Sometimes it’s not the wolves that pose the danger…
There’s a downside to living in a secret society. Someone has to ensure it remains that way. ‘Bull’ Bulworth is that someone. His current assignment: track a young man who has an unrecognized wolf inside him and eliminate the problem before the truth about Wolvers is exposed to the human world. It’s a simple and straightforward assignment until he meets a woman who makes him think crazy might be contagious.
In her own words, Tommie Bane is nuttier than a pecan tree. There’s a voice in her head telling her she is something other than human, and a creature she swears is running around inside her body. Just when she’s at the lowest point in her weird and nutty life, she meets a man who tells her it’s all real. Should she listen to the voice of reason or to the voice in her head that keeps shouting “Mate”?
What do you have to lose when you’ve already lost your mind? For Tommie, it could be her life.
“Don’t you bare your teeth at me, young lady,” the voice admonishes; a woman’s voice, firm, but not harsh. Her finger wags with the warning. “Bad things happen to little girls who let their beast out. Now, here’s your bankie. Nothing to cry about.” She smiles and blows a kiss.
The angry little girl shows her teeth again, this time adding a curled lip and a snarl to the mix. She rubs the little square of green cloth against her cheek for comfort.
Suddenly the world is spinning and tumbling in a terrifying cacophony of screeching metal, screaming voices, and thunderous booms. The little girl screams and the world turns red.
The woman’s eyes snapped open, but she held her body still until she could identify the source of her sudden wakefulness. The stink of fear surrounded her and the coppery taste of blood settled on her tongue where her teeth had nipped its tip. She’d been dreaming again, though she had no recollection of this current nightmare.
On the far side of the room, a square of faint fluorescent light shined though the window cut into the door of the hated storeroom. The wire mesh imbedded in the glass diffused the light further. It didn’t matter. A little light was all she needed. Her night vision had always been excellent.
Shadows took form. Dark, hazy shapes became the dreaded metal table and the chairs her tormenters used while keeping her on hands and knees. Her knees and palms were callused with the constant scrape of rough cement.
Her head cocked, a minute movement that freed her ear from the arm curled up and over her head. There was nothing wrong with her hearing, either. The clock on the wall ticked off the seconds, though the minute hand hung useless at the six. She had no idea if the hour hand was accurate or if it was day or night. She no longer cared. The doctor was winning. She was becoming the shadow that stared at her with golden eyes and bared its teeth at her in that other, and more familiar, recurring dream.
Pipes creaked somewhere beyond the door to this basement chamber and the whir of machines vibrated in the walls. She listened for sounds of human approach; footsteps, voices, sometimes cruel laughter. Hearing none, she relaxed as much as her confined space would allow. She rolled to her back and stretched her cramped joints. A tiny twitter overhead brought her eyes to the awkward flutter of batwings in the far corner where high wall met ceiling.
It left the corner and flew about the basement room, darting here and there in pretended freedom, catching almost invisible insects and the flies that usually hovered around the food bowl in the corner of her cage. The bat showed no recognition of her existence, yet she considered it a friend. It was the only living thing she’d seen in a very long time that didn’t cause her to writhe in pain or shrink in humiliation. Its miniscule brain had little room for thought or reason, yet some sixth sense of preservation made it fly to its home and hiding place each time their jailors approached. She envied her fellow inmate’s ability to disappear. It was a valuable talent when there was no hope of escape.
The little bat was as much a prisoner as she was, though her captors had no idea the creature shared her basement prison. It lived behind an ancient picture on the wall. The filthy floor disguised its droppings. The paper behind the cracked glass of its home was brittle and cracked in some places, and stained with the brown marks of dampness in others. The illustration behind the printed words had faded to an unrecognizable wash of pale blues and greens, though the words themselves were still clear enough.
“Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. PSALMS 41: 1-2”
The young woman would have laughed at the sentiment if she’d remembered how.
William ‘Bull’ Bulworth took a seat in one of the two chairs facing the mahogany desk. It was a large chair, a comfortable chair, and it suited his long legs and broad body just as it suited the large desk and large, comfortable office. Yet he felt uncomfortable sitting in it, like he was on display. The three solid walls and the bank of windows shielded from the sun by slatted blinds reminded him of a cage. Cages and wolvers didn’t mix. He didn’t know how Eugene Begley stood it day after day. Bull felt the need to pace and fought it.
His Alpha, and therefore his boss, must have sensed his discomfort because he tapped a button on the control panel that ran along the edge of the desk and the blinds rose. Each of the five windows consisted of wide, clear panes separated only by a sash and looked out over an expanse of green circling an irregularly shaped pond with trees in the background; a landscaper’s rendition of rustic woodland.
“You want ‘em open?” Begley asked about the closed windows in that easy going mountain drawl of his.
A wolver couldn’t lie to his Alpha, so Bull didn’t try. Instead he changed the subject.
“You got a job for me or are we just here to shoot the breeze?”
“Hell son, you’re pricklier than a naked woman in a briar patch. Never known you to be mean tempered.”
“If you wanted touchy-feely, you recruited the wrong wolver.”
The little wolver looked so affronted, Bull snorted a short, humorless laugh.
“I ain’t ever recruited the wrong wolver,” his Alpha snapped. “Wore out a few, maybe, but never chose a wrong one.”
There were three things that made Eugene Begley’s small pack unique: all the members had abilities normally found only in pack Leaders or Alphas; their pack had no females, so only grew through recruitment; and they all followed Eugene Begley who was half their size and twice as powerful as any Alpha any of the pack members had ever met.
Eugene was known as a matchmaker and his ability to locate Alpha’s Mates, those women who would guarantee the perpetuation of the Wolver species, made him welcome in packs all over the continent. But matchmaking was what he did for pleasure.
“Makes my real job easier to swallow,” he’d told Bull years ago. He was referring to their service to the Convocation of Wolvers, the ineffective governing body of their part man-part wolf species.
At the time, Bull hadn’t understood. Living among, yet separate from their human counterparts, Wolvers had kept their secrets for hundreds of years and it was his job to see that it remained that way. While he couldn’t claim to take pleasure in his work, he knew what he did was necessary to protect the Wolver community from discovery.
All these years later, Bull understood his boss perfectly. He saw his job as a necessary evil and it was getting harder to swallow with each passing year. He’d become the very thing he hunted; an outlier, a statistical anomaly that resided outside the norm.
The majority of wolvers lived in packs with an Alpha at the head and a hierarchy of positions within the pack as defined by its Alpha. For the most part, these packs formed solid and supportive communities that satisfied both the human and the wolf.
Some wolvers went rogue either because they’d betrayed their pack in some fashion and were judged Outcast, or because they couldn’t stand the strictures imposed by their pack. Oddly, these wolvers tended to join up into loosely bonded groups.
The very worst of these packs or rogue bands still sought the primal wolver need to live in close proximity to others of their kind. Regardless of their lifestyle choices, the vast majority of wolvers understood the need to keep their species’ secret.
There were a few who’d never felt comfortable in the company of others. They kept the Primal Laws, caused no problems, and lived out their lives as lone wolvers.
Eugene Begley’s pack fell somewhere in between and he often referred to them as his pack of lone wolvers. When packs were disrupted or bands of outlaw rogues attracted the attention of human authorities, Eugene Begley called his pack to action.
There was another kind of wolver that folks didn’t talk about much. They were William Bulworth’s specialty.
Begley held up the manila folder containing the next assignment. “You don’t have to take it, son. You just got back from a job.”
“Jobs done and I need the money,” Bull told him.
Because it was work few others would do, his assignments paid well. So well, in fact, he was almost ready to retire. One more and he’d leave both Begley’s pack and his employ to live out his life as the lone wolf he started out to be; needing no company but the memory of his sins.
Eugene Begley handed him the folder and Bull glanced at the white label in the corner. The label read: Thomas Mortimer Bane with the generous fee written beneath.
Bull scanned the printed page, took in the pertinent details, and flipped it over. The back was blank.
“Where’s the rest of it?” He nodded at the empty folder which usually held ten to twelve closely written pages.
“Why? You never read it. I figured I might as well do my part in savin’ a tree.”
He was right. Bull had no interest in reading the sad tales of the wolvers he hunted. Everybody had a sad tale to tell. It didn’t mean you got to declare open season on folks who had nothing to do with it.
“Could have saved a lot more if you’d learned the lesson sooner. What do you want done?”
“Learnin’ takes some of us longer than others.” Begley sounded regretful, as he always did when he handed Bull his assignments. “You make the call, son, same as always.”
And William Bulworth nodded in understanding as he always did when Begley handed him an assignment. It was his job. It was why they paid him the big bucks.
He was Judge, Jury, and sometime Executioner. It wasn’t his job to correct a problem. His job was to eliminate it.
“I’ll be back in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Above the smell of raw and rotting meat and her own filth, the aroma of fried hamburger and melted cheese brought her up on all fours. Her eager eyes went to the fast food bag before they looked at the man carrying it. She couldn’t take her eyes from it. She immediately thought of how it would taste and how it would feel to chew the mixture of meat and cheese and bread. There were French fries in the bag, too. She liked French fries almost as much as chocolate, but rarely allowed herself either of the treats. She’d been riding the high protein diet wave and carbs weren’t part of the plan.
Now, if he threw her the bag, she would stuff her mouth with them. She’d eat them by the handful and she didn’t Care if she was punished for using her hands. She began to salivate and as humiliating as it was, the reaction brought her some comfort. She was hungry, but she was not an animal.
The meat, still attached to the bone and sitting in the metal food bowl, didn’t have the same effect on her senses. Yes, it was tempting, but only because it had been three days since her last meal, meager as it was. Her refusal to eat raw meat was her last rebellion and the doctor was determined to put this mutiny down as he had the others.
“No more food until it eats what’s in its bowl,” he’d told her keepers.
He no longer said her name. She was no longer ‘she’ or ‘her’. She was ‘it’; one more step on the road to removing her humanity.
The hand held the bag out to her and wiggled it enticingly, much like her neighbor, Mrs. Gladstone, did with the treats she fed her little poodle, Tinkles. It wasn’t until he spoke that her eyes left the bag.
“You want it, little doggie, don’t you?” he said in much the same way Mrs. Gladstone spoke to Tinkles.
Her elderly neighbor spoke to her little pet with love. There was no love or kindness in Buster’s voice. But there was something else in it, something that made her more cautious of him than she usually was.
She knew from overheard conversations that he’d once been a patient in this place and now worked as Doctor Gantnor‘s assistant. She didn’t know what that meant outside these walls, but here in her prison, it meant he was her main tormentor and she knew he enjoyed it.
Buster was mean. He found his amusement in cruelty. He enjoyed following the doctor’s instructions to taunt and hurt her, but even the doctor had never allowed him to be alone with her before.
“Doc said not to feed her,” the man with him protested.
He was an older man with a friendly face. His name was Sam and he smiled at her and sometimes winked when he removed the bucket from the corner of her cage or filled her food bowl. She might have fallen for his small shows of kindness if she hadn’t heard him talk about the three young women he’d bludgeoned to death and the ‘fun’ he’d had before he killed them.
“It, not her,” Buster corrected, “And the doc’s not here. Won’t be back for a couple days. He’s on another one of his hunting trips.”
“He’s already got three. Why’s he lookin’ for another?”
“Probably for the same reason you are. He’s just found a better way to hide it.” Buster laughed, high pitched and girlish for a man of his size. It reminded her of the TV shows she’d seen of hyena’s attacking their prey. “If he’s done with this one, maybe he’ll give it to you to play with.”
“You know she ain’t my type.” Sam sounded affronted by the suggestion. “I like mine blonde with a bit more up front.”
“Well I ain’t so picky. Open the fucking door,” Buster ordered. He took the yellow wrapped burger from the bag and held it out.
“Good doggie. Come on out. Old Buster wants to play.”
It was the second time he called her that and the second time something inside her churned at the sound of it. Being called bitch didn’t bother her nearly as much as being called dog. She licked her lips, swallowed hard, and shrank against the back wall of her cage. She knew what he meant by play. Even if she couldn’t smell it on him, the bulge in his pants gave it away.
Sam knew it, too. “Don’t be a fool. Do you want to end up back on the wards? He said to wait until he came back. She’s got to eat the meat first. If she doesn’t crack, fucking her would be the next step.”
“Look at her, asshole. She’s ready to crack and how’s he gonna know what did it. It’s not like she can tell him. He zaps her with the rod every time she opens her mouth. Like this.”
Buster picked up the electric prod from the counter and pressed the button on the prod’s grip. He laughed when she twitched at the sound it made.
Every time she made a human sound, she was zapped with an electric charge. At first, she fought it, but the doctor only increased the charge until it was strong enough to make her wet herself.
“Get the hose, and we’ll get her out.”
She was truly frightened now. They’d wet her down. The prod would hurt more against her wet skin. They’d use the capture poles to snap a loop around her neck and drag her from the cage like some animal.
She wasn’t an animal. No matter what she dreamed or what the doctor said. She wasn’t an animal. She wasn’t.
But like the animal she wasn’t, she bared her teeth and snarled. And like the human she no longer was, she whined with fear when the water and electric shock hit her at the same time.
The alarm sounded and blue lights flashed in the hallway.
“Ward C. Ward C.” The loudspeaker overhead announced the location of the problem. “All patients are required to return to their rooms immediately.”
The announcement triggered an immediate response in Ward B where Bull was working the evening shift. Like an electric shock, he felt the current of excitement run through the patients. Whatever was happening in Ward C was about to carry over into B.
Two of the men in grey smocks with big red ‘B’s painted on the front nervously shuffled to their doors and closed themselves in. Four more looked up at the speaker box on the wall and went back to their card game. A young nurse, who’d had the misfortune to unlock the ward door just as the alarm sounded, was suddenly confronted by the other thirty men using the rec room who charged en masse for the now opened door that led to the other wards. The nurse’s white shirt disappeared in a sea of grey.
Bull didn’t bother to shout an order or a warning over the din created by the men. He waded in, tossing bodies out of his way, yanking shirt collars and avoiding the punches being thrown his way. He threw his body against the door. Two inmates screamed as their hands were caught between door and jamb. Bull opened the door just enough for the hands to slide free and slammed it again.
He grabbed the nurse’s arm and hauled her to her feet. Sheltering her with his body, he moved to the station where two other nurses and another orderly had locked themselves behind the wire and glass windows and heavy security door. He was greeted by three horrified faces and three pointing fingers. Using the key that hung from the set at his waist, Bull opened the door wide enough to shove the rescued nurse inside before slamming it shut and turning back to the over excited crowd.
Like the Red Sea, the crowd of shouting men had parted for Moses. Comparable to Bull in size, though heftier around the middle, the heavily tattooed patient had killed his ex-girlfriend and two of her friends while they were celebrating her engagement to another man. His mental stability was currently being evaluated. He’d already thrown two other patients down a flight of stairs and broken an orderly’s nose. He charged at Bull and the chair he held over his head came crashing down.
Bull caught the descending chair in both hands. For a moment, the two men seemed suspended in time, chair balanced above them. Then, biceps bulging, Bull shoved, wresting the chair from his attacker’s hands. Moses flew along the parted sea, landing on his back. Bull didn’t stop. He brought the chair down on the stunned man’s head and turned to the other’s.
“Who’s next?” he snarled. He spread his arms and curled his fingers in a come-on to the next opponent.
His wolf was close to the surface, but the men of Ward B wouldn’t see it as such. What they saw was the same look they found staring back at them from the polished metal mirrors in the bathrooms. They knew a crazed animal when they saw one and backed off. Madness was an everyday occurrence here and survival depended on recognizing who was crazier than you.
The Gantnor Clinic was a privately run facility subcontracted by the State to house the criminally insane. Two-thirds of its population was here on the taxpayer’s dime. The rest had families wealthy enough to hide them away behind the Clinic’s late nineteenth century facade. The employee turnover was fairly high and Bull’s size and muscle mass made him an instant hire as an orderly. It was his sixth day on the job and his seventh mini-riot. He’d quickly learned that while the behavior he’d just displayed might be reported, it wouldn’t be penalized. Someone had to keep the inmates under control.
Six days and still no sign of Thomas Mortimer Bane. The name wasn’t in the computer or in the paper files that were kept in the rooms behind the reception desk. Of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t here. Bull had cross-checked several other patients. One of them had missing paperwork, too.
More astounding was the lack of security. Doctors and other clinicians worked out of a separate wing where security was tight. If they ventured onto the wards, they were always accompanied by two guards with Tasers ready. The rest of the place was a disaster waiting to happen.
There were two guard shacks; one at the ornate front gate where the facility’s few visitors entered, and one at the rear drive where trucks made their deliveries and employees parked. Inside, he’d counted only two dozen security personnel keeping watch over four hundred inmates, most of whom had violent histories. Sure, meds were issued three times a day, but no one made sure they were taken and, as the mini-riots proved, they didn’t always work.
The night he’d gone through the paper files, he’d parked his truck on a road that ran beside the eight foot stone wall that encircled the grounds, scaled the wall, and walked across the park-like grounds. His only challenges were the six Doberman Pinschers that patrolled the grounds at night and he’d already established who the top canine was with them the night before. He’d parked on the street ever since and no one ever questioned how he came to work without signing in at the guard shack.
Attacks on employees were fairly common and he’d seen both guards and orderlies watch with arms folded as inmates attacked each other.
Something was very wrong at the Gantnor Clinic and because he’d never known Eugene Begley to make a mistake about a target’s location, Bull decided to spend a few more days looking around before calling it quits. That was how he ended up on Ward B when the latest disturbance broke out. He’d offered to work an extra shift to cover for absentees.
Pale and badly shaken, the nurse who was almost trampled had a cut along her hairline that might need stitching.
“I’ll take her down,” Bull volunteered, not because he particularly cared, but because it gave him an opportunity to check out the infirmary which was on the basement level.
When the elevator doors closed, the young woman threw herself into his arms.
“You saved my life.” She sobbed into his chest, but it was a fake sob with little effort behind it. When he didn’t immediately respond she looked up at him with her sad, puppy dog eyes and batted her lashes. She pressed her breasts against him in clear invitation.
Bull looked down at her. She was young. She was pretty. She was getting blood on his shirt. He pried her off his chest.
She looked surprised. “But…but you fought them off to save my life.”
“No. I followed protocol and secured the ward. Your body was in the way.” The elevator doors opened and he gave her a gentle push into the hall. “Get stitched. Go home. Don’t come back,” he said. “Find someplace else to save the world.”
The wide eyes narrowed to vicious slits. “It’s your loss, you know” she snapped. “You could have had something good.”
“Yeah, me and a hundred other guys,” he muttered as he watched her flounce through the infirmary doors, no longer looking shaken.
He was about to follow her when the doors to the second elevator opened and the male nurse, who brought the gurney to pick up Moses, stepped out. Unlike the halls upstairs, the basement halls were narrow so Bull waited for the gurney to pass. It never did. He heard its wobbly wheel roll away in the other direction and suddenly the infirmary wasn’t nearly as interesting as the gurney’s destination.
He followed. His sensitive hearing made it easy to stay well behind and out of sight. The basement was a maze of narrow hallways and as he moved deeper into it, Bull could almost feel the walls closing in. He ignored the sensation and kept moving. The walls and floors became dirtier, and the air was stale and musty with age. Bull pulled in deep breaths through his nose, telling himself it would desensitize his chemoreceptors to the odor of rats. It was bullshit, but it was all he had to keep the claustrophobia at bay.
He heard the wobbling wheel of the gurney off to the left where two hallways crossed, but another sound drew him to the right. He’d heard the soft snarl that any wolver would recognize. The mystery of Thomas Mortimer Bane’s whereabouts was solved.
When the snarl was followed by a soft and pitiful whine of fear, Bull began to run, ignoring the strange sensation that stabbed at his chest.