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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Whoever has done this, he’s obviously very frightened of being caught.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 14



The word has a delayed impact.

Coroner.  Coroner. 

It’s about time, says Captain Gutierrez as he rotates.

I’m sorry, apologizes the coroner as he straightens his tie and removes his coat.  I was in traffic.  What the hell is wrong with the weather?  He falls away from the swinging door and lets the guarding policemen outside catch it as it shuts.  Hello, Andre, he nods cordially to Doctor DaCosta.

This is Captain Gutierrez, says DaCosta in introduction.  He’s in charge.

The coroner reaches out his hand.  A quick, limp shake and he’s off between the gurneys.  Tondo Godspeaks is my name, Captain.  I don’t believe we met.  So you have 6 of them?  That’s what the call said.  Six?

Six, confirms the captain.

Drain tunnel?


Godspeaks snaps on a pair of smooth white plastic gloves he’s pulled from his pocket.  Then that means they’ve been exposed to water.  And animals.  Degradation of the tissue.  Fluid washed away in the rain.  Only a few days, but they’ve probably lost quite a bit of their composition.

And quite a bit of evidence, chimes the captain.

Without hesitating, Godspeaks unzips the bag on the center gurney and scoops the sides away from the contents.  Looks like this was done with a hacksaw, or something primitive, he notes.  We’re not dealing with a sophisticate.  No lasers.  Godspeaks bends close, very close, to a small, severed hand that rests in the middle of the pile.  He pokes with exactness at the sinewy end.  And, he declares, you’ll be glad to know, gentlemen, that the parsing was done after the killing.  Not that that’s much consolation.

You can tell that for sure?

Godspeaks tugs a dangling small leg from the bag.  It bends at the knee with gravity.  Yes.  For sure.  The coroner takes a measurement of the leg.  He thinks for a moment.  Do you want a guess?

Gutierrez nods.

The killer knew he was going to stash the children in the drain.  Hide the evidence.  So he cut them up to make them fit.  Those drains aren’t very big.  Easier to stuff parts than a whole body.

Okay… Any good news?

Some.  Godspeaks lays the severed arm back in the bag, draping it over an upturned face of an expressionless little girl with coal-black eyes.  To vivisect 6 children is time consuming.  Especially without lasers.  And this wasn’t done with a machine like a woodchopper.  This was done by hand.  Probably with a saw.  That’s a lot of work, even for a professional butcher.  To do the same process to 75 other children.  Well, it’d take more than two days, I can tell you that.

Two and a half, the captain corrects.


So the others might be alive?

DaCosta wanders from the bag.  Let’s hope.

Godspeaks unzips the bag on the second gurney.  I assume these are all mixed up.  Here’s a torso in a dress and another in a sports jersey.  You’ve got the girls with the boys, Captain.

I didn’t bag them.

How many of each?

Five girls, one boy.

Godspeaks makes a sound.  Bizarre ratio.

The captain shrugs.  Killer had a lot of kids to choose from.  Maybe he was sending a message…that girls are more expendable than boys.

Then why kill a boy at all?  It’s not a very clear message.  And, you’ll be relieved to hear, first glance shows no signs of sexual trauma.  No, more likely this means he grabbed them in a hurry and didn’t think about it.  Look – this girl here…  Godspeaks lifts a severed head from the bag, one with long black hair and jagged at the throat.  I could measure her, but I suppose she is nine years.  This is a big girl.  Maybe, by the size of the head, a slightly overweight girl.  I’ll know when I match her to her other remains.  So the killer didn’t just pick the smallest and most defenseless ones.

Godspeaks rests the girl’s head on a side tray and, with a rag, wipes the head’s debris, blood, and tissue from his hands.

Carlos can’t look.  He leans against the wall.  You know, Mr. Godspeaks.  It’s just a likely that there are five boys and one girl buried somewhere else we haven’t found yet.  Did you think of that?  He’s even-ing things out.

True.  Maybe he got confused himself about who was in what container.  Once you cut up a few bodies, it probably gets awfully confusing.  This makes Godspeaks smile, though the other two men do not see the humor.  I can say this for certainly: whoever did this is a brute.  He’s no delicate practitioner.  He’s a barbarian.  Sloppy.  I doubt, in the end, he’ll outsmart us.

Let’s hope so.  Gutierrez release a great breath.  I’m getting some air, he announces suddenly before leaving the doctor and the coroner to continue their foul catalog.

Godspeaks also dismisses the two orderlies, who are doing no good standing against the wall.

DaCosta snaps on his gloves, prepared to begin.  Worst I had today was stitches and a broken rib, he tells Godspeaks.  But now this.  I wish to God this hadn’t come into City Hospital.  I wish they’d gone to Mercy.

Oh, come, Doctor, says the coroner as he unzips the remaining black bags.  You saw worse than this when you were overseas.

No.  I didn’t.  Never have I seen this.

Oh.  Well.  I’ve seen much worse, I can tell you that.

You’re a coroner.  I’m a doctor.  I’m involved when there’s still a chance.

Then you’re still involved.  There are 75 more children to be found.  I’m not a profiler, DaCosta, but I’d say the police have a very good chance.  Whoever has done this, he’s obviously very frightened of being caught.  He’s hiding them, and not very well.  And it only took a short time to find the bodies.  He’s going to watch the story on the news and think twice about dispatching a few more.

I hope you’re right.

Godspeaks slides from the carnage and to his friend the doctor.  He has not seen this despair before on Andre DaCosta.  He knows the doctor shouldn’t be here, so plots other, distracting errands.  Do me a favor, Andre.  There’s an identification team down the corridor.  Would you please send them in?

An identification team?

Yes.  As I assemble these remains, we will then have to match these bodies to the children on the list.

And inform the parents?

Godspeaks holds his tongue.  He gives a tilt to his head to indicate the answer is ‘yes.’

DaCosta exits, still wearing his gloves.

Three minutes later, Godspeaks is with his identification team, absorbed in the work – measurements, samples – the bureaucracy of murder.  Focusing on the minutia helps him stomach the horrible mess in front of him.  He’s matching heads to bodies, arms to legs.  There’s another man imaging everything and a woman who records their conversations on a Scan-Gun.  Blood and tissue samples are matched in less than 30 minutes.  They know the names.  Godspeaks doesn’t want to hear them.  As long as you are satisfied, I’m satisfied, he tells a ranking team member.  (To hear the names makes these ugly doll parts into children.)  He asks that the cadavers be tagged and grouped.  The easiest way to store the bodies is in hyper-seal bags and placed into portable aluminum canisters.  Once the pieces are removed from the room, the procession of orderlies carrying the canisters resembles janitors cleaning out a closet.

Decomposition is light, the coroner mentions in an aside to Gutierrez.  The captain again had the courage to enter the room, after the bodies have been removed.  Godspeaks drops his blood-soaked gloves into the biohazard bin.  As for your evidence, there’s a lot of it.

So we should have something to lead us to him?

Hope so.

When can I read your notes?

They’ll be ready in an hour.

And the names of the dead?

The identification team is finished.  They have them.  Pause.  Are you going to announce the names to the Media?

No, parents first.  The commissioner has a rollout plan.  Come with me.  See if we get a volunteer.

Godspeaks steps bravely into the light, where at least 30 people line the gauntlet.  Some are known faces – hospital workers, police officials – but there are new faces, too – politicians perhaps, watchmen for the mayor.  Or, possibly, Media have snuck past the lines dishonestly.  From his pocket, Godspeaks scoops a pack of chewing gum and pretends to fiddle with the wrapper.  It’s not enough to divert lobbed questions.  At least 10 people drag on the coroner’s sleeve, trolling for numbers, names, and conditions of the recovered six.  Godspeaks molds his face into blankness, a mask that betrays no truth.  This is, after all, a hospital.  He is familiar with the culture of hospitals.  Full of death, yes, but also full of routine, and known for a chance at life.  When a coroner steps on the scene, though, people know the news is not good.  He’s a black cat, an apocalyptic horseman, an unwelcome spirit.  But he never sees himself that same way.  Instead, he is a father, an explorer, a discoverer of facts, and a documentarian.  His Eye Dial is not too far down in his coat pocket.  He takes out the flat cylinder, unscrews the connector, and places it on his shoulder, as if someone important has just phoned him.  The lie buys him just enough distraction to make it the corridor’s end.

He passes into the briefing room with a raising and lowering of his hand.  He wags Gutierrez forward, too, into the room.  His magnanimous gesture is lost, however, as it is Gutierrez’s badge that provides the passage, not the coroner’s face.  Who’s in charge here? he thinks, while coughing out, No statements, to a woman shouting questions in his ear.  The door shuts and Godspeaks notices that the briefing room is no friendlier space.  Two dozen bodies are packed in various corners and wait for his conclusions, as if about to receive their own fatal diagnosis.

Captain Gutierrez gives clemency to the coroner and moves to separate him from the fray.

Please, please, sit, says the captain to the crowd.  Everyone sit.  Chairs?  Not enough?  Sit on that counter then.  The desk.  Everyone sit.

Ages range from 20 to 60.  Men are in suits and slim neckties, buckled at the back; women are in short skirts with bright colors.  No uniforms here.  Clearance badges are clipped to sleeves and lapels.

Is everyone comfortable? The captain audibly cracks his knuckles.  I want you to know…this comes straight from the commissioner of police – Mrs. Marsha Van Nuys.  I am authorized to tell you a few of the facts, and then someone of greater authority will take over our conversation.  He’s just a bit late.  Apparently, there is some bad ice on the roads.  So, for now, I’m your man.  Pause.  My name is Captain Carlos Gutierrez and I’m in the 49th Ward.  Today, as you know, six of the missing 81 children were found.

Dead or alive? asks a woman in green who stands on a chair at the rear of the room.

Dead.  Carlos observes the fall in faces, but does not linger.  We have identified all the children.  We are not releasing the names.  We are going to notify the families.  I need teams of two volunteers to go to each of the homes, break the news, and console the parents.  It’s nearly 9 o’clock.  I want to wait until after tomorrow morning’s Media cycle, so we have some time to get our communications together.  Once we tell the families, this will spread pretty fast.  Don’t wear uniforms or anything official.  Don’t drive in city glides, either.  Though we have only six bodies, there are dozens more missing and we cannot afford a panic.

On this, Gutierrez turns to Godspeaks and lets a flicker pass into his eyes.

Godspeaks thinks, He can’t mean me.  I won’t tell anyone.  Does he mean me?  But the captain has no more moved his head to the right and Godspeaks notices that Gutierrez is giving the same look to everyone.  He’s making his point plain.  We’ve have entered a secret society, thinks Godspeaks, for now, that means this room is the only place on earth where anyone is allowed to know the names of the dead.  Here, and inside the murderer’s own conscience, if he bothered with names at all before he slaughtered them like lambs.

A tender young man steps forward.  I volunteer, he says to the captain.  Whatever you need.  The news, telling the parents, whatever.

Gutierrez gives the boy a suspicious appraisal: blonde, thin eyebrows, tight vest over white business shirt, a high waist, draw-strap belt, pants tailored too short.  What’s your name?

Visque.  Manny Visque.  I’m a psychologist with the children’s division of the 31st Ward.

How long out of school, Mr. Visque?

Seven months.

Good.  You don’t know enough yet to do any real damage.  (This gets a laugh.)  Are you a parent?

Manny hedges, unsure of the job requirements.  Not yet.  But I own a dog.

There is another appreciative break of the room’s somberness.  Godspeaks, too, laughs.

Okay, Gutierrez says in appreciation.  That’s one.