What Teeth They Had: Book 2 Chapter 17

book-2

Tonight we have an exclusive interview with Monty Caruso—the “cutman” said to have performed over two-hundred and fifty surgeries for The Finishers in secret. After three decades, he breaks his silence with our very own Adriana Wilson.

Wilson: “Why “Cutman?”

Caruso: “I believed that every hunt was like a heavyweight fight. I helped our men go the distance.”

Wilson: “What do you have to say to the families of people slain by The Finishers?”

Caruso: “We all know in our hearts that their loved ones were no longer the people they knew. Deep down we felt like we were setting them free.”

Wilson: “In your official statement to police, you named Terry Fuller, the branch manager, as the mastermind of The Finishers. This man has been missing for several weeks. Do you believe he will be caught?”

Caruso: “We all get tired of running eventually.”

Join us tonight at 9 for the entire interview only on WBXF.

Chapter 17: Wolf Land

Fog enveloped the road just past the Black Belly checkpoint. The natural splendor of the North turned its back in rejection. There was nothing for them here. This was wolf land–a statewide expansion of the Bedlam Complex complete with resentment and anger, and no human would step foot here with ease.

Gator remembered the pain in Char’s eyes when ‘human’ was used to describe someone who had not turned. He would explain that wolves were not less human–quite the opposite. If that were true, thought Gator, why did I hold out all these years?

It was Judith’s turn to drive. Gator watched her steer confidently into nothingness. This woman was no one to him a few days ago. Now she was his lifeline in what may be his final reckless act. He knew nothing about her–that needed to change.

“So what were their names?” asked Gator. He sat bundled in layers and a leather jacket in the passenger seat.

Judith’s heavy coat crunched every time she turned to speak–never quite facing him fully. “Whose names?” said Judith.

“You said Ronald was your first born. Do you have more kids?”

“I have two boys–Ron and Luke.”

“Who’s Luke named after?”

Judith chuckled. “No one. I had a dozen names for him before he was born. When I held him for the first time I just said ‘hello, Luke.’ It wasn’t even on my list.”

“You just knew?”

“I had never known a ‘Luke,’ so that name wasn’t associated with a jerk yet. Are you thinking about names?”

Gator gnawed at the dead skin of his chapped lip. “I got no one to name.”

“We both know that’s not true,” said Judith. “We’re going to see Char up here whether you like it or not. There must be a part of you that wants to share in her moment.”

“Rex.”

“Rex? As in Tyrannosaurus?”

“It’s a good name…for a boy. Sounds tough. Never picked one for a girl–that was Char’s job. She had mentioned naming a daughter after her mother. I can’t remember what it was–some simple name all women have out in the boondocks.”

“I hope you have nothing but daughters,” said Judith.

“Me too.”

“Did your mother name you ‘Fred?’”

“No, my father did. She named me ‘Gator.’”

“We’ll get her back. I promise we–.” Judith gripped the wheel to one side as the car swerved across the road. The tires buckled, and the car careened into a guardrail.

“Keep your eyes on the road!” said Gator.

“There’s ice up here, goddammit!” Judith lurched the car to the shoulder. “There are snow chains in the trunk.” Judith waited in silence, staring into Gator’s eyes.

Gator threw up his hands and slapped them against the tops of his legs. “I guess I’ll take care of it.” He flung the passenger door open and slammed it behind him. The trunk waited for him popped open.

New sets of clothes were bundled and pressed in between lethal and nonlethal munitions. He wasn’t sure what these disguises were for necessarily. Leek Denaa was a dangerous place, but he knew Char and Howard, and Judith seemed to have a familiarity with those people. Gator believed they would be in more danger had they hid who they really were.

Gator pulled a tangled ball of chains from the trunk. He threw it on the pavement and spread it with his hands to smooth out the kinks. His hands passed over the street. No ice, thought Gator, not even cold.

He began to drape the chains onto the back wheel on the driver’s side. He heard Judith step out of the vehicle.

“If you want to help, drive forward slowly,” said Gator.

Judith did not respond.

Gator turned his head to find her walking in the opposite direction, veering into the woods.

“Where are you going!?” said Gator as Judith vanished beyond the branches. “Fuck me,” mumbled Gator as he stood up. He looked both ways on the road, finding no one. He pulled a handgun from the trunk before slamming it closed.

*****

Gator and Char sat in their new home–several feet below ground level in the North building. The fallout shelter had been prepared for them sparingly. There was a bed, a chair, a fan, and a single bare bulb descending from the ceiling. No pleasantries, pictures, or windows, just the utilitarian safety from a megaton blast and the mutterings of his wife.

“We don’t have to stay here,” said Char from the recliner. “We can go out for a walk, get some air…talk.”

Gator sat on the other side of the bed with his back to her, staring at the curved wall of rust in front of him. The more she spoke the more he ran his palms across the paisley mattress. He wondered where Dan was being kept, if he could find him before leaving this place for good.

“Or we can stay here…and talk,” said Char. “We don’t have much, but we have privacy. Gator, I really need to know where your head’s at with all this.”

“Everyone knows,” said Gator. “Everyone knows those aren’t my kids because that fucking warg couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He was so fucking pleased with himself, too.”

“What he does isn’t an exact science,” said Char. “He could be wrong.”

“He’s not wrong. I saw you and Dan the night in the apartment. I separated you two before morning.”

“You…you knew about this and you didn’t tell me!? I had to find out in front of everyone that I raped my friend!?”

Gator rolled his eyes, “raped.”

“What is wrong with you!?”

Gator stood with an accusing finger as he approached Char. “You told me the full moon brings out the real self, remember? You always fuss over that boy, since day one, sizing him up for this day to come. The real Char wants kids, you couldn’t get them from me, so you found someone who could!”

“You’re completely out of line with this shit!”

“When those kids are born and you’re living in this shithole with Dan, where does that put me!?”

“Where does it put you? You’re my husband. You’re supposed to support me when I need you most and I need you. Now. How much clearer do I need to make this?”

“None of this feels right,” said Gator.

“Look, we wanted children. Maybe this isn’t how we envisioned it, but it’s happening. We would never be able to adopt. We’d have to look into a surrogate eventually, and as selfish as this sounds, we could have done way worse than Danny.”

“Fuck your surrogate!” said Gator. “I’ve killed to keep this family together! We could have found a way! You owe me that much!!”

Char covered her face with both hands, slowly dragging them beneath her chin. They hung there as if she were praying. “I want to lie down, and I’d really love it if my husband could lie with me. You can still hate me if you want. I just need you next to me.”

Gator walked to the metal ladder they climbed down to get here. “You’re going to have to find someone else for that, too.”

*****

The frigid air forced Gator to wrap a scarf around his neck and pull a glove on one hand. His right hand was left bare with the metal of his gun sticking to his palm. The cool wind soothed his sprained wrist as he navigated the wilderness.

Although he had never hunted animals, his time with Char had made him an excellent tracker of people. This instance was different. Most people were afraid–their tracks flustered and minds panicked. Judith moved with purpose in an unsettling trance, and he had yet to get eyes on her.

Gator entered parts of the woods with frost tightly packed along the forest bed. His boots slid past wet branches and crisp leaves. He spotted deer to the west undisturbed. He examined the patchy snow for boot prints and discovered a trail northeast.

Nothing seemed to slow Judith down. Gator called her name, scaring birds from the trees above. It began to snow “prettily” as Char would put it. Snowflakes drifted lazily only to disappear into the ground. Soon his chest ached from the cold. The wind picked up along with the snowfall. It accumulated in the nooks of bark and rocks, and he lost the trail entirely.

Gator discovered a shack as the concentration of trees lessened. She couldn’t have seen this place from the road, thought Gator. It was his only lead now, and at the very least, he could warm his numb fingers.

As he approached the shack, he noticed that the door flapped in the wind. The hinges had ruptured along the top half of the door. He switched the safety off and extended his good hand onto the door to stop it from rattling.

It was dark inside. The only light came from the pale morning sky overhead. No electricity, only a kerosene lamp rolling back and forth on the floor. Gator picked it up and felt oil slosh about inside of the galvanized tank. He lifted the glass globe and lit the wick with a lighter that had the Bedlam “B” etched into the side. He stared at it while the meager flame took hold, realizing it was the only thing of Char he had left.

The shack illuminated, giving form to an unkempt twin-sized bed and a desk cluttered with radio equipment and a crumpled novel.

“This is a comm station,” mumbled Gator. “Why isn’t anyone manning it?” The wall above the desk had a map of the area pinned to it. He ran his finger along the highway He and Judith took up here. The shack was two miles out, and a larger structure labeled “Fort McKinley” loomed another mile north.

Fort McKinley came into view. It was much smaller than the map had suggested. It was a two-story cabin with wire fencing defending the perimeter. Again, the entrance had been bashed open, this time with pools of black blood staining the grounds. The walk up to the cabin door was slow and quiet.

“This place doesn’t look decommissioned by choice,” said Gator. The smell of death wafted from the doorway. Gator stepped inside with his gun drawn and the bail of the lamp hooked to his hip. His path was littered with the men stationed there. Bodies stacked into haphazard piles of limbs and viscera. Their bodies were stripped naked.

Gator was tackled to the ground. The lamp shattered outside the doorway, and he grappled with a shadow. The strength of the figure overpowered him as adrenaline gave him little chance to fight back. He felt the top half of his body rise helplessly only to be slammed against the wooden floor over and over. Gunshots lit the cabin in quick succession, revealing the crazed visage of Judith.

“Snap out of it!” Gator cracked his revolver against Judith’s temple, and she tumbled to the side. Both of them laid still, gasping for rotten air as fog spilled from their faces.

“Gator?” called Judith in the darkness.

“IT’S ME!!!” said Gator.

“Jesus Christ.” Judith’s flashlight blinded Gator. When his eyes adjusted, he found Judith trembling with her back against the wall aiming her light at the bodies. She pointed at her chest, repeating “Did I do this!?”

Gator examined the bodies closer. “These people have been dead for days,” said Gator. “Whoever did this is long gone.” Gator approached Judith and took the flashlight from her hand. “You want to tell me what the fuck just happened?”

“You were going to find out eventually,” said Judith. “This is the price of being a warg. Your mind starts to go, and you can’t tell reality from hallucination.”

“You had the strength of three men. How was that possible?”

“A lot of this is new to me,” said Judith, “but I know eventually the lights will go out completely sooner rather than later.”

“What did you see…from the road? What made you come here?”

“I saw someone. I don’t know who they were or if they were real, but they felt familiar. I got a strong read from him. He was overcome with anguish and rage. He disappeared at the threshold of this cabin. When I tried to leave I couldn’t find the door, and the bodies began to move.”

“We need to get you back to the checkpoint,” said Gator, “you’re not well.”

“NO!” said Judith. “We need to get back on the road. That man’s energy is moving towards Leek Denaa. I think he’s looking for Char.”

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