the Coquille marshes - Editor
by Kevin M. White
Arthur Bindell eased the '55 panel truck down the narrow mud strip that passed for a road near the Coquille marshes. The vehicle bounced and slid like a roller coaster car about to jump the tracks. This caused him to stab his upper lip with the tooth pick he was teething on.
“Son of a b-” he cursed as the wheel began to turn against his sweating hands. The brush to either side of the mud track seemed to press in as if waiting for him to slide from the road so it could grab the vehicle and pull it into the dense foliage.
The road dumped out into a grass clearing with gray light filtering down from above. A number of vehicles were parked haphazardly in the clearing like toys tossed in the middle of a room. A sheriff and about a dozen men stood around drinking coffee from thermoses or smoking cigarettes.
A low, guttural whine rose up from the darkness of the back of the panel truck and Arthur rapped the knuckles of his fist against the wire screen behind him.
“Shut up back there!” he bellowed.
The whining retreated in volume but didn't entirely cease.
As Arthur eased into the clearing, the sheriff turned from the crowd of men and slowly headed his way. He halted and rolled down the window as the sheriff snuffed out his cigarette a few feet away in the damp, trampled grass.
“Glad you could join us Mr. Bindell,” the sheriff drawled.
“So am I,” Arthur replied. “Somebody should have told me what passes for roads in these parts.”
“Yeah,” the sheriff said, scratching his neck as he nervously eyed the panel truck. “Once you get off the county roads it can be kind of tough to get around. You didn't have much trouble did you?”
Arthur waved his hand, dismissively, “I just hate being late that's all. It gets everyone riled up.”
“I can't tell you how much we appreciate you coming down,” the sheriff continued. “This fellow is a real bad one and I'd hate to loose any of my men trying to take him in.”
“This is what I do,” Arthur replied. “We take the risks so you don't have to.”
The sheriff nodded. “You can park anywhere here. We'll get started when you're ready.”
Arthur eased the truck forward and noted that the other men were spreading out, extinguishing their cigarettes and dumping out paper cups of coffee as they watched him pull into a spot a few yards away.
He turned off the ignition and eased his bulk out of the bench seat as the steady whine and grunts from the rear of the vehicle began to build in volume. Arthur paused halfway down the side of the vehicle before slapping the flat of his hand hard against the metal surface.
“Shut up in there!” he roared.
The men had formed a semi circle about twenty feet from the back of the vehicle and the sheriff was addressing the group by the time Arthur joined them.
“This is Arthur Bindell,” the sheriff said. “He's one of the most successful man trackers in Coos County. We should have our fugitive rounded up in no time.”
Several of the men nodded while stealing curious glances at the panel truck. Their faces registered everything from wonder to apprehension. It was the same everywhere he went. Just like kids watching the circus come to town.
“Would you like to say a few words before we get started?” the sheriff asked.
Arthur hiked up the waist of his faded jeans and removed the tooth pick from his mouth as he strolled over to the assembled men. “Some of you might know how this works, but for the benefit of those who don't there are a few rules.”
A chuckle of nervous laughter rippled through the group before the sheriff's stern look returned the glade to silence.
“No smoking,” Arthur began. “It spoils the scent and makes the tracker's job harder. Besides, they aren't keen on fire. Don't get in front of me once we head out. I need a clear scent line and believe me, once they get worked up, you don't want to get in the way.”
A hearty round of laughter bubbled up, causing Arthur to pause and wait until it died down. This was what he wanted. Men at ease. There would be plenty of time for second thoughts and uncertainty later. “I assume you have an article of clothing or something that belonged to the fugitive?”
The sheriff nodded. “We have a sock and a shirt in the cruiser.”
“Good enough,” Arthur replied. “Now in a few minutes I am going to get the leashes from the front of the truck. I'll need some help laying them out. Fifteen feet of chain gets pretty heavy.”
The men looked at the truck and then back and forth at each other.
“Nobody has to get near the back of the truck,” Arthur said, still sizing the men up. “I won't be letting my boys out until everyone is safely back, so there's no need to worry about that.”
After murmuring amongst themselves, two of the men came forward. Arthur turned away, barely suppressing a smile as he replaced the tooth pick. It was amazing how a group of grown men could be reduced to frightened schoolboys. He had to remind himself that he had been at this twenty years. What might seem normal to him would be a hellish nightmare to the average man.
Arthur opened up the passenger side door and grabbed a wood milk crate from the bench seat.
With a grunt, he lifted it out and set it on the wet grass. The two men that had stepped forward grabbed either end and hefted the box containing a coil of link chain back to the rear of the truck.
Arthur was joined by a third man who helped him bring the other wood box back where they set it down next to its twin before he addressed the men once more. In short order, the chains were laid out in the damp grass with a heavy lock looped through the end nearest the truck's doors.
“Now just step back. I'll handle the rest of this,” Arthur said. “And sheriff, I'll need those scent items when I'm done.”
Arthur turned to the panel truck's doors and produced the keys from his pocket. The door was double locked and as he slid a key into the first cylinder the back of the truck began to rock from side to side as its occupants started to howl and cry.
A murmur of panic rose up from behind him and, without turning, Arthur knew the men had stepped back even further from the truck. As he selected the second key and placed into the other lock, he also fished a small black box from his shirt pocket. A red button was centered on the top and two small, metal prongs jutted from the front panel.
The howling increased as the rear of the truck bounced up and down and the cries took on an almost human tone.
“Time to get things under control,” Arthur muttered as he put away the keys before grabbing the door handle and turning it.
The door swung wide and the two beasts inside lunged at the steel reinforced cage. The door of the cage was secured by a heavy padlock, so he knew he was in no real danger. That didn't stop the predictable panic from unfolding behind him, however.
The creatures wore rags that might have once been shirts and pants. They had no shoes. Their skin was gray, mottled and bore evidence of old, unhealed wounds. Their eyes were clouded, lacking intellect or expression. Broken, rotted teeth showed each time their cracked lips opened to scream.
Arthur raised the box and pressed the red button. Immediately, the creatures dropped to the floor twitching and feebly grasping at the thick, leather collars around their necks which contained transmitters for the electrical shock that went into their nerves at the base of the neck.
He shook his head and pulled out the keys again to undo the padlock. The creatures lived only for flesh and understood only the need to eat and avoid pain. There was nothing like a little jolt to calm things down. Now he would have the next three or four minutes to free the lock and then hook them up to the chains before they regained semi-coherence.
There was no doubt that dealing with these man trackers was far more dangerous than using ordinary dogs. At best they moved like drunkards and their sense of smell was about on par with a good scent hound. They did, however, have one big advantage.
A killer might not think twice about slaying a deputy or a tracking dog if it meant a clear path to freedom, but even the most hardened con would think twice about taking on one of the living dead.
Though a vaccine had eventually been conceived, the zombie plague, as it was referred to in popular culture, had taught humanity one thing. There are some things worse than death.