Dutch stared down at the body in the alley and thought to himself, Ah, hell. Why do we always get the nasty jobs?
They’d been alerted by one of Michael’s computer bots that the police were investigating a murder, and all the signs pointed to the vermide. Dutch sighed. The woman lying in the alley was chewed all to hell, with big chunks of her flesh missing. Vermide usually lurked in the shadows, cluttering up the sewers with their pitiful excuses for towns. They’re known to scratch around in garbage cans and, should they get seen, attack a person to keep themselves secret. They’re usually more careful than this, Dutch thought.
The police assumed it was a dog attack, which was why they weren’t out here yet, but there aren’t exactly a lot of packs of wild dogs running through Charleston. And the condition the corpse was in didn’t exactly lend itself to that conclusion. Dogs would’ve eaten a fair portion of it, not just gnawed on it like this. No, this was definitely the vermide. Which meant they might have to go through the sewers tonight. James is gonna love that, Dutch thought with a humorless laugh.
Dutch heard a chime and tapped his earpiece. Michael’s thin, almost whiny voice came over the line. “Dutch? Do you read me?”
Dutch sighed. “Yeah, I’m here, kid. Looks like your bot nailed it. It was definitely those rats. We’re gonna have to go have a talk with them, aren’t we?”
“That’s right, but there’s something you don’t know.” Michael sounded like he was going to be sick.
“Don’t tell me…” Dutch pinched the bridge of his nose. He thought, I’m getting too old for this.
“There was a baby. Turns out the victim was a mother, and the baby is missing.”
“Oh, those rat bastards!”
“Yeah, it looks like they’re gonna try and turn it. You know what that means.”
“It means the clock’s ticking.”
“You two need to hurry up, find the vermide town, and get that kid out of there.”
“How old are we talking here?”
“Less than a year. I told you it gets worse.”
Dutch closed his eyes in frustration, then looked up at the sky as if to ask, Why me?
He sighed again, “Okay, we’ll take care of it. If we can’t save the kid, then we’ll kill every single rat in those sewers. Even the normal sewer rats.”
“Don’t get reckless! I know that the damage reduction armored gear protects against a lot, but there’s only two of you. We’re a small outfit, and I’m sorry to say but you’re worth more than some random kid. We have a job to do, Dutch, and you can’t just go…”
“Kid,” Dutch cut him off. “Don’t you ever tell me anything like that again. This is a baby we’re talking about, here. If I can’t save it, I’m going to make those rats pay. Valerie will just have to deal with whatever happens.”
“Yeah, that’s easy for you to say! You don’t have to be in the same room with her when she loses it!”
“Then sack up, boy. It’s warpath time.” Dutch tapped his earpiece again, killing the link. He turned back to their SUV and shouted, “James! Get your guns! And a breath filter, for god’s sake!”
James was standing near the entrance of the alley, cigarette in hand, his red hair tousled by the wind. “Don’t tell me, boss. Just don’t.”
“Yeah, you guessed it. We’re going sewer tripping.” Dutch walked around to the trunk of the SUV and removed a gun case. He handed one of the loaded Agram 2000 sub-machine guns to James. The younger man took it reluctantly, slinging it over his shoulder. Dutch passed him some extra magazines. It looked very much like they would need them.
He took the other Agram for himself, stuffing magazines into his trench coat pockets. Finally he pulled out two breath masks and passed one to James. Loaded up, they rechecked their equipment, making sure they had extra filters and ammunition, and confirmed their supplies were adequate. Or, at least, what they hoped was adequate. There could be any number of ratmen down those holes, and the last thing they wanted was to run out of ammo while a horde of the vile beasts were bearing down on them. Hopefully it won’t come to that, Dutch thought, but it’s best to be as prepared as possible.
“What I wanna know,” James said, racking the slide on his gun, “is why they gotta take human kids. From what I know they’re more’n capable of reproducing on their own. Why do they gotta abduct kids?”
Dutch grunted and put on his mask, letting it hang around his neck for the time being. “It’s a ritual thing. They turn them into were-rats for extra muscle. You’d know this if you’d paid attention in the briefing meetings.”
“Dude, I sleep in those meetings.” James smirked. “Why d’ya think I’m always wearing sunglasses?”
“I’m considering disciplinary action, here.”
“For what? Not wanting to be bored to death?”
“For intentionally ignoring information crucial to our mission.” Dutch straightened and stared at his partner. “We took a vow, James. To defend the Confederacy from any and all supernatural threats. We’re honor bound to…”
“But the Confederacy hasn’t been a thing for over a hundred and fifty years! Let the damn CIA deal with this! Why is it our responsibility?”
“Because we took an oath, James. The Confederate States may have lost their way, but they’ll come back eventually. And in the meantime it’s our job to keep them safe from the stuff that goes bump in the night. Besides,” Dutch slipped into a faraway look, “There’s a baby out there. It’s been kidnapped by ratmen, brought into the sewers, its mother has been killed, and it’s probably terrified out of what little mind it has.”
He turned his gaze back to James, and there was steel in his cold, blue eyes. “Are you gonna look me dead in my face and tell me that you’re gonna let that kid get turned, knowing you could do something about it?”
James dropped his gaze, inspecting the street below his boots. “No, I’m not. I understand, Dutch. We did take an oath, and this kid isn’t gonna get saved by the law. It’s up to us. I get that.” He sighed. “I just wonder if we aren’t caught up in some kind of Sisyphean task, here. I mean, the Confederacy doesn’t even exist anymore. What’s the point?”
Dutch grabbed his friend by the shoulder. “The point is, kid, that we’ve got a job to do. Don’t tell me you’re wimpin’ out on me now? After all we been through?”
James smiled at his superior. “Nah, boss, I ain’t wimpin’ out. Just had a little crisis of faith, is all.” He grinned and he took a firm grip on his weapon. “Now let’s go kill us some ratmen.”
“That’s the spirit,” Dutch smiled back. “Was worried you’d suddenly gone all Yankee on me, kid.”
“Never, boss,” James laughed. “Besides, without me, who’d be there to pull your boots outta the fire? Not like we have a bunch of volunteers, after all.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Dutch grunted, and clapped James on the back. “Now let’s get that manhole cover open and go do our damned duty.”