crowd the entrance of HQ. Terry demanded access to speak with Grit as their representative.
“Let him in,” said Grit. “This is a lot to chew.”
“Someone is trying to sabotage me!” said Jake. “What about my ammo getting swapped?”
“We checked with the quartermaster,” said Soot. “Your rifle was loaded with silver when it left the armory. It was bio-coded to you and only you. The surveillance camera backs him up. The only time your kit wasn’t being monitored was during prep for Choke Chain. It was left alone with the rest of the supplies in your barracks for five minutes.”
“What about the soldiers that ambushed me?”
“Sitting in the prisoner camp ever since,” said Grit. “Do you think your ‘saboteur’ is coming down the funicular?”
Jake stared at Grit without an answer.
“That shut you up pretty quick,” said Grit. “Let’s see what he has to say about all this.”
“He’ll back up every word,” said Jake.
Terry was escorted by another set of armed guards. By this time it was difficult to tell Terry from the Dust by all the gear he had acquired.
“Things are getting ugly up there,” said Terry. “How the fuck did Jessup get out of his cell!?”
“He broke out,” said Jake, “during the full moon.”
“He was infected!?”
“Grit is accusing us of harboring an unregistered infected. Tell him we didn’t know.”
Terry winced at Jake with a pained expression. “All I know is what you told me. I never said to fight him or take him prisoner. I just wanted you to talk to him.”
“The question is whether or not Jake knew during capture,” said Grit.
“I know what the fucking question is!” said Terry, “but with this man, I can’t be certain.”
Terry stared into Jake’s eyes. “He has his own motives, don’t you, Jake? You been wanting Dan Bully’s head for decades, and when you got him in your sights no one was gonna stop you, right?”
“That’s enough, Terry,” said Jake.
“No. They need to hear this. You see my arm? Jake flipped his truck trying to ram another car off the road. Both filled with hunters–not infected–hunters. He put all our lives in danger because he needed info on Dan Bully. The whole point of coming here was to break into the Bedlam Den. It had nothing to do with capturing Howard Fettel. He put our men AND yours in harm’s way to get one kid.”
“Who the fuck is Dan Bully?” said Grit.
“The son of the man that killed Jake’s daughter nearly thirty years ago,” said Terry. “He’s been waiting his whole life for this like it’s some reward from God. It’s made him unhinged–erratic. Tell them about the daydreams, Jake. Tell them how you envisioned the killing of Finishers, and how they became more and more frequent.” Terry turned to Grit. “To answer your question, I think Jake Reto is capable of anything at this point.”
“You goddamn traitor!!!” said Jake. “Grit, you’re not going to listen to this are you!?”
“We’ve been compiling footage of Choke Chain,” said Grit. “It’s an absolute masterpiece, but there’s evidence of you kicking a severely wounded hostage to his death. You want to explain what happened with Walter?”
“He was a traitor!” said Jake. “He tried to shoot me with my own gun!”
“Is everyone on your team a traitor, Jake?” said Terry.
“It’s true,” said Soot. “I was there. The rifle didn’t fire because it was bio-coded to Jake.”
“What would make a man point a weapon at their commander in the first place?” said Grit.
“A history of cruelty, fear, and selfishness,” said Terry. “Jake has a way of spreading animosity. Your sick ward is proof enough of that.”
“You have anything to say, Jake?” said Grit.
“I think we found our saboteur.”
“What saboteur!?” said Terry.
“Jake’s kit was tampered with,” said Soot. “Someone replaced his silver with lead bullets.”
“I’d need two working hands for that, sweetheart,” said Terry brandishing his cast. “Even with both hands, no one is that fast.”
“I’ve heard enough,” said Grit. “I’m placing both of you under arrest until we get this sorted out.”
The guards pulled Jake’s hands behind his back.
“He has a knife in his right boot,” said Terry.
Soot reached down and slid the knife from its sheath. She walked back towards Grit, examining the craftsmanship of the blade before hurling it at Terry. Terry grabbed the knife with his broken hand. Jake, Soot, and Grit stared at Terry–frozen with the knife still clutched in front of his face.
“Seems pretty fast to me,” said Grit. “Take them away.”
Jake basked in the summer air high above the sandstone cliffs and far from the tour trail. He adjusted his sunglasses as he gazed over the scenery of kayaks crossing the water below.
The state park had made for a popular wolf den during full moons, and he considered his time here a type of reconnaissance.
His solitude was interrupted by a little girl, no older than three-years old, exploring the cliffs alone. She wore a bandanna across her face below a pair of sunglasses, topped by a fisherman’s hat. The exposed parts of her shoulders and legs had been slathered with sunscreen.
“Tara! Stop!” said a woman. The girl’s mother bounded through the trees. “Oh, hello.”
Jake waved back to the young mother. She wore a similar pair of sunglasses and hat, along with a loose fitting tank top and yoga pants.
“Enjoying the park?” said Jake.
“Umm, yeah. It’s so beautiful. This is our first time visiting. Have you been here before?”
“This is my thirty-seventh time here,” said Jake.
“Wow. That’s really…specific.” She took off her sunglasses and bent over to talk to her daughter. “Tara, why did you run off like that?”
“I need to find the potty.”
“Well, what were you going to do when you got there without me, girl?” She stood up straight. “I’m sorry, my name’s Nicole, this is my daughter Tara. Say hello, Tara.”
“I’m Jake, very nice to meet you two.”
“Do you know where the restrooms are?”
“I have no idea.”
“Really? After thirty-seven times, huh?”
“I kinda just make do off the trail. I’ll be your lookout if you want.”
“That’s not…what we’re going to do.”
“Well, the only other restroom I know of is all the way back at the front office. Fastest way down is jumping off this cliff but you’ll probably break a femur or two.”
“The integrity of the human femur is surprisingly high. It’s actually the strongest bone in our bodies. You’d have to hit with a force of over five-thousand newtons to break it. I’m a teacher, we just covered bones.”
Her mop of curly hair bounced when she spoke.
“Good to know,” said Jake. “So are you jumping or what?”
Nicole took Tara’s hand. “Baby, is it number one or number two?”
“Okay, you win, Jake. Eyes on the road, please.”
The cell door cracked open as Grit rolled his chair inside. He hollered back to the guards to lock the door behind him.
Jake returned to the Dust HQ holding cell, unsure of how long he had been captive. He found himself sprawled across the floor.
Grit rolled close to Jake before locking the brake to his chair.
“Have you eaten?” said Grit.
Jake didn’t reply.
“Is there anything I can get you?”
“I didn’t know Jessup was infected,” said Jake.
“I know,” said Grit as he pulled a ring of keys from his belt. “Terry confessed a little while ago.”
“He did? Did you torture him?”
“No, we received terrible news out of Bridgeview. Your wife and step-daughter are dead.”
Jake placed his hands flat against the tile floor to anchor himself to reality. “What is this?” said Jake. “Is this some kind of psychological warfare?”
Grit shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
Jake leapt to his feet and seized Grit by the front of his jacket. Grit stared back at him, serene and somber.
“HOW!? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!!? They were supposed to be protected!!!”
“We received a full report from their security detail. Everyone was killed. The police believe it was done by the same wolf that attacked MFM.”
“Jessup…” whispered Jake.
Grit placed his hands over Jake’s and removed his jacket from his grasp. “Terry has something to tell you. Are you able?”
“Where is he!?”
“In the interrogation room. I pulled out a chair for him.”
Jake was led into the darkest recesses of Grit’s dungeon. Terry had been stripped naked and fastened to Grit’s “Answer Chair.” The room was black with a small spotlight illuminating the top of Terry’s body and reflecting off the steel clasps that bound him.
Grit handed Jake the remote control. “These tiny white buttons correspond to each part of the body. As they move across the controller the movement becomes more severe. The buttons on the far right will get you answers. Do NOT hit the red button. That’s only used for infected.”
Terry shivered as Jake approached. Soon Jake could make out the creases in Terry’s brow and the tears pooling in the corners of his eyes. Terry stared up at him, resigned and stoic.
“What have you done?” said Jake.
“I never wanted Nicole or Tara to get hurt. That was never my way, you know that.”
“But that’s the way it went, Terry.” Jake grazed the buttons of the remote with his thumb. “How long did you know about Jessup?”
“Right before I confirmed Euwie’s boy. Jessup had been infected for months prior. He had made one mistake in the field, and it cost him everything. Allred made him a deal–become a guinea pig for their new drug research, and they’d keep his secret.”
“Their touted ‘miracle drug’ that the Bedlam have been using for years. That’s why Allred wants Howard Fettel so bad. The drug we created had side-effects, and Jessup became unstable and paranoid.”
“That’s why he wanted me dead.”
“You were the greatest threat to his life, but Allred wanted to keep you around. Your death had to be off-the-books. And Jessup started pressuring people into his plan. I was the last holdout. You were getting worse everyday. It was only a matter of time before you turned on all of us. You deserve to die, Jake. But you’re not the only one.”
“Are you aware the integrity of the human femur is surprisingly high?”
Terry’s eye began to twitch.
“It’s the strongest bone in your body. It would take over five-thousand newtons of force to break it. Your chair is nothing but force, and no daydream I could come up with would come close to what it’ll do to you.”
“Get it over with,” said Terry through gritted teeth.
“Hand me a note in Hell; I won’t recognize you otherwise.”
Jake pressed the red button.