Finally tonight, the Gardenscape Apartment Complex just outside of West Flint has burned down. Firefighters were on the scene into the early morning hours dousing the flames that claimed three buildings. The Gardenscape Apartment Complex has been abandoned for several decades, but was believed to still be used by local biker gang, The Motor City Bedlam. It is still unclear at this time how the fire originated. No casualties have been reported.
Chapter 11: White Teeth and Black Belly
Judith had submitted her wish list, and once again Allred had delivered. Her new car had leaned towards Gator’s preference–a fully loaded Ford GT350 V8 in Black. The trunk had been stocked with Gator’s arsenal and non-lethal armaments requested by Judith.
Other supplies included camping gear, parkas, winter hats, gloves, boots, and heating packs for their trek to the Arctic Circle. Fallout equipment and iodine pills had also been requested to suppress the radiation that plagued Northern Alaska. Tucked under it all was an item not on the list, but a down payment of sorts from Allred–a twelve-inch Chef’s knife for Judith.
Judith had lost track of time thinking of the blade and what she would do to Jake and Jessup when the mission was complete. One step at a time, girl, thought Judith. She turned her attention to the rising white spikes in the distance–the bizarre pyramid structures of the gateway to Canada.
“So what else did you see?” said Gator. His first words in almost an hour.
“Don’t do this,” said Judith. “We both know what happened in that apartment.”
“I’m done talking about that,” said Gator. “I meant the last full moon. Did her picture help?”
“It was still hazy. Char felt trapped, like she was being sedated.”
“Was she in pain?”
“Hard to say. The photo isn’t great quality, but with any luck we’ll get to Leek Denaa before the next full moon.”
“Then give me my photo back,” said Gator raising his right hand.
Judith dug through her wallet for the photo. She glanced down at it before slipping it back in Gator’s hand. Seeing Char sent a burning ripple up the back of her neck. The photo depicted Gator, Char, and Dan with their arms over each other’s shoulders. Dan’s portion had been torn off, leaving behind husband and wife.
A bit childish for a man his age, thought Judith. “You do realize it was out of Danny’s control?”
“I know what I saw,” said Gator. “I don’t blame him. I’m actually a little proud that he finally grew some balls.”
Dan had seemed like a good man back at the Bedlam Complex, if not a bit naive. “Then why ruin the photo?”
“Had to spit my gum in something.”
“They were doing what animals do,” said Judith. “At a certain point they were only reacting to basic instincts to survive. I find it hard to believe an isolation guard wouldn’t understand that.”
“I find it hard to believe a warg got nothing from my wife during a full moon.”
“It didn’t feel right,” said Judith. “Like driving through a ghost town. After the attack on Bedlam, the number of infected in this country may have dropped to triple digits.”
“What do you think they’re doing to Char up there?”
“I don’t know, but we’ll find her and Howard with the Captain’s help.”
“Captain Ronald Nillset of White Teeth. You’ve been talking about him nonstop since we left Chicago. Is he the real deal?”
“Named my first born after him.”
“He must be somthin’ else.”
“You could say that. He helped me keep my job when everyone else thought I was done.”
“And he’ll know where Leek Denaa is?”
“He’ll probably have all of Alaska mapped out. Trust me on this, Gator.”
“My mother’s life is at stake.”
“I haven’t forgotten. We bring in Fettel and we all might just walk away intact. He has no place else to hide, and we’re practically at his doorstep.”
White Teeth rose in the distance–its twin satellite towers stabbed into the sky. The gateway funnelled all traffic from the US through Canada and into the gateway of Alaska known as Black Belly. At their base were a glut of vehicles heading into British Columbia.
The MIR officers patrolling the checkpoint wore unfamiliar body armor. Mounted guns along the walkway also felt out-of-place to Judith. As they diverged into a parking area, Judith could now see each officer was armed with a rifle. Some were led by packs of dogs on leashes.
They stepped out of the car. “Does security seem excessive to you?” said Gator. “Those rifles are military grade.”
“Let’s find Ronald,” said Judith. Maybe he knows what’s going on here.
They entered the base of the east pyramid, finding an elevator restricted from rising above the third floor. They returned outside and passed the checkpoint on foot where the vehicles were stopped. Gun nests dotted the horizon leading out into Canadian soil. Before Judith could point them out, they were swarmed by checkpoint officers.
Judith and Gator raised their hands above their heads as the guards drew their weapons.
“We have an appointment with Captain Ronald Nillset,” said Judith.
A voice yelled for her to shut up.
Soon a pair of hands parted the swarm, revealing a short man in heavy body armor and a silver-plated ballistic face mask. It shone in the sun as he motioned for the others to lower their rifles.
Judith and Gator lowered their hands. “I’m Officer Klove and this is–.”
“Nobody asked for your names and nobody said to lower your hands!” said the soldier.
“Are you shitting me?” said Judith. “I just told you we have an appointment with the Captain.”
“The Captain is offsite. Until he returns you’ll speak to me. Is that understood!? Now show me your documentation!”
“Hey, Lord Humungus, we’re not infected,” said Gator. “We wouldn’t be carrying that.”
“Then we’re doing this the hard way!” The soldier turned and requested his men to bring out the stock silver. When he faced forward, Gator stood only a foot away. The startled soldier pointed the rifle at Gator’s face. “Not another fucking step!!”
Gator hunched down until their eyes met. He placed his hand on the soldier’s silver mask.
“Either I’m not a wolf, or you paid too much for that mask,” said Gator. He ripped the mask off the soldier and tossed it aside.
The diminutive soldier’s hair was matted to his head as streams of sweat dripped off his nose. He held up his rifle with trembling hands.
“That’s enough,” called out a familiar voice. “Private Grist, you may stand down.”
“We have a situation, Captain.”
“I can’t grab tea for five minutes without there being a situation, can I?” Captain Nillset was as gangly as Judith remembered, although his mop of auburn hair had become completely gray with accompanying patches of neck stubble. His uniform was the style of MIR officers back home, but worn in the elbows and knees.
“Good morning, Captain Nillset,” said Judith.
“Good morning, Officer Klove,” said Captain Nillset with a raise of his mug. “Welcome Mr. Doogan.”
“‘Gator’ is fine,” said Gator.
“I thought you two would arrive later this afternoon. Can I get you anything–coffee, tea? I’ll have Private Grist fetch it for you immediately.”
“I’m fine, thank you,” said Judith.
“I’ll take a beer,” said Gator.
Captain Nillset turned to Grist. “You have your orders, Private.”
“Please forgive Private Grist,” said Ronald. “He was rejected by the Marines, hence the misplaced ‘oorah.’”
Ronald’s office jutted out from the middle of the pyramid, overlooking the valley of White Teeth. He sat in a brown leather office chair that had been repaired on the edges with duct tape. He sipped his tea with the string of the bag dangling off the side. A black cat stretched up and buried its claws in the duct tape of the chair.
“Knock it off,” said Ronald with a lazy jerk of the elbow. The cat retreated to the filing cabinet, then leapt to the bookshelves behind Ronald. Its body grazed past framed certificates with the United States Army crest and MIR Chief signatures before curling in the corner.
“You’re collaborating with the Army now?” said Judith pointing at the certificates as she took her seat.
Ronald took a deep sip from his mug. “Your eyes are still sharp,” said Ronald.
“When did this happen?”
“I was hoping to get to that later. I thought we could catch up first.”
“I’m sorry. Time is the enemy.”
“Of course, your bounty. You got a way inside Denaa?”
“Yup, he’s down there drinking and talking shit to your boys.”
Ronald swiveled his chair to face the window. “That he is.” Ronald took another sip. “How are your boys?”
“Wouldn’t know. I quit MIR last month and haven’t heard from anyone.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I was referring to your sons.”
Judith sighed and glowered at him as she had done a hundred times before.
“I see,” said Ronald.
“Luke is studying to become a lawyer. We’ll see if he follows through.”
“He’s always been bright. Luke will be just fine. And my other godson?”
“I watched a MIR officer club his teeth in at a cemetery.”
“They grow up so fast don’t they?”
“And how’s your family getting along?”
Ronald finished his tea before answering. “Fine.”
Judith laughed at the pithy response. “It’s not a competition, Ronald. You’d have wiped the floor with me decades ago if it was.”
Ronald placed his mug on the desk and began to rub his chin. “Well, Alicia got accepted into a Radiation Oncology residency in Tampa and her mother is crying her eyes out because our baby is finally leaving the state.”
“That’s wonderful news,” said Judith.
Ronald picked up a picture frame from his desk and handed it to Judith. She looked at the proud parents standing behind their auburn-haired graduate. Looking at Alicia’s face sent chills through the back of Judith’s neck. She gazed up at Ronald to find his face sullen.
“Did you feel it?” said Ronald.
Judith nodded and placed the frame back on the desk. “That’s going to complicate things for her.”
“We have friends at the MIR outpost in Florida, and Mary is going to help get things settled out there for the first month or so.”
“Now the guns really don’t make sense,” said Judith. “Why is the Army here? Why the machine gun nests? Why Private Grist?”
“Lycantrosis is being contained as well as the resources allow,” said Ronald. “Tax dollars are hard to come by for MIR, but the Army seems to grow in any economic climate. Well, someone had the bright idea to form an alliance. We get to keep the lights on, but only if we take a more aggressive stance on infected.”
“They want you to gun people down.”
“There are many degrees of aggression, Judith.”
“But what about Alicia, Ronald? Hell, even before you were married you wanted a better life for infected. You’re more reasonable than this.”
“You and I both know that ‘better life’ was never going to happen. Vigilante groups took over, the numbers dwindled, and the remaining wolves became actual threats. We did everything we could, but the population was too scared to do the right thing.”
Judith wanted to argue, but she could not.
“I remember you once told me our job is like hospice care,” said Ronald, “just easing the sick into death. But this wasn’t going to end that softly. All we can do for them is offer something fast. Those are the results anyone is willing to pay for now.”
“Is that the future you want for Alicia?”
“Absolutely not, but I know the statistics. I’m still reasonable. I can’t protect everyone’s child, but I sure as hell can protect mine.”
Judith knew he was right. The future she had dedicated her life to building for others had not materialized, and it came at the cost of her own children.
“I assume your bounty is meant to be brought back alive?” said Ronald.
Ronald opened his filing cabinet and rifled through the folders. He returned to his desk with a map and a window decal with an orange hazardous materials logo on it. He handed them to Judith. “Make sure you place this on the drivers side of the windshield. That will get you past Black Belly checkpoint no questions asked. The map will show you Leek Denaa’s location along with three confirmed access points.”
“Thanks, Ronald. Good luck with Alicia.”
“It was good to see you again, Officer Klove.”
Judith approached the door and stopped. “Just for my own curiosity, when you’re out there, chasing down some kid, do you ever ‘lose sight’ of them?”
“I can’t answer that,” said Ronald, “but I will say this, my aim isn’t as sharp as it used to be.”