“Providence State College remains on lockdown as reports keep pouring in of the spread of what has only been described by the administration as a ‘deadly virus.’ The college remains largely quarantined with every gate and entryway sealed off by security officials…”
Every screen in the lobby was reporting on the same incident. It had been much of the same coverage for the past day and all through last night, and they weren’t any closer to solving this it seemed. The man straightened his jacket and continued beyond the lobby. The two guards, Mitch and Briella, stood by the door at the end of the hall. He nodded to them in greeting.
“How’s she doing?” he asked.
Mitch winced, motioning towards the two-way mirror behind him. The room beyond was dimly lit, except for the overhead lamp right over the suspect. Her eyes were shielded from his gaze by the glare of the light in her glasses. She was seated, wrists cuffed to the table but with chains long enough for limited mobility. The tray of food and water on the table remained untouched.
“We did everything you requested,” Mitch said. “She refused to eat.”
“And has she said anything?”
“Not a word,” Briella said. “Her only request was to use the loo.”
“I don’t blame her. She’s been through a lot already.” It was time. He palmed the briefcase in his hand and reached for the door handle. “Let’s see how this goes, then.”
The woman at the table looked up suddenly as he walked in. The circles around her eyes and the shadows cast on her face framed her gaunt appearance. Her hair was in rough tangles and she looked like she hadn’t slept in days. It had only been about 24 hours.
“Doctor Maundy,” he said as he approached. “We haven’t been properly acquainted.”
Despite her dishevelled countenance, her indifferent gaze was enough to make a less secure person feel like a minor inconvenience. “Which one are you?”
Confrontational, he noted. A defensive measure. He stopped at the table. Right now she would not be able to make out his face in the dark. He wondered how long it would take her to recognise his voice. “Sorry, you can’t see my face right now. My identity is … classified. You know how it is.”
“I’d shake hands too, but…” She lifted her cuffed fists but they stopped short over the table, the chains dangling in her wake. “You know how it is.” She smirked.
Humour, he mused. Looked like they were off to a good start.
“Are these really necessary?” she still held up her cuffed wrists.
He sat in the chair. “You tell me,” he said. “I trust Officers Mitch and Briella have been good hosts.” He motioned towards the food in her plate. “It’s not poisoned, you know. We don’t do that here—”
“I’m not hungry.” She set her hands on the table now, pushing the tray away.
“At least take some water. They tell me you haven’t spoken in hours.”
“I had nothing to say.” She didn’t seem interested in any of this. But she was talking, thankfully.
He smiled. “Fair enough.”
“I want my lawyer,” she said. ”If you’re going to make me talk, I want a lawyer present.”
“Funny story. I would’ve brought you that present but then … you’re not a lawyer.” He’d thought it was a good joke, but she didn’t even react.
He leaned back in his seat. “Doctor Maundy, I know you are upset. Maybe even scared. But believe me when I say that … with the craziness going on out there, and the charges against you now, it’s in your best interest to consider me not only as judge and jury, but also your counsel.”
“Why don’t you go ahead and throw in ‘executioner’ to that list? Heck, is this even legal? Who are you, anyway?”
She really doesn’t know. “I don’t think you understand. See, if this leaves my desk and my offices, there’s no way you’re getting out of this mess. Right now, I am your only friend. It would do us both a lot of good if you understood that, and cooperated. We don’t have much time.”
She still eyed him cautiously. “So you’re supposed to be the ‘good cop’?”
“Will you trust me, Eva? Can I call you Eva?”
“So we’re chums all of a sudden?”
He refused to take the bait, but a cynical response was better than none. She was not making this easy. “Will you tell me everything?”
“I gave the cops my statement. What else do you want me to say?”
He exhaled, reaching for his briefcase. This wasn’t going how he’d hoped.
“Can we just get this over with and get me out of these chains?”
He pulled out her statement and scanned through it. “You seem pretty sure that you’re getting out of this.” That actually got her to keep quiet. He’d thought it would. “But, like I said, it’s really up to you now.”
She scowled and definitely rolled her eyes this time. She was every bit a child of the ‘80s.
He placed an audio tape recorder on the table and hit RECORD.
“Didn’t know they still made those,” she mumbled.
“Call me old-fashioned,” he said as he cleared his throat. “Let the record show that today is Thursday, April 9, 2020. This is the secondary review of case file one-oh-nine-dash-five in respect to Eva Louise Maundy and her role, or lack thereof, in the Providence Incident…“
She was shaking her head, looking away again.
He leaned back in his chair, folding his legs. “Are you nervous, Dr Maundy?”
“No?” She raised her voice, probably trying to make it a moot point. She glanced at the recorder. “No I’m not. You try sitting here for hours and see how this feels.”
She kept avoiding his gaze, but there was nothing else she would see in the darkness around.
“I’ll cut right to the chase,” he said. “Right now you’re the most important person in the State. No one out there knows what’s really going on, and everybody wants to talk to you—”
“Careful there, mister, or you’ll make me blush.” Her face was still devoid of emotion.
“Now I know you’re coming out of a very traumatizing experience so I won’t pressure you. We can settle all of this right here, right now, and hopefully save many. I want you to know that I have your best interest in mind, so talk to me. OK? Why don’t we begin with you telling me about yourself? I want to know you.” He placed another file on the table. “Pretend I’m meeting you for the first time.”
She smirked, leaning back in her seat. “What, you trying to ask me out, mister?”
He smiled in spite of himself this time. “Doctor Maundy, I need you to take this seriously.”
She shrugged. “Ok—”
“No, do you get what’s going on? I get that you’re using this cynical sarcastic … whatever-this-is to annoy me, but I need you here — body and mind. People could die, Doctor. There’s not much time.” Now her eyes actually registered the shock he was looking for. He didn’t mean to scare her, but the more open she was to the gravity of the moment, the better. “Now I need you to be serious and answer my questions. Is that clear, Doctor Maundy?”
Now she was more sober. She clearly didn’t know the gravity of the problem, and he was contemplating how to ease her into it. She nodded. “Crystal.”
He motioned for her to go on.
She exhaled, lowering her head. He hated forcing her to do this, especially with the pain she’d experienced over the past twenty-four hours, but whether she realised this or not, she needed this as much as the hundreds out there. She nodded towards the briefcase. “Anything you want to know about me is in your dossier already.”
He nodded, glancing at the open briefcase and files on the table. “Smart. Now you were originally Eva Adams, yes?” She squinted at him, incredulous. “It’s for the recording.”
“Adams was my father’s name. Never knew him. Maundy’s my mother’s.”
“Sorry for asking, I understand it’s a sore subject.”
“And before you mention Harrison, he was a mistake. We’re divorced. Moving on…”
There was really no need to go that route so he allowed that. “Your Bachelor’s in Botany, but you got your PhD in Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases from Penn State.”
“I’m aware of my history.”
“Yeah, congratulations. For the sake of the recording, let’s just stick to yes and no answers, OK genius?”
“Until yesterday, you worked as lab supervisor at the Centre for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Providence State College. You were caretaker of the Experimental Greenhouse.”
She looked up, a question on her face. “Until yesterday? Am I fired, officer?”
“It’s pending review.”
“Great,” she muttered.
His voice droned on as he read. “Published in up to ten peer-reviewed international journals. Quite commendable. You’ve spoken at conferences on subjects varying from environmental to technological influences on disease control…” He flipped a page. “…with a note of recommendation from the Societe Transgenetique de Nouvele Foundaçion.”
Her head had been lolling at an angle in boredom, her eyes betraying her indifference, until now. “I never heard back from them.”
“That’s true, you haven’t been online all day. You got a mail two hours ago. Apparently you got the grant you applied for.”
For a moment, a glint of apprehension actually flashed in her eyes. But it was only for a moment before it was replaced with the indifferent act she was putting on. He sensed that there was more. What trauma was she trying to avoid thinking of? Even more importantly, why was she trying to hide?
Her official photograph attached to the dossier was strikingly different from how she looked now. The smile of the lady in the picture shone in her eyes and her hair was neatly arranged in a top-bun. She was standing in her lab coat, with her arms folded. Very unlike the dishevelled cynical crestfallen lady before him. What happened to you, Doctor Maundy?
“That is,” he continued, palming through the pages. “If, and only if, we get you out of this case in one piece. Because, Doctor Maundy, this bit doesn’t look good on you.”
She smirked. “Like I care about my looks now—?”
“Eva, are you taking any of this seriously? Because I want to help you out here—”
“And what if I don’t want to be helped?” She slammed her fists on the table, sending her plate and the remaining nuggets to the ground. For a moment that’s where their gazes went, to the scattered grains and the spilled water spreading on the floor. The room was still but the rising tension was so thick you could slice it. She looked up at him. “What if I don’t need your help?”
Perhaps they had been too forward about this. “Would you prefer to see a therapist instead, Doctor?”
She shook her head. “Just get me out of here. The electric chair’s gotta be better than this.”
He sighed, bowing his head. Whatever this lady had done, she was as much a victim of it. He bit back every other comment he could have made. “Let’s start over.” He reached for the tape recorder, snapping it off. “Without this old thing.”
She scoffed. “Right, like you expect me to believe we’re not still being recorded somehow.”
He smiled, stealing a glance back at the two-way mirror beyond which Mitch and Briella were definitely having a laugh. “You didn’t get that PhD for nothing, I can tell you that.”
“And don’t you forget it.” She was smiling weakly now though she avoided his gaze. “Sorry I flipped out.”
“I’m not usually like this, you know.”
He glanced at the smiling face in the folder in his hand. “I can imagine.”
“This isn’t me. The past day has been … I’ve just…” She lowered her gaze. As she exhaled he could tell that whatever was broken inside her was finally leaking. Was she actually going to talk now? She took a deep breath. “It’s messed up. I don’t even know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know what’s going on anymore. It’s like … it’s like I’m outside this body and I’m just watching my whole world spin out of control, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Do you understand that? Do you get what I’m going through?”
He nodded slightly. “Eva, I’m not trying to get you in any more trouble.”
“Can you imagine what it’s like to just, all of a sudden, find yourself with bloodied hands, and your … a … a dead body right in front of you? And now I’m a murderer? A-and I don’t even remember anything that happened! Do you know how violated I feel? And now I’m going to jail for this?!”
Her written statement, where she’d said as much, was in his hands. Considering her amnesiac line was what had opened the door to this particular investigation. He measured his words carefully. “Then why did you run?”
“Why did I run? What else was I supposed to do? There was a body in front of me! Security was asking questions all over the place. I didn’t know what to do!”
That was the second time in a row that she’d referred to the deceased as a ‘body’, he noted. Either she had not been able to accept the personal loss, or she was simply refusing to acknowledge it as a coping mechanism due to the trauma.
“Why don’t you just shoot straight?” She stared over her glasses now, her eyes red from all the stress. “Forget the theatrics for now. Ask me what you really want.”
He winced, staring between her and the file in his hand. He pursed his lips before he read. “Andrew Davies.” He saw her visibly shrink when she heard the name. She had dreaded this, but there really was no way out of this but through. “25 years. Teaching assistant on attachment under your supervision. Do you know this person?”
He could see the tension in her throat veins as she built up the confidence to respond. “Yes. We … worked together. Three years now.” She still avoided the obvious.
“His body was found in your office yesterday, gutted and with multiple lacerations. Reports place you in the same vicinity. Blood splatters in the room were also found on your person by the time first responders got there.”
She was shaking her head already, eyes shut, muttering silently.
He heard a sob, despite her attempts to hide it. “I didn’t do it. Whatever it is you think I did, it wasn’t me!”
“DNA results match. It was his blood, Doctor Maundy.”
“It wasn’t me! I don’t understand what happened, I don’t know who it was, but it wasn’t me.”
“You do realise how that sounds, right?” He closed the file and placed his hands on the table, folding his fingers in. “Doctor, I could’ve said that I believed you, but it doesn’t help you one bit.”
Her eyes were red now. “Please…”
“Either way we slice it, we’re looking at a homicide. I want to hear your story. We have reasons to believe that this is more than it appears. If we say you didn’t do it, then we have bigger problems because that doesn’t exonerate you. We still have to account for the blood in the room. But if, and just go with me here, if we consider the other possibility that … maybe you didn’t have full control of your body and mind for those few minutes… it gets us somewhere because—“
“I didn’t do this…”
He didn’t have a better way to ease her into it, so he just went full tilt. “Perhaps you should listen to this.” He switched the tape recorder from ‘RECORD’ to actual radio and the reports came pouring in.
“…a total lockdown on information on the particular nature of what is going on in Providence, giving rise to rumours and bizarre reports. The most popular of these peaked with the upload of the now viral graphic video from a student’s TikTok account. It depicts her roommate exhibiting feral and possibly rabid behaviour. The hashtag, #Werewolves has been trending on social media all night long, with accompanying pictures and…”
He turned the dial. This one had a man’s voice. “…on all parents to compel their wards to stay indoors. I repeat, stay indoors. We don’t know where the infected are at the moment, or just how far they have spread. We have no idea if and/or how this is being transmitted. This is not as contained as you think. They could be anywhere. They could be right where you a—“
He turned it again. This time it was a young student that sounded stoned. “…like in the movies, man. It’s like those zombie apocalypse flicks or some sh—“
And another station. “… She’s not there anymore. I don’t know who that is, but that’s not the Cindy I know. She wouldn’t do something like this—”
And another. “…‘werewolves’, for lack of a better term, frothing at the lips, mauling their colleagues, destroying and vandalizing the college. These students are out of their minds…”
Her face was contorted in confusion at the frantic voices she was hearing. It felt refreshing to see someone untouched by the incident thus far receiving its news for the first time. It probably still sounded like something from the world of myth and Twilight to her, and that’s how it had sounded to everyone else too once before. Before their innocence was stripped away and fear had taken its place. For Eva, all of this had only been about a homicide. She didn’t know just how much bigger the problem really was.
He turned it off.
“What’s going on?”
“There may be a chance that what may have affected you may have had more than a localised effect. And it may be spreading. Call it a virus, call it hysteria, MPD, or even demons and sorcery – whatever it is, it’s spreading like crazy.”
“Around the same time as your ‘incident’ occurred, we had an increase in bizarre behaviour among students and staff. Got people with … animalistic tendencies. Frothing mouths, clawing with their nails, growling and snarling like beasts. The world’s gone crazy out there, Eva.” With each new revelation she seemed to cringe even more. He could see her facial expressions alternating between disbelief and shock.
He pulled out his iPad, flipped to the trends page and slid it over. “It’s everywhere now.”
She really didn’t know what had been going on, and her widening eyes as she scrolled through the posts and videos gave away her shock. “It’s gotta be a prank. It has to be…”
“In the space of 24 hours we’ve had reported cases of almost 300 students becoming these … monstrosities. We’ve got our smartest trying to figure out what’s happening.”
She looked up at him, probably expecting this to be a trick. But it wasn’t. “You’re saying this is what happened to me?”
“I’m saying that it’s possible.”
“And this is going on out there? Right now?”
“It can’t be…” Her voice was a little above a whisper.
“I’m afraid it is. Right now they’ve got a couple of the infected on tranqs and are examining them for signs of cause and chances of recovery. Best we’ve got so far is an inflammation of the brain tissue and a degeneration of neurons. This could get worse before we even have a handle on what’s going on. Now, Doctor Maundy, I know you’re thinking about your dead assistant but do you see the big picture now? Not only should your expertise be able to sort through this mess, but I also need to know. Do you have any idea how this all could have happened?”
Her face was still overwritten with confusion at the madness she had just been exposed to, but she still looked up at him. “No. No I don’t.”
He understood the pain she must have gone through to dig through those memories over and over again, right in front of him. He knew how difficult it must have been for her to hear how this had escalated, and how difficult it must’ve been to respond under tension.
And that’s why he also knew that, this time, she was lying.