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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

He wants to remove the black plastic, but knows what lies underneath is awful. Where did you find them?

City of Human Remains – Chapter 13



Doctor Andre DaCosta waits in Admittance, as instructed by his beeping Eye Dial and the Chief Operating Officer of the hospital.  It’s hush-hush, proclaimed the Chief.  Pull your best team together.  Fast.

A dozen hospital staffers surround him – orderlies and nurses and two stray doctors.  He doesn’t know if it’s his best team, but rather the first available.  And he senses that he is lost.  He’s having trouble breathing.  He can’t say exactly why, though, as he really doesn’t know what he’s going to experience.  He has no children, only a petite, younger girlfriend – a nurse he flirted with after-hours who now regularly meets him for interludes.  He has few friends with children, and none have been affected by this tragic strangeness in this tragically strange city.

Outside, it rains.  It’s a torrential downpour, with sacks of rain exploding into puddles just beyond the canopy of the hospital’s west entrance.

Fucking Doll, curses an orderly to DaCosta’s right.  Fix the damn system.  It’s not supposed to rain between four and seven.  It’s rush hour, for Christ’s sake!

Is there any other kind of hour in this town? DaCosta huffs with sarcasm.

DaCosta steps forward.  The rain is almost manic.  Last night, in his neighborhood, he was awoken in the middle of the night by the sounds of hail.  Maybe it had been a dream.  City 32’s weather has never been more erratic this path month, but the investigation of the cause is evidently buried under the 81 children.

He tries to think of Jezebel Jackson, the young woman he left upstairs in the care of the nurses, but his mind won’t let him focus on any of his patients.  Only on the moment.

Thank God.  Thank God six have been found.  He wonders how badly they are injured.  The Chief Exec had no information.  81 in a day, fallen through a hole, and now six have surfaced.  These six boys and girls (boys or girls?) must be a trail to the others.  They have to lead to the remaining.  Names on lists, they must all come home.  They must.  DaCosta is relieved that there are no parents present.

Though the glass of the West entrance, the hospital workers can hear the sirens approach.  DaCosta balls his fists.  He sweats under his arms and his throat is dry.  He calculates if there’s time to use the toilet, but it’s too late.  The flood of circulating red-and-white lights hits the white support pillars of the hospital.

They’re here.

Hospital workers rush to the arriving caravan.  Under the curved awning, they crowd the doors of the three ambulances.  The last ambulance doesn’t make it under the covering – the cab pelted by the storm.  The storm’s clatter is deafening.  Everyone must shout to be heard over the rattle and thunder from the weather system’s tantrum.

DaCosta’s mind flashes to 2 things: his time overseas, when the food trucks would arrive and the villagers would stampede for aid packages, raping the arriving trucks; and he thinks of the ‘Big One’ last July – 17 were killed and 65 injured in a subway crash.   Both those were the emblem of chaos, just as now.

A young medic jumps from the passenger seat of the lead ambulance just as the vehicle’s read doors open.  Is this City Hospital? he quips at the sea of orderlies.

DaCosta is jostled and ducks to avoid being clipped by a stretcher passed forward.  Then he straightens, a man stands beside him , who introduces himself with a flash of something – a badge, or maybe a card.  Captain Carlos Gutierrez, he says plainly and loudly.

DaCosta shakes the man’s hand.

You in charge? asks the captain with a flick to Doctor DaCosta’s identification tag that is pinned to his smock.

DaCosta stutters, I—It’s likel—

Well, I nominate you.  Doctor, right?

I’m Doctor DaCosta.

The doctor supposes this police captain might be handsome, but today he’s soaked and his tan coat sucks to his body.  And there’s something in his face – a mix of frustration and bitterness.   This tightens his muscles and distorts his otherwise smooth features.

The captain leans into DaCosta’s ear.  Where’s the coroner?

The coroner?

I asked to be met by the coroner.

DaCosta, stunned, shuffles around the crowd to the rear of the first ambulance.  His team stands ready with stretchers, kits, and bags of medicine, each person held in some dream-like suspension, the clear presence of hope on their faces.  The men await the ambulance doors.

Never mind, dismisses Captain Gutierrez with a frustrated flicker of the hand, Let’s just get inside.  Media will be here any second.  We lost them with a wrong turn towards Mercy, but they’re probably only two minutes behind us.

A medic puts his foot to the ambulance bumper and pulls on the stiff handle and, with the help of the driver, the rear door of the first vehicle drops open.

Inside, two gurneys.  Both covered in black plastic.  The shapes underneath are not recognizably human.

Captain Gutierrez shouts instructions in Spanish and English to a squad of policemen that materialize among the white coats, their blue uniforms an infection of color.

DaCosta is shoved aside to stare at the faraway line of police glides behind the ambulances.  Strafed by the rain, the police don’t seem to pay any attention to the weather.  The patrolmen secure the path between the two ambulances and the West entrance.  Help is reduced to only those necessary to unlock and wheel the gurneys off the ambulances and onto the platform.

First two gurneys with black plastic, then two more.

DaCosta snaps out of his confusion with the next electric clap of thunder.  Inside!  Move!  Move!

They rocket out of the din and into the relative tranquility of the west lobby.

He directs the four gurneys past the reception desk and its bulletproof glass and into the white corridor beyond.  Out of the corner of his eye, DaCosta watches the first two ambulances peel away from the awning, replaced by the third, which vomits two additional gurneys from its innards.

As he follows behind the gurneys, DaCosta picks up a smell.  Rotten copper, garbage, the odor of disinfectant trying to mask something heinous.  And rain.  He smells rain.

The second wave – the locusts – arrives at the hospital.  There are no sirens but everyone knows they’re here.  The Media.  Police form a line against the door.  DaCosta is blinded by flashes of light from the upheld imagers of Post It Men.  Covering with his arm, he ducks the corner and hopes that he hasn’t been captured in anyone’s frame.

The gurneys torpedo down the corridor, each flanked by orderlies and policemen.

DaCosta shouts at the turn, Put them in Examination Room 8!  No one acknowledges, so he wonders if he’s been heard.  Captain Gutierrez rides DaCosta’s elbow.  The man shakes rain from his jet-black hair with a chop of his palms.  Eight’s the largest room, DaCosta explains and gets a nod from Gutierrez.

Inside the curtained antiseptic interior of Examination Room 8, the gurneys are aligned neatly and evenly.  A flood of people from the corridor washes into the room.  They immediately go to work setting out tools, wheeling trays, and adjusting overhead lights.

Whoa, whoa! slows Captain Gutierrez as he signals to burly men in blue uniforms.  Give some space, would you?  The police escort the fray back out into the corridor, including DaCosta.  Gutierrez stops them.  He can stay, he can stay, he says, almost casually.

I’m senior, explains DaCosta to the policemen unnecessarily.  Doctor Andre DaCosta.  He points to his name badge.  Chief Medical Officer asked me to oversee your arrival.  As he justifies himself, the patrolmen pass by DaCosta, too busy to listen.  They leave him to stand his ground by the lip of the door.

Only me and the doctor, Gutierrez tells his men.

Everyone else is pushed into the corridor.

I’ll—I need some help, DaCosta contends.  I can’t work alone.

How many?

Two, he answers quickly.  (Though he’d really like four.)

Gutierrez is impatient.  He waves quickly.  Fine.

DaCosta chooses two reliables from the mix of orderlies hovering in the corridor.  Room 8’s doors are shut and guarded, leaving only the captain, the doctor, and the 2 orderlies standing.  They are alone with the four gurneys.  A comparative peace overtakes the room.  The only sounds are the muffled chatter in the corridor, and the further noise of Media trucks arriving outside.

DaCosta steps forward to better look upon at the shapeless lumps on the gurneys.  He wants to remove the black plastic, but knows what lies underneath is awful.  Where did you find them? he asks in a solemn voice.

Gutierrez, head down, touches the rail of the far right gurney.  An overpass.  In a drain tunnel.

All six together?

All six.

DaCosta reaches for the bag’s zipper.

I should warn you—

DaCosta doesn’t heed.  The sudden throw of the black plastic’s zipper echoes in Room 8.

A child’s hand.

A child’s foot.

The top part of a torso.

Jesus Christ, the doctor cries in disgust.  He re-zips the plastic, tight.

They’re in pieces, explains the captain.  All mixed up.

An orderly chokes, moves to the wall and leans, face drained and fingers over his mouth.

How do you know there are six?

Gutierrez sheds his sticky wet coat and drapes it onto a swivel chair.  Someone counted them.  Not me.  These six were found in my ward – the 49th.  I’m sure it won’t be long, though, before someone more important replaces me in this matter.

DaCosta cares nothing for ranks.  Though he assumes he wasn’t the chief’s first choice to receive the bodies, he doesn’t take it personally.  He was just the one available.  Another, higher up physician will be taking over.  He has probably less than an hour.  And he is, in a way, thankful.  He wonders if the captain is thankful, too.

If there are 75 more dismembered kids out in the city, DaCosta says with acidic conviction, I’m going to be pissed.

The inward swing of the examination room door brings a rush of air and amplified conversations.

The captain over his shoulder, not looking: I said don’t let anyone IN!

Enter a man in black suit and tight raincoat, a man who is completely dry, older than all of them but possessing a smooth, almost babyish face, with wild, kinky hair.  His features are a mix of genealogy: Hebrew, Latino, European.  He stands holding a scuffed leather case.  His eyes circle the men, landing to the four gurneys.

I’m the coroner, he declares.