“Not all dairy is white.” I said.
“Milk is.” He replied.
“Milk isn’t all dairy.” I said back.
“Butter.” Got him.
“Some butter is white.”
“Good butter is yellow.” Really got him.
“Ok, that’s one.”
“Cheese, chocolate milk–”
“Because it has chocolate in it.”
He’s right of course but “We still don’t know if dairy is her only intolerance.” I told him. “The name doesn’t make any sense.”
We were talking about public enemy number one, The Woman in White. Legend has it, she had one sip of milk at a diner then killed everybody in the joint. I don’t know if someone at the Bureau coined the name or someone on the press, but it stuck. She was the most dangerous intolerant of all, and we were hunting her. ‘Dairy Intolerants’ was the Bureau’s official term. We called them ‘Cuds.’
After a beat my partner piped up again, “Sixty five percent of all felons are unable to digest dairy. That most likely means her too. The name makes sense, we just don’t know if it’s holistic yet.”
He was always turning to stats when he knew he was losing an argument. I didn’t blame him for it, I was just always more of a gut guy. But everyone knows guts can’t be trusted these days, so stats usually won out. Before I had a chance to reply it was our turn to order.
“I’ll take a latte, please.” I said to the barista.
“OD card?” She replied. I already had my Diet card in my hand. I held it up so she could scan it *bleep* “Oat or almond milk?” She asked.
“Oat.” I said begrudgingly.
“I’ll take a latte too.” Said my partner.
“OD card?” *bleep* “What kind of milk would you like?”
“Dairy, of course. Whole milk.”
Smug bastard. Despite my years at the Bureau, that response always made me feel less than him. Total tolerance. Bastard.
We hopped back in our cruiser and headed to the next name and address on the suspects list. As we sped past the crowds of people getting on with their normalized lives, I wondered, are they happier now? The virus happened so long ago. So long, that I heard they started teaching it in schools as part of World History. I guess anyone under the age of fifteen hadn’t had to live through the worst of it. It was probably the most disturbing virus of all time, spread through passed gas. My entire family was wiped out just because they smelled some asshole’s fart. Kids still found it funny but I didn’t see any humor in it. All the deaths were bad enough but when they finally figured out what was killing everyone, the impact on the economy, on society, of shutting down all the dairies and farms and anywhere else that produced intolerable foods, was way worse. In hindsight, I don’t know if the Government Tolerance Program was the right solution but it was the only solution everyone could agree on. It meant that all of our diets were now monitored monthly. Which basically means I’m cranky every single day. It takes a Cud to hunt a Cud, I guess. I have another evaluation next week and if they take one more food off my Optimized Diet card, I’ll flip. Somehow my partner tolerates everything, even cauliflower. And he intentionally lauds it over me. The bastard had ice cream yesterday and won’t shut up about it.
We’d been on her trail for weeks now. But part of The Woman in White’s talent was evasion. It’s like she was never there. They should have called her The Invisible Woman. The name wasn’t even important, the amount of people she was said to have farted to death was. Of course, there weren’t many witnesses. No one could survive her gas. From the various crime scene reports it seemed like it may go well beyond dairy for her. Sounded like she couldn’t tolerate any foods. Imagine that, every bite you took could be a murder. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost. She never had many witnesses but anyone who was lucky enough to be heavily masked and survive said she was the most beautiful woman they ever saw. Beautiful and deadly.
Sometime late last night, we got the best tip we’d ever gotten. A cook was sealed in a restaurant’s glass meat locker, the ones where they show you the rest of the cow you’re about to chow down on, and saw her take down the entire restaurant. Then watched as she fled the place and took off in a beige Ford; California plate; four, Y, something, something, something. Couldn’t see the rest. We’d been following up on the plates all morning but it was a long damn list. Thirty eight of them were men, twenty two of them turned out to be dead already, thirteen of them were too old to leave the house and four of them had total tolerance. Means we had seventy nine suspects left and as of 9:48 this morning we were only eight people in.
We pulled up to a ramshackle apartment block, had a quick sip on our lattes, and went back to work. My partner hopped up the steps ahead of me. He always had an extra pep in his step after dairy. Since he got to the door first he got to go in and ask the questions. I got to wait outside by the window and be backup. I looked around to pass the time. It was a crappy little place. Not that I lived in a palace or anything but at least my neighbors cared enough to put their trash in the trash cans and not leave it lying all over the hallway. Ice cream cartons, pizza boxes, falafel wrappers. We’re talking dairy, gluten and chickpeas. This woman must be a Megatolerant. I guessed that’s what they were talking about in there, total tolerance. Total bastards. I peeked through the window and saw even more class A foods inside, a table full of them. Was this an interrogation or a Tolerants’ feast?
For a second it looked like my partner was doubled over. Like someone had kicked him in the stomach. I tried to get a better look through the blinds. I thought I saw his eyes rolling back. He looked like he’d been hit with a fart. I grabbed the trash can to smash the window and get him out but realized quickly it would let any gas out into the hall. I’d be done for. Not to mention anyone else in the vicinity. I could see the bloat was starting to set in. His stomach was already twice its normal size. And then I saw her. She wasn’t in white but she was beautiful. And clearly deadly. The Woman in White. That had to be her. She looked back at me, even more scared than he was in there.
I ran back down the stairs to get my mask from the car and grabbed his too. I thought if I had gotten there in time, maybe I could have gotten ahead of the worst of it. I kicked down the front door with my mask firmly in place. I still didn’t completely trust these things but at least the Bureau gave us the best ones out there. I looked like a GI Joe scuba diver. I ran into the apartment and went to fit my partner’s mask on him. I already knew it was too late. There was vomit everywhere, diarrhea too. He was already gone. She was gone too, from the apartment at least.
I headed back down to the cruiser to call for backup and an ambulance. Maybe I should’ve just called for a hearse. I waited in the cruiser for the backup and for the rest of the team. I couldn’t believe she was right there in front of me. She was beautiful. What a curse. I guess when you can’t eat anything, you just eat everything. I wondered if she meant to kill all those people, or if she meant to kill my partner. She was just eating in the privacy of her own home. It’s illegal but we turn a blind eye when it’s their own home. We have to. We know everybody cheats.
I took a sip of my latte to calm my nerves. I can’t stand oat milk. It maddens me to even call it ‘milk.’ More like oat ‘juice.’ My partner didn’t deserve to go like that. I guess not even total tolerance can save you from Intolerants. I picked up his latte and gave it a sniff. Man, it smelled good. I don’t know if it was the trauma or the longing but I took a sip. Damn, it tasted good. I took another. Hell, it made no difference by that point so I drank the rest.
It took twenty minutes for our so-called backup to back me up. By that time I could already feel my stomach turning. I rolled all the windows up to be safe and tried to communicate everything that had happened through a combination of a raised voice and sign language. I couldn’t tell them I had just jeopardized my digestion, I’m a Bureau man. They would’ve had my badge. And then, it happened. A fart. My first in fourteen years. It wasn’t so bad. My own, anyway. You can’t die off your own supply, as they say. Just then, the Captain tapped on the window. I couldn’t get out of the cruiser, even opening the window a crack would’ve put the whole squad in danger. I just played dumb instead. I’m bereaved. Maybe the captain bought it, maybe not. But the last thing I heard him say through the gas-proof glass was “two week suspension.” I guess I deserved that.
Now what do I do? I couldn’t get the taste of that whole milk dairy latte out of my mind. If I’m going to be by myself for the next two weeks, now would be the best time to have another. I haven’t fallen off the wagon once in fourteen years. I’ve read about people who do though. They shut themselves in for months and just eat everything the government says they can’t. Block all the air vents, tape up all the doors and windows, get safety glass installed in their doorways. They get around their OD card limitations by hitting the black market. There’s a whole underground movement about it: Eat Everything, Tolerate Nothing. Rebels. I remember way back when a whole faction of them staged a sit-in and accidentally farted each other to death. People weren’t that dumb anymore, and were way less public about it, which suited me just fine. I’ve staked out enough of these underground sellers to know the network pretty well. I could have a whole milk dairy latte here by three o’clock. I could get real dairy ice cream by four. Ok, I decided, one latte. Then I would take the rest of the two weeks to dry out and get safe.
A week later, I was gut deep in cheesecakes, milkshakes and pizzas. It was heaven. The worst part was now that my obsession with intolerable foods was satisfied, all I could think about was her, The Woman in White. I went through all my old case files and tracked her movements. There were no real patterns. The fear I saw in her eyes back at the apartment was probably the only thing that guided her. No strategy, no killer instinct. This wasn’t preempted, wasn’t planned. Then I remembered all the different class A foods in her apartment and the trash in the hallway, plus the various crime scene reports. Up until now we’d been logging her as a Dairy Intolerant because of that name, but she had more problems than dairy. I grabbed my files on all the other Cuds, Doughdoughs and Stinkers I’d been following. They weren’t super up to date so I logged onto the Bureau’s database using my dead partner’s login. Mine had already been suspended. On the database, suspects are organized by their official terminology: Dairy Intolerants, Gluten Intolerants, Allium Intolerants and so on. I cross referenced any events that happened in similar areas. But again, no real patterns.
I decided to get in touch with a few of my underground suppliers to see if they could help me fill any holes in the Bureau’s data. In fact, I called all of them. Got them to bring me all kinds of intolerable foods. Onion bhajis, French onion soup, panna cotta, cauliflower nachos. I timed it out so I could have enough time with each one to dig for any details that might intersect with what I already knew. Obviously they all knew the home visits drill. Some of the more high end rebel Intolerants had had a prison-like communication system installed: a door-sized pane of gas-proof glass seals off the entrance and a phone on each side lets the buyer and seller talk. They were usually installed under the guise of protecting people on the outside in case of any mishaps but we all knew what was really going on. I had one installed last year to get closer to this whole black market. It was perfect for what I needed right now.
My first few visits were somewhat promising, I got all the class A foods I wanted as well as a few tidbits of info that I could follow up on. Most of my suppliers were too savvy to give too much up, so the foods just piled up behind me as I went through my black market Rolodex. I got slowly deeper and deeper into the organization than I had ever been, meeting with suppliers I’d never met before. Worse still, they had never met me, so their lips got tighter and tighter. Then I recognized someone. For a split second I thought she could be my lucky break, until I clocked where I knew her from: my partner’s killer, The Woman in White. She was at my door. No wonder she had access to all those class A’s, she was deep in the whole network. I wondered if she recognized me. It didn’t look like it. She was staring right through me. She put the class A’s she was delivering through the package slot in my wall, an assortment of dairy-based dips if I remember correctly, mostly onion and garlic flavored. Then I realized she was staring straight through me at the massive pile of class A foods on my table.
I wondered if I should invite her in. I thought she’d probably be too scared about the air quality in my place. I let her see me switch on the air purification system, I’d had it installed about the same time as the glass. I don’t know if that made her feel any safer but I could tell she wanted in. The table full of assorted class A’s was too tempting to turn down. I motioned to the door control and she nodded slowly. I hit the button and the glass slid up. She walked straight in. If there was any trace of my noxious fumes in there she didn’t show it. She walked straight over to the table behind me and opened up a Quattro Formaggi deep dish pie that I had ordered with raw onions on top so they knew I was serious. She took a big bite and passed me a slice. We chased it with deep fried mozzarella sticks which we slathered in the garlicky tomato sauce they came with. Then we had a sip or two of clam chowder and a fork full of heavy alfredo. I sliced up an onion tartlet. She fed me a handful of sharp cheddar quiche and put her arms around me. We were in Heaven. Our stomach’s were in hell.
I realized it had been maybe sixteen years or more since I had smelled someone else’s gas. I wondered if it would be as bad as I remembered. Or as bad as we’d all been reminded, over and over. I didn’t care, I was ready for it. I would take anything she shot at me. I just wanted to consume her entirely.
There it was. I could smell it. It was bad but I didn’t care. I wanted it all.
There I go too. Now we’re even.
I knew my hours were numbered. Hell, my minutes were. I’ve heard it could even be seconds. I still didn’t care. And from the looks of it, neither did she. We were both completely in it. Till death… do… us…