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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

"Live up to those captain's bars soon or else you'll find a bin full of bodies in your ward."

City of Human Remains – Chapter 5



The line is clear.  Captain Carlos Gutierrez can hear every word.  He gives the orders to Katherine Ximon’s handlers and soon disconnects.

Live up to it, he pushes.  Live up to those captain’s bars soon or else you’ll find a bin full of bodies in your Ward, won’t you, Carlos?  Won’t you?  Cap-ee-tan.

The police station is crowded with bodies, noise, clacking machines, and over-echoing voices.  Dinnertime is nearly upon them, but no one has left.  The makeshift war room has every wall filled with shifting montages of the 81 faces.  Boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, blink on and off in automated fades, as if part of some bizarre marketing campaign from glideway advertisements.   The line of volunteers trains their collective eyes on the images, pouring each face into their memories before being sent out into the city to search.  As they leave, the volunteers are also handed decks of playing cards with the children’s faces on 1 side, statistics on the flip.

Facts like this:

Andy Chale, age 6; brown hair; brown eyes; hair-lip; 113 cm tall; 27 kg; answers to Andy or Andrew; nickname: Bumps; attends West Side Catholic Academy; best friend Eryk Munez, also missing; Mother: Terry Chale, 41; and, Father: Leonid, 40, followed by the address and Eye Dial of the Ward Station where all information (and any eventual bodies, living or dead) will be received.

I’m recalling my people, declares Carlos to his 3 station lieutenants.  Each looks at him strangely, as if he’s just spoken gibberish.  Enough knocking around at the homes of the parents, he explains.  The children aren’t coming home.  That’s clear to me now.  And I’ve got better use for my people.

Yeah, but what about those that don’t have families, Carlos?  Leave them alone?  That’s risky, isn’t it?

Carlos inwardly wishes Lieutenant Coy would shut his mouth.  I’ve already thought of that, he dismisses.  If a person is alone a beat patrolman will check in at intervals.  We shouldn’t have more than a few loners per Ward.  Everyone has a neighbor, a friend, someone they can call.  I want tabs but I don’t want to drain my damn resources.  I need more boots on the ground.

You have the whole city, Captain, insists Lieutenant John Brax, the man’s waxed bald head standing 10 centimeters above the others.  He bulldozes his way forward to Carlos.  Everyone’s lookin’ for the kids.  Brax points to the volunteer line extending out the door, down the hall, round the stairs, onto the ground floor, and into the street.  Brax adds in his thick-throated, Spanish-flavored voice: Since yesterday, no one sleep, no one breathe—

Yeah, yeah.  I know, I know.  Carlos waves him off.

I don’t want to recall my people, Carlos.  (Lieutenant Vincennes; he’s a naysayer.  But Carlos likes him anyway.)  I’ve got everyone following everything I got.  And even things I don’t got.  Christ, I have reports of 10 murders in the past 10 days that I’d love to get to, but these kids are more—

Do it.  Pull your people.  That’s an order.

This ends all objections.  The 3 lieutenants wander back to their desks and their consoles, their ringing machines that fill up with fresh red herrings.  Carlos overhears Lieutenant Coy contacting his officers.  Leave the houses; take to the streets; find anything you can.

Good, Carlos thinks, they’re listening to me.

Carlos’s own machine is dead.  He hasn’t had a call in an hour.  It’s suspicious.  Even on a normal day, the screen lights with violence.  Here, on the most significant missing persons case in the 325-year history of the city…nothing.

A woman enters the station and says she’s spotted 1 of the missing.  Officers are dispatched.  But the story is not true; she’s lied for attention.  A man calls the main line to claim he’s taken 3 of the missing hostage.  A unit is dispatched.  Not true, the man’s a shut-in and lives with his mother.  A prank dials in 13 times and hangs up just as someone answers.  They trace the call and have the culprit boy grounded by his abusive father.  2 children feign missing to be found hours later hiding in a Zigon Park, playing football, mud up to their knees.

Carlos burns through each of these incidents without hope.  He follows procedure, but it’s useless and he knows it.  The 81 vanished between early morning and mid-afternoon yesterday – anything today is most likely not connected.

Carlos is 39 and has 2 children of his own.  Frank, age 9, and Angelina, age 7.  A boy and a girl.  A perfect set.  His wife of 11 years, Zuza, is about to break this set by having another girl, due in 4 weeks.  (The baby is already named Nuria.)  Frank will be a policeman.  Angelina will be a teacher.  Nuria will be a cinema star.  He looks at the fade-color image of his family that is propped on his wobbling desk.

If his own children should go missing, what would he do?  Not show up at the station?  Stay home and weep?  Work harder?  Chase his kids instead of someone else’s?

He hasn’t left the war room in 36 hours.  He’s survived on coffee and energy packets from the shop around the corner.  His stomach resents him and wishes he’d have a bowel movement.  But he can’t leave.  He’s waiting.  He’s expectant.  The news may not break in his Ward – it could be in one of 80 others.  His Ward 49 claims 12 of the 81, though, which can be considered to be a lot.  But it’s a mere trickle compared to the 22 of Ward 14 – all entire City Academy field trip.

How can 81 vanish?

How can not 1 damn citizen witness 1 damn thing, give him 1 damn clue?

Where have they gone?

They’ve gone underground, answers a serious voice.

Carlos has spoken his last question aloud (though he didn’t intend to.)  He looks up from his family pictures.  Beside him stands Lucrecio Adalberto, a beat patrolman a few years past Carlos.  Carlos sent Lucrecio out 4 hours ago and Lucrecio has apparently returned for a breather and piss.  And to give another ridiculously unfounded opinion, which Carlos will inexplicably listen to, as he does on most workdays for no good reason.


Yes, sir, Captain.  That’s my theory.  That’s why we can’t find them.  I’ve been looking in every sewer grate and gutter since I punched the clock.  Listening.  These ears are big and powerful.  I heard scratching, and something that sounded like a baby under the sidewalk.

We’re not missing any babies.

What’s the youngest age?


Nasty shame.  6.  Just tasting life, and to di—

Who says they’re dead?

Right, right.  Underground.  Lucrecio leans his butt onto the corner of Carlos’s desk and speaks conspiratorially.  You should send a Heavy Team into the sewers.  Give ‘em breathing masks.  Smells like an asshole down there.  Methane.  Propane.  Fumes.  Get a rash in your lung and kkkkkkkk.  Dead yourself.  But I’m right, I know it.  I’m right.

Carlos lifts Lucrecio up off his desk by the billowing shoulder of his blue uniform.  You better get out there, then, hadn’t you? Carlos urges with a gentle nudge.  Prove your theory.  Do that and I’ll think about the Heavies.

I’m rightly serious, Captain.  Aren’t you going to call someone?  City got a special underground squad?  We must have.

You’d like that, wouldn’t you?

Oh, I don’t want to be a part.  I just want to be right.  All 81.  Down, down, down in the well.  Must be some sort of, sort of, suction come grab ‘em.  Magnetic.  A murderer can’t kill 81 in a day – that’s slaughter.  That’s war times.  This is peace times.  For now, anyway.  Someone’s hidden them.  I know it.  I know it as soon as I was born.

Carlos gives another shove, this time not so gentle.